Skull and Shackles

Session 20: Legendary Loot

Posted by Jennifer

Studying the dead sorceress’ skin revealed an elaborate map—one curiously without labels or names. Chopper copied it down on a sheet of parchment and sent for Fishguts. The old salt turned the map around several times, then let out a whoop that echoed across the cove and nearly took Chopper’s hat off.

“This map mus’ lead ter Mancatcher Cove, Cap’n, if we c’n read it! What be these ‘ere scratchin’s?”

“It is Minkaian,” Reiko said. "In Taldane, it might read:

“From blue bight’s embrace
Spy the Grave Lady’s prize tooth
With the Dawnflower’s first kiss
Climb the Captain’s wayward orb
To claim old king’s hoard.”

“Some sort o’ riddle, then. Sorry, Cap’n, I heard o’ Mancatcher Cove, but that be all I know,” Fishguts said, sighing.

“I know it,” Reiko informed him. “Nearly a century ago there was a captain called Cyrus Wolfe, a mage of some kind. He hunted the coast of Garund for the most part and was so successful the Free Captains offered him the Hurricane Crown. It is said that he laughed in their faces. It is believed that Wolve divided up his treasure and hid it in several different places, but most of them have either been discovered and pillaged or are simply lost. Mancatcher Cove is supposed to be his greatest hoard—and it still remains untouched. Wolfe selected an uncharted island shrouded in dense jungle and surrounded by forbidding cliffs, save for one cove said to be so deep it descended into the pit of Hell. Wolfe used his sorcerous powers to reach into that pit and call forth a guardian that could crush any ships attempting to enter the cove. Copies of this map are not all that uncommon in the Shackles, but no one who sets out in search of the treasure ever returns.” She stared levelly at Chopper and began counting under her breath.

“Except us, of course,” Chopper announced.

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Interlude: How the Strife Was Won

Posted by Jennifer

“Run us over starboard a bit! I said starboard! STARBOARD!!!” Pyxes bellowed. Ionni hastily reversed the rudder, but it was too late—the newly-renamed Strife crunched to a halt on the gravel. "Ye silly bitch, don’t ye know what starboard means?!

“I be knowing yer words full well, ye yam-blasted scummat, but wich way be I turnin yon thingy?”

WHAT did you call me?!” the half-orc oarsman demanded. The drekar rocked violently as he struggled to get to her past the other crew. Ionni shrank back at first, but she sensed the disdain from the other remnants of Svard’s crew at her display of weakness. Her eyes narrowed as she sought backup. Pellal was solid, as always, and Kuun could be relied upon not to back down from a fight. The other two former slaves were unknown quantities. Salmonix was temperamentally unstable, a combination of his elvish ancestry and long indenture; he was the only one among them who was born a slave. That left Vrinege, the Mwangi pygmy. Even her facial expressions were indecipherable. She sat in the rigging with the halfling triplets from Svard’s crew, Knotte, Knoose, and Knobbe. Ionni glanced at them and was surprised to see Vrinege grinning widely and the halflings making surreptitious gestures of encouragement. It made sense, though—Pyxes was the largest of the oarsmen and appeared to lack any vestige of a sense of humor.

Heartened, Ionni straightened up and unleashed a torrent of abuse. “I called ye yam-blasted, ye lank-haired, slime-breasted, rot-breathed turd o’ a scurvy rat! E’en the fleas won’t bite yer filthy carcass, ye spindle-shanked, cork-eared, limp-knobbed blighter! Ye . . .”

“I’LL KILL YOU!!!” Pyxes bellowed and charged across the remaining deck. Ionni ducked and Pellal stuck out a foot, tripping the half-orc, who went over the side. Pyxes grabbed Pellal as he went down and they fell overboard together. Ionni jumped on the struggling men and began viciously kicking any part of Pyxes that was available. In seconds the melee became general, with the other oarsmen rushing to Pyxes aid. They never reached him, however; the sail came down and flattened them to the deck.

“What are they doing?” Reiko muttered, taking out the spyglass she’d inherited now that Chopper had a magical one. She watched as the assorted oarsmen of the beached Strife squirmed their way out from under the sail, only to be met at the edge by a halfling and forced to surrender or be skewered. By the look of it, no one was inclined toward the skewering option. Once they were all subdued, the dark-skinned little pygmy hopped up on a rock and addressed the group with a broad grin and a number of expressive gestures. The oarsmen exchanged baffled looks. Vrinege gestured emphatically. One of the oarsmen got to her feet, took two steps, made a grab toward the pygmy and was instantly on the ground, writhing in pain. Vrinege addressed the other oarsmen again. Emphatic head-shaking.

