Chapter 19: Lost

“It’s Zhar’oth, you’re with him, aren’t you?” Virpan asked quickly.

“Is that what he’s calling himself these days? I’ve lost track, honestly.”

“It’s true then? What are you going to do? What’s his game?” Howngthirr demanded. “Out with it.”

“Relax, dear boy. Zhar’oth, as you call him, and I went through a tough time together some years ago. We were young and foolish then.”

“What does that mean?”

“I’m no longer privy to his, erm, game as you call it. No, he’s on his own mostly, though he comes by from time to time, and writes often.”

“Ok then, can you explain what happened?”

“We lost a number of dear friends, and a piece of ourselves I suppose. He was never the same again, nor was I.”

“You’re speaking in circles,” Howngthirr retorted. “What occurred exactly?”

“Myself and uh, Zhar’oth, and a few of our dearest friends, set out to find an artifact of great power,” he said, leaning forward. “Only the two of us returned. I wandered for many years looking for something to fill what I lost that day. I don’t suppose he ever stopped wandering.”

“Ugh, who sent you? Explain.”

“The Order of Valtor.” The founder uttered the last word contemptuously, his face recoiling as he formed the word. “They sent us to die.”

“To die?” Virpan whispered. “T-then, your expedition, it was a failure?”

“How I wish,” he replied bitterly, “we found the cursed thing. Found it, but didn’t understand it. Too late we learned that some of our knowledge was incorrect.” He looked down at the desk. “The Crown of the Frost Goddess, as it was called; the moment we unsealed the chamber the curse was upon us. There was nothing we could for any of them.”

“You mean, they died?” Howngthirr said horrified.

“I hope so,” he whispered, shivering.

“W-why are you telling me this?” Virpan demanded.

“Because, he told me to tell you,” he shouted, holding out a letter. “Said, that you had to know. That it was the last hope.”

Virpan paled and took a deep calming breath. “Where, uh, where is he now? Tell me, where is he? I must beat him to Kangangk Island.”

“I cannot say for certain,” he replied, “All I know is that he is determined to get to that library, and get hold of the Helm.”

“Are you going to try to stop us?” Howngthirr asked, leaning towards the door.

“No. It is your choice.”

“I’m leaving,” Virpan stated, walking across the threshold, “I’m going to find transport. I am going to get there.”

With that, Virpan stood up and walked from the room, Howngthirr and Ha’olewe scrambling to catch up. She was already back on the docks before remembering that there were precious few boats in the harbor, and no guarantee that any of them would take her. The other two ran up behind her, panting from the run.

“Ok, so you’re going to that island?” Ha’olewe asked.

“Yes, but there’s nobody to transport me.”

“There are two seized ships back at the other end of the harbor.”

Virpan took off down the docks, have heard all she needed to. Halfway to there something impossible appeared. She stopped in her tracks as Liakau’s boat quietly pulled up to the dock. He jumped up from the deck and ran over to her, beaming.

“How in the world did you get here?” Virpan asked dumbstruck.

“I’ve been sailing up and down the coast for about a day and a half,” he replied, leaning against the gunwale. “Seriously though, you gave me quite a scare.”

“That’s, interesting,” Howngthirr said, shaking his head.

“Shall we get back underway then, and uh, who’s the new guy?”

“First you tell me how you survived those raiders,” Virpan demanded, crossing her arms.

“I jumped overboard and waited for them to leave,” he stammered, appearing ashamed. “I’m sorry I could not help you.”

“No, not buying it,” Virpan said shortly, “you tell us the reason, or we’ll find other transport.”

“Believe me; no one else on this island will take you. I need you to recover something for me, and you need my boat.”

“I’ll take her on one of those trawlers,” Ha’olewe said, pointing down the docks.

“Hah, those things wouldn’t last a mile out to sea. Now come on, time’s a wastin’.”

“Look man, that’s just not going to cut it,” Howngthirr said, getting rather cross. “Now you tell us what really happened, or we’ll find another way.”

Laikau and Virpan stared at each other, each knowing the other was desperate to head for the island. For several moments they continued their game, waiting to see who would crack first. Finally the urge to get The Helm first won out, and Virpan climbed onboard.

“We are going to find out,” Virpan said quietly, “eventually, your secret will be revealed.”

“Whatever you think,” Liakau said, unconcerned, “new guy, you coming?”

“Oh, how long will this take?”

“Not more than a few nights.”

“I suppose I ought to come,” he said, glancing back towards his village. “I can’t let you people go to that island alone.”

