Chapter 88: The End
As one, Cystalline,
Elements of chaos, gone,
With an honor guard.
~ Miyara Miwa
I would have liked to try to talk with the faeries in their flying contraptions to persuade them to fight with us rather than against, but there was no way they could ever hear me. I doubted anyone on the ship who stood farther than a few feet away could hear me in the shrieking wind. It didn't matter anyway. The first one flew over us and dropped a few small somethings at our deck. Someone shouted something, although the only word I made out was "bomb". Ravena was ready, and so was Ashe. She blew the bombs away, and Ashe exploded them safely away from us.
I watched Kyosuke tangle with one. He came away with something in his arms, bombs I assumed, and the faerie's flying machine spiralled down out of sight. Ravena and Ashe kept the rest of the faeries away with a wall of fire and small tornados, with Kyosuke running additional interference. And then demons appeared.
I was helpless to aid in the fight, which all took place away from our ship. I could merely stand and watch, and coach Hosei to keep us flying steadily forward. And pray to whatever kami that might hear me for victory.
Ashe couldn't keep the firewall up, and he went back to targeted fireballs. There were too many enemies for Ravena to target them one by one herself, so she conjured up a few air spirits and sent them in. Hosei wondered if an air spirit could get behind and push us a little faster. I passed the question on to Ravena, who tried it. Slowly, we started moving faster, and then faster. We left the faeries behind, and Ashe finished destroying the demons. Baku crawled carefully out onto the wings and repaired the rents and tatters as well as he could. It would do.
I heard that odd "chop-chop-chop" sound of another faerie somewhere ahead of us and beneath us, climbing desperately to meet us. Again, we waited for it to attack before attacking it ourselves. But we were ready to destroy it immediately, because the ship could not take much more damage.
I was certain it would miss us entirely, but instead it collided with the front of the ship, crashed, and skidded along the deck. Ravena stopped it cold with a wall of air and the pilot tumbled out, screaming mad. Meitile! She looked me straight in the eye and attacked me. I was ready for her, and we faced off.
Out of nowhere, Suluruku ran at her and knocked her off the ship, and they fell screaming towards the ground. Ravena used an air spirit to rescue Suluruku, but allowed Meitile to fall. I was somewhat disappointed that I would not be able to best her in a real fight, but then the Crystal came before all else.
Ravena and Sun worked together to get the ship under its own power again, and she dismissed the last air spirit. No opposition remained. Sun kept the engines working, and Hosei kept us moving forward. For two hours we moved at an amazing speed through the storm to the great hole in the sky. Kyosuke flew ahead of us, to scout. We soon lost him in the swirling clouds.
We came closer. We could see it. Hosei stood stiffly, not steering the ship. I saw it all, so clearly. The rest were weak, as I knew them to be. I was the only one who could save everything, but they all had to die first, so they couldn't stop me, so they couldn't get in the way. My blood felt like hot lava coursing through my veins. My vision narrowed to the first threat before me, and all else vanished in a haze of red. I drew my two swords and took Hosei down first. He never saw me coming.
Ashe moved between me and Hosei, shielding the foolish old man and turning aside my blows with his axes as best he could. He is skilled, but I landed blow after blow on him, slicing through him. I only had to finish him off, then behead Hosei, then move on to the other weak ones.
I could see nothing but Ashe, my enemy.
Then something hit me in the back of the head, and I fell to the ground. All went black for a short bit. When I came back to myself, I was on the ground, my swords were several feet away from me on the deck, and Ashe was bleeding on top of me.
I looked wildly around. The hole was gone. The Crystal was, too: I could no longer feel it. I remembered every horrible time I struck Ashe -- and Hosei, unarmed and his back to me! -- but I no longer felt that terrible urge to kill.
What had I done? How could I lose control of myself like that? If only Kyosuke's wings disappear, I can give him the statue and send him back home with it, and I can kill myself right here and right now. It's the only right thing to do.
I realized I was burning hot, and it was Ashe! I yelled for him to get off of me, and I rolled away from him. Kyosuke returned, still winged, and I picked up my swords.
Then it happened.
