Chapter 12: An Evil Ritual
Ritual steps found:
We follow at our peril.
My reward beyond?
~ Miyara Miwa
In the altar room, Sutoiko pulled me aside to ask about Kyosuke. He was uncharacteristically polite for a barbarian. Rather than coming to the point bluntly, as most do, he first asked after my cousin, and then came around to the subject in an almost civilized manner.
Essentially, he thought it would be a good idea for Kyosuke to learn some of the local language, so that warnings shouted to him would help him and so that he could easily warn others. He properly asked me, as an elder member of his household, to influence him to learn the language. As an offhand, he also said perhaps some of them could learn our language.
The request did make sense. However, my cousin is so very shy and self-effacing, I was reluctant to pressure him. Also, this language is harsh and ugly, and I would hate to make him have to speak it. So, I presented Sutoiko's offer. He thought they could maybe learn some of our language, if they are willing. I am not so sure any of them will be able to learn it properly, but I suppose we can try, when we get some time. And perhaps I will teach Kyosuke some basic words that can be understood here.
We discussed the parchments and the altar for quite some time, trying to connect the unsavory directions with the room. That the steps with the cage in the middle of the room was the plinth was self-evident. Mongo believed the faces on what should turn into a door, if we properly interpreted and followed the instructions, were the singing guardians. We were not certain about the request portion. Did it mean we could ask one thing? Nothing? And if I was going through this repugnant bloody rite, even with dead ogres or goblins, I was certainly not going to refuse to take the statue, if it was there. I may doom myself to an undesirable subsequent life, be burned by molten metal in this one, but my duty to my family and to Godanji requires any sacrifice on my part.
We could not find the eyes that guard the floor, that must be covered by blood. Then I realized, the bottom of the plinth was under two feet of mud. I asked Res Li what he saw at the base of the plinth, beneath the mud, and he confirmed: there were faces with eyes all around the base at the floor.
We had to build a dam around the plinth and clear out the mud so we could smear the eyes with blood. This became more and more distasteful as we puzzled out the barbaric rite.
Building the dam took a few hours. Ravena helped us select a body. She said the ogres had been dead for some months, and would not have blood anymore. The goblins were freshly dead, at least within several hours, and would have plenty of blood. We were concerned lest one goblin would not provide quite enough, so we brought back two with us.
Clearly, the original ritual was to throw a body down the "cage", which we now saw to be a chute, through the hole from the upper floor down to the plinth. A full-sized body hitting the plinth from twenty feet up would probably cover the entire plinth with blood easily, in addition to spattering anyone standing nearby. We decided that Mongo dropping it from his height would be enough, and we could smear the eyes by hand.
To make it easier to drop the goblin's body within the cage, Kyosuke had quite a clever idea: use the mud worms to dissolve, or at least weaken, a few steel bars, so we could get them out of the way. My cousin insisted on catching the worms himself: using some metal to tempt them, he was able to scoop them out of the mud with his crippled hands.
Back in the ritual room, we compared the volume of a goblin's blood to what we needed to cover. Mongo figured the bare minimum would be enough to lightly cover the top surface with enough left over to smear the eyes of the faces at the bottom. With the dam, we saw there were sixteen: five on each of the long sides, and three on each of the short sides. With that plan, Ravena thought one goblin would be enough.
Once we had everything ready, I tried to organize everyone and ensure each knew his part. These barbarians have a hard time sticking to plans, and tend to improvise at poor moments. The White Faerie would stand by the faces. Mongo would drop the body. Kyosuke would ensure the top of the plinth and the upper edges were covered with blood, and Ravena, Sutoiko, and Res Li would paint the eyes with blood. I stood near the second goblin body, ready to hand it to Mongo should more blood be required. Once the blood was in place, the White Faerie would strike each face thrice, then speak the piece addressing the god.
Before we began, Kyosuke insisted that, considering the possible cost of touching, let along removing, anything, he should be the one to take the statue. He was very stubborn, regarding it as a way to recover his honor, until I pointed out that the task was mine: I alone had failed Godanji and it was my honor to redeem, not his. He bowed his head to the inevitable truth. I believe he will abide by the agreement, but nevertheless I will watch carefully to be sure he does not go against my wishes in this.
Surprisingly, everything went according to plan. After the White Faerie spoke his piece, there was a groaning sound from the floor beneath the plinth, and floor of the cage vanished. The goblin's body slid down a chute, out of sight. I did not wish to know where. The shaft closed again and the floor reappeared. Another grinding sound from the wall, and it parted into doors which opened, as we had hoped.
The White Faerie led us into the hall, with Kyosuke and I next to him, followed by everyone else. This room was as deep in mud as everything else. We entered an eight-sided room, with steps that led into the mud and steps also in the roof, echoing the floor. There was a wooden pillar off-center that stuck up out of the mud in the floor. It was covered by runes and other cryptic carvings. The walls were covered by some sort of mottled red paint. On the wall to the left was a smaller set of doors.
Between the doors was some kind of stylized image of the three peaked mountain. Res Li, Ash, and Kyosuke walked around the edge on the first step, towards the right. Res Li and Kyosuke realized that the mottling of the "paint" formed the rough shape of a humanoid on each wall.
Res Li looked carefully all around the room, but saw nothing. The pillar was solid all the was to the ground, and he said there was nothing he could see on the other sides of the walls, the floor, or the ceiling. But then, he spotted the tentacles under the mud on the opposite side of the room from us: we had failed to destroy the monster after all. The White Faerie's vision failed us. What then of his other visions, particularly of the precious statue?
The tentacles immediately attacked Res Li, Ash, and Kyosuke. Jeisan and I started around the room towards the battle. Res Li yelled to the White Faerie to ask the god to make the tentacle monster leave, and Mongo helped him get to the pillar.
Once I started battling tentacles, I saw little else. Kyosuke asked me to tell Mongo to ask the god to remove all the mud rather than act directly against it. I did so, but the dwarf had already asked the first question and was trying to figure out what to do next.
I realized after a short while that the tentacles we destroyed were not being replaced. There were also a lot more tentacles attacking us then there had been in previous battles. So, perhaps the crystals we destroyed were what had allowed the monster to heal itself. Without that ability, it was probably attacking with everything it had, and if we vanquished it before it us, it would be truly dead. We could only hope.
Sutoiko came up beside me, to aid in the fight. Finding tentacles to attack was not difficult. I was worried about Kyosuke: it seemed that fully half of the tentacles were all attacking him. I could do nothing but fight the ones on me, so I grimly continued to slice at them. I silently thanked the gods who had guided me to Master Toshi, who had taught me the two-bladed technique. Even without the windmill style, fighting with two blades at once was effective.
At some point, I realized Ash had disappeared. Looking around, I saw Ravena hauling him out of the mud and thought of him no more. The next thing I remember, the White Faerie shouted out something about a stone of stones. I did not know what he meant. I asked my cousin, who replied that the barbarians probably had destroyed it. I was pretty certain that a crystal and a stone were different items, but who can tell? My cousin has an even lower opinion of the barbarians than I do, which I had not thought possible.
Would this battle ever end? And would we be alive or dead at the end?