Chapter XI: A Flame In Darkness

Kyrnrie accepted the short break in conversation as an invitation to reflect on just how, exactly, he’d worked himself into this unpleasant mess. He was just a thief, after all, no more. The best there was, of course. What had begun as a routine impossible job, had finished up with him travelling halfway across Renryre Island to rescue a man he’d never met from three people he had met – and had no intention of crossing paths with again.

“Godsdammit,” he moaned. “What are we doing here?”

A heavy hand landed on his shoulder, not particularly reassuringly.

“Cheer up, Kyrnrie. It’s a beautiful morning. Just take a long look at the world around you – the sun rising over the mountains, the gentle waves lapping on the sandy beach. Even the trees are enjoying the breeze, swaying happily in their ritual dance.”

Kyrnrie fixed the ageing crime lord with a cold stare.

“What happened to you, Tailfin? Where’s the hard bastard that could scare off rival gangs with nothing but a few choice words?”

“I think you and I are past that, aren’t we, Kyrnrie? Besides, you were never on my payroll – or my list of enemies. The two of us have only ever conducted honest business with each other.”

“And what about him?” asked Kyrnrie, gesturing to the odd man accompanying them.

“The Scribe? He knows everything about me. No point in pretending to be mean around him.”

Pretending? How many broke, and broken men in Helen’s Bay were you only pretending to maim? What about Madrik? You sent him on the desert run. Twice! Were you just pretending then?”

“He’s really not in a good mood today, Tailfin,” remarked The Scribe.

“I can see that,” agreed Tailfin. “I wonder if it has anything to do with that girl.”

“It’s got nothing—”

“The girl?” queried The Scribe with exaggerated curiosity. “Ahh, you are referring to the girl that was supposed to come with us on this journey, and then decided against it at the last moment.”

“Alright, that’s—”

“Yes!” agreed Tailfin with childlike excitement. “The one that decided not to follow Kyrnrie, instead electing to… accompany the other gentleman.”

Kyrnrie sighed as Tailfin and The Scribe returned to the childish mocking.

“The one with the perfectly formed chestful of muscles?” queried The Scribe.

“That’s right.”

Kyrnrie was a little jealous, perhaps. He had known he was up against rather steep odds, but he’d felt perhaps there was a little something between him and Ryleine.

“And that perfect chin that could deflect a well-aimed sword strike?”

“Indeed.”

Maybe it was better this way. Kyrnrie had always been a loner. No one to worry about. No one to nag him. No one to get in his way when he felt like robbing some unlucky merchant.

“And those perfect teeth that glint in the sunlight as he smiles…”

“Rrright.”

But he couldn’t help but feel a little sad. He did miss her, after all. It had only been a couple of days, but already he felt it. They had been through so much together over the past weeks.

“And his perfect—”

“Yes, he’s perfect,” interrupted Tailfin. “You have made that perfectly clear now. But, I do think we are losing track here; we were talking about how jealous Kyrnrie is.”

“Of course.”

“Of course.”

A momentary silence fell on the group once again, and Kyrnrie relaxed ever so slightly as the tension eased.

“Right. Where were we?” asked Tailfin.

“The better question would be: where are we?” said the thief as he pointed to a building ahead in the distance. “It looks like a tavern to me. The Sharpened Bluntooth, I hope.”

“Excellent. Well then, lead the the way,” said Tailfin with a wide swing of his arms.

“After you,” counted Kyrnrie, returning the gesture.

“Please, I insist. Deklow put you in charge, after all.”

“No, I insist. He didn’t put me in charge. And you are the most powerful crime lord in—”

“Please, not this again,” mumbled The Scribe.

“We’re not in Helen’s Bay now,” said Tailfin. “Around here there are three of us. I’m clearly the brawn, The Scribe is the brains, and that makes you, Kyrnrie, our fearless leader.”

“We’re going to a godsdammed tavern! What’s to fear?”

“Well, I don’t know… Ice raptors descending the mountains in search of food? A stampeding herd of bluntooth dragons? The Three?

The Three. Kyrnrie shuddered at their mention. He didn’t know where they were, but they could be close. Deklow hadn’t told them any more than they needed to know – just in case they happened to run into The Three on the way to The Sharpened Bluntooth.”

“Are they really that bad?” asked Tailfin.

“As three frail old women, they conjured a massive storm that damn near killed us all in the desert. Only with the help of the demon-goddess, Lytette, did we survive. By now, they have probably recovered to their full strength. I’d hate to think what they are capable of.”

