“So, if the bastard didn’t bother comin’, what’s he up to, eh?” Chopper demanded of the Wormwood officer, a Varisian man named Bintrim Whist.
“Doloruso said Harrigan was sure his fleet would crush you.”
“He was mistaken,” Feruzi said.
“So, what does he have let at his disposal?” Reiko asked.
“Just what he’s got left at his fortress. He’s there now with no real way to escape and just the great serpent defending the harbor.”
“What, Fluffy?” Chopper asked.
“I don’t know its name, sir.”
“Are ye thick? I jus’ told you.”
“Yes, sir. Of course, sir. Sorry, sir. I just know about the gong and the bull.”
“Sure, sure,” Chopper muttered.
Eventually, the disorganized aftermath of the battle was sorted out, with the allied and captured ships anchored at the Island. Saburo was the only allied captain seriously injured—he went overboard and nearly drowned. Everyone else was banged up to some degree, but no one was seriously dead so a celebration seemed to be in order. In the morning, the Crisis officers reconvened to discuss matters.
“Now we can use the secret way to creep up on that coward Harrigan,” Chopper said straight off.
“Or we could just return in the Wormwood and make him think he succeeded,” Reiko offered.
“I like Reiko’s idea,” Feruzi said. “I want to vote for that one. Although his first mate may have teleported back there and reported failure already.”
Reiko shrugged. “I doubt it. Harrigan would likely kill her for deserting her post.”
“Mmph,” Feruzi grumbled. “Part of me keeps worrying that is some kind of elaborate plot, but then I remember that Harrigan isn’t that smart.”
“Fetch out that map again!” Chopper ordered. They all leaned over his shoulders (or snuck in under his arm, in Reiko’s case) to squint at the parchment.
“Torture pit?” Feruzi asked, pointing.
“An’ a shrine to WHO, ’zactly?” Sandara demanded.
“Dunno,” said Chopper. “Never heard Harrigan say any prayers.”
“It’s probably a shrine to himself,” Feruzi said. Sandara and Conchobhar laughed.
“THAT I can see,” Chonchobhar snorted. “Like I was standing there right now.”
Reiko’s plan was finally adopted. Fishguts produced a really juicy bull and a large brass gong from who knew where and they set off aboard the Wormwood for Gannet Island. It wasn’t much of an island, to be sure, consisting mostly of a rocky outcrop surrounded by smaller shoals that made navigation rather difficult. Fortunately, again, they had a map. Rosie banged the gong with rather more vigor than was probably called for as Fishguts slaughtered the bull and, with some assistance, heaved the carcass overboard, sniffling a few times at the sad waste of prime steak. They anchored the Wormwood in the cove without incident. Feruzi cast a few spells, rendering the recognizable officers invisible, and Birtrim Whist had some of the Wormwood’s crew row them ashore.
An octogonal tower loomed above them. The drawbridge was down, spanning a dry gulch before the walls, but the doors were shut and looked as if they intended to stay that way. Whist waved at the tower. “Welp, we’re back.” A guard poked his head over the edge of the parapet.
“Where’s the rest of your crew?”
“Repairing the ship. We thought Harrigan would want to hear our report right away.”
There was a long pause as the guards conferred in hushed tones. They didn’t seem terribly convinced. Reiko leaned forward and whispered to Whist, making him jump. “Be more convincing from now on.”
“It’s not exactly my strong suit, now is it?”
The sound of the heavy wooden bar being levered out boomed from the doors and they creaked open. Two more guards edged out of the way, allowing the landing party into the fortress. The courtyard was choked with weeds and filth. To the southeast, a wooden platform sat on the ground in the corner of the surrounding wall. A winch and crane provided the mechanism to raise and lower the platform to the walkway twenty feet above. A very large, smelly humanoid leaning against the wall suddenly raised a pair of massive axes. “Smell intruders!” it bellowed. Feruzi shot it, dispelling the invisibility.
“Stop them from activating that winch!” she said. Ezikial dove forward and slashed the winch cable, grabbing the end of the rope and sailing through the air in true swashbuckler fashion. He landed neatly atop the walkway above and drew his pistols. A furious combat ensued. The scrag was laid low by Reiko’s trusty katana, but the double doors behind it flew open, revealing a replacement scrag and an additional bonus scrag that, fortunately or un, walked directly into another fusillade of arrows and was instantly rendered nonfunctional.
More guards charged Ezikial along the walkway, to Ezikial’s delight. He emptied his pistols into the first one while below, Chopper charged the remaining scrag, distracting it long enough for Reiko to sever some reasonably vital appendages. A fourth and final scrag put in its appearance, whacking Reiko in the back with its axe and causing some unpleasant effects to be realized. While Reiko was busy cussing, Feruzi stole her kill, finishing off the damaged scrag and wounding the other. Above them, gunfire and a rain of bodies continued as Ezikial went on amusing himself. Sandara rushed forward to heal Reiko while Chopper dispatched the fourth and final scrag. The fighters down below then realized that the courtyard had filled up with a number of Harrigan’s men while they were occupied.
Feruzi blinked at them. “Oh, are you still attacking us?” she asked. “I nearly forgot you were there. You may go.” Chopper snorted. He was about to utter a snappy rejoinder when a tengu appeared in the northern doorway, pointing a scimitar directly at Chopper.
“You!” the Tengu squawked. “You can run but you can’t hide!”
Chopper flapped his axe excitedly. “Oh wow! A talking birdman! JOIN MY CREW!”
Reiko and Feruzi tackled the mass of smugglers as Chopper went mano e mano with the tengu. After about two seconds the five remaining smugglers—clearly outnumbered by the two women—attempted to retreat back through the doors. They were joined by their own women who were dressed in the obligatory robes of some cult or another.
“Seriously, you should join us,” Chopper said as the sound of grenades exploding echoed across the courtyard. “The benefits are great!”
“My captain will reward me when I bring him your head!” squawked the Tengu. A seemingly endless stream of blows and banter followed until both of them were covered and blood and barely on their feet. Reiko dispatched the last cultist just as Chopper fell to one knee, too faint to continue. Feruzi shook her head and shot the Tengu straight through the heart.
The courtyard was theirs. Ezikial surveyed the carnage with a happy grin.