The Island of Mist: Part Three
"I found an entrance!" Tarin called down. He had - to no one's surprise - reached the top first. A lifetime of adjusting sails came in handy every now and again.
"We'll be right there!" Sareece grunted.
One by one, the rest of the crew rolled onto the ledge, exhausted.
"Oh, come on, guys. It wasn't that hard." Tarin gave a flicker of a grin, despite the sweat rolling down his face in drops. Sareece could swear he was puffing his chest out. Then again, he could just be gasping for breath like the rest of them.
The rest of the crew, just now standing on both legs, gave each other tired but victorious looks.
"Well, let's go, then," Logan said after a moment of everyone catching their breath. "We've come this far to find our destination. Now let's find out what that destination is."
Inside the cave, it was dank. From the ceiling of the cave hung huge stalactites, some almost reaching the ground. The ground, however, was markedly barren of any signs of stalagmites.
"This is definitely man-made," Logan said, running his fingers along a wall, so smooth it was nearly slick. "Or at least man-maintained."
"How far down do you think it goes?" Del asked, rubbing his head. He had tried flying up to get a better look, but that hadn't accomplished much of anything other than a bump on the top of his head. Flying was much more useful outside than it was inside, when it came to navigation.
"There's really no telling." Sareece shook her head. She was glancing over the scroll once more, looking for clues as to where they'd end up, but had found nothing. After leading them to the mountain itself, the directions cut off abruptly. "This is no help at all."
"On the up side," Tarin began, stepping over a rock, "the cave seems to be going straight. We haven't come to any forks yet, so there's really no need for navigational assistance."
Sareece shrugged in agreement. They spent the better part of two hours trekking through the cave system. Sometimes it became a steep uphill slope, and at other points it jerked sharply to the left or right.
Suddenly, Logan stopped mid-stride. He turned quickly to the rest, who had been following him. His eyes were bright. "You guys are going to want to walk a little faster."
Del, ever active, picked up the pace to a run. He skidded to a halt once he'd reached the outlook Logan was standing at. "This is amazing!" He waved frantically to the others. "Guys! Come on! Pick it up!" His smile was huge.
Tarin and Sareece obliged. Sareece gasped and put a hand to her mouth. "It's beautiful," she breathed.
Tarin stared in wide-eyed wonder.
Before them was a valley of sorts, inside the cave itself. Trees grew tall - taller than any stalagmite they'd ever seen - and a waterfall fell from somewhere above them. It seemed to have its source within the cave itself. Lush, green vines covered the walls. In the center of the cave stood a structure unlike any they'd seen on the island thus far. It was low, painted red and white, with architecture that hinted at Shenkuu origins.
"How did these trees get here?" Tarin wondered aloud.
"I'm more interested in that waterfall," Del said. "I'm dehydrated beyond belief." They'd run out of water a while ago, and Del felt like he'd had sandpaper for a tongue ever since.
"I think you're missing the big picture, boys. The real question is... who lives here?" Sareece raised a finger to point at the house.
Logan began his descent down the slope leading to the valley. "Let's find out."
The crew stood in a cluster on the plank porch. Logan knocked once - and when that failed to give results, knocked again.
"It is futile to knock upon a door behind which no man awaits," warbled a voice made shaky with time. The crew jumped in a collective startle. The man to whom this voice belonged to walked around the side of the house to meet them. He was a Kyrii, tall and imposing despite the drooping skin on his face that ran together like lines on a roadmap.
"We apologize for our intrusion," Logan began.
"Nonsense, nonsense." The Kyrii waved his apologies away with one hand. "I imagine you've found the map, then."
"We - ah, yes. We did. In the Tem-"
"In the Temple of Salzar. Good. That means it stayed where it needed to be. It would appear that the right ones found my map." This last bit he said while peering closely at each crew member in turn, mere inches away from their faces. "Ah. Yes. You'll do just fine." The elderly Kyrii nodded to himself in satisfaction, and then turned abruptly to shuffle off in the opposite direction of the house, towards the waterfall. "I would imagine you're all quite thirsty. This way, this way," he called, and waved for them to follow him.
The crew exchanged confused glances before shrugging and following the man, Del a little faster than the rest.
"So how long have you been down here?" Sareece asked, once they'd all drank their fill of the cool, fresh water. She had to yell the words to be heard over the deafening sound of the falls and squint to block out the spray. The spray was most welcome, however. It helped to soothe their burned skin. The air smelled fresh here, like the dirt and grass after a rain.
