Even Jonas and Dunstana, despite their initial fearlessness, are starting to face the reality of the task at hand. They start to falter in the face of the nerve-wracking descent into the depths of the treasure pit.
They slow down to cross some of the more precarious bridges and walkways.
After all, going tumbling into the bottom of the pit isn’t the ideal way to find the treasure. By the time Kat and Annie have taken approximately fifteen steps, Jonas and Dunstana are almost at the bottom of the pit.
But even Jonas and Dunstana are starting to hate the sound of rickety old floorboards creaking underfoot.
They find themselves facing one last obstacle before they can reach the very bottom of the pit.
“Well, Captain Kid, I think we have a problem,” Jonas says, staring at the empty space yawning before them.
They’re nearly at the bottom of the pit, but the final walkway to the bottom has collapsed. Given the age of the construction in the pit, they’re lucky to have made it this far on uncollapsed walkways.
“What do we do now, Uncle Jonas?” Dunstana asks, peering over the edge of the platform.
“I’ll tie off some rope, and we’ll have to climb down,” Jonas answers. “Will you be okay to hold onto me?”
“There’s already a rope here, though,” she notes. “I think someone got here before us.”
“Makes sense,” Jonas says. “It’s probably the rest of the pirates. They probably sent a group into the cave while the others guarded the entrance. That means we’ll have to be careful.”
He reaches for his grappling hook gun.
“Are you ready?”
Dunstana nods, resolutely adjusting her hat.
Jonas gives the rope leading to the bottom of the pit an experimental tug to make sure that it won’t come loose when they’re halfway down. It’s happened to Jonas before and he is in no hurry to repeat the experience.
Content that the rope is secure, Jonas slides down — a little too fast, leaving his palms red and raw. Dunstana makes her way down with less speed but more difficulty.
“Stupid rope,” she mutters as she reaches the bottom, but her frustration is soon forgotten as she notices something about their surroundings.
“I hear water!” she exclaims.
“I hear it, too,” Jonas decides after taking a minute to listen. “And I smell fish.”
The heavy, unmistakable and not-entirely-pleasant smell of sea life hangs in the air of the pit. It smells like the Market District of Porthaven.
And the Dock District.
And the Warehouse District.
And most of Porthaven, for that matter.
Dunstana stops to listen harder for a minute. “Can you hear that, Uncle Jonas?” she asks.
“Hear what?” Jonas asks.
“Maybe it’s nothing,” Dunstana decides. “But it sounds like there’s something moving in the water.”
“It’s probably just the tide coming in,” Jonas answers. “Just in case it is, we should move quickly.” He frowns. “This could be a challenge.”
“What’s wrong?” Dunstana asks.
“This isn’t the bottom of the cave,” he says, absently tapping the floorboards with his boot. “There’s water underneath the floor and we don’t know how deep it is. The treasure might be under five hundred feet of water.”
“What do we do?” Dunstana asks anxiously. “I can’t hold my breath for that long!”
Jonas puts a reassuring hand on top of the little pirate’s head. “I don’t think we need to worry about it yet. We haven’t even started looking around.”
“So then let’s start looking!” Dunstana says. She takes an eager, determined step forward, before freezing mid-stride. “Uncle Jonas! There’s a light over there!”
Dunstana readies her sword and cork gun. Though whoever else is down there is holding a torch, they’re too far across the pit for their appearance to be obvious.
Dunstana pulls the trigger of her cork gun, sending a cork sailing in the direction of the shadow.
She misses, though she does manage to elicit a startled yelp from the shadow, causing it to drop its torch, which gutters out on the damp floorboards below.
“Hey!” the shadow calls out indignantly in an unexpectedly human voice. “What are you doing?”
The shadow steps close enough to stop being an indistinct blob in the darkness and have its features become visible.
“I was here first, and I’m only here for what’s rightfully — Professor Darkstone?”
The shadow turns out to be a young woman, a few years old than Kat. Between the red wolf sewn onto her vest and the red bandanna on her head, it’s clear that she is involved with the Red Wolf Pirates.
Between the scowl on her face and the sword hanging from her belt, it’s clear she means business.
Jonas stares blankly at the newcomer. “Myra?”
“What’s a Myra?” Dunstana asks, looking back and forth between her uncle and the piratical stranger.
“She was my teaching assistant a few years ago,” Jonas explains. “But she, uh, she never mentioned she was a pirate captain.”
“Hi,” Dunstana says. “I’m a pirate, too.” She doesn’t get an answer other than continued glowering from the older pirate.
“What are you doing here?” Jonas asks, turning to his former assistant.
“What are you doing here?” she counters. “How did you get past the rest of the Wolves?”
“Hornets,” Dunstana answers.
Myra stares dumbly down at the little pirate.
