“Cedwyck!” roared Irikhart as he watched the old druid vanish before his eyes.

The god of fools stood stunned momentarily, then charged back towards the crater. Still calling Cedwyck’s name repeatedly, Irikhart leaned over the edge of the crater, searching for the old man, for the dead girl, but there was no sign of either of them.

Someone grabbed hold of his shoulder just as he tried to leap into the crater, yanking him back with force, toppling him into a pile on the hard sand. Irikhart looked up to see Lytette standing over him with a harsh warning in her eyes. Ignoring her, he stood up and returned to edge of the crater, searching for the druid.

“They’re gone… vanished into oblivion,” said Kyrnrie beside him, shaking his head gently as he sat back in resignation.

“She said we could go,” muttered Irikhart. “She said—”

“She kept her word,” interrupted Lytette with no hint of sorrow in her tone, “and Cedwyck kept his. We were foolish to think we would escape unharmed.”

“But… where did they go?” protested Kyrnrie, gesturing to the empty crater.

Lytette shrugged, though she failed to conceal the worry on her mind.

“You are a goddess,” shouted Ryleine. “Can’t you… do… something?

“Do what, exactly?”

“Godsdammit, I don’t know. Anything. Just help him!”

“It’s too late, he is beyond our reach,” she said, “and we cannot wait here any longer. The Three are still pursuing us, we must keep moving towards Fools’ Escape.”

Abbikson stood beside the demon-goddess, silent in his agreement. Ryleine and Kyrnrie appeared less convinced. Irikhart remained stubborn in his protest.

“I cannot abandon him to this fate,” insisted Irikhart, his chin held high as he began to reset his sword upon his back. “He was my devotee. True-hearted. It would be my betrayal if I were to leave him—”

“God of fools, and a greater fool than them all,” snapped the demon-goddess with a vicious growl. “Irikhart, I am damned near ready to throw you back in that crater myself. If you don’t plan on dying, shut up and follow. Okay?”

Irikhart adjusted his sword once more, raised his chin, and began walking away from the crater.

“Fine. I will come back for him later,” he said, committing the oath to memory.

Irikhart noted that the four of them quickly fell in line behind him, which pleased him greatly given that he wasn’t sure he was walking in the right direction.

The morning sun was already generating an oppressive heat that Irikhart proudly attempted to take no notice of until the sweat began to drip down his forehead. As an obvious solution, he removed his shirt, rolling it up and wrapping it around his head, tying the loose ends at the back. He enjoyed the feel of the sun on his bare chest, the heat rising as his skin began to shimmer in the light.

“I agree,” said Lytette in answer to his gesture. “It’s time to take shelter from the sun. Let’s make camp here – it’s as good a site as any. I don’t see even the skeleton of a dead tree anywhere close by.”

No one argued as they hurried to raise the canvas sheets. A poor example of a camp was quickly erected, and they huddled underneath for shelter. Dried rations were shared, and a few sips were drawn from their dwindling supply of water.

Irikhart’s eyes rested on Ryleine as she sipped from the water skin, grimacing as it warmed instead of cooled her. She shook her head in defiance, and took another drink. As she became aware of Irikhart’s gaze she returned a shy smile and glanced quickly at Kyrnrie beside her. Irikhart continued to admire her, wondering how much longer it would be until he had sufficiently proven his love for her.

As she cleared her throat, Ryleine’s gaze swung to the demon-goddess.

“Lytette,” she began cautiously, “what was it you called Irikhart earlier? The same thing the dead girl called him, if I am not mistaken.”

Lytette chuckled as she eyed Irikhart.

“God of fools,” she said. “Long has he led by sterling example.”

“You are disliked?” asked Ryleine, turning to Irikhart. “Ridiculed by the other gods?”

“He has other, more appealing qualities,” added Lytette, with a wide gesture at Irikhart’s bare chest.

Irikhart looked himself over, searching for any qualities on his pectorals that she might be referring to, checking in between the bumps formed by the row of muscles on his torso, scanning the grooves along his arms and shoulders. He shrugged.

