Island's Own: Part Six
I was the first one to wake the next morning, which was odd, as I was still exhausted. We had gone to sleep shortly after arriving at the school, agreeing that there was little else we could do at that point, and deciding to sleep within the school, both to hide from Lucan’s troops, and to stay nearby in case anyone returned. None of us thought to post a watch, not that we could have stayed awake long enough to pull that off.
I got to my feet and stretched, my muscles sore from sleeping on the ground. Carefully, I picked my way around Nella and Flame’s sleeping forms, then looked around the room carefully. It was bigger than I’d thought last night, as big as the small amphitheater that Lucan had given his talk in two nights ago. The ceiling was quite high as well, maybe twenty feet, and was slightly too smooth to be entirely natural. Maybe this had started out as an ordinary cave, but I couldn’t imagine the amount of work it must have taken to carve out the space it filled now. Six tunnels led away from the room, three on the left and three on the right. A statue of a many-armed nimmo sat in front of the furthest wall, glaring sternly at all within.
I decided to explore the school methodically, starting with the nearest tunnel and going clockwise. The first tunnel led to a weapons store, the second to a dormitory of sorts, with only about twenty beds. I guess this school was a lot more selective than the Techo Master’s. The third room looked like an administrative type room, a desk overflowing with a wealth of red codestones sitting in the center. The fourth room looked like another training room. The fifth seemed to be a kitchen or pantry of some sort. Meat, cheese, and some kind of flat bread sat in a cabinet. Soldiers’ rations. I suddenly realized I was ravenous. We’d snagged a quick lunch yesterday of the abundant wild fruit growing around the island, but dinner had been out of the question, as we were too busy dodging the soldiers.
Nella wandered in while I was eating, falling upon the food with equal enthusiasm after grunting a minimal greeting.
“The bread’s stale,” I informed her.
I continued. “This kind of bread usually takes months to go stale, so I guess this means no one’s been here in a while.”
“As I recall, finding someone to help was Plan B. Fixing the island’s defenses was Plan A.”
“So uh, any idea how?”
She shrugged with supreme unconcern. “Nope.”
I sighed. There was no talking to Nella while she was eating. I decided I might as well finish exploring the school while I was waiting, so I left the kitchen, passing Flame on my way out.
The final room of the school looked like another training room, and I stared at it in frustration. I honestly didn’t know what I had expected from this place – a control panel, with a button labeled ‘press here to activate island defenses,’ or maybe a book called ‘How to Repel Invaders from Mystery Island in Five Easy Steps.’ Any kind of hint as to where to go next. Not just an abandoned training school.
Finally, I found myself in front of the statue. It sat on a large pedestal, with a stone collection plate sitting at its base, apparently for donations. The statue itself was of an angry looking blue nimmo, with yellow eyes and four arms, glaring at me as if it knew I didn’t belong.
“Keep that up and your face will freeze that way,” I muttered.
It didn’t respond.
“Talking to statues is probably a sign of insanity,” Nella said, approaching from behind me, along with Flame.
I scowled. “And you would know a thing or two about insanity, I bet.”
Flame, however, was frowning at the statue, seemingly lost in thought. “I knew him,” he said finally.
I stared at him. “Are you serious?”
“Yeah. He was in one of the neighboring tribes. But he was younger than he’s shown here, though. Older than me, but not by a lot. Everyone knew he’d go on to do great things, and he did, I guess.”
“Did he really have four arms?” I asked curiously.
“No, not really. I think the arms are a metaphorical thing.”
“A metaphor for what?”
“Why are you asking me? I’m not the one who made it.” Ignoring my rather obvious eye roll, he continued. “But... even though he was really talented, I don’t remember him being a part of the protection spell. That was mostly the elders.”
I sighed. I had thought as much. “Do these symbols mean anything?” I asked, gesturing at the design on the bottom of the pedestal.
Flame squinted. “‘Let the wisdom of the spirits guide you.’” His eyes widened. “Spirit Cave!”
“What?” I asked, baffled.
