Chasing Treasure: Part Five
"What on earth are these?" Sam asked, nose twisting in disgust. "It's a scrap box of broken things." He pulled one of them out, holding it with the tips of two fingers, and held it up for inspection.
It looked like it might, once, have been a battledome weapon - a ray gun, perhaps? The general shape was there, and the familiar trigger system. The weapon had been stripped down to little more than a skeleton, twisted wires forming the empty barrel and a jumble of cobbled together parts making what could, generously, be described as a grip. It lacked any mechanism to make the ray itself - not even a spark of faerie magic. Just the barrel, the handle, and a tiny hammer attached to the trigger.
"That's it?" Bannok asked, face falling. "No map? No treasure, even?"
Sam grimaced. "There's like twelve of these. Different shapes and stuff but I doubt any of them work."
"Have you checked the lid?" Niettah asked, leaning over to peer inside the chest. "May I?"
Sam shoved the chest at her with a flapping motion. She ran her fingers under the hinge of the lock feeling for a catch. There - left back corner, almost impossible to detect, a smooth metal pocket with the faint buzz of faerie magic. She slipped a claw under the edge and smiled when the cover slid easily back.
"Got it," she said. She held the map piece out, the parchment pressed and crease-free. The fire faerie's blessing had done its job; while all the other map pieces they'd found had been faded and falling apart, this one was as crisp and bright as though it were new. For a moment the three of them stared at it in awe.
"We did it," Bannok breathed.
His brother laughed. "Hells yeah we did! Beat the Teeth and everything!"
"We haven't beaten them yet," Bannok cautioned, but he was grinning despite himself. "We've still got to get back to The Arkmite. Get the delfins - we'll stow this and go."
"Yeah, they're right - hang on, they're just... Uh." Sam looked up with wide eyes. "Um."
"You didn't have them when you came up with the chest, if that helps," Niettah chimed in. Sam paled further.
"I think I let go of them to pick it up. But the rope was tied on I swear!"
Bannok growled. "We'll go back for them. Niettah, can you stow the chest in the canoe? With any luck they'll be where this idiot left them. And you," he whirled on the idiot in question. "You'd best hope you can navigate us down there in the dark without them."
Sam's attention snapped back from where he was squinting suspiciously at Niettah. "Aye, Cap'n," he squeaked. He hesitated, unsure whether to say something or not.
"Out with it," Bannok ordered.
Sam's shoulders hunched. He lowered his voice and glanced over at where Niettah was securing the chest into the bow of the canoe. "They were tied on. I'm not making this up, Bannok. They couldn't have just slipped loose by themselves."
He sighed. "Sam, these things happen. I'm annoyed but I'm not mad at you. Let it go."
"But what if it's not 'these things happen'?" Sam insisted. "Because it's awful convenient, isn't it? She's got the map, we've got to go down into the Teeth without the delfins -"
"Not everything's a conspiracy theory," Bannok interrupted, but he was uneasy all the same. Sam had been against trusting Niettah from the start, particularly when she sent them into the Teeth. And the fact that they had the map meant she hadn't been lying, but...
If Sam was right, then it would be all too easy for her to lose them here.
"Ready?" he called, raising his voice to her. She waved, stepping lightly over the rock, and Bannok tried not to look shifty as he watched her. Honest ally or thieving betrayer? She didn't look like someone who'd turn on them, but she was good at acting. She'd been a convincing snooty noblewoman; looks didn't mean everything.
"Ready," she said, once she'd reached them, retying the rope that linked them around her waist.
Bannok nodded. "Stay close," he said. There wasn't much else he could say, really. Short of sending Sam down by himself and staying on the surface to watch her, there was nothing else they could do. And although Sam would agree to go down by himself, Bannok wouldn't let him. It was too risky.
They inched their way back into the water. It was the same inky black as it had been before, but the lack of whistles and chirps from the delfins made the silence seem oppressive and threatening.
Still, swimming blind or not, Sam was good in the water and they reached the rotted entrance to the ship with ease. Bannok tugged the ropes that connected him to the other two and was relieved when the answering tugs came back.
Inside, the delfins were all too easy to hear. Their frantic whistles were piercingly loud, echoing around the cabin. Sam chirrup-clicked back, a soothing lutari rumble that travelled well underwater, and made a beeline straight for them.
All told, they were underwater for maybe two minutes before they broke the surface again. Bannok and Niettah clung to the side of the sunken ship while Sam treaded water, struggling to calm the petpets.
"All ok?" Bannok shouted, raising his voice over their panicked calls.
"No!" Sam yelled back. "They're not listening to me, they're - ow!" The petpets were swimming around him in tight circles, trying simultaneously to bury themselves in his fur and swim away at speed. Sam extracted his hand from where it had got caught in the rope, still making the soft clicking sounds in the back of his throat. "They're terrified!"
"What of?" Niettah asked.
Bannok began working his way along the ship, using the rope to literally pull Sam through the water after him. "Does it matter? We're not sticking around either way."
"It matters!" Sam yelped. The delfins whistles rose to a fever pitch as the ship started creaking alarmingly. "Sloth in a sparkling tutu, it matters!"
The wreck shuddered, jerking forwards and teetering over the edge of its rocky perch. Bannok ignored his brother's odd choice of curse and focussed on the important thing. "Sam, get over here! Now!"
