As a city, Senghor was a bit on the small side, but large enough that the Crisis brought little overt notice; they paid the docking fee and the officials became scarce.
“We should set a watch on the ship and allow liberty in shifts,” Feruzi commented as the four chief officers surveyed the broad stone pier.
“Yes. Do that.” Chopper hopped onto the gangplank and strolled onto the dock.
Feruzi gathered up the crew and had them draw lots for watches. She shook her finger at them in somewhat exaggerated admonishment. “Do not get so drunk that you cannot return on your own.” She then passed around some spending money. Leila came up for the first group on liberty, but swapped lots with Wrast. This city did not seem congenial for maintaining proper philosophical distance.
“Time to stretch the legs,” Reiko said, following after Chopper.
“Indeed,” Feruzi agreed, Ezikial joining them.
Chopper had already engaged one of the dockworkers in cheerful conversation. “Hey, you should join us, we’re awesome pirates,” he enthused. Feruzi suppressed a wince.
“Perhaps we should look for a tavern?” she suggested.
Chopper didn’t seem to notice. “We took down Whalebone Pilk! Hey, somebody hold up the broke-ass melted bell!” he yelled back to the ship. The crew exchanged baffled looks and Feruzi waved them back to their work. She grabbed the back of Chopper’s coat and began hauling him bodily down the street. “This is not dignified!” Chopper complained.
“And shouting about our deeds on the docks, is?”
Reiko shook her head. “Good luck,” she said to Feruzi. “I will return at dusk.”
Feruzi deposited Chopper beneath a sign proclaiming the Sea Witch. “Here. One tavern.” From the sound of things, it was crowded inside and the patrons were in a party mood.
“Oooh,” Chopper brightened, straightening his coat. Feruzi shook her head and smiled slightly.
“Give ’em hell,” she said, opening the door for him with some ceremony.
Chopper strode into the common room. “Presenting Captain Chopper!” he exclaimed. “Me! A round for the house! On Captain Chopper! Me! Yaaar!”
“CAPTAIN Chopper?” a man called from a far corner. “Stone the bleedin’ crows! Outta my way, boys!” Feruzi stepped quickly in front of Chopper, squinting to make out the return shouter. A broad-shouldered man pressed his way through the crowd. As he grew closer, they could make out the blue Varisian scarf knotted around his head, and his huge grin. It was Crimson Cogward. He launched himself at Chopper and they pounded each other’s backs hard enough to cause internal injuries. Then Cog noticed Feruzi and Ezikial and became, if possible, even more delighted. “Guys! It’s them!”
“Cog! How the hells are ya?!” Chopper bellowed.
“Better an’ better, now that we found ye lot!”
“Is the Wormwood in harbor?” Feruzi asked.
Cog spat on the floor. “No, an’ good riddance!” He took Chopper’s arm and brought the three of them to the corner table where they found Jack Scrimshaw, Barefoot Samms Toppin, and Cut-Throat Grok.
“Huzzah!” Chopper burst out, seeing them alive and well. “Make that two rounds for the house! On me! Chopper!”
“So how did you manage to get off that foul tub?” Feruzi asked once they were all seated with the drinks of their choice. The four of them all tried to tell the story at the same time.
“We were in Bloodcove when Cap’n Harrigan heard ‘bout the Man’s Promise arrivin’ at Rickety’s Squibs,” Cog explained.
“He was not pleased,” Grok added, draining her beer in one gulp. Ezikial, sitting next to her, grinned and pulled out a bottle, tilting it in her view until she recognized it, then poured her a generous dollop. She grinned appreciatively in return.
“He were more mad at Plugg than he were at you,” Jack said.
“Yeah, but it weren’t like they brought the ship or the salvage back to Harrigan!” said Grok.
“Plugg was going to keep it,” Ezikial said, shrugging.
“And now we are keeping it,” Feruzi said. “Same difference.”
Jack nodded. “Either way, we’d had our fill an’ more of the Cap’n an’ his notion of how to run a ship, so six of us decided to sneak out on the cutter after dark . . .”
Chopper glanced around. “Er . . .”
“We didn’t all make it,” Grok explained, frowning.
“And we didn’t all all make it,” Jack added, holding up his right hand, which had two fewer fingers than the last time they saw him.
“Oh, Jack,” Feruzi sympathized, remembering his carving skills. He gave an eloquent shrug and Feruzi raised her glass. “Here’s to them for trying.”
“For Shivikah! And for Giffer Tibbs!” Cog bellowed, drinking off the last of his mug. “And for whatever poor bastards Harrigan pressed to take our places,” he added, pounding the empty mug on the table.
“We were more fortunate,” Feruzi said. “We had only one casualty. Poor Owlbear. Plugg cut his throat while he was chained up. He had no chance.”
