Chapter 24: Wrecked

Kialiki strolled along the swaying deck, keeping an eye on the storm which seemed to be waiting around them for the opportune time to strike. She caught a swinging rope in her hand and tired it down. The deep blue ocean churned beneath them, tossing the boat around like a chuck of driftwood. She moved with the deck, her sea legs keeping her upright.

“Kialiki!” Howngthirr called, still manning the helm.

“Hmm? What troubles you?”

“Are we on course? I can’t make sense of, uh, everything.”

“Not sure,” she replied, glancing at the grey gloom around them. “Hang on, I’ll check the compass.”

Kialiki turned into the wind and walked to the steering deck, fighting for every foot. After checking the compass she realized they were indeed off course. “Turn ten degrees starboard.”

“Come again?”

“To the right, I said right, that way, until the needle reaches this point. Good, good, like that, keep going.”

“Ah, I see something,” Howngthirr said squinting forward. “A light, there’s a flashing light that way, I’m certain of it.”

“You’re right,” she said, “a lighthouse of some sort, though, we ought to be careful.”

“Let’s head for it,” he suggested, turning the wheel.

The light grew brighter, guiding them through the gloom. With a clear goal ahead, Kialiki felt increasingly confident that they were at last on the right course. She walked up and patted Howngthirr on the shoulder.

“Wonderful, we’re getting really close now.”

“Couldn’t have done it without you,” he replied, fighting his growing fatigue.

A grating noise rocked through the ship. The whole thing heaved backwards, crashing down upon a bank of jutting rocks. The waves picked the ship up again and smashed it down again. Howngthirr and Kialiki were thrown to the deck. The lantern toped into the sea plunging the pair into momentary darkness.

Blue light filled Kialiki’s palm. By its dim glow the pair crawled along the deck, trying to get their bearings. The ship listed heavily to port, splintering timbers and rushing water urging them forward. From the corner of his eye she spotted Virpan and Risawal emerging from below decks, both staggering. The ship was wrenched free of the rocks, the sea now finishing the job. The list increased, sending all for sliding across the slick deck.

Kialiki reached for the launch, grabbing hold of a lose rope. She pulled with all her strength, releasing the boat into the water below. It capsized below them before being smashed against the rocks.

After a final shudder they were thrown into the sea. Survival kicked in the moment Kialiki touched the water. She kicked off her sandals and got ready to swim. Silhouetted against the dim horizon the foundering ship finally slipped beneath the waves. Just before she began something tugged on her leg. She kicked at it, realizing a moment later it was Howngthirr. A pang of guilt shot through her as she grabbed for his flailing hand.

He emerged, sputtering through a lung full of water. The waves carried them towards the light, a tower emerging around the beacon as they neared. With a tremendous push, Kialiki pulled Howngthirr the final few yards, only loosening her grip when she felt sand below her feet. She and Howngthirr staggered out of the water, collapsing near the base of the lighthouse. Down the beach another pair of thrashing figures washed ashore.

Wearily, she picked herself up and walked over to Virpan and Risawal, checking their vitals. Knowing they were alive, she walked up to the lighthouse proper and banged on the door. When no response came she blasted the door open and mounted the stairs, retrieving a large blanket from the dusty attendant’s room. On the way back down she tore it neatly in half.

This she tossed one part over Virpan and Risawal, wrapping the other half around herself and Howngthirr. They shivered on the damp sand, falling into a restless sleep.

-#-

In the strange void that haunted her every night, Virpan saw Zhar’oth approaching. She backed away from the flaming figure, trying to cry out to her friends nearby, but no her voice failed her. The massive figure bent down over her and grasped the Karuzat charm. He began tugging on her necklace. Tugging on her necklace. Virpan’s eyes shot open, a dark figure standing above her, tugging on her necklace.

She shrieked, a ring of flames emanating from her. The man crashed back with a frightened yelp. In a flash she had regained her senses and leapt to her feet, watching the young thief scamper away. She blinked in the morning light, taking in the situation.

