The Depth of the Mists
It was Rogensk who stood guard at the doorway that asked, “Vernallor, are you crying?”
“We’re doomed,” I worked to voice, “but I promised. I really did promise.”
“Promised what, Vernallor?”
I stood while saying, “Load up with gold. If things go bad, at least we should leave with something.”
Wiping my eyes, I moved from the door thinking to grab some gold for myself. I however felt that I needed to set myself with the attitude of getting everything or nothing. It was what I felt I promised the others, so I wiped my eyes while giving myself no other option but to succeed.
It did help seeing a few more of the mercenaries active. Some spoke with Cleripetus, but I felt everyone turn when I went toward Sterrig. Seeing him working at cutting free a large gold bowl, I almost felt that he would refuse to help me.
It was Theria that asked, “What brings you, Vernallor?”
I answered, “I made a promise to Sterrig.”
He replied, “And what promise was that?”
“That you could solve the puzzle of this reality.”
“I thought you did not want me to blurt it out.”
Curious, I had to ask, “Do you even know what it is I don’t want you to say?”
“Well, I can’t do it, Sterrig. I just cannot determine what to do to get us everything. I believe you could however. Really, Sterrig, I am here having to admit that you are the best one to do it.”
“Okay, Vernallor. That is really big of you. Now, what do you want me to say?”
Anger and frustration surely mixed in my reply, “Oh, come on, Sterrig, surely you know. You are the one that told me.”
“I don’t remember all our conversations, Vernallor. Hell, most of them aren’t worth remembering.”
“Sterrig, what did that boulder down there say?”
He looked at me for a moment, but it was Theria that repeated the stanza. To assure my brother of what I considered of worth, I quoted the last two lines. While I noticed a number looking on, Sterrig’s face appeared confused even after he spoke of understanding.
“You cannot mean that word.”
To assure that we were speaking of the same thing, I said, “You did say that is what the word meant. I will claim that I was right about what the word was, but I am going to accept that you were right as well. I am also saying that you are the person to know how to play up that word.”
He mumbled, “Play up the word?”
Seeing an expression on his face I said, “You cannot lie. One, the purishorten will work on you if you do. Two, I believe the entity responsible for this place will recognize it.”
“You’re putting a lot on me, Vernallor.”
Theria replied, “No, Sterrig, he is going to let you claim your ultimate score. We can come home abundantly wealthy due to you.”
“Maybe you should do it.”
“Maybe you should prove your brother right, Sterrig. He’s putting his faith and trust in you.”
I held my place as my brother came up to me to demand, “You be right there with me, Vernallor.”
A smile came to my face as I replied, “No one will believe you otherwise, Sterrig.”
“Clue me in, Vernallor.”
I repeated the riddle on the boulder out in the water. I then mentioned what I felt was hoped anyone who made it this far would do. I spoke of my belief that the boulder would enable one to simply leave with what he was carrying. I then presented the reasons I felt certain there was a way to bargain for more. Dealing with Sterrig, I was prepared to repeat everything again, but found relief in the words from Theria.
“Give me time with him, Vernallor. Between us two, we should come up with something.”
“Take whatever time you need,” I replied before turning to walk to the doorway.
I moved to again sit on the top riser while looking at the table. I considered all the conversations I had with my father. He was a creature of tentacles from a world, a life, I could not comprehend. He had started raising children because he found us interesting. Sterrig was a type of humanoid badger, Konclond had been a dragon, and I knew others were of beings just as bizarre. Orintious, Mochsha, and Heratin looked human, but one was conceived by a mountain fairy, another by an ocean fairy, and the last by a goddess. I appeared human as well, although of a dark complexion, and I felt certain my history would be found to be far from common as well. Still, all of us children of Galabur interacted as true siblings and treated even the most exotic entity as a normal parent. I thus looked to the table accepting that while it was a common piece of furniture, if there had been chairs then there would be declaration that only those of a certain type of development were welcome.
Where each of us children of Galabur differed was in what we wanted for our lives. Success was not just a vague word, but temporary as well. Orintious had been living a successful life as a leader of a mercenary band, but truly wanted a home and family. Mochsha had success in finding her parents and those of Orintious, but she sought to develop her family estate and have it again thrive. I considered what I knew of the paths of my other siblings, and found myself not finding an answer, but only the question of what I wanted for my life.
