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

Nov 21, 2013

Skull and Shackles Session 38: Captain Rat

Labella Loor's information proved accurate; Crisis intercepted the Jester's Grin with very little difficulty.  Fargo Vitterande was slow to marshal his crew, as though he couldn't really believe anyone would decide to attack him.  The Crisis officers found him in his cabin, a small man with bad skin hiding behind four distinctly unsmall bodyguards with orcish features.  "Don't let them get me!" Vitterande squeaked, struggling to get his wide bay window open.  The latch came undone and the little Captain jumped out.  Chopper dove after, but the bodyguards checked his advance before a hail of arrows and bullets forced them to retreat.  Reiko and Ezikial between them dispatched three of the men, leaving only one left standing.  He flailed ineffectually at Reiko in a desperate panic.

"Well, this is just sad," Feruzi said, lowering her bow and regarding the only remaining guard.  "How about you surrender and we call it a day?"

The man dropped his cutlass.  "Besmara, yes!  Quarter, I beg of you!"

Feruzi nodded vaguely and went to stick her head out the window, wondering where Vitterande had gotten to.  She espied the Grin's captain climbing magically up to the deck above them, his coattails vanishing as she watched.  "Hey, that's my trick!" She complained.  "Bastard!"

"Move!" Chopper ordered and dove out the window, yodeling dramatically.  His boarding axes bit deep into the wood.  When he reached the deck he could see Vitterande already on the other side of the ship--or, well, a rat-man wearing Vitterande's clothes.  The Grin's captain was apparently a were-rat.

"You," Reiko said, pointing to the surrendered guard.  "What are your duties aboard this ship?"

"I keep the boss safe.  Or useta."

"Where is your Captain headed?"

"I dunno!  'E's prolly makin' fer one o' th' ship's boats."

"Very well," she said, and left through the door.  Vitterande spotted her and began waving a white handkerchief.


"Do not shoot him!" Reiko yelled as Ezikial pushed past her, pistols at the ready and Feruzi reached the top deck with her bow.  The rat-man squeaked and Ezikial's expression changed.  Then he abruptly jumped overboard.

"Huh," Chopper remarked.  "Someone see ta Mister Hands."  He turned his attention to Vitterande.  "Parley?  A'ight.  We'll listen.  Talk."

"I can see we're no match for you, Captain.  Take what you've come for and go, but leave us in peace."

"We come ta make an end of Chelish spies, sir.  Ye are what we came for."

"Well, then you'll have to catch me first!"

"Hey, you already surrendered!" Feruzi protested. 

"NOW you can shoot him!" Reiko said.  "You crew!" she added, "if you stop your captain from escaping, you may yet live, but do not get in our way!"  Feruzi charged across the deck and attempted to dive-tackle Vitterande, landing in a heap as the illusion dissolved.  Chopper cursed and Reiko flinched as another spell took effect.

"Bloody witchcraft!"  Chopper looked around desperately, then pointed overhead.  "Yardarm!"  A high-pitched squeak came from the rigging as Vitterande realized his hiding place had been discovered.  Arrows impacted the wood, slicing a rope that secured the boom, which now swung loose.  An enraged squeal was followed by a loud thud of something roughly man-sized hitting the deck.  Vitterande became visible, pointing a wand in Feruzi's direction.  She ducked as a lightning bolt ripped through the air, but not quite fast enough.  Vitterande bared his teeth nastily, apparently not at all interested in surrender, and pointed the wand next at Chopper.  Then he shrieked as a bullet struck his hand.  The wand went flying across the deck and Reiko clubbed the rat-man on the back of his oddly-shaped head.  Vitterande merely hissed, so Reiko growled and struck him again, harder this time.

"That's what I call hard-headed," she remarked, toeing the now-unconscious were-rat.  The remainder of his crew hastened to surrender, and Ezikial directed the release of slaves and acquisition of numerous barrels of Old Deep Rum.

"Those barrels were property of Arronax Endymion," Reiko remarked after examining the booty.

