The Depth of the Mists
The next part of the climb did get easier. The rock face moved out providing a surface that actually helped ease the fear of falling. The rocks themselves however continued to provide sharp edges. Scraping against the jagged surface had me think of the book where it spoke of the lady’s clothes being shredded, then her body shaved. I guess my thinking on the topic had me do something, as Theria told me to keep my focus on the descent. Just to help reduce the monotony of the climb, I told her what was on my mind.
“I have hair covering my body,” she replied. “Shaving is not something I would like to have done.”
I admitted, “It did not sound so good to me either, so I asked my brothers about it. They said anything about women is a good thing. Minchell, Orintious’s slave –“
“I know who Minchell is, Vernallor.”
“Yes, well, she said that women will do some strange things for their men.”
“Men will do some strange things for us ladies as well.”
We both hushed hearing a scream. There was then a strong gust of air. While the dragon was not clearly visible, it could be detected as the mist around us was disturbed. What I saw however was something momentarily appearing as a man disappear. Hearing the scream suddenly cease, I spoke about what I suspected.
“The dragon ate one of Orintious’s men.”
Yells sounded from below and above. The fog around us tended to dampen any noise, but by the time we arrived at the next secure spot it came out that indeed one of Orintious’ men from above was knocked from a position near the ledge. The dragon was suspected to have caused the fall, but it definitely took advantage of the untethered person in taking it for a meal. That had some speak of Dechapper. While I did not sound out my words, I said them to those around me.
“Dechapper kept himself against the spire. He mentioned the major problem with his drop was that he felt a bump would send him flying from the precipice.”
Levogh, one of Orintious’s men, replied, “You have a good mind, Vernallor. Of course, I was thinking the same.” The other mercenaries laughed, then he asked, “Is this what you suspected?”
I kicked at the edges of shards of the peak we were descending before saying, “It’s not what Sterrig suspected. He thought we would be on good, normal stone by now.”
My brother boasted, “I could climb down from here, Vernallor.”
“How far, Sterrig? The men have rope for one more descent. We have further to go than that.”
“What makes you say that, Vernallor?”
I felt the evidence was clear, but went ahead and let those around me hear my list of facts. “There’s nothing here, Sterrig. There is no stench of dead, decaying bodies below. There is no taint in the air of trees, dirt, or even purishorten. Except for a slight angle to the drop, where we are is no better than where we were up top.”
“I will bet you that we notice something after the next descent.”
“I hope not.” Before he could ask, I went ahead and supplied the answer. “If you feel we are getting close to the bottom, you would climb on down.”
Hearing Theria speak an agreement had Sterrig ask, “And what is wrong with that?”
She supplied the answer I would have stated. “You’re tired, Sterrig. We need to rest. Caution should be maintained. Not only is there a dragon, but your body is wearing out. Get some rest. Wait for more rope. Wait, Sterrig. The purishorten is not going anywhere.”
“Yes, you’re right. Sounds like you and Vernallor have been talking.”
“I’m enjoying getting to know your family, Sterrig. I want to be a part of them.”
I found myself accepting those words from the lady. She did not speak of her own family. As I spoke of my life so far, I did not hear her relating similar stories from her own life. While my first encounter with her was having her treat me as a mark to be taken advantage of, she had since only done things to have the two of us come to accept each other. I found myself believing that I would come to accept Theria as a part of my life, and the words from Sterrig I felt indicated that he also was coming to that conclusion.
“Well, we need to survive this. I will however agree that we need to get a nap after the next descent. We can talk some more as well.”
I tried to get a nap waiting for those before me to make the next drop. While the situation was rather intriguing, I had seen it for some time now. The rock really had not changed. While the layers of dense shale was of a different rock than I knew, I had looked at it enough that I no longer found it fascinating. The mist prevented me from enjoying any view. Not really having anything else to do, I thought to take a nap.
It shocked me to feel Theria snuggle up beside me. We however did not have much room on the ledge, so she could not move off to find her spot. I also accepted that she could not truthfully rest near one of the mercenaries. Accepting Theria as a sister, I relaxed with her next to me.
I do not believe either one of us had gone unconscious when the mercenaries began scrambling. Calls suddenly sounded to those above to stop the climbs. Theria moved to the edge probably hoping to hear better. I however could clearly make out the words from those coming to us asking about Sterrig and the one with him. The calls from the mercenaries with us stated they were alive and coming back.
