When dawn broke the minotaur returned to the tent to tell her that everything was safe. They'd not seen any more of the creature since it had escaped back into the jungle, but they were confident that if it was still around, it wouldn't return to the camp during daylight.
"If it comes back again tonite," the bull had said. "We'll be ready for it."
Nina had gone to look for Risk almost immediately, asking several of the crew if they knew where the mercenary had kitted down, but no one could tell her. A place had been made for him, and for her as well she discovered, when the camp was being erected, but no one who would have been sharing the tent with them, could remember him coming in.
It seemed the bodyguard hadn't come back during the night at all. He'd left the camp entirely after storming out of the tent to wander the long beach, where he'd kipped under a palm after the sun had set. He wandered back into camp half way through breakfast, having no idea of what had transpired in his absence.
"I would have thought you would have at least heard something," Nina had said, over a breakfast of emergency rations.
"Not a thing," her bodyguard had replied, though he looked deeply concerned.
"Well no one was hurt," Nina assured. "So no harm done I guess."
After breakfast Nina found herself sitting outside the minotaur's tent, enjoying the island sun and watching the crew go about their morning business, with the bull on one side of her and Risk on the other. On finding out what had transpired the previous evening, the mercenary had practically glued himself to Nina's hip.
Every now and then someone came to ask the bull a question, about supplies or about the previous night, but they never asked him to join in the work. No one spoke to Nina, barely even looking at her or her bodyguard. By the looks in several pairs of eyes she could tell news of her dalliance had spread pretty quickly, but at least they were no longer openly leering at her.
"I suppose you know everyone on the ship don't you?" asked Nina, during a period where they were alone.
"I suppose I do," said the bull after a moments pause.
"It's hard to talk to people when you don't know their names," said Nina.
The minotaur looked down at her, searching her face with a hard look in his eyes, before turning away and scanning the campsite.
"Well you've met the Captain," said the bull nodding in the man's direction. "That's all he is, by the way, the Captain. But you've got Thero, our navigator." He indicated the grey-haired minotaur. "And of course you know Skeever as well."
"Yes," said Risk watching the oily man suck up to his Captain. "We've exchanged many words."
"What does he do on the ship?" asked Nina.
"Good question," said the bull. "When I first came on board I thought he was the first mate, cause he was the only one left over from the previous crew. I dunno, maybe he and the Captain are fucking."
Though it was obvious the minotaur was joking, his nose turned up regardless at the mental image. Nina had to admit that the idea of the scrawny rat-tailed man involved with anyone in any remotely sexual context caused her stomach to churn uncomfortably. Even Risk was frowning.
"So what's your job?" she asked quickly to distract them.
"Security," said Risk, as though it should be obvious.
Nine looked to the bull for confirmation and he just shrugged and nodded.
"What about them," she asked, pointing to a group of three working together outside one of the largest tents.
"Galley crew," said the bull, sounding thankful to talk about something else. "The big one's the cook. Don't know his name, he only answers to Gramps."
The minotaur in question had layers of ginger and greying hair over his natural brown. One of his horns was broken near the base and there were far more lines on his face than most of the others.
"He's the kind who would have been happy with you returning your dishes," said the bull. "Not so happy with you leaving them on the counter though."
"What was I supposed to do?" asked Nina. "I couldn't get into the kitchen to wash them."
"What?" asked Risk, his head snapping around. "When did you go to the galley?"
"That night on the ship," said Nina, though she was already mentally preparing herself for his reaction. "While you were asleep. I couldn't, so I thought I'd take a walk and return our plates."
"You were alone with him?" Risk seemed almost apoplectic. "He hadn't even saved your life yet!"
"Nothing happened, besides it's not like I went looking specifically for him." Nina assured, but the mercenary clearly wasn't listening.
"Had I not just finished telling you about them! In detail!"
"Why do you think there are no women on this ship, huh!" demanded Risk. "Modern ships are awfully integrated now for there to not be a single one."
