Feruzi came hurrying up to them as the Crisis hove into view, clearly returning from some errand of her own. She spotted Chopper and bore down on him. "I had an idea about these spies . . ." she said. Chopper covered his mouth to conceal a grin as Pegsworthy exclaimed, "There she is!"
Feruzi blinked, startled into silence. Undaunted, Pegsworthy continued. "How good to see you again, my lady. How fare you this day?" Feruzi began to look cornered as Pegsworthy advanced on her, clearly not going to be diverted this time. Chopper started to open his mouth and Reiko kicked him, causing a startled grunt. Meanwhile, some scrambling thought in Feruzi's mind seemed to have gained a foothold, and she straightened into a posture of formal irritation.
"Feruzi is fine, thank you."
"I am overjoyed to hear it."
"And how are you, Captain Pegsworthy?"
"Well enough now that I've found my miscreant first mate. Go on, Mr. Torkelsen, the Bonaventure won't make herself ready." Pegsworthy clapped his hands together briskly. "Now then, where were we?"
Feruzi pulled the bow out from over her shoulder and held it in front of her like a shield. "Feruzi supposes she should return this to you, now."
"It was a gift, my lady. The Eagle-Claw was always meant for hands such as yours. I would not have it gathering dust in my hold or back at Firegrass Isle."
"Mmph. The bow is . . . lovely. But Feruzi is not sure it is . . . appropriate." She fingered the carvings regretfully. "If Feruzi may ask, what are your intentions, exactly?"
Pegsworthy sighed. "I see our lives do not leave us much time for innuendos, so I will be direct. I find I wish to court you, in whatever manner befits a woman of your . . . stature. And in whatever manner makes you comfortable. Or, the least uncomfortable." Another startled grunt came from Chopper's direction and Pegsworthy glanced that direction, a bit unnerved. "I assure you my intentions are entirely honorable. It was not my wish to cause you distress. If you find me bothersome say the word and I will trouble you no more."
"I do not know what passes for custom around here," Feruzi grumbled, losing the nervous third person, "but where I come from all this . . . extravagance means you're looking to get married, not for anything more . . . casual. Mmph. It isn't that I find you objectionable, I'm just not in a position to be getting married right now. I may have paid my debt to Chopper but I still have a sister to find. I apologize if I am too blunt."
"I find your honesty refreshing. I am not seeking marriage at the moment, either. Perhaps never. But I would be cheating myself if I did not endeavor to discover why you hold my attention so strongly."
"Such fancies are usually fleeting."
"I am willing to take that chance, if you are."
"Well, what is the worst that could happen? No, don't answer that. I apologize. I am not . . . good at this." Feruzi then grinned, slightly. "Not enough practice, clearly."
"Nor I, truth be told. But we'll... figure something out."
Feruzi slung the Eagle-Claw back over her shoulder and held out one long-fingered hand. Pegsworthy slipped his fingers into hers and brought her hand up to his lips.
"Perfect!" Chopper said, and was relieved when Reiko did not retaliate. "Great. Good. Thank you."
"What were you saying about spies?" Pegsworthy asked as Chopper's voice stumbled to a halt.
"Ah, yes. Yes. I was thinking, perhaps, we could, well, recruit you to our cause."
"Chelish spies," Chopper added by way of explanation.
"Really." The depth of contempt Pegsworthy managed to put into that word was impressive.
"We are pursuing rumors that they plan another invasion," Feruzi told him.
"That is a meritorious pursuit. Of course, I will help in any way I can." He made some sort of motion toward an extravagant bow, thought the better of it, and turned it into a simple nod.
"We have two leads but not time to pursue both." Since Chopper seemed too busy grinning to elaborate, Feruzi briefly sketched the information they'd acquired thus far.
"We were bound for Ollo anyway," Pegswothy mused. "I will do my best to learn the secret of the Brine Banshee and bring that information to this . . . Slip, then. I will have Torkelsen prepare a sending spell so we can keep you apprised of any developments."
"Thank you," Feruzi said.
"I believe Slip is not what he may lead people to believe, so be alert in his presence," Reiko advised. "It is my suspicion that he is not just an agent of Norgorber."
"Even a simple agent of Norgorber must be treated with caution."
"We should get under way," Feruzi said. Pegsworthy nodded.
"Aye, as should we."
"Be well. You will be hearing from us as soon as . . . well, soon." Feruzi leaned over and kissed Pegsworthy's cheek. He stiffened momentarily, and his expression was less delighted than wistful and sad.
"I . . . quite look forward to it," he said, bowing. "Captain Chopper. Pirates. My lady." He then turned and strolled off down the dock without a backward glance.
"Not a word," Feruzi said to Chopper as they boarded the Crisis. "And smirk quieter."
The weather grew increasingly worse as they sailed north for Drenchport, growing ever closer to the Eye of Abendengo, arriving in a storm of heavy rain shortly after sundown on the 28th of Arodus.
"Is the weather here always this bad?" Feruzi asked, peering out from under her rain cape and shivering.
"Yes," Reiko said.
