The Little Witch absorbs both lead shots from Jack, and falls hard to the ground. She *DOES NOT* get back up again!
The Wyverns slowly bob into range over the western railing…and coming up the channel behind them, the sails of a very familiar Ship…
The blow lands......The Little Witch has been *beheaded* by Oak's Great Axe!
Jack makes his way towards the Whispered Curse, *DASHING* through the field of statues!...
Oak watches as the Edgars dash back towards the Ship, and the Wyverns begin to encircle your group, skating across the skies at a terrible pace. The Barbarian can see the Curse, its crew hollering when they take sight of your group, and moving as one to pull down the Gangplank. Oak hefts back up his Axe, and moves to join the Wild Bunch’s rush, when……Time seems to grind to a halt. Oak casts his gaze about the stalled battlefield, concerned of more magical foolery. He closes his eyes and picks through his mind, now wary and seasoned in the act of mental intrusion. But this seems...different. Calming. Natural.
It is much like the sensation he had when he could daydream his way to the Decks of the Whispered Curse inside that strange, magical tunnel. But instead of a pinpoint of acute awareness, Oak feels his perception reach out, expanding up the hills, across the waters, past the horizon. He looks outwards, over the Twilight Expanse.
There, just on the edge of sight, an Eagle flies. Gigantic, spectral, majestic. Its beating wings remind Oak of the Wyverns closing in behind him, but he is not afraid. As the bird flies closer, it becomes smaller and smaller, growing close in size to Fusspot. It comes to land on Oak’s shoulder, and as the ghostly-pale talons sink into his right arm, a vision comes clearly to his mind, and he sees the Expanse at once laid bare before him
The moment passes. Oak stands alone now; the eagle has vanished. But as he looks around himself, the Shifter sees things that set an odd tingle and thrill to his spine: a beetle alights on a shrub, a thousand feet up the canyon wall; underwater and a half a mile out, a giant tuna swims carefully through a field of jagged rocks; nearly a mile away, fisherman in skiffs seem to be night fishing, buck-naked and dancing in the moonlight
A voice, familiar because it is his own, whispers in Oak’s ear: “Fresh Eyes, to watch your Family and protect your Home. You will *need them*, out here in the Wilderness; there will be *No Shelter* here.”
And as Oak makes to catch up to the group, the Purple Worms finally, *horribly* emerge…
Racing across the field of statues, Arno’s right foot hits, and the ground begins to give. Well, not give, so much as immediately disappear, and partially explode, and then turn into a massive sinkhole of teeth and yawning black abyss all within the same, strange instant. One minute Arno is here, and the next, they’re falling, falling, *GONE*
The Changeling lands hard against the far side of the creature’s mouth. They are immediately caught in bed of diamond-like teeth, and scraped open along the arms and elbows. The bed of nails improbably holds Arno, keeping them from slipping down deeper into that bottomless black hole.. A slight bloodflow trickles from their arms, along the walls of the Worm’s throat. There is a split-second instant where Arno decides that, this may well be it: the way it all ends. The Changeling takes a long, deep breath…and then opens their eyes, choosing to meet the gaze of the Abyss below.And a sense of calm washes over the Changeling. After all, they’ve had a good life. No regrets! You tried to do the right thing, and make the World a better place with your presence. You tried to learn all you could about everyone you could meet. And if you had to change it…well, you wouldn’t! This is your story. And you’re darn proud of it!
Then, why is it that it doesn’t feel like its over? Maybe, because things seemed to be getting started? You’d finally reached the Ocean of the Expanse, felt like you had the gotten the “Sway” of This Place. It would be an awful shame for your story to end right here, and for the Wild Bunch to have to do this all without you, right?
…yes, well, all decided then! It’s an awful shame to deny the Big, Overly-Friendly Worm their well-earned meal, but you’re sure the tonnage of rock they’re barreling through can make up the difference! Besides, you still have work to do…the Curse is gonna be in awful bad spirits by the time you get back, and they’ll need to see your smiling face to help get things feeling normal again…someone will need to translate for the Edgar trio…and where are Jack and Mister Fusspot?...
