Chapter 19: Lost
â€œItâ€™s Zharâ€™oth, youâ€™re with him, arenâ€™t you?â€ Virpan asked quickly.
â€œIs that what heâ€™s calling himself these days? Iâ€™ve lost track, honestly.â€
â€œItâ€™s true then? What are you going to do? Whatâ€™s his game?â€ Howngthirr demanded. â€œOut with it.â€
â€œRelax, dear boy. Zharâ€™oth, as you call him, and I went through a tough time together some years ago. We were young and foolish then.â€
â€œWhat does that mean?â€
â€œIâ€™m no longer privy to his, erm, game as you call it. No, heâ€™s on his own mostly, though he comes by from time to time, and writes often.â€
â€œOk then, can you explain what happened?â€
â€œWe lost a number of dear friends, and a piece of ourselves I suppose. He was never the same again, nor was I.â€
â€œYouâ€™re speaking in circles,â€ Howngthirr retorted. â€œWhat occurred exactly?â€
â€œMyself and uh, Zharâ€™oth, and a few of our dearest friends, set out to find an artifact of great power,â€ he said, leaning forward. â€œOnly the two of us returned. I wandered for many years looking for something to fill what I lost that day. I donâ€™t suppose he ever stopped wandering.â€
â€œUgh, who sent you? Explain.â€
â€œThe Order of Valtor.â€ The founder uttered the last word contemptuously, his face recoiling as he formed the word. â€œThey sent us to die.â€
â€œTo die?â€ Virpan whispered. â€œT-then, your expedition, it was a failure?â€
â€œHow I wish,â€ he replied bitterly, â€œwe found the cursed thing. Found it, but didnâ€™t understand it. Too late we learned that some of our knowledge was incorrect.â€ He looked down at the desk. â€œThe 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.â€
â€œYou mean, they died?â€ Howngthirr said horrified.
â€œI hope so,â€ he whispered, shivering.
â€œW-why are you telling me this?â€ Virpan demanded.
â€œBecause, he told me to tell you,â€ he shouted, holding out a letter. â€œSaid, that you had to know. That it was the last hope.â€
Virpan paled and took a deep calming breath. â€œWhere, uh, where is he now? Tell me, where is he? I must beat him to Kangangk Island.â€
â€œI cannot say for certain,â€ he replied, â€œAll I know is that he is determined to get to that library, and get hold of the Helm.â€
â€œAre you going to try to stop us?â€ Howngthirr asked, leaning towards the door.
â€œNo. It is your choice.â€
â€œIâ€™m leaving,â€ Virpan stated, walking across the threshold, â€œIâ€™m going to find transport. I am going to get there.â€
With that, Virpan stood up and walked from the room, Howngthirr and Haâ€™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.
â€œOk, so youâ€™re going to that island?â€ Haâ€™olewe asked.
â€œYes, but thereâ€™s nobody to transport me.â€
â€œThere are two seized ships back at the other end of the harbor.â€
Virpan took off down the docks, have heard all she needed to. Halfway to there something impossible appeared. She stopped in her tracks as Liakauâ€™s boat quietly pulled up to the dock. He jumped up from the deck and ran over to her, beaming.
â€œHow in the world did you get here?â€ Virpan asked dumbstruck.
â€œIâ€™ve been sailing up and down the coast for about a day and a half,â€ he replied, leaning against the gunwale. â€œSeriously though, you gave me quite a scare.â€
â€œThatâ€™s, interesting,â€ Howngthirr said, shaking his head.
â€œShall we get back underway then, and uh, whoâ€™s the new guy?â€
â€œFirst you tell me how you survived those raiders,â€ Virpan demanded, crossing her arms.
â€œI jumped overboard and waited for them to leave,â€ he stammered, appearing ashamed. â€œIâ€™m sorry I could not help you.â€
â€œNo, not buying it,â€ Virpan said shortly, â€œyou tell us the reason, or weâ€™ll find other transport.â€
â€œBelieve me; no one else on this island will take you. I need you to recover something for me, and you need my boat.â€
â€œIâ€™ll take her on one of those trawlers,â€ Haâ€™olewe said, pointing down the docks.
