Calypso sneaked around to the cabin at the far end to get an idea of how many people might be concealed within. She heard five voices. Three of the people in the cabin were discussing shipments and made mention of one bale of dried poppies ready to ship.
Once she had returned with the others, they began formulating a plan. They thought of sending the constable back to fetch help, but he reminded them that they were hired in the first place because Lanos was short-handed of constables and soldiers. Ultimately, they decided to distract the guards in the fields by having Lou ignite a fire on the roof of the cabin. Their attention so averted, they crew would attack from behind in hopes of taking them down before much noise alerted those in the cabin.
Soon, the roof of the cabin was blazing, and the plan was enacted. The guards ran to alert their fellows, and the party charged out into the fields to attack. Fey remained behind to call out to the enslaved farmers and bring them to safety. As no plan, no matter how well-considered, survives contact with the enemy, the leaders of the smuggling operation were alerted. Two men began firing muskets from the cabin windows, whilst to others loaded other muskets to keep up a constant barrage. The fifth turned out to be an elementalist, blasting attack of both earth and fire from the cover of the doorway. John Shubrick called out to the cabin to inform them that he and his allies were partnered with Admiral Duckworth. This seemed to have an effect, and before long the musket fire stopped as the smugglers began to retreat. In the ensuing battle, Calypso had once again sneaked around to the back of the cabin, and intercepted them as they tried to flee out the back.
The battle ended, the crew debated what to do about the poppy field. It was too large and to wet for even Lou to burn effectively, so they decided to leave it so Gov. Thornsby could dispose of it himself. They chained up the surviving smugglers and, after several hours' travel back through the swamp, arrived again in Lanos. On the way through the swamp, they made a cursory search for Lao and her giant pet tidal snake, but found no sign of either. Constable Taylor took the smugglers to the town gaol, and the crew took a well-deserved rest. They were to meet with Thornsby the next day to receive their payment.
In the meeting with Thornsby, the governor revealed that the town's coffers were far too shallow to allow for full payment of $200 per person in gold. Instead, he wrote up a series of personal cheques to be drawn against his personal wealth to pay them. Each cheque held a value of $200, and was good for the purchase of items in any port on Cuwayo. The crew was less than thrilled at this prospect, as they only had Thornsby's word that the cheques would be honored elsewhere. It was either that or nothing, so they accepted them. During the course of the conversation, the crew began to become wary of certain phrases and actions Thornsby made, and came to suspect that he had designs on taking over the opium smuggling operation rather than ending it. Their part was to eliminate the competition, and they did that job admirably. They even handed over a bale of poppies ready for processing. With no proof of this, however, and no real authority to do much about it, they accepted their lot and vowed to themselves to bring this to Admiral Duckworth's attention. The admiral was a staunch opponent of opium smuggling, and would certainly wish to know of what was going on in Lanos.
Still not quite trusting the cheques, they used then in the port at Lanos to load up a hold full of food to ship to Swindon, and set sail that afternoon with the tide. Lou was keen to visit Bluth's Crown. Their journey would take them past Bristo, where they decided not to stop, and on to Swindon where they made a small profit on the food from Lanos. Swindon, although it participated in the Great Harbor Treaty, was a pirate town at heart. They spent the night in Swindon, and set out in the morning. Their next stop was Azy Cay, an extremely small village founded by shipwrecked pirates only a few years before.
In Azy Cay, they made the acquaintance of a man named Stumpy Pete, a grizzled old salt with two wooden legs. He told them, after bumming several shots of rum from Birgus, a tale of a treasure that he and his mates had discovered some years ago. It was still buried on an island at the northern tip of the Whip Islands, ripe for the taking. It was a long journey, however, in the opposite direction from Bluth's Crown. The crew considered it, but ultimately decided that it was too long a sail for their little vessel. They would keep in touch with Stumpy Pete, however, and get back to him if their fortunes changed. The following day, it was a short sail to Bluth's Crown.
The journey was uneventful enough, but at one point they caught sight of a rowboat on the horizon. As they drew closer, they saw a human body in the boat, badly sun-burnt and affected by long exposure. They threw grapples to the little boat and drew it alongside the Valdez, and saw the man breathe. He was actually alive! Grk, surprisingly agile despite his bulk, climbed down into the boat to retrieve the man and take him below. Calypso was able to revive him with her healing water magic, but he was still quite delirious. He'd need some rest before he was alert enough to tell them who he was. Several hours later, he was certainly awake -- and screaming! It quickly became apparent that his man had only recently come to Caribdus, as he spoke not a word of Masaquani and reacted in terror to the sight of the odd creatures that surrounded him. The crew, not wanting to shock this poor man to his death, decided to leave him alone with John Shubrick in order to ease his fright.
