Dunstana appears at Kat’s side. She still seems a little shaken from the scare the Rat King has given her but she isn’t harmed in any significant way.
“Did we win now?” she asks.
Kat nods and lowers her bow. “I think so. Should we go take a look at that door?”
Dunstana eagerly runs to the newly-unlocked door, hands Kat her dagger and throws aside the old lock. The door opens into a room that looks like a study or an office. There is a large desk with an ornate chair in the centre of the room.
Two of the walls are lined with bookshelves to the ceiling. The wall the desk faces houses a stone fireplace, blackened by the ashes of long-extinguished fires.
Above the mantel is an old painting. It’s battered, worn and faded, but it isn’t all that hard to tell that the painting is of a dapper man in pirate clothes not unlike Dunstana’s. He has a moustache that curls at the ends and a smallish Dragon perched on his shoulder. His stained, faded face smiles down at Kat and Dunstana.
Kat has no idea who he is. She looks down at her sister.
“Friend of yours?” she asks.
Dunstana’s brain is crammed full of the names, dates and deeds of every even remotely notable pirate in Realmgard’s history, thanks to her long years of studying the Big Book of Pirates. If the guy in the painting is anyone important, she probably knows him —
“He looks kinda familiar, I guess. But I’m not sure who that is,” Dunstana says as she shrugs in reply.
— or not.
Ignoring the painting, Kat sets about searching the study. The first thing she notices is the dust – and there’s a lot of dust. The bookcases are mostly empty and what books are left all but disintegrate at Kat’s touch.
When it becomes clear that there isn’t anything to be found on the bookshelves, she turns her attention to the desk, where she finds even more dust and one more book.
Curiously, Kat brushes the dust off the cracked leather cover of the book. The book identifies itself as:
The Journals, Memoirs, Records, and Assorted Marginalia of Captain Jonathan Fryte, Esq., Having been Set Down in Writing by the Man Himself for Perpetuity, Volume 1.
That’s certainly an interesting find.
From what Kat can remember, Captain Fryte had lived about a hundred years ago and was one of the most successful and famous pirates of his day.
And ever, for that matter.
They say he gathered up one of the largest and most legendary hoards of gold in history and hid it away somewhere in secret before he was caught and hanged for piracy.
Dunstana probably knows the whole story better than she does, but he’s still famous enough that Kat, who was never cared about pirates, knows who he is and about his treasure.
Kat looks up at the painting by the fireplace again.
If the book is Captain Fryte’s journal, then the painting is probably a picture of the Captain himself. Logically, this means that this cave is probably Captain Fryte’s hideout, which in turn probably means that at least some of his treasure was hidden here and probably still is.
Kat smiles. That is good news. Hopefully, today will end better than it started.
Dunstana can see her smiling. “What? What is it?”
Kat turns to her sister. “I think I’ve figured out where we are,” she says.
Dunstana turns in a slow circle as she looks around. “It’s a cave, Kat,” she notes. “Can’t you tell?”
“That’s not what I meant,” Kat answers. “I think I know who this used to belong to.”
“Who?” Dunstana asks eagerly.
“I think this all belonged to Captain Fryte,” Kat says.
Dunstana’s eyes widen in excitement. “Really? Does that mean his treasure’s here? He had a lot of treasure, Kat!”
Kat stares down at her sister. “If you’re that excited about Captain Fryte, how come you couldn’t tell that was him in the painting?”
“He doesn’t look like that in my Big Book of Pirates,” Dunstana mutters defensively. “His moustache is different. And his hat, too.”
After a moment of thought, Kat picks up the Captain’s journal. If it doesn’t turn out to be helpful, the Admiral might probably find it interesting, along with more than a few other members of the family.
Kat grabs Dunstana before she can get too far away in her excitement and tucks the journal into her backpack.
The only path remaining is the stairway descending into the darkness. The stairs are wide and shallow, slowly taking them down deeper into the cave. The passage is deep enough that, even with the lantern, they can’t see the bottom.
Dunstana hops down the first stair. The tiles give way beneath her feet.
That’s a sound Kat’s far too familiar with — the telltale sign that a trap has just been triggered. She is not looking forward to what comes next.
