Daedalus had never expected much out of life, especially not once he had been obliged to leave his home and adopt a life of piracy. He had expected, however, slightly more than sitting on an island with only the most rudimentary civilization, no decent food, and a definite lack of construction and design supplies. He’d even run out of parchment and couldn’t plan any new projects. He had half an intention of planning his next project to prevent a becalming, though that was one thing even he didn’t have an idea how to accomplish.
The one thing the island did have was alcohol. It wasn’t rum. It wasn’t anything he’d heard of before. The locals called it rutch. And it didn’t taste any better than the name sounded. It did a fine job of getting you drunk remarkably quickly, however. And after two weeks of avoiding it, he’d finally followed the example Kee and the others had set for him and started drinking the vile stuff. It was the only way to get through the day.
The captain had first had them careen the ship, but they had done that, and replaced all the rotten planks, and mended the sails, and repaired the rigging, and anything else she could think of. She’d run out of ideas to keep them busy long ago, and now all they had to do was get drunk.
Maricella was the only one who had stayed away from the alcohol. Even the captain had had a nip most days. But then, Ella never had any alcohol, even when it was the fancy stuff that couldn’t get you drunk.
Daedalus woke and sat up. He’d taken to sleeping on the beach, since the weather was calm and warm. The headache from last night’s drinking was nearly a memory. The first thing he did, just like an uncountable number of days previous, was check for any sign of wind. Nothing. No clouds, no air, no change in humidity, nothing. So he fumbled till he found his square-rimmed spectacles, pushed them on, rose, and after splashing water from the nearby stream onto his face and pushing his dirty-blond hair into something that resembled order slightly more than it had previously, he walked through the shanties and huts that made up the town, at first passing the only stone building – the bar –in the desperate and most likely vain quest for something to occupy his time. It was noon, so the locals were up, scratching a living from the soil.
Truth be told, the residents were happy to have them there. The pirates were spending nearly all their treasure, which had once been considerable, buying the bland food and rutch to keep themselves alive for the duration of their stay. At the end of his circuit through the town, Daedalus turned around and sighed. He thrust his hands into his various pockets, he had many on his trousers and shirt, looking for coin. He had several and started for the bar again. He had seen a few of the crew on the beach, but not all of them. He expected to find all of them but Ella in the pub.
He trudged toward the door, reaching his hand for the latch.
“Not again, Daedalus.” The voice was full of disappointment though no reproach. That would be Ella. For one thing, no one on the crew called him Daedalus. Bruce had given him the name Gearhead, and most of them had taken it up. Refusing to use the nicknames Bruce made up was Ella’s way of telling him he was an idiot. But more telling, no one else who knew his name gave a lick if he drank – most of them thought he was a priss for not drinking more.
He winced at the disappointment. He had no shot at wooing Ella. No man did. But by the same token, every man was at least a little smitten by her. He didn’t even have to turn, because her image was burned in his mind. Long, raven hair, brilliant, shining green eyes, skin the color of white honey, the dimple on her cheek…
He lowered his head, dismissing the infatuated feelings. It was foolish anyway. Carefully composing his face to disguise the passing reaction, he turned to look at her. “Yes, again. I have no other projects I can work on, Brillig is attached to the ship for various reasons the captain has ordered, and I don’t even have the resources to plan. I shall have a drink of the sea-cursed bilge juice and try to obliviate my mind until the blasted wind returns.” He turned from her halfway through, unable to hold his resolve if he kept looking at her.
There was a pause, as if Ella were considering something. “Come with me,” she said, her voice brighter, clearly trying to get off the subject. “I just may have a project that interests you.” She had many virtues, and while she did tend to mother, despite being the youngest person on board, but she held herself off from lecturing, when she could remember to do it.
Daedalus was glad for the change of subject. Ella always knew when you were wrong, and could make you know you were wrong with just a few words, but then she left the subject alone. If she truly thought you needed immediate correction, she would be more likely to pound it out of you. Her womanly frame held a girl who knew how to fight.
“A project? What sort of project?” She had already started walking and he had already starting following without even thinking about it. She walked with a swift pace that was deceptively relaxed looking. Daedalus found himself hurrying to keep up.
“I hope that doesn’t sound deceptive. It’s really more of an investigation. Smee found something.”
“What sort of something?” The town, such as it was, was turning into forest quickly.
