Having removed the axe from Zockri's head, Kyuskay also removed the huge splinter of wood that had impaled him. Peter and I went to work. He might not die, but at least we could heal him and remove his current pain. There were other wounded, too. Nearly all of us had been badly bruised or cut in the wild ride down the mountain. Although the Crystal prevented us from suffocating under the avalanche, the impact was more than enough to hurt us, too.

Peter and I worked and rested and worked through the evening, and we camped at the base of the cliff for the night. To reach Kadar Vagnal, we have to return to Yetsin Valley, climb through Winter's Teeth Pass (in the winter!), march to Kadar Gravning, and then north to where Zockri's map shows Kadar Vagnal to be. Allowing for time to forage and hunt and for the weather conditions, it should take us about ten days. I looked at Pippo, still in the coma I placed him in, and knew he wouldn't make it that far.

Next morning, Zockri refused to go with us. He prefers to stay here and be miserable to actually aiding us in destroying the Crystal. I don't understand him at all. Kyuskay gave him perhaps the most dismissive, scornful look I've ever seen. To him, Zockri is simply cowardly and dishonorable. Perhaps he's right.

The ten day journey passed uneventfully. Except that Pippo died one night along the way, as I knew he would. We couldn't bury him in the frozen ground, but we heaped rocks over his body. I begged Bianca's forgiveness and asked her to look out for Pippo. Between what I've done to Pippo and to Prestley, I don't think my standing with her is too high.

Just where the map said we should, we came across a road, little traveled, and it led us to a large bronze dwarven head with a double door in the mountain before us. A tower was at one side of the clearing, and a stream ran down the other side of the valley. Rubble showed where there was once stone columns decorating the entrance.

We started towards the tower, but the ground under our feet turned to quicksand, sucking us all under. For a moment, I struggled in sheer terror as the ground covered my head, which only sank me deeper and faster. The quicksand suddenly turned solid, trapping me but good. I could see nothing in the darkness, and I felt that familiar icy chill in my soul. I drew a panicked breath, knowing I was about to die.

And I didn't, of course. The Crystal. We can all breathe dirt, or even rock for that matter, as easily as we can air, or water, or snow. Or fire, although I don't really want to test that. My fear of the dark redoubled, and I was frozen in place for I don't know how long. I felt, and could nearly see, the spirits of the dead. Haunts that hate the living. They're all around us, all the time. I could feel their icy fingers reach inside me.

I don't know how long I was lost in that timeless, mindless terror. I felt something else wrap itself around me. It wasn't icy, but I struggled nonetheless, uselessly of course. It pulled me through the dark, and then my head broke into the light. The earth elemental went back in for someone else. Ashe had summoned it to bring us all out of the ground. While the others were deposited near me, one by one, I simply breathed clean air, and felt the presence of the Light. There were no specters, no ghosts. No ice in my bones. My soul was safe.

Ashe hadn't gone entirely under when the rest of us did, but was still half in and half out when the quicksand solidified. Frustrated, he'd burned several dwarven guards before thinking about using an earth elemental to retrieve us. Kyuskay had broken into the tower and threatened whoever he found there, believing us all to be dying under ground. Peter and I healed the dwarves, and then we asked them questions.

Three guards remained; the other two had died in Ashe's fireball. Their leader is a dwarven woman, and she merely pointed at the bronze entrance when asked if we could look around the place, as though we were tourists visiting the city of water in Tylea. She said she knew there were dangers within, but didn't know the details.

These dwarves are only the latest in at least ten generations to guard this place. She gave us her name, Moira something, and a recital of her forbears for the last 4000 years. The Brotherhood of Memory's task for the last 4000 years has been to look for the reuniting of the crystals, and prevent its happening. If someone does unite them, then they are to destroy the crystal and its bearers.

We could simply give them the Crystal and allow them to destroy it. Problem solved.

If only it were that easy. Of course, they would have no better notion then we do of how to actually destroy the thing. And with Goldrim's visions of dwarves marching to war behind the crystals, we are not just handing them over to a group of dwarves and walking away.

She had little else to tell us that Zockri didn't already say. The Crystals were created here, but something went wrong and they are now instruments of chaos. And you have to be under the will of chaos to possess them. I shuddered at that. I try so hard to keep that thought far from me.

