A Letter To Jveddek

Dear Jveddek,

The morning after we realized that we would have to retrieve three corpses to put the ship's ghosts to rest, talk at the breakfast table focused on how to achieve that end. Once again, Nikita absented herself from the meal and the discussion. Eventually, talk turned to geography.
I described Graben Island for my friends and the relative location of the "dump" sites for the three corpses, based on what Peregrine had told me. We were talking about which site we would be reaching first when Brummet came into the mess.
His clear green eyes twinkled, and he smiled at us as if he hadn't overheard Ester commenting just yesterday that he didn't seem very bright.
"Enjoying your oatmeal, I see," he gestured toward the giantess, who was sucking down the last of Nikita's helping with gusto.
"As we do every morning," I answered politely. Next to me, Canliss choked, but Brummet ignored him.
"So, I had a talk with the captain," announced Brummet to the five of us, "and since you have a new task, you're relieved of all other duties. You're always welcome to pitch in and help out—that's what I would say to everyone—but the captain didn't want you distracted in any way, shape or form from the task that you have at hand."
You can bet I wasn't going to miss my shift with handsome Peregrine, relieved or otherwise. Even if navigation hadn't been a particular concern during the recovery operation we had ahead of us, I'd cheerfully spend eight hours just drinking in his appearance. Most of us allowed as how we'd probably take our shifts—just to avoid boredom. Since we'd been using Nikita's nap spell, we had many more hours of free time than we would have otherwise.
"Captain thought you might need some time to plan things out," replied Brummet.
"We will," Kariya assured him. "How long until we reach the first location?"
Brummet looked at the mage. "Maybe sometime tomorrow."
The first mate had finally given us a useful bit of information, after nothing but evasive answers. That was all he had to impart, however.
"I have to get back on deck," he said with a nod. "I'll leave you to enjoy the rest of your oatmeal."
Canliss snorted beside me as Brummet marched off. Honestly, I fail to see what's so horrible about oatmeal. I mean, it's not great, but at least it's not hard tack. You'd think people who'd eaten food from the Duergar market wouldn't complain.
Kariya turned to Canliss to ask if he'd tried casting "polymorph self" yet that morning. They'd been using that spell as a benchmark because Kariya's more advanced spells are all too destructive to test while sailing on a rotting tub like the Ship of Horrors. He immediately attempted the spell, but the only thing about him that changed was that he now wore an expression of disappointment.
The discussion of how to accomplish the first corpse recovery lasted an extraordinarily long time, even for a group of people who discuss everything at length. We needed to figure out which of us would be working underwater, which spells would need to be cast and which items would be necessary. Eventually, we settled on Rhavin diving with me to make the actual recovery, with Kariya and Ester to watch from the surface for any trouble. Nikita and Canliss were to stay on the surface. I won't bore you with the details of our preparations. Suffice it to say that terms like "team A" and phrases like "Jven can tow so-and-so" kept popping up. We talked for so long that breakfast had ended and the breakfast dishes were being cleared away.
Canliss had already cleaned ours with cantrips, so Fishboy, helping Basil with the cleanup, was surprised when he came for them.
When we finally broke up, Canliss went to look for rope on deck; Kariya sought out sacks in the kitchen; Rhavin went in search of a longboat; and I went to see Peregrine. I definitely got the best of those jobs, as everything on this vessel is in miserable condition except for the remarkably good-looking officers.
Before starting my shift, however, I paused to give Ester some healing. While on deck to do that, I observed that there was a great deal of activity in the rigging now that the winds had finally picked up. I could see that Nikita had deftly climbed into her position in the crow's nest. Suddenly, though, my stomach turned over as I caught sight of Canliss losing his footing.
I gasped as he started to fall, but I need not have worried: he calmly sprouted a feathered membrane from wrist to ankle on either side, allowing him to drift gently to the deck. I stared along with the other sailors who'd caught sight of him. I was so relieved that I forgot to give him a hard time about not blending in.
Kariya appeared on deck to take over Canliss' task of finding rope just as I was heading below.
She'd already found sacks and sewn them (who knew she was so domestic?) into bags large enough to contain a body, so our goal-oriented mage was ready to work on something else. Considering the pitiful state of the rigging, I doubted that there could be much useful rope aboard, but I didn't say so. Instead, I just excused myself to look for Peregrine.
When I found him, he was in the familiar act of reviewing several charts, serious expression fixed on his gorgeous face. He did look up when I entered the cabin to join him, which I suppose I should take as progress with the nervous, shy navigator.
"H-Hello," he said.
"Hello," I answered with a smile. I hoped that he'd be more at ease with me over time, but I was
beginning to doubt that it would happen. "We were just conferring about our mission."
"Oh yes!" he said, brightening. He looked away from me and pointed to a spot some distance out from Graben Island. "We're here."
Peregrine always looks away from me. I wonder if he is this nervous around everyone, or if I make him especially anxious. If the latter case is correct, why? An unspoken attraction seems unlikely given...well, given that Nikita is on this ship, too. More likely that any particular anxiety I might be inspiring would be intimidation over working with a priestess. I've run into that before, and the best remedy for that seems to be joking and being friendly.
Peregrine looked so serious that I just had to tease him. I stepped over to where he was leaning over the charts and blew in his perfectly-shaped ear. I straightened up just in time to see all of the muscles in his back and neck tighten. Since I wasn't standing directly behind him, I could just see Peregrine's Adam's apple bob as he swallowed hard. I smiled as innocently as I could and tried not to giggle.
"Um-right...and so...um...by this time tomorrow evening," he stammered, "and if we get better winds maybe earlier, um, we'll, um, be here."
He pointed to a spot just off the northern part of hand-shaped Graben Island's "palm". He appeared to be charting a course to end up off the northeastern part of the island. I asked about the depth of the sites where we'd be dropping anchor.
"We'll be dropping anchor somewhere in here," he replied, circling an area two and a half miles
off the northeastern edge of Graben Island.
We'd most likely be able to see land from there, as that end of the island seemed to have a fairly high elevation. Further inspection of the island itself revealed a river with its course cutting through the island. Todstein Island was further off to the east. At low tide, the depth of the area Peregrine had circled was about eighty feet. At high tide, it rose to a maximum depth of about ninety-five feet. The bottom there was marked to indicate rocky outcroppings on the ocean's floor.
