The seas are a dangerous place. Marines stalk the seas, maintaining "order" in the name of their country. Pirates prey on the weak, obeying no laws. Dark islands with wild locals tempt people in, sometimes not to return. Yet, there are always some places that are more dangerous than others. Everyone in these parts of the seas knows the legend of the Devil's Trap, a place where many have sailed in, chasing the rumor of great treasure, but none have sailed out. Two more brave explorers are about to brave the Trap. But now. For the first time. Two will sail in. Two will sail out. Zalika stood with her feet firmly planted on the deck of the sloop, both hands firmly curled around the tiller as she guided the two person boat into the relative safety of the cove. The water was calm and smooth, nearly glassy, and so clear that it looked as though all it would take to touch the sandy bottom was for her to stick her arm in up to the elbow. She did not allow the calmness of the water and beauty of the little cove before her, azure water, pale sand, and verdant trees of the thick jungle growing up a little ways beyond the shore, to lull her into a false sense of ease. Zali kept careful eye on both the water and wind, still tense from the voyage she had just completed. Thus far in the short but intense journey it had somehow always proved to be the places that looked the easiest to sail that had ended up being the most challenging. Not that any part of sailing this chain of islands could be called “easy”. There was no wonder that the natives called this ring of islands the Devil’s Trap. Even if it wasn’t for the legends that steeped this place, none but the most expert of sailors would have been able to navigate the narrow passageways, sharp rocks, hidden sandbars, and wild currents safely. And if the simple technical dangers of the journey weren’t enough, then there were the legends. None who ever entered the Trap returned. At least, not alive. Despite the fact that the trap covered very little of the ocean’s water, Zali had been forced to wind back and forth between the tight passageways between the islands, and had seen more than one marker of an ill fated journey. More than once, the little sloop had nearly run aground of an old mast in trying to avoid some other natural danger. In many ways, Zali was sad that she could not allow herself to stop and examine the ships. The Devil’s Trap had tempted sailors and adventurers for as long as living memory, and several of the nearly-rotten ships she had passed must have been several hundred years old, at least. The kind of treasure waiting in the bowels of those sunken wreckages could quite possibly have been worth a fortune all on their own. Zali obviously wasn’t the only one who had thought that, as, at one point, their little ship had passed two ships sunk nearly on top of each other, and rafted together by countless tendrils of rope. Apparently the Trap sunk scavengers just as effectively as it sunk treasure hunters. After all, it was the rumors of the legendary treasure waiting at the center of the Trap for the first person who could claim it that lured so many to their deaths. The rumors grew more wild with every person who entered the Trap and didn’t return. But rumors never stopped anyone. In fact, it seemed that the darker the legends surrounding this place became, the more people it lured to their death. She had glimpsed the bones of countless fools drifting in the fast current just below the surface, trapped in between two ships, or bouncing off the cliffs of the islands. Two more fools? Zalika had mused briefly, before glancing over at her traveling companion and long-term friend, Kyan. The two were about as different in appearance as it was possible for people to get. Kyan was only slightly tanned, and his sandy hair had the bleached blonde highlights of those who spent their lives under the sun. Zali, on the other hand, was so dark brown that she could almost be called black, while her tar dark hair reflected nearly orange in the light of the sun. Her features, though, were fine-boned and straight, unlike many of the dark-skinned companions she had traveled with in her twenty four years of life. The thing that made her stand out the most, though, were her pale grey eyes which, when combined with her dark skin, made her come across as a ghost or some sort of malevolent spirit. Once, when she had been young and still traveling with her parents, she had been accused of witchcraft, and she had gleefully kept all the villagers cowering under her “power”. Right up, that was, until her parents had come back ashore to find her, and gave her a firm spanking. The sight of their “witch” being abused such had emboldened the local people, and her parents had been forced to sail away, goods untraded, before their ship was burnt to the ground. What bound Zali and Kyan together so firmly was not their appearance, but their attitudes. Both possessed a soul bound towards chaos and adventure, and neither was satisfied with doing things halfway. When the merchant ship with which they had been traveling unceremoniously dumped the two troublemakers at a small, native port and sailed away, the two had taken just enough time to take stock of their situation before using their small pocket of remaining gold to purchase a boat and sail away towards the Trap. By that point, the locals had seen enough fools that they didn’t put in more than a perfunctory effort into trying to dissuade them from their journey. In fact, almost the exact opposite came to pass. As soon as the village chief had warned Zali and Kyan of the dangers of the Trap, and had reaffirmed the fact that none return alive, he had offered to “guard” most of their belongings until their return. The man hadn’t even