Right then, the Ship’s Heart! But, hmmm…where would you go about finding such an item?
Unsure, but needing to start somewhere, Urixes visits the Carpenter’s cabinet where Oak and Jack keep their tools, seeking out a clawhammer, a crowbar, and a mallet from within. Then, he proceeds to the interior of the Ship, and starts opening it up, one board at a time, carefully replacing the lot once he’s searched the entirety of each room.
Several times, crew mates come by to welcome the 2nd Mate back to the Whispered Curse, only to witness his mad deconstruction and wander back away quietly, their eyes wide. A pair of the Koa-toa, Rhu Rhu and Di-Lin, stay to watch the Tiefling work for some while. Through their hushed tones, Urixes eventually comes to understand that they believe they’re watching a land creature undergo some sort of brain sickness: their hissed words are as much concerned as they are amused.
At some point the Ship’s Pilot, Derbin Brightbeard is called onto the scene. He takes one look at the stripped room and popped boards, whispers “Sonuvabitch!” to Urixes’s back, turns an unnatural beet-shade of red, and storms back up the steps towards the Main Deck. It isn’t two minutes later that Urixes’s old friend Cardan Byrne, looking tentative and worried, comes down to check and see how the Tiefling is doing.
“Hey there, friend….you holding up alright, then? I heard about Arno. Of course, sorry for your loss…” After some time and a few stumbling miscommunications, Cardan is made to understand Urixes’s situation: that he’s searching for something, something that he left himself. The Half-Elf rubs his chin between his fingers, mind searching. “Nope, no idea! You’d have to talk to someone who was around when the Curse got purchased! Think the only ones left are Derbin and the Captain.”
“Derbin…well, he’s the one who sent me down here to check on ya’. He’s too polite to say it out loud, but there’s some juju about Tiefling’s in the Expanse bein’ bad luck at sea, and when he saw you in here with a crowbar tearing through the Ship, I think it broke him up a bit. He’s the superstitious type…probably wouldn’t even make eye contact about it, less ya’ got a couple drinks in him…”
“The Captain…well, she’s been acting real-funny since right after we departed the Grey Maw. Real spacey, off in her own world sort of headspace. Always staring into mirrors. Keeps talking about her friend Valtari like she was still here. Got real broke up about Arno going missing, and couldn’t be talked into it. And, err…” Cardan looks around nervously for other ears, tentative about telling tales out of school. “…’parently there’s some worries about drinking, too. Absinthe. Only the best magical shit they’re legally allowed to sell. Calthus has been picking up the slack, so the crew hasn’t caught on yet. But, we’re pretty worried!”
Jack and Oak catch the Professor just as he’s in the process of departing on his strange looking Craft. The gangplank has already been pulled up, and it takes several minutes of yelling (and a few rocks expertly tossed at an oblivious Modron) to get the elderly scholar’s attention. Even then, with an earhorn in and attempting his best to discern what Jack is asking for, the Professor seems to struggle greatly to understand Jack’s request.
“The Rifts? Yes, I know about the Rifts…well, I know about the fluxes within the fields they converge upon…” Even at a distance, the Professor can tell this isn’t helpful. He grins wryly. “Heh! It’s the Balloons all over again, yes?”
Jack’s explanation mentions something about heading North, and the Professor chooses to fixate on that. “Ahh! Yes! North! If you head due East of Chaff for about a week, you’ll find the “Pharaoh’s Rift”! A stable portal, although high traffic…takes you straight to the Far Northeast of the Greater Expanse and back again! You can’t miss it!”
The Modrons have pulled up anchor, and the Professor’s Craft is already starting to pull away. Smiling down brightly at Oak and Jack, the Professor waves with all his might. “Goodbye! Goodbye! I trust that we will see each other again soon, ere’ my travels within the Expanse come to a conclusion! Good luck, my plucky little adventurers!” The Professor continues waving, as a pushy and determined trio of Modrons push him away from the railings and back to his responsibilities…
Paying the meager merchant’s fee to set up shop in the Marauder’s Market (5gp), Jack takes to one of the trade crafts and begins eagerly attempting to hawk his precious stones!
On normal days the mineral trade would be the carefully overseen purview of the Vault, but since they’re currently closed for emergency repairs, Jack manages to make a killing after but a couple hours of trade! It probably helps that those wandering the market all recognize Jack and Oak for one reason or another, and make excuses to wander by and get a good up close look at the strange faces which both led to and helped solve the riots…
Jack and Oak enter the (seemingly untouched) Tattoo Shop “Drawn by Fate”:
Four resident artists are currently in attendance today. A Tabaxi male with half a shaved head and brilliant dyed patterns covering his body is currently etching a sexy water nymph into the arm of a massive Goliath gentleman. A Halfling woman, hair twisted into elaborate braids and ink covering 80% of her person, is giving a group of eager new sailors (16 years old if they’re a day, and likely former Orphans) their first small tattoos. An Oni, bright red and standing giant inside the shop, fills his needles with deceptively gentle hands.
The last, a Water Genasi whose entire body seems to be etched with a pattern which raises her skin into linework resembling tree branches, greets the Shifters. “Heya! Be with you in a minute. Check the book, er’ let me know what else you had in mind!” On the counter near the front of the shop, several binders sit, each containing rough etchings of each Artist’s previous works.
