Miriam’s words echoed in the back of the bard’s mind: “If it gets really scary, don’t push it...okay?”
"You good back there?" Sandra turned her head back to Kiwi as they neared their flight's destination. "You haven't said anything in the past hour and a half."
"Yeah! I'm fine," Kiwi nodded, barely making eye contact with the witch. Kiwi's thoughts turned to the day's events: the collapse of the Spirit World, the Hero striking Miriam down with lightning, and the end of the war between Chaandesh and Rulle. So much bad happened, yet hope flickered with the talks of peace between the two kingdoms. The bard knew they could save the world, but doubt had crept into their heart.
"Last time Viv and I gave you a lift, you were chatty and singy. It's okay if you're worried," Sandra gave them a nervous smile. "I'm worried, too."
Sandra landed her broom in a small clearing in a forest a bit further up from the base of Mount Ichor. Dark, dreadful clouds covered the sky. The curtain of shadow had crept over the sun shortly after Kiwi and Sandra took off, lightning rippling through the clouds and booms of thunder echoing each other. Kiwi thought back to Miriam, who was returning home to Delphi with Vivian’s aid. Did she make it home okay? Were they affected by the storm??
"I’m okay!” the bard smiled at Sandra, concealing their concern. “I wasn’t sure what Miriam meant by it being a hard journey, the Overseer can’t be too far from here. She can be really silly sometimes.”
“Uh, if the Overseer is at the top of the mountain,” Sandra said, pointing to the looming mountains ahead of them. “You still have a ways to go. I can't take you the whole way there.”
“Oh, uh,” Kiwi muttered, looking up at the height of the mountain. “Right.”
“You’ll need to do the rest on foot,” Sandra said, adjusting her goggles. “I’d take you higher, but with the crazy wind and storms, I can’t fly up that high.”
“And besides,” Sandra continued, fear in her voice. “I’m really worried about Chaandesh. With the appearance of all those monsters, if anything were to happen to me, well–I’d better get back.”
“That’s okay,” Kiwi nodded. “Thank you again, Sandra!”
“Yeah!!” Sandra exclaimed, as if hyping herself up, turning back in the direction from which the two had just flown in. “One last thing. What you did back there at the Sky Temple was incredible. If you’re able to do something like that, you can climb this mountain. Good luck!”
With that, Sandra’s broom shook briefly before it propelled Sandra into the sky above the forest, quickly fading from Kiwi’s view.
She’s got a point. How was I able to speak with the voices of everyone like that? The bard thought to themself, turning to face Mount Ichor. I knew I could speak with Hala’s voice because she was a ghost trapped in my body, but all of them?
Kiwi took a deep breath and jogged through the forest. They thought back to their troll friend, Mr. Monster, who had told them that their voice had changed once they received the late Queen of Winds’ piece of the Earthsong. Was it the Earthsong pieces I’ve collected? If so, maybe the world in harmony isn’t as far off as the Messenger and Mr. Dream King say it is.
As the bard made their way out of the forest and onto a simple worn path leading up the mountain, the somber silence of the world around them tugged at their heartstrings. They hadn’t been alone outside of the Spirit World in a long time. Miriam had been by their side, however grumpy, since she picked them up in Langtree. Even though Miriam didn’t accompany them on their adventures in the Mermaid Ruins or Turtle Shores, she was at least around when they returned. Miriam was never far from them. Today felt different. She'll still be in Delphi once this is over. Kiwi thought to themself, trying to ignore the possibility of never seeing her again. Just need to see this through.
Following the path up the mountain, the bard saw a small village that consisted of a handful of simple stone homes. A few sets of prayer flags around the settlement began to sway as harsh winds began to blow, creating the sound of a violin in play. Kiwi looked around the village, following the path as it cut through the settlement. Many of the houses’ doors were flung open and the glass of their small windows shattered.
“Is anybody home?” Kiwi called out before they peeked into one of the homes they passed by. Many pieces of furniture remained in the home, though there were no signs of anyone. The doors of an empty wardrobe were open, and there were a few articles of clothing strewn about the floor. “Anyone??”
Stepping out of the home, the bard looked around, only hearing the sound of wind and the violin-esque sound from the prayer flags, and seeing no responses to their checking in on them. As a loud rumble of thunder shook Kiwi from their focus, the bard let out a yelp. Nonetheless, the bard trekked further.
As Kiwi left the vicinity of the village, following the path up the mountain, they caught sight of two deep fuschia eyes glowing from within a forest in the distance. Kiwi froze, finding themself unable to look away from the distant gaze. The glowing eyes faintly turned, focusing on the bard. Kiwi could feel their heart pounding, dread anchoring their feet to the ground. After an agonizingly long moment, Kiwi was blinded by the flash of an intense purple light. By the time the bard rubbed their eyes, the purple glow faded and the fuschia eyes were gone. Kiwi began hyperventilating as if they had forgotten to breathe for several minutes and just remembered its importance in their survival. Shuddering, Kiwi continued in silence, their breath calming slightly.
