Chapter 1 - The Murder Contest
A warm spring night, off the coast of Cutthroat Isle...
The blanket of nightmares was lifted off Teller in an instant as the unmistakable sound of urgent yelling was heard in the distance. Taking a moment to dispel his sloth, the newly initiated buccaneer rose to attention in his hammock, closely cluthing his flintlock which he wisely slept with strapped to his belt concealed by his ragged apparel. Flanking him, he noticed his fellow crewmates had risen in turn as a response to the sudden intrusion.
"Wake up, ye slime! It's Cullin' time!"
Teller slid off his hammock and followed his fellows topside, keeping his distance from his brooding superior who issues the order moments prior. As was customary for senior crewmates of the Adipocere, the officer's face was concealed by an odd mask resembling that of a plague doctor's - understandably, Teller doubted it was worn to keep pestilence at bay.
James pushed through the crowd and rushed to Teller's side, eager to offer a helping hand. Though James had only been aboard the Adipocere six months longer than Teller, he felt an incessant need to act like his older sibling at all times. Still, given the unorthodox methods of the cursed ship's mysterious captain, a mentor was more than welcome.
"I'd almost forgotten," James offered Teller with a mischievous grin as the two followed the crowd topside. "It's your first Culling, isn't it? A right marvelous tradition it is, at that." Without turning his head to face James, Teller inquired, "What exactly is this Culling I've heard so much about? Something the captain devised to keep us in check?" James chuckled as the two stepped on to the deck. "Close. More so to keep the rest of the Caribbean in check."
To Teller, it certainly seemed as if he had slept less than he actually did; it was approximately five in the morning, just before the first hints of sunlight began to show themselves. In the vast expanse of the ocean's black waves, the blue light of the full moon was the only source of natural illumination, and the dim lanters aboard the Adipocere forced Teller to strain in order to get a good look at the situation at hand.
Standing at the center of the deck was a tall, gaunt man in a ragged old East India Company coat whom Teller could only assume was the captain of the Adipocere himself, the dreaded Finn Hamm. In his right hand he held up a silver flintlock that glinted in the moonlight and in his left a plain bone mask, the very same model that his officers bore. Though he was not physically imposing, there was a supernatural air about him, as if he could sense the disease of those around him and drank on it with glee. Surrounding him was a small entourage of three masked officers in similar clothing with only half the collective darkness of their superior, patiently awaiting Hamm's next order.
James kept his voice down, careful not to speak too loudly so as to miss an order from Hamm and earn himself a death sentence. "See, the Cullin's this annual festivity in which our beloved cap'n leads us on a neat little killin' spree for, oh, three days and three consecutive nights. To root out the weak and keep the spirits of the crew up, ye understand. The one with the most kills gets a nice lil' bonus at the end. Shame the captain always wins."
"So it's a glorified Murder Contest, then?" Teller asked, eyebrow raised.
"A Murder Contest. Ayup, that sounds about right."
"And who's our target?"
James shrugged. "Whatever unfortunate souls happen to be in our way at the time? We don't discriminate, really." Teller prepared to ask a follow-up question, but his bid was cut short by a loud bang from the deck's center.
"Ladies and gentlemen! Boys and..." Hamm paused, studying the crew for a moment, smoking flintlock in hand. "...questionables. Welcome to the seventh annual Culling!"
The crew erupted into a sinister symphony of cheering, half irrevocably delighted and half cautiously optimistic. While James fell to the former, Teller undoubtedly fell to the latter.
"Yes, fantastic..." Hamm started. After a few moments of waiting for the crowd to die down, he fired an additional shot. "Enough. Really, that's quite enough. Now then. If you haven't been brought up to speed on what exactly the Culling is, then I have bad news for you: I really couldn't care less about your personal problems, so bother one of your elders. For those of you who know what you're doing, I expect nothing less than total, absolute savagery."
The captain's diction could almost be mistaken for playfulness, but those who made that mistake were usually the first to learn that every word he said was to be taken absolutely seriously or else. He began to pace around in circles, making eye contact with every one of his inferiors to ensure they were listening. His physical features were similar in composition to Teller's; faded blonde hair caked with filth and baby blue eyes that seemed out of place in the dreary atmosphere of the Adipocere.
"The Adipo has continued this time-honored traditon for longer than some monkeys live," Hamm explained. "If you slack, don't expect to wake up in one piece the next morning. Do exactly as I say - and show no mercy - and you'll be rewarded. If I'm feeling generous. It really depends on the day. Anywhom..."
Hamm looked upward to the perched crow's nest atop the ship's rigging and raised his voice so as to ensure the lookout could hear him loud and clear. "Rosemary, darling!" he shouted. "Have we acquired our first target yet?" The lookout lowered her spyglass and snapped to attention. "I believe we have... East India Sentinel. Bound for Isla de Avaricia, looks like."
