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Hidden 14 days ago 14 days ago Post by POOHEAD189
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Markus rushed out of the brig and into Calliope's room, knowing they would go after her first. What he saw he didn't expect. One dead man and blood, but no Calliope. He didn't wait, running down the halls and heading up the stairs. He made it to the upper level and stepped out of the corridor and into the hall leading to the gun deck, turning the corner to face three men moving in his direction. Judging by the look on their faces, they were just as surprised to see him as he was to see them.

"It's him!" the one in the back cried.

A quick observation told Markus they had raided the blade rack, so he swiftly reached into his baldric and leveled a flintlock pistol. The man didn't have time to scream before a lead ball punched through his skull, spraying the man behind him with blood and viscera. The man cried out, swiping his cutlass wide, blindly. Markus easily sidestepped it and ran him through, stepping back so he would topple to the floor. He would have a harder time with the man at the back, however.

Markus stabbed forward, but the soldier knocked it aside and cut at him. The Captain could barely block in time, parrying with the strong of the backsword. In this closed situation, they both had advantages. The cutlass the man was weilding could maneuver easier, as it was a slightly shorter but broader blade. Markus' backsword was not as long as Calliope's rapier, but it was still constricted. However, it still had reach.

They traded cuts and stabs for a few more moments until they heard a splash out the open window. They both looked to the window, and then one another for a split second. It was now who had the quicker reflexes who would win, and Markus cut him down in an instant, maiming the man and leaving him bleeding on the floor. Somewhere below decks, Sron howled in anticipation and steel on steel could be heard, but Markus needed to make it top side.

He stepped into the sunlight just in time to see the burly man that had been guarding Calliope turn to face him, a grin on his face. "So Captain, you gots yourself a choice as I sees it. You can go after the bitch I just knocked over, or you can fight me. Which will it b-" His words were cut off when Markus's throwing dagger entered his throat, red liquid pouring out like a geyser. The soldier that had been on the gun looked in blank amazement, and he held his hands up, clearing not looking for a fight.

Markus ignored him, stepping to the ship's railing and hastily taking off his coat and swordbelt. He could barely make a fading outline in the water that looked to be struggling weakly. Or it could be her body being pushed by the current. He willed himself to be quiet. "If you want to live, sailor, tell them you've no fight in you when the rest of the crew make it to the deck and keep on the ground." He remarked to the man, and with a practiced dive he leaped off the railing and into the shallows of the cove.

As the water swallowed him up, he wondered why he felt more worried than he should over Calliope's fate. He paid it no mind at the moment, zipping into the water with a trail of bubbles in his wake, before his momentum halted. He needed his wits about him. Even if no major sea monsters were in the shallows, young beasts and moderately sized sharks could still lurk. He could see Calliope at the bottom, mouth and hands bound in nothing but her skivvies. She wasn't moving.

He swam down to the bottom with a strong stroke, grabbing ahold of her waist. She seemed far more innocent than he knew her to be, like this, dark hair flowing in the soft current and eyes closed. Turning her about in the slow pace that only water permitted, he kicked off the bottom toward the surface. It was to his great relief that all he saw of any critters was a sea turtle idly watching them with a curiosity.

Less than a minute later, Markus dragged Calliope onto the beach where only the high tide could nip at them, and he checked her breathing. "Sink me" he cursed, and pressed his mouth to hers, before pumping his hands on her chest thrice, and then breathing into her again for what seemed likely an eternity until she coughed up a mug-full of sea water onto the shore, hacking and desparately trying to draw in breath that came all too slowly.

Markus fell over to his side, breathing almost as roughly as she was.

"Oi!" he heard from the deck of the ship. His arms like lead, Markus pushed himself to a sitting position and saw Jax waving at him, three of the soldiers in custody, as well as Bill.
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Calliope sat up spluttering her lungs burned and her eyes watered. Unlike most sailors, she was a strong swimmer but, even the mightiest athlete wouldn't last long with their hands bound and their mouth stuffed with a gag. Markus had evidently removed her gag and she croaked a word of power and the bonds that wrapped her wrist snapped like parting cable. She tried to stand up but her head swam and she sank back to the sandy spit of land they had been fortunate to end up upon. Belatedly she realised that she was clad only in her undergarments, bare from the waist up save for the amulet that seemed to coil between her breasts. There was something about the amulet that felt different but she couldn't figure out exactly what. It was as though the artifact were someone feeling satisfied with itself. She reached down and touched the finely wrought amulet, feeling strength and resolve flow through her.

The Weather Witch had let go its sails to lose the way it had on as quickly as possible. Sheets of cavas flapped like vast bat wings as they blew about untethered by anything save the top yards. Ropes flew about cracking like coach whips in the stiffening wind. It would be hell on the rig but it was the only way to slow down without turning into the wind to be taken flat-a-back, which would have been a risky proposition. Sketti was on the quaterdeck now, bellowing orders as the crew worked to lower one of the boats to the gently rolling water. Calliope folded her arms over her bare breasts and glared at the captive soldiers.

Neither of the two men who had been left in charge of her appeared to be among the living, which was a pity because she would have enjoyed slicing their throats open and spilling their blood in vast crimson streams, or breathing fire over them and watching them scream as they burned... her mind seemed to skip a beat and she shook her head to clear it, unable to remember what she had been thinking. It was a bit like coming into a room and forgetting the purpose you had in mind in going there.

"I would say that your plan to recruit our prisoners has suffered some significant setbacks," she commented in a decidedly neutral voice.
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Minutes later, Calliope and Markus were on board and dry, Calliope now having donned Markus's shirt after he'd given it to her without a word. The fact it was still soaked had the fabric clinging to her ample bosom, but it still moderately covered her up. Markus was a bit more intimidating shirtless, sword in hand and death in his eyes when he took the measure of the two prisoners and the mutinous deckhand he had to deal with.

The rest of the crew stood on either side of the deck, saying not a word. Only the slight creaking of the ship in the cove was audible while Markus stared at the prisoners. Jim was downstairs, wiping up the blood that had been spilled on deck. An audible 'clunk' could be heard as Sketti banged his metallic appendage on the railing. "So Capt'n. What do ye suppose we do with this lot?" he grumbled, glaring daggers at the bound men.

"Captai-" Bill began, but Sketti shot the deck in front of him. "Shut it, ye dog!"

"No, let him speak." Markus said, staring at Bill. The deckhand grew nervous under the Captain's gaze. He could swear the Captain had not blinked since he had come back onboard. As if judgement itself kept his eyes open to bring the crushing weight of the sea on Bill and the other two men. Bill began again, his northern country accent evident in the cool breeze of the hot day.

"I didn't know they would attack the crew, or yourself sir. I only..." he glanced at Calliope's direction. "I only thought they'd kill the witch, Captain. I swear on me life. The things she done...it's not right. Her being on board!" He seemed to gather himself up, knowing he was a dead man but still wishing to speak as if he was still apart of the crew. "A woman aboard is bad enough, but I'm a progressive sort, I am. But I draw the line at demon pacts."

Markus glanced at Calliope, then at Phill and Will. "Were you two in on this?" he asked them. "Speak truly."

"No, Captain." Phil said. "Well..."

"We had words." Will spoke up. "We all have misgivin's about the dark Lady here but, we didn't plan on doin nuffin with it." None of them seemed to want to meet Calliope's eyes. They might be intimidated of Markus but they didn't even want to acknowledge Calliope was there, though because of her power or her being the most recent victim of their brother's stupidity, Markus wasn't certain. "Bill got a little carried away I suppose. He told neither of us about what he was doin' I swear on Galena."

"And what would you have me do with him?" Markus asked them, watching the brothers. All eyes turned to them, and they were silent for many moments. Phil cleared his throat. "We understand your role as Captain, but we beg you to spare him. Please Captain. He won't even disobey orders again, will you Bill?"

