The line of trees ended abruptly, and Rordynne Forest was suddenly behind them. Even the air felt thinner, the breeze cooler. The sun shone unobstructed, opening up a familiar vista. Before them, the gentle green pastures that spread over most of the western part of Renryre Island rolled into the distance. The farmlands stretched from Lerinton on the edge of the forest, all the way to Helen’s Bay, and followed the coastline to the north.
Kyrnrie took a deep breath, fresh air filling his lungs, unpolluted by the damp odours of the dense forest.
“Stinks, doesn’t it?” said Ryleine. “I always regret leaving the forest. Leaving my home.”
She sounded sad, a genuine longing already creeping into her voice. Kyrnrie smiled without looking at her.
“I never get that sensation when leaving the sewer stench of the city! But I am always happy to return to it.”
Not for the first time, Kyrnrie allowed Ryleine to take the lead. She was much more accustomed to the wilds than he was, but she also wore her self-made leather outfit rather well. It might attract some curious looks in the city, some inappropriate offers too. He should really warn her.
They made good time on their way to Helen. Madrik had stolen the coin from The Hermit, and they needed to catch up with him before he sold it, or lost it on bad bets. Kyrnrie was particularly upset that Madrik had stolen it, more than that he had beaten him to it. He had, thus far, kept that point to himself.
“I still cannot believe that thief stole from my grandfather!” repeated Ryleine for the hundredth time.
“Madrik isn’t a thief exactly, just an opportunist,” said Kyrnrie. “And not a very bright one at that.”
“And this… Tailfin? Madrik works for him?”
“Everyone works for Tailfin.”
Ryleine was swinging too close to the truth. He had been trying to avoid the topic, relying on distractions ever since they had found out the coin had been taken.
“I am good at finding things. And yes, occasionally, Tailfin needs things found,” he conceded. “But I was not in Rordynne Forest for his business. My employer is no criminal, no gangster, as far as I am aware.”
A silence fell upon them, and Kyrnrie once again found himself watching her walking in front of him. At some point, she would figure out that he wasn’t exactly intending to borrow her grandfather’s coin. At least, he hadn’t planned on returning it. In fact, he hadn’t planned anything at all; all he knew was that Arynlock needed the coins to find the mainland.
“Madrik has fallen out of favour with Tailfin. He might try use the coin to buy himself out of trouble. That is the first place we should check.”
Time crawled past as they approached Helen. The city loomed on the horizon, and seemed to refuse to come nearer no matter how fast they walked. But eventually they reached the old cobblestone roads that wound into the centre of town, and Kyrnrie led them directly to Tailfin. They reached the gambling den, and he saw a familiar lackey at the door. He nodded in greeting, receiving the same courtesy in return.
“I’m looking for Madrik,” he said. “You seen him around here lately?”
The lackey nodded nonchalantly, and pointed inside before opening the door.
“In the office.”
A stroke of luck. Just before he went in, he stopped and turned to Ryleine.
“Look, things are a little complicated. I swear I will tell you everything later. The truth.”
She smiled, and nodded for him to enter. He felt better already, not even having said anything. It wouldn’t be so easy later.
They reached the office to find another lackey standing at the door.
“I’m looking for Madrik.”
The lackey eyed him threateningly, overcompensating for what appeared to be a new job.
“Who are you?”
He glanced at Ryleine, but didn’t ask, he just knocked on the door.
“Kyrnrie here to see you, Madrik.”
“Send him in!” came a yell from within.
The door swung open, and they entered to find two people sitting a little snugly behind a single desk. Madrik stood up when he saw them. The woman sat still, leaning back in her chair, glaring at the newcomers.
“Kyrnrie!” he exclaimed, a lot more excited that he should be. “What a pleasure to see you! Please, come in, take a seat! This is my associate, Talyreina. But you can call her Tally.”
Kyrnrie was at a loss for words for a good few moments, but the two of them sat down as directed.
“This is Ryleine,” he said. “Uh, where is Tailfin?”
“Tailfin? Haven’t you heard? The Tailsharks have been feasting. The reign of Tailfin is over, and we have acquired his business.”
Madrik, showing off a huge grin, gestured to a familiar henchman who stood to one side. He was one of those sorts of men who are big enough to make all their other qualities meaningless. Communication was one of them, and even his nod was awkward.