The two Shifters sit directly across from each other, Jack being etched upon by the lithe and quick Water Genasi, Oak by the gigantic but (somehow) gentle Red Oni. From the back of the shop, a house band of drum-playing Tortles take turns passing a cloudy cigarette between themselves, while thrumming out a constant beat which shakes the timbres of the Ship. One of them, (a classically trained throat singer), chimes in with booming and haunting melody, which wanders airily, and occasionally weaves in and out of familiar shanties the Shifters have heard
The Fire Oni smiles down, kindly but dismissively at Oak. "YER FERST INK, LADDIE?":
The needles burn your arms and chests! Each small jab feels like a tiny prick of fire into your being, and leaves a dull, aching pain. But, after a simple short hour, the small mark is soon completed! Both “claw-marks”, matched in an unmistakable style, lie across the Warrior’s hearts. The Shifters close their eyes, and from within, smoky tendrils flow from their subconscious…
”Howzit feel?” the Red Oni asks Oak as he wraps up the bear claw upon the front of his shoulder. The needle he was using has vanished completely. Upon Oak’s chest, the claw mark sings from within his body.
Oak flexes the arm, stretching it out far over his head. The ink feels…good! As the Barbarian moves the muscles, the magical energy within the tattoo courses through him like a warm, comforting sleeve. The Red Oni nods, impressed. “Yeh, you took to the ink like a shot, didn’t ye? Doesn’t happen to everyone…” he says, glancing over in Jack’s direction.
Across the aisle, Jack is struggling with his own wolf clawmark. The new tattoo, still dotted with bloody spots, aches upon Jack’s chest, the entire knot of muscles feeling rife with soreness. As she finishes, the Water Genasi working on him pats the spot gently with a towel, muttering in frustration to herself. “Part o’ the trick out here,” she says worriedly to Jack. “The ink is stronger, but it can fight yeh, too! Should heal up just fine, here in a week or so…but between now and then, I’d watch out fer magics, if’n I were you…”
A bell chimes, and an Aaracokra walks through the door, bearing a large satchel. Looking around the Deck of Drawn-by-Fate, he makes quick note of Jack, and produces a letter from the satchel. “Jack the Biter?” the birdman says to the Shifter, eyebrow raised playfully. “Got er’ message fer’ you ere, from the House of Sights. From one, Ilmin Dach!” He hands the beautifully written, sweet smelling package with a flourish, and an envelope attached to it:”Dearest Hungry-Boy Jack,
The riots seem to have mostly missed the House of Sighs and the Love Revolution Ship! Your kind friend Arno was one of the people who helped secure the place before the fighting properly broke out. They seemed like a kind, giving individual. I am so sorry to hear of your loss! I have heard from my contacts among the Queen’s Men that a Rift opened up beneath the center of the city during the fighting; perhaps, they are not deceased, but merely gone elsewhere? Such things are said to occur in the Expanse often.
I have enclosed a gift for you, from among the collected relics of the Love Revolution. In the places of the dark or dead, let this candelabra light your way to brighter paths!
Thank you for the kind letter, I will cherish it among my possessions. Wherever your voyages may take you, do please stay in touch, my gentle wide eyed friend!
- The Insatiable Ilmin Dach
Cardan graciously accepts the bag of coin, giving it a quick shake to determine the contents before nodding gratefully back to the Warlock. “Ah, this should do a great deal to help morale around here! Lotta people already burnt through their gold, and are waiting for the Vault to open back up to get paid…I’ll let em’ know, this party is on the Lord O’ the Deep!” His old friend the Half-Elf bids him a fond, heartfelt goodbye, and Urixes heads up towards the Captain’s Office…
As Urixes arrives above-deck, there seems to be a heated, one-sided discussion happening behind the Captain’s door. At Urixes’s knock, there’s a long, several-minutes pause. A few hushed words occur, while furniture is moved, and eventually the voice inside declares, “Yeah then? Go ahead, c’mon in!”
The Tiefling enters the Captain’s Quarters, where Arabella sits behind her desk, feet kicked up on the desk roughly, and attempting to appear nonchalant. No one else seems to be inside the room. Urixes takes a quick account of the Captain before finding a seat in front of her. She looks…tired. Like someone who has stayed up days on end without sleep. High, and uncomfortably so. Her eyes twinkle with a faint glow of illicit-magic. Her teeth chatter unconsciously, and her fingers tap out an anxious pattern on her desk. Urixes has seen enough to know: this is the unfortunate face of addiction, and obsession.
“Ahh, our 2nd Mate…Lord of the Deep!” she greets Urixes calmly, hand rat-tat-tatting in front of her. “Welcome back! I’d heard after your friend Arno’s unfortunate…disappearance…and the riots…that you’d made your way back here and were, errr…” Arabella looks quietly uncomfortable: somewhere between chastising and worried. “…looking, for something?”
She seems to acknowledge someone behind her right shoulder, hissing a reply to an unheard question. “…quiet, I’ll ask him!”
“Cardan’s worried.” She tells Urixes brusquely. “Valtari’s worried. I’m worried. Don’t know if you know this, but there’s bad juju about Tieflings at sea out here…” she seems to check in on the invisible entity behind her shoulder before continuing. “Legend has it, an “Undying” Tiefling comes aboard…wrecks lives, fucks off. Kind of a regular occurrence out here, unfortunately.”
