Aboard the Anchor's Bane

Deep Slumber
Inside the Mind of Kelley Essex

“The moment we stop following our dreams; … we die.”

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In shock his eyes opened, to reveal nothing. A cold pressuring darkness numbed him t the bone as the gurgle of the ocean surrounded him. Squinting he looked toward the heaven barely able to make out a strangled beam of light quickly fading from view.

As his eyes adjusted He felt a snag on his arm to realize his right arm was latched in the same nightmare he had been living for years. Thrashing against the chain to pull himself free in panic like always fearful this time he wouldn’t make it. “Even my luck has limits…”

pulling out his cutlass from within the abyss and working up the courage a sudden voice rang out in the depths. “…Why? haven’t you wondered why?” The voice sounded like his own, and it turned his blood to ice.

Drawing the edge to his shoulder Essex bit his lip and knew the feeling all too well that followed. A fleeting warmth surrounded him as his blood turned to ice around him. gliding free of the chain his eyes resembled those of a dead man’s as his left arm meekly reached for the chain to pull himself upward and swim toward his destiny.

As his hand touched the steel another touched his ankle shaking him out of his torpid state. A hand latched like a vice to him and the weak yellow glow of two orbs gave weak outlines of a face. A figured was clinging onto Essex’s ankle and the Anchor which nearly claimed his life crawling toward him … dragging him further down as it came closer into view.

“Why is it you’ve struggled so long, and so hard? Every man gives up on his dreams eventually and you aren’t fooling me…” The figure drew close clawing up to his belt line as Essex struggled to get free the air in his lungs crying for escape.

“You’ve spoke nothing but lies ever since you heard…” gripping the cuff of his duster the figure came into full view within the bleak lighting. A rotting revenant … his doppelganger.

It flared it’s rotten teeth as it snarled coming face to face with it’s living counterpart and continued. “It haunts you… everything you’ve sacrificed, Everyone you’ve killed just to find an answer you. will. never. find!” Essex flails screaming out underwater as his lungs fill with the dark ocean around him. Flipping the pressure valve on his armor and pathetically trying to kick back against himself.

A torrent of air explodes from beneath screeching out as the corpse wrentched all his strength against the still plummeting anchor. “Struggle all you like!” the corpse’s arm begins to snap and dangle as Essex begins to black out. In anger the corpse screams out “You’ve given up love, family, friends, acceptance but above all else, your beloved freedom in this decade long hunt!” A loud snap rings out as sudden the bones snap and give way while Essex ascends toward the surface oblivious to all but the bubbles passing him by.

All the while hearing the wails of his own cadaver scream out “You can’t run from yourself boy, and a time will come when you wish you hadn’t!”

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Caged Burdens

Caged Burdens

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A cage swings gently side to side latched to the aft of the Anchor’s bane. Inside it’s ribs sits an emaciated scraggly old man with tatters for clothing feverishly scratching his beard with an unpleasant grin of his disheveled visage. Shaking one foot as he continues “…Oh… yeah, m’yep that’s the spot… oh baby!”

His itch passed soon as it went all the while a low snicker escaping his lips finding some form of fleeting entertainment from the act. Rolling his filthy tounge along his lips to wet them with a sigh he shifts his body for some more comfort when the patter of footsteps against wood suddenly grabs The Squatter’s undivided attention siting up like a craven mongrel to eavesdrop.

A “Sir, the divin’ team are back aboard… So what next?”. after an odd pause a gruff the squatter hears a familar Morgan Ulvari’s voice growl out. “Relinquish command.” A fit of giggles overcomes the old man as he hears Morgan’s tone and presses himself against his bars swaying close to the windows his quarters. A rhythmic few taps against the window halts the conversation between the sea dog and the navigator.

“What a nice boy you’ve become Morgan.” A few guttural chuckles roll out as he hovers on the tense silence in Morgan’s Room. A single request is asked of the sea dog “_Excuse us will you?”_

Like always the windows fly open against the hull of the ship with a heavy sigh from Navigator Ulvari. “I’ve had enough… happy? You win I’m not cut out for command, now good d-”

With a caustic tone and snarling teeth the meek little man’s eyes grew wide and eyes dilated before shouting. “Shut your mouth, This isn’t about you; or the captain It’s about ME! It’s always been about me…” He says staring at the shocked Ulvari. With crazed eyes he shakes like a cornered dog about to strike._ “You know why Chaffer is Captain, Because you lack any fire, You want to be governed you gutless sea bitch! The fact of the matter is that you just don’t measure up and you don’t even bloody mind. How soon till he Maroons you egh? How soon till they kill me!?”_

The Squatter’s eyes shine a low emerald light as he stings Ulvari’s pride. Darting around as though any moment he might die he turns away from Ulvari.

“I … Would never let that happen to you.” The Navigator says with a dull forced tone.

As though his face were as malleable as clay the dour rage filled face turn to a snicker again. “Then …?”

Ulvari replied “… Then I’ll Kill Captain Chaffer.” His eyes intent on acknowledgement from this madman as he walks away determined once more.

The Squatter checks his back with a grin giggling again no sooner than the door closes. His eyes flare with emerald light once again as swirling micro runic cycels are visible within his eyes. “… Such a nice young man….”

His giggles turn into hacking coughs as he lays back down in his cage scratching his filthy beard.

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The Depths...

A trapped breath gurgles forth inside the smothering ink of a black abyss. Terror stricken eyes opened wide scanning the swashing depths around him in hopes to see life or escape, yet to no avail. The dragging against his skin, hair and clothes informed him he was falling, toward what he dreaded to ever discover. Pressure building on his ears, eyes and lips as the growl of the darkness called to his failing body. Another breath ebbed out of his lips as he winces from the sheer cold starting to ravage his flesh as he writhed and twisted reminding how important his grip was to the situation.

“I mustn’t let go… "

he told himself as he fought against every muscle in his body to shiver and let go. A sudden high pitch whine joined by heft churning chops began to creep into the ambiance of this dark hell as Essex felt his mind grasp at the unknowable. The sounds grew louder and in desperation he clenched his eyes shut and shunted his body hard to the left and letting the invisible length of massive chain glide along his body. Each passing second the sounds grew louder till they became deafening and then wrenching cacophony of iron and steel grinded into a chorus of screeching sharper to his ears than any knife. Eyes suddenly opening in shock he looks beneath him to see a steely maw of twisted necrotite engine fans gnashing and gnawing upon a mighty ship anchor like a ravenous animal. The bulk of the anchor lodged in it’s vital exhaust ports but causing disfigurement to it’s delicate instruments.

The spiraling Engine disgorged itself along the anchor sending lose disposal shrapnel and jagged edges gobbling down the anchor causing it’s chain to grow taunt and dragging into the chaos. The compression against his body nearly to the extreme his nerves nearly shot from the pinpoint accuracy he needed to guide the anchor in blink and unguided the green glow of the Necrotite engines began to grow accompanied by oranges and red of internal explosions and quickly looking like the Maw of the Devourer Wyrm itself.

“Get out, NOW!”

The only thought that crossed his mind as he let go of the length of the chain. But a moment too late, as suddenly the taunt chain hooked around right arm gauntlet and shoulderblade. Lurching forward he peer directly into the insanity as he was dragged closer and closer to the dying Cryxian submersible vessel. Wrestling and trashing against the chain it’s other end became sucked into the fan only doubling the speed at which it consumed and rotated his closer to the end. A sudden flare of orange in his eyes showed no escape was possible… Doom.

Eyes closing, he let out the last of his breath embracing his fate. The Meredius claimed him but at least his men would live… Essex’s mind suddenly writhed in pain at that thought as he saw what awaited them… torture, slavery, and death. “NO!” he screamed out drawing his cutlass from his hip he brought it to his shoulder and gritted his teeth knowing precisely how much this would hurt. With each agonizing sawing of his cutlass against his arm he saw the grip of fate recoil in disgust.

As his blood flooded out of him Essex kicked with all his might and thrashed with his one good arm. He was loosing consciousness quickly, all he could muster to do between the shock and the pain was to turn the propulsion systems of his warcaster armor on full blast.

Like a race against death, Essex saw the glimmers of life dance within shallows of the ocean just as his eyes began to close and take a weak shallow breath of the sea….
-—————————————-

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It ain't over till it's over!
Ding, Dong, the Witch is dead!

