Skulls & Shackles: Infamy and Renown

Ya! Yo! Away We Go!

You Gotta Start Somewhere

Holley.jpeg

I don’t know who the artist is but if I find out, I will give credit.

Lead by the beautiful and vivacious Holley, the heroes of Falcon’s Hollow made their way to the coast. They needed to catch a ship that would take them to Port Peril, the place where pirates’ legends begin. Before they left, there was a tearful farewell from the town. Kimi’s mother packed a few weeks’ supply of dried meat and soup mix for the journey, to show her thanks for everything the adventurers had done for them, promising that they would always be welcome in her town. She kissed her daughter goodbye, hoping that a life on the sea would be just what Kimi’s restless heart would need. The mayor declined to join in wishing the heroes goodbyes, choosing to watch them from the vantage point of his luxurious manor. His son, Jurin, waved, thinking about what Mureum had said.

“You need to know your people to be a good leader.”

He steeled himself to work hard and play hard, and damn the consequences. He was Jurin Kreed and he had lived through kidnapping and horror underground. He was already thinking of new ways to outsmart his father’s restrictions. He thought he saw Mureum wave back and he smiled.

Sadly, Winton could not go with them. He had important university business to take care of. They had discovered a great deal of ancient dwarven ruins, after all. He would catch up to them later, he promised.

They left on horseback, riding at a steady pace. Holley was ecstatic; they were going to be pirates! She was finally going to be the Pirate Queen! Her face glowed with both joy and sunlight, as it shone off her pale dhampir skin, fangs flashing with a wide smile. Sharing her excitement was Kimi, the young girl that had joined them for their adventures. She had never been away from the town like this, on an actual adventure (kidnapping and certain death were not her idea of an adventure) and she chattered ceaselessly, asking questions and fantasizing about their legends to come. Wetzel held any kind of excitement for the journey to himself as best as he could, Mureum began to sing and it was so catchy that even he couldn’t stop himself from joining in.

“Ya yo! Ya yo! Dreamin’! Don’t give it up Holley! Dreamin’! Don’t give it up Kimi! Dreamin’!”

As evening fell, they came across a small farming community. They stopped at the inn, aptly named “The Crusty Scuttle.” It looked just like it sounded; small, dark, dirty, and putrid. The floor was covered in old dirt, leaves, mud and whatever else fell from traveling boots. It was apparent that no one cleaned this place, at least not regularly and not recently. The innkeeper was an older man, with a permanent scowl and bad temper.

“Ye don’t like the residence?” he growled.

“That’s not it,” Mureum replied, her beautiful self drastically out of place in the hovel. “I was just curious as to how the other inns maintained business with such a fine establishment as yourself being here.”

“I’m the only one. Ye don’t like it, ye can sleep in the barn.”

They decided to do just that. They paid him for the night and went to the barn. At least the barn was cleaned everyday. They all agreed it was an improvement from the inn itself. As Mureum settled down for the night, she found it odd how comfortable she felt. Her feet should be tired and sore after a full day of travel, especially with her new traveling heels. She inspected them carefully. They were surprisingly well made, and she could tell by the high quality material that, once broken in, they would be even more comfortable, if that were possible. She found a curious maker’s mark just under the sole: Justin Tilley, MM. Whoever this… Justin Tilley was, he had just found a loyal customer.

The five of them left the next day, well rested and ready for another full day of travel. As they rode along the road Holley, Mureum, and Wetzel taught Kimi all they knew about life on the road. Or, more accurately, Holley tried. Her excitement provided the means for Wetzel and Mureum to point the young girl in the right direction in setting up a campsite and cooking. Wetzel used his years of experience to teach her the practicalities of survival. He taught her how to start a stew and she spent many an evening practicing with the half-elf. Mureum sought to teach her all she new in the art of seduction and precaution. Men, she told Kimi, were foolish when their minds were on taking a woman. If you played your cards right, you wouldn’t even have to dirty your hands.

Weeks passed, and Kimi slowly grew under their tutelage. Her tents stopped falling down in the middle of the night. Her stews contained less and less burned food. Her manner grew more self assured. She was growing from a rebellious teenager to a confident young woman.

“By the way,” said Mureum, some days into their travel, “where the fuck are we even going?”

