The Pakthryxl Proxy

The Inscrutable Destiny!!! Time for Misplaced Captains
Captain's log found on the davit

Dahak’s exit wormhole bent my outsides and churned my insides. I knew I was traveling an impossible distance, which was plenty alright by me. After tasting Dahak’s shit for the last day, I was ready to dine with my friends on-board the Current once again. I could see it clear as summer sky. The Deep Sea Current welcomes me with a respectful quake and drops the rope ladder to the crows nest. The crew rushes to me, tongues wagging, their ears hungry for titillating tidbits of my triumphant encounter with Dahak. Nomawyn says something cryptic, Tiny shares a pull from his bottomless bottle, and Tebrilith thanks me for the chance at command. Everyone swoons as I begin pantomiming mowing down the Flesh Golems, then outright shit their pants after eyeing my shiny new plunder. The banquet kicks off with a rousing toast, “To our Captain Reskafar, the best captain a bunch of mangy sea dogs could ever ask for!” Then we drink like we’re on a sea of no cares, eat the larder empty, and smash our moral compasses over each other heads. Yes, somebody might even get pregnant! More than one gets knocked out cold. A grand reunion.

My boots hit the deck. Something was immediately off! The trim deck boards ran port to starboard the opposite way they should and weren’t white. I reared my head, my jaw like steel, and cried out in uncut rage, “Telbrilith!!! What did you do to my ship?”

My outburst stirred the patchwork of sailors with unrecognizable faces that surrounded me. None were my crew. The caravel was in cherry condition, tight bowline knots, scrubbed decks, ornate details, and pristine sails of ghostly white. Almost as nice as the Current. An alien fog bank permeated around the ship like a forever smokescreen, obscuring the world beyond. At the helm, floated a calm she-specter wrapped in a vaporous white silk jacket and capped in an exquisitely pale tricorn. She might of been a beauty once she was alive, but now she was barely a candle flicker. Our gazes crossed. The she-ghost politely nodded. Where did that prick Dahak send me?

“Captain Reskafar? Is that you?”, a familiar voice, pulled me in. Tebrilith scurried down the main shrouds. She looked different. A fresh new eyepatch covered her left eye, a thin spider web of faint scars on the cheek below, and swollen indigo bruises from a busted nose.
“Aye”, I said.
“Captain…about the ship…”, she solemnly began.

Tebrilith shamefully confessed that the Deep Sea Current went down in the middle of the Maelstrom. The sobering fact slowly seeped into my crevices. Her next words barely registered. She dutifully explained that Hellish cannon fire compounded with the Protean warp waves inflicted too much damage. The ship’s keel was snapped in two like a twig cracked over a knee. Most of the crew was safe on-board the caravel. I didn’t catch the name. Some were lost to the Maelstrom. She apologized and apologized and apologized. I got queasy during her rambling string of excuses, then I came to my senses. How dare she sink my ship? I knew I should’ve put a hole in her lying face after our first encounter. Maybe she stole it? Afterall, she was a known ship thief! I saw the jealousy in her eyes on more than one occasion. Blood dripped down from my clenched fists. I burned so hot, I bet those little drops boiled away before sullying the deck. My eyes stared through her like she wasn’t there. She was nothing to me now. I slowly reached for my musket without thinking. I would make her pay dearly for losing my ship…

youngpirate.jpgMy steaming eyes caught the focus of a familiar munthrek behind Tebrilith. He didn’t look quite right, but there was no mistake. He had too few lines on his face, eyebrows not nearly bushy enough, and thick bronze hair not the scraggly gray I remembered. He was the right height and build, and had the same gray eyes and snarled lips. I brushed Tebrilith aside without saying a word. I would deal with her later. My breathing regained a normal rhythm, I approached the familiar munthrek. I had to know. He shouldn’t be breathing, not after what I saw.

“Captain Digger is that you?”, I questioned the young sailor.
“Aye! Ain’t no Capt’n, tho Digger is me name. Who might ye be?”, boomed Digger. His voice as forceful I remembered. I followed countless orders by that hard voice.
“It’s me, Hole Maker. You hired me on the Old Dirty Bastard two years ago”, I answered.
“I don’t know ye. I don’t have a ship by that call’in”, said Digger.
“I hitched up at Raptor Island”, I tried to jog his memory.
“You must be mistak’n. I be only at Rapt’r Isle once after a rek’t. Ain’t n’ver seen you bef’r”, rebutted Digger.

What the fuck was wrong with him? What enchantment was he under? I’m sure Captain Digger would remember me. Com’on, how many Shackles’ Captains have an awesome musket toting, black Kobold on-board? The answer was freaking one. Me! If he didn’t recognize me then it mustn’t be him or he’s turned soft upstairs.

“Listen bastard! Don’t fuck with me after the day I just had. You best remember this”, I shouted. I pulled up the sleeve of my fancy new red jacket to show off my Shackles tattoo stylized the same as the one on his bicep.
“Wh’re in the five seas did you get my mark, liz’rd?!”, replied a visibly shocked Digger.
“From you!”, I shouted.
“Li’r! Ain’t n’ver seen ye bef’re”, grumbled Digger. I closed in angrily, close to fisticuffs. He snarled likewise and leaned in.

inscrutabledestiny.jpgSuddenly, Goethe tapped me on the shoulder. A touch of relief washed over me, at least Dahak sent some of us to the same garbage fate.
“Captain, I think there is something you should know”, he calmly said, “I don’t know if you realize this but we are abroad the Inscrutable Destiny. This man is and isn’t the man you know."
“Bullshit! That’s a fairy fucking tale. This ain’t no fancy caravel, captained by a ghost, that takes marooned sailors home in exchange for working the ropes…”, I trailed off, I looked left and right, up and down. My brain meat sizzled.
“You see it now”

The moment dumbstruck me. The Inscrutable Destiny, the last hope of every stranded sailor, existed! Begads, there’s more sea shanties written about the ship of Destiny than about fucking! I lost it, big time. My hearty laughter perpetrated everyone’s’ ears like a bad joke. Nothing should’ve shocked me anymore, not after the things I saw, but everything still did. I gave up. From that day on I vowed to believe in every mythical fart and legendary fuck I came across.