It never rains but it pours on the Bane…least wise that’s the way it seems to me. Lately we’ve been going from battle to battle with little or no respite in between. All in the name of one man’s overwhelming desire for vengeance due to loss and betrayal! The man? The lord and master of the Anchor’s Bane, Captain Kelley Essex. The cause? Hunting down a Shardic bane upon all who make their living on sea, or near it; the evil Magda and her ship the Red Revenge…huh, vengeance again…I think I’m starting to spot a trend. Regardless, the lords will be done. Despite hardship and losses, ambushes and gallons of spilled blood. We finally overcame the Red Revenge and destroyed her crew of undead horrors and that was the end of it…or so we thought.
As the wise Yogi, Berra, once taught me; “Gor’ Gunn”, he said, “It ain’t over, till its over”. The Yogi is wise. Sure enough, we made preparations to salvage the Revenge in the 50 meter depth of its watery grave. It made sense, after all, someone had to pay for all this death and destruction and who better than those who had been the chief cause of all our grief. In short, they had plundered, and now we were plundering the plunderers.
So I had my orders from Captain Essex and he went to his quarters. I proceeded to organize the remaining crew into repair parties and a salvage party. Several officers proceeded to go underwater to do the initial salvage reconnaissance of the wreck. These were the Enginseer, the Hold officer and the First Mate. I was standby as a rescue diver in case of any trouble. Once they were on there way, I was making my rounds of the ship when I discovered that Fate had once again turned up with a bit of a nasty surprise. Our Cygnaran prisoner was dead in his quarters with his throat cut and worst of all, my lord, Captain Essex had been discovered in his quarters apparently the victim of a poisoning! AI DE MI!!! (old Ordic saying loosely translated as “woe is me”) Luckily the Captain is a strong man and was still alive. Securing medical treatment from our local Gobber physician (don’t judge) for the Captain I returned main deck to check on the diving party’s status and noticed a plume of water off our starboard side and the rolling boom of an explosion…FROM UNDERWATER! I yelled out “Battle stations”, ensured that the order was being executed by the crew and grabbed my diving helmet and weapons. I checked airflow, squirted the low light elixir the Gobber had prepared for us on my eyes, slapped on and secured the helmet and dove!!!!
At first all was murky green gray and getting darker the deeper I dove. Soon tho’ I could see lights in the distance, the diving flares launched to support the divers. As I dove further in I could finally make out furtive movements amongst sea floor and wreckage below. I thought to myself, “A FIGHT!!! HERE! UNDEAD”! I could see my fellow crew mates getting assaulted and saw the hold master get severely wounded as I dove closer. The Enginseer acted quickly and set the rope connected to his Jack on the wounded Hold Master and tugged. The Hold master ascended with the speed of shooting star cutting across a night sky, he was trailing red bubbles tho’, a bad sign. Getting closer still in my dive I finally made out one individual who seemed to directing the others, he wore a captains hat, and I made him the target of my descending vengeance. All of a sudden, I heard a booming voice in my head, it seemed to come from the enemy captain and I was hearing him clear as a bell underwater. He was exhorting his men to fight harder and kill my living crew mates. To my horror I noticed that the dead bodies around my mates were coming back to life. Yelling hatred toward my foe I Corrected my angle of descent, leveled out and swooped down upon him, using the combination of my weight and descent speed to drive my spear clean thru the erstwhile enemy captains body, all the way from head to nuts!!! He made an entirely satisfying “SPLURRT” sound even through water. The shock of the spear shaft in my hands told me I had landed a most satisfactory blow. The enemy captain was dead. And as I dove past the body I was most chagrined to see that the enemy captain was still alive and yelling to his men to fight harder, from below me and to port. HOW IN THE BLAZES DID HE GET OVER THERE!!!! The thing that shocked me most was that every time the captain yelled, dead men would rise again to fight for him. Would this Evil never die!!! I was so furious I bellowed into my helmet and dove upon the captain again. Once again my spear tore through the evil mans guts and rent his body into halves and bits! Once again the water was stained red; and to my eternal chagrin, once again the captain ordered his men to fight for him, from the other side of the wreck! I’d just stabbed him to death, TWICE!!! What is going on here I wondered yet again. Dampening my fury in a cold battle lust, I charged him again. A detached part of me noticed that there weren’t as many enemy crew as there were a while ago. Probably due to combination or our efforts and fighting prowess I figured. Finally, third time being the charm, my spear found my mark again! The water seemed to pulse as the captains putrid form collapsed and his hat fell unto the muddy bottom. Shockingly, for a lightning yet lingering moment, we saw a spirit rise above the body. It was clearly the Shardic spy we had executed not 24 hours earlier…Carlton was his name in life, maybe. In death tho’ his name and spirit were damned for all time.
Except for me mates, all was still on the ocean floor. The wreckage, and its salvage, was ours! As the Yogi, Berra, said, “till its over”. Well, It was now! We finished salvage operations with no more surprises and with our captain and hold master showing signs of recovery I finally decided I could rest for few hours…my snores were mighty indeed!

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Lanin's Journal
A recently found Tome inside Lanin's Footlocker. It was given to the acting Captain

17th of Rowen
I received a letter today from Kelley, It’s been years but apparently his ship has docked up with Ceryl. He thought he would pay me a visit in the letter but he hinted that he had some matters he was hoping I could attend to on his behalf, namely tutelage. I must say I am rather unsurprised that the first thing of Essex’s mind is favors but all things considered it’s one of the more legitimate requests he floated my way. Normally it is helping him sneak a capacitor for his arm or fine tuning his suit to be up to snuff.
Either way it will be nice to get out of the order for awhile I have some earned leave and I wouldn’t mind a bit of a vacation for the tedium of this place.

1st of Solesh
The request for leave was approved under the circumstance that I pay a small tithe in my absence… while not what was promised it’s a modest enough amount I should be able to make the payments assuming Essex delivers on the promise for the instruction fees my family could use the money and while Penelope was against me “playing with the boys” I told her all the good that could come of it and I couldn’t be in better dirty hands. She understood I was going with or without her consent but her main objection to my surprise wasn’t the possibility of plunder it was the fact she fact into a Muse aboard Essex’ ship at a tavern by the name of Veronica Du’ Bray…

I couldn’t stop laughing till she punched me hard as any troll in the arm, twice. I’ve heard of her reputation and Essex and I have an arrangement when women throw themselves at a magi with a pension on his ship. Still, it felt nice to know she worried about my faithfulness.

6th of Solesh

Where to start….
Well I met my protégé’ on Essex ship… right before my entire world was turned upside down. Magister Jean was talking to me about the particulars of my leave and giving me a sending off gift then the next moment I hear a sickening snap and look to see Jeans neck has literally turned to far it sounded like he broke his neck. I’m not sure what happened but he strained and turned it back around and stared me down asking me to leave. When I asked if he was okay of if I could help he attacked me! Letting loose flames and spells I’ve never seen stripping away stone and wood like it were grass. I fled for my life and asked for help only to see they were acting strangely too. In a matter of moments I was in a panic fleeing for my life. It was all I could do to escape with my tricks of wind magic but they grew disinterested quickly while I fled for my life deeper into the tower. The noise of the factory helped me loose them. I came to report to Essex that the boy Erdrick may be dead when on the street suddenly I saw him Essex with his Master gunner he’s raved about and some Large Ogrun.

We exchanged only a few pleasantries and he seemed to be aware of the situation, I hope to the ascendants he didn’t have something to do with it. Either way he reported that Chaffer was fine just traumatized from this… cult. He expected me to still leave with him on the ship, I worried for my family that night I came home and it wasn’t long till I told Penelope to get out of town and head someplace safe. There was far more arguing that night than I expected, I can tell she Blames Kelley and his Crew…

21st of Solesh
I decided to leave the Fraternal Order of Wizardry, I heard terrible rumors after I started my leave a few days ago. The Church of Morrow seems to have been investigating the incident a few weeks ago. A Chaplin of Morrow by the Name of Eugene Lindel’ay found evidence of not just your atypical Thamarites but out-right Infernal worship. Many of my colleagues were confirmed dead, most of the survivors accused have been given hangman sentences. As I had feared, Magister Jean was among the dead… his body disallowed a proper burial until further notice. I was even called in for questioning last night. I had told him about the typical daily events and how nearly nothing stood out of the ordinary other than my request for leave.

Eugene seems most interested in my reasons for leave and how I intended to spend my time away. Not stupid enough to say I was heading off on a Pirate vessel I gave the rehearsed excuse we had used in the past; I was planning on enjoying a beach vacation out on a unmarked island for a few weeks with a prominent owner of a modest trader business. I was vexed why, but he was very interested in the fact I mentioned a ship would be my mode of travel. He asked for details I hadn’t expected about The Anchor’s Bane. I flubbed what dimension I could think would be passable… but I think he could tell I wasn’t being completely honest with him, either way I brought up I failed to see what a Merchant ship had to do with Infernal worship and he let the matter finish at that wishing me a fond vacation.

