Something Blue, Something Borrowed by Karen

Disclaimer: Space Cases and all related characters belong to Nickoloden. Cisnar and their respective creators etc. They are not mine. I am only borrowing them for the story. They will be returned intact afterwards. This picks up where "Auld Lang Syne" left off, with a small interval taken into account.

Running through her mental checklist of things to prepare for the 'Big Day, Miss Davenport made the all the corresponding notations on a Compupad she held in her grip. Whatever else might be said of her, she tried not to come up short in any areas involving efficiency and organization. "Invitations, check. Cake ordered and gowns laid out. Check and double check, " she muttered aloud, absently tapping the liquid crystal display screen with a red lacquered fingernail. "Everything seems to be in order. So why then, do I feel like I'm forgetting something vital? When the time comes, we will not be able to do without it. What am I missing? I know it's something, but what?"

She frowned and dropped the pad on her dresser. She then turned to look into the mirror that hung directly above it. She ran a hand through the fine strands of her red hair, wishing she had more to work with. She could have chosen another hairstyle at the last minute. It was pinned and curled with white gardenia blossoms and blue ribbons piled into a bundle on top of her head. In the back of her mind she wondered what could ever have possessed her to even consider putting flowers on her head, let alone blue ones. She had to admit the effect was rather attractive. "Blue was always my favorite color," she absently thought, reaching up to remove a ribbon that was looking a bit ragged around the edges. She went to the floor length mirror and spun around to admire the sweep of the full skirts of her ivory dress and how the fabric caught the light. "Perfect."

Just then the door signal chimed, which she acknowledged with a quick "Enter."

Rosie and Catalina came in wearing matching pastel blue and white ankle-length dresses with the patches of their respective races on their sleeves and silver and black sashes around their waists. "It's time, Miss Davenport," Rosie said, then tried to smother a giggle, "I've been so used to calling you Miss D, it's going to take some getting used to calling you Ms. Goddard."

"Well, I suspect we will all have to go through some adjusting. I doubt, it will be much of a problem.," Davenport replied. "Shall we," she invited.

***

In the hallway there was a bottleneck and a slight scuffle accompanied by the sound of ripping fabric. Catalina and Rosie, serving in the capacity of maids of honor accidentally tried to carry the same side of the train, and it snagged on the edge of the automated doors. The ivory fabric spread out on the floor like a puddle of spilled milk. Miss Davenport, simply glanced once at the tangle, sighed, and waited for them to sort it out. She was in too good a mood to deliver any stern reprimand or lecture, and it she was not about to let a rather minor mix-up spoil her 'Big Day.'

Rosie, unable to smother another giggle, ignored the glare from Catalina, dropped her end of the train and covered her mouth with her hands. Catalina managed to free the train from the doors Once things were back in order, resumed their positions and continued on their way.

**

Meanwhile, Commander Goddard paced back and forth in his quarters. He refused to even look at the garment bag that had been delivered hours earlier and now occupied space at the foot of his bed. He glared at the mute and inoffensive black plastic stamped with the guild symbol of local garment industry that had shops at the StarAcademy. He was spared from further muddled thinking as the automated door signal chimed. "Come," he said without thinking too much about who it might be.

Admiral Cody came in with his step-son, Harlan Band, all but treading on his heels.

The latter had a wide grin plastered across his face, and then turned that grin onto

the older man. "Maybe he should have gotten a prenuptial agreement."

Ignoring both Harlan and the comment, Admiral Cody turned to face Goddard.

"How do you feel?" he greeted, a wry smile playing about his bearded mouth.

"You haven't shaved," Goddard noted.

"I'm going for the bearded look. Somehow I thought it would make me look more distinguished. But never mind that, " Cody replied. " Maybe I didn't phrase it properly.

After our last meeting, this must be a happier occasion for you."

"Who's giving the bride away?" Harlan asked.

"That happy task has been given to me," Admiral Cody said, then cocked his head to one side as if thinking something through. "Traditionally, the bride's father or closest living male relative would have performed that honor."

"How did you guys get so chummy," Harlan asked.

"I don't think he needs to know that," Goddard warned.

"Well, you see, I've always respected Seth, even if I didn't particularly like him or think much of his unorthodox methods of command," Admiral Cody continued. "It's called male-bonding. I took him to the Launchpad bar, and over several shot glasses of…. Well, let's just say we reached a mutual understanding."

