Jack rains his blade down upon the Goblin, but each time, the wiry little sniper manages to dodge his blows! The Goblin Agent's lips curl into an evil grin...but his cockiness costs him, as Jack, with a final burst of energy, breaks through the Goblin's defense and slashes one of the creature's legs out from under him! Yelping, the Goblin somehow catches himself with the butt of the gun, and rather than falling into the clockwork below, springs off from the beam!
Bouncing about the rafters, the nimble Goblin dances artfully around the Shifter, jumps the beams near the fire, and makes his way out of melee range to the rafters in the East, before at the last second turning back, swinging the large rifle up to eye level (with some difficulty), and firing upon Lucky Jack!…
The Bird-Creature flails against the Barbarian, uselessly attempting to gain a hold as the Shifter ducks and weaves out of the flurry of talons and teeth! The Corvian reeks of death and decay. His vision going red, Oak grips the handle with a vice-like hold and retaliates with the Axe, sending a devastating slash into either of the creature’s wings! The Demon-crafted weapon, glowing a faint blue, cuts through the Bird’s stone-like flesh as a knife goes through butter!
Across the way, Pom, pulling themself up atop the railing with one hand, draws their sword from its sheathe with the other. Muttering an incantation, the Lieutenant’s blade begins to cook red-hot, and they channel a spell through the sword, which bursts from the tip of blade, and fires in three separate directions! As the spell flies, they turn to jump down into the waters below the boardwalk…
Kasha the Hadozee, bellowing a battle cry, pulls a shortsword from a scabbard at her back, as she charges in to assist Oak against the Bird-Creature! Kasha swings the blade once, twice, three times, furiously, but the steel blade has trouble gaining purchase against the bird’s tough hide, glancing off more often than not…
Urixes’s eldritch blasts surprise the Changeling, and catch them directly in the chest and midsection! The fleeing Lieutenant’s trajectory is suddenly changed mid jump, as they are forced off their controlled descent by the Warlock’s magical bolts of energy!
The Foul Giant Bird, hissing and spitting under the assault from the Barbarian and Hadozee, flies overhead between Oak and Kasha, centering himself among the combatants along the roof. As the foul creature makes beady-eye contact with Urixes, it turns back to the pair at it’s heels, and lets out a devastating *SHRIEK*!
From somewhere far below, the familiar voice of Pom cries out in a sharp, sudden pain, before the sound is almost immediately cut off! Whatever just happened, the Lieutenant’s dive into the waters beneath Chaff did not come off cleanly…
While above, the young Shifter, shrugging off the rifle’s blast, pursues “the Brick” along the rafters, the two continuing their delicate dance atop the beams as the fires grow nearby. Once more as he descends upon the little devil, Jack attempts to hack at the fleeing sniper, missing the first slice, but sinking deeply into the creature’s other leg with the backhand slash! Chic winces and falls to one knee, catching himself against the beam below by almost hugging his body to it.
The goblin looks battered; weakened. Though obviously a highly competent marksman, the Goblin Agent is clearly not accustomed to up close confrontations. Jack notices a thick ichor of blood coming from the twin wounds in each leg…the goblin is bleeding, like a stuck pig…
As Jack looms over him, the Goblin cowers for a moment…but its a trick! From a hidden sheathe inside his boot, the Goblin produces a small, sharp dagger, and attempts to plunge it into Jack!
Once again, the goblin flees away from Jack’s reach, leaping back the way they had came over the nearby rafters, and brandishing his small blade back fiercely at Jack!
Kasha the Hadozee falls to the floor, covering her large ears with both hands as the Vrock’s awful din breaks out over the Tower! She sees Oak and Urixes each fall as well, both overwhelmed by the brain-shattering noise of the foul demon! As the Changeling leaps (or more accurately, falls) from the edge of Tick Tock Tower, and the Giant Evil Bird bears down on the Big Man with the Axe, Kasha pulls herself up, and roars back in quixotic defiance, once again letting loose a barrage of blows on the backside of the Corvian!
In return, the Foul Thing laughs; a harsh, bitter, high-pitched sound. Scraping back carelessly against the Hadozee’s offensive, the Demon takes in the sight of the fire, and the fallen Tiefling and Shifter. With a grating, self-satisfied noise, the Singed Vrock peels away from Oak and Kasha and, a growling, hungry sound in its throat, makes for the Warlock!…
Jack's shot hits home! As a trickle of blood runs down his face, the Goblin's eyes roll up into his head, and slowly, the creature slides from the beam, and falls into the clockwork below...