Absent-mindedly, Kyrnrie took the lead as his thoughts wandered around The Three. He thought about what they might look like now. If they would be easy to spot, or if they would blend in quietly with the crowd, ready to strike without warning.

They soon reached the tavern and quickly found Deklow inside, working behind the bar. It was a little disconcerting that the barman had sent them to meet himself halfway up the island, and was already there waiting for them. A little more disconcerting, however, was the number of drunk old men that weren’t wearing too much in the way of clothes.

“Safe travels, Deklow?” asked Kyrnrie, trying to ignore the unusual array of punters.

“Uneventful, yes. You?”

“We all made it here in one piece,” said Kyrnrie with a casual shrug. “Care to tell us what we are doing here now?”

“Over there in the corner,” said Deklow as he began pouring some drinks, “you will recognise Pektyne and Tyke, of course. The man with them is Rendyle, he’s one of the crew members from this shipwreck – the assistant navigator. He needs to be taken back to Helen’s Bay… to Arynlock. Alive.”

Kyrnrie collected his mug of ale as he watched the trio sitting comparatively quietly, and apart from the rest of the crew.

“Why is he so important?” asked Kyrnrie.

“The less you know…”

Kyrnrie considered how little he did know, and wondered not for the first time what he was doing following Deklow’s cryptic instructions. What did Deklow have to do with anything? How did he know how to find the mainland? And how the godsdamned hell was he able to reach the Bluntooth Peninsula before them — and why was he serving godsdamned drinks in a tavern halfway across the island? Deklow had some answering to do.

“Just get him to Arynlock,” said the barman, “and I’ll explain everything back in Helen’s Bay.”

“You mentioned The Three would be after him?” asked Tailfin.

“I can’t be certain, I don’t know what they know, or don’t know. But I do know that they want to stop us from finding the mainland, and they won’t be shy to use a generous helping of force where required.”

“Yes, I’ve seen their generosity first-hand,” said Kyrnrie uneasily. “It’s a shame Irikhart isn’t with us, they seem to like him enough to not want to kill him. Well, I suppose we should introduce ourselves to the cargo.”

They collected their drinks, along with the three extra that Deklow had poured, and walked over to trio sitting in the corner.

“Good day, gentleman. You must be Rendyle,” he said, extending a hand. “Pektyne, always a pleasure to see you, of course. Tyke, enjoying your new job?”

“Tha’s Consable Tyke,” said the former gangster with a wink.

“So I’ve heard. Right, we can all catch up with each other on the road. Let’s finish up this drink and get moving. I’d like to put as much time and distance between us and any pursuing triplets as possible.”

“Agreed,” said Pektyne. “Besides, I have business in Helen’s Bay. A score to settle.”

Kyrnrie was trying desperately to think of a good way to not ask what business Pektyne was referring to, when he was spared the inconvenience by the sound of doors slamming open.

“Deklow!” called a woman’s voice. “How nice to see you.”

“It’s always a pleasure to see you, Deklow,” said a second voice.

“A pleasure for us, that is,” added a third.

*    *    *

Get down,” hissed Kyrnrie while doing his best to hide behind the sea of heads swinging around towards the door.

“We’ve come for information, Deklow,” said the first voice.

“And you are going to give it to us,” added the second.

“Voluntarily, unless you fail to volunteer,” clarified the third.

Kyrnrie managed to catch sight of The Three in between the frozen heads. They had recovered. They looked… younger. Much younger. Instead of old crones, they were…

“Women?” queried a gruff voice somewhere in the inn.

“Women,” suggested a tentative voice across the room.

“Women!” agreed a more confident voice nearby.

And, as if in a well-rehearsed tactical manoeuvre on the high seas, the sailors all jumped and began chanting the word women. Excitement filled the hair as the sailors swarmed The Three in a sea of unkempt grey hair and adventurous groping hands.

“What are you doing?” demanded the first.

“Get your hands off me!” shouted the second.

“Stop touching me!” screamed the third.

“Let’s go,” whispered Kyrnrie, gesturing for the others to follow him. “Now is our chance. Keep low!”

They crept past the edge of the bar towards the kitchen. Kyrnrie tried to call Deklow, but received only the rapid waving of a hand below the bar, ushering them outside. They rushed out through the back door, and began running towards the beach.

