And then a moment later, he heard it. A measured beat, a droning hum. It was distant at first, but as he strained his ears to block out the ambient noise of surf, gale and rending wood, it became more clear; there was thumping and chanting coming up from below. Moving to one of the broken port windows, Drezi looked down into the foaming sea. His heartbeat quickened. Goblins! By the Wind and the Waves, I should have known! I have lingered too long. Then he cursed himself as another realization dawned upon him: he had seen that pile of “flotsam” before, floating offshore between the two wrecks before he’d boarded. It was now evident that it had been a goblin ship – a Dark Hook goblin ship – if he wasn’t mistaken. He sighed. The small blue-green creatures were notorious in this part of The Shackles for scavenging anything that washed up, trash or treasure alike, and they were savagely competitive about it. There looked to be over a dozen of them, clinging onto their dross boat and swarming near the huge cleft in the port hull, dressed in their ridiculous approximations of human piratical garb. But for all their comical appearances, Drezi knew that they were cunning adversaries and their jury-rigged weapons – shell-and-coral sickles and dogslicers of salvaged metal – were still sharp enough to kill. If he hadn’t expected a fight before, he was in for one now, for these goblins were on the hunt. And they were close enough that he could make out the words to their crude rhymes:
See that wreck, you snot-nosed pup?
Hit the deck and tear it up!
Check each barrel, loot each snag.
Put all shinies in the bag!
Not tied down? Then make it move!
Lady Lastbreath would approve!
Boats will wreck and ships will break.
Dark Hook goblins: Take! Take! Take!
This last line confirmed his suspicions. Scanning the landward side of the room for viable window escape routes, Drezi moved the larger pieces of furniture – the trunk and several crates – in front of the doorway, aided by the pitching of the vessel on the waves. Then he removed a length of silk rope and a sturdy sack from his mesh bag. He gathered the spilled gold and silver into the sack, tied it to the end of the rope, then threw open a window and lowered his treasure slowly to the starboard side of the rudder until it dragged in the surf. He fastened the other end of the rope securely to one of the immovable bedposts; if he was forced to leave this way, he refused to leave empty-handed. He then moved the fallen side table and propped it up as a shield between himself and the dryad figurehead, and the barricaded door. Taking one last look around, he grabbed the bottles of black liquid from the wall and stood two of them behind his cover and placed the rest in his net bag. Just to be sure, he uncorked one and gave it a tentative whiff. Black kelp beer… Excellent! Then he drew his dagger, readied the netting beside him, and prepared to defend his spoils.
In a little while, Drezi heard the dull thuds of goblin grappling hooks landing, followed by scrabbling feet on the decks below. Several of them were already arguing over the rights to scraps of clothing, tin pots, coils of rope, lanterns and whatever else was left in the ship’s holds. Shrieks, squeals and thumps echoed as brawls broke out; Drezi heard splashes as a few of the more aggressive troublemakers tumbled back into the ocean, followed by a sharp yelp from below that indicated that at least one of the creatures had been crushed between their ship and the wreck. The sounds of chaos continued for a minute more, before a commanding voice growled,
“Avast thar, swab bargers! Unfurl th’ bosun. Maroon yon mizzen jack!”
Immediately most of the confrontations ceased, with the last of the persistent jabbering silenced by the application of some type of blunt trauma. Then the scavenging began in earnest. Sheer numbers and innate agility meant that the Dark Hook mob could effectively cover the inundated decks in a fraction of the time that Drezi could. He listened as barrels and other goblin treasures were rolled down the swaying planks, landing resoundingly on the surviving seaborne goblins and the mound of rubbish that was their dubious ship. A few cries of delight also reached his ears:
“Salty fish pickles for Grubbus… and a new hatpin!”
“Sheep’s head! Mine! Mine! MINE!”
After a couple more shouts of discovery from the holds, the horde began clambering up the half-ruined ladders and out of the main hatch. In seconds, the first ones will reach the cabin. Drezi inhaled deeply to steady himself, then took a swig from the potent uncorked beer and silently invoked Gozreh as the entrance to the captain’s quarters slammed open with a violent heave. Surprised by the force of door and the barrier it revealed, a chorus of goblins squawked and reeled backwards, bouncing off the deck and stumbling into the mizzenmast. The most agile of the three, a scrawny, wilted-eared whelp wearing a vest of matted goblin felt laced with pink satin ribbon and an eyepatch on the side of his head, quickly recovered and scrambled up the precarious heap to survey his spoils with beady red eyes. The bottle of black kelp swill shattered as it hit the goblin scout square in the chest, dousing him in beer and toppling him again onto his comrades.
