Skull and Shackles

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.”

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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?”

“Yes.”

“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.

“Mmph.”

“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.

“Whuzzat?”

“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.

“What?”

“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.”

“Really?”

“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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Session 49: Ex-Harrigan

Finding themselves in command of the courtyard, the Crisis officers climbed up to the gallery and entered what appeared to be a warehouse, occupied by numerous crates, boxes, barrels, chests, and a multi-legged, multi-eyed beast waving sharp claws. Ezikial promptly shot it and it staggered, wavering. Chopper shrugged and buried his axe at a point roughly equidistant from its numerous eyes, eliminating the threat before Reiko and Feruzi could even raise their weapons.

“Well, I mean, I get the appeal of finishing things off so quickly,” Chopper said, retrieving his axe, “but where is the pageantry?”

Feruzi smirked. “It’s about time you boys handled something on your own,” she said. Reiko nodded.

“I couldn’t agree more. It’s nice to avoid the explosion of internal organs all over me for once.”

“The thunder of my guns and the spraying blood are enough for me,” Ezikial said, reloading his pistols.

The door on the western side of the warehouse was locked—Chopper kicked it and six spikes shot out, impaling his leg.

“Oof!” he announced as Sandara rushed forward with a healing spell. “Door kicked me back. Ruse, can you witch it open?”

“Er, no.”

“If only we ‘ad someone good at blowin’ up locks . . .” Sandara said unsubtly. Ezikial pulled out a grenade.

“Shall I?”

“Fire in th’ hole!” Sandara added helpfully.

The explosion rattled the warehouse and the door was reduced to expedient splinters. They rifled through the rest of that floor without finding anything too terribly interesting, then mounted the stairs. Or tried to: the doors above opened and four pale-skinned, dark-winged women wearing not many clothes but wielding more than enough weapons to make up for it charged them. Two of them fired flaming arrows at Ezikial, the other attacked Reiko with a flaming rope that coiled as of its own volition. The fourth erinyes cast a spell and a miasma of cold, greasy darkness rolled over them.

Chopper shouted and charged, wielding his axes. “Put on some clothes, ye harlot,” he growled as he fenced with the spellcaster. Ezikial shot that one and, without a pause, continued on to the next. Reiko shook her head.

“Why am I even here today?” she asked.

“Because it takes me a while to reload,” Ezikial grunted. Feruzi fired up the stairs, downing a third devil while Reiko attempted to disentangle herself from the rope.

HARRIGAN, COME OUT AND PLAY!” Ezikial roared. Sandara channeled divine energy, burning the remaining erinyes, and Ezikial finished her off. The east door, behind them, opened and the familiar, painful sound of a Chelish opera sung by a powerful, piercing soprano filled the room.

“Oh, not this again,” Feruzi said, wincing. The diva strode into the warehouse and cast a spell at Reiko, who didn’t seem particularly overcome.

“Yer flat,” Chopper announced as a bolt of lightning hit Feruzi in the chest and arced, singing everyone except Chopper. Ezikial cringed as phantasmal magic struck at him, but he shook it off. Harrigan suddenly appeared next to the Chelish diva, the skulls on his armor howling fearsomely. He struck at Feruzi, who didn’t quite dodge in time. Reiko drew her katana and cleaved the Diva while Chopper attacked Harrigan.

“Besmara calls for your blood,” Ezikial growled.

“Then come an’ take it, Mister Hands,” Harrigan growled back.

“I believe that I shall.” Ezikial’s bullets punched holes in Harrigan’s flesh. Doloruso, the spellcaster, appeared behind Harrigan and threw a spray of prismatic energy over Feruzi and Sandara, both of whom vanished in a blast of violet light.

“What the what?!” Chopper demanded. Reiko growled and shifted her grip, drawing her short sword with her off-hand. With a flurry of blows, she assailed the diva who fell dead at her feet. Chopper cheered happily but was cut off by Harrigan’s equally furious assault. Ezikial’s pistols thundered once more as Chopper forced Harrigan back, and with a hiss of rage that ended in a spray of blood, the former master of the Wormwood finally met his end.

“You can’t stop what’s coming!” he gasped as he expired.

Doloruso blinked. “I yield!” she announced. “No more, I beg of you!”

The translucent, ghostly face of Nightshade appeared. “Traitor,” she hissed, casting a spell at Doloruso, who recoiled.

“My allegiance was always a temporary convenience,” Doloruso said. Nightshade began to cast another spell, but Reiko leaped forward, severing both her arms at the wrist. With a shriek, Nightshade expired.

“I accept your surrender,” Chopper said. “So does Mister Hands.”

“Oh, thank the Black Queen.”

“And Feruzi isn’t here to gainsay me, either. So, where IS she, exactly?”

“Not to mention Sandara as well,” Reiko said, feeling her burns.

“They caught the violet ray of my prismatic spray, so they must have been sent to another plane of existence,” Doloruso said.

“That could be problematic,” Reiko mused.

“Your cleric can probably bring them back . . . assuming they ended up in the same place.”

“What did Harrigan mean by ’what’s coming’?” Chopper asked.

“Cheliax is planning an invasion. They told Harrigan they would make him the Governor once they’d taken over.”