She will not go with us: apparently they are forbidden from entering. She said if we let her two companions (the ones we haven't killed yet) go, she will unlock the doors and show us how to disarm the first trap. But she can go no further with us, and believes we are fools for even trying.

And so she opened the door and led us in. Kyuskay followed her most closely, and the rest of us behind him. We followed her down a short, narrow hallway covered in dust, gravel, and sand. I could just make out the remains of what must have beautiful moasic designs on the walls, before it was looted and destroyed. At the end of the hall was a heavily rusted, spiral metal staircase leading downward into darkness. I clutched the lighted pebble José had given me. I will not fear the dark...

I heard a crash, then a large crash, then several bumps. We contined down the spiral staircase, carefully passing one that had collapsed. Debris covered the rest.

At the bottom lay Moira. She was dead, but from more than just rubble that had fallen on her head. Her lifeless hand held a dagger, and her stomach was ripped from one side to the other. Her guts spilled out in a bloody heap. Kyuskay knelt over her, reverently, and Miara stood with her head bowed. I was close enough to hear him mutter quietly to Moira that "her honorable death will not be forgotten". I swear these Nipponese seem to worship death.

Had I been a little faster down the stairs, I might have saved her life. She might not have thanked me for it. But I don't save lives for their thanks. I save lives because that's what I am here for. What they do with those lives is up to them.

Beyond Moira was a long hallway, as far as the lights we had would show and farther. The floor beneath our feet was pumice: hardened lava. From marks on the wall and the height of the ceiling, it looked like the cooled lava was pretty deep. The petrified remains of a number of individuals stood frozen in agony, clearly attempting to escape, dwarves all.

What would the next trap be? I readied myself. Whatever traps were here would surely mean to be deadly, and I would have to act quickly to save their victims.

The hall had many exits along it. We began walking across the lava. Kyuskay, Carmella, Bark, and Goldrim slowed to a halt, each one in front of one of the statues, and stared at them. I pulled Carmella away, and she was reluctant at first, but within a few steps, she followed me as readily as ever. The others were pulled away the same way. I think if we left them there for long, they would become statues, too.

We reached a round room with doors all around it, all blown off their hinges by something. One of them was blown into the room, the others blown out. So whatever it was originated from the west door, and that's the one we entered. Twists, turns. Rats, debris.

In a large room, a large snake. Again, I stood petrified. Ashe, Kyuskay, and Goldrim fought the thing off, but Ashe killed it with fire. It flailed around, on fire, and caught Kyuskay's clothes on fire. He patted them out, and was unharmed. The Crystal, again.

The fire continued on and a large rats' nest went up in a huge fireball. The flash surrounded several of us. They were all unharmed, but everything flammable they had was immediately consumed. As I healed Ashe, a light rain fell and put the fire out -- I could feel that one of us had called on the Crystal, although I wasn't sure who. Those of us who were too far back to be affected by the flash loaned what clothes we could to the others. I had an extra robe that fit Miara well enough. Her swords were un-hurt, of course, but she looked bereft that her scrolls were all gone. I thought of the journals I carried, and I how I felt when my first set were ruined by the ogres. Her scrolls would be impossible for her to replace.

Once we re-settled ourselves and I recovered from healing, we continued our way. The hall ended in another doorway that had been blown outward. The lava flow also seemed to have seethed in this direction originally. The room was roughly rectangular, but with the corners cut slightly to make it octagonal. Of course. It's always octagons, isn't it? Its walls were splattered with hardened lava.

We entered, and a feeling of dread came over me. Then the icy chill. And ghosts appeared. Four dwarves, grey ghosts. I stood still, frightened out of my wits.

After a few minutes, nothing happened and I recovered myself. The ghostly figures were acting out a drama, entirely unaware of us. Over and over again, they performed the same tasks, the same movements. All in utter silence. We all watched.

One shakes his arms at a second cowering behind a broken table. Another sits in a corner, quiet. A fourth faces the wall, and occasionally pounds on the wall with his fist. The one shaking his arms crosses behind the table and grabs the one cowering behind it, who jumps over the table but does not get away, and the other catches him and knocks him down. He hits the edge of the table and shatters into a cloud of dust and hair. The other two ghosts begin to go after the first dwarf, who backs away. They trap him in a corner, gesturing angrily at each other. While they do that, a much smaller figure coalesces out of a thin layer of dust on the wall. He grabs a broom and brushes the ghost dust into a pile, which reforms into the original ghost.

