Captain Byam swore like an entire armada of sailors on shore leave.
We had found him easily enough in Grey Flood and the good captain had taken us to a dock-front warehouse where our transport awaited.
The captain and his small crew were exactly that; small. They were all gnomes. This made perfect sense when you got to know the undersea ship The Sea Dart. The Sea Dart was long and thin, like a dart. It looked lot like an airship with the exception that, apart from of a small deck at the back, it was entirely enclosed. The “dart” part of the ship was attached to a wide torus-ring. Unlike an air-ship’s torus-ring, which was usually rimmed with flame or churning winds, this one was full of swirling water like a vertical whirlpool.
Inside The Sea Dart was just as cramped its exterior suggested. Captain Byam gave us the tour. It didn’t take long. There was the bridge, which was out of bounds to us unless the captain said so, and the crew quarters, also out of bounds, there was a small cargo bay, two small passenger cabins, a small air-lock, a small galley and small observation area.
Attached to the air lock was weapons locker containing eight crossbows specially adapted for use both above and below the waves. Four were sized for gnomes but the remaining two were sized for human, or shifter, hands. There were also a dozen potions of water-breathing. The location of the weapons locker seemed a bit odd to me. Sure it was fine if you were going out to defend your ship but if pirates burst into take your vessel wouldn’t be cut off from your weapons? But then again what do I know about life at sea.
As I have already mentioned there were two passenger cabins each containing a triple bunk. The guys; Toryil, Arron and Vorj, took one and Altera and I took the other. This should have meant that I had a bit more room but Altera had insisted that she bring her damn wolf Khan along.
As soon as we were onboard the captain gave the signal for The Sea Dart to set sail. According to the captain we would make the crossing in three and a half days by cutting through the Shargons Teeth. I had only a vague idea what that was but, not wanting to appear a rude, kept my mouth shut. Three and a half days would be quick but not as quick as an air-ship. However our method had the advantage of stealth. I could appreciate that.
Our journey via The Teeth meant we would pass through a region where Sahuagin raiders prayed on passing ships but as we would be going under the water rather than upon it our captain was confident that we would be safe.
Of all the parts of the vessel that we were allowed in the observation deck was the most interesting. It had a great, glass bubble in the hull of the ship that allowed us to look out into the waters around us. There was some magic at work, however, as by turning a little wheel you could look outwards from a different part of the ship; Forward, aft, port, starboard, top or bottom.
For the first hour or so of the voyage the view from the observation room held our attention but pretty soon its charms wore thin. Over the next few days we had to make our own entertainment.
Vorj started off trying to make himself useful to the crew, offering his wizard’s talents. The gnomes politely but firmly turned him down so Vorj retired to his cabin and spent the time scribing scrolls into his spell book.
A lot of Altera’s time was spent keeping Khan calm. When she wasn’t doing that she was obsessively sharpening her weapons.
Arron spent a lot of time in prayer and contemplation.
Toryil, the spooky sod, just sat there in his mask. As silent and patient as the promise of the grave.
As for myself I managed to get quick a popular craps school running in the hold with the off-duty crew. I could have used the opportunity to win all of their wages but I figured our lives, and more importantly my life, might depend on the little guys so I went easy on them.
We were well into the second day of travel Captain Byam called us to the Observation Room, it was a bit of a squeeze, to share a breath-taking view. Instead of the usual, indistinct murk of the sea that we had seen for the last couple of days the waters were alive with schools glowing fish. There were thousands of them in every imaginable colour. There were also columns of rock, illuminated by great big patched of glowing seaweed, rising up from the ocean floor and heading towards the surface. Some were barely ten across but others were huge, hundreds of feet in diameter. These were the before mentioned Teeth of Charon.
The entire vista was captivating. Whoever was piloting The Sea Dart must have thought so too as suddenly we were hurled to the ground as the under-sea ship clipped one of the stone columns.
With a broad-side of curses Captain Byam called for the ship to stop and then used the observation wheel to inspect the outside of his vessel for damage. He quickly identified that one of the struts that connected the torus-ring to the hull of The Sea Dart was damaged. We would have to surface quickly to repair the damage or risk losing the water elemental that the ring contained.
