Chapter 4: A Fork in the Path
A faerie vision:
Isawa's honor in the cave.
Can I restore mine?
~ Miyara Miwa
The cook on the Myu was pretty decent, and he was willing to cook me meals I can eat, with no meat. He cooked with river fish sometimes, and that was enjoyable. As we travel led along, Ash seemed to become more anxious than usual. He stared out at the water a lot. All at once, he pointed to the south shore, and then stammered, "We need to get off there."
Mongo told the captain immediately that we need to get off the boat, but he was adamantly against doing so. It is dangerous there, he said. Orcs, beast men, bandits, who knew what else. We pointed out that he would make money for not feeding us the rest of the way, that we would be in even more danger having to walk all the way back here from where he would let us off, that we are not afraid of that danger. But he would not relent: his conscience would not allow him to let us off the boat in this place.
The White Faerie thought he might be able to throw us ashore, one at a time, but surely there was a better way than that! Most of us do not swim, so we could not just jump into the water.
Mongo tried, and succeeded in changing his mind at last. He asked the White Faerie to move a very large and heavy crate out of the way (to prove his physical prowess, and Mongo of course is very large) and we sat down to talk. He said, in essence, that "we are warriors and must meet someone, and we are the best people for the job." The captain acquiesced at last. He had a crewman row us ashore. Mongo's demonstration of our power to emphasize our ability was fairly subtle for a barbarian. I, of course, discreetly placed a small paper figure of a bird on the boat, where the captain would find it.
Ash has been here before, and he knew where we needed to go. For several days, we climbed a rough path up a mountain. The barbarians euphemistically called it a goat path. I doubted many self-respecting goats used it. This was obviously not often used, by either man, beast, or monster.
These mountains reminded me a little of home. The school where I learned the warrior's art was on a mountain like this. Although we had a proper road to it, that allowed travel by foot, horse, or cart.
On the first day of our climb, a small bird alighted near Ash and chittered to him for a few moments. I was quite disgusted, thinking that the Druidess had let us go this far with the wrong thing. But, when the bird left, we asked Ash what the bird had told him, and he said that we did have the right item, and we just needed to continue up the mountain.
As Ash stumbled out his message, I noticed the White Faerie get vague and distant for a few moments. When he came back, I politely asked if he had had a vision again. He said yes, he had. He had seen someplace faerie, nestled in the mountains.
On the third day, I had battled one of my headaches. It was hard to continually climb, fighting my way up the path, never quite catching my breath in the thin air. Then the excruciating pain just behind my missing eye. But I continued, and the ache only lasted a short while.
On the fifth morning, the goat path split into two paths. Ash pointed down the one on the right. But again, as we stood for a few minutes, catching our breaths, the White Faerie again went into a trance for a few moments. I asked what he had seen. His answer shocked me.
He said, "While looking down the left trail, I saw a small altar with a statue of a dragon on it. The altar was simple, recessed into a stone wall. It was not particularly faerie. There were sheets of paper or parchment on the altar, with some kind of writing, but it I have never seen anything like it at all."
A statue of a dragon! I wondered, was that the statue Godanji had searched for? The statue I needed to find, to restore my family's honor?
Ash started down the right-hand trail, and everyone started to follow. I said, "Wait! I want to follow the White Faerie's vision, down the other path." We stood for a few moments, discussing which way to go, but I was the only one who felt strongly about our direction, so we started down the left-hand path, westward. Even Ash was content to go my way, rather than the way he knew led to the Druidess. I was sure that was Fate's way of steering me along.
At the end of the day, we had not seen anything like the White Faerie's vision. Another day, and nothing. No one insisted we turn around, and I stubbornly wanted to continue to follow the White Faerie's vision. I had to find that statue.
Mongo asked Ash who usually used this path. Ash said it was not much used, but animals, orcs, beast-men, and humans sometimes used it.
On the third day, as we walked along, we started to hear a commotion in the distance, ahead of us. We continued forwards, and the sounds became louder. I recognized the sound of some sort of battle, screaming, yelling.
We reached a gorge as the ruckus stopped. Looking down about 300 feet, we could see at least three huge monster-looking beings carrying some bodies (two humans and an orc: alive? dead?) into a faerie carved entrance, which the White Faerie recognized from his vision. There were some areas that looked recently scorched, as from fire.
We briefly considered getting down into the gorge by rope, but magically appearing one at a time in front of those evil-looking creatures seemed a stupid plan. We looked around for a path down, but did not see one. None of us knew what those beasts were, but the White Faerie wants to kill them, since they obviously do not belong in a faerie place.
