Orithia- Skull & Shackles
The Rambling Tales of Jasper the Still
The Young Buccaneer stood in the heavy rain and glanced down uncertainly at the swiftly smudging scrap of parchment clutched in his hand. It only read ‘The Polished Pearl’, the same words that stood out clearly in the darkness, emblazoned above the closed doorway. Light and laughter escaped from the ill-fitted edges and panic threatened to tear it’s way out of his stomach once again, but a moment of controlled breathing and a steadying hand on his concealed pistol calmed him once more. Letting the scrap fall to the cobblestones, he reached out and slammed his fist against the door twice.
The inside of the Pearl was as exotic as he had been led to believe. Most tables were surrounded by large, plush cushions instead of chairs and the riot of colour and scents took a moment to adjust to. Despite all this, it wasn’t hard to find who he was looking for. The old half-orc with too many laugh lines creasing his face and an abundance of finery about his person. Nobody comes to a place like this dressed like that unless they have the reputation to keep the scavangers away. It was even easier to get a seat at his table as people kept coming and going, sharing in a joke or drink before moving on. And it was easiest of all to get him to start talking…
“So that’s when I stared him in the eyes and said ‘They only call you Bonefist because the only thing that ever touches your bone is your damn fist.’” The old greenskin coughed and drank down another mouthful of wine while the several of the assorted hangers on let out the unmistakable sound of people trying too hard to out-appreciate each other through the medium of sycophantic laughter. When the guffaws died down, the Young Buccaneer quietly asked the inevitable question – “Then what ’appened?”
With a frown, the storyteller put down his glass and focused on the Young Buccaneer for the first time. “What do you mean, ‘then what ’appened?’?”
“I’ve heard enough stories about Kerdak Bonefist to know that he wasn’ the sort of man to take an insult like tha’ from his own mother. How did he like you sayin’ it?”
After staring blankly for a few moments through the multi-hued pipe smoke the half orc responded frostily. “He shot me. The man had a reputation to live up to, after all.” One of the older sea dogs let out a sharp bark of laughter but the others fidgeted uncomfortably at the sudden change of tone around the table. After half a minute of silent eye contact between the Young Buccaneer and his elder, the others shared a series of knowing looks and all took thier leave.
After the table cleared and the two were left by themselves a grin cracked the half orc’s face and the air of menace dissapated immediately. He took another drink from his glass and settled back into a opulent pile of cushions and spoke with a voice that was to the noises of the den as a ship is to it’s passengers. It enveloped them, hid them away beyond sight and caring and left you only with the intense curiousity of what cargo they protected.
“What did you come here looking to find, lad? And more to the point, how did you intend to get it?”
The Young Buccaneer felt his features go slack and his mind fog before he caught himself and shook the trance away. “I want to know how you did it. An’ I was plannin’ on askin’.” He shrugged and crossed his arms, trying desperately to appear unfussed but aware of how small his voice sounded at that moment.
The old man’s grin grew sharper and his eyebrows rose. “Wagering that my love of talking about myself will entertain you for an evening?” He let out a low chuckle, leaning forward again. “Good roll of the dice lad, been awhile since anyone’s thought of acy asking me how it happened. Sandara’s account is enough for most.”
The youth felt himself relax a mote, leaning in himself to better hear the old storyteller before jumping back with a yell as the bulky half orc raised up both arms and brought them down together with a crash on the center of the table, sweeping them off to the sides. Where his arms cleared the table, they left behind a delicately swirling layer of purple and green smoke. As the one man audience took careful note, the smoke coalesced into a diorama showing a well travelled street with what looked like a bustling tavern occupying center stage. The tiny sign looked like it said ’The Formidably Maid".
“So, lad.” Jasper said “If you’re hearing this story then you’re hearing all of it. From the beginnning.”
The Young Buccaneer simply nodded. “From the beginnin’.”
With the roll of a wrist, the image zoomed in farther. Eventually it settled on a scene familiar to anyone who’s ever set foot dockside. Loud, merry music and the din of hearty chatter amidst a bustling tavern. Focus shifted to a younger but thoroughly recognizable half orc, decked out in a deep crimson half robe with only a trace amount of grey in his hair and telling an animated tale to the group of several blatantly drunken sailors.
