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Jack carried the limp body of Caulky Tarroon aboard the Instigator as the sun went down over Jeopardy Bay. Neither she nor Joo Joo noticed the watchful eyes of the avian homonculus in their ratlines. They laid the wee thing in the brig, and Jack ordered Joo Joo to put some healing on the child much against his will since his intent in the fight had been lethal.
They returned to deck arguing about what to do next, which is when the homonculus decided to make its presence known.
"Squawerk! You have a message from Tsadok Goldtooth, First Mate of the Filthy Lucre. Pursuant to your desire to have an audience with the Hurricane King on the matter of free captaincy, you are instructed to meet me on the Promontory at dawn. Squawerk!"
And with that the avian construct flew into the night sky.
The Promontory? What was that about? And why were they to meet with the First Mate? Is this how things were usually done?
Back at the Mermaid's Bucket Callous was getting treated like royalty. He had been invited upstairs to a little gathering of Mwangi elders, men and women who were friends with the proprietor Nefti Unwesha. There was unlimited Rum and a variety of ladies in the skin-trade for entertainment - but it quickly became apparent that he wasn't invited up for the diversions.
A Mwangi businessman, a slaver, named Umbori cornered Callous. "We want to make a deal with you. Pay you to convince your captain to find some other sea to ply the sweet trade in. Maybe Varisia? I hear they be rich up there."
When Callous pried a bit into the reason for this proposition the answer he got was that they were friends with Dwali Kepu - known better as Barnabus Harrigan, and were looking out for his interests (though without his knowledge). They offered significant pay - A whole shipment of rum, Andoren Navy Secrets, slaves... but Callous told them they'd have to deal with Captain Jack directly.
It turns out Captain Jack was nearby. She and Joo Joo had come back to round up the officers for their impending meeting with Tsadok Goldtooth in the morning.
"Callous Deapsea! Get your dwarven ass down here no matter how drunk it is!"
When you ask around in Port Peril you learn that the Promontory, more popularly known as "Dagon's Dick" is a flat bit of rock jutting into Jeopardy Bay on the north side of Crescent Island where pirates go to settle disputes when they want the semblance of honor. In other words, being invited out to the Promontory was a challenge. A duel.
Callous had no idea why Goldtooth would be challenging them to a duel and was in no state to make reasoned observations about anything. He and Crimson laughed and made lewd jokes and wondered aloud why the Captain seemed in such a foul humor.
Mabon had disappeared hours before and it was time to track him down. Joo Joo reasoned that they'd find his celestial behind in one of the fancier establishments. So they went from Tea-house to Elven Wine-bar to Parfumerie shouting his name in the street like a gang come to collect a debt.
Mabon, as it turned out, had been passing the hours in an upscale watering-hole. He'd been invited by one Peirce Jerrell for a quiet sit-down over fruity Elvish liqueur to propose "friendship". Jerrell was captain of a schooner and a sociable fellow who happened to know that the crew of the Instigator were developing quite a reputation. He offered his years of experience and knowledge of Port Peril in return for some nebulous "benefits" down the line.
Mabon was strong-willed enough not to get too deep into the liqueur, but still the place had a heady atmosphere from the multi-colored hookah-smoke wafting around. He didn't trust himself to be making any decisions just then, and he was spared the necessity by the sound of Scrappy Jack hollering his name out in the street.
Mabon and Jerrell came outside and were appraised of the situation. Jerrell averred that Goldtooth was a killer who never lost a duel, but their only real option was either to face him or flee Port Peril in disgrace and lose any hope of getting a Letter of Marque from the Hurricane King. So they determined to get some rest and head to the Promontory at dawn.
A large crowd had gathered to watch the duel and the the Half-Orc Tsadok Goldtooth himself stood with a posse of his mates in plain sailor's garb. His very understatement was intimidating. Unlike the flash of the men around him he clearly didn't rely on jewelry to make an impression.
The real surprise though was the presence of Gortus Svard, captain of the Devil's Pallor and his underlings. As Goldtooth explained, both Svard and Jack had made their requests for an audience with the Hurricane King in the same week. Since his saltiness had limited use for new Free Captains he had decided to grant only one of them an audience. Goldtooth decided he most amusing way to determine who that would be would be to hold a little duel.
Purely for entertainment there would be a melee first between Jack's entourage and Svard's. Callous, Joo Joo and Mabon, against the scummiest looking Bugbears and Hobgoblins you've ever seen. Adding to the entertainment value, the Promontory proved to be a finger of granite 50' tall looming over choppy seas full of razor sharp rocks.
In the first moments of the fight a Bugbear charged and knocked Joo Joo off the cliff. Not long after Mabon followed. Tangling with the surf and the stones Joo Joo tried to continue casting and aiding in the combat, but he was taking a beating by the sea. Mabon had Featherfall readied and his Bucanneer's Breastplate enabled him to stand on the water without harm. But he was struck by a poisoned arrow from one of the Bugbears - the poison sent him to a gentle sleep.
On the rock, Callous was getting grappled and pinned and skewered by a Hobgoblin pike. He Called Lighting as often as he could and took toothy gashes out of the Bugbear on top of him with his terbutje, but it was not looking very good.
It was then that Pluck, of all things, Joo Joo's foul-mouthed familiar, struck a critical blow at the eyes of the Bugbear holding Callous down, killing the brute. Callous stood, raging, and brought electric fury down on the Hobgoblin. Mabon by then had awakened, and scaled the cliffs to get back into the fight - and they mopped up the rest of the scum with relish.
Goldtooth instructed Jack and Gortus that their duel would be conducted with Culverins - monstrous looking handcannons from out of distant Alkenstar. They each picked their weapon and had it loaded either with a single ball or grapeshot (Jack chose the shot). They then stood 40 paces apart out on the Promontory and at the beat of the drum turned to fire.
Jack had never even seen a Culverin before let alone fired one. She was faster than Svard, but the blast sent her flying off her feet and tumbling into the surf below. Svard meanwhile took his time from above lining up his shot before firing. Jack ducked under the waves at the last second and a ball of lead the size of her head narrowly missed her, sending a spray of salt water high into the air.
They fetched Jack out of the water and lined up for a second round (Jack was given a fresh Culverin). This time Jack ducked and rolled under Svard's shot and ran straight up to him. She unloaded the barrel from only a few feet away and the shot shredded his body and threw him from the cliff. Mabon added a Staggering Fall to the harsh reception of the rocks below and Gortus Svard met his gruesome end.
Goldtooth grinned, his golden tusk glimmering, and informed them that they would get their audience with the Hurricane King tomorrow. Tonight he wanted to take the measure of them on their own ship in a friendly game of Bastard's Fool. They made their way back down from the Promontory, relieved to not be dueling Tsadok himself today.
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A Letter of Marque
Port Peril is full of stories. Our heroes were hearing all sorts of stories about the Hurricane King, about his famous battle with the lich sorceress Raugsmada when he sunk her ship to the bottom of Jeopardy Bay, and when his best friend and first mate Benedict Blood died. They heard stories about the Viridian Cartel which recently came into possession of a valuable enchanted concertina (Joo Joo's ears perked up at that). They heard about Harrigan's involvement with the slave trade, about the Berth of the Sea Wraith, supposedly an early version of Besmara's own flagship.