Arno, lacerated and absolutely *coated* in mucous, looks up and smiles (sweetly but weakly) at Oak. Without missing a beat, the Barbarian reaches down and helps the battered Changeling up, heaving them to their feet by one arm and running shoulder-to-shoulder alongside them as the two make their way back towards the Ship.
At the weaving Gangplank, desperately hanging on and trying to keep the board steady, stand welcome, friendly faces: Jack, waving you desperately in; behind him, Urixes and Zephyr, holding the plank down as tightly as they can…
The pair of wyverns overhead had *SNAPPED* at Urixes and the Sorcerer Aaron on their flight past, but neither had bothered to do more than drive them both to the ground before quickly moving on. The two others had circled back and around, boxing Jack and David in, driving them off from the area of the Little Witch’s fallen body. And then, in one horrible moment, the Worms finally struck.
They emerged impossibly big, and impossibly fast. Arno was gone in an instant; swallowed whole with a section of the floor. The Pink Wyvern, the one which has harassed the Sorcerer, was suddenly caught by the second Worm: they tussled in midair for a moment, two giant wild animals locked in a death-lock…before the Worm inevitably won, swallowing the Wyvern partially into their body, and *SMASHING* once more into the architecture of the Maw on the way down, burrowing through stone walkway before vanishing below.
The other Worm raises itself up at the same time, *BELLOWING* with a monstrous, throttled-gurgle that splits the sky! It holds itself there for a moment, framed against the moonlight…then, with a sickening wriggle that shakes the ground, and a pulse throughout the slug-like body, the creature *BURSTS* itself outwards, segment by awful segment, until it finally *SPEWS* Arno back out!
At the other end of the Battlefield, the surviving Wyverns finally come to where the Little Witch lies. A small figure, the skirt whole-and-too-familiar, pulls herself aboard the Blue Wyverns back. The visage of the Little Witch catches eyes with the Wild Bunch across the battlefield, once. The twisted face of Faye smiles at you all, *wickedly*, before the Wyverns rise up and take to the skies, headed to the North…
Urixes and Jack pull up the Gangplank with Zephyr as soon as Oak and Arno are safely aboard. Behind you all, the Grey Maw is cracking to shards; upended in nearly every direction. The Ancient Stone architecture, which has held for millennia, is falling in on itself and being destroyed. Urixes feels a pit begin to sink into his stomach.
The Whispered Curse flees down the channel, dust and waves rising in the waters behind as the canyon walls *ROCK* against the seismic-force of the Worms. Urixes finds himself thrown down to the Deck once, as the tidal swell building beneath the Ship threatens to bash it to pieces against the rocks on either side of you…
After a long, loud, desperate few minutes, the Curse finally slides away. The Ship escapes out of the Grey Maw, and into the wide ocean beyond. Catching his feet, the Tiefling Warlock starts to breathe again, and takes in the state of the Ship around him. The Main Mast has been destroyed, and the sails are being salvaged by the Riggers; a loud, familiar ruckus comes from up on the Forecastle Deck, where it appears Rax’s Ravagers have managed to restrain one of the Wyverns (but now, don’t seem to be sure what to do with it); everyone here looks beaten, battered, and bloody. The entire crew is exhausted.
Captain Arabella has the Edgar Boys behing held at sword-point by Calthus and most of the Gunners. She’s demanding to know what’s going on, and why Mitchum’s *traitorous little dogs* are being let aboard her Ship. The Edgar Trio trip over each other, each more eager and angered than the last to explain their side of the story. Midway through, Captain Ari puts up a single hand, a clear sign for quiet, and asks: “K’saye do bolio? O’ derro d giglle, nero pet’ Liddle-Vitch?”
Once it becomes apparent that Arabella speaks the Edgar-dialect, the whole story comes to light: the Little Witch’s deception, the carefully laid traps made to ensnare the Curse, Mitchum’s fall, and the Crone’s final, ultimate demise. At the end of the tale, the Captain sits quiet for a moment. She then asks Oak, calmly, to see the head. The Captain takes the bloody thing into her hands, glaring into the evil-little face…and she *SPITS* onto it, before handing it carefully back to the Barbarian.