With a sigh, he stepped up onto the ship, his eyes trained on Virpan. A guilty look flashed across his face, and he glanced back towards home, then back to Virpan. He shook his head and wandered across the deck. Glad he was coming along, Virpan settled in for the journey. The founder’s story played through her mind, his haunted tone resonating with her. For some reason she wanted to believe this friend of Zhar’oth. Believe in his sadness.

For a moment she entertained the idea. The ship heaved out of the dock, the thrill of the adventure returning. The thought was gone, rejected. He was a liar, she decided, put in her path to try and turn her back. “Well played, Zhar’oth,” she whispered, holding up the charm. “Well played indeed…”

-#-

Risawal, back in his still slightly damp clothes, felt refreshed. He stretched his arms above his head, starting down the trail. Ahead of him Kialiki was practically skipping, enamored with her new outfit.

“What a silly girl,” Ja’eshuk muttered.

“Let her have her fun,” Risawal said, clapping her on the shoulder. “There’s, something in the air, its good.”

“Hmm, you might be onto something there,” she replied, reciprocating the gesture.

He glanced at her, noticing she was once against dressed I the dark outfit he had first seen her in. A dim memory of being bound flashed through his mind, though it seemed from a different lifetime. As he walked down the forest path, other images of the long journey resurfaced.

Of the great storm, of the charging knights, of the murderous pirates, and above all: Ja’eshuk. Something had changed about her, Risawal thought; some force on the islands had made her into a different person. She had changed.

He stopped dead in his tracks, looking down at himself. Save for his now faded undershirt and worn pants, he possessed almost nothing of what he had left Wanevap with. The sword Father Torvipan had forged for him; lost less than a day after he had departed.

An eerie feeling crept over Risawal. He glanced back down the trail, knowing that he had forgotten something along the way. Then he felt around his neck, realizing that his amulet of Valtor was missing. Aghast, he spun around and hurried back down the trail.

“Where are you going?” Ja’eshuk called.

“Amulet. I forgot to pick up, ugh, so stupid.”

“Did you just call me stupid?!”

“No, me, myself, I forgot my amulet.”

Summoning all his strength, Risawal sprinted back to the river’s edge and began desperately combing through the sand. After three minutes of frantic searching he recovered the small piece of bronze and slipped it back around his neck.

“Feeling better now?” Ja’eshuk asked derisively.

“No,” Riswal replied. “This isn’t it.”

“Get a move on anyway,” she sighed, grabbing him by the arm.

“Yeah, we need to get to moving. These woods are not safe at night.”

With the sun now starting to set, the three walked quickly down the path, the sound of the stream soon replaced by virtual silence. As the light began to fade, Risawal pulled out the small amulet, looking over it once more. The eerie feeling from before told him that it was not the amulet that he had lost.

He sighed, slipping it back beneath his shirt. Kialiki held out her hand, summoning a blue glow into her palm. It shined brightly, lighting their path.

“Perhaps we should move in darkness?” Ja’eshuk asked, “you said these woods aren’t safe, that thing will probably attract quite a bit of attention.”

“The people here wouldn’t dare attack sorcerers, so, we’re not in much danger. Besides, the town isn’t far now.”

“I think it’s pretty,” Risawal said.

“You would, wouldn’t you? Oh well, I’m sure it will work out fine. Light the way, oh intrepid guide.”

Kialiki nodded, smiling at them. Their paced slowed, and despite her warnings, Risawal felt no sense of danger. The eerie sensation had faded from his mind, and he was now able to concentrate on getting to the library. Oddly, he didn’t feel much sense of urgency to get there either.

-#-

Virpan awoke to the sound of voices wafting over the ocean swells. Determined to find out what Liakau was up to, she flattened herself against the floor and silently scooted towards the door on her stomach.  She held her breath as her head collided with the door and began pushing it outwards.

For several agonizing seconds she pushed as lightly as possible, knowing a single squeak could ruin everything. Finally her eyes poked out from behind the frame giving her full view of the events on deck. The sight that greeted her was impossible. There was Liakau kneeling against the gunwale, and a pair of arms were clasped around his back.

He shifted slightly and a beautiful, golden haired girl emerged from behind his silhouette, clad only in a seashell necklace and a translucent white vest. Her pale skin gleamed in the soft lantern light, her eyes sparkling with joy. The two were embracing, her hands firmly around his waist. Then Virpan noticed the flaws. She was gleaming because she was soaking wet.

The girl opened her mouth, revealing a row of pointed teeth. Her hands were covered in silvery scales and partially webbed. A pair of slits ran underneath her ribcage, opening and closing with the rhythm of breath. Liakau held in his hands a mermaid. Virpan stared, dumbstruck, as the creature spoke.

