Sylvar and Nuvo woke to the sounds of laughter. Qidan and Float were practicing down by the water. They were relaxing on the beach they’d found outside of the town of Gorros.
After spending several days helping Gemma, they’d decided a break was much needed before figuring out what to do about the dragon and the lux-ball Nuvo needed. Sylvar stretched and Nuvo rubbed her eyes; neither wanted to leave the warm sand beneath their bedrolls.
Slowly, Nuvo sat up and watched the water genasi and firbolg fight and splash around. She enjoyed the ebb and flow of the waves, crashing against the shore. This was a nice change of pace from volcanoes and forests and cities.
“This is nice.” Sylvar looked out at the water.
“Yeah, this is—” Nuvo squinted, trying to force the strange shape into focus. “What’s that?”
“What’s what?” She looked where the other elf was pointing, narrowing her eyes and looking in the same direction.
“That thing out there on the water, it’s getting closer. Is that a ship?” She was on her feet now, shaking sand from her clothes.
“Hey! Float, Qidan! Do you see that?” Upon finding what Nuvo was talking about, Sylvar pointed out at the ocean. “Come back up here for a minute.”
Float and Qidan paused at their names, following the direction of the elf’s outstretched hand. They glanced back at the elves and hurried up on to the beach.
“Let’s pack our stuff and see what this is all about.”
Nuvo, already done with her own bedroll, was rolling up Sylvar’s. Qidan stretched his head and stared at the approaching ship. She looked up at him and saw the gears turning.
“What is it, Qi?”
“Surely, they have seen us. That ship is moving quickly towards the shore. Float, do you think they’ll crash?”
Float eyed the boat and shrugged. “Maybe? I’m not sure what they’re doing.”
“Maybe we should hide in the brush over there,” the firbolg said, nodding his head in the direction of the trees.
Refraining from a groan, Nuvo strapped the bedrolls to their bags and handed Sylvar hers. “Come on, let’s go. They’re practically here.”
The four took off, walking hurriedly over the hill and out of view. They crawled along the other side of the hill towards the trees. They situated themselves in a cluster of brushes, brambles, and a few thick-trunked trees. Watching intently for whatever was about to come to shore.
“Do you think they’ll be friendly?” Float spoke quietly.
Qidan shrugged. “No reason to think they won’t be, but it’s always better to be safe instead of sorry.”
Nuvo fidgeted with a piece of twig, her bag feeling a thousand times heavier than it usually did. She made a note that she’d take the next good chunk of downtime to clear out anything unnecessary floating around in there.
Sylvar’s eyes were glued to the coast; she sat unmoving, ignoring the rest of them. She had a gut feeling that this ship was going to be trouble. She didn’t know why, but this discomfort sat in her stomach and she felt the need to listen to it.
An anchor dropped with an inaudible splash, and the ship stopped short of shore just in time. The party watched a man with a giant black hat shouting, several crew members racing around to complete whatever tasks the man was yelling about, and then several small boats deployed from the side of the ship. The giant black hat clearly visible in one of the tiny boats.
Once they made it to the shallow water, they dragged boat into the sand while the man who appeared to be in charge walked with a sway past them on to the beach.
A breeze of salt-ridden air wafted over to the group, Nuvo noticed a scent of strong alcohol accompanied the briny wind. Since Sylvar was so engrossed she didn’t acknowledge Nuvo’s attempt to get her attention, she nudged Float.
He looked over, and she mimed drinking and pointed at the man with the big black hat. He nodded and passed the silent message to Qidan. Sylvar was still watching intently.
“I know it’s around here somewhere.” The man pulled a scroll from an inside pocket on his jacket. He unfurled the paper and looked at it, and then he took several steps in the sand and then turned around and looked at the spot.
He looked up at the crew members watching him. He pointed to his feet. “This is it.”
Looking around for a marker of some kind, he grabbed a nearby shard of glass and stabbed it into the soft ground. Standing, he waved someone holding a shovel forward.
“Now we dig.” He smiled and rolled the paper back up and put it back in his coat.
The crew member who appeared to be a human man, struck the ground with the shovel; another joined him. Everyone else watched.
“Any moment now we will have more riches and gold than any of you have ever dreamed of seeing in one lifetime!” He tipped his hat forward a little, blocking the sun from his eyes. His words sounded a little slurred. “I appreciate all of your hard work. I know it hasn’t been easy. Especially with the damn kraken that almost got us in that cave a few months back.”
He hiccuped and paced back and forth in the sand. His hand flitted to a flask hanging from his belt several times, but he never pulled it free. The crew looked bored, not angry, not annoyed, not even disappointed, just bored.
Sylvar got the sense that this was a regular occurrence for this group. She watched his fingers slip into a pocket. A small, round golden pocket watch appeared. He looked at it briefly before putting it back. Her eyes followed his unsteady gait, his eyes, and his words. She had a feeling about something else, too.