“Urixes,” she follows, after nearly half a minute of hesitation. “….I have to ask…is that what happens with you, one of these days? Does this place get eaten up…chewed to shit….because of some personal curse, or grudge, that you have going?” Her fingers stop rattling, and her vision seems to clear. Captain Arabella, intent as he’s ever seen her, leans across the desk and waits in tense anticipation for the Tiefling’s answer…
Oak is ready to go the next morning at dawn. At the gangplank of the Copper Came, he waits. And waits. A-n-d…waits for the Captain to arrive. An hour passes. And then another. Nearly another.
Eventually, Captain Arabella emerges from the Copper Camel. Her skin is pallid and sweating. A rag has been wound insider her Captain’s hat, clearly rigged to soak up sweat. To Oak’s eyes the Captain looks…dreadfully hungover. Either from drugs, alcohol, abusing magic, lack of sleep, or some combination of all of the above….
“Mister Oak,” she says solemnly, approaching the Shifter and awkwardly giving him a sweaty, twitchy hug. “Heard about Arno. An’… I’m sorry. Was’ nothing you could do, an’ heard even wounded an’ not whole, you an’ the boys were able to stop these riots in town!…” Despite her consoling of Oak, he senses that the Captain’s focus is more than a bit fractured: she keeps staring behind her, as though she were waiting for someone, or hearing something from some invisible source behind her…
As Captain Arabella takes notice of Oak noticing her strange behavior, she laughs uncomfortably, and moves to change the subject, “Well, we’ve got some work ahead of us, eh? Since you’re the person I trust most with these things, tell me: what sort of additions were you thinking we needed to prioritize at the moment?…”
The trek to FIRE+WATER takes very little time, and before long Oak and Captain Arabella are greeted by a large, Goliath metalworker within the industrial Ship. He acknowledges the two and lays his hammer down on the counter, which rings out across the area with a deafening, prolonged *GONG* as he casually drops it. Through a thick accent, the behemoth asks, “How ken’e’elp you? Name’s Tark,” the near-giant says, passively casting his glance between Arabella and Oak. “Zis’ my shop…run et’ wit me brudda, Zin…”
Jack returns to the Whispered Curse to recover the Wyvern. He finds it along the Forecastle Deck, with Killian still loyally watching over the “bird”. As opposed to the last time you saw him, Killian is now nearly coated in wraps and bandages, to the point where he almost appears to Jack to be a fully-wrapped mummy. The old man seems to have been beaten badly during the riots. The young Shifter is almost shocked when the ancient mariner’s voice rises from somewhere deep within the bandages….
“Ehhh…’elcome back, ‘Ack!” the Striker joyously greets Jack, slapping him on the back hard as he approached. “’Er’er though I’d miss you bunch!” Jack soon, slowly, explains his plans with the Wyvern to him. The Old Hand is clearly sad with the decision, but understanding. However, he insists on helping Jack to escort the Wyvern to the Ark. “Sweet ol’ gurl,” he manages through the bandages, patting the creature (which still attempts to take a bite at him). “Rough, but er’ as’ un big ‘art! ‘Ope they find someone kind to watch after er’…”
A small wagon has already been requisitioned, and after a few initial struggles, Jack and Killian manage to strap the Wyvern safely and securely to the transport, ready to roll her through town…
As they finally pull the wagon up the gangplank to the Ark, Jack takes in the interior of the animal friendly craft. The Ark smells of fish, straw, wheat, and an innumerable variety of feces. The lingering odor of piss lingers everywhere. Cages, some giant and some small, strecth as far as the eye can see towards the Bow of the Ark.
The two crew mates are approached, first by a chattering and rowdy group of roughly-clothed, seemingly aggressive Hobgoblins, and then be a beautiful female Aasimar, clothed in soft, sheer white robes, and etheral wings glowing upon thier backs. “Yes?” her syrupy sweet voice inquires. “How may the Ark of the Exotic assist you, today?”
The pretty Aasimar turns her back to Killian and Jack and takes appraisal of the Wyvern. The batlike thing makes to take a snap at her, but she artfully cradles the creature’s head underneath her arm, gently gripping the neck and stroking its head as she shhhh-es it into a sort of resigned calm. Her hobgoblin companions, quiet now that they’re at their work, quickly move to place the Wyvern into strong (but soft) looking shackles.
The Aasimar stands up from cradling the Wyvern, standing straightly and taking a deep breath before she turns back to Jack and Killian. Her brow is furrowed; her hands and fingertips press together, flexing against each other with restrained irritation.
“This creature is wounded.” She proclaims, accusingly. “It’s right wing has atrophied from lack of use. It is malnourished, ill-hydrated.”
“Now wait a minute…” an apoplectic Killian begins, before the Aasimar instantly cuts him off.
“...seems to have been mistreated, and is suffering from such a severe care of depression, I daresay I’m surprised you managed not to drag a corpse in here! This will take extensive treatment. And, rehabilitation. Time and effort from my staff, and my team of experts in the healing arts. It won’t come cheaply. But, you understand, gentleman…you can murder, pillage, steal as you will. But you will not abuse animals on my watch!”