He was certainly the sharpest man in the church of Morrow I ever met, despite my innocence I felt like my ability to leave that investigation room was anything but assured till it happened… I hope Penelope let me see Nathan and Sara tonight. She mentioned about going back to Five Fingers with the children because of this situation as the last thing she wants is to be mixed up with a man who would “jeopardize his career for some fun on the ocean, or sell his soul to Thamar.” Essex better crack out the good stuff… I am in no mood to tutor his meat head of an Arcanist today.

23rd of Solesh
Morrow knows I’m a learned man, Morrow knows I am a faithful man, Morrow knows I am a strong man But Thamar knows I lack the common sense to listen to my damned bloody wife! GAH! I feel like I got pressganged, Essex that snake in the grass just HAPPENS to leave out that he started a bloody feud with an insane Scharde Captain with a flare for vengeance and drastic action. I just overheard two of the crew talking about some Captain Mahgda McChallan. The name rung a bell so I did some digging and it turns out she was a very fine Cygnaran Naval Officer a few years ago. So we have someone knows the waters, made allied of monstrous nightmares and is a renowned artillerist to boot. This truly tops the charts for bullshit Essex has put me through I had better see a share of the bounty when this is all said and done, no doubt he will want me to keep him and his crew alive while I train my replacement!

25th of Solesh
Such a meathead, this Erdrick knows next to nothing about magic or its simplest principals. It’s not that I don’t mind teaching but I’ve met children who at least know a few verses from Kerwin or Wyrm teeth at least the point behind runes! He’s one of those fighter types who has the smallest little flare for magic and thinks that makes him something close to a warcaster like Essex. Swinging a sword every chance he gets and then just throwing a simple spell like it’s another appendage… I’m being unfair I suppose, he has all the right qualities of a student, he makes an effort learn and does as he is asked until he is told to stop, and rarely complains but to be some old and know so very little of magic makes me think he isn’t an Arcanist at heart… a Sorcerer perhaps? He will need to start with the basics for sure, augmenting his patterns of casting is the most important part to start with.

27th of Solesh
He’s come alone well, despite battle likely in the next few days he is showing a commitment to try and turn around this ignorance. He has a deep well of magical strength we simply need work on his fortitude since he is just miserable at reading runes of sensing magic we will focus on things that make sense to him; Finesse, Endurance, Power he’s latched onto these concepts well but he seems to have a tendency to try and overproduce… I’m not sure if it’s an effort to impress me or frustration that he sees someone can do something easier than him but he pushes himself for hours I can’t imagine the throbbing his head must go through everynight, but if he keeps at it he might just master this style sooner than expected. Overall? Impressive commitment, still has a less than witty approach.

28th of Solesh
It came to me as some shock to see him come up from the brig, Bathik was onboard the whole time… in chains. I’ve never seen Essex that way before, cold and hateful … Bathik had to have done something to him that he couldn’t fogive but I could care less. Bathik may have been a mundane Sorcerer and never embraced the trainings of the Fraternal order of any organization his skills were undeniable, as was his torment. In the midst of a powerful ocean storm he was whipped and beaten by the crew whenever he failed to mitigate the gale forces around us. While I would normally look the other way and seek a chance to talk to an old friend like Bathik it was Essex’s order to keep him on the decks for over 14 hours. He was spent and tapped without any more strength left in him.

Kelley had always been a scoundrel but a man who always listened to my logic in the past. Last night however, I wasn’t entirely convinced he would have drawn his cutlass on me when I protested of Bathik’s treatment. Eventually a few of the Officers managed to convince Essex to retire for the night and allow Erdrick to take command, Admitantly it wasn’t until then I realized I had such a low opinion of the ship’s First mate. While Embarrased the crew saw my logic… right before they saw the enemy in the dark stormy night. The ship was in chaos after that But I already knew we would be able to catch such a swift and narrow ship.

29th of Solesh
The ship located the remains of a whale, the crew knew it was good money and free food. I didn’t like taking so much time near a corpse In Scharde waters but sadly my opnion mattered little against the prospect of money. I heard it was bad, many men died, our Quarry had left an ambush of undead and Trollkin Savages waiting inside the corpse. All the same the crew walked away with a heavy haul of meats, chemicals and stories… not a total lose i suppose, I heard the Captain and the Firstmate pulled some tale worthy heroics aboard that magnificent carcass… i can smell it from here.

30th of Solesh
I had a drink with Essex and learned about Bathik killing a Nyssian woman by the name of Gailisyn. He talked about how long ago while he was still with Veronica, she had been the cause of much mutual resentment and fighting. We re-lived many of the good ol’ days and talked about my cut and fees. I worked up the nerve and asked him about a quirk he had developed since I was last aboard which is he would only refer to anyone onboard the ship by last name only. Essex simply replied “They ain’t my crew, most of are dead or left like you Lanin.” I wasn’t sure if he was mad or just being blunt but it took me off guard because he always seemed to have loved the crew that served under him like he does his Jack … well for the most part.

(The rest of the book remains empty except for the last page)

My studious protégé, as I’ve watched you hone your art and blend it with combat must admit I see striking similarities to your Captain Kelley Essex. You possess a Determination like his which I feel most men and women are born without, whatever drives you do not let it do so without taking in your surroundings. Nothing is more pitiful and destructive than power for the sake of its merits.

Ethically I find we are very different people but all the same I have thought long and hard of wisdom to pass onto you. Judgment is the tool of the unqualified, but justice is the desire of the inept- however without these things the freedom your mistress offers couldn’t possibly exist the world would offer no one the freedom of peace the moment one chooses the freedom of war.

I will never presume to judge you, you’ve shown considerable talent and warm heartedness to Lorita and other ship hands. I see the gifts of a kind man like the Captain in you but I worry that you will tear down every scrap of weakness for the fruitless endeavor of freedom. Essex has wasted his entire life wishing to live by no rule and he has sacrificed love, family, his flesh and his trust to maintain what weak of a grip he can maintain among himself and you officers.

My advice to you Erdrick, is to remember that freedom is a luxury which can spoil even someone as talented as you. Congratulations on your success the Captain will be proud of your merit.

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Reflection
somewhere on dark seas

Jehremi Chaeffer

…..


…..

Victory.

The last glimmers of daylight faded over the waters which bore their telling scene. Bodies and wreckage dotted the sea, yet amidst the cluttered waves, the Anchor’s Bane remained tall, gently bobbing against the twighlight sky.

Red sails swallowed by water, the Red Revenge had gone down in a flurry of cannonfire, remnants of its carcass still floating visibly on the surface. Magda’s tyranny was no more.

Still, the cost had been high. Battered and exhausted, first mate Jehremi Chaeffer staggered slightly, limping from a minor gash on his left calf, slowly yet determinedly. Glancing about the upper deck, he could see many a shipmate strewn about the wooden floor. Too many familiar faces; their eyes cold and lifeless, yet he seemed to feel their pain and fear as if it yet remained. One body in particular pained him deeply. His arcane mentor, Lannin, whom he had learned so much from in the month since they’d been introduced, had dashed to the helm position at Chaeffer’s command… and was now lying under a makeshift shroud of sailcloth.

So much death. The stars were beginning to shine through now, peeking from the final sunstreaked clouds that dotted the horizon. Their beauty defied the chaos that filled the scene, imparting a measure of serenity over the broken vessel. It was all just too much.

“When you live serving others, you must also be ready to die serving others,” he’d intoned to sailmaster Ulvari earlier that day. Many had given their lives in the name of duty on this day. For all of his pretended wisdom on leadership, Chaeffer still wondered if he could actually live up to the post he’d won. Shaking off his doubts, he wandered hazily toward the officers’ quarters. Eventually his hands found the door of his chambers, although his feet didn’t remember the journey.

Oddly… or, as remembrance suddenly overtook him, perhaps not so oddly, he found that his door was already unlatched. As he stepped inside, the melodic voice of Veronica du Bray was not entirely unexpected. “Well, well,” she greeted him. “It appears your desire to live was as strong as… well, as mine.” She smiled, a wondrous gesture that somehow was both wicked and kind, a gambling smile that almost took his breath. Admittedly, she looked a fetching creature indeed, sharply sillhouetted beneath that… wait. The captain’s hat? It had been on his own head earlier, part of the ruse intended to draw the schardic wench from her vessel. “How did..?” he began.

“Oh, this? You dropped it, sailor boy,” she informed him, flashing that grin that could melt steel with its warm, wondrous mirth. “You looked so dashing, leaping from the helm like that. Such strong legs…” With a flex of her own, she stood gracefully up from the casual position she had taken, leaned against the foot of his bed. “My, you look so tired. I hope you’ve saved some of your strength. The day may be won, but the night…” she stepped closer, dangerously near.

