Chapter 68: Retreat
Deep inside the sticks
and mud, frozen in their cold
lake home, beavers hide.
~ Miyara Miwa
We had all four stones. The faeries here are all dead. The hero's tomb is destroyed, along with the faerie's mountain shrine. What do we do with the Crystals? Where do we go from here?
Ravena uneasily peered at the sky, the trees, and I do not know what else. She said the unseasonably warm weather was finally going to turn. Violently and soon. She said it would turn very cold overnight, and snow was going to hit hard.
We had two places to go from here: Karusa Hoven, on the other side of Wintersteeth Pass, and the Druidess' Temple, on this side of the pass. Both had their benefits: Karusa Hoven is a comfortable place to winter, with our own inn and a village to supply us. Kyosuke was in favor of that plan. I believe Caramela also wished to return there. But, Ravena told us that the Druidess has returned Res Li from the dead once before: perhaps she could again. Also, the Druidess may have some ideas about what to do with the Crystals. And we left Shan there, as well, with his magic box. Res Li had been convinced we could use it to return the crystals to the time and place of their making and thus somehow un-make them.
The coming winter weather sealed our choice: Ravena said we were almost certain to be caught in the pass when the winter storm hit. We would not be likely reach the other side. We all felt a certain urgency. We did not want to be caught in the mountains when winter hit. So we began marching down out of the mountain, towards the Druidess in the Yetsin Valley, carrying Res Li's body with us.
Night fell upon us all too soon, and we continued as the temperature dropped, and as wolves began shadowing our steps. I placed Caramela, Ravena, Hosei, and Sun close together and surrounded them with the rest of us. Kyosuke took the lead, just enough out of the light to be able to see ahead with his amazing eyesight. I place myself as read guard and put the White Faerie, Ashe, and Baku near the vulnerable ones.
After about two hours of this, some of my charges began stumbling with fatigue. We had been an extremely long time delving through the faerie caverns; we had taken many wounds, both physical and spiritual; and now it was well after dark, the wind began to bite, and wolves howled around us. Still, we pressed on, desperate to get out of the mountains by morning. Our pace slowed.
Ravena perked up and remarked that the caverns behind the waterfall was very near our position. I took stock quickly: by this time, it was clear that some of the party simply would not make it on a forced march through the night. We had to stop, and soon. These caverns, I was told, would be an ideal and safe place to halt for the rest for the night. Perhaps in the morning, or at least after this storm ceased, we could continue on our way. Ravena and the others kept a close watch for the turn-off, which was subtle and difficult to see this dark night.
After a while, I wondered if we had actually passed it. Then Ravena shouted hoarsely that she had found it. We climbed the steep mountainside, Sun and Caramela could not make it that far without help. It was wise to stop for the evening. Hosei remarked uneasily that he thought there was something else out in the night besides the wolves, who continued to follow us.
We hiked beside a stream up a steep slope to a small, level bit of ground. We had to ascend 20-30 feet up the cliff, and the rope ladder was long gone. Still, Kyosuke is almost as good as a ladder. He scurried up the cliff with the other end of our rope, tied it off to a rock, and pulled Ashe up beside him. The two of them pulled up the White Faerie, and everyone else was pulled up with ease after that.
The wolves were gone. I asked Hosei about the others he had mentioned, but he said he thought they were gone, too. The cavern looked to be still empty. Ravena, Caramela, Sun, Hosei, and Res Li started a fire and set up camp. The White Faerie and Baku stayed with them, to help and to guard. Kyosuke, Ashe, and I swiftly explored the rest of the cavern. It was deserted, and safe.
I set guards, and we passed the night quietly. In the grey morning light, the snow was falling wetly. Ravena said she thought it would continue this way at least another day. I looked at the faces around me: grey and drawn, eyes pleading with me for a rest. Truthfully, I was about done in myself. We badly needed a day to rest and relax, and when I said as much, their relief was plain. I chafed to get off this mountain. But we could not have made it through a snowstorm in the shape we were in.
Ashe and Kyosuke went hunting and brought back some food. Ravena and Baku went looking for some plant food, but failed. I ate some old trail food, but I hope we can find something besides meat tomorrow. The day passed quietly in rest. Gathering firewood for the fire was a simple matter.
In the morning, Ravena gave me the bad news: this snow was going to fall for another week. I considered. If we did not leave immediately, we would be stuck in the cavern for another week. With another week's snowfall, the way out would be infinitely more difficult, and we were likely to encounter more snow along the way. Ravena said the winter was going to make up for its late start. And yet, slogging our way down the mountain in heavy snow did not appeal, nor did it make the least sense. Should we simply stay here the winter, then? Food would be a problem: we had none.
I cast it up for discussion, since I had no idea how survivable this was. Everyone quickly concurred: we all wanted to simply hide from the world for the winter and stay here. Ashe, Baku, and Kyosuke all thought they would be able to furnish us with food. I think we were all spiritually drained from our lengthy quest for the Crystals. Now we had them all, there was a natural feeling of emptiness. And we did not know what to do about them, either. Keeping them away from everyone else while we decided was probably the safest course we could take.
We decided to call this place Falling Water, and we made ourselves quite comfortable. At the front entrance was a guardroom with captain's room off it, backed up to the temple. I took the captain's room for my own, and Kyosuke, the White Faerie, and Ashe settled into the guardroom. Since the four of us planned to keep a constant guard on the entrance, this was convenient for us all. Sun settled here as well, to continue to act as my servant. He also took charge of the kitchen and dining hall. I miss Mongo, but Sun is learning well. Caramela and Ravena decided to share the former armory, just off the dining hall. Hosei and Baku went further in; Hosei chose the work room, and Baku the high cavern, where there was a hole to the outside, although too small to admit anything dangerous.
We quickly fell into a routine. Ashe and Kyosuke hunted every day, and Ravena and Baku searched for roots and other hardy vegetables. Sometimes they brought more food than we needed, sometimes they failed to bring in anything. I had hoped to gather a surplus early, against the darker days of winter, but in the first two weeks, we just about came out even. This would be a nard winter for us. The rest gathered firewood as needed. With the lakes and river flowing through the caverns, water was never short.
The White Faerie and Ashe, acting as blacksmith and carpenter, repaired the portcullis that guarded the river entrance and the bridge over the river. Ravena carefully packed Res Li's body in a snow bank, hoping that the Druidess would still be able to call his spirit back. I did not hold out any hope for that, but it did not hurt to freeze him.
Hosei consented to carry the Crystal of Water, so I handed the burden to him gladly.