Shift World I Book IV Chapter 4
by Christopher W. Gamsby
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At the Royal Port, a herd of bulls turned wheels which dragged massive chains to launch a ship. Once it pulled free of the inlet, which acted as a safe harbor, the crew diligently set about righting Sea Breeze's heading.
The process was easy to grasp, in theory. The crew raised and lowered a series of crimson sails based on how the wind blew. That allowed them to pivot the ship in a south-easterly direction. The process ran so smoothly that a naive onlooker would assume anyone could easily right a ship. However, Karp had spent too much time around Slart at the throwing board or Korg in the fighting rink and knew the easier a hard-fought skill looked, the more skilled the user. Maneuvering a ship looked easy because a massive chasm between her ability and that of Nordic the Shark, who instructed his crew, created the illusion.
Karp had wandered through the passageways to figure out the ship's layout, but it didn't help. The labyrinthine design looped around and double backed. Without straight hallways and becoming further disoriented from the ship's rocking, Karp might even have walked the same hall over and over. That motion made her slightly ill, and she grabbed a nearby railing as the ship pitched on an incoming wave. Her body smooshed against the deck as the prow lifted and stretched out as the ship leveled off again. The sudden flux made Karp's stomach churn, and she fought the urge to vomit.
She struggled up the passageway until reaching a set of stairs. After ascending two floors, she pushed open a tightly sealed door and stumbled onto the weather deck. After clumsily walking to a railing that ringed the main deck of Sea Breeze, she watched the open ocean until she felt normal again.
Karp turned toward the Village of the Royal Port, which slowly faded into the horizon. Her head turned slightly to starboard, and the open ocean sprawled as far as the eye could see. Karp expected to see rolling waves for the trip's duration, so she continued to watch the land grow hazy. Karp estimated four or five of her warehouses could fit in the ship, but since at least half of it sunk below the waterline, she wasn't confident in her guess.
"Not bad for a greenhorn. You'll get your sea legs in no time!" Nordic gibed Karp as he approached.
"if i handled that, i'm sure that means i can handle anything..."
Nordic looked like he was contemplating how best to break her heart, which filled Karp with dread.
"Even those who have lived on the sea our whole lives feel a little shaken going out on the ocean after not sailing for a bit. We're lucky to have such fine weather at the beginning. I would suggest on these nice days, if you're feeling sick, do just as you are. Come topside, grab a piece of railing, and look out to the horizon. It'll make you feel a little better."
"what about on stormy days?" The ship pitched again but not as roughly, and Karp felt fine.
"You won't be allowed topside, I'm afraid. The risk of falling overboard's too great, and doing so is a death sentence. Rather clean a messy stateroom than prepare to address the next of kin..."
"is it really that dangerous to fall overboard?"
Nordic gave Karp a surprised look. "I thought you knew that already, given the way you spoke at the meeting."
Despite Karp's emotions showing more after the incident with The Horse Thief, her reactions still looked subdued compared to an average person. Her cheeks only paled slightly in embarrassment instead of darkening red or becoming ghastly white.
"to be honest, i just tried to say what i needed to for him not to come."
"Is that the case with what you said about Triled too? You were completely correct on that account as well..."
"not that time. i was concerned about him sinking the ship."
A light smile cracked on Nordic's lips. "I guess what I've heard about your instincts are true..."
"instincts are nice, but experience is much more reliable." Instances of Karp's instincts failing, such as her imprisonment by The Demon's Wrath or killing Jara at the Rocky Valley, came to mind. Karp steered the conversation back on topic. "i guess i'll just have to shift on those bad days."
"You shouldn't do that..." Nordic shook his head. "We have a saying, 'there's no such thing as a young shifter who sails.' Basically, shifters are so used to resting in their safehouses that they go there after getting sick. That's usually not a problem, but you'll just feel much worse after coming back and have to shift again right away. Under worse case, they age three months because of a two-day storm."
"you must have seen a lot on your time at sea."
Nordic chuckled. "I've spent my whole life on the ocean. There are three types of sailors. Those who are learning for a family business, those that can't cut it, and those who join for life. I knew after my first voyage, I was going to spend my life with the crew of Sea Breeze."
"wow, that must have been a nice voyage."