"Isla de Avaricia," Hamm recounted to himself. "And a Sentinel, no less. Perhaps we'll find something of worth on board that hideously shaped monstrosity. Gentlemen!" he shouted, turning to face his crew once more. "I believe we have our first catch of the... night. Full sail!"
The crew instantly dispersed in a dozen directions as everyone scrambled to fulfill their duties. The Adipo, as its captain called it, raced into ramming speed southwest to intercept its prey. "Teller, you're with me on the boarding party," James ordered. Teller obeyed, following his superior below deck with the others.
"That Finn Hamm character is an interesting one," Teller remarked, grabbing a musket and cutlass was the below deck armory. "Interesting is an understatement," James retorted, strapping a dagger to his thigh. "But as long as he isn't gouging your eyes out, he's at least entertaining to watch-" a masked officer approached from behind and struck James on the back with the butt of a flintlock. "You want to know what else I'd venture is entertaining to watch? Your slow, humiliating death in front of several dozen terrified onlookers. Get into position, filth."
James and Teller rushed into the cluster of boarders that was gathering just below the top deck, cluthing their ornate weapons in hand as they prepared for the order to charge. "One piece of advice before we go," James started. "What's that?" Teller asked. "When we get the order to charge..."
"CHARGE!" The officer yelled, accompanied by a devastating crashing sound and an ungodly rocking.
"Run like hell and don't look back?" Teller asked frantically as he broke into a sprint along with the others.
"RUN LIKE HELL AND DON'T LOOK BACK!"
The boarding party rushed topside and grappled on to the much smaller Sentinel, which was rendered immobilized mere moments prior thanks to the Adipo's ramming maneuver. Somehow, the ship had managed to sneak up on its target in complete stealth, taking the Company galleon by surprise. By the time the black-coated crew began to scramble to attention, the pirates had already begun their rampage.
Teller was immediately assaulted by an EITC grunt, whose dull blade narrowly missed its target's neck. He drew his cutlass and engaged the man who, though skilled, could only last so long with only a dagger to defend himself with. The duel raged on for a mere moment before the grunt's corpse went limp, dead before he hit the ground. Teller turned back to the Adipo to see the madly cackling masked Finn Hamm, smoking gun in hand.
Meanwhile, James was grappling with two Company agents at a time, fending them both off with an oversized broadsword. "I could use a hand if you're willing, Teller!" he shouted mockingly. Nodding, the young pirate slashed one of the agents from behind, granting James the distraction he needed to cleanly decapitate the other. Nodding in appreciation, the two split up once more.
The battle dragged on for five more minutes before Teller's actions began to weigh on him. Already, he had slaughtered three Company men in the heat of battle, more than he had previously killed in his entire career. The doubt disrupted his concentration, and before he knew it, three grunts were bearing down on him from different angles.
"Surrender, pirate! You're outmatched!" one of the grunts threatened, drawing in closer. Teller backed away from the grunt's advancing blade, only to find that he was being flanked by an additional Company man from behind. "In the name of Lord Cutler Beckett, you are under arr-"
A blinding flash, and all four men dropped dead at once. "You can thank me later!" Finn proclaimed, jamming his singed voodoo staff down the throat of an advancing EITC thug. "Now finish the job or I'll finish it for you!" Dumbfounded by the awesome display of power, Teller regained his composure soon thereafter and charged back into the heat of batte.
"I've got 'em, cap'n! The captain's been got!"
James grappled hold of the disarmed and disabled captain of the Sentinel, an elderly man whose handy defeat came as no surprise. Teller began to walk up to the stairway to the helmsman perch where the captain had been apprehended, though he was pushed aside apathetically by Hamm, who was obviously more than eager to speak to his new captor.
Hamm commended James. "Well done, mongrel. Eh, your name is...?" he asked.
"James, sir! James Bray-"
"Yes, well, you can go now, James. I'd like to speak to our new friend here."
"I, uh, oh. Okay."
"Please go away now, Mr. James. You're making this awkward."
"Of course, sir," James said, shuffling away in a walk of shame. The EITC captain's hands had been crudely tied together with old rope, and he sat in a helpless kneel, refusing to look up at Hamm.
"Well, hello there. And you are?"
"My name is Winston Piper," the man rasped.
"Hello, Mr. Piper. Might I ask what business you had in these waters? The stretch between Cutthroat and Avaricia is territory of the Spanish - your sworn enemies. Just looking to pick a fight?"
"I have... nothing, to say to you... Finn Hamm."
Hamm shrugged. "Well, suit yourself. But before we get too hasty, I want this kill to be special. Where's that new boy... Teller. Where is Teller?"
Teller timidly stepped forward from the crowd, walking carefully up to Hamm and the EITC captain. "I'm Teller, sir," he professed. Hamm nodded. "You look like a man who's killed before," Hamm noted, gesturing towards the massive blood splotches on his trousers. "Unless that's your blood. In which case, don't fret, we're an equal opportunities clan of cutthroat brigands, are we not?"
The crew of the Adipo cheered.