They told stories too, or stories were told about them. About their fight with the Cesspool. Of their previous conflicts with Gortus Svard now dead at Captain Jack's hand. People could hardly believe they'd destroyed the Deathknell as well. It was clear their infamy was growing.
Jack checked in on Caulky Tarroon who was still sleeping off her beating and had a guard set to keep the kid quiet while Tsadok Goldtooth was aboard. Joo Joo maintained that they should slit her throat and dump her in the bay, but Jack hadn't revealed her intentions for the child yet.
Callous welcomed two enormous casks of Gutburn Rum onto the Instigator along with the entourage of the first mate of the Filthy Lucre. The half-orc was in a good mood as he sat down for a game of Bastard's Fool. His gold-tooth twinkled as he informed them it would be 100platinum stake. Several of our heroes would be going into debt to the ship's purse just to play.
The banter at the table was fast and sharp, but the play was especially brutal. Tsadok walked away with the entire pot and our heroes were left impoverished. Callous almost wept into his empty purse. But Goldtooth was so happy with having won the round that he drank deeply and laughed with them late into the night. He developed quite a fondness for these upstart brigands and unwittingly absorbed their version of stories to repeat in the court of the Hurricane King. So not a complete loss.
Tsadok also gave them a tip - on Stardays a brute named Fishpork held weekly bareknuckle challenges. It would take 100gold to get in the fight, but the purse had grown quite large over the months that Fishpork had gone undefeated. If they were anxious for a little coin they could always try their luck against the halfwit.
Goldtooth forgot to tell them the halfwit was a Marsh Giant.
Fishpork nearly took Callous' head clean off with his hamhands and the sweat and swampgas coming off his flesh made Callous forget where he was for a few seconds. The crowd roared with bloodlust and bets were exchanging hands fast as they all enjoyed what they assumed would be Fishpork's 72nd consecutive victory. But Callous wasn't truly in this fight alone. He was loaded up with enough magical protection to make the hairs on every oracle's neck stand up for a quarter mile, and Joo Joo and Mabon were standing at the sidelines offering a little interference as well.
Pluck dropped a Cure Moderate on Callous to keep him going long enough to make it to the break. A bell rang and Callous ran for the edge of the ring, his head spinning. Fishpork was looking a little bruised himself. A gnome handler ran out and offered him a bubbling potion to get him ready for the second round.
The second round was never destined to last long. Callous was knocked on his back with the first punch. A crushing double-fisted blow was next, but Joo Joo let an Ear-Piercing Shriek that dazed Fishpork and gave Callous enough time to get back to his feet. Some of the crowd booed the clear interference, but most chanted "Deepsea" as Callous started swinging haymakers driving Fishpork back, breaking the giant's knee and ultimately knocking him out cold.
The purse and the money they made from betting on their own man made them all forget their losses to Goldtooth, and Callous for once turned down free drinks as he nursed some cracked ribs and a throbbing head.
That afternoon the barque arrived to transport them to Fort Hazard for their meeting with the Hurricane King. Goldtooth escorted them to the southern cliffs of Lucrehold and into the great hall of his Saltiness, Kerdak Bonefist.
The revelry was already in full swing. Mabon barely ducked a face full of mead on his way through the door. They were guided to seats at a long table at the back of the hall, near one Captain Merril Peggsworthy who tipped his glass as they approached. A lithe woman who had most of the eyes in the place on her, introduced herself as Tessa Fairwind,the Mistress of Quent. She indicated that they should come by her Townhouse on the Marina side if they were interested in... business.
The room ignored the drunken roar of the Kerdak Bonefist calling for silence till he fired his pistol in the air. The ricochet hit a serving boy and everyone fell over laughing.
"Quiet! We've got some new blood among us. Look to join the ranks of the free captains she does. One Jack Scrappy or something. She came to Port Peril with a hold full of plunder to be sure and that bought her this audience, but if she wants to be one of us she'll have to entertain my court with a story of her exploits."
Jack and Joo Joo stood up and approached with as much bravado as they could muster. The story they spun was authentically impressive, but they'd never told it to such a foul-tempered audience either. Hecklers interrupted and jeered them at every turn until Callous headbutted one obnoxious sailor unconscious. In the end Joo Joo had them laughing and cheering along, enough to amuse the King. Jack warily watched Kerdak's bone hand as he drank from a huge stein. She was sure they hadn't heard the full truth about that little misadventure.
"Cyrus Wolfe was a dear friend of mine," The Hurricane King leaned forward off his throne as he spoke, "And it seems like you've stolen his hoard. Guess no one can deny you deserve a free captaincy after that. Just beware he doesn't crawl out of his grave to take his vengeance on you!"
They drank and celebrated late into the night. The sun was rising by the time the barque was taking them across the harbor back to the Instigator. They might have thought nothing would ruin their good mood at having climbed so fast into notoriety, to be recognized by the Hurricane King himself... but they would have been wrong.
Spars dangled, broken, ratlines were in disarray, and there were great holes in the deck of their ship. Crimson Cogward welcomed them with a grim look.
"We were attacked Cap'n. Boulders raining in the night, we never saw 'em coming and couldn't do anything to stop 'em. Owlbear and I chased some enormous brute, a breed of Giant I swear, down some alleys. Wary of being led into an ambush I called off the chase, but Owlbear's blood was up and he wouldn't give in. He's gone. Haven't seen him in six hours and I wouldn't put good odds on Owlbear against this monster. Sorry, ma'am."
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Alleys, Ambushes, and Auctions
Even in the melting pot of Port Peril it did not take long to track down a Marsh Giant. Numerous bystanders reported seeing him dragging an unconscious Owlbear through the streets just before dawn and everyone knew where he lived. An abandoned warehouse had been turned into a mercenary's guildhouse built on Fishpork's reputation for ferocity.
A stealthy Mabon crept up to the windows of the warehouse and peered inside. A dozen armed men lounged about. In the back a dwelling sized for a giant was curtained off. No sign of Owlbear anywhere. The front entrance was guarded by four mercenaries playing dice and trying hard to appear nonchalant. That they were anticipating a fracas was belied by their already loaded heavy-crossbows and the spotters on nearby rooftops.
Jack clambered up a drainpipe, a dagger in her teeth, and crept up behind one of the rooftop mercs. Her blade opened a vicious tear between his shoulder blades and he shrieked in agony. Mabon spider-climbed right up the building and moved into position to unleash some divine fury, but before he could he was struck by a quarrel from one of the other rooftop snipers. His vision suddenly bled white.
Callous Called Lightning only to feel a sharp pain in his leg and a sudden onset of white-blindness. Jack was hit and blinded next and suddenly our heroes were beating a retreat back to the Instigator.
"What in the name of Dagon's smelly farts are harbor-scum mercenaries like those doing with magical blinding bolts?" Jack shouted in her cabin to no one in particular since she would have to spend the rest of the day blind until Mabon could prepare the appropriate spells.
"And who paid them enough to use such precious weapons against us?" Callous grunted, also blind and grumpy about it.