They heard a chorus of three ear-piercing shrieks from behind, followed quickly by a loud explosion, and then shattering glass. Kyrnrie risked a glance, and saw the shell of the tavern appeared intact, but smoke was already wafting out through the broken windows. A few sailors burst through the doors as the sign above them swung dangerously on one failing hook.

“It’s not going to hold them,” warned Kyrnrie. “Any ideas?”

“Follow me,” called Pektyne as he took the lead, running towards the beach. “I know where we can hide.”

Kyrnrie saw the shipwreck near the edge of the water – its hull was damaged, but otherwise it was in good shape. It was easily the largest ship he’d ever seen. He glanced around him as he ran, making sure they were all accounted for. Tailfin and The Scribe were keeping pace; Tyke and Rendyle were struggling to keep up, but still behind them.

Another explosion resounded across the beach, and Kyrnrie turned in time to see broken shards of mortar leaping hundreds of feet into the air. The Sharpened Bluntooth had been reduced to ruined walls no more than knee-high at best. Sailors ran in all directions – those that had made it out, at least. He could see no sign of Deklow, but The Three were still standing in the rubble.

“Keep running!” he commanded.

“Over there,” called Pektyne. “The cave.”

In moments, they crammed into a small cave entrance, rounded a bend, and quickly found themselves at a dead end. The chamber was small, maybe ten feet wide. Large enough to hide in. Large enough to be trapped in. Curiously, there was a lit torch in the centre of the chamber.

“Now what?” said Kyrnrie. “It’s a dead end.”

“Now we hide,” said the constable.

“What if they find us?” asked Rendyle.

“We don’t even know if they are looking for us,” said Kyrnrie reassuringly.

“That’s not as reassuring as you might think,” observed Tailfin.

“Any better suggestions?” asked Pektyne.

The chamber was silent.

“What about The Scribe?” said Kyrnrie, turning to face him. “Can’t you… you know, write something?”

“Hmm,” said The Scribe, consulting his parchment and scratching something down.

The chamber was silent again, the only sound was that of the quill on the parchment, and the occasional yelling of a panicked sailor outside.

“Well?” prompted Kyrnrie.

“I’m thinking,” hissed The Scribe.

A nervous quiet filled the room as everyone watched The Scribe thinking.

“May I ask… while we’re waiting,” ventured Pektyne, “does anybody else find it strange that there is a torch burning in an empty cave?”

“Not this again,” sighed Rendyle.

“Well, it is here, again. It has to have a purpose. It must mean something.”

“Why can’t it just be a torch? Just… innocently burning for no reason. Why does it need an explanation? Can’t you just accept that, well, there is a torch here, it’s burning, and that’s that?”

“What? No! There must be a reason—”

“Must there?”

“Will you two give it a rest?” demanded Kyrnrie.

Pektyne sulkily stared at the torch as Rendyle sighed in relief. Kyrnrie didn’t want to admit it out loud, but it did seem rather curious that there was a lit torch in an empty cave, as if it was set there on purpose. There must be a reason.

“They’re coming,” hissed Tailfin as he returned from cave entrance. “They’re coming this way!”

“Godsdammit,” said the thief as he turned back to The Scribe. “Anything?”

“To begin with, we should have run in the opposite direction,” said The Scribe insightfully.

“That’s not as insightful as you might think,” pointed out Tailfin.

“Allow me to finish,” insisted The Scribe. “Since we didn’t run in the other direction, we are trapped in here, left with few options. If The Three walk in here now, they will see us. There is only one thing we can do that makes sense.”

A smug expression covered The Scribe’s face as he straightened his papers.

“We’re in a bit of a hurry, if you don’t mind,” urged the thief.

“If I were writing this tale,” he said, scribbling on his parchment, “I’d say the next thing to do, would be to extinguish the flame. That way, when The Three walk in, they won’t be able to see us.”

“That’s… a rather good idea, really,” admitted Kyrnrie.

He stepped forward and attempted to pull the torch from the ground, but it held fast. He pulled with all his strength, but it wouldn’t budge. Tyke tried to help, but even together the two of them couldn’t shift the torch.

“They’re getting closer,” hissed Tailfin. “Just wrap some cloth around it, cut off its air.”

Tyke hastily pulled of his cloak, and, with surprising dexterity, covered the whole flame at once, snuffing it out immediately, only small sparks of red shining through. The cave was plunged unto darkness. In the silence they could hear The Three approaching.