"But at any rate, consider this your... formal initiation to the crew," Hamm said slowly, fetching a dull knife from one of his officers and handing it to Teller. The young pirate stood still, confused.
"Well, go on then," Hamm encouraged him. "Kill Mr. Piper. And don't go for the throat first, start somewhere less important and work your way up. Make sure you get the eyes. Be sure to go slowly so as to savor it," he explained casually. Apprehensive, Teller stepped closer to Winston.
Shutting his eyes, Teller slowly drove the blade into Winston's shoulder, violently twisting it after letting it settle for a few moments. The EITC captain wailed in anguish, begging Teller to stop. A moment later, one finger was off, then another, and another. With caution, and keeping the vomit at the back of his throat at bay, Teller moved towards the head and paused.
"Come on, Teller! Finish the job!" James egged him on.
In one swift motion, Teller thrusted the blade into Winston's eye socket, slicing the eyeball out and letting it fall to the ground with a thud. The crew cheered once more, but Finn was less than impressed.
"Pathetic," Hamm spat, grappling the dagger from Teller's shaking hands. Thanking God, he shuffled back into the crowd and made himself invisible. Without warning, Hamm made a quick incision in Winston's chest, delicately slicing out the outline of a heart. Teller looked away, unable to bear the sight of it.
When he looked back at the scene once more, Hamm was holding a bleeding heart up in the air, proudly displaying it before the chanting crew. He tossed the heart into the crowd, forcing them to instinctively back away. He soaked in their disgust proudly.
"Captain Hamm," a masked officer said respectively, approaching Finn from his side with a small sack in hand. "We found this talisman in the captain's quarters. Thought you'd find it interesting." Hamm slipped his plague mask off, allowing himself to get a better look at the object he now held in his hands. "Very interesting," Hamm said curiously, stroking the pulsating talisman. "Very interesting indeed."
"Quartermaster!" Hamm barked.
"Set a course for Cuba."
The officer who presented the talisman stepped closer to Hamm with interest. "Cuba, sir?" he queried. "Yes," Finn began, now strangely pacified in his tone. "This artifact is beyond even my understanding, methinks, and now it's piqued my interest. There's only one person in the Caribbean who can help us now. Inform the crew that the Culling will have to wait - it's time for a quick detour."
Chapter 2 - A Kindly Old Witch
The Adipocere rolled into shallow waters at precisely noon. Thanks to the sun's rays, the ship could now be seen in its full glory - though glorious wouldn't be a term often used to describe such a vessel. Though it was significantly smaller compared to many warships of its time, the dilapidated war sloop laughed in the face of a larger target. How Hamm ham managed to outmaneuver every foe to date in such an unassuming ship was a mystery to Teller.
The bright emerald sea soon gave way to the murky waters of their mysterious destination. Owing allegiance to no country or central government, this particular region of Cuba's only laws were those a man made for himself. The island was dotted with quaint settlements of all shapes and sizes, but oddly enough, permanent residents were few and far between. It was as if something deeply ingrained within every sailor compelled them to stay away unless absolutely necessary; though Hamm was nothing if not an exception.
A moment after the call came from atop the mast, Hamm emerged from his cabin, spyglass in hand. "Are we on course, Fernando?" the captain asked the helmsman, keeping both eyes fixed on the dense swampland in the distance. "Aye captain, this is the place," he confirmed. The anchor was cast off the side of the hull, grinding the sloop to a full stop moments later. Hamm discretely placed his odd crimson spyglass within the folds of his coat and strutted towards the ship's center.
The crew gathered once more at the center of the vessel, where Hamm, flanked by two masked officers, stood with his hands clasped together behind his back.
"Welcome, gentlemen, to the disease-ridden, gypsy-infested, green gem of the Caribbean."
Two or three crewmates began to nervously clap.
The clapping ceased as the captain confirmed their current location was not, in fact, Tortuga.
"Yes, make no mistake, this is no luxury stop. We'll be going into the heart of the swamp. If we're lucky, we'll encounter minimal hostile wildlife and promptly reach our contact within. If we're really lucky, we'll find the cure for scurvy in that hellhole, synthesize it, distribute it to the masses, and turn a handy profit. But that's just wishful thinking."
James stepped slightly closer to the center of the ship. "And what if we're unlucky?" he asked.
Hamm shrugged. "I try not to focus on what-ifs, James. You know that."
"But you just-"
"At any rate, we're burning daylight, and that swamp will only get more treacherous the longer we spend toiling around. You've been warned. Prepare the dinghies!"
The crew split into two groups, once for each dinghy they'd use as a means of transportation deeper into the swamp. A handful of brutes heaved the boats topside and hoisted them overboard into the shallow waters below. Hamm and his two senior officers stood upright on the left ship, while a third officer took charge of the right. The crew loaded onto the dinghies quickly - quicker once Hamm began to angrily clutch his flintlock - with James and Teller eventually climbing onto the right boat.
