Chapter One. Atlantis
Atlantis, Atlantic Ocean. 1774
Captain Alethea Hera enjoyed passing time between quests at the bars and cafés of Atlantis. Even though the Siren Café was always slightly grimy and lit only by a few dim torches which needed their circuits replaced, it always felt like home. Not only did spending time there give her a break from the stress of her work, it also gave her a chance to overhear pieces of information which were so valuable in the piracy field.
She’d already found out that a white whale had taken a captain’s leg, Captain Grail of the Invicta was holding a masked ball, and the residents of Vinland had thrown another load of the Empire’s ale into the ocean. People were already calling it “The Boston Chug-Up”.
“Did you hear?” came the voice of a young sea-knight barrelling through the door and rushing to his friends at the next table.
Alethea leant in closer to listen as she ripped at her pastry.
“Yes, Petturi Konna’s back in Atlantis,” his sea-wizard friend replied with a frown.
“Let’s hope those Vikings don’t come in here,” another knight added. “I heard about what they did to the Aztec’s palace.”
“Not that. Some Saxons were just in the Pohjola Trench looking for treasure and they found it.”
“The jade stone!” the knight answered, his armoured heels clanking as he bounced.
Alethea gripped her pastry so hard it fell apart in her fingers.
“You mean… the jade stone? The one that belonged to Redscalp?”
Alethea looked up.
“The magic jade stone?”
“Yes, that’s the one.”
Excited murmurs filled the café.
Alethea’s hands shook so badly that she had to put down her cup.
A young samurai woman thundered through the doors. “Did you hear—” she began.
“Yes, we heard the news,” one of her friends replied.
“So, do the Saxons have the stone?” another asked.
“No, something scared them away and they couldn’t reach it in time. It’s still sitting there in the Pohjola Trench, unclaimed!” the samurai exclaimed, only realising too late that she had spoken far louder than she should have.
Everyone in the café collectively froze. A mere moment later, they burst into a fit of movement, tumbling out of their chairs and over tables in a mad rush to be the first one out the door.
“We need to leave quickly before the Pirates get there first,” the sea-knight said.
“Nice try, but the Musketeers are going to find that jade and the treasure,” another person said, elbowing the knight to get out the door before him.
The café emptied within moments, leaving a mess of fallen chairs, half-drunk coffee cups, and piles of dirty napkins. Only a lone Gladiator returned to grab the remains of his cake and rush out again.
Alethea slowly finished her coffee, licked up the last few crumbs of her pastry, and paid her shells to the café owner – who fumed over losing all of her customers – before heading out the door.
“Didn’t your mother tell you not to go out on your own?” Ling said, looking all around, as if he expected the captain to appear from around a corner at any moment.
“But I’m not alone,” Marina Hera said as she sorted through a stack of books so large, they threatened to topple and crush her. “You’re here with me.”
“Oh. I suppose that’s alright, then,” Ling said, his face relaxing. The Cantonese boy was only a year older than her but had already shot up to the height of the door frame, for which she almost felt she’d never forgive him since she still barely reached past the first window. The first wisps of an attempted beard had cropped up on his face, yet it only made him look as if he’d smeared charcoal on his face and failed to wipe it off. His pockets were already bulging with what Marina suspected was sweets, watches and numerous other things swiped from other people’s pockets.
“I found it!” Marina squealed as she pulled a book out of the stack, green with gold lettering and an illustration of a Viking on the front. “This is the one I want,” she added as she took the book to the vendor and put the rest of her shells on the counter, all she had after their last raid.
“Ah, Leif Erikson and the Golden Sea,” the bookseller said with an approving nod. “Thar’s a good’un. Just don’t go see the opera version. It’s shite.”
“I’m not into opera.”
“I am,” Ling said.
“You’ve never even seen an opera.”
“But I want to.” Ling sighed dreamily and looked away into nothing.
“I still don’t understand this obsession with fancy stuff,” Marina said as they left the bookshop and stepped out into the busy Atlantean streets. “Why would you want to live on the surface with Drys when you already have all of this?”
She swept an arm out over the city. Just outside the dome covering the trade district, they could see passing submarines of all shapes and sizes heading out into schools of fish. Every minute, one of them was pulled into one of the dry docks and began unloading exotic fruits, newly developed machines and glimmering weapons from all over the world.
People of all factions and guilds chatted endlessly and mingled together as they sold their wares, spent their precious shells or looked for ways to spend their precious few days in the capital.
In the middle of the district, the statue of Plato stood and watched over them all. Next to him was the statue of Leonardo da Vinci, deep in thought, even carved in stone.
It was thanks to him that they were here in this city. He had invented the first submarine hundreds of years ago so that he and his disciples could explore the ocean. After he had died, Michelangelo had continued his work, forming what would become the Undersea. Isaac Newton had invented sonar, Ben Franklin had developed the shortwave, and so it had gone on.
Things were different on the surface. Up there, mad King George only had to make a proclamation and half the world had to obey. The other half had to live with the consequences until the Empire moved in and took them over.
That was why things were so much better Undersea.
“We should go,” Ling said, nodding at a spot where the crowd was parting. “They’re back.”
Marina looked towards the cautious whispers and frightened stares and saw a small group of Vikings – made evident by their fur-lined clothes and heavy shields and axes – marching through the street.
Their chieftain was easy to distinguish from the way he walked with such unparalleled confidence. He drew the most stares of all. His auburn hair crackled like fire and even from a distance his eyes seemed to sparkle as if he were telling himself a riddle only he knew the answer to. Marina had never seen him before, but from his reputation alone, she immediately knew who he was.
Petturi Konna of the Fenrir.
“What should we do?” Ling whispered as they approached the Plato statue.
“Just ignore them. They can’t do anything to us in Atlantis. They’d be blown straight out the airlock,” Marina replied.
Just as she suspected, the chieftain didn’t even glance at them as they passed. None of them did – save for a young girl about her own age, whose striking aqua eyes met hers as she passed. A braid of light blonde hair reaching almost to her waist bounced against her back as she walked. A pendant shaped like an inverted anchor hung from her neck. Marina knew from her books that it was actually Mjölnir, “Thor’s hammer”.
They only glanced at each other for a moment before the girl looked away.
“Hark,” Petturi Konna called out, standing up on the base of the Plato statue. “I’m looking for new recruits. If anybody wishes to join the best crew Undersea, now’s your chance.”
Nobody dared to speak, let alone step forward. They couldn’t even walk away.
“Nobody?” Petturi asked, scanning the crowd with a furrowed brow. “Aren’t you supposed to be denizens of Undersea? Fearless, brave, and defiant to the scum of the Empire? None of you will step forward and join my crew?”
“Only desperate people join the Fenrir when they have nowhere else to go,” the bookseller mumbled from behind Marina. Even he had stepped outside his shop for a moment to witness the commotion, just not far enough to be noticed.
“Yes,” Marina said as she looked at the Viking girl again.
How could somebody like her be desperate enough to work for Petturi Konna? Everyone knew that he ransacked palaces, sliced open his enemies’ bellies, and stole jewellery from the necks of royalty. That’s why even the bravest knew to stay away from him.
Most factions were ruthless to some extent. They had to be. But Petturi Konna was worse than most. Nobody knew why the Chief Jarl, the head of the Viking faction, hadn’t simply disavowed him. The most common theory was that even he was afraid of Konna.
“Nobody wants to join my crew and claim a share of our loot? I assure you, it will be dealt out evenly. Isn’t that right, Inoki?” Petturi said, kicking a dark-skinned member of his crew in the back.
“That’s right. Our spoils are all dealt out fairly,” the man spoke loudly and clearly.
“So, any takers?”
All was quiet for a long moment before a Viking man stepped forward from the tavern opposite the book shop.
