Chapter Six - Island of Tears
Twenty minutes into their flight, Hugh hit an air pocket and dropped several meters. The ocean below them churned under wind and currents. He righted himself before a sudden gust of wind pelted them, causing them to plummet towards the ocean. The tips of his wings on the down flap brushed through water.
That was fun.
Mederei clung to Ramses. "Warn us next time."
Can't warn when I don't know. The air is highly unstable around here. Hugh hovered for a moment. Highly unstable, he repeated.
"Stupid air pockets," Mederei grumbled.
"Is there a reason for the instability?" Ramses inquired.
"No magic," Mederei muttered.
"You can't tell with your head buried in my back," Ramses said.
"I didn't see any."
"For someone as reckless as you are ..."
She's scared of falling, Hugh interrupted. He banked slightly to fly along the ocean surface. We can go back if you want.
"Where are you three going?" Luna's voice came into Mederei's ear. Luna had created earrings they could wear to talk over great distances. Only the top earring in her left ear lobe worked, while the earring in the lower lobe was decoration. She only had one piercing on her right ear.
"We're going for a flight out to sea," Mederei answered, her voice strong and clear now that she had something to focus upon. She waved her hand around them to cancel out the noise of the wind. "Half hour out. We have ten more minutes before we bank and come back."
Luna sighed. "What do you expect to find?"
"Don't know." She twisted to look behind them. Land was a thin film stretching across the horizon. The sky above the land was bright and blue, with puffy clouds lazing above the beach. The ocean was dark and tumultuous. Most likely a terrible current moved the waters around this place. "Did you find out anything yet?"
"We found a path leading to a sea grotto so we're going to investigate that."
"They're going to the grotto and some shrines," Mederei informed the men. "What do you think if we just let them have their fun?"
I've heard that the grotto and shrines are romantic.
"Only if one of them realizes it. You know how Luna is when she gets into her research mindset," Ramses argued. "And Caradoc's clueless as it is." He twisted slightly. "Are all Gwion like that or is it just the two of you?"
"Maybe he'll figure out that he's not so clueless anymore," Mederei suggested.
Ramses patted her hand around his waist. Hugh turned slightly to look over his shoulder.
"All right, already," Mederei muttered. "So Caradoc and I are not known to be the most observant of the Gwion when it comes to human emotions. Sue us."
Hugh banked then came up short to hover. He gulped in sea air, his nostrils flaring as his dragon's tongue licked back and forth to taste everything.
Ramses grasped Hugh's neck to keep from falling, and Mederei held onto Ramses. "What is it?" Ramses inquired.
Something smells different. Hugh leveled out and began moving forward again.
"How different?" Ramses pulled apart Mederei's grip around his waist before rising to his feet. He walked towards Hugh's tail. In dragon form, Hugh was large enough for two people to stand beside each other on his back. When they road, it was on Hugh's neck.
Mederei twisted to look around them as she too climbed to her feet. "I don't see anything."
From ahead of us still, but I smell land.
"Do you see any?" Ramses asked, looking around the vast sea. The South Great Sea covered a good portion of the globe, and the southern half ballooned from the northern half making it difficult to travel across. Land was rare, and none of the islands were very large. It was primarily the habitat of monsters and merfolk.
Hugh flapped towards the scent of land, pausing occasionally as the winds changed. He backtracked twice before settling into a more confident flight pattern. Mederei was the first to spot anything, and it was a thread more than anything else.
"Wait a moment," she ordered, running towards Hugh's tail. She leapt from it, and sprouted small dragon wings. A thin line of yellow, blue and green lines clustered before her. They were knotted, but not tangled, as though the fae, dae and humans had worked together at some point to create a spell.
Of course that would have been impossible - whoever heard of the fae working with the dae, let alone any of the humans. Silly threads.
Hugh banked back.
"What is it?" Ramses asked when he and Hugh were beside her.
Mederei plucked one of the strands and the entire lot became visible to the men. "I found magical strands," she said, watching the one portion of the threads plummet into the ocean below them while the other side went in the direction Hugh had flown.
Hugh looked down below them. Ocean?