“That’s what we need you for,” Ella explained as the path started to rise upward slightly. “It’s old and we’ve never seen anything like it.”
“Old? But I’m not a historian or an expert in antiquities.”
“True,” she said, ducking under a low branch and around a boulder. “But it also seems mechanical.”
“Mechanical!” Daedalus’s pace quickened subconsciously. Now he was interested. Ancient and mechanical was a fascinating combination. He topped a rise, catching up to Ella and passing her. And then he knew he was in the right spot.
Smee sat on a log, and a small book in his lap snapped shut at the sight of the two. He stood, though Smee’s standing was more of a hunch. His eyes twinkled slightly under a ridge-like brow and he waved a long, gangly arm. “Ahoy Gearhead. Ella found you, aye?”
“Yes, yes. Is this the contraption?” Daedalus moved forward quickly. There was a low mound, nearly square, about a foot on a side. It rose maybe a foot and a half from the ground and was covered with vegetation. As he approached, however, he could see that some of the vines had been moved, and there was a stone structure beneath it that had been unquestionably shaped. Closer examination showed that there had once been runes or glyphs carved into it, though the natural weathering had worn them away almost completely. Daedalus was no expert in languages and recognized nothing of what he could see.
The glyphs would never have gotten his full attention anyway. There were three circular buttons forming a triangle at the top of the strange object. They may have once been raised, but time had reduced them to the same level as the rest – the only thing distinguishing them was the outline, which was partially filled with tiny detritus, making them not readily recognizable.
Daedalus quickly tore away the rest of the covering and began enthusiastically prodding the dirt around its base. He couldn’t immediately find the bottom. He muttered as he examined, and finally stood. “I’ve no idea how big it is. Can you move it, Smee?”
Smee moved to the edge of the rock and pushed it, with no apparent movement. He grabbed a nearby tree with his tail to brace himself, planted his feet firmly in the ground, and wrapped his great, hairy arms around it. Then he heaved, his legs, arm, and tail tensing with the effort.
For a moment nothing happened, but just as Daedalus thought Smee would give up, one edge of the device lifted and the whole thing tipped to its side, spraying dirt into the air.
The underside was even more interesting. A set of nine stone rods protruded from the bottom, forming three triangles which in turned formed the corners of a larger triangle. Each smaller triangle seemed to match the circles at the top.
“What does it do?” Ella asked. Daedalus had taken a quick look at the rods and then had starting digging with his hands in the spot where the object had sat in the soil. After a moment he could find nothing, so he sat back on the ground. His fingers habitually adjusted his spectacles, and he was oblivious to the dirt it left on his nose.
“Do? I’ve no idea, honestly. I was hoping there was more to the contraption.” He gazed longingly as the dirt hole briefly. “There’s really only one way to find out.” He adjusted his position so he could see the three buttons again, then he reached forward and pushed one. Nothing happened. The buttons didn’t even move. He pressed again harder.
“Methinks it does nothing,” Smee said. He had sidled next to Ella and stood close by her.
“Nonsense. It clearly does something. Any fool can see that,” Daedalus replied. He fumbled at his pockets for a moment, finally producing a knife. He began cleaning the space around the buttons. “It merely needs some maintenance after sitting here for so long.”
A few moments later he had finished, and he tried again. This time the button slid in easily. And as it did, four of the rods shifted. Two receded into the device while the others grew longer. “Brilliant,” Daedalus breathed. He pulled his finger out and noted that the button returned to position much more slowly, though the rods didn’t return to their position. He pushed another button, and a similar effect was achieved. By this time the original button had returned to the starting position and he pushed it again. A different set of rods, three this time, now shifted lengths. “It will take a while to work out the patterns for this,” he said, still pushing and releasing buttons and watching the rods react. “But there must be a pattern. It’s a mechanical device, and it must be predictable.”
“So what is it?” Ella asked. She leaned against a nearby tree, arms crossed, watching the lanky man experiment.
“I’m still not sure. Of course, the only way to know for certain what it does is to take it apart, but it doesn’t appear to have any seams. I’d love to know how this was assembled. Anyway, I think it’s some sort of key, or puzzle. The rods should conform to something, form a certain pattern. Then something happens. Or if you have it with whatever it belongs to, that object does something.”
“Well what does it belong to then?”