“The Shackles, of course,” replied Holley. “It’s where pirates are made…. or broken… but mostly made.” She flashed a grin.

“I’m pretty sure pirates are born.”

“Awww we’ve been there before, don’t you remember?”

“Yeah, and I’m not in any hurry to go back.”

Holley looked at her childhood friend with an exaggerated sad pout, widening her red eyes in a puppy dog stare. Mureum rolled her eyes at her dramatics.

“Well first I gotta be a Free Captain. For me to become Queen of the Pirates, I need to become the most famous pirate there is. So we need to go to the Shackles,” Holley explained, quickly coming out of her fake pout. She went on to tell them about how they would never make it as run-of-the-mill pirates. Free Captains were like celebrities, rich and famous. They were gonna be rich and famous!

“So… to become Queen of the Pirates, you need to first… be a pirate?” Wetzel asked. This was all very confusing. He had never delved into piracy before and he had a lot of questions.

“No!” Holley said, voice rising with enthusiasm, passion in her eyes. “A Free Captain is a cut above the rest. There’s stories in the taverns about them, of their wealth, and.. and skill! And kills. And a ship!”

As much as Wetzel lacked in knowledge about piracy, there was something he did know.

“Captain, we’re kind of lacking in the crew department, here,” he said. There was no way five of them could operate a full ship. He’d seen ships before, and he was pretty sure that more than five people were needed to make it work.

“Yes,” Holley replied, undaunted by this problem. “We’ll just find some!”

“So we’re just going to find us a merry band of swashbucklers?” he asked, dubiously.

The dhampir’s happy grin turned mischievous beneath her tri-corner hat. “Well I got you to follow me, didn’t I?”

Wetzel stammered as he tried to come up with an argument. But he couldn’t deny it. After all, here he was.

“W-w-well there may not be many others who come quite as easily!” He managed to say, finally.

“Nope,” Holley replied, her happy grin never leaving her face. “That’s why we brought a lot of money. It’s an investment!”

Mureum shot her a dubious glare.

“And we can also check the job boards in the local inns,” Holley added hurriedly, not wanting her friend to be too upset with her.

***********************

The group arrived in Westcrown, Cheliax and paid for passage on a mercantile ship called The Melody. On their journey, Wetzel befriended the captain, Abadiah Crane. Being a storm druid, he saved them much time and many injuries by reading the weather and coming winds.

Mureum busied herself with other… work. She gathered a few sailors together to talk; she had a business proposition.

“You see,” she said candidly, “there is a new material that my employer has found called Wendigo Iron.”

“Is that the one mined deep in the Mwagi Expanse,” Holley interrupted, poking her head in the door. Mureum glared and her pale friend smiled innocently, showing her teeth.

“Yes,” Mureum continued. “A-hem. It’s hard as iron, but it floats…” She went on to explain the further properties of the seemingly impossible Wendigo Iron. As she did, she kept a shrewd eye on the sailors’ reactions, choosing to smooth back her hair to expose her slender neck or turn her leg just so if their attentions seemed to stray. By the time she was finished, every single one of them were interested in investing. She slipped their silver into her purse with a contended smile, looking up through her eyelashes at them when she thanked them for their business. And that, she told Kimi, was how it was done.

After that, she was never short of admirers, both those who would try to win her to their beds and those who thirsted for more of her stories and simple company. The former were turned away courteously, always feeling like they were the ones who had decided not to lay a hand on her fine self in the end.

Holley provided song and dance. Although wary of her at first, the captain and crew warmed up to her friendly demeanor and infectious laughter. Her performances were the highlight of their evenings; their singing would go long into the night and some sailors would even dance with her, at the expense of their sober dignity. Many would sigh after the unearthly beauty, comparing her eyes to rubies of faraway lands and her hair to the beauty of a starless night. She would thank them for their kind words, but tell them her only love was the adventure of the sea. However, she would sit and talk with them often and her and Mureum became the dream of every man (and sometimes women) on board. Holley would inquire, subtly, as to where she could find more sailors like them, good stock and hard working men and women. The only real lead she found was from a tall orc named Mick.