The order was given to ascend but before The Sea Dart could reach the surface we ran into more trouble. There was another, less violent impact, this time above us, and our ascent stopped.
Captain Byam, demonstrating a fair grip of the obvious, declared that we were caught on something and ordered four of his crew to make for the air-lock so they could go outside and free the ship. He asked us if we could help out. He didn’t have to ask me twice, in a life and death situation there are few people I would trust with my life and four gnomes were not among them. I guess my colleagues felt the same way as all five of us headed to the air-lock with the gnomes.
Vorj quickly cast a spell that would give the nine of us the ability to breath under water. After that the gnomes piled into the air-lock and exited the vessel.
Once the air-lock was free it was our turn. I went first with Arron and Toryil. It was only big enough three of us to squeeze in at a time. And I mean “squeeze”; if we were any more packed together we could tell what each other had had for breakfast.
Once inside it was clear that the weapons-locker was open and the gnomes had taken a crossbow each. I figured that they knew what they were up to so I grabbed one of the bigger ones as well as a box of bolts.
Then the air-lock started to fill was water. Let me tell you it was uncomfortable enough with the three of us crammed into that small chamber to start with but as it rapidly filled with cold sea water the levels of discomfort rose dramatically. The claustrophobia became almost unbearable as the water crept up and up and I had to fight to keep from panicking as it rose above my head. It took an effort of will to open my mouth and let the water in but Vorj’s spell did its job and, by the time the air-lock opened to let the three of us spill out I was breathing water like I had been born mermaid.
There were a series of glowing orbs on the hull of The Sea Dart, perhaps to situations just like this. Once outside it was clear what the vessel was tangled up in, a great series of overlapping nets that were strung, like a horizontal spider’s web, between some of the stone columns that make up Shargons Teeth.
The gnomes had already spread out and were sawing away at key ropes. One turned towards us, I guess to issue instructions. Before he got the chance however his eyes started practically bulging out of his head with fear and he began pointing behind us. Spinning round I was rewarded with the sight of the biggest damn shark I’d ever seen baring down on us. The shark must have been at least thirty feet long and, as I rapidly began to load the weapon I had brought along I could not help but think that I was going to need a bigger crossbow.
I snapped off a shot. The bolt flew true and struck home. Quickly I swum back under the net then between the hull of The Sea Dart and the net so I could pop up in a different location. While I was shifting position Toryil had met the shark head on. Both elf and fish were laying into each other without mercy, Toryil with his double-headed scimitar and the shark with its dagger-like teeth. The water around them was becoming cloudy with blood. Arron was in the thick of it too but rather then attacking he was using his divine magic to repair the dreadful injuries that Toryil was receiving. Without Arron’s help the shark would have ripped Toryil to shreds in moments.
I kept up a steady stream of shots from the sidelines; shoot, hide, move and shoot again. The monster fish had suitably monstrous reserves of stamina but between the two of us Toryil and I wore it down. The final nail in the shark’s coffin was when Altera and Vorj arrived. Altera had brought the second crossbow with her and that, as they say, was that.
With the shark dispatched, and Arron tending to Toryil’s injuries, the gnomes were able to cut away the netting. We got back onboard The Sea Dart and Captain Byam gave the order, once again, to surface.
While we waited for The Sea Dart to break the surface Toryil had some grim news, when he had first swam up to the shark he thought he had caught a glimpse of someone swimming along beside it.
With The Sea Dart once more on the surface Captain Byam headed out to the aft deck to inspect the extent of the damage. We followed him out, alert for any signs of trouble. The whole situation stank of an ambush.
It was odd being back on top of the ocean. Up till now, deep beneath the surface, our voyage had been a smooth one. Now it was back on the surface The Sea Dart was as subject to the waves as any other ship and the small aft deck rolled and pitched beneath our feet.
The Sea Dart was surrounded on all sides by massive columns of rock, Shargons Teeth. We were all on the alert, ready for however set those nets to try and finish off the job. They did not keep us waiting long as out of the waves erupted five creatures. Humanoid in form with all the worst features of men and sharks. They had bright green, scaled skin, massive, fang-filled mouths and eyes as black and dead as pebbles. Strapped to their bodies were a kind of piece-meal armour made out of shell and each one was carrying a deadly looking trident. There was no mistaking what they were, Sahuagin, and four of them were climbing aboard our ship.
