A #Crux story. Twenty years after events rocked the City of Curses, Maralda has to help fix a problem her sister caused with one of the prime movers of that event, the Night of Fire. It started here, continued in Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4.
Ranza is odd. That isn't a bad thing. But it still is odd.
At a distance, the island looks like a small village. Forests, fields, and squarish limestone cottages. Herds of animals. A massive building dominated the northern part of the island. Next to that big building lies the airship ferry terminal.
The gigantic building confuses one further because it looks like a pub. Then, as the airship nears Ranza, your sense of scale adjusts.
The large pub isn't some bizarre giant temple to some long forgotten god of booze. No, it is the only normal-sized building upon Ranza. Everything else is tiny. Scaled for mice or rodents. Or for humans the size of such.
The airship dock is located close to the Pub. The Delver didn't tolerate anyone who came to Ranza looking to cause trouble. Or to exploit the village of tiny humans. She'd forced the dock for the ferry to be put as close as possible to her pub. One had to pass it to see any other part of the small island.
The island was no bigger than any small neighborhood in Crux, perhaps only two or three city blocks. But the tiny village seemed to make it feel like a different land, as if from another time.
"Do we have to do this?" Olain sighed. "These people aren't worth our time, Maralda."
I ignored her. I could tell this was embarrassing her. That and she was covering up something. She'd come to me but hadn't been willing to admit it. She'd make me drag her around until she would admit what the problem was.
Olain was like Father. She couldn't just say she'd made an error or that she needed to help. She had to be on the correct side of it and would be too stubborn to admit she wasn't right from the start.
"Aha!" A familiar voice intoned to me, small yet old.
"Hold on," I grabbed Olain's shoulder to stop her. I smiled as I turned to the short, knee high building. A Ranzite sat there, smoking a tiny pipe. The black-haired, young man sat in a rocking chair, one hand tuning a fiddle.
"Early time of the month to be seein' you Miss Inculti."
"Finally earn some coin with that old chunk of wood, Saryl?" I knelt down to see him closer. "How are you?"
The mouse-sized man gave me a wink, then strummed a bit of a tune. The notes sounded off. "Bit of trouble last night. Just a couple of kids off the Ferry."
"Not anything bad I hope?"
Saryl shrugged. "Just scared some folks. To be honest, the Delver scared them worse than they scared us. One of her ferrets took a tumble, but nothing got broken."
"She can't go threatening others like that!" Olain's eyes flared, stomping her foot.
I bit my lower lip. Saryl, ever the cool-headed bard, shrugged. For him, it was another tale of the Mighty Delver. He loved those, even when they got a bit too fantastical to be true.
"Maybe Miss, but she be The Delver. Once she turned into a Cat to stop a fairy that had been stealing children. Another, she turned herself into a sky giant to fight off an elder god. She protects us, and we trust her to know what is right and what is wrong."
Olain crossed her arms. I could sense the Inculti fire in her, getting ready to boil up to the surface. Before she did something stupid, I stepped in.
"Saryl, this is my little sister Olain. Olain, Zaryl is a student of mine. One of the finest Bards Ranza has ever had." I smiled at her, pretending as though she hadn't almost lost her anger.
Olain stopped, staring at me.
"Pardon, rude of me, Miss Inculti. Pleasure to meet you, Miss Olain! Your sister compliments are appreciated. But she knows I am nothing compared to my grandfather." Saryl grinned, which was him covering his embarrassment.
"Your Grandfather never wrote his own songs. Too confident in the things his great grandfather had written." I shook my head.
"You come to Ranza a lot." Olain observed, her eyes narrowing. Anything to avoid the look of embarrassment I knew she had.
"She teaches each generation the trade," Saryl said.
"Storytelling," I supplied. "About once a month I visit Ranza to help teach anyone interested in the path. I've been doing it ever since the island appeared twenty years ago."
"Ten generations, or how we reckon them," Saryl agreed. "She's seen plenty of excellent bards from us."
"None like you Saryl," I smiled.
He looked away.
"Ten generations?" Olain scratched her head in confusion. "How?"
"Saryl, is the Delver in the Pub?" I asked, sidestepping her questions.
"Aye, she had a long night last night. She's been deciding whether to keep some of the troublemakers from last night." Saryl began to pluck at strings. Without looking up, he added, "one of them got away. Group of kids, but you know how angry the Delver gets when it involves one of her own."
Memories of a dead ferret and an enraged Ursyklon woman flooded back to me. I didn't ever want to repeat that experience. But then again, without it, I wouldn't have met Saryl's ancestors, the Bardkin. A name Ranzites had given them after spending so much time with me. The Bard, as the Ranzites called me.
"Yes, I do," I sighed. "Well, Saryl, Olain and I have to talk with her. Thanks."
"Happy songs to you, Bard," Saryl nodded. He then started a happy fiddle song. Each note seeming to reflect the glittering sunshine.
After a step or two away from Saryl's home, Olain drew closer to me. Her eyes looked angry. She grabbed my left arm, tight.
"How long have you been dealing with these little micefolk ?"
I pulled her arm off me.
"Olain, a Ranzite generation is two years. It's rare for one of them to live past three or even four years. So, yes, I've been visiting them for what they think is ten generations. I taught Saryl's great great grandmother how to play guitar. They tell me their stories in turn."
"No one can learn a Path that quick." Olain spat. "Are you sure they aren't just puppets of the Halfling?"
"I know Father and the other Inculti tolerate enthralled Unsorcerous. So you're used to thinking of others as tools or beasts, but Olain, please." I closed my eyes. "You are half-Fire Vampyre and have seen some of the stranger magick this City has to offer. And you are going to question whether or not these people are people?"
"It's convenient, isn't it? That this Delver halfling has her own little kingdom, and that no one in the City Police comes out here to stop her? Besides, no one can learn to be a bard that quick. Or any of the other things he did. To write his own songs while being, what, a year old?"
"It's more complicated than that." I opened the pub door. "Saryl's twenty-three months old, anyway. Ranzites learn faster than we do. He recognized you, and so did most of the village. That's why Saryl was there. He wanted to see you, to make sure you weren't going to cause trouble. If you did, he'd have called the Delver quick."
"He..." Olain looked back. "I... That makes sense..."
My dumbfounded, confused sister looked away from me. I grabbed her arm and drug her into the pub with me. We were going to end this whole thing, one way or another.