After spending several days looking through the wreckage, trying to find some special cargo that stood out, Soren found nothing. Not one thing that didn’t seem any more extraordinary than what they would usually be carrying. Regardless, he gathered up whatever supplies he could and moved it to the village, storing anything he thought could be useful in the small shed on Aryia’s property and selling the rest to a local merchant in the village, Otto.
Otto was a peculiar man. A Shelezar, like Soren, with a bald spot atop his head that shone brightly, well-kept hair on the sides of his head, and a scraggly beard that would have most certainly matched Delmore’s hair far more than his own beard. His eyes were a muddy brown and he had a hooked nose that looked more like it belonged on a bird than a man, and spectacles sat on top of it – a sort of elven witchcraft that gave sight to the blind. Though, Otto claimed they were no such thing; “Not witchcraft, but invention. They bend the light such that it enters the eyes right, so that things do not blur.” Soren knew better than to believe such nonsense.
No matter, he made a good deal of money selling what he could, which he decided to pocket in case it would be useful for him later on. He spent the next while healing as he helped Aryia tend to her garden and fixed the fence every few days. During that time, he also met some of the townsfolk – namely the ones that Aryia provided food to.
Perhaps the most interesting was a family of two Shelezars who had five children on the island already with another on the way. They, like Soren, had been caught in a terrible storm and thought themselves dead, but somehow survived, washed up on the shore. The next part of their story, Soren found particularly hard to believe.
You see, when they awoke on the shore, a raven landed in the sand beside them. Then it spoke, telling them that they would be stranded there forever, but that there was a man by the name of Otto up a path that led away from the beach. At that time, there were few people who lived on the island, many of which had died or otherwise disappeared by the time Soren arrived. Thus, the married pair were of the longest to live on the island. But as time passed, their appearances had changed little.
When they’d first been marooned on the island, they were in their early twenties, having just been married in the church of Alesia, and were going on a voyage to celebrate down in Mikron when they were caught in the storm. Their eldest son was now nearly a man, and yet, they still appeared to be in their early twenties.
It seemed to Soren that anyone on the island not born there never aged at all.
Two weeks after resolving to complete his crew’s shipment, he all but abandoned the endeavor, determining by reason that Tyrell had simply not been in the miraculous wave that seemed to carry the rest of the crew ashore, and that the cargo itself had perhaps been stolen by whatever god summoned the storm. Instead, he spent the latter two weeks helping Aryia with her garden in the morning and building a raft on the beach in the afternoon.
Almost exactly a month after being stranded on the island, his raft was complete, and he made his way back to town as the sun began to set.
He ducked into Aryia’s hovel, where she was cooking soup over the fire. “I’ve completed the raft.”
“I’m planning to leave tomorrow.” He grabbed two bowls and spoons from a shelf and set them on the table, along with cloth napkins for each of them. “You’re welcome to come with me.”
Aryia seemed to ignore him as she stirred the soup a few more times before tasting it. “Soup’s done.”
“If you don’t want me to leave, you can just come with me.”
“Everyone who’s attempted to leave has died,” Aryia replied, keeping her attention on the bowls she was serving soup into, “washed up on the shore, just like the rest of your crew.”
“Well, I survived that once. If – if I fail, I suppose I’ll survive it again.”
Aryia would usually wait until he finished praying to begin eating. Tonight, she gave no such respect.
After praying, Soren continued, “Will you be there to see me off at least?”
Aryia shook her head as she stared into his eyes. “I will not watch you go to your death.”
Soren shook his head as they continued eating.
The rest of the night was uneventful and the two went to bed without a word. Soren woke before the sun the next morning, anxious to sail away. He would be the first to be able to chart the island on a map. If only he could see the stars from the island – the sky was always too cloudy.
No matter, he made his way to the shore as the light of the sun began to shine over the horizon. By the time he’d reached the shore, a slight sliver could be seen. He moved the raft closer to the water and waited. He imagined what his return could be like.
Many ships that sailed in the Sea of Stones would break due to its namesake. Many of them, maiden voyages or ships that were in desperate need for repair. But the Imya’s Retribution was a ship of great renown. Its crew was experienced and its parts in good repair. That such a ship would go down and have a single survivor would gain Soren great fame. Or infamy. Regardless, he needed to get back, so that no one would crash on the island again.
As the first half of the sun came into full view, Soren got up from where he sat and pushed the raft out to sea. He began to row until the current began to pull the raft away from shore. He went for what felt like an hour – a very slow hour. The weather, despite the clouds above, was calm. Not a bit of rain in sight. He turned to see the island behind him, far in the distance, when, suddenly, it vanished.
