Ghostfighters: Part Eight
A Leap of Faith
Kiyoshi did the only thing he could do in such short notice. He threw himself towards the safety of the dirt pile Jeri had produced, landing heavily on his stomach. At the same moment, the mound of damp earth protecting him exploded in a shower of dirt and red sparks. He coughed, ears ringing from the blast, putrid smoke filling his nostrils. A flash of urgency surged through him as he shook the mud from his frame. There was nowhere left to hide. There wasn’t even the slightest possibility he would be able to avoid another attack like that while he was still in this hall.
Without delaying another second, the Shoyru leapt to his feet and darted through the Bori’s tunnel.
Kiyoshi ran. He didn’t stop running when he came through on the other side of the shield, and he didn’t stop running when he rounded the first corner after that. He wasn’t sure if Tarandya was following him or not, but he wanted to put as much distance between the two pets as he possibly could.
Even as he sprinted blindly through the dark tunnels, he heard Tarandya’s voice, all business now, call out to him one last time. “You can’t run from me in my own home forever, Ghostchaser.”
Wheezing for breath, Kiyoshi sagged against a wall. Unable to think clearly, he had lost track of how long he had been running sometime after finding his way back to the river portal and entering the second tunnel, this time the one on the right.
Still gulping in air, his heart’s pace began to slow, and his frenzied thoughts began to settle out, leaving him feeling cold and hollow inside. He slowly lowered himself to the passage floor and allowed himself to sigh. What a mess that had turned out to be. Here he was, sitting in the dark, completely defeated and completely alone, the only guarantee his friends were still alive contained in the smug words of a treacherous mage who more than anything wanted him dead. He could only hope that Tyra’s intelligence and Jeri’s digging instincts would be enough to lead them back to the surface.
He shivered, mentally kicking himself for not taking one of the torches from the wall before the light had run out. What he wouldn’t give right now for a nice fireplace and some warm clothes... he amused himself for a moment by examining several scorch-edged holes in his pant leg and imagining just how close some of those blasts had come.
He gave a start and stared at the hem of his pant leg again. Just as before, all details regarding the state of his clothing were plainly visible. But if the torchlight had been gone for a good league or more, how was he still able to see in the darkness of the tunnel?
Kiyoshi rose stiffly, turning to take in the corners of the passage, alert for the source of the dim illumination. A few steps down the path he found it, hidden in a small hollow against the dank wall. Cautiously, he stooped and reached out, allowing the fine particles of the material to sift through his fingers before falling into a neat, luminescent pile at his feet. Glowing sand. Its faint light shone against the wall, tinting the sandstone with a calm greenish colour. He soon discovered that this wasn’t the only place the sand could be found either. Small deposits of the bright substance were scattered along the tunnel, lighting up the darkness just enough for Kiyoshi to see his way.
To the Shoyru, it seemed like the farther he walked, the more he found the sand sprinkled along the passage. His sense of intrigue getting the better of him, he continued along the faintly lit path until the various nooks and crannies in the walls seemed to be positively overflowing with the shining sand. Awed by the mystical sight, Kiyoshi almost missed the broad gap in the rock to his right as he walked by.
Squinting in the greenish light, he found that the wall was split here, perhaps due to pressure from the rock layers above, and the resulting crevice was more than wide enough to allow a full-grown neopet to squeeze through. As he peered though the gap, a musty sigh seemed to brush past his face and drift into the corridor outside. Taking a deep breath, Kiyoshi stepped through the crevice.
Upon reaching the other side, he was instantly stunned by the spectacle that greeted him. He was standing at the entrance to an enormous natural cave, roughly circular in shape. Not three steps before the very spot he stood, the ground abruptly fell away into a yawning chasm with no discernible bottom. Stalagmites jutted threateningly around its circumference, their bases stretching downward until the darkness of the pit swallowed them up. All around the inside of the cave, all that remained of the stone floor was a narrow ledge, lined with enough glowing sand to ring the entire pit with ghostly light. It was like the entire floor of the cavern had just fallen away, into the empty void of the bottomless crater.
