Skull and Shackles

Session 57: Final Boss Fight

Two boatswain’s mates on the main deck moved toward the main mast. A charau-ka, an ape-like humanoid, readied a bomb while the more ordinary sailors cleared the deck, wanting to be as far away from the fighting as possible. The sniper in front of Chopper dropped her rifle. “I’m no match for you,” she said. “I serve the Gunworks of the Grand Duchy of Alkenstar, and I offer you the secrets of my trade in exchange for my life.”

Arrows peppered the other sniper atop the second mast, most striking the wood but one eliciting a cry of pain. Feruzi yelled as the bomb hit her, enveloping her in flames. The air went cold and a pair of unearthly monstrosities appeared beside Reiko. Chopper jumped from the tower to assist Reiko in fighting off the daemons.

Ezikial blasted the charau-ka alchemist to gibbly little bits, then finished off the boatswain’s mates that were now menacing Feruzi. One piscodaemon expired noisily under Reiko’s sword, and the other wasn’t looking so hot. Then a spell hit Leila and she fell to the deck, stone dead.

Chopper screamed, charging toward the poop deck. “There!” Ezikial yelled as something hissed angrily and the door to the captain’s cabin flew open, revealing Bonefist in all his glory. Or lack thereof. Sandara threw a spell across the deck that purged the invisibility, revealing a tall woman with the lower body of a snake. She whirled her scimitars and attacked. Chopper was more than happy to return the favor, hacking wildly with his axes while Feruzi lined up a shot, piercing lamia through the chest.

“Your witch is dead and your crew has abandoned you, Bonefist!” Reiko shouted. “You have no one left to fight for you. Give up now and step down.”

“I ain’t forsakin’ my throne fer the likes o YE.”

“That’s a shame,” Reiko said, attacking with her katana. Bonefist was blindingly fast with his rapier, fending her off despite his wounds. He backed away, almost running into Chopper, who had jumped down the stairs behind him.

“Stand down, Reiko,” Chopper said. “This one . . . er, the REST of this one is mine.”

“You still have the opportunity to surrender,” Reiko said.

NEVER!” A bullet tore Bonefist’s ear off. Chopper shrugged, and buried his axe in the former Pirate King’s skull. He then turned away, looking sadly at Leila’s body.

“I’ll, uh, start prayin’ for her,” Sandara said. “Once ye make sure this area is secure. And find that treasure vault . . . you need that to impress the other pirate captains, an’ all.”

“There will be time for that. We see to Leila first.”

A full exploration of the sea caves revealed no more opposition and, yes, quite an impressive treasure room. After a night’s rest, Sandara was able to raise Leila from the dead. The delighted Chopper hugged Sandara, with instructions to transfer it to Leila.

“You big soppy,” Feruzi said fondly.

“Summon tell Fishguts to quit choppin’ onions,” Chopper blubbered.

“So, your Majesty, what’s your plan?” Feruzi asked.

“Guess I should get coronated. Something, something, drink heavily, something, something, see about easing up on Sargavan tarriffs.”

“I’m sure your mother will be thrilled. You going to invite her to the coronation?”

Chopper suddenly looked pensive. “I guess I might as well.”

“I could handle that for you . . . I’m sure Merrill would like a nice, long, relaxing, UNEVENTFUL trip.”

“Aye, fer once,” Sandara said.

“And then we can see about getting you a PERMANENT wife.”

Chopper raised an eyebrow at that. “Let’s go provide the Council with the proof of our deeds and leave nonsense topics tabled forever.”

“He’s still got the better part of a year to go with his current Missus, anyway,” Reiko chimed in.

“Bah, with him it’ll take months even if I start looking now,” Feruzi said. “Picky, picky, picky. I’ll have to get his mother to help. She doesn’t put up with him.”

“Look here, you lot, I’m the bleedin’ Hurricane King. I’ll not be henpecked by ye.”

Feruzi snorted. “Keep dreaming.”

Sandara and Leila giggled.

“And after that, Reiko,” Feruzi continued in a burst of extravagance.

“No,” Reiko said.

Session 56: Number Two

The door to the next room opened, revealing Tsadok Goldtooth, who fired his pistol at Chopper. “I told you that you should have let me fish him!” Feruzi said as Ezikial returned fire.

“Fish?” Chopper asked, baffled. A dwarf boatswain appeared beside the half-orc and launched himself on Chopper, pinning him down while a second dwarf ran up and began punching the Captain about the stomach. Feruzi skewered one dwarf with arrows while Reiko surgically removed the other. Sandara threw an ice storm at Goldtooth, who swung his falchion at Ezikial, who took a serious wound for, probably, the tenth time today. Any more of this and they’d be taking him back to the Crisis in a box. Reiko intercepted Goldtooth’s next attack and treated him as she treated all opponents.

“Doesn’t matter,” the half-orc sputtered. “The King’ll kill you all.”

“I bet fish looks like the nice option now,” Feruzi said.

“What is it with you and the fish?” Chopper demanded. “Seriously.”

“What is it with you and the senile old-man memory?”

“’E’s an old man,” Sandara said brightly, mending their wounds."

“I hate you all.”

“This is not news, Captain,” Ezikial said.

“If he started liking us I’d be worried we weren’t doing our jobs well enough.”

The next room in the tower was a dining hall, dominated by a large table of polished teak and an ornately carved-high backed captain’s chair.

“I vote we use the chair as a battering ram on . . . something that needs battering,” Chopper said. “Just for spite.” Ezikial pulled Bonefist’s banner down from the wall.

“I vote we don’t,” Reiko said. “It’s a nice and probably expensive chair.”

They left the tower, now empty of enemies, and headed for the docked ship, the Filthy Lucre. An exquisitely painted figurehead of a beautiful, bare-breasted woman rose from the ship’s prow. Feruzi cast a spell of invisibility over them and they crept aboard the ship, apparently unnoticed. Chopper began climbing the rigging to the crow’s nest, where a sniper was watching the pier. “Ahoy,” Chopper announced, and gave her a violent shove.