Their ship was gone, smashed to pieces on the shoals, taking with it almost everything of value they might have possessed. She shivered, clenching her aching arms around her still wet frame. Her drowsy compatriots began to regain consciousness, groaning from their own aches and pains. The sky was grey and gloomy, though a dull glow now partially illuminated the beach and beyond.

A city of small square buildings laid only a few minutes away, row after row of shabby structures stretching out around a large mound in the center. The sight of the strange buildings caused an uneasy feeling to settle over Virpan. She rose one foot into the air before realizing what was bothering her.

“Where are we going?” She asked uncertainly.

“To the Temple in Abhetallqames,” Risawal moaned, sitting up beside her. “And I think we just wreaked ship number four.”

“If you count that dingy, then yes, that was four,” Kialiki said, yawning. “So, what’s next?”

“We go to Abhetallqames.”

“But how do we get there?” Howngthirr asked, rubbing his back. “It’s a hundred miles or more from here.”

“Walk?” Kialiki suggested.

“That city is in the middle of the continent,” Howngthirr said, shaking his head. “It would take weeks, and we’ve no supplies or coin to trade for food.”

For a moment they regarded one another silently, no one certain what to say.

“Into town then,” Virpan said quietly, starting down the path. “Let’s get something to eat first.”

Huddling close together, the four advanced down the filthy road, suspicious eyes glaring at them from all directions. The muddy streets were filled with excrement and waste which had been churned by the rain into an unspeakable mash. All breathed through their mouths as they searched for someplace to find food. Soon the crowds of locals grew larger, the streets widening to accommodate them.

Hoping this was a good sign, Virpan quickened her pace. The gnawing hunger began to weigh on her. Small stands lined the street, many appearing quite rickety and none with more than a dozen items up for sale. With no food on offer Virpan clenched her teeth and took a whiff of the air. Through the nearly unbearable stench she detected a hint of oil and hurried towards it.

The others followed, squeezing through the crowd of locals. At the end of a road they found a small food market in a circular courtyard. Virpan felt much of her appetite drain away. Emaciated pigeons and blackened fish the size of thumbnails hung from racks above the sparse stalls. A number of hungry people looked longingly at the meals, the few buyers grabbing their food and rushing quickly away.

One man shoved past Virpan, clutching a greasy seagull liver. She shot him a dirty look before searching her pockets for anything of value. For a moment she fingered the Karuzat charm before cringing at the thought. Then an idea struck her. Virpan pulled out her charm and approached one of nicer the stalls. The owner was frying small fish in garlic scented oil, the smell causing her to salivate. Hoping he might be sympathetic to their cause she held out the charm, clearing her throat to get his attention.

“Please, sir, we are quite famished,” she began.

“Offering a trade?” he grunted, looking over the charm. “Might be worth a pair of fish.”

“No, we are on…”

“If you’re not buying then get lost,” he growled, flashing a cleaver. “Got customers to feed.”

“Sir, we are on a vital mission for the Order of Valtor,” Risawal said quickly, realizing what Virpan was attempting. “If you cou…”

“Get away!” he spat, raising the cleaver above his head. “You Valtor Templerists have brought ruin to my city! Begone! Tyein Saicih! Ruiners of Kyinoheig!”

“Kyinoheig?!” Risawal gasped, pulling Virpan back from the enraged man.

An uneasy feeling settled over the group. Virpan looked around the street, realizing that all eyes had turned in their direction. Slowly, awkwardly, they retreated down the road. An unfriendly looking group of people were now on their tail. A murmur spread along the road, the whispers outpacing them.

Needing to focus, Virpan walked into an intersection where a dirty fountain stood. She splashed a handful of water into her face. Behind her a growing crowd began encircling them, small groups stationing themselves at the exits. Risawal and Howngthirr reached for their weapons only to realize they were gone. Unarmed and outnumbered, Virpan knew there was only one way out. She still had one weapon to use and waited patiently for the mob to block the last exit. The moment they had moved into place Virpan acted.