"And?" Harlan prompted, ignoring the disapproving glare that Goddard shot at him.

"Don't get any ideas, young man," Admiral Cody said, wagging a finger at Harlan in mock

Severity, "Just because you're just shy of the legal drinking age does not mean that you are allowed to indulge."

"How did I ever get myself into this?" Goddard sighed.

"You asked for it," Harlan replied.

"I was being rhetorical," Goddard said.

"It's only natural to have cold feet," Admiral Cody added.

"Are you having seconds thoughts about going through with this?" Harlan asked in spite of himself.

"I'm not really sure. Maybe I'm just nervous," Goddard said.

"Cheer up, old man. It's only the last day of your life as a free man. It's not like you're going into battle. " Admiral Cody moved forward with a few quick steps and in a couple of seconds he had scooped up the garment bag, had it unzipped and shaken out its contents. Inside was a formal suit along with a gray pin-stripe vest, black pants and a swallow-tail jacket. The last item was a matching tie, and a square of blue silk to go into the vest pocket.

Tossing it to Goddard, "Put this on." he said, and then walked over to sit in a chair near the door, pretending to study the abstract painting on the wall across from him.

"I feel so much better," Goddard replied, automatically catching the thrown objects as Cody proceeded to illustrate the proper procedure for putting the tie on. In the back of his mind, he absently thought, "I really hate dressing up."

"Aw Man!" Harlan turned around so he was facing the door. He covered his mouth with his hand as he sneezed. "Sorry," he muttered and the blushed, turning his dusky black skin a few shades paler. Facing the door, he shoved his hands into the pockets of his dress uniform just to have something to occupy them.

"You remember the ring, Mr. Band?" Goddard asked, shrugging into the white silk undershirt and then slipped on the vest, along with the pants and coat.

Harlan started and turned around. "NO. I.. Uh, thought Radu was supposed to hold onto it."

He was about to explain himself further, trying to think of an excuse, when the door chimed again and slid open, and Radu came in at a run.

"Am I late?" Radu asked.

"No, Mr. Radu. You're right on time," Goddard smiled. "Let's go."

***

The double doors swung wide, to admit light and air. The candles had been lit and the guests were already seated in the chairs arranged in two even rows, and in the slightly more comfortable gallery seating in the balcony above. The walls had been hung with the banners of the participants in the ceremony and the members of the United Populated Planets. At a signal from the conductor, the military brass band struck up the first strains of the 'Wedding March Processional."

Goddard, with Harlan and Admiral Cody leading the way, came in from the side entrance of the audience hall and walked down the row until he came a dais and stopped about halfway there, where the same judge who sat in judgment during his military tribunal would be conducting today's ceremony. The irony was not lost on him. Although, he had to admit it did strike a chord in his own sense of the ironic. He glanced around, scanning the faces in the crowd. Half the guests he didn't recognize. He decided that it didn't matter, because he had allowed T.J to make all the arrangements, and consult him on details where necessary. He shuffled his feet and tried to remain stiffly at attention, but his mind was wandering, and he couldn't remember if he had forgotten something. He shrugged, and decided it was too late to anything about it now.

Admiral Cody, standing directly to his left, discreetly nudged in the side with his elbow.

"Pay attention now," he whispered as all eyes turned towards the main doors as Miss Davenport made her grand entrance, accompanied by Rosie and Catalina, who wore matching blue and white dresses.

The bridal gown was ivory white in a sheath style with a detachable train. The neckline was scooped and the long sleeves featured looping spirals of lace and pearl sequins sewn into the fabric. To Commander Goddard's bemused eyes it appeared as if she didn't just walk down the aisle towards him, but more as if she was gliding. In the back of her mind, Miss Davenport felt like all her nerve ends were tingling, but she had planned everything out perfectly and she had promised herself that she would not ruin everything by fainting at the last moment. How would that look?" she thought to herself.

Rosie and Catalina went to side on the side opposite of Harlan and Radu. Harlan glanced at Catalina and wondered how they found a shade of blue to match her rainbow-colored hair, and wondered for the first if it was dye job. Rosie picked up a handful of flowers from a vase on the floor nearby and absently smoothed down the petals with her fingers.

When everyone was more or less situated, the official opened the proceedings:

"Ladies and Gentleman, we are gathered here today to witness the union of two of our own,

Who have too long absent from us." he cleared his throat, and glanced around at the audience.

