Chapter 18: Losing Sight

A loud noise awakened Risawal from his restless sleep. He opened his eyes, unable to believe what he was seeing. A battle was raging only feet from him. Stunned, he watched as around fifteen swordsmen crashed into a line of men with pikes advancing out of the jungle. Arrows flew from the trees, downing one of the swordsmen who Risawal realized where the men encamped in the town centre.

As a couple horsemen rode past their hut, Risawal considered remaining still, until an arrow impacted the roof just beside him. Not wanting to get caught in the crossfire, he shook Ja’eshuk awake.

“Ugh, what is it?”

“There’s a war breaking out over there,” he replied calmly.

“What.” Ja’eshuk sat bolt upright, her eyes flashing from one end of the spectacle to the other. Then she grabbed Kialiki and Risawal’s arm. “Down.”

She rolled over and flipped down into the hut below. A soldier crashed through the door moments later. He looked at them, holding up his sword. Kialiki waved her hand at him, knocking him backwards into the square.

“W-who was that guy, guy I just blasted?” She asked, concerned.

“Mahlapren,” Risawal hissed, peering out the window. “And they’re winning too.”

“Are you sure?”

“Positive. I’d know that banner anywhere.”

Something slammed into the side of the hut, sending bits of plaster flying across the room. Ja’eshuk ran up to the door and glanced outside.

“I-I think there’s an opening, follow me.”

Risawal and Kialiki exchanged a nervous look before barreling out after her. Not four feet outside a horseman nearly ran right over Risawal. The horse reared back and Kialiki blasted it over onto its back, landing on its rider’s leg. An odd calm fell over the battlefield as everyone turned and stared at the young sorceress. A cry of pain came from the pinned cavalry man.

Sensing that that calm wouldn’t last, Risawal sprinted into the creek and through the rapids. Near the edge the clearing was a shrub where Ja’eshuk was waiting. He dove in beside her, the sounds of battle resuming behind him. Before he picked himself something landed on his back, pushing him back to the ground.

“Ooff, Kialiki, I’m not a cushion.”

“Ooh, sorry,” she replied rolling off him. “You alright?”

“No, we’re not alright,” Ja’eshuk answered, grabbing Risawal and dragged him up. “We’re stuck in the middle of a warzone with no supplies.”

“Maybe they have some stuff we could use?” Kialiki suggested.

Risawal and Ja’eshuk looked over, spotting a wagon being pulled up the hill by several of the Mahlapren soldiers. Ja’eshuk snorted, shaking her head.

“Fat chance, they’re probably not in the bartering mood, though, hmm, I’d bet their encampment is lightly guarded,” she murmured, slipping out of cover. “Follow me; I’ve got a new plan.”

He sighed, wandering after her. They slinked from tree to tree, keeping an eye on the trail of soldiers. Not far down the hill the line thinned until the last pair of stragglers had walked past. After checking both ways, Ja’eshuk inspected the trail, guiding them along the path. Out of the trees ahead an encampment appeared.

A small city of square tents were scattered haphazardly across the clearing, standing in the shadow of flapping Mahlapren banners. Tendrils of smoke rose from cook fires, though only a few soldiers could be seen.

Then the smell of frying pork hit Risawal’s nose and the bottom fell out of his stomach. Starving, he crept up as close as he could, kneeling behind a large shrub. Ja’eshuk was already there, looking for an opening. A pair of sentries were milling around, one puffing on a pipe. Though neither appeared very alert, they were still too close for comfort.

Kialiki bumped into them, leaning against Risawal’s shoulder.

“Got a plan then?” She asked.

“Shh,” Ja’eshuk hissed. “I’m trying to think.”

“I got one,” Kialiki said brightly, hopping up.

“Ack, stop,” Ja’eshuk pleaded, grabbing for her.

It was too late; Kialiki slipped out of cover and marched right up to the sentries. The two turned to face her, drawing their weapons. Ja’eshuk and Risawal slapped themselves.

“Hello there, I’m a traveling sorceress,” she said, summoning a blue orb into her hand. “Neat, huh?”

“Erm, what?”

“Watch this.” She threw the orb into the ground, blasting a wave of leaves up around them.

“Ach,” one sentry spat, waving the leaves away. “Could you please state your business here?”

