The Depth of the Mists
I came out from the boats to see Orintious standing as if waiting for me. Actually, I saw him directing his men in exchanging places for getting rest. The fact that he was also in a place convenient for getting my attention was probably just a benefit.
He said, “We have done all the work, Vernallor. Still, if any of the men want to make their own checks, there is no reason to stop them. Where I want you to help me is to assure that these lame-brains give us time to rest. We don’t need to fail because they will not let the other half get as prepared to take on the challenge as them.”
The only reply I could think of making was, “I will do what I can.”
“They’re good men, Vernallor. If you talk sense to them, they should listen.”
“What are your thoughts on purishorten?”
“Dreams of men can be strange things, Vernallor. They can get even stranger with a group like I have. What I do is not normal, Vernallor. Hell, I’m not normal, and some of my men have their own unusual stories. The wealth we saw is having all the men think on their dreams. I really see no evidence of purishorten. Keep these men thinking on the reality of our situation, and we might live to see our dreams.”
Orintious then turned his attention to Sterrig. I gained the impression that he was one wanting to rush off. Orintious kept his own advice, and simply spoke adages to the middle brother. I turned my attention to what I would do to pass the time as I saw Orintious and Sterrig go beneath the boats.
There were other men already looking at the map when I came to see what had been done. The route shown seemed sensible to me. The presence of the whirlpool did make it clear the danger in this passage, but I agreed with the other men that a poor performance on the previous legs of this journey would have also resulted in death.
What disturbed a number of the men was not being able to see the island with the wealth. Just as the whirlpool somehow caused the perceived distance to this island to be distorted, it was somehow obscuring the sight of something we knew was there. As they sought to see through the mist, I heard cries of noticing something before reacting to them warning of the grand duck.
The creature again came in low. This time the men did not back up to the central column, but held their place. I watched as the great duck dipped at a certain place before rising and circling. As if understanding, the men moved to clear the spot. This time when the creature came in low, it landed.
It said, “I was wondering if you were going to attack.”
Fornatten replied, “We were wondering if you were going to threaten us should we take any of the gold.”
“What would you consider to be an equal share?”
“Honestly, we are not yet to the point where we consider it real. The prospect of something called purishorten troubles us more.”
“It was there in the little shrine. If that is what you came for, that should have been enough.”
Another soldier, Atolde, asked, “Did you build the shrine?”
“No, but the rest is mine. I want to say that I was the first to get that far. As you could tell, my boat broke. I had to make a decision. I thought I was being crafty. I thought I was doing well when I made it to the island, but there was at least one trick more. I don’t know what more is to happen. You will see. I just wanted to say that I would like a share with you.”
I quickly replied, “We can allow that. You might not be one of us, but you earned your right to the treasure.”
The grand duck showed no awareness of my youth or rank as it asked, “Is that how you split it? Equally?”
Rogensk replied, “On a large haul, it gets split fifty/fifty. We equally split fifty percent, then Orintious pays bills and other expenses out of the other fifty percent. Once all that is covered, any funds he has left over is split equally.”
“Orintious? He gets an extra share?”
“Not really. Those of us with rank or experience get some regular pay, and that is considered an expense. Orintious gets the best pay, but he also is the one who usually gets us the jobs. As for as dividing the wealth, the shares are equal.”
The grand duck stretched its wings, then flapped them. I gained the impression he was seeing if any of us would act to attack. Some did react to the movement, but only to assure they could get out of the way of the grand duck should it need to run for some steps before able to lift from the ground.
It then said, “A single share would be nice.”
A mercenary asked, “Is there that much there?”
“More than you or I could imagine. Make it to the island, then we can come to an understanding. I will talk at length.”
Now the great duck began moving. It did not need that many steps before lifting from the ground. We watched as it soared back into the mist. I heard some mention the direction it faded from view was toward where the target island was located. I however turned hearing a man ask a question of my thoughts of the great duck.
“Vernallor, do you think we are going to need to kill it?”
After thinking for a moment, I had to answer, “It did not give me the impression that it cared about things. It just wanted this place solved.” Considering my own words, I sought to give some support. “We don’t see it flying high, so it possibly cannot escape by flying back up. Assuming it was honest about being the one with the wrecked boat, it is possibly without any method of carrying away the gold. Getting out with a share it probably feels is a blessing.”
Fornatten said, “More gold than any of us can imagine. Sounds like there another puzzle.”
I smiled while boasting, “I’m up to it.”
