Orithia- Skull & Shackles
At the heart of the Reliquary of Knowledge Transcendent there lies a pristine chamber, a vast painted ceiling stretching out 50ft above the highly polished stone floors. Upon the Western wall a huge stained glass window depicts the great adventures of a select few the Reliquary’s most notable Okasama. Noble quests for long lost knowledge and hidden cultures, reminding all who stand here of the sacrifice and perseverance paid by those who pursue this life of Transcendent Knowledge.
The 3 other walls house ceiling high stacks of ancient books which, despite their incalculable age, look brand new; not a speck of dust drifts lazily through the sunlight washing in through the coloured glass. The mahogany bookshelves are far from full but only a few places remain on each shelf.
A young girl of 8, maybe 9, stares up at the heroic stories emblazoned on the windows, shielding her eyes from the rising sun. She is quick however and instead walks across the serene hall tracing her favourite tales along the polished floor instead. After a few moments she approaches the centrepiece, in an ornate case of gold and glass directly beneath the window, a huge tome with several different thick silk ribbons marking pages of importance. The most beautiful writing you could ever lay eye upon running like a flowing stream along the page and into the readers mind. Young Raniko begins reading the book for a third time, impressive given that the cloister is only opened once a year on the birthday of the current Okasama…
“This is not the diary of a noble woman, a queen or a wife. Nor is it the ramblings of a peasant, a farmer or a sailor. These are the memoirs of a young woman, an entertainer of sorts, and her quest to become something more. Her quest to find herself and new friends, new lands, new people and most importantly her quest to transcend. These are the memoirs of an adventurer and, to begin with, the memoirs of a pirate’s prisoner…”
Mameha Eikou: Memoirs of a Pirate’s Prisoner.
Day 78: Salamon
I should never have left the Libertine… Its vast clean sails and friendly crew had lulled me into a false sense of security, what met my eyes upon land however immediately left me doubting my pilgrimage and the Salamon people.
I left the ship to begin my studies a day early. The Libertine had docked for repairs and I was unable to contain my curiosity any longer. What awaited me on land was stench and corruption. As far as the eye could see drunken slobs and young ladies selling their flesh. I immediately attempted to remove myself from this forsaken place and headed up to the Sea Sprite’s Rest, a small inn recommended to me by the ship’s captain overlooking the worst of the docks, but high enough to be out of it. And this…this is where my story begins.
My first night on land, I had agreed to pay my way at the inn with dance and song, after some time my performance began to draw in more and more patrons, including some unsavoury looking ship farers. Jeers met my ears from a few of the more unsavoury onlookers and I decided to call it a night, although with hind sight it was one dance too late, as I left the stage a blunt object hit me hard on the back of the head and the grimy room around me faded from view.
Day 79: On The Wormwood
I awoke to the outstretched arm of a young alarisian man. Groggy and hair one mass of tangled wire, I felt for the injury at the back of my head, realising that we were at sea once more. Glancing quickly around at my surroundings I noticed that my belongings were missing, all but the clothes on my back and with luck the concealed bladed hairpiece which had gotten buried within my hair. For now I could only take note as a sinister looking gent, well dressed for a pirate but looking fierce none the less began to scream at the 6 of us. I followed his commands and emerged on the deck of the Wormwood, with a dozen or so sailors watching our every move. We were put into jobs aboard the ship. I was given the role of swab, cleaning the bilges and scrubbing the deck were on my list of unpleasant tasks, but on one level I was quietly pleased with this. Swabs were certainly given awful tasks but they are always underestimated and had some privacy. The riggers on the other hand remained in full view. One crew member seemed particularly warm, Sandara Quinn, a cleric of sorts returned one of my items, my divine focus, knowing its worth to me. Watching her throughout the day she appeared to show the same kindness to each of the new pirates.
Day 80: The Plan
At first I challenged my new role explaining how I was experienced upon the waves but this resulted in my receiving particularly nasty jobs, Scourge it appears, loves to be hated. So I began to keep my head down and remain under the radar. I worked hard in the day and danced in the evenings. My aim now is to study this “temporary culture” and focus on these studies, befriend as many as I can so that when I get the chance I can get back at that monster scourge and get off this damn ship. There is no use being keel hauled when I have so much more to learn…
Day 81: Fight or Flight
We were awoken by the duty bell as usual and began drifting towards the deck when a few of Scourge’s cronies advanced on us. My immediate thought was to slip away, avoid potentially more of Scourge’s wrath. Unfortunately for me a particularly nasty rigger spotted my attempts to remove myself and made a grab for me as I passed. Luckily I got on deck with no harm done but some of my friends took lashings that evening for the trouble. It would appear that a culture like this is a hotbed for injustice. Like animals only the fittest or most obedient survive. I have given up trying to sway Plugg, he seems to like me but I cannot read him and he’s shown no interest since. I have turned my attention to the lower crew outside of scourge’s influence and it has so far paid off. I have particularly bonded with Gian whose own lifestyle seems intriguing. Jasper also amuses me. He seems so laid back and particularly kind for someone of his parentage.
Day 82: Welcome to Our World
Today the riggers and the chef got a glimpse of our world when we were commanded to kill a spider infestation in the bilges. I took this opportunity to analyse my allies’ strengths. Luckily for me they can all fight particularly well so I will continue to befriend and support those who oppose scourge. While I am certain we could take them now I would rather be more certain of outside support. Until then I intend to play down my skills, both magical and physical so when I catch that Sly and Scourge they will be fully off guard.
Day 83: A New Friend
Today I managed to secure the loyalty of a naive young rigger named Sam; I even taught her some of my dance moves. Things have been calmer of late, Jasper, Rosie and I have been putting on some inspiring performances and we have formed an ensemble. Scourge is running out of time! I even managed to scrounge a few coins from the bilge and lower decks, enough to buy back my fans and sansetsukon.
Day 84: The Loan
I bought back my beloved Kimono today… I had to borrow the money from Sam but I promise I will pay her back. No matter the cost. Sam and Titus appear to have been fighting but I am staying out of it for now. Everyone seems to be carrying a lot more equipment now, though this also includes Scourge’s lot, I’m so tense when I am on deck I am worried someone will think I have the intention of starting something. Head down and keep on moving girl. You’ll be home in no time.
Day 85: The Storm I
Our first lashings of rain. Jasper and I spent the day swabbing the decks and spent the evening with Rosie perfecting our latest performances. They are really coming along now, beautiful Kepician music and dance from Rosie and I and enchanting backdrops from Jasper. It’s the one time I feel like this ship is home. If things were better (Scourgeless) I’m sure it would be a comfortable life full of adventure, exploring historic ruins of ancient cultures while adapting myself to my current cultural circumstance. I have however noticed that Scourge’s cronies are laying off now… Only to make way for Scourge himself, I’ve noticed him eyeing us all in the evenings and chatting to Plugg about myself and Jasper in particular.
The next few entries appear to be covered in blood and ruined by sea water… The only legible words are as follows:
Finding the Libertines wreckage had filled me with Sorrow. It wasn’t like the wormwood. Full of unclean uncouth thieves, it was a place for safe passage and for freedom. A nurturing home for longing and hope, but best of all it was at times safe to shift. To stand on the Prow with the wind singing through my ears, the feel of the ocean spray upon my fur. At one with the ocean kami.
Mameha Eikou: Tales of a Captain at Sea.
Given the new information from Ambrose we were all alert. We knew that the attack would happen soon and that the storm was likely to either play a part in our demise or our victory. Around mid afternoon crewmen started to notice that a few of the others were missing; Sandara Quinn and Giffer Tibbs. Titus immediately pointed the finger at Scourge and Plugg suggesting we immediately rebel. Without Sandara’s gentle suggestions everyone agreed. Giffer had been seen as fairly neutral though so it is my belief that they had both been knocked overboard. Also given Scourge’s love of my pain I thought I’d be top of the hitlist if anyone.
It was over quickly. Titus lunged a blade at Plugg, Edward fired a shot and Jasper put the Cronies to sleep. The battle for the Man’s Promise had begun… Cog and Gian swiftly followed into the fray with myself and Jasper picking off cronies. I managed to knock Jaundice unconcious with a single strike and ended up aiding the others in pummelling Plugg. Then that wretch Sil flew out of the Rigging knocking me clean off the boat. Jasper used his usual life saving tricks and I was barely off the boat for more than half a minute.
Once I had returned Plugg’s body laid lifeless on the deck and all the others had surrendered, much faster than I thought possible. To dent his pride Scourge was shackled to the mast and renamed Vivien. I’m certain he will not last long.
During the scuffle several new creatures appeared on deck… Grindylows. Their tactic appeared to be dragging crewmen quietly from the ship. Again my thoughts leapt to the potential of Sandara’s survival.
Large damage kept us from moving that night and repairs immediately began. Edward and I took Captaincy of the Man’s Promise, as agreed, putting people into positions based on ability (and in some cases trustworthiness). Unfortunately there was no potential for a healer like Sandara in what crew remain. Titus and Chakka rowed into the reef to look for clues as to the potential Grindylow and Sandara whereabouts reporting a small island nearby.
It was agreed that the next morning we would set sail…
The island is a place of death and unrestrained kami. Someone has done their best to disrespect the spirits in this place. The flora has become wild and repulsive; the creatures here should not be… They are hostile, prisoner to their lifeless existence, festering between the earthly realm and the heavenly one beyond. I held my omamori close, this place was sure to be rife with evil disrespected kami waiting to strike at us with their pestilence, along with everything else trapped here.
We spent the morning trekking along the coastline aiming for a large rock as our vantage point of the isle. We had gotten there with no sign of life other than the flies. We could see no sign of coastal caverns along this side of the island but took note of a small lodge near some wild corn fields. We returned to the jolly boat and I sailed us around to the rockier waters in the hope of finding Sandara in time. Gian spotted a small shipwreck just off the coast but, we pressed on heading towards what looked like a perfect place for a tribe of Grindylows to nest. Our hunch was correct as Jasper and Kaheed were attacked at the entrance.
Clearing the cave was slow work, fighting in their habitat and on occasion without air was tough. Eventually (after much healing – given that there wasn’t room to swing a sansetsukon) we came to a large chamber. Lurking in the shallows was a large tentacled monster cursing our presence in Aquan. The next thing I remember was awaking on a shelf of stone with Jaspers ink stained face looking up at me. We used what little healing we had left, bound Kaheed’s fairly serious wounds and entered the central chamber.
As soon as the door was opened our ears were met with a cackle and a large splash. Sandara Shivikah and Giffer began sinking rapidly towards several ghasts?? Gian and Jasper began to immediately free the hostages while Titus fought off the witch and her mammoth child. With Sandara and Shivikah free the fight was beginning to turn, as soon as I began my approach however I became aware that Jasper and Titus had been swallowed. Gian and Shivikah swam to their aid whilst I was held at the door on my very last legs by a single grindylow. Luckily they were able to kill the beast before Jasper and Titus had died and seeing that she was losing the battle the witch fled. Much to (almost) everyone’s relief we returned to the Mans Promise, exhausted but victorious with a fully trained healer, just in time too as Kaheed’s leg required urgent removal.
Ship morale had certainly been boosted but the next day we still had to return for the supplies we had not found the previous day. We found our way through the field of overgrown corn, fighting off se a huge burrowing beast only to find the source of the water protected by several swarms of flies another trapped kami angry at those of us with a definitive plane. Several woods like creatures also sprang from the trees; we only just escaped with our lives thanks to Titus’ bravery, my disruption of such kami and the efforts of Hannah and Chakka.
