Call of Descent

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Chapter Eighteen

It was hours later, with Mistfall Port a gray smudge in the distance, that Reniko found herself with a steaming bowl of water, a rag and a very anxious Penumbra.

Whatever you mean to try I hope it works. If it doesn’t, I may just get you to chop off the thing, horn and all.

“Calm down Pen, a little discomfort is not going to kill you,” Reniko said, soaking the rag in the water.

Being penned in like a horse, that is discomfort. Fornnous blossom is torture.

Reniko chuckled. “I think you’re being a little overdramatic. What is fornnous blossom anyway?"

When mixed right it bonds things together with a severe permanence. I was being hopeful in thinking this wooden contraption would come off at all.

“Well I know for a fact that nothing bonds permanently to flesh,” Reniko said. She picked up the steaming rag and squeezed the moisture onto the flesh surrounding Penumbra’s discomfort. Penumbra reared his head up at the touch of the scalding water.

I would rather not be burned in the process.

Reniko blushed slightly. “Sorry Pen, I didn’t think it was that hot.”

She set the rag to his head many times, making the area thoroughly soaked. Before the whole of it could cool, she worked the wooden horn gently back and forth hoping to loosen the bond it held on Penumbra’s flesh. She was relieved to feel the adhesive give way. With a sickly pop she pulled the wooden cover free of Pen’s flesh and sat back with a triumphant grin.

Penumbra lowered his head to the wooden beam that kept him closed in and rubbed the base of his horn gently. You’re rather handy to have around, you know, he said with a gentle whinny.

“Let me do that, you’re going to get splinters instead. Reniko lightly touched Penumbra’s cheek and he lifted his head to stand level with her. Grabbing the rag, she soaked it one last time, and using the heat, removed the fornnous blossom that still clung to Penumbra’s deep black hairs. With that gone, she scratched the area lightly, to Penumbra’s relief.

How is Malik faring? Penumbra asked, breaking the silence.

“I think he was born on the sea,” Reniko said trying not to think too much about the steady swaying of the ship around her. “I’m not too sure if I have sea legs, however.”

He was born with dragons and flying gives as much motion as the sea.

“No, it’s different. With flying, there is a rhythm. To this, there is only the chaos of the waves. They swell and crash to their own desire, not to any rhythm I can find. Just when you think you’ve finally found a way to walk with grace, they change their dance. I’ll be fine as long as I don’t move from this spot.”

I doubt you’ll be comfortable sitting there for the entire voyage.

“Better than how I feel if I move,” Reniko said with a grin.

Evith appeared with feed for Blaze and Penumbra. One glance at Penumbra, his horn naked for all to see, and he dropped the bags he held, spilling the contents onto the rolling hull of the ship.

“Bless the goddess, it’s a real unis!”

Blaze, who was close to where the feed had fallen, pressed his head close to the floor lapping up what oats he could reach, catching at Evith’s clothing as he went. This unceasing tug at his clothing reminded the boy of the task he had been assigned.

Reniko smiled at him. He was only three years older than Jarnen’s triplets and she was glad that he had yet to lose the curiosity of youth. As he stooped to pick up the oats that had fallen onto the floor, Reniko stepped to his side and began helping, hoping that the sea would settle long enough for her to help.

“His name is Penumbra. The Rük don’t take kindly to their ilk; secrecy was the only way to get him aboard without catching their watchful eye.”

Evith stood to gaze at Penumbra once again while Reniko crouched as the ship tilted precariously, causing her stomach to roll as well. Evith noticed that Reniko had yet to stand, and setting down the feed, he went to her side.

“Are you all right, milady?”

“Never been on a boat before,” she said taking a deep breath hoping the nausea would pass. “At least not like this.”

“We don’t get many passengers on board our vessel. I nearly forgot there are people that can’t walk the gait of the sea. I’m sure the Captain has something in his stores that will help ease your stomach.”

“Thank you kindly, but I’m not sure my stomach will make it as far as your Captain,” Reniko said, giving up and sitting flat on the deck.

“Well, if my lady can’t go to the Captain, I can at least bring the Captain to her.”

“This really isn’t a matter the Captain should be disturbed over. I’ll be fine, really,” Reniko said, as she closed her eyes. She opened them abruptly as she realized with her eyes closed she could feel the roll of the sea more acutely.

“Well, I’ll find you something,” Evith said resolutely.

