The Journal of Bundal, Part 3

I think I’ve made a terrible mistake.

Up until now, despite my habit of complaining, I hadn’t truly regretted my actions as a member of the Eye’s crew. When I saved the cabin boy, I had no regrets. I couldn’t just let him drown. Likewise, I had no alternative but to fight the pirate captain after he’d boarded the ship. Though these decisions led to an unwanted reputation amongst my peers, their respect was simply a casualty of doing my duty. I’d had little choice in either matter.

But why then did I feel compelled to help the village of Ral-Joo?

We’d not been on the island more than an hour when several of the crew, accompanied by a small group of villagers, came to find me. There was enough concern on their faces that I immediately knew no good would come of our meeting.

As I listened apprehensively, my concerns were soon justified. It seemed the island had recently attracted the attention of what the people of Ral-Joo described as a powerful “witch-doctor”. At least, this is what the translator related to me. Ever since this witch-doctor’s arrival, the weather on the island had grown steadily worse as he attempted to either drive the people of Ral-Joo from their home or, failing that, kill them. What’s more, he’d recently used his “magic” to summon a number of unnatural beasts from the sea itself. These fish-like monsters had then snuck into Ral-Joo during the night and stolen many of the village’s children! The witch-doctor would only release them, or so he said, if the villagers agreed to abandon the island entirely. The people of Ral-Joo would gladly have obeyed to save their children, but they had no where to go and their boats were not built for anything more than fishing. It certainly did sound like they needed help.

But why come to me? These people didn’t know me, and I certainly hadn’t offered to help. To them, I shouldn’t have been anything more than the clumsy fool they’d seen fall into the ocean earlier that morning. It didn’t seem to make sense.

Then it came to me. There could be only one explanation for the villagers’ believing I might be able to stop this witch-doctor, and that was the crew. The men of the Eye believed me some sort of hero and had probably “offered” my help. The thought made me uneasy.

The men must have noticed my sudden mood change because I saw them share several, nervous glances. If they assumed I was scared, they were right, but I doubt they knew exactly why. I do not, after all, fear witch-doctors or their magic. That’s nothing more than superstition. But the villagers’ claims of oddly shifting weather did seem real enough; I’d seen it earlier when the wind knocked me into the sea. I was frightened, true, but only because I knew what must actually be behind their misfortune, and it wasn’t some shaman.

The island had become the home of a Shaper.

Shapers, as most of you know, are a nasty lot. Unlike Steelweavers, their reality-bending “talents” extend well beyond what can be accomplished with a blade, making them extremely dangerous. I had met a few in the past, though I’d never been asked to kill one. It seemed almost suicidal to even suggest it. How can you defeat someone who controls reality itself?

I’d barely had time to curse my luck when a deafening thunder peal sounded overhead. I noticed the men of Ral-Joo flinch, causing an unexpected feeling in the pit of my stomach. Something about their reaction bothered me. These were proud men, strong and normally courageous, but they’d reacted to the noise in the same way a child might. Thunder was, of course, nothing to fear– these men must have heard it thousands of times while living on the island. But now they were afraid. Not of the noise itself, nor even the storm it foretold, but of the evil behind it. This Shaper had robbed them of more than their homes and children. He’d taken the villagers’ spirit as well, and I knew they wouldn’t be able to reclaim that on their own.

Through the translator, I asked the villagers if they knew where we could find this witch-doctor. They immediately began to “whoop” and celebrate my decision to help. It was awkward. Eventually, they calmed down enough for one of the men to motion towards the hills north of Ral-Joo. We paused only to arm ourselves before setting off in that direction to find and hopefully put an end to the threat. I still had no idea how to stop the Shaper, but I was certainly going to try.

We’d made it a mile or so outside of the village when rain suddenly began to fall. There was no warning either, no trickle to let us know the real storm was on its way. The clouds just seemed to burst all at once, blanketing everything in great sheets of water. Everything– including us– was quickly soaked, making the trip much more difficult. Our feet sank with every step as we continued our trudge up the hills.

Finally, the downpour proved too much and we were forced to seek cover. Thankfully the men of Ral-Joo knew the area well and led us to a small cave dug into one side of the hill we’d been climbing. We scampered towards it as more thunder rang out nearby.

Immediately, I began to wring the water from my clothing as the others settled down against the stone walls. It certainly felt good to be out of the rain. But what now? The weather had effectively trapped us here, with no way to reach the Shaper. I suddenly felt a familiar sense of overwhelming gloom. I had failed the men of Ral-Joo, even before we’d actually reached our destination.

Having given in to my natural pessimism, I sat there on the muddy floor staring at the water rushing by us. The damnable rain had create what looked like a river pouring into the cave, though luckily the floor was slanted enough for us to be seated above the water itself. I listened somewhat obliviously to it surging into the darkness. At least it had somewhere to go which meant we likely wouldn’t drown as the cave filled-up.

Suddenly I sprung to my feet, having realized what this meant. If there was plenty of room for the water, then there had to be more to the cave than the small room where we now sat. Perhaps there were tunnels.

Removing a torch from the bag I’d brought with me, I was relieved to find it and my flint had remained dry– if there is anything I would recommend to would-be explorers, it’s buy a good pack. I then made my way towards the back wall of the cave as the others watched from along the sides. I could feel their curious stares as I pushed myself through a small crack in the stone, but I ignored them for now. Once on the other side, I stifled a gasp at what lay before me. Rising for dozens of feet, a network of stone bridges ascended into the cavern itself! Though they were no wider than a ship’s gangplank, I felt certain we could safely cross them. But even as stood there, the realization of what I was looking at sent a chill through my spine. This stone labyrinth was clearly not natural; something had carved it.

By now the others had begun to join me. They seemed equally shocked by what I’d discovered, revealing another important bit of information. Given their reaction, the men of Ral-Joo had not been behind the creation of this cavern. I was now all but certain I knew who had.

Because the stone was wet, we were forced to move slowly along the narrow bridges. They certainly seemed thinner now that we were out on them. Though I tried my best to not look down more often than necessary, I still had several spells of dizziness. The men of Ral-Joo seemed to be faring better than the rest of us, though, and I felt them steady me more than once. After what seemed like an eternity, we reached a small platform and decided to rest for a moment. Slowly our labored breathing died away, leaving only the sound of the water below us. I closed my eyes and cleared my mind.

