Five men sit leisurely around a sturdy but aging wooden table. Hoogah smoke floats in the air from the majority of these with each one focused on a hand of cards giving glances to one another to confirm if anyone among them would dare cheat during their match. The room around them is mostly deserted other than a handful of grizzled men standing at the ready to interrupt any fight. The chandelier casts a dim light over the group as it sways from left to right shifting the shadows gently in the room every few moments.
A Dwarf at the table growled under his breath and with a sneer on his face mumbled “I fold” before pushing a small stack of Ordic royals forward into the center of the table. A tanned man with a colorful sash across his hip, a teal bandanna folded into a headband, and a purple marble earring sighs joining the Dwarf by saying “Afraid Bolis has taken enough from me tonight as well.” A man in a black leather jerkin rolls his eyes and combs a hand through his greasy onyx hair before shooing them away without a word. “Must be feeling confident tonight, egh Colton? I call.” mused a Tordorian woman who stares into the man’s eyes taking a deep breath to show off her figure through her revealing bodice before casually adding a monthly salary of an Iron Worker to the table. “Carmella, if you keep that up and I’ll just take that for an invitation, one of these times whether you like it or not…” His tone was cold and serious as the dark-haired man stared her down not appreciating her vapid attempt to topple his focus at the table before he looked to the last person at the table.
He was taking a long drag on his cigar with closed eyes and a smile on his face. The hot embers crawled down the paper as his lungs filled. In front of him his cards had been put onto the table face down next to the four finished shot glasses. Both Carmella and Colton were staring at him waiting on him silently as Colton cleared his throat. Kelley opened his eyes and grinned with a small appreciative moan through closes lips rang out before he grinned and let out a deep sigh of relief with more smoke billowing out of his mouth before speaking up. “All in.” he says curtly before plucking off a hefty leather satchel onto the table knocking aside some coin to the shock of the entire table. The satchel doesn’t jingle it thuds, which surprised the whole table room including the guards. One walked over giving Kelley an odd look before opening up and pack and pulled out a metal sealed cage of recently minted Cygnaran Swans, The cage was a sturdy metal lock but nothing someone couldn’t pay to have forced off. The grizzled thug blinked and started counting “…one hundred swans in one of these? Is that right sir?” Kelley nodded licking his lips before pulling a shot glass from the pile in front of him and holding out his mechanical palm he clinked it against himself silently asking for a re-fill which was met by a sigh from another guard who walked over to get more Vyatka for him.
Carmella gave Kelley an impressed look as she curled a finger around her hair winking at him before saying “My oh my, look at you playing big tonight stranger?” Kelley shrugged with a smirk as the shot glass was filled in front of him. “I suppose it’ll be looking that way in a moment.” The guard still seemed to be examining the bag a bit. Colton hissed out “Large payouts aren’t tonight ya know. All the same… Call.” The table paused looking between them both before Kelley smiled and nodded “Ha, I like you that was unexpected.” Carmella rose her eyebrow and noticed the guard still tinkering with the satchel to dig something out. With a raised eyebrow “What are you still doing with that Mori?”she inquired having still debated to fold or not. The Guard looked up and pulled out three more cages from the case setting them down. “Wasn’t done counting yet mum.” He says looking to Colton whose eyes shot wide at that. Promptly Carmella sat her card down and smiled bowing her head at Essex who arched both eyebrows at her with a wink back. “I fold.” She said politely and quietly looking to Colton whose face was twisting with anger.
“N.. Now I made that call when I heard one-hundred swans not four-hundred!” He looks to the others around the table as the guards won’t make eye contact and the Dwarf who originally folded started to laugh deeply from his belly “Colton, ye said call! Ho Ha Ho! Ye dull-wit! We always have the guard count up large pots ya know this! Ya better call!” Carmella smiles feigning a concerned tone before chiming in “I’m afraid Morrick has a point Colton…”. Colton looked to the Radiz gambler as he smirked without works picking underneath his nails with a small knife before replying “Wouldn’t want to make this Difficult we all know you’re able to.”Colton scowled at them all before motioning over a guard of his own to bring in a small chest and pulled out coinage adding even more weight to the table as it buckled slightly before Colton said “What is the conversation rate of Swans to Royals right now anyway…?”