Nearby, the Vrock, overwhelmed by the Hadozee's fury, has it's neck suddenly snapped! The creature hits the roof, wings still twitching, staring up in beady-eyed shock at Oak and Kasha...
From the face of the clock tower, the fire and smoke continue to build...
Fires continues to consume the clockworks. Oak strains at the hatch door, the veins in his neck bulging! Mister Fusspot stands atop his shoulders, chittering nervously. Jack walks slowly up to the Barbarian, tottering unsteadily, before collapsing with a loud thwump a few feet away. Emerging from the smoke nearby, the Tiefling drapes himself over the fallen Lucky Jack, attempting to cover the young wolf's face from the smoke...
Suddenly, with a slow, but steady give, and a triumphant roar from Oak, the nails begin to pop out of the hatch door one by one, ricocheting around the top floor before the hatch finally springs open!
And running up the stairs at the very second as the door is opened, Gorgeous Grigmar and his men come upon the Wild Bunch! The Orc halts for a single moment, once again appraising the Barbarian, but with a much different look upon his face this time. He turns and takes account of the Clock Tower, specifically the bodies upon the floor: that of the ruined Vrock, and the mangled goblin, and the young Shifter. At the sight of Lucky Jack, Grigmar urges some of the pirates behind him forward to assist. Two men rush up the stairs, kerchiefs wrapped around their faces to guard against the smoke, and pull the young Shifter up between them. Jack is firmly passed out.
Gorgeous Grigmar turns to Urixes and Oak. "Quickly...this way!" Holding the hatch up overhead, Grigmar urges the Wild Bunch through the door, as the top floor of the clock tower continues it's building inferno...
The Wild Bunch runs down a large set of steps, back down towards the city. Around them, they can see the remnants of the Black Robes: a handful being apprehended by Grigmar's men, but most lying dead and battered along the railings.
"We've sorted em' out." Grigmar says at the sight of the arrests. "And the ones we didn't have either fled, or gone into hiding. We're instituting a lockdown and curfew fer' all non-essentials this evening, while we restore order to the place, attend to the wounded and missing."
"Thanks fer' putting the Bird down...we owe ya a solid, for that. An yer Ship, the "Whispered Curse"? Was safe last I heard, but Hook's End is blocked off by a bunch o' Modrons that need to be convinced the fighting is over. And," Grigmar gestures back towards Jack. "Yer little friend here needs attention now! We got a few quality doctors aboard the Apollo and Athena...and we got a couple questions for all you folks, anyways. Don't worry!" He says, putting up his hands defensively as Oak turns on him with a glare. "We know it weren't you that fucked up the place en' fled! But the folks that did do it...well, they committed an act o' war. An' I think it would interest us both to know why they choose to do it wearing yer' faces..."
Grigmar sees the Wild Bunch into their room. "I'll be right back to have that chat o' ours," the Orc says with a firm nod. "Gotta check on how things have transpired in my absence, make sure there's no other emergencies that need tending to. But I should be back real soon..."
Jack and the group are taken inside a private room in the large ship, somewhere below the forecastle deck of the Apollo. The place is quality, and luckily seems undamaged by the recent riot. A team of sisterly looking dwarves immediately descend upon the injured Jack, clucking and clutching to check for injury. There are other injured here as well, including two people you recognize: Fiver the Lapine sits bedside of the kenku Whistler, who appears to be hurt. Both look up and give Urixes and Oak a small nod of recognition.
On the dresser next to Jack's bed sits a familiar looking sending stone.
Gorgeous Grigmar should be back very soon...
As Oak speaks into the stone, a faint glimmer goes through it, before quickly going out again. A few feet across the room, an identical glow can be seen momentarily coming to life within Urixes's coat pocket, as the twin feebly attempts to acknowledge it's mate.
No doubt, then: you've found the other of the Sending Stones pair, which you know Arno had used only some hours ago. That the Changeling no longer has possession of it can't mean anything good. Fiver and Whistler both do their absolute best to avoid eye contact...
