Skull & Shackles

The Excecution
Captains Log

Captain’s Log – SkyDate 19EIFG.D

The effects of the changes aboard the ship are still being felt. I have been forced to make a very difficult decision. When we took the ship I tried to make it clear that everyone on the ship was going to be treated equally and once we returned to port anyone was free to leave. This was apparently not enough for some. One of the crew, a dwarf known colloquially as Narwhal, was dissatisfied with my appointment to captain. He had been an ally of Plugg. He felt that my direction would lead the entire crew to disaster. While I was risking my life as part of the away team searching for Sindara and Joany, Narwhal was attempting to gather support to remove me as captain and murder me and my companions. Thankfully the crew did not share this view and Narwhal was turned into Grok and he bound and gagged when we returned to the ship. His sentence was left to me to decide.

Damn him. I would have kept to my word. He would have had an equal stake in the ship despite his allegiance to Plugg and Scourge. He was an ass but he was a good fighter and a strong hand. The ship would have benefited from his skills. Instead he forced my hand. I had to respond to this treat. He would have killed me and my companions and put the entire ship at risk. He should have waited to see how the ship could have been better. Damn him.

Yet I realize that this could have been avoided if I had not been so distracted by the need to rescue Joany. I should have made my intentions clearer to the crew. They need to understand that this will be a different kind of ship then they are perhaps used to serving on. I will need to speak to them as soon as possible both as a group and individually. We need to be united before we make port or we will never leave it again.

The would be murderer has been dealt with. I tried to offer him a chance to repent his actions and serve as an equal member of the crew. He was given the option to leave in peace and live on the island that had recently cleared of danger by the very people he meant to kill. He instead tried to provoke me to kill him on the spot and lose face in front of the crew. In the end I gave him food and water and told him that if he only option was to make it to the island under his own power. I did not watch to see if he made it. I hold no delusions. I sent a man to his death tonight. When I returned to my cabin my body betrayed me and I collapsed to the floor. If this had been the first time I might still be there rather than making this log. I hope that I never begin to feel at ease ordering the death of others, but I hope that in time I may become numb to the effects.

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Revelation

Ntomo can feel his ban failing, the creeping rot of undeath taking root deep within his muscles. Two days prior, he felt fine. Yesterday, he was stiff and sore. Today, he can hardly move without inducing a new wave of exhaustion. What fate will tomorrow hold?

If nothing changes, he will cross mahafra within the week. Will the time spent here be enough? There were many lessons he had learned, many experiences once in a lifetime, but none felt fundamental to his being. None which awakened him in the night, and altered the very journey of his life from then on. Throughout his entire being, Ntomo knows he has yet to learn that truth which required his return. The ban, and all the tribe’s resources that went into it, would be for naught.

The prospect of crossing is not frightening, but the idea of that terrible waste leaves the taste of alkaline in his mouth.

Deep within the holds of the Man’s Promise, away from the eyes of the ben kudu, Ntomo disrobes. The slight shivers which had been coursing through his muscles develop into a rhythmic tremor as he kneels in that empty darkness. The wooden planks beneath his knees offer little comfort as he settles into a position of meditation.

“Though this one is far from the embrace of the Winye and wisdom of the wendifa, they hope a wendo of these seas may hear their words, and carry them along.”

“This ban grows cold, and I will cross mahafra without knowing what must be known. This one travels the path blindly, and must be led from danger.”

After several minutes, he utters a final statement, in a tone lower than before.

“This one is indebted to Kindo Kane. Should I re-enter Pauxye, the debt will not matter. The One Who Stands at the Gate may look favorably upon those who ensure that this payment is delivered. This one travels the path blindly, and must be led from danger.”

It is several hours before silence leads to clarity. Hours more before clarity leads to revelation. Ntomo stands, joints popping, and slowly dresses again. As he ascends to the main deck, a certainty governs his step that was not present before.

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The Ballad of Bonewrack Isle (Part 2)

[The devilfish bobs uselessly in its black pool, dead and slowly sinking. As Ntomo and Kyoju shake off their debilitating nausea, and Captain Mukta confers with Kamilah to detemine the course of imminent pursuit, Ruwa busies herself healing her comrades.

As she does so she absently cleans their garb of blood, bile, and venom, and mutters a few more verses to herself.]