His reply was lost as, with a final, defeated groan, the ship toppled. The wooden beam of the mast hit Bannok across the chest as it fell. Pain shot through his shoulder from where he'd hurt it escaping from Baeyren's guards and forced out an involuntary gasp. Icy water flooded his lungs. He scrabbled desperately for a grip on the seaweed-slick wood, but his limbs were uncoordinated and numb. His head swam. Dizzy, black spots began dancing across his vision. A heavy band wrapped around his chest and crushed.
With a choking heave, Bannok broke the surface. He was distantly aware of Sam shouting something, but his focus was narrowed to the desperate need to breathe. Sam's hands were on his shoulders, his tail wrapped around him for added support - around his chest.
"Sammy," he gasped. "Can't breathe."
Sam's tail loosened a fraction, still gripping tightly but with enough space for Bannok to take blessed gulps of sweet, sweet air.
"- a trap," Sam was babbling. "I knew it was, I told you - can you swim yet? We need to go Bannok now please I knew we couldn't trust her -"
"Sam, what -"
"Move!" Sam screamed, shoving Bannok to the side and almost crushing his bad shoulder. A second later something huge crashed down into the water where they'd been, a giant tentacle curling around them.
"What the hell was that?" Bannok yelped. A guttural roar answered him and he turned to face it with wide eyes. Kraken. Half pulled out of the water on one of the rocky teeth, scarred, angry, unfeasibly huge - it was a kraken.
"We are so dead," Sam moaned. One of the delfin's whistled a fearful agreement.
Bannok gritted his teeth. "Not yet. Where's Niettah?"
"Where do you think?" Sam laughed bitterly. "She's ditched us. Set up the delfin, summoned the kraken, skidaddled with the map."
Bannok cursed. He should have seen it - Sam had been telling him from the start. He should have listened.
They narrowly avoided another flailing tentacle and Bannok put it aside. There'd be time for self-recriminations when they weren't in immediate danger of being drowned.
"Come on," he said, swimming at an awkward sideways crawl with his good arm. The delfins streamed past him, straining at their leashes to reach the relative safety of the rock he was aiming for.
"Why, what's the point?" Sam asked, but he began swimming all the same. "Kraken gets us on the rock, kraken gets us in the sea - what's the difference?"
"Shut up and swim!"
They hauled themselves out onto the rock, the delfins swimming in agitated circles in the water around them. Bannok staggered into an unstable standing position, his left arm hanging limply from his wounded shoulder and his chest still burning from where the wooden beam had struck him. Sam stood at his side, his chin jutted forward in stubborn fatalism. The kraken reared up in front of them, tentacles raised.
"You going to get in your last 'told you so', Sammy?" Bannok asked wearily. Sam huffed out a grim laugh.
"Yeah, why not? Niettah's bad news. Told you so."
The delfins whistled. The kraken roared. Sam fisted his hand in the wet cotton of Bannok's shirt. Bannok shut his eyes.
There was an almighty bang from behind them, like a crack of thunder - or a cannon firing. Bannok's eyes shot open as the kraken roared in fear, flinching back into the water. A second bang, louder than the first, and the kraken sank into the water and fled.
Its final roar echoed and the water churned in the wake of its retreat, but after the fury of the kraken everything seemed oddly quiet.
Bannok turned, stunned, to the source of the noise that had driven the monster off. Niettah stared back, the broken skeleton ray gun in her raised hand. She cocked an eyebrow and gave him a challenging smirk.
"You!" Sam snarled. Bannok caught his arm to stop him diving forwards. "You dirty backstabbing liar -"
"Sam, she saved us!"
Sam shook his hand off, still growling. He caught sight of the raised weapon and hesitated.
"You abandoned us," he accused, but he sounded more hurt and confused than angry now.
Niettah lowered the weapon and swallowed. "I know," she said. "I'm sorry. I had to get to the weapons before it attacked - there wasn't time."
"But you left us behind," Sam protested.
"She saved us," Bannok corrected. He felt ashamed for doubting Niettah earlier - particularly given how bedraggled she looked. Her dress had been shredded to all but rags, falling open over her waist to reveal a jagged cut. She must've got it when the kraken dislodged the ship.
"Oh," Sam said. He looked a bit lost. Bannok could understand; Sam had spent so long trying to convince himself that Niettah was the enemy. He was struggling to get his head around the new situation.
"But - how?" he asked, gesturing at the sorry-looking ray gun. "How did you know?"
Niettah held it up, running her fingers over the small hammer at the back. "I didn't," she confessed. "Not for certain." Bannok strangled a noise of protest at that, and she glanced at him apologetically. "I was fairly sure - I've seen amplifiers like this before, and I figured that scaring krakens away works at krawk island, so." She shrugged, her explanation trailing off.
"Amplifiers?" Bannok asked.
"The ray gun. The hammer hits the gong, the barrel magnifies the sound - I expect it's supposed to produce a shock wave, but this is either a prototype or damaged from the sea."
Sam perked up. "You can make weapons out of musical instruments? Can you, I mean - " He gritted his teeth, fighting through instinctual distrust. "Will you show me?"
Niettah smiled, relieved and happy all at once. "Yeah," she said. "Back on the ship, I'll show you everything I know."
To be continued…