Session 55: Sushi Buffet

Chopper whooped in delight as the undead dragon eyeballed their tiny craft. “I know, I know,” he grumbled. “You lot won’t let me keep it.” The dragon’s head whipped around and it snapped at Ezikial, almost throwing him out of the boat and delivering a powerful electrical shock at the same time. Its wings whomped down, battering everyone severely.

“Bloody ’ells!” Sandara yelled. A series of loud cracking noises indicated that somewhere under there Ezikial was doing his best to turn the undead dragon into puree. Reiko bellowed and swung her katana, the blade cleaving into the dragon’s neck and, amazingly, severing it. It promptly exploded, giving everyone a nasty dose of electricity as the remains of the skeleton sank into the water. Sandara waved her hands over the scorched group.

“Not sure how much longer I kin keep this up,” she said.

“We ’preciate yer efforts,” Chopper told her.

“We do have some potions to help . . . I think,” Reiko added. On the far shore, an alarm bell began to ring.

“I suppose they noticed us,” Leila sighed.

“We’ve knocked, we may as well go in,” Ezikial said. He clambered out of the jollyhatboat and kicked in the door to the bastion. The guardpost was lit by a smoky oil lamp. Four big fellows with a patchwork of brown and blue-gray markings on their skin charged, becoming shark-like monstrosities as they moved.

“Are those contagious?” Feruzi asked, incredulous. “Because they look contagious.”

“Maybe you shouldn’t let yourself get bit then, just to be on the safe side,” Reiko told her.

“Yeah, I couldn’t manage being that ugly.”

“But you can handle being . . . scaly. Right then.”

Leila fired her bow at one of the weresharks, but the monster just lacked. “I have silver arrows in my quiver for just such an emergency,” Feruzi told her, firing her own volley at the monsters.

The other door to the room flew open and an even bigger, MUCH angrier shark charged in, making a beeline for Chopper, grabbing him by the legs and swinging him through the air. Chopper’s delighted “whee!” turned into an “ouch!” as his head collided with Reiko’s shoulder.

“Seriously?!” Reiko demanded, going after the shark boss with her katana. Ezikial cut loose with the shooting and very shortly there was nothing left but a bunch of sashimi and some leftover enormous crescent-shaped bite marks. Sandara shook her head as she summoned more healing magic.

“So how many more guards do you think Bonefist has in this little secret lair?” Feruzi asked.

“More’n three,” Chopper grunted. They left the bastion and crossed a patch of sandy beach toward what appeared to be a small fortress with familiar ship anchored nearby. The boom of a cannon sounded and Reiko disappeared in a blast of sand.

“Er, you forgot to duck,” Feruzi said as Reiko staggered muzzily to her feet.

STOP WASTING MY CANNONBALLS!” Ezikial yelled, shaking his fist at the cannon tower. They charged into the tower, encountering another group of weresharks and some human guards resulting in, yes, yet another furious battle, from which they emerged victorious.

Session 54: It's a Trap

Sandara’s magic got Chopper and Ezikial back on their feet, but Ezikial was left with a broad scar on his face. “I canna seem t’ mend it wi’ the magics I ’ave,” Sandara said. “Yer face just gonna be ugly fer a while.”

“Uglier than it already was?” Feruzi asked. Sandara grinned. “Well, shall we move on?” Feruzi asked. Chopper nodded.


The stone doors opened into an octagonal room with another pair of identical doors across from them. Leila froze as they crossed the floor. “Wait,” she called. “The whole floor is trapped.” The doors behind them slammed closed and locked with an audible clack.

“Why does this not surprise me?” Reiko asked. She ducked as crossbow bolts flew out of concealed arrow slits. Whirling blades sprang up around them. Ezikial sprang over a saw that would do a lumber mill proud and raced toward the opposite door, grunting a few times in pain. Feruzi climbed up a wall and joined him by crossing the ceiling. The snipers continued to fire.

“It’s almost like they were expecting us,” Reiko grunted, pulling a bolt out of her armor. Chopper sprinted across the room, slamming into the doors and flattening himself but not impressing the stone very much.

“Let me get that, Captain,” Ezikial said, and blasted the lock mechanism with his pistol. Leila pulled a piece of junk metal out of her pack and threw it into the whirling blades, where it wedged, eliciting a truly fantastic medley of screeching and grinding noises, followed by a ground-shaking bang as the machinery tore itself apart. Reiko crossed the room in a more leisurely fashion and heaved the doors open, revealing another room pretty much identical to the one they were standing in. Feruzi cautiously stepped forward, triggering a second trap that slammed the doors shut and doused everything liberally with gouts of fire. There was a lot of scurrying behind the walls and the helpful addition of yet more crossbow bolts.

Chopper pushed past Feruzi and repeated his door-charging trick, with equally unimpressive results. Ezikial pulled grenades off his belt and tossed them into an arrow slit. He then sat down, bleeding profusely from a pair of crossbow bolts in his chest. The blast shook the room and produced a hail of earth and chips of stone, revealing two shocked elven snipers. Reiko charged them while Sandara once again rushed in to prevent Ezikial from dying. The space behind the walls resounded with shrieks and groans as Reiko dealt out retribution to the snipers. Chopper finally managed to get the far doors open, revealing side passages that led behind the arrow slits.

“That was my fookin’ gunner!” he snarled, laying into the retreating snipers with his axes. Another explosion shook the room as Leila detonated the reservoir of alchemical fire powering the jets. Soon it was over, aside from the usual magical cleanup of injuries sustained.

“I am out of grenades, Captain,” Ezikial reported sadly. “Fortunately I found this ring of keys.”

“That might make it easier to get through the doors,” Reiko said.

Past the trap, they found another long, dank tunnel that opened into a wider cave where a thin strip of beach bordered a wide expanse of dark water. Sounds of surf echoed in the distance. A wooden pier extended into the water. Far across the cave a faint light shone from the window of a building standing next to a similar pier. Sandara pulled her hat off and tossed it into the water, where it became a jollyboat.

“Unless summon else has a boat,” she said, winking.

“Not on me, no,” Chopper said.

“I don’t suppose your pipe turns into an oar?” Leila asked.

