PODW - "Birth of the Dark Heart"

Part II of my series of stories centered in the Pirates of Dark Water Universe, this is actually a sequel to Pirates of Dark Water - "In Defense of Fate". Read that before you even attempt to read this, or you will be lost on the series of events.

Determined to see things through, Ren pursues the 11th and 12th treasures of Rule, but not without facing off against the demons that stand in his way - outer and inner.

As per usual, the characters of Pirates of Dark Water belong to their respective creators/copyright holders. Everything else here (the story, original characters, and original locales) are all my own work.

Part III: Dark Shadows- Quest for the 11th Treasure

Chapter 10: Suspicion

"Noy Jitat! You haven't found the boy or his crew yet? How long are you going to test my patience?" Bloth's voice thundered through the cabin of the Maelstrom, and oriented towards a nervous Konk, who gingerly rubbed his peg leg as due reminder of what he lost from being thrown to the Constrictus.

"Konk know where boy headed, Mantis know too and make plan. We go further south, follow them to frozen sea."

"And you know this how? For our luck, the boy would return to Octopon and continue to restore the city."

"But Konk and Mantis saw crew on scout ships. Maelstrom here too many days at Octopon waiting."

Bloth stroked his beard carefully in contemplation. Konk rarely had any good points to make, but it was true that the Maelstrom had hovered too long in the seas near Octopon. Bloth had ordered his scout ships to sail in pairs to locales not far from Octopon in order to see where the Wraith sailed next. By luck, Mantis and Bloth's ships had both been in harbor at Jonda Town, and sighted Ioz and Niddler in Zooly's company. The ships gave chase, but lost them for a time at sea. However, Konk had returned with news that Ren and his crew were sailing further south, or so noted by Mantis, who continued to pursue them with his ships.

"Very well. We'll set sail and track them there. I had hoped to avoid sailing that far south, because of the Dark Water. A sailor, much less a fleet of ships, would be fool to cross those waters alone. But by Kunda's luck, we may be able to tail the boy and avoid unnecessary confrontation. Aye, it's a plan indeed." He grinned mischievously and rose from his seat. He traced the route on the map that was outstretched on the table, and Konk's eyes followed the route with keen interest.

"There!" Bloth's voice thundered as he thrust one of his enormous fingers toward their destination. "I know exactly where they're going - not to the frozen seas, but to a group of islands southwest - Ischaria. Green and said to be full of riches in above and underground temples. No telling what we'll find, but if the treasures are there, then we shall set course."

"Konk not happy sailing through Dark Water or meeting strange tribes." Konk grumbled while pulling at his cap.

"Then you'd better get used to it, and quickly." Bloth threw one of the rocky weights that helped spread the map at Konk's head, and Konk barely dodged it, choosing to run out of the cabin door.

"I will find you and corner you now, Son of Primus. And those treasures will all be mine. Even the men tossed to sea have to come up for air…eventually." Bloth's voice boomed in a hearty, bitter laugh.

Niddler rolled a pooka looka pie between his hands as he rested beneath the deck of the Wraith. It had been a relatively quiet day aside from a few run-in patches of Dark Water, and the franticness of that had developed a voracious appetite within him. At the very least, the pooka looka pies didn't taste like lead between his beak lips.

It was pitch black outside. The sun already set, and the half moon shone dimply in the sky above Mer. Stars peppered the darkness between long, thin grey clouds that darted the skies over the sea - it was the type of night that shone enough to where they could avoid Dark Water, but at the same time, an eerie calm had settled within it. It was cold and damp above deck, and the monkey bird was glad to be out of it while Ioz steered the ship. It was his turn to steer anyway, at least according to Tula's straightforward assertions earlier that day. Ioz had grumbled about it, but finally relented - which is something he didn't normally do. Tula was above deck in the cabin, looking over several maps that may have a clue as to where their next destination would be. Ren's compass pointed southeast, towards a path that would lead them close to the frozen seas, but more west than even those. Niddler didn't like the idea of sailing to areas of the frozen ocean (cold weather did nothing for a monkey bird's feathers), but they were going whether he liked it or not.

Niddler thought a lot more than he usually did - and whenever he thought harder than he needed to - his appetite grew. Whenever his fears grew, he also found himself reaching for an extra slice of minga melon, though it would be high time before they could return to Jonda Town for supplies. Ren, Ioz, Tula, and himself had found the ninth and tenth treasures so far, but it was only in the search for the 9th treasure that Niddler discovered, alongside Ren, that the 13th treasure of Rule was already with them - Ren's very heart. It came to a shock to them both, but none so shocking as a foretold warning an Oracle had given them while they visited the island of Parat - Ren could die if the 13th treasure were overused and if the information fell into the wrong hands. There were times Niddler wished he didn't hear about it, that someone else - maybe Tula or Ioz, would be better knowing it, but it ended up square in his possession - as he had followed Ren the night he ventured to the Triplet Caverns alone, and against the wishes of a friend they made while in Parat, a former resident of Octopon named Anna.