At some point, Jack produces Fusspot, which the Aasimar stoops down to take a long look at. She stares at Fusspot, who meets her eyes and returns her gaze warily (but not, somehow aggressively) . The winged beauty reevaluates the situation, taking another long look at Jack and considering his question. A thin smile touches the edge of her lips, briefly, and she rattles off to the nearby Hobgoblins, “One “Magician’s Glove”, I think. And…the “Avian Abacus”.” The Hobgoblin’s wander off towards a nearby storehouse with purpose.
The Aasimar turns back once more to Jack and Killian, her attitude once more curt and cold. “We’ll take the Wyvern…honestly, I’d be remiss letting you leave here with it without contacting the authorities, after seeing the condition she’s in! And I will graciously waive the rather hefty fees that would accompany her feeding and mental and physical recovery which will ensue until we can find her a proper owner. But, I will only extend this courtesy to you on the condition that you treat your little friend there with more care and consideration. To that bent, I can provide you with the following,” The Hobgoblins return, one bearing what looks to be a small, black silk cloth (resembling a puffy necktie), and one holding what appears to be a very, very tiny, multi-colored abacus, and an accompanying manual. “A “Magician’s Glove”, which should help hide the creature from those who would do it harm. And this,” she takes the abacus and book and hands them to Jack, who opens the pages to find a confusing jumbles of letters and colors. “It’s called an “Avian Abacus”. With the smarter breeds out here on the Expanse, you can train them to match colors from the book with small words and phrases, opening up untold worlds of communication between their kind and ours! Of course,” she says, her smile at Jack hiding a slight edge behind it. “The bird will only become as clever as the one training it!”
“1600.” The Aasimir announces. “A bargain at twice the price. And a lifelong investment in improving the lives of our feathered friends!”
“Sixteen…fuck you!” Killian breathes into the Shifter’s ear quietly. “She’s putting you over a barrel, Master Jack! Pretty or not, this one’s a scam artist!”
Captain Arabella returns Urixes’s stare languidly, but behind the bravado there’s a sadness to her eyes. Maybe she feels Urixes notice this, because she breaks the tension with a wry grin and a grim chuckle. A few seconds more, and she cryptically answers, “What keeps me up at night? Why, the same thing that keeps everyone up at night, Urixes. Regrets. Regrets, for all the things I’ve lost to get here today. Those names, on Natali’s Memorial Board, carved into our Ship. All their faces…all their voices. Knowing, that they trusted their lives to me…and one after another, I’ve failed them.”
She’s telling the truth. But, Urixes can tell she’s not telling all of it. Now leaning across the table clasping her hands in determination, the Captain implores the Tiefling, “You need to feel it too, Mister Urixes. You and Calthus. That sense of responsibility, of accountability, for this crew. That they know that, despite your cold demeanour, and Calthus’s professional-to-a-fault manner, that their 1st and 2nd mates care for them. In case,” Arabella’s eyes grow distant and misty for a moment, but she sniffs and looks away, scratching her nose with the end of her sleeve. “You know. Case’ anything weird ever happens to me out here…”
Urixes thinks it’s a good time to cut in and let the Captain know about the rounds of drinks he’d just planned for the crew. The Captain, momentarily relieved of whatever is haunting her, lets out a harsh, raucous laugh that goes on for some time! “Ahhh, see! That’s exactly the kind of shi- err, sort of goodwill behavior I was talking about, Mister Urixes! Take their mind off their worries…let em’ know when it comes down to it, we’re all the family we’ve got out here…”
Arabella takes another sharp look at the Tiefling, considering. From beneath her desk, she pulls out a small glass and a brilliant green bottle, from which she *POPS* out a stopper and pours herself a few fingers-worth of a sickly green liquid. “Listen…” she says somberly, swirling the glass around. “…I think I know. What it is, you’re looking for. But, part of me is worried. Worried that by taking you on, I’ve put us…all of us…on a ride we can’t get off of. That this pile o’ lumber an’ ornery fucks we call a home is gonna get turned into a worse pile’ o sticks than the Ship this place got salvaged off’of, an it will have been my call. Cause I fucked with powers I shouldn’t.”
She gives a heavy, forlorn sigh. “And another part of me thinks it’s too late for all that.” With a resigned shrug, the Captain raises the glass to Urixes is salute. “Down the hatch!” Then, she tilts back the glass…
”You know,” muses the Captain, returning the glass to her desk and having apparently come to a decision about something. “In some stories of the Undying…the good ones!…he sits at the bow of a Ship he calls his own, and the “Undying” moniker is just as much the ship and crew as it is the Tiefling. I think that’s you, Urixes. And I think those men and women in the crew out there? They want that to be you. But you’re gonna have to show em’, first…convince them that they’re riding the tip of the spear, and not on the other end of it!”
“Cardan was talking to me about Jack’s sword, and we got to talking the artifacts…the “Champion’s Keys”, tools of legendary historical significance out here in the Expanse. Made perfect sense to me “Lucky Jack” found one at Villam, when I heard…”
“It’s a major event that the sucker even turned up, but once could be a fluke. Now, if we came across another one?” the Captain’s eyes glimmer at Urixes, shining with possibility. “Well, now you’re part of a moment….building a legend.”
