The three made their return to the village of Ortus. As they passed by the first house on their in, a child, playing in the dirt, ran ahead of them. By the time they were halfway to Aryia’s house, she was running out to greet them.
She practically leapt onto her father, nearly pulling him to the ground. Before he’d eaten of the mushrooms, he’d likely have been knocked over. All that time living in the woods at least made him stronger.
He wrapped his arms around his daughter, holding her tight, and his eyes were shut just as much. A tear poked through the tight space between his eyelids and rolled down his cheek.
“I’m so sorry for abandoning you, little one.”
Aryia sniffled. “It’s okay, papa.” She turned to Soren as tears began welling in her eyes. “Thank you.”
Soren nodded to her before looking to Maya. They still had medicine to deliver.
As Rolph and Aryia returned to their house, Soren and Maya made their way to the madam’s manor. As they delivered the medicine, the sun began to set, and they each returned to their respective places to stay – Maya in the makeshift inn, and Soren to the house of Aryia of Rolph.
It was only after Soren returned to the house that he realized there was no bed for him to sleep on.
“You could sleep in my bed,” Aryia offered, to Rolph’s dismay, “I wouldn’t mind.”
Soren looked back and forth between the girl who’d cared for him since awoke on the island and her father. “You’ve done enough for me. I’ll just go to the inn.”
The inn was hardly a proper one. The main floor was a larger building, clearly meant to be a simple alehouse, but, since its original construction, various pieces had been added on. Several smaller structures were built on top of it to house those who had nowhere else to stay, and a simple stable had been built outside for those who were lucky enough to have had a horse on their ship that survived the crash.
The alehouse was a dirty place as the stench of poorly made moonshine hung in the air and a faint squelching could be heard with each step as his boots stuck to the wooden floor.
Honestly, Soren thought, it would have been best to just keep the floor dirt like nearly all the other houses on this gods-forsaken island.
The only person he recognized was Maya, who was busy begging the bartender to let her have some ale – she was, after all, not the ten-year-old child she appeared to be.
He thought about approaching her and decided against it, instead opting to sit down at an empty table. Before long, a man came over to see if Soren needed anything. He asked for a room and ordered a pint of the house ale before sitting and waiting for either his order or for something to happen.
After a few minutes, a man sat down at his table. A Mikri with lighter-than-average skin – though still darker than Soren’s – a bald head, and a stark white beard that reached down to his waist, tucked into the rope that held his tunic in place.
“New here, eh?”
Soren forced a smile; he hadn’t anticipated anyone here talking to him.”Sure.”
“Mmm. Name’s Imbandu by birth, but here they call me Ulrath the White. Or maybe the Wise. I never can remember.” The man held out his left-hand.
Soren responded in turn by grasping Ulrath’s with his own left hand, sliding his pinky between Ulrath’s pinky and ring finger.
Ulrath grasped Soren’s hand tight before shaking it up and down once. “Surprised a man of your standing in Shelez would know such a thing.”
“I don’t know how you mean. I’m a sailor. We mainly worked shipments between Mikron and Shelez.”
“Of course, that’s what you are. But what about what you were? Surely you were not always a sailor.”
Ulrath’s eyes jumped to the table, where he was idly moving his finger.
Soren looked down to see him tracing his old family crest.
“How do you know who I am?”
“I know many things, Soren. I know what you’re looking for, and I know the journey to find it won’t be an easy one.”
Maya finally gave up on trying to get a drink from the bartender and looked around. Her face lit up when her eyes landed on Soren and she started making her way over.
“I give you this one piece of advice for now, as it is all I am permitted to offer: who you would call friend, may in fact be an enemy, and who you would call enemy, may in fact be a friend. Do not let your past dictate your future.”
Without giving even a moment for Soren to ask questions, Ulrath left, and Maya immediately took his seat.
“Who was that?”
Soren sighed. “‘Ulrath the White.’ Er… Wise, maybe.” He shrugged.
“Hmm. I’ve never seen him before.”
Soren tilted his head. Someone Maya’s never seen in the past fifteen years she’s been on the island?
“Maybe he’s new,” she added.
“So, what are you doing here?” Maya asked as she glanced around the room, trying to figure out if there was anyone else she didn’t recognize.