Joo Joo, meanwhile was taking advantage of the distraction to hold a little chat with their prisoner Caulky Tarroon in the brig. It had occurred to him that he might be able to solve his little missing concertina problem and their Caulky Tarroon problem in one fell-swoop. Imgruk, the orc who had confiscated his instrument, seemed to have a soft-spot for little girls. Maybe he'd accept a trade, one seven-year-old pirate for one magical concertina.
Caulky fearfully accepted Joo Joo's proposition - anything to get out of captivity. She was still unconvinced that her captors were above torture. So Joo Joo and Rosie Cusswell set off into Port Peril to look up this Viridian Cartel, Imgruk supposedly worked for.
Inside the scorched walls of Latchmin's Folly, the Viridian Cartel was holding an exclusive auction. 100 gold pieces even to be admitted. As Joo Joo scanned the lots he saw rare and bizarre artifacts such as a cylinder of lightning (which sold to an agent of the Wormwood for a lot of gold), and a Carnivorous Pygmy Spear. Joo Joo wasn't clear if it was the Pygmy or the Spear which was carnivorous. The spear did look sort of hungry. To his dismay his concertina was on the auction block with a starting bid of 10,000 gold. He watched in anguish as the first mate of Pirate Lord Arronax Endymion walked out with his precious instrument.
Joo Joo didn't go away empty-handed though! In the midst of the auction he suddenly heard himself shouting "7,000!" completely against his will. Under consideration was an enchanted anchor said to have belonged to the famed Tevenida Aiger who died in the Black Tower. Supposedly the vessel which dropped this anchor would become imperceptible to any, but magical perception. An impressive artifact, no doubt, but Joo Joo could hardly afford it. He was relieved when he was outbid a moment later.
But then he heard his own voice and felt his lips moving, "9,000!" he shouted. Why was this happening? Was he under magical compulsion? A moment later he was being congratulated on his purchase and escorted into a side-room to make the necessary "arrangements". The even-tempered merchant let it be known that failure to pay would be very unfortunate, and so Joo Joo sent a message back to the Instigator informing Captain Jack that she had just become the proud owner of a magical anchor. He almost thought he could hear her howling all the way from the docks.
Mabon took some time to visit the Berth of the Sea Wraith and consult a few old salts about the rumors of Fetishes and where they might be found. He carried with him one of the black quarrels the mercenaries had used against our heroes. Inlaid in the butt of the bolt was a black hand on a white field. A pauper at the shrine recognized it as belonging to the Gray Master - an esoteric name for some God Mabon didn't recognize. He filed that one away and paid his respects to Besmara.
The next day, Joo Joo having been extracted from the Viridian Cartel with a costly payment of gold, they went to the townhouse of Tessa Fairwind in High Eastwind. They found it a walled compound with lavish tropical gardens and flowing fountains. They were seated in a drawing room among mounds of pillows and the pleasant puff of a hookah, waiting for Tessa to come and visit.
"Things are confusing here in Port Peril," Callous grumbled.
"And expensive," Jack muttered.
"It all made more sense out on the Fever Sea," and everyone nodded.
Tessa, alas, was not about to make things simpler for our heroes. She visited pleasantly with them for a while before making it clear that she had an agenda herself. She was hearing worrying rumors about the presence of Chelish spies lurking in the Shackles, rumors she very much wanted to investigate. Rumors, she hinted, it would be profitable for the Instigator to follow up on.
As a sign of her goodwill she freely explained that the Gray Master was a title for Norgorber, the God of secrets, and the quarrel bore the mark of the Blackfingers, a secretive cult of assassins and information brokers. Those had been no mere mercenaries, in other words, but highly paid assassins. Assassins unlikely to give up after a single failed attempt.
Jack clasped arms with Tessa accepting her charge to investigate the rumors of Chelish meddling and they returned to the Instigator with still more questions. Spies. Assassins. Crooked Merchants. Politics. Since when had piracy become so byzantine?
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Chambros Egrossa, first mate of the Tyrranous and right-hand man of Pirate Lord Arronax Endymion, was throwing a masquerade the night before he departed on a return voyage to Hell Harbor. Every Free-Captain in Port Peril was invited and it would likely be their last opportunity to reclaim Joo Joo's concertina. Costumes were purchased, forthwith.
The Sminsilver House was perched on the most desirable real estate in mainland Port Peril. A grand villa with ill-repute, it had passed from hand to hand in recent decades, its owners invariably meeting untimely ends. Egrossa wasn't worried about the supposed owner's curse, though, as he had merely rented it for the evening for his masque. Paid illusionists made elaborate displays in the sky over the house, and an orchestra filled the grounds with music.
Callous, wearing a wooden shark mask, gargled rum straight from an enormous fountain and then plunged exuberantly, if clumsily, into a Mwangi tribal dance. Jack was spun elegantly into a different kind of dance by a fiery masked Pierce Jerrell, while Mabon followed a suspicious monochrome looking man down a dark corridor. This left Joo Joo unsupervised.
Seeing his opportunity, Joo Joo snuck away from the shindig to go poking around in the Town House of Chambros Egrossa, where he reasoned Egrossa would have stored the concertina. In the darkened grounds of the townhouse he found a locked front door, but an open window on the first floor. A window that looked suspiciously like it had recently been pried open from the outside. Within the house he heard a noise. Could another burglar have beaten him here? Or an assassin. Joo Joo did something most out of character then - he hesitated before plunging into a potentially dangerous situation. He weighed his options.
At the masque Callous had come suddenly face to face with an old friend: Peppery Longfarthing. She warned him that they had better leave before Harrigan found out they were here. Harrigan, she hinted, isn't in such control of his impulses that their new letter of marque would be likely to protect them from his wrath. Callous played dumb, egging her on, but as soon as her back was turned he rushed over to Captain Jack, butting Jerrell out of the way and telling her it was time to beat a retreat.
That was when the concertina made its appearance. A young, talented Elven musician played several songs to the delight of the crowd. When he was about to retire upstairs Jack moved in with a hungry look in her eye.
"But those are some quick fingers you've got there, maestro. May I give them a try?" She winked. She and Callous were invited for... diversions, upstairs with the musician and his guards.
For a while Mabon lost track of the monochrome man and waited in the dark hallway, alert. Suddenly he caught a glimpse of a figure disappearing through a wall, and then out a window in to the estate grounds. He rushed to follow. A grey cloak fluttered over a cliff's edge. Mabon pursued, but at the cliff's edge there was no sign of the man. Just the water of the port reflecting the moonlight. Still not one to give up the chase, Mabon walked up and down the cliff face looking for some sign of the man's passage. Nothing. Had it been an illusion? A misdirection?
In a lavish guest suite in the Sminsilver House Jack's little seduction game got bloody quick. The musician had become suspicious when she tried to separate him from the concertina. He spotted her daggers and leaped to his feet, proving he knew the secrets of the enchanted instrument by blasting Callous with sonic energy. Rapiers and daggers were drawn. Jack started putting holes in things.
Callous emphatically punched the last gestures of a summoning spell. Mad Monkeys materialized and swarmed the musician, pulling his hair, wrenching the instrument from his grasp, and howling with primate fury. The poor Elf ran from the room while more guards broke through the doors that Callous had previously sealed with Warp Wood.
