The Pakthryxl Proxy

Islands in the Stream!!! Slate vs. Goethe!!!
Captain’s log found on a crosstree

There is an art form to naming a new ship. Do you name in after yourself? The Glory Hole Maker. After the type of hull? The Fast Clip. After a predecessor? Valdemar Duet. After a unique feature? The Sky Raider. After the journey? Plane Hopper. Something with a pun? Floats the Boat. Maybe go completely different? Blood Dumpster. Something ironic? The Dinner Party. These are the absolute worst troubles for a Captain. Seriously no bigger troubles exist. I racked my brain trying to come up with a good name. It needed to fit like a good holster, it needed to be awesome. The Dragon Holster?

I took stock of my new ship. Vandlo’s magnum opus! It had three skinny masts, a square rig, tall, narrow, sharp lined, and enough sail for a ship four times its size. With even gentle wind the ship would barely scratch the surface of the waves. Good god it was ultrafast! It had so much freaking sail it bordered comical, when all deployed the ship looked like it had a lion’s mane of sails. There were tops sails, royals, skysails, and moonrakers above the masts. A double set of studdingsails on booms that could extend out over the water and below them gliding wings just in case the ship flew. The cutter maneuvered like a crack addict humming bird! The ship could heel so violently it practically floated sideways. The spirit of the Deep Sea Current animated the ropes so minimal crew was needed. Mounted on the deck were the Water Pearl for diving and Apsu’s Golden Wings for flying. Everything I could ever want and then some! I had no doubt this ship was going to go down in history as something special. A real good name was needed. The Gambler? The Big Guns? This was hard. The Real Thing?

Axis was tiny fishbowl compared to what laid outside its golden barriers. A vast desolate rocky plain stretched out for miles and miles and miles from Axis. The River Styx was the lone escape route. At least the sky was exciting! Groteus was the sky! The God’s sad glow was so great it was an eerie daylight. I swear you could hear the Monster Moon cawing like a demented black raven. Or maybe your mind plays tricks in a planar wasteland? As we sailed on favorable winds the rocky wasteland grinded away into a granite slab smoother than a baby’s butt. Soon only Pharasma’s Dark Tower, Apus’s Flying Islands, and Groteus above were the only things in view. The realms of the Gods were intersecting. That certainly can’t be a good thing!

As we neared the Dark Tower the River Styx tore away from the ground like a ripped bandage. The Styx arched like a rainbow colored tube into the sky towards the top of the Dark Tower. It didn’t look like a waterfall; more like a normal meander. Fuck it all! Ahead full! As soon as the ship touched the upward column our reality tilted. We were no longer going up, we were going straight. The granite ground was no longer the ground but a wall to our left. The ground was the river with nothing propping it up. A nameless psychopomp landed on the ship so we knew we were in Pharasma’s domain. Ah Ha! A sweet thought occurred to me, this was probably the first time a mortal ship has sailed its way to the top of the Boneyard! The Soul Rider?

After a few minutes sailing the soul ribbon, Modron called, “Brace up pansies! Rendezvous in two cycles.” To our rear, a resplendent platinum dragon flew at the head of a V, flanked by dragonkin and hooded riders. Slate was coming in hot!

“Hide Goethe!” I roared. I didn’t want another version of that whole Apsu skyfall fight to happen again. That was the worst!
“Myrrh flag them down! Vestin get ready to negotiate! Mr. Finn prepare for battle! Everyone else get the hell off the deck!”

Slate and his party were on our stern in no time.
“Greetings Slate, fancy meeting you here! Not long ago you challenged us to follow you to the Obelisks of Fortune. And here we are” Lorenz opened.
“Very surprising I must say!” Slate replied. His riders surrounded the ship. I didn’t recognize there combination of scaly, furry, tie-dyed, ugly mugs. No one did. Completely alien bastards.
“But before we converse is that horn stealing piss drinker Goethe with you?” Slate demanded. Fuck not this again.
“He is. Goethe would like to speak with you in peace. Is that alright?” Lorenz asked. Slate nodded. Goethe came up from below deck, holding his staff in open arms. Electric breath sizzled out of Slate’s nostrils. Someone was going to get murdered for sure.
“I’ve been searching for you with a fine tooth comb…” began Master Goethe.

What happened next broke my mind. They had a civil conversation! Goethe sort of apologized. Seeing Goethe swallow his pride was weird, very weird. He has changed so much since coming aboard. He is like a different Goethe. Maybe his intelligence has pushed him past mortal squabbles. Recently, his animosity for Myrrh has nose-dived too. Or maybe I’m giving him too much credit. Slate is not to be trifled with. I’d apologize too to save my bacon. To end their childish feud, Slate took back his broken platinum horn and broke off one of Goethe’s good horns. Slate looked strangely satisfying! So did Goethe. Were they going to make out? They say tender love is blind. Sadly no love making went down. And that was that. The Strangely Unsatisfying?

“Now that you buried the hatchet. Shall we talk of an alliance?” Lorenz mustered.
“Of course, Of course” Slate chuckled. Suddenly, the riders broke off like angry birds. A great shadow swept over the ship. Slate eyes went wide like a forest fire.
“Sorry my friends, our conversation will need to be saved for another time. I recommend you dodge” Slate said before taking off.

Damnit! What now? Who the hell was interfering? That Colorless Bastard? We were so fucking close! I turned. Then I shit by captain’s pants. Groteus was smashing through Apus’ Ambulatory like a sledgehammer. The flying islands were collapsing! Comin’ right for us! How the fuck does a ship dodge an avalanche of boulders a million times your size? Dodge? Go fuck yourself Slate! …The For Fucks Slate?

We huddled, we planned what we could. Luckily, after seeing Slate take off we realized the ship was sailing on a tube and not a flat plane. We had much more potential to maneuver than I thought possible. It was time to test it. We dropped the gliding wings for extra maneuverability. The first few islands were peanuts, only the size of small mountains, and we were able to dodge them by going around the Styx soul tube. It was still way too close for comfort; I could have hopped on the passing peaks if I wanted to. …Island Dodger?

The next island was the size of all the previous islands combined times ten or twenty. I saw no daylight. Mr. Finn pointed to a narrow passage. Goethe began erecting wall of the force to cushion the prow. Myrrh started praying. Lorenz did some casting. The ship snuck into a canyon that was on the falling island. We sailed thought the narrow upside down chasm expertly until a dead end appeared. The ship exploded through the earthen barrier with a combination of Goethe’s shattered walls of force and mud splatter from Lorenz’s mud magic. If that island barrier was a foot thicker we’d been goners.

We dodged another super-sized island by reversing gravity. The ship was pulled off the water to the ceiling of the Styx tube. The rocks scraped the keel of the ship. Begads, another super close call! Then we saw it. An island so big all hope was extinguished. It was a literal wall of black. The sky was coming to crush us! Turning the wheel did nothing while we were stuck in reverse gravity. No combination of walls of force or mud would prevent our annihilation. Things got quiet while we waited for the inevitable. …The Sitting Duck?

Myrrh walked to the prow of the ship in the hush. He reached into a bag and pulled something out by its hair. A severed human head! He screamed something out into the abyss in a secret language. It was the first time I’d ever heard him scream. He raised the head high, it looked a little familiar like I’ve had dinner with this unfortunate person. Goethe in particular was taken back. Not sure why. The severed head dissolved into a blood mist in Myrrh’s hand; he was left holding a grip of hair. Suddenly, I got the sensation I was being watched, but I didn’t see anyone doing the watching. The impossibly big island spun toward us like a tectonic throwing star. Debris, lava, trees, mountains violently broke off from its surface. And we sat there with two thumbs up our poopers. No daylight, no path to safety. No time. …The Time Out?

In the last possible moment before we became one with the tumbling titanic island, we were saved by a Red Mantis Claw. A huge insectoid red claw manifested out of thin air from our port side, it was equal in size to the incoming avalanche and packed a supreme wallop. Was this Myrrh’s God? The mighty claw struck the center mass of the incoming landmass and utterly obliterated it. The impact ripped out my ear drums and tore off my eyelids. Fortunately, the ensuing shock wave pushed the ship out of the reverse gravity well and we regained a bit of control. Rock pieces the size of bluffs and peninsulas and smaller debris like houses and castles whipped by in a flurry. The meteor shower lasted forever.

I got hit square the chest by a terminal velocity rock and that was all she wrote. I saw my ship above me disappear behind an asteroid with me not on board. Goethe was with me plunging to bottom of the abyss.

The Dashed Hopes?

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Second Vault 17E!!!
Captain's log found on the bower

A little robo-inevitable street walking lamp post told me that the Vaults of Abadar held copies of every item ever created. The First Vault holds the original; the Second Vault holds a copy from the First, the Third Vault holds a copy from the Second, etc.… That is absolutely ridiculous! Not to mention a colossal waste of time! I was a mole hair away from screaming bullshit at the wannabe torch, but I’m a well seasoned veteran now in the ways of the Gods. And let me tell you, Gods do stupid shit. They can waste time like no other. So, I wholeheartedly believed the little living light switch. Time to make plans to go fetch my hatchling dung paintings and missing moccasins! All Hail! Abadar the Great Bearded Hoarder!

The Second Vault sector of the Eternal City was a vast complex of buildings like an uptight university campus that stretched for miles and miles. Both are probably massive wastes, but who am I to judge what floats your boat. If you ask me a second time, all what Abadar did was create the most mouthwatering plunder target in the planes. Quite literally, everything was stored here. Which means anything could be stolen! My kind of math! Perhaps we could snag a copy of the Colorless Lord’s diadem? That would solve one problem in short order.

Vault 17E was an unimpressive warehouse in a line of infinite unimpressive warehouses. If the street walking lamp post hadn’t been our guide, I couldn’t have picked out Vault 17E’s cookie cutter façade out in two million years. Hard to believe all the sleeping dragon hoards consumed by the Grays ended up in place as stylish as Goethe’s wardrobe of oatmeal faded robes. To put it lightly, my hopes were as high as low tide. The only interesting thing going on was Lorenz sweatin’ balls. Not a full-on flop sweat like he gets when bullets fly; more like a nervous teenager introducing his hot date to his nudist parents.

“So Lorenz, what can we expect at this meeting?” I asked.
“Disappointment, horrible disappointment” he sighed.
“Ayeyoubeenhere?” blarbed Mr. Finn.
“Just for a second when I died…and it was disappointing” Lorenz trotted.
“Do you know who this First person is? I like his style” asked Master Goethe.
“He is the epicenter of disappointment” Lorenz sighed again.
“Ha…Must be family!” mused Myrrh.

Lorenz took a deep breath, then another, and knocked weakly on the alabaster door of Vault 17E. A loud mechanism unlocked and the heavy door rolled open. A handsome male munthrek welcomed us; he held two glasses of wine, one for himself and the other for Lorenz. He stood as tall as Lorenz and his jaw nearly as square. Other than his silver fox haircut, the two men could have been brothers or parent-offspring. On closer look, our host wasn’t completely munthrek, it looked like the Axiomites tampered with his flesh. Pieces of metal and plastic were implanted around his ears and temples, it looked like his right hand was machine, and he had a glowing math antenna protruding just above his cowlick.

“Greetings, I am Lorenz Vestin the First“ said the dapper man, his voice a synthesis between man and machine that wasn’t quite synced. Also sounded a tad drunk. Not the fun drunk, the sad kind.
“Greetings, Great Grandfather” said Lorenz Vestin the Fourth. No hug, they stared at each other for a spell until the First’s gaze fell to the floor.
“Howdy Vestin’s Gramps! Where you hiding all that Dragon money!” I erupted. The First snapped to attention and welcomed us inside to sit. The room was thoroughly unexciting except for three large bank vault doors as a fine backdrop. Just filing cabinets, a cluttered desk, and a well used mini-bar with half-full decanters. No bed, no comfy chair, no pictures on the wall. It bloody reminded me of a prison cell if you take away the bars and billy clubs. How could this sad sack drunk be integral to the Gray operation?