"Well, you know, it's supposed to be bad luck isn't it? Women on ships?" said Nina, thinking about her encounter with the cream minotaur the previous day.
"Oh come on!" snapped Risk. "Do you really think all these guys are just that superstitious? You saw how they looked at you when you were up on deck for not even an hour."
Nina looked up at the minotaur, the question clear in her expression. The bull sighed, and rubbed the back of his neck uncomfortably.
"There are, some of us, who have trouble controlling our, baser instincts. It's no excuse, but it's easier to just keep women off the ship."
"You let me on," said Nina.
"Two passengers east to Nyuesi," said the bull. "That's all the job was."
"If you'd known, would you have said no?" asked Nina.
The minotaur didn't reply, and they lapsed into silence. Nina wondered if the professor had known any details about the Seacow and its crew, or whether he'd just called the port and offered the job to the first ship he could find that was already going east. She looked down at her feet and scrunched the sand between her toes. What would have happened if she'd boarded the ship alone? If Risk hadn't been hired as her bodyguard would she have made it to Nyuesi unscathed? She shook her head. It was pointless to think about it. Had Risk not accompanied her the entire ship would have been destroyed, so her personal safely in this case was rather a moot point.
A sudden thought occurred to her.
"You never told me your name," she said looking up at the minotaur.
"That must have been romantic," muttered Risk, under his breath.
"It's Conon," the bull answered, ignoring the mercenary.
"What now?" demanded Nina, exasperated.
"It's a fake name," said Risk.
"And so is yours, so we're even," replied Conon.
"There's a difference between having a codename and just lying," snapped Risk.
"I didn't realise it was a codename," said Nina.
"You'd want it to be," said Conon. "What kind of parent names their child Risk?"
"People in a consensual relationship," mumbled Risk scathingly under his breath.
Conon didn't take the bait.
"Would you ever tell me your real name?" asked Nina looking up at Conon.
The bull took a deep breath through his nose.
"Maybe one day," he said.
Nina let herself be satisfied with that.
A short time later the Captain approached them, along with Skeever. Ignoring the two humans, the bear headed Captain addressed Conon.
"We'll be taking some of the boats out soon. We'll prioritise the galley storeroom, but I'll be taking the engineers with me to examine the damage."
"Aye Captain," said Conon.
"I will be leaving you in charge," the Captain continued. "Make sure the supplies are ready to be received on our return."
Nina stood and timidly injected herself into a gap in the conversation.
"I don't mean to intrude," she said hesitantly.
"Hmm," grunted the Captain.
He stared her down as though daring her to continue her sentence. A younger Nina would have cowered away, but she was long past being intimidated into silence.
"I just wanted to ask about our luggage," she said. "I know it's an inconvenience, but I was hoping if there will be someone returning to the ship soon, they might be able to get my trunk along with the other supplies."
"And why would we waste boat space on something like that?" asked the Captain.
"Well I have an arcane communicator in my trunk," said Nina. "I might be able to send an SOS about our situation."
To her surprise the captain didn't look excited, or even relieved at the idea. Instead his eyes narrowed suspiciously.
"And who have you been in communication with?" he asked.
"Our employers at the museum," said Risk quickly. "They wanted regular updates from our field work."
"And when was the last time you contacted them?"
"Just before we boarded your ship," said Risk. "Our next report isn't due until we make it safely to Nyuesi."
"Alright, you with us," said the Captain, pointing a clawed finger at Risk. "You, stay with the woman." He nodded at Conon.
"Aye Captain," said the bull obediently.
"Sorry," said Risk. "But I got orders to stay with my charge."
"Fine," growled the Captain. "But don't expect to get on my ship again. You want off this island after all is said and done, then you follow my orders like everyone else."
"It's alright Risk," assured Nina. "Just go, I'll be fine."
Risk didn't look happy but he climbed into the lifeboat regardless, his eyes locked on Nina's until they were too far away to see each other. Once the distance was such that the boat was a mere speck against the ocean, Nina turned away and began to walk up the beach.
"Where are you going?" asked Conon, stopping her.
