Ghostfighters: Part Five
At first, everything was black, and Kiyoshi thought he had done something wrong. After a few seconds, the absence of anything became agonizing, and he opened one eye. Instead of beholding the anxious faces of Jeri and Chalin as he had expected, he was surprised to glimpse what seemed to be the middle of the Travellers’ camp. This must have been why Chalin’s eyes had only appeared half-closed when they had briefly observed her initial contact with the stone. Looking at the sky, Kiyoshi saw the sun embedded in a crisp azure sky, directly overhead. Noon.
Kiyoshi knew what was coming, and he wasn’t entirely sure he wanted to watch. However, before he could make any movement, his vision changed against his will, and he seemed to be gliding towards Chalin’s tent. Soon, he was facing its faded outer wall, and he knew that Tyra would be appearing any moment.
As if on cue, the tent’s door covering flapped to the side suddenly, and Tyra stormed out with a dangerous flicker in her eye, muttering angrily under her breath, no doubt still irritated at Kiyoshi’s choice of words when describing the ghost. Finding a spot in the shade beneath a lone, ancient oak, the Aisha slid down to a comfortable sitting position and put her chin in her hand. She sighed, suddenly looking more regretful than angry. She thoughtfully glanced at the side of the tent, and to Kiyoshi’s horror, tears began to stream down her face. Heart aching, what the Shoyru wanted more than anything else was to comfort his friend, but such an action would prove impossible -- even if he were capable of making a motion, he was yet again watching a world that he wasn’t physically part of.
Suddenly, the scene before his eyes melted away, and Kiyoshi looked around, startled. The inky blackness was suddenly illuminated by a torch being anonymously lit, throwing light on what seemed to be a wide chamber with dark sandstone walls. Was this a part of the stone’s past? He didn’t think so... the petrified wood had been taken from the ground outside Chalin’s tent, not a stone hall. Then what was going on?
The eerie firelight caused shadows to flicker through the numerous crevices of stone in what was evidently an ancient structure. Kiyoshi’s eyes darted from corner to dark corner of the room, wondering what was hiding in its depths, half-expecting someone to leap out at him, fangs bared. He could feel his heart hammering, his wings shifting, and although he was still invisible, still immobile, he felt his own presence more strongly here than outside the tent.
“What do you want?” he said into the silence boldly, surprised that his words were audible.
There was hardly a pause before a figure seemed to materialize from the swirling shadows on the floor -- a figure he recognized. “I don’t think it matters much what I want, Kiyoshi Paco of Crystal Valley,” she said with an easy smile, looking him in the eye. “What do you want?”
Kiyoshi stared at the Korbat. He wanted to snap out something bravely, but couldn’t think of anything to say in reply.
She turned away, pacing the rough stone floor in front of him. “It’s very rude, you know. It’s you who is intruding. You’ve been following me, in a sense. You want to know more.” With a flick of fair hair, she was facing him again. She eyed him with a hint of curiosity. “Of course, you would never admit your interest. I can’t even be sure that you know that interest is inside you yourself. That’s the Kiyoshi everyone knows,” she commented, almost playfully. “He hides away under a mask of duty and logic, because he’s afraid of what someone might think of him. That’s why no one understands him.”
“Why am I here?” the Shoyru managed to growl.
“I think you want to know why I attacked Tyra,” she went on, as if she hadn’t heard him. “You want to know why I attacked all the pets that I did.” She flashed a smile at him. “And you also want to know how I knew who you are, and where you came from.”
“You’re a mage.”
Suddenly the Korbat burst out laughing. She turned her face upwards and revelled in her glee, laughing as if her best friend had just told the world’s greatest joke. “A mage?” she cried. “A mage is a party magician, capable of a few petty tricks. Magic is a completely different business. I am magic,” she said, and Kiyoshi noticed the momentary gleam in her eyes, scarlet as the Desert sunset. “I am a ghost, or have you been told differently?”
Kiyoshi was silent, keeping a steady glare of defiance directed at her. In this world, Kiyoshi knew he was invisible, and yet, the Korbat mage was looking at him, speaking to him as if he were standing right there.
“You don’t think I’m a ghost, is that it? Well, that puts an end to my fun. I offer you my congratulations. You’ve figured me out.” She raised her hands in resignation, revealing the forest green folds of wing that hung from them. “So I suppose now would be the time to do the polite thing, and introduce myself.” She smiled pleasantly. “I have been known as Tarandya, the Shadow, the Onyx Spirit -- and what was it that our friend Alesandran had called me so fondly..? ‘Shapeshifting ghost-thief,’ were his exact words, I think.”