He finished her thought. “…Is just beginning.” With a shrug and a slow, wary smile, he allowed his gaze to meet hers. Removing the gauntlet from his right hand, he gently lifted her chin with his thumb and forefinger. “Fear not. By now, you must already know that I take my debts, and my duties, quite seriously.” His gaze held hers for a long moment. So much emotion swirled inside his mind. There was longing, deep and true… yet there was also bitterness. Needing a moment to sweep it aside, he released her and made his way to the cupboard where the bottle of wine gifted to him by Captain Essex was still hidden.

He undid his breastplate as he walked, slowly and methodically, allowing it to clatter to the floor with little ceremony. As he reached for a glass and began to pour her a drink, a warmth washed over his skin. Her arms had found their way around his chest, and she held him tightly, standing behind him. “So stern,” she complained, ever so sweetly. “Always the soldier in the darkly stained armor.” She pressed her face luxuriously against his bare shoulder. “You know, it isn’t just the obvious price I’ve come to acquire from you.” She bit his arm, playfully. “If that was all I wanted, why, I could have any man on this ship.” Her breath on his flesh was exquisite, inviting and intimidating all at once.

He closed his eyes, allowing memory and regret to fall away. For a moment, there was just the dark, and the warmth. He set the bottle gently back onto the surface of the cupboard. Without turning to face her, he softly asked, “What price, then? Surely, I am powerless to stop you.” He sighed, genuinely fatigued from the world, body and soul weary in a bone-deep sense.

She paused a moment, carefully tasting each syllable of her next words. Leaning up on her toes, she whispered into his ear. “Curiosity. I want to see and taste and feel you, to find out for myself whether there just might be flesh and blood underneath all that dark mystery.” Giggling suddenly, she pushed away from him and pressed herself against the nearby wall.

He turned to face her, still half-armored. It was difficult not to stare, her lips pursed ever so slightly, as if she might taunt him again at any moment. She was tantalizing and tormenting, beautiful and terrifying. He steeled himself, stepping closer to her. “You have your work cut out for you, then,” he managed steadily. "It is not in my nature to surrender easily. Yet you may not like what you find underneath. A man I am, yet a monster as well; you have surely seen — "

She put a finger to his lips, tenderly smothering his excuses. “I am not afraid.” She tousled his hair, almost affectionately, as if it was something she had intended to do for a long time. “My dark, foreboding knight. The beast who leaps headfirst into the ocean when men are drowning, and risks everything to save a child from the evils of the world.” She moved her face very close to his, until their noses were almost touching. “The villain who gives the ship’s cook a bath. I’m not afraid of you…”

And she smiled that golden smile.

Something inside of him bubbled to the surface then. He wanted this. He could forget his bloody revenge, his fears, his wretched childhood. The friends and companions he’d lost, and the vile rites he’d had to perform in order to survive. The countless faces of the souls he’d torn from Caen. For one blessed night, he just wanted to be alive.

For One. Blessed. Night.

“Besides, you sh —” He kissed her then, rough and deeply, ending whatever thought she’d been about to say. Her knees trembled, and she wrapped her arms around him to keep from falling. “Oh…” she quietly mused. “Perhaps there’s some fight in you after all.”

“I hope you’ve saved your strength as well,” he taunted back, teasing her now. " You’re going to need it." His smile was… gods, he was smiling. How long had it been? Years, perhaps.

Pulling her off the wall suddenly, he reached his arms around the small of her back. With a single, knightly tug, he ripped her bodice cleanly apart, discarding the ruined cloth on the floor next to his breastplate. Cupping his hands gently under her thighs, he threw her onto his cot as she chuckled with anticipation. With a predatory look in his eyes and a rare grin, he reached for the lone candle that lay on the cupboard beside his bed… and raggedly snuffed it out.

(stop previous music, and begin this one. Then continue)

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Somewhere on dark seas, a black ship made its way with terrifying speed through a horrendous storm. Dark figures lurked against the gloom, illuminated every so often by the sharp crack of lightning. The illumination did not dispel their foreboding, but rather amplified it. Dead, they were, and terrible to behold. A young boy of only eleven years sat, chained to many other slaves, aboard this wretched barge. Their captors strode confidently about the deck despite the storm, rasping and shouting their harsh, draconic language at the hapless people they’d claimed. People from his hometown village, once proud and free. Now merely sheep, awaiting processing… awaiting the slaughter.

A girl called out to the boy. His childhood friend, and his betrothed since they were very small. She and her sister had also been taken. Her sister… where was she? The girl was screaming out her name. Frantically he looked around; surely she could not have gotten out of her chains. If they found her, they’d —

BACK TO YOUR ROWING, MEAT.” A grey, decayed hand grabbed his face and thrust it back at his duty. He did as he was bid, the rancid stink of flesh-rot still filling his nose. Monsters. The fact that the bosun spoke Ordic did not make it less true. They were abominations, with spidery legs forged of a dark metal, and bodies stitched from the remains of the dead. They killed at a whim, and cared little for the well-being of their cargo. Those they killed, and those who died, they harvested for materials. If they find her….

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A church was under siege. He’d been here, before; where was this place? He’d seen it, he knew… a woman was nearby. She looked like she might need his help; he raced towards her, only… wait. NO. She was a monster, another abomination. A necrosurgeon. Why was she missing her arms? They lay at his feet, Cryxian ichor draining from his blade. He didn’t remember drawing it.

Her face, it was so familiar, even in undeath. He nearly remembered, only suddenly a large, dark harpoon plunged into her from behind, and ripped her twisted body away into the darkness. It was the second time he’d seen her die.

The second time he’d seen her sister die.

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Chaeffer awoke with a start, an unfamiliar sensation against his naked flesh. An arm was wrapped delicately over his chest. A woman’s arm, soft and slender and delicate. It should not have been unpleasant, but his dreams had not been kind.

They rarely were.

Whispering alone in the darkness, he confessed a deep secret to the cold, ocean breeze. “You… look so much like her. That’s why it hurts me to look upon you sometimes. Forgive me.” Miss du Bray remained still, and quiet. He could not know whether she had even heard him; perhaps he hoped she had not. He lay awake there, for what seemed an eternity, before the darkness of slumber found him once more.

Somewhere, on dark seas.

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View
The Ultimatum
Captain Kelley Essex is faced with a difficult choice

The Ultimatum…

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The young Cygnaran cabin boy stood at attention while Essex clenched a prestine document in his rugged mechnikal hand. His actuators at a much higher torque than would be more as the paper was being crushed at it’s head in anger as he reads on.

" Salutations Captain Essex,

It appears your ship and crew were able to rendezvous with us here in Ceryl after all. I have seen the military grant for your services has been seized by you and your crew, however i can see you also have amassed a large debt in repairs and disorderly conduct while docked in our fair city. It hardly seems fitting for someone who had gone through such trials to be pressed for his luck after so quickly being thanked for his services. I would like to entertain you and a small cadre of your most civilized to discuss a few matters that have come to my attention. If you would like, Clyde my messenger would escort you and no more than 2 guests to my estate for a mid afternoon lunch and socializing.

It has recently come to my attention that some of you ship has requested the aid of the Chruch or Morrow for burial rights. Three of those men happen to be Scharde folk in nationality. Naturally I will assume you were unaware of their lineage, but on behalf of the captain of the Guard I will need to discuss the nature of their employment and means and time. Should we be convinced these men were hired out of ignorance as opposed to supporting of the local gossip of piracy then assure you that the Jacob Withers; Owner of the Free Sails and Masts will be happy to have your debts paid by officer’s account.

Please wear your best formal wear as we will be entertaining the fairer sex and prestigious noblemen.

Admiral Jarod Evermore"

A silent rage stewed inside Kelley as he finished the writ, it was clear the invitation was full of dishonest lies and jabs at his recent misfortunes. Looking up from the note he released the clenched up metal fist seeing the extend of damage he did to the paper. His eyes quickly darted to a half bored messenger on his deck and concerned looking officers and shiphands. He thought about drawing his new bootleg Radcliffe Firestorm pistol Azz had made him and firing it right into the smug face of the bastard. His brash ideas were quickly reigned in as he handed it back to him and smiled to his crew. “A request to speak to Mr. Evermore in person? Well that will be a treat indeed.” He spoke with a half forced tone " Alright allow me to gather my two best men."

With a proud grin on his broad face Gorgunn stepped forward expecting to be named by the Captain as suddenly Kelley walked right by him not even so much as giving him a glance. A brief moment of confusion washed over the Ogrun as suddenly Essex whipped around and said “Mr. Gorgunn, I want the duties of the ship tended to in timely order but first make sure you secure the recent tons of cargo we loaded on.” giving him a look of a concealed message. The Ogrun blinked once for a moment and replied “Sir? Are you sure you want me to do that?” Essex gave him a look as stern as a Menite sermon and without another question the Ogrun nodded and began his tradition march toward the bow bellow orders to the crew.

