Skull and Shackles: Tides of Fortune

Interlude: Desert Rose

Posted by Darth Krzysztof, from a conversation with DarkRose16

26 Sarenith, 4712 AR

The light of the half-moon filtered down through the great vine-choked tree, barely illuminating the bubbling spring. Leila held one dying sunrod out to find her way through the gnarly roots; ahead of her, Reiko had already reached the spring, removed her sash and linen robe, and laid them on a large boulder that someone had dragged here to serve as a bench. Leila nearly tripped, unable to take her eyes away from the samurai as she stepped out of her woodblock sandals. Reiko’s loincloth did little to hide her backside from view, and then even that was gone, placed next to the robe.

Leila noticed the hitch in her own breath. She’d seen Reiko’s grace, her vulnerability, her skill in battle – but never her skin, or the strength beneath it. Every muscle in the samurai’s body came into lean definition as she unwound her chest wrap, but it took nothing away from her femininity. Leila saw the fringes of a tattoo on Reiko’s shoulder blades; as the wrap fell away, the image of a great tree came into view, covering most of her back. The samurai turned to pick up her clothes, then carried them toward the spring, sparing Leila a smile as she passed.

Reiko used a battered old bucket and a bit of soap to clean her clothes, hanging each item in turn on one of the thicker vines. She seemed so comfortable scrubbing away in the nude on a hostile, deserted island in the middle of the night… and why shouldn’t she be? Someone with her looks, with her body, with her talents, had nothing to be ashamed of, and nothing to fear.

I can’t do this, Leila thought.

Session 10: Divers Alarums

Posted By Jennifer

Ezikial swept the torch through the air, leaving a trail across his vision but also revealing a cluster of tiny pink creatures, whether birds, bats, or insects he could not say. Two of them squealed and fell, impaled on arrows, as the rest of the creatures took wing, revealing long, needle-sharp beaks or stingers.

Reiko scowled as she readied her blade. “So, Ms. Feruzi, you said insects passed along the ghoul plague? I think these qualify.” One of them came at her, buzzing most unpleasantly, and she sliced it neatly in half, the blade continuing in a smooth geometric arc to intersect with another stirge bothering Leila. Ezikial skewered a third on his sword while Pluggsley the monkey clung to the back of his shirt and screeched.

With the stirge out of her face, Leila got a grip on her bow and sent an arrow into the darkness of the overhang. Something squealed and fell to the ground. Feruzi continued to fire, each shot movement deliberate yet still nearly too fast to see. More stirges fell to the ground, until the final one launched itself directly at Feruzi’s face. Chopper’s axe flicked out almost casually and swatted it.

Writings: The Journal of Arron Ivy

Originally created by Krail Stromquism on the forums. Thank you, Krail.

Day 13
Everything’s gone to hell. If only I meant that literally we might have a better chance. I’m sure theres some devil that would give me better odds than this accursed isle…Im getting ahead of myself aren’t I? What should I say, so much has happened since we ran aground. That, I suppose is a good place. No doubt, if you are reading this, know that the Chelish ship Infernus has wrecked, as I am using the manifest as my personal diary. Indeed, the truth of it lies a mile to the west of small cove near the southern tip of the Isle. She struck aground and is held fast for now. We spent maybe the first week ferrying what we could salvage off the boat. The Captain has made some rather, shall we say grueling demands of us. We must have spent the better part of a day moving his damn bed while he cavorted with the ships whores on the eastern beach.

I’m tired and I’m angry and I can’t believe how selfish these fops are acting. I know one shouldn’t speak low of their crew, but we are on land and we are marooned. We all need to pitch in and help, who knows how long we are going to be stuck here? The ships Diabolis is nowhere to be found. Only a handful of us are left, the Captain and first mate, ships whores (3), a few riggers (4), two swabs, two of the gunner’s boys and of course myself. Shouldn’t we be taking this more seriously? Went I go out to scout the island for food, water and shelter, not a nice place to set up a tranquil spot for the whores to relax about in.

