'We can't be sure how far out the Tanenbaums send patrols, but we should be far enough east by now. We'll just have to turn left and walk across the border in the dark. No one will spot us.'
'How will we know when we've crossed the border?' asked Dudders. 'Will we be able to see the little painted line in the dark?'
'I would assume the leaders painted it with glow-in-the-dark paints. Still, we'll have to keep an eye out. With the lantern, we should be able to spot the mark, even at night, even if it isn't glowing.'
'What about bears?' asked Dudders nervously. 'Bears are apparently nocturnal. What if we meet one?'
'Fear not. Bears are very territorial. There would only be one in any given thousand-mile radius, and we've already seen that he's to the west of us. We'll head north and never see him again.'
Dudders did not seem entirely reassured, but he made no further objections, in part because he knew there was no alternative. They had a mission to do, and the Pesce always saw through their commitments.
They had walked about half a mile north when an abominable snow-dwelling creature appeared, grabbed Dudders, and ran off to the east. The others stared after the monstrosity for a moment and then took off in a futile attempt to catch it. It ran and they ran and it leaped over streams and they leaped over streams and it charged through brush and they charged through brush and it leaped over larger streams and they tried to leap over larger streams,but ended up only making it part way, getting thoroughly soaked, and then scrambling out of the water to continue the chase, praying all the while that their supplies hadn't gotten too wet, and it shouted and howled and they shouted and howled and it glanced backwards to see why the humans chasing it were howling in a most inhuman-like fashion and they were bout to glance back in a similar fashion, thinking the beast had noticed another pursuer, but then realised it was them it was looking at, except WHAM it had just crashed into a tree and fallen on its ass so they said 'Ah ha! We have you now!' and continued running towards it, at which point it jumped up and ran off, only it forgot Dudders and by the time it realised this and turned around to snatch up its prize, the others had arrived at the tree and were helping Dudders to his feet, so the beast decided he was beat and just left morosely.
'Curses!' exclaimed Dallywonk. 'We're lost. We started out running east, but went all higgledy piggledy chasing that confounded beast!'
'Alas, alack!' agreed Filcher.
So the group wandered in circles for quite some time, giving the northern travellers time to get down to the border.
A fire-ship armada from the Pesce was rounding the eastern shore of the Isle of the Gods while the primary fleet charged up the coast to engage the enemy ships near land.
Meanwhile, the fleet from the Tanenbaum Region was placing ships around the Isle of the Gods so as to retain possession of the holy island should the despicable southerners attempt to take it from them. The Isle had always been neutral territory owned by neither nation, but the Tanenbaums had always felt they were the chief stewards of the Isle, as the bulk of it was north of the border.
Naturally, the Pesce ships circling the Isle and the Tanenbaum ships moving into place around the island did not travel the same waters without meeting up once or twice. The results were not pretty.
It was the Tanenbaum ship Phil, captained by a man of the same name, though much smaller proportion. It was sailing down into position when the lookout suddenly spotted five unfamiliar vessels headed in their direction. 'Ships! Ships approaching! They might be enemy ships! I can't tell! But they're approaching! They're tacking into the wind! There are four--no, five of them! If they're enemy ships, we're screwed!'
'What flags are they flying?' called back the first mate, Algers. 'If it's the Pesce flag, they're probably from there.'
'Really? Oh, let me checked,' called back the lookout. A moment later he called down to inform the first mate that, yes, the approaching ships were flying the Pesce flag.
'All men to battle stations! Summon the captain! Arm the torpedoes! Prepare for battle!'
The captain was hauled out from lunch and made to command the ship as was his maritime duty. As the five ships grew closer, everyone looked at Captain Phil and awaited his command.
He sat in his deck chair and thought for a moment. 'I guess we should ask them what they're doing here. Maybe they're lost.'
'We'll have to wait until they get awfully close in order to ask, captain,' said the first mate. 'Perhaps we should just fire a warning shot? If they're lost, that will let them know where they are and they'll turn around. If they shoot back, we kill them. From a safe distance.'
'Now, now. Let's not be rude,' insisted the captain. 'I don't want to start an international incident here.'
'They blew up the royal yacht, captain. What if they blow the Phil up too?'
The captain didn't respond, so the crew sat and waited as the five ships approached.
'Greetings, most esteemed gentlemen of the Tanenbaum Region!' called the captain of the lead ship when they were close enough. 'We do not wish to be impolitic, but I'm afraid we have orders to invade your uncivilised nation before you attempt to do the same to us.'
'You are indeed invaders, then? You're not just lost and confused?' The first mate was used to sounding like a fool in this way, as the Captain tended to give stupid orders such as these. But the pay was good.
'Indeed we are not, most noble sirs! Our navigator is most excellent at his craft. Perhaps while you are our prisoners, he can spare some time to train your own, s I take it he is somewhat lacking in skill.'
'No, the captain just wanted to make sure before we killed you all.'
'Surely you jest, my good sir! You are but one ship to our many. Your technological and biological distinctiveness will be added to our own. Resistance, even for such vicious and cruel warriors such as yourselves, is futile.'
The first mate turned to Captain Phil. 'May we fire upon them now, captain?'
'I suppose if you must. But try to keep the noise levels down, would you? I've a shrimp souffle in the oven.'
