Skull and Shackles

Session 38: Captain Rat

Posted by Jennifer

Labella Loor’s information proved accurate; Crisis intercepted the Jester’s Grin with very little difficulty. Fargo Vitterande was slow to marshal his crew, as though he couldn’t really believe anyone would decide to attack him. The Crisis officers found him in his cabin, a small man with bad skin hiding behind four distinctly unsmall bodyguards with orcish features. “Don’t let them get me!” Vitterande squeaked, struggling to get his wide bay window open. The latch came undone and the little Captain jumped out. Chopper dove after, but the bodyguards checked his advance before a hail of arrows and bullets forced them to retreat. Reiko and Ezikial between them dispatched three of the men, leaving only one left standing. He flailed ineffectually at Reiko in a desperate panic.

“Well, this is just sad,” Feruzi said, lowering her bow and regarding the only remaining guard. “How about you surrender and we call it a day?”

The man dropped his cutlass. “Besmara, yes! Quarter, I beg of you!”

Feruzi nodded vaguely and went to stick her head out the window, wondering where Vitterande had gotten to. She espied the Grin’s captain climbing magically up to the deck above them, his coattails vanishing as she watched. “Hey, that’s my trick!” She complained. “Bastard!”

“Move!” Chopper ordered and dove out the window, yodeling dramatically. His boarding axes bit deep into the wood. When he reached the deck he could see Vitterande already on the other side of the ship—or, well, a rat-man wearing Vitterande’s clothes. The Grin’s captain was apparently a were-rat.

“You,” Reiko said, pointing to the surrendered guard. “What are your duties aboard this ship?”

“I keep the boss safe. Or useta.”

“Where is your Captain headed?”

“I dunno! ’E’s prolly makin’ fer one o’ th’ ship’s boats.”

“Very well,” she said, and left through the door. Vitterande spotted her and began waving a white handkerchief.

“Parley!”

“Do not shoot him!” Reiko yelled as Ezikial pushed past her, pistols at the ready and Feruzi reached the top deck with her bow. The rat-man squeaked and Ezikial’s expression changed. Then he abruptly jumped overboard.

“Huh,” Chopper remarked. “Someone see ta Mister Hands.” He turned his attention to Vitterande. “Parley? A’ight. We’ll listen. Talk.”

“I can see we’re no match for you, Captain. Take what you’ve come for and go, but leave us in peace.”

“We come ta make an end of Chelish spies, sir. Ye are what we came for.”

“Well, then you’ll have to catch me first!”

“Hey, you already surrendered!” Feruzi protested.

NOW you can shoot him!” Reiko said. “You crew!” she added, “if you stop your captain from escaping, you may yet live, but do not get in our way!” Feruzi charged across the deck and attempted to dive-tackle Vitterande, landing in a heap as the illusion dissolved. Chopper cursed and Reiko flinched as another spell took effect.

“Bloody witchcraft!” Chopper looked around desperately, then pointed overhead. “Yardarm!” A high-pitched squeak came from the rigging as Vitterande realized his hiding place had been discovered. Arrows impacted the wood, slicing a rope that secured the boom, which now swung loose. An enraged squeal was followed by a loud thud of something roughly man-sized hitting the deck. Vitterande became visible, pointing a wand in Feruzi’s direction. She ducked as a lightning bolt ripped through the air, but not quite fast enough. Vitterande bared his teeth nastily, apparently not at all interested in surrender, and pointed the wand next at Chopper. Then he shrieked as a bullet struck his hand. The wand went flying across the deck and Reiko clubbed the rat-man on the back of his oddly-shaped head. Vitterande merely hissed, so Reiko growled and struck him again, harder this time.

“That’s what I call hard-headed,” she remarked, toeing the now-unconscious were-rat. The remainder of his crew hastened to surrender, and Ezikial directed the release of slaves and acquisition of numerous barrels of Old Deep Rum.

“Those barrels were property of Arronax Endymion,” Reiko remarked after examining the booty.

“Then either Fargo stole them, or Endymion is in league with those devil-kissin’ bastards.”

“Either is entirely possible.”

