Posted by: Jennifer
Chopper walked across the chartroom and booted Reiko’s door until she appeared. Fishguts bustled in behind him, carrying breakfast. “What do we know about Tessa Fairwind?”
“She is captain of the Luck of the Draw and one of the most popular pirate lords on the Council. Some say she is next in line for the Hurricane Crown,” Reiko said. “Captain Bloodmourne is part of her fleet.”
“Ye’re movin’ up in th’ world, Cap’n,” Fishguts said, peering at the note.
“Well, I guess I could head over. In . . . huh, three hours? I slept that late? Well, rustle up Feruzi and Ezikial then.”
“Feruzi hasna come back yet, Cap’n.”
“No? Well then fetch my Concho. Can’t go unattended.”
Tessa Fairwind’s dwelling turned out to be a very pleasant townhouse overlooking the harbor. Someone with a deft hand had seen to it that while rich and tasteful, the ornamentation stopped short of opulent display, a restraint unusual among pirates. Conchobar, acting the part of retainer, rang the bell and announced them, passing on the invitation. They walked through a little garden courtyard and into the house, ending in the dining room in front of a large bay window.
“Nice,” Chopper remarked. "There’s just something about dining halls that overlook the sea.
Tessa Fairwind was a slender woman with long red hair worn in a neat braid with a jaunty tricorne perched atop it; her clothes were a similar mix of practicality and fashionable finery. She had a refined, delicate beauty and pointed ears, speaking of elven ancestry and most notable when she smiled. “Isn’t there just? I’m Captain Tessa Fairwind. I welcome you to my home.”
“A pleasure. Captain Chopper, First Mate Nakayama Reiko, Gunner Ezikial Hands, and Conchobar Turlach Shortstone at your service.”
“Ma’am,” Ezikial grated out while Reiko bowed formally. Conchobar seemed to be radiating delight.
“Please, sit. Have an aperitif.” The liquor cabinet on the sidebar was extensive, even containing Tian sake. “Dinner should be ready soon. I congratulate you on being named Free Captains.”
“Thank you,” Chopper said.
“I’m sorry I couldn’t be there last night, but I had a prior engagement. Tell me, what do you know of the current political situation in the Shackles?”
“Bonefist don’t seem terribly popular, I noted,” Chopper offered cautiously.
“I think it’s fair to say that Kerdak’s hold on the Council and the Free Captains isn’t as strong as it once was.”
“Well, he’s been at it almost two score. S’gotta be exhausting.”
“I imagine so, yes. That is why I don’t want the crown.”
“That’s like to disappoint a number of . . . fans.”
Tessa laughed. “Hard to follow the wind and tides with an anchor that big, though, wouldn’t you say?”
“True enough. Would it be too forward to ask who you would like to see at the helm of this mess of cutthroats and scallywags?”
“That, I don’t know. I haven’t given it much thought, but Kerdak’s days are likely numbered and the time is coming when I’ll have to give it a LOT of thought. Let me ask you something else, if I may.”
Chopper waved his assent.
“Have you heard anything new about Cheliax’s designs on the Shackles?” A bell rang and a servant entered the room. “Dinner, madam.” Tessa waved and the food was served while Chopper considered her question.
“I had not, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t interested in learning more. I’m Sargavan, you see.”
“I thought you might be. Cheliax’s hatred of the pirate isles is nothing new, of course, but lately there have been rumors of another Chelish invasion.”
Chopper frowned, rubbing his chin. “Is that a fact.”
“That would be quite troublesome all around,” Reiko said.
“It is only a rumor thus far, but I want to know for sure; whoever wears the Hurricane Crown shouldn’t be doing it as the newest annex of the Empire. I think it IS true, but I need solid proof to put before the Council and the King to garner united action.”
“I could not agree more.”
“Good. Maybe you can help me, then.”
“I’m hoping so, aye.”
“Since you are resourceful newcomers and independent of any pirate lord, you have a good chance of uncovering information. So I offer you the chance to ally with me and join my fleet… only, you know, in secret. I don’t want it known immediately that I’m investigating these rumors.”
Chopper smirked. “Sounds devious. I’ll have to consult with my crew.” He glanced back at them for a full second, then turned toward Captain Fairwind. “We’re in.”
“That, I believe, goes without saying,” Reiko said.