Nordic burst out laughing. "Even in the calm waters, I could barely walk. The captain chewed me out every day for rookie mistakes in ways that I'd only call indelicate for the company on the ship today. About half-way through, we hit a three-day storm, and I spent the whole time puking over the railing. Afterward, I could still barely walk for the rest of the trip and was confined to galley duty."
"...and you really enjoyed that?" Karp gave him a look like she suspected he might be a masochist.
"No! I said I knew I wanted to stay with Sea Breeze after the first voyage. We were in the tavern at the Royal Port celebrating, as you do. I was young and never really had drink before, and it still didn't agree with me. Well, some merchants, or something, saw the face I made and started ripping into me. I was thinking of quitting when the captain runs up and punches the guy in the face.
"Next, he read that slob the riot act. Something about more guts than that man could fathom. Well, it was a long time ago and a little blurry. Next, the rest of the crew joins the captain and throws the men from the bar. That's when I knew. When you find people that close, you don't just let them go. The rest's history, as they say."
Karp understood his meaning and felt the same about her little family, even though the sailors on Sea Breeze and Slart, Karp, Lark, and Nort lived very different lives.
"it must have been hard being separated during the royal tournament."
"Hmm... when the instability started, that Bron took the chance to seize my crew and all the other ships too. Then, he dragged me to that farce of a tournament. I never really liked the Royal Envoys before then, but that certainly didn't help."
"really? why not?"
"Too pushy. I guess that's the way you could say it. Hurricanes happen, but one or two day storms are most common. Sometimes when you make it to port just before a hurricane, a waiting Envoy demands that you leave right away to take them to the Creeping Ice. Merchants are clever; they wouldn't risk their merchandise in a storm if a captain says ones coming. The Royal Family are wise, they know they don't have the political strength to upset the captains and lose that support. The Envoys, though, think all of the empire belongs to them."
"i see. so they're unreasonable..."
"Yes, and no. I know, not a very satisfying answer. It's hard to know when a serious storm'll strike unless you see it forming. I'd say the best captains I've known are right maybe 40% of the time. Not insignificant, but would you risk your life if one in three times you'd hit disaster?"
"no, i wouldn't want to, but i have. not for trivial reasons, though... you're a very accomplished sailor to be able to make all this..."
Nordic laughed. "I didn't really 'make this,' but I can see how an outsider would believe that. Remember, Snorg the Conqueror used ships to reach the Lush Forest, and sailing even predated him. Tord the Elder, in his 300-year reign, used ships as well.
I utilize the accumulated knowledge of hundreds of years. The carpenters of the Royal Port build and furnish the ships, not me. Tar makers help keep it waterproof. I'm just one wheel keeping the gears moving, and one day, one of these lads will take over."
Nordic watched one of the crew struggling to tie a knot. The Shark pursed his lips before heading over to the worker who couldn't have been more than 16 years old. "What are you doing?!" The fatherly warmth he spoke with a minute ago melted into reproachful scorn. "This is never going to hold."
The boy panicked and tied and retied the knot until it stuck in place. Nordic pulled on the knot, and it held fast. Next, he pulled the tapering line, and the knot didn't come undone. "This is just as bad. No, it's even worse." The boy looked devastated. The Shark sauntered outboard and grabbed a length of line resting in a holder. The Shark casually climbed the nearby mast and tied the rope onto a ring meant for lines. He climbed back to the deck and returned to the deckhand.
"Closely watch what I do." Nordic brought about rope in a rehearsed blur. When he finished, he produced a knot superficially similar to the one the boy created. However, this time, when Nordic pulled at the length leading to the mast, it held, and when he pulled the excess line, it fell apart. "See. Now we're in control of when this knot comes undone."
Nordic untied and tied the line to demonstrate the form. He drew one of his shark fin axes and cut the old knot in half when he finished. "Go up there and cut down that line. When you're done, head to the galley to help cookie. Tonight, you'll practice that knot 200 times. Tomorrow, you'll show me. If you can't do it then –300 times. I'll just keep adding on more until you do nothing but tie knots, understood?"
"Yes, Sir!" The deckhand bound for the mast and scurried to the topsail.
Nordic shook his head and returned to Karp. "So, what're we talking about? Oh, hey, what's that look for? A little harsh? Not really. It might seem like a trivial matter, but if that knot wasn't replaced one good gust could've blown it off. An unwatched sail flapping around the breeze would certainly end up damaged. If we had to slow down in a storm, but a sail stuck up unfurled on the mast, well... I guess someone could cut the line like I did, but some greenhorn might just panic when the knot didn't come undone."
