Skull and Shackles: Tides of Fortune

Interlude: Clothes Make the Woman

“Are you well, Lady?” Feruzi asked.

Lady Agasta seemed to give this some consideration. “Well enough, considering. I’m still alive, unlike poor Royster.”

“You were very fond of him?”

“Of course. I think his loyalty was all that kept me going, sometimes.”

Feruzi frowned. “He seemed . . . fond of you. More than fond.”

Agasta smiled sadly. “Yes. I know.”

“Then why didn’t you marry him? Why marry Chopper instead?” The frown deepened. “Why marry anyone?”

Agasta cocked an eyebrow at this series of questions. “Is something bothering you, my dear?”

“Marriage seems such a troublesome matter. Feruzi is only here because her sister Ukele ran away from it—ran away from it twice—and caused a mess of troubles. That, and no man in the village would have Feruzi for a wife, so she was available to do the chasing. Now Captain Pegsworthy is sending Feruzi gifts that make no sense. Why all this . . . this trouble.”

Agasta’s chuckle was deep, resonant, and cultured. “Exactly how old are you, dear?”

Feruz bristled. “What does that have to do with anything?”

“Humor me.”

“Feruzi has nineteen summers, if it matters. Ukele has only sixteen, but every man in the village was after her like a pack of dogs after a bitch in heat.”

“Oh, how very flattering.”

Interlude: How the Strife Was Won

Posted by Jennifer

“Run us over starboard a bit! I said starboard! STARBOARD!!!” Pyxes bellowed. Ionni hastily reversed the rudder, but it was too late—the newly-renamed Strife crunched to a halt on the gravel. "Ye silly bitch, don’t ye know what starboard means?!

“I be knowing yer words full well, ye yam-blasted scummat, but wich way be I turnin yon thingy?”

WHAT did you call me?!” the half-orc oarsman demanded. The drekar rocked violently as he struggled to get to her past the other crew. Ionni shrank back at first, but she sensed the disdain from the other remnants of Svard’s crew at her display of weakness. Her eyes narrowed as she sought backup. Pellal was solid, as always, and Kuun could be relied upon not to back down from a fight. The other two former slaves were unknown quantities. Salmonix was temperamentally unstable, a combination of his elvish ancestry and long indenture; he was the only one among them who was born a slave. That left Vrinege, the Mwangi pygmy. Even her facial expressions were indecipherable. She sat in the rigging with the halfling triplets from Svard’s crew, Knotte, Knoose, and Knobbe. Ionni glanced at them and was surprised to see Vrinege grinning widely and the halflings making surreptitious gestures of encouragement. It made sense, though—Pyxes was the largest of the oarsmen and appeared to lack any vestige of a sense of humor.

Heartened, Ionni straightened up and unleashed a torrent of abuse. “I called ye yam-blasted, ye lank-haired, slime-breasted, rot-breathed turd o’ a scurvy rat! E’en the fleas won’t bite yer filthy carcass, ye spindle-shanked, cork-eared, limp-knobbed blighter! Ye . . .”

“I’LL KILL YOU!!!” Pyxes bellowed and charged across the remaining deck. Ionni ducked and Pellal stuck out a foot, tripping the half-orc, who went over the side. Pyxes grabbed Pellal as he went down and they fell overboard together. Ionni jumped on the struggling men and began viciously kicking any part of Pyxes that was available. In seconds the melee became general, with the other oarsmen rushing to Pyxes aid. They never reached him, however; the sail came down and flattened them to the deck.

“What are they doing?” Reiko muttered, taking out the spyglass she’d inherited now that Chopper had a magical one. She watched as the assorted oarsmen of the beached Strife squirmed their way out from under the sail, only to be met at the edge by a halfling and forced to surrender or be skewered. By the look of it, no one was inclined toward the skewering option. Once they were all subdued, the dark-skinned little pygmy hopped up on a rock and addressed the group with a broad grin and a number of expressive gestures. The oarsmen exchanged baffled looks. Vrinege gestured emphatically. One of the oarsmen got to her feet, took two steps, made a grab toward the pygmy and was instantly on the ground, writhing in pain. Vrinege addressed the other oarsmen again. Emphatic head-shaking.

Herding the large, muscular brutes like a cattle-dog, Vrinege got the Strife back into the water, got the sail replaced, and without further incident the patrol around Tidewater Rock resumed. It was a good thing, too—the mast of the Crisis was repaired and it was time for her to set out again. Vrinege would make a good person to leave in charge of defending the island in her absence.

Session 20: Legendary Loot

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.

Interlude: Ezikial Hands, Journeyman Therapist
In Which we Learn that Besmara Has a Sense of Humor

Posted by Gurtchmann

Ezikial stood beside Captain Chopper, looking as intimidating as he could. Despite his desire to slaughter the captain of the Famished Mane, he left her be and watched the crew instead.