Searching Harrigan’s effects revealed a great deal of information about this proposed invasion, as well as a secret entrance to Fort Hazard created by a previous Hurricane King. They also discovered Peppery Longfarthing and Habbly Quarne in the prison, victims of Harrigan’s wrath.

“Secure the prisoners and contact the crew,” Chopper announced. “We’re getting off this rock. Feruzi and Sandara will have to fend for themselves. They should be up for it.”

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Session 48: Stealth Section

“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.

“Yes, ma’am.”

“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.”

“Indeed.”

“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.

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Session 47: Fleet on Fleet Action

It was difficult to say whether the decision to return to the Island of Empty Eyes to rally the defense was a wise one, but Harrigan’s fleet was spotted early on the 20th of Abadius by the keen eyes of Morgus the Manticore, who also gave them a general outline of Harrigan’s attack formation and the location of the much-hated Wormwood.

“Watcher think?” Chopper asked. “Try to pierce the heart?”

“It should be our responsibility to deal with Harrigan,” Feruzi said. “Their alliance will probably fall apart without him.”

“Aye,” Chopper said thoughtfully.

“I have no doubt our allies can handle most of this riffraff, anyway.”

“Right. LISTEN UP, YE SWABS!” Chopper bellowed, rather startling everyone, “We mean ta cut a bloody path ta Captain Harrigan! I need every sailor givin’ their utmost all! All hands on the bleedin’ deck! YAAAAAAAARRRRGH!”

The crew gave a hearty cheer.

LOAD THEM UP, ROSIE!” Ezikial ordered. “Make sure you use chain bolts for the ballistae and the barrels are ready for the catapult.”

“Er, Captain,” Sandara said as the cannons and ballistae were loaded, “Do we mean ter sink, or ter board?”:

“Board. Wouldn’t do ta caount a sunk ship as a confirmed kill,” Chopper told her, winking.

“More glory innit too, I wager,” she replied, winking back.

Reiko sighed. “Right, then.” She took her position behind the wheel as the first ships engaged. In the hazy distance one of Harrigan’s ships collided with a Hell Harbor warship in a shower of splinters. Within moments both ships were heavily embattled and on fire. The Salty Flagon, Pierce Jerrell’s ship, closed with another and seemed to sprout a forest of flashing blades. The Sated Satyr intercepted a warship before it could reach the Crisis. The Wormwood was visible now, deep in the center of the enemy fleet. Behind the Crisis there was a horrendous crash as the Satyr rammed the warship, effectively taking both ships out of the fight. Ezikial, watching the carnage with an avid expression, began to sing, Sandara joining him vigorously. Only one defender remained, and the Strife managed to force it off course, giving Crisis free room to ply her guns.

“Time to make ourselves truly offensive to Harrigan,” Feruzi said.

“That’s the spirit!” Chopper told her. “Now, Ezikial!”

The cannons thundered, fully restored after their removal from the Black Marlin; the ballistae and catapults fired with less drama but equal effectiveness, chain bolts and fire barrels reducing the Wormwood’s aft rigging to flaming splinters. One of her ballistae was also shattered.

RELOAD THAT!!” Ezikial bellowed. Reiko steered the Crisis into the void left by the shattered ballista as the boarding crews hurled grapnels onto the Wormwood, hauling the ships together. Planks were thrown across and a general surge of armed-pirates swept toward Harrigan’s flagship. “BESMARA!!!” Ezikial howled, a cry that was taken up by many.

Harrigan and his first mate Peppery Longfarthing were nowhere to be seen, but Riaris Krine and Patch Patchsalt seemed to be leading the action. Patchsalt seemed to run over the top of the crowd and viciously attacked Ezikial with a magical blade.

“Besmara’s come calling for you!” Ezikial spat at the little gnome.

“Norgorber’ll take ye first!” she shrieked in reply.

Reiko left the wheel and drew her sword, cleaving a path through the mass of enemy pirates with a placid, intent expression on her face. Body parts thumped to the deck before her. “Stand down or you taste my blade as well,” she told the pirates, and they recoiled from her.

The aft ballista fired, the bolt slamming into Ezikial and tearing a great hole through his side. Kipper, manning the ballista, shrieked with laughter. Chopper rushed forward, clearing a space around the wounded Ezikial, while Feruzi’s eye sought out Kipper. A flurry of arrows dropped him before he could take cover. Riaris Krine, bellowing every foul oath she knew, attacked Reiko with her magical boarding pike. Ezikial, somehow still on his feet, pulled out his pistols and began firing while Sandara attempted to heal his wounds. Patchsalt went down, leaving only Krine to rally the enemy pirates.

“Where’s Harrigan?” Chopper demanded.

“Like I’d tell ye ball-grabbin’ bastards!”

Shrugging, Chopper aimed his cutlass and a surge of magical water hurled Krine overboard, still swearing. “So, were IS the ruddy bastard?” Chopper demanded of the now-surrendering enemy.

“Wait, let me guess,” Feruzi grunted, “he had a headache so he stayed home in bed.”

“He ain’t here,” one of the lesser officers announced. “Doloruso’s in charge here.”

