Chapter 58: A Very Short Contract
Sitting on a rock, I watch over the sea.
Sun gleams off its smooth surface.
Underneath, a shark roils the water and disturbs a school of fish.
Yet, all is calm to my eyes.
~ Miyara Miwa
We lowered Res Li down, where he tied the rope, one by one, to the boxes of supplies and the White Faerie, Ashe, and Kyosuke hauled them back up again. Then he paused, and we heard voices below. After a short conversation, Res Li called up to us and requested that the White Faerie and I come down, as someone had arrived who wished to speak with us. We did so, and were confronted with the sight of Menduri himself, accompanied by a couple of large faeries -- obviously his personal bodyguards.
Menduri greeted us and kneeled in submission to us. Naturally, his bodyguards looked unhappy. Ales, too, looked uncomfortable. The young Menduri spoke, "Ales has told me that you have politely refused my previous request, and I'm here to beg you to reconsider for the sake of avoiding a civil war."
His desperation was obvious even to me, although he was trying to hide it. He explained to us that if his father's plight is revealed, it will be very bad for him and for all he cares about, which appears to include his people.
I felt for the young king, out of his depth and perhaps doomed by actions he had no control over. Still, I gave him the only answer I could. "I cannot jeopardize my family's honor in that manner."
In surprise, he asked, "What do you mean?" His confidence slipped another notch down.
"He willingly gave himself over to the forces of chaos, thus killing himself, his soul, what made him himself. We killed merely the shell he left and which chaos used to its own purposes. I cannot and will not "admit" to killing the king. Even more, doing so will place all the faeries as our sworn enemies, and I cannot agree to placing my family into a war over something that is none of their business."
"But don't you see, this will destroy us!"
The White Faerie asked, "How do figure that?"
I asked at the same time, "Your hold on the throne is that tenuous?"
Menduri explained. "The royalists claim I committed patricide, and if they know he went over to chaos, and thus ..."
The White Faerie interrupted his king, "But if your father was truly claimed by chaos, killing him was good."
"I did not kill my father!" He sounded young and petulant and overly defensive.
"The king's body is obviously freshly dead, which means you couldn't possibly have killed him 23 years ago."
"If it's known that my father succumbed then they will assume I have or will succumb to chaos as well."
"It's not your fault that your father succumbed. But by your own actions, none is convinced you can be a strong king." The White Faerie spoke truth.
Alets joined the conversation, countering his king's desperation with his calmness, "Even if they assume nothing, his father's death and influence by chaos will be used against Menduri by the royalists. It will strengthen their case for a forced abdication or impeachment". The WHite Faerie whispered to me in Nipponese that faeries elect their king. Interesting.
I said, "To hold your throne, you must find a way to keep it." If a king is not strong enough to stay king, he doesn't deserve the position.
The White Faerie agreed, "One dead body isn't the problem."
Menduri said sadly, "It's not one dead body, its the hundreds that will die in a war".
Later, the White Faerie explained to us that faeries are independent and mercantile. The human empires's devotion to a king and royalty seems kind of silly to them, but they understand the need for leaders. In smaller parties, they elect by acclimation the one who leads the party. Also, occasionally at the level of a party or even a hold, animosity between two groups will rise to a level where they're not willing to follow the other, and it devolves to combat. That's what will likely happen here.
The White Faerie told his king, "If you're going to be king, you must be strong enough to face the trials and keep it through strength."
Ales said, "Menduri was hoping to avoid the bloodshed."
The White Faerie asked, "Why? For himself or for the faeries?"
His brutal question angered his king. "How dare you? The faerie people!"
I asked a practical question, "What about the warlords who support you?"
"What about them?"
The WHite Faerie asked him, "Who will rule? You or you and a group of councilors?
"And who would they be?"
Menduri listed about ten names (I think) that the White Faerie thought well of.
"That's a good start. Those good families bode well for you."
I returned to his original question. "As the representative of the Miyaras here in the western lands, I can't take sides in a faerie civil war, thus involving my family."
Menduri wailed "We are lost, we are lost, all is lost."
Ales and his bodyguards hustled the weeping king out of the tunnel. I truly felt bad for him. But unless he steps up and successfully defends his throne against his enemies, he does not deserve that throne.