“Your speculation is as sufficient as my own, I’m afraid.” Daedalus frowned, discomforted by the fact. “But I would imagine it can’t be very far. This isn’t the sort of key that one just drops somewhere.” He snorted a laugh at his own humor. “It was either left here deliberately or it was moved by natural forces. But either way, it would seem that whatever it came from is on the island somewhere. Probably quite close.” He was still pushing buttons, muttering observations under his breath as he worked when he wasn’t talking to the others.
Maricella pushed herself up from the tree and stretched. “Well then, we’ll leave you to this. “C’mon Smee, let’s look for this … whatever it is.
Smee nodded and followed her as she walked. He tended to walk on all fours, “knuckle-walking” like an ape. No one knew where he came from but he was very capable and loyal to the captain. To Maricella, like to anyone else, he was grotesque – he had a small sort of snout, small black eyes, and a hairy body. Much like a big chimpanzee, but with a tail he used for grasping and climbing. And his wiry black hair was not so thick. You could see the skin on his arms and back through the fur. But even in that grotesqueness there was a sort of charm. Smee easily endeared himself to you, and he had a way of looking almost cute, even though his face was ugly.
Smee started to pick through piles of vine or brush that he found. “What’re we looking for?” he asked.
Maricella thought for a moment. “Well, whatever it goes to is likely stone, and big, right? So a big, stone, man-made something.” She reached and pulled away a vine herself, ignoring the scratches on her skin and the tiny tears the brambles made to her blouse.
Smee nodded and kept looking. They had covered most of the clearing and had moved quite a way from Daedalus. Maricella scanned the area. She had very little idea of what they were looking for either. But as she said, it must be big, so she looked for places a big thing might be hidden. The saw a likely mound and signaled Smee to come. He obediently came her way.
The brush was thicker over here, and she had to lift her legs higher to avoid being tripped by the vegetation. Smee seemed to be having an even worse time of it. His legs were short for his size and though his arms were longer, that didn’t help with the undergrowth. He was more or less climbing through it. And image that Maricella found amusing, but refused to laugh out loud about.
She watched him come closer when there was a small crashing sound and he disappeared with a small yelp. “Smee!” Maricella yelled, hurrying to where she’d last seen him. She quickly reached the edge of the hole and saw him dangling there, his tail and a foot had seized onto some vines as he had fallen into a huge hole.
“I found something,” he said dryly.
Maricella allowed herself a smile, though she was still worried. Smee was more agile than anyone she knew, but this was entirely unexpected. She looked down in the hole. She was on the edge of a huge hole, which had been covered by vine growth. Smee had broken through some and fallen part way, but managed to hang on to the vegetation. Down below was dark, lit only by the light through the small area Smee had broken through. Maricella could see that there was water down below, though not much else was visible in the gloom. “This is odd,” she said finally.
Smee was making his way down the network of vines he clung to. He reached the bottom and then dangled even further, holding to the vines with only his tail. “I’m still far from the bottom,” he said finally. “We could make a line from the vines, but we’d need torches too.” He raised himself up and climbed back upward. “That is, if you want to search down there. Seems like a good place for something big and hidden to be.”
“I guess we might as well get a real rope then, since we’ll be going back to the ship. Are you alright, Smee?”
“I’m fine. Takes more ‘n a fall to hurt me. Though I usually like to know about the fall first.”
Maricella smiled and took his hand as he reached the top. “Good then, let’s go.”
About an hour later they were back at the hole, with two lanterns and a good length of rope. Smee tied one end to a tree as Maricella tied the other around her waist. “You’re not as strong,” he explained. I’d rather lower you.” Maricella preferred to be able to take care of herself, but she allowed the aid, since it would be faster. She held a lit lantern in one hand and gripped the rope with the other, then lowered herself off the edge as Smee slowly let her have more rope. She descended gradually till her boots touched solid ground. It was wet and slimy, the water turned out to be a pool to one side and a stream flowing out.
“I’m down!” she called out as she began untying the knot at her waist. She saw Smee scramble over the side and quickly climb down hand over hand, the lantern held in his tail. When he reached the bottom he stood on all fours and looked to Maricella for his lead.
