Chapter 49: Many Paths Come Together
Each follows his path
Through the tangled forest floor,
And all meet when planned.
~ Miyara Miwa
The recent past has been ... odd. My personal past seems straightforward, yet we have traveled farther in distance in no time at all, and back again, and many years into the past, and returned again. We have not, thankfully, moved into our future, but I can see that time is far more mutable than I had thought. If one thinks of time as a river, always moving in one direction, it was much like climbing out of the river, walking upstream, then entering the river again, but upstream of our original position. We floated downriver a little bit, then climbed out and walked back downstream to where we had gotten out, then jumped back in again. So what keeps us from moving further downstream, into the future? I do not know, and I think I am blathering.
The White Faerie has had several disquieting visions, mostly centered around the faeries having control of, and going to war with, the Doomstones under Zeench's laughing mien. Even the precious statue was featured in a few visions, either smashed, and again Zeench laughed, or worshipped by Doomstone-wielding faeries. They were all led by Lord Osohara, King, rather than the present King Men-Ri. He saw nothing positive.
Shan followed the instructions he had been given by Lord Osohara, and we successfully walked into his bowl of water and back out at the faerie shrine of Kadaru Haluga, 22 years earlier. That, of course, was when the ogres overran the shrine, and when Lord Osohara lost himself.
We met no difficulty. We entered the inner room, successfully evaded the tentacle demon. The White Faerie spoke his piece, and claimed the Stone of Stones. Stone in hand, Shan used the box again and we moved in space only back to Kara Osohara, remaining in the same time. We arrived in the forest, about an hour away. I was certain that the statue, my reason for being so far from my home, was in its alcove waiting for me. Probably guarded by the treacherous Chin. The orcs, deep in the faeries' keep, were corrupted even further than their nature and worshipping Nergal.
It was a pleasant hour's walk to the outer city, where the gates were open again. The city had the same vacant look. We walked through carefully, as we did downstream in time, but it was as empty as it was in our past and will be in its future.
I led everyone to the bank, and it still appeared empty. I asked Res Li to look inside the front room of the building. He couldn't see across the entire room, but what he saw was empty. He reported that the door was not locked, trapped, or barred, so we opened it. The room was mostly empty.
My eyes went first to the alcove, for which my sensei would have walloped me, justifiably. The alcove held a small silver statue of a dragon. I recognized it instantly, from Godanji's description and the sketches he had made. He was a passable artist; he had caught the way the light glinted off its delicate curves and sharp edges.
Kyosuke's eyes were glued elsewhere: at a young orc practicing some sort of martial arts form off at one end. Although not as skilled as Kyosuke, he was obviously learning Clown Fighting. Equally obvious to the both of us was his identity: an orc who would become a master of clown fighting. This had to be Og, the orc we both sought, for different reasons. My prophecy was true, although Og had been dead when I discovered him -- Og led me to the statue.
Og looked to be comparable to about a 9-year old human boy. He noticed us at once, and charged us. Since Og was the object of my young cousin's search, I gestured to him. He did not step forward to talk, as he usually does, nor did he leap forward to engage his attacker. Instead, he knelt to the youthful Og. However, he tripped, smashed into the ground, and not incidentally knocked the White Faerie back a few steps. Then he moved in to engage Og.
Within a few moves, I saw what he was doing. He was sparring, showing his technique, leading and even teaching Og, whose sole purpose was to guard the room against us. Kyosuke was masterful, and I heard laughs behind us. I smiled myself, widely, to show Kyosuke my appreciation of his skill.
The fight continued for quite a while. As Og began to tire, he lost his initial anger, and realized Kyosuke's intentions. He gained his composure and control, and tried to mimic Kyosuke's movements. Kyosuke was much more skilled, more practiced, yet the young Og had an obvious wild talent. Even in this single meet, Og learned and gained some skill.