"I won't. I swear on the Gods." Bill said, lowering his head. The crew began to quietly murmur to themselves, indecipherable to Markus who simply needed time to consider. He needed to make a decision now, however. The crew looked to him to make quick decisions. "Sketti." Markus said, calling the quartermaster up. The Dwarf gave his customary 'aye' and approached. Markus nodded. "free Bill of his binds." Sketti did so, to the relief of the three brothers.

"Get the chopping block." Markus called, which drew surprised and horrified looks from the triplettes. Bill almost looked like he was going to jump ship, but Sketti held him by his wrist firmly and Sron loomed behind him. Halvar and Corsica brought a stout wooden table and set it on the center of the deck. Markus grabbed a boarding axe that was embedded on the railing, testing its keen edge and gave a practice chop.

"Which is your dominate hand, Bill?" Markus asked. Bill groaned in fear, trying to bite back a tearful beg. "Your dominate hand." Markus repeated.

"I'm a righty, sir." Bill said under his breath, his arms now splayed across the table. Markus nodded, placed his foot on the man's left arm, and hacked into his wrist. The blade chopped heavily, splitting bone, flesh, and finally wood as it severed the hand. The man screamed, his cries echoing off the treeline on the shore, before he went into shock and lost consciousness, falling into a darkness he wasn't likely to wake up from for awhile. Phil and Will rushed to his brother's aid, and Markus dropped the bloodied axe onto the table.

He picked his sword up again and pointed it at the right soldier, the one that had been on board looking at the cannons. "You, what is your name?" he asked him.

"Reginald, Captain."

"You're on the crew, Reginald. But you do not eat for two days. If you fall behind, I'll throw you overboard do you understand?" he asked him. The man nodded stupidly. The other soldier to the left looked up at Markus. He had been below decks, fighting until he was captured. "Your name?"

John, sir."

"Your fate I leave to my first mate." he said, motioning for Calliope to approach. "Kill him any way you want, or have him join the crew. Do what you will."
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Calliope nodded grimly she reached forth and chucked John’s chin, forcing the soldier to meet her dark eyes. The soldier, a young man, though certainly older than Jim, had dirty brown hair and terrified eyes. Though he tried to put on a brave face it was clear that the grim fate of his companions had him terrified, which was a reasonable reaction. Calliope didn’t feel pity for him, he would have murdered and likely raped her with the others if he had a chance, but she wasn’t cruel without a purpose. There was something to this, an opportunity to be seized if she were brave and crafty enough. She looked up at Jim who stood looking scared and uncomfortable. The young man was clearly scared both from the fighting and from Markus’ mutilation of the prisoner.

“Bring him,” she snapped, gesturing imperiously at the lad. Jim hesitated a moment longer but grabbed one of John’s arms as Halvar grabbed the other. She led them back towards her quarters, John looked around as he realised where they were taking him, his eyes searching imploringly for any aid but the crew either refused to meet his eyes or, in Sron’s case, looked at him like a wasted snack.

The interior of her chamber was still disheveled from the struggle, the floorboards were stained with blood that she would need to have one of the crew clean before too long. The body of the man Markus had killed had been put over the side without ceremony though his sword still lay, unbloodied on the floor.

“Tie him to the bed,” she ordered brusquely, pushing her hand against the spell locked chest, it sprung open and she drew out a spellbook at random.

“M..ma’am,” Jim asked uncertainly but Halvar had already shoved John onto the cot and seized a coil of rope that hung from one of the hooks in the corridor. At Calliope’s direction the bound the man face down on the bed, securing him at wrists and ankles to the posts of solid timber. John began to scream and beg but Calliope ignored him, taking out some herbs and spell components from her chest, crushing them up and setting them in a small brasier.

“Leave us,” she declared, “and close the door.” Jim hesitated as though hypnotized by what was going on but Halvar grabbed him by the arm and gave him an encouraging shove that propelled him from the room, Calliope closed the door and whispered a word, sending a spurt of fire into the brazier. Thick pungent smoke began to fill the room. Another whispered spell conjured up a blue light that pulsated rythmically. John continued to scream for help as Calliope took her dagger and carefully sliced his shirt off, leaving him bare chested. Her eyes were starting to water from the burning herbs but she was able to keep it under control. She climbed atop John sitting astride his buttocks and began to recite nonsense words in her sonoros voice.

Calliope was no stranger to public speaking and she could make herself heard when she wanted too, still the rest of the crew could only hear muffled chanting, smell an odd scent and see pulsating light oozing from beneath her door, as well as John’s screams. She kept chanting for perhaps five or ten minutes, allowing the words to build to a crescendo before finally whispering a final spell. It was another simple cantrip, merely summoning a little cold, she focused it into a ring she had taken from her chest and then pressed it into the base of John’s spine. The soldier screamed as though he were being gelded, but that was nerves rather than actual pain. The sudden cold must have felt like a burn as worked up as he was. She pulled his severed shirt into his mouth gagging him, drawing an abrupt silence over what had been chanting and energetic screaming. She lay down atop his back putting her lips closed to his ear.

“That is my mark,” she whispered, running a finger tip over the spot she had pressed the cold ring.

“I own your soul little man,” she purred, “disobey me, plot against me, and it will be my plaything before I grow tired and send it to the burning hells.” John quieted, whimpering into the gag, his body stiff with terror.

“And in case you are thinking of killing me, you best hope that I live a long and prosperous life, because if my soul crosses over before yours… well… lets not dwell on that shall we.” Her voice dripped with malicous humor.

“Do you understand me?” she whispered into his ear. John nodded, a quick panicked gesture. Calliope chuckled with rich amusement.

“Then I don’t think these bonds will be necessary.” With quick strikes of her dagger she freed John from his restraints, leaving the man shivering and on the edge of tears.

“Go and join the crew,” she commanded, “but remember who you serve.” The soldier fled and Calliope sat down on the bunk with a grin. It was all theatre, as much for the benefit of the crew as to ensure John’s loyalty. She certainly didn’t know of any magic that could do what she had claimed and if it existed at all she didn't doubt it was far beyond her. Well If people were going to believe she were some sort of evil sorceress, she might as well turn it to her advantage. There were many paths to power afterall. She waited a sufficiently dramatic amount of time and then went onto the deck, a smile curving her dark lips.
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Chapter 2: The Abandoned Citadel




3 days later...

Black clouds roiled in the distance, the occasional roar of thunder accompanying its approach southwards. Markus was not sure if it was good luck or bad luck that the storm had not saw fit to bother them until they reached their destination, for though they had sailed northwest smoothly, there was little room for them to tie the ship, nor were there docks. The ghostly keep of WyvernWatch was located upon a rocky outcropping of land; a veritable cliff nearly two hundred paces above the crashing waves, and that was merely at ground level. The keep itself towered over that by at least another fifty paces.

The seawind seemed to be getting sucked northward toward the oncoming maelstrom of weather, causing Markus' hair to whip harshly through the wind. The wheel was growing increasingly hard to steer, though he held to it with a fierce resolve. A kilometer from the cliff, he knew they needed to slow down and soon. "Pull up the aft and mainsail!" he called through the next wave that struck the ship, causing it to shudder in an almost ghastly groan.

Below, Halvar and Corsica moved and heaved, as did Reginald, who was finally able to pull his weight now that he'd had three square meals the previous day. "Put yer backs into it!" Sketti roared, holding the foresail with his one, meaty fist. Dwarves might be short but they were heavy, most of the weight being sheer muscle. He gritted his teeth as the ship groaned yet again. Jim did his best to aid the Quartermaster, using his youthful strength and limbs to add some weight to the Dwarf's grip.

