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Damned to the Depths



A Pirate Roleplay



He was simply glad it hadn't rained tonight.

A cat scurried out of the way, trampling across a forgotten corpse that Markus avoided, not wishing to catch disease in this Gods forsaken alleyway. Flies buzzed and a few bumped into him, continually flying as if he never was. Markus swatted at them and kept moving. He usually enjoyed watching the sunset at the docks, taking a small measure of comfort that despite his poverty, he at least had a good view of something most people on the continent couldn't appreciate with the lush forests and mountains in their way. But tonight, he was nowhere near the docks. The smoke billowing out of Calaverd had already blotted out much of the setting sun, and his growling stomach compelled him to go see if there was any possibility of snatching food or coin from some of the more esteemed members of society this night.

The streets were dimly lit by the occasional torch or lantern, but they were empty save for stray animals and wandering fools. He didn't know which category he would put himself in. The steep and beautifully carved cobblestone streets had once been something to marvel at, as would be the warm colored architecture of the buildings, if not for the recent months of duress in the city, the streets and buildings now caked in burns and grime. He had only been here for part of it, but the Lady Calliope had certainly made a mess of things from what he had heard dockside. It wasn't his business, his only real concern looking for work. He had managed to scrounge some coins dueling in the streets, but quickly his funds had left him.

Now he followed the scent of sweat and smoke, making his way down the lesser known paths only criminals used. He should have guessed that he would not be the only one traversing the back alleys, turning a corner to come face to face with two burly men who were standing over a bloodied corpse. He did not need to guess what had happened. One of the men held a dripping knife, and both had the look of killers. They both turned as soon as they saw Markus shadow.

"Oi, what do we got ourselves here?" One of them said, grinning. He had merely half of his teeth left, judging by the look of it. The other turned as well, speaking up. "You look like a lad of means. Want to share some o' that love, eh?"

"I'm going to the Palace, same as you." Markus replied, hand on his sword hilt.

"Fancy blade ye got there. Mind if we takes a looks at it?" The first one offered, stepping forward. Markus should have guessed. Even with the idle threat of his blade being drawn, these men were far too cruel as desperate to care. One drew a shoddy looking arming sword, and the other with the knife reached into his back pocket and produced an long knife. Markus stepped back and drew his blade, warily backing up until he had the room to maneuver. Meanwhile the thugs got on either side of them. They didn't even need to signal one another. Markus guessed they had been killing together for a long time. They only needed their eyes to mark their attack.

The first thug attacked Markus with a thrust of his arming sword. The privateer parried the blow, and sidestepped the attack he knew to be coming from his flank, turning, sword leading. The man with the daggers, so confident in victory, was suddenly slashed across the face, cold steel biting into his eyes and the bridge of his nose as his visage was split in half. He stumbled into his partner, suddenly dropping the daggers.

"My eyes! My eyes!" he screamed in horror. His hamstrings were cut next, and he fell to the ground. The one that had been tackled by his comrade had stumbled and nearly tripped. Markus didn't give him time to react, stepping on the fallen man for support and taking the remaining man in the stomach, spilling entrails. It occurred to Markus that guts on the street did not even lower the usual quality of the back alleys.

"Please!" the eyeless man begged, unable to see what was happening but hearing the death groans of his friend. "Please. W-we was just funnin'!"

Markus shoved his backsword into the man's neck, silencing his pleas in a gurgle of blood and pulling the blade out slowly so as not to scratch the edge on any jutting bone. In the distance he heard shouts, though it was from the mob no doubt. He didn't feel as if he would be accused of a crime unless there was someone with a vendetta against him. Still, he shouldn't linger. With a swift cleaning of his blade one of the men's shirts, he sheathed it and moved on, making it to the edge of the alley and peering out into the street, where a crowd of torch wielders stood. Many also carried cutlasses, axes, and boarding pikes. They raved up at the palace and tore at the meager walls with a Godless fury. He would find no riches that way.

He stopped for a moment, recalling something he'd found in his wanderings. A sewer he had seen and even gone into a fortnight ago, where criminals sometimes congregated. He has forgotten how close they were to the Palace. Perhaps...

He moved swiftly, black hair whipping as he turned and gauged his current location more than once, making his way past the crowd twice and a feral looking hound gnawing on what he believed to be a human bone, before finding the sewers. It was a low inlet that fed into a hole just big enough to duck into. Grabbing the ledge that dropped down, he hopped into the ankle deep water, and then gazed into the hole.

"What?" he mouthed, as he suddenly saw...light within. He had never been here at the dead of night, he realized. He would not have seen it any other time of day. Gingerly, he began to move, climbing down the hole, the sewage along the metal sticking to his hands, but he had gotten used to such grime years ago. He plopped into the water, still quite shallow, and moved slowly, his dark features and ruddy clothing keeping him concealed in the darkness.

He began to hear noises. A woman speaking and men laughing, until screams and yells were heard, along with the hooting of multiple voices that he saw to be criminals when he turned the corner, and a...woman being strangled. It had to be a woman, as he could see her figure even under the thick clothing. There were torn bodies beside her, and strong hands gripping her neck as she feebly grasped, trying to ply the fingers off.

Something in him began to tear at his mind. Some long ago remnant of his life on the mainland. An old call to chivalry perhaps? Maybe he wished to wash some of the blood off of his ledger. Or maybe he simply wanted to maim the criminal behind the bars. But he uttered a single word, and in a flick of an instant, he was out of the water and on solid ground, a mere few paces away from the woman who seemed to be weakening in her struggles.

The criminal inside the cell didn't see Markus until his backsword was already cleaving through his forearms, hacking them to the bone and soaking the stone floor in his blood. He screamed bloodily, his cries echoing off the dungeon walls, cries that turned to wrathful whimpers. Markus kept the woman from hitting the floor with her nose, her hat falling off to reveal a beautiful face and long dark hair. She gasped for air audibly.

"Are you ok?" He asked, her, patting her back. He kept a hand on his rondel dagger, as he had seen many woman play the damsel in distress before attacking unexpectedly. "Why are you here?"

"You!" a strong voice intoned. It sounded to Markus like a portcullis shutting...

The Blademage turned and saw a warrior clad in mail, hair golden with silver streaks, and a throng of peasants with murderous eyes spilling down the stairway. The warrior pointed his sword at Markus and the woman. "We have found Calliope! Kill her and filthy protector!"

Time seemed to slow, and Markus looked down to the woman, and his throat tightened. He did recognize her. He had seen her from afar weeks ago, as she lounged on her balcony and taunted protesters in the streets. He would have perhaps killed her in other circumstances, or at least kidnapped the noble despot and sold her to the highest bidder if he found her alone. But instead he had saved her.

"Blood and guts." he cursed. He cursed himself and this entire city, and realized he had little choice in what to do. He grabbed her hand and pulled her up, yanking her away from the mob that were now hot on their heels. "Come with me if you want to keep breathing!" he shouted at her.
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Calliope gasped lungfuls of air, her throat burned like the very devils. She had just enough time take in the fact she was still alive before the mob, baying for her blood, came charging down the stairs, torches and bloody knives waving. At their head dressed in an elegant and expensive suit of armor was Caliban, one of Sebastian’s chief lieutenants.