Suddenly, Kiyoshi saw the first hint of malevolence in her eye, and before he could react, the room was dissolving yet again, almost before he could hear her last remark: “But you can call me Highness.”
“He won’t wake up.” Jeri looked up at Chalin in distress. “What’s wrong with him?”
Chalin was feeling the wrist of the Shoyru who now lay on the tent’s floor, seemingly unconscious. “His pulse is erratic,” she said, looking steadily at the Bori. She moved swiftly to her feet, handing Jeri a small, wax-coated bag as she passed the shelves. “Fill that with water at the river,” she instructed, shoving aside a food crate with more strength than Jeri thought her capable of. “Go to Alesandran and tell him we need that bottle of dried sea fern.” The Uni found what she was looking for -- a small silver box, trimmed with gold cord, an ornate lock holding the clasp.
Jeri lingered at the doorway. “He’s not just looking at that rock’s past, is he?”
The urgency in her voice spurred Jeri into action, and he quickly disappeared through the opening.
Meanwhile, Kiyoshi lay on his back with a frown on his face and beads of cold sweat forming on his forehead, unable to wake up.
The next thing Kiyoshi saw was a grey Wocky, a small smile upon her face as she bent down to pick up another Wocky, tiny and laughing, still a kit, but starry in colour. The little pet giggled as he climbed onto the older Wocky’s shoulder. Looking as happy as a grey pet could ever be capable of looking, she carried the cub over to a sprawling willow tree, and he gleefully clambered onto a shoulder-high branch and scampered into a rough treehouse nestled in its inner branches.
Kiyoshi attempted to ask her who she was, but was annoyed to discover that he was unable to speak or move in this vision. He forced himself to stay calm as the Wocky called something up to the youngster and set back for the log cabin at the base of the hill.
The sun, low in the dusky sky, threw long shadows across the grassland as the grey pet moved around to the back of her home. As soon as she had stepped into the darkness beside the cabin, Kiyoshi knew that Tarandya the Shadow was about to strike again.
“Where’s Alesandran?” Jeri demanded, bursting into Chessori’s tent, causing the Zafara to leap up in alarm, accidentally loosing an arrow from the bow she had been drawing back. The shaft went spinning crazily through the air and embedded itself in a bag of flour not far from Jeri.
“WHAT IN FYORA’S NAME IS WRONG WITH YOU, BORI?!?” Chessori hollered furiously. She stomped up to the sack and wrenched out the projectile, ignoring the stream of flour now spilling from the rift.
“WHY WAS THAT THING STRUNG IN THE FIRST PLACE!” yelled Jeri back.
Enraged, the Zafara jabbed her finger in the direction of the tent’s corner, not taking her glare off him. Leaning against the wall was a thick target board, hand-painted in red and blue.
“WELL HOW WAS I SUPPOSED TO KNOW THAT?” he shouted.
“Gaw, you Northerners are so clueless,” she muttered through clenched teeth. “He went hunting.” She finally answered his question.
“What were you expecting to eat tonight?”
Jeri tried to calm down. “Listen, Kiyoshi’s gone all weird --”
Chessori snorted in derision.
“-- and he won’t wake up. Chalin thinks it’s dark magic, and she needs an herb from Alesandran.”
“Dark magic?” Chessori asked gruffly. Jeri nodded. “Listen, that’s bad alright, but I told you, Alesandran’s not here.”
Jeri bit his lip. “Then you’re going to have to find it,” he said imploringly.
Chessori’s face seemed to go pale. “Herbs?” she repeated, as if the sound of the word was unfamiliar.
An electric Kougra shoved open the door and dashed around the cabin, a lantern in hand. When he noticed the Wocky’s still form in the shadow of the dwelling, he dropped the lantern, rushing to her side. Gently he helped her to lean against the wall as she started to gain consciousness.
“Kreludor, Rhyaena, are you alright?” the Kougra asked, enveloping the Wocky in an emotional hug.
“I’m fine,” she said frostily, and Kiyoshi’s blood seemed to freeze with the words.
“What happened?” the Kougra asked, helping her to her feet as she brushed grass off her silvery dress.
“I must have slipped on the wet grass,” she replied.
