Chapter 54: Faeries and Ghouls
In a dark tunnel,
A pool of water gathers,
Fouled, slimy, and green.
~ Miyara Miwa
We stood at the entrance of the valley in the clear, cold air, silvered by the full moon. Our plan was very simple, probably to a fault. Still, we had unfriendly faeries keeping us away from the Crystal of Water and Mendri and his faeries coming in behind us, certain to cause us trouble. Kyosuke was to move forward and use his Clown Fighting technique to distract the guards while the rest of us moved along the dark cliffs and to the one side entrance they had found. Then Kyosuke would join us. Ravena and Hosei were ready to blow crossbow bolts away with the power of winds, and Hosei was also ready to throw a fireball into the stream, to produce an obscuring mist.
Kyosuke took several lighted pebbles with him. If and when Kyosuke wanted the steam, he would throw the pebble into the stream and Hosei would throw a fireball in at the same time. We hoped to hide the fact of the fireball in that way.
We followed the plan. Kyosuke attracted the guards' attention immediately, but Ashe noticed they had seen us before we were much more than 3/4 of the way up the valley. Still, they did not react, so we continued with the plan. Kyosuke started flipping a pebble in his hands. About halfway there, one of the guards went inside.
At about forty yards, the remaining guard brought his loaded crossbow up, but almost casually, not aiming it anywhere in particular. Kyosuke informed them, "Gentlemen, the show is about to begin." They did not understand him, but it did not matter.
He placed one pebble on the ground, and the second guard returned from inside, his crossbow ready but not aimed. We continued as Kyosuke started his maneuvering. We passed him. We reached the cave when Kyosuke was still about fifteen yards out. The crossbows came out into firing position, readied at my cousin.
Ravena took out the Crystal of Air, which glowed brightly in the night. It immediately attracted the guards' attention. One watched us and the other returned his attention to Kyosuke. I realized the one watching us could not really see us past the bright, glowing rock. It had an added brightness because of the proximity of its fourth sibling. Kyosuke continued his act, and we continued into the cave, masked by the bright light. Ravena and Hosei remained at the mouth, ready to aid Kyosuke.
Having made sure we were safe inside, I watched Kyosuke from behind Ravena and Hosei. Kyosuke flung his pebble into the stream, and Hosei threw his fireball in at the same time and place, as we had planned. Steam billowed up, but not quickly enough to hide Kyosuke before one of the guards shot him, in the chest. My heart in my mouth, I watched him run up to join us, crossbow bolt still in his chest. As he disappeared into the mist, another crossbow bolt hit the rocky cliff off to our left, harmlessly. He reappeared from the mist and made it to us, miraculously. We all moved behind the bush in the cave. Res Li whispered that two goblins were armed with clubs, or perhaps old and rusty short swords. With pity, he said they were the most emaciated, putrid goblins he'd ever seen. Then his tone changed and he whispered, "Nergal". I shuddered with the memory of the horrid green things we battled in the forest last summer.
Only one of us could crawl through the small opening at the top of the rubble. I took the glowing pebble and went through first, leaving the pebble at the top to illuminate the passage for everyone. Ashe, the White Faerie, Baku, Kyosuke, Ravena, Caramela, Res Li, and Hosei followed me, and Hosei remembered to bring the pebble with him.
The goblins were still around a corner from where we stood and could not see us. I declared a break: we could certainly spare a few minutes for Ravena to heal Kyosuke of his wound before we entered battle. We watched carefully; the goblins did not move in front of us, and no faeries appeared behind us. When Ravena was finished, I quietly said, "Let's go".
Kyosuke led the way, in his bumbling, stumbling Clown Fighting technique to draw them out of their hole into the open. They remained in their alcove, and Kyosuke had to take the fight to them, leaving none of us an opening. Instead, we passed him, one by one, at least ensuring that he could not be attacked from behind by others further up the tunnel. We got a look at them on the way: ghouls that had once been goblins, rather than diseased goblins.
After Kyosuke had felled the two, Res Li touched them both with his dagger, to be sure they were completely destroyed. They disintegrated, leaving nothing to come back to "life" behind us.
The tunnel was straight for about 20 feet, then curved a bit. Res Li reported that another 40 feet down, the tunnel opened up and there a group of about 10 goblin-ghouls awaited us. The area was about 10x15 feet, and he could not see the other side. They were armed as the first two, except that one was larger than the others, and much better armed and armored. He wore plate and carried a war hammer.
I could think of nothing clever, and did not think that anything clever was required anyway. I set up Hosei and Baku to guard the noncombatants. But before Kyosuke moved up to join the other three fighters at the lead, he heard someone clearing his throat behind him. He turned to see a faerie, to his surprise. Kyosuke reported this and asked the White Faerie to come and speak with him.
Instead, the faerie asked for "Lady Miyara". I walked back and presented myself to him. He bowed to me and said he brought me greetings from Lord Mendri. "My lord is nearby and seeks the pleasure of your company at some near time when it is convenient to you." Having Lord Mendri around while we searched for and acquired the Crystal of Water was not in the plans; we needed to keep the thing away from all the faeries. The White Faerie's visions made that very plain.
"Where is he now?" I asked.
"I don't know exactly, I left him some time ago."
So, he had been following us for some time. He reported that the guards out front retreated.
I gave him my reply. "It will take some days for us to get to Lord Mendri, so we will continue forward on our own business for now."
He did not seem surprised at my answer. He introduced himself as "Alets" and invited himself along. Although unenthused, at least I would know where he was. He wore leathers, carried a short sword with ease, and placed himself at my command.
With five fighters, we simply moved in and blocked the entrance. I, Kyosuke, Alets, Ashe, and the White Faerie. Baku followed, in the front to guard the others, and Hosei in the rear to guard them and also to keep a lookout behind us.
Res Li said they were waiting quietly, trying to stay out of sight, and hoping to sucker us into a trap. As I reached the entrance, I saw them, grouped and ready to attack us. That matched what I had planned, so I moved in and quickly slid to the side, allowing the next to enter.
Kyosuke, Alets, and I formed a line across the entrance, with the White Faerie and Ashe behind us as reinforcements. The ghouls spread out. One engaged each of us three in the front line, but the rest backed off, including the large one, who was a ghoul-faerie. He did indeed wear fairly new-looking plate and held his war hammer at the ready. He appeared to at least be the leader of this group, simply by being the largest and toughest.
We easily felled the three ghoul-goblins, and Res Li reached in to touch and destroy them with the dagger. The others remained back, where they were.
I spoke to them, "We only wish to pass you by." True enough: I planned to pass by their ashes on the ground. They made no response, only stood staring at us. We carefully approached, and they divided in half and attacked us. That worked out well, as we were still between them and the rest of our group, and all five of us could now enter the fight easily. Alets and Ashe were on the side with the trash pile, the White Faerie and I on the other side, and Kyosuke had point. He, of course, moved to the trash side, where the leader had placed himself.
We were victorious, although my cousin and I were each wounded by the direct touch of a ghoul. I had no time to worry about it, although it was a source of added tension. Should Kyosuke turn into a ghoul, I would have to destroy him, and I expected the same from him.