Altera roared into action and closed on one of the raider, delivering two viscous blows with her short sword. Early in my glamourous career crime I learnt a valuable lesson, if you are going to fight close-up fight dirty. As the Sahuagin was trying to fend off Altera I took advantage of its inattention to darted in from the side and drive my own short sword deep between it’s ribs. I must have hit something vital as the sea-devil collapsed dead.
A moment later I felt a sudden pain in my head. I felt my muscles begin to seize up but somehow, through sheer desperation, was able to throw the effect off. By the slightly dazed look on her face I could tell Altera had felt it too. It must have been the fifth Sahuagin, the one who had not left the water, using magic against us. There was nothing I could do about it for the moment. I took stock of the situation on the deck. The other three sea-devils had managed to get aboard and were battling with Vorj, Arron and Toryil. The Masked Maniac was more than holding his own but both Vorj and Arron were suffering in these close quarters. Of Captain Byam there was no sign but I will give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that he had gone below decks to rally his crew to battle.
Alter and I spilt up. She headed over to help Arron. I closed on Vorj’s opponent from behind, whipped my arm about his neck and slit open his throat. It was an impressive cut but before I could finish the sea-devil off I was forced to dive for cover as a bolt of hellish blue flame flew up from the waves in my direction. It was that damn spell caster again. In a flash my bow was in my hand and I loosed an arrow. It shot was a mediocre one and only gauged a lump out of the Sahuagin’s arm but it must have rattled him as, when he tried to paralyse me again I was able to resist with ease. By now my companions had finished off all the sea-devil on deck and it was time for Vorj and Arron to shown what they could really do and unleash spell after spell against the Sahuagin spell caster. Even Toryil joined the fun, summoning a ghostly scimitar that hovered over it’s target and hacked away. Within moments the sea-devil was shark food.
It took the gnomes a few hours to fix the damage to the torus-ring. The five of us stayed top side in case more trouble came our way. Once the captain was confident that the repairs would hold everyone headed below decks. The Sea Dart submerged and we were on our way again.
The whole incident meant that our journey to Storm Reach took a day and a half longer then Captain Byam had predicted. As the repairs hadn’t taken anywhere near that long figure that the captain reduced speed so not to put any more stress on the torso-ring then necessary.
Five days after leaving Sharn our destination came into view. Even from afar Storm Reach looked a cosmopolitan place. At first it was difficult to wrap your head about the view as the building were constructed to two distinct scales. Some of the building, presumably the oldest ones, were built on a massive scale. These must have been the homes, temples and so forth of the giants that had once ruled the land. But built beside, between and sometimes inside, these ancient structures were more normal sized buildings constructed by the humans, dwarves and other who had come to this far-flung land looking for fortune and glory. Of course a lot of the people who lived in Storm Reach had not so much come to this land but fled from someplace else. I had heard the rumors, what queen of thieves would I be if I hadn’t? Storm Reach was the place to go when you had worn out your welcome everywhere else and dangerous people were baying for your blood.
Captain Byam clearly knew the stories too and he was not prepared to hang around for long. Before he dropped us off at the edge of the docks he had a parting gift from our employer and some instructions. He gave us fake travel papers that identified us a an expedition from Morgrave University who had arrived on board a ship called the Strong Wind only that morning. He also had a letter of credit that we could hand in at the House Canith compound to pay for transportation further inland.
The Sea Dart would not be waiting at the docks. Instead the captain would take her further down the coast. They would wait thirty days for us to return but if we were not back by then we were on our own.
With those words of encouragement we headed into the city. It was clear that Storm Reach was a thriving place. It’s people a melting pot of every race and every culture. The streets were alive with pedestrians as well as merchants hawking every type of goods, service and vice that you could think of and a few that were entirely new. Instinctively one hand went to protect my coin purse while at the same time I felt a familiar itching on the other as I glanced at the fat purses of passing strangers and overloaded tables of street vendors.
We had only just begun to move away from the dock front when we were confronted by a heavily cloaked figure. In a flash she threw back her cloak to reveal strikingly beautiful elven features. With what appeared to be genuine pleasure she declare “I am Muroni and our Fates have brought us together”. Right then and there I knew she was going to be trouble.