Everything was dark, save for a faint light from the symbol he wore on his neck, which now burned his chest. He was submerged in water. It was cold – almost freezing – as a fish brushed his side before he felt something lightly bite his leg.
The salt burned his eyes as he thrashed, trying to fight off whatever was biting him as it continued to tear into his legs. He tasted his own blood in the water as his consciousness faded. He knew he was dying.
As he clenched his teeth and pushed through the pain, he tried to swim back the way he came from. It was a struggle, but, eventually, the sunlight over the island came into view as his vision faded.
He awoke on the beach. It was night and he was positioned to stare at a fire as the salt of the ocean burned the wounds on his leg, which were tightly bandaged.
A familiar captain sat at the fire beside him, a cloth cap covering his hair, with a neatly trimmed beard covering his rough face. His mismatched eyes stared into the blaze.
“Don’t do that again,” the man, who was the spitting image of captain Delmore, said.
Soren tried to sit up, but the pain in his leg pinned him to the ground. “You’re dead. I held your funeral.”
“That you did.” The captain looked to where the funeral pyre had been built. “Which is why you shouldn’t try that again. I can’t save you a second time. As my soul fades from this world, so too does the power that the unnamed god has offered me.”
“What am I to do, then? What is this place?”
The captain looked around him. “This is the Isle of the Dreamer. A cage of sorts.”
“How do I leave?”
The captain chuckled. “So many questions. You always were the curious sort.” He looked up to the starless sky. “The short answer is, you can’t. Not without losing everything you hold dear – not that it hasn’t already been taken from you.”
“So, what, I just live here forever?”
“You do as you promised – fulfill the last mission of Imya’s Retribution. A mission which would not require leaving this island. Under Imya’s direction, I supplied you with all that you would need from the outside world. This task is one that is millennia in the making.”
“So, what? I’m destined for this? Born for this?”
“You chose this path, Soren. You demanded the notice, not only of Imya, but also of the unnamed god. When you chose to reject the life fate handed to you, that is when you were added to the plan. When you were chosen to be their champion. And the task still remains up to you.”
Soren let out a huff as he turned to lay on his back. “What is this ‘mission?'”
“The gods have not permitted me to tell you.”
Soren slammed his fist into the sand, screaming curses to the starless sky. What sort of employer doesn’t tell it’s employee what they are hired to do?
“But, know this: you will know your mission when the time comes that you should complete it. Your first step is to find the Dreamer. There is a man in town – an academic. He may have a way forward.”
Soren let out a sigh as he closed his eyes. The crackle of the fire and the orange light that pierced his eyelids faded.
When he looked again, his captain was gone, and no sign of the fire remained.
Unable to stand, Soren slept on the sand. He awoke in the morning to the water lapping at his feet, and a raven watching him.
“You going to talk?” he asked, staring into the bird’s black eyes.
The raven craned its head before flying away.
Soren sat up, no longer racked with pain from whatever sea creature was attempting to eat him. A young girl sat on a log nearby.
“Do you normally talk to birds, sir?”
Soren gave the girl a blank stare as he stood. It would probably be best if he stayed off his leg as much as possible for a while.”Do you normally watch strange men sleep?”
The girl stood up and started following him. “No, only when I think they might die soon. Figure if they’re dead, they won’t miss what’s in their pockets. Aryia’ll be glad you’re still alive, though.”
Soren gave a cynical smirk. “Sure she will. And what have I told you about calling me sir?”
“I’ve called grown men ‘sir’ for the last twenty years of my life, sir. Don’t think that’ll change much soon.” The girl was named Maya. She’d been stranded on the island for the last ten years, when she was being transported to Felshra by a group of slavers – she was the only surviving cargo, and after a couple nights of careful planning and execution, she came to be the last living person from the ship.
She was a Birik, with pale skin, wavy, black hair, and a tiny little nose. Her ears almost looked a bit pointed, making Soren wonder if she had an elven father, but he reasoned it would have been impolite to ask. She always wore the same traditional garb of her people – a thick robe, one side overlapping the other, fastened with a wide belt that covered her mid section. It’d been taken from her by the slavers, but when they all mysteriously died in the night, it came to be back in her possession.
As they approached town, they first passed by the lodge of ‘the madam.’ Her name was Leondrea, but she refused to answer to anyone who didn’t refer to her with the aforementioned title. She was a Shelezar noble who crashed in the same ship that the honeymooning couple were on – she was on her way to a hunting trip in the southern continent.
