Thinking about recent events Ozuchi calls on the knowledge of his ancestral spirits and asks them “Where will the dark corsairs target next?” A whispered voice on the wind speaks to Ozuchi as a flock of seagulls take to the air and spiral around the stygian medicine man, the spirits of the air tell him that the dark corsairs will strike next on the western coast of Saxony; as Ozuchi relays the information and Horesh points out that it’s a very long journey, Gunnar rankles at the fact they can’t even take a boat due to Benito’s curse.
Meanwhile their captive, Captain Hannibal Hawkins, observes them from where he is confined, Benito says that he’s going to interrogate him and asks for aid from the rest of the party; feeling unsettled with the notion of interrogation and possible torture of an enemy who cannot fight back, Gunnar sits in to make sure that no dishonourable methods will be used to extract information from their captive. Hannibal Hawkins, is a bald, weather-beaten man who obviously mucks in with his crew and is used to feeling the lash of the elements as he works on deck, he breathes in sharply as he is ungagged since the gag restricted him breathing through his mouth and his nose was still bloody from the fight, he spits on the ground at Benito’s feet.
“It is good to see you” says Benito, attempting to remain conversational
“The feeling is not mutual, how do you come to be here? I was told you were dead – better for you if you were” spits Hawkins
“I’m Captain Benito, you can’t kill me, how do you think I came to become pirate king?” asked Benito glibly
“I don’t know, i’m more an expert on how easy it was to depose you” replies Hawkins with a spluttering cackle
“Cutting, but you’re not really in a position to make insults are you, bound as you are on your own ship that we’ve taken from under your feet?” says Benito
“How do you think the real pirate king will respond when he realises you’re alive?”
“He’ll prob piss his pants and get someone else to deal with it, like he normally does” said Benito with bravado
“Things have changed, there’s a new order in the Sword Isles Benito”
“Who?” asked Benito
“Captain Blythe, he has promised to return the Sword Isles to a position of rulership over the world, as it was before Atlantis sank”
“He’s taking his time”
“Only a fool rushes his plans, as you should know”
Benito asks Hawkins where they were taking the slaves to be sold and Hawkins says that they weren’t selling them to anyone and that he was buying, not selling; they were providing herbs & spices to the Picts in return for the slaves since some of the ingredients are hard to get on the mainline, but the more tropical environment on the Sword Isles are ideal for growing them. Hawkins says that he doesn’t know why the pirate king wants the slaves since he doesn’t reveal his plans to Hawkins.
“So he’s not revealed his plans to you, that is a quite intelligent move on his behalf, for once” says Benito, his opinion of the usurper Pirate King Horningold Blythe obvious in his expression
Hawkins refuses to say anything further, Kron picks him up and carries the beaten pirate lord to the brig of his own ship, securing him soundly in the brig; Gunnar says that, before they deal with any thoughts of what is going on in the Sword Isles, they need to get the survivors back to their village, but before they depart Benito renders the ship unsailable without a few hours work re-tying all of the ropes and supports that he has undone.
Moving back through the tunnels, Horesh becomes aware of his spirit companion as he moves within range and that the villagers are still okay; they enter the cavern leading the survivors from the ship and the young girl Keira is re-united with her mother Kayla, both breaking down in tears of happiness. Gunnar says that they should escort the people back to the remnants of their village and make sure there’s enough for them to survive.
The party begins leading the group of malnourished villagers through the darkness of the Great Forest, Horesh and Gunnar moving carefully whilst Ozuchi and Benito moving ahead quickly, scouting out the way ahead of the group. Ozuchi becomes aware of dark shapes moving just behind the treeline, quietly seeking to surround the party and briefly sees crouched human figures with dimly glowing eyes; he holds his hand up to indicate to the rest of the party that he has seen something and then leaps into the thick foliage of the treeline.