After less than a mile further on Kiwi’s ascent, a tall building made of pink stone came into view, with two cerise canopies above its roof, one covering the roof of the base floor and a higher canopy covering the second floor. Unlit paper lanterns hanging from the canopy were blown to and fro with the wind, a few being ripped away and being carried out into the wilderness.
When Kiwi got closer, they could see carvings on the building’s walls depicting a tall person with long, flowing hair singing and a large number of people praying beneath them. Kiwi assumed by the visage of the long-haired person that the etched pictures were depictions of the Goddess Eya, or her Messenger. Their thoughts turned to the Messenger who both inspired them to try saving the world and shattered their dream of making a difference. Kiwi frowned, thinking to themself. Did you lead these people on, too? Give them the hope of possibly doing something good, only to tell them they’ll likely fail?
“Pilgrim,” a deep, hearty voice roused Kiwi from their thoughts. “What brings you to a place like this?”
“Wha–uh!” Kiwi jumped, their frown becoming a determined smile as they turned to face a large man in an orange gi, standing in front of the temple doors. “I-I’m here to climb the mountain!”
“Please reconsider, pilgrim,” the man looked up at the dark clouds above, then back to Kiwi. “What reason do you have to put yourself in danger by climbing the mountain?
“I’m here to visit the Overseer on the mountaintop,” Kiwi explained.
“It’s not worth it to try to commune with the Overseer, pilgrim,” the man continued. “No one at the Heart of Eya Temple has been able to commune with them in our lifetimes. The Overseers abandoned us long ago.”
“They’re sick, that’s all,” Kiwi looked forward toward the towering mountain. “They’re all acting strangely and that’s why everything’s falling apart. I’m here to fix it though!”
The thought of the necessity of an Overseer’s song crossed the bard’s mind. Do I need a song now that the contents of the Spirit World were pushed into our world? No, I don’t have time to think about if I need a song, I probably don’t!
“What can you alone do to stop The End, pilgrim?” The monk asked. “It is inevitable, and besides, it’s a needlessly dangerous journey up the mountain. ”
“I’m learning the Earthsong!” Kiwi took a deep breath. “I’ll be okay. Do you guys need any help?”
“We have many accommodations for those who chose to remain at the temple and to anyone who wishes to take shelter here,” the monk answered. “We have enough for at least another two months, but I’m certain The End will come long before we run out of supplies.”
“Well,” Kiwi frowned at the thought of the world ending in less than a week as well as the thought of anyone running out of food. “When I save the world, you won’t have to worry about rationing out your food! You guys could come back outside and get food the way you normally do!”
“And this Earthsong is going to save us?” The monk asked, furrowing his brow in concern.
“Yep!” Kiwi nodded, taking a few steps forward toward the mountain. “Just need to speak to all of Earth’s Overseers. I’ve already spoken to six–wait, five–no, three of them! But I’ve collected five of the seven pieces of the Earthsong!”
“I ask you again to reconsider, pilgrim,” the monk grabbed the bard’s hand before they took another step. “It’s too risky to climb this mountain like this, even for the sake of all humanity. Besides, how do you know that the Earthsong will work?”
“Because,” Kiwi took a deep breath, pulling their hand away and turning their head back to the monk slightly. “I have to try.”
“Please, pilgrim!” The monk called out to Kiwi, “Come inside where it is safe!”
The monk’s warning fell flat on the bard’s ears as Kiwi pressed onward, the monk’s volume fading with distance. After passing a few trees on the path, a drop of water hit Kiwi’s shoulder. Then another. And another. It wasn’t until the rain began falling consistently that Kiwi noticed the rain at all. As the bard acknowledged the rain, they also noticed that each droplet of rain left a dark spot on the ground. Kiwi looked over their shoulder and noticed the few small black stains on their hoodless cowl. Huh, droplets of ink? They thought to themself.
Kiwi had a feeling that the mountain path would lead them where they needed to go, but the rain fell fast, quickly staining the path and the ground around them black. They kept following the path as best as they could, though it became difficult to discern the way forward. The bard kept their eyes clear with their hand cupped around them. As the staining rain trickled down the mountainside, Mt. Ichor’s rock face started blending in with the dark ground below. Kiwi ran up the mountain path as far as they could as it began curling around the form of the mountain, slipping on one of the stone steps, and planted their face into inky mud.
Letting out a little shout of surprise, the bard picked themself up and rubbed their eyes, attempting to clear the ink from their eyes, with little success. Kiwi’s eyes stung, but they could still see their hand in front of them, however slightly covered in ink. Resuming their journey with a brisk walk, Kiwi again cupped their hand around their eyes to try seeing the path ahead. They placed one hand on the face of the mountain and kept moving.