“I am well liked,” said the god of fools. “In fact, a number of the goddesses tried to stop me from coming here.”

Lytette burst out laughing at that, shaking her head with a huge grin, muttering about how foolish Irikhart was. He didn’t quite understand her. As far as goddesses went, she wasn’t the friendliest of them. She was still laughing alone when Ryleine began prying further.

“And they call you the demon-goddess?”

Lytette shrugged nonchalantly as she took another sip of water.

“I used to call myself the goddess of virgins – it had a nice sound to it, seemed important. Then all the girls started blaming me for doing things that smooth tongued young men convinced them to do. After that, I became the goddess of seduction, and before long, the girls began blaming me when they failed to attract sufficient attention. Truth is, it’s just a title. Means nothing really.”

“So… demon-goddess?”

“Ah, yes. Well, people don’t tend to ask much of demon-goddesses – not unless they are prepared for unpleasant results. Occasionally, they offer up a dead pet in exchange for just such an intervention in their lives, but I tend to ignore them.”

“You can hear them?” asked Ryleine.

“Not any more, no. Not down here.”

“And… The Three. They are like you? Demon-goddesses?”

“Did they appear friendly last time we saw them?”

“That’s exactly my point,” said the huntress. “Why are you helping us?”

“Why are you helping?” Lytette countered, raising her eyebrow in suspicion. “Why are you so desperate to get off the island?”

Ryleine glanced nervously at Irikhart and she visibly struggled for an answer. He couldn’t help but notice an ashamed flush in her expression. As he watched her, movement on the sand briefly caught Irikhart’s attention, but the conversation seemed too interesting to ignore.

“Well?” asked the demon-goddess. “Kyrnrie is getting paid handsomely. Abbikson is following his life-long quest, and I’m helping Abbikson for obvious reasons – despite knowing that it will amount to nothing. And Irikhart… well, he is still trying to win you over. So, tell me Ryleine, what are you getting from this?”

Irikhart had now begun losing concentration, the demon-goddess’s voice trailing away into the distance. A rather more pressing concern was the six legs he could feel clawing their way up the inside of his trouser legs. He panicked, frozen on the spot.

“There is something crawling up my leg,” he said, trying to keep his voice level.

“What?” said Ryleine, though she looked more relieved than concerned.

“There’s something there, can you see it? There!”

It was just passing his knee, a bump easing upwards on the inside of his trousers, travelling in the least favourable direction. Irikhart felt his body spasm, shock kicking it.

“A scorpion,” said Abbikson. “Highly toxic. Can kill a man before he even finds the wound.”

Dying wasn’t high on Irikhart’s list of priorities. He quickly yanked his sword from its sheath, and slid it down the inside of his trousers, underneath the belt. In what he hoped would be a graceful manoeuvre, he whipped the sword outward, but it got caught by the hardened leather belt. The dull blade needed more strength, so he forced it through the hide, cutting wildly and slicing the trousers down to his knee.

The scorpion remained where it was, its tail raised up behind it in speculation. Suddenly, it scuttled backwards into the lower leg of his trousers, forcing Irikhart to chase it with the blade. He began hacking frantically at the cloth, trying to break free. He could hear shouting around him, but he couldn’t abandon his own struggle for survival.

Eventually, the cloth fell free, but the scorpion still clung on tightly to his bare leg.

“Get it off!” he shouted, in as as calm a manner as one could when shouting. “Get it off!”

Time appeared to slow as Irikhart saw the tail swinging slowly. The stinger plunged into his leg, and a sharp bolt of pain ran through his body even before the shock set in. He fell to his knees and watched as the scorpion scuttled off, victorious. Irikhart, god of fools, felled by a creature smaller than his hand.

“Irikhart! What the hell are you doing?”

He looked up to see Lytette standing before him with an expression somewhere between anger and confusion on her face. He pointed at the wound and hung his head.

