Chapter 66: A Burial Fit for a Queen
Licked clean by the fire's
Bright flames; made pure in and out;
Then consigned in death.
~ Miyara Miwa
I summarized the situation for everyone to clarify our choices. We have two possible tunnels that may lead us to Harugim's tomb and to the Crystal of Water. Each one is guarded by unknown magics. We have been warned, truthfully or not we did not know, that there are traps here that might bring down the entire mountain, destroying all within. The White Faerie said that although complete-destruction traps are rare, this is one place that the faeries would be likely to use them. We had the temple and so-far not-well-understood scrolls that might describe the proper ritual to get through the temple correctly. Doing so might, or might not, disarm the worst of the traps. However, the queen is adamant in her refusal to help the White Faerie read them. We still needed to find her bones or at least find a way to give her the burial she needs. Up at the top were two factions of the dwarves fighting each other. The battle was almost certainly finished by now: what were the victors doing? How long before they discovered us?
As we discussed our options, the ground beneath us shook and rumbled: a minor earthquake such as I have felt many times in my mountainous homeland. Still, it leant a certain urgency to our deliberations. It was time to act.
I suggest that we either leave here and go search the one area we had not yet searched carefully, hoping to find the queen's bones there, or everyone but me should leave the faerie stronghold entirely and I would chance the trap by myself. The first was not a true choice: we all knew what we needed was here and we were not likely to find the queen's bones anywhere by now.
Sun expressed his immediate desire to accompany me through the tunnel, which touched me greatly. Kyosuke said it was a fine plan, except he should be the one to attempt the tunnel so I could continue on and lead the group. He had found a better argument. Still, I explained to him that he must return to our home. I could not allow him to sacrifice himself in such a perhaps-pointless manner. It was not his duty, as it was mine. I do not think he understands yet.
Someone speculated on whether the holder of the Stone of Stone could walk through solid rock into the tomb safely, without setting off any traps. We did not think the queen would let him do so, though. Suddenly, tired of the talking with which he is so very impatient, Kyosuke walked quickly towards the tunnel, intending to dive through the hole the White Faerie had made.
Before even I could object, the queen shrieked through the The White Faerie; a horrific, terrified scream that halted Kyosuke in his tracks. The White Faerie stated, in his normal tone of voice, "We've had a vision. Short and sweet, and involves all of us being crushed under a mountain of, well, a mountain. This mountain. The rest of you are crushed. We are buried." He explained further that it was not merely diving into the tunnel, as my young cousin was inches from doing, but what we would do after. But the mountain would surely fall.
He turned to me, and the queen addressed me, "I want you to do the burial ritual. Right now."
I asked, "Without your body?"
"You will have to help us." Something she had thus far refused to do.
"Yes, I will do it, but I need your help."
I began walking and replied, "Let's do it now."
She said we must enter the temple from the other side, not from here. Ravena knew the way, of course, and led us to the temple. The White Faerie said to me, "I think she wants to get buried. Her way." Something I understood very well. The mountain falling on her would not be a proper burial at all. Of course the faerie queen requires the true ceremony to lay her spirit to rest.
Once at the door of the temple, the queen looked over the scrolls carefully. "I've never done this, thought I've seen it done," she informed us. "I don't know all the details. So it's very possible that I may do something wrong and things will go awry. So speak up if you have better ideas." We did not, of course. If we had, we would have done them already.
At her suggestion, we each donned one of the robes and took in hand its matching staff. She said we did not need to know our respective runes. The robes fit us very poorly, and I am glad my family cannot see Kyosuke and I arrayed in so short and wide barbarian robes. As we prepared to enter the first room, she cautioned us to think pure thoughts. I am not certain what western faeries consider pure and impure.
The queen said first she would need to lie down on the stone, and the rest of us should walk around her reverently. She remembered the priests chanting something, but not what they chanted. She suggested we just each chant what we thought appropriate. The speaking of the runes comes after that part. And so the White Faerie lay on the stone.
I led the way around the stone, chanting Nipponese burial rites, with Kyosuke behind me doing so as well. The rest followed, each saying something. We all touched the stone, as she had requested, and as countless faerie hands had done before us. Half-way around, I realized I had not asked her how many times to go around the stone. I decided, with the preponderance of 8-side rooms in all the faerie shrines we have visited, that eight would be the correct number. So I led everyone around eight times, and then we stopped, and stopped chanting.