One of the guards drew a pistol and lowered it. The shot burst through Callous' shoulder sending blood and fragments of bone flying. The monkeys piled onto that guard gleefully pummeling him, while Callous dove out a window. Jack retrieved the concertina and followed her Bosun. They were reunited with Mabon and Joo Joo on the way out of the grounds, and they laughed their way back to the Instigator.
"Mabon, heal Callous' wounds," Jack had decided they would waste no time completing their business in Port Peril and departing before sunrise. The last thing on her to-do list was to rescue Owlbear and get vengeance on Fishpork.
They rowed the jolly boat across to the Crescent Isle, and slunk their way over to the old warehouse which they'd previously been unsuccessful at invading.
In the dark it appeared no one was home. They spotted no snipers waiting on rooftops either. All looked suspiciously quiet, and they were right to be suspicious. Peeking through the window of the warehouse they spotted a scene of carnage. Every mercenary within was dead, their eyes and tongue removed. In the center of the sparring ring a black handprint had been left. A message? A warning? A signature? They knew it now as the symbol of the Blackfingers, secret-keepers, and servants of Norgorber.
Further investigation proved that Owlbear had been a victim of the Blackfingers too. He lay grey and dead, his eyes and tongue stolen, near a spot where something enormous had put up significant resistance, before being defeated and dragged dead or unconscious out into the alley. Fishpork must have been a challenge even for these assassins.
Saddened, Callous cut a finger from his friend Owlbear. He and Mabon returned to the others who had waited outside only to discover that some malevolent magic had scarred their psyche. For the next 24 hours every person they looked upon had only black holes where their eyes should have been and no tongues in their mouths. A most unsettling omen of the Gray Master's involvement. Clearly there was some secret here that the Reaper of Reputation was keen to keep.
The Instigator slipped silently out of Port Peril without fanfare. This city had proved expensive and dangerous to our heroes, and there was still one more expense they were going to pay. Callous confirmed everyone's agreement and they all chipped in the necessary gold for him to begin the laborious casting.
Within a trough filled with water and rum and orchids floated Owlbear's severed finger, but as Callous intoned the magic phrases flesh took shape and a new body was formed to house the reincarnated soul of their beloved bosun's mate. An hour later, a fresh purple-bearded gnomish face jerked up and took a deep breath. Owlbear, was very much alive, if nearly 5' shorter than he had been that morning.
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"There's a fight below decks!"
Jack and Callous scurried down the hatch to the crew quarters to find two of the sailors they'd picked up in Senghor kicking a downed "Owlcub", as the crew had taken to calling the reincarnated gnomish Owlbear. Crimson was licking his fingers and counting the revenue from bets while Barefoot Sams and a few others shouted their encouragement to the brutalized Owlcub to "get up."
Callous nearly bit someone's arm off and he wouldn't have been too particular about whose arm it was as he broke up the fight. "I paid good gold to bring Owlbear back from the grave and I'll be damned if you're going to crap on my investment!"
Rope bashes and lashes were dealt out according to the severity of the offense and a no-picking on "Owlcub" policy was implemented.
Quent was a thriving city that nevertheless looked somewhat quaint compared with Port Peril. Our heroes wasted no time in making their way to the House of Stolen Kisses to meet with the High Priestess of Calistria, Dindreann. She was pleasant enough, if condescending, and her honeyed tongue barely concealed a few barbs in her speech. Whether the lady knows anything specific about Chelish spies in the region remained unclear, but she offered them an opportunity to learn a few useful secrets in return for them hunting down whoever waylayed a ship owned by the temple, the Lady's Sting. Apparently a relic of the faith known as the Golden Vespal was on that ship. Its recovery, Dindreann assured them, would inspire Calistria's gratitude.
If that had been the end of the conversation it might have left them wondering where to go next, but things took a turn for the interesting when the priestess suggested there was a group of secrecy brokers who might know about the fate of the Lady's Sting - the followers of the Gray Master. Our heroes were not what you would call excited to go looking for Norgorber's monkish assassins, but it appeared all roads were leading them to Bag Island and the mysterious Temple of the Hidden Name.
Jack tolerated a detour, for Mabon's sake, to a shrine to Besmara known as the Stone Kraken, so called for the unimaginative reason that it is a stone that looks like a kraken. Mabon clambered up the surface of the rock to admire the small altar in the kraken's beak piled with seashells representing plunder dumped in the ocean for Besmara. He examined the graffiti chiseled into the tentacles of the beast. "BB + TA" - but the "TA" had later been partially scratched out. Pictures of eyeless cyclopses. And a pair of crossed daggers, one with a jagged line down the blade, and the other with a star on the blade.
Mabon stood in the footprints of Besmara and said his prayers while the sea-sprayed his face.
Bag Island had an idyllic, pastoral, almost out-of-place look for this tropical region. The town of Beachcomber, however, was a sad, dreary place. Overrun with former-slaves, now impoverished and desperate, and those eager to defend the Lord of the Isle Jollis Raffles as their savior, while begrudgingly admitting that freedom hadn't exactly turned out to be utopia.
Our heroes unanimously agreed to avoid the tavern known as the Burning Barrel where they'd been told to begin their search for the disciples of the Gray Master. Perhaps it was because they weren't really anxious to meet the Blackfingers, or because they intuited that the direct route wasn't the way to go with the Reaper of Reputation.
Regardless they found themselves in a dive, sipping cloudy ale, surrounded by sad halflings, when Callous realized their drinks were heavily laced with Oil of Tannis. By then Joo Joo, Jack and Mabon were all reeling with drowsiness. Too drowsy to notice the assassins lining up their shot.
Twang. Quarrels sprouted from Jack and Mabon's backs and their vision went white.
Agents of Norgorber that appeared to be have walked out of a dimension solely in Grayscale, sporting dreadlocked hair & beards and flowing robes rushed into the room. A garrote whipped around the neck of Joo Joo, before he could react. Only Callous was free to fight back, which he did, Thorns bursting from his flesh to repel the grapple and pierce the hands of the monk attacking him. A Geyser erupted under the feet another assassin smashing him against the ceiling and sending bystanders fleeing from the boiling rain.
Jack and Mabon were slowly being strangled to death before Joo Joo made perhaps the most important bluff of his short life. He played dead and the monk who was crushing his throat with the garrote fell for it. He tossed the bard aside long enough for Joo Joo to begin a Sea chanty, curing the nausea of his companions and setting them free to fight for their lives.
Mabon and Jack narrowly survived. The combination of Wall of Sound and Callous' ferocity drove the assassins away - except for one who succumbed to his wounds before he could flee. Joo Joo was prepared to coup de grace the Blackfinger with his own bloody little fingers if necessary, but Callous demanded he be bandaged and carried back to the Instigator alive and bound.
Apparently the Temple of the Hidden Name didn't want to be found.
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Meet The Blackfingers
Smelling salts aroused the Grayman from his slumber. He tested his manacles and scowled at his captors. "You'll get nothing from me," he asserted.
"That's what all the ladies say," Callous smirked.
Jack pulled her Bosun aside for a moment, "Quite seriously if these men are devotees of Norgorber then keeping secrets is what they do. I somehow don't think torture is going to work here. We might need to be a bit more clever."