“Good.” Essex said barely above a whisper to no one but himself as he stepped into his quarters for a brief moment. cracking open a simple wooden box he eyes the various round of ammunition left inside plucking them up one by one in silence loading his weapons and shoveling a new source of coal into his suit. A contemplative look on Captain Essex’s face as he knew exactly how this might go…..
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Stepping out of a lavish carriage of dark wood and iron banding Essex looked to not a lavish estate but rather a small secluded townhome with high rise walls. Town guards and mercenaries bearing a snarling black hound dotted the perimeter of the small home. Far more guards than a standard military officer would be allotted without personally paying for some. His teeth clenched, Kelley approached the gate seeing the Admiral waving to him as he step inside the manner motioning Essex to follow him.

As he came to the gates his press gangers posing as “his best men” followed meekly behind their captain sensing the danger of the situation. Both too timid to say anything to their captain as the silence was broken by a mercenary who approached to the Captain.

" I understand you want entry into estate, we will need to take your weap-" A mechanikal hand lurched forward around the mercs neck and clamped his throat shut. Essex’s teeth flared and the Mercenary in shock thrashed to try and get free from the death grip. No sooner than he did this action guards jumped into action picking up their rifles and halberds only to see Essex already viciously headbutt the guard so solidly he fell ragdoll onto the ground.

Without a moment of delay Essex’s eyes flared with orange light and he drew his cutlass and repeater pistol. “I don’t suppose any of you were told I was a warcaster?” he says half laughing as the sudden flare of magic and mechanika had these reminded these guards the difference in their caliber and the captain. All the same the men held their ground knowing if they buckled they might face worse than a head butt. Staring defiantly at him one of the more seasoned guards approached up staring Essex plain in the face.

“You want to make an enemy of Cygnar today? Be my guest, How many shots you got huh? Tweleve? Thirty maybe? You might kill Evermore but you wouldn’t leave the harbor in one piece.”

Essex’s eyes flared back to normal as he smiled surprised by this guard’s courage but taking note of the meek reaction to the others around him. “Ye know, I’ve beat a lot worse odds than that… but unless ye’ be wantin learn exactly how hard i just hit yer little friend there. I wouldn’t ask me anymore stupid questions and open the fuckin gates.”he said with a smile but with every intention to start a fight right where he stood much to the dismay of his two accomplices.

The veteran’s lips went tight in an attempt to not let his tempter flair at a clearly obstinate pirate captain. Letting his killer’s instinct take over the veteran pushes the gate open for Kelley locking eyes with him. More guards were inside the estate, if battle broke out inside the manor yards as oppose to the streets he would have no were to run. He took solace in the fact that Essex was hoping to start a fight to thin their numbers and even the odds but he wouldn’t fall for it. Gulping his frustration down as Essex walked past the Captain stopped in his stead between the threshold and the yard.

“…Black Hounds egh… be that the same Merc group who sent Mr. Graves after my boys?” He said in a honestly curious tone. The veteran blinked knowing their leader would never have gave his name to anyone other than his men. “I only ask cause them uniforms looks mighty similar…” The Veteran tried to ignore his provoking words but finding his blood beginning to boil. “Nah I must be mistaken, ye all seem like ye keep yer shit together, HA… not like Mr. Graves, no sir I remember them moans; Brother let me tell you I’ve ruined Morrowan Virgins in chruches who kept more of their dignity than that snotting, sniveling, crying cunt of a coward.” His tone dripped with antagonizing sarcasm as he turned around to look at the veteran who has just pulled his pistol his face bright red in furious blind anger.

“Now THAT is more like it!” Essex proclaims as his power field shimmered from the light arms fire. No sooner than the words left his mouth a swirling focus of magic churned around his left arm and scorching hot heat washed over the mercenary Veteran searing his flesh off his now chared bones drawing his repeater pistol “Foulwind” in a fluid and practiced motion. The sudden shock of the moment caught everyone off guard as Essex lunges forward and with a sudden jerk of his mechanikal limb his Cutlass Cheat is drawn and sinks a solid 18 inches of the blade into the gut of a city guardsman. Using the force of the charges impact to his advantage Essex spins counter clockwise using the body of the guardsman as cover as bullets thud against the lifeless body all while still giving him the momentum to launch the corpse into a small bunching of enemies and have ample time squeeze off two shots with foul wind the channeled vision of his arcane gifts showing him the proper way to area to aim his shots as more men fell to the ground.

Essex smiled seeing his training was truly starting to pay off and his movements in combat had become fluid and loose more like dancing than a rigid stance based like Gorgun or Chaffer normally took. His brief pride in his accomplishments gave way to a rifle shot tearing through the gut of one of the press gangers who didn’t have time to find cover. cursing under his breath Essex looked to the other fighter and shouted.

“Leave him, he’s dead; you won’t be far behind if you don’t do what i say. Fight dirty, and defend yourself as long as possible in the midsts of sword play. I hope you paid attention to the drills. It’s do or die!” Not waiting on his shipmate to acknowledge, Essex felt a sharp tingle as his power field crackled and thumping force of a pistol cracked into his mechanikal limb he felt nothing it was deadened but he needed to move swiftly and make sure he dealt with their firearms first.

As guardsmen rushed to get into Essex’s way they quickly found themselves flummoxed as Essex swiftly would halt a great weapon with the strong grip his his mechnikal limb and cutlass or deftly redirect the force of a swing with his pistol’s bayonet guiding the blind force to the ground as oppose to him. Somersaulting over a guard trying to pull his weapon over of the dirty Essex drove his blade into the shoulder and lunges of a rifleman watching him spit up blood confirming the kill as he quickly slashes the bayonet of his pistol through the throat of another. Drenched in blood but wasting no energy or effort Essex evoked another blast of arcane heat dropping another guardsmen near the carriage and yet again squeezing off a gunshot into a distant Mercenary reloading his weapon.

Essex keenly missed his Jack Penny at a time like this or the fury of Mr. Chaeffer but he grit his teeth knowing he had no choice to carve a way out and make it back to the ship on the fastest route he could find. Suddenly his racing mind was pulled to more pressing matters. “Captain!” The press ganger shouted as he had just narrowly dodged a halberd swing. At first Essex thought the fool had the stones to beg him for help but saw he was wrong to make that assumption. He saw the men inside the estate pouring out to reinforce the battle lines with Evermore strolling up behind in a cautious advance. They reacted faster than he had hoped but to no surprise.

With a sad look Essex shouted to his Press Ganger “Oy! Theo…” the frightful expression on the boys face told him everything he needed to know, he was a liability… A heavy sigh as essex looked to his pistol holding only two shots left he narrowed his eyes and pumped a round into the boy’s head ending him where he stood to the confusion of his enemies. Essex for a brief moment looked conflicted by his decision before the orange flare to his eyes signified danger. Another powerful halberd came crashing down exactly where Essex had just stood before he managed an uncanny dodge. he was being closed in at sides with reinforcements coming he knew he needed to leave, NOW.

Essex parried away from a few swings feeling the pressure apply on him full force now but managed to hack a guard down with his cutlass as his arm flopped to the ground a stream of crimson gushing out from his new wound. stowing Foul win back in his holster and drawing the heavy artillery of his Radcliffe Firestorm Esssex realized he has lost momentum in his actions, which came at an immediate price. A strong halberd blow cut along his lower back approximately 1/2 an inch gash but more than enough to knock some serious wind out of the Captain’s sails.

Finding the will to move past the pain Essex prompt extended his heavy pitol against the forehead of that man and pulled the trigger removing the shape of his sweaty face clean from his shoulders splattering against the surrounding enemies and himself with a deafening boom as the ammo wheel click into place for a new round. with a large sweep infront of him which carried into his back Essex found his cutlass sunk into the ribs and face of a guard trying to strike his back again only to center his balance toward another guard and squeeze off another handcannon blast into the guts of another guard at incredibly close range. Each thunderous explosion caused all the guards and mercenaries to jump a little in fright. The guard tumbled to his back holding his wound as blood filtered through his fingers and a dinnerplate sized exit wound told essex all he needed to know about the strength left in his enemy. Crashing through the last aggressor on his back Essex points his cutlass at the cowering guardsman who threw his hands up into the air dropping his weapon and knew he couldn’t risk letting him live, an engulfing wind of heat stripped him of his flesh as well as Essex masterfully turns aside yet again a few more swings as it was evident Essex couldn’t fight this hard much longer.