“Through plague-spotted fields of once golden maize

We faced down the wrath of the ahnkeg’s rough rage;

To cliffs high and blown, one step from disaster,
The stirges flew quick, but our spears flew much faster.

A whirlpool, a gateway, a portal below
Its summer under the sea, I know, oh, oh, oh!

Goblinkin shreiking their black-tongued rebuke,
Felled by blade, pike, and black powder’s soot.

A treasure below, with peril above,
A lacedon’s kiss is far from true love.

Harbinger, demon, its black blood a curse,
We caught hell from the devilfish, but it caught much worse.

So onward we seek, hope turning grim,
Will we yet live to see our comrades again?"

[She scarce has time to wince at her own pessimism (and that terrible bit of slant rhyme) before Mukta rallies them forward. The chase is on—and Ruwa files in close to Ntomo and Kamilah: as much to prove her readiness as for saftey’s sake.]

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The Ballad of Bonewrack Isle

As the officers take a short rest atop the hill, Kyoju retrieving the spyglass, Ntomo cleaning his blade, Ruwa produces her journal and inks and begins to write:

“I live my life as art. I will choose an art and perfect it. When I have mastered it, I will choose another. The works I leave behind make life richer for those who follow.”

She looks about, in a moment of deep consideration, and resumes:

“A silent sentinel, scrimshawed bone,
the long dead warden of the undead’s home.

Past swamp gassed peril, murky and dire,
We tested our balance, and out-swam the mire.

Ghoul-touched lovers, once beauty-kiss’d,
Set down to rest, to find final bliss.

Aberrant keepers, thier reach far too long,
They learned: never dare try to stifle our song.

A swarm of flies, from a good soul’s last breath;
Together we bested the sure peril of death.

Now from afar we spy out our next goal,
To rescue our fellows, and make our crew whole."

Ruwa worries the nib of her pen against the blot, giving her work a read. She frowns disapprovingly. Yet, her reverie is cut short as Mukta signals it is time to venture forward. She claps her journal shut, and falls in alongside Kamillah. Poetry and Linguistics were never Ruwa’s strong suits. It would bear more practice.

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The Early Dawn

As First Mate, I appoint Kamilha

Ah, Jumping Man. Will make good first mate. Good with pike and good with fist. Did well when Little Captain and Thumping Man went scouting. Crew respects Jumping Man and will jump for him.

As Master-At-Arms and leader of the boarding parties, Ntomo

Thumping Man good. Give him role to Thump other side.

Kroop will continue to be be cook as well as take over the roles of Quatermaster. Grok will take the roll of Master Gunner

Good for Fishman. Get respect for self. Maybe drink less of grog. Orc-Grok good in fight. Good managing the weapons.

And as Bosun, I appoint Kyoju

….
….
Kyoju Kyoju? Or other Kyoju? Kyoju Kyoju as Bosun? Kyoju good with ship, yes. Kyoju Fix. Kyoju good at telling others? Kyoju not understand no-feathers. Kyoju think Little Captain confused. But Little Captain make good choices so far. So Little Captain make good choice with Kyoju? Kyoju not understand Little Captain, but right now understanding not needed. Now is time for doing, and Kyoju do Bosun.

To keep our spirits up and to help manage our plunder, I appoint Ruwa as Steward.

Ruwa Man? Dancy-Singy man, yes. Good for moral. Let Dancy-Singy man do talkie talkie on shore.

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Ruwa's Journal; The Man's Promise, Night 6
After the Mutiny

“I lead by example, not with my blade. Where my blade passes, a life is cut short, and the world’s potential for beauty is lessened.”

. . . Perhaps Shah has more of her auntie’s gift in her than she would care to admit. Her parting gifts to me have been presceint. The shield has saved my life again. The wand may have saved us all. I have used it sparingly for Mukta’s sake. It is important he been seen to give the command to heal the injured. He hides his worth well, but his heart is too great to go unnoticed. He will make a strange and beautiful captain.

“I will never destroy a work of art, nor allow one to come to harm unless greater art arises from its loss. I will only sacrifice art if doing so allows me to save a life, for untold beauty can arise from an awakened soul.”

. . . They say the captain is cursed, and hurls fire from his hands by the will of Devils. I have told them it is the will of the Angels and this has spun the yarn in a new, but no less fevered direction. These Shacklesfolk are so superstitious. They talk of Angels and Devils as if they are voodoo spirits. Perhaps they have never seen proof of the Celestial Realms before? Their stories are truly marveous. And these tales teach brotherhood, and spread the fame of the Captain. These are important parts of life here. So long as these beautiful tales inspire, I intend to cultivate them. There is glory in serving next to the glorious. Pirates are moths to glory. Pirates, and foolish boys . . .