“Spirit Cave. When the elders wanted help on an important decision, they’d go to Spirit Cave to ask their ancestors for advice. Maybe it’s here.”
That was both reassuring and frustrating. “You mean there was somewhere we could have gone to just ask someone and you didn’t tell us until now?”
“I forgot,” Flame said, gloomily. “It’s been a long time.”
“Just how old are you ?” Nella asked curiously.
“I don’t know. I stopped keeping track ages ago.”
He looked so disheartened that I immediately felt bad for snapping at him.
“Well, we’re here now anyway,” I said in a mollifying tone. “Any idea how to get past it?”
“No clue. This was after my time, remember? Back when I was in the tribes, they just said it was a cave at the volcano. I doubt this school existed back then.”
Nella, meanwhile, had been looking at the wall closely. “There’s definitely something behind here,” she agreed. “You can see the cracks that probably make the doorway when it opens. I guess we could try prying it off.”
I winced. “Even if we were strong enough, I’d rather keep the random vandalism to the minimum. They wouldn’t have made a door if there wasn’t some way to open it.”
“I guess you could try asking it,” Nella said sarcastically. “You struck up a nice conversation before.”
I blinked. “That’s actually genius. Wait here.” I left them staring blankly after me as I ran back to the room with all the codestones. Grabbing a handful, I ran back and deposited them at Flame’s paws.
“What do these symbols mean?” I demanded.
He stared at them. “Um, worth, seek, self, warrior, passage, possess.”
I picked up four and put them one by one on the collection plate. “Worthy, warrior, seeks, passage.”
The others stared at me blankly. Then after a moment, the codestones shimmered and disappeared, and the stone door swung open, revealing another passage behind it.
Nella gaped at me. “How did you figure that out?”
I grinned. “Lucky guess. Some of those symbols were on the main door too, so I figured this was a hint as well. Should we go?”
The stone walls beyond the door were much less chiseled and squared than the secret training school, suggesting this was more of a natural opening than a carved out passage. Little cracks in the ground glowed red with the lava beneath it, making us all step more carefully than necessary. A thick layer of dust coated the ground, devoid of any footsteps but ours. This place had clearly been forgotten for a long time.
After we squeezed through another short tunnel, Flame held up a paw to stop us. “Spirit Cave,” he said.
“How can you tell?” Nella asked.
“You can feel it,” he replied simply.
And it was true. There was a certain sense in the air, like an ancient consciousness, watching our every move.
“So how do you talk to the spirits then?”
“No clue,” Flame said predictably.
Nella growled. “Oh, come on, this is stupid.” She knocked irritably on the walls. “Hey, any spirits around? We kind of need to talk to you. Feel like coming out?”
The room suddenly went cold, the steady glow from the lava in the cracks seeming to flicker ominously. Slowly, a dark shape coalesced in the back of the cave, gaining color and growing more substantial, until a giant, barrel-chested Kacheek hovered before us, his expression distinctly peeved.
“How dare you enter these hallowed grounds?” he roared. He glared at Nella. “You are an outsider.” He turned to Flame. “You are not of age.” He then looked at me, and I prudently took a step back. “You have not undergone the proper rituals for your trials.”
I blinked. “Uh, am I allowed to take trials even though I’m not from here?”
“Nonsense,” he snorted. “The blood is within you.”
That was interesting. Being adopted by a human usually meant you had no idea where you were originally from, and I had never really thought about it. If the spirit was right, then this would be worth looking into later, when we weren’t actively dodging mercenaries. Heck, Flame and I could have been cousins or something. Or, well, more likely he could have been a great-great uncle or something. It was a slightly disturbing thought.
Nella seemed to have been thinking along the same lines. “How is Flame not of age already?” She laughed. “He’s been alive over a century. How old do you have to be?”
“Spirits see your actual age, not your number of years,” Flame said, sounding subdued. “I’ll be ten forever.”
I sighed. All of this was completely besides the point. “Look, uh, sir, we wouldn’t have come here if it weren’t an emergency. Someone has taken over the island and we were just wondering if we could do anything about it.”