Benito draws his weapon, Kron does likewise whilst moving up to take a defensive position besides the villagers, Horesh draws his daggers; Ozuchi dives towards what he thought was the light glinting off one of the pictish blades, but he finds that it is actually a decoy, a blade deliberately stuck into the tree so as to reflect the light, before he can retreat the stygian feels a jagged flint blade stabbed into him. Captain Benito hears Ozuchi crying a pained oath in stygian, he attempts to assess the situation but can only see silhouettes running through the trees a short distance off; yo Benito the enemies move so silently that they seem less like people and more like spirits of the woods, he has heard tales of the Picts and how they worship strange unclean spirits and perform ceremonies seeking to make them like unto spirits themselves.
Horesh sends his familiar raven spirit into the air so that, via his spiritual link with it, he can get a birds-eye view of the situation; the picts are skillfully blending into the forest (almost supernaturally so) but, sharing the senses of his familiar Horesh can see a pict fighting with Ozuchi, two are closing on himself and Kron whilst a third is drawing near to Benito. Horesh relays what he has seen to Kron; using this information Gunnar strides across the clearing and attacks as a pict rushes out of the undergrowth, the warrior is clearly taken aback that the norsican has seen through his camouflage and Kron swings his hammer at his opponent. The warrior manages to throw itself to one side, avoiding the blow although it drops its knife in the process.
As the warrior fighting Ozuchi prepares to attack, the stygian shaman sees that his opponent seems to be in the grip of the hallucinogenic woad, almost as though looking through him, the look is similar to someone viewing the spirit world; the stygian summons his komodo dragon spirit to join with him, his skin briefly becoming scaley and rough, and easily able to turn aside the knife attack of the pictish warrior. Sparks spray into the air as the pictish knife glances harmlessly off Ozuchi’s skin. Benito runs forwards to help out Ozuchi as he sees the shower of sparks shortly ahead of him, he is taken by surprise when from the undergrowth besides him another warriors bursts out of the foliage, slamming Benito down to the floor and jabbing a thin flint knife into his ribs.
Horesh thinks about running to help Benito but realises that he would be leaving Kron and the villagers at the mercy of two warriors, so he holds his position as another warrior emerges into the clearing; seeing the spirit-stare of the approaching warrior, Horesh briefly wonders if the effects of the hallucinogenic woad goes far deeper then they had previously thought, but he doesn’t have much time to think about it as the pict moves to attack.
Looking for a weakness in his enemy, Horesh takes advantage of his opponents drugged state as he ducks under the blow of the warrior and jabs his twin sacrifical knives into the underside of the pict’s skull who gurgles and topples to the floor dead. Kron leaps to the side of the remaining crouching warrior, as the warrior glances over at his companion meeting an end on the sharp blades of Horesh’s knives, the norsican swings his hammer down, impacting squarely with the pict and slaying him. Further up ahead Ozuchi, still engaged in combat, strikes his opponent in the chest and then, in an impressive display of stygian martial arts, flips the pictish warrior so that his body falls onto his own decoy-weapon, killing him.
Benito pushes off the warrior rolling around with him and, grabbing some of the hanging vines, attempts to swing clear but the pict grabs him and stabs the ex-pirate king in the neck; the warrior leaps clear of Benito’s return blow, scuttling halfway up a tree with it’s flint knife gripping between it’s teeth. Hearing the noises and cries from up ahead Horesh concentrates on the spirit world, summoning a lesser spirit of the forest to aid his companion whilst, being reluctant to leave the villagers, Kron lets out a loud norsican battle-cry in an attempt to distract whatever picts are still fighting; he feels a bestial presence briefly enter his body, making his cry reverberate around the forest as the spirits summoned by Horesh re-inforce his action.