“I live my life as art. I will choose an art and perfect it. When I have mastered it, I will choose another. The works I leave behind make life richer for those who follow.”

. . . Mukta has ascented to a performance. I hope to show the crew the joy of their accomplishment, but also the pain of their hard choices. Murder is a vile thing. Their hearts are sure to hold that hurt. Catharsis is in order. I may have overstated my mastery of twenty-one steps . . . but it seemed important to show strength to my new friends. What would Minah say of my behaviour during the storm? And what would Genet say to my hyperbole? I will not employ the Eagle’s Splendor tonight, nor reach for the twenty-second-step. That would be vanity. No, I will employ ledgermain and light, the reverberance of ghostly sound, and the arhythmic and accelerated gesture of Minah’s Minuet. I will fully devote myself to the first twenty steps. Should the twenty-first arise, then it shall be a memorable performance for us all—most of all for me.

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The Man's Promise Mutiny

The deck was still. The rest was chaos.

Ntomo, slick with mingled blood, rose and fell like the waves that besieged the reef. Scourge crashed down into the Mwangi again, spinning and cursing as Kamilah’s blade pierced his back. Syl’s dead eyes pooled with rain, open and aghast. Two crews clashed; the fury of steel was a bedlam that consumed the deck.

Ruwa’s wand, Thuvian glass, sparked again with golden light and the blood-stained albino rose again; a fiend. Kamilah, past exhaustion, threw herself into Scourge. Both crashed to the deck. Ntomo’s blade rose. Scourge was no more.

The storm was mute within the cabin, made more awful by the dumb-show of Owlbear’s suffocating panic. Kyojou scrambled past, returned, and leveled his Mouska. Thunder split the air, the stench of panic and blood overwhelmed by sulfur and flame. Mukta and Plugg: all mettle, all blades, were each consumed with one another: a duel amid a war. Mouska’s payload screamed past Ruwa’s head as she dove across deck toward her captain. Plugg took the shot to the gut, even as he scoured Mukta to the floor.

The world spun in all directions as the squall and the mutiny became one storm. Mukta rose slowly. His face wept blood from Plugg’s lash; a wound too familiar. Ruwa shrieked, her shield failing against a charge. Mukta’s blade was lightening. One fewer foe stood.

Conchobar cried in fury, and his wrath was white hot. He stood astride Rosie’s fallen form and unleashed a hurricane against Aretta. She parried his blows, panic rising, until a blade burst from her chest, showering Conchobar in his due justice. Ntomo rose from behind her, back from death to do his grim work.

Plugg and Mukta stood alone at the wheel. Mukta’s blows were a desperate flurry. Plugg was forced onto the defensive, losing ground. A parry, a riposte, and there was Plugg’s last chance to strike down his rival. A crack of thunder rang out. Shrapnel ripped through Mukta’s hat. Plugg fell dead. Mukta stood now face to face with Kyoju, smoke still belching from Mouska’s mouth.

The rain parted. There was only stillness. In the silence that followed, only one man stood living atop the aft-castle. That man was Captain.

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Ruwa's Journal; The Man's Promise, Night 3
Arrival, Murder, and Mutiny
“I am peaceful. I come first with a rose. I act to prevent conflict before it blossoms.”

. . . Possessed by either ignorance or pride I offered quarter, gave care, and begged mercy of them even as they seiged our berth. I can hear Shah’s laughter . . .

“I see beauty in others. As a rough stone hides a diamond, a drab face may hide the heart of a saint.”

. . . The freeman, Mukta, kept us fed. The warrior, Ntomo, tried to save her. But this Harrigan is a tyrant, and every tyrant relishes in his power over others. What pain possess a man to orphan a child? She drowned there—and it would have been our death to defy her drowning. So deep is this Harrigan’s hurt, I cannot fathom it. Ntomo, he speaks of revenge. Surely he knows the greatest revenge would be to show this Harrigan Joany grown and unafraid? Revenge against the tyrant, hope for forgiveness for the man . . .

“I never strike first, unless it is the only way to protect the innocent.”

