Chapter 70: The Blind Leading the Insane
A tornado whirls;
The blizzard blows; the waves heave;
Chaos is in us.
~ Miyara Miwa
Futilely, I suggested we do not use the power of the crystal until we find a way to destroy it. I hoped to slow the spread of the chaos. But we were increasingly less able to work together, to think and to act coherently. We were part of the chaos ourselves. Hosei was nearly blinded by all the magic around, when he looked for it. Each of us appeared as a magical creature to his special sight.
Sun wished to consider the practical problems: how to feed ourselves and keep warm. The White Faerie prayed for guidance. Kyosuke became increasingly less sane, as he babbled about The Man, and being drunk by him.
The White Faerie did have a vision, though how we would fulfill it I could not tell. He saw everything -- water, fire, earth, air, trees, animals, people -- swirling down into a hole that went nowhere and from which none could escape. He saw us, as well, scrabbling to avoid the hole at the bottom. And then we met a blind man who led us up and out, away from the hole. Perhaps all was not lost after all.
Perhaps I would not have to kill my raving cousin and the rest of my charges.
What to do? We could stay here and wait the blind man to find us. Or, we could go out into the blizzard and find him ourselves. I was inclined to the latter, as was most of the rest of the part. Still, we wanted to scout ahead first.
The White Faerie anchored our rope, and Baku went outside into the blizzard, gripping the rope tightly. We waited quite some time, and then he returned. He said all the way to the road, it is all the same: blizzard and snow. We returned the questions of staying here or going out into the blizzard.
Hosei tried to show us three times that he could magically produce enough mackerel to keep us alive, no matter whether we stayed or not. Twice he produced instead nasty creatures that actually harmed him as he willed them into being. The third time he managed the promised mackerel. His problems were caused by the Crystal, we were sure. This did not reassure us, since we had to keep it with us until we manage to destroy it. Still, it was some food, at least.
Baku tried to use some furs to shelter us from the constant, cold wind while we tried to come a decision. It worked, for a bit. But his shelter developed holes and disintegrated. Hosei closed his eyes and meditated for a minute, then stopped shivering. He said we could each use the power of the Crystal to simply will ourselves warm. And it worked, but at what price?
Kyosuke sat down and went into a deep meditation, mumbling something about The Man first. I am worried about him, and by extension, everyone. My vision showed everyone around me going mad. Kyosuke is the first. Will the rest follow? My blades are sharp and ready. Am I?
In the end, the decision was made for us. Sun reported, sounded worried, that the river was rising quickly. We gathered what we could. I claimed Godanji's precious statue. We each filled our pockets with gems, then with what coins we could. I could not rouse Kyosuke from his trance, and the White Faerie agreed to carry him.
Outside, at the snowbank, Ravena insisted on wasting time trying to revive Res Li herself. Is she the second to go mad, not Caramela? We waited longer than we should have. She somehow animated his spirit and his body separately. We carried both for a merely a few minutes. Then the river overflowed its banks and swept us along with it.
Res Li's spirit and body are lost. I shudder with the thought of them wandering the earth forever. First Kyosuke. Then Ravena.
We all awakened by the side of the river, which rushed madly along. We did not know where we were. Kyosuke seemed happy that he had now "been drunk" as in his vision. I turned away as he continued to rave about Chaos and Tsin Chi's essence and his plan.
We were wet, and cold. The snow continued to fall, although its strength had abated somewhat. Ashe made a fire using the Crystal's power, and set fire to an entire tree. It sufficed to warm and dry us, though.
And then the Chaos hit us again. Hosei, trying to dry his things, set his pack aside. It burst into flames. He beat the fire out, and then began to sort through his things, setting aside those that had survived. Kyosuke, entranced with the flaming tree, began picking up those things that Hosei was saving and threw them into the fire. Hosei yelled, and the White Faerie stepped up and neatly rapped Kyosuke in the head. Kyosuke turned around and attacked the White Faerie.
I took a step forward to defend my cousin, but only a step. It was obvious that the White Faerie, worried over what trouble my disturbed cousin could cause, was merely trying to knock him unconscious. Better that then I should have to kill him. But that was not all the stayed my hand. I was having to get used to the idea that Kyosuke is a considerably warrior in his own right. Young he may be, but I insult him by trying to take care of him like a child. He must make his own way. His honour is his affair, not mine. And so I watched these two mighty warriors, my cousin, my compatriot, my allies, my friends, even, fight one another. More insanity perhaps. I can feel my vision stalk more and more closely.
As I watched, Baku slipped next to me and asked if he could see the Stone. I showed it to him, but I refused to let him hold it when he asked. None shall touch the thing again but me. I must protect everyone from it. He said in his vision, he had destroyed it with a mighty blow of his fist. I did not think it would work, but for a few moments, I would not have to watch Kyosuke and the White Faerie. So I placed it on the ground and held it steady for him. He struck it, and howled with pain. It was unhurt, of course. I slipped the cursed thing out of sight again, as Ravena healed Baku with a touch and then sat down to rest. She would be needed again soon enough, I thought.
They fought, but not as though they were crazy. They fought with skill, with cunning, with wit. But as we all scrabbled around, individually doing things that made no sense, it was obvious that Chaos was spreading and affecting us all badly. Perhaps the time is near that I will need to kill everyone. Who first? How to kill them all, one at a time, without being defeated by the others and thus failing my mission? How to kill them all before I lose my own mind? Resolutely, I told myself that killing them will save them. My vision showed me the way. I cannot fail it. I cannot fail them.