“I have a good feeling about this,” Chopper said.
“Sir?” Ezikial asked.
“What is it, Mister Hands?”
“I urge you to reconsider joining her fleet, Captain. An ally, I can understand.”
“We fought hard to become free of other’s commands, Captain. We can work with her, but I do not care for her to command you.”
“It won’t be like that, Mr. Hands,” Tessa insisted.
“Truly, you will be left to your own devices. I am not running a navy or anything. We are pirates.”
“Even so, if we join your fleet, we’ll be honor-bound to comply with your orders, ma’am. If we ally with you, we may make our own choices.”
“I think you’re missing a key term here, Mister Hands,” Chopper said. “Allow me to reiterate: pirate.”
“If you need time to think about it, I understand,” Tessa said.
“Our interests coincide. We shall be happy to avail ourselves of your resources
-on the sly, of course-and produce what is to our mutual benefit. Does that satisfy everyone?” Chopper asked, looking pointedly at Ezikial.
“Aye aye, Captain.”
“Don’t fret, Mister Hands. If we come to regret the arrangement, you have my word that I will allow only you to shoot me for this decision. Fair?” Ezikial only glared in response to Chopper’s teasing.
“So, Captain Fairwind, how is Captain Bloodmourn these days?” Reiko asked.
“Very well, Nakayama-san. She’s recently joined the Pirate Council herself.” Tessa smiled. “I knew I remembered you from somewhere.”
“It was an honor to work for her.”
“Find the truth of these rumors for me, and you’ll have my gratitude and friendship.” The servants returned to clear away the plates and serve dessert. Tessa sampled the fruit and cream concoction. "I am convinced that Cheliax has agents in our midst and I can think of only two places that might have some knowledge of these traitorous informers. The first is the House of Stolen Kisses in Quent, a temple of Calistria and one of the best information brokerages in the Shackles. Use this note to obtain an audience with the temple’s high priestess, Dindreann. The second is the Temple of the Hidden Name, a secret house of Norgorber said to operate in the town of Beachcomber on Bag Island. If anyone knows of these spies, it would be the followers of the Reaper of Reputation. I have no contacts with the priests of that temple, so I hope you can convince them to reveal what they know.”
“I’ve met Ms. Dindreann a couple times. She is an interesting person.” Reiko said.
“One of my dearest friends.” Tessa waved her hand and a servant approached with a fine watertight case. She opened it to withdraw several highly detailed nautical charts. “These are Charts of the Fair Winds. Take them with my blessing.”
“Those are beautifully drawn. We’ll make very good use of them. Thank you for your generosity,” Reiko told her, accepting the maps.
“I’d offer you a pennant to fly to signify our allegiance, but…. maybe not yet.”
“Heh. We’ll win you over. Don’t worry,” Chopper told her.
“I look forward to it. Anyway, it’s getting late, and I’m sure you have preparations to make.”
“Aye. Again, thank you for this . . . opportunity.”
“I’m sure you’ll make the most of it, Captain Chopper.”
“That we will. We are grateful for your hospitality. Please tell Captain Bloodmourn that I said hello when next you see her,” Reiko said, standing.
“I certainly will.”
They returned to the Crisis shortly after sunset, discovering Feruzi on board, slowly and laboriously going over supply lists.
“Hi, Ruse. How goes the . . . work?” Chopper asked casually.
“You should let Grok do that,” Ezikial told her.
“Grok already did this. I am checking it. It would probably be faster the other way, but Grok cannot read Feruzi’s ‘atrocious’ handwriting.” She scraped at the parchment with her pen, causing a large blot. “Damnation!”
“Sooo, how did it go?” Fishguts asked. “She as pretty as I hear?”
“Pretty good. Making friends. Influencing people. The usual. Gonna check into some nasty rumors about a Chelaxian invasion.”
Reiko took the charts up to Leila, who cooed over them appreciatively. Feruzi frowned. “Chelaxian invasion of what? I thought they had a treaty with the Shackles? I know I’ve heard you cussing about it at least once.”
Chopper shrugged. “Might be they don’t want to do things that way any more.”
“They do seem more like people who want to be in charge instead of relying on allies.”
Fishguts grumbled. “Ain’t that the truth, Miss Feruzi.”
“So . . . where are we going, then?”