As the two dinghies casted off into the bog, the crew began to talk amongst themselves to pass the time. "I just realized something," James proclaimed to Teller. "And what's that?" Teller sighed, keeping his eyes fixed on the approaching darkness. "The cap'n said we'd been warned, but... what exactly did he warn us about?"
"I believe the term he used was hostile wildlife."
"Right, wildlife. What kind of wildlife?"
"Oh, the usual," said a third, noticeably higher-pitched voice from behind. James and Teller simultaneously tuned to face its source - the red-headed lookout who manned the crow's nest. She wore attire fairly commonplace for those aboard the Adipo - ragged clothes, an oversized sash, and a faded tricorne with a gold trim. She appeared to be slightly older than Teller - early to mid twenties. "Ravenous gators, giant fly traps that spit poison, vampire bats, disease-bearin' bugs, the works," she continued. "I've seen worse. And our friend the captain over there certainly has, as well."
"And you are?" Teller asked.
"Elena," she answered. "Elena Thorne. It's a pleasure to make your acquaintance," Elena proclaimed, extending a hand Teller's way. He awkwardly stared at it for a moment before begrudgingly shaking it. "I was expecting a firmer grip," she shrugged. James scooted closer to her. "Well El'na, 'fits a firm grip yer lookin' for, look no further!" he said, offering his hand.
"No thanks," Elena said, dismissing his offer. Annoyed, James returned his attention to the swamp. "You look like someone with a story to tell," Teller noted. "How exactly did you end up on a ship like the Adipocere?"
Elena nodded. "I was one of the original four crewmates of that cursed ship, not counting Hamm. See those beaked fellows that follow him around?" she asked, referring to the captain's mysterious senior officers. Teller nodded. One large one and two vaguely average sized ones. James had the misfortune of making an enemy of the more muscled one some time ago on account of his big mouth.
"Their names are Calico," - she said, pointing to the bulky one to Hamm's right side, - "Ellison," - the one to his left - "and Bill," - pointing to the one at the front of their dinghy. "And right good men they are. We helped Finn get this whole operation started, oh, seven years ago, and we've been through more than enough scrapes together."
"Sorry, did you say good men? I've seen them each butcher at least a dozen blokes each," James chimed in. "Yes, I did say good men," Elena confirmed. "Because that's what they are. Inside, at least. Tell me, have you noticed anything odd about our dear friend, the captain?"
"Several things," Teller shrugged.
"He wasn't always like that, you know," Elena explained. "But dabbling in the dark arts, interfering in things are best left alone - it takes a toll on a man, and affects everyone a little differently."
"Hold on a moment," James said. "If the cap'n and his er... friends, have all gone loony on account of black voodoo magic, why aren't you..."
"Less sane," Teller offered. "Like they are."
"Me," Elena started. "I always kept my distance from that mess. Knew it was all a bad idea from the start. That's why he gave me this job. It's also why he refuses to speak to me outside of strictly professional matters, as he put it. But on the bright side, I don't have to hear... ahem... one of those masks."
Teller nodded knowingly. Elena turned to face him again. "Teller, is it?" she asked.
"Should I be concerned you know my name?"
"How'd you end up onboard the Adipo, then? Everyone has a story. What's yours?" she asked, ignoring his concern. Teller sighed and started to answer, but a barking order coming from the front of the dinghy cut him off.
"Light the lanterns!"
Teller had hardly noticed it, but the crew was now well and truly inside the jungle, floating slowly through the murky river that ran through it. Not even the bright sun could penetrate the thick canopy of the trees - it had been a wise choice to outfit the boats with several lanterns each.
As the boats were illuminated, the sudden change in light level prompted dozens of odd creatures that had been stalking the crew to scurry back into the shadows. Countless pairs of eyes were watching them now, and their oppressive stares were almost too much to bear for some of the sailors. Their chatter died completely moments after the lanterns had been lit.
The crew traveled deeper and deeper into the swamp for what seemed like hours. Heat and fear began to gnaw at the lining of their sanities, but the captain still stood unafraid, staring into the face of the void and ignoring the pleas from his cowardly crew to turn back. Suddenly, however, before all hope seemed to fade, another light was just barely visible in the distance.
As everyone was promptly shaken awake, the dinghies docked at what appeared to be a small habor built into the side of a wooden structure that almost seemed out of place in the vast wilderness. The captain, followed by his officers and then the remainder of the crew, stepped out of the boats and on to solid land once more. However, their advance was halted by the sound of chatter inside the dimly lit residence.
The crew of the Adipo stood dead still for a few moments before the now masked Hamm dared to step forward. As he approached the door to the shack, he abruptly came face to face with another individual who came stumbling out of the shack. He was dressed in extravagant garb, also bearing a red bandana and distinctive dreadlocks - and was just as surprised as Hamm was.
