Chapter 17: Purpose
The team wasted little time testing out the Echoing Flute. The first thing to do was test to see if it did as advertised. Luckily, they already had the purple orb from Jipang to use for the tests. They found that the flute indeed made an echo when it was near the orb, and no echo when it was far away. The range on the magic seemed to be around five miles. The four decided to play the flute periodically so that they did not run the risk of missing an orb that was near. Unfortunately, none of the flute's magic improved the musical skill of the flute player.
"For the love of peace, will you stop that!" yelled Ron.
At first, the group had decided to rotate the flute around. Suzanne, Ron, and Thomas were all satisfied with playing a couple notes every ten minutes or so. Alice, on the other hand, had taken to trying to play songs with the flute.
"I swear, it's a wonder that none of the crew has moved to throw you and that damned flute overboard!" exclaimed Ron.
"That's because you're the only one bothered by my music. Everyone else finds it soothing," countered Alice.
"Like hell they do! Why do you think Tom went below deck? Why do you think all the sailors keep cringing as they walk by?" asked Ron.
"I find the bickering between you two most annoying," groaned Suzanne. "And Alice, you're not going to play music when we hit shore. We don't want to alert every monster and cannibal within a mile to our presence."
Having acquired both the Final Key and the Echoing Flute the group had decided to retrace their journey to see if they had unwittingly passed by any orbs in their travels so far. Of course, the flute's range was not incredibly great, so the group had to do a fair amount of searching. They decided to focus their searches around the settlements they had come upon, hoping that the other orbs were possessed by people and regarded as important treasures as the purple orb had been. Unfortunately, after three and a half weeks of searching the group had yet to find another orb.
The four were now on their way to southern Tarasia around the area of Tedanki, the ghost village from which the group had first heard of the Final Key and bought their extraordinary equipment from. The group planned to search the area for any sign of the orb, but knew they were running an awful risk going into the Archfiend's territory with its sponsored cannibals about. Nevertheless, they could not risk that there was an orb in the area.
The Mad Hound set course for the town of Tedanki. The four hoped to use the ghost town as a base for their search. Suzanne theorized that they would not be bothered there by the cannibals as they had probably finished looking there for physical food long ago. The group landed in the mid afternoon.
The group made a quick stop in Tedanki before beginning their true search. As they expected, the place was devoid of people, being that the sun had not set yet. The four went out on their search, mindful of their position in relation to Tedanki.
The group did not have long before night came. They only managed a couple hours of searching before the sun came even with the horizon.
"I'd say it's just about time to call it a day," said Ron. "We don't want to be out too long at night. Too easy to get ambushed by cannibals."
"I agree," said Suzanne. "We better get back to – "
"Did you guys hear that?" asked Alice suddenly.
Suzanne and Ron turned to Alice to see that both she and Thomas had looks of surprise on their faces. It was Thomas' turn to use the flute and he played another note with it. Focusing on the noise of the note, both of them could hear an audible echo.
"That sounds pretty good. We must have gotten close to an orb!" exclaimed Ron.
"But we've been playing this flute the entire time and didn't hear an echo until now. And that echo was a lot stronger than the echo we heard in our tests when we were at the edge of the flute's range," pointed out Alice.
"You're right. Considering the intervals we've been playing the flute there shouldn't be any way the echo would come in so clearly now," agreed Suzanne. "It's like we suddenly jumped from being more than five miles away to being within three or so."
"Do you think the Archfiend's forces found out about the flute? Maybe they found some way to confound it and they're setting up a trap for us," suggested Ron.
Thomas had an idea, "About how far away are we from Tedanki?"
Alice consulted her maps and checked the surroundings for landmarks, "About two and a half miles!" she exclaimed, catching on to what Thomas was suggesting. The four looked at the horizon and found that the sun had sunken below it completely.
"So it would seem there is an orb in Tedanki," said Suzanne, catching on as well.
"That place is just full of mysterious things," Ron added. "If there is an orb there, I just hope it's like the equipment and doesn't disappear once we get it."
As the group made their way back to Tedanki they found that the echoes became more and more audible as they went. After they entered the ghost town, now fully populated once again, they went into a game of hot and cold. It took careful listening but eventually the four narrowed the orb's location down to the northeast corner of town, where the prison was.
"Well it's clearly somewhere in this area," said Suzanne. "But I don't think that the flute will help us anymore. The change in volume and clarity just isn't good enough over such a small area. We'll need to comb the area carefully."
"It could be in someone's possession," suggested Ron. "We'll have to talk with everyone in the area."