Baku suddenly gushed water, no, he turned into water, sluicing down the deck, leaving only his empty skin behind. Kyosuke and Ravena poofed into small clouds of dust that vanished in the high winds. Ashe burst into flames, leaving nothing but a cloud of ashes that likewise vanished, and a greasy spot on the deck. And I remember little else but short glimpses as I floated in and out for weeks, months.
Somehow, we found our way through the middle of winter through the Yetsin Valley to the Druidess. I was no help whatsoever. Peter healed as best he could, and he was skilled indeed, but the conditions were so awful I and the other wounded simply could never recover. I walked slowly, lost in frozen fog. We finally reached the Druidess, where we had a warm, safe place to rest and recuperate. There was only Sun, Hosei, Caramela, Peter, Peitra, the four chaos warriors, and me. Suluruku disappeared into the valley sometime during the hellish march. And the White Faerie, my oracle whose pronouncements I have followed faithfully, is gone. Peter said he had become a crumbling, sandy statue when we returned to the East Egg.
Kyosuke and Ravena, taken by the power of air. The White Faerie, by the power of stone. Baku, water. And Ashe by fire. Each one claimed by the power of the Crystal he or she felt most drawn to, the power each used to help the rest, and to ultimately destroy the Crystal. Which reached out from the void we cast it into and took them with it.
There are so few of us left. Hosei, Caramela, Peter, Sun, and I.
I was told how Baku and Ravena worked together, watching carefully for the one chance to to throw it into the hole. How Ravena put aside her vision, and gave the crystal to Baku to throw, knowing he was more likely to succeed than she. And then how Kyosuke, my cousin the hero, took the Crystal, flew up to the very edge of the hole, and cast the Crystal into it.
All while I allowed myself to fall prey to the chaos visions and did my best to ruin everything. I was shamed. And still alive, while they all died, heroes all. Kyosuke should have been the one to live, not I.
It is now spring, and we are all more or less well. Caramela is better than I thought. She mourns the loss of her sister, but it is normal mourning. She has already said she will stay on with the Druidess. She will always be sad, but she seems to be at peace with herself.
Peitra, too, has emerged from that odd waking dream she was in. In fact, she is much the same as she was at the caves, only now she spouts the Druidess' words of wisdom. She, too, will stay here. She needs someone to worship and follow, and certainly the Druidess is the better choice.
The four chaos warriors are not so chaotic. They seem a little lost, in fact. I do not know if they will want to follow me or not.
Hosei is convinced he is badly tainted by chaos. Although the spontaneous rain of fish ceased with the destruction of the Crystal, he is convinced they fall still. He constantly apologizes for the fish everywhere, and warns us off eating them. He plans to find a temple somewhere that can help him remove the chaos.
One day, I woke up to the sun streaming into my room, and I realized I was well again. I could move and breathe entirely without pain. The frozen ice at my core had melted finally, and I was warm in the sun. I was welcomed quietly by the rest of the group, gathering in a common area of the temple.
There were several letters waiting for us, and they had waited until I was well again to read through them. Caramela did the honors, in place of her sister, and read the letters to us and we discussed them one-by-one.
The manager of our inn in Karusohoven sent us three. His first reported that everything was going well. The village was recovering quickly now, and the inn was making a small and steady profit. He wanted permission to reinvest the proceeds into expanding. He sent the books, and Caramela said everything looked fine. He also requested a change in his own status. He would accept a small raise, but would prefer to have a 50% stake in the inn. For that, he would forgo all future and past wages.
Hosei, Caramela, and I discussed the matter. From the books, it was apparent that he was not cheating us. On the contrary, he had not paid himself at all until the inn did start to profit. He is there, he is working hard. Why not? We agreed it was a good plan.
His second letter electrified me. It started simply, saying he had heard of our involvement with stopping the storm and was sorry for our losses and hoped we recuperated quickly. Then he reported that a Nipponese man was staying at the inn and was asking for me by name! But that was all, no name for the man. Who could be looking for me, and why? How fast could I get to the inn to speak with him? How hard was it going to be to admit that I've lost both Isawa-san and Kyosuke?