“I’ll take that offer,” he said with a drawl, either from drinking or natural stupidity. He was a few years younger than Petturi but already his greying hair was visible under his horned helmet (not historically accurate, but nobody really cared) and his jade-green eyes seemed tired.
Petturi looked at him for a long moment. That was strange, Marina thought. He’d been so desperate for new crew members, and now he was eyeing up the one man who had taken up his offer.
“What do you call yourself?” Petturi asked.
“Varri Ukkirson,” the man replied as he scratched at the black beard reaching to his chest.
“You’ll do. We need a janitor. Had to leave the last one behind on an island with a single bullet.” He broke out into laughs which almost rattled the dome’s glass panes. “No gun, mind you. Just a single bullet.”
Varri visibly grimaced, yet still said, “I’ll do my best, Chief.”
“Nico, did you hear?” a Samurai woman came rushing towards the bookseller, almost knocking over Ling.
“Not now, Mei,” Nico hissed, but the woman obviously hadn’t noticed the commotion before them as she continued.
“Redscalp’s gemstone has been found! The gemstone! And it’s sitting in the Pohjola Trench right now, unclaimed.”
“Pohjola, you say?” Petturi said, his attention drawn towards the bookstore.
Marina froze. She always thought of herself as fearless, but she really didn’t want Petturi looking in her direction.
Luckily, he almost didn’t seem to notice her existence as he focused on the excitable Samurai woman. She only then realised who he was and immediately regretted her outburst.
“Y-yes. That’s what everybody is saying.”
“Pohjola,” Petturi said, holding his head in his hand. “Of course! Why did I never think to look there? Let’s go. We have to get there before the rest of these arse hammers.”
He stepped down from the Plato statue and he and his crew joined the crowd, who had already forgotten what they had just witnessed in their eagerness to get to their submarines.
“We should get back, too,” Ling said.
“Yes. Mum will be waiting,” Marina said, looking once again at the Viking girl. This time, she didn’t look back.
As Alethea left the café and stepped out into the streets of Atlantis, she instinctively pulled her red scarf across her face, glancing around for anybody who would recognise her. She knew she was being overly paranoid, but there were always enemies somewhere Undersea. Even in a neutral sanctuary city like Atlantis, she preferred to be cautious.
Today, she had all the more reason to be wary. The streets were already in a frenzy. Half the city’s population – Pirates, Vikings, Knights, Musketeers, Gladiators, Gauchos, and all the other Undersea factions rushed to their subcraft. They battled with each other to be first out of the hatches and into the open ocean. Even the old ladies who sold cakes from their boats were heading out along with them. Alethea dodged through the chaos with well-practised steps. She had come to know Atlantis well in her eighteen years Undersea.
Ducking out of the way of a Viking’s horned helmet, she finally reached her submarine, the Barracuda, in dry dock with the crew still banging out the most recent dents and polishing the stubborn stains. Their previous mission had been an easy pillage of a forgotten smuggler’s horde in a cave on the English coast, but the seagulls had left the boat in a mess.
Alethea stroked the Barracuda’s polished flank, looking up to the flag of crossed spears flying from the top and the skull and crossbones painted on the side; the unmistakable mark of a Pirate submarine. Shaped like the fish which gave the boat its name, the gold coating and silver rivulets gleamed in the ocean-light. The great toothed jaw, which was supposed to appear threatening to their enemies, always seemed more like a smile greeting her home in Alethea’s mind.
“Where’s Marina?” she asked Kei, her quartermaster.
“She said she was going out to spend her share,” Kei replied as she looked the Barracuda over for leaks and broken rivets, her russet eyes missing nothing. Cantonese, with her greying hair tied in a neat bun, she had a decade on Alethea.
“You let her go by herself?” Alethea said, pulling her scarf back around her neck, exposing her face.
“She is sixteen, Alethea. And she knows Atlantis well,” Kei said without looking up from her work.
“But have you seen it out there? Did you hear about Redscalp’s stone?”
“Yes, I heard. I think everyone from here to Pacifica will have heard by now,” Kei replied, glancing slightly to the side.
Alethea followed her gaze to see her daughter trying to sneak up the gangplank.
“Marina!” she said in the firmest voice she could manage.
Her daughter halted. Ling stopped dead behind her, holding his hands up in surrender. Marina only crinkled her nose and curled her lip slightly.
She had her father’s thoughtful forest green eyes and dark ringlets, although hers were cropped close to her head on one side, something which Alethea had argued against. The only trait she shared with her mother was her thin face. Next to Alethea’s own loose chestnut hair and steely eyes, it was almost impossible to believe that they were related.
“Where have you been? Haven’t you seen how dangerous the streets are today?” Alethea asked.
“I’m allowed to spend my share, aren’t I?” Marina said in the sulky voice she saved only for her mother, refusing to look at her.
“You went out on your own when I told you not to?”
“I wasn’t alone. Ling was with me.”
“Yes, I was with her, Captain. Nothing happened,” Ling said.
Alethea opened her mouth to argue then shut it again. She supposed that technically she hadn’t disobeyed her orders.
“I let my own son out in Atlantis on his own,” Kei said, tapping Ling’s shoulder. She bore a much closer resemblance to her own son than Alethea did to her daughter. “So why are you so worried about letting Marina do the same?”
“Well, you weren’t wasting your money on sweets again, were you?” Alethea asked instead.
“I can spend my share on whatever I want!” Marina growled, thrusting something into Alethea’s chest. “I wasn’t even buying sweets. I bought this.”
“Leif Erikson and the Golden Sea,” Alethea read the book’s title, looking over the cover illustration depicting Leif Erikson standing on the shore of a newly-discovered island, no doubt how he’d looked when he’d discovered Vinland. “This was your father’s favourite book, too.”
“Really?” Marina said, her voice softening and her eyes widening slightly in the way they always did when she heard stories about her father.
Every day she came closer to adulthood, she resembled her father more, Alethea always thought. Yet it also made her sad, knowing that Robert had died not even knowing that he’d had a daughter.
He’d only been a few years older than Marina when the incident with the crocodile monster had happened. The time they’d been betrayed.
“Yes. We didn’t think much of the opera version, though. The Vikings of Vyborg is much better.”
“I’ll bet it’s not that bad,” Marina said, taking the book back a little too forcefully.
“Well, someday you can go see it with your own boyfriend and decide for yourself.”
“What makes you think I want a boyfriend?” Marina’s head snapped up and her eyes turned a venomous green.
“Oh… I just meant that… Nevermind. Meeting in the galley.”
Alethea looked over her crew as they filled up the galley, finding seats at the wonky tables. They were a truly mixed bag from all across the world. Some had been born Undersea and some had come here as an escape from the surface, as Alethea had so many years ago. Some of them had been on the Barracuda for even longer than she had. Others had joined up only recently. A boat’s crew changed constantly Undersea. But the one thing they did share was that she trusted each of them with her life, and the life of her daughter.
“Well, no doubt you’ve all heard about the jade stone by now,” Alethea began once all thirteen of them had been rounded up.
“And it really is Redscalp’s jade?” one of them asked.
“The enchanted jade which leads the way to Redscalp’s treasure stash?” somebody else added.
“The one worth more than any other stash which has been found in a thousand years?”
“The one which has been missing since Redscalp died?”
“Yes, that jade,” Alethea confirmed to excited murmurs.
“Perfect timing. We’re all stocked up and ready to go,” Kei said with a smile.
“We’d best be leaving, then. A chance like this doesn’t come too often.”
“Yes, la Barracuda triunfa! That jade stone is going to make us richer than the King of Spain!” Rico Hernández – the boat’s gunner – said, slapping the table. His eyes shone almost as bright as a sunset and dimples formed in the corners of his mouth just under the newly-gelled tips of his moustache.
“Oh, we’re not going out there to look for the jade.”