“We should speak with Captain Cohol”, said Master Goethe. I composed myself enough to speak to a ghost. Goethe and I went up to helm to greet he mysterious Captain of the Inscrutable Destiny.
“I be Captain Reskafar. I owe you many thanks, mi’lady, for the safety of me crew”, I kindly said.
“You are to kind. Do you require safe passage? Serve me for a time, and I will take you home”, said Cohol, her wispy mouth hardly moving. Her voice a raspy elegance like a harp.
“Please tell me, Captain Cohol. Does this ship sail the sea of Time? Is this why my Captain’s acquaintance does not recognize him?”, questioned Goethe.
“Time or place has no meaning to the stranded”, Cohol coldly responded.
“What of the others of my crew?”, I asked.
“Only the stranded are here”, she replied. Goethe and I gave each other a look, we figured that meant they found their own way. Goethe tried to pry more information from Cohol, but she was politely tightfisted. On the other hand, I was thankful. We found an oasis in the chaos. A patch of green in the desert. The only lifeboat in the Maelstrom. No wonder Captain Cohol was revered as a God to some. She had impeccable timing!
“We humbly accept your terms Captian Cohol. It will be an honor to work your ropes. At this time, we do not know where we belong. Please give us time to figure out where we need to go”, I respectfully said.
“All I have is Time”, she nodded.

Later, I met another familiar person on deck, Nomawyn, was dancing and singing like she was at a Summer Sun festival. In fact, many of the crew were there, safe and sound. Only my ship, Vaghol, Pipp, Lorenz, Mr. Finn, Thuxfeldt, Brittlehope, and Myrrh were gone. Poor bastards. I wondered if they were dead or alive.

“To – make a quilt – you need – colors and string…To – make a skirt – you need – fabric and – scissors…To – make your Fate – you need – a stitch of luck. I knew you’d come Captain, I saw your cable branch and grow. It’s strong as a whale with a ways to go. Do not snort, the missing lines are not short, only corked. To – fix a twine – you need – patience with Time…”, Nomawyn whimsically sang out.

At least, I nailed Nomawyn’s cryptic greeting. The rest of it wasn’t the reunion I hoped for. No big banquet, grand toasts, or drunken debauchery. My crew was splintered in two places that no map can connect. Heck, I wasn’t even on my own ship! Yet, it wasn’t the worst, not really even a disappointment, if you thought about it the right way. No fatalities, that’s good. We luckily hitched a safe ride with a mythical Captain, who’s free of Time’s shackles, in the most dangerous sea there was. We no longer had to take Dahak’s boot to the face, Apsu’s power still flowed through our veins, and most exciting of all, the Gray Dragons’ hoard still begged to be plundered. I looked to the great blue yonder of the Cerulean Void up ahead. It was so blue the fog couldn’t keep it out. Certainly not the the last reunion I expected to go sideways.

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An Audience with the Sorrow Maker!!! Promises of Power!!!
Captain's log found on the genoa

“Fuffuffuffu! I applaud you! Most entertaining! You’re the first mortals in over a thousand years to make it this far”, exuberantly catcalled Dahak within earshot. Shitballs! Dahak was literally around the next corner. How do you prepare to meet the evil God of Chaos? What do you say? Where do you put your hands?

Whenever faced with a life or death decision, I close my eyes and see the same picture. I ask myself, will my next action make that picture a reality. If so, I pull in out of my mind and make it so. A picture of me in my twilight years, resting in my own bed, a belly full of rum, and the world’s greatest treasures at my fingertips. A beautiful sight! You see I have a healthy fear of death. Dahak already proved numerous times we’re his playthings. About to face the demented God, my instincts instructed me on the best course of action to further my picture. No more insults. No more outbursts. I licked my lips getting ready to pucker up!

The path ahead was ominous, a long bloody trail and greedy laughter, but to what ends, nobody knew. Why had Dahak kidnapped us? Did he even have a reason? What was Dahak’s role in the wars to come? And most importantly. Is he going to murder us? We limped about slowly. Prepared for the worst and hoping for the slightly worse. We entered Dahak’s feeding chamber. Gnarled chunks of fresh meat, chewed bones, and congealed blood littered the stainless steel floor like the result of a battle gone wrong. I remember thinking, “I never knew Gods ate.” Just a few more steps until the moment of truth.

“Come closer! Sweet Champions!”, Dahak beckoned. His laughter was merciless. We turned the corner, grit our teeth, and faced the Destroyer of Worlds. A colossal head as black as midnight coal was all I saw. Dahak was ugly, scarred, covered in spikes, and his eyes burned of hatred. Copious amounts of thick saliva dripped from his maw due to a missing barbed fang the size of a rusty ships anchor. Black-Dragon-l.jpgThe wound bled black blood and looked impossible to heal. I couldn’t comprehend his presence. I couldn’t comprehend anything. My mind went numb like a phantom limb. We bent our knees before the God of Endless Destruction. He erupted in laughter again at our sorry state. The cracking rumbles shook the very earth with terror. A fitting father of the chromatic dragons.

“Oh wise and powerful Dahak, the Harbringer of Endless Destruction, the Smiter of Planes, the Scourge of All. We are humbled to be in your presence”, eloquently spoke Lorenz, without so much as a quiver in his voice.
“Closer. Come Closer!”, Dahak snarled. We half-hearted stepped in. Dahak rose his enormous spiky black head to the ceiling and peered down us from a position of absolute power. I’ve felt small my whole life, but never that small. Dahak’s examined us like a microscope.

“I see opportunity. Opportunities for destruction and sorrow. You pitiful mortals are the key to my grand vision”, cackled the towering God.
“What would you have us do?”
Dahak’s laughter ceased, he brought his head down low.
“Become calamity!”, Dahak sharply responded, as serious as sin. “Insure the mutual destruction of those bastard Grays and my benevolent Father. Spoonful by spoonful, feed them the ashes of their ruin. Feast on my supreme power. Drink from my bottomless well of knowledge. It’s all yours for the taking. Become my servants”, offered Dahak, smooth as Taldoran butter.

The next few minutes we parlayed. More like he bragged and threaten, while we cowered and listened. Dahak’s feeling on the Grays were complicated. He lauded their efforts in making Apsu suffer by killing many true dragons, but was jealous of their success. He praised Grey Scale as a maestro, but felt he was unworthy due to his relation to the last platinum dragon, Brilliant Moon. In fact, it all boiled down to one simple point, Dahak wanted to get in the great game. A position he thought he deserved. The the pakthryxl had elevated past the consequences of the mortal plane. The Gods had taken notice. The influx of dragon souls to the outer planes was causing a panic. Whenever there is panic, a savvy investor always tries to get in the game, to leverage, to profit, to win. Likewise Dahak, equally hated Apsu, his father, for obvious reasons like being banished to the adamantine pit for starters. Thinking of Apsu suffering excited Dahak like a virgin boy with a glandular disorder at a brothel. He cared not what we did as long as the Grays or his Father suffered mightily and knew who was responsible for it all. Like I said before, Dahak possessed an unrivaled pettiness and uncommon meanness of spirit.

