Chapter V.1 – From the Fire and Steel, To the Booze and the Will (Beginning)
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Chapter V - “From the Fire and Steel, To the Booze and the Will, A Pirate’s Life was always there for You…”

 

  The slide was cut off from the road by a fairly thick forest, but Pat, with the mastery of a professional racer, was confidently leading the car trough the woods. Joe had absolutely no idea, how he was able to even find the spots for driving through, since he himself wasn’t able to discern between a suitable passage and a dead end for the life of him.

  Their vehicle emerged from the forest right by the familiar landing spot. They saw three untouched boats right where the group has left them at the very beginning.

  Doctor punched the steering wheel.

 

  “So they are still out there… Kon’jar Curse me, are they even alive at this point?!”

 

  “We have to check, at least. Imagine we return to Alchfrid with no news about his valuable members of the crew.”

 

  “More valuable than you… It was a joke, Joe, only a joke! I swear! Argh, Curses, I thought we were out and free! Well, let’s unload our rewards, at least…”

 

  “Don’t worry, we’ve got your back.”

 

  Pat nodded, with slight skepticism, but offered no further comments.

 

  They ran into a problem. The single boat was smaller than the back of the truck. Which meant, they had to waste two boats, because the Archrhyder himself was taking up almost the entire space of one vessel, barely leaving some for small items.

 

  “So what do we do? We load these two bodies into one boat, add journal and the book, two rifles and whatever ammo we can fit?”

 

  Doctor snapped his fingers.

 

  “We cannot possibly fit a single ammo crate in there, even the smallest one. We separate food and water, food and spices go to the beast boat, barrels go to second one. Ammo goes to second one. Gas masks… we can still shove them inside the first, no problem here. We take flamer with us. Any torches? Oh, Irfan remembered to bring some wood from the house, that’s perfect. We take them too. And, of course, we still have additional gas masks on us. All good? The rest we shove into the second boat, obviously. Alright, then let’s move these accursed things!”

 

  And move them they did. The work was progressing fairly quickly, Joseph wasn’t even sweating much. The cold morning wind was a huge help.

  He remembered his one and only trip to the beach, where he only managed to swim twice, before a storm swallowed the shore and the sea was captured by pesky jellyfishes for the entirety of the following days. The Threshold wasn’t offering such casual annoyances, opting to become an endless abyss of abominations and reality-crushing anomalies instead.

  They were almost done, when Irfan glanced at the ship and pointed at it.

 

  “Joe, Pat, on the ship!”

 

  Both of them wordlessly pulled out their spyglasses.

  The Captain, the quartermaster and the armsmaster were all there. Xander was watching them with his hands crossed on his chest, Alchfrid was convulsing or laughing, telling something to the black dragoncat, who was ignoring him altogether, and Ralf was standing with a bottle in his hand and a huge grin, while was giving them a thumbs-up.

  They waved back. Alchfrid crouched, and pulled something out of Xander’s pocket. Quartermaster jumped and turned around to the white tree-man while shacking his fist.

  The Captain held up a book. ‘What happened?’ was written in it.

  The island trio exchanged glances.

 

  “Do we even have anything to answer them with?”

 

  Pat took off his backpack and began to rummage through his stuff. He pulled out a pencil.

 

  “I should’ve taken my book for notes when I was leaving the ship… I have one pencil, do we have any paper?”

 

  Joseph looked at the journal in the boat.

 

  “Will this work?”

 

  Doctor nodded. He grabbed the journal and opened it on a clean page.

 

  “What should I write to them?”

 

  “Hmm… say that we split and looking for Rodger’s team.”

 

  Pat did just that.

 

  “What did they write?”

 

  “’Where did you get the loot?’ Hmm… say we will tell them everything later, because we are in a hurry and they could be dead.”

 

  Captain, Xander and Ralf exchanged glances. Alchfrid was trying to tell something to the quartermaster, but the rhevalian was completely pissed. Then Xander sharply shouted at the Captain, angrily waved him off and walked away, increasing his pace with every step as he was approaching the door that led inside the ship. Soon he disappeared behind the tall gunwale.

  Alchfrid turned to the trio on the ground, shrugged, and followed his quartermaster. Ralf nodded, pointed at the ship, then at the island, and joined the Captain.

 

  “I guess they are coming to us now…”

 

  Irfan was walking back to the truck.

 

  “We can’t wait for them. Our friends are in danger. We wasted two days already.”

 

  Pat was very hesitant. Joseph couldn’t decide, but eventually, the concern for their crew mates tipped the scales.

 

  “Screw it… Maybe they will see which way we went. Start the car, doctor. We’re mounting a rescue.”

 

*****

 

  The mine was massive. The entrance to the excavated cave was strengthened by four gigantic concrete pillars. They were approaching from the top side of the hill and, after the forest has ran out of trees on their way, this grand view of the entire place and surrounding facilities, illuminated by the afternoon sun, appeared in front of them.

  Joe saw a construction on the right side. It was probably used for loading barrels into the truck. He guessed its purpose after seeing a non-ruined vehicle underneath a long conveyor belt, connected to a tall metal building, the lower end of which was going into hole in the ground. The hole was surrounded by a fence. The black smoke was coming from that hole, protected from the sunlight by the shadow of the structure itself.