"Bah, this is nothing," Chopper insisted. "How should we find this Jaymiss Keft?"
"Is there not some . . . central hall for carvers? Jack Scrimshaw once mentioned something like it to me," Feruzi offered.
"Carver's Hall," Reiko said. They rounded up Jack Scrimshaw and headed into Drenchport. It didn't take long to find the Hall, which unlike most of the other buildings in town was well-lit and inviting. Not to mention warm. About a dozen scrimshanders were around the place, working, drinking, or just swapping gossip. An old gray-haired half-elf sat near the immense fireplace, carving a mermaid out of a walrus tusk. Feruzi nudged Jack in that direction and sallied forth to obtain some drinks. Chopper mused over the wares on display.
"Good evening, Mr. Keft," Reiko said, bowing to the half-elf.
"Evenin. Come to look at m'wares?"
"Yes, among other things. Mr. Scrimshaw here was also very excited to come visit, as he is also a scrimshander."
"Bring me a beer an' have a seat, an' lets talk."
"Well, look at that," Feruzi said. "I appear to already have an extra drink. How odd."
"Bless yer bones, ma'am."
"Frozen bones, in this place. Why do people even live here?"
"Drenchport makes people tough's they come, ma'am. I tried a summer in Port Peril, but it were too quiet."
"That is a fine piece you're working on now, Mr. Keft," Reiko said. "It's a mermaid?"
"Aye. Well, it will be. It's meant t' be th' one I seen off Devil's Arches, back in '03. Havin' trouble gettin' 'er smile jist right, though. I could live to be two hundred an' never forget that smile..."
"I'm sure she was quite... lovely. I don't suppose I could commission a piece from you for when you are finished with this one?"
"Like a manticore?" Feruzi asked artlessly. Reiko favored her with a mildly disgusted look.
"Well, I was thinking more a dragon than a manticore."
"Reckon I could do that, sure. Like one o' them Tien dragons, all long 'n...?" He waved his hands around sinuously.
Feruzi shrugged. "We encountered a manticore aboard a Chelish merchantman, made quite an impression on our Captain. But I suppose dragons are nice too."
Reiko pulled up the sleeve of her kimono to reveal the head of her dragon tattoo. Keft studied it carefully.
"Yeah. Yeah, I can do that."
"If you care to see the whole thing, please do say so."
"Inna bit. I reckon ye'll have a question fer me in exchange fer all this work ye're offerin' me."
"Yes, that is true also. Though, to be honest, I wasn't offering the work so that we could get information."
"An I appreciate that. But usually folks who ain't from around here usually come fer th' scuttlebutt."
"That's true enough, I suppose," Reiko said.
"We heard you might be acquainted with some Chelish persons who are up to no good. Of course, that could describe their entire country, perhaps," Feruzi said. Reiko shot her another look and tugged on Feruzi's arm.
"Ms. Feruzi . . ." Reiko hissed
"What, do you want to be here all night?" Feruzi hissed back.
"No, but we should have this conversation with a measure of discretion, you know."
"Fine, fine. I'll distract them, you go out the back."
Reiko sighed. "Mr. Keft, we do indeed have some questions but perhaps there is a less-crowded place we can chat?"
"Sure, sure. Follow me." Keft heaved himself out of his chair and gathered his goods into a small bag, leading them to a little house not far from the Hall. "Make yerselfs at home. The folks at Carvers Hall have heard most o' my chin waggin afore, but better safe'n sorry, I guess." He busied himself about starting a fire, talking while he worked. "I dunno nothin' aboot no Chelish folks but I do know a man who's gotta be up t' no good, if ye know what I mean."
"I do." Reiko said. "Can you tell us what this fellow has been up to thus far?"
"Well, he's a beachcomber an' a fisherman an' an occasional smuggler."
"A smuggler? What has he been smuggling of late?" Reiko asked.
"Thass just it, d'ye see. He makes these quote smuggling trips unquote down south but 'e don't move no goods. I know the black market here pretty good an' he seldom buys or sells any contraband before OR after these trips. So where's he goin? Whass he doin?"
"Down south where?" Feruzi asked. "Port Peril?"
"Thass what 'e says, aye. He lives outside o' town in a little cottage up the coast. Nice enough fella, most people don't pay 'im no mind. Keeps to hisself, ye know the type. Mwangi fella, name o' Tomak."
Feruzi was nodding absently, trying to speed Keft along, then at the name 'Tomak' she jumped out of her seat so quickly she almost knocked Keft into the fire, catching him at the last second. "WHAT DID YOU SAY?!?"
"Tomak. Thass 'is name."
. . ."
"Sorry," Feruzi said. "I'm sorry. Excuse me."
"I bin straight with you, you gotta b'lieve me!"
"We most certainly believe you, Mr. Keft," Reiko told him. "Here is the gold for my commission." Feruzi began muttering to herself and bolted out the door into the rain.
"I'll see ye in a few weeks, then. Good luck wi' yer, um, endeavor."
"Thank you. And please, if you could, keep the contents of this meeting to yourself." Reiko bowed and followed Chopper and Ezikial outside.