Shubrick spent a while in conversation with the sailor, who introduced himself as James Low, former mate of the merchant ship Trinidad. He explained that his ship had been attacked by pirates, and he was set adrift to suffer a slow death at sea. Then, he found himself surrounded by all the demons of hell! Shubrick told him that those weren't demons, they were this ship's crew, and did his best to explain Caribdus and all of its oddities to the poor man. Low was hardly comforted by this news, and spent the last day or so below-decks to avoid the strange beings that surrounded him. He ultimately found the courage to venture to the top deck, but warily kept his distance from everyone except his fellow human.
Soon, the cliffs at Bluth's Crown were growing on the horizon, and the elementalists in the crew, Lou, Calypso, and Birgus, grew eager at the thought of what all they could learn in this mystical place.
As the Valdez neared the docks at Bluth's Crown, the crew noticed something strange. A black flag -- indicating quarantine! -- was flying from the flagpole by the pier. A blue-skinned Masaquani dashed out from a cabin near the docks, gesturing wildly with his hands in an attempt to warn them away. The crew dropped anchor at what they hoped was a safe distance away, and asked the man what the quarantine was about. In a conversation yelled back and forth, the Masaquani, named Loren Leeno, explained that a plague had come to Bluth's Crown. A sick band of Ugaks had rowed ashore some weeks ago, and died soon thereafter. Within days, a virulent sickness had swept through the small population of mages. The illness was apparently airborne, as Loren and some other air mages were able to keep it at bay with environmental protection. The water mages were able to stave off the worst effects of the sickness, but were unable to cure it completely. They needed medicine. The crew allowed him on board the ship, trusting in his story about keeping the plague away from himself. Thanks to his zephyr power, they made relatively quick time back to Swindon to shop for supplies and needed medications for the beleaguered mages. Whilst in Swindon, John Shubrick and James Low decided to part company with the rest of the crew. James Low was having difficulty adapting to the strange new world in which he found himself, and Shubrick had agreed to remain with his fellow human to help him adjust.
At long, the Valdez returned to Bluth's Crown and delivered the medicine to the water mages and other healers. Calypso also helped with her own healing abilities and soon, even those most afflicted by the plague were recovering.
Once the four elder elementalists were in good enough spirits to entertain visitors, Calyso, Lou, and Birgus met with them to ask for their blessing to visit the great elemental stones for which the community was named. Unfortunately for Lou, a Kraken from his past was also at Bluth's Crown. His name was Glarn, and years ago both he and Lou were apprentices under the great archmage Sqaur'lesh. Glarn, convinced that Lou's inaction at the battle with the Sea Hags, lead directly to Sqaur'lesh's death. He tried to convince the elementalists to deny Lou access to the stones, but his attempt failed mainly thanks to the efforts of Calypso and Birgus. They defended Lou against Glarn's accusations, and ultimately the elders allowed all of them to visit the elemental stones. On the way there, Glarn warned Birgus and Calypso against continuing their association with Lou, claiming that he was a coward unworthy of the honor he'd been given.
After their meditations at Bluth's Crown, the crew decided to sail back to Azy Cay to take Stumpy Pete up on his offer. Calypso had been profoundly affected by her experiences at Bluth's Crown, and decided then and there to remain with the elementalists in order to continue her training. Bidding her farewell, the crew set sail for Azy Cay and began the long journey to the northernmost tip of the Whip Islands. Along the way, they stopped at the village of Tuck to resupply. At long last, they were close to the region where Stumpy Pete claimed the uncharted island lay, but claiming the treasure, it seemed, would be far from easy. Their lookout spotted sails on the horizon. The other ship was a schooner, sleek and fast, and to their dismay, it appeared to be turning towards them on a course to intercept them. Were they friend or foe?
There have been some changes in the crew and my players, so here's the current roster as of the end of this session:
Birgus, male Scurillian earth mage
Boo, male Doreen sailor
Grk, male Grael warrior
Lou, make Kraken fire mage
As for the others, John Shubrick signed off in Baltimus to show James Low around and get him acquainted with the strange new world he's in. Calypso remained behind at Bluth's Crown to continue her training as an elementalist, and Fey signed on to Admiral Duckworth's ship. With Calypso's departure, the crew needed someone who was mainly focused on Boating, so Fey's player dropped her in favor of Boo the Doreen, with a d10 in Boating.
