The Depth of the Mists
I could tell the door and the ground down into the island was enchanted. Cleripetus admitted that what tools he managed had been unable to cut into the gold here the way he managed back where he excavated a depression into the underlying bedrock of precious metal. I sensed the power around the place where we were to descend into the ground and understood that a special work had been managed there.
Going down I felt an increase in the power. Attempting to make sense of what I could detect, I found it strange to recognize it not as an energy, but as a presence. The sensation was close to what I had come to accept as the aura of my father. I could tell that he was not nearby, but I felt very confident that the one I met earlier was. Sterrig however showed no indication of detecting a presence, or a power of any kind, but spoke of feeling the end of our mission had been reached.
“Hey!” he sounded out. “One of those boulders is here. Let’s see –
Hope is for friendship / To ever be a sign
I will scratch your back / If you will scratch mine”
I rushed down the stairs. Orintious did not stop me from pushing by him. I looked to see a room that appeared to have been carved from a thick layer of gold. It was large enough for a group of people to stand around a small table made from gold. No chairs were present. There was one square offset where even a large man could easily fit to stand on a circle of regular rock. The boulder was in another offset, and it was of regular rock. I saw Sterrig looking around with his fingers moving as if to scratch something, and rushed to him to give a stern warning.
“Don’t do it.”
“What? I’m ready to go home.”
“Without the treasure?”
His shocked expression had me relax. While I did not doubt he had something on him, I could see that he understood to load himself with more before trying anything. Sterrig moving back to the stairs had me feel relief that there was still time to solve this challenge, although seeing the expression on Theria’a face had me realize that I would have help.
She said, “Stop, Sterrig.”
He replied, “I’m just going to get more gold, Theria.”
“No, Sterrig. Vernallor is going to give us all the gold.”
I clarified, “Or at least try.”
Sterrig came to give me a friendly punch while saying, “All right! That’s my youngest brother.” He pointed a finger at me while admitting, “I’m still going to load myself up with gold.”
As he rushed back up the stairs, I looked to Theria to say, “It will keep him out of my hair for a time.”
She smiled, but we both turned when Orintious asked, “What makes you think you can do that, Vernallor?”
“Sterrig did. If he would have thought about what he was saying, he should have made the connection I did. The problem is how to apply the knowledge.” Thinking on my most disreputable brother, I found myself needing to command, “Theria, could you please go keep Sterrig occupied? He’s going to think of what I did, and he will blurt it out. He is smart, but once he finds himself on a train of thought he cannot stop himself from acting on what he has found out.”
“I’m trusting you, Vernallor.”
Orintious stepped up to say, “Listen, he’s just a kid. Still, he’s a good kid. I will be here with him. If I feel he is about to do something rash, I will have him leave to discuss things with me first.”
I added, “So if we come out, that does not mean Sterrig should rush in.”
Theria replied, “I understand,” before moving back up the steps.
Seeing her leave, Orintious asked, “Can you clue me in Vernallor?”
I pointed to the stone circle and said, “We don’t want to go anywhere near that. The question I have is, why the table?”
Rogensk asked, “What about the riddle?”
“It’s a false clue. The answer is obvious. It is also one of the few actual pieces of information we had before coming here. If nobody knew about anything else we went through, how would they know about this? I am dismissing the riddle as something released, or known to be obvious, to get people to leave without claiming all that is to be claimed.”
Orintious commanded, “Don’t you blurt it out either.”
“Yes, Sir! My lips are sealed.”
“Do you want help in moving the table, Vernallor?”
“Not yet,” I replied. “I just want to look around. The room appears carved, but someone powerful enough to create this place did not need to work so crudely. I think there are things to be found.”
“And the table is smooth. You’re right. It does not fit.”
I looked to the stairwell to notice that the piece of furniture would not be able to taken out. The boulder was also too large to have been brought in. Thinking of how we first found out about the large round rocks had me realize how out of place this one was. If this was the wrong clue, I considered the possibility of there being an actual clue toward resolving this place.
Going to look up the stairwell, I asked, “Cleripetus, is there a boulder in the water around this island?”
He answered, “Yes, there is. The gold around this island made bringing it to shore a lot more difficult. Scared of blurting out anything important, I would rather you come up for me to tell you what it says.”
Orintious said, “And we might want to read it for ourselves. Rogensk, guard the entrance.”
We moved up the steps. It eased my mind, and assuredly Orintious’s as well, to see Sterrig interacting with other soldiers. One of my concerns had been Sterrig causing us to leave with little wealth, and most of the men still under the influence of the purishorten. Seeing Cleripetus, I accepted that I needed to do more than just enable us to escape from this place. Orintious and I moved away from the entrance with Cleripetus before listening to what he had to say.
“Of gold and one’s soul / Each is precious and rare
I can give you neither / So ask what you will with care”
Orintious asked, “Does that help you, Vernallor?”
I replied, “Assuming verifying what I already knew to be helpful.” I looked to Cleripetus to say, “And it is. Thank you.”
The grand duck replied, “I tried to yell down everything I could think of, but nothing worked.”
“That’s because you did not know what Sterrig knew. Actually, I did not know it either. I needed him to tell me.” I looked at my oldest to say, “You were there as well, so if you think of it you had better not blurt it out.”
Orintious replied, “May you find satisfaction in laughing at me if I do.”
Not certain of things, I proposed, “Let me walk around and look at what is here. I believe our answer is below, but time to think should be allowed.”
“If I did not allow you that, Father would not laugh but fuss at me for a lengthy period of time. Do what you feel you must, Vernallor. Still, you talk to me before doing anything just as you expect the rest of us to talk to you.”
My first consideration was the purishorten. It did not make sense, as it made the one who created this place more than an exceptional entity. I went to one of the smaller gold stalagmites with the bowl shaped top holding some of the crystals and moved them out. If this place had storms then there should have been water in the depression. My other thought concerned the claim that purishorten was in the water. Seeing the bowl dry, I dropped in some of the crystals before pouring in some water from my canteen. I watched as it dissolved, then considered the possibilities of the crystals reforming as the water evaporated.
I heard Cleripetus say, “If you feel the water, you will find it getting hot. In a few hours the bowl will be dry.”
Just to be conversational, I said, “So, since we really do not have a sun in the sky, it could be purishorten in the water that evaporates the liquid and creates the occasional shower.”
“How will that conclusion help you solve this place?”
“You obviously do not know my father. He will ask me all these questions.”
Again I heard a quack that I associated with a laugh before he asked, “Do you really think you know the answer?”
“Depends on what you call an answer. That is why I am going to check everything. When I do what I know to do, I need to be prepared for whatever might result.”
“Considering what I am, I have to agree with you. What’s your next experiment?”
I walked around the island speaking with Cleripetus. I found that he enjoyed mysteries as well. While he did mention some solutions he thought clever, he mostly spoke of differences in the books and how they were translated into plays. My father’s resources also gave me access to presentations other than books, so I could make some comparisons myself. While I really saw nothing giving me further clues, I enjoyed my walk and the conversation with Cleripetus.
Coming back to the door, I simply looked down at the table. Attempting to put all my thoughts together, I sat on the upper riser and considered what was intended by the room below. I did not like where my thoughts went, as I realized I did not have the experience to handle this situation. What happened needed to take care of all the men, including Cleripetus, and assure that we came out with abundant wealth. While I was certain I could get myself and those that came with me out with a good amount of gold, I had no doubt that a better ending could be accomplished. The ability to conceive of what to actually do however seemed beyond me, so I felt tears come to my eyes as I looked down at the table.
The risk is high, but a chance must be taken.