Aboard the Anchor's Bane

Toll of the Dead
Essex reflects on the Olgunholt attack.

The chilled breeze of night howled through the open air of the desolate trail. A Small force just slightly over one dozen trudged south along an abandoned road choked off by trees which blotted out the moon light. Kelley Essex walked slowly down the trail next to Atticus shutting out the pain he felt as his stony face was trembling with rage as he looked to the remnants of his boys sent out to free Jehremi Chaeffer.

He looked down silently to his mechanikal arm finding it shaking. It rattled slightly and the fingers curled inward like a twitch. He studied it as he walked wondering what was causing this reaction… it was like it was almost his real hand for a change rather than a mechanikal replacement. He clenched a fist tightly as he felt a few actuators buzz and spin inside still rebelling against normal use. With a sigh Essex let his hand drop while it continued it’s twitching. He brought his other hand to his eyes realizing blood and gore has clung to him drying some of it from the undead, and some from Maria.

His jaw stiffened, and he took a long breath trying to calm his nerves for a moment. The twitching of his mechanikal arm lessened as he rolled his eyes at it. He licked his lips wanting nothing more than a Hoogah cigar at this moment to distract him. But he’d had no reprieve from this failing. Kelley placed both hands in his pockets and walked slowly unable to think about anything other than the crew now. He knew in his bones Atticus was right about the entire thing, it had all been a fiasco. We had no point facing Cryx, it had never been the mission and the men who served under him didn’t deserve such a miserable end. Chaeffer should have been left to his fate. A hot breath of air rolled out of his snearing face as he heard himself think that thought. The Bosun may have been right but did he really feel guilty? He dealt a blow to Cryx they wouldn’t forget when tangling with the Anchor’s bane.

" Captain Essex, sir I beg you please give me a moment to say something…"

Essex shot a look that demanded silence toward Atticus who took note of it but continued bluntly anyway. “Sir, I know you had the best of intentions but it appears to me that last few years have worn you down. You aren’t at your best, I’m new and even I can tell that. You didn’t really want those men to die you wanted to serve your country right?” With a frustrated sigh Essex looked to Atticus and replied “Before Baird sent you to spy on me I take it you were given my story? Then you know I shouldn’t even be alive yes?”

Atticus looked somber at Essex before interjecting. “With all due respect your past isn’t why i was assigned to you, The rumors were.” Essex raised an eyebrow as Atticus continued “You’ve dived into the heart of Cryx Territory, avoided any official debriefings, attacked Ordic tradesmen and harbor agents of Cryx upon your very boat. It’s enough for someone as gracious as the king to lose faith and begin to wonder if you didn’t switch sides” Essex eyes widened at the accusation and he looked to be a moment away from shouting louder than a warjack’s smokestack. He shook with anger and simply sighed out

“I’m no traitor, but after The Mercy everything changed. I died that day Mr. Sweets, I failed the Major and 2nd Company and because of it they all be dead or worse now. You think I feel anything for the dead? That’s ridiculous, you all may have just fought a war but I never left mine. I’m a mad dog with nothing left to fight for but the final score…”

Atticus raises an eyebrow at that and dubiously states “nothing?… don’t be dramatic capta-” Essex cut him off “My family are all dead… I found out last week. So you want to know why so many good men had to die? Because they wanted him! Because he’s important to them and that makes him important to me! When I took him on I knew he was running, now that i see what follows him I plan to arrange a showdown.” Atticus looks to Essex with concern seeing he means everyword he said “But Kelley, listen the men under your command don’t deserve this. They are serving you to make a living and have riches!” Essex stops and turns around to stare Mr. Sweets in the face cold.

“And they’ll have them, but not without risk! The ocean is nothing if not dangerous and I am no different, men will die under my banner long as I seek revenge. And better men than you have tried to take it from me… and they ended up just like her. YOUR job Mr. Sweets is to countermand me, do your bloody job and don’t die doing it…”

Essex walks away from him chewing his lip shooting a glare at the next fool to lock eyes with him

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A Dying Light
Bertram's Last Moments

Bertram hoisted Essex up, onto Sabre’s back as he lept off to continue the fight. Sorry captain, guess I’m just not the best at following orders He thought as he saw the confusion on his face. Bertram braced himself for a rough landing, but wasn’t expecting to catch on some of the rocks on the way down. “Fuck!” He yelled as he ended up nearly breaking a leg and severely injuring the rest of himself, but he could still barely stand. Trying everything he could think of to escape at this point, he began to cast his trusty escape spell, but the foul necromancer’s power proved too much combined with the pain and Bertram could do nothing but wait for his demise. Never figured I’d go out trying to save someone else…. he thought as tears began to well up in his eyes, Must have been how you felt gramps, now I just hope they do what I did back then…. Remembering his grandfather, the horrors that he’d must have gone through as a wretched reaver, and the horrors that Bertram himself will most likely face as a thrall made him realize how similar to his grandfather he’d become. By the time a flash of green light filled his vision tears were streaming down his face, he wouldn’t let his legacy be lost he thought as he turned and threw the magelocks out of the path of destruction.

After that things went dark, he felt his body being beaten and torn apart, but he’d lost feeling long ago. Suddenly a sharp pain ran through him as he saw his body below him, This is it, they’re taking my soul….I won’t even be granted peace to see my family again….

Then once again there was darkness, but this time it was accompanied by pain unlike anything he had felt before, pain and hatred. Hatred that he was being denied his peace, hatred of the Khadorans for taking his life, hatred that he couldn’t do anything, hatred of Essex for dragging them there and Chaefer for being captured…Wait no, that’s not right…we all decided to go…it was my choice…. Hatred, hatred, hatred….it was begining to consume him as a flash of green once again filled his vision only to be replaced by a blue glow.

He felt himself rise, this looked familiar…the battle, he was still there, his friends were still there fighting, but he had died…hadn’t he? Then he took note of the necromancer in front of him demanding his loyalty and his pistols on the ground. “I should follow him, he raised me back up, he’s giving me a chance to keep going” NO! that’s not me, that’s not my will! I’ll never bow to anyone! “I BOW TO NONE!” he yelled, surprised by his own ghostly voice. With that he picked up his pistols and with the last bit of will he had sent the most powerful shot he could muster into the man in front of him. Even using souls as a shield, the fear and rage on that man’s face was enough for Bertram to know he’d made his point, but he was getting tired…so tired after that shot. And with that he faded to black once again, just catching glimpses of the world around him, his consciousness now fading. He turned and saw his friends running for their lives. They’re leaving me…I risked so much for them and they’re leaving me!? What happened to the enemy of…the enemy….they’re the enemy….. His memories beginning to fade, being replaced by rage and loathing. Bertram raised his guns and fired two shots at his former allies, watching them flee into the distance. As he chased them down, he whispered but one thing, the one thing he could remember at the moment, a fraction of a phrase that meant something to him before, “The enemy of all….” He then flew into the forest after his new prey, I will find them…they will help me remember…killing them will help me remember…

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Fleeting Hopes

“You fight vell Ordsmen, But you in vay of payment!”