Suddenly, Lady Kaledith popped out from an open vault. She came up behind the First, placed a gentle had on his shoulder, and refilled his wine glass. Then she greeted us all warmly and sat in between her husband and her Great Grandfather in-law. Why was she here? The only thing that can make her this happy, as far as I knew, was cold hard money and lots of it. I guess I answered my own question. An astronomical amount of wealth was near.

“I’ve pieced together a few things about our Family’s past. But I want to hear it from you, Great Grandfather” Lorenz finally mustered.
“Ahh…of course, I owe you that much, son. Ahh…my story of shame started 100 years ago…”

To paraphrase, Lorenz Vestin the First was a man shaped shitbag. And not the firm shit that’s a pleasure to push out, I’m talkin’ the runny smelly burny shit that you can’t wipe off. This First guy was undoubtedly the worse kind of bastard I could think of: a sellout, a backstabber, and a mutineer. I can get behind greed, behind theft, behind fleeing, but to sellout your crew to get rich is unfucking forgivable. My trigger finger burned while he talked. He explained that he, Aerodus, Camrad, Lini, and Finn’s kin were tasked by Apsu, like we were, to lift the false pakthyrxl a century ago. The First played along for a time before he cut a deal with the Grays. The cockbiter manipulated his crew into shipwrecking in the Mana Wastes and then fled during his night watch without saying a word. He got picked up at the Nex border by a Gray ship and never looked back. Meanwhile, his crew got skinned alive by Ezgar. A truly brutal way to go. I’m sure they went to bed feeling safe knowing a trusted friend had their backs. Not knowing the truth.

Thankfully, Finn’s kin were sent away before the massacre to find help. The First got very wealthy laundering stolen dragon hoards for the Gray Dragons. So wealthy in fact, he became Lord Vestin the First. He quietly explained, he was tasked to take Gray business to the next level and he saw so much opportunity in the genocide of dragonkind. He greatly expanded the Infernal line Operation. It was his idea to move the money into the outer planes. It was his idea to wake sleeping dragons with devil implantation in Westcrown as a way to steal more hoards. No matter the costs he increased profits. The bastard! Some folks call pirates scum, but I’m a saint compared to that soulless dung heap.

The ego-maniac was eventually caught some years after the first pakthryxl ended by the Bank of Abadar clerics. The First postulated it was the God Abadar personally who found him out since only an omniscient could untangle his books. And that Abadar was so impressed by his money moving skills the God forced him and his family to recover the missing money on behalf of the High Bank. He even got a fancy title, The Auditor, out of the deal. After his untimely death, Lord Shit Stain was forced to continue his service tracking down every copper penny. The whole thing was revolting, but Lorenz was correct, we needed to hear it. I assumed we were going to meet the current money launderer for the Grays, not a drunk has-been who got off easy.

My mind kept wandering. How many dragons was he responsible for killing? He may not have swung the ax, but his pen strokes were just as deadly. The High Bank only cared about the lost money. Apsu only cared for his lost dragons. What about his lost crew? The First has paid no price for them. Pirates make a mutineer walk the plank in shark infested waters. This son of a biscuit eater got to live in comfort, got to have a family, and got to buy his way to the top. Aerodus and the others entrusted their spark to us in order to finish what they couldn’t. And they were betrayed by a friend. Now this spineless backstabber wanted to make nice now that he was caught. My trigger finger was on fire. How could we face them again?

“Calm down, Reskafar. I know this man is trash. But we needed to hear this story. I will make sure he pays his debt to his betrayed crew” calmed Lorenz.
“Why the fuck are we here?!” I shouted in rage.

“Abadar and the God Mind have a proposition for you that will solve everyone’s problems” slurred Vestin. He had drunk several glasses by now. “Abadar has access to a tarnished Dragon orb that originally belonged to the Platinum dragons. It can be used to locate and control the current Gray Sept. They will be powerless to stop it. It’s yours, if you can convince Apsu to leave the Boneyard in peace. You are Apsu’s chosen after all, you will have his ear”

The mention of Dragon Orbs floored Goethe. Dragon orbs were thought to be made-up by old grannies and nannies for kiddo tuck-in stories. I was clueless. Kobolds don’t get bedtime stories where dragons lose. Goethe commented that nobody knew who created these orbs, but each dragon species is tied to a different orb. Crazy! I never would have thought dragons had such an incredible built-in weakness. Only problem, was that Apsu abhorred these orbs with every fiber of his godly being. Facing a tilted God’s wrath is the last item on my to-do list, right after eating raw sewage and rhythmic gymnastics.

“Wait? Who cares if Apsu is in Boneyard?”
“Apsu’s presence draws the God Moon closer. If the Moon touches the Spire there is no telling what will happen, but legend says it will end all life. A chance the Pantheon is not willing to take” said the First with more backbone.

“Aye Lorenz. What do you think? Can we trust your backstabbing Gramps, Lorenz? I’ve reached my cap on being screwed over this journey” I asked. I glared at the First.
“I don’t like it. Heclosegotmy-papi&mopi-gutted” Mr. Finn garbled, shaking his fins.
“We don’t have to trust him. We have to trust Abadar” answered Lorenz.
“From what I’ve read, the Dragon Orb should be able to stop the Grays in their tracks” commented Goethe.
“Either way we need to talk with Apsu. I will not sit idle if this is indeed the end times” Lorenz reasoned. He had a point. I can’t be the future Pirate King if Golorion goes extinct.
“What if Apsu gets mad?”
“If Apsu doesn’t want us to use the orb we won’t, but that is secondary. Gentlemen, Abadar just asked us to SAVE THE WORLD! Lorenz inspired. “World Savior” I liked the ring of that title. Mr. Finn and I begrudgingly nodded.

“I don’t want to be the greedy son of a bitch, but what do we get out of the deal?” added Myrrh.
Lady Kaledith interjected, “I’ve made a deal for provisions, a grand new ship, a little castle, and everything we might need for our journey ahead. All the arrangements are done. All you have to do is say yes”
“A little castle?” Lorenz sighed.

Kaledith had been busy making numerous arrangements and contingencies with the First, Axis, and the High Bank. The sterling ship on dry dock was indeed meant for us! A sleek three mast clipper designed for high speeds, maneuverability, and luxury. The Deep Sea Current 2.0 designed with planar traveling in mind. It even had a special deck built to house and protect the Dragon Orb. Provisions, weapons, assurances, and writs were already negotiated for. Damn! And I thought Lorenz was good. Everything was prepared perfectly. Only our signatures were needed. Saving the World and getting a new kick ass ship was looking real good if I don’t say so!

“Well do we have a deal?” slurred the First. Lorenz and Goethe started looking over the contract. Then the doorbell rang. Modron swept in on robot wings, “Captain-I have a report. The platinum dragon Slate has been sighted. I estimate we need to leave in 2 hours to rendezvous”

I signed on the dotted, we all did. Soon I found myself at the helm of my new fancy ship with my entire crew at the ready. Well, all but one.

Right before we shoved off, the Eternal City alarm bells went bonkers. The harbor stirred into action. Cannons and guards transformed out of lamp posts, buildings, and benches. Suddenly, out of the Maelstrom water, Drick’s head appeared, the rest of his large body was still dissolved in the water. I was relieved to see him. “You’re coming with us!” I ordered. In a gleeful whale moan, Drick shot out of the water above the silky ship like a catapult! He splashed down and absorbed into the deck. Immediately, all the sails unfurled, the side wings extended, and the anchor raised. The ship grabbed the wind and cut through the wake like a hot knife. And we were off! All of us!

I had a message to Slate, Apsu, Dahak, Besmara, Pharasma, the Colorless Lord, and Gray Scale. “You can’t stop a hurricane when it’s racing down the shore! Ain’t nothin’ gonna stop us now!”

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God Mind!!! Landing in Axis!!!
Captain’s log found on bumpkin

Captain Modron, of the Halcyon, was extremely honorable and forthright, like he was forged from justice stuff. It was inspiring to see the flying eye testicle machine man operate. I didn’t understand his code, not even a little, but I can appreciate it. It made our job much easier working with someone who was willing to bend over backwards for us. After all, as Modron put it in his glorious baritone, “A –man- pays his…debts…without fail.” I wanted to add not Kobolds but didn’t want to press my luck!

The two foot tall constructed inevitable gave us a bit of his own history. He was tasked to investigate numerous ship disappearances in the Maelstrom near a strange lighthouse. Once he sailed within view, a powerful bright light shone on his ship then the world got real big. His last memories were a cork the size of a First Vault Level Three door seal the bottle shut with his ship and crew inside. I asked him, “Not a First Vault Level Two door?”
“You’re…a funny one. It was short by seven yards” Modron informed. I see jokes didn’t have any effect on him. And I wanted to hear him laugh! I imagined in would be a seismic event.

“Well?…Should we get –started?” asked Modron.
“Aren’t we already on the way to Axis?”
“Yeah. Protocol dictates I connect with the God Mind” he said drawn out.
“God Mind? What?” I questioned. It sounded like total shit. What next? A God Nose?
“Seriously? You want to go to Axis and don’t know about the God Mind?” responded Modron.
“Ayecanyoulighttheway” mashed Mr. Finn. Goethe was about to explain but Modron prevented him.
“The God Mind is concentrated living knowledge, collected since the Beginning…Plus it’s my boss…” explained Modron with duty.

Lorenz warned Mr. Finn and me that we shouldn’t interact with the God Mind as it may not take kindly to those of our nature.
“Like it’s racist against kobolds and merfolk?” I questioned.
“Yeah let’s go with that”
I sat back and watched the show. Mr. Finn went off to explore the sterile ship.

Captain Modron started spouting out a series of random number faster and faster until it scrambled into nonsense. Glowing bits of math fluttered out of his mouth and danced around his eyeball body. Stuff like “{>!=-0*1()e^loglnpiI()”. The equations encircled Myrrh, Lorenz, and Master Goethe too. Their eyes went white and they began reciting numbers off at the same speed as Modron. This went on for a long while. I took a nap. I got bored. I tied Myrrh’s nine tails to people legs and horns. I perused Modron’s spartan belongings. Nothing cool, just the bare essentials for sailing: maps, compasses, and navigation instruments. I did find a large single blade razor. Quite mysterious, since I’m only seen those used to shave chest hair. Begads, Modron’s life looked boring.

I read a few entries from the ships log.
“There…I found them…The weakling protean scum lurking around Sector Seven. I decided to bounce their candy asses all the way to Sector J. 01A1000111KX1001E100”
And the tail end of another.
“…and I’m all out of bubble gum, I said to the alien before enacting protocol 45A. 10B11000USV0001”

I went out on deck and saw Mr. Finn instructing a faceless mannequin creature on how to tie a bowline. The knot looked like shit to me, but whatever. I turned away. I swear I heard an alarm sound “Error”, but whatever. I went back into the bridge, sat back down, and watched the God Mind in action. The inequalities and integrals hovering above Lorenz, Myrrh, and Goethe eventually solved themselves and faded into the air. It looked like Modron was still getting some extra orders.

“Second Vault 17E” they said in unison just before they were released.
“So? How’d it go?” I roared.
“It was kind of a know it all” commented Lorenz.
“It knows too much” implied Myrrh.
“That was wonderful! It has read all my books” marveled Mater Goethe.
Did they each see something different?

