When he was a young man, Abbikson had felt invulnerable; that the world was nothing but a good day followed by a smashing night in the nearest tavern. Recklessly, he’d drunk his youth away, until one day when he was left with barely a strain of untainted blood, he’d gone on a colossal bender, the likes of which only hardened alcoholics could be proud.
He had awoken the next morning with a pounding headache, various bruises of unknown origins, and a sinking feeling that he’d taken a boat and landed up on Renryre Island. Little did he know that he would never make it back.
A crowd had gathered on the beach, pointedly taking no notice of the wreckage or the smell of the youth who had gone one barrel too far. They were staring out at the ocean, at what had previously been a massive landmass, at what once was the edge of a mountain range with bustling cities nested all along the coast. All that remained was the vast emptiness of the open ocean.
Returning from his reverie of the past, Abbikson sighed as he took a sip from his leather waterskin. He wasn’t young any more, not even when measured against the kindest of compliments, but he was still staring into a vast empty wilderness. He had made the desert his home, a life of near solitude, where friends both lost and living could be forgotten.
Numerous seasons of battling the seas in search of the mainland had drained away what had remained of his strength all those years back. A hundred friends were made along the way, and damn near a hundred were lost to the futile quest; yet for all their searching, the mainland was nowhere to be found.
Abbikson lay down on his back on the desert sands and gazed up at the stars, just as he had nearly every night for some twenty years. Just as the desert appeared to the untrained eye, the night sky always appeared the same, and yet it was ever changing. The stars never stayed still for long, and most of them never stopped at all. They too were looking for something, and few would ever find it.
The eastern sky began to brighten, giving the stars their chance to rest. Abbikson too would rest in the shelter of his camp, well protected from the scorching sun. Nothing in the desert killed with even half the effortless strength of the sun, nor did anything have any real defence against it, save for cowering from its might.
As the day began to warm, Abbikson lay under the cloth canopy and shut his eyes, removing himself from the conscious plane. Time passed as it did in the dream world, both rapidly and painfully slowly as only time itself could explain. Soon enough, it returned to its regular pace, and Abbikson awoke with the voice of a goddess on his mind.
“Come to me,” she called.
Abbikson sat up sharply. It took him a moment to gather his wits while his senses recalibrated, but he could tell he had not yet slept enough. It was barely midday, and the worst of the sun was still ahead of him.
He could barely hear the goddess’s words any more, they had faded with his waking memory, yet still he knew the voice well. Lytette. But why would she call to him in that manner, he wondered. Why not take him in his dreams where both his strength and resolve were weakened by her hold over his reality? In the waking world, he was able to resist her better. Why, then, would she summon him?
Goddess or demon, Lytette held a power over all, men and women alike. To refuse her wasn’t wise. Her oasis wasn’t too far away; Abbikson could reach her by sundown so long as he travelled under light cloth covering his skin, and carried enough water to keep him hydrated.
Curiosity and fear convinced him and, with little hesitation, Abbikson gathered his belongings and began his journey, chasing the sun as it travelled to the west.
The afternoon passed uneventfully, the same way most days passed for the veteran. Abbikson had learned a long time before where not to go. Despite that, Dreamers’ Oasis was one place he could never resist for long.
“Abe!” called Lytette with unrestrained joy, “I am so glad you have come; it has been far too long!”
“Has it?” he asked, but immediately regretted it when he saw the hurt in her expression. “You are always in my thoughts, Lytette; it never feels that more than a day has passed.”
She brightened at that, her sweet smile returning, the corners of her eyes showing years of happiness and sadness rolled together, despite her apparent young age. She was really beautiful, that was certain, a goddess indeed. But beneath it lurked something sinister, something vicious. A demon disguised. Lytette was not one to be underestimated, the demon goddess was the power in the desert, and she wouldn’t be challenged.
Lytette held out her hand, her eyes beckoning him to take it. For all she was, he still felt sorry for her; she had given up everything, and was left with nothing but a desert. Abbikson took her hand, and allowed her to lead him to a small table set beside a stream that flowed through the Dreamers’ Oasis.
It wasn’t a true oasis, it was one of her creation. Instead of palm trees and a small spring, it was a little forest with lush green grass on the ground, a thick canopy protecting it from the sun, and wild mosses crawling up the trunks of the ageless trees. The stream sprang at one end, wound through the oasis, and dived back into the ground at the far side. Where the water came from or went to was beyond Abbikson’s guess.
“Please, have a seat, Abe,” said Lytette, and he complied.
A plateful of fruit was set in the middle of the table, and Abbikson helped himself to a drink of water, unnaturally cool. Lytette eyed him, concern and sorrow in her eyes.
