Depths of Peril part 1

Depths of Peril     “Practice meditation,” Kivi’s father said. “You must become a better magician to attend the academy or the temple.” The older lumen polished a stone by hand. There were spells for that sort of thing, but he preferred the old way.

     Kivi’s mother looked up from her sewing.

     “Have you heard the news from the dwarf merchants?” Kivi asked.

     “Trivial.” His father held the gem to the light. It was fist size and green. “Dwarves are a backward people, distrusting magic. They’re only good at digging.”

     Kivi continued, ignoring his father. “There are rumors about gigantic lifestones deep in the southern caverns. Parties of miners are gathering to search for a way into the sealed off areas.”

     “Past God’s Toe, I believe. I’ve heard of it. We have plenty of lifestones.” Her brows knotted.

     “But these aren’t ordinary size. They’re huge.”

     “How would the dwarfs know such a thing?” His father rinsed the gem in a bowl of water and changed cloths. “Nonsense.”

     “I’m going,” Kivi said.

     “What?” Both parents sat forward, eyes wide.

     “I’m leaving with the dwarf merchants in the morning. I’ll travel with them to GreySeed City and join an expedition party.”

     “No!” his father shouted. “I won’t hear of it. You’re not a freak.”

     “Calm yourself, dear. Kivi hasn’t thought this through.”

     “I’m not a child. I’m going.”

     “Are you insane?” his father asked. “Son, you’re no lunatic. How can you even consider it? It’s a rash action. Your reputation will be shattered.”

     The girl of his heart, sweet Larite, who worked beside him as a volunteer in bat rescue, would understand.

     “You’ve said yourself, father, I’m not good enough at magic.”

     “Practice. I meant practice. I won’t hear anymore of this. You’re not a child anymore and I can’t force you to stay, but if you go, you’re not my son. I won’t have the weight of your insanity hanging around my neck, drowning me with you.” His father stormed out of their cubby home in Avond Nuit.

     Kivi balled his fists, using the physical pain as an anchor to the turmoil inside. The echoes of footsteps faded into the pedestrian noise from the main thoroughfare. 

     His mother set down her sewing. She closed the loose flap of hide on the door, smoothing the edges. The magically enhanced curtain blocked the noise from outside.

     She sat near Kivi on the stone bench. It bent with her weight, spongy like a cushion. The gems embedded in its feet glowed softly. She placed a hand on his arm. “Don’t worry. He’s always been blustery. He’ll come around. Lumen think it precarious to leave our territories, but many have. And without losing their reputation. Your grandfather had the wandering bug. Your poor grandmother never knew about it.” She smiled. “He told me he got it out of his system before they met.”

     “I don’t have the bug, Mother. Don’t worry about that.”

     “I don’t understand.”

     “I need to make a name for myself. I’m out of options. Don’t you see? If I find the gigantic lifestones, I can haul some back, to the museum.”

     “Ah, and then your reputation will be set.”

     “Exactly.” The lumen didn’t use the highly prized lifestones to regenerate after an unnatural death. They derived a different power, an energy, used to bind other magic. Magic was the most important thing in lumen society. The bigger the lifestone, the stronger the energy, the better the magic. Kivi would never be known as a magic wielder, but he would be known as a magic bringer, the one who brought home the giant stones.

     “But it’s more practical to go to the Magic Academy or the Temple.”

     “Sure, if you’re any good at meditating. I can’t help it, Mother. I don’t enjoy it. How will I ever practice enough, feel it enough, to pass those who do enjoy it?” A wry smile formed on his lips. “There’s no way for me to rise above mediocrity, and I don’t want that life.” More to the point, Larite doesn’t want that life.

     “You must be certain about this, Kivi. It’s a dangerous world beyond our caverns. Adventures forged on the idea of quick wealth are doomed. I don’t want to lose you.”

     “I know. It isn’t some foolhardy dream. I’ve thought it through. I must do something suited to my personality if I’m to attain the success I desire.”