Unable to tear his eyes away, Kiyoshi watched the two pets walk around front, hand in hand. Just as the Wocky turned to enter the building, Kiyoshi distinctly saw a streak of red flash through her eyes.
“Is this it?” the Zafara asked gruffly as she dug through a large box of supplies.
“She said it’s supposed to be dried sea fern.”
“Yah, well, nothing in here is labeled.”
Jeri anxiously took the bottle and poured a little in his paw. He sniffed it carefully. “No, this one’s oregano.”
“I don’t know anything about this magic stuff; I only deal with normal plants --” The Zafara continued to rummage through the crate, scattering Lupe treats across the floor. “Well, what’s in here?” she asked, popping up with a heavy cylindrical container and pulling at the lid.
Jeri peered in. “I’m pretty sure that’s a baked negg.”
Kiyoshi knew that that was the last he would be seeing of this particular victim of Tarandya’s, so it didn’t surprise him in the least when the cabin door shut with a click and the scene descended into blackness. What surprised him was the next image that suddenly came before his eyes -- two slowly revolving spheres, bright against the black background, lit by myriad pinpricks of twinkling light embedded in the image. The first sphere was small, rough, and dusty grey, the larger blue and green in colour, with accents of earthy brown and red throughout.
“Got it!” Jeri yelled, dashing through the entrance to Chalin’s tent, closely followed by Chessori.
The Uni was in the process of grinding some bluish substance into a fine powder with a clay pestle. Placing the mortar and its contents on the shelftop, she took the bag and bottle from Jeri. With expert grace, she pulled from the bottle a long strand of dried, but no less colourful Prismatic Sea Fern, crushing it in her hooves and placing it with the blue powder. Hastily, she ground the two ingredients together and poured the river water directly into the hardened clay cup, producing a thin, brownish soup.
Jeri and Chessori leapt out of the way as the Uni strode by, carrying the stuff between both hooves. Prying open the downed Shoyru’s mouth, she drained the entire contents of the mortar down his throat.
“That stuff’s disgusting,” remarked Jeri.
“Actually, if we prepared it properly, it should taste something like licorice,” Chalin said in reply, not moving her gaze from Kiyoshi, who had thus far made no movement.
“Now what?” asked the Bori apprehensively.
“Well, the mixture needs time to take effect, before any counter-curse is possible.” Chalin sighed. “Now, we wait.”
Kiyoshi had never seen his homeworld like this before. How was it possible that he could be gazing upon all the seas of Neopia at the same time, at the spreading sandy patch that was the Lost Desert at the same time as the snowy ice cap belonging to Terror Mountain and Happy Valley?
There was something frightening about the whole thing. It gave the Shoyru a sense of detachment from his home, like he had been shunted from vision to vision so often that he was no longer part of any physical world. But then again, it felt like he was seeing Neopia in a whole new light... everything was so close... as if he had only to reach out, to touch one of the orbs, to be whisked away to a new land....
And yet, even as he watched in amazement, the spheres were revolving. Turning, ever so slowly... and Kiyoshi wanted to know what was on the other side.
“Curious, are we?” A melodious voice interrupted his reverie.
Kiyoshi didn’t answer. Maybe if he was silent, he could keep her waiting for a reply, and soon the other side would come into view....
“I don’t think so, Ghostchaser,” Tarandya’s voice came musically. “You’re not allowed to see that particular secret.”
The spheres vanished, before the planet’s opposing face had escaped from shadow.
“Ah, I’ve always liked the strong-silent type,” she giggled. “Although from what I’ve seen in the past, you’re not much of either.”
Kiyoshi watched the Korbat levelly as she strode around her stone room proudly. The scenes he’d just witnessed had certainly brought on an emotional boil, but Kiyoshi was trying to fight down the senses of betrayal, loss and fear that were running untamed through his head. His mind was focussed on one thing: escape. He needed to leave this place. Now.
“Scared for our friend Tyra now, are we? Well, you’d best not worry. I’ve got her under my control,” Tarandya said with a glimmer in her ruby eyes.
“Why do you want her so badly?” Kiyoshi said from between clenched teeth.
Tarandya was quiet for a moment, looking at the crumbling brick wall, lost in thought. “She’s a very unique pet, isn’t she?” she asked at last. “And I’m not only referring to that split pelt of hers. No, she has a cool head and a reservoir of talent. She’s got a lot of potential,” the Korbat observed, tapping her temple thoughtfully. “She just needs to learn how to mine it, you know?”