The remainder of the shift threatened to go the usual direction of Peregrine checking and triple-checking his work. Even though I could follow what he was doing, I still started to get bored. I've learned something about myself on this adventure: I don't tolerate boredom well when I'm alone with a good-looking young man. I inched my way back to standing a bit closer to him than was absolutely necessary until I was close enough to loop a lock of his hair around my finger. I twirled it gently while inspecting the charts. Playing with his hair, of course, earned the same reaction that blowing in his ear had earlier. Honestly, Old Man, I wouldn't tease the poor fellow if it wasn't so damn much fun.
"Okay..." he gulped. "It's, uh, actually, uh, almost time for us—actually, uh, ab-about high sun, if—if we can see it and make s-some calculations."
He's so cute when he stammers like that.
"Right," I answered, trying to straighten up. After all, I really was supposed to be helping out.
He quickly scooped up some instruments, knocking others on the floor in the process. Of course, in his haste to retrieve those articles, he dropped a few more. I helped him pick them up—I didn't tease poor Peregrine any further as some of those instruments were fairly fragile.
Eventually, though, we made it out the door with everything we needed. However, the stairs up to the deck were blocked by Rhavin, Ester, and several sailors carrying a beat-up old longboat with a big hole in the bottom.
"I hope you're burying that at sea," I remarked to Rhavin as I surveyed that wreck. It would have been more seaworthy broken up into driftwood—at least driftwood floats.
Eventually, they struggled to get the thing on deck, and I followed with Peregrine. I let him go up the steps first, of course. Once on deck, Rhavin resumed a discussion with the sailors about mending the boat.
"Fix that?" I asked in disbelief.
"If it's not working..." Rhavin started to explain, but I cut him off, laughing. Working? "With Jvelto and a fleet of mermen maybe," I chuckled.
Rhavin and the others moved the boat off along the starboard rail for now, until the ship's carpenter could make an attempt at repairing the hole.
"Do you think it will be like the other ghost boat and float anyway?" I could hear Ester ask Rhavin. "The other boat had big holes."
"I think that boat was floating under some other means," the paladin answered patiently.
"Something magical."
I was glad not to field that question—just thinking about the zombies' wreck of a ship made me shudder involuntarily. Peregrine, already at work, didn't seem to notice my reaction. "So if our boat gets holes in it..." Ester tried to piece together the meaning for the dilapidated longboat.
"...it goes down," Rhavin finished for her.
The sailors on boat-hauling duty with Rhavin and Ester worked at emptying jugs of rum and singing, appropriately enough, about a boat with a hole in the bottom. I guess they had suggested plugging the hole with cork from the jugs, and Rhavin went for it.
"Here's a cork!" called a cheerful sailor.
Still chuckling to myself about the business with the boat, I turned my attention back to navigation. I was supposed to be helping Peregrine, after all, not making wisecracks.
Eventually, I noticed that the ship's carpenter arrived to fix the longboat—well, to the extent anyone could.
Behind me, Kariya and Rhavin were asking the carpenter to look over the metal rings for the oars and a few other areas of concern about the boat. For his part, Thorven nodded at whatever they pointed out, looked it over for himself, scratched and cursed.
"Lots o' tar," he grumbled. "as much tar as wood."
Yech. I always hated working with tar, so I didn't join their conversation, lest I somehow get stuck helping with the tar. Back at my old temple, Telbarto always made me help him with tarring his boat when he was supposed to be giving me lessons in boat piloting. Did I ever tell you that? That damned tar is the reason I never stuck with the boat piloting lessons.
As Thorven settled on the least warped boards, Kariya dried them. Even with the drying, much of the wood was warped beyond utility. To his credit, Thorven made due with the materials he had, although he did mutter a variety of colorful expressions in the process.
Not long after the carpenter's arrival, Peregrine and I finished our measurements and headed below to make calculations. Fortunately, we only had a minor course adjustment to make. Even better news was that we appeared to be a few hours ahead of schedule. At the end of the shift, I bade Peregrine good night (sigh) and sought out my friends.
When I caught up with them, I updated them on our course and speed. After that, Nikita asked everyone whether we should use the nap spell or if she should heal Kariya. She had just gotten the words out when Madeleine's nightly screaming began. Naturally, we all voted to nap. Before we could do that, however, Nikita went out to see the screaming woman for herself...I'm still wondering what Nikita was doing that she missed Madeleine the first time she appeared, but I don't know that I'll ever find out. She seems to have Rhavin and Kariya's cooperation on that at any rate. Kariya followed her out the door.
I stayed in the cabin with the rest of them, feeling the entire vessel shake with the force of the wailing. At one point, the screaming died down momentarily, but the noise continued to reverberate throughout the ship. Of course, the screaming came right back again. Nikita and Kariya told us later that Madeleine began screaming that someone named Lucretia left her, then she floated up off the deck and out to sea in the direction we were traveling.
"I'll cast a spell on her tomorrow," Nikita announced with a yawn when the two of them returned.
"I want to go to bed."
As we headed to the cargo hold for the nap spell, I thought about how Nikita and Kariya. They had just managed to work together to learn some information from the screaming woman. I smiled, thinking that maybe our little group would eventually get back to normal being functional.
We all woke up at the same time, of course. Nikita immediately jumped up and walked away from everyone. The rest of us soon fell about our business. Canliss' blue light cast an eerie glow around the cargo hold as he studied, and Kariya also opened a spellbook to review cantrips. In the more open part of the hold, Ester and Rhavin were practicing wrestling. I got out some paper and a quill with the intention of starting my next letter to you, but my mind wandered. I thought about Ebb Tide, and I wondered if Donar and Silvio had been able to tell you where I am. I wondered how Jvothgar would punish me for my foolish behavior the night before my abduction—if I ever made it back to Istur. That was all too depressing, so instead I thought about Peregrine and how to accomplish my observation assignment from Nikita—if she even cared to continue teaching me.
My reverie was broken when Ester yelped. The redheaded dead girl had appeared behind her and given her a start.
"I can't find Clara," she sniffled. Her nose wasn't actually running, though. Dead people's noses don't run, even in Ravenloft.
Rhavin looked over at her. "Do you want us to get Nikita?"
"No! Not Nikita! Clara!" the dead girl corrected.
Ester picked her up, and the giantess yelped again as the girl threw her arms around her.
Apparently, the child is quite cold.
"Why don't you ride on my shoulders?" asked shivering Ester.
The child's eyes widened. "Can I?"
While this was happening, Rhavin sneaked off to find Nikita. Meanwhile, Ester rode the girl around, playing horse. The girl began to giggle with delight astride her oversized playmate's back. It was all too weird. I tried to shake it off, but I couldn't look away somehow.
"Aw, she's laughing."
