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 Jaâ€™eshuk awake.
â€œUgh, what is it?â€
â€œThereâ€™s a war breaking out over there,â€ he replied calmly.
â€œWhat.â€ Jaâ€™eshuk sat bolt upright, her eyes flashing from one end of the spectacle to the other. Then she grabbed Kialiki and Risawalâ€™s arm. â€œDown.â€
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.
â€œW-who was that guy, guy I just blasted?â€ She asked, concerned.
â€œMahlapren,â€ Risawal hissed, peering out the window. â€œAnd theyâ€™re winning too.â€
â€œAre you sure?â€
â€œPositive. Iâ€™d know that banner anywhere.â€
Something slammed into the side of the hut, sending bits of plaster flying across the room. Jaâ€™eshuk ran up to the door and glanced outside.
â€œI-I think thereâ€™s an opening, follow me.â€
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 riderâ€™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 wouldnâ€™t last, Risawal sprinted into the creek and through the rapids. Near the edge the clearing was a shrub where Jaâ€™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.
â€œOoff, Kialiki, Iâ€™m not a cushion.â€
â€œOoh, sorry,â€ she replied rolling off him. â€œYou alright?â€
â€œNo, weâ€™re not alright,â€ Jaâ€™eshuk answered, grabbing Risawal and dragged him up. â€œWeâ€™re stuck in the middle of a warzone with no supplies.â€
â€œMaybe they have some stuff we could use?â€ Kialiki suggested.
Risawal and Jaâ€™eshuk looked over, spotting a wagon being pulled up the hill by several of the Mahlapren soldiers. Jaâ€™eshuk snorted, shaking her head.
â€œFat chance, theyâ€™re probably not in the bartering mood, though, hmm, Iâ€™d bet their encampment is lightly guarded,â€ she murmured, slipping out of cover. â€œFollow me; Iâ€™ve got a new plan.â€
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, Jaâ€™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 Risawalâ€™s nose and the bottom fell out of his stomach. Starving, he crept up as close as he could, kneeling behind a large shrub. Jaâ€™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 Risawalâ€™s shoulder.
â€œGot a plan then?â€ She asked.
â€œShh,â€ Jaâ€™eshuk hissed. â€œIâ€™m trying to think.â€
â€œI got one,â€ Kialiki said brightly, hopping up.
â€œAck, stop,â€ Jaâ€™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. Jaâ€™eshuk and Risawal slapped themselves.
â€œHello there, Iâ€™m a traveling sorceress,â€ she said, summoning a blue orb into her hand. â€œNeat, huh?â€
â€œWatch this.â€ She threw the orb into the ground, blasting a wave of leaves up around them.
â€œAch,â€ one sentry spat, waving the leaves away. â€œCould you please state your business here?â€
â€œI told you, just a travelling sorceress.â€
â€œSomethingâ€™s not right here. Miss, weâ€™re going to have a few words with yuh.â€
â€œOh good, do you have a new dress I might borrow?â€
â€œPlease, follow me.â€ He grabbed her forearm. â€œOy, Rvopteg should know about this.â€
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 Jaâ€™eshuk. â€œYou thinkâ€¦â€
â€œBeginnerâ€™s luck, nothing more,â€ she said, grabbing his hand. â€œNow move.â€
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 Jaâ€™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, Jaâ€™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 guardâ€™s nervous tapping and quiet grumbling, the man rose to his feet, glancing back at Kialiki.
â€œStupid green-alright, you wait here, Iâ€™ve gotta go check on that moron.â€
â€œNo problem,â€ she replied saluting. â€œOh, and could you look for that new dress while youâ€™re out there?â€
â€œJust stay put, please.â€
The moment he vanished Risawal and Jaâ€™eshuk clambered out into the tent, Jaâ€™eshuk immediately marching up to Kialiki.
â€œWhat were you thinking back there?â€
â€œThatâ€™s not the point.â€
â€œNo, that is the point. It worked. I knew it would work. You just have to relax around here, let things happen.â€
â€œUgh, uh, those throwing knives would come in handy.â€
Jaâ€™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 Jaâ€™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.
â€œMust be the one caught sneaking, eh?â€ He asked, clasping his gloved hands together.
â€œI walked up to the man,â€ she replied, â€œIâ€™m a traveling sorceress.â€
â€œHeard that, apparently you desire a proper dress?â€ He held out a blue silk robe.
â€œOoh, thatâ€™s neat!â€ She exclaimed, grabbing it.
â€œHah, my compliments,â€ the grey haired man said laughing, â€œGovernor Hrogruk, the rightful administrator of these islands. And my cyclopean friend here is Rvopteg.â€
â€œKialiki.â€ She grasped his hand and shook it vigorously.
â€œI have been told that you have some interesting tattoos.â€
â€œThey look nice, or so one boy thinks.â€
â€œI wouldnâ€™t know,â€ Hrogruk said, tapping a cane against his brow. â€œBut I do have a funny feeling that youâ€™re going to tell me everything I want to know.â€
â€œAnd what might that be?â€
â€œIron crown, yellow cape, affinity for Allushuk; seen him?â€ Rvopteg asked.
â€œHe was a nasty fellow, passed by him about three weeks ago near Leweowika village. Seemed intent on taking the place over.â€
â€œHmm, thatâ€™s doable.â€ Governor Hrogruk muttered. â€œIf we land just up the coast, under the cover of darkness, then, yes.â€
â€œExchange any words?â€ Rvopteg asked.
