Cursed by the Gods

Captain Ozzi's Log Part 24
Because I Can

Under the wind filled sails of The Water Naga, Sandy Foundling held up a silvery medallion and admired it under the setting sun. The piece was fat and circular with strange blue and black whorls that glittered invitingly under the dying light. First Mate Ryrun leaned over the mesmerized halfling and snicker. “She’s pretty,” he said conversationally, startling the newly minted Commodore.

“It’s amazing,” Sandy replied, spinning the amulet in the light, “They mine it near the deep sea vents. The sea races consider it holy. They call it Deep Platinum. Do you think we should sell it?”

The elf gave a noncommittal shrug. They had gotten the amulet off of a group of sahaugin who cleverly tried to bait The Water Naga with an invitingly scuttled trawler. It was a brief but brutal fight when the sea devils tried to ambush the boarding party, with Ryrun brilliantly killing two of the attackers. The lead sahaugin screamed savagely at Idoki and she responded by killing it with a gout of magic fire. Ozzi was able to sloppily repair the breech in the trawler’s hull to keep the boat afloat long enough for them to get her back to Illizimotti for sale. Sandy found this medallion around the leader’s seared neck. In Ryrun’s option, it was just another pretty bauble. One that should be sold at Port Peril and the coins added to stores, saved up until they had enough to buy their way into Free Captaincy. Sandy sighed and agreed with his elven friend and first mate. The title of Free Captain was more valuable than any piece of jewelry, no matter how attractive the said piece was.

They already had violently taken three more ships in their short time as pirates. A fine lugger, a Rahadumi schooner and a Chelish cutter. All taken in suitably dramatic fashion, of course, befitting Sandy’s ideals for how to conduct piracy. Blood lust was all fine, in his experience, as long as it’s done with a certain amount of panache and against a deserving enemy. The cutter, now renamed The Moral High Ground, a joke that Idoki found particularly amusing, was once a Chelish Pirate Hunter named The Famished Mane. They came across her as she was sinking the pirate vessel Vosfang. It was a particularly difficult fight. Her captain was a hell knight clad in full plated armour with a wickedly sharp war scythe. He swept Ryrun from the deck during the pitch battle, then turned his attention to Ozzi, but the two of them had spent so much time slicing and sparring that Ryrun was able to climb back aboard. Between the elf and the boy, they killed the knight and now his ship sailed behind The Water Naga as the first member of Commodore Foundling recently started fleet.

The newly made Captain Idoki was standing on the aft deck, watching Sailing Master Aspar as he tried to explain the finer points of sailing to the wizard. She saw Sandy and waved cheerfully at him, ignoring Aspar, much to the bootlicker’s annoyance. She had a keen mind but was tactless to the extreme and she irritated crew members to no end. Luckily, she had both Ozzi as her First Mate and Renza as her Ship’s Carpenter to act as both her officers and her enforcers. Renza, however, was wholly unqualified for her job, having never put hammer to nail in her life. This meant that Ozzi had to use his magic to keep the ship in repair, along with the multitude of other duties the boy seemed to have heaped upon himself. He was the only person on board able to cook so he took the job of Ship’s Cook. And he was the only healer so he was the Ship’s Cleric. Between the cooking, the cleaning and the inspecting, he barely had time to eat or sleep. It was an arrangement the cleric found extremely annoying, however when he tried to complain, Sandara Quinn, The Water Naga’s boatswain, would sigh prettily and tell him how much she admired his ability to handle such a work load, quelling the impressionable young man into acceptance. Although Sandy had subtly pushed for the two of them into their relationship, even he found the cloying nature of their blossoming romance questionable at times.

A voice from the crow’s nest called out. A ship spotted. Eagerly, Stuffing the amulet into his jacket, Sandy swept up his looking glass and peered out. Against the setting sun he could make the outline of a ship sailing away and into the emerging twilight. Sandy frowned and ordered the sailing master to follow and wondered what a whaler was doing this close to land?

*

“I’m sure I saw her,” Sandy insisted to Idoki as they sat in his cabin to eat their meal together later that night, “But she disappeared when we gave chase.”

Idoki frowned and nodded blankly before taking a forkful of pan fried tuna on a bed of fresh greens. “That is strange,” she stated around the mouthful, agreeing with her Commodore without really understanding what he was talking about. She accepted that Sandy knew more about sailing than she did, yet a ship that disappeared when chased seemed a fairly reasonable to her. She was, after all, from a place where ships could just purposely vanish without a trace. However, he seemed to feel that it was unusual, even for the Shackles and its abundance of complex and colourful local stories about various ships, so she made an effort to seem like she was empathizing with him. Ryrun had told that she should work on her lack of empathy.

“It could be nothing,” he continued eagerly as he stabbed his fork into the tender tuna, “But she was sailing against the wind. It might of been a ghost ship. Like The Inscrutable Destiny. Or The Mark of Yunnarius. Or The Deathknell.”

“Who?” Ryrun, fresh from pouring himself a new mug of beer from stores, interrupted as he entered the tiny cabin.

Sandy drew himself up dramatically and, in a deep booming voice, intoned, “Whalebone Pilk.”

Balancing his plate on his knees, Ryrun sat and cocked a sceptical eyebrow at Ozzi, who had slipped in behind him. The young cleric perched himself on a keg of beer the captain kept in his cabin for emergencies. Thankful for the chance to rest, he said nothing and took a bite out of one of the hot biscuits he had slipped out of The Water Naga’s galley. Renza rushed past them all and plopped herself cheerfully on the centre of the floor like a child, eagerly waiting for story time, her heaping plate overflowing with a generous portion of food that The Water Naga’s cook, Kroop, had given her. He always found a little extra for Renza. Idoki smiled blankly and patiently waited. They could hear other crew members rustle outside of the cabin, eating their food and trying to hear what story the halfling was going to tell.

“Whalebone Pilk,” Sandy roared again and shook the mugs on his small desk, “The captain of the whaler Belle Dame. Cursed to sail the seas after dragging his crew on a doomed voyage. Foolishly chasing a rogue pod of whales until his stores grew thin, he pushed his crew instead of turning back, contemptuously driving them to mutiny in his mad desire to hunt his elusive prey. He cleverly turned the tables on his betrayers and had the ringleader savagely whipped to strips, their body rendered down in the tryworks and their skull nailed to the mast as a warning to the rest. Yet, when he ordered chase once more, the whales turned on him and sunk the Belle Dame. But Pilk did not go gentle to The Line. Some force took exception to his act of brutality and cursed him to sail the seas until he has taken the skulls of one thousand men. Fifty for each of his crew damned to unlife by his cruelty. He prowls the Shackles now, his crew taking sailors and beheading them before rendering their bodies down in the tryworks for fuel for their grim ghostly voyage. She’s been sunk before, they say, yet she always returns. It is told that on foggy nights, if you listen carefully, you can hear Whalebone Pilk ringing his ship’s bell, looking for the next head for his grisly wage.”

“Oh, good,” Ozzi replied dryly with an eye roll and a yawn, “This gent sounds a treat. How do people know this story? Did someone stop and ask him? Now that would be a conversation.”

“Interesting,” Idoki said, her attention focused on the puzzle before her, “Is he a corporeal undead? Or some sort of spectre? If the crew is the one taking the heads, as you indicated, that would imply that they are, at least, solid enough to manipulate physical objects. I wonder what kind of undead they are?”

“Whalers aren’t good for boarding other ships,” Ryrun said offhandedly as he waved his mug lazily, “Too low in the water. Lots of storage though. And good places for throwing harpoons. You said fifty for each man, so a crew of twenty? Nineteen with the one who got his skull nailed to the mast. And a ghost? Unpleasant but not an impossible fight. Well, not for me, at any rate. Probably kill the rest of you.”

Someone gently rapped on the door. “Begging you pardon, Commodore,” the pale face of Boatswain Quinn peeked through as she gingerly opened the door, “The crow’s nest reports a village. Sounds like one you might want to see.”

The Commodore cocked an eyebrow.

“A long dock,” she continued with a wicked smile that made Ozzi melt a little inside, “And a large guarded pen.”

The officers of The Water Naga grinned at each other. This meant only one thing: Slavers. And a pen with guards meant they might have some poor souls that needed rescuing. If there was one thing that Sandy hated, as he scooped up his plate and stormed out onto the deck to issue orders and prepare his raiders, it was slavery.

*

The battle for the village was short and deliciously sweet. The two ships swept in on the high tide and roughly descended on the unprepared slaver outpost with lightning speed. The slavers, in response, unleashed trained attack dogs on poor Ryrun, who got pulled off of his feet and badly mauled before Renza darted in and killed them. Both Idoki and Ozzi got to experiment with new spells that they had just learned. Ozzi summoned up a short drooling rubber faced demon from the Abyss to help with the fight and Idoki cast something that increased everyone’s speed and reflexes. The slavers fought to a man, choosing death over the questionable mercy that the pirates promised. Ozzi, the only member of the Officers who spoke the strange clicking tongue of the Mwalgi Expanse, spoke to the captured villagers, telling them that they were free but, if they wanted to, they could join the crew and explore the exciting world of piracy.

“I am Ximbala,” a proud looking, strong jawed woman with a crude tattoo of a mysterious beast on her shoulders told them through Ozzi, “These are my uncle and his son. Men on ships took our family. We would get revenge.”

Sandy, a gentle smile on his lips, told them that they would have their revenge and more beyond. So Idoki’s crew grew by three and the two ships sailed off with their newly acquired loot plundered from the outpost. “A good day,” Sandy said to Ryrun as the two of them counted the take at the elf’s tiny desk in the store room.

“I’d say,” Ryrun replied as he tallied the profits from the day’s raid, “They had some good quality weaponry. Worth a pretty coin in port.” The elf opened a draw in the desk and pulled out an ornate flask filled with expensive rum. He poured two mugs and the two of them toasted The Goddess of Love and Demon Lord of Money.

Boots on decks thumped overhead and an alarm was called. Sandy quickly stuck his head out to and asked a passing crew what was happening.

“An evil fog’s rolled in,” Slippery Syl replied as she worriedly fingered one of her many knives, “Can’t see anything. No even The High Ground.”

As Sandy ran to the deck, he could hear the shouts of the crew as they tried to contact The Moral High Ground. Yet it was to no avail. Suddenly everyone fell silent. A lone bell rang from within the fog. Then again. Steadily, the rhythmic ringing grew louder and a rotting ship broke into view, carrying the hollow eyes of damned sailors who stared hungrily at the crew of The Water Naga. As the whaler crossed past their bow, all could see its name scratched in old blood on it’s bow: The Deathknell. Her dead captain stood unhappily by the ship’s huge bell, ringing it with a ruined fist. High up the mast, a single white grinning skull stared sightlessly into the deep fog. Then it was gone, the ringing of the bell fading as the fog receded, then disappearing entirely.

“Whalebone Pilk,” Sandy breathed to his shocked crew.

*

“It was her, no doubt,” Sandy cursed in his tiny cabin as he paced nervously around Ryrun, who was casually sharpening his curved blade with languished easy, “She’s marked us. That means tonight she’ll come for us.”

“I want to see it!” Renza cried like a petulant child. The Moral High Ground had gotten lost in the fog but saw nothing and they heard no bell. Certainly no ghostly bell tolling for souls. It was like something out of a fairy tale, she thought, so it was something she was eager to play with. The third night, Sandy had told them. The first night, The Deathknell is always seen in the distance. The second night, she’s seen in a fog bank. On the third night, she attacks, the haunted bell tolling for sailors to damn.

“I wonder what it’s attracted to,” Idoki said conversationally as she watched the halfling pace, “If we switched crews would it still attack The Water Naga? Or is after you personally? This is so interesting.”

“I don’t know,” Sandy replied peevishly. “Would you please stop that? It’s very distracting,” He snapped and glared worriedly at his first mate.

Ryrun stopped his sharpening. “What’s the plan?” He asked as he leaned forward, placing his elegant sword gently to one side.

Four sets of eyes watched Sandy as he frowned and ponder the question. “We make for land before night fall. And we put everyone ashore. Let’s see what triggers this ghost,” he finally said.

*

As the night fell, all was silent. The crews of both ships waited at the ready in the quiet little empty bay they had anchored in. Torches lit the little camp and everyone was on edge. All eyes watched the two ships as they creaked lazily in the cove.

As the night wore on, Commodore Sandy paced and cursed. He looked back at his crew and saw the boredom in Renza’s eyes as she played with the dying embers of a pit fire. But the ghostly ship had yet to make an appearance. Selissa, the mascot water naga, reported back that she couldn’t see anything on or under the water.

“Maybe it only attacks those on the water?” Idoki said, trying to be helpful.

“Oh, screw this,” Sandy said finally, “Ozzi, ready the long boat. Let’s get back on board. Us only. Weapons ready.”

*

No one knew where The Deathknell came from. It just appeared, spreading her sudden cloak of fog over the ship with alarming speed. Sandy had barely had time to put his feet on the deck before it rammed The Water Naga. The impact nearly knocked him from his feet. Before he could assess everyone, a rabble of shambling dead sailors, armed with harpoons, slowly clambered over the side of the ship to attack.

The dead were bloated and fat from the salt water. Their skin was stretched so thin that they were seemed liked they were covered with blue steaks that travelled like ink in their veins. They all wore sopping wet dripping rotting clothes. They tried to speak but only gurgled and moaned as water dribbled down their chins, their milky eyes pleading as they shuddered forth, struggling to throw their harpoons. A bell rang solemnly from whaler. They could only barely make out a form by the mast, a lone silhouette with a harpoon, striking a large bell.

The crew struggled to their feet as the harpoons rained down on them. As one scratched across Sandy’s arm and gouging a chunk out of The Water Naga’s deck, he ordered everyone to push the intruders back. Ryrun and Ozzi rushed forward while Renza and Idoki cast their magics. Sandy felt as if time was against them, as if the whole world had slowed suddenly before Idoki threw up a sigil that flashed and everything became clear and easy. Her speed spell. Renza tossed up her multiple copy spell, something that proved to be useless against the dead, who cut through her whalebone corset and into her skin with a thick chopping knife. Ryrun skipped around his slow opponents and, with a laugh and a snort, cut one’s stomach open. It stood and stared stupidly as its guts poured onto the deck with a ghastly splash. Clad in the stolen hellknight armour and holding his symbol of Besmara in his one good hand, Ozzi called out to his Goddess and the dead look to him with their sad eyes, yearning for freedom. But he was unable to give it to them. Saddened, one swung its arm in a wide arc but only broke its fist on his helmet. It put a terrible ringing into his ears from the loud clang.

“The Bell!” Sandy shouts as he snaps his whip around the ankle of a dead sailor that shuffled towards Renza, easily slipping it off of its feet, “That’s the source of his power!”. Idoki heard and obeyed, throwing a ball of fire towards the lonely form of Whalebone Pilk. The fog was burned away by the heat as the ball exploded with a massive flash and, for a moment, they could see the hateful wiry undead who wearily leaned on his harpoon, as if ringing the bell was a chore. But then he was engulfed in the fire. He roared in rage as the fog swept back, covering him in its grey embrace but they could see the wreaked bodies of the other crew, struggling to climb out of the hatches. Through the fog they could hear the dead captain order a full assault on them.

Ryrun cut two more dead men down. They died with pitiful gurgles. Renza stabbed her rapier into the prone dead woman, pinning it to the deck. She screamed a sigil into the blade, which sang down the steel and blew a hot hole into the dead woman’s chest. It shuttered and was still. Four of the dead reached for Ozzi, who found himself back against The Water Naga’s railing, The Deathknell grinding against the hull beneath him. With a shrug, he called out an “Aye, aye,” to Sandy and sent out another wave of the Goddess’ might. Three of the dead crumpled wordless to the deck, released by the power of Her touch. The last one held on longer than the others, an evil spark in his soul throwing off her call to rest. Ozzi saw the wicked gutting knife in its hand and ignored it. On the second “Aye”, he slipped over the railing and dropped to the deck of The Deathknell. He landed with a sadly comical crash.

Idoki cursed the cleric under her breath. She twisted the sigil she was crafting at the last moment, turning it into a gout of flame. If she used the ball, it probably would of killed the idiot and that would make Sandy upset. The flames erupted and burned towards the mast, splashing over the Pilk’s bell with deadly accuracy. She saw the dead whaler jerk his hand away in surprise at the fire, then punch his ruined fist into the bell once more, singeing the rotting bandage he had forever wrapped around his destroyed hand, ruined after years of slamming it against the heavy metal bell. His penitence for his rage.

