The Depth of the Mists
The boats Orintious had sent down were not made for speed. He had bought crafts that could sustain some damage. While there was a fear of the water creatures attacking, what really concerned everyone was not being able to make the maneuvers necessary to get us to another island instead of having to deal with the whirlpool. Not being able to put the boats in the water without them being pulled by the current, the men had to do other things to practice gaining the necessary speed.
Sterrig and Theria were not that strong. While they had the ability to latch onto things and not release, they did not have the power necessary for propelling a craft through moving water. Seeing their determination to work with the others, the decision was made to split the couple. While no one called either Sterrig or Theria a weak link, there was an acceptance that any boat with both would lack in the strength to make the crossing.
In taking on the duties myself, I felt good in pushing my body in such a manner. The mercenaries with me had me feel good in saying that I would develop a powerful set of muscles. I definitely wanted to grow with a strong physique, so could only hope that stressing my body would have it increase in ability and not just size.
I agreed with those who wished we had another barrier to test theories on quickly removing what we felt certain would seek to prevent us from landing on the next island. Those who had set themselves upon the turbulence surrounding this rocky area were told to remember everything they could of the problem. I felt sorry for them in being pushed to recall details they probably had not focused on at all when they tackled the barrier.
Finally, we put our plan into action. Orintious, six of his men, and I were in the second boat. We rushed to the water, climbed in, then began paddling furiously. As we hoped, the current did not stop us from powering away from the island. There was a fear as we became surrounded by mist that we would lose sight or our destination and become lost. Orintious however continued to encourage us to stay at the oars and trust in our plan,
Seeing the craft ahead of us actually make the target destination, I did all I could to work my arms to power the craft along with the others with me. There was relief when we came near the turbulence surrounding this other projection of stratified stone, although we knew our work was not finished. As suspected, our anchors bit into whatever the substance was that made up the barrier. We worked at attempting to get a hold on something on the island itself while others watched to assure those behind us made the destination. When we yelled that we had secured an anchor to the island, those in the fourth boat were securing themselves. Those in another boat also yelled that they had a firm grip on the rock, then those in the boat behind us spoke of attacking the substance creating the turbulence. By the time the water from the island was removing the barrier, others also had a purchase on the rock. It was scary as the rush of water tried to wash us away, but we had planned for that and with all of us showing fatigued we took a break on the alternate shore.
This island looked exactly like our first one. Only barely could we make out the flags waving from those who did not make the crossing. Assured of some sense of distance and position, we went around this island looking for what we might see to help us plan the next journey.
One thing that disturbed us was seeing that our new position did not reduce the threat of the whirlpool. The currents showed every indication of curving to support the creation and strength of the vortex. Looking at our map, we however felt very distressed not seeing another island in the direction we felt we needed to go.
Everyone stayed quiet when Sterrig came up to mark a route with a nail, then punch through the material at a point where he claimed the next island to be. It actually surprised me to hear a reasonable answer when Orintious challenged him. The words from Sterrig had us again study things about the island. Everyone however stayed quiet when one of Orintious’ men went up to the map and added to the route that Sterrig had indicated.
A rather strongly worded conversation started where various ideas were proposed. No one actually argued one method over another, but the effect was close to the same as some challenged certain conclusions while stressing the fact of what they felt was important in the information we had. Orintious did allow things to get hot, but then worked to cool things back down in a manner that dismissed certain proposals. It actually ended up with a debate between Sterrig and the other mercenary with most of us interested in whose idea would end.
When my oldest brother challenged his own man, he said, “Just thinking about game play, Sir. The direct path is always blocked. I believe Sterrig has the right idea, but I am saying the evidence will show we will not be able to simply go there. What we need to do is get to this other island, then we can go where Sterrig is indicating.”
Orintious replied, “I believe we have determined that this place is far older than any game you might play.”
“I believe we are getting the rules down. The next step is to determine how we can make our goal. I believe to get to our goal, we are going to have to make maneuvers like this.”
Sterrig asked, “Hey, are you saying that you are voting with me? I mean, your plan is just a secondary option should my belief not hold true.”
“That is true. Still, Sterrig, gaining this island was not done easily. Think about how fatigued we might be after adding another channel crossing. My proposal might add another step, but it also gives us a destination that we can make before we collapse from being heavily fatigued.”
Another mercenary worked to support his comrade. “What we did worked, so we should be a little more confident in doing the steps. Still, we know that island is there. We won’t just be hoping on that one the way we will for the one Sterrig is suggesting.”
I believe Theria was just attempting to end the debate when she said, “Well, staying here should not be considered an option.”
Sterrig seemed excited as he replied, “I agree with what he is saying, but my island is there. We can take this route,” we watched as he only slightly adjusted his proposed path, “and at this point can make a decision should we see my island.”