As they drew near to the lodge, a growl emanated from the large shed that sat beside it, before a wolf, whose shoulders reached the top of Soren’s head, charged out, stopped only by the anchor chain that connected somewhere inside its shed. Its tail flailed wildly as it barked ferociously at the pair.
“Do you know any academics in town?” Soren asked as Maya blew a raspberry at the madam’s mutt.
Maya shrugged, smiling, as she focused back on the path ahead. “I’m surprised you haven’t met everyone in town yet.”
“Well, I didn’t plan on staying here too long, but plans have changed.”
“Well, there’s Otto, of course, the inventor. There’s also Arakim, I suppose – he’s usually at the library.”
Soren chuckled. He’d never expect a library to be built among such a crude village as Ortus. “Sometimes I forget just what kind of people end up on this island – and the sorts of things they feel the need to add.”
The two made their way to the library. It was a single room, not much larger than Aryia’s hovel, but it was chock full of bookshelves, most of which had no empty space. A good portion of the books there were written or copied from memory by one man – Arakim.
As they entered, a Mikri sat at a table in the center of the shack, writing yet another book. He had the dark skin that was an intrinsic quality of the southern continent, along with very curly, black hair that grew out into a ball-shape that sat on his head. His hands were covered in ink and he held a quill, which he pinned into his hair as the pair entered. He stroked his hand through his full beard, which likely would have become the color of his ink if it wasn’t already.
He spoke with a smooth and collected voice, reclining in his chair. “What can I do for ya?”
Soren sat on the other side of his table. “I’m looking for the Dreamer.”
“Hmmm.” Arakim stared down at the pages he’d just been writing on, waiting for the ink to dry. After a moment, he blew on the pages before closing the book when the ink didn’t budge. “The Dreamer. Haven’t heard too much about that one. Rumors – here and there.”
Maya began looking at the spines of the books on the bookshelf, reading their titles under her breath.
“Tell me what you know.”
Arakim pursed his lips as he looked over to the bookshelf Maya was looking at. He drew in a deep breath before standing up and looking through the books himself, tracing his finger along the spines before stopping on one. He tapped it a few times before pulling the book out and strolled back to the table, placing the book and opening it carefully.
He turned through a few pages before stopping, studying the page and exclaiming, “Ah!”
He turned the book to face toward Soren and pushed it forward, tapping his finger on the page. Specifically, a line that read, “The inscription is of a dialect of Giant, though not one I strictly recognize. From what I understand, it reads, ‘… So now the mighty Dreamer (one who imagines?) slumbers/Atop the mountain, slumber keeps.’ It should be noted that no distinction is made in Giant between plural and singularly linked verbs, nor is there any distinction between upper and lower case lettering, so I wonder if it is the mountain which keeps him slumbering or perhaps a mountain named ‘Slumber Keep’ upon which he sleeps.”
Soren sighed as he pushed the book back toward Arakim. “So, what? The Dreamer’s sleeping on a mountain?”
Arakim shrugged. “Or the mountain is keeping him asleep. Perhaps the mountain in the middle of the island need be destroyed for him to wake.” He carefully closed the book before making his way back to the shelf and returning the book to its proper place.
Soren wondered if he could make better sense of the inscription should he see it himself. “Where was this temple?”
Arakim sat back down in his previous seat, once again lounging in his chair as he pursed his lips. “Tell me” – he paused as he held out his hand, waiting for Soren’s name – “Soren, how much Giant do you know?”
Arakim squinted before spouting off sounds that might have been words, mainly made of grunts, clicks, and vague growls.
Soren raised a brow.
“I know every Giant dialect nearly as well as I know the language I speak to you now.” (They were speaking to each other in Shelezar, which Soren could tell by Arakim’s accent and occasional pause in speech was not his native language.) “I could gain no further insight from this inscription, what makes you think you can do any better?”
Soren sighed. “I just want to take a look for myself. Were there any murals or anything in the temple that may offer insight?”
Arakim squinted at Soren once again before standing from his chair and making his way to another bookshelf. He scanned his way through the shelf until he found a set of three books, all with the same title: The Most Complete Atlas of this Forsaken Island. “I believe so,” he said, slowly flipping through the pages as he returned to his seat. “I didn’t particularly see the temple as important at the time – simply a place of worship of dead gods – but it could be that you could find such insights.” Arakim chewed on his cheek as he slid the book across the table to Soren. “The way to the temple is described in this book, I suspect you should find it otherwise useful – I will require payment in the future for the supplies with which to make another copy, of course. Regardless, I would advise against going to the temple without preparations. It’s a truly treacherous place.”
“I can look after myself,” Soren said as he stood, Maya returning to his side. Soren took the book in his hand before the pair made their way out the door.