Skull and Shackles

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.

“Feruzi is fine.”

“What were those things?” he demanded.

“Ugly,” was her deadpan response. Chopper rolled his eyes and went to check on Sandara, but the Besmaran cleric waved him away as well.

“Well, we should add them to our take, anyway,” he said, thwarted in his attempts at chivalry.

“That should bring an interesting expression to Plugg’s face,” Feruzi said.

They finished filling the final crab pot just in case, keeping an eye out for sharks or anything else that might be attracted by the blood. The full pots and lobster monsters were heavy, but working together they returned to the Wormwood without further incident. Plugg’s expression was, indeed, peculiar—he was pleased but trying not to show it, sending Caulky Tarroon to fetch the Captain. Harrigan himself appeared, examined their catch, and then his scarred face split in a wide grin.

“Reefclaw! This is e’en better than I thought.” He looked at Ezikial. “You an’ yours brought these in, aye?”

Ezikial blinked at being so addressed. “Aye, sir.” Harrigan clapped him on the shoulder and handed him a small vial full of reddish liquid.

“Good work, mate. Here, fer yer troubles. Mr. Plugg! Give these swabs the rest of the day off!”

Plugg hastily concealed an affronted glare. “Captain?” he asked, but Harrigan was already headed back to his cabin.

Sandara sidled up to Ezikial. “What did he give you?”

“Not sure,” he said.

“I’ll look at it below if you want.”

Reiko went back to the galley, but the others returned to their bunks, trying as best they could to dry out. Ezikial showed the vial to Sandara, who sniffed the liquid curiously, then grinned.

“This be a healing potion, about as good as any blessing I can call from the Pirate Queen. Congratulations.”

“That . . . that’s quite impressive.”

“Aye, but I’ll bet the Captain’s favor runs out long before Plugg’s anger.”

“Aye,” Ezikial agreed, accepting the vial back and secreting it in a handy pocket. Sandara lay down and was soon fast asleep, and was rather woozy when Chopper woke her to share the reefclaw Reiko brought down from the kitchen. The flesh was astonishingly tasty and made a fine meal.

* * *

The officers and most of the crew seemed in an unusually good mood. Feruzi overheard Grok talking to Fishguts about Peppery Longfarthing, the ship’s Sailing Master and resident sorcerer. Grok had some ribald opinions about Longfarthing’s exact relationship with the Captain, and was expressing them at some length. Fishguts shook his head, disagreeing. “Watcha want, Feruzi?” he asked, clearly looking for a diversion.

“Feruzi is somewhat curious, because Feruzi has a sister who is also a sorcerer.”

“Oh, izzat right? Mebbe I kin tell ‘er to come talk t’ ye when she’s gotta minute.”

“That would be much appreciated. Feruzi’s sister has gone missing, so she is, of course, anxious to learn more.”

“Ye don’t say. Nothin’ bad, I hope?”

Feruzi’s expression shifted ambivalently. “It could be, yes.” She wavered a bit more. “Perhaps not bad for anyone on this ship, but Ukele is . . . not lacking in malice.”

“Aye, I know th’ type. It’s the not knowin’ that’ll eatcha up inside.”

Feruzi made a sign with one hand, a Mwangi ward against unfriendly listeners. “I know little of her arts, not even how to protect myself.”

“Magic jist makes my poor head spin. Or is it the rum? Nah, it be the magic.”

“Ukele has talents beyond magic for getting her way.”

“Were ye lookin’ for her, then? Port Peril sure be a long way from home fer ye.”

She grimaced. “Feruzi was in Port Peril on account of Giacomo. Although she should be looking for Ukele. If it were not for this life-debt.”

“Ya-who?”

“Giacomo. Chopper.” She shrugged. “Feruzi lost the trail anyway, so there is little she can do.”

“Ah. Oh.” Fishguts said, blinking a bit. He shifted his ample stomach and continued expansively, “Well, I wouldn’t lose heart, lass. The Fever Sea’s vast an’ deep, but it kin sometimes be a very small place.”

“Knowing Ukele, far, far too small,” Feruzi said, looking sour. “The entire world might be too small.”

* * *

Sandara sidled up to Chopper after they’d finished eating. “Well hello, sailor.”

He smiled. “Ma’am.”