The red colossus of iron rose from his kneel position bringing a hand to a steam pressure leak. The Khadoran mercencary was grateful that mechanika blade his opponent was wielding didn’t slice completely through his armored steam suit. He had never gone against a warcaster before, and the speed his quarry displayed was admirable for wearing a power-field turbine armor. All of this of course didn’t matter, the man before his wasn’t his mark the prisoner inside the carriage was.

Kelley Essex narrowed his eyes feeling the sputtering of his power field. It held up against that last blow but just barely, he despised seeing something some massive and powerful fight so accurately. No doubt about it, the man he stood off against was a veteran and given the symbols a Khadoran just like in his first year with Major Arturno protecting the border from incursion. The Major had always told him to steer clear of fighting the legendary Man-O-Wars of Khadors relentless advance and leave that to artillery or Warjacks but Penny was rushing as fast as she could and every moment counted they already toppled the carriage. He knew were it not for his power field he would likely be spitting up blood like in Glimmershore, he had no time to waste he’d make it quick…

“I’ve no time to indulge ye’ anymore, and aim to settle this affair now.”

Both Kelley and the Man-O-War veteran charged toward one another. The congestion of the woods and brush slowed them both down. The large annihilator blade, a oversized halberd came arcing downward causing Kelley to stop dead in his tracks. the remnant of his power field recoiled in the strike, the attack continued through and scrapped into Kelley’s Mechanikal Arm rending off a few protective plates. Kelley grunted and pulled himself forward using his arm as a lock on the blade before pulling himself off it’s edge. His arm remained fully functional as he drove it straight into the guts of the armored giant. “Cheat”, his mechanika blade shimmered orange and sizzled puncturing into the armor approximately 5-7 inches deep. The suit’s steam power turned into a curse as the Khardic man howled inside his suit. With a growl the Man-o-War leveled his shield cannon at Kelley to fire it. But the Pirate Captain gasped out and kicked it with all his might to throw off it’s aim thumping into the dirt harmlessly.The red giant thrashed trying to cope with the pain of the boiling heat and shield slapped Kelley away from him.

Kelley skid to a halt and rolled his shoulder with a wince feeling his arm twinge with pain before he sprinted back into the fight. Diving in with a leap he pulled “Foulwind” his repeater pistol free and while jumping over the Man-o-War suit shot an acidic round at the visor of his enemy. Before landing Kelley twirled his blade into a reverse posture and hooked it into the back of the immobile combatant. He carved a large gash into the steam pipe work as well knowing it would slow down if not kill his target who was howling in agony now. Kelley hung on his blade riding the monster’s back placing the gunbarrel squarely behind the headplate of the armor. The Man-o-War thrashed suddenly shouting

“Enough of ’dis!”

The gunshot from Kelley’s pistol cracked off but no longer on center narrowly missing the pilot inside as it corroded the metal around him. Kelley was flung to the ground having only just enough time to pull out Cheat. The force was excessive and he felt his back crack and the wind knock out of him as he gasped for a breath. The Man-o-War Growled out adjusting the steam settings on his armor to no longer boil him alive but at the cost of mobility. Dragging his blade he approached Essex.

“You hurt me little wolf, I shall consider this… a bonus.”

Kelley struggled to his feet taking a gasping breath and looking to the havoc the suit of armor took. He suddenly went limp seeing something far worse than the behemoth before him, his warjack Penny had been racing to his position and it was what he saw inside her optics that terrified him. A screeching amalgamation of rippling shadow and terrible saws clattering up above the carriage he was rushing toward. It wasn’t until through the smoke emerged Jehremi Chaffer and Tyson Del Sol came racing through the smoke that he breathed easy for a moment. Penny recognized her crewman but also saw Essex inside the nearby brush. For a moment it hesitated before Essex reached out to her mentally commanding “To the first mate little lady.” The Jack stared at the direction her owner almost weighing his order before the reviled Cryxian’s Stalker Bonejack charged down at Jehremi and Tyson. Essex saw the jack barrel toward the Stalker with the exact same grace he has seen in his vivid torpid dreams. With a deft manuever Penny unwound her steelwire net and threw it in a curled motion. Fully outstretched the net entangled the barbed jack sending it toppling to the ground in what could only be described as surprise. The Monstrosity thrashed inside the steel webbing before Penny and her three tonnage body sprang into the air last second at the end of her charge skewering the insectoid like jack which siezed up. Penny didn’t stop, her gaff hook ripped open a hole and plunged back in over and over again until the the Bonejack laid in pieces underneath net.

Chaeffer looked up to the stern looking warjack that came to his aid with a wide smile on his face feeling immediately safer with her at his back. Penny looked down to Chaeffer for a moment as suddenly a swift shadow of the second Stalker flung itself over the carriage and leaped on-top of Penny bringing it’s necrotic coated blades down into her left arm sawing into her with all it’s might. Penny’s reinforced hull was marred but barely damaged as she swiftly planting the gaff hook on the ground for leverage as she leaned back and headbutt the iron insect to the ground repeating her slaughter upon the second stalker ripping out it’s necrotite furnace with two solid pulls leaving it screeching for one a few final and brutal moments.

Kelley Essex looked to be focusing as best he could on Penny’s movements committing everything else he had to defense. Parrying aside weak blows, dodging powerful ones and withdrawing away from the combat slowly but surely. The Man-o-War growled out to Kelley in lumbering frustration.

“You think you can run from me!?”

Kelley thrust forward during his shout and punctured his suit again slowly chipping away the mechanika monster. Breathing heavy he sighed seeing how much punishment the fighter could take and laughed finally understanding why the major warned him so long ago. Finding the bravery to enter back into the fight suddenly 3 lanky shadows raced toward them both barely illuminated in dim green cryxlight. A snarling corpse laced with machinery and savage guantlets attempted to overpower Kelley before being swiftly kicked backward toward the Man-o-War. All three of these undead monsters turned onto the wounded solider and in a few brief moments ripped the pilot to shreds.

