"So, which of these paths are we to follow?" Feruzi asked when they returned to the Crisis.
"Well, I think they are both equally important," Reiko said.
"If we had two ships . . ."
"Technically we do. They are just . . . elsewhere."
"We should go after the wreckers," Chopper said. "That's our given quest."
"I would hate to discover that the halflings had vital information, though," Feruzi told him.
"We can always go after the other if Dindreann doesn't net us enough information."
"Well, Mr. Slip's request was only to discover what has happened to the Brine Banshee. Technically, that can wait for a little while," Reiko said.
"Wreckers it is."
"I'll chart a course right away, Captain," Leila said.
The shoals Slip had suggested were only about six hours out from
, around the Rampore Isles. They reached the area after dark and began
looking around. Bag Island
"So, now what?" Feruzi asked. "Sail around until we hit something?"
"Never been anywhere near here," Chopper muttered. "Perhaps drop anchor until the daylight?"
"Ship ahoy!" called Etto the lookout. "Ahead off the port bow! Tis a wee merchant ship with her sails lowered!"
"Then again..." Chopper grinned.
"Rosie! Grab the boys and load up!" Ezikial called.
"Aye aye, sir!" the halfling shouts.
"Why don't we wait and watch. Maybe the wreckers lured that ship in. It's not as if we announced to the world that we were coming here," Reiko suggested. Chopper nodded.
"Settle. If it's the wreckers and we stay put, hopefully they'll grow impatient. If it's a victim, they'll keep the night."
"I agree." Chopper squinted into the gloom. Fishguts came up to the rail beside him. "Can you make anything out, Cookie?"
"Have ye got the Farglass, Cap'n?" Chopper handed it over and Fishguts scrutinized the distant ship. "She's raisin' sails. Must be 'fraid of us. Rahadoumi colors . . . plate says Shinin' Star."
Chopper shook his head. "Doesn't ring a bell."
"That is interesting," Reiko said. "I had a thought. What if this ship is not directly, but indirectly related to the wreckers, as in, the people the wreckers sell their hauls to? And what if they made a trade quite recently? It would not be good to let them get away. Tracking them down later may prove difficult."
"Thassa lotta conjecture."
"Only one good way to find out whether she's right or not," Feruzi said.
"We know the wreckers operate in this area. Its not like they're going to pack up and leave just because we sailed by."
"Well, if you all want to do something stupid, who am I to stand in the way?" Chopper asked, grinning. "Let's creep up on em, aye? The one day I try to play it cautious."
"We'll probably be ok. Of course, that ship could be the wrecker's bait too," Reiko said.
"Either way, we'll know soon," Feruzi said.
They weighed the anchor and unfurled the sails to set off after the mystery ship, Ezikial as always double and triple-checking the ballistae. Reiko steered cautiously, her eyes on the water. She abruptly gave the wheel a hard turn. "Drop anchor! Furl the sails!" She called, alarmed. Chopper and Feruzi looked overboard, realizing that there was something wrong about the waters just the ship shuddered and ground against something.
"There is some magic at work here!" Feruzi called. The Crisis shuddered violently again and then crashed to a stop against coral, hurling everyone violently to the deck. The distant ship vanished along with the strangeness of the sea, revealing that the Crisis was surrounded by shoals on all sides--only Reiko's quick action had prevented the destruction of their ship.
"Well then," Chopper said, getting to his feet and looking around. A man jumped over the rail and attacked him, followed by several more as a wave of supernatural fear washed over the deck. Flying above, a female half-orc made arcane gestures at them. Feruzi drew her bow and attacked the flier, most of her arrows merely dissipating illusions. Chopper assaulted the reavers with axe and cutlass, dealing one a substantial wound, but they were not daunted; their counterattack left him staggering back covered in blood. Ezikial joined Feruzi in trying to bring the wizard down, dispelling more illusions and peppering the water with bullets. Reiko charged the reavers while the wizard cast another spell, this time directed just at Chopper--his face paled and he winced in pain. Feruzi launched another volley--the wizard was running low on illusions and several arrows struck home, eliciting foul language. Feruzi hooted and shook her fist.
"You're mine now, bitch!" The reavers counterattacked, striking Chopper to the deck and boxing in Reiko so they could reach Feruzi; she dodged away but they left her bleeding.
"FUCK!" Ezikial screamed eloquently, seeing Chopper fall. "SANDARA!" He loosed a ballista at the wizard, causing more cursing. Reiko growled and booted one of the reavers in the chest, following up with her katana and cleaving the man from his right hip to his left shoulder. The other man attacking her flinched and subsequently lost his head. Reiko panted and surveyed the carnage, seeing that Feruzi was still under assault.