Kyuskay walked into the scene, unnoticed by them, and touched one. And then another, and another. Each time, he received a vision, and each time the experience did him some small harm. We are not meant to touch the dead. Kyuskay finally had too much and collapsed. As I healed him, the others also started touching the ghosts, looking for visions. Not me. No way.

As I sat back, finished with Kyuskay, I heard screaming, and then laughter. I turned. I knew that laughter. Tzeentch.

It was José.


"José?" I said, wondering if he was still in his body. But yes, he was, and he came back to himself. The awful laughter ceased. "Was that me?" he asked, and we all nodded.

Each ghost gave his own interpretation of what had happened. They had all worked on the crystals, and one of them had been turned to chaos and intentionally wrecked the crystals at just the right moment, for Tzeentch. They all suspected each other. José said, "Egmeld. He's the one."

Dust and cobwebs swirled all around us, and I had to close my eyes for a moment. When it faded, all the dust and cobwebs had been swept clean. The dwarves' figures stood before us, clear. Egmeld joined them. I heard singing, as from a dwarven choir. Egmeld said, "Yes it was I who did this. Thank you for freeing us."

But to our questions, they said only Tzeentch knows how to destroy the crystal. They couldn't help us. After 4000 years of re-enactments and regret, they were free, and didn't know what to do. Someone said Zockri was still alive.

The wind started up again, and this time picked up the five dwarves, whirling them around. They became points of light. Four of them swirled away, downwards, towards what Goldrim whispered was the dwarven afterlife. The fifth tried to follow, but was turned back. It pulsed, then shrank and finally disappeared, with a thin, "You must destroy the crystals, but only Tzeentch knows how!" Egmeld's voice, of course. Tzeentch claimed him.

Before we could move a muscle or say a word, the room around us began to shake and pitch and fill with steam. The volcano, again. We ran, as fast we could, out. José stumbled and fell, and Kyuskay scooped him up and kept running without missing a step. Kadar Vagnal shook itself apart, corroding as we ran out, just ahead of the lava that melted steps behind us.

We barely cleared the bronze head, and lava blew it into the air. We continued running, the gound chaking under us. We stopped running at the valley's exit, but never stopped moving. For six hours, we traveled fast, far away from the fires behind us. A hard rain came up, soaking us all to the shin in seconds and putting the fires out.

Finally feeling we were far enough to be safe, and exhausted in any case, we made camp for the night. Ashe and Bark went hunting and brought back some food. I looked for greens of any sort, and managed to scare up some rather wilted and bitter stuff. Better than nothing. Kyuskay believes that Egmeld was right and that only Tzeentch knows how to destroy the Crystal. José believes that's just what Txeentch wants us to believe because he, of course, wants the rock back. I don't know what I believe, but we better hope José is right; otherwise we're all doomed.

José said The Feathered Lord -- the tutor from Egmeld's last vision -- was probably a servant of Tzeentch. The one who knows how to corrupt the crystals likely knows how to unmake it. I whispered, "You know the name of a demon." He wanted to go to the priests of Varena, who might know something. But they are a few months away. A strange look in his eyes, he said, "They can teach me to summon the demon and help me save the world, as I am obviously destined to do." I shuddered. The Crystal has affected his mind and is influencing him to keep the rock longer.

We camped for a few days, making and repairing and sharing clothes, catching up on food and healing and rest. Kyuskay pointed out that Mechtilde almost certainly saw that volcano and is probably on her way. But we needed to time to recover.

We argued: the Druidess, who is close, or the priests of Varena, who are far. Actually, only José for the latter. And on the fourth morning, Slurk rejoined us.

The Druidess was about 10-14 days away, and there were storms on the way. Knowing we couldn't take Slurk with us to her, Miara sent him on a fool's errand: find his companions and find out where the Coldfire Knights are. And meet us at the tower in the valley in about 2 to 2.5 weeks' time. When he left, we packed up the camp and started for the Druidess. It seems we always go to her when we are lost.

Ravenna, A Monk of the Biancan Order

Part the First:
Blood and Mud

Part the Second:
Murder and Mayhem

Part the Third:
Puzzles and Crystals

Part the Fourth:
Dwarves and Rocks

Part the Fifth:
Diplomacy and Daggers

Part the Sixth:
Crystal and Chaos

Part the Seventh:
Sheer Insanity

~ The End ~