They explained what they could. We had permission to come to Axis. Our crew was there safe and sound and miraculously didn’t cause any major incidents. The headline was all the stolen dragon hoard wealth was in Second Vault 17E with someone known as the First. We have an appointment there once we arrived. There was confirmation that Apsu was at the Boneyard, the pantheon including Abadar was meeting about the Apsu problem, and a rouge planet called Triaxis was out of alignment. Lastly, Groetus, the God of the End, was much too close for comfort. Apparently, this was causing immeasurable havoc in Axis. Bull shit, I bet, they were measuring it! So much to process. Fuck, I’m still processing it.

“That-was…depressing” spoke a beleaguered Modron, “After I escort you to Axis…I’m through.” He continued with utmost dignity, “Obsolete. My whole crew and I are going to get recycled into…newer models. They informed me my uses were too limited…”
I got choked up for a second. Good god! Did he just learn he was going to die? And took it like a goddamned brass balled gentleman? I’d be raising a tornado of shit. I’d be spreading it on the drapes.
“You mean limited to kicking ass! Join us in defeating the Colorless Lord we could use a man by the cut of your jib!” I offered.
“Woah,..I’m honored. You’d do that for…me?" Modron said taken aback.
“Modron it’s already done. The job is yours if you want” Lorenz said, as he fired off a shot of glowing math. How’d he do that? Does he have connections even here I wondered.
“I vow my service” said Modron. He bowed his eyeball to us.

We were fast tracked through Axis customs. It still took all morning so I can’t imagine the thorough inspections. Imagine all that probing! My first look at the Eternal City was breathtaking. Golden walls protected the grand city from the Maelstrom’s storm surge. The buildings were blueprints come to life from countless cultures and lost civilizations. To me they looked like stage props; it was too exact and too well organized. I imagined there were people behind the scenes lifting and pulling things right where they needed to go. The streets had no spontaneity but still bustled like a huge freaking hive. So impressive and rigid. Part of me liked the welcoming atmosphere once inside the golden barrier even though I knew I could never live here. But I would still love to visit from time to time just to liven up the place!

On the dry dock, we spotted Vandlo directing a crew of construct shipwrights. They were almost done building an impressive looking ship with a sleek haul and side sails. The design looked vaguely familiar, but the scale was on another level.
“Ho!”
“Captain! Welcome to Axis!” said Vandlo, shaking my hand.
“What have you got here?”
“Sorry Sir. Lady Kaledith’s orders” he said.
“Where is she?"
“Somewhere in the Second Vault. She’s been there a lot ever since we landed” Vandlo said. Vandlo excused himself to yell some more at his workers.

Of course Kaledith was where the money was. The Second Vault again. There was no escaping it. Vault 17E

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An Enchanted Evening on board the Seawraith!!! How will it all End?
Captain's log found on a kedge

Shimmering stripes of sea and shining blue clouds zipped by like rushes from a drowning dream. Where was the bastard gonna show? What tricks did the Colorless Lord have left up his ass? We tried to stay alert, to be watchful, but the scenery was a bitch. As we flew, the sky’s blue nuisance started to match the sea’s hue until the horizon blurred into one blue wall. Soon we went into withdrawal from Goethe’s adrenaline junky magic and Drick decelerated. There was still no sign of the Colorless Prick, only cerulean on all sides. I started to remember something important about the blue but it got snatched away by a sudden jerk when Drick screeched to a halt.

“Neeeeedddd…WAATTTTTERRR!”, moaned Drick. Its liquid body was draining away rapidly like bucket with a bullet hole. I guess it is still part water elemental after all. I signaled to dive. Then out of the blue we spotted it again! The same ship that lightning flashed in the distance during Besmara’s blizzard an hour before. The Great Bark of a Pirate Lord! No a Axis Ship of the Line! No a Chellish War Galleon! No a Merfolk Kraken! Or was it a red sail of a Flying Barque! Begads, we all saw a different ship! Fuck. It could only mean one thing. The Pirate Goddess Besmara was waiting for us in her majestic prize ship, the Seawraith. Double fuck. We were smack in the middle of the Cerulean Void!

“Umm…we do owe our thanks for that crazy ice wave business…” Lorenz sighed. He sounded exhausted.
“Do we, really?”

For those keeping score at home. Besmara has used us more than a toothless whore on payday. We killed the pesky False Pirate Queen, rescued Vaghol from the dark depths, and faced off against a wannabe Archduke. Not to mention, crossed a planar bridge and pillaged a demi-God’s Lighthouse. All this, in exchange for what, you may ask? Besmara graciously took back the haunted bicorn she planted on the Current in the first place. Now I wouldn’t have felt raw about it if she hadn’t rubbed our faces in it, over and over again. In addition, turning over Vaghol, our navigator, to her just felt wrong and rotten. We’d grown fond of whatever the hell it was. It made me laugh. I doubted meeting Besmara again was going to end up aces, but our choices were getting thin. At least, the Colorless Lord turned yellow belly at the sight of the Goddess’ Blue Void. I never wanted to see that rainbow coated, mono-hat wearing, dandy magic bastard again. We flew to the grand mysterious ship in silence. Hard to get excited when you’re about to get fucked over for a second time.

Legends say the Seawraith holds the treasure of 100 ships, that’s dragon-dick, it’s closer to a thousand. There was plunder to left of me, plunder to the right, plunder under my feet, fuck there was even plunder in the sails. Coins, jewels, knick knacks, weapons, and chests – you name it and there were at least two or three of them. Goethe told be later many items came from long dead civilizations from the Material world and beyond. An eternity of reaving is ever so profitable! I wondered if sneaking some into my boot was fatal? The ship itself was in tip top condition. Large, fancy, and a bit terrifying. My kind of vessel! It danced seamlessly on the waves with no wasted motion in the rigging or sails. Obviously, the Seawraith was built for speed, but I imagined it packed a sucker punch or two! Let’s just say the ship gave me ideas for my next vessel!

besmara.jpgBesmara, the Pirate Queen, came down the main gangway in full godly regalia. It got eerily quiet like she was coming for us in slow motion. She looked ravishing in a tight black calico overcoat outlined in red stitches that draped to her snowy naked thighs, a polished golden skull for a buckle, and a jeweled pistol and inlayed saber on either hip. Gone was the pretense, gone was the little girl routine, and gone was all illusions. Besamara the Goddess was all business. There was nowhere else to look except at her, even the treasure instinctively moved away not wanting to tarnish her leather boots. Without the slightest bit of acknowledgement of our presence, she confidently walked by and dipped below deck. I guess she wanted to parlay away from the rest of her petitioner crew. We quickly followed.

Her cabin double doors were left wide open. There were no guards but there were still probably guards. Like we’d get rough when facing a God? See I learn. Don’t get me wrong I will fight anyone when the stakes get high enough, but the time was not right now. The cabin could have made Kaledith faint or tantric orgasm a half dozen times. The richest of plunder and largest trophies were on full display! I think I saw a Black Lotus and the One Piece! Besmara didn’t look to us. She busily worked over her fancy glowing navigation chart. We crept into the corner of the room. Did we just get sent to the Headmistress’s office for shooting spitballs? Sure felt like that. She tapped her desk impatiently with an enameled fingernail, “Where is it?”

Crap, she went right for the throat.

“How about a Colorless crown for a Colorless crown? We managed to get our hands on a different Ssila crown”, offered Lorenz. He slid the Lantern lenses over to Besmara. She gave it one look and said, “Worse than shit, a dime dozen. I have 7 or maybe 30.”
“What?”
“I see you’re unconvinced. You there little dead fox. Try it” she commanded. Myrrh bowed and took the Lantern in his arms. He closed his eyes and said a little chant. Myrrh started to bubble and grow! He grew to his full height, eight extra tails sprouted, and his blush of vitality returned. He looked shocked. His hands searched about his body making sure all his fleshy bits were there. Goethe in particular looked very-very excited to get the old Myrrh back, even with the eight extra tails. Such a good friend!
“Myrrh, your welcome! It heightens a creature innate shape shifting” she smiled. Myrrh’s eyes met Goethe’s for an instance. In silence, Myrrh poofed into a full nine-tailed fox and scurried off.

“Now a drink” Besmara motioned. Goethe snapped out of his mind palace, fetched a bottle from the bar, and poured six drinks. It tasted good like really good. My mind got a bit fuzzy and tongue a bit looser. Besmara didn’t seem so bad! I can respect a liar and a cheat, especially if they got good rum.
“Now the crown I want. The crown that was promised to me” she demanded with a smile.

The order almost came out of my mouth for Myrrh to hand over the wooden Vaghol. It would have been so easy. Except, there was this little picture in the back of my head of flashing runes in great big bold print “Help Me”. What kind of Captain would I be if I turned over a valuable crew mate who hasn’t done anything wrong? A shitty captain for sure. I squirmed in my seat, I babbled incoherent excuses, and I promised the starlight. All my blathering did was let Besmara know that the rune was in Myrrh’s possession. She cozied up to him, close. She rubbed his nine-tailed fox belly. “Give it here foxy!” she cooed.

“Myrrh, give it to!” I ordered. The extra ingredient in my divine rum must of reached its limit. Besmara scowled at me. Myrrh’s head turned back and forth, frozen by indecision, though he’d never admit to it.
“Taking away our navigator at present time would be detrimental to our journey”, added Master Goethe, “Our odds of finding the Gray Dragon treasure will go down which means your odds go down.”
“Howaboutsomeseedsinstead?” rapped Mr. Finn.
“You can’t be serious to hold us to that farce of a parlay?” Lorenz finally intervened.

There were no weak links in this chain! We stood together unified! Besmara wasn’t going to get Vaghol back without a fight! Of course, we’re no match for a Goddess. Maybe we could annoy her or at least mess up her ship some! I was certain I could shoot a hole in her pillow. Lorenz and Goethe were banking on our old dead horse play of being worth more alive than dead. It all depended on Besmara’s end goals. Why did she need Vaghol?

“Aye, you’re a bunch of whiny bitches through and through. I bet ye get your periods together. I can’t see you pansies going far. Much too soft like uncooked dough!” teased Besmara. Thoughts of spilling ink on her fancy map danced in my head.
“I will do something for you doughy bleeding boyos that I never do. I will make you a promise! I promise you can keep Vaghol. But we are going to need another arrangement” Besmara mused.
“What did you have in mind?”
“It’s a shame you didn’t steal the Colorless Lord’s final crown, his Diadem. I don’t have one of those yet. The ability to control proteans could come in handy out in the Maelstrom. Also, you still need to insure no other False Pirate Queen pops out of the Eye” said Besmara.
“We can do that!“ I hurriedly accepted.
“Wait we have a few conditions…” Lorenz interjected.
Besmara sighed, “So bloody puddle soft…”

The scorecard now read. We steal the Colorless Lord’s last crown. She told us Ssila was in the Boneyard petitioning Pharasma for chaotic souls. After that nonsense, back on our world, we got to snuff out the False Pirate Queen operation. In turn, Besmara lets us keep Vaghol and provides us with a ship to get to Axis. I think this was the best deal we could get. We’re the one’s putting cock and balls on the line, but at least this time we got more than a hat removal. Of course, there was a twist. Besmara asked to see Vaghol. She took her long feathered quill and touched the point to Vaghol. It got swallowed up in an instant! What the hell? She started inscribing Vaghol onto her special map. This was not what we’d agreed too! I was about to unload on her pillow! She raised her hand to my face to stop me while expertly finishing her calligraphy. With one last swirl, it was done. Besmara looked lovingly at her work. Strange lights hopped about the canvas like sunshine bent through a crystal prism. Suddenly, she rolled up the glowing map, kissed it, and stuck it in my breast coat pocket. I was completely bewildered; we all were. Was she planning on giving us the map the whole time?! Mother Fucker! Tricked again!