Dahak mused about a few other details. Apsu was seriously on tilt, bartering with the Lady of Bones. Gray Scale was everywhere, but could not be seen. Yigorin Slate was also beyond his godly sight. The gray dragons mockingly put up altars to Dahak to piss him off, whenever they get the chance. The pakthryxl that occurred a century ago also happened during a time when the the Gods were fearful, the god Aroden’s death. The Grays musta used that time as a proof of concept, then in the interim, built up their vast infrastructure to murder more dragons and liquidate more hoards. Using the ill gotten gains for an unknown purpose. Goethe and I theory crafted wildly with this divine insight. Perhaps Gray Scale was linked to all gray dragon bloodlines like half-dragons and kobolds. Maybe the Grays planned on killing a God or two? What other divine countermeasure did the grays developed?

“I grow bored of this meaningless exchange. I have more hunting to do. Now then. What say you? I will grant you each one request of me as a reward”, impatiently demanded the False Wyrm. We turned to each other in a panic. Mr. Finn was the first to go.

“Ithankyeforthekindinvitation…Ijustneedtodiscussitwithmepartner, rambled Mr. Finn. Poof! Mr. Finn was gone like yesterday’s farts. Dahak wasn’t playing around.
“Please remove your harness from Myrrh and return me to my sister, politely declined Goethe. He was gone in a snap. Myrrh appeared from the slaughterhouse behind us. He still looked like a zombie but had his wits.
“Gentlemen”, he nodded. We nodded back. He handed me back my musket. Dahak’s heavy gaze fell to me.

The more I thought of it, the more I realized having Dahak in my corner wouldn’t be such a bad thing. He had many answers and boat loads of power. His aims were similar to my own, albeit more barbaric in presentation. I wanted the Gray Dragon’s riches and Apsu’s power. What’s wrong with plundering the Gray Dragon’s riches from their dead corpses while basking in Dahak’s splendor? A picture entered my mind. A life or death decision was imminent.

Lorenz knowingly looked at me and gave a little head shake. In my mind, I saw my elderly self reclining, guzzling tasty dark spiced rum, fondling a brilliant gem that made the lifegiving sun look like a cheap trinket. “What will you say to Apsu?”, whispered Lorenz. He brought up a good point. Apsu has proven he could be very unruly and unreasonable at times. Plus a trusted confidant, a long time supporter, was questioning his Captain’s decisions. Hard things to consider. I closed my eyes. I saw the shiny golden globe, the bottle of expensive rum, and my throat slit ear to ear. Fuck! Wise man knows how to fuck!

“Listen Dahak. It’s not that I don’t want to accept, but my hands are tied. I do value your counsel. Please always lend me your wisdom? I’m thirsty for it!”, I pleaded. Dahak looked disappointed in me.
“Oh yeah, please send me back to my crew”, I sheepishly added.
“Done. Gather all the treasure in the Morass, you’ll find what you seek. Be gone”, he dispassionately phrased.
“Send me to the ship, I heard Lorenz say as I departed.
“My crewmates need me. Send me to the ones who need me the most”, Myrrh urged. A strange choice I thought, but should work out in a very Myrrh-y way.

magic-items-01.jpgI went about gobbling up the marvelous treasure like a fat kid in a candy store. A new jacket, fancy amulets, ancient dragon bones, and other fancy magic items. My mind wandered to the Grays as I foraged for shiny objects. Just think of the mountain of treasure they possess. Enough treasure to buy anything in this world or the next. Enough gold to make you a living God!

Wait. Stop the presses…

I flickered out.

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Game Over!!! Juju Myrrh Strikes!!!
Captain's log found on the fiddley

“RUN NANCIES!!!”, howled Mr. Finn. The shattering of ice grew nearer. Heavy footsteps came in like thunder.
“This will all end in tears…”, huffed Brittlehope, as he shuffled away.

Mr. Finn took to the north. It was a total hip shot on his part, but better trust Mr. Finn’s intuition than die planning. We fled fast. The creaking of bones and dull thuds of flesh against flesh pursued us through the maze-like corridors. Thud! We ran faster. Crack! We took a wrong turn. The gangrenous hoard of flesh golems were gaining on us!

I started to lag behind realizing someone needed to stall them. My crew saved me a half dozen times in the game so far, so it was time to repay my debt. It figured, I was the best equipped to take down the anti-magic bastards. Now I wasn’t foolishly planning to sacrifice myself for my crew, I tried that before and it didn’t work out, but I was crazy enough to risk hearing the golem’s death song again. I found a tasty choke point at the end of long narrow hall with unobstructed firing lanes. The enormous ghoulish gorillas would be forced to attack in a single file in order to reach me. When they did, I would mow them down like wheat stalks before the reaping machine, then high-tail it. The thunderous flesh stampede was inches from entering my gun sight. I packed my powder, cocked my musket, and knew I couldn’t lose this time.

ninjaassassin.jpgI didn’t see the invisible bastard. I had no way of knowing. I thought he was on my side, not beside me with knives ready to stab me in the back. The first stab put me in circulatory shock. Musta nicked my spinal cord and dulled my pain receptors. The second stab hit me between the fourth and fifth rib, puncturing my left lung. That one fucking hurt. I slumped over just in time to receive a third stab wound in the soft tissue of my right armpit. That stab hole put me as close to dead as kobold-ly possible. I fell prone, the light in my eyes quickly going dark. The assassin’s large paw pressed down on my back while he pulled out the hilt buried knives one by one. Short curls of blood red fur fluttered down in front of me like late autumn leaves. “That cunt! Myrrh!, was my last thought before losing the light.

I dreamed of wide open ocean and strong headwinds. I stood at the helm of the Deep Sea Current, the lead ship, in a vast armada of pirates ships with black dragon jolly rogers. Not a care or responsibility in sight. I was the freest Kobold on the seas! The Pirate King!

Then potent spirits of hartshorn aroused my consciousness like a mule kick to the gonads. It was the second time in as many minutes that I woke up to Lorenz’s busy hands. And there I thought, I’d outgrown the need of a babysitter! I’d much rather of stayed in my wonderful dream, than waking in the stupid cave with berserking flesh golems and an invisible stab happy assassin. Dahak’s game sucked.