“2.2, even has it minted by the Cygnaran Treasury …” says the guard dumb founded while handing over the small vellum document to Colton who growls forking over the entire amount of eight-hundred and eighty crown to the pot. Kelly pounds down his shot glass with a shudder as he smiles stretching at that explanation before saying “As I said, it was …unexpected.” Colton twitched at his jab and slammed his hand down shouting “What the fuck could you possibly have to put down that kind of coin!?” Essex just flared his teeth with a toothy smile before planting a fresh new Hoogah Cigar in between his teeth and striking a match not answering and breaking eye contact. “You’re bluffing are you!?” the enraged man shouted as his face became flustered and red. He shot a look to Carmella “ I’ve honored the call, but I want to sweeten the pot… any objections?” Essex’s face went pale at that as he sat up having not dragged out a puff on his cigar yet. “Are you sure that’s wise? Think about it do I look like I’m bluffing?”
Colton grinned ignoring Essex and looking to the group. Carmella looked to the others who shrugged or nodded in response to her. The dwarf smiled at Kelley “Kick his ass lad, he’s been robbing from me for years! The Fathers tell me you’re gonna win!” Essex gives him a panicked look in response and the Dwarf rose an eyebrow at the reaction but only seemed to study his face for tells. The Radiz gambler looked to the dwarf with a smile and said “Well.. since we’re out of this hand why don’t you and I make a wadger. Fifty royals Says Colton wins.” The Dwarf flares his nostrils at that offer and stroked his chin for a moment. “Yer on.”
Colton smiles “So you think you can make me fold huh? Not with this hand!” He pulls out a small parchment from under his jerkin and hands it over to Carmella “THAT, is my offer.” Carmella blinks reading it and shoots a concerned look to Colton who expects her to read it aloud. “Sir, I don’t think we got your name.” Kelley smiles and shaky handedly placed the cigar back in his teeth taking a tiny puff before replying “Not sure I’d wise to give it now, fine looking woman like you? I wager you’d be liable to tell every sailor in Ord about tonight iffen I be the fool. Anonymity seems to be agreeing with me right now ye’ see.” She giggles at that for a moment before nodding “Understandable, this might well be one of those stories any moment now you see. This is a writ of ownership of a Sloop sea vessel called ‘The Green Angel’, with an estimated value appraised by the Carre Dovan Shipwright’s Union at seven thousand three-hundred and sixty-five crowns. It bears ten cannons for self defense, a trimmed keel line, twenty-five ship hands, and current trade contracts with House Mateu Trading Company. Further details follow within the writ, but this substantial of a bet needs to be matched in order to continue the hand at this point.”
The Dwarf has a dour look and starts fishing out coin but it’s the Radiz gambler who holds his hand up silently telling him to wait as he studies Kelley with an intent stare. Kelley sets aside his cigar in an ash tray with a disappointed frown; he raises his mechanical arm above the table and gazes deeply into the back of his mechanical hand. He palmed the back of his mechanical hand while his thumb nail scrapped underneath the backhand plate. He looks to be lost in thought as he narrows his eye, the plinking sound chiming our every few seconds. Colton chuckled with a smirk “Too rich for ya boy, I’m not impressed.”
Essex’s gaze turned to the Radiz Gambler and his knife still picking under his nails. “How ‘bout you let me borrow that for a minute?” Kelley said with a low tone as his voice carried through the whole room. The Radiz looked to the Dwarf and the guards readied their weapons. With a shrug he smirked handing it over to Kelley stating “This should be interesting, you plan to kill him with so many guards?” Kelley laughed and just plucked the weapon from him instantly placing it against one of the screws holding his backplate in place. Rotating it left and exerting a few groans for the amount of effort he needed to invest he pulled out all five screws on the back of his hand. Without another word Kelley handed back the blade and the entire room grew curious why he was doing this. Inside the pistons, tubing and rust is a glint of burnt copper pinched by two immobile prongs. Sliding it out of his hand Kelley grins and retorts to Colton “Tell ya what… let’s have Bolis decide egh?”