When Reiko took the man, Saburo, aside to speak to him, Ezikial noticed Leila watching them intently. She glanced away and saw him watching her and she turned, heading to the officer’s quarters of the Crisis. Thinking that it may be an issue of concern to the ship, Ezikial followed, still bloodied from the wounds he had taken. Catching up to her inside the cabin, he dropped his scowl and aggressive posture. “Leila, what is it?”

She glanced at him and then away. “It’s nothing, Mr. Hands. I’m all right, or I will be.”

This seems less like a “ship’s problem” and more like a personal one, he thought, but it would be better if I found out for sure. "Tell me,” he said, trying to soften his usual roughness. When she hesitated, he continued, “It isn’t as if I speak so much that I would spill your secrets. And you have become a shipmate.”

She paused for a moment and seemed to warm to the idea, then spoke: “I don’t know if you can. I don’t know if anybody can.”

Session 21: Vines and Skulls

Posted by Jennifer

Once again, the waters of the cove were still—oddly still, considering the north wind was beginning to pick up, heralding another child-storm broken off from the Eye of Abendego. Clouds streaked the sky.

“So… Okay, I feel bad about that now,” Chopper commented, casting a wary eye at the weather.

“I feel like that might have been more productive at sunrise, Captain,” Reiko admonished.

Chopper emitted some unintelligible mumbles that ended with, “So’s your face.”

“All due respect, Cap’n, that don’t make sense,” Cochobar told him.

“It always makes sen . . . Oh, nevermind. For what it’s worth, I’m thinking the guardian monster ain’t tied to the sunrise. Just seein’ the Relevant Bit so we know where to climb.”

“Possibly, but it’s pretty dark in the cove any time during the day and night, except sunrise to probably around late morning. Who knows what the cove will look like during the morning hours?” Reiko pressed.

“Who ever heard of a guardian monster that’s afraid of the dark?” Chopper demanded.

“Afraid of the light, you mean,” Feruzi corrected.

“No, I said it right.”

“Sadly, you meant it wrong.”

“I didn’t mean to suggest that it was afraid of the dark, only that it will be much, much, MUCH easier for us to see when the sunlight is shining directly in there,” Reiko continued, beginning to get aggravated.

Session 22: Dat Booty

Posted by: Jennifer

“That is—rather disturbing,” Feruzi said at last. Reiko frowned, evidently thinking hard, her expression inscrutable. She put the jar with its gruesome contents away for safekeeping and stood.

“Shall we continue on?” Chopper shrugged at Reiko and they continued their journey through the watery tunnels. They followed the cross-tunnel south, arriving at a small chamber on the left hand with numerous organic filaments running from floor to ceiling like squishy columns. Fist-sized pink ovoids were attached to these columns, bobbing gently in the current. Feruzi grimaced at the sight.

“It is going to turn out that Wolfe’s treasure was his collection of weird plants, isn’t it.”

“It’s lookin’ a lot like that,” Chopper agreed.

“Captain, there’s something in there. I can hear it moaning,” Ezikial said. They moved cautiously into the cavern, Feruzi taking the rear and flinching away from the gelatinous protrusions. On close inspection the ovoids were slightly translucent, revealing small tadpole forms inside.

“Is this some kind of sahuagin . . . hatchery?” Feruzi demanded.

“No,” Reiko said. "They’re locathah. They’re kind of like rivals to the sahuagin . . . usually. “I’m not sure how or why they’d be breeding down here with the sahuagin.”

The moaning turned out to be coming from a fishlike humanoid—a locathah—chained to the wall at the back of the cave. Someone had removed the creature’s legs and crudely stitched up the stumps. It seemed oblivious to its surroundings.

Interlude: On Magic

Posted by: Jennifer

Genzei was a maze. Feruzi surveyed the narrow, winding streets that fed off the docks with considerable trepidation. In theory, it wasn’t any more foreign to her than any other port in the Shackles, but Genzei felt more than foreign, it felt frenzied, like she wasn’t going shopping but preparing for war in completely unknown territory against an unguessed foe.

“Ah, you go out, fierce hunter? Or stay in ship?” Feruzi jumped and turned around to see Tenchin grinning at her.

“What?” The man spoke Taldane well enough, but even when the words were clear the meaning was rarely so.

“Go or stay, but not block plank.”

“Oh.” Feruzi stepped onto the shore to let the little old man past. He stumped down the gangplank and struck a pose on the dock, leaning back with his hands on his hips. Tenchin took a deep breath and smacked his lips appreciatively.

“Ah, good to visit civilization again. Smell proper air.” To Feruzi, the port smelled much like any other—rotting fish, seaweed, and weird cooking smells. Maybe a little less of the urine and feces here, but the appalling noise more than made up for it. “You visit Tien before? Yesno?”


