Chapter 113 – Temple Ruin

Kiki’s fast. Following her turned into quite a workout. I had to yipe for her to wait while I retrieved my shoes, then sprint to catch up because she only slowed down for me.

I felt her stealth surround me almost immediately upon leaving the ground, which was an amazing distance by that time. Why she had so much strength, I didn’t know, but at least the reason she could cast it became clear as I got closer. She was flying through the air backwards so that she could see me. Show off.

As soon as I caught up, she flew in an arc over me, which I thought meant she could conceal me better from above, until I felt her land on my back.

“Hey!” I yelped.

“Kiki hide Big Sis. Big Sis give Kiki ride. Fair fair.”

“You be careful. I can’t see you, so I might hit you with my wings!”

“Kiki safe safe!”

From what I could tell, she was perched on her rump on the small of my back, riding me like a horse. Or more like a flying carpet, since her legs weren’t over my sides. I was sure there wouldn’t be enough clearance on my down strokes, but I never felt them connect with her, so she was right.

She sent me overland to the north right away. I regretted leaving all that beautiful water behind, but I was glad to have received the short bath that I did.

As we flew, though, I began to feel the symptoms again, far too quickly. It was too soon for me to be Water-starved.

The man had said I had overdone my Darkness mana use. I thought about it and realized the jail had not been dark enough to fully replenish me during the night.

Back in the Carael Mines, I had been wearing armor which was fully opaque. Self-created darkness works fine. The thin blanket in the jail cell likely didn’t provide the same qualify of shadow, and the lights had only been dimmed, because they were under orders to watch me the full time.

So I was in the afternoon of the second day since my body had been around a sufficient quantity of manifested Darkness, and I had pulled a massive amount of Darkness back at the school and dumped most of it into my Cloak. The only source had been my own body.

My problem didn’t get past my passenger’s eyes. “Big Sis feel bad bad?”

“I’m not in good shape, Kiki,” I admitted. “I may have to land soon.”

I labored on with my wings beginning to ache and my limbs not doing any better, for nearly fifty miles, with Kiki urging me to continue, “Just a little more, Big Sis! Almost there!”

I began to see ruins below me, overgrown with trees and weeds. The buildings were crumbled, usually with major sections destroyed, but they stretched on for miles. Twelve hills sprouted from the sprawl ahead. All but the largest was covered in the ruins of buildings, with buildings built on their summits, but that one hill rose far higher and wider than the others, and appeared to have only farming terraces on its slopes.

These ruins could be only one place.

There is a tiny town about fifty miles north of Copen that lays at the edge of a wide overgrown area filled with ancient ruins. The name of the town is “Oste”.

Despite the fact that it is just a market town on a tributary of the Hart river where farmers bring their crops to the riverboats, it has an amazing past. It is, in fact, the last remnant of the ancient city of Oste from which we get the word “Ostish”, as in the language and the ancient empire.

It declined after an earthquake up-river diverted the main channel of the great Hart river to a completely different course that ran past Copen. Atius began in the first place as the replacement capital during the last centuries of the old empire. They built it because the tiny tributary at the northern edge of the city couldn’t carry the necessary traffic to support the great population of the old city.

Sure enough, I passed over a dry riverbed with the remains of great bridges crumpled into it, the former course of the Hart. I was flying over the Twelve Hills of Oste.

We were headed toward that biggest hill, but I still had miles to go when I felt a horrible throbbing in my wing.

“I’m sorry, Kiki. I have to land,” I told her, and descended. She got off me and flew next to me to make it easier.

“Big Sis, no water here!”

“I need Darkness. Find me some place dark. A cave or something.”

“Mmmmm…” she looked around, then said, “Oh! Kiki remember good place! Big Sis follow!”

I followed her down through a winding course between gnarled trees, then down a colonnade and at last into a ruined temple. The design was ancient, but I could tell from the statuary of sea creatures and a frieze of frolicking nereid nudes that it was once a shrine to Eurybia.

“Maybe there’s water here too?” I asked with a weak hope. Eurybia is the sea goddess, after all.

“No water. This way, Big Sis,” she answered, flying blithely right down the maw of a huge descending staircase that no adventurer would dive without many precautions. But it was dark. Pitch black.

Vampire Sight turned on full, I followed her down the hole, which descended at least a couple stories.

She was right. This place was perfect. The little light that did make it to the bottom was only illuminating the stairs themselves. And that was probably only thanks to the time of day. They led down from the west.