" Ye’ got to be kiddin’ me…"

Kelley looked on in horror from both his own and Penny’s eyes. Kelley held his head backing away from the roaring thralls finishing off the Man-o-War’s writhing. Probability rolled into his eyes as he could more feel rather than see the possibilities… he felt a cold shadow reaching out from the depths of the ground, it’s reach both long and powerful… unwavering and untiring. Within a moment Essex grit his teeth and knew the battle was lost the only option was retreat…

A loud gunshot was heard in the distance as Kelley’s vision cleared and he looked in the direction of the sound. A painful scream of anger and betrayal was heard as Essex felt the fleeting magic of a gunmage had been the cause. He began to sprint hearing the moans of the undead realizing he gave them the slip, as he emerged he saw the true size of the forces Cryx had brought to the battlefield from multiple angles. A Helljack moving so fast one could only call it sprinting, It’s thunderous footsteps and luminous furnace provided the eerie glow of an entire battlefield of wasted cadavers being stitched together and enthralled with feverish speed. Lumbering brutes standing 7 to 8 feet tall with smokestacks similar to the monstrous helljack shambling across the ruins toward Chaeffer, Maria and Tyson. The rumbling slow march of eerily similar twisted shapes of Scrap Thralls writhing like cancerous machinery and bombs in one. Followed by the slow inevitable advance of a hideously bulbous spider shaped creature followed in step with the unmistakable presence of Cryxian Commander possessing the gifts of magic. The Commander had just faced off with the Champion of Marrow and disposed of his with ease. Essex scanned the battlefield with both eyes and realized that Tyson hadn’t been moving, Bertram had shot him? What the hell was going on? Why was Chaeffer rushing to his aid? Of all the fuck ups, Kelley bit his lip looking tot he extraction point and to Chaeffer and struggled considering leaving his First Mate behind in the wake of the nightmare Empire.

“Bah Fuck!” Kelley pivoted directly toward the fray knowing he couldn’t live it down to out right flee Cryx, but more importantly men had already died for this gambit he’d be damned to let that be for nothing. Diving into the cortex of Penny the sound of Jehremi could be heard in the aural inductors pleading with Maria to give them a chance at escape “Do you want him to live? Then we need you to fight!” Maria had already taken a heavy amount of punishment from the Mechanithralls and their brutes and the Helljack was one the horizon fast approaching. She narrowed her eyes at Chaeffer an hissed out “If he dies, you follow him.” Chaeffer could tell she wasn’t bluffing, despite her pain she stood her ground readying her bow staring down the three brutes savagely barreling down on her. Her first arrow struck true planting itself squarely Into the skullplate of the monster but in it’s mindless rage it seemed almost unphased by the shot and continued forward. Maria shifted her stance lightly bringing the next arrow right under the kneed of the next causing it to stumble to the ground. He Narrowly avoided the third who two massive fists slamming into the soil leaving rent chunks beneath. She used it’s rigid force as a incline up toward it’s face an brought her now free hand behin the beast’s head before slamming her knee as hard as her warrior physique could manage into the face of the brute caving in the salvaged Ogrun skull in one nasty crunch as the monster went barreling down to the ground her own knee now bloody from the force she executed inside the cracked and smashed bones. As she landed with a cringe feeling the pain despite her razor sharp concentration.

The other two brutes turned into the melee into a tornado of strength and roars as. A steam gauntlet crushed her left leg drawing blood as she writhed in the giant’s hand before buckling down and pulling the arrow in it’s head free and re-fired it into it’s heart in the blink of an eye being dropped to the ground. She nimbly landed avoiding all pressure on her leg but threw her bow to the ground and clenched her teeth in sheer anger over her agony. On her her good leg she lunged toward the final brute unleashing a devastating flurry on it’s massive shape. Ripping out iron ribs, crushing pipelines to it’s necrotite heart, stripping merely knitted flesh and tearing away weak exposed organs Maria screamed more savagely than any Brute Thrall had managed as it fell beneath her unrestrained rage. As she looked up from her self wrought carnage she looked to the two dozen of so smaller Thralls and three or similar brutes as she stamped her foot to the ground snarling

“If I am to be swallowed up then you shall learn my name! I am Maria, and you left me nothing else. Everything I’ve chosen you took from me! My memories and my family…. But it will end there. You shall take nothing further, you shall only be given a name and my rage …Fear me dark ones… for I am no one… and I’ve been waiting for you.”

The wave of undeath crashes against the front lines, Penny, Maria, and a few unlucky souls are caught up in the advance as Essex looks to the front lines seeing into his own personal past aboard The Mercy that fateful night. Penny fought a withdrawling advance receiving punishment that would crush most men. Essex knew the order for a full retreat had to be now… as the front lines were about to intensify every given moment his jack or men stayed. he looked to Chaeffer desperately carrying Tyson toward Bertram’s horse as the gunman looked confused as to why he was helping. Atticus rushed out from the forest shouting for anyone to retreat now to be left behind. Essex couldn’t help but agree, to his shock he saw Jehremi finished pushing Tyson onto Saber before sprinting over to Az Ekka Uldara. Essex had no idea the Gobber Master Gunner had gone down as he still saw one of the other Man-o-Wars who had fortunately avoiding the brunt of the conflict still had been battling his sea dogs fighting to get to the master gunner. No sooner than Chaeffer had arrived he rummaged through the gobber’s belonging having long since memorized where he kept his bandages and sewing needles. He worked feverishly on the wound using his magic to pull out the poison from his wounds before sealing them and cycling his breath.

“You have four seconds Mr. Chaeffer get my Master Gunner up or leave em, that’s an order!”

In a panic he heard a sputtering cough as the flimsy gobber curled up like a dying spider clinging to Jehremi’s arm. But in that moment he sighed realizing he had followed the order and it was time to move. He scooped up the Gobber and sprinted as hard as he could toward the evacuating crew in a wild panic before hearing the soul chilling screech of the Soul hunters in the distance before seeing a figure he hadn’t seen since Glimmershore. He fought for the ability to move as a sudden gunshot sizzled the ground next to him. Jehremi turned around to see a furious look on Kelley Essex’s face

“Now first mate! No time for fear less you be considering new employment opportunities!”

Jehremi turned back around for a fleeting moment to stare back again with confusion. It wasn’t until the whimper of Az snapped him out of it “Move you idiot…moooooove!” Without a second thought he realized he held Az’s life in his hands and fled as fast as he could from the combat.

