Chapter 48: Questions, Answers, and Theories
As grains of sand flow
through the hourglass, so do flow
the days of our lives.
~ Miyara Miwa
Sun, Shan, Hosei, and Baku remained behind. To my surprise, the White Faerie, who had been so insistent that we go and help Osohara against his orders, volunteered to remain behind to keep them safe. I thought that, although he wished to help Osohara, he did not truly want to disobey orders. And so he sends us and remains behind, accomplishing both. I told the White Faerie, if they got into trouble, to make sure Sun and Shan were barricaded in a room, and to defend them until our return.
Kyosuke and I reckoned the orc that Osohara takes tea with is probably the orcish equivalent of Osohara to his orcs and might speak to us, since they are apparently friendly with each other. I told Kyosuke to lead us first to the room Osohara and the orc and been in. From there, we could figure out where they went.
The hall at this level was very different from the common areas upstairs. Much more nicely finished, more plush. This was likely where the nobility lived. Kyosuke led us into a pleasant sitting room with a fireplace and a table and chairs. It was empty of both faeries and orcs.
I asked Ashe and Kyosuke if they could follow Osohara and the orc from here, and they both said it was easy: there was no question but that they both went further downstairs. "Let us go," I said. Ashe followed by scent, and we followed him.
The next set of stairs went very far down. I have noted that faeries, given the chance, will continue tunneling as far as they possibly can. The next level was more a working man's level, as far as we could tell.
At the bottom of the stairs, the orc trail and the faerie trail separated. Osohara went north, and we followed his trail. It would be interesting to know where the orc went, but for now Osohara was our only business.
As we walked along the long, thin tunnel, we eventually began to hear the muted sounds of combat. We walked closely enough to the sounds so Res Li could look through the wall and see what was there. However, as we approached, the combat seemed to be at the end of the tunnel, and Kyosuke could better see through the darkness than Res Li.
He whispered to us that the tunnel ended about 50 feet in front of us, opening into something else. As we came closer, Kyosuke said it opened into a larger room, and that was where the combat was.
The sound was odd -- there just was not enough noise and clatter for the widescale melee I expected from the White Faerie's vision. I sent Kyosuke ahead to scout and report without being seen. Perhaps Osohara was winning and did not require our help after all.
In moments, he returned. Osohara was fighting a mighty battle from a corner, with his battle axe. He seemed to be getting hit occasionally, was struggling, but did not seem overwhelmed.
However, Kyosuke could see no actual opponent: he was fighting invisible spirits.
All at once, Lord Osohara was standing in the hall, having vanquished his invisible foes. He looked a trifle surprised at our presence. I explained that we thought he might need assistance, and he simply said, "Good thinking. They don't usually follow me out. Follow me," and he started walking back up at a very brisk pace. By the time we reached the top of the long and awkward stairs (with steps meant for faeries), Kyosuke and I were breathing somewhat heavily, but not exhausted. Ravena was completely done in, and almost collapsed to sit at the top. The rest were in various stages of well-exercised and exhausted. Osohara seemed quite pleased with himself; he breathed easily.
Since I finally had an opportunity, I asked him what he was fighting. He replied, "The Grey Mountain clan." I told him that we had not seen any of them. He said, "Yes, they don't usually come out of the desecrated place." Most of us having regained our breath, we returned to the apartments.
Surprised at our quick return, the White Faerie said, "You're back! What happened?"
Lord Osohara replied, "Yes, but I fear it isn't over. It will be someday. We will drive them out. Right now, I need beer and food."
Hosei had prepared well, and Osohara sat down and expected someone to bring him food and beer. Sun stepped right up and served Osohara without even my prompting him.
Kyosuke indicated to me that he would like to ask some questions of Lord Osohara, and so I translated for him.
He asked, "Who was that orc I saw you meeting with by the fireplace?" and apologized for spying on him.
Lord Osohara said, "It turned out good that you did. The orc, I've met him many times. I don't remember a fireplace, though. He's the head of the Grey Mountain clan. I've always just called him [some orcish word I will not even try to reproduce]."
"Why do you meet him? To drive him out of Osohara?"
The White Faerie interjected rather sarcastically, "By drinking ale with him?"
Osohara replied, "That's an odd way to put it."
The White Faerie explained the vision, and Osohara thought it was very strange.
Kyosuke suddenly looked enlightened and was about to speak. I told him we would discuss it later. I had an idea of what he was going to say.
We stopped asking questions, feeling we were somehow speaking at cross-purposes, and ate dinner. While we ate and shared small talk, Osohara looked us all over and said, "I do remember you. You put on a good show, but I do remember you." He pointed at the White Faerie and said, "I asked you not to call me 'Highness'. It was Kadar Helugade."
We all looked at each other: that was the name of the shrine in the mountain where we left the Stone of Stones. And Osohara had memories of us we did not share.
I carefully said, "I do not recall quite all of the conversation," hoping to draw out more details. He cheerfully said, "That's all right, I don't either. It was 22 years ago."
The White Faerie, sounding as bemused as I felt, worked along the same direction I had tried. "I've been a little busy lately, could you remind me?"