“Was it Myrrh?”, asked Lorenz, frantically.
“I reckon”, I wheezed.
“He may be Dahak’s puppet. We have to move! The flesh golems joined”, commanded Lorenz. Goethe and Brittlehope used their magic skills to seal the newly sewn cadaverous brute behind walls of illusions and ice. It wasn’t going to last long..

dahasymbol.jpgMr. Finn the lucky sack of gills was right! He found a way out through the mother of all scary doors. Bloody Hell! Engraved corner to corner on the massive adamantine door was Dahak’s ominous blazon of a falling burning scale. It was the first freaking door we’d encountered so either it was an obvious trap or Dahak’s personal chamber. Like a whirling inferno consuming accelerant the flesh colossus crashed into the antechamber with an explosion of ice, flesh, and bone. I didn’t have my musket, probably taken by the juju backstabber tit puncher asshole, so fighting seemed reckless. My plan. Stage one, get behind the door. Stage two, bar it. Stage three, pee on door. Lorenz, Goethe, Brittlehope, and Mr. Finn bum rushed the gate and escaped.

I tried, but couldn’t follow. Dahak’s symbol towered over me. My animal brain broadcasted the universal sign of fear, I epically peed all over myself, then fled like a chicken shit. My dilemma, fleeing two equally scary things that are flanking you when trapped in a small room, so I hid myself in a treasure trove in the corner. Goethe’s imp familiar, Blatz, joined me. The grave titan remained stationary at the gate. It appeared it didn’t have permission to enter Dahak’s bedroom. It turned from the gate and searched for me with its hundreds of undead eyes to no avail. I‘m good at hiding!

After my courage budded again, Blatz and I devised a plan. Blatz lured the rotten giant away using clever illusions. While the monster’s back was turned, we bolted for the protected door. My heart began pounding like a timpani drum as I entered the sigil’s threat range. In one big gush, I let go of all of all of Apsu’s divine power to stave off the fear. It wasn’t enough, I slowed. Terror crept down my spine, I knew, I was a goner if it reached my legs. The titanic sutured ghoul heard me, it reversed course in an instant by bone shattering all if its joints the wrong way, and aggressively swiped at me. Right before my will broke to pieces at the gate’s demarcation line, Lorenz’s fist grabbed me by my collar. I forgot the fear for an instant and took the last step across. The third time Lorenz saved my skin in as many minutes! I turned back to see the flesh colossus’ putrid grasp paralyzed like a statue inches from my face.

I took a deep breath. Drew my tertiary gun and opened fire on the helpless flesh colossus from the safe side of the door. Laughing like a madman the whole time.

“No! Coward!”, erupted Dahak like an angry volcano.
“Screw You!”, I screamed, whilst firing another shot.
“I told you to STOP little Kobold!”, roared the God, with almighty authority.

Dahak is very petty. How was I suppose to know that? I crashed to the ground in crushing pain like a swatted fly and instantly slipped back into my happy place. The wind was sublime. It looked like I was well on my way to being revived for the the fourth time in as many minutes.

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Dahak’s Most Dangerous Game!!! Cursed to Struggle
Captain's log found on the leeboard

“Welcome Heroes!”, rumbled an ancient voice like rusty chains against Varisian sandstone. I stopped dead in my tracks in-front of the trio of freshly slain flesh golems. If I had hairs then would’ve been standing on end like tiny erections. The Sorrow Maker alas decided to welcome us to his adamantine pit. His errant low grumbles gradually coalesced into a playful chuckle, “My father has chosen wisely. You fight like true champions, but I grow bored seeing my meat toys broken. Let me adjust the odds! Your misery will amuse me for a little while longer.” His wispy snigger amplified a hundredfold into raucous laughter that bounced off the impenetrable walls with violence. My outmatched senses saturated with the flavor of unbridled dread that only a god can cook up. Dahak was surely about to bend us over and fuck us.

Dahak’s invisible wave struck me like a blacksmith’s hammer ping against a steel anvil. The searing pain rang down into my bone marrow until my very root spurned me. My organs wrenched counterclockwise while my head corkscrewed the opposite. I swear the divine raping lasted at least a 1000 years; and without gentleness, but by a prolonged pileated pecker. After the bad touch subsided, my body was left heavy, numb, and depleted. Getting robbed of your power and purpose leaves a man like me only one card left to play. Rage! I never said it was a good card.

“Is that the best you got!”, I roared, “Does festering meat mean that much to you, Dark Lizard? Am gonna blast them to bloody bits!”
“Such…faith…in worthless trinkets”, smirked the faceless God. Suddenly, my musket jumped out of my hand and slide across the cavern floor a dozen feet. I tried to retrieve it and it again slipped out. Dahak the pissant just lubed me up! In fact, all of my guns were compromised. The cockbiter.

“Losers say what?”, scoffed Dahak.
“What?”, I shouted. Another curse hit me like a dragon tail’s whiplash. It was not a physical manifestation of pain like the previous salvo but a sweet release of my inner being. A total release from fear, from laws, and from morals. Thoughts of savagery entered my mind meat. All my heart’s desires were mine to be taken. There was no price too high to pay or bond to important to break. All others were peasants destined to lick my boots! My crew noticed the change in my demeanor. Probably because of the maniacal grin chiseled on my maw.

“Does anyone else in class have anything to add?”, demanded Dahak. The others were quiet staring down at their feet. Lorenz quickly tackled me right before I was going to run my mouth again at our dick referee.
“Good! If you entertain me well, I will grant you an audience”, it trailed off. Ahh! There was the carrot! Gods always dangle a carrot. I fucking hate carrots.

Luckily, Lorenz’s was able to partially undo Dahak’s mind fucking me and cleanse the slippery magic coating my musket before we explored the pit further. The man was invaluable! Mr. Finn put his ear to the ground and led the way. A thousand paces into the stinky black cave, we heard the familiar guttural roar of the flesh monsters. They came at us in waves. Each one more hideous, bloody, and outrageous than the next. One appeared to be a hoard of stitched together munthreks, another gnomes, another devils, and the last one dragon bits. I expertly shot down the nearest ball of limbs barreling down on us with glee. Suck my trinket Dahak!

The three remaining flesh golems stampeded towards us at a thousand mile per hour on a thousand amputated legs. I was confidant I would lay them to waste. Goethe had other plans. He did his magic dance and summoned a pit below my feet. I don’t think it was for me but you never know with that guy. Normally, I could’ve avoided such an obstacle, but my legs were still lifeless from Dahak’s thumping. I fell into the hole. I had no way to climb out of the smooth walled stone pit. God Damnit! I heard the others fighting above and looked up, needing to shield my eyes from the rain droplets of blood and bits of flesh.

fleshgolem.jpg“They’re joining!”, screamed Mr. Finn. I saw flashes of the titanic creature from the opening of my prison. It was a mass of smashed corpses clinging to one another in a grotesque embrace that you can’t unsee. Amazingly, the sound it made was even worse than its foul appearance. Each of its ungainly movements was accompanied by the sharp snapping of bones as its corpse structure torqued and shifted under its own immense weight. Dahak’s sense of humor was super fucked up to employ such a death fueled abomination. I hungered to fight it tooth and nail, but I couldn’t traverse the pit’s lack of footholds. I cursed my shriveled wings. I cursed my short arms. I cursed Goethe.