“Interesting,” Chopper said. “Let’s say hello.” He booted the door to the Captain’s quarters and bellowed, “Oy! Officer on deck!” He caught a fleeting glimpse of an unfamiliar Mwangi woman who hissed in surprise before she vanished from sight in a crackle of magical energy.

“Bloody witchcraft! Gods take the entire damned school o’ conjuration!”

“Er, may I be of service, Captain?” A timid voice asked. Chopper turned around to regard one of the surviving Wormwood officers.

“Mebbe you can.”

View
Session 46: Caves Full of Ships

Alise pointed the Crisis officers to a gap in the rocks on the other side of the island that opened into a vast cathedral-like cavern packed with derelict ships. Despite the shifting of the tide, the greenish water stank of death. Only a few rays of sunlight penetrated the murk. Four of the ships were in an identifiable condition. The largest was the Devilish Duchess. Another, with sleek lines and cannon ports, was named the Black Marlin. The other two were the Pinkbelly and the Undaunted.

Ezikial looked ecstatic. Well, ecstatic for him. “Cannon,” he announced, leading the way over the wrecks toward the Marlin. Chopper glanced over the side to see the decayed bones of a dozen ships and ten times that many men. Dark shapes moved in the shadows and sprang to the attack, one charging straight into Reiko’s blade and nearly splitting itself in twain. Ezikial followed up with a hail of pistol shot, but the elder undead still came on, raking with their diseased claws at anyone to slow to give way. Bleeding, now, Chopper distracted a second and Feruzi shot it through the head, yet still it came on. This was beginning to look like something less than an easy fight. Reiko ducked under a claw and completed the twain-splitting of the first one. It dissolved into acid, splashing her and mixing with the blood already liberally streaming from her wounds.

Sandara channeled divine energy, healing some of the wounds and burning the undead, and slowly the battle turned. Chopper’s axe split the head of the second brykolakas while Ezikial and Feruzi shot the third sufficiently full of holes to reduce it to dripping acid. The last remaining monster showed no signs of fear, clawing away until Reiko decapitated it, getting one last dose of foul liquid in the bargain.

“It’s really rude of them to explode AFTER we kill them,” Feruzi complained, wiping ineffectually at the acid spots.

“Thass th’ undead,” Sandara said. “Inconsiderate numpties th’ lot ovem.”

The ships proved to have some valuable plunder intact, and on the Devilish Duchess they located a small hidden panel in a beam just above a moldering hammock, containing some coins, bottles, and a leather journal. A brief thumb through the volume revealed it as a detailed accounting of Scags Rotgram’s grievances against his former captain, Barnabas Harrigan. The latter portion was an elaborate plan to invade Harrigan’s fortress and assassinate him—complete with maps, charts, and heavy annotation of defenses.

“Money,” Chopper announced.

“Far be it from us to deny Rotgram’s final wishes,” Feruzi said.

Ezikial was not to be pulled away from the Black Marlin. “Even if we leave the rest we should take this one, Captain. Extended keel, narrow hull . . . she’ll be fast and maneuverable and tough.”

“You might want to wipe your chin there, Zeke,” Feruzi said dryly.

“I don’t mind, but do we have to take it today?” Chopper asked.

“Sooner is better, Captain.”

“Put some people on it. It’s what we do now. Delegate.”

A great deal of back-breaking work followed, but they managed to float the Marlin on the 2 a.m. tide and take her in tow behind Crisis. Leila spent the time examining Rotgram’s charts and identified the most likely location of Harrigan’s hideout.

“He’s here on Gannet Island, about thirty-six miles west of the Smoker. Rotgram also explains how to get past the sea serpent that guards the island.”

“Shoot it a lot?” Feruzi offered. “Just a wild guess, mind you.”

“Er, no,” Leila said. “Well, perhaps. But it says here that Harrigan has a pet witch who controls the beast. When ships come to the island they bang large gongs and drop a freshly butchered bull over the side as an offering. The serpent has been trained not to attack anyone who performs the ritual. There is also a sea cave under the island that serves as an escape route. Rotgram planned to approach the island underwater . . . though he doesn’t say how . . . and enter the cave at high tide to sneak into the fortress. Finally, he mentions that Harrigan’s quarters are on the third floor. Attacking from above could also be an option, but the entire complement of guards could come to his aid.”

“Only if he has more guards than I have arrows,” Feruzi smirked.

“It seems Rotgram was very serious about his plans,” Reiko said.

“So, it seems we have a decision to make,” Conchobhar said. “Do we attack Harrigan now or return to help defend our island from his attack?”

“More’n Harrigan are against us,” Chopper said. Knowledge and defense be my leanin’."

“Shall I plot a course for home, Captain?” Leila asked.

“Aye.”

View
Session 45: Talking Heads

The meeting of the Anti-Cheliax Preparatory Force was brief and businesslike. Captain Aiger took possession of his mother’s former sword, swearing his allegiance to the small fleet at the same time. Maps were consulted and plans made, the various captains returning to their vessels to make preparations.

