Leila shuffled through Harrigan's papers as they made way toward Port Peril, racing to warn the Pirate Council of the imminent Chelish invasion. "Has anyone noticed that this invasion plan seems to call for the Chelish armada to sail directly through the Eye of Abendego?"
"That's crazy talk," Feruzi said.
"Damn it," Chopper complained. "I wanted to be the crazy one to suggest that."
"Witchcraft?" Sandara offered. Chopper smirked.
"You, I like."
They arrived in Port Peril in a cold, drizzling rain. The harbor was crammed with the flagships of pirate lords who, having received notification from the captured Wormwood, wanted to be on-hand for this meeting. Kerdak Bonefist called the meeting to order.
"There's only one agenda item on this meetin's schedule: this threat of a Chelish invasion. Cap'n Chopper 'as tha floor. Convince me."
"Welp, we have a fat lotta paperwork that sez Harrigan was treasonous scum instead of, you know, the regular kind. Also, that the Chelish fleet thinks they can sail through the Eye this time. So, that's different. It don't mention how. Was hopin' mebbe the Master of the Gales could shed some light," Chopper declared.
The druid looked a little surprised at this request, but only for a moment. "A 'blessing' from their infernal masters would seem the most likely explanation."
"Ah. So. Water devils. That's a thing. Huh." Chopper said. "Point is, if the Chelish fleet be on its way by unconventional means, we have far less time fer the usual smash 'n' grab that has been enjoyed in times past. I don't fancy wakin' up without me trousers and a randy fiend creepin' up behind." Sorrinash and a few of the rowdier pirate lords laughed until Bonefist glared them down.
"That's odd, because you seemed to enjoy it pretty well that one time," Feruzi said blandly into the restless silence.
Chopper shrugged. "I mean to keep a sharp eye on the . . . well the Eye, regardless o' what me fellow Council members have a mind t'do. I reckon we can bloody 'em some before they sink us, but will it be enough to stop 'em running roughshod over the rest of the Shackles? This don't strike me as a half measure, ladies and gents."
"Is there any possibility of counteracting their magic or whatever it is?" Feruzi asked. "The Eye would do most of the work for us in that case."
"Calm yerselves," Bonefist grunted. "There ain't no devil magic at work here. Papers don't make nothin' true."
Ezikial abruptly stood up. "Are you, then, so old and tired that you would rather close your eyes to what is happening so you can drool into your feather pillow in mindless comfort? Are you truly so daft, or are you a pirate lord of the Shackles?"
Bonefist growled. "Yer father was a brother-in-arms ter me, Besmara rest 'is soul. That, an' that alone, is the reason I don't have ye flayed alive here an' now. Erryone pay heed. No matter who forged these here papers hopin' ter draw us inter an attack on an old enemy--even supposin this threat is real, I reminds ye that meetin' the Chelaxians on th' open sea only plays ter Cheliax strengths an' concentration o' force, 'specially their teleportin' diabolic allies. Free Captains do best in battle wi' small strikes, or from defensive positions."
Feruzi leaned over and whispered to Chopper, " Did he say 'forged'?" Chopper nodded.
"If this threat is real and not some farcical invention by untested Lords and Ladies eager to cast a disparigin' light upon their rival Harrigan--who they obviously feel deserves more humiliation than mere defeat can offer--let those devils try their hands against our ports after they have endured the wrath of Abendego isself!"
Chopper thumped the table after Bonefist finished his surly monologue. "By the powers, yer right. Surprise is a key strategy for men and women such as ourselves."
Bonefist relaxed a little, eyeing Chopper carefully. "Aye."
"So, I ask you, what could be more surprising to the Chelish fleet than to find--for the first time in recorded history--the entirety of the Shackles power in one place, ready to meet them just as they escape the storm. As you say, whatever their powers they'll be worn down by Abendego and therein will lie our key advantage. If ye have no reason to take our word for it, look t' yer own information sources. Ye'd be fools to take anything' said at this Council at face value. And yer not fools."
"Enough!" Bonefist bellowed. "Me mind's made up. Lords o' tha Council, make ready yer squadrons fer when they be needed, but mark me words, what emerges from th' northern storm will be in no shape to take e'en a single atoll." He glared down the table. "ANY captains who sail north on this fool's errand might well find themselves branded traitors agin tha Shackles, 'specially if this be just a ruse ter distract our defenses."
"Nothing would give me greater pleasure than to see you proved right, of course," Chopper said, bowing. "Me, I'm sailing north."
"And those that value their lands and freedom should consider doing the same," Reiko added.
"Not to mention those who value not letting us have ALL the plunder," Feruzi continued.
Chopper stood, surveying the gathered Pirate Council, then turned and walked out.
"Erryone's life is his ter throw away," Bonefist growled. "This Council be dismissed."
A few hours later, as they were transferring their equipment from the Wormwood to the Crisis, a number of pirate lords--some under their own initiative, others at Reiko's invitation--convened. Lady Fairwind, Cerise Bloodmourne, Arronax Endymion and the Master of the Gales all accepted cups of grog and settled down to chat.
"I remain in your debt after you cleared my name," Endymion began. "My personal squadron is yours to command. After your victory over Harrigan's armada, I am comfortable deferring to your expertise."
"I have long feared that Drenchport would be the first target of a Chelish invasion," the Master rumbled. "Your timetable confirms my fear. As a result, I have left my ships at Drenchport. I will gladly offer you my personal aid, though."
"Ooh, Druid spells!" Feruzi enthused. Chopper quirked an eyebrow at her, smirking. "Don't even think of saying that word," she added.
"Huh? Oh. Witchcraft. Right. Doesn't apply. He and nature have an understanding."
"My squadron is with you, too," Tessa said. "And if, no, when we win I will certainly support you in any bid to make for rule of the Shackles."
"I think we may be able to get a few of the other Free Captains on board with that," Reiko said as if this were the most natural notion in the world."
Cerise snickered. "Pity ye've no taste fer rule yerself, Tess."
"Bonefist stays locked away in
for weeks at a time. I still have the
love of the open sea in my heart." Fort Hazard
"Just because you have his job doesn't mean you have to do it the way he does," Feruzi said.
"True, true. But I still don't want the job. Not as badly as some of you might," Fairwind said, winking at Chopper.
"Well, that is not something that needs to be decided at this point in time," Reiko said.
"But we are agreed that a change in leadership is needed," Endymion said.
"For now, I think it prudent to make ready for an early morning departure. Thank you all for coming tonight," she said, bowing to the other pirate Captains, who made their way off the Crisis and toward their own ships.
"Are you seriously considering making a bid for Pirate King?" Feruzi asked, eyeing Chopper.
"Yes. It's perfect. I don't think I ever told you this, but I came out to sea to do what I could to lessen the hold of the Shackles over Sargava."
"Ah. I was rather looking forward to, you know, settling down."
"And you should do what your heart tells you. This has been my dream for a long time. I just never expected an opportunity to fast track it to present itself so readily."
"I'm just worried about someone stabbing you in the back if you don't have anyone to look after you. There are just as many people who dislike you as adore you. And if this Chelish thing comes off there will be even more."
"Well, there's always Mister Hands. He would be murderously annoyed, I think, should I come to harm."
"Mm. We'll worry about that when it happens, I suppose."