Skull & Shackles

A Gentleman Born: Chapter 1
as related to Mukta, wizard, and fellow captive

A Gentleman Born: The Unlikely Life and Times of Gene Kirby
Chapter I: Young Gene Kirby
as related to Mukta, wizard, and fellow captive

The tale of “Gentleman” Gene Kirby begins in a small tavern down a cramped alley in the Andoran capital of Almas. This particular tavern, The Mere Maid, was only a stone’s throw from dockside, and, small place that it was, catered mostly to sailors and salts familiar to the port. It was here, in a back room, behind the turnips, that Gene came squalling and squealing into the world. Whether it was the strain of the proceedings, the hot air of a Sarenith afternoon, or the shame of a bastard that did his mother in there’s no real telling. But what’s for sure is the little Gene was born baptized in warm blood and hot salt air, and there wasn’t a soul breathing who could bend young Gene’s disposition away from those particular tastes.
Fat Lemin Tuckberry tried, bless his heart. The somewhat spherical halfling bar-keep was Ms. Kirby’s employer prior to her somewhat unexpected and ultimately fatal maternity. He took Gene in and pressed him on the staff of the tavern to raise up as best they all could. By the time he was a lad of six, he worked part-time at the tavern. His full-time employment, however, was getting into trouble with his best friend and Fat Lemin’s nephew, Salamon Tuckberry. Along with their band of merry troublemakers, the poor boys from dockside made holy terrors of themselves in the name of adventure.
By the time Gene was a lad of twelve, he and Salamon (scarce 17 himself, which is not-so-impressive in halfling-years, mind you) thought themselves quite ready for a proper adventure on the high sea. The two had taken odd-jobs shipboard, and fancied themselves destined to become young Privateers. Both had grown lusty for the dramatic life of a Free Sailor: liberating slaves and making breakneck escapes from Okeno’s vicious raider-captains. Gene gathered Sal and their closest cronies together and hatched the bold and daring plan to stow away on the next ship bearing a Privateer’s standard that stopped to port. Their plan was a tremendous success, and the friends left Almas behind aboard a ship called “Beverly’s Berth.” Between Salamon’s resourcefulness (Gene himself nicknamed the young halfling “Savvy”), Gene’s unflappable morale, and some easily pilfered fruit stores it was on toward a full week before the stowaways were discovered and brought before the captain’s mercy.
The captain proved affable, if annoyed, and commanded the friends to make themselves useful aboard deck until they could be put to shore. But shore was never again to come easy to Gene Kirby, and so he soon found himself on the wrong end of his very first death-defying chase; a chase that would dash any hope of seeing shore any time soon. What the youngsters hadn’t realized when they stowed themselves below decks was that the very official looking Private Signal Beverly’s Berth was flying, signifying the ship’s good standing as a marque-bearing ship of Andoran, was not quite as official as it might otherwise had been. Captain Beverly, the right and legally registered captain, had died some long months prior, and the first mate had seized on that opportunity to lay claim to the ship, maroon any loyalists, and go pirate. Almas was their last stop to take on supply before making a break for the Arcadian Ocean and putting the charade of legitimacy behind them.
The ship made it as far as the northern coast of Rahadoum before the Andoran navy caught up with them—three ships rising out of the east and gaining fast. What followed as a tremulous three days’ chase: at times the Andoran ships were so close as to skirt within shouting distance. Gene and Salamon always took those opportunities to taunt their pursuers mercilessly. On the dawn of the fourth day, the alarm was sounded. The swiftest of the Andoran ships had come up astern during the night and a fight was at hand. Three times the Andoran navy tried to board the Berth, and three times they were repelled. But each time significant damage was done to the ship. Limping more than sailing, things looked grim and hope of escape seemed fleeting, until rising in the West came the Arch of Aroden and with it the indomitable port of Corentyn.
The Andoran’s chase broke off as Beverly’s Berth made for Port Indomitable and the Chelaxian Fleet there, and the day was saved. A quick change of course under the cover of night gave Corentyn a miss altogether, however. The would-be-pirate’s lacked a courtesy and harbored a powerful unwillingness to answer questions about why one Andoran ship might be chasing after another. And so young Gene was treated to the sight of the open ocean for the first time in his life. Likewise, he was treated to many long weeks helping to limp a half-sunk privateer-ship-turned-pirate-ship through the open Arcadian Ocean in a half-cocked attempt to avoid certain peril.

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Ban and Maha
A story told one night during revelries

Long ago, when the Cyclops still ruled these lands, and the Old Mage Jatembe was not called the Old Mage, the great Starstone fell. The Mwangi who were one became many, and scattered to the four winds. It was a time of loss, when men and women became animals once again.

The Winye, though they were not called this yet, were far from their brothers and sisters, but further still from the truth. Over time, they heard whispers of power from a god of blood and darker things. Some began to worship this god, whose demands were great, but greater still were the rewards.

It was in this time that one of the Magic Warriors came to their lands. They cast out the worshippers, and brought the light of knowledge back to the tribe.

The first lesson taught to the Winye was that of the ban and maha. The remaining elders asked the Warrior, “What is your name, you who have saved us?”

The Warrior replied, “This one will learn their name in Pauxye.”

This made no sense to the elders, who asked said, “Surely you have a name!”

And still, the Warrior replied, “This ban has a name, but it is not this one’s name.”

In this way, the Winye learned of the difference between ban and maha, and of Pauxye once more. The gods were returned to their proper place, alongside the spirits of the land. The ban was acknowledged, but no longer revered, this honor for the maha alone. The Magic Warrior remained for several moons, returning the knowledge of all things to the Winye, but these are stories for another night.

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Things that Kyoju has Fixed.
Any problem can be solved with a decent does of black powder.

Kyoju is a respectable tinker and carpenter. When things are broken, he has a good head on how to fix them. The problem comes when something isn’t broken.

On the Golden Mule, there were the typical complaints of working the bilge. Kyoju’s solution was a small cylinder that had a small feed of gun powder that ran a piston. A rotating tinder twig would light the amount of gun powder to move the piston. This worked for about 2 cycles when the match went out and the powder continued to pour in. When the match was relit, the extra powder cause an explosion that broke the bilge pump handles.

The Golden Mule made port to affect repairs and Kyoju was sent on his way to go help other ships.

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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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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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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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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 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 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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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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