Skull and Shackles

Prologue: The Wild, Wild Sea
In Which We Meet Sandara Quinn.

Posted by Darth Krzysztof

31 Desnus, 4712 AR

It was her own damn fault this time, again.

Sandara Quinn had arrived at the Formidably Maid far too early, and spent nearly an hour dwelling on her reasons for coming to this dive before ordering what turned out to be the first of too many mugs of cheap, spicy rum. By the time pirates started rolling in to fill the common room, Sandara was a wee bit too drunk to talk to them. And they seemed happy to carry on without including her, so she remained in her corner, staring into her tankard.

In the dim light, the rum seemed to ripple like the sea itself. No, Sandara thought, that can’t be right. You’re just loaded to the gunwales. She squeezed her eyes shut and regretted it at once, for Da’s face still hid behind her eyelids.

Limestone watchtowers ringed the harbor. She saw the names of every ship, and the waves on the sea aglow in the fire of sunrise. And Da was there, young and alive, as she always chose to see him, his hand on her shoulder. “I know I ain’t been there fer ye much, Sandi,” Da said… nearly twenty years ago, the words still as indelible as the tattoos on his daughter’s arms. “But I won’ say I’m sorry, fer thass a fisherman’s life. Thass the sea, lassie.”

That was the way of it, all right. Food doesn’t put itself on the table, Ma was fond of saying. She wasn’t sea-blooded like Da was, but being a seamstress didn’t leave her much time for Sandara, either. “I know, Da,” Sandara said, having made a sort of peace with the situation. “You got nothin’ to be sorry for.”

This brought the familiar smile to Da’s lips. “Bless ye, Sandi. I weren’t so nice about it when it were my Da gone to sea. But thass why I brought ye down here. Now, since I ain’t been here fer ye, I got no right to ask anythin’ of ye, but I still got one thing to ask of ye.”

“What’s that?” She loved her Da with all her heart, no matter how rarely she got to see him, or how little they spoke.

“When ye come of age, Sandara Quinn, I want ye to go to sea.”

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Session 1: Welcome to the Wormwood

Posted by Jennifer

The new day was hazy yet curiously bright, the sun not visible in a sky that seemed to glow of its own accord, one shade from horizon to distant horizon. The cramped cabin which seemed to some combination of crew quarters and brig had only a single tiny porthole, but it was enough to make the two male occupants squint and wince away, still recovering from the unholy mixture of grog and opium they’d swallowed the night before. Feruzi planted her back to the wall and eyed the other female, a tiny creature, although still armed and lacking a signature headache.

The door flew open and the horrible yellow-toothed, emaciated Master Scourge stomped in, his face twisted in a grimace that on second viewing turned out to be a shark smile. He spoke in sickly-sweet tones, belied by the six pirates with various bludgeons arrayed behind him. “Did ye lovely princesses enjoy yer beauty rest, then? The sun be over the yardarm, and it be time to report to the captain!” The smile fell away. “On yer feet, filthy swabs, before Cap’n Harrigan flays yer into sausages and has Fishguts fry yer up for breakfast!”

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Session 2: Life Aboard Ship

Posted by Jennifer

Ezikial looked up at the fat man blocking his path. “Well,” he drawled. “I think—” the fat pirate staggered backwards clutching his groin from Ezikial’s well-placed kick. He pulled out his pistol, cocked it, and shoved it into the man’s face. “Back off and leave me alone.” He was dimly aware of Reiko and Feruzi moving behind him, the Tian slinking back into the shadows while the Mwangi huntress stepped up to prevent the other pirates from surrounding him.

The fat man panted hard for a few seconds. “You won’t get away with kicking Fipps Chumlett!” he growled, yanking a dagger out of his belt and shoving Ezikial’s gun aside.

“No!” the big-eared woman standing beside him hissed. “I ain’t gonna get keel-hauled!”

“Most wise,” Feruzi commented as Ezikial danced backward, taking a messy but not dangerous cut along the outside of his thigh. The other pirates waded in, swinging fists and weighted bits of rope. Chopper punched one in the jaw, dodging a reciprocal kick. Feruzi’s hand shot out with snake speed, striking the rigger woman in the abdomen and doubling her up. The Mwangi’s foot then soared skyward and came down solidly on the rigger’s forehead, staggering her and putting her out of the fight.

