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Apr 24, 2014

Skull and Shackles Session 48: Stealth Section

"So, if the bastard didn't bother comin', what's he up to, eh?" Chopper demanded of the Wormwood officer, a Varisian man named Bintrim Whist.

"Doloruso said Harrigan was sure his fleet would crush you."

"He was mistaken," Feruzi said.

"Yes, ma'am."

"So, what does he have let at his disposal?" Reiko asked.

"Just what he's got left at his fortress.  He's there now with no real way to escape and just the great serpent defending the harbor."

"What, Fluffy?" Chopper asked.

"I don't know its name, sir."

"Are ye thick?  I jus' told you."

"Yes, sir.  Of course, sir.  Sorry, sir.  I just know about the gong and the bull."

"Sure, sure," Chopper muttered.

Eventually, the disorganized aftermath of the battle was sorted out, with the allied and captured ships anchored at the Island.  Saburo was the only allied captain seriously injured--he went overboard and nearly drowned.  Everyone else was banged up to some degree, but no one was seriously dead so a celebration seemed to be in order.  In the morning, the Crisis officers reconvened to discuss matters.

"Now we can use the secret way to creep up on that coward Harrigan," Chopper said straight off.

"Or we could just return in the Wormwood and make him think he succeeded," Reiko offered.

"I like Reiko's idea," Feruzi said.  "I want to vote for that one.  Although his first mate may have teleported back there and reported failure already."

Reiko shrugged.  "I doubt it.  Harrigan would likely kill her for deserting her post."

"Mmph," Feruzi grumbled.  "Part of me keeps worrying that is some kind of elaborate plot, but then I remember that Harrigan isn't that smart."


"Fetch out that map again!" Chopper ordered.  They all leaned over his shoulders (or snuck in under his arm, in Reiko's case) to squint at the parchment.

"Torture pit?"  Feruzi asked, pointing.

"An' a shrine to WHO, 'zactly?" Sandara demanded.

"Dunno," said Chopper.  "Never heard Harrigan say any prayers."

"It's probably a shrine to himself," Feruzi said.  Sandara and Conchobhar laughed.

"THAT I can see," Chonchobhar snorted.  "Like I was standing there right now."

Reiko's plan was finally adopted.  Fishguts produced a really juicy bull and a large brass gong from who knew where and they set off aboard the Wormwood for Gannet Island.  It wasn't much of an island, to be sure, consisting mostly of a rocky outcrop surrounded by smaller shoals that made navigation rather difficult.  Fortunately, again, they had a map.  Rosie banged the gong with rather more vigor than was probably called for as Fishguts slaughtered the bull and, with some assistance, heaved the carcass overboard, sniffling a few times at the sad waste of prime steak.  They anchored the Wormwood in the cove without incident.  Feruzi cast a few spells, rendering the recognizable officers invisible, and Birtrim Whist had some of the Wormwood's crew row them ashore. 

An octogonal tower loomed above them.  The drawbridge was down, spanning a dry gulch before the walls, but the doors were shut and looked as if they intended to stay that way.  Whist waved at the tower.  "Welp, we're back."  A guard poked his head over the edge of the parapet.

"Where's the rest of your crew?"

"Repairing the ship.  We thought Harrigan would want to hear our report right away."

There was a long pause as the guards conferred in hushed tones.  They didn't seem terribly convinced.  Reiko leaned forward and whispered to Whist, making him jump.  "Be more convincing from now on."

"It's not exactly my strong suit, now is it?"

The sound of the heavy wooden bar being levered out boomed from the doors and they creaked open.  Two more guards edged out of the way, allowing the landing party into the fortress.  The courtyard was choked with weeds and filth.  To the southeast, a wooden platform sat on the ground in the corner of the surrounding wall.  A winch and crane provided the mechanism to raise and lower the platform to the walkway twenty feet above.  A very large, smelly humanoid leaning against the wall suddenly raised a pair of massive axes.  "Smell intruders!" it bellowed.  Feruzi shot it, dispelling the invisibility.

