Treasure Lost: Part Five
Arral muttered a curse as she wrenched the wheel to starboard. The currents swirling between the rocks were pulling the ship out of her control, as though the sea was deliberately trying to wreck the Nereid. Which, Arral reminded herself, it probably was.
"A fine squall ye've led us into," she shot at the Shadow Kyrii standing next to her.
Eryk grinned. "Isn't it beautiful?" He had to shout because the wind was deafening. "How's she holding up?"
"She's overcanvased, and the storm's too rough to get crew up in the riggin' to reef the sails. We must've lost half the rudder on a shoal as I can barely steer. And if the sea gets any higher, I'll put ye down in a dingy and ye can row yerself to the cursed spur o' land we're aimin' at. I thought ye said we'd catch the Wretch naught a handful o' leagues out o' port, a'fore we ever neared danger."
"I lied," Eryk informed her pleasantly without a trace of guilt. "If we caught up too quickly, I'd get the map but be without a ship to follow it. Besides, you'll take the Wretch much more easily now that it's been battered by the storm."
"Unless the storm takes us first. Curse that Xweetok. Why didn't the girl listen te me when I told 'er not te go messin' in dangerous affairs? Of all the scurvy lowlifes te go sailin' off with, she had te pick Rackham. There's a devil if ever there were one."
"You seem to have met him."
"Aye, an' I wouldn't again for a sack o' gold. Savin' o'course if he were at the far end o' me cannons."
"Which he soon will be."
Arral nodded and the two lapsed into silence. As she steered, Arral kept a close watch on the bow, where her second mate, Risham the Jetsam, stood at the rail. A long, light line dropped from the bow into the foaming sea below. As he watched, the rope veered to the right, and Risham signaled with his right arm for the ship to follow. The rope was being pulled by Eryk's Ghoti, Whisper, and was leading them through the storm.
It wasn't enough.
The lookout had just cried 'land ho' when the jolt ran through the ship. They had run up on a submerged rock. The ship momentarily hung still in the water, then the force of a giant wave broke over the deck, pushing it free again. A panicked looking Pink Acara, who Erik recognized as Arral's niece, came hurtling onto the deck.
"We're takin' on water in the hold an' the gun deck," she panted as she reached the wheel. Arral didn't wait to hear more details.
"All spare hands get ye to the breach!" she roared over the noise of the wind. "Grab crates, chests, anything ye can lay hands on an' patch the hull in the gun deck. Seal off the hold, we can still make way with 'er flooded."
"What of the stores down there?" asked the Pink Acara. "That's the bulk of the provisions."
"Leave 'em," Arral replied. "It's not worth sinkin' over. We'll get more when we raid the Wretch."
While the crew fought the water below decks, Arral fought it from the wheel. The partially flooded ship was becoming heavier and harder to control. Risham was signaling frantically for the ship to turn right again, but the waves pushed it left. Arral was helpless to stop its drift. Later, she would be grateful for that fact.
It was only because they had gone off course that the Nereid missed the whirlpool. The few crew members who remained on deck rushed to the starboard railing to watch it glide by: a gaping, gasping mouth drinking in the sea.
"I think this is where you put me in the dingy," Eryk said. Like everyone else, he was standing at the rail. Unlike them, his focus wasn't the whirlpool. When Whisper had realized that Risham was no longer following her directions, she had circled around to the stern and was now signaling Eryk directly. There was no mistaking which direction she wanted him to go.
At first Arral, distracted by the storm, the sea, and the damage to her ship, didn't register what Eryk was saying. "What're ye on about?" she asked absent mindedly.
"A dingy. Lower me into the water. I have to follow Whisper into the whirlpool."
"What?!" Eryk had Arral's full attention now. "Ye'll be drowned! A dingy won't do naught against the force of that eddy."
"You're right," Eryk conceded, frowning slightly. "Well then, I might as well swim." Without waiting for a response, he dove over the railing. Arral didn't even have time to yell before she heard the splash of someone hitting the water.
"Pet overboard!" came a cry from somewhere afore.
"Leave 'im," Arral replied. "He's gone mad an' there's no help for 'im now. We best bring the ship around and get her patched up. The Wretch is here somewhere, an' I'll not engage in a fight with a hole already in 'er."
As the ship slowly turned away from the vortex and towards the relative safety of the island, Eryk struggled towards the surface of the seething ocean. His shoes had filled with water and were dragging him down; he kicked them off. Finally, his head emerged amid the surf. He pulled in a deep breath, then dove again, swimming beneath the waves where their crashing was less powerful. Whisper met him after only a few strokes. Eryk slashed the rope still tied to her with a small dagger, then grabbed hold of the cut line and let her pull him forward.