. . . The tengu, Kyoju, his eyes turned black tonight. He was left crucified to the mast for offending the sight of Scourge. It is scarce three days, and this crew is left with only scraps of thier humanity. Mukta and many of the others were pressed into their service; they are slaves here, innocent of thier own torment.
Plugg is as transparant as Harrigan is opaque. Plugg is a small man, full of fear. He does wrong, and is horrified to be caught. And so, he plays the tyrant—not knowing the danger. Kyoju himself has begun the whispering. The unassuming tengu, so meek; fearful men like Plugg confuse humility for weakness.
Ntomo will speak first. These men respect him. Kyoju will rejoin him—more than his body is hurt, his soul took a blow this day and it will not sit silent. It will be Mukta who speaks last. Mukta knows better than all of us the cost of freedom. It has taught him the value of compassion. I intend to stand with them; for Joany, and for the rest too afraid to stand . . .

“I accept surrender if my opponent can be redeemed—and I never assume that they cannot be. All things that live love beauty, and I will show beauty’s answer to them."

. . .The Way of the Shackles. Equality, Freedom. The scarred hearts in this cabin raise spires to heaven, and make a temple more lavish than Lamasara’s most indulgent. These men are not pirates; they are poets.

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Growing up is hard

It wasn’t the first time Kamilah had worn the blood of an enemy. Whenever her father’s ship docked, she had a way of finding trouble.

For the most part, she was free to wander the area, as long as she returned before sundown. Her father always threatened to leave her behind if she wasn’t on time and she never wanted to test those waters.

Sometimes she’d help her father in the capture of his slaves. They had a very cruel way of doing it but she enjoyed the game. He’d have her sit in a public area and cry until a stranger came up to help her. She always had a story made up of losing her mom in the crowd or getting her groceries stolen. Something to really pull at the heart strings of men. See, if a woman came up, she would run off. Her father never took women or children, fearing that it could happen to his own family.

So Kamilah would sit and cry in a town square until a suitable choice arrived and then the game would be on. She’d ask for help locating her mother or finding the people that stole her goods and usually they would help. If they were unwilling she simply let them go and try again.

When they agreed to help, she’d set off “looking” for whatever her story had been for the day. She’d wander about some streets, slowly getting to the less busy ones, knowing her father or his crew were close behind.

A few times the men she took had thought they’d make off with her instead, thinking that they weren’t in a trap, but she was. Those men were always hit hardest and fed the least on the ship, her father making sure they payed for for their unkind thoughts.

There were times though where her father had business with people he didn’t want Kamilah involved with and he would give her a few coins and let her wander the coastal city or town.

More often than not she’d run into a group of children her own age, playing in the streets or alleys. As there were no other children on the ship, Kamilah would become shy and unsure of how to act around them, suddenly conscious of her browned, sunburnt skin and matted hair.

Sometimes the children would let her play and she would lose herself in the excitement of children’s games of make-believe, always rushing back to the ship out of breath and full of stories for her father.

But other time the children would bully her. Making fun of her speech, or her hair, tease her for not having her mom around and a number of other dirty comments about her father and his crew and what they probably did with her.

It was those times that Kamilah’s true character came out. She’d give someone a solid thrashing, always leaving their face badly bloody and badly bruised. And as the other children would back away from this panting, untouched heathen of a child, she would smear the blood of her victim across her face and shout her name so that they’d always remember her name and spread the word of her fearless fighting.

On those days when she’d return to her ship, she wouldn’t say anything. Her father would wash the blood from her face and try unsuccessfully to get her to explain what had happened. He always noticed that she’d managed to remain unscathed and even though he never told her, he was immensely proud that she could handle herself.

She never fought with the girls, as they were always too scared of the wild look in her eyes, but the boys always seemed to want to fight. One fight in particular always stood out for her. She had been about 14 in some town she couldn’t remember, when her father had told her to go out and enjoy herself.

She went to the market first, always loving to sample the local food because of the unique flavors each place had. It got old eating basically the same meals for a month. After gorging herself on yet another spicy fish dish, she wandered around, licking her fingers and looking for kids to play with. At this point she knew how to approach them, she just needed to find some first.

This city happened to have a nice little park, with sand and tropical trees all about, for people to walk through or picnic in, or play hide and seek. As she walked she could hear laughter in the trees and went for a peak, trying to locate the source. Finally she realized the children were playing in the trees above her. She climbed up and called out to them.
" ’Lo there! Can I join?"