"Maybe a merkingdom is below us," Mederei said, returning to Hugh's back. Her wings disappeared, as she rolled her shoulders.
Below them hung an island, for it seemed to hover betwixt sky and sea. Above it, as though hanging by a thread, or a water drop before it leaves a spigot, was what appeared to glass, but was, in fact some sort of magic.
Mederei waved her hand before her, and the strands, ribbons and ropes of magic which created the floating island appeared, twisting, turning, weaving through one another in an endless moving tapestry. "It's beautiful," she whispered.
"Can you tell us anything about it?"
"We'd have to descend."
"Our defensive magic is limited," Ramses reminded them.
Her defensive magic isn't, though. Hugh pointed to the island with his foreleg. Regardless, if it's connected to our mission, we have to investigate. It's too close to the mainland for it not to be connected. Hang on.
Mederei and Ramses sat down and clung to Hugh's neck as he dropped from the sky then pulling up just above the water to dip the tips of his wings in the ocean. He lifted and started to fly around the island hung in the sky. The roots of the island reached down into the water, but the appearance was one of the glass orbs Yuuna, another earth mage who specialized in plants, kept in her house. The orbs, typically glass, had a bell where moss and other small items grew with a long neck reaching to the top. Other glasses had a bowl where the blossoms floated while the roots descended into the water.
This island seemed almost to be a combination of the two.
"What is around it? Glass?"
"No," Mederei whispered. "Magic. We're able to see the magic itself, though it appears to be solid, it isn't."
Can we fly under it?
"Wouldn't recommend it," Ramses answered. "If we mess something up, I can't hold that island up by myself, and I don't know if Mederei is strong enough to help me."
The island itself wasn't large, maybe two kilometers at the center, but it was very nearly perfectly round, and oddly top-like with the center of the island being the tallest with trees reaching to the sky, but also the smallest as the shape, from a great distance was similar to a pyramid. The bottom of the island was equally true, though with rocks and roots instead of trees.
Birds flew in and out of the rocks and trees, feasting on the food below.
"Looks like someone uprooted it," Ramses muttered. He climbed to his feet as Hugh continued to circle. "How can someone uproot an island even this small? It's too big for a giant to pull out."
Air dragons cannot pull it out either.
"Couldn't you, Ramses?"
"Maybe in fifty years I could, but why would I?"
"I don't know of any wizard or mage who could do this," Mederei said, ignoring Ramses' question. "I mean, I know some wizards who could lift an island out of the sea and toss it at unsuspecting inhabitants, but as far as hanging it like this ..." She shook her head to clear it. "This is more the work of a god or ..."
"One of the fae," Ramses answered, pointing ahead of them.
On the outcropping of what was probably a former beach, one of the fae stood watching them fly around.
Should we go up?
"Looks like one of the water fae," Mederei answered. "They're not all bad."
"They're not all bad," Ramses quipped. "Only known for causing tsunamis to crash against harbors and other fickle whims. Why people believe the lies that the fae are benevolent has always confused me."
"Because there aren't that many fae here in Caergwlân, and the fae on you home island were fickle."
I never liked them, Hugh confirmed. Self-aggrandizing know it alls.
Hugh rose until he was eye-level with the fae who looked him in the eyes until lifting her head to look at Mederei and Ramses. "Demihabilum and riders," the fae said in the language of Caergwlân, though heavily accented. "We do not receive many guests at Damla Isle."
"Bit far," Ramses admitted.
"No port," the fae answered. She motioned for them to land, with Hugh transforming back into his human form once Mederei and Ramses were off.
"I'm Hugh Black, and my cousin, Mederei, a human, and our friend, Ramses, another human."
Mederei lifted her hand while Ramses answered, "Earth mage."
The fae's gaze shifted between Hugh and Mederei. "A demihabil acknowledges a wizard as his cousin? Times must have changed more than we realized."
"It's complicated," Hugh answered. "What are we to call you?"
"Mithrilanna. I am the sorceress of this island."