As the two swam into the strengthening currents, Eryk made a mental inventory of his situation. Due to his hasty departure, the dagger was one of only three items that he had brought with.
Eryk never went unarmed, so he still had his Gold Handled Katana fastened to his belt. When he had first boarded the Nereid, the pirate crew laughed at his thin blade, believing their own heavy cutlasses to be superior. A few friendly bouts on deck had quickly changed their minds.
The third item that Eryk had on him was one he always carried when work brought him near the sea. It was a small leather pouch, easily mistaken for a water canteen. Inside, however, was not liquid but two breaths of air. It had saved his life before, and having it on him now made Eryk feel a little more confident as he and Whisper picked up speed, the current pulling them into the heart of the whirlpool.
Surfacing briefly, Eryk found himself closer to the island than he had guessed. Its single peak climbed into the leaden clouds above, its sides covered in a forbidding green tangle. From his current position in the freezing ocean, Eryk thought that it looked quite inviting. His path, however, lead not up onto the mountain but down into the depths. He gave Whisper a reassuring pat, filled his lungs, then followed her under the waves.
The salt water stung Eryk's eyes but he forced himself to keep them open. Up ahead, he could see the opening to an underwater cave. By watching bits of seaweed and driftwood suspended in the water, he could see that that was where the current was leading him. Whisper was drawing him towards the chasm, so rather than fight the flow, he swam with it, and soon the cave mouth had rushed overhead and fallen behind, sealing him in a tunnel of stone.
Eryk was about to take a breath from his little pouch when Whisper began to pull him upwards. In the faint light filtering in from outside, he could just make out a surface to the water. There was some kind of air pocket above him. Eryk kicked out, anticipating the pleasure of breathing. He never reached it.
At that moment, a rubbery tentacle slipped around his ankle, pulling him back down. Eryk spun to see the shadowy outline of a Giant Giant Squid. He couldn't make out its face in the dark water, but he guessed that intruding into its home had not made it happy.
Eryk didn't have much time to react. By now, his lungs were burning. He unclipped the pouch from his belt and took a breath. Only one left. He fumbled for his dagger, but the bright flash of metal seemed to enrage the creature. It let out a jet of water, shooting down the tunnel and away from the underwater cavern that Eryk had hoped to reach.
The squid made a sudden turn at a bend in the tunnel and Eryk's momentum carried him into the tunnel wall. Sharp rock collided with his back, temporarily knocking his vision black. Too stunned to swim, he slowly began to sink. The squid tightened its grip on Eryk's leg, pulling him closer, sensing his helplessness. The increased pressure on his ankle brought Eryk back to his senses. He took his last breath of air, then pulled his dagger from its sheath. Before he could use it, a small, dark shape shot forward.
Whisper had caught up, and had swum to her master's defense. She sank her small, sharp teeth into the squid's tentacle. With a high-pitched shriek, the squid let go.
Eryk swam up. It was all that he could think to do. He didn't know what he was expecting; surely there was only a stone ceiling above him, blocking any hope of escape. To his surprise, his hand instead met a pocket of air. His head followed, then he was hauling himself out of the water and onto a small stone ledge. Eryk just had time to register that he was in a tiny cave, barely big enough to hold him, before he passed out.
Jojo wondered where the other ship had come from. He watched it from the narrow, rocky beach of the island. It was cold, and his clothes were dripping, but Radish had settled in his lap, a soft, steady heat radiating from his metallic body.
Jojo liked the second ship. It wasn't as flashy as the Wretch, but it had a nice figurehead. A water faerie, holding a single flower that he couldn't identify. Jojo thought that she looked friendly, like she would be good at telling stories. It was a sharp contrast to the jets of fire shooting out of the cannons in the ship's hull.
Jojo could tell that this was a one-sided battle. The Wretch, taken completely by surprise, hadn't even had a chance to load her own cannons before she was boarded. The little Pets swinging from one ship to the next looked like little figurines from this distance, or maybe Petpetpets. Jojo thought that they would be fun to play with.
Eventually, the second ship lowered a plank between its deck and the deck of the Wretch. Prisoners were herded off, followed by crates and barrels. The Wretch didn't look grand or fancy anymore. There were holes in the hull, splintered timbers floating in the water below. One of the masts had come off and was lying at on odd angle, like a broken arm. The sight made Jojo feel a little sad. The Pets were now all on the second ship. The planks connecting the two vessels were drawn back in. The Wretch slowly sunk into the still stormy sea.
