Chapter 76: Eternal Death
The sun rises, then sets, then again rises.
Life, death, and life again, without end.
Where, then, does the deathless life belong?
~ Miyara Miwa
We saw no more signs of anything, and we set the usual watch:
- The White Faerie
On Kyosuke's watch, he again heard something in the woods and awakened me, then went to investigate while I took his watch. I could not tell what the sound was, but I too could hear it.
He returned with a pot with meat in it and covered by a grass lid, saying he'd found one for each of us, waiting, but no one there. Kyosuke brought back all the pots while I stood his watch. Kyosuke assured me he bowed and thanked our unseen, if not unsmelt, benefactors. At least the others could have meat, and we would be able to move faster without having to hunt along the way. Providing a mackerel for me is not time-consuming.
However, when Hosei awoke and inspected the pots, he said the meat was fresh, and it was obviously from a halfling. Kyosuke shrugged; he would eat it anyway. No one else would touch it, and neither Hosei nor Sun would agree to cook it for Kyosuke. He cooked it for himself and ate it. I could not hide my disgust, stronger even than for any meat.
At home, we mingle very little with the faeries. Not like here, where dwarves, halflings, elves, and beastmen are everywhere. Still, although "other", they are sentient. Eating them is wrong, and I shudder for Kyosuke. I do not think he has dishonored Miyara, but he has certainly tainted himself.
We agree that as long as the beastmen do not attack us, we will not attack them. We should arrive later that day, and we pressed onward. We glimpsed the peak here and there, which heartened us. About an hour along the trail, the sun shone brightly and the day was pretty and pleasantly cool. No drums, no signs or smells of beastmen. Then, suddenly several shapes emerged from the trees into the trail ahead of us, and bowed down before us. Beastmen, of course.
There were six of them, about 40 yards ahead of us. I stepped in front of Sun and walked forward, the rest following me. There were four bear-things, one horse-thing, and one bird-thing. They remained on the ground, and spoke to us. Hosei quickly cast his spell so he could translate for us. He listened, and he looked a little concerned. He said it was a little funny and a little scary, and explained. They pledged their undying loyalty to us, calling us avatars of chaos. They praised our intelligence and our evil ways. They admired our disguises as ordinary humans, which will make it easy for us to destroy the world. Suluruku, the bird-beast, was their leader; the others were called Hini, Uku, Azotu, Gurumu, and Puleti. Suluruku arose, and much to our surprise, he had two heads! He had a head shaped like that of a finch where the human head would be, if he were human, and the head of a vulture emerging from his stomach.
Astonished, I said, "We thank you for your service to us. Follow us."
I strode forward, followed by the rest, and they scurried our of our way, and then fell in behind us. Kyosuke said he had a feeling they would be useful to us, although they made me uneasy and I would have preferred to leave them behind. Now I am responsible for beastmen. Kyosuke could not describe what he felt, and I worried that Zokuri the Younger would not welcome these new companions of ours. Kyosuke did say that they could be the canary in the coal mine that will tell us whether we are acting for or against Tzeentch.
Another hour of walking, and the four bear things suddenly broke out in a snarling fight amongst themselves. I saw no reason to stop them, and they beat the crap out of each other. We continued walking: it was up to them to follow us. Suluruku followed us, as did the horse thing. Suluruku seemed interested in us: he listened to us, watched us, and seemed to be in good spirits. Hini just seemed to be in pain and whined quietly a lot to himself. Hosei said his feet hurt, and they're walking a lot, and the bears are making a lot of noise, and the sun is hot, and the air is cold... I decided the thing just likes to whine. I noticed Ravena, who usually leaps to heal anyone hurting in any way, left them alone. Barbarians in general feel that beastmen are monsters, and that is all, so I suppose it made sense to her. I did not care one way or another.
Eventually, the fight behind us wound down. Suluruku used the quiet moment to sidle up to Kyosuke and me and speak to us in badly accented Imperial, which I could barely make out at all. He asked us we preferred that he speak Imperial to us. I told him it did not matter, since we could understand him whatever, language he used. He groveled, feeling foolish at thinking that avatars of Tzeentch could not understand him. The fact that we obviously had to use Hosei to translate for us did not seem to affect his world view. We were all-powerful avatars, and that was that. I thought that could be useful to us and saw no reason to change his mind.