Karp, Tark, the Dragon Guard, except for Boric, and Nordic sat in the ship's VIP galley on the second above-water level. Drom's troupe preferred to eat in the crew's galley, and Ban wasn't feeling well between the whipping winds and shaking ship. That left Karp as the only ranking member of the merchants to attend the nightly dinner. Karp predicted that most talk would remain on innocuous topics, but she just hoped not to say the wrong thing without Slart there to kick her shin when she said too much.
The wind wrapped around the ship's hull, and the vessel rolled under the blow. As it straightened, jars and supply pots rattled on lipped shelves. Had the fixture been like a regular shelf, the containers would have spilled onto the floor. Baln and Tark rolled their eyes as the ship straightened. Karp didn't feel significantly affected yet, and she couldn't tell if Tan or Rong had been affected at all.
"Are you feeling OK, Baln?" Tan asked out of the corner of her mouth and gave a toothless grin at the face Baln made in response.
"Of course not! Water you can't drink? It's unnatural, and we're surrounded by it!"
Tan laughed and gave Baln a halfhearted smile. "I see why you think that. Water's precious where you're from. Salt water is pretty ordinary for people like Ban, Nordic, and I."
"Salt water unnatural? I've never heard of such a thing!" Nordic apparently wasn't taking the comment in stride, but given his life as a ship's captain, he may have spent more time on the ocean than on land.
"Tan had the right of it. In the Arid Desert, finding water means life or death. In the ocean, not only does this water not save you but kills you?" Baln stuck out her tongue.
"I see. I believe this will be a rough two weeks for you then. We'll be surrounded by water the entire time!" Nordic laughed, and the table awkwardly chuckled, trying not to offend the captain.
"That's fine..." Baln gave a snide smile, "I don't plan on surviving this anyway."
Nordic looked concerned, and Tark and her guard gave reproachful moans. The comment reminded Karp of their dinner after winning the Royal Tournament, but that wasn't a very comfortable memory. The ship rocked again but harder, and pots stored in a nearby prep room clattered on the counter.
"Secure all gear! Tell the crew first thing after chow!" Nordic shouted and a dispassionate 'aye' returned from the prep room.
"Is there no way for us to assist, captain?" Tark asked in her usual haughty manner.
"Until the storm passes, no going topside."
"Topside?" Baln asked.
"Yeah, outside of the hull, out on the weather deck."
"Hull? weather deck? I think you have your own language like the princess here." The Dragon Guard chuckled at the gibe, but Karp sat quietly since she didn't know Tark well enough to feel it was OK to laugh.
A long time ago, Slart had referred to Tark as having an 'obvious royal education.' Karp didn't understand the meaning at the time, but as she learned more about the Creeping Ice, it became clear. Tark had grown up in the estates of lords that dotted the Creeping Ice. Children of high-ranking Royal Envoys and the Royal Family received an extensive education to use when interacting with their friends or family. As a result, most high-ranking individuals from the Creeping Ice had that peculiar way of speaking.
"Anyway, back to the question at hand. Can any of you tie a knot?"
"I can tie a noose!" Baln shot up her hand.
"No, it has to be an easily untied knot that will also hold when put under strain."
"The knots I use in my work aren't meant to come undone..." Baln's cold answer sent a shiver down Karp's spine.
"Rong, are such knots in your repertoire?" Tark asked Rong with a flutter of her eyes.
"Aye, my lady. We used many such knots while I worked on ranches in the Pasture." Rong responded with a smile.
"i can't tie any knots," Karp responded curtly, and by their looks, she doubted that anyone expected her to be able to.
"I can do some weaving or tie strings to form a net, but nothing like you described." Tan offered The Shark options, but he waved his hand to dismiss the thought.
"OK, Rong." Nordic addressed the only potentially useful shifter. "After dinner, when the crew starts securing the gear for the storm, help them, please. You could help them with the high and heavy things."
"OK," Rong answered with a bellowing laugh. Karp guessed that he probably had received these types of requests his whole life.
"i guess there really is nothing we can do..."