We clustered in the doorway, watching the two. After about five minutes, Og signaled a halt and Kyosuke disengaged. Og kept his position between Kyosuke, and us, and the room, not forgetting his purpose in being there. They saluted each other properly, and Kyosuke said it was an honor to spar with the young Master Og, who answered in Chin. Hosei stepped in to translate between the two, and Kyosuke asked Og to repeat his words.
He did so, looking a little confused. "Who are you and why are you here?"
Kyosuke replied, "I have been seeking you for a long time to come."
Og became even more confused, and stammered, "What?"
"You will be a hero against chaos and you will be a king."
The young orc laughed at that, as well he might. "What are the forces of chaos?"
I answered him, "Death and destruction."
Og repeated his question, "Oh. Who are you and why are you here?"
Kyosuke replied, "Looking for Master Og."
"There is no Master Og."
"I seek that which is to come."
I tried to clarify, "You will be Master Og."
He asked us, "Then why are you here now?"
"Because you are here now," I told him.
Kyosuke explained more fully, "In my time, chaos is strong. We fight many causes, for peace, happiness, civilization. We fight for those who cannot defend themselves or for those who do not know to defend themselves."
This seemed to strike a chord with Og, who said, "Wait here. I'll inform my master you are here."
Kyosuke bowed, and Og bowed back. Og went back to the doorway that led into the building, beyond this open entryway.
Kyosuke and I stood and waited, blocking the door so no one would enter. I don't think the barbarians understood, but then they are barbarians.
After several minutes, Og returned, carrying an ancient, wizened Chin. Kyosuke knelt, and I bowed deeply to him. The Chin, barely able to move his hand, gestured towards the alcove. Og put him down, leaning against the wall below the statue. The old man motioned us forwards. Kyosuke and I walked to him, and the rest followed us. Kyosuke knelt again.
The ancient appeared to be well over a hundred years old. It was a miracle he was still alive. But his voice was clear and strong, as was his purpose. In nearly perfect Imperial, he welcomed us to the Chin monastery. "I apologize for not being able to welcome you more hospitably." His gaze was on me, and I answered him as he expected. As Kyosuke and Og had sparred, I had done some mental arithmetic. This was 22 years in our past. Isawa Godanji had left Nippon about 30 years before, and had returned, statue-less, about 25 years ago. This meant he had left the statue here at this monastery a mere 3 years ago.
"I am sorry Isawa Godanji could not come here himself. He has died." In reporting this news, I felt his death as if it were fresh again.
"He will be missed."
"He sent me here to retrieve the statue in his place, and bring it back home with me."
"I know." He then told me the story Godanji never had.
The Chin arrived about 80 years ago, he said (which was about 102 years before we found Lord Osohara in the faerie hold). When they got here, there was a small tribe of orcs living in the lower levels, worshipping Nergal in a temple they had built for him. Instead of simply destroying them, the Chin decided to enlighten them. They defended themselves against attack, but didn't bother them otherwise.
Over the course of many years (a couple generations worth of orcs), the orcs turned away from Nergal, and mended their ways. They began to follow their own Tao, leaving Nergal's path, and they closed up the temple of Chaos.
Then, five years ago, Godanji came here seeking training in clown fighting. He was intrigued by the orcs, and visited them, even became friends with them. He also discovered the temple, and was fascinated by it as well. Unfortunately, the orcs were disgusted by the temple, their past, and its implications that they had forgotten and tore it to pieces, which angered Nergal mightily.
Nergal visited Kara Osohara, and the few orcs that survived died soon after Nergal left. The Chin monks who survived began aging very rapidly. He was the last. All but Og, who was born during the time of Nergal's attack. Og was touched by none of Nergal's disease.
Isawa Godanji left soon after he opened the temple, but before Nergal attacked, in grief and guilt. He left the statue as payment for the skills they taught him. And which he eventually taught my cousin.
I was silent after this tale. How could I retrieve what Godanji had given in fair payment? "What must I do, Master, to earn the statue?"