“What?” the others said in a bemused chorus. All except for Marina, who leant against the wall with her arms folded, and Ling, whose hand was halfway out of Rico’s pocket. Disappointment crossed his face when he found only a used handkerchief.
“With everyone Undersea going after it all at once, every other treasure stash will be left for the taking. We can pillage as much as we want without anyone else getting in our way.”
“Mum, that’s so boring,” Marina said. “That’s all we ever do. We went all the way to England just to scale some gull-infested cliffs. And you wouldn’t even let me do that! We can’t turn down the chance to find Redscalp’s treasure.”
“I know what finding Redscalp’s treasure would mean, but I don’t want us to be too hasty like all those others.” Alethea indicated out the window where a Highlander and a Cleopatran ship had come close to colliding. “They’ve forgotten that the Pohjola Trench is one of the most dangerous places Undersea. That’s why nobody goes there.”
“That is true,” Kesä, the ship’s accountant, said and nodded. The mousy Finn-woman usually didn’t say much and spending so much time squirrelled away in her office working on the accounts meant her English skills were lacking compared to the rest of them. “In my homeland there are stories saying there are dangerous things in Pohjola. We should not go there.”
“Exactly, Kesä. I know that Redscalp’s treasure is valuable, but is it really worth our lives?”
She tried hard to prevent her voice from breaking as she spoke. She had never told any of them (except for Kei) how much she had sacrificed once for a valuable treasure.
“I suppose not,” Rico finally said, crossing his arms over his chest.
The rest of the crew nodded or muttered their agreement, their heads hung and their eyes averted.
“I know this isn’t what all of you want, but you have to trust me. Now, I think that the wreck of Leif Erikson’s ship would be a good one to go after.”
“The Vikings won’t like that,” Marina scoffed as she ran a finger over the edge of her new book.
The wreckage of what everyone believed was once one of Leif Erikson’s ships had been fought over by various factions ever since it had been discovered. But with so many constantly fighting over it, nobody had been able to claim it.
“No, but it won’t matter. It’ll be easy pickings. And probably worth a lot, too. We’ll get going just as soon as we hire a new janitor.”
Their previous janitor had marched off the boat seething with rage over the seagull poo incident the moment they’d docked in Atlantis.
“We won’t have time to hire anyone if we want to get to that shipwreck,” Kei said. “Besides, I doubt there’s anyone left looking to go anywhere other than Pohjola.”
“You’re right. We’ll just have to split the chores between all of us,” Alethea said to a round of groans.
“Fine, but I’m not doing the dishes,” Rico said as he rose to head to his duties.
“And I’m not doing the laundry,” Marina said, sharing a look with Alethea before she left along with the others.
“Donovan, new recruit. Show him where to sleep,” Petturi ordered his cook, not even looking at Varri as he sauntered to his cabin and shut the door.
“Don’t worry about the chief,” Donovan said as he led Varri through the corridors, dodging crewmen on their knees making repairs. His neat golden-brown hair and middle-class Londoner accent sounded highly out of place amongst Vikings. Then again, none of them were real Vikings. They only dressed up and played pretend, like everyone Undersea. “Just stay out of his way and try not to rile him up and it won’t be so bad.”
“Right,” Varri said, biting his lip.
“I’m Donovan, the ship’s cook. I’ve been on the Fenrir longer than most. So, if there’s anything you need to know, then just come to me.”
“These are the barracks. Just find a spare blanket and an empty spot,” Donovan said, indicating a small room with blankets laid out on the floor and a few Vikings lying snoring on top of them. “More importantly, this is the kitchen. We spend most of our free time here.”
He led Varri into a room full of Vikings, just as filthy as the rest of the dingy submarine. Varri’s nose turned up at the putrid smell. None of the other Vikings noticed as they hunched over their bowls and steins, their eyes distant and empty. Varri recognised those looks; the faces of people who had given up long ago.
“There’s some bread to hold you over, if you want,” Donovan said, offering Varri a loaf hard enough to knock out a grown man.
“Thanks,” Varri muttered, tearing off a piece with some difficulty.
“Where have you been, love? We’re starving,” a Viking said as he rose to put an arm around the cook. He was one of the men who had been accompanying Petturi in Atlantis; a tall Polynesian man with ink-black skin and long, flowing hair. His Viking attire was decorated with patterns and symbols of the Polynesian islands and a shark-toothed club hung from his holster. The man looked as if he could punch through walls and kill an elephant with a single fist. Yet when Donovan arrived in the room, a bright smile crossed his face and he pulled the man into an embrace, which Donovan readily returned.
“I was showing the new recruit around,” Donovan said, twisting in the man’s embrace to face Varri. “Varri, have you met Inoki Kekoa, my other half?”
“You two are married?” Varri said, looking between them with a tightness growing in his chest.
“Going on twenty-two years now. And I wouldn’t change a second of it,” Inoki said, placing his forehead against his husband’s so that they seemed to share the same air for a moment.
“Must be nice,” Varri said, looking to the floor.
“Ignore those two lovebirds. Maybe then Donovan will actually get started on dinner,” a particularly huge Viking said.
Donovan grinned, gave Inoki a final kiss, and headed to the stove.
“What do you want, Thorstein? We’ve got egg and kelp. Egg, beans, and kelp. Egg, sausage, beans, and kelp.”
“I don’t like kelp!”
“Well, it’s all we have.”
The man was distinctly Scandinavian with a wind-battered face, matted dirty blonde hair in a braid that reached to the small of his back, and a beard nearly as long decorated in elaborate braids. Varri could’ve almost sworn that his axe was an actual antique from the Viking age. “Name’s Thorstein. Thorstein Erikson,” the huge Viking said to him, taking Varri’s hand in an embrace so strong it nearly crushed his fingers.
“Erikson? As in—?”
“Yes, as in Leif Erikson. I’m his brother!” Thorstein said, puffing out his chest.
The others around him groaned.
“Not this again,” Donovan sighed.
“For the last time, Thorstein, you are not a real Viking!” Inoki said.
“I am so! I fell off my brother’s boat and was frozen in the ice. Next thing I know I’m thawing out in your underwater boat, and here I am,” Thorstein argued.
“Don’t worry about him,” Inoki whispered into Varri’s ear. “He’s a bit screwy in the head, but he’s alright, really.”
The rambunctious laughter was quickly halted as everyone looked towards the kitchen door. Varri followed their gaze to see Petturi standing in the doorway.
“Why haven’t we left yet?” he asked.
“We’ve been making repairs all day. The crew need to rest,” Inoki said, stepping forward, almost as if he were forming a barrier between Petturi and the rest of the crew.
“Rest when you’re dead,” Petturi said. “I don’t want to waste any more time. If any of you don’t like it, you’re free to leave and find some other crew. That’s if anybody else will take worthless rats like you.”
His words were met only with silence.
“That’s what I thought. So, do your jobs.”
The Vikings slunk out, their heads down, complaining under their breath about their lack of dinner. Even Donovan ducked behind the kitchen counter, hoping not to be noticed. It was just as Varri had suspected. They were all there for the same reason he was; because they had nowhere else to go.
“You, fresh meat,” Petturi said to Varri, making him stiffen. “There’s a fresh load of laundry for you. Hope you enjoy scrubbing underpants,” he said with a laugh.
As Varri ducked out of the room, he heard Inoki talking to the captain.
“I still think it’s too risky. You know how dangerous Pohjola is,” he said.
“It will be worth the risk,” Petturi said. “That treasure will make me the richest and most powerful man Undersea.”
“Us, you mean. We all get a share of the treasure.”
“Yes, yes. You all spend your money however you want. But I want something more than just money to pay my bar tab,” Petturi said. “Redscalp’s treasure is what I’m owed.”
Chapter Two – Shipwrecks
“Speed steady at thirty-one knots.”
“No enemy submarines around. No submarines at all, actually.”
