The Hunt Begins
by Dana DeVries

  Sitting at a table in the Scrimshaw Inn, Captain Ivanovitch scowled out the window at the thick fog that bound him into port. It had come up unexpectedly in the hours before dawn while they made ready to sail. Another day of delays for him. Many more and he'd have to start selling off his ship's cannons. The innkeep had lit lanterns to dispel the gloom. And the light from the lantern was cut off as a shadow crossed his face. The captain turned and stared up at a small man standing next to his table. The man's features were bare and twisted as if an Ussuran had tried to push his way through a Crescent face and only half succeeded.

   "Captain? My name's Otiro and I've got a proposition for you."

   "Unless you've got a way out of this fog, I'm not interested."

   "Actually..." The small man peered around furtively with bulging eyes, but no one else in the Inn seemed interested by the burly Ussuran Captain and the small man. He dropped into a chair next to Ivanovitch and whispered in a hoarse voice. "Yes. I know a way that you can sail through the thickest fog. Two pearls, blessed by Matushka herself, that glow with the light of the moon. Fog disperses before them and you can see as clearly as if it were noon."

   "Where are these miraculous items?"

   Otiro drew from his pouch a white pearl as long as one of the captain's finger joints and the light from the Inn's lantern gleamed off its rounded surface. More than the lantern light though. Something more shone from inside the pearl itself. "I have one. The other lies in the belly of the greatest devil in the seven seas."

   Ivanovitch stroked his thick, black beard and frowned. "It's a pearl and it's glowing. But not enough to make any difference to fog."

   "That is the problem. My brother and I were fishermen. Our father had been a fisherman and an explorer before us. Long ago, he went into a ruin and found a small chest that weighed as much as a ship's anchor. But when he opened it, the only thing in it were these two pearls that glowed like a lighthouse. He left the chest and kept the pearls. Through years of fishing, they kept him safe during the long nights. Then he gave the pearls to my brother and I. As long as we fished together, they shone like small moons. When the pearls glowed dimmer and dimmer. On the one occasion that my brother took his with him when he went alone to the mainland to sell our catch, they stopped glowing altogether. Until they were brought back together.

   "We plied our trade there for years. Until the day, I was late out to the docks. My brother decided to go out without me. At first I was so mad that he left me there that I stayed ashore. But the waters of the mirror hold more danger than most can guess, so I finally followed him in a friend's boat. It was the dark of the moon with only dim starlight to see by. His pearl was hidden inside his pouch, as he cast his nets out. By the light of my own pearl, I could see him on his ship. When he saw me approaching, he snatched up the pouch and pulled out his own pearl."

   Otiro took a deep breath and Ivanovitch glanced outside. The thick, grey fog still pressed against the window. He turned his attention back to the small man who continued the tale while staring at something only he could see.

   "That was when it happened. Something thrust itself up out of the water and across the bow of his boat. She shattered underneath that thing and my brother disappeared beneath the waves. Long seconds passed before he popped out and held his pearl high above his head, screaming out for me. That was when the thing came back and attacked my brother.

   Otiro's voice quivered slightly. "The Castillians call it Tiburon Diablo. It was huge, larger than the leviathans I've seen. Thick grey hide and gleaming red eyes. I saw one of its teeth later. As large as my chest. It tore into my brother, ripped him apart and then dove down. I knew it was gone when the glow of my brother's pearl cut off completely.

   "It took me almost half an hour to tack around so I could get close enough to find my brother. The thing had ripped off my brother's arm. Most of his torso. Both legs. Only his face was untouched and his expression was of complete agony. The pearl was gone. But I'd known that because I'd seen it glow coming from the creature's maw as it swam back into the depths.

   "I mourned my brother for days. Weeks and my pearl slowly grew dimmer along with my memory of my brother' face. That was when I vowed that I would find the thing that killed my brother and avenge his death. I've sailed the seven seas, worked for a dozen captains, tracking this thing for years. I've followed every rumor of a giant shark with a glowing maw, but I've never been able to find it. Until now. The pearl is beginning to glow again. I'm close. But I need a captain who can help me kill it. Will you help?"

   Captain Ivanovitch shifted uneasily and looked at the small man with the twisted features and the crazed look in his eye. The thick wooden chair he sat in groaned underneath his heavy frame as he asked, "What's in it for me?"

   "The pearls do more than glow, captain. They control the weather. Watch." Otiro clenched the pearl in his hand and concentrated. For several long minutes, nothing happened except sweat breaking out upon Otiro's brow then a shout from outside distracted the captain.

   Looking out the window, it was lighter. In wonder, Ivanovitch turned back to the Crescenter. He was wiping blood off his hand with a piece of cloth, but quickly tucked it from sight. The Ussuran stated calmly, "The fog's lifting. Quickly too. At this rate, my ship will be able to set sail within a couple hours."

   Otiro continued, "My brother's pearl, captain. You can have it, if you can get it from the belly of the beast."

   Despite himself, the Ussuran nodded and heard himself saying, "Alright. Stow your stuff onboard the Undefeated Heart. We'll be putting to sea soon." In the day to come, he would look back and realize that this was the moment he agreed to hunt Tiburon Diablo.