Ghostfighters: Part Three
Kiyoshi had no idea how it had happened, but as suddenly as he had been hurled into the first chaos, he had surfaced in yet another. This time, all he could see was water, great clear jets of it spraying around him, through him. There was also the sensation of veering and swerving around corners, leaping over stones and other obstructions in a more graceful and fluid manner than Kiyoshi would have ever thought possible -- he had become the river.
As opposed to the mad frenzy of the first vortex, this existence had an oddly attractive rhythm, a pattern of movement that just wanted to carry itself away. It wasn’t long before Kiyoshi had simply decided to let go and follow the river. Not one thought of Chalin, Jeri, Tyra or ghost-thieves crossed his mind. That was another life. This was the life of water.
Of course, doing this, it soon became clear that he had become neither water nor the river. If he had, he wouldn’t be able to think as he did now. But he did have a sudden understanding of what water was. It was just like that, as if someone had snapped their fingers -- he knew everything about the river, everything it had ever known about itself -- and it was as if he were completed. He travelled with the river.
After a while, which might have been anywhere from ten minutes to an hour, Kiyoshi was able to draw his attention away from this new level of knowledge, confident with the thought that he could do even more with this magic.
He told himself to leave, and he left, entering the Vortex again.
This time, it didn’t last for so long, and he had only endured a few moments of the clashing images that hovered and danced in front of him before it all stopped. But, as Kiyoshi soon realized, he could still only careen around wildly until the magic stopped; he could not control it. Which was probably why he ended up being deposited where he was now.
It is an odd thing to come out of an turbulent Vortex that should have no right to exist in the first place, only to inexplicably reappear a few centimeters from the nose of a very moody Zafara in the process of stringing a very large bow.
Kiyoshi yelped, stumbling backwards; however, it didn’t seem as though anyone had heard him -- or even noticed him, for that matter. Then he missed his footing again and fell over as he realized that he had lost all of the newfound understanding the river had granted him. He was gripped by a sudden panic, before realizing with a start where he was: back at the Travelers’ camp.
Chessori was sitting with her back against an oak trunk, and nearby, Alesandran was reading a wrinkled sheet of parchment, chewing on a claw thoughtfully. Around a small fire, Tyra and Jeri were speaking casually, but in hushed tones. Chalin was perched on a food crate against a tent wall, chin in her hooves, staring at something on the ground that Kiyoshi couldn’t see.
Hesitantly, he leaned in towards the sitting Bori. “Jeri.” Not even a glance.
Kiyoshi moved around curiously, studying each one of them in turn. Struck by a sudden thought, he raised a hand in front of his own face. Nothing at all seemed unusual about it... it was an ordinary blue, and seemed solid. This was quite different from his experience with the river. For one thing, he appeared to actually be here himself, in body and mind, apart from the fact that no one seemed to be aware of his presence.
Testing his theory, he tried tapping a leaf on a Sniddberry plant. His finger connected, and the leaf twitched. Triumphantly, he swatted the whole plant, and it swayed and rustled rewardingly, a few bright yellow berries bouncing onto the earth. Kiyoshi also noticed Jeri look up sharply, staring at the bush beside him suspiciously before he seemed to decide it was nothing worthwhile.
Kiyoshi stood back and surveyed the scene. Obviously, he was not completely out of the stone’s power. So what was it that he would be able to understand in a new depth now that he was here? Or who was it...
The Shoyru wandered from pet to pet carefully. Hadn’t it been Chessori he’d appeared in front of in the first place? Maybe she was the point of his appearance here... although, Kiyoshi reasoned, he wasn’t sure he wanted to understand Chessori. In spite of that, Kiyoshi focussed on the Zafara with all his might, searching for some trace of a fact he didn’t already know about her.
After a couple of moments, he paused. Had it worked? He didn’t feel any different; even then, Kiyoshi had a hunch it would take more than a bug-eyed stare to connect with someone’s subconscious.
Kiyoshi looked at her, trying to see her in a different light. It didn’t work. She was still an aggressive, irritable Zafara with a sword and a longbow. And now she was standing, no doubt searching for another weapon to care for. Disappointed, Kiyoshi lowered himself onto the ground and rested his chin in his hand.
To his surprise, Chessori did the same. Kiyoshi shook his head disbelievingly. It couldn’t be.
Across the camp fire from him, Chessori shook her head.
Shocked, Kiyoshi shook his head once more, just to clear it. Chessori blinked and picked up her longbow.