Sandy rushed to the railing to see if Ozzi was still alive. He signalled to Ryrun and ordered him to get down there to save the fool as the cleric waved weakly with his one good hand. Ryrun nodded and slipped over as well, landing far more gracefully, slaying one of the dead sailors as he landed with a grand sweep of his curved blade. Idoki spelt out another gout of flame to bath the bell in licking magical fire. Pilk sneered with his rotten lips and punched the bell again, smoke sizzling off of his hand as he struck the red hot metal. Renza also jumped over the side of the ship but was quickly swept up by the dead sailors and pinned beneath a crush of undead when she landed on the deck.

Ozzi staggered to his feet and, putting his head down, pushed his way passed the dead crew. They punched, stabbed and slashed at him as he plodded through. Bloodied, he shoved them out of his way and surged up to the dreaded Whalebone Pilk. The dead captain contemptuously eyed the boy as he hefted his harpoon. The bell he rang was glowing red, the heat caused it to ping and smoke poured from the wooden cross beam that held it to the mast. Ozzi, through the blood and sweat, sketched a sigil and, with his good hand, brushed his symbol against Pilk’s chest. The spell he landed, he hoped, would turn the spectral pirate solid enough for Ryrun and Renza to cut with their weapons. The smug self satisfied smirk then turned to confusion. “You said he was a ghost,” he shouted in raising panic as Pilk, a hateful glimmer in his dead eyes, viciously pierced Ozzi’s leg with his harpoon. Ozzi screamed and tried to stumble back, but the harpoon was tied off to the mast, trapping him at the end of a line like a fish on a hook. “I though he was a ghost!” He cried as the rest of Pilk’s crew surrounded him and began to pummel him.

A shadow fell over Sandy before he had the chance to do anything to help. The remaining boarder, still shuffling, grabbed his shoulder and violently spun him. It tried to plunge its gutting knife into his stomach but the halfling torn himself away and threw his whip around the knee of his attacker. With a mighty pull he tried to take the dead man’s feet from out from under him. However, the dead man was heavier than he realized and Sandy found himself sprawling on his face right before his attacker. Below, Ryrun and Renza spun and slashed their way across the deck. “Oi,” the elf taunted as he danced his way through the waterlogged crew and drew himself before Whalebone Pilk, “Is that all you’ve got?” With a roguish wink, Ryrun struck the bell with his sword, gouging a line into its heated metal. Pilk, his eye’s narrowed with hate, punched his ruined fist into Ryrun’s chest and, to everyone’s surprise, pulled something out from within. The elf gasped and clutched his neck as Pilk drew on his undead nature and stole the breath straight from his lungs. Spots blinked before Ryrun’s eyes as he struggled to get air. “Not like this,” he voicelessly gasped.

Idoki assessed the situation. Ozzi called his goddess once more and staggered the shambling dead that surrounded him but he was unlikely to survive the next few seconds. Sandy was being mauled by a dead man and was probably going to be unable to help. Renza was fighting her way to Ryrun but probably be unable to kill Pilk before Ryrun or Ozzi died. And Ryrun was struggling to breathe. She watched with interest as the elf swung his sword at the bell, an overhead blow and a second quick back slash, both striking with the malice of someone about to die. She couldn’t drop a fireball onto Pilk or his bell without killing everyone. Or maybe she could. She eyed the mast and calculated its likely height and the circumference of the ball. Satisfied, she threw her ball at the mid point of the mast.

The explosion was satisfactory. The mast ignited briefly as the bell, its crossbeam and most of Pilk’s torso was engulfed in the blast. The crossbeam, charred from the heat, dropped the heavy bell onto the deck with a solid bong, The bell, heated to near melting, cracked as it hit the deck. It rolled and stopped against the leg of one of the dead sailors, where it smoked against the dead flesh. The sailors all stopped and stared briefly at the wreaked bell before gracelessly dying as one. The one kneeling over Sandy, its knife pressed into his back, sagged and died, pinning him under its weight. Ozzi stood stunned as everyone dropped around him. He and Renza met each other surprised looks. Her mouth formed a perfect O and her face seemed to say “This is something you don’t see every day”. Ozzi could only eloquently shrug. The Deathknell gave a squeal as its hull burst from age as the magic that kept it afloat faded. With a gasp, Renza jumped back to The Water Naga. As she scrabbled up the side, she looked back and saw that Ozzi as he tried to grab Ryrun’s unconscious body to carry him back. But the cleric still had Pilk’s harpoon sticking out of his leg and it was still tied to the mast.

“Fuck me,” Ozzi shouted as the ship slipped suddenly beneath the calm dark waters.

*

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Captain Ozzi's Log Part 23 c
Motives Beyond Our Own

Adelita Doloruso held the staff. It was a long piece made from the spine of a misshapen creature. The shoulders were wrong. This creature had four arms. Who or what was this beast and what did it do to deserve this fate? Questions for another time, she realized. They sacrificed and sacrificed. Blood pour from slit throats. One after another until their arms grew tried. Those that refused to help became grist for the mill, their blood mingling with the others. Five thousand souls. Even with the Cheliaxian’s help organizing the mass slaughter, taking the staff back to the island and setting up the killing grounds there, it was so much work. Housing the prisoners. Carting away the dead. It still took days. So much time that she grew bored of the horror until it just became numb. But now, even after all of this, she just felt tired. Was it was worth it?

She was sure she was going to die. If not by the sword of the elven captain Ryrun, then from Harrigan’s rage when she appeared suddenly before him. She didn’t realize that there was even a contingent teleport on her when the blow came. The devils, however, had thought of everything. When she failed and appeared before Harrigan, she came beaten before The Bitch and was punished with the lash. They cast a spell on her, she could feel it. A geas to force her to obey. They demanded that she used the staff, expending all of it’s force in a single spell. Then they made her fight her way to the highest point of Fort Hazard and cast at the place they told her to through the magical message spell. Her guards died around her to the defenders but she didn’t notice. All that mattered was that the spell got cast and the geas fulfilled.

She stared at the results. A smoking crater and choking smoke. The screams of the dying. The roar of flames. Something behind her exploded but she hardly notice. She had called the largest and most destructive spell that had been called in an Age. She did it. From the Staff. She shook as exhaustion took her muscles. Suddenly an arm swept around her neck and the smell of musk and tangerines floated around her. A sword pressed firmly against her throat.

“What have you done?” demanded a firm voice.

“They ordered me to. I was under a geas. They told me to do it,” she said, fighting the urge to fall asleep in these arms. She closed her eyes and started to fade.

“Who? Harrigan?” The voice insisted.

“And The Bitch. Admiral Thule.” She replied sleepily.

“Why?” The arms shook her back to reality.

“To kill Bonefist,” she whined and kept her eyes close, “They told me where to drop the spell. I think it was the city’s gun powder stockade. I know he kept it away from the everything but near his ship in the underground harbour.”

“What?” the voice sounded incredulous.

“I guess you weren’t as curious as we were,” she wearily sneered and nestled into the chest of her captor. He smelled just heavenly, like a sun kissed beach, “There is a harbour that is only used by the Hurricane Kings. Accessible by the power of the Crown.”

“The Crown?” The voice muttered to someone, “I knew that but didn’t think about it. I can’t believe I never checked.”

“It makes sense,” the arms that held her rumbled, holding her but ignoring her at the same time, “I’ve never seen his ship in port when he’s here. I was told it was because it was out raiding but it could of been moored.”

“So the staff cast that?” A woman’s voice eagerly asked her. Doloruso cracked open her bloodshot eyes and looked at Idoki. They had plucked it from her and she was swooning over it.

“Where is this Thrune? Where is Harrigan?” The voice, who she now realized belonged to Commodore Foundling, demanded.

“Looking for the Crown,” she replied testily. A second wind was creeping back. Why was she allowing herself to be held like this? “Their plan is to rule The Shackles as Pirate Kings. I doubt Harrigan realizes just how screwed he is. I think he’ll try his own betrayal, if he can.”

She watched as Commodore Foundling whipped out his scope and scan the smouldering hole. “I think I can make out…”

Idoki shyly edged towards her as Ryrun, who’s arms so tightly held her, clamped manacles around her wrists. “So what will you do once the fighting is over?” she asked meaningfully, “If you survive, that is. We could use a caster like you.”

Doloruso blinked in surprise. She contemplated the chains that held her and said nothing.

“No time for that,” Commodore Foundling said dramatically. Ryrun turned Doloruso and pushed her down against a the wall as Renza, Idoki and Ozzi all surrounded him. Ryrun joined them and they all held hands before Sandy sketched a spell and they disappeared with a flash. “Besides, that staff is mine when this is done,” she heard the halfling claim as they vanished.

Adelita Doloruso sat quietly and looked over the wreckage of the invasion that she helped plan. Port Peril was on fire as the Chelish ground forces invaded the city. But the pirate reinforcements had arrived. The Chelish, pinned against the shore and the ships, prepared to put up a pointless resistance. He eyes fell on the staff. Idoki must of leaned it against the wall before they dimension doored away. Or it simply appeared because it could. It grinned at her with malicious intent. With a mutter and a quick small sigil, the manacles fell off and she pick up the mysterious staff.

As she picked her last teleport scroll out of her belt, she examined her future. It took five thousand souls to fill the staff. She could do that before they found her. If they found her.

And then she was gone.

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Captain Ozzi's Log Part 23 b
Final Battle and Future Plot

The four pirates sat in uncomfortable silence in the sparse inn as the wereshark tore apart a pig on its spit, gobbling down huge chunks of it with focused determination. It paused to gulp down a mug of grog before digging its meaty hands into its meal and tore another chunk out of its fleshy side. Commodore Ailes, sweat pouring down his jowls, glared at the empty mug, a frown creasing his plump pale lips. Megan Keelhaul’s neutrally eyed Ailes as he tilted his head towards the grog, a silent suggestion for her to soften the wereshark up before the interview. Saws Hannity and Bilious O’ Reilly watched the exchange with amusement. Bilious even shifted his body to allow Keelhaul to reach for the jug. Her hard dark eyes flashed, then she flicked her beautiful blonde hair and ignored them, leaving the mug unfilled.

Saws glared at her and, with a snort of disgust, scooped up the jug and poured out a measure. The wereshark’s fist shot out and grabbed the mug. “Mighty good of you, guv,” it said through chewed pork. Saws gave a weak smile before turning to Bilious and glared his resentment towards him.

Bilious smiled smugly and leaned his lanky frame across the table. “How is it?” He asked, gesturing to the half finished roast.

“Good,” it replied and took another chuck of flesh, its jaws distending disturbingly as it shoved the pig into its gaping maw. It stared at him, however, with hard black tiny eyes, emotionless and unblinking. Bilious squirmed slightly under those eyes but recovered quickly enough.

“Got it special, just for you,” he simpered, “Because we knew you like it. Do you like it?”

“He better damn well like it,” Ailes interrupted testily, wiping the sticky sweat from his brow as the other pirates shot him looks of either surprise or anger.

The wereshark shifted it ponderous weight in its crude chair and turned towards The Commodore. “Aaww,” it smirked, “And we were just starting to be friends.” Ailes glared back, his own beady eyes shining angrily.

“We are friends here,” Bilious countered quickly and looked to his companions for conformation. Saws nodded eagerly but Keelhaul found something else in the room to be of more interest than what was going on and pointedly ignored their antics.

“Yeah, friends,” the wereshark snorted before it gulped back more grog, “I got a lot of friends lately. All asking the same thing. I guess that why you lot are looking to become buddies, huh?”

Bilious leaned back and looked down his nose. “We’re just hoping you could shed some light,” he said airily before gesturing towards the door, “But if you don’t want to talk to us, then…”

“What the fuck are you doing?” Ailes gasped as he bodily grabbed Bilious’ lank arm, “Are you out of your mind?”

As Saws moved to break up the conformation between the men, Keelhaul smiled sympathetically at the wereshark, her whiter than white teeth shining like small pearls. “You’re right, you know Riptooth,” she nonchalantly told him, “We want to hear what you saw.”

The wereshark laughed and leaned back in his creaking chair. “What’s in it for me?”

“Coins,” Ailes said hurriedly, “Let’s say three hundred gold.”

“That’s it?” The were replied with a chuckle. “I got that from the King himself as way of thanks. And I tried to kill him and his.”

Ailes looked around desperately and plucked a bejewelled ring off of his pudgy fingers. He slammed it on the table, letting a small glint from its gems catch the sharks inky black eyes. “Talk,” he demanded as he wiped the spittle that drooled down the quivering folds of his chins.

“Now we have a deal,” the wereshark said greedily as he moved Ailes soft hand and plucked up the sparkling ring, “What do you want to know?”

“Everything,” Bilious replied firmly as all eyes watched the shark in a man’s skin.

Riptooth frowned and crossed his arms over his massive chest, showing the tattoos that sprawled up his arms. They depicted the various monster he had fought across The Shackles; dragons, mermen, sea serpents and the like. But the twisting Eye of Abendeo, to signify his survival of the dreaded permanent storm, held a place of honour up his arm. One for each time he risked all in the Malstorm. A seaweed encrusted crown was marked on his shoulder, to show his loyalty to The Hurricane Crown. A trusted member of the former Hurricane King’s personal crew. “It all started when we saw the fleet,” he began slowly.

“The Chelish one?” Saws asked, looking for clarification before the other shushed him down.

“No, dumb fuck, the other invading fleet. Fucking dolt,” the wereshark snapped and Saws sat dumbfounded at the sudden rudeness. “With that fucking monster war machine in the head. Bonefist saw it and knew that there was nothing to be done but to fight. He called as many of his people in Fort Hazard as he could and made for his ship. Devils popped in and we fought them off while we made for the Underdock,” he said distantly, referring to the private dock of the Hurricane King, one hidden beneath Fort Hazard and only accessible by the magic of The Hurricane Crown, “I got told to hide in the water in case something came up from underneath. That’s probably why I’m still here.” The wereshark’s eyes grew distant as he remembered the next event. “I felt it. Felt it even though I was under the water. The King told me it was because of a damn Chelish spell. Dropped a massive flaming rock right on the gunpowder tower as Bonefist was ordering the powder on board. I guess whoever was spying for them got blown to bits along with everything else. I saw our poor Filthy Lucre roll from where I was and I came up to look.”

“And?” Ailes demanded as he restlessly pacing around the inn.

The wereshark took another sip of grog. “The whole place was on fire. And huge hole was punched in the ceiling. I’ve never seem that kind of damage in my life. Smoke. Fire. Blood. It was pretty eye opening. Then that Chelish bitch and her crew just waltz in out of nowhere.” The pirates all looked at Keelhaul, the only wizard in the room, who nodded.

“Could of been a teleport or a dimension door,’ she conceded, “Druvalia was some sort of Inquisitor. She might of been able to cast it. Or Harrigan, if he could read it off of a scroll and if he knew how. I heard Adelita was also there. Or they could just taken some stairs.”

“I think they just took the stairs,” the wereshark agreed before it continued, “Would of noticed Deloruso. And she would of been useful to them, seeing as what Foundling did when he showed up.”

Ailes growled under his breath at the mention of the new Hurricane King and kicked a discarded bone across the room. The wereshark looked over his shoulder quizzically, then looked questioningly at the rest of the pirates. “Ignore him,” Bilious advised, “He’s under some pressure.”

The wereshark shrugged and continued. “There was, who? That Admiral and her Hellknight. And about a half dozen or more of these creatures that looked like sea anemones. Only purple and glowing. Harrigan was there. I couldn’t see him but he was there,” he smirked and tapped the side of his often broken nose, “This don’t lie, if you get me.”

Saws paled at the mention of Harrigan, the man he publicly supported to replace Bonefist. All of the work he had put towards feeding the man information about Fort Hazard and it’s staff, all of the lies he told to put Harrigan in a great light. All, in the end, to support a surprise Chelish invasion. But Saws could still pull something out of this disaster, if he played his cards right. He hoped.

“The Bitch cast something and they strutted up to a pile of rocks against the wall. Two of them, the Hellknight and Harrigan started moving the rocks, looking for what was left of Bonefist. The blast must of sent him across the cavern. The rest kept watch. I had to keep just under the surface or they would of seen me. Then King Foundling showed up and it all went to shit.”

“Well?” Ailes demanded again, frustrated by the wereshark’s constant stalling. He hated Bonefist and his constant attempt to limit him. Hated the man’s greed and arrogance. It was the best for everyone involved that he died but that the person who took over should of been Harrigan. He, Ailes would of followed, with the proper arrangements in place, of course. But this new King just isn’t the kind to play along. He would cheat Ailes out of his dues. And that is something Ailes just couldn’t let happen. He wasn’t about to be out played by a stripling, no matter how well connected or liked he was. People’s options could be changed, with enough words spoken to the right ears. He could feel Norgorber disapproving breathe on the nape of his neck. To come so far only to have it all collapse like a wind through a weakly tied sail.