"Hmm... to be honest, it's very good fortune to have so many shifters aboard. Right now, we carry three ships worth of crew because of that damn Demon's Wrath. If he didn't bring all of the sailors to the Lush Forest..." Nordic fumed, but he didn't voice any of the possibilities the idea entailed. "Anyway, since so much of our stores are with you shifters, we brought all the wagons we need now, and the next three ships can carry all soldiers and supplies. That's enough as far as I'm concerned."
Before embarking on Sea Breeze, each shifter stored a mound of goods in the Shift World. Besides metal goods, food, and warm clothing, Karp had transported dozens of trays of freshly baked bread. Although the shifters were strongly warned not to shift to avoid sea-sickness, the vessel's daily plan involved bringing back those supplies from other worlds.
"Plus, our real work will probably start at the Royal Port..." Tan let that thought linger for a moment.
"That's true," Nordic started, "you'll probably have to clear Royal Envoy from the port when we land. So, for now, just rest in your staterooms until the storm passes."
"nordic, are you originally from the creeping ice or the lush forest?"
Karp's casual question kick-started a lengthy discussion on the Creeping Ice. Nordic described the area near the Royal Port as much colder than its equivalent in the Lush Forest, but not as the tundra Karp expected. The area outside the Crossroads where Tark hailed from similarly felt colder than the nearby Lush Forest but didn't resemble a frozen wasteland by any stretch of the imagination. Baln asked questions based on her knowledge of the Shift World, and the worlds seemed to match up, even down to traveling the highways using safe houses and caves in the shadow of mountains.
By the time the conversation had run its course, the crewmate who Karp had recognized as being scolded by The Shark a few days ago wheeled out that night's dinner. A heated clay pot filled with a simple beef, potato, and vegetable stew sat next to a basket filled with the rolls that Karp had retrieved from her storehouse. After arriving, the crewmate lashed the cart to the table, which was bolted to the deck. He locked the wheels to make it even less likely to move and started spooning stew into bowls.
After each member received one and a roll, the crewmate bowed and exited the galley. Nordic spoke with a proud face. "Every rope is a right type of line." He continued speaking when his guests only stared back with a confused look. "Every tool can do some kind of job? Every glove fits someone's hand? Umm..."
"i think i know what you're trying to say." At least, Karp thought she did. "he wasn't very good at working outside the boat, but he did a good job serving us."
"Exactly! The lad doesn't know a square knot for a half hitch, but throw him in the galley..."
"Exquisite! Immaculately contrasting flavors!" Tark beamed.
"Aye. A captain's only as good as their cook, so the saying says."
"what's that supposed to mean?" Karp asked while nibbling on a roll. She started with the bread because she snuck a few while loading her storehouse and really liked them.
"That's the easiest way to make your crew happy... Food is one of the few joys people have out here. If a captain can't even realize that much..."
"Well, if they eat like this all the time..." Tan interjected between spoonfuls of soup.
"They will this entire trip. Normally, the fresh food only lasts for about a week, and then it'd be preserved and dried foods. Nobody likes it then... especially if you're out for longer than expected. With all you shifters on board, we got all the fresh food we want."
The conversation lulled as the group ate, and people seemed to become uninterested in continuing. Karp picked up her spoon and began on the stew. With the first bite, a warmth ran down her face. On the second bite, the heat accumulated around her cheeks, and she felt a little flushed. She looked up from eating, and everyone at the table looked at her, worried. Karp smiled to try and ease their tension, but the concerned looks only deepened.
Karp ate a few more mouthfuls and looked up to the table, and no one else ate anymore. Karp stared off at nothing in particular while she tried to figure out why they were acting so strangely. She really found the warmth spreading to her cheeks enjoyable, and her smile got even wider. A few moments later, Karp stopped staring at the wall and moved her gaze about her companions. Rong looked stern, Tan looked worried, Baln looked indifferent, and Tark had a funny look on her face.
Karp watched Tark's face, trying to figure out why she found it so interesting. Her gaze never broke from the princess as she shoveled more stew in her mouth. The princess rose from her seat and casually walked behind Rong, who wore his full armor. Karp now wondered when The Turtle arrived. Her gaze broke long enough for her to notice everyone in the room, but she now wore armor. She gripped the spoon tighter and shoveled in another mouthful of stew, but it didn't have the same taste as before. The soup didn't even have a flavor.
