This is the law: blood spilt upon the ground cries out for more.
As we open our short chapter, a man’s corpse floats gently to the bottom of a moonlit sea. Above him, galloping on the chop is a two masted sailing vessel, a caravel by the looks of her. A gravelly, staccato roar bellows from the deck before the roarer howls words from the same raspy throat. “Murder! Murder! A passenger’s killed our captain!”
Lamps wink on above and below deck. There is a commotion of voices. What mess have our Castaways gotten to now – barely a day and a half into their voyage from Smuggler’s Shiv?!?
It all started just a few hours after the Castaways and friends boarded the Red Gull. The compact, speedy and maneuverable caravel appeared to have been curious enough about the distress signals blazing from the old Sargavan settlement to risk their jolly boat and two men. While the abandoned village was well-known for its cannibal squatters and the whole island considered cursed by sailors, the signals themselves were only a few months old, according to Aerys, who suggested using them. “They’ll know we’re on the up-and-up.”
After being taken aboard, the Castaways were informed by the captain, a human with the unfortunate nom de guerre of “Snake-Eyes,” that his ship had just departed Eleder (which was to be the next port-of-call for the Jenivere), and wouldn’t be returning. Time at sea was money, and the ship had goods headed to Bloodcove. This sat fine with the party. They were just glad to be on their way, anywhere. After finding spots to lay their bedrolls in the cramped cargo hold, it was time to get a feel for their hosts. Their ordeal in a jungle full of monsters had made the adventurers wary.
Aside from the captain, the party took note of most of the other officers. There was a red-bearded dwarven First Mate, a ghastly-looking human pistoleer who was the ship’s Bosun, and the ship’s mage, a Kaavaland halfling that even managed to creep Tyst out. The crew was minimal for a vessel its size, just eight sailors, with four or five on duty at any given time.
The Castaways remained somewhat demure about their business. Gelik, less so, and the little comedian enjoyed regaling his captive audience with crude jokes, pratfalls, and tales of his associates’ escapades. None of this sat well with Kor’lec, who rather wanted the Shiv’s sinister reputation to stick. Unfortunately, the proverbial cat was out of the bag, Gelik or otherwise. The surf around the island was calmer than anytime the Gull’s crew had seen. The air itself seemed cleaner, fresher, the landscape seemed more inviting. Many had noticed. Kor’lec brooded on the island’s immediate future while flying around the ship as an osprey, amusing himself by bombarding the gnome with hawk-hockey. But Gelik took it in stride, joking every time.
“You’re telling me that’s a hawk? I could’ve sworn it was a stool pigeon!”
“Someone just HAD to remind me why we call this the poop deck!” and
“Nice to have my friends dropping by to catch my act! Hey up there, sorry you had to scat!”
Then he’d snap his fingers and magic the poo away, winning gales of laughter from his audience. “Some people just want to stay mad, even when you come clean to them.”
Kor’lec did note the unusual nature of the vessel’s principal lookout while flying around; a gecko-like lizardfolk as at home in the heights as most of his kin were in wetlands. Further, the lizardfolk had an animal with him, a avialan dinosaur that Kor’lec could tell was, like Kai, more of boon companion than a tamed beast.
Meanwhile, Likki wondered why the best treasures were kept in the bowels of the ship—then slorped down a rat tail like a noodle. He asked when he’d meet the big Chief of “Wreck-born Land,” so he could impress them with his royal lineage. Before bursting the little guy’s bubble completely, Likki had it explained that there were many big Chiefs and they didn’t usually agree on things. Then Dornas got down to brass tacks. “They will see you as you used to see us.” The monkey goblin winced. “But I not food!” he protested, and swore under his breath that no wreck-born would try to eat him. He was a person. He was a prince. They’d know. He’d show them.
Charade in Voyage
Some of the Castaways were happy to finally schmooze with new faces. Kishtari enjoyed gambling, smoking, and drinking with the unruly seamen, like she was back among the rowdies of Riddleport. Dornas and Monica tried to make headway on Ieana’s notes, though Dornas broke away occasionally to canvass the crew about Bloodcove’s hot spots. On these matters, the sailors were furtive and tight-lipped, which further aroused the party’s suspicions.
Tyst and Kish both spoke the casual cant of scoundrels, and soon details emerged about the “merchant” ship and her crew. The Gull belonged to a Lord Maragorn, whom Tyst knew to be a ex-pirate king turned Bloodcove business kingpin. As it happened, Maragorn also owned the Jenivere. “Strange coincidence, that,” Aerys pointed out. The sailors were not nice men. Kish caught thought snippets of their cruelties and crimes, and some confessed even worse to Tyst. The Gull sometimes flew a pirate flag, but its primary concern was smuggling.
As night began to fall, Kishtari was tasked with swindling information from the captain. The telepath was in her element, having excelled in confidence jobs even before she’d read her first aura. It wasn’t a difficult grift. Old Sigurd Snake-Eyes longed for feminine company and clearly underestimated women from outside his own Ulfen homeland. Though his mind wandered toward the money he’d make selling the beautiful "Varisian half-elf " into slavery, he knew he was better off doing as the boss had instructed him—recover any salvage from the Jenivere and bring any survivors to him for debriefing.