“I don’t know,” The wereshark continued, “It was suddenly all flashing colours and lights. Like a circus act or something. Captain Ryrun jumped in out of nowhere and behind him was this message in flashing sparking lights. ‘Will you marry me?’. That’s what it said. All purple and gold and as big as you please. I still don’t know what to make of it. ‘Will you marry me?’. The damnedest thing. Anyways, he cleared the cove with a single jump.”

“Sounds dramatic,” Bilious replied as he rubbed his chin thoughtfully, a gesture he learned to make it look like he cared about what was being said even though he thought this whole affair was pointless. They’d already heard all of this but Ailes needed to hear it straight from the shark’s mouth, as it were. They just needed to keep working to shift the narrative away from Foundling’s version of events. They didn’t need to know the actual truth to do that. But The Commodore insisted so Bilious obeyed.

“It’s about ten yards across that gap,” the wereshark told the group as his hand mimed the movement of the elf, “And he cleared it without stopping. Didn’t even get his ankles wet. Right over my head. By that time almost all of the devils were dead though. Captain Idoki hit them with a spell that lit up the room…”

“Probably a chained lightning, if it was devils,” Keelhaul said casually, watching the nervous Ailes out of the corner of her eye. She could tell the fat stupid bastard was losing it. All those years of playing it fast under the permissive hand of Bonefist had made him soft. As long Bonefist got his bit of gold, he didn’t care what Ailes told people. And they all used that to make themselves a little richer without having to stick their necks out too far. But then Ailes though he had paid Bonefist enough. So he tried to turn the people against the king, with the hope of grooming the next one to be more permissive of Ailes’ needs. But the fool didn’t think to do any actual grooming. Instead he trusted that Norgorber would send a suitable candidate if he set the ground work. Then Harrigan came onto the scene and Ailes though he had his Godsend. Only Harrigan turned out to be a traitor and the new actual king didn’t care much for Ailes and his network. Although that was mostly Bilious’ fault. The man just couldn’t help himself when it came to insulting people he felt were beneath him. He might of be a genius at manipulating the message, but he was a follower, forever looking up to richer men like Ailes.

“Sounds right,” the wereshark conceded again, “It smelt like lightning. Anyways, she and Captain Renza killed all but one of them. I think it was Renza. I guess the last one was just outside the blast. But the others sure weren’t…”

“You think it was Renza?” Saws looked around confused. Why were these idiots not explaining anything?

“Let me guess. A patch of clouds shaped like a woman, wreathed in fire, holding a flaming sword or a whip of lightning?” Keelhaul supplied confidently as the wereshark nodded earnestly. “That’s Renza alright,” she continued, “Shape shifted into an elemental.”

“I guess,” the wereshark replied, “She spat a gout of fire over The Bitch and her friends. Not that it stopped them. Then Harrigan grabbed the Crown and tried to make a run for it. I just saw The Crown float up and then vanish. The last devil died a second later. I guess it was in Harrigan’s way because it just fell over spewing blood everywhere. Ryrun dodged around and killed the Hellknight with a couple of slashes. The woman might as well stayed home for all the use she was. But The Bitch didn’t take too kindly to her friend getting chopped up like that. Put a crossbow bolt right into Ryrun’s throat. I guess she wasn’t the marrying type.”

“Wait, Ryrun is the traitor?” Saw asked in confusion. This was getting more and more complicated and there wasn’t enough grog in the world to help cope with his confusion.

“I doubt it,” Bilious reasoned, “He’s known to brag about wanting to marry the Queen of Kyonin. Maybe he was trying to marry his way up. First marry a noble, then try to court his way up. It’s a pretty common way for a commoner to gain power. Although trying to court an enemy commander in the midst of a battle seems stupid, to say the least.”

“Stupid,” Ailes snorted as he sweated and paced, “That sums up this whole thing.”

“Please go on,” Keelhaul gently urged.

The wereshark looked at his audience and sighed. “Idoki melted The Bitch. With a spray of fire. Just killed her outright. She shrieked until the fire got down her lungs and then made that pathetic rattling gurgle you hear sometimes. Ryrun was pissed. Let me tell you. And then Harrigan got it.”

Everyone looked at the wereshark. “Oh,” Bilious said carefully, noting that something was missing from the story.

“Renza got in front of him,” the wereshark explained. “I heard him demand that she get out of his way. ’I’m the Hurricane King and you will obey!‘. I heard him and I wanted to get out of his way. But she just said “no” and stabbed him a lot. He was invisible and all but she wasn’t having any of it. There was blood everywhere. Then Ozzi got behind him and touched him with a spell and Harrigan was done,” he finished quickly, hoping to move on from this part of the tale.

“What was Sandy doing all of this?” Bilious asked.

“Yelling at Harrigan. Casting spells. When I saw Harrigan go down, I decided to leave.”

“There is something you aren’t telling us,” Keelhaul noted softly, “You said you tried to kill them. When was that?”

“It’s a little embarrassing,” the wereshark said as he shifted on his chair, “Ozzi couldn’t get across the water like the others so he must of had some magic on himself because he swam across. Jumped into the water with me in full armour. And my last order from Bonefist was attack anyone who was in the water. So I thought…”

“You’d snatch someone during the confusion,” Bilious finished.

“That was my orders,” he said defensibly, “I waited until the guy got about half way across and I came up on him and tossed him into the air. Then I hit him down hard.”

“Disorientating,” Bilious said approvingly, “A good way to knock the air out of someone.”

“But he could breathe underwater,” Keelhaul supplied.

“I didn’t even phase him. He went up, then down and then just kept swimming. He pulled himself up and didn’t even look at me. He was all focused on Harrigan. Then King Foundling got me from behind with this wand and I decided to give it up.”

“A wand? What spell?” Keelhaul insisted, gently touching Riptooth’s massive arm.

“I don’t know,” the wereshark retorted as he jerked his arm away from the slender woman, “It knocked the wind out of me. Felt like a giant squeezed my ribs. The King just looked at me and I just kind of wanted to be anywhere but looking at him. Then Ozzi killed Harrigan and it was all over.”

“Sounds like a Bone Breaking spell,” Keelhaul whispered approvingly, “King Foundling is full of surprises. I heard he sold the Rod of Wonder. I guess he must of replaced it with something more reliable. The boy must of used a harming spell. We know he likes those kind of spells…”

“I don’t know,” the wereshark continued, “What I do know is that this weird shifty colours covered both of them for a moment when he smacked Harrigan. One minute Harrigan wasn’t there, then he was on his way face down. It was creepy. The two of them were covered in that weird light. Then just Ozzi. I know cleric types and I ain’t never seen that kind of thing.” He looked at Keelhaul for an answer but the woman only creased her brow in worry.

“Shifting colours?” She muttered, “Maybe he tapped into something protean? From The Black Queen’s own Realm? But that seem pretty unlikely from someone so young. Unless he made some sort deal with something? That’s possible. If he really hated Harrigan then that would make sense, I guess.”

“So Ryrun’s a traitor and Ozzi’s made a deal with a demon? Is that what we’re spinning?” Saws said desperately, trying to find something he could hang his sail on.

“Well, that’s the thing…” Riptooth said hesitantly, shifting his weight under the chair.

The Kelpie’s Wrath.” Bilious said heavily and the wereshark nodded his head to confirm it.

“I saw it,” Riptooth said with a whispered fearful reverence.

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Captain Ozzi's Log Part 23 a
A Precursor: The Deathknell

Under the wind filled sails of The Water Naga, Sandy Foundling held up a silvery medallion and admired it under the setting sun. The piece was fat and circular with strange blue and black whorls that glittered invitingly under the dying light. First Mate Ryrun leaned over the memorized halfling and snicker. “She’s pretty,” he said conversationally, startling the newly minted Commodore.

“It’s amazing,” The halfling replied, spinning the amulet in the light, “They mine it near the deep sea vents. The sea races consider it holy. They call it Deep Platinum. Do you think we should sell it?”

The elf gave a noncommittal shrug. They had gotten the amulet off of a group of sahaugin who cleverly tried to bait The Water Naga with an invitingly scuttled trawler. It was a brief but brutal fight when the sea devils tried to ambush the boarding party, with Ryrun brilliantly killing two of the attackers. The trawler was saved, Ozzi was able to sloppily repair the breech in the hull and keep the boat afloat long enough for them to get her back to Illizimgorti for sale, but it’s massacred crew was beyond help. The lead sahaugin screamed savagely at Idoki and she responded by killing it with a gout of magic fire. Sandy found this medallion around it’s seared neck. In Ryrun’s option, it was just another pretty bauble. One that should be sold at Port Peril and the coins added to stores, saved up until they had enough to buy their way into Free Captaincy. Sandy sighed and agreed with his elven friend and first mate. The title of Free Captain was more valuable than any piece of jewelry, no matter how attractive the said piece was.

They already had violently taken three more ships in their short time as pirates. A fine lugger, a Rahadumi schooner and a Chelish cutter. All taken in suitably dramatic fashion, of course, befitting Sandy’s ideals for how to conduct piracy. Blood lust was all fine, in his experience, as long as it’s done with a certain amount of panache and against a deserving enemy. The cutter, now renamed The Moral High Ground, a joke that Idoki found particularly amusing, was once a Chelish Pirate Hunter named The Famished Mane. They came across her as she was sinking the pirate vessel Vosfang. It was a particularly difficult fight. Her captain was a hell knight clad in full plated armour with a wickedly sharp war scythe. He swept Ryrun off of the deck during the pitch battle, then turned his attention to the cleric Ozzi, but the two of them had spent so much time slicing and sparring that Ryrun was able to climb back aboard. Between the elf and the boy, they killed the knight now his ship sailed behind The Water Naga as the first member of Commodore Foundling recently started fleet.

The newly made Captain Idoki was standing on the aft deck, watching Sailing Master Aspar as he tried to explain the finer points of sailing to the wizard. She saw Sandy and waved cheerfully at him, ignoring Aspar, much to bootlicker’s annoyance. She had a keen mind but was tactless to the extreme and she irritated crew members to no end. Luckily, she had both Ozzi as her First Mate and Renza as her Ship’s Carpenter to act as her officers and her enforcers. Renza, however, was wholly unqualified for her job, having never put hammer to nail in her life. This meant that Ozzi had to use his magic to keep the ship in repair, along with the multitude of other duties the boy seemed to have heaped upon himself. He was the only person on board able to cook so he took the job of Ship’s Cook. And he was the only healer so he was the Ship’s Cleric. Between the cooking, the cleaning and the inspecting, he barely had time to eat or sleep It was an arrangement the cleric found extremely annoying. However whenever he tried to complain, Sandara Quinn, The Water Naga’s boatswain, would sigh prettily and tell him how much she admired his ability to handle such a work load, quelling the impressionable young man into acceptance. Although Sandy had subtlety pushed for the two of them to get together, even he found the cloying nature of their blossoming romance questionable at times.

A voice from the crow’s nest called out. A ship spotted. Eagerly, Sandy swept up his looking glass and peered out. Against the setting sun he could make the outline of a ship sailing away and into the emerging twilight. Sandy frowned and ordered the sailing master to follow and wondered what was a whaler doing this close to land?

*

“I’m sure I saw her,” Sandy insisted to Idoki as they sat in his cabin to eat their meal together, “But she disappeared when we gave chase.”

Idoki frowned and nodded blankly before taking a forkful of pan fried tuna on a bed of fresh greens. “That is strange,” she stated around the mouthful, agreeing with her Commodore without really understanding what he was talking about. She accepted that Sandy knew more about sailing than she did, yet a ship that disappeared when chased seemed a fairly reasonable to her. She was, after all, from a place where ships could just purposely vanish without a trace. However, he seemed to feel that it was unusual, even for the Shackles and it’s abundance of complex and colourful local stories about various ships, so she made an effort to seem like she was empathizing with him. Ryrun had told that she should work on her lack of empathy.

“It could be nothing,” he continued eagerly as he stabbed his fork into the tender tuna, “But she was sailing against the wind. It might of been a ghost ship. Like The Inscrutable Destiny. Or The Mark of Yunnarius. Or The Deathknell.”

“Who?” Ryrun, fresh from pouring himself a new mug of beer from stores, interrupted as he entered the tiny cabin.

Sandy drew himself up dramatically and, in a deep booming voice, intoned, “Whalebone Pilk.”

Balancing his plate on his knees, Ryrun cocked a skeptical eyebrow at Ozzi, who had slipped in behind him. The young cleric perched himself on a keg of beer the captain kept in his cabin for emergencies, thankful for the chance to rest. He said nothing and took a bite out of one of the hot biscuits he had slipped out of The Water Naga’s galley. Renza rushed past them all and plopped herself cheerfully on the centre of the floor like a child, eagerly waiting for story time, her heaping plate overflowing with a generous portion of food that The Water Naga’s cook, Kroop, had given her. He always found a little extra for Renza. Idoki smiled blankly and patiently waited. They could hear other crew members rustle outside of the cabin, eating their food and trying to hear what story the halfling was going to tell.

“Whalebone Pilk,” Sandy roared again and shook the mugs on his small desk, “The captain of the whaler Belle Dame. Cursed to sail the seas after dragging his crew on a doomed voyage. Foolishly chasing a rogue pod of whales until his stores grew thin, he pushed his crew instead of turning back, contemptuously driving them to mutiny in his mad desire to hunt his elusive prey. He cleverly turned the tables on his betrayers and had the ringleader savagely whipped to strips, their body rendered down in the tryworks and their skull nailed to the mast as a warning to the rest. Yet, when he ordered chase once more, the whales turned on him and sunk the Belle Dame. But Pilk did not go gentle to The Line. Some force took exception to his act of brutality and cursed him to sail the seas until he has taken the skulls of one thousand men. Fifty for each of his crew he damned to unlife. He prowls the Shackles now, his crew taking sailors and beheading them before his ship’s massive bell before rendering their bodies down in the tryworks for fuel for their grim ghostly voyage. She’s been sunk before, they say, yet she always returns. It is told that on foggy nights, if you listen carefully, you can hear Whalebone Pilk ringing his ship’s bell, looking for the next head for his grisly wage.”

“Oh, good,” Ozzi replied dryly with an eye roll and a yawn, “This gent sounds a treat. How do people know this story? Did someone stop and ask him? Now that would be a conversation.”

“Interesting,” Idoki said, her attention focused on the puzzle before her, “Is he a corporeal undead? Or some sort of spectre? If the crew is the one taking the heads, as you indicated, that would imply that they are, at least, solid enough to manipulate physical objects. I wonder what kind of undead they are?”

“Whalers aren’t good for boarding other ships,” Ryrun said offhandedly as he waved his mug lazily, “Too low in the water. Lots of storage though. And good places for throwing harpoons. You said fifty for each man, so a crew of twenty? Nineteen with the one who got his skull nailed to the mast. And a ghost? Unpleasant but not an impossible fight. Well, not for me, at any rate. Probably kill the rest of you.”

Someone gently rapped on the door. “Begging you pardon, Commodore,” the pale face of Boatswain Quinn peeked through as she gingerly opened the door, “The crow’s nest reports a village. Sounds like one you might want to see.”

The Commodore cocked an eyebrow.

“A long dock,” she continued with a wicked smile that made Ozzi melt a little inside, “And a large guarded pen.”

The officers of The Water Naga grinned at each other. This meant only one thing: Slavers. And a pen with guards meant they might have some poor souls that needed rescuing. If there was one thing that Sandy hated, as he left his meal and stormed out onto the deck to issue orders and prepare his raiders, it was slavery.

*

The battle for the village was short and deliciously sweet. The two ships swept in on the high tide and roughly descended on the unprepared slaver outpost with lightning speed. The slavers, in response, unleashed trained attack dogs on poor Ryrun, who got pulled off of his feet and badly mauled before Renza darted in and killed them. Both Idoki and Ozzi got to experiment with new spells that they had just learned. Ozzi summoned up a short drooling rubber faced demon from the Abyss to help with the fight and Idoki cast something that increased everyone’s speed and reflexes. The slavers fought to a man, choosing death over the questionable mercy that the pirates promised. Ozzi, the only member of the Officers who spoke the strange clicking tongue of the Mwangi Expanse, spoke to the captured villagers, telling them that they were free but, if they wanted to, they could join the crew and explore the exciting world of piracy.

“I am Ximbala,” a proud looking, strong jawed woman with a crude tattoo of a mysterious beast on her shoulders told them through Ozzi, “These are my uncle and his son. Men on ships took our family. We would get revenge.”

Sandy, a gentle smile on his lips, told them that they would have their revenge and more beyond. So Idoki’s crew grew by three and the two ships sailed off with their newly acquired loot plundered from the outpost. “A good day,” Sandy said to Ryrun as the two of them counted the take at the elf’s tiny desk in the store room.