The crew of the Valdez did their level-best to escape the oncoming schooner, which had raised a Jolly Roger as soon as it was close enough to see. They were pirates, after all! Hours the crew spent trying to coax every ounce of wind from the sails, but to no avail. The schooner was just too fast for their little skiff. To the crew's horror, the pirate ship opened fire with half a broadside which peppered the Valdez with cannon fire and blasted holes in her hull. This was not a fight the crew could win with their tiny ship and two cannons, so in desperation they ran up the white flag to surrender.
And their plan worked perfectly.
Once the two ships were grappled but before the pirate captain could give the order for his men to swarm the Valdez, the crew attacked in return. Fey and Grk gained the deck first, and waded in amongst the swarming pirates bravely. Grk cut a terrifying figure on the deck of the pirate ship, swinging his massive battle-ball and taking down pirate after pirate. Lou traded blasts of fire with the pirate's fire mage, eventually showing her the true power of the Kraken mages and blasting her to oblivion with a powerful bolt of fire. On the deck, Fey noticed that one of the pirates as a friend from Baltimus! (Thanks to the Turncoat Adventure Card). As he engaged in mock combat with her, he managed to tell her that the captain was a cruel, vicious man, and the crew would welcome a change in leadership. Birgus had some difficulty climbing across to the pirate schooner, but he was as effective at range as he was in melee, taking potshots at the pirates and the officers with his pistols and bursts of wet sand summoned up from the depths of the ocean. Enraged, the pirate captain tried to charge Grk, but was stopped short by Fey, who cut him down quickly and ended the battle. Their captain defeated, the remaining pirates surrendered.
Thanks to Fey's contact, a Doreen by the name of Boo, several of the remaining pirates swore loyalty to the crew. They were fare more powerful than the captain and his fire mage, after all, and had won in combat outnumbered 5-to-1! If any sailors on the seas of Caribdus were worthy of being their masters, surely it was these! The crew knew that they had to be on their guard, however, for these men were pirates and were not to be trusted. They could just as easily turn on them as they did their former captain!
Once the schooner was secured, they made the delightful discovery that it was a ship from Earth, and thus no one on Caribdus had a legal claim to it. It wasn't exactly piracy for them to claim this ship as their own. It was a nice little loophole that even their good friend Admiral Duckworth couldn't argue against. The crew decided to make for the nearest major port, New Madrid, to allow those crewmen who wished to sign off to do so, and to perhaps sign on new crew that could be more trustworthy. They could actually travel in some measure of comfort!
To their surprise, a few ours out from the port of New Madrid, they came across the end of a sea battle. None other than the HMS Justice, the great warship of Adm. Duckworth, was engaged in a full-fledged battle with a pirate vessel. The crew remained out of the fray, but after the pirates were sunk they drew alongside the Justice and made their presence known. Duckworth invited them aboard, and questioned them about their new ship. He seemed interested in how they came by it, and they were honest with him about the recent acquisition. Since he knew them to be good folk, he gave them the benefit of the doubt, but they couldn't help but wonder if he truly believed their story. Time would tell. As they began to return to the as-yet-unnamed schooner, Fey parted company with them to return to Baltimus with Admiral Duckworth. Boo, the Doreen, joined the crew in her place.
They arrived at New Madrid, and spent some time there exploring the new town and finding a buyer for the Valdez. They also fixed her up and sold her, happy to have a larger ship at last in which to stretch their legs. While in New Madrid, they saw the great town clock that fascinated so many other native Caribdans, and saw a poster promising riches to any crew brave enough to bring a yellowback all the way from Torath-Ka to the arena in New Madrid. Eager to find the strange island Stumpy Pete described and find the treasure, they didn't delay in New Madrid any longer than they had to, and soon were on their way with a fresh crew and full provisions.
The island was easily enough found, just as Stumpy Pete had said. It was a tall mesa before the seas began to rise, and the only way up was to scale the rugged cliffs. It was a relatively easy climb, but they had to winch Stumpy Pete up on ropes due to his inability to climb. He led them through the tangled jungle, stopping occasionally to get his bearings or look for some familiar landmark. As they day progressed, Lou noticed Stumpy Pete getting more and more nervous. He'd flinch at any noise, and would often glance out into the jungle. Lou asked him about this, and Pete only said that it was strange being back, after so many of his fellow crewmen had died. He was in a hurry to get along to the treasure. Soon the crew came upon the ruins of an old Masaquani hunting lodge, which Pete identified as the location of the treasure. He led them to the old ballroom, and had them tear up some floor planks and dig. All the while, he continued to nervously check the jungle, as if looking for something.