The other new recruit, John, came onboard and began to aid his old comrade Reginald. While the latter man looked a bit fuller and healthier, John looked as if he had not slept since he had entered Calliope's room. The bags under his eyes looked almost bruised. Markus had neglected to talk to the sorceress about what had occurred, and he would continue to refrain as long as John pulled his weight. The other members of the crew whispered of what she had done, but after Markus making an example of Bill, they would not think twice of challenging her again.

As they sailed closer, cresting and falling through the waves, Markus' keen eyes could barely make out the entrance that Grimey had mentioned. Through the wind and waves, he could see a small cavern beneath the keep, the entrance almost swallowed up by the crashing ocean. "Weigh anchor!"

"Weeeiiigh Anchor!" Sketti repeated, and Sron went to work, grabbing the solid, shaped iron anchor and dropping it into the sea. The ship suddenly careened starboard, the anchor making hard to port. With luck, the cliff would keep the Weather Witch free of the worst of the winds, but it would still be hard to keep the boat steady through the incoming storm.

"Sron!" Markus called, stepping off the aft castle and making his way onto the deck. "Grimey! Make your way to the longboat. Jim, go and fetch Calliope. Don't get any ideas by the way, you're staying on the ship. And get the tripplettes, they're now on duty says I! And grab the Elf, we'll need him in the Keep!"

"Aye Captain!" Jim said, leaving Sketti to his own devices and making his way down into the lower decks. Markus went into his quarters and retrieved his weapons and equipment. There looked to be no patrols, and by the grace of the Gods none would come through the storm. But still, he felt uneasy.
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The winds continued to rise as Calliope came on deck, her black tresses whipping madly despite the shelter of the imposing cliff before them. The green black sea rock reached high into the sky where faint twinges of sickly dark green vegetation to could be seen. Great sea birds whirled and pinnoned above from hidden eeries in the cliff side, though none saw fit to investigate the Weather Witch as she paid off to port before snugging up against her sea anchor. The loose canvas snapped as men went aloft and began to gather the sails, tying it in tight bundles against the yards.

Since the incident with John, Jim had been off two minds about her. There was some more fear in his eyes when he looked at her but he still seemed just as flustered. Humans were complicated creatures, capable of holding a multitude of conflicting emotions. The rest of the crew was equally wary though Grimey and Sketti had returned to more or less their previous demeanors. She craned her neck to look up at the keep, barely visible atop the imposing clifftop.

Wyvenwatch was an old keep, dating back to the early days of exploration and colonization, when square rigged ships had first forced their way across the sea of swords. Improvements in technology meant that landfalls like this were less important than they once had been and many places like it had fallen into disrepair. That didn’t mean it was unoccupied though, even unimportant outposts often maintained a garrison, if for no other reason than the threat of being posted there kept other people in line.

“You said that there had been no word from this place?” Calliope demanded of Grimey. The former tyrant was dressed in a vest of dull black leather and brown hose off soft doeskin. A bandolier that secured her sword belt and held several small potions was draped across one shoulder. A capelt of strom gray was wrapped around her shoulders which provided a little warmth, though at present it was snapping in the breeze. As always her amulet hung concealed beneath her atire.

“Well that was true a month ago,” the gnome said defensively. According to Grimey she had a friend in the Andreed navy who had gotten drunk and mentioned that the fort hadn’t been in contact for nearly a year and that nobody had even noticed, it being such a benighted backwater. Grimey figured that plague or famine had done for the garrison and that it might be ripe for looting. The fact that no raven had been sent with a distress call was very strange, though even if two or three birds had been sent it was possible they had all met with accidents. Calliope had initally been suspicious, thinking that perhaps it had been taken by pirates, looking at it know though she found it hard to believe that even the craziest pirate would even attempt it. A half dozen drunks with broomsticks could hold this place to Calaverde was dust.

There was a stir as Markus came up on deck and headed for the long boats. Calliope joined him and climbed into the boat as they began to lower it.

“Assuming there are even guns here, its going to take us hours to load them,” she said as the boat touched the choppy water.

“If the storm strands us here we could be trapped for days.” The seasons was already growing dangerously late for westward voyaging and she was growing concerned they might not be able to beat their way westward against the storms if they didnt start soon. They had to reach the western waters before the storms closed the passage or they wouldn’t have much chance of finding the treasure convy in time to even think about raiding it.
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"If we're not back in two days, the ship is yours." Markus said to Sketti, placing a hand on the Dwarf's broad shoulder. He did it respectfully, though he spoke to him in a whisper so as not to worry the crew. The Dwarf chuckled and pushed the younger man, grinning. "If yer not back dawn of the third day, we're goin' in after ye. Now get ye gone, Captain. 'Afore the storm keeps ye on the ship. Savvy?"

Markus gave a fierce smile and spun, headed to the longboat. As he stepped in, he grabbed the sides to get his bearings and called for the ship to be lowered. Sron held a paddle in his clawed hands. He might be bestial, but Gnolls still had opposable thumbs. Markus grabbed the other one, and as soon as they touched the water, the longboat bucked and swayed in the waves. "You have any magic that can get us to the keep without sinking?" he asked Calliope. But she was already chanting, her voice an echoed whisper in the wind.

A current began to form in the water, the choppy waves calming slightly as the longboat was slowly pushed outward. Calliope continued her incantation, and Markus wasn't about to ask her to stop so he began to paddle. Sron followed suit, and though the wind sliced through them above the water, causing Grimney to cling to Markus' leg with her little arms, the water remained relatively calm enough to maneuver.

The spell even led the water sink slightly so as to allow them through the small gap in the rocks, though inside it was pitch black. "Incindranor" Markus exclaimed, running his hand over the blade of his backsword. Where his hand moved, flames erupted and created a torch for them. He quickly handed it to Grimney, who held it with her little hands and did her best to keep it steady as Markus went back to paddling.

Inside, the walls of the cavern looked fairly smooth, no doubt the waves and currents having carved it themselves through the centuries. "What if this leads nowhere?" Sron grumbled, not liking the idea of drowning inside of a waterlogged tunnel. Grimney waved the flaming sword around threateningly. "I know where it leads! Only a few dozen paces now and we'll get to a small landing. You'll see!" she declared.

Markus kept quiet, and gazed into the black water as he rowed, hoping beyond hopes that no beasts lurked within this cavern as a lair. He had the feeling of being led into an ambush, though that was impossible. Old mercenary instincts kicking in. They had saved his life in the past, but many times he found he confused them with paranoia. When they turned the bend, they did find a small area to dock in a far wider chamber. There was a stone landing, and a rope ladder hanging limply, leading upwards into what looked to be a trap door.

"I was right..." Grimney said in disbelief, and Markus shot her a look that was both incredulous and appalled. She saw it, and tried to rephrase before he could snap at her. "I-I mean of course I was right!" she cried, holding the sword up triumphantly. Markus wrenched it from her, and he realized Calliope's chanting had faded, the sorceress standing next to him and peering around the room, her eyes faintly glowing as she examined their surroundings with her magesight.

Markus grabbed a mooring hanger and pulled the longboat to the stone dock, trying them up. The crew hopped out and onto the stone. Behind them in the dark, they could barely see where they had come in. Markus knelt down to fish into his pack, drawing a torch and placing his blade upon the oiled cloth, igniting it and handing it to Calliope. The flame on his blade vanished as if doused. "I'll go up first." he said softly, not wanting the echoes to drift upwards. Grimney huffing, clearly wanting to be the first to go. "I'll call you up when its clear." he said with a grin.

He gave Calliope a wink, and then grabbed the rope ladder, hauling himself up with an impressive speed. He'd climbed more than his fair share of masts the past few years. The rope ladder was very straight forward compared to the web-like rope lines he'd had to traverse before. He placed a small bit of weight on the door, and to his relief it wasn't locked or blocked. He opened it slowly, poking his head in.

Inside was a dungeon, filled with cages. Skeletons lounged, hands and feet bound in chains. There was a dimlight from a small hole in the wall, filtering in the breeze and light from outside. These men must have starved to death even as they tasted the air of freedom just above them.