Summoning a ball of fire into her hands, she threw a wall of flames towards the thickest part of the mob. They parted, fleeing in terror from the fire. With lightning speed Virpan launched herself towards the gap in the crowd, Howngthirr, Risawal and Kialiki following in her wake.

The mob quickly recovered from their shock and resumed the pursuit. Kialiki raised her hands and formed a shield of blue light across the alley, trapping the mob. Howls of frustration rose up in the distance as they made their escape. Howngthirr looked back at Risawal, baffled at their reception.

“What is going on?!” he demanded, “I know you know, Risawal, so out with it!”

“I shall explain later, I swear it,” Risawal bellowed.

Howngthirr stopped dead in his tracks, Risawal crashing into him. The two fell to the ground in a heap. Howngthirr jumped to his feet and dragged Risawal back upright. “No, you explain now!”

“Grr, the short version is that this city embraced Valtor, but he did not favor them and they got invaded, and they lost the helm, they, lost the greatest artifact, how could…”

“Please, can we hurry; I’m not sure how long my shield will last.” Kialiki pleaded, beads of sweat dripping down her face. “Please?”

“And they turned on the order, the end, let’s go.”

Satisfied, Howngthirr released Risawl and hurried after Virpan. Having no idea where they were going, the four barreled right into the city’s central plaza. A massive rounded pyramid towered over them, a large pile of rubble standing near the base. Risawal ran up behind her, spotting the rubble.

“Oh no,” he moaned.

“What is it?” Virpan asked him.

“That was Valtor,” he said, pointing at the barely visible face. “The order cannot help us, it’s gone. We’re in serious danger here.”

“No kidding,” Howngthirr muttered, glancing over his shoulder.

A cheer rose from the people gathered around the temple. A colorful procession was approaching. Howngthirr tensed as they moved closer. A group of well dressed guards took the lead, followed by a group of musicians. In the center was a veiled litter carried by a half dozen poorly clothed men, the guards two thick around the precious cargo.

Howngthirr looked at it with curiosity, wondering what sort of person could be concealed inside. Kialiki tapped him on the shoulder and pointed to a nearby rooftop. There a pair of archers moved along the parapet, scanning the area with darting eyes. Another movement caught his eye. The veil moved and a dark skinned young woman looked out over the growing crowd.

“Princess Yonfille,” a nearby man wheezed, bowing his head.

“Huh, Risawal, you know this,” Howngthirr began, suddenly aware neither Risawal nor Virpan where still beside him.

A hand fell onto his shoulder. He spun around, coming face to face with a man in a filthy grey cloak. “Come with me,” he said quietly, “this is not a safe place.”

Hesitantly he moved after him. Kialiki wandering along behind him, confused. He shrugged and beckoned her to follow, uncertain of what awaited them. The grey cloaked man led them around the crowd. Enamored by their princess, the populous paid no attention to the foreigners. At the mouth of an alley Howngthirr caught sight of Risawal and Virpan, both following after another man in similar attire.

The pathway twisted between the buildings in a confusing series of turns and dead ends. Finally they came to an open doorway, a familiar sight carved into the door. A crude image of Valtor was visible. A smiling young woman in a robe held the door ajar as they entered, holding a false wood panel in her hand. A comforting sight greeted him just through the door. S table loaded with hot food and a dry floor, several plates set out for them.

Risawal and Virpan were already eating, while Kialiki promptly plopped herself down on the bench and joined them. Before he could eat, Howngthirr turned to confront the grey robed man who was just a few steps behind.

“What is all this?” he asked, trying not to upset anyone. “I assume you’re Valtor worshippers.”

“Why…” he began, taking a quick look out the door. “Yes, we are among the last of the Brotherhood in this wretched city.”

“No, don’t say that,” the woman said soothingly, walking up to the grey clocked man.

“I can’t stand it any longer,” the man wheezed. “There must be change. And, perhaps you are the ones to bring it about?”