“Yup,” Dunstana answers. “We followed the mapkin, then we fought some of your guys. Then we found the rest of your guys. They were standing under some hornets. We were gonna drop the hornets on them, but then we didn’t. We just made them angry, so they chased away all your buddies and then we went into the cave and now we’re here.”
She suddenly remembers her cousin’s warning.
“But don’t tell anyone, because Annie says the hornets are a protected species. And we might get catapulted.”
Myra continues staring.
“It’s a long story. It’s not important,” Jonas says diplomatically. “Since we’re all here now, we can look for the orichalcum together.”
“No,” Myra says, grabbing the hilt of her sword. “You can’t have it.”
“Why not?” Dunstana asks.
“It belongs to my family. I’m taking back what’s rightfully mine.”
“Your family?” Jonas tilts his head quizzically. “What are you — wait, what?”
“My grandfather’s grandmother was William Newgate’s sister,” Myra explains. “He sent his diary to her after he was arrested.” She reaches into her pocket and produces a small, battered book. “This diary.”
“So, it is his diary,” Jonas muses. “Myra, that belongs in a museum. Like the orichalcum.”
“It belongs to my family,” Myra protests. “Like the orichalcum. I have to find it. For my grandfather.”
Jonas stares quizzically at his former student. “Your grandfather?”
Myra nods. “The diary has been passed down through my family, but my grandfather’s father just buried it in his attic and forgot about it,” she explains. “Once my grandfather found it, he devoted his entire life to tracking down William Newgate’s treasures before anyone else could steal it away from our family. But he’s too old now to keep looking, so he gave me the diary and his ship. He’s trusting me to find the treasure. I can’t let him down.”
“Hmmm,” Jonas says thoughtfully rubbing his chin. “Listen,” he decides. “I’ll help you find the orichalcum and get it out of this pit. When we get back to surface, we can argue about what to do with it then.”
“Fine,” Myra declares after a long, thoughtful moment of silence. She smiles weakly. “Thanks, Professor Darkstone.”
Despite her uncle’s promise, Dunstana does not wait around to listen to Myra’s heartfelt plea. Facing the prospect of finding a long-lost treasure, she is far too excited to just stand around doing nothing.
As Myra and Jonas come to an accord over the fate of the treasure, Dunstana resolves to find it and claim it for herself.
Utterly unnoticed by either of them, she goes slinking off into the darkness of the treasure pit in search of the hoard of orichalcum.
A little while later, a loud, scraping sound, punctuated by the odd exclamation of frustration fills the pit. Dunstana has found the treasure but has encountered an unexpected hitch in her plan.
The chest is nearly as big as she is and filled with large hunks of metal. She needs to push with all her strength just to move it a few inches at a time.
The clamour this creates makes it impossible not to notice her. As one, Myra and Jonas slowly turn towards the little pirate. As one, they stare wordlessly at her as she continues her slow journey across the treasure pit.
“Hey!” Myra exclaims, remembering her words. “Stop that!” She charges towards Dunstana.
“Myra!” Jonas exclaims, taking off after her. “Don’t do anything stupid! She’s ten years old!”
“She’s stealing my family’s property!” Myra protests over her shoulder.
“But I found it first!” Dunstana counters, barely visible over the top of the chest.
Before any of the people assembled in the pit can do much of anything about the situation unfolding around them, the floor explodes.
“Gah!” Jonas exclaims as a huge claw punches through the floorboards far too close for comfort to where he’s standing.
“Wah!” Myra exclaims as she’s showered with the bits of floor and saltwater spray sent up by the claw.
“Whoa!” Dunstana exclaims at the spectacle. She can’t decide if this is the most terrifying thing she’s ever seen, or the most awesome.
The rest of whatever is attached to the claw, a huge and terrifying something, crawls straight out of Jonas’ nightmares and through the hole in the floorboards, unfolding into its full form.
The closest word for it is probably crab, but it’s about fifteen times bigger than any crab he’s ever seen.
“Any ideas, Professor Darkstone?” Myra asks, rooted to the spot in terror.
“Up the rope,” Jonas decides.
“What about the orichalcum?” Myra asks desperately. “We can’t just leave it.”
“It won’t do us any good if that thing eats us,” Jonas says.
“Yeah,” Myra says grimly. “Let’s get out of here.”
As Jonas runs for the rope, he is distantly aware of a small flash of approval at the realisation that Dunstana has wisely decided to abandon the treasure chest. When he catches up to the little pirate, he scoops her up and throws her over his shoulder like a piratical sack of potatoes.
Jonas’ legs are almost as long as Dunstana is tall. Even with the added weight of his niece, he can go faster than Dunstana can by herself.
He wasn’t expecting quite this much added weight, though. “What have you been eating?” he asks Dunstana. “Were you always this heavy?”
Dunstana’s only answer is to speak up breathlessly from over her uncle’s shoulder:
“Faster! Must go faster!”