Herding the large, muscular brutes like a cattle-dog, Vrinege got the Strife back into the water, got the sail replaced, and without further incident the patrol around Tidewater Rock resumed. It was a good thing, too—the mast of the Crisis was repaired and it was time for her to set out again. Vrinege would make a good person to leave in charge of defending the island in her absence.

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Interlude: Clothes Make the Woman

“Are you well, Lady?” Feruzi asked.

Lady Agasta seemed to give this some consideration. “Well enough, considering. I’m still alive, unlike poor Royster.”

“You were very fond of him?”

“Of course. I think his loyalty was all that kept me going, sometimes.”

Feruzi frowned. “He seemed . . . fond of you. More than fond.”

Agasta smiled sadly. “Yes. I know.”

“Then why didn’t you marry him? Why marry Chopper instead?” The frown deepened. “Why marry anyone?”

Agasta cocked an eyebrow at this series of questions. “Is something bothering you, my dear?”

“Marriage seems such a troublesome matter. Feruzi is only here because her sister Ukele ran away from it—ran away from it twice—and caused a mess of troubles. That, and no man in the village would have Feruzi for a wife, so she was available to do the chasing. Now Captain Pegsworthy is sending Feruzi gifts that make no sense. Why all this . . . this trouble.”

Agasta’s chuckle was deep, resonant, and cultured. “Exactly how old are you, dear?”

Feruz bristled. “What does that have to do with anything?”

“Humor me.”

“Feruzi has nineteen summers, if it matters. Ukele has only sixteen, but every man in the village was after her like a pack of dogs after a bitch in heat.”

“Oh, how very flattering.”

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Session 19: The Honeymoon

If Tidewater Keep was so crowded with all these new guests, McCleagh grumbled to himself, why couldn’t he find any of them? It was early morning, a time when most pirates were snoring in their bunks, but from the looks of things nearly all of them had risen early, belted on their weapons, and wandered off. At least their Captain was still in Lady Smythee’s rooms, a fact that did little to brighten McCleagh’s mood. He suppressed bitter thoughts with the efficiency of long practice. Lady Smythee looked favorably on the arrangement, and that was all that should concern him. Well, perhaps not all.

“I’m concerned about the safety of the castle’s inhabitants while they’re about their duties,” he told Chopper when the man finally emerged in search of some breakfast.

“Seems you should be, aye. Are ye thinkin’ there’s a nest o’ the fish men hereabouts?”

“I’m not sure. They could be coming to attack from miles away.” McCleagh sighed. He hated to ask, but there was no doubt the pirates were competent. “Could you . . . keep an eye on the people?”

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Interlude: Uh? Captain?
I'm not wearing any pants!

I will have to say that our Captain is truly a… an inspiration to us all. – Gurtchmann

I’ve just come down
From the tower on high
I’m so very big and I’m not at all shy
And the crewmen shout when I go by
”Captain, where’s your trousers?”

Let the wind blow high
Let the wind blow low
Through the sea
In the buff, I’ll go
All the lassies say “Hello,
Captain, where’s your trousers?”

A lassie shocked me to my balls
And it was close-packed in the halls
And I was feared that we would fall
And I had not on my trousers!

Let the wind blow high
Let the wind blow low
Through the sea
In the buff, I’ll go
All the crewmen say “Hello,
Captain, where’s your trousers?”

I tackled her from the height
It is not wrong I know it’s right
The Sorceress died in fright
For I had not on my trousers!

Let the wind blow high
Let the wind blow low
Through the sea
In the buff, I’ll go
All the lassies say “Hello,
Captain, where’s your trousers?”

Hey, Chopper, where’s your trousers?
Hey Captain, where’s your trousers?
Yeah, hey, Captain?
Where’s your trousers?

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Session 18: Opportunity and Knocks

Posted by Jennifer

“Ships ahoy!” called the lookout and the officers assembled onto the deck of the Crisis to see for themselves. Two ships were visible near the horizon, quite close to each other.

Ezikial’s reaction was immediate: “Bring up the ballistae!”

Reiko frowned slightly while Chopper examined them through his spyglass. “Captain?” she inquired. One of the ships was clearly chasing the other, engaged in a full-out battle, but the colors were indistinguishable at this distance.

“Eh,” Chopper shrugged, “take the winner?”

“Would it not be best to know why they are fighting, first?” Feruzi asked. “Or even, who they are?”

Chopper glanced at her. “Maybe, but . . . pirate.” He shrugged again. “Feelin’ lazy today. Steady as she goes. We’ll get there soon enough.”

“Right,” Reiko said. “Maybe you could go take a nap and we’ll let you know when the good stuff starts?”

Chopper seemed to give this consideration. “Nah.”

“Right,” Reiko drawled. “You just leave everything to me.”

“Duh. I had to do all the work with the Dominator, so you layabouts should do something. For once.” Reiko struggled to conceal a smirk as she turned away and began ascending the rigging. Feruzi glared openly at Chopper.