â€œHah, those things wouldnâ€™t last a mile out to sea. Now come on, timeâ€™s a wastinâ€™.â€
â€œLook man, thatâ€™s just not going to cut it,â€ Howngthirr said, getting rather cross. â€œNow you tell us what really happened, or weâ€™ll find another way.â€
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.
â€œWe are going to find out,â€ Virpan said quietly, â€œeventually, your secret will be revealed.â€
â€œWhatever you think,â€ Liakau said, unconcerned, â€œnew guy, you coming?â€
â€œOh, how long will this take?â€
â€œNot more than a few nights.â€
â€œI suppose I ought to come,â€ he said, glancing back towards his village. â€œI canâ€™t let you people go to that island alone.â€
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 founderâ€™s story played through her mind, his haunted tone resonating with her. For some reason she wanted to believe this friend of Zharâ€™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. â€œWell played, Zharâ€™oth,â€ she whispered, holding up the charm. â€œWell played indeedâ€¦â€
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.
â€œWhat a silly girl,â€ Jaâ€™eshuk muttered.
â€œLet her have her fun,â€ Risawal said, clapping her on the shoulder. â€œThereâ€™s, something in the air, its good.â€
â€œHmm, you might be onto something there,â€ 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: Jaâ€™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.
â€œWhere are you going?â€ Jaâ€™eshuk called.
â€œAmulet. I forgot to pick up, ugh, so stupid.â€
â€œDid you just call me stupid?!â€
â€œNo, me, myself, I forgot my amulet.â€
Summoning all his strength, Risawal sprinted back to the riverâ€™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.
â€œFeeling better now?â€ Jaâ€™eshuk asked derisively.
â€œNo,â€ Riswal replied. â€œThis isnâ€™t it.â€
â€œGet a move on anyway,â€ she sighed, grabbing him by the arm.
â€œYeah, we need to get to moving. These woods are not safe at night.â€
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.
â€œPerhaps we should move in darkness?â€ Jaâ€™eshuk asked, â€œyou said these woods arenâ€™t safe, that thing will probably attract quite a bit of attention.â€
â€œThe people here wouldnâ€™t dare attack sorcerers, so, weâ€™re not in much danger. Besides, the town isnâ€™t far now.â€
â€œI think itâ€™s pretty,â€ Risawal said.
â€œYou would, wouldnâ€™t you? Oh well, Iâ€™m sure it will work out fine. Light the way, oh intrepid guide.â€
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 didnâ€™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.Â 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.
â€œI dearly hope that our team collects enough arigha-shells to win this cycle,â€ she said, the sound emanating from her chest.
â€œYouâ€™re letting yourself down having Yilavi on you team,â€ Liakau said quietly.
â€œI am aware,â€ The mermaid spoke in a resigned tone, â€œbut she is the princessâ€™s tail-polisher, so we have little choice.â€
â€œYouâ€™ll do fine, Siwari, your gathering skills are second to none,â€ he said smiling.
â€œI do hope so,â€ Siwari said, leaning in close, â€œLisatu, are you really certain that you wonâ€™t need the two extra pearls?â€
â€œI am. Honkort gave me more than enough to finish this trip out.â€
â€œHmm, I wish I could do more,â€ 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.
â€œBehind you,â€ came a voice from the depths.
He spun around and saw Vripan lying on the deck.
â€œOh,â€ Liakau said, sitting down. â€œI donâ€™t suppose I could tell you this was all a dream?â€
â€œWhat. Was. That. Lisatu?â€
â€œItâ€™s easier for her to pronounce,â€ he said quietly, â€œLiakau, is a bit much.â€
â€œYou where making out with a mermaid,â€ she said, standing upright.
â€œThank you for telling me, I was unaware of that.â€
â€œHow did, I mean, Ariga shells? Explain yourself!â€
â€œWhat do think we ought to talk about?â€ he asked raising an eyebrow, still trying to brush the whole thing off. â€œSaying, â€˜I love youâ€™, or â€˜youâ€™re beautiful, should be save for special occasions.â€
â€œYou, you love that thing?â€ Virpan asked, â€œBut sheâ€™s a fish!â€
â€œSheâ€™s not a fish,â€ he corrected, â€œShe eats fish, likes telling me about her favorite kinds sometimes.â€
â€œBut, but how do you, ugh, love her?â€ She asked, blushing scarlet.
