The mission had been a disaster, from beginning to end. Lorria stood in the captain’s cabin of the Grimoire, looking at the figure laid out on the bed – stripped of armor and weapons, a gash opening up his throat. Barl, Chief Acquisitor from the Great Library at Ubar – the captain of the ship, and her employer, a Heritor who had come in search of the Crystal Pool and found only death.
A rumor and a reference in an old book had brought them to the Isle of Spiders, where treasure and clues to the Pool’s location might be hidden in a ruined temple. But others had heard the same rumors, or had followed their trail. The spiders had been bad enough, but the dwarves had been worse – followers of a rival Heritor who had attacked them, and slain Barl.
“What was the haul today?” she asked. A few of the crew had managed to evade both the spiders and the dwarves, and had made it back to the ship.
“Maybe forty ducats in gold? Plus a pair of boots that might be enchanted, and that little chest of herbs.” Hedwig spoke up, her arm in a sling and her face bruised where an axe-blow had smashed her helmet.
“Let me take a look.” The boots were definitely enchanted – Lorria could feel the little pulse of power as she ran her fingers over them. A swimming charm, maybe? She flipped up the lid of the herb chest – most of the contents had lost their potency, but that bit of dremlocke weed might still be good. And what was this? Buried at the bottom was a small locket, carved out of wood, almost like a reliquary. Almost of their own accord, her fingers undid the catch. Inside the locket was a small red berry.
She could feel a wild laugh welling up inside her. A lingle berry? Rich men back on the mainland would pay hundreds of ducats for one of these, in hopes of the slightest chance of cheating death. With the proceeds, she could pay off the expedition’s debts, have a little stake of her own for if she hired on with another crew… she looked over at the corpse on the bed. Or she could use it now, and try to save poor old Barl. Did she owe him that much?
Idly, she sifted through the meagre pile of coins. One slipped into her hand, and she picked it up to look at it in the light of the porthole. It wasn’t a mintage she recognized – who knew how old the hoard had been? On one side was a skull, on the other, a ship. She chuckled grimly, and tossed the coin in the air, using a Warden’s trick to make it hang there, spinning. “Here’s your chance, Barl,” she said to the corpse on the bed, and let the coin drop back into her hand. “Ship – you live, skull – you can stay dead.”
She opened her hand, and there was the ship. “Guess we’ll give this a try.” She picked up the berry, pried Barl’s mouth open, and squeezed the tiny droplet of juice onto his tongue.
There was a strange taste in his mouth – like strawberries and vomit and pepper and fire all at once. He opened his eyes, and drew a deep, rasping breath. “Where am I?” he tried to say, but it came out as more of a croak.
“You’re back on board the Grimoire.” Lorria’s voice. So, they had made it, then. Memories started to return to him – scuffling with a pair of dwarven toughs, the burning in his blood, the knife at his throat… He reached gingerly up, and felt the ridge of a scar there, as though long healed.
“What happened? How many casualties?”
“Only two killed. Fletch – and you.”
“Me? But… then.. how?”
“You were lucky. That herb chest Petra found – it had a lingle berry in it.”
So. That explained it – but he had been very lucky. From the tales he had heard, lingle berries worked perhaps one time in four, if that. And for that matter… “Lucky twice, then. Lucky I have a loyal crew.” He turned his head to look at Lorria. She nodded. “We press on, then. And next time I hope I will prove… that your loyalty has not been wasted.”