Ezikial winced as Sandara's spell took effect, restoring his eyesight. The first thing he saw was the Dreamstone sitting on the chartroom table with both Reiko and Feruzi glaring at it as though they could force it to render up its secrets through sheer willpower. Leila, Rosie, and Conchobar sat perched around the edges of the room. Ezikial's hand went automatically to his flask. A swallow of rum only dulled the headache brought on by the morning sunlight glinting through the windows.
"As nearly as I can determine," Feruzi said, finally, "smashing the stone would solve most of our problems."
"Would that get us th' Cap'n back?" Sandara asked.
"It should. That's how the spell works . . . although it's generally supposed to be much more limited in scope."
"Dispel it?" Ezikial suggested, looking at Sandara, who shrugged.
"I'm less sure what the effect of that would be, if she even can manage it," Feruzi said. "I wish I had more books."
"Might be nice ter 'ave that genie still 'ere," Sandara said softly.
"There was a genie?" Leila asked eagerly.
"Are you willing to risk the Captain's life by smashing the stone without knowing exactly what will happen?" Reiko asked.
Feruzi held up her hands. "Tell me what you require to be certain enough and I will try to provide it. If you think I'm not knowledgeable enough, that is fine. Who else would you like to consult? We could ask Durgrin, or any other spellcaster you know. Of course, it would take two days at minimum for them to receive the message and send a reply."
Reiko shrugged. "Do what you think is best," she said, and left the room.
Ezikial rubbed his face. "I know that this is out of character for me, but in this case I would prefer to wait and be sure rather than risk Chopper's very existence."
"Do you know anyone better than Durgrin to ask?" Feruzi said. Ezikial looked at Sandara.
"Sister? Do you have any words of wisdom on this dilemma?"
Sandara shook her head. "It's magic beyond me means. Th' Master o' th' Gales might know, but I reckon askin' fer help'd make us look bad."
Feruzi grimaced. "We could ask Ukele . . ."
"An' Pierce is a sorcerer," Sandara added.
Feruzi's relief was almost palpable. "Yes! Or Pierce!"
"I could cast a sending. That'd be faster than two days," Sandara suggested. Feruzi extended her hands in a 'well, go on' gesture. The cleric thought for a moment, counting words on her fingers, and then cast the spell. A few moments later she made a peculiar face. "'E says Feruzi's right. Think I woke 'im up, but he still checked. Must be love or somethin'."
Feruzi gestured from Ezikial to the stone. "Do you want to do the honors?"
"Are you sure you wish me to do this?"
Feruzi nodded. "The suspense is killing me."
Rosie spoke up for the first time. "Does that mean I get t' yell 'fire in the hole'?" she asked.
"That it does, Rosie-luv, that it does," Ezikial said, drawing his pistol and taking aim. Rosie's bellow shook the room and was probably audible on shore. It almost succeeded in drowning out the pistol report that turned the Stone into powder. Screaming, ghostly shapes filled the room, most dissipating almost instantly. One seemed to hover, gaining solidity, and then Chopper faded into existence.
"--AAAAAAAUUUUUUUGhhhhhhhh!!!!" he screamed, then seemed to realize that nothing was happening and tapered off to a confused silence.
"Captain on the deck!" Conchobar announced happily, clicking his heels and saluting. Feruzi's legs went all limp and she sat down rather abruptly. Chopper's eyes darted from side to side as he adjusted to this new situation. He accepted the flask Ezikial extended and took a cautious swallow.
"Besmara be praised!" Sandara called.
"She's a regular visitor on our ship," Ezikial said.
"What. The fuck. Happened." Chopper demanded, enunciating with great care.
"You touched something you shouldn't have," Feruzi announced. "Again." She lurched to her feet and helped Chopper to his, dusted his clothes off, and hugged him around the chest. He still looked too bewildered to protest.
"How . . . why are we back on Crisis?"
"Er . . . where did you expect us to go?" Feruzi asked.
"No, I mean . . . dammitall, woman," Chopper growled. He paused and took a deep breath. "What happened after I . . . well, it felt like I suddenly and violently ceased to exist." He shuddered.
"You got . . . sort of . . . sucked into the stone, when you touched it. So we grabbed it and came back here," Feruzi explained.