Her captor, a dirty looking man with dark hair in a ponytail, rightly judged that the mob would tear him apart and grabbed her and pulled her away from the cell. He seemed to be leading her towards a cracked culvert where the waste from the prisons open latrines flowed. Calliope was in no position to argue even though the wretched smell made her half gag. As she turned she looked back over her shoulder and shouted another word of power. It came out as more of a hoarse croak but the actual sound of the utterance mattered less than the mental focus. A shimmering plate of force appeared across the bottom of the stairwell. It was a simply shield spell not good for stopping more than a thrown rock or knife, it shattered almost immediately as the armored Caliban charged into it, but it did check his progress for a half second. Dozens of bodies crashed into him and the front rank of the mob collapsed in a heap. Those behind continued to charge forward, unaware of what was going on at the foot of the step and unable to arrest their progress. The whole mob became a mass of tangled bodies and shouted curses but even had she more powerful magic to hand their was no way they could have dealt with the whole lot of them.

Without a backward glance they fled into the hot foetid darkness of the sewer. Her rescuer, whoever he was seemed to know the way. Was he perhaps a smuggler who had been bringing people in and out of the palace. Whoever the fellow was he clearly realised that now was no time to argue with an angry bloodthirsty mob. That spoke well of him at the very least. Their feet splashed up a spray of stinking waste as they fled down the low tunnel. It twisted and turned but her guide seemed to know the way. Within a minute they burst into small chamber where several smaller tributaries of shit river ran together. THere was also a small exit to the street. The stranger didn’t hesitate taking the exit at a dead run, behind them the sound of the screaming mob was amplifying. She climbed out after him into an alley.

“This way!” she snapped. In her mind she rationalized that it would be safer to stick together, safer for her which was the important thing, but in her heart it was because she didn’t want to be a lone fugitive in a city hunting for her. Moving at a brisk jog they wove their way down the street, passing looted shops and the occasional body. Here and there the riotous mob were drunkenly shouting triumph and looting more prosperous shops. At last they came to a rope makers shop, too poor in attractive women or alcohol to make an attractive target. Furthermore Calliopie knew it to be deserted because the fellow had been thrown in prison for failing to pay his taxes a few days ago. It smelled powerfully f hemp and flax but it was a good place to lay low.

“We should be safe enough here, whoever you are,” she said, her hand rested on her sword. WHoever this was she doubted he had saved her out of some sort of innate goodness of heart.

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Calliope opened the door with a simple word of command and led Markus inside. He took one last glance behind them, seeing nothing more than shapes and shadows, and it was likely the mob that had gathered outside rather than the one chasing them. He ran in and closed the door, locking it and closing every blind that wasn't already down. "We should be safe enough here, whoever you are." the woman said, a bit more at ease within the shop. She likely knew something he didn't. Considering she was the ruler of the city they were currently in, he wouldn't doubt.

Still. All of the wars on the continent and the raids at sea, and he was about to be skewered by a mob of hungry common folk." Sink me," he cursed under his breath. What did Sketti the Dwarf say when they were in a difficult spots? 'Harp up in a clinch and no knife to cut the seizings?' He wished the maniac Dwarf was here now, he could use his help. The man calmed himself, picturing himself breathing in the very mystical essence in the air, and breathing out his worries. It was an old elven technique his master had taught him to concentrate.

"I'm a privateer." He told her, giving the smallest peek out of the window. "Or was. Markus." he said. "Flintbrook."

He didn't presume to tell her he knew who she was. He wanted to see if she would lie. The Blademage pulled back as shadows ran by, and stepped deeper into the room. Once she introduced herself, he would give her a cursory glance. Even in her traveling outfit meant to conceal features, she was undeniably gorgeous. It was just his luck. The first beautiful woman's company in months and she was the one that now threatened his life with her presence. Then again, it was his fault. If he could he'd hang his damned honor.

Subtley, he entered his magesight. If one looked closely, they would see the barest glow of his pupils before they turned dark once more. Even without studying the woman thoroughly, he could tell she was a competent mage. He'd met ones who were stronger, but she was far more powerful than he was, not that that was saying much. He'd met few in the realms that were a better blade than he. His magic only enhanced his martial skills.

His glance and magical examination lasted the span of a second. "I take it you don't mind leaving Calaverd." He told her, striding past her to collect whatever supplies they might need. Plenty of rope, apparently. A few bits of dried meat in the cupboard. Three bottles of rum. "You can go your own merry way, or you could help me in procuring a ship I know of. A full rigged Sloop of War."

It had been roped to the docks for a week. A captured Praelian Sloop, unnamed since its obtainment. The privateer had been wanting to steal it since he laid eyes on it, but he hadn't the incentive yet. He had even snuck aboard one night to become acclimated to its halls and build. "I would take it by myself, but it needs two bodies on deck..."
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“The Weather Witch,” Calli prompted as she unstoppered one of the rum bottles with her teeth and took a fortifying slug. It was rotgut compared to what she had been enjoying in the palace only a few hours before. Still it was better than nothing.

“She’s down by The Old Grave.” The Weather Witch was a twelve gun sloop of war, or at least theoretically. It had been captured trying to slip past customs with a load of cacao. The captain had officially being arrested for not paying his taxes, though the truth was that the man had foolishly tried to short a port official on his bribe. It was extremely dangerous to deny an official his hard earned kick back, especially when he had already paid her for the honor of an appointment to the customs dock. It was amazing what some people would to to try to save a few florins. Though the Witch could carry twelve guns, the captain had long ago sold most of the artillery, a fact Calliope hadn’t felt necessary to list on the bill of auction she had signed. As of two days ago the Witch had only four guns and almost no shot and powder. Still a ship was a ship.

“Well anyone wearing a uniform will be laying low for a while,” Calliope reasoned, glancing unconsciously towards the palace at the top. Revolutions were easy to point in a direction but once they went off they were a little unreliable. The mob might have started out filled with righteous anger, but that would be dissipating in an orgy of drunken looting that might last days. Sebastian might be able to get a few of the more hardcore revolutionaries to listen, but she doubted he could control the port for days yet.

“Working the Witch with just two people will be a bitch and no mistake,” she went on. Calliopie had been on ships of course, before she had become Tyrant but she didn’t pretend to be a real sailor. She noticed that Markus had fallen silent as though expecting something and she realized she hadn’t told him her name. It might perhaps have been wiser to make up some sob story about being a low level courtier, or some such nonsense but this was still her city. Instead she tossed her hair definitely.

“My name is Calliopie,” she said airily.

“You may have heard of me,” she added with dry understatement.
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There was the barest hint of a smile on Markus' face at her admittance of who she was. He sensed an arrogance about her, but at least the woman had a sense of down to earth wit. "Yes," he said. "But I didn't know who you were when I saved you." The vagabond shrugged. "Not that it matter's much now." Perhaps it would matter to the authorities or anyone wanting to score big on a bounty later, but at the present, momentary survival was all he cared for.