The two men shoveling up a hole in the sand, continued for several hours without success or finding anything. The entire time, the man with the hat spoke about riches and never going back to before, never going without from here on out, and the crew who were lucky enough to not be stuck with the shovels continued to look bored and tired.
Shadows began to disappear, and Qidan’s stomach growled.
“Switch out diggers!” He clapped his hands and waved a finger in circles. “We’ll get there in time!”
“Are you sure, Captain Archuletta?” The first man who had started the digging wiped his brow with the edge of his shirt, smearing sand and dirt across his forehead.
“Am I sure?” The man in the hat hiccupped again and pointed a finger at the man questioning him.
He stayed still, waiting for the captain do something, but he didn’t look scared, just tired.
“Yes,” the captain said, standing up a little straighter and dropping his finger. “Yes, I am. Now let’s keep digging.”
This rotation kept up until the hole was so deep the men disappeared into it and needed ropes to climb out. Captain Archuletta held up his hands and waved them.
“All right, stop, stop, stop! This is ridiculous. Whose idea was it to dig this deep?” He laughed and climbed down into the hole. The very top of his hat remained slightly visible as he spun around in the hole.
He climbed out, with the help of ropes and his crew. He dusted himself off and motioned with his hands. “Wider, we should go wider.”
Someone cleared their throat and stepped forward. A ragged-looking elf in tattered clothes, matching the rest of the crew, but looking more worn out both in clothes and in features. He sighed.
“Sir. I know you think you know what the maps says, but are you certain? This is beginning to feel like a fool’s errand. Everyone’s exhausted, it’s nearing dinner time, and we haven’t even had breakfast yet.” He had a slight accent, and he sounded fed up.
Qidan and Float shared a glance, and then Float nudged Nuvo. Sylvar, still focused stubbornly on the captain and his crew, missed the exchange happening between her friends.
With the plan settled, the firbolg stood to his full height, Float followed behind him, and Nuvo grabbed Sylvar by the hand, pulling her, pleading silently that she would follow. The four carefully made their way out of the woods. Following their path from before, they crawled across the hidden side of the hill, and then walked along the dirt path to the beach.
“Why I think we’re lost, friend.” Float spoke a slight bit too loudly.
Sylvar let go of Nuvo’s hand with a quick, light squeeze. She disappeared and Nuvo was left with the other two on the dirt path. Qidan noted Sylvar’s disappearance, but he couldn’t spot her anywhere. He trusted she knew what she was doing.
“Ho!” Captain Archuletta stood at the end of the dirt path, where it turned into soft, golden sand. “And who might you be?”
His hand rested on the hilt of his sword, but a smile was on his face.
“We’re adventurers, tasked by the great people of this nearby town to take care of a dragon. They said his lair was this way, but I see a lack of volcanoes!” Float laughed in a forced way, pretending it was more carefree than it was.
“Aye,” the captain said. “This is our beach.”
Qidan pointed to the hole beyond the man. “I see. Do you normally dig such strange holes in your property?”
“Now, now, don’t be crass. That’s clearly their outhouse, but I don’t see a structure around it. Maybe they’re making a new one.” Float smiled. “We mean no intrusion. We were simply looking for a dragon to slay. We’re expecting there will be a lovely amount of gold in his horde after all. We will leave you to it. Come, friends, let’s go in the other direction. Perhaps I simply took a left when I should have taken a right! We’ll figure it out.”
Float, Qidan, and Nuvo turned to leave the beach, but before they took too many steps, the curiosity got the better of the captain.
“Wait, wait! Did you say treasure?” Captain Archuletta’s eyes gleamed with the dream of jewels and gems and a dragon-sized amount of gold.
“Yes, I did. Why? Do you know about this dragon?” Float paused in his step, slightly turning back around to face the captain.
“Oh, my men and I have fought many dragons! We could help, for a certain percentage of the find.” His yellowed teeth glinted in the sunlight.
His crew watched on in mild horror, exhaustion apparent in their features. Float knew they’d been hoping for a break. He looked back at the man in the hat. He glanced at his companions.
“Well, just wait right here. I need to confer with my friends. We had so many plans for that treasure.” The water genasi motioned for his friends to huddle together.
Qidan and Nuvo leaned in and Float whispered.
“We get them to help, and if the dragon kills them, then boom, we don’t have to share, but we could really use the help.”
“I just need the lux-ball, I don’t need anything else, so I’m fine even if they do want some of the loot. Whatever they don’t take, we’ll give back to the people of Gorros.” Nuvo’s eyes were trained on Float, but she was wondering where Sylvar had gone. “But the crew, have you seen how tired they are?”
“So, we force them to rest for a few days, we fatten them up with some of those, what are they? The magic meals? You know the feasts we have before going into combat.”