     “And it isn’t meditation?” She didn’t look hopeful.

     “No.”

     But how do you know you can tolerate the wilds? Many fall victim to the shakes just outside of lumen territories.”

     “I have to try, mother. I’m out of options.”

     “You do like making maps.” She tapped her lips. “Remember when you covered the walls of your room in maps of the city?”

     “Is it my fault if all the city maps were flawed?” Kivi shared a smile with his mother. She’d never criticized his drawings, his doodlings as his father put it.

     She raised a finger and looked toward her bedroom. “I have just the thing.” She ducked behind a dark purple curtain. The black beads on the fringe border of the material clicked as they rubbed together in the movement. The sound always brought warm memories from when he was little, the smiling face of his mother. The only thing missing from the picture was her humming. She was more upset than she let on.

     Kivi heard rummaging and the thump of a stone lid closing.

     “Here it is,” she said, returning. She held out a pendent hanging on a leather cord. Swirls of beige laced an opaque cream color on the stone, its shape like a long snail shell found on the beach of Deep Pool Lake. “This was your grandfather’s. It will help conceal you if there’s trouble.”

     “If?” Kivi smiled.

     She rolled her large eyes. “Okay, when. Hold the pendent in your hand, like this,” she made a fist over the stone, “when you don’t want to be seen.”

     “Thanks, Mother.” He hugged her, maybe for the last time.

     “Wait! I’ve just remembered.” She hurried to her room sending beads clattering. The memory that came was of a rush to change after cooking a holiday feast. She had flour on her forehead. He had laughed.

     She handed him a folded parchment. “This was your grandfathers.”

     Kivi opened the map. He was surprised to find color-coded detail beyond anything he’d seen before. It was drawn in magical ink, a lumen’s map, but it contained areas far outside of lumen territories. “Where’d he get it?”

     She waved a hand. “Who knows really. I’m sure he added much of it. He was avid about details. Keep safe, Kivi.”

     “I will.”

#

     A barbarian and human stood in front of the tent in Fairground Chamber, a large cavern for merchants in the Dwarven Southern Kingdom of Greyseed. They barred Kivi’s way.

     He hadn’t gotten the shakes while he traveled the long road to the dwarven territories. It was like an endless city park without magical beacons. The barbarian loomed overhead like a giant effigy on festival day. Kivi quickly swept the thought away, ashamed at thinking of another’s death.

     “What are you, a lumen?” The barbarian asked. He wore heavy metal armor and had a two handed axe strapped to his back.

     “Yes. I’m-“

     “Look at that, Aric,” the barbarian said to the human beside him. “He has the biggest eyes I’ve ever seen. Think of that, short, petite almost, but with those huge eyes. This is the strangest person I’ve ever seen.”

     “Not me,” Aric said. “I’ve seen teratai.”

     “The scaly fish-people? You have me beat.” The barbarian clapped his friend on the shoulder and laughed. “If it weren’t for the eyes, he could be a wood elf midget.”

     “There are no wood elf midgets,” Aric replied.

     The barbarian shrugged. “How can we help you, little man?” He squatted. “Are you lost?”

     Kivi considered speaking slowly, then changed his mind. The barbarian might be dense, but he should be able to communicate well enough to be part of the expedition. “I’m Kivi, and I’m looking for Master Cavegrind.”

     “Master?” The barbarian doubled over in a fit of laughter. Passersby gawked at the tall, muscular man. “What a title for a dwarf!” He wiped his eyes. “Sorry. I’m Ulfer. It means wolf. This here is Cavegrind’s tent, but I don’t think he’s expecting a lumen.”

     “I’m here to apply for a job.”

     “What job? Your arms are too weak for mining or fighting.”

     “Scout.”

     “Scout?”

     “The eyes. Remember?”

     Ulfer glanced at his companion. “Think he’s any good?”

     “Who are we to judge? Send him in to Cavegrind.”