I barely paid attention to the third letter. A man from Albion was at the inn, also looking for us. The manager thought he wanted to hire us as bodyguards to escort him through the Empire. I dismissed that letter out of hand: I was returning home, whether with the others or by myself. Nothing else was worth considering.
Another letter was enclosed, from a minor Imperial noble. We came recommended to him by a certain lady of quality who met us Karusuhoven. He needed us for "private and vital" services and wished us to contact him at Nulun. Again, the others might, but I was going to Nippon.
Finally, Shan was gone, but left us a note. He travelled south in search of information about his magic box and was currently in Freeport, an island south of the Border Princes. He said life was "interesting" and he had found a few things that were "right up our alley". He would love us to join him down there, if we were interested.
And then, a strange faerie stood up. He came to speak with us, from Iri. He reported that Iri was slowly recovering, with a mix of faerie and human monks working towards recovery. They fully intend to make it a joint effort between humans and faeries. He was polite, and seemed a little over-awed by us.
He had a message for me, in particular. A countryman of mine, he thought it might have been a relative, although they were not sure because of language difficulties, was at Iri looking for me. I sat up and listened carefully. Apparently this mysterious man was not content with staying at the inn and waiting for me but was now actively looking for me. What if I missed him? Was he still at Iri?
The faerie continued. They did not know where I was or where to reach me, so they let him stay with them for a time. He remained for two months, and then died in his sleep. They buried him in their catacombs. The faerie was here to give me the man's belongings.
While I collected my thoughts, Hosei thanked the faerie profusely and expressed his wish to return to Iri with him. The faerie looked pleased and said they would be honored. Hosei explained that he was chaos tainted and needed a powerful priest to help him throw it off.
I was curious about my countryman, and devasted that he had died. It brought up Kyosuke's painful absence again. I must go home.
I announced my plans: I had to go home. The others could do as they pleased. Anyone could come with me, or they could stay here and pick one of the letters to follow up on, or each could follow his own path. But mine took me to Nippon, and soon.
Sun immediately said he would remain with me, and I was glad for it. The others wanted to think it over.
I slipped away as soon as I could, and went through my countryman's small, wooden chest. It was a typical Miyara travelling chest. I had once had one much like it. It contained some gold and his personal things. He had a small travelling tea set, his clothing, and all the typical things a Miyara would carry on a long trip where he needed to travel light.
Most interesting was a note. It was encrypted, using the Miyara family key, which I called to mind with little difficulty. I had to memorize it and practice with it as a young girl.
The note was addressed to me, from Miyara Ito. He was something of a black sheep and an embarassment to the family, being a successful merchant. But he had his uses, and was often used as a messenger, since he travelled constantly. Unencrypted, it read:
Cousin, I apologize profusely for the brevity of this note. If you are reading this, it means I have passed on, probably not naturally. It is of the utmost importance that you return home with the missing item. A ship awaits you in Lutsini. Miyara Ito.
I asked about the port, and one of the chaos warriors knew where it is. South of here, in Southern Tai Lia. And so I made plans. To Karusuhoven with the faerie and Hosei, who can leave us for Iri at the split. Then we can give the manager our decisions and take a barge to Tai Lia. Then, home.
The chaos warriors asked if I wanted them to accompany me. From their manner, I thought perhaps they did not really want to but were not sure what else to do. I told them that they must follow their own path. They pondered for a while, and one at a time, they each told me they were staying here, at least for now, until they can figure out what they should do. Peter came with me, and Sun, of course. Peter is not certain yet if he will follow me all the way to Nippon, but for the moment at least, Karusuhoven is a good destination for him. It may be that only Sun and I travel to Nippon.
Cousin Ito was a similar size to me; with a little careful sewing, I put together a somewhat decent wardrobe. He was a merchant and not a samurai, so they are not really right, but they fit and are a huge improvement on leftover barbarian rags. Cousin Ito always dressed with style. Probably because of his status, he was careful to always dress in Phoenix and Miyara colors, and everything he had was in reds and oranges and yellows, with the Miyara mon and intricate embroidery. And all the finest silks and cottons. Fellow Nipponese might look askance at the odd tailoring, but certainly not at the quality of the fabrics themselves. I feel more like myself again, even in these odd borrowed feathers.