Book reviews, art, gaming, Objectivism and thoughts on other topics as they occur.

Oct 21, 2013

Skull and Shackles: Excerpts from Merrill's Journal

15 Rova 4712
If some wag had told me, even five years ago, that I would find myself a married man at the age of thirty-mumble, well, I undoubtedly should have laughed in his face. If he should have continued his precognitions by intimating that I should discover said married state to be superior to every method of living previously attempted, why, I have little doubt but that I should have proclaimed the man mad on the spot and enjoined the local constabulary to lock him away before he injured himself. Yet, here I am, and this is, indeed, the condition I find myself in. Has it been only a week? Already my quarters feel empty with her gone. Dwelling on this seems likely to darken my spirits, so I will, perforce, turn my thoughts into more productive lines.
My first priority, of course, should be to rid myself of that damnable blood-payment Bonefist decreed. Hell Harbor has proved an excellent resource for the pursuit of this goal, for Markuss inspires a great deal of respect from the Chelish expatriates that infest Endymion’s city. We have shifted nearly all of our goods, but I am yet loath to part with the currency until Markuss can ensure that we will face no shortfall as a result. This crew has gone without pay before, but it is a contingency I would as soon avoid. Loyalty must swing both ways if it is to be true.
Markuss has likewise taken the matter of Zuneraali’s shopping list off my hands, although I cannot help but think we may be best served to wait a while and see if this peculiar arrangement runs its course. Durgrin insists that we should make every effort to avoid irritating the dragon, for whatever its personal involvements it will not forget for one moment any disposition it made of its hoard. I bow to his expertise, this being the first dragon I have encountered unless you include that miserable turtle that made such a valiant effort to stave in the side of my ship. Renvel more than earned his bonus for convincing it that we were too much trouble to eat. I hope our enforced dealings with this blue dragon will prove less alarming, but I cannot say that I hold out much hope seeing that Ukele is involved.
It is not in me to think kindly of my new sister-in-law, not even for Feruzi’s sake, but I cannot say that I wish her any particular ill even after all she has done. Another might blame her for Eggal’s death, but I have lived with death for so many years that I have lost even the habit of grief. Fortunately, I have Labella and Durgrin to make up any deficiency that might come out in front of the crew. I wonder if it will strike me years from now, like poor Jamie’s death. I used to think it was strength, not to be torn by loss, but the years have taught me to see it otherwise, as some lack, an emptiness of spirit that forbids me both to weep for my dead and to have peace from them. At least I can be comforted knowing that if I have consigned Eggal to some antechamber of Eternity he will be in good company there, though knowing his tendencies he would probably be happier if there were more women about the place. Take care of him, Jamie. Feckless though he was, he would have made a good Captain in his own right one day.
Labella has just informed me that her investigations regarding Endymion have turned up nothing, but she does have news of a smuggler named Fargo Vitterande, what a name, who is occasionally employed by Endymion. There is a rumor that the man was engaged as a Chelish spy upon occasion. Interesting news. She has enticed one of the man’s former crew to give us more information on their current dealings so we might plan to intercept them later when they again visit the area. Our business here being concluded, I would prefer to get underway as soon as possible.

 16 Rova 4712 AR
A great deal of oddness to record today. We left Hell Harbor on the morning tide before first light, making for the shorter route toward the Island of Empty Eyes that passes Deg’s Machine. I thought little enough of the circumstance at first, but a lone merchantman has been dogging our course for most of the day. All my efforts to either get a closer look at it or leave it behind proved vain, so I became sore puzzled. Deg’s Machine is considered by most too risky a course for ordinary trading vessels and there is little else here but some inhospitable rocks supporting great colonies of birds. No people as far as I know. I was beginning to have grave suspicions when the ship abruptly vanished. Not wanting to chance the Machine with who knows what possible foes lurking, I called for Labella to turn the ship so we could ascertain their purpose for once and for all.
It did not prove to be a terribly long search. The merchantman put in some distance from a rocky island that is large enough to support a small patch of jungle and dispatched four heavily-laden longboats to the shore, where they were met by a group of men that appear to be camped on the island, which does not seem large enough to have a ready source of fresh water, meaning they must have some other means of supply. Sure enough, when we sought out a secluded position to observe them from what do we discover but another ship, the Jester’s Grin, a corvette belonging to one Fargo Vitterande. This seems unlikely to be coincidental. Neither ship seems to have spotted us as yet, so tonight under cover of darkness I plan to have Renvel take some of his men ashore and see what they may discover to unravel this apparent conspiracy.