“Would you give us some privacy? We are old friends after all.”
Old friends? They had run into each other a few times.
“Kyrnrie. You are now looking at the most powerful crime-lords on Renryre Island.”
Suddenly, he understood why the pair looked a little uncomfortable behind the desk.
“The two most powerful crime-lords? Surely one is more powerful than the other?”
The silence held for a few moments while every grin in the room faltered.
“We are, together, the most powerful crime-lords on Renryre Island,” insisted Madrik, while Tally nodded pointedly.
The size of the desk appeared to shrink, Tally and Madrik suddenly shared a very small space in the room.
“Fine, fine,” said Kyrnrie, lifting his hands defensively. “But how did this happen? How did you come to be the two equally most powerful crime-lords?”
“Well, after Tailfin… actually, we had a little help from a friend of yours. Mr Arynlock.”
“Arynlock?” gasped Kyrnrie. “Arynlock put you here?”
Madrik’s grin had returned, and he nodded along with Tally. She appeared to share his same affliction. She was little quieter, but appeared to be just as deficient in the brain.
“Doesn’t that make Arynlock the most powerful crime-lord?”
Even Ryleine chuckled at their wounded expressions.
“No! He just… what do you want here?”
Kyrnrie gracefully dropped the line of questions. He would need to ask Arynlock what was going on anyway. Tailfin dead? He doubted it. In the mean time, there was a new boss in town. Two of them, actually.
“You stole something from my grandfather,” blurted Ryleine. “I want the coin back!”
Madrik eyed her for a while, and Kyrnrie could see the truth already.
“What coin? Who is your grandfather?”
“Don’t lie to me—”
“A week ago,” cut in Kyrnrie. “It was stolen from Rordynne Forest. Where were you?”
“A week ago? I was on a boat trying to escape from the desert. That bastard Tailfin had me on a desert run for a second time. Tally here helped me escape,” said Madrik, Tally nodding beside him.
“Godsdammit, is this your first day on the job? You two want to forge a fearful reputation, you need to do a better job of convincing people you have done things, not the other way around. Be evasive. Say things like ‘my business is my own’ and ‘henchman, throw them out.’ Don’t dance around like innocent children being accused of stealing the candy.”
Ryleine was staring at him, bewildered.
“You’re helping them now?”
“He didn’t steal it, Ryleine. Besides, Madrik and I are old friends, aren’t we?”
Madrik nodded excitedly. He was a stubborn bastard. A little short of sense, but give him a while and enough people would take him seriously. In fact, it might do the city well to have someone new in charge.
“Well, thank you for your time,” said Kyrnrie. “I hope your new-found prosperity tastes good.”
“It does taste good,” agreed Madrik enthusiastically. “Dammit Kyrnrie, it tastes bloody amazing.”
“Doesn’t taste like bloody salt,” added Talyreina with an earnest nod, as if that information meant something.
Kyrnrie was just standing up when Madrik’s expression changed to one of curiosity.
“Hold on a moment,” said Madrik, mischief flashing across his face. “How did you two meet? Was Kyrnrie perhaps looking for your grandfather, after which you discovered he had been robbed?”
Ryleine nodded slowly, and Kyrnrie knew he was sold out. He tried to hurry out of the room.
“How fortunate for him to be in Rordynne Forest at that exact time. I mean, what are the chances that the best thief in Helen happened to be nearby just when your grandfather was robbed!”
Kyrnrie was pulling Ryleine out of the room, but it was too late.
“Be seeing you two!” shouted Madrik from behind.
“I knew it!” said Ryleine, but she didn’t stop following.
“I said I would explain later. And I will. But we should get out of here now.”
In their rush, Kyrnrie bumped into somebody, and nearly knocked him over.
“Constable Pektyne?” he said. “I’m sorry.”
The city watch. The city watch. The only watchman in the city. What the hell was he doing in Tailfin’s… Madrik and Talyreina’s gambling house?
“No need to worry, Kyrnrie,” said the constable, straightening himself.
And how the hell did the constable know his name? He kept rushing, dragging Ryleine behind him. What the hell had happened in Helen? He had only been gone a few days!