Thankfully, spidery Myrrh came to my rescue. He jumped down the pit with acrobatic ease, scooped me up in his strong arms, and dashed away. So glad Myrrh was on my side! At the top, an enlarged Mr. Finn was hacking away layers of interlocking festering body parts from the towering undead golem. I opened fire, Lorenz bolstered us, Goethe summoned fire, and Myrrh found fulsome organs to stab. The flesh colossus was fading fast under our collective efforts. Just as it was about to collapse inward the blood shot eyes of hundreds of inlaid severed heads suddenly opened wide, their saggy mouths stretched open beyond jaw limits and wailed the song of death. The song was damn beautiful. A melody so irresistibly sweet it made you want to close your smiling eyes forever and drift away. My eyes got very heavy. And shut.

How pathetic? Killed by a flesh peon. Killed after falling into a hole. Killed by a song. The bards will surely sing songs of my last stand!

I soon felt a squeezing on my chest right over my heart. Breath not my own filled my empty lungs. More rhythmic compression. More foreign breath. The cycle repeated until the deadly tune dissipated and the sleepiness subsided. My eyes opened to Lorenz’s busy hands. Rescued three times in one day ain’t half bad. Pathetic, yes, but not bad. Myrrh wasn’t so lucky. His eyes were smiling.

“A death most unworthy”, pleaded Goethe, “The Kitsune can still entertain you!”
“hemuchfunwhenkicking”, garbled Mr. Finn.
“That was a shit death! Let him struggle!”, groveled Lorenz.
“What Myrrh’s dead?”, I blabbered in a quiet haze.
“Fuffuffuffu! So be it”, a gravelly omnipresence voice responded. All eyes shot to Myrrh.

crazysmile.jpgMyrrh’s slowly and eerily sat up. The smile left his eyes. Without making a sound or taking a breath he stared at us for a spell then a wide grin formed like time-lapsed photography on his otherwise unanimated face. He vanished.

No one was sure what just happened.
“Thank You Dahak for reviving him! You’re not that bad of a guy”, I cheered. Lorenz looked at me in disbelief.

“I think you ought to know…”, deadpanned Brittlehope. The bone devil paused.
“Well?”, asked an irritated Goethe.
“You’re not going to like it…”, sighed Brittlehope.
“Spit it out!”
“…my ice walls are failing. More flesh golems are coming to kill us. Ghastly isn’t it?”, said Brittlehope flatly.

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Pipp's log
to shrimp and back again

I must catalog this most extraordinary event. There I was in intrigued conversation with the large creature of chaos. A protean they called it. How such a being full of seeming wanderlust could be subject to such a structured hierarchy was of most interest to me. Although he allowed me to pursue this line of curiosity, it was at once a selfish endeavor as well as a means to detract him from his obvious objective: he means to acquire the living rune they call Vaghol. Though I have chronicled the captain’s logs which tell of their relation with Vaghol and the Pirate Queen, the captain’s intentions were still unclear. If Master Torrentail has imparted in me no stronger message, it is that a crew remains loyal even in the face of the storm itself.

After the conversation grew stale, and the creature’s ire and ambition overcame it, I offered to guide it through our ship in the hopes that I might prove to it Vaghol is quite a wily fellow not so easily coaxed to one’s palm. This deception proved eventually unfruitful.

Although I would like to say that I fought bravely, and with great tenacity, I’m afraid something much more mystical happened. Upon the onset of clenched teeth and fists…upon the spark of war in the air… as the first blades were borne, I felt my form shift under the waves of chaos. My hands no longer full of phalanges, but writhing feet. My form shrank and my eyes detected more than they have ever beheld before. A kaleidoscope of what I can only describe as colors came to view, though no colors that are beset in any rainbow nor sunset. Amidst this strange background, I managed to make my way across the deck. Though combat was rife and much larger than I have ever experienced, I climbed amongst the warring giants. To the banister I had just moments before used as an armrest to speak to the creature of chaos I climbed. A foe now I knew him to be, and did my best to drum and squirm forth a dirge to weaken his resolve. Even now, I can see the magic emanating from my prawn fingers. So many colors. It must have found purchase in his heart for he stayed paralyzed as the boxer planted a fist firmly at his temple.

The rest for me was a tempest of movement. Thrown from one hand to the next, then thrust into the waters of the maelstrom. Swimming had never come so easily, and to breathe…to breathe water…what a strange sensation. As my body and the kaleidoscope settled, I found my mind lost in the tides of magical auras surrounding me. I may have been lost for ages had it not been for the fortuitous visage of Master Torrentail coming to view. Thankfully it only took a bit of strumming my feet against his forearm for him to recognize me.

After him swimming around for a bit muttering something about saving the writings, we emerged to a grand vessel that would prove to be our salvation. Amidst the new vessel, ten times larger than the deep sea current, the hellknight was able to restore me to my human form. Though I am relieved to feel like myself again, able to write and chronicle this amazing experience, I fear I will never look at a shrimp cocktail in the same light as I once did. Truly, I have been transformed.

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The Domain of Endless Destruction!!! Taunted by a God!!!
Captain’s log found on the dodger

Brittlehope was a total sadsack. I have never come across a more severely depressed self loathing S.O.B. in my span. Devils are without a doubt the best at being morose and whiny, but Brittlehope made sulking a freaking artform. I dare say his downer outlook could bring down a room faster than a bigoted misogynist with a punchable orange face and thin butthole lips. Brittlehope easily trumped the rudest rabble rouser and darkest doomsayer with his dour demeanor. So of course, I invited him to join the crew without a second thought. He responded that he would ally with us until he could feast on our melted flesh. More convincing was needed.

To Brittlehope’s credit he knew the way around the Adamantine Morass. His ice wall building skills were good at keeping the acidic elementals out like they were illegal immigrants. He also was one bad hombre when it was time to throw down. We progressed through many acid flooded tunnels with a slow ease thanks to Goethe’s life bubble magic. At every turn Brittlehope was certain that someone was going to die horrifically. He’d say, “We’re all going to die in a sea of misery” or “No one has ever escaped alive” whenever things got a bit hairy. Despite his annoying predictions, we arduously made it to the end of the venomous maze, a magnificent 60 feet tall waterfall of concentrated caustic acid. The legendary Well of Venom which could dissolve powerful artifacts in two snaps and flesh in one. Did I mention the life bubble was awesome?!

