Chapter 34: The Crystal of Air
Fate does not change men,
it reveals them.
~ Hashi *
We set ourselves up in the courtyard, with all the cards at hand, and spread them out on the ground, hoping to make sense of them. We also asked a passing monk to research the cards for us. We asked about the layouts one might use for this number of cards, what the suits mean, how the suits should be ordered. We asked anything that came to mind, in case one of them would be the key.
When the monk hurried off to the library we returned to the cards themselves. First, we tried to place them in the order in which we found them. This was more difficult than it should have been, because we found a few nearly at the same time. And then we realized that we had actually not found them in the correct order. We decided on this order:
|Card||Text||Where we found it|
|1 of rods||Only whole when one is over||Given to us almost directly by Yazeran|
|7 of swords||Seek the source find the cause||Yazeran's statue|
|2 of cups||The last is not the least||Armorer|
|Knave of cups||Tallest and shortest provide the range||Well|
|7 of coins||Staff of life rod of iron||Brewer|
|2 of swords||Atop the mountain comes the dawn||Yorgi's tomb|
|Knave of coins||Flag not the weary will conquer||In handle of sword|
|3 of batons||The first is always the nearest||In small statue of knight|
|4 of cups||Birds of a feather flock together||Potter|
We had only gotten that far, when all the monks and the guards started gathering at the dining hall, although it was not a mealtime. The Roostmaster informed us they were convening an emergency meeting and invited us, as well. Ah, they were finally going to discuss the defense we could put up against the army. About time!
Everyone was there, in their usual places. The high table was full, so I sat with the rest of the group. This turned out to be a fortunate thing. The Roostmaster mumbled a bit, said several things that seemed off the topic, and finally handed the meeting off to Scar, who really started it up.
Then it all went downhill. They first spent several minutes discussing whether or not it was proper to dispense with the usual reading of the minutes from the last emergency meeting. Although I was curious what and when that was, I was glad they voted to skip it. I had a feeling the minutes were probably lengthy and would lead to further discussions and arguments.
Finally discussing the small matter of the army at their door, they debated for quite some time the advisability of canceling classes during this emergency. Nine guards against an army and they were not sure if they should hold classes as usual. Granted, they had all faith in Yazeran's prophecy, which seemed to put the defense of their monastery in our lap, but still, one should go forward to meet Fate and to help it out, not sit still and let it overtake you.
They finally voted to suspend classes. The next item was to form a committee to take care of supplies. Much to my surprise, they handled that one with alacrity and I had some small hopes that they might actually accomplish something useful before the hordes attacked.
Alas, the monks lost their heads and began discussing peace terms. At this nonsense, Scar stood up and shouted, "With orcs?!?" The Roostmaster said he did not wish to leave any avenue unexplored, and he started drafting a "resolution". I am not certain why they believed the orcs would fall in with whatever they resolved, and Scar was also completely disgusted. As the monks started arguing points of grammar, he stalked out of the hall, and we slipped out after him.
Before Scar walked off to start organizing his few men, we asked him how long the food would hold out. He said months. If it comes to that, we will have lost. The orcs will not leave without the crystal, and we will not give it to them.
The monk we sent to the library reappeared at this point and passed on his discoveries. They were of no real help.
The order of the suits was: cups, swords, rods, pentacles. The cups represented the feminine, swords the masculine, rods power, and pentacles wealth. He showed us the patterns he had found, but they did not seem to fit at all. We thanked him and started laying out the cards on the ground again.
Hosei pulled out Yazeran's letter, as well, and we discovered a watermark of two patterns: one used seven cards, and one eight. We had nine cards. Looking at them again, we realized the card from the potter was not of the same style as the others. I could not see a difference, but they assured me it was different. Leaving it out, we had eight.
As we began to try fitting the cards into the pattern, something slammed on the ground behind us and we stood up quickly to look. It was a ball of rags that started to squirm. Jeisan and I immediately drew our weapons, Hosei and Ravena yelled out for Scar, and the White Faerie pulled out his maul. Hosei yelled out for us all to run. I think he expected it to explode.
Legs popped out of the bundle, and the thing started running aimlessly, just as the White Faerie struck at it. His maul smashed against the stone flagging.
Then it started to talk, screaming out one phrase over and over again. It was so fast and run together, I could not make out any meaning.
Jeisan, the White Faerie, and I all struck at it and we all missed. It was very fast and zig-zagged like a rabbit. Finally Ash managed to hit it and kill it with one blow. I imagine he has hunted rabbits with his axes a great deal more often than the rest of us have hunted them with swords and maul.
