A Tale by Michael DeAngelo
Chapter One: Versali-Virai
The ship bobbed on the ocean, and Vandelas found himself gripping the rail on the deck even harder. He watched as the foam was cast off the side of the vessel, his face gone just as pale. He closed his eyes then, and wished for the discomfort to subside.
“You’re not thinking of giving up, are you?” a familiar voice asked.
“These eyes aren’t closed to help me move back to Aven’adiel,” he insisted. “I’m trying my best not to be sick.”
“Closing your eyes won’t help with that,” his companion assured him. “It’s your mind that is the problem. There’s a separation there. It can’t make sense of the motion. The only way to feel better is to be on dry land again—or to trick your mind that you’re flat on your feet again.”
“And how do I do that exactly?”
“If it were a bright day, I’d suggest looking far into the horizon. Since the moon isn’t offering us very much light, maybe you can focus there instead.”
Vandelas blinked away his discomfort, and directed his gaze to where his friend pointed. There, in the distance, he saw the red lights of the city on the water.
“Just about. By the time the sun crests over the eastern waves, I believe we’ll be in the harbor. And a few coins richer for it. Most people have to pay for a voyage like this.”
“At least if we did run into trouble, it would have distracted me from… all this.” He lurched over the rail again, and waited for the taste in his mouth to summon up the contents from his stomach. “Leave me here, Maravek. When the sun rises, you’ll know where to find me.”
Maravek clapped his friend on his back. “We’ll be there sooner than you know,” he assured. The man left the elf there to nurse his sickness. He made his way instead toward the helm, where his employer scanned the distance. He rose up the steps and nodded to the captain at the wheel before he came up alongside the burly fellow who felt the sea mist on his face.
“The trip went better than I expected,” Maravek offered. “We made good time.”
“Aye, that we did. A favorable wind was behind us the whole time. You sure you’re not with the League?”
“If I had been, wouldn’t I have charged you more, Silas?”
Unable to hide a grin, the merchant clapped his employer on his shoulder. “That you would.”
“Listen,” Maravek said. “Regarding payment… why don’t you just hold onto my cut? We didn’t run into any trouble, and I was only interested in the ride.”
Silas furrowed his brow then. “You may outlive me, my friend, but we all need money. Hiring a crew to protect us from those damned pirates is worth the coin.”
“Maybe. But there were no pirates this time, and I spent so much time caring for my friend that I wasn’t able to work the riggings or sails.”
“When we port, we could use a hand unloading the goods. That is, if you don’t need to prop up your elven friend there.”
“Once we come ashore, I suspect he’ll only remain for a moments.”
“Think the heat’ll break him?”
Maravek shook his head. “No, he’s too stubborn for that. But he has a few tricks up his sleeves to help him accustom to land again.”
“We’ll see about that. Even you had a hard time getting back to normal the first time you sailed from home.”
“That I did,” Maravek said. “I’m going to gather our belongings. It seems we’ll be there sooner than I expected.”
“That’s right. Go and get your knife and your stick,” Silas teased.
“You would have been thankful for that knife and that stick fi we had run into those pirates!”
Silas let out a large belly laugh that Maravek was sure would have woken some of the crew below deck. The man walked down the steps, keeping his eyes on the hold all the while—even as Vandelas expelled the small meal that filled his belly.
Maravek couldn’t help chortling at that unfortunate sight, as his friend lay back upon the rail. The grin subsided almost as quickly as it arrived though. That was more rest than many in the great city before them could boast. He only hoped he was not too late.
One of the crew pushed up on that metal grate before he arrived there, but he caught it as they passed. The sailor clapped him on the shoulder before going on his way.
The passenger was used to such gestures. He had served his fair share of time on the Lancer before, and he had earned his keep in the throes of battle, or by using the other gift he had—the one that had earned him the name Dreamwalker.
As he crept to his designated spot, he msued that just for a short while, he wouldn’t mind being called Dream-haver. For the duration of the trek across Draconis with Vandelas, he had stayed awake. He was, after all, the one who knew where they were going. A brief rest at the port of Ferah’s Mill did little to offer reverie before Silas arrived in the harbor with the Lancer. And when they were aboard, he knew his elven companion would be of no use in a skirmish. It was best to stay awake.
All the better, he supposed. He was able to enter and manipulate dreams with greater ease when he was fatigued. And if the rumors were true, Versali-Virai had quite a need for his talents.