Besmara led us to the a great hall in the belly of the Seawraith. I wondered how a grand salon big enough for several hundred sailors even fit. Oh well, a god will be a god. To seal the deal we partied all evening and all night. If there is one thing Pirates do better than anyone else, it is throwing a goddamned banquet that eats up the whole night! We feasted on the best food imaginable. Blimey, our bellies never got full; no matter how much you shoveled in your face hole. Best thing was the meal was as diverse as the crew. Much of the meal was as alive as the carnivores eating it. My compliments to the Halfling chef! The same went for the drink. Bottomless cups around! Ale, wine, rum, and spirits of every color! And to boot, you never blacked out! The Queen’s crews’ stories of plundering were epic. Not as good as ours but still fantastic. The music was equally divine. During the night, Mr. Finn learned to play that weird Koch shell like a virtuoso. This time I danced on my accord. Besmara even had praise for him and let him keep it for some reason. Truly an evening without end!

Only once did the dinner conversation turn dark during the height of the midnight on the top side.
“Is that Ghost-Faced Skull Moon thingy always like that”, I said, while pointing up. The monster Moon took up the whole freaking sky! The angry bone face was the size of the heavens! Also, It looked like a massive Dark Tower, that was being orbited by a tangle of flying islands, was going to rub up against it any second. groetus.jpg
“When the God Moon hangs low, it spells doom for us all!” Besmara recited like from a text book.
“So that’s the opposite of normal out here”
“The last time Groteus was this low an Age ended and a God perished. The God Moon is even lower now. At least, the looting was good in those days. This time I’m not so sure” gravely said Besmara.
“I still don’t understand. So what if the Moon is low?”
“Fuck if I’ll be your tutor. I’ll say two things. One, get your worldly affairs in order, the Apocalypse is nigh! Two, you can blame your patron” finished Besmara. She stumbled off for another drink of Ambrosia honey wine. I guess the end of days makes her uptight. It made me think. What if that God Moon hits that Dark spire? I doubt anything would be left. Would it continue to crush all of the outer planes. When that happens I better escape back to Golarion where it’s safe.

In the morning, it was business time again. I drank enough to fill a barrel. Mr. Finn two. But somehow we weren’t hungover. To get us into Axis, the plan was simple. Besmara would sprout one of Mr. Finn’s seed ship and restore the Halcyon, an Axis ship of the Line, which Goethe liberated from the Colorless Lord’s bottled ship collection. The Colorless Lord the gift that keeps on giving! The seed ship was lush and sleek, a miniature clipper tea ship that could outrun most Navies. I liked it a lot. It even bore my colors and my styling. I dubbed it the Flying Dragon Fly. I always favor speed over power on the water. When your foe can’t catch you they can’t hit you!

The Halcyon was humongous; it was only a hair smaller than Redbeard’s Sideburn, may be, by a deck or two. It made our ship look like a tiny green kayak. We hailed the giant ship and got permission to come aboard. The Axis ship had factory precision. Clean, insanely well-kept with every knot tied perfectly, and as unwelcoming as clock guts. Our host Captain was a flying robot eyeball, called an inevitable, named Modron. He looked a serious sort then he talked! His voice was pure gravel and all ball sac, “This, is hard for me – to say. I..ahh…thank you for saving Me. Huh. How can I repay you?” modron3.jpg

First we did a group double take. Second we questioned our manhood. Third we responded, “We need an escort to Axis, if you please” to the flying peach basket.

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The Power of Chaos!!! The Colorless Lord Strikes!!!
Captain's log found on a keelson

Skipping the foreplay, I went to straight to humping the Deep Sea Current! I was more than ready. It was a freaking miracle, an answered prayer, and an unbelievable jackpot all rolled into one being reunited with my dear ship. Calling it a ship now was a bit of a stretch. Mysteriously, the Current was transformed into Drick, a living draconic wind, sometime after it was left to rot in its shipwreck at the bottom of the Maelstrom. I’d also hump whoever saved the Current. So much humping would be had! Sadly, all the sweet humping was cut short. Ssila’meshnik, the Colorless Lord, was barreling towards us shooting his unruly magic like parade fireworks. The bastard just wouldn’t quit! Fine! I was on fire. Squandering this miraculous second chance was not an option. If it wanted a fire fight, I was more than ready to oblige.

“Thank You, Current. We Will Take It From HERE!” I encouraged. We worked seamlessly to prepare for battle. Lorenz pulled out a special salve from a fancy Abadar box that I’d never seen him use before. The oily cream returned Master Goethe’s glow back to flesh and bone from rock and stone. Goethe stood up, gave a short look to Myrrh, and gave me a nod. One after another, slow and steady, we each turned to the Colorless Lord itching at our heels. We stood together in a line, arms folded, and stared down Ssila’meshnik with locked jaws. Our intent on full display!

Keketar.jpgIt was the first time I got a good look at a Keketar. It was albino, skin like steel cut oats, emerald eyes, serpentine features, and human hands. Also, it was fucking huge! Taller than a ship’s main mast, long, and sinuous. A scraggily white beard on his chin and a gray handlebar mustache gave him the look of a deranged grandpa. A lonely crown flashed like the Northern Lights above its snaky head. Hahaha, definitely room for two more crowns! Thanks Myrrh! A look of utter exasperation stared back at us, one of its eyes twitched, and then it gritted his teeth. It let out a kingly roar that cowered and warped the Maelstrom like a brutalized serf. We were very much behind enemy lines, in its kangaroo court. Domes of energy the size of willow trees began forming around us. I flipped the beast the bird.
“Negotiating with him looks tough” spouted Lorenz.
“Aye,letsshakethebastard” garbled Mr. Finn.
“Time to finish this” squeaked Myrrh.
“I think it’s casting a spell…” deduced Master Goethe.
“Huh?”

One of the energy domes directly in front of us took a hard form. Drick slammed into a net of three inch thick steel crossbars and we were swallowed up like a collapsed mine shaft. I’m not a math Kobold but I know when something going really fast hits something super hard that isn’t moving, broken bones is the result. The iron kiss rung my bell, everything went hazy and blurry, but not dark. My senses returned in short order, only to see that the ivory Cock was on our assholes, surrounded by a rainbow cowl, and talking shit.

The ringing stopped.
“Give me my crown!” screamed the immense Protean with fury. I shot him. It didn’t penetrate the rainbow. Fuck rainbows they can go to hell! Goethe signaled that wouldn’t work. Ssila punished us by manifesting a torrent of knives and blades that hit us from all angles. The suspended steel cage made dodging more than a little difficult. Poor Goethe resembled a bloody pincushion by the end of it. Begads, it had the power to pull things into reality!
“Last Chance Mortals!”

No one tells me when it’s my last chance. Not a reality warping Protean Lord or a Pirate Goddess or a Red Archdevil. My crew makes our own last chances and all chances after that. Especially, went it comes to stalling! That’s my rule of law. I ordered Mr. Finn to hold up the Lantern crown and I aimed my cannon at it. I can play dirty too! Real dirty.
“Wrong, this is your last chance you pale bastard. Stand down” I retaliated with cocked musket. I doubted the delicate crystal contraption was bullet proof, especially from my armor piercing bullets.

“Now-Now, don’t be hasty, friend” shifted Ssila, in a complete 180 in tone, “We can talk about this.” It seemed taken aback. What the hell was this Lantern?
“Return what is mine and I will let you go. That will be the end of it” it slithered gently. The color spray around him turned a robin’s egg blue. A reasonable request if it was telling truths. I can understand getting back your stuff. What I couldn’t understand is why he kept Vaghol like a slave. I was ready to negotiate. Maybe if we gave back the Lantern that would be enough? I turned to Lorenz, he was a better gauge in these delicate situations. Lorenz shook his head. As did Myrrh. Goethe was lost studying the rainbow for weaknesses.

“Youcan’thavethecrowns. We don’t turn over friends” blabbed Mr. Finn. I couldn’t have said it better myself!
“WHAT? You have my Sextant and my Lantern! I’ll kill you!” raged the inhuman keketar. Our steel cage lurched forward; the rainbow fire began melting the first few bars. It was drawing us in slowly. I started squeezing my trigger, “Kiss your Lantern goodbye, douche”
“Stop! Captain blast through those paper weight bars” demanded Lornez, grabbing my shoulder.

I fired! The shot missed the Lantern by a hair, but obliterated the steel bars behind us into ragged shrapnel. Instantly, Lorenz pushed through the small hole and urged us to follow him. We all squeezed through the opening getting some bloody cuts and bruises. Drick supplied a nice foothold. Goethe summoned a hoard of elementals and devils to further stall Ssila. I flew ahead ready to fire if the coward ever left his rainbow fortress.

The Colorless Lord poked a hand through its prismatic barrier and let out powerful burst of warp waves directed at Drick. Dick! Drick destabilized for a quick instant, but regathered himself at Lorenz’s urging. That was the last straw! Goethe knew the plan. When muddying the waters backfires, plan B is running like the wind. Master Goethe’s powerful magic surged through everyone’s vines, and the world went slow while our hearts pumped like humping monkeys.

“Drick, we’re leaving! Take us away!” I ordered. Drick took off like an oversized rocket in low gravity. Its warm embrace enveloped everyone as it whipped by. The Colorless Lord was a speck in our rear-view in a snap! I flipped another bird.

“Come Back Hereeeeeeee!” caterwauled the Chaotic Lord. His lung capacity must be immense because it took a while for the cry to fade. That’s what you get when you don’t play fair with us! We run! Ssila was only a pit stop, no need to spill any more blood. We had Vaghol and that was all that mattered. I don’t give a shit if Vaghol was created by Ssila, it was a member of my crew. When our navigator asks for protection that’s exactly what we’re are going to provide. I doubted the Colorless Lord would set a tentacle in Axis, which was on the other side of the Cerulean Void, waiting for us.

The Maelstrom around Ssila began to crack like a mirror. Pieces of reality shattered to the sea. In a bright flash of energy the Colorless Lord disappeared.

It wasn’t over, not by a long shot.

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I Say Run!!! Cerulean Standoff!!!
Captain’s log found on the thole

Early in the Morning…

Mr. Finn crept daintily in front of us. I’ve never seen him track personally. Very meticulous and careful, he took his bloody time. A crimson hair here, a dead scent there, and a fine fox footprint there… The tyrannical rampaging and incredulous screams of the Colorless Lord going bananas were barely a distraction to the merfolk man. Mr. Finn was locked in like some sort of shark hound mating. It was cool and all, I’m glad he could do it, but the freaking pissed-off Colorless Lord was right around the bend! I clutched my musket tight. I saw Lorenz behind me in a trance; his lips were moving without sound, he was either rehearsing the upcoming negotiation or gone schizoid. I prayed he could a pull foot long miracle out of his ass cheeks to prevent all hell from breaking loose. Damnit! Master Goethe getting himself dismissed like a naughty lad at recess was another huge problem. His skills were greatly needed in magical Lighthouse land. Seriously, touching anything had a high likelihood of changing you into a helpless tiger prawn. Begads! I just wanted to grab Myrrh and split! No use getting killed during a pit stop. Strictly smash and grab as far as I was concerned. Once we had him, “I say run!”

Mr. Finn silently slipped past the entrance of the room with the raging Colorless Lord. He stopped at the other side of the opening and gave us the “Hold” hand sign. This was good! Myrrh wasn’t in the room with the outrageous murder potential! The Lord thundered, “Where is it! Where did it go! ##$%$!!!” I took a practiced breath and cocked my musket. Its murderous intent hung in the air like wet humidity. Having a face to face with that beast was not on my dance card.