“Keep a close eye on that sonar, Ling. The ship should be nearby,” Alethea said, trying to stifle a yawn.
The front window stretching across all three sides of the submarine’s hull basked the oblong, copper-plated bridge in glimmering ocean-light. With that and the lamps in their sconces, they had enough light to see the consoles which lined the walls, leading to the wheel at the front, overlooking the ocean. Kei looked on as she usually did from the upper level, separated from the main part of the bridge by a spiralling staircase.
The past week or so had gone by uneventfully, even more so than long sea voyages usually did. The most interesting thing they’d seen in days was a rock shaped like King George’s head.
The rest of the crew were clearly just as bored as Alethea, and worse at hiding it. They slumped against their consoles, yawned without covering their mouths and even fell asleep where they sat. She didn’t mind that much. There wasn’t exactly a lot to be mindful of out here with no enemy submarines to worry about. They only had to keep their eyes open for the treasure, and the sonar could do that for them.
A tug on her trouser leg brought Alethea out of her boredom. She looked down to see a baby sea otter, barely two weeks old, looking up at her with small, black, beady eyes. His puffy fur begged to be petted. He held up his little paws to Alethea as if he were handing something to her, the same way Marina had done when she was small.
“What have you got there, sweetie?” she said, reaching down to take what the pup offered her.
He placed something small and wet in her hand. She opened it to find a half-chewed raisin sitting in her palm. At least, she hoped it was a raisin.
“No, Kappa, that’s not right!” Shirokani said, scooping the pup up in his arms. The otter squeaked and tugged on his owner’s long, ebony hair. He’d had to tie back his hair since he’d gotten the otter, but it still found a way to bite his moustache. “You were supposed to give her the note, remember?”
“What are you doing?” Alethea asked as she watched the boatswain – a Japanese Ainu man with long hair framing his thin face – with his latest pet.
This wasn’t the first time that Shirokani had adopted a baby animal. In the two years he’d been on the Barracuda, he’d already adopted a cat, a turtle and a squirrel, and tearfully released them all once they were old enough to survive on their own. This one had been bought from a fur trader in Atlantis with his share of their last haul.
“He has a small pouch just here,” Shirokani said, rubbing at Kappa’s armpit. “I want to train him to pass secret messages for us.”
“It could work,” Alethea said, staring at the raisin in her hand. “With some practice.”
“Well, we’ve only just started. He still has plenty of time to learn.” Shiro cooed over his pet, drawing out a bottle of diluted whale milk from his weapon holster.
“Is that one of Marina’s old bottles?”
“I found it in the storage room. Do you mind if I use it?” Shiro asked, even as Kappa suckled from the bottle, milk spilling out onto his fur.
“Well… of course not. It’s not as if I’m going to use it again,” Alethea said, rising to check on Ling.
“Anything yet?” she asked for what must have been the hundredth time.
“Wha… Uh… Not yet, Captain,” Ling said, jerking awake and hitting his head on the console. “There’s nothing there.”
“This is where Erikson’s ship should be. Keep your eyes peeled.”
“Aye, Captain,” Ling said, his eyelids already drooping.
“Perhaps the sonar isn’t collaborated properly,” Marina said, leaning over Ling’s half-asleep form and flicking some switches. “I think I can… there!”
A series of flashing dots appeared on the screen.
“Ah, so it was collaborated incorrectly. Nice work,” Alethea said, raising a hand to pat her daughter on the shoulder, letting it hover in the air for a moment, then running it through her hair.
Marina puffed her chest before pointing to one of the dots. “Is that it?”
“Yes,” Alethea said, looking out the front window – the Barracuda‘s eyes from the outside – at the Viking longboat before them. It had been dilapidated by years underwater and almost entirely taken over by ocean life. “And look at that, nobody around to stop us!”
Marina rolled her eyes and sat down at the claw controls. “I can work these, if nobody else wants to.”
“If you want to,” Alethea replied, suddenly finding it difficult to look her daughter in the eye.
“Didn’t I tell you this would be worth it?” Alethea said, beaming over the spread of Viking artefacts laid out on the meeting room table – torcs, coins, axes, and all manner of other Viking things.
“They don’t look all that valuable,” Marina said as she picked the seaweed off a half-worn helmet.
“That’s just because they’ve been underwater for so long. They’ll look better once we clean them off. So, how much are they worth, Kesä?”
The accountant frowned. “These are not Leif Erikson’s things,” she said.
“They’re not?” Alethea said, her face falling. “But everybody says that’s his ship.”
“They are wrong. Whoever owned these was poor.”
“Well, they must still be worth something. How much?”
“Not enough to pay our expenses.”
“I knew it,” Marina said, throwing the worthless helmet down so hard that it split in half. “I knew we should have gone after the jade.”
“Now hold on, just because this hoard isn’t worth anything, that doesn’t mean we can’t find one that is,” Alethea said, holding out her hands.
“None as valuable as Redscalp’s treasure,” Kei whispered just loudly enough for Alethea to hear.
“How much is Redscalp’s treasure worth, Kes?” Rico asked.
“I don’t know. What is in it?” the accountant replied, picking up her abacus and pushing her glasses down from her hair, which more closely resembled straw.
“I heard there’s a real Plato scroll,” Marina said.
“There’s a rumour that the Honjō Masamune sword is in there, too,” Shiro added.
“And that Leonardo da Vinci painting that was stolen from Paris.”
“And something called a Sampo. I can’t remember what it is, though.”
“So how much is that worth, Kesä?”
“Hetkinen, I count,” Kesä said.
She stared unblinking at her abacus, moving the beads so quickly that none of them could keep up with her, muttering calculations in her native Finnish. Even if any of them did also speak Finnish, they probably wouldn’t have understood her mutterings.
“All together. Divided by thirteen. Minus repairs and expenses. This is only guess, but…” Kesä’s eyes widened and she held the abacus at arm’s length. “Voi luoja…”
“Well?” the others asked, inching closer.
“I’m buying a lakeside cottage!” Kesä squealed.
“That much?” Kei said, her eyes widening.
“A lakeside cottage won’t even make a dent in a single share,” Kesä said, hugging her abacus to her chest.
“I could buy a mansion. And a suit and a horse-drawn carriage and a crown,” Ling muttered to himself, the tiredness vanished from his eyes.
“You see, Captain? It’s a risky job, but when it’s done, we’ll never have to do anything so risky ever again,” Kei said.
“It’s not even that far. Only a few days away,” Rico added.
“We can get there before any of the others find it,” said Kirana, the helmswoman, a young Indonesian woman with long, flowing, dark hair and eyes the colour of tree bark.
“I still don’t know…” Alethea said, looking at Marina. “There are so many people going after it.”
“We have just as good a chance as any of them,” Kei countered. “In fact, we have a better chance, because you…”
Her eyes widened and her hand flew to her mouth.
“Because you what?” Rico asked, looking at Alethea.
“Nothing,” she replied, looking towards the door, sweat beading against her skin.
“It’s not nothing. What is it?” Marina asked, stepping towards her. “You’re our captain, so you’re not supposed to hide anything from us.”
She looked to each of her crew and finally to Kei, who shrugged.
“Sorry. It just came out,” the quartermaster said.
“No, I may as well say it.” Alethea gave a long sigh before she continued. “A long time ago, when I first came Undersea… I was part of Redscalp’s crew.”
“You?” Marina said, her mouth hung open. “You worked for the most notorious Pirate captain who ever sailed Undersea?”
“There’s no need to be quite so surprised,” Alethea said, running a hand through her hair. She swore she’d found several new grey hairs that hadn’t been there at her last check that morning.
“Hold on, I’ve been here five years, and you never once brought up that you worked for Captain Redscalp?” Rico said.
“She never told me either. And I’m her daughter!” Marina said.
“There was… some bother when I retrieved the jade for him—”
“You found the jade?” Marina all but screamed.