“I told you, just a travelling sorceress.”

“Something’s not right here. Miss, we’re going to have a few words with yuh.”

“Oh good, do you have a new dress I might borrow?”

“Please, follow me.” He grabbed her forearm. “Oy, Rvopteg should know about this.”

The other sentry nodded, dashing off down the side of the camp. With a sigh, he hauled Kialiki into the camp, leaving the way clear. Risawal looked at Ja’eshuk. “You think…”

“Beginner’s luck, nothing more,” she said, grabbing his hand. “Now move.”

They hurried into the city of tents, weaving around the rows to better avoid any guards. Though it immediately became clear that almost no one was home. As he passed by an open tent, Risawal spotted a pair of shoes that looked his size. Telling himself they were Mahlapren goods, he snatched them up and hurried after Ja’eshuk.

She was standing in the middle of a supply depot, wagons and crates forming a three walled alcove around a large cooking pit. Starving, Risawal ripped open the nearest crate and began rifling through the foodstuffs. After eating a piece of hardtack dipped in grease, he filled his pockets with biscuits, cheese, and salted meat. Before he could open the tempting vegetable crate, Ja’eshuk grabbed him by the scruff of his neck and dragged him under the nearest wagon.

By the time he looked back, three soldiers had already spilled into the area, chatting about something irrelevant. Fearing the camp would soon be overrun with returning soldiers, the two crawled along the ground, finding their way into a maze of crates.

At the other end was a large tent where Kialiki and the sentry were seated, a large array of weapons stocked around them. They silently watched her and the guard. After several minutes of nothing save for the guard’s nervous tapping and quiet grumbling, the man rose to his feet, glancing back at Kialiki.

“Stupid green-alright, you wait here, I’ve gotta go check on that moron.”

“No problem,” she replied saluting. “Oh, and could you look for that new dress while you’re out there?”

“Just stay put, please.”

The moment he vanished Risawal and Ja’eshuk clambered out into the tent, Ja’eshuk immediately marching up to Kialiki.

“What were you thinking back there?”

“It worked.”

“That’s not the point.”

“No, that is the point. It worked. I knew it would work. You just have to relax around here, let things happen.”

“Ugh, uh, those throwing knives would come in handy.”

Ja’eshuk sighed, gathering a few weapons. Behind her Risawal began testing out a sword, liking the weight of the weapon. He slowly swept it up, pretending to parry a blow. Before he could sheath it, a figure appeared around the corner of the tent.

He dragged Ja’eshuk down this time, barely getting out of view in time. Two men and their guards spilled into the tent. One was a grey haired portly man with a fine red blindfold wrapped around his eyes. His acquaintance was a lanky, dark haired man with an eye patch, who walked directly up to Kialiki.

“Must be the one caught sneaking, eh?” He asked, clasping his gloved hands together.

“I walked up to the man,” she replied, “I’m a traveling sorceress.”

“Heard that, apparently you desire a proper dress?” He held out a blue silk robe.

“Ooh, that’s neat!” She exclaimed, grabbing it.

“Hah, my compliments,” the grey haired man said laughing, “Governor Hrogruk, the rightful administrator of these islands. And my cyclopean friend here is Rvopteg.”

“Kialiki.” She grasped his hand and shook it vigorously.

“I have been told that you have some interesting tattoos.”

“They look nice, or so one boy thinks.”

“I wouldn’t know,” Hrogruk said, tapping a cane against his brow. “But I do have a funny feeling that you’re going to tell me everything I want to know.”

“And what might that be?”

“Iron crown, yellow cape, affinity for Allushuk; seen him?” Rvopteg asked.

“He was a nasty fellow, passed by him about three weeks ago near Leweowika village. Seemed intent on taking the place over.”

“Hmm, that’s doable.” Governor Hrogruk muttered. “If we land just up the coast, under the cover of darkness, then, yes.”

“Exchange any words?” Rvopteg asked.

“No, his guards chased me off.”

“Typical.” Rvopteg muttered. “Black uniformed men, seen them?”

“They didn’t seem too friendly.”

“Number?”

“I saw two boats full of them not a week ago.”

“Have any of these?” He held up a musket in one hand, waving it in front of her.