“Quent first. That’ll be the easy part,” Chopper said.
“Perhaps you should address the crew—inspire them with your ideals. They’re going to need it if we go up against the Chelish navy again.”
“You’re right, of course. By the way, we’ve secretly joined Fairwind’s fleet. "
Reiko shook her head. “You probably should not announce that until after we’ve left port, Captain.”
Chopper waved her off. “Pirates and politics. The situation is fluid.”
“So,” Feruzi asked, “we’ve joined her, or she’s joined us?” She grinned. “Knowing you, she thinks it’s the former but it is actually the latter.”
A fair two-day sail brought the Crisis to the lively port of Quent, making landfall on the 22nd of Arodus. The summer was winding to a close. “It feels like forever since I was last here,” Reiko remarked as they made their way toward the House of Stolen Kisses, trailing most of the crew behind them. The reason became obvious when a scantily-clad Sargavan acolyte greeted them just inside the door.
“Welcome, Lords and Ladies.”
“A pleasure,” Chopper quipped.
“Oh yes, milord, we have that in abundance.” Reiko bowed her neck to the acolyte, causing Feruzi to roll her eyes. “How may we serve you?”
“We’re here to see Dindreann, actually.” Chopper presented Tessa’s letter.
“Very good, milord. Please, follow me.” Feruzi gestured to the crew that they were free to look around and amuse themselves, then followed after Reiko and Ezikial. They passed a number of curtained rooms that leaked intriguing noises before reaching the chambers of the temple’s high priestess, Dindreann.
“Come in,” she purred. A tall, spectacularly gorgeous woman, she wore gold and black, even her long hair tinted to match. When she moved, an amazing length of exquisitely turned ankle, leg, and even thigh showed through the slit in her gown. Refreshments were offered and instantly accepted by Chopper.
“Why does this drink have a tiny parasol in it?” Feruzi asked, mystified.
“In case it rains.”
“It’s made out of paper, though.”
“A light rain, then. Just drink it, woman.”
“So, what service may I render to associates of my dearest friend Tessa?”
“Cheliax.” Chopper said.
“Could you be a bit more specific, Mister . . .”
“Captain,” Chopper, Reiko, and Feruzi said simultaneously. Chopper beamed delightedly. Reiko’s face went inscrutable. Feruzi rolled her eyes.
“Captain Chopper. And yes, I can. Have you any word of any of that nation’s … agents active in the Shackles?”
“I cry your pardon, Captain Chopper,” Dindreann said, bowing her head modestly and looking up at him through ridiculously long lashes. “Yes, the House of Stolen Kisses has leads on such information. Many people share their secrets with our sacred prostitutes in the heat of passion.”
“Pleasure often comes at the cost of wisdom, yes.”
“More often than not. But those secrets are shared in confidence, of course, so the temple cannot simply give them away for free.”
“Of course not. That would offend the goddess. I am not without some measure of piety, though. How might we serve the temple?”
“A ship owned by our temple, the Lady’s Sting, recently went missing. My divinations have revealed that the ship was attacked by a group of pirates who deliberately lure ships into danger so they can salvage the cargoes of the wrecked ships.”
“Dirty even for pirates.”
“Piracy is a fact of life in the Shackles, but the Lady’s Sting was carrying a relic sacred to my faith—a figurine of a wasp called the Golden Vespal.”
“And you wish the relic recovered. This we can do.”
“Yes. And if you exact our right to vengeance from the wreckers, so much the better.”
Chopper grinned over his shoulder at Ezikial. “Do you hear that, Mister Hands?”
“Aye, sir. I’ll get to shoot someone.”
“Won’t you just. And to think, you didn’t want to do this.” Chopper chuckled. “Any notion as to where the ship was lost?”
“She was bound for Beachcomber, on Bag Island, but she never arrived.”
“How long ago did your ship leave port?” Reiko asked.
“Three weeks now.”
“Anything else recognizable in that cargo?” Feruzi suggested.
“A mithral dagger set with aquamarines. A gift I’d intended for a lover. Little else that is distinctive. Certainly nothing else I want back.”
“Ah. Well, if we can recover that as well, we will. Right?”
“Of course,” Chopper confirmed.
“I would be most grateful.”
Feruzi stood up. “Seems like we should be on our way, then.”