“I am learning so much today!” Ling said.
“Ugh… Yes. And this is exactly why I didn’t want to tell any of you,” Alethea said, rubbing at her temples.
Truthfully, their reaction was only one of the reasons. The other was one she didn’t even like to think of, so she would keep it to herself.
“Before any of you ask, I don’t know exactly where the treasure is. I was already on the Barracuda and pregnant by the time Redscalp hid the treasure and the jade,” Alethea said, to which the crew collectively deflated. “None of this matters, anyway. The Pohjola Trench is still too dangerous.”
“Shouldn’t we take a vote?” Kei said.
“Yes, a vote!” everybody else agreed.
Alethea looked between all of them, wanting to protest or convince them otherwise. But there was nothing she could do when a vote was called for. It was part of the Pirate’s articles of agreement.
“Fine,” she relented.
“Everyone who wants to go after the jade and the treasure?” Kei asked.
Twelve hands shot into the air with a cry of “Aye!”.
“And who wants to keep on scavenging shipwrecks for stuff like this?” Kei asked, picking up a chipped stone beaker.
Everybody looked to Alethea.
“Oh, I suppose it doesn’t matter,” she said, throwing her arms up in the air.
“Let’s get started, then. Julius, I want the engines up and running in five minutes. Shiro, get us ready to leave. Warwick, map out our course.” Kei gave out orders and the others didn’t hesitate to rush out the door, each of them twittering with excitement.
“So, you said you don’t know where the treasure is,” Warwick said, laying out his navigation charts on the table and glaring at them with his single eye (the other was covered by an eyepatch, and he’d never told them exactly why), “but do you have any idea of the general area? Or even which ocean it’s in?”
“I only know it’s somewhere here, in the Jade Forest,” Alethea answered, pointing to an area off the coast of Southern Vinland.
“Wait, it’s inside the Forest?”
“Well, then how the bloody hell are we supposed to find it? Subs that go in there never come out again.”
“That’s what the jade is for. It’s magic. Leads the way through the forest.”
“Ah, so we won’t even need a treasure map. Even better,” Warwick said with a rare smile as he gathered up his mass of maps and carried them towards the navigation room, where no doubt he would lock himself away and not let anybody else in until his course was plotted.
“I’m still not certain about this,” Alethea said to Kei once the two of them were alone.
“I know. But think about Marina. Once we do this, you can find somewhere safe for the two of you to settle down. You won’t have to put her in danger ever again,” Kei said.
“You speak like this will definitely work.”
“Of course, it will. We have Redscalp’s own crewman leading us,” Kei said, clapping Alethea on the shoulder. “Oh and… sorry for spilling your secret.”
“I suppose they would have found out eventually,” Alethea said, crossing her arms.
“You saw how impressed they were. Not many Pirates can say they have one of Redscalp’s own leading them.”
“I don’t like thinking about what happened back then,” Alethea said with a sigh.
“Of course,” Kei said, gathering up the worthless treasure into a bag so that she could throw it out. “I won’t bring it up again.”
Alethea stared at the blinking dot on the sonar screen and listened to the regular “blip” that came with it. Each one brought them deeper into the Pohjola Trench. Every blink of light made the sickly feeling in her stomach worse. She didn’t tell the rest of the crew, who chatted about all the things they were going to buy with their shares of the treasure as they went about their jobs on the bridge.
They could just about see the trench through the window. The jagged walls climbed up as tall as mountains, steeping them in darkness. If it weren’t for the lights at the front of their submarine leading the way, they would have been in total darkness, even now during the summer.
Creatures they couldn’t identify scuttled into crannies as they passed. Decaying ships, seemingly from every continent and era of history, lined the ground.
“Those look recent,” Shiro said, staring at some of the crashed submarines, which shared the Barracuda’s modern plating. He gripped Kappa tightly; the baby otter greedily guzzled his whale milk, unaware of how afraid he should be.
“Probably the same ones who came here looking for the stone,” Alethea said with a shudder.
Everyone knew that danger and death were commonplace Undersea, yet seeing the remains with her own eyes still made Alethea queasy, even after all the years she’d lived below the waves.
“How did something as valuable as Redscalp’s stone come to be in this hell hole?” Warwick asked.
“Redscalp was protective over his treasure. He probably thought that nobody would ever find it down here.”
“He probably thought that nobody would want to come looking here,” Kei said.
A crackling came over the shortwave. A Barbarian submarine emerged from the darkness, coming towards them.
Barbarians were one of the toughest and most feared factions Undersea. Encounters with them rarely ended without a nasty fight. She untensed when she noticed that this boat was badly battered, entire chunks of its plating hanging off or missing.
“Are you Pirates going after the jade?” a shaking voice came over the shortwave. Again, highly unlike Barbarians.
“Yes, we are.” Alethea took the shortwave speaker from its hook by the communication station and spoke into it, the others watching on with dour faces.
“You have to turn back now. There’s a… a thing down there and… it’s impossible! It’s too vicious,” the Barbarian captain said.
Alethea had never heard a Barbarian show fear before.
“Thanks for the warning,” she said as the battered sub drifted away, no doubt towards the nearest repair station. She turned to the others. “That is exactly why I never wanted to come down here in the first place. Turn around. We have to go back,” she ordered loudly enough for the entire bridge to hear.
“Mum, we can’t. Not when we’ve come this far,” Marina protested.
“And we still have a chance to get away before whatever is down here tears us in half.”
“We voted to do this, and you can’t go against the vote, even if you don’t agree with it,” Kei said, walking down the staircase to stand before Alethea.
“Yes, but I can go against the vote if I think we’re in danger. Which I do. If Barbarians can’t make it, then what chance do we have?”
“What do the rest of you say?” Kei addressed the crew. “Do you all still want to do this?”
“I’m in. We’re tougher than any old Barbarians,” Warwick said.
“Me too. Since we’ve come this far,” Rico added.
“I want to take the risk,” Marina said.
“It seems I don’t have a choice, then,” Alethea said, burying her head in her palm.
“Don’t worry, we’ll be fine. If it does get too dangerous, we’ll leave quicker than a Viking sobers up,” Kei said with a smile that was probably supposed to be reassuring but didn’t stop the sickly feeling in Alethea’s stomach.
They travelled for a long time through the inky darkness, alert to avoid a collision, passing by many other ruined ships on the way, which seemed to become more dilapidated the further they went. Eventually, they saw skeletons hanging off the sides of the ruined ships or lying helplessly on the ground. Nobody said a word as they passed by.
Just when the silence and the litter of wrecks and corpses seemed endless, a high-pitched shriek erupted across the bridge. Alethea was startled out of her thoughts to turn and see Shiro trying to calm Kappa as the pup thrashed and screeched in his lap.
“This is strange,” Shiro said as he shoved a finger into Kappa’s mouth to quiet him, which only muffled his cries as he squirmed and clawed and bit. “He’s never done anything like this before.”
“Can’t animals sense things? Maybe whatever those Barbarians were talking about is nearby,” Marina suggested.
“How will we know when we’ve found it?” Rico asked.
A roar shook the entire sub.
“Probably something like that will happen,” Kei said.
The bridge was plunged into darkness as a black shape filled the front window. All they could see was a giant body, at least five times the size of the Barracuda, with thick, coal-black tentacles dragging along the ocean floor and dragon-like wings protruding from its back. It looked upon their boat with every one of its five shining silver eyes, each as large as a knight’s shield. Teeth as tall as a man and sharp as a spear were revealed when it opened its jaws. It cried out again, so loudly that Alethea felt the floor shaking beneath her.
“Iku-Turso,” Kesä said, staring at the window, trembling.
“What?” Alethea asked, turning to her.
“A story from my country. A monster from the sea. I didn’t know it was real!”