Feeling a little dizzy, Kiyoshi backed up and braced his arms against the sides of the crevice. He closed his eyes and took a few breaths. There was nothing but a nasty sensation of vertigo to be found in this particular cave.
Still gripping the sandstone wall, he turned carefully to leave, and was surprised when his hand ran over several deep etchings in the stone.
Curiously, he moved to the side, so that the light from within the cavern fell on the wall. To his astonishment, a few lines of neat text appeared on the wall, painstakingly carved into the sandstone and long since forgotten. Mesmerized, Kiyoshi gazed at the crumbling letters.
Welcome, traveller. Not a hundred steps in front of you lies the account of my travels, including my experience with the Onyx Spirit Tarandya. If you be of noble intent, my only wish is that you might use these writings to defeat her where I have failed. The abyss before you is all that stands in your way. My friend, you must have more courage than you might think is in you. Don’t look back. Take a step. No harm will come to you.
Peace, fellow adventurer...
For a time Kiyoshi could only stare at the carved lines of text. A hundred steps in front of him? Surely this ‘friend’ did not mean for him to take a few paces into the bottomless pit he was standing before?
Head reeling, the Shoyru scrutinized every word of the passage on the wall. On the other side of this cave, there was supposedly the diary of an ancient adventurer that held secrets to defeating Tarandya. Maybe, Kiyoshi thought, in the time of this adventurer, the floor of this cave was still intact. He glanced at the text again and grimaced. No, whoever carved those words definitely referred to the space in the cave as an abyss.
This guy was crazy, he decided incredulously. Absolutely bonkers.
His heart skipped a beat and he cried out, scrabbling at the wall behind him in his panic to keep from falling into the pit.
Kiyoshi, it’s me, it’s Tyra.
“Tyra?” he gasped, sinking to the packed sandstone floor. “Are you... where did... how...?” He shook his head. “How are you talking to me?”
There was a pause, and for a moment Kiyoshi thought he had imagined the whole thing, but then the thought came like a second voice in his head, I don’t know.
“Where did she send you? Is Jeri with you? Is he alright... are you alright?”
We’re fine, but Tarandya must have sent us to one of the deepest tunnels. Jeri says he could probably dig us a tunnel up to the surface given about half an hour.
“Good,” Kiyoshi said, relieved. “When you get there, tell the Travellers everything that’s happened. They might have a better idea of what to do once they know what they’re up against.”
We’re not going up to the surface, said the thought. I don’t know how much longer I can keep this link open, but I know where you are now. We’re going to try to get to you.
“Tyra, no,” he protested futilely. “Go to the Travellers. If anyone can help, they can.”
If anyone can defeat Tarandya, it’s you, Kiyoshi. The thought came forcefully, so it was almost a shout inside his head. You’re going to have to follow the instructions you found on that wall.
“What?” Kiyoshi barked disbelievingly. “If I’m not sliced in half on one of those stalagmites, I’ll be plummeting down a bottomless shaft!”
Stalactites, the Aisha corrected.
“But-” he started, confused.
Listen, Kiyoshi, I don’t have time to explain, Tyra’s thoughts came hurriedly. This link is going to break any second now. You’re just going to have to trust me.
“Tyra!” he moaned. “I can not just step into a bottomless pit!”
However, this time, it seemed Tyra’s presence was truly gone.
Ranting his frustration to his own echo inside the cave, Kiyoshi flopped beside the inscription on the sandstone wall and stared intently at the letters until they were nothing but a jumbled mess in his mind.
’Not a hundred steps in front of you lies the account of my travels, including my experience with the Onyx Spirit Tarandya.’
If there’s even the smallest chance that this adventurer’s account contains clues to fighting Tarandya, I need it, Kiyoshi realized. My life might depend on it.
’No harm will come to you.’
Easy for him to say. He probably didn’t die impaled on a stalagmite.
But I thought that stalagmite had a ‘g’ for ‘ground’...
’You’re just going to have to trust me.’
How much will trust help me to gain the ability “Flight?”
Kiyoshi sighed. If there was one pet on Neopia he trusted, it was Tyra. But could he take the word of a long-dead traveller and a pet who had never even seen this pit with her own eyes as the truth, and be willing to stake his life on it?