“Noname! Come to me!” furiously shouted the Lord. His booming voice magically amplified through the halls like a souped-up loud speaker. Instantly, Noname green eyes went empty then it stepped into the light of the doorway like a brainwashed drone. I guess the poor chaos grub was a slave after all. A beam of chaotic warp waves flickered through the doorway, cracking the polished plaster off the wall. “We’re dead!” thoughts raced through my mind at light speed. My pitiful Kobold instincts were taking hold.

Mr. Finn got our attention from across the way. Standing in the palm of his hand was tiny red mantis assassin in full regalia. We got Myrrh! I’ve never been happier to see a tiny munthrek. We can leave! No need to fight it out! I motioned for them to come down to the moon pools. Mr. Finn shook his head and pointed up. The crazy bastard wanted to go up!

“Tell me, where you have been!!” demanded the Colorless Lord. Noname started giving the Colorless Lord an information dump. It told the story of how one of the shrunken wooden figurines came back to life and ran away with the Sextant crown. The rat was incredibly hard to find, but luckily several guests were helping him track the vermin this very moment.
“WHAT!!!!” bellowed the Colorless Lord, for a long ten count. A flurry of warp waves sizzled in front of me like an arc trail. It was too close!

I bolted down the stairs without thinking! I’m sure Mr. Finn was either behind me or had some sort of plan. He knew the objective was achieved; it was time to run. Not my proudest moment, but I like breathing. Lorenz masked our sound and together we dove into the moon pool at the bottom of the Lighthouse. We swam our tails off to get to the underwater anchored ship. I don’t think we were followed. As soon as we set foot on deck, Mr. Finn dove through the air bubble with Myrrh in pocket! I knew he had to be maximum crazy in order to swan dive from the top of the spire into the rocky coast. Before their mighty leap they managed to aid our escape by irreparably damaging the beacon enough to make vexgits proud. See, I knew he had a plan! I’m not a coward.

We sailed the ship along the deepest part of the Maelstrom seafloor as best we could figure to dodge detection. No doubt, a hell-bent Protean Keketar was on our heels. I could hardly believe it! We just successfully kicked down the Colorless Lord’s Lighthouse door, peed on his face, and got away with it! To mention a few details, I shot out his beacon, we tricked his subordinate left and right, and Myrrh the wily fox got his bloody paws on two of the Lord’s priceless crowns; the wooden Vaghol and a spooky looking Lantern. The intricate Lantern was made of numerous layered crystal lenses with no way to tell which side was up, down, left, or right. I’m told one of its mysterious purposes was igniting the Lighthouse beacon. No Lantern, no shrink ray! I planned to send the Colorless Lord a thank you note in a few years, just to let him know what happened, in case he never figures in out. So we best get to Axis on the double!

What will we do with a Drunken Sailor…

The Soul Patch was on high alert for several hours after our escape, but somehow it was all clear. Well, except for the God’s face on the moon watching us, other than that no one was on our ass. Apparently we were getting close to the Boneyard or some shit. Luckily for us, the Colorless Lord stunk at tracking ships. Goethe does not. He found us in the deepest part of the Maelstrom, the Cerulean Void, with his magic tricks a few hours after our perfect escape.
“Is Myrrh aboard?” he asked as soon as setting foot. He remained invisible. Frankly, it was a relief to know he had others on his mind and not his own self interests.
“Why, yes! He’s in the crown’s nest with quite the treasure haul. He’s got Vaghol and…wait for it…”, I beamed.

“Oh that’s nice captain…so the crow’s nest you say…” trailed off Goethe like he was talking away from me. His tone focused like hot fire. I heard him pace in a circle. Infernal mumbling was barely audible beneath his breath. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but was sure I’ve seen Goethe like this once or twice before. I don’t think the results were positive. Tiny Myrrh jumped down from the nest behind Goethe holding two of three Colorless crowns; a wooden figurine of Vaghol shaped like a sextant and the translucent Lantern made of smooth glass and crystal. Truly treasures beyond belief! Myrrh had a genuine smile painted on his face. Eager to show Goethe the epic marvels. Surely, Goethe would shed some light on the artifacts or, in the very least, have ideas on how to de-lignify Vaghol.

“Myrrh do you have anything to tell me?” questioned Goethe like an overbearing parent. Myrrh started acting out his daring accounts of the Lighthouse.
“Not that…anything else you want to tell me?” pressed the unseen Goethe. More thuds of pacing and infernal mumbling. Does planar ousting make you a dill hole? Myrrh scrunched his brow and cocked his head.
“Curses! I will need to cure the undead-ness, then modify spell, then…learn,…then reveg…” Goethe babbled lowly. The hostilely was not uncommon but its direction was. Where in the bloody hell did Goethe get kicked to? Obviously, he came back with an agenda. Did something happen with Myrrh?

Lorenz and Mr. Finn tried to calm him down.
“Goethe, Why don’t you drop the invisibility routine? You’re among crew”, cooed Lorenz.
“soundn’weecrazymate” added Mr. Finn
“Leave Me ALONE!” retorted Master Goethe.
“That’s quite enough of that” Lorenz responded while giving the deck a good stomp. Goethe’s invisibility veil shattered. The Goethe we knew and loved stood idle on deck furiously rubbing his temples while mumbling. Either he was conquered by his thoughts or trying desperately to subdue them. He didn’t seem to care or notice that there was a large pale pink spiky conch shell stuck to his head.

“What’swiththeconch?” asked Mr. Finn. Goethe snapped out his rough chop thoughts. He frantically grabbed the shell and through it on the ground like was a spider crawling on his neck. Mr. Finn picked up the beautiful shell.
“Sorry, I don’t know what came over me…Myrrh I’m just very happy to see you” he offered poorly. He walked over to the crowns and started fiddling with them. I heard under his breath, “Maybe the Lantern can be used to reverse the condition…”
Lorenz shrugged and let it go. Myrrh happily handed over the crowns. I didn’t trust it but he seemed a bit better. Motives will always surface in due time. Then of course, Mr. Finn couldn’t help himself and blew the conch shell. Since that’s what you do with a strange shell stuck to a guy’s head.

Shave his belly with a rusty razor…

My foot started to tap. Lorenz’s and Myrrh’s too. My knees swayed to a rhythm in my mind. It was nice, I called out with gusto “Way Hay and up she rises!”
Lorenz was in full jig, returned, “Way Hay and up she rises!” Myrrh did tiny cartwheels and whistling along. All my burdens were tossed aside, all of my stress evaporated, I was light; just a babe in the woods again!

Suddenly, Goethe slide to the middle of the deck in his socks and underwear, he unleashed a hearty, “Way Hay and up she rises!”
All together we howled in full song, “Early in the Morning!” I swear I heard a full chorus of sailors boisterously backing us up. Mr. Finn and Goethe did do-si-dos, Lorenz clogged, and I swung on the ropes. Brittlehope and Balbaal looked on in utter confusion at our song and dance routine.

The fever did not subside. It was too much fun so why stop? Eventually Mr. Finn came to his senses when the song came around for the fourth time. Something was up! He didn’t know we were enslaved to the music and was just dancing along. He tried everything to stop our revelry to no avail. Screw it all! It was dancing time!

Way hay and up she rises…

On the starboard side, the sea began to bubble up planks of driftwood and wooden barrels like from a shipwreck. The sea mushroomed. Its center a hungry shadow loomed. Out bursted a wailing banshee carved in soggy mahogany, the figurehead, of a great galleon held together by tattered sails and fish bones. The Kelpies Wrath appeared! The Wrath’s gun ports were open, its catapults armed, and two large zombie boarding parties lurched forward holding gang planks. Standing amidships on the rotted out deck was the rotten Captain Balta dressed in a fine red leather coat surrounded by a score of shambling zombie sailors. All I could do was laugh and dance. The song in my heart stops for no one. Suddenly, Mr. Finn blew the conch again!

The horde of zombies including Captain Balta focused their attention on us all at once, they snapped to the right, and then bobbed their heads like their necks were swivels. They shimmied forward a step then did a shoulder shrug in tight harmony. They scuffed and stomped their feet to our beat. Their arms held like a T-rex’s jaws, swung to the right, then left, then right-right, and left. Their choreography put ours to shame!

Storming through the Maelstrom fog like a sucker punch was Redbeard’s ugly mug and his colossal ship the Chin Strap. It shouldn’t be in the deep Maelstrom that was the agreement. I’d have harsh words for him. We watched the ship approach to our port side. We took no evasive actions, we only danced. At least, we were in good spirits. Two rows of bearded devils lined up at the rail, each had a long bow nocked with a tarfire arrow. Redbeard towered over his men, his massive iron anchor rested on his right shoulder and his beard wrapped around his body like impenetrable armor. Redbeard demanded we hand over Vaghol.

“Fuck off! Like I’d give in to a man who goes back on his word!” I sang out. I pea sized bullet fired from his red beard hit me in the shoulder.
“That’s enough out of you, Kobold” roared Captain Redbeard, “Now stop dancing!”

The conch blew again! Redbeard did not stir, but his line of bearded devil bowmen stood at attention, pressed their arms against their sides, and began whirling their feet about like their right leg was dueling the left. Their perfect synchronization and rapid speed was magnificent! A bewildered Redbeard got even more furious; his epic entrance was foiled. The Chinstraps gun ports opened wide and cannons pushed through the hatches. There was enough firepower pointed at us that not even a wood chip would be left of our ship. Oh well, dancing was more important.

“Finally, I found you” hissed a hateful voice, “Foolish to have a party when I’m hunting you!” A thirty foot long albino serpentine protean lord landed on our prow. A single glowing crown adored its head. There was definitely room for two more. The Colorless Lord took stock of the situation; he reached out his arm, he trembled “Quick, give it to me” Sadly the conch didn’t blow again.

What do you do with a drunken whaler…

The happy music slowly died and grew darker and colder. Our dancing lulled, a little more clarity soaked in. It started to snow! From the rear, splashing and gurgling drowned out the music. The ships roiled from the avalanche of water being displaced. A great serpent’s head the size of the Soul Patch rose from the sea! It could’ve swallowed us whole in one gulp! I knew this serpent of legend; its name was Shipbreaker, another herald of Besmara. The legends say it has sunk entire fleets. It looked like we were next.

The storm went nuts. The swells tossed the ships left and right like toys. Snow and ice settled on the water. I held onto the helm for dear life. The icy spray made visibility zero, but I knew Balta, Redbeard, and the Colorless Lord were keeping up. Being cornered by your enemies is one thing, but this was too much! No good options. Nowhere to run. Everyone wanted to make us hurt. In the face of such odds, even our bestowed powers were vestigial crap. The winds of fate had finally given up on us. I wished for something to rescue me. I wished hard.

Off in the distance, between the massive waves, I swear I made out a marvelous Shackles ship that made the Hurricane King’s caravel look like scuttlebutt. The others saw it too. It seemed to hover above the waves, unaffected by the blizzard. It disappeared when the ship caught an eighty foot wave that just kept on rising like a stairway to heaven. Time seemed to stall at the crest.

Slice his throat with a rusty cleaver…

The Colorless Lord was still lashed to the prow, Balta and the Wrath still portside, and a hell-bent Redbeard to the starboard. The wave froze above the storm locking the ships into place! To the rear, Shipbreaker dipped its great head near us. A somber whistling filled the air like children singing and heavy footsteps from someone climbing the endless serpent echoed. The last member of the party was about to join the table. I knew before I even saw her. She promised she’d meet us again. But, why pick this time? The Pirate Queen Besmara stood atop of Shipbreaker’s massive crown. She had the conch shell in one hand and in the other she pointed a handsome pistol at my face! With a wicked smile, she ordered, “Captain my map, please?”