“I’d say,” Ryrun replied as he tallied the profits from the day’s raid, “They had some good quality weaponry. Worth a pretty coin in port.” The elf opened a draw in the desk and pulled out an ornate flask filled with expensive rum. He poured two mugs and the two of them toasted The Goddess of Love and Demon Lord of Money.

Boots on decks thumped overhead and an alarm was called. Sandy quickly stuck his head out to and asked a passing crew what was happening.

“An evil fog’s rolled in,” Slippery Syl replied as she worriedly fingered one of her many knives, “Can’t see anything. No even The High Ground.”

As Sandy ran to the deck, he could hear the shouts of the crew as they tried to contact The Moral High Ground. Yet it was to no avail. Suddenly everyone fell silent. A lone bell rang from within the fog. Then again. Steadily, the rhythmic ringing grew louder and a rotting ship broke into view, carrying the hollow eyes of damned sailors who stared hungrily at the crew of The Water Naga. As the whaler crossed past their bow, all could see it’s name scratched in old blood on it’s bow: The Deathknell. It’s dead captain stood unhappily by the ship’s huge bell, ringing it with a ruined fist. High up the mast, a single white grinning skull stared sightlessly into the deep fog. Then it was gone, the ringing of the bell fading as the fog receded, then disappearing entirely.

“Whalebone Pilk,” Sandy breathed to his shocked crew.

*

“It was her, no doubt,” Sandy cursed in his tiny cabin as he paced nervously around Ryrun, who was casually sharpening his curved blade with languished easy, “She’s marked us. That means tonight she’ll come for us.”

“I want to see it!” Renza cried like a petulant child. The Moral High Ground had gotten lost in the fog but saw nothing and they heard no bell. Certainly no ghostly bell tolling for souls. It was like something out of a fairy tale, she thought, so it was something she was eager to play with. The third night, Sandy had told them. The first night, The Deathknell is always seen in the distance. The second night, she’s seen in a fog bank. On the third night, she attacks, the haunted bell tolling for sailors to damn.

“I wonder what it’s attracted to,” Idoki said conversationally as she watched the halfling pace, “If we switched crews would it still attack The Water Naga? Or is after you personally? This is so interesting.”

“I don’t know,” Sandy replied peevishly. “Would you please stop that? It’s very distracting,” He snapped and glared worriedly at his first mate.

Ryrun stopped his sharpening. “What’s the plan?” He asked as he leaned forward, placing his elegant sword gently to one side.

Four sets of eyes watched Sandy as he frowned and ponder the question. “We make for land before night fall. And we put everyone ashore. Let’s see what triggers this ghost,” he finally said.

*

As the night fell, all was silent. The crews of both ships waited at the ready in the quiet little empty bay they had anchored in. Torches lit the little camp and everyone was on edge. All eyes watched the two ships as they creaked lazily in the cove.

As the night wore on, Commodore Sandy paced and cursed. He looked back at his crew and saw the boredom in Renza’s eyes as she played with the dying embers of a pit fire. But the ghostly ship had yet to make an appearance. Selissa, the mascot water naga, reported back that she couldn’t see anything on or under the water.

“Maybe it only attacks those on the water?” Idoki said, trying to be helpful.

“Oh, screw this,” Sandy said finally, “Ozzi, get your hat out. Let’s get back on board. Us only. Weapons ready.”

*

No one knew where The Deathknell came from. It just appeared, spreading her sudden cloak of fog over the ship with alarming speed. Sandy had barely had time to put his feet on the deck before it rammed The Water Naga. The impact nearly knocked him from his feet. Before he could assess everyone, a rabble of shambling dead sailors, armed with harpoons, slowly clambered over the side of the ship to attack.

The dead were bloated and fat from the salt water. Their skin was stretched so thin that they were seemed liked they were covered with blue steaks that travelled like ink in their veins. They all wore sopping wet dripping rotting clothes. They tried to speak but only gurgled and moaned as water dribbled down their chins, their milky eyes pleading as they shuddered forth, struggling to throwing their harpoons. A bell rang solemnly from whaler. They could only barely make out a form by the mast, a lone silhouette with a harpoon, striking a large bell.

The crew struggled to their feet as the harpoons rained down on them. As one scratched across Sandy’s arm, gouging a chunk out of The Naga’s deck, he ordered everyone to push the intruders back. Ryrun and Ozzi rushed forward while Renza and Idoki cast their magics. Sandy felt as if time was against them, as if the whole world had slowed suddenly before Idoki threw up a sigil that flashed and everything became clear and easy. Her speed spell. Renza tossed up her multiple copy spell, something that proved to be useless against the dead, who cut through her whalebone corset and into her skin with a thick chopping knife. Ryrun skipped around his slow opponents and, with a laugh and a snort, cut one’s stomach open. It’s stood and stared stupidly as it’s guts poured onto the deck with a ghastly splash. Clad in the stolen hell knight armour and holding his symbol of Besmara in his one good hand, Ozzi called out to his Goddess and the dead look to him with their sad eyes, yearning for freedom. But he was unable to give it to them. Saddened, one swung it’s arm in a wide arc but only broke it’s fist on his helmet. It put a terrible ringing into his ears from the loud clang.

“The Bell!” Sandy shouts as he snaps his whip around the ankle of the one against Renza, easily slipping it off of it’s feet. Idoki heard and obeyed, throwing a ball of fire towards the lonely form of Whalebone Pilk. The fog was burned away by the heat and, for a moment, they could see the hateful wire thin undead who wearily leaned on his harpoon, as if ring the bell was a chore. But then he was engulfed in the fire. He roared in rage as the fog swept back, covering him in it’s grey embrace but they could see the wreaked bodies of the other crew, struggling to climb out of the hatches. Through the fog they could hear the dead captain order a full assault on them.

Ryrun cut two more dead men down. They died with pitiful gurgles. Renza stabbed her rapier into the prone dead woman, pinning it to the deck. She screamed a sigil into the blade, which sang down the blade and blew a hot hole into the dead woman’s chest. It shuttered and was still. Four of the dead reached for Ozzi, who found himself back against The Naga’s railing, The Deathknell grinding against the hull beneath him. With a shrug, he called out an “Aye, aye,” to Sandy and sent out another wave of the Goddess’ might. Three of the dead crumpled wordless to the deck, released by the power of Her touch. The last one held on longer than the others, an evil spark in his soul throwing off her call to rest. Ozzi saw the wicked gutting knife in it’s hand and ignored it. On the second “Aye”, he slipped over the railing and dropped to the deck of The Deathknell. He landed with a sadly comical crash.

Idoki cursed the cleric under her breath. She twisted the sigil she was crafting at the last moment, turning it into a gout of flame. If she used the ball, it probably would of killed the idiot and that would make Sandy upset. The flames erupted and burned towards the mast, splashing over the Pilk’s bell with deadly accuracy. She saw the dead whaler jerk his hand away in surprise at the fire, then punch his ruined fist into the bell once more, singeing the rotting bandage he had forever wrapped around his smashed hand, destroyed after years of slamming his fist against the heavy metal bell. His penitence for his rage.

Sandy rushed to the railing to see if Ozzi was still alive. He signalled to Ryrun and ordered him to get down there to save the fool. Ryrun nodded and slipped over as well, landing far more gracefully, slaying one of the dead sailors as he landed with a grand sweep of his curved blade. Idoki spelt out another gout of flame to bath the bell in licking magical fire. Pilk sneered with his ruined lips and punched the bell again, smoke sizzling off of his hand as he struck the red hot bell. Renza also jumped over the side of the ship but was quickly swept up by the dead sailors and pinned beneath a crush of undead when she landed on the deck.

Ozzi staggered to his feet and, putting his head down, pushed his way through the dead crew. They punched, stabbed and slashed at him as he plonked his way through. Bloodied, he shoved them out of his way and surged his way up to the dreaded Whalebone Pilk. The dead captain contemptuously eyed the boy before he hefted his harpoon. The bell he rang was glowing red, the heat caused it to ping and smoke poured from the wooden cross beam that held it to the mast. Ozzi, through the blood and sweat, sketched a sigil and, with his good hand, brushed his symbol against Pilk’s chest. The spell he landed, he hoped, would turn the spectral pirate solid enough for Ryrun and Renza to cut with their weapons. The smug, self satisfied smirk then turned to confusion. “You said he was a ghost,” he shouted in raising panic as Pilk, a hateful glimmer in his dead eyes, viciously pierced Ozzi’s leg with his harpoon. Ozzi screamed and tried to stumble back, but the harpoon was tied off to the mast, trapping him at the end of a line like a fish on a hook. “I though he was a ghost!” He cried as the rest of Pilk’s crew surrounded him and began to pummel him.

A shadow fell over Sandy before he had the chance to do anything to help Ozzi. The remaining boarder, still shuffling, grabbed his shoulder and violently spun him. It tried to plunge it’s gutting knife into his stomach but the halfling torn himself away and threw his whip around the knee of his attacker. With a mighty pull he tried to take the dead man’s feet from out from under him. However, the dead man was heavier than he realized and Sandy found himself sprawling on his face right before his attacker. Below, Ryrun and Renza spun and slashed their way across the deck. “Oi,” the elf taunted as he danced his way through the waterlogged crew and drew himself before Whalebone Pilk. “Is that all you’ve got?” Ryrun asked with a roguish wink. He struck the bell with his sword, gouging a line into it’s heated metal. Pilk, his eye’s narrowed with hate, punched his ruined fist into Ryrun’s chest and, to everyone’s surprise, pulled something out from within. The elf gasped and clutched his neck as Pilk drew on his undead nature and stole the breath straight from his lungs. Spots blinked before Ryrun’s eyes as he struggled to get air. “Not like this,” he voicelessly wheezed.

Idoki assessed the situation. Ozzi called his goddess once more and staggered the shambling dead that surrounded him but he was unlikely to survive the next few seconds. Sandy was being mauled by a dead man and was probably going to be unable to help. Renza was fighting her way to Ryrun but probably be unable to kill Pilk before Ryrun or Ozzi died. And Ryrun was struggling to breathe. She watched with interest as the elf swung his sword at the bell, an overhead blow and a second quick back slash, both striking with the malice of someone about to die. She couldn’t drop a fireball onto Pilk or his bell without killing everyone. Or maybe she could. She eyed the mast and calculated it’s likely height and the circumference of the ball. Satisfied, she threw her ball at the mid point of the mast.

The explosion was satisfactory. The mast ignited briefly as the bell, it’s crossbeam and most of Pilk’s torso was engulfed in the blast. The crossbeam, charred from the heat, dropped the heavy bell onto the deck with a solid bong, The bell, heated to near melting, bent and cracked as it hit, then rolled and stopped against the leg of one of the undead sailors, where it smoked against the dead flesh. The sailors all stopped and stared briefly at the wreaked bell before gracelessly dying as one. The one kneeling over Sandy, it’s knife pressed into his back, sagged and died, pinning him under it weight. Ozzi stood stunned as everyone dropped around him. He and Renza met each other surprised eyes. Her mouth formed a perfect O and her face seemed to say “This is something you don’t see every day”. Ozzi could only eloquently shrug. The Deathknell gave a squeal as it’s hull burst from age as the magic that kept it afloat faded. With a gasp, Renza jumped back to The Water Naga. As she scrabbled up the side, she looked back and saw that Ozzi as he tried to grab Ryrun’s unconscious body to carry him back. But the cleric still had Pilk’s harpoon sticking out of his leg and it was still tied to the mast.

“Fuck me,” Ozzi shouted, almost to himself, as the ship slipped beneath the calm dark waters.

*

View
Captain Ozzi's Log Part 22 b
Crossover cont.

Dark Kraven, the Night Watcher, thwarted their ambush like it was child’s play. Aerys leapt out from behind a stack of discarded props that the villain had haphazardly heaped in his lair and swung her fist at his face. But he dodge the blow and, with an impossible twist of his body, threw her across the room and into a stack of old chairs. She sneezed loudly after she landed with a dusty crash. Ishirou, hidden behind the poorly gilded cheap throne, popped out and puffed a poisoned dart through his blowgun. Dark Kraven, without even looking at him, plucked the dart out of the air and flicked it at Amiska as she crouched behind the ratty four poster bed, missing her neck by a scant amount. Sasha, howling with glee at finally having something to do rather than hide and wait, threw aside the curtain and sprinted across the stage, the crystal on her machete glinting in the dim light, her kukri glowing dangerously in her off hand. Yet, as she swung down in a deadly arc, she could not connect. Her target was just too nimble to pin down. Amiska, startled by the dart, traced a sigil of protection in the air, hoping to keep herself safe from harm by creating a group of identical copies of herself. They appeared around her in a confusing shifting pattern but the dwarf had other ideas. Pulling knives seemingly out of nowhere, he threw two blades into Amiska, bouncing them off the walls to hit her behind the bed, and one at a rope tied to the wall, neatly cutting it and dropping a thirty pound sandbag on Gelik as he drew a lightning sigil. The bolt, as the bag knocked the gnome sprawling, went wide and Dark Kraven effortlessly evaded it.

This whole thing was an exercise in madness, Gelik realized as he stared at the black painted floor boards, trying to clear the haze out of his head. The fact that someone had written a serialized play about the Crew of The Water Naga was strange enough. But to find out that the writer had gotten her inspiration from some otherworldly source had put this into a whole different realm. She knew everything that was happening around Admiral Sandy and his crew of odd misfits. Every battle. Every conversation. Every plan. Everything. She even knew about the theft of the Mantis Blade and who was responsible. That’s just unbelievable, he though as he groggily got to his feet. “But Rapa,” Preet Nola, the aasimar writer, explained wistfully over a cup of warm wine, talking about the snippy editor that the Guild had thrust upon her, “Felt that it wasn’t an important side plot, so we dropped it. I wrote out an outline of the scene. She was right, though. It was a distraction from the main plot.” She sighed, ignoring that fact she was talking about an actual event like it was some story she had made up. “I vaguely remember it. Jotted down the names but I’d be damned if I can remember them. The hag was someone connected to the Crew. To Renza, maybe?” She said with a wrinkled brow, trying to recall something as fleeting like a fever dream. “The hag was trying to impress Renza’s hag? I think that’s how it went. I was going to set it up as a whole spin off series once the main story ended,” she claimed offhandedly. But she couldn’t remember the names. And all of her notes were in the hands of the Guild, who confiscated everything after the Trial of Dark Kraven, in which The Night Watcher stood before a court and outlined his whole crazy story before his dramatic escape. “The Guild claimed they didn’t believe anything the man said, of course,” she said with a shake of her head. “But he was convincing enough for them to keep the play out of people’s hands, just in case someone thought there was something to his ravings.”

But The Guild wouldn’t let them see the play or any of the notes. They were all considered “Unsafe for Public Consumption” and held in a safe under Guild Orders. And, because writing a cursed play was frowned on within their ranks, even though the play wasn’t cursed, Preet was considered something of a non member. They weren’t going to take any chances, it seemed, and even she couldn’t get in to review her own work. So Gelik came up with a plan. They would get Preet to work Aerys’ own magus opus, The Saga of Saventh-Yhi, into some sort of performance. Aerys was very nervous about having her writings reworked into a different medium but Preet, once properly motivated with the promise of her own works recovery, proved to be a more than capable wordsmith. Then, with a few pages of extremely infectious songs that Preet had worked out, they approached the Guild with an offer to stage the production. While Gelik and Aerys negotiated, Preet’s sister Tris, the actress who played Idoki on stage, happily led Sasha and Ishirou into the vault where the work was kept. She too, it seemed, wanted the plays back, if only to help get her own career back on track. Gelik had Amiska keep lookout, feeling that her very pirate like nature would draw too much attention from the notable dramatic Guild, not to mention her tendency to steal anything not nailed down might draw The Watch as well. Incredibly, the whole affair worked. Not only did they get into the vault without alerting anyone, they also negotiated the Guild into allowing the piece to be staged. The Guild was particularly aggressive, wanting a different writer and a say in who was cast. And a portion of the profits and their name on the marquee. But Gelik fought them, arguing that, as successful adventurers, they could easily afford to stage the whole thing without the backing. The Guild folded like a cheap tent, eventually capitulating to a small part of the profits in exchange for allowing their name on the poster. It was like they were desperate to one up the Pathfinder Lodge, who was busily releasing tidbits about a newly discovered city. They had even unveiled an intact mosaic depicting the dead God of Beasts a few days earlier. What the Guild didn’t know was that it was Gelik’s report the Lodge was leaking and it was his mosaic they were displaying. He had carried it all the way from Saventh-Yhi in a Bag of Holding and had ‘donated’ it quietly to the Lodge in exchange for the leaks. A small price to pay in order to get the name of the hag who killed Jask and to get a chance to get back the Mantis Blade. But, of course, the play was missing from the vault. All that they could find was a small token etched like a black dagger. Dark Kraven’s calling card. He had stolen the plays in his mad belief that only he could keep them safe.

