Chapter 84: Action, at Last
On the edge no more,
We gathered ourselves and leapt --
Off the ledge, forward.
~ Miyara Miwa
We needed to lay low and give nobody reason to suspect we were going to cause mayhem the next day, so we mingled with the cultists. I asked what sort of honor accrued to the family of the young girl who was chosen as a noble sacrifice to Tzeentch. They answered that they have no families here, to my utter horror. There is only the individual and the community of Tzeentch. I clung to that: so the entire community is a family, then? They supposed so, And then someone asked what "accrued" meant. I gave it up as a loss. Surely that barbarian girl will be born into a better life. One where family means something.
The cave grew quiet, and I looked at the entrance to see a man enter. Short, but solid, he was nearly entirely encased in fine-looking metal armor, and he held a sword ready. I had never felt so naked in my life, with no sword of my own.
He yelled, "Where is Ashe?" The man was not expecting trouble, for he did not have his helmet's faceshield closed. Ashe, like me, had had more than enough. In one smooth action, he drew out one of his axes, and threw it with all his strength at the man.
The axe spilt his face in two, and he dropped, dead. There was a collective gasp in the back of the cave. Ashe strode forward and chopped the man's head off. I walked up, bowed my head to him, and told him, "Well done."
Tomorrow was now.
Hosei came forward and said the armor was glamored to look much better than it was. The sword, though, was a normal sword. I picked it up and swung it experimentally. Not as well-balanced as my katana, and the blade wasn't nearly as fine, but it would do. The heft was similar enough, as was the reach. We kept his hammer and dagger back as well, and shoved the body and head off the cliff.
And so, the library. Sun said we needed to be able to get back out again, once having gotten in. I smiled. I didn't think that would be a problem. Not with the Crystal. The demon Kyosuke ran into worried me more.
Ashe cleaned his axe and I settled the barbarian sword on my hip as best I could. Before we were ready to move on, three snake-things slipped into the cave, fast and quiet, and made straight for Ashe.
Ravena instantly went to heal Kyosuke, and Ashe and I fought the snake-things. We both took a few hits, but Ashe quickly killed one, and the one I fought was nearly dead when he and the other broke off and swarmed onto the net. Ashe had no intentions of letting them go. They burst into flames, taking part of the net with them, and they fell silently and flaming to the ground.
We all stared at Ashe: he had flames dancing around his head, although they did him no harm.
I cut the head off the remained snake-thing and took his sword as well, then kicked the remains off the cliff. Ravena healed Ashe and me partially, then sat down to rest. Peter had nothing left to give her after she healed Kyosuke. We heard a gong sound. I grinned: it had to be for us. Time for action, at last. Kyosuke asked if he should scout around, and I nodded. He flew out. I looked out and decided the gong was in the Great Master's cave. Peitra came out of one of the caves and headed towards the temple cave. Then she went to speak with the chaos warriors at the top. I glanced to Ravena, who was still recovering from her efforts with Kyosuke. Not quite yet...
Peitra finally came to our cave, and asked me very seriously what happened to Loric, who was apparently the first man. I told her his face split in two. Tzeentch apparently took him and the three snake-things. And caused Ashe's head to flame. I told her, "It was a sign." She nodded and said we must speak to the Great Master." Excellent. I was most curious about this barbarian.
I murmured a quick explanation to Kyosuke, and we all followed Peitra. I carried both the swords, but I told Sun I would only be able to fight with one of them, and he should stand ready to take charge of the other, should battle commence. He nodded. He is always ready.
She took us to the temple, rather than to the Great Master's cave. A little disappointing, but I was certain they were interconnected anyway. Everytime someone praised Tzeentch, Ashe looks at Carmella. Ashe's flames still danced around his head, but they had cooled. At the altar, we waited, and then the Great Master himself appeared.
He was less impressive than he was during the service, but no less crazy. He was calm and unshakable in his convictions, certain the cultists benefit from his treatment of them. He waited for the banishment of the old corrupt world. He spoke with us at some great length. Crazy as a loon. Yes, I thought, we will end your world for you, little man. Finally, he asked me why we didn't tell him who we were.
"It was for you to discover."
"Is that all?"
"Only Tzeentch knows." I could play inscrutable, too.
"Let me formally welcome you to this place. What do you need of us?"
"First we require our belongings that we entrusted to your care."
He looked to Peitra and told her to take care of it.
That went well, so I asked for the other thing we needed. "One reason we are here is to study in your wonderful library."
"You know of that?"
"Tzeentch knows all."
"He told you?"
"Doesn't he speak to you?"
I merely nodded wisely.
"What else do you need?"
"I think that once we have spent some time in your library, we will know what we need to do."
That was maybe a little far, because he gave me an odd look. But still he seemed to comply with everything I asked.
Peitra appeared with the sack of our stuff. The Great Master dumped it all out onto the floor and went looked through it. It was all there, save the Crystal. I could feel where it was, and it was still in the cave behind the voices of the chaos warriors.
He let us claim our things. And he promised to show us his library tomorrow. "In the meantime, please move your residence to our finest quarters, in the Blessed Wheel." He asked Peitra to show us there, and he left.