We continued on our way, and the bear things caught back up to us, apparently not hurt in any meaningful way. Suluruku asked if there was anything he could do for us, and I told him we wished a deer, since many of us prefer deer meat to that of halfling. He, in turn, sent the bear things out hunting for us. We continued, of course: they could catch up to us later.
Suluruku spoke to Hosei quietly, asking where we were going, and Hosei of course passed along the question to me. I said, "We are going along this trail for our own business, and he can best serve us by following us." Suluruku fell down on his faces in abject mortification. He got up and followed us, as we did not stop. Hini whined more and more, and Suluruku's heads held conversations with themselves.
At lunch break, Kyosuke started a fire for us. He tried and failed, but then shot a lightning bolt from the sky. Luckily, the powerful bolt did not harm us in any way, I suppose because of the protection of the Crystal. It certainly impressed our beastmen, although it did not start a fire. I asked Suluruku to start a fire for us, which he did. Kyosuke's cooking his food "just like the humans do" impressed Suluruku: we are good at disguise. Kyosuke was the only one who deigned to eat the hobbit meat, and the rest stayed far away from the fire in disgust.
I found a place where I could think quietly to myself while the others ate. Zokuri the Younger will know what to do about the Crystal. But will he tell us? How can we convince him to do so? It is difficult talking with barbarians, as we do not have the same frame of reference, and it is tenfold worse with faeries.
After a quick lunch, we started underway again. Eventually, the bear things met us, carrying three deer, still alive. We halted, and we claimed the buck for ourselves and let them keep the two does, which they immediately fell upon and ate before they were even completely dead. We stopped and allowed Ashe to dress the deer.
This area was wooded and the terrain rough: hills, boulders, rocks. Ravena went foraging with Baku for safety, and brought back some rather dry tasteless bush-like things to eat. She assured us they were nutritious. We could reach the bottom of this huge peak in an hour or so, but it will take until at least the end of tomorrow to reach the top of the peak. We made camp here.
I hated to appear weak to the beastmen by setting watches, but Kyosuke correctly reminded me that they've been watching us for days and know what we do. Besides, they seem to think we are clever for maintaining such good disguises as humans. The beastmen camp a little ways away from us, still in our sight. The night passed quietly, except for the beastmen's snoring.
Our ascent was difficult, and took much longer than we thought. We fought off a horde of hawks and climbed the steep and broken terrain in freezing cold weather. That night's camp was cold and hard. We avoided looking towards the glacier, which dazzled our eyes, and we learned to avoid ice worms, which were like frozen leeches. Finally, on the second day of our final climb, the sun set before us, outlining a rickety hut on stilts, about 20 or 30 feet east of a 2-foot tall cliff that overlooked the glacier.
I dispatched the White Faerie to speak with Zokuri, who was most unfriendly, like hermits everywhere. Still, we managed an invitation anyway, and I told the beastmen to wait for us outside.
The interior of the small hut was as rude as the outside. Even with the small fire, it was cold inside. Zokuri sat in front of the fire, warmed his hands at it, lost in thought. He was ancient and looked it. His yellowed beard trailed along the floor, and mites crawled through it. His eyes were bright with both intelligence and fear. He remained silent.
I asked him simply, "How do we destroy it?"
He did not seem to listen. He took a deep breath, and spoke. "I've waited over 4000 years for this day. 4313 to be exact. And now the day has come. Have I forgotten what I meant to do? Do I help you or let happen what will? Let the end finally come?"
I could see that nothing we said could affect him: this was a struggle with himself. We sat quietly, waiting for him to make up his own mind.
After a long silent time, broken only by the sounds of the bear things fighting outside, he spoke to us. "To understand why we made them, you have to understand the times. The faerie civilization was at its height. We were replete with wonders, riches, engineering marvels. We had beaten the elves and our other enemies, driving them away. The elves were of little concern to us. We knew the gods of chaos, but did not pay attention to them. Complacent and proud, we were. I was a proud engineer. My father Zokuri the Elder was famed for his marvels, and I was expected to contribute as much as he had."
"I was apprenticed to the great Wismag the Sagacious, designer of many ingenious steam-powered things. He had a new theory: a new source of energy that would be better then steam! Power wrested from the very earth itself. Crystals of Power, manipulating the energies of the powers of the earth. They were not magical, in any way. It took many years, and we built our lab under the Yetsin Valley. We built devices to channel the powers of the crystals, and even share their powers through the air. We transported the receiving apparatus to the World's End mountains. I stood before the receiver, ready. My colleagues remained in the Yetsin Valley."