"Who gives the bride away?" Admiral Cody, at the low voiced prompt of the official, moved forward to take her arm, and led her to the center of the audience hall were a marble table had been set up. "I do," Admiral Cody replied, as the military band struck up the first chords of another song, a mix of flutes and piano.

The justice of the peace nodded and turned back to the gathering.

"The marriage is a lifetime commitment, and a partnership. It is not something to be entered into lightly. The couple has decided to say their own vows, and so without further ado, I shall let them share them with those gathered here."

"There were times when I honestly didn't think we'd make it," Goddard began. "There were times when I was prepared to throw up my hands and throw everything directly in the lap of the powers that be. But we were there for each other, and we all made it back, in reasonably one piece. So, I guess, I'm doing this rather badly, but I'm glad you stuck it out with me. And we'll move forward together. "

"I truly didn't think we'd make it home, and there were times when I thought it would be the end. But we're here together, and we're alive after everything's that's happened, and I just want to move forward and face whatever comes next together." Davenport said.

"Do you Commander Seth Goddard agree of your own free will, to take this woman,

Theresa James Davenport as your lawfully wedded wife; to have and to hold? In sickness and in health, for as long as you both shall live?" the justice asked.

"I do," Goddard replied.

"Do you, Theresa James Davenport, take this man as your lawfully wedded husband, to have and to hold, in sickness and in health for as long as you both shall live?"

"I do," she replied

"Then join hands," the justice instructed. "By the binding of hands, by the tying of the ribbon of joining, " he signed and hand an aide bring forward a blue silk ribbon and tied it around their clasped hands.

"Present the ring."

Radu shuffled his feet and fumbled around in the pocket of his formal uniform until he found the velvet black box, opened it, and held the ring out to Commander Goddard, who carefully placed it on her finger, where it sparkled.

"With the power vested in by the UPP, I now pronounce you husband and wife. "You may kiss the bride," he announced.

Goddard leaned forward and lifted the lacy veil, he found he was trembling, not from nerves, but from in held tension. He didn't realize that he would be this excited for this moment to come. When he had planned his career in the military, marriage hadn't even be a factor he'd taken into consideration. Goddard raised the veil allowing the lace to slid through his fingers, then kissed her as light as butterfly wings, and then lingered a little longer, barely conscious of the audience cheering.

"Presenting Mr. and Mrs. Commander Seth Goddard!"

**the reception

The room and the tables were draped in fabric, with a silver and black pattern, the wedding party seated at the head of the long table, with several smaller round tables branching off from it, like spokes on a wheel. The caterers that Miss Davenport hired made circuits of all the tables and brought over the first course, which included a variety of both pasta and fruit salads,

The plates were served, along with wine glasses and water pitchers, matching napkins were neatly folded into wooden holders, and servers were stationed at opportune vantage points.

Admiral Cody stood up then brushed off the front of his uniform for stray crumbs.

"Hmm, if I may have everyone's attention" he began. "Well, it's about time for the obligatory let's embarrass the newlywed couple' speech. " he glanced sidelong at Goddard and grinned, ignored the pained glare he received in return. "I know we've got off on the wrong foot, and things have been strained between us, but he's good guy, and TJ and he will definitely make a good match. Hmm, isn't that the same thing about nitro, rather explosive then. I'll spare everyone my rendition of 'For He's a Jolly Good Fellow,' because as everyone knows I can't sing. But to sum up, I just want to be the first to extend my congratulations to the new couple!

Admiral Cody raised his wine glass and drank down a deep draught. That done, he sat down again with a rather embarrassed look on his face. Turning to Miss Davenport,

"Not bad for something that was totally off the cuff huh?"

"I might have suggested a few improvements here and there," she replied.

"Why did he make a speech?" Radu wondered, trying to understand yet another odd human custom.

"It's traditional, besides it gives the person making the speech the chance to, basically, ah, play it up," Goddard muttered.

"Yeah, Radu. You remember, Suzee gave one not that long ago, when we were all still back on the Christa. If I recall, it had something to do with Catalina and the Saturinan Day of Rejoicing."

Radu arched an eyebrow, surprised that Harlan had remembered that. He normally wasn't good at memorizing facts or details of incidents, but it did help clarify what a 'toast' was.

