Sitting around the fire that night, the officers, the crew and the merchants, as all the passengers claimed to be of course, took turns recounting tales. There were the stories of battles fought for Realm and King. Night Stories, as they were called, so popular with the Celns, wherein the wicked walked when the sun went down. Most of these occurred on Riftenaught, or torn night, and featured an evil seductress, enchantress, or the like. The Celns also loved their adventuring tales and the most popular, the tales of the End Days War. When the gods fought each other, and man was nearly destroyed. Many of the men present had served in the lonely outposts of the Southern Valley, and there was always endless incursions of giants, and trolls and goblins to brag about. The scars to prove goblin blades in the stories, and the witnesses who could give legitimacy to the deeds done against the most formidable of foes, although none were present, currently.
When the night wore on, the tales turned to the sands. The officers and the captain retired for a more sophisticated talk, and most likely a richer drink. Meanwhile, the others kept on. Some told of the Vam pier, those soulless beings who wandered the sands attempting to quench their thirst with the blood of men. That led to the other things stalking the sands at night, the giant purple worms, the shadow river. The night was warm, and the wind was gone. There wasn’t a sound out there, in the still landscape and yet, every little crackle of the fire set their guts churning and their skin prickling.
One of the enlisted men, a fellow Celn the others called Bart the Braggart was a great story teller. “Of course, the riches are as vast as the demons here below these sands. It’s why our Captain has taken so many trips you see.” He lowered his voice, which prompted all to lean in. Stories of rumor around the captain on any expedition were common, but Bart had a special way of making this an inspirational telling. “You see, I have it under great authority that the Captain has been obsessed some years with a certain treasure map in his possession. Some say he seeks it still. That there is a ruin on the route to Almagesh. It is so full of treasure, that he always keeps a full bay empty, because it would take the entire thing to load the treasure within!”
“Braggart!” chortled a minotaur named Thrumble. “The bay is kept empty for balance. A wind ship needs to be light in the front, and heavy in the middle and stern. All know that Bart. There’s naught there but your own imagination.”
“You go ahead and stick to your ears, Thrumble. I am only telling the others here that which I have seen with my eyes.” Bart stretched his legs and rose. He had been wittling a hunk of wood into a miniature copy of the ship, but unsatisfied with his work, he simply threw it nonchalantly into the fire. “I saw the map, I tell you.”
Morning came all too soon. Long before the sun rose over the endless dunes, it’s scalding heat tore threw the deck beams and into the sleeping quarters. Gerrell couldn’t believe that anything could be so hot, especially when it was so far away. He awoke quickly and made his way to the top deck to see that is was still night. The officers, and the captain were being briefed by the wheel at the stern. Theros was there as well.
“How can it’s heat be here already when it isn’t here itself?” asked the little gnome. He was pulling up his hood and preparing his robes to avoid the scorching rays that were coming. He had altered the material so as to better suit his size. Around him, the deck hands prepared the sails and ship to be untethered.
“It rises each day,” said Theros, handing a cup of water to the little man. “Passes overhead and then disappears until the next morning.”
“But where does it go?” asked the gnome innocently.
“That depends on who you ask,” said Theros. He had never considered the question much, and cetainly not as seriously as the gnome was now. “Some say it simply reappears on the other side of our world. I have even heard one tale that our world spins. And so the sun simply looks like it moves, when in reality it is us!”
Gerrell found the whole thing hilarious, if not terrible. The idea of having to spend so much of his time under a piece of cloth hiding from a constantly burning round disc above truly terrified him. The idea of what would happen should he be uncovered a paralyzing fear he didn’t want to think about. He decided to spend the day belowdecks.
On the second night, something slipped. Two of the officers were human, Celns. Neither knew each other. Horiv was from Cillandar, while Sterven from a small hamlet in the Cairn Lands. It was casual enough when it happened. Horiv was enjoying his drink, and was telling a story of a reptile that had gotten loose on the docks once. A manticore from the outer wilds, brought to the games that year. He and a few others had been called in to deal with it.
“That thing was huge!” said Streven, and he took a sip of his cup. But Theros and Ares caught the slip. Streven looked over the bottom of his cup to Horiv, and their eyes met for the briefest of seconds.
“It was indeed Streven,” said Horiv nonchalantly, “I dare say if you had been there, you’d have needed your brown sailing pants!”
Every one laughed and the moment was lost on the others. But not Ares or Theros. They said their goodnights and retired.
“Who will take first watch?” whispered Ares gruffly.
“Wake,” said Ares. “Wake.”
Gerrell stirred, and Theros slowly moved his hand to his sword which was lying upon his chest.
“The sounds from the officers’ tents are gone,” said the dragon man.
“What do you mean, they are gone?” asked Theros. But he was already slinking towards the tents. Ares and Gerrell waited for his return. Soon, the ranger was back, and the news was grim.
“The officer tents are empty, as well as the captain’s,” whispered the ranger. “The bedding has not been used.”
“We wait for them,” said Ares. “Let’s keep this from the others, until or if we need them. This information can only benefit us for the time being.”
“Agreed,” said Theros.
By the heat of the nearly breaking dawn, the officers and captain had not returned. “Far worse,” said the ranger who spent the time searching more extensively. “The canister is gone.”
“Blast the captain!” growled Ares. “Wake the others. I especially wish to talk to the Braggart.” He looked at the others and grunted. “Something tells me the treasure map story may be truer than we thought.”