"Unfortunately," he replied, "My memory is also a bit vague. What I do know is that we were there together and we were overrun and the ogres took the place."
I asked the White Faerie if he now remembered the history. He nodded vaguely and confusedly and said, "Ah, yes." He pointed to Baku and Sun and said, "Of course we weren't all there." He watched for any contrariness from Osohara. He seemed skeptical, but did not say anything.
In Nipponese, I told the group, "We will discuss this later, in private. Kyosuke seems to think he knows what is going on." Enough of them had learned Nipponese well enough to be able to use it to keep our speech private: it was unlikely that Osohara would know Nipponese.
We muttered that the ogres made a mess of the place. That was the wrong thing to say, as Osohara's mood dropped from his post-combat high to a darker place. "Yes, that was bad." The White Faerie tried to cheer him up, "Still, they're gone now." This did not seem to lift his spirits, and the White Faerie next suggested Shan play something happier, about faerie victories. He did so, and though Osohara did not cheer up, he did not fall into any deeper despair.
I recommended we let him rest from his great battle, and he said with obvious relief, "Great idea." We left graciously and went into one of our commandeered apartments to have a talk amongst ourselves.
Once crowded into the room, I asked Kyosuke to enlighten us.
"There is no one here but us." I nodded in agreement.
"And Lord Osohara," said the White Faerie.
"No. He is a spirit, a part of this place, re-fighting battles with the orcs long since past."
The White Faerie said, "But he was eating and drinking, he can't be a ghost."
In unison, Kyosuke and I said, "Of course they eat and drink." I continued alone, "Or else there would be no use in leaving food and drink for the spirits."
Kyosuke said quietly. "He is the spirit of Osohara. Osohara has lost its way."
The White Faerie said thoughtfully, "I haven't heard of Lord Osohara having died, but..."
We all agreed that we have to finish the unresolved issues here. It is up to us, since Osohara is part of it. I said, "He is fighting the same old battle or battles over and over again. We need to bring this place into the present."
Kyosuke suggested, "We need to stop focusing our action and direction on this part. Continue to offer the spirit what he wishes: food, drink, stories. We should find the other spirit's side of the story."
Ravena asked if "our" spirits usually leave tracks that can be followed, and Kyosuke answered, "Why not?" I had never heard of anyone tracking a spirit, but Kyosuke and Ashe had already been able to, so we decided to go back downstairs and follow the orc's traces and try to find him. Sun, Shan, Hosei, and Baku stayed behind. I was certain they would be safe, now.
Kyosuke and I brought some beer and food to offer the orc's spirit, and some for ourselves as well. Ashe and Kyosuke led, following the tracks. The White Faerie and Res Li were in the second rank, followed by Ravena and Caramela. Rear guard was left to me.
I was maybe about ten steps from the bottom of the second set of stairs when we heard, "Stop" from the top of the stairs. "Please do not go down there". I turned and saw a very old orc, dressed in full battle regalia. This had to be Osohara's "friend". I commanded the troupe to stop, and I asked Kyosuke in Nipponese if this was, in fact, Osohara's friend, both he and the White Faerie said yes.
I trudged back up the stairs to the second level, where he stood, and everyone else followed. Once there, he led us back to the room with the fireplace. He was wearing very nice armor and carried many magical trinkets which were obvious to us all. The White Faerie whispered in Nipponese to me that perhaps this is the fellow Shan needs to speak with. I agreed.
He sat down in the opposite chair, and I sat in the other and offered him the beer and food. The others sit on the benches around the room. He thanked me and apologized for not having anything to offer me in return. I replied, "I am sure you will give us what we need."
The White Faerie asked, again in Nipponese, if I were sure he was a ghost, and should we ask him if he is? I pointed out that he likely would not know if he were a ghost, just as Osohara did not. I was otherwise silent while he ate and drank, and he did not continue the conversation.
When he was finished, I began politely, "Please tell me why you did not wish us to go downstairs."
"This is my home, I'd rather you didn't go down there. It was also a test of your intentions."
"We merely wished to speak with you."
"That is apparent. What do you wish to speak of?"
"Can you tell me something of this place's history?"
"It's a faerie city of old. But they haven't been here for some 200 years." That matched what we thought.
The White Faerie asked, "What do you call Lord Osohara and myself?"
"Historically, the faeries did leave," he answered mildly.
"Well, yeah. I suppose you can think of it that way."
"Sometime after the faeries left, a small colony of orcs moved into the lower levels, what I now call my home. And that was the story of Osohara until about 100 years ago when a colony of religious people, more like you and you then her," and he pointed first at Kyosuke and me, then at Ravena. He obviously meant the Chin. "They lived in some of the upper parts in Osohara. Apparently they lived on a not completely unfriendly basis with the orcs. These are my best guesses, not known history or personal knowledge."
"When did you move here?" Kyosuke asked and I translated.