I had to wipe my eyes hearing Sterrig ask, “Are you crying, Vernallor?”
“I know what is going on here, but it’s wrong. Take my word for it, Sterrig, you are the right person for this. You are the one that needed to get here. This is your moment, Sterrig.”
He moved to sit beside me as he asked, “What are you saying, Vernallor?”
“This purishorten is worth crap. Yes, it is what it was claimed to be, but we, no one, needs their soul cleansed. Gods accept us on other criteria than the quality of our souls. Orintious and Mochsha found the world of their birth, so are aware of the gods that are responsible for the conditions of their origin. They are not determining how to clean their souls. Heratin is the child of a major goddess, but he is not going around worrying about his soul. What everyone desires is a clean life. What you and Theria want is a clean life. Neither one of you however can look back and say that you had a clean life. You cannot even assure a clean life once you return from this place.”
Theria moved to sit on the other side of me, then said, “That is true, Vernallor.”
“Money, gold, really does not clean up one’s life either.”
Sterrig made an exclamation of joy, then said, “It is known to do the opposite.”
“Still, it is the only true treasure here, Sterrig. That is what you go for. Whatever else this entity goes for, he really is offering nothing. The gold is something. That is what you bargain for.”
Theria said, “But there are two sides to the negotiation, Vernallor.”
“We won. We should be awarded something simply for reaching a presence with the one that designed this place.”
It was Sterrig that interjected, “Well, yes, I can definitely agree to that.”
I nodded while collecting my thoughts for the next thing I knew to mention. “The problem is as Theria stated. The problem I have is that I cannot determine what the entity wants. I cannot determine how to scratch his back. If he thought the gold was a lure then it will be just as greedy of a bastard as the most miserly among us. If he thought the purishorten was a lure then it might as well be a demented idiot, as we probably cannot reason with it.”
“Wrong, Vernallor. I might not have been successful, but I have been free to try my schemes. Trust me, I have dealt with a number of powerful demented fools, and gotten them to let me go.”
Theria said the words I was about to speak. “We don’t want to just leave this place, but leave it with the gold.” She then placed a hand on me as she admitted, “Scratching his back was not what Sterrig and I had been talking about.”
I replied, “It should have been.”
Sterrig said, “No, Vernallor, which is why you are exceedingly wise to put me in charge of this. You see, Vernallor, the art of negotiation is to get each side to think they are getting the better deal. Part of that is assuring each gets what they actually want. You’re right. What we want is the gold. Where you are wrong, is that we don’t have to determine what the other guy wants. He should tell us. We then work to assure that he gets what he wants while we get the gold.”
Theria added, “He should not want the gold, Vernallor. You’re right. It’s a lure, but one does not fish with the best choices of meat. Usually, you fish with something you would not eat at all. The gold should be worthless to him. He should be more than willing to give it up.”
The words made sense to me, but I had to ask, “So, what were you discussing?”
“What we would not be willing to give up. This place has taken the life of so many, including a few of our own group. If the entity wants us to sacrifice another, we are not going to allow that.”
That made sense to me, but as I was about to say so Theria spoke some more. “Whoever designed this place is surely very powerful. Still, we know of gods or others of power. Your father is among them. If this being wants us to worship it, or take it on as our sponsor, we’re going to have to let him know that we have better choices.”
I did admit, “That could be something it will want.”
Sterrig replied, “That will be something it will not get.” Sterrig turned to look at Rogensk who continued to hold his station next to the doorway before saying, “Unless you guys are thinking on leaving Orintious.”
The mercenary replied, “With the amount of gold we could be getting, some are thinking of leaving Orintious, but not to serve someone who creates places like this. I have no complaints with what I am hearing, Sterrig. Not saying that I am trusting you, but Vernallor says you’re the right person, and what I hear supports his claim. The kid might just be a boy, but he does have a good head on his shoulders.”
“Well, I helped get his head into shape. I taught Vernallor a lot.”
I had to confess, “Not what I would call the best of things.”
“Definitely things Father would not teach you.”
“Yes, that is true.”
“Well, let me go teach you things about negotiation.”
And it all comes down to Sterrig.