**

Later

Nestled inside the maroon velvet lined box were three oblong objects wrapped in white tissue paper. TJ Davenport-Goddard carefully removed the objects from the box, but a corner of the paper still tore. "Couldn't be helped," she thought and removed them completely from the box and slid aside the wrapping. She lifted them up so that they caught the muted light of the reception hall better, and a gave an audible sigh. They were heavy gold ingots carved in the shape of keys.

"Extravagant, I wonder who they're from?" Davenport said. "Well, there's only one way to find out," she set the keys down and reached into the box to find the card. She found an manila envelope several times the size of a standard gift card and removed it from the box. Unsealing it, she reached and in removed a fold sheet of parchment, which appeared to be some kind of map. Goddard cleared some space on the table and she spread it out. Attached by a blue ribbon was a piece of scented notepaper and written in delicate script she recognized, it was from her mother. She sighed and read the note:

Dearest Theresa: First off, warmest regards and congratulations on the Big Day. Wish I could have been there in person, unfortunately circumstances prevented that. You know how it is,

I simply couldn't bear the thought of missing my young lady's wedding but came down with a case of Rigellan fever, and completely missed the shuttle to the Star Academy. I feel terrible.

In lieu of actually being there, I sent these along. Hope you enjoy them. With love, your fondest Mum."

Davenport sighed and placed the note back into the envelope. "Typical," she muttered under her breath. "I don't suppose there's any way to tell if this really is a treasure map? Goddard asked.

"I think I've had enough adventures, but then again we're just starting a new one, right?"

****

Bova glanced around with interest at the array of choices for food, sat up a bit straighter.

He eyed the centerpiece of a small off to the side table. Set squarely in the center of it, was a multi-tier cake of frosted rosebuds and lacy sugar frosting.

Bova turned to Rosie and nudged her with his elbow. "Check that out," he whispered.

Rosie looked up from stirring the lemon slice that had been secured on the rim of her water glass, and looked over to where Bova was pointing. "Hmm, looks good, too good to eat, maybe.

Do you think it's fake?"

"Why would it be? You know how Miss D is, she wouldn't go with something that wasn't top of the line."

Later on that evening, the celebrations were winding down, and most of the guests had already left, when it was just the crew of the Christa, Miss Davenport, at the insistence of Admiral Cody, took the last remaining piece of wedding cake and calmly smeared all over the already somewhat flushed face of Commander Goddard, who returned the favor, by smearing her nose with frosting, after that, then together they ordered the cadets to return to their quarters.

***

Elsewhere

On board a Spung kill-cruiser, systems powered up and the energy crystals that fueled the massive ship's engines purred and hummed like the whine of some contented jungle cat.

The ship maintained a cancerous orbit behind one of Jupiter's moons. It was hidden from the occasional sensor sweeps by the Stardogs throughout the Sol System and around the Star Academy. Warlord Shank knew it was dangerous to be this deep inside UPP territory, but he wasn't about to let that stop him. Somewhere in the bowels of the ship, two voices echoed off the metal walls. The crew kept their mouths shut and their eyes glued to the tasks before them. Even if they didn't have any immediately pressing business, they pretended like they did. Because listening in on conversations made a soldier's career rather short. "Keep your ears to yourself' was a popular Spung catch-phrase because listening in on conversations between Warlord Shank and Princess Soelria Elmira could get you killed. Things were always voltatitle between them, and this present argument should prove no exception.

"Who do you think will come out on top this time?" an officer whispered to his companion.

"Dunno. The princess usually gets her way eventually," the other tech shrugged.

"Wanna bet?" the other replied, one eyelid twitching nervously.

Warlord Shank stomped down the metal corridor, his spiked boot heels making a ringing counterpoint to his shouting. His fists were clenched to his sides, and a scowl made his perpetual expression of bad temper, even pronounced than usual. In his hands her held a battered piece of parchment, folded into four even squares.

"No! NO! and No!" Elmira yelled, her hands gripping the armrests of the chair she had dragged from her quarters and plunked down in front of the doors that led to the bridge.

"Fool child, why do you insist on defying Warlord Shank?" Obstinacy will get you nowhere."

Warlord Shank reached behind him and dragged a startled henchman from his bemused position at his console. Ordering him to unroll the map, and spread it out on the flat surface of the console. Gesturing at the legend and the curvy script of the writing on surface.

"Warlord Shank has given this matter some thought, although that may not be apparent to a willfully disobedient child. Warlord Shank laughs in the face of danger, HAH! HAH!