“You want me to show you what you’re looking for, Mister Urixes? You and the “Bunch” find another one of those Keys…bring it on the Deck of the Curse, an’ raise it up high. Show these people that they’re living a moment o’ destiny right now, stars in one of the Great Tales! Once you’ve given my crew…our crew…that, Mister Urixes? I’ll know I can trust you with the Heart of this Ship!”
The Captain is clearly disappointed. “Huh,” she says glumly. “I thought out of all of them, you would most…” But just as quickly, she brushes the moment aside. She meets Urixes’s eyes and gives a brief, professional nod. “I appreciate your candor, Mister Urixes. And…don’t worry. About any of this,” Arabella waves in general at the direction of the table, but Urixes can’t tell if she’s talking about the drink, her off-behavior, or her “friend”. “I can assure you, it won’t be a problem. ‘Promise, I am fully-fuckin’ focused on the future of this voyage, and the success of its crew!”
As Urixes leaves and closes the office door behind him, he can hear the Captain’s voice once more in heated discussion. But her tone is distinctly muted now. Clearly, she is now highly paranoid of being overhead…
The beautiful Aasimar looms large over Jack. Her smile widens, climbing high upon her face, higher. Her lips part in dramatic fashion, displaying an impossible number of teeth.
Giving a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it look of malevolence to Killian, and a look of solemn sweetness to Fusspot, she leans in with a wistful air and whispers into Jack’s ear:”1500, and only because you remind me of a jolly Amphicyon I once used to know for some reason. Don’t fuck with my money, young man.”
The Captain catches Oak’s hesitation, and seems to discern the reasoning behind it. Face blushing with embarrassment, Arabella dips away from Oak’s gaze, tipping her hat down over her eyes. She talks as they walk up the gangplank of FIRE+WATER, entering a workshop where blacksmiths and carpenters tinker away at half a dozen different tasks.
“Yeh, I think that’s an excellent call there, Mister Oak,” Arabella says, bluffing her way through the unspoken awkwardness. “You’re right that we’ll need to invest in the Hull soon enough, but I agree that your priorities are spot-on for the present moment: more protection from magic fuckery the better, an’ the more we can put our people’s minds at ease, better our situation will be!”
“Can always address the rest later, assuming we come across enough scratch as we sail through the Expanse…yes, hello!” The Captain greets a crotchety, middle-aged, heavily bespectacled man who approaches. Checking back with Oak for specifics, she places the order for the Lodestone and Figurehead. The man with glasses licks his pen, and stares airly up for a moment as he considers. He grins and makes a few notes, “Well, from what ye’ve described o’ the Curse an’ its crew, I’d say what I should do fer you is a carved take on our Fair Lady of the Talkin’ Beasts! Lurue: daughter o’ Selune, the Unicorn Queen!”
“Right then,” the Captain says, shooting a quick smile back at Oak. “That should do nicely, I think!”
“I’ll send some boys around ter take a gander at your Lodestone here. Few days,” the man says, scribbling out a indecipherable receipt, tearing it off and handing it to the Captain. “We’ll need six to eight hours…and yer’ top decks cleared. Don’t want no accidents!”
The Wild Bunch are greeted warmly by the crew of the Whispered Curse upon their return! Many a mate checks in to see how each of the three are doing; if they came out from the riots alright? If the stories are true, that they destroyed the tower? If they managed to smuggle any of those balloon craft back to the Curse, just in case? Even with the dire talk, the folk of the Curse seem to be in playful, even upbeat spirits! Despite their clear notoriety, the crew seems to feel much more at ease now that the Wild Bunch is back aboard, as though a weight has been lifted. Urixes in particular is greeted by loud cheers as he goes about the Ship, many hands new and old thanking him for the free drinks!
Rumors run rampant aboard the Ship. The tale goes that Arno finally turned back into a dolphin (some now argue, their true form this whole time) and found a rift back to the Faewild. Rax is said to have begun to sow the seeds of a religious crusade across the Twilight Expanse, looking to start a Rak’ta revolution among the islands. The new hires are all being considered with a good deal of open contempt and suspicion: murmurs are heard of potential spies from the Prince’s dogs, and remembrances of Conrad and the mutineers are shared. However, there’s a hint of bemusement to the proceedings, and it feels more like "hazing" than hatred…
The Bunch barely has time to readjust to their sea legs before a call goes out, and shortly thereafter a familiar face comes up the gangplank at the head of a group of four Chaff pirates. They bear between them a large, heavy-looking steel chest, held on long rods pushed through the tops of either end, and roughly the size of a bunk aboard the Ship.
From the Bow, Captain Arabella approaches the group, as do the Wild Bunch. Captain Arabella purses her lips, and crosses her arms as she walks up to the Orc. “Captain Arabella. I’m the Captain of this vessel. Can I help you?”
“Delivery fer’ yer man Oak here!” Grigmar responds pleasantly. “Per our agreement! This here is the “special cargo” we’d discussed. Make sure its kept safe!”
“I see,” Captain Arabella says, casting a single pointed look at Oak but attempting to appear nonplussed. “Well then, please have this delivered to my personal office, just up towards the bow there! And you were…?”
“Gorgeous Grigmar, ma’am!” the Orc says pleasantly, shaking Arabella’s hand with vigor. “You run into any o’ the Queen’s Army out there on the water, you tell’em my name! They should be good to provide you with any food er’ supplies on hand…given yer’ “special mission”!”
