Arc 718, 12th of Saun
In contrast to the excitement from during the day, nighttime was a rather quiet affair. All seemed to be peaceful on the deck of the Gilded Siren as it drifted off the coast of Scalvoris. The sails of the ship were furled and it rhythmically rose and fell to the occasional wave. However, the atmosphere below deck was another matter. Light spilled from the hatch of the sloop, and three figures were gathered around the small table set down within the hold. The solitary lantern that burned, threw elongated shadows within the small space that was now crowded with more people than it had ever seen at once.
Rynata stood with her hip leaning against the table and Inora sat on the solitary chair with her legs crossed. Meanwhile, Walter leaned against the closest wall, listening to the conversation going back and forth between the two women. The shipwright had been roped into the entire mess by virtue of being at the wrong place at the wrong time. There was also his loyalty towards the old shipwright. If the whole situation with the thugs was solved for good, then that meant his current boss had no need to worry about being attacked because of some old journal. Sticking with the ones that seemed to know about said journal had seemed like the best course of action. However, the people in question, or at least one of them, was worried about why exactly the journal was of such value to the men. Even though he hated to complicate matters, Walter had to admit there was something to that. Simply handing over what the group of men wanted might prove dangerous later on.
"So let's get this straight," Inora said. "You found the book under the floor boards. And you didn't think that was suspicious?"
"Well, yes, I did," Rynata shrugged. "I did, and I tried asking around about it, but no one seemed to know anything. Besides, the journal itself isn't so out of the ordinary. In fact, here."
She walked over to the chest below her hammock and knelt beside it, clicking open its latches. Digging through some odd tools and changes of clothing, she came across Filliman's journal. Fishing out the thing, Rynata returned to the table where she handed it off to Inora.
"It seems just like a normal log from the days of the pirate lords and a little after," she said, watching as Inora began leafing through the pages, her eyes skimming the handwriting. "The last part was what worried me, though. Filliman mentioned something about a smuggling crew in Egilrun."
In fact, she had run in with a few other people who had spoken the elusive name, Filliman. They had indeed seemed to be the sort who stalked the back alleys of Almund. However, that trail had gone cold. With slavery effectively illegal in Scalvoris, she had thought the crackdown had dispersed that particular group. Still, the appearance of the men from earlier told a different story.
Walter moved in closer to scan the journal's pages from over Inora's shoulder. "Well, whatever they want it for, I'm sure it isn't because of sentiment," he said, letting out a bark of laughter. "More likely, it's because they think the book'll get them something. Gold, probably. That's how it is, with those types."
"All the more reason why we can't just hand over the treasure." Inora had a gleam in her eye as she continued her staring match with the journal, as if willing the pages to reveal its secrets. Suddenly, she craned her neck to narrow her eyes at Walter. "Why did the old man have such a valuable thing in the first place? He's the one that hid it away in Rynata's ship, right?" she said accusingly. "It's as dangerous as it is valuable. Imagine if the men knew to come after her, instead."
"How the hell should I know?" Walter leaned back, deflecting the unfriendly look. "You coulda kept quiet and they still wouldn't know anything about the damn thing."
Rynata tugged the journal out of Inora's hand as the two others continued to argue. As she let the pages fall open in her hand, she thought that it was a rare thing for the Siren to be so lively. It was usually just her, and of course Oriand. With Inora, and now Walter aboard, things were very different.
Running her finger along the lines of text to help keep track of where she was reading in the weak light, Rynata came across the occasional irregularity on the paper. Every couple of pages or so, her finger would catch on the paper as if the material had been damaged somehow. Holding single sheaves of the journal's pages up to the lantern light confirmed her suspicions as tiny pin pricks of light shone through more brightly were minuscules holes had been punctured into the paper. The nearly invisible marks were placed over specific letters throughout the log book.
Rynata dashed to the chest once more, and returned with her own journal along with an ink pen. She flipped Filliman's journal back to the beginning and ran her finger across the page to check for the minuscule mark. There indeed was one. A 'T'. Noting that down, Rynata continued her detailed search. Never were there two marks on one page, as the coder had seemed to have preferred leaving clues one at a time.
By now, Inora and Walter had noticed the change and had stopped bickering.
"You found something?" Inora leaned over, highly interested. "Of course! A simple type of code, but hard to figure out if you don't know what to look for. What does it say?" she said, hurrying Rynata along. On the page, she had managed to spell out the words, 'The Sweetwine'.
Walter circled around the table to end up at Rynata's side. He remained silent, but from the way his eyes tracked the pen forming new letters, it was safe to say that he was intrigued.
Rynata had written out, 'The Sweetwine - Golden Cliffs - Third Peak'. As she turned the last page, it was obvious that there were no more words to be uncovered. They still didn't know what to expect, but they now had an idea of the location that the journal was pointing to.
"But which peak is it?" Walter mused out loud. "It says third, but they didn't tell us the starting point."
Pointing the the last entry in the journal, Rynata shook her head. "I may be wrong, but it might be referring to the cliffs closer to Egilrun. Since that's where the smuggling operations were to be based, there's a connection. I suppose we'll find out when we go there."
"That's all very well, and I'd love some treasure for myself, but what about those men?" Inora interrupted. "If they're still getting the journal and they know, or manage to figure out the code, I can't imagine they'll be too happy to find the treasure gone. It might even come back to hurt us. They know we'll have had the journal last."
"Well, we don't know what it is we'll find," Rynata reminded. "We shouldn't get carried away yet, yes? But you're right. When the men get this journal back, we want them to think nothing more of us. Innocent, confused bystanders who just happened to poke their heads into the story and don't know anything more."
Walter gave another harsh laugh, but Rynata thought it sounded somewhat appreciative.
"I'll think of something," she said. "In the meantime, Inora, could you copy down the contents of Filliman's journal? You can use my notebook. I know we'll have to give away the original, but I want a copy, at least. Oh, and please don't forget to mark the coded messages."
Passing the writing materials and journal to Inora, she was relieved to see that it was one of the few times that her employee seemed to agree wholeheartedly. Inora was many things, and no doubt lied about even more, but she genuinely seemed to enjoy this kind of work, so Rynata left her to it, heading up to the deck.
They had a new destination now, and a three trial deadline to make it back to Almund with the journal. In that time they had to deal with the hidden message in the journal's contents, and somehow make sure that whatever it was, didn't fall into the wrong hands. Inora and Walter seemed to think it was treasure, but Rynata hoped it wasn't something more sinister. The message in the journal could have simply been used to pass on a meeting spot or hideout, which would be of less use to them, and a little harder to prevent the men from finding. However, there was still time to think, and many ways to go about it.