The Depth of the Mists

Chapter Sixteen

I had to warn Theria about a fact that was pretty consistent in the stories I read of ancient mysteries.  “If it is a guardian of the purishorten, or the gold, then it can be dangerous.”

“It however is not threatening us.”  I felt her climb around my back before she said, “It just flew past, Vernallor.  Hey!  Maybe if we time it we can estimate just how far around this place is.”

“What?  Theria, I –“

Suddenly a thought had me stop.  I felt her move to again have her head over my right shoulder.  I however was glad she waited, and when I finished with my thought I began to descend while letting her know what occupied me.

“We are heading straight down.  The circumference should be the same.  That is not the way with mountains however.  That means this place is artificial.  I had been thinking of it that way, but the fact just adds more substance to my theory.  The problem however is that it also means that Sterrig’s belief that we could be heading to more stable rock might be wrong.”

She replied, “We need to go down, Vernallor.  It is not that we are just committed, but that there needs to be a record, an accurate record.  Your father needs something to tell others who encounter this mystery.”

“Do you think it will go away after we –“

I stopped speaking seeing mist disturbed by the large form of the dragon.  Theria held my neck tightly as it passed close.  I sensed something from the movement of air, and tried to check the distance to the first secure resting point.  Feeling my method of going down just would not be fast enough, I felt on my body for another object.  Theria asked me why I stopped, but I simply hissed that it was time for the dragon to return.

She screamed seeing the dragon.  I felt fear as well, which only intensified as I had trouble finding a place to insert my tool.  Having the blade turn without locking onto the inner surface caused me to feel fright.  Having felt the same sensation before, I knew to focus on what I was doing.  The blade suddenly went into a crack, and I felt it hold when I shifted my wrist.  No sooner did that relief come over me, than a wing of the dragon passed right over me with its hard front surface scrapping rock and cutting the rope.

Hanging, I yelled, “Theria, can you retie the rope?”

“What?  Oh, VERNALLOR!”

Theria kissed me.  I felt my arm begin to state the stress of holding us, but was glad the lady did not prolong the sign of affection.  She climbed up to stand partially on my head.  I did all I could to continue to focus my body to survive the pressure, and felt relaxed when Theria came down telling me that we could go back to moving down.

Reaching the secure point, I felt that I was hugged as much by the men as the lady.  She and Sterrig looked at my tool while asking themselves why they had not considered getting objects like that.  I mentioned the fear I had with nothing more than a handle keeping us from falling.  Sterrig hugged me with what I felt was a sign of his pleasure that I had done what I did, although the men also provided advice.

Finally my brother said, “That is what I tried to teach you, Vernallor.  You have keep your focus.  Just because you are doing something dangerous, or illegal, does not make it harder.  You take the situation out of its surrounding aura, and practice doing it, then trust your skills when you are doing it in the setting of being dangerous or illegal.”  He then looked to where I saw a rope set to go further down as he mumbled, “This is neither.”

I had to counter, “I fully believe this is dangerous.”

“But we’re surviving, Vernallor.  Let others tell us how dangerous it is.  Right now we keep our focus and trust in our tools and our skills with them.  We later simply need to smile when others say things about our adventure, as we did it.”

“Well, we made this far.”

“Things should get easier.”

I started ranting on how things should not get easier.  I pointed out the problems with our reality.  The presence of the dragon and how it had attempted to kill us I felt only supported my case.  While the mercenaries expressed concern, Sterrig kept his features blank throughout my rant.

He then said, “Listen, I’m going on down.  I believe Theria will ever trust you now, Vernallor.  You stay with her.”

I shifted my position on the edge to look at the drop.  The mist seemed just as thick, but I was not attempting to see at a distance.  I only needed to see things about this drop that I felt were no different than the previous one.

Sterrig replied as if sensing what I was about to say, “I made it down to here.  I will make it down to there.  You will too, Vernallor.  You made it with Orintious and Mochsha, and you will make it with me.”

I had to ask, “What involves me in this?”

“The fact this is your story, Vernallor.  Look at me.  I’m too old for children and a regular life.  Theria is trying to promise me those things, but she’s no spring chicken either.  I just want her company.  I need you, Vernallor, to tell my story.  You are coming with me and making this your story because I need you to do that.  As a brother, Vernallor, I need you to do that.”

It sounded like a weak argument to me.  Sterrig had always been one to involve me or others into his schemes.  Usually his plans were highly illegal, so he had problems getting anyone to join him even if he had a good reason for someone to support him.  He was correct about this mission not involving us in any matter dealing with the laws of society, but I let him know why I felt his argument lacked any merit.

“I still don’t understand what you are truly hoping to gain down there.  I don’t feel it is my story, because I cannot feel I have any real reason to be here except to keep you alive.”

He smiled as he said, “I don’t know either, Vernallor, but for once in my life what I am doing is not illegal.  This is it.  My one big chance at a huge score, and it’s not illegal.  Think of it, Vernallor.  The life I have lived, and this is not illegal.  I can fail without any fear of jail.  Okay, I might be risking your life, but not your honor.  We can stand proud should we succeed, and not fear anyone coming to arrest us.  We can face eternity should we fail, and not have this counted against us.”