Nikita had just appeared at the bottom of the steps to the cargo hold. Only she would find Ester playing with a corpse cute. I don't know why the little redheaded girl gets me like this. I wish I could be more sympathetic, but I do think that hugging, kissing and playing with her cold, dead body is entirely too sympathetic. Am I wrong?
Just when I thought the scene couldn't get any weirder, Ester began playing birdie with the child, "flying" her around the cargo hold. Eventually, the child started to yawn, and Ester helped Nikita tuck her in. Once that scene faded out, Nikita got up without a word to any of us and retreated up the stairs. It's official, I couldn't help thinking, Nikita likes dead kids better than she likes the rest of us.
Not long after she left, we heard a loud pounding. I started to get up, but the noise stopped before I could get to the stairs. Instead, I just headed up to the deck to try to calm down. Thankfully, nothing else weird happened that night, so by the time I finished my prayers at dawn, I was ready for the day ahead...well, sort of.

The next morning gave us sunshine with a moderate amount of cloud cover. Harmless fluffy cumulus clouds floated high overhead. As I turned my attention to the carpenter, Thorven, inspecting that rotting tub of a longboat (with a freshly patched hole in the bottom), I knew with certainty that the weather was the least of our concerns for the day. I didn't know it at the time, but the boat wasn't the biggest problem in store for us that day, either. I headed down to the mess to join my companions for breakfast.
Canliss tested the polymorph spell over breakfast by turning into a housecat in front of a score of sailors. Blending in: he doesn't get it. To my delight, though, he leaped into my lap for some scratching behind the ears.
"I think I really prefer your company in this form," I told Canliss the Cat with a grin.
While Canliss batted a paw at me playfully, Nikita explained that the banging I'd heard last night had been Jacob's visit. He'd caught on to the "not Jacob" password, and he had been particularly insistent that someone answer the door.
"Aw, man," groaned Kariya. I couldn't have put it better myself, but I wasn't talking about Jacob after the rage incident the other night.
"He got very angry the second time, when I didn't get up and open the door," Nikita reported to the group.
"Maybe he needed to play 'bird'," mused the giantess over her oatmeal. This morning's oatmeal had a pinch of cinnamon on the top—yum.
"Do you think the spirits are getting more powerful now that we're getting closer to their resting place?" I wondered aloud.
"We've now seen all three spirits in one night," Rhavin pointed out. "I don't think we had that before."
"We're also getting closer to Graben, where they were killed," Kariya put in.
"So," Kariya turned to Nikita, who looked ready to bolt, "how does 'omniscient eye' work?"
Nikita settled in for a moment longer to explain the spell. It allows one to see in the darkness up to sixty feet, even underwater. She said she would only be able to cast it twice per day, though. More discussion about which spells to use ensued. Honestly, I didn't catch the whole discussion, since mostly the group was talking about Nikita's spells. Since I was going to shapeshift, I wouldn't be casting much of anything beyond water breathing and cold resistance, which were obviously required for my friends.
Ester was becoming distracted, too. As abstract and difficult to follow as I found Nikita's Torodinite spells, I knew the giantess had to be completely lost. Instead, she focused on Canliss, still curled up in my lap.
"Let's call him 'Winky'," she proposed suddenly. Canliss' ears twitched and the purring stopped as he registered his disapproval.
"No, Ester, you can't call him 'Winky'," I said. After all, he couldn't speak for himself in that form. "Well, I mean, you could—I've called him all sorts of things over the last couple of months—but it doesn't mean he'd answer to it."
Ester shrugged and patted his head affectionately...well, I think she meant to be affectionate, anyway. The mage's furry head bobbed up and down under the force of her attentions. At that, Canliss jumped off of my lap (too bad) and shifted form into a large, ferocious-looking, orange cat with black stripes. The sailors nearby backed off in a hurry. Ulfie was growling at him by that time, so Canliss turned to go on deck.
"Um, Canliss, please," Kariya called. "Use your brain!"
"Canliss! Something the sailors have perhaps seen before, if you please." I added. "They're going to be just a tiny bit freaked out as it is."
In his mind, I suppose he obliged my request, as he turned into a twin to Ulfie and romped upstairs.
Eventually, we made our way onto the deck, too, where Canliss was showing off. He changed shape every minute or so, upsetting a number of sailors. I just sighed and gave up. I guess having him as friendly black cat all the time would get boring eventually, but somehow I think I'd be able to cope with the lack of variety.
Shaking my head, I went off to find Peregrine for one last check on the navigation. When I found him, he looked even more rattled than usual. I could see several calculations scratched out. Between the two of us, though, we figured out that we only required one minor adjustment to the course. At present speed, we'd reach the first dive site by three or four in the afternoon.
"That's good news," I smiled encouragingly at Peregrine.
I really wished that I could calm him down. I told him some more jokes, some funny stories from my days in the temple school, and anything else I could think of that might amuse him. I'm sure I repeated a few, but he laughed at everything. He even laughed before the punchline sometimes. The jokes seemed to calm him down quite a bit.
I wasn't feeling very cheerful, though. I couldn't help but think of my first shapeshift experience, when we washed up on the imaginary island...or imagined that we washed up on the imaginary island...or...never mind. Thinking about that island makes my head hurt. Once our handsome navigator and I had triple-checked his calculations (oh, Peregrine—we've got to get you some self-confidence!), I excused myself to relay our new estimated arrival time to my friends. Canliss was panting when I found him. I pointedly avoided asking what he'd been doing to get so out of breath.
"Whew," he gasped, "that will give me time to recuperate."
I caught up with the others later and told them all, and Nikita used a "locate object" spell to help Peregrine pinpoint the location of the first body—I didn't tag along. If Peregrine was going to react to my beautiful friend the way most men do, I didn't care to watch. The morning seemed to drag as we all prepared for the dive. Kariya strode the decks with her usual brisk, determined pace, looking for weights. We all collected the useful rope that she and Canliss had looked for earlier and threw it into the longboat (Jvelto preserve us, we had nothing more seaworthy), and Ester tucked two ballista bolts into the boat to use as spears if necessary.
At long last, we were away from the ship, and four sailors helped us row over to the site of the first corpse, that of the little girl. In the meantime, the discussion about which of Nikita's spells to use continued—without me, I might add. I couldn't follow which of those Torodinite spells she was supposed to be using to find the body. She cast whatever spell she settled on at the prow of the ship, while we sailed an outside-in spiral search pattern. Eventually, she found the spot we needed to work from.
We all got into the longboat with the four "volunteers" Brummet had assigned to help with the rowing. Nikita, the polite person that she is, fussed over the sailors trying to calm them down, once again making me feel inadequate. I'd been too distracted by the memory of my last shapeshift to talk with the men.