     The barbarian scratched his beard and stepped aside.

     Kivi entered the tent. Crates lined one side, a cot the other. A robust dwarf hunkered over a map on a table. Two human men sat to either side on low stools.

     “How can you see that, Cavegrind?” asked the human wearing a blue cloak. His dark hair was cut short, just curling at the top of the neck in back. “Aplite, bring the candle closer.”

     The second human, dressed in beige clothing, lowered the flame near the spot where the dwarf pointed.

     “State your business!” The dwarf looked up at Kivi, squinted, then his eyes dropped back to the map.

     “I’m Kivi, here to apply for a position in your party. Scout.”

     “We’ve already got a scout.” The dwarf grunted.

     “Oh? Do you have one with lumen eyes?”

     Cavegrind stared across the table, appraising him.

     “What’s he talking about?” the blue cloaked man asked.

     “See how large his eyes are, Hawk? He sees in the dark like you see in daylight.”

     Hawk nodded, slowly. “We’d be safer.”

     “Of course.” Cavegrind turned his attention to the lumen. “Do you know what you’re signing up for, boy? We’re traveling far, deep into the southern caves.”

     “For lifestones.”

     The dwarf ran his hand over his beard. “The pay isn’t much.”

     “I don’t want pay.”

     Cavegrind raised an eyebrow. “What’s your price?”

     “I want a stake.” Kivi lifted his hand as the two humans stood, prepared to argue. “A small stake, when we find them.”

     “Is he worth it?” Aplite, the one holding the candle, asked.

     “He’ll save us months, maybe more,” Cavegrind said.

     “And men.” Hawk sat on the stool. “You’re hired.”

     “It’s coming out of your cut,” the dwarf grumbled.

     “Minus the wages he’s declined,” Hawk added.

     Cavegrind nodded. “You see the tower clock in the middle of the fairgrounds?” He didn’t wait for an answer. “Be here at first chime. We leave early.” He looked back at the maps but didn’t offer to show Kivi.

     No matter. Kivi knew the map would be thrust on him in the morning. He’d doubted it would be of much use after he figured out their planned route. Dwarves are scribblers. Kivi’s map was drawn with magic ink, better to see the rising and lowering depths among the twists and turns.

#

     Kivi found the dead end ahead of schedule. He was exhilarated to see Aplite testing the tunnels with a magical artifact that sensed the raw power within lifestones. From the Rimround Kingdom like Hawk, Aplite was a magic imprinter. He drew the runes on lifestones that banded people’s lives to it.

     Whoever joined to the lifestone’s soul would regenerate after dying, into an unconscious state. It was a way to cheat death, as long as the lifestone was protected. If a lifestone was destroyed, then everyone bonded to it died permanently. Many coveted lifestones for the potential to live dangerously until old age made regeneration impossible. Lumen never used lifestones for this purpose.

     Hawk was the financier of the operation, and Cavegrind supplied the mining team of dwarves. The trained warriors, Ulfer and Aric, were the guards. Of course, the dwarves could fight too.

     Kivi held his head in his hands as the mining team banged on the rock with their pickaxes. The noise echoed down the cavern and back, amplifying in the loop. Kivi wanted to listen to more of the humans’ conversation, but he couldn’t take the noise any longer.

     He rose and examined the nearby passages. Rounding a corner, he entered a chamber with a shallow pool. A row of large stalactites dangled from high above. He thought of it as Biting Hall since the first time he saw it.

     This time, it wasn’t empty. Swooping near the edge of the water, a large bat screeched. Kivi climbed up the side of the wall for a better look at the animal. Adept at climbing, as were most lumen, he had no trouble finding hand holds, and rose quickly. He moved left, partially behind a column to conceal his presence, and watched the bat flap its wings nearby. The telltale strips of white down large black ears were visible. It was a wampir, dangerous though solitary by nature.

Continued in part 2

References: Barbarian, Dwarf, Elf, Human, Lumen, Teratai

 
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