"I am the last of this monastery. We are no longer able to care for Og. I have found employment for him in Atadofu, and a merchant who will pick him up on the road not too far from here. Your task is to deliver him to the merchant. For that I will give you the statue."
I bowed to him. It was a simple task, far less than what the statue represented. "We will do so," I answered. "When is he expected?"
"Soon. You will need to leave before sunset."
The White Faerie asked, "What of your plans?"
"I have plans." He spoke in Chin to Og, who picked him up and carried him gently out the door we entered. Hosei said that the old man had said, "Take me there, now."
I walked to the alcove and gazed at Godanji's statue. Og gently picked up the ancient monk behind me, and I took the statue from the alcove. We all followed Og, who carried the Chin to a cemetery just outside the outer city. 22 years later, when we exited the city to use Shan's box to travel to the past, we used dirt from a grave as our anchor. This same grave was freshly dug, ready for a new occupant, the Chin. All things are connected, and this was yet another clear sign to me that I was meant to be here.
Og laid the Chin down next to the grave, and he struggled to sit up in a meditative pose. For several minutes, we were all quiet, out of respect for the dying man. Then Og touched his shoulder, bowed his head, and laid him in his grave. Og silently began to shovel dirt over the old man's body. Kyosuke looked questioningly at Og, who avoided his gaze. Kyosuke would have liked to help, I know, but Og obviously wanted to bury his master himself.
As the only present senior member of the Miyara family, second family of the Phoenix clan, I spoke over the grave, saying what must be said to a revered ancient one whose spirit has left his body. Although I spoke in Nipponese, the Chin's traditions are not so different than ours.
Og finished his task about the time I finished mine, and he gave me stricken look. I felt for the young orc, whose master had just died, and whose life was about to take a significant turn.
Ravena quietly said she'd found the road the Chin had mentioned on her map. I asked Og if he was ready, and he nodded. I brought out the piece of Godanji's vest that I have carried with me since his death, and wrapped it around the statue. My hands stopped halfway through, and I looked at Kyosuke, who nodded. I would have to give it to Og, since we had found Og's body wearing clothing based on this very pattern of Isawa Godanji's name and crest. I finished wrapping it; Godanji could hold the statue in spirit for a short while, anyway.
Ravena said it would take us a few hours to walk to the road. Along the way, Kyosuke walked beside Og, teaching him as much as he could, with Hosei translating. I shamelessly eavesdropped; I knew very little about my cousin and his training. He essentially told Og that he will become a Master of Clown Fighting. He must be an ambassador among the non-beast people, to prove that orcs can be civilized and noble; he must fight for others to bring peace and tranquility to all.
"Before we part," he said, "we will give you a cloth you should use to make into clothing, to remind you of those teachers to whom you owe your purpose." He told Og to fight many opponents, including his own kind, but always fight to be right and noble, no matter how those around him treated him. He was to remember that he will be a master of the art of clown fighting, and he should behave accordingly. My bright cousin added at the end, "When you see some of us again in the future, act like you have never seen us before."
My usually silent cousin was amazingly eloquent, and apparently Og listened, and remembered well. He did become a Master Clown Fighter, and he did pretend he'd never seen the others before, when they met again, years later.
We stopped, the road below us, as Kyosuke finished speaking. I unwrapped the statue and gave him the cloth. Og knelt in respect to Kyosuke. A well-guarded caravan was there, its guards on high alert, which I found curious in this quiet, deserted place. We walked out to them, and were met by the merchant in charge of the caravan, he who had agreed to take the orc away.
The merchant expected someone to deliver him an orc, and was unphased by our appearance. Og knelt in respect in front of the barbarian merchant, who immediately slapped irons and chains on him. Horrified, Kyosuke stepped between them and told them that Og was no common beast-man, but an orc who is to take his place in the caravan as a free person. "He can entertain you on your journey. He is much more valuable left free than bound. He can help you defend your caravan in ways you cannot imagine."
Hosei translated for him, and I eyed the alert guards. Now I understood their wariness. They were prepared for an orc, and his youth did nothing to ease their fear.