"I'm just glad you're not fancying delusions of retaking the city." He said, his sarcasm matching hers as he shook his head. He had a vast problem with aristocrats, particularly ones who believed they owned everything without any sort of effort. Calliope might be a stone cold bitch (from what he had heard), but at least she seemed learned and competent in various ways, magic being the most prominent so far. "We might want to take fake names, or at least change the name of the ship at some point. But for now, the Weathered Witch is fitting."

He took a large swig of whiskey as well, drawing his sword as he gazed out the back window. Through the blinds he could see the ocean, though they had some city to wade through still. The moon on the water looked the same as it did when he used to gaze across the lake at Highmeadow. He couldn't afford to get comfortable on this night, even with what he might consider to be a fine omen.

"Are you ready?" the swordsman asked.

Calliope laughed, giving a wicked grin. "Boy, this is my city. Though I need to leave it now, we won't be stopped leaving, even if we need to gut a few pigs."

Markus couldn't argue with that. "Very well, child." He replied, and the man didn't bother to look back after the statement as he opened the door into the alleyway. With rope around his shoulders and whiskey bottles and various other supplies in his pack, and a sword in his hand, all he would need would be a hand crossbow or one of those matchlock pistols Dwarves were so fond of and he would be completely set to handle any true situation.

"You can't have everything," he whispered to himself, while an entire city was out for their blood.

The two ducked and dodged down alleys and sidestreets, avoiding all people like the plague and making sure not to make any noise past the smallest footstep, leaping over fallen rubble and even shying away from puddles. They were moving down a decline, the city lowering as it neared the docks. The elevation was one of the reasons Calaverd had survived the hurricanes and monsoons of the Sea of Swords, its main streets being high above sea level.

Minutes later, they made it into where the seaside market would usually be held. But it was too late for any merchants except the seediest ones to be skulking around, though shouts were heard from the men every which way. It was hard to tell if they were soldiers or citizens, and even if they were the former, where their loyalties now lay. Crouching down, Markus placed a finger to his lips and led Calli behind the stalls and into a back garden that one of the richer seaside merchants had made between buildings, making their way through a small cobblestone path, turning the corner and ending up behind two guards who stood watch, facing outwards rather than toward them.

Markus glanced Calliope's way, and she gave a nod at the questioning look. The blademage crept forward without a seconds hesitation, and with a swift motion, he beheaded the left guard from behind. The other man didn't even notice his comrade had lost his head until the skull bumped against the ground, and he gave the smallest whisper of alarm before Markus ran him through, swiftly and efficiently piercing the lungs. No alarm had been raised.

Before them floated the Weathered Witch.
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Calliope made no effort to contain her disdain for her companions opinion. Imagine a rum soaked sea bum presuming to know the first thing about retaking a city. There was a reason why some people rotted in the gutter and others rose to the heights of power. Calliope had grown up as the daughter of a Praelin currant merchant but through cunning, ruthlessness and exercise of will, she had made herself all but a queen. Given that Sebastian had missed capturing her it might well be possible to retake the city. The passion of the mob was a fickle thing and she could might be able rally enough guardsmen to restore order with generous bribes and promises of power. If she did that however she would have to crack down on those who had supported Sebastian as well as reward her new constituents. In short order she would find every assassin from here to Tak Duran trying to put a knife between her ribs, if only to save their employer from her justice. No it was better to leave. Sebastian would have little joy of the city, the treasury was empty and the trading season would be coming to an end soon. Within months it would become clear to the populace that he couldn’t deliver on his promises. They would remember the better days they had enjoyed under her gentle rule. It might only be a year or so before a mob arose demanding their exiled leader return. Of course all that was predicated on getting out of here alive in the first place.

The Weather Witch swung at her moorings, snugging up against first the bow cable then the stern. A long jetty of salt scoured timber ran out into the gently lapping waters of the darkened bay. The Old Grave as this part of the harbour was known, had been a graving dock a hundred years ago. As Calaverde had grown as a center of trade the needs of the city had expanded and New Harbor, now almost fifty years old had been built. New Harbor boasted better facilities and docks as well as easier access to the roads which lead to Market Square and the warehouse road which ringed most of the island.

Ships came to the Old Grave for repairs only if they couldn’t aford the more expensive rates over in New Harbour, or if, like the Weather Witch, they were being held for disposal ‘at the tyrants pleasure’. That usually meant an auction that would generate prize money for the captain and ‘tax income’ for her. Calliope smiled, her white teeth flashing in the moonlight. As commandeering the Weather Witch WAS her pleasure she supposed she could consider this a final act of her administration.

The Witch was old and her hull was dark solid teak from Mandari or Calica. She was long and had a stately elegance to her, like a swordsman that had only slightly let himself go to fat. She had only two masts and was sloop rigged to make fighting the seasonal winds easier for a small crew, dark weather stained canvas hung bundled to the yard arms hardly stirring in the listless breeze. Empty gunports let the starlight shine through, like missing teeth in an age blackened skull.

Calliope sauntered down the dock ignoring the bloody corpses of the former guardians. No one gave out any cry of alarm as she vaulted gracefully over the bulwark and landed on the deck. The ship was not untidy, clearly some efforts had been made to pretty her up for sail. The deck had been scrubbed clean and the cables were for the most part coiled neatly. Anything portable and valuable had already vanished into the clutches of those able to carry them away and the cargo had already been offloaded and sold. Four guns, eight or ten pounders were snugged up on the deck, two of them indifferently covered with canvas sheets. One of them even had most of a set of loading tools though any powder remaining would be below decks in the magazine.

“Normally we would have boats tow her into the channel,” Calli told Markus as he joined her on the deck, having apparently cleaned the blood from his blade. Some ships had sweeps for such a task but normally teams of seamen plied the oars of small cutters to maneuver larger ships.

“Did you have a plan for that or were you just hoping for a wind to come up?” she asked tartly.
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Markus watched Calliope step onto the ship as if she had decided to become Queen of the sea rather than Tyrant of the Island. She would have that attitude for awhile, he imagined. Stepping onto the Weather Witch with her, he climbed the main lower topsail to get a better view of the town, though it would help little. The smoke and the elevation would hide much of what he would have liked to see. The moonlight illuminating the sun colored buildings was the best he found.

Markus let go of the rope and dropped down to the deck nimbly. "I didn't know if you had any magic of wind or water," he said, ignoring her tone for the moment. She had probably left her spellbooks back within her citadel. "It certainly would have helped, but I do have a plan for that. If you could, check the mooring line and make sure we're not hindered here in anyway while I go below decks."

He hustled down the stairs, telling himself he would only need to deal with this bitch for at most another few days. She was impressive in her way, but he was in no mood to play lackey. The fact that he had whiskey would help pass the time at least, he realized with a resigned sigh. In a matter of a minute, he stepped back onto the deck with a keg of black powder. There were only a handful of Kegs down there, but they would need to sacrifice one if they wanted to flee.

"Did you untie the mooring yet?" he called as loud as he dared. He made his way along the aft of the ship, dragging one of the many ropes attached to the back mast and placed the powder keg on the stern. The swordsman removed his top, the rags falling off to reveal the hard, cut muscles of his back and he tied the rope to his slim waist, placing the rondel dagger he kept into his teeth. Using another rope, he tied it to the belly of the barrel. Even if Calliope would give a word of protest, he didn't explain and simply leapt into the water with the keg.