Soon the crew reached several chests which, when opened, proved to indeed be brimming with treasure. Grk found a musty old sack, which he picked up and looked into curiously. Inside was a mummified Kraken head -- apparently with some life left in it! It opened its mouth and its eyes rolled around in their sockets. Lou took the head from him... and it spoke! The head claimed to be that of a great Kraken archmage, and would imbue its wielder with great power in any confrontation with the Sea Hags.
Before much more could be said, however, a tremendous undead monkape, flanked by several normal-sized living specimens, charged out of the jungle. Stumpy Pete wailed in fear and bade everyone to run. This, then, was the guardian he had been so wary of. The giant zombie monkape charged into the ruins, but the crew bravely stood their ground, peppering it with blasts of fire, earth, and shot. It fell, destroyed, before it even reached them. The living monkapes scattered in a panic. With the treasure in hand and the guardian defeated, the crew quickly returned to the ship and were soon on their way back to New Madrid. They didn't want to give that giant monkape time to return from the dead yet again! (Yeah, I know... kind of anti-climactic, but my dice just weren't with me that night.)
The crew were soon back in New Madrid, and divvied up the treasure as per the agreement with Stumpy Pete. Grk received as part of his share a strange golden triangle, not much bigger than a gold coin.
(This adventure strayed somewhat from the written version, but that's ok. I liked the direction the players were taking it and I ran with it. Enjoy!)
The crew remained in New Madrid for several days, carousing and getting to know the dockside population. Whilst in reverie in El Hoyo Cantina, they witnessed a quick duel between two hot-tempered locals. Blades flashed in the far corner as the two men dueled, and a local man enjoying the carousing with the crew explained that the two swordsmen were members of opposing fencing schools. The two schools, the Juan Martinez Fencing Academy and the New Madrid Academy, were involved in a rivalry and the students often battled in the streets, but these were duels of honor and rarely even resulted in injuries. No sooner had he said this when one of the duelers ran the other through and fled. The locals were shocked! The duels never resulted in this sort of extreme. The rivalry, it seemed, had somehow been escalated.
Curious about this great rivalry, Boo and Lou decided to join the academies, one to each, and investigate further. Boo petitioned to join the New Madrid Academy, and Lou the Juan Martinez Academy. Each was given an audience with the master of their respective academy, and each made quiet an impression with their skill at arms. During the several days they spent at the academies, they discovered, each in their own time, that the rivalry was long-running, but only escalated after a student, one Rafael de Noez, joined the Ramirez academy and fired up the hearts of the students there. Lou discovered that Noez was once a member of the Martinez academy; perhaps this escalated rivalry came from his own wounded pride? Both Lou and Boo found their respective masters to be reasonable men, and worked with them to help calm the tempers of the students in the wake of the recent murder. Then, Boo hit upon an idea. He would publicly challenge Rafael de Noez to meet in the the Arena to settle the dispute once and for all in a duel to the first blood.
The idea swept through New Madrid like wildfire! The idea that a new student of one great academy would challenge the near-undisputed champion of the other, in public, could not be contained. Word quickly got out that even Grande Alcalde Rodrico Pires himself would attend the match. Noez accepted.
The day of the duel arrived, and the Arena at New Madrid was filled with cheering fans. Bets were made, legal and otherwise, and the noise of cheering, jeering, hawking, and singing filled the stadium. The Grande Alcalde was indeed there in his private booth, flanked by the two great fencing masters. The battle began.
Boo proved to be a greater opponent than Noez was expecting, and although he was on the defensive for most of the battle Noez found him quite a tricky fencer in his own right. At one point Noez resorted to ungentlemanly tactics, throwing sand into Boo's face, but the Doreen was able to shrug off his unsportsmanlike attack and press on. Blow after blow from both sides were launched, parried, or turned back, and infrequently did either give any ground. Ultimately, however, Noez proved victorious, landing a telling blow on Boo's flank that wept blood freely. Boo saw in Noez' eyes that the Spaniard was about to move in for the kill but was stopped by several members of the audience rushing the field. He and Boo were swept up in the rush and carried off in different directions.
In the following days, the crew found out that Ramirez, too, had booted Noez and the students who followed him from his academy, and that Noez had left New Madrid in disgrace.
From New Madrid, the crew decided to set sail north for Marsales. They'd heard around New Madrid's docks that a cartographer in Marsales, Jose-Maria Caballeros, was chartering various ship captains to map the islands of Caribdus, and it sounded like an interesting pastime.