He sat at his bunk, a plain little slot against the bow. His belongings were on the floor there, or sitting upon the top of a sturdy barrel. His heavier clothes were folded there—the heat of Versali-Virai’s surroundings would bid him wear something a bit more comfortable. As he placed those unneeded clothes in his pack, his eyes fell upon the one other item that meant something to him.
Maravek lifted the pendant, a leather cord pressed through a fine steel arrowhead. He clutched it in his hand for a moment, leaving it above his pack. After some hesitation, he cinched it around his neck instead.
If he couldn’t sleep and find reverie, perhaps he could find solace in a daydream.
* * * * *
As the Lancer dropped anchor, Maravek ventured out onto the deck once more. The bright sun of northern Lustra shone down upon those blue waters, and upon the ship and all who toiled to bring it in line with the pier. The Dreamwalker couldn’t help smiling at the scenario that unfolded topside.
While the crew worked the riggings and the sails, they danced around the tortured elf, who still seemed afflicted with a pallid shade of green. He was barked at and ushered from one location to the next in order to keep him clear of the men at work.
Vandelas nearly barked back when he felt another hand upon his shoulder. Maravek stood there though, with a more sympathetic gaze upon hi face.
“Explain to me your gift once more,” he said. “Do you have to stand upon a place to reach it again, or is simply seeing it well enough?”
“I must only make eye contact,” the weary elf confirmed. “Why?”
Maravek pointed toward the end of the dock. “That’s where you’ll meet me at this time tomorrow. Why don’t you head home? Let the other elves of Aven’adiel know you’ve arrived here safely. I’m sure they’d be happy to see you.”
“Nonsense,” Vandelas said. “I told you I would stand by your side to keep you protected from the waking dangers. I can’t very well do that from across the ocean.”
A warm smile was already upon Maravek’s face. “You’re useless to me like this. You can’t even stand! Go back to the forest and sleep it off. Tomorrow, you’ll remember what it feels like to be on dry land.” When the elf opened his mouth to protest, the Dreamwalker put up his ahnds. “Go on. Before you wobble off the gangplank and end up in the water.”
Vandelas took in a deep breath, and nodded at last. He turned to port and let his gaze settle upon that area just beyond the pier. Then, at once, a swirl of air picked up the bits of dust and debris that had settled on the deck. Like a clear curtain sweeping over him, the elf faded into obscurity until he was no longer there at all. Other members of the crew who were not as deeply involved in their tasks whispered or muttered under their breath at that queer sight.
Alone, Maravek walked back toward the cabin, and he was interrupted by Silas.
“Finally done watching for the ol’ infantry, eh?”
“We’ll make a sailor of him yet,” came Maravek’s cheery reply.
Silas clapped him on the shoulder. “Optimistic as always. But optimism won’t move crates.”
“Then I better stretch my back instead.”
“Bah, I’m sure you’ve more important things to do,” the merchant captain said. He held out his opposite hand, and dumped a collection of coins into Maravek’s palm. “You’ve always done well by us in the past. And every time we’ve made port with you aboard, it’s been good fortune for us. Whether you believe it or not, you’ve earned your keep.”
A wide smile was upon Maravek’s face. “Thank you for your kindness, Silas. I’m eager for when we meet next.”
“Aye. Now get going before one of my lads complains of a sore back and I change my mind.”
The dreamwalker gave a bow before clapping his friend on the shoulder. When he drew from the merchant, Silas barked orders at his crew, seeing to it that the cargo was unloaded with haste and care.
As those orders sank beneath the waves of words on those piers, Maravek took the opportunity to scrutinize the people of Versali-Virai. On the docks, energy and vigor seemed to be the norm. Those sailors who moved goods seemed eager to complete their duties. Various captains were stern, but calculated with commands.
When Maravek set his sights on the dockhands though—those who lived in the city, and not aboard seafaring vessels—he saw something else entirely. Bloodshot eyes could barely remain open, and when they did, they lacked focus. The dreamwalker let his gaze move from one downtrodden soul to the next, but never spoke to any of them.
Instead, he kept the various paths in front of him. Walking with purpose and the confidence of someone who had trekked through the city’s streets many times, Maravek kept an even pace, the people of the city always in his peripheral vision.
After making his way beneath an archway, he arrived in the city’s market district. Adobe buildings and tents were densely packed together, and people crowded each of them. Maravek flipped a coin from his hand into the basket behind one of those stalls. A spin away from the merchant and their many patrons saw the dreamwalker with a juicy mango in his hands, all without the hassle of waiting to be served.