Breathing uneasy, Jack snores unhealthily into his pillows, a sound somewhere between a cranking drive ratchet and a chainsaw...
Jolting to, the Shifter suddenly awakens, sitting up in a strange room! Familiar faces (and some, not so familiar) lie or lounge around the room, but Jack is not aboard the Whispered Curse. His pulse races, and he tries to collect himself.
The young Shifter can only just remember the dream in his waking moments. He feels accutely a deep, deep fear, and a profound sense of loss. As Jack tries to piece together the new area around him and hang on to the threads of the dream, something happens to jog his memory in a horrible way...just as in his sleep, Jack feels a tug on the jawline, and a prickle at the tip of his ears...
Jack holds back a suppressed growl...thrashes against the ship's bed....and yet, somehow, stills himself! The fangs recede, and his ears pull back into a more human shape.
Fiver's ears pip up, and the Lapine looks over in Lucky Jack's direction, but only for a moment. The rabbit turns dismissively away from the Shifter, to nurse his own wounds, and attempt to get back to sleep.
Meanwhile, Oak and Urixes just saw everything: the Wolf's sudden, scared awakening; his near-transformation; and Jack's strain to put it back down...JACKYou haven't felt that so strongly ever before, at least not since you were first turned. A forceful call back to the Wild, where you lost track of yourself for more than a few seconds, to thoughts of trees, and blood. It...scared you.Something about whatever was behind the Sun Prince's mask made you want to bare your teeth...rip meat...embrace your inner beast...
And that dream...you can only remember odd bits and pieces,...but you're left bereft from it...depressed, but not sure why, and for the first time, scared for the future...
Urixes takes the journal from Jack. Before long, the Tiefling has cracked the cypher, and the journal reveals its contents:
Whistler’s left wing looks partially smashed, and there’s blood and mud smeared into his feathers. He tries to answer Oak, but his throat gives a low gurgle, and he rasps uselessly.
“There’s a good lad, now,” Fiver says, patting the Kenku consolingly. “You rest up, yeah?” the Lapine turns back towards Oak, wide-eyed and serious. He looks battered (once again), but not seriously hurt. Remarkably, he seems to be sober!
“Lord, the day we had! Me and this guy hit the gambling ship….got a real heater going too! Competition got heated, and we made a personal side bet…one of my bottles of whiskey, the good stuff! Well, I lose to him, but win the rest of the table…so I says, “if you want it buddy, it’s yours, but you’re gonna have to go get it!”
“He takes off, I’m up four-score gold…next thing I know, all the shit outside starts on fire! People started running, trampling each other…it was a mad house!”
Whistler chirps, morosely. “Just wanted to wet mah’ beak!” Fiver pats him on the shoulder, and nods understandingly.
“So Whistler here, comes on a bunch o’ guys in black robes trying to sneak something onto the Curse…he sends up a holler, next thing ya know Killian comes running, an there’s a brawl! They came out on top, but barely…Killian’s apparently pretty banged up too, but when Grigmar’s guys tried to get him to leave the ship and come get patched up, he made to bite one of em’!”
Fiver gesture over toward the bedstand next to Whistler, where smashed machinery sits in a rough heap that might’ve resembled a beetle, once. “That’s what the black robes were tryin’ to sneak aboard, but it looks like Whistler smashed it good. You know what one of these are?”
”Anyways,” the Lapine continues. “I snuck along the back alleys an’ railings as best I could, made my way back to the center o’ town…that’s when I came across a preacher-man, pulling that…Stone outta the sea.” Fiver looks around worryingly at Oak and Urixes. “Knew I’d seen that Stone before. An if you three are here, then…” Fiver looks down at his floppy feet, kicking them awkwardly. “…well, I hope they’re alright. Er’ Bluurg is gonna be absolutely inconsolable!”
Fiver wipes a grubby eye with a delicate claw. “Hrrmph. Not gonna be the same, returning to a Ship without them, or Rax on it…” The Lapine’s ears both spring up, and he places his hands over his mouth as fast as he can. It is clear that he definitely wasn’t supposed to mention Rax…
Fiver’s ears and whiskers twitch, and his brows furrow. A slow growl builds in his throat. Rather than attempting to laugh it off as he usually would, Fiver slowly stands up from his bed, and places his hands on his hips, standing directly in front of Oak in a defiant (and comically dwarfed by size) display. This is a much different Lapine than the group is used to dealing with.