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Litany of the Dying Dawn

Blood streamed down Knight Captain Broson’s shield arm underneath his silver armor. He rose wobbling on his feet before spitting a mix of crimson from his lips. He could feel the sharp sting of his broken jaw as well. Amid the rotting horde of Mechanithralls and the lumbering brutes among them Bronson rose stalwart to his charge.

“We are the moment that shall burn in memory, the ones who arrive time and time again before the coming of tragedy and death. For the world among us would strike down all that is good and decent…

A low growl from one of the Mechanithralls turns into a screech before it raised it’s crudely grafted iron gauntlets high lunging toward the Precursor knight to strike him down. It was met fiercely by smash of Bronson’s Blessed Mace reducing the flesh and bones to mere ashes on it’s touch.

“Yet here a knight stands! To stare down the dark an herald what is to come, to speak of darkness’s keeper, the dawn. In this moment when all may seem lost it shall be a single voice who knows the truth…”

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To Bronson’s surprise the reanimated fodder looked to back away cautiously. Some of the minions turned their gaze toward the tunnels they exploded out of moments ago. the clanking of metal grafted foot steps could be heard as a figure half robed and hooded in black linens bearing the symbol of skeletal maiden with snakes for hair upon it’s back. The figure approached without fear wading through the swarm of barely compelled flesh brandishing a Necromechanikal Scythe in his right hand. With his left, the figure issued orders silently to his troops which obeyed with immediate imperative. The figure’s body appeared to be some sort of unholy culmination of flesh and necromechanika implants and prosthetic making it hard to tell what remained of his flesh and what was merely covered with skin. The figure stopped as the nightmarish horde crashed into the trees, overran the ruined wagon and brought to death to all they could reach studying Bronson silently in those brief moments before injecting his own chilling words in Bronson’s silence.

“…That all men must die, and one may only serve in the next life to The Dragonfather, there is no exception.”

The dark one’s gaze was intensely staring Bronson down but in that moment brought the strength the knight captain needed to overcome his silence and pain with. Charging forward the and bellowing to Marrow for his favor bringing down his mace with all the righteous wrath he could muster. His blow was anticipated, the necromancer threw out his free hand and caught the mace head like a it were a mere stick. The Necrodermal plating crunched slightly around it but the entire force of the weapon had been negated by this figure in black with little effort. With a sickening flourish the grizzly scythe was arced behind the servant of Morrow’s head and jerked backward. The edge of the blade decapitated Bronson with ease splattering his blood about the ground from his lifeless body. The figure stared directly toward Chaeffer before hissing out to his subordinates.

“Kill them all….”

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Mission Accomplished
Thoughts of Atticus

Lt. Commander Atticus Sweet. That sure has a nice ring to it. It was about time too. Lately, he was having to do too many things to stain his hands with blood, but now it looked like the ground work had been laid and his carefully planned exploitation of certain events has led them into a perfect position. And after all the hard preparation.
He had spent 9 months rotting in the prison, just on the off chance that Captain Essex would try to liberate some crew from there. Worse was the fact that nobody could know who he was, so it was a constant barrage of fighting off other prisoners and getting regular beatings from the guards. Luckily, the nature of his raising had prepared him for that, and no amount of sap or club barrages could equal the devastation that Mother Abigail had done with her cat of nine tails.
When all had seem a waste of time, and he was sure he would have to signal his rescue from the prison, out of nowhere, Captain Kelley Essex comes floating in. Atticus had to admit, he did send an imposing figure, at that moment, but afterwards, it was one disappointment after another. Honestly, Atticus thought, his crew was an absolute nightmare. As soon as the ship hits port, bam, they all go prancing off to get themselves into all kinds of trouble. What the hell was Atticus to do. He needed a way to get close to the captain, but with the disorder his officers alone cause, it would be difficult.
So, his first plan had been to slowly start bringing amount of order to the ship. He would free the decks of rats and vermin, and also bring on some young midshipman, to help out and learn key positions of the ship. With them on board, maybe the crew would get a better appreciations of their jobs, having to teach others how to accomplish their tasks. But, that proved even difficult, as no sooner was he brought on board than he was swept up into the whole Vault nightmare the chief engineer had allowed herself to get into.
But, he had to come up with a plan at that point, and that plan would have to involve freeing Ori from her situation, but causing as much Strife as he possibly could. It was unfortunate that several innocent civilians had to die by his hands, that brought him no pleasure. But the plan worked better than ever anticipated. Not only did he free Ori, but by stroke of luck, her father had been killed and her mental state had been broke. Atticus didn’t like to see the old Dwarf die, but it was fortunate for his job, as it put Ori into a position where she might need the emotional support of someone, let’s say Little Lilith.
But, then he found out the Captain had bet all of his Royals on the fights, that opened up so many more possibilities. But, it kept getting better with that Holy man showing up to track down Chaffer, and that quick draw gun mage drawing on his own Captain. And then the news of the Mutiny onboard of the Ship, because of Chaffer’s mistakes. Atticus saw his job become so much easier at that moment. The ship was broken, the crew was shattered. Captain Kelley was broke, his ship too damaged to go out to sea, not to mention not having enough crew to run her. The timing was perfect. A peace branch extended from the Kingdom of Ord, with an initial payment of 30,000 crowns, and a true purpose of hunting down Slave traders, that should motivate the Captain. And his Ord does their part this time, the Captain could come back into the fold of the Kingdom. Yes, with a good plan and a lot of luck, It would be well done indeed. Atticus job would also get easier for awhile. Now that the ground work had been laid, all he had to do is sit back and watch for awhile.
Atticus leaned against an ally wall, and pulled out the second wanted poster he had in his possession. Alara’s face stared back at him. Now this was a smart one. Her allegiance to her brother was troubling, but it could also be used to Atticus’ advantage. If this one thought her brother was being unfairly manipulated, she could be convinced to act against Essex, should the need arise. At the same time, she was a highly skilled warrior, and she possessed other skills that would be advantageous in his field of work. Maybe, he could convince her to join the cause of King Baird and to work for him as an agent. Him, that would be down the road, but he did see talent in that one. Atticus struck a match and lit his pipe, and then brought the match to the edge of the wanted poster. As it caught on fire, he dropped it on the cobblestones and continued to walk. That Balthier, he was a solid fellow also. Definitely not spy potential, but a solid stoic warrior and very useful.
Now, Where is that Chaffer fellow? Time to find him and get to work.

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A Visit to an Orphanage
Atticus erases his past.

