The Depth of the Mists
It did concern me seeing the body of the dragon roll down the near vertical slope, as I knew those below really did not have the option to avoid it. Having a rock face consisting of thin slices of a dense rock, the lines of support could not be slid laterally. With the dragon falling toward them, they could only pray.
Having one mercenary lift his form to brandish his large sword I felt was an act of defiance. I agreed that there was no honor in simply facing one’s fate. What I saw him do however I wish that I had thought of. He quickly lifted himself to slam his blade into a groove of the rock face. Those who worked for Orintious had the training and equipment to face threats most people would not believe existed. The sword went into the rock. As the dragon slid upon the weapon, it held with the part of the blade showing biting into the scaly hide. No sooner did the momentum of the dragon’s body cease than the mercenary moved up as others from my position went down to work on the carcass in order to make it no longer a threat.
I looked to my older brother and admitted, “I would not have thought of that.”
He smiled while saying, “It might have been desperation, but the act did have merit. If he would have died, I would have spoken more than simple kind words to those who care for him.”
Thinking over some of the dismal acts that would certainly be part of my brother’s job, I had to concede, “That must be hard.”
“Not really. Most who take up this life are considered fools, and it does hurt when I have to admit it was some foolish act that got the man killed. Telling people that a man died bravely facing an impossible situation is not so bad, as many feel that is the best way to meet one’s end.”
Since we were on the topic, I had to ask, “Have you ever feared dying?”
“Several times, Vernallor. It helps being immortal, as I have a body that will naturally work to restore itself. I don’t put my trust in it, but I know that is the reason I survived some situations when others did not.” Without any prodding from me, he added, “That man, Puthorn, is not immortal. He said he was like Sterrig in hoping for a great score so he could retire. He has a wife and kids depending on him. I am glad that I will not have to face them with bad news. I would have done all I could to make his death sound heroic, but his family would still be without him.”
Cries went out as the men prepared to cut a major tendon and free the carcass. Assured that it would fall to one side of the lines, a sword struck to make the break. A rope secured by a bolt from a crossbow tugged the remaining carcass away, and it fell without any being concerned for their safety.
As mercenaries returned to our ledge, Theria asked, “Ready, Vernallor?”
Orintious asked in return, “Expecting an easy descent now?”
“One of our biggest threats has been removed. I think we can make it now.”
“All right, I want both of you to be careful. I will have to face Father if something happens to either of you, and that is one report I do not want to give.”
I replied, “Well, somebody needs to take care of Sterrig.”
My older brother slapped me on the back, then checked my harness while saying, “You have me there, Vernallor. Don’t let him kill himself until I can watch, all right?”
This descent started easy. While the slope was still near vertical, there were extra hooks from the work on the dragon. By now I was also comfortable in moving down the rope even with Theria on my person. Coming upon the water, I however understood why even Sterrig turned back. The rock face did not give one the impression of being sturdy. Pieces would break off. Having it then become even less secure from the liquid moving through the cracks along with a tendency for one’s fingers to slip caused one to only trust on the rope. I followed the lines set by the others, and in such a manner made the descent to the next ledge.
This place was nothing more than a narrow break where one exchanged the ropes. What helped me was clearly hearing the voice of the one set to help with the transition. I saw him look at me strangely. With all the rush of water around us, we found ourselves able to hear each other. I want to say that I realized something the exact time that he did, but the man was able to speak before I could.
“We both have swords giving us the ability to breathe and speak underwater.”
While I had no fear of Theria drowning, I did have to admit that we were both being drenched by the liquid. “How is it down below?”
“They have reached bottom, but Sterrig is waiting for you. He wants you to figure some more stuff out for him.”
“Not what he expected?”
“It is never what you expect. That is why you reconnoiter, because then you know. The problem is, we’re the first. This is great!”
While the mercenary and I were speaking to each other without any problems, I barely heard Theria ask, “What is he saying, Vernallor?”
I replied, “Sterrig’s down! He’s waiting for us!”