Niddler felt many of the revelations were over his head, but he'd agreed to keep everything about the 13th treasure he heard a secret…even from Ioz and Tula. It was hard, but he found it within himself to do it since Ren's life was on the line, not to mention the fate of Mer.

They had been at sea for about a few weeks, with only a general direction of where the 11th treasure of Rule resided. There was a lead for them, something about the legend of an island in the southwest called Ischaria. It was said to contain several mystic treasures, and no doubt one of those treasures might be a Treasure of Rule.

Niddler finished the pie in one sitting and looked over where Ren lay in the makeshift bed a distance from him. He had been sleeping for quite some time, considering he'd taken his fair share of turns steering the ship by nightfall. Their last trek had left them all feeling worn thin on the floating and Dark Water- filled Dark Island, but they managed to get the 10th treasure of Rule, a beautiful one that resembled a lotus flower. They had faced a very tough enemy in Nadjiat, but managed to escape with their lives.

"I've got to stop thinking so much on what happened there. It's making me even more hungry." Niddler said patting his belly. For now, the pie would have to supplement his appetite.

"You say something, Niddler?" Ren stirred, opening his eyes wearily, and turning his body to face the monkey bird, who returned his gaze with guilt.

Niddler shook his head and squawked softly. "No, I didn't mean to wake you."

"It's probably high time I did. Is it past nightfall?"

"Yep, it's really late. I think Tula's even sleeping by now, but she's probably still in the cabins - she's been looking at maps all day long."

"Then why are you still awake?" He said, smiling a little.

"I couldn't sleep, so I figured I'd eat a pooka-looka pie, or maybe two."

Ren shook his head and laughed lightly. "I figured that'd you might have worked up an appetite. I guess it knows no bounds, even by the hour."

"Are you hungry?" Niddler said.

"No, not really."

Niddler frowned, recognizing that response a little too frequently. "You haven't eaten much since we left the last island."

"If it makes you feel any better, I'll settle my stomach when day breaks. It's not a good idea to eat and then try to sleep afterwards, something that I know you do too much." he said with a half smile, but it wore away as Ren sat up, his knees to his chest and folding his arms over them so he could rest his head. "I've just had so much on my mind lately."

"Ren…is it about what happened on the Dark Island?"

Ren nodded. "That among other things. I still can't believe Nadjia took the lives of all of those seamen - with his own hands and his jitatan pet no doubt. And for how long a time? He must have been alive for many moons, relying on the Dark Water….or maybe even with the Darkdweller himself. But how did he not succumb to the effects of it, and how was he bound in the caverns of Parat? There's still so much of this I don't understand."

"Neither do I. It's too confusing, so I figure better to let it be. I still don't know who Nadjia is….or was." Niddler gulped at a knot forming in his throat. He wiggled his feet and hands as if to rid himself of the memory of clawing Nadjia's flesh, what little there was. He'd attacked Ren quite a bit when Ioz, Tula and himself had arrived inside the temple of the Dark Island. They'd only found him by a single stream connecting the 9th treasure they had to Ren's compass, and it was that which destroyed Nadjia before their very eyes. "I still don't even understand how we were able to find you - that temple was huge; you could have been anywhere."

"The light of the compass - and no doubt the 13th treasure amplifying it. That's perhaps how you found me, after it was activated, and the reason why it didn't work as well before. Now I know for certain that I'm connected to the treasures. Nadjia knew that too."

"How did he know?"

"He was a mind reader….no, it was even as if he could read souls. It was something he used against all of his victims. Not to mention he put some sort of curse on me before he died."

Niddler screeched. "Curse! W-what kind of curse?"

"I don't know." Ren said somberly, but then he recanted, his eyes widening as he recalled the memory of being in the room with Nadjia, whom had entered Ren's mind just before his demise. "Avagon…the Darkdweller…it had everything to do with the Oracle of Sight's prophecy…noy jitat! Why didn't I remember this sooner!"

"Wait…what? I don't understand."

"Avagon…is still alive."

"Avagon? But she…"

"I know…she was taken by the Dark Water, but Nadjia told me her soul resides in the Darkdweller's domain, as does her body. If Ioz and Tula discover that my heart's a treasure of Rule, his power will take my soul from my body and banish it there. I don't know how long I would be able to last if that happened."

"Ren, that's horrible!" Niddler said in horror. "We need to find a way to break that curse somehow."

"It's enough that I tell you of these burdens." He lowered his feet to the floor, clasped his hands together in his lap and lowered his head, closing his eyes.

Niddler placed one feathered hand under Ren's chin. "Oh no you don't - you're not taking me out of the loop. You can tell me anything. Just tell me what we should do next."

Ren opened his eyes again, still taken by fatigue. "For now, old friend, we wait and gather the remaining treasures of Rule. But this conversation stays between us, and no other…at least for now."