“Got a friend who been lookin’ fer work on a ship in Port Peril,” he said, gruffly. He was dressed in practical merchant’s clothing and although his face seemed harsh and intimidating, he carried himself in a peaceful and diplomatic manner. “Name’s Duval. He’s a weird guy. Check him out. Could be useful.” He thought for a second. “Good cook.” He nodded to himself. “Good guy.” He patted Holley on the shoulder before he left.

The journey to Port Peril passed quickly. The Melody arrived in the afternoon and the adventurers bade the crew goodbye. Captain Crane was particularly sad to see Wetzel go; the druid had saved many lives by having them skirt the edges of many storms. Crane shook Wetzel’s hand, and told him that he would always be a welcome presence on his ship. Wetzel appreciated the offer, but he had to go; his friends needed him. He had hoped to purchase some grain from the captain, but the buying portions were far too large. He said his goodbyes, but his mind was on tastier things. At the docks below, Mureum slipped Wetzel a bag filled with sheaves of grain. He took it wordlessly, not wanting to know where it came from.

The twisted streets of the port were lined with shops and avenues to other shadier streets. People hustled around, bumping and dodging each other as they went about their business. Shop-keeps hawked their wares, their voices adding to the din of the crowd. The smell of rotten fish, body odor, and the sea were heavy in the air.

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“Port Peril” by Bryan Marvin P. Sola (bpsola.deviantart.com)

Holley immediately grabbed Kimi and Mureum, dragging them hastily towards the colorful signs and stalls that carried clothing and weapons.

“Girls’ shopping trip!” she yelled. “No boys allowed!” She ran down the street, leaving Wetzel standing there, slightly confused. He shrugged. He had things he wanted to do alone anyway.

As Holley took them from shop to shop, Mureum stopped to ask about Justin Tilley, MM. Strangely enough, no one had heard of him before. It seemed he was an upcoming shoe maker and designer, and an adept businessman as he had at least one pair of shoes in every store they stopped in.

Mureum puzzled this over, her mind already racing to with curiosity. She nearly missed it, but she saw something from the corner of her eye and turned. A simple shopfront caught her attention. The sign read: “The Excellently Grandiose Emporium of First-Rate Goods and Other Such Accouterments.” No one else seemed to be going in or out. In fact, people walked right by as if it wasn’t even there. Intrigued, she went inside.

It was dimly lit and lined with shelves full of various magic items. The shop counter held several crafting tools. An alchemy set, a jeweler’s loupe, small files, papers and charcoal bits. A junk and tinker shop, then, Mureum thought to herself as a figure in a hooded, brown robe greeted her.

“Hello, miss. What can I help you with today,” the tall man asked. His voice was smooth and business-like, but not unfriendly.

“I suppose,” Mureum said, casting her ocean-colored eyes over the room, “I would be in the market for some first-rate goods.”

The shop keep seemed to smile beneath his hood. He paused for a brief moment then said, “miss, may I read your palm?”

Mureum took out one of her many high-quality ink pens and wrote a greeting on her palm. She held it out to him. He seemed to smile again and ran his large, blackened fingers over hers. His hands were dry and gentle, skittering across her palm like a scorpion over the sandy desert.

Abruptly, he dropped her hand. “I think I have just what you need,” he said, as he stepped into the back. A moment later he emerged with a cloth-wrapped package. Mureum unwrapped it and gasped.

It was a beautiful dagger. Its blade was in the flamberge style, graceful in its curvature. Twin snakes curled around the hilt, mouths open and fangs bared. Mureum lifted it carefully for the edge was razor sharp. She held it in her hand and she could already see it hanging on her belt or thrusting into some unsuspecting flesh, a perfect compliment to her style. Poison, she thought, would work well with this. She had to have it.

“How much?”

The tall man with black fingers paused briefly.

“Would you be willing to do me a favor in exchange for this?” he asked.

Mureum barely had to think about her answer. “Yes. What is the favor?”

The man’s voice echoed weirdly through the shop. “That is not dead which can eternal lie. And with strange aeons, even death may die. The sword of he who sails in terrible hunger is all I require. You have five years to complete this task, else I shall have the blade returned, with interest.”

Mureum shuddered. She got the feeling that “interest” didn’t mean money, but something much more sinister. But still, it was a good deal. And she really did want the dagger.

