As she enters the cave at the centre of Oake Island, Kat expects to see a few things typical of most of the caves she’s explored in her time as an adventurer: cold, damp air; moss on the walls; mushrooms—possibly glowing in weird colours—on the ground; water dripping steadily off somewhere in the distance, bats hanging from the ceiling; spiders scurrying all over the place; weird, slimy lizards…
As it happens, they find none of those things.
“This isn’t a cave,” she notes as she surveys their surroundings, in sheer and utter disbelief.
“It’s a mine,” Jonas concludes. “William Newgate must have been busy.”
Instead of a mere cave, Kat, Dunstana, Annie and Jonas find themselves standing on the threshold of a delving that would make the mightiest, diggingest Dwarf-Lord tear out his beard in envy.
“But why do all this?” Kat asks.
It seems like overkill, but then again, William Newgate was never a man for half-measures.
The stories say that in order to steal the orichalcum from the vaults of the Dwarven Royal Metallurgist, he shaved his beard, put on a wig and pretended to be a scullery maid in the palace kitchens, sneaking into the treasury in the dead of night and smuggling the orichalcum out piece by piece in his socks … for a year and a half!
He must have wanted to make sure the orichalcum stayed safe,” Jonas answers. “Really safe.”
“It makes sense,” Annie says. “Orichalcum is very valuable, and the stories say he went through a lot to get it. He probably wouldn’t have wanted someone to just wander in and be able to take it.”
The pit must be at least a hundred feet across and is so deep she can’t see the bottom. This level of the pit is brighter than most other caves would be, thanks to several holes in the ceiling of the cave that allow light to stream in from above; but even that light isn’t enough to reach the bottom of the pit.
Spiralling down the walls of the cavern into the darkness of the treasure pit is a series of wooden platforms jutting out of the walls. Rickety-looking ladders, ramps and rope bridges connect them to each other.
Kat is impressed that they haven’t collapsed after a hundred-and-seventy years.
But that could change at any minute, she muses. The derelict path ahead of her looks like it might collapse if she so much as breathes on it. And she’ll have to walk down there.
And it’s a long way down.
“Oh dear,” she says, not getting any closer to the edge of the pit than she has to.
“But we have to get down there!” Dunstana insists. “We have to find the treasure!”
The descent to the bottom of the pit proved thoroughly unpleasant, Myra reflects when she is finally at the bottom of the pit.
In retrospect, Myra is glad she decided to come alone. It wouldn’t have done much good for the rest of the Wolves to see her shaking and hesitating like a little girl on the walkways.
At some points, it was so bad she almost considered turning back, though she managed to drive away that particularly foolish notion, utterly unbecoming of the captain of the Red Wolf Pirates.
Thankfully, she has made it to the bottom unscathed.
“Right,” Myra says to herself as she stands at the bottom of the pit, turning back and forth in a circle of torchlight. “If I were a pile of treasure, where would I be?”
Unfortunately, the journal is unhelpfully vague on where exactly in the pit the treasure is supposed to be, and Myra is beginning to fear that someone has beat her to the treasure. It’s been a hundred-and-seventy years.
That’s plenty of time for someone to have tracked down the stash of orichalcum Thankfully, she assures herself, that’s impossible.
No one else has a map.
No one else even knows the treasure is here. As far as everyone else is concerned, William Newgate’s treasure is just a long-lost legend. It may have been a hundred-and-seventy years, but even in all that time, there has only ever been one map.
That means that no one else is going to find it. And that’s the way it should be. No-one else deserves to find William Newgate’s treasure.
“We don’t even know if we can still get to the bottom,” Jonas says, thoughtfully rubbing his chin as he surveys the network of ramps and bridges spanning the treasure pit. “What do you think, Annie?”
He looks down, expecting to see his daughter standing beside him. What is beside him is a conspicuously empty space.
They find Annie standing completely still at the mouth of the passage leading to the pit, eyes wide and starting to well with tears.
“What’s wrong?” Jonas asks, kneeling in front of her.
“It’s too high,” Annie says quietly. “I’m scared. I don’t want to go down there.”
“Why?” Dunstana asks, conflicted between her desire to get the treasure and her concern for her cousin.
“It’s too high,” Annie repeats.
Jonas continues his attempts to coax Annie. “We might need your help.”
“It’s. Too. High!” she repeats one more time, quite insistent that there’s nothing else she needs to say. “I’m not going!”
Kat looks to her uncle. “You go ahead with Dunstana,” she decides. “I’ll stay up here.” She puts a reassuring hand on her cousin’s shoulder.
“You sure?” Jonas asks.
Kat nods. “Yeah. I want to find the treasure, too, but it’s not worth leaving Annie alone up here,” she answers.
“Right,” Jonas says. “Kat will stay with you and keep you safe, Annie. We’ll be back soon. Hopefully, we’ll have the treasure with us.” He looks to Dunstana. “You ready, Captain Kid?”
“Yup,” Dunstana answers, giving a big thumbs-up.
With that, Jonas and Dunstana stride bravely down the walkways leading to the bottom of the treasure pit, though Dunstana spares a final backward look of concern for her cousin and sister.
Be careful,” Kat calls after them as they go.
“I’m not going down there, Kat,” Annie insists glumly. “I’m staying right here.”
Kat knows that Annie must be serious, because she’s looking her right in the eye.
“That’s fine,” Kat answers, taking a seat on the cavern floor beside Annie. “We don’t have to.”
“I want to go,” Annie admits. She sighs. “But I’m scared, Kat.”
“So am I,” Kat reveals.