  Two huge warehouses were standing on the opposite side, with a smaller building near the closest of them. Another copy of the same small building was standing on the side of the conveyor belt.

  There was a campfire right in the middle of the place, underneath the open sky.

  And the familiar signs of the fierce battle with the shades.

 

  Doctor turned the truck around, stopping it a few metres away from the small building. He left the engine on, then stepped out.

  Joe and Irfan did the same. Irfan was armed and ready, holding his now all-time favourite weapon on a standby. Joe found the last fire bomb with his fingers, and put it closer to his right arm.

  Each of them took one torch. They weren’t lighting them up just yet.

  Joe put the mask on his face. Irfan decided not to go with it for now. Pat hesitated, and decided to wait too.

 

  “What’s the plan?" Joseph glanced around. "There is campfire, four buildings and this conveyor, then mine itself. Where should we start out search?”

 

  “I suggest clock-wise, excluding conveyor. It doesn’t seem to be carrying much importance for us.”

 

  Makes sense. Joseph pulled the handle on the door of their first quest location.

  The building met them with a large long table right in the middle of the first floor. This huge room was de facto the entire first floor itself, with an oven, a boiler, a sink, barrels of water and tons and tons of kitchen utensils.

  Hunter picked up a piece of stale bread on the table.

 

  “A break place. No doubt about that. What’s on the second floor, Joe?”

 

  The staircase was all the way on the right. Joe ran over there, then came back after a couple of minutes.

 

  “Just beds, chairs, couple of big tables with cards and coins on them, and a cabinet. That’s it.”

 

  “Definitely a place were worker would gather during a break. Irfan is correct, but what is in the second building across then?”

 

  Joe shrugged.

 

  “Probably some additional tools for mining. You know, anything could happen.”

 

  “Could be. You know, I’ve changed my mind. Let’s check the opposite one first. I am very curious what is located over there.”

 

  The scorching summer sun was merciless to Joseph. He had to remove his mask, otherwise he felt like his entire face would turn into jelly. Irfan smirked.

 

  “I am not doing it because I hate the mask, I’m removing it for now, because it’s hot!”

 

  “Whatever you say, Joe. Whatever you say.”

 

  The entrance was closed.

 

  “You still have the keys, mate?”

 

  “Yes.”

 

  They have tried the first three.

 

  “Not a single one works. Maybe it’s not for this door at all.”

 

  “There are ten more of them, Joe. Besides, Lady Edna had them with her, and she was the owner of the place. Why wouldn’t she have a ring of keys for every single door on this island?”

 

  Joseph nodded.

 

  “Alright then, you want to bet which key it would be?”

 

  Doctor put his finger to his forehead.

 

  “Are you challenging me?! I’ll have you know, I was the best gambler among the classmates of my group! Nobody ever won a single Zink from me!”

 

  “Now you are just boasting. But go ahead then, which key will be the one?”

 

  Pat looked at the keyhole. Then on the ring of keys.

 

  “I say… this one!”

 

  Joseph shrugged and nodded to Irfan.

 

  “Wait-wait-wait, that’s just unfair! Pick it now, not after you check it!”

 

  “Doctor means - a fair game, Joe.”

 

  “Then you pick as well.”

 

  Hunter shrugged, thought for a second and pointed at his choice.

  Joseph also looked at the keyhole. Your basic vertical one, surprisingly similar to a modern type. If he was guessing right, then it might be just a ruse. The technology in this world was loosely equivalent to 18th or 19th century, as much as he could tell. And if he was correct, then…

  Then it was a bloody modern lock, because it was created in 19th god damn century!

  But its form did help him narrow it down to five keys. One was already out, another picked by Pat, so it was a coin toss between the last three.

 

  “I pick this one.”

 

  He had to ask the Deity of Luck for It's help. If only he could learn It’s name...

 

  “Alright, let’s do it!”

 

  It came down to the last two keys. Irfan’s was already out. Joe and Pat were almost shacking in anticipation.

 

  “Pat’s key first, Irfan. Do be so kind.”

 

  “You sure? It’s not a story, you know, the last isn’t always the right one!”

 

  Arid put the key inside. It didn’t budge.

  Doctor fell down on his knees.

 

  “No-o!!!” Joseph’s expression was smug beyond human comprehension.

 

  He nodded to Irfan. Hunter put the last key inside the keyhole.

  It didn’t work.

 

  Joseph turned into statue for a full minute.

 

  “What?! It was none of them?!” He still couldn’t believe - what was that kind of nonsensical heresy he saw just now?! He was blaming Threshold for that blunder.

 

  Pat immediately picked himself up, dusted his trousers off and coughed.

 

  “That’s… a surprise. Huh. We have no more keys. What do we do then?”

 

  Irfan was looking into empty keyhole. Then he pulled out a knife and tried to force it in.

 

  “Irfan?!”

 

  “There is something. Something in the keyhole.”

 

  The hunter was right. They saw a piece of metal inside, pointed at them.

 

  “Something blocking it from inside…” Then Joseph realised. “Wait, could it be someone from our crew?!”

 

  “Protecting themselves from shades? Makes sense to me. But it could just be a poor worker as well. We need to get the door first anyway.”

 

  What options did they even have? Blow it up with a barrel of gas? Put something thin inside? They didn’t have anything suitable at the moment.

  Unless…

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