“Nope. Reckon it’ll be slow going, but it beats swimmin.”

They jury-rigged some bits of wood together and set out. The water was still and cold. Chopper peered overboard, discovering an immense heap of bones at the bottom of the cove. “Hmm, whale bones?” he asked. Feruzi looked over and winced.

“Those are dragon bones.” Predictably, they began to stir, assembling into the shape of a dragon that reared up in front of their wobbly little boat.

Session 53: BOOM

The Crisis surreptitiously—well, as surreptitiously as a ship could manage, anway—docked at Lucrehold an hour or so after sundown. Several warehouses stood on the island’s southwest corner, along with outbuildings filled with apparatus for making olive oil. Harrigan’s notes indicated that the secret entrance was hidden beneath a tun in one of the warehouses.

“I think it’s this one,” Feruzi said, turning the map around and squinting. “Or . . . maybe that one.”

A quick reconnoiter of the warehouse revealed two entrances: a wide set of double doors, probably for wagons, and a side door for pedestrian traffic. Both appeared to be locked, but neither were obviously guarded.

“So, any witchcraft about?” Chopper asked. Feruzi rolled her eyes but cast a spell to reveal magical auras. None were in evidence. “I’m inclined to kick down the big doors,” Chopper continued, “but I assume I’ll be vetoed, so let’s just go the other way.”

Leila unlocked the door. It was dark and quiet inside. Chopper peered into the room nearest the door, discovering numerous dusty scrolls and ledger books. “Witch room,” he whispered. “Or, you know, accounts payable. One o’ those.” The next door opened into a long room divided into stalls by low wooden walls, perfect for taking cover should any shooting be required. Large barrels and ceramic amphorae were stacked within the stalls, filling the air with the smell of oil, wine, and beer. Following Harrigan’s notes, they located their specific tun of rum in the easternmost stall.

Feruzi stared at it in horror. “We can just move it, right? We don’t have to drink it?”

“Er, we don’t HAVE to,” Chopper said uncertainly, looking at Ezikial.

“This much rum, even he might not survive,” Reiko said. “I know that’s not putting much faith in his drinking abilities, but still . . .”

“I could go get Rosie and Grok,” Leila said.

“Is it possible for a man to die of happiness?” Chopper asked. “Surely there’s some sort of hidden catch hereabouts. Or a handcart.” Searching around revealed nothing. Shrugging, Chopper hefted his axe and laid into the barrel, chopping a hole and letting the rum pour out. Sandara grabbed a mug, filled it, and passed it to Ezikial, then filled one for herself. With the barrel mostly empty, they were able to heave it aside, revealing a trap door that opened on a rusting iron ladder descending into a rough-hewn tunnel that ran north and east and terminated in a dank room. A stone statue depicting Besmara stood in an alcove. It was once painted in bright, gaudy colors, but most of the pigment had flaked off, revealing green stone. Blue-green flames danced along the statue’s sculpted hair.

Moving on, they discovered a number of vaults—some with niches in the walls that turned them into crypts. The floor had subsided, allowing a pool of dark water to form. Four barnacle-enrusted corpses with glowing red eyes rose out of the water as they approached. Mist seemed to rise from them, obscuring the room. Chopper cursed and a great deal of flailing about ensued, ending with the draugr sent to their final final rest and Chopper rather scratched up and disarranged. Sandara helpfully cast some healing spells to restore his equilibrium and remove the after affects of too much undead mauling.

The traditional post-combat wrap up revealed a secret door in one of the burial niches, leading into another long tunnel leading north and east. This one ended in a small, damp cave, this one laid out like a hall of sorts, with evenly spaced torches filling the place with disturbing shadows. A collection of jagged metal heaved itself upright, extending an arm that ended in an enormous cannon barrel.

“Hello, my lovely!” Ezikial announced, charging forward. The cannon boomed and Ezikial went flying through the air, landing flat on his back, covered in blood. “Chopper!” he said indistinctly. “I simply MUST have one!”

“What, am I going to deny you a pet?” Chopper demanded as Reiko charged past him to engage the golem. Her katana blade scraped along the creature’s chassis, leaving a surprisingly massive dent and knocking loose what might have been several vital parts. The cannon golem sputtered and clanked ominously as it switched targets, winding up for another blast.

Chopper threw an axe at the golem, drawing its attention. He grabbed his crotch suggestively. “Oy, fullmetal ugly! Suck my nuts and bolts!” Strangely, the golem seemed to find this insulting. It gave a metallic-sounding screech and headed toward Chopper while Sandara frantically tried to heal Ezikial. Another boom and Chopper was flat on the ground.

A hail of bullets hit the golem, causing its torso to drop free of its legs with a horrible grinding noise. The top half tried to pull itself along, then fell to the floor as the alchemical magic powering it faded.

“Well,” Reiko said as Sandara scrambled after Chopper, “If they didn’t know we were here before, they do now.”

Interlude: Domination

The Thumbscrew screamed like a tortured man as it sank. Massive grapnels clutched at her hull and tore the ship to pieces. It was an operation Captain Pegsworthy had never seen before, but it was frightfully effective against the smaller vessels of the Shackles fleet. Beside him aboard the Bonaventure, Labella Loor was scanning the battle, trying to figure out which ship was spearheading the attack.

“It’s the Dominator,” she said, lowering the spyglass. “She’s going after the Kitsune next, Captain. You want I should signal the Crisis?”

“Chopper needs to deal with the Chelish flagship. We’ll handle this ourselves.”

“You don’t think we’re a little outmatched in this case?”

“And we’ve never been outmatched before?” Pegsworthy admonished.

“Aye, aye, Captain.” Labella shouted orders to the helm and riggers. Below them, at the rail, Renvel picked up a grappling hook as he and his assault crew readied themselves.