Once I'd cast my spells on my friends and Nikita had centered a protection from evil spell on me, Rhavin and I left the boat carefully to avoid capsizing the thing. I shapeshifted as soon as I hit the water. I could feel my fingers and toes sticking together, then finally fusing into fins and a tail. I could hear Rhavin's feet breaking the water's surface as he kicked over to grab my dorsal fin. I felt him get a good grip on my fin, and I began our descent. Once we had put a little distance between us and the boat, I heard the splashes of Kariya and Ester hitting the water. The two of them would be keeping an eye on us from above. With echolocation, I could hear Canliss' shape as a great white shark swimming above us. Below, large, irregular rock formations were audible, too. The freedom of having a whole, unbounded ocean to swim would have been exhilarating, except that we weren't alone. I could hear the shapes of other creatures—grouper, moray eels, mackerel—but larger creatures lurked in the distance, and those were the ones that concerned me.
Nikita had cast telepathy on Rhavin and me; consequently, I could hear her voice inside my head asking how Rhavin was doing. I tried to reassure her that everything was under control. We weren't having much luck finding the body ourselves, so Ester swam down to help (you may recall that Ester can't actually swim: my friends had a magical pearl that allowed her to swim/dive expertly and hold her breath for an extended period). While Ester made her way down to us, Canliss shifted into an octopus and dropped to ocean floor to check the rocky crevices.
After more than an hour of searching, Rhavin tugged on my dorsal fin and pointed out a spot I hadn't been able to check thoroughly with echolocation. The skeletal remains lay in a hollow in the rocks, many of which had tumbled over onto the bones. Gauzy bits of decayed shroud and white nightgown floated up, gently swaying in the current along the ocean floor. One skeletal hand poked out from beneath the boulders, and in the semidarkness we could see the faint glint of the child's silver bracelet. Even though the girl's bones had drifted into a random pattern, the scene there in the hollow, in the tranquility of the ocean, struck me as eerily peaceful. I know the girl was not actually at peace, of course, but it still felt wrong to disturb her skeleton. Consequently, I was slow to help Rhavin remove the rocks that had fallen over onto
the girl's remains.
We made some progress, but Nikita soon reminded us that we didn't have much more time on the protection from cold spells I'd cast on my friends. She encouraged us to give up until the next day.
We grudgingly agreed, but decided to try to fix a rope to mark the spot for the next day's dive.
Rhavin can't tie a knot worth a damn. First, he tried a slipknot around one of the smaller boulders. A slipknot! Can you believe it? I telepathically advised Nikita to let him know that would never hold. Then, he just sort of made up a knot. I could tell right away that wasn't going to work, either, so I passed that on to Nikita. I was just lamenting the absence of fingers and thumbs on dolphins when I heard Nikita's frantic voice in my head.
"Rhavin, Jven," she thought to us, "there are zombie sharks down there. Ester saw them. Get out of the water."
We'd been so focused on the knot business that we hadn't noticed Ester's abrupt departure to the surface. Now that I checked, I couldn't hear Canliss' shape anywhere in range of my echolocation.
"Rhavin, Jven get out of there! There are Undead Giant Sharks! Canliss is completely freaked out. Ester won't get back in the water. Get out of there!"
Finally, we'd pushed the limit of my protective spells, so knot or no knot (sadly, it had to be "no knot"), it was time to return to the ship. Kariya and Ester helped us back into the longboat and pulled up the rope. We were all frustrated as we rowed back to The Ship of Horrors—returning to the aptly named vessel was disappointment enough, let alone the fact that we were coming back without Charlotte's remains. Even so, no one was more disappointed than the sailors when Nikita explained the nap spell to them, I suppose. Alberto's eyes widened. "So, you touch me and I get to sleep with you?"
"No," Nikita snapped. "Most certainly not."
Thank goodness there's a limit to her generosity. I laughed out loud.
Once aboard the ship, we agreed to meet at midnight for the nap spell. After we settled on that plan, Nikita instantly disappeared below deck. Later, I saw her in our cabin, when I went to work on this letter...she snapped her journal shut and left without a word.
For members of our group who remained in the cargo hold, Rhavin summarized what we'd seen down there. We decided that the next day, Canliss would dive with us, too.
"We should take the lances out of the box!" Ester suggested.
"For what purpose?" I asked pointedly. No way was I going to be an aquatic mount for jousting zombie sharks. Uh-uh. I have some self-respect, in spite of any evidence to the contrary (like shamelessly throwing myself at a handsome navigator). They quickly abandoned that idea, and Ester decided to practice with the ballista bolts instead of pestering me about it more. Nikita joined us just in time to cast the nap spell. When we woke up from our nap at shortly after one in the morning, Madeleine was already screaming.
"At least we missed some of it," Nikita mouthed dejectedly.
Kariya, Canliss, and I charged up to the ballistas to deal with the screaming woman.
"Tell us about Lucretia!" Kariya shouted.
"LUCRETIA! LUCRETIA!..." the ghostly woman screamed.
"Was she the one who killed you?"
This went on for some time, with lots of cursing Lucretia, until, finally, Madeleine gave us some new information.
"LUCRETIA IS THE WORST MIDWIFE EVER!" she screamed, then she disappeared.
"So," Kariya summarized while my ears were still ringing, "Lucretia was a midwife, and she left her."
The three of us returned to the cargo hold, discussing which of the ghosts was more annoying.
I'd have to say it's Jacob, hands down, but one could certainly make a strong argument for Madeleine.
Just as we were settling in, a loud thumping shook the timbers.
"I'll get him!" Ester jumped up. She ran off with no argument from anyone.
She returned a few minutes later, after the pounding had mercifully ceased.
"Yeah, that was Jacob," confirmed the giantess with pride, although no one had to ask. "I told him we were downstairs."
It was so late by that time that I thought we might only see two of the three ghosts that night.
However, the small hours of the morning brought a muffled crying from the crates. Nikita leaped to her feet and ran over, followed by Ester. Kariya got up, too, to look around, and Rhavin, who was already near the crates, helped. Nikita and Ester comforted the child while the other two searched her steamer trunks. Canliss and I stayed put: Canliss wanted to study, and I just couldn't deal with Charlotte.
"No! Tell 'Thunder'," the dead girl demanded as Nikita started to tell her a story.
Charlotte began asking for Clara, her doll. Kariya asked her why her mommy wasn't traveling with her.
"She's not dead," answered the girl, tearfully. While the rest of us were wondering why she was traveling alone, Nikita sang the child to sleep. After the girl fell asleep, the scene faded out as usual.