“Yes, of course!” The Captain says matter-of-factly. “Well, thank you, Grigmar! And please send my appreciation to the Queen as well…its a shame that I was not able to meet her in person this trip!”
Grigmar looks confused, but quickly enough puts a finger aside his nose, and nods conspiratorially to the mates assembled. “Don’t you worry about that, ma’am…she’ll hear about this post-haste!” With a quick *whistle* at his companions, he motions them back towards the gangplank. Grigmar turns with one final look to Oak. “Thanks again fer’ your assistance, matey! Rest assured, you do me this solid, an’ the collective o’ Chaff will bend over backwards to pay ye’ back in kind!” With that, Grigmar and the Chaff pirates depart.
Wordlessly, Captain Arabella catches Oak’s eye once more, and points her gaze towards her office.
Oak soon catches the Captain up to speed: about the Queen of Chaff, Grigmar, the Abbot of the Eternal. As he wraps up, he finds the look on her face hard to read: is she angry? Shocked? Or… is that maybe a glint of self satisfaction in her eyes…?
“Well, you made the right decision, I’ll give ye’ that,” Arabella says, kicking her boots up onto her desk nonchalantly. “We manage to get in good with the Queen, we can call every-other craft out here friendly…er’, at the very least, assume they’ll leave us the fuck alone.”
“Course,” and here she smirks, and laughs. “Helps that we were headed there anyways! Bit of a laugh, that,” Maybe Arabella sees some slight confusion on Oak’s face, so she clarifies, “It came to me in a vision, Mister Oak. Like the ones Zephyr an’…Arno, truck in. Doing a bit o’ fact finding of my own out here, an’ the next stop…just so happens to be this “Abbott” o’ yers!” Her eyes shine with something akin to a religious conviction. “Bit o’ serendipity there, yeh think?”
“Oh, one more thing, Mister Oak,” she says, and her voice takes on a more chiding tone. “Next time ye’ sign every man, woman, and up for a mission o’ chivalry, ye’ mind maybe running it by yer’ Captain first? Felt like a proper jackass out there when the Orc and his “box” showed up.” The “box” sits just behind her desk, pressed up against the wall.
Killian finds Jack and Fusspot standing atop the Crow’s Nest one day, and climbs up to greet him. After awhile, the Old Hand unloads some regrets about the Wyvern, shares updates on his still-healing wounds from the riots, and finds out how Jack is getting along with the avain tools that Aasimar had insisted on pushing on him. It quickly becomes clear during the conversation, however, that he’s up here to talk about something else entirely.
Sheepishly, he asks, “Listen, Jack…you know how when ye’ first got here, you were a bit of an Outcast? Got a bit o’ bad treatment from the crew, cause’ they misunderstood you? Well, we’re getting a bit o’ that with some of the new hires…one in particular…”
Killian gestures down to the Main Deck, where Meepo the Kobold is currently soaking ropes from the rigging among the longboats. The tiny dragon-creature sounds like they’re singing a rowdy, slightly off-color ballad. The whole crew gives the small creature six or seven feet of space as they go about their own work. Those who wander closer than that get accosted, as the Kobold interrupts their song to shout notes of “encouragement” at their fellow crew. Whoever they encounter or see seems to become incorporated (rather rudely) into their song.
“Yeh’,” Killian says sadly. “Bit o’ an asshole, that one. Don’t even think they mean to be, but fer god’s sake…I’m a patient man meself, Master Jack! But they’re down there singing about how “the White Dragon’s” gonna eat an’ shit out all the deckhands cause’ they ain’t moving fast enough…or he doesn’t know how we had more than the one mutiny, after he tasted Michael’s meat-chili…or how much prettier this place’ll be, when it sinks into the sea and a reef starts growing out of our bodies!”
“Look, know you got more than enough on yer’ plate…and know the 2nd Mate an’ Master Carpenter are busy too….but could you try to keep an eye out fer him? Maybe, see if ye’ can get him to chill the fuck out? Me, the crew…we’d really appreciate it!”
Calthus finds the Tiefling as they’re getting the Ship ready for the next morning’s departure. With a look and a gesture, the Dragonborn coaxes the Warlock into a side hallway for a secretive conversation. He seems to sum the Tiefling up with one perceptive look:
“You’ve seen her, then.” Calthus declares without hesitation. “The Captain. In her cups an’ in her guilt. S’gonna be a problem, mate…sooner, rather than later.”
“Look, I don’t give a shit…I’m open-minded!” Calthus assures Urixes. “Half the lads an’ lasses on this Ship are here to find something…”themselves”….explore new worlds, whatever. But my job is to make sure everyone lives…an’ that job gets a lot, lot harder when you can’t trust that your leader ent’ jumping at shadows, er’ chasing ghosts!”