Callous thought for a moment, then grinned, "No worries Captain, I have an idea." He gave Joo Joo a knowing look and crouched down in front of the captive. "Listen, you don't have to tell us anything. We're going to find the Temple of the Hidden Name one way or another, and when we do we're going to tell them that it was you who leaked the location and you who told us all about the Pirate Lord Barnabus' Harrigan's extracurricular worship activities."
Joo Joo grinned, "We'll even let you go free. Wonder what the God of secrets will do to one of his employees who just gives out juicy secrets like Harrigan's unsavory allegiances."
The bluff worked. The Grayman looked pained for a moment and then broken, "Don't. That's worse than a death sentence. Listen, I'll make a deal. I'll tell you how to get into the Temple of the Hidden Name and what I know of the Blackfingers. In return I want you to kill me. Tonight. A quick, clean death."
Callous looked at Jack. She nodded. "Done."
And he did. He showed them how he could change his features with some exotic dust from his pouch. How he was trained with other assassins. That their role was not to know the secrets necessarily, but to take out people who knew too much or who were close to uncovering a secret Norgorber wanted kept. He described their methods, his best guess at their numbers (not many), and then he explained that the entrance to the Temple of the Hidden Name is mobile, and given his capture was likely being moved tonight. It would take his brothers a few hours to pack up their current location in a warehouse to the north of town and then they would have no way of finding the Temple again. The key to the Temple, he explained, was the cloak of the High Priest. Find that and they might be able to gain entrance - not that it would do them any good.
He begged Sarenrae for mercy and to be protected from the wrath of Norgorber just before Callous slit his throat.
Tick Tock. If they wanted to get into the Temple of the Hidden Name it was now or never. They were still injured from the tangle with the Graymen in the tavern. Jack and Mabon were still blind, in fact. It seemed almost certain to be a trap, but it was either pounce or let the trail go cold.
They went into Beachcomber and woke a shopkeep to buy a couple scrolls of Remove Blindness, including a spare since they knew who they were about to engage. Then they hurried to the northern edge of town and located the warehouse that currently held the entrance to the Temple of the Hidden Name. They discussed their strategy briefly and then the games began.
Jack rushed through the open doors of the warehouse to discover it was actually a small dry-dock and a single-masted boat was being hurriedly loaded by a pair of Graymen and launched.
Joo Joo Vanished and summoned a Cheetah to chase the Graymen trying to escape on the boat.
Mabon ran up the side of the warehouse with his Slippers of Spider Climbing and in through a window on the second story. There on a suspended walkway he blasted a Grayman with Channel Force. The Grayman leaped back up into a grapple.
One of the assassins rose up out of the surf to fire a crossbow at Callous, narrowly missing. Callous Totem-Shifted into a shark-jaw, and Called Lightning. He and the dreadlocked saltwater-soaked Grayman danced for a few moments before Callous managed to breakaway and dive into the water, shifting to shark-form to try to catch the retreating boat.
The Cheetah had jumped onto the boat only to be banished by the High Priest who ascended from below decks wearing a cloak that appeared for all the world like a shimmering gateway to the plane of Shadow. Jack also jumped from the dock onto the deck, plunging blades into gray flesh and working her way up to the High Priest. She absorbed a lot of fists, knees and elbows, from the assassin-monks as she went, and she neared the High Priest only to have him cast Blindness on her. Severely injured, blind and surrounded she made a desperate attempt to Bull Rush the Priest off the boat into the sea. They both plummeted into the brine and even blind Jack could imagine the sharky grin Callous was making.
Mabon and Joo Joo had their hands full with a pair of the Graymen. Mabon finally took one of them down just in time to get grappled by the other. A Grease from Joo Joo helped him break free, and the assassin decided to give up the pursuit. He tossed an Icebomb onto his fallen comrade to ensure he was dead and ran and leaped into the waves pursuing the boat.
Callous swam in hard to clamp his sharky jaws onto some squishy High Priest, when that priest tapped the clasp on his cloak. The cloak swelled and swallowed both Callous and Jack, dragging all three of them through the portal into... the Temple of the Hidden Name.
Constructed entirely of Shadow Stuff the gothic cathedral to Norgorber swirled with gray indifference. Callous flopped on the slate floor unable to breath and was forced to shift back into his dwarven form. Jack, still blind could hear and feel that she was somewhere different. She did her best to appear intimidating still, offering her foe a chance to surrender.
He merely laughed and cast a spell which caused him to appear to swell with strength and energy. A curtain before the altar fell away and a 10' tall frog-daemon accompanied by a pair of hovering Cacodaemons appeared. Callous cursed under his breath, but the daemons showed no interest in them, leaping instead through the shimmering doorway and disappearing.
The Daemons arose out of the waves in the dry-dock in front of Mabon and Joo Joo. There was a moment where they all looked at each other. Mabon gripped his cutlass. Joo Joo expanded his concertina. Then they ran. As fast as they could. The opposite direction.
Callous roared and slashed his terbutje through the High Priest and it passed right through - an illusion. Somehow he had disappeared and left this image in his place. Callous shifted to gain a better sense of smell, and began hunting down the wet, frightened priest of Norgorber. He called instructions to blind Jack who was feeling her way around the shadow-temple.
Eventually they cornered him. Jack pulled the priest into a grapple, Callous closed in to join, eating a Shadowflamestrike on the way. The High Priest drew a scroll from his pouch and read the incantation at the last moment, as Callous plunged his blade toward the man's chest. Jack reached up and undid the clasp of the High Priest's cloak as he disappeared in a snap of magical energy, teleporting to some other location.
The Cacodaemons chased Joo Joo and Mabon into Beachcomber snapping at their heels and cackling. The Hydrodaemon had bounded to the roof of the warehouse and was hurling boards and shingles after the retreating heroes. The daemon's seemed unwilling to go directly into the populated center of the city so they escaped, for the time being.
Out-of-breath, with no idea where Jack and Callous had disappeared to, and still wondering what hole those daemons had crawled out from Joo Joo turned to Mabon and said, "Well, I guess this makes me captain of the Instigator.
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High Priest Slip
When last we checked in on our heroes they were separated having tried to raid the Temple of the Hidden Name in Beachcomber.
Joo Joo and Mabon made hastily for the Instigator leaving the Cacodaemons and the Hyrdodaemon to "play" in the settlement. Presuming that Jack and Callous were on the Norgorberite sloop they pulled away from the dock. Having many more yards of sail than the small grey boat they bore down hard upon the fleeing Graymen. They rammed the smaller vessel, tossing their grappling hooks aboard, only to hear a subtle hissing sound like air escaping from a bladder. They could not push the boat away quickly enough. It exploded sending splinters heaving into the air and setting the sails of the Instigator aflame. The assassins disappeared and there was no sign of either Jack or Callous.
That is because Jack and Callous had been pulled into some isolated realm in the Plane of Shadow. The Temple of the Hidden Name was a gothic construction entirely of shadowstuff and brimming with daemons and other servants of Norgorber. Jack, being still blind, depended on Callous to lead her around searching for the way out. Beyond the front door they could see only empty white space, which they were unwilling to step out into.
A chortling Cacodaemon offered to make them a deal. It would take them to where the secrets were kept if they would help it get onto the Prime Material Plane. Not seeing any better options they accepted this bargain.