Nikita suggested that we "nap" in shifts, since the nap spell is a fairly easy one for her to cast. That way, she argued, someone could be in each cabin when Jacob arrived. I didn't endorse that idea, as I'm not proud of my history with that particular specter.
"Charlotte found us. The screaming woman doesn't care," Kariya pointed out. "Why do we have to appease the ghosts?"
An excellent point.
"Well, it's not very comfortable sleeping in the cargo hold," Nikita countered.
Another excellent point.
Kariya didn't answer her, and Nikita didn't wait around. I can only assume she went to our cabin since she doesn't feel the need to keep company with the rest of us. I tried not to be annoyed, instead focusing on my morning prayers so I could finish them before breakfast. I'm getting really irritated with this "aloof martyr" crap from our Torodinite friend. I don't know what exactly prompted this behavior, but you can bet that she's feeling sorry for herself over something.
Over breakfast, we discussed revisions to our plan in light of the rocks covering the body and the alleged zombie sharks. We would need Nikita's "locate object" to make sure we were diving at the right spot again. Nikita would cast "protection from evil" on me, then everyone else would stick close enough to me to benefit from the spell's radius of effect. Three of the sailors returned for rowing duty that morning—apparently, Alberto hadn't been able to take Nikita's rejection. Stubbs replaced him as our fourth sailor. Once again, it was partly cloudy as we set out. As we rowed, I tried to swallow the anxiety I felt welling up from the pit of my stomach: I wouldn't be able to fight if the zombie sharks appeared because that would break the protection from evil spell. I'd have to count on everyone else being able to defend me, if necessary, until we could flee. I prayed for Jvelto's guidance so we could finish our grisly task quickly and be away without a fight.
That morning, when I dove over the side and shapeshifted, I saw dark shapes circling the child's skeletal remains, almost as if they were being controlled...but that was silly. They swam in the unmistakable pattern of sharks preparing for a feeding frenzy. We had to get by them. I steeled my nerves and swam for the center of their ring. These creatures had no flesh, only cartilaginous remains. Of course, their bony jaws full of sharp teeth still merited concern, but maybe Nikita's protection from evil spell would help us? After all, I thought nervously as we descended through the center of their ring, Rhavin said that zombies are evil because they are an abomination against nature, and that theory surely extends to animal undead, right?
Rhavin wasn't glowing. Did that mean that these undead aren't evil? One floated gracefully by, well within the ten-foot radius of Nikita's spell. Shit...protection from evil might not affect the sharks, since they're simply animals.
Overhead, the sharks had tightened their circle. Thankfully, Rhavin had the trident with the shark charm capability. I hoped it would not come to that, although it was becoming increasingly likely that we would have to contend with the sharks.
Canliss shifted into an octopus to help Rhavin and Ester move the rocks. I just swam nearby to keep everyone in the range for protection from evil. Right about that time, one of the zombie sharks crossed the center of their circle over our heads—fuck! Not a good sign, as you know: that show of aggression was building up to a feeding frenzy.
"Progress report, guys?" I heard Nikita's voice in my head.
I didn't answer. I was busy flinching as two of the zombie sharks darted by us. One brushed by Canliss aggressively. Canliss snatched up smaller rocks in six of his arms, throwing them at the sharks. All of his rocks fell well short, but at least they weren't on the girl's corpse anymore. Can't say they didn't hit us, though: Rhavin and I were pelted by numerous pebbles as they drifted down. Seeing the zombie sharks drawing closer, Ester prepared to defend us with the ballista bolts.
That was about the time Rhavin started to glow. He can do that voluntarily, and sometimes he does to draw attacks away from our companions. The zombie sharks obliged by going after him.
"Jven? Is Rhavin okay?" I heard Nikita ask telepathically.
Hmm. What to say about that, as he began bleeding into the water? His blood might attract live sharks into the mix now.
"Jven?!" Nikita asked more frantically.
"Rhavin got hurt, but not badly," I answered, once I figured out what to say. I was a bit too distracted by aggressive zombie sharks to worry about comforting my friend in the nice, safe boat (well, safe relative to the zombie sharks...the boat was the same piece of crap as the day before).
The water was becoming murky with the blood and the activity. Rhavin doggedly continued moving rocks with the trident. Meanwhile, Ester hit a zombie shark as it swam by using a ballista bolt. A couple of cartilaginous ribs disconnected from the rest of its frame, but the rest just dented, then sprang back into shape. I couldn't see through the silt kicked up around us to figure out precisely what Canliss and Rhavin were doing. Rhavin seemed to be brandishing the sack we'd brought for the skeleton, but since Canliss was on the bottom as an octopus, I couldn't tell what he was doing at all.
Ester used the net to ensnare another of the zombie sharks completely. The net was lost to us, but it was well worth it. The remaining sharks bit into Rhavin. Ester was brushed, but took little if any damage. Undaunted, Rhavin began scooping bones and silt into the sack. I think I caught a glimpse of an octopus arm helping Rhavin with that task. The silt that had been kicked up messed up my echolocation less than my eyesight, but I still had a hard time sensing where everyone was. I could just hear more shapes on the edge of my echolocation.
Before long, I couldn't see anything at all through the sand and bloody water.
Then I heard Nikita think to me, "Rhavin got it all. Come back up!"
"Nikita, ask Rhavin if he knows where Ester and Canliss are," I thought back to her.
Just as I told her that I would go after Canliss, I got bitten on my tailfin. Ouch! Another bite. I would be leaving a trail of blood on the way up, too, although not nearly as dramatically as my paladin friend.
"Six real sharks coming!" Nikita yelled inside my head.
I found Canliss easily with echolocation and bumped him with my snout.
"Rhavin says to get out now, as if you really need to be told," Nikita relayed.
I thought back, "As soon as I can get Canliss the bottom-feeder."
"Jven, is Canliss coming?"
"I don't know what he's doing," I thought disgustedly. Like I ever know what he's doing.
Having nudged Canliss, I headed for the surface. Ester was swimming up rapidly, but glowing Rhavin wasn't moving very fast. Nikita told me he was asking for a little help from me.
Somewhere above me, the bag of bones was hauled into the boat. Rhavin swam over to meet me, so I bolted for the surface once he got a good grip on my dorsal fin. The sharks in pursuit just missed Rhavin.
I thought to Nikita, "Be ready with healing spells for Rhavin once he gets in the boat."
The sailors reached for Rhavin as soon as we broke the surface. They quickly hauled him into the longboat, and Nikita was already crying and clinging to him by the time I pulled myself into the boat. He really did look like hell, so she didn't sob for too long before she started to heal him. I threw in a little healing for him, too, since he was bleeding so heavily. He was looking much better in no time.