"Radish?" Jojo asked softly. His Petpet made a faint whirring murmur in response. "I'm scared." Night had crept over the ocean, banishing the little light that had managed to squeeze through the clouds. A strange chirping chorus rose from the night insects hidden on the island. His stomach growled, and he shivered.
There was no ship to return to. Jojo watched the waves gnawing at the beach. He couldn't stay put, and he couldn't go back. There was only one place to go. After brushing the wet sand off of his pants, Jojo hugged Radish tightly to his chest and began to climb.
Eryk couldn't tell how long he had been unconscious. Long enough to worry Whisper, at least. The Ghoti nudged his bare foot, which was still dangling in the water.
"Sorry for scaring you," he said as he ran a hand over her smooth skin. "And thanks for your help. You really saved me back there." He reached into a pocket, then realized that he didn't have any Petpet treats with him. "I'll have to give you your reward later."
Eryk tried to stand but banged his head. Groaning at the new pain, he sank back down. It wasn't much of a cave, more like a crack in the rock. His eyes had adjusted to the darkness, but he could still barely see the walls five inches from his face, and he had totally missed the ceiling. There was a faint sound of rushing water from up ahead, though, so the cave had to let out somewhere.
"Get to the ship," he instructed Whisper. "I'll meet you there as soon as I can." Without looking back, he crawled forward towards the muffled sound.
The rough stone scratched a mesh of little cuts across his hands and shredded the knees of his pants. Eryk wished that he hadn't abandoned his boots in the ocean; he kept stubbing his naked toes. All the while, the sound of water kept growing. There was a strange, echoing quality to it, and Eryk couldn't tell whether it was an underground river or waves on a beach. He silently wished for the beach: even if the storm was still raging outside, any fresh air would be better than this cramped tunnel. Eryk wasn't claustrophobic, but there were some parts of the shaft that were so narrow, he was sure that he would get stuck.
Finally, the walls fell back and Eryk was able to stand. He spent long minutes stretching out his back and limbs, enjoying the freedom. Crawling through dark and moist tunnels was one of the less glamorous parts of treasure hunting. Eryk much preferred sword fights and daring escapes from perilous situations. And, he admitted as an afterthought, finding the treasure was always nice, too.
From his current position, Eryk had several options. Another narrow crack led off to his right, while a wider passage led to a large cavern on his left. The sound that he was following, however, came from overhead. Eryk sighed. The cave went straight up, and he didn't have a rope. This was going to be a long and painful climb, and there wasn't even anyone to watch him do it.
Twenty minutes later, Eryk pulled himself onto flat ground. His pants were now hopelessly torn, and his feet probably weren't in much better condition. He ignored the pain, focusing instead on his surroundings. It was a bit brighter here, but the light had a shimmering, blue quality. It reminded Eryk of being underwater again, or in an igloo at night.
In front of him, Eryk could see what was causing the noise. His heart sank. It wasn't a beach. Instead, a wavering curtain of water was draped across the cave. Maybe there's a way out on the other side, Eryk consoled himself. The waterfall was a good distance away, and he couldn't yet see what lay beyond. Behind him was a dead end, so either way he would have to pass through it. He hoped that there would be solid ground, or at least a pool that he could jump into instead of another climb. Somehow, he knew that it would be a climb.
Before he could take three steps, though, there was a sudden shout from overhead. A large, dark shape appeared against the water, was briefly silhouetted, then plunged down and out of sight. Eryk thought that he had recognized the outline of a Ruki...
Then a second shape slid into view. Eryk, put on alert by the first Pet tumbling down the waterfall, saw the scene as though it were in slow motion. The Xweetok clutched desperately at the air, twisting to face the rock, plummeting through the pounding water. One white paw caught on the rock. In an instant, Eryk was sprinting. The paw was slipping; it wasn't going to hold for more than a second.
Diving forward, Eryk slid to the edge of the rock and caught Spirit's wrist just as her fingers lost their grip. She dropped a few inches, then jerked to a stop again as Eryk dug his free hand into the stone, preventing himself from being pulled over the edge. The waterfall was crashing on her shoulders, pushing her down. Water ran into her eyes, and she couldn't see who or what had grabbed her. All she could do was hope that they didn't let go. Focusing all her energy into a single movement, she swung the arm dangling at her side up over her head. There was a hand clutching her own. Her fingers closed over her rescuer's wrist, the only thing that she could feel through her numbness. Slowly, very slowly, her body began to rise. Then she was lying on wonderfully hard, solid rock, panting, beyond caring where she was or what was around her.