That’s when I heard the sound for the first time. It was something like a croaking, but not exactly. There was an almost gibbering noise to it, as if something that had no right to speak had suddenly tried. Opening my eyes, I saw several of the villagers had begun to panic and were frantically trying to tell us something. I turned to the translator and noticed, even in the poor light, he seemed more pale than usual.

“The witch-doctor’s beasts,” he said in a trembling tone. “They’ve found us.”

To be continued…

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This week, Perception is $0.99 to help the homeless of Atlanta.

With fall coming quickly (and winter not far behind), I’d like to do something to help http://www.atlantamission.org/. I know with temperatures as they currently are, it’s hard to think about being cold– but that won’t be the case in just a few months.

So here’s what I’d like to do. I’ve set the price of Perception to $0.99 this week, and I’ll be giving 50% of the sales to Atlanta Mission. If you were already interested in buying the book, now’s a good time because of the discount; however, if you weren’t, then I encourage you to go to http://www.atlantamission.org/ or your local shelter and donate directly. Either way, please keep these organizations in your thoughts and prayers as they prepare for the months ahead.

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An Unexpected Respite

Greetings, Adventurers!

When last I left you, the crew of the Eye had just vanquished the unwholesome crew of one Karbeel the Pallid. The experience, however, had left them altogether unprepared to face the rest of our journey south; their losses had simply been too great. As a result, Captain Freelan had little choice but to make an unplanned detour towards a small chain of islands due east. When I protested for fear of the time we would lose, he assured me the necessary replacements would be found in short order.

Thankfully, he was– for the most part– correct.

It was towards daybreak on the morning following the pirate attack when we sailed into Ral-Joo, a small fishing village located on the largest of the islands colloquially known as “The Giant’s Toes”. Or rather, I assume it was around that time; I’d actually slept-in a bit and the boat was already moored when I made my way onto the deck. For all of the opulence and vice embodied by Sharve, Ral-Joo appeared to be its antithesis. Surrounded by a cluster of simple, ramshackle huts, the village itself seemed almost as innocent and untouched as its far-flung denizens, who were even now beginning to clamor around the boat. It was quite a sight: their mostly naked, sun-baked bodies, gazing up at us in bewildered anticipation as if we were visiting gods.

As I hastily scribbled, putting the scene to paper, Freelan made his way down the gangplank towards the growing throng. Suddenly, they began to part, providing the captain with a clear route inland. I responded by shifting towards the front of the ship, in the hopes of locating a better vantage point from which to see where this path was ferrying Freelan. The answer was a bit of a surprise. There, at the very back of the well-tanned procession stood a rather portly man in what could only be described as a green and gold frock. It was difficult, dear readers, to stifle my amusement.

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Initially, the villagers seemed wary of us.  This small group was the first to come close to the ship, but others soon followed their lead.

By now, Bundal had joined me and was also staring intently at the large man in the apparent dress little more than a few dozen paces from where we stood. I attempted to gauge his reaction but drew only a disinterested shrug. I suppose, though, any level of response, no matter how tepid, speaks volumes when it is derived from my usually ambivalent steward.

Deciding it was time to actually visit Ral-Joo, I made my way confidently down the makeshift gangway the crew had erected, Bundal in tow. The locals showered us with flowered wreathed and warm smiles as we descended. Upon reaching the bottom, however, I turned to discover that Bundal had only come so far as the middle of the long plank, and was now teetering as the wind pushed him to and fro with uncharacteristic strength. One particularly nasty gust later and my steward found himself going for an unexpected swim! He quickly emerged again with a gasp, a bit wetter (and perhaps also more disgruntled) than before, but no worse for the experience. The locals chuckled slightly as Bundal pulled himself from the sea, though even this response seemed genuine and less about his misfortune than honest mirth. Besides, I think even Bundal would have to admit there was most certainly levity to be found in his toppling. Still sopping wet, he followed as I made my way towards Freelan and whomever it was he was speaking with.

It took but a moment in their company to discover the identity of the be-frocked individual. He was, clearly, Ral-Joo’s chieftain and, despite his otherwise cheerful demeanor, the conversation was not going well. Freelan had, of course, been intending to hire several of the chieftain’s best men to re-establish his dwindled crew, but the portly man appeared to be disinclined towards the proposal. Though they were conversing in a language I am only somewhat familiar with, I gleaned enough to understand the issue had something to do with recent storms, the need for protection within the village, and something that translates roughly to “witchcraft”. This last point makes very little sense, however, so I am certain I misunderstood the meaning. Regardless, it appeared highly unlikely we would procure the assistance we so desperately needed within Ral-Joo.

Nevertheless, the chieftain seemed jovial and even pleased to see us, eagerly gesticulating towards the largest of the village’s huts. Though he could not spare the men we’d requested, we were to be treated to a feast in our honor at nightfall! I admit; the thought of a day on dry land followed by the rare delicacies of this little-known society did wonders for my sense of urgency and I soon found myself no longer preoccupied with the desire to depart from Ral-Joo. Besides, even if I had not adopted this new outlook, we still would not likely have been able to leave the island– ominous clouds had begun to settle over the village, bringing with them the threat of torrential storm.

Within a few hours, my concerns regarding the suddenly inclement weather had grown as rapidly as the billowy, black harbingers overhead. Though the sky had been fair upon our arrival, now it roiled angrily, the occasional thunderclap shaking the walls of the hut we’d taken cover within. I had experienced sudden storms before, but this was unlike anything I’d yet witnessed. Part of me, actually, was in awe of nature’s omnipotence and even slightly glad to see it firsthand. A larger part, however, was worried for the village.

And yes, readers, that was my true concern. As I have mentioned previously, if it were up to me, every day would conclude with rain. I do so enjoy strolling through it; the world is much more visceral during a storm. However, I am usually able to enjoy such an experience within either an untouched forest or the walls of a city strong enough to withstand the torrent. Ral-Joo was neither, and I feared there would be nothing left of the village after the storm had finished with it. My apprehension seemed to be shared by a growing number of the locals, too, as several dozen had already taken to huddling quietly in the corners of the chieftain’s hut as the feast commenced.

