Chapter 73: Some Interesting Travelers
Visions of beauty,
Visions of what may be, or
Visions of darkness.
~ Miyara Miwa
Two and a half days later. Baku, worried, came out looking for us that evening when we didn't return. He built a shelter and kept us safe, waiting for the others to come find us.
They never came.
At the end of the second day, Baku used the Crystal to summon air spirits to carry us back into town, where Ravena spent the night healing us and resting herself, with Peter's help.
In our absence, they built a new hut, a fire broke out at the peat pile, and the villagers got into a brawl over whose fault it was. It is time and past that we leave.
Baku let slip that the Crystal speaks to him; in real words, not just impressions as for the rest of us. He does not understand why we must destroy the Crystal. He believes it can be used for good.
Again, I change my mind. Baku has been corrupted by the Crystal. He must be the first to die. And perhaps the power of everyone's blood will be enough to silence the Crystal.
Sun was up and gone to Querla's before I even awoke. He returned shortly, with news: the armed group from the White Faerie's vision was here. We went to gawk with the villagers. Were these help or hindrance to us?
Their leader was a woman, short and squat, who covered half her face with a metal plate. She was followed by two knights, a halfling, another woman, and a man in chains. They argued with Querla, back and forth, until one of the knights leaned in and whispered to Querla. Then, frightened, she gave them what they wanted. She and her girls moved themselves and their belongings downstairs into the public room, and the strangers moved into their rooms upstairs.
I asked Querla who they were, and she answered me, "Fucking Imperial nobles." I reported that to the others, hoping they would explain it to me.
Before they could, the halfling came up and introduced himself to Hosei. Unsure of who these barbarian nobles might be, I kept silent. It may be an advantage to be able to understand them while they believe otherwise.
Hosei introduced me as best he could, trying to match me to their leader. Later, I thought, I would have to tell him how to introduce me truly. Still, it was enough that I was named "lady" and from afar. He wondered at my presence in this gods-forsaken village, and Hosei joked and answered, "Bad navigation."
Their leader is Meitila von Soron Han, and I lost much of the rest of her lineage in the harsh, tongue-breaking language of the Empire. She is, I believe, a samurai like myself, and leads this group which is called the Order of the Cold Fire. Burning ice, the White Faerie had said. Again I wondered: help or hindrance? I did not exactly feel kinship with this barbarian woman, yet perhaps she was my mirror, who I would have been had I had the misfortune to be born in the west instead of Nippon.
Feh. Sensei Genma always said I imagined to much. Doubtless, he was right.
The Crystal has had an odd effect on Kyosuke, who has been acting strangely lately. While Hosei tried to ferret information from the halfling, he went outside, set a bench on fire, put it out, and then came back in to apologize profusely to one of the girls (why not Querla, I did not understand). He kept saying he was sorry, she of course did not understand and smiled at his bows. He offered coins to pay for the bench, which she took happily, not knowing what they were for. After a couple of rounds of bowing, offering, and accepting of coins, I apologized to the girl and dragged Kyosuke away. I later took his money away from him. There's a reason Nipponese noblemen don't handle accounts. Not that I do, either, but at least I could keep him from giving away the little the group has.
We returned to the hut for the lunch of fish and dumplings that Hosei and Sun prepared. And the never-ending debate on what to do with the Crystal. Kyosuke was certain the prisoner was here to drink him -- he's obsessed by his Crystal vision. I do not think that, but Hosei had been told that the prisoner was "an unwilling guide." I reckoned that he was guiding them to the Crystal, that he could somehow sense it. Hosei said no, if the prisoner had any way to sense the Crystal, Hosei would have in turn sensed that, and he hadn't.
Hosei had also tested his sight carefully: even with everyone well away from the Crystal itself, each one of us shows up to his magical sight as magical beings. This means that their magic-user, the other woman, will see us that way, too.
This much was clear: this group was to be a hindrance rather than a help. Hosei explained who these people are. The Order of the Cold Fire is an elite band that searches for artifacts of chaos to destroy them. So far so good, but he said they don't always do that. Sometimes, if they think one can be useful, they take it back. I have no doubt that is what would happen with the Crystal: it would have no trouble convincing them that it can be useful. Hosei hinted that their reputation was a grim one: no one likes getting in their way. We need to keep the Crystal away from them, then.
As we discussed matters, the White Faerie had yet another vision. Sometimes I think the Crystal fuels them, and I worry about their validity. But no, his visions are always true ones: we just don't always understand them at first. His vision was simple. More a message, really: a man in chains will tell us what to do.
That was clear, if nothing else was. We must speak to the prisoner. Kyosuke and I therefore went to Querla's to scout things out.
Downstairs at Querla's was a busy place. Most of the strangers were not there: upstairs eating in private, perhaps. The prisoner, lean and hungry, sat on the floor and leaned against the wall. The fat one sat next to him on a crate looking out the window. The other knight was at the bar.
Kyosuke quietly walked over to them, hiding in the crowds. As he neared them, the knight at the bar yelled to the fat man, Yoaakim he called him, to wake up. Yoaakim turned around and looked questioningly at Kyosuke, who walked right up and started speaking to him. Getting no reply, of course, he then spoke to the prisoner, who likewise didn't understand him.
I came up next to him, and explained to Kyosuke that the prisoner was not here to drink him. Finally, he accepted that. Yoaakim wanted us to move away, and not to talk to the prisoner. I apologized to him, gesturing that my cousin is a little touched.
We had learned enough for the present, and we returned to the hut.