Ghostfighters: Part Ten
Immediately, a spiderweb of cracks appeared around the point where Tyra had plunged the tablet into the wall. There was scarcely a moment of menacing silence in which the Korbat mage stared at the stone, eyes glazed, and Tyra sprinted away with Jeri in tow, leaving the tablet jammed in place.
A creak like that of ice about to break shot through the stone walls around them, and Kiyoshi struggled to hold on to consciousness.
“Steady, mate -- we’re almost there --”
Suddenly, Tyra cried, “Jeri, look out!”
There was an earsplitting crash as the entire outer wall gave way, and the river came pounding in with the force of a thousand racing Unis. The foaming torrents of water thrashed madly as they advanced on Tarandya, and Kiyoshi saw desperate fear transfix her gaze and root her to the spot. She did not say anything as she turned to him one last time, but there was no way he could misread the lethal intent in her dark blue eyes before she went under, smothered by the river, her own power source, her one true weakness.
So dazed was he that Kiyoshi hardly noticed the roaring river coming at him until he felt it overtake him too, and in a flurry of blue and green, it pulled him under the surface, dragging him along the bottom as it knocked against rocks and walls in a desperate attempt to move forward. As the water steadily rushed in to fill his eyes and nose, he decided that maybe this wouldn’t be such a bad way to die after all --
And then something seized his wrist and he was jerked upward. He broke the surface and choked as water gushed out of his mouth, replaced with sweet, cold air.
“Look what I caught!” said Jeri happily as he pulled the Shoyru up onto what must have been the very tip of the pile of rubble the backfiring spells had produced, and what was now the only part of the cavern that was not completely submerged. Even as Kiyoshi coughed and sputtered on the rubble heap, the river was quickly filling the room to the ceiling -- the narrow corridors attached to the hall were not letting the water escape quickly enough.
“This is hardly the time --” Tyra mumbled frantically, glancing at the ceiling that was hardly inches above her stooped shoulders now, and making nervous little motions with her hands. The air rumbled and part of the roof of a nearby corridor collapsed into the river below. Their own meagre refuge of crumbling stone and mud was steadily slipping away.
Jeri pulled Kiyoshi up as part of the heap was carried away altogether. “Whatever you’ve got in mind is good enough for me, Tyra --” he started.
The Aisha stopped pacing. “Right, well, here goes nothing.” She made a broad sweeping motion with both hands, and something disc-shaped, glowing bright silver with a lilac tinge, appeared before her. It looked like a giant saucer. Hesitantly, she stepped onto the magical creation and lowered herself down. It hummed with a single, piercing note as it supported her weight. “Come on, it’s our only chance!”
Still staring at her, Jeri slung Kiyoshi’s arm around his shoulder. He was so much taller than Kiyoshi that the Shoyru’s feet hardly brushed the ground as he supported him. “Don’t ever make me do this again, mate,” the Bori gasped as he hobbled toward Tyra.
When they were both seated on the bottom of the glowing saucer and looking at Tyra expectantly, she told them bluntly that she had no idea what she was doing and proceeded to tilt the edge of the saucer so that it shot forward, skimming over the surface of the water like a skipping stone as, hurtling away.
Jeri yelped and they all clung to the sides of Tyra’s creation as best they could, and when they burst through the entrance to the collapsed corridor, they were forced to duck down to avoid being scraped across the low ceiling as easily as butter on bread. There was an almost impossible amount of space between them and the ceiling now, but Tyra was aware of this. Dimly, Kiyoshi recognized the Aisha clutching her crystal staff and tilting it up in the cramped quarters, and then her voice rang out.
As Tyra knew very few magical expressions herself, she must have been inventing on the spot. But it worked; the ceiling above them exploded in a jumble of water spray and chunks of earth, and the three pets were blasted into the air above as if they had been carried upward by some invisible geyser. They landed scattered on the riverbank, and Tyra’s silver disc spun off into the night sky and disappeared with a wink against the darkness. Kiyoshi was aware of the smell of trees, and of a disgruntled Albat hooting nearby, alarmed by their sudden appearance, and of the soft, wonderful sensation of grass beneath him.
Jeri was on his feet already, whooping with joy, and Tyra was laughing beside him, and they had made it out, and they were alive, and it was all over....
This was good enough for Kiyoshi, who grinned before doing what he had been needing to do for a long, long while, and let himself fall back into a deep and perfectly dreamless sleep.
There was something glimmering brightly at the corner of Kiyoshi’s vision. Annoyed, he tried to shut his eyes against the glare, but then realized that they were already shut. Very carefully, he ventured to open them and take in his surroundings.