“Get a lady a drink? Or me, in the absence of any ‘ladies’?”

“If you like, although I do recommend against it,” he said, signaling Grok and her ever-ready bucket. Sandara downed the strong grog without much noticing.

“I’d say you an’ yours have more’n made up for lettin’ me down at the Formidably Maid,” she remarked in a teasing tone.

“Heh, well, I’m glad to hear that. I’d half-intended to join a pirate crew anyway. For . . . reasons . . .” he trailed off.

“Oh, yeah? The usual reasons, or somethin’ else?”

“Somethin’ else, assuredly,” he said quickly.

“Hey, mysterious. That works for me,” she said, poking him playfully in the side.

“Half-mad, you are.”

“The better half.”

“Seems so. A little madness keeps life . . . interesting.” Sandara continued to press for more information, but it became less subtle as her mug emptied and Chopper easily diverted her into inconsequential chatter.

* * *

Reiko looked up to see Ezikial fidgeting nearby. He spoke in Tian, awkwardly. “Will you now tell your story?”

She replied in the Taldane usually spoken aboard the ship. “Mr. Hands, you may speak in the common tongue if it is easier for you. My story begins about twenty years ago, if you truly desire to hear it.” He gave a vaguely affirmative grunt. “If it is only my reason for being here that you are interested in, then perhaps that is what you should inquire about.” Reiko waited, but he didn’t seem about to say more, so she continued. “The short and the long, though, is that I am searching for my brother, whom I have not seen for nearly six years, when he first left the islands.”

“Then why did you join this crew?” he asked, still in Tian.

“Mr. Hands, please, really, you must speak in Taldane. I would prefer it, actually. It is generally not wise to speak uncommon languages aboard pirate vessels on which you have no authority.” She waited, but he didn’t respond. “As for the why and how, Mr. Hands, I joined this crew of my own accord after speaking with Mr. Scourge on the docks of Port Peril, who supposedly had information on my brother. Keeping my effects was one of the few conditions I had before agreeing to join this crew.”

Ezikial finally gave up and reverted to Taldane, although it didn’t seem to help much. “Has he given you any information, then?”

“Surely not. If he were to give me information, he would have no reason to keep me on this ship any longer, and Mr. Scourge has no intention of keeping his promise to let me go when I want. He does, in fact, have the information, though. It is quite probable that the information he has is only second or third-hand, but it was a lead and I’d been in Port Peril far too long. Much like the ocean that moves and swirls, Mr. Hands, I must also keep moving. No one wants water that has been stagnant too long.”

“Then you’re not here because you really want to be here?”

“This is only one step on my journey, Mr. Hands.” She looked out over the water. “Somewhere on this sea, my brother is living his life. I just want to know that he is safe and has not lost his way or his mission.” She waited some more, but he appeared largely baffled by the exchange. “Have I answered all your questions, or would you like to know more? I really can tell you my story, but you may not get any sleep tonight.”

“One last one . . . are you always ‘standoffish’ like this, or is it me?”

“I wouldn’t particularly say that I’m standoffish. I’ve not had any friends or others to specifically rely on since I left home three years ago. I’ve had to depend only on myself. I am actually quite congenial, but I don’t generally go around spouting off my circumstances to complete strangers. If someone asks, I’ll share, because it is not a secret.”

“Understandable.” Ezikial cleared his throat, finding this conversation extremely taxing.

“So, if by standoffish, you mean ‘keep to yourself’, then yes, it’s me. I try to keep my nose clean and get along with everyone. People that don’t like you won’t give you the information you’re looking for, especially if you are rude to them. Mr. Hands, if I may be permitted the suggestion, perhaps you should get some more grog. It might help clear that frog out of your throat.”

Ezikial nodded and stepped away, not sure whether he’d gained anything or not. He found a corner to drink his grog ration and watch Feruzi talking with Rosie, Jack, and another woman he thought was named Samms. For someone so supposedly unfriendly, the Mwangi woman managed to gather quite a crowd.

* * *

The next day started pleasantly enough, bright and sunny, but before midmorning the sun was no longer pleasant and by the time noon crept around it was downright excruciating. Feruzi found herself assigned to the bilges, always disgusting but now plain hellish in the heat. When she crept back out to receive her dinner, she discovered a woman in a red suit, wide-brimmed black hat, and carrying a long staff approaching. Feruzi nodded politely.