“Well, I didn’t think that cipactli was real until it killed—”
“Captain, look!” Kirana said from the wheel.
She pointed to a spot on the ground just visible through Iku-Turso’s looming tentacles. Alethea ran across the bridge to the helm and saw a faint glimmer.
“The stone,” she said, the words catching in her throat. Even from this distance, she still recognised it, and it reminded her why she had never wanted to see it ever again.
“This thing must be guarding it,” Rico said.
“That’s why Redscalp hid it all the way down here,” Kei added. “No better way to keep people away from your treasure than having a monster like this one guard it for you.”
“How could he tame a beast like that?” Shiro asked as he drew out a fresh bottle of whale milk from his bandolier to satiate Kappa’s squalls.
“Redscalp was full of secrets,” Alethea said, shaking her head. Too many bad memories were returning to her all at once, and not a single one of them was welcome.
The creature before them let out another deep rumbling sound and swung out one of its tentacles. It would have clipped their side if Kirana hadn’t thrown her weight on the wheel and steered them starboard just in time.
Her steering was clumsy, but it always got them in the right place. Alethea had always suspected that Kirana had lied about her past experience when she’d taken her on as the helmswoman. But by the time she’d figured that out, they’d been in the middle of the Pacific, so she hadn’t been able to do anything about it. She never had gotten around to confronting her about it.
“Maybe we can distract it,” Kei suggested.
“How, exactly?” Alethea said before another tentacle swung at them.
This one caught their bow, sending a piece of plating flying across the front window.
“Captain, there’s something else approaching,” Ling said from the sonar console.
“Oh, what now? Don’t tell me there’s more than one of those things,” Alethea grumbled.
“No,” said Ling, “it’s another sub.”
The sight of a wolf-head mast appeared from the side window, snarling at the Barracuda. Alethea groaned. So did everyone else. This was clearly a Viking sub, shaped almost exactly the same as the longboat they’d found earlier, with differently patterned shields decorating its side. A flag depicting a silver coin inside the mouth of a skull flew proudly from the top sail.
“Oh shit,” Kirana said, gritting her teeth.
“It’s the Fenrir,” Marina said.
“Petturi Konna’s crew,” Rico confirmed.
Alethea had heard plenty of stories of submarines which had clashed with the Fenrir, and none of them ended well.
They could only watch and listen as the Viking ship’s torpedoes tore through the water and exploded on Iku-Turso’s body.
The creature made a sound like a thunderclap, so loud that they had to cover their ears. It thrust its tentacles at the wolf-pronged sub, but it dodged them easily. Viking ships were amongst the fastest Undersea.
“What do we do now?” Kirana asked.
“I say we let them distract it for us. Let icky turtle, or whatever its name is, attack them while we nab the stone,” Rico said.
“I say the same thing,” Alethea chimed in as one of the rogue tentacles struck their side and they were nearly knocked to the ground. “You and Kirana go.”
Rico was their weapons master, and Kirana had been raised in a Bajau village – she was the strongest and fastest swimmer amongst them.
Alethea kept a close eye on the front window as the two of them dashed out and equipped themselves with breathing masks, flippers and goggles. She was so focused that she didn’t notice Marina slipping away.
“We’re in the airlock. Ready to leave,” Rico’s voice came a few minutes later.
“Not yet. Hold on…”
The Fenrir’s torpedo hit its target with a satisfying boom.
A horrifying screech seemed to fill the entire ocean as Iku-Turso cried out in pain. Blood as black as the rest of its body shot out as one of its tentacles fell with a heavy thud to the ocean floor. The unclaimed jade fell with it. Only then could they see that the jade was attached to the tentacle.
The monster’s eyes fixed on the Fenrir, using its remaining tentacles to launch itself at the sub, leaving a trail of inky, black blood.
“That’s it. Go, go, go,” Alethea shouted into the shortwave.
They went. She watched them swimming out, towards the gemstone.
“They’re coming,” Kei said.
Alethea saw three Vikings in scuba suits of their own leaving the Fenrir and swimming towards her crewmen. She was about to tell them through the shortwave, but she didn’t need to.
Rico had already turned and unsheathed one of his swords. The pointed part of Kirana’s retractable spear launched out and hit a Viking in the arm.
Through the corner of her eye, Alethea saw a third person swimming downwards. A Pirate. She looked around the bridge and her heart fell. “Marina…”
Marina did her best to block out the roars and the explosions and the blood dissipating in the ocean and focus on the distant, shining speck on the trench floor. She tried not to think about how fast her heart was racing or how her gloves were already soaked with sweat.
But she wanted to do this anyway. Because she wanted to prove to her mother that she could. Because she loved the feeling of being out in the open ocean. And because she was beginning to realise that this might be her last adventure. That was why she had snuck out the back hatch whilst her mother wasn’t looking.
She wouldn’t have minded watching the fight between the Pirates and the Vikings if she didn’t have something far more important to do. Thankfully, her mother had been teaching her to swim practically before she could walk. With that and her flippers, she swiftly reached the ocean floor and brushed aside the sand to reveal the stone and the thick iron chain it was attached to.
It was even more beautiful up close; about the size of her palm, heavy and smooth in a shimmering green with black bands running over it, shining with a radiant light as if it held all the secrets of the ocean. It was no wonder that Iku-Turso guarded it so closely, or that Redscalp had gone to such great lengths to hide it. She could see why so many had risked their lives and died trying to find this. And there it was, within her grasp.
Her hand took hold of the chain. And so did a hook.
Chapter Three – When the Viking Bares His Steel
Marina looked up into a pair of icy blue eyes which struck her cold. She had seen those eyes once before. This was the Viking girl who had been with Petturi Konna in Atlantis. And now she was here, in front of her. Looking straight at her.
The Viking grabbed Marina with her free hand, which she only then noticed was her only hand. On her other arm was the hook holding the chain, the end as sharp as a knife.
“Hey, my sub was here first,” Marina said, pressing a button on her helmet so that she could be heard. “The stone is ours.”
“Like hell it is,” the Viking said in a rough Icelandic accent, the syllables seeming to shoot straight out of her nose.
A crash made them look up to see Iku-Turso slamming its head against the Fenrir. Both the Vikings and Pirates spun through the water, simultaneously trying to avoid the monster and knock the weapons out of each other’s hands.
The blonde girl then glanced downwards at the dislodged tentacle. Marina followed her gaze and saw that it covered part of the chain, holding it firmly to the ocean floor.
“We’ll have to move this,” the Viking said, tugging the chain and finding it immovable. “I don’t think I can lift this myself. And the others are occupied.”
“Truce?” Marina asked, her heart fluttering a little faster.
“For now,” the Viking replied.
Something about the way she spoke set off a fizzing sensation inside Marina, like bubbles were rising inside her.
“We won’t survive many more of those, Captain,” Kei said as yet another stray tentacle shook the ship and sent half of them falling over and crying out in pain.
Even though the monster’s attention was turned on the Fenrir, they were still close enough to receive the collateral hits. Yet Alethea couldn’t let them get further away just yet.
“More of them are coming,” Shiro said, alerting Alethea to even more Vikings ejecting from the Fenrir, heading straight towards Rico and Kirana. And after them, right towards Marina.
“I’m going out there,” Alethea said, pulling her breathing mask from its regular place at her belt and checking her holsters for her weapons.
“You sure?” Kei asked, her brow creased.
It had been a long time since Alethea had fought alone. Or fought at all.
“Weren’t you the one who wanted me to take a risk?” Alethea quipped as she hastily pulled on her diving mask and ran to the airlock, not even bothering to fix her scarf across her face as she always did when she left the Barracuda. She’d just have to risk being seen this time.
She did take a brief moment to feel for the holster hidden underneath her shirt. Even though she always kept it there, she felt a wave of relief when her fingers brushed the gun. Robert’s gun. The one he’d given her all those years ago to defend herself. She’d kept the gun close ever since then, just in case. So far, she’d never had to use it. But today was different. Now Marina was the one she had to defend.