Maricella held the lantern high in the air and turned around slowly, getting a feel for where she was. Now that she was down here she could see that the stream ran one direction, there was a faint light in that direction, which she guessed would be the sea. To either side of the stream was a sort of gravel beach that ran up to nearly sheer rock walls. The stream itself flowed from the darkness. She shrugged, and started walking in that direction. After she had gone about a hundred yards she found a waterfall that fed the stream. It fell from a small hole in the rock wall about twenty feet above. The sides of the chasm were closer here, but not claustrophobically so. It was not the stream’s only tributary, though, and she continued to follow it till it ended in a solid rock face, the stream flowing from underneath it.
It seemed that the stream was very shallow there. She wondered if they could swim under it. She knelt at the side and tried to reach under, but there was barely room for more than her forearm. The current was stronger too and it was hard to push her hand in. She removed her arm and stood.
She frowned, disappointed at first, till Smee spoke. “Look, some of that writing.” He was gesturing to some figures. The area was much smoother than the rest of the rock wall, and bore the marks of stonecutting tools. They were indeed the writing. It was easier to make out than the marks on the device Daedalus was examining above. The rock was of the same sort, but not as worn, though it was pitted and scarred. She slowly walked across the smoothed area, holding the lantern close. She didn’t understand any of it, but that was hardly new to her. She knew her numbers but knew very few letters of her own tongue. All of this was mystifying to her, but she found it very interesting all the same. After examining it for a few minutes she came across a special mark set in the wall over the middle of the stream – three sets of three circles, each forming a triangle.
“That matches the thing we found,” she said.
Smee nodded. “Gearhead will want to see this.”
They retraced their steps and returned to the rope. Smee grabbed it and pulled himself upward, hand over hand, almost faster than he’d come down. Maricella made to follow, but she wasn’t sure she could climb it successfully, so instead she tied it around her again and waited for Smee to lift her.
Daedalus was predictably excited and rapidly put together a sling from the nearby vines to carry the device, which he and Smee carried between them. “Hurry! Come!” he kept saying, excited to see the wall Maricella and Smee described to him. It took longer to get the device to the bottom of the crevice, they had to tie it to the rope and lower it to the floor, then Smee climbed down and untied it. But he insisted in lowering Maricella and climbed back up.
Maricella closed her eyes, frustrated. Smee thought he was chivalrous, but she wasn’t a child. But there was no point in arguing it, she’d only get further worked up and nothing would get done. After Daedalus made his clumsy descent, Smee hauled the line back up and handed it to Maricella. She tied it to herself and allowed herself to descend, and finally Smee came back down.
She didn’t wait for them to pick up the sling and marched toward the wall. She sat on the ground and waited for the other two for them to catch up.
Daedalus dropped his end of the sling when he saw it. He rushed the last few feet and splashed into the water to get a closer look. Maricella rarely got tired of watching Daedalus when he was excited about something. He was meticulous, but excited. She sometimes wished she had the passion he displayed. It took the inventor a long time to reach any conclusions; he would push his finger in, nod, and then make marks on the dirt with a rock.
Finally he stepped back with a grin. The water reached above his waist and he was starting to shiver, Maricella could see, but such discomfort would hardly dissuade him. He splashed back to their side of the stream and knelt by the device. “I don’t know what it does,” he said, but I’m certain it’s supposed to go there. The holes are the same size as these stone rods. We just need to make them match. He began a long process of pushing the buttons and adjusting the locations. He may have had a plan in mind, but if he did, Maricella couldn’t tell. The process seemed one of random experimentation. After possibly a half hour, he nodded and stood. “Now we just need to get it over there.”
“How we gonna do that?” Smee asked. Daedalus’s face fell in disappointment, and a moment later Ella realized why. Smee and Daedalus could carry the object together, but The stream would be, at best, difficult for Smee to stand in. His normal gait was somewhat hunched, but even standing upright he was about four feet tall. Daedalus was a tall man, and since the water came over his waist, there was a danger that Smee would have his face constantly flooded by the running water.
Smee crossed his long arms and watched expectantly. He knew them. They would ask him to do it anyway. Daedalus wouldn’t give up a project like this, and jealous as he was of the fact, Maricella wanted to see Daedalus succeed in his projects. She would be convinced and persuade Smee to help. And Smee always did whatever Maricella asked. He couldn’t help himself. After his loyalty to the captain, his devotion to Maricella was the strongest feeling he had. She never returned his feelings, of course. What woman would love a creature such as him? So he strove to keep his feeling secret, to varying amounts of success.