â€œNo, his guards chased me off.â€
â€œTypical.â€ Rvopteg muttered. â€œBlack uniformed men, seen them?â€
â€œThey didnâ€™t seem too friendly.â€
â€œI saw two boats full of them not a week ago.â€
â€œHave any of these?â€ He held up a musket in one hand, waving it in front of her.
â€œYep, one each.â€
â€œHere,â€ Rvopteg said, tossing her the silk robe. â€œBeen quite helpful.â€
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. Jaâ€™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.
â€œGlad you got out of there; Iâ€™m feeling pretty good about everything.â€
â€œThat was impressive work,â€ Risawal said, nodding.
â€œIt was luck, and nothing more,â€ Jaâ€™eshuk insisted. â€œLetâ€™s get out of here.â€
â€œOf course,â€ she said, starting up the creek.
â€œHey, wait, isnâ€™t the ocean that way?â€
â€œIt is, but I know a great little swimming hole just upstream.â€
â€œBut, but,â€ Jaâ€™eshuk stammered. â€œOh forget it.â€
â€œWhy are we going there?â€
â€œCause I wanna clean myself off before putting this on.â€
Risawal blinked, slowing his pace. Something was bothering him, but he wasnâ€™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.
â€œUh, are you sure itâ€™s completely safe here?â€ Risawal asked nervously, looking up and down the waterway.
â€œPositive, this whole spot is rarely visited, except for those who know about it. Come on in, itâ€™s nice.â€
â€œNot sure that would be appropriate,â€ Risawal murmured.
â€œUh, erm, let me think a moment,â€ 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 Jaâ€™eshuk, who joined them moments later.Â 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 didnâ€™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 Haâ€™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 Haâ€™oleweâ€™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.
â€œWhelp, weâ€™re here,â€ Haâ€™olewe said, â€œNow what?â€
â€œHmm, we probably ought to look for a boat,â€ Virpan said, starting towards the docks.
â€œHow about a bit of food?â€ Howngthirr asked his stomach rumbling.
â€œActually, I am feeling a bit hungry,â€ Virpan said quietly.
â€œExcellent, This town has a fish soup that is simply amazing.â€ Haâ€™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. â€œWho are those guys?â€
â€œOur benefactors,â€ Haâ€™olewe replied, â€œThey came from across the sea, and were instrumental in our struggle. Honestly I donâ€™t believe weâ€™d be talking now if it were not for their help.â€
At the end of the docks they arrived in a market of sorts, though the goods were handed out freely. Haâ€™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 Haâ€™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 Howngthirrâ€™s shoulder, Haâ€™olewe noticed him and suddenly looked quite pleased.
â€œErm, can I help you?â€ Howngthirr asked awkwardly, twisting himself around. â€œEh?â€
â€œHuh?â€ Virpan said, looking up at him. â€œOh-oh, you mean this old thing? Itâ€™s just a jewel, um, and you are?â€
â€œThis is one of the founders of our movement,â€ Haâ€™olewe said happily.
â€œThe founders you say?â€ Howngthirr asked, taking a good look at him.
â€œLook around you.â€ Haâ€™olewe said knowingly, â€œhe was the one who inspired so many; who lead us to prosperity.â€
â€œNow, now,â€ the founder said waving his hand, â€œI cannot take all the credit.â€
â€œWell, it certainly is an interesting community you have here,â€ Virpan said thoughtfully.
â€œYes, now, could you come with me please?â€ he asked, looking squarely at Virpan. â€œI would like a word with you, young lady.â€
â€œOoh, lucky,â€ Haâ€™olewe whispered.
â€œMay I accompany her?â€ Howngthirr asked, â€œIâ€™m her guardian, I guess, sort ofâ€¦â€
â€œBut of course,â€ he said smiling, â€œThis way.â€
â€œMay I come as well? Iâ€™m her lover.â€ Haâ€™olewe asked, Virpan blushing red as he spoke.
â€œBut of course.â€
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.
â€œNow, to the matter at hand,â€ he said, leaning back. â€œDo you have a letter for me?â€
â€œHuh? What?â€ Virpan asked, looking back at Haâ€™olwe.
â€œIn that case, you had better take a seat.â€ He murmured. â€œThere is only one other reason you would have that necklace, after all.â€
Virpan did as instructed, the three of them sitting down in a row of rickety chairs.
â€œYour name is Virpan, correct?â€
â€œHow did you know?â€
â€œA little bird told meâ€, he said quietly, reaching into his desk. â€œLegend says that only twenty Karuzat charms exist, did you know that?â€
â€œN-no, I didnâ€™t,â€ she stuttered, looking down at the necklace.
â€œIt is perhaps a little more special that you thought,â€ he murmured, holding aloft another charm.
â€œAre you with The Order?â€
â€œNo,â€ he said, a harsh tone entering his voice, â€œthis was given to me by a dear friend. As where the other three.â€
â€œYou have four of them?!â€ She exclaimed. â€œWhat is going on here, who are you?â€
â€œHe sent them here,â€ The founder murmured, ignoring her question, â€œHiding valuable treasures, in a place that does not value treasure.â€
â€œHow did he get them?â€
â€œStole them, I suspect, though at least one he found through careful searching, or so he claims.â€
â€œWho are you?â€ She repeated.
â€œEasy Virpan,â€ Haâ€™olewe said, putting a hand on her shoulder. â€œHeâ€™s a great man, andâ€¦â€
â€œNo, no, she indeed has reason to be suspicious, though I doubt those feelings will remain.â€
â€œWeâ€™ll see. Now, just tell me everything you know.â€
â€œThat, my dear, shall take quite a long while.â€