Gelik saw Ishirou shoot the dart but the elusive dwarf plucked it out of the air and, impossibly, flick it at Amiska while he fended off Sasha’s impulsive assault. Aerys got to her feet and tried to strike with her foe with a devastating straight punch. Yet the dwarf was like a shadow. He seemed to become momentarily insubstantial as she passed through him, materializing just in time to trip her, sending her flying into a heap on the ground. But Aerys threw a back fist as she passed, catching The Night Watcher square in the nose, staggering him. While Ishirou slipped into a position to attack in tandem with Sasha, Gelik grinned and sketched a sigil. This madman might be able to dodge lightning, but a simple Magic Missile spell, although weak, was a sorcerer’s best friend in situations like these. They never miss.

Amiska cursed as a black knife plunged expertly into her chest. She put a sigil down to healed the wound and hoped the Night Watcher wouldn’t cast some sort of spell to escape. Her job was to cancel anything he tried and he seemed to know it, pouring everything he had into putting her down. It was a strange place to be in, to be the one taking the beating and needing the healing rather the other way around. She wasn’t sure she liked it. She was sure, however, that his knives were poisoned. She could feel her guts twist into knots but she held on, taking the punishment he was throwing at her. She threw up some illusionary duplicates to cause confusion but The Night Watcher seemed to know they were fakes and targeted her exclusively. Yet, even though he could throw the knives at an amazing rate, he couldn’t land them very well, which worked for Amiska’s favour. Aerys, rolling to her feet after being thrown across the room, roared in frustration and charged her foe, grabbing at him before he had a chance to throw more knives. He sneered and dodged her, causing her to barrel clumsily past him. He took advantage of the opening, flicking knife after knife at Amiska at an impossible speed. How was he carrying so many? Maybe they should of jumped this jerk earlier when they had the chance, she gasped to herself as another knife buried itself into her stomach. Out on the open street where they might of had a better advantage. Rather than fighting on his own home ground. Act like pirates rather than honourable people. The others, at first, wanted to be up front with this guy. When they found out he had all of Preet’s stupid plays they tried to talk to him and maybe convince him to just give them the goods. But, when they were out searching for him, the vigilante showed up at the aasimar’s house instead and took all of her current work, including all of the copies of The Saga. Aerys was so angry Amiska though she was going to go out and punch every dwarf in the city until she found her silly book. Not only did he take everything, he threatened Preet, telling her to leave town if she knew what was good for her. She tried to stop him, grabbing her work while screaming obscenities at him but he kicked her in the chest, sending her to the ground. “I’m no clown,” he warned her, standing over her menacingly while fondling one of his many, many knives. “I’m the only person who sees through you. I though you might of just been a dupe to Stageman. But now I know. You were with him all along. What did he offer you? Power? Money? You make me sick. Get out of my city and never come back, villain,” he sneered while he vanished, melding mysteriously into the shadows. Preet cried the whole night, terrified that he would come back and murder her like he did to Aadan, the man he accused of been the dreaded Stageman. “Aadan was just a stage hand,” she cried as her sister Tris tried to sooth her, “He had nothing to do with anything. Sure, the two of them had their differences but I had no idea that he was so insane. Kraven though he was some sort of powerful magician or whatever but he wasn’t. He was just an actor. Kraven killed him because of a fantasy. A fantasy.” Amiska cursed loudly as another dagger plunged into her body. Maybe if she cast a sigil to dispel whatever protection magic he had on, her partners might be able to stop him before she bled out. Through the painful haze, she heard Aerys’ fist smash the little bastard face. Good, she though to herself while she fought to keep herself conscious and sketched the sigil in the air in front of her, I hope that hurt.

Ishirou, as he ducked out of view and invoking his ninja training to disappear from view while being in plain sight, was particularity disgusted with this insane dwarf. He rolled a dart on his tongue, careful to avoid the poison that he had on their tips and put the magical blowgun he found at Saveth-yhi to his lips. He fired only to watch in amazement as the Night Watcher plucked the dart out of the air. Impossible, Ishirou gasped to himself while he watched a flurry of daggers pepper Amiska. Lucky, the lovely cleric stood her ground but he could see she was faltering under the poison that tipped the dwarf’s vile knives. Sasha slashed the dwarf with an upward cut from her crystal coated machete, causing him to stagger back. So the legend can bleed, he though to himself and rolled again, placing his hand on his katana’s hilt, his only connection to his far away homeland. He need to end this before this ended Amiska. Although he had his problems with the ignorant pirate, he had grown fond of her strangeness, of her determination to understand his homeland, even though she failed at every attempt. Although his heart belonged to Aerys, he found himself liking the foolish woman and her constant questions about the proper way to hold a chopstick. Or how to hold ones head when addressing someone. Or when it was polite to stab someone in the back. It was impolite to attack this man in his home but, at this point, Ishirou had long ceased caring, for his actions revealed him to be a dishonourable monster. As Aerys’ desperate fist connected with the dwarf’s nose, he saw his chance and moved.

Fighting The Night Watcher was like fighting a lightning bolt, Sasha realized. He was fluid, fast and deadly. And it was the most fun she ever had. She could hear her own laughter as it pealed throughout the empty theatre. This guy was terrific, she thought as they weaved a complex pattern with their weapons. His black knives flicked and swirled in front of her while she matched him. The Red Mantis would hold this dwarf up as the pinnacle of knife work. A true master of the craft. After they killed him, of course. That was the Mantis Way. But Sasha wasn’t a Mantis. Not even close. As he flowed like water, like smoke, she jabbed and danced like a wild flame, crackling with delight. She could tell her laughter was unnerving the mighty Night Watcher by the way he twitched and hesitated when he threw his knives at Amiska. Corey swooped from above and nip at her foe, giving her the small opening she needed to slice a slick cut up this little fool’s chest. His blood dripped onto the floorboards and she grinned from ear to ear in triumph. Aerys fumbled in between them, causing Sasha to step back to avoid hitting her friend, and The Night Watcher sliced a cut across Aerys’ back. But, even as she stumbled past, she threw a wild swinging back fist that surprisingly connected. Sasha heard the pleasant crack of bone as his nose exploded and sprayed blood. Tracking this dwarf had been a pleasure. He was the impossible quarry the Mantis dreamed about. No fixed address. Stayed to the shadows. No income. A rumour of a target. But he did have a single friend. And that was all she needed to find him. Thanks to Gelik’s magic and Amiska’s beauty, the poor gnome melted and unwittingly revealed where the fearsome Night Watcher laid his head. An abandoned theatre named Rose Petal. Amiska had cast a spell once they came to the city, asking the Goddess Besmara for a hint on where to look for the Mantis Blade. The answer was “Look for the abandoned flower”, which is what lead them into this whole fiasco. Now they were fighting a legend of a madman after planning a stage play. Such fun, she smiled and lunged, but now was the time to end this.

Dark Kraven’s plan had finally came together. With the evil cleric poisoned, she would fall momentarily. Then he would focus on this disturbing woman and her idiotic pet. After that, the others would be easily defeated. Then he would turn whatever was left over to the incompetent Watch. The Tian man was moving for another attack. The fool thought he was invisible but there was no one that Dark Kraven could not see. Whatever curse Dag had placed on him had an unforeseen side effects, making him able to see better than ever before. He felt the universe was unfolding before his very eyes. He could see everything, ever action these pathetic adventurers were planning. Every move they were making before they had a chance to make it. It also allowed him to use the shadows in an unexpected ways, like giving him the power to coat his weapons in a slick vile black poison that would sap a victim’s strength or to evade attacks while leaving behind a ghostly copy of himself. With his incredible skill, he was able to become something he knew he always was, the perfect guard. The Night Watcher. He leaped over the blundering half elf as she charged at him, slicing his knife delicately across her back. Soon she will falter from the poison and drop. As he lightly landed, he slipped under the giggling red headed assassin’s kukri but her machete scrapped a glancing wound up his ribs. This one thought she was was problematic, he sneered, but she was delusional if she thought she could stand up to him. Her high pitch giggling was reminding him of the clown who killed his… Who took everything from him. No more orphans, he though to himself, never again. But the momentary distraction was enough for him to let his guard down. The half elf threw an unpredictable back fist that connected directly into his face. It was staggering, filling his sight with painful stars. He blindly waved his knives in a warding pattern, keeping the mad woman at bay. But something at the edge of his sight became clear. A figure in the rafters, among the ropes and pulleys, clad all in anonymous black. The figure sketched a sigil in air that floated gently into the fray. The Stageman, Dark Kraven gasped in shock. But he’s dead. I saw the body. I even dug it up to make sure. He’s dead. The sigil hovered just in front of Dark Kraven’s nose and did nothing. But that was all it needed to do.

As the Night Watcher swung wildly, gasping in horror at some unseen opponent, the Castaways took their opportunity. Amiska sketched a dispelling sigil, cancelling Dark Kraven’s strange shadowy armour for a moment. Gelik launched a sigil that became five streaking magical bolts that slammed heavily into the dwarf. Ishirou and Sasha danced forward and scored their own hits, trading places in the process, opening both of his sides. Ishirou skidded across the stage and, with one move, drew his katana, struck with a flash, and put it back clean into it’s sheath. Sasha, in a giggling swirl of steel, danced on his other side, her kukri severing the dwarf’s hamstring while her short chopping machete slashed up to his armpit. Aerys scooped the Night Watcher up and over her head. He hovered there for a split second, unable to even comprehending what was happening before she screamed and drove him down onto her bent knee. His spine snapped with a sickening crack, like a wet piece of wood and the dreaded Night Watcher went limp.

“Broken,” Aerys gasped as she took over the dwarf’s prone and still body, “And done.”

Amiska wasted no time in casting sigils to try and stop the poison that was coursing though her and Aerys’ bodies. Sasha crowed in victory and threw her legs over the fallen dwarf, ready to slit her helpless foe’s neck. Yet Ishirou stopped her by putting his hand on her and quelled her blood lust. “We need him alive,” he said simply. She snorted and accepted that the ninja was right, as usual. They still needed the works he had stolen.

“Look at him,” Gelik quick pointed out, “He’s wearing it all like it’s a vest or something.” It was true. Every page was stuffed into his shirt like padding, making him look like a tragically comic scarecrow. “I guess he couldn’t find a place to hide it all that he could trust,” the gnome whispered as he pulled open Kraven’s shirt, wrinkling his nose at the dreadful stench of the dwarf’s unwashed body.

“Well, get it off him so I can kill him,” Sasha sneered and put her kukri back into it’s sheath. She kept her heavy machete in her hand though, ready for the final chop.

A loud crash erupted from the lobby. Voices calling out for people to freeze and come out peacefully as heavy boots trampled up the stairs towards the stage. The Watch had found them somehow. Little Tom must of figured out what has happening and gathered reinforcements. The Castaways swiftly cut off the crippled dwarf’s clothes and took every scrap of paper they could quickly find. A small leather bound note book fell out of a pocket and Ishirou snatched it up and held it out to Aerys. “I believe this is yours,” he smiled and she gratefully took it, wiping the blood off of it’s cover.

“We’ve got everything,” Gelik confirmed, holding all of the papers.

Sasha smiled and knelt down to quickly slit Dark Kraven’s throat. His lips moved and she frowned, listening to his whispered words. Worried, she stood up suddenly and looked at Gelik. “We need to leave,” she told him as the Watch broke down the barred stage doors, “Now.”

Gelik weaved a teleport sigil from a scroll and the group fled, disappearing from the lonely stage and reappearing in the room at Preet’s home they had designated as “home”. Preet gasped in shock at their sudden appearance, knocking over her half drunk glass of wine. But her shock turned to glee when she saw the sheaves of papers they had.

“What did he say?” Ishirou asked Sasha when they were alone.

She looked back at her friends. The pang in her heart drifted across her face as she watched Aerys and Gelik carefully smooth out papers, helping Preet organize the plays and looking for the notes about The Mantis Blade. Amiska was bragging to an enthralled Tris about their victory, waving Preet’s bottle of wine that she had appropriated and wearily laughing. “’The Storm Orphan is coming’,” she said with a frown.

They both looked at outside at the empty clear star lit skies and saw nothing.

View
Captain Ozzi's Log Part 22 a
Swallow Thunder /Spit Lightning

The fleet is in the harbour. There is a storm raging as it waits for the attack. The cold driving rain chills the sailors to the bone. They’ve bottle necked Marid’s Gate and Rock Bay, hoping to force the enemy to either run the gauntlet or land on the shore and attempt an overland attack. Admiral Sandy has outfitted The Water Naga with a massive organ. It was his huge reveal, the thing he had been working on for the last few weeks. It is a grandiose contraption. An elaborate water proof keyboard surrounded by towering brass bellows and silvered pipes that seemed to poke out of every plank of his ship. The only crew left on board is the Admiral and Silissa, who stays in the water to avoid the noise of the massive instrument. All others have been assigned to different vessels. His plan is to have a ghostly crew pilot everything for him from now on. The Admiral is angry and is playing the massive thing with all the stops out. It is a deafening cacophony. “Wait for the C Major Cord,” The Admiral has told his other captains as they drift nervously in the rain.

But it’s been an hour and they still haven’t seen another ship yet. Every sailor watches the skies and wonders if the rain and howling wind will soon stop. Ryrun stand on deck of The Water Naga and hums along with the music as the Admiral plays. Renza paces and Ozzi applies make up while cursing the rain. Idoki stands next to Ryrun and smiles blankly at the horizon. She has assured everyone that their enemy has plenty of time to make their attempt; the storm will last for hours. Renza watches for a signal from the various towers on land for a sighting but none arrive. Ryrun and Idoki converse about the wizard Doloruso. Idoki is confused about the situation. Why would she be interested in this woman? Granted, the pirate is very powerful and the two have a great deal in common but isn’t she someone Ryrun has his eye on? She discretely casts a spell and makes a note in her large journal to remember to explore this idea at a later date. Albreth, the sword that Ryrun had enchanted with a part of his own soul, silently informs it’s owner that Idoki has cast an Owl’s Wisdom and is writing down her thoughts about social interaction, especially romantic interactions, into the black bound leather book. Ryrun realizes that Idoki is artificially giving herself insight into these interactions and writing them down so she can study them later, trying to memorize what it means to be empathetic. He laughs and shakes the rain from his hat. Idoki, not realizing what he has learned, acts like a child surreptitiously spying on a sibling. She watches him from the corner of her eye and writes down that he spontaneously laughed at nothing.

Renza, trying to find something to take her mind off of the waiting, watches the two and asks Ozzi what he thinks it means. He looks at her blankly and responds back in Common that he doesn’t speak her weird barking language. She ignores him and asks The Admiral, who explains what Idoki has been doing to keep herself from getting killed by her own ignorance. He plays an angry melody as he speaks, punching the keys as if they have personally offend him. He stops and suddenly looks confused. Ryrun follows suit, his eyes darting around. Then Idoki, then Ozzi and finally Renza all receive the Sending: “Port Peril under attack by Chelish fleet. Come at once with all ships you can spare. Come at once.”

Admiral Sandy answers that he is coming. Ozzi says so as well but winces and adds he expecting bad weather and will be there as soon as possible. The Admiral looks out over the storm into the open sea and says they were planning this, to ambush them when they left to defend Port Peril.

“What’s the plan?” Ozzi asks as he finishes smearing black grease paint over his eyes.

“We go to met them,” The Admiral responds and orders the signal flags to inform the rest of the fleet.

“And then?” Ryrun asks as he followed after his Admiral.

“We sink The Wormwood,” Admiral Sandy Foundling responds bitterly. “We burn her to the waterline. We finish this.”

*

The Wormwood sits with her fleet, her bow into the wind, a wedge hidden amongst the choppy waves. Gilbrook the Tongue, drenched from the storm he summoned, stands beside Acting Captain Doloruso as they watch the sea. The plan has been simple so far. The Chelish Navy fights Port Peril and the pirates wait. But, rather than sitting safely back at their fortified base, they were send out here to ambush The Water Naga’s fleet, to get a little bit of pay back for insults Harrigan feels he has been given. The man’s obsession has brought him very far but now he has his best people laying an ambush for unimportant incompetents. Gilbrook licks his lips with his long tongue, his namesake, and watches with irritation as the scrags on board pick their noses. It is a disgusting sight and the officers are having trouble keeping the fearful crew under control.

