“This is it,” Myra tells the rest of the Red Wolves as she consults her notebook. “The treasure should be down there.”
She’s been following the directions in the old notebook the whole time, and they haven’t let her down yet — so she has no reason to believe they’re going to start now.
She is also pleased to note that her crew have been uncommonly competent so far. She closes the notebook and stuffs it back into the pocket of her vest.
She stops at the mouth of the cave where the book says the orichalcum is waiting for her.
She feels like a kid on the night before her birthday. She’s so excited that she can almost feel herself shaking.
She extends her hand. “Torch,” she demands.
One of the Wolves hurries to place a torch in her waiting hand, being sure to keep his eyebrows at a safe distance as he lights it.
“Stay here and guard the cave,” Myra instructs as she moves towards the entrance of the cave. “I’ll be back with the treasure.”
“It could be dangerous down there, Captain. Will you be alright alone?” one of the Wolves asks.
“I’ll manage,” she answers. “And if I can’t, I’ll come back for the rest of you.”
“Good luck, Captain,” the other pirate replies. “Nobody’s going to get past us, and that’s a promise.”
“If anybody does,” Myra warns, “you’re swimming back to Porthaven.”
Keeping a cautious hand on the hilt of her sword, Myra steps into the cave, the last thing between her and William Newgate’s orichalcum.
“Does anyone else hear that buzzing sound?” one the pirates asks the others after Myra has disappeared into the cave.
“Hey, Annie, I’ve got a question,” Kat says to break the silence of their long trek through the trackless, overgrown forests of Oake Island.
“Yeah?” Annie answers, perking up at the chance to elucidate her cousin.
“You’re always using big, weird words like credenza and perspicacity and monophonic, so why do you call Dunstana ‘Stana?” Kat asks. “It can’t be because her name is too hard.”
“Well, you’re Kat. I’m Annie. Dad is Dad. Mom is Peri,” Annie explains. “So why is ‘Stana Dunstana? It doesn’t make sense for everyone but her to have a nickname. And it bugs me when things don’t make sense. So, she’s ‘Stana, because it would be weird if she weren’t.”
“Oh,” Kat says. “I never thought of it like that. That’s pretty smart.”
After a long time spent walking through the forest beneath a heavy canopy of leaves, Kat speaks up to ask the obvious question. “Do we know where we’re going? What does the map say?”
Jonas pulls out Captain Newgate’s napkin map and briefly consults it. “The map only shows that the treasure is on Oake Island, but not where on the island it is,” he notes.
“I just thought of something!” Dunstana declares suddenly.
The others look at her expectantly.
“The map’s written on a napkin, right? We should call it the mapkin!”
“So,” Kat says, ignoring her sister’s suggestion and turning back to her uncle. “I guess that means we’ll have to pick the pirates’ trail back up.”
“Think you can do it?” Jonas asks hopefully.
“Please,” Kat answers with a confident smile. “It’s me. Of course I’ll find them.”
Annie places a reassuring hand on Dunstana’s shoulder. “I thought it was a good name,” she says.
Twenty minutes later, Kat has eaten her words several times over.
She hasn’t found anything that offers even the slightest trace of the Red Wolf Pirates moving through the island, no footprints, no trampled down foliage, not even a discarded sandwich wrapper.
To be fair, she isn’t exactly working in the best environment for intense concentration. Dunstana is hovering over her shoulder, excitedly asking if she’s found anything approximately every five seconds and pointing to something and asking if that’s it every other five seconds.
“Dunstana!” she says sternly after five seconds too many. “Go stand over there.” She points over her shoulder. After watching the little pirate skulk away, she goes back to the trees.
Having been chastised and now becoming increasingly bored, Dunstana begins kicking rocks down a nearby hill to occupy herself while Annie stands watching. She picks a rock, lifts her foot back, then brings it forward and watches the rock go tumbling down the hill.
Unfortunately, she misses the last kick and instead of sending a rock tumbling down the hill, she loses her footing and sends herself tumbling down the hill.