The wizard cast another spell and a wall of flames erupted from the deck, scorching the wood and threatening to set rope and sail ablaze. Reiko flinched from the heat and saw Feruzi dart past her, sprinting through the flames to haul Chopper to safety. One of the reavers cleaved Feruzi to the deck while the remaining two assaulted Reiko, one distracting her while the other shoved his sword through her stomach, leaving her to collapse in a pool of blood. Ezikial fired his pistol one last time and drew his swords, daring the reavers to attack. Rays of flame flared around him, missing Ezikial by inches but starting more small fires that might soon grow out of control.
Sandara sprinted toward the officers and called on Besmara for aid, enveloping them all in healing energy. Ezikial grinned at her gratefully and drove forward with his short swords, downing one of the reavers in a flurry of cuts. Chopper gasped and scrabbled at the deck, pulling himself out from under Feruzi, who coughed at the smoke and rolled over.
"I think this . . . makes us even . . ." she grated between choking breaths. The fiery wall dissipated while Reiko pulled a potion out of her belt and downed it in one swallow. The remaining reavers, seeing their opponents regain their feet, decided they were urgently required elsewhere and vanished over the rail. The wizard was nowhere to be seen and the fires she left were quickly doused.
"Gods damn but I hate wizards," Chopper growled. "Unrelated, maybe we can hire a wizard?"
"I'm working on it," Feruzi muttered, coughing some more. "Let's not do that again."
"Did we lose anyone?" Chopper asked, looking around. There were a lot of nasty-looking injuries, but it seemed the officers took the brunt of the attack and were the worst injured. Chopper sighed relief. With the illusion gone they could see the remains of two other wrecked ships among the rocks and a small rocky island a few miles away.
They managed to float the Crisis off the rocks about the time the sun came up. One of the two wrecked ships was, indeed, the Lady's Sting; Reiko had the crew pry loose the name plate so they could bring it with them. Slowly and laboriously they backed the Crisis out of the shoals and made for the island, finding a couple of longboats on the beach that pointed them toward a cluster of concealed huts surrounded by a wooden palisade. The huts were empty full of a jumble of plunder, mostly items too heavy to easily carry away. Ezikial descended upon an array of alchemical goods while the others found what seemed to be the wizard's hut; there was a hole under the bunk, as if something was recently dug up. Feruzi finally located a small bundle wrapped in oilcloth that turned out to be the missing wasp figurine.
"That is smaller than I expected," Feruzi said, holding it up. Leila raised her eyebrows gently.
"It would be worth thousands, should we sell it. Not that I would wish to incur the wrath of a cult who worships a goddess of vengeance."
"Heh, we'll honor the bargain we made," Chopper said. "Big picture and all that."
"Besides, the information we'll get for returning this may well be worth more than a few thousand gold," Reiko said.
"Aye, I reckon we'll come out ahead here," Chopper said.
"Shall I chart a course back to Quent then, Captain?" Leila asked.
"I'd like to hunt down that mage," Feruzi grumbled.
"Aye, we'll just have to watch our backs for the invisible flying tart what calls herself a pirate."
The trip back to Quent was uneventful, but when the docks came into view Feruzi groaned suddenly and hid her face; the now-familiar Bonaventure was in port, tied up at a nearby pier.
"Pegsworthy's followin ye!" Sandara crowed and burst into giggles.
"He shows up in Quent and you think he's following Feruzi?" Chopper asked. "There's a stretch." Feruzi glared at him.
"You didn't TELL him we were coming here, did you?"
"I . . . might have? I was very drunk."
Feruzi stared in horror. Then she frowned. "No, no, he left Port Peril before you went to see Fairwind. Right?"
"I suppose? The time is a might fuzzy, t'be honest."
"No, I checked, his ship was gone before then."
"Who's following whom?!" Chopper demanded.
"SHUT UP," Feruzi growled, catching Rosie with her mouth open. The halfling pouted and Chopper grinned.
"Permission--no, orders--to speak freely, sailor!" he said.
"I were just thinkin' that, while they're both in the same port Sandara should throw 'em a proper Shackles marriage, Cap'n, sir. With plenty of booze!" Rosie announced. Sandara laughed again.
"There's a promotion in your future and no question," Chopper said to the halfling.
"I'm staying aboard!" Feruzi choked.
"Good!" was Rosie's instant rejoinder. "He can find ye easier that way!" Rosie then began making exaggerated kissing noises until Feruzi's death glare made her stop.
"Yeah, well, Conchobar is after YOU and I don't think it's so funny!" Feruzi spluttered. "Anyway, I have work to do. Somewhere. Not here."
"Off ya go, bride-ta-be," Chopper called after her, then hurried off the ship. The House of Stolen Kisses was, as always, open. To anything. Dindreann was pleased to see them.