He stared at me incredulously. “So rally the tribes and gather the warriors,” he said, as if I were slow.
“Most of the tribes disbanded years ago,” Flame informed him. “Almost everyone lives in the villages now, and they’re not split up by tribes. No one has warriors on standby anymore. Before, they mostly relied on the warriors from the training school for defense, but now they usually leave when they're done training so there's no one to really fight anymore.”
At this, the spirit looked like he was about to have an apoplexy, so I cut in smoothly. “Look, we’re just wondering about the defenses here. There were apparently spells made to help protect Mystery Island, but they aren’t working. We just want to see if we can fix them.”
“I know nothing of this,” the Kacheek said grudgingly. “I was the first chieftain of the island, and this was past my time.”
“Can you put us in contact with someone who does know?” I asked patiently.
“I know not the wisdom of other spirits,” he said implacably. “If you know of a name, perhaps I can search them out. Otherwise, I can be of no help.”
We all turned to Flame. He stared back for a moment, then sighed.
“Veldran of the Kharini tribe,” he said reluctantly. “He was our chieftain.”
The spirit nodded, then faded, leaving us in semi-darkness.
“This isn’t going to go well,” Flame added in a small voice, but went silent as another shape appeared, expanding in the gloom. A Kougra stood before us, even larger than the Kacheek, with an impressive feather headband and many bone ornaments draped around his neck and paws. Unfortunately, he looked just as angry as the last one.
“How dare you come here? You are banished,” he snarled at Flame, who promptly ducked behind Nella. I rolled my eyes. Hadn’t we just been through this?
“Listen,” I said patiently. “I know none of us are supposed to be here, but this is kind of an emergency. Mystery Island has been attacked and we just trying to help.”
“Mystery Island needs no help from the likes of you,” he said smugly. “Our defenses have seen to that.”
I carefully kept my temper in check. “Tell that to the Lutari who just managed to take over most of the island in a single night. Maybe you have defenses, but they aren’t working right now.”
“That’s impossible,” he snapped, though he sounded less certain. “There are pets charged with the protection of the enchantments. They would not let them fall.”
“There’s been over a century of peace,” Nella pointed out. “That’s a long time to forget about these kinds of things. I’m guessing most pets don’t even know they have defenses, never mind how to keep them working.”
The Kougra seemed to mull this over. “It may be you have a point,” he conceded. He turned to me. “But who are you to be dealing with such matters, associating with an outsider and an exile no less?”
It was really disorienting how everyone kept assuming I was an islander. However, I didn’t bother correcting him this time, as I had a feeling he would leave entirely if he found out none of us were really from the tribes.
“Look, will you just trust me when I say there’s no other choice right now? If there was an elder or something we could fob this off onto, trust me, we would.”
He stared at me hard for a moment. “Very well,” he said finally. “What is your question?”
“Uh, you mean besides, ‘what on this island could make a whole horde of invaders go away?’” He glared at me and I sighed. “Sorry, sorry. Look, I don’t even know what to ask. Could you just tell me what you did to try and protect this place? We already know about the only leaving from the harbor thing.”
He glared at Flame again. “Well, we were supposed to have an invincible warrior, but unfortunately, that went awry.”
Nella gave the chieftain a dirty look, and drew a deep breath, about to launch into one of her rages, but I cut her off.
“That’s nice,” I said. “Anything that did work?”
He nodded. “There are three enchantments on the island itself. One, as you mentioned, limits entry to the island. The second disturbs the dreams of any who have ill-intent towards the island and its inhabitants. The third brings the very earth itself to fight the intruders.”
I whistled. With that kind of thing, you wouldn’t really need an army, though it had the disadvantage of letting them get on the island in the first place.
“Any idea why these might be broken?” I asked.
He shrugged. “There could be any number of reasons. Enchantments must be held in place by specific arrangements of objects and diagrams. Removing any would disrupt the spell and render them ineffective. All that would be required to set them back is to fix the spell diagram.”