17 Rova 4712 AR
This has certainly all become terribly exciting. Renvel went ashore as planned but showed no signs of appearing by dawn. I employed Markuss to use his superior vision and as best he was able to make out there was a great deal of fuss ashore—I suspect they were spotted and captured. They began ferrying goods and men out to the merchantman and the Jester’s Grin began making preparations to leave, but the tide and current was presently against them so I made the decision that preventing the merchantman’s escape was more pressing, not knowing which ship might hold my crew or whether either one did. At first all went well—the nameless merchantman was surprised at our appearance and we closed almost all the distance before they could ready arms—when we came under heavy fire from a third vessel, a Chelish man-o-war concealed beyond the headland bearing the name Dominator. I know well of this ship, as to all appearances it was dispatched to pursue the bounty on Crisis and I have little doubt they will be inclined to pass up collecting the bounty on my own ship, not to mention my own head, if they can collect it.
I called for Labella to bring us alongside the merchantman, hoping the Dominator would prove reluctant to fire at their ally. This did indeed prove to be the case and in the brief respite that followed I gathered my men and led an assault on the merchantman, sweeping the decks and forcing the crew below, where we barricaded them in. We then took it upon ourselves to raise sail and, still made fast to the Bonaventure, we made for the open sea with the Dominator in pursuit.
The merchantman’s crew, in desperation or perhaps madness, set their own ship afire. An indescribable chaos resulted as I attempted to search the ship for my missing crew while Labella struggled to get the Bonaventure loose before she, too, burned and the Dominator circled like a shark awaiting the kill, all this to a chorus of roaring flames and men screaming as they were burned. Yet even as we battled this inferno, Markuss absconded with several heavy chests that the merchantman was carrying. Durgrin managed to save a few prisoners, as well, and from their hasty speech I gather that the fire was intended to destroy papers as well as the men who knew what they contained. I shudder at the ruthlessness. Renvel and the others were nowhere to be found, so I fear they are now aboard the Jester’s Grin, but pursuing that ship is now out of the question with the Dominator hard at our heels. I don’t dare head for the Island of Empty Eyes now, either, so I bid Labella make course for Deg’s Machine. We will dare that infernal device and see whether the Dominator’s infernal masters will protect them from another sort of hell.

 18 Rova 4712 AR
Twelve hours of cat-and-mouse with the Dominator and we are finally within reach of the Machine. The tide, of course, is at the worst possible degree for making this run, but by no means impossible even with the damage the Dominator has inflicted. I am not a praying man, usually, but I feel inspired now should any friendly god be watching at this moment. Few shipmasters understand the trick of the Machine, which is a vast submerged engine fashioned of mountain-sized stone blocks in some forgotten age. The blocks shift in a pattern that seems almost random, endlessly churning the waters for miles around. Many is the Captain who has lost his nerve at the sight of some vast stone bearing down on his ship, but the wave that rolls ahead of it is what keeps you safe. Turn aside from the threat, and another block moving invisibly below will suck you down into the depths. I place our lives in Labella’s hands.
Oddly enough, but now is when I receive a message from Feruzi, no doubt detailing her progress on the Island. I would read it, but with the state my nerves are in I cannot bring myself to do it. Instead, I find myself almost hypnotized by the movement of the Machine, wincing uncontrollably whenever a part of it heaves into view under the water. The Dominator hangs back, reluctant to commit, but if they do not follow soon we will be out of their reach either way.

I swear that Labella and Feruzi between them are conspiring to drive me to an early grave. The Dominator finally sets its sails to follow us, and what does Labella do? She runs us aground. A more hideous noise I never care to hear again, the poor ship screaming in agony as she is lifted twenty, thirty feet into the air and then dropped, like a careless child might drop a toy. Somehow, she still holds together, though her belly is rapidly filling with seawater and I am not sure the pumps can keep her afloat. Not even the sight of the Dominator suffering a similar fate moments later can cheer me. They have broken off pursuit, but if we make it out of here in one piece I swear that I am never attempting this run again. Labella thinks we can pull in at a place she knows not far from here to make emergency repairs. I don’t dare sleep until then, so what do I do? I open Feruzi’s note. Great merciful gods, woman, whatever possessed you to write to me and tell me about the lovely ghosts, revenants, and ancient curses you’ve discovered, but not tell me how it all turned out?! I can only struggle to maintain my composure by reminding myself that she must have been alive when she sent it, at least. If I am not gray and haggard by now it is no fault of these women.

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