Annoyed that she ran out of food and agitated by everyone's reactions, her emotions ran between angry, confused, and complacent. She wanted everyone to calm down, but they were only getting more upset. She knew that if she just did what they wanted, everyone would be happy again. She looked at the princess, trying to figure out what was so funny that she couldn't remember. Tears began to roll down her cheeks as it came to her exactly what was happening. Karp burst into sadistic laughter as she threw away her spoon. Except it wasn't actually a spoon. At some point, Karp went to her storehouse and turned it into a knife. The blade clanged against the wall and fell to the deck.
The last thing the laughing, smiling Karp remembered was the sound of chairs scraping and the feeling of getting tackled.
"You were exposed to Time Waster" The distracted-sounding voice didn't even wait for Karp to finish asking.
"About four days."
"This is the sixth time we've had this conversation." Karp turned toward the voice, and Baln the Coral Snake sat in a chair nearby.
Baln perked up. "Well that's a new one. Has she ever said that yet?" Baln looked to someone sitting on the other side of her bed. Karp followed the gaze and saw Tan the Wyvern.
"No. I don't think she's said this before. Normally she'd sleep again."
"i'm here, you know. you could just ask me."
"She definitely seems to be getting better." Baln said with a nod. Tan returned the gesture.
"have i just been laying here asking the same questions over and over again for four days?"
"Actually, for the first two days you sat profusely sweating and mumbling to yourself about Tark."
"oh... wonderful. now i just found out 'the horse thief' used to profusely sweat too..."
"Yeah, and it smells like Time Waster." Baln stuck out her tongue and pinched her nose.
"weird. i never heard of that before. are you sure?"
"Yes. It has a very pungent odor." Tan's inflection implied she softened her words, but the statement still sounded blunt. Just as Karp thought of a rebuttal, the ship felt as though it rocked and swayed, and Karp held her breath until a nauseous feeling passed.
"great, it's making me feel nauseous too..." The two women laughed, and Karp eyed them to figure out what their responses meant.
"We're in the middle of a storm," Tan spoke through a smile. "It's been like this for almost two days straight."
"Yeah. It's so bad that it's all hands on deck for the crew." Baln interjected. "They've been working pretty much non-stop from what I understand."
"hmmm... two days, non-stop...no sweating..." Karp had the determined look of someone trying to piece together a puzzle. She felt like something important escaped her grasp. "do you know how i ended up getting exposed to that stuff?"
"Most of us believe it was in the food. Probably the stew, but maybe the rolls. You weren't really showing any signs until you started eating the stew, and putting that stuff in bread would take a long time to absorb." Baln stroked her chin.
"was it only in my food?"
"Probably everyone's but we can't really be sure. Only you had such a strong reaction."
"why was i so lucky?"
"Time Waster is the stuff that The Demon's Wrath uses, right? You were exposed to it for months straight and in incredible doses. It never truly leaves your system, so you only needed a little bit to have a strong effect. At least that's what we think."
"what is 'time waster,' and why do you know so much about it?"
"The quick answer is that it's something like a recreational drug and pain killer in my home region, the Arid Desert. In small doses, it numbs your senses a little, and you become docile, maybe even lethargic. In medium doses, you start to feel flush and have mild hallucinations. Some even experience them as pleasurable. If people have high doses, they become susceptible to suggestion, lose track of time, become hungry, and develop a physical addiction. To make matters worse, it really affects the memory too. If done well, someone will even forget they talked to the person trying to train them."
"i see. that's what 'taming' is, then... what happened to me..."
"Kind of. Bron discovered a new wrinkle when he was trying to tame you. Apparently, it's much easier to tame someone who already believes something close to what you want. He was going to convince you to attack the princess, but when he discovered you thought he worked for Tark... Well, let's say he just had to reinforce that belief instead."
"how can you be so sure?"
"It's not that someone like Bron would ever blab about his methods, you know," Baln clicked her tongue as she mentioned The Demon's Wrath, "but we pieced together a lot of this from talking to Triled and other survivors and traitors."
"i guess, then, we made the right call not to bring triled. you stopped me well enough, but he could have blown up the ship in a rage..."
"Oh yes," Tan spoke up for the first time in a while, "do expect Ban to come by and thank you at some point. I know that type of gratitude can make you feel... uncomfortable."
"gratitude? for what?"