At the basin of the sulfuric plunge was a cave filled with treasure and a dead dragon thingy. I say thingy because it resembled no dragon I have ever seen. The dead thing spoke to us, “To think that tarnishing the platinums would beget their reign of destruction upon all dragonkind eons later!”

What the hell? Was Dahak communicating with us? We were in his hunting grounds after all. Very interesting! I tried talking to it, but dead dragon thing didn’t speak again. Goethe did some wizardry to remove some dangerous death magic and we looted the treasure. Next, we climbed up the eroded rock to the mouth of acid spout like the itsy bitsy spider. Myrrh was almost washed away but he’s got tough fur. We eventually wallowed our way to the next level of the hunting grounds, the Lair of Endless Destruction. Brittlehope warned, “Dahak’s petitioners are going to tear us apart!”

We heard the chorus upon entering.

“See how my cowardly thyxl slithers from his realm to fashion champions – all to annihilate my cursed platinums!”

“It is the work of a maestro – a masterpiece! The ruin of both dragons AND the pathetic legacy of Dariiv’Ux who tore my fang!”

“By all means, do the work of Apsu and do it well. Or, ally with grays. It matters not, for I am Endless Destruction.”

Then a trio of anti-magic flesh monsters attacked us with reckless abandon. Unfortunately for them, meat doesn’t scare me, so I blew two away with glee. The others dropped the other meat man. It seemed Dahak was in a playful mood. Good thing we’re always game. I can’t wait to see what else he has planned for us!

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Memoirs of an Oracle #4
B-Squad Adventures #4

I‘m woefully unqualified to explain the Great Beyond and its myriad planes of existence. Untangling that infinite jigsaw puzzle is not my forte, but I will say, the bizarre outlines of the endless eternities opened my eyes to what is possible. We take for granted many natural properties of our mortal plane like the blue sky, firm ground, or not being on fire all the time. Believe it or not some planes don’t have such paltry rules!

Chapter 7: Travelogue of Hell

I got to the fiendish terrarium that is second layer of Hell, known as Dis, when the Deep Sea Current sailed through a miniature two-headed snake talisman’s hellmouth. Hell wouldn’t have been my first choice, I’d much rather have visited the sweet rolling hills of Nirvana or the blissful untouched wilderness of Elysium, but the crew goes to where the Captain points the sails. Dis was as unwelcoming and cruel as you might imagine. I tasted the stale air, felt the squelching heat, smelled the brimstone, saw the everyday torment, and heard the constant cries of condemned souls. A fitting place for a world run by a group of totalitarian devil Overlords who value hierarchy, order, and punishment.

My time in Dis was thankfully fleeting as the morning dew. The ship took another hellmouth to the furthest rim of Hell, known as the Bolgian Shores, where Hell’s order erodes into the Maelstrom’s chaos. This was far more enticing excursion for me. The Captain was especially eager too. Dis’ ceiling slowly broke away into shards of sky like rays of sunlight through a stain glass window as we moved closer to the shore. Entropy was literally deconstructing Hell before our very eyes, which was unthinkable after seeing Hell’s immovable monoliths. But leaving Hell is not that easy, Hell always extracts a tax.

The Captain allied with a group of bearded devil pirates, Red Beard’s Whiskers, that ended up being more renegade than respected. At the last checkpoint out of Hell there was a fortification of epic proportion that didn’t take to kindly to renegades and their associates. Our renegade allies’ ship bolted like a bat out of Hell through the lock! We closed, but not before cannon fire came in like thunder. To complicate matters the senior crew was hijacked by unseen forces. Their journey is not my story to tell. (I highly recommend Pipp’s biography on Mr. Finnegan Torrentail if you care to learn more). In the vacuum of power left in their absence, Admiral Tebrilith was instrumental getting us out of threat range with her quick thinking. She dove the ship under the the waves instead of fighting back. The ship and crew were in tatters when we surfaced in the middle of the Maelstrom. We were alone. The elemental spirit of the ship was silent, our allies were nowhere to be seen, and the senior crew had gotten kidnapped. At least, Captain Reskafar would be proud that we all survived the long odds.

Chapter 8: Travelogue of the Maelstrom

The Maelstrom is the second plane the Deep Sea Current visited. Calling the Maelstrom a plane of existence is a bit loose. Nothing and everything exist in the Maelstrom. It is either the primordial sea that makes up the other planes or an unstoppable blob that is consuming the other planes. There is no discernible horizon which makes navigation impossible, your only option is to point the ship away from the shore and hope for the best. While moving through the seas you very well could be moving in three-dimensions instead of two since your senses get so screwed up. Unfortunately, Magic is also as unreliable as your senses. On the other hand, the thrill of adventure is through the sky. As the Captain Reskafar frequently said, “When you don’t know what’s comin’, anything is possible.”

No truer words.

What happened next to us no one could have anticipated. A powerful impentesh protean with an army of voidworms flocked to us in search of Vaghol. We learned Vaghol was originally the crown decoration of the Colorless Lord, a powerful protean of the highest rank, before anything else. Vaghol felt betrayed by the crew for winding up in the Maelstrom, we proved our sincerity by defended him to the last. During the fight, Hexa got turned into a voidworm and Pipp’s mind games got him turned into a tiny prawn. Vandlo ended up knocking out the imentesh with his bare hands. A crazy feat considering proteans don’t possess physical bodies. Tebrilith at one point decided to sacrifice herself only to change her mind later. It was not enough. The ship sank from all the accumulated damage with Thuxfeldt on-board. As for me, I got to summon the Pirate Goddess Besmara, who answered the call with panache!

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Heartless Summoning!!! Prisoners of Adamantine and Venom
Captain’s log found on the forebitt

A dark power, unwelcomed as a heart attack, summoned us against our desire. The overwhelming force ripped us from the decks of the Deep Sea Current in under a half a heartbeat without cause or concern like a schoolyard bully. The power behind the extraplanar pull was beyond the mortal measuring stick and it didn’t feel like Apsu’s shenanigans. It totally lacked his flair for theatrics. So I reckoned another puppy punching omnipotent shitbag was to blame.

Begads! What really bends my stool the wrong way, getting kidnapped right before laying eyes on the Maelstrom. I was so ready to thrust my rudder deep into her virgin wilds and wriggle it around like a savage. I was aiming to lay claim on the unclaimable if you catch my drift. I can only imagine the orgy Tebrilith and the rest of the crew were in the midst of on board the Current. I am sure one measly Hellish checkpoint wouldn’t deter them from hound dogging the Chin Strap into the patternless seas of the Maelstrom. Lucky sons of bitches!

