Through the Gate in the Sea Sample Chapter

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Mirian Raas and her faithful crew make their living salvaging lost treasures from sunken ships along the coast of tropical Sargava. While retrieving riches from the bottom of Desperation Bay, Mirian and her friend Jekka, one of the last of his lizardfolk tribe, unexpectedly run across the wreck of an ancient magical ship. The discovery leads them on a quest for an arcane artifact called a dragon's tear, which may be the key to locating Jekka's vanished people. But a vengeful sorcerer and a zealous agent of the Child-God Walkena also seek the dragon's tear—and they'll stop at nothing to get it. Can Mirian and her crew pass through the legendary gate in the sea and find the tear before it's too late?

Chapter 2: The Black Ship

As she played the glow stone over the hull, Mirian imagined the vessel surging along the waves in its glory days, full canvas spread from the trio of towering masts, the dragon-shaped prow rising and falling with the ocean current.

And then she was once more staring at a sunken hulk.

She was swimming slowly toward the bow, wand at the ready, when Jekka joined her. She gave him the hand sign for caution. There was no telling what might be using the wreck as its home.

The figurehead was even more lovely than she'd supposed, carved with that minute detail she'd seen on many lizardfolk objects. Upon closer inspection, Mirian recognized it as a stylized rendition of one of her least favorite creatures: a sea drake. She scowled at the thing. One of the monsters had stalked her when she was a child, and another had chased her expedition through the tunnels of a lizardfolk city before killing her friend Ivrian's mother.

Her hand tightened around the wand and she came perilously close to blasting the serpentine image into floating chunks.

But she had better sense. Provided they could get the figurehead free, they'd probably get a tidy sum for it from some collector. As a member of the Pathfinder Society, she knew not to let personal feeling interfere with a historical find.

Mirian drifted away from the figurehead and back along the narrow bow, light from her glow stone glinting off something half hidden in scum. She swam closer to investigate.

A lumpy object was set into the ship's side six feet below the rail and about the same distance from the bowsprit, in the approximate place that Osirian mariners painted eyes on their ships.

Often she wore gloves on salvage runs, but having anticipated recovering nothing more than a ring down here, she'd dived without them. She reached to touch the object gingerly with her left hand, wiping fingers through grime to reveal a large violet jewel.

At that her eyebrows rose. If this were a real gem, it could easily be worth thousands of gold sails.

Realizing she'd been focused single-mindedly upon her discovery, she checked behind, above, and around her. Her father had taught her not to be so intent you forgot your surroundings. Nearly everything under the water is a predator, he'd told her, and some of them are larger than you.

She saw Jekka's light still playing farther back. Time to confer. She swam over to him and the lizard man's slit pupils contracted in her light beam. She shined the light at her hand so he could see her signal to surface.

His tongue extended, as it sometimes did when he was thoughtful or uncertain, but he followed as she kicked up, and in a few moments they were drifting in the darkness under the stars. Mirian's instinctive sense of direction told her the Daughter of the Mist lay to her left, but she couldn't see it, or even hear the lap of the ocean against its side.

"Isn't it amazing, my sister?" Jekka asked. "A ship of my people!"

"It is amazing. I'd give a lot to know what they painted on the hull to preserve it so well. But there are two things, my brother. Listen well."

Sometimes, when she spoke with the lizard man, Mirian found herself unintentionally adopting his formal diction. She supposed she was learning some of his habits, just as he learned some of hers.

"You have my attention," he answered.

"You must always signal me. And be watching for me, underwater. Don't dart off like that."

He nodded, an exaggerated bob on that long neck.

"We have to watch for each other," she went on, "because there may be something watching us."

"So you have said. Forgive me, Sister."

"No harm done—yet. Don't forget, you need to swim back to the ship and report in. Tell Rendak what we've found and borrow his air bottle."

"I don't need it."

"You damned well do. You can't keep popping up and down the whole time. I want to go inside the hull and look around, and I want someone to back me up. You could get trapped in the hull and drown."

"I don't need it," he repeated stubbornly.

"You promised to defer to me in salvaging. Are you going back on your word?"

He hissed. "You shame me, Sister. Very well. But how am I to watch you if you're going alone to the wreck?"

"You're going to come back quickly. And I'm going to continue my inspection on the outside." Not the safest option, admittedly, but Mirian was an old hand at this, and the seas seemed pretty calm at this drop.

"I will do these things."

"Thank the druid while you're there," she continued, "and apologize to her for the delay. Tell Rendak to turn four points to starboard and come a half mile before dropping anchor. And when he asks if he or Gombe should drop, tell him I'll let them know when we're done scouting."

"I will remember," Jekka assured her.

She was fairly certain he would. The lizard man had an amazing ability to retain oral information and repeat it word for word. Habits, like those of salvaging routines, however, were different from rote memorization.

"Get it done and come find me. I'm as eager as you to see what lies aboard."

Then she raised a hand in farewell and dove below.

On her return trip to the wreck, she wondered what would have happened if she'd descended for the ring alone, or with Rendak or Gombe. Nothing, probably. She'd chosen Jekka in part because he needed to get used to what a salvaging run was like, but also because he'd been so excited to become a salvager. She guessed that was because he now saw the crew as part of his extended clan and wished to contribute to its well-being.