Puzzled, he got up. She did nothing. He walked over. She did nothing. This was beginning to confuse him -- had it been his imagination that Chessori had been mimicking his movements? On an impulse, Kiyoshi closed his eyes and concentrated on her again. When he opened his eyes, Chessori had stopped working on her bow and was standing again, staring right at him. It startled Kiyoshi at first, but he supposed it made sense; if he was looking at her then she had to be looking at him. Whatever this magic was, it was working again. Like a spell.
Amazed at his discovery, the Shoyru swished a hand in front of Chessori’s face. As if on cue, Chessori raised her hand and waved it in front of her. By this point, Alesandran and Chalin were both staring at her.
“What’s the matter, Chess?” asked Alesandran, and Tyra and Jeri paused their conversation and turned as well. Like Kiyoshi, Chessori glanced at Alesandran, then continued to watch the invisible spot where the Shoyru stood.
Deciding he’d best not take this too far, Kiyoshi shook his head as he had done before, and the Zafara sat down, picked up the bow and continued working on it.
“Chessori?” the Lupe repeated hesitantly. She looked up. “Is... everything alright?”
“Why wouldn’t it be?” she said, taking out a pocket knife and carving a rough piece of bark from the bow.
“You just... seemed a little... odd...”
Chessori glared. “Yeah?” she asked hotly. “How so?”
If it had been him, Kiyoshi wouldn’t have answered. But it wasn’t him. It was Jeri the Bori. “Well, for one thing, you just got up and waved at that tree over there,” Jeri said tactfully.
The look Chessori gave him could have singed the tips of his ears. “I,” she growled dangerously. “Did. Nothing. Of the sort.”
“I’m sorry,” said Jeri quickly. “For all I know, it could be your version of the Cybunny Hop.”
Chessori threw down her bow, eyes blazing. “What are you, deaf and blind?!? I’ve done nothing but sit here for the last ten minutes.”
“It was a very good version of the Cybunny Hop,” the Bori added hopefully.
The Zafara snarled and probably would have walked over and throttled Jeri right then and there, if it weren’t for the restraining paw Alesandran placed on her shoulder. “It’s okay, Chessori. We believe you. It’s just that we were worried.”
With some effort, she scrunched her eyes shut and sighed, her whole body shuddering, then relaxing as she seemed to return to her normal self. She cast a baleful glance towards Jeri before settling back into her place beneath the tree.
“You seemed to be looking at something,” the Lupe said.
Chessori shrugged and grunted.
“Something kind of... over here...” he continued, wandering around aimlessly, and before Kiyoshi could move away, Alesandran had trod on the tip of his tail.
“YOWCH!” Kiyoshi cried out, wrenching his tail out from underneath the Lupe’s boot. Alesandran staggered backwards, uttering an incoherent string of what sounded like Maraquan cuss words, at the same time as the other pets whirled to face the source of the shout. It wasn’t Kiyoshi they had heard, though. They were all, once again, gaping openly at Chessori, who stared back blankly, as if she herself had no idea of what had happened. She had apparently cried out in the same instant Kiyoshi had.
So, this meant that even a powerful emotional outburst could link their minds again. Great, Kiyoshi thought ironically. Another discovery.
“What time is it?” Chalin asked all of a sudden.
The Lupe shielded his eyes and squinted at the sun. “’Bout lunch.”
“Sounds good,” said Tyra, a little louder than she needed to. She looked a bit pale.
“Well, then, I guess we should go find something to eat,” Alesandran said nervously, glancing at Chessori.
They moved off towards one of the tents. Chessori hefted her bow, muttering curses under her breath, and stalked off after them.
Kiyoshi reflected on the experience excitedly. He could control pets’ actions, and no one could see him. He wondered if this was what ghosts felt like.
The reality of that thought struck him suddenly and struck him hard. This was a ghost’s power. He wouldn’t become a ghost like the one he was trying to get rid of.
All in all, he decided it was enough excitement for one morning. Kiyoshi wanted out, and that was all there was to it. He told the magic to take him back to the real Neopia, and it did.
Not seconds later, Kiyoshi rematerialized near the campfire they had been sitting around. He had time to glimpse the tent flap fall closed behind the five pets before his vision lurched, sending his mind into dizzying circles. He swayed, feebly opened his mouth and tried to mumble something, and fell over, unconscious before he hit the ground.
“Kiyoshi’s not in here,” Tyra commented, turning to face Jeri upon entering Chalin’s tent, where they would be having lunch.
“No?” Jeri said, surprised. “I figured our ol’ mischief-maker would be in here, tryin’ to scarf down the food before we showed up.”
Tyra gave him a wry smirk. “Kiyoshi? No. We’d have to go to you for advice on that one, Jeri.” She pushed past Alesandran, making her way back to the entrance. “I’d better make sure he doesn’t get himself captured or something.”
