Ghostfighters: Part Four
In the humid darkness and muffled silence beneath the collapsed tent, Kiyoshi squirmed until his head rested beneath a pucker in the canvas where there seemed to be a larger pocket of fresh air. Taking a deep breath, he wiggled until his left arm was free; however, his other one seemed to be pinned under the bulk of the tent. He also had a good idea that Jeri was kicking him in the face.
The Shoyru rolled onto his back, and something jabbed him in the side. Vexed, he managed to work it out from beneath him. The offending object turned out to be the tablet -- it must have fallen from his pocket.
Gripping the sharp-edged stone in one hand, he thrust it up through the canvas and was rewarded by the small, ragged hole that appeared as the tablet’s edge punctured the brittle cloth. He hacked at the canvas wildly some more, until he was able to grab a few shredded pieces and yank them out of the way, creating a welcoming shaft of sunlight and a hole big enough for him to get through.
With the addition of that light, Kiyoshi could now make out the bulk of canvas that immobilized his arm at the wrist. He gently tugged, and when that didn’t work, he wrenched it out with all the force he could muster in the cramped quarters, doing his best to ignore the burning scrapes.
I guess this rock is good for something after all, he thought, pushing himself through the opening with a grip on the stone that was fiercer than necessary.
It wasn’t hard to find Tyra, lying sprawled on the grass beside the crumpled tent. Kiyoshi rushed over to her side, fearing the worst. However, a quick touch to her throat revealed a steady pulse, and her only injury seemed to be a shallow cut across her forehead.
“She alright?” Alesandran asked concernedly, arriving at the Shoyru’s side.
“Yeah,” he replied, feeling the beginnings of a burning hatred towards the ghost. What had Tyra done to deserve an attack like this?
“Now you have an idea of why this ghost must be stopped,” Chalin said. “This is by no means the first of her unprovoked attacks, and it will not be the last.”
“She almost killed Alesandran once, when she got hold of one of my knives,” said Chessori savagely. “Unfortunately, it was too dark to see her that night.”
Kiyoshi stared at the still form of Tyra. “So that’s what makes this ghost so dangerous? A thirst for blood?”
“That is only the surface,” the Uni said quietly.
Looking ill at ease, Alesandran turned away. “I think I’ll go get something for the Aisha’s head,” he mumbled, wandering off. Chessori hesitated a moment, then followed. Chalin silently made her way into Alesandran’s nearby tent, leaving Jeri and Kiyoshi alone with Tyra.
Jeri had been quieter than Kiyoshi could ever recall him being. “You okay?” the Shoyru murmured to his friend.
Jeri didn’t take his eyes off Tyra, who was lying on the meadow grass, looking for all the world like she was sleeping. “This was not supposed to happen, mate,” he whispered, shaking his head slowly.
“We’ve got to make sure it doesn’t happen again,” Kiyoshi said. He jumped as something brushed his ankle. He spun around, ready to meet the ghost, but instead, found only a few strands of Tyra’s hair against his foot; the Aisha had rolled over, and now she was groaning with an irritated look on her face.
“She awake?” Jeri demanded anxiously.
“I think so,” Kiyoshi answered, shaking her shoulder gently. “Come on, Tyra,” he mumbled.
Seconds later, one sea-green eye opened slowly. She blinked and shook her head, sitting up immediately.
“Kreludor, you scared us,” murmured Kiyoshi, helping her to her feet.
“I’m fine,” Tyra said, a little coolly, and Kiyoshi flinched.
“It’s just I figure we’re all a bit uptight right about now,” Jeri commented. “Thinkin’ someone’s gonna come out of nowhere while we’re having breakfast and zap us into soot or something.”
Tyra turned to Kiyoshi. “We really need some answers,” she said so that only he could hear. “What do Chalin and Alesandran know about this stone?”
“Well... they know a bit... we could ask them...”
“No.” She shook her head. “We can’t risk getting any more lies.”
“Then what --”
“We’ll talk later,” Tyra said quickly as Alesandran and Chessori appeared.
“Thank goodness you’re alright,” Alesandran said, relieved. “How do you feel?”
Kiyoshi shot a glance at the Aisha, intending to point out that the Travellers could be trusted, but Tyra seemed not to take notice.
“Never better,” she muttered to the Lupe.
“Good,” he sighed, unwinding a strip of bandage. Tyra initially tried to push him away, but finally let him clean the cut on her face. “Thanks,” she mumbled.
“Listen to me,” Chessori said, placing a paw on Tyra’s shoulder. “I want you to tell me exactly what happened, and show me where it happened.”
“Alright,” Tyra said reluctantly. “I was standing right here...” She trailed off, looking puzzled.