'FIIIIRE!' shouted the first mate loudly enough to cause the most robust of souffles to fall.
The order was followed by a moment of silence and then from a man by torpedo launcher, 'It's jammed.'
'We'll be boarding your ship now, if you don't mind!' called the lead Pesce captain.
'No, wait, hold on! Our torpedo launcher seems to be jammed. Be sporting, would you? Just give us a moment to get it fixed.'
'Dreadfully sorry, but I'm afraid we can't do that. We're on a tight schedule and you're already slowing us down. I am sorry. We would if we weren't in such a hurry, you know. But we do have a war to fight, and you /are/ the enemy.'
With that, the Pesce crew swung by rope onto the Phil, defeated the Tanenbaum crew, and rechristened the ship the Brazen Fool, though several of the Pesce screw wanted to name it The Stinky Clam due to the smell of dead fish.
The Pesce admiral stood before the Tanenbaums, who sat tied up on the deck. 'Now then. We don't really want this many prisoners, and your ship is too smelly for us to man. How much would the Pesce have to pay you lot to join our army as an auxiliary force serving under my command?'
'We'll never submit to your evil rule!' proclaimed the first mate.
'Then I suppose we'll just have to blow your entire ship up, with you folks still on board. I apologise for the inconvenience.''
Captain Phil was horrified. 'But an explosion could cause my souffle to fall! Please, we'll do anything!'
'Even fight against your own people?'
'No. Anything but that. How about we form an international organisation that will provide medical assistance to both sides of the war indiscriminately? The crew of the Phil can work to protect the life and dignity of all men and women from the harsh cruelties of war. A neutral group of sailors doing good for the entire civilised world, and the Pesce as well.'
The admiral stared at Phil for a moment and then agreed to that this noble endevour was a most acceptable compromise.
So the Pesce armada continued on its way and the Phil sailed about looking for ships in distress.
'Yeah, but I bet he's the one blew up the ship. I don't trust that guy. And how we even know that guy who was down here even works for Biscotti? Maybe he's a different player.'
'So what do you want us to do? Beat up the guards and try finding our way out? That didn't work too good last time, as I recall.'
'Don't work no worse than stayin' here. I'm gettin' tired of tellin' the guards I don't know nuttin'. I'm real smart.' Warren tapped his head. 'I know lotsa things.'
'No, we're both dumb muscle without a clue about anything, remember?'
'Sure, sure. No idea what happened. We just no we didn't now up no ship. /We're/ too dumb to figure out explosives.'
'Well, I do seem to recall you mis-aiming the fireworks at the boss's last birthday party.'
'Always with the birthday party mistake! You know what your problem is? You never let nothin' go. You make mistakes to, ya know.'
At that point, a guard came in and unchained them from the wall. 'Time for your daily interrogation. The captain seems to think you guys will know something today.'
'We don't know nuthin', nuthin' at all,' responded Warren more out of habit than anything else.
'Oh, I believe you. Believe me, I believe you. But the captain thinks you guys are just playing dumb. Me, I know dumb when I see it, and I'm looking at two major cases of it right now.'
'Yeah, we're real stupid, ain't that right, Guenter?'
Guenter groaned quietly and followed the guard out the door.
'Okay, the captain wants to interrogate the dumber of the two alone while I handle the other. And...I'm going to have to say you're the dumbest of the dumb,' said the guard, pointing to Warren.
'Or maybe I'm just a really good actor.' Guenter kicked him.
'Nobody's that good,' laughed the guard, shoving Warren into the interrogation room. 'Enjoy the chat.'
Warren stumbled into the interrogation room and nearly ran into the captain. 'Hey, you a prisoner too?'
The captain frowned and told Warren to have a seat. Then he beat Warren over the head with a heavy book. 'Stop playing dumb! I know you're smart. You blew up that ship! That takes brains.'
'I didn't blow up no ship. That ship nearly blew me up. Flyin' wood everywhere. I coulda been hurt!'
'That's the risk you take when you blow up the royal yacht.'
'I didn't do it! If I had planted the bombs, I'da been runnin' the other way. I don't like being blowed up.'
'Sounds like a brilliant defence. You plant the bomb, run off, and right before it explodes, you walk towards the ship, being sure to keep enough distance that you don't get hurt. Luckily, the guard captain on duty that night didn't fall for your little ruse.'
'Yeah, he musta been some sort of brainiac or somethin'. A real Lucien.'
'Could be. He didn't get to be captain by being naive and clueless, as you seem to think I am.'
'Well, you gotta admit, interrogating an innocent guy 'stead of findin' the real criminal ain't the brightest move in the book, now is it?'
'I don't know.' The captain held up the book he was holding. 'I don't read the book. I just hit people with it.'
'Don't remind me. Say, what book is that, anyway?'
'Oh, just the security report on the dungeons. It lists where all the vulnerabilities are, places where the exits are unguarded, exact routes that could be used during a prison break. Just a bunch of numskull recommendations by the "experts". We're ignoring all their tripe. They're just eggheads who've studied this stuff extensively but never actually worked down here. I just like hitting prisoners with it, not reading it. Nothing in here that would interest you. That's for sure.'
'Yeah, I guess you're right,' nodded Warren. 'But like I said, I don't know nothin' about the explosion 'cept that it nearly blew my own head off.'