“Ya…you know what!” the heavily scarred Rabbit-kind says, muscling up the courage to point an accusatory finger at Oak. “Ye’ ain’t respected me one copper since the moment we met each other in the streets of Far Aeston, have ye? Ye ignore me when you walk past me on deck… we’ve worked together, you me and the wee’ wolf… near every day….fer a month an some change! An’ I don’t think one time, even once, did ye’ ask about me?! Do you invite me to your,” he looks around accusatory at the lot of the Wild Bunch, “secret late night get togethers? Er’ check in, see how me leg’s been mending, before ya ran off to start a damn revolution? No.” The Lapine is full-on, bawling crying now as he yells, and nearby, the startled Whistler is forcing himself to sit up, and grab Fiver’s arms in a comforting, calming manner. The Lapine turns, and sobs into the bird’s shoulder for some time…
Finally, he turns back to Oak, making a feeble effort to wipe his nose and eyes first. “Dunno’ enough about Rax’s plans to hide from you, or the local authorities, “Captain’s Pet”. You think he tells us anything? Fsssshhh. You wanna throw me to some sharks? Fine. Go ahead. Been that kinda day, right? But all I know is, he’s gone….an’ he told us two seconds before we docked this morning, then vanished. Said to take care, an we'd all “find out soon enough”.” Upon saying these words out loud, Fiver chokes up again, and returns to crying on the Kenku’s shoulder. Whistler looks confounded, but continues to console the Lapine with his good arm. Fiver is unresponsive to further attempts to talk
The Lurker in the Deep doesn’t reply. The God is fickle like that. Urixes is in no doubt that he’s well aware of what has transpired here, and probably pleased beyond measure at the sacrifices this day’s events have given to the ocean.
As to the other…
There’s a brief, heavy knock on the door. A few moments more, and the door to the Athena’s Sick Beds swings open, with Gorgeous Grigmar standing behind it. The large, bruised Orc nods, awkwardly, and pulls up a chair to sit down across from the Wild Bunch.
“Greetins’” the orc says, brusque but politely. His throaty rumble occasionally, involuntarily whistles through a freshly broken nose as he speaks. “Yer’ little pal finally sitting oop? Good. Sorry fer’ keeping y’all waiting…few more fires needed putting out than I’d thought.”
“Me name’s Gorgeous Grigmar, an’ I’m second-mate to her ladyship the Queen. Wanted to apologize, fer’ the attempted arrest earlier. We thought you was someone else, maybe even sumfin else! Can’t be too careful these days, ya ken? Fer’ yer inconvenience, we’ll be putting ye up at The Copper Camel duration o’ yer stay, free o’ charge. Know it ent’ gonna unfuck yer day, but we figured it were a nice leg up from yer morning.”
The orc flips through a notebook (one far too small for his hands) slowly, using his large claw-like nails to pore through the pages for information he seems to be unfamiliar with. “Ye’ came in with the…”Whispered Curse”? Should know, she’s in good shape still! Kobolds held down the Shipyard fairly tight, from what we can tell. Heard there was a near incursion from some of those Black Robe fellers, but I guess your crewmates took care of it. Well on’ya!”
“Listen,” the orc grumbles somberly, starting at the Stone in Oak’s hand. “Head o’ our Hunter’s Guild, Barnabas, he met your friend Arno in the streets out there: ‘pparently, they were at the head o’ a pack o’ pups, trying to stop the riot by sheer force! Barnabas is the one who found me an’ cleared yer’ names right before thur tower. Errm, an’ he’s the one who brung the Stone here. Went back out right after, looking fer yer’ friend. We’ll send word, iffin we find em’, but…” the orc shakes his head glumly. “Lotta missing. Lotta injured. Lotta dead…”
“Got some questions for you all, iffin you don’t mind,” the orc transitions thoughtlessly. “Try not to take up too much more of yer time, but after today, I got a fresh war en’ my hands…and for some reason, you lot are done stuck plum in the middle of it!”