None of us could argue with those words. Some were rather reluctant in moving back to the boats, but in watching them look around I saw no desire to stay. I believe everyone listened to Orintious speak simply to enjoy a few more minutes of ease, but when he gave the word to head out no one hesitated before moving back to the water.
I believe it surprised us all to see Sterrig’s island. It was a little further away than desired, but everyone agreed that it would not be any easier to make the crossing to the other island, and it was still an option should we not make this one. I believe there was hope that the current would reduce in strength over the extra distance, but we worked the oars while doing what we could to encourage each other to keep paddling. Luckily, we did have some confidence in overcoming the barrier, as I felt some would have stopped feeling so fatigued that they would not have chanced some untested procedure. Most of us collapsed on the rough surface of this island when we finally did all that was necessary to make the landing.
What surprised us all was seeing signs of the island once being inhabited. While even the carcass of the recently killed dragon had disappeared by the time we reached the bottom of the initial island, on this one there were clear signs of someone once being present. Wood pieces, most agreed having once been part of a boat, were driven into the separation of the layers of stone in order to have support for a crude shelter. Work had been done with the local substrate to do something that was not apparent, although having a large roundish boulder with writing let us know something major had been intended. What caught everyone’s attention was the presence of clothes, although seeing a gold sheet had the men yell with surprise.
As Orintious went to check out the precious metal, I looked at the boulder. Father taught his children how to read any language. With large works it was rather easy, but with limited evidence one gained limited understanding. As I was making sense of the letters, Sterrig came up to easily read the boulder.
“The ultimate prize / Often leads one to sin
Careful what you sacrifice / If you will come back again”
Having Orintious walk up, Sterrig read the boulder again to have the older brother say, “Something to take to heart, although I believe the one that was here thought like you did, Sterrig. What was etched into the layer of gold says, ‘If I go, I can return. I swear it will be worth it.’”
“I assume he did not.”
“Can we assume it was the strange creature?”
It was Theria that replied, “We can assume whatever we want. Let’s however treat this island as the others, and learn all we can to make a good decision before leaving it.”
Orintious showed his agreement of the words by giving commands to his men. While some worked at fully examining the camp, most started moving about the island to determine the currents and look into the mist for what might be seen in the distance. I stayed near the boulder, as I felt it to be the mystery. For some reasons clues were left. Why they were left and why they remained for us to find was what bothered me. Orintious showed his knowledge of me by stopping during one patrol to check on his men to say some words.
“Talking it out can help, Vernallor.”
“It’s really not that type of puzzle,” I replied. “There was a fire here.” Those words had a couple of the mercenaries come over, but I kept talking. “I see the stones, but they are not really positioned to stop the water. It was like there was a barrier present.”
“But it is now gone away,” one of the mercenaries said. “Like the goop. It can hold its shape, as it forms the levee causing the water to form a turbulence around the islands. Still, when we do something to disrupt its place it all washes away.”
When I realized that he had stopped speaking, I replied, “That is a good premise, but we need more than that.”
The man moved toward the shore. I watched as he tried to get some of the substance that made up the bottom of the land beyond the rock of the island. Feeling that he was going to test his conjecture I did not feel would hurt. I however turned when another mercenary moved from the camp to provide his own wisdom.
“Whoever was here used magic. Books were ruined, but I can make out things other than sections of words. There are symbols, runes. Some other things would be useful to someone working with the arcane.”
Theria came over to watch when the one that went into the water returned to plop some of the white substance on the ground. He worked at keeping it present in spite of the rush of water over the layered ground. I guess she saw something, as she helped the man get some of the stuff for the next trial. While the man seemed frustrated, Theria came to look at the arrangement of stones.
“I think I understand,” she mumbled before turning to head into the water.
Seeing her go collect some of the white goo had the man who had done so originally regain his composure to help her. I really did not get interested in what they were doing. My love of mystery books had me seeking the one clue the main detective in the books usually noticed that I did not. While I did hear some talk as the two discussed what they saw, I worked at gaining my own evidence to support a conclusion I really could not at the moment comprehend. I did look to Theria and the mercenary working with her when they came up from the water with their hands loaded with the goop to plop it among the set rocks.
Actually feeling they were making more progress with their line of thought than I was, I turned my attention to them. It did not surprise me to find Sterrig also watching. As if needing to have someone to speak to, he came to let me know what he was feeling in watching the two make progress with their task.
“Theria really is a nice person. I hope we do become a couple.”
I had to admit, “She does seem willing to work with others. I however do not know if that is a reflection of her personality or simply how she has managed her career.”
“Managed her career? That would say that –“
“If you can manipulate your words in relation to your assumed influence of purishorten, Theria could well be manipulating her speech and actions for her own reasons.”
There was a moment of fear in his features, then he said, “I’m watching her as well, Vernallor.”
More attempts to find answers before old problems return.