The heart attack ended in the way most don’t. I woke up. My eyes flared wide open in an adrenaline rush that shoved an impossible weight off my chest. I floundered about until I knew which was up and down. The ground was hard and ceiling low. Lorenz, Goethe, Mr. Finn, and Myrrh were with me in a similar disoriented but alive state. We took a minute to gather ourselves from the shock and absorb our surroundings. The foreign cave was hot, narrow, metallic, and reeked of sulfur. The cave appeared to be made completely out of adamantine so digging our way was out of the question. Likewise, Goethe’s spatial magic was also stifled. It seemed we’d have to get out the old-fashioned way, by walking.

The path only went one way towards a ledge that overlooked a bubbling pool of mysterious greenish water, a stone’s throw across the pool was the way out. The weird cave juice was the source of the rotten egg odor that could make a dire skunk envious. Goethe tested the water with his science gadgets and found it to be slightly acidic in nature. Not enough to kill you fast but good at killing you slow. Myrrh and Mr. Finn gingerly stepped around the perimeter of the acid lake while I covered them from the rear ledge with my musket. At the halfway point the greenish acid below their feet started to swell into a living wave with a faint grotesque munthrek face in the center. It was impossible to tell where the stink water ended and the monster began. Without hesitation, I squeezed off a well placed round to its center mass that exploded the ambusher in a puff of acid spatter. The acid wash continued to rise. The trap was sprung!

We all sped down the tunnel only to find the pattern repeated in the next tunnel. Another acid lake with another quasi-acid elemental guard. This time as soon as we neared the acid it immediately started to rise at an alarming rate. Was the whole cavern going to be filled with acid juice? We had to find a way out! Myrrh and I raced down the maze of tunnels triggering acid flood and by passing elementals left and right. The others fell behind. One of the chambers we passed through was clouded in an acidic mist that contained the bleached bones of long dead great wyrm dragon. We had no time to survey.

Eventually we encountered a dead end encased in ice. The coldness was refreshing, but the water still rose. Surprisingly no acid monster popped out of the water to greet us. Something far more formidable stood waist deep in the sulfuric spring, it locked onto us like a praying mantis. The insectoid creature was gigantic, bone white, and horrifying. I saw some of these devils in Hell, it was called an Osyluth or Bone Devil. I remembered Goethe wanted to avoid them at all costs on the streets of Dis.
osyluth.jpg

The Osyluth expertly lurched forward, hissed wickedly at us, and charged. Myrrh engaged without a second thought. The devil fought fiercely but struggled to land hits on the crafty Myrrh; equally, Myrrh struggled to penetrate the devil’s dense bone hide. As for me, the terrain made it impossible for me to fully utilize my musket since I needed both my hands free to fire. The last thing I wanted was to fall into the acid pool which would neutralize my gunpowder. I held on to the cave face and watched the dance. Hopefully Goeth, Finn, and Lorenz were having better luck finding a way out of the deadly maze.

Then the bastard Osyluth cheated. The white bugger ended the stalemate by creating infinite walls of ice to seal us off in a corner of the cave. Even with Myrrh bracing me, I couldn’t blast away the ice fast enough to keep up with devil icemaker. The water was rising fast and the numerous quasi elementals were on the way. Things weren’t looking good for Myrrh and me.

I continued to chip away at the ice blocks with my lead bullets. Between the deafening blasts from my musket the telltale sounds of melee echoed from behind the ice sheets. The Osyluth musta been trading blows with Lorenz, Mr. Finn, and Goethe! I heard Geothe spout magic gibberish, Lorenz’s commands, and Mr. Finn’s weapons clash. Finally, I managed to crack open the last ice shield with Myrrh’s help. The scene was madness. An ice igloo had formed in the middle of the chamber and it was on fire. The Osyluth and Lorenz were entwined in a fierce struggle of bone and pistol. Mr. Finn and Goethe were out of sight probably under the fiery igloo. Near the entrance of the cavern a horde of quasi acid elementals were barrelling down on all of us. I took aim at the Bone Devil’s insect head. Suddenly, the Osyluth waved its hand over the doorway filling every nook and cranny with ice. The elementals thudded against the transparent ice like birds on a window pane.

Finally it dawned on us. The Bone Devil was trapped here too! Lorenz flashed a sign and I lowered my weapon. The peace talks ensued.