The insolence of the boy, the pure and utter insolence. How could he think that he would go unnoticed by her? It was by her hand that he was punished, for the light of Menoth, to brighten his soul. But, like a demon, he had resisted, and then escaped her grasp, his salvation denied. But, only to return, these so many years later, under a false name, and a perfumed dandy at that. How could he be so ignorant to think she wouldn’t notice? She had failed that one. She had tried to control his rebellious nature, to curtail the Wurm at play with his soul, but he had fled from earning place at the feet of Menoth when his flesh would fail. Only to become some rich foppish fool, precisely like the untempered and unprepared fools of this City.
Agatha Winifred sat in her chair, her thoughts made her cringe at her own shortcomings. The night was slightly brisk, made even more so by the visit she had received earlier that evening. That man – no child, Attacus, under the ridiculous assumed name of Barnabas Taffy, asking about children; likely to entice them away from the righteous path? There is no god above Menoth. What reason would he have need for her charges? None, that could ever serve the name of Menoth or his tenants. None that could bring glorious fire in Menoth’s name. Agatha would never give up any of her charges. She saw how he clung to petty resentment for the orphanage, never having truly accepted The One True God or contemplated his word. To someone like him he must have just seen a breeding ground of Menite faith, and the children were hers to shape into the protectors of the faith. But like a proper matron mother of children her first and primary concerns was always the vigilance of their flesh and soul, especially from this decadent place. If only that boy hadn’t of escaped, he would of been a sly one, perhaps even a Scurtator of the faith had he repent for his serpent tongue and cowardice, show the unwashed their flaws through painful trials as she had. Agatha was a good judge of people, and Attacus, he would be good at hurting people, but now he was lost to her. So long she had wondered where that child had gone, and now she had seen the deviant with her own eyes. Too bad, he had not turned that rage toward zealotry for Menoth. Such a shame, he was going to flounder in his life and be devoured by the Wurm and his beasts while alone within the Wilds of Urcean.

But, she could do nothing about that, so she should, at the very least, try to sleep tonight. Her old bone creaked as she stood from her wicker rocking chair, turning to head up the stairs. Fluttering, her heart jumped, as a strange figure stood in the doorway leading from her common room. “Jeroth, why have you neglected your vigil?” she said, her voice gasping, trying to cover her fear.
“Jeroth sleeps under the moonlight” said the figure, “I do believe, too deeply to ever wake again.”
“So, Atticus, You’ve returned. I hope to repent?” Agatha said, her voice not faltering, but growing stronger.
The figure entered the room, lamp light illuminating his face, Atticus it was, smoothly gliding to stand by the fireplace. “I want you to know, I did try to do this peacefully.” Atticus said, a slight painful tone slipping under an almost too smooth veneer.
Agatha studied the figure in front of her, realizing that she had miscalculated before in her judgement of the man. It was not a foppish fool, or newly rich idiot floundering with his money. No, the man before her seemed a viper, coiled to strike a wild stray hearing the hiss of the Wurm as soothing. For the first time in a long time, fear struck the old woman, unmindful of on of Menoth’s primary tenants. How could she have misjudged this man? How could she have foolishly thought he was just some fool returning to flaunt his Royals? “Are you going to kill me?” Agatha asked, voice steady, as she stared at his back.
Atticus stared at the mantel of the fireplace, on top of which was a cat of nine tails, Agatha’s favorite punishment tool. His hand slowly reached for it, picking it up, turning it over, inspecting it’s every facet. “Yes” he said, his voice cold, icy, crawling up her spine. “I am.”
“But, before I do, I wish you to know, something.” he said, turning to face her, the flail, swinging in a an arc in front of her. “This is not out of revenge. Nor is it out of any angst against you. You, who scoured my back with this…thing. Ripping flesh from it, causing endless nights of agony as blood seeped through my night clothes. You, who locked me in the basement for weeks, with only my own voice for companionship. No, Agatha, these reason are not the reason you will die tonight. In fact, I think you, as your harsh punishment only gained me the ability to have no fear. To become stronger and more stalwart. No, I kill you, only because you are an obstacle, Because, You have gotten in my way. And as you taught me…” he looks up at her with a fiendish grin reciting on the sermons of Menoth in indignant blasphemy “No object cannot be given up and no fear unassailable in the name of Menoth”
Agatha wanted to scream, to strike out against the man, the child, who would deny willfully disgrace him, her and more importantly Menoth, but she could not. Her body would not, only fear was in control, as she turned to run, not noticing the fine, almost invisible wire, sliding around her neck. As it tightened, she realized that she had failed Menoth in her own personal cowardice. She hadn’t sought this deviant’s purity just his protection and let a disciple fall from Menoth and walk out into the world of corruption and loosed a monster upon it. Black spots filled her eyes, as she felt her killers breath on her ear. “I’m sorry” A voice sounding so very far away said. “I will take care of the children, but Menoth will never have them. After all, there is no end Menoth will be waiting wondering why you felt guilt and despair in your last moments.”
The words sunk in, darkness enveloping all, her mind blinking into nothingness. She had failed. And worse, the recent charges would be led astray, away from Menoth. Agatha’s last thoughts were on her failure, and the last thing she heard, was laughter.
Atticus straightened, laying the old crone’s body on the floor. Walking towards the door, he checked his watch before placing it in his pocket. Should be just enough time to get the children out, before he gave this place to Menoth’s flames. Whistling, he went to work, pouring lantern oil on the carpets. The night was young, who knows, he thought, maybe I can still get some more cats.

View
Luck be Damned
Kelley Essex faces high stakes.

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!”

View
Vault of Savagery
In the darker places, a man's heart remains that of an animal regardless of sport

Kerchak heads down into a dug out trench similar to a pillbox as he looks up to the congested crowd gathered inside a rusted out ship called the Vault. At least three hundred carnage enthusiasts were shouting the favorite chant of this place “Blood for steel”. The look of a blood thirsty mob only confirmed many old Trollkin prejudices about the inherent evils inside the hearts of mankind, but at long as money was to be made he’d tolerate it. Above even the crowd floated Orianna and Captain Malcolm her jack marshal opponent commanding a former champion of the Vault Arena during Benithak’s reign inside this place. He saw the fear on her face and desperation to not be teetering five stories in the air. A series of Gobber operated chain pulls suspended them both to issue orders. The Dwarven continued to shoot Kerchak scowls and dirty looks while avoiding the gaze of her enemy. Kerchak sat down in his seat which was clearly not built for someone as big as him as the thrumming sound of warjack footsteps approached closer and the crew grew silent as the ringleader of the scrapheap began to woo the crowd.