With no other way down, and trusting that the White Faerie's vision would not lead him astray, we continued walking along the path. It did indeed wind down and around, and became a path that led into the gorge. We discussed charging straight ahead, but decided to scout ahead carefully since we had no idea what we faced. It is foolish, not brave, to rush ahead into battle before knowing one's enemy.
Ash sneaked ahead to scout, as he is very good at walking quietly and blending into the wilderness. There was a clear area about 100 yards out from the entrance, so the rest of us hung back.
Flanking the entrance were two three-foot high pillars, each one topped with a carved faerie head. The entire entrance area had been defaced with brutish-looking graffiti. Although none of us could read it, I do not think we missed anything we really wanted to read.
Ash made it all the way to the entrance, unseen by anything that might be on guard. Once there, he continued on, into the faerie stronghold. As he passed between the two pillars, a shockingly loud voice spoke in a deep voice, in a language I did not know.
Mongo and I prepared to charge up and rescue Ash from whatever was yelling at him. But before we moved, the White Faerie said it was faerie, and translated: "Welcome visitor. Introduce yourself and state your business at the shrine of Kadaru Haluga." He said that sounded familiar, but he could not quite place it, and that it was essentially friendly.
Ash stood still, and just melted into the background. I knew he was there, and he was hard to see. Sure something was about to happen, we readied ourselves for the sprint to the entrance.
One of those large brutes came out of the door, and walked right past Ash, not seeing him. He was apparently looking for whatever made that noise, but he did not notice us or Ash, and he went back in. The heads did not make more noise.
After a few moments, Ash continued down the hall, into the darkness, and we could no longer see him.
Mongo and I decided we needed to get closer, and we started creeping up, on either side of the gorge. Kyosuke came with me, and the White Faerie with Mongo. The others held back a bit, but slowly came up behind us.
Eventually, we made it to the entrance, without alerting anyone else. Ash was there, waiting, and he pointed at the pillars, reminding us that we could not pass them without risking noise.
Mongo figured we might be able to climb the wall above them, and then drop in. Ash said the tunnel extended for a ways, then opened up and was very dark. If we want to fight them, he said, we should get them out in the light to fight them, so we could see what we were doing. That made sense to all of us. Mongo wanted to try something, so he introduced himself to the pillars, quietly but firmly, and then stepped in. The pillars boomed out their greeting anyway.
We set ourselves for the fight coming our way, two on either side, Ash ready to step out when necessary.
Two of the brutes rushed out, and we hit them before they knew we were there. Kyosuke and I attacked one, he from the front and I from the side. The White Faerie and Mongo hit the other, and Ash alternately hit each from behind.
The other one went down in a large pool of blood, and ours was bleeding profusely. Mongo set himself up the passage, to guard our backs in case others came to join the fight. The rest of us continued to fight the one standing, and we eventually brought it down, although it nearly brought me down as well, with a lucky strike.
When the battle was over, we chopped off their heads, to be sure they were dead, and Mongo tended my wounds. How many more were in there? Our first strategy had worked well, but it was getting dark.
Mongo walked back through the door between the pillars, and they said nothing. I told Kyosuke what he should say when the pillars addressed him, as we would all have to take turns going in at some point.
The White Faerie stepped in, introducing himself as he walked, but the heads were silent. Kyosuke tried it then, and still they were silent. Were the pillars somehow powered by the sun? Now what? Should we yell inside and lure them out, or go in swinging, into the dark?
We decided luring them out was the better plan. We lit some torches for light, and set ourselves up again. This time, my role was to be from further away, shooting at them with my bow. Then, we yelled at our opponents.
We were answered rudely from within, but no one came out to attack us. Mongo lit a rag and attached it to an arrow, and I shot it into the dark passage. We saw a tunnel, the rag burned out, and nothing happened.
Mongo yelled, "OK bring out the barrels of oil!" He asked the White Faerie if we had any barrels of oil, but of course we did not. And the bluff elicited no response from inside. The faeries had built well, of course. There were no streams, no convenient boulders above, no tree.
Wondering how many we actually faced, Ash got in a little closer, and sort of smelled around, like a hound. He came back and said he could smell between 5 and 10 of the creatures. We had killed two, so we probably faced between 3 and 8. Three we could likely handle. Eight was formidable.
But we made a plan: better to continue on now than wait for reinforcements. The brutes were very tall. Sutoiko and I could alternate firing and keep a steady stream of arrow-fire above our comrades' heads and still have a good chance of annoying, if not hitting, the brutes, keeping them busy with dodging at the least. We then prepared ourselves and started walking up the tunnel.