"I hope ye sorry rats be comfortable." Arral grinned as she paced before the prisoners. "Ye're in fer a nice, long voyage with the Nereid, so ye better get accustomed to it fast. Unfortunately, we won't be servin' snacks."
Arral was in a wonderful mood, despite having the bottom almost torn off of her ship in the storm. She had rarely been in such a quick, easy battle. Most of the Wretch's crew had been stuffing their faces with ship's biscuit in the hold when the first cannon shots had been fired, and even when they had managed to swallow their mouthfuls and assemble at the guns, they had been completely ineffective. Surprise was a powerful weapon. Even the three or four pets who had been on deck at the time of the attack had been unable to defend themselves. Apparently, they had been too busy watching something in the water beside their ship to notice the Nereid's approach.
"Alright, crew, take 'em below deck. Put the worst of the lot in the brig, and tie the rest up real snug an' cozy."
The last of the captives was just being forced down the ladder at sword point when one of the lookouts gave a call.
In two long strides, Arral was at the rail. She was sure that it was Eryk, and probably in poor condition after his stupid stunt of jumping into the whirlpool. She was startled to see that it was not a Kyrii but a Ruki who was bobbing in the waves. Then her smile broadened. She recognized him.
"Well, well. Me good friend, Captain Mercer Rackham," Arral drawled as the bedraggled Ruki was pulled onboard. He staggered to find his footing, but Arral gave him a mock-friendly slap on his shoulder, sending him sprawling. "Ye look well."
Mercer refused to respond, but his scowl clearly conveyed his feelings.
"Yer crew was just sittin' down to a little party in the brig," continued Arral. "Perchance ye'd like to join 'em? As ye've no doubt noticed, ye've no longer got a ship of yer own."
Mercer's eyes flicked over the railing, scanning the sea. There was no way that he could miss the tangle of flotsam riding the waves, the last remains of the Wretch. "Sea witch!" He growled fiercely at Arral, reaching for his sword. He hadn't pulled it more than an inch out of its scabbard before Arral's own blade was at his throat.
Arral, without moving her sword, addressed her crew. "Perchance a few of ye still remember this scum?" There was a brief din of jeered assent. "It's a fool indeed who dares try an' steal a ship from me! I can't blame ye fer tryin', though, seein' as how poor the one was that ye got in the end. And now ye get to spend the whole voyage home with us. We'll be sure an' make ye feel welcome."
As crew came forward with ropes to tie Mercer's hands, something lit in the ex-captain's eye. A mad chuckle escaped him, and the sailors paused, unwilling to approach. "Aye, I'll be welcome, just like I welcomed that Xweetok. Come, now, lassie," he spit the word like an insult, "am I ter believe ye just happened ter be floatin' off this unmapped island and blunder inter me ship? I was in the hall the night ye talked with her, I know she told ye of the treasure. An' since ye didn't take her offer then, yer not just here fer shiny things. Do ye want ter know what happened to the she-demon?" Arral didn't say anything; her face had frozen, the mocking glee still visible but fading fast. Mercer continued. "Drowned, she be. Caught in one o' the island's curses. I watched her last struggle fer breath meself, an' I laughed. Where be that snivelin' brother o' hers? I want ter tell 'im meself that his sister ain't ever commin' back."
"Her brother? The Grundo didn't go with her?" There was the slightest trace of panic in Arral's voice, which Mercer caught. "What happened to 'im?"
Mercer never replied. He just started laughing. Even when Risham stepped forward and shoved a rag into his mouth, his shoulders continued to shake, and his eyes continued to gleam.
The world tipped into focus as Spirit recovered her breath. She was still cold and numb, but now that she was out of the water, she was starting to regain some of the feeling in her fingers and toes. She blinked, trying to make the rock ceiling stop spinning. Then she rolled her head to the side, away from the waterfall, where the Pet who had rescued her was slumped against the cave wall. Her eyes rested on the two red feathers dangling from his ear. She had seen that before...
In an instant, Spirit was on her feet, her sword unsheathed and ready. Her feet automatically shifted into a fighting stance, her every muscle tensed for the battle. Then the sudden movement caught up to her. Her head pounded and her legs threatened to collapse. Despite all of her training and experience, she found that she couldn't hold her sword level.