He spat a glob of spittle on the metal floor, where the heat of his anger and the warm temperature caused it to steam. "Take that danger! "

"Well, it appears to be working so far. It' just that she would rather not listen to anyone else's voice except your own. I've seen that this venture is not only foolish but perilous as well!" Elmira stood up and walked towards him, so that that she was standing in his direct line of sight. She placed her hands on her hips, and tilted her head so that she was looking directly into his eyes. She tried to hold the contact for several seconds, hoping he would back down.

In the back of her mind, she knew she couldn't keep this up for long.

"If Warlord Shank didn't know any better, he would suspect this sudden change of tune in favor of the plan was because you're hiding something from him."

"I saw this in a vision, and the visions are never wrong. I still think this is dangerous," Elmira said.

"Warlord Shank says the map is genuine, and nothing will stop me from going after it and having the treasure for my own," he said.

"We still do not even know if the treasure will do us any good, or even if the map is still reliable. The one in our possession is a copy of a copy, and it was inked over a hundred years ago," Elmira said.

"All the more reason to go after. It has been too long since Warlord Shank had an adventure!

The matter is decided, now have the guard escort you to your quarters!" he shouted.

Elmira heaved a tired sigh that started at the soles of her black boots and ended at the roots of her flame-red hair. She had tried. In the back of her mind, she wondered if the original copy of the treasure map had found its way into the right hands, and if so, what would become of those who went after the treasure, and trudged after the henchman that dogged her every step on the way back to her quarters onboard the ship.

"Pilot, head for the Sybaris system." Warlord Shank ordered, and crossed his arms over his chest. "If I can't have the treasure, then no one will."

**

Encounter

Seth and TJ arrived at Sybaris and debarked from the shuttle, after gathering their luggage from the cargo bay. Stepping out into the bright glare of the Sybaris's tropical heat at midday took a bit of getting used to, but his arm was there to steady here, so didn't go tumbling in an ungraceful heap of the docking pad where the shuttle landed. She nodded to him and together they joined the queue of other passengers being processed at the visitor's center and as the desk worker processed their visitor documents and presented them with the key to their lodge.

Once their eyesight had become accustomed to the glare, the first thing they noticed was how serenely peaceful the vale was. TJ looked down and shuffled through the tourists pamphlets they'd received on their way. She read a section on the history of Parga Village, and learned that it was of the oldest sanctuaries, where oracles were interpreted from the rustling of leaves of the sacred oak tree as far back as the 3rd millennium. Reading on, she discovered that the ruling dynasties that had once ruled over Sybaris particularly favored Dodona, which they adorned with temples, porticoes, and one of the largest theatres. In recent times, the locals had restored the old theatre for the annual Summer Festival of Ancient Drama.

Goddard came up beside her, and placed his arm in hers. "You've been studying the brochures of this place more often than I have. Pick something I and that's what we'll do."

"Hmm, I think we should rent a boat and go sailing out by Pargas Island. There's supposed to be spectacular sunsets there. And there's even a café tucked into a naturally occurring cove, where we can have dinner on the beach."

"Hmm, sounds like a plan. Let's go."

***

Davenport reached up to pull the brim of her sunhat lower to shade her eyes. She craned her neck to where the tropical sun beat down and swept through the scudding clouds like a knife through butter. Meanwhile, Goddard stood at the head of the boat and removed the tarp covering, and the untied the rope that bound it too the wooden stays that made up the dock.

He offered her his arm, and help her step in the boat, as it gently rocked. They stepped inside, and he stepped to the tiller, and she took one of the passenger seats. He engaged the power, and maneuvered the boat out into the ocean.

The boat moved over the liquid element like silver through a glass, Davenport leaned back in the cushioned passenger seat and relaxed. In a back corner of her mind she placed all the doubts and worries in nicely convenient compartment and allowed herself to relax.

Goddard glanced back at her and smiled. In a back corner of his mind, he had always thought of himself as a career military officer and something of a declared bachelor. Settling down was not part of the equation, and now that he was, he wondered he had been such a wimp right up until the part when he'd to say I do. He was happy. It was a good feeling, but it'd been his experience that good feelings rarely lasted that long. He didn't want to feel that way, I've been around Bova too long. What was it he used to say it's better to expect the worst because then you won't be disappointed if things don't turn out the way you expected them to? Yeah, that was it."

