Ryel and Elena charged out of the little room. Elena slammed the door behind them. The scene before them looked like something from an old salt’s tall tale.
Amidst a vigorous wind storm, Ferd and Arkmar and three mates, two male and one big strapping Amazon, were sword-fighting against several scaly humanoids, who were fighting a rearguard action toward the side of the ship. Ryel thought there were half a dozen at the moment she and Elena emerged from the room, but they were jumping off and disappearing at a rate of one scaly person per several seconds. She had the impression that the things had no mouths, but possibly more than two arms: what was an arm and what was a tentacle was confusing in the rain and surf. They wielded some sort of saber.
One of them, just leaping off the rail as Ryel saw it, carried a package that looked exactly like Ryel’s bag, the one which had been in the false-bottom drawer.
Arkmar was seeing the same thing: he leaped at the creature with the bag, and went over with him.
Ryel pulled out one of her paring knives—why was she without her bow at a time like this?—and threw it. But another of the creatures, backing up, got in the way and the knife embedded itself in the wrong head. The creature slipped sideways and the Amazon mate brought her axe down, neatly if squishily slicing its head off. There were four left, now three as one more jumped, now two as Ferd waded in and stabbed another through the neck. The other two threw themselves on him and he fell backwards bellowing, but now there was a flash of light and one of the duo flipped backwards, a hole burned in its chest. The other one was still trying to throttle Ferd when the other three mates pulled it off and hacked it to pieces. Green blood, and a little of the usual red kind, was everywhere but was washing away quickly in the storm.
And then, just like that, the clouds broke in the west and the full moon shone through. Ferd was getting up and the other three checking him. Ali came charging out of another hatch, the one to the library, armed not with a tome but a lovely jeweled saber.
Ryel was halfway to the rail. By the time she got there, Elena was with her. “Your spell?” said Ryel.
“This.” Elena held up the golden bulb. Ryel could swear it was steaming.
“My bag,” said Ryel, “and my friend. I have to save him.” With Ali’s and Ferd’s shouts of warning in her ears, the elf did a lovely dive off the bucking rail and into the ice cold sea.
Down, down she swam. She pulled out a knife from her belt for her right hand, then another for her left: she was swimming straight down now with two sharp claws. She heard a noise in the water next to her and then a gleam: and there was Elena, swimming behind her and to the right, holding that golden bulb in front of her.
The water here was still terribly clear, and ten, twenty, thirty feet down, it seemed to be hardly moving. Ryel could not breathe underwater, but she could hold her breath an awfully long time. Gleaming night fish swam up to her, caught the look in her eyes, and fell in swimming in her wake, and soon she and Elena led a small flotilla. Several rays and half a dozen small to medium size sharks joined in. Evidently the sea things were not popular with their neighbors. Perhaps it was the loud parties.
Far ahead of them, perhaps half a dozen of the sea things continued to drag the dwarf downward, and presumably, somewhere down there, her bag as well. Arkmar was her friend. He might die, and all because he was protecting her stuff. And besides, the bag contained the one Piece Ryel had managed to get so far, and probably the map as well.
The escaping sea things were making for another of those undersea buildings: this one looked a lot like a marble temple, but not one that humans would ever have built without a lot of inspiration. It had pillars all around, triangular ones, and the creatures disappeared in between these, carrying their dwarfish burden. The moonlight seemed to penetrate all the way to the bottom, and even intensify, if that was possible: the temple and all around it were lit by a silver glow.
It seemed hours but it must have been just a few tens of seconds before the two women got to the temple. Ryel recoiled at the sense she had of shadow shapes in and about the temple, but Elena was not deterred, nor was one Ryel-sized shark. It turned its pointy head to gaze sideways at her.
“Lead me,” Ryel managed to bubble out. The shark actually nodded, then shot into the darkness of the building. Ryel shot after it.
The inner chamber was dark, but Ryel could see Elena swimming very fast toward a hole in the middle of the stony floor, her yellow bulb held out in front of her. Before Ryel and her shark buddy were even close, she felt herself pulled along and down into the hole. Then they were shooting down a tube many fathoms long, and then they were out into a wide region of green luminance in three dimensions if not more.
Four of the sea men attacked as soon as she came out into the chamber, but her shark friend took them on and she swam right past. She was rising now: the tube had let her out fathoms down into the chamber, and above her she could see a band of air. She rose into it and opened her mouth at the surface, only to discover that it was not oxygen. Ryel’s breath, wonderfully durable so far, took the opportunity to panic.
Elena was up and out of the water. There was a zone of air—well, of carbon dioxide or helium or something—around the edges of the water surface, and it was filled with stolen goods. In a moment Ryel took in chests hacked open, barrels with their tops knocked off, bags of gold and silver coins, piles of gems, and also a number of well-preserved and curiously maimed bodies.
The raiding party was on shore, tentacles flapping as if they were having a frantic conversation. Now Elena was out among them, throwing her fire: the golden bulb seemed to be the source. One blast, one down. Another blast, another down. And another: the sea men were starting to panic themselves.
But of course the golden bulb chose this moment to weaken back to yellow. The next bolt was less potent, and the sea men began to take heart, or whatever they had. Ryel forced herself to take heart too.
She dove and swam and burst from the water again close to the curb of the shore. Four of the things were daring Elena’s weakening power. Ryel pulled herself just out of the water, rolled and threw a knife, catching one in the side. She threw another and caught it in the forehead as it turned to look her way. She was up, her long knife out, and another took that across the side of its neck before it could react. The other two turned on her, but their heads suddenly slammed together and they went down. There was, of all things, the dwarf, with her bag in his hand and a big smile.
Darts of some sort were flying now from up the shore. Ryel could see the shark circling, with some of his friends: there would be no attack from there. But a dozen more of the sea things had gathered on shore and were firing volleys as they charged. Elena backed up to join Ryel and Arkmar, and then she turned and gave Ryel a look.
“This might work,” she said, her voice odd in the changed atmosphere. She grabbed Ryel’s wet head and pulled it to her in a sudden, long kiss. Holding it behind her, she let the bulb spray the energy out again: it had gained just enough oomph that the blast knocked the leaders of the new charge backwards.
Elena laughed at Ryel, not looking at the result of her blast. Then she turned and jumped into the water, bulb in front again. Arkmar gave Ryel his own grin and mouthed, “I have a spell for this. You?” He jumped in too.
No, thought Ryel as she dove after them, I’m a freakin’ elf, I just assume that covers everything. And the fact that it didn’t was not quite so important as the fact that Arkmar, hanging onto the shark’s dorsal fin as they shipped out and up the tube, had her bag in his hand.