The light was coming from the edge of a glass bottle on an empty crate beside him as it reflected the rays of the morning sun outside. He was lying in one of the Travellers’ canvas tents, and as its interior was unfamiliar to him, he guessed it was Chessori’s. He tried to roll over to escape the blinding light, and felt himself tilt to the side dangerously. Instinctively he reached out and clutched at the ropes of the low-slung hammock that was now attempting to eject him. They creaked gently as the frazzled Shoyru regained control of the hammock and steadied his nerves enough to relax again.
“Watch it, Shoyru; if you knock yourself out again, I’m not sticking around to clean up the mess,” said a harsh voice.
Kiyoshi looked up. Chessori the Zafara was stomping toward him and he instinctively flinched, but she only picked up the bottle (which Kiyoshi now saw contained several strands of multicoloured plant fronds) and muttered, “Guess Chalin won’t be needing to brew anything up with this after all. I’ll go and get her.” Without another word she disappeared through the open tent flap.
Just seconds later, another figure drifted in, looking very tired indeed. “How are you?” asked Chalin softly.
He didn’t trust himself enough to sit up. “I’m not dead,” he answered bluntly.
She smiled gently. “Well then, I suppose that at least can be used to your advantage.” She offered him a cup of cold water, which he accepted and drank gratefully.
“You know,” she started thoughtfully, “she probably wouldn’t like to hear me say so, but Chessori was up almost all night tending to you and your friends -- both of whom are quite alright,” she added, answering his expression. “She was getting rather good at playing the worried healer, in fact.”
Kiyoshi secretly thought that Chessori was probably the kind of pet who was better at dealing out injuries than healing them, but he kept this to himself. Instead, he asked, “How did she learn her healers’ abilities, then?”
Chalin sat down on the crate beside him and sighed. “Chessori was only a child in the thick of the Meridell wars. Growing up in the middle of a battlefield with three older brothers and a father in the Meridellian Army, she found those skills were simply a necessity for her. And let me assure you, even though her expertise doesn’t carry to magic, or potion-making of any sort, out here, her practical abilities have proven infinitely useful.”
“Ch... er, Chalin,” he said, wondering if that was the proper way to address her. Now that he thought about it, he supposed that she was not that much older than him, but she somehow seemed to command respect. “What happened last night --”
She nodded. “I imagine a fair amount happened last night, from what Jerafiyell and Tyra have told me. I think, though, that I might get a slightly different story from your own experience.”
So Kiyoshi explained to her everything that had happened between him and Tarandya, everything from his first unfortunate experience with the tablet’s powers the previous afternoon up until the moment that he, Tyra, and Jeri had been catapulted onto the moonlit riverbank. It felt good to get it all off his shoulders, to relieve the tension that had built up inside him as the mystery and secrecy surrounding Tarandya had steadily deepened; after all, it was the first time he’d been completely open and honest with anyone for almost two days.
When he reached the end of his tale, Chalin was silent for a second. “She was an exceptionally talented mage,” she murmured. “It’s unfortunate that her own power was her undoing.”
He just nodded. She was studying him again, and he felt like a fist was clutching at his insides as he waited to hear what she was going to say -- he couldn’t help but think she was going to suggest he was a spirited young fighter again.
“Kiyoshi,” she said, holding his gaze. “Who do you want to be?”
The Shoyru stared at her, unable to hide his shock. Fortunately for him, she continued.
“You’re young, Kiyoshi, it’s true -- but you’ve seen so much already. You’ve been through things that would make the average Neopian cower in fright at their mere mention. Yesterday’s events were no exception. And yet you still think that other pets are out to judge you at every turn. Your friends don’t care that your eyes are the same colour as Tarandya’s were, and they certainly won’t reconsider your own personality because of a harmless -- indeed, a helpful -- coincidence like that.”
“Coincidence? But that makes no sense,” he blurted. “If I got in that way, then couldn’t anyone with a certain eye colour get through her shield as well?”
“It’s possible,” Chalin admitted. “After all, Tarandya did mention that there had been other adventurers who succeeded in getting as far as the caves. Just remember this, Kiyoshi -- you don’t have to be a chosen warrior if you don’t want to be. You happened to be the one who found the tablet, and we are grateful, of course, for everything that you have done for us, but the world won’t come to an end if its current idea of a hero doesn’t match the one that you believe in. You are your own person. And if you won’t let yourself choose your own path, who else will you give that right?”
He could find no words to reply to that with. Finally, he managed, “What will you -- the three of you -- do now that Tarandya’s -- gone?”
The Uni smiled. “I think we’ve been together for so long, it would be all but impossible to separate now. No, we will probably remain the Three Travellers -- it is a rare moment in time that nothing is amiss in Meridell. I’m sure we can still do a great deal of good. One never knows when the next corrupt mage will pop up -- and all else failing, we have a whole world at our fingertips.”
