The Depth of the Mists
I stepped out on Dechapper’s yard to look at what I first felt to be a strange sight. It took me about a minute to realize what I was seeing. By then Orintious’ men were preparing to move through the next portal, but I looked to my oldest living brother to ask about what I saw in the yard.
“You toilet papered the trees?”
He kept working, but I saw a smile on his face and those of his nearby men as he replied, “Brings some attention, but hides all the same.”
“I would bet Dechapper makes you clean it up.”
“Hopefully we will come back rich enough to have our brother hire someone to do it.”
The voice of Sterrig said, “Like it. Something I should have thought of. Now, what are we waiting for? I mean, why even hang around to be seen?”
“Safety, Sterrig. This reality we are moving to is not static. Need to make some preparations to help Father come to our rescue. Oh, yes, since we are starting this in his yard, Dechapper gets a share of the treasure.”
“That is why I stopped working with you, Orintious. You get everyone involved and split the treasure with them.”
“And yet I am the one with money.”
Sterrig glared at Orintious, then said, “You just never learned to spend it.”
The older brother continued to smile as he replied, “Maybe I just have the friends who are rich enough to buy me a round every now and then.”
I turned hearing Theria, and saw the question was directed at me. “Do they usually argue like that?”
Feeling she did need to know, I replied, “Actually, Orintious has been the quiet one until recently.”
Sterrig moved to both of us as he said, “Oh, I was once the younger brother. Orintious treated me with the same fondness he now shows you, Vernallor. Even back then he had his mercenary squad, so would disappear at times. He however would always show back up to take me off Father’s hands for a time.”
Theria asked, “So, did you and Orintious argue?”
There was a momentary pause, then Sterrig admitted, “No, he was a quiet one back then. I just got fed up with him.”
Orintious said, “And he got fed up with Heratin, Normanie, and Konklond.”
Theria declared, “I have not met those latter two.”
I admitted, “They’re dead. I remember going to Normanie’s funeral, but only vaguely remember spending time with her. I did spend time with Konklond, but he died early in my life as well.”
Sterrig said, “Yeah. Normanie was ahead of me. Konklond was before her, before Heratin, and even before Mochsha. Really, my only problem with Konklond was that he was so old. I mean, Orintious is older, but he doesn’t age. Konklond was old.”
Orintious added, “He was an interesting guy. Part dragon. I always felt that he should have been immortal. He however made his move to obtain wealth, then just relaxed and got old. Maybe if he had failed and stayed poor –“
“Hush, Orintious. Don’t even want to hear that. I am already getting old, so let me make my fortune.”
Theria said, “I don’t think you’re getting old, Sterrig. You are right at the age where I can settle down with you trusting that you won’t be going nowhere. I want you to be with your family.”
“My wealthy family that don’t have to worry about nothing.”
I had to laugh when the older brother said, “I thought you said that you know how to spend money, Sterrig.”
“Orintious, if you don’t get your ass to work, I swear that I will halve your share of the take.”
I saw a silver spike sent into the ground from which came a very white cord. Orintious wrapped up the strange rope until I saw a small silver anchor lift as it was tied to the other end. While speaking a chant, it was tossed through the portal. Feeling it catch on the other side, the white cord was dropped as a command was issued for us to move.
This time when I stepped on the surface of the spire of rock, I felt my feet move from the presence of a strong wind. I looked around expecting to hear a call to return and come back another time. Orintious and his men however dropped low as they worked. Sterrig and Theria went to all fours. I took the advice of the others and also worked to secure myself to the surface, although thinking of what Dechapper related I lifted my eyes looking for something moving in the fast-moving air.
In a regular reality one was actually in a complete creation. There weather phenomena were a part of the system. It was not that the deities in charge could not perform special local, and even personal, effects, but that the grandness and complexity of the world would sometimes reveal itself in spectacular displays or rare circumstances of powerful manifestations. This reality did not have the size to justify any special features, so I looked for the cause.