We quickly discussed what to do with it, and Hosei had an excellent suggestion, which we put into effect immediately. We soaked the thing in oil, set on afire, and Jeisan threw it down towards a catapult. He just missed hitting it, but we could see he caused some confusion. In the meantime, I found out what the thing had said: "Give us the crystal or you're all going to die!" I considered our reply to that demand, sent to us by a snotling yet, was quite appropriate. None of us missed the implications, though: their catapults could reach us.
Just as we turned from the wall, the monks appeared and started lowering one of their younger brethren down to the orcs over the wall. They said they were sending a peace offering and we could not dissuade them at all. We watched, although we all knew what the painful end would be.
At the bottom, the young man was immediately surrounded by goblinoids. He handed his scroll to the nearest black orc, who promptly ate it. For a moment, we saw nothing but a seething mass, and vile shouts and growls floated up to us. Then innumerable goblins started swarming up the rope, revealing a bloody patch on the ground where the young monk had stood. The monks realized their attempt at peace had failed, and they let go of the rope. The rest of us grabbed it and held on tight. When the creatures had nearly reached us, we let go. We only killed about twenty of them, as the top ones bounced off the ones below, but it was satisfying. I was sickened by the monks' foolishness. They had pointlessly sent the young man to his doom, betraying one of their own. The outcome was inevitable. As Hashi wrote, pride lifts you very high into the clouds, only to let go, and watch with glee as you plummet to the sharp rocks below.
The monks, chastened, filed away quietly. Over the next few hours, we saw they had accepted their Fate. Some resumed their usual work, some prayed, others gave themselves over to despair and drank themselves into oblivion.
Scar had reappeared to see what had happened, and we discussed matters with him quickly. He placed one guard on each tower, the rest at the gate. We mentioned that if the gate is taken, the well will also be, and someone should start hauling up and storing plenty of water.
We returned to our spot on the ground, and Ravena produced the cards again, which she had picked up for safe-keeping when the snotling appeared in our midst.
As we had discussed earlier, we cast out the two of cups as invalid. It was decided to also cast out the ace of staffs, although I was never clear on why. Something to do with its text, the deeper meaning of which I must have missed.
Looking at the first words on each card, we could make a sentence: "Seek atop the tallest flag staff". Perhaps we missed something earlier. Kyosuke again climbed up to the top of the tallest one, and then thought about the decorative globe at the top. He unscrewed it, but both it and the flagstaff were solid. And then I realized these flagstaffs were too new to have been here when Yazeran was alive. The old ones were in the storage room!
As we fled to Yazeran's old workshop, Ravena said Caramela was missing and she thought she had probably gone ahead. She must not get too near the crystal while she is holding the crystal of fire! We ran all the faster, but she was already there ahead of us, holding tightly to the flagstaff. Her crystal was glowing red, searing our eyes, and there was a white, answering glow at the top of the flagstaff.
Ravena spoke carefully to her sister, oh so reasonably reminding her of the consequences of two stones being too near each other, and one person cannot hold both. Caramela did not argue, but insisted that she would surrender the crystal to Ravena and only to Ravena, who also had to promise she would not give it to anyone else.
Ravena agreed and took the crystal. I know she views Caramela's crystal with very deep distrust, and worries greatly over its hold over her sister. Knowing that the crystal had lured an orc into a direct dispute with a god, which it had of course lost, I understood. Still, she did not hesitate, and I commend her courage.
Kyosuke said to me that this thing was too precious to trust to a barbarian. These crystals are not for us, I think. They are very much of the west. I merely told him that I believed it was Fated for Ravena to carry it, and he subsided.
I know he is worried over whether she will use it. He is very contemptuous of the fact that she reads a book when we are in battle. She is a monk and a healer, and I know her book has some magic about it. She helps us as she can while we are fighting, and she helps us greatly when we are wounded. Not everyone's path is that of a warrior.
I, too, worry whether she will be able to bring herself to use the crystal. They are not safe to wield at all, I believe, and she is right to fear and respect it. But I think we will not prevail without its aid.
Hosei suggested that if we left with the two crystals, the orcs would follow us, thus saving Iri. Perhaps true, but I argued against it. The nine of us and Sun, if he would not stay here safely, being pursued by a large army of orcs did not appeal to me. This was probably the best place for a battle: a wise general picks his ground carefully, if he can.
Over and above any strategic planning, though, is simply the fact that we are Fated to be here.
Actually, I took liberties. This is the real quote and its genuine source:
"Fortune does not change men, it unmasks them."
~ Suzanne Necker