“It’s not that deep, Smee,” Maricella said in that berry wine sweet voice of hers. “You won’t be under the water. And you can swim anyway.”
“I can swim, sure. But not while carrying that ballast,” he pointed out.
Maricella looked to Daedalus and then back. “Please, Smee. You’ll be alright.”
Please was the magic word when it came from Maricella’s mouth. At that point, at least for Smee, it was no longer a discussion, but it was a request. He could never deny her request. He sighed and moved to Daedalus’s side. “Fine, let’s get this done.” I’ll be writing a poem about this, he thought. How the valiant hero completed a dangerous task for the lady fair.
They couldn’t use the sling to get the device into the wall. That left it in the water. They would need to lift it by hand to put it up to the holes. Smee squatted next to it and put his hands underneath, waiting for Daedalus to do the same. Then they waded into the water.
Smee admitted to himself that he had probably over reacted to the potential danger, but it was, at best, an uncomfortable task. He slipped a lot on the smooth rocks at the stream bed, and got a mouthful of the water, each time. It was difficult to see with water dripping from the hair over his eyes. He trusted Daedalus much more than he preferred to in order to know where to go.
At last he found himself next to the wall, hefting the object above his head, nearly on his own, while Daedalus lined it up and pushed it in. It was at this point that he realized Daedalus hadn’t finished his preparations. Smee found himself holding the device up by himself and straining under the weight while Daedalus pushed buttons and waited for the rods to adjust. A minute later and the ordeal was finally done.
Smee felt something in the wall take hold of the rods, removing the weight from his muscles. The sound of stone grinding on stone filled his ears – at least while they weren’t underwater – while he dragged himself to the side and sad tiredly on the bank.
To his chagrin, he found himself fascinated by what was going on. The noises grew louder, though hardly deafening, as if they were approaching. Then, the wall began to move.
“Fascinating!” he heard Daedalus saying. “I couldn’t even tell there were any seams!”
A great split was forming down the center of the stream, and water began forcing its way out. There had been quite a bit more held back by the walls. It was lapping at his feet, a foot up the bank already. The walls continued to separate until they were as wide as the stream originally was. A few moments later and the flow of water evened out. It was a good deal wider than it had been, but not dangerously deep.
Daedalus was already moving forward, muttering inaudibly. Maricella was not far behind him. With a mixture of trepidation and curiosity, he stood in the water and followed them.
The chamber beyond was vast. Their lanterns didn’t reach near the walls, but revealed massive columns supporting the ceiling. There were crystals on the wall, shining with a white light from a source Smee couldn’t divine. Water filled the floor. Near the center it was deeper, but further from the middle it wasn’t any deeper than Smee’s waist. The ceiling was invisible in the gloom.
The group spread out, each moving where their gaze took them. Smee moved to the wall, which were covered with engravings and paintings, some of which were worn, but some seemed preserved remarkably well. They seemed abstract at first, but as he spent time looking them over, they seemed to coalesce into something meaningful. There was a conflict. There were oblong shapes at war with shorter shapes. In some of the areas one side would win, in others, it would be reversed.
The pattern continued, with glyphs and other images he couldn’t make any sense of, until he reached one last massive relief in between two battle scenes. At the bottom there were countless human bodies, eerily realistic in contrast to the abstractness of the paintings. The victims were disfigured, missing limbs, contorted in pain. There was a red ochre stain that seemed to spill across the figures. Knee deep in these bodies was a massive figure, twelve feet tall at least. It possessed five arms, two on each side and one from the center, and in each it held at least one human figure. Three more were in its massive fanged teeth. It was covered in hair, and the arms were much longer than one would expect from the size of the body. Its eyes were blank, no pupils. Smee couldn’t suppress a shiver as he gazed at it.
The central arm was different from the others, aside from the fact that it seemed to have two thumbs. Instead of holding a body, it held a large ball of some sort, as if it were offering it to anyone looking at it.
Though he felt disgust and fear, he couldn’t help but reach up to the ball, and before he was fully of conscious of what he was doing, his hand pressed against it with the faintest pressure. As soon as he touched it, the wall section with the relief faded back a few inches, then started it upward.
