As the tale of the Exalted Continues

The next day, Piper and I set out to visit Karoski’s temple, to see how it was coming along. I am not a terribly experienced rider, so I rode behind Piper, ‘guised in the form of an older looking gentleman, with Seventh Dawn along for further support. I am attempting to take the advice of the other day to heart, and not travel anywhere alone. I would hate it terribly if my friends were put into any kind of peril because of my foolhardiness of over-confidence.
Karoski’s temple seemed to be coming along, though somewhat slowly. Life was returning to it, in the form of some few plants, and, according to Piper, whose sight for such things is far superior to mine, tiny spirits had begun to inhabit the place as well! He described them as ‘little hicks’, which it seems means farmers, who it seems were quite friendly. Piper asked them if there was anything we could do to help speed Karoski’s recovery, and translated that they wished for us to pray.
I have nothing but respect for any being who fosters life, so was glad to do whatever I could to help Karoski to heal. I only hope he was able to hear my prayers for strength and recovery, so that his people may also heal their lands. His spirit helpers brought over a beautiful sprig of thyme for us as thanks, which I hope to make thrive as soon as we make it home.

Home. It feels good to think that word. I am all the way across the world from the place I came from, but I do feel this place can be called home. A house, a family, a place where I can belong, and a place that I can renew and revitalize, that may one day recognize me as a part of it too. I will make Champoor glad to have me.

Finding an Exorcist in Champoor is no easy feat, Diary! It has become more and more apparent of the last week that the dead in Champoor are not very well taken care of. We shall have to see about remedying that after Akkimu no longer has a hold of them.
We were, in fact, not able to find one that was actually in the city. Piper left Seventh Dawn and I for a while to seek out the council of her contacts in the city (splitting up is against my better judgement, but if anyone can walk without fear of being recognized in this city it is Piper). I sought out news of an exorcist in the markets, but no one knew of any. Thankfully, Piper had much more luck than I. It seems there is a Crematorium outside of town that an exorcist sometimes visits, which, being our only lead, we set off to seek out.

The building we came to, a ways outside of the walls of Champoor, was surprisingly… peaceful. The death I have been witness to lately has been so violent, so harsh and painful that it was a welcome change to be reminded of its more restful aspect. It was fronted by raked and swept pebbles, swirled into pleasing patterns around larger stones, like a pond, its ripples frozen in time.
The keeper of the crematorium introduced himself as Stone’s Passing, and was a welcoming host. When we inquired he stated that yes, an exorcist does stop by there at times, and, if we wished, we could wait for him there. He even offered us lodgings for the night, so we would not have to brave the streets of Champoor after dark.To keep the others from fretting, we sent Seventh Dawn to let them know of our staying there, and began to chat with our gracious host while we waited for the arrival of the exorcist.
It seems as though he used to live in the city itself, but was unsettled by the way the dead of Champoor were treated. He told us of the carts that crate away the bodies of the deceased, and how it seems very few people left in the city care much for the dead after this. While this news was disturbing, if not entirely surprising, given what we had been told about graveyards in Champoor, but at the same time it was heartening to know there was someone like Stone’s Passing nearby who still cared for those whose time had come.
While we waited, our gracious host allowed me to marvel at the pigeons he kept, one of which had gone to fetch back his exorcist friend. Our possible plans for keeping ourselves informed of the movements of Kamthahar possibly involved these interesting creatures, so I was happy to study them, but it was also quite a pleasure to watch the glisten of the myriad of colours on their wings, and listen to the soft, rolling coos of their little voices. I hope very much that we come to keep some.

The exorcist found us a little after dark (how strange it is to be up after dark again!), and rightly treated us as the strangers we were to him. His name was Nergui, Stone’s Passing told us. After he had had some time to eat and settle, Piper and I began our plea to him.
He was…. understandably cautious. Hearing what we have done and been up against lately, Diary, I, too, would be more than a bit alarmed in our description of events. We both attempted to be vague, so as not to frighten him away, or put him in too much danger, but did not seem to succeed. I suppose knowing that we had angry spirits hunting us and that we ourselves might be a match for them would be quite disturbing for someone who had just gained knowledge of this.
My heart truly sunk when Nergui named his price; I have little experience with the prices of usual goods, let alone those to do with the warding of buildings from angry spirits, but the jade he asked for I was fairly sure we would not be able to procure in time. I glanced at Piper for confirmation, and found my heart sinking further at the look on that grizzled face. How would we possibly keep the people in our care safe if Akkimu was after us, and we could not even afford to keep her soldiers from our own walls?

On the verge of tears, I threw myself at his mercy and his feet; one final attempt to have the light in him recognize mine. I just knew that if he could truly understand that there were innocent lives at risk that he would do what he could. Piper’s voice chimed with mine, a more logical plea, certainly, than my emotional one, Piper being far cleverer than I when it comes to persuasion, and we finally heard the old exorcist’s voice bend and give. So long as we could provide the materials, he would lower his price enough that we would be able afford it, and he would be able to live with it. I knew that behind the older man’s gruff exterior beat the heart of a hero!