â€œRather like a human,â€ he replied nonchalantly, â€œHonestly, there are bigger hurtlâ€¦â€
â€œDo not stand there and act like this is normal!â€ Virpan exclaimed. â€œHow, how did you, how didâ€¦â€
â€œFive 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. Weâ€™ve been meeting quietly ever since.â€
â€œB-but, oh, how do you expect to have a life with her?â€
â€œI need the Amulet of Akulu, then we can be together.â€
â€œWill it turn her human?â€ Virpan asked quickly. â€œW-will it do something to you? What happens after you find it?â€
â€œAll I need is for you to find the amulet,â€ he said sighing, â€œIâ€™ve told you too much already. Please, just go back to bed.â€
â€œB-b-b-b-butâ€¦â€ 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.
â€œWho goes there?â€ He asked in a weary tone.
â€œKialiki, the sorceress,â€ she declared, holding the blue light aloft. â€œCan you spare rooms for three travelers?â€
â€œSorceress you say? Perhaps you can be of assistance.â€
â€œOur little bay has become quite shallow, would it be possibleâ€¦â€
â€œSay no more,â€ 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.
â€œWelp, here you go.â€
â€œThanks,â€ Kialiki muttered, falling into the nearest pile.
â€œUh, this isnâ€™t exactly what we had in mind,â€ Jaâ€™eshuk said, turning to face him.
â€œItâ€™s all there is, Iâ€™m afraid.â€
â€œThis is fine,â€ Kialiki said, â€œdonâ€™t be so picky.â€
â€œUh, you sure?â€ Risawal asked, poking at the nearest pile. â€œWe did ask for beds.â€
â€œJust be glad youâ€™re not out in the forest with the tribals,â€ the watchman snorted. â€œNow Iâ€™ve got to be going.â€
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.
â€œSay, Kialiki, why did you not, erm, insist on better accommodations?â€
â€œDoubt this little town has them. Besides, itâ€™s been awhile since Iâ€™ve had a roll in the hay.â€
â€œIâ€™m sure someone has a better bed available,â€ Jaâ€™eshuk said quietly, â€œwe didnâ€™t use the proper persuasion.â€
â€œAnd what do you mean by that?â€
â€œJust get some rest you two, please.â€
â€œFine,â€ 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 dragonâ€™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 couldnâ€™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.
â€œShush, let me take a look,â€ Jaâ€™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.
â€œInteresting.â€ Kialiki said, pushing up next to him.
â€œGruh, where, oh.â€
â€œShush. Iâ€™m trying to listen.â€ Jaâ€™eshuk hissed.
â€œDo you understand a word of theyâ€™re saying?â€
â€œUh, Iâ€™m trying toâ€¦â€
â€œTheyâ€™re making a delivery, weapons for this area, something about being a comrade, oh, and theyâ€™re going to sail past Manali island and, and hit it with rocks. Maybe?â€
â€œManali is better known by its continental name, Kagnank.â€
Jaâ€™eshuk and Risawal looked at each other, than at her.
â€œFollow me,â€ Jaâ€™eshuk said, heading for the back.
â€œWhat are you doing?â€ Risawal asked. â€œHey, hey what are youâ€¦â€
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, Jaâ€™eshuk crept towards it, much to the otherâ€™s chagrin. To afraid to speak, lest they be overheard, Risawal and Kialiki followed suit. They formed up on a small fishing hut, Jaâ€™eshuk checking around the corner for something.
â€œWhat. Are. We. Doing?â€ Risawal whispered.
â€œGetting on that boat.â€
â€œBut, Watul, why?â€
â€œAny other ideas on how we reach Kagnank?â€
â€œThereâ€™s just has to be a better way.â€
â€œIâ€™ll take that as a no. Go, now.â€
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.
Jaâ€™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. Â Risawal pulled off his wet boots and forced his eyes shut, knowing that it was going to be a very long night.