“If you’re looking for Kiyoshi, I believe he’s at the river,” said Chalin.
“Ooh. Bad day, I presume?” Jeri quipped. “Going to watch the river is always a sulky move.”
“You did call him a liar,” Chalin said, not looking at them.
“How does she know this stuff?!” gawked Jeri.
“A liar? I would never call him -- we didn’t -- we just said that --” The Aisha paused, holding the tent flap. “You’re right. Maybe I’d better leave him for a bit.” She released the flap and turned away.
The Auction House was a dusty sort of building, and it was very crowded. But no one else seemed to matter; the only pets of importance were Kiyoshi and the bearded Gelert in the top hat who stood before him. They were standing in a corner, and Kiyoshi was trying to explain how he couldn’t possibly sell his Hieroglyph Fragment. First of all, he wasn’t allowed to, by Neopian rules, and besides, he needed it for ammunition in his Scarab Stone Slingshot.
“I’ll give you one hundred and fifty thousand neopoints for it,” the Gelert proposed. “And I’ll even throw in this anti-ghost potion.”
Kiyoshi told him again that he couldn’t, and the Gelert inexplicably transmogrified into a hideous, hulking ghoul in the shape of a mutant Tuskaninny. Huge, glowing red eyes that spewed flame gazed murderously upon him. Desperately, the Shoyru stumbled backwards, clutching the Fragment as the ghost advanced. It was his; he’d never let it go; he’d protect it to the very end --
Suddenly, Tyra showed up, and with a flick of her ears the beast vanished in a puff of purple and orange smoke. Kiyoshi was about to shake her hand and congratulate her when a monkey wrench came out of nowhere and smacked him on the wrist.
“Ow,” Kiyoshi said indignantly to Jeri, but the Bori only looked at him sternly and said, “You have much larger issues to worry about. You must become a warrior.”
Kiyoshi snorted and told him he wasn’t a warrior, and had no intention of becoming one. Jeri thwacked him over the wrist again. And, just like that, it all disappeared.
The Shoyru’s eyes snapped open and he took a sharp breath, inhaling a piece of grass. Coughing, he stumbled to his feet, then wished he hadn’t. His perspective tilted dangerously and clouded with small, bright lights. His wrist hurt.
After staggering around for a moment, his vision cleared enough for him to realize that he was standing in the middle of camp. And this time, he had been there all along. The sun was still directly overhead; he’d probably been out for less than five minutes.That was one weird dream, he decided. One weird dream to follow a weird blackout after a weird discovery. It served him right.
It was then that he felt the breeze on the back of his neck.
No, it wasn’t a breeze. It was like the flow of air one gets when someone moves very, very close by. Kiyoshi held his breath and twisted around, cautiously scanning the tents and forest around him for any sign of movement. He found none. He didn’t like the looks of this.
It may very well be a terrifying thing to feel eyes on your back when it’s pitch-black outside, but it’s just as bad in broad daylight. It tells you that whoever is watching you isn’t afraid to do so.
Silently, he opened the nearest tent -- which happened to be Alesandran’s -- and entered casually. He only had a second to breathe in a smell akin to that of fried fish and stale Lupe treats before he slowly lifted the fabric and slipped outside once more. It was so faint that he wouldn’t have heard a thing if he were a few feet further away, but at this distance he couldn’t deny the whispered sound of ruffling fabric that met his ears.
He paused, using the corner of the tent as cover. Whatever was there was just around the corner. Whatever was there was also probably capable of burning him to a crisp with a glance, Kiyoshi reasoned. Unfortunately, reason didn’t stand a chance against the power of curiosity and reckless impulse mixed together, and before he could talk himself out of it, he had lunged out from behind the tent.
He had intended to catch him off guard, but instead, Kiyoshi stood facing the intruder’s back. Stunned, Kiyoshi could do nothing but watch dumbly as the figure turned calmly, as if nothing in the world could bother him at the moment. The Shoyru’s heart hammered as a smooth face framed by golden hair turned to face him. Large, almond-shaped eyes gazed out at him from under heavy lashes, studying him for a moment.
Then, before he could react at all, she disappeared into the forest with nothing more than a wingbeat and a shimmer of gossamer.
“Tell me again why you didn’t try to catch her?” Alesandran said incredulously.
“I would have, but I was... shocked. I wasn’t expecting...” Kiyoshi rubbed his forehead. Back at Chalin’s tent, he had told them about this most recent incident, but he had decided to leave out anything before that, instead muttering something about losing track of time at the river.
“You weren’t expecting him to be female,” Tyra supplied, abandoning a bowl that was still half full of soup.
