Your Majesty,

Regarding the matter addressed to my attention by the esteemed Lord Rutledge, I recommend sending a few Men of Service to the coordinates marked on the included map. The entrance is submerged below the water line, reachable through a lengthy dive. I recommend use of the equipment from Storage House C in the Dockyard. The individual behind the disappearance and illness of over two dozen of the Navy's finest should be handled with extreme prejudice.

Your Sincere Servant,

Charles Darwin

__***__

Dear Vickie,

I beg of you to burn this letter after you've perused its contents. My apologies for the obtuse shortness of my official report. The truth of the matter is, officially I don't believe what happened myself. I couldn't very well say I was abducted by a sea snake with the torso of a woman. I would be the laughing stock of my colleagues.

This creature called itself the Mami Wata. I conferred with Mister Yan, the first mate, who has an extensive knowledge of continental folklore. He informed me this was the name of a regional oceanic and river spirit. I am determined to root out where such a creature sprang from.

I must thank you. This experience has fired my passion for research and discovery once again. With your permission, I would like to continue my travels with the Proteus and see what her crew uncovers beneath the depths. After the events that transpired, the Captain has agreed to a trial by trial basis, provided I can keep my head about water, so to speak.

What is not mentioned in my report is the contents of cave. The Mami Wata possessed the wealth of a small country. Captain Pierce requests the recovery of the small silver pot she traded for my release. I told her I would purchase her another when next we make port but she insists this one holds sentimental value. It has the carving of a Nautiloid on its side.

I hope this letter finds you in good health, my dear friend.

-Charlie Boy

__***__

Charles carefully dripped black sealing wax on the second folded letter, retrieving the personal seal Vickie crafted for him from his vest pocket. The astute Captain Pierce studied him through a ring of smoke. Her boots were propped on the bench, allowing her to lean against the short counter space. Ignoring the huff from her annoyed cook, she sent another coil of smoke spiraling upward.

"You're certain you want to stay on? I thought you couldn't wait to be rid of this, what did you call it, 'tin can of a death trap'?"

Charles had the good grace to look embarrassed by his earlier assessment of the Proteus. "I believe the ship has grown on me, Captain." It was at that moment Yan trounced in, snagging a cup of coffee from Ingrid before shoving his Captain's boots off the bench to make room for himself. His angular jaw sported a sparse five o'clock shadow. A smear of tar ran from the bridge of his nose to the corner of his mouth. Charles realized he'd followed Yan's every move, wholly observed by Pierce's unwavering stare. He abruptly shifted his gaze, staring at the cooling wax seal, not quite missing the smirk playing on his new Captain's lips.

"That is has, Mister Darwin."

"Please, Captain, after your rather dashing rescue, you can call me Charles," he said, concentrating on shuffling his documents in order for the Queen.

"Likewise, you may call me Cecile," she replied, tapping ash into the small waste receptacle. Yan choked on his coffee. Ingrid softly snorted between cutting peppers for the evening's stew. The captain didn't spare a glance at either, though she thumped her first mate on the back to clear his airways. "We shall be underway soon. Yan spent the morning at the local port. There's a rumor of a sunken vessel in the deeper waters further North."

Charles's brow crept upward. "Are we to go treasure hunting, Captain?"

Cecile chuckled. "Not unless you find wealth in fish bones. It was a Brixham trawler, well maintained to make her sinking a mystery. It happened quickly, only a handful of her crew made it to the row boat. Not much sense could be salvaged between the lot of them. They kept gibbering on about a knot-maker."

Ingrid's knife paused mid-chop. Charles noted the fearful expression on the doe-eyed woman's face, curious when no one else seemed to notice.

"Yan, would you finish these vegetables for me, there's something I need to attend to." The cook fled the mess area before her request was answered.

"Uh," Yan frowned, glancing down at his tar coated clothing.

"I'll do it," Charles stood, unbuttoning his cuffs to pull his sleeves up his forearms. He'd spent enough evenings cooking for the elderly Ms. Grisby to manage a simple stew. Yan rewarded him with a relieved smile. Yes, he was certain he could manage dinner for their crew.

The first mate nudged his captain. "Reckon what set her off, Keto?"

"I'll find out," Cecile murmured, rising to follow her distraught crew member. "Oversee our brave scientist for me. Don't let him thin it out!" She winked at Charles on her way out, leaving the two men alone.

"Well, let me wash up. Then I show you how to make a proper base for that stew." Yan began to remove his grungy shirt.

Charles nearly sliced off his thumb. 

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