It led them down corridors and up an enormous spiral stair to the top of a spire where there was a pool of silvery liquid into which it instructed them to press their face. When Jack did this she saw beyond into a dreamland where the minds and memories of various servants of the Gray Master drifted peacefully. She found she could touch them and access their thoughts, without further ado she sought out the mind of the High Priest of this temple.
Meanwhile, Callous had his curiosity piqued. He too sought out a mind that might belong to Norgorber. The mind of an infamous Free Captain and an enemy of theirs. The mind of Barnabas Harrigan. That he found it so quickly was a surprise. What he learned therein was shocking indeed. He kept his new discovery entirely to himself, waiting for Jack to return from her sojourn in the subconscious.
When she did she had found the secret to escaping - to attune the cloak they'd stolen from the High Priest "Slip" to the entrance of another temple in the Shackles, one on Shark Island. This accomplished they raced for the front door of the temple and leaped through the portal, tumbling into a seaside cavern miles away from where they'd started and with almost a week having passed in the interim.
Consider their surprise when they jumped out of the cave into the sea only to spot the sails of the Instigator waiting for them a short distance away. Mabon, it seems, had put Divination to clever and efficient use in their absence.
Haneilus Fitch was an aging surgeon whose wits had not dulled a bit with his years. He awaited their reply to his proposal, confident that this plunder-thirsty group of buccaneers would never turn him down. He knew that they were seeking the Brine Banshee. (Jack had seen in the pool of thoughts that the High Priest "Slip" had boarded the vessel almost a week ago in Ollo). He had perhaps the best way to track the ship down and wanted only a portion of the loot for himself. Their interests certainly coincided.
The danger this pursuit represented was lost on no one. Having just earned their free captaincy, attacking another free captain was at the very least in bad taste. Fortunately, the Brine Banshee was apparently headed to Botosani, far out of Shackles waters, giving them an opportunity to resolve this without anyone ever learning the outcome.
They decided it was time to call the Briarpatch into service. Two vessels against one notoriously well-armed one, seemed like better odds to Commodore Jack.
Their trip around the Eye to Botosani was wet but uneventful. Scrying they tracked their quarry to the desert fortress itself and learned that Captain Jalhazar of the Brine Banshee apparently also had an ally: a sloop called the Dryad's Grave captained by a portly robed man named Morton, a man tasked with following and learning what the shape-shifting Norgorberite Priest was really up to.
As it turns out, openly searching for a cult in a city controlled by the Pure Legion is not advisable. Our heroes found themselves in the basement of a cobbler's shop hiding from anti-theist zealots, being led down a secret passage into a sanctuary where masked cultists to Iomedae promised them protection. Realizing that Iomedae was unlikely to look with approval on their chosen profession they awkwardly sought to be excused from the assembly.
Thinking they'd hit a dead end they shuffled back to the docks only to discover that the sloop they'd seen in their scrying, the Dryad's Grave had pulled into port. Without delay they chased down Captain Morton and his officers in a waterside pub and cornered them. Something was amiss, though. Morton neither noticed nor acknowledged them, or anyone else for that matter. Poking him exposed the entire scene as an illusion.
The sorcerer was trying to sneak away, but the poor man never had a chance. Blasted off his feet by Mabon, blocked by a shark-toothed and hungry-looking Callous, and pinned down by Jack's knives he surrendered. "Captain Morton went up into Botosani, looking for that passenger what disembarked from the Brine Banshee here. He instructed me to make this illusion to give him an alibi later. Don't know nothing else. Promise."
They let the pitiful man go and raced up the darkened path to the city proper, hoping to track Morton right to Slip. Callous totem-shifted to gain the nose of a shark and follow Morton's scent right through the deserted streets to a quiet Inn. Mabon walked up the wall into a second story window, finding a room disheveled by recent combat and an officer of the Dryad's Grave dead as driftwood.
They rushed through the common room to a quiet storeroom at the back of the Inn where they found Morton being strangled to death by a Rahadoumi man they'd encountered earlier that day on the street. Joo Joo unleashed Thundering Drums dislodging Morton from the assassin's grasp. Morton waggled his fingers, grabbing the stunned assassin and pulling them both through a Dimension Door which snapped shut behind.
Six hours of chasing over the waves and they finally caught up to the wily sloop. Captain Morton had tried to flee with his captive Slip, but the Briarpatch proved a tad faster. The conjurer Morton used every trick available to him, setting Solid Fog in front of them, blasting them with Fireballs trying unsuccessfully to shred their sails with ballista bolts.
When the boarding began the wooden figurehead of the sloop, a Satyr came to life and clambered aboard the Briarpatch laying into Joo Joo. A Stinking Cloud billowed across the deck incapacitating both our heroic wee bard and Mabon, while Callous tried to take down Morton and all his bodyguards alone - paying for his audacity with a nasty beating.
Jack and her crew were tangling with the Dryad's Grave itself as every line and spar and loose bit of tackle on the ship seemed to have come to life and was tormenting them. Barefoot Sams dangled inelegantly from a swinging rope, while Owlcub hacked with fury at a random bit of the Gunwales.
Just when it seemed this fight was heading for a nasty mutual bloodbath, a Devilfish tentacle wrenched Morton from his safe position in the stern and Pluck dunked a bit of healing potion on Joo Joo who was fast expiring from his wounds. Mabon recovered from his nausea enough to restore their strength, rouse both Callous and Joo Joo and Morton called "Parlay!" from the salty water below.
The terms they'd agreed upon were surprising. Morton turned his coat a little too quickly for anyone's liking. He agreed to sail for Jack and to turn over the prisoner Slip if they let him and his crew sail away without further molestation. He signed the same agreement as the Briarpatch promising a portion of his plunder to his Commodore and not to betray them to Captain Jalhazar of the Brinebanshee. No one felt easy about the agreement, but continuing the battle seemed a losing proposition for everyone.
Slip, who had taken the form of a half-orc woman, was handed over without delay, immediately put into the Manacles of Compliance, and they sighed with relief as the sails of the Dryad's Grave disappeared over the horizon.
Let the interrogation begin.
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The Instigator and the Briarpatch patrolled just north of the Eye of Abendego searching for their dangerous prey.
The interrogation of the High Priest of Norgorber had resulted in a trade. He exchanged the information of the location of the shipwreckers who had stolen the Golden Vespal for his own freedom. Our heroes had hoped for more, but found him recalcitrant and still dangerous, even when manacled. As he teleported away on the back of an enormous insectile daemon they wondered whether they weren't chasing their tails.
Determined to make the journey worth their while they committed to hunting down the supposedly wealthy Brine Banshee as Haneilus Fitch wanted. Scrying and examining their charts they'd tracked Captain Jalhazar's ship to this region. For some reason he had risked entering the Eye itself, and they waited, hoping they would catch him as he emerged, but as they stalked they heard a cry from the crow's-nest "Sails!"
An old enemy loomed on the horizon: the Chelish pirate-hunter, the Dominator. Taking an inventory of her siege weaponry (too many), an estimate of her marines (an endless deluge), and a guess of what other surprises were hidden in her hold (a veritable carnival of horror and death), our heroes suddenly realized what would make Jalhazar sail his ship into the Eye of Abendego. The Dominator simply had too many yards of sail to outrun and they were too far from the coast for any subterfuge. Their only options were surrender or flight into an eternal magical storm.