Neither of them said a word for a few moments before the stranger broke the silence. "That is an absolutely riveting headpiece," the man commented nervously, noting Hamm's beak mask. "Have you considered taking up professional spookery? It'd suit you and your..." - the man paused, looking past Hamm to his increasingly impatient crew, then returned to face the captain - "...crew."
Hamm maintained his unwavering silence throughout the exchange, and his expression beneath the mask had changed from shock to one of frustration. The stranger conceded the moment Hamm began to clasp his dagger, strutting off. "She's all yours, mate." The captain and two officers stepped inside the shack after the stranger scurried out of their way, with one officer staying outside to guard the door.
"Tia Dalma?" Hamm asked cautiously, removing his mask and slowly placing it on a table.
The woman rose from her kneeling position and turned to face Hamm. Her initially blank - perhaps even threatening - expression gave way to a sinster and yet somehow welcoming grin once she processed the identity of her guest.
"Finn Hamm," the witch said. "I was wondering when you'd come to me for guidance again."
She spoke in a heavy accent that had no discernible origin that some perceived as insidious, while others simply felt it was strained. Hamm spoke with a certain respectful politeness that he seldom demonstrated anywhere else.
"We discovered this interesting totem not long ago," Finn explained, unraveling a cloth that contained the talisman he'd looted from the EITC captain. "Hard to tell what it's for, much less who made it in the first place. We though you might-"
"Shhhhh..." Tia interrupted. "I know this already. You have no secrets from me."
"Let me see this totem of yours," she asked. Finn nodded, carefully handing it to her. Immediately the talisman's materials scraped up against her skin, she felt a great wave of power rush through every fiber of her being. She exhaled in surprise, closing her palm on the totem.
"This... this is powerful voodoo," the witch began. "Cursed with the dying breaths of many and stained with the innocent blood of many more. And yet... I sense there is something missing."
"Missing?" Hamm asked with intensity. "Are you implying there's more artifacts such as this? Perhaps that it's only one piece of a larger puzzle?"
"This talisman you've found," she continued. "I don't know how you managed to come across it. But it is a remnant of another time... an ancient power sealed away for centuries so the unworthy would never discover it. And somehow, it found its way to you."
"What is this ancient power?"
"Many things. But chief among its potential is the ability to kill the hornless devil. This talisman is one of three artifacts that may lead you to it. I warn you... you of all people should know that some stones are best left unturned."
Hamm shook his head. "I must find this power. If this talisman found its way to me, then it's clearly my destiny, and no one else's. Who am I to question the ways of the spirit world?"
"I believe you have the strength to find the power, yes. But the true danger will not be the journey to find it, only what happens next."
"What happens next? What do you mean?"
Tia sighed deeply, closing her eyes and concentrating for a few moments. "Beware the one whom the dagger calls to."
"Sir, the Adipocere is ready to depart. Are we to pursue this artifact?" Bill asked. Hamm was hunched over his ornate desk, consulting a carefully drawn map of the Caribbean.
"Three artifacts in total," Hamm repeated to himself. "We've found one. Now we must begin the search for the next. But the question is where."
Bill stepped closer to Hamm, studying the map for a few moments before offering his input. "That Sentinel we raided," he recalled. "It was found for Isla de la Avaricia. Uncommon for Company ships, even more so for galleons of that size. Perhaps the island's inhabitants could be of use to us. A new lead, if you will."
Hamm grinned viciously. Stabbing a silver dagger into Avaricia's location on the map, the captain rushed out of the cabin and issued a new order to the helmsman.
Chapter 3 - Those Dastardly Spaniards
"We're coming up on Mar de Plata!"
Finn emerged from the cabin and joined the rest of his crew topside. Indeed, to the starboard side of the Adipo, the hints of a naval battle in the thick morning mist were clear. Barely distinguishable in the fog were the distinct color schemes of red and gold clashining with red and blue. Finn pulled his spyglass out from the folds of his coat to get a closer look at the skirmish from the starboard bow.
"I see not much has changed here," Hamm observed from behind the spyglass. Bill joined him a few moments later, resting his arms on the ornate railings of the sloop. "How shall we proceed?" the officer asked, his voice slightly muffled by his thick mask.
"We need to get the attention of the Spanish here," Hamm explained, stowing away his spyglass and turning to face the crew. "If we intervene in the battle not flying the colors of the French or the Spanish, we're still technically neutral sailors - common pirates - making it difficult for any powers to punish us accordingly."
"Captain, if I may," Elena started, climbing down from the crow's nest and joining the crowd. "Don't we technically owe allegiance to the Brethren Court as free sailors?"
"For now," Finn sneered. "Soon, they'll be powerless to intervene in our affairs. But until then, I doubt our friend the Pirate King would have the gall or the time to reprimand us. Besides, who cares about a few downed frigates?"
Bill cleared his thoat. "If I may, what are we to do if the French get any ideas and decide to open fire upon us?"
"Then we make them regret it. Sorely. Any questions?"
The crew was silent, spare a grotesque cough from the back.
"Excellent. Then we'll proceed. Full speed!"