Markus kicked hard in the water, moving the keg a relatively safe distance from the ship and keeping the keg upright. Taking the knife, he opened the top of the powder keg and tied the rope attached to the barrel to the bottom of the dock to keep it upright, and then he pulled back on the rope that had him attached to the Weather Witch, smoothing through the relatively calm water. There was a chance of sharks and it was another reason he had brought the knife, but he had to risk it.

He climbed back on deck, wet and breathing mildly. The borderlander reached for the swordbelt he had left behind and unsheathed his backsword, hacking off the rope that still connected the barrel to the ship. "Hold on!" he called, no longer concerned with subtlety. "Rath'funin" he muttered, and a coil of flame erupted from his outstretched, free hand and sailed through the air to impact the powder keg floating lightly.

The dock exploded, and the heat and debris cut into the Swordsman still on the stern, launching him, rolling, onto the aft. But they got their wave and their wind.
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The wave reflected off the stone wall of the harbor shoving the Weather Witch out into the harbor channel. Bits of debris pattered into the water like rain, hissing as they were quenced in the murky water. Calliope had to admit that she was secretly impressed having always had a soft spot for the violent and the dramatic. She jumped up the three steps to the slightly raised poop deck and flung the wheel over. There was only just enough way on to allow the ship to answer the helm but the bow sprit began to ponderously turn towards the Sea Gate.

The Sea Gate had once been the natural cleft where the Caldrea that formed the Great Harbor had shattered, over the centuries however it had been smoothed with construction. Now, two great white towers stood, each bearing a large luminous spell which provided constant light to draw ships into harbor without the expense of fuel. The Gate could not be closed per se, although there were great iron chains that could be run from one tower to the other to prevent entry. Using them however would take hours of work and was not something that could be improved. Both of the Tower fortresses sported powerful guns but those batteries were high in order to give them range to fling heated shot at would be attackers, a small ship with shallow draught could hug the coast line without ever presenting a target.

Unfortunately the Sea Gate wasn’t the only problem across the harbor one of the guard ships was moving towards the explosion. Unlike the Weather Witch the guard ships were equipped with banks of long oars that pushed them across the bay smoothly. The Guardships were squat looking vessels, their masts removed to mount oarsman and to make place for the large carronades which they mounted fore and aft on reinforced platformed which could be swiveled to make aiming them easier. The purpose of the ships was to enforce customs duties, but at close range the guns were a deadly threat. Worse still each ship carried a core of marines, or at least did in theory, it wasn't unusual for a captain to claim he had twenty men when he had five and pocket the extra pay.

Even with her mizens loosed, the Weather Witch was barely underway, her stained sail flapping in the listless wind. At dawn when the sea began to warm a brisk wind flowed down the cooling rock of the city, making it the customary time to set sail, just as nightfall was the best time to approach the port. Unfortunately dawn was still several hours away.

“Marduke or whatever your name is, we are about to have company!” Calliope shouted to the swordsman.

“You need to keep them occupied for a few minutes,” she declared and reached into the small bag of treasures she had been able to rescue before fleeing. Nestled in its bed of jewels and worked gold was a small book. The Trentian Codex was one of the great treasures of Calaverde and one that Sebastian was going to be furious when he realised it was gone. The book was bound in strange leather and the pages were made of an oddly golden parchment, with a consistency more like that of silk than paper. Black writing in the arcane script marked pages that were covered with fantastic illustrations and strange sigils. Even scholars who had examined the book could only make sense of a tiny part of the coded writings. Where it had come from was obscure, though Triantan, the great palace city it had been recovered from was a real enough place. Legend held that it had been scoured from the sea till nothing remained but a reef and a single pillar of stone, atop which rested the bok. Calliope didn’t know how much of that was true but she had studied as much of the book as her court scholars could translate and could at least guess at the shape of some of the more basic spells it contained.

Opening the book to a remembered page, she sat cross legged next to the wheel and began to chant in slow sonorous syllables, weaving intricate gestures with both hands in disturbing asymmetry.

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Markus quickly began to unwind the ropes from each mast, working with a furious energy that only desperation and a heightened sense of survival could bring to a man. But even then, he wouldn't have time to raise any of the sails save the lower topsails and top masts. Once he finished his work, he hastily put on his shirt and ragged coat again. Not out of modesty, nor protection. But more clothing meant the enemy might stab into cloth and think it would be flesh.

"Markus!" he corrected her, grabbing his sword and heading to the bow near the foremast. He knew she was used to servants but his name was borne of nobility, though that seemed a lifetime away. He rushed forward and grabbed a low hanging rope to keep him steady as he stepped up onto railing. There was wind but not enough. Calliope was right. They wouldn't make it to the Sea gate or the Mystical Watch Towers before they were intercepted. He could already see one of the guardship Cogs floating out of the bay.

Glancing Calliope's way, he saw the dark vixen weaving a spell. His pupil's burned from the spectacle, contrails of energy began to form in the air and her breathy incantation sounded near demonic. "Ho, you there!" a voice called from the ever encroaching Cog. The bulky ship, almost a curved square in shape, floating ever closer. If only they had the wind, even if the Cog outmaneuvered them at first they still could have outrun them.

Markus ignored the calling men. He went to one of the guns, pouring in black powder and pressing down the cannon ball he had lodged in there with the gun stick. The Cog was nearly a ship's length away at the moment, and there was no call from either Markus or Calliope. There was one last "Speak or you will be fired upon!" by who Markus presumed was the Captain. Markus didn't aim for the man, though he would have liked to. Instead he aimed for the mast. He was familiar with handling a Cannon, though he had done more with ship ballistas in the past. Still, they were now close enough to where it didn't matter.

He fired, and the cannon ball shot through the railing, ripping through a man's arm and tearing into the mast. Splinters flew and stabbed two other men, and the Cog clipped the very stern of the Weather Witch, causing both ships to jerk for but a moment. Shouts and yells could be heard. Markus collected himself, blinking through the dust and trying to silence the ringing in his ears when he saw a figure land on the poop deck.

An effete Elf, with a used officer's uniform and ears that poked out of his long brown mane. A sidesword was in his hand, and a crossbow in the other. He pointed the crossbow at Markus, who stopped in his tracks and froze with his sword. "Avast! Drop your sword and turn this ship around!" he ordered, his accent laden with pomposity and command. After a tense moment, Markus let out a breath and loosed the grip on his sword, relaxing the Elf for a moment before Markus then swiped left, cleaving through a rope of the mainmast. The Elf realized that above him, one of the sails was now hurtling toward his position and his instinctive shot went wide, embedding a bolt a few paces away from Calliope's chanting lips as she continued her chant, uncaring.

Both fighters had rolled in a dodge, and when they recovered they met in the center of the deck with flashing steel. After a few strokes, Markus backstepped, carefully making his way over the fallen mast to put some distance between them. Markus was notable for his swordsmanship wherever he went, but the Elf had decades, if not centuries of experience and the natural quick movements of his race to aid him. The borderland bastard was not out yet, cutting through the thrusts and stabs and deft cuts sent his way. He was desperate, fierce, and he had seen Elven swordsmen before. He knew a few of their key moves, and blocked and riposted far better than the officer had expected, seeing his wide eyed expression.