"It could also be buried," said Thomas. "That would make it very difficult to find."
"That'd be near impossible if it only shows up at night. Plus, the ghosts might take offense if we start digging their land," said Alice.
"Let's focus on people first," suggested Suzanne. "With the exception of a ghost's possessions all non-human objects here seem unaffected by the ghostly nature of the town. We only detected the orb after sunset so it seems likely that it is in someone's possession."
The other three agreed and the four spread out to search. Suzanne went to talk with the old man who had told her about the Final Key. Thomas and Alice went to talk with others around the area. Ron stayed at the prison.
There were only two people at the prison: a guard and an inmate. The prison was in similar disarray to the rest of the town. On one side of the cell door the wall had collapsed. The guard was standing in front of this new entrance to the cell, but with his back towards the prisoner. Ron could only chuckle as he looked at it. If the people of the ghost town were not disillusioned as to the state of the buildings the prisoner would no doubt see this opening, hit the guard in the back of the head, and escape.
Ron walked up to the guard and asked him, "Out of curiosity, why is this man in jail?"
The guard eyed Ron suspiciously. Ron could see the man paid particular attention to Ron's weapon. "He has been found guilty of theft of this town's finest treasure: the Sage's Jewel," he answered.
Wondering if this jewel had any relation to an orb, Ron asked, "What does this jewel look like?"
The guard gave Ron a glare. "I don't trust you," he said. "How do I know you're not this man's partner, come to free him from jail and help him steal our treasure?"
Ron put his hands up defensively, "Look, I don't mean any trouble. I was just curious."
The guard grunted, clearly not entirely convinced. "It's about this big," he answered, showing the size with his hands. "It's entirely spherical and it glows with a brilliant green light."
"Why is it called the Sage's Jewel?" Ron asked.
The guard was getting pissed now. "I don't know! Do I look like a jewelry expert or something! Do you know what they pay me for!"
"What do they pay you for?" asked Ron, trying to keep from angering the guard further.
To Ron's alarm the guard pulled out his sword. He pointed it directly behind him, in the space of the open wall, and moved it back and forth. "To guard this door here and the dirtbag behind it! Hear the clanging my sword is making on the bars? Because if you keep asking questions you'll be hearing it for a while! Is that what you want!"
"No sir. I'm sorry sir," answered Ron. He decided this would be a good time to leave the prison.
Ron waited where the group split up for the other three to return. After about an hour the three returned.
"I heard something interesting," began Suzanne. "This town apparently has a treasure called the Sage's Jewel. Its description sounds identical to the purple orb we already have, except this one is green. Other than that, I didn't hear where they keep it."
"We did," chimed Alice. "We were led to the vault where they keep the town's treasures. There's a hole in the back of the building and, of course, nobody here acted like it was there. So we went inside. We weren't planning on stealing it from them, mind you, but we just wanted to see if it was an orb."
Thomas took the story from there, "The treasures were all gone. I'd guess that the cannibals got to them a long time ago."
"So where is this jewel?" asked Suzanne.
"Don't know how good a lead it is but I found something strange at the prison. The man locked up there is there because he tried to steal the jewel," explained Ron. "The guard was pretty defensive about it. But most curiously, he acted like the door to the prison is in the spot where the wall is missing there. He even took his sword out and acted like he was clanging it on cell bars."
"That is strange," said Suzanne. "The villagers ignore any sort of structural damage like missing walls but the cell door is clearly there. And it doesn't look like it got pushed to the side or knocked off; it's connected securely to the wall that's still there, like it belongs there."
"Bit of a puzzle here," Alice pointed out. "The flute clearly points to an orb in this part of town. The ghosts are clearly stuck with the illusion of their town and lives before they were destroyed. They point to this jewel of theirs being in the vault, but it's not there. Meanwhile, the guard is mistaken as to the exact location of the door to the cell."
"Perhaps we should ask the thief held in prison," suggested Thomas. "He may have duped the authorities with a phony before he was caught. Maybe he knows where the orb is."
"That's a good idea but the guard is really paranoid about people trying to steal the jewel," cautioned Ron. "He'll start yelling at you about being in league with the guy. Ask too many questions and he'll chase you away."
"I think someone other than Ron should examine the cell door, alone," said Suzanne. "That way, if he chases the person away we still have two people left he won't suspect. If all else fails, we wait until tomorrow night. The last two times we were here the villagers we met forgot us completely. I don't think the guard will be any different."