The method behind the Dominator’s attack became obvious as the Bonaventure drew nearer. The grapnels—massive metal spears with retracting arms and lengths of heavy cable attached to them—were fired from a ballista. The spear point would hit a ship below the waterline and penetrate the hull. The drag of the cable would cause the arms to extend, anchoring the spear in the hull. At the other end of the cable was a simple stone, probably in the neighborhood of a hundred pounds. The stones must have some magical preparation, though—when they were thrown overboard they sank at a truly alarming rate, one stone acting as a powerful anchor, two ripping massive holes in the ship or even tearing it to pieces like the unfortunate Thumbscrew. The cables were underwater and very difficult to reach. Kitsune was already heeled over as one grapnel dragged at her.

Bolts of the more ordinary variety peppered the Bonaventure as she came into range, tearing the rigging and doing some damage to the forecastle. Renvel’s men launched their hooks, a few finding purchase on the Dominator. Then the Bonaventure was suddenly awash with Chelish marines. Apparently, they weren’t interested in waiting to be boarded. Renvel’s men fell back from the surprise assault. In seconds, they were struggling to protect their own ship.

“You should have had the wit to stay away, Merrill!” someone bellowed. Pegsworthy glanced away from the two marines attacking him and almost got an axe to the face for his trouble. “Back off!” the interloper growled. “He’s mine!”

The marines obeyed and Pegsworthy found himself staring at a familiar face. “Carson? What—and I use the term advisedly—what in the HELLS are you doing here?!”

“A man has to eat, doesn’t he?” Carson said, waving a hand in an insouciant gesture. “Besides, House Thrune is taking over this place. Lots of opportunities for a man to get in on the ground floor, so to speak.”

“They’re devil-worshippers. Slavers.”

“Oh, they’re not so bad once you get to know them. Besides, you’re hardly one to talk.”

“I have NEVER run slaves.”

“Enough, old man. Fight or I’ll cut you down where you stand.”

Behind and above Carson, the massive windlass on the Dominator’s grapnel ballista had finished winding. The crew officer snapped the trigger-hook into place and disengaged the winding mechanism. “I don’t have time for you,” Pegsworthy said and ducked under Carson’s too-wild swing. Pegsworthy grabbed an unattended rope and swung over the narrow gap between the ships, landing awkwardly on the Dominator’s poop deck. The grapnel crew swore at him and drew their weapons, but they were too late to stop him from hurling himself at the swivel lock. It came loose just as the crew officer hauled on the trigger lever. The ballista heaved, almost taking Pegsworthy’s arm off, and the bolt crashed against the guide, firing uselessly almost straight up and splashing into the water less than thirty feet from the deck of the Dominator.

“Tatsume, you owe me,” Pegsworthy grunted, getting a grip on his greatsword adn turning to fend off the ballista crew. He was completely isolated. His own crew were still busy clearing the deck of the Bonaventure. By the sound of the shouting, more Chelish marines were on their way. If he ran, the ballista crew would skewer him. The only option was to dispatch these five and make a stand for it here, hoping his own crew would arrive before a lucky arrow or bullet took him down.

The Chelish crew officer had other ideas. “Surrender!” she demanded.

“Oh, I don’t think so,” Pegsworthy said, somewhat absently as he weighed up the odds.

“You’re surrounded, fool. Surrender!”

“So you can sacrifice me to your patrons? No, thank you. I’m not THAT stupid.”

“Fine then. Kill him.”

The first crewman shifted, uncertain, and Pegsworthy darted forward, ripping a long gash in the man’s thigh with the tip of his greatsword. The second crewman attempted to stab Pegsworthy in the back and got a face full of pommel for his trouble. Spitting blood and broken teeth, he collapsed. People always thought that big swords were slow and clumsy. They didn’t realize the reach and leverage it gave. No need to make awkward, sweeping attacks like you were trying to chop down a tree. Two down, three more to go. He deflected a blade, ducked under a second, and grimaced as a sharp pain bit into his arm. A short bolt, almost a dart, had neatly penetrated the chainmail and sunk into the muscle. Almost immediately his arm began to go numb.

“Gods damn all Chelish poisoners!” he swore as the crew officer smirked and lowered her hand crossbow. “I am so”—he took of the third man’s head—“bloody sick of your wretched”—a quick exchange and he disarmed the fourth and laid the man’s gut open—“CHEATING!” Pegsworthy panted, struggling to ignore the alternating sensations of freezing and burning that were beginning to creep across his chest. “Even one-legged and alone I’m still worth four of you.”

“Too bad there’s five of us,” the crew officer sneered, raising her blade.

“He’s MINE!” Carson bellowed, charging up.

“Oh, hello again,” Pegsworthy said. “A bit slow, aren’t you?”

“Well look at you, barely able to stand. I’m going to enjoy this.”

“Better hurry, then,” Pegsworthy told him. His good leg buckled and he fell to one knee. The crew officer sheathed her sword and turned to her ballista. Carson grabbed a handful of Pegsworthy’s chainmail and hauled him down to the main deck.

“I think I’ll cut off your other leg. For balance. Then your hands.”

“I don’t think my wife will like that very much.”

“Maybe I’ll look her up when this is all over. I bet she and her sister would make great concubines. Maybe I’ll even leave you alive, so you can watch. How about that?”

“You know,” Pegsworthy gasped, “you really are a complete and utter scumbag. In a way, it’s kind of liberating.”


“Because now I don’t have to waste time wondering, what would Carson think? I always thought of you like some kind of martyr. It’s amazing how wrong you can be about someone.”

Carson bared his teeth. “I think I’ll cut off your balls, too . . .”

“Trouble, Captain?”

Carson jumped and glanced over his shoulder. Pegsworthy essayed a wave, but his arm just flopped uselessly.

“Hello, Markuss.

“Is this your rescue, Merrill? It’s not even armed. I really didn’t expect it to be THIS easy.”

“Captain?” Pinch persisted, still pressing toward them.

“Just go, Markuss. I know you don’t fight. It’s not worth you dying.”

“Who said anything about dying?” the quartermaster asked. He removed his smoked spectacles, revealing alien slit-pupiled eyes that seemed to glow. Carson swung and, almost idly, Pinch caught his wrist in one frail-looking, long-fingered hand. Carson’s eyes widened in shock as Pinch casually disarmed him, wrenching the sword from Carson’s grip.