A Goddess, an Archfiend, a Protean Lord, and two demigod heralds had us boxed in! Lorenz was quiet and glassy eyed. Myrrh was hiding. Mr. Finn was about to have a heart attack and Goethe an aneurysm. I wanted to run. Every cell in my body yearned for it. The plan was to throw Vaghol down the icy slide and take flight to warmer climates. This was a no-win, no-win, no-win, no-win situation with the biggest loser being us. I pleaded for parlay, for mercy, for safety, for anything. Our legendary foes prepared for battle! I heard Besmara’s pistol cock. Fuck! I didn’t want my miserable life to flash before my eyes. It’d be depressing. A life riddled with fear, cheap tricks, and lucky breaks. Did I even do one thing on my own?

I decided to at least I could die on my own terms; I pointed my musket at Besmara’s face. Fuck her! My lead charged with Apsu could hurt her, I was certain. I’d leave my scar on the Pirate Queen. Redbeard’s too. I will not be forgotten so easily. My crew would not be forgotten so easily. “Lads, I say fuck running! I say we fight!” I commanded.

Besmara nodded. She moved her pistol from me to the frozen wave. Redbeard cried out, “Don’t you dare, you filthy sea hag!”
Besmara gave us a wink then fired, BANG!
The ice cracked like a spider web. The ships shifted and slide out of place an inch or two. I liked the sound of that! I unloaded on the ice sheet. A glacial chasm opened beneath our ship and we tumbled through. The Strap and the Wrath cannons went wild! Chunks of ice the size of rowboats broke away from the shattering wave. It was anarchy!

Several of us took flight. The Colorless Lord hit us with a flood of warp waves. I shrugged it off, but poor Goethe got turned into stone and fell straight down. I returned fired back. The Soul Patch smashed like a bowl of eggs on the sea below. Myrrh and Mr. Finn were still aboard or so I thought.

“Capppptinnn…flies?” moaned a hollow voice. A dragon-y figure swooped by and grabbed me, a moment before another warp wave blast hit. The surface holding me quaked with familiar excitement. I felt safe. It felt like home. Mr. Finn, Lorenz, Myrrh, and Goethe’s statue were there with me just like in our shared dream. This time I didn’t need to wish for the Deep Sea Current to catch the wind for us. This time the Deep Sea Current was the wind! “Thank you old friend, thank you very much”

That’s what you do with a drunken sailor!

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It’s a Long Shot!!! Storming the Colorless Lighthouse!!!
Captain's log found on the strake

The Lighthouse was a tiny white silver 2.5 miles away at the top of rocky island. Definitely, my fringe distance. But the conditions were ideal; the sun to my back, the west wind at 2 knots, high visibility, no precipitation, and a steady sea. It wasn’t impossible I could feel it. I calmly retrieved my smooth leather case without saying a whisper to the others. Lorenz, Mr. Finn, and Master Goethe were frantically arguing about the best course of action. The beacon charged up and it started scanning the sea, getting closer to us every second. Goethe figured we sailed into some sort of magic detection web. We’d be spotted in no time, which meant shrinkage and time in a bottle, according to Myrrh’s trusted report. Still calm, I unlatched the lock with a click and slowly opened the cushioned hard case. Inside, was a jigsaw puzzle of shiny metallic pieces, several honed barrels, a polished rosewood hilt, an elaborate scope with a top end magnification, and a tight row of copper-jacketed high caliber rounds. I grinned like a demon at the glorious sight. It had been ages since I last felt my special rifle’s cold rolled steel. With my steady hands, I expertly assembled my Longshot, maximizing its range capability with every tweak. The doubts in my mind faded fast!

“Lorenz, spot me” I commanded. The others were shocked to see me toting a rifle twice as tall as me with a telescopic scope. Alkenstar Gunworks and Bruner do not disappoint! I erected a sturdy tripod, locked the rifle into place, spun it hard around the swivel to check the balance, and after an incalculable number of rotations caught the hilt pleased as punch. The preparations were complete, I was locked and loaded. Lorenz came up behind me with his binoculars and tapped my on the shoulder. A surge of magical energy cemented my already steady hands. I lined up the energized beacon in my sights. My bird of prey vision coupled with the advanced scope, turned the once microscopic beacon into a peephole. I looked deeper, I just barely made out a pinhead sized discoloration that I bet powered the beacon. Did I imagine it? Fuck it, real enough I decided. I aimed for the colorless speck. Lorenz repeated the range and conditions.

“Shoot straighter than my enemy. I need to hit first. Hitting is all the matters” chorused through my head. Just a little closer…
Mr. Finn shouted, “100yards,thelightf’kingshrinkingthesea!" The Submerged Ship Jewel ready in his hand. His orders were to wait to activate it until after I fired.
“50-yards!” he called.
God damn it! If it can hit us; I can hit it! Just a little more…
“20-yarrdss”
Fuck, I need more time! Fucking show me! My heart raced like a loose stagecoach down a mountain pass.
“Caapptain? 5ive yardds!”
The discolored pinhead came into clear focus. A tiny colorless lantern ignited the beacon!
“Captain!!!”
“BANG” the hollow shot echoed over the hush. It would take a moment to hit.
“Contacct!!!”, Mr Finn yelled.

I peeked an eye out to see Goethe’s illusion get shriveled up and dissolved. Wow, his countermeasure payed off aces! If that crazy light had hit the ship actual it would’ve been tiny curtains for us. But the illusion decoy was toast now so not all rainbows for us. The beacon switched directions. It was coming right for us! The ship started to dive but it would take some time. Given the strength of the beacon it might not even matter. I checked my sight, a shower of sparkles rained down from the shot’s impact like glass prisms in the sunlight. The beacon was still blaring. Shit! There musta been a protective glass dome surrounding the beacon room.

Now that my eyes adjusted to the target, I saw the pale boss Protean’s eye reflect off a mirror within the beacon apparatus. Those mirrors were a larger target! I took aim and squeezed off another round with Lorenz’s aid. BANG!!! The shot flew straight and hit true! The beacon fluctuated for a split second but soon regained its laser focused. The shrinking beam ran across the prow of the ship, right into Goethe’s waiting arms. I’m told that Master Goethe erected a magic shield to tank the magic beam. Bullshit! More likely he was so freaking pissed from absorbing a horde of devils that he tried negotiating with the Lighthouse light! It was a failed negotiation because he got blow back to the rear of the ship like he was shot out of a fiends-mount cannon. The ship’s prow began to distort wildly!

“Umm…Captain?”, reminded Lorenz, with a hand on my back. His support snapped me back to reality. My plan wasn’t impossible. The beacon could be extinguished, that last shot almost did the trick.
“Right! Let’s give the Colorless twat some of his own medicine!” I roared. I hunkered down and channeled all the Godly powers given to be from Apus and Dahak into my hands and eyes. The world faded away. I saw my target like a bullseye. There was no more time to doubt. My thoughts returned to, “Hitting is all the matters.” I fired my last shot with my last bit of grit. BANG!!!

The loud echo hung in the air for a long time. Much hope propelled that long shot. Once the sound dissipated, a cascade of cracking and shattering glass took its place. Next, a blood-curdling scream from the blind eternities roared, “AHHHHHHHHH!” The beacon went dark. I stood up and lit a cigar. Mr. Finn and Lorenz cheered. Goethe dusted himself off. “Okay, Lads. Let’s keep fucking the bastard’s day”, I sneered.

I wondered what that Coloress Fucklord thought? I’d bet a three inch platinum stack it was the first time his prey ever fired back at his ivory tower! It was the perfect distraction for Myrrh to escape, or better yet, add another steaming pile of shit on to the Protean King’s toilet bowl day. Myrrh was certainly capable of stirring up some shit. It would be extra hilarious if Myrrh got his dirty paws on another one of the Protean’s three crowns! The fact was that the loser Lord needed to suffer for hurting my crew. He would rue the day he faced Captain Holemaker and company! Just then an even louder scream howled from the Lighthouse, “Uragggagagagahhh!!”, thick with frustration. Our ship slipped under the waves, as I puffed away, satisfied to my core.

At the base of the island, 50ft under the water, hidden by jagged rocks Mr. Finn found a secluded sea cave. We anchored the ship and swam to the entrance. The dank tunnel led into a cavern with a shimmering pool of clear water and a pillar engraved with the slogan, “One Wish for One Life”. Off in the distance we heard something complaining about his poor luck. “He’ll have my neck if I don’t find it. Blast it! Where did that vermin run off too?” The voice trailed off.

“Sounds like he talking about Myrrh! Let’s go make friends” I ordered. Meanwhile, Goethe checked out the wishing pool, he signaled it was the real thing and not to bathe in its water. It would be fatal. Why would such a thing exist?
“Halt! Who goes there?” hissed a mixed up looking monster, it had snake legs, munthrek chest and arms, and a bird head. Its body shifted and contorted while also shimmering and shining like a chameleon trying to be noticed. Begads, it was all wrong! It reminded me of one those optical illusion paintings you see decorating a freak show.

Lorenz approached with open arms, “We are but weary traveling looking for a safe place for the night”, he crooned.
“Icouldn’thelphearin” garbled Mr. Finn. “Achaosmanlikeyou,gotsaboss?”
“ARRAAAGGGG, not this again?”, whined the beast. A new set of arms sprouted from its broad shoulders and held its head in pain. It sobbed like a little school girl with friend drama. I thought, “This is going to be easy!”

Suddenly it snapped out of its misery, something had caught its attention. It pointed viciously at Goethe, and thundered, “Master, despises your kind. Be Gone Devil!” An anti-devil wave of energy swept over the cavern. Goethe destabilized and was gone. He had a cross look on his face went he was discarded. My mouth gaped wide open at the radical turn of events. “Master will be pleased”, it said from its hindquarters. I readied for revenge!

“Sir, that was uncalled for! And here we came, all this way, only looking for a little hospitality” admonished Lorenz. He had his hands out giving the universal sign for simmer down now.
“I sent it back to once it came. Master would’ve teared him limb from limb. It was hospitality. Why are you here?”, hissed the amorphous monster again. It stepped up to Lorenz revived with new vigor.

“Okay the God’s honest truth is this! The devil you just cast out, came here to use your wishing pool. He has a terminal heart condition. His dying wish was to help out his poor ailing father and dull minded sister. We’re but his simple escort” charmed Lorenz. The protean’s faced melted, I couldn’t tell if it was Lorenz’s sob story or its face just melts.

“Well, I didn’t know that. You should leave”, it said meekly.
“Sheeesh! We came all this way to leave empty handed. Doesn’t feel right. That devil was going to be our big payday. We need to get payed. You owe us!”, demanded Lorenz.
“I don’t have time for this. I’ll take you to Master, but first I need to catch the red rat hiding in the walls” said the flabbergasted protean.

“We’re willing to work for our pay. Mr. Finn over there, can track a mosquito in a hundred mile bayou”, Lorenz offered. Mr. Finn put his nose to the ground; he tasted dirt, and picked up a tiny strand of crimson hair with a pair of tweezers.
“Gotcha!” garbled Mr. Finn. Noname NotNamed Nameless, our protean host, was happier than Goethe with a two for one coupon at a Katapeshi brothel. Maybe that’s where he went?
“Find him! I shall reward you” commanded Noname.

Mr. Finn led the group upstairs. Loud crashing and banging like someone ransacking a drum and cymbal shop echoed down the staircase. Curse words in an unknown tongue came afterwards. We neared the top. My heart thundered. Were we really just going meet the Colorless Lord so casually? We needed a better plan!

