Princess look at me. She look at Nya Scorpion. “I haven’t made up my mind as to how we solve this problem.”
“Oh boy”, I thinking. “Here ends the life of Third Whisker shaman Te’Ka’Mok. What shame, yes? I do muchly good in the world. And I end by well, doing good. But not the way I wants to. I cannot fight Princess wish. Perhap, this what Grandpa really want from me. For to help Princess Kaiu De cleans this village of Taint. Eh, better than in beast belly.”
It Neiki who think another thought. “Perhaps Seaonus would like to right a grave wrong. He could draw the Taint onto himself.”
Nya shook her head. “It will kill him.” Neiki smile funny – “As you proposed doing just this morning. Die at your hand or die later having done something to repair the damage….? Which has more honor? ” She paused. “He will go to the tower.”
The Princess shook her head. “Won’t work. Why would he agree?” Tatsuoh spoke up: “My lady, if he takes the honorable path, we can then allow him the privilege of committing seppuku.” He paused. “It is wish of Seaonus that he be allowed the rite.” Princess smile big. “That is perfect! Thank you, Tatsuoh.”
What choice he have, Seaonus? He take bargain and I thankful that my blood stay inside for one more day.
Everyone want to join in tower for the ritual. I no want Princess there. I no trust Seaonus or tower to stay true, yes? In this Tatsuoh and me, we are united. I like a pet to her, I thinking. And Princess think it cute when I pronounce she stay here. I say “Te’Ka’Mok would speak. You can no go up the tower stairs, Princess Kaiu De. To dangerous, the tower and the ritual of cleanse. I not be able to guarantee safety of most precious granddaughter to Master Kaiu Umasa.” I bow low. I see her open mouth for to protest and Tatusoh, the Lion, he speak and support the words of Nezumi shaman of Third Whisker. Hmmm!
Old Mir’Itus, Gami-Gami and puppy all must come with poor Te’Ka. She overwhelmed in company. Tatsuoh, he come for to make sure that Tainted mage does the right thing. On way up, I telling Mir’Itus to be careful of tower and loose rock and who get hit with stone? Gods have funny with Te’Ka, yes? That I get hit on head with big stone and not Mir’Itus? While I bandage head, Seaonus prepare for ritual of cleanse. I wish to see more but miss the beginning because Gami, she “help” me with bandage and she want to put over my eyes. “Hurt side of head, Gami-omi. Not eyes!”
I see Seaonus. He kneel in front of orb and he chant the chants. I know some words from books, yes? I see Tatsuoh look with maybe fear in eye. I nod to him to say “OK. He saying right words for the cleanse. He not calling up Oni army for to battle.” Tatsuoh, he see me or not see me. I can no say. But he relax hand on sword.
Chanting, moaning, rolling on ground and the orb grow dim. Darkness shows in the tower and I feel the Taint leaving the tower, pulling in to Seaonus like a cloud of angry bees. It over in a few minutes and Seaonus lay like dead man. I check him. Hope he not dead so he can do kill self ritual. “Not dead. Passed out. We carry him down, yes?” Gami-Gami and Tatsuoh carry him down stairs and old Mir’Itus want to help me down stairs! “You old man! Not me. I not old and needing help.”
“Well, you did have that bad bump from the falling rock.”
“And I feeling fine now.”
We argue all the way down the stairs and when we come out, still arguing the humans all standing there looking at us with something, some look on faces. I not know what it mean. And then I think “We speak in the Nezumi tongue. No think about it, just do our arguing that way. They not know what we saying and they not trusting.” I smile at Princess and bow. “Ritual successful, my Princess, my lady Kaiu De. We just, just arguing about my injury.” I waved at the bandage.
She put hand to mouth. “You are hurt?! What happened?” “Just rock fall on Te’Ka’Mok. Gods joke and pull rock on me. I fine-fine.”
Nya and Tatsuoh wake Seaonus and he do ritual right there. The Taint leave with his soul. Neiki say, after a moment silence for soul passage, “We all need to drink the tea of friendship. It will help ease the Taint. And while it is expensive, we should leave some for the village. The Taint will go away, slowly but the people will need some help.”
My head hurt and I go to stable to sleep and leave them to tea drinking. Perhaps, now that I think on it, that was not smart for great shaman of Third Whisker tribe. Not smart at all.