YOU did all the work?” she demanded.

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Session 17: Tooth and Nail

Posted by: Jennifer

The jungle seemed to close in around them; landmarks vanished into a mass of vegetation and the faint rustle of the river was quickly drowned out by the drone of insects. Sandara tried swatting them away from her face, but it was futile. “This makes Bonewrack Isle look like a paradise,” she complained. Feruzi shrugged and continued her examination of the underbrush.

“There do seem to be jaguars about,” she said finally. “They climb trees. Better than we do. So watch above as well as to the sides. There are larger creatures about as well—solitary ones—but I do not recognize their markings. They are almost like midget elephants.”

“Dinosaurs?” Reiko asked. Feruzi blinked.

“Oh, those great beats? I have seen them. My father had one as a pet for a time, but it looked nothing like these tracks.”

“I’ve never seen one myself, so it’s only a guess.”

“Do they climb trees?” Feruzi asked.

“Not these,” Chopper said, looking over the tracks. “Herbivores, by the look of it. Maybe horse-sized.” Sandara sighed in relief.

“That doesn’t sound so bad.”

“Well, they still might trample us, but at least the meat would go to waste. Until the scavangers got to it, of course,” Chopper concluded cheerfully. Sandara shot him a dark look.

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Interlude: The Eagle-Claw

“Good to have you back, Captain.”

Merrill Pegsworthy broke out of his reverie to acknowledge his First Mate with a cheerful grin. “Good to be back, Mistress Loor.” The pause must have alerted her, though, because she eyed his expression closely, unconvinced.

“Somethin’ happen?”

“Oh, no,” he replied, gesturing toward the ship now receding into the distance. “Tatsumi is well set up aboard the Kitsune—”

“The what, now?”

“Oh, some fancy of his, some kind of legendary fox creature, I understand. But she is sound and on her way, as you can see for yourself.” This did not produce the desired response; if anything, Labella grew more uneasy.

“Are ye sure ye had no troubles? We expected ye long afore this, truth be told.”

Pegsworthy essayed a dismissive shrug. “There were some troubles, but they were not ours. Met some likely young folks with a newly-acquired ship; they helped Rickety fend off some sort of giant wasp attack. So, of course we had to wait for him to clear up the mess and launch their ship. Took a couple of days.”

“New pirates, eh? Well, they’ll be in for some schoolin’ if they think they can give us any trouble,” she announced, somewhat to his chagrin.

“I doubt they’d want to, the first mate is Tatsumi’s sister. They seem like nice enough folks.”

“Then the Shackles will swallow ’em whole and spit the bones.”

“I wouldn’t be so sure of that, either. They acquired their ship from that devil’s son, Plugg. You remember him? Harrigan’s Mate.”

Labella spat on the deck. “Not like to forget, me. So he’s dead, then? Good, though I wouldna have minded doin’ the job meself.”

“From the sound of things, you would have had to outrun an arrow to do it, that archer of theirs is a fiend. Never seen anyone shoot so fast in my life, and she killed Plugg herself according to Tatsumi’s sister, spitted him right though his black heart!” He grinned, bemused, causing Mistress Loor no small distress as she looked askance on her Captain’s peculiar new mood. “Must have been quite the sight! Say, Labella, do I still have that Azlanti bow somewhere?”

Labella felt her jaw loosen as her heart seemed to writhe in her chest. “The Eagle-Claw, Captain?”

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Session 16: Good News

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?”

“Yessss?”

“No.”

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!”

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Session 15: The Ringing

Concerns about the Deathknell were set aside the next morning when they came across a fishing trawler floating low in the water, heavily heeled over on its port side and taking on water. The sails flapped loosely and nets hung over the side, uselessly tangled. Reiko frowned at it as the Crisis drew slowly nearer. “Captain, would you like us to check it out?”

Chopper scrubbed at his chin thoughtfully. “Aye, maybe we can lend a hand.”

Reiko changed their course and shouted a few brief orders to the riggers, bringing the Crisis around more or less smoothly. The trawler’s hull was breached on the port side just above the waterline; the waves were slowly swamping her. The davits at the stern that would normally hold a dinghy were empty and there were no signs of battle or real indications as to what might have caused the breach.

Leaning out, Chopper made out the shape of the dinghy at least ten feet underwater, slowly sinking from sight. “Dinghies don’t usually do that,” he commented. “I’ll check it out.” He promptly dove overboard and began swimming. Reiko sighed as he dove toward the sunken dinghy, tapping her fingers impatiently on the wheel while she waited for him to resurface. And waited.

“Oh, honestly,” she grumbled. “Best wake everyone, this might get serious,” she told Lysaro, and dove in after Chopper just as he resurfaced and gulped air.

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