In the aftermath of such a victory, while my heart was still soaring on the thought of such generosity we had been shown, it did suffer some pangs of guilt at the shock our poor host, Stone’s Passing, must have felt upon hearing our story. I do not think either man had expected the two of us to come in with such requests, and to be told that we fought against the legions of the Champooran God of Murder herself mut have been, well, frightening. We did our best to ease our host’s mind that night, but hopefully our eventual ridding of Champoor of Akkimu’s doings will help him even more in the long run.

That next morning, we returned home, only to find the place buzzing with some story or news: It seems that, while we were away, Broken Walls, Saiten and Chaoxi had gone running through the city, chasing one of the Host!… or, at least, that was one such story circulating. In reality, it seems that Saiten brought one of the Host, laid out by his hand, into the compound, as some kind of prisoner. Broken Walls, seizing upon this opportunity, remembered the effects the strange mead the two brothers Knot and String had made had had on him the last he drank it, which was to be able to actually see the movements and lines of others’ light! It seems they did go tearing through the city, but not chasing the Host itself, but following the tether attaching it to.. well, wherever it was that Akkimu held it from, which they found was under the ground beneath Akkimu’s bell!
It must have been such a sight to see the normally composed and thoughtful Broken Walls, racing through the streets, following a line that only he could see! It almost makes me laugh just to think of it now, Diary!

As much as it was good to know where it was the spirits were bound, there were other matters to tend to that day, with the arrival of Nergui. We had sent Broken Walls and Saiten, as our strongest members, to fetch the ingredients that Nergui had requested for the warding of our compound, and they arrived back not long after he did. It was a bit odd to see him again in the light. His clothes and belongings reminded me of Dasadi, but his mannerisms and manners are distinctly different.

I hope he is keeping well… I’d hate to think of our friend in trouble without us there to help him…

Nergui put Broken Walls and Saiten to work as soon as he saw them. Not wanting to be a bother, I attempted to stay out of his way, but his work was so… fascinating. To think that a compound of mainly salt, and some painted sigils should prevent spirits from entering our home…. Although I suppose to think that inner light could ease the passage of a departed soul, or transform ones appearance, or dance on the surface of armour, or that will could harden a fist into steel…. the world I find myself in is full of wonders.
At first Nergui set Saiten to helping him with digging and building, which I suppose made as much sense as Broken Walls, from his perspective, since both look fairly equally suited to those tasks. I assume the Broken Walls simply did not want to contradict our expert in such matters, but soon became impatient with not being able to do his best work, and gave a demonstration of why he should be making the bricks of salt instead of Saiten, by using a single strike to make a whole barrel of the salt mixture into perfect slabs.
I felt again for poor Nergui then, who, even as we had attempted to ease him into the strangeness that is our everyday lives, must have been overwhelmed with everything he was experiencing. Or perhaps not; as an exorcist, I imagine he is privy to all sorts of strange and unusual sights, and if he was confused or worried by the sights we showed him, he didn’t show it much. It is admirable to see someone with such stoicism in the face of the unknown.

It took more than the day to finish warding our compound. Piper seemed keenly interested in the whole process, which isn’t entirely surprising, given that he has seemed quite studious lately when it comes to matters of spirits. I am quite pleased to see it now taking the form of seeking help from another; Piper spends so much of her time alone, or with others, but as someone else, and for purposes that are more geared to helping our cause and finding information than to her own interests and purposes that it is heartening to think that she may have found a teacher with whom she can form some kind of bond.

Ah, I miss Litaka! He stayed quite a while this time, but it is always not long enough. He always know what to say, and just how to say it! Even when it is often vague, round-about and not always the most helpful, I long for his advice. He has a smile that makes worries melt, and a laugh that chases fretting away. But one must learn to be reliant on one’s own advice, and, if nothing else, I can think of what he might say or do in these circumstances. And that would be to sing, or tell stories.

So I did.

The second night, after a day of wandering the streets with Chaoxi, searching somewhat aimlessly for a sight for the orphanage, and speaking equally aimlessly about nothing and everything, I decided that, after a day of unease and tension, the people of our compound could use a chance to get out of their heads. I searched to the back of my mind and pulled out a story with a happy ending:

The Bridge Builder

Once upon a time there was a little village on the coast that was sorely in need of a new bridge. Every year they would build a new one, but every year the river it was over would rage and roar, and the bridge would end up torn asunder. This year, they pooled all of their money together, and sent for the best bridge builder in the whole Pole.
This bridge builder was known throughout the land as the most innovative and clever bridge builder anyone in the area had ever heard of, but this bridge had him stumped! If he built it too low, the water would flow over it, and carry it away. If he built it too high, it wouldn’t be strong enough, and the fast currents would soon tear it down! He thought for days and nights, barely sleeping a wink, but he just couldn’t think of how it could be done.
One morning, just as the sun was rising, he sat by the river, pondering. Suddenly, a great gush of water rose up out of the river: standing before him was a great and terrible Spirit, with red skin like rusted iron, great bulging eyes like saucers, and horns as big as carving knives!
“Bah, you call yourself a bridge builder?” The Spirit rumbled to the dumb-struck man. “I’ve been watching you for days, and you haven’t done a thing! I bet you I could make the best bridge this village ever had in three days. In fact, if I can,” the towering spirit leaned over to the man with an impish grin that chilled him to his bones “If I can make a better bridge than you’ve ever seen before you can guess my name, I’m going to take your eyes.” And with that, the spirit vanished with barely a splash back into the water.