Then, amid the din of thunder and howling of wind, the chief stood and quieted his people. An earnest blessing followed, as the plucky villagers renewed their resolve and joined their rotund leader in a rousing chant. I understood enough to know its intent was to ward of “evil spirits”, yet another colorful example of how wonderful primitive cultures can be. As they concluded, dishes began being brought in, appearing from the fire pits just beyond the chieftain’s throne. Soon the room was filled with succulent foodstuffs, their delicious aromas carried by the crisp, night’s breeze.

Despite the impending danger, the hospitality of the men and women of Ral-Joo was on full display that evening. Though the hut’s windows were soon shuttered in order to prevent the now falling rains from flooding the room, everyone present– both natives and crew alike– continued to celebrate even as the walls themselves shook under the weight of the downpour. All the while, like a panacea for the tumult around us, the music played, let by a troupe of ornately dressed villagers Though their instruments appeared archaic, they produced a sound no less grand than anything performed within the hallowed halls of the Perkeet Symphony. Between this tribal rhythm and the feast itself, I was soon drunk on the very spirit (and spirits) of Ral-Joo.

The celebration lasted well into the night, with dinner followed by a great deal of dancing and even more imbibing of the local vintage. Thankfully, the hut survived both nature’s assault and our raucous merriment despite its many cracks and leaks. I awoke the next morning to find the sun peaking through one such imperfection, the aftertaste of the party still clinging tightly to me. Quickly rousing myself, I climbed from the chair in which I’d finally passed out sometime after the fifth drinking game, and began to assess the situation. Most of the erstwhile revelers still slept, curled around tables, chairs, and each other, though Freelan and Ral-Joo’s chieftain were missing. Also absent was Bundal, but as I think back upon it now, I don’t recall seeing him at any point after the conclusion of the villager’s pre-feast chant. Given how ill he becomes during storms and his penchant for quiet, perhaps he simply managed to slink away and hide. Regardless, he missed quite a night.

Stumbling outside into the cool morning air, I was astounded by the how clear the sky had grown. Not a single cloud remained and, honestly, I would not have believed the storm had occurred had I not experienced it. Though I do not know the exact hour during which the rains passed, even the puddles had dried by the time I awoke and there didn’t appear to be any damage done to the village. Perhaps the chant had accomplished more than I imagined…

Several hours later, we had once more boarded the Eye. I noticed Freelan was already on deck as I finished climbing the gangplank and there was a distinct look of satisfaction upon his face. It was warranted. After having risen early, the captain had again gone to entreat the chieftain for aid, this time choosing his words much more carefully. Apparently the feast had served to soften the portly man’s will and he finally agreed to allow a handful of his best men to accompany us! They could be seen even now, walking along the beach as Bundal led them towards the ship.

We set sail shortly thereafter, waving towards the people of Ral-Joo until they had disappeared from sight. Though the visit had been brief, the denizens of the island had found a special place in my heart and I couldn’t help but long to remain with them further. This was not to be, of course, and though I do not regret yielding to the siren’s song that summons me south, the villagers had shown us a great kindness that was hard to leave behind. I will not soon forget it or them.

So there you have it, fellow adventurers. If you ever find yourself in the vicinity of “The Giant’s Toes”, I heartily recommend visiting the village of Ral-Joo. There you will find a people simple in culture but advanced in hospitality. I know that I, once this this expedition has concluded, will one day find my way back to that familiar beach where I will listen to their beautiful music, partake of their delicious cuisine, and relish their incomparable charity.

Until then, I thankfully remain,

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The Journal of Bundal, Part 2

I’m alone in my cabin, now. Finally.

It’s nice to be able to stretch out a little, even if doing so does make my side hurt even worse. My entire body would probably ache no matter how I positioned it, anyway.

Today there were pirates aboard the Eye. Not the kind found in the silly books Senavian is so fond of, either. No, these were real pirates. Men with swords and daggers and the sole aim of plundering everything you own after they plunge one of those weapons in your back. There is no reasoning with them and they offer no mercy, even if you surrender. They must be dealt with in like manner.

The pirates had come from Sharve. That much was obvious. But where they’d sailed from and how they’d managed to board the lower portion of the ship without being discovered wasn’t important. When murderous thieves attack you, questions can– and often must– wait.

And so it was this afternoon. I had been trying unsuccessfully to sleep off a large amount of scorpion venom when I heard yelling just outside my door. Curious– and wide-awake– I crept to the door but stopped a few feet short of it. There was the sound of steel on steel coming from the hallway, and I knew what it meant: sword fighting. I had not seen the crew sparring with one another so far, so I immediately assumed the worst. I placed my ear to the door, trying to get a better idea of what was going on, but I couldn’t quite make it out. It was then that a cutlass crashed through the door, it’s blade splitting the wood no more than a few inches from my skull. My fears were confirmed.

Exiting the room, I grabbed the cutlass that had nearly brought my part of the expedition to a sudden end. It’d been used to pin one of the crew to the door by his throat. I figured he didn’t need it anymore. In front of me the scene was already chaotic. The pirates had choked us off from the upper decks and were in the process of whittling our numbers. The crew, though outnumbered and facing men with much more experience, were doing their best. It just wasn’t likely to be enough.

As I entered the main room, a couple of pirates spotted me and bolted forward. I waited for them to reach me, then, grabbing the door frame, pushed forward and past them as they both swung for my head. Thankfully I’d thought to duck. Next, I spun to face them, grabbing the closer of the two by the arm and yanking him towards me. I lowered my shoulder at the last moment, sending a shiver through the surprised pirate as we collided. Stunned and suddenly wobbly, the man threw his free arm up in the air to steady himself, knocking the other pirate sideways in the process.

With the odds suddenly even, I wasted no time in going on the offensive. Though the pirate before me seemed skilled with a cutlass, fist-fighting wasn’t his strength. After feinting left, I landed a clean shot to his jaw which dazed him. He stumbled backwards, once more running into the second pirate who had just regained his footing. Together they toppled into the floor.

After scrambling to their feet, they made a half-hearted effort to pin me between themselves, but I leapt forward, catching the man closest to me with a boot in his ribcage. He wheezed and doubled over as I used the sudden change in my momentum to spring backwards, twisting in the air to face the second pirate. We exchanged several blows, each of us easily parrying the other’s blade, as the first man scrambled once more to his feet. I sighed as he rose behind me, his shadow visible along the far wall. Though I was keeping these two busy, they were preventing me from helping the rest of the crew. I needed to finish this now.