“And then...?” Alesandran prompted.
“She must have been behind me there for a while, or else I didn’t hear her at all... I think she hit me in the back of the head, and I fell into the tent... that’s about all I can remember.” Tyra turned away, looking embarrassed.
“S’okay,” Chessori said softly, and Kiyoshi was surprised that the Zafara could be so sympathetic. “Did you see her?”
“Yeah...” Tyra said hesitantly. “I remember I was surprised, because she didn’t look like the kind of pet who goes around destroying things and killing...”
“What species was she?”
“She... she was a Korbat...”
Alesandran and Chessori exchanged glances. “A Korbat?” the Lupe asked. Tyra nodded. He tilted his head. “Don’t see many of them around as it is, but I would never have thought... they’re too...”
“She was a Korbat. A green Korbat.”
“Is there anything else you can tell us, Tyra?” Chalin said from behind Kiyoshi, who whirled. She really had an awful habit of sneaking up behind him when he was least expecting it. But then he noticed that the Uni was holding something. From the corner that was visible, it seemed to have a sort of wooden sheen to it.
“Well...” Tyra was saying hesitantly.
“Anything at all, Tyra. It would help immensely,” prompted Chalin gently.
Kiyoshi wasn’t sure why, but he found himself surreptitiously moving backwards to get a better look at whatever was in her hoof. He suspected that his sense of suspicion was getting more than its daily quota of usage lately. However, before he could make out what the object was, he caught Chalin’s eye, and she cast him a look with a vaguely amused glimmer in it. Kiyoshi bristled. He could just imagine her thinking, Patience, little warrior, and he seethed. The next person to insist he was to become a warrior was aiming for a roll down the bank and into the river. Letting his emotions simmer, he turned his attention back to the conversation at hand.
Tyra was staring intensely at her feet, as if she had never seen them before. It looked like she was fighting a desperate internal struggle of some sort. Finally, she mumbled, “She’s not a ghost.”
This time, all three Travellers as well as Kiyoshi and Jeri stared at each other in shock.
“What?” Alesandran blurted to the Aisha.
“Of course she’s a ghost,” scoffed Chessori. “It’s a fact we’ve known from the beginning.”
Kiyoshi glanced from Chessori back to Tyra and bit his lip. She had definitely been acting a little odd recently, but she was still his friend. “Has anyone ever actually seen her before this?”
“Well, we’ve heard from everyone else...” the Zafara tried to explain.
“Here’s a thought,” said Jeri suddenly. “She’s some kind of mage, right? Incredibly magical, invincibly powerful and whatnot?”
“Yeah...” said Alesandran uncertainly.
“So who’s to say she can’t wipe minds?”
Silence answered him. Kiyoshi studied Tyra, still staring at the ground in front of her. What Jeri had said inspired an unpleasant thought, but he shook it out of his head.
“But... she was floating...” Chessori argued weakly.
“Korbats have wings,” Kiyoshi said quietly.
This last comment was met with another lapse into silence, as each pet lost themselves in their own thoughts.
“She’s a living pet. This makes her very dangerous,” said Chalin warningly.
“It also makes her beatable,” Alesandran pointed out. He turned his gaze upon Kiyoshi, who looked away angrily.
Alesandran meant well; he was only trying to build up the Shoyru’s confidence, but right now, Kiyoshi didn’t want it. It didn’t matter what any of them told him. He wasn’t a warrior, and he wasn’t a hero. He was Kiyoshi, and he would do his best to protect the pets of Neopia that he cared about so much, but he refused to turn it into some kind of one-on-one war. If a real hero couldn’t conquer this Korbat, how could he?
Tyra’s voice broke across his thoughts, and Kiyoshi thought that it sounded suddenly cold and hard. “That’s enough of this,” she said with a slight snarl. “I’m going to the river.” And she wandered off into the woods.
Kiyoshi stared after her. Feeling a little antagonized, he tried to untangle the thoughts in his head, growing and twining around each other more rapidly than the largest sea kelp.
Chalin turned towards him. “Come here, Kiyoshi. I’ll show you something.”
Kiyoshi followed, meeting Jeri’s eyes as he did so. The Bori joined him as they moved towards her tent. Kiyoshi was glad he had a friend to trust -- he didn’t feel like facing anything else alone.
“These are what I call talismans.”
Laid on the strange carpet in front of a kneeling Chalin were two smoothed river stones, and she was in the process of unwrapping a third object from a bundle of silky fabric.
“S’funny,” said Jeri, reaching for the nearest stone. “Back in Neopia Central, we call ‘em rocks.”
“Don’t touch it.”