”All?” I said incredulously. “For all you know, Lucan could have wiped the whole thing out and we’d have to draw it from scratch.”
“Unlikely,” said the chieftain, smug again. “Disrupting even a line of the diagram takes enormous amounts of energy, and the next one even more. It is unlikely anyone could have managed it.”
I exchanged glances with Nella. That seemed – well, achievable.
“So where are these diagrams located then?”
“The one that makes dreams is just south of here, within the forest shrine. The other one you want is within the training school, beneath the statue of its founder.
I groaned. Of course it was. Why couldn’t this ever be easy?
“Well, all we have to do is figure out a way to get past the thousands of troops there and there’ll be no problem,” I said, mock cheerfully. “Anything else we should know?”
He was staring intently at me again. “Yes. There is another method of defense you may try. Only those of island blood may attempt it. Ascend the temple at Geraptiku and beseech the spirits for help. If your intentions are pure, and your cause good, you can call upon the warriors past to aid you.”
“Uh, and what if you don’t meet the requirements?”
He gave me a very cold smile. “The spirits take you for their own.”
I shivered. I never knew why a simple “no” was never good enough for these types.
“Well, uh, thank you for your help. We’re in your debt.” I gave an awkward bow. Besides me, I saw Nella roll her eyes.
The chieftain nodded regally in return. “Be warned,” he said, as he began to fade. “If what you say is true, and the sanctity of the training school has been violated, then the very core of the enchantments is being eroded. You will have only two days to repair the enchantments, starting from the time the school fell, before the spell permanently dissolves and cannot be repaired by ordinary means.”
“You didn’t tell us that,” I cried incredulously. “That’s tonight. How are we supposed to do that?”
But the spirit was gone.
“What a jerk,” Nella grumbled, as we left the cave. “I wouldn’t have minded being banished if it meant not having to deal with him all the time.”
“He was a good chieftain, though, otherwise,” said Flame. “Everyone said so.”
“Oh please,” Nella said dismissively. “The fact that he banished a ten year old says a lot about what kind of leader he was, and none of it good. Even pirates have more lenience.”
“Hush,” I told them. “I’m trying to think.”
Nella raised an eyebrow. “Got a plan for breaking into the school by tonight and fixing things? Because it’s starting to seem impossible to me.”
“Yes – well, no. I was originally thinking we could fix the one in the shrine, wait until they were worn out, and then just sneak into the school, but that’s not going to work if we only have half a day.”
“It wouldn’t have worked anyway,” Nella pointed out. “Since Lucan knows about the protections, once everyone started having nightmares, he’d just go back and break the diagram again.”
I sighed. “Right. So here’s the plan. It’s pretty obvious those two thugs from before were guarding the shrine. You and I go back there, one of us goes and distracts the guards, and the other fixes the spell. Flame is a tribe member, so he goes to Geraptiku, summons up some warriors, and together, we all go to the school. While they’re busy fighting the warriors, we slip in and fix the diagram, and Lucan and his troops will have to retreat. Sound good?”
Nella nodded, but Flame shook his head vehemently. “No,” he said flatly. “I’m not going to Geraptiku.”
I stared at him. “Why not?”
“It’s haunted, he said fearfully. “I’ve heard stories about that place. You don’t go in if you want to keep your life and sanity.”
“Well, now you know why it’s haunted,” Nella pointed out. “Warrior ghosts. Just don’t offend them and you’ll be fine.”
Flame shook his head again. “It’s more than that, trust me. Say what you want, but there’s no way I’m going there. Besides, I’m banished. They probably wouldn’t listen to me anyway.”
I growled. “Fine. Here’s the plan. You go with Nella to fix the first diagram. I go to the temple and summon up the warriors. Hopefully they’ll be like those last two ghosts and think I’m a native. Any more objections?” I glared at them. They both shook their heads.
We reached the end of the tunnel leading back into the training school. I paused at the exit.
“And good luck,” I added more quietly.
We would need it.
To be continued...