“How hard is this person to kill?” She asked, curiously.

The black-fingered man smiled. “That is not for me to say. I need his sword. Bring it to me and your payment will be fulfilled.”

“And if I don’t… you’ll just take the dagger back?”

Another smile, but this one icy. “With. Interest.”

Mureum pondered this for a brief moment, then turned to leave. “I’ll see you in four years, eleven months, and twenty-nine days, then.” The dagger caught the light as she twirled it in her hands. The tall man smiled, and bowed her out of the shop.

The door closed behind her and when she turned back, all she saw was a boarded up door and dirty windows. The place looked like it hadn’t been used in many years. She shivered a little, one last important question weighing on her mind:

“Who the fuck do I return the sword to?”

***********************

With the beginnings of a recipe in mind, Wetzel, holding his bag of wheat headed off in the direction of the food stalls. Through the heavy smells of greasy food and fish, he caught the warm and homey scent of freshly baked bread. Following his finely tuned half-elf senses, he found himself at the back of a large crowd. He realized that the crowd was, in fact, a compacted line, stuffing itself through the narrow door of a building housing a sign that stated, simply “Bertha’s Buns.” Customers who headed away from the shop held large bags with that same delciously nostalgic smell wafting from them. It was well past lunch time, Wetzel realized with some surprise. It’s this busy and it’s not even peak rush hour. He felt his stomach gurgle and his mouth water.

When the crowd had died down a bit, he went inside. It was simple, with no seating. A counter with a young halfling boy making transactions, stood in front of a wall covered in racks that had once held bread. His mother, a rotund and merry halfling with a mop of brown hair twisted on top of her head, bustled through a door that lead to an unseen
kitchen. She hurriedly replaced empty pans with ones laden with hot, fresh, golden bread.

“Whe-eew!” the halfling sighed. “Now wasn’t that grand!” She turned, and caught sight of Wetzel. “Sir, I’m sorry we didn’t see you there. What can I do for you today?” She smiled, tired, but full of joy.

Wetzel smiled back. “You must be Bertha!”

“I am indeed. It is good to meet you sir.” She took his hand and shook it heartily.

The half-elf flexed his squeezed fingers. “I was wondering if I could have the use of your oven? I would compensate you, of course.”

Bertha shook her head. “I’m sorry, I do not have ovens to spare. In case you missed it, we have been extremely busy.” She blew a long stream of air as she took a moment to relax. “It’s late afternoon right now and we’re getting a quick break while people are back to work and off lunch. In about…” she quickly consulted a boxy fixture above the front door with various dials and ticking hands “…forty-five minutes the dinner crowd is going to come in. I
don’t have any time. I am so sorry.”

“No, of course! I fully understand,” Wetzel said. He was a little disappointed, but he had time. One closed door never meant the end of the road, he knew. “Do you know of a place
where I could turn this-” he hefted his sack of grain “-into flour?”

She though for a moment, scrunching up her nose repeatedly in a comical manner. “Hmmmm, you could go to the guy who delivers flour to my shop. He’s a good guy, he doesn’t over charge and he does good work. As for a recipe, I have a few ideas if you need help with that.”

“I appreciate it,” Wetzel replied. “But I think I’ll rely on my intuition for the recipe.”

Bertha laughed heartily. “Good man! The intuition is the best baker. Sometimes it’s right, sometimes it’s wrong, but you always learn something good.”

She gave him the name of her supplier. He lived a little ways outside of Port Peril. He delivered the flour every morning, she said. Very reliable.

The half-elf found himself at a small grainery, operated by a single goblin, who introdued himself as Chuck. He haggled, and they settled on a payment of 15% the total grain. An hour or so later, Wetzel left with a bag of flour. As he looked for a bakery that would allow him the use of their ovens, he felt something_. A dark feeling, a shudder of fear. Something…_bad would? Had? happen to him here? He shook it off, chalking it up to a remnant of a memory in a past life.

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“Cafe Bread” by Bethany Johnson

***********************

“Because it’s not piratey enough!” Holley explained to Kimi for what seemed to her to be the hundredth, millionth time. “You can keep the ax, but it’s a lumberjack weapon. We are going to the ocean. You can’t do fights like this with an ax. You need a proper pirate sword!” The excited dhampir drew her cutlass, waving it about.