“Well, I was sleeping in Rolph’s bed. But he’s back now, so I needed somewhere to sleep.”
Maya nodded her head as the man who’d taken Soren’s order returned.
“Your drink, sir. And here is your room key. My apologies, but as there is no more room elsewhere you will be in Room 5 with the” – he paused and narrowed his eyes at Maya – “ne’er-do-wells.”
Maya stuck her tongue out as Soren handed him the owed money without a word.
“Mind if I have a sip?”
“Go for it,” Soren said as he slid the mug to her, “I think I’m going to retire. See you in the morning.”
Soren woke up before the sun and packed up everything he planned to take with him. As he left, he paused to make sure no one was following him.
He went to Aryia’s hut to take a look at the fences and make sure everything was in good repair before heading toward the forest. As he lit a torch and started down the forest path, Maya suddenly appeared next to him.
“Where are you going?”
“Back to the witch,” Soren answered, exasperated. “She knows something about the Dreamer that she didn’t say, and I plan to find out what.”
Maya pursed her lips. “So, you’re putting your crew’s last job in the hands of an elf?”
Soren clenched his jaw. “Yes. As bad as it may be, it seems it may be the only one who can help me”
Maya walked in thought for a moment. “You ever met an elf before her?”
“So, how do you know they’re bad?”
Soren rolled his eyes. “They enslaved humanity for centuries. The only reason-“
Maya scoffed. “The people who tried – and failed, I might add – to enslave me were Shelezar. Does that mean I should hate all Shelezar?”
“It’s not the same.”
Maya just barely ducked beneath a swinging branch Soren had just pushed past. “Isn’t it?”
Soren pursed his lips in frustration. “You’re speaking on the crimes of a few, I’m speaking of the crimes of an entire race.”
“Isn’t it that nearly every Shelezar citizen owns a slave?”
Soren was silent.
“Is it not true that less than half of the people who live in Shelez are free? That the majority of Shelez is made up of slaves – people afforded no citizenship and forced to live a life according to the whim of their master on penalty of death?”
Soren angrily swatted a branch out of his way. “I’m not affiliated with them, regardless. I turned my back on that lifestyle.”
“And yet you are Shelezar, just as that witch is an elf. Why then should she be judged for the crimes of her people centuries ago and you not judged for the same crimes by your people now.”
Soren clenched his jaw once more. Maya certainly annoyed him quite a bit – thus his failed triple checking that he wasn’t followed. But to be angry at her, really, truly angry. That was a rare occurrence.
He thought about stopping, turning to face her. But what would he say? That elves were inherently evil – abominations – and Shelezar were not? It was the truth. But he knew it was an answer she simply would not accept. Instead, he simply sighed and kept walking.
They reached the witch’s house and Soren raised his fist to knock on the door, before once again being interrupted by the woman’s voice, “Come in!”
“What can I do for you, dear?” The witch asked as Soren entered the hut.
Three rats stood in a row, watching him intently from the rafters. They squeaked at each other, in what almost sounded like a language.
“Tell me what you know about the Dreamer.”
The witch craned her head to the side. “Is that any way to treat someone? Walking into their house and start making demands of them.”
“I need to know what you know about the Dreamer.”
The witch let out a long sigh. “I know very little – he was from before my time.” She took a seat at her table before taking on a look of realization. “However, I may know someone who can help you. Have you ever heard of the Djinn?”
“As in the Iminari legend? The demon who claims to grant wishes and then twists them into something… undesirable?”
“That is the one.”
Soren looked to Maya standing behind him before stepping forward and sitting at the table himself. The rats’ gaze continued to follow him. “What of it?”
“In the legend, he is sealed in a bottle and cast into the sea. Have you ever wondered which sea he was cast into?”
“Let me guess,” Soren answered, “he was cast into the Sea of Stones and now he’s on this island.”
“Precisely,” the witch replied. “And I happen to know where to look for him.”
“Why would I want the Djinn?”
“Because he might know things.” The witch squinted as she smiled, her lips thinning to nothing. “If there is anyone who knows where the Dreamer is, it’s the Djinn.”
“Where can I find the Djinn, then?”