Gorgeous Grigmar returns to the tiny notebook, gingerly flipping through its pages .“Now then…”
The Orc begins, taking on a serious tone. “Mural at the top o’ Tick-Tock was one of the more well-known tourist sites in Chaff. Been painted up there for well-on thirty years now, and built up a good bit o’ cultural cred in that time. Local legend passed down among der’ Urchin population is it was left by a mythical creature know as der’,”Grigmar makes a theatrical display of flipping back to the front of the notebook once more. “ “Undying”, who left em’ a good bit o’ scratch, an told em’ to keep an eye out, should he or his other buddies ever come back.” Gorgeous Grigmar shrugs dismissively. “One o’ dem little-kid tales you used to tell when you was wee, but stories get around…”
The orc leans over his knees and peers intently at the Wild Bunch. “Ye’all know anything about it? Get a good look at the mural, or ever hear the tales?”
Grigmar grunts back at Jack in the affirmative. “Familiar is fookin’ right! The Expanse is pretty diverse, but Tieflings around here tend to be rare to come by, and fer you to just so happen to be travelling with a Changer, too? An’ yer’ boy here the spitting image o’ the Bearman? Ken’ only imagine that must make you the Lupine, although you don’t look it...”
Grigmar shakes his head, annoyed. “Look, I’m not the superstitious type…but a lot o’ folks out here is! When those folks who was impersonating you rolled through the city, they had the damn red carpet rolled out for em’, Queen’s orders. They got the run o’ Chaff, and treated like kings. Legend had been built up that the return of the Undying mean big change fer the Expanse, an' Chaff in particular. S’why when the bastards pulled a damn heel turn, it was a gut punch…last thing the city needed right now. An’ those fookers musta’ knew it.”
Gorgeous Grigmar growls a bit under his throat at Jack’s touch, but is gentle when he goes to remove the hand. “Hey ye’ just… watchit there, alright? No need to get too familiar…but yeah, tea…tea might be a good call!” Grigmar nods over towards a corner of the room opposite Fiver and Whistler, with a small stove and kettle set next to a dresser of drawers. “Ye’ ken find some bags in there and cups below…liquor for sedations, coffee, too. Help yerselves…just set the kettle to a boil.” Grigmar yawns involuntarily, and rubs his eyes. “Y’know…think I’ll change mine to coffee. Black. Been a long one.”
Grigmar gets back to the questioning. “So the Prince’s people start an open war with Chaff after murderin’ every last one of the Traders Union…an they use you all to do it.”
“Do you have any reason why they’d go to all this trouble to set you up? Is there any truth to this “Undying” legend, or are the four of ye’ sailors just here by sheer coincidence?”
Grigmar growls under his breath at Oak’s revelations, rubbing the beard upon his chin in deep consideration. “Wanted to buy ye’ too, eh? After all this. Hrrm,” The Orc takes in the Wild Bunch again, as if trying to see them through fresh eyes. He ponders for some time, wheezing through his broken nose. He speaks again with deft consideration for his words. “What zat says to me… is dat’ da Prince believes you’re the real deal, too…or, least zat’ ya look close enough to pass, fer’ purposes. ‘Magine it’s gotta be pretty good for business, saying you’ve got a literal myth en’ your employ…”
Gorgeous Grigmar takes a deep, depressed sigh, and droops a bit further into his chair. Jack’s offer of a black coffee comes at the perfect moment. The Orc sits up and takes a deep drink from the steaming hot cup. His back relaxes just a bit, and when he leans forward this time, a bit of the “official business” has dropped from his tone. “Gotta say, off da’ record, s’fer the best ye’ didn’t take Pom’s offer. I’ve seen how their deals come out, end of da’ day…even had em’ make me an offer meself”. He leans forward, sad eyes and a look of deadly seriousness upon his face. “It don’t work out, ya know. Ever. The Sun Prince brings in a lot of “outside contractors”…promises a lot o’ fellas an early retirement on a private island somewhere. An some get their wish, fer’ few months at least. But after that?” Grigmar shakes his head slowly, making a cutting motion under his throat with a thumbnail. “Prince don’t keep anything around that ain’t makin’ him a price. Second ye’ain’t worth it to him, or put a thorn in his side…..bastard’ll shake yer hand with one arm, an’ shank ye with the other, then watch ya’ die.”