With a half hearted grunt, Jasper clicked his fingers several times. With each click, the scene shifted slightly. Focus flickered between a handful of individuals; an aloof looking Kondarian warrior, a menacing bastard with a shaven head and elaborate coat and a curious looking old salt fingering the rim of his wide brimmed hat.
“Just some of the players.” He reached out with a massive paw to point at the Kondarian. “Tha-”
“Tito Severus” the Young Buccaneer interrupted. “Mr Plugg and Edward Van Helgen.” Pointing at the individuals in turn.
Jasper snorted and rubbed at his jaw thoughtfully. “Well, back then it was just Titus. Titus Stern. Surprised you even know his proper name.”
“What about the rest of you? Mameha Eikou? Gian Tanesini? An’ where was Abdul-Khidamun?”
“Huh.” Jasper looked blank for a few seconds before continuing. “How the hell do you even know his full name? I can’t bloody remember it half the time!” The huge half orc rolled a shoulder and his eyes both before giving an exasperated huff. “They were in a different bar, place like that wouldn’t have suited Gian and Mameha back then. But we met up soon enough.”
The scene shifted again slightly to show the phantasmal Jasper succumbing to his drugged drink and his being lifted up by a pair of thugs, before breaking back down into the swirling void of smoke.
“Not a very dramatic start, eh?” Jasper offered in a low whisper upon seeing his audience’s frown. “I’ll warn you, the closest I get to dying in the first week is soaking up a fair few lashes for being a bloody useless layabout and a smart-mouthed idiot.”
The Young Buccaneer made momentary eye contact with the storyteller, before resuming his intense scrutiny of the tabletop in silence.
“Right you are then.” Jasper grinned and ran his hand through the ever-swirling smoke before delicately pulling it upwards, a ships mast rising with it until the tabletop held a perfect replica of a ship surrounded by gently rolling waves.
“The Wormwood. An ugly name for a ship to be sure. But one that soon proved to be prophetic of the goings on aboard it. While the ship herself was sound, the crew had a rot going through it like I’d never seen. Every ship has it’s bullies, that’s a given. But the gang of thugs responsible for most of the crews misery were true brutes. And they had backing from the higher ups. Almost untouchable they were. Almost.” With a growling chuckle and another half-wave of the hand the view shifted to inside the hold and the pair watched as the assembled forms slowly roused from unconsciousness and took in their surroundings. Confusion, fear and comprehension were all clear on the collection of faces as they shuffled about and woke the late-wakers.
Before they were all even on their feet, another figure came down and began animatedly shouting at the bemused bunch. Cracking a cruel looking cat-o-nine-tails, he herded them upstairs towards the sunlight and sound of gentle waves. Once all six of the peculiar looking group were assembled on the deck the whip cracking and roaring resumed, driving them into the rigging and towards the crows nest. Titus, Edward and Kaheed made good headway, with Mameha and Gian trailing a little farther behind. The image of Jasper, however, remained only a few feet off the deck.
“A hangover and being yelled at weren’t as powerful motivators to me as they were to the rest. I’d gone through that dance before and I was more interested in the ship and the crew. Course-” He added with a grimace, watching the scene of Scourge whipping him mercilessly unfold on the deck. “- I probably should’ve gotten out of reach first.”
The ‘contest’ ended when Edward reached the crows nest and was greeted by a gaily dressed gnome. He and Titus were chosen as riggers and handed off for further training while the remaining four assembled once more in front of whip-wielder, with the bulky green form of Jasper clearly propped up on a barrel after the brutal treatment for lagging behind. From those four, the miniature Kaheed was sent off to kitchens.
“The Chef’s mate. Would’ve gone for that myself, had I been in any state for speaking. Anyway, the ladies and myself were to be swabs. Cleaning the deck, pumping the bilges and hunting rats. That sort of thing. Apart from having my tanned hide, things weren’t looking so bad. Sure beat living out of abandoned warehouses and hostels in Blacksand. Seeing the kid, Magpie, keelhauled put a proper dampener on my enthusiasm though. I can understand why Harrigan did it, repeated thievery amongst a crew can cause hellish troubles. But storm’s sighting, he could’ve made it cleaner than that.” While he spoke, the scene shifted to just after sundown. The deck was crowded with seamen and all their attention was focused on the grisly remains hanging from the mast. As the grim reminder swung to and fro, the majority of the crowd faded into insubstantial mist just leaving the six principal characters and another rakish looking woman smoking a tiny pipe.