The merchant said, "Look, I'm just paid to take this orc across the empire and the only way I'm going to do that is in chains. You don't want me to do that, that's fine. He can stay here."
Kyosuke told Og, in the tones of a student speaking to a master, his destiny was to be free, but it may come slowly and will require the patience of a master. Shan asked right out, "Will you accpet the terms?"
Og asked Kyosuke clearly, and in Imperial, "Is this what my master wanted me to do?"
Kyosuke answered, "I believe your destiny will come. Your master wished you safely delivered to Atadofu. If you are delivered in chains, it will not affect your destiny."
"Then I'll do it," the youth stated.
Kyosuke was not happy about the situation, but merely told the merchant that if he mistreated Og, he would hunt him down a quarter century from now.
The merchant, unphased, said as long as Og followed directions, he wouldn't have any reason to hurt him in any way.
The White Faerie added his own threat to Kyosuke's, saying, "Better stick to that, lad, or you'll be fighting a faerie, too."
As the chains were put on Og, Kyosuke turned his back and walked away. I watched, to be sure all was well. The merchant led him to a wagon that he had all to himself, no more than a sturdy box with small barred windows. Og climbed in, and the merchant barred the door. The guards visibly relaxed. Cowardly barbarians, frightened when confront by a an orc who was no more than a boy.
Shan called out to Og, and not incidentally to the rest of the caravan, "Not to worry, lad, we'll know where you'll be."
I added, "And there are lots of us." The Miyaras would all back up Kyosuke, if necessary.
The caravan slowly moved away. As we walked back towards the city, I heard the White Faerie ask Ravena if she could do something to help him regain his hearing and smell and taste. She sounded doubtful, but willing to try.
By the time we returned to the monastery/bank, it was dark.
And so is Kyosuke's search for Og ended, and my search for the statue. And Kyosuke's debt to me. It didn't feel like much was ending. I now have the statue, but I must still return it to the Isawa. Kyosuke, too, is at a beginning; he is to become a Master.
I must take the statue back as soon as possible, to erase the stain on the Isawa's honor. Yet I must confess that I believe I was fated to be a part of the Doomstones' history. I could use Shan's box to return home with the statue and then perhaps even return here. Yet that does not feel quite right to me, for reasons I do not fully understand.
It may be that I was brought here strictly for the purpose of aiding the barbarians in collecting and destroying the Doomstones, and that the statue was merely the device Fate used to lure me here. The White Faerie's continued visions demonstrate that I have a role to play here.
Does that mean, then, that Godanji was led to leave the statue here simply so I would come along some years later to retrieve it, thereby rescuing the barbarians and joining their quest? That seems too simplistic to be true, and certainly that theory lessens too many other people's roles in this and other purposes. Still, though, I wonder if bringing me here was at least a part of Godanji's reason for being here, unknown to him. It would not be the first time, by far, that the fates of Isawa and Miyara were interwoven. Nor the last, I am sure.
In the end, all I can do is try to follow my Fated path with due honor.
And so we have three of the four stones:
- The White Faerie now carries the Stone of Stone.
- Ashe carries the Zoggin Rock of Fire for Caramela, who wants nothing to do with it.
- Ravena carries the Crystal of Air.
The Crystal of Water, then, is our next objective, although we have yet some unfinished business with the Stone of Stone. We also have no clues whatsoever to Water.
Kyosuke has stated his desire to rescue the faeries at Kadaru Haluga somehow. I, and the rest, believe that we should not change what happened in the past. Kyosuke is convinced that no matter what we do or change, it will be right. I have caught some of the barbarians' uneasiness with the workings of Chaos, and I think we should try to affect as little as possible.
I do not look forward to watching the faeries lose their battle to the ogres, however. Necessity is rarely attractive.
We need to return to the temple and replace the Stone of Stone into the pillar, so it is still there when our earlier selves discover it later. Then we will return to the temple right after we left without it the first time and retrieve it.