Another day of diseases and exhaustion saw us back on the Mans Promise with all the supplies we needed to leave this isle of the undying. So we plotted a course for Rickety Squibb in the hopes of squibbing the ship and perhaps stopping off in the Mgange forests, I would love to see this intricate toucan.
Still on course for Rickety’s Squibs, we awoke on a fine morning with a slight breeze on the air and a not a cloud in the sky. Today is going to be a good day, or so I hope.
As it happens we lucked upon a giant turtle 15 feet or so in length being chased by a small group of sharks. It was clearly injured and more importantly valuable so I asked Kaheed and Chakka its likely worth and difficulty you catch. Kaheed informed me that it could fetch up to a thousand gold whole and Chakka suggested there would be more nearby if we could force the sharks off of it. I immediately gave the order to kill the sharks and man the nets ready to collect their valuable bodies. I then set sail following the gargantuan sack of gold until we could see its heading to a small deserted rocky isle… I gave the orders to put the beast out of her misery and Tito Severus (Titus Stern), Moussa Al-Abbas, Hannah Coralhide, Chakka and Rosie happily obliged. Before I could give the order to prepare the jolly boat at second beast launched itself against the hull of the Man’s Promise knocking half of the crew to their knees. I quickly tied myself off on the wheel and began to manoeuvre the ship ready for the next assault. Luckily it was less effective allowing me to gain a better vantage point avoiding his next attacks. Missiles of all varieties were clattering off its shell and sticking to its head and fins, but a single bullet from the captains pistol flew swift and true obliterating the beast’s colossal skull. We hauled their bodies aboard and headed to the beach… The ship having taken little damage, I personally oversaw the collection ensuring that the few crew I had with me kept the alive. They’d be worth much more healthy than alive than rotting in a barrel… I said a swift prayer over the island, thanking the Kami of oceans and sand for their generous gift ensuring that there were plenty of eggs left along with the turtles that escaped to one day repopulate the area, allowing the cycle natural cycle to continue.
The cargo hold significantly more full, Kaheed began work on preparing and preserving our fresh and first plunder. Meanwhile we approached our destination. Rickety Squibbs was an unusual place and incredibly well hidden. So far all has gone well. Rickety Hake has given us a fantastic price, having previously overestimated the cost myself, and Jasper is currently bartering what stores we have to trade in payment for the modifications. The crew have been released of duty as the ship remains dry docked and for now we all have a chance to relax and tell tale of our heroic adventures so far. The only way into the Shakles is with a reputation. As per usual the peace and quiet didn’t last long. Halfway though our Squibb a great swarm of man sized wasps descended on us from the jungle. Gian and I were left in the open at the start of the attack having warned Rickety and the other town’s folk of the swarm. We quickly fled into the Dry dock warehouse and flanked a wasp landing a few particularly nasty blows which resulted in a fairly smooth wasp paste. The boys were not doing quite so well. Gian rushed to Kaheed’s aid as I lifted the courage of the party with a war song of old.
Once we had healed the wounded it became very apparent to us that a new ship had come particularly close to shore, far closer than Rickety would have liked. Luckily it turned out to be a good friend of his and we later learnt that he too had gotten on the wrong side of Harrigan, or vice versa. For now he was an ally, and after a few drinks decided to let us continue to be squibbed first and even gave us a small job with a cut of plunder, our next heading was Black Reef Point, hopefully a simple task with a worthwhile amount of gold.
The Magnificent Bastard was born. Pegsworthy and Gian did the honours and launched the new ship. The captains having newly separated quarters, a couple of smuggle holds, concealed ballista mounts and a better rudder. Perhaps more importantly it was unrecognisable, hopefully safer from Harrigan’s and the law man’s grasps. It also comes with a new interest for me… a small red tropical parrot by the name of Rotgut. Every captain needs one… Or so the Pirate tales of Kepik go…
An eventful few days, which on the Magnificent Bastard is to be expected really… Just as I thought the crew were starting to gel another issue creeps up on us. The first of these days saw a divide in the crew all thanks to a thief. Titus and Jasper searched the crew for any weapons smuggled onboard at Rickety’s and for a large block of preserving salt that has gone missing from the stores. Of course we all knew the likely suspects and to our surprise the outcome was a clue pointing to Minty with no substantial evidence to punish and a suspiciously empty locker belonging to the insubordinate Syl. This has left me with 3 objectives; the first is to keep an eye on Minty, he has proved himself an asset on Rickety’s but needs to maintain this to stay in my favour. Secondly to make or break Syl. She is an excellent rigger and second only to Gian with her blades (having personally been on the business end of one) but her attitude and vendetta with me are beginning to grow old and I fear may be the roots of mutiny if left to grow unkempt. I will extend a hand of friendship; she will likely do one of two things: graciously accept and become a valued member of the crew, or much more likely immediately give me an excuse to bean the cow. It’s her choice which path to chose and the Magnificent Bastard cannot afford to carry the weight of certain individuals any longer. Thirdly this crew is in some serious need of some fun and some something to share with everyone. As soon as this raid is finished (assuming all goes well) our deck will be the brightest and loudest in all the oceans of Orithia, and while I may not approve of such abuse of one’s body, so help me I will be a good captain.
_Later that day my first duties of Captain Interaction occurred. Barucco was clearly a smug fool from the moment he opened his mouth and the simple fact that he tried to pull a blind one meant that we had to succeed in doing the same. The “honest gent” we were promised turned out to be nothing more than another sweaty, meat-headed goon with bigger eyes than the sovereigns he so blindly chased. His confidence did throw me off at first and I stumbled through negotiations until Edward luckily stepped into preserve my reputation. We exchanged a few crewmen – Minty for his talents and Syl because she could handle herself in a fight, well that and frankly she was so direct with her flouting of etiquette this morning that I simply could not care what happed to her. _
The plan was fairly simple, we would sail out of the morning sun as the Arcadia attacked the shore opposite head on, distracting the guards and any vessels while the plunder was loaded into the Magnificent Bastard at the rear of the fortress. Simple, effective and with any luck efficient.
Unfortunately things did not go so smoothly. Chakka and Edward sailed perfectly out of the morning sun and caught the enemy off guard. However during the unloading we faced a stronger resistance than anticipated and as a result of a certain level of showing off we made off with very little of the loot according to Gian and Kaheed’s report. I was left with a particularly pompous Urnst samurai on my deck after a 50 foot fall and a shot to the head from Moussa he continued across my deck. You could tell by the look of him that the Urnst did not award such position on merit and honour but instead on the ability to act flamboyantly and dress in ornate armour. I quickly wrapped my Sansetsukon about his spindly neck and snapped his life force from its Urnst husk, returning to the wheel with his blade as my trophy.
We were lucky enough to make it out without serious injury, unluckily as we pulled away from the fortress some suicidal Urnst gave chase and began to prepare a surprisingly ruinous looking blindside. I did my best at the wheel but I must be honest for my first ship combat I was unsteadied. It was clear that in my current state we would not be able to outrun them so Edward made a decision I was pleased to hear. Prepare to ram and be ready to board. That I could do, and so I threw the full force of the ship into the Kobe No Maru’s port side, preventing much of the blindsides effectiveness and ensnaring the vessel, while Edward, Titus and Moussa used a somewhat more devious but equally effective means to assault the enemy; a flask was kicked aboard her deck and shot into a column of flame deterring all but a stubborn and charred Captain. He later fell to shot from our Captain and the crew quickly followed to their demise.
The Kobe No Maru would go down without a fight, to our satisfaction the lower decks exploded, that is until it sank in that the treasure would go down with her! A free for all ensued; my only absence from the wheel came when Titus and Gian attempted to exchange plunder and an entire chest of Kimono flew overboard! I swiftly flew off the ship flicking a rope at Gian as I did. She assisted me back onto the deck with a new collection of 4 silk kimonos. Pleased with our haul we quickly hid the majority of the takings into smuggling compartments and below deck. As the Arcadia approached I quickly negotiated the services of a jovial Halfling by the name of Prigg, rumoured to be exceptionally lucky. He accepted a purse of gold to stay quiet and remain on crew, and appeared quite the addition at that given that Barucco left with a damaged ship, only a half of the plunder and lacking another chest of gold thanks to Minty.
Next on the agenda more treasure from the Urnst, Celebrations and a new flag…. I have started embroidering a skull wearing Besmara’s Tricorne.
We were all on quite a high after our success at the Urnst Fort and the celebrations continued into the night. Our heading was now along the Dragon Coast, to relieve the Urnst of further treasures. Unfortunately for us the Sahaguin had other plans for us. That night they snuck up and onto the deck after sabotaging our rudder. We quickly put them to an end and regained control of our ship. Unfortunately it was at the expense of a crew member Garret Lightfingers was found butchered shortly after…
Still I had received a particularly nice golden trident to add to my collection of significant enemy weapons, and a particularly beautiful necklace made of naturally occurring minerals, patterned with a swirling purple whirlpool. For now it is safely around my neck and I have every intention of enchanting it with an aquatic spell of some sort.
I need to take more care in my sleeping habits as I am fairly certain that Titus and Minty are growing suspicious as to my heritage. I catch the red cloak eyeing me occasionally and know that he is somewhat of a self proclaimed expert in knowing human anatomy for fighting purposes. And my foolishness directly led to Mbinto catching me in my Kitsune form. From now on I will sleep beneath the bed in a small nest of blankets and silks, preventing any intruders from seeing me and hopefully stopping any attempts on my life should a mutiny one day occur – my locked door is likely to be no match for Syl’s nimble fingers!
The next morning we set off again. By the time we had reached the coast we decided to wait until the morning to start any attempt to find the village. Unfortunately for us a capitavirate ship had a similar idea in dropping anchor at the mouth of the river. The Dominator was a notorious ship famed for destroying pirate vessels who had the unfortunate pleasure of meeting her in the shipping lanes. We waited until night fall hatching a plan to send a small group to find and disable the rudder while the ship prepared to fly past into the night shrouded in mist. Kitesh Jafari bravely sent his Eidolon to scorch the decks and sails and distract the crew with the ensuing carnage. The plan went off without a hitch other than the sneak team taking a few particularly nasty injuries. We successful slipped under the Dominators nose – a definite claim to fame in later tales and songs.
All in all a fairly poor day to be an officer aboard the magnificent bast… We barely beat out the Lizard folk and even lost a crew member. Poor ‘Ratline’ Rattsberger met an unfortunate end on the shores of the village, namely due to the uncontrollable bloodlust. Personally the fight was long and difficult, after swiftly jumping to my crewmates’ aid I was left drowning and smashed about at the mercy of a water elemental for the duration of the attack. In future it may be more sensible to hold and use what ability I have to its potential, this leg is going to take some mending.
We found what we sought though; a huge golden statue and plenty of plunder. We also found a couple of potential crew members. Namely an Urnst Man by the name of Nobuhara LaCrosse and a Black-Skinned Lizardman who goes by Dartak. The latter appeals most to me; he may be able to grant some insight into the cultural differences between humans and Lizardfolk, and speaks some Kepician. I ordered them aboard the ship and promised the Urnst his Crossbow hopefully buying his future loyalty. Given the state of the current crew I have a feeling that we will be needing all the help we can get! So as to reprise the crew they were ordered not to loot the village, instead every scrap with value was pooled as ships plunder and the crew were scalded for their actions by a furious Titus.
Once every stone was turned and every penny collected, some of the crew began burning the huts. In my opinion this was too far. We had what we had come for and we had far better stories, more triumphant and daring, than burning small beach huts of fleeing women and children.
