“Is it much farther, Cap’n?” their guest asked, his excitement palpable as he leaned over the edge of the ship for a better look.
“Shouldn't be long now”, the captain responded, “another twenty leagues at most”. He wrapped his hand around one of the sail ropes and leant out over the railing himself, the cool breeze and the feeling of the ocean mist against his skin refreshing his body and mind.
Corsair couldn't remember exactly how they had come upon the stranger in their midst, but he was far less concerned about their guest's origins than the contents of he map he had carried. “40 leagues northeast of Smuggler’s Cove lies a secret island where the Lost Treasure of Blackbeard is buried”. To think he had been willing to part with half the treasure in exchange for passage to the island! Corsair could scarcely believe his luck, and he found that he too was beginning to grow restless, it had been entirely too long since he had been out for a morning treasure hunt. He adjusted his hat and coat and fixed his eyes on the horizon, eager to see what lay ahead.
They did not have to wait long to reach their destination. The sun shone brightly, the waters were calm, and the winds were fair, and soon the outline of the island came into view. It was a peculiar shape, extremely tall and narrow, but its position matched the map exactly, and with the fair weather there was little chance they had gone off course. “We’ve found it!”, the stranger cried in agreement, and he leaned so far over the edge Corsair half-expected him to fall off. He gripped the railing tightly as the ship drew closer to the mysterious island.
From closer up, it was clear that it was barely an island at all. There was no beach at which to land the boat, merely a tall spire of rock jutting out of the ocean. No wonder other sailors had avoided it, to sail too close would only lead to a watery grave. Corsair gave the order to drop anchor, and the crew descended into the longboats. As they rowed to the base of the spire, the remnants of what might once have been a path came into view. It was well worn by time and parts of it had crumbled away, but they had come too far to turn back now. Rowing as close as they dared, Corsair stepped out onto the spire and tied the boat to a rock. He then began the perilous ascent to the top, followed closely by the stranger and the rest of his crew.
The climb was even more treacherous than he had expected, twice the path gave way underneath his feet, and it was only his quick reflexes that saved him from a long fall to the rocks below, but he did not feel afraid. With every step he took and every cliff he climbed he became more and more excited. There had to be something amazing here, he could feel it in air. He glanced back to check that the stranger was still following closely behind. “Watch your step”, Corsair cautioned him. It would be a peerless waste to come all this way and wind up empty-handed if he fell.
Finally Corsair pulled himself up over one more wall, and there was nowhere further to climb. The spire leveled off, and all that lay ahead was a vast clearing. The stranger came over the cliff next and let out a shout of triumph at what he saw, followed by a similar cheer erupted from the rest of the crew. Atop the spire lay a soft patch of earth, and it was clear where they would have to dig. As the final members of the crew reached the peak with the shovels strapped to their backs, everyone crowded around to see what they would unearth.
Yet the moment their shovels struck the ground a terrible rumbling erupted from the north!
“Great”, Corsair thought to himself, striking his forehead with his hand. “This one was going so well, too.”
The noise grew so loud that it took Corsair a moment to get his bearings, but when he did he saw the most fearsome sight in as long a he could recall. An octopus of immeasurable size rose out of the ocean beside the spire, quickly growing to such a height that it could look down upon them with its single eye. Corsair knew it could only be the legendary Kraken, guarding Blackbeard’s treasure against all who would claim it, and suddenly he realized why the man had trouble finding transport.
He had his sword and his gun, but to a creature of that size Corsair was no more than an insect. The creature’s eye alone must have been at least twice the size of their ship. “Retreat!” he cried, at the top of his lungs, “Back to the ship!”, but before Corsair or his panicked crew could even reach the top of the pathway, the ground beneath their feet began to shake. The Kraken had wrapped one of its massive tentacles around the spire, and everywhere around them the rock itself started to crumble away. Corsair whipped his head around, and he saw that his ship still floated in the waters to the south. “We have to jump!”, he yelled, “Jump off the rock and swim to the ship!”