"Yield and you will see trial!"

"The trial of a mob is worthless, traitor!" Markus replied back in the Elf's native tongue. This sudden usage of the Elven language caught the officer off guard, and Markus caught the next and (likely) only lazy thrust the Elf would give in his life, and grabbed the slim arm to then carry the Elf over his shoulder and railing into the dark waters of the ocean. The sharp featured, handsome face of the elf surfaced moments later, and a voice was heard. "Man overboard!"

"By the Grace of Galena," Markus cursed tiredly, and wiped the blood off of a new mark now slit on his face. It was at that moment that the Catapults and Ballista, cheaper but by no means ineffective artillery, began to rain down on the water, slicing and crushing into the waves not meters from the Weather Witch. One catapult missile in the form of a 50 pound rock hit the deck and splintered wood. If the ship wasn't three decked, it might have done serious damage to the bottom hull. "How much more time do you need, Gods damn you!?" Markus screamed at Calliope.
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The magic swirled in her mind in an unpredictable maelstrom, she struggled to hold onto the strands of power, certain that if they slipped away the best she could hope for was a sudden and violent death. The Codex had come into her possession when she had murdered the previous Tyrant and taken control of the city. The spells in were poorly understood, even by more experienced wizards and scholars. Mostly the book seemed to be a kind of arcane gibberish or else extremely complicated ways to do things much more easily accomplished with far simpler incantations. Weather magic was extremely rare and notoriously unpredictable. This spell was the only one she had ever seen that wasn’t locked up in some aging arch-mages grimoire. It was far more complicated than anything she had attempted, it felt like trying to mould dry sand in a hurricane. Her hands continued to weave the pattern prescribed, though her mind was disengaged from the process. The world seemed to have shaowed into a gray blur and things moved in the darkened mist. One of them was Markus swinging a sword but there were other things that she was sure she didn’t want to see.

It wasn’t going to work, there was nothing for her to hold onto the spell was on the verge of unravelling. With the suddenness of a lightning strike there was a flash of scarlet. It was blood, fountaining from a sword wound, dripping from Markus’ blade. She wasn’t sure how she did it but she reached for the blood it streamed towards her in concentric sanguine contrails. Magic poured from her in a surge that she felt like a tidal wave. It was like shaping clay with her finger tips and if only she knew how to sculpt it who knew what she might accomplish. Something tore and there was a sound like shattering glass. Calliope's eyes snapped open and from behind her came a monstrous gale. Air as cold as ice tore past her, stinging her skin. The rigging snapped taught with a thunderclap and the ship seemed to jump forward like a dolphin leaping from the spray. The howling of the wind was deafening, so strong that the water furrowed ahead of the gale. Calliope risked a quick glance over her shoulder. Snow mist were pouring through an odd distortion in in the air.

With a shout of victory she threw the wheel over and the ship lurched towards the guardship, then at the last second she hauled it back. The Weather Witch slammed into the side of the guardship, smashing the bank of oars on the starboard side like so many match stick. Even over the wind the screams of the oarsmen were audible as the were smashed against their benches or peppered with flying splinters. There was a grinding of timbers for a moment and then the Witch recoiled away, the pressure on her sails driving her like a racehorse towards the Sea Gate.

Calliopie stood up and did her best to look nonchalant, tucking the book back into her satchel as she did so. Glancing down at her arms she noticed strange patterns covering her arms, they seemed to be drawn in a pale crimson fire though it did not burn. After a moment the designs began to fade and then they were gone as though they had never been.

“As it happens,” she said modestly, “I do know a little weather magic.”
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Markus shuddered, but not from the cold. He had felt the sudden pull from lady Calliope, both magically and physically, when she had performed her spell. He had seen the blood that streamed down his cheek flow toward the woman like a forlorn lover, and the drawing of his blood felt like the kiss of a demon. He almost didn't have the mind to grab ahold of the mast as the ship bucked and spasmed, launching forward and plowing through the guardship.

So this is blood magic? He didn't even think she would have gone so far as to use that. Though judging from her look, she probably only half knew what she was attempting. The book was likely using her as much as she was using it. Wind, water, and snow slapped into him and he cling for dear life, simply glad the spell only needed a minuscule amount of blood or else he might have been sucked dry.

They charged through the Sea Gate, the towers Guns unmanned at the moment. With any luck they would be a sufficient distance away before the batteries had good artillerymen at the ready. Inside the bay, lower forms of artillery were quite effective. But on the open sea, it was best to have cannons overlooking the entrance. It seemed to not matter this time, for the Weather Witch was still moving strong as they broke through the Sea Gate and made it into the ocean beyond.

The Sea of Swords.

Calliope stepped down from the fore of the ship, looking like the cat that got the cream. Markus would have been attracted from the display if he wasn't so wary of her. A part of him told himself to run her through now and throw the book to the bottom of the ocean. But he calmed himself. She wasn't a fool. She likely would only delve into the tome in dire circumstance like they were just in, and with another steady breath he retrieved his sword and sheathed it.

"Well, that was fun." He said, now slowly getting into high spirits as he realized his freedom. "A blown up dock and a sunken Guard Cog. Shall we eat dinner and discuss our next move?"

It was a facetious request. The only 'dinner' there was, was Whiskey and Beef Jerky. But they did need to figure out where they were to go next, and the ship still had some momentum. Markus used this sudden lull to retie the mast he had cut down and to hoist it back up to its original position, pulling with his honed, cable-like muscles until the mast-log had arisen once more.
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The Weather Witch settled onto a broad reach, heeling over as the wind drove her on a steadily north easterly course. The sorcerous wind had faded, though whether that was because the spell had faded, or the source was blocked by the high walls of the fortress harbour was impossible to ascertain. It certainly felt good to be running clean under a clear sky and a warm breeze. Calliope wanted to get below and study the book further. Having used it, having gotten an inkling of the power it could convey, having formed a better understanding of what it really meant she was eager to delve deeper but now was not the time.

As a ruler she had learned that despite the fact that it seemed there were a million more important things to be attending to, sometimes you just had to stand somewhere and be seen. In this case she had to hold the wheel while Markus adjusted the rigging to best catch the wind. There was no real risk of pursuit. Between the chaos of the coup and the wrecked guardship in the main channel, it was unlikely anything larger than a fishing smack would be sail from Calaverde any time soon.

“Ah dinner is served I see,” she said as Markus arrived with a few handfuls of beef jerkey and a bottle of rum. She took a rope and secured the wheel so that the course wouldn’t deviate. It was going to be a brutal voyage where sleep would have to be taken in snatches when the winds were calm. Any change whatsoever would send both of them scrambling to adjust the sails. If a storm came up, they were doomed, if they got unlucky, they might drown under clear skies.

“You known last night I had roasted quail with currant sauce and the finest white wine and that was just the first course,” she laughed, taken a piece of cured meat and tearing it with her teeth.

“Well, easy come easy go I suppose,” she joked though it sounded a bit flat to her own ears.

“Our first problem is that we need a destination, it needs to be somewhere close and we need to find a crew.” She looked back over her shoulder although Calaverde had already vanished over the horizion.