“Ent’ pulling a Conrad!” Calthus assures Urixes, softly and definitely. “Just spent most o’ the last five days keeping this covered up, keeping it quiet among the crew. But as 2nd Mate, you I had to tell…hope you understand. Me and you, we have to keep an eye…”
“Just wanna make it to enjoy my retirement!” Calthus laughs suddenly, coldly, staring out the porthole into the waters beyond. “This Expanse job was supposed to be me’ last before I called it on this swashbuckling nonsense. Getting too ancient fer this shit, Urixes…”
Glal wrote: »
Jack slides down the main mast and casually saunters towards the kobold, "Ey, new fella, I heard you was makin' trouble." He stands over the other, for once looking down on someone, "Now listen here! ...next time you have trouble with Michael's cookin'? You give me your portion, I'll gladly have seconds." He grins toothily, then plops himself down, sitting on a nearby spool of rope, "The rest I'll give ya, but come on, our cook's a magician with food. Only time I ever ate better was..." Dreamy smile, "Boy, that unicorn pie." His stomach makes an reverberating noise.
The little blue draconic fella gives Jack a wide, overly surprised pair of eyes. The little thing is obviously being a smart-ass. They immediately begins to protest in practiced, too-dramatic fashion, "Ain't makin' no trouble here, Wild-Kind! Jest' sharing some unfortunate truths, s'all! The White Dragon sees all, en' this crew is beggin' fer' intervention from the moonshine!"
The kobold gives a solid, stately bow to the Shifter. "Nice tar' meetcha...name's Meepo! Formerly o' the Longclaw-set, formerly o' the Crescent Mountain-kobolds, current apostle o' the Alabaster-of-the-Stars!"
The little creature spits when Jack brings up Michael's cooking. "Salt! Salt en' herbs en bloody everything! How ken' you pick out a flavor, savor a texture, when yer spices have blasted the palate all to fuck en back..." The little kobold goes on to detail the many differences (and clear superiorities) of raw vs. cooked meats and fishes, including several slightly sickening sounding recipes for a "beef tartare'" sort of pie...
"Still," the little creature purrs, taking assesment of Jack and Fusspot. "Fascinatin' ta meetcha in person after all this time. The White Dragon has mentioned you a rough handful o' times..."
”Yes, yes!” the Kobold says, rubbing his hands lustily at all the talk of meat. “Raw fish could work! The ocean has all sorts o’ fishes, an’ nearly every one of em’ better than the rubbishlittle guppies we had to eat down in the caves!”
Having rapidly bonded over their respective love of uncooked cuisine, the Kobold rests a little easier around the Shifter. Almost eagerly, the kobold begins to open up about himself in return, “Y’see, I scuttled with the Longclaws fer’ bout fifty years before I became a convert to da’ Alabaster-o-the-Stars. Was wandering the upper hills one night and came upon a cave open ter’ the surface. Whole place was lit blue-like, an unnatural. I look overhead, an’ what do I see, but a brilliant white dragon, holding still in the night sky, watching over us all! She sees the mountains… looks down on me in particular… an’ says, “Meepo, you’re gonna come out of yer cave, and yer gonna see the whole world!”
“Well, I brought home my catch an’ forage early that mornin’, bid my brood-mate an’ kin a fond farewell, an’ was upon thar surface that very evening! The White Dragon greeted me in person as I came up…made me look out onto the ocean, onto the sky.” The Kobold grows quiet and wistful. Jack can see in his eyes the love that they had found after so long underground: for the surface, the sky, the sea. He also takes note that the dismissal of his family seemed to be rather immediate, and that the little creature seems to little care.
When Jack asks what the White Dragon had to say about him, the Kobold grows loudly arrogant once more. “Oh, well, she tells me everything, ya’ know! Whispers the winds ter’ me, sometimes…knew the Grey Maw was gonna crumble fore it did…helps me see my opponents hands in poker, well, mostly.” This last bit seems to be in contention; upon his face, Meepo seems to recall an instant where the White Dragon very much did not help him win at gambling…
The Kobold finally returns to the question at hand. His answer is eerily prescient, “Anyway, she said you weren’t Wild-Kind…not quite. That ye’d finally found a place to be yerself, but you still weren’t sure if you could. That the Expanse would waken something in ye. An’ that someone…Goldmask? Sunny-Helmet? Yellow Prince?…would be angling to take advantage o’ whatever was wakin’ up in ye’!”
“Don’t worry, lad,” Meepo assures Jack, squeezing his knee reassuringly with razor sharp talons. “The White Dragon has yer’ back!”
”Don’t you worry bout’ me, Urixes…I’m solid,” Calthus quietly assures the Tiefling. “Trust that lady more’ en’ anyone I ever met! An’ love this crew like my own kin!”
“But, who she’s talking to is the issue,” the Dragonborn hisses to Urixes. “Ya’ ever meet the Quartermaster, Valtari? Tiefling like you’…one o’ three that started this voyage, yerself being the last left standing!”
“Ari and Valtari, they were…close,” Calthus says awkwardly. “Best friends…went in on buying this Ship together, a rough age ago. There were rumors they were “more” than just friends…but a lot of that might just be idle gossip from the crew. What wasn’t ever in question was that the two showed a genuine, deep love fer each other.”
He continues, “Valtari disappeared while her and Arabella were hiking around the southern tip o’ Villam together, few days before you all got back from yer’ jaunt in the woods. She’d been obsessed with mirrors an’ reflective surfaces before she went missing; kept telling the Captain, her reflection was “teasing” her in this place. Captain didn’t believe a word of it, thought she was bullshitting because she was “funny” like that. Then, out there in those woods, she an’ the Captain cross a pond, an’ in the noon sun, they don’t see a reflection fer’ Valtari. The Captain gives a good look to the area, trying to find some sign of magic fuckery. Whole time Valtari is freaking out, worried about where her reflection went”
“By the time the Captain got back to the pond, Valtari was gone. Vanished, into thin air.”