As Sterrig had pointed out earlier, it was not cold although we were obviously at some height. I also had not noticed clouds. Being under a clear sky usually presented some problems. I lifted a hand to help block the wind as well as any glare from the bright object I associated with being the sun. The distortion of something mostly invisible acting up above us could easily be discerned with me pointing it out once I figured out a means of identifying it.
Orintious and his men all turned to me, then looked in the direction I was indicating. Some curses were heard, although a few laughed. I saw bows taken and strung with the first man to pull back and aim declaring something about those Orintious hired.
“This is why I serve you, Sir!”
The arrow released was quickly followed by a few others. As I noticed on the previous mission, the projectiles flew true and struck their target. While the invisible dragon might have been a special creation for this reality, Orintious and his men had a history of going up against the strange and unusual. They did all they could to prepare for it. Strange eruptions of noise that seemed to blend with the wind could be heard as the arrows sunk into the form above us, then we heard the movement of the creature while feeling the air stop moving around us.
As Begaxy had men move forward to drop polished boards set with metal spurs to assure a proper flow of rope, Orintious asked, “Can we take it?”
Another of the mercenaries, Marquin, replied, “I doubt we will need to, Sir. We did hurt it, so it should stay away.”
There was chatter on the topic, but it was interrupted by Begaxy asking, “Sterrig, are you going?”
“Of course, I’m going,” he answered.
“No, I mean on the initial drop. Sending a man down to secure a line. No offense, but we need someone with power to drive the spikes. You can however go with him and be looking over things for the next descent.”
“I’m going,” Sterrig strongly replied. “Theria, you wait.”
Having come up with Dechapper, it did not surprise me how Sterrig set himself upon the body of the one harnessed for the descent. There were some funny comments between the two. Sterrig let the man know that his grips were even more personal on Dechapper, as he had not been wearing the thick armor.
I remembered the time required for the previous journeys down the spire, so settled to wait. The fractured rock really did not give a good place to rest. Everywhere there were sharp edges with the differences in height of the various layers preventing one from finding an area even enough to find a comfortable place to sit or simply stay still. Those using pillows could be seen to constantly shift as they could feel the lacerating surface through the material. Those using solid items rocked in an unsteady manner. I did my best to find a comfortable spot, but was glad to see Theria come to me to help me get my mind off our situation.
“How is it down there?”
I hope I only looked at her with a puzzled expression as I replied, “How would I know? Sterrig is the one that went down.”
“Should I be?”
“Should you be? Why shouldn’t you be?”
She sounded displeased with my response. I really did not know much of Theria, so accepted that she did not know much of me. I thus did what I could to sound pleasant as I let her know some things about me.
“Theria, I like mystery novels. I am seeing this as a mystery story. Everything in a mystery novel is a potential clue. Somebody designed this world. This spire we are on is rather frightening, as it does not have anyone feel comfortable or secure. However, the reason people come here is for treasure of some type. I however have to wonder if the frightening aspect of the spire is to prevent us from wanting to go down, or just to have us assign value to whatever is below.”
Again it was Marquin who spoke, “If it was not so hard to gain, one would think there was nothing to gain.”
Another, Chanird, supported those words by saying, “I would definitely consider that someone else should have gained it.”
All of Orintious’ men had learned about me on the previous mission. They thus spoke with some familiarity with my style of thinking. Theria looked at those around her, then spoke to me I hoped to learn more about me.
“So, there might be nothing to fear at all.”
I replied, “The climb certainly has its danger. Our major concern in this mission was getting back up, not really getting down. I feel Sterrig is right about the next sections becoming easier to manage as we should be on more solid rock. I am here worrying and wondering about what is at the bottom, and not really about getting back out.”
“I am worried about the dragon coming back.”
“We took it on up here. Once lower on more solid rock we should be able to manage even better against it.”
A number of the mercenaries spoke their agreement. I then listened as a couple recounted missions where they had gone up against some powerful dragons. I had my own memories of Konklond, who was part dragon and some of the things he told me. Theria also listened, then as if accepting what was said she spoke on something else.
“How about on the way down?”