The witch pursed her lips. “Well, he originally washed up on the beach hundreds of years ago, before the times of the dragons. Then, he was found by a prophet from before the Disappearance that’s been on this island for millennia. that prophet took him deep in the forest and buried the bottle he was sealed in.”
Soren gave the witch a blank stare. “So, you’re telling me I need to look through the forest for a bottle that was buried centuries ago?”
“You didn’t let me finish.” The witch flared her nostrils as she opened her eyes wide. “The Djinn’s power corrupted the soil around it, and all the plant-life and the water along with it. It began sinking into the earth and became acidic. What’s resulted is a bog, right at the base of the mountain in the island’s center.”
“So, I go to the bog and dig around for the bottle?”
“Well, not quite,” the witch answered, “you see, wherever the bottle is will be the lowest ground. There’s a pond near the center of the bog, see. In that pond will be the bottle, and in the bottle will be the Djinn, and in the Djinn you’ll find your answers.”
Soren gave the witch a blank stare once more before standing up. “Sounds easy enough.”
Without looking back he walked toward the door, wanting to spend as little time in the witch’s hut as possible.
“Soren!” the witch called.
He stopped in the door frame, keeping his eyes forward.
“Remember that a cage is a prison – but it can also protect.”
Soren sighed. “Good to know.”
Soren and Maya made their way deeper into the forest, narrowly avoiding ork scouting details the whole way. Finally, they reached a point where there were no trees. The ground was made of peat and the occasional grass poked up out of the mud. Random ponds were scattered about, and strange flowers opened and closed throughout the bog, with their petals appearing to be lined with teeth.
Soren laced his boots up to his knees and Maya tied off her skirt before the pair made their way further into the bog.
Movement was difficult as their feet sank into the muck easily.
At several points, Soren was sure the vines were moving on their own, grasping for his legs. They did, however, seem to ignore Maya.
The further they traveled into the bog, the bigger the ponds got. As did the flowers, eventually having petals the size of Soren.
Finally, they stopped at a larger pond, which seemed to have a darker color to it than the rest.
Maya rested her hand on her hip. “This must be it. How do you plan to get the Djinn out?”
Soren thought for a moment – he hadn’t considered that question – but was interrupted by another vine slithering up his leg. Soren tried to pull his leg away, but the vine simply tightened.
He let out a shout as he was pulled into the air and swung around by his ankle.
Maya jumped away from him and watched, wide-eyed.
“Cut- the- vine!” Soren shouted, whipped back and forth with each word.
“With what?” Maya shouted as she glanced around.
“What do you mean ‘with what?'” Soren shouted back as the swinging suddenly stilled.
The petals on the flower opened wide, revealing a large hole, filled with thorns . It was going to eat him.
Soren glanced around quickly before unbuckling his belt. The belt, along with the sword that he had fastened to it, fell to the ground as he slowly grew ever-closer to the flower.
Maya struggled with the sword for a moment before finally pulling it from its sheath. The way he handled it, it always seemed so light. It certainly weighed far more than a sword of its size should.
She dragged it across the ground until she stood next to the vine. As Soren grew ever-closer to the flower, she attempted to hoist the sword into the air, but couldn’t even get it off the ground. Finally, as Soren was feet away from the flower’s gaping maw, she ran over the vine, pulling the sword with her.
The vine severed and Soren fell to the ground, just brushing against one of the flower’s petals. As he stood, he glared at Maya.
“What was that?” he shouted. “Why didn’t you just cut it?”
“Your sword is heavy!”
Soren narrowed his eyes at her as he got up off the ground and trudged over, taking the sword from her hand. He tossed it between both his hands. “Doesn’t seem very heavy to me.”
Maya curled her lips inward as she stared at him. Then she shrugged and looked back to the pond. “Now what?”
Soren put his belt back on and the two eyed the pond for a few moments before Soren let out an “Oh!” and reached into his bag.
He pulled out Arakim’s atlas of the island and flipped through a few pages. He studied the words on the page muttering under his breath, first in Mikri, then in Shelezar, before putting the book back in his bag.
“Well, I’m not sure how he figured this out, but…”
He picked up the end of the vine to a hollow center, surrounded by fleshy tissue. Shuddering, he stuck his hand inside and the vine began to move. “Ulgh.”
