Skull and Shackles

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.”

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.

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.

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.

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.

Interlude: The Troublemakers
In Which a Course Is Set.

23 Sarenith, 4712 AR

Captain Plugg glanced up from his desk as his crew squeezed into the captain’s cabin. His loyal crew, his real crew. Even the two Rahadoumi he’d recruited from the Man’s Promise were more trustworthy than the troublemakers they’d picked up in Port Peril…

Owlbear shifted out of their way, chains rattling as he settled back down on the leeward side of the mast. Plugg could no longer count no the hulking brute to defend him, especially from Feruzi. At least the clanking of his chains might be enough to wake him, if knives came for him in his sleep.

Master Scourge came in last, closing and locking the door behind him. “It’s done, Cap’n,” the rail-thin man announced.

“Good.” Plugg steepled his fingers, allowing himself to think that maybe this would work, after all. “Do the others suspect anything?”

Scourge shook his head. “They was all fast asleep down below. Aretta here kept real close watch on ‘em. Ne’er made a peep.” The ex-harlot grinned from one big ear to the other, nodding her agreement.

“And our two guests in the officer’s quarters?”

“The same,” said Badger Medlar.

“Then we should make the Slithering Coast in a few days, as long as the wind stays with us.” Plugg cracked the knuckles on his left hand, then his right. “And once we’re there, we can rid ourselves of our crew’s more troublesome members.”

Narwhal Tate spoke up: “You mean let ‘em walk? Or…” The dwarf mimed dragging a blade across his own neck.

“Oh, Mister Tate. Surely you’ve seen how formidable they are in a fair fight.”

“Didn’t say nothin’ about a fair fight, Cap’n sir.”

Plugg chuckled. “Of course not. But we barely have enough sailors to crew this ship as it is. Assuming you could send them to Besmara’s locker right now, it would only make your jobs more difficult. Better to wait until we reach Rickety, and see if we can resolve this peacefully.”

The captain’s words didn’t rest well with anyone, but that was the point. Make them hunger for it, Plugg thought. It will make the end of this dance all the sweeter. “For now, we stay the course. Get some rest, you scurvy tars. Dismissed.”

The crew filed out, save for the lingering first mate. “What is it, Master Scourge?”

Scourge closed the door. “Permission t’ speak freely, Cap’n sir.”

Interlude: Girl Talk

Posted by Jennifer, from a conversation with Darth Krzysztof

23 Sarenith, 4712 AR

Plugg was nothing if not predictable, Sandara thought to herself as she crept around the bowels of their new ship. “Puts ever-body he don’ like on the nastiest jobs, like it’ll matter.” She passed the bilges hatch and stopped in surprise at some loud banging and scraping noises, not usual for even the worst bilges in operation. The racket abruptly ceased, replaced by some incomprehensible yelling. Sandara peeked down the ladder and found Feruzi armpit-deep in the pump workings.

“Man alive, I dunno that language, but I know a swear when I hears one,” she said, hoping it came across companionably. She liked the Mwangi woman but didn’t have a solid feel for her reactions yet.

“No need for you to be down here, friend, I can handle it. Though Feruzi would not be averse to a cup of water.”

“That, I kin do. Be right back.” The clanging (and swearing) resumed while Sandara filled a small bucket from the fresh water barrel and grabbed two tin cups. Feruzi accepted a cup and swallowed deeply.

“Ahh, that is better. This would not be nearly such a difficult job if they kept the equipment in order,” she added with asperity.

Interlude: The Compass Rose

Posted by Darth Krzysztof, from a conversation with DarkRose16

23 Sarenith, 4712 AR

When she was sure everyone else was sound asleep, Leila al-Zahra slid from her hammock and crept aft to the galley door, barefoot and on tiptoe, her every muscle sore with the day’s exertion. She was no stranger to hard work on the Man’s Promise, and had even worked her rigging before, but never with a slave driver like Mr. Plugg watching her every move, eager to rub her nose in every mistake.

How doubly fortunate for her that Chopper had been there to show her the ropes, as it were. She surely would have been flayed to shreds at the Bloody Hour if not for his help. Indeed, were it not for Chopper, she wouldn’t be alive at all. What manner of gratitude could she show him that would begin to speak to what she owed him?

