Skull and Shackles

Interlude: The Eagle-Claw

“Good to have you back, Captain.”

Merrill Pegsworthy broke out of his reverie to acknowledge his First Mate with a cheerful grin. “Good to be back, Mistress Loor.” The pause must have alerted her, though, because she eyed his expression closely, unconvinced.

“Somethin’ happen?”

“Oh, no,” he replied, gesturing toward the ship now receding into the distance. “Tatsumi is well set up aboard the Kitsune—”

“The what, now?”

“Oh, some fancy of his, some kind of legendary fox creature, I understand. But she is sound and on her way, as you can see for yourself.” This did not produce the desired response; if anything, Labella grew more uneasy.

“Are ye sure ye had no troubles? We expected ye long afore this, truth be told.”

Pegsworthy essayed a dismissive shrug. “There were some troubles, but they were not ours. Met some likely young folks with a newly-acquired ship; they helped Rickety fend off some sort of giant wasp attack. So, of course we had to wait for him to clear up the mess and launch their ship. Took a couple of days.”

“New pirates, eh? Well, they’ll be in for some schoolin’ if they think they can give us any trouble,” she announced, somewhat to his chagrin.

“I doubt they’d want to, the first mate is Tatsumi’s sister. They seem like nice enough folks.”

“Then the Shackles will swallow ’em whole and spit the bones.”

“I wouldn’t be so sure of that, either. They acquired their ship from that devil’s son, Plugg. You remember him? Harrigan’s Mate.”

Labella spat on the deck. “Not like to forget, me. So he’s dead, then? Good, though I wouldna have minded doin’ the job meself.”

“From the sound of things, you would have had to outrun an arrow to do it, that archer of theirs is a fiend. Never seen anyone shoot so fast in my life, and she killed Plugg herself according to Tatsumi’s sister, spitted him right though his black heart!” He grinned, bemused, causing Mistress Loor no small distress as she looked askance on her Captain’s peculiar new mood. “Must have been quite the sight! Say, Labella, do I still have that Azlanti bow somewhere?”

Labella felt her jaw loosen as her heart seemed to writhe in her chest. “The Eagle-Claw, Captain?”

Session 16: Good News

As a city, Senghor was a bit on the small side, but large enough that the Crisis brought little overt notice; they paid the docking fee and the officials became scarce.

“We should set a watch on the ship and allow liberty in shifts,” Feruzi commented as the four chief officers surveyed the broad stone pier.

“Yes. Do that.” Chopper hopped onto the gangplank and strolled onto the dock.

Feruzi gathered up the crew and had them draw lots for watches. She shook her finger at them in somewhat exaggerated admonishment. “Do not get so drunk that you cannot return on your own.” She then passed around some spending money. Leila came up for the first group on liberty, but swapped lots with Wrast. This city did not seem congenial for maintaining proper philosophical distance.

“Time to stretch the legs,” Reiko said, following after Chopper.

“Indeed,” Feruzi agreed, Ezikial joining them.

Chopper had already engaged one of the dockworkers in cheerful conversation. “Hey, you should join us, we’re awesome pirates,” he enthused. Feruzi suppressed a wince.

“Perhaps we should look for a tavern?” she suggested.

Chopper didn’t seem to notice. “We took down Whalebone Pilk! Hey, somebody hold up the broke-ass melted bell!” he yelled back to the ship. The crew exchanged baffled looks and Feruzi waved them back to their work. She grabbed the back of Chopper’s coat and began hauling him bodily down the street. “This is not dignified!” Chopper complained.

“And shouting about our deeds on the docks, is?”



Reiko shook her head. “Good luck,” she said to Feruzi. “I will return at dusk.”

Feruzi deposited Chopper beneath a sign proclaiming the Sea Witch. “Here. One tavern.” From the sound of things, it was crowded inside and the patrons were in a party mood.

“Oooh,” Chopper brightened, straightening his coat. Feruzi shook her head and smiled slightly.

“Give ’em hell,” she said, opening the door for him with some ceremony.

Chopper strode into the common room. “Presenting Captain Chopper!” he exclaimed. “Me! A round for the house! On Captain Chopper! Me! Yaaar!”

Session 15: The Ringing

Concerns about the Deathknell were set aside the next morning when they came across a fishing trawler floating low in the water, heavily heeled over on its port side and taking on water. The sails flapped loosely and nets hung over the side, uselessly tangled. Reiko frowned at it as the Crisis drew slowly nearer. “Captain, would you like us to check it out?”