The plan is to cripple The Water Naga, then close and board her. The first priority after that is to destroy Idoki. That is what the trolls are for. They will have to surround her and pin her arms, if they can, or get her into the water where she’ll have a harder time using her magic. More importantly, they are to chop her into chum with their cruel cleavers. The three officers, Krine, Kipper and Patchsalt, all have orders to push Ozzi overboard. His heavy armour will hinder him and it’ll take him too long to climb back up. As the Ship’s Enchanter, Gilbrook the Tongue’s job is to foil Ryrun by charming him. The fighter’s lack of will is legendary. Doloruso will eliminate Renza, leaving Sandy, who is know to be pretty helpless in a fight. It is fittingly that he will be last.

They see the fleet approaching, running wild over the churning sea. Acting Captain Doloruso, with a glint of anticipation in her hard eyes, signals for the elimination of the three lead vessels and the ships concentrate fire on them. As the siege engines fire, however, a low booming sound erupts from the water while the rigging of The Wormwood rattles ominously.

*

Underwater, The Water Naga furtively approaches her prey. Ryrun, who is in the Crow’s Nest, watches the surface and points to the hull most likely to be the flag ship. Renza, while casting her defensive spells, nervously asks Idoki if she can use her fireballs to damage The Wormwood from below. Maybe sink her before they have to climb aboard her and engage the notoriously dangerous crew. Idoki says yes, then ignores her as she keeps casting her own defensive spells. The Admiral supplies that the spell would hit the end of the air bubble that they are travelling in and explode, causing more damage to them rather than the ships above. The ship is filled with worried sailors, the best boarders and skirmishers from across the fleet, all of whom had never been under the ocean like this. They watch the silty brown water from the churning sea pass as they move through it. They see Silissa swiming outside the bubble, keeping pace with them and they quietly pray to Besmara to keep the magic that holds the bubble intact. Ozzi is with them, his crudely skull painted face watching the surface and muttering how beautiful it all is.

The admiral plays his cord and The Water Naga breaks the surface. Idoki see Doloruso and cries out madly, asking if she would like to join her tonight.

*

Gilbrook the Tongue hears the crescendo and sees the ship burst up beside them. Acting Captain Doloruso wheels in shock at the nonsensical battle cry and sees Ryrun, as if propelled by the waves themselves, leap out of the bubble and slash at her. She teleports suddenly, escaping the blade but leaving Gilbrook by himself. He lunges to take the spinning wheel. Renza, her body that of a feminine rush of smoke trapped within an inferno, darts out over The Wormwood’s bow and sprays fire over the unexpecting crew. While they duck and try to escape her, Idoki’s rolls a fireball into the mass of sailors. Between the two they kill many of the crew, including the three hapless officers tasked with killing Ozzi. The one officer, the Master Gunner named Kipper, staggers and flails to the ballista, trying to fire the massive weapon as his skin chars but he falls short and dies screaming on the wet deck. The sizzling trolls look around with fear and hate in their beady eyes. They are hurt and unsure of where to attack.

Idoki smiles pleasantly and casts again, her sigils turning into deadly spraying fire that kills most of the trolls. She also accidentally burns Doloruso, who had teleported into the middle of the panicking crew. Ryrun leaps, sailing effortlessly over the bodies of the slain, and slashes the Acting Captain, cutting her deeply. Suddenly, with her eyes wide with terror, she simply vanishes. A contingency teleport. The final troll, as it’s siblings curl and die from the magic fire, lumbers after Ryrun, chopping wildly with it’s great cleaver but missing the nimble elf. By the wheel, Maka-Ruku, Gilbrook the Tongue’s monkey familiar, tosses Dust of Disappearance on his master, while Gilbrook the Tongue, in a panic, sketches a sigil to throw on Idoki. He watches it dart towards her, yet she bats it away with a dangerously calculating and bemused smile on her lips. Renza shapes a rapier from her flaming body and stabs him, somehow seeing through his invisibility with ease. He howls in pain and tries to back away but bumps into the armoured Ozzi, who took his time crossing the gap between the ships and has marched up to the wheel, shoving the remaining fearful crew of The Wormwood out of his way. The Admiral, as he plays his organ, crafts a delicate sigil that floats over the fight and fine glittering powder drifts down over The Tongue, covering both him and Ozzi in sparkling effervescence. The cleric, now that he can see the frightened Ship’s Witch, reaches out with a hooked hand. It glows with a malevolent energy that matches his black grease paint smile. He brushes the Tongue and sends a near fatal shock into his injured body. Ryrun spins and beheaded the final troll. It crashes to the deck and spurts blood before it’s body disappears over the side of the roiling ship. The Tongue tries to scramble away. His blubbering pleas are to no avail. Idoki fires a force dart into the side of his head, knocking him into unconsciousness. Maka-Ruku squeals in a panic as it’s master falls. Renza scoops up the little monkey in her flaming arms and, as it screams and burns in her sizzling grip, she bites it’s head off.

The storm breaks. Harrigan’s fleet, demoralized by the sudden loss of their flag ship, breaks and runs. The Admiral furiously fumes and demands the cowards be hunted and destroyed. But he belays the order and sends the boarding party back to their respective ships after they, under Ryrun’s watchful eye, quickly plunder The Wormwood. It will be piloted by a true skeleton crew now, conjured by The Admiral’s magic, and sailed to Port Peril as bait. Ozzi makes a stink about not being allowed to keep it but is silenced by a glare from the raging Admiral. The wounded are sent back to Marid’s Gate while the rest of the fleet makes sails for Port Peril. The Admiral sits once more behind his keyboard and plays, the music heralding his approach.

View
Captain Ozzi's Log Part 21 c
Crossover cont.

“Home sweet home,” Gelik Aberwhinge said while paying the cafe owner and taking the offered glass of wine, “You have no idea how long it’s been since I’ve been able to sit and have a nice drink like this.”

“Been away for long?” The halfling politely asked while he handed the gnome his drink. A nice vintage from Taldor. Heavy with a lovely aftertaste. Perfect with the kidney pie that Gelik was waiting on in this open cafe that overlooked the University.

“Years,” Gelik confessed while he savoured his first sip of wine. “Delicious,” he sighed, “All I’ve had is rum for the longest time. Awful stuff. It’s surprising how little I miss it. Nothing but rum and fruit. My tongue tingles just thinking about it.”

“Sounds dreadful,” the cafe owner laughed. It was a slow day so the halfling gestured to a seat and asked to join his customer. Gelik smiled and his host made himself comfortable. “So where were you drinking all this terrible rum?” The cafe owner asked jovially.

“Mwangi Expanse,” Gelik replied and the cafe owner whistled softly. Absalom was a haven for traveller but to it’s residences, many of whom were use to tales of far flung places, the legendary jungle was considered the other side of the world.

“That’s some trek,” the cafe owner asked incredulously. “You a Pathfinder?”

Gelik nodded and pulled a small golden compass, his Wayfinder, from out of his tunic. It glinted in the sun while it lazily tilted it’s needle towards The Crown of The World. The cafe owner peered at the device and, although having seen one many times, smiled appreciatively. The Pathfinders were well respected in Absalom.

“Just gave my report to the Lodge,” Gelik said proudly, concealing the fact that his fellow Pathfinders were less than excited to hear from him again. The charges of chicanery where still remembered on his records, tainting his discovery of the Lost City of Saventh-Yhi. But, with a written letter of recommendation from a respected Pathfinder, there was little they could do but to evaluate his claims. Now all he could do was wait for them to finish the lengthy procedure, “Found a little lost city in the jungle. Big news, I expect. Azlanti, you see. Very old. Full of danger. Barely got out with my skin.”

“Really?” the halfling replied and evaluated his guest with new eyes. When the dishevelled gnome entered his cafe he assumed him to be some sort of cash poor adventurer, a common sight in the city. Someone who had spent the last of their coin on some magical doodad and didn’t have enough left for a sandwich or a mug of cheap beer, let alone a nice glass of wine and a plate of real food. But now, he was a soon-to-be important archeologist of some prestigious who could bring in other well heeled guests to the sleepy cafe. “Let me get you some more wine, sir,” he said, hurrying off to get the bottle and to fetch Gelik his food.

Gelik sighed and took a sip of his wine. He could see the glimmer in the halfling’s eyes when he mentioned the Pathfinders. It would be easy to convince the poor man to simply give him the meal for free. Every piece of his being told him to do so but a part niggled at him. Business seemed slow here and it wasn’t that much money to spend for a good meal. Time in the jungle had changed him, he guessed while he watched the people shuffle past the patio. A lot of them had their heads down and kept to themselves, like cattle being herded. What ever happened to the bright and alive Absalom he remembered?

The crowd sullenly parted and a graceful woman wearing a bright sky blue long robe over her dark but functional armour walked up the boulevard, her long dark hair tied up under a fancy lace trimmed bonnet. Heads turning as she passed and eyes lingered on her until they saw the ornate rapier that bounced menacing at her hip. She saw Gelik and waved cheerfully, gliding towards him like she was walking on air. “There you are,” she said happily while she easily pulled up a chair, “Nice place. How’s the food?”

“Good,” Gelik replied conversationally while he shuffled over to give her some room, “Use to eat here when I was a student. The wine is excellent. Taldor.”

Amiska Lewynn smiled and looked around for the owner, who was standing by the door to the kitchen, a look of surprise and concern on his face. He cautiously approached the table with the steaming plate of kidney pie for Gelik . “Do you have anything else besides wine?” She asked pleasantly.

“Some beer,” he said and put the heaping plate and bottle in front of Gelik. “Also some brandy,” he continued.

“No rum, huh?” She sighed and took off the large bag she wore around her shoulders, “I’ll have whatever he’s having and a mug of beer, I guess.” She pulled out a coin purse and jingled the coin within before pulling out a couple of pieces of silver, “Will this cover it?” She asked while she held them out.

“Of course,” the owner replied and quickly pocketed the payment, “I’ll go pour it for you.”

“Aren’t you the sweetest thing,” she said with a wide smile.

“Thank you,” he stuttered and melted under her lovely gaze, “I’ll be right back.”

Amiska leaned back in her chair and winked at a passing young worker carrying a large plank over his broad shoulder who blushed and hurried off. “We found something weird,” she said and handed a rolled up piece of paper to the gnome while watching the handsome young man walk quickly away.

“That didn’t take long,” he responded sardonically. He unfolded the proffered piece and scanned it quickly, “Is this serious?”

“Wild, right?” She responded with a wide grin, “Ishirou found it on a wall while we were checking out a market. I thought the poor guy was going to actually freak out when he saw it. Who knew that they were that important?”

“How is this even possible?” Gelik exclaimed while reading the poster. ‘The Feast At Marid’s Rock,’ it’s now badly faded letter loudly pronounced. ‘The Exciting Continuation Of The Adventures Of The Water Naga. Watch As The Pirate Heroes From The Shackles Battle Against Their Deadliest Foe Yet In A Battle To Claim The Island Of Empty Eyes!’

“I assume someone heard the story somehow,” Amiska replied with a shrug. She idly re-pinned her mass of long hair with a lacquered golden tasselled thin stick, “It gets better. The whole thing closed opening night because of, wait for it, some sort of attack on the theatre. People in the market called them “political zealots” and the like.”

Gelik pulls out his book and starts looking at his notes, sweat forming on his brow. “You don’t understand,” he insisted, “This isn’t possible.”

“Why?” She asked. The cafe owner returned with her mug and she smiled a thanks to the halfling, then asked, “Hey, do you know anything about this play?”

“That?” The Cafe Owner replied with a snort when he saw the title, “Bad business that. A bunch of ruffians tossed fireworks into a theatre crowd. Caused a couple of deaths. Big black eye for the Theatre Guild and the Watch, from what I heard. Never caught the ones responsible. Too bad. The plays were really popular but that just killed the series for good. I heard the whole thing is considered cursed now. Even the theatre is boarded up.”

“These plays?” Gelik asked, trying to keep the desperation out of his voice, “There is a series of them?”

“Oh yes,” The cafe owner replied cheerfully, “’The Ongoing Adventures of The Crew of The Water Naga’. My wife loved them. Lucky for her she couldn’t get tickets for that show, let me tell you.”

“And they’re about Captain Sandy Foundling? A halfling?” Gelik quizzed him further.

“That’s him,” the cafe owner answered breezily, “Local boy. The missus knows some of his school mates. Had a gnome playing him but the bloke was so good you couldn’t tell he wasn’t a halfling, you know. No offence.”

“None taken,” Gelik replied with a nervous smile, “And the rest of his crew? An elf, a fetchling, a sylph and a human?”

“I think that’s right. I never saw them myself,” the halfling confirmed before he left to get Amiska’s food, “Not my cup of tea. The missus talked about them all the time.”

“This is just so weird,” she commented when the cafe owner left, “I mean, I liked them but this is just so strange. A bunch of plays? Just about them?”

“You don’t understand,” Gelik said and he leaned forward to show her the poster, “Look at this date. If this is right, this thing was being staged the same night as it was happening.”

“No way,” she snorted while sipping her beer, “You have to be wrong.”

“It’s the night Jask died,” Gelik insisted, “I can’t forget. Someone wrote, produced and staged an opening night on the same night that we were at that very event. And it got attacked by explosives, just like the feast. And look at the name of the playhouse.”

Amiska peered at the small faded print. “’_The Rose Petal Theatre_’,” she read aloud and she frowned with understanding.

“’Look for the abandoned flower’,” Gelik said, “Didn’t you see this?”

“I don’t know,” Amiska said defensively, “I didn’t look that closely.”

“Okay, we need to get everyone together,” he said, ignoring her protestation.

“I left Aerys and Ishirou at the market. I think they wanted to be alone, if you know what I mean,” she told him, “I don’t know where Sasha got off to. She was in a snit when I last saw her. Who knows where she is now.”

“I think I can figure out where she’s gone,” Gelik said. He had gotten use to predicting where Sasha’s moods would take her. “We need to find out more about these plays,” he said while he scrutinized the poster, “The writer’s name is Preet Dola. We should be able to find her.”

The smell of spiced meat suddenly wafting deliciously into the adventurer’s nostrils. The cafe owner returned with another kidney pie heaped with gravy and greens. “After lunch, of course,” Gelik continued and shovelled his pie into his mouth, “We did pay for this after all. Would be a waste otherwise.”

Amiska, gingerly taking chopsticks from her bag and delicately picking at her food, agreed.

View
Captain Ozzi's Log Part 21 b
Crossover cont.

Aerys strong armed her way through the swarming crowd of frightened pirates while she lead her friend by the arm. The crush of sweaty bodies threaten to tear her from her faltering grip but luckily Sasha, even blinded as she was, could move almost effortlessly through the teeming mob. Corey circled overhead, cawing nervously. What happened to cause this madness? Aerys could hear snippets of hurried conversation as captains tried to gather their far flung crews. A mad wizard attacked, someone said, killing the crowd with magic. A woman bodily slammed into Aerys’ side, jousting her ragged wound and causing her to stifle a cry of pain. With an instinctive flush of rage, she lashed out and punched the woman in the side of the head, sending her unconscious to the ground, where she was lost beneath the trampling feet of the mob. If her problems were only just beginning then that woman’s problems were over.

It was so simple. Go to the empty beach before the big feast and trade the blasted sword to the Red Mantis. Collect their pay and be done. Maybe even head back to the party and have a few celebratory drinks before finding passage back to Port Peril. Sasha could gloat about having one upped her mother by finding the Blade, Gelik had another story to give to the Pathfinders, Ishirou could grow his map collection, Jask could finally start that library he was talking about and Aerys could finally buy her own ship. But no. Something had to go wrong. So much for dreams.

The meeting place was just a small stretch of beach. Far enough away from the bustling fort to not be seen but still close enough to not draw suspicion. The Mantis had set a time that most of the pirates would be at Commodore Foundling’s final big feast. The Castaways quietly scouted the area and figured it was too far from the jungle’s edge to be easily ambushed and, if something came from the sea, it would still have to cross dry land to reach them. A good space to simply walk towards each other, make the hand off of Bags of Holding and head in different directions. The Castaways blended in by standing near one of the many makeshift camps that littered the beach until they saw the four Red Mantis in full regalia walk towards them.

One of those figures was Sasha’s mother, the infamous Red Mantis Assassin named Siobhan Nevah the Huntress, Aerys remembered thinking as they moved towards the assassins. Another was the Mayor of Ilizmagorti itself, an enigmatic figure that spoke to no one and seemed to never take off it’s insecticidal shaped helmet. But they all dressed so similar it was difficult to even tell gender, let alone rank. Which was deliberate, or so Sasha said. They were an intimidating sight as they moved in synch with their blood red armour and their hands on their sheathed saw toothed swords.

“Are you sure they aren’t going to double cross us?” Aerys remembered Gelik asking nervously while the group steadily approached.