“Ah, you come! You eat real food! Should not miss!” Without waiting for her response, Tenchin latched onto her arm and barreled straight at the crowds. Feruzi found herself bouncing helplessly off a pile of caged chickens, bowling over an elaborately-dressed prostitute, and putting her foot through some kind of drum as she staggered after the tiny old man. There was no point in arguing, so she concentrated on keeping her feet until they fetched up at what appeared to be a combination alchemical shop, tannery, and rubbish heap. There Tenchin engaged in rapid-fire speech with the equally tiny and elderly shopkeeper, who began picking up bits of rubbish and alchemical concoctions and throwing them into a smoking, sizzling pan. He then decanted the result into a bowl and handed it to Feruzi with a sneer. Feruzi stared at the greasy mess in horror.

Session 23: Port Peril part 1

Posted by Jennifer

“His Kingliness, Kerdak Bonefist, has consented to an audience tomorrow night, Captain Sir,” Conchobar declaimed, posing next to their table at the Riptide Alehouse in Port Peril. The gnome had to raise his voice to be heard over the exuberant crowd. “Since we don’t have the sponsorship of a recognized Free Captain, we’re likely to undergo ‘Testing’.”

“Bring it on,” was Chopper’s response. Reiko shrugged.

“It would be convenient if Captain Bloodmourn were in port.”

“Would she sponsor us?” Feruzi asked.

“Probably, although I would have to talk to her first. And she would want to meet Captain Chopper and the rest of you.”

Feruzi eyed Chopper for a moment. “Well . . . perhaps it’s better she is not here.” Reiko smirked.

“I’m sure she’d appreciate his unique personality.”

“That would be a first, then,” Ezikial growled. Chopper replied with a friendly grin.

“You’re lucky I’m not convinced you won’t shoot me, Mister Hands.”

“Are you convinced I won’t shoot you, then?” Feruzi demanded.

“Mostly. Pretty sure it annoys you every time I am obstinate enough to get myself shot.”

“Well I wouldn’t want you to think I was getting soft. One of these days I’ll have a chance to pay back that debt and you can go get yourself shot with my blessing.”

“Well, I already have plans to re-up muh policy with your honor, should it ever come t’that.”

“We’ll see. So is there anything special we should do to get ready for this meeting tomorrow?

“Don’t go dying beforehand?” Reiko offered. “Or getting yourself killed, as it were. That might look unprofessional.”

Feruzi shrugged. “In my nation, formally meeting a King has more . . . significance. Or so I hear. My own meeting was not so formal.”

“I shouldn’t worry overmuch. A king’s just a man, same as any other. A might more prickly about respect, mayhap, but I can mind m’manners if and when the occasion calls for it,” Chopper informed them.

“Pirates ne’er stood much on formailty,” Sandara said. “E’en the ones in charge.”

Chopper nodded. “I’m counting on it. Who’s this now?” he added as a tall, lean man with tousled blond hair and an eyepatch muscled up to their table. His clothes were simple but fine, and he carried himself like a fencer.

Session 24: Port Peril part 2

Posted by: Jennifer

Tsadok Goldtooth reappeared at the Crisis shortly after lunch. Another crowd of onlookers all waiting to be entertained gathered rapidly. Feruzi shook her head. “We are certainly attracting a lot of attention with this.”

Goldtooth ignored her and addressed himself to Chopper. “Have someone bring up a table and chairs.” Chopper gave a negligent wave and snapped his fingers. After several seconds of blank staring, Dar and Marteen ran off to fetch the table and chairs from the chartroom, nearly the only real furniture aboard the Crisis. “Who am I playing?” Goldtooth growled.

“That would be myself, Mr. Goldtooth,” Reiko informed him.

“This is my first mate, Nakayama Reiko,” Chopper added. Reiko’s chin came up just about to Goldtooth’s belt buckle as the half-orc scrutinized her.

“All right, then,” he said finally and waved a dwarf from his own crew forward, followed by a couple of swabs hauling a keg of rum. “Argus, the two of us, and nobody else at the table. Argus will be dealing.” Reiko bowed politely to the dwarf, who was nearly as tall as she was, if much broader. His thick, heavy-jointed hands strongly resembled building equipment, but he handled the cards deftly.

“Should I check the rum, Captain?” Ezikial muttered.

“Aye, do that.”

“Mr. Goldtooth,” Ezikial called. “Do you mind if I check the rum before you start?”

“Afraid we’re trying to poison the winner, Mister . . . ?”

“Ezikial Hands. I am something of a connoisseur.”

“Ezikial . . . Hands?” Goldtooth lingered over the name. “If you must, then by all means. I expect you will have much to discuss with the King . . . should you win an audience with him.”

Ezikial took a dipper of the rum, sniffed it appreciatively, then drank it off. “I will not deny that, Mr. Goldtooth. I almost wish I were playing just for the rum, Reiko-san. Besmara’s luck to you.”

Argus set out a hundred platinum coins in small stacks in front of Goldtooth then looked expectantly at Reiko.

“You mentioned that you brought along a moneychanger?” Reiko said smoothly. The dwarf nodded and they bent their heads together to dicker, finally settling on a sum of coins and small jewels as equivalent stake and exchanging them for the platinum coins. Goldtooth and Reiko each threw in their ante and Argus dealt the cards.

Session 25: Gather Information

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?”