Eternal magical storm won. The Briarpatch split away taking its own, safer, path.
Callous Deepsea is a damn fine sailor, but the Eye of Abendego is everyone's master. He kept the Instigator afloat and mostly stable with his superb piloting. At one point he even prevented the mainmast from cracking under the strain of magical winds, but the mainsail ripped down the middle. Under these conditions, doing anything, but trying to get out of the storm would be insane. Which is why, as Jack spied the silhouette of the Brine Banshee through the rain, she ordered the attack.
The two ships collided as the sea heaved around them, grinding their hulls together with splintering force. The might of the storm turned them stern to starboard before the crew of the Instigator could get their grappling hooks attached. Jack, in her usual brash manner, tried to make the leap to the enemy ship, but the weather stymied her. She fell, burying her dagger in the wood of the Brine Banshee's stern and watching with trepidation as the motion of the ships seemed about to mill her into red paste.
Joo Joo, Mabon, and Callous found contending with the storm to be a caster's nightmare. Magical formula's ripped from their lips. Arcane gestures ruined by a sudden wave. Their spells were failing more often than succeeding. Finally, Callous shifted into a giant ape and clambered across to aid Jack, while Mabon Air Walked his way there, landing on the slick deck before the hurricane could blast him into the Sodden Lands.
Jack made quick wet work of the buccaneers opposing her, and Callous sent Captain Jalhazar flying with a well-placed Geyser. Despite the perilous conditions they seemed on the verge of claiming their prize when something enormous struck the keel of the Brine Banshee causing it to nearly capsize.
Joo Joo looked into the churning grey sea and saw a spiked shell the size of a small island - a dragon turtle!
Mabon used the Tidewater Cutlass to Hydraulic Push Jalhazar overboard. He was promptly snapped in half in the beak of the dragon turtle, which presently, rising out of the sea, split the Brine Banshee from Port to Starboard.
Callous shifted to ape once more and climbed to safety aboard the Instigator, but Jack and Mabon were trapped in the bow, rapidly sinking. While the vessel sank she disgorged an unholy amount of lucre into the salty waters bringing tears to Joo Joo's eyes and a rare streak of greed into Mabon's mind.
Rather than make for safety, he leaped into the hold of the boat grabbing for golden jewelry, only to have a heavy chest fall against his leg, pinning him to the wall. The water was rising fast and his Buccaneer's Breastplate would not permit him to sink, which meant in this case he would be crushed to death by the weight of the boat. With a quick prayer he severed the buckles on his breastplate, it was wrenched from his torso as he was dragged to the depths.
Jack, swimming with all her might against the storm retrieved the mangled, floating breastplate and climbed back aboard the Instigator with a bitter taste in her mouth.
The Eye of Abendego continued to drag the Instigator in its clockwise rotation away from the site of the wreck of the Brine Banshee. Callous could only fight it so long and a lesser pilot would have no change. Jack knew that if Mabon was to be rescued (and incidentally any of that plunder) there was no time to stand around and plan. She signalled for Joo Joo to take the helm, and for Callous to join her in the sea before diving overboard.
Callous shifted into a Huge Shark and Jack grabbed his fin as they dove into the black water below.
Mabon, meanwhile, was working to get loose from the chest. Ant Haul gave him the strength necessary to lift the weight away, but this turbulent water and debris was nearly impossible to swim in - and his spells were still fizzling due to the storm. As Freedom of Movement fizzled away Mabon started to come to terms with the real possibility of his imminent death by drowning.
That was when he spotted a young Undine man, swimming, unhindered in this mess. He seemed to want to help Mabon, leaning in to place mouth on mouth. A thick mucus flowed into Mabon's lungs and suddenly he was able to breath the water around him. He also suddenly realized that this man, Uthigmarru was his name, was his oldest and dearest friend who he was so glad to have found here under the seas.
Joo Joo was not the pilot that Callous was. He was doing a valiant job fighting the storm, but when he heard warning shouts that the Dragon Turtle was spotted in their wake, he stopped trying to remain near where his Captain and Bosun had dived into the ocean and settled for running headlong with the wind toward the Sodden Lands. A blast of super-heated steam scorched his back, but he just ordered more sail lowered and the Eye belched the Instigator out to the East and away from the Dragon Turtle.
Callous and Jack descended into the dark following the path of the sinking Brine Banshee. They came upon the stern portion, nestled in the mud beside a canyon into which the bow had plummeted. Swimming into the canyon brought them up against a fierce Blackwater Charda, which clawed at Shark-Callous, spilling a lot of blood, but could not withstand the combined evisceration of Jack's blades and Callous' teeth.
They healed themselves and headed even deeper into the intense pressure of the bottom of the canyon where volcanic cones spewed sulfurous poison and the bow of the Brine Banshee was at rest. Within the shattered hulk they found Mabon, safe, calm, and surprisingly perky. He told them all about his new/old friend Uthigmarru and how they all had to meet and become wonderful friends.
Jack was immediately suspicious. Callous just shrugged a sharky-shrug. Jack, though, was running out of air and since Mabon was reluctant to leave his friend Uthigmarru she was being delayed... and that's when Callous realized there was a catastrophically large swarm of jellyfish descending on their position and in his sharky-state had no way to communicate this information. Jack for lack of time was forced to accept Uthigmarru's sloppy kiss, which granted her the ability to breath, and also made her a new lifelong buddy.
Callous could not wait any longer for his insane, happy, crewmates to realize their predicament so he rushed in for a bite of this Undine chap. Turns out he was not so much an Undine as an Aboleth. He lashed Callous with his tendrils and urged Mabon to do the same - which Mabon refused to do, choosing to heal ALL his dear friends, while every Jellyfish in Golarion surrounded them with stinging death.
Jack shook the fog in her mind in time to help Callous kill Uthigmarru - who died vowing the eternal emnity of the empire of the hidden depths - and they all retreated into the wreck of the Brine Banshee to figure out how to get out of this predicament.
Callous was able to summon a small Water Elemental to suck some of the Jellyfish into a whirlpool, then several schools of fish to draw the mindless swarm away. They all sighed in relief, and then looked around them at the mounds of plunder and began to laugh.
Hours later Joo Joo was considering how to communicate the new location of the Instigator to his Captain somewhere under the ocean in the Eye of Abendego when the lookout spotted a ramshackle raft bobbing along toward them, being towed by a humongous shark. Upon the heaps of loot sat Jack and Mabon, a bit worse for the wear, but grinning like they'd robbed the Vault of Abadar itself.
The Instigator waddled into Drenchport, steering well clear of the Eye. She had snapped spars, torn sails and some scorchmarks - par for the course in the career of a Free Captain. She was also laden with more plunder than she'd ever hauled before.
Haneilus Fitch took his leave of them with a huge smile, and enough loot to retire comfortably. He promised to spare a good word for their reputation as ruthless profiteers.