“Before that, give the horses their meal,” Reniko mumbled as she leaned against the gate to Penumbra’s stall. When she felt a thump at her back she spoke again, suppressing a laugh at Penumbra’s pride.

“And Penumbra would enjoy some as well. Happy?” Reniko said, the last comment directed at her pride filled companion.

Somewhat, Penumbra answered.

“You really need to get over that, Pen. You do look like a horse. I can’t help it if people treat you like one.” Reniko stopped when she realized Evith was staring.

“Who are you talking to, miss?”

Reniko blushed and glared at Penumbra. “You’ve gone and made me look a fool, Pen.” Turning to Evith she said, “He can talk, though he’s selective in who hears.”

Evith just nodded, not convinced, and finished pouring the feed for the horses gathered in the small area.

Revenge is sweet, Penumbra gloated. Reniko gave the front of his stall a slap and moved to sit in front of Blaze’s instead, not daring to say another word before Evith left. Once the boy had scurried off in search of relief for Reniko, she turned to Penumbra.

“At least I have the courtesy to not make you look crazy.” Penumbra gave a laugh mentally to accompany the noise he made aloud.

When Evith returned, Reniko was curled up on the floor, so sick she was perspiring. Shaking her gently, Evith held out a steaming cup.

“Drink this, it’ll calm your stomach somewhat. I’ll help you to your room when you feel better. Maybe then you can sleep it off.”

Reniko nodded unable to speak for fear more than words would come out. Sitting up carefully, she took the cup from Evith’s outstretched hands and began to drink, albeit slowly. When she had finished, she handed the cup back to Evith and curled back up, closing her eyes, only to be drawn back into the constant sway of the ship. When she showed no sign of improvement, Evith leaped to his feet in search of more help.

Will you be all right, Lyss? Penumbra asked. Reniko, more annoyed by his use of Malik’s nickname than interested in answering Penumbra’s question, moved her head to stare at Pen.

“Don’t you start calling me that,” she spat, regretting it as she did. Grabbing for a nearby bucket she wretched up what little was in her stomach, including the tea Evith had been so kind in getting. “Being sea sick can’t kill you, can it?” Reniko asked once her stomach was empty of contents.

I hope not, Penumbra said, his comment laced with concern.

Malik came running on steady feet into the stable area, Evith at his heels. He found Reniko perspiring on the floor, Blaze looking over her with a horse’s concern.

“She’s not used to the sea, milord,” Evith said.

Malik nodded. “Get me some water and a cloth, take it to our quarters,” he said to Evith as he knelt beside Reniko. Her breathing was steady, though she was no longer conscious. Gently, Malik lifted her into his arms, and slowly, walking with the roll of the ship, he took her to their quarters.

Reniko awoke to a wet cloth trailing across her brow. She opened her eyes, feeling slightly better than when she had passed out.

“Glad to see you awake,” Malik said, pulling the cold cloth from Renny’s forehead.

“I don’t like this ship,” Reniko muttered.

“Have you never been on a boat before?”

“I’ve been on plenty of boats. Large ships, but not like this. We’re at the mercy of the sea in this thing. I can feel every wave that rolls past.”

“Do you think this will pass?”

“Most likely. I’m already feeling a bit better,” Reniko said, trying to lift up her head and realizing suddenly that she was swinging gently in a hammock.

“Would you like to go out on deck? The sea air might make you feel better,” Malik suggested.

“We can try, though I can’t guarantee this soirée will be a nice thing to behold,” Reniko said, grimacing as she swung her legs over the hammock to sit upright. Stepping onto the deck of the boat, she tried hard to keep her footing.

“There’s no rhythm to it,” she mumbled. She stumbled to one side as the boat lurched sideways suddenly.

“The easiest way to walk and stay steady is to stop being a person on the ship, try and just be part of the ship. Stand still a moment and just become heavy, let the ship take you.”

Reniko stood letting the motions grab her.

“Now don’t think against the waves, try not to think about them at all, try letting them be. Don’t force them to a pattern and it’ll be easier to walk.”

“Well we can try,” she said, “but maybe I’ll just let you be my guide for a little longer.” Malik held out his arm and Reniko grabbed hold. They made it to the deck without much incident, and when the salty air began blowing over Reniko, she began to feel better. She let go of Malik’s grasp and walked unsteadily over to the bow of the ship. There in the dying light, she watched the waves that made this journey such a terror for her. As she watched, she learned the chaos of them, she saw the waves come and her stomach felt better for it, for as it pitched the ship, she could guess more freely which way the deck would lean.