“Where are you, little thief?” called the first.

“Where could you be hiding?” yelled the second.

“You must be here somewhere,” added the third.

Why were they looking for him, Kyrnrie wondered. If anything, they should be going after the navigator. Shouldn’t they?

“I wonder what’s in that little cave?” began The Three.

“Could it be that’s where they’re hiding?” sang the next.

“I think we should check in the cave,” suggested the last.

“Well, yes, that’s why I pointed it out,” said the first.

“That’s why we are going to check the cave,” added the second.

“Alright then, let’s check the cave,” concluded the third.

The flame was still fighting to break free of its cloth prison, and The Three were getting close.

“What’s that?” said Pektyne.

Kyrnrie saw it too. Something was glowing dimly in the dark, it looked like some sort of rune painted on the cave wall. He walked towards it cautiously to take a closer look. It was small enough for him to cover with his hand. He prodded it, jabbed at it, twisted it, then finally pushed it downwards. A soft click echoed, and the rock wall swung away from him.

“Hah!” sniggered Pektyne, “A secret door – only visible in the darkness. I knew it! I told you, Rendyle!”

Tyke pulled his cloak from the torch, which immediately burst into flame again. They all ran for the secret tunnel, squeezing in one after the other. Kyrnrie was the last to enter, ushering Tailfin in before him.

“They’re here,” whispered Tailfin, warning in his eyes.

Kyrnrie closed the door behind him, then pressed his ear up against it. He didn’t need to: The Three were making plenty of noise.

“Where are you?” crooned the first.

“Show yourselves,” chanted the second.

“Come on out,” croaked the third.

“We’re going to find you wherever you’re hiding,” said the first.

“Wherever it is,” added the second.

“We’ll find your hiding place,” warned the third.

“Do you two have to do that?” snapped the first.

“Do what?” asked the second.

“What are we doing?” queried the third.

“That!” she screamed. “Godsdammit, you are driving me crazy! Every time I say something, you have to repeat what I say in slightly different words.”

“They are our words.”

“They words are ours.”

“No they aren’t, you’re just repeating me! And sometimes you try to finish my sentences, as if it’s something we all rehearsed together beforehand.”

“We do like to finish your sentences.”

“You like us to finish your sentences.”

“No, I don’t! Half the time you don’t even say what I had in mind! You just make up whatever you feel like saying.”

“We say what we are thinking.”

“We think what we are saying.”

“What? What does that even mean? Godsdammit, why do I have to be the smart one?”

“You are the most wise.”

“The cleverest of us all.”

“I know. I know. Right, fine. They’re not in here, let’s go. They can’t have gone far.”

“They must be nearby.”

“They can’t have run far.”

“You two are lucky I need you!”

“We are fortunate—”

“Oh shut up!”

Kyrnrie listened as the voices of The Three faded away. He would have laughed if he wasn’t quite so terrified. The only thing worse than three dangerously powerful demon-goddesses, was three dangerously powerful demon-goddesses that had become unhinged.

The secret passageway was dark. With the door closed, Kyrnrie couldn’t see anything at all. He decided to stay where he was, with one hand on the door itself, while the others explored their surroundings.

“What’s down that way?” he asked, unsure who was there.

A near silence was broken by the sound of shuffling and stubbing of toes followed by muted curses.

“Don’t know,” said Pektyne eventually. “I can’t see anything.”

Candlelight appeared from nowhere, a girl standing behind it. All six of them jumped in fright.

“You fellas alright?” she asked.

“Merilyce?” said Tailfin.

Merilyce?” exclaimed The Scribe.

“Merilyce, I presume,” said Kyrnrie.

“Hi,” she greeted happily, a large smile let loose. “Deklow sent me. He thought you could use some help.”

Kyrnrie glanced around. In the candlelight, he could clearly see there was no other way into the secret chamber. And he was fairly sure he would have noticed a girl idly standing around with a candle when they’d arrived.

“Where did you come from? How did you get in here?”

“Deklow has been training me.”

That didn’t exactly answer the question. On the other hand…

“The Three won’t have gone far,” said Merilyce helpfully.

“That’s not as helpful as you might think,” said Tailfin.

She glared at the crime lord, unafraid.

“I’m here to save your life, Tailfin. Again. Now follow me, if you want to live.”


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I hope you enjoyed reading Renryre Island Chapter XXI: A Flame In Darkness

Next, Promises Made.

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