Though they knew it was crazy, his crew needed no further encouragement. In droves they abandoned their shovels and weapons and dove off the rock for the waters below. All except the man who had brought the map, who was still frantically digging for the treasure.
“What are you doing?!” Corsair yelled at him as he stood on the edge preparing to jump, scarcely heard above the rumble of breaking rocks. “We have to go right now!”
“I’ll catch up with you!”, cried the stranger, “I think I've struck something!”
“It’s not worth-“ he began, but the ledge he was standing on gave way. Corsair felt himself falling, and above him the spire itself started to give way. He couldn’t twist himself around, but he could hear the screaming of his crew and the crashing of the rocks, and everything began to grow dark. He never even felt himself hit the water.
The next thing he knew, Corsair was at the helm of his ship again. It was pitch dark now, and the winds were still. There was no sign of the island or the Kraken, only dark waters as far as the eye could see. “Did everyone make it?” he called to his crew, and he received murmurs and assorted affirmations in response. All except the stranger, he knew immediately, wondering if he ever laid hands on the treasure. Corsair took a deep breath to clear his head and took the ship's wheel in his paws. He turned it clockwise, and even though there was no wind the ship slowly began to pick up speed. Corsair called to his navigator, Cross, and descended the stairs to his cabin.
Inside, he wet his paws in a nearby basin and washed his eyes. Slightly groggy, he studied his reflection in the basin as the ripples in the water stopped. The fur on his face was damp and untidy, his whiskers drooped and were greying at the tips, and red lines coursed through the whites of his yellow eyes, but still they shined with an unyielding intensity. “One of these days I'll get that treasure”, he thought, as he dried his paws and sat upon his chair. Reaching for a quill, he opened his journal and began to write all he could remember about the island and the man with the map.
Some time later, Corsair emerged from his cabin. It was still dark, and the ship was very quiet, most of his crew having gone below deck, with those who remained either having hushed conversations or staring out over the ocean. He relieved Cross from the helm, and adjusted their course slightly. The ship slowly adjusted to the new direction, but still the waters were empty all around them. Corsair stared intently towards the horizon as the Adventure sailed through the night.
Corsair was not the one to spot the ship. It approached from the starboard bow, and so silently that his crew did not notice until the ship was nearly upon them. “I thought you were trying to outrun me”, said the other ship’s captain, as she walked aboard the deck. Captain Lay swished her hips and her tail as she walked, and she always puffed the fur on her cheek when she stood still. She could scarcely have been more different from Corsair, her white fur was immaculate, her whiskers straight and dainty, and her green eyes were spotless and vibrant. And Corsair was utterly sick of the sight of her.
“Goodness,” she said, peering at him, “what have you done to yourself?”
“I’ve been busy.” Corsair responded irritably. She had not been the person he was hoping to see.
“I’ve been busy too, but I always find time to look my best”. She puffed her cheek again.
“Was there something you wanted?” he asked of her, hoping to end this meeting as quickly as possible.
“I just wanted to check in on you, and my, it looks like you need it”.
Corsair was losing his patience. “I’m fine, and it’s no concern of yours. If that's all, I do have things to be doing...”
“Oh, you’re just upset because your friend has gone missing,” she said, idly brushing her fur with a paw. She leaned in close and whispered: “You don’t suppose she's gotten lost, do you?”
“No.” Corsair said, firmly. “Not her. She's probably just waiting out there, somewhere.”
She rolled her eyes. “Well then, why don't you just go and get her, Mister Hero? I'm sure you don't need MY help.” Without giving him time to respond, Lay turned on her heels and walked back to her own ship, tail swishing as she went. As quietly as she had come, her ship sailed back off into the night.
Without a word to anyone, Corsair took the helm and swung the ship around, towards the direction where they had last met. He sighed.
“Sister… where are you?”
In the distance, the sun was just starting to rise. Corsair’s thoughts returned again to the man he had met earlier that day, and it dawned on him that the location of the treasure on that map was the same place he was headed now.