“Bastard,” Cog said. “You done for him, though, right?”
“Yes. I did.”
“Scourge too,” Ezikial added.
Cog pounded the table again. “Best news I heard in weeks.”
“So, I take it you’ll be joining us, then?” Feruzi asked. They grinned.
“If you’ll have us, Captain Chopper, sir,” Grok said. She turned to Ezikial and, weirdly, batted her eyelashes. “You know, I heard a story that might interest you.” Ezikial raised an eyebrow and she leaned in closer. “I heard about a gunslinger in these parts. I was hoping it was you, but turns out not. Gerni Stoneback, I think his name was. They told me he had this gun with a whole buncha barrels on it. Anyway, he went upriver lookin’ for Koro-Koro about ten years back, an’ never returned.” At the word Koro-Koro, the tavern quieted, then conversations slowly resumed.
“I have heard that name,” Feruzi said. “It is a monstrous beast, spawned by demons, that prowls the Mbaiki ruins.”
“Ohh?” Chopper said, suddenly intent. Feruzi shrugged.
“That is all I know of it. Quite the bag for any hunter who could bring it down, of course.”
“Did I not just say ‘Ohh?’?”
“Feruzi heard you, and Feruzi is certain you would make quite the lunch for Koro-Koro. But that’s not going to stop you, of course.”
“Bah, if it eats me, I’ll choke it with my dying thrust!”
“If you want to go look for this beast, Feruzi will go. It is long since she had the chance to go hunting.”
“The river is just around the cape, off Desperation Bay,” Samms said. “You could sail right up to the ruins, more or less.”
“It would be a good exercise for the crew,” Feruzi allowed.
Chopper beamed. “Certain death. Small chance of success. What are we waiting for!?”
* * *
Feruzi took their former shipmates back to the Crisis. Sandara was delighted to see them all again and took it upon herself to get them settled. Feruzi spent the rest of the day keeping her eye on the crew and doing what she could to find situations for the departing ex-slaves. When Chopper, Reiko, and Ezikial returned in the evening, they made some rough plans for leaving the next day, but by morning it was raining heavily. Reiko glared at the clouds for some time, then opined that it was likely to get worse before it got better.
They spent the next few days waiting in port, buying supplies, enjoying the fleshpots, and otherwise relaxing while the storm blew itself out. Feruzi returned on the last day with a new outfit of clothes in the Sargavan style – blouse, waistcoat, knee britches, stockings, buckled shoes, and a coat for bad weather.
“What the hells?” Chopper demanded, seeing her. “Reiko, have you tamed this savage?”
“What?” Feruzi asked, mystified.
“Really, Captain?” Reiko demanded.
“Yes, really.” Chopper was agog.
Reiko sighed. “Ms. Feruzi just decided to change her style. Like you changed yours recently.”
“I think it’s stylish,” Conchobar opined.
“It fits and is comfortable. Also, it has pockets. See?”
“Yes, this is very good. Especially for something you chose without my help,” Conchobar said, winking.
“Oh, well, I didn’t want to trouble you.”
Chopper shrugged. “If the Head Concho approves, I must abide by his deep wisdom. Think you could get her in some lace next?”
“I have a handkerchief. It has lace on it. See?” Chopper mock-swooned, gesticulating wildly. The crew, taking this for some sort of symbol, cast off. Sailing upriver was a tricky proposition, made trickier by the crew’s general inexperience. Feruzi spent most of the time at the rail, staying out of Reiko’s way while she tried to get rudder and sails organized enough to make progress. Kroop joined her, watching the jungle pass by.
“So what is a Mbaiki anyway?” Feruzi asked him. “People? Religion?”
“They were animal worshippers,” Kroop said.
“You mean, animal spirits?”
“They had a great ceremony ta have some greater power grant ‘em the divinity of animal form. Th’ whole tribe got turned inta jaguars . . . but then they couldn’t change back. Those ruins ha’ been abandoned fer centuries. The neighborin’ tribes treat any jaguars they see wi’ respect. I reckon we should do th’ same.”
“Could this power they treated with be the source of Koro-Koro?” Leila asked, listening in.
“I wouldna rule it out, the jungle’s as hostile as any place on Golarion. They say he an’ his pack hunt around the ruin, so if ye mean t’ bag ’im, thass where ye should look.”
“An’ I was told that mixin’ his blood with gunpowder would make it even more dangerous than it already is,” Grok added.
“That would explain all this interest,” Feruzi said, sitting back.
By late afternoon the lookout finally spied the forbidding summit of a great stone ziggurat, just above the tree line on the south bank of the river. The crew looked anxious, not happy to be so far away from civilization. They made the boat ready. Feruzi fingered her bow and grinned. It would be good to hunt again.