Inside was a treasury. When Smee had thought of the term, he’d always imagined piles of coins and fantastic objects. This was hardly so grand, but there were works of precious stones and metal on display around the circumference of the room, interspersed by 6 stone columns. In the center was a gold alter, intricately inlaid and decorated.
The sound of the wall moving had brought the other two. “Fascinating!” Daedalus said again. It was a predictable response, but at least whenever he said it you could tell he meant it.
Smee looked to Maricella. “What do you think?” he asked.
Maricella stood looking at the discovery, her eyes wide. She crossed her arms. “I think the captain will want to see this.”
It took some time to get back. Captain Isadora Calavera de Castellano had drunk a cup of rutch but was hardly incapacitated. The rest of the crew could hardly make the same claim. Most of them, even at mid-afternoon, were already stoned mindless. With the judicious application of her boot to various bodies, she was able to rouse her first mate, the cabin boy, and her navigator.
First mate Kee Prinz was a huge man. His mother was human but he took after his father in appearance. His father was one of the Nameless – savage sailors from beyond the Bleeding Sea who seemed more beast than man, with fangs on their lower jaws, grayish skin, and sloping foreheads. Kee’s eyes were like small red stones set into his face, but that was the one gift from his mother’s side, and the one reason he’d lived past birth, as it signified a holy child.
Isadora’s cabin boy was a stunted old man named Tunk. Barely three feet tall and wrinkled, his old body was still strong. He never seemed to get ill and never complained even under the harshest circumstances. But then, he rarely said anything at all.
The navigator, Bruce, was six feet if he was an inch, bald, and muscular. He had a handlebar mustache and the uncanny ability to know exactly where he was at any time of day and in any weather.
The crew was often at odds with each other when personalities didn’t mesh, but Isadora kept the best people closest to her. She would trust any of them with her life, and in fact did nearly every day. It was why she was still alive after all these years.
However, she could also trust most of them to be stinking drunk when they were certain they had no responsibilities. So it was a good portion of the afternoon before she not only had the supplies they needed, but also the people she wanted with her.
Maricella had been right. She was definitely wanted to see this ancient place. She was certain the others believed it was because of the treasure. And normally, yes, this would have been a tremendous draw. However, she had a suspicion, and she needed to see if she was right. If she was, it did not bode well.
They group brought more lines so they were able to descend much faster. Isadora tried to ignore the japes and rowdy noise Bruce always made, but the feeling of trepidation grew until there was little else she could focus on. She splashed through the water, her tall boots filling slowly with water as it splashed into the top.
As concerned as she was, she couldn’t help feeling impressed by the accomplishments this structure represented. Few buildings were made this large. For it to have been constructed long ago as it obviously was represented an incredible undertaking.
“It’s right this way,” Smee said, moving through the room. Isadora smiled as he tried to keep himself dry, despite having all four limbs in the water.
“Stop!” The order was unexpected. Kee used a variety of tones when yelling at the crew, but this one was far from bluster. He never showed fear, but there was something that demanded his, and probably everyone’s, attention.
Before she had a chance to ask what it was, however, Isadora learned for herself.
She heard it before she saw it, and felt it even before that. There was a wall of air pressure, and the water rose in a wave. She saw Tunk and Bruce splash into the water from it. And even as they fell, the primal bellow that caused it filled her ears. She resisted the impulse to cover her ears and instead drew her saber and a long knife. She hoped the others were doing the same, because her shouted order couldn’t be heard.
The origin of it all then emerged from the darkness. It was made of wood, she thought at first. A huge mass of wood and leaves and branches. But she realized it was covered in vines. As it moved into the half-light she could see it was a mass of writhing, flowing vines, some of them green and living and others old, hardened, wood-like. It had three masses of them formed into legs to move forward, keeping the main mass a few feet above the water. And a number of tentacle like appendages writhed out from it, lashing at the walls. From somewhere within it came the awful roar.
Immediately it reached for the closest person, Smee. But Smee was ready. He’d drawn his two flintlock pistols, which he’d somehow kept dry, and fired them both at the tentacle that came for it. Pieces flew in the smoke and the thing bellowed in rage as it drew back.