None the less Titus and Edward continued regardless of my protests. As it happens this was a bad idea… Moments after the smoke began to rise, a vast shadow appeared in the skies with a thunderous roar. It would appear we had notified a dragon as to our raid…
I started to hobble on my freshly broken leg; my spells were likely about to be invaluable.
As the winged lizard circled the area surveying the burning wreck of its village and the Dragon’s lifeless charges scattered about the shore Edward stepped forward with his loaded musket. The surviving villagers cheered and looked on from the woods awaiting our demise. But it was stayed with clever bluffing from the captain’s part. He began shouting at the horrendous carnage left in the wake of other humans, humans we had seen off to protect the survivors.
To everyone’s surprise the Dragon’s eyes showed cold, confused calculation. Whilst it was distracted Gian and I dragged the new crewmembers into the ruined boat house for cover. Unfortunately seconds later, upon questioning the captain’s story Edward informed him as to the two captives’ whereabouts (along with mine and Gian’s). Upon hearing this the 4 of us shot glances at each other. Nobuhara immediately told Gian to take his dagger from his sheath. Meanwhile I ducked my head back out analysing the great scaled mass before us. Its skin shone with a deep copper hue. Dartak stared at me as I began reciting my favourite childhood poem; The Gift of Dragonkin. …"bronze be adorned… Lightning will scorn!" I Immediately cast my most potent resistance spell against electricity and prepared for the inevitable…
I readied to jump through the exit on the left as I heard a shot fired… Then another, then another. I could hear cheers go up from around the crew as Dartak and I poked our heads out of the hut to see Gian with a bloody dagger and Edward slightly worse for wear clutching his smoking musket. The dragon was seen over the distant canopy and the surviving lizards began their uncomfortable wriggling retreat into the forest. I crawled out with Sandara and began healing the wounded with both magic and ancient Kepician technique.
We all knew the Dragon would be back so we waited. I ordered the new crew back on deck and remained where I would be needed, on shore. Even with my shell of grounding magic I did not last long once the dragon had returned. I recall using the shelter to break line of sight. Unfortunately others had followed suit and the Dragon had brought company, a small lizardman shaman. The dragon took down gulps of air upon landing before shooting an arc of brilliant lighting through the hut reducing it to splinters and scorching the other officers. We all crawled away from the debris as a fireball struck the remnants Gian falling just a little from where I lay. I scurried toward her tripping in the surf. I looked up in time to see the dragon scorch the beach once more, without my magic I would surely already be dead… I looked down at Gian readying a spell to heal the worst of her injuries when I was caught in the edge of a second fireball the heat licking through my magic and sending me into a blistering unconsciousness.
I was awoken by Sandara a while later and assisted her with what little magic I had left. Unfortunately my own wounds meant that I was unable to help with the rounds. Instead I requested that Edward fill me in. Once he had I immediately requested the company of Dartak, Nobuhara and the Shaman we had taken captive. I requested their story first. Nobuharu informed me that they had been caught by the lizardmen after killing their Golden Dragon, which had since been moved to the temple up river. I then employed his skills to interrogate the Shaman for the location of the Bronze Dragon’s lair. She had a loose tongue and provided valuable answers quickly. I was somewhat enthralled by this new man. He came across well mannered and refined. It was obvious to me that he came from a good line and appeared respectful and well read. I made sure that he and Dartak were made comfortable for now allowing then some of their personal affects.
Then I called about a meeting with the officers to inform them of the plan. Firstly plunder the Dragon Lair, secondly raid the temple for additional artefacts and potentially a second Dragon’s worth of plunder! Once we had retrieved the Dragon’s stash with very little effort we decided to rest for the night. The Bronze Dragon had been divided and stored. We each took tokens of our defeat, personally I opted for the largest spine on the dragon at the end of its tail. We also took aboard enough skin for my own talents, which resulted in several of the girls talking shoes over a delicious dragon steak that evening. Once I had retired to my bed chamber a particular piece of loot caught my eye. I bolted the door behind me and moved toward the desk against the wall. I slid the collection of nic naks to the floor. Carefully I lifted the delicately carved crown to my eye line, examining its beautifully intricate carved lines and recesses. It appeared to be carved of a single piece of jade, an exquisite piece at that, no chips or faults, simply perfect. I pinned a stray hair or two back before watching myself gently lower the crown onto my head in the mirror. The image of a pretty pirate melted away to reveal a powerful geisha so powerful that only her beauty was more enthralling. That night I curled as a fox in the centre of my bed around this enchanting piece of jewellery, a reminder that in some ways I was more than simply a pirate and thus deserved more. More than fighting dragons to get by, more than giving orders to crew that despised me. I was a beautiful Kepician woman who deserved to be loved and adored…
The following morning we set off for the temple opting to jolly boat upriver. Several of the crew aired their concern and opted to head to port instead and sell the plunder already filling the hold. I felt a calling however, this place had already given me so much but I still felt in my soul that it had more to offer…
Day 105 and 106
We crept quickly up the great stairs to the entrance at the peak of the pyramid, The Ship bobbing out at sea to prevent any lizardmen assault while we explored. The inside of the temple was plagued with the undead, more of these soulless husks trapping the spirits between the world of the living and peacefulness of death. We continued finding traps and more of these unnatural creatures. Eventually we found the remains of the Gold Dragon slain by Nobuhara and Dartak. Kaheed set to work moving the vast amount of skins, teeth and bone to the exit while Jasper, Titus and I examined an unusual chest. I had never seen anything like it and was wary as a result. A jet black hexagonal plinth of obsidian a foot deep rested in the centre of a small room. Atop was a great stone chest carved with gold and images of small lizards. As Jasper moved to examine its lid his hands passed through. This spirit chest could only be kept at the level of the plinth, a design containing Gorgon blood in a long alchemical process native to some of the jungle tribes in the shackles.
Using our combined knowledge and expertise we brought the plinth back on deck. The crew gathered to lay eyes on the newly found plunder. Giffer Tibbs spoke up shortly after spotting the plinth. I requested she and the other officers retire to the Captains Cabin with us to discuss our findings. Giffer immediately taught us of her local beliefs; Juju. She informed us that this item had a physical form on the plane but that Wendo’s are known to attack people who should stray there. Her words rang true to me, sounding much like the Kami and Oni that I was taught about as a child, prayed to in the temples and warded away with ominari. She had us construct all manner of devices, a pendant to protect our bodies, made of an animal heart, talismans of protection of the mind, body and movement made from feathers and coin. And lastly and most interestingly a small doll fashioned of materials available to look and be as our human bodies are. I delicately crafted an exquisite doll from fine silks left over from kimono making. I sewed small glass beads into its cheeks as rouge using black cotton as fine hair sculpted as my own using small real flowers to replace the glass and gemstones I adorned. Small pouches of leather, belts and a sansetsuken of silk and neck chain completed the look. I was surprised at my own skill and the resemblance was both striking and eerie. To finish the doll we inserted a small flawless jungle amber and a tribute – blood or magic or in my case both.
I was aware that the spirits would likely judge us on our tokens and the work and sacrifices made to create them so I channelled my most powerful spell and a lot of blood into the soul of the doll. When we were ready Giffer took out her own doll, like a miniature being its accuracy was beyond even my own! We each took the hand of the doll next to us to complete a circle and felt ourselves drifting out of our bodies. Looking back our unconscious bodies were on the cabin floor our hands doll less. I turned my head back to the others and let out a gasp. It appeared that our own spirit had inhabited the doll as a temporary home. I glanced down feeling free and light, whether this was the Juju travel or the fact I was made of silk I was unsure. Jasper and Titus were rougher hewn designs of wood and metal, Kaheed look scarier than I’d ever seen him, consisting of fishbone and coral. Edward had done well his likeness also quite eerie, at this Gian caught my attention. Her pale green linen seemed to have lost some of its colour. Her eyes were wide in fear and tears stained her fabric cheeks. I held her as we travelled through the darkness and she explained that she was having visions and that since entering her new body they had become more vivid. I would have assumed something more sinister or some sort or affliction but the visions she saw were somehow accurate. She saw me in my true form as a young fox fleeting through the woods… This had to be magical as no-one on this ship was party to such information.
We landed a few moments later in a small clearing. We all looked to Giffer expectantly and she pointed to the small path. “follow it and you will find what you seek.” We obeyed and followed the path into a valley of shifting trees. The more fearful we became the more hostile our surroundings seemed to become. The shadowy trees loomed out of the darkness to reveal great splintered metal constructs, sharp spikes sticking out at every angle, I cautiously pulled closer to Gian ensuring our threads were well clear of any snags. We approached a large jet black pyramid ahead of us with a small entrance. I opened my mouth to suggest a plan of entry when I realised Gian was 10 ft away, I glanced around and Jasper, Kaheed and Edward had also been displaced. Titus immediately sprinted after a skeletal figure leaving Gian and I at the start of an eerie maze. We were quickly set upon by an undying creature who quickly cut across my chest spilling red streams of ribbon and fabric to my delicate silk feet. My healing magic seemed equally effective at replacing it, reversing the worst of the damage. Gian however was spooked by it’s foul appearance and attempted to flee, it phased out of existence rematerialising behind Gian. With the use of his monk training Kaheed set to bludgeoning the monster as I continued to channel energy through its evil bones and using Giffers malicious Juju magics to strike him from afar. Once the beast was dispatched we walked until we found the centre of the maze. It took some time due to the infestation of booby traps and illusions. Eventually we found the large stone chest retrieved from the temple. Titus cut through the chains, leaving Jasper to lift the stone lid to reveal a bright light. As it glinted and refracted on the razor walls of the maze the walls began to melt away, leaving us empty handed in a dark meadow. We returned to Giffer assuming the chest would now be corporeal in our own plain and suffered the same unusual feeling that had taken us here. As we drifted back down into our bodies the puppets fell by our sides. Gian and I quickly leapt up stuffing the Juju dolls away for safe keeping. Something was clearly off. I ordered everyone on deck and rushed to the door. As the door swang open on its hinges a great wind howled into the cabin carrying with it waves of rain and briny spray. I rushed to take the wheel from Cog who explained to Edward and I that sails had been spotted and the chase had begun! We had be gone a full day and what seemed like seemed minutes had been hours on our own plane.
Everyone took their positions on deck, Titus preparing the crew for boarding actions running through each squad’s role and positioning. Kaheed sprinted back and forth fixing bits and pieces, Gian and Cog taking mantle of boatswain with myself at the wheel and Edward barking orders through the howling wind and driving rain. We quickly caught up to the plunder; an average size and build ship, its colours identified it as a local criminal consortium ship, meaning no moral quarrels in taking their lives or hold! From the wheel I genuinely could not believe my eyes. The crew worked admirably, driving off borders, sailing the ship and following orders. A great Manticore was realised from their decks but was quickly nullified by Jasper, Titus and Edward leaving the beast tangled and drowning as others took pot shots. The crew surged over our enemies, leaving a wizard, the captain and 4 crewmen surviving prisoners. Even the looting was fairly restrained. We took the ship still hole (bar the side I rammed) with the hopes that Rickety maybe interested in buying or keeping it for parts.