I owe it to her, he decided, and rose to his feet with new determination.
He took one last glance at the words on the wall, and turned towards the abyss.
You must have more courage than you might think is in you.
Kiyoshi wondered what exactly was supposed to happen when he stepped into the open space. Would he magically be transported to the other side? Perhaps his wings would finally be given the power to let him fly, like he had always wanted.
And if Tyra was wrong, then what would happen? Would the weak membrane of his untrained wings be able to support him long enough for him to reach solid ground again?
Don’t look back.
Kiyoshi balanced on the edge of the void, closing his eyes and breathing as calmly as he could.
Take a step.
The hardest part. Kiyoshi opened his eyes slowly, looked at the empty space beneath his feet. So far down. Unfathomable depth.
He said the words out loud, to assure himself. He would do it. He would fight Tarandya for the sake of the next pets she called victims. Saving their lives was worth risking his.
His heart beating steadily, his mind clearer than it had been in days, he lifted his right foot, and stepped into the void.
The torchlight flickered in its straw housing, throwing the Aisha’s face into eerie contrast. “So here’s the plan,” she said briskly. “We find Kiyoshi, hope that he’s gotten through the cave by that point, and use whatever he found there to defeat Tarandya.” She paused, thinking. “There’s three of us, and only one of her, so if we split up, she’ll be too confused to take us all at once.”
Seconds later, she lowered the torch miserably. “Argh, who am I kidding?” she moaned in anguish. “He’s not going to get across that pit. He just won’t do it. There’s no way.”
“I hate to be a wet blanket, but it seems to me that your plan doesn’t exactly coincide with the plan that Kiyoshi approved,” Jeri remarked. “There’s a significant lack of me burrowing our way to freedom.”
“Let’s just say I find Kiyoshi’s plan unnecessarily dangerous,” she replied, pressing on through the corridor. “Leaving him to fend for himself is not an option, and you should be the first one to admit it.”
“Absolutely,” Jeri said with a quick smile. “I just thought the role of controversialist was required.”
“Your point has been noted,” she said sarcastically. “Is there anything else you’d like to argue, while we’re on the subject?”
“Why yes, actually,” he said lightly, coming to an abrupt halt. “I’d like to question your decision to walk straight past this small and muddy archway through which a faint blue glow is visible.”
Stepping back to where the Bori stood, she realized that he was quite right; carved roughly into the dank sandstone wall was a misshapen tunnel entrance, not quite tall enough to stand up in. From within came a constantly shifting pattern of blue and green light, barely visible from the outer tunnel.
“And as a solution to this problem, I would like to put forth the suggestion that we investigate immediately,” he said primly, a twinkle of the blue light in his eye.
“Motion carried.” Tyra allowed herself an amused smile as she ducked into the adjoining tunnel, knowing that Jeri couldn’t see her face.
Splash. An unexpected splatter of icy water up his legs.
Surprised by the sudden sensation, Kiyoshi managed to flail around a bit before overbalancing and falling face first into the water, completely drenching himself. He twisted around convulsively as he tried to decide which way was up, his last experience with water still fresh in his mind.
With a splash, he found the surface, surprised at the ease with which he had managed to do so. He wasn’t sinking at all.
In the time it took for his shocked brain to sort out what had happened, he realized that he was not sinking because he was already seated on the bottom of the pool. Only a few inches of water covered its stone surface. Amazed, the Shoyru slowly discovered that his surroundings -- the glowing sand, the crevice in the wall -- were exactly the same as they had been before he had stepped into the crater. He had actually ‘fallen’ less than a foot before landing in the shallow water.
On the other side of the mirrorlike pool, he could still see stalagmites under the water. However, seconds later, disturbances from his own thrashing in the water reached them, and the image began to ripple and dissipate.
He could have hit himself for his ignorance, and he did, as if to banish any further stupidity from his head. He stood up, water cascading from his already soaked clothes, and stared at the cave ceiling. Pointing downward from its vaulted heights like huge teeth, dozens of rock formations stabbed into the gloom of the cave, their images reflected perfectly in the shallow pool below.
Stalactites, he realized with a grin.