The shadow of the female clerk fell over them. The tall, muscled half-orc scowled down at them in stony silence.

A few minutes later, they were looking for another shop.

“You should probably stop pulling your sword out in the store,” Kimi said. “That’s the fourth one we’ve gotten kicked out of today.”

Holley slouched heavily with a pout on her full mouth. “I kno-oooow… but I just get so excited- ooooh look! They have cool stuff here!” And, again, Kimi found her small self dragged off to yet another establishment.

This one had weapons she had never seen before. Granted, all of her short life had been spent in a backwater logging town, but even she could tell: these were special. The racks held long, slim blades encased in beautiful scabbards. They were all different lengths, bound in rich colored cords with fanciful knots at the ends.

“Try this one! Try this one!”

She turned to see Holley, staggering under the weight of a completely different weapon. Instinctively, she caught it, as it slipped from the dhampir’s hands. It was surprisingly heavy and she had to brace herself so she didn’t drop it. It had a long wooden staff, about six feet, topped with a sharp, shining blade. Looking to the weapon’s dealer for permission, she carefully swung the long polearm, testing its weight and balance. Guiltily, she admired how much better it felt in her hands than her trusty ax. And it had reach. But it was expensive and she was just a girl and-

“We’ll take it!” Holley was already handing over the coin needed to purchase the weapon.

“B-bu-but,” Kimi stammered, trying to think of an excuse that didn’t sound ungrateful, “it’s not.. it’s not a piratey sword!”

“Of course it is, silly,” came the instant reply. “The sword’s right there.” Holley pointed to the two-foot long blade on top of the staff. “It’s a pirate sword on a stick!”

Kimi stared at her friend in shock, the burst into peals of laughter. It was just like Holley to have that kind of answer.

************************

They headed down to the docks to scout out potential ships. It would probably be easier to find a crew if a ship was in the equation. There was the question of money, and Holley tried her best to put the thought from her mind. They would cross that current when they came to it. Lost in these kinds of thoughts, she let her gaze wander the docks and she accidentally locked gazes with one particular man. He saw her and immediately approached her, smiling and bowing as he went.

“Ah, hallo, friend,” he said in clumsy Common. “You need buy ship? I have ship to sell. Good ship, very pretty. Pretty ship for pretty lady, yes?”

Holley was interested and she agreed to see the ship. From the docks, the man eagerly pointed out a beautiful, three-masted sailing ship. It was painted a deep blue, with cream colored trim. She felt her heart quake in her chest. She barely heard him offer to take them on deck and as he rowed their small boat over to it, she never took her eyes from it. The world slowed, for Holley, as they toured the ship. Dream-like she walked the deck, the galley, the captain’s cabin. Her hands brushed the firm wooden walls and ballasts, as though she could barely bring herself to stain their perfection with her fingers. She felt dizzy, she felt alive, she felt fire in her veins. This ship… this divine, gorgeous, amazing, splediforus ship! She could see it already, the storms they would weather! The fights they would win! The fights they would lose! It may only have hammocks now but they would flll her hold with exotic treasures and fill her galley with stories of glory and advent-

“-discount, yes?”

Shit! Money!

“This ship,” she heard the salesman saying, “is 15,000, you see? I sell to you for 5,000. Is very good deal. Ship normally very expensive. Pretty ship for pretty lady.” He beamed at Holley. “You like? You want ship?”

“Five thousand… I can totally get that!”

The man’s eyes grew wide in his head. “You have? You want to buy right now? You have right here?”

The future Queen of the Pirates gathered her wits about her. She didn’t exactly… have the money. Five thousand wasn’t too much for them, she thought to herself. This was very affordable. She couldn’t let a golden opportunity like this pass them by.

“Not on me,” she said. “But I do have it stored away.”

The ship merchant nodded in understanding. “Yes, yes. I can hold ship for you, yes? If someone come, say they want ship, I tell them ‘wait, I have pretty lady having maybe buy ship. If she no come after darkness, then you can have ship if you pay.’ That sound good, yes?” He looked at Holley, waiting for her answer.