“Don’t care,” Ezikial grunted. “They’re ours now.”

“There’s the dim possibility that Vitterande is a legitimate businessman,” Feruzi offered.

“I wouldn’t put money on that,” Reiko said.

“Shall we try to question him, then?”

“When he comes to.”

It took a few hours. Reiko was no lightweight in the punching department. Vitterande eventually came to, only to be greeted by Chopper’s face shoved in front of his nose, followed by a cheery, “Ahoy!”

“Gah!” Vitterande squeaked.

“Skittish fella, aintcha.”

Vitterande swallowed and smoothed his greasy hair. “Well, yeah.”

“So, what’s yer relationship with Captain Endymion?” Chopper demanded.

“And with the Dominator,” Feruzi added.

“Oh, that’s easy. I don’t have one.”

Chopper tsked. “Ruse, go get Mister Hands. Ye know he hates missin’ a torture session.”

“Aye, aye, Captain.”

“No, seriously, Captain Carrionne just wanted to ask me about some ship that used to be called the ’Man’s Promise’. Which, until now, I knew nothing about.” Vitterande fidgeted nervously, scrutinizing Chopper’s face. “So it’s torture, is it?”

“Well, since yer dishonest.”

“Nonsense, Captain. I have no reason to lie to you now.”

“Ye use illusions. Yer dishonest.”

“I don’t think he’s lying, Captain, but that means he’s fairly worthless to us alive, now,” Reiko said. “We cna’t have him running off to give information on us.”

“Hm. Well, I guess he musta, heh, acquired that fine rum from Endymion.”

“Oh, is that who it belonged to?” Vitterande said, smiling slightly.

“It might be that fine Pirate Lord would take it as a kindness were we to turn the thief over to ’im. We can always use more friends on the Council.” Chopper added. Vitterande’s smile faded. “So we got a possible use for ’im after all, less you can think of another.”

“Hey, let’s not get carried away here,” Vitterande protested.

“Oh? You got something you’d like to tell us then? You know I’m not very fond of slavers.”

“Look, I don’t know what this is about! I’m just a smuggler trying to make an honest living!”

“What are ye smugglin’? Who are ye smugglin’ for?”

“In case you hadn’t heard,” Feruzi said, having returned with Ezikial, “this is about Cheliax preparing to invade the Shackles. Anyone could be a spy. Anyone could be providing them with assistance.”

“Lady, I promise you I know nothing about it. I admit I’ve done some spying for Cheliax, but that was years ago! I don’t know anything about any current plans in the Shackles.”

“Then who might?” Chopper demanded. “Surely you know a few active agents.”

“I asked around about three years back to see if there was any work, but all my contacts have . . . moved on.”

“Of course, that makes me wonder . . . why did the Dominator’s captain come to YOU, then. If it’s been so long.”

“They seemed pretty desperate, if you ask me. You guys are heroes to half the Shackles; sounds like nobody wants to give you up.” Vitterrande glanced fearfully at Ezikial, who was making various alarming motions in the background. “Of course . . . could YOU use an informant?”

Chopper glanced at his officers, raising an eyebrow to ask their opinions.

“He’s a wererat,” Feruzi said, shrugging.

“Racist,” Chopper told her.

“He’s probably telling the truth,” Reiko opined.

“What exactly could you inform us about,” Chopper asked, “if all yer contacts have . . . gone away?”

“All my Chelish contacts,” Vitterande said hastily. Chopper grunted.

“The impending invasion is sorta foremost in our minds at the moment. Still . . .”

“I can see what I can find out, Captain. I won’t give you up to Carrionne or anybody else.”

Feruzi chuckled. “If you’re going to hire him you should probably offer him some sort of incentive to keep him honest. Otherwise he might be a tad resentful.”

“Might be he’d like ta keep his ship. Might be best fer us, too.”

“We did damage it just a tad.”

“Yeah, but now we have a port. Repairs can be made.”

Ezikial frowned. “I don’t get to skin him then, Captain?”

“Not today, I’m afraid.”

“Truth is, I’m a bit surprised to even be alive,” Vitterande said.