"Stop them from activating that winch!" she said.  Ezikial dove forward and slashed the winch cable, grabbing the end of the rope and sailing through the air in true swashbuckler fashion.  He landed neatly atop the walkway above and drew his pistols.  A furious combat ensued.  The scrag was laid low by Reiko's trusty katana, but the double doors behind it flew open, revealing a replacement scrag and an additional bonus scrag that, fortunately or un, walked directly into another fusillade of arrows and was instantly rendered nonfunctional.

More guards charged Ezikial along the walkway, to Ezikial's delight.  He emptied his pistols into the first one while below, Chopper charged the remaining scrag, distracting it long enough for Reiko to sever some reasonably vital appendages.  A fourth and final scrag put in its appearance, whacking Reiko in the back with its axe and causing some unpleasant effects to be realized.  While Reiko was busy cussing, Feruzi stole her kill, finishing off the damaged scrag and wounding the other.  Above them, gunfire and a rain of bodies continued as Ezikial went on amusing himself.  Sandara rushed forward to heal Reiko while Chopper dispatched the fourth and final scrag.  The fighters down below then realized that the courtyard had filled up with a number of Harrigan's men while they were occupied.

Feruzi blinked at them.  "Oh, are you still attacking us?" she asked.  "I nearly forgot you were there.  You may go."  Chopper snorted.  He was about to utter a snappy rejoinder when a tengu appeared in the northern doorway, pointing a scimitar directly at Chopper.

"You!" the Tengu squawked.  "You can run but you can't hide!"

Chopper flapped his axe excitedly.  "Oh wow!  A talking birdman!  JOIN MY CREW!"

Reiko and Feruzi tackled the mass of smugglers as Chopper went mano e mano with the tengu.  After about two seconds the five remaining smugglers--clearly outnumbered by the two women--attempted to retreat back through the doors.  They were joined by their own women who were dressed in the obligatory robes of some cult or another.

"Seriously, you should join us," Chopper said as the sound of grenades exploding echoed across the courtyard.  "The benefits are great!"

"My captain will reward me when I bring him your head!" squawked the Tengu.  A seemingly endless stream of blows and banter followed until both of them were covered and blood and barely on their feet.  Reiko dispatched the last cultist just as Chopper fell to one knee, too faint to continue.  Feruzi shook her head and shot the Tengu straight through the heart.

The courtyard was theirs.  Ezikial surveyed the carnage with a happy grin.

Apr 3, 2014

Skull and Shackles Session 47: Fleet on Fleet Action

It was difficult to say whether the decision to return to the Island of Empty Eyes to rally the defense was a wise one, but Harrigan's fleet was spotted early on the 20th of Abadius by the keen eyes of Morgus the Manticore, who also gave them a general outline of Harrigan's attack formation and the location of the much-hated Wormwood.

"Watcher think?"  Chopper asked.  "Try to pierce the heart?"

"It should be our responsibility to deal with Harrigan," Feruzi said.  "Their alliance will probably fall apart without him."

"Aye," Chopper said thoughtfully.

"I have no doubt our allies can handle most of this riffraff, anyway."

"Right.  LISTEN UP, YE SWABS!" Chopper bellowed, rather startling everyone, "We mean ta cut a bloody path ta Captain Harrigan!  I need every sailor givin' their utmost all!  All hands on the bleedin' deck!  YAAAAAAAARRRRGH!"

The crew gave a hearty cheer.

"LOAD THEM UP, ROSIE!" Ezikial ordered.  "Make sure you use chain bolts for the ballistae and the barrels are ready for the catapult."

"Er, Captain," Sandara said as the cannons and ballistae were loaded, "Do we mean ter sink, or ter board?":

"Board.  Wouldn't do ta caount a sunk ship as a confirmed kill," Chopper told her, winking.

"More glory innit too, I wager," she replied, winking back.