The White Faerie stood back up, and read the runes around the stone to herself, figuring what to do next. She stationed Hosei, Kyosuke, and me around the stone at certain marks that did not quite match the runes. She was going to read the runes aloud, and when she pointed to each of us, we were to touch our designated rune. We did so, ending at my mark, and the silver inlay flickered when she finished. A sign of approval? We hoped. She said she did not remember that happening before, and Kyosuke believes it was because we, not being faeries, needed extra cleansing. Who knew?
We descended the stairs to the temple entrance. It was about 20 feet tall, and the walls and ceiling were painted black. There were tapestries, some still hanging and others on the floor. Mold colored the walls and tapestries here and there. Some wooden furnishings, tapestries, and orc skeletons attested to the fact that the orcs had entered the temple incorrectly: they were burnt and there were signs of an explosion. Four large, grotesque, stone carvings of faeries adorned the four corners of the dais, which had three steps and was carved with more runes and symbols. The gold and silver leaf was still there in some places, vanished in others. One throne was ornately carved and inlaid, the other was starkly plain.
I asked the queen, "What next?"
"If we have properly done the cleansing, we will enter the room, someone will volunteer to play the dead person, and we will do the ritual. If we have not properly done the cleansing ritual, we will enter the room and die."
I asked her if we had to actually bury the person playing the dead body, and she replied that no harm should come to that person, but the experience may be frightening, and she could not guarantee that something bad would not happen. I again had to press my seniority and my personal duty promised to the queen before Kyosuke stepped back so that I could be the dead body. I asked him to be sure he returned the statue home if something did happen to me.
I asked for instructions, and was told that first, we entered the room. I stepped forward, and all my comrades stepped forward as one with me. I covered my smile. Sometimes I am very fond of my barbarian horde.
As we stepped into the temple, a chorus of whispers raced around the room, as if faerie spirits were awakened by our entering discussed us in hushed tones. Were we worthy? After a moment, the whispering faded away, and we were left in a quiet temple. Yes, we were.
The queen told me to sit in the decorated throne. I sat down and then slumped a little, resting my head back against the hard rock. I wanted to appear dead, even though it would certainly not fool the spirits. I kept my eyes open so I could watch what happened.
The queen stood next to the block upon the dais and directed everyone else to array themselves around the room, which they did, watching her and me. She warned us all, "Whatever happens, don't fight it."
She began to read the first scroll. At her first words, the four stone faerie statues came to life, just like the statues we fought before, and move to surround my throne. Again, I was proud of my followers: no one moved a muscle. The stone figures firmly took hold of me firmly, and laid me carefully on the block, my head to the south. They stood back on their four corners, waiting for their next duty.
She began the second scroll. The White Faerie had translated the gist of it for us, and I remembered a fire ritual. I began to be uneasy. Within moments, a huge fire spirit flamed directly over me, and then engulfed me completely. Although strongly tempted to scream, I did not, and I quickly realized that although I was rather warm, I was not being consumed by the flames. It was an interesting feeling, being entirely bathed by flames, seeing the room and my companions through the red flickerings. Of course, I realized that the faeries did not burn their dead: they buried whole bodies. I had seen them.
Through the crackling of the flames, I could not hear very well. I heard the queen's voice, but could not tell what she was doing. Her voice stopped, and the spirit moved away from me. I craned my eyes around without moving the rest of my body, and saw the fire spirit move menacingly towards her. She had dropped the scrolls, and was cowering back in fear. Was all to be lost because? Kyosuke said, "You said not to fight it." Not that she could understand.
The White Faerie said, in his own voice, "Stop it! Use the stone and stop it."
Ashe took out the Zoggin Rock and concentrated. The fire spirit stopped moving. The White Faerie told him to command the spirit to continue the ritual. The fire spirit returned to hover over me. This time, as it passed over me, I felt the cruel lickings of flame. To my utter shame, I could not contain my scream of pain. I held it to that one short scream, and returned to my pretend-dead state. And the heat returned to its previous warmth, doing me no more damage. The flames flickered all around me, and then shrank, and then disappeared. I did not move.
Shortly, the queen started reading the third scroll. The stone figures came back and firmly picked me up again, and reverently placed me on the second throne. They took up guard positions around my throne. I continued to not move or react. For many long minutes, no one moved. Then, the double doors swung open of their own accord.