“Right. Ye’ll sail under our colors and turn over forty percent of yer plunder,” Chopper said.

“And if you are caught smuggling slaves again . . .” Reiko added ominously.

“No, ma’am. My slaving days are done.”

“Then you won’t wind up wishing you had died,” Ezikial growled.

Feruzi pursed her lips. “On the other hand, there’s plenty of space on our new island to make yourself comfortable. Preferably far away from Ezikial.”

“Really?” Vitterande looked considerably surprised. “Not many places are welcoming to . . . my kind.”

“We got somethin’ of a menagerie on that ruddy island already. Might as well add to it.”

“Just don’t bite anyone,” Feruzi told him.

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Session 37: Adventure Time

“Yet another day aboard the Crisis, sitting around waiting while our officers go off to do who-knows-what,” Kulio grumbled, working the winch that lowered the forward boat and the aforementioned officers. “When do we get some action?”

Dar grunted. “Kid, you ain’t ne’er had it so good. You got no notion of the stuff they cleans up afore we e’er sees it. There be horrors in the vasty deep the like of which none of us wish to be seein’.”

“Well, maybe not close-up, like, but there’s bound to be some stuff down there worth seeing. I didn’t sign up to wait around!”

“Oh, well, mebbe I kin help you with that!” Dar winced and turned around to see Rosie standing by with an evil grin on her miniature face. The halfling had a positive talent for going completely unnoticed until you had your foot, ankle, and possibly leg up to the knee lodged firmly in your gullet. One little halfling should not be able to contain so much malevolent glee at making people regret their ill-considered statements. Kulio, the poor fool, only looked intrigued. He was a slow learner, apparently.

“You got something we can do?” Kulio asked.

“You betcha. Concho came up with an idea for seein’ underwater an’ I think yer just the person to try it out!” The gnome materialized, holding up a glass hemisphere the size of his chest.

“Is that a fishbowl?” Dar asked, realization dawning.

“Well, not JUST a fishbowl,” Conchobar said with some asperity, looking defensive. “It screws on to this ring here, see?”

“Which you have attached to a big oiled canvas bag, I detect,” Kulio said.

“And a hose,” Rosie added.

“And some weights!” Conchobar finished.

“So, what yer have invented here,” Dar said dryly, “Is an ehr-normus fishing lure.”

“No, it’s an underwater survey apparatus!” Conchobar corrected hotly.

“Into which yer intend to seal one of the crewmembers.”

“We can pump air down the hose to inflate the bag, and they can tell us what they see by shouting back down the hose,” Rosie explained.

“Yer have lost yer—” Dar began, only to be interrupted mid-sentence.

“I’ll give it a go,” Kulio said. Dar spluttered.

“Yer ALL mad,” he managed, finally. “I warsh me hands of ye.”

It took some time—and cussing—to stuff Kulio into the oiled sack and secure the fishbowl. Not wanting to be completely helpless, Kulio made sure to take along a selection of knives and keep them in easy reach. If everything went to pot, he was going to cut himself out of the sack and to hell with Conchobar’s test. The gnome finally declared the preparations complete, attached the hose, and Insawa helped Dar unceremoniously dump the bag-of-Kulio overboard, where it slowly sank in a cloud of bubbles. Rosie hurried to the pump and began working.

“Ooh, not as airtight as I was hoping,” Conchobar muttered. “ARE YOU ALL RIGHT DOWN THERE, KULIO?!?” he shouted, pressing his ear to the end of the hose.

“S A LITTLE DAMP!!”

“Sorry about that! Can you see anything!?”

“Glass’s all fogged up, dammit!”

“Oo, that’s a point,” Conchobar said, making a note on a clipboard. “Can you wipe it off?!”

“Yah, yah, I can see a bit. It’s awful dark down here, though! I can see the officers! They’re swimming down toward this wrecked ship on the bottom!”

“Oooh!”

“An . . . BESMARA’S TITS! Those are some bloody enormous sharks! I never seen sharks so big! Pull me up! They’re coming!”

“No!” Conchobar yelled, batting Dar away from the winch. “It’s fine, Kulio, the sharks are far away!”