I could barely make out the surroundings. A grand statue of a topless woman with a skimpy sarong skirt wrapping her hips rose in the middle of a grand square. That was presumably Eurybia, but no modern Orestanian statue of her would portray her so close to naked. The one in the Great Temple in Atius looks a little like the Virgin Mary.

Columns placed in a wide square around her braced the ceiling, which miraculously still stood after over a millenium and a half. Each of them was ringed with nude nereids and decorated with carvings of sea creatures and shells. Eurybia faced a grand altar held up by the backs of porpoises.

I swept the place with Fairy Sight looking for mana and found a horrid mass of demonic mana and miasma to one side.

“Bad bad there,” Kiki said, pointing at it. “Come this way.”

She led me to a corner on the far side from the great descending staircase. There were corridors leading further from the light a little too close for comfort, but away from the opening, it was wonderfully rich with manifested Dark mana. I could feel my body greedily soaking it up already.

“Better, Big Sis?” she asked, sounding worried. I sat down on the floor with my back against the wall and heaved a relieved sigh.

“Much better, Kiki.”

“Sorry no water. Humans brought water for Big Sis Eurybia. All gone.”

I thought ‘Big Sis’ was a darned strange thing to call a goddess, but she was a pixie, after all. If any gods exist, I’m sure they know how much to rationally expect from her.

‘Used to be water here’, she had said. Looking around, I realized this was the floor of a ceremonial pool. The grand staircase had been the means by which worshippers entered it, to perform rituals to their goddess in the water. The mysterious corridors were conduits to bring in water from the now-dry Hart river channel.

Since I had my back to the corner, I could survey the whole room. It was at least 30 paces wide in both directions, an impressive size for an underground room. But of course, the ancient Ostish were amazing engineers, and knew how to make good use of magically fortified materials.

What worried me, though were the many places with miasma and the tangle of miasma and mana that Ged had called ‘corruption’. Especially, the heavy mass of it near the altar.

“What is over there, Kiki?”

“Bad bad,” she answered. “Big man carry bad sword. Kill monsters, kill people, kill self.”

‘Bad sword’, she said. I’m sure those words could have meant a lot of other things, but to me, the combination of those words with what I was seeing could only mean one thing.

A cursed blade. A spirit sword infected with demonic magic. Something to avoid at all costs. In ancient times they had been the ultimate weapons, until demons learned how to turn them into the ultimate nightmares.

This was a really uncomfortable place to recuperate, but it was hidden from view and it was dark. I relaxed finally and leaned back against the wall.

Soon it began to be difficult to circulate light mana– in a dark place like this the only resource was the small portion of Light in the mana making up my body– and I didn’t want to use Fire. If I drew it out of the air or stone, it would chill them, and using it would erode my Water as well.

As soon as I stopped, though, I began shivering. I was underground in a wet dress, you know? Finally, I stripped it off and laid it out on the stone floor, setting my shoes beside it. It would be better if I had somewhere to hang them, but maybe they would dry a little, and, with them off, maybe my skin wouldn’t be as cold.

“Thank god the light novel thing doesn’t kick in every time,” I muttered. If a Japanese novelist were writing this, I would be stuck with some dude, huddling naked together for warmth.

“What’s that, Big Sis?” Kiki asked as she came flying back over to me. She had been occupying herself flitting this way and that, investigating the various detritus around the room.

“It’s nothing,” I answered.

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“Wow! Nice body, Big Sis!” she declared, charging right in and burying herself in my bosom.

“Hey!” I protested.

“Nice comfy ones!” she gave her review, snuggling in.

I needed her to lead me to this water that the river lord wouldn’t object to me using, so I sighed and put up with it. It was a little like have a pet do something like that, after all. She didn’t try to do anything perverse beyond rubbing her cheek on them, so I could tolerate it.

Besides– and this is important– she was warm.

“Bad men chase Big Sis?” she asked once she was done enjoying herself. She propping her chin up with two hands, her elbows on my cushions.

“Yeah. And they’re using weird magic, so I don’t know what to do.”

“Hm,” she said, then said, “But Big Sis strong strong, right? Kiki see! Big Sis super strong, bring lots of mana!”

“You’re right. They’re gonna regret tangling with me,” I grinned at her.

“Yup yup!”

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A sound came to my ear just then. It was faint, but it sounded like the beating of extremely large wings.

- my thoughts:

Forgot to unlock a chapter last night. Sorry!

So, we have confirmation, in case anyone needed to know. They're nice and comfy.

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