Alise pointed the Crisis officers to a gap in the rocks on the other side of the island that opened into a vast cathedral-like cavern packed with derelict ships. Despite the shifting of the tide, the greenish water stank of death. Only a few rays of sunlight penetrated the murk. Four of the ships were in an identifiable condition. The largest was the Devilish Duchess. Another, with sleek lines and cannon ports, was named the Black Marlin. The other two were the Pinkbelly and the Undaunted.
Ezikial looked ecstatic. Well, ecstatic for him. “Cannon,” he announced, leading the way over the wrecks toward the Marlin. Chopper glanced over the side to see the decayed bones of a dozen ships and ten times that many men. Dark shapes moved in the shadows and sprang to the attack, one charging straight into Reiko’s blade and nearly splitting itself in twain. Ezikial followed up with a hail of pistol shot, but the elder undead still came on, raking with their diseased claws at anyone to slow to give way. Bleeding, now, Chopper distracted a second and Feruzi shot it through the head, yet still it came on. This was beginning to look like something less than an easy fight. Reiko ducked under a claw and completed the twain-splitting of the first one. It dissolved into acid, splashing her and mixing with the blood already liberally streaming from her wounds.
Sandara channeled divine energy, healing some of the wounds and burning the undead, and slowly the battle turned. Chopper’s axe split the head of the second brykolakas while Ezikial and Feruzi shot the third sufficiently full of holes to reduce it to dripping acid. The last remaining monster showed no signs of fear, clawing away until Reiko decapitated it, getting one last dose of foul liquid in the bargain.
“It’s really rude of them to explode AFTER we kill them,” Feruzi complained, wiping ineffectually at the acid spots.
“Thass th’ undead,” Sandara said. “Inconsiderate numpties th’ lot ovem.”
The ships proved to have some valuable plunder intact, and on the Devilish Duchess they located a small hidden panel in a beam just above a moldering hammock, containing some coins, bottles, and a leather journal. A brief thumb through the volume revealed it as a detailed accounting of Scags Rotgram’s grievances against his former captain, Barnabas Harrigan. The latter portion was an elaborate plan to invade Harrigan’s fortress and assassinate him—complete with maps, charts, and heavy annotation of defenses.
“Money,” Chopper announced.
“Far be it from us to deny Rotgram’s final wishes,” Feruzi said.
Ezikial was not to be pulled away from the Black Marlin. “Even if we leave the rest we should take this one, Captain. Extended keel, narrow hull . . . she’ll be fast and maneuverable and tough.”
“You might want to wipe your chin there, Zeke,” Feruzi said dryly.
“I don’t mind, but do we have to take it today?” Chopper asked.
“Sooner is better, Captain.”
“Put some people on it. It’s what we do now. Delegate.”
A great deal of back-breaking work followed, but they managed to float the Marlin on the 2 a.m. tide and take her in tow behind Crisis. Leila spent the time examining Rotgram’s charts and identified the most likely location of Harrigan’s hideout.
“He’s here on Gannet Island, about thirty-six miles west of the Smoker. Rotgram also explains how to get past the sea serpent that guards the island.”
“Shoot it a lot?” Feruzi offered. “Just a wild guess, mind you.”
“Er, no,” Leila said. “Well, perhaps. But it says here that Harrigan has a pet witch who controls the beast. When ships come to the island they bang large gongs and drop a freshly butchered bull over the side as an offering. The serpent has been trained not to attack anyone who performs the ritual. There is also a sea cave under the island that serves as an escape route. Rotgram planned to approach the island underwater . . . though he doesn’t say how . . . and enter the cave at high tide to sneak into the fortress. Finally, he mentions that Harrigan’s quarters are on the third floor. Attacking from above could also be an option, but the entire complement of guards could come to his aid.”
“Only if he has more guards than I have arrows,” Feruzi smirked.
“It seems Rotgram was very serious about his plans,” Reiko said.
“So, it seems we have a decision to make,” Conchobhar said. “Do we attack Harrigan now or return to help defend our island from his attack?”
“More’n Harrigan are against us,” Chopper said. Knowledge and defense be my leanin’."
“Shall I plot a course for home, Captain?” Leila asked.