Focus, Leila told herself. You have a job to do.

The door creaked open at her touch. Leila winced, but when no one stirred, she slipped into the galley, knocking a tin cup from the counter as she passed through the door. She reached out to catch it, but it bounced off her fingers and clattered to the floor.

“Stupid,” she hissed at herself in Osiriani. “Clumsy.” She blamed Plugg; if he hadn’t worked her to exhaustion, she’d be quiet as a shadow. The sound of loud snoring came from the open doorway to port; that had to be the ship’s cook. Leila couldn’t imagine such a din coming from the cook’s mate, nor could she imagine how anyone could sleep in the same room with it…

A lone hooded lantern lit the room, aided by half-moon light streaming in from a starboard porthole. The pirates had restocked the stores for the journey to Port Peril. Things were much more organized than they’d been when this had been Sadira’s space; that, too, was probably the cook’s mate’s doing. Leila couldn’t remember the Tian woman’s name, for her thoughts lingered on Sadira. A woman so lovely and talented deserved better than slavery on the Wormwood, crafting meals for that monster Harrigan…


Session 8: Dangerous Reefs

Posted by: Jennifer

Ezikial spent their second day aboard the Promise swabbing the deck, a chore he engaged in diligently even though it seemed a poor use of his skills. He never objected to even the hardest work aboard a ship—all proper ship work seemed right to him, somehow, and did not grate on his nerves the way it did other people. He was just settling into his pace when Reiko staggered by, burdened with a load of sea turtles. Her grasp slipped as she turned to edge past and she wound up dumping the entire batch nearly at his feet.

“So sorry,” she muttered, trying to chivvy the turtles back into a heap.

“Help her, fool,” a voice grated, and Ezikial glanced up to receive an imperious gesture from Mr. Scourge. Shrugging, he picked up several by their tails and helped Reiko ferry them to the galley. He couldn’t have been gone more than a minute or two, but by the time he returned to the deck it was smeared with two dozen filthy bootprints. He blinked at the mess for a moment, slightly dazzled by the laughable childishness, then began cleaning the same patch of deck for the second time.

Interlude: A Slow Burn

Posted by Gurtchmann

It was too much… too much to bear without a word.

It would have been tolerable to be lashed for the trumped up charge of Failure to Perform Satisfactorily; it would not have been the first time he’d been whipped at sea. Even knowing that it was only for Plugg’s vanity was tolerable and could be taken in stride. But the disposal of his whiskey and then the brandy, a gift from a true shipmate, all on the word of a self-important lack wit like Plugg was almost too much. Only the thought of the repercussions to his shipmates, and his remaining stash of fine whiskey, the gift of a woman likely to understand him, kept him from drawing and shooting the self important jackanapes that was Plugg on the damn spot.

But, damn him, the letter for Chopper. Ezikial cursed himself for a fool for not hiding the damn thing better. He should have guessed that he’d be searched for “contraband alcohol” and the letter found. Plugg, being what he was, would read it and make mock of it to be sure, and mayhap make trouble for Sandara and Chopper along the way…all to feed his festering ego.

When Plugg called all the crew to bear witness to his mockery, the adrenaline surge very nearly made Ezikial sober enough to lose his grip.

It had been years since had last lost control. The last time was in Cheliax, when a dockworker made too many unwelcome advances towards a female crewmember, and then actually laid hands upon her. Ezikial had vague memories of reloading his pistol several times, turning the fellow’s skull into mush and skinning the remains. That had resulted in a lashing and a discharge from the Seafire, for use of “Excessive Force”.

Reading the letter out loud to the crew and mocking Sandara and Chopper had just lit Ezikial’s fuse.

Thankfully, Chopper was able to choke out some words that kept Ezikial from going off half-cocked “You’re a real son of a bitch, you know that? A true rotter.”
When Plugg replied: "I’ve heard that said, yes. But it takes a son of a bitch to manage a gang of cutthroats like this,” it was too much to bear silently and Ezikial spoke beyond his normal terseness.

“Sadly, you are mistaken, sir. I, at least would have worked with a will and willingly if you had any idea how to lead men.”


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