The penny was scuffed, like it has been in a fire, smashes torn and split with only one good small portion still smooth and circular. With a fond smile Essex placed the coin on top of his left thumb before he flipped it into the air using his mechanical hand to clap it down onto his flesh and blood left hand. The sound ringed out with an almost mystical twang before being slapped down, and Colton looked uncomfortable that this man was still debating on the bet and not intimidated by the investment laid on the table. Lifting back his metal hand the coin showed a faded and marred image of the Ordic broken sword and Kelley smiled “I call”.
Carmella rose an eyebrow “You have that much coin to invest?” to which Kelley immediately replied “Ha! Oh Twins no. What I do have is something of equal-no, more like greater value.” Colton grimaced that someone would call something more valuable than his ship but remained open to the offer. Kelley smiled fondly stating “A Freebooter Jack, been trialed with a career of at least two decades of military engagements and sporting all the fixin’s.” In a sharp moment the entire room’s jaws hung slack in disbelief with wide eyes. Colton was the first to break free of the stupor to simply shout “Who the fuck are you?! How do we know he’s not lying where are his documents!?” Essex shot him a scowl and replied “This ain’t a con! And to prove it…” He unsheathes his Mechanika sword ‘cheat’ setting it into the pile “even if I lose, this is just a retainer till confirmation. Agreed?”
Carmella winced at the tension in the air and the almost legendary position Kelley Essex was placing himself in. “Sir, I need to remind you before I agree that your offer is acceptable as if your retainer. You certainly know your way around a gaming table but you are aware our proprietors are the Sons and Daughters of Bolis yes? If we were to find this is a fabrication you would be entered into a Final Collateral immediately, you are familiar wit-“ Without warning Kelley interrupts her saying “It’s a sure thing! Are you in or is this being canceled?” Carmella blinks at his assertiveness and simply nods “As you wish sir lets conclude the hand.”
Essex and Colton stared one another down as everyone; even the guards watched in anticipation while Carmella flipped Colton’s side first. His hand consisted of two queens and three aces, as a hiss of repulsion came out of the Radiz Gambler as the Dwarf chimed in “Aye, good thing we quit when we were ahead, that be a high suit full house. Sorry lad unless Bolis changed your cards or you’re a lucky sod ya might want to consider skipping town.” Carmella finished flipping Kelley’s cards and Colton’s face twisted in pure hate seeing four jacks. “It’s never luck.” Is all Essex says with a grin to the dwarf and nodding to the Radiz and finishing with a wink at Carmella before extending his mechanical limb in victory for a hand shake.
Colton peered down in disbelief at this smug fucker who wouldn’t even give him a name. All his status, wealth and power he had amassed over the years dragged away like an undertow at low tide before Kelley. He wasn’t amazed in the least, he was furious his heartbeat had been racing since his orginial debacle. Something about this man frustrated him to no end he held himself with a sense of entitlemen that drove Colton in a frenzy. “How the fuck did you do it?! Huh!? Tell me you sneaky little fuck! Mirrors?! Bribes!? No one would ever call a bluff like this in these circles!” Kelley just rose an eyebrow and his smile soured “No trick, just a hunch. You lose, fair and square.” Colten couldn’t contain himself “The FUCK I did!” He reached inside coat while Essex was still holding out his metal limb for a hand shake. The moment that began the guards snapped back into purpose and rushed for their weapons and to descend on Colton; but they were too late.
A sudden series of gunfire was heard in extremely rapid succession followed how a series of hisses. Despite his friendly gesture, Kelley appeared to have drawn his Mechanika repeater pistol he dubbed “Foul Wind” faster than Colton drew his hand cannon. Five smoldering holes of green smoke boiled and popped inside his now still body burning and eating away at his flesh and clothes. With a displeased face looked to Carmella and promptly stowed his weapon. She was surprised by the gunfire and lack of resistance from the guards yet seemed to be a bit familiar with situations like this as she composed herself possibly faster than anyone else in the room. “My apologies for the failings of our security sir, it would seem however that Bolis smiled on you tonight the earnings are yours. But … who are you?” Kelley just frowns at the fully burnt remains of his cigar before placing back his lucky charm into his Mechanikal Hand picking up a humble black penny off the table. “I’m not sure I’d be wise to give it now. I wager you’ll be telling every sailor in Ord about tonight seeing as the fool won. Anonymity seems to be telling a more compelling tale don’t you think?” To which Carmella only replied. “I suppose that’s true, will we see you again?”