"Why didn't it suck you in, too?"
"I didn't touch it."
"You. Know. What. I. Mean."
"Reiko picked it up, but she seems to be all right. I think she managed to resist the stone's influence," Feruzi explained, then added, under her breath, "possibly all the crabbiness made her immune."
"An' then Ezikial blew it t' bits," Sandara added. "It was the only way t' get yer back."
"But you're back now so everything should be all right," Feruzi said with an unconvincing attempt at a smile.
"Well, now that we have no stone, what is your plan for taking care of the ghost?" Reiko asked from the doorway.
"I had this vague scenario in mind where we kill him for being an evil sonofabitch," Feruzi said dryly, "but I'm open to suggestions."
"Th' stone was what were keepin' it in the Material plane. Now that it's gone, if'n we kill it, it'll die fer good. I think," Sandara said.
"Eh, kilt one ghost already, what's another, I suppose," Chopper said.
"Shall we go, then?" Feruzi asked. "We're running short on days to get this island cleaned up before the pirate lords arrive."
"Aye, fine," Chopper said.
"Are you sure you're all right?" Feruzi asked him.
"No," Chopper said, honestly. Feruzi made a move as if to reach out again, then abandoned it with a helpless shrug when Chopper shot her a stern look. He gave her a fractional nod, grateful for the intention, and they set off to join Ezikial, Reiko, and Sandara in the boat.
The vault where they had encountered Otongu before was unchanged, but there was no sign of the ghost. Chopper looked around, edgy. "Ye reckon he kens our intent?" The last few words were spoken in a cloud of vapor as the air grew frigid.
"I would guess so, Captain," Ezikial said dryly.
Sandara cried out. "He's tryin' t' get inside me!"
Chopper drew his axes, then cursed. "Fook! How do we fight somethin' we can't see?!"
Sandara screamed in an effort of desperate will, and the ghost of Bikendi Otongu manifested, hissing in rage and summoning arcane power. Sandara shrieked again as the phantasmal horror assaulted her mind for the second time. She reeled, struggling with images of horror.
Reiko struck the ghost with her enchanted katana, dispersing a fraction of its ethereal substance, followed by a volley of pistol bullets as Ezikial strove to force Otongu back away from Sandara. The cleric called on Besmara for aid as Chopper advanced. Otongu reached out, ghostly fingers singing with cold, and grasped at Ezikial, who gasped in agony. Otongu grinned as his apparent wounds faded away, then vanished again.
"Show yourself, you coward!" Reiko shouted. A wave of healing energy filled the room and the invisible ghost snarled. Chopper hacked maliciously at the source of the sound and was rewarded by feeling some faint resistance; Otongu reappeared before him.
"DIE!" the ghost snarled, and Chopper felt his strength pulled from his body. He struggled simply to stay on his feet as the ghost vanished again.
"Did you imagine a few pitiful mortals could defeat me?!" Otongu hissed, reappearing and reaching again for Chopper. Reiko's sword and Feruzi's arrow caught him simultaneously, and he screamed, dispersing in a way that looked terribly final.
"Yes," Feruzi said. She shivered. "I really hate that guy. But he did leave us some stuff," she added, gesturing to the crates stacked around the room.
Among the scattered possessions, Reiko discovered a journal written in cipher and put it away to translate later. With Otongu dead, the Crisis crew was now firmly in possession of the fort. A flurry of activity followed as Reiko dispatched messages calling for masons and carpenters to repair the badly-damaged structure and erect a dock. Crisis disgorged materiel and crew. Reiko took time off from overseeing the cleanup to work on Otongu's journal while Sandara went about restoring the teleportation circle in the tower basement. A few cautious tests demonstrated that it could indeed be used for transportation to the ruins of Sumitha several miles away.
"Ye find anythin' in that there book?" Sandara asked Reiko, who nodded.
"It describes Otongu's plan to create the Dreamstone. But there is something odd here." Reiko showed her the book and Sandara frowned.
"There be magic about it." The cleric cast a quick spell, and two of the pages split apart, revealing a map to an offshore location. Sandara grinned. "Jackpot."