Once the prisoner were restrained to the brig and the ship was beginning to return to order those of us who had travelled to the Juju planes returned to collect the fruits of our labours. Edward and Titus lifted the great stone lid to reveal a small collection of well presented artefacts. I calmly told everyone to refrain from touching anything within the chest until we had identified its purpose. We started by looking at a small delicate carved golden dagger, Jasper identified it as magical designed for easy attack and for seeing in the dark. He made to pass it to Gian but as she reached out her hand to take it he houlstered it smiling proudly. We all objected and asked him to pass it to Gian who would be better equip and would get far more out of the dagger. He agreed but this time as she reached out for the second time he flourished his hand making it into a ring and proudly jamming it onto one of his fingers then stuffing his hands back into his pockets. Suffice it to say the other officers were fairly miffed by this nonsensical greed. I too began to protest when I noticed in my peripheral vision that a small exquisitely carved statue of stone began to move. I swivelled leaving the others to their bickering to see the stone man dressed as a Kepician monk rubbing the eyeholes in his mask. He hopped up on his sandaled feet standing barely 3 feet tall and stretched his robed arms wide, his mouth fell even wider in what appeared to be a yawn waiting centuries in stone, beneath a small mask of a foxes face. “Who are you” I yelped in surprise. My jumpiness had meant that this spilled out in Kepic rather than the Ealdine I have previously used aboard ship. At this he stooped lower into a defensible crouch slowly lifting a small wooden quarterstaff from his bed. He reveals himself to me as a Kami, a Kami with a mission for those who would free him. I requested that he remain until the others have left and we can be in private, hoping that the others would not want to do him harm or see him as a mere piece of plunder. He pattered over to my bed hopping up and perching on the very end watching as we divvied the rest of the box’s contents. Sea potions were passed around and I was left in charge of a perfectly balanced magical rod embellished with gold carvings on a polished red wood with the ability to bolster my spells. Edward claimed the chest as his own having missed out on the majority of the plunder and as the others left to resume control of the ship, I order a new course be set for Rickety Squibbs with the new ship in tow and slowly closed the door behind me beaming at the Kami I had freed by chance.
I bowed low taking my fox form before the spirit and asked: “Tell me… What is your name where is your charge?”
The little Kami looked up at me inquisitively for a minute or two before leaping to it’s feet with remarkable agility and speed.
“I knew there would be more to you than meets the eye, young Miss!” He spoke in an old Kepician accent that is hauntingly familiar, yet so unique it could never have been heard before without recollection, his voice like gravel grinding together but also slightly high pitched at the same time.
He bowed deeply in return.
“My name is Taisho-sei. I am a shikigami but alas, I have no idea where my ward is. I was once the guardian of a beautiful carved figurehead which belonged to a mighty airship called ”/wikis/ikazuchi/new" class=“create-wiki-page-link”>ikazuchi which I recalled meant ‘Thunder’ in Kepician._
The Ikazuchi was well known in Kepic, soaring through the air out of Tokoro, on her maiden voyage. It met tragedy in the skies and was lost without survivor, taking its secrets and treasures with her. The research and construction into such ships were halted after word of the devastation got back to the dockyards, as the highest mark of respect.
“We were attacked by a red dragon as we flew over this land the northerners call ‘The Draconic Coast’. The beast’s savagery took us by surprise and the captain was not able to save the ship. The last thing I remember was being thrown from the ship after a massive explosion"
The retelling of the story is clearly upsetting for the little Kami and it takes a few seconds to compose itself before continuing.
“I awoke in a thick jungle and couldn’t sense the presence of my ward. I was found by a native witch and kept as a ‘pet’ in her workshop for a while before being traded to a Lizardfolk sorceress at a port town. I was then taken to the lizard’s village and placed in that chest although I have no idea why. I tried to communicate with the sorceress but she didn’t understand me. I tried to escape but she employed foul undead abominations to protect the temple and I couldn’t get past them”
As he finished he looked up at me, his eyes glistening with what appear to be tears yet no moisture was visible.
“And then you rescued me”
He bowed deeply again.
Fighting back the tears I asked "what year was this?” Hoping to reveal more details than were known back home.
The Kami thought for a moment.
“You mortals measure time differently from those of my kind but I think that using the local northern calendar, the year would have been 2520. I have no idea how long is was trapped in that Spirit Chest however.”
“It’s lucky for us both then that I am captain of this ship!”
“Captain you say? Ship you say?”
Taisho looks around as if only just realising where he is.
“A ship.. of the seas. This ship… I sense it is.. important somehow”
I pulled down a large map on the cabin wall. “We have slain a copper dragon not far from here, with a lizard shaman matching your description guarding the temple. Tell me though… Could you discern where this airship landed? It may have useful cargo we could use to persuade my crew to track it down and we could reunite you with your ward.”
I pondered this outloud as this should be sufficient prize to tempt the lowlife company I found myself in of late, the sense of duty and of pride swelled noticeably in my posture. “This ward of yours…” She mused. “Does it have a higher purpose beyond decoration?”
“I don’t know where the ship crashed or where I ended up but I can remember a few things. After I awoke I was captured by humans. They took me south-east through the jungle to a human town on a river which flowed into a beautiful cove. The cove faced southwest and had a waterfall of crystal water in the northern edge. The south edge was made of fragmented islands. The place was strange; it was a beautiful, verdant land yet I could not sense any of my Kami brethren in the trees or water. There were plenty of animals yet no guardians. Isn’t that strange? When the lizard took me, we travelled on her ship out of the cove then sailed east for a day or two (it may have been slightly longer, i was kept below decks for most of the trip and only had a few glimpses of the outside) until we came to the Lizard town. I don’t know if that is any help but an inquisitive Kitsune Captain such as yourself could surely piece these clues together”
The Kami glances at you out of the corner of its’ eye.
“Why, young Miss do you seek to find this place?”
The answers playing through her head ending in only more questions, still she maintained her manners:
“So welcome my friend to the Magnificent Bastard, I am Captain Mameha Eikou, student of the Reliquary of Transcendant Knowledge in Kepic.”
“With this date the crash was as little 14 years past…” I pondered aloud.
“I was brought up on tales of the noble Kami and their protection of all things beautiful, and if I can help reunite you with your ward then I shall. That is my primary concern. However my crew will need a material reason to follow this lead, they are not Kepician and would not know of your hardship. Nor will they understand my race, which is why I hide my true form… I am bound in my human form as I presume you are lost without a ward? I could not stumble across one of your kind and walk away so easily.”
I paused briefly to ensure I was not out speaking out of place.
“I am also intrigued by this settlement you describe and the technology used in the manner of transportation you were travelling upon. I collect knowledge for my school…”
I stood over the map with my hands crossed behind her back looking for a location that fits the description assuming the Lizard village is Oratlan.
“Captain Eikou, it is an honour to meet you. To think, I am lost in a strange land yet I run into not only a Kepician woman but a Kitsune from the Reliquary! This is far more than a coincidence I am certain! If you help me recover my ward I will be in your debt Miss Eikou”
The Kami bowed low and held it for a few seconds, showing respect to my position. Clearly he had heard of my institution.
“You mentioned your crew would not be happy about us going off in search of the Ikazuchi.. surely you are in command and as loyal men and women of the Kepician Imperial Navy they would obey your orders without question?”
“I beg your forgiveness Taisho-Sei. You honour beyond my place. I have omitted certain facts; this ship is not from Kepic nor does it belong to the Navy of our homeland… The Okiamas in the Reliquary sent me north to report of different cultures both ancient and modern, I am their eyes and hands outside our borders. Airships are no longer sent from Kepic to honour those lost on the Ikazuchi so I travelled by sea. I left on a ship forced to repair on a violent dockside. I was press-ganged by pirates but mutinied and became captain. It is an abhorrent and bloody trade but as a means to an end I now control this ship. Once I have made a name for myself I can travel unchallenged and return to the Reliquary with the significant knowledge and artefacts… Please do not look too harshly upon my situation or tar my institution with the same brush.”
I looked at the floor in silence, awaiting a response from the Kami.
“I see…Well it’s the things people do when confronted with adversity that show their true colours. Besides, I am a Kami. I am concerned with nature and ensuring it is respected and revered in all its forms. Pirates to my knowledge are criminals against their own kind only. As long as you and your pirates respect the natural world, you will find no enemy in me”
“As I said before I do not think our meeting was by chance, and I sense something great about this ship and… and you I think also. I should like to accompany you as you search for the Ikazuchi. Perhaps by the time we have found it I may come to understand the true meaning of our paths crossing.”
“This is true.” Mameha sighed. I spent that evening marking locations on the map and discussing the best time to stop off during our current travels.
As Mameha curled up to sleep that night she looked blearily over at the alert kami stood beside her.
“Did you want to meet the crew in all their charm or am I to keep our knowledge a secret?” I asked. And do you sleep…?" yawning.
“I do not sleep but I will watch over you while you do. In the morning I should like to meet these crew of yours I think”
He stood over me that night on my dresser, his open palms placed together in statue form. No movement was visible as I drifted off to sleep.
Day 107 to 109
The following morning we set off for Rickety Squibbs. When we set out the Kami remained still until I spoke. “Shall we meet the crew? I asked.
“I am happy here just now… I will finish my studies of this map and piece together what I know to discern a location whilst you take your role on ship as usual. I will summon you if I need you…” He began mimicking my own moves from the evening before arms crossed thoughtfully behind him as he looked up at the map. I placed it onto the desk so he could survey it properly and left him locking the door behind me.
The next few days passed uneventfully. As we sailed I found time to talk to Nobuhara and Dartak once again hoping I could persuade them to stay on after we landed. I also found time to talk to Mbintu, knowing that his smuggling history would likely prove invaluable.
As we pulled up to Rickety Squibbs the call came down that no-one was stationed at the tower and no-one came to meet us. We rounded the corner to find the ruined ashes of our first dock. The Crew moral plummeted as we stared in horror at the debris and corpses on the shore. On closer inspection Sahaguin appeared to be the cause. But there was more to it that that. I am quite sure.
Rickety’s boat The Peccarine was missing and cannonballs had been used in what looked like a raid of the town. Titus also found the footprints of a human attacker along with the Sahaguin.
Kaheed, Edward and I all went back to the Magnificent Bastard and roused crew morale. I tried to raise spirits by reassuring that it appeared as though Rickety survived and that we would avenge this attack on our friends. We set off south again the crew slightly more subdued than usual. We made good time but the skeleton crew aboard the Kurstav fell behind and a storm drew in. I gave the order to anchor just off the coast and we spent another evening drinking and performing. We also had chance to talk to Giffer about Gian’s vision and she was fairly knowledgeable. She suggested heading to Mgange Cove where tribes of Wendifers were common and headed by Juju practitioners more advanced than her.
Day 110 to 113
We set sail once the worst of the storm had subsided and came across the Peccarine beginning to sink without a soul on deck. I sent Hannah to investigate, being a skilled swimmer. She reported nothing on the deck or below and began investigating the ship itself. She did not return and fearing the worst Edward, Kaheed and Gian swam across together. They immediately followed Hannah below deck where they were ambushed by Sahaguin. Once they had dispatched of the briny monstrosities they returned with Hannah’s body. My vision tunnelled and no sound seemed to penetrate my ears. I had assumed it would be as simple as grabbing the survivors and leaving and my short-sightedness had cost Hannah her life. I maintained composure and order everyone to man their stations. We continued on to Drakeclaw.
My sleep over the next few days was haunted with visions of Hannah’s death and of my part in it. I chose her solely on the basis that she was apt at fighting and moving through the water making her agile enough to give us warning and stay out of harms way should anything happen. I thumbed the platinum amulet turning it, rubbing its smooth surface and feeling it press again my skin and considered that perhaps it was supposed to happen. Perhaps it was Jaspers curse? I knew the two were close and that any talk of curses always pointed back to him… I shrugged these thoughts out of my head knowing that I must take at least my share of the burden of guilt reminding myself I was better than that I crossed the room to inspect the Jade Crown once again. The Kami was still hard at work looking over charts and maps several books lay open across the dresser. My fingertips traced the filigree lines of jade my eyes vacant and my mind far-off, it soothed me somehow, reassured and calmed. This became routine over our journey to Drakeclaw and even the Kami began to watch as I handled the crown.