I need sleep and not to dream of the Westrcrown market. The smell of the roast hogs stuffed with quail! Thick gravy poured over mead soaked bread. hell if Im not hungry! Damn it all.

I arranged for the manifest to be lost, call it my price for all the extra hauling and scouting I’ve been doing. Devils know I need to speak my mind somewhere, to someone. Tis far better here in this stolen manifest than to the Captain’s face.

Session 9: Cursed Isle

Posted by Jennifer

Feruzi jumped over the side of the cutter, enjoying the cool surf around her legs as she sloshed up the beach. The remains of mud huts peeked out of the jungle, but there were no signs of current habitation. Even so, after they tugged the cutter higher on the beach so it would not float away with the tide, Ezikial, Leila, and Chopper checked and readied all of their weapons. Reiko had no real need to do this—her katana and wakizashi were always in ready condition—but she made some show of fingering them anyway.

Chopper pointed his chin toward a high knob of rock on the eastern end of the island. “Which way? Should we get up on that tor so we have a better vantage?”

“Feruzi would wish to locate a defensible position before anything else.” She examined the remains of the village, but there was nothing of any apparent use in the rubble and overgrowth.

“I agree that we should get a general lay of the land. I think the tor, as Chopper suggested, would be a good start,” Reiko said.

Feruzi nodded. “These water barrels will encumber us severely in this terrain.”

“Right,” Chopper said. “Let’s leave ’em here until we find the water.” Ezikial scowled silently, but seemed to be more or less in agreement.

“Lead on,” Feruzi said.

They made their way slowly through the swampy salt marsh, harried by mosquitoes and other pests. The wildlife seemed abundant, but nothing larger or more threatening than frogs of the non-giant variety. The water deepened toward the base of the tor, almost chest-high in places.

“Leeches, no doubt,” Chopper groused with a long-suffering sigh. “I hate this island.”

“I’m sure you’re right,” Reiko said.

Feruzi looked somewhat amused. “You whine too much,” she told Chopper.

Interlude: Unvirtuous

Posted by Darth Krzysztof

24 Sarenith, 4712 AR

Feeling weightless in her hammock, Leila had lost track of the hour; neither time nor space had any hold on her. Though exhausted from two days of hell in the rigging, she had never felt less sleepy. But the risk of getting caught sneaking around the ship bothered her more than it had yesterday, and with nothing else to do, she stared at the ceiling and tried not to think.

When that failed, she turned her mind back to making sense of everything that had happened in the last two days, which meant turning her mind back to Nakayama Reiko.

Nakayama would be her family name, in the Tian fashion. She was probably of Tian-Min descent – pilgrims from Minkai had settled an island of the Shackles a couple of centuries ago, though Leila couldn’t think of the name – and a samurai, though she was adopted, not born, into the warrior caste. Unless her pirate birth parents had once been samurai, too? This was why Reiko searched for her brother, Tatsumi: to find out who her parents were, and to find out who she was.

I have no family of my own, Leila thought, and she has two families. A pang of jealousy shot through Leila, which shamed her… painful as her own losses had been, Leila was free in a way Reiko wasn’t, and never could be. Rahadoum was not so different from Reiko’s world… the things they found honorable differed, but the importance of honor was the same.

As most outsiders knew, the Laws of Man governed Rahadoum, forbidding the worship of the gods. But many philosophies existed under those Laws, so the culture varied from city to city, from district to district, and even from household to household. Most Rahadoumi placed the same value on honesty, generosity, hospitality, valor, and loyalty. One’s word, once given, was never taken back; punishment always fit the crime. Dishonorable acts reflected on one’s family, and insults to honor demanded satisfaction.

But the philosopher Yazan went beyond this in his search for purity. All physical contact between men and women who weren’t married became taboo – and in less enlightened places, even a flirtatious glance could be more insulting than complimentary. Women had their own place in the house, where even the husband never ventured without first asking permission. In Yazanite lands, amorous impropriety was the only crime besides murder that was punishable by death.

Kamal al-Saif raised Leila in the Yazanite manner.

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.”

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: 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…


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 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.”