“That does sound good,” she said. Then she narrowed her eyes as a thought occurred to her. Maybe, just maybe, this ship was too good to be true.“I just have one question… why?”

The man’s face fell a bit. “I merchant, you see. I… make bad deal. Lose many gold, yes?” He shook his head as though inwardly scolding himself for that transaction. “Cannot afford to keep ship. Me very sad. Need to sell ship quickly, so discount. Need to make money so sell ship.” His face was drawn with regret, dark eyes sorrowful.

“Makes sense to me,” Holley proclaimed. “We’ll be back. Kimi! C’mon!” And the two of them tore off to find their ship mates.

As they walked, Holley said, “Sometimes Desna looks at us and laughs.” She paused and Kimi nodded. Desna was a common deity and even she had said a prayer or two to the goddess of luck and travel. “But unfortunately, I’m not a worshiper of Desna. You see, I worship the Pirate Captain, Besmara. Sometimes she helps, sometimes she hurts. This time, she helped!” Her face was alight with joy. Somewhat mischievously she added, “The hurt will come later.” Kimi scrunched her nose in confusion. This was all so new and strange. It was a lot to take in.

The sun was starting to get low in the sky when the two bumped into Mureum, who was munching on what looked like a round pumpkin pastry with a hole in the center.

Holley grabbed her best friend by both shoulders. “Mureum! I need five thousand gold! Hurry, we don’t have much time!”

“Yeah?” the blonde answered, unfazed. “Well I’ve only got about five fucking years.”

“Wh… I’ll ask about that later, but I need the money like… right now.”

Mureum held up a hand as she finished off her strangely shaped pastry. “Okay, look. I’m usually the one pulling the schemes here? So you are going to have to give me a good explanation for this.” She leveled her blue green eyes at Holley, raising an eyebrow expectantly.

“A beautiful ship,” Holley said, red eyes still wide with the wonder of seeing it. “For a third of the price.”

Rolling her shoulders, Mureum sighed. For all she knew it could be a glorified rowboat, or rotten timbers under a thin coat of cheap paint. “Let’s go look at it-”

“Already did, it’s amazing.”

Another sigh, accompanied by languid stretch and light massage to the temples. “Let me-”

But Holley didn’t let her finish. “Let’s go find Wetzel.” And she was gone before Mureum could stop her. Norgorber’s ass was she a pain. Patiently, Mureum trotted after her friend with Kimi following in tow.

The three girls searched high and low for Wetzel, but the good bakeries were closed and those that were open he wasn’t in. Holley began to panic a little. It was dinner time, the sun was going down. What if someone else bought her glorious ship before she could make it back? She couldn’t bear to think about it.

***********************

Wetzel hummed to himself in a tiny bakery in a back alley. He had finally found a place that would allow him to use their ovens. It wasn’t a good oven, but it would do. He stooped over the brick oven as a loaf of bread turned golden brown in its final stage of baking. Like a priest lifting the holy stein of Cayden Cailean himself, he took the bread from the oven, slowly and carefully. Suddenly, he heard something and cocked his head to the side to listen more closely.

“…wwwWWWWETZEL!”

And then a figure slammed into his back, wrapping its slender white arms around his neck, kicking its booted heels in the air. The force of the blow jarred his balance and he watched in horror as his bread bounced on the pan as he juggled it. He felt helpless as he did nothing but stare and let it slide from his shocked fingers. Time slowed to a crawl and he saw Mureum, blonde hair streaming like a banner, as she tumbled through the kitchen’s open window, rolled onto the floor, and caught the pan with a potholder, balancing it on her hand as she rose from her somersault.

Mureum considered her new found prize and looked down at Wetzel, who knelt on the ground, Holley clinging like a barnacle to his back. “This is mine now.”

Anything he might have thought to say was rudely interrupted.

“Wetzel I found a ship. Let’s go!”

Stammering and confused, Wetzel was dragged along with Mureum to see Holley’s prize find. She hurried them to the docks, continually checking the sky in an anxious way, as though night fall were mere minutes away as opposed to an hour or so.

As they approached, the merchant caught sight of them and greeted them excitedly.

“You come back! And now there is two pretty ladies. You want to buy ship now? You have money, yes?”