The sloop raced into Mar de Plata, drawing closer to the massive skirmish every moment. The sound of cannonfire was now clear as day, as was that of splitting wood and iron. The dense mist made it difficult to see far ahead, and the coming rocks jutting up from the ocean floor began to pose a serious threat. Abruptly, the ship ground to a hault behind a massive rock; it was apparent that on the opposite side, the battle was raging with concrete intensity.
"What are we doing? Why have we stopped?" Teller asked quietly from below decks, manning a bronze cannon adjacent to James'. Mere moments later, a massive Spanish Frigate appeared from behind the rock, and the Adipo immediately opened fire.
For the first real time, Teller experienced the full fury of the Adipocere. The moment the order was given from above to fire, he instinctively forced the linstock into the cannon and was knocked back by the sheer force of the blast that was accompanied by a strange blue glow. Whatever the ship was firing, it wasn't standard cannonballs.
The Spanish frigate was instantly ripped apart by dozens of ethereal blue fireballs that ravaged its hull and seared the fragile skin of those on board. Within seconds, the frigate began to sink to the depths below, with the poor souls left alive forced to fend for themselves in the crashing waves.
"Come about!" Finn commanded. The Adipo accelerated to full speed once more, emerging from behind the rock and charging directly into battle. Another Spanish warship was in range in seconds and had no time to react before the sloop unleashed another furious broadside, instantly wrecking it.
Meanwhile, aboard the 'Richelieu...
"Captain Motte, another ship has entered the battle... not one of ours and certainly not one of theirs!" a privateer officer shouted, pointing frantically at the lightning fast Adipocere in the distance. A terrifiying sight to see in spite of its size, the war sloop had a distinct rotting green hull and vivid blue sails with serpentine white markings.
Motte raced forward to the port side of the massive ship of the line, the Richelieu, forcefuly seizing an oversized spyglass from the officer to get a better look at the war sloop.
"They've sunk two Spanish frigates already," the officer added. "And they got here 30 seconds ago. It seems like they're ignoring us... shall we open fire?"
"By God man, are you mad? We need all the help we can get. Let them do as they please and take care to direct cannonfire away from them. This battle may tip in our favor yet," Motte said, crossing his arms expectantly.
Back aboard the Adipocere...
By now, the Spanish were sorely aware of the Adipo's presence in Mar de Plata. Two additional frigates were dispatched to deal with the mysterious new threat, executing a pincer maneuver in an attempt to overwhelm the smaller vessel.
"They're converging on us," Bill warned, clutching the railing. Finn appeared unfazed, slowly fetching the spyglass from his coat pocket and whispering an incantation. Suddenly, the thick mist of the sea folded around the vessel, concealing it from the approaching frigates and blinding the enemy helmsmen from anything beyond 10 meters from their hulls.
The confused Spanish helmsmen, robbed of their senses of direction, both desperately swerved to avoid a collision, but instead violently crashed into each other, sending dozens of men overboard and setting off several gunpowder barrels. The all-consuming mist cleared and the fiendish Adipocere appeared once more, dispatching both frigates with a single well-timed broadside.
"We've got them on the run!" Elena called joyfully from above, watching as three frigates fled in the opposite direction of the battle to avoid obliteration.
"We've got them on the run!" the Richelieu officer proclaimed, laughing with glee as three Spanish frigates desperately withdrew back to Isla de la Avaricia to regroup. Motte smiled, content with the current status of the battle, but still not satisfied. Anything less than absolute victory wasn't enough.
"Come about, and prepare a starboard broadside!" Motte ordered. The French crew obeyed, and shortly thereafter, a massive 24-gun broadside ripped in the direction of the fleeing Spaniards. However, instead of meeting their Spanish targets, a much smaller vessel was hit.
"Captain! We-we've hit the war sloop..."
"Captain! "We've been hit by the French!" Elena called.
The Adipocere rocked and shook, its hull damaged by two stray cannonballs originating from the Richelieu. Enraged, Hamm turned his attention away from the fleeing Spaniards and began to focus on the French ship of the line in the distance that had quietly been watching the battle up until this point.
"Prepare the chaser guns!"
Staying still had been a fatal mistake on the Richelieu's part. From below decks, several gunners emerged with mobile cannons with elongated bronze muzzles. Loading them with small cannonballs that emanated a faint buzzing noise, the chaser guns were primed at the ship of the line and opened fire moments later.
The chaser guns fired glowing projectiles at the ship's hull that were trailed by volatile streams of electricity. Traveling at lightning speed, the projectiles met the Richelieu's hull in seconds; at the precise impact points of the projectiles, massive lightning bolts were summoned down from the sky, absolutely decimating the ship's hull. The vessel attempted to prime an additional broadside (this time to hit the Adipocere intentionally) but, after two more chase gun vollies, the Richelieu's hull was beyond ravaged. Panicked French privateers leapt off the ship's hull in desperation as the massive vessel slowly sank to a watery grave at the bottom of Mar de Plata. The two French galleons that had been approaching to aid the Richelieu instantly turned back the way they came after seeing the devastation wraught by the Adipocere.