waited for Zali and Kyan to fully leave the island port before starting to auction off their belongings to the rest of the village. Zali cared little for their antics. She had acknowledged, even before stepping foot aboard their new, little ship, that there was a chance that neither herself nor Kyan were going to be coming back from the Trap alive. How could she not, when both she and Kyan knew exactly how many deaths that chain of islands had caused? Besides, if they did come back alive, the few belongings they had possessed before would not matter. At that point, they would be the richest people in the world. If the legends were to be believed. Whether they were or were not, it was equally true that the things Zali considered essential had never left her person. The villagers never could have gotten the things that really mattered: a length of rope, bound around her shoulder and cunningly designed as a part of her clothing, with a large canister of water and a smaller container of alcohol strapped on. Two knives strapped to her shins, a dagger strapped to her back. A firestarter, a compass, a small handful of tinder, and a few other completely essential items secured in a waterproof leather bag around her neck. None of it able to be dropped, stolen, or easily lost, should she take an unexpected plunge into the brine. Her clothes were made of a strong, fine material resistant not only to water, but to fire as well. They served her far better than any sleeping bag at keeping her warm and dry in the tropical climate. Of course, at the moment, it didn’t really matter that basically all of her belongings were water-resistant for, despite the dangers of the sailing portion of their journey, Zali and Kyan had made it to their destination without Zali running aground of anything, and forcing them to take an unanticipated swim. Later, when night had fallen and the two of them were safely sequestered around a small campfire, Zali had plans to boast of her sailing skills, whether Kyan wanted to hear it or not. Of course, boasting right now would do her no good if, at a moment of inattention, she ran their boat aground within sight of their destination. Despite her ritualistic anticipation of problems, the cove was almost completely free of dangers. Compared to the journey she had just completed, it was completely smooth sailing. The only obstacle was a single sunken ship, its mast rising out of the water. A single glance was enough to inform Zali that it was most likely that some violent storm had pulled the abandoned cutter off of the shore and into the water, because the bottom of the cove was smooth and relatively deep, with nothing to run into. Except for the ship, of course. That particular hypothesis was made even more likely by the fact that easily ten ships, of various sizes and in various states of disrepair, were packed together onto the sand at the far end of the cove. Most of the ships were about the same size as the one she and Kyan were sailing, and had been drawn far enough onto the shore that the water could never reach it. Only a couple were larger than that, and the sunken cutter was by far the largest ship that was still identifiable. It was doubtful anything bigger had ever made it in. Those had all run aground much further back in the chain. Zali let out a small sigh, eyeing the row of ships. “Well, that’s ominous,” she muttered to herself. Maybe there was more credence to these legends than she had given. All the same, she continued her careful navigation, pulling up close to the shore before shouting at Kyan to drop the anchor. The boat skidded to a halt, and spun slightly, so that it was facing lengthwise to the shore. Zali moved away from the tiller, eyeing the water with distaste. She had been hoping that she’d be able to complete this entire journey without ever having to get her feet wet. There was no real purpose to it, but it would have been another accomplishment she could have added to her upcoming boasts. The cold saltwater immediately soaked her up to her waist as she hopped overboard, but Zali ignored the faint chill and set to work slowly drawing the boat towards shore as Kyan pulled the anchor back up. It didn’t take long for the boat to start to run aground of the sand. She was able to draw it a couple more feet with the aid of the waves, before it became far too heavy for her to drag along herself. She dropped the rope she had been using to pull it and lifted a brow at Kyan, hand on hip. “Are you going to help,” she quipped. “Or just sit up there?” Once Zali and Kyan had finished dragging the boat ashore, she turned to face the line of trees while she dumped the last of the water out of her boots. It was an unbroken wall of foliage, except for one point, where a shallow, rocky creek had cleared a path through the trees, before emptying out onto the sand of the beach. If they hoped to get deeper into the island, that was going to be the easiest path by far. It only took her a couple moments to double check that all of her possessions were in place, as she touched each one with a quick, nearly ritualized movement, ending with the bag around her neck, and the small bone carving secured to the front. Finally, her eyes turned to Kyan. She could feel the excitement starting to build in her already. It was always like this, at the start of something new. Even though she knew there was every possibility that she might never walk out of that forest again, she couldn’t help the wild, almost feral grin that began to spread across her face. This was what she lived for. The risk for the reward. This was the greatest risk, and it had the potential to be coupled with the greatest reward. How could she help but be excited? “You ready to go?” she asked, grey eyes bright with enthusiasm.