Frustration rose within the bard, eager to move forward, find the Overseer, and sing the Earthsong. Sing. We should sing! A wide smile swam across Kiwi’s face as they recalled another moment where the way forward was covered in darkness, and they sang through it; crossing the forests of Rulle, their path clouded by swarms of wispy monsters. Kiwi sang out, their gentle tone forcing the ink out from the ground in front of them, the ejected ink spraying forward. Holding a constant calm note, Kiwi pressed onward, keeping their path clear as they followed the road up the mountain.
After an hour of upward movement in their ascent of Mt. Ichor, the bard’s progress came to a halt as they saw that the thinning road ahead was broken. Through the poor vision of the rain, Kiwi could see that a large chunk of the mountain was broken off, though they were unable to discern where the next ledge of level road would be, even with their guiding song. Looks like I’ll just have to start climbing the hard way. They thought to themself, turning to the mountain face and placing their hands on the wall of rock.
Kiwi’s singing aided their climb, as their song removed the ink from the rock and dried it, making it easier to scale the mountain. Though the raining ink was a nuisance, Kiwi steeled themself, their music pushing the falling ink away from their eyes. As they climbed higher, their song revealed a bird in flight surrounded by a bubble of glowing white light, tethered to the side of the mountain by what appeared to be chains of a similar light. The contained bird continuously rammed its head against its prison, finding no success in its escape attempts.
“Oh, little friend!” Kiwi called out, briefly stopping their singing. “I’m gonna get you outta there, okay?”
The bard climbed slightly higher and extended their hand, reaching for the chains of the light bubble. Not high enough yet. Kiwi climbed just a bit higher. As they lowered their leg to plant on the rock face, the bard lost their footing; a chunk of rock cracked and crumbled beneath them. Eyes widening, Kiwi frantically tried to regain composure, flailing their feet across the rock face in desperate search for stability. As they began to slide down the mountain, Kiwi clung onto one piece of rock. Kiwi attempted to pull themself up to grab the mountainside with their other hand, but their hand slipped.
Kiwi let out a yelp as they began to fall. Everything around them slowed down and thoughts flailed about their mind. No no no no, this can’t be it! I can’t let everyone down! Kiwi reached for a ledge, their fingers slipping on the ink-covered mountainside. Memories of Miriam flickered in their head. I can’t let her down. Despair, regret, and fear boiled within Kiwi as their life flashed before their eyes. What would she think of me–if I couldn’t finish what we started?
“But you keep trying, even when it’s hopeless,” Miriam’s words echoed in Kiwi’s memory.
A fire began to burn in Kiwi’s heart, overwhelmed with emotions. I want to keep trying. Despite the turmoil of emotions, the burning sensation within themself felt familiar to Kiwi. A voice rose from deep within the bard, eager to be heard.
“I don’t want to die!” Kiwi sang out with a thunderous presence, colorful energy radiating from their core, just as when they sang with the voices of all of Rulle and Chaandesh. As the bard began singing, seconds before hitting the ground, the harsh winds that once buffeted them on their way up the mountain were called to them, enveloping them in a ball of wind. The sphere of wind quickly slowed Kiwi’s descent, effectively floating the bard down to the ground safely. As Kiwi remained levitating inches off of stable ground, the winds withdrew from them, causing them to land on a road with a thud.
“What,” Kiwi’s voice wavered, their eyes wide with awe. “Was that?”
Kiwi attempted to lift their head up from the ground, but the bard could barely find the strength to keep their eyes open. The patter of the raining ink against the bard was soothing. In the moment, everything felt calm. The weight of exhaustion and the sudden wave of calm fell over Kiwi, their consciousness fading.
Loud, familiar, funky music resounded in the bard’s ears, waking them. As Kiwi opened their eyes, they could see numerous people dancing to the beat of the music under dim ambient lighting. Kiwi lifted their head, realizing they were lying on the cold hard floor of the Crater theater. Before they had the chance to scan the crowd, a distinct snarky chuckle startled the bard.
“Is this some kind of new dance?” Miriam smirked, holding out a hand to Kiwi. “Get up, dork.”
“M-Miriam!” Kiwi gasped, locking eyes with the witch, instinctively grabbing her hand. “You’re okay!”
“You say that as if we weren’t just talking ten minutes ago,” said Miriam, pulling the bard to their feet, the witch leaning surprisingly close to their face. “Maybe I should be asking you if you’re okay.”
“I mean,” Kiwi looked away for a second, then looked back at Miriam. “I am okay! There’s…just a lot that’s been going on lately.”
“Uh huh, like I’m gonna believe that crap,” said Miriam, pulling her face away from Kiwi’s, tapping her foot. “You just listened to me go on about my feelings for like an hour, then I noticed you laying on the floor for five minutes, and you’re gonna try and tell me you’re just okay.”