Reiko sighed.  "Right, then."  She took her position behind the wheel as the first ships engaged.  In the hazy distance one of Harrigan's ships collided with a Hell Harbor warship in a shower of splinters.  Within moments both ships were heavily embattled and on fire.  The Salty Flagon, Pierce Jerrell's ship, closed with another and seemed to sprout a forest of flashing blades.  The Sated Satyr intercepted a warship before it could reach the Crisis.  The Wormwood was visible now, deep in the center of the enemy fleet.  Behind the Crisis there was a horrendous crash as the Satyr rammed the warship, effectively taking both ships out of the fight.  Ezikial, watching the carnage with an avid expression, began to sing, Sandara joining him vigorously.  Only one defender remained, and the Strife managed to force it off course, giving Crisis free room to ply her guns.

"Time to make ourselves truly offensive to Harrigan," Feruzi said.

"That's the spirit!"  Chopper told her.  "Now, Ezikial!"

The cannons thundered, fully restored after their removal from the Black Marlin; the ballistae and catapults fired with less drama but equal effectiveness, chain bolts and fire barrels reducing the Wormwood's aft rigging to flaming splinters.  One of her ballistae was also shattered.

"RELOAD THAT!!" Ezikial bellowed.  Reiko steered the Crisis into the void left by the shattered ballista as the boarding crews hurled grapnels onto the Wormwood, hauling the ships together.  Planks were thrown across and a general surge of armed-pirates swept toward Harrigan's flagship.  "BESMARA!!!" Ezikial howled, a cry that was taken up by many.

Harrigan and his first mate Peppery Longfarthing were nowhere to be seen,  but Riaris Krine and Patch Patchsalt seemed to be leading the action.  Patchsalt seemed to run over the top of the crowd and viciously attacked Ezikial with a magical blade.

"Besmara's come calling for you!" Ezikial spat at the little gnome.

"Norgorber'll take ye first!" she shrieked in reply.

Reiko left the wheel and drew her sword, cleaving a path through the mass of enemy pirates with a placid, intent expression on her face.  Body parts thumped to the deck before her.  "Stand down or you taste my blade as well," she told the pirates, and they recoiled from her.

The aft ballista fired, the bolt slamming into Ezikial and tearing a great hole through his side.  Kipper, manning the ballista, shrieked with laughter.  Chopper rushed forward, clearing a space around the wounded Ezikial, while Feruzi's eye sought out Kipper.  A flurry of arrows dropped him before he could take cover.  Riaris Krine, bellowing every foul oath she knew, attacked Reiko with her magical boarding pike.  Ezikial, somehow still on his feet, pulled out his pistols and began firing while Sandara attempted to heal his wounds.  Patchsalt went down, leaving only Krine to rally the enemy pirates.

"Where's Harrigan?" Chopper demanded.

"Like I'd tell ye ball-grabbin' bastards!"

Shrugging, Chopper aimed his cutlass and a surge of magical water hurled Krine overboard, still swearing. "So, were IS the ruddy bastard?" Chopper demanded of the now-surrendering enemy.

"Wait, let me guess," Feruzi grunted, "he had a headache so he stayed home in bed."

"He ain't here," one of the lesser officers announced.  "Doloruso's in charge here."

"Interesting," Chopper said.  "Let's say hello."  He booted the door to the Captain's quarters and bellowed, "Oy!  Officer on deck!"  He caught a fleeting glimpse of an unfamiliar Mwangi woman who hissed in surprise before she vanished from sight in a crackle of magical energy.

"Bloody witchcraft!  Gods take the entire damned school o' conjuration!"

"Er, may I be of service, Captain?" A timid voice asked.  Chopper turned around to regard one of the surviving Wormwood officers.

"Mebbe you can."

Skull and Shackles Session 46: Caves Full of Ships

Alise pointed the Crisis officers to a gap in the rocks on the other side of the island that opened into a vast cathedral-like cavern packed with derelict ships.  Despite the shifting of the tide, the greenish water stank of death.  Only a few rays of sunlight penetrated the murk.  Four of the ships were in an identifiable condition.  The largest was the Devilish Duchess.  Another, with sleek lines and cannon ports, was named the Black Marlin.  The other two were the Pinkbelly and the Undaunted.