"Whoever does it shouldn't ask him for permission to examine the door," suggested Ron. "Maybe he thinks the cell door is just a wall and will think you're just eccentric. But if you ask him for permission to examine the 'wall' then he'll think you're planting a device and being shifty or something."
"Won't he get suspicious if one of us just walks up and starts examining a 'wall?'" asked Alice.
"We'll just do as much as we can before he kicks us out," replied Suzanne.
The group decided to send Alice to examine the cell door. With all the time the group had spent investigating, dawn had almost arrived. The four were very sure that their time for this task was almost up for this night. As Ron had advised, Alice walked up to the cell door and started looking at it without speaking to the guard. The guard gave her a glare as she walked towards it, but started ignoring her when she arrived at the door. Alice took this to be a good sign and started her examination.
Alice conducted some minor magical tests to try not to alert the guard but the results were inconclusive. Although there was certainly some mysterious magic around the door, the whole town was filled with mysterious magic. Compared with the rest of the town there was nothing out of the ordinary with the door.
Alice decided to try something daring. She did not want to get her weapons out as that would surely alarm the guard so she left quickly to find a stick lying around. She returned to the cell door to bang the stick between the bars. The guard once again gave her a glare as she approached but ignored her as she arrived at the door. When Alice clanged the metal the guard still paid no notice to Alice.
Now Alice was perplexed by the guard's lack of notice. She decided to disregard Ron's advice and ask, "Did you notice any noises a second ago?" But amazingly, the guard did not respond. Alice came to a conclusion: this space she was standing in right next to the cell door was somehow invisible to the ghostly guard just as the town's destruction was.
Alice decided to try something really daring. She pulled out the Final Key, unlocked the door, and walked right in. The guard still did not flinch. Alice looked upon the prisoner, who was sitting in a corner of the cell. He was dressed in typical white and black striped prisoner garb. He was very thin and slender.
Alice was surprised when the man grinned as she entered. "About time," he said. "Seeing you all walk right by here over and over I was beginning to wonder if you would ever come in here."
"You remember seeing us?" asked Alice. "And how did you know one of us would eventually walk in here?"
"That's something you'll just have to figure out on your own," said the thief with a smile. "I wound up entangled in this town's destiny by chance. I was a greedy man looking for wealth that was not mine. Did you know they didn't actually catch me? I just happened to be in the vault when the Archfiend's forces destroyed the place."
The thief gave a sigh and looked to be deep in thought for a moment and then continued, "I've been here for all that time. I don't even know how long it's been. I died with the rest of them and they chose me to be their messenger I guess. As you can tell, I do not relive the same day over and over. They needed me to talk to you."
The thief took a step to the side to try and get a good look at the town outside the destroyed wall, though the guard was still in his way. "They refused to go away," the thief continued. "The Archfiend couldn't simply do away with them. They knew they had a purpose, a reason to stick around. That bastard couldn't stop them."
The thief turned back to the corner where he was sitting. Alice had been so focused on the ghost that she did not see what was in the corner. There was an orb there glowing with a brilliant green light. It was identical to the purple orb the party already had except in color.
The thief motioned to the orb, "The town's ghostly nature has kept it safe from the Archfiend. From what I've heard from the other ghosts, this orb has always been a part of the town. But now it is time for it to leave. You better take it into your possession before morning."
Alice gasped when she looked back at the man. Indeed, he was starting to fade away. She looked at the guard and any other ghosts she could see from inside the cell. They were all fading. The orb was fading as well. Alice quickly went and scooped it up. As soon as she picked it up, the orb became completely solid again.
"So what do you guys think?" asked Alice. The group was walking back from the vault in Aliahan where they had deposited the green orb from Tedanki. After Alice returned to the other three with the green orb, the four decided to teleport to Aliahan to rest for a few hours and deposit the orb. Then Alice relayed her story to them and they were now thinking over it as they walked away from the vault.
"I think they should have named that town 'Strangeville,'" replied Ron with a chuckle. "That place may have been the strangest we've visited in our journey."
"I can't help but wonder at the thief's words though," said Suzanne. "He told Alice he was just a simple thief but what kind of simple thief speaks so cryptically?"
"It is said that the spirits of the living remain as ghosts when they have strong attachment to the world and refuse to accept their death," said Thomas thoughtfully. "When we first went there, I thought the Archfiend had cursed them; that it had not allowed them to rest. Now I think the entire town wanted to remain. Like the thief said, they had a purpose to fulfill yet."
"But what was that purpose?" asked Suzanne.