“I have heard the cries of Irikhart,” she said. “The god of fools has fallen in love. He will make the same mistake that I once did.”
She turned away, unable to hold eye contact with Abbikson. He would have turned away if she hadn’t.
“He is the most handsome of gods, according to most,” she added. “Perhaps his luck will prove better than mine after all.”
“Beauty was never something you lacked, Lytette. That was never the problem—”
“I know,” she cut him off sighing deeply, then caught his eye again. “Perhaps it’s my lack of persistence?”
Abbikson stifled a laugh. That was certainly an affliction she never suffered from. He bit into a sweet yellow fruit as the silence dragged on, and it was a while before he spoke again.
“You brought me here to tell me about this… god of fools?”
Lytette remained quiet for some time. She seemed reluctant, unwilling to speak her mind, but eventually she opened up.
“Do not give up on your quest, Abbikson. The mainland can be found again. It must be found again. I cannot explain why, exactly, just that…”
“Just that what?”
She shook her head as she thought to herself.
“Never mind,” she said. “I had a visitor recently. He told me of a man who may have some way to find the mainland. Something real. Something that has remained hidden for all this time. Seven ‘somethings’ in fact.”
Abbikson eyed her suspiciously. In all the years he had known her, she had never once hinted at the fate of the mainland.
“You must go to Helen, search for a man named Arynlock.”
She was about to say something else, when someone appeared at the edge of the oasis. An old man in a grey cloak. Lytette went to speak to him as Abbikson waited by the water’s edge, lost in thought. She received plenty of gentleman callers, and Abbikson wasn’t about to deny her that freedom.
Instead, he stood up, exaggerated a sigh, and strolled off back into the desert, resolved to resume his long abandoned quest, refreshed with new hope. He would go find this Arynlock.
It was dark already; he hadn’t even noticed the evening approach. Time in the oasis felt different, as did light. It felt warm, welcoming, very difficult to leave behind. But years of practice combined with Lytette’s waning efforts had made it easier over the years.
To reach Helen, Abbikson would take Rasterlish Pass which led to Rordynne Forest. It was the nearest pass, and the quickest route, but certainly not the safest. Rordynne Forest had its own hazards, and plenty of wolves, but even getting there would be a challenge.
Forty leagues of desert to cover would take him three nights at a good pace, if he were a few years younger. In most cases, he wouldn’t mind taking his time, but Lytette’s warning had suggested that he should quicken his pace.
He pulled his dagger from his belt, and examined the long curved blade with its aged bone hilt. Nothing ornamental about it, purely functional and effective. He slid the sharp edge of the weapon along the palm of his hand, closed his grip, and squeezed as drops of blood fell to the sand.
He had barely bandaged the wound when he felt the cool burst of energy, and the darkness before him grew deeper. Any sane person would shiver in fear, and rightly so. The ancient spirit of the desert was unkind to strangers, torturing them for sport, watching them suffer as their wounds drove them mad, as the poison muddled their reality, leaving them vulnerable to the desert itself, dying without even the knowledge of what was happening to them.
“You dare summon me?” came a deep echo through the air, rumbling through his body as if it appeared from within.
“I do not fear you, because you fear her,” said Abbikson. “So, yes, I do dare.”
The shade had no face to speak of, nor any form a mortal could perceive. Yet even in its half existence, Abbikson could feel its scowl. It pierced his mind with venomous fury. Despite his bold appearance, Abbikson felt his resolve fading.
“I need to get to Rasterlish Pass,” he said forcefully. “Tonight.”
“The desert has finally defeated you. Your human weakness has betrayed you.”
“There is no need for conversation. I would happily travel in silence.”
The spirit remained quiet for some time, considering. It didn’t do anyone favours, it wouldn’t help a soul. But it feared Lytette, and knew well enough not to anger her.
“Very well,” rumbled the shade, “I will remove you from this desert. I hope the world of men beyond will trap you, and drag your beating heart body beneath the soil.”
Abbikson felt his body become increasingly lighter on his feet, and the cold and empty sensation of intangibility took him. He could see the world through different eyes, as if it wasn’t quite there, but the truth was, he wasn’t quite there. The time and space he occupied vanished, and without even seeing the land move beneath, he materialised at the foot of Rasterlish pass, the limits of the desert – of the spirit’s realm.
“Don’t ever ask anything of me again.”
Abbikson watched as the darkness faded and night returned to normal. He looked up to the stars to see them restless as always, their light dimly revealing the edge of the desert, and the wall of mountains separating it from Rordynne Forest.