Chopper scrubbed at his chin thoughtfully. “Aye, maybe we can lend a hand.”

Reiko changed their course and shouted a few brief orders to the riggers, bringing the Crisis around more or less smoothly. The trawler’s hull was breached on the port side just above the waterline; the waves were slowly swamping her. The davits at the stern that would normally hold a dinghy were empty and there were no signs of battle or real indications as to what might have caused the breach.

Leaning out, Chopper made out the shape of the dinghy at least ten feet underwater, slowly sinking from sight. “Dinghies don’t usually do that,” he commented. “I’ll check it out.” He promptly dove overboard and began swimming. Reiko sighed as he dove toward the sunken dinghy, tapping her fingers impatiently on the wheel while she waited for him to resurface. And waited.

“Oh, honestly,” she grumbled. “Best wake everyone, this might get serious,” she told Lysaro, and dove in after Chopper just as he resurfaced and gulped air.

Session 14: Insights

Posted By: Jennifer

Leaving Tidewater Rock, they sailed east toward Bloodcove, following Lady Smythee’s advice on how they might locate slavers bound for Cheliax. Chopper, in an ebullient mood no one could damp, took to singing a truly dreadful song of his own composition entitled “Gonna Put the Beatdown on some Slavers”. It had a surprisingly salubrious effect on the crew—they were all very excited to find work whenever he appeared in their vicinity.

In the waning hours of their second day at see, a ship suddenly came into view, crossing ahead of the setting sun. The light made any details impossible to see, but the general lines suggested a whaler riding low in the water. As the last of the light faded, the ship also disappeared from view. Chopper frowned, rubbing the as-yet short growth of beard on his chin. “That ship was moving directly against the wind,” he commented.

“No doubt there are many strange sights in these waters,” Feruzi said.

“Night-time assault?” he suggested. “Save the whales!” Reiko steered them in that direction, directing the crew at the touchy process of tacking into the wind. The Crisis could manage a course about twenty points off the wind, but sailing directly into it ought to be impossible without magic. Or possibly harpooning a furious white whale. Who could say. Ezikial set Rosie and Marteen to setting up the ballista on the deck with help from the burly Dar and Insawa, taking great pride in showing off the results of his hard work to the rest of the crew. Ezikial in particular seemed eager to test out his new toy. They found no further trace of the whaler, though. Chopper shook his head, disappointed.

“Keep your eyes peeled. I don’t want to be caught with our pantaloons down.”

“I think I would agree with you on that one,” Reiko told him. Sandara grinned.

“Not like this, anyway.”

Interlude: Thieving

Posted by: Jennifer

The winch raising the longboat was far too slow for Leila today, with the angry crew on all sides nearly breathing down her neck. By the time they were level with the gunwhales, she could stand it no longer and nearly flung herself over the rail to clutch Feruzi’s arm, startling everyone so badly that they nearly fell into the drink.

“You have to DO something!” Leila hissed. She hesitated, then shot Reiko an apologetic look. Reiko’s eyebrows rose minutely.

“Is there some kind of problem?” the First Mate asked.

“I would say that there is,” a harsh voice behind Leila grated as Serhet, the bald Thuvian, started to reach out to pull Leila back into the ship. Leila flinched, horrifed, and Reiko’s eyes appeared ready to shoot out black lightning bolts. Serhet abandoned his boldness and shrank backward slightly and Feruzi climbed out of the longboat to look down at him.

“I believe you can handle this, Sergeant,” Reiko drawled, lending her own hand to the grateful Leila. Ezikial, Chopper, and Sandara followed, assuming various poses of relaxed but attentive interest. Sandara grinned broadly, which seemed to unnerve Serhet even more.

Feruzi nodded to Reiko. “So, what is the difficulty, then?” she asked, addressing Leila, not the Thuvian.

“He caught Simmed rooting through his gear,” Leila explained, then raised her voice sharply when Serhet started to interrupt. “And THEN he tried to gut the boy.”

Session 13: Breaking-in

Posted by Jennifer

It would be three days, Leila estimated, before they could reach Tidewater Rock. Well, three days with an ordinary crew, but there was really no telling with this bunch. Feruzi, Ezikial, and Reiko had spent an hour in the chartroom, dickering like fishwives, and come up with an organizational plan of sorts. At some point they decided to saddle Leila with the moony Lysaro to be her assistant and hopefully learn navigation, a discovery that had Leila feeling just a bit disgruntled this morning. Lysaro had already called her a delicate flower in addition to a dusky gemstone and something involving a deep well that may have actually been obscene if she felt any desire to decipher the poetic extravagance. Fortunately for her sanity and Lysaro’s continued survival, this appeared to be an ingrained reflex and not actual flirting; he’d settled down once she set the charts on him and made him try to calculate their position.