Then, while Nikita healed Ester, I healed myself a bit. Nikita evidently didn't think I did a good enough job on myself because she also healed me some. The sailors watched the healing spells being thrown around in total fascination. By the time we reached the ship, we all looked as if we'd simply gone out for an afternoon pleasure cruise.
Canliss took off as soon as our pitiful longboat was hauled up to the deck. When he later emerged from the cargo hold, he announced with a shudder that the body was in the coffin Thorven had prepared and "everything was cleaned up as much as possible."
"Thank you," Nikita sniffled (she was still pretty shaken) as she pulled off Charlotte's silver necklace, "I'd like to go bless the body and put this necklace in there."
A discussion about whether or not to invite Captain Garvin to observe Nikita's rites for the dead followed. Kariya rolled her eyes and declared him "useless", but Rhavin argued that the little girl's corpse was the one that really sent him into his present state of depression.
Given that, I was inclined to agree that the ceremony might be just the closure he needed.
"I'll go tell him," Nikita volunteered.
"And maybe he'll be more forthcoming with information," added Rhavin.
Kariya knit her brows. "What more information do you want?"
I guess that was a valid point, considering they'd already looked through the logs. It turned out to be a moot point, as the captain declined Nikita's invitation to join us.
By the time Nikita returned from his cabin, we'd lit several candles around the coffin in preparation for the ceremony.
I was relieved not to perform the ceremony myself. No matter how fully I accept the evidence suggesting that we needed to recover that child's body from the ocean floor, it still gives me the creeps. I hope when my passing comes, someone will have the decency to leave my body at peace among the fish while my spirit toasts Jvelto in his great hall.
Nikita blessed the silver necklace as well as blessing the corpse before doing a burial ceremony. Rhavin and I were ready to prompt her if she missed something. Sometimes, Nikita would pause in what seemed to be the conclusion of her ceremony when our Esterealean paladin looked over at her. At that, she struck up with another minute or so of benediction before trying to wrap it up again. Esterealean to the core, Rhavin isn't happy unless a ceremony is so long that people in attendance celebrate a couple of birthdays before it ends.
"Wait a minute...who was watching Canliss?" I asked when we finally concluded the funeral service.
Nikita excused herself to pray while the rest of us denied responsibility for Canliss. It turns out that he went to see the captain on his own—we try to discourage this sort of behavior in him, as diplomacy is not his long suit. We may have gotten off lucky this time, though, as there is no evidence (yet) that he's ruined the captain's opinion of us.
I went off to find Peregrine to answer my friends' questions about the distance to the next corpse, and Ester tagged along. I'll admit to not fully welcoming company, but who can be irritated with Ester?
"If it's going to be a day or so until we get to the next body, we should get drunk," the giantess suggested cheerfully as we headed for his cabin.
See? You can't be annoyed with her for long. I had to smile at such a worthy idea.
Before long, we did find Peregrine, on deck for some obsessive checking of measurements.
"Well," he replied (almost cheerfully!), "Let's go look at the charts."
We followed him down to read the applicable charts.
"Well, we could either go to this one," he said, pointing off some distance from Graben Island after piecing together a pair of charts. I thought it looked awfully far from the island.
"We were blown off course, actually, by a storm when we...when we...um, before this body was..."
"Dumped," Ester prompted.
"...'dumped', for lack of a better word," finished Peregrine with a nervous expectoration.
"When we tossed this one overboard, it was here."
Jvelto preserve us, he circled an area in the open ocean. I groaned to myself, thinking of the likely depth involved.
"The other one was, um, closer to Todstein, which is over to the east."
"Right," I said to indicate that I was paying attention to what he was saying rather than his extraordinarily well-formed ass.
"But the waters there are very rough. It's closer, but the waters there have been rough every time we've gone there. They're rough for a good mile or so out, and they don't calm down almost until you're on the rocks."
The giantess looked from him to me. "I think we need more practice."
"What are the depths like?" I asked, sidling over closer to him. I thought it would be easier to discuss things if we were looking at the charts from the same perspective. At least, that was my excuse. To his credit, Peregrine didn't blush when I leaned over his shoulder, but he did start fidgeting.
Ester actually giggled. I'd never heard a noise like that come out of her before, and I was frankly startled.
Peregrine jerked his head up. "Something funny? Did I miss a joke?"
I gave him my best innocent smile (don't laugh, Old Man...I've been practicing, so it's really much more convincing now). "No, carry on. Depth?"
"Must've missed the joke," he murmured when he caught my eye, "Right. Um...right."
I winked at Ester as he bent back over the charts.
"Well, um, right here, um, when we measured...um...well, I couldn't really tell you how deep it is."
I groaned.
"Well, let's see here," he said, turning to the chart showing Todstein without blinking at my reaction to the last news. "Todstein. Well, the ocean bottom here..."
He used a compass to draw a circle around an area. "...here on this island, everything around it in almost a perfect circle has horribly high seas. It was just inside of those seas where people panicked and we threw the body overboard."
"Just inside?" I asked, hoping for more clarification.
He squinted and pushed up his adorable spectacles while he tried to recall the distance more specifically. "Maybe a hundred yards inside."
"So that would make the search area a bit smaller," I said, thinking aloud.
"The tides there are quite extreme there, but the depth is probably on average about a hundred feet, maybe sixteen or seventeen fathoms."
I asked if he needed help with anything, seeing as how it was technically my shift.
"Well, I don't need...well, maybe for the evening check, I wouldn't mind some double-checking to make sure that everything is...accurate."
I just love that stammer.
"Okay. I hope you haven't missed my help too much while I was off the ship today," I replied. I don't know why I added the last bit: I was fully expecting him to say that he hadn't needed me at all.
"I always appreciate anyone...because it's a very lonely job that nobody else really understands," he admitted.
I was stunned momentarily. From anyone else, that might have sounded like a come-on. Peregrine is too backward to give a girl a line, though. He must really be lonely here on the ship, a thought that made me sad for him. I wanted to comfort him. Not like that, Old Man! Well, not just like that, anyway. Of course the poor guy laughs at anything; he's just glad to have some social interaction.
"Well," I said, trying to gather my wits, "it's been very pleasant working with you these last few days."
Yikes, how lame! Why do I have to be either three sheets to the wind to really pour on the charm? It's a good thing Jvelto wants me, because Soltana would never have me!
"Did I miss something?" he asked again, looking at the door through which Ester had made an abrupt exit.