* * *
Kyrnrie and Ryleine made their way towards Arynlock’s mansion. He had planned to use the time to explain himself, but Madrik had made a mess of that idea. Instead, they walked in icy silence. Thankfully, Ryleine hadn’t run off. No doubt she had already worked most of it out for herself anyway.
They reached the mansion and passed through the gates with little more than an ushering nod from the guards. At the front door, Kyrnrie was just about to knock, but then decided not to bother. The door opened anyway, and the familiar butler-server-whatever-he-was opened the door.
“Ah, Mr Kyrnrie and Miss Ryleine. Please, come in. Mr Arynlock—”
“Is expecting us? Yes, I presumed so.”
“It is my business to avoid allowing Mr Arynlock to be caught… unprepared, for his guests. He will meet you in his study, as always,” said the server, before taking a long look at Ryleine’s attire. “Would you like a moment to don a new outfit? I could arrange for a private room, and servants to assist.”
“What’s wrong with my outfit?” demanded Ryleine, clearly taken aback. She had made the clothes herself, after all.
Kyrnrie cut him off before he could insult her any more.
“Nothing. Nothing at all. Will you take us to Arynlock now?”
“Certainly,” agreed the butler, turning to lead them, despite appearing to be far from certain.
“How did you know my name?” asked Ryleine as they followed.
“It’s my business. You are Ryleine, trapper and tracker of Rordynne Forest, and granddaughter to Gerylde – the little known hermit – who brought you up after your parents died when you were very young.”
“Well, that’s me, I guess. And you are?”
“He’s not much for conversation, this one,” laughed Kyrnrie.
“How could he possibly know all that about me?” she asked, clearly disturbed.
Before Kyrnrie could answer, they were ushered into the study. The familiar room had a wonderful view of Helen’s Bay, and the walls were covered in portraits of unknown men. Ryleine was clearly amazed, almost dumbfounded, but then she had probably never even seen a house half the size of Arynlock’s study. Kyrnrie made a quick reassessment of the room, and noted an ornamental dagger that shouldn’t have been there – he had personally removed it barely a week before. He crept closer to take another look, to see if it had been replaced with a replica.
“Nice blade, isn’t it?” said Arynlock, startling Kyrnrie. “A family heirloom. That’s my grandfather watching over it.”
“It is a nice dagger,” agreed Kyrnrie. “I would fasten it more securely to ensure no opportunistic thieves are overcome by temptation.”
He flashed a smile that was a little too easily returned by Arynlock.
“And you must be Ryleine?” he surmised. “Are you sure you wouldn’t like a moment to get changed into something a little more appropriate?”
“What’s wrong with my outfit?” she demanded.
Arynlock looked a little surprised, and turned to Kyrnrie for support, but he only shrugged in avoidance.
“Well, dear… a girl in tight leather animal print clothing in the city… well, she would look rather like… entertainment. Paid for entertainment, if you understand my meaning.”
Ryleine was a little shocked and more than a little embarrassed. She looked herself up and down, trying to find some words to explain her thoughts.
“I… I made these!” she protested, and then turned to Kyrnrie. “Why didn’t you tell me? Does everybody think I am your… your…”
“Protection, I would expect,” suggested Arynlock. “If he had hired you, he would hardly have been parading you around the city.”
Kyrnrie hadn’t really considered the matter. He had been single-mindedly trying to track down the coin.
“I’m sorry, Ryleine. I didn’t think about it. We will get you something today, anything you like. But first let’s get back to business. Arynlock, we didn’t manage to get the coin. We don’t know exactly where it is. We thought Madrik had stolen it, but we were wrong.”
He shrugged. They were wrong, but he didn’t know how and when that had happened.
“My grandfather can be a little forgetful sometimes,” added Ryleine. “It’s possible he has simply misplaced it. We could go back and look again, if it would help the search.”
Arynlock nodded in thought, though he didn’t appear too concerned.
“It would help indeed, but there is no rush. A friend of mine ran into Gerylde a week or so back. He had the coin then, I suspect he still has it.”
“A friend?” queried Kyrnrie. “Did he perhaps look like somebody that had spent too long in the desert?”
“Yes. Twenty years too long, to be precise.”