“The quicker the better, before word about what happened gets out. Do you have any ideas?”


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Markus's back was pressed against the wall. He chewed on the jerky greedily, having not had to look over his shoulder to eat in days. The whiskey was extra good, but he needed to be moderate with it. He couldn't get drunk out in the open ocean with only one other crew member. "I wasn't so well stocked. But, I did use to have that lifestyle years ago. When I served the Flint household in the borderlands. Being a bastard to a lord is never preferable to a full son, but I did eat well."

He took a swig of whiskey, and then grabbed another slice of jerky, chewing it languidly. "Fortunes change at the drop of a hat in this world." He said, almost tiredly. He have a laugh though, at the ridiculousness of it all. "We just need to find a way to keep our fortunes up. I wasn't certain if you wanted to partner up. I half expected you to seek asylum with a foreign friend. Granted, the pirate's life is a bit more exciting."

He truly did go full pirate here, didn't he? He guessed it wasn't too much different than being a hired sword, fighting for one lord or another. He rested his head against the timber railing, considering their options. South wasn't plausible for now, but after they got some supplies and perhaps another crew man or two, they could travel further south and seek riches in the Jungles of the Southlands. For now though, they needed a port. "HighMast to the west is controlled by the Andredians. Might be safe but it might not... There's Corlubora, the smuggler city...but they might expect us to flee there..."

He rubbed his chin, dark eyes glinting in the light of the moon. "Stormsrest. High class nobles, rich in resources, but plenty of commoners that get bored or desperate." Calliope would know of Stormsrest. It was known as an avid trading city, with cutthroat politics and varying degrees of power shifts almost annually, due to poison and assassination. It hardly effected the middle and lower classes, unless their was a new Sea Lord. This one, a chap called Rodrik Blackmoor, had been unopposed and unaffected by the squabbles of the petty nobles for the past decade. It was a city almost as beautiful as Calaverde.

"It's only 4 days away. Two if the wind is with us."
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“Stormsrest,” Calliope said taking a swig of the whiskey to dissolve the almost leathery jerky in her mouth. The pennant snapped above them and she glanced up at the flag to gauge the direction of the wind. It was a fair wind for it and it was probably the best place to pick up a crew. With only the two of them, it would be a poor idea to stop at the lawless pirate coves as killing them and taking the ship would be much more appealing than signing on. Of course that might mean dealing with Rodrick. The SeaLord had been an associate of sorts during her rise to power, they had been lovers for a while but it handn’t ended well. Perhaps they would be able to avoid dealing with him, afterall a busy trading center like Stormsrest had many ships arriving and they would certainly out run the news of Sebastian’s rebellion. Blackmoor hated Sebastian she recalled which at least was something.

“Well we have no charts,” Calliope agreed eyeing her companion speculatively. Navigation at sea was a tricky business even over such short distances. Unlike Calaverde Stormsrest didn’t have the same kind of impressive terrain that could be seen for miles when the sea was calm.

“I think before we go any further we should talk though,” she said passing the whiskey back.

“You came to my city to steal a ship, should I assume that you want to turn pirate then?” she asked bluntly.
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Markus took the Whiskey. It was nearing the last few gulps in the bottle, he noticed. They had a few more bottles, but unless it was a special occasion, they should save them. He looked at the bottle, and then at the woman. "Not exactly. I came to look for work...violent work, but work nonetheless. Though, I had been planning to take this ship the past fortnight, so yes. I just never said it to myself out loud." He placed his lips on the bottle and took one final swig, engulfing a fair few portions of the last bit, though he left Calliope another hearty swig in case she wanted to top it off.

"So aye, I am turning pirate. I was a privateer for the cities of Regalden and Darkwater for the past few years. I think I might have sacked a merchant cog or two of yours. But after you leave that much blood in your wake, it's hard to look back and not be a bit lost on what ship belonged to whom. When the Dragon Crown Wars stopped, I came to your city and had been there for a few months, dueling for meals until I found you in a dungeon."

He flipped the bottle and caught the neck, before passing it back to her. "I'm not the one with options here. What of you, my lady?" he asked her, dark gaze locked with hers. "Do you plan on staying and turning pirate?" He watched her with a wary interest. If they were to start a crew, it would be good to have someone who both knew the local politics and who knew how to weave spells better than his apprentice-like abilities.

The sea behind them shifted and sloshed audibly, causing the ship to groan and buck like a lover. It looked like the wind would be with them, thank the Gods. "And if so, we'll need to discuss ship positions, like Captain." He didn't say it ambitiously. He had just survived an entire city out for his blood, so he was simply mentioning it for pragmatic reasons. However, he continued to watch her and gauge her reaction.
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"There are people who would take me in," Calliope responded around a mouthful of jerky.

"I could trade on my knowledge of these seas, my connections in Calaverde or my... charms, at least for a while." Many former rulers did do just so when they were deposed or driven into exile. It was a comfortable enough existence at first, at least for a time. In the end though they became more expensive than they were worth, or merely hostages for their hosts to hold over the rulers of other cities. Don't press too hard or we will support a coup by the old ruler. Calliope had no desire to be a hostage, nor did she want to settle for the comfortable life of an exile. Her dark eyes narrowed into slits glinting with suppressed ambition and malice for Sebastian and his cronies.

"But I don't think I will, I intend to make myself such a plague upon these seas that Calaverde and all the other cities will wish that I had never had to leave my comfortable palace."

Combined with the state she had left the treasury in, she was willing to bet that she could have the mob baying for Sebastian Del Mondas blood within a year. They would beg her to return to her rightful place. She realised after the fact that she had trailed into silence while she had been contemplating her revenge her beautiful face had been momentarily transformed by her lust for power and revenge. She coughed to break the silence.

"As for the captaincy," she made a dismissive guesture.

"I know which rope is which, I spent enough time on them as a girl... my father... well never mind. The point is I am not enough of a sailor to be a captain. Much as I enjoy giving orders..."
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Markus watched her, seeing her rage and ambition, and her pragmatism when it came to the Captaincy. He grinned, drawing her attention with an outstretched hand. Despite their clashing every once in awhile, he felt lucky to start a crew with this woman. "Pirates then," he said, and awaited her to clasp his hand. In the distance, far to the south, a maelstrom howled, and even this far to the north, they could hear the thunder.




The Coming Storm


Having climbed the mainmast, Markus could see the mountain range of Stormsrest in the distance, and signaled down to Calliope with a quick yell. The sun beamed down brightly, causing the water to glitter like a sea of sapphires. Such clear water was both a blessing and a curse, as was how shallow it was, only 20 fathoms deep. It did not take much to beach a ship here, and though you could see obstacles and sea beasts from far off, sometimes you couldn't avoid them, and all you could do was await your doom as it approached.

Today, however, the water was easily traversable and the only creatures below were the occasional school of fish, a few dolphins, and some lurking tiger sharks. Markus slid down to the deck, heading up to steer the ship as they approached their final few miles. The past few days, Markus and Calliope had not had much time to get to know one another. Other than a meal or two here and there, they had spent the majority of their time searching the ship, scouring it for any supplies and anything not nailed down that they could sell or trade for some coin. Calliope had found some loose valuables, a necklace in one of the drawers, a chair with gold filigree, etc. Some of it they didn't wish to sell but for the most part, it looked good to get rid of. Markus had found a small cache in the lower decks. A secret compartment with various maps, knives, a compass, and even a moderate tier spellbook, mostly dealing with conjuration and evocation spells. He'd given the book to Calliope, and as she delved into that, he had prepared the ship for docking.

