"That is--rather disturbing," Feruzi said at last. Reiko frowned, evidently thinking hard, her expression inscrutable. She put the jar with its gruesome contents away for safekeeping and stood.
"Shall we continue on?" Chopper shrugged at Reiko and they continued their journey through the watery tunnels. They followed the cross-tunnel south, arriving at a small chamber on the left hand with numerous organic filaments running from floor to ceiling like squishy columns. Fist-sized pink ovoids were attached to these columns, bobbing gently in the current. Feruzi grimaced at the sight.
"It is going to turn out that Wolfe's treasure was his collection of weird plants, isn't it."
"It's lookin' a lot like that," Chopper agreed.
"Captain, there's something in there. I can hear it moaning," Ezikial said. They moved cautiously into the cavern, Feruzi taking the rear and flinching away from the gelatinous protrusions. On close inspection the ovoids were slightly translucent, revealing small tadpole forms inside.
"Is this some kind of sahuagin . . . hatchery?" Feruzi demanded.
"No," Reiko said. "They're locathah. They're kind of like rivals to the sahuagin . . . usually. "I'm not sure how or why they'd be breeding down here with the sahuagin."
The moaning turned out to be coming from a fishlike humanoid--a locathah--chained to the wall at the back of the cave. Someone had removed the creature's legs and crudely stitched up the stumps. It seemed oblivious to its surroundings.
"Yeesh," Chopper muttered, approaching and scanning its injuries. "Seems to be female."
"Don't TOUCH it," Feruzi warned. "You don't know where it's been!" Chopper ignored her.
"Killing her would be the merciful thing," Reiko said. "The sahuagin are probably keeping her to breed slaves."
"Poor blighter," Chopper said, pulling out an axe and working the shackles free from the wall.
"Unless you fix her legs, she's the same as any legless person. It's unlikely that she'll be able to take care of herself even if we free her," Reiko insisted.
"She's aquatic," Chopper says with a shrug. "I reckon we'll leave that decision to her." The locathah mother seemed to realize what was happening and began struggling feebly, jabbering in an unknown tongue. Various attempts at communication failed, but the fish-mother seemed to realize they weren't there to kill her and she relaxed, making a gathering gesture toward her chest.
"Her children, maybe?" Reiko guessed. Feruzi sighed and went back to help gather up the eggs without actually touching them. The fish-mother swam after and was rather more effective at netting the eggs into a single somewhat sticky mass.
"Why don't we show her the map, and see if she understands," Reiko offered. The matriarch considered the drawing for some time and then pointed at a spot roughly equidistant from Mancatcher Cove and Tidewater Rock. She then made an inquisitive gesture toward them, and Sandara pointed to the Rock itself. That seeming to be the end of useful communication, the matriarch made a sort of aquatic bow.
"Yes, we're super-nice," Feruzi growled under her breath. "Now shoo." With her eggs on her back, the matriarch pulled herself into deeper water and vanished into the current. "We are never going to hear the end of this. Mark my words."
The Crisis officers went the opposite way, passing through an empty feeding chamber and into what seemed to pass for a common area. An ancient, bloated sahuagin occupied the chamber along with a man-sized monstrosity that resembled a cross between a turtle and a crab, with a broad shell, flippers instead of legs, a snapping beak, and two pincers.
"And WHAT in the HELLS is THAT?!?!" Feruzi demanded. A trio of hammerhead sharks rushed into the room, making everyone jump aside to avoid the serrated teeth. Reiko dodged into range of the tojanida, which snapped at her viciously, claiming a wedge flesh. Reiko plunged her wakizashi into its back, cracking the shell like a coconut. Ezikial fended off the sharks with his blades while the sahuagin matron rounded on Chopper, rapidly dealing several nasty-looking wounds. Feruzi tried to draw her attention away, but the matron dodged aside despite her unwieldy bulk.
Reiko planted her feet on the tojanida's shell and heaved, recovering her wakizashi in a rush of vile fluid and internal organs. It floated away, limp. With that threat handled, the matron was quickly surrounded and dispatched. The single surviving shark swam away. The next chamber seemed to be the matron's quarters with a few valuables scattered about; another chamber beyond it was full of sahuagin fingerlings and newly hatched fry kept in by seaweed curtains. A second layer of seaweed concealed a muddy chamber full of thousands of marble-sized milky eggs.
"These, I might suggest we destroy," Reiko said.
"It would probably be effective enough just to remove the curtains and let them escape to get eaten by random sea life," Feruzi told her.
"Sounds good to me," Reiko agreed, and together they ripped the seaweed out by the roots, letting the fingerlings and fry loose to consume the eggs and each other.
"For a savage, you sure are delicate about some things," Chopper told Feruzi.
"Perhaps your definition of savage is in error." They returned to the main room to explore another branch. Chopper halted suddenly in the middle of the room and glanced toward the west.
"There's . . . somethin' there. Something . . . callin' to me."
"Oh, this can't be good," Feruzi grumped. They followed him down the west tunnel and into what seemed to be the primary barracks for the sahuagin warriors. Among the various peculiar personal effects they found several raw nuggets of gold and silver, along with a severed hand still wearing a gold ring. Sandara oohed over the ring, which was carved with miniscule dolphins.