Allowing the man behind us to believe he was sneaking up on me, I instead focused on the pirate I could see. It wasn’t until the other had drawn within an arm’s length that I tensed and waited for his next move. He made it a moment later, lunging for me with his cutlass. Having anticipated this, I easily sidestepped as the pirate’s momentum carried him past me, his weapon still extended. Grabbing him by the head and arm, I rushed forward, using him as a sort of battering ram. I could see the color in the other pirate’s face drain as we charged towards him, and though he managed to parry his partner’s unwilling bull-rush, doing so left him vulnerable. I quickly released my human jousting pole with a stern shove that carried me towards the other pirate’s weak side. My blade found its mark as the man fell.

Meanwhile, the second pirate had continued to stumble before finally steadying himself a foot or so in front of an interior wall. I heard him sigh as he realized just how close he’d come to crashing into it. But I had other ideas. Dashing forward, I once more planting my boot into the man at a dead sprint, this time firmly in his rear. With a high-pitched yelp, the pirate flew forward before crashing headfirst thought the wall. When he did not reappear from within the dust and debris his fall had thrown up, I decided he was no longer a threat.

Cautiously, I turned again towards the main room. The crew, having seen the entire event, seemed almost energized. In fact, the tide appeared to be turning as the men of the Eye began to rally against the pirates, driving them back towards the ship’s aft. I even allowed myself to feel encouraged along with them.

I should have known that was foolishness.

Right as the main force of pirates was beginning to retreat, a great blast sounded from a nearby cargo hold, followed by one of the walls exploding inward! Large amounts of splintered wood and ash flew by me, taking some of the crew with it. When the dust and smoke had cleared, a lone man stood in the still burning doorway he’d created for his grand entrance– and he was as terrifying a vision as any beast Senavian’s books have ever described.

Dressed in otherwise plain clothing, the exceedingly tall pirate wore a long, blood-red cloak which he promptly threw off as he strode into the suddenly silent room. His hair was long and white, as was his skin, and his lean body was covered in scars and tattoos. Upon his chest rested what appeared to be actual eyeballs strung together in a necklace and his beard was braided and bound with gold ringlets. He wore at least a dozen rings on each hand and the bracelets lining his long arms jingled as he moved. But his eyes were what caught my attention most acutely. They were sharp and clear, but almost as red as his cloak. He scanned the room, his brow furrowed, before finally bringing his relentless gaze to rest on me. I swear I saw flames in those eyes.

“A gold Centon for every pair of eyes, men!” he shouted as the pirates roared their approval. This seemed more than enough motivation for his men who immediately began pushing into the room again, their frenzy renewed. This was no real wonder, though; as the currency of Sharve, a whole, gold Centon was a very large sum for something so trivial. There were, after all, a great number of eyes to be had.

I, for one, wouldn’t be giving mine up so easily, though.

Forcing my fear aside, I glared back at the pale pirate, drawing a wicked smile. We ignored the others fighting around us and charged forward, our eyes locked.

The pirate slammed his weapon– a serrated blade twice the size of my own– down on me as we drew close. The force of the blow shook my entire body as I barely managed to block it, stumbling backwards as I did. He was far stronger than his wiry frame suggested. And he was quick, too. Before I’d had a chance to re-gather my wits, he was again on the offensive, his blade dancing menacingly around me. It left painful wounds on my arms and side even as I desperately deflected the brunt of the attack.

I was over-matched and needed a plan that didn’t involve going toe-to-toe with him.

Drawing the larger man into the middle of the room, I began a deadly game of “cat and mouse”. The pale pirate was all too happy to play along, dashing after me as I retreated. To our right was a large, wooden table which I jumped upon, hoping to gain a height advantage. The pirate countered by swinging his blade along the top of the table in an attempt to take my legs out from under me. Several half-empty mugs of ale and a handful of wooden plates went flying past us as I narrowly hopped over the blade. His second, return swing was slightly higher, but I had managed to grab a chandelier overhead and was already sailing out past him.

As I landed a few feet behind the pirate, I quickly leapt forward but my blade was met by his even as I did so. Nevertheless, I did manage to sidestep his riposte, burying my elbow in his ribcage in the process. Spinning away from a retaliatory blow, I quickly backed away again, causing the pirate to growl at me in anger. I simply smiled back; this was how I would beat him.

With the suddenly furious pirate right on my heels, I dashed back around the room, weaving between chairs and skirmishing men. The pale man felt no need for such agility and instead simply bowled over everything and everyone in his way. I could feel him gaining on me as I led him towards a nearby support beam where I doubled back despite being dangerously close. I ducked right as his sword swung over my head, the force of his blow almost cleaving the beam in two. Then I heard him lurch sideways with an angry grunt as he tried to once again give chase but couldn’t. It was as if something had ensnared him, and I had a good guess as to what it was. Turning, I found him straining at his blade, which was now buried a foot deep in the beam’s wood.

This was only the first part of my plan. I next planted my foot in the pale pirate’s chin as he stood stooped over his sword. My boot caught him square yet her barely budged. I had, however, gotten his attention. He turned his head to glare at me, his posture, gangly limbs, and necklace of eyes giving him the appearance of a large, ivory spider. Once again his gaze seemed to bore right into my soul, until I could take no more. I raised my sword and swung down on the ghostly man with everything I had, confident he’d be unable to parry my blow. The sword seemed to whistle as it hurtled downwards before stopping so abruptly I almost stumbled again. It had struck flesh.

But not the flesh I had imagined.

Incredibly, the pirate had caught the sword just inches from his face! He now rested on one knee, my cutlass protruding from between his bloodied, yet vice-like hands. On his face he wore the old grin and I remember he made a sort of “tsk, tsk” sound as if he were scolding me for what I’d tried to do. I struggled to free my cutlass, but his hands had fastened about it and I could not shake them.

As he stood, I released the sword to retreat just as a cheer went up from the deck above. This was followed by a great rumbling that stilled the fighting around us as a chorus of “Grish! Grish!” rang out. I recognized the name as belonging to the steelweaver from Sharve. Apparently the men above had fared better than us.