A nagging question sprang into his mind just as she was rising to leave. “Chalin, I just remembered -- actually, I can’t believe I forgot to ask earlier --”
“I’m not surprised,” said Chalin kindly. “Tarandya’s tablet requires a large mental capacity in order to function, which it likely would drain from the bearer. You’ve probably been quite forgetful lately, haven’t you? And I believe you passed out after using that magic a few times as well?”
“I -- I guess so,” he stammered. “I was wondering -- that globe that I saw when I first met Tarandya through the tablet? What was that, exactly?”
“Yes, actually, your friends happened upon the chamber that held the actual thing during their travels of the caves. From what they described, it was some sort of three-dimensional hologram... intriguing, very intriguing. I will never know, now that the lair has been destroyed, but I think I recall hearing about such a device a long while ago... exceedingly rare, they were rumoured to be both a map and a portal of sorts... they only had to be touched in the right place, and they would transport the user to the location of their choice, anywhere in the world...”
“It had another side,” said Kiyoshi in awe. “The models I’ve seen only ever had one side --”
“I am quite sure that our planet does indeed have another side, even if we haven’t been there yet,” Chalin said with a twinkle in her fire-and-ice eyes. “I am also sure that we will know what lies there... someday.” She noticed the glazed look on his face as he fantasized about the impossibly wonderful map. “A rumour, Mr. Paco,” she emphasized, reminding him of his old school teachers. “It’s just as likely that that globe was no more than a clever illusion meant to lure you into her trap.”
“I suppose so,” he agreed reluctantly, but still his mind lingered on the map... to be instantly transported anywhere on Neopia....
Chalin moved to the entrance and drew back the flap all the way, so that the full force of the morning light shone into the tent and made the dust motes sparkle like tiny fireflies. “For now, though, I think there’s someone who would like to talk to you.”
There was a Weewoo in one of the trees overhanging the narrow river, and it called out innocently as the two pets sat watching the river together, the bird’s beautiful, haunting melody added to the sound of the water as it ambled along its course.
Although it was a beautiful day and he couldn’t think of any reason to feel insecure, Kiyoshi found that he couldn’t help staring at the water, convinced that something was about to leap out of it at any moment.
“I can’t believe it’s over,” Tyra said after a while, expressing his exact thoughts. “It just seems like too much to expect.”
He sighed, leaning forward with his arms wrapped around his knees. “I don’t know about you, but I’ve had enough of Meridell for a while. I’ll be perfectly happy to get back to the Haunted Woods for some peace and quiet.”
She grinned. “It’s been a tough week.”
The Aisha raised a single eyebrow. “You wanna talk about anything?”
“No, it’s just -- just I’ve got a lot to think about.”
“You know we’re here if you need us, right?”
Kiyoshi nodded, smiling. “Thanks. But these last couple of days have been --” he struggled for the right words. “-- chaotic.”
She tapped a pebble into the water distractedly. “I haven’t been helping much, have I.”
It wasn’t a question. “Don’t worry about it.”
But Tyra was far from satisfied. She looked quite angry with herself. “There was that time... outside the tent, when everyone was asking me questions, and I think Tarandya and I were actually fighting for control of me... and I wasn’t even sure who was answering the questions anymore, me or her.” In one frustrated motion, she knocked the rest of the nearby pebbles into the river. “But in all honesty, I thought Tarandya might be possessing you for a while there. I even thought I saw your eyes turn red once.”
Kiyoshi glanced at her, surprised. Admittedly, he hadn’t considered that possibility. But it certainly wasn’t something he could believe very easily -- he would know if someone had been controlling his mind, wouldn’t he? “Well, erm, to tell you the truth, I thought something was wrong with me too. I mean, I kept catching myself holding the tablet even after I thought I put it down, and I kept using that magic even though I knew it was stupid to mess with it.”
Tyra nodded, and he realized that she understood perfectly. When she spoke, her voice was sympathetic. “It was like a whole new world of possibilities being opened.”
“Yeah.” He looked down. “Even though I knew that every magical thing I had been able to do was just directly channeled from Tarandya’s stone, I think I was sort of trying to hold on to the hope that I did have some magic in me after all.”
“Me too. And yet after all this, now that I’ve found out that I actually do have some, I’m sort of wishing I didn’t,” she whispered, smiling wryly.
He leaned over and enveloped her in a hug. “We’ve got each other -- the three of us -- that’s all that matters. We’ll learn together. That’s what friends are for.”
She chuckled. “Coming from you, that means a lot.”
Kiyoshi shrugged, grinning. “I learn from the best.”
“Catch anything fun?”
They jumped as the red Bori came crashing out of the forest beside them.
“Jeri,” Tyra gasped, “you’re going to send someone headfirst into that river one of these days!”
“One of these days,” he said. He sounded hopeful. “Not fishing again, eh?”
“How could we ever hope to beat what you pulled out of the river yesterday?” grinned Tyra with a playful wink.