“I think I understand,” Reniko said breathing in deeply the evening air. “I was asleep a long time.”

Malik nodded. “Are you feeling well enough to eat? The Captain invited us for a meal in his quarters.”

Reniko felt her stomach grumble with the thought of food and turned away from the waves to face Malik once again. “I think I might be able to handle a little food.”

Inside Captain Deressy’s cabin, an assortment of foods had been set out and the laughter of well-fed men could be heard. Not only had Malik and Reniko been invited to dine with the Captain, but his most trusted crew members as well, most of whom Reniko had never met. As formal introductions were made, Reniko felt the onset of sickness set in again and nodded politely. She sat down at the table, crowded in with the lot, and felt no better. Malik gave her a concerned look and she just nodded.

“Well I heard the lass was feeling a tad sick, so I made something special for her. It will go down a lot smoother than what the rest of us are eating,” a big man with graying hair said passing Reniko a plate of bland looking food.

“Thank you,” Reniko said, quite grateful she didn’t have to try and stuff greasy food into her rolling stomach.

“My pleasure.” The man disappeared moments later off to make sure the rest of the crew was fed. Evith stayed behind to make sure that everyone in the Captain’s presence was well fed. Within moments of the cook leaving, Deressy gestured for Evith to pull up a seat and he was soon laughing and joking as loud as the rest of the men at the table. Reniko barely said a word as she ate the food before her as slowly as possible.

When the meal was nearly over and Reniko had eaten as much as she could handle, drinks were set before them all. Large mugs brimming full of ale. As Reniko went to reach for one, the Captain waved her hand away.

“We’ll not be having milady drinking such an unrefined drink.” Getting up, he went to a locked cabinet and pulled out a bottle of wine. Grabbing a delicate glass from the same cabinet he poured a drought of the rich red wine.

“This will make you feel a whole lot better than that ale of ours,” he whispered in her ear as he set the glass on the hard surface of the table.

As Deressy took his seat again at the head of the table, his voice rang through the room stirring everyone to silence. “Now that our meal has been dispensed with, the time for talk has arrived.” A few of the men took up their ale and with curt nods filtered out of the room. What remained after Deressy’s words were the Captain himself, his first mate and two other trusted sailors. Evith stood in the corner unnoticed by all save Reniko.

“I’ve wanted to ask you ever since Jarnen approached me with the offer, why do you want to go to the Mistfall Caverns?” Deressy got straight to the point. He was not one to play word games.

“I guess it’s really my story to tell,” Reniko said halting Malik’s words. “I worked as an acolyte in the city of Savonly. There I found an ancient map that showed the way to an ancient Levanith city, Reflaydun. According to the map, that city lies beyond the Mistfall caverns.”

Deressy looked astonished. “You’re willing to endure the dangers of the journey just to see some old abandoned city?”

“Well there is more to it than that. Being friends with Jarnen, you have to have some aversion to the Rük.” Malik interceded.

“I think every sailor on this boat has some dislike for those creatures, yes. But how does a dislike for them have anything to do with you going to Mistfall caverns?”

“There’s a chance that we might be able to do something about their oppression. Some clue that the Levanith left behind in their archives. They must have had some plan in mind before the Rük destroyed them so long ago, and if they did, it would be in Reflaydun.” Malik said, intense passion in his voice.

“You’re part of the resistance?” Arlie the first mate supplied.

“Yes,” Malik said.

Reniko said nothing and Deressy noticed.

“What about you, lass?”

Startled Reniko blushed. “Well, I’ve no like for the Rük if that’s what you’re asking.”

“What’s your interest in Reflaydun?”

“Looking for answers as well.”

“For different reasons I gather. I won’t ask anymore of you, lass.”

Deressy turned his attention back to Malik and the two of them continued their conversation. Deressy, it seemed, had been talking a lot with Jarnen about joining the resistance, and was glad to have a chance to talk with Malik, who knew more about the factions than Jarnen had. Unconcerned with this talk, Reniko excused herself and headed back out onto the deck of the ship. The cool night air was refreshing and she stayed there in thought until Malik emerged sometime later.

“You still here?” he asked upon seeing Reniko standing on the deck lit by the three moons.