The pirates in the cargo holds seemed to draw the same conclusion and began scrambling for several of the ship’s back rooms (we later found out they’d boarded the eye through portholes and balconies left open by several spies among our ranks). We chased them out of a sense of duty, but, honestly, we were content just to see them go. Even the pale pirate made a hasty exit. I watched him as he sailed away, the smile still on his face, the fire still burning within his eyes. His was not the expression of someone admitting defeat; he will likely be back. I only hope to be more prepared next time.

After patching several holes in the side of the boat– not to mention dealing with the bodies of both friend and foe alike– it was well past sunset. The crew came to me to give thanks afterwards, and I think I may have been short with them. I don’t desire to be their “leader”, nor do they need to show me any deference. Still, they did clean out one of the storage rooms to give me my own cabin, so I guess the respect isn’t all bad. A few of them later told me the pirate I fought was actually the thieves’ captain– an especially savage man named Karbeel. Apparently he is somewhat of a legend in these waters, and by merely surviving the encounter I’ve been elevated to near legendary status myself. I never did care for legends, though; most of them turn out to be little more than lies.

I believe I’ll leave the story there for now. I’m entirely exhausted and can hardly continue holding my pen as it is. I hope to never see Karbeel again, though as long as he’s alive, I doubt his pride will allow him to leave us be. At least our first meeting left me with something more than a few dozen scars to show for it; his cloak will make a fine blanket for the chill of night.

The Battle of the Eye

Greetings, Adventurers!

Today I have a tale of the most daring variety to share with you. But be forewarned; there is a level of violence that is simply inescapable in the retelling. I do so hope you aren’t squeamish.

It began yesterday around midday. We were no more than a few hours out of Sharve and the sea, along with the crew’s general mood, had grown calm. I was strolling upon one of the ship’s upper decks, enjoying the faint breeze when I heard a lookout call from a crow’s nest. He sounded as if he were very close to panicking.

Casting my gaze portside, my eyes quickly came to rest upon a smaller boat headed in our direction. It sailed under the colors of one of Sharve’s more notorious pirate captains, Karbeel the Pallid. Known for his ruthlessness as well as a curious– given his livelihood– aversion to sunlight, Karbeel had grown somewhat infamous within the waters surrounding the Horn of Tromp. Suddenly the lookout’s clear apprehension made a great deal of sense.

The miniscule pirate vessel, though severally out-gunned, proved far more maneuverable than our own, effortlessly outflanking us as the crew desperately attempted a preemptive salvo. It was a pointless exercise, our failure entirely unsuprising. We would not, after all, simply be able to blow Karbeel and his band of brigands from the sea. This was a captain of some renown; he would not have lived long enough to garner his notoriery if besting him were no more difficult than loading a few cannons. These pirates had managed to raid ships such as the Eye for some time and their success had had precious little to do with luck. Karbeel, as he’d certainly done many times before, had chosen his prey carefully, watching as we arrived in Sharve, studying us as we purchased supplies, and then biding his time. It is even possible he planted a spy or two within the crew’s ranks before we sailed away. Regardless, it was all too obvious we would soon be forced to defend ourselves from his raiding parties.

Suddenly Captain Freelan’s voice boomed from directly behind me. Though he was yelling, his words held no sense of alarm. He seemed, in a way, almost calm despite the impending danger both he and his crew faced. It was immediately reassuring, and the crew responded in kind. Rallying to their captain, the men began to arm themselves as the first pirate cannon ball volleys sailed our way.

Though we’d had trouble lining up to fire upon our adversaries, the pirates had suffered no such impediment. The projectiles themselves, however, were too small to do much damage to the Eye’s thick hull; pirate ships are often forced to sacrifice firepower in the name of speed. Nevertheless, the blast did manage to temper the confident mood amongst the crew, which was likely the intent, anyway. It would also serve to deter anyone from venturing towards the railing, even as the pirated began to scale the sides of our ship.

There was a brief moment of chilling quiet, much like the eye of a storm, as the marauders slowed upon approach. Their boat seemed to disappear every so often, only to bob into view once more as each wave carried them closer. I could discern their faces by now, many brandishing murderous smiles to go along with their daggers and cutlasses. They certainly had a great number of golden teeth. A moment later the first hooks shot over the sides of the boat, bringing with them more than merely a sense of dread. The pirates were upon us!

Calling his men to arms, Freelan charged into the growing mass of invaders as the first few pirates boarded the Eye. It was refreshing to see a captain so personally involved in his ship’s defense. The sailors, however, despite their advantage in number, lacked skill and experience in actual hand-to-hand combat and were quickly finding the pirates more than their match in a mêlée. Within a very brief matter of minutes, most of the crew had been devastated, leaving only Freelan and a handful of men to ward off the pirates. The situation certainly looked bleak.

That’s when Grish arrived.

I should pause here to explain I suppose. Remember, dear readers, that I mentioned Freelan had taken the precaution of hiring a steelweaver while in Sharve. Well, that steelweaver, a man by the name of Grish, had apparently already dispatched a group of pirates who’d boarded a bit further towards the aft in an attempt to surprise us. Now, though somewhat late to the fight, his entrance was a welcome one.

Immediately the steelweaver threw himself into the very midst of the brigands, his massive blade a blur of metal and carnage. Unprepared for this onslaught, half a dozen pirates fell before they’d even had an opportunity to react. Then, using the curious blend of shaping and martial training his kind are so well-known for, Grish summoned heat from his body, channeling it into his sword. His next strike seemed to sear the air itself and toppled two more pirates.

Retreating slightly before Grish’s attack, the pirates next regrouped no more than half a dozen feet from where I stood. For the first time I noticed fear on their faces. Could the steelweaver have actually turned the tide of battle so completely? It certainly seemed that way.

Not all of the pirates, though, were quite so easily demoralized. One in particular, a dark-skinned brute with hair like that of a horse’s tail, stepped forward, sneering at Grish. He quickly drew his weapons before charging forward.

Without so much as a hint of emotion, Grish parried the man’s first few blows while casually stepping back to steady himself. His long, black cloak billowing behind him, the steelweaver strode forward, advancing on the pirate. But this was no ordinary marauder. With remarkable speed, the pirate doubled back, jumping and kicking off of one of the ship’s masts before reversing his direction and bringing his weight, and weapons, down upon Grish. The steelweaver staggered under the force of the blow, but managed to stay on his feet, his blade a blur as he once more deflected several otherwise lethal strikes.