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Session 3: Fighting Well

Posted by Jennifer

“What are you waiting for?” Mr. Plugg growled. “There’s something in the bilges that bit Mr. Scrimshaw. Get in there and don’t bother coming out until whatever’s down there is dead.”

Feruzi frowned slightly. “If we go down there, does that mean we have to be dead before we can come up?”

Plugg attempted a withering stare, but Feruzi didn’t seem inclined to wilt. “We’ll just have to see.”

“I see that irony is not a big thing around here,” Feruzi remarked as they headed belowdecks.

“I doubt they understand it,” Ezikial replied in an equally offhand tone.

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Interlude: Owlbear and Feruzi

Posted by Jennifer

Rosie headed down to bed, but stopped when she heard some peculiar whimpering sounds coming from across the way. Mystified, she crept closer, then realized where they must be coming from. Someone must be tormenting Owlbear again. Not sure whether she wanted to witness the fun or chase the tormentors off, she hurried toward the giant’s usual haunt, only to discover him lying on his side in a whimpering ball with Feruzi hunched over him.

“Watcha doin’?” Rosie asked, shocked at this sight. Feruzi looked up, brandishing a smooth length of sanded wood.

“Getting this tar off.” She demonstrated with the scraper and the turpentine. Owlbear whimpered in pain as more reddened, blistered-looking skin was revealed, but remained where he was.

“Oh,” Rosie said, not sure if she was relieved or appalled. “I thought ye might . . . I dunno what I thought, really. I’m fookin’ amazed he’s holdin’ still fer it, though. He’s a cussed brute. By rights he should be wringing your neck after that drubbin’ ya gave him.”

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Session 4: Stormy Weather

Posted by Jennifer

Morning came, but with it no dawn, only pewter sky, silver rain, and leaden sea that rolled all around the Wormwood, the great heavy waves jostling her like an indifferent crowd, threatening to knock her down and trample her should she falter. The crew hunched together on her deck, already wet and shivering, clutching the rations that must sustain them through the grinding effort to come. Behind them were calmer waters, but ahead the clouds mounted the sky seemingly without end, an uncharted range they must now endeavor to scale.

Feruzi looked up into the rigging, trying to quell her impulse to shrink from the water and the chill, knowing there was no use and it would only exhaust her. “There is always a storm sooner or later,” she remarked, sententious in her philosophy.

“That’s nature for you,” Reiko agreed, unruffled in hers.

Mr. Plugg, wet as the rest of the crew but somehow looking less sloppy, dispensed assignments with a few curt gestures. Chopper found himself straining at one of the mainsail’s halyards. Ezikial was banished to the sloshing bilges, Feruzi patching and repairing the tarry caulking nearby. Reiko had little to do – the galley was all-but-unusable while the ship wallowed before the wind, the fires damped, the cutlery stashed and secured. Even the animals were still and nearly silent, anxious but not terrified.

“May as well sit down an’ take yer ease while ye can, lass,” Fishguts said, gesturing with his tin cup. “’Tis likely will only get worse.”

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Session 5: Through the Stomach

Posted by Jennifer

The bizarre lobster-eel creatures launched themselves through the water, claws extended. Feruzi pushed herself off the stony reef to get away and promptly went under, while the other tangled itself in Sandara’s long hair, fouling her with slime. Chopper pulled an axe from his belt and awkwardly hacked at chitin, but the force of the blow was largely blunted by the seawater. Ezikial had more luck stabbing the other with a dagger; a dark, inky-looking substance that might be blood began to leak into the water. With surprising flexibility, the creature reversed itself and latched on, the oversized claws removing chunks of Ezikial’s flesh.