Grudge stomped out with a low growl from its boiler as it still looked to be examining it’s right arm with the new plate grafted to it as its name was called out by hundreds the Jack looked out to the crowd and took a stance like it should defend itself from all these strangers. In the opposite corner emerged Ravage and Kerchak’s jaw went slack. He remembered the champion Ravage he got his name from the damage a few spikes grafted onto his chassis had been able to accomplish. What walked out into the heap was a full refurbished model sporting many times more spikes, hooks and spears grafted into its hull and a series of flak grenade dispensers built into the chasis. It wasn’t a violation of the Vault’s rules technically but it came damn close and Kerchak knew it. he gripped the support railing till his knuckles turned white he had taken all the shares left to him and the repair funds to bet on this match that Orianna would win, he wasn’t sure not that had been a good idea.

Ravage responded to its name flexing its posture to show off its spikes and aggression. No sooner than it finished it looked to its enemy and immediately without warning began to sprint forward due to a pressure built up in its boiler as though it were anxious to face Grudge. Starting to move forward Orianna shouted for it to stand firm she had aligned it as cortex and optics to be unerringly accurate as soon as the jack heard her clearly she ordered it to stop to which a tilted head and hiss of water resembled confusion from her Jack but it obeyed her all the same. Barreling at full speed ravage’s optics were aglow a bright crimson as it drew within feet of Grudge not slowing as he began to lean it’s shoulder into a ramming action while still covered in spikes. “Break his moment Grudge!” Orianna ordered suddenly as the jack didn’t hesitate, it lunged forward and crashed its hardened head against Ravage slicing into its own face but causing the Warjack to be stumble to the ground in shock. The crowd exploded as grudge immediately punished the enemy by impaling the forearm of the jack with its arm spike.

Ravage responded by gripping the arm spike and pulling it out of the open wound the warjack despite its best efforts missed anything vital in the actuators as Ravage immediately sat up and the flak plates flung off the hull and a sudden thunderous explosion of smoke, sound and shrapnel rained out, within the smoke it caused little more than mere scuffing on Grudge. Not wasting a single second Ravage immediately pounded into the chest of grudge but his hull looked to have turned away most the power of the blow and the second swipe got hooked onto Grudges new buckle. Malcolm cursed and Orianna smiled telling him to fight back and be careful of his spikes. Grudge looked up to its controller and it took a step backward using the buckler as a barrier between itself and the spikes of Ravage. Every time it lunged it would immediately strike a spot exposed while preventing its exposure to retaliation.

As though the calculation infuriated ravage it stomped it foot like a mad bull and Malcolm shouted to go wild. Kerchak had heard the old champion give that order before and it made the Nomad an unpredictable whirlwind of collateral damage, and it certainly began to live up to the reputation. Ravage used the hooks on its left arm to snag Grudge’s buckler and wrench open its defenses to slide in underneath its ability to protect itself. Immediately Ravage followed up by slicing into Grudge’s chest plate and raked it’s opposite forearm against its face and right arm cutting and ripping deeply as the sound of grinding metal and buckling pistons moaned out across the heap. Grudge struggled it’s arm free and immediately responded with more punishment to Ravage but this time the Jack nimbly lunged it’s back into the attack taking damage but making sure to return just as much as well rending open vital systems in Grudge’s arm. Ravage squatted low daring Grudge to attack to Orianna’s dismay as Grudge responded as predicted impaling spikes into its other arm to return damage. Ravage immediately shift to the side of Grudge and pressed it’s weight against Grudge from behind before thrashing trying to puncture more systems and bring down the contender.

“Come on Grudge don’t take that from him! Hit ‘em hard as you can and finish it off!” Orianna commanded to her jack. Despite the pinning, Grudge heard its controller’s order and acknowledged it by spearing Ravage’s arm with its Arm spike before curling it’s arm and pulling with all its might. Ravage Responded by turn back to properly face the Mangler heavy Warjack and was about to pummel it in the face till an unexpectedly nimble solid kick connected into Ravage’s chest causing the arm spike to rip through the arm unexpectedly rending it wide open and ruining the main hydraulics. The other spike stabbed straight into the Jack’s head stabbing it straight into the Cortex. Orianna and Kerchak cheered along with the crowd thinking the fight was over but when they looked to the Suite Master Dionno didn’t call the fight he wanted to see it continue. Ravage stumbled back looking about as though in a stupor as its Cortex struggled to even understand its surroundings anymore.

Malcolm shot a desperate look to Orianna “Please… Don’t I beg you!” he said with a pitiful look as Grudge rose it’s arm spike high waiting for the final word from its master. A pause hung in the air and Kerchak’s grin turned into a fluster as he shouted “NO! Finish this!” No sooner than he shouted Malcolm shouted over him “Ravage! Finish this!” The Nomad despite its heavy wounds and wrenched open boiler heard it’s master as well and didn’t hesitate. With its good arm curled up it back handed Grudge’s face plates snagging and ripping a optical Socket right through the gash across it’s’ face sending Grudge stumbling before squarely punching it’s spike fist straight into the boiler of Grudge to try and snuff the life out of the mangler jack. Hot steam rushed out of the various holes punctured into the boiler and in the brief fog Ravage shoved it’s useless limb into the interior workings of Grudge’s still active arm as it churned and seized up from the debris crammed into its pistons. It was brutal, it was underhanded but it was exactly what the crowd wanted to see as cheers, hisses and boos all swirled around the heap.

Orianna just watched in shellshock for a moment as she had been dismayed at the transformation of Malcolm’s face. The normally sweet innocent mechanic had hate burning in her eyes much like Grudge in that moment as she saw the one good optical in her jack within the steam. With a growl she admitted she had been played, just like with Kradivin, Gabriel, Bolten… hell even that Retribution elf all preyed on her kindness but she had no more to give to Malcolm. “Grudge!” She shouted deep and full of anger “Do what you want smash it to bit! Make it pay!” With a vent of hot air the boiler rumbled like that of a dragon trying to pull together enough pressure to fight with a quick yank the remains of Ravage’s arm were ripped off and crunched into submission by Grudges pistons as they whined and screeched trying to perform optimally. The hot air cleared the excess steam and no sooner that it cleared a thunderous punch of steel plunged right into Ravage’s head and deep into its boiler causing a massive backfiring explosive. Kerchak began to breathe again, quickly stepping out of the pill box with a shaky smile as the crowd’s noise became deafening.