"She was sulking that her paramour couldn't join us on the voyage. She blamed you, but after seeing the aftermath of dinner she's just glad Timore didn't have to experience that as well."
"My room's next to hers, I'm just glad I don't have to hear the two of them going at it all trip..."
"Thank you for putting that image of my childhood friend in my mind." Tan spoke with a little blush, and Baln laughed.
"I swear, it's so easy to embarrass you Foresters. You turn such a lovely shade of red too." Baln snickered at Tan.
"so then, baln, what would it take to make you turn a shade of red like that."
"Oh, no! The tournament's champion has taken an interest in me?! What should I do?" Baln feigned becoming squeamish while putting her hands together, jostling back and forth. Karp's reaction read plainly that she realized she said something inappropriate but couldn't quite figure out where she went wrong.
"Ignore her, Karp." Tan spoke almost patronizingly. "She just likes to get a reaction out of people. You can't believe what she'll say on the fly like it's nothing."
"Wow. No reaction." Baln slumped in her chair, thinking. "This might be harder than I thought. Don't worry, I'll find a way to make you redder and hotter than you've ever felt before. But for now, I'll have to just settle for Tan."
Tan blushed at the turn in the conversation.
"hmmm... so baln's past-time is teasing, and tan's is being prude. is that the way of it?" Baln burst out laughing as Tan looked like she might die of shock. "did you really not think i understood what was going on? i've lived my whole life around bars and warehouses." Karp chuckled for the first time in as long as she could remember. "baln, did you ever try competing at the whitecoat's staff fighting contest? i think you'd have won without needing any help."
Karp chuckled again, but both Baln and Tan gave her a blank stare. Karp had fond memories of enlisting a few of the wait staff from the Traitor's Tavern Inn to distract Korg so she could land a hit. It won her a trophy, but Korg never quite forgave her for revealing his big weakness and breaking his undefeated streak.
"Don't like staff fighting. Maybe I'd have beat him at the throwing board." Baln tapped the handle of one of the daggers on her side. "That's one tradition of the Lush Forest I really like."
"whenever we get off this boat, we should play a round. if you manage to beat me, try slart next. if you beat her, i'd say you're probably the best in the world."
"Oh, really..." Baln contemplated the challenge.
"Don't bother. What? Don't look at me like that. Karp and Slart are in a league of their own. You're just OK." Tan shook her head at Baln.
"do you like throwing?"
"Not particularly. I'm from the Wyvern's Cove, though. Every year, we sent people to the tournaments at the Milling Town. It's pretty much consensus that they go to try for third place behind you two."
"i feel a little bad that people would go that far thinking it's for nothing."
"Haha. It's not like that. Since you and Slart take the first place prize and buy kegs for the throwers, most people view it as a weekend of throwing and drink for the price of admission. If that generosity stopped..."
"hmm. i wonder if they still have that tournament since 'the horse thief' started. i know they had it when nort and i were hunting the mandrake..."
"I don't actually know." Tan looked to Baln, who shrugged. "I would guess no, just like that festival stopped."
"any word on when i can get out of this room, speaking of time just stopping. i spent how many months cooped up?"
"I'm sorry, Karp. Please wait a little bit. Just to make sure these symptoms don't come back. You understand, right..."
Karp slouched back in bed, staring upward. As the storm raged outside, water must have breached the hull since a wet spot formed on the ceiling. The clues started coming together, and Karp addressed Baln. "what floor are we on?"
"The second from the top. I forget what Nordic calls it in that fishy talk of his."
A water droplet formed as the boards darkened, and Karp's mouth twisted into a scowl. She shifted a long dagger into her hand and hurled it at the ceiling. Tan and Baln jumped back at the sight of Karp throwing a weapon, but the dagger's blade punctured the wood paneling and slid in up to the hilt.
"What are you thinking!?" Baln and Tan shouted to Karp in unison. A dribble of water ran down the dagger's handle and fell toward the bed. Karp jumped out from the sheets, and the torrent spilled out on the sheets and soaked the hay base.
"time waster can be absorbed through the skin too! that wasn't sweat on me before. someone was dribbling it through the ceiling."
Tan approached the bed and sniffed where the putrid water fell onto the sheets. Her face scrunched up, and her eyes widened as though she only realized after the fact how odd it must have looked. "This is putrid water. No doubt."