“I have been bested,” he admitted. “Let me die in peace.”

“You’re immortal, fool. It would take a thousand of those scorpions to kill you.”

Irikhart looked at the wound again, the little welt seemed to be fading already.

“But he said—”

“That they can kill a man…” explained Abbikson. “I didn’t say anything about gods.”

“Ah,” he said, standing up and brushing himself off, trying to act naturally.

“You defeated the hundred-eyed… hundred-tentacled… hundred… the monster in Goldryke Caves,” chucked Kyrnrie, “yet a little scorpion has you dancing around like the world’s about to end.”

“I can’t exactly reason with a scorpion, can I?” he retorted, still trying to recover a dignified physical presence.

It was no use. He was covered in sweat, and the desert sands were sticking to him all over. He searched around for his possessions, discovering that his shirt had fallen, and was currently being blown away by the wind. The broken belt was a good few yards away from the ruined pile of tattered clothes still struggling against the breeze, with a shoe holding them in place. It belonged to Ryleine, who was shaking her head as she looked at him.

“When I sent you to get new clothes the last time,” she said, “did you think to get new underwear too?”

Irikhart glanced down at his hero’s loincloth; faded blue, dusty, with patches of sweat darkening it in places. He sheathed his sword over his shoulder as he stood tall in the hot desert sun. He couldn’t help but notice that Ryleine was still staring at him. Really staring.

“This is a quest for heroes,” he proclaimed as he gazed away into the distance. “And here I am.”

*    *    *

The first night’s walk after leaving Dead Girl’s Crater had been uneventful, apart from the incident with the scorpion, and it was followed by a comparatively dull day’s rest. They resumed their journey as evening fell again, on the final stretch across the barren desert to Fools’ Escape, according to Abbikson and Lytette’s calculations.

The sun had long since fallen below the horizon, and night settled in. The air felt cooler there, less oppressive. Irikhart was tired of the desert already. In fact, he strongly disliked it. He had descended from the sky and landed in Rordynne Forest, just where he wanted to be. With Ryleine.

She was still warming up to Irikhart, preferring the company of her own friends in the mean time. He only needed to prove himself, and he was sure that finding this coin in Fools’ Escape would be sufficient to do so. How much more could she ask of him?

“What is Fools’ Escape, exactly?” he asked of no one in particular.

“It was a port once,” ventured Abbikson when no one else offered an answer, “even before the mainland vanished. Strong currents made it difficult to follow the coast in bad weather. The bay offered respite from the high seas, but in return provided hazardous submerged rocks and a difficult channel into port. Even then, the town was a sanctuary for exiled criminals. It became well known that only fools would sail into the bay, no matter how desperate the cause.”

“Hold on,” said Kyrnrie. “It has a port? Why did we just walk for days across the desert? Could we not have sailed?”

“Did you not hear what I just explained about the rocks and the bandits?”

“Still would have been nice of you to give us the options,” added Ryleine.

“I haven’t set foot on a ship since your parents were washed overboard, Ryleine. I wasn’t about to watch you taken by the sea too.”

“What about the return journey?” she asked. “Do you intend to go back the same way? Through Dead Girl’s Crater?”

Abbikson didn’t answer, and a silence quickly settled on the group.

“The Three are close behind us, Abe,” said Lytette. “We must consider taking a boat, if there is one to be taken.”

“We need to find the coin first,” said Kyrnrie, “and we don’t really know where to look. It’s not as if valuable golden coins simply lie around, glinting in the sun without anyone noticing.”

“No,” admitted Lytette, “but when you’re looking for something that has been hidden, you can generally eliminate all the obvious places first.”

Hidden?” said Kyrnrie. “Don’t you mean lost?”

Lytette shrugged, and Irikhart found himself beckoning the furthest reaches of his memory. There was something there, something about coins being hidden. Seven coins.

“If they were hidden, then why does my grandfather have one?” asked Ryleine.

“I assume he found it in the forest.”