The cages began to lower as Orianna glared at Malcolm for his underhanded tactics the whole way descending to see their jacks. A junker crew of gobbers began to assess the damages as Grudge stood victorious and Ravage clearly was down for the count. Before Orianna could speak Kerchak waited at the bottom of the scrap heat and shouted “Bad luck ol’ man, But I think you oughta start making a last second sale or two before you are determined disqualified for an out of commission warjack.” Malcolm sneered and sighed “It won’t be something I get to walk away from … I didn’t expect to lose to her. I was scrapping during Benithak’s day, Collaterals were a bit more … visceral” Kerchak nodded at that realizing exactly what It means. “So you’d be willing to give it over to-“Suddenly a horn rung out across the Vault and Kerchak groaned cursing in Morgul’ Trul. Without another word Kerchak walked back over to a perplexed and tearful Orianna “I … I can’t do this anymore Kerchak this is all just so wrong! Please you’ve got to get me out of thi-“

Without another word the hefty Troll plucks up Orianna who thrashes demanding to be heard “Wh- Put me down ya inbred granite head and listen!” The Troll propped her on his shoulder and with a booming voice just shouted “Be quite, I’m doing you a favor! You don’t want to see this.” Orianna was carried right by grudge who limped after Kerchak obstructing the view to Malcolm all she could hear was the booming chant of Blood for Steal from the crowd before the ringleader of the scrap heap had a light shine down upon him.

“My fellow vaulters, none of us thought it would be possible that Captain Malcolm Havard could be bested by an upstart but you saw it with your very eyes! It seems this new contender Grudge and her marshals Orianna are worthy to face some of the best The Vault has to offer! It only makes sense that a Rhullic could best some of the finest machines Ord has to offer. Oh but we mustn’t forget the finale, some of you may remember Mr. Havard’s wager of collateral prior to a change in management… After some deliberation I was told that his original paper will be honored!”

The crowd explodes into various reactions as Orianna tries to look around Grudge to figure out what is happening. She sees an Ogrun approaching with a large sword resembling a butcher knife as he rose it high in the air. As Orianna strained against Kerchak’s grip and wiggled to see past Grudge who ignorantly trudged forward obstructing her vision It was right as she was about to shout at her jack to move out of the way a powerful roar is hear a sound that normally can only be made by someone like Balthier is heard and the ground goes silent for a moment. Orianna turns ghostly white seeing Malcolm head tumbles forward without the rest of his body as she turns away in a cold sweat. The crowd begins to chant Blood and Steel again slowly as it rises enjoying the murder shown in front of them. To Orianna she just witnessed the very worst mankind has to offer as Kerchak looks up to her bluntly reminding her “… Told ya.”

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Secrets
A letter, hidden on the reverse of a letter

……

(A secret message, tucked amid the letters folded away in Ms. DuBray’s desk.)

Forgive me. I did not mean to pry, but I wanted to know you better. The real you, without hiding behind that sly smile. Now I realize we are more alike than you could ever know.

I too, have been a refugee all these long years. I too, have lost everything, and more. One tragedy at a time, we forget what it was like… to be loved.

In our grief, our sorrow, our hearts cry out with desperate need. For love. For absolution. For something to cling to, that reminds us of who we could have been, in another life. And in the absence of these things, we cry out harder, with a deeper, primal longing. Mercy, for ourselves… and Vengeance, upon our enemies.

I know that heart’s call, only too well.

What you have done, we both now pay the price for, but know this: You were always enough for me. Just as a single candle may burn brightly in the darkness, you brightened my life for a time, and a piece of me will always belong to you. This ship never lingers, but my heart and my thoughts will always find their way back, tracing across moonlight and waves, miles and stars to find you. Even if I should perish on some far flung battlefield, the very horrors of Urcaen could not stop me from seeing your face once more. This I vow.

Know also that I could never hate you for what you have done. I know what it is, to want to take something unrecoverable back; to lash out against the forces you can’t control, with spite itself as your only weapon. I know now the source of your pain, your rage; it was never Essex at all. Your cries for Vengeance are as a whispered prayer unto me… and Scions willing, someday I shall take them up, and deliver you.

And now, I have but one request: just live. Be strong, and continue. Dawn comes just after the darkest hour, so keep an eye always to the horizon; pray to see the tide someday bringing home this wayward sailor. I swear I shall endure, if you will only continue to believe in me.

Thank you, above all else, for seeing me as the man I could be, the man I want to become, rather than simply the monster everyone else sees. In your eyes lives my hidden truth.

………………………………….(there is no signature, only the familiar insignia of a winged sword.)

P.S. I shall write as often as I can, although it is up to the fates themselves whether the letters will actually reach you. Should our paths cross again, I wonder if you would humor a simple request: We are both of us damaged, and alone, but we could be each other’s family. If I should live after all that remains has concluded, and the winds of fate guide us back to one another… Marry me.

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After the Chaos

Chaos and fire are all around as Ori struggles to keep the engines from exploding while still fulfilling Captain Essex’s orders to run them full tilt. As the Anchor’s Bane begins to flee, the mighty warship The Sheath blasts away part of their aft, launching Master Gunner Az through the gun deck into the engine room. Ori runs over and kneels beside the heavily bleeding gobber and shouts “Az! Az, can you hear me?!” He mutters something unintelligible to Ori. “Oh good, you’re still alive” she says with relief. Ori rips up a large rag into strips to stop the bleeding from his various wounds as best she can before turning her attention back to the engines, checking on Az when she can. Once she’s sure they’re out of range of the cannon fire she leaves Lidda in charge and carries Az to the ship’s surgeon. Once she makes sure he has a cot and is being treated, she returns to the engine room.

Upon her return to the engine room she notices they’re down one mechanic and goes to find her assistant. “Lidda, where is Steamfist?” Lidda looks around as though she just realized he was missing. “I…I’m not sure. He was here when you left.” Ori just rolls her eyes. “I’m not surprised he took the first opportunity to get out of repair duty,” she says with a sigh. “He’s never going to listen to me.” Lidda puts a hand on Ori’s shoulder and smiles warmly. “I’m sure he’ll come around eventually.” Ori lets out a short incredulous laugh and shakes her head. “That’s kind, but I doubt I’ll ever earn his respect let alone his obedience. I’m not exactly an imposing figure and he has every reason to hate & ignore me.” Lidda gives her a sympathetic look. “Ori, you’re putting too much pressure on yourself. Worrying about getting the Trollkin to like you is just adding to your stress. If you keep going like this you’re going to explode. You need to take a break.” “I know, I know, but there’s just so much left to do…” Lidda gives her a look and Ori sighs wearily. “Fine. I promise I’ll stop as soon as we get the Bane running smoothly without the engines catching on fire.”