Princess, she stand there for a moment. Then she nod. “Yes, heal these poor people. I will join you soon.” I not sure, at first what she mean by that, but later, she beside me kneeling on cold hard ground, wrapping bandages. Hmmm, my first princess, sure but they not usually kneel and help with wounded, right?
As we work, she say to me “Neiki had some interesting theories about the magic that Seaonus is using. She thinks (Princess lowers voice) it might be blood magic.” I nod. “Oh yes, sure to be maho-magic. Smell like rotten meat, even earth smell like bad meat and rust, yes? Even you smell?” She sit back from human she wrapping. “But, but blood magic is punishable by death! Who would do that?” She clutch her neck, where jade pendant lay.
Recently old Mir’Itus help me with English. No more saying “me” now say “eye” for me. Confusing. I am me, yes? Point at me-self and remember to say “eye”. I do that now: “I not knowing what make man, or Nezumi, go to Taint side. We heal people and then deal with him, Mister Seaonus-san.”
Some human, we save. Some we get and they having bite-bite marks all over legs. They say “Dark down there. No ideas what bite.” Some we get and they look chewed up, from bottom to top. Too manys of the bites and too much time gone. I ask Grandpa to help those spirits go where they go, those humans.
Nightfall and we done with dead and wounded. Nezumi get stable all to ourselves. Human stay in houses with smelly human. Poor, poor human – they all smell of Taint. Some more, some less, but Taint. Gami-Gami, she insist sleep near door for the protection. We warm and cozy with horses, Princess wagon and plenty warm hay. At midnight, I wake to say prayers and think thoughts of spells. I no bad-bad shaman for to do dark things in night. I like the quiet black of night. Good for the reading and the thinking and memorizing. At my books, and I remember spirit walk this town – people shaky-fearful of spirit. Te’Ka’Mok would know if spirit is real. Creep-creep slow so to not wake Gami-Gami. Tell puppy Ookami to “sshhhhhh.” I sit on step. Wait. Listen. Look. I see lights in Twilight Mountains. Nothing else. Cannot say spirit or not spirit. Too bad.
Next day, early: Princess has Seaonus on knees and he shaky and crying over maho-magic. Try to tell her it for good. He asks for chance to kill self with sepooku ritual of killing. Bah! Stupid idea. Why that better than to be killed by beheader? Snick-snick and head gone. Better to die way, I thinking. Stomach stabby silliness. Princess say NO. Wait for the Magistrate to come by.
After he dragged away by mayor and sherrif, Neiki say to Princess “The Taint is strong. It is….. affecting me and will hurt everyone soon. We must find the crystal orb that Seaonus mentioned.” I hitch up robe. Scratch leg and think. Must be in tower, yes? Bad feeling there. I think about spell book. Pages under my finger. Smell ink. I sensing magics now. I walk to tower door. “Here. Crystal orb here. I go find.”
Much talk-talk about tower and safety-ness. Princess no go up. Neiki can no go up. Lion come with me. Scorpion stay with Princess. And then old Mir’Itus must come and Gami-Gami. Yes-yes. Come all. We go up stairs. Crooked tower now so crooked stairs. Up-up-up. I telling Mir’Itus to be careful with crooked tower stones and one fall and hit me on head. Hurt-hurt muchly, but I Nezumi and I go on!
We find big orb. Big bad orb. Down-down-down stairs. Telling Princess we find orb and Neiki say we must draw the Taint from orb. Princess look at me. “I no learn this magics. I not live long enough to learn this magics.”
Nya Scorpion come over. “Princess, I have heard that we can use Nezumi blood to draw the Taint from the crystal.” She paused. “It has been done by great wizards of the Scorpion clan. It would not require a lot of blood. Just a small amount will do. Or so I have heard.”
I turn to Mir’Itus. “They talking about our blood, yes? Blood magics for to heal blood magics? No-no.” I shake my head. Princess see and say “I want to know what all of our options are. I have not made a decision.” I nod. “Use old Mir’Itus! He old! He blood still good, but he have not long to live, yes?” Princess laugh and Mir’Itus glare at me.
Princess bite her lip and say “I have not made any decisions.”