In the fae language, sorceress was how the word sounded, but instead of having an evil connotation, which most of the non-magical races understood it as - with good reason - it implied more of a seer, wise woman, healer type role among their people. Often they were some of the first to meet visitors as the magic of the sorcer (male) and sorceress (female) could be utilized to heal wounds, but also read minds.
Confirming her abilities, Mithrilanna nodded her head once. "You are confused by the isle."
"It would be hard not to be," Hugh admitted. "Why is this not on any map?"
"Not to mention a tourist attraction?" Mederei looked back towards the mainland which was just visible as a hazy outline. Ahead of them, the clouds continued to gather, but while closer, still far out to sea. "How long as it been?"
"Just about twenty-five minutes," Ramses answered. "We're no closer."
"And you will remain no closer," Mithrilanna answered. "The mist hovers and gathers, it's storm clouds darken and lighten, but it comes no closer and goes no farther. It remains ever as we are twixt sky and sea, never near never far."
"Has it always been this way?"
"For the length of my life, and my mother's life and her mother's life. It is said that my grandmother's grandmother was of the age when the island rose, but our records were destroyed in a fire during the youth of my grandmother's mother."
"And all the records were lost?"
"Most of them. The hidden ones would remain, but we have lost the entrance."
"Not that anyone could reach them," Mederei suggested.
"You understand the ways."
"What are hidden ones?" Ramses inquired as Mithrilanna led them into the forest.
"The fae keep records of everything, right?" Mederei began. "There are the written records, those that they keep in their libraries and in books and pamphlets and scrolls, and basically any number of other locations they can write, but in addition to all of that, they have their hidden places, typically underground, where they put their important information - the great events such as war, famine, peace, discovery, anything that's worth remembering beyond the loss of paper."
"Or fire," Ramses said, understanding coloring his voice. "So, these hidden places are probably separated from where we are?"
"Might be under the sea still, depending how far down it went. If the entrance is lost, it could be from the shifting as the island rose, or some other disaster."
"Sky quakes?" Hugh suggested.
"We have them," Mithrilanna confirmed. "And they have been increasing."
"Magic giving out?"
She shrugged. "We don't know what happened in the first place, it could be a natural occurrence, or the earth's magic could be pulling us back. It's not threatening, just more common." She pointed above them where the magic blurred the sky like a summer's haze. "It's worse because of the summer, but we don't even know why it was formed in the first place, how to maintain it or anything."
"It wasn't your tribe?"
"A wizard?" Ramses suggested.
"We thought of that as well for there is no love lost between the fae and the wizards, but without our hidden history, we are lost."
"How many live in your tribe?"
"There are fifteen hundred of us."
They passed through a grove of smooth beech trees and entered the tribe's primary stronghold. Built amongst the trees and rocks of the island, houses hugged between the larger trees, while above them rope walkways connected the treetop dwellings to each other.
"It rarely rains," Mithrilanna explained, "so we have our canopies, but that's all we need."
"Does it grow colder?"
"No; warm enough to provide seasonal changes, but the weather remains the same."
The inhabitants of Damla Isle paused their work to watch the guests. "I take it you don't have guests often."
"Occasional dragons and off-course ships, but we aren't in a shipping lane."
"No mer kingdoms?"
"We're between two."
"Stranded on top of it."
"Other fae have come to help us, but we have not heard anything from them." Mithrilanna bowed to a male fae who wore a twisted bronze crown. "Chief, the demihabil, Hugh Black, his cousin, Mederei, and their friend, Ramses, an earth mage. Our chief, Eunibai."
Hugh stepped forward to bow. "We are members of the Fire Shadow Mage Guild."
"We never sent for mages or wizards."
"We're currently working on a request for those in the town of Rukisismos," Hugh explained. "We found the island while flying out to see the storm, which Mithrilanna has informed us doesn't move."
"It doesn't," Eunibai confirmed. "Neither do we. We will hire you to sink us back into the sea."
Hugh glanced over his shoulder to Ramses and Mederei. "Well?"
Mederei shrugged, neither confirming nor denying.
Ramses nodded his head once.
"We'll do it," Hugh said.
The community cheered at the news.
Mederei stepped back, touching her earring as she did. "Loonie?"