Mureum stepped forward. “This is my investor,” Holley said, the setting sun giving her skin an almost warm glow. “She wants to see the ship before we purchase it.”

“Ah yes,” the man said with understanding. “Investor. Come, I show you ship.”

The merchant took them to the ship and gave them another tour, making sure to emphasize the sturdy construction and the luxurious space, especially in the captain’s quarters. As he chattered away, Mureum took Wetzel aside.

“You know about the quality of wood, right?” she whispered, so as not to alert their tour guide.

Wetzel’s eyes narrowed. “Yes, but it’ll cost you a loaf of bread.”

“Can I have a slice?”

“I was planning on sharing it from the beginning. Until you took it.”

“I’m sorry, okay? I’ve made a lot of deals today. It’s been a long day.”

“Okay fine. Yes, you can have a slice.”

Mureum handed the loaf of bread back to Wetzel. He lay a slender hand on the wall of the ship and closed his eyes. Breathing deeply, he felt the energy in the ship’s wood. It was strong, and confident. This was a ship that had sailed enough to be seasoned, but not enough to be weathered. He opened his eyes and nodded to Mureum.

She continued to follow the merchant, paying close attention to details. Holley softly chanted in the background and began to hop in a circle in premature celebration. “We’re gonna get a shi-ip. We’re gonna get a shi-ip.”

After the tour, Murem counted out the five thousand and handed it to the man. He pulled a sheaf of papers from a document tube in his coat and read it aloud. It was a bill of sale and ownership, that forfeited his rights and responsibilities of the ship in favor of a new owner. It explained that part of this process was the un-naming of the ship. The new name would be the new owner’s decision. Mureum and her future captain signed the papers and made it officially theirs. The man thanked them profusely before rowing himself back to shore.

Holley couldn’t stop the grin from taking over her face. “So who wants to sleep here tonight?”

They set themselves up for the night in the barracks. As they unpacked their supplies, Holley asked, “So what’s that about the five years thing.”

Mureum told them everything about the strange Emporium and the shopkeeper. Something was nagging in the back of her mind. She was missing something. Norgorber’s ass what was- oh. OH. Norgorber. Blackfingers. It all made sense. But damn his ass. Why did he have to be so cryptic?

***********************

The four now soon-to-be pirates settled themselves for the night. Holley took the first watch. She wouldn’t be able to sleep right now anyway. She walked the deck from bow to stern, straddling the center line and feeling the gentle rocking as the waves lapped into the waters of Port Peril. It was finally happening! She had her own ship!

The time for second watch came and Mureum took the deck. As she inspected their new home, she thought she heard splashing. Stealthily, she melted into the shadows and peered over the side. Her keen eyes made out a small rowboat, holding several men as they came towards the ship. Silently, she hurried to the barracks and awakened the others.

“Mmmmmpf,” Holley murmured, rolling over in her hammock. “I just got comfy.”

“We got company,” Mureum said. “Five men, headed this way in a rowboat. Ambush. Don’t run up there screaming. I want to catch them by surprise. And, Kimi? Make sure that armor’s on tight.”

The young girl nodded as she quickly braided her hair and tucked it beneath the collar of her adamantine breastplate.

They hid, silently, sinking themselves into the shadows. The five men boarded, holding a shielded lantern. Their clothes were worn and they all sported tattoos with the image of a snarling dog. They huddled together to stay in the light and Holley could hear them whispering.

“I’m sure this is the ship. They did say there was a reward, right?”

“Shuddap, bastard. Of course there’s a reward. And this is the ship. The name plate’s missin’ and everything.”

Holley caught Wetzel’s eye from behind a barrel. She darted her red eyes in the direction of the intruders and raised a hand to cover them, signaling him to blind them. Mureum lifted a single finger and placed her other hand on her jugular. They needed one alive for questioning. Wetzel snapped his fingers and gestured towards the men. Their lantern suddenly filled with water, plunging them into darkness.

There were cries of surprise and alarm as a pale and beautiful woman with red eyes and bared fangs flashing charged headlong into her foes, swinging her cutlass. With a powerful slash, she cut one man from shoulder to hip and he cried out with pain, almost dropping his own cutlass. His companions stared in fear and horror, but stood their ground. One managed to gather enough brains about him to scream: “You bitch! Die!” As he swung down on the pale figure, cutlass flashing in the wane moonlight. Red splashed on the deck as he caught her arm on his sword. His nerves steadied. “Ah, so ye can bleed. Not so scary now aintcha’?”

