A Crude Map and a Piece of Silver Ore

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Submitted by Oceana, Runner-up in February 2019 cycle themed "Maps".

A raspy moan was heard throughout the mine, followed by the clattering of a hammer. The miners paused for a moment, looking up with weary faces, but continued instantly as a hoplite approached. The hoplite prodded a lump lying on the ground. As no reaction came from the shape, the hoplite prodded it again, this time with his spear. It remained still. The hoplite glanced towards the other miners, pointed at two of them and commanded, "You and you. Take him away. Feed him to the sharks."

---

"We've lost another one," the hoplite reported to the foreman. The foreman looked up from his wax tablet and frowned. "We're running low on miners then," he muttered, mostly to himself. Dismissing the hoplite with a wave of his hand, he glanced towards the workforce. "Replacements are not easy to find," he added, "We're too far away from the usual trade routes..." He put down the tablet and pulled a tiny crab from his beard, setting it aside distractedly. "Maybe we can make them find us," he said slowly, an idea forming in his mind.

---

The cartographer was crushing sea snails when the foreman walked in. "I'm making ink," he said as he noted the questioning frown on the foreman's front. "Right," the foreman answered curtly. He glanced around the office, his eyes going from the maps covering every inch of the walls to the jars filled with pens, rulers, and knives on the desk. "I need a map," the foreman said slowly, going over his idea in his mind. "You've come to the right place then, Foreman," the cartographer laughed. The foreman grunted, "Not one of these maps. They are too refined for what I have in mind." He walked over to a map of the area on the wall and pointed at it. "Can you draw a crude version of this map? It must be detailed enough for a landwalker to read it, but I want you to omit the names and use their symbol for silver, not ours. This..." The foreman tapped a specific detail on the map. "Don't draw this on it," he grinned.

---

Examining the map the cartographer had sent him, the foreman nodded, "Not too easy, not too hard." He looked up at his closed office door and muttered, "Now where is that Shadow. He's late." "He isn't late," came a sound from behind him. The foreman spun round sharply, his head turning first towards the closed door, then to the Shadow standing behind him. "How did you..." he started to ask, but corrected himself, "No matter." The foreman folded the map and put it in a small chest decorated with frolicking mermaids. "This mission requires stealth," he said to the Shadow, who moved to the desk while a coral reef snake slid noiselessly around his leg. "You must not be seen," the foreman added as he dropped a small piece of silver ore into the chest. "I won't be," stated the Shadow dryly, deciding to ignore the indirect insult. The foreman closed the chest and handed it to the Shadow. "Bury this on a beach near Shastaan, beyond the reach of the tide. Leave part of the lid visible, so it would not take them long to find it." Hiding the chest under his cloak, the Shadow bowed once and walked out.

---

"Captain, Captain," the young rajamalan shouted as he entered the cabin, "Look what I found!" The boy held up a sandy chest and shook it. Something rattled against the sides. The boy put the chest on the table, brushing off the sand with his bandana. "I was hunting for pearls and fish, and I nearly fell over it," he added laughingly. The Captain chuckled and asked, "What's inside?". "Don't know! I haven't opened it yet," the boy said impishly. "Go on then," the Captain said, moving closer to the table. The boy fidgeted with the lock for a moment, then pushed back the lid. They peered inside. "A map!" exclaimed the boy, while the Captain cried, "Silver!"

The Captain was studying the map as one of his shipmates walked in. "She's ready to set sail, Captain," said the ship mate. He approached the table and glanced quickly at the map. "Where are we headed, Captain?" he asked. "We're off to the Scyrian Reaches," the Captain replied, "That's all you need to know for now." Used to similar instructions, the shipmate nodded and yelled, "Turn her to the southeast, mates!". The Captain tapped the map and muttered, "That's Ulangi and Mysia. Zanzibaar. The Scyrian Reaches... after that we're sailing into unknown waters." He scratched at the symbol in the bottom left corner of the map. "I'm going to get that silver," the Captain said to himself, grinning greedily.

---

"A ship is approaching," heard the foreman from behind him. With a satisfied smile, the foreman put down his tablet. "It's time," he replied. "Get the hippocampi ready. Bring as many nets as you can find!"

---

The voyage had been smooth. Winds had been favourable and they had encountered only a single merchant ship before leaving the Scyrian Reaches. "Movement in the water at starboard!" came a nervous shout from the crow's nest. The Captain hurriedly left the cabin. They were almost there, according to the map. As the Captain set foot on deck, a huge tentacle fell across it. "Kraken!" came the shout from the crew. "Shoot it," shouted the Captain, as a second tentacle came from the bow. He drew his rapier and stabbed at the tentacles, to no avail. The crew fired their weapons at the kraken rising from the waters, but the monster seemed only angered by them. A loud creaking sound alarmed the Captain. "It's pulling us down," a shipmate shouted, "Abandon ship!" The Captain looked annoyed that a shipmate dared utter such a command, but the ship was rapidly disappearing under the water line. "Abandon ship," he barked and all jumped overboard. The kraken disappeared, his ship in its tight embrace.

---

Floating in calmer waters, the Captain saw the members of his crew swimming towards him. What order could he give them now, the Captain mused despondently. They were too far from land. Suddenly, heavy nets were thrown over them. Bewildered, the Captain looked around as he felt himself being pulled underwater. "A kraken using nets?" he wondered briefly before noticing tritons tying the nets to hippocampi. As the hippocampi sped off, his face was pressed against the net and the water rushed past him. He blacked out.

---

The foreman inspected the men on the ground before him. They were coughing, trying to push the heavy nets away. Signalling the closest hoplite, the foreman ordered that the nets be taken off. As the men scrambled to their feet, the foreman addressed them, "You wanted silver. You will find it here, by the force of your arms." Spears in hand, the hoplites pushed the men towards a barrel with pick axes and hammers. Turning to the the Shadow who was observing the scene silently, the foreman commented with a satisfied smile, "The map worked splendidly! I'll send you with a new one in a few months!" The Captain's shoulders dropped as a look of comprehension transformed into incredulity and despair. "Bloody curses!" he muttered as he picked up a hammer, "Betrayed by... a map."