“I’ll not suffer the likes of you to abuse my Captain,” Pinch said. Carson let go of Pegsworthy and drew a knife with his other hand. Pinch frowned, a terrible sight. “Did you not hear me?” The dagger struck Pinch’s side, bent, and broke. “They made me what I am . . . stronger than you. Don’t make me tell you again.” Seeming oblivious to Pinch’s words, Carson scrabbled for another weapon. Pinch sighed. “So be it.” A dark, purplish emanation seemed to leak from the tiefling’s skin. Carson screamed as the flesh seemed to shrink on his bones. In moments, all that remained was a brittle, desiccated skeleton. Pegsworthy winced.

“Are you all right, Captain?” Pinch asked, brushing himself off fastidiously.

“Ahh . . . yess, I think so. This drug or whatever seems to be passing off.”

“Good. Shall we see to the ship?”

Pegsworthy eyed the pile of grapnels and anchors. “I have a better idea.” With Pinch’s help, he bound two of the grapnels together and hauled them across the Dominator’s deck, which was now filled with struggling men. Ignoring the battle, Pegsworthy rolled one stone off the starboard rail while Pinch threw the other off the port side. The cable went taught, then the deck began to creak ominously, audible even over the noise of the fighting.

“Everyone off the ship!” Pegsworthy bellowed, waving at Renvel. By the time they were back aboard the Bonaventure, the Dominator was beginning to break apart.

“Well done, Captain,” Labella remarked.

“Yes, I rather thought so.”

Session 52: This Also Seems Familiar

Grapeshot and chain bolts peppered the rigging of Abrogail’s Fury and Ezikial’s signature shot blasted the wheel to splinters. The Chelish flagship returned fire, severely denting the hull of Crisis and knocking the sails askew—Crisis slammed keel-first into the side of the Fury and seemed to skid, staving in the black ship’s hull. Both ships rolled on the swell, no longer making way. The Crisis officers jumped across to the Fury and were met by a force of Chelish marines. Admiral Thrune and her bodyguard stood on the quarterdeck, ready to back up the marines.

Chopper hacked at the enemy forces then reeled as a crossbow bolt slammed into his shoulder and seemed to explode with malevolent power. The Admiral sneered and handed her crossbow a crewman for reloading, accepting a second bow in exchange.

Ezikial ignored the swords of the marines and charged forward, screaming Besmara’s wrath. He fired both pistols at the bodyguard, a woman dressed in impressive spike-covered black armor. “You may be just my type, m’lady,” Ezikial gritted. “Let’s see how you bleed for me, shall we?” The bodyguard sniffed as her wounds partially healed themselves.

Chopper was in imminent danger of being surrounded by marines with boarding pikes. Feruzi fired her bow, downing one and wounding the other while Sandara skirted the pikes to land a healing spell on her teetering Captain. Reiko decapitated the wounded marine seemingly without noticing and, just like that, the way was open for them to charge the Admiral. The bodyguard readied to receive them while the Admiral cast a spell. Unholy fire burst on the deck, scorching them.

Ezikial continued firing at the bodyguard, who glowed again with healing power. She shoved him aside and hacked at Chopper with her bardiche. He winced in pain but endeavored to appear unimpressed, an endeavor that became more convincing as Sandara channeled energy and the wounds sealed over. Reiko snarled a challenge at Admiral Thrune but the bodyguard threw herself in the katana’s path, screaming as the blade bit through her armor. She collapsed on the deck, dead.

“And I thought we had something there,” Ezikial said sadly.

“Valeria! NO!” Admiral Thrune shrieked.

“You CAN surrender, you know,” Chopper told her.

“I will NEVER surrender! My soul is lost no matter what happens.”

A priestess of Norgorber suddenly became visible, flinging up a wall of blades in front of Chopper and Reiko. Feruzi and Ezikial fired their weapons, Ezikial wounding the Admiral, Feruzi skewering the priestess. Reiko wrenched herself free of the blades, her kimono slashed to ribbons, and finished Ezikial’s work, cleaving the admiral open from breastbone to pelvis. Chopper attacked the cleric, but nothing seemed to happen. Sandara quickly threw a dispelling field, revealing the illusion. Feruzi whipped around, grimacing, and spotted the cleric fleeing toward the other side of the ship.

“Hey, no running away, there!” she yelled and drew her bow. The cleric looked back and received an arrow in the eyesocket for her trouble. The remaining marines and crew shrank back, some even jumping overboard to an uncertain fate rather than surrender.

Reiko looked overboard as the Crisis crew herded the prisoners belowdecks. The battle seemed to be going well—many of the Chelish ships were breaking off the attack and fleeing into the storm. “Shall we raise our colors on this ship to announce its capture?” Reiko asked.

“Aye, make it so,” Chopper said. “Yer fookin’ welcome, Bonefist,” he grumbled under his breath.

With the Chelish armada broken, the Shackles fleet limped back to Hell Harbor and the predictable partying. Everyone, it seemed, wanted to pat Chopper on the back.

“Well, ye know, I have my moments,” he said modestly. “Question now is, what next?”

“There is really only one reasonable course of action,” Reiko said. “The King must be deposed.”

“Wait, he’s not supposed to be a useless figurehead?” Feruzi asked. “When did this happen?”

“He is clearly too arrogant for his position. It nearly cost us our freedom. As a Free Captain I take issue.”

“He weren’t so back in th’ day,” Fishguts said, “but thirty-eight years is a long time ter rule an’ recent events ha’ proved he ain’t the man he wuz.”


“He should have had some grandchildren,” Feruzi added. “It gives people something to do in their old age that is annoying but not harmful.”

Tessa nodded. “Then you call for a vote of no confidence?”

Chopper did a quick count of the assembled captains, gauging whether enough were present to make any actions official. “Fookin’ right,” he concluded. “Shall we show the old man the door? What say you?”

AYE!” shouted, apparently, every pirate in the Shackles.

“I think it is clear which of you we would prefer to nominate, but the decision is still yours.”

Reiko glanced at Chopper, who grinned. “Very well, I accept,” he said. Another cheer went up.