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To the Sea of Strange

Been all about tha streets a hell, all in our likin’, meanin ta figure tha likin’ a Merk’s business. Bein’ stung an’ worked up upon by tha devils therein. A bit worse for tha weathar an goethe-y boy lookin’ like a wind what had too many sails been washed in tha waves.
Outa nothin’ comin’ tha liken a’ old Myrhh, sight for soar eyes that bein fa’r me, woulda been liken ta have him around for a spell or two. Tricksy he ‘is with a lock or a shuddered window. Entreated I was, yet noddin’ ta tha way a thar naked form, and lookin like a fox sort a fella. Wet they were, and learnin from Master Goethe the way a tha waters down in these ways, I looked to give ‘em shelter. From the rear I ’eard tha captain call, “back to the boat!”
Double time thar was in tha’, with me bleedin’ the whole wary. Up, on tha boat, an we be bein a happy crew once more. Yet sailin’ through the Malestrom not sittin’ well in ma soul. Gneshi bein a soar soul ta be missin’ we played, an’ I told a ma travels on tha land waves. He be liken an treatin’ me tha same. Suddenly, at tha aft a tha ship tha old clockwork fright be wakin’. A message from Apsu? A liken a foe? I didn’t ta reckon, so I looked ta ma captain. Like a cat he pounced upon tha large clocklike-crank at tha back a tha fiend. If tha captain be liken, I be liken ta help tha captain. So I aim ta lend me arms ta tha struggle. Meanwhile, I be watchin’ master goethe spakin spells an handerin tha way in which ‘is likin, about tha spirits I imagine. Then as me an tha captain be tearin’ our muscles apart, old myrrhh be pullin up right underneath us. He be givin a pull of a pin, a shrug an’ a wink, an’ he be gone again. Against tha wind an tha waves, tha old clockwork fiend seemed ta falter and shut down.
Aftar tha mood calmed like an ocean spray ceasing ta a quiet sea breeze, ma calm mind pondered tha future. About this time I be wonderin’ “what’s next? Where did Myrr come from? Did we accomplish what we needed ta in hell? Do we confront the Infernal line, or chase this Slate fellow?” And as we need to answer these questions as a crew…where is Myrr? The one that could have been so helpful.
Goethe be comin up from undar, with tha look on ‘is face in a dissapointin’ way. Best ta Myrr ta be rightin tha likes a tha crew an thar destination. Be comin about him in a personal sort of affair. He an ‘is sisters want’n ta ‘ave thar privacy. Likin ta tha’ n a showin’ respect, but tha likin’ a tha crew an thar captain bein’ of a bit more import. I spake, “tha captain be wantin a word” yet all I be getting’ was tart eyes. Back ta tha captain then, an’ tha plan at hand.
Tha Captain in ‘is bravin sort a way be meanin’ ta’ traverse the maelstrom a Hell. Not sittin’ right with me thar in. A compatriotism thar bein’ in the ship a devils, with tha captain’s permitten’. Spakin a spell with tha Captain a tha devils, wantin a sea fairin’ folk what could attest ta’ our way in tha waters. ‘Just tha fella’ he be spaken, without a spell.
Upon ma he brought a devil what would lend a sea fairin parley ta show our kinship with tha Chinstrap. “Goes by tha name a Balbaal.” As I reasoned ta spake with his liken, all in response be bein’ “Balbaal.” As I entreated his likin’ ta our ship, all he be spaken be “Balbaal.” Unliken ta this I introduced him ta tha Captain, what might take ‘im off my hands. Still, all he be spaken be “Balbaal.” Entreated he bein’ ta tha likes a tha presto oozes, I entreat ‘im ta tha liken thar in. Thinkin’ a bit a washn’ be good far tha old sea dog. He be liken ta eat tha thing instead.
So thar I be…hope’in’ tha Captain be entreated with ma’ new acquisition, and ‘im….thar….chompin’ on a presto ooze. About this time, Master Goethe be touchin’ the devil’s head an spakin a spell. Ol’ Balbaal be getting’ tha liken ta spake a word what any man might be comprehendin’. Time ta dissapear an let the liken a which play out whithin’ tha Captain’s presence.
As ta tha Captain’s liken, we sails down ta tha bulges shore. A bit a hell what hell be tremblin’ about. Not liken much ta tha’. Meetin’ up with tha Chinstrap thar bein a bit a parley with tha captain an Balbaal all entreaten’ ta our liken. Upon this parley I hear ma Captain spake. Now mind ya, never ta let anyone say ‘Ol Finn not bein’ a right sailor. I follow ma’ Captain’s orders, but this sailin’ inta tha Sea of Strange got me hairs all standin’ at attention. Then I hears him call out ta the Chinstrap, and as it appeared ta the wind itself, and any other sortin a thing might try ta stand in ‘is way. To traverse the unknown, to chart uncharted waters, THIS, or death be no greater loss than cowardice.
Well I tell ya, the swell a pride be wellin’ up indeed. Into the unknown, or death. These words be ringin’ true in me indeed. The Captain had so much bravery, it seemed ta be as infectious as tha Plague itself. If we be makin’ it outa this alive, thar be bein’ stories ta tell indeed. Reskafar the Brave, Reskafar the Unwavering, Moxt Darastrix, the little dragon.
‘Twas about this time I noticed Goethe-y boy blinked outa sight. Not too strange a his likin’, but then another blinked away, then another, until it was only maself an’ tha Captain. Figurin’ it bein’ about my turn, I thinks ta maself, “Inta tha unknown is right.” I gives ma Captain a knowin’ sorta grin an a wink, and spake, “See ya on tha othar side.”

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Certain Peril
First Mate's Log - Part 1

She sits atop Reskafar’s Roost and repositions the new patch where her left eye used to be. The other masts fell during the attack, so Vandlo had already found new purpose for all the splintered timbers. Now, the captain’s nest provides the only suitable lookout over the maddening waves of the Maelstrom.

Tebrilith is exhausted, but she stretches parchment across the platform anyway. Reskafar would expect a written report, even if she didn’t have time to carve it on her cabin wall. She writes:

Peril’s Log

For the record, Pearl, Reyna, Tiny, Bart, James, Bart, Nick, Jane, Cordelia, Baldwin and myself stood alert on the gun deck. We were to reload the cannons should the Deep Sea Current fire them. Any further orders were left to my discretion as first mate.

Having seen the Bolgian Shore kill box from afar, I decided to send as many crew below the waterline as possible. It was a risk, that much is sure, but even cannonballs are stopped by the sea’s surface. We hoped the Maelstrom would prove no exception. Others stowed across the ship wherever walls were many.

Our reckless captain planned to follow the Chinstrap through an infernal navy checkpoint. Did it matter to him that Red Beard’s fleet is held in very low regard among devils? They say Hell’s Privateer has been tainted by protean warp-waves and infected by Besmara’s plunder. The other officers crewed the top deck themselves, which was always enough to set us on edge. This time we feared for our souls. I remember Captain Souvarov exclaiming, “You’re going to cross the Maelstrom in that?”

The hull felt very thin as we turned into the bay. Suddenly, there was a swell in the water followed by an immediate explosive crumbling noise. That would have been the Chinstrap’s adamantine ram, no doubt endowed by some powerful magic. Our sails filled with the winds of Hell, and we surged forward in pursuit.

Then, instead of Vestin’s reality-altering diplomacy came brief shouts from each of the officers as if their words were being cut short. One by one they fell silent until our simpleton barbezu guide nervously questioned, “Balbaal?”

We know now what we didn’t know at the time. They had vanished. Oh, where are they now when we need them more than ever?

I clearly recall what happened next in our dragon-crowded compartment. The moment of confused silence became that rich ear-thumping basso of close cannon fire. The bay doors imploded, and those damnable wall hangings Goethe made of Lirovelix’s hoard collapsed. Treasure riddled us like bullets. The weight of it caused the ship to dip further into the otherworldly water.

Pearl fell. The rest, save for Tiny, Reyna and myself, were no longer able-bodied. Through broken gun portals we glimpsed the enemy. Warmongers ordered their hosts to reload banks of fiend’s mouth cannons to port and starboard. The Deep Sea Current was silent and slowing. I needed sailing crew above decks to move us out of range before the next broadside attacks. I needed fighters to protect them and healers for the wounded. We had half a minute.

“Vandlo, Hexa, Dervish and Nomawyn up here now, ”I ordered! Without thinking I drew my fiddle, but something was wrong. Pimsley was there facing me.

He said calmly, “I’ll see to morale. You see to your eye.”

The reality of loss lands as she writes. Ms. Peril collects herself and pauses to survey the horizons. She shakes off her muse and looks up with a single eye.

The surprise of it prompts a cold sweat. Fifteen feet of serpentine terror now circles the crow’s nest in clouds that distort the air like heat vapor. Tebrilith is exhilarated by a predator she failed to notice this close to their lifeless ship. Her good eye dilates. The other lights with phantom pain. She winces and presses against the eyepatch. She feels the perfect amethyst from Lirovelex’s treasure piles still lodged there despite Nomawyn’s best efforts.

“Whose idea was it for me to take watch again?” she mutters.

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