It would take two days to cross the mountains. If he could breach them by daybreak, he would be able to find shelter from the sun, and possibly even a source of fresh water. Without hesitation, he began his ascent.
Sure enough, as the sun broke the eastern sky, Abbikson had crossed the first leg of Rasterlish pass. Within, the bulbous vegetation survived on the little rain that reached far into the mountains. It was hardly the deep greens of the west coast, but it was still a stark contrast to the vast wastelands of the desert.
He pushed forward through the day, barely pausing to rest. The hardest climb of the journey lay ahead; the pass was at least ten thousand feet high, a treacherous climb with steep rises and unstable footing. He fought against exhaustion as his bones struggled through the day, even as the air became thinner with altitude. By evening he was aching all over, and he couldn’t have pushed any further if he wanted to.
He made camp on the summit of Rasterlish Pass. Behind him, the desert stretched out to the east well beyond the limits of his ageing eyes. The mountains rose higher to the north and the south, blocking his view in both directions. Before him, the slope eased down into Rordynne Forest, where the trees thickened a few hundred feet below him.
As night fell, he heard the howling of the wolves. Notoriously vicious, the packs were known to attack people who were lost in the forest. Abbikson didn’t believe they would climb to the top of the pass, so he would sleep there, and wait for daybreak to begin the descent.
He lay on his back under the restless stars, waiting for sleep to take him. Within moments, he was lost in his dreams. A young man once again, hanging with one arm in the rigging, the wind blowing free through his hair, the surf breaking on the bow, and splashing on his face. He would sail all night, but would never reach his destination. He awoke with a familiar despair.
* * *
Abbikson wasted no time in beginning his descent. Rordynne forest lay stretched before him, but time was not in great abundance. The strength of the sun vanished when he reached the treeline, the forest providing a thick canopy above. A cool breeze slipped through the trees; they swayed from side to side, groaning as if they complained to each other, a song of age-old woes.
He made good time as he headed north, aiming for Lerinton on the edge of the forest. He would never make it by sundown, but he hoped to find shelter along the way. Even as the wolves began to howl, his hope was fading. He hadn’t come across a single camp, even a rusty snare, or any other sign of occupation. But then his luck changed. A single hut stood in a small clearing, firelight shone through the windows.
He approached cautiously, and knocked on the door.
“What do you want?” said a haggardly old man. A hermit.
Abbikson immediately thought he recognised him, but couldn’t quite place him.
“Good evening,” he said. “I am Abbikson. I seek shelter from the forest, and from the wolves patrolling it.”
The hermit looked around suspiciously. He fixed his eyes on a small bush outside the door.
“Well, he looks harmless enough.”
Abbikson eyed the bush, then the hermit. It didn’t take him long to understand.
“Don’t worry about me,” said the hermit, “I can take care of myself. You just wait out here.”
The hermit looked back to Abbikson and waved him in.
“Ignore them,” he said. “The imps have nothing good to say, but they can be rather judgemental.”
Abbikson sat by the hearth, and the hermit offered him a cup of soup.
“Fresh potatoes! My granddaughter brought them in from Lerinton!”
“Your granddaughter? Does she live here with you?”
“No, no, she has her own place elsewhere in Rordynne. Ryleine takes care of herself. If she had it her way, she would pack me up and move me in with her. Such a sweet girl.”
Ryleine? Why did he know that name?
“What’s your name, may I ask?”
“I’m Gerylde, but most just call me The Hermit,” he said, waving his hand casually.
“Gerylde? I thought I recognised you! Don’t you remember me? We used to sail together! We were looking for…”
Gerylde looked confused. And that’s when Abbikson remembered. The pain. The suffering. The girl. Ryleine was just a baby. Her parents were lost on the foolish quest to find the mainland. Her grandfather stood for days on the bow of the ship, insisting they would return at any time. He had blocked the memory of his son and daughter-in-law, ripped from the deck before his very eyes by the wrath of the storm.
When they had made it back to port, Abbikson had persuaded Gerylde to take his granddaughter away from it all, and to give up the futile quest. That was the same time he gave up, having lost too many friends in the process.
“Gerylde,” he said with a soft smile. “We were friends once. I am glad to see you again.”
The hermit was eyeing him suspiciously, unconvinced.
“You must have me confused with someone else. I have lived here all my life. Never been on a ship before.”
Abbikson remained quiet for some time. Some wounds never heal, and he wasn’t going to pick at this one.
“As you say, I must have you confused. Thank you for your hospitality all the same.”
Gerylde’s face widened. He obviously didn’t receive too many visitors, and was happy for the company.