“NO THEY ARE NOT!!!”

“The glass is like a telescope! Everything will look much closer than it really is!”

“Are you SURE?!”

“I made the thing, after all!”

“Damn near pissed myself. Oh, no, what are they doing . . . they’re ATTACKING the SHARKS.” A series of loud booms echoed up the hose. “Besmara, what the hell! My ears are ringing! There’s shark bits everywhere!”

“That kind of sounded like a pistol,” Rosie remarked.

“It did, didn’t it,” Conchobar agreed. A massive corpse suddenly surfaced off the starboard side of the ship. “Wow, that is big.” Another series of booms followed several seconds later, along with more hysterical shrieks from Kulio, and a second corpse joined the first.

PULL ME UP!!!”

“Don’t be a sissy!” Rosie bellowed. “The sharks are dead!”

“Imma wring yer little halfling neck!” Kulio yelled.

“You and what army? What else is happening?”

“Nothing, they’re just swimming down to this coral maze. It’s kinda pretty, really.”

“Well, let us know when something else happens.”

Long minutes of back-and-forth “Anything?” “No!” followed. Rosie made Dar take a turn at the pump.

“Oh, hey, something’s happening!” Kulio shouted. “There’s this kind of blue glow . . .”

Rosie pointed overboard. The seawater was, indeed, glowing faintly. “What is it?” she demanded.

“I dunno. Can’t really see.” A spark leapt from the pump to Dar’s arm and he winced, cursing. Conchobar’s eyes went wide.

“Everybody down!” the gnome screamed. The blue glow pulsed. Electricity arced from the water, forming tiny glowing balls that danced like fairy lights and vanished with a crackling, sizzling noise. The pump squealed as it violently overheated and burst.

“Wow, what a show!” Kulio shouted. “This is amazing!” Then: “Hey, the bag is shrinking!”

“Just hang on!” Conchobar shouted. “A little technical problem up here . . .!”

“Hey! Pull me up!”

“Not yet!” An enormous jellyfish, glowing faintly blue, surfaced alongside the ship.

GET ME OUT OF HERE!”

NOT YET!”

“Screw this, I’m outta here!” Kulio announced. Ripping noises echoed up the tube, then gurgling noises. The water bubbled violently.

“Gosh, I hope he’s all right,” Conchobar said, peering over the side.

“No thanks to you,” Dar told him. A long minute passed, then Kulio surfaced, gasping and waving a knife.

“Imma . . . kill . . . all . . . you . . . fuckers . . .”

Conchobar grinned and pulled out his clipboard again. “Experiment success!” he enthused. Kulio glared up at him. He eyed the rope leading from the winch down into the water. He fingered his knife. Conchobar screamed in horror as Kulio neatly severed the rope that was holding the apparatus to the ship; it instantly vanished into the water. The hose parted company with the ruined pump with a slurping sound and followed in mechanical solidarity.

“Noooo!” Conchobar yelled. “My fishbowl!”

“Had enough adventure, I take it?” Dar asked as they hauled Kulio back aboard.

“Yes, thank you.”

The officers soon returned and the remainder of the afternoon was spent hauling goods up from the ocean floor. “That’s how it should be,” Kulio announced. “Exciting adventure, then loot.”

“Sadly, there’s nothing back on shore ter spend it on,” Dar grumbled.

“Something will turn up,” Kulio said.

“Your optimism is starting ter annoy me.” Yet, when they reached the dock, now nearly completed, there was another surprise awaiting: a crowd of scantily-clad women, clearly waiting for Crisis to return. The crew gathered at the side of the ship to gape while the officers climbed down to speak to them. The ladies and the officers headed toward the now-repaired fort while Rosie returned to the ship.

“What’s going on?” Dar demanded.

“They’re prostitutes,” Rosie said, shaking her head. “They want some kind of asylum or somethin’. Think the Cap’n’s gonna accept.”

Kulio grinned.

“Did you PLAN that?!” Dar demanded.