Our heroes tried to lay-low, but it backfired as soon a rumor was spreading of their intent to enter the Free Captain's Regatta in a month's time, and a variety of colorful boasts that none of them could remember making, but were bound to make them a few enemies among the other Free Captains. There was no good way out of this bind. Fail to show at the regatta and they'd make fewer enemies, but also be a laughingstock. Show up and make good on these rumors and they'd be respected, but also hated. Wonderful.
As soon as they were repaired they made for the area where Slip had told them the Savage Shipwreckers plied their unscrupulous trade, hoping to recover the Golden Vespal to buy the information out of the Calistrian temple in Quent. They enjoyed a couple peaceful days wending their way through the Shackles, gliding around turquoise reefs and past emerald islands.
On the third day they spotted a Rahadoumi vessel caught with their pants down, hurriedly trying to get underway. They happily pursued only to realize a moment too late that it was an illusion - indeed all the water around them was an illusion. They were moments away from smashing into a hidden shoal and scuttling their own ship. Callous leaned hard on their new magical ship's wheel, turning an impossibly tight tack, only to hear the sound of a caster unleashing a massive wall of energy directly in front of their bow. Joo Joo, ripped a Feather Token (anchor) out of his vest and tossed it down on the deck. The Instigator stopped instantly, a hair's breath from the magic field, throwing everyone to the deck. A hatch opened in midair above them and a horde of goblin and orcish raiders descended. Cutlasses sprung to hand and blood began to run out the gunwales.
The worst of the raiders were Sea Reavers, light on their feet, and with a whallop like a Bullete. One ran along the top spar and knocked Mabon from his perch in the crow's nest. He missed his grip on the lines and plummeted 60' to the hard deck. The Reaver didn't let up, but dove like a madman from the rigging down onto Mabon, wounding him badly.
Joo Joo slipped out of melee combat to lay a brutal series of magical guilt trips on the attackers. One of the Reavers was actually paralyzed with despair long enough for Jack to open him from navel to gullet. Callous meanwhile was getting backed into a corner and knocked down by another Reaver. His Ball Lightning was working the Reaver pretty good, but the raging Orc seemed to feel no pain and kept attacking.
Though the crew of the Instigator was putting on a good fight it began to look pretty dire for our heroes. Mabon was bull rushed off the deck and fell unconscious to the surface of the sea, suspended atop the water by his Buccaneer's Breastplate. Joo Joo was similarly flung overboard and burnt to a crisp by Scorching Rays from the invisible caster who had started this whole engagement. She now appeared, a half-orc wizard called Vakarla floating through the sky. Joo Joo slipped out of consciousness due to his wounds and began to drown.
Jack had eviscerated two other Reavers in the meanwhile and come to rescue Callous from his assailant when Vakarla demanded their total surrender. The last Reaver fell to that persistent Ball Lightning and Jack defiantly hurled a dagger up at the wizard before leaping into the water to rescue Joo Joo. Mabon stirred awake about this time and began healing himself and others, and with her Reavers dead, her goblins routed, and her spells nearly depleted, Vakarla could see this was not going to end her way. She tossed a Wall of Fire across the deck to keep our heroes busy and disappeared.
Owlcub tearing one goblin's head off with his teeth was more than sufficient motivation for the surviving goblins to tell everything they knew about the Savage Shipwreckers. They revealed that Vakarla had a small camp on a nearby islet where she kept her plunder. That she was probably headed there to gather her goods and depart for friendlier climes. They wept and begged pitifully to have their lives spared - which Jack granted with a handwave and they were dumped unceremoniously on the nearest beach.
Knowing that if they didn't move now Vakarla would disappear for good, perhaps with the Golden Vespal, our heroes had no time to waste. Despite their injured condition they rushed over to where the goblins had indicated that the Shipwrecker's camp was located. Mabon healed them as much as he could while Callous unleashed a variety of protective magics upon them.
They rowed up to the secluded beach on which a few lean-tos, er, leaned. Joo Joo called out to Vakarla offering a deal, "You give us the Vespal, Vakarla, and we'll let you be. You can even keep this little subterfuge going. We admire your entrepreneurial spirit!"
She chuckled, shouting from within her hut, "Fine. Leave and come back at sundown. The Vespal will be waiting on the beach for you. I promise"
No one in this situation could be trusted and so a fair arrangement was probably doomed. Callous rushed the beach while Vakarla whistled and a pair of tiny Tidepool Dragons rose up out of the waves. They sprayed boiling water over the party, but it was for naught due to aCommunal Protection From Energy. Jack ran across the sand, spotting an illusion hiding spiked pits immediately, and laughing disdainfully as she vaulted over the hidden trenches.
Joo Joo and Mabon took a few moments to clear away the Tidepool Dragons, which were more or a nuisance than anything, while Callous, in the shape of an Air Elemental, and Jack chased Vakarla. It turns out her hut was built to obscure a narrow crevice in the chalk cliffs down which she'd retreated. As Callous rushed through jets of freezing water burst out of the walls, meanwhile Jack found the floor of the hut to be magically unstable - a churning quagmire.
At the end of the crevice was a small chamber with overturned barrels and crates, the remainder of her haul as a Shipwrecker. A ladder ascended through a trap door to a stone mesa where Vakarla had built a Hot Air Balloon, powered by a small Fire Elemental. Hearing Callous approaching she tossed out a Stinking Cloud grabbed the last of her loot and cut the basket free from its mooring so it could ascend.
Jack and Joo Joo slowly fought their way through the freezing jets of water into the chamber with the barrels and such. Knowing they would not be of much use during a battle in the sky, they turned to the important task of cataloging all this plunder.
Mabon Air Walked his way over the jungle to catch up to Callous who was trying to find the now Invisible Vakarla in the treasure-filled Hot Air Balloon. Callous shifted back into his native form dropping into the basket and slashing around only to find it empty of other inhabitants. He summoned a Griffon to search for the invisible wizard, while Mabon cast a Cloud of Seasickness hoping to weaken and slow her.
Suddenly, a cable of the balloon snapped and Vakarla warned, "Leave me be or I will send this thing plummeting to the ground with you in it!"
Thinking he had more than a few ways to avoid that fate, Callous sneered, "The rantings of a desperate woman!"
Before Callous could do anything to protect himself the Fire Elemental severed two more cables and the last one snapped sending him on a quick trip downward 160'. The trip went fine. It was the sudden stop at the end that really ruined his day. Callous lay still, nearly dead under a pile of booty.
Mabon and the Griffon chased Vakarla through the skies, but the wily Illusionist slipped away again.
In the heap on top of Callous they found the Golden Vespal, and a number of other precious items the Savage Shipwreckers had lifted from the various vessels unfortunate enough to wander into their trap. Our heroes loaded this lovely little haul onto their already bulging boat, and set a course for Quent, laughing the whole way.
I've been enjoying your journal immensely and have to congratulate you on the marvelous job you did at adapting the story. I'm currently preparing Skull & Shackles myself for play with my children. Like you I am inclined to change the AP to fit my personal playing style, so I've read your journal thoroughly for inspiration.
I'm sad to see your journal ended abruptly. I hope everything is alright with you in real life, since your last post dates from over half a year ago. To add to the sadness, it reported the death of Joo Joo, who's been a favorite of mine ever since I read his first very optimistic letter to his mother at the beginning of the story.
Please give us a sign to let us know if you're okay.