It charged into the room and seemed to reach for all of them at once. Isadora lost track of some of the others and found herself fighting for her life. She was not nearly so fast as Smee, and though she hacked at the vines that came for her, she was seized around her waist and lifted into the air. She heard a shout as the ground flew away, Smee was calling for her. But for the instant she was alone. She hacked at the vines, but made little headway before she was flung through the air, landing in the water in near total darkness, the air rushing from her lungs.
There was mixed shouting and bellows and a few discharges of powder, but she could make nothing of what was happening. She could see Smee dancing at the edge of darkness, avoiding strikes and slashing back with his knives. Tunk clung to a mass of vines that undulated and thrashed about. Where the others were she couldn’t guess.
Then she remembered the phrase. She tried to stand, but could barely breathe, and she slipped, falling to her hands and knees. Another tentacle of vine smacked her and threw her against the wall. She hoped it wasn’t a rib cracking that she felt. She clawed at the wall to pull herself up and staggered along it. She needed to get to Smee.
She heard a scream, she looked up and saw Ella, standing her ground with a cutlass. But it wasn’t her. The scream was from Bruce, who was held in the air by a vine around his boot. Isadora grunted and moved forward. She would help him in a moment.
Another vine flew at her, whip-like. She threw herself into the water and just as she hit it she could feel the spray of broken rock from the wall. She scrambled back up and hurried to Smee.
“There’s a command phrase,” she shouted. “You have to order the beast.”
“Me Cap’m?” Smee sounded disbelieving. “Why…”
“Shut it and follow orders, Smee! Order it. ‘Chk’ti lemell fu tana.’”
Smee tried the words, but they didn’t come out right. So she shouted them again. “Chk’ti lemell fu tana.”
The third time he got it right, just as Isadora was grabbed again. “Order it, Smee! Don’t just say it!” she cried as she was whisked through the air again.
“Chk’ti lemell fu tana!” Smee finally managed to yell.
In an instant, everything stopped.
Though everything mostly meant the vine and wood golem. It froze in place instantly, tendrils of vine outstretched or curled in mid-strike. Isadora fell as the tension around her leg released suddenly, but she grabbed a vine. It broke, but slowed her fall. She fell not gently but with grace. Immediately after, Bruce fell with a distressed cry to splash in the water head first, his shout cut suddenly by the submersion. Isadora flinched to see it happen, not entirely sure he was not uninjured. But by his continued thrashing she felt sure he would survive well enough.
Tunk slid down an arm, using his arms part way to steady himself, but mostly sliding on his feet. He splashed through the water, which came to his chin in some places, till he was by the captain’s side. Maricella followed close behind him. Smee stood staring, entirely unsure what had happened. Daedalus too, stared, though he moved closer and was poking vines, moving them aside, studying the beast.
Isadora wasted no time. She turned to the door to the treasury and marched toward it, pausing only long enough to ask, “This is it?”
Smee grunted an affirmation, still distracted by what had gone on.
Kee and Bruce entered the room just behind her, interested in the treasures.
“There’s no coin,” Bruce said, no small measure of disappointment registering in his voice. “No piles of loot.”
Kee snorted. “Any of these would bring a price sufficient to bring back what we’ve spent on this sea-cursed isle.”
Isadora had seen enough. “We must leave. Immediately. Take nothing. Now!” The last was said as her officers hesitated. She didn’t wait any longer, but left the room and crossed to the entrance. Tunk struggled to keep up, but followed immediately. Kee and Bruce were a bit behind, and Maricella was forced to take Smee’s hand and bring him along. He was still staring at the beast. Daedalus came last, protesting for what he couldn’t study, but obedient.
They left subdued. The captain answered no questions about what had gone on and at last ordered everyone to silence. They climbed the lines up to the field.
As Kee, the last of the group, emerged from the hole, a huge flock of ravens took flight from the trees. Cawing and screeching, their voices almost tangible in the salty air. Then a strong, cold wind rushed over them.
“Praise!” Bruce shouted. “We can move at last. Even if we are no richer. Sea’s blessings!”
“This wind brings no blessing,” Isadora said. “Rouse the crew. We sail immediately.”
As the last of the crew came aboard The Righteous Fury the wind had picked up considerably. At first it had been a gradual thing. The temperature started slowly cooling, and birds, especially ravens, had begun filling the air, seemingly emptying all the trees on the island of their occupants. For an hour the sky was darkened by the black wings. After the birds had disappeared to the west, away from the Bleeding Sea, the sky was growing darker of its own. Clouds seemed to come out of nowhere. And the temperature started to drop. As the last sailor boarded, Smee was almost cold, and he was covered with hair.
