Chapter 21: The Crypt

Ha’olewe’s footfalls echoed from the alcoves lining the walls. Virpan remained close behind him as they cautiously made their way through the darkened chamber. The feeble light of her oil lamp lit up carvings of grotesque faces sunk into the stone walls. The monsters and daemons glared out at them from their lairs, standing eternal vigil over the ancient nobles. Spotting something odd, Virpan slowed and examined one of the sarcophagi more closely.

A line of glyphs ran in columns across the man’s stone chest, leaving a message for the ages. She gazed at the nameless face, doomed to stare upwards for eternity. At the end of the chamber was a well of stairs, spiraling downward into a thick blackness. Starting to regret their bargain, Ha’olewe began the long descent. A scene of swirling figures and patterns lined the wall for their entire decent; men on horseback, fearsome beasts, and burning cities.

The stairs ended in a vaulted room with a well in the centre, the ceiling painted with two massive creatures locked in an eternal struggle. One was a formless, tentacle covered monstrosity with a beak, while the other was a lion headed horse with human hands instead of hooves. Virpan gazed at the images, trying to image what they could have meant.

After a minute of staring, Virpan tore her eyes from the fresco and examined the ornate sarcophagi lining the walls, noting several empty alcoves. Hoping this was the correct room; she poured over the note Liakau had given her and compared the markings to those on the sarcophagi. A gust of air blew through the camber from above, urging her to hurry. In the far corner of the room she found an unadorned coffin, the markings in the alcove matching those on the scroll.

“This looks like the one,” Ha’olewe said quietly.

“Indeed,” Virpan muttered, grabbing hold of the lid. “You get the other end.”

With a mighty heave they pulled it loose, the stone slab slamming into the floor with an unnerving crash. Virpan looked all around the chamber, ears ringing, hoping that no one heard the noise. Then she took the lamp and leaned in close. The coffin was empty, save for a small pouch crumpled in one corner.

Virpan gingerly grabbed the pouch by one corner and shook it open. Inside was an ornate talisman attached to a gold necklace. It tumbled to the bottom of the coffin. Hesitantly, she poked it, feeling a slight tingling sensation when her finger touched it. Not encouraged by this, she slid it back into the pouch and carefully tied it to her waist.

She and Ha’olewe walked back towards the entrance, this time looking into the deep well in the middle of the room. A pool of water lay just a few feet down, the surface rising and falling rhythmically. Virpan leaned against the rim and took a closer look. From the rim of salt around the edge, she realized that it must connect to the ocean.

A noise emanated from above, echoing down the stairs. She and Ha’olewe exchanged a worried glance, hoping it wasn’t what they thought it was. As they mounted the spiral stairs, the noise grew louder. When they reached the long chamber it became clear that voices were shouting from not far away.

Ha’olewe raised his musket, Virpan her bow. A figure arrived at the broken seal, his eyes growing wide at the sight of them.

“Marauders!” he called, a frightening number of feet approaching.

Knowing they had only one way out now, Virpan grabbed the lamp and hurled it at the man. A sheet of flames cover the entrance, the man bidding a hasty retreat. Ha’olewe looked at her, a hopeless expression on his face. She grabbed his wrist and hauled him back down the stairs. Shouts came from above as they raced through darkness. When they reached the royal chamber, Ha’olewe began running around in circles.

“We’re swimming out of here!” Virpan called, making for the well.

“Are you crazy?!”

“You have a better idea?” she shouted, a note of fear in her voice.

With a final sigh, they jumped over the rim and splashed into the well, swimming down in pitch darkness, feeling the sides of the well for any link to the sea. After a frightening minute Ha’olewe tugged on her sleeve and pulled her through an unseen tunnel. They crawled and heaved themselves along, lungs ready to burst. For a moment, Virpan reached for the talisman at her side, the fear of drowning hitting home.

At the end of the tunnel they came to a pile of rocks, dim light filtering through. In a fury of desperate strength, Ha’olewe ripped the stones away, kicking through the mess. Stating to see things, they used their last ounces of strength and bobbed to the surface, coughing and sputtering in the surf. Exhausted, they waded in towards the nearby shore, collapsing onto the sand. For a time they remained still, simply glad to be alive.