They left the Slithering Coast behind rapidly; the wind was cooperative even if the crew wasn’t. By evening, everyone on the ship was exhausted and sought their hammocks without even a token attempt at socializing. Or, almost everyone. Ezikial was just drifting off in his peaceful corner when he heard voices and saw a light flickering. Hoisting himself up, he saw Feruzi, Rosie, and Cochobar gathered outside the door to the crew quarters. He blinked repeatedly at the sight until he realized that the peculiar shadows were caused by elaborate designs in black and white paint.

Crisis Averted?

I’m Chopper the Eighth, I am,
Chopper the Eighth I am, I am!
I got married to the widow next door,
She’s been married seven times before
And every one was an Chopper
It wouldn’t be a Willie or a Sam
I’m her eighth old man I’m Choppery
Chopper the Eighth, I am!

Session 12: The New Crisis

Posted by: Jennifer

“Tatsumi? Tatsumi!” Reiko crossed the beach in a single bound and flung herself on her brother, who grinned a bit sheepishly.

“You . . . know her, then, Tatsumi?” the resplendent man asked, gesturing for his other crew to stand down. This close, his coat was visibly faded and somewhat threadbare, although the coat of mail he wore under it gleamed like silver. Tatsumi nodded at him respectfully.

“Captain, this is my sister. Although the last time I saw her, she was back in Genzei.”

Reiko bowed deeply. “I heard rumors that Tatsumi had joined your crew, Captain Pegsworthy. Thank you for taking care of him.”

“At your service, madam,” he said, pulling off a rather florid, courtly obeisance in return despite the slight awkwardness of his peg leg. “As you know my name, it seems the introductions fall to you.”

“Yes, of course. I am Nakayama Reiko, please, call me Reiko.” She gestured toward Ezikial, who holstered his pistols and nodded. “This is Mr. Ezikial Hands, he is our Master Gunner.”

“Hands? Any relation to Israel Hands, perchance?”

“Aye, sir, my father.”

Captain Pegsworthy was sharply taken aback. “Truly! How remarkable. I’ve heard your father was quite a meritorious pirate. Served under the Hurricane King himself.”

“So I have heard, as well, sir. Perhaps we can discuss this over a drink.”

“A better idea has rarely been voiced.” Pegsworthy nodded again to Ezikial and turned his attention back to Reiko, who recognized her cue.

Session 11: Dry Land

Posted By: Jennifer

It took three days for the Man’s Promise to limp its way to the Slithering Coast, but in the frantic scramble to do with eleven what a crew of more than twenty found hard going the minutes took on a strange dual quality. Each moment seemed endless, yet once they passed the memory of them vanished in the next crisis and it was somehow shocking to realize that an entire hour or morning had suddenly flashed by. When the land finally crept into view it seemed more like an illusion, even as they rounded the tall headland and sailed into the greenish-brown outflow of a sluggish jungle river, visibly withdrawn from wide banks of red mud that had become a landscape of cracks in the sun. The dense jungle foliage surrounding the cluster of buildings and piers at the river’s mouth was yellowed and wilted, and there was little visible activity anywhere ashore.

A lone red and yellow flag flickered at the top of a watchtower, followed by a similar sign from the roof of the massive shed that obviously housed the drydock. Like ants with a disturbed nest, dozens of figures emerged from the buildings to gather on the pier. A longboat was manned and launched and arrowed straight toward the Promise, where the crew put down their tasks and gathered at the rail, looking at their shiny new Captain for instructions.

Interlude: The Abyss
In Which the Queen's Wrath Takes Form.

In madness and rage she swam down into the deepest trenches of the darkest oceans, until at last, she found a place where light had never been known.

She had not eaten. She had not slept. She had not cared. There was only the pain of her loss.

Her precious Whale, grandson of Lamashtu herself, whose bottomless hunger her grindylows had worked so tirelessly to ease, was dead, slain by those two-legged air-breathing bastards.

They would pay. Oh, but they would all pay.

She whispered to the darkness in that abyss, calling it to the surface to avenge her beloved son. She had found what she’d sought, an evil so alien, so obscene, that merely gazing upon it could drive someone mad.

Of course, when the darkness answered the Brinebrood Queen, she was already well and truly mad.


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