Fargo Vitterande approached the Crisis officers after the meeting with further news of the elusive Scags Rotgram. It was widely rumored that Harrigan’s former first mate and his ship, the Devilish Duchess, fell victim to the curse of Dagon’s Jaws, a pair of islands near Motaku Isle with a terrible reputation that turned out on further examination to be bunkum. Or, at least, was called so by one of Fargo’s contacts in Slipcove. The waters around and particularly between the islands were dangerous, to be sure, but not cursed or otherwise supernatural. So, of course, what else was there to do but set course for the islands and try to discover Rotgram’s whereabouts. If Harrigan wanted the man put down so badly, he must know something worthwhile.

Several days later, Chopper surveyed the islands while munching on a chicken leg. “Looks harmless enough,” he said.

“I would like to say that, but I know better by now,” Feruzi said. The larger island, named, creatively, “Big Jaw”, was covered in dense jungle. Little Jaw was rockier and drier and covered less with steaming plant life and more by cliffs that made the island difficult, if not quite impossible, to approach.

“How shall I approach, Captain?” Reiko queried after they finished their survey.

“Circle them once,” Chopper ordered. “Let’s see what we can see.”

“Aye, aye, Captain.”

As the Crisis passed to the west of Big Jaw, the lookout yelled, “Fire! A signal fire!” A plume of black smoke drifted lazily upwards from the western shore of the island—a high cliff face. They would have to land at a beach almost across the island if they wanted to investigate. Which, of course, they did.

The beach was not of a hospitable character, rough and chewed by waves, sloping upward toward rocky projections. Fragments of what seemed to be a ship’s longboat lay scattered along the shore and a half-dozen sodden corpses bobbed face-down in the waves. One plank had the barely-recognizable word “Duchess” painted on it.

“Looks like Scags maybe wasn’t so lucky after all,” Feruzi said.

“Well, the fire suggests survivors to me,” Chopper said. “Also these tracks.”

“They could also suggest ‘the undead’.”

Ezikial shrugged and nodded to the floating corpses, which were now climbing to their feet and staggering ashore, much to the surprise of absolutely no one. Sandara jumped and waved her holy symbol furiously, turning half the soggy lacedons to dust. The rest fell to pieces from a few well-placed arrows. Then a pair of tall, lanky creatures with rotting gray flesh and long black hair burst out of the sea, sweeping their claws at Sandara. Ezikial blasted away at one, but it proved quite resilient. Sandara scrambled away, directing healing energy at her clawed-up skin. Feruzi shot the second monstrosity in an effort to distract it from the retreating cleric, but it, too, stubbornly refused to drop. It knocked Sandara to the ground and turned on Reiko. A melee of axe and sword blows finally managed to stop the attacks and hastily-applied healing magic brought Sandara back to consciousness just as the monstrosities exploded into clouds of greenish gore and doused everyone with some sort of toxic mess.

Just another day on the Crisis.

The next stop on the Big Jaw tour was more salubrious in nature. A sizeable clearing surrounded by large boulders proved to contain a lovely, bubbling spring that filled several small pools decorated with mountain lilies and colorful dragonflies. The rocks were carved here and there with groups of three entwined spirals.

“Thas an ol’ symbol fer Pharasma, Lady o’ Graves,” Sandara said.

“Unsurprisingly, people have been here,” Chopper said. “Thirsty work bein’ stranded on a deserted island, I reckon.”

“As we damn near found out ourselves,” Sandara added.

“The water has healing properties,” Feruzi told them after testing it briefly. “It can also make weapons proof against the undead. For a short time, anyway.” They took advantage of this blessing and moved on, climbing toward the signal fire atop the cliff. A single thirty-foot-tall boulder was perched at the edge, sheltering a half-dozen crude huts and lean-tos.

HALLOOOOO!!” Feruzi shouted with great subtlety.

“We got ye surrounded!” a rough female voice called back. “Drop yer weapons and gear!” Several castaways emerged from the brush, brandishing crude weapons. Feruzi blinked. “I don’t think they know who we are.”

“May I shoot a couple until they figure it out?” Ezikial asked.

“Nah, where’s the challenge there?” said Chopper. He raised his voice slightly. “We be seekin’ Scags. Ye know him?”

“You’re too late; the Captain went down with the ship. Your boss will never get his revenge now and he won’t take us, either!”

Chopper snorted, laughing. “Yeah, it ain’t even remotely like that. Tis a damned shame, I wanted to recruit the man. Guess he was as much a lubber as the stories claimed.”

“You mind your tongue! Scag’s Rotgram was ten times the pirate Harrigan will ever be!”

Five slightly-different versions of “That isn’t saying very much!” followed. The Crisis officers laughed and shook their heads.

“Harrigan didn’t send you?” the woman asked.

“No,” Chopper said dryly. “Well, since Scags be dead and ye ain’t fans o’ Harrigan, do you want a ride?”

“You’d take us off this cursed rock?”

“Course. Anyone who ain’t a fan of Harrigan is an ally in my book.”

“Oh thank the gods!” The woman dropped her scimitar and threw her arms around Chopper. Feruzi snorted as Chopper shrugged and hugged her back.

“Aww, you made a friend.”

“I’m Alise. Alise Grogblud. I was Captain Rotgram’s first mate. Lay down your arms, everyone!”

“I’m Captain Chopper, King o’ Crisis. Besmara smile on ye lot.”

“King, eh?” Sandara said. “I didn’t vote for you.”