Frustrated, the pirate danced backwards as again the steelweaver advanced. The brute seemed to be weighing his options before adopting a slightly different tactic to topple the larger Grish. After a quick feint, the pirate went for a pouch hanging from his belt, producing a handful of small, metallic objects. I had heard of pirates carrying poison-tipped darts before, but had never seen them in person. Luckily, Grish was far more prepared to deal with them than I would have been.

With a blur, Grish’s blade began to spin as if it were caught within a tornado, easily deflecting the darts. They shot in every direction, one coming within an inch or so of my head as I ducked, removing myself from the battle if only momentarily. When I reemerged, Grish had managed to corner the pirate, their blades clashing noisily as they fought for the very fate of the ship.

Their duel was a sight to behold. Neither gave an inch as they circled one another amidst the maelstrom of battle raging all around the Eye. Occasionally they would pause to casually dispatch a member of the opposition, but were otherwise preoccupied with their own struggle. Eventually the fight led them to the highest point on the ship, placing the spectacle on even great display.

pirate_duel

Steelweavers are traditionally trained in both sword-fighting and shaping within the Arvian Empire.   With the ability to channel their powers into their weapons, many later earn good wages as mercenaries.

Grish was the slower of the combatants and appeared to be tiring under the weight of his massive sword as they once again charged each other. The pirate seemed to have notice this too and began dashing about the deck in renewed earnest; he intended to wind the steelweaver. Refusing to give chase, Grish instead stood with his back against a wall, daring the pirate to approach. He did. With a burst of speed, the brigand charged headlong at Grish, slashing with both swords. When this manuever failed, he lunged again before plunging one of his swords into the wall itself. Distracted by this seemingly odd behavior, Grish failed to block the pirate’s now unoccupied fist. It connected quite flush with Grish’s jaw, pushing him sideways.

After retreiving his weapon, the pirate next brought both swords towards Grish as the steelweaver raised his own blade in defense. Instead of slashing, however, the pirate brought his hands together, crossing his arms and pinching Grish’s sword between his own in scissors-like fashion. Though this made his weapons somewhat useless, the pirate had other plans. Seizing the momentary surprise, he drove his head forward, connecting with Grish’s own in savage fashion. Grish’s skull snapped back with an acute crack, his nose streaming blood. The larger man was stunned. Next the pirate planted a foot in Grish’s chest, bringing the steelweaver to his knees.

Without wasting a moment, the pirate lunged forward, but Grish rebuffed him, despite being clearly disoriented. His hold on his blade, however, was becoming more tenuous with every parried blow. Finally, just as it seemed the hammering strikes would break Grish’s arms, his grip weakened and his sword went sailing across the deck.

The pirate loomed over him, grinning wickedly. Behind them, the rest of the brigands cheered as they turned towards the upper deck. Their champion had won. With an air of triumph, the pirate brought both of his blades to rest on the steelweaver’s shoulders– he intended this time to use them to shear Grish’s head from his body.

But then something peculiar occurred. Just as his fate appeared quite sealed, Grish suddenly smiled. In his hands he inexplicably held his blade once more, despite the entire ship having seen it cast aside during the mêlée. Bringing the sword up quickly, he forced the pirate’s own weapons aside before standing and, in one massive swing, cleaving the man in two. Honestly, it was a ghastly sight.

Their spirits thus crushed, the rest of the pirates managed very little else before most surrendered. Freelan, clearly overjoyed to have lived through the ordeal, was obliged to spare them. The Eye’s brig, however, would soon be quite full.

Just how Grish managed the illusion I can’t be sure. I don’t possess the ability to shape, after all, and so my knowledge of the subject is limited to conjecture. Whether or not steelweavers actually accomplish these seemingly impossible feats with their weapons is not truly known; their strength might lie in merely convincing us they did them. Regardless, the outcome is generally the same, and having previously seen steelweaver strength and cunning on several occasions, I can’t say I was entirely surprised by the duel’s outcome. The pirate, however, doubtlessly did not see it coming.

An hour or so later Bundal finally emerged from the bowels of the boat, having missed the entire fracas! He appeared rather tired and altogether bothered by something, so I thought it best not to harangue him for his absence. I’m sure he felt badly enough as it was.

It is actually another missing person that bothers me far more. Where in all of this was Karbeel the Pallid? Surely he’d come with them from Sharve. The sun had been quite bright, though, so perhaps he’d stayed aboard the ship to avoid burning under its heat. I did notice the vessel sailed away in a hurry shortly after the duel upon the deck, so there were definitely men aboard it still. Whatever the reason, I was certainly glad to see it go.

So there you have it. While the danger may have been very real, it appears we were in good hands. I shouldn’t think we’d have to worry about any future attacks, not after word of today’s events begins to circulate. But if we do, it’s comforting to know Grish will still be here to defend us. I of course will leave the glory of battle to him so that I might continue in my quest for fame elsewhere. I likely won’t find it, after all, at the end of some pirate’s cutlass.

Until next time, I thankfully remain,

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Sharve: A Pirate’s Paradise

Greetings, Adventurers!

When last we parted, the Eye and I were on our way to the port city of Sharve near the Horn of Tromp.  It had been an interesting first, few days, to say the least, and many of the crewmen (Bundal chief among them) were excited by the prospect of going ashore for their respite.

So it was with this mindset we at last sailed into Sharve, that most seductive of cities.  Awash in all manner of tropical beauty and crowned by its many gleaming, golden rooftops, Sharve has proven to be both a muse and harlot for many unwary travelers.  Pirates and smugglers call this city home, and the evidence of their unbridled appetite is clear even as you enter through the gilded statues erected within the bay.  To visit Sharve is truly to invite the study of both opulence and vulgarity.

statues

 

Twin, golden lions mark the entrance to Sharve.  It is said they were built by Pirate Lord, Remoldo of Ghar after the sacking of a Takshani prince’s royal fleet.

It can be of little surprise, then, that the crew of the Eye wasted little time in spilling from the ship and into the streets.  Sailors are, after all, the very audience for which (and by which) Sharve was built.  Meanwhile, Bundal and I dallied slightly upon the deck.  Once the risk of being trampled by the crew had passed, we also took our leave, emerging at once into the perpetual haze that seems to hang over the entirety of the Sharve docks.