While she waited for Jekka, she carefully surveyed the ship's perimeter, familiarizing herself with the length and breadth of the vessel and searching for telltale warning signs that something large and unpleasant lurked within. Ocean predators weren't especially noted for their intellects. If there were anything nasty living here, there'd likely be discarded carcasses nearby, each crawling with bottom-feeders.

She saw no such indications. That didn't rule out the possibility of more intelligent creatures like aquatic ogres or sea devils lairing there, but she saw no sign of tracks or prints along the rail or upon any of the closed cabin doors leading into the bowels of the ship.

Mirian almost missed the large gash at the vessel's stern, in the shadow of the hull. She studied the damaged wood and realized she was probably looking at the ship's death wound. Most likely the ship had struck a reef.

Illustration by Igor Grechanyi

After a careful examination, Mirian had a pretty clear picture of the ship. It was half again as long as a typical three-master, but perhaps a third shallower across the beam. The decks were high and rose steeply at the prow. Probably there were a good three decks below, and back of the quarterdeck were two more above. Two masts were forward and a mizzenmast stood broken off almost to the deck, right through the wheelhouse itself.

Mirian was looking at the wheel when Jekka finally rejoined her. He took hold of the wheel with one hand to steady himself. Straps of a haversack crossed his chest.

Jekka had slid an object used by the other salvagers in her crew into a side pocket of his haversack. The magic item was colloquially known as an air bottle, and once someone learned the trick of using one, it was possible to spend long hours below the water. Her grandfather had invested in two for the family's help, and hit upon the idea of a tube to affix to the bottle so the fragile object could be kept in a padded back satchel.

The tube worked much better if you had lips to close around it—something Jekka lacked. When he'd first attempted to use it, he couldn't pull air without water coming in as well, unless he jammed the tube so far down his throat he nearly gagged. She understood why he didn't want to repeat the experience, but he'd have to adapt if he was going to be a salvager.

A cool current buffeted Mirian as she examined a peculiar column rising beside the wheel. At first glance, it looked like another mast had been sheared off, but that made no sense. That would have placed it off-center from the rest of the vessel.

She scraped at a layer of blue algae. Instead of a broken mast, she uncovered a diagonal plate resembling a display in an expensive jewelry shop. An array of gems was set into its black metal. She scrubbed harder, exposing tiny symbols incised beside each jewel.

Jekka leaned close, running his scaly fingers over the letters.

The writing certainly resembled the same language Mirian had seen on the lizardfolk book cones, but she knew many languages looked similar to the uninitiated. She pointed to the symbols and then back at Jekka.

The lizard man nodded vigorously and touched a set of characters. "No wind!" he shouted, air bubbling out of his mouth.

He put his fingers beside a flat, violet stone, and it took him three attempts before she could understand him through the water: "Opener of the way."

Jekka paused to suck in the tube, then pulled it out, coughing more air bubbles.

There were four more gems with inscriptions. Mirian spread her hands apart in a silent question.

Clearly perplexed, the lizard man shook his head.

She traced the multifaceted ruby he'd told her meant "no wind." It looked like it might turn in its pitted housing.

Interesting. Slowly, carefully, she set her fingers on the gem and tried moving it clockwise. It didn't budge. When she twisted in the other direction, the gem lit from within.

Mirian looked to Jekka for explanation, but he merely shrugged.

She made a second twist and the deck shook beneath them. Clouds of silt billowed up, and from somewhere below came a loud scraping noise. It wasn't until she looked to port and turned her beam there that she noticed the landscape moving ...

No, the ship was! Mirian let out a colorful oath and quickly twisted the jewel all the way to the right so that it returned to its original setting. It ceased glowing and the ship slowed.

She looked at Jekka as if to say, What the hell was that?

The lizard man stared back at her, reptilian eyes blinking.

This was a major find, but there was no way they'd pry any of the gems out of here. "No wind" apparently meant the ship could be set in motion magically when there was no breeze. She marveled at that, wondering whether a skilled enough magic-worker could remove it from the ship and install it on another. Like, say, the Daughter of the Mist, or that behemoth Ivrian was so set on building.

She pointed to an opening into darkness and directed her glow stone onto a barnacle-encrusted ladder. Apparently only the hull had the special protective coating.

Jekka tapped his chest and pointed into the hold, letting her know he intended to lead, then brandished his own glow stone.

She almost objected, then decided he was at least communicating this time, and remembered he was both an experienced warrior and excited to be searching a ship made by his own people. She allowed him to swim in front, staying a few feet back from the swish of his whiplike tale.

Most of the hold's contents had shifted to starboard. Her light played over brown and green weeds dusted by occasional splotches of red and blue. They obscured the hold's contents in a soft, furry blanket.

Jekka floated above it all, shining his own light on something to the right, then pointed at a long segmented worm with pincers. Mirian's father had always called them rot worms, though to Mirian they looked more like oversized centipedes. Their bite was deadly poisonous and they tended to be aggressive when disturbed, so she moved quickly.