“No one calls the captain a bitch, but me,” said a calm voice from the darkness. The thug who cut Holley felt a sharp, agonizing pain in his back as a dagger slipped into his flesh. The pain was so intense that spots danced in front of his vision. “Also we are willing to accept your surrender.”

“N-never!” he managed to say, with a choked voice. “We can take ’em. We can take ’em!”

Another thug ran up and slammed his cutlass down at Mureum, who caught and deflected it easily with her dagger. “Again, your surrender, is always an option.”

“No, seriously!” another voice called from the darkness. “We really would love your unconditional surrender.” And a spinning ball of water shot out of the darkness, catching the tallest attacker unawares. He stumbled back, but the water persisted, pushing him back to the railing. He staggered, knowing full well he would not be able to stay on the ship as the force of the blast overbalanced him and he tumbled over the side.

Kimi charged forward, wielding her new naginata to join Holley’s side. Unused to the length of the weapon, she misjudged her swing and the bleeding ruffian caught it on the hammer strapped to his leg. “Little girl. You think you can take me?”

Another man moved to slash at Mureum and she stepped out of the way, contempt in her eyes. Pathetic. Expecting to meet resistance, he overbalanced, stumbling slightly and letting his cutlass end its blow a few inches into the deck. Holley winced and her eyes glowed with anger.

“We’ll get a carpet, Holley!” Mureum called. “It’ll be fine!”

Holley shouted in anger, spinning around and thrusting her cutlass across the legs of the thug that Mureum stabbed. Blood sprayed from the arteries in his legs and his eyes widened in excruciating surprise as he fell to the deck in a pool of red. Bending back and turning on her hips, Holley opened her mouth and lunged forward, sinking her teeth into the throat of the man she had slashed first. With a savage twist, she ripped her fangs free and snarled, blood running down her chin and neck like a spilled wine. He screamed in terror and pain, his free hand covering his neck as if it could stop the bleeding. He wasn’t the only one. Kimi, face contorted in shock and horror, watched as her friend and mentor tore out the throat of a man. Her naginata clattered to the ground as she stared, not knowing what to think.

Mureum looked towards the door to the barracks below. “Hey! You rest of the crew, get out here. It’s a fun fight!”

Looking at one another, the remaining conscious men dropped their weapons and fell to their knees in surrender. Mureum gathered rope to tie them to the mainmast as Wetzel called out, excitedly, “Captain, does this mean we’ve captured our first hostages?”

The blonde woman paced in front of the prisoners in her high heels. “Now if you want him-” she gestured to the man lying face down in a pool of his own blood “-to live, I suggest you tell me what you are doing here and who sent you.”

Her threats were met with snarls of resistance. “We ain’t gon’ tell you nuthin’,” one said, struggling to hide his fear beneath a mask of bravado. “Bitch,” he added, cleverly. But the courage drained from him as Mureum heaved their friend over the side, his body hitting the water with a splash.

Rushing to the side, Wetzel called upon the plane of sea creatures, summoning a dolphin. He wanted to save the man, but he was bleeding too much too fast. And these were shark infested waters.

Mureum called Holley over, blood still covering the lower half of her face. The men shrunk back against the main mast in fear.

“I think I heard them saying something about a reward?” Holley said, looking to the men for confirmation. One in particular paled at her words and the sharp smell of urine filled the air.

“Please!” one finally broke. “It-it’s not our fault! You know how it is when you need money!” He pulled a parchment roll from his jacket.

On the parchment was a missive from a certain Captain Barnabas Harrigan, a brutal Free Captain of the Shackles. A fierce fighter and known slaver, Captain Harrigan had put out a reward for those would bring him the ship stolen from him, The Man’s Promise, and for those who commandeered it. Dead or alive. Those who would do so would receive from him a great reward. Holley passed the missive along.

As they deliberated what to do next, the heard a shout from shore.

“Hello out there!” It called. “Is everyone alright?”

To be continued…

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