“She earned that, and *THEN* some,” the Captain curses, her anger still welling near the surface and tears sitting at the corners of her eyes. “All she’s done…*cough*huh, hrrrrm…..four of your mates, died in the battle. The 2nd Mate, Galelor; our Cabin Boy, Saphos; one of the Riggers, a Tiefling, Shax; and Aloysisus, the Master Carpenter. Sorry, Oak and Jack…I know you all were...., hrrm. As well as that, Crude was injured…it was actually only your bird, Urixes, that saved her from getting her whole arm tore off before she could set off the distraction. You should be proud…she, none of us probably, would’ve made it out without that!”
“…and that reminds me. With the recent losses we’ve suffered…I suppose, I have to congratulate the both of you. Urixes, it falls to you to be our new 2nd Mate. And Oak, I’m afraid for the moment you’ll be taking Aloysius’s place…as the new Master Carpenter. I wish this was happening under better circumstances but, you deal the hand you’re dealt, right? Let me know if you need any help settling into your new roles.”
“…we’ll be at it bright and early tomorrow, now that we’re into the Expanse-proper. So everyone be sure to get plenty of rest and be up first thing, because tomorrow the real work starts….errr, maybe not you, Arno. No offense, but you look like absolute-fucking-*HELL*…you should probably sleep in late, get some extra rest. Anyways…nice work today, Wild Bunch…most of us are alive, and the Ship’s still whole…and that’s not nothing!”
The Captain walks away, looking weary and anxious. Urixes’s feels her pain; it has been, a long couple of days. He lets out a long yawn, and fools himself into thinking his trial is completed for the moment, before that terrible, haunting voice speaks up in his head once more, chortling:”URGHURHURRHURH…..DESTROYED THE GREY MAW. SOON, THE WATERS OF THIS PLACE WILL BEGIN TO SEEP INTO THE WORLD AROUND THE EXPANSE, SLOWLY FLOODING THE OCEANS WITH *SHEER MADNESS*. AND YOU HAVE DESTROYED THE CHAMPION OF THE LORD OF BONES, WINNING A RIVALY A *MILLENIA* LONG. WELL DONE, MY *PET*.”
“…YOU DID NOT THINK TO HAVE ESCAPED AGAIN, DID YOU, MY CREATURE? YOU HAVE ESCAPED *NOTHING*. YOU HAVE NOT ONLY BOUND YOURSELF TO THESE SHACKLES, BUT YOUR “FRIENDS” AND YOUR SHIP AS WELL! THE CYCLE WILL NOT END FOR YOU, DEEP-ONE….YOU ARE *MINE*, ONTO *ETERNITY*! AND NOW THAT YOU ARE BACK HERE, WHERE YOU BELONG, YOU CAN ONCE AGAIN FULFILL THE TERMS OF OUR BARGAIN….STARTING, ONCE YOU AND YOUR FRIENDS REACH THE FLOTILLA THAT IS “CHAFF”…”
Jack assists in pulling up the gangplank, staying just-close-enough-by that he overhears the whole of the Captain’s speech. Mister Fusspot pops out on his shoulder, listening along and stretching his wings now that he’s found his way home. But they keep getting distracted by the hustle and bustle as the Ship finally pulls away, and especially all the commotion from up on the Forecastle Deck. Sounds like Rax’s Boys have one of the Wyverns tied down up there…
Jack climbs the stairs and sure enough, Rax’s Ravagers and Killian the Striker are astride one of the rat-dragons, working fiercely to finish restraining it. It looks like they’ve used most of the downed rigging from the Main Mast (and *at least* a full length of the stashed emergency ropes) in an attempt to tie the creature safely down to the Deck.
Killian turns and nods a greeting to Jack as he sidles up alongside the group. “Good to se ya’ back in one piece, lad! Glad you and the others ar’ safe. As you can see we’re just *OOMPH!*, wrapping up here…”
“What’sss za plan, Old Man?” Rax hisses, irritated as he sits atop a wing. “Disssable za whole Forecassstle Deck to cage za creature? How do you plan for za men to sssleeep?”