"I... I don't believe it," James managed, short of breath. "We just..."
"-sank a ship of the line with hundreds of innocents aboard it? Sounds about right," Teller said, panting from exertion.
Topside, another incoming ship of Spanish origin was spotted, though there was no apparent threat. A miniature light sloop model small even in comparison to the Adipocere, a waving white flag was fastened to its mast. The chaser guns were primed to strike, but Hamm ordered them to cease fire.
The tiny ship rolled up beside the Adipo, seemingly fully aware that it could be absolutely decimated in an instant's notice.
"Mysterious strangers!" a voice called up from the deck of the ship. "The honorable Garcia de la Avaricia invites you to his estate to discuss this recent turn of events! Please, accompany us to his humble dwelling!"
The crew of the Adipo instantly began to shout various obscenities at the Spaniards, some of them even throwing putrid rotting vegetables at their heads for good measure. The Spaniards were offended, but held their ground defiantly. Hamm and Bill exchanged hushed whispers for a few moments before reaching an agreement.
Bill cleared his throat. "The illustrious Captain Finn Hamm of the Adipocere will take you up on your invitation."
The Adipocere docked at Isla de la Avaricia and extended its ramp down the beach, where Hamm and his officers were greeted by a small collective of Spaniards - some indebted privateers and some fanatical subscribers to the teachings of the current King of Spain, an individual who would never be caught dead in such a backwater hovel as this. Thus, they settled for his adviser, Garcia de la Avaricia.
"We welcome you to the home of his eminence, Lord Garcia," a Spaniard said, kissing the hand of Hamm as he stepped foot on the island. Though his facial expressions could not easily be made out from behind his mask, one could only assume his current emotion resembled one of disgust.
"This Lord of yours better not be as much of a cad as you are," Finn spat, wiping his hand on his coat. "Calico, stay with the crew and see to it that everything is in order, as it were. Ellison, Bill and I will handle the negotiations," the captain ordered the brutish officer. Calico, nodded, returning to the deck of the Adipocere to keep the crew in check. "Please, come this way," the Spaniard offered, leading the three men up a small hill to the glorified shack that Avaricia called his estate.
Finn and the two officers were allowed inside Avaricia's house and led up the rickety staircause to the roof, where a drunken Spaniard, bottle in hand, sat half asleep. Hamm coughed expectedly, prompting a privateer to rush to the side of his snoozzing superior.
"Excuse me... Lord Garcia, your guests are here..."
"MY WHAT? I COULD KILL YOU, YOU-oh, my guests are here. Please, leave us," Garcia ordered softly, dismissing the seneschal with a wave of the hand. "Please, take a seat, my new friend. I'm afraid your men will have to stand - having more than two chairs per table is outright lunacy."
Finn begrudingly took a seat and removed his mask, setting it on the table, along with one of his ornate engraved daggers. Garcia's eye twitched. "I see," the Spaniard admitted, stroking his nonexistent beard. "So, you're the one who sank my fleet this morning. I can respect that. I like men who sink ships. I usually hire them, actually. But I'm not a fan of men who sink my ships. Usually. So, that said, may I ask why you comitted this atrocity against me?"
"To get your attention," Finn answered sternly.
"To get my attention?" Garcia repeated. "Well, you have it. So what exactly do you want my attention for?"
"A few days ago, my ship came across an East India Company vessel bound for this island," Hamm explained. "The captain had something interesting in his possession, along with several tons of raw goods and resources in the ship's cargo hold. I'm going to assume you know something about this."
Garcia sighed. "I knew it was a bad idea to ally with those backstabbers... but they offered something to us, you see. Told us there was a cache of cursed weapons with strange powers somewhere in the Caribbean that could only be found with these relics that were left behind by their owner as clues to where they were hidden. There were three of them in total, and they claimed to already have one. Said we had the means to find the other two. Last I heard, they were sending an envoy with the relic they found to prove they weren't bluffing."
"And did you?" Hamm asked.
"As it happened, we did," Garcia said quickly. "Old records from Cortez's crew told of artifacts left behind by some conquistador El Patron. But all we have left is the rough location of one of the relics."
"Where?" Hamm insisted. "Where is the relic?"
"Not so fast," Garcia said mischievously. "I've no interest in finding those damned things myself on account of the King's decrees concerning cursed weapons, but I'm not one to miss an opportunity for profit. Since you did me a favor today by sinking the Richelieu, I'll cut you a deal."
"Name your price."
"A years' worth of medicine for my men. The finest, taken from the Navy's supply stores on Port Royal."
Finn silently consulted Bill and Ellison for a moment. Stealing so much medicine would require a full scale blockade of the town until they yielded. But the crew of the Adipocere had pulled off more dangerous challenges, and this could be their only lead to finding the weapons cache.