“And the bakerwoman?”

“In the city, I suppose.”

“And… if these coins – that somebody has carefully hidden – are used to find the mainland…” said Ryleine cautiously.

“… Then that would suggest,” continued Kyrnrie, “that the mainland didn’t vanish by accident!”

Irikhart battled with his memories. Had someone hidden it? No, that couldn’t be right. Oh, why had he spent so much of his time watching the girls…?

“Lytette?” prompted Abbikson.

“There it is!” she exclaimed, pointing ahead of them, with a smile that suggested she would happily use the sight of Fools’ Escape to avoid answering the questions.

They neared the ruined town in silence, leaving Ryleine, Kyrnrie and Abbikson without answers, likely all pondering the implications of the demon-goddess’s revelation while she kept the details to herself.

Irikhart eyed the deserted settlement cautiously, searching for any sign of movement as he fidgeted with his sword. The lack of life in the desert was unnerving, but a dead town was even worse.

A single street wound from the desert through to the port, with small buildings on either side, most without even a second floor. None of the windows emitted any light; not a single candle burned in the town. They followed the street all the way to the port, where a lone ship was docked.

The rigging looked well kept, no snapped lines, nothing loose. The sails were furled neatly, the decks and hull clean and varnished. Like the town, the ship was bathed only in the dim light from the stars.

“I am starting to feel that we have walked into a trap,” said Irikhart as he drew his sword in preparation.

Ryleine glanced at him, and then raked her eyes up and down the length of his body, and finally shook her head gently with a smile.

“You may be right,” she said, “but if we get out of this, I am taking you shopping. You look ridiculous. I doubt anyone could attack without bursting into laughter mid-charge.”

Shopping? With Ryleine? Irikhart brightened up at that, something to look forward to. Another reason to defeat whatever enemy lurked in the town, and to collect the prized coin for his love.

“Anyone see any obvious hiding places?” asked Ryleine. “Kyrnrie, your thief eyes drawn to anything?”

“Yes,” he said, resigned. “The well.”

In the centre of the town, to one side of the main street, stood a rough brick well. A bucket lay beside it, a thin rope connecting it to a wooden winch.

“I’ll go down at first light,” said the thief. “I am not mad enough to do it in the dark.”

They all surrounded the well, peering down into the blackness. Abbikson dropped a stone which took a surprisingly long time to splash into the water. Irikhart glanced back towards the port, at the sea reflecting the light of the stars, the water level much higher than that of the well.

“Shouldn’t—”

“Yes, it should,” agreed Abbikson.

“Then why—”

“I don’t know,” admitted the old man. “This is the first well I have come across in the desert. They’re not usually worth digging.”

“It should be me,” said Irikhart after a moment of silence. “I am the hero here. I will collect the coin from the bottom of the well.”

“Normally I would happily agree,” said Kyrnrie, “but this is much more my line of work. You stay here and watch for… anything. Your sword is far more valuable out in the open.”

As morning broke, Kyrnrie prepared to begin his descent. He tied the rope to his ankle and tightened his clothing wherever possible. Irikhart still felt he should be the one to go, but the job did seem more appropriate for a professional thief.

“Be careful,” said Ryleine, her hand resting on his forearm.

Ryleine was such a sweet girl. She would be Irikhart’s in little time, just as soon as he proved his love.

They watched Kyrnrie glide into the dark tunnel and begin climbing down the roughly laid rocks on its outer rim. It wasn’t long before he vanished from sight, the only sign of him being the rope slowly slipping down from the coil beside the well.

The sound of a throat being cleared caught Irikhart’s attention, and he swung around immediately to find four men standing in the street, silhouetted in the morning light. They were all tall, strong, and broad shouldered, wearing light cloth that was flapping in the breeze. They carried heavy, curved blades, held loosely before them, their tips resting on the street.

“We are the Guardians of the Lost Light,” proclaimed one of them as he stepped forward. “You have trespassed, and you will pay with your lives.”