He proceeded east through the bazaar, only stopping for a brief moment to appreciate the splendor of the mighty statue that was erected at its center. That effigy of a hero from a time long past—a minotaur that saved the city from one thing or another, if memory served Maravek—had seen better days. Flecks of stone had flecked off of it in various places, and its once pristine color had turned into a dusky grey. Birds perched on its shoulders, and the dais that raised it up.
Not an ideal way to be remembered, Maravek thought. But what do I know? I’ve never earned myself a statue.
With the hustle and bustle of the market behind him, the dreamwalker kept to his easterly direction. Passing beneath another arch, he arrived in one of the city’s poorer districts. Those residents looked off than any he had seen, though he was unable to distinguish if it was due to horrible nightmares, or if it was just their lot in life that left them appearing so wretched.
It was nothing worth considering the, he reasoned. He couldn’t help everyone fight through poverty, but if it was brought about by terrors that came to them at night, he would do everything he could to rid them of their demons.
Still, the thoughts did invade his mind, long enough for him to realize he had reached his destination. So distracted by the plight of the people, he couldn’t remember making the conscious decision to turn north. Yet there he stood, in front of the door to the Rusty Key.
He wasted little time venturing inside the dreary place. Its splintered wood and grimy windows did not paint the place as habitable, let alone hospitable. But when he arrived inside, he suddenly felt a weight lift off of him.
The bartender, a skinny fellow with tattoos covering all of his visible skin, looked up from the well drinks, and made eye contact with the surprising patron. He arched an eyebrow for a moment before reaching an epiphany, and when he did, he pointed a finger toward Maravek.
With a smile on his face, the dreamwalker waited there as the man raced around the bar, and out to see his visitor. The bartender ran so fast it seemed he would collide with the guest. He stopped just short though, and threw his arms out wide.
“Maravek, my friend. It’s been too long. I didn’t think it could be you. You don’t look like you’ve aged a day.” He pulled his guest into a fierce embrace.
“And you, Enzo,” the dreamwalker replied as they separated. “You look completely different than when I last saw you.”
“I was just a boy. But you helped me find peace. I haven’t had a problem since.”
“And I’m grateful for that. Sometimes I find that a most powerful nightmare finds a way to resurface.” He took a beat then, and placed his hand on the younger fellow’s shoulder. “I was sorry to hear about your father. Saul was a good man. I regret that I was not able to see him one last time.”
Enzo bobbed his head and averted his gaze. “Life goes on for some of us,” he finally offered. “But, that life is not pleasant for everyone.”
“Let’s talk about what plagues them so.”
The bartender nodded. “You still drink whisky on ice?”
“You remembered my drink?” Maravek asked.
“That’s my drink,” Enzo replied. He poured two glasses, and passed one to his esteemed guest. “A toast, my friend: to the better days that are bound to be ahead.”
The dreamwalker clinked his glass against the other, and took a sip of the drink. He furrowed his brow and looked at the contents, nodding satisfaction. “This is good.”
“Much too good for an establishment such as this,” Enzo jested. “After Father passed, I decided to try and make a better place out of this. The deck is stacked against me—the location isn’t the greatest—but there’s been some noticeable changes.”
“Let’s just say your stay should be more enjoyable.”
Maravek smiled and took another swig of his whisky. “Let’s talk about how to make life more enjoyable for the others who live here,” he said after his lips smacked together. “Tell me everything you know about these nightmares.”
Enzo shrugged. “Not much to tell other than people are having a hard time. They’re sleeping less, complaining more—you see them in the streets walking about like zombies.”
“Any particular place in the city its more prevalent? Any people more affected than others? Men? Women? Children? How long has this been going on?”
“Too long, my friend. Maybe three months already. I’m happy you were able to get here so soon. My only regret is that it wasn’t soon enough. These nightmares claimed their first victim only last week.”
“Someone has died from them?”
The bartender nodded. “Old man Wylas—a retired fishmonger. Some say he was just meant to go, that it was time alone that got to him. His daughter believes otherwise though.”
“His daughter? Did she live with him?” he asked as he rose from his seat.
“What, you’re going now?”
“If it’s more than just speculation, I have to. If the nightmares are killing people now, we may be running out of time. Could you point me out to the home of this Wylas?”
Enzo circled around the counter, and gulped down the last of his whisky. “I’ll take you there myself.”
“What about your tavern?”
The bartender clapped his old friend on the shoulder. “There are bigger problems in Versali-Virai.”