"How can you still have so much energy?" Eryk protested, raising one eyebrow. He hadn't even reached for the blade lying beside him. In fact, he hadn't even twitched.
Spirit sat down heavily, not waiting for her legs to lower her gently. She laid her sword next to her, ready if she needed it, unwilling to let her guard down. As her headache eased, she asked the first question that she thought of. "What are you doing here?" She winced. Of course she knew what he was doing here.
"I still want that map you have. Or the location of the treasure. Since I'm this close, it doesn't really matter which." He smiled as Spirit's hand made an unconscious move towards her blade. "Don't worry, I'm too tired to fight, and you look like dung yourself."
"Gee, thanks," Spirit scowled.
"Rainbow dung then."
"You're out of luck," Spirit informed him. "I don't have the map anymore. I lost it." For once, she didn't even have to lie.
"Right." It was obvious that Eryk didn't believe her.
"It's the truth. A wave washed it right out of my hands."
"Fine," Eryk said, not convinced, "but you still know where the treasure is."
"Maybe. What makes you think that I'd tell you?"
Eryk paused for a moment, carefully considering his next words. "Since your last partnership didn't work out, I'd like to make you an offer myself."
Spirit's eyes flashed. "You want to be my partner?! After you tried to kill me twice? You must have hit your head pretty hard in here if you think that will ever happen!"
"Have it your way." Eryk shrugged, feigning indifference. "You can swim the treasure back the mainland."
"What is that supposed to mean?"
"It means that as we speak, the Wretch is most likely sinking gently to the ocean floor. You've met Arral of the Nereid, haven't you? Excellent captain, and with quite a grudge against your good friend Rackham."
"You convinced Arral to go after the treasure?" Spirit asked, growing angrier with each word. "She wouldn't have anything to do with it!"
"I may have been a bit vague on the details."
"Like just how far she would have to sail before we caught up to you. But everything worked out fine, so no hard feelings."
Spirit snorted in disbelief. If there were no hard feelings, than what was she feeling right now? "So basically," she said, "I have no choice but to let you in on the location of the treasure, and just hope that you don't betray me as well?"
"Pretty much," Eryk said lightly. "If it makes you feel better, I wasn't actually trying to kill you."
"Wow. That doesn't help at all."
Spirit figured that it was at least an hour before either of them was ready to get up. After working out the necessary details of their forced partnership, they had fallen into a tense silence. At least, Spirit had felt the tension. Eryk seemed to be completely at ease, even dosing off. Spirit didn't take her eyes off of him for a second.
"I don't suppose you have a rope," Eryk asked as the two stood facing the waterfall.
"Of course I do," Spirit replied, annoyed that he thought her unprepared when he didn't even have the sense to wear shoes. "It's in my backpack." Spirit's heart sank. "Which was in the boat. Which went over the waterfall."
"So that's a no on the rope?" Eryk considered the situation. "I've climbed worse," he finally said.
"There's nothing to stand on at the top. Just a few rocks poking out of the river."
"Can we swim it?"
"If we could, I wouldn't have gone over in the first place. The waterfall's too strong to climb directly into. We'll have to go up the wall next to it. After that, it'll be a game of stepping stones."
"I love games. Let's get started."
Starting was the most difficult part. Without any gear, they had to climb through the torrent of water cascading down from overhead, find a good hold on the vertical rock face, then plan a route to the top. If they weren't careful and ran out of handholds, they would be stuck. The only way back down was to fall.
Spirit was a good climber, and her rest had given her new energy. Once she had gotten into a routine of moving one hand, one foot, other hand, other foot, the task became much easier. Even so, she was no match for Eryk. Despite constant complaints, he soon passed her. His feet dislodged little streams of dust and pebble as he climbed, which trickled down into Spirit's eyes. She liked him less every minute.
Finally, Spirit watched Eryk disappear over the edge of the waterfall. A few more grips and an awkward sideways climb later, and she joined him on a particularly large boulder half-submerged in the river. Water thundered around them on all sides. Spirit was thankful that this time, she didn't have to go in it.
The closest rock was a long jump away. Eryk lunged, landed on one foot, slipped, and just managed to catch his balance before he tumbled into the water. He made an easier jump to a nearby stone, then turned and grinned at Spirit. He obviously thought that she should be impressed, and even had the nerve to offer her a hand. Spirit ignored him and made her jump. She landed neatly on both feet, without so much as a wobble. She returned Eryk's grin. He might be stronger, but Spirit was far more nimble.