“Let me handle this!” said Lytette stepping forward. “Guardians, Do you know who I am? Do you know what I am?”

“Demon-goddess, you are not welcome here. Like your companions, you will pay with your life. The very ground you stand on drains your power, makes you weak… and mortal.”

Lytette’s face screwed up in anger and she paced forward to meet the guardians.

“Wait,” said Irikhart. “Have you tried reasoning with them?”

“What?” she hissed.

Irikhart stepped in front of the demon-goddess, taking the initiative.

“Excuse me,” he said. “Allow me to introduce myself. I am Irikhart—”

“We know who you are!”

“Excellent! That will save me some time, then,” he said flashing a smile. “You see, we don’t mean to cause any trouble. We are looking for a little gold coin. Once we find it, we will be on our way, and out of your hair. Nothing to worry about.”

The leader of the guardians barked a short incredulous laugh.

“Nothing to worry about? Irikhart, what do you think we are here to protect?”

Irikhart glanced around at the deserted buildings surrounding them.

“The town?” he ventured.

The guardians all chuckled as they darted looks amongst themselves.

“The coin, fool. We are the guardians of the Navigator’s Coin!”

“Really? So you know where it is?” he asked, amazed at how their luck had turned. “Is it in the well?”

What? Yes of course we know where it is. How else could we protect it?”

“It’s in the well, isn’t it?” he said, getting excited.

“No… well, I’m not telling you where it is.”

“You don’t know where it is, do you!”

The guardian’s jaw dropped, but Irikhart couldn’t help but notice his left hand fidgeting near his pocket.

“It’s in your pocket, isn’t it? You didn’t even hide it!”

“This might be the only time I say it Irikhart,” said Lytette behind him, “but… well done!”

“It’s not in my pocket,” insisted the guardian after a moment of hesitation, but Irikhart could see the lie. “Look, it doesn’t matter where it is. We are going to kill you all, so shut up… and let us get this over with.”

The four guardians began advancing, raising their blades in front of them. Irikhart drew his own sword, sad that his negotiations had failed. He swung it in the air a few times to get a feel for the weight, aimed, and threw it with all his strength at the leader of the guardians, who stepped aside and watched it fly past him.

“What the hell was that?” spat Lytette.

“What the hell was that?” snickered the guardian.

“Godsdammit,” added Abbikson with a sigh.

Irikhart was considering his next move when he felt something odd in the air. A darkness appeared, a shadow without a body, the daylight disturbed beyond his comprehension. In barely an instant, the guardians all screamed in turn, falling to the dust, motionless.

The shadow eased through the air and stopped before them, taking form just beyond reality, with no body or face to speak of, but a shape somehow familiar nonetheless. It spoke in a cold voice.

“Consider my debt paid, Lytette, demon-goddess of the desert.”

Lytette nodded without a word, and the shadow vanished, the morning sun flooding the street once again.

“Nothing down here,” said Kyrnrie, as he poked head out of the well.

Irikhart walked over to the fallen guardians and collected the gold coin from the leader’s corpse. It was just like the previous one, with seven stars on one side, and a ship on the other. Even covered in dust it shone brightly in the sunlight.

“Don’t worry, Kyrnrie,” yelled Irikhart, “I found it!”

He looked at Ryleine, smiling, hoping his white teeth shone brighter than the coin as he held it before him.

“And now, my love,” he said. “Have I proved myself? Have—”

“Now is not the time,” interrupted Lytette. “You need to get back to Helen’s Bay before The Three catch up. I propose you take their ship. Any objections?”

“Fine with me. I don’t suppose you are going to answer any more of our questions, Lytette?” queried Ryleine with a hopeless tone, as she began walking toward the ship. “Wait. What do you mean you? You’re not coming with us?”

There was only silence in answer. The demon-goddess was nowhere to be seen.


fools_share

I hope you enjoyed reading Renryre Island Chapter XVIII: Fools Escaping Fools

Next, Chapter XIX: Don’t Mind Me

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