Storming past his enemies and making some distance between his foes he realized despite their earlier cowardice they were giving chance with their reinforcements shortly behind. whipping behind himself n a flash finding the closest pursuer he unloads another pistol shot though this one only winged him in the knee causing a painful looking limp and tumble but he managed to rise again in anger and continue the chase. Rather than let out another sweltering blast of heat Essex began to pour his power into his arcane turbine to rebuild his Power Field on the move. Turning his attention back to the escape it was too little too late for Essex to see it and his eyes flared Orange to try and warn him too little too late. A powerful looking man with very short hair and plate armor bearing the Black Hounds Insignia brought a maul to bear upon the side of his face. Despite his powerfield and quick reflexes to shift his weight the blow still sent his toppling to the ground spinning out of control and crashing head first against the paved roads… everything going black as Essex losses consciousness still trying to understand what just happened.
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“Afternoon… Captain.” a well composed tone stated which was unmistakably Evermore’s. The groggy and shell shocked captain’s eyes fluttered open blood shot and a dull ringing in his ears. It was very dark barely any light at all and the sound of moving machinery was rolling in the background. Tiny beams of orangish light stabbed through the darkness providing only minimal lighting as Essex could see the bright colors of Cygnaran white, blue and yellow and focused on it. He watched Evermore hand off a sack of coins with a rather relieved sigh thanking the Mercenary for a job well done.

“It isn’t everyday I am forced to face off against a Warcaster, Captain…” Evermore states with a smile as the bulky solider who snuck up on Kelley walks away smirking. Evermore takes a few steps closer smiling at his prize.

“Funny, I don’t remember seeing ye anywhere near the fight when it started… or ended.” He says attempting to struggle against bonds he now is starting to feel, only to realize his arm isn’t powered and he has been stripped of his armor and clothes. Realizing he is standing before Evermore naked he shakes his head clear of the fog that maul and tumble gave him. “Now i’ve made a few women mad enough to put me in a situation like this, is there something you want to tell me Evermore?” he says trying to laugh off his obvious concern. He wanted to curse up a storm at Evermore’s calculated precision of his take down.

A unimpressed chuckle comes from Evermore. “Oh Captain, i’m affraid you need to understand the predicament you are in… rather than make jokes.” He walks away from Essex who attempts to struggle while his back is turned. Casually he walks out of line of sight and a grinding metal sound opens exposing a decent deal of orange light for a brief moment before it vanishes again out of sight. Evermore returns with a red hot steel rod. “Beautiful thing about the countryside Captain, it always has such interesting tools to do unpleasant work.” Essex’s didn’t hide his shock very well as the captain stared him cold in the face. “with a mill on my property, sectioned off walls and your… handicap I don’t advise the defiant approach for you anymore… just tell me what I want to know and do as you are told and you will be able to set sail and plunder the sea as you like once again Captain.” Essex stared at the hot brand and then to the coward holding it responding “I don’t need me arms or legs to kill vermin like you.” Which came to the smile of Evermore. “ah yes , your ‘gifts’ you are welcome to try of course, but from my studies of magic I find that a great deal of agonizing pain and a few friends in the Fraternal Order of Wizardy make acceptable countermeasures for your abilities… captain.”

Essex’s gaze turned to the ground for a moment not seeing a way out of this. “But if you would rather i just torture you for days on end…” Essex looked up and smiled at the Admiral showing his true colors. “Fer a man so scared of Schade folk you sure would be at home with em Mr. Evermo-” A intense heat similar to his own convection blasts danced along the flesh of his lower ribs as Essex thrashed instinctively away from the pain with a scowl fro Evermore showing he wasn’t even close to bluffing. “Scions and Ascendents your’s a fucking killjoy!” Essex said spitting on the floor clenching his flesh in blood left hand in an attempt to ignore the pain. “Unlike ye Mr. Evermore I don’t just lie to folks, I was rather hoping ye actually wanted to talk. So let’s talk then, what in the blood of the Wyrm do you want to know oy? How many Scharde women i ever winked at? Oh or maybe why they might be taking such an interest in ya?”

Evermore suddenly went slack jawed and wide eyed quickly applying the cooling iron “You will address me by my rank! And wait to answer when spoken to!” Essex writhed for a moment to two longer and spit this time at his captor’s face. “Oh I have been Mister Evermore! And I already know what ye want to ask!” His hot iron having lost it’s heat he throws it to the ground after striking Essex as hard as his can in the face with it making a sound crack against him. Taking a brief moment to wipe the spit from his face and reasserting his failed attempts to dominate the captain by choking the Captain. “Oh? And what do you know hmmm?! you think you know who I am just by asking around some bars? Do you think I am such a lowly official you wouldn’t know I already knew that you had been asking around!? Pathetic!” Evermore’s grip tightens as Essex stares him down with obvious difficulty to breath before Evermore shouts “I AM AN ADMIRAL! YOU WILL ADDRESS ME AS SUCH!” Before letting go of him.

Essex takes a long breath to collect himself before trying to unleash a blast of heat knowing even his intent is all that is required to make the spell’s effect manifest…. only nothing was happening. The runes of his chains faintly shimmered “Fuck…” Essex said with a exasperated sigh. The Admiral promptly began to walk away back to whatever was holding the hot brands to try an regain control of the situation. As he stepped away Essex blurted out “I get it mister Evermore, yer frightened. And for good reason, your past is catching up to you and it wants to settle a debt ye aren’t keen on paying…” The grinding metal sound rolls out again as the orange light is seen " What’s sad is how ye think you’ve hidden it." Essex says in defiance of the light. “Speak your piece you won’t have much more of one…” Evermore says in a calm tone as cold as ice having found his control again in stoking the flames and refusing to believe the Essex.

The sound of footsteps come as Essex winces at the burns he’s already suffered but continues “You think yourself from glorious noble but the sailors couldn’t keep their lips sealed about you… most say it was a demotion…” Evermore turns the corner holding four hot rods much to Essex’s dismay. With a rushed tone “But I know better! I dug deeper and I know a thing or two about military protocol! You abandoned the Providence a warship… you’ve had a record of cowardice…” Two of the hot brands are shoved into the coals behind Essex as Evermore’s eyes gleam with rage. “You weren’t demoted, you were discharged…dishonorably for incompetence….Tell me I am wrong.” He said daring the captain whose face remain unchanged.

A tense pause was suddenly broken as Evermore looked to the hot brand in his right hand and without so much a moment of hestitation he thrust it into Essex’s left bicept fullforce a hot crackle could be heard as essex wriggled it off his flesh cringing “You aren’t wrong Captain, I was discharged… was it worth it?” He said almost truly curious. Essex threw his head back managing a sweaty composure “Yer alone, with just ye money and no military protection, I hear tales yer hunted by a legend with red sails.” Evermore stares in shock and stabs the other brand into the coals “How on Caen do you know all this!?” he demanded as Essex replies “I’m a pretty good drunk ye know…but my crew we can protect ya… kill that Pirate witch Mchallan for ye … we call our debts even aye?”

Evermore stared at the pained face of Essex and still in shock he had been so thoroughly seen through replies “Captain…my secrets might not be my own. But as far as I can see that simply means we were equals.” Essex blinks confused “Oy? Were? huh? Are ye so proud you can’t see we are the only way you are going to make it out alive?” Evermore smiles “Perhaps you missed the part where I said i knew you were already at the bars investigating me… You may be a very good drunk but it also proved to be my ace in the hole in this exchange…” Essex scowls now in uncertain territory as he sees Evermore is confident. “Yer bluffin.”

“Black Reef Bay.” He replies with a glib smile “70 hired mercenaries are already set sail yesterday.” Essex’s expression falls to a hopeless look “How?!… ye don’t have that much coin left surely!” Evermore smiles and raises a brow “Are you willing to risk what’s left of your family and friends on that assumption?” Hanging his head low Essex concedes defeat and asks “… I knew what you were going to ask, I still don’t know what you want me to do…”

Evermore smiles seeing Essex’s will has been crushed “Oh you will captain, I’ll be returning your things it’s important for you to look the part of a still proper Captain.”

Essex’s thoughts turn to his quartermaster thinking to himself “Gorgunn, I hope you really understood what I meant…”

View
Shaken
Cursed but Unbroken

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Jehremi Chaeffer

Shaken, and battered. Singed, and confused. Adrift, mentally and emotionally. Horrors and nightmares untold had been a part of Jehremi’s childhood, and many strife-filled years since, but nothing had prepared him for this. A Darkness had looked him in the eye, into his very soul… and he’d very nearly surrendered to it in his pursuit of power.

“You Must Choose” the entity had proclaimed. What were the choices, again..? Lies, or… His mind reeled as he tried to remember, his good hand shakily grasping the bottle given to him by his companions.

His companions. So many times in recent days, they had been the difference between his living and dying, and though he was prepared to repay such debt, too often strife itself had been the only recompense he’d been able to grant to his allies. It seemed that regardless of his intentions, for every life he managed to save, two more would be claimed in eventual retribution. Violence, darkness, the call of Urcaen. Would his path ever lead to something greater? “You need to bathe,” the child’s letter had said. “You need to get clean.”