“Yes,” Jask reassured him confidently, “They consider killing a sacred duty. Murdering us for helping them just isn’t something they would think about.”

“But they might try something,” Sasha growled while she fingered her own kukri, “So just be ready.”

The groups met. Jask carefully reached into his robe and took out the small brown leather Bag of Holding, keeping it close to his body but exposed enough for the Red Mantis to see it. The lead Mantis flashed a similar bag, one made of purple silk, in it’s cupped hand, showing their willingness to deal. It was then that the world exploded.

Aerys wasn’t even sure what happened. One second, they were ready for the tense exchange, the next a huge old crone was towering over them, cackling madly and tearing the lead Mantis apart with her ragged long claws. A sword flashed and a black clad figure with a strange smiling doll’s face stabbed a blade through Jask’s chest, gingerly taking the bag from his hand as it slide the blade effortlessly through his ribs. Other forms appeared. Aerys thought she saw ghostly apparitions attacking the Mantis, swarming over the red assassins like vile smoke. Someone screamed “Stop them” and Gelik began casting. Aerys felt a sharp pain as the figure that stabbed Jask turned and flicked a thin knife into her. Then, as if by magic, they were gone. The lead Mantis was lying on the sand, it’s bag missing, gone along with it’s arm, yet with no blood poured from the terrible wound. Two of the other Assassins were running wildly down the beach, leaping blindly over logs and tents in a mad bid to escape. The final assassin was frantically trying to help it’s fallen companion. Sasha shouted in a panic and began to flail at Gelik, who was trying to cast a spell at her. “I’m sorry,” the gnome pitifully cried out as when struck Sasha with a bolt of lightning, “I can’t help it. She put me under a spell!”

Aerys looked at Ishirou, who was standing still watching the exchange with a baffled look on his face. “Do something!” Aerys demanded of the confused ninja while she ran up to tackle the gnome, but Ishirou only stood there and watched, raising his finger as if to give some sort of rebuttal. Gelik turned on her but he was no match for a physical contest between them. Sasha, although badly injured, was still capable of helping tie the little gnome up as he pleaded and thrashed about, trying to cast another spell. Aerys looked back at the assassins but they had disappeared, leaving only vague footprints in the sand.

“What happened?” Ishirou demanded, suddenly regaining his senses in a flash.

“I don’t know,” Aerys, slipping the slender knife out of her body, grimaced, “I saw Jask get stabbed and then they just vanished.”

“Gelik said one of them put him under some sort of compulsion,” Sasha added and Corey flew over head, cawing angrily.

“They took him,” Aerys said distantly, pointing to the pool of blood that was splashed across a patch of sand, “They took Jask.”

“And our pay,” Sasha added bitterly and called Corey to her, “We have to go. It won’t take long for the Mantis to regroup. Then they are going to come looking for answers we don’t have.”

“What’s wrong with you?”

“Gelik blinded me with one of his spells, the idiot.”

“Take my arm,” Aerys offered gently and lead her friend from the beach, “We need to lie low for a bit and take stock.”

They pushed towards the fort and realized that something had happened there too. A rush of panicking pirates crushed into them, threatening to knock them from their feet. But the sounds of the combat they were fleeing was fading. Aerys felt her muscles starting to cramp and her vision fading. Poisoned, she realized, the little bastard poisoned me.

“Sounds like people took care of that problem,” Sasha commented ruefully.

“Our robbers must of had another distraction,” Ishirou said quietly as he carried an unconscious Gelik over his shoulder, “Attacking Pirate Lords. A bold move.”

“One that’ll come back on us if we don’t find a way out of here,” Sasha growled peevishly while she felt her way through the thinning crowd, “We need a place to hide.”

Aerys looked past the mob and saw that the tower door was open and unguarded. “We can use the arena. It’ll be empty now. But we’ll need some sort of healer to fix all of this,” she said weakly over her shoulder, “I can’t believe they took him. Why?”

A woman touched Ishirou. “You injured?” Sindara Quinn asked as she gestured to the unconscious Gelik, “We’re triaging the wounded by those tables. How bad?”

The ninja looked at Aerys and then to the cleric. “She’s been poisoned,” he said, indicating Aerys, “That one has been blinded and this one is under some sort of charm spell. Can you help?”

First Mate Quinn frowned and nodded. “You’d be surprised how often that combination comes up,” she said crisply, “I can deal with the blindness and the poison but I don’t have the magic to break the enchantment. Wait, I know someone. Oi! Some help here!”

Amiska Lewynn ran over, her face covered with elaborate white and blue make up, now smeared into a sweaty mess by the fighting, her jaunty bicorn knocked askew. “What?” She asked breathlessly.

“These people need your help,” Sindara pointed to the Castaways.

Amiska looked them over and smiled. “What seems to be the problem?” She asked sweetly.

View
Captain Ozzi's Log Part 21 a
Crossover cont.

I accidentally killed a guy while we walked along the road. It was my own fault. I admit that. Once I realized that I could kill the little imps that skulked around Hell Harbour by simply fiddling with the healing force that Besmara allows me, filling it with something that I imagine is like the strange waters She sails, I figured I’d clean the streets a bit on our way back to the ships. I didn’t even think about it, really. With each pulse, at least one of the gruesome little fiends would die, becoming visible and dropped around us, hitting the cobblestone with an unceremonious splat. There is a bounty for dead imps here so the street urchins gasped and scrabbled for the tiny bodies. “Do it again,” they cried as they crowded around me. I obliged and another imp, perhaps it’s curiosity overwhelming it’s common sense, became visible when it died and slid off of an eave. The street children ran and scooped it up, the largest boy shoving the smaller ones away from the prize. “Again,” they cried and held up the little monster by it’s leathery wings.

Then a fat bright red man with funny little curled horns walked out of a building. A tiefling. I think I might of noticed him. He was dressed in a powder blue doublet and a jaunty bicorn spiked with a bright blue feather. He must of just slipped out while I was focused on the children. I was a street rat like them once. I knew what it was like to go hungry because a larger bully stole my dinner. I remember wrestling with my conscious about them. Maybe if I made more dead imps, I thought, some of these children might eat real food tonight. I think I remember the man whistling when he shut and locked his door behind him. He probably saw us and thought we were giving coins to the urchins so he was ignoring us. I wonder what he was so happy about. I built the energy in my heart and let it boil with the madness of the protean realms that The Black Queen sailed, then I released it and the fat tiefling died. He just tipped over while he crossed the street, the smile still plastered on his face. Everyone went quiet when he fell.

“Oops,” I think I said.

“I’d say,” Ryrun said as he walked up to the dead tiefling and began to search the corpulent man’s pockets before the urchins had a chance.

“Didn’t think that would happen,” I said lamely to Renza. She looked at me and shrugged.

Idoki leaned over the body and pinched the dead man’s cheeks. “I know him,” she said cheerfully, “He was at the final feast. I remember him because he was so lucky. He survived everything that happened. He actually dodged my fireballs.”

I racked my brain trying to recognize him. That final feast, the one that Bekendi decided to crash, was a chaotic mess even before the undead wizard started throwing spells around. He appeared from nowhere, a naked and dried corpse with bright glowing red eyes, floating above us, moaning and thrashing. His opening spell was some sort of illusion that made a bunch of the guests think they were falling. They dropped screaming to the dirt and helplessly flailed. He followed up by throwing a fireball right at us. I remember that it was also an illusion because it washed harmlessly over me. The guests behind us weren’t so lucky and I know some died there, burned by make believe flames. I wondered where this guy was standing.

“He was right beside Bekendi when he popped in,” Idoki prattled on happily, “Got away from all of the illusions. Took cover behind a flipped over table. Just the luckiest guy at the party. That woman, the cleric with the make up, even crowned him something like ‘The Queen’s Lucky Penny’ or something like that. She gave him her hat to be his crown.”

Ryrun admired the bicorn with a critical eye. He took off his own hat and tried it on before deciding he didn’t like the feather. “Maybe I’ll give it someone on my ship,” he mused and popped it under his arm and jingled the man’s coin purse, “Shall we?”

Idoki ignored us for a second and bent over the man. She said something into his ear and, with one of her clever smiles, pressed her thumb into his forehead. Then she stood up and walked away, stepping over the body like it was so much trash. “Not so lucky now,” she said conversationally, “What are the odds?”

We walked away but I looked back at the body. The children were pulling off his boots and two were lifting up his ponderous weight to try and fish off his shirt. One stole the dagger he had hidden in his boots without her fellows noticing. I noticed and she saw me watching her. There was a dangerous glint of defiance in her smirk when she met my gaze but I was lost in my own thoughts. I stared blankly at her before turning back and calling more energy into my heart to released it again. Three imps appeared and fell from the sky, one nearly landing onto my shoulder when it dropped. Ryrun spun on his toes and neatly kicked one of the dead imps, placing it smartly into the hands of one of the following urchins. He laughed and kick the next two with the same incredible accuracy, landing them at the feet of the amazed children. They cheered and gasped with surprise.

I remembered the woman with the make up. Amiska Lewynn, the priestess from Besmara’s Throne. She was the sister of another pirate. Kassata Lewynn, Captain of The Last Huzzah. Amiska was some sort of mercenary raider who had just returned from a jaunt to the far east or north or something. She wore some sort of elaborate Tian Xia make up that night. She looked like she had painted gold flecked feathers around her eyes and her red lips were strikingly bright. She wore it against bone white face paint with dark blue highlights, giving her a deathly pallor. Her long black hair was bundled up into a bun that she kept in place with two lacquered gold tasseled sticks. She held herself strangely and spoke in this weird fake accent. Like a poor woman’s idea of elegance. I remember her and Sindara liking each other, though. “A real sweetheart,” Sindara said after meeting her.

Amiska wasn’t too impressed with me when she met us. Sindara cares about what the other clerics think of her so when she heard that we had arranged to have some representative from Queen Bes come to the party, she went all out to greet them. I got caught up in the excitement as well and, between the two of us, we planned out a chorus of worshipers to meet her. When she walked up, I remember she wasn’t wearing the make up but she did have on this pretty sky blue silk robe over her armour. I thought she was beautiful. Something about her smile was irresistible. I, however, also saw her haughty pride when we did the little ritual to welcome her to the island. She found our whole preparations funny. I remember her looking at us with these bright eyes and trying not to laugh. She drank our rum with grace and looked disappointed with me went I took off my helmet. She did not give me much reason to like her. I remember her sister was unpleasant. She sneered at the attention her sibling was receiving and only spoke to the Admiral. I remember telling Sindara that, after the two of them had moved on, I had forgotten how much I disliked other clerics sometimes. She rolled her eyes at me and told me to grow up.

It was funny how well the two of them got along. It would of been easier on me if they hated each other. Then I could fantasies about Amiska from afar while I had Sindara. But with the two of them talking to each other, I had to learn about Amiska and get to know her as a person rather than as an object of my perverted mind. I constantly had to check myself, making sure I didn’t laugh too much at her jokes or look too long at her while Sindara was around. Not that it helped. Sindara flat out asked me what I thought of her when we were alone. I told her the truth. She was pretty but I wouldn’t put my life in her hands. Sindara just held me after that and said nothing.

Later that night some fool crossed Ryrun and got himself killed. Sindara and I had to tell Amiska’s sister that her bosun was dead. It didn’t go over too well. Captain Lewynn had made friends with one of the Pirate Lords, Shaggard, a huge bear of a man, who stood over me and demanded an explanation. The Lewynn sisters were able to keep us from coming to blows but not before he and I exchanged a few choice words. Captain Lewynn demanded some sort of recompense for the dead man and I told her that her man attacked one of Ryrun’s guests. We disagreed until the Admiral walked in and soothed everyone’s wounded egos, as he is want to do. Amiska borrowed one of our skiffs so she could row the bosun into the bay and give him last rites. As a mean joke, I offered to raise the man as a zombie so he could row himself out. I was told to stay ashore while she and Sindara went to do the job themselves. Captain Shaggard told me that if I had said that about one of his men, he would of broken my arms. I laughed and told him that he reminded me of a harpy. “We ran into a cave full last week. They shrieked a lot too,” I said, “Now they’re food for phase spiders.” He only sneered at me.

Later that night Sindara, Amiska and myself got stupidly drunk and traded stories. She told us about how much she hated her sister. Apparently, Amiska had this wish from a genie that she had helped out, kind of like how the Admiral had one from Vailea. Was saving it for a real rainy day, she said. Then she got word that her sister had gotten herself killed while plundering some forgotten city in the jungle. She sailed all the way back home from Riddleport to gather her effects and, during a night of extreme drunkenness, accidentally wished her back to life. Problem was that Kassata returned to life in the open offal pit where her bones were tossed after the charku-ka finished eating her. “I didn’t mean to do it,” Amiska wept as she explained, “How was I suppose to know what would happen? I was a thousand leagues away when I made the wish. She said she woke up screaming, naked and covered with shit and filth. She had to get all the way out of there with next to nothing. Luckily, she had made friends with this guardian creature there who hid her until she could get the gear together to get out of the area. When Kassi got back to Eleder, she was pissed. The first mate that claimed her ship? Dead. The crew who split her loot after they heard of her death? All dead. She went on a killing spree. She was going to kill me too when she found out what I had done but I talked her out of it. Now I’m stuck her listening to the ungrateful little bitch. All she wants to do is go back to that fucking city and raze it to the ground. Said there was still things there worth money and she was going to be damned if she wasn’t going to get her share.”

“Take it that this isn’t your idea of fun?” Sindara asked while we lounged by a bonfire, nibbling on some left over food we scavenged from the evening meal.

“Fuck no,” she said, staring distantly into the flames, “I’ve spent my life on the sea. From here to Tian Xia and back. Stomping into a jungle to have a fist fight with a demonic ape man sounds like Hell. There is a lot of places I want to see. Deep Mwangi Expanse is not one of them.”

I asked if she was signed on as crew and she told me yes. “Sisterly obligation,” she said with a sad sigh, “You’d think I owed her by the way she’s acting.”

“So pay your way out and go,” Sindara told her, “A lot of crews would be happy to have you. Hell, you could be a captain of your own ship if you wanted.”

“I would,” she said with a pout, “But she would kill me. And I mean that. A crossbow to the back of the neck. She’s determined to go back. That’s the whole point of her even being here. To gather some allies to help her retake the place. She’s already got the Sargavan Government on board. They lost a bunch of settlements to the Gorilla King’s apes and are looking to push back. I know she’s got Shaggy on board now. I think she was hoping to get your group but I think she realized that the Admiral’s got something going on too. I mean, why else would he invite those stowaways?”

I remember those people. The traveling priest scribe of Nethys that Idoki invited and his friends. The ones who had stowed away aboard Shaggard’s ship. Well, “Stowaway” was a pretty strong word. Shaggard was ferrying a bunch of Caydenites to the party and they hopped on with them. He knew they were on board and chose to ignore them. I vaguely remembered they were nearby when Captain Lewynn’s bosun died. “Oh yeah,” Sindara said, “One of them is a Pathfinder or something. The Admiral was keen to talk to him. A lost city, he said. The same one?”

Amiska nodded sadly, “The half elf with the broad shoulders? That’s Aerys Mavato and she was Kassi’s “first mate” of the expedition. The rest of her friends were all castaways on an island together and they found the map to city in the first place. Each one ended up leading these different expeditions to the place. Looks like they decided to work together rather than against each other in the end, seeing as they’re all sitting together and stuff. Kassi saw her and went nuts. Things got pretty tense when the Gorilla King attacked. Rivals became friends to escape the city. But Aeyrs just ran, taking as much as she could carry with her. To see her here alive kind of messed Kassi up. She was talking about killing her but I think Shaggard’s keeping her cool on that score. Seeing as she’s already lost Cam to them. Kassi’s got a vengeful streak to her. I think one of the main reasons why she’s taking me to this city is show me where I made her crawl out of that pit. Wouldn’t surprise me if she’s planning to kill me and shove me in as payback.”

The next night, Bekendi attacked. I remember the fire and the blood. I tried to march up to his flank but I was sidetracked into keeping Idoki alive while the two of them traded spells. Ryrun got a good shot on the bastard. Jumped right up and cut him before he got caught by the illusion of the pit. Ryrun just lied face down in the dirt spread eagle and screamed because he believed he was plunging to his death. Renza got up to the guy also and slashed him with her whip but it was Idoki that finished him. I remember his eyes when he died. They seemed to linger for just a second longer than his body, which turned into dust and swirled upwards on the winds from the surrounding flames. I must of ordered Sindara to triage the wounded while I healed Ryrun. He took a hit from Bekendi and was infected with Mummy Rot, so I needed to cure it fast before it killed him. I remember Sindara getting the wounded together in batches and using healing energy in bursts to deal with the worst of the injuries. I think she yelled at me about how this was my fault. I didn’t argue.