We had not yet maneuvered the gangway, however, before a young boy took note of us and began “hooting” in our direction.  Looking the urchin up and down, my eyes summarily fixed upon the stack of papers he held aloft.  The boy was waving them rather feverishly, and as we approached, I took one of the pamphlets in the hopes of calming his agitation.  This seemed to work at least somewhat, drawing a hearty smile from the child.

I nodded while absentmindedly glancing at the missive in my palm—it was an advertisement for one of the city’s many houses of gambling—but had no intention of actually visiting the parlor in question.  No, my aims for the evening did not involve playing any greater odds than necessary.  I did, however, need a guide.

After a moment or two of cajoling—followed by the introduction of my change-purse—I succeeded in relaying my wishes to the lad, and we were soon trundling through Sharve’s back alleyways!  Bundal, who’d remained quiet throughout the preceding events, flounced along behind us as our dirt-stained guide weaved to and fro out in front of the procession.  Before too long, however, we came to a halt within a particularly sordid portion of the local marketplace.

There it was.  In the back of the threadbare tent nearest to where I stood sat a cage, no larger than my clinched first.  I could feel myself begin to salivate as I motioned to the merchant.

Gliding over towards us, the tall, dark-skinned man who apparently presided over the tent’s various wares smiled must knowingly.  He had taken the liberty of bringing the cage with him, as my eyes had not yet left it since my arrival.  With an outstretched arm, he invited my inquiry and enflamed my desire.

With a “pop” and a “hiss”, the cage’s lid sprung open, though only the first of the sounds had come from the container’s locking mechanism.  Inside, writhing and huffing, sat what is, in my opinion, the true treasure of Sharve: a Mudsting Scorpion!  Indigenous to the areas surrounding the Horn of Tromp, this small creature is considered a true delicacy, and I admit to partaking on several occasions.  It had been nearly a year, however, since my last Mudsting, and even that had required importing the brood, forgoing any hope of freshness.  Hastily, I snuck a hand into the cage and plucked the scorpion out by its long, bulbous stinger.

But I did not eat it, for in this moment, I was not concerned with my own pleasure.  I had come to the marketplace not to satiate self-pleasing desires, but to instead introduce others to the delights that abound in our world.  With that in mind, I attempted to pass the Mudsting to Bundal so that he might enjoy its bounty.

This, then, dear readers, is where the situation became rather dire.  Being apparently unaware on how to handle a Mudsting (and, truthfully, jumping when I dared even to bring it within arm’s reach) Bundal promptly dropped the scorpion.  Or, more accurately, he first “juggled” the beast before flipping it into the air where it came to rest within the confines of his tunic.

scorpion

 

The Mudsting Scorpion can be prepared many ways, and is found in dishes ranging from savory pies to soups.  Despite this versatility, however, the traditional method of enjoying one involves biting the tail from a still living scorpion.

One of the more curious habits of the Mudsting Scorpion is its ability to expel air through its carapace and produce a sort of hissing noise.  This, one assumes, is meant to ward off predators.  When the hissing fails, however, the Mudstring has no shortage of “other” means by which to protect itself.  By now, it was these far less curious adaptations that the scorpion was using to full measure on poor Bundal.  With a few, piteous shrieks, my pained steward stumbled into the road before us, clawing vainly at his beshirted adversary.

This only made matters worse, though, as he was quickly and unceremoniously thrown to the ground by an angry, leather-clad behemoth of a man.  It seemed one of Sharve’s more influential denizens had been sauntering past with his entourage, and the roughest of his bodyguards had taken exception to Bundal’s impudence.  Luckily, my steward did not possess the will to fight back and instead remained in a dirty heap at the man’s feet.

Quickly defusing the situation, I explained Bundal harbored no ill-will and had instead been driven mad by the stings of the scorpion.  I believe some of this was lost in translation, however, as the principal smuggler seemed to interpret my story to mean Bundal had eaten the Mudsting’s tail and was now simply feeling its effects—have I mentioned that Mudsting is not only delicious but also a mild hallucinogen?  Regardless, this misunderstanding did no harm, and instead prompted the smuggler to deem us “fun men” and extend an invitation to be his guests.  With a slight nod to our new host, I then embarked on one of the more decadent nights I can remember (the parts I am able to remember, at least).

When Bundal and I finally did come creeping back to the Eye, it was almost sunrise.  I had not slept, though he had spent a great deal of the night unconscious from a combination of alcohol and scorpion venom.  Nevertheless, we were hardly the only men returning after many hours of debauchery.

As we scurried onboard, my eyes caught sight of a new face and I stopped briefly to stare.  There, just a ways towards the bow, stood a man in chainmail and a black cloak.  He held a distant yet powerful look upon his face and a curved blade in his right hand.  This, obviously, was a steelweaver.

It is not uncommon for ships, after they have moored in Sharve, to be raided shortly after setting sail.  This should come as no great shock to anyone, though, as captains who buy supplies in Sharve are essentially giving pirates a firsthand tour of their defenses.  Also not surprisingly, a second industry has thus grown in countermeasure, one in which skilled mercenaries offer protection from these very same brigands.  Obviously, after having seen the perils of Sharve, Captain Freelan had rightly decided to hire a bit of protection.  Good for him.

And there you have it, adventurers—my latest experiences within the walls of Sharve.  The city may very well be a den of iniquities, but one thing is certain: it is never a dull port of call.  For now I am satisfied to allow sleep to find me; indeed I have already drawn my cabin’s curtains in hopes of forestalling the sun’s chastisement.  Later, however, I will meet up with Bundal and procure the small box I carerfully tucked within his knapsack while he drooled upon the floor last night.  I do so hope the Mudsting doesn’t wriggle free beforehand.

Until then, I thankfully remain,

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The Journal of Bundal, Part 1

Day 3:  The day I finally broke down and picked up my journal

I can’t believe I’ve done this to myself again.

Even with the seas calmer—thank the heavens—I can just barely write without my pen leaving random lines all over the paper.  What a mess.

It seems hard to believe that only a few days ago I was in Purkeet.  The weather there had been so nice.  Then everything changed, and before I’d even had time to think I was carrying bags onto a ship headed south.  South!  Who knows what manner of monsters we’ll find there—if we even survive the trip.

I should have told him ‘no’, right off.  Gotten in his face if it’d helped make my point.