"Back so soon? Do you have anything for me? Good news or . . . anything else?"
"Good, not great. We got yer bee back. Sadly, the Sting were totaled," Chopper said.
"I feared as much."
"The Sting's name plate is aboard the Crisis," Reiko said. "Do you desire it returned as well?"
"That would please us, yes. Did you bring the Vespal?"
"Of course," Reiko said, producing the figurine. Dindreann accepted it with a sigh of relief.
"Thank you, Captain. I thank you all. Our bargain is concluded. One of our patrons claimed to have knowledge of a spy operating in the Shackles, a half-elf scrimshander named Jaymiss Keft in Drenchport. Seek him out to learn more about your spy."
"Drenchport," Reiko murmured. "I haven't been there in years."
"Seems tenuous," Chopper muttered. Dindreann's face fell. "I don't suppose you know anything about the Brine Banshee you'd be willing to pass along?" Chopper asked.
"I do. Perhaps you'll feel we are more even if I share it with you?"
"I would be grateful."
"I have heard that a retired ship's surgeon in Ollo named Haneilius Fitch claims to have a way to locate the Banshee--but he needs someone to bankroll his expedition."
Dindreann's smile returned. "What happened to the wreckers?"
"We killed some and drove the rest away. Bloody wizard," Chopper grumbled.
"Mostly they dispersed," Reiko said. "I can't say they won't come back, as unfortunate as that may be. We do know they were using illusions to lure ships in, though."
Dindreann nodded. "My Wasp Queen will find the wizard, I promise you."
Chopper bowed, signaling the end of the conversation, and they left. "A couple o' names fer that shiny bauble and mosta my blood on the deck? I may have underestimated the threat level of this piratin' lifestyle."
"Yours is not the only blood that covers the deck, Captain," Reiko said.
"Makes it a might worse, wouldn't you say? Bah. Here I am bellyachin' like an old salt. Let's to the Bonaventure and find Pegsworthy. We still have to pitch Feruzi's woo his way, after all." The idea seemed to cheer Chopper right up. As if on cue, Captain Merrill Pegsworthy emerged from the House behind them, literally dragging his new first mate, a younger man with black curly hair, blue eyes, and a rakish air who wore a prominent symbol of Cayden Cailean.
"How fortuitous," Reiko remarked.
"Aye," Chopper said. "Captain."
"Captain Chopper!" Pegsworthy exclaimed, releasing his grip on the cleric who immediately ran back into the House. "Good to see you. Your Crisis turns up in the oddest places."
"Crisis is likely to strike those least expecting it, aye."
"I am not sure I would call the House odd--unless you have learned nothing of us," Reiko said.
"Having a little trouble with your help, I see?" Chopper asked.
Pegsworthy's grin was somewhat strained. "The price I pay for progress." He hesitated a moment or two. "I do not see Miss Feruzi among your company."
"Oh, she's probably using the spyglass to try and catch a peep at you aboard the Bonaventure. She's mad for you, you know. Deeeeep denial about it." Chopper rolled his eyes dramatically. Pegsworthy's expression was conflicted.
"You have another Feruzi aboard your ship, perhaps?" he asked dubiously.
"Besmara keep us from that," Ezikial muttered, the first time he'd spoken in several hours. Chopper chuckled.
"Nah, just the one, mate."
"Is she cursed or otherwise under magical influence?"
"Don't think so. Not rightly sure what to do, honestly. Rosie thinks a wedding might be best. Get you kids hitched up proper and let nature take it's course."
Pegsworthy stiffened in a manner oddly reminiscent of the woman they were discussing. "You must be mistaken. Miss Feruzi has shown little interest in even speaking to me."
"I'm sure I mentioned the 'deep denial'," Chopper said, showing his teeth. He was enjoying this immensely.
Reiko cleared her throat, eyeballing Chopper and shaking her head. "I think Feruzi is just shy," she said. "Though I'm probably not the best one to speak on this topic."
"Come on," Chopper said, "let's fetch your wayward first mate and then go speak to your would-be, er, mate. Sorry, that sounded better in my head."
Reiko's eye caught the faint sign of effort as Pegsworthy summoned up a benevolent smile--a trick Feruzi had not yet mastered. Despite his outward manner, Reiko thought, Pegsworthy was in personality a great deal more like Feruzi than Chopper. "A capital suggestion. I will be right back."
"I am not sure you are the best one to speak on this topic, either," Reiko told Chopper. "Not with your damsel in distress syndrome and all."
"I am quite sure I have no idea what you mean."
"Of course not," Reiko said dryly as Pegsworthy returned, first mate in tow.
"Come then, let us be off!"