“Ahh Sandara, you magnificent little minx.” Jasper whispered as the pair watched the priestess move between all six individuals and exchange objects and words with each. “In so many ways she was the one who set us on our path. To this day I still wonder just how many of our steps were to her tune.”
With a click of his meaty fingers, Jasper set the image shifting again. Dozens of scenes flickered by; the group fighting against a swarm of giant rats in the bilges, a brawl with a particularly thuggish gang, conversations and laughter shared with a number of the crew, a handful of lashings and more than a few images of all six doing the menial labour expected of them.
“Making friends is too important to pass up, especially at sea. And if you’re any good at making friends, like as not you’ll end up with a few enemies to match. Didn’t take long before two factions started emerging amongst the crew…” He held both of his hands face up and nodded towards the scowling faces forming above the right. “Scourge’s rabble. The worst bullies and the biggest cowards. Worst of all, their ties to Scourge and Plugg kept them safe from most of the backlash. But-” Nodding towards the left hand, he grinned at the sight of the mismatched gaggle of faces staring directly at the Young Buccaneer “we had our own rabble. Good folk, some. And the rest were bastards of the most brilliant sort. There wasn’t too much tension to begin with, but you could see the lines being drawn almost from the start.”
With a wry chuckle Jasper slowly brought his two hands together and moulded the shimmering lights together before cracking his hands apart slightly to allow a luminescent liquid to pour down on to the table like an angelic egg yoke. The liquid spread evenly over the table, stopping just shy of the edge to form a haphazard circle. And with a whispered word from the grey haired illusionist the bright luminescence quickly became a manic spiral of colour and, curiously, scents. Over the twinkling display which was slowly forming a coherent image, Jasper spoke again to the bedazzled young blood – “There were a few brawls and arguements, sure, but things didn’t get serious until the thirteenth day. The day we found a doldrum. Or it found us.”
The table had finally finished it’s transformation into a shimmering porthole, giving off the occasional wandering mote of light as the two peered down into the developing scene. The view seemed to be from the perspective of one of the crew. Jasper himself, the Young Buccaneer guessed. The view was dominated by a very angry and worried looking collection of sailors and brigands who were clearly on the verge of taking action.
“I had a… reputation, lad.” Jasper tiredly spoke with a grim set to his face, all the mischief and mirth drained momentarily “And you know what a superstitious bunch seafarers can be. Knowing what I know now I can’t in all truth hold them responsible for how close they came to ending me right there. Good thing I had Gian, Mameha and a few of the others looking out for me. The crew couldn’t decide if it’d be worse luck to let me stay or throw me overboard. Harrigan eventually settled the contest of nerves by sending the bunch of us over to a tiny speck of land by the name of Dagon’s Pulp. He told us that he wanted a goat sacrificed to Besmara or some bollocks like that. Like the Sea Banshee pays attention to that kind of shite…
Anyway, turns out that what he really wanted us to do was ‘recruit’ some poor sods who got themselves stranded on the isle and buy some time to see if the wind started back up.”
He rolled his eyes and grinned again, the humour already returning to his face.
“Wish it’d been that simple. I mean, don’t get me wrong, actually convincing the four of them to join up with us was easy enough. Half of them were ill and they were straight out of options. Most of them were even alright sorts, except for the minx of a northern troublemaker. The real issue was dealing with the gremlins infesting the island and their sea hag mistress.”
The illusionary porthole on the table continued to show the first person perspective of the highlights of the islands exploration. The solemn release of the goat by Kaheed, the scouring of the shipwreck on the west shore and the swinging corpse in the clifftop caves. As the view changed to the exploration of an underwater cave, another three dimensional image of a cave complex formed out of shadowy wires above the porthole, complete with a small, sly looking image of Jasper’s face to represent his exact location.
“You know any magic, lad?” The grey haired half orc queried. “You don’t really look the sort.. but around these parts, that kind of prudence can be a life-saver.”