Stormsrest was quite a site once they rounded the bend. The City was a trading port, and had been a haven for privateers in the war. To the north of the City was a dense jungle, filled with venomous snakes and snarling beasts that one would need to traverse before making it to the slumbering volcano that overlooked the Sea. To its east and west were small mountain ranges that guarded the city from both sides, keeping the city relatively safe from crashing waves and storms, hence the name. The south was the only way in, and the bay was filled with merchants plying their wares and ships from the continent on various business ventures now docked.

Once they made it to the docks, Markus weighed anchor. Despite a diet of beef jerky and whiskey, he was still as fit as a knight. They didn't have long in Stormsrest. Half a week at most. Any longer than that and they would be pushing their luck. What they needed here was a few extra hands, supplies, weapons, and maybe make a deal or two with some of the more notable smuggler/pirate guilds hidden in the vast stretch of bright, sea colored buildings in their blue, green, and white. Even at the docks, they could see Stormskeep at the back center of the city. The main road led from the docks all the way to the gates of the Keep.

"Oi! You! What's your business here in Stormsrest?" a man called. He looked like the dock authority, dressed in proper clothes and a large plumed hat, followed by a trodden down Lizardfolk. Most likely a slave, bred from the egg to serve a human master. A far cry from the bestial savages that preyed upon any human they could get their claws on in the Southland jungles.

"What's your business asking for our business?" Markus called back, lowering the plank to allow them access to the docks.

"It's my job to oversee all who take up space in this fair city's docks." he declared as Markus made his way down the plank. "You either contribute to commerce or you shove off! You and your seaside wench!"

Markus's sword found the man's throat. The man's lip buttoned up, but he still held a hint of authority in his stern gaze. Markus spoke next. "That's no way to speak about a crew member of mine." he warned. "Nor to me. I'm Captain Flintbrook, and this here ship is here to transport goods from a pirate crew we hunted down and slew five days east of Highmast. We're here to trade."

"I see no other crew on your deck, Captain."

"Would you like wounded and scurvy laden men bleeding all over your docks, sir?"

The Lizardfolk simply tongued the air, looking at Markus and its master with an alien gaze. Its shoulders lowered and back hunched. Markus might have that it would have come to the aid of its master, and no doubt likely would in most circumstances. But this man was probably threatened often. The thought gave Markus a wicked smile that confused and somewhat scared the dockman. He simply gave Markus an offended look. "Very well. You can dock for two days, then I'll charge you for any day past that. Now be off."

Markus removed his blade and sheathed the sword. "My pleasure."
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Calliope walked unsteadily off the gangplank, ignoring the leers and catcalls she recieved from the various dockside layabouts. It wasn’t entirely prudent to leave the ship completely uncrewed but in a port like Stormcrest it was unlikely that the ship would be outright stolen. Rigging her for sail alone would take an hour, which was longer than she planned to leave her. There were spells she might use to secure the Weather Witch but after two and a half days with no more sleep than the vagrant wind had allowed she hardly trusted herself to attempt to light a candle with magic, much less set up a ward.

The lower reaches of Stormcrest were wooden tenements, a maze of ship chandlers, bars, brothels and pawn shops. Sailors of dozens of nationalities and several races milled about haggling and drinking. Here and there a pistol cracked and swords clashed but it was the natural high spirits of a nautical town rather than any serious trouble. The town rose gradual towards the blue hills. Naturally the houses and shops became more substantail the higher one got. The better quality houses were made from baked red brick with slate rooves. It was just possible to see the ramparts of the Crimsion Fortress from down here, banners flapping in the breeze and the glint of its great dwarven guns. Unlike Calaverde Stormcrest enjoyed a far greater hinterland so its millitary might had to be greater. In the fertile lands beyond the port were dozens of plantations, producing sugar cane, coffee, indigo as well as oats and barley for the population. A network of dirt roads connected the port to the plantations, bringing crops to the sea and manufactured goods out to the farms.

Makus had only just completed his discussion with the dockmaster as she strode past without a word vanishing into the crowd. She might have notionally granted command to the man but she certainly didn’t consider herself to be under his command. Most of all she wanted to get some sleep and then study the Codex. There had been no time during the voyage and her skin all but prickled with the desire to dig into its pages. There would be time, but first she had to make a stop.

The pawn shop was most of the way up the hill. It was well appointed, racks of swords and fine clothing were positioned around the outside. Smaller cabinets filled with navigational instruments, charts, arcane devices and spell books were carefully sealed with expensive glass paneling. Arcane illumination from crystal globes bathed the store with a glimmering radiance. Behind a small counter was a fussy man with a neat black coat, powdered wig and a pair of spectacles. He looked up as Calliope entered, measuring her worth with a practiced eye. A woman in fine clothing, but rumpled and dirty, concealing her face with a hood. A widow whose husband had left her less than she needed to keep up appearances perhaps. A weathly merchant who had made bad investments. The fellow all but licked his lips.

“Can I help you madam?” he asked in a prissy voice. Calliope made a show of being hesitant moving forward only reluctantly.

“I… I don’t know if I have come to the right place,” she stammered with faux concern.

“Infact perhaps it is best I go…”

“No! No,” the pawnbroker said with just a note of panic at the thought of such a juicy mark slipping from his grasp.

“I’m sure whatever you require I can be of some assistance,” the oily man said. Calliope smiled within her hood and hesitantly reached into the satchel she had bought with her from Calaverde. She hadn’t troubled to share with Markus the fact that she had escaped with a small fortune. It wasn’t properly any of his concern afterall, as an avowed pirate he might just as soon slit her throat if he knew what she had. Carefully she withdrew a small intricately carved sapphire from her pouch.

“My husband… well the detail aren’t important surely,” she said, her face quavering. The pawn brokers eyes opened wide.

“I can hold onto it for you madam,” he said smoothly, “until you get on your feet.”

When Calliope found Markus she was dressed in a new white silk shirt with a gray leather vest corseted around her waist. Her legs were sheathed in a fine trousers of soft doeskin tucked into black leather boots. A new rapier hung on her belt and a tricorne hat sat upon her head. Several arcane texts were tucked into her pouch, chosen to help her with her study of the Codex. She strode into the bar where the pirate sat, pulled a purse of coin from her tunic and tossed it onto the table. I clinked weightily and several gold sovereigns spilled out onto the table top.

“Start up money, to find a crew and proper artillery,” she said airly before taking a seat across from him.

“You may consider your half a loan,” she declared waving one of the barwenches towards them and calling for ale and hot stew.
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As she approached, Markus had a table all to himself. Dried blood on the floor and his scuffed knuckles was a telltale sign of it having been 'won' rather than found. On the table, he had laid out a map of the Sea. Seeing as he was now announcing himself openly as a Captain, he wasn't going to sneakily plan his routes. Any man dare take a long gander at the map would find nothing out of the ordinary, and any man who claimed such would regret it.