“I don’t feel sick if I stay on deck.”

“Well you can’t sleep up here. Come on,” Malik said, grabbing Reniko’s hand and guiding her down into the belly of the ship.

The remainder of the voyage happened without incident. Reniko spent her days on deck to stave off the feeling of sickness and Malik spent his with the Captain, acquainting him with the resistance and his newly appointed role in it. Two days into the voyage, they reached the caverns. Night had fallen, and as they reached shore, Reniko was fast asleep. She awoke suddenly with the sudden absence of forward movement. Groggy and unaware of the reason for the awakening, she slid back to sleep.

When morning came, there was less of the usual noise that accompanied it. Most of the sailors were sleeping, well aware that they were not needed. When Reniko awoke, Malik was nowhere to be seen. Quickly grabbing her cloak, she rushed from her cabin, realizing that there was something different about the movement of the ship.

When she reached the ship’s deck, the sun was shining brightly against the calm water that surrounded the boat. As she looked beyond the reflective glare, she saw towering cliffs of shale surrounding them on three sides. They were in a cove, sheltered from the rough sea. Far in the distance she could make out blackness in the gray landscape, an opening that led into the heart of the Shale Mountains and to Reflaydun. It was as Reniko spotted their likely course that Malik found her. He leaned on the railing at her side and sighed.

“I’ve been talking with Deressy and he says this is as close as we can get to the mouth of the caverns.”

Reniko looked into the distance judging the length between them and their destination. “That’s got to be a good hour boat ride from here,” Reniko said irritated.

“Even longer on foot,” Malik supplied.

Reniko looked in his direction. “What are you talking about? We can’t exactly walk on water, Malik.”

“Look past the surface of the water, the land is not far below. It’s usually not underwater, but all the spring runoff has flooded the whole area.”

Reniko looked at the water before her and this time she saw the sand below, on a human she guessed the water was only knee deep. She was amazed at how close the Captain had come to the actual shelf of land. The only explanation for it that she could gather was that the boat stood at the edge of an underwater cliff.

“I guess it will be easier to take Pen and Blaze through the water than trying to get them to stay calm on long boats.” Malik nodded.

“I’ve got all our things together. Captain said we can join him for a quick breakfast and then we best get on our way. This detour has already put Deressy behind schedule, and he’s anxious to get moving again. Coves like this can be treacherous for such a large boat. If the tide changes, they could be stranded in here for weeks.”

“I understand. Let’s hurry.” Reniko said moving away from the railing and heading in the direction of the Captain’s cabin.

Breakfast was indeed quick. The steaming bowls of porridge and the warm milk was consumed without talk. It was only after the three had finished eating that talk was conducted.

“I thought it best to see you off with a warm meal. You won’t be cooking much in those unfriendly caves. Do be careful. It will be another couple of weeks before we can get back here to check on you.”

“Don’t worry Captain, I have a friend that can help us out of any trouble, as well as get us out of the Shale Mountains,” Malik said trying to ease the man’s worries.

“Unless he can fly, I don’t see how much help he could be.”

“He can,” Reniko said smiling.

“Oh, well then, I have nothing to worry about, do I, lass? I hope whatever it is you are looking for in Reflaydun you find, my lady,” Deressy said with a curt bow. “I’m sorry to rush you, but you should be on your way. The morning is growing lighter and soon we’ll have night reach us again.”

“Thank you for everything, Captain. I won’t soon forget the kindness you showed me. I hope we meet again,” Reniko said, grasping Deressy in a quick hug and releasing him before he had time to register what she had done. His words now gone from him, and his cheeks turning a shade of pink, he ushered them out of his quarters and onto the deck.

Blaze and Penumbra had already been taken into the shallow water, laden with everything that Malik and Reniko would need for their trip. Reniko’s backpack lay nearby, Imako neatly beside it. She slung Imako onto her back, set her cloak onto her shoulders, and grabbed her backpack, shouldering it into place. Walking down the ramp, she felt the pull of the water moving the ship slowly back and forth. Uneasy with this motion, she half ran down the plank and jumped easily onto Penumbra’s back. Malik followed closely and when the two were seated they heard the plank lift up and the Captain shouting orders to his crew.

Reniko gave a final wave to what crew stood watching them go and she and Malik took of slowly through the knee deep water, toward their gloomy destination.

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