"Brilliant, you can hear me."
"Uh, yeah; these freakin' earrings work across the world if needed. What did you find?"
"An island floating in the middle of the ocean. They're fae."
"The island is floating and it's inhabited by fae who can't do anything?"
Mederei gave the quick version of events and finished with, "So we're going to help them fall back into the sea."
"Even though others have tried?"
"Well, it looks like we could just knock out the base, but ..."
"We've tried that," Mithrilanna said. "It's unbreakable."
Mederei hopped slightly then slid away slightly to give herself space. "Did you hear that?"
"I did," Luna confirmed. "We'll try to see what we can dig up on it. What's the name?"
The connection dulled between Luna and Mederei. Turning back to Mithrilanna, Mederei crossed her arms. "Do you have any modern hidden places we can see?"
"I'll show you," Mithrilanna said. "How did you talk to your friend."
"She put a spell on earrings for us."
"Does she know of anything?" Ramses asked, joining them while Hugh took care of the business details. The fae community had been out of touch with the mainland for several generations, and had not heard of the most recent (two centuries) development of the mage guilds and regulations therewith. Though Mederei had studied law as part of her upbringing, it was Hugh who understood the intricacies better, having wanted to be a diplomat for his race.
"She didn't know of it, but will add it to their work load." Mederei stepped forward as though to walk to Hugh, but stopped beside Ramses. "I'm going to have to find a private spot and see what I can find out. Alfny might have heard something."
Mithrilanna motioned for them to follow her. "I can take you to the cave entrance."
"Hugh!" Mederei called. "We're going to go look at the caves."
"We will all come," Eunibai announced.
Ramses coughed, but fell into step beside Mederei as Mithrilanna and Eunibai led them farther into village, between posts leading deeper into the center of the isle, but upwards to the crest of the island. Halfway up, they stopped at a cave's entrance. "This is the current cave we use," Eunibai explained. "There are others all along this pathway, but they are the older ones."
"We'll have to look at them as well," Mederei decided. "Anything we should be concerned about inside?"
The fae shook their heads. "But we can only enter at certain times, therefore we will allow you inside alone."
Hugh held a ball of fire in his hands and entered the cave.
"Well, we're alone now, Medi," Ramses said once they were past the cave entrance.
"You'll have time to read if you want."
Mederei closed her eyes, imagining a library. A fire crackled in the corner and windows looked out over an ocean. Before her was a large ornate iron bookstand with a thick volume opened. Mederei flipped to the back of the book and ran her finger down the line until she found the entry for Damla Isle.
The book with the information appeared in her hands, already opened to the entry. "It doesn't look like there's much on it," she informed the men. "Information is sketchy at best, and more legend than fact. It does appear to be not one wizard, but five." She closed the book and opened her eyes, the library gone.
"Was there anything to give us a hint."
"The last known explorer here was three centuries before Alfny, making Alfny's time period, I would guess, about the time period of Mithrilanna's grandmother's time."
"If not after that," Hugh said. "Gran's still quite alive and well, and she was Alfny's best friend."
Hugh's ancestor was three and a quarter centuries old, and had been Mederei's ancestor's best friend when both were alive three hundred years past. "I don't think she knows anything about it, unless it was big news at the time," Hugh said. "I can send a message to her, if you want."
"Later. As far as I can tell from the brief information, it's always been known for its location and gemstones, but that was back when it was in the sea."
"Then we're going to have to discover what the reason someone might have lifted it from the sea," Ramses said. "Hopefully it's not one of those spells which requires the blood relations to reverse it."
"I doubt it, but if it is, we'll figure something out," Mederei promised. "Besides, my weaver magic allows me to play with the rules a little."
"And you wonder why people fear your magic."
Mederei smiled. "Because storyteller magic in the wrong hands can be evil, like all magic. We are limited only by what we can dream up, and that's scary enough with a wealthy person without magic." She looked at the wall. "These seem to be recent ones. Do they go farther into the cave?"
"Probably two hundred meters," Ramses said. "I can feel tunnels all around us, and magical veins there too. Whatever the case, magic flows through this place like water."