The next day, they sailed for Beachcomber, arriving early the following morning on the ebb of the tide. Bag Island was home to the largest population of halflings in the Shackles and Beachcomber was their rowdiest port.
“Now, the hard part. We’ve got to somehow find the Temple of the Hidden Name, said to operate in the town—secretly.”
“It wouldn’t do for us to walk about just asking whomever outright about it,” said Reiko.
“We could ask Rosie for advice,” Feruzi suggested.
Chopper grinned. “That’s profiling. But yes, let’s. Rosie?”“I’m from Port Peril, Cap’n. I dunno Bag Island from the Hells themselves.”
“Shite. Well, there’s nothin’ for it. We send Leila. She knows from subtle, right?”
Reiko blinked. “Captain? Perhaps you’ll let me go out for a bit in search of the information we’re looking for?” When Chopper looked dubious, she tried again. “Or the both of us separately. Or all of us all at once.”
“I feel like you lack the subtlety required for this assignment.”
“Would you like to test that theory?” Reiko challenged.
“No. Hence, Leila.”
The navigator shook her head gently. “I shall return when I have something, Captain.” Less than an hour later, she returned with a lead to a warehouse in the Lurker District. “I can lead you there whenever you’re ready.”
Chopper grins. “I was born ready.”
It was surprisingly easy to gain admittance; they were met by a halfling dressed in the black clothing of an indentured servant to an aristocratic household. His mask gave him a round cherub face. “Please, great masters, enter peacefully. I am Slip. Tell me, why have you come to the Temple of the Hidden Name?”
“Lookin’ to root out Chelaxian spies in the Shackles,” Chopper replied. “Thought maybe you might’ve heard somethin’ about it.”
“The Reaper of Reuptation knows much that is hidden, my lord, but, as I’m sure you know, secrets always have a price.”
“The Temple of the Hidden Name deals in information; secrets are our currency. To learn one of my secrets you must give me a secret in exchange. Fortunately, there is information we are seeking.”
“Then I think this’ll work out nicely fer us both.”
“A famous ship called the Brine Banshee disappeared several months ago. She was said to have been one of the fastest ships in the Shackles, with unparalleled steering for a vessel her size. Many believed that several potent spells were woven into the ship. If you can find out what happened to the Brine Banshee and discover the secret of her unprecedented speed and maneuverability, then we can do business.”
Reiko frowned. “Was that the ship that disappeared west of Shark Island after leaving Ollo?”
Slip nodded. “Was there anything else you wished to know?” Everyone stared blankly for several seconds, then Reiko kicked Feruzi surreptitiously and whispered something. Feruzi blinked.
“Do you track people at all? Individuals?” Feruzi asked.
“We have been known to on occasion.”
“There is a person I would like to locate—my sister. She is a Mwangi sorceress named Ukele. Perhaps you know her whereabouts.”
“That name is not known to me, my lady, but I will see what my brothers and sisters can tell me.”
“One more thing: any wreckers been sleazin’ about of late?” Chopper asked.
“Many such groups operate in the Shackles, my lord.”
“Captain, I already have an idea where we may begin out search on that matter,” Reiko told him.
“This’n would’ve taken a ship carrying relics of Calistria,” Chopper pressed.
Slip nodded.“Yes, I have knowledge of one crew that claimed to have successfully attacked a Calistrian vessel.”
“What’d the price of that morsel be, eh?”
“I would be willing to part with this knowledge for a small donation to our temple, unless you have another secret you’d care to trade for it.”
“Do you know of the pirate Soshimira?” Reiko asked.
“Yes, milady. The Captain of the Dragon’s Dishonour.”
“Would information about him be of use to you?”
“He and his ship disappeared years ago.” Slip considered for a moment. “Yes. This is of interest to the Temple of the Hidden Name. Please, my lady. Tell me what you know.”
“He fathered two children, both of whom are also pirates. His son is the captain of his own vessel under another respected pirate. His daughter is a named a Free Pirate, herself. Soshimira has been confirmed to be dead.”
“And how did he die?”
“I do not know how he originally died, but his head was found in a sealed glass jar.”
“I see. Yes, this is worthy.”
“The wreckers you seek are led by a half-orc wizard named Vakarla. They operate from a hidden island base, somewhere southeast of the Rampore Isles.”