I looked to the mercenaries as I admitted, “He’s right.”

They chuckled, then assured me things about the ropes.  They also pointed out some evidence of the rock actually becoming a little more stable.  Feeling that Sterrig might actually be encouraging me to do something I would end up being proud of, I checked the ropes before admitting that we had another descent to make.

Orintious arrived on the narrow ledge in time to listen as Sterrig spoke of actually finding a cave.  He bragged to me about the rock face moving out, becoming composed of sturdier stone, and basically of him being right.  As a man prepared to go down bringing rope for another descent, I sat down and thought about our situation.  Orintious looked to me with some knowledge of my personality, and asked about my thoughts.

I replied, “Just trying to figure out what is going to happen to us.”

“I am not planning on us dying, Vernallor.”

“No, but we are not seeking family or wealth.  This is something different, Orintious.  I know there is the prospect of gold being down there, but there is an admittance of something else.  That dragon is something living.  It has to be something more than just another difficulty of this place.  There is something more here than just a puzzle to solve, and I believe whatever it is will end up affecting us.”

One of the mercenaries said, “It still is like Sterrig said, Vernallor.  It is something good.  Whatever we are doing, it is not something that should get us into any bad trouble.”

“But Sterrig knows how to get out of bad trouble.  Orintious knows how to plan for bad trouble.  I don’t believe any of us knows how to handle this.”

It was Theria that replied, “But if it’s not bad, it’s good.  Right?”

Orintious said, “Vernallor is right.  This stuff could well affect us.  However, this is nothing we could figure out.  Mochsha spent all those decades contemplating things, and had no idea about was really her fate or my own.  We could do the same with this.  Remember, Vernallor, that we did not contact Father on the previous mission, because we knew his method would not help us.  While you did help us, I’m sorry to say that you will not here.  All you can do is the same thing I am doing.  We both just need to support Sterrig.”

Seeing the next mercenary begin his descent, I knew we had time, so simply offered up a topic of conversation.  “Say purishorten does cleanse our souls.  Would that affect your relationship with your mother, Orintious?”

I was pleased to hear him answer.  “I would hope not.  Remember, we did all we could to maintain the moral high ground as we went looking for her.  I would believe that having a cleansed soul would only improve my moral high ground.”  He then added, “I haven’t been back.  I was thinking once I was established in my home and planning on attending some socials that I should seek another audience with her.  At that time I would see if I could simply tell her about my life.  I would hope that she would be interested, but my life could be so alien to her that we would not have anything to truly share.”

I thought back to the meeting with my older brother and his mother.  She was a mountain fairy.  While she admitted to giving birth to Orintious, the meeting was brief with nothing I could truly say was a loving encounter.  She took care of us, and gave us good directions, but not in the manner I associated with how a woman, a mother, would handle the occasion.  I tried to think of how I would want my eventual wife to treat out children before speaking a reply to my older brother, although had to simply speak of what I felt was a basic fact.

“There are surely people that live on the mountain, and definitely those that move upon it.  She should have some understanding of what you are speaking about.  I would also think she would simply want to know.”

He replied in a manner that had me feel he was thinking like me.  “Father would want to know.  He would have all these questions, and want us to write down everything.  She didn’t ask one.  Maybe Father spoiled us, but I expected more from my meeting with her.  I felt Mochsha gained a warmer meeting with her mother than I did with my own.”

“Your mother however said that your father, your biological father, would be very happy with you.  The evidence however is that Mochsha’s biological father would not be happy at all with her.  She was not the evil, domineering offspring he hoped to sire.  Everything is just so different with you, even though you are both from the same world with fairies for mothers.  I can see why Father became interested in you both.”

“I doubt even the gods know why he became interested in Sterrig.”

We men laughed at that, but Theria let us know a different thought.  “I never found your brother to be focused on the evil.  He had all this talent, but wanted to do good.  When I asked him why he did not take another route for this life, a regular, normal, route, he simply said that was not what he wanted to be.  There was, and is, a conflict in him, and I believe that is what the great Galabur saw in him that made him interesting.”

Orintious said, “Just like Heratin, Sterrig was always a good brother.  A pain in the tail, both of them, but good brothers.  Let me tell you, Theria, the same thing I stressed to Vernallor, we are family.  However odd Father’s method of taking us children and raising us might be, we grow up accepting him and each other as family.  If you marry Sterrig, you need to claim us as well.”

“I am coming to love each of you.  I believe I am going to like being a part of this family, even more than being Sterrig’s wife.”

I looked down while saying, “Well, I don’t know about that.”

“Why’s that, Vernallor?”

“Remember, we are doing this because of Sterrig.  You thus might end up facing death again due to another member of our family.”

I felt arms come around my neck, then the lady kissed me before saying, “And I will love every minute of it.”

It is still a long way down.