To my left sat, Captain Redbeard, commander of the Sideburn. Known as Hell’s privateer tasked with spreading infernal justice to the Maelstrom’s wildest reaches; by all accounts he was succeeding. Soon the devil could be the next Archduke of Hell. I could see why. Begads! He was ridiculously huge, stood nearly 12 feet tall, broad and thick in every way, with massive shoulders and arms like ship masts. A fretwork of scars from countless battles covered his body, his powerful chest built solely for swinging his great glaive through flesh and bone, and his eyes were red coals. His terrible beard flowed down like a reverse cape that touched the floorboards. Each whisker was a long burgundy red vein like the kind ripped from a flayed man come back to life. The filthy beard constantly wriggled and hunted all around for its next meal. Sitting next to a wild beast who hadn’t eaten in seven days would’ve been safer! I’d sooner chop off my trigger finger than let him win.
Across the table, fluttered a disinterested looking Captain Cohol, of the Inscrutable Destiny. The she-ghost was merely doing her duty as a ship’s captain during a parley. If the mysterious she-ghost was anxious I couldn’t tell. In fact, I couldn’t get a read on her in the least, which made her just as frightening as Redbeard.
Sitting to my right sat another ghost, Captain Balta, a greedy bastard I killed twice before. From his smell alone he was more zombie than ghost, it was sorta like wet dog musk covered in barnacle shit. He looked like he died drunk with his disheveled brown hair curling up from under his bicorn, dead droopy eyes, and wormy checkerboard grin. Somehow the spineless fleck weaseled his way back into Besmara’s good graces, he was acting captain of the Kelpie’s Wrath, the goddess’ herald. Very odd? Since from my vantage, Balta was as useful as tits on a tortoise. I’d have to keep an eye on him.
Goethe and Mr. Finn looked nervous. The game to decide our fate was about to begin. I grinned wide, shook my tin cup full of dice, and slammed it down. Who would’ve thought that me a measly black kobold would get the chance to roll with legends!
Well mercy, mercy. I do declare. If half the fun of going is getting there! The fun started an hour earlier on the brink of the Cerulean Void. I quietly listened to Nomawyn’s silly songs while I worked the Destiny’s foremast rigging like a proper sailor. She out sang to me with her bright childish timbre.
Poor unfortunate Myrrh! So Sad! So Alone! Like a hangman’s noose he goes around and around, then loops back down and comes back around. Shrunken dancing, behind clear walls, all alone with no friends to see him moan. Quick! Best move quick! Only a brick crown to keep him from sick frown. His slick noose still taut and thick, bolstered by undead wick, and hidden behind the bleach dick’s all seeing eye. Time is draining, Time is waning, Time is reigning in the line!
Man and Merfolk go deeper and deeper, way down. So wet and undry! So dim and unlit! Threads can roil, threads can coil, threads can soil. Oh how their threads do toil! Wrapped up in free seaweed from head sea to knee. Followed by old friend made new, fostered by old foe made askew. Strings stress, strings mess, yet strings do impress! Taken to the next knot by royal Banshee decree. Oh what an interesting hue, a black and blue snare swashed in red hair and washed in silk air!
I’ve alway been trash with puzzles, but Nomawyn never said they were floating face down or belly up. All I knew was that Goethe and I needed to get off the Inscrutable Destiny as soon as possible to help them out. I hated feeling trapped. I hated that my ship went down. The rope work helped me relax some. Suddenly, the awesome KABOOM!!! of a freshly fired cannon shook me out of my deep thoughts. Then came another KABOOM!, from a smaller caliber, and another and one after that. I rushed to the bulwark to catch a glimpse, the shroud of fog lifted, it seemed Captain Cohol was preparing to make a rescue. My eyes guzzled the ship battle at sea like the last few fingers of good rum.
Ain’t nothing like the frenzy of pirate ships engaging in open water to get your blood pumping to the right spots. Two sleek man-o-wars with Besmara’s black sails flanked a titanic war galleon of epic proportions. The huge warship had a half dozen decks above the water line, mostly cannon decks, six masts, and enough red sails to catch a hurricane. I realized the floating fortress looked like the bigger badder brother of the Mutonchop and Chinstrap. Was this Redbeard’s flagship? A third black sail ship approached from the south, it was larger than the man-o-wars, but still half the size of its prey. Its waterlogged hull seemed familiar but I couldn’t get a clean look. The battle heated up.
The three pirate ships circled the huge galleon firing like crazy. The Hellish ship was on the defensive. Or was it? Suddenly a large crimson devil took off from the deck carrying an enormous grappling hook the size of an anchor in his beard. He then threw the heavy hook through the deck of one of the smaller vessels! The Hellish warship began slowly reeling in the little ship like a fish. Pirates leaped into the water one after another. Once the captured pirate ship was within thirty yards, two streams of concentrated flame burned it to a crisp like dragon breath. The red monster then instantly appeared on the weather deck of the second smaller man-o-war and started tearing sailors apart with his grisly beard. Who the hell fights like that?!
Devils versus pirates. Did we have a side? Not sure since my crew had business with both. We owed the Pirate Queen a favor and owed Hell’s privateers money. Maybe it was Nomawyn’s songs or Goethe’s deductive reasoning, but something in my gut told me that I needed to get involved. In the very least, I needed to know the victor. I was sure that would be to our advantage. Goethe concurred. Captain Cohol didn’t give a phantom shit if we left.
Goethe made us fly. As soon as we were out the Inscrutable Destiny’s light fog bank the ship disappeared from our sight! Too late to cry, we found a place in the clouds to watch the battle unfold. The cannon fire was rollicking and ear splitting from the hundreds of cannon balls being exchanged in rapid succession. We had chosen wisely. Lorenz met us in the sky! Turned out, he and Mr. Finn got picked by the Kelpie’s Wrath at the bottom of the sea after they were transported to the Deep Sea Current’s wreck. Lorenz told us the Wrath and Redbeard’s ship, the Sideburn, were the ships deadlocked below our feet. He and Mr. Finn were “helping” Besmara’s side presently. Thank the Gods, Lorenz found us! We needed a plan to ingratiate ourselves to the winner.
Redbeard had other plans. The hulking red devil appeared before us and engulfed poor Lorenz in his outrageous beard. His savage beard encircled us, blocked the possibility of escape. He angrily leaned in, still high on bloodlust, his voice could break stone, “Tell me mortals! How did you get here? Where is your ship?”
I tried to lie. Redbeard almost killed me. At last, I blurted out the truth, “Below, sails the Inscrutable Destiny…” Redbeard relented. He called for a captain’s parley, such was his reverence for the name. Redbeard was all to eager to meet Captain Cohol and stick it to the Kelpies Wrath. He kept poor Lorenz as his hostage.
At the parley, things got nowhere fast until Captain Cohol suggested a game of Pirate’s dice to settle things quickly. I couldn’t believe my luck.