When we arrived at Drakeclaw the crew were restless and were given leave immediately after docking. Jasper and Titus stayed to organise the ship’s trade whilst Kaheed, Gian and I headed into town for shopping, exploring and some social interaction.
I researched some of these rumours I had heard at Rickety Squibbs the first time we visited. I quickly found information on Tidewater Rock and Mgange Cove and marked them upon my map. I also heard of a Crystal Dodo; a good luck charm that could not be stolen, and yet had been on several occasions. For now I put this to the back of my mind. I appeared that the Lizardfolk in Drakeclaw were about to have a bad time. They were soon to be ejected into the wilds and the city expanded.
That evening we all met up at the tavern to share a drink and exchange what we had learnt. We were drawn to a small tent outside the tavern, some spiritually, some under other influences. Inside Lady Mokislav answered our questions and told our future with cards. I asked a question true to my mind:
“Will my current path lead me to the glory and honour I desire?” I whispered, holding firmly in my mind the welcome I would receive in the Reliquary should my mission be a success. Nine cards were placed in front of me and I flipped the most forward and central figure. ‘The twins’ were revealed. This held significance to my Kitsune form in that I had dual objectives, a split focus while both were used. The fortune tellers suggested I became one and focus all my energies on a single goal.
The main event brought a hush over the group. The boys stopped their quips as the cards were dealt. The present spoke of a cyclone, a disturbing force tearing into our lives momentarily, with a queen or mother figure at the helm.
The near future saw a great prize within our grasp but a keeper of secrets a mute hag in our midst. My mind strolled thinking of the whispering dwarf, keeper of secrets and my own secret, which I doubted could be linked.
The final cards represented our future as a group; the trumpet – a call to war, a lawful card. The courtesan; an entertainer, defined a female with something to hide or dual missions given the two masked faces on the card and finally a hidden secret revealed. My heart skipped a beat the dual mission and hidden secret of the female courtesan rang true with my own reading previously although with the limited reading I doubted anyone else would make the link. My head was swimming. These cards told of a keeper of secrets and a woman that could spell the end of our ship, yet there ware great rewards in revealing such? I put it out of my mind for now desperately trying to recall other performing females we have heard of or have met and nothing came to me. I held my tongue as the silence was maintained. Titus spoke first offering her a place on our crew. Edward seemed to engrossed in the cards to have noticed and I was grateful for his insubordinate actions this once. Lady Mokislav would be useful in answering my further questions…
That night the first cards came to pass, for in the darkness of night Sahaguin raided the town. Kaheed and I quickly assaulted the creatures in the town square I beat down two with my Sansetsuken before assisting Kaheed with the largest of the brutes. Gian showed up just in time wearing notably less that usual, helping slice through the four-armed menace’s defences. As Edward shot a Sahaguin dead joining us in the square.
The prophecy continued to unfold as the The Brinebrood Queen arrived with her men hell bent on avenging her son. Jasper and Sandara joined the fray pouncing from a tavern window.
Once we had finished with the Sahaguin in combat the Brinebrood Queen launched a vicious magical assault transforming Van Helgen into a crazy clawed beast. He pounced on Sandara raking at her armour with his claws. A water elemental flew at Gian and I from the fountain and an Owlbear was summoned forth. Once again Kaheed, Gian and I slaughtered our way over to the Queen beating, punching and slicing the two summoned foes. We gave chase catching her before she got out of town reuniting her with her son in eternal sleep.
Ridley Chautfort – a Councilor of the town met with us shortly after, still in his night gown. I explained what had happened with the Sahaguin raiding the town bent on destruction. He rewarded us with a night in the tavern on him. I spent the night folllowing the same routine toying with the pendant. The Sahaguin had only been attacking since we left bonewrack isle, but it was unlikely that the Brinebrood Queen could call upon such stronger allies. There were no traces of Grindylow at Rickety’s either. Perhaps they were here by coincidence and the Sahaguin were following us? To what end? Tracing the cold crown I reassured myself. They lit fire to the whole town, indiscriminately, so if they wanted us it would surely be more targeted. The Kami watched over me once again as I drifted off into a haunted sleep.
The next week passed Sahaguin free much to everyone’s relief. We assisted Kaheed in ridding the town of its suppliers; a scumbag of a man known as ‘the knife’. When I was told he fled into the jungle I felt somewhat uneasy, he worked closely or directly for the consortium we had already crossed once before. I was certain he’d live long enough to inform his allies.
Kaheed re-grew his lost leg and the party took a small detour from town to a squat watchtower on the outskirts of town. When we arrived a small boy jumped from the window above and Jasper recklessly fired a spell at the majority of the party, along with the culprit. Luckily only the child was affected and the Alarisian Guru let us in without hesitation. Apparently he dealt with curses and given the talk surrounding Jasper and our ship we though we should call in. He spoke for a while with Kaheed. It appeared they both had the same training; unfortunately it also transpired that Kaheed’s hometown had been lost some 500 years to an army of hobgoblins. At first he did not believe the sage, but as the evidence began to pile up he broke, sitting quietly throughout the rest of the day reading through books of the fall of his home.
The Guru took us one by one into his tower. I took the chance to look through books and documents he had collected taking note of interesting cultures and lost histories. When it was my turn I stepped into the room as usual poised and proud. “I see no curse upon or about you” he whispered looking me up and down. “Your pride however may get in your way.” He smiled wisely as I thanked him for his service. I took this to mean that I should let my guard down and asked Gian to meet me that evening.
That evening when we returned to the ship Kroop had weeded out the dud sailors so Gian, Jasper and I could interview the potential crew. We didn’t turn away a soul, a major factor being that Drakeclaw was full of fairly amicable peoples and whilst not well versed in sailing technique, would make a better crew than the hordes of pirates deep in the shackles. We took on a vengeful witch out to get one of the free captains of the shackles, a young servant girl dismissed due to her sticky fingers and a washed up Ealdine Sailor. I took sympathy on a young pleasure woman in the hopes a life on the seas would provide greater satisfaction that a lined pocket or touch of a man. There was a brother and sister who came as a package and an old sailing veteran who seems to be good friends with Kroop. We also released the Kurstav captives who had agreed to join us, with their incredibly varied backgrounds.
That night Gian told me what she had been told in her meeting. Her visions were a gift but were much less common than Giffer had thought. She could apparently refine the images to expose further secrets, but in doing so would risk learning too much. When she had finished I moved to the middle of the room. “I want you to tell me what you see and if it changes ok?” Gian simply stared up, presumably at the fox image somewhere in front of my face. I slowly shifted form so as not to shock her. My bristling fur bristling in fear and excitement. I closed my eyes awaiting her response; a squeal, a gasp but none came. I snapped my eyes back open to see a perplexed Gian still focused on the image. “Oh it’s changing” she said looking harder, her face scrunched up as she described the unfolding scene. “It’s the same forest only daytime. The fox has gone but now there’s a large tree, some sort of spirit moving through the forest. It looks much more pleasant!” she smiled her eyes dropping to meet my own. “Mameha! You’re- you’re a fox thing!” At this I giggled and moved to sit at the foot of the bed opposite her. She smiled back before the bewilderment found a voice. “Is it a spell?” Relief had washed over me and I quickly described my Kitsune abilities and my fears as to some of the crew knowing.
I slept easily that night and didn’t look at the crown once.
The next few days we remained docked allowing the crew some hard earned time off, Jasper began enchanting his list of objects, Kaheed carved out his spear and the rest of the officers enjoyed the sun, sea and drink. I began to get to know some of my new crew; I got to know young Melanie better and stopped by to chat with Red Ben and his new friend Durrell. I also stopped by Syl. Given that she had despised me from the day my feet touched the deck of the Wormwood I decided it was time to let go of my pride, after all we were both in the same dreadful position on that awful ship, and she had chosen to stay on with us long before we had landed in Drakeclaw. I requested that she take on the position of rigger again so she could use her sailing prowess to better effect on our ship, she seemed pleased at the praise and new respect and acknowledgement I had given and was even happy to speak to me the following day.
Our final day in Drakeclaw broke with a beautiful sunrise over the deep jungle expanse. After my talks with Gian and with Syl over the previous few days, I began mulling over the predictions of Lady Mokislav and the warnings of the Guru. Had I done enough to set my pride aside? And could the masked artisan in the way of our glory in fact be me? As I nursed this delicate line of thought over a small cup of leaf tea the penny suddenly dropped. I hopped down from the forecastle realising my mistake, I ran headlong into Prigg who remained as bewildered as ever covered in tea and now holding my empty teacup. I tore through the docks and into the town in search of the boarding house. As I ran up the sloping street I knocked Titus leaving him spinning on one leg clutching a strange wooden box he looked frightful of dropping. Regaining his thoughts he sarcastically cried after me “Ships tha’ way Cap’n!” Chuckling as his own joke he straightened his new cloak before continuing down to the docks. Then I caught sight of Dartak a little further ahead turning a corner, I wasn’t too late I thought finding yet more energy somehow. I veered the corner to find the Lizardman alone. My heart sank and I doubled up gasping for air. “Mameha? Shouldn’t you be heading off?” Nobuhara asked from behind. I span quickly into his chest winding the soldier who had scrubbed up significantly since I’d last seen him. His trimmed beard looked handsome and for the first time his cropped hair looked clean. A twinkle gleaned in his eye as I looked up at him. “Please come back” I spluttered. “I think I need you.” He pulled me away by the shoulders glancing over at Dartak who had paused ahead. He surveyed me for a moment before declining my request; “I am still missing in action, I should report back as soon as possible.” My mind raced for an excuse. “You can say you were press ganged? Or just never return?” I pleaded. “I won’t let you go! I know you feel something for me.” A wry smile broke across his face. He glanced up at Dartak again before continuing quietly; “I thought you’d forgotten about me already… What’s you’re heading?” He asked his smile creeping into a grin. “Not far” I smirked “Just to Mgange Cove.” He whistled Dartak over and explained as we returned to the ship and to my surprise Dartak seemed fairly content to be back in his familiar surroundings. Even more surprsing was the crowd gathering around a fairly confused looking Prigg still gripping my teacup awaiting my return in the exact same position. “Can I stop now Captain?” he stammered to howls of laughter from the crew.
Days 114 – 118
Our journey to Mgange Cove started with a gentle cruise along the islands headed northwards. We did well to avoid the flecks of coral reef marked on several of our maps and had a chance to help integrate the new crew who had, for the most part, already found similar souls. That evening Chakka spotted a hurricane brewing in the north, with the south westerly winds whipping it towards us we decided to plot a new course that would steer us clear. Unfortunately it appeared that the fickle ocean spirits had other plans for us. Navigating past the worst of the storm we made little progress on the tropical depression; lurching dangerously against the waves for the next few days. The calm ocean the following day was a relief for the crew and just as we had rectified the damage the storm had done smoke and sails were spotted on the horizon. I gave the order to change course in the hopes of testing our new crew’s talents, and rewarding ourselves with plunder.