The three of us returned with the last of the supplies, and I gave a brief synopsis of what happened to the rest.
We exited the storeroom and discovered a handful of faeries loitering in the large cavern. Apparently this is where the faeries who have nothing else to do gather. The White Faerie asked for Sunrimu, and one offered to take us to him.
We followed him through a few passages and up some stairs, emerging eventually into some sort of workshop. Another faerie stopped our guide. They spoke a few sentences in faerie, and then the craftsman replaced our former guide and led us along another passage.
In the middle of it, he stopped us and instructed us to proceed one at a time, separated by a few feet. We all looked at each other: this seemed odd. The White Faerie asked what kind of trap we were about to walk over.
He answered easily enough. There's a pressure plate in the floor. One person is safe, more than that will set it off. The White Faerie, worried about the chest he was carrying, asked about the weight limit. Our guide was not concerned about it. He said it didn't matter: just walk one at a time. We followed his instructions, and sure enough, nothing happened.
Of course, Res Li had no difficulty seeing the trap itself. He later told us there was a large crush plate that stretched across the passage for about ten feet. It triggered a ring of spikes in the ceiling to fall. Faeries take their security seriously.
Further down the hall, we climbed up a long spiral staircase and passed two guards at the top. We were led down a short hall and into what was once a throne room but is now used as a workroom and sleeping room by Sunrimu. The room was about twelve feet high. There were signs of long-gone tapestries, and some remaining that were in sad shape. One end of the room had a semicircular dais about 18 inches high and a few broad steps leading to it. On the dais were three stone thrones and five life-size stone statues of faerie heroes against the wall. Around the room, many documents, books, papers, and miscellaneous items, probably found in the tombs here, scattered around. The room was roughly 15 by 15 and had three doors: one we came in, and two in the side wall.
Our guide waited silently until Sunrimu looked up from his papers. He asked a question with an annoyed tone of voice, and the White Faerie translated for us. "What?"
"Kenki says these people work for you now."
"Really? What did Kenki say they'll do for me?" He sounded skeptical.
The White Faerie explained what Ranegu had hired us for. When asked why, he repeated the list of our abilities he'd given Ranegu, who seemed more interested in us.
"Fine, go that way, map everything, don't break anything, don't touch anything, and come back and report what you find. You should already know, the place is full of traps that will kill you, and some of them will bring the whole place down. So don't trip any of them. And don't go down. The tough ones are down. I want to see how you deal with the ones up here first." He pointed to one of the two side doors.
Res Li later reported that he had looked carefully for hidden niches in the wall and the statues, but found none.
The passage on the other side of the door we exited was about five feet wide, which we learned later was common but not exclusive. I placed Res Li in the lead so he could look for traps and other problems (and other places behind walls and such that we otherwise would not know about). The White Faerie backed him, then Kyosuke and myself, Hosei, Ravena, Caramela, Sun, and Baku and Ashe as rear guard. I asked Ravena to draw a map as we proceeded, promising her we would move slowly enough so that she could do so. The request was unnecessary: she had already started a map with where we have already been.
This is a faerie's construct, so halls lead to more halls and even pass through rooms, and doors pop up everywhere. Ravena's map would be useful indeed. As we moved along, we passed doors and halls that Res Li reported led downstairs. Following our current mission, we followed the way that let us remain on the same level. The first interesting room we came to was a natural cavern.
It was a shrine, and the shrine itself was a little side chamber that was originally separated by an iron grate that has been smashed to the side long ago. Now there was just rubble around a damaged plinth.
Res Li said under the plinth was a hole and a ladder that led downward about 20 feet. At the bottom was a room with some ancient furniture in it. The ladder was not placed there recently, so it appeared that our hosts had not yet discovered it.
Ravena announced she was actually drawing two maps: one for us with everything Res Li can see, and one without those notations to hand to the faeries.
We passed up the ladder under the shrine for the time being, and we walked through more passages and another room. The passage beyond the room ended in a perpendicular hall with doors at either end. Res Li said the east led to large room, past a rockfall, and then outside. There were faeries guarding that entrance. The rockfall was passable, like the one we came through. A fork led down and to the room at the bottom of the ladder. So they had found the room after all. Also, there was another room that contained a staircase that led down. We went west, which remained on the same level.