They explored the remainder of the island while they waited for the workers to arrive, clearing away a few pests and discovering a shipwreck that contained some valuable goods. The workers began to arrive and relieve the crew of their tasks, letting them range further afield. Chopper discovered some footprints on the beach and the officers went to investigate, discovering a concealed grotto and, oddly, the sound of singing.
"Um, hello?" Feruzi called, mystified. "Is someone there?"
"Hello!" a woman's voice called. "Come on in, the water is perfect?"
"Perhaps you'll come to the shore to speak to us first?" Reiko asked. A woman's head broke the surface of the water and she lazily swam toward them, long dark hair doing little to conceal her nudity. Her eyes and ears came to sharp points, indicating Fey origin. She lazily draped a shawl over the rocks and sat down, smiling.
"Welcome, friends, I am Sefina."
"Er . . ." Chopper said urbanely.
Feruzi bit her lip, trying not to grin. "Greetings."
"It is nice to meet you, Ms. Sefina," Reiko said.
"Oh the pleasure is mine! This is my grotto. Who are you?"
Reiko quickly made introductions. "You have a lovely home. We wouldn't want to intrude. Do you have many visitors?"
A faint frown crossed Sefina's features. "The cyclopes, sometimes. I always hide until they go away." She smiled. "You are already more interesting than they ever were."
"I doubt they will be much of a bother any more," Reiko said.
"We will be setting up housekeeping somewhat nearby," Feruzi said. "Perhaps we can become friends."
Sefina clapped her hands. "Oh, I would love that! I'd love that ever so much! May I visit your house?"
"You are welcome to," Reiko said. "I don't suppose I can ask what you are? I have not encountered one of your kind before, so I am curious."
"Of course! I am a nereid, a spirit of the water."
"Er . . ." Chopper remarked. Reiko glanced at him.
"Well, you are lovely indeed. So much so that you seem to have captured our Captain's tongue. Would it be too much to ask that you wear something a bit less revealing when you are among our crew? Most are honorable enough and will keep their hands to themselves, but there is no need to test their resolve."
"Oh! I always forget how mortals can be," Sefina said, collecting her shawl and draping it over herself toga-style. Of course, it wasn't a very large shawl, so the effect wasn't particularly modest, but at least Chopper recovered himself a bit. He bowed and Sefina laughed, promising to visit later. Then they all left.
The dock was coming together nicely on the following day when they set off toward the waterfall cliffs, where alarmed workers had reported seeing shadows and something flying around. The rocks were sheer and vertical, slimed from the violent spray of the churning water. Feruzi scowled up at what appeared to be a cave of sorts quite near the top of the rocks.
"I should probably climb up and see what that is," she said. Chopper grinned.
"Stink!" a loud, deep voice bellowed before she could begin climbing. "Hate stink! Wait. KNOW stink! Who go there?"
"Er, Feruzi?" she said.
"Aieee, small sharp one!"
"We mean you no harm," Reiko called. "Please show yourself."
"Is that . . .Morgu?" Feruzi asked, suddenly realizing why the voice sounded familiar.
"Morgus," Chopper corrected.
"Oops, yes, that."
The manticore's face appeared over the edge far above them. "Morgus knows you."
"Hot damn!" Chopper enthused as the creature half-hopped, half-flew down the cliff and landed in front of them. "I hoped we'd meet again someday."
"Morgus hoped too. Morgus owes freedom to you."
"What are you doing here?" Feruzi asked.
"Home here now. One-eyed devils were here. Morgus drove away."
"This is our home now, too," Feruzi said. The manticore's chest puffed up as he considered this.
"This bit is your territory, aye?" Chopper said.
"Yes! This belong Morgus. But you welcome in my kingdom," the manticore added magnanimously, nodding his head. Chopper sketched a bow.
"Much oblighed, yer Majesty."
"We'll have to let everyone know not to shoot at him," Feruzi mused. "He might shoot back and they won't enjoy that much. At all."
"I see all from up here," Morgus said, beaming at them. "Will warn you of dangers."
"We'd appreciate that," Chopper said.
The manticore preened. "Morgus good king."
After chatting some more with the manticore, they headed back to the fort, only to find the Bonaventure anchored in the cove. Feruzi squeaked happily and charged down to the dock, where Pegsworthy scooped her up. Freeing a hand, he waved at Chopper and the others.
"I have some news about our Chelish spy problem," he said.