Lidda nods & both women return to work. They work together on repairs, chatting occasionally. After a few more hours pass, Lidda stretches & sets down her tools. “I think she’s patched up pretty nice for now. This should hold us through to Five Fingers where we can get some spare parts to finish the job don’t you think?” Ori climbs out from under a set of large gears, wipes some soot from her face with her sleeve and surveys their work. “I don’t know. I suppose she’ll do but…” Lidda cuts her off before she can finish her sentence, “Ori, would you mind if I have the rest of the night off?” “There’s still an awful lot to do,” she responds hesitantly. “What is it you need to run off & do so fast?” Lidda looks a bit uncomfortable, “well, I’d rather not say to be honest.” “Look, I’ve already lost one mechanic tonight for no reason, so I’d at least like you to tell me why you need to leave.” Lidda pauses, considering how to word her response. “Well, I was going to pay Kel a visit of a…private nature.” Ori looks confused at first then her eyes widen a little as she realized what Lidda is suggesting. “Ah. Well, um, alright then. I guess you can go. I could use some time alone anyway.” Lidda is already halfway to the door of the engine room before Ori finishes her sentence. She waves & says goodbye on her way out.

Ori takes a few minutes to evaluate the work that’s already been done and begins to tinker on some valves that are too loose for her liking when she hears the captain’s voice coming from the copper pipe used for communication to thank her for her work. She moves to the pipe to respond, but when she speaks there’s no reply. “I guess I should take a break while I can. Lidda’s right, I need to relax.” Too restless to sleep, she makes her way to the hold. The sight before her is a surprisingly merry one considering all that had transpired in the last few days. Somewhere somebody was playing music while other sailors drunkenly sang some old shanty. Other men were gambling at the tables. She sees Golrick gambling with Kerchak and some unknown man. She leans against the wall and observes the 3 men while they play. She notices that Golrick looks severely burned, with bandages covering various wounds and there’s a large stitched up cut on his neck. “What in the hell happened to him?” She muses to herself. “And more importantly, how is he carrying on like he’s not on the brink of death? We’re a hardy people, but he should be laid flat lookin’ the way he does.” She can’t help but admire his strength of will. Ori and Golrick lock eyes for a moment and she offers him a small smile which he returns and motions for her to join their game. “Thanks, but I don’t gamble.” “Oh c’mon lass!” Golrick boisterously shouts. “I could stand to see a fair face amidst this lot o’ ugly bastards.” The man sitting next to him looks slightly offended while Kerchak stares at his cards, pointedly pretending she isn’t there. Ori smiles more genuinely at Golrick. “Sorry, but my answer still stands. You won’t be able to persuade me otherwise.” Golrick gives her a sly grin, “I’ll have you know I can be very persuasive when I want to be,” he says with a wink. Ori laughs a little. “We’ll see about that.” She walks off to find Balthier. She sees him at the far side of the hold rolling something in his hands with a look on his face that is a mixture of anger and concentration. She approaches her friend to see if she can help or at least lend an ear to his troubles.

Ori speaks to Balthier and Chaffer for a while and has an awkward introduction to a new Iosan woman before the first mate breaks up their gathering and tells them all to get back to work. Ori expresses her distaste for the man then goes to get Kerchak to help her finish a few more repairs. The Trollkin is still at the gambling table, laughing and carrying on with his ship mates. After several attempts, Ori finally gets his attention. “Mr. Steamfist, Captain said he wants the Bane running smooth by tomorrow. I need your help.” Kerchak just glares at her. “Look, you took my job, I ain’t been paid yet and I need to get some money back. Let me play with some of these men then I’ll come down.” Ori angrily sweeps the cards & coin off the table. “I’ve been watching you & you’re losing more money than you’re making! You’ll have plenty of time to waste your money later. If you want to get paid I expect you to work. Captain said to get it fixed, NOW. Come on.” She stands next to the table with her arms crossed & a stern look on her face until Kerchak finally throws down his cards & goes to the engine room. As soon as his back is turned the anger in her face melts and a look of exhaustion overtakes her face.

After what seems like an eternity of work thanks to Kerchak’s bitching, they get the engines a little more tuned up. Kerchak leaves without saying anything to Ori. She sighs heavily & runs a hand through her hair, wincing slightly as her fingers graze over the wound on her forehead given to her from the captain of The Ancestry. “At least it finally stopped bleedin’. I must look a damn mess. I really hope there’s someplace to bathe…..or at least wash my hair on this boat.” She digs through her pack looking for some clean clothes. Her hands close on a crumpled envelope. She had almost forgotten about the letter ol’ Daff had given her from her father. She sits against a wall under a lamp and tentatively opens the letter, preparing herself for her father’s latest plea for help with his debts. The paper smells of fire and cigar smoke, an aroma that brings back dozens of memories for Ori. She notices the usually tidy handwriting is shaky & sloppy, the lines uneven. “He must have been severely drunk when he wrote this one…..” She says out loud to herself with a sigh and begins to read.

Oriana,

I know you don’t hold me in the highest of regards anymore and I don’t blame you. The Great Fathers know I’ve been the worst example of a father to you ever since…The page is blotted with ink and several words are scratched out beyond legibility…well you know why.

It’s been near on a year since I last heard from you. I wanted to make sure you were doing well for yourself or even if you’re still alive. Please be alive. This old heart couldn’t bear it if the only piece of joy I have left in this world has gone.

You’re the full embodiment of your mother, you know that? You have her kind and tenacious nature. Don’t you ever let the harshness of the world take that from you lass. I know you’ll thrive no matter what path you take. I hope you find it in your heart to forgive your old fool of a father one day. Take care Lugnut.

Fathers guide you and stone protect you,
Bartrand.

She stares at the letter for a long while, letting the words sink in. A million thoughts rush through her mind all at once, “What brought this on? Is he alright? Something has to be wrong…” She leans her head back against the wall, squeezing her eyes shut tight & willing away the tears threatening to spill down her cheeks. After what feels like ages, she finally finds the strength to stand back up. She gently folds the letter and puts it in an interior pocket of her jacket then re-braids her disheveled hair. It must be nearing 2AM but she still has a job to finish. She goes to where the jacks are stored and looks up at a nearly-finished Penny. “Alright little lady, let’s finish making you beautiful so we can show you off to your captain in the morning.”

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