His hand was almost upon the stone when the Uni spoke. He withdrew his paw sharply, shooting her an accusatory glance.
“Why not?” Kiyoshi asked curiously.
“Well, one of two things could happen,” she said, not completely uncovering the object until it was carefully placed beside the stones and her hoof was out of the way. She pulled the cloth to the side, revealing a slim piece of petrified wood. “Most likely, you would have disturbed its aura and I would have been unable to read it.”
“What’s the other possibility?” Jeri asked nervously.
“If you had by any chance even seen the stone before now, it would have released an energy wave roughly equivalent to twice the power of a bolt of lightning.”
“Oh,” said Jeri. Behind the Bori’s back, Kiyoshi saw him grip his paw so hard his knuckles were visible.
“Talismans are ordinary objects, picked up at random from a certain area,” Chalin explained. “Their real power comes from where they were taken from.”
She pointed to the stone Jeri had almost grabbed. “This stone came from the marshland where we first found you. The woodstone was taken from the ground where your friend was attacked. The last river stone I found in the river beside our camp.”
“And you can -- read them?” Kiyoshi inquired.
Chalin nodded. “One must have some magic in them to be able to, but it is not difficult. When you are able to see the object in your mind, you learn everything that it has ever beheld in its lifetime, and also most of what has happened in the surrounding area.”
Kiyoshi gazed at the objects in front of him. If what she said was true, someone who “read” something as ordinary and common as a rock correctly would have the power to see as far into the past as they wanted, would know where someone was travelling, who they’d talked to... Kiyoshi’s stomach turned to think of anyone possessing that kind of power. He could only hope that the intentions of all mages were as honourable as Chalin’s.
“So would I just be able to walk up, pluck a leaf off a tree, and know everything that’s ever happened around that tree?” Jeri was saying.
“Stone is better. Older... denser. More memories,” was the reply. The Uni’s eyes were half-closed and her attention seemed to be fiercely held by one of the river stones.
“Okay, fine... I walked up and found a pebble. Would I be able to read it?”
Chalin sighed and opened her eyes. “You want to know if you have enough magic in you.”
“That’s kinda the angle I’m going at, yeah...”
Turning around, Chalin reached for something from one of her shelves. In the center of the three pets, she placed a single white Weewoo feather. “White Weewoos often possess a certain degree of magic that corresponds well with this test,” she explained. She turned her eyes to Jeri. “Make it move,” she said.
Jeri cast her a quizzical look, shrugged, and took a deep breath.
“Not that way.”
With a vexed expression, Jeri blew the air out of his cheeks.
“Move it with your mind.”
Jeri directed a despairing glance to Kiyoshi and scrunched his eyes shut. A few seconds later, he opened them, looking hopeful. “Did it move?”
“No,” Chalin said. She looked like she was doing her very best not to laugh.
Put out, Jeri leaned back against a crate. “Oh well. I’m happy with my formidable battle powers as they are.”
Kiyoshi was about to ask if he meant his ability to hit a mark twenty feet away with a wood chisel, but decided that this was neither the time or place for that kind of conversation.
“Most of what I know about this Korbat,” Chalin continued, “I know from talismans like these.”
“Really?” Kiyoshi said distractedly, for the first time realizing that the hundreds of strange objects strewn about the tent were probably all talismans of some sort. “So what do you know?”
Kiyoshi turned back to face the others, and Chalin’s eyes locked with his. Again he was taken aback by the fire and ice in her stare. “Why don’t you find out for yourself?” she asked.
“Wha, me?” the Shoyru said incredulously. “I don’t have magic--”
“I haven’t yet attempted to read these three yet. You’re going to have to place your hand upon the stone before you can,” the Uni instructed, ignoring him completely.
“But I thought -- are you sure about that? The whole lightning wave and all--”
“If you are able to successfully read it, none of that will matter. Even its aura will remain intact.”
Kiyoshi glanced at the Weewoo feather. “Shouldn’t I try the feather first, like Jeri? What if I’m not magic enough--”
“I think you are,” said Chalin confidently. “Try it.”
His protests unheard, Kiyoshi sent the Bori an equally wretched gaze and reached for the nearest stone -- the petrified wood. Resigned to the fact that he might be about to fry the camp to a crisp, he drew a deep breath, screwed his eyes shut, and placed his hand on the talisman before he could talk himself out of it.
To Kiyoshi’s surprise and immense relief, nothing happened. He slowly let out his breath, but managed to keep his eyes closed. Now, he thought, we need to find out more about the Korbat who attacked Tyra. And every thought in his mind turned itself to that cause, before his world spun away into blackness.
To be continued...