Gorgeous Grigmar sits back in his chair, fingers locked and pressed behind his head as he thinks. When he next speaks, he seems to be talking more to himself than to the Wild Bunch. “With der Trader’s Union wiped out, s’gonna be the pirates o’ Chaff that have to keep der order in da Expanse now, or people will starve. Prince is gonna be looking to lock down markets…drive out our outposts, starve our supply lines, then jack up da prices once da competition’s been broken. Gonna have to reinforce each’n every one o’ our ships an’ shanties at sea, fer the coming war…” Grigmar huffs, irritated and angry. “Perfect fookin’ timin’, right while the city’s burning da fook’ down…”
Grigmar’s mood darkens considerably, and he turns back to the Wild Bunch, his brow furrowed and his eyes cold. “Which reminds me’” the orc says, his tone becoming deathly quiet. “Tick Tock Tower…the Balloon…the fire…zat you lot?”
Gorgeous Grigmar’s breath quickens, and he seems about to reprimand the Wild Bunch, goes to raise a chiding finger, maybe even begin to yell…and then he sighs sadly, defeated and worn out. Gorgoues Grigmar slumps back into the chair, exhausted. He takes another long, deep sip of the coffee, eventually slurping it down to the bottom of the cup.
He seems at a loss when he next speaks. “Well, just…fook. Fook!” Gorgeous Grigmar slumps his shoulders. “Not like ye’all had experience flying, I suppose. Yer hearts were in the right place, anyways… just trying to stop the riots, I suppose.” He shakes his head thoughtfully. “I’ll miss zat blighted eyesore o’ a tower. Gonna be another log on the fire, too. Dem’ orphans used the Tower as their personal apartments. They’re gonna have to take to the City, now. Ain’t gonna help our crime er’ food shortage problems, that’s fer damn sure…”
Gorgeous Grigmar abruptly changes the subject. “What do ye’all know about the mass Rak’ta exodus zat occurred right as the riots were kicking off?” Nearby, Fiver accidentally sucks a load of boiling hot tea up his nose. Eyes watering, he fights to keep from spit-taking…
”Hrrmph,” Gorgeous Grigmar says, looking over strangely at Oak before flipping back through the notebook. Nearby, Fiver, thumping himself quietly between the ribs, painfully chokes down the hot tea. Oak sees the Lapine’s face , nose dripping snot and eyes watering, just before the rabbit turns away, suddenly becoming very interested in the corner.
Grigmar finds the page he was looking for, tapping it with an eager finger. “Villam…zat was the place.” He grins, momentarily pleased with himself, before returning to the business at hand. Grigmar addresses the Wild Bunch. “Rumors started ‘bout a week back that Villam had been wiped off the map. Most o’ the talk was coming from the Rak’ta community, but they was being real quiet with it. All we knew was it had something to do with some new religious leader named “Strike”, there was some rumors o’ Rak’ta talking looking to “rebuild their people”, an’ then lizardfolk started disappearing from service work an’ public life…started gathering up their money an’ goods from the vault, like they were waiting fer’ something…”
“Then, today, right after your Ship docked, this hook-handed lizard showed up at the Ratshit preachin’, claiming to be this new guy Strike’s “Herald”. ‘Pparently, he was at the head o’ the lizards an’ locked the area down, kept everyone safe when the riots broke out. But now, when we go to take account of everybody, we find Ratshit damn-near emptied out, an’ nearly every Rak’ta in the city missing.”
“Doesn’t seem like they were working with the Dogs, since they were out there fighting em’. There’s some rumors there were skiffs and Rak’ta rafts that departed quick-as-you-please north while we were trying to put out the tower-fire, but nothing definite. All we know is, they ain’t here now. An’ I like that as little as I like anything that’s happened today.”
Grigmar makes a frustrated, grating sound under his throat. His hands grip the notebook until his heavy fingerprints are left embedded into the cover. Shaking his head, he returns to Oak and the others. “’Preciate yer patience, just a few more questions and I’ll let ya’all get out of here.”
“Yer’ Ships still being patched up….so, what are yer’ plans while yer still in town? An’ what’s the Curse’s next destination out from Chaff?”
Grigmar scratches himself behind the head, uncomfortably. “Also, ummm, bit awkward to ask this after our earlier run-in, but the City’s been pretty well beat to hell…if you bunch could spare the time er’ the men, gotta say me and the Queen’s Men would greatly appreciate it.” He looks around at the Wild Bunch, apologetic but hopeful. “Us pirates, you know…we gotta look out fer’ our own!”