"Then either Fargo stole them, or Endymion is in league with those devil-kissin' bastards."

"Either is entirely possible."

"Don't care," Ezikial grunted.  "They're ours now."

"There's the dim possibility that Vitterande is a legitimate businessman," Feruzi offered.

"I wouldn't put money on that," Reiko said.

"Shall we try to question him, then?"

"When he comes to." 

It took a few hours.  Reiko was no lightweight in the punching department.  Vitterande eventually came to, only to be greeted by Chopper's face shoved in front of his nose, followed by a cheery, "Ahoy!"

"Gah!" Vitterande squeaked.

"Skittish fella, aintcha."

Vitterande swallowed and smoothed his greasy hair.  "Well, yeah."

"So, what's yer relationship with Captain Endymion?"  Chopper demanded.

"And with the Dominator," Feruzi added.

"Oh, that's easy.  I don't have one."

Chopper tsked.  "Ruse, go get Mister Hands.  Ye know he hates missin' a torture session."

"Aye, aye, Captain."

"No, seriously, Captain Carrionne just wanted to ask me about some ship that used to be called the 'Man's Promise'.  Which, until now, I knew nothing about."  Vitterande fidgeted nervously, scrutinizing Chopper's face.  "So it's torture, is it?"

"Well, since yer dishonest."

"Nonsense, Captain.  I have no reason to lie to you now."

"Ye use illusions.  Yer dishonest."

"I don't think he's lying, Captain, but that means he's fairly worthless to us alive, now," Reiko said.  "We cna't have him running off to give information on us."

"Hm.  Well, I guess he musta, heh, acquired that fine rum from Endymion."

"Oh, is that who it belonged to?" Vitterande said, smiling slightly.

"It might be that fine Pirate Lord would take it as a kindness were we to turn the thief over to 'im.  We can always use more friends on the Council." Chopper added.  Vitterande's smile faded.  "So we got a possible use for 'im after all, less you can think of another."

"Hey, let's not get carried away here," Vitterande protested.

"Oh?  You got something you'd like to tell us then?  You know I'm not very fond of slavers."

"Look, I don't know what this is about!  I'm just a smuggler trying to make an honest living!"

"What are ye smugglin'?  Who are ye smugglin' for?"

"In case you hadn't heard," Feruzi said, having returned with Ezikial, "this is about Cheliax preparing to invade the Shackles.  Anyone could be a spy.  Anyone could be providing them with assistance."

"Lady, I promise you I know nothing about it.  I admit I've done some spying for Cheliax, but that was years ago!  I don't know anything about any current plans in the Shackles."

"Then who might?" Chopper demanded.  "Surely you know a few active agents."

"I asked around about three years back to see if there was any work, but all my contacts have . . . moved on."

"Of course, that makes me wonder . . . why did the Dominator's captain come to YOU, then.  If it's been so long."

"They seemed pretty desperate, if you ask me. You guys are heroes to half the Shackles; sounds like nobody wants to give you up."  Vitterrande glanced fearfully at Ezikial, who was making various alarming motions in the background.  "Of course . . . could YOU use an informant?"

Chopper glanced at his officers, raising an eyebrow to ask their opinions.

"He's a wererat," Feruzi said, shrugging.

"Racist," Chopper told her.

"He's probably telling the truth," Reiko opined.

"What exactly could you inform us about," Chopper asked, "if all yer contacts have . . . gone away?"

"All my Chelish contacts," Vitterande said hastily.  Chopper grunted.

"The impending invasion is sorta foremost in our minds at the moment.  Still . . ."

"I can see what I can find out, Captain.  I won't give you up to Carrionne or anybody else."

Feruzi chuckled.  "If you're going to hire him you should probably offer him some sort of incentive to keep him honest.  Otherwise he might be a tad resentful."

"Might be he'd like ta keep his ship.  Might be best fer us, too."

"We did damage it just a tad."

"Yeah, but now we have a port.  Repairs can be made."

Ezikial frowned.  "I don't get to skin him then, Captain?"

"Not today, I'm afraid."