It took less than a minute for him to splash his way across the cave floor, relief washing over him like the cold water over his feet. Upon reaching the far side of the cave, he could clearly see a set of grooves cut into the wall. They formed a large rectangle about as tall as himself -- more than enough room for the small logbook he had expected.
An outline for a door? he wondered apprehensively, and set about finding a way to excavate it.
The grooves were crumbling and slimy, and his fingers found it hard to get a decent grip, but the absence of elements like wind and rain in the cave had let the door be fairly well preserved for its age. Finally, Kiyoshi was able to dislodge the slab of rock, and he let it fall onto the cave floor with a crack and a splash. When he glanced at the contents of the doorway, however, he grunted in alarm and took a step backwards into the water himself.
Leering at him from the roughly dug hollow behind the rock slab was the muddy skeleton of what had probably been a Lupe in its lifetime, judging from the sharp canines housed in its muzzle. Still clutched in its skeletal paws was a tattered sheaf of paper. The skeleton grinned at him, daring him to come closer.
Warily, Kiyoshi removed the papers from its grip and turned his back, trying not to let the grisly sight disturb him.
Once he had managed to coax the folds and wrinkles out of the paper, he began to read.
8th Day of Hunting
After several long months of searching, I finally hold the Spirit Stone in my paws. I cannot begin to speculate as to how many times I have almost abandoned my quest for this tiny artifact. Such was the case yesterday, before I encountered Edderick at the Auction House. An electric Kougra of diminutive stature, he hardly seemed the type to possess something so evil; perhaps that was why he was so keen to be rid of it. In any case, the satchel of neopoints I gave him for his Stone was more than it was worth, and yet the profit he was reaping did not seem to excite him in the slightest. Instead, when the transaction was complete, he simply averted his sad eyes and vanished into the crowd with his neopoints. His quest ends, and mine begins.
Kiyoshi turned the entry over in his mind, focussing on the electric Kougra in particular. He skimmed through the pages.
29th Day of Hunting
Tarandya. The Onyx Spirit. As ruthless as she is beautiful. My earlier suspicion that she was a ghost has not been confirmed, and the facts lead me to believe that she is merely a living Korbat of significant magical talent. If, that is, you can call what she does ‘living’.
This Tarandya character had an almost piteous life before the Kauvara Syndicate. Call it self-loathing, denial, or agony of the past, but she would rather be anyone but herself. Unfortunately, the mage abilities the Kauvara Syndicate bestowed upon her were able to grant this wish, and with time she learned to transfer her own consciousness into the body of another pet, in essence becoming someone else. She could read thoughts, control some thought processes, and control most physical actions. What she didn’t realize, and why she has never been satisfied with any host, however, is that she could live in a disguise for the rest of her life, but she would never be able to change who she is.
The Shoyru heard a sound behind him and whirled to face the doorway, only to find that the skeleton had merely slid down the wall a couple of inches, and a few crumbs of mud had been dislodged. This latest journal entry was affecting him more than it should have, and he didn’t know why. He found another entry on the last sheet of paper.
31st Day of Hunting
I remember the day I set out on this quest, I vowed never to rest until Meridell was rid of its shapeshifting ghost. Whatever I had expected to accomplish by now, it was certainly not this. Tarandya is not a threat to be taken lightly, and I have learned this lesson the hard way.
I have hidden the Stone, which I now realize is the most powerful bargaining chip one could possess, for it is the one thing that Tarandya wants but cannot have. I only hope that another adventurer may find it, and not make the same mistakes I have. I was arrogant to come alone, and it has cost me this quest.
There was room for one more entry on the last page, but nothing more was written. Kiyoshi felt a pang of sympathy for the Lupe adventurer. Whatever mistakes he had made, he had not only lost his quest but his life as well. He had died in this very cave.
Suddenly, a thought struck Kiyoshi, and the emotions brought on by the journal instantly vapourized. If the Lupe died in this cave... he started slowly. Then how did he end up behind that door?
Although he had already worked out the answer on his own, that did not stop him from being surprised when a pair of bony hands closed in around his shoulders and wrenched him backwards into the skeleton’s hollow. It was then he realized that the tomb went back a lot farther than he had initially thought.
To be continued...