"Um...I'll have to find out what's eating her later," I replied as casually as I could. "I wouldn't worry about it."
Luckily, I had a perfectly good means of changing the subject.
"We're trying to decide which site to go to first. So, how far to the open water site?" I asked, once again looking over his shoulder. He fell right back into professional mode without missing a beat.
"We could probably make...due to the prevailing winds this time of year...we could probably make either in about the same amount of time."
"So," I said, "how many days?"
He cocked his head to think for a few seconds. "It might take a day or so to get to either...no, wait, two days."
"That's perfect. That will give us time to plan, but not overthink, perhaps," I smiled, thinking of two days of intense breakfast planning sessions that were undoubtedly in our future.
"Although, with my friends, we always seem to find time to overthink."
"Well, thinking is not a bad thing," he ventured. "I understand that. It's very good to double-check and know what your thoughts are—what your mental processes are—before making a decision."
It figures he'd say that.
"Well, you just don't want to become paralyzed by it." I smiled some more. My face was starting to hurt from grinning like a lust-crazed idiot. Nothing a little rum couldn't cure, in all likelihood.
"So, have you had your rum ration for today?" I asked Peregrine in my most benign, friendly manner. "I'm thinking of collecting mine."
"No, I haven't actually."
He looked almost embarrassed about it. I had suspected that he doesn't often partake of his allotted rum.
"Well, let's go have a drink."
"We, uh, we still have an astrolabe reading to take."
"We'll drink after. Our measurements will be better if we do them with a clear head."
There was a laugh. As if the astrolabe ever had my undivided attention while Peregrine was around.
"Yes...with a clear head...yes," he repeated nervously. I wish the poor guy would settle down a little bit.
I chuckled softly and tried to give him some reassurance. "You're a good navigator, Peregrine. You just seem so nervous all the time."
"N-no, n-not all of the time," he answered.
"Is this particular voyage troubling you? Or is something particularly difficult? You just seem...a little edgy."
He gave me an anguished look.
"Oh, gods...the whole ship...and the—the hauntings, and the...and the noises at night...and it's very disturbing."
"I quite understand," I reassured. "I'm afraid I lashed out at my friends the other night when we had a sighting. I didn't quite know what to make of it."
I can't believe I just admitted that to Peregrine. He must think I'm a nutcase.
"I—I've never actually s-seen them," he said with a note of curiosity in his voice. "I've heard the men talk, though. I stay in my cabin whenever they come."
I laughed. "I'm afraid that strategy didn't really work for us, but then, I think we got the 'special' cabins."
"I don't get it."
"They only seem to come to certain cabins. They only seem to come to the ones that we're in.
No one else seems to interact with them particularly."
"I wonder why."
"Me too."
We stared at each other for a moment.
"Have any of the other guests or adventurers ever...?" I started.
"Oh, we haven't had any other...the captain has tried to hire other adventurers in the past..."
Peregrine faded off, perhaps thinking that he'd said too much. "...at least, not since I've been aboard. I believe I've heard that there were other adventurers in the past...but—but they've all...they were all lost."
Yikes. Best perhaps not to dwell on that idea, since we're already stuck on this ship.
"How long have you been aboard? Years? Months?"
"Definitely years," he said sadly, but he quickly straightened up. "But I enjoy working with my astrolabe, and—and my charts, and it's good work, and—and—and I..."
"Well, you certainly seem very committed."
Much to my eternal frustration, I decided not to add. Any other male navigator I've worked with would drop the compass and flirt with the randy priestess while they were alone.
"Thank you."
I just made myself comfortable in Peregrine's cabin to chat with him until it was time for our last astrolabe reading. He seemed to warm up to me a bit, but every now and then, he'd get nervous over something. I behaved myself rather well, all things considered, so I don't think I did anything to make him uncomfortable.
When we finally made our last reading out under the evening stars, we figured out (at length) that we were nearly perfectly on course. It took four checks of the numbers for Peregrine to believe it, though.
"You need to have a little more confidence in yourself," I sighed as he finally put down his quill.
We went down to the galley for our rum ration. Basil seemed surprised to see Peregrine, particularly given that we arrived together. I made sure I looked very serious and businesslike (well, for me), so as not to invite comment from the cook.
Back in his cabin, Peregrine sipped his rum. Consequently, I tried not to just pour my ration right down my throat, even though its poor quality made nursing the drink less pleasant. Even so, I finished mine well before he'd managed to quaff half of his. Once I'd emptied my cup, though, I had little excuse to stay unless he invited me to do so. I had no reason to believe he'd be so bold. With some disappointment, then, I stood up to bid him a polite good night.
"Oh...good night," he seemed a bit surprised. Maybe I was imagining that. "I—I could stay a little longer. I'm just supposed to meet my friends at midnight." Sheez, now who was stammering? I am NOT thirteen anymore. I am a poised adult woman...who is stammering. "Is it that late? I must go to sleep."
"I'll see you in the morning," I called on my way out, wanting to stay. I knew it wasn't going to happen, though, so I just took myself down to the cargo hold for the midnight nap.
Canliss was the last to arrive in the hold. Who knew when he'd be back? I didn't wait on him before launching into an update of our position and heading. Before I could finish, we were distracted by the sound of a sobbing child from behind the crates.
It could only be Charlotte. Nikita, whose eyes were puffy and bloodshot, led the way to Charlotte's illusionary room behind the crates. Kariya followed just behind, and the rest of us came after. The door was wide open, which was unusual.
Charlotte sat up on her bed, crying pitifully. Seeing the dead girl, Nikita dashed over to her.
"Charlotte? What's wrong?" she asked.
We could see the calamity before the girl had a chance to answer, however. Clara, her porcelain doll, lay on the floor in broken pieces.
"Charlotte! What happened?" gasped Nikita as she nearly stepped on a tiny fragmented hand.
The child wailed, "Clara! Clara's dead!"
Nikita looked around. "Kariya? Can you fix this?"
"Nope," said Kariya.
Nikita gathered the girl up into her arms, shivering as she touched the girl's dead skin.
Charlotte continued to cry, letting out frequent shrill wails. She seemed totally inconsolable.
Rhavin scooped up pieces of Clara while Nikita tried to soothe the girl. They were still doing that when Canliss finally appeared.
"Do you have 'mend'?" Kariya asked as soon as she caught sight of him.
Nikita was asking Charlotte how her doll was broken again.
"Don't know," she sobbed. "She's dead! DEAD!"
Kariya knelt down to the dead girl's height. "Sometimes things like this happen."
Nikita gave her an odd look while Charlotte hyperventilated in her arms.