The arm-length creature shifted away at Jekka's spear thrust, rearing up and stirring the water with its legs. Mirian cut it in half with her cutlass. It floated apart, wriggling in its death throes.

Jekka brushed it out of the way and shined his light on the patch of growth where the rot worm had been hidden. It didn't seem to have any nest mates.

She floated on with Jekka, imagining the hold moving with robed lizardfolk, perhaps lashing down that stack of crates over there, or walking on through the narrow archway into the next chamber.

Jekka stopped beside three large chests resting against the hull, each rotten with age. As Mirian played her light over the area, tiny crustaceans swam frantically for darkness. Little silver fish flashed away in alarm.

Mirian signaled Jekka to keep watch and he turned from her to survey their surroundings.

She had never seen a lizardfolk chest before, but the one directly before her proved little different from those built by humans, save that the lock mechanism was inset along the top right. That in itself was of interest. She made a mental note to record the information in her Pathfinder journal.

Normally, she would have simply smashed open a chest this old and rotten, but it was such an odd, rare find she wanted to handle it with care.

The bronze lock was green with corrosion and looked as though it had been designed to accommodate a cylindrical mechanism rather than a key—far beyond her lock-picking abilities, but there were other ways. She removed a small pry bar from her pack and set to work on the hinges.

Illustration by Roberto Pitturru

The tool's teeth sank easily into the rotten wood, and in moments both hinges were floating free. After that, the lid came up easily. Mirian drifted back as she lifted it. There was no telling what might come crawling out.

Nothing did.

She again swam closer, her light settling on a rotted wooden frame inside the chest that kept a dozen blue cylindrical bottles upright and separate. Five were broken along their necks, but the others, though empty, looked intact—more tube than jar, with a peculiar fluted opening at the top.

Mirian played the light over the inside, then carefully lifted one of the vessels free and drew it closer it for examination.

Jekka drifted beside her. His long, forked tongue flicked with excitement.

She looked at him questioningly.

His head cocked in interest and he mimed drinking with it.

Mirian handed it to him to examine, then signed for him to put it in his pack. They could spend months clearing this wreck. It was probably time to fetch Rendak and Gombe.

Desna had truly blessed them. The wreck was a fantastic find. There was no telling what sort of oddities might be left aboard, let alone their value and historical significance. As a salvager, she depended upon scavenging sites like this. But as a Pathfinder, she was dedicated to uncovering the secrets of Golarion's past to preserve and disseminate knowledge. If the magical wind mechanism built into this ship could be understood and replicated, it might very well change the future of sea travel.

Jekka pointed to the chest next to the one they'd opened. He clearly wanted to see what was inside.

She decided to humor him and signaled for him to guard once more.

The hinges on the second chest were even more worn, and yielded with no resistance.

Within stood twelve rows of sculpted lizardfolk heads fashioned from a thin metal alloy and inlaid with jewels. Each eye socket was set with amber stones, the figures themselves rich with the minute symbols of Jekka's people.

The sight so thrilled her blood brother that his frill rose, and Mirian had to remind him to keep watch, though she did acquiesce to setting all two dozen of the sculptures within her pack.

The haversacks they wore had been gifts from Ivrian's mother, and were ensorcelled to contain more space on the inside than was apparent without. All of the sculptures fit easily without altering the haversack's weight in the slightest, another wonderful feature.

Jekka signed to indicate they should open the third chest, but she shook her head and pointed to the surface. Then she looked back to the chests and smiled, trying to reassure him they'd come back for all of it.

Mirian led the way out. Jekka trailed some length after, seemingly reluctant to leave.

Sooner than expected she found the anchor chain and, looming above, the dark bowline of the Daughter of the Mist.

Her hands closed on the familiar rungs of the ladder built into the vessel's side. She felt the magical gills fade the moment she thrust her head above the water and breathed deeply of the crisp salty air.

All was silhouettes and shadows against the lesser darkness of the sky, but she thought she made out Gombe's lean outline near the ladder. She grinned at him as she stepped forward, slinging her bag off her shoulder.

"You won't believe what we've found," she told him.

A man with a sword stepped around Gombe, the point of the weapon at the first mate's throat. "I'm all ears."

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Tags: Howard Andrew Jones Igor Grechanyi Pathfinder Tales Roberto Pitturru
Scarab Sages RPG Superstar 2009 Top 32

Any news yet on when the Audiobook will be available? I've had to spend my monthly credit on another book again, as this still isn't available...

I wasn't really excited by the colonial Africa-inspired setting, but I liked the first book well enough to pick up this second adventure. In short, I enjoyed the story and the characters seemed deeper, easier to empathize with. Some of the Pathfinder Tales can be formulaic and trite, but this book is certainly worth a read.

Silver Crusade

I just got my copy in today, can't wait to read it!

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I really enjoyed reading Beyond the Pool of Stars, and I look forward to reading this next title.

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I am about a third of the way through this book. It's off to a pretty good start so far.

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A man with a sword stepped around Gombe, the point of the weapon at the first mate's throat. "I'm all ears."


Seoni: Lem, we told you! You don't always have to say dun dun dun at the climax of every story!


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