Annie blinks up at her. “What?” She wasn’t expecting to hear that. She didn’t think Kat could get scared.
“I’m scared, too,” Kat repeats. She gestures to the vastness of the pit surrounding them. “This pit is huge and dark; the only way we can get to the bottom is these rickety walkways; we don’t know what’s at the bottom. We don’t even know if there is a bottom. And I bet there’s something lurking at the bottom that’s going to try to eat us! Why wouldn’t I be scared?”
“Because you’re so brave,” Annie answers. “‘Stana told me about everything you did when you were looking for Captain Fryte’s treasure.”
Kat laughs. She’s never really thought of herself as brave, so much as ‘chronically-imperilled’.
“So,” she answers, “she told you about the pit of spikes, and the skeleton Dragon that almost ate us, and the ghost who tried to drop me to the bottom of a pit even bigger than this one, which, by the way, was on fire. I spent a lot of my time back there being scared. I spend a lot of time on any adventure being scared.” She shrugs. “It sort of comes with the territory.”
“How do you stop being scared?” Annie asks.
“I don’t think you do,” she decides. after thinking it over for a minute. “I think all you can do is keep going.” She shrugs again. “It’s worked pretty well for me so far, I guess.”
Annie is quiet for a long moment. “We have to go help Dad and ‘Stana,” she declares at length, wiping at her eyes. “We have to go down there.”
“Are you sure?”
“No. But I don’t think we should let Dad and ‘Stana do all the work.” She’s confident enough to crack a small, uncertain smile. “Or get all the treasure.”
Kat nods and rises to her feet. “We’ll go slowly, okay?” she offers. “Hold my hand and we’ll go together.”
“Okay,” Annie says, taking Kat’s hand and latching onto it with both of her own hands.
Annie clutches Kat’s hand and follows her forward. She slows down as they get closer to the edge of the pit and the first old wooden walkway leading down. At the lip of the platform, she’s barely moving at all.
“I’m right here. I won’t let anything happen to you,” Kat promises. “Just close your eyes and follow my voice.”
“Okay,” Annie says, clamping her eyes shut and tightening her hold on Kat’s hand. The warmth of her cousin’s hand on her own makes her feel a little better.
Even with her eyes closed, Annie hesitates when she steps onto the walkway. They go forward slowly, but Kat thinks that might be making things worse.
They’ve barely taken a dozen steps, yet she already feels five years older. Still, going too fast is only going to make Annie even more afraid, and it won’t do Kat much good, either.
“You’re doing great, Annie,” Kat says. “Just keep putting one foot in front of the other.”
After what feels like another hundred years, Kat and Annie have actually made good progress down through the pit.
They’ve made it across about five of the walkways, stopped for a breath on a few of the lower platforms built into the walls, then continued on across ragged, threadbare, wildly swaying rope bridges spanning the width of the pit.
They are in agreement that the rope bridges are the worst part.
“How are you holding up, Annie?” Kat asks breathlessly, as they step off the latest bridge and onto the relatively solid ground of another wooden platform. Her nerves are almost as frayed as the ropes on the bridges. “I think we’re about halfway down.”
Annie dares to open her eyes and look up at Kat. “I’m okay.” After a long moment looking at Kat, she adds, “Are you okay?”
“Just fine,” Kat says, not particularly truthfully, for the benefit of her cousin. She gives her hand a reassuring squeeze as she leads her towards the next walkway.
“Really? Because you’re shaking. A lot,” the little Half-Elf notes.
“I’m just, uh, cold,” Kat answers, saying the first thing that comes into her head. “It’s cold down here, isn’t it? I’m shivering. That’s all. Just shivering.”
“Oh. I guess it is kind of cold,” Annie decides. Kat suspects that Annie doesn’t entirely believe her. It’s hard to trick a kid as smart as Annie. But it’s good—for both their sakes—that Annie has decided to pretend right along with her.
The truth is that Kat is terrified—but what else is new? Terrifying situations are inevitable in the life of an adventurer in Realmgard, and of a Darkstone.
And especially for someone who’s both.
Kat’s heart is in her throat as the walkways under her feet groan and creak with every step. She’s sure she can feel them bending and buckling, biding their time to give way underfoot and send her plummeting to the bottom of the treasure pit.
The fact that she’ll have to make this precarious journey again in reverse to get out of the pit hangs over her like a shadow. She tries not to think about that. She tries not to think about anything, actually.
One foot in front of the other, just like she told Annie: again and again and again.
She can handle that.
At least until she has to make the return in reverse.
Before Annie has a chance to call Kat’s bluff, Kat notices a convenient distraction. Along the walls, there is a series of ropes, pulleys and cranks that looks like it reaches from the top of the pit to the bottom.
“What do think this is, Annie?” she asks.
Annie’s curiosity overcomes her fear as her eyes follow the complicated series of ropes up and down the pit.
“I think it’s an elevator.” She points. “Look.”
Kat looks up. Near the top of the pit, suspended from the network of ropes is a large, square platform.
“William Newgate and his crew probably built it to help them dig the mine,” Annie continues. “And probably to get the orichalcum to the bottom of the pit. If he had a lot of it, it would have been really difficult to carry it all the way down.”
“It’s probably not very safe anymore, though. It’s been a hundred-and-seventy years. Those ropes would probably snap if we tried to do anything. And the winches are all rusted. Look.”
“And we’d have to go all the way back up to get there, even if we could use it,” Kat muses. “It’s easier just to keep going down.” She gives Annie’s hand a reassuring squeeze. “Are you ready?”
“Yeah,” Annie declares, trying to sound confident, and for the most part, succeeding.