Something’s Gotta Give

Cracadoom Island wasn’t really the kind of place where one could take it easy. Filled to the brim with smugglers, pirates, mercenaries, cutthroats, cutpurses, and crafty sword merchants (who made a killing off of daggers alone, but who rarely slept easy at night), it was the kind of place where you kept an eye in the back of your head, lest you lose it.

That being said, on that day the sun shone bright on the tropical island, and the ramshackle wharf’s many smokehouses and ale shacks were crowded with lazy nogoodnicks too busy fighting off the mid-day heat to bother fighting one-another. Toothless old crooks sat in the shade and stared out at the sea – forgetting their spiderwebs of puppeted contacts and bootlicking and bribes that had kept them alive so far and remembering instead their glory days out on the blue, the salt in their bones calling them back.

Ulysses looked down at the small remainder of his bitter swampy grog with a mixture of revulsion – that his lips should sink so low – and dismay – that even this would be gone soon. He could hardly remember what had brought him so far away from the Elven lands now, but he was pretty sure it hadn’t been the thought of languishing on the edge of a pirate isle, drinking piss water and waiting for the next job to put a few coppers in his hands. He glanced at his companion. The woman lounged back in her seat, the devil cat purring gently in her lap as she sipped gingerly at her own mug of swill and stroked it. Delphie was a strange one – hardly spoke at all, but she’d been useful in their last few jobs together. She knew just the right place to stick a dagger.

His eyes slipped out over the ocean. There wasn’t breeze enough to shift the canvas of any sail in port, so only a few fishers lounging in their rowboats could be seen on the water. One was moving rather quickly back towards the island.

He blinked at that. The speed was unusual for any vessel moving under the power of its own oars. A light sloop might move so fast in a favourable wind, but a rowboat? Shading his eyes, he stared out at the speck. It didn’t look so much like a rowboat, now that he was focusing on it, more like a small single-masted sailboat. But the sail was down. It didn’t make sense.

Standing, his drink forgotten, Ulysses walked out under the scorching sun and onto the pier. Others hadn’t seemed to have noticed the odd speck yet, or if they did, they were keeping it to themselves. However, eyebrows shot up all along the wharf the moment he left the comfort of the shade. As he made his way down to the edge of the dock, he became more and more convinced that there was something unusual about the speck that was drawing ever closer to their little murderous isle.

A few minutes later, what he realized he was seeing made him start back a step. It was a man, standing tall upon the surface of the water, utterly motionless, and yet moving towards them with incredible speed. As Ulysses was pondering this quandary, a young human joined him at the end of the pier. The elf had seen him a few times before and knew him to be some variety of mage. When the man suddenly gasped, it caught his attention.

“Who is he?” the mercenary ranger asked, only momentarily glancing away from the approaching figure. The mage licked his lips.

“A man, wielding a spear, riding upon the waves without the appearance of a vessel? It can only be the Whalerider.” The mage started inching back from the end of the dock. “He has not been seen on this island since about a century back, when he came to have a disagreement with the then Pirate Queen, Pale-Eye Paula. He left the isle a burning ruin.”

Ulysses cupped his smooth beardless chin, nodding. “And Pale-Eye Paula?” He asked, almost casually.

“They called her One-Eye Paula afterwards. Didn’t have quite the same ring. She lost her queenship with the rest of her crew.”

Ulysses dropped his hand. “Perhaps we’d best give him some room.”

The young man was no longer there to respond, and Ulysses felt it prudent to follow the mage’s example. A good deal of the wharf’s resident population seemed to have had an inkling of what was coming by this point, and the elf noted that well over half had slinked away as he beat a hasty retreat back to shore.

Those who remained did not have long to wait. As the Whalerider drew nearer, the curious stood to get a better look while those who were too difficult to intimidate or too uninformed to know what was coming did much the same as they had been doing earlier. When the legendary man’s whale proceeded to barrel headfirst into the end of the pier and crush it to splinters with an ear-shattering crash, however, everyone jumped nearly out of their skin in unison.

The Whalerider did not seem to skip a beat as his whale settled into the debris-filled waters, walking with great dignity and purpose to the new end of the dock and stepping lightly up. His scaled armour gleamed black and blue with chitinous strength – organic spines sticking out at varying dangerous angles. He was helmetless, golden hair streaming down from an almost elven head, if not for the pupiless red eyes. He wielded the great harpoon in his left hand with a light familiarity that promised danger for any who should dare cross him.

Ulysses found himself to be in the quite uncomfortable position of welcoming committee for the apparent legend given flesh. His legs, his mind had found, were completely unwilling to budge from their location from the moment the whale made its spectacular entrance. With care, he set a welcoming smile – terrible to look upon – across his face and raised a splayed hand. “Uh…hello. Good to meet…you?”

The cloudy pools churning within the red globes of the Whalerider’s eyes sped – the centres of the twin whirlpools focusing on the elven ranger.

“Greetings” He said, his voice dry and worn as a windswept rock on a lonely headland, “I seek the Pirate Ravenfeather.”

“I..see.” Ulysses licked his lips, and, in a fit of madness, offered, “I don’t suppose you’d need a hand?”

The red eyes swirled at him for a long beat, but then, quite suddenly, he looked away. “No, thank you, I see that he has noted my coming.”

