Zalika stood with her feet firmly planted on the rocking deck of the two person boat which was slowly making its way into the cove. The water was calm and smooth, almost glassy, and so clear that it almost looked as though she could stick her arm in up to the elbow and touch the sandy bottom. Yet the simple fact that the bay looked so calm was precisely the fact that worried her. So far, the places that looked the easiest to sail always wound up to be the most challenging. And there was no part of their voyage that could be called easy. It was no wonder the natives called the ring of islands the Devil’s Trap, because, at least as far as the legends were concerned, no one who went in ever came back out. And Zali had indeed seen plenty of evidence of the ill fated journey of the ships that had entered the Trap, most of them run aground against the shallow shoals that could not be seen from deck, or trapped in a passage that had looked wide enough to safely pass through, but was actually narrow enough to trap the ship between the edges of the cliff face. The treasure on some of those ships alone would be enough to make anyone’s fortune, but those who came in to the maze to scavenge vanished just the same as those who were hunting for the legendary treasure rumored to be waiting for the first person who could make it to the center and claim it. But the legends never stopped anyone. In fact, if the evidence about them was to be believed, the darker the legends surrounding this island became, the more people it had lured to their death. She had glimpsed the skeletons of countless fools drifting in the fast current just below the surface, the current that had smashed just as many ships against the cliff sides as the shoals had ripped the keel off of. Two more fools? She mused briefly, glancing over at her traveling companion and long-term friend, Adriel. The two were about as different in appearance as it was possible for people to get. Adriel was caramel-colored, and his hair was the bleached blonde 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, and her tar dark hair reflected orange in 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, in her early childhood journeys, she had been accused of witchcraft, and she had gleefully kept all the villagers cowering under her “power” right up 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 Adriel 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 even try to stop them. Instead, they had gathered all of the two traveler’s extra supplies, saying that they would “guard” it until their return, hurried them on their way, and promptly begun fighting over who would have the right to lay claim to what belongings. 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 Adriel were coming back alive. And if they were, the few belongings they had would not matter, for they would soon be the richest people in the world. Besides, everything that she needed to survive never left her person, so there was no way for the villagers to get at the things that truly 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. And, despite the dangers of the sailing portion of their journey, Zali and Adriel had made it to their destination remarkably intact. Later, when night had fallen and the two of them were safely sequestered around a small campfire, Zali would boast of her skills in sailing, whether Adriel wanted to hear it or not. But boasting right now would do her little good if, at a moment of inattention, she ran their boat aground in sight of their destination. Despite her ritualistic anticipation of problems, the cove was almost completely free of hazardous obstacles. Only one ship was sunk in the cove, its mast rising out of the water, but it was just as likely that some violent storm had pulled it off of the shore and dragged it into the water, because it did not seem as though there was anything upon which it could have damaged itself. The shore, a narrow beach covered in white sand, a few trees, and large piles of seaweed, was another testament to the dangers of what they were approaching. Easily twenty boats, a few larger, but most the same size or smaller than the ship Zali now navigated, were moored at various locations along the curving beach. She let out a sigh, but continued her careful navigation of the ship, pulling up close to the shore before shouting at Adriel to drop the anchor. The boat skidded to a halt, and spun slightly, so that it was facing lengthwise to the shore. Zali let out a sigh, but hopped into the water, letting out a small hiss as the cold saltwater soaked her up to her waist. She pulled the boat in towards shore, until it got too heavy for her to be able to move by herself. “Are you going to help, or just sit up there?” she complained good-naturedly. Personally, Zali doubted the truth of it when people said that no one had ever come back alive after entering into the Trap. If that was the case, the location of the temple, and the river that emptied into the cove and was the most efficient way to get to aforementioned temple, would never be known. Most likely, the treasure had been claimed long ago, and the myths kept circulating simply because no one had ever bothered to tell everyone else that there was nothing there anymore. And there was no doubting that the route was dangerous. The many close scrapes even her little boat had been forced to face to get here gave clear evidence of that. But the fact that there might be no treasure waiting at the end of their journey didn’t bother Zali all that much. For her, the best part of all this was the adventure. She double checked that all of her possessions were solidly in place, shook some of the water out of her boots, and turned to her friend. “You ready to go?” she asked Adriel, a wild, almost feral grin plastered across her face.