The Young Buccanner shook his head a little, slightly taken aback by the sudden change of subject. “A friend taugh’ me enough to read a scroll or two, maybe use a wand if I know the word for it. No proper magic in my blood, brain or soul though”. Then, with narrowed eyes, he shot back “Always seemed like a blade or bullet was more reliable anyway”.
“Reliable?” Jasper snorts dismissively, “Probably. By Besmara’s tits though, it’s not as exciting. Anyway, I wasn’t taking the piss. My point is that with even a little bit of magic, a ton of doors open up to you. Mameha had some magic, sure, but hers was more the of the ‘stop dying you idiots!’ type. I knew a lot less then than I do now, but I had a few tricks tucked away for a dangerous day all the same. Like that for example.” He nodded towards the image of his younger self darting through the pitch black underwater passage effortlessly. “Being able to pull off things like that can make your life easier in a lot of ways. And anything that gets people to rely on you is a blessing. Make yourself invaluable, lad. That’s a surer way of surviving the seas than being the scariest bastard around”.
The younger man nodded obediantly but kept his eyes focused on the miniature Jasper as it tied off a rope and led the rest of his party through the darkness. The exploration seemed to be going smoothly, until a dark form appeared under the surface and grabbed Gian, who was taking up the rear.
“What was tha’? Another gremlin?” the Young Buccaneer asked the unconcerned storyteller.
“Nah, nothing like that. Just your average tiger fish. Dangerous only to the unwary, which we were dumb enough to be. Doubt that bite even left a scar.”
The underwater ruckus resolved itself with a quick application of violence and the diminutive explorers continued farther into the caverns. It was wasn’t long before they found a gently sloping sand mound that led them out of the knee high water and rounded a corner to confront the queen of the annoying little fey and what amounted to her court.
“Turns out that slimy bitch had been the one to cause the doldrum in the first place, probably hoping to feed her rotten little brood. We saw to her though.”
Curiously, the first person view had changed back to looking down at the small cavern from on high. But it did indeed seem like the group was giving the hag a thorough seeing to. The Young Buccaneer was particularly impressed by the exquisitely detailed look of anger and anguise on Titus’ face as his gladius rusted away.
“After the fight we gathered up the spoils, material and sentient, and sailed back to the Wormwood feeling damn smug underneath all the cuts and bruises. The doldrum broke almost immediately, so it looked like the sea-skank was behind the weather to boot. The crew were so thrilled they weren’t going to die a slow death that barely any of them remembered to shoot me a suspicious glance as we climbed aboard. And even those few dissappeared once I loudly made Harrigan aware of the potential booty in the remains of the Libertine. After that, the only glares were from a few of the officers.”
With another rumbling chuckle, the old swashbuckler clicked his fingers and dismissed the various phantasms. The Young Buccaneer jerked back in surprise and rubbed at his eyes before looking up to meet the gaze of the storyteller.
“The next few days were pretty much back to what passed for normal on the Wormwood. ‘Cept for the gremlins I guess. Hah! And the Riaris’ ‘boarding school’! That was a good bit of fun, and let me show some of the lads and lasses a thing or two about how to use a rope. Only Van Helgen beat me to the ship and Dicks Chumlet looked like a bloody idiot trying to keep me off. Good laugh, all told.”
Jasper leaned back and stroked the thin line of his salt and pepper beard thoughtfully.
“It wasn’t all fun and games though, tensions quickly set to rising between the two factions amongst the crew. Lot of folk almost lost more than their pride in those few days. Mameha and Kaheed especially. A vicious beating from Chumlet and a crony almost did for the two of them, and when they were found still breathing they were blamed for the whole mess. Got chucked in the sweat box for all their sins.”
The hulking greenskin gave a huffing sigh and rubbed his eyes before continuing.
“Tensions came a whisper from exploding right there on the Wormwood and I don’t hesitate to say we’d all have been bait if that had been the case. Our unwitting salvation proved to be Her.”
The Young Buccaneer waited several long moments for an explanation before growing irritated at the pause.
“What do ye me-”
“THE MAN’S PROMISE, LAD!” Jasper roared, smashing his fists down on the drink stained table before giving out a half-mad laugh. “The Man’s Promise.”