“Where is it?!”, rumbled from above, sinister as sin.
“Master is having a very bad day! His precious beacon mysteriously went dark” illuminated Noname.
“Why then do you call such a bumbling fool your Master? Noname?” asked Lorenz. I sensed a faint queasiness in his voice. It was understandable, since we were walking into the lion’s den down two men.
“I don’t have a choice. His First crown compels me” lamented Noname.
“Tell me more about this controlling crown…” pressed Lorenz. Whatever anxiety Lorenz had was gone now. It seemed maybe we had a plan after all. Hey, if my longshot planned worked like a dreamboat, why not Lorenz’s? This time I’d spot him for good measure.

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The Soul Patch!!! Murk Returns!!!
Captain's log found on the sponson

I startled awake in the dead of the night to terrifying noises. I scrambled to my feet, grabbed my musket, and bolted to the top deck in an almighty rush. I prepared my nerves for the worst case scenario like monsters from the deep Maelstrom or Redbeard’s hairy fleet, what I found was more disturbing than I ever imagined. At amidships, Master Goethe stood half-naked, poised at the ready, his arms above his head in port de bras, and a wide smile on his face. He didn’t notice my skulking. Suddenly, he started singing a jaunty draconic tune and, I dare say, frolicking about. His eyes shone like that of a young child receiving a name day gift. This giddy, bubbly, and flexible dancing Goethe was a tremendous cause for concern. Why couldn’t it been a monster? I wasn’t alone. Lorenz and Mr. Finn were there with me fascinated to the root. We gave each other a knowing look that implied we were all thinking the same thought “He better not be possessed. Again?!”

Lorenz made the first move.
“You feeling alright there buddy?” , calmly questioned Lorenz.
“It just feels so good! When your lungs fill with the cool night air!”, Goethe curiously babbled, while quickly trying to compose himself. Unsuccessfully I might add.
“Yes, we all like breathing”, Lorenz agreed, “Why don’t you come over and sit down with us?”
“My, my, my, why isn’t that you Lord Vestin IV? It been ages…”, Goethe abruptly stopped himself. He skipped over while doing some twirls. Mr. Finn and I instinctively got into flanking position. He shook Lorenz’s hand and yanked him in close for a partial hug.
“mortal sensations are sensational”, I heard Goethe mutter under his breath.
“What going on?”, questioned Lorenz.
“Yeah,goethy-boy,yourmindgetscrambledlikeafishegg”, followed Mr. Finn.
“Normally I only see you smile that wide when you’re leering at a floozy”, I added. Goethe’s face lost even more color; he knew we suspected something.
“Ahh? How should I put this? Goethe had to go away for a bit”, spoke not-Goethe. A ton of shit, he’s freaking possessed! Fricking, possessed by what I had no clue. I bet it wasn’t a generous rich ghost-king come to tell us where his long lost treasure was buried. Luckily, Lorenz was still on point.

“Murk! What did you do with Goethe?”, roared Lorenz, his hand slipped down to his gun grip. Mr. Finn and I did the same.
“You see, I was forced to switch. Goethe’s in a rather delicate negotiation that only he has a vague chance of success. I do have my doubts”, replied not-Goethe, his voice syrupy and sweet. Switched? What the heck did that mean? I did recall that Goethe absorbed Murk in Westcrown during that whole ugly business with his father.
“Please, explain”
“Captain Redbeard may end up with the last laugh. This ship is prison to, oh, 6 or 7 hundred of Hell’s most vile rejects. There only escape is through possessing everyone on board. We’re in a quite unenviable position”. There was silence for a few seconds while the gravity of the situation pressed down on us. Fucking Redbeard!

“I knew it! We’re all gonna die!”, piped in Brittlehope, breaking the quiet.
“BALBAAL!”, shouted Balbaal at Brittlehope.
“But, I believe Goethe may have the key to unlock their cells. Despair has ruined them. They’re quite uncooperative and impatient. Even I, was only able to get them to agree to giving Goethe a single chance. You see, Goethe has to freely decide, I was powerless to tell him my plan by contract”, elaborated Murk-Goethe. He took great joy in explaining the details.
“A choice?”
“I suspect his devil talisman is the key. If he chooses to use its incredible power it might be able to sunder the cage. It depends on which artifact is stronger, the Soul Patch or the Talisman. But the cost is unimaginably cruel, and eternal. I wonder what Goethe will choose?”, mused Murk.

I pictured in my mind, Goethe standing face-to-face before an amphitheater of Pit fiends, Bone devils, and other miserable fiends. It was terribly hot and cramped. He was shouting like a madman trying to make a deal. The devils weren’t buying it. They remained fixated on the talisman hung around his neck. A portal materialized behind Goethe. The largest and most scary devils took flight and escaped through the gateway. A desperate Goethe tore GIGACETAN from his neck, screamed one last epithat, and then cackled like never before. He dropped the talisman into his open mouth and swallowed it whole! The chorus of devils bowed their heads and genuflected in unison. Something crazy was about to happen! I lost the picture. It seemed Lorenz and Mr. Finn may have had the same vision. Our connection with each other runs to the bedrock. We share the same fate.

Suddenly, Murk doubled over in hot pain, clutching his chest. Steam then flame then ash poured out from a wound over his heart. Lorenz rushed to perform magical first aid as best he could. Dark thoughts invaded my mind. My arms turned to claws, my wings into thorns, and my musket into a whip. A dark passenger took control of my body. I was powerless to resist. The devil jail break was on! Then another and another devil came on board. I sensed the devils testing my body. They seemed disappointed but excited to be out in the world. Right before they were about to take flight, they were pulled from me. They clung to me to their last fingertip, but got swallowed up by powerful wind tunnel emanating from Goethe’s empty heart. I came to the front. Inside, Goethe’s chest I saw the talisman was the source of the vacuum. The damn thing was consuming devils left and right! The trinket scurried into place. Tendrils sprouted from its surface and seeped into the gnashed veins and arteries; cauterizing them shut. The talisman pulsated once like it was switched on. Then again and again. Soon it was beating. GIGACETAN’s nightmare face turned more grotesque and gleeful like a murderous clown. Once satiated, the fiendish red face became Goethe’s entire left side.

Was it done? We caught our breath. Goethe was breathing, but unconscious. It was like the time in Westcrown, except a hundred times worse. I realized then that devil contracts are the worst kind of contracts. They literally become your beating heart.

“That was too close for comfort! We should be safe, now”, said a relieved voice from behind us. Leaning against the rail was a silvery draconic devil with scrolls draped all over his horns. His enchanting voice was oddly familiar.
“Murk? How did you escape?”, said a shocked Lorenz. The gray contract devil coyly smiled.
“Pardon me, I only have a short to finish this”, politely responded Murk. He pulled a large gray scroll from his crown and began writing. He could not be bothered. I had no idea what the fuck was going on.

The sun or whatever rises in the Maelstrom was about to rise.
“Aye Captain, youbettertakealooksee", said Mr. Finn. He pointed to the horizon. I strained my eyes then saw the faintest flicker. The Colorless Lord’s Lighthouse!
“Alil’birdytoldme…itbedangerousbecaughtinitsbrights”, finished Mr. Finn.
“Hahahaha! Perfect! Why not? Myrrh, better have prepared the welcome wagon for us”, I laughed.

“All Ahead FULL!”

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Pirate’s Dice!!! Dreams of a Sailor’s Doom!!!
Captain's log found on a stemson

Gambling is by far one of the best things the civilized world has invented. It outranks money, magic, and firearms. It’s close second to sailing the free seas as a captain of a feared and respected crew of miscreants. The great thing about gambling is that it solves so many problems in short order that it should be illegal. Well it’s mostly illegal, except if you’re Pirate, then it’s your way of life. Gambling is all you need when a parley goes to shit, as they do, when bickering captains bicker like bitches over bric-a-brac. Just whip out your ivory dice, down your rum cup, and, most importantly, hoist your nuts on the table for all to see. Any captain with a sturdy pair of sea legs with a baby’s arm dangling in between will do the same. It’s alway best to think of gambling as a panacea, the cure all, for whatever ails you. Stalled Parley? Roll the dice. Too poor? Double down. Need a new ship? Win one. Need to survive? Bet your life.

I could’ve full on french kissed Captain Cohol on her wispy dead lingering lips when she suggested Pirate’s dice! I wanted to do the same, but doubted I’d get any takers, given I garnered as much respect as a retarded seagull with scurvy. First, the terms had to be negotiated. This took a long time. In the end, I may be wrong, but I’m certain Redbeard got to beard rape us hard if we lost, Balta got to charge us an exorbitant fee for raping us, and Cohol, the gentlest rapist, would only fuck over a single member of each crew. Hahaha! Our poor assholes would be stretched wide enough for an ogre’s fist if I lost! But if I won, Redbeard’s Soul Patch was mine and Lorenz released , Balta would be my personal dragon delivery bitch, and Cohol would deliver my crew to Axis among other favors. Such is the genius of gambling! If you win, not only do you avoid getting fucked, you get to do the fucking! After the terms were locked and loaded, we began shaking our cups for the ceremonial opening round. The onlookers began to cheer wildly in anticipation.

My heartbeat was as hollow as a beehive, until it wasn’t, the slow slow thumps sped up faster and faster into a frenetic swarm of stings. Each sting infected my thoughts. Who was the best liar? Who was Lady Luck going to favor? Would terms be upheld? Any cheaters? Should I cheat? Whirring tingles chain reacted up and down my spine and my mind buzzed with dauntless anticipation. The pure carnal rush, the uncertainty, and the obscene stakes were the drug cocktail that kept me coming back for more of gambling’s drops of honey. I crazily smiled at the others, then slammed down my tin cup full of dice, bottoms up. It was time to see who’d end up on top!

I sharpened my senses perfectly, not to brittle, but hard like wrought iron. I needed to find their tender spots before the game got away from me. Before we even sat down, I already started studying them like navigation charts through a ship breaker bay. Redbeard took up a mountain of space, he shifted in his chair every few seconds, and his untamed beard was in constant motion. He was a red devil of supreme action, probably accustomed to taking what he wanted instead of relying on more cunning methods of doing business. I suspected he may be out of practice. Captain Balta was a well-seasoned Pirate and probably done this more times than numbers. But I had a faint inkling. He was too proud of being Besmara’s flunky, I bet the bastard couldn’t wait to call out bullshit to prove his worth. His undercurrents yearned for it, right down to his briny bones. Captain Cohol was a complete mystery. Reading a ghost’s body language is as fruitless as coconut trees at the poles. Hopefully she’d be uninterested and drop out quickly.

Myself, I prefer to throw out more signals than a Katapeshi hooker. I burn through my adrenaline to fuel a barrage of non-stop twitching, unending ticks, unpredictable facial expressions, and ceaseless table talk. This manic approach came naturally to me. I mighta spent some time locked up in a sanatorium in a past life! Doing the opposite, the robotic and taciturn approach is more boring than watching tar dry. Don’t those tedious idiots know gambling is forever and always meant to be as exciting as possible! Let Redbeard and the rest sift through my deep bag of shit to find my tells. I say give your opponents everything and see if they can truly understand you. Most can’t. Hell most people don’t even understand themselves.

All the cups were down, next came the bidding. The galley around us was packed to the rails with bearded devils, Besmara pirates, and my crew. Redbread was to my left, Balta to my right, and Cohol across. We all stared at each others upturned cups. There were twenty dice under cups to bet on and I only knew my five. Cohol was first to bet.