Kiyoshi couldn’t control his indignation. “And you think you should be the one to mine it for her?” he demanded.
“Precisely.” Tarandya laughed happily. “Why do you think I’ve been distracting you with all the pretty visions for so long?”
“You think you’re ready?” Jeri asked apprehensively.
“I’m ready,” Chalin answered. Both he and Chessori watched in awe as a crystal-blue flame seemed to erupt from her hoof, swirling with an unearthly lambency that seemed to push all the darkness from the tent.
What Kiyoshi needed right about now was a miracle.
“Relax, Kiyoshi, and enjoy yourself,” Tarandya teased. “You’re not going anywhere for a while.”
“Oh, but I am,” Kiyoshi said, glancing around at the various nooks and crannies of the chamber. He had no idea how he was going to get out, and in any case, Tarandya had no trouble reading his mind, but he certainly didn’t want her directing his thoughts as well.
Tarandya smiled and shook her head. “I think what you need, my friend, is a miracle.”
Like a sculptor, Chalin smoothed the flame in her hoof until it resembled a faintly glowing orb. Taking the hint, the Bori and Zafara backed up to a safe distance. Holding the globe in both hooves, so that it created a misty aura around her, she closed her eyes.
“Fiat lux,” she murmured solemnly. Her eyes snapped open. “Let there be light.” With a broad, sweeping motion that illuminated the entire room, she threw the orb at the prone form of Kiyoshi.
The Korbat stiffened. She raised her eyes to look at the ceiling puzzlingly. Suddenly, she stumbled back in shock. “NO!” she screamed in fury, revealing razor-sharp canine teeth. She spun to face Kiyoshi, and a streak of radiant fire burst spontaneously from her palm. “You won’t stop me!”
However, before she could make any motion, both she and the stone room were swept away into darkness.
The moment the crystal blaze struck Kiyoshi, he uttered a ragged gasp and sat bolt-upright, if not a little dizzily. He put a hand to his forehead, striving to force the grogginess from his head.
Instantly Chalin, Chessori and Jeri surrounded him, demanding to know if he was okay, what had happened, what he had seen. Instead of answering any of them, he staggered to his feet and shoved past them, racing from the tent and into the afternoon light.
Moving as fast as his legs could carry him, he rounded the corner to the tent that had been lent to them by the Travellers, well-aware of the clenched fist that seemed to be taking hold of his stomach.
As he burst through the entrance, Tyra looked up in shock from the bag she was rummaging in. “You,” she hissed in rage, and before the Shoyru could make any motion, she leapt at him, landing a solid blow across his jawbone that sent him flying.
In helpless confusion, Kiyoshi put a hand to his face and tried to ignore the sharp throb of the hit as he struggled to his feet and scrambled doggedly after the escaping Aisha.
Fortunately, she was still in sight, but it wouldn’t be for long. Tyra didn’t look back as she sprinted madly for the safety of the trees. Kiyoshi pushed himself to the absolute limit as he dashed after her, somehow knowing that if she made it to the woods, she would disappear forever. But she was almost there -- he could see her not meters from the forest edge --
With one last burst of energy, the Shoyru threw himself at his friend and grabbed her feet, sending them both tumbling to the damp ground. Tyra squirmed around with a hiss, clawing at the hands that still attached themselves to her feet. The red gleam in her eye was unmistakable now.
“Let go, Shoyru, and your friend might live to see your next little ghost hunt,” she snarled dangerously.
But Kiyoshi wouldn’t let go, he couldn’t let go, for if he did, she might vanish into the air like a ghost, never to be seen again....
“FIAT LUX!” came a cry, and she hardly had time for a stunned stare before she collapsed back onto the grass, limp as a sleeping Angelpuss.
Jeri appeared at the Shoyru’s side, working to pry his hands from the Aisha’s ankles. “It’s over, mate,” he said, patting him on the back comfortingly. “You can let go now.”
Reluctantly, Kiyoshi loosened his grip, and as Chalin and Chessori worked to gently lift the sleeping Tyra into a standing position, Jeri helped Kiyoshi to his own feet.
Kiyoshi had managed to let go of Tyra, but he wasn’t willing to let her out of his sight, and so he and Jeri wearily brought up the rear. As they walked in solemn silence back to the camp, Kiyoshi guessed that the wetness on his cheeks was not just dew from the grass.
To be continued...