Hearing cheers made me feel good, although I quickly hushed everyone to assure we did not awaken those sleeping. The men did not argue with me when I spoke of doing thing to check what those with Orintious had determined. Feeling that we could indeed overcome this place, I did what I could to feel worthy of the honor of succeeding where others had not.
Not really having anything to do, I went about the island thinking on the creation of this place. Everything about it indicated it had been designed as just a puzzle. I could remember my father once speaking of places like this. While his words quickly moved into areas I could not then comprehend, and really had not studied the subjects that would allow me to comprehend now, I sought to remember what I could in order to come to some understanding of our situation. My first hypothesis considered this to be the work of some vastly powerful entity. They did exist with my father at times doing business with them. Most did enjoy puzzles, as they gained their status by developing their intellects. I learned a lot simply by listening to their conversations with Father. Their choice of puzzles however quickly went beyond simple riddles, and it took them seeking rare and obscure texts to have any hope of gaining a solution.
The fact we were solving this place with physical exertion directed by basic situational understanding spoke against the one creating this place being a figure like which my father did business. There was also the fact that this place existed in the omniverse. While some realities supported independent spheres with its own laws, the reality consisting of all universes actually had a much more static composition. For an independent sphere like this to exist, the actual one to create a place like this needed to be a god.
Having gold as a lure was pretty standard. The metal did not corrode or lose its luster. It had its value in almost every reality. Purishorten however was something unique. Every deity had its own standards for those who were created to exist within it. To have a substance that could cleanse all the varieties of souls would require more knowledge of divine manipulation than I felt even Father’s libraries could provide. To conceive of a substance as purishorten as a lure, much less to actually have it, I again had to conclude was the result of a god.
Considering that Orintious had sought knowledge of his own past in order to find a place where his family could find peace with their immortal souls in the same way he desired peace for his immortal life, I found myself desiring his presence to discuss my thoughts. He surely had done more to research divine matters than I had. In his investigation of all the possibilities, he should also have a much more varied perspective than even the brother I knew to be divine. Allowing Orintious to continue to rest, I did what I could to consider what evidence I had in order to present a reasonable train of thought when I gained a chance to speak with him.
“And who do we have here?”
I actually found it strange to see myself before an entity with tentacles. The thought crossed my mind that this person might be of the same race as my Father. There were differences, but I had to wonder if my Father’s world had variety of certain races as did most other worlds. My own black skin was not considered odd by most. Some would speak on it, but most would speak on differences in hair color, eye color, and other traits as well. The entity had its body draped over a large stool with a thick back next to a grand table with instruments of measure and writing held in the tentacles.
I replied, “I am Vernallor, a child of Galabur.”
“A child of – no, you’re – ah, whatever. So, you think you are figuring out my puzzle?”
“I believe it is being resolved, which has me wondering about its creation. The making of a puzzle, the making of anything, shows things of its creator. What I felt to be intriguing was the lure of purishorten. That is not a treasure I know of used by any other puzzle, or treasure horde, as an enticement. Since the substance works on one’s soul, I could not help but consider the creator of this place as a god.”
I saw the creature move in a manner of putting its attention on me before it asked, “Do I frighten you?”
“My father is like you. I was here wondering if you and he were of the same reality.”
“So, I do not frighten you.”
Hoping to put the conversation on a more informative topic, I said, “No. Also, there is the fact that this reality has not been threatening.”
“Not threatening? None have so far survived it, at least to the point of finishing it.”
“But it has been solvable. The evidence is that you have so far only gained individuals. Surely those powerful and knowledgeable have come here. The only advantage I can see us having is numbers.”
“Don’t sell yourself, or those with you, short.”
I honestly replied, “Thank you for the compliment.”
“You’re welcome. Well, what would you like for me to tell you?”
“What?” I suddenly felt some of my own anger rise as I replied, “Why now? This is great! Let me and those with me solve this. Let us prove ourselves. We can discuss tactics and certain details afterward. Gaining answers now would just spoil the whole thing.”
“Finally, the right person has come. I believe I am understanding something I had yet to figure out on my own. It is good meeting you, Vernallor.”
I suddenly found myself again on the island. Hearing the amazed voices of others, I moved to some men. They spoke of a great storm suddenly arising, but just as suddenly having the clouds disperse. Understanding that this reality was indeed a puzzle, and remembering how the influence of other thoughts had caused me to choose the wrong suspect in the earlier mystery novel, I found myself having to speak a certain command to the men around me.
“We are close to solving this, but we need to be right. Once more over the evidence.”
Even with evidence, the place is dangerous.