Aim between the eyes. She and Robert had been given that piece of advice years ago. She had to remember that now. If it came down to it, always aim between the eyes.
“On three?” Marina asked, to which the Viking nodded. “One, two, three… Bloody hell, this thing is heavy!” she said as they heaved the tentacle up, the strain making her already-tired fingers throb even more.
“I know. It’s going to be hard getting the dents out of the boat,” the Viking added.
They finally tossed the dismembered tentacle aside, where it landed uselessly on the seabed, sending up a cloud of sand. Both girls quickly swam back to grab the sections of chain they had been holding before, looking awkwardly into each other’s eyes once again.
Marina desperately tried to think of a way to escape the girl, which was difficult as she didn’t quite want to tear herself away from those blue eyes just yet.
“Will your captain beat you if you don’t take the stone back?” the Viking asked.
“No. She’s not that bad. Will your chief beat you?”
“I can handle him.”
That didn’t answer her question.
“One of us does need to take it before that monster destroys us all,” Marina said. “And I’m sorry to tell you this, but it’s going to be me.” She let go of the chain.
By the time Alethea reached them, Kirana had the string of her spear wrapped around her and Rico was having his helmet bashed by two axes at once, nearly hard enough to crack it. With a swift kick, she knocked one of the axes out of its owner’s hand. The Viking gripped his injured arm while his crewmate, a particularly angry and grizzled looking Viking, launched at her, brandishing his axe at her unguarded body. Thankfully she was smaller and faster and in the water he moved sluggishly. She dodged his swing just in time to feel it pass by her.
“It’s weird seeing you here,” Rico said when his senses returned to him. “Not complaining though,” he added as he reached for one of his pistols and fired at the Viking’s weapon hands.
Alethea took this chance to glance downwards to check on Marina, ready to swim down and rescue her from whatever the Viking girl was doing to her. She saw the Viking still gripping the chain, no doubt about to fight Marina for it.
Arrows sped through the water before Alethea’s eyes and she turned to see more Vikings approaching, underwater bows in hand. This was going to be more difficult than she had anticipated, she thought as she gripped her own gun tighter. She took the risk to glance downwards again, planning where she should fire to rescue her daughter. But she didn’t need to. Her daughter was already rescuing herself.
In the moment it took the Viking girl to be surprised, Marina jabbed her hand against her forearm. She flinched at the pain to her pressure point and released the chain. Marina grabbed it again and placed her feet against the other girl, using her body to launch herself upwards.
What she hadn’t counted on was the other girl being quick enough to grab her foot. When she felt the grip around her ankle, she looked down to see the Viking pulling her down by her leg. She hissed at the shot of pain as the hook wrapped around her ankle, the pointy end digging into her leg. She struggled, but the Viking was too strong, her hook holding too tightly. When she was close enough, she hitched an arm around Marina’s waist then pulled her arm back so violently that Marina winched and let go of the chain.
The Viking slid her hook into one of the chain links. There was no way Marina could get the chain away from her now. Unless…
Marina picked up her gun, a Blanch percussion pistol made for underwater fights, and fired right at the tip of her hook. It hit and temporarily startled her opponent. In that brief moment, Marina swam the distance between them and slipped the chain off her hook.
The Viking looked at her with fire in her eyes, her hand reaching for her axe. This was it, Marina knew. Now the Viking girl was ready to fight her to get what she needed. And even kill her if it came to it.
A furious Viking wielding an axe was one of the most dangerous things above or below the sea. Perhaps even more dangerous than Iku-Turso.
Marina wasted no time in turning and swimming to her friends. To her surprise, her mother was there too, firing at several of them at once. Her heart stopped. Perhaps she was in trouble.
The bubbly, fizzing sensation was gone. Instead she felt clammy and didn’t want to look at her mother.
With a glance downwards, Alethea saw her daughter swimming towards her. Marina wasn’t looking at her, but she could see the chain in her hand, the luminous green stone shining even in the dim light. Despite the wave of relief cresting over Alethea at the fact her daughter had survived a fight against a Viking, the sight of the stone up close made her queasy.
“Hey, they have the stone!” one of the Viking men said with a curiously English-sounding accent. He lunged for them, sending a familiar sense of dread through Alethea. The one she’d felt when she’d watched Robert being dragged down by the jaws of a crocodile monster.
But Marina twisted around and fired at the Viking, barely missing his groin. He stopped, his eyes wide, and watched as she swam towards the Barracuda. Alethea shared a look with Rico and he followed her close behind, his gun still in his hand to defend her if he had to.
Alethea turned away from her daughter to face the Vikings. It was just her now against half a dozen of them. Marina’s warning shot had done its work. Now she had to hold them off until her daughter reached the Barracuda with the stone.
“Move aside. I’ll take her.” A new Viking joined the fight, the others parting to let him pass. Alethea had never seen him before, but she knew this was Chief Petturi Konna.
A roar from Iku-Turso interrupted their fight. Each of them instinctively covered their ears, forgetting that they were all wearing diving helmets.
“Chief,” the tall Polynesian Vikings said over the sound.
“Not now, Inoki,” the chieftain said, refusing to look at him as he swam closer to Alethea, who gripped her own sword tighter. She considered how quickly she could draw Robert’s gun from its holster and fire.
“Chief, it’s about to rip the Fenrir apart. We need to leave now,” Inoki said, placing a large hand on the chief’s shoulder.
Aletha risked a glance to see that the creature, blood pouring from its severed tentacle, was close to tearing off the Fenrir’s hull.
“Damn you, Pirate arseholes. Think you rule the entire ocean,” one of the more particularly violent Vikings said, throwing his axe to the ground in frustration. It took him a moment to remember that he was underwater and desperately grabbed it again before it sunk into the seabed slime.
The chieftain said nothing. He kicked himself off his crewmate to cross the distance to Alethea. She barely raised her sword in time to clash against his axe.
“I hope you don’t think Redscalp’s treasure is yours to take, Barracuda,” he growled.
There was something in his voice which shook Alethea. Something which bothered her even more than the axe in his hand or the monster roaring close by.
“Who are you?” she asked without knowing why.
With a motion so swift it made her gasp, he grabbed her arm and pulled her closer. She could see his face clearly through his helmet. She could see his hair, rust coloured and streaked with grey, spread across his forehead and his dark brown eyes, looking straight into hers as if he were inspecting her.
“I’m Petturi Konna. And I am the rightful heir to Redscalp’s treasure. It’s what I’m owed.”
“What makes you think that?” Alethea said, hoping that he couldn’t feel how much she was shaking.
“Because I was the one who helped him find that treasure. And the one who helped him hide it,” he said before releasing his grip on her arm, turning, and swimming back to his boat with the rest of his crew.
Alethea could only float in the water, her sword almost forgotten in her hand. She knew now where she recognised that voice and those eyes. She remembered why he scared her so much.
Aim between the eyes.
“Alethea? Alethea, come on!” Kei’s voice came over the shortwave, breaking her out of her shock. “We have to leave now. What’s wrong with you?”
“Sorry. I’m coming,” Alethea replied before turning and swimming back to the Barracuda. She almost couldn’t find the submarine, for her mind was in too much of a haze.
“Kirana, get us away from that thing. As fast as we can move,” Kei ordered the moment the airlock doors slammed shut and Alethea was back on the bridge.
She was supposed to be the one giving out orders, but she could only grip the railing, close to collapse. She suddenly found it difficult to walk or even stand. All she could make out was the Fenrir speeding away through the water, Iku-Turso unable to follow at the same speed with its injured tentacle. The creature could only scream in warning for them to stay away.
“With pleasure,” the helmswoman said as she twisted the wheel almost in a complete circle.