“Well, what’s your plan, “Rax the Resourceful”?” Killian responds, rolling his eyes. “*You* wanna try an’ cut the ropes again? Cause’ she’s gonna make for the first person who does it, guaranteed, so the second you’re ready to lose yer *other* hand….”
“Alright, so we leave her tied here for the night….then what?” asks Shin the Kitsune, still making knots in the Wyvern’s makeshift-muzzle. “Someone’s gonna have to do something eventually….we don’t cut the rope now, it’s gonna be later when she’s….Old Man, what’s that look on your face?”
Killian is staring sidelong at Jack, lost deeply in thought. He shakes himself from the notion in embarrassment, as the Fox tries to get his attention. “…eh? Wot? Oh, right, right….well, she’s down enough now. Fight’s plumb out of her, an’ frankly….I don’t think I have much more whiskey in me’ bottle, if you catch my drift. Maybe we just… leave it…see what the sun brings. We should all be feeling a bit better an’ thinking a little more clearly in the morning…”
The Wyvern struggles one final time, before laying her head on the Deck, *HUFFING* in angry defeat. Upon Jack’s shoulder, Mister Fusspot moves forward, head twitching curiously at the trapped creature. The two birds-of-prey take account of each other for a strange moment, while Jack holds Fusspot close protectively.
A sudden *HOWL* comes from some distance in the north. Jack peers along the horizon…he can just make out skiffs in the far distance, probably a group of fishermen out at night. The howling comes from those boats…and though the tongue which makes the noise is human, the language is most assuredly not…
Now, not for the first time since he’s come out to the Expanse, Jack feels a sudden tug from his primal nature. He wonders how different he really is: from Mister Fusspot, or the Wyvern tied to the Deck. Whether he’s found the “Freedom” he has long sought, or merely a more attractive cage. It’s a disquieting thought for the plucky young werewolf…
The Main Deck of the Ship is a flurry of activity the following morning. Pirate Vets take their positions under the sun, sipping coffee and looking weary. Newcomers (the Dwarfs and the Koa-toa at the moment) jockey for what little room remains aboard, and fight their way through the line at the Galley to get a fresh breakfast from Michael and Carlee.
Natali the Half-Orc has found some volunteers to help gather your fallen comrades, and has laid them under bedsheets along the Main Deck. A portion of the Deck that was damaged beyond repair by the Wyverns has been made into a makeshift raft, and pirates are coming to pay their final respects and take a trinket from the bodies before they’re set out to sea, aflame.
Natali smiles, sadly but kindly as you watch the procession. “Glad you could make it! It’s sad….not the first one of these we’ve had, and I daresay it won’t be the last. But it’s important that we pay respects for the dead…it keeps us safe, and it helps the Crew! A voyage like this…all the death and destruction, the fear…it weights on a soul. Be sure while you’re caring for your bodies, you don’t forget to treat your minds and spirits with the same care! It’s what we’ll all need, if we’re gonna get all these people through to the other side alive an’ *WHOLE*
Calthus-Zorkul is currently harassing the new recruits: the Edgar Boys, and a highly-out-of-shape Baron Reynard. Though all have nautical experience, none have served on a Ship like this in quite awhile. As the Dragonborn works through the basics with the new meat, it becomes apparent he is gallantly holding his tongue as to how…”spoiled” these new members of the Crew seem to be.
“The one…Baron Reynard…wanted to know when the next bath was,” Calthus whipers to you in secret in a break, his eyes taking on an air of irritable confusion. “We just had the *LAST* bath! How salty do you meat-sacks get?” The 1st Mate shakes his head, completely disgusted by the thought. Changing the subject, Calthus pulls out a familiar ledger, notes filling the margins and special orders sticking out between the pages. “Well here, just take a look…Captain thought you should see what exactly we’re dealing with, here.”