Karp, Baln, and Tan ran through the passageway to the closest set of steps. They ascended to the next floor, and after some trial and error, found the room that sat directly above Karp's. A bucket sat in the room's corner, with a knife's blade sticking out of the bottom. Tan bent over and removed a ladle with a thin layer of water still inside. She sniffed the liquid, which stunk of the pungent odor of putrid water.
Tan nodded to Karp and Baln and turned back to next to the bucket. An ax pressed into the shape of a fin rested on the wall nearby.
"i think we're all going to have to talk about this..."
"I don't know how it got there!" Nordic the Shark defended himself while looking over one of his dragon fire steel fin-shaped blades.
"how else would someone get ahold of such a valuable piece of gear?" Karp narrowed her eyes while interrogating the captain.
"Anyone could have accessed my quarters and taken it while the storm was brewing..." Nordic gave off the grave look of someone lost in thought. "The harder part of understand is why someone would bother. That's what we should worry about."
"what are you talking about?"
"Well, why would someone want to leave my ax at that site? Only a few reasons I can think of. Really only one that makes much sense."
"Parsimony breeds the most expeditious route to understanding." Tark eyed Nordic, and Karp rolled her eyes. Not only had the group agreed to let Karp ask the questions, but now it looked like Tark just looked for a reason to believe Nordic. At least Karp got that impression since she couldn't entirely understand Tark's meaning.
"They brought it incase they were going to be attacked by someone in armor. I have one of these on my side, I wouldn't need to leave one leaning up against the wall."
"why would you leave something so dangerous free in your cabin?"
"It's in case someone needs to cut through one of your armor."
"huh?" Karp's face stunk of incredulity.
The Shark looked at her blankly, like he didn't understand the confusion, and then his face returned to normal. "Right. A ship is a dangerous place. You're almost always one moment away from an accident pinning your leg. or a tangle could throw you overboard. I let the crew get one of my axes so they could cut your leg free if need be. It's much better than having you die, right?"
"still, doesn't that seem like a big risk. trading the mundane of someone stealing your axe to prevent a shifter who is wearing armor from getting in trouble? has anyone ever needed to use your axe like that?"
"No. Never. That's true. But, I've never had anyone take the axe, either. It's a display to the crew that I trust 'em even with my most important gear. This is the first time that trust's ever been betrayed. Anyone on my crew could understand the consequences of doing that..."
"is there anyone that wouldn't understand?"
"Most of my crew has been a part of this ship for more than five years. Not a single one of them would even dream..."
"most? who hasn't? been a crew member that long, i mean."
"There are only three that haven't been here for more than two years."
"two years feels like a long time. shouldn't you make it a shorter time frame?"
"No! Absolutely not! And, you can thank The Demon's Wrath for that!" Nordic's demeanor changed from annoyed to angry.
"what does the demon's wrath have to do with it?"
"He took me from my crew a year ago, remember? That means the people that started two years ago have actually worked with me less than a year... understand?"
"how did the demon's wrath manage to take you from your crew?" Karp felt in her bones that she started on the path to finding who tried to poison her.
The Shark explained the basics of what happened. After a routine trip from the Creeping Ice to the Lush Forest, Danil the Narwhal and The Demon's Wrath boarded Sea Breeze after arriving at port. A cackling, crazed contingent of the Royal Guard ransacked the ship and attacked several of the crew who resisted. Two men had been seriously injured, and one woman died in the ensuing scuffle. After The Narwhal failed to find any noteworthy cargo, The Demon's Wrath voiced his displeasure. He claimed to be searching for contraband related to The Horse Thief. Without any evidence, they were considered guilty anyway, and the Royal Envoys arrested Nordic's crew and confined them to the local inn. To free them, Nordic trained The Demon's Wrath's forces in sailing. Shortly after completion, a ship arrived full of the crews from the other ships docked at the Royal Port.
"Pray tell, describe the interval from notification to departure." Nordic rolled his eyes at Tark's question, and Karp felt his pain at enduring such awkward phrasing.
"We depart a week after the last cargo hold is full, but we don't decide that until the last of a caravan's cargo is onloaded."
"so, someone had to somehow notify the demon's wrath that your ship was departing with enough time for him to arrive. and there'd only been about three weeks from scheduling departure to arrival? that makes it sound like there must be a spy in the crew."