It was a strange thing. Sudden changes in the weather were not unknown on seas of Bakahl, but there was usually some warning. No one he had talked to had seen any kind of warning.
Yet even that was not unsettling. Until you added in the discovery, being attacked by a giant plant, and the captains reticence. The captain was not the most talkative of women. Over the last few years Smee had managed to piece together parts of her past. Her disagreement with her queen, ending in being labeled traitor and exiled was the reason the Fury favored preying on the ships of the Crystal Islands. But she rarely avoided direct questions.
“Why are we running like pups from demon spawn?” Kee had asked when they had first returned to ship.
The look the captain returned froze Smee’s blood, and she wasn’t even looking at him. But Kee was made of sterner stuff, and perhaps stuff that was much less bright. “We left behind a small fortune, Cap’m,” he continued. “We deserve an explanation.”
The Captain’s eye had burned like green flame. But she said nothing more on the subject. “Make ready to sail,” she said through clenched teeth. Then she had turned escaped into her private quarters, slamming the door behind her.
Kee snorted and returned to work.
Smee had no more idea of what was going on than he had before. But he was a good deal more scared than he had been.
The crew unfurled the sails with difficulty, the wind yanked on the material and it seemed it might tear, but they finally had the sails set and the ship leaped into action, as if eager to move after so much time convalescing on the beach. Several sailors nearly lost their balance, but Smee stood strong, one hand on the rigging. The wind bit at his face, and he loved every instant of it. He was not made to stay on land. The sea called to him too strongly. It was almost enough to ease his mind.
The relaxed feeling was not to last long. The seas were not calm, and the wind continued to pick up. Before they had even left sight of land the waves were reaching up to kiss the deck. No one could remain still.
“Captain!” Bruce called out as the woman appeared on deck again. “We should return and wait out the storm.”
She turned toward him, and Smee caught a look in her eye he couldn’t explain. It wasn’t the hardness he usually saw. Perhaps it was regret? “This storm won’t end for us. If you trust me, don’t ask again. We must try to outrun it.”
Bruce was left speechless, and as the captain turned, Smee quickly returned to his task, avoiding the woman’s gaze.
For hours they raced with the wind. Whenever he looked behind him Smee could see darker skies and darker seas. They were on the edge of a much worse storm, and so far, they were barely outpacing it. It would seem they weren’t avoiding it. The ship rose up and down as if a piece of flotsam. Waves seem to come at them from the sides as well, washing over the deck and beating at the sailors. It was hard to stay upright as they worked to simply stay alive.
“Heave to!” the shout came suddenly. The Fury turned and slowed almost as instantly when the men adjusted the sails. Smee looked just in time to see a man fall over the rail. He heard no shout, and it seemed as if he were just a pile of rags, tumbling almost shapelessly. Smee put his regret away. He would grieve the man later, but spending effort on it now would cost the lives of the rest of them. A great swell passed under them at that moment. The Fury had turned just in time to avoid it capsizing them. They were pointed nearly to the sky, then, hung for a moment before diving back down. The bowsprit and front of the hull were submerged before it righted again.
Smee allowed another instant of relaxation, relieved they had avoided that one. But even as he returned his attentions to his work he realized they were in more danger. The change in course and speed had given the unnatural storm time to come upon them, and it hit with full fury.
The rain seemed likely to break his skin, and the wind tore at his flesh. It tore at the rigging too, and in this case was successful at pulling it apart. A sail tore loose and snapped furiously. Smee didn’t wait for orders, but instantly was climbing the rigging. Down below he knew the order was being given to take in the sails. They could no longer use them.
The rigging was as familiar to Smee as the smell of his bed. If his spirit was made to sail the seas, his body was, quite literally, made to climb through complicated arrangements like the rigging of a ship. He could move through it like a spider in its web. It was a matter of seconds before he was at the sail itself. It didn’t take him long to see that they would never be able to pull it in. It had tangled and would require too much effort. It would kill them before they could salvage it. He moved to the mast and seized a hatchet kept there and began chopping. His feet clung to the yard arm as he worked. The work seemed endless, but at last he felt tension release as the sail whipped away and was buried in the sea.