"It helps ye ter charm animals, I be thinkin'," she said.
"Bloody useless. Still, it looks nice," Chopper told her.
"I'm pretty sure he doesn't need to be collecting any more animals," Reiko said as Chopper put the ring on.
"Mebbe ye could use it on Rotgut, Cap'n," Sandara suggested.
"Now there's a thought. Godsdamned stubborn feather-brained layabout."
"Now, thass no way tae talk 'bout Conchobhar, Cap'n."
The chum-filled waters of the next room suggested it was the shark corral. Chopper looked uneasy again. "There's power here. I don't think it likes me much."
"Possible opening over there," Ezikial pointed. They gathered around a narrow crack in the wall which was almost buried under an accumulation of sediment. Chopper aimed a sunrod into the crack and just made out a ship's anchor driven into the ground in the darkened cave beyond. The massive chain was coiled around a humanoid skeleton wearing the remains of a captain's coat and a silvery pendant.
"Looks like more Deep Platinum," Chopper commented. "No time to dig it out now. We'll come back." They went back to the common room and took the last remaining branch, heading south into a curtain of golden seaweed. Pushing past it, they entered a large chamber beyond that was primarily occupied by a stone dais supporting a truly massive throne. The erosion, stains, and strange runes upon the throne showed it to be ancient, lost to the sea-bottom slime for who knew how many uncounted centuries before the sahuagin dug it out and brought it here. A four-armed sahuagin monstrosity perched on the throne, flanked by a pair of hugely muscled females. "You," the male snarled, pointing his trident at Chopper. "You killed my son!"
"It's possible. I kill a lot of people." Chopper glanced over at Reiko. "Vicariously," he amended. The fight was quick and bloody and, as usual, ended with Chopper wounded and dizzy and the sahuagin rather deceased. Finally, the sahuagin threat to Tidewater Rock was relieved. Chopper and Reiko examined the throne room, recovering numerous valuables including a Varisian music box with the ivory image of a dancing harrower. The inscription on the lid read "For my Darling Isabella". Given pride-of place, however, was an object that didn't seem to be treasure at all: an iron rod used to turn a capstan.
"I could fix it," Ezikial said, turning the music box over in his hands.
"I don't want it to be a bomb, thanks," Chopper told him.
"Not everything needs to explode, Captain. Some needs to hold alcohol."
"It looks like this throne is from an ancient cyclops empire called Ghol-Gan," Reiko remarked, examining the stone. She looked closer, frowning, then began examining the floor around it. "Someone help me and see if we can push this throne a little bit."
"A little bit?" Sandara demanded. "This thing's gotta weigh eight thousand pounds!" They tried to move it anyway, the only result being that Chopper somehow managed to wrench his back. Reiko then wedged herself between the throne and the wall to push with her legs, budging it a bit, but it was just too big and heavy for one person to move. Then she fixed on the iron rod. With that massive lever, they were able to force the throne aside, revealing a dark chamber below and two chests. One was an iron-banded footlocker decorated in a skull motif that seemed untouched by the seawater. The other was a stone coffer carved with the face of a fish-demon. Its seams were sealed with lead and it was cemented to the floor. The other chest they hauled up with little difficulty and set aside.
"Prolly cursed," Chopper said of the sealed coffer.
"I ain't seein' magic on it. That oth'r one is, though," Sandara told him. Reiko scrabbled around in the muck and emerged with a key, which she pocketed. She then attacked the stone coffer. The lid came off with some difficulty, revealing a blood-red cloud of spores. Reiko coughed and quickly exited until the cloud had dissipated. The coffer was otherwise empty.
While they were thus occupied, Feruzi managed to dig out the deep platinum pendant from the shark pit. Finding nothing else of note, she handed it to Chopper. Taking their plunder, they returned to the Crisis, arriving just after lunch. Fishguts' eyes lit up when he laid them on the magical chest. "Stone me, ye found a captain's locker!"
" A what now?" Feruzi asked.
"Iss bigger on th' inside," he grined.
"That's what she said!" Chopper shot back. He paused, but no one laughed. "Wait, what?"
"More'n that, if'n we keep it in our hold, our hold will be bigger on th' inside."
"Assuming we can get it open," Feruzi said. Reiko produced the key with a grin.
"If that's Cyrus Wolfe's treasure," Chopper said, "then less havva looksee!"
Without further ado, they upended the chest on the deck, nearly burying Chopper in a heap of mixed coinage, silks, furs, exotic spices, raw gold and silver, and a truly enormous quantity of prized pirate booty, including an entire ship's figurehead that bounced down the heap of loot and nearly took out Simmed.
"Holy. Buggering. Crap!" The crew cheered and Kroop clapped Chopper on the back.
"Suren th' Hurricane King will see ya now!" Feruzi fetched her clipboard and began scribbling while the crew shoveled the booty back into the locker.
"Double shares for the crew on this haul,
Ruse," Chopper told
"Aye, aye, Captain. Haroun, has Maoud got any family?"
"His mother lives in Azir," Haroun said, "with his young brother."
"We'll see to 'em both, then." Chopper declared. "Crisis takes care of her own."
"It would be good to head to the Ushinawa Isles for now," Reiko said.
"To bury your da?" Chopper guessed.
"Something like that, Captain."
"Make it so."