After I talked with the Admiral and we figured out that we had no idea why Bekendi, who was dead when we gave his body to The Hags, had decided to come back. Back to life as a mummy, no less. The Admiral was angry, swearing to head back to Shadow Absalom to put his halfling foot up those hags collective asses. Sindara pulled me away and told me she had a few more wounded that she wasn’t sure what to do with. One was poisoned, one blinded and one under some sort of magic compulsion. Amiska overheard us and offered to deal with it. The two of them left together and I didn’t hear anything about it.

I remember ordering some of my crew to gather whatever was left of Bekendi’s ashes into a bucket. While everyone else went back to drinking and eating, Renza and I rowed back out into the bay and put him back into the chest I had placed out for Besmara. That must of been the time when that tiefling was crowned. Now that I think about it, I spent most of the night in meetings with The Admiral. I don’t even think I said goodbye to Amiska. I guess I figured I would see her again. I remember that Sindara took The Gain out early the next morning while I slept.

After we boarded Starlight Sword, I sat on the bow and made my preparations for my meditations. Before I began, I cast my message spell, sending words to Sindara to update her on what we were doing. “Harrigan’s fleet burnt the coast. We’ve shut down Quent, Rum Butter, Hell Harbour, Drenchport and ourselves. Is Amiska still at Queen Bes? Come Home Love.” My message read.

“Order received. Amiska not at Queen Bes. I know someone. Will warn them. I love the new ship. Will see you soon. Be careful Love,” came the reply.

I kicked myself for forgetting about Amiska. I realized of course she wasn’t at Queen Bes anymore. She was probably knee deep in a jungle swamp, being lead to her own grave by her bitter and vengeful sister. Poor woman, I though absently while I cleared my mind and reached out to call to my Goddess. Could use her in this upcoming fight with Harrigan. Then I promptly forgot about her again when the power of the Black Queen rushed into my soul.

*

Absalom is one ugly city, Amiska Lewynn thought to herself while she walked down the crowded boulevard looking for a little cafe. Too tall, she thought to herself while she marvelled at the architecture of the looming grey buildings, and the weather is awful. She checked her lovely new hat, making sure it was still securely attached to her hair. The rain was spattering down in huge drops now. Although the cold never bothered her, she hated what the wet did to her hair. It always became a frizzy unmanageable mass. But this hat was a nice replacement for the battered old one she one she had been wearing for the last month, one that she had bought at the last minute from some shop on her way out of Port Peril. This one was the latest Absalom fashion, an adorable felt and lace piece with a wide brim to keep the rain off of a lady. She bought it specifically because it could easily be rolled up into a tricorn for hot days and it had a place for a feather, when she found one she like. Although, she thought to herself, once we walk over to Shadow Absalom, there won’t be any hot days or bright colours until the mission is over. I’ll worry about that tomorrow, she thought with a smile and raised her head to let the cold rain land on her beautiful face. She savoured the feeling while, in the midst of the crowd of miserable people who were soaked to the bone by the merciless cold rain, parted around her like an unhappy sea.

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Captain Ozzi's Log Part 20
Inspiration

Deep in the dark half submerged cavern, hope sank in the hearts of the four surrounded pirates as they steadied their feet on the broken deck of the abandoned ship, The Devilish Duchess. The brykolakases and their lacedon servants heaved their cheap rotting bodies over the ship’s shattered railings and readied themselves to attack en masse. Howls of cannibalistic glee erupted from the waterlogged jaws of the flesh hungry ghouls. They gnashed their crooked teeth in eager anticipation as the four circled up and readied their weapons, waiting for the inevitable rush of disease ridden teeth and claws, the light from their magical swords playing over their enemy’s glistening grey skin. They cursing their bedevilled luck as they came to the sad realization that their ploy of seeding the waters outside with the corpses of other dead ghouls didn’t draw all the fiends from their lair.

“Well, darn,” Captain Ozzi, the young cleric ponderously clad from head to toe in heavy mail and metal plate, grumbled from behind the grill of his spiked full helmet, “Really thought that would of worked.”

His female companion, Captain Renza, didn’t respond but instead cast a spell. Her heaving tight black whale bone corset, loose frayed skirt that flared dramatically around her ghostly white thighs and wild purple hair that crown her flawless desperate face where now surrounded by many illusionary copies of herself that shifted around within a confusing pattern. She tried to find a place to stand and cast more of her defensive magic before the disgusting dead surged towards them. All she wanted right now was more time.

The elf, Captain Ryrun, adjusted his expensive indigo coat with a sigh as he readied his beautiful curved blade. It was bad enough that they were fighting these wretched fiends in such dismal surroundings but now their stinking juices were going to ruin the fine fabric of his clothes. Luckily, the stains could be removed but that still meant that, even for a short while, he would have to wear a coat splashed with the overripe corrupt blood of the ghouls. Although, as his eyes counted the teeming mass of evil pollution that was pulling itself from the briny water, he might soon be too dead to even care. “If you have anything inspiring to say, Admiral,” he said over his shoulder, “Now might be the time speak up.”

Admiral Sandy Foundling knew, in his heart, that the undead surrounding them was an immediate and potentially fatal problem but there was another, more nagging issue that gnawed at him. Lunch. It was waiting for him in his cabin back on his ship, The Water Naga. His cook, Ambrose Kroop, although a shameless drunkard, was a culinary genius and the halfling was desperate to return to the comfort of his little cabin to sip some fine rum and taste whatever new concoction he had created. It was stupid that he allowed himself to be bullied into coming on this insane jaunt before he had a chance to eat, even though Ozzi said he had some soup and biscuits in his Bag of Holding. The boy could make a decent stew when called upon, being originally trained by Kroop himself when they all served on the same ship together, but he lacked the necessary skill and obvious love of food that Kroop wielded with such consummate care. Now he was about to be eaten by rotting undead in a sea cave filled with bitter wretched salt air. “Do you know what I’d like right now?” He asked no one in particular as he readied his leather bull whip for the upcoming fight, “Ambrose’s Brown Pottage Royale. He makes it with sea bird meat and chopped spinach, parsley and lettuce mixed into a thick broth with cockscombs and lambs testicles and serves it all on a bed of rice noodles. What I wouldn’t do to taste that right now.”

A wild scream of ecstatic abandon rose from the throats of the assembled ghouls as the brykolakas waved their flesh torn arms towards the pirates and shrieked for the attack. Their ghouls obeyed with raw delight, desperately surging forward to tear into soft flesh. Ryrun, his feet sure on the slippery deck, swept his long blade into the necks of the incoming foes, severing three heads before they had a chance to even fight. The ghouls reached their filthy claws for Renza’s beautiful face but she ducked and cast another distraction spell, causing another flickering copy of herself to appear a foot to her left, adding to the swirling confusion of her self images. Ozzi raised his mailed arm and opened a flap beneath his hook hand, flashing a tattoo of a white skull on a black background. He invoked Besmara’s name and the ghouls turned to look at the black flag symbol. Then they simply soundlessly slumped to the deck, the forces that kept them on this world dismissed by the glory of the Pirate Goddess. The brykolakases, surprised by the sudden resistance, cajoled more servants from the depth to clamber over the side to join in the attack. The water beneath the decks roiled as a century of shattered undead crawled their way up from their watery slumber to try and taste meat. Sandy snapped his whip at one of the brykolakas’ ankles to try to pull it from it’s feet but he couldn’t get the shot right and the target shuffled out of the way.

“Damn,” he muttered darkly before a though brightened him, “Do you remember Ambrose’s Sea Scorpion Soup? He boiled those big bastards in salt and spices, broke off their stingers and pounded the meat in a mortar with all those savoury spices and onions. Hard boiled eggs. Grated bread and sweet herbs. Then he added chopped parsley and mushrooms and lemon slices after he strained it. And he gave us fresh bread rolls. Do you remember Ryrun?”

Ryrun grunted in acknowledgement, his perfectly timed thrust stabbing through the daring brykolakas who strayed too close to the flashing sword. To his surprise, the snarling undead knocked the sword away, leaving a gaping wound in it’s neck as it tried to gouge out his eyes with it’s ragged claws. Renza, meanwhile, got her final spell cast and laid a flaming whip of squirming spiders into it’s putrid back, channelling the force of one her spells into the attack, causing a terrible sizzling wound to stitch it’s way across it’s broad grey back, adding to the mass of faded scars from previous lashings the undead received in life. Ozzi called into protean void once more and more ghouls tumbled wordlessly to ground, released by Besmara’s might.

“Do you know what we should have him make?” Sandy continued as he tried, and failed, to use his whip to entangle the limbs of Ryrun’s opponent, “His tuna and pea soup. What does that have? Milk, dried peas, onions and parsley. Sweet herbs, nutmeg and spearmint. Then the tuna chunks but it really doesn’t need it. Spearmint. What a surprise.”

More ghouls surged over the railings like a wave of grey skinned sea foam, pulling themselves over the corpses of their former companions at the command of their masters who screamed in wild desperation as the brykolakas caught between Ryrun’s blade and Renza’s whip died, exploding dramatically into a geyser of vile greenish yellow liquid that ruined Ryrun’s boots. The elf gagged from the foul smell as it reached his nostrils. Ozzi drew down more of Besmara’s gifts and more gap mouthed ghouls dropped, forcing Renza to dance gingerly between the bodies as she laid her whip into another brykolakas, igniting it’s once luxuriously red hair into a wreath of fire. It’s shrieks of pain ricocheted off of the cavern walls as it writhed and tried to extinguish the flames.

“Oh yes. Be careful. They explode into a poisonous spray when they die,” Sandy supplied helpfully as he skirted the pooling snotty mass. He noticed Ryrun’s watering eyes and realized that some of it got onto the elf’s face. “How about those sturgeon cutlets in curry sauce?” He said worriedly as he finally pulled a leg out from under the burning brykolakas, causing it to stumble and fall, “Those I love. Curry powder, vinegar, sweet herbs and diced lemongrass. Lemongrass! And lemon slices. All over a bed of rice noodles. That would be amazing right now.”

Ryrun gathered himself and dashed towards the pair of brykolakas who had, so far, kept themselves outside of the battle. He cut a swath through the faltering ghouls to reach them but was stalled as more swelled up to fill in the ranks of the fallen. Renza slashed her whip into her damaged foe, lacerating the burning undead as it tried to find it’s feet. More ghouls tried to defend their master against her but all they did was flail at illusions and air as her myriad of shifting forms kept them confused. One of the pair, a slight brykolakas, once a delicate Tian maiden, it’s exotic features now twisted into a disgusting mockery of foreign beauty, broke away from Ryrun and back flipped over the dead that littered the deck to sweep it’s clawed foot at Ozzi’s head, shattering his grill, cutting his face and causing the cleric to backpedal into a dead ghoul. The body lazily slide across the wet deck before gracelessly disappearing over the side of the ship. But more ghouls, in a mindless desire to serve their masters, piled over it and shoving it down to into the churning water.

“Okay, new plan,” Sandy announced suddenly as he continued to entangle the feet of the burning brykolakas, “We need to get through this so I can get Ambrose to fry some large oysters in a pan with pounded cloves and some sweet herbs. We’ll skewer them with mushrooms. Then we’ll roll them in bread crumbs and serve them in the gravy. What do you think?”

Ryrun tried to answer but found himself surround by a gang of the ghouls, all ripping at his coat and scratching his skin as final brykolakas, a barrel chested beast of a dead man, shoved his way passed to help it’s companion against Ozzi. Renza, seeing Ozzi’s difficulties, stopped her assault on the burning brykolakas and spun her sizzling spider whip into the back of the slight one, causing it to stagger and curse. But the huge brykolakas grabbed Ozzi into a bear hug and slammed the hapless cleric to the deck with a crash as maiden brykolakas sunk it’s claws into Ozzi’s sides with a couple of swift kicks, cutting through his mail and into his body. He gasped from the pain as the air was knocked from his lungs. Ryrun spun and slashed his way clear of the ghouls, launching himself off of the back of a dying foe to arch over the heads of the mob to land, sword point first, onto the back of the barrel chested brykolakas. It coughed and threw Ryrun off but that only gave the elf the chance to cut at it more, filling the air around it with a flurry of steel.

“Chowder,” Sandy said as the burnt brykolakas, it’s once lovely freckled face now a snarling charred wreck, drew itself to it’s feet and lunged at him, forcing the halfling to duck it’s assault, “Ambrose uses clams and some thinly sliced pork in a biscuit base. Parsley, marjoram, thyme and some other savoury spices. We’ll have to get him two bottles of claret, though. One for the soup and one for himself.”

Ryrun, seeing the Admiral threatened, barked to Ozzi to save him. The cleric struggled to his feet as blood seeped from the rent in his side and called out his spell. A spinning magical imprint of a skull appeared under the burnt brykolakas’ feet. Then the sigil suddenly erupted into a pillar of white hot divine fire. The brykolakas, unable to escape the immolation, raised it’s arms to the sky and screamed in otherworldly pain, it’s pitiful wail bouncing off the cavern walls.

“A barbecue!” Sandy shouted as he watched the conflagration, “We’ll get lemon wood for it! Some tomatoes, onions, hot peppers and parsley that we can cook into a stew and pour it over the meat! We can roast some sweet potatoes too! A barbecue!”

The burning brykolakas, it’s arms outstretched, suddenly exploded, spraying it’s sizzling noxious yellow fluid over Sandy and into his open mouth, causing the halfling to gag and crumple, overcome with a wave of nausea. Ozzi, regaining his breath, held up his tattoo once more and called out to Besmara, causing the rest of the milling ghouls to drop, swooning all together like a mob of children playing a game. The last two brykolakases, finding themselves alone, howled and lunged together at Ryrun, hoping to take him down before the end. The delicate one spun and swept it’s clawed feet at the elusive elf as the barrel chested one tried to snatch him in it’s massive grasping arms. But they both failed to connect as he weaved and dodged away from their sad attempts, scoring a series of telling cuts on them in exchange. With a giggle, Renza swept her squirming whip across the face of the large one, causing it to wobble drunkenly as the flames melted it’s grey skin.

As Ozzi called out to Besmara once more, the delicate brykolakas realized that, perhaps, it’s time was at hand. It’s white dead eyes spoke of some deep conflict that it finally could try to articulate, it’s open mouth trying to form words and it’s clawed hand reaching imploringly to Ryrun. Then it exploded into fountain of disgusting thick yellow sludge. The larger brykolakas had no such emotions and only glare skyward, as if daring the Goddess to kill it, which, through her chosen servant, She did without compunction or remorse. It, too, exploded into foul yellow goo that oozed around the deck in a disgusting mass that pooled towards Ryrun, Ozzi and Renza, all of who simply stepped back to avoid it. Then, except for the creak of wood, the splash of water and the retching of Sandy, all was still.

Renza quickly pulled the halfling to his feet and cleaned the poisonous ooze from his hair and face while Ozzi gamely began to heal everyone’s wounds. Ryrun, his skin regaining it’s hale completion as Ozzi’s magic purged the poison that had affected him, cleaned his precious blade and congratulated the cleric on yet another successful, if not slightly melodramatic, coup de gras. A giddy sense of euphoria settled over the group as they toed the stacks of dripping corpses that surrounded them.

“Is anyone else hungry?” Renza asked as she looked at the puddles of what was left of the brykolakas and was answered with general laughter.

“Well,” Ozzi said as he gingerly cast magic on his own wounds, “I have a pot of turtle soup in my bag I made before we set out.”

With all seriousness in his voice, Sandy stepped up and looked Ozzi directly in his eyes. “What’s it made of?” He demanded.

“Turtles?” Ozzi said uneasily to the intense halfling, “The ones we found on the beach yesterday. And some berries I picked while we were exploring. I used boiled water from that old spring we found the other day too. I grabbed some biscuits from Ambrose before we left. He insisted really.”

Sandy turned determinedly and ordered Ryrun to ready the skiff to sail out of the cave. “But we’ve still have to search these ships and catalogue everything for stores,” the elf pleaded but to no avail. The Admiral had spoken. He wanted to eat turtle soup with wild berries and he wasn’t going to wait. As they boarded the unsteady skiff and pushed their way through the floating silent bodies of dead ghouls to escape the cavern, Ozzi readied the pot with Renza using her magic to heat it. They served the thick soup into the waiting bowls and passed around hastily cleaned mugs filled with some of Ryrun’s fine rum.

“You understand,” Sandy said in between spoonfuls of delicious soup as the four ate and drank and laughed in their lazily drifting small boat under the bright hot sun, “I wasn’t sure if you ever listen to me or not. It’s good to know that I finally got through. Can I have another bowl?”

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