When we arrived a Capitavirate ship was lurking menacingly behind the smoking wreck of the Vorsfang – A shackles pirate ship. I quickly moved to dispatch the most threatening of the enemies the fully manned and well disciplined Famished Mane. Following the usual tactics I speed at full force towards the ships starboard side, standing firmly at the wheel despite the cry for cover and an ensuing volley of ballistae. As expected the pirates aboard the Vorsfang had also worked up a healthy apatite and threw themselves into the fray indiscriminately firing at both targets.
Kaheed, Titus and Jasper had run to the front of the ship with the combat teams to assault the marines waiting for them. Jasper magic tricks wreaked havoc and Kaheed’s fighting style remained invaluable. Gian and I prepared for the attack on our own ship from the encroaching pirates. Sandara and Kroop’s support and defence team dispatched the enemy boarders with Rosie’s help as Gian and I dispatched a few were-sharks with the help of Taisho Sei frequently blocking their powerful tridents. Our enemies on both sides began to lose strength and with it morale. Several of the men took their chances overboard with the remaining pirates seeking parlay I was pleased to accept. Eventually the Capitavirate Captain fell and the dozen or so sailors and marines left surrendered. I returned to my quarters with Captain Shanks Guffy of the Vorsfang to negotiate the price for our assistance.
It was quite clear to all that the fight was lost long before the Magnificent Bastard had arrived so I knew I could set a steep price. The opening offer of 50% was laughed off the table and I took the lead. “Full plunder rights.” I demanded looking out of the porthole at the wreck of the Vorsfang. “And I’ll let you take the Famished Mane as your own on one condition?” This had clearly peaked his interest and he was quick to know the price. “An indebted favour, and your good word of the Magnificent Bastard to your peers and allies.” My first thought a need for more allies and less enemies within the shackles themselves and a favour to call in would be of great use to us on our future on the waves. He appeared surprised but accepted taking my hand once more.
“Lastly the crew.” I smiled. “I presume you’d like these murderous scum?” I quipped rolling my eyes toward the door to the deck.
“I have a use for them, yes.” He rumbled a dark smirk crossing his bearded jaw. I thought for a moment before continuing.
“This time I’d like something personal, a keepsake of our arrangement. Something that will be of value to our ship but that you may hold in esteem or has personal value to you.”
At this we exited and I followed onto the Vorsfang. We entered the Captains quarters which was dank and cramped unlike our own. The Captain looked over his shoulder as he dug about a small safe covered in knick knacks and trinkets. He handed me a small delicately carved wooden box. I carefully prised the wooden lid off to reveal a pair of ankle high leather boots studded with carved brass and colourful red jewels. A cluster of brass coloured feathers flanked the ankle of each and I recognised them instantly as Boots of Speed.
I felt no remorse as the Famished Mane sailed east under its new command as I had no place on our crew for their sort and no use for them as captives. That afternoon we awarded Rosie’s boarding team with extra drink rations and celebrated yet another victorious combat. Titus and I found time to look over an fine set of Capitavirate encyclopaedia which would one day be a fine addition to the Reliquary’s Library.
We finally pulled in to Mgange Cove but this was unlike the usual ports. With Giffer as our guide the majority of the crew were ordered to stay aboard the ship whilst he made our slow progress to the Wendifa Temple on the other side of the town. We were constantly accosted by all ages and races pushing their charms and trinkets upon us. Kaheed was first to fall foul of their intriguing culture refusing to buy a small doll from an orphan child whose brother could not afford medicine unless she sold enough dolls each day. The culture and its development fascinated me, so far from my home shores, the temperate climate meant that practitioners wore little and any deviation form the common word was physically punishable. The peoples appeared highly chaotic in a way adapting their beliefs to their own surroundings and the times facing their tribe.
When we reached their Temple its beauty outshone any other I had visited. Haunting murals stretched from ground to sky depicting particularly important Wendos. These Wendo were much like the Kami of my own beliefs and watched over nature with a degree of domain over its path. The Wendifa was reluctant to help Gian in her quest to understand these visions and was more honestly reluctant once she had left. I asked if I might study the temple and the Wendifa agreed assisting me in my understanding of the basics. She also allowed me to take a small booklet which also contained brief outlines of rituals and celebrations, something Giffer informed me they very rarely allowed to be written down let alone leave the temple. It would appear that there was a price for this knowledge and in returned she requested a secret from me. I bowed my head, ashamed that I even entertained the idea of concealing my natural form from this preacher so connected with the natural word. She seemed pleased and held my race in high esteem. Before I left I enquired as to the whereabouts of the Ikazuchi. The Wendifa’s view of me had changed since I had shifted and she looked deeply at me as though she was staring into my soul. She asked why I had come here and why I sought this knowledge. When I explained Taisho Sei had been separated from his ward the Wendifa agreed a deal. I fully accepted before she had even finished explaining. In return for the whereabouts of the ship my officers and I would have to fight off the dark Wendos wreaking havoc on the neighbouring town. I thanked her sincerely before changing back into a human. Whilst my fox form was clearly welcome here I had seen peoples need to be close to Taisho Sei and did not fancy our chances of getting anywhere fast if we were both exposed. Giffer on the other hand had different ideas and could not help but ask questions like an excitable child. For now though I was pleased she had taken the information on well and was happy to answer anything she could throw at me. I’d have to tell the other officers tonight because as Giffer said she is a gnome after all.
I made a point of calling an officers meeting in the captains cabin the following morning to discuss the next course of action on Mgange Cove and to reveal my true form.
I woke early that morning so Taisho Sei and I sat atop the Captains cabin looking over the lower decks of the Magnificent Bastard. We watched the sun rising out of the tropical jungles with a cup of green tea, later turning our attention to the new cabin girl Melanie who had appeared to take an interest in the varied backgrounds of the crew. This morning she was ‘meditating’ with Kaheed she was in no way focused and as soon as Titus appeared on deck began keenly scrutinising his set up of the ballistae.
After an hour or so pouring over the cultures we had already encountered the remainder of the crew had reported on deck. I briefly outlined the plan to the other officers before heading off into the woods. Titus had opted to bring his new friend along with us. Laklune was a cheerful chap whose songs and jokes made me chuckle. His heart was very much in the right place and he would talk non-stop about the beautiful Wendifa in town. I felt for him in a way after agreeing to come with us his life would take a very different turn, and his goals up until now seemed honourable and exciting.
After a few hours walking we made our way out of the forest and down into a small beach town. Several of the houses nearer the shore were built on stilts; all were in a state of abandonment, the streets too were completely deserted. Eventually we found our way to the boarded up tavern in the centre of the village. “Hello?” I called. My voice echoed for a while before another voice spoke out in what was identifiable as draconic. Laklune immediately burst into song (much to Titus’ dismay) informing them of our arrival and our intentions to help. The man on the rooftop popped into view along with a few others. As it transpired they were the only survivors of the dark wendo attacks. After a small chat it became apparent that a Fawn was causing the mischief. He had lured men and women from the town and not returned whilst dark creatures attacked those who resisted his song at night. We hurried back into the woods and Taisho helped locate his likely home, a small crossover of several lay lines in the hills. We narrowly avoided a tiger chasing down the local fauna by climbing the trees before eventually stumbling upon the Fawn making merry in a sickening scene. Edward immediately fell foul of the wendo’s music joining the incapacitated villagers in their ‘party.’ The sight before me shook me to my core. The sickening toying with mankind and the greed and excess of this beast conjured the opposite image of my own Kami Taisho sei. Concerned as to its behaviour I sought his counsel. Taisho seemed uncaring and told me not to harm the beast. Titus retrieved the information we needed and we headed back to town for the night, intending to follow up the leads the Fawn had given us the following day. He had lost his famous party haunt and had decided to move to the next town. Dark Wendifa had moved in on the territory and were raising the dead in a graveyard to the north. In any case this nature guardian’s actions seemed grossly conflicted to me.
That evening we were attacked. A strange spell overcame my defences and left me dancing away as the enemy moved in. I took a beating, unable to move I was speared, shot at and even fire bombed. Taisho Sei, Kaheed and Gian came to my aid defending my helpless body and seeing off a few zombies in the process. Once the last enemy fell the spell lifted. I presumed the Fawn had some way of channelling his power through his minions or that he was close by and wanted us dead to the dark wendifa.
I had an uneasy sleep that night and for once would loved to have been at sea. It felt as though the woods and earth I felt so comfortable on were shifting out form under my feet, the vines and branches scratching and clawing at my skin and hair.
The following day we made our way up to the graveyard where we found the wendifa performing a strange Juju ritual and raising the dead. There is nothing I hate more than seeing the spirits of the dead forced back into their decaying bodies. Yet again I was unable to assist my friends in their ridding the world of these abominations instead practicing a shuffling samba as Lakunle was saved by Titus’ arrows. Eventually Titus cut the boots off of my feet recognising the source of the curse, something several spellcasters had failed to notice or even try to help with, as the curse was lifted the boots exploded showering us in their remnants and leaving us horribly charred. I was pleased to be in control once more and became turning the undead with natural positive energy. I got back to healing my friends and repelling the undead as Edward, Titus and Kaheed valiantly took out the wednifas and Gian and I attempted to keep the remains of the zombie hoard at bay. Taisho say made a stupendous shot at a flying wendifa’s head launching a skull that shattered upon his face and briefly ensnaring him in a tangling web of choking vines.
Unfortunately even after the valiant effort both the men escaped leaving the graveyard clear and the Fawns home safe for now. When we returned to the ‘party clearing’ Jasper and Edward took their places prancing as Titus looked for clues as to where the villagers were disappearing. He found his answers by a trickling stream just downhill of the clearing.
I stood barefoot beside a stream feeling the cold grass beneath my toes. Dozens of corpses lay lifeless on the opposite bank their eyes gazing up at the treetops. I quickly found the page on the dead in the Juju script the Wendifa had gifted me and set about to laying them to rest. Titus stared on. He cared not about these people or their beliefs but looked desperate to kill the fey in the clearing above. I, for once, saw eye to eye and took this chance away from Taisho to ask a favour. This day it turned out would be the darkest of my journey so far but I had not considered that even after our fight against the evil Wendifa. Titus agreed and relinquished the item anticipating a fight. Unfortunately for us we were fairly outnumbered with Edward dancing like a drunk and Jasper yet again following the call of his insatiable loins. Still I kept the blade close knowing my next course of action required it.
After a highly unsuccessful negotiation with the Fawn I was left feeling deflated and betrayed. We returned to the Wendifa and lied. Something I will regret for an eternity, we had killed and beaten her risen ancestors on their sacred burial site, allowed the Wendifa to escape and lied to the Fawn to secure the few remaining villagers safety, but at what cost if were to leave without warning them as to the Fawns chilling threat?
Barefoot and covered in dirt and leaves I stalked up the gangplank across the deck and into the cabins quarters, Taisho-Sei followed in silent obedience close at my heels sensing something was wrong. The crew on deck quickly found ropes to tie or lumber to inspect out of my path. I threw myself down at the desk and pointed Taisho to the bed. “Edward!” I called through the sheet. “Moussa and Titus are shirking their duties in the armoury again!” With a low grumble I heard him roll off the bed onto the floor. He materialised at the door turning back to see who was about to receive a scalding and departed with a wry smirk, then his head snapped back to the deck beyond and bellowed “What the hell is this?!” at the indolent members of the crew before shutting the door firmly behind him.
My eyes hot with anguish and holding back tears stared into the Kami’s eyes. For the first time his eyes failed to meet my own, instead they shifted around the floorboards of the small room. Frustrated with the Kami’s attempt to ignore the problem I stood and began to pace. “You know why we are here!?” I spat. There was a time and a place for courtesy and for manners in the world beyond Kepic and this was as far from one of those moments as Mameha had ever been.