“I dearly hope that our team collects enough arigha-shells to win this cycle,” she said, the sound emanating from her chest.

“You’re letting yourself down having Yilavi on you team,” Liakau said quietly.

“I am aware,” The mermaid spoke in a resigned tone, “but she is the princess’s tail-polisher, so we have little choice.”

“You’ll do fine, Siwari, your gathering skills are second to none,” he said smiling.

“I do hope so,” Siwari said, leaning in close, “Lisatu, are you really certain that you won’t need the two extra pearls?”

“I am. Honkort gave me more than enough to finish this trip out.”

“Hmm, I wish I could do more,” she sighed.

A swell carried her partially over the gunwale, revealing the top of her tail. Liakau caught her and gave her a kiss. Viapn looked away as they did so. Something about the sight of them struck her as profoundly wrong. Perhaps it was the sharp teeth, perhaps it was the way she spoke, or perhaps it was the fact that she was a fish.

The two smiled at each other, Siwari sinking back down. For an instant her eyes locked with Virpan. Immediately Siwari let go of Liakau and fell out of sight. Surprised, he leaned forward over the side and frantically looked around.

“Behind you,” came a voice from the depths.

He spun around and saw Vripan lying on the deck.

“Oh,” Liakau said, sitting down. “I don’t suppose I could tell you this was all a dream?”

“What. Was. That. Lisatu?”

“It’s easier for her to pronounce,” he said quietly, “Liakau, is a bit much.”

“You where making out with a mermaid,” she said, standing upright.

“Thank you for telling me, I was unaware of that.”

“How did, I mean, Ariga shells? Explain yourself!”

“What do think we ought to talk about?” he asked raising an eyebrow, still trying to brush the whole thing off. “Saying, ‘I love you’, or ‘you’re beautiful, should be save for special occasions.”

“You, you love that thing?” Virpan asked, “But she’s a fish!”

“She’s not a fish,” he corrected, “She eats fish, likes telling me about her favorite kinds sometimes.”

“But, but how do you, ugh, love her?” She asked, blushing scarlet.

“Rather like a human,” he replied nonchalantly, “Honestly, there are bigger hurtl…”

“Do not stand there and act like this is normal!” Virpan exclaimed. “How, how did you, how did…”

“Five years ago I was on a ship that wrecked. She saved me, took me to shore. When I came to, I saw her over me. Then I leaned up and kissed her. We’ve been meeting quietly ever since.”

“B-but, oh, how do you expect to have a life with her?”

“I need the Amulet of Akulu, then we can be together.”

“Will it turn her human?” Virpan asked quickly. “W-will it do something to you? What happens after you find it?”

“All I need is for you to find the amulet,” he said sighing, “I’ve told you too much already. Please, just go back to bed.”

“B-b-b-b-but…” Virpan murmured, feeling a headache coming on.

Liakau remained silent, staring at her. There was still no anger or even annoyance in his eyes. After another staring contest, Virpan decided she knew all she wanted and stumbled back into the cabin. Exhausted, she fell back onto the cot. Soon her mind was filled with bizarre dreams.

In the shifting world of dreams, she saw Liakau walking down a beach Talisman in hand. Then he stepped into the sea and put the thing around his neck, becoming a tentacle covered abomination. She tried to run, but her own legs had fused together. Through a sea of flames she swam, trying to outrun the dread king.

-#-

Kialiki stopped at the top of a small hillock, the sound of crashing ocean waves echoing through the trees. Risawal joined her, looking first at the beach only a few yards away, and then at a little harbor town not far down the sand. It was tucked into a little bay the other side of which he could just barely make out across the dark stretch of sea.

Enticed by the thoughts of food and shelter, the three raced down the beach, slowing as they neared the hamlet. A lone night watchman could be seen, prowling the shore not far ahead. They approached him, the man shining his lantern upon them as they drew near.

“Who goes there?” He asked in a weary tone.

“Kialiki, the sorceress,” she declared, holding the blue light aloft. “Can you spare rooms for three travelers?”

“Sorceress you say? Perhaps you can be of assistance.”

“Oh?”

“Our little bay has become quite shallow, would it be possible…”

“Say no more,” she said, reaching her hands beneath the water.

A flash of blue light shot through the centre of the bay, a wave of muddy water rising from the centre. Kialiki swayed as the derbies sloshed onto the shores. The watchman clapped before ushering them to a barn on the edge of town. He threw open the doors, revealing a number of haystacks littered on the floor.

“Welp, here you go.”

“Thanks,” Kialiki muttered, falling into the nearest pile.