The Kyrii, whose name they had found to be Tsizhao, stood up from where he had been sitting to walk closer to where Sareece was. The creaking of his joints as he sat down beside her could almost be heard over even the roar of the falls.
"Repeat that question, if you would," he said. "My ears aren't much anymore, you see."
"I was asking how long you've been here," Sareece repeated.
"Oh! Well. My, it must have been..." he seemed to calculate the years in his head. "Eras, really," he said. "Over two hundred years."
"Two hundred?!" Del piped in. "Nobody lives that long. Except faeries." He squinted at the Kyrii, highly unconvinced of his being a faerie.
The old man laughed heartily. "No, no. Me? I'm no faerie. No. Merely a wizard."
"A wizard?" Tarin's eyes widened.
"Excuse my asking," Logan began, "But how long has it been since you've been outside? When did you put that map in the Temple, and why?"
"If you're asking whether or not I know what's been going on with these crazy clouds, and the lack of inhabitants on the island, I assure you, I do. I knew it before anyone else knew it. That's why I decided to live here to begin with. I was searching for the Stones. I knew my powers alone couldn't defeat such dark powers. For that matter, I can't defeat these powers alone at all. You look upon my physical appearance with a skeptical eye, I see. I know I am an old man. But this does not affect my powers. They are as strong as they ever have been. Stronger, even, than when I was a boy. However, this is simply not a task that can be undertaken by one alone. That is why, young Grarrl, I began the prophecy and had it passed down so that you could find the map. You see, I've been expecting you for quite some time. It's about time you showed up."
"How did you know this would happen?" Tarin asked skeptically.
"And what are the Stones?" Sareece asked at the same time.
"One at a time, young ones," Tsizhao said. He raised a hand, but his eyes twinkled. "I knew because I possess psychic abilities." His face was a deadpan.
"You're joking," Tarin insisted. "Nobody's psychic."
"Ah, I suppose you'd say there was no such thing as magic, either, wouldn't you, boy? And yet, here we are!" He spread his arms to indicate the general situation in which they'd all found themselves in. "As for the Stones, they took some time to find. Yes, quite some time indeed. I only finished rounding them up, oh, ten years ago or so. Just in time, I suppose you could say. They bear great powers. Those who wield them must be brave, honest, and of noble heart. Willing to sacrifice for the good of others."
Tarin flashed back to the sight of the arrow coming towards him. The relief when Sareece had saved him. As terrified as he'd been, he knew he'd do the same for her if the roles were reversed. They all would do the same for one another.
"This is why not just any group of bandits could wander upon the island and be the ones destined to set us free. If that were the case, we would have had multitudes of pirates washed ashore by now. That would only serve to make things worse, though, I daresay."
"Where are these Stones?" Logan asked.
"Ah. This is a good question. Come, let me show you." Without further ado, he creaked to his feet, and then shuffled towards the house.
"Wait here," Tsizhao instructed once they were back to the porch. He opened the door only wide enough to squeeze himself through, and shut it as soon as he could. Whatever other ancient relics were in there, Tsizhao didn't want them to see it. Perhaps they were artifacts to be used for some future prophecy.
Soon the wizard returned, his hands full with four large, bright gemstones. They sparkled ruby, emerald, tanzanite, and citrine. "These are the Stones of which I spoke," he said as he handed one to each of them. The Stones brightened as they made contact with their skin, before dimming to a soft and steady glow.
Tarin, the first to have a stone given to him, jumped slightly as it brightened. "Why do they do this?" he asked. He looked around him as, one by one, the Stones did the same with the rest.
"It is their way of showing their approval," Tsizhao said, pleased. "It's a good thing, too. Otherwise, I'd have to wipe your memories and wait for the right people to show up." Tarin waited for him to laugh to show it was only a joke, but the laugh never came.
Del cringed. "I like my memories." He leaned his head down close to the stone. "Thanks for glowing for me, buddy."
"What are we supposed to do with these?" Sareece asked.
"You are to harness them!" Tsizhao cried, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world. "You cannot approach a great evil with nothing but a glowing stone! No, no. You must stay with me, and train. THEN you will see what the Stones are truly capable of. What you - your inner hearts, minds, and strengths - are truly capable of. It is the only way to rid the island of the evils which have befallen it."
Logan gazed at the glowing stone he held in his hand before clutching it tightly. Its powers were already calling out, and the feeling of it lent determination and strength to his voice when he spoke.
"Tsizhao, teach us everything you know."
To be continued...