“I have something to show you. Something precious that I found a long time ago, buried in the forest.”
He leapt up, surprisingly nimble for his age, and went to a shelf, collecting something golden that glinted in the firelight.
“Isn’t it beautiful?” he said, handing it to Abbikson.
It was beautiful. It was pure gold, or close to it. Worth a hell of lot. Far too much to be showing it to guests he didn’t know. The coin had the image of a ship on one side, sails unfurled, evidently sailing the high seas. On the reverse side were seven stars, arranged in an irregular pattern.
“It is beautiful!” he admitted. “A treasure you should keep better hidden. There are many who would steal it given half the opportunity.”
Gerylde grinned wildly as he slipped the coin into his pocket.
“Nonsense. The coin doesn’t want to be stolen!”
Abbikson was about to ask what that meant, but Gerylde had already stood up, and was preparing a rug for him to sleep on. He was exhausted, and grateful for something resembling a comfortable bed, safe within the walls.
Abbikson spent another day with Gerylde. Despite his hurry to get to Helen, he could make time for an old friend. But on the morning of the following day, he said his goodbyes, and continued his journey north. A small part of him wondered if he would see Gerylde again. He thought to return if he ever found the mainland, but then decided against it. Gerylde appeared happy in his life of solitude, just as Abbikson had been in his twenty years in the desert.
That evening he stopped in at The Forest Gate, a tavern on the outskirts of Lerinton. He hadn’t eaten food from a kitchen in twenty years, and his mouth was watering as he smelled things whose names he had long since forgotten.
“I have no money,” he admitted to the innkeeper, “but I can help you out. Perhaps clean up in the kitchen, or help you serve?”
The keeper eyed him.
“Abbikson?” he said. “Don’t you recognise me? It’s me, Deklow.”
“Deklow? Of course! Damn, you haven’t aged a day! So you are working here in Lerinton now?”
“I get around a lot,” he said, shrugging. “No need to pay, it’s on the house! You just about kept me in business for all those years!”
Not his proudest of memories, but it could well have been true. He sat on a bench outside, and enjoyed a warm stew and a bitter ale. There were quite a few people outside, all getting a little rowdy as they drank more than they should. He watched as a couple of men harassed a pretty young girl. He would have intervened, but Deklow beat him to it.
As he settled into his second drink, he saw the star falling from the sky. It dived into Rordynne Forest, burning brightly as it plunged down towards Renryre Island. Irikhart, he thought to himself. God of fools. I hope for your sake that your journey is more rewarding than Lytette’s.
Reluctantly, he turned down the offer of a third ale, and turned in for the night. By dawn, he was on his way again and, when he arrived in Helen, he soon found directions to Arynlock’s house. An estate, as it turned out to be. The guards gave him little trouble, and he went straight to the front door and knocked.
“Good afternoon, sir,” said the butler, dipping his head slightly.
“I’m looking for Arynlock.”
“Indeed. He is expecting you. Please follow me.”
The butler didn’t offer anything more, he just gave Abbikson an odd look, scanning him all too intently. Something about him was odd. Was he a servant?
“My name is Abbikson,” he said, “assuming you didn’t already know that. And you are?”
Not one for conversation. The man led him upstairs to a large office and suggested he wait there. There were portraits hung on all the walls, but Abbikson had no idea who they could be.
“Abbikson. Glad you could make it. I’m Arynlock.”
He held out his hand, and Abbikson shook it.
“I am at a disadvantage,” said Abbikson. “I didn’t realise I had been summoned.”
“No?” he said, genuinely surprised. “My assistant assured me that he delivered the message.”
Evidently, it wasn’t by chance or luck that this messenger had spoken to Lytette. He had sought her out.
“It’s no matter,” said Abbikson, “I am here now. I have travelled a long way, and am somewhat weary from the road. But I understand you are looking for the mainland. And you might even have a way to find it.”
“It’s true,” said Arynlock, nodding casually, “I can find the mainland. Or rather, I will be able to soon enough. I just need to collect seven coins in order to begin locating it. Or locating us, perhaps.”
Arynlock pulled a golden coin from his pocket, and handed it to Abbikson. It had a ship on one side, sails unfurled as if it were sailing the high seas. Seven stars were on the back, in an irregular pattern. It was exactly the same as Gerylde’s coin, save for the arrangement of the stars themselves.
“Seven golden coins,” said Arynlock, admiring the single coin he possessed. “The Navigator’s Coins.”
Thanks for reading Renryre Island Chapter VIII: The Call Of The Coins
Next, Chapter IX: Never A Simple Job (coming soon).
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