“And now, couple weeks after she’s gone, Captain is putting mirrors in some places; covering them in others. Keeps talkin’ to someone behind closed doors. Is looking for something, but won’t talk about it.” Calthus shakes his head sadly, at a loss for how to deal with the Captain’s obsession. “Dunno, man. I think something about losing the person she loved…it broke her. An’ now I’m at a loss, ‘cause I’m not sure what worries me more: that she’s talking in her head to a dead and vanished Tiefling, and has lost part o’ her sanity? Or that she is talking to someone, something, that’s coaxing her places she wouldn’t go…that we might not be able to follow!”
The next morning’s departure from Chaff is smooth and uneventful. The Whispered Curse pushes out from the floating city that dawn into a bright, partly cloudy sky, drops sails, and heads through the crystal blue waters to the West. As though out of spite, a Western Wind rises up to greet them, pressing against their sails, cutting into their progress…
Early on that morning, Captain Arabella makes her way (uncharacteristically) out her office, and finds her way to Derbin and Refi at the Ship’s Wheel. She’s bearing a large mug of coffee and a look of solid determination, and it soon becomes apparent among the crew (despite their obvious attempts to keep things quiet) that the Captain is coming out to help monitor/partially take over Piloting duties today, mostly to help cover for Arno’s absence. Refi is silent about these matters, her eyes betraying things she’d dare not speak out loud. Derbin, despite a smile which goes from ear to ear and never leaves, is clearly displeased having his space and duties encroached upon. But, despite several attempts to ask the Captain if she’s really sure…? And, if maybe she wants to just watch for awhile…? And, when was the last time she’d even…? The Captain is undaunted, and takes firm command of the newly-minted Wheel.
From across the Ship, Calthus Zurkul meets Urixes’s eyes, and the two share an understanding from the unspoken look.
The Whispered Curse travels on through the wispy clouds, cutting mostly-west as the craft heads for the nearest point of interest on the Map: one of the HIDDEN CACHES that 2nd Mate Urixes had described being left in the area.
Shortly after midday, just when the crew has fallen back into the steady but tedious rhythm of life and work aboard the Ship, a call goes out from the Crow’s Nest as across the water, an area of jutting rocks lights up with a concentrated reflection of light.
A quick meeting is held around the Wheel. Derbin Brightbeard insists, “Bad juju, Cap’! Looks like an ancient ruin o’ spires, with light-traps built in. There’s a through path, but it’s straight down the middle o’ no cover. Might be an’ old ocean highway stop…but more then’ likely, it’s jest a marauder trap…guide a Ship in with light, corner it, rob it blind!”
“I concur, Captain!” Refi’s raspy voice joins in. “We should likely go around…might cost us a bit more time today, but better safe than sorry, no?”
The Captain frets, drumming her fingers upon the wheel. Eventually, she asks, “Do you see anyone, though? And those “light-traps”…they’re made of…?”
Refi, ruffled but head held tall, replies, “No Captain...currently no eyes on anyone, enemy or otherwise!”
“An’ the light-catches seem to be made with some type o’ mirror-device…the way they’re bouncing sun off each other, they’re probably set to one to another at specific…Cap’n?”
Captain Arabella’s smirk grows slowly over her face. With a look to Derbin and Refi, she says, “…I say we go for it. I think there’s something for us, in there…”
Derbin cuts in, almost panicking, “Cap’n, fraid to have to highly disagree here!”
Refi adds, “There’s just no benefit, ma’am! Some saved time, sure, but is it worth tempting fate, to sail through something we’re pretty sure is atrap?”
The Captain growls softly from somewhere at the back of her throat. “See, I’m just hearing a lot of uncertainty. Small thinking. Think what yer’ failing to see is the opportunity here.”
The open argument hangs heavy on the nearby crew, who pretend not to hear it. Murmurs and grumbles begin to build among the crew. Overhead, the clouds, wispy and insubstantial, begin to part, making the signal of light glowing from the distant spires that much brighter…
Captain Arabella’s eyes flash wide as Urixes mentions her unseen attendant, and small beads of sweat begin to appear on her forehead. She grabs the Warlock roughly by the arm and pulls him to the railing on the starboard side of the Ship.
“You mean you can actually see her…?” she whispers back incredulous. She glances about the rest of the crew, specifically Calthus, trying to appraise the general mood aboard, and when her eyes come back to Urxies, he can see she’s secretly worried under her brusque surface. “Don’t wish to push them,” she murmurs to the Tiefling, almost apologetically. “But Valtari told me that only a handful of opportunities like this would crop up on the Expanse…the light, the mirrors…and that I’m running out of time to bring her back!”
The Captain takes another long look at the approaching glass within the spires. Her fingers drum upon the railing in building anxiety. She finally growls, “If it’s one of the Prince’s traps, it’s a devious one. And I trust you, Urixes, I do, it’s just…” At a loss for words, she gives a sidelong glance to Oak and Jack, standing strong in their support at the front of the crew…