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Session 36: Cleanup

Posted by: Jennifer

Ezikial winced as Sandara’s spell took effect, restoring his eyesight. The first thing he saw was the Dreamstone sitting on the chartroom table with both Reiko and Feruzi glaring at it as though they could force it to render up its secrets through sheer willpower. Leila, Rosie, and Conchobar sat perched around the edges of the room. Ezikial’s hand went automatically to his flask. A swallow of rum only dulled the headache brought on by the morning sunlight glinting through the windows.

“As nearly as I can determine,” Feruzi said, finally, “smashing the stone would solve most of our problems.”

“Would that get us th’ Cap’n back?” Sandara asked.

“It should. That’s how the spell works . . . although it’s generally supposed to be much more limited in scope.”

“Dispel it?” Ezikial suggested, looking at Sandara, who shrugged.

“I’m less sure what the effect of that would be, if she even can manage it,” Feruzi said. “I wish I had more books.”

“Might be nice ter ’ave that genie still ’ere,” Sandara said softly.

“There was a genie?” Leila asked eagerly.

“Are you willing to risk the Captain’s life by smashing the stone without knowing exactly what will happen?” Reiko asked.

Feruzi held up her hands. “Tell me what you require to be certain enough and I will try to provide it. If you think I’m not knowledgeable enough, that is fine. Who else would you like to consult? We could ask Durgrin, or any other spellcaster you know. Of course, it would take two days at minimum for them to receive the message and send a reply.”

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Session 35: Serenity Now

Posted by: Jennifer

Bereft of their leader, the remaining cyclopes avoided contact, leaving the Crisis officers generally in command of Sumitha. Sandara healed the worst of their injuries while they surveyed the ruins.

“So, I guess we go look at the ‘wish woman’ now?” Feruzi asked.

“Aye, I reckon,” Chopper said. They approached the outdoor monument in the center of the ruins, a raised dais surrounded by decorative archways and alabaster columns. The triangular pool at the center shimmered and a vaguely female form—giant-sized—manifested.

“Welcome,” she said.

“So, what’s the what, now?” Chopper muttered.

“Greetings,” the woman said. “I am Vailea, the marid.”

“More ghosts?” Feruzi asked.

“I am no ghost, but a creature of elemental water, trapped here in the waning days of Ghol-Gan by ancient cyclopean magics.”

Feruzi crossed her arms over her chest. “And I take it you want our help to get loose?” She looked at Chopper pointedly. “I don’t suppose there’s any use in pretending we’re not going to help.”

“I will not deny that I greatly desire this, but I can only be freed if someone uses one of my wishes to free me.”

“Wishes?” Chopper asked. “Elaborate.”

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Session 34: Off to See the Ishtoreth

Posted by: Jennifer

After spending the night on the Crisis, the executive officers left Leila in charge of the ship and took the ship’s boat, passing the Chelish fortress and rowing upriver until they reached a placid lake. They pulled the boat up on the eastern shore and discovered this area was not a trackless wilderness after all—someone had built a gigantic corral out of whole trees nearby. It was an imposing, if crude, edifice, yet it clearly hadn’t been imposing enough. The beams lay broken and smashed on the ground and massive clawed footprints led away into—or, more accurately, over—the brush.

“What the fook made that?” Chopper asked.

“More dinosaurs, it looks like,” Feruzi said, surveying the prints.

“Like Koro-koro?”

“Probably a big herbivore,” she told him, grinning. “Isn’t that a great word? Herbivore.”

“Ah, less bitey, then.”

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Session 33: Fort Secured

Posted by: Jennifer

Bikendi Otongu faded from sight.

“Well,” Reiko said, “That was interesting.” Ezikial nodded agreement. “I am fairly certain he wasn’t giving us the full truth about needing to take over one of our bodies to do this ritual, though.”

“We will need to do something to get these spirits off the island,” Feruzi said. “All these risen dead will prove problematic.”

“I don’t disagree with this notion, but I am not willing to let something take over my body,” Reiko insisted.

“We should not discuss it standing in this room, I think,” Feruzi said.