That was enough for her. I had no reason to hold us up, so started the next descent. When we made it to the next ledge, Theria was doing what she could to keep her nose or mouth clear so she could breathe. The mercenary there also had something to enable him to survive in the water, although I could not speak with him. With signals he let me know this was the final drop, and becoming fatigued from the constant bombardment of water I felt I had done enough climbing for the day.
Finally reaching solid ground, the roar of water stayed constant. Not only was there rushing water from the height, but the liquid moved along the ground to continue to descend. I stepped away from the falling water to hear a mercenary yell a simple fact.
“I was thinking to dive into the water below, but as you can see there is nothing deep enough to swim in, much less dive into. Deadly does not even begin to describe this place.”
I was actually pleased to see Sterrig rush to hug and exchange affection with Theria, although he soon had a hand pointing at me as he asked, “What is this place, Vernallor? It is nothing like what was described in any of the texts.”
Moving down the terrain with the water, I asked, “How much further down?”
“How would I know? The damn mist continues to surround us.”
“Have you made a circumnavigation of that peak? Do you know if it is like this all the way around?”
Sterrig just glared at me for a moment, then answered, “No. Come on, Vernallor.”
Theria asked, “We’re going to walk around?”
“Vernallor is right. We need to check things out. We’re here. We’re the ones to claim this place. If we are truly going to brag about what we have done, we need to speak with authority.”
I added, “Father will definitely want a full description.”
As we began to move away from the drop point, mercenaries moved to ask us our intentions. Hearing our plan, a couple set themselves to walk with us. They mentioned the lack of plants. I pointed with them concerning directions to go toward other peaks we had seen. As we began to speak of the lack of any treasure, Sterrig erupted with his own frustration at our situation.
“No place should be this deadly! DAMN! There is nothing here!” Theria said his name in a manner that I felt was to soothe him, but Sterrig did not calm himself. “This just isn’t right! I put all my hope in this place. Mochsha’s father and uncle put all their hope in this place. There is no telling how many others had the dream of standing where we are standing, AND THERE IS NOTHING HERE!”
One of the mercenaries, Securge, suggested, “Maybe someone actually got here ahead of us.”
“This is no empty vault. What did they take? EVERYTHING? The grass, the algae in the water, the bugs, EVERYTHING? Every hope, every dream, there is nothing here.”
The other mercenary with us, the one I knew as Marquin, said, “Speaking of everything, Sterrig, where is the dragon? The pieces of the carcass should have dropped somewhere around here.”
“All right, Vernallor, you like mysteries. Figure this place out.”
While that was what I was attempting to do, I felt Sterrig just opened himself up to providing the means for one of my ideas. “Sure. Give me one of your pitons.”
He actually put up no resistance. When he handed me the item, I simply tossed it. Sterrig’s shocked expression turned to hope when Securge spoke of thinking to do the same stunt.
We moved in the direction I had the object fly. Soon enough we found it. The metal clip needed to be strong enough to hold men, so had some weight. Seeing that the rushing water had not carried it, we began to look around.
Sterrig said, “Explain to me what we are doing.”
The one known as Marquin replied, “If the water did not carry away that piton then it cannot be blamed on carrying the other things away.”
“So, something is here?”
“All right! That is something I can understand.” Sterrig lifted himself to stand erect, then looked to me as he asked, “How do we find our thief?”
Securge replied, “Scavenger, and we should not need to find him. He should be coming to us.”
“And why would he do that?”
I answered that question. “Because he is in the same situation we are. The only difference is that he has probably not been challenged, so probably is not used to facing a threat.”
Marquin said, “And I would add that he probably reached bottom out of luck. Sometimes fate just blesses a fool. If he did face a challenge, it was just another lucky fool, and not someone who actually earned their way down.”
Feeling confident, I went down the slope. The noise of the moving water around me became drowned out by an even louder roar ahead. All that descending liquid crashed into a vast accumulation that I could not tell was a much larger river, a lake, or the start of a vast ocean. If there was a surf, it only added to the noise and turbulence at the bottom of the slope.
I heard Sterrig scream, “Vernallor, figure this out!”
Having no other option, I yelled my reply, “Figure what out? You don’t figure out evidence!”