“Uh oh,” she says as she realises what’s happening.
“Uh oh,” Annie says as she watches Dunstana disappearing over the lip of the hill. She turns towards Kat and her father. “Dad! Kat! ‘Stana fell down the hill!” she calls over to them.
Rising from her search in the foliage, Kat is quick to follow her sister down the hill, though not so quick that she loses her footing. By the time she’s halfway down, she hears a sound uncannily like a ten-year-old pirate crashing into a shrub.
“Kat! Help!” Dunstana calls from her new position upside-down in the grasping branches of a shrub beneath a large, gnarled tree at the bottom of the hill.
Dunstana, Kat reflects as she stares down at her sister, seems to end up upside-down or stuck in things a lot.
“You okay?” she asks, standing over the shrub.
“I think so,” Dunstana answers once the world stops spinning. “I’m just glad this bush doesn’t have any thorns.”
While Kat begins trying to pry her sister from the branches of the shrub, Jonas appears at the base of the hill. “Is anyone hurt?” he asks. Standing at her father’s side, Annie has her first aid kit out and ready.
“No. We’re fine,” Kat answers, continuing her struggle to disentangle her sister. “Mostly.”
The bush isn’t particularly eager to let go of its piratical prize, so Kat’s efforts all elicit a chorus of “Ow, ow, ow” from Dunstana as her sister pulls in one direction and the branches pull back in the other.
As all this is going on, Jonas surveys the immediate area at the base of the hills. Like at the top of the hill, there are a lot of trees, a few shrubs and more shades of green than he would have thought possible.
There is, however, also a rather sizeable path cut through all the greenery. He stoops down to examine the path and smiles at what he sees. Leading away from the hill are several sets of footprints.
Meanwhile, Kat grabs hold of Dunstana’s legs and gives a heroic pull. As she does, several things happen in the span of a few seconds.
First, the shrub seems to decide ‘Fine, you can have her,’ and relinquishes Dunstana, all but flinging her back at Kat.
Second, there’s a loud ripping sound as the branches tear a hole in Dunstana’s coat.
Third, Dunstana sails through the air.
Fourth, she collides with her sister with all the force of a cannonball.
Fifth, the sudden sound of the impact sends a startled flight of birds fleeing from the branches.
Finally, the Sisters Darkstone tumble to the ground.
“Ow,” Kat moans as she lays dazed and winded from the impact, staring up at the sunlight streaming through the gaps in the leaves overhead.
She gasps for breath and discovers that it hurts to breathe. “Ow.”
“Ow,” she moans one last time as she discovers it also hurts to stand up.
After a moment spent regaining her senses, Dunstana hops off of her sister and storms over to the shrub, glowers at it furiously and then gives it a swift kick to avenge her recent misadventure.
“Stupid bush,” she mutters as she does. And then she gives it another kick, because it’s a really stupid bush.
“There’s a hole in your coat, ‘Stana,” Annie informs her, pointing at the gaping hole torn in Dunstana’s coat by the bush’s branches.
“Awww,” Dunstana groans. “This is my favourite coat.”
That’s enough to earn the bush another kick.
“I could put a bandage on it,” Annie offers, holding up her first aid kit.
Once Kat has regained her own breath and wits, she sees Jonas standing over her. He offers a hand and pulls her to her feet. “So, we have something?” she asks, gingerly rubbing her stomach.
It feels like she’s going to have a Dunstana-shaped bruise tomorrow.
Annie points to the path. “Dad found footprints.”
Jonas turns to look at Dunstana. “And I wouldn’t have found them without you. Good work, Captain Kid.”
The little pirate smiles a broad, triumphant smile.
“Then let’s go!” she declares determinedly. She sets off, takes a few steps and pauses as a thought occurs to her. “Which way are we going?”
Fun fact: I have indeed been punched in the face by a tree. And had some kind of tall grass steal one of my shoes…
Come back next week to see what other plant life is going to make Dunstana’s Enemies List.
A reminder about the Fiction-Atlas giveaway I’m involved in:
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