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.
" . . . three," Reiko muttered. “I take it you wish to set off after this legendary treasure, Captain?”
“Was there ever any doubt?”
“Of course not, Captain. Let’s raise anchor and be on our way.”
“So, what sort of demonic creature awaits us, exactly?” Feruzi asked when they were under sail, Tidewater Rock receding into the distance.
“Kraken,” Chopper opined.
“That sounds delightful,” she responded with no evidence whatsoever of delight. She sighed. “At least I brought arrows for demons. Or whatever it proves to be.”
“I’m sooo booored,” Chopper complained. “Bards, tune me!” Conchobar appeared as if by teleportation. “What, no Rosie? Have you not sealed the deal? What is up with that?”
“I’ll wear her down yet, Cap’n,” Conchobar said.
“She is definitely warming up to you,” Chopper told the gnome. A loud boom shook the entire vessel and acrid-smelling smoke began to leak from the hatch. “Ho now, what’s that?”
“Prolly Mr. Hands an’ ’is grenades,” Sandara sighed.
“SANDARA!” Ezikial bellowed, staggering up onto the deck. He looked dazed.
“Oh good. He’s gone deaf,” Chopper said. “Twit.”
“THAT DIDN’T WORK RIGHT.”
From below, they could hear Rosie’s inventive swearing. She concluded with: “Welp, thass one wall that’ll ne’er bother anyone agin.”
“As long as it wasn’t an outside wall, we should be all right,” Reiko said.
“I MADE A HOLE IN THE DECK!” Ezikial bellowed helpfully.
“Feruzi wonders, if this goes on eventually we will have replaced every party of the ship. Is it, then, still the same ship?”
“Yes,” Reiko said. “Unless all parts are replaced at the same time.”
“SCORCH MARKS ADD CHARACTER!”
Reiko winced. “Sandara, if you would please . . .” With his hearing restored, Ezikial was much quieter.
After repairing the wall, Chopper resumed his place on deck and began messing around with his new magical spyglass. A column of smoke was revealed on the horizon—a pair of ships, side-by-side about two miles away. Cog turned the wheel slightly and they closed rapidly on the scene. A pirate brig named the Vorsfang was burning. The other ship was a single-masted Chelish naval cutter, the Famished Mane. Chelish marines were fitting slave collars on the surviving pirates and dragging them below.
“Well now,” Chopper mused. He pulled out a coin and flipped it. “Heads, the pirates. Tails the Chelish.” Then he caught the coin in mid-air with a sneer. “Take those devil-spawned bastards!”
“I don’t know why you even bothered flipping that coin. You already knew the correct answer,” Reiko said.
“For. The. Drama!”
“Dar, Insawa, let’s get the chain shot loaded first.” Ezikial barked.
Busy with their captives, the Chelaxians didn’t notice the far-from-stealthy Crisis until she lurched into grappling range. Ezikial was first over, his bullet punching right through a breastplate while he laughed at the blood. Chopper followed, swinging his axes. The Chelish marines quickly surrounded them, but they were driven back by a hail of arrows from Feruzi’s bow. Ezikial grinned at the marines and sketched an ironic bow, stepping to one side like a sniffy butler.
“Gentlemen, meet Reiko.” Unfortunately, their acquaintance was brief. But not entirely without incident. They located the captain, cowering behind the wheel, and she eagerly surrendered her vessel. Ezikial pointed his pistol at her, but Chopper shook an admonishing finger.
“Knock it off, Mister Hands. We get it. You’re extremely scary. Let’s see what we can do about all that burning instead.”
“Vorsfang still have a captain?!” Chopper called when they were all assembled on the deck of the Mane.
“Me, Captain,” a rough voice called. “Well, I’m the Captain now. Hkarogawa Saburo. We are in your debt.” The man had Tien features and subtly pointed ears.
“Duh,” Chopper said graciously. “Captain Chopper of Crisis.”
“I will vouch for this man, if I may have a moment to speak to him in private,” Reiko told him.
“Er… Hey, sure. Why not, eh?”
“Thank you Captain. By your leave then.” Reiko gestured for Saburo to follow her. They spoke quietly for some time, then Saburo and his crew swore loyalty to Chopper and departed for Tidewater Rock with the Chelaxian captain in the brig.
The Crisis sailed into the archipelago of small, nameless islands around Mancatcher Cove. The cove itself was easy to locate, piercing the eastern flank of the westernmost isle The islands were surrounded by nearly sheer rock cliffs with few beaches, and were buried under a shroud of prolific jungle growth. The Cove was almost perfectly round, the water a deep indigo. The jungle crew thickly atop the cliffs bordering the cove; massive jungle trees that spread their canopies over the bowl and shaded the water, giving it a cave-like quality.
“We may have best luck at sunrise, Captain,” Reiko suggested.
“Use the ballista to tear holes in the canopy letting the light in?” Feruzi offered.
“Nay. Weigh anchor. We’ll await sunrise, as Reiko suggested,” Chopper decided.
“Ship over there, Captain,” Ezikial alerted them as they settled down to wait. He pointed to one of the smaller islands off to the east.
“Good eye, Gunner. All hands, eyes sharp!” Chopper enthused. The farglass revealed a dark ship with black sails. He could not read her name, but the flag was definitely of pirate provenance. “Poachers, you reckon?”
“I think that was the Thresher, Captain. Belongs to Inkskin, that sorceress we gutted,” Ezikial told him.
“Fookin’ ‘ells. T’hell with this. Let’s get ’em.” They left the Cove behind to make for the Thresher, who eagerly joined the attack. Chain shot made a mess of the Thresher’s sails while Feruzi peppered the deck with arrows. Insawa fired the second ballista under Ezikial’s direction and the Thresher’s wheel exploded into splinters. The rest of the fight was decidedly one-sided, even the massive half-orc first mate unable to rally his pirates. When he fell, the rest promptly surrendered. Feruzi eyed them speculatively, remembering the carnage at Tidewater Rock.
“Put them in a boat and use them to test the Cove,” she said grimly.
“I like this idea,” Chopper told her. “Make it so.”
The Thresher crew were not happy at this idea, but Chopper made it clear enough they had no choice. They climbed into the Thresher’s boat and slowly made their way into the Cove, staring into the water and jumping at every shadow. All seemed calm. Then something struck the boat from below, forcing the bow up and nearly swamping it. It struck again and spilled the men into the water, where a trio of hammerhead sharks made short work of them.
“That…did not provide as much information as I hoped.”