“Yep, one each.”

“Here,” Rvopteg said, tossing her the silk robe. “Been quite helpful.”

Kialiki eagerly rubbed the fabric, an ecstatic look on her face. Without another word she dashed out of the tent as the two men began stargazing. Desperate to not lose track of her, Risawal hurried out of his hiding place, emerging under a wagon. Carefully he leaned out and checked for any nearby soldiers, finding the area deserted.

Spurred on, he dashed between the tents and out of the camp. Ja’eshuk overtook him just as they reached the tree line. They crept along the perimeter, searching for Kialiki. Risawal pulled out a bit of meat and nibbled on it as they went. Clear on the other side of the encampment they found her pacing along a stream.

“Glad you got out of there; I’m feeling pretty good about everything.”

“That was impressive work,” Risawal said, nodding.

“It was luck, and nothing more,” Ja’eshuk insisted. “Let’s get out of here.”

“Of course,” she said, starting up the creek.

“Hey, wait, isn’t the ocean that way?”

“It is, but I know a great little swimming hole just upstream.”

“But, but,” Ja’eshuk stammered. “Oh forget it.”

“Why are we going there?”

“Cause I wanna clean myself off before putting this on.”

Risawal blinked, slowing his pace. Something was bothering him, but he wasn’t exactly sure what it was. The stream flowed down an incline, small waterfalls marking the ascent. At the top they found a large pool expanding outwards from what Risawal realized must have been an ancient dam. The moment they arrived Kialiki hung her prize carefully on a tree branch before diving into the water, tossing her leafy garments into the current.

“Uh, are you sure it’s completely safe here?” Risawal asked nervously, looking up and down the waterway.

“Positive, this whole spot is rarely visited, except for those who know about it. Come on in, it’s nice.”

“Not sure that would be appropriate,” Risawal murmured.

“You sure?”

“Uh, erm, let me think a moment,” he replied, knowing that he was missing something.

He looked up at the peaceful sky, suddenly not sure of anything. Everything had grown fuzzy in his mind. Though a small part of him knew that he should be traveling onward, the voice was growing quiet and remote. Odd feelings were guiding him, and now he found himself unable to resist.

With a mad grin on his face he disrobed and jumped into the water. As the dirt and salt washed away, he felt a sense of peace about himself. He splashed Kialiki, and then at Ja’eshuk, who joined them moments later.  After a minute of paddling about, Risawal found that he enjoyed swimming, and soon lost track of time.

Whether minutes, or hours had passed he didn’t know, but eventually he decided to wash off his clothes. As he carefully removed the stolen food from his pockets, he laid his hand on a small amulet of Valtor. He stared at it for a moment, running his finger over the cold bronze. Then he tossed it aside, telling himself that he could pick it up later.

-#-

The forest seemed quite calm on their trek down the mountain. Howngthirr stayed back a few paces, smiling at Virpan as she and Ha’olewe walked practically arm in arm along the path. They rounded a road crossing, passing by a friendly wagon train trundling in the opposite direction. After a short while the path began to go up another incline and they passed through another tiny settlement tucked into a large clearing in the woods.

The place was quite like Ha’olewe’s town, though much smaller. Several locals greeted their guide though he kept on the move. On the far edge of town a gust of wind blew the scent of salt into their nostrils. Spurred on, they hurried down towards the ocean, their goal tantalizingly close. After what seemed like many miles the trees parted before them and a quaint looking seaside town appeared. At long last they had made it.

“Whelp, we’re here,” Ha’olewe said, “Now what?”

“Hmm, we probably ought to look for a boat,” Virpan said, starting towards the docks.

“How about a bit of food?” Howngthirr asked his stomach rumbling.

“Actually, I am feeling a bit hungry,” Virpan said quietly.

“Excellent, This town has a fish soup that is simply amazing.” Ha’olewe clapped his hands together, starting down the shoreline road.

The docks were mostly empty. A pair of trading vessels were moored, but appeared to be deserted. Three fishing skiffs were prepping to go on the next dock, but a stretch of fourteen piers were completely vacant. They walked past them one by one. At the far end of the harbor was anchored a boat unlike any other he had seen before.