“Watch it, pond scum!!”
Drezi readied himself as he heard the cries from the other side of the obstacle. He had caught them off guard… He just hoped the goblins would be accommodating and make the rest of his plan work. There were a few feral growls as the wet goblins picked themselves up again, then the vanguard screamed over his shoulder to the remaining pack:
“Hey, Gutscupper! We got a sneaking long-lubber abaft!”
The battle was on.
Hearing the goblin’s report, Drezi launched another bottle of the kelp brew over the makeshift wall. A wet crash told him it had smashed just as readily as the first one. The goblins, however, played this sort of game well, and their retaliation was fierce; half a dozen filled glass jars flew in answer towards the young treasure hunter. Two fell short, hitting the carpet in the centre of the room; another one dashed against the desk to his left. The fourth and fifth came close, splashing him with sea brine as they shattered on the overturned table in front of him and the wall behind his head. But the last hit him straight in the jaw, bursting on impact and releasing a shimmering white jellyfish along with a splatter of brackish water. Perhaps throwing things was a bad idea, Drezi thought, as crackles of stinging pain from the jelly’s poisonous tentacles seared across his cheek, jaw and neck. He lurched backward, pulling the sea creature off and throwing it back into the face of one of his bulbous-headed foes, only to lose his balance and plant his hand into a pile of spiny sea urchins – the contents of the fifth sadistic jar. He howled involuntarily in pain and surprise, then clutched his punctured hand protectively as the tribe cackled with glee.
Severely outnumbered, Drezi looked to his escape route, then up at the serene wooden statue. I’m going to have to get out of here, he thought sadly. The goblins were piling en masse onto the barricade, sneering at their injured rival with their filed teeth and jabbing with their makeshift weaponry, as ‘Gutscupper,’ presumably their chieftain, tottered up the boxes with a stoppered flask of red liquid. Yes, sometimes, no matter how badly you want something, “the true prize of the salvager is walking away from a wreck alive.” Drezi smiled, resignedly shaking his head, as he recalled another piece of Mibengu’s wisdom. He took a last look at the chieftain, standing on the leather trunk in his overlong brocade coat, and crumpled bicorne hat covered in bird bones. Gutscupper was holding his vial aloft and readying to deliver the final blow. Trust goblins to at least be predictable in some respects, Drezi thought. Then he screamed as he flung his net out across the doorway, picked up the side table, and maneuvered toward his window escape.
Drezi’s boldness caught the Dark Hook chieftain completely off guard: humans didn’t usually act as rashly as goblins did. The force of the weighted netting and the bottles of black kelp beer knocked the goblin commander hurtling through the air, bowling down his lackeys in the process. A dark spray exploded over the tangled mass of knobby, blue-green arms and legs as the small glass vial filled with red liquid spun up into the air out of the chieftain’s hand. Then there was another crash, and the flask hit the ground and burst open, igniting the beer-soaked goblins and decking with alchemical fire. In a panic, the goblins shrieked, stumbling over one another frantically, as they dove toward the churning sea.
Unfortunately now, the ship too had caught fire. From his perch on the rope at the window’s ledge, Drezi took a last look at the captain’s chambers; the rich furniture, the unopened crates of untold treasures and finally, the wooden dryad figurehead. Flames snaked towards her along channels of potent ale on the Qadiran rug, then ignited the shroud of her velvet curtains. Drezi wished that he could take her with him. She was a relic, possibly the only one he would ever see in his lifetime! But then he remembered old Mibengu, sitting at the table at The Tengu’s Nest, waiting for him to come home. The young man smiled as he descended the rope to his waiting treasure below. Careful to avoid being pinned among the rocks by the death throes of the burning ship, Drezi freed his bag of loot from the cord, then swam eagerly to shore. Yes, he thought, a salvager’s life was capricious, his fates as changing as the weather patterns of the Eye along Tempest Cay. But today he had earned his share of spoils for his family, and perhaps more importantly, he had learned a good lesson to add to Mibengu’s sayings: Some treasures you seek, some seek you, and some, Gozreh provides.