Beneath their feet, the stairs recede into the floor, becoming something between a slide and a sheer drop. The two sisters try to scramble back towards solid ground, but the slope is too steep, its surface too slick.
And gravity is a harsh mistress.
“Oh dear,” Kat repeats as she starts sliding.
She loses her footing. She can see Dunstana sliding down in front of her. Unlike her, though, Dunstana actually seems to be having fun, giggling happily on the way down.
It isn’t long before they stop, skidding to a halt on flat, solid ground.
“Awesome!” Dunstana exclaims, still giggling. “Let’s go again!”
As Kat picks herself up, she appreciates that things could have ended up a lot worse.
Honestly, as traps go, this one had been pretty mild.
A good trap would have made spikes shoot up out of the floor, or the walls close in around them, or boiling, molten something pour down from the ceiling.
This one has just left them inconvenienced.
Miraculously, Dunstana’s lantern is still burning. Kat scoops it up and surveys their immediate surroundings. On closer inspection, the trap is better than she’d assumed. It’s a good thing they came to a stop when they did.
The platform they find themselves on isn’t very big and surrounded by a pit on three sides. Down in the pit, Kat can see a thicket of metal spikes glistening in the lantern’s light. She can’t see an obvious way forward.
Dunstana has regained her feet and overcome her giggles.
“Where do we go now?” she asks, moving to Kat’s side.
Kat aims the lantern towards the far side of the pit. She can see a second platform, parallel to their own. On the platform, she sees a door and something that looks like a switch or lever beside it.
The way forward has presented itself.
That’s good news.
The bad news is that the gap between the two platforms is too wide to jump across and the prospect of turning into a pincushion is enough to stop Kat from risking it.
She turns to Dunstana. “Any ideas?”
Dunstana sits down and pensively scrutinises the far platform. After several minutes of this, her face lights up with revelation. She excitedly leaps to her feet.
“You can just throw me across!” she says suddenly and with shocking eagerness.
Kat blinks in bemusement at her sister.
“Throw me across,” she repeats. “You’ve thrown me at least this far before. Throw me to the other side, then I’ll pull that lever and that’ll probably make a path for you to walk along.”
“You were a lot smaller back then.” Kat isn’t at all sold on this plan. “You’ve gotten big. Do you really want me to throw across a pit of spikes?”
“And you don’t see how this could backfire?” Kat asks.
Dunstana shakes her head.
“Not even a little?”
“Nope. You throw me across, I pull the lever. Easy.”
“If I miss and you go into the pit, Mom and the Admiral will kill me,” Kat points out.
They probably won’t just kill her. If Kat lets anything happen to Dunstana, the Admiral will roll her up in a carpet, fill the carpet with scorpions, several breeds of horrible, poisonous snakes, and probably also a tiger, stuff the carpet into an iron box, then toss the box in the sea.
Then he’ll fish her out of the depths so he could do it again.
“You won’t miss, though,” Dunstana insists. “You can throw me at least twice this far. Besides, what else can we do?”
Kat sighs wearily and buries her face into her palm.
Against her better judgement, she relents.
She has one condition.
“Do not tell Mom about this,” she commands. “And especially don’t tell the Admiral.” Even in the best possible scenario, the Admiral will be murderously furious if he ever finds out about this.
“I won’t,” Dunstana promises.
Kat sighs again and consigns herself to Dunstana’s lunatic plan.
She’s already starting to think of new identities to assume to escape her father’s vengeance.
Meanwhile, back at Darkstone Manor, Admiral Dorian sets down his Porthaven Times with a worried grumble.
The grim shadow passes over his face as a sense of foreboding — and a sudden urge to acquire a tiger and an iron box — fills his heart.
He glances towards the window and wonders just what it is Kat and Dunstana have gotten themselves into.
“What’s wrong, dear?” Estelle asks as she cleans up the remains of breakfast.
“Honestly,” Dorian says with a sigh. “I don’t know. But I’m getting the feeling that Kat’s going to get a talking-to when she gets back.”
“Kat wouldn’t do anything to put Dunstana in danger,” Estelle insists. “It’s probably just gas, dear.”
“Maybe,” Dorian concedes, reaching for his newspaper again. “But if it turns out Kat’s gotten up to something, there’s going to be trouble.”