The statues lifted me from the throne and carried me up the stairs to the lake, out into the lake, and carefully deposited me on the throne. So I would find out what happened when someone sat upon the throne. They again arranged themselves at guard positions. The queen stood in front of me, and the others surrounded me. She looked at me through the White Faerie's eyes, and she said in a low voice, "Don't resist." I somehow felt her come into me. It felt so wrong, and it was hard not to struggle against it, but I did not. She was in me, as she had been in the White Faerie, who now looked at me with his own eyes.
At first, it felt there was some Other within me, ordering me to do all those millions of things that I do without thinking, like breathing, like my heart beating. I felt like a stranger, like I was about to be cast out, like if this Other did not tell my heart to beat, it would stop. It faded quickly, thought. As it was almost gone, a whisper threaded in my head, "Thank you." I thought at her, "You're welcome." And she was gone.
The White Faerie announced to all that she was gone. My stone guardians did not move, however, and so I did not, either. The ritual could not be finished until they left, I thought. And so I continued to sit, unmoving, on the throne where so many dead faerie kings had before. The queen had earlier said the kings were placed here for "a while". Minutes? Hours? Days?
I sat in silence only a few moments, and Hosei said "We're all still wearing the robes. Perhaps if we take them off, the gargoyles will go away, figuring the ritual is over." That sounded like an excellent idea to me. I sat still. I heard them wade through the lake, and then they were gone. A few minutes later, my stone guardians came to life again, and walked out my sight. I heard them wade through the lake. I could not see if they had actually gone, though, or were waiting for more. I stayed put, waiting for my companions to return. If there was more to the ritual, they were the ones who would have to perform it.
A few minutes later, they returned. The statues were gone, the ritual was over, and I was free. I stood up and walked off the throne. Now what?
I wondered if the queen had simply done what she needed to bury herself before we wrecked the mountain, or if our ritual had made the tunnel safe now. We could only try and find out. At least if the mountain collapses on top of us, the crystals will all be buried deep under it with us. They will come to the surface again and wreak havoc, but it would be a very long time, I believed.
We went back to the hole the White Faerie had made. Hosei checked the magic, and said it was still the same, but there was another piece of powerful magic that was no longer there. Forward, then. I crawled through the hole before Kyosuke could, although he followed me through closely. There were no rumblings.
I stood up on the other side. I hurt, although I had surreptitiously looked at myself and found no outward signs of damage. The fire spirit had burned me on the inside, perhaps. I did not mention my hurt, as I was ashamed of my weakness before. I could continue as I was. As Kyosuke stood up beside me, a bolt of lightning struck me. I was stunned for just a moment with the suddenness and the pain. Behind me, the bolt had blasted the rock wall open, making it easier for us all to enter and exit at will. Ravena had been injured a bit, but not badly, she said.
The hallways before us was long. Ravena moved forward as I looked ahead, and touched me. I suddenly felt much better; although I was still injured, I did not feel so light-headed and was certain I could continue on without passing out.
Kyosuke insisted on leading the way, and I let him, followed by Res Li, Hosei, the White Faerie, me, Ravena, Caramela, Sun, Baku, and Ashe. I reminded Kyosuke to stop immediately if Res Li said anything. Hosei could warn him in Nipponese.
We walked down the hall, turned, went down some stairs, and continued ahead to a door. At the bottom of the stairs, another bolt crashed into us, injuring many of us. By sheer force of will, I continued on, although Ashe fell behind us. the White Faerie picked him and carried him. We paused for a moment to give ourselves immediate first aid, putting out small flames, soothing burnt skin. Sun piped up with en excellent observation, "This magic might be timed, and so will come again soon. We probably ought to hurry." He was right, and we did.
Hosei and Res Li quickly checked out the large stone door we reached at the end of the tunnel. It was carved with a roaring lion's head. It appeared to be safe, and Hosei said he thought this was the origin of the bolts. We entered a tomb.
At first, this looked promising. There were two rooms here. The outer room contained six royal faerie warriors on biers; the inner a single bier with a king laid upon it. The king and his loyal guardians. But as we inspected further, it was another king. The iron crown had no pearl; there was no Crystal of Water. This king was Rada, another king no one here knew.
We left, bowing respectfully. I was certain that once we left, the lightning bolt would fire at us again. So I let Kyosuke lead the way, and I took rear guard. We exited rapidly, though I shut the door behind me, of course. I smiled as Sun muttered to himself, "If that's the traps on the one we're not looking for..."
The door allowed us to leave without further shots. We have only one more passage to explore; surely it was the one we were looking for. Sun was right. The protections would only get worse on the true tomb. We took our time in the lake for Ravena to heal us fully.