If there were only a way, he thought bitterly. My stains… the blood of countless lives… are too great. And the Destiny that called out to him seemed so vast, and unattainable, yet he knew he must try. His entire existence was devoted to a mystery he had only begun to unravel. Much had been done, and the price had been preciously high. But what other path could there be?

…Servitude. A voice older than humanity itself had spoken to him once. Wise, it seemed, and as harsh and dry as desert sands, yet it spoke of truth, and strength. Of his parents… A single tear washed down, unbidden and unwelcome, from his left eye. He remembered as vividly as life itself the lullaby he’d heard in his dream, the night before he washed up on the sands of Glimmershore.

for when your eyes open this world will sparkle

His mother’s song, he knew. He KNEW. Yet this divine entity which summoned his courage could be no better in truth than the infernal one which had demanded his slavery. What use, servitude, to a god who judged his own and others with fire, and whose only consuming desire was the absolute domination of the human race which he had created unwillingly? His army of souls, for the war of souls.

Souls. The currency of Urcaen, a fuel Chaeffer himself had called upon too many times to dream of repentance. Every self-interested creature of power and influence seemed to crave them with little remorse. Gods, Infernals, deluded and power hungry mortals. How could they be so cruel? Jehremi remembered, painfully, the faces of every soul he had ever taken, ally and enemy alike. They were not currency to him, nor simply means to an end. Yet just as a tiger must kill to survive, so too the dark knight had only ever stolen what was necessary. How insignificant our lives must seem to these otherworldly powers, he mused. Sheep. We are all such sheep before the shears of fate.

Menoth demanded servitude. The Darkness demanded slavery. The Prophet could never accept one such as him, and his agents were actively hunting him. Only the Mistress of shadowed truths could accept him as he truly was.

When the black ships had stormed his seaside village, did the Creator deliver him from their callous mercies? No. Did the knights of the Prophet arrive just in time, to spare the people of his hometown from a fate that was truly, truly worse than death itself? …No. Only the gift of magic had stayed the hands of his captors on that day. Sorcery, the gift Thamar had given to mankind.

And she had asked for nothing.

For a moment, he thought he could almost hear her whispering his true path. They were his own words, the words he’d spoken to the little one, Lo, as she lay dying in the street; the words he offered as he applied the darkest of arts in desperation to save her life. “Just live,” the whisper in his heart called. “Just live…” And at that moment, his gaze drifted across the dimly lit sanctum of his quarters, to the armor he’d left on the mannequin next to his bed. The armor bearing the insignia of the Winged Sword.

A flame awakened in his spirit, then. Something gripped his mind, and it was not a voice, or an otherworldly power of any kind. It was ambition itself. His own mind had been made. His good hand reached reflexively for his sword, and instead brushed against something warm. The Firebrand. He remembered Menoth’s champion, the spectre cursed but unbroken, who fought valiantly for his master yet ultimately was defeated at the hands of the Man in Black.

If Jehremi was to rise to meet his destiny, and overcome whatever reckoning the Darkness had foretold he would fail, he must gain strength greater than his own. But he must become more than a servant, for that is what the White Spectre had been, and it was not enough. If he truly was to become a scion, he would need to grow in influence and power. He must become a symbol. In order to find enlightenment, he must seek out his own divinity. And in order to do all of these things, he was going to need… followers.

As this revelation washed over him, he remembered the man who had given him the drink which had steadied his nerves; a scallywag and hero in equal measure, and a great leader in his own right: Captain Kelley Essex. “No, ya don’t.” He’d said, as swift and sure as cannonfire. “Ya don’t have to choose anything. True Freedom is about showin’ any soul fool enough to demand ya bend a knee how hard ye’ll fight ’em ta stand.”

Chaeffer was determined now more than ever to stand for himself, and for more than himself. He flexed the fingers of his broken right arm with a wince, grateful for the pain that reminded him he was alive. When his strength returned, he would hammer the menofixes of the spectre’s armor into the symbol of his ancient house, altering the pointed crosses and reshaping them instead into the Winged Sword icon which they vaguely resembled. He would imbue the Firebrand with his own power, giving it rebirth from its previous service. It would no longer ignite with menoth’s fire, but it would come to bear Jehremi’s blessing in time.

He would amass followers across the Iron Kingdoms, beginning here in the thamarite cults of Ceryll. After all, was he not the one rumored to be the Havershaw Harrier? A lie in truth, but a well-known enough tale that perhaps he could use it to gain influence in the hidden circles that lay just underneath the Order of Illumination’s watchful gaze… and in spite of their efforts, he would found a new order of knights, instructing them in his own philosophy. They too would bear the winged sword on their armor, and learn to strike against darkness with shadow, smoke, and blood. The Order of the Vigilant Blade.

All of this, he saw. His path lay almost crystalline before him. He must return to the Fraternal Order’s headquarters, despite the danger of the infernal that was seeking him. Valuable texts and tomes lay within, and he must seek long forgotten knowledge to fulfill these goals. Jehremi Chaeffer would transcend himself, and become a divine entity in his own right. He decided in his heart at that moment that he would become a Scion, whatever challenges may lie ahead, whatever sacrifices he must make along the way. Vengeance and Mercy would be his domain, his symbol… His gift, to the new world that he was going to help create. A world, Scions-willing, with one less dragon in it.

And with remembered promises of vengeance in his mind, his thoughts returned to Erdrick, the Man in Black……………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

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Freedom of Thought
Captain Kelley Essex coming to terms with the Ceryl Incident

Freedom to Think

A loud series of clangs ring out distantly from the harbor as a deep growl of a coal driven steam paddle engine passes by the Anchor’s Bane startling Essex from his sleep inside his quarters. A weak breath rolls out of his lips as he looks around his quarters groggily feeling the familiar sensation of the throbbing grind of his wits that is a hangover. With his left hand he rubs his face and groans out sitting up knowing full well what comes next. Feeling woozy as the blood rushes back to his head his vision comes into a poor focus as his body leans against the weight of his lifeless mechanical right arm of his. With a sigh he rubs his messy hair trying to bring some minor order to it in the darkness of his quarters.

The boat was still, it was always unsettling to Kelley as he took a moment to remember that the ship was currently extended above the water for the work required to fix her up. Getting his bearings he pivots on his bank and extends his legs to the floor feeling the warm wood with a smile appreciating its presence in the darkness. Blindly he feels around his table for a small wrench stashed inside the seam of its edge. Pulling it free and swiftly planting it into a slat in his right arm like he had on countless other occasions his turns the tool counter clockwise beginning his morning ritual. Allowing his eyes to grow use to the darkness Kelley took a moment to scrutinize his lair. His desk off in the corner with scrambled disorganized writs and papers the lantern well since starved for oil, A Map of the Western Immoren Coasts pinned to an art stand with a knife and a small coal furnace which was still slightly warm even from this distance letting him know he hadn’t been out long.

Continuing to turn his wrench with a sigh Kelley began to mentally prepare himself for the mantle of “Captain” once again. His mind wandered to this month ashore in Ceryl as he shook his head. Cygnar had always had its share of bureaucracy and entitled diplomats ready to take a convenient stance against piracy but this was just miserable luck to be sure. A hold order on his ship, a debt which he never had the pleasure of earning, political combat between his officers and to make matters even worse the amount of blood flowing in the street of sleepy little Ceryl. He didn’t like it one bit it boiled on the top of his stomach like the minor ulcer he gave himself last night with the amount of alcohol he pounded down to forget about these dramatics.

His eyes well adjusted now to the darkness and feeling the torque of his arm starting to build signified it was time to stop winding and looking for something to distract him. A fresh Hoogah cigar greeted his gaze as he smiled sitting up and threw the latch of his arm into a concealed position. No sooner than he did it rumbled and shook back into life and the sound of the gears began to align into perfect harmony again. With a groggy yawn he reached for his shirt and leggings taking the time needed to enjoy dressing loose before he plucked the cigar off his table and a frightfully strong pinch near the front end exposed its tobacco to the air. Sliding it through is metal fingers he quickly buried the face of it against a still orange coal draining the heat into the aromatic plant.

Bringing it to his lips with a satisfying sigh he takes a long and heavy drag holding the swirling warm itch in his lung fighting the urge to cough before blowing the smoke through his nostrils with a bit of renewed vigor. “A crew of one can’t call itself captain…” he said to himself as a means to try and stay positive and accept this delicious smell and taste is part of the package he signed on for.