“So, how did you people end up here, exactly?” Feruzi asked.

“Captain Rotgram decided to shoot the Gullet to get away from the Wormwood. WE would have made it, too, if those brykolakas hadn’t boarded us. The Captain and the other officers held them off while we escaped to the island.”

“So why would Harrigan still be trying to get the Pirate Council to go after Rotgram?”

“Man can hold a grudge?” Chopper suggested.

“True enough,” Alise said.

“Or, you know, to bait us into coming here. Because that’s the kind of pirates we are,” Chopper continued.

“Rotgram had all kinds of dirt on Harrigan,” Alise said. “And, as his enemies, I expect that ownership of said dirt should fall to you.”

“You still have it?”

“No. But I know where it is, stored in a watertight chest in the ship. The brykolakas took it into their cave. We’ve never been able to get close, of course. There’s also some kind o’ big wooden heads up the island a ways. We never managed to get close because the guardian shouts at us.”

“This I gotta see,” Chopper said.

Sure enough, when they approached the heads, a booming voice rang out. “OUTLANDERS, STEP AWAY FROM THE DUSK WATCHERS OR BE JUDGED!” A creature of gleaming black metal and chiseled stone stepped into the open. It was, oddly enough, wearing a heavy hooded cloak.

“Oy, there, tinman!” Chopper greeted it.

HAIL, OUTLANDER. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.”

“Yeah, I heard ye. What’s with the heads?”

THE ANCIENT TRIBE PLACED THEM HERE LONG AGO AND CHARGED ME TO DEFEND THEM. I MUST CONTINUE TO GUARD THEM UNTIL THE ANCIENTS RELEASE ME.”

Sandara leaned sideways to get a look at the heads. “They give off divination magic. Them ancients mighta used ’em for navigation or somethin.”

“Are these like, Azlanti ancients?” Feruzi asked.

“I NO LONGER RECALL. I HAVE STOOD VIGIL HERE FOR THOUSANDS OF YEARS.”

“Sounds dull,” Chopper remarked.

“IT IS . . . IT IS MY DUTY.”

“Well, we didn’t want to mess with the heads, per se. Just see ’em.”

VERY WELL, OUTLANDER, APPROACH THE DUSK WATCHERS. BUT IF YOU ATTEMPT TO HARM THEM, I WILL DESTROY YOU.”

Chopper strolled down the path to examine the wooden monuments. They were extremely monumental. “Hey, Kriss, how many threats t’ these statues have you faced in them thousands o’ years?”

NONE WHATSOEVER.”

“That sounds . . . really boring,” Feruzi said.

THIS IS MY FATE. THE ANCIENTS ARE NO LONGER HERE TO RELEASE ME.”

“They don’t have descendents somewhere?”

“I DO NOT KNOW.”

“Well, does it HAFTA be them what does it?” Sandara piped in.

“ER . . . NO.”

“Oh,” Feruzi said. “So what needs to be done to release you?”

THE SIX BROWS OF THE DUSK WATCHERS MUST BE ANOINTED WITH WATER TAKEN FROM THE SACRED SPRING.”

“I got some o’ that in this here waterskin,” Sandara said.

“Anoint away.” When the cleric finished the sixth statue, a faint tremor ran through the island. Moments later, the towering carved heads crumbled to ash and blew away.

“I THANK YOU. I PROMISE TO REWARD YOU AT SOME FURTHER DATE. FAREWELL.”

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Session 44: Tragedy Tomorrow, Comedy Tonight

The Theater of Corruption in Hell Harbor was run by a trio of Chelish expatriates who performed abstract reworkings of ancient Chelish plays. The disturbing operatic comedies featured dark fiends as protagonists and mortal antagonists who embroiled themselves in sins and deviltry, suffering ironic losses, deformities, and often damnation. It was difficult to know whether the patrons enjoyed these themes or whether they simply loved the scandalous reputation of the establishment.

The Crisis officers spread out around the broad, single-story building, constructed on piles over the waters of Hell Harbor in search of side entrances. Feruzi had approached the doors when she was interrupted by a loud “Oi!” from around the corner.

“Don’t you ‘oi’ me!” she snapped. A heavily armored guard approached her.

“You need to move on, there. This buildin’s under the personal protection of Lord Endymion hisself!”

“And what, exactly, did you think I was about to do to said building?”

“Don’t matter, girlie. Get thee gone.”

“How do I even know you work for Endymion?”

“Do we even care?” Ezikial grunted from his position further up the street. He took a swig from his flask.

“Well, no,” Feruzi said, " but I don’t appreciate people trying to tell me what to do."

“It don’t matter if I work for Asmodeus hisself. This is yer last warnin. Leave.”

“Ooh, my last warning. Now I’m scared,” Feruzi said. “Whatever shall I . . .” she punched the guard in his ugly mug and was surprised to discover no real resistance. Chopper charged out of the shadows and whacked the so-called guard upside the head, or tried to, he passed right through the illusion, which vanished, accompanied by the sound of mocking, ethereal laughter.