Sterrig came up against me. His hands did not move about my body, but lifted to grab my face. Pulling it down, I saw actual tears in his eyes.
“This is not me, Vernallor. This is you, but I need this. Figure this out, Vernallor.”
I went to my tip-toes hoping to see over the tumultuous water. The liquid did not rise up very high, but a mist came from it adding to the one already present that made it difficult to see. While one could gain the impression that the tumult was responsible for the mist above, I felt it just helped give a uniformed disruption to those attempting to see this land.
Hoping for others to help me come to some understanding of our situation, I moved where I saw some mercenaries also standing on their tip-toes, attempting to find a point on the slope a little higher, or other stunt to make out what was in the distance. They spoke to me of attempting to discern the other spires that we were able see when up top. Where we entered the mist was below us, so it was possible to gain a vision of distant spires. Down in the vapor we really could not see far, although some spoke of possibly making out things if the turbulence near the shore could be done away with. I moved attempting to make some sense of my situation, then considered one way of safely seeking answers beyond the shore.
Seeing Orintious, I went to him to ask, “Did anyone bring equipment for fishing?”
He replied, “No, but I was thinking the same thing, Vernallor. One reason I left men along the descent was for the movement of supplies. Will send word. Relax and eat at the moment.”
I moved to a place where there was a good break between the slope and the spire. Lying on the slope could have been more comfortable, or at least easier to make a comfortable place, but I did not want to look to the sky. I wanted to look at the water. With my back supported against the projection of rock, I set my gaze to consider what the mist was concealing.
Accepting that Orintious had sent for fishing gear, I thought about what might be caught. I then pondered other methods of tossing out lures besides standing on the shore. That had me think of a boat. Considering what might be seen if we had a means of traveling on the water, I thought of what problems we might face.
It was not any idea with my line of thought, but my stomach that had me realize something. I looked to where some men were attempting to prepare food. As something dropped to the ground, then was washed toward the bottom, I suddenly realized the clue that another concern used.
I rushed from my position warning the mercenaries to prepare for a battle. My cries might have sounded desperate, but I just had to power my voice over the rushing water. While I felt the threat would be coming soon, I had no idea what it was. I however saw men nod in my direction as one mercenary who had drawn his sword at my command found himself confronted with a large monster that somehow launched itself over the turbulence.
The creatures moved on flippers. While the appendages showed a preference for a watery environment, they attacked in a manner of having tough ends for cutting flesh. The bodies were about twice the size of a man with a snout having shark-like teeth rising in the front of a thick neck. I saw the weapons of the men have trouble breaking through the tough hide that did appear scaly, although in watching I felt what I saw was numerous scars from a life of having to deal with the rough rocks. The mercenaries moved to allow those with enchanted blades make strong, safe attacks, and with those tactics assured success over the creatures.
As the last one dropped, one of the men turned to me to ask, “How long before more come, Master Vernallor?”
“How long?” I pointed to the carcasses as I answered, “The blood and pieces of flesh are right now being washed away. More will come.”
We turned as the voice of Sterrig yelled out, “Cut them open!” Everyone waited for him to arrive and explain his command. “They were eating what has washed down.”
One mercenary replied, “So we will find digested dragon meat.”
“No. Those are surely out there feeling content at the moment. No telling what these hungry creatures were putting in their mouths.”
I saw the men shrug with one commenting that it would be necessary to see if we could eat them. Orintious showed up as his men set to work, but he did not help even as Sterrig did. I really did not have an interest in anatomy, but actually wondering what would be found in the creatures’ stomachs had me stay to watch. What everyone noticed right away was that the muscle tissue was of what appeared to be a homogenous white substance. Instead of layers of banded tissue, they sliced out masses of what appeared as only quivering white ivory. The bones however were very rigid with the men calling forth those with enchanted weapons to cut through some ribs. All commented about the organs not appearing normal before the stomach was sliced open. I saw the men look with a mix of awe and disgust as a more liquid mass of homogenous white poured out on the ground.
The expressions however changed as Sterrig moved through the substance to pick something up as he exclaimed, “There is gold!”
Who needs big problems when there are so many little ones?