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.
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
"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.