“Our acclaim won’t be enough, of course,” Tessa said. “The title’s wholly empty as long as Bonefist wears the Hurricane Crown and sits enthroned in Fort Hazard.”

“And he cannot be expected to relinquish either without a fight,” Endymion said.

“Well, it won’t be our first raid,” Reiko said.

“Plus there’s the back door,” Feruzi added.

“Back door?”

“Yes. Harrigan was planning to sneak in and assassinate Bonefist using a secret entrance put in by a former incumbent. The Chelish invaders were supposed to make Harrigan the new ruler of the Shackles—under their orders, of course,”

Endymion spat. “Treacherous bastard.”

“This is a surprise to anyone?”

The Master of the Gales nodded. “Then a stealthy assault on Port Peril is best. Overthrow Bonefist and send him either into exile or to a watery grave.”

Session 51: Didn't We Just Do This?

After some further gathering of forces, it was decided for the combined Shackles Fleet (Unofficial) to assemble near Hell Harbor. The numerous spellcasters distributed through the pirate fleet exercised their scrying magic, and the great invasion fleet of Cheliax did not disappoint.

“Shoot them harder than they shoot us!” Chopper crowed, waving vigorously at his crew. There were over forty enemy ships, including the easily-recognizable Dominator. “Oh, hey, those guys!” Chopper continued in undiminished good spirits.

“Don’t get hurt,” Feruzi told Pegsworthy severely as he prepared to disembark for his own vessel. “Well, unless it’s absolutely necessary. But even then, go for more of a flesh wound.”

“Of course, dear. Even those devil worshippers don’t deserve YOUR vengeance.”

“That’s right. Best to be merciful.”

“Looks like we have plenty of targets, at least,” Ezikial grunted. “Captain, may I sink them?”

“Well, I suppose,” Chopper said. “Just don’t expect a birthday present.”

“We should at least give them a chance to surrender,” Feruzi said. “Since our forces are so clearly superior.”

“It’s all about quality, not quantity. Still, I would not suggest holding your breath,” Reiko told her.

As the Crisis grew closer to the Chelish fleet, a squadron of flying devils suddenly appeared in the air. Reiko pulled out her new bow and began shooting. The arrows seemed to connect, but Reiko shook her head. “These are not real,” she announced.

“Good,” Chopper said, drawing his axes and scanning the sky. Five more devils appeared as they launched their attack. The apparent leader of the devils tossed a feather token to the deck, causing the Crisis to shudder and slow violently as the magical anchor weighed her down. “Fucking WITCHCRAFT!” Chopper complained violently. The four remaining devils charged Reiko and Ezikial, vomiting noxious clouds while swinging their polearms.

“Forget to use your mouthwash this morning?” Reiko asked. A positive hail of bullets, arrows, axe and katana blows followed until the Crisis officers were bleeding freely and the devils were all reduced to something akin to paste. With the assault temporarily in abeyance Sandara dispelled the anchor token and distributed some healing.

“As if devils weren’t bad enough, we get stinky devils,” Feruzi grumped, collecting her spent arrows.

“Are we taking on the Dominator, Captain?” Ezikial asked.

“Well, it’d be rude not to, don’tcha think? Personal service and all that.”

“I am in agreement,” Ezikial replied with an evil grin. “Make sure we’re all loaded, Rosie!” They began making way again, but in the scrum it looked as though the Bonaventure would close with the Dominator long before the Crisis was in any position to be of assistance. Chopper shook his fist in that direction.

“Save some for us!”

“Looks like their flagship over here,” Ezikial said. “Abrogail’s Fury.”

“Fine, fine, we’ll do that one.”

“Bring me to within 600 feet of their wheel and I’ll take it from them,” Ezikial said.

“That, I can do,” Reiko told him, resuming her place as pilot.

The Bonaventure abruptly changed course, forcing the Dominator into a slow turn that brought her weapons out of line, leaving the Chelish dreadnought vulnerable to a devastating volley from one of Endymion’s warships. Ezikial shrieked in glee as the Dominator was holed at the waterline and began sinking with impressive speed. The Crisis gained on Abrogail’s Fury, seeking an advantageous angle for attack. Four more devils appeared on the Crisis, serpentine fiends with frail-looking wings and muscular arms that terminated in masses of tentacles.

These devils moaned and an expanding coldness filled the air with a murky heaviness like drowning. The crew coughed and choked as Ezikial and Feruzi fired, killing one of the devils and wounding a second. Chopper and Reiko struggled against the magical fugue while the fiends attempted to summon reinforcements, but they were interrupted by yet more persistent axes, bullets, katanas, etc. and shortly the deck was devil-free once more, leaving them free to continue closing with the sleek, black-hulled man’o’war that was leading the Chelish fleet. Her sails were crimson and black and the flag of House Thrune flew from the masthead above a banner emblazoned with an argent dagger.

“So Admiral Thrune herself has come to take the Shackles. How nice of her,” Reiko said.

“An’ how’s that workin’ out fer ’er?” Rosie aske.

“I’ll let you know shortly,” Reiko told her.

Session 50: Will The Real Pirate King Please Stand Up

Leila shuffled through Harrigan’s papers as they made way toward Port Peril, racing to warn the Pirate Council of the imminent Chelish invasion. “Has anyone noticed that this invasion plan seems to call for the Chelish armada to sail directly through the Eye of Abendego?”

“That’s crazy talk,” Feruzi said.

“Damn it,” Chopper complained. “I wanted to be the crazy one to suggest that.”

“Witchcraft?” Sandara offered. Chopper smirked.

“You, I like.”

They arrived in Port Peril in a cold, drizzling rain. The harbor was crammed with the flagships of pirate lords who, having received notification from the captured Wormwood, wanted to be on-hand for this meeting. Kerdak Bonefist called the meeting to order.

“There’s only one agenda item on this meetin’s schedule: this threat of a Chelish invasion. Cap’n Chopper ’as tha floor. Convince me.”

“Welp, we have a fat lotta paperwork that sez Harrigan was treasonous scum instead of, you know, the regular kind. Also, that the Chelish fleet thinks they can sail through the Eye this time. So, that’s different. It don’t mention how. Was hopin’ mebbe the Master of the Gales could shed some light,” Chopper declared.