The warrior fighting Benito is scared by the unholy sound, a fearful look entering his eyes; Ozuchi meanwhile runs back into the clearing to where Horesh and Kron are protecting the villagers. The pict leaps from the trees at Benito, his knife held high but Benito neatly sidesteps the attack, avoiding it, spins around and stabs his sword into the chest of the warrior, bringing him a quick death. The forest once again fall quiet, the echo of Kron’s mighty roar still fading slowly, Benito searches the body of the fallen warrior and takes his flint blade from him.
Thinking about the stares of the picts, Ozuchi summons up his ancestral spirits and asks them to reveal to him, what sort of spirit power the pictish warriors are using; all of the birds filling the trees turn to look at Ozuchi, and amongst their cawing, a voice says “The warriors call upon blasphemous creatures of the Outer Darkness, they are not of the spirit world.”
Ozuchi explains to the others that the anient almost mythical empire of Atlantis trafficked with spirits from the Outer Darkness and it destroyed their empire, Benito wondered whether that was what Horiningold Blythe was up to. Benito explains to the others about how the Inner Sea used to be Atlantis, and that the landmass sank after they meddled in forbidden magic creating the Inner Sea and the Sword Isles; most of the atlanteans and their slaves the lemurians were killed but some of their bloodline continued in the modern world, Benito himself has lemurian blood. Benito says that he needs to go home to stop whatever Blythe is up to, but that he can’t do so with the curse still hanging over him; Kron asks Ozuchi and Horesh if they can break the curse and Ozuchi, thinking for a moment, says that the curse is permanent must be extremely powerful and that someone of equal or greater power would be required to remove it.
Ozuchi tells his companions that the more information he has about how the curse was cast, the better; Benito suggests that, one they have made the villagers safe, they return to Hannibal Hawkins and see if he knows anything about it.
Arriving at the burnt out remnants of the village, a number of the survivors break down weeping when they see the dead bodies and the ruins of their former home; both Ozuchi and Gunnar find the experience quite moving, Ozuchi because his home village was destroyed, and Gunnar because he destroyed many such villages before he saw a way to a more honourable life. Feeling a little uncomfortable Benito removes himself from the situation and begins wandering through the wreckage; in the treeline he spots a large flat leafed plant called Arrowleaf that he remembers being used as a ships spice by one of his cooks, he tries a bit and finds it has a peppery taste and has a little heat to it. Benito picks some, planning to dry and grind it and put it in a pouch so it can be thrown in an opponents face to distract them.
Ozuchi goes to begin preparing graves but Kron stops him and suggests it may be better to make a funeral pyre; Ozuchi sells the villagers on the idea of the pyre and they agree to help build it whilst Horesh begins to delicately broach the subject of last rites. Ozuchi suggests to the villagers that they use the ashes of their dead to fertilise the land, blessing it, and keeping the spirits of the dead with them; Horesh leads them in a simple khemrian death prayer as Ozuchi and Kron place the bodies on the pyre, the villagers seem more at peace and have a renewed determination to rebuild their lives and their village. The villagers make some temporary lean to shelters and sit around a fire telling stories about those they have lost, saying that the group will always be welcome in their village.
Calling on his experience of the norsican tradition of oral storytelling, Kron tells a tale of a saxon settlement of the northern edge of Saxony, which was one of the first to be raided by the northern tribes before the horse people existed as a buffer between the two nations. In the story, there were many norsicans who gave into their anger and bestial sides, becoming something more and less than human, becoming berserkers who could shift their shapes into monstrous creatures. Despite their strength these individuals were cast out when their comrades saw the depravities that had been wreaked on this village by the deviants, for the deviants could not stand up against the pure of heart. Kron tells the villagers that they are pure of heart and no evil, no setbacks, can prevent them from rebuilding their village and story, the only thing that can is their own fear.