Startled, the ranger shifted his gaze up the beach, where, indeed, the Pirate known as Ravenfeather was to be seen walking briskly in their direction, a posse of five men in his wake. It was at this moment that his legs decided that there was little value in remaining planted in this spot, and carried their owner a healthy distance away from the meeting place of those two men of repute.

The pirate came to a halt perhaps ten feet from the strange being from the sea, and was the first to speak. “What’s your business here, Whalerider? I wouldn’t have thought you’d be so foolish as to show your slimy face in my home turf.”

The Whalerider’s eyebrow raised. “When one searches for a sea rat, one should look first to the foul nest that spawned him. I am here for vengeance, Ravenfeather. Your reaving days are at an end. Too many common folk, good merchants, and a true friend of mine as well – have died by your hand. It is time that you died by mine.”

“Not bloody likely!” The pirate snarled, drawing his curved blade and striding forwards, leading his assault with a wicked slash that raked across his opponent’s side. Steel scraped loudly against the odd mail that the Whalerider wore, and though he had been fast to spin away and miss the brunt of the attack, a thin line of burgundy blood began to ooze from the gash in his armour. As the rest of Ravenfeather’s posse showed their steel, there came an odd magical shimmer through the air, and the Pirate Captain grunted in pain. “What in hellfire?”

Ulysses glanced around, and saw a short distance from him that the mage was holding his hands out towards the group. Fool He thought to himself, before looking down at his hands and realizing he had instinctively drawn his bow, and had an arrow nocked. Well, shit. He aimed, drew and released. One of the pirates went down, the shaft lodging itself in his throat, red blood quickly filling and overflowing from the man’s mouth.

That tore it. A particularly dirty looking, nasty pirate came at him, swinging his cutlass wildly and howling ferociously. His teeth were mostly gone, as was most of the hair atop his head, and his scraggly beard  was course and unwashed, but there was a feverish look in his eyes and his sword seemed well honed. Ulysses knocked the attack aside with a deft swing of his bow and retreated back a few steps to give him some room to fire once again. Over the pirate’s shoulder he saw the Whalerider skewer Ravenfeather once, then twice with his mighty harpoon in a deft series of feints and lightning-quick jabs. After the second, the cutlass slipped out of the Pirate Captain’s hands as he slowly crumpled to the ground. His crewmates then swarmed around their captain’s murderer, slashing and yelling with abandon. Ulysses didn’t have long to contemplate the scene, however, as he quickly nocked and fired at the pirate that was assailing him. But despite the proximity the man dodged the arrow, quickly closing the distance between them and hacking at him with savage fury. It was all the elven ranger could do to dodge and counter the pirate’s blows.

Ulysses was about to step back again and loose another shaft when quite suddenly the man stiffened, mid-swing. The gleaming point of a speartip poked out from his chest, and the expression on the pirate’s face was one of surprise and alarm. Then the point visibly twisted, turning slightly, and the man’s expression twisted alongside it, into a ghoulish portrait of pain. Finally, the edge retreated, and took with it the pirate’s life. Ulysses watched as he hovered, dead on his feet for a moment before toppling unimpeded to the ground. The Whalerider stood behind him, covered in gore, but otherwise seeming oddly detached from the proceedings.

“My thanks,” he said simply, turning away from Ulysses and looking back at his handiwork, “Odd. The last time I was here my purpose took a good deal longer to achieve. How…unsatisfying? Yes.” He gestured down at the corpse of Ravenfeather. “For your aid, I give to you whatever spoils you may find here. Ravenfeather was quite notorious – though the gods alone know why. You may find a good price for his head.”

The Whalerider then unhurriedly but quite deliberately trotted back to the pier. In moments, he was once again atop his whale and soon thereafter retreating into the sea.

Ulysses spent a few moments numbly staring at his departure, but soon regained his composure as he saw the magician approaching the bodies. He waved to Delphie to come and give them a hand as they proceeded to strip the dead men of their former wealth. The wharf was slowly repopulating, and the elf was beginning to feel the eyes upon them. He knew well enough that Ravenfeather’s head would likely go for 2000 gold on the Trisle, only a few days voyage to the north. Though on Nosta, he might get 6000…either way, the man’s head was a stroke of luck that would finally get him off this rock. Problem was, there were more than enough men and women on Crackadoom who would be more than happy to part him from his ‘luck’. Not to mention the captain’s former crew, who would likely be looking for them before too long to repay the Whalerider’s vengeance in kind.

What he needed was some muscle. It came cheap on this island, but loyalty was always better bought with the promise of good coin, and he suddenly had that resource within his grasp. Looking about at the curious watchers, he saw a pair he recognized. Two half-orc brothers, Gork and Fud. He knew Fud was as like to crush your hand as shake it, but if there was a fight to hand, he was more than willing to take part if the money was right. Gork was a touch less obvious with his intentions. He’d been thrown out of numerous thieves guilds on the island for any number of reasons, but at the end of the day he was no less a simple thug than his brother. They would do. He quickly went over to them and explained his proposition, an equal share for safe passage off the island and to the Trisle, with possible future recompense. They were quick to agree, and after speaking briefly with the mage – whose name, it appeared, was Frederick, Ulysses suddenly felt the venture was a deal more secure.

In honor of their arrangement, the elf ranger bent low, grabbed the former captain’s hair, and, pulling back the head, commenced to slicing.

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