No sails hung from its lone mast; instead the middle of the craft was dominated by a pair of chimneys sticking from the middle, each belching out an acrid looking smoke.

As they neared, she spotted the crew. A pale lot, dressed in long black overcoats and matching hats, each one carrying a musket over their shoulder and wearing a red patch on their upper arm. The one nearest stood at the end of the dock, a sour look on his face. He squinted at them as they passed, giving Howngthirr the creeps. “Who are those guys?”

“Our benefactors,” Ha’olewe replied, “They came from across the sea, and were instrumental in our struggle. Honestly I don’t believe we’d be talking now if it were not for their help.”

“Huh.”

At the end of the docks they arrived in a market of sorts, though the goods were handed out freely. Ha’olewe approached one young woman in an apron who was stirring a large cauldron of something and returned with three bowls of fish stew. Starving, Howngthirr relieved him of one and proceeded to the large tables set out in the square.

Virpan and Ha’olewe sat down in across from him and dug in. Not long into their meal Howngthirr noticed that a gaunt, goateed young man sitting just one table over was staring at them. Despite his young face, his hair was flecked with grey, and his eyes spoke of a long life already. The moment Howngthirr made eye contact with him the stranger rose and approached their table.

As he hovered over Howngthirr’s shoulder, Ha’olewe noticed him and suddenly looked quite pleased.

“Erm, can I help you?” Howngthirr asked awkwardly, twisting himself around. “Eh?”

“Pretty necklace.”

“Huh?” Virpan said, looking up at him. “Oh-oh, you mean this old thing? It’s just a jewel, um, and you are?”

“This is one of the founders of our movement,” Ha’olewe said happily.

“The founders you say?” Howngthirr asked, taking a good look at him.

“Look around you.” Ha’olewe said knowingly, “he was the one who inspired so many; who lead us to prosperity.”

“Now, now,” the founder said waving his hand, “I cannot take all the credit.”

“Well, it certainly is an interesting community you have here,” Virpan said thoughtfully.

“Yes, now, could you come with me please?” he asked, looking squarely at Virpan. “I would like a word with you, young lady.”

“Ooh, lucky,” Ha’olewe whispered.

“May I accompany her?” Howngthirr asked, “I’m her guardian, I guess, sort of…”

“But of course,” he said smiling, “This way.”

“May I come as well? I’m her lover.” Ha’olewe asked, Virpan blushing red as he spoke.

“But of course.”

After wolfing down the last of her stew, Virpan followed the founder through the village, coming upon a row of what once must have been luxurious manor houses, but were now somewhat and surrounded by small neighborhoods of huts.

They entered the largest of them, and pushed their way past a pair of musketeers and down a hallway. After passing a large steaming bathing chamber, they arrived in an office of sorts. The founder walked past a shelf crammed with books and tomes and sat down behind a desk, pushing his pillow to the floor.

“Now, to the matter at hand,” he said, leaning back. “Do you have a letter for me?”

“Huh? What?” Virpan asked, looking back at Ha’olwe.

“In that case, you had better take a seat.” He murmured. “There is only one other reason you would have that necklace, after all.”

Virpan did as instructed, the three of them sitting down in a row of rickety chairs.

“Your name is Virpan, correct?”

“How did you know?”

“A little bird told me”, he said quietly, reaching into his desk. “Legend says that only twenty Karuzat charms exist, did you know that?”

“N-no, I didn’t,” she stuttered, looking down at the necklace.

“It is perhaps a little more special that you thought,” he murmured, holding aloft another charm.

“Are you with The Order?”

“No,” he said, a harsh tone entering his voice, “this was given to me by a dear friend. As where the other three.”

“You have four of them?!” She exclaimed. “What is going on here, who are you?”

“He sent them here,” The founder murmured, ignoring her question, “Hiding valuable treasures, in a place that does not value treasure.”

“How did he get them?”

“Stole them, I suspect, though at least one he found through careful searching, or so he claims.”

“Who are you?” She repeated.

“Easy Virpan,” Ha’olewe said, putting a hand on her shoulder. “He’s a great man, and…”

“No, no, she indeed has reason to be suspicious, though I doubt those feelings will remain.”

“We’ll see. Now, just tell me everything you know.”

“That, my dear, shall take quite a long while.”

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