"For a walk," said Nina. "I can't just stand here, I need to clear my head."
"The captain ordered you to stay here," said the bull.
"He said you had to stay with me," said Nina, with a cheeky smile. "Guess we'll just have to go on a walk together."
Conon grabbed her by the elbow and spun her around to face him. His expression was stiff, his eyes like steel.
"No," he said. "I have orders to follow, and I have no interested in interpreting loopholes in the captain's instructions."
He pushed her down to sit on a piece of driftwood embedded in the beach sand.
"You're going to sit here, until the captain returns," said the bull. "You're not going to move, or speak or anything."
The bull slapped a hand across her mouth.
"You're not going to move, or speak," he repeated. "You are going to sit there, silently, until the captain returns. Nod if you understand me."
Nina had no choice but to jerk her head against the minotaur's grip. There were a dozen questions in her mind, but she didn't dare make a sound even once he'd released her. She looked out over the ocean again, hoping Risk was having a better time than her.
The iron plates of the ship groaned ominously as the lifeboat approached it. Risk knew the structure was just breathing, but it didn't seem to help the crew's feelings of foreboding any.
When the lifeboats pulled up alongside the ship, one of the crew swung a grappling hook up over the railing to get himself up first so he could lower a rope ladder off the side for the rest of them.
Being up on deck again was like reliving the entire terrifying affair. More than one of the crew hesitated at the railing as they took in the destruction.
The main mast was down, splintered in the middle and lying across the deck. There were long gashes left in the wood by the serpent's water jets and scorch marks surrounded the perfectly round hole left behind by the firing of Risk's gun.
They moved carefully, not wanting to risk any unnecessary movement or weight onto the listing side of the ship. The last thing they needed was for it to roll all the way over. If the ship fell onto her side, well, they might as well make the island their new home.
From the moment they stepped on deck a pair of black and white patched minotaurs followed Risk everywhere he went, on the captain's orders. They were stoic and silent, only grunting in reply when addressed, though never responding to anything the mercenary said to them.
The engineers were the first to go below and check on the damage of the engine room, returning later with notebooks overflowing and a list of things that would need to be done. They relayed their findings to the Captain out of earshot, but there was no telling whether it was good or bad news going by the bear's poker face.
"Alright," said the Captain, suddenly pointing at Risk and his guards. "You with me. Let's see what you brought onto my ship."
They went below together, heading straight for the guest cabin. The room was leaning sharply and Nina's trunk was on its end, along with the table and chairs, pressed up against the outer wall, having been thrown against the bunks during the turbulence.
Skeever, being the lightest of them, stepped carefully into the room, working his way around the wall. He moved slowly, cloth wrapped feet on creaking floorboards, while the others waited out in the hall. Though Nina's trunk wasn't particularly heavy, dragging it back up the tilting room, proved an exhausting endeavour for the scrawny man.
"Good," said the Captain, once Skeever was back out in the hallway and handing the trunk over to one of the minotaurs.
The oily man seemed both happy and embarrassed at hearing any kind of praise from his Captain, wiping his nose nervously with the back of his hand.
"Open it," the captain ordered, nodding at the minotaur.
The bull set it down and started fiddling with the latch, before sitting back on his haunches and shaking his head.
"Can't captain," he said. "It's got a memory latch on it."
"Then break it open," said the captain.
"It doesn't work that way," said the minotaur, getting up with a grunt. "A memory latch is more than just a lock. The protection spells on it, cover the entire trunk. You'd wear out the axe before you'd scratched the varnish."
"Fine then, you," the captain growled at Risk. "Get it open."
"It's not my trunk," shrugged Risk.
"You try my patience, boy," said the captain slowly.
"Its. Not. My. Trunk," repeated Risk. "Nina's the only one who can open it."
The captain looked like he wanted to punch something.
"Bah!" he said eventually, throwing a hand up in frustration. "Take it to shore then. We'll make the girl open it."
They rowed back to the island with Risk and the trunk in separate boats.