Qidan nodded. “Right, right. Yes, we could do that and I, too, don’t need much from the dragon’s lair. I’ll probably just look for some cool items, or maybe just enough coin for a few items back in Autumnal Crest that I’ve had my eye on.”
“You know Sylvar will want as much gold as she can stuff in her bag.”
Nuvo laughed. “Yeah, I’ll make sure I grab some for her if she doesn’t come back before we’re doing this.”
“Oh! She better!” Float looked around nervously. “She will, won’t she?”
Sylvar was known to disappear from time to time, not the same way Nuvo did, not lost, but just busting her own ass to do something strange and unusual. Sometimes she would be gone for a few days or weeks, depending on the whim. All three of them hoped she hadn’t disappeared on them right now, for some strange other thing, while they were on the brink of fighting a dragon.
No, Float felt certain she was somewhere nearby, tying boot laces together or stealing shirts or coin purses.
“All right, we get these guys to help and then we get what nee from the lair and go.” Float glanced at the waiting captain, shining a big smile which he returned.
“Okay, so we agree, we want their help?”
“Yes,” Qidan and Nuvo said in unison.
Float clapped his hands and turned back to face Captain Archuletta. Another breeze brought salt and liquor to their nostrils. “We’ve decided we’ll accept your help, on some conditions.”
“Sure, sure! What conditions?” Captain Archuletta seemed unphased by the idea of conditions, his focus was on the finish line.
“Your crew, they look exhausted. We’ve been travelling all day, all week really. We should camp out for a few days along with you and your crew. We’ll get to know one another and come up with some strategy plans, and then we’ll take on this giant dragon and claim his treasure as our own. You’ll take 50 percent and we’ll take 50 percent of his treasure. We do have a few items we must claim before we split the treasure up, but they are for the people who have hired us to find and defeat the dragon. Can you agree to these terms?”
“Fifty percent!” Captain Archuletta grabbed his hat. “How generous! Fine, fine. We will camp together and then pursue this dragon!”
He turned to face his crew and motioned for them to get the boats. “Bring everyone on land, tell them we will be here for a little bit!” He pointed to a couple of men who hadn’t had a turn digging. “You two, turn that hole into a water closet!”
The two men glanced at Float, frustration and appreciation mixing on their faces.
“I was right! The treasure was here all along!” The captain pulled out his map again and pointed at a spot on it. “I must have miscounted the steps, or perhaps the land has changed since this map was made! This must be the ancient treasure we’ve been seeking!” He grabbed one of the men pushing one of the small boats into the water. “See here!”
He pointed at the spot on the map, holding it at an angle the crew member could see. “I wasn’t off, was I?”
“Not by much, captain sir,” the crew member said.
“We’ll have this treasure and be on our way in no time!” He laughed and folded the map back up and looked around at his crew. The other boat was already rowing back to the ship. He watched the ship for a moment, lost in thought.
He muttered something under his breath, but no one seemed to make it out fully. Something about everyone thinking he was crazy for needing to find this treasure, that he would show them all.
Float, who caught the gist of what he was saying, almost felt bad for the trick he was playing on the strange captain.
Nuvo, Float, and Qidan watched the hustle and bustle break out around them. Nuvo continued glancing around for Sylvar. She wanted her opinion on this captain so badly. Was he crazy or was he just drunk? Was this a bad plan?
Far across the beach, at the sand dunes, Nuvo’s eyes caught a little movement. She felt certain it was Sylvar. She let the water genasi and the firbolg know she was going to explore the beach a little; they nodded, and she headed off in that direction before the captain’s attention could come back to them.
Sylvar was sitting against the sand dunes, taking notes in a small booklet, when Nuvo found her. She looked up and immediately put the booklet away. She grabbed her daggers and stood to meet Nuvo.
She smiled, but concern kept the smile from making its way to hers.“What are you doing here? How’d you find me?”
“You’re my girlfriend, I can spot you from a mile away. What are you doing?” She rolled her eyes and folded her hands over her chest. “Float and Qidan are recruiting them to help us with the dragon. The captain is drunk as a skunk, muttering about this being the ancient treasure he’s been looking for or something. I guess that’s why he had his men digging that giant hole.”
“The captain’s faking it. He’s not drunk. He’s pretending.” Sylvar’s eyes narrowed. “Why did they think we needed this band of pirates to go fight a dragon?”
Her jaw fell open. “Why do we need help when we couldn’t find help? Maybe because nobody in the town of Gorros wanted to help? The four of us can’t even get into the lair without dehydrating. If we’re going to get this beast to come out of hiding, we’re going to need somebody like that crazy captain.”
Nuvo paused for a moment and then frowned. “Wait, did you say the captain’s not drunk?”
“That’s right. He’s faking it. I don’t know what his game is, but he might try to outsmart us. If we’re teaming up, we’ll need to kill them after slaying the dragon. We don’t want them to steal the lux-ball.”