"So what's this about Tomak?" Chopper demanded.
"Well, supposedly he kidnapped my sister," Feruzi said. "Or she kidnapped him. Or something.
"Then let's go see him."
"Assuming it's even him. The name isn't that uncommon."
They returned to the Crisis for the ship's cutter and picked up Leila to navigate, arriving at the driftwood cottage perched on the rugged coast close to midnight. Feruzi peered over the gunwhales, shivering.
"What a dump."
"I dunno," Chopper said. "Some nice curtains, a few throw pillows . . ."
"It looks like nobody's home, anyway," Feruzi said. There was no light or smoke coming from any aperture. The front door proved to be locked; Leila set to work with her picks and had it open quickly. Inside it was dark, but it stank of corpse. Feruzi found a lantern beside the door and lit it, revealing a dead man lying face down in a large fish tank where a piranha-like creature had eaten most of the flesh it could reach. Two crossbow bolts protruded from the man's back.
"I think it really IS him," Feruzi said, surveying the wreck.
"He's been dead about a week," Chopper estimated, poking the crossbow bolts. "Looks like poison, the wounds alone wouldn't have killed him. Not that quick, anyway."
Reiko poked around the mess on the floor while Leila scouted out behind the house. Reiko came up with a piece of driftwood carved to resemble a birdlike humanoid.
"That is almost definitely a tengu. I have a tengu acquaintance in town . . . if he's still about. There's a slim possibility he would know what this is." They also discovered a concealed compartment in the base of the fish tank that held a waterproof bag full of coins and a scroll case made out of a walrus tusk. They unrolled the scrolls and stared blankly at what they eventually figured to be sheet music, the lyrics written for some reason in the Infernal tongue.
"Why music?" Feruzi asked mystified.
"It appears to be an opera," Reiko said.
"A Chelish opera?" Ezikial asked. "In Infernal?"
"I know little of Chelish history," Reiko told him, "but back home young girls all learn much about the arts and not just our own. A Chelish opera of this antiquity would NOT be written in Infernal. It is probably not what it seems."
Feruzi began to drag Tomak's body out of the house, dislodging a piece of paper from somewhere on his person. Picking it up, she read aloud: "I know where Z has Ukele."
"Z?" Reiko asked.
"I have no idea."
Leila returned from her search around the premises with a glass vial. "I think this was full of poison. I found it about eighty feet from the house on an outcropping with a view to that window. The rain washed any tracks away, though."
Feruzi shook her head. "Tomak, you idiot, you couldn't wait to die until I got here? None of this makes any sense." She finished hauling him outside and dug a hole in the side of the hill to bury him in.
"Why don't we go back to the ship for now and get some sleep." Reiko suggested when they were finished burying Tomak. "It may be better to get a fresh start during the day."
In the morning they discovered that Reiko's tengu contact had recently left for
. He was known to associate with Tomak. With no other solid leads, they set sail to
follow him. Hell
was gloomy and ugly, with graying limestone architecture and imps roosting on
every building. The home address of the
tengu smuggler Corlan was easily found; it sat at a crossroads where two wide
streets intersected. Reiko knocked on
the door, which was readily opened by a peculiar birdlike man, who blinked in
recognition as a barbed crossbow bolt struck him square in the chest. Hell Harbor
"WHAT THE HELL?!" Feruzi snapped, pulling out her bow. They looked around, but nobody could see anything. A second bolt followed the first, but Corlan was already dead. Ezikial pointed one of his pistols at the building across the street, but they couldn't see anything in the dark; Chopper ran across the street followed closely by Ezikial. After a few moments of futile looking around Feruzi followed them, but instead of messing with the door she ran straight up the wall to the roof where she encountered a blonde human male wearing black leathers.
"Mwangi," he spat, leveling the crossbow at her. There was a rope leading over the side of the factory behind him, after a moment it began to twitch as if someone was climbing it.
"TAKE HIM ALIVE!" Reiko called from across the street, beginning to search Corlan's home. Feruzi cursed as a crossbow bolt struck her in the side.
"Seriously?" She growled. "Let me show you a REAL bow." The sniper attempted to take cover from the barrage of arrows that followed, but he was mostly unsuccessful. Chopper reached the roof and hoisted himself up. "Surrender!" Feruzi yelled to the sniper, who was now trapped.
"I ain't going to gaol!" He fired his crossbow again, missing, and then turned to jump off the roof, catching an arrow square in his back. Ezikial stepped aside as the man fell in a heap right in front of him, stone dead. A cursory search of the body revealed a piece of parchment with three names and some instructions on it: Tomak, Roweena Kellet, and Corlan. The first two names were already crossed out; Ezikial passed the note up to Chopper, who pulled out a piece of charcoal and scratched out the third.
"Damn," Chopper said, reading the rest of the note aloud. "Use the supplied dosage on each. When done return to the apothecary in Port Peril. I can provide more toxin along with your payment if needed. Destroy this after reading. -Z." They walked around the factory to Corlan's house, discovering Reiko sorting through a wide variety of apothecary goods, all labeled "Jasperleaf Apothecary, Port Peril."