Just then he felt the boat start to rock and the helm grow lax under his hands. Water lapped over the sides, splashing them with spray, the cold numbing his hands even though the sun was still high in the sky. The wheel suddenly spun out of control and Goddard was knocked backwards to land in a sprawling heap on the passenger seat next to Davenport. He looked over with a sheepish grin, as she helped him back onto his feet.

"Are you all right?"

"Fine" he automatically replied, standing up again. "You okay?"

"Fine. What's going on?

"I don't know." He shrugged. "If we were in space I'd say it's some kind of turbulence. But we're not in space."

"While you're doing that, I'll check the navigation charts that the port authority issued. I'd like to see if there any storms in the area."

"I'm going to try and ride this out. It might be we hit a snag of some sort or a bad current. The only thing I can thing of doing is just ride it out. Hopefully, we won't run into a storm," he finished.

Just then another swell of water sprang up and lapped over the sides of the boat, and they were knocked into one another again. Godddard, instinctively reaching out his arms to catch her, before she went tumbling over the side and into the water.

He held her in his embrace for a moment, wondering what he should do, as their lips met for a lingering kiss.

Goddard cleared his throat, feeling like a cadet fresh out of the Academy, on his first date. Furious with himself for having to feel that way. His irritation vanished only to be replaced with alarm as the boat bucked and he nearly went over the edge into the water. The boat fetched up on the shore of rock Cliffside pockmarked with crevices and clinging greenery. The boat lurched to a spot and they were tossed overboard onto the sandy ground. Goddard rolled with the motion and let his momentum carry him the rest of the way. When he got to his feet again, he ran towards her and made sure she was more or less in one piece. When they were both on their feet and had brushed the sand from their clothes, they looked around and saw that the facing side of the cliff had several different entrances.

Davenport took her attention off the cliffs for a second, but that was long enough to register on her rather damp senses, that their rental boat was leisurely floating away.

"Seth!' she shouted, grabbing his arm and turning him around.

"Great! Just great! " he griped.

"That riptide came up out of nowhere. It was too sudden to have been natural."

"Now what?"

"I guess we'll have to go and find out."

Once they entered one of the caves, and their eyes had adjusted to the sudden change from sunlight to darkness; the first thing they noticed was the girl who appeared to be posted there to greet unexpected visitors. The girl was tall and her skin was brown as walnut, and drawn tightly over the bones of her face like the skin stretched over a drum. She smiled at them and her brown eyes sparkled. Her hair was brown but in the right light, there were small green and blue tinges. "Hello. I am Kashpur. May I be of service?"

"What's going on?"

"Sometimes things happen for no apparent reason, or that reason has yet to become clear.
Kashpur replied enigmatically.

"Look, I don't know what you want, but our boat is gone, and it's rented. We're stranded here, so unless you can come up with…" Goddard trailed off.

"Why should we trust you?" Davenport demanded, folding her arms across her chest.

"Very well," Kashpur smiled. "One can not begin to discover new oceans until one has the courage to lose sight of the shore."

"Whatever that means," Goddard sighed, giving his surroundings a quick 360 degree once over. His gaze took in the cave formations of stone and limestone, odd smooth sided slabs of stone protruded from the cave's stony skin at right angles to one another, like the ridges on a lizard's back. They almost but not quite met the dripping wet stalactites that dangled down from the cave's ceiling. "Cheerful. Now I know why I always disliked spelunking as a kid and during field trips at the Star Academy." he muttered to himself.


"That's what we'd like to know," a familiar's girl's voice broke him out of his thoughts.

"Elmira!" Davenport gasped, recognizing the Spung girl's mellow tones. Elmira shuffled around in her bag and removed a folded piece of parchment and spread it out on the floor beneath her. "I'm not sure if the legends of a treasure lying hidden in the caves off the coast of the island of Parga, are true or not. This map shows the path to this maze of caves, as well as the same phrase we have just heard from the one set to greet those seeking the treasure. It say so, right here. " Elimira tapped the parchment with her right hand.

"Warlord Shank as well! Be afraid! Be very afraid!"

"Well, that just tears it, Godard threw up his hands.


"Careful, Seth, you're beginning to sound like Mr. Bova," Davenport whispered.

"What I would like to know, is how they even knew we'd be here or even what we're after."

"Warlord Shank intercepted the courier ship that delivered the gift from your maternal relative,

It was a simple matter to make the switch of the treasure for the fake one that was then sent on to you, and lead us to the treasure before you could lay hands on it!"