On their first day out from New Madrid, however, they ran into a powerful storm. It was all Boo could do to keep control of the wheel as the crew were tossed about on deck. Their new sloop, which they had named the Minnow, rose high on the heavy seas. A few hours into the storm, they saw another vessel speeding towards them unhindered by the winds and waves. It was a galleon, far larger than their ship, and it was bathed in an eerie red glow. On the deck they saw a tall, slender captain with a fiery red beard and a long crimson coat. They recognized it as none other than the ghost of Redbeard Rufus, one of the most vile, evil, and vindictive Human pirates to ever curse the seas of Caribdus. Capt. Rufus held his gaze transfixed on Grk, and a hoard of ghostly pirates burst onto the deck of the Minnow. The crew managed to fight them off, banishing them back to whatever Hell waited for them, and the mysterious red galleon vanished into the storm.
Once the storm had passed, they wondered what brought on that horrific encounter, and continued on their course to Marsales.
In Marsales, the crew made contact with the cartographer Jose-Maria Caballeros. He informed them that he was looking for well-detailed maps of the islands, including water depth. In particular he was interested in maps of Cuwayo. He paid them half the 2,000 piece-of-eight price up front, with the rest due upon delivery of the maps. The crew thought it a bit strange that he wouldn't have accurate maps of such an important island, but the money was good and it would give them an excuse to reacquaint themselves with Equais who was undertaking just such a task on her own.
Meanwhile, Grk had wandered into Enrico’s Barbershop. Being the only member of the crew with any sort of facial hair, he decided to remain there and have his walrus-like whiskers trimmed up. He fell into conversation with Enrico, who pressed him for details about his crew, his travels, and other such random gossip as one might expect to hear in a barber shop. When Grk mentioned that he knew Admiral Duckworth, Enrico drew close and whispered into his ear. He claimed to be an agent of the British East India Company who's cover had been compromised. He told Grk he needed him to deliver an urgent message to Edward Lazenby or Admiral Duckwork, and he needed to leave at once. Grk agreed and took the message and Enrico's ring -- which bore an image of a white dove -- as Enrico closed up his shop and hurried away.
Unfortunately, it wasn't until the next day that Grk mentioned any of this to the others. As the crew busied itself getting the Minnow ready for sail, Birgus noticed a detachment of guardsmen marching down the pier, muskets at the ready. Two of the ship's crewmen hadn't returned yet, so if they had to beat a hasty retreat they'd be short-handed on the trip back to Baltimus. The officer, Capitan Pablo Julios, demanded to be allowed aboard. Once on deck, Julios ordered his men to search the ship for contraband, including full searches of the person of each crewman. Birgus objected, demanding to know under what authority Julios was acting. The angry guard captain retorted that he was acting under the direct orders of the Alcalde Miguel Ferrara. Soon, it was Grk's turn to be searched, and the Grael did the best he could to dissuade the soldiers as he had the message and the ring concealed on him. They never found the message, as Birgus' uncontrollable crab claws choose this exact moment to lash out at one of the soldiers nearby, cleanly snipping off the man's head. The soldiers, unaware of Birgus' peculiar disorder (he has a Hindrance that makes his crab-claws often act on their own accord, similar to Alien Hand Syndrome), immediately ended their searches and attacked the crew. Capitan Julios managed to score a powerful wound on Birgus before he was brought down, and the other soldiers were no match for the crew. One of the soldiers survived the attack, and the crew took him hostage as they quickly fled the docks, getting the Minnow under sail in record time. As they sailed from the bay, they heard bells ringing in the town. They were pursued by three sloops, and engaged in a running cannon battle with them as they tried to escape to open waters and freedom. Railings, deck planks, and yardarms shivered and snapped around them as the Spanish ships assailed them, but their cannons also found purchase in the opposing ships hulls. After a desperate chase, the Spanish ships called off the chase and limped back to port.
After the battle, Lou and Birgus had a serious chat with Grk, and Lou in particular was quite angry with Grk for what he'd done, especially for taking on such a risky mission without discussing it with the others.
Back at Baltimus, Enrico's ring got the crew almost immediate entry into Duckworth's estate. The Admiral listened to their story with great concern, and when presented with the encoded message from Enrico he left the room in a powerful hurry calling for men to summon Edward Lazenby at once. While he was gone, the crew sneaked a peek at the decoded message: "Guild raising fleet. Attack on Baltimus imminent. Prepare strong defenses."
When Admiral Duckworth returned, he asked the crew if they would be interested in joining the defense of Baltimus should the threat of a Guild attack be true. The crew huddled up and discussed it, and agreed to help if they could. There, on the spot, Duckworth wrote out a Letter of Marque for them to attack any Spanish Guild Ships in the waters off Cuwayo.