Swiftly, he pushed the door open and pulled himself up quickly, rolling into a standing position and drawing his sword. He was alone, thankfully. The Captain poked his head into the trap door below. "Get up here."
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Calliope quickly ascended the rope ladder. She had not been in the rigging nearly as much as Markus but she had made a point of climbing and descending to terrorise John with cryptic statements and sudden appearances. Some obscure instinct was irritated that she couldn’t simply fly though she dismissed the bizarre notion as the exhaustion that followed her spell. Any weather magic, even something as simple as slightly calming the waves was no trivial undertaking.

As she emerged from the trapdoor the first raindrops of the storm began to fall to the flagstones. They were in a large circular courtyard perhaps a hundred feet across. Several dilapidated shacks stood in various stages of repair, in place of one or two of them were charged piles of blackened timbers, though the fires that consumed them hadn’t been recent. A circular stone wall enclosed the courtyard on three sides, the forth being made by another section of cliff. A small stone gatehouse allowed the area to be closed off though it was obvious that in case of real trouble the people living here would withdraw to the keep proper. The main keep lowered overhead, accessible by a steep cobblestone path that wound its way up the rocky outcropping. Like many structures of its day it had been built with the aid of elven mages, often times mages that had been enslaved or traded to humans for just such work. Hewing the keep out of the rock would have been a gargantuan undertaking for unaided human hands.

In the other direction, the stairway extended down towards the main harbor where, according to the charts, a combination of headland and an ancient mole allowed two or three ships to dock in relative safety. Supplies then had to be hauled up to the keep via the stairs. It wasn’t an efficient way of doing business, but it certainly made for a secure one. It was probably possible to hoist supplies up via derricks that overhung the walls, though at the moment none of these were visible. The cobble stones were slick with algae, a testament to the weather and the lack of recent foot traffic.

Sron wrinkled his nose.

“I don’t smell the stink of other humans,” the Gnoll ground, his trade tongue sounding to Calliope like two strong men ripping canvas. She closed her eyes for a moment and opened them again, the shimmer of mage sight overlaying her normal vision. There were no illusions, wards or other spells worked here, it was just as it seemed, an abandoned village.

“There are no ships in harbor,” Grimey reported, having scuttled over to the edge of the wall to look down at the bay.

“I didn’t see a single soul,” she confessed, looking a little uneasy. Calliope pressed her lips together and squinted up into the rain. Though she could see the lofty parapet her magesight granted her no insight. There were no torches or watchmen visible.

"You suppose they just packed up and left?" the Gnome asked, though she couldn't really have believe that was the case.

“Well… I suppose we should go up and take a look…” she took several steps towards the stone cut steps and then paused. There was a trail leading up towards the keep. A trail of dark crimson blood, as though a badly bleeding man had been hauled up the stairs some time ago. Already water from the strengthening rain was beginning to wash the trail away, cascading slightly pinkish water down the stairs towards the harbor.

“That is more blood than one person has in them,” Calliope stated uneasily.

“We are just going to ignore exactly how you know that,” Grimey put in from her waist.

“Well Captain, if we want guns we have to follow the blood trail to the keep…”
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Markus reached down and placed his fingers in the flowing blood, rubbing it along his thumb to test the texture. He thought he could tell what it would have belong to. He had performed plenty of tracking and scouting on the continent, and you tend to pick up a few things. But the water had diluted it a bit too much. He supposed there was only one way to find out what was wounded, or worse yet, what brought a kill into the keep.

He looked up at the entryway, satisfied they would not be attacked from behind or the sides. Even undead like skeletons and zombies leave a putrid stink, so none were down here lying in wait. "Keep in mind that whatever is in the keep isn't necessarily what drove men out. There could be many things in there." He said. Grimney watched him as he drew his sword, amazed at how calm and professional he seemed.

Sron unsheathed his massive two-hander, the blade notched but still feral-y sharp. The Captain signaled for his crew to get in formation. He up front, then Sron, then Calliope, followed by Grimney. The Gnome followed the orders quickly, and Calliope and Sron went into position without much delay. At that, Markus made his way into the two great oak doors of the keep, pushing one open slowly. It creaked far too loudly for his liking, echoing off the walls.

He stepped in through the filtered light, sword in front at a low guard to keep his blade between he and whatever lurked within. The swordmage was suddenly overwhelmed with an overwhelming stench. He felt as if he had stumbled drunk into a pig pen again like he had back in Port Marrowmere. As Sron entered behind him, Markus saw just what had caused the stink. Inside, the foyer was larger than most well to do living rooms. There were three short stairways leading to the main level, and a small area of lower ground in the 'first foyer' where they stood. The central stairway, only six steps, was the largest that led to two other large doors that no doubt guarded the main hall.

Atop the central stairway was the body of a decapitated horse, its legs shattered and broken in various different ways.

Markus shook his head. A fine steed deserved better than this. He had images of his old Destrier in his head, and it soured his current mood even more. "What could have done that?" Markus mouthed, confused. It would have taken a monster of immense strength to break something as large as a horse and drag it in here. He would have contemplated further, if not for the sudden rush of wind and his survival instincts kicking in.

Markus ducked and dived to the left, Sron already moving as well due to his darkvision. The great doors leading outside slammed shut as a stone slab the size of a man hit it, leaving Calliope and Grimney out in the courtyard suddenly, viciously separated from them for the moment. "Troll beast!" Sron roared, and Markus moved his hair out of his eyes to see he was right. In the dark corridor, a massive beast stepped into the faint light of the room.

A troll. Fully nine feet in height and seven feet across, with simian and muscled arms that could spread wide like a bird's wingspan. It's skin was grey and rocklike, and its maw was filled with gap-toothed fangs it showcased as it roared, spittle flying onto the once immaculate carpet. "Where's Calliope?" Markus asked aloud. Sron spoke up. "Outside, with the appetizer."

"The what!?"

The troll didn't stop to take in the humorous moment, gathering another chunk of masonry to throw from its higher position.
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Calliope barely managed to avoid the rock as it crashed into the doorway sealing it with the bone crunching finality of an avalanche. Fragments of razor sharp rock sprayed the gnome and the human but blind instinct had already led them to turn their back and thus avoid the worst of it. There was a bestial roar from the otherside of the portal and the two women heaved against the stone uselessly for a moment.

“We have to find another way in,” Grimey cried over a second massive explosion or rock. Hundreds of seabirds alighted from the battlments above cawaing raucously as they wheeled away into the storm. Calliope looked up at the hundred foot tall wall of the keep. It might once have been smooth but centuries of wear had left great cracks in the mortar that provided excellent hand holds.

“Uhh,” Grimey said following her gaze uneasily, “don’t you like have some sorcery that can teleport us through the wall.” Calliope's gaze fell on the gnome, considering the question, her hand unconciously closing around the hilt of her dagger. The gnome took a hasty step back.

“Fine fine!” she squeaked and began to climb the wall. Calliope followed along taking hand holds carefully as she slowly ascended. On the other side of the wall she could hear Sron roaring and the troll howling. Rain sleeted down in stinging sheet as the climbed and above them the sky was rent was jagged flashed of lightning. The capelet she had worn flapped and snapped like a pennant, threatening to tear her from the rockface. Against her chest the amulet was hot even as the rest of her body shivered and she was filled with a wild exhalation and an odd compulsion to fly up into the tumult.

At last she reached the parapet, pulling herself over the top before Grimey, who, owing to her smaller size moves slower. The fortress wall was a long cylinder that joined to a blocky central keep. Around the circle stood a dozen long 12 pound guns, most of them still blocked with wooden tompkins. There was rust at the pivot points of the guns but Calliope suspected they could be made serviceable. On one side of the circle projected a great wooden derick which must once have been used to haul supplies up from the outside as well as being shot and powder up to the gunners. The place was as abandoned as the rest of the fortress so far as she could tell.