“Mr. Kroop tells me that we have you and your friends to thank for last night’s repast. I salute you.”

“It was luck, mostly, although the reefclaws did put up quite a fight,” Feruzi replied. “Feruzi wished to speak with you because Feruzi’s sister is also a sorcerer, and wandering somewhere in this vicinity.”

Longfarthing’s eyebrow shot up. “Really? Do you know her bloodline, Miss . . .” her voice rose on a questioning note. Feruzi looked briefly baffled, then remembered some of Chopper’s quirks and pointed to herself.

“I am Feruzi. Ukele is my sister the sorcerer. She . . . I fear that I do not know what a ‘bloodline’ is.”

“That’s all right, it isn’t so important. What did you want to know?”

“Three things. One, if Ms. Longfarthing has any knowledge of ways to track sorcerers. Two, if she . . . you, that is, pardon me, if you know anything about protecting against malicious sorcery, and third, where Fer . . . I might search for someone who is after sorcerous power.” Longfarthing frowned, considering, and Feruzi added, “Wherever wealth and power is to be had, that is where Ukele will be. Likely with a deathgrip upon it.”

“A diviner might be able to track your missing sister. My own magic is too . . . elemental for that application. There are wards that can protect against magic. I had an amulet that kept diviners from finding my location, once. Lost it in a card game about three years ago.”

“It is good to know such things exist,” Feruzi offered.

“Depending on your sister’s talents, there are many who might seek to recruit her. Every Free Captain wants a spellcaster on her ship, even the ones that ARE spellcasters.”

Feruzi nodded. “Feruzi thanks you for this information. One last thing . . . is there any possibility that Feruzi might learn these sorcerous arts?”

Longfarthing shrugged. “Sorcery runs in the blood, so it is not learned so much as born. But anything is possible.”

Feruzi bowed. “Your generosity is extreme. Should you require, Feruzi stands ready to render assistance.”

Longfarthing nodded. “I shall remember that.” Feruzi sighed and relief and wiped the sweat from her forehead. She walked over to where Chopper was talking to the ship’s other halfling, named Rattline. It sounded like Chopper was encouraging the tiny man to pursue Rosie, but Rattline was having none of it.

“Woman like that can do better’n a rat like me,” he insisted. “Not that I ain’t thought about it, though.”

“If you say so,” Chopper replied. “It just seemed, well, you’re a storyteller, she’s a musician. Might be a chance there.” Ezikial tapped his shoulder abruptly.

“Hmm?” Mr. Hands pointed pointed with his chin across the deck, to where Reiko was addressing the two deck officers.

“Mr. Plugg, Mr. Scourge, might I have a word with the two of you?”

“Oh, no,” Chopper mouthed silently.

“Regarding?” Plugg asked coolly.

“Regarding something Mr. Scourge told me before I boarded this ship.”

Plugg actually looked amused. “Oh, really?”

“Yes. I would prefer, however, to speak with just the two of you,” Reiko said, glancing meaningfully at their usual crowd of hangers-on. Plugg waved them away.

“Very well. What is this about?”

Reiko looked Scourge up and down, seemingly in no hurry. “Mr. Scourge, you really should relax a bit. Would you like me to call Ms. Grok and have her bring some more rum for you?” Scourge began to spit out something uncouth, but Plugg glared at him and he accepted the grog with poor grace. Reiko smiled disarmingly. “Mr. Plugg, prior to accepting my agreement to join the Wormwood’s crew, Mr. Scourge described a certain person to me, as if he’d met the person himself. I, of course, made the assumption that I would be able to find out more information when I joined the crew. I do know, full well, that Mr. Scourge has no intention of keeping his end of this bargain. The point is, even if he didn’t have first-hand information, he got it from somewhere. So I figured the best person to ask would be you, Mr. Plugg.”

It took Plugg a few moments to decipher this, while he looked at Reiko somewhat askance. “Which person is that, Reiko-san?”

“My brother, Nakayama Tatsumi. I want to know how Mr. Scourge knows of my brother, even if it is only to give me the person who gave him the information.”

Plugg turned to look at the Boatswain, who wiped his mouth irritably.

“Yeah, I seen him.”

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