“Twins I hope not…” he says picking up the sheath and blade of Cheat again affixing it back to his hip before plucking up a crate of Cygnaran swans and toss these to the Dwarf with a smile.“Mr. Morrick, you have a good eye on you, what say we have a night on the town? Drinks on me?” The Dwarf only replies “Quakestone, Morrick Quakestone and you’ll regret the invitation before the end of Boy’o.” with a big broad smile. Carmella nods “I see, you wish to cash out? Mr. Molziri I think the house will retire for the night given the events that have transpired. And sir, I suppose you would like a ferryman to transport your earnings?” Essex smiles and nods appreciatively “Much obliged, I have a notion to not end this debauchery just yet but I tend to gravitate toward retiring early when the most courteous thing one can do is self defense.”
Carmella begins to twirl a finger in her hair auburn hair and bat her eyes at Kelley offering a token laugh at his joke which just rings hollow to most the people in the room. She shows off her figure a slight bit by readjusting her bodice with a smile at him. Kelley doesn’t ignore the gesture but he seemed un-phased by the shameless flirtation before he nodded with a smile “Apologies for any damages Ma’am, I’ll be waiting up top I’ll understand if you see fit to fine me for that.” Essex stretches and rotates his right shoulder with a groan before walking upstairs out of the hold. Morrick Quakestone follows after him with a chuckle as they walked up the stairs together. “Brilliant show lad, you live more dangerously than well… me” Essex only laughs as well as he takes the first steps onto to the main deck of a merchantman ship called “The Big Haul”. The Gambling hall was actually a floating riverboat gambling hard disguised like a fisherman’s vessel. He looked out to the nightscape of Five Fingers as the cool air sweept across the deck, the dark waters of King’s Channel strangling the dots of lamplights in the distance he sighs looking out toward Southwest with an almost nostalgic smirk “Mr. Quakestone, you have no idea.”
The Dwarf smiles to the small skiff approaching The Big Haul and catches Kelley patting himself down with a sigh. “Smoked yer last one did ya?” he says with another chuckle. “Barely even got a drag off it.” Kelley said a bit more depressed than would seem normal. Morrick only smiles “5 crowns and she’s yours.” he says with a smile wiggling a hoogah Cigar inbetween his fingers. Kelley only grinned slightly “Well you know I’m good for it I imagine.” The dwarf flicks it at him with a grin “So where to from here Lad?”
Catching it in his left hand he promptly places the stoogie in his right hand making sure to not move his mechanikal fingers while he fished out a flintstick. Striking it against a rugged scratched up section on his mechanikal arm a flame lit up as he applied it to the tip before dragging in with a smile. “My ship first, then likely more Debauchery assuming I get to leave me quarters.” Morrick rose an eyebrow at that “Your ship? allowed? Egh are you a captain of a ship boy? Awful young aren’t ya?” Essex laughed and blurted out “Not young enough these days.” The skiff dropped anchor next to The big Haul and Essex quickly scrambled down Morrick right behind him.
Morrick’s eyes went wide seeing the damaged Frigate in the distance with a skeleton crew of men working on her, his jaw slack and with stammering he laughed “H-..How in the bloody maw of the Wurm did you afford yourself a crew this large? Ya a Mercenary or something?!” Kelley just laughed hopping onto the docks and rather than answer asked a question to Morrick instead “What is it you do for a living Mr. Quakestone?” The Dwarf blinked and clearly choose his words wisely. “I… work a few odd jobs.” Kelley took note of that and smiled responding back “Done much of it at Sea?” he said genuine interest while walking up the quarterdeck of the Anchor’s bane. Gorgun nods to them Both and mummbles out “The misses is asking for you Sir.”