Glancing down into the courtyard she could see Sron and Markus battling with a great howling troll, the thing swung a vast wooden club, it must have began life as a gallows, in great arcs, any one of which would smash even the might gnoll to jellied meat. She was about to begin muttering a spell when the door that lead to the keep proper exploded in a shower of splinters. A second troll, smaller than the first but still massive burst forth casually tearing a stone the size of a small child from a half ruined arch and hurling it down into the courtyard. THe motion was oddly simian, a bit like watching a trebuchet fire. The stone struck the wall ten feet above the battle showering all concerned with gravel.

There was a sudden pop and the troll let out an irritated bellow. Calliope realized that Grimey had fired her pistol at the thing, an action as brave as it was pointless. The demons only knew how she had managed to keep the powder dry enough to fire, Calliope was soaked to the bone. The troll looked up at them and charged, screaming and spraying spittle that steamed in the cooling air. Calliope had ony a moment to react and she snapped a quick and simple spell. The rain that slicked the battlements between her and the troll froze with a sharp crackling sound that rimmed the stone in white. The troll, already at full charge slipped on the ice and slid across it like a beer stein on a polished bar. It made a futile attempt to grab at the ledge and then tumbled thirty feet to the stony ground with a bone shattering crash. Calliope hoped she hadn’t just crushed Markus and Sron beneath the trolls stinking body.



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Meanwhile, Markus and Sron did their best to duck and dodge the thrown masonry, so far keeping one step ahead of the lumbering beast but knowing they couldn't keep their agile maneuvering up forever. A third rock was tossed toward Sron, the Gnoll leaping like a pouncing hunting dog to escape the projectile. The distraction gave Markus the time to aim his flintlock pistol, discharging the weapon. The metal ball punched into the Troll's collarbone, but it did little more than stagger the monster, giving a harsh flesh wound.

It grabbed at its broken skin in dumb confusion, grunting as it tried to understand how a projectile could fly from Point A to Point B and hurt so much. The Captain of the Weather Witch leaped up the central staircase and made it to the upper level of the foyer, Sron following on the otherside. The Gnoll reached the Troll first, cutting a jagged scar in the thing's back with his massive weapon. The Troll let out a guttural sound no human could imitate, and swung its arm back. The Gnoll saw the blow coming, but he hadn't calculated just how long the Troll's arm was and it hit home, sending the Gnoll crashing into the wall.

Markus leapt forward, using all of his strength to tear a gash into the Troll's belly. Even using both hands, it was a light tear, though blood did spurt and the thing's entrails poked out like a sack of flesh. Suddenly, a rock from above struck the wall 10 feet over them, causing stone shrapnel to rain down on all three of them. Markus was hit in the cheek and chest and sent to the ground. Sron took little of the blast, but remained in cover for a few moments, unable to see Markus or the Troll through the dust and debris.

The blademage shook his head, covering his mouth with his shirt and opening his eyes to see the massive troll standing over him, raising its arms to crush him, and likely the flagstones he lay on. But Markus also saw something else hurtling down the keep, and he rolled to dodge it just as much as the Troll's blow. It was almost comical to see the blank stupidity of the things face when the smaller troll hit the ground right next to it like an anvil, confusing and disorienting the bigger Troll.

Markus wasn't about to question his luck, but if he had to guess this was Calliope's doing. Instead he used the distraction and leaped over the squished body, sword leading to skewer the troll in the midsection with his backsword, hair disheveled and shirt ripped from the scuffle. Sron's sword erupted from out of the Troll's chest, and with two swords and a bullethole in it, the beast moaned and flailed weakly, but went down not moments later, leaving an eerie silence to radiate the bottom level.

"I'm going to pretend that Troll wasn't for us!" Markus shouted upwards.

Thunder roiled, and without warning, a sudden, vast bolt of lightning struck the inner harbor of the keep as the rain began. Slowly at first, but soon it began to hammer down into the keep. Markus was content with moving the guns even then, but when the hail began to hit, he decided it best to stay within the keep and try to weather out the storm. He cursed, wishing there was a second mage onboard to receive psyonic messages or magical signals, but for now they would need to wait within...


One hour later.

They had thoroughly explored the Keep, at least in all of the places that a Troll might be able to fit into. They had looked to be the only two in Wyvernwatch, luckily. The floor plan was simple enough, with the great hall on the bottom floor, the next being the quarters of the retainers, and a Lord and Ladies living quarters above that on the third floor. Next was the central library, where Markus and Calliope had saw fit to remain for the time being after scrounging what items they could. It wasn't a huge enclave of books, but the many bookcases and shelves were lined with various tomes from across the Sea of Swords, and comfortable chairs to sit in as they examined whatever caught their immediate fancy.

Grimney, though spooked, hadn't the patience or will to not plunder the stairs above, searching through every nook and cranny to find any jewelry or worthwhile items she might acquire. Markus had been content with a fine lordly attire he now had in his pack, in case he needed to mimic nobility on a heist, or if he was to meet with someone far above his lot in life. That, and a few Gold coins, along with a ring that held a sparkling agate that now rested on his left ring finger.

Sron had elected to stay downstairs, claiming he wanted to make sure no more trolls or monsters would enter the keep. Though it was fairly obvious he was plundering the kitchens for anything that might still be edible, and probably things that most humans would think were far out of date. Markus was still on edge, instinctually knowing that whatever had made the keep unlivible would not be trolls. Trolls did not attack manned keeps. They merely entered caverns, or things like them, when they were already devoid of life.

Calliope had found some vintage wine, and had elected to share a bit with Markus as they sat in the central reading area of the library. The Captain reading through an old tome on the Age of Nation States and the Wars of Religion and Land many hundreds of years ago. It was still a prevalent topic of today's politics, but it was far more contained with more emphasis on city states and trade, or lack thereof.

"What were your plans, before you had to flee your city?" Markus asked, breaking the silence. "If the fine people of Calaverde decided to stay knelt?" He smiled as he spoke the words, obviously giving an air of humor and drama to what was essentially an up-jumped mutiny, as brutal and ill prepared as any on a sailing vessel.
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Calliope leaned back, considering the question. Outside the storm raged at full force, lightning crashing around the keep, rattling the sconces. They had signaled the Weather Witch with a flare of arcane light to let them know that the keep was secure and had received the acknowledging flashing of lanterns from Sketti. It would have been impossible to transfer the cannons now, even if they had wanted too. The seas were too rough for the Witch to leave her sheltered anchorage, though if the wind shifted direction radically Sketti would have no choice but to cut the anchor loose and head out into open water to ride out the storm and then find his way back when the weather settled. When things calmed down it should be possible to bring the ship into the main dock, where the derrick would make bringing the cannon down the cliffs much easier.

“I had planned to cast my eye to the south east and the cities of Arayak and Kushdi on the Arad Luin coast,” she explained as she leafed through a dry chronicle of life in the colonies. If the keep had a magical literature she was yet to find it.

“The emirs of booth those cities have an overabundance of ambitious sons, I had been writing to them, encouraging them to plot with promises of support.” Calaverde didn’t have a strong army but it had gold enough that she could have raised mercenaries for the purpose. Now that the wars were over the northern lands were swarming with unpaid men at arms looking for an outlet.

“Once they were ready to move I could have betrayed them to their fathers and waited for the civil wars to weaken them, then swept in and taken the cities,” she went on, swirling the wine in the goblet. Such a plan would have been her a chance to refill the treasury of Calaverde long enought to make her rule absolute and put every corsair from the Teeth of Mubara to the Vrettonian Coast under her banner. Who knows what she could have accomplished with a fleet like that. It seemed like an impossibly distant goal now. Well she had started from nothing before and she could rise up again. It was a game of a sort, though a hard and brutal one. Just like a sword fight, a single step could mean death.

