Chapter 14: Many Questions, Few Answers
Warm breezes, hot sun;
Locusts buzzing overhead.
But inside, ice falls.
~ Miyara Miwa
We made our way back to the river, then to the road. At the river, we took the time to wash the mud from ourselves. Even the barbarians felt filthy. The clothes I had worn in the mud were ruined completely, and I left them behind. When we came to the road, Mongo turned the other way, saying he wished to go home. I was thinking longingly of the same thing, but that is not my path for probably a long time to come.
We were nowhere near civilization, even that which passes for it here, so we were careful along the way. We scouted ahead and around as we traveled, and set a watch each night. For the most part, the trip was uneventful, and we met with no dangers.
However, one evening I heard a quiet voice, very hard to hear. I looked around, and saw the others looking too. I saw nothing, and glanced back at the firelight and saw a figure dancing in the firelight. It almost appeared as part of the fire, and I wondered how long it had been there without my noticing. It seemed to be an aged faerie, blue in colour, with a long robe and bare feet that didn't touch the ground. His face was contorted, either in pain or effort. I couldn't tell which. The others saw it too, and then it spoke again, and his voice sounded as if it came from very far away.
"They are coming back, you must get back to Iri. Stop them. Stop them from getting the crystal of air."
Then both he and his voice faded away.
Immediately, there was much chatter about rocks and such, and I caught very little of it. I told Kyosuke what the voice had said, and then what I understood of the rest of the conversation. I think there are several powerful crystals, related in some way. It was not clear, but it seems they are named after four elements. I remember conversing with Godanji about the barbarians' view of elemental magics. Although we recognize five elements: Earth, Water, Fire, Wind, and Void, the barbarians only know of four: Fire, Earth, Water, and Air. Some barbarian must have made four stones of power to correspond to their four elements. Caramela's Zoggin Rock is the Stone of Fire, and the one in the pillar is the Stone of Earth. And now a faerie has enjoined us to "rescue" the Stone of Air.
Although the Blue Faerie's request seemed quite desperate, not one of us had ever heard of the place he called Iri. I guess it's probably in the mountains, although I suppose it could also be a high tower just about anywhere. With no other clues to go on, we decided to continue on our way: perhaps the Druidess has heard of such a place. In any case, my first priority is to restore Kyosuke to full health, whatever it takes. As the great warrior Saitoh once said, a warrior is always responsible for those beneath him. Kyosuke has two calls on me: both as a younger kinsman, and as a warrior junior to me.
Within a week, we arrived at the Druidess' Temple. I was prepared to follow the barbaric ritual and enter in a ring of fire, but apparently she had built a proper Temple Entrance since the others had left, and we could enter in a more normal fashion. First, though, we were taken to a camp outside the Temple, where we were able to clean ourselves much more thoroughly than had been possible in the river. We were also given a fine meal, which made me miss Mongo. Finally, we were invited to speak with the Druidess. This proper formality seemed to take the others by surprise. Apparently in the past, they had simply breezed in and out as they wished, with no respect for what such a temple represents, nor for its keeper.
She greeted each of us separately. She conversed first with those she knew, then moved on to us whom she had not yet met. I, of course, translated between her and Kyosuke. Once the formal greetings were done, we moved on to more immediate concerns.
No one else spoke up, so I did, asking her to save Kyosuke's hands. She stepped to us, and asked that Kyosuke display his hands for her. I told him to show her his hands, and he did so. She held them for a moment, and then said that she could heal them, but there would be a price. I asked what the price would be, and she said a quest she would specify in the future. Of course, I took the obligation for myself, and she accepted, then healed his hands. She then said that until the debt to her is paid, his hands will be as normal, but that with each hurt he causes another, his hands will likewise feel pain.
I explained all that to Kyosuke. He was clearly not happy with my taking the debt to myself, but he did not complain.
Shan asked about his box. She said the orcs have a tradition of building magic items in the shape of a box with something in it. So this box could be as it appears, or it could be the equivalent of an orcish magic wand. He opened it for her, and upon seeing it, she believed it was probably the latter. But she did not know exactly what it was. Kyosuke thought it would be something worthy of taking back home, and I agreed. The Isawa surely have nothing like it. When asked why she had directed Ash to give the box to him, she said she had had a vision that he should have it. The Druidess knew of an orc in a town called Freeport who might be able to tell him about the box, but Shan wished to stay at the temple. He said perhaps in the future he may go to Freeport and ask about the box. Since Shan is fated to have the box, the Isawa will have to live without it.
Jeisan asked about Eyrie, and she did know about it. It is a monastery for both humans and faeries, and prominent families send their second sons there. It is in the mountains, not very far from here.
Ravena asked about the man they were supposed to have met before they were captured by the ogres. The Druidess said he had never appeared in the town. Then she turned to me and said that is my task for her: Find him, bring him back if possible. If not possible, find out what happened to him. I asked where I was going and who I was to look for and received some completely incomprehensible words in return. I merely nodded for now: Ravena and the others knew who and where, and I would discuss it with them later.
The Druidess asked Ash to convey her greetings to another druidess Ash knows, north of the town I was to go to. We wondered at that: she could simply send a bird with any message she wishes, but instead she wanted to send Ash. There must be a reason she does not want us to know yet, and Wanda, the other druidess, will probably tell Ash.
Of Ravena and Caramela, she asked to give her regards to the leader of the same town, although she said he will not welcome them. She said in spite of that, he is a good man, and she asked the sisters to help him in any way he required.
Ravena asked information about some things she had and then Caramela asked about an egg-shaped rock she had. She does seem to have some sort of affinity for rocks. The druidess looked at it and laughed. She said it is very magical, but does nothing. It merely is magic. Surely this thing had to have been created by a countryman: the barbarians have no understanding of the beauty of zen. Caramela seemed bemused by it, and I told her I knew of people who would greatly treasure it. However, she is a mercenary barbarian, and wished to sell it to the Isawa. One does not buy and sell such things, as if it were a skein of silk, or a phial of ink. Caramela said she would keep it, and I must find some way to "buy" it from her.
Res Li asked about some ring he had, and was pleased with the answer.
Finally, Ravena remembered an old scroll she had been carrying around for quite some time, and gave it to the White Faerie, as it was written in his language. He read it aloud, and it brought him to tears. He said it was the prayers of other faeries who knew their doom was near. What a precious gift for him: the undying prayers of the dying. Were it not written in the horrendous tongue of the faeries, it would be poetry worthy of Fujiwara Reiko or even the great Sekihara Tomatsu.
We returned to the camp, and we discussed our next moves. Our fates appear to be entwined for now, and we will travel together. First, we go to Kurusa Hoven, where I must find Etiyen Basatien, and the sisters must greet the town leader, whose title I cannot begin to understand. It sounds like the grunting of a pig.
Then, Iri, since it is not far from Kurusa Hoven. Finally, we must follow the White Faerie's instructions to Kara Osohara.
We have two months before winter sets in and travel becomes nearly impossible. I spoke with Jeisan about Og. He said their Troupe of Entertainers came from Aladoru. Jeisan was orphaned and left with the Troupe as a boy, and he said he remembered that one day the Master of the Troupe appeared with Og. He also said that the weapons master had been training Jeisan how to fight in a two-bladed style similar to mine. All very curious. Where did Og come from? Where did this weapons master learn to fight this way? I knew Kyosuke wanted the questions about Og answered. He had also been the one I was searching for. I must stay with his former companions, and also find out more about him, his connection to the Isawa and to Godanji in particular. I believe following these strands will one day unite me with the statue I seek, and bring an end at last to my wanderings amongst the western barbarians.