"Why should we believe anything.." Goddard began.

"You shouldn't trust me, but then again maybe you should," Elmira said.

"Warlord Shank, when he lays hands on the treasure, will not let anyone else get in his way!"


"That helps,'' Davenport began her mood souring.

"Enough!" Kashpur shouted. "Follow me!"

***

They wandered the seemingly endlessly looping cave passages, and to the those following their impromptu guide, it appeared they were getting nowhere very fast. Kashpur kept them moving at a good clip, and her boots hardly made a sound on the damp, chilly ground. From somewhere that Goddard never quite discovered, she rubbed a milky white stone together and it lit up just like a torch, which she held in the air just about level with her head, and used to light the way for those following behind her. Davenport winced to herself at the mental image that occurred to her in the back of her mind, of helpless ducklings trundling along behind their mother. I will not faint! She'd lost track of how long they'd been wandering around in these maze of caves.

"Trust me," Kashpur nodded reassuringly.

Goddard was beginning to a get a stiff neck from keeping one eye on their guide and one on the Spung warlord. He nearly bumped into Davenport as they their party was brought up short by a solid rock wall.

"There's no way through? Goddard asked., and turned to Kashpur, who was there a second ago, but had disappeared.

"It is possible that we are meant to discover our own path from here on in," Elmira said.

Davenport bent down and examined the seams and cracks worn into the rock that faced them. She followed the intervening cracks and fissures with her eyes and them traced them with her finger. "If I'm not mistaken, it appears to be a keyhole. To be exact, three keyholes. Seth, would you hand me my travel kit, I think there's something in there that we can use."

Starting to get her drift, Goddard reached around his back where he had slung her their luggage that they'd managed to retrieve from the boat before it sank, and handed her travel kit.

She nodded her thanks and rummaged around for a few moments before coming up with the small velvet lined box that held the gold puzzle keys given to her as a wedding present.

She removed each one, turning them over and over, wishing they had more light to work with.


Elmira came over and held out a electric lightwand, which made her start, but then nodded.

Davenport turned the first key over in her hand, trying to measure its dimensions that would closely match up to the niches in the rock wall, and then carefully inserted it into the slot.

"Turn it," Goddard suggested.

She nodded, and began twisting, but nothing happened. She kept turning it, until she heard a soft 'snick' and her hand, with the key still in her grip was locked into position. She grimaced, and began trying to force the key counterclockwise, nothing happened.

"Maybe we need to have all three keys in at the same time," Elmira said.

"All right," Goddard nodded, taking one himself, and handing the other to Elmira, completely ignoring Warlord Shank. Once everyone was in position, he gave the signal to turn the keys at the exact same time.

With the final turn, the rock wall slid aside almost as if it had been greased or set on well-maintained rollers. Light welled into the dark passage on their side of wall and it dazzled them. A lot roar and a whoosh muffled the sound of someone collapsing into a heap, but Goddard didn't want to turn around to find out who it was. He helped Davenport to her feet and staggered into the adjoining chamber in case the wall panel should decide to change its mind and slam shut again, with Elmira all but treading on their heels.

****

"Welcome, mortals! Behold a glimpse of the fortunate realm where wishes are granted and treasures are found!" A loud baritone voice boomed out. Just then, Kushpar reappeared almost right at their shoulders, making them all jump. When they had recovered a little, glancing around they discovered the cavern had been draped and decked out with every jewel, silks, and fine furnishing imaginable. "A cave to us, and they've got a palace down here." Davenport sighed, glancing at the fist-sized gems lining all four walls. Just then Kashpur reappeared right at her elbow. "I wish she wouldn't do that," Davenport muttered.

"Great Rusalka, O King." Kashpur bowed, ignoring the now captive guests.

"Is this what you seek!" the one called Rusalka roared, uncoiling from the heap of piled cushions. He was dressed in flowing silks, his chest bared and rippling with muscle. He appeared human enough from the waist up, beneath he had the green coils of a snake. He raised his arm high in the air, and his hand splayed open so that a sparkling purple jewel caught the most light. "The norbu! A wish-fulfilling jewel! The treasure of the Nagas, guarded for these many centuries as the mortal ages came and went, we have sworn to guard the norbu until such time as those came who proved worthy to take possession of the treasure!" The jewel was a rectangular block of purple stone resting upright between the Naga Lord's palm like a glowing computer data chip.