“With the Edgar Boys, the Baron, and that Genasi, Zephyr coming off Sick Bed, we’ve got 5 Crew currently unassigned. Of course’…what with all the death…and destruction, and Mutiny and snake-possessions, we currently have 15 jobs aboard the Ship that need filling! So, you see our issue…”
Rax’s Ravagers and Killian (now with Whistler the Kenku in tow) are still posted up by the tied Wyvern, deep in argument about what to do with the thing. The Wyvern has had her head harness loosed, and is currently *SLORPING* down an entire chicken, much to Rax’s chagrin:
“….an’ I’m saying, Rax the Reticient, that you don’t just *throw away* an opportunity like this when it lands five feet from where you sleep at night!”
“Bah! Itsss foolissshnesssss!” The Rak’ta spits, waving around his good hand balled into a fist. “We have few enough crew assss it issss, zat you wissssh to feed zem to an enemy! For the lasss time, zis is not zoo! By za time you make a friend of zis…*JUNK-BAT*, we vill be dead in za water, or you vill have sssstarved ussss…”
Killian catches eyes with Jack as he approaches, and gives him a wink. “Bullshit!” We just have to apply the right sort of tool for the job! Sure, my or your approach might be to break this girl, and we’d be at it until the Ship was going down. But, if we calmed her down…made her feel comfortable…let her know she was in good hands…?”
Rax takes in Jack, and subtly glances sidelong at his hook. The Lizard bristles, but finally relents. “I mean…if Jack wissshes to feed piecesss of himssself to za creature, *I* certainly won’t sssstop him. But I’m warning you, Killian: a few dayssss, no more. After zat, I’ll have Michael put ssssomething in her food, and *DROP* her in za water in za middle of za night! I promisssse you!”
Killian nods effusively, clasping his hands together in thanks. “If we don’t figure it out by then, Rax-my-man, I’ll help you roll her in me’self!” The Old Striker turns to Jack, a wide smile of wooden teeth eager to bring you on board. “Whaddya think, lad? Ye ever wanted to fly?”
Fiver the Lapine seems to have been deep in his bottles over the death of Aloysius last night. Clearly hungover, the Rabbit attempts to shield his eyes from the sun, coaxing in the handful of volunteers he was able to pull from the Gunners.
Oak looks around, taking note of Calvin, and Blacktooth Bart, and Yis the Rak’ta. All strong, hardy types…but not builders or craftsman. None of the Dwarves were able to get here this morning (Erik was injured by being tossed about in the fighting last night, and Olaf has broken out in cold-sweats that won’t stop). Not for the first time, the Barbarian feels an awful *TUG* of tension in his stomach, as he considers that it’s really only himself, Jack, and the Tippling Lapine that are keeping everyone on board from falling into the drink.
Well, deal the hand you’re dealt was what the Captain said, right? Hopefully, you can find some decent woodworkers in Chaff, at least someone who can hold a hammer. In the meantime…
Baron Reynard greets you warmly as you come up to the Deck in the morning. The man’s affectations are gone: he has changed into a typical drab, leather suit of pirate garb, his eloquent mannerisms are slowly starting to fade off. Only that jaunty hat (the one with the feather sticking out) remains of the fictional gentleman you met on the docks of Far Aeston.
“…Cardan Byrne, if you please!” your old friend requests, laughing. “Enough of the fancy-talk to last me a *LIFETIME*, but all the same, I can’t seem to quite shake it yet….heard you all had a hell of a couple days! Do you mind if I ask…”
Cardan Byrne gets caught up, asking particularly about the Little Witch and what became of Mitchum. “…so, it’s done then.” The Half-Elf states plaining, clearing his throat and staring at something in the middle distance. “Well…that’s good, then. It doesn’t fix anything obviously, but…for Iquim, and of course Jennie. I think we can call it some measure of justice.” The man turns towards the Tiefling, eyes alight with memory. “I heard when she fell, you were able to find the Dragon’s Right Eye. May I…?”