The laughter in the area came to silence. A boy about her age hung down in front of her, his knees wrapped around a higher branch. His bright blue eyes met hers and his arms folded over his chest.
“And who might chyoo be?” He asked, his tone clearly insolent.

“My name is Kamilah, my father brought me into tha city for an errand. I wos wonderin’ if I could play with you?” She asked again, hopefully.

The boy slowly dropped himself onto the branch next to her. He was better at this than she was, her dad rarely allowed her to play in the rigging at this age. He glanced her over in a way she was used to seeing her father do with slaves. He was sizing her up, trying to determine her value.
“Wot say I fightchu first? You seem tough, I see you’ve got scars on yer hands, might be thatchu get in fight a lot. Let’s make sure you can defend yourself.” And with that he lunged at her, taking them both off the branch and onto the ground, the wind knocking out of her as she landed. She struggled for breath before standing.

The trees came alive again, children yelling encouragements at the boy. “Hit ’er good Marceth!” echoed around her. No one cheered for her, but she was used to it.

He lunged at her again, now that they were squared off, but she moved out of the way at the last second. Or so she though, he’d grabbed a hold of her pants and plopped her down onto her rear, again, knocking the breath from her. She gasped a few unsteady breaths before standing once more.

“She can’t even fight!” He jeered back into the trees, laughing loudly, taking his eyes off her.

And that was when she struck. Marceth hadn’t seen her stand up with a fistful of sand, but he definitely noticed when he was hit full in the face with it. He sputtered, trying to spit it out and get it out of his eyes. Her cursed her as he struggled. And then she really attacked. She flew at him, throwing punching and scratching at his face. She punched low, forcing him to double over and allowing her to hit him squarely in the face, probably breaking his nose. He screamed and struck blindly, never being able to grab on.

She knocked him down and straddled him, wailing away at his head. She managed to grab onto his ear and he began really screaming. She only saw red. Someone bigger pulled her off, but she didn’t see them. She touched her left hand to her face, wiping his blood across it, screaming at them all to dare to forget her name as she turned and ran. Marceth lay there sobbing and clutching at his head while his friends crowded around.

Later, as her dad silently washed the blood from her face, he tried to get her to answer questions. He saw, once again, that she was unscathed and finished up in silence. As he started to leave her small room, she spoke out.
“Papa?”
He turned back to face her. Her hand was outstretched, in it, a child’s ear. She never played with children again.

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Dead But Dreaming
An Encounter with Reefclaws

My children . . .

In the deeper darkness, there is only the taste of blood. Chitinous and sharp, it cuts my mouth. Blood begets blood. My screams are only mastications that fuel the unending hunger for life.

Life has eluded me. In the darkness there is neither life nor the sweat caress of death. But my children . . .

The ocean’s hot salt scent fills me; through their eyes I see, their pores I breathe. Theirs is a hunger that can be sated. Through them I remember what satisfaction is; what murder is; what joy is.

The prey is weak. Gleeful it throttles in the shallows, awkward in the brine. We are not so awkward. We live for salt and murk and mud and mire. Prey’s thumping heart fills our body with the rhythm of the hunt.

Can you feel the heat? The excitement? My children know it, and so I know it, and so the darkness shudders. This prison, this half-life, cannot hold me, for I am Older than the darkness.

My children . . . prickling with rapture, they burst from the hot surf. The prey yawps in that ridiculous way apes do. Soft and fleshy. Tender. I can smell the rending, taste the screaming, see the sweetness. To remember what it is to live . . .

Deafness! My children deaf with the thunder! Base magics! The smell of black fire! A bird-ape, its staff smoking.

And the Yawping

Steel flashes, the naked-ape slips from our grasp!

And the Yawping

Ice that burns, we would drown the child-ape, but its blade flashes violet!

AND THE YAWPING

The barking of dim apes, fueled by lesser gods. My children . . . death envelopes them, and I know death. As I so fleetingly knew life. Yet I remain. My loathing remains. My wrath remains. The taste of blood and clouding remembrance. I was Lord of All before the first chittering man-ape crawled wailing from a false god’s bloody gash.

Slaughter my children. For Slaughter is my dominion.
Feast on their bodies. The Feast is my abandon.
For KHRAXXHLOS is Lord of All Crabs. And ours is the ecstasy of blood.

I will rise.

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