Reven Si’ahl sat with arms and legs dangling over the flotsam that sufficed as a bridge between two anchored ships. He groaned with nausea, his stomach churning as the bridge, the ships, the entire city, in fact, swayed back and forth with the ocean tides. He clung to the ropes, toes bobbing in and out of the cool water. Everything in the city of Avir floated. That’s why it was called The Floating City of Avir as Liam had so eloquently pointed out. Reven didn’t care what the stupid place was called, he wanted it to stop moving.
The city itself was comprised of hundreds of ships all anchored near the tiniest island ever recorded. It was a single mountain fortress, the ships and barges all spreading out like tentacles from the head of an octopus. They put out bridges like the one Reven sat on or plank boards to walk from ship to ship. Business was conducted over a cask of ale on floating pallets that were considered ‘neutral ground’. Liam Roe, a duende thief-taker, sat among a group of unique individuals during such a session, periodically glancing over at Reven. The tirsai olven man did not feel the need to return eye contact, head hanging over the rough ropes so that he did not have to move when his stomach heaved of its own volition.
Into the Caves
Reven learned after that moment of indiscretion to never let Liam discuss business outside of his presence again when it could be helped. Sometimes it couldn’t, but that day in particular, his opinion might have changed their path. As it was, Reven walked through ankle-deep muck in insect-infested marshes at the head of their three-person line into the heart of Yama towards the border of Pulani. Liam followed, with Reven’s own personal salvation, Ajana Dai – a half-olven woman of cantari descent, her skin as copper as any coin and her voice sweet as honey – bringing up the rear.
“Is this why you said to not wear shoes?” Reven asked, his toes squishing in the muck as they walked.
“Quiet,” Liam hissed. “Keep goin’.”
“Towards what?” Reven asked, stopping to look at the duende thief-taker. They did not get on, not really.
“Liam, perhaps I should lead,” Ajana offered, maintaining peace between the men. Liam scowled. “Reven does not know what to look for.”
“Yeah,” Liam scoffed. “Reven don’t know nothin’ do, he? S’what happens when ya bring in strays. Keep goin’. You’ll know it when ya see it.”
Reven only rolled his eyes and continued on, his steps slowing when he saw ‘it’. A gaping maw of a cave came out of the blight all around him, the marshes creating a blanket of hot steam that hid anything further than a few inches from his face. The cave loomed up out of nowhere with jagged stalagmites giving it a skull-like appearance. Reven shrank into the muck. He did not remember a life prior to Ajana and, if this was what was in store for his future, he didn’t want to remember that either.
“What’d ya stop for?” Liam hissed again, shoving Reven at the center of his back. That was strike one.
The inside of the cave was no better than the outside. Narrow passages made movement difficult and the muck that sucked at Reven’s toes outside was even worse inside. Several passages were flooded, forcing the small crew to wade through waist-high water full of bugs and floating bits of things that made Reven’s nose wrinkle. Eventually, Ajana did lead because not only did Reven not know what he was looking for, he was also not a very good navigator, running them into dead-ends at least twice and nearly dropping them into a pit once. The payout, however, was worth the fuss.
“Now ain’t that a pretty bauble,” Liam cooed. He held a gem the size of a raptor egg in his hands. It gleamed in the torch light, an opalescent green that sent rainbow sparkles across the walls of the cave. Reven watched the sparkles, mesmerized by the patterns they made.
“Oi,” Liam crowed, shoving Reven in the back again. Strike two. “Satchel.”
Reven frowned but pulled the satchel he carried around so that the gem could be placed inside. He’d been reduced to a moderately intelligent pack mule. How glorious. He could see another statement forming in the duende thief-taker’s face, a statement Reven was not likely to appreciate, when the entire cave rumbled, throwing them off balance.
“Are caves supposed to do that?” Reven asked from a rather awkward position bent at the waist with arms spread wide for balance. The others were no better, arms out or legs spread to keep them stable.
“Idiot,” Liam grumbled. “C’mon ‘fore somethin’ crawls up an’ starts bitin’.”
Reven did not argue, turning to leave the way they came. He was caught up by Liam grabbing his arm and tugging sharply on the strap of the satchel. Strike three.
Something inside of the tirsai man exploded. Rage, perhaps, or great annoyance, but it showed itself in a concussive blast that radiated outward from Reven, throwing the thief-taker clear across to the other side of the cave. The ground beneath his feet trembled, rocks bouncing as he turned a fierce, white-hot glare on Liam Roe.
“Don’t,” Reven barked. Heat filled his veins, burned through the whole of him and seared his core with supernatural Power. The realization made every ounce of it rush out of him like water from an overturned bucket, nearly dropping him to his knees. He could cast.
The journey back to Avir was entirely silent. Not a single word was spoken or thought uttered. Reven let the other two conduct business, trading the gem for the agreed upon amount and simply prayed that nothing was said about what happened. He knew what the world thought of casters, he’d seen it already in Pulani where Ajana found him and heard the talk of it among the sailors and thief-takers on Avir. Casters were wicked; mortals that dared to steal the Power of the gods for themselves and punished for their crime accordingly.
Despite knowing he could easily handle anything that came his way – hopefully – Reven still flinched when a shadow loomed overhead. He glanced up slowly as if expecting a lynch mob or, at the very least, to be struck for his stupidity. How dare he show his Power; how dare he take what was not his. Instead, Liam stared down with impatience growing on his tanned features.
“Gonna sit there all day or what?” the thief-taker drawled. “We don’t get paid by sittin’ ‘round, ya crow.”
Reven’s first reaction was to argue, to question, to wonder. He opened his mouth to say so, then looked at Ajana, smiling kindly at him and quickly shut his mouth. He could learn and he would take his secrets – what few he had – to the grave.