Looking to his armor lying against his bed made him remember his duties, how cruel he had been to his crew in general. He hated this place, it gave him the itch to leave and be out at sea and avoid from folks earning his keep as best he could, even if it did come at the expense of others. He looked too a mirror in his room eyeing his mechanical limb letting out another heavy sigh of cigar smoke. His thoughts went to Chaffer, how he had tried to lay into his first mate and make it come across that being crippled isn’t a handicap till you accept it. He couldn’t help but laugh thinking to the faces some of his men made trying to hit him like a shadow in the night during those drills. Rolling his eyes for a moment and pulling the cigar from his mouth he extended the window and flicked the ashes off his cigar outside the ship. Take a moment to breath in the fresh air. Letting a scent he equated to freedom fill his lungs the minor sting to his sinuses of salt water brought a natural smile and a bittersweet realization he can’t enjoy his true mistress The Meredius and refocused his thoughts once again resuming his drags off the hoogah stogie as the harsh acrid plant churned and burned his nostrils and throat.

A strained grimace on his face as a cold chill rolled down his back from the endorphins that began to circulate in his system waking him up from the sensation of the smoke. It always reminded him partially of his suit’s smokey smell and remembers briefly his superior while in the service of his first captain his quote ringing out …

“Not a fan of cigars or Smoke? Ha! I’m afraid you poorly choose your career then Essex. Best take to smoking now, you are going to be surrounded by smoking turbines, engines boilers and coal piles most your life moving forward. You eventually will love the smell of fresh coal nearly as much as a Khadorian Field Mechanik by the time I am through with you! Coal is the lifeblood of War in Immoren and if you two don’t play nice you are going to send up in a grave of water or loose dirty depending on when your luck runs out”

The reflection made him smirk, the old dog of course was certainly right he’d been molded well. He smiled look to his armor, his personal furnace, the Bane’s engines and his personal Jack Penny all thriving upon the entire metric ton of coal supplies he ordered. But his thoughts lingered on the memory as he simply repeated “Depending on when your luck runs out…” He contemplated the words deeply for awhile thinking to his last few months commanding his vessel. Invariably he realized his mind had wandered from the subject at hand as it often did after a few heavy drags off his still burning cigar. Reflexively he flicked more ashes into the sea and decided the cigar wasn’t enough to nurse his hang over. With his mechanical limb he reached out for the bottle of rum next to his bed only a tenth of the bottle remained, which was just enough to make him refocus on the matter at hand as the fizzing punch to his nerves readjusted his thoughts.

Injuries aplenty, debts amassed, enemies gathering and not even a single moment of solitude or peace to be hand on the mainland. Most troubling was when Chaffer had come back from seeing Lanin, He watched a man a few years his junior practically shivering with fear lost in a trance as though he understood just how deep the sea really was. Something spooked him; something made him think he had no choice but to submit to fate. He shook his head at that notion knowing all too well how easy that weak little idea of fate really is. He’s bent and broke it countless times in the maelstrom of combat, on boarding actions, even landing those killing blows on that Mercenary who was aiming to drag him to Morrow knows where to receive a reward. He planted his living hand upon his cold mechanical bicep and his confidence soured, knowing that if fate does exist it can be avoided; but and terrible costs.

Feeling the spinning of its gears and the humming of its capacitor he took one long drag on his cigar bringing the flame as close to his flesh as his could savoring the raising discomfort for a moment over his numbness before quick casting it outside his window into the water. Holding the fumes and clenching his teeth and he focused his mind on that thought. If fate is empowered by one thing that would be fear, fear of ineptitude, fear of uncertainty, fear of success and any other fear one can dream up. Much like The Meredius nothing in this life is certain at all, a vast and vibrant fabric of cause and effect and he possessed the ability to see that since he was a young lad with his arcane gifts. The smoke raged inside his lungs trying to escape all the while Essex remains tranquil and still as he peers down at his unsightly and crude looking Mechanikal limb reminding himself that fate can be cheated.

Expelling his breath and potent smoke a mere phantom of its once dense self was swiftly accompanied by a light-headedness and a sense of whimsy that turned his grim thoughts to his normal self as he wobblingly walked to his warcaster armor.
“Anythin’ that can turn a Scharde worshiper of Thamar to a somber doubtin’ mess might be a bit much for even me. But that boy ‘as had his share of nightmares, and they seem to follow him and by extension myself and my ship. Crippled and broken I can’t help but wonder if all that dark magic and worship of a dark mistress weren’t just to spite his fate instead of learning what true Freedom is about…” As he fastens his plates and scoops out a small amount of coal into his suit he smiles putting on his finishing touches and putting on his duster bearing his jolly roger of the severed anchor. “And that is showin’ any soul fool enough to demand ya bend a knee how hard ya’ll fight ’em ta stand. “

With a laugh he rubs his rough chin with a smile opening the door to his quarters and begins to walk out to his deck. “Of course, should I ever hav’ the misfortune that me crew ever pieces that together I might just have to parley with that terrify force to keep my skin on me bones.” He says to Gorgon his Ogrun Bosun and bodyguard with a smile who crudely blinks at his captain having been patiently waiting for him to leave his quarters to talk to him about matters on the boat. Strutting out with strong vigor and graced by the morning air Captain Kelley Essex surveys the city of Ceryl, it’s docks and buildings of whitewashed stone and bristling legitimate trade and right as his Bosun was to speak out in his thick gravelly voice he mutters to himself “I really hate this city… give me Five Fingers anyday.”

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Ceryl, City of Wizards
Market of Sin

Cloaked in the overcast shadows of canopies and white balconies wandered a lone figure along pier of Ceryl. Jehremi Chaeffer still clad in his armor and weapon, a habit he had formed ever since leaving Lleal months ago. With a smirk on his lips he thought about the meeting he had just left tracing his tongue along his teeth. He could still able to taste some the bitter alcohol of the thick rum Captain Kelley Essex had choose to lubricate his wit. Gazing at the masses clearing the harbor as the sun began to set on an beautiful late day the sudden and familar sound of a pistol discharge perked his notice… it wasn’t Far from the Anchor’s Bane. With a worried look Chaffer looked around to see other city folk, merchants and guards had all noticed yet none among him found their courage.

With darting eyes Chaeffar found himself slipping into the backstreets of the Ceryl, even the pristine white marble of this city had it’s seedy underbelly and it quickly came into few as Chaeffer drew his Caspian Battleblade free from his sheath and skulked closer to the source of the noise having given himself a wide distance between himself, the masses and the source of the noise. Drawing close to the end of a back alley another gunshot fired off splintering a rotting crate into splinted as a figure thudded to the ground at Chaeffer’s feet. It was none other than Lorita Ginori, the popular tomboyish powder monkey aboard his ship. She was alive thankfully, but in great pain and it took everything in Chaeffer’s power to not turn the corner and kill whoever just fired that in cold blood.

“Answer me girl! I wanted answers you’ve been stalling. I want names, locations patrols, numbers all you keep giving us is things any two-bit urchin could give us for a few silvers!”

The voice was rough but cool like a predator addressing prey.

" Now then, assuming ya want to keep on living I suggest you realize just how slim a chance you got of screwing me over any longer. Now, are you going to do what I told ya to or am I gonna leave another dead orphan out in the gutters?"

Chaeffar suddenly locked eyes with Lorita and saw panic in her face more at his appearance rather than her attacker. She seemed positively terrified he was standing inches from her around the other corner of the warehousing building separating the gunman from Chaeffar. Quickly she turned back to her defender “B-but I don’t have anything else, I’m just in charge of packing the power and occasionally loading the shot what more could you want from me?”

The voice interrupted “An entry point onto the Anchor’s Bane” Which drew Chaeffar’s attention deeper. his mind raced with who could attack Lorita and have a problem with Captain Essex. With a grimace he reminded himself how hazardous docking always seemed to be for Crew of the Anchor’s Bane. Suddenly with an extended hand gesture and a wave of his left wrist ephemeral clouds of char glowing ash fill the back alleys holding pyroclastic heat waves and churning smoke to obscure the little girl as he shouted for her to run.

Lo was able to take all of 5 steps before a light round punched through the small of her back and thudding into the floor. Sending the young girl tumbling in place and curling into a ball of anguish and silent tears the trickle of crimson begin to steadily coat her shadow as she winced and gasped for breath. to Chaeffar’s horror he stood in dumbfounded shock the attacker was so well prepared and manage to move his feet lurching forward to shield the girl for any further punishment only to hear a whistle come from down the flickering lamplight of the dark alley.

“Well well well, The one We’ve heard about! Hehe and to think we caught you alone caster… today is certainly shaping up to be profitable…” with a twirling repeater pistol in his left hand a near lightning fast draw of a heavy duty double barrel hand cannon is drawn from his gun brace and leveled at Chaeffar. The gunman was an incredible nimble and graceful man with his gliding motions and keen eye. With a smirk he sizes up Chaeffar slowly and continues with. “Reward didn’t say anything about him being alive…”

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