“Funny thing about power,” she mused, “the more you have, the more you want.” It must have been her imagination but she could have sworn she felt the amulet at her breast pulse in agreement with the sentiment.
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Markus watched her with interest as she spoke, idly sipping his wine. It was something he was very curious on, to know the plans and motives of people in power that were...outside of his family. An unbiased point of view, so to speak. She was also just simply beautiful to look at, but Markus had learned long ago to keep such things at arms length unless there was something to gain from such an observation. Her plan also seemed concrete, and he realized that if things had not turned out in such a way, she might have unwittingly hired him to raid the coastlines of the Arad Luin as a nameless soldier in her conquest.

“Funny thing about power,” she mused, “the more you have, the more you want.” It must have been her imagination but she could have sworn she felt the amulet at her breast pulse in agreement with the sentiment.

"I could not agree more." A voice spoke. At first Markus had thought it Sron behind him, so deep and gravely was the voice. But it had an air of culture and supreme narcissism to it that the Gnoll lacked. That, and the voice seemed to echoe all around them, from within the very walls of the keep.

The Captain was up in the blink of an eye, and even more impressive his sword was leveled and drawn as he spun at the threat he believed was behind him. But it was all for naught. Calliope could suddenly see tendrils of greenish energy emanating from the agate ring Markus had placed upon his finger, enveloping him in a tight embrace as fast and powerful as a constrictor serpent. The breath was knocked out of him and he was suddenly whisked away in the air, his sword dropping from his nerveless fingers as he struggled to breathe.

"So polite of you to keep guard over my Phylactery, good Captain." the voice spoke. The room's dull lighting had not shifted, but it suddenly seemed dark and far more foreboding than the comfortable reading area it had been moments before. The breathe out of Calliope's full lips would be visible through some unknown means of the temperature dropping. Her amulet would pulsate with heat, bringing a note of savagery from within.

A ghastly figure transpired from within one of the bookshelves, becoming corporeal and landing lightly on the carpeted floor. In life, the figure would no doubt be stately, perhaps even handsome. But what he had been as a mortal was no more, and in his stead was a Lich. A crown of gold sat atop the monster's rotted head, with only the slightest bit of skin clinging to the otherwise bare skull that served as the Undead Archmages face, empty sockets glowing blue with power. Somehow, his mouth bones seemed to be curved into a smile.

The doors to the library suddenly shut, the locks clicking as they were all activated one after the other. "I can tell this seems very sudden, judging by your reaction, Lady Calliope." the Lich said, standing in an effete poise, examining his body hands for anything that might have stuck on there. He did manage to tear off a bit of limply hanging skin as if it were cobweb that had landed upon his person. Aside of the Lich, Markus did his best to break free from the foul magics that enwrapped him, but he hadn't the concentration necessary to perform a basic counterspell, and even then it would likely not have been enough.

"Your Captain here is strong willed." he said. "I had been probing his mind for some time once he had donned the ring, for information and for possession. But he had placed up mental walls even without thinking. I could have pried my way in there, but that would have given myself away, and I do so love surprises." He stepped forward, making his way over to the edge of the circle where Markus and Calliope had sat. "But I did gather what I could, and your predicament intrigued me most of all."

Suddenly, they could hear Sron banging upon the door outside of the library room, his great strength trying to wedge open a door that was now mystically protected from nearly all physical harm. The Gnoll even howled in frustration, savagely attacking the wall. The Lich ignored him. "Your Captain also reasoned that the trolls were here for a purpose, and that was also true. After I had sacrificed my comrades in arms within the keep, I needed guardians as I delved into my work and they sufficed, until you rudely slew them. And then I wondered, what was I to do about this?"

He chuckled, his laughter far more amplified than his regular voice. The musty stench of old bones wafted into Calliope's nose at this range, along with the sound of fingerbones clittering together as he tapped them against one another in what was to no doubt be a considering posture. "I would have simply killed you all...until I saw you. A very talented sorceress that had just fallen into my hands. I couldn't allow such talent and brutality go to waste, you see?"

He smiled at her questioning eyebrow. "I am in need of an apprentice. Someone to visit the living world for me, to help me in my magical experiments and to aid me in continuing to prolong my extended life. I believe one such as yourself would aid me greatly in that position. In turn I shall give you the gift I gave myself, when you are near death. Immortality." The word had a tone of command and compulsion to it, though it would not work on someone as sharp as Calliope. Still, the power was there.

"Think of it, my dark beauty. What do you have to gain traveling with such vagabonds, eh?" He asked, waving his hand to drag Markus closer and then pinching his neck, drawing a hint of blood from the sharpened bones. "I see he has saved your life various times. But you are above such sentimentality and the abstract notion of a debt, are you not? Why not be free of such things?" His eyes pulsed, glowing brightly. "Join me."
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Calliope stared at the semi-corporeal litch with amazement. There were legends of such creatures, powerful mages who used their arts to stave off death, but she had never thought to meet one. Markus hung in the air suspended by the ghostly tendrils as Sron continued to pound rhythmically at the door. There was an unquestioned majesty to the being, it seemed to flicker between a handsome powerful man and a sunken corpse like a strobe, never quite stable and always in flux. She could feel the things arcane strength and she yearned to understand the mystery it represented.

“I wouldn’t want to live in a world where we got what we deserved,” she said, casting a scornful lk at Markus.

“And I don’t doubt he would cut my throat if it profited him, let us make a compact you and I, but let me take the captain, it would please me to have power over one who thinks himself my better.”

The lich laughed cruelly and guestured at Markus, blasting the pirate into unconsciousness with a negligent wave of his hand. The door began to splinter under Sron’s continual battering and the lich turned his empty eyesockets towards the straining timbers.

“I’ll need a crew if I am to do your bidding in the wider world,” Calliope pointed out. The lich seemed to consider this and then made an obscure gesture. The paving stones on the library floor began to grind and flow, opening slowly in a downward spiral, books rattled from the shelves and feel fluttering to the ground. Calliope backed instinctively away from the yawning void that was opening but the litch swooped across the gulf and snatched her up in his arms and then plunged downwards into the darkness.

Calliope opened her eyes and found herself in a large circular chamber. It must have began life as an armory or perhaps a powder magazine far below the keep. Vaulted arches supported the hexagonal walls and ceiling with a gothic grandeur. The walls were lined with alchemical equipment. Strange glowing liquids dripped through copper coiled piping. Ambelics and beakers bubbled on ghostly white arcane flames. The air was thick with the smell of strange herbs and other unguessable substances which lined the shelves in jars and bottles of every conceivable shape. Several corpses hung from brass rings in the ceilings, and though all were significantly decayed, it was clear that they had been butchered and some of their organs harvested. On one of the walls were a collection of spell books and scrolls that made Calliope’s mouth water.

“Let us seal our compact apprentice, then we shall slay your crew, I can teach you how to breathe unlife into their bodies, you will find they are much more to your liking when their only thought is to do your will. The litch picked up a dagger of obsidian from a central table that was already stained with blood.

Calliope nodded and the amulet at her breast pulsed hot as though in objection to this course of action but she ignored it.

“Before we do, let me take my vengeance on the good captain here, it must be mine alone,” she purred. The litch laughed at the bloodlust in her voice and made a gesture. Bronze shackles sprang into existence around the pirates wrists and then wrapped the ceiling beams suspending Markus before her. The pirates eyes fluttered open and he found himself completely at her mercy.

“So nice of you to join us captain,” she mocked, “oh don’t struggle, even if you could kill me, my master cannot be slain so long as his phylactery remains intact.”

“What are you doing you faithless whore!” Markus snarled. Calliope laughed and drew her sword.

“This is going to take a long time for you,” she said and mouthed a spell. Fire leaped along the blade of her sword and she could feel the litch’s expectant glee behind her. She moved the blade close to Markus’ face so that his stubble beard began to smoulder.