“My people worship your kind. You are just and fair… You protect the ancient places with greater courage than I’d ever known, ensuring that the beauty and longevity of the natural world continues through the belligerence of greedy men. And keep safe those who respect this delicate balance.” Silence fell once more and still the Kami refused to meet my gaze. “Am I wrong Kami!? Do my lips lead in lies??” I yelled down at him.
“No Mam’… This is what my kind has done for centuries. We watch over the ancient places, we protect the verdant heart of the planet and we are sworn to protect those who respect the ways of nature. Men who show kindness and compassion to the botanic world shall have our blessing and our shields and will live in harmony with us.” Taisho explained with a quietly nervous pride.
I let out a slow huff glad for a response. I turned on him once more, allowing every fibre of pent up anger to wreak its havoc, taking the form of verbal frustration and rage. “Then tell me what gave those monstrous dancing creatures the right to live? Tell me why you insisted that their lives be spared over those of the town’s people? Please Kami tell me what that ABOMINATON IN THE WOODS WAS PROTECTING!?”
Taisho had clearly had enough and moved towards the back of the cabin fully facing me and staring determinedly into my furrowed face.
“These beings are different to those in Kepic but they still deserve your respect. Nature is violent and untamed and beyond your kind. Volcanoes erupt killing thousands; Tsunami’s wipe away the remnants of your cultures without leaving a trace. The Fawn decided his own actions in his own domain. We cannot judge… sometimes nature does as she likes and it is not your place to question.”
A hot tear burnt its way down my cheek. This spirit I had worshipped, who protected my people, an ancient and powerful ancestor who had returned to our lands to protect them had become as cold as his stony form and had lost his faith in humanity; content with watching the needless death of the innocent on an apparent whim. This was no friend of mine, no protector of the earth, it tore my soul but I knew what had to be done. I turned with a flourish leading the Kami to believe I was leaving with his vicious words. At the end of the turn I continued; twisting and spinning on the spot as I drew the delicate short sword of cold iron from inside my robes. With tears streaming down my face I screamed as I lunged towards the Kami. An odd sensation came over me as I flew towards him and I was reminded of Keiko back home; I felt a burning sensation originating on my hip wash up my body and into the sword which promptly ignited. Taisho was ready and quickly took his stone form protecting himself. I did not stop and pressed the flaming piece to his chest and slowly began to push. His screams filled my head as the cold iron passed through his defences and what looked like a trickle of rocky dust drifted to the floor.
The Kami stumbled backwards finding his way into the corner before sliding down the wall clutching at his wound. Still pointing the sword at his chest I found the thoughts from my mind dancing off my tongue as if they were someone else’s words yet I was certain they were my own. “You were bound to me Kami and we were destined for greatness but now, now you must pay the price for your kind. I will teach you how to respect their kind as they have yours.” My scarred feet slid delicately across floor, the Kami’s eyes danced fearfully between the tip of the blade and up to the woman before him one after the other as if trying desperately to make sense of the situation.
As I came to stand above the terrified creature, readying the final act, I heard my own voice cut through my mind and the heat of the situation. ‘No.’ Sharper and clearer than the other voices as though it was my spirit itself resonating from the very depth of my heart. ‘Redemption… you are better than these capricious creatures who wallow in whim…’ It whispered before I fell weakened, crashing to my knees. The fire that had licked the blade rippled outward scorching my kimono at the waist and blackening the kami with soot. The smell of charred wood stang my eyes and I began to weep again, but I struggled on in a waivering voice; “I have given you everything kami and now in return for showing you mercy you must swear yourself to me and accept my demands.” Taisho moved cautiously to my side putting my own body between him and the blade. He rested his hand gently on my shoulder before responding.
“What are these demands?” He asked staring thoughtfully up at me a hint of relief loosening his face as the words left his mouth.
I stood and continued as though there had been no moment of weakness lifting the sword once more; “You will accompany me on my travels. You will show respect and compassion to the peoples of this world and aid me in assisting those I see fit and in eliminating those who cross us or who seek to defile our sacred lands. Once I have deemed you have learnt to show us the respect we have shown you we will return to your ward as promised.”
Taisho began to nod almost as though he was expecting more of a challenge, eager to be forgiven, but I had not finished. “What is more, you will also assist me in destroying the fiends of nature who seek not to protect their wards but who folly in the misery and abuse the peoples of this world, without question. That fawn deserves death for its dark actions and should we cross his path again I will not hesitate in ending its miserable twisted life.”
This last demand troubled him, but before he had chance to mull it over I concluded: “We have become friends you and I, Taisho-Sei but for nature and man to live in harmony there needs to be trust, and faith. Should a sly man take your woodland you would protect them at any cost. Should you begin to take my people I too will protect them at any cost, even the life of a guardian.”
I dropped the sword to my waist and sat awaiting his response. He took his time muttering to himself and pacing the length of the room. “You are certainly more courageous than most I have met. To think we’ve only just met and already you are challenging my ways.” Taisho smiled. “We are still friends Miss Eikou and I respect you perhaps more than before. Nature can be cruel yes… But if man were as cruel there would be no chance of harmony.” He continued to pace. “I will go with you. The Ikazuchi can wait. It has survived all this time and without you I’d be further still from my ward and for that I remain grateful. Although I feel next time a simple duel of words would have sufficed!” He quipped staring at the sword at my side. He smiled bowing to the ground. I followed suit keeping my eyes on the Kami. “Now lets sort out that hair, you look a state!” He chortled hopping up on the desk and routing through the desk drawers.
“There’s one thing I need to do first.” I smiled relief washing over me. I raised my hands and began to harness the energies around to mend his cut. As the light began to flow into my fingertips as it always had Taisho gripped my hand, preventing the usual burst.
“Let it be a reminder” Taisho whispered. “I had lost my path and you have set me right. All those years in that box I began to doubt your kind and the other civilisations out there. But perhaps I should follow in your footsteps and examine the cultures of the other races and their relationship with their own nature spirits. After all, the people of Ngozu have continued to respect my kind even with the odd bad ‘Window’.”
I chuckled tucking the sword into my robes and began to sort out the frightful mess I had made of my face.
“You were glowing you know…?” Taisho whispered as he handed me a comb. I looked up bewildered. “That bond you have, it’s a strong one…” he said gesturing at the glowing sigil at my hip, still visible through my kimono.
“It was my sister’s.” I explained feeling a hole open somewhere in my gut. “As was the fire… sorry about that, it wasn’t… expected.”
“Sister you say? Unless I’m mistaken only the Suli-Jann of old had such bonds. But I am by no means an expert…”
And with that I began to explain the events that lead me to meet my sister.
The following day we found ourselves back on the sea but in very different surroundings. The Smythees ship was very small and very basic, it was better kept than the Bastard but the crew and her passengers had little to do.
The first morning I was shown to my ‘quarters’. A small section of the holding deck that had three bundles of blankets, one for Kaheed and Gian and another which Titus immediately tested nestling down before rising again content with what appeared to be his usual sleeping habits. Seeing my raised eyebrow the attentive deck hand passed me a crisp white hammock. I stared down at it in disbelief, still I thanked him and set my sights higher leaving Kaheed and Gian to explore the ship.
I watched young Timothy passing back and forth in his fancy shoes, waving the sailors back and forth as though he had the first idea as to how the vessel stayed afloat. It was entertaining and at times almost endearing. I hatched a plan taking note of the loathing looks he often shot at Edward and Jasper. Every smile between the betrothed appeared to make his skin crawl and his eyes flash. I decided to approach him not as a pirate with an alteria motive but as a woman, silly, naive and in need of a gentleman’s company. The ploy worked and he quickly took the bait. That night during the celebrations on deck I explained that the sleeping quarters were fairly inadequate for a captain and he was quick to invite me back to his room. I had probably overdone it as he appeared infactuated in a way only an inexperienced pup could be.
As we all made our way to our various sleeping arrangements that evening the drunken laughter of the usual suspects rang out across the deck. I looked up at Timothy as we crossed the deck and he rolled his eyes in an attempt to seem more mature than his years. I giggled as was expected.
As we reached his cabin he swung the door open proudly gesturing me inside. My eyes transfixed on the Bed in the corner, a wide grin splitting across the width of my face. It was magnificent. Every fur I could think of was layered thick atop the bed. I yawned heartily and made my way to the bed still wearing the majority of my clothes I slipped in under the covers feeling the soft fur caress my arms and legs. Pure heaven.
The dream was snatched cruely away from the gentle shake of my shoulder. I twisted preparing mentally to engage some tall tail to keep him cold and to my surprise he was stood in nothing but a leopard fur posing pouch. “Oh!” I gasped exposing my real emotions for the first time. He stood nervously awaiting verbal or physical compliments. I slowly pulled the covers up further over me as he began to impatiently shift from foot to foot. “I had assumed you would like to lie with me this night” He whispered seductively gesturing at the darkness beyond the cabin.
He was young and the correct shape but his years of pampering were already taking there toll on his scrawny frame. My mind flashed instead to the handsome face of my Nobuharu and his chiseled body toned through military discipline.
“But we could not possibly lie together before we are wed. Your mother wo-“ But before I could finish he was bent low on one knee brandishing a fine looking ring. His eyes had become wide in both excitement of acceptance and the fear of rejection. Voices outside informed me that certain undesirably inibriated pirates were on the approach. My mind became a blur of confused thoughts and before I knew what I was doing the importance of the mission and keeping the Smythees sweet was thrust to the fore of my mind.
“Of course!” I smiled gingerly, regretting the words immediately as he swept me up in the blankets and span me around the room. Jasper and Edward had made it to the door and it burst open to the loud triumphant cry “We are to be married!” Cheers called out from the drunkern duo and I was carried along the corridor to Lady Smythee’s chamber. As we approached I saw Gian peering round the corner with a quizical look on her face. ‘Why?’ she mouthed as I rolled my eyes and shrugged in disbelief as to where this plan for a good night sleep had taken me.
I was laid gently on Lady Smythee’s bed as the Matriach stared at me perplexed. “I’d like to introduce you to my new fiancee” He called merrily, framing me with his arms as she stood to get a better look at me.
“The other Captain…” She murmured approaching my tangled, defenseless form. “Leave us Timothy” She whispered. He continued to grin up at her, bursting with pride. He leant down to kiss my cheek once more before skipping out to proclaim his love to the rest of the crew. I began to untangle myself from the furs and rose adjusting my kimono in an attempt to look respectable. Her eyes were cold and calculating as she looked me up and down.
“My son was greatly against this plan of mine” she thought aloud. “’Not pirates mother! Please don’t marry one of them.’ As such I assume this wasn’t part of our little plan or you’d have come forward sooner…” A pang of guilt sparked in my stomach and I knew where this was likely to end. As she continued my concerns were confirmed.
“You are not to marry my son until I am sure you are a good match to him. Lord knows one of my family should marry for love and quite frankly I was hoping it would be our Tim!” She said flinging her arms around me suddenly knocking me back onto the bed. She hopped back up clapping her hands together, “such a pretty exotic girl too… you’ll have to settle here and bear me grandchildren in my husbands name of course, none of this pirate nonsense” she shrilled.
I remained rooted to the spot letting her future plans wash over me refusing to take them in. My weary eyes also disbelieving the events unfolding rapidly as Timothy burst back in, still in a state of undresss, jumping up and down hand in hand with his mother.
“All for a good nights sleep.” I whispered over and over that night until I drifted off into the best sleep I’d had in months.