-#-

Howngthirr crashed through another large bush, falling down a steep embankment. He skidded to a narrow creek bed, the sounds of pursuit still not far behind. Cursing his plan, he picked himself back up and barreled down the waterway.

Tired, sore, and running out of options, Howngthirr hoped that if he made it back to Liakau’s launch he could reach the relative safety of his boat. Running at break neck speed, he raced around a bend and discovered too late that the creek ended in a waterfall.

With a splash he landed in a mercifully deep pond of water, though he still got a lung full of water. He sputtered to the surface, coming face to face with a young woman covered in blue tattoos. He stared at her for a moment before turning back around to the cliff he had just dropped off.

A swarm of men had gathered there, some already clambering down to where he was. The woman stepped forward, her hand glowing. She let loose a blast of energy, slamming the crowd back. The men bit a hasty retreat, vanishing into the foliage.

“Wh-who are you?” Howngthirr croaked.

“I am the Queen of the Mountain,” she replied, her tattoos starting to glow brightly, “Master of the seven seas.”

“Wow, really?”

“Just kidding,” she said, the glow vanishing. “I’m Kialiki, a travelling sorceress.”

“Wow, that’s still pretty neat.”

“Glad you think so,” she replied, stepping out of the water. “I’m setting up a camp for my companions, but, this spot might not be very good, seeing as how hose ruffians know we’re here.”

“That’s a pretty robe.”

“Thanks,” she said, slipping it on, “I’m growing quite fond of it.”

“Your tattoos are nice too.”

“You think so?”

“Yeah, oh, I’m Howngthirr, by the way.”

“Pleased to meet you,” she said, extending her hand, “Say, what brings you to this island?”

“I’m here on a mission of sorts, though mostly it’s because of Virpan.”

“Virpan? I know that name, Risawal mentioned it, I’m certain of it.”

“Risawal, you know Risawal?”

“Indeed, he and I and Watul are travelling together on some grand adventure. It’s quite exciting.”

“No fooling. Well we’re looking for him, and I think he’s looking for us.”

“And everyone’s going to meet up on the beach!” Kialiki cried excitedly. “Let’s get going.”

“Something like that,” he replied, knowing that things were unlikely to end so neatly.

-#-

Virpan and Ha’olewe staggered down the beach, their legs wobbling beneath them. A particularly large wave swept up to them, knocking them back to the sand. They landed in a heap, Ha’olewe sitting upright first. He looked down at Virpan reaching a hand down to her. Before she could accept, a lone gull swooped out of nowhere and landed on his head.

She stared at the creature as it searched through Ha’olewe’s hair. For his part, Ha’olewe remained perfectly still waiting for the bird to depart. Once it had gone he ran a hand over the spot, a confused look on his face. Then they both laughed.

“Must’ve thought there was food in there, I suppose.”

“Might have been,” Virpan said, getting back to her feet.

“You’re right about that, no way to be sure.”

“Come on, let’s get back to Laikau. I want to finish this and get off this crazy island.”

“Yeah, and back home.”

“Home,” Virpan muttered, suddenly unsure of what she was doing.

Strange thoughts floated through her mind, the monastery and the father seeming incredibly remote. Before she could gather her thoughts however, they arrived back where their trek had begun. There they were greeted with a sight Virpan was certain couldn’t be real.

Liakau was on the ground, a strange dark suited woman standing over him, clutching a dagger to his throat. More startling to her was that standing directly behind the attacker was Risawal, desperately pulling on the figure’s arm.

“This isn’t right,” he moaned, “please, there must be another way.”

“Risawal!” Virpan exclaimed.

He and the woman spun around. Virpan gasped, recognizing Ja’eshuk. She took a step back, fumbling around for her bow. Before she could Ja’eshuk grabbed Risawal and held the dagger to his throat.

“Stop there!” she commanded. “Your weapons; toss them to the ground, if you please!”

“Ja-Ja’eshuk,” Risawal squeaked, glancing up at her. “Why?”

“It-it has to be-drop them, I said drop them!”

Hesitantly, Virpan and Ha’olewe dropped their weapons to the ground, still uncertain what was happening. Liakau made no move, remaining still on the sand.

“So now what?” Virpan asked, taking a step forward.

Ja’eshuk raised an eyebrow at the question. “Now you give me the Karuzat charm so I can open the library door.”