“Yeah, I wasn’t,” Kiyoshi agreed, before he could register that there had been more than a hint of scorn in the Aisha’s voice.
Tyra snorted. “Of course. Such a reputable ghost couldn’t possibly be female.”
“I didn’t say that,” Kiyoshi replied disbelievingly. He hadn’t even suggested it. Where did she always get these ideas?
“No, powerful ghosts are never female,” Tyra continued. She was on a roll now. “I hear they don’t even let females into the Powerful Ghost Academy.”
“Just leave her be, mate. She’ll get over it in a few minutes,” Jeri murmured in his ear as he casually helped himself to Tyra’s bowl.
“...and what’s the Shadow Usul? Some kid in a Halloween costume?!?” Tyra was ranting.
Kiyoshi nodded in response to Jeri’s words, but he was frustrated. Over the last few weeks, since they’d been back from the Haunted Woods, Tyra had become increasingly defensive towards him. Maybe she’d decided that they weren’t friends after all. It stung to think about it.
Alesandran placed a paw on his shoulder. “We have to count on you to bring the ghost back.”
“Why me?” Kiyoshi asked, voicing what had been on his mind since the beginning.
The Lupe tilted his head. “Because you’re the only one who can. I thought Chalin talked to you already?”
Chalin nodded. “We talked.”
“Doesn’t he know anything about....”
The Uni shook her head, eyes averted. “Not yet.”
“Now’s as good a time as any.” Alesandran looked at Kiyoshi. “You’ve been chosen.”
“For what? Lunch?!?” Jeri asked.
Chalin’s eyes were closed. “Find the stone and wield it, traveller. Find the stone and wield it, traveller.” She kept whispering it to herself, over and over.
Kiyoshi reached over to touch her shoulder, but Alesandran caught his hand. Puzzled, the Shoyru looked up.
“You can’t,” Alesandran said, shaking his head. “You might hurt her.”
“Hurt her?” said Jeri quietly.
“She’s a seer. When she’s in her state, you can’t interrupt her, or else a connection might be broken too quickly in her mind. She sees things more and more,” he added softly. “About the ghost. About the truth of the ghost... as much as she can, given the ghost’s blocking powers. There’s not a lot to see yet, but our ghost’s mage defences are wavering. Her powers are weaker without her tool.”
“She needs it to live...” Chalin mumbled.
Kiyoshi nervously turned his attention back to the Lupe. “How was I -- chosen?”
Alesandran nodded at Chalin. “What she says is true -- wherever the rumour came from, the creator hid a prediction in it. It said that the one who finds it will be the one to use the tablet. The weapon.” He shrugged. “‘Find the stone and wield it, traveller.’”
Jeri stared at the Shoyru. “You’re a traveller.”
“And you found it,” said Chessori.
Chalin seemed to have surfaced from whatever magic she had sunk into, although Kiyoshi couldn’t help but notice the mark of sweat across her brow. She placed herself directly in front of him. “We have brought many journeyers to this place, with the hope that someone might find the weapon, and use it against the ghost. Only one out of dozens has succeeded. You.”
So that was why they had called him. The Ghostchasers weren’t famous. They weren’t widely respected. They had been called to help the Travellers because the famous and respected journeyers could not do what he had done. He had found the stone.
“You must conquer the ghost-thief,” Chalin said. “You are the chosen warrior, and you must wield the stone.”
Kiyoshi had just opened his mouth to argue this point when a crash from outside made them all jump.
Alesandran swore, leaping to his feet, and Jeri rose behind him as he asked, “Where’s Tyra?”
They had scarcely a moment to react before the noise from the other side of the tent was followed by a familiar voice’s shout. There was a second’s silence, in which the pets inside the tent stared at each other wordlessly, not daring to move, before dagger-like claws punched through the tent wall, slashing through the canvas as if it were woven from nothing more than cobwebs.
Stumbling backwards to avoid being sliced open by those claws, Kiyoshi and Jeri stood stunned as the blade-like claws suddenly vanished. The tent bulged inwards, burdened by the weight of something large thrown against it.
“Come on, we have to get out!” Kiyoshi urged. Chalin and Chessori struggled towards the doorway as Kiyoshi pulled on Alesandran’s paw, shoving Jeri along in front of him.
But before anything else could happen, a tent pole collapsed in front of the Shoyru, and in a flurry of heavy canvas that knocked them all off their feet, the entire tent was brought down upon them, enveloping Kiyoshi in thick folds of fabric. The more he struggled, the more hopelessly ensnared he became.
“Tyra,” he managed to choke desperately, knowing that she was in great danger. But there was nothing he could do.
To be continued...