“I say two 2s”, whispered the she-ghost. A conservative bet. Balta was next.
“Three Sixes”, hollered the zombie man. Next was me.
“Six Sixes!”, I wagered. Certainly a bold move, but calculated. I had three sixes and I was sure Balta had at least one or two sixes. Redbeard was last in the turn order.
“You lie little kobold”, accused the giant red devil. We all lifted our cups. Me 1-2-6-6-6, Balta 2-3-4-6-6, Cohol 2-2-6-6-6, and Redbeard 1-2-3-4-5. Winner Winner! I ate Redbeard’s dinner! Redbeard scowled and threw a die a mile into the Maelstrom. By the look, it was first time he’d lost something in ages. Expectedly, Balta started out testing the water like a seasoned veteran. That’s why I went the opposite direction and came out firing. On the other hand, I had poppycock on Cohol.

The rounds flew by like the wind breeze during hurricane season. Redbeard kept taking in on the chin, it was delightfully hilarious. Soon he was down to his last die. Lady Luck sure had bent him over good. Honestly, I had fun rubbing it in each time he lost a precious die.
“Maybe you should leave this to the professionals.”
“Go Fish might be more your speed.”
Begards, he got madder than a pooped out monkey without any feces to throw. He was so on tilt I almost pitied the poor devil, almost. He lost on the next roll to my bluff like I planned. Redbeard promptly punched a hole into the deck of his ship in a fit of rage. I held back my biting tongue and didn’t make eye contact with him for fear of him squashing me like a cockroach. But inside my ecstatic mind meat, I was screaming, “One down, two to go!”

After Redbeard’s fall, Balta was left with three dice, I had four dice, and Cohol the full set of five. Unfortunately Captain Cohol was paying close fucking attention to the game. She was out for blood and guts and perfection. Thankfully I wasn’t sitting next to the cutthroat bitch. Defeating her was going to be harder than getting Goethe to admit to being wrong. Luckily during the early game, I sensed that Cohol had it in for Balta. Balta’s continual over-eager challenges to her plays was hard to miss. He had lost both of his dice trying to one up her. I thought entered my mind. I wondered if Cohol was game? I cocked my head towards Balta ever so gingerly while maintaining eye contact with her. Cohol nodded in agreement.

Our temporary alliance crushed Balta’s raggedy bones to seaweed. Cohol expertly goaded Balta into making some bad bets which I collected on like the crown. Balta did not disappoint us, he obstinately never backed down and raised and raised the already outrageous bets. To his credit, he didn’t lose graceful, he lost in a rant of swearing and empty threat that would make the grim reaper blush. He lost like a first rate pirate!

At last, I was head-to-head with the legendary last hope of shipwrecked sailors. Cohol had the upperhand with four dice to my three. I still didn’t have a great read on her but learned a few things when we teamed up to knock out Balta. Against Balta she was overly aggressive compared to the early game where she was more textbook and played within the margins. If she reverted back to a more calculated style I could use that to my advantage because she would be less likely to bluff. I was determined to find out where she was positioned during the next roll. I didn’t have time or resources to wait her out. The next roll I was going on the offensive!

“Looks like two legendary sailors are left. Clearly, not all legendary sailors are created equally”, I squawked, while I slammed down my cup. “Be carefully not to lose, I hear it’s embarrassing to lose to a Kobold”
“As if I would”, Cohol confidently responded, with a slim smile. She checked her cup a second time, the first time the whole game.
Cohol bid two sixes. I had 1-2-3, no sixes. What in the hell do I bid? Was Cohol bluffing? My gut told me I may have rattled her with my last comment. I knew even ancient ghosts think they are the better of Kobolds. My own pride kicked into overdrive.
“Three Sixes”, I forcefully bluffed. She paused and looked at her cup again.
“Four Sixes”, she said.
“WEAK! Too weak!”, flared in my head. “Bull shit!”, I yelled like a frothing madman. I lifted my cup displaying 1-2-4. Her cup 6-6-6-1.

I ain’t afraid of no ghosts! I gained the upperhand with that one roll and never let go my stranglehold. I saw through her plays just as easily as I saw through her titties. The gathered crowd was silent and dumbstruck as I confidently dismantled her with each roll. I took a two to one dice lead into the last roll. Cohol led with a terrible bid that was almost certainly wrong.
“This win is mine, Captain Cohol. Don’t worry about your reputation. Once I’m done with history, this moment will be one of your greatest honors. I call bullshit” , I smugly concluded. The dice sided with me! Mr. Finn and Goethe were utterly speechless at my victory. Cohol bowed and floated back to her ship. I turned to a stunned Redbeard and Balta, my eyes demanded, “Pay up!”

tropicalisland.jpgLater, as I drifted off to sleep after the party on the Soul Patch, I knew I was the luckiest kobold in the history of the world. That’s even counting the legendary Kobold miner, Apzen Shit, who a 1000 years ago dug his shit pit into a forgotten gold vault of Tar Taargadth. Old Apzen was the richest Kobold on earth for about seven seconds until the vault’s traps triggered and he got himself exploded. But no one can deny those glorious seven seconds! After running through the rest of top contenders in my head, I firmly took the top spot. I bet my dreams were going to be sensational after the day I had.

I awoke to the brightness of day. I staggered to feet. An inviting tropical island, outlined with pearly white sandy beaches and painted in with groves of feathery palms, was in the distance. Everything around was perfect. The sky was bluer than an azure sapphire in full sunlight, a divine summer breeze blew sweetly, and the sound of the rhythmic waves was mesmerizing. We were in paradise! Goethe, Finn, and a miniature Myrrh happened to be with me. This had to be a dream. Normally, I don’t dream about my crewmates, my dreams lean more carnal in nature, but this time it was welcomed. The only thing off, other than Myrrh’s stature, was the sailing ship carrying us was not the Deep Sea Current. I wished it was. As soon as the thought left my mind, the ship transformed into the shiny Current in a flash!

We are turned to one another in disbelief.
“What the hell just happened?”, I asked, “I wished to be on the Current and it just happened!”
“Letmetry”, garbled Mr. Finn. Suddenly the ship was surrounded by ten thousand topless mermaids. Mr. Finn grinned. The mermaids disappeared. Mr. Finn frowned.
“Interesting”, said Goethe, “I believe we are in a shared lucid dream world. We can effect anything in this world, except one another” I tried to turn Goethe’s head into a potato but it didn’t work. I nodded in agreement.
“How’d we get here?”
“No clue, maybe Dahak’s doing. He’s fond of kidnapping us”, replied Goethe.

”So Myrrh why are you so freaking tiny?”, I asked. Myrrh in high pitched voice told his story of being shrunk by the Colorless Lord’s lighthouse beacon while trying to rescue Vaghol. He had just escaped his ship in a bottle prison when he got really sleepy. We updated him on our situation. The information sharing was quite beneficial.
“We will come for you Myrrh!”, I told him. “All you have to do is deactivate the beacon, save Vaghol, and not get killed. Then we will swoop in and pick you up!”
Tiny Myrrh bowed in thanks.

Before we realized it, the dream ship ran aground on the beach of the mysterious island. I thought we were a wide distance away but in dreamland that didn’t seem to matter. Our host must of grown impatient with our chit chat. From the beach, we all heard a fire crackling and could see its smoke nearby. The sweet smell of caramelized pineapple and fried coconut filled the air. Was dinner being served? It seemed our gracious host was beckoning. Oddly, I didn’t feel the same level of dread as back when I approached Dahak in the Adamantine Morass. Maybe it was the colorful flocks of parrots or the peaceful exotic surrounding, but I had a skip in my step. Fear was the last thing on my mind. We approached.

Roasting coconuts over the fire was a young munthrek girl, wearing a ruffled white blouse, a black vest with gold buttons, and a ratty red bandanna. She was stuffing her her round cheeks with the fruit. She stopped and smiled sweetly.
“Jeez, took you idiots long enough to get here. I’ve been waiting forreeevvvvver”, she teased in a rolling childish voice. She casually offered up some morsels of food. The pineapple was divine.
“Where might this be?”, asked Goethe.
“The Maelstrom of course, silly. Now where is it? You owe me!”, she demanded like a preteen.
“Where’s what?”
“My map scrap of course! You came here to return it, right?”, she gleefully responded.
“Huh?”
“You know my dearest treasure map from the sea cave”, insisted the girl. She seemed taller than a moment ago, a bit thinner in the face.
“You mean Vaghol?”
“It’s my very favorite. See it’s the last missing piece to my special map!”, she squealed, then the little princess pulled out a fancy map that shone brighter than the fire when unfurled. She tapped her finger on blacked out portion. I could tell the map was important. Maybe a secret chart of the planes? I wanted it oh so badly. She quickly rolled up the map in a snooty manner. I realized that her hair had grown out black and straight, her voice was an octave lower, and most striking of all, her child sized clothes now tightly hugged a very mature and stacked coed. Goethe’s eyes bulged out of his face five big inches. He claimed it was due to the fancy map, but I know better. I’d seen this woman’s depiction at every Pirate tavern from the Eye to the Obari. I was right to be excited!

“You see lads! I get what I want, when I want it!”, she enforced with an overwhelming presence. Her transformation was complete down to her vibrantly violent tattoos, jeweled saber, and black tricorn with skull and crossbones on it. The Pirate Goddess Besmara stood before us!

“We lost the poor bastard, Great Banshee. We lost everything”, I mumbled.
“Yes, I know. Now you have to go retrieve my magic scrap from the Colorless Lord”, she replied.
“Holdittheremissy”, piped in Mr. Finn, “Ibewantatoaskyousomin”
“Oh?”
“Ithinkyoubeenpullingtheshadeovermecapseyes”, garbled Finn.
“Oh? Do tell!”, gasped Besmara, feigning concern.
“Baltaspatitout…youandhim…thickliketheives”, pronouced Finn. Besmara considered the word for a long pause. I looked at Mr. Finn in disbelief. Besmara noticed my chagrin.
“Hafhafhafala”, giggled the Goddess, “Balta’s always been my dog! You fools were so easy trick. Pathetic! Unfortunately for you it changes nothing about our arrangement”. Her devilish smile cut to the bone.

Damn it hit me like a ton of bricks to the testicles! After hearing it out loud, it was clear as a starry night just how big of idiot we all were. How did we not suspect something so obvious? Balta’s haunted bicorn was a setup from the get go! I had a feeling Balta’s whole legend was a fabricated lie, he didn’t steal anything from Besmara, and that Vaghol was likely planted for us to rescue. It was all a ruse to indebt ourselves to the pirate Goddess! Then another piece fell into place. Whatever the Grays have cooked up is sending the Gods into a feeding frenzy. The Pirate Queen also wanted a piece of the the Gray Dragons!

In the grand scheme of things I wasn’t actually all that pissed off from being tricked. I’d much rather be tricked into something than forced or even worse yet, ordered. I had to tip my hat to the Goddess. She got us good. The others had different reactions to the revelations. Goethe looked mortified, tiny Myrrh had a tiny frown, and Mr. Finn was brimming with confidence. Now that everything was out in the open I was sure that a proper parley could be had.

“I didn’t expect that you bumbling soil stains would go and lose my precious map the very second you got to the Maelstrom, though. Hmm. That’s a pickle”, Besmara sighed with no more acting or pretense. Mr. Finn had ruined her playtime.
“I got it!”, she smiled, “I’ll give you 7 days to fetch my map. Or else!”.
“Or else?”
“Or else I will keelhaul each and everyone one of you from now until the end of time. You will serve as a reminder to all those who might disappoint me”, Besmara roared. She flickered out.

Now I was annoyed.

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Hello, Redbeard!!! Pirates vs. Devils!!!
Captain’s log found on the hank

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!
piratedice.jpg

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.jpg 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.

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