When Sterrig scrambled up to our ledge, he had to admit, “All right, Vernallor, you were right. I would not have made it. I however need you thinking of how we can make it.”
It was the mercenary with him, Duprene, who said, “Water everywhere below us. I do not mean a lake, but coming from the rock. The slope has eroded so that it is back to vertical, if not negative.”
One of the other mercenaries asked, “Can you hear a bottom?”
“Cannot hear. I mean you have water seeping, pouring, gushing out of the rock. That is what you hear. I want to say that I saw a top of the mist rising from below, so probably only two more drops.”
We were still talking when the next mercenary arrived. The call then came that Orintious was coming on down. I felt the ledge would be rather packed with people, and they would not rest. As expected, there was still talk and barely any room to move when my oldest living brother came to join us.
Other descents were made attempting to better determine our height and any possible route down. The information did not have anyone, especially not Sterrig, speak of stopping our descent. There however was not any strong voice speaking with assurance of the better route to take.
Plans were made with an agreement that the next series would be difficult. Orintious gave the command for us to get some rest. With the additional people there was even less room to find a comfortable position. I saw Theria move to Sterrig, so simply tried to find comfort where I was at. While I felt it proper for her to go to my brother, I considered that without her presence it would be difficult for me to get my rest.
I awoke to laughter. I did not see the humor, but I did consider it smart to see the mercenaries passing around tools like I had used to save Theria and me. Overhearing the name of Heratin, I recognized the humor. Orintious always spoke poorly of his relationship with the other immortal brother, but was now having to see the merit in what he had provided me. Accepting his own attitude, I heard Orintious laugh before asking me about Heratin giving the tool to me.
I replied, “Ochally wanted to go with us. She went looking for things to help her on the climb, and found it. Heratin said she went looking in the armory.”
“Oh, well having it from Ochally makes it reasonable.” There was again laughter, then Orintious said, “The goddesses on Heratin’s world might have the world being a better place, but it is still a group of city-states that will go to war with each other. What you have was probably intended to be a vicious weapon. What I had made is just a tool. Still, what you were given worked. Oh, Irvachin might again be used as well. All that water could well mean that we might be needing to swim.”
Sterrig said, “None of this was in any of the texts about this place.”
“No, which means we are probably going to be first to actually do this. I am told that father is above, as he is quite fascinated by the reports being sent.”
“Well, let’s do this.”
I was given something to eat as Sterrig and Duprene again started their descent. Yesterday there had been yells up and down, but along with the tools flags had been dropped. Everyone accepted that the sound of the water would drown out any verbal communication. While the mist also worked to hide any sign of something at a distance, it was felt a moving bright color had a better chance of sending a message than a loud voice. I ate while listening to the men speak of what they could see as the distance between them grew, and felt some confidence that all the problems we had faced were being overcome.
It was as Theria and I were preparing for our descent that the cry came that a bottom to our descent had been seen. To keep a visual on each group, we were now going down in two parallel lines. Using the flags, the one indicating success had been seen waved by Sterrig. While I was told of the problems with this climb, joy was on the faces of those checking me feeling that all would be going well on this descent.
A reverberation had me freeze. The faces of those around me showed puzzlement as if they were wondering about me, and what made the sound. I reached out to the rock, and clearly felt something that had me worried.
Feeling a need to explain, I said, “Something happened. Did you bring some guns?”
One mercenary replied, “Yes, bazookas for the dragon.”
Rocks tumbling from above helped support my conclusion, “I believe they were used.”
That word was more of a gust of air from me than an actual response. I found myself able to sense something in the rock. It took concentration, but I spoke to let the others know what I felt.
“The dragon was hurt. It is scraping at the rock face attempting to get a hold.”
More rocks fell from above as another mercenary asked, “That’s good, right?”
“No. The slope has been positive slightly, and the dragon is working to keep a hold on the face just like Dechapper.”
Having even more rocks clatter around us from above, had those with me begin to understand what I was attempting to say. The flags signaling a warning were waved while we did what we could to press ourselves against the wall of the slight hollow. One mercenary almost was lost as the tail of the dragon swept around us, but we worried about those below as we saw the body of the monster drop from above only to tumble along the route our descent was being made.
Reaching the bottom does not bring relief.