We followed Peitra up and around the burned spot to the other side of the cliff's face, and high up. This poor cave, no different from any other, is a great honor. Only the best live here. I thanked her.
She told about half of the people here to remove themselves, and they did, grumbling only a little. We were left sharing the cave with only perhaps twenty cultists.
Peitra left, without even one of her random scoll-readings. Feeling rather playful, I called out a little haiku to her, which I invented on the spot. It even translated into Imperial not too badly. She took no notice. Definitely off her game.
The cultists avoided us, staying as far from us as they could. I asked for opinions from everyone: wait until tomorrow when the Great Master takes us to the library, or retrieve the rock now? The latter would ensure mayhem immediately.
Kyosuke believed strongly that we should wait, and Sun said, "All roads lead somewhere". Everyone else agreed: let's see what happens tomorrow.
I now had only rags for clothes, no armor, and my scrolls were long lost. But I had the two Miyara swords, plus two barbarian swords, a dagger, and the precious Isawa statue. I gave the two barbarian swords to Sun to carry for now, in case I need them, and we sat down to a dinner of fish. Again.
Night came quickly that night. We set the usual watches.
Kyosuke sat on the ledge, looking out at the evening for his watch, which I had done as well. It was a lovely night, clear and dark. Neither moon was out, and the black sky was filled with bright stars. He saw several human-shaped beings coming down towards our cave, quietly. He guessed they were chaos warriors. He told his partner, Hosei, to wake me quietly, and I joined Kyosuke at the edge.
There were four of them, and they paused for several moments, then continued. They entered our cave cautiously, in full armor with their faceplates down. I placed one hand on my katana, but did not move otherwise. They kept their swords sheathed, and their hands away from the hilts.
They stood before me in a line, bowed down, and prostrated themselves, their faces to the floor. Kyosuke stood, bowed, sat. I nodded slightly.
I let them stay there a minute or two, then I told them they might rise. They rose up to their knees, and one spoke slowly in a tongue none of us understood. Hosei had taken the snakeman's tongue, so he cast his spell, then asked him to repeat.
The warriors wished to devote themselves to us. Just you four, I asked? So far, yes. I welcomed them. Their spokesman asked, in Imperial now, what I needed them to do. I told them to lay down and rest, so they will be ready for tomorrow. He asked if I would like them to get rid of the other cultists in the cave. I was afraid he meant they would just kill them, so I told him to let them be for now. They scooted the cultists out of the way and settled down for the night.
The rest of the night was quiet.
We woke at dawn, and I took stock. I now had four well-armed chaos warriors behind me. Ashe's head still still glowed with flames. Hosei awoke in a pile of fish, and another one added itself to the pile as I watched. Kyosuke still has his wings. The Crystal was still in the same place.
We waited. The gong never sounded for the service, and no one ever went to it. We were not summoned to speak with the Great Master. I would give him the morning. That was all. I had no patience left.
At noon, I stood. It was time.
We went to the temple. Laid across the altar was Peitra, alive. I thought for a moment about cutting her head off, but did not, although I didn't want to leave her behind us. She was not bound in any way, merely lying face up in silence. She was breathing and appeared uninjured, but did not react to our presence in any way.
All I could get from her was that the Great Master was preparing for something, and had been since last night after he spoke with us, and that he didn't like visitors in his rooms.
Well, tough, he was going to get us anyway.
I stepped forward to lead the way to the Great Master's cave, and felt a hand on my arm. Kyosuke.
He asked to be first, in case there was a demon still there. He has a sad, doomed look now, and he looked somewhat desperate. He had a large stain on his honor, and dying in honorable battle would do a lot for him. I stood aside, and let him lead. I put the four chaos warriors and the White Faerie at the back, as our rear guard. I did not trust Peitra, and I very much did not trust anyone else here. I followed Kyosuke.
We walked through the alcove at the back, and then through another one.
Inside was a rope ladder leading up a small tube through the rock. It was a well-made, sturdy ladder. Kyosuke led the way up the ladder. I did not want everyone on the ladder at the same time, so I told everyone to come up in twos. First, Kyosuke and me. Then Ashe and Ravena. Everyone else follow in like manner.
At the top was a trap door, wooden, closed. I told Kyosuke to open it, and he said it's either locked or barred from the other side. According to the girl and everything else we've put together, this is the way we needed to go.
I called Ashe up to open the door. He hacked away at the door, determined it was a bar, hacked a little more, slid the wodden bar out of the way, and opened it. He climbed up, and the rest of us followed him.
The cave was oddly shaped, maybe about 20 feet square, and one wall was a curtain. The other walls were covered with rack. Each rack held heads, hanging from their hair, or from strings and nails when there was no hair. Hosei and Baku both looked away quickly, and stared fixedly at the curtain.
We recognized none of the heads. I heard bubbling noises from beyond the curtain, which most likely made it the room Kyosuke saw from the outside. The racks were not completely full, but each head was numbered, and each rack was numbered. I looked, but the little girl's head was not there. Most of the heads were human, but others were of the various faerie races, and even some of the shadow races.
There was one head that wasn't numbered. Ravena stood beside me, looking pale, and helped me. Its card read "Index".
We found the library.