"Truth is, I'm a bit surprised to even be alive," Vitterande said.

"Right.  Ye'll sail under our colors and turn over forty percent of yer plunder," Chopper said.

"And if you are caught smuggling slaves again . . ." Reiko added ominously.

"No, ma'am.  My slaving days are done."

"Then you won't wind up wishing you had died," Ezikial growled.

Feruzi pursed her lips.  "On the other hand, there's plenty of space on our new island to make yourself comfortable.  Preferably far away from Ezikial."

"Really?" Vitterande looked considerably surprised.  "Not many places are welcoming to . . . my kind."

"We got somethin' of a menagerie on that ruddy island already.  Might as well add to it."

"Just don't bite anyone," Feruzi told him.

Nov 14, 2013

Skull and Shackles Session 37: Adventure Time

"Yet another day aboard the Crisis, sitting around waiting while our officers go off to do who-knows-what," Kulio grumbled, working the winch that lowered the forward boat and the aforementioned officers.  "When do we get some action?"

Dar grunted.  "Kid, you ain't ne'er had it so good.  You got no notion of the stuff they cleans up afore we e'er sees it.  There be horrors in the vasty deep the like of which none of us wish to be seein'."

"Well, maybe not close-up, like, but there's bound to be some stuff down there worth seeing.  I didn't sign up to wait around!"

"Oh, well, mebbe I kin help you with that!"  Dar winced and turned around to see Rosie standing by with an evil grin on her miniature face.  The halfling had a positive talent for going completely unnoticed until you had your foot, ankle, and possibly leg up to the knee lodged firmly in your gullet.  One little halfling should not be able to contain so much malevolent glee at making people regret their ill-considered statements.  Kulio, the poor fool, only looked intrigued.  He was a slow learner, apparently.

"You got something we can do?" Kulio asked.

"You betcha.  Concho came up with an idea for seein' underwater an' I think yer just the person to try it out!"  The gnome materialized, holding up a glass hemisphere the size of his chest.

"Is that a fishbowl?"  Dar asked, realization dawning.

"Well, not JUST a fishbowl," Conchobar said with some asperity, looking defensive.  "It screws on to this ring here, see?"

"Which you have attached to a big oiled canvas bag, I detect," Kulio said.

"And a hose," Rosie added.

"And some weights!" Conchobar finished.

"So, what yer have invented here," Dar said dryly, "Is an ehr-normus fishing lure."

"No, it's an underwater survey apparatus!" Conchobar corrected hotly.

"Into which yer intend to seal one of the crewmembers."

"We can pump air down the hose to inflate the bag, and they can tell us what they see by shouting back down the hose," Rosie explained.

"Yer have lost yer--" Dar began, only to be interrupted mid-sentence.

"I'll give it a go," Kulio said.  Dar spluttered.

"Yer ALL mad," he managed, finally.  "I warsh me hands of ye."

It took some time--and cussing--to stuff Kulio into the oiled sack and secure the fishbowl.  Not wanting to be completely helpless, Kulio made sure to take along a selection of knives and keep them in easy reach.  If everything went to pot, he was going to cut himself out of the sack and to hell with Conchobar's test.  The gnome finally declared the preparations complete, attached the hose, and Insawa helped Dar unceremoniously dump the bag-of-Kulio overboard, where it slowly sank in a cloud of bubbles.  Rosie hurried to the pump and began working.

"Ooh, not as airtight as I was hoping," Conchobar muttered.  "ARE YOU ALL RIGHT DOWN THERE, KULIO?!?" he shouted, pressing his ear to the end of the hose.


"Sorry about that!  Can you see anything!?"

"Glass's all fogged up, dammit!"

"Oo, that's a point," Conchobar said, making a note on a clipboard.  "Can you wipe it off?!"

"Yah, yah, I can see a bit.  It's awful dark down here, though!  I can see the officers!  They're swimming down toward this wrecked ship on the bottom!"


"An . . . BESMARA'S TITS!  Those are some bloody enormous sharks!  I never seen sharks so big!  Pull me up!  They're coming!"