"Can't anybody fix the doll?" Nikita asked, ready to start crying again herself.
"We can gather it up," Kariya suggested. "We can have a little funeral for it."
"Oh man. We suck," Nikita sighed. "We can bury it with her."
I sympathized with Nikita's frustration. We killed whatsisname, who was outside of time but controlled space (or was that the other way around...?), but we couldn't fix a doll. Kariya used the gather cantrip to put all of Clara's pieces into a bit of sail. The material would serve as a shroud for the doll. In the meantime, Nikita took a deep breath and launched into the "sometimes we have to say goodbye" speech. I just listened to my Torodinite friend, wondering how a dead girl who hadn't successfully separated from the world of the living was going to take Nikita's point. By this time, Nikita had begun to cry, too.
"Shall we say a prayer over the doll?" Kariya asked. She's not terribly religious, so I was surprised to hear that suggestion come from her. Her desire to try to settle both of them down was pretty understandable. "Is there a little box?"
Canliss walked in as Kariya was interring Clara in a box that had contained a pair of Charlotte-sized shoes. Nikita said a little prayer over it, and Charlotte clung to her all the while.
"We're going to put the doll up on the shelf, and when we get to shore, we'll bury it," Kariya announced, sliding the box onto the shelf to which she referred.
Nikita cast a bless spell on the doll and another one on Charlotte. The girl seemed to calm down when Nikita blessed her. She stared while the Torodinite's eyes rolled back in her head. Charlotte tried to copy what she perceived as a trick.
"Oh, don't do that, honey," advised Nikita gently. "You'll hurt yourself. It's kind of a magic thing that I can do because I'm a priest."
"Can you teach me magic?"
"No...but Canliss can!" Nikita turned to Canliss, who had been desperately trying to stay uninvolved. "Can you show her one of your magic spells?"
"Magic? But Kariya is a much better mage than I am." Just like him to try to weasel out of it. Not that I blamed him. The kid completely gives me the willies.
Kariya leaned over and explained that Nikita meant the old coin-behind-the-ear trick. Canliss obliged by gently reaching behind the girl's cold, dead little ear to pull out...a copper, the cheap bastard.
"Are we going to heaven?" the girl asked Nikita.
"Yes. You are."
"Are my grandparents there?"
"I'm sure they are."
Canliss interrupted. "Who are your grandparents?"
"Grandma and Grandpa Stern and Grandma and Grandpa Raceland," Charlotte answered after a moment.
Canliss looked extremely pleased with himself.
"What was your daddy's name?" asked Kariya.
Kariya was apparently expecting that answer. "What did your mommy call him?"
"Mommy called him 'Carl'."
"What was your mommy's name?" Nikita followed.
Duh. I could have told you how she was going to answer that one.
"What did your daddy call her?" Nikita persisted.
"What did her friends call her?"
"Some of them called her 'Louisa'."
"That's a pretty name," said Nikita.
"She was pretty."
"What did she look like? She had red hair, you said. Did she look like you? Did you look like your mommy?"
"She was so pretty."
"What about your brothers and sisters? You said you had a lot of brothers and sisters. That must have been fun."
Charlotte indicated that she had three brothers and two sisters. Yikes, Louisa must have been tired.
After Nikita held her quietly for a long time, Charlotte spoke up again. "Maybe when I get to heaven, Grandma and Grandpa Stern will give me a new dolly."
"I bet they'd love to do that," Kariya soothed. "Did they give you this dolly?"
Charlotte nodded.
"I'm sure they'll give you another dolly," Kariya reassured.
Finally, we got to the tucking-in part of the routine with Charlotte. "I don't see how you can do that every night," I said to Nikita as Charlotte's room faded away. My friend was still shivering from cuddling the cold corpse.
Kariya pointed out that just because we recovered her body, we couldn't assume that she was at rest. Rhavin added that we still didn't know how she died, which could be part of the problem with the ghost child.
"I'd like to know how she died, but I'm afraid to ask her," said Rhavin to all of us.
Canliss looked over at the paladin. "Rhavin, even I wouldn't ask her that."
"But we need to know. We need to know how each of them died."
"Do we?" asked Kariya. I wasn't too sure about that myself.
We sat up a while longer, discussing the ghosts. Eventually, though, we began to think of napping, as we'd originally planned.
"Okay," asked Kariya impatiently. "Where's Jacob? Where's the screaming woman?"
As if on cue, the timbers began to shake with the sounds of Madeleine's preternatural grief.
"Where did we leave off with her?" Kariya mouthed.
"The midwife," Nikita mouthed back.
"Kariya! Can I have a candle?!" Canliss shouted over the din.
"Not now!" came the shouted reply. "There's a screaming woman on deck!"

Up we went to the deck to contend with the screaming woman. Whereas Nikita has connected with
the child, Kariya has taken the lead in communicating with Madeleine.
"Why did Lucretia leave you?" she shouted.
"Lucretia Graben?" someone shouted.
"Who was Lucretia to you?" asked Kariya.
"What happened to your child?"
"What a terrible midwife!" Kariya shouted in sympathy.
"Are the Grabens bad people?!" yelled Ester to the screaming apparition.
"What else have the Grabens done?" asked Kariya.
But Madeleine had vanished. With no more dead people to talk with, Nikita turned and went below
decks. In fairness to her, though, she looked only half-alive herself: her eyes were puffy and bloodshot from crying, and she was pale from worry and the chill of touching Charlotte. She looked tired in spite of the nap spells. Even so, she was still breathtakingly beautiful, damn her.
Jacob's pounding began almost immediately. I wasn't there for the encounter with him, though. I'd had enough of him to last me until the end of time. Instead, I went to the cargo hold to wait for that nap.
When everyone else finally arrived for another stab at the nap spell, an embarrassed Nikita realized that she'd used up too many spells to cast it after all that. Exhausted, we all returned to our assigned cabins to sleep naturally.
Well, I hoped to sleep. Nikita lay there in her bunk sobbing. I tried to talk with her, but she wasn't of a mind to be comforted. I tried to encourage her to spend more time with all of us, but she denied avoiding us. I don't know what to do about Nikita, and I wish I could talk with you about her.
What's more, I'm worried about what awaits us at the other two dive sites we have ahead of us. Greater depth and rough seas, to be sure, but what else? Nothing in this plane is easy (not even the officers), and I'm beginning to understand the grave expressions that form on my companions' faces when they talk about Ravenloft. I keep thinking of the prophecy: lifeless child of stern mother found/heralds a night of evil unbound. That little girl means something terrible is coming.

Pray for us,


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