The druid looked a little surprised at this request, but only for a moment. “A ‘blessing’ from their infernal masters would seem the most likely explanation.”

“Ah. So. Water devils. That’s a thing. Huh.” Chopper said. “Point is, if the Chelish fleet be on its way by unconventional means, we have far less time fer the usual smash ‘n’ grab that has been enjoyed in times past. I don’t fancy wakin’ up without me trousers and a randy fiend creepin’ up behind.” Sorrinash and a few of the rowdier pirate lords laughed until Bonefist glared them down.

“That’s odd, because you seemed to enjoy it pretty well that one time,” Feruzi said blandly into the restless silence.

Chopper shrugged. “I mean to keep a sharp eye on the . . . well the Eye, regardless o’ what me fellow Council members have a mind t’do. I reckon we can bloody ‘em some before they sink us, but will it be enough to stop ’em running roughshod over the rest of the Shackles? This don’t strike me as a half measure, ladies and gents.”

“Is there any possibility of counteracting their magic or whatever it is?” Feruzi asked. “The Eye would do most of the work for us in that case.”

“Calm yerselves,” Bonefist grunted. “There ain’t no devil magic at work here. Papers don’t make nothin’ true.”

Ezikial abruptly stood up. “Are you, then, so old and tired that you would rather close your eyes to what is happening so you can drool into your feather pillow in mindless comfort? Are you truly so daft, or are you a pirate lord of the Shackles?”

Bonefist growled. “Yer father was a brother-in-arms ter me, Besmara rest ‘is soul. That, an’ that alone, is the reason I don’t have ye flayed alive here an’ now. Erryone pay heed. No matter who forged these here papers hopin’ ter draw us inter an attack on an old enemy—even supposin this threat is real, I reminds ye that meetin’ the Chelaxians on th’ open sea only plays ter Cheliax strengths an’ concentration o’ force, ‘specially their teleportin’ diabolic allies. Free Captains do best in battle wi’ small strikes, or from defensive positions.”

Feruzi leaned over and whispered to Chopper, " Did he say ‘forged’?" Chopper nodded.

“If this threat is real and not some farcical invention by untested Lords and Ladies eager to cast a disparigin’ light upon their rival Harrigan—who they obviously feel deserves more humiliation than mere defeat can offer—let those devils try their hands against our ports after they have endured the wrath of Abendego isself!”

Chopper thumped the table after Bonefist finished his surly monologue. “By the powers, yer right. Surprise is a key strategy for men and women such as ourselves.”

Bonefist relaxed a little, eyeing Chopper carefully. “Aye.”

“So, I ask you, what could be more surprising to the Chelish fleet than to find—for the first time in recorded history—the entirety of the Shackles power in one place, ready to meet them just as they escape the storm. As you say, whatever their powers they’ll be worn down by Abendego and therein will lie our key advantage. If ye have no reason to take our word for it, look t’ yer own information sources. Ye’d be fools to take anything’ said at this Council at face value. And yer not fools.”

“Enough!” Bonefist bellowed. “Me mind’s made up. Lords o’ tha Council, make ready yer squadrons fer when they be needed, but mark me words, what emerges from th’ northern storm will be in no shape to take e’en a single atoll.” He glared down the table. “ANY captains who sail north on this fool’s errand might well find themselves branded traitors agin tha Shackles, ’specially if this be just a ruse ter distract our defenses.”

“Nothing would give me greater pleasure than to see you proved right, of course,” Chopper said, bowing. “Me, I’m sailing north.”

“And those that value their lands and freedom should consider doing the same,” Reiko added.

“Not to mention those who value not letting us have ALL the plunder,” Feruzi continued.

Chopper stood, surveying the gathered Pirate Council, then turned and walked out.

“Erryone’s life is his ter throw away,” Bonefist growled. “This Council be dismissed.”

A few hours later, as they were transferring their equipment from the Wormwood to the Crisis, a number of pirate lords—some under their own initiative, others at Reiko’s invitation—convened. Lady Fairwind, Cerise Bloodmourne, Arronax Endymion and the Master of the Gales all accepted cups of grog and settled down to chat.

“I remain in your debt after you cleared my name,” Endymion began. “My personal squadron is yours to command. After your victory over Harrigan’s armada, I am comfortable deferring to your expertise.”

“I have long feared that Drenchport would be the first target of a Chelish invasion,” the Master rumbled. “Your timetable confirms my fear. As a result, I have left my ships at Drenchport. I will gladly offer you my personal aid, though.”

“Ooh, Druid spells!” Feruzi enthused. Chopper quirked an eyebrow at her, smirking. “Don’t even think of saying that word,” she added.

“Huh? Oh. Witchcraft. Right. Doesn’t apply. He and nature have an understanding.”

“My squadron is with you, too,” Tessa said. “And if, no, when we win I will certainly support you in any bid to make for rule of the Shackles.”

Chopper blinked.

“I think we may be able to get a few of the other Free Captains on board with that,” Reiko said as if this were the most natural notion in the world."

Cerise snickered. “Pity ye’ve no taste fer rule yerself, Tess.”

“Bonefist stays locked away in Fort Hazard for weeks at a time. I still have the love of the open sea in my heart.”

“Just because you have his job doesn’t mean you have to do it the way he does,” Feruzi said.

“True, true. But I still don’t want the job. Not as badly as some of you might,” Fairwind said, winking at Chopper.

“Well, that is not something that needs to be decided at this point in time,” Reiko said.

“But we are agreed that a change in leadership is needed,” Endymion said.

“For now, I think it prudent to make ready for an early morning departure. Thank you all for coming tonight,” she said, bowing to the other pirate Captains, who made their way off the Crisis and toward their own ships.

“Are you seriously considering making a bid for Pirate King?” Feruzi asked, eyeing Chopper.

“Yes. It’s perfect. I don’t think I ever told you this, but I came out to sea to do what I could to lessen the hold of the Shackles over Sargava.”

“Ah. I was rather looking forward to, you know, settling down.”