The following day I rose to the smell of fresh bacon and eggs. ‘It was a breakfast of Pirate Kings’ I thought remembering the months of ship’s biscuits my digestive system had endured. We made it to the Smythee Summer manor that afternoon and collected information about the town from the servants before infiltrating into the town dressed as farm hands that afternoon.
We spent the day gathering information and exploring the town. Eventually l came across a dog yard run by an eccentric gentleman in support of the Smythees. He informed me that he would like to help their cause and I agreed to meet him after mass.
By this time Titus had signed up to the local guard as an spy. During mass Jasper, Kaheed, Gian and I headed to the old disused temple, where Gian and I took some of the artefacts of interest and promised the aging cleric there that we would rid the town of the new religion. Jasper left the temple in search of the Cleric’s pact book as I took Gian and Kaheed to meet the Houndmaster at a location nearby.
Unfortunately when he arrived he turned out to be an imposter and we were forced to kill him to remain undetected. We hid his body and returned to the tavern to await our companions. As it happens they were spending the evening in prison for assaulting the Cleric and we were left fighting the towns guard who had caught up with us on the streets. Both teams were successful in thwarting the Baron’s men and eventually we joined the other worse for wear officers on the fortress walls signalling our victory to the Magnificent Bastard.
The following day we were left to recover. Having taken very little damage in the fight against Captain Blacklock, I rose at dawn and began work on my studies of the local culture and geography. The house itself had a few history books regarding Piren’s Bluff, the Smythee family and the two separate religions in town. Frustratingly the isle itself was so small and its control traded hands with Pirates, settlers and merchants that very few historical records remained intact. Intending to explore the island I dressed and went to check on Gian before heading out. I lifted a hand to knock on her door just as it swang open; “Breakfast?” she chirped grinning. As we discussed our plans for the day, including a rendezvous with our respective partners aboard the * we rounded the flagstone hallway leading into the dining room. To our surprise preparations for the weddings were well under way. Jasper was being lead quite forcefully into an adjoining room by his flustered bride to be, Edward was trying in vain to halt Arabella’s use of the endearing nickname ‘Monkey’ and Kaheed was stood quietly in the doorway to the kitchens eyeing something within cautiously. That something became apparent when Titus’ voice came echoing through the room “Actually make it three bottles….Well obviously red!” He commanded before sweeping back into the room and plonking himself at the far end of the table with a wide grin on his face.
Gian and I made our way to the seats at the far end past a sea of dress designs and swatches of every kind and colour of fabric. Over breakfast we discussed the best sorts of fabric to complement both our figure and complexion, taking a brief break from our measuring only to stare daggers at a woman self absorbed enough to think Gian was a serving girl, and to comfort Edwards’s emotionally fragile bride to be. Eventually we tired of the nobility and all its snobbery and crept off to visit the ship before heading into town.
Our visit to the ship did not start well. The crew were fairly fed up of being cooped up whilst we had free reign of the island. I informed them that soon enough they would be able to sail into town and that we were organising a special event to celebrate our ‘cracking the rock’. Gian exchanged hurried whispers with Cog before having to give chase and having a door slammed in her face. Furious she wrenched open the door and slammed it once again behind her. I laughed as seconds later a few of the other officers hurried out to find something to do on the opposite side of the deck. My eyes found Nobu’s smile across the deck; the result was an unusual sensation as my heart set a hard beat to which my stomach danced nervously. I glanced pointedly to my cabin and quickly crossed the deck to the doorway awaiting him inside. He entered kicking the door shut behind him with a tap of his boot, as he moved to kiss my face I pulled away and gripping tight to his hands told him what had transpired. How I had somehow found myself betrothed to the young Smythee boy in order to keep the deal sweet. At first his rugged good looks held a smile, happy to be back in my arms, but the smile slipped along with his brow as confusion took its hold.
“What do you mean you had too!? I’m not sure you can even begin to realise what I’ve given up for you, you’ve dragged me and Dartak to the middle of Pirate infested waters, risked our lives, made us deserters and for what!? So you could betray our trust and marry some snotty prick for a lucky rock!?”
“No!” I choked “I want you! I didn’t want the journey to be for nothing, I can get out of it, I swear… I’ll call it off. Tonight.”
“And break another heart!? Show your true nature to this family and leave the crew with nothing for this journey? If your word is worthless how will anyone in town trust us?” A moment of silence followed and my ragged breathing escaped my body partnered with the tears making there way down my cheeks.
He turned to leave, pausing a step or two from the door. Without looking up he shot a cold question that pierced my stomach like an icicle; “When do we leave…. Captain?”
“As early as the day after next.” I replied gripping the edge of the desk as though it’s bolted down wooden legs could provide some sort of emotional support. A burning pain shot out from my hip as the scar Keiko had left turned white hot. Spurred into action by the pain I pounced across the room my arms stretching the width of the door frame. “Don’t.” I demanded staring into his tear stung eyes with my own. “I am forced to do everything I can for this ship; I risk my life everyday for this family I have on board, for the research I seek for those back home. I have witnessed unimaginable hatred amongst men and seen the very spirits I worship torture and toy with civilisations. And from all this… The one thing that I have for myself is you… All the suffering, all the daring quests and death defying battles; I couldn’t do them without you. I love you… And when all this research and pirating is over I want you to come home with me, to the south. Screw the shackles and screw the pirates, just us.”
To my relief his taught lips curled into a well disguised smile. He pulled me close brushing my tear stained cheeks. He kissed my lips softly, running his fingers through my scented hair. “I need some time.” He whispered “but I will see you tonight, meet me here after your festivities.” As he slipped out of the door I saw Taisho hopping back behind the door frame.
“Taisho, you could just ask what happened” I called out to him. Grudgingly he stepped out from his hiding place and wandered in. “He’s not the only thing you care about though? Right?” He always knew how to get a giggle out of me, whether he intended it or not.
That afternoon I headed back into Piren’s Bluff with the Smythees and the other officers to announce Lady Agastas return to power. The majority of the town turned out to cheer but I had other business to attend to. I made my way through the deserted side streets and knocked at the door of the dog yard. I was curious to see if all my contact had been with the impostor. When there was no answer I sloped around the back into the dog yard. I threw some meat into the pen to distract the dogs and kicked open the back door. I crept in keeping an eye out for anything suspicious, a muffled voice yelped out from the shop counter. I leant down and untied the man’s bindings and loosened his gag. “Thank you so much” he gasped as I pulled him up and helped him over to a small closet whilst checking over his wounds. “I could have died if I was here any longer” he mumbled through the array of food he was stuffing into his mouth. “I was here a couple of days ago.” I explained “That man I spoke to was an impostor who made an attempt on my life.”
“It was a man from the temple young miss. He questioned me about my allegiances and stole my identity. Did he hurt you?”
“No. We overpowered him. He won’t be troubling you again. Lady Smythee has reclaimed Piren’s bluff and intends to wed this evening to secure her claim. I will leave you to your animals for now, I just came back to ensure you weren’t, well… bound under a counter somewhere!”
“Wait!” He called out as I approached the kicked in door. “You saved my life, how can I repay you?”
“Well I was looking for a ships dog. Something small and loyal, perhaps good at hunting rats…?”
“Well of course! That’s the least I could do. He’ll be ready for you in a week.”
I spent the next couple of hours in town replenishing my supply of feather tokens, securing an ornate wooden bed for my cabin so that Edward and I no longer had to share. I also hunted down the only Sake in the town, two tins of fine cigars and an ornate golden frame for Nobu in recompense for my bad decisions of late.
The wedding was a fairly simple affair. As accustom in this region the bride was led up the aisle to her waiting partner, they would share vows and a social gathering commenced afterward. Gian was lucky enough to catch the bouquet meaning she was destined to marry next. The festivities were cut short when an unnatural fog rolled in. Sahaguin and pirates charged up the shore accompanied by a harpy and an old friend; the whispering dwarf. The guests crashed towards the house as the officers grabbed their numerous concealed weapons from the pews and awning. A lighting bolt shot from the enemy captain crackling narrowly past my arm striking Gian and several of the guests. I quickly patched her up as best I could only to be the target of a swarm of spiders. Edward began shooting at the sorceress with Titus following suit, whilst Kaheed and Cog took on the Sahaguin and Harpy. Once their ranks were thinned Cog joined Gian in cutting down pirates. The harpy’s lean body continued to pummel Kaheed in a cloud of blurred movements between the two highly trained unarmed combatants. I stepped up behind the monstrous woman and christened my new blade slashing it deep into her back. The silver long sword erupted in holy light and the cut left in its wake hissed with a painful ferocity. Kaheed pummelled the Harpy leaving her defenceless on the ground but creatures this evil rarely stay down, and as he turned his attention to the Sahaguin surrounding him I raised the sword again allowing it to easily cleave a path through the monsters neck as it swung to the ground.
Without warning the pirate ship in the bay exploded sending splintering wood and twisted metal upon the surf and sand. The Captain span on the spot and glanced around at her diminishing allies. She tossed her rapier at her feet and raised her hands above her head slowly. It appeared to me that pirates are only willing to fight if success is certain. The Sahaguin continued to fight until they were wiped out. When the survivors were rounded up Titus executed the remaining pirates leaving me with the enemy sorceress.
Kaheed bound her hands and feet took everything but her personal belongings. She was a pretty enough thing, her long chestnut hair cascaded down her bare olive skin. Tattoos covered every slender limb; several maps and nautical themes covered her flesh and a particularly nasty scar tissue chart was etched into her shoulder. She knelt in the sand her eyes staring calculatingly into mine. “Who are you?” I quizzed.
“Isabella Inkskin” She replied cocking her head slightly as though she expected me to cut her throat and be done with her.
“Why did you attack us here and how did you find us?”
“Promise me my life and freedom and you will know.” She countered calmly, her voice an unusual Kepician hybrid.
“Not a chance” I leered pushing the blade of my sword against her neck, at first the flat silver then slowly twisting so the blade shaved the goose bumps off her neck.
“Fine” she called irritably as though she was enjoying the interrogation before my weapon was drawn. “I was sent here by a friend of yours… Barnabus Harrigan. He’s awful furious that you took his boat.”
“Where is he now and how did you find us?” My eyes shifted quickly along the horizon and out into the dispersing fog. The only blot on the horizon was the smouldering ruin of Isabella’s boat slowly sinking.
“The dwarf has a way of tracking you, but I am not privy to his plans. Last I saw of him was out at sea, said he had to collect a weapon and sent me after you to repay a debt I owed.”
“Well if that’s all the information you have the way I see it is we have two options. The first is that we hand you over to the Smythees. I’m guessing it’ll be a hanging or a lifetime rotting in a cell.” As the words left my mouth I could see her teeth clench as though bitter or already concocting a plan of escape. She seemed resourceful and determined. “Or you can serve us on our ship and you can use your magic to aid us until Harrigan is dead. Then if you wish it you may leave with your life.”
There was an uneasy silence, both opportunity and doubt hung in the air like a great balanced set of scales. I hoped she would lend her knowledge and magic to our cause, on the other hand Titus and Edward seemed to doubt her trustworthiness. Edward was first to speak, quick to ignore the pleas of his new wife. “She can die here. She is not joining our crew, she’ll cut us down while we sleep! Looking down at her face of anguish I saw in it Keiko’s; bitter and hurt at my leaving her. This woman had obviously had a tragic past to owe a debt to such a man as Harrigan and as my mind recalled his many enemies I couldn’t shake the feeling she was owed some respite, and a chance for revenge on this foul man.