Horesh leaves his familiar on lookout whilst they all go to sleep. Gunnar Kron awakes first and is helping the villagers move the larger pieces of rubble ready for the rebuilding project; Ozuchi looks around to make sure there is no danger but, given that the picts seem to prefer attacking under cover of darkness, there is little sign of any trouble. Benito approaches Ozuchi as he awakes and says that, noble as helping the villagers is, there is a much larger issue and they should perhaps press on with their efforts to halt whatever nefarious scheme Blythe has afoot; Ozuchi agrees and rounds up the rest of the party, they make their way back to the burial mound and through the tunnels to the small bay where Captain Hawkins is still confined on his ship.
Benito asks Horesh to conjure some spirits to lend support to their attempts to intimidate information out of Captain Hawkins; as they move down the scree slope towards the waters edge, above the sound of tumbling rocks, Horesh hears a human scream coming from inside the boat, he shouts to the others and they break into a run towards the boat. Benito and Kron get to the boat first and jump aboard, drawing weapons and running towards the brig; Kron leaps through the trapdoor drawing his hammer whilst Benito grabs some hanging rigging and swings down after him pulling out his sword.
Hannibal Hawkins is being held up by his throat by a figure of living shadow that is throttling the life out of him; without pause Kron hurls his hammer at the strange, dark elongated figure, it strikes home causing it to drop Hawkins onto the deck. Benito draws his sword and attempts to begin negotiating saying “Now we have your attention”; as it turns towards Kron, part of the oily surface peals back to reveal a skull like head/face. It raises a skeletal hand towards Kron and begins to slowly close it’s fist, the norsican feels an increasing pressure on his heart and cries out in pain as he clasps his chest; Benito’s sword flashes out, aiming for the creatures outstretched arm, it screams and the skull collapses back into the oiley mass of it’s body, although it continues moving.
Horesh drops into the chamber and instantly recognises it as a manifested death spirit that has been summoned and empowered by someone to act as their assassin, he slices out with his daggers, striking the creature, the skeletal hands collapse back into the mass leaving just an amorphous black, thrashing blob that lashes out at Horesh; the khemrian death priest nimbly sidesteps the attack. Bereft of his hammer, Kron glances around and then grabs a barrel before smashing it down on the huge blob, it screams and lies still, before it slowly begins to fade away.
Kron rushes over to Hawkins and sits him up as Ozuchi arrives in the brig, the stygian medicine man examines Hawkins crushed throat; Benito tells Hawkins that, since they’ve saved his life and if he cooperates, they’ll help him, Hawkins nods in response. They give him water and Ozuchi applies some medicinal herbs to help sooth the inflammation of his throat; on a suggestion from Benito they take Hawkins upstairs so that he can take in some of the healthy sea air, this seems to revive him somewhat.
“That thing would seem to have been sent by Blythe since he must have realised that you’ve not been successful” says Benito to the bedraggled pirate as he once again becomes capable of talking, his throat soothed somewhat
“The pirate king does not tolerate failure” splutters Hawkins. Meanwhile Horesh tells them that a lot of power must have been used to allow the spirit to manifest at such a distance, but that the spirit itself was only a lesser spirit; Benito tells Hawkins he needs all the information he has on the curse.
Hawkins tells him that a short time before Benito was deposed that Blythe recovered something from the shores of the Inner Sea, and it was afer that he first started talking about his new world order and making arrangements to overthrow Benito, shortly after this he began to negotiate with the pictish tribes; all Hawkins knows is that the slaves are apparently essential to usher in Blythe’s new age of atlantean supremacy. He tells Benito that somehow Blythe used the blood of lemurians to lay the curse and that the solution might also lie within that blood, Ozuchi nods and says that they need to find some more lemurian and that their best chance for this is to head for a larger settlement to see if they can find an other people with lemurian blood.
To prove he is a better king than Blythe, Benito returns Hawkin’s ship to him on the understanding that he no longer traffic in human lives or have dealings with those who use black magic; Benito threatens to hunt him down if he breaks this bargain and tells him to let people know that the true pirate king still lives, Hawkins agrees. After a short discussion the group decide to head to one of the larger cities of Saxony, and begin heading towards the capitol city of Winchester.