Ezikial looked ecstatic.  Well, ecstatic for him.  "Cannon," he announced, leading the way over the wrecks toward the Marlin.  Chopper glanced over the side to see the decayed bones of a dozen ships and ten times that many men.  Dark shapes moved in the shadows and sprang to the attack, one charging straight into Reiko's blade and nearly splitting itself in twain.  Ezikial followed up with a hail of pistol shot, but the elder undead still came on, raking with their diseased claws at anyone to slow to give way.  Bleeding, now, Chopper distracted a second and Feruzi shot it through the head, yet still it came on.  This was beginning to look like something less than an easy fight.  Reiko ducked under a claw and completed the twain-splitting of the first one.  It dissolved into acid, splashing her and mixing with the blood already liberally streaming from her wounds.

Sandara channeled divine energy, healing some of the wounds and burning the undead, and slowly the battle turned.  Chopper's axe split the head of the second brykolakas while Ezikial and Feruzi shot the third sufficiently full of holes to reduce it to dripping acid.  The last remaining monster showed no signs of fear, clawing away until Reiko decapitated it, getting one last dose of foul liquid in the bargain.

"It's really rude of them to explode AFTER we kill them," Feruzi complained, wiping ineffectually at the acid spots.

"Thass th' undead," Sandara said.  "Inconsiderate numpties th' lot ovem."

The ships proved to have some valuable plunder intact, and on the Devilish Duchess they located a small hidden panel in a beam just above a moldering hammock, containing some coins, bottles, and a leather journal.  A brief thumb through the volume revealed it as a detailed accounting of Scags Rotgram's grievances against his former captain, Barnabas Harrigan.  The latter portion was an elaborate plan to invade Harrigan's fortress and assassinate him--complete with maps, charts, and heavy annotation of defenses.

"Money," Chopper announced.

"Far be it from us to deny Rotgram's final wishes," Feruzi said.

Ezikial was not to be pulled away from the Black Marlin.  "Even if we leave the rest we should take this one, Captain.  Extended keel, narrow hull . . . she'll be fast and maneuverable and tough."

"You might want to wipe your chin there, Zeke," Feruzi said dryly.

"I don't mind, but do we have to take it today?" Chopper asked.

"Sooner is better, Captain."

"Put some people on it.  It's what we do now.  Delegate."

A great deal of back-breaking work followed, but they managed to float the Marlin on the 2 a.m. tide and take her in tow behind Crisis.  Leila spent the time examining Rotgram's charts and identified the most likely location of Harrigan's hideout.

"He's here on Gannet Island, about thirty-six miles west of the Smoker.  Rotgram also explains how to get past the sea serpent that guards the island."

"Shoot it a lot?" Feruzi offered.  "Just a wild guess, mind you."

"Er, no," Leila said.  "Well, perhaps.  But it says here that Harrigan has a pet witch who controls the beast.  When ships come to the island they bang large gongs and drop a freshly butchered bull over the side as an offering.  The serpent has been trained not to attack anyone who performs the ritual.  There is also a sea cave under the island that serves as an escape route.  Rotgram planned to approach the island underwater . . . though he doesn't say how . . . and enter the cave at high tide to sneak into the fortress.  Finally, he mentions that Harrigan's quarters are on the third floor.  Attacking from above could also be an option, but the entire complement of guards could come to his aid."

"Only if he has more guards than I have arrows," Feruzi smirked.

"It seems Rotgram was very serious about his plans," Reiko said.

"So, it seems we have a decision to make," Conchobhar said.  "Do we attack Harrigan now or return to help defend our island from his attack?"

"More'n Harrigan are against us," Chopper said.  Knowledge and defense be my leanin'."

"Shall I plot a course for home, Captain?" Leila asked.