Kyrnrie shook his head. He had been so convinced that the description had suited Madrik. After all, the foolhardy upstart gangster had gotten himself thrown into the desert. Twice. Yet somehow, this had led to him taking over the business.
“But I have located a few more coins that we can prioritise,” added Arynlock. “I understand, Ryleine, that you have chosen to join our cause, for your own reasons?”
She nodded, albeit reluctantly.
“Very well. One coin is located deep beneath the waves of Helen’s Bay. My scribe has already spun a tale on how to recover that coin.”
Arynlock looked at Kyrnrie as though he was expected to know what the hell that meant. He didn’t.
“Another coin,” continued Arynlock, “is locked within the deepest cavern in Goldryke Caves. In order to retrieve it, you must travel far to the north, summit the highest of the Frozen Peaks, survive the deadly storms and frostbitten winds, and avoid being hunted by the flocks of giant ice raptors. The coin itself is protected by an ancient immortal guardian, said to be fifteen feet tall with a hundred eyes facing every direction, and enough sharp talons to match, dangling on the ends of extended tentacles.”
Kyrnrie’s jaw had long since dropped. Ryleine let out something that could have been a laugh. Sounded more like a final breath, resigned to give up right then.
“You realise I am a thief, Arynlock?” said Kyrnrie. “Not some hero with arms the size of tree trunks!”
“Indeed. A hero would get himself killed, charging in sword swinging as though he could defeat an immortal guardian. A thief, however, would sneak in and retrieve the coin without alerting anyone or anything to his presence.”
“You are referring to the guardian with a hundred eyes facing all directions?” said Ryleine. “As a hunter, I can tell you with confidence that one hundred is far too many eyes to approach unnoticed.”
“Fine, fine,” said Arynlock. “Fine. There is another coin here in Helen. It should be relatively simple to retrieve.”
“It’s never a simple job,” muttered Kyrnrie, years of experience behind him.
“Ah, but you have a new accomplice now!” said Arynlock with a cheeky smile. “There is a bakery on Sevryne Street; been there since anyone can remember, since the dawn of time if it were possible. Little old lady runs it. I understand she possesses one of the coins, though I don’t know how it came to her.”
“I know the place. I’ve been getting fresh bread from there since I was a boy. I can hardly rob such a sweet old lady.”
Arynlock shrugged without concern. His casual manner was sometimes disconcerting.
“Two more coins lie beyond my knowledge. For now, you have the bakery, or the caves. You can decide in which order you collect them.”
With that, they were dismissed, and promptly escorted out the building. There was no argument, nor a demand. Just an understanding that they would retrieve the coins. The order in which they did that was up to them. They walked in silence, both contemplating their options as they continued back towards Helen. They were both so lost in their thoughts that they hardly noticed the man running towards them.
“Ryleine!” he shouted. “I found you!”
Startled, they stopped and stared at the man in silence for a short moment, trying to work out who he was. He wore a gentleman’s outfit, tailor made, perfectly fitting. His hair was well brushed, a sandy brown with just a hint of silver. His smile showed his years, though happiness penetrated straight through.
“Isn’t that your god?” whispered Kyrnrie. “The one that fell out of the sky? He looks… different. Maybe… younger?”
She didn’t answer. The man kept smiling, his white teeth shining through. He swung open his jacket, showing it off.
“As you can see, I have completed your first quest. I am rather proud of this suit of clothing. Do you like it?”
She still didn’t answer. The silence dragged on for some time.
“Are you not pleased? Shall I complete another task to prove myself to you? A grand quest perhaps, to retrieve a lost treasure, thereby displaying my unyielding love for you?”
She was still silent. Stunned. Kyrnrie elbowed her.
“Can you think of any lost treasures he could retrieve for you?” he said, grinning madly. “It’s not every day an opportunity lands in your lap like this.”
Ryleine appeared to have lost her tongue while walking. Kyrnrie decided to help.
“There is a treasure that her heart truly desires,” he explained to the god. “A coin, deep in Goldryke Caves, far to the north.”
“Understood,” said the god confidently, and immediately began trotting away.
“Wait!” called Ryleine. “What’s your name?”
“Irikhart,” he called back, but he didn’t stop.