Virpan frowned. “Umm you need the Karuzat charm to get in? I thought you had the key!”

Ja’eshuk narrowed her eyes. “Yes, I have it, but I need that charm to get in,” she snapped. “So give it to me, or, or, Risawal and I won’t get along anymore.”

Thinking quickly, Virpan undid the pouch at her waist and took hold of the talisman’s chain. “I’ll give it to you if you let him go.”

“Give it to me now!”

Virpan held up her hands. “All right! All right! I’ll give it to you, here!” She tossed the talisman of Akulu to Ja’eshuk,

“Gotcha!” She cried slipping it over her head.

“Wait, you’ve got to say the magic words first,” Liakau said quickly, eyeing the talisman.

“What?”

“Ipo ukune e’uwa wona niawia. Ipo e’uwa mau maopi pioku.”

“Uh, ippo, ukuni e’uua wona naiwai, upo e’uua mau maopi pioku? Did I, ah, ah…”

A strange sensation flowed through her. Unable to stand she crumpled to the ground as her muscles spasmed up and down her frame.

“W-what!?” She shrieked, her pants and shoes ripping apart as her legs fused together and her feet lengthened into fins. Her breathing became labored as the air suddenly felt unbearably dry.

“What’s happening to me?!” She cried in terror, ripping the amulet from her neck.

“You’re turning into a mermaid.”

Ja’eshuk heaved herself over, her scaly tail flailing on the sand. “Agh, ah, agh!” She screamed, gripping her flanks. Horrified, she flopped into the water. With a final scream she vanished into the ocean, leaving an odd silence in her absence.

Stunned, Risawal stared at the spot where she had vanished, picking up a piece of her tattered shoes. Virpan approached him awkwardly, laying a gentle hand on his shoulder. He turned and looked through her, his eyes fixed on something a thousand miles away.

Virpan pulled back from him, spotting Liakau out of the corner of her eye. He had grabbed the talisman up from the beach and now held it against his chest, a look of pure joy on his face.

“V-Virpan, I’ll never be able to thank you properly for what you’ve done for me.”

“It’s, ah, it’s fine, think nothing of it,” she mumbled.

Liakau skipped down the beach, pulling off his clothes as he went. Without meaning to, Virpan had begun following him down the shore. He stopped in a small cove, and waded into the water. The mermaid from the previous night was there, and she embraced him as he donned the talisman. The two plunged beneath the waves, Liakau waving to Virpan as he sank.

She stared back, a strange discomfort coming over her as his scale covered legs fused together. Then the two swam off together, vanishing into the depths.

“Awe, that’s sweet,” said an unfamiliar voice.

“W-what?” Exclaimed, spinning around. A young woman in a blue robe appeared from the jungle. “Who are you?”

“I’m Kialiki,” she replied, extending her hand, “were you watching the lovers?”

“I, uh, was just seeing a friend off,” Virpan replied hesitantly. “Who are you again?”

“Hey, Virpan!” Howngthirr hollered, rushing out of the jungle.

“Howngthirr, you’re, you’re, I’m so glad you’re alright.”

“Thanks to her,” he said, patting Kialiki on the shoulder.

“Oh, it was not trouble at all,” she said, kissing him on the cheek. “Now, where’s Watul?”

“Who?”

“The woman traveling with me and Risawal.”

“I think she means Ja’eshuk.” Howngthirr said, his cheeks slightly red.

“Have they returned from their, um, business?” she asked blushing as well.

“Business?” Virpan asked suspiciously.

“It was pretty clear to me that they fancy each other, so when they asked to go off just the two of them, well, I figured they might be after some alone time. The same as those merpeople, if you get my meaning.”

“I get it,” Virpan said quickly, “I think you may have gotten the wrong idea about, uh, something, possibly many things. At any rate, Risawal is this way and Ja’eshuk is indisposed for, for the rest of her life, probably.”

“Oh, did something happen?” Kialiki asked concerned.

“She turned into a mermaid.”

“How neat.”

“Permanently.”

“Oh, not so neat.” Kialiki said, biting her lip. “If it’s what she wanted, then I suppose it’s for the best.”

“I think we need to sit down and have a nice long talk,” Howngthirr said, “because it sounds like it got crazy while I was gone.”

Virpan nodded slowly, a serious look in her eyes. “You don’t know the half of it.”

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