"You can guess the rest. We failed. The device at Karaz-a-Karak exploded, wounding Gotrek and nearly killing me. Explosions and earthquakes occurred all along the World's End mountains, causing many deaths. Our entire civilization was devoured by earthquakes. The goblins attacked, sensing our weakness. It was our fault that we destroyed the dwarves. We separated the crystals, but even then there were portents of doom. They would be put together by fools and would destroy the world. And here you are, fools."
After some silence, I asked, "Then is there no way to destroy it?" He said they can't be destroyed. Kyosuke asked if they could be made safe, but no. If there was a way to make them safe, they would have done it 4000 years ago.
Ravena described her visions of a hole, and he dismissed the notion. I mentioned it was visions that us to him, and Tzeentch was brought up. He flatly did not believe in chaos or Tzeentch. The Crystal, to him, was natural power only, and it was destructive only because the faeries had done something wrong and failed miserably. The crystals were a scientific experiment that went horribly wrong, and have nothing to do with ancient dead gods.
Leaving aside his delusions, Kyosuke asked him why he was here. Despondently, he answered, "I don't know. After the explosions, I returned to the lab at Karak Vagnal to discover all of my colleagues were dead, the faerie civilization was in ruins, and it was all my fault. I climbed up this mountain, built this hut, and planned to sit here until I died."
Kyosuke and I both asked him why he didn't simply kill himself. Why live in dishonor that long? Was he that cowardly, afraid of death, that he'd rather live 4000 years like this? He said he can't die, and he doesn't know why. That explained everything: he could not die because he was waiting for us, to help us. Once he has finished the task Fate gave him, he will die honorably.
He could not directly help us, but he did draw a map. He pointed to a spot on the map and it was Kadar Gravning (the place we found the last one, the Crystal of Water). He drew a vague line northward and said it was Kadar Vagnal. Ravena nodded: it makes sense to her. He said, "We built the crystals in Vagnal, the Stronghold of Wisdom. Perhaps you will find some answers there."
The door slammed open, and an axe flew through the air. It hit Zokuri directly in the face. He staggered backward, stumbled through some of us, and we fell against the wall that looked out over the cliff. The floor tilted, and we and the tables and chairs slid to one side.
In the door, Meitila froze. At a groan and then a sharp crack, she jumped back out of the door. The hut broke free and began sliding across the ice towards the cliff. Ravena quickly grabbed the map, and she, Kyosuke, and I braced ourselves. The others slid across the tilted floor and hit the front of the hut, and it gained speed. We went over the side, flew through the air, and hit the glacier below.
But we did not stop there: the hut slid down the mountain, sometime hitting rocks and trees, and tumbling. We were along for a wild ride, and held on as best we could. Ravena managed to summon an air spirit, and told it to get hold of the hut and slowly bring it to a stop. Very slowly, we began to slow down, and eventually we did stop. The door and the floor were both now on the side, and we gathered ourselves together on what was once another side of the hut. Kyosuke looked out of the door. We were at the bottom of the mountain, and hawks circled us.
Kyosuke started to climb out, and the hut slid a little further, then began to rock, as though nothing were holding it up. Ravena told her spirit to hold us steady, Kyosuke climbed out to scout around, and the rest of stayed as motionless as we could. Kyosuke reported we were now back where we were attacked by the hawks at the bottom; we were at the top of about a 10 yard cliff, teetering. This is the cliff where the hawks lived. The spirit was not strong enough to carry the hut, and Ravena summoned another one, Still not strong enough to carry the hut, but they were strong enough to drag it down the cliff. It was a very bumpy ride, and the hut disintegrated on the way down. At the bottom, it splintered violently. We were all injured by this time, between falls, tumbles, and splinters.
Before we could even move, an avalanche of rocks, ice, and snow that we loosened on our way down hit us. Ravena commanded her spirits to dig us out as fast as they could, and we were all there and still alive when we emerged. Even Zokuri, to my horror. With the axe still buried in his face, halfway through his skull -- a blow that must have immediate "I can't die!" Kyosuke removed the axe, and one of the wallboard splintered, impaling Zokuri. He groaned and begged us to destroy the crystals so he could at last die.