We reached a shrine, empty but for two faerie guards. They commanded us to stop and proceed no further.
The White Faerie asked why not, since we were commanded to explore this level. They said they were just following orders and we were not pass.
That left little for us do, and we went back east, past the rubble, and into the entrance area guarded by faeries. We had covered the entire level we could reach through the door we were directed through and had seen nothing of interest, let alone danger. No traps. Nothing but safe and empty areas and stair leading down. Why had Sunrimu sent us this way, then?
The guards were surprised at our appearance, but not shocked or afraid. So they must have known we were out here somewhere and weren't enemies. They did not stop us from looking around. I went to the ledge past a pile of rubble and looked out. We were higher up than our entrance, and on the other side of the mountain. Below the ledge was a rough, but not impassable cliff.
We began the trek back to give Sunrimu our slight findings. However, a young and rather breathless faerie ran up to us with the news that Menduri had attacked the hold. He told us we were released from our contract, and to leave immediately.
He entered the room we had just exited and told the six guards that Menduri had attacked. They called the two other guards outside back in, and they methodically began to set themselves up to repel whatever attack Menduri might throw at them. The young messenger scurried back the way he came, leaving us in the room on the inside of the rubble.
The guards were attentive, excited, hoping the attack came their way, hoping Menduri will attack here so they wouldn't be left out of the battle. In short, they were everything young warriors should be.
I start to sum up our options in Nipponese, but noticed that one of the guards was paying attention to us. Kyosuke tested him by offering him beer, but elicited no reaction. The White Faerie goaded him by calling him a coward. Still, still he did not react, so we decided he may have been curious and interested in us, but did not actually understand Nipponese.
We continued our discussion, and I asked for opinions, especially those of the WHite Faerie, who could not decide what we should do. Kyosuke preferred the Royalists to Menduri, but felt duty now lay with Menduri. We were still on the cavern side, and the guards were not physically in our way.
We returned into the caverns to search where we will, and the guards were not interested in any way: their duty was to guard against outside attack.
And so, with the employment contract ended, we utterly violated the Faeries' hospitality and diligently spent many hours crawling around their hold searching for the Stone of Water. Arguably, it is a much smaller stain on my honor than would be abandoning one of the stones of power to the faeries. Sometimes a small dishonorable action must be undertaken to avoid a larger one. And of course, it does not matter if they never learn of our presence.
Ravena abandoned her map for the faeries, since Menduri's attack had made it moot. She carefully mapped everywhere we saw, and even more importantly, everything Res Li could see, even when we couldn't figure out how to get there.
I am not going to write a room by room, hall by hall, trap by trap account of our travels through Kadar Ravening. I saw once in my earlier travels through the western lands a thing they call a "labyrinth". It is a mass of large hedges that are grown to conceal the paths they border and define. There are many openings, and many dead ends. It may take hours to find one's way through to the center, and one may become all too easily lost if one does not search methodically and keep track of one's path. Suffice it to say that this faerie shrine was like a labyrinth, but with many levels rather than just one, and hidden and lethal traps seemingly randomly placed in our way. I cannot make sense of it without Ravena's map, and you, my dear reader, would never be able to trace it out even if I could write it properly. So the following is a mere summary of the important things we discovered along the way. I do not mention traps unless they became important: Res Li's amazing sight meant they posed little threat to us, so long as we allowed him to scout ahead with his sight before we heedlessly walked ahead.
The first clue we found was a note that the White Faerie read to us:
Kadar Ravaning, 6th day. My artisans have today completed the refurbishment of the trap that leads to the throne room [the plate and the spikes we already knew about-MM]. Please tell all this is off limits. Signed, Sunrimu.
Just after this note, we discovered a room that was used by the priests to keep people out of the temple. It's now empty. From there, the south door led to a room with a ladder going down. Beyond, but with no way to get to it, Res Li saw a cavern with a lake and an island with a throne on it. That sounded interesting, but we saw no connections to it from where we were. To the north was a room with stairs down and a passageway that led away on the same level. In another direction and unconnected to anything else, he saw a long spiral staircase.
We went south and into the room near the lake so Res Li could see a little further and maybe see something useful. He still didn't see a way to get there, but he guessed we needed to be at a lower level to find an entrance. With that in mind, we decided to climb the ladder in this room down.