“That was a stroke of luck,” said Kyrnrie as they watched him disappear around the next bend. “Not every day that a god pops out in front of you just when you need one!”
“You sent him to his death, Kyrnrie! He said he sacrificed his immortality for me!”
“Mortals don’t age backwards. I don’t know what he is, but I suspect he stands a better chance in there than we do.”
She looked hurt. Regretful. But she didn’t argue any more.
“Let’s just go see this baker, then.”
* * *
“Good afternoon, Miss Nelysse,” said Kyrnrie as they walked into the bakery. “I am glad to see you are still open. I have a hankering for fresh bread. And maybe something sweet to go with it.”
“Kyrnrie!” she exclaimed. “How wonderful to see you. My, have you grown! Soon you will be too tall to walk in through the front door!”
He hadn’t grown an inch in ten years, but he flashed an embarrassed smile to satisfy her.
“And who is this here, your… friend?” said the bakerwoman, her tone dropping sharply as she eyed Ryleine’s outfit.
“This is my friend, Ryleine. She is a trapper from Rordynne Forest. By trade, not by character.”
“Lovely to meet you,” she said, after a moment of thought. “It’s always wonderful to see young ones find love.”
“Uh, you too… but we aren’t…” said Ryleine, but decided not to bother explaining.
“Do you mind if I use your wash room?” asked Kyrnrie. “Ryleine, please have a look around.”
Nelysse gestured for him to go ahead, and he opened the back door, quickly sneaking upstairs instead of into the wash room. He would have a quick look around, try to find where she might hide her valuables. He wouldn’t have much time, but it would also give him a chance to see where he could easily break in when he returned.
Upstairs, there were two bedrooms. One had been unused for years, the other was still occupied. He checked the windows, but they were surprisingly secure. He checked the chest of drawers, and they were all locked, with no key visible. Likewise, the cupboards were locked too. What did a bakerwoman have to hide that made her so vigilant? Besides a gold coin, of course.
“What are you doing in here?” demanded Nelysse, her walking stick swinging before her. “I knew you were one of them. I could see it in your eyes. Young people these days. The lot of you. Thieves!”
Ryleine had followed her up, but was keeping a safe distance. Whether that was to avoid hurting the old lady, or getting caught by a swinging walking stick was anyone’s guess. Kyrnrie had the same dilemma.
“Please, Miss Nelysse,” he begged. “Stay calm. I can explain.”
She leapt forward and swung the stick. It hit his shoulder, but didn’t hurt much. Kyrnrie held his arms before him defensively. She closed the gap and started whacking him repeatedly, and he cowered, trying not to laugh.
“Young people, I swear. Always going through my underwear!”
Now he did laugh, and Ryleine followed suit. By then, he was curled up in a ball, and the repeated strikes were starting to hurt a little.
“You think we’re here to steal your underwear?” he protested. “We are looking for a gold coin!”
She stopped her attack, eyed him warily.
“What gold coin?”
“It has a ship on one side, and seven stars on the back. It’s very valuable, but not in monetary terms.”
The bakerwoman was glancing rapidly at each of them.
“What do you mean?”
“We are looking for the mainland,” said Ryleine. “That coin can help us find it. Help us escape.”
Kyrnrie and Ryleine stared at each other for a moment.
“We don’t know, exactly,” she admitted. “Just that there are seven of them. And we need them all.”
“Well, I’d love to see the mainland again. I have often thought about it actually. I can still remember the coastline, with cities and mountains all the way along it. But I don’t really want to give up my coin for nothing! How many have you found so far?”
“Just one,” conceded Kyrnrie. “Although we know where the second is. It’s safe.”
“Well, this one is safe here. You can come back to me when you have all six. Now get out!”
She started swinging the walking stick again, and Kyrnrie scrambled to get out of her way. They ran downstairs and out onto the street, laughing despite the failure. Outside they stopped and collected themselves.
“Well, at least we know it’s safe in there,” suggested Ryleine. “And she does seem to want to find the mainland.”
Kyrnrie nodded, and then shook his head as he chuckled.
“It’s never a simple job.”
Thanks for reading Renryre Island Chapter IX: Never A Simple Job
Next, Chapter X: A Quest Most Noble, Most Honourable (coming soon).
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