“Bloody witchcraft!” Chopper growled. Feruzi clambered onto the roof of the building, not immediately finding any other enemies. There was a loud thumping noise as Reiko assaulted the door, battering it open in a matter of moments. Ezikial and Chopper, still on the pier, were hit by a wave of unholy energy. A devil, sporting a rather dangerous-looking beard, shimmered into view and attacked.

“Lord Endymion sends his regards, fools,” it cackled. “Now die!”

“Eh, probably not,” Chopper said, fending off the devil’s assaults. Feruzi shot it, dealing some damage while Reiko drew her sword to deal with a wild-eyed, bloodstained man who punched at her with his bare hands. Somewhere inside the building a powerful soprano began to belt out a Chelish opera. The bare-knuckle fighter proved to be a powerful adversary, pummeling Reiko without mercy. Someone from inside the building cast a spell on him which only served to make him more ferocious.

Ezikial raised his pistols and blew the devil away, removing one distraction as the sound of spellcasting came again from inside the building. Reiko dealt the berserker brawler a hideous blow, but he laughed and bellowed a challenge at her as the wound was largely healed by a powerful spell.

Blocked from assisting Reiko, the other three officers and Sandara hurried toward the main doors. Ezikial blasted the lock and they rushed into a dimly-lit hall with excellent acoustics that seemed to be amplifying whatever bardic magic was taking place. Sandara threw a spell into the far corner, removing the illusion that concealed one of the attackers. She looked like a skeleton wrapped in a woman’s translucent flesh. A tiefling and a Chelish diva were also gathered in the corner, overseeing the fight.

Reiko drew her short sword and engaged the berserker in a flurry of attacks, ending by slicing through his arms and impaling him in the neck with her wakizashi. Slowly, seeming not to believe he was dead, he fell to the floor. The Chelish diva cursed and quickly cast a spell, vanishing from sight.

“Dimension door,” Sandara said. “She’s outta here.” The remaining spellcasters similarly vanished. A search of the theater fortunately uncovered some evidence that they were, indeed, Chelish spies.

Overall, not the best result. Even so, Endymion was happy to contribute his ships to the gathering fleet preparing to face the Chelish offensive.

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Session 43: Captains Who Want Things

“So, just guessing from our previous behavior, we’re not going to heed the warning and stop here, correct?” Feruzi asked. Ezikial grinned. "Do we at least have some kind of rotting curse repellent?

“Verily, I have remembered to bring my own repellent that I would be overjoyed to share with you,” Ezikial said, offering everyone his grenades.

“No thanks,” Feruzi told him. “I’d probably just set myself on fire. So how do we get the door open? Oh. Never mind.”

The chained and spiked trapdoor made a lovely explosion, revealing a smooth-walled shaft and a room far below. Ropes were brought out and they descended into a vaulted chamber with a lovely frieze of sea creatures intertwined with bones. A large stone altar overlooked a pool of stagnant water with a rather obvious sword stuck in the middle of it. A vast creature like an amalgam of bat, spider, and just plain ugly stirred as they slid down the ropes, flexing its tentacles in line with the overall Black Tower motif. It exuded a foul miasma that seemed to sap strength and will. So, they shot it.

Most of Feruzi’s arrows went wide, but one impacted somewhere in the folds of flesh. Ezikial had far better luck and the monstrosity howled and reared back on four leg-wings, lashing out at Reiko as she dropped down to menace it with her katana. Swinging wildly, Chopper also dropped, nearly landing on top of the demon, which shook him off disdainfully and leapt into the air, clawing and snapping at Ezikial until he fell to the ground, bloody but still in the fight. He jammed his pistol into the bloated, slimy mass of its body and pulled the trigger. The boom was muffled but gore exploded from the demon’s body and it fell. Chopper took one whiff and immediately pulled a scented candle out of his copious pockets. In the water, the sword beckoned.

“So is this a Chosen One type of deal?” Chopper asked. “Cos I ain’t certain we’ve the proper bona fides.”

“No clue,” Reiko said helpfully. “Probably not, though.”

“Well, let me shatter my soul against it, then you can pull it free and we can be on our way,” Chopper told her. Ezikial rolled his eyes and waded into the pool, grasping the hilt and giving it a good tug. No budging was in evidence. In the end, it took Reiko, Ezikial, and Chopper heaving mightily to de-wedge Aiger’s Kiss from the floor. The water drained away into the tiny hole left behind by the sword’s removal.

Reiko shook her head. “Perhaps we should leave now?”

Getting out was not a great deal more difficult than getting in, although removing the other valuables took some time. They rested on the beach, Ezikial taking out Aiger’s Kiss to get a better look at it.

“Sorrinash is going to be pissed,” Feruzi remarked. “So, who wants to leave a big sign on the beach for him?”

“I actually had Conchobar working on that before we left,” Chopper told her. They made their way down to where they’d left the boat, only to find a tall blond man leaning against it. A second boat lay nearby, surrounded by surly armed pirates.

“Parley?” the man said, bowing with rather more flourish than was probably justified.

“Uh, granted,” Chopper announced.

“Excellent. Captain Valerande Aiger at your service. Better known as . . . Barracuda.”

“This is Captain Chopper,” Feruzi said, pointing at that noteworthy. “Better known as Captain Chopper.”