“One good turn deserves another,” she said pleasantly, drew back her sword and delivered an over hand slash. The blade arced through the air like a serpent. There was a titanic crash as the flaming blade struck full force against the jade ring Markus wore, shattering it in an arcane detonation that broke every vial on the shelf and threw Calliope to the ground. The Litch howled in a pain which was beyond physical injury and recoiled as though struck with a cannon ball.

“I will eat your soul!” the thing shrieked but Calliope was already incanting another spell. Using the same shield spell she had used in the dungeons of Calaverde she neatly severed the shackles holding Markus suspended and he dropped to the the ground. The undead thing wasn’t defeated but without its phylactery it was at least vulnerable
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Markus landed on the ground as gracefully as he could, though due to the rough landing and the lack of air, he could only manage by catching himself on his hands and feet. The Lich shrieked, ironically, much like a banshee, only without the physical damage to their person that a banshee likely would afflict. After massaging his neck a mere moment, he held out his hand, his backsword appearing out of a sudden flash of steel, his hand within the basket-hilt grip.

"You know for a moment there, I thought you really meant to call me a whore." Calliope said. "You would have made a good politician."

Markus smirked. "One might argue you gave the graver insult." he said, and she cackled. The Lich was sharing in very little of their amusement.

"Fools!"


His voice amplified and terrible, though they could sense it was nothing more than a scare tactic. The Lich obviously was not as ancient as most would think a Lich would be, no doubt having betrayed his comrades and gained Lichdom a decade ago, if that. Most would be too wiley to have fallen for such a ruse, unless teased further. The skeletal terror opened his jaw wide. In fact his jaw bone grew unhinged, his eyes glowing brighter as an intense cone of blizzard-like cold erupted from within his maw.

The backsword Markus held burst into flame, and he sliced into the spell as best as he could, though it was mostly Calliope's protection wards that kept the two from being frozen on the spot. As the Lich was preoccupied with his wrathful attack, Calliope's lithe hands twirled and flourished, causing the cone of cold to realignand swirl about the rool in a counterspell to launch it back at its origin.

The Lich disappeared and teleported on the eastern side of the room, chuckling darkly as he began to incant a spell that would turn Calliope's sword into a hostil viper, though he could only grant half of the magical spell before a flaming blade erupted from the Lich's chest, causing his spell to fail and his wail to increase tenfold. Teleportation spells were on of the most complicated in the realms, for it meant manipulating the very fabric of space time. But there was a reason Markus was not a very good mage. He had spent most of his time on the sword, and learning this very useful blink spell for melee combat.

As the Lich screamed, his could see Calliope in front of him, holding the ring Markus had worn teasingly. A simple spell caused the stone and metal to turn brittle, and she let it drop onto the ground, If a Lich could evoke a look of horror, this was surely it. With a grin, Calliope crushed the ring and banished the Lich, its form growing intangible and flying out of the room into either the nether realm, or another phylactery. Either way, they would likely not see it again.

The keep suddenly grew lighter in hue, though still dim from the only true light source being a few torches and the overcast outside filtering through the windows. The swordsman breathed easier, sheathing his blade and relaxing his taut muscles. "That could have gone worse."

Sron banged through the door, Grimney on his shoulders with a frying pan, holding it aloft like a weapon. "I'm ready! Where is the danger?"
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They slept in shifts but no further danger presented itself. In the morning they found the Weather Witch had gone but that wasn’t suprising, by midday they could see the sail on the horizon. Doubtless Sketti had been forced to cut the anchor cables rather than risk the storm so close to the rocks. They ate a breakfast of dried fruit and fish which Grimey produced by the simple expedient of throwing a glass bottle filled with gun powder into the harbor and collecting the stunned creatures the blast brought to the surface. For most of the morning Calliope had Sron and Grimey bring the Litch’s books and surviving alchemy equipment up from the cellar. It certainly made for more interesting reading than the dry histories of the previous day. From notes in the various spell books the story began to emerge.

Titus Kepperman, the fort’s mage, had come across a book buried in the archives, apparently dating back to the early days of the colonization. In the book was laid out spells that had been taken from the native shaman the explorers had met, spells for contacting the dead. With that power he had begun his own quest, at first to escape the boredom of a nowhere posting and then, as his powers grew, to try to obtain power for himself. Titus had been an old man at the start of his studies and he had feared that he would not have time to learn what he needed and so had redoubled his study of necromancy. The need for fresh corpses had been his first priority. A number of soldiers had been hung for possessing contraband that Titus had hidden in their quarters. Then one of the fishing smacks had apparently been ‘lost with all hands’. By the time he had resorted to outright murder, the forts commander had already been growing suspicious. Finally they had confronted Titus, at which point he had used his powers to summon the trolls and hunted his former comrades through the keep, picking them off one by one and using their bodies for his experiments. At last, alone on the island he had created his phylactery, cheating death and prolonging his studies indefinitely. Calliope reminded herself that though the books contained knowledge that she could use, she should also be cautious lest she find the same snares set for her.

Markus, Grimey and Sron set to work shifting the cannons, lowering each of the long iron guns down from the battlements to where Calliope could untie them against the moment the Witch returned. Owing to the contrary wind, it was nearly nightfall by the time the Weather Witch slid up against the quay and the ropes were cast off to secure her. Sketti stomped ashore looking no worse the wear for having spent the past twelve hours battling the stormy sea.

“Ahoy capt’n,” he called before turning to the crew.

“Get those guns aboard you lice ridden curs!” he snapped to the crew before heading over to Markus and Calliope.

“Glad to see ya had no trouble,” the dwarf grumbled.
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As the sailors began to haul the new cannons and shot onto the ship, Markus and Calliope shared a deadpan look at Sketti's observation, and then both turned back to the Dwarf. They spoke at the same time. Markus giving an "Aye, all was well" with Calliope providing a "No trouble at all. This was, of course, followed by a shout from the keep and Phil yelling they had found two slain trolls, one skewered and the other having made a crater in the flagstones.

Sketti raised an eyebrow. Markus turned to glance back at the keep, and then back at Sketti. "We had a little trouble." He said.

"Well, we have the guns now." the every pragmatic Dwarf said. "All that's next is to find some good work to be done, before the next trade winds. Now, let's go and see what other loot we could grab from the keep, eh?" There was gold lust in the Dwarf's eyes, and he stalked passed them toward the huge structure. Markus let out a small chuckle, and then headed toward the ship, Calliope following in tow from a gesture from Markus.

The Captain stepped on deck, and felt the motion of the waves beneath them. He might have begun his career as a mercenary on land, but he found he had grown accustomed to life on the seas. "I think we'll make for Gallowgate." Markus told the woman, placing his hands on the ship railing as he overlooked the sea, still somewhat choppy but far calmer than it had been earlier. Calliope would have heard of the city. A famous pirate hub. Or better explained as a very large port that did business with you with no questions asked, as long as you behaved. It's other claim to fame was its mass hangings twice a year, where everyone in the countryside would see the criminals make it to the gallows at the front gate and drop, including usually a famous person attending as a 'guest' of the Gallows. Various theives guilds were prominent powers in the city.

"That will take us far east, will it not?" Calliope asked.

The wind lightly flowed through Markus' dark mane, and he nodded as he turned, resting his lower back against the railing and crossing his scarred arms. "Aye, I think we should remain eastwards until we go after the shipping lanes." he said. "We can pick up whatever work we come across along the way."

The wind brushed their skin, giving a cool caress that begged them to relax and speak of more pleasant things. Markus did realize he was lucky to be alive, thanks to her. "Thank you." he said to her, unexpectedly. "For saving me. I wish there was something I could give you in return, but I am afraid I have very little 'power' left to give a first mate." He grinned, echoing her comment from earlier.