Cardan Byrne, Half-Elf, takes the unlit bauble carefully from Urixes, holding it up to the sunlight. He whistles, with the appreciation of a connoisseur. “…it’s identical. Inverted, of course…and the one *WE* saw was still lit…”He’s right, Urixes. You have a sudden vision of a fight…a pitched battle, between the survivors of the Sanguine Seeker. It was over the Dragon’s Left Eye. Iquim had turned on you all, was planning to use the item to *DESTROY* you. But Jennie Goldenmane stole the bauble from him, ran towards the cliff’s edge, and…
“Hrrmp,” says Byrne, likely mulling the same memory as Urixes. “…I don’t know why this one isn’t lit, but I have to imagine there must be a way to put a fire to it once more. There are people in the Expanse, men and women of knowledge who may be able to activate its powers again. But if I were you, I would keep it hidden away: I can only imagine, if this was the Key to Faye’s plans, others will be looking for it as well!”
Arno is called to meet with the Captain in the evening, as the sun is already beginning to go down. Rain still patters away on the sails above head as the Changeling makes their way there, to find Arabella and Zephyr pondering over a familiar Map. Captain Ari invites you in a hurry, Zephyr moving to discreetly shut the door behind you.
“…been looking over this thing, trying to learn what Iron Mike and Marlowe were reading.” The Captain says. “I’m not gonna lie, I know a bit of magic, but this thing means fuck-all to me. An’ your friend here, well…”
“I’m offended, Captain,” says Zephyr pleasantly, sounding just the opposite. “Just because I can no longer “see” doesn’t mean I am fully blind…especially not to a magical item such as this…”
“But you can’t read it,” the Captain replies bluntly, tipping back a mug of ale.
The Genasi shakes his head, still smiling. “No…I cannot read it in the way Iron Mike or Marlowe did. Their absence will be a loss to our understanding, there is no doubt. I cannot decipher the weather, or the location of magical rifts. I doubt I could so much as forsee a Maelstrom!”
“Well, that’s real handy,” Arabella mumbles into her mug, wiping the foam from her top lip. “Okay, so what *CAN* you do?”
The Genasi smiles, the Captain having walked into his trap. He takes his right arm and wraps it around the Changeling for a quick hug, laughing. “Well Captain, I can feel *THIS* one!”
The Captain waits patiently. Zephyr continues. “….and I can feel their energy for Jack, who carries one of the Keys! Rax the Rak’ta has a similar energy…and, if I cast my consciousness about the Expanse, I can feel the very same, unique warmth in four other locations…” Zephyr reaches across the Map, pointing…
The Wyvern leans forward, gives your hand a healthy, ferocious *S-N-I-F-F*...then, the creature *SNAPS*, it's jaw, brushing the tips of Jack's fingers! It's only the timely yank on the rope from Shin the Kitsune that keeps the Young Shifter from losing another chunk of hand. "Careful now, *WOAH*!" The Fox says, as the Wyvern struggles against the leash (and, at the edge of it's ropes, unintentionally rubs itself against Jack's outstretched hand...)
Rax smirks at Jack and Killian. "It issss asss I said. Zis one will not be tamed... if you want to continue trying, I will leave it for a few dayssss. But, you will have to feed it yourself, yeah Old-Man?" Killian looks contrite, and agrees to the terms, promising to fish out the creature's meals and stop taking from the Ship's Hold...
The impressions your magical senses get are jumbled and confusing. It's mostly a series of unrelated visuals: a Giant Lighthouse, shining a beacon of Holy Light. The moon, waxing and waning. A gentle, restorative breeze, clearing the night clouds. Soon, the feeling is all gone, and the Changeling simply holds a piece of aged, scribbled parchment
This group has never learned the phrase “Measure twice, cut once”. Along with several others. Bart, at least, has held a hammer before, but Calvin’s strength ends up being more hindrance than help when he *SNAPS* one of the large logs in half on accident, and Yis seems to only learn the basics through painstaking, hand-holding repetition.
Fiver has passed out inside one of the Longboats some hours ago. It takes nearly until Sunset, but the job is eventually, mostly completed. Oak goes to lean against the Mast to test its weight: the thing gives a sickening, heart-stopping *CREAK* as it bends forward under your weight…but it eventually stops, and holds. Oak wipes a sweaty arm across his forehead: it *SHOULD* work for the short-term, but this Ship will need professional care, and soon. Chaff can’t come quickly enough to patch up the Poor Ol’ Girl…