His study of the known Sea was interrupted by the clacking of boots and the jingling of coins. Markus looked up and saw Calliope in an all new wardrobe, with money and a new sword. He somehow wasn't surprised. She managed to look stunning in whatever outfit she was wearing. No wonder she had conquered all of Calaverde. Smart and beautiful was a dangerous combination. He slipped the coins back into the bag and rolled the map up. "Let me guess, you learned how to duel with a rapier?" he asked, smirking. "Ships are close quarters, and we might be hacking through some jungle. There's a reason Cutlasses are popular." Not that he didn't value the deadliness of the long rapier. It was a favorite of the more southern, romance countries of the mainland.

"Oh, I'll leave the land development for you." She said imperiously, smirking back at him.

A lovely but undeniably common born woman strode up with the stew and the ale, placing some in front of Calliope, and then another pair before Markus. "Here you go." she said, fluttering her lashes and eyeing Markus. The swordsman didn't seem to notice more than giving a polite smile and a wink. She shimmied off girlishly, and Markus began his meal. He'd cleaned himself up a bit, having been to the bath houses. Nothing fancy, but even a quick wash gave him a striking, rakish quality.

Before they could speak, the smell of dead fish would catch Calliope's nose, and it would only grow stronger until the newcomer made his way to the table.

It was the most bizarre, insane looking Dwarf one would ever see. He was squat and muscled, as most Dwarfs were. But he had a look in his eyes that spoke of a near broken sanity and a lack of self preservation, though there was an intelligence there as well. His upper body was unclad, exposing a barrel chest covered in blue woad tattoos, and his head was shaved save for a single, thick and short mohawk and a broad, greasy beard. The most odd thing about him, however, was the fact that his left arm was missing past the elbow. Instead, he had a bronze cap on it that looked screwed on, as if he could unscrew it and attach other things on it.

"So, here I am. We going tae talk business or shall I go elsewhere?" he demanded of Markus. A moment later, he glanced at Calliope. "Who's the woman?"

"She's my first mate, and the ships wizard. Calliope, this is an old friend of mine, Sketti Hammerhand. Who I'm recruiting to the crew, and perhaps a few of his friends..." Markus fished a small handful of Royals (Gold coins) out of the sack and handed it to the Dwarf. Sketti lifted a coin in the air and produced a small telescope, muttering to himself. "Aye, that'll about do it. Meet me tonight at the closed down tavern on Burgundy street, and ye'll have yer crew." He said, and stomped off. The smell departed with him.

Markus fanned his hand a bit. "He might seem repugnant, but he's the best engineer and gunsmith on the Sea of Swords. He'd make a good quartermaster."

He finished up his meal, and downed most of his ale. The sun had since dipped down a bit, though it was still up, light in the windows. Markus produced a few of the daggers he had taken from the ship. They had some time to kill, he noticed. The crowd inside the tavern had calmed down and grown slightly more introverted, most people sitting in large groups, leaving the middle of the tavern relatively open ended. On the far end of the place was a target.

Markus gestured Calliope to follow him, and as she approached he flipped one of the daggers, catching it by the hilt. "Do you know how to throw one?" he asked her. "On boring nights at sea I'd practice. It's pretty easy. Here, stick your finger out." Calliope raised an eyebrow, but did so. He placed the dagger sideways upon her finger, to see where the point of balance was. "Whenever you're about to throw one, always grab it by the lighter side. If the blade is heavier, throw with the hilt, and vice versa."

He took one and turned to the target, flipping the blade until he caught the hilt, and launching the blade accurately. He hit the greater target, and the knife was only an inch away from the center.
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Calliope gripped throwing knife as instructed and then with a negligent flick of her wrist sent it straight into the center of the target where it stuck with a quivering thudd. A cheer went up from a few of the disreputable mariners who were paying attention to the proceedings. Markus gave her a suspicious look but she merely shrugged her shoulders.

“Beginners luck,” she said innocently.

Even after days without sleep, half a roast chicken and most of a bottle of rich Cogaran wine, Calliope slept poorly. In her dreams she stood upon a great spike of granite that rose out of a stormy sea. Her eyes burned with pale fire as she recited a might spell in a voice like a thunderstorm. Fiery runes burned all over her body till she shone like pillar of living flame. In her dream the spell built with an almost sexual excitement. Starlight streamed down to her leaving a heaven filled with black stars. The incantation built and built until she was breathless with wonder and terror at what it might accomplish. Stange constellation wheeled above her black against the sky and the wind whipped into wierd discordant song she couldn’t quite comprehend. She knew that if she could understand the song it would all make sense she just had to…

Markus shook her awake and she sat bolt upright grasping for a knife that was probably still under her pillow back in Calaverde. Sweat streamed down her face and her breathing was shallow and ragged. The pirate captain had taken a step back to give her time to collect herself. They were in the cheap room they had rented to get a little sleep before the recruiting ronde began. Realising she was naked she drew the sheets up to cover herself and cleared her throat.

“You ok?” Markus asked with an arched eyebrow. Calliope tossed her dark hair and climbed out of bed walking naked across to the wash basin of cheap chipped porcelain and splashing her face with the cool water within.

“I’m fine,” she declared as she picked up her trousers and wriggled into them before slipping her arms into one of the white silk shirts she had purchased with her pawned money.

“You seemed to be singing in your sleep,” Markus pressed as she sipped her feet into the long leather boots and buckled her sword belt around her hips. She shrugged as though this was of little importance as she finally buttoned up the shirt.

“Why did you wake me?” she asked, clearly changing the subject. Markus face split into a wolfish grin that made him seem younger and considerably more handsome.

“Its time to meet our crew.”

The Buggered Whale was one of several mostly vacant buildings on the dilapidated road which Markus assured her was Burgundy Street. A few shops, little more than ragpickers stalls and one dealer in what appeared to be decidedly questionable potion ingredients were still open but these were a clear minority against the shuttered and boarded fire traps that predominated the area. If this had been Calaverde Calliope would have seized the buildings and had them repaired and put to proper use but then the steep topography of her island kingdom meant that space was always at a premium.

The tavern itself was a three story building of stone and dark tropical timber. A sign, artiscally representing a sailor with his trousers down having his way with a whale, hung askew from a single chain. Torches had been thrust into cracks in the paving stones and lanterns lit the inside of the derelict building. Several dozen sailors were gathered around large barrels from which flagons were being filled with dark rich ale. The crazed dwarf she had met earlier was standing on the bar brandishing a tankard and yelling something about scouring the seas to the approving roars of the crowd. On the door of the tavern was a sign with the portrait of a villainous looking man in a tricorne hat that was evidently meant to be Markus. In neatly printed letters it read:

Sign on with Captain Markus. Two doubloons up front, rations, rum and fair shares. Get rich on the Sea of Swords.

“And speaking of our good captain!” Sketti roared as Markus and Calliope stepped into the tavern through the timbered frame that had once held the door.

“As salty a sea dog as ever I sailed with! Fearless, ruthless and lucky to boot!” Sketti shouted with a wink at Calliope that clearly suggested that the Captains luck ran in several directions.
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