“Senavian,” I should have said.  “You can sail off to your doom if you choose, but I’m done.  Finished.  I haven’t changed my mind since the last time we spoke, and I don’t imagine I ever will.”

But, of course, I didn’t say any of that.  I guess it would have been a lie if I had; apparently I had changed my mind.  I mean, I agreed, didn’t I?  Senavian came looking, and I did next to nothing to make myself hard to find.  What a mess.

I can’t even get comfortable—clothes are still soaked from the storm.  At least I’m not out in it anymore.  Finding myself in that situation this early into the expedition was almost more than I could bear.   Had to make myself useful, though, and I bet the kid I saved is glad I felt that way.

I’d gone down to the galley to see about lunch—without any luck, I might add—when the winds started to really pick-up.  It’d been obvious for several hours what we were sailing into, but I guess no one was ready for just how quickly the storm grew.  Grabbing my coat, I went up on deck and began counting the men around me right as the first few sheets of rain began to fall.

I have to hand it to the ship’s crew—they did a pretty good job of securing lines in short order.  But there was no way they could have done anything about those waves.  The damn things were like hammers smashing into the side of the boat!  I saw several of the men lose their footing, but thankfully I’d already found my sea legs.

Then the screams started up and I knew something was horribly wrong.  I looked to where the noise was coming from and froze.  There, rolling across the sea, was a wave like a city wall!  I threw myself against the mast and braced as it slammed into and over the ship’s hull.  A moment later I opened my eyes, drenched but relieved, and once more went to numbering the crew around me.  There was one fewer than before.  I realized at once it was the cabin boy who’d disappeared.

I ran to the side of the boat and could just barely see a head bobbing in the surging waters below.  Calling to the men around me, I began gathering rope from a nearby spool.  They stared as if I were crazy when they saw me fasten the rope to my waist, but thankfully no one tried to stop me.

With a quick sigh, I leapt from the ship, tumbling down into the waves and emerging a second later.  The boy who’d fallen overboard was nowhere to be seen.   Taking a deep breath, I dove once again under the water, hoping there was enough light see.  The saltwater stung my eyes.

As my sight adjusted, I came to find I wasn’t alone—a large, Flotsam Squid, drawn up from the deeps by the storm itself, was no more than a few feet away!  These beasts are known for attacking men who’ve fallen overboard, so I immediately drew my dagger for protection.  Thankfully the squid hadn’t yet noticed me and was busy wrestling with the young man I’d dove in to rescue.  Even the blackness of the water couldn’t hide the panic in his eyes.

Taking ahold of the tentacle wrapped about the boy’s right foot, I slashed as mightily as I could, lopping off the rubbery binding.  This allowed the cabin boy to float freely away and towards the surface, but also drew the attention of the squid to me.  I grimaced as its slimy arms gripped my hands and coiled around my chest.  It was so powerful.  Now completely unable to slash, I instead thrust the dagger towards the beak of the beast, but the damn thing twisted its body to dodge.  This distraction at least gave me a chance to wrench free, though, and I immediately threw myself above the water.  I desperately needed air.

Emerging from the sea, I struggled to stay afloat as the storm once more tossed me to and fro.  The rope had gone slack, but the other end still led to the ship’s deck above.  This was good.  Giving the line a tug, I spun sideways and saw the cabin boy bobbing beside me.  He looked half-dead as I wrapped my arms around him.

With a jolt, felt the rope about my waist tighten as the men aboard the ship attempted to haul me to safety.  We’d only made it a few feet, though, before another force suddenly whipped us backwards.  The squid had somehow grabbed my ankle and was trying to reel us back into the waves!

Feeling too much like the rope in a game of tug-of-war, I looked back at the squid and then up towards the boat again to try and get a feel for my situation.  Our lifeline had tangled around one of the ship’s portholes, and though the men could still hoist us up, the seesawing back and forth was cutting through the rope at an alarming rate.  If it snapped, the boy and I were doomed.  The crew, unable to hear my yelling through the storm—and probably confused by how I’d suddenly become so damn heavy—kept pulling.  So did the squid.

Taking the now unconscious young man in one arm, I twisted back upon myself, dagger in hand.  But I couldn’t quite reach the squid.  Above us, the rope gave slightly, causing us to drop an inch or so lower towards the waves.  It’d tear completely at any moment.

Desperation is great motivation, I guess, because I don’t really know how I did what happened next.  With a newfound strength, I managed to pull against the squid with my leg, failing to free it but succeeding in drawing the tentacle a few inches closer.  Seizing my chance, I sliced into the monster’s flesh right as the sailors above us gave one, last heave.

Like a minnow caught by a giant’s fishing pole, we flew from the water and up the side of the boat, crashing into the surprised crew!  A moment later, I was on my feet, tending to the boy we’d managed to fish from the sea.  It took a minute or two, and I briefly worried it’d all been for nothing, but eventually he spat up what seemed like most of the Dorn Sea and started breathing again.  I remember sighing as an older man came running up to hug the boy.  I later found out it was his father.

The rest of the crew stared at me for a while before eventually returning to work after I’d quietly wandered off again.  I think they’d wanted something more from me, given what they’d just seen.  Emotion maybe.  But I just didn’t have any left to spare.

I made my way over to the side of the boat, still feeling their eyes on me as they went about their duties.  I suddenly felt sick.  Not from the waves, but rather the realization I’d maybe taken on more than I was ready for.  Yes, I’d saved the boy, but this was only day three of the expedition and already I’d come within an eyelash of dying!  Unable to control the fear inside of me, I wretched, though only once; it seemed everything inside me had run empty all at once.

It was at this moment, of course, that Senavian found me.  He’d been who knows where during the worst of the storm, but had picked now to show up and draw me, of all things.  When he’d finished capturing my agony for his readers, he even went so far as to lay his hand on my shoulder.  I could feel the disappointment in his touch.  Thankfully he left shortly thereafter and I was free to slink back to my bunk.

The entire experience has put me off the expedition, to be honest.  But I don’t much guess those feelings matter; I’m already out here and can’t very well swim back to Perkeet.  For now I’ll have to be content with simply complaining to myself, I guess.  The most maddening part is I wasn’t even planning to keep a journal this expedition, but now I feel like I have to get this out or I’ll explode.  Although after writing all of this I’d be lying if I said I felt any better.

At least I’ll have this book around to defend myself should one of those huge rats come back.

What a mess.