“Uh, this isn’t exactly what we had in mind,” Ja’eshuk said, turning to face him.

“It’s all there is, I’m afraid.”

“This is fine,” Kialiki said, “don’t be so picky.”

“Uh, you sure?” Risawal asked, poking at the nearest pile. “We did ask for beds.”

“Just be glad you’re not out in the forest with the tribals,” the watchman snorted. “Now I’ve got to be going.”

Risawal stared at the piles of hay, unable to shake the feeling that they had been cheated. The doors clattered shut behind them, sending them into almost complete darkness. Hands outstretched, he felt his way forward, finding a sufficiently soft spot to lie in.

“Say, Kialiki, why did you not, erm, insist on better accommodations?”

“Doubt this little town has them. Besides, it’s been awhile since I’ve had a roll in the hay.”

“I’m sure someone has a better bed available,” Ja’eshuk said quietly, “we didn’t use the proper persuasion.”

“And what do you mean by that?”

“Just get some rest you two, please.”

“Fine,” Risawal mumbled, flopping down onto the nearest pile.

It took several minutes of tossing before Risawal managed to get comfortable. Even then pieces of hay poked and irritated him through any gap in his clothing. Slowly the waking world dissolved, and he found himself rolling down a gravelly hillside beneath an orange sky. Ahead of him was a temple of white marble, which he rolled into.

Sliding across the floor, he stared at the ceiling where a large fresco of two nude woman doing battle caught his eye. An odd rumbling noise dominated the room and he came to rest at the feet of a dragon statue. Orange light filled the room, the rumbling becoming overwhelming. He stared up into the dragon’s eyes, the rubies flashing on and off. Then the rumbling ended, and silence fell.

Riswal sat bolt upright, back in the barn, and stared at a strange light filtering through the slats in the barn door. In a near trance, he staggered to the door, pressing his nose into a slat and leaning forward on his face. Sounds of speech penetrated his skull but he couldn’t understand a word of it. As his eyes adjusted, he began making out shapes moving just outside.

A hand reached his shoulder and dragged him back from the door.

“Humawum.”

“Shush, let me take a look,” Ja’eshuk said, gently pulling the door open a crack.

Despite being pulled back, Risawal just bumped back against the door and peered outside. Several villagers were speaking to a man in a long, black coat and billed hat. Behind him stood a similarly dressed man holding a lantern which was blindingly bright. He tried listening in to what was being said, but the language they spoke was unintelligible.

“Interesting.” Kialiki said, pushing up next to him.

“Gruh, where, oh.”

“Shush. I’m trying to listen.” Ja’eshuk hissed.

“Do you understand a word of they’re saying?”

“Uh, I’m trying to…”

“They’re making a delivery, weapons for this area, something about being a comrade, oh, and they’re going to sail past Manali island and, and hit it with rocks. Maybe?”

“So?”

“Manali is better known by its continental name, Kagnank.”

Ja’eshuk and Risawal looked at each other, than at her.

“Follow me,” Ja’eshuk said, heading for the back.

“What are you doing?” Risawal asked. “Hey, hey what are you…”

“Shush!”

She kicked a hole in the back of the barn and clambered through. Risawal felt his stomach twist. He followed her, breaking a few bits of the rotten planks as he did so. Once outside, they circled around the barn, spotting a bizarre ship sitting in the bay. It lacked sails, instead having a pair of chimneys in the middle.

Licking her lips, Ja’eshuk crept towards it, much to the other’s chagrin. To afraid to speak, lest they be overheard, Risawal and Kialiki followed suit. They formed up on a small fishing hut, Ja’eshuk checking around the corner for something.

“What. Are. We. Doing?” Risawal whispered.

“Getting on that boat.”

“But, Watul, why?”

“Any other ideas on how we reach Kagnank?”

“There’s just has to be a better way.”

“I’ll take that as a no. Go, now.”

She stole out into the bay and waded out to the ship. Grimacing, Risawal followed after her. They reached a ladder jutting out from the side and clambered up to the deck. There, soaked and exposed, the three snuck down the side of ship until they came upon a small rowboat with a covering hanging from an odd contraption of pulleys, ropes, and metal bars.

Ja’eshuk pulled the canvas ajar as they clambered inside. She pulled it back over them as a light approached. A lantern bearing watchman passed only inches away. Feeling a sense of dread, Risawal found himself unable to sleep. He closed his eyes and shifted against the wooden seats until he minimized his discomfort.

Without warning a loud rumbling began. The ship began to move, an acrid smell wafting over them.  Risawal pulled off his wet boots and forced his eyes shut, knowing that it was going to be a very long night.

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