JOURNEY TO MIRANGA ISLAND
Part VIII: The Map
Murphy vanished before Balric’s eyes. The manservant looked every which way to see if he could spot where the ghost went, but there was nothing. Silence. Then, there was a breeze, and Balric felt a chill. It began at his fingertips; slowly it crept up into his hands. Panic started to seize Balric and he furiously rubbed his hands together for warmth. There was none to be had. The chill only inched higher.
“Master!” Balric called, but Declan did not answer. It was only Mad Murphy’s laughter that replied to the manservant’s call: evil and echoing.
The chill kept rising; up his forearms and into his shoulders. It spilled over a bit into his chest before finally cascading into the rest of him. Balric fell over, clutching at himself for warmth. Nothing worked. This was the coldest he’d ever felt, and his limbs began to ache even as they were beginning to dull.
Balric looked up at Delcan one last time as he felt the chill spread to the furthest reaches of his toes. His master’s head was bowed and the lad’s hands were out, as though ready to receive a gift.
The map materialized instantly. It held a moment, in the air above Declan’s awaiting hands. Then, like a feather, it began to float down. Once it touched Declan’s fingers it was clutched tightly. Balric saw his master’s head rise suddenly, and the boy began to run.
“Now Balric!” Declan shouted as he ran toward his freezing serf.
“Now?” Now what?” Balric thought amidst the agony of the chill. His mind was wracked with the pain he felt, and when he could wrench his thinking from his torment he only gained brief instants of conscious thought. “Is this it?”
“Big picture!” Declan screamed as Balric writhed on the ground.
“Big picture?” Balric thought as he felt his heart getting slower and slower. His mind was easing and things were growing dark in his eyes. Shadow was falling from the corners, and even Declan seemed so distant and far away. “Big picture,” he thought one last time as it all faded.
Balric opened his eyes with a start. He breathed deeply, as though he had been drowning. He sat up and came face to face with Declan, who had been kneeling over him. Declan was wearing a look of relief.
After a good few moments of taking in sweet air, Balric greeted his master with the widest smile he had ever given in his life.
“Balric?” Declan asked concernedly.
“I understood master,” Balric answered.
A high pitched scream echoed all around them. Declan looked up. Balric looked up. Slowly, the pair rose to their feet and took in their surroundings. They could see no sign of Mad Murphy.
Darkness, pitch as…pitch, suddenly fell on them and closed them in as though they were in a bubble. Here and there, though, they could see cracks of light shining through. The black tried to cover up where the light had pierced, but the black struggled to keep up.
“How is this possible?” Murphy’s harsh, high-pitched voice boomed in the bubble. “You’re mine slave!”
“No sir. I’m not,” Balric replied stoutly.
“Declan, tell this impudent cur he belongs to me now. You gave him to me!” Murphy’s voice shrieked.
“Did I? I don’t believe I ever said that…explicitly,” Declan replied impishly. “All I said was that Balric and I needed the map and that we both had living souls. Thank you, by the way, for giving us the map. Very generous, wouldn’t you agree Balric?”
“Fool!” Murphy chortled. “You think semantics work in the land of the dead? I gave nothing. In this place, a deal doesn’t need to be spoken to be struck. The exchange only needs to be agreed to in the mind.”
“Well, there’s your answer then. Even if I could, I would never give up Balric’s soul. Not for anything. Of course, that’s not really what did you in though. Balric?” Declan bowed and gestured to his manservant.
“Thank ye kindly sir,” Balric bowed back to his master. “Far as I could tell from a brief, but lovely visit to the other side…one man don’t own another. Your own pride’s what got you, Mad Murphy. Specially since there’s something so important about my service to Declan that you don’t seem to understand.”
“What’s that dog?!” Murphy wailed, clearly in some form of pain. Light was breaking through the shadow bubble more and more now. Piercing it like swords.
“I don’t serve for pay,” Balric said with resolve.
“Ugh” Murphy reacted as though he’d been dealt a blow.
“Nor some family legacy,” Balric spat.
“I serve for friendship. For loyalty. Honor!”
“Ooh! Ow! Pew!” Murphy’s bubble was halfway gone now.
“Are you startin to see the big picture?” Balric asked with a cavalier grin.
“How…is….this….possible?!” Murphy howled.
“Precisely cause I aint no slave,” Balric laughed. “I volunteered.”
There was one last piercing scream as a beam of light shot through the heart of the dark. Declan and Balric closed their eyes and could feel the swirling wind blow all around them.
When it died down, they opened their eyes to see the sun rising on Saltana. In the light of the morning, the place did not look at all frightening or menacing; just sad and barren.
“We did it Balric!” Declan said as he clapped his manservant on the back.
“Aye sir, we did,” Balric replied.
“You scared me for a moment there,” Declan said. “I almost thought you wouldn’t figure out my plan in time to fight his hold over you.”
“It took a bit longer’an I would have liked,” Balric said. “But I should’ve known you’d never sacrifice me.”
“Never, my friend,” Declan said simply. “Now! Shall we run?”
“Only if we want to make it back in time,” Balric said as he stood up.
“Good!” Declan said as he stood as well. “Oh, wait. We’re so far off the main road, I don’t’ know if I remember the way back to the docks.”
“Don’t you worry sir, I’ve been thinkin bout going back since we got here. I can find the way,” Balric said as he began walking.
“Excellent! You lead,” Declan said as he began prodding Balric from the back to start running. “One moment Balric, would you mind holding this for me?”
Balric turned around to see Declan holding out the map he’d just swindled Mad Murphy out of.
“The map? Really sir?” Balric asked, dumbfounded.
“It should fit nicely in your satchel, and I hate running with something in my hands if I don’t have to. Now, on Balric!” Declan said as he pointed ahead.
Balric smiled, turned, and began to run. His master was close behind. He looked up at the sun trying to judge the time. “Even the sun don’t help you with tellin the time here,” Balric thought. Nothin to do but keep my head down, get to the docks, and trust to a little luck.”
They were off!