The vine moved into the water and swept around its depths before bumping into a small object. He retracted the vine toward him and dropped the object – a bottle, made of thick, stained glass, that had a black cloud within.
The pond suddenly seemed to clear moments after the bottle left it.
Soren pulled his hand out of the vine and shuddered once more, shaking a thick red fluid that seemed an awful lot like blood off his hand.
“Alright, so, this is the Djinn,” he said as he walked over and picked up the bottle.
Maya took the bottle from his hand – “Let’s see what it has to say” – before pulling the stopper out.
Soren glared at the girl as a black cloud billowed out of the bottle.
It appeared to be almost ripped from her hand as the cloud took a nearly human form and the bottle settled at its feet. It spoke through a series of screeches and clicks – some form of Giant by the sounds of it.
The two stared at it in wonder.
Then, it spoke again, this time in an old dialect of Iminari. Soren didn’t quite understand it, but he understood enough. It asked what they wanted.
He slowly struggled over his next words as he spoke the language of the desert with his infantile vocabulary and lacking knowledge of the language’s grammar. “We- want- know- where-” he paused before adding in Shelezar, “Dreamer.”
The cloud crossed its arms before speaking again. Soren only understood a few words this time. Something about speaking.
Soren stood with his mouth agape for a moment before Maya began speaking – her Iminari was certainly far better than his.
She had a brief conversation with the Djinn before looking to Soren with her lips curled inward. “He wants your blood,” she whispered.
“I- not- know- definition,” Soren slowly said (though he didn’t quite mean definition).
The Djinn said something else as Maya slowly stepped away.
“Yeah, so he’s gonna fight you now.”
Soren just barely managed to side-step the Djinn as it lunged toward him, the bottle clattering across the ground as it moved.
He danced around it a bit and attempted cutting the cloud with his sword to no avail as the sword swung through the cloud as if it was nothing. The bottle continued clattering on the ground as the Djinn lunged at Soren again and again.
Soren then thought to the powder that was on his waist.
He took out a pinch and blew it in the Djinn’s face.
It recoiled before looking at the ground. Within another moment, it was lunging at Soren again.
“Can I get a little help?” he shouted as he narrowly avoided a swipe of the Djinn’s arm.
“He says if you manage to defeat him, he’ll tell you what you want to know!”
Soren ducked under the Djinn’s arm once more as he tried to think of another way to defeat it.
Then, he remembered the witch’s words. Remember that a cage … can also protect. He looked at the bottle that rolled around the Djinn’s feet.
As it took another swipe, he ducked under its arm and lunged forward, planting his foot firmly on the bottle and smashing it to pieces.
For a moment, the cloud disappeared.
Then, out from the lake came something big. A man, it appeared, with red skin and a great orange beard that reached to his knees, covering his nakedness. He stood several times Soren’s height, and, after climbing out of the pond, stood before him.
The giant crouched down and stared Soren in the eyes.
“There was a time when me and my kind would have crushed you underfoot without a second thought. But, this day, you have done me well, so I will spare you and grant you one wish – no tricks, no loopholes. Name it, and it will be done.”
“I want to know where the Dreamer is.”
The giant gave Soren a sinister smile before looking to the mountain. “In the days when this island sat on the surface of the waters, that mountain was known to us in our tongue as Slumberkeep. It is where the Dreamer lies.”
The giant turned his gaze back to Soren. “I would, however, advise not going there. Whatever your reason for seeking the Dreamer, he is not worth the journey.”
Soren furrowed his brow. “Finding him is the only thing I have left worth doing.”
The giant’s smile fell. “Very well, then you will meet your doom.”
Soren bit his cheek before speaking through his teeth, “So be it.”
The giant chuckled and stood. “For four-hundred years I have been trapped within that bottle. Tell me, how goes the war?”
“The war for Kithria. Does it still rage on, or did we win?”
Soren raised a brow. “I know nothing of a war for Kithria.”
The giant gave Soren a warm smile. “Then it rages on.”
With that, the giant stretched and let out a yawn, which seemed to shake the nearby vegetation, before suddenly vanishing in a plume of smoke.
Soren and Maya stood alone.
New chapters release every Friday. If you like what you’re reading, you can subscribe using the module in the right sidebar or read previous chapters at xaviermakes.com/iotd.