I came back to myself at the end of the fight. The White Faerie had fought merely to subdue Kyosuke while my cousin fought to the death. Near death, the White Faerie backed away, a step, another, a third. Hosei called out, "He's backing away!" I held myself back, but cried out, "Kyosuke! Don't kill him!". And Kyosuke took the shot he was trained for. The White Faerie fell back, dead.
A pale green and white flash went by me, and Ravena was kneeling on the ground next to the White Faerie almost before he hit the ground. She closed her eyes, placed her hands on him. And the impossible happened: he sat up and looked around as she collapsed bonelessly. Ravena was merely unconscious from the supreme effort it must have taken to bring the White Faerie back from the dead.
Kyosuke was wounded, but nothing more. Puzzled, he asked me why the White Faerie had insulted him by attacking him without his weapon. I tried to explain that the White Faerie had thought Kyosuke was acting irrationally and even dangerously, and was merely trying to knock him unconscious. I could see madness around the edges of his eyes. Unsatisfied with my answer, he demanded the seem question of the White Faerie, and the two fell to arguing. They did not come to blows, and I stepped to the edge of the gathering. My head was beginning to hurt.
Perhaps I could just walk into the snow, carrying the crystal away. They would return to normal while I could keep the crystal away from others, and try to find a way to destroy it. Perhaps that would be the best way to handle it.
Sun touched my arm and pointed to an old man who had appeared by the riverbank. I greeted him, and he asked about the argument behind me. I couldn't take it anymore, and actually lowered myself to turn and yell to them to shut up already!
Hosei walked over and spoke with the man, whose name was Pi Po. He was merely here to check his traps. And he was blind! The river was running normally, quietly, within its banks. There were no signs of the flood that had deposited us here. As in the White Faerie's vision, he somehow stopped the Chaos. I drew him closer to the fire, urging him to warm himself. Would the raging fire, created by the power of the Crystal, also subside? It did not, but I consoled myself. The fire had been started with the Crystal, but it was merely a normal fire now.
He was a young man, dirt poor, and blind. He carried the usual hunting and trapping equipment. Behind me, Kyosuke collapsed. He could not fight off his injuries anymore. Hosei gave him first aid, and the White Faerie looked at Pi Po and his eyes widened. Pi Po said we were obviously lost and invited us to his village, Ur Divar. I immediately accepted. Of course we had to follow him, just as in the vision he led us out from Chaos.
The White Faerie carefully picked up Ravena to carry. Ashe and Baku set Kyosuke into what they called a travois, slinging him on Kyosuke's cloak held between two saplings. Ashe pulled him. I alone was ready to guard the group from harm.
We followed Pi Po through the snow for a few hours, into the mountains. The low visibility due to the blizzard that still raged around us did not seem to hamper the blind man at all. Hosei whispered that although the rest of us still register as magical to him, Pi Po did not. I nodded. He is anti-magic, perhaps.
Wolves gathered behind us. I moved Ashe up to the front of the group, behind Pi Po, and I moved to the back, ready to defend against them if need be. They did not attack, and they peeled off before we reached Ur Divar. Pi Po was not worried, and he told us all, "It will be all right." The White Faerie and I exchanged smiles. We knew it would be. His vision said so.
By the time we reached the village, Ravena was awake and walking, although she still looked tired. She explained that when she regained her strength, she would heal Kyosuke. Pi Po took us all to what he called the meeting hall. It was no more than an open firepit. The buildings in this village were stone, and in disrepair. The entire place felt like it was gradually being reclaimed by the mountains around it. The peasants here were filthy, tired, poor. Why were we led here?
He led us to the village store, kept by a filthy halfling woman named Kuer La. As is common in such places as this, she sold more drink than anything else. Hosei bargained for some poor food and a place at her fire to cook it, and he and Sun went to work.
Pi Po made to leave, and the White Faerie wanted to follow him, as did I. This man was the key, wasn't he? And so Pi Po showed us around the village while the others stayed at Kuer La's, warming and resting. We saw little of interest. Filthy peasants in a poor mining village. Communal stone huts, cracking and crumbling. We met Bolo, who sold peat to burn. The are all around the village was cut clear, and firewood was dear. So they burned peat. Their vegetable garden off to the side was buried in several feet of snow, of course. Pi Po introduced us to people here and there; he recognized one and all by their voices. As we walked, I considered again the vision. The blind man, Pi Po, had led us out of the chaos, but that was all. And the rest of the world was still vanishing into the hole. He is not the solution, he merely led us to where we needed to be to find the solution.
We returned to the store in time for the meal that Hosei and Sun had made. I looked askance at the "bread", which had flecks of something in it. Hosei assured me that the extra protein in the bread was nothing from any animal that I would refuse to eat. I got his message, and it did not endear me to the bread. Still, I was ravenous by that time and ate it anyway, with everyone else. Considering all they had work with, they had not done badly.
Kuer La also kept a few unappealing girls for such poor entertainment as they could provide. The WHite Faerie actually paid one of them to leave him alone. Eventually, the girls all left with miners, as they returned to the village after dark to buy drink and some food.
Ravena took that time to heal Kyosuke, and then she fainted. Baku came in from his wanderings outside and said the huts were being claimed, and we might want to go find one before they were all full.
Hosei bought a cask of whiskey, explaining that he trusted it more than he did the water, and we went back outside, into the dark. We found a hut that was just the right size for us all and no more, and we paid those inside to leave and find another place to sleep.
We are a month or two from Nulun. A half day or so from the Yetsin road. The hut warmed quickly with the fire from the peat. The rugs and furs on the ground were greasy, they smelled, and they were crawling with vermin. I shuddered, but where else could I go? Filthy peasants.