"Head for those ropes," Spirit instructed. Eryk spotted them, hanging side by side against the cave wall.
"Two of them. One for each of us," he said.
"There used to be three," Spirit replied as she hopped to another rock. Eryk's smile seemed a little less bright.
It was probably due to the adrenaline searing through Spirit's brain, but the bizarre hopscotch that they were engaged in seemed to take no time at all. Neither of them fell, although several times Eryk slipped and ended up with a foot in the water. Spirit arrived first, making an extra few jumps to reach the middle rope. She was glad that she got first pick; judging by what had happened to Mercer, the ropes were rigged. Only one would reach safely to the top, and Spirit's intuition told her to pick the middle. Behind her, Eryk grabbed onto the end rope, gazing up at the ledge overhead.
"Finally, I get to use a rope," he sighed in relief as he began to pull himself up. Now his bare feet were an asset, giving him a better grip on the rough fibers. Spirit resisted the urge to take her own stiff boots off. She knew she would want them later. Besides, she had more pride than that.
With a rope, Eryk was even faster. Spirit was only halfway up when Eryk was three-quarters of the way there. That's when Spirit noticed the ledge above him starting to crumble. It was just like what had happened with Mercer's rope, a few cracks at first, then larger chunks starting to break away. For a moment, Spirit considered letting him fall.
"Eryk, watch your rope!" She shouted, stopping him in mid reach. "The ledge is going to give way!" Eryk glanced up and saw that she was right. He considered his options.
"I think I can still make it," he decided, and pulled himself up a few more feet. It was a mistake. A chunk of the ledge broke away, crashing down into the river where it immediately sunk out of view. The rope dropped a foot, leaving Eryk dangling. It was clear that he could climb no higher.
"You'll have to jump to my rope," Spirit called. Even as she said it, she knew how dangerous her suggestion was. The ropes were spaced far apart. There was a good chance that Eryk wouldn't make it. He just nodded.
"I'll try and swing into it." Eryk began to gently sway his rope, leaning first one way, then the other. As he shifted his weight, the rope gained momentum. Each swing carried him closer to Spirit's rope, but there was still a large gap.
Eryk jumped. Spirit watched him sail overhead, paw outstretched. His jump was short. He was going to fall.
Spirit reacted in an instant. She twisted one of her wrists, wrapping the rope around her forearm and gripping it as tightly as she could. With her other paw, she leaned out, reaching into blank space.
Eryk's jump was just far enough. He crashed into Spirit's outstretched arm, and the two managed to grasp each other's paws. Spirit gritted her teeth as his weight yanked one arm and the rope burned her other. She swung him into the rope below her feet and he closed his fingers around it.
"Are we even now?" Spirit asked as she let go of his paw.
Spirit knew that the remaining rope was safe, that it would reach all the way to the treasure. That didn't stop her from being nervous as she inched her way upwards. She kept expecting the rock to drop away, to drop her back into the freezing water.
"Can you climb any slower?" Eryk's voice complained from below. In response, Spirit stopped climbing altogether, hanging motionless on the rope. She knew that it was a childish thing to do. She didn't really care.
"Oh, come on!"
Finally, they reached the top. Spirit pulled herself onto solid rock, then stood and stared. Her throat caught. Behind her, Eryk was on his feet. He stopped beside her, his eyes wide.
"This is it, huh?" he breathed. Spirit nodded. This was it.
They were facing a massive door, twice as tall as Spirit. The heavy wood was old and stained by salt water and woodworms. The Maractite inlays, however, were still brightly polished. They emitted a soft, bluish glow, which explained where the light in the cave had come from. Spirit was mesmerized. These doors alone would be worth the trouble she had gone through.
"Shall we?" asked Eryk, stepping forward and placing his paws against one leaf of the doors. Silently, Spirit walked to the other leaf, and together they pushed. With a protesting groan, the doors swung inward. A bright light escaped from the widening crack, blinding Spirit. Then the light cleared and Spirit stared in amazement.
"What...?" She didn't have to finish her question. Eryk could see for himself what had shocked Spirit.
There was no treasure inside. There was a laboratory. And sitting in the center, against a massive tower of metal blocks and wires, was Melody, locked in a steel cage.
Without pausing to think, Spirit rushed towards her Petpet. She hadn't taken a dozen steps when a voice echoed through the air, sharp in the metallic space. It froze Spirit in midstride, chilling her as deeply as the river water had done before.
"Spirit!" it said. "I'm so glad you're here."
To be continued...