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Interlude: The Tale of Bikendi Otongu

Posted by: Jennifer

“Millennia ago in that heyday of the Age of Serpents, before there was an Eye, before humans even came to these lands, the Cyclops of Ghol-Gan ruled here. Many of their ruins still stand, relicts of a lost empire whose greatness few today can comprehend. One such ruin, a mountain retreat known as Sumitha, stands on this very island. Here the Cyclops constructed a hidden vault known as the Eye of Serenity to hold a sacred artifact, the Lens of Revelation. The Cyclopean seers of Sumitha guided their fellows in war to survey the lands and even to know the will of the divine, but when their civilization waned the Lens turned dark and they abandoned Sumitha to be forgotten. Many of them retreated to the Darklands, and those who stayed degenerated into savagery. The men who came centuries later saw only the eyeless statues on the Island’s shores and hillsides, the fist-sized gems that once decorated these monoliths long since taken and lost.

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Session 32: The Hold of Nightmares

Posted by: Jennifer

The first building they entered proved to be a chapel, only a handful of the simple pews still intact between the others that lay scattered and broken on the floor. A golden symbol hung from the ceiling, a winged eye in a ring, the symbol of Aroden. Once the patron deity of Cheliax and a number of other major countries, Aroden had disappeared nearly a century ago when all of Golarion was wracked by terrible storms, ending in the formation of the Eye of Abendego. Aroden’s former worshippers had mostly abandoned him, converting to other faiths or, in the case of Cheliax, to the worship of devils. This chapel could have lain abandoned for decades or centuries, there was no way to tell.

“Is that real gold?” Feruzi asked, eyeing the symbol. Leila studied it for a moment.

“I believe it is, Feruzi,” she said at last.

“That much gold undefended for this long? It must be cursed,” Feruzi continued as Leila looked around for some way to reach the symbol. Four large, spider-like creatures with eerie humanoid faces suddenly flashed into view, snapping their mandibles. Chopper knocked one away before it could poison him and it tore a long gash in his wrist. Leila shouted as another one clamped down on her leg. Then the spiders vanished as suddenly as they appeared.

Ezikial waved his pistols furiously, seeking a target, while Feruzi pressed her back to the wall and cast a protective spell. The spiders burst into existence again, clawing and biting at everyone. Ezikial shot one in the abdomen before they could vanish a second time.

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Session 31: The Reception

Posted by: Jennifer

Feruzi shrugged at Chopper. “That was . . . not as bad as it could have been, I suppose.”

“Codswallop is what it is, pure and simple,” Chopper growled. Ezikial scowled in agreement.

“Are you all right, Merrill?” Feruzi asked. Pegsworthy sighed.

“I will be. It might take some time, though.”

Feruzi began to fidget, glancing over at Chopper again, who tilted his head to the side and regarded her curiously. “I have a . . . favor I want to ask you,” she said, speaking to Pegsworthy. “If you don’t mind. And, er, if Chopper doesn’t mind.” Chopper’s eyebrows shot up and Pegsworthy visibly shook off whatever was occupying his mind.

“Of course,” Pegsworthy said. “Anything.”

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Interlude: Arbitrary Arbitration

Posted by: Jennifer

Is it a good sign or a bad one that Kerdak Bonefist looks more than a little hung over this morning? Pegsworthy thought as the Master of the Gales escorted him into the audience chamber. From the sound of the celebrations last night—audible even in the brig of the Kraken—there wouldn’t be many pirates eager to face the day. The Council table seemed to bear that out; only Tessa Fairwind and Avimar Sorrinash were arrayed beside Bonefist. Tessa gave Pegsworthy a faint, restrained nod, which he returned. Sorrinash merely sneered. The audience chamber was otherwise nearly empty, only a few random hangers-on occupied the benches. Harrigan was nowhere in sight.

“Whass this about, then?” Bonefist demanded.

“The Master requests us to sit in judgment of Free Captain Merrill Pegsworthy, who stands accused of breaking the Truce of the Free Captains’ Regatta by attacking three of Free Captain Barnabus Harrigan’s men, Lord.” Tessa’s voice was firm and to the point, betraying no touch of personal consideration.

“Izzat so? Never liked that Harrigan. I take it ’e were provoked?”

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