Meanwhile, Tyst had taken note of the cold shoulder Sasha was giving everyone lately, with her worst scowls and sardonic smiles reserved especially for him. He’d spent a good part of the day shadowing her. Sometimes the canny huntress noticed him, to her credit, and pretended not to care. More often she didn’t. She was continuously wrapped in a cloak she’d fashioned on the island from sailcloth, feathers and straw. The girl was hiding something, an unsheathed weapon, by the sound of it’s scrape when she knelt for what had become a rigorous prayer routine. Tyst knew the teen normally favored small arms, and found he recognized the hymns, too—they were for Achaekek, the mantis god of assassins.
Tyst attempted to get a looksie at whatever it was Sasha was hiding when she bed down for the night. But he was sniffed out by her dimorphodon hatchling, who squawked an alarm. Having tired of the game, Tyst confronted the young woman, and asked what her problem was. Sasha started out with her usual doggerel about the lycanthrope’s presumed mission for the Red Mantis. She’d seen him at the assassin cult’s Citadel, where she grew up. “But I don’t want to kill you,” Tyst explained. “I was nice to you.” He assured the paranoid girl he had very little recollection of his time with the cult, other than his training and their possible culpability for his curse.
Sasha fell to the halfling’s earnest charms and admitted in spite of herself that she was a daughter of one of the leaders, the infamous Vernai. She intended to return to the Crimson Citadel and tout Tyst’s failure to kill her, and hopefully expose whatever political enemy of her mother’s the were-beast served. “Good luck with that,” Tyst said. “Tell you what, you do just that. Go your way, and I go mine.” It finally dawned on Sasha that Tyst really didn’t remember anything about his mission, or his employer, and that he really did intend to leave the Red Mantis behind. She laughed manically.
“But, there is no leaving the cult, and living!” Sasha scoffed. “You really think you can just… quit? The most ruthless and effective assassins in all history?”
“That’s the plan.”
“Hoo. Then I wish you luck. You’ll need it more than me.” The teen relaxed back to her childlike temperament and made Tyst pinky-swear that he wouldn’t try to blackmail her later. He indulged her, and in so doing, unwittingly became the perfect person to have reached out to the troubled teen—just in time.
That Escalated Quickly
Tyst passed by the captain’s quarters to check up on Kishtari. The halfling ninja found her tooling around with Snake-Eyes’s strongbox, while the old Ulfen was slumped over his writing desk, out cold, gripping an emptied bottle of brandy. And, she was about to trigger a potentially lethal—but more likely permanently disfiguring—trap. Tyst slipped in the room, casually dispatched the trap, and popped the lock on the strongbox.
Inside the strongbox were some coins and gems, and Tyst nabbed the most valuable, a black pearl, for himself. Then he left without a word. “Aw!” Kish pouted. But there was still mischief to make, and the thieving kalashtar went over the charts and notes on the smuggler’s desk. There was a map of the Shiv coastline, with likely impact points for the Jenivere outlined in consideration of that fateful night’s winds. There were dossiers on the passengers, and orders penned by Maragorn that confirmed what the telepath had coaxed earlier from Snake-Eyes’s limpid brain.
When Kishtari returned to the group in the cargo hold, she explained what the smugglers were up to. Kor’lec being Kor’lec presumed the worst—this “Maragorn” would have their heads! Monica being Monica presumed the hunky-dory—the guy just wants to know what happened to his boat. Dornas being Dornas presumed the plots—some machination was afoot and they needed to play along. Likki being Likki presumed the yummy—if there were as many rats in Wreck-born Land as its people took traveling he’d be fat and happy.
After mentioning lifting Snake-Eyes’s gems, Monica was horrified that her companions had just robbed their rescuers. Aside from the not-at-all insubstantial ethical concern, they’d all be assumed as culprits and clasped in irons. The party tossed ideas around like hijacking the ship, finally deciding to let Tyst return the jewels and make it look like nothing untoward had happened in the captain’s cabin.
While the group prattled on, Kor’lec wordlessly excused himself from the conversation and slipped away. Up to the top deck prowled the druid, with Kai stalking behind. Into the sterncastle he crept, where snored the captain in his cabin. The half-elf lifted the besotted smuggler’s drooling head—and with his scimitar, opened old Snake-Eyes’s neck.
Kor’lec ignited the plans and maps of Smuggler’s Shiv with a simple orison while the man he’d just killed bled out. The druid dragged Snake-Eyes’s body out to the main deck, and under the cover of darkness, lifted the captain’s corpse up and over the railing where it plopped into the sea.
A saurian growl issued from the shadows of some cargo. “These eyes are just as good in the dark,” rasped the reptilian voice of Gortross, the lookout. A lamp winked on overhead, held by someone in the crow’s nest. On the poop deck, a match was lit, and then another lamp.
“He should have listened to me,” grumbled the lizardman, "if I had my way, you’d have all made this trip in cages. Without limbs.
“They’ll listen now.”
His croaks echoed across the upper decks, and practically resonated through to the cargo hold. The off-duty seamen in the cabin fore of the hold began to rouse from their hammocks or card games, while nearby, the Castaways noticed Kor’lec’s absence. “A passenger’s killed our Captain!” echoed across the ship. Gortross had some pipes on him, and the words were repeated in whispers from the crew.
“Sounds like we can keep the gems!” Kish cheered.