He had spoken the words as a jest, but after a moment of considering, a proposition formed in his head. "Once we get the gold, we'll be rich beyond what we could dream." He said, thinking aloud as Calliope looked at him. "Rich enough to buy a fleet, or a ship powerful enough to storm Calaverde." There was a mischievous twinkle in his eyes, though as he grinned through his teeth, he looked far more dangerous and rakishly ferocious than merely charming. He didn't even expect her to want her old position back, vengeance being the clear motivator. But even she did, Calaverde would be a fine base for the Weathered Witch.

"But no one on this ship would be interested in such a scenario, would they be?"
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Calliope grinned, though the expression was not one of humor except of a very dark sort. Markus spoke lightly of attacking Calaverde but in truth that was a massive undertaking, perhaps as massive as attacking the treasure fleet once it began its eastward voyage. Still it was nice to contemplate Sebastian’s face when a fleet appeared on the horizon.

“See what I mean about power?” she said, “One fortune just isn’t enough.”

___________

They beat south easterly ahead of the storms, the Weather Witch slicing through the choppy grey waters under full sail. Calliope sat in the fighting top, black tresses whiping to the wind. She had to admit that Makus had been right not to risk the westward voyage this late in the season. On the western horizon lighting flashed and stabbed down at the sea. While the costal trade never ceased, the storm season would keep ships in port rather than risking the passage across the Sea of Swords. Right now the officers of the Treasure Fleet and there men would be drinking and whoring in some well protected anchorage, waiting for the weather to turn.

Markus’ plan was to head south to Arad Lind and skip westward along the corsair infested coasts of that savage land, taking ships and plunder as they went. Such a course, hugging the coasts, was safer and much more lucrative. Calliope didn’t object, she knew that the captains of the treasure fleet were a conservative bunch. Only a fool would take any chances with so vast a fortune, any captain who lost a ship and was unlucky enough to survive could look forward to an appointment with a headsman. There would be time for them to make it to the Westerlands long before their foes set sail.

Below her Grimey was hurranging the crew to get one of the guns into position. The gnomes foul language was evident even here, fifty feet above the deck. An amazing feat for one whos lungs were so small. In the weeks since they had left the keep things had settled into a routine. The watches ran smoothly and Halvard, with ship building in his blood, had partnered with Grimey to serve as the ships carpenter. Together they had widened the gun ports and began installing the looted weapons. Grimey had initially been concerned that the extra weight would cause the keel to hog, but Markus had assured her that the Witch was well found enough to take the weight.

Calliope’s time had been spent in studying the Litch’s note books. They had stowed the alchemical equipment that could be recovered below decks and she was starting to think about setting up a lab somewhere below decks, though so many open flames and the rolling pitch of the ship posed some problems. Necromancy was not a school of magic that one encountered often and Calliope’s head was buzzing with new found dark lore. Her sleep continued to be troubled with vague and unsettling dreams of beating wings and sheets of flame as well as the odd grey landscapes she had seen when using the codex and she had taken to sleeping during the day watch and wandering the decks at night. A habit that did little to reassure the crew. The fighting top was a place to find solitude and to ponder what she had learned.

Jim sat beside her, peering out into the nighted darkness. He had bought her a plate of heavily salted beef and the last of the fresh vegetables they had taken from the keep. The crew had stripped the fortress of everything that they could find. Pirate vessels were forever short of basic necessities, rope, pots, nails, booze and other such things were of more value than gold until the ship actually reached a port. Most of the food they had taken from the fortress was old salted meat but a few of the gardens had vegetables that had been salvageable. Periodically Jim glanced at her, nervous and excited to be in her presence. Calliope found that leading the boy on with the occasional ‘accidental’ contact to be a diverting game.

“Sail HO!” the elven look out above them screamed. Calliope looked up to see the half elfs hand outstretched to the south. SHe followed the line of his finger and could barely make out a smudge of black against the night sky.

“Two sail! Two sails four points of the starboard bow!” he called through cupped hands.
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As Markus walked into his cabin, he set his backsword down and glanced behind him, making sure the door was locked. Slowly, he reached into his coat and slid his callused hand into the coat pocket, to reveal a large, curious looking egg he had taken from WyvernWatch. Several books on spells were lain across his desk, along with other tomes that were simply of topics he fancied. But at the top of the stack was a book of dangerous wildlife. Whatever was within this, he would find it out.

Grabbing a tattered cloak that had been gathered from the keep to be used in the winter months, he rolled it up and placed it within his top desk drawer, and then set the egg within. Whatever hatched out of it, he would be its master.




Markus had stayed below decks with the crew this day, playing a round of cards with the lads in the hold. He did his best to appear cordial to them, and to be charismatic as well as dangerous to them. The fact was, he was quite charismatic even without trying, but he would never realize it. But by the time darkness has settled on the horizon, he even had the tripplettes smiling. Bill had a metal hook on his hand, courtesy of Sketti's craftsmanship. Only one of the myriad of items that Sketti had made with the raw materials from Wyvernwatch nearly two fortnight's ago.

"I fold." Sketti said, grumbling into his straw colored beard and laying his cards on the ground. It wasn't like him to quit, but he didnt want to lose anymore of his gadgets, which Markus had made a killing on the past few hours. Halvar and Phill remained in the game, the two men veritably glaring at their cards and suspiciously looking at one another, as well as their Captain, who grinned. The glint was in his eyes, the same competitive glint he got when blood was about to be spilled.

"Two mermaidens and a skull kraken." Halvar said, laying his cards down. Phill tossed his cards away, already defeated by the hand. His two brothers patted his shoulders, giving him a drink to cheer him up. Markus sucked in a large breath, shaking his head. "I'm afraid all I have is Straum and two Skull Krakens." he said. Sketti burst into a git of laughter while Halvar roared to the Gods on why they had forsaken him. As Markus, Halvar, and Phil began hashing out the details on what they owed the Captain, Jim ran into the room, nearly slipping over the cards.

"Sails sir!" he declared, eyes wide. "Two of them!"

"Colors?" Markus asked.

"B-Black flags with red axes."

The lower deck was silent, until Markus roared. "Beat to Quarters!" as he reached for his sword. Halvar grabbed his Axe and Corsica used her long legs to make it to her hammock where her sword was kept. Sketti yelled out what Markus had just ordered, his stout voice echoing through the lower halls of the Weathered Witch. There was an intense bustle as they rushed to gather their equipment. "Sir, are we really about to fight?" Jim asked Markus.

It was still odd the lad called him sir. Markus was less than 10 years his senior. He supposed that was still some time, and he was the Captain. "Aye, they're Blood Reavers." Markus said. "Even if they weren't after us, they'll attack anyone not of their fleet." He'd fought them once before as a privateer. There were many vicious corsairs near the Corsair Strait and the Arad Luin. This was one of the larger groups of pirates.

Calliope appeared before Markus and Jim as they crested the stairs to the poop deck, as if she was apart of the very night itself. Jim yelped and blushed at her sudden arrival. Markus gave a smile that showed his teeth at the boy's reaction. "When we make port next, we'll find you a girl." Markus joked, pushing the boy's shoulder.

"They've a mage on one of their ships." Calliope said, eyebrow raised at their exchange.

"Which one?"

"Right on, on the Starboard bow." She replied.

Markus walked passed her, and they followed in his wake as he made his way to the gun deck within the other staircase. "That's the one we'll board. We'll gun the other one down. Jax!" he called up.

"Three clicks Capt'n and closing at 9 knots!"

"Sketti!" he yelled into the stairway. As he began barking orders, Calliope would notice Sron at the headbow, taking a tarp off of a large item the size of a feast table. Bestial hands tore the cloth away to reveal a seige ballista raised on a small dias to give it extra elevation, and to allow it to turn 60 degrees. One of Sketti's new toys, where one could place special ammunition on it to fire from ahead.
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