"About 15 years ago. The others were gone. The orcs, before the humans came, had become involved in a particularly nasty form of cult of Nergal" -- I thought back to the other shrine -- "and apparently the humans stopped that off. I don't know why or how, but I'm happy. The orcs closed off the shrine to Nergal and started living in other areas and levels. I'm not too sure of the timing, but about 24-30 years ago, that portion of the shrine was re-opened and Nergal's wrath was unleashed upon everyone. All the humans and all the orcs were dead or otherwise gone inside of 5-10 years. It's hard to tell exactly. And I arrived about 15 years ago, as I said, and Osohara arrived at about the same time." That meant that Osohara and the orc were the only ones here.
"So who was Lord Osohara fighting?" The White Faerie asked.
"See?" I could not resist.
"He is haunted by memories of a particular lost battle. He has mentioned the place Kadar-Helugade and I have come to believe that's where he suffered the loss."
"He doesn't mention that he remembers you being there, right?" The White Faerie asked.
"No, his enemy there was ogres."
"It seems strange to some of us that you and Lord Osohara should be on amicable terms. How did that come about?" I asked him.
"Perhaps Osohara's current condition is unique for normal faeries. It is not unique amongst orcs. But not to put too fine a point on it, he may be not all there. And perhaps neither am I. But we enjoy sharing stories of the old days more than we enjoyed smacking each other around."
Noticing that some of his magic things ware boxes like Shan's, the White Faerie said, "We have a blind friend who has one of those."
We described the blind human who had something orcish and was told he needed to come here to learn to use it. The orc seemed surprised. I sent Res Li to go and bring Shan back here. I then described the statue I sought and asked if he had seen it, but he said "No, most similar items were long cleared out." I hope it is not lost somewhere in this faerie warren. It would take years to search and discover whether it were here or not. I suspect the Chin may have it. I hope that the White Faerie will have an updated vision soon.
Kyosoke asked through me, "Would you ask the ghosts of the orcs downstairs if they have seen such a statue, since they were here long ago?"
I asked him, "May I ask speak with them and ask them?"
"I would prefer you not go down there, as it's somewhat embarrassing."
"The shrine to Nergal."
"I believe we have seen such before. Perhaps you could bring the ghosts up here."
"They are long-dead orcs that died by the hand of Nergal. No, I will not bring them up here," he said very firmly. "If you have the power to talk with the dead, perhaps you could talk to the dead humans."
"Are their spirits here, too?"
Res Li and Shan joined us, and Shan pulled out the box when asked to by the orc. He was astonished, and not happy to see the box.
"He clearly recognized the box," I said to Shan.
"I don't recognize the box in particular, but I recognize the symbols on the box. They are symbols of another one of the chaos gods."
"Zeentch, perhaps?" Shan asked.
"That sounds right -- The great conspirator?"
"The druidess thinks I should learn to use it."
"I can tell you what it does and how to use it. But I won't touch it and I don't want you to use it in my presence."
Sean put it away and said, "Go ahead."
"It changes time." We all said ah! at the same time. Shan asked, "In what way?"
"In any way you wish."
"Like I could avoid a party I didn't want to go to?"
"I suppose," he said doubtfully.
"So how does it work? How can I control it?"
"You don't control it. You can operate it. You cannot ever control it."
The orc stood up and walked to the fireplace. He yanked a large basin off the wall and dropped it on the floor with a clang. He fumbled around in his clothing and pulled out a box similar to Shan's, but without the markings. He opened it and he poured the non-burning liquid into the bowl. I explained quickly to Shan what had happened.
"These are called fire boxes. Every magic user will carry at least one of them. Some will merely carry flint and steel and non-magical orcs find this fascinating. The less mundane ones contain magic. The really powerful fireboxes have water, like this one." He took out another jug and said, "This is just water."
He poured it into the bowl and nothing happened, which I reported to Shan.
"Water is very useful," the orc continued. "And food." We all nodded and thought he was a little weird. Then he reached into the water and pulled out a rabbit. He put it back into the water and poured it back into his box and puts it away. All the water disappeared. I explained this to Shan as well.
"OK, so you're saying what?" Shan asked. "You pour it into a basin and that makes it work?"
"Yes, that's typically how it works."
"If we were to find a basin about 5 feet across, then filled it with my box and enough water to fill, would I pull out something from a different time, or step into it into another time?"
Kyosuke, the White Faerie, and I briefly discussed how we could fix Lord Osohara by using some of the liquid.
"It's probably worth knowing that in orcish culture, water is associated with birth and creation, and fire is associated with death and destruction," the orc explained to us.
"So the god of death and destruction is somehow in charge of the substance in this box?" asked Shan.
"No, chaos is both creation and destruction."
We then discussed the philosophy of re-fighting the old battle and winning it. Would we lose because it had already been lost? What happens if we do win? Would we somehow not have rescued Ravena, Caramela, Shan, and the rest? My head began to hurt. The White Faerie reminded us that the pillar that gave us the answer gave it to him in faerie. In translation, the pronouns can be vague. Additionally, it was not a faerie speaking his native language, it was a stone elemental. So perhaps we misunderstood the prophecy as applying to a city, when it actually applied only to a single faerie?
As we left, he said to us, "I will leave you with some words of caution. Do not forget where the box came from. And even I cannot imagine the amount of chaos that could easily be caused by changing time."