“Oh, him?” Jeri waved at Kiyoshi dismissively. “You should have seen the one that got away.”
Minutes later, they had arrived back at the heart of the Travellers’ camp. Immediately, Alesandran came bounding out toward them and bowed to each of them in turn.
“My sister wasn’t kidding -- you three are nothing short of amazing. Alright there, Kiyoshi?”
“I’m fine,” said Kiyoshi. “Thanks to Chessori.”
“She does do a good job when she feels like it, doesn’t she? At any rate, we can’t thank you enough for what you’ve done. Consider yourselves in our eternal gratitude -- in Meridell’s eternal gratitude. You’ve just saved the lives and minds of countless pets.”
“That’s what we do, mate,” said Jeri brightly.
“I have to admit I’m a little confused, though. Did you... kill Tarandya?”
“No,” Kiyoshi replied.
“But she is dead, correct?”
“I don’t know.”
“Then what -- is she still on the loose?”
“All we know,” Tyra said, “is that last night she came face to face with a source of power that her own talents were no match for. They would have unravelled like an old sweater the instant that water hit her.”
“And the tablet?”
“Lost in the flood, like the rest of Tarandya’s lair.”
“I’m looking forward to getting back into my messenger routine,” Alesandran said, winking. “I have a feeling I’ve got some news the world may find interesting.”
“Whatever you do, stay away from anyone who even so much as drops the name Tanya Deanyn,” Kiyoshi warned quickly. “Trust me.”
“I will,” said Alesandran, looking at him with a vaguely bemused expression.
Then, from the nearest tent came Chessori, carrying three bulging backpacks. “Fully provisioned and ready to go,” she grunted, dropping them before the three friends. “Even if you get lost and take a month to get back to Neopia Central, you won’t be running out of food.”
Kiyoshi caught her eye. “Thank you,” he said pointedly.
She looked at him with surprise, and for a moment her brusque exterior was dropped altogether. “You’re... you’re welcome,” she said quietly.
Chalin raised an eyebrow at Kiyoshi. Again, he couldn’t remember when exactly she had arrived. She held out her hoof to the Shoyru, who caught the object she dropped in his hand.
“It’s a piece of sandstone from the riverbank where you three ended up last night,” she explained. The small, round stone had been attached to a loop of black cord, presumably allowing it to be worn around the neck. “I tried to read it, but unfortunately, it seems that last night’s events were too much for its temporary memory.” She smiled amusedly. “However, it is possible that you will encounter a more skilled seer someday in your travels, and perhaps they will have better luck than I did. If they can find a way to read that pebble, it might reveal some... interesting secrets.”
Kiyoshi clutched the stone wordlessly, but his expression said enough for the Uni to understand. She gave a small nod of acknowledgment, still smiling. “We’ll hear from you again.”
“How can you be so sure?” Alesandran asked, confused.
“I’m never sure,” replied Chalin, and Kiyoshi’s face broke into a grin. He hadn’t felt so happy for what seemed to him like an unthinkably long period of time, and he was still grinning when the three friends left the last of the Meridellian forest on the road home.
“I think that Tarandya person broke Kiyoshi,” Jeri commented as he observed the unusually cheerful Shoyru.
“We’re going home,” said Kiyoshi. “Why shouldn’t I be happy?”
“Because you’ll probably be in dire peril again by Tuesday of next week?” Jeri suggested.
“I’m coming with you,” Tyra said suddenly, and they both looked at her, startled. “Next time you go back to the Woods. I’m coming with you. I’ve paid the next couple of months’ rent in advance, and I’ve got a bunch of communications stuff that I could bring, all packed up and ready to go --”
“Of course you’re coming with us,” Jeri said. “You’re crucial to our survival.”
“I think I see a compliment in there somewhere,” replied Tyra uncertainly.
“Well, think of all the things we could be pitted against next --” Jeri listed them off. “Spider Grundo, Snowbeasts, Von Roo, Snowbeasts -- oh, don’t forget the Swamp Ghoul, we haven’t seen him in a couple of weeks, have we?”
“I would be glad,” Kiyoshi said, “to face the Swamp Ghoul right now.” Well, maybe not the Swamp Ghoul, he reasoned. He wanted to experience a few days of being dry first.
The afternoon sun cast three long shadows behind them as they walked the dusty dirt road and left Meridell in the distance, steadily growing smaller and smaller until all that was visible was a faint, dark line of trees along the horizon. He decided that just being with Jeri and Tyra and talking was all that he really needed right then, and nothing distracted him from that task for the entire journey home -- not even the lone tree outside of Neopia Central that, as he passed, he almost thought he saw a rough K carved into.
At this point, a heartfelt thank-you must go out to Betazoid_telepath, who miraculously did not lend me any characters for this entire story, but should still be considered the Queen of Editing and be given much glompage.