“And you should do what your heart tells you. This has been my dream for a long time. I just never expected an opportunity to fast track it to present itself so readily.”

“I’m just worried about someone stabbing you in the back if you don’t have anyone to look after you. There are just as many people who dislike you as adore you. And if this Chelish thing comes off there will be even more.”

“Well, there’s always Mister Hands. He would be murderously annoyed, I think, should I come to harm.”

“Mm. We’ll worry about that when it happens, I suppose.”

Interlude: Best Spell Evarr

The universe flickered and Sandara abruptly fell into something sticky. Given the enthusiastic fighting styles of her compatriots this wasn’t too unusual an occurence but the sticky substance was usually not blue. Or, except in the case of really intense combats, three feet deep. Or floating in midair. Upside-down. If that was down. Sandara’s eyes crossed as she took in her surroundings and her stomach danced a jig as the perspective seemed to wobble and distort. The midair blob of cerulean goo lazily flopped over and dumped Sandara onto a small island covered in rusty red moss, which groaned and cursed.

“Feruzi? Izzat yer?”

“Ugh, what happened? Why am I covered in fuzz?”

“I don’t rightly know. Are ye hurt?”


“Well, ‘ere, have some healin’ then.” The reddish moss abruptly turned black and fell off, revealing Feruzi in more or less her usual state. She heaved herself to her feet and looked around. Slowly, her eyes crossed.

“Where the HELL are we?!”

“Dinna know. T’ain’t anywheres in th’ Shackles, though. Leastwise, I hope not.”

“This . . . ugh, my head . . . this looks like Limbo. Did we get sent to another plane!? We have to get back!”

“True enough, but how do ye plan ter do that? Ye know any portals that might be convenient?”

“I doubt it. And it’s not like there are any landmarks in all this . . . schlock.”

“Well, if we wait ’til mornin I kin ask Besmara ter plane shift us outta here.”

“Morning? But the others are fighting Harrigan right now!”

“Yer got a better option?”

“Well . . . no.”

“Then I guess we’re waiting.” The mossy island was comfortable enough, so Sandara pulled out her pipe and settled in to wait. Feruzi, on the other hand, fidgeted nervously, causing the entire rock to jiggle uncomfortably. “Would ye stop that,” Sandara grumped after several minutes of this.


“Go fer a walk or summat. Not too far, mind ye. Don’t get yerself lost.”

“All right, all right.” Feruzi awkwardly climbed down from the small floating island into the branches of a tree that appeared to be growing upside-down . . . if that was down. Probably best not to get too wrapped up in such distinctions, really. In a way Limbo felt like being really, really drunk, just unfortunately without the part that prevented you from worrying about it. Sandara briefly considered getting drunk on the off chance that it would serve as a remedy, then rejected this idea as almost certain to make the nausea worse while simultaneously infuriating Feruzi, who was not in the best of temper at the moment.

As if summoned by this train of thought, Feruzi called up, “Can you see that?” her voice weirdly distorted.


“That,” Feruzi said, pointing somewhat unhelpfully, as Sandara could not see her. “Over there.” Still less helpful. “It’s like something big is headed this way.”

Sandara squinted, then tried putting a hand over one eye, then the other. Yes, it did seem that something big and kinda gray was headed in their direction. Fast. And loud. The air filled with the sound of crashing waves as a howling tempest descended. Sandara was thrown from the island; Feruzi made a grab and hauled her into the tree just in time. Salty breakers battered them and the black hull of an immense ship loomed out of the storm above. Sandara screamed and shut her eyes.

Then, it was quiet. The surf lapped at the tree innocently. Sandara risked a look and discovered the giant ship had come to a stop only inches away. Feruzi had her fingers in her ears and her face scrunched up in a rather comical echo of Sandara’s recent panic. Chuckling weakly, Sandara nudged her.

“Iss all right, we ain’t dead yet.”

“Man overboard!” someone shouted. Sandara attempted to see the rail she expected was up there somewhere but couldn’t spot anyone. Then a porthole opened just above them and a black-haired man with an impressive mustache appeared.

“Um, hello?” Feruzi ventured.

“Don’t I know you?”

“I can’t imagine how you coul—Royster? Is that Royster? Wha . . . how did you get here?!”

“What be a Royster?” Sandara asked.

“It’s . . . he’s Lady Smythee’s Master-at-arms, remember? But how did he get here?”

“Oh, the usual way,” Royster McCleagh said imperturbably. He seemed to be rather enjoying himself at their expenses. “I died. But how did YOU get here?”

“There was a bright light an’ then here we was,” Sandara said, chuckling. “Some spell or other. Where’d ye get this great ship, I wanter know.”

“What, you don’t recognize it? And you a Besmaran. For shame.”

Sandara gasped. “What?” Feruzi demanded.

“Issa S’wrth!” Sandara squeaked incomprehensibly.


“It’s the Seawraith! Besmara’s own ship! Crewed by the piratin’ dead in tha’ afterlife!”

“You’re joking.”

“No, it really is,” Royster McCleagh said. “Come aboard.”

“Do we have to be dead?” Feruzi demanded.

“Usually, but it’s a pirate ship. There aren’t many rules about that sort of thing.”

A rope ladder was lowered and the two women climbed aboard, Sandara emitting periodic squeals like some sort of deranged chipmunk. “Fruzi!” someone called happily as they emerged into the hold and Feruzi was enveloped in a hug by a huge, burly man.

“Owlbear?!” Sandara squeaked while Feruzi struggled for air. “Ain’t this a coincidence!”

“It’s the bleedin’ afterlife,” McCleagh said. “If the gods didn’t arrange coincidences you’d never find anything.”

“Oh. Right.” Sandara shook her head. “Don’t get me wrong, it’s a thrill ter be here, but we need ter get back. Our friends could be in trouble. They was fighting Harrigan last we saw.”

Royster smirked. “That scumbag? He showed up here half an hour ago.”


“Yes. Want to see what Besmara did with him?”

“Would I e’er!”

“Come on, I’ll show you around a bit.” Royster led the way and Sandara scampered after, laughing at a muffled, “Put me down!” from Feruzi.


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