“I . . . see. I can only assume you’ve come from the Black Tower. If you’ve recovered my mother’s blade, I must demand you turn it over to me as my rightful inheritance. Or face my wrath.”

“You want a kiss, you can fight your own chaos beast for it,” Chopper announced.

“It is quite unbecoming not to retrieve it yourself,” Reiko added. “Or did you just give up trying, because it was too hard?”

“If ye want to inherit it, ye might see if Reiko will adopt ye, but I ain’t givin’ good odds on that one,” Chopper said, smirking.

Valerande laughed and his pirates relaxed. “Perhaps we can negotiate for the blade, then. The pride of recovering it would still be yours, of course.”

“Eh, anything’s possible,” Chopper said. “The Shackles be a strange place.”

“I am willing to offer you the contents of my ship’s hold. The Wanton Wastrel’s taken many fine prizes of late, and I feel that this will be our year. I might even be willing to trade a magical item or two, depending.”

“I have another thought,” Reiko said. “But I’d like to discuss it with my Captain first.”

“But of course.”

“Arr, plunder we have, and magical trinkets aplenty,” Chopper began, then coughed violently. “Scuse me. Arr. Arr. Arr. Sorry. Watcha got, first mate?”

“I think we should offer to let Valerande wield the sword—provided he joins our fleet against the Chelish forces and uses the sword to our advantage in that fight,” Reiko proposed. Chopper nodded thoughtfully. “I also think we should turn over the sword to him at the upcoming meeting of our forces.”

“I like this plan. Let’s do it.”

Barracuda was amenable to the terms. The Wastrel and the Crisis both weighed anchor and left the environs of the Black Tower. The Crisis sailed on to Ollo so they could sell their plunder and purchase supplies. The ship was approached by a man who was present at the pirate council, but not a part of the deliberations. He introduced himself as Chambros Egrossa, first mate of the Tyrannous. Arronax Endymion’s ship.

“I apologize for the interruption,” Chambros said when Chopper appeared. "My Captain would like to speak with you aboard his ship.

Chopper shrugged. “I’m amenable.”

“Excellent. He gave me this purse, as a show of good faith,” Chambros added, passing it over.

“Very gracious.”

Captain Endymion met them in the map room aboard the Tyrranous. “Greetings to you, Pirate Lords.” Oddly, the hard-faced old Captain seemed worried and distracted. “I thank you for agreeing to meet me. I know you have many demands on your time, so I will come straight to the point. You and your ally, Lady Fairwind, have been rooting around for Chelish conspirators.”

“Indeed.”

“And you have doubtless heard that I am one of those conspirators as a result. I assure you, though, that nothing could be further from the truth.”

“I thought such accusations seemed a bit too . . . obvious,” Chopper drawled.

“My hatred for Cheliax and her devil-besotted fools is deeper than the loathing of anyone in the Shackles. I appreciate your trust. Yet you must understand, these rumors persist. In fact, they’ve been spreading of late in my own home port of Hell Harbor.”

Reiko nodded. “Well then, we should be in a hurry to uncover the truth behind these rumors. The true conspirators and spies. Wouldn’t you agree?”

“I do, Ms Nakayama. I cannot directly move against the source of this latest campaign of falsehoods against me, but if you do if you teach these slanderers a lesson-I’ll reward you with a squadron of my finest warships. Which, I am sure, you’ll find most useful in the days ahead.”

“Sold,” Chopper announced.

“There is a small group of exiled Chelish performers who’ve purchased a seaside tavern that they use as a cover for their campaign against me. Their performances are quite popular, and by the time I realized it was they who were slandering me, any overt move I make against them would only martyr them and ‘prove’ my guilt. Since it would look like I was attempting to crush those attempting to get the truth out.”

“I think we can handle that,” Reiko said.

“Excellent. Find proof of their work against me—or, at least, proof that they’re Chelish agents. And, if you find no such proof, then no harm is done. Hell Harbor has no shortage of entertainers.”

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Session 42: The Black Tower

When the officers returned to the Crisis, they found a silver raven with a message from Tessa Fairwind sitting on the port rail. “About 25 years ago, Captain Tevenida Aiger, after which the sword is named, led a raid on the Isle of the Black Tower, it’s mistress known as the Shrouded Queen. Captain Aiger was defeated but not without defeating the Queen at the same time. The Captains sword though, unfortunately, remained lost on the island, presumably in a black tower. Many people went after the lost treasure, but all have disappeared. Many people suspect that the Captain’s son also went after the sword and thus disappeared as well. Though some believe he may have just left the Shackles. The recent rumors are on the air are probably due to the fact that it’s the 25th anniversary of the incident.”

They briefly discussed what Fishguts knew of the history of the sword, then decided that retrieving it was important enough to pursue immediately. Three days later, they set foot on the Island of the Black Tower. The reason for its name was readily apparent—an impossible-looking tower of black stone sat at the small island’s center. It was barely thirty feet wide, but soared to an altitude of well over four hundred, giving it the approximate dimensions of a pin.

“No, that doesn’t look ominous at all,” Feruzi said.

“Well, we have experience with ominious,” Reiko said.