They could still hear the monster’s roars as they made their way at full pelt back through the Trench, but the cries grew distant and they knew it wasn’t going to follow.
“We did it!” Marina cried out, holding up the stone triumphantly as she and the rest of the crew cheered, slapping each other on the back and admiring the sparkling gem.
“Take that, you Viking bastards!” Ling shouted as he and Marina struck their fists together, full of smiles.
“That was amazing. You really let them have it, nena,” Rico said, ruffling Marina’s hair in a way which he knew she hated, yet giggled at anyway.
“What should we do about the Fenrir, Captain? It’s getting away,” Kirana broke through the noise of the celebration to ask.
“Mum, are you alright? Mum?” Marina asked.
“What?” Alethea looked up, only then noticing her daughter and the rest of the crew looking upon her with concern. “Just… Just let them go. I’ll be in my cabin,” she said and left the bridge.
“That was weird,” Marina said as she watched her leave. “She didn’t even punish me.”
“Did you see that shit back there? Their Pirate captain kicked me right in the hand! And that little Pirate brat nearly shot my dick off!” Varri grumbled as he stepped through the Fenrir’s airlock, tearing off his diving mask and replacing it with a horned helmet over his greying black curls.
“So what? It’s not like you’ve ever used it for anything.” Thara laughed along with the others as Varri looked to the floor and twisted his lips into a half smile.
“Welcome back.” Donovan greeted her with his usual warm smile and lilting upper-class English accent, which sounded almost out of place amongst Vikings. Thara had always liked this skinny, brown-haired Englishman; the way he sang while he cooked, his kind smile, and his imaginative stories. It made up for the fact that his cooking tasted like it came from the pits of Hell. “How did it go?”
“No luck with the stone, but our Thara put up quite the fight,” Inoki told Donovan as he wrapped his large, strong arms around him and kissed his forehead.
“Is that so? I wish I could have seen it.”
“That Pirate girl was quite a fighter. I was impressed,” Thara said, staring at nothing for a second.
Inoki and Donovan looked at each other and grinned.
“What? I’m always impressed by strong fighters,” she said.
“Yes, it was the same thing with me. The first time I heard Inoki sing, I told myself it was just his voice I admired,” Donovan said, squeezing Inoki’s shoulder.
“Are you saying there’s something wrong with my singing?” Inoki chuckled.
“Of course not, my dear. You know what I mean.”
“I know. I was only teasing you,” Inoki said, pulling his husband close to kiss him on the cheek. It was strange to think that this was the same man who had been swinging his club at Pirates only a few moments ago.
A pot of stew was hurled out of the kitchen, sending a smear of broth and vegetable chunks sliding down the wall. The laughter abruptly stopped.
“I hope that wasn’t tonight’s dinner,” Thara sighed.
“It was,” replied Donovan as he followed a steaming Petturi out of the kitchen.
Thara wasn’t too fond of Donovan’s cooking – not that she would ever tell him – but the sight of it decorating their walls was disheartening after a long and difficult fight. She’d been looking forward to some stew and beer and laughter with the others.
“Any of you worthless, booze-loving turd goblins want to explain to me why you let those Pirates get away with my stone?” Petturi snarled.
“Oh, I don’t know. Maybe because there was a monster about to tear our sub apart?” Thara said.
“And why did you let a little Pirate girl – a girl! – get her hands on the stone in the first place?” Petturi said, descending upon her, his eyes wide and unblinking.
“She was a better fighter than me,” Thara admitted, wanting to look away from Petturi, but knowing that she couldn’t. It would only make him angrier. “It’s not like I could have helped that.”
“You couldn’t help that she attacked you first?”
“That’s what I saw.”
“Well, maybe she did…” The fight had happened so quickly that she could barely remember the intricate details.
“If you had fought first, you could have gotten that stone from her,” Petturi said, his weapon hand raised. “Perhaps I should reconsider your place on my crew.”
“That’s enough, Petturi,” Inoki’s firm voice came from behind her. His tall frame stood between Thara and the chief. “I know you’re angry. We all are. But it’s a long way to the Jade Forest. It’ll take them at least a month to get all the way across the Atlantic. We have more than enough time to catch them and take the stone back. And this time we won’t have a sea monster attacking us while we do it.”
Petturi stood rigid before him, their eyes locked. Thara’s heart raced until he finally sighed and ran a hand through his hair, which once must have been as red as fire, but was now streaked a smoky, bonfire grey.
“Just do your jobs. All of you. Make the repairs. Prepare your weapons. And find those wretched Pirates,” Petturi spat out. “And you,” he said, jabbing a finger into Varri’s chest, “You were even more useless then the rest of these ironheads. I should never have hired you as our cleaner. Just look at this place,” he said, digging his foot into the stain-smeared floor. “Maybe if you weren’t pissed all the time, this shitwreck would be cleaner and you might have killed a few Pirates for me. You can clear out and replace the torpedo tubes. I don’t care if it takes you all night.” He marched to his cabin and slammed the door behind him.
Marina wanted to celebrate their victory in the galley with everyone else. They had done what she had wanted, gotten what they needed, and come out with only a few bruises. Yet she couldn’t join in the festive celebrations with the rest. She had too much on her mind.
Once she’d finished the squid skewers and honey cakes which Thandi had made for the celebration, she’d gone straight to her bunk and shut the door. Her bunk was always her refuge, even if she had to share it with four other women. She insisted on not getting any special treatment just because she was the captain’s daughter and insisted on sleeping in the bunk room with everyone else, despite their messy habits and late-night snoring.
Today, she was thankful that the room was empty. She needed time alone to think. That Viking girl wouldn’t leave her mind. Even after everything that had happened, she still wished she could see her again. She wished she could be by her side. Even if that meant the girl would be trying to kill her.
During that fight, her heart had been pounding. And not just because of the adrenaline running through her. This was a different kind of heart pounding that she hadn’t felt before.
But what did this mean? She knew so many things about living and fighting Undersea, but she didn’t know what to do about this. How could she feel this way about an enemy? An enemy whose name she didn’t even know.
She thought again of her mother and the look in her eyes whenever she mentioned Robert. About the look of disapproval when Marina had cut her hair short and the smile when she’d made a joke about her having a boyfriend.
That one fight seemed to have changed everything about Marina’s life in an instant. She’d always had a clear idea of how her future was going to go; she was going to spend her life on the Barracuda going on quests and eventually find a boyfriend like her mother had done, except hopefully without him dying horribly and leaving her pregnant. But now that future had entirely changed.
Kei found Alethea slumped in a chair in the captain’s cabin. She hadn’t even bothered to turn on the lamps. Her eyes were wide, her breathing shallow, and her fingers gripped the jade, staring at it almost with revulsion.
“I know something’s wrong with you. Don’t try and deny it,” Kei said, turning on a lamp and pouring out glasses of rum for both of them from the decanter which was always kept on the sideboard. “Do you want to tell me about it? Or do I have to force it out of you?”
Alethea took the offered rum glass and took a sip with a shaking hand. After several minutes and several long sips, the shaking had stopped and she spoke.
“That Viking chieftain… I recognised him. He didn’t remember me, but I knew him.”
“How do you know him?” Kei asked with a raised eyebrow, taking a sip from her own glass.
“His real name is Lewis. I knew him when he was Redscalp’s quartermaster. I was with him that day…” She almost choked on her own words. “The day we were sent to find this,” she continued, gripping the stone. “When the cipactli attacked us.”
Kei gripped her own glass. She didn’t need to be told the rest of the story, for she knew it already. How they’d found the stone and then found a cipactli, a crocodile monster. Alethea had been rescued in time by the Barracuda, but her boyfriend…
“Was he the one who…?” she asked, her voice barely a whisper.
“Yes,” Alethea said, turning to face her old friend, “he was the one responsible for killing Marina’s father.”
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