“Yes,” Risawal said, turning to face him, “I am the chosen one, sent here on a divine mission by Father Torvipan of Wanavap.”

“Oh, you poor thing,” the woman mourned.

“What do you mean?” he asked, raising an eyebrow.

“I am so sorry, my boy,” the man started, a lump in his throat. “Wanevap has fallen, burned to the ground by that vile Glusdan and his thugs.”

Though deep down he had known this, Risawal found the news no easier to bear. He swayed for a moment, his hands trembling. The fantasies of Glusdan seeing the error of his ways; of a surprise rebel attack at the last moment; of a holy fire shooting down from above and protecting the monastery, were now gone. He sank forward over the table, no longer hungry. Virpan tenderly placed her hand on his shoulder.

“We heard from, our sources,” the woman said quietly. “Torvipan has been taken to Kagnmahla, along with the brothers who survived.”

“Yet, there is still hope,” the man uttered solemnly. “Risawal, you must retrieve the Helm of Valtor and fulfill your destiny. The Order can yet be saved.”

“Father Torvipan still lives?” He breathed, trying to remain calm.

“Yes, that wretch Shvalah has decided to keep him alive. With the power of the Helm, you could yet save him from those barbarians.” Risawal sucked in his breath and a gleam returned to his eyes.

“There is not a moment to lose,” he barked, leaping to his feet, “let us go…”

“Now, now, young man,” the woman said quickly. “There is time yet for a rest, you shall be of no use to Valtor if you run off half starved, now will you?” Risawal sat down again, sheepishly.

“I, erm, suppose that’s a good point,” he admitted and returned to his food. Virpan smiled at him through a mouthful of her meal.

“How are we supposed to get to Abhetallqames anyway?” Howngthirr asked.

“My, my, someone is full of questions,” the young woman said, patting his shoulder.

“Just curious,” Howngthirr said, unsure how to respond. Then her hand darted beneath his shirt and retrieved the little hammer he wore around his neck. She said nothing, flipping it between her fingers several times before dropping it back into place.

“You will be going as tribute,” the old man replied at last, “a caravan is leaving here in three days bound for the emperor, and you will be the ones to make the delivery.”

“Sounds like a solid enough plan,” Howngthirr said, his eyes nervously darting around the room.

“Now, Risawal, would you please accompany me,” the woman said, offering her arm. “There is something we must discuss.”

The woman led Risawal through a curtain and down a narrow hall at a brisk pace. They passed between several connected buildings until they reached a room at the very end, furnished only with a pair of old chairs and a curtain covering a small window. He watched her, not knowing what she wished to discuss with him. After closing the door, she turned to face, fury in her eyes.

“W-what’s the matter?”

“You, look at yourself.”

The curtains where drawn back, revealing not a window but a mirror. Risawal looked at the image reflecting back at him. His was darkened from the long time in the sun, and his clothes appeared ragged. It was an odd sight, but he failed to see anything extraordinary.

“I don’t understand.”

“You’ve been corrupted. Those filthy unbelievers have filled your mind with doubt.”

“No, it’s not them, it’s…”

“Then you do doubt in Valtor, the confession is made,” she snarled. “On your knees, on your knees.”

“I-I,” he whimpered, falling to his knees. “But I never had a choice.”

“Of course you did; think back, think, and then tell me that same thing.”

He opened his mouth, feeling a burning shame washing through himself. After several moments of silence the woman crossed her arms and smirked.

“You feel lust for Virpan, this I know. You must not act on it, you must remain pure.”

“But-it seems so…”

“Tell me you will remain strong, tell me!”

“I will remain strong.”

“This quest is your life, everything is riding on it. You cannot be allowed to fail.”

“Believe me, failure is impossible, for Valtor is with me.”

“I’m glad to hear you say that, Risawal,” she said, leaning over him. “May you remain faithful and temperate on this last leg of your journey.”

“I’ll not be corrupted,” he said to them both. “I am the chosen one.”

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