Feruzi landed a hard jab on the other creature’s softer portions, but it clutched her arm, biting and snapping. Now that it was anchored, Chopper was able to open a wide split in its back, but it still didn’t let go. Feruzi ducked as Reiko’s sword whistled past, narrowly missing her and the beast. Ezikial managed to get his blade in between the claws and mandibles, wrecking the eyes and brain. It should have died, but instead went into violent spasms, nearly taking out one of his eyes and scoring a deep cut along Sandara’s arm as she tried to get clear. A few moments later, Feruzi managed to get at something vital on the other and it, too went berzerk, leaving her with a few more injuries, fortunately none of them serious. She waved Chopper away impatiently when he attempted triage.

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Interlude: Reiko's Inquisition

Posted By DarkRose16

After her conversation with Mr. Hands, Reiko made a decision.

While she didn’t hold a specific hate for Scourge or Plugg, more a mild dislike, she was fully aware rather intense hatred that much of the crew held for these two, and the feeling that things would be turning ugly on the ship in the near future was a building pressure on the back of her skull. Reiko needed to get whatever information she could from Scourge before it was too late.

She approached Scourge and Plugg, flatly ignoring any looks from their groupies. “Mr. Plugg, Mr. Scourge, might I have a word with the two of you?”

“Regarding?” Plugg replied cooly.

“Regarding my reason for being here. Regarding what Mr. Scourge told me before I agreed to come aboard this ship.” Reiko looked pointedly at Scourge, who favored her with a rather contemptuous scowl.

Plugg, “Oh really?”

Reiko returned Scourge’s scowl with a bright smile before continuing, her attention back on Plugg. “Ah, yes. I would prefer, however, to speak with just the two of you.” Reiko shot an intimidating glare over her shoulder towards the groupies.

Tension russled through them like a light wind on the sails before Plugg waved them off. “All right. Follow me.” He climbed up the stairs to the poop deck closely followed by Scourge, still in mid-sneer.

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Session 6: Boarding School

Posted by Jennifer

The crew gathered on the deck for their assignments as usual, and Chopper realized abruptly that he’d now been aboard the Wormwood for two weeks, long enough for the day’s activities to seem like habit. It was certainly a habit for most of the crew to stand slightly away from him, Feruzi, and Ezikial, and for Reiko to stand nearby but not exactly “with” them. Even Feruzi’s cluster of friendly companions, now including not just Rosie, but Samms Toppin, Jack Scrimshaw, and Giffer Tibbs stayed well away, not wanting to risk the obvious ire of Mr. Plugg or Mr. Scourge.

The wisdom of their approach became obvious as Plugg gathered the four of them in by eye and gave a very faint purse-lipped smile. “I have special work for you today,” he said. “Boarding School.”

“Cute,” Chopper said, acknowledging the pun with the universal faint grimace. Ezikial grimaced as well, not so faintly.

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Session 7: The Promise

Posted by: Jennifer

The Wormwood crept close and closer to her quarry, which now retaliated with a hail of crossbow and ballista bolts aimed at crew and rigging. The name of the large and wallowing Rahadoumi merchantman was now visible on the transom: the Man’s Promise, she was called, no doubt meant to be optimistic but now somewhat ominous. There could be no mistaking what Barnabus Harrigan promised for this ship and its crew.

The missile fire became somewhat erratic as a heavy fog condensed out of the air, magically summoned by Peppery Longfarthing as an aid for the coming battle. The assault team stood waiting at the Wormwood’s rail. Reiko didn’t even flinch as a crossbow bolt narrowly missed her, she was preoccupied watching the two ships collide. It was a purposeful collision, not a shattering crash, bumping the merchantman into alignment with the Wormwood’s starboard side while leaving both ships relatively undamaged. Four grapples flew from the assault team and were made fast.

Reiko and Chopper easily crossed the gap above the seething, shark-filled water. Captain Harrigan had seen to that, ordering Reiko and Fishguts to slaughter the ship’s stock of pigs and dump the blood and bacon overboard to draw the monsters of the deep. Anyone so unlucky as to fall overboard would be ripped apart if they tried to swim. Feruzi followed them more slowly, but once on the other side she drew her bow without hesitation and fired into the fog, hitting someone who screamed. Reiko moved that direction in the quick, balanced shuffle of an experienced warrior. Her sword snapped out, removing a man’s head in a single motion.

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