Morrick failed to respond to Kelley he was looking at the battle damage upon the frigate and the strong Ogrun watching the quarterdeck as he started to realize what the Anchor’s Bane might have been. “Ugh… is there a reason you are docked with all these shipping boats?” Gorgun growled out “Because we’re shippers” glaring at the Dwarf silently telling him to drop the inquiry. “Nah we aren’t…” Essex said with a smile “… You coming on board or not?” Morrick’s brow ruffled as he took a step forward, first first upon the Anchor’s Bane. “What’s her name?” Essex chuckled out “Who? the woman or the ship?” Morrick only laughed deeply before responding “I can see what’s on your mind.” Kelley nodded at that and smirked “Shouldn’t be long, have a look around most the colorful members of me crew are busying themselves tonight, should be safe enough. Anyone gives you guff tell em your a Guest of the Captain’s”
Morrick blinked and tried to speak for a moment before Gorgun stooped down “Come with me stone brother. Captain needs a minute.” Morrick held out his hand to Kelley with a slack jaw trying to find words before Kelley strolled out toward the Promenade of the Bane with a whistle in his step. Kelley opened the door to see Lidda with a worried look on her face com racing over. “Kel? Have you seen any of the engineers tonight? They up and vanished.” Normally Kelley would just laugh that off but he knew Ms. Ironfist had plenty of sideprojects he had pulled her away from for Penny and the Enginerooms, and he couldn’t imagine she much liked like what Five Fingers had to offer. Lidda looked legitimately concerned he put both hands on her shoulders “How long love?” She bit her lip realizing how much worry must have been showing on her face. “Near as I can tell Kel? At least sixteen hours they were working most the time before that fixing up Grudge. I heard them talking about how they were gonna work out the quirks in it’s cortex.”
Kelley’s face turned sour at that, he remembered his Freebooter and Orianna’s Mangler Warjacks having a terrible brawl. Worse yet he had heard from Jehremi Chaffer that Kerchak had amassed a large debt aboard the Bane. “I have a notion where we can find them, but the question is which one exactly…” Lidda smiled at that and wrapped her arms around the back of his neck before giving him a kiss. She pulled away from her soft kiss licking her lips and smiled smelling the air around Kelley. “You haven’t even slept yet have you? And I hope you saved some of that Vyatka.” Essex just laughed and hugged her tight before leaning her against a wall and kissing the side of her neck “Wasn’t exactly something I could take with me… But I suppose I could spare some coin for a bottle.” Lidda giggled being tickled by his stubble and breath before she combed a hand through his hair and sighed “Orianna first, alright?” Essex nodded without complaint at that, he pulled away from her and smiled “Alright, but no more snooping through my things ya’ hear?” Lidda smiled widely and nodded before contradicting herself “No promises, take too long and I might start to feel the urge to ‘snoop’.”
Essex snatched a flask of Sangrea. a mildly alcoholic water meant to clean Five Fingers water from the wells and fountains. A hint of berry and sting of alcohol was enough to help him get a second wind and he stepped outside and headed back to the gang plank. “Mr. Quakestone we’re leaving!” He shouted into the deck below as he walked. A few excessive apologies were head down below and Morrick came racing up with an exclaimation “You’re a Pirate aren’t ya?!” Essex rose an eyebrow and smiles “… More importantly a rich one. How would you feel about doing a few less odd jobs and join my crew?” Morrick’s disgust immediately vanished at that as he was almost stupefied by the bluntness of Essex. “W..well I mean you made a great haul yeah but that won’t exactly make you rich!” Essex nodded stepping down the gang plank. “Course not, I plan to make four times that by the end of the night.”
Morrick felt faint at that smug response as braced himself against a railing “By yourself?!.. h-..How?!” Essex just smiled " Welcome aboard Mr. Quakestone, now come on. I could use a local like you around these parts." Morrick blinked and shouted “I didn’t say I’d join!” Gorgun tilted his head at the Dwarf and smiled “Oh really now?” Morrick immediately covered his mouth before saying “…I appear to have… ugh… bah fuck it I’ll join!”