"Seth, do something," Davenport muttered under her breath.

"I am. I'm thinking."

"Think faster."

"Mine! If Warlord Shank cannot Havre the treasure than no one will!"

"That remains to be seen," Kashpur said, thrusting a metal knife into both Goddard and Warlord Shank's clenched fingers.

Just then several more of the nagas came forward from recesses in the rock walls, all were tall, and large, but not as big as the Naga King, and all were armed with sharp knives.

"You'll have to work together if anyone wants to get out this alive," Elmira said.

"How do you know that?" Davenport demanded.

"I just do." Elmira replied.

"I don't trust either of them." Godddard said.

"We don't have a choice," Davenport replied.

Warlord Shank glanced at Elmira, normally he did not put much stock in her predictions, even though he knew better than anyone her psionic ability to see into the future. He studied her pale green features for a moment, than glanced over at his worst enemy, and considered his options, and then back at the those who watched them. "Agreed." he nodded.

Goddard and Warlord Shank held themselves ready as the guardians approached, knives held out. Goddard rushed forward, trying to get in under their guard, and thrust at their exposed throats, but the blow rebounded off a metal collar the guard wore around its neck. Warlord Shank came up behind him and blocked a series of blows from the guards knives. He tried again, aiming for a slightly lower point, and slashed again and again.

The follow through knocked their weapons from their hands. Both men exchanged glances and grimacing, grasped the guards elbows and tried to use their movement to throw them. When that didn't work, they rocked back on their heels and tried to come up with another plan.

It took a few seconds, but for the lack of anything better, both men doubled up their fists and punched the guards, and gasped in pain, but it worked, because the guards dropped their weapons and keeled over backwards, to land with a satisfying thud on the rock floor.

"Don't expect Warlord Shank to help you again, Earther."

"Don't worry, I'm not looking forward to a repeat performance," Goddard replied, rubbing his sore hand.

Kashpur came forward and rubbed the stone she had used to light their way through the cavern passages over their palms and the pain subsided with a faint tingle.

****

Conclusion

"That was lucky," Davenport remarked.

"Fortunate indeed," the one called Rusalka confirmed, moving forward like he was gliding through water. He held out his palm to Commander Goddard, then snapped his fingers and Warlord Shank and Elmira disappeared.

"Don't think I'll ever get used to that," Davenport muttered.

"What do we do with this?" Goddard asked, lifting up the norbu, holding it up to the light of the setting sun, as the round polished blue amethyst gem sparkled in the light that came from no identifiable source.

"Search your own heart, and you will know," Kashpur. "Recall what I told you upon your arrival here. "

Davenport thought for a moment, searching her memory, but it was difficult and the memories floated in and out of her ability to recall like the tide on an ocean shore. And then it clicked"

"One cannot begin to explore new oceans until one has the courage to lose sight of the shore.

"Exactly," Kashpur nodded.

"There are more things in heaven and earth, then are dreamt of in your philosophies,

Seth," to paraphrase one of the Immortal Bard's characters. For someone who wrote back in the 16th century, he certainly had some rather catchy phrases, " Davenport said.

"How do we even know it works?" Seth, are we any worthier to have then anyone else?"

"The norbu. If Warlord Shank wanted it that badly, how can you be sure that there won't be others out there who will come after it as well."

"Why must you…."

"Hey, you married me," TJ said.

"Do you think it really has the power to grant wishes?" he asked.

"The nagas certainly thought so, and I don't think what we witnessed back in that cave was either a trick of the light. You know, I'm the last one to admit that magic is just so much hogwash," TJ replied. "Do you think we should destroy it?"

"How?" he asked.

"It appears our reputation proceeds us," TJ remarked.

"How so?" he asked.

"I guess we can get into just as much trouble by ourselves, even without the kids," she replied.

"What kids"? Seth grinned.

"Why you!" TJ began, then laughed and anything else she might have added was lost as their lips met and they spent the rest of that night exploring what other adventures their new life would bring.

Author's Note: The Nagas are thought to be semi-divine snakes with human faces and serpent tails. Patala is the watery region under the earth where they reside. Believed to be the guardians of earthly treasure as well as spiritual knowledge. Holds a norbu, a wish-fulfilling jewel,- a symbol of the untapped powers of the human mind.

-from a website on the subject.

Some information on nagas gleaned from the Great Encyclopedia of Faeries complied by Pierre Dubois.