There was no apparent way into the tower, but when Feruzi scaled the stone for a better look she discovered that the roof was partially caved in, forming a bowl-shaped, rubble-filled cavity. It was no simple task to climb that height without magic, but once they were all up top they located a half-buried trap door among the rubble. Reiko and Chopper took sides and with a mighty heave the door came loose of the floor, revealing a curving stairway and walls carved with seemingly-endless coils of tentacles.

“Anyone else hungry for calamari about now?” Chopper asked as they descended. Occasional people, ships, or entire cities appeared amongst the coils, all savagely being crushed.

“Looks like Dagon,” Sandara said.

“Dragon?”

DAY-gon. A demon lord, ‘e be. Prince o’ the sea, sea monsters, an’ deformity.”

“Gross,” was Chopper’s comment. “Wonder if any of his fans are still hereabouts.”

“Shoot them enough and we’ll be fine,” Ezikial said.

“Aye, if it bleeds, we can kill it.”

Patches of dull blue mold spotted the walls of the next chamber, partially obscuring a faded mural that depicted some sort of enormous amalgam of eel, fish, and cephalopod. Opposite the entrance a pair of rusty iron posts held up a wide gold-plated disc formed in the shape of a bulbous, fleshy eye. A wooden statue, now sadly decayed, faced the eye, clenching a fist-sized chunk of serpentine carved in the shape of a human heart. A reinforced door stood to the side, held closed by iron spikes. Someone had scrawled a crude warning over the door in charcoal. “She lives.” A smeared charcoal handprint served as punctuation.

“Innerestin,” Sandara said. “The mark belongs t’ a sect o holy assassins sworn ter Norgorber. I think ol’ Cap’n Aiger was one o’ them.”

“Now might be the time for explosions, Mister Hands,” Chopper said. Ezikial set his grenades and retreated, blasting the door to smithereens. The Eye shot a blast of vile-smelling water at Chopper, drenching him in magic that drained his will.

The group ducked through the door and down the stairs, finding another circular hall, this one housing a row of black iron candlesticks covered in the curdled remnants of foul-smelling tallow. A shallow alcove at the far wall held a serpentine statue carved in the semblance of a human male being devoured by tiny flesh-boring eels. The center of the statue’s chest was an empty hole.

“Do you think the heart from the hall above would fit in that statue?” Ezikial asked.

“Ooh, let’s find out,” Chopper announced, darting back up the stairs. The eye was now roving back and forth, ejecting more jets of enchanted filth. Feruzi saw Chopper readying to sprint across the room and shoved him out of her way, jinking and dodging past the great eye to snatch up the serpentine heart. She tossed it back to Chopper and the magical auras in the room faded. Chopper placed the heart in the statue and it slid easily aside, providing access to another stairway.

Huge, rotting draperies hung from the next chamber’s walls. A pair of monstrosities hovered in the room, masses of tentacles tangled around fanged mouths. Reiko hacked into one without hesitating, wounding it, but digestive acid spilled out and her clothes and exposed skin began to bubble and smoke.

“The floor is unstable,” Ezikial said, taking aim at the other beast. Chopper lobbed a throwing axe that bounced off the rubbery mass; a volley of bullets were more successful at disrupting it. The creatures began to writhe in a nauseating display, stirring up a cloud of noxious mold from the hangings and walls. Reiko reeled back and the first monstrosity pressed the advantage, tearing at her. Feruzi’s arrows distracted it for long enough that Reiko recovered and finished it off. The second, still dripping from Ezikial’s attacks, didn’t stand a chance.

Chopper examined the yellow mold cautiously. “Sunlight’d do it in, but that’s in short supply here,” he concluded. “Fire works, though.” They lit torches and burned a path through the growth to the stairs, discovering four emeralds in the eye sockets of a statue on the way. The next room held two eerie ivory statues on either side of a closed door—more human males that were bound, gagged and blindfolded. The statues were strangely moist, as if they were just pulled from the sea.

“This looks familiar,” Feruzi said.

“Does it?” Chopper asked.

“Aye, it looks like a good place for a grenade,” Ezikial grunted. Feruzi shook her head.

“These are the twins Maok and Seft, sons of Arot-Seb. Arot-Seb drowned them alive and drank the seawater from their lungs to receive the guidance of Dagon for his conquest of the Crystal Isles of Zyracia. My father likes to recite the epic sometimes.”

“Er . . . charming,” Chopper said.

“So, if I toss the grenade right in between them, in front of the door, what happens?” Ezikial insisted.

“Let’s call that ‘plan B’,” Chopper told him. Reiko studied the statues for a moment, then climbed up at one and began rotating its head. It moved freely, but nothing seemed to happen whatever position she put them in, so she shrugged and approached the door. A voice whispered in Abyssal and Reiko burst into a fit of coughing, although she did make it to the door. It was unlocked and opened to reveal yet another downward stair.

A jumble of bones held together by a decrepit suit of black leather armor slumped against the wall at the bottom of the stairs. The middle of the room was occupied by a massive circular trap door held shut by three lengths of heavy chain. Beside the skeleton was a black handprint and a few lines of scribbled text:

“The Shrouded Queen yet lives below, bound by Blackfingers’ forbiddance and Aiger’s Kiss. Seek not entrance for her rotting curse awaits ye. Let the slumbering darkness lie!”

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