The bridge builder didn’t know what to think! As the sounds of the village waking began to drift over him, he shook himself, and stood. He must have fallen asleep at the edge of the river, and that MUST have been a dream. Right?

But sure enough, the next morning, the beginnings of a bridge had begun to span the impossible river! The people marveled at its construction; so quick, and yet so sturdy! The bridge builder, however, turned away from their praise, white as a sheet. He hadn’t built the bridge, the spirit must have been real! And to make matters worse, at the rate the bridge was going up, it would in fact be finished in three days!

The bridge builder, fearing for his eyes, tore through the village, searching for anyone who might have known the name of the spirit in the river, but no one had heard of such a spirit! The local historian only knew of the spirits of the village, not the surrounding area, the priests knew of the local gods, and the more renowned gods, but no one knew the name of the spirit in the river!

The second day came, and the bridge builder’s fear grew: the bridge had gone further still, and it would surely be finished by the next day! Once again the people stopped and stared, praising the skill and ingenuity of the bridge and its builder, but the bridge builder was so frightened that he fled from their praise! The books of the village held no word of the spirit, and the local fishermen had never even heard of a spirit residing in their river. The bridge builder became desperate.

That night, he fled from the village, out into the nearby woods. Perhaps, if he couldn’t find him, the spirit would leave the bridge builder’s eyes alone. But the woods were dark, and thick, and soon the bridge builder was hopelessly lost.
All of a sudden, a soft voice began to lilt through the trees, and the bedraggled bridge builder perked up. Someone was there, maybe even someone with a fire he could sit at! He raced through the underbrush, and as he got closer, began to hear the words of a song:

Onihachi, bring me
Something to eat
Naisai balls are
Such a treat!

The bridge builder slowed down, confused. What were Naisai balls? He had never heard of such a thing. Where was Naisai? And it sounded like the singer was just a child. What was a child doing in such a remote place? He began to approach with more caution.

Onihachi, bring me
Something to eat
Naisai balls are
Such a treat!

As the bridge builder closed in on the sound, he came to the edge of a clearing. Through the moonlight he saw a small girl, sitting on the ground, through up small balls of something and catching them in her mouth. She was the one singing. But what was she doing way out here, all alone?
The wind shook the trees overhead, and suddenly the moonlight fell fully on the child.
Only, this was no mortal child! One, bulging eye, as big as a saucer, skin as red as rusted iron, and little horns sticking out of her raven black hair, like paring knives! And what was worst….

Onihachi, bring me
Something to eat
Nice eyeballs are
Such a treat!

The little pile in front of her was eyes!

The bridge builder crept away from her, the skin crawling on his arms and legs, until he was as far as he dared and then he tore back through the forest. By the time he found the other side of it, it was almost morning, and he was back at the village, just in front of what was now a finished bridge! What was he going to do?

Out of a gout of frothing water, the Spirit rose, grinning it’s demon grin from ear to pointed ear. “Well, Bridge Builder? I’ve finished! Guess my name, or I’ll have your eyes!”
“Wait, at least let me have three guesses!” Pled the shaking bridge builder. The Spirit scoffed, great arms crossed about his great chest, but waved his hand in acceptance.

“Is it…… Hannibal?” The bridge builder stammered, searching desperately for any name that night fit.
“Nope! You’ll never guess!” The spirit’s grin widened so that it looked like it might overtake his head!
“Is it….. One Red… Bridge..?” The bridge builder was really grasping at straws, but his lack of sleep and fright that night had really done a number on his nerves.
“Bah! You might as well give them to me now!” The spirit leaned towards the bridge builder.
“Wait! wait.. I get one more guess… is it…” The bridge builder tried to think, but all that kept running through his head was the scene last night, with the terrible little spirit girl popping eye balls into her mouth.

Onihachi, bring me
Something to eat
Nice eyeballs are
Such a treat!

Suddenly, the bridge builder’s eyes widened. “Onihachi! Your name is Onihachi!”

The spirit roared in anger, but the bridge builder had got it right. In a massive swirl of water that threatened to overtake the expertly crafted bridge that he had built (but didn’t, because it had been o very well made), the spirit was gone.

The villagers of that place still use and marvel at the brilliant construction of the bridge over their impossible river, but were sad that they never got to pay the brilliant bridge builder who had put it there. As for the man himself, after his encounter with the prideful spirit, he had fled the village, and taken up farming.

The End.

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