I could not tell if she was questioning her motivation to go down, or worried about Sterrig, but I spoke with confidence from my previous adventure with Orintious. “Challenges will be met not with the intent to kill, but with the intent to gain our objective in spite of those seeking to stop us.”
“Well, uh, can I go down with you?”
I thought to refuse, but realized that she could possibly be the only female on the descent, so would have to go with another man. I however felt that she could make a better choice than me. Thinking she might want to trust another of the men, I had her realize one of my own concerns with the descent.
“I really have no experience with repelling.”
“Then we’re a team.”
That was certainly not the response I expected. Theria however went to Orintious to let him know about her, although she said ‘our,’ decision. While I felt a need to deny the association, I found myself stifling the statement with my older brother’s response.
“You do have a way with the women, Vernallor. I’m going to have to keep you single for a time. It will spoil just too much fun to have you take up with the first one you feel is compatible with you.”
I heard the laughter from the other men. While I did wish for something witty to say in reply, I accepted the humor as not being offensive. I thus considered a statement that would keep the smiles on the faces of the men.
“Well, I don’t know which one of us is feeling safer with the other.”
Orintious said, “Always the woman, Vernallor. Do all you can to keep them feeling safe with you.”
Begaxy interrupted the exchange by informing, “That’s the signal, Sir. Sterrig is down.”
“Vernallor, Theria, let me send a couple more men down. In the meantime make certain the two of you can manage.”
Theria did not weigh as much as Sterrig. One might think it strange that I could make the comparison, but my time with Sterrig often had me getting physical with him. The behavior entertained me while still young, but it eventually wore on me causing me to find enjoyment in the fishing trips with Dechapper. While Theria would move her hands about my body as if looking for other things than good places to hold on, her lighter form and less than annoying personality had me calmly accepting her presence.
The first man went down with Sterrig. The next two men were loaded with equipment for the next descent. Seeing that had me drop any problem with having Theria with me. She would weigh less than the equipment they would load on top of me, and I felt even be less restraining. My other concern was that she and Sterrig had made plans for what they might do beyond the knowledge of Orintious, but knowing I would not be alone gave me hope that things might proceed as desired. I definitely felt that having other men with me would help keep Sterrig from acting foolish.
As the next man went down, my older brother and a couple of his men trained in handling descents checked things with Theria and me. As they provided advice, I became annoyed hearing Theria speak as if she knew nothing about the situation we would find. I stayed quiet as my brother and his men checked on us, but quickly spoke as we started down.
“Theria, Sterrig went down before, and I know he spoke to you. While you want to try and act like you don’t know things, I know better.”
“Why would he have told me, Vernallor?”
“Because it was the only thing on his mind. Sterrig is not that diverse of an individual.”
Theria tried to sound sexy as she said, “He had me on his mind, Vernallor.”
I calmly replied, “If he did, it was because he owed you money.” I then thought over things Sterrig had said, and spoke to change my conclusion. “No, but you owed him money.”
“Either way, it sounds like you don’t believe I will marry your brother.”
“We are going after purishorten. The claim is that it will purify your soul. I am suggesting that you start now, so as not to make the process so extreme down below.”
“If it is in the golden jars, it should not bother us.”
I could not help but state another belief of mine. “The golden jars are depressions of sand. Maybe gold sand, but not canisters.” I thought to mention some facts about the precious metal, but instead found myself considering other details of what I was describing. “For the purishorten to collect in the depressions, it will need to be dispersed in some manner. Purishorten will be in the air just as salt is in the air around an ocean.”
“I hope you’re wrong, Vernallor.”
“You don’t want to become a good person, Theria?”
She moved on my body, which threw me out of the rhythm I had been going through to keep us descending at a steady rate. I did not know what she was doing, but memories of Sterrig had me accept that staying still would be hard for her. Hearing her curse, caused me to react. Seeing her with a knife bothered me, but after telling me to keep us descending she let me know another fact.
“Maybe if the purishorten is in the air, the dragon is good. I really, really hope it is good.”
Between the descent and the dragon one would think they would have enough problems.