"No!" Conchobar yelled, batting Dar away from the winch.  "It's fine, Kulio, the sharks are far away!"


"The glass is like a telescope!  Everything will look much closer than it really is!"

"Are you SURE?!"

"I made the thing, after all!"

"Damn near pissed myself.  Oh, no, what are they doing . . . they're ATTACKING the SHARKS."  A series of loud booms echoed up the hose.  "Besmara, what the hell!  My ears are ringing!  There's shark bits everywhere!"

"That kind of sounded like a pistol," Rosie remarked.

"It did, didn't it," Conchobar agreed.  A massive corpse suddenly surfaced off the starboard side of the ship.  "Wow, that is big."  Another series of booms followed several seconds later, along with more hysterical shrieks from Kulio, and a second corpse joined the first.


"Don't be a sissy!"  Rosie bellowed.  "The sharks are dead!"

"Imma wring yer little halfling neck!"  Kulio yelled.

"You and what army?  What else is happening?"

"Nothing, they're just swimming down to this coral maze.  It's kinda pretty, really."

"Well, let us know when something else happens."

Long minutes of back-and-forth "Anything?"  "No!" followed.  Rosie made Dar take a turn at the pump.

"Oh, hey, something's happening!"  Kulio shouted.  "There's this kind of blue glow . . ."

Rosie pointed overboard.  The seawater was, indeed, glowing faintly.  "What is it?" she demanded.

"I dunno.  Can't really see."  A spark leapt from the pump to Dar's arm and he winced, cursing.  Conchobar's eyes went wide.

"Everybody down!" the gnome screamed.  The blue glow pulsed.  Electricity arced from the water, forming tiny glowing balls that danced like fairy lights and vanished with a crackling, sizzling noise.  The pump squealed as it violently overheated and burst.

"Wow, what a show!" Kulio shouted.  "This is amazing!"  Then: "Hey, the bag is shrinking!"

"Just hang on!" Conchobar shouted.  "A little technical problem up here . . .!"

"Hey!  Pull me up!"

"Not yet!"  An enormous jellyfish, glowing faintly blue, surfaced alongside the ship.



"Screw this, I'm outta here!" Kulio announced.  Ripping noises echoed up the tube, then gurgling noises.  The water bubbled violently.

"Gosh, I hope he's all right," Conchobar said, peering over the side.

"No thanks to you," Dar told him.  A long minute passed, then Kulio surfaced, gasping and waving a knife.

"Imma . . . kill . . . all . . . you . . . fuckers . . ."

Conchobar grinned and pulled out his clipboard again.  "Experiment success!" he enthused.  Kulio glared up at him.  He eyed the rope leading from the winch down into the water.  He fingered his knife.  Conchobar screamed in horror as Kulio neatly severed the rope that was holding the apparatus to the ship; it instantly vanished into the water.  The hose parted company with the ruined pump with a slurping sound and followed in mechanical solidarity.

"Noooo!" Conchobar yelled.  "My fishbowl!"

"Had enough adventure, I take it?"  Dar asked as they hauled Kulio back aboard.

"Yes, thank you."

The officers soon returned and the remainder of the afternoon was spent hauling goods up from the ocean floor.  "That's how it should be," Kulio announced.  "Exciting adventure, then loot."

"Sadly, there's nothing back on shore ter spend it on," Dar grumbled.

"Something will turn up," Kulio said.

"Your optimism is starting ter annoy me."  Yet, when they reached the dock, now nearly completed, there was another surprise awaiting: a crowd of scantily-clad women, clearly waiting for Crisis to return.  The crew gathered at the side of the ship to gape while the officers climbed down to speak to them.  The ladies and the officers headed toward the now-repaired fort while Rosie returned to the ship.

"What's going on?" Dar demanded.

"They're prostitutes," Rosie said, shaking her head.  "They want some kind of asylum or somethin'.  Think the Cap'n's gonna accept."

Kulio grinned.

"Did you PLAN that?!" Dar demanded.