The events of the previous night quickly flooded Kiwi’s mind, flipping from one event to the next like pages in a book. Speaking with the voices of everyone in two kingdoms. The flash of lightning. The mistake of letting Miriam get hurt.
“Miriam, you got hurt really badly,” Kiwi began solemnly. As the bard began to speak, the music surrounding the bard and witch stopped. The ambient lighting around them flickered off, the bright colored rave lights that dotted across the theater followed soon after, a large purple spotlight then shone down upon the bard and witch. “And I think it’s my fault.”
“What?” Miriam raised a brow, glancing back and forth from Kiwi and the change in lighting. “First of all, what are you talking about? Secondly, what’s with this lighting? Was this your idea?”
“I didn’t do this,” Kiwi muttered, gesturing to the light around them. “But we just went into the Spirit World together, and when we met back up, you got hurt. The Hero, she…”
“Last I heard, you haven’t gotten the Overseer song from the Queen yet,” Miriam looked away. “I was going to help you. I just…haven't figured out my plan yet. And Miss Hero? She tried getting us in trouble with the ferry on our way here, but we haven’t seen her since.”
“Miriam,” Kiwi placed their hands on Miriam’s shoulders. “Please listen to me. We got the Queen’s Overseer song, and we played a really nice duet, and went to the Spirit World together. Remember?”
“I’m listening, Kiwi,” Miriam said softly, looking into Kiwi’s eyes. “I just don’t remember us doing that. None of what you’re saying makes any sense.”
Oh geez, did I turn back time? Kiwi thought to themself. Can I fix what happened? Could I stop her from being hurt?
“Kiwi?” Miriam asked, her voice filled with worry. “You’re kinda freaking me out. Do you need a minute?”
“I let you get hurt,” Kiwi continued, tears welling in their eyes as they gripped Miriam’s shoulders tighter. “I carried you down from the top of the Sky Temple, and you told me you wanted to go back home and rest. That you couldn’t do the rest of this with me."
"Kiwi," Miriam began, raising her arms awkwardly, unsure what to do with them for a moment before wrapping them around Kiwi. "Even though I didn't initially agree with Grandma Saphy's insistence that I bring you along, I'm glad you came. After how far we've come, I wouldn't just leave you to do this alone."
"But,” Kiwi continued, hugging Miriam tightly as they began sobbing. “You did leave! I got you hurt, and I’m sorry! I will never let anything like that happen to you again!”
Miriam’s embrace was soft and warm, though Kiwi could feel her arms shaking slightly.
“Kiwi,” Miriam continued, heat rising to her cheeks. “I’m right here.”
“I know,” Kiwi sniffled. “I’m so so so so so so glad to see you safe and here with me.”
Kiwi could faintly hear a whimsical voice far in the distance. “Wanderer.”
“Did you hear something, Miriam?” Kiwi asked, raising their head from the hug and briefly looked around the theater. No sound could be heard from the other guests, nor could the guests be seen.
“No,” Miriam shook her head. “I’ve only been able to hear you since the music stopped all of a sudden. I haven’t heard anyone jumping or singing, either.”
The whimsical voice spoke again. “Wanderer!”
“I think someone’s calling to me,” Kiwi pulled away from the hug, their arms still around Miriam. “It’s weird.”
“Then maybe you should wake up,” Miriam said, disappointment in her voice. “And stop worrying about me.”
“Wait!” Kiwi yelped, shaking their head before staring into Miriam’s blue eyes. “I don’t want to leave you!”
“Th-there’s,” the bard’s voice wavered as they continued, their tears clouding their view of their best friend. Kiwi’s heart ached at the thought of leaving Miriam again. “There’s so much I want to tell you! I miss you, Miriam, e-even if it’s been just a day!”
The whimsical voice resounded around the bard and witch. “Get up, Wanderer!”
The deep purple light flickered for a moment.
“Get going, dweeb,” Miriam gave a somber smile. “I’ll be here when you’re done with your heroic journey or whatever.”
“But this has been our adventure,” Kiwi muttered, trying to pull Miriam into another hug. As Miriam wrapped her arms around Kiwi, the spotlight around the duo clicked off, and the bard could no longer feel Miriam’s touch.
“Miriam!” Kiwi cried out, falling to their knees. “Please don’t go…”
Everything around them felt cold. After a moment of silence, the feeling of warm cloth surrounded them, bright light washing over the bard from below.
“You keep muttering that name, wanderer,” a familiar, whimsical voice called out to Kiwi, barely muffled by something other than the sound of strong winds bellowing. “But please, wake up!”
“Miriam!!” Kiwi’s eyes shot open. Standing above them was a peculiar and familiar figure, Mask.
“Hey now, wanderer,” Mask chuckled. “You’re finally awake.”