"Maybe it was to help people fight the Archfiend," proposed Alice. "Think about it. They had an orb and the equipment sold there is some of the best we've ever heard of. I think somehow the people of that town knew they had a grand purpose to fulfill. Without their equipment we probably would've been defeated already. And who knows how their orb will help us?"
"So they remained so that they could help us? What makes us so special?" asked Ron.
"Not necessarily us," answered Suzanne. "They wanted to help humanity. They had things to give in the fight against the Archfiend. We just happened to be the direct recipients."
"I have a feeling we won't see them again," said Thomas thoughtfully. "Their purpose is now fulfilled. They have no more reason to remain."
"I hope so," answered Ron. "They deserve the rest."
The group decided to return to the town of Lancel. Alice remembered that there was a large shrine there that they could not enter as the entrances were all sealed by a force to strong for the magic key of Isis. The shrine had three entrances: two side doors and a large main door. The group made for the left side door and tried the Final Key. The key expelled the enchantments on the door and opened it.
Inside the room was a man dressed in elegant robes peering at a crystal ball. However, the room did not connect to the main part of the shrine and did not have any other doors or exits inside.
"Hello sir," greeted Suzanne. "May we ask why this shrine is sealed off from the rest of the town?"
"Due to its importance, certain security measures had to be taken. This is the Shrine of Courage. This shrine has been given the burden of protection over two orbs of legend. I know you have two of them," explained the man.
"How could you know that?" asked Suzanne.
"I am a seer that serves this shrine," answered the man. "In the other side door you will find another seer. We have been given responsibility over the yellow orb: also called the Wayfarer Gem. This orb has traveled the world and continues to travel to this day. It will be almost impossible to find."
"What can you tell us to help us in finding it?" asked Suzanne.
"The orb has been in the possession of humans for a while. It appears valuable though none of its owners know its true value," explained the seer. "But it switches hands often. You could track down every rich person in this world and not find it."
"So how do we find it?" asked Suzanne.
"I do not know. Speak to the other seer. Maybe he can tell you," answered the seer.
The four left the room and moved to the right side door. Once again, the Final Key opened the door. Inside this room was another man dressed identically to the man in the left room. This man also had a crystal ball in front of him.
"Ah yes," began the man. "The current owners of the Final Key. Possessors of the purple and green orbs. Your courage has been demonstrated. You are worthy."
"Thank you," said Suzanne. "The other seer has told us some of the yellow orb. We were hoping you could tell us where it is."
"An impossible task," answered the seer. "All orbs' destinies are shrouded. No seer could possibly locate an orb through his magic."
Suzanne was confused, "But then how could you and the other seer know we have two of the orbs?"
"We cannot find an orb's exact destiny but we can see what it is connected to. When I and the other seer have searched for the purple and green orbs we see you," replied the seer.
"What do you mean?" inquired Suzanne.
"All people and objects have important connections," explained the seer. "For people many of these connections are other people: friends and allies. Even enemies are a great connection. For objects it is similar. They are connected to their owners, their places of storage, or the events that lead to their new owner."
"So what connections have you found?" asked Suzanne.
"Only one. This connection is most perplexing," admitted the seer. "It is hard to put into words, but I will try. 'Departed companions will once again help you.' I cannot think as to what it means."
"What do you mean by 'departed'?" asked Suzanne. "Do you mean dead?"
"I cannot say," answered the seer. "All I can say is that somehow a companion of the orb's next significant owner will be aided by a 'departed companion'. If that is to be you, then maybe you should think of anyone you know who has in some way departed and who you consider a companion."
"What about the other orbs?" wondered Suzanne. "Can you tell us about them?"
"For the red orb I see no connections strong enough to view. For the silver orb I see incredible danger. That orb is involved with great peril. And I believe you will soon find the blue orb," said the seer.
"Thank you for the information," said Suzanne. "You have been a great help."
The four left the side room and started for the main entrance to the shrine.
"It seems like this town also has a purpose," pointed out Alice. "This shrine has now given us a lead on another orb and the seers claimed that this shrine is in charge of two orbs. Maybe the main room will lead us to another orb."
"Shrines and legends often emerge around powerful artifacts," said Thomas. "When a powerful artifact ends up in the hands of a good person that person always seeks to protect it."
"I think I understand now," said Suzanne thoughtfully. "We've been so worried about nations helping us out and fighting the Archfiend. But many people don't live in a large nation. And they can still help. It doesn't matter if you live in a small city-state or a huge empire. Everyone can help. Everyone has a purpose."