"We have an accord," Finn agreed, extending his hand to Garcia from across the table.
"I knew you would come around," Garcia smiled, shaking Finn's hand and sealing the deal.
Chapter 4 - Enemies of the Crown
The Adipocere, flanked by the crimson frigate the Cutthroat Comet and the galleon Red Ransom rapidly approached the docks of Port Royal. The fully formed triumvirate fleet of Finn Hamm was rarely ever assembled - the mercenary workforce required to man the two wing ships was expensive to say the least - but even a ship with the firepower of the Adipocere would struggle to hold an entire town ransom.
Traveling in the late day with plenty of hours of sunlight remaining, the pirate fleet had no interest in the cover of darkness; their arrival had to be as overt as possible to ensure the enemy knew who they were dealing with. Some might say over the top - Finn preferred "unity of effect."
"The Comet will lead the frontal assault and ensure we have a safe passage to the beach," Hamm projected to the crew while observing the town from the port railing of the sloop. The fleet was stationed several miles off the coast of the island and was safely outside the patrol routes of the Navy ships that patrolled the area, though the captain remained vigilant of any stray potential threats.
"The Ransom will remain stationed off the coast to keep lookout for any incoming ships," he continued. Indeed, the armor of the war galleon was far superior to the other two vessels within the fleet, though some on the crew worried that not even the Ransom could hold off a stream of Navy warships indefinitely if push came to shove.
"And of course, we will handle the exchange and resort to aggressive negotiations if necessary."
James shook his head. "Port Royal's one of the most well defended islands in Caribbean," he whispered to Teller while Hamm went over his battle "plan." Hamm cleared his throat, annoyed by James' interruption. "Now you've done it," Teller spat.
"Mr. James," Hamm barked. "Since you're so eager to get started, perhaps you'd like to lead the negotiations."
"Ahem, er, uh, no sir, not in the slightest."
"Good. I'd hate for someone to miss their opportunity to flaunt their skills in diplomacy. If no one else has any reservations, then let us begin."
Calico fired a blunderbuss into the sky, signaling the Comet to begin the attack. Immediately, the crew ran to their stations and Hamm made his way to the bow of the ship.
Three Navy sloops - Greyhound models - immediately began to intercept the massive frigate, but with three quick shots from its explosive guns, the path was cleared, allowing the fleet to proceed. The Adipocere departed towards the town a moment later, followed by the Ransom, which remained a comfortable distance behind the rest of the fleet at all times to ward away any pursuers and cover as much ground as possible.
Ship after ship fell to the frigate's ceaseless barrage of incendiary cannonfire. Suddenly, an East India Company war brig appeared from the cover of the town's fort and began to open fire on the fleet. A broadside nearly collided with the Comet before the frigate curved at lightning speed to the right, causing the brig's onslaught of cannonballs to land harmlessly in the shallow water. Half-grinning, Finn unclenched his engraved spyglass.
The Comet's unnatural swerving maneuver landed it in the perfect position to return fire on the dumbfounded brig. Dozens of flaming projectiles were launched at its hull, detonating in a spectacular fashion on impact. The brig's powder reserves were hit in a stroke of luck, causing the entire vessel to go up in flames. Now sorely aware of the fleet's intentions, the Navy rushed to the defense of the port.
Fort Charles erupted into chaos as hundreds of Navymen scrambled to their stations to prevent the advance of the raiders. Two cannon defense towers sprung to life and began to fire upon the Comet from above, forcing them to slow down to avoid cannonfire. Impatient, Finn ordered the chaser guns on board the Adipocere to open fire at the towers with lightning rounds.
After two volleys of thunderbolts, one for each tower, the Comet was cleared to continue its advance, and its two allies soon followed. All that remained to defend the town was a pair of undermanned light Navy Bulwarks, which were quickly eliminated by the fleet's gunners. Arriving at the main port of the town, the Comet ground to a halt and allowed the Adipocere to dock at the coast.
The crew quickly extended a ramp down to the beach. Hamm, accompanied by several dozen brigands, fearlessly descended down to the beach, where they were met by a pair of seemingly unarmed high ranking Company executives.
"Pirate!" one of them shouted. "In the name of the East India Trading Company and on the authority of Lord Samuel Harrington, you are under ar-"
"I'm afraid I must interrupt your little, eh, speech," Hamm started, waving his right hand dismissively. "As it happens, you're in no position to make any demands as of right now - in fact, you're going to listen to mine instead."
The executive gestured to the numerous Navy Dragoons that had their muskets trained on Hamm. "You're mistaken" he countered. "Port Royal never has and never will submit to the demands of a terrorist such as yourself. Our trade interests will be protected at all costs."
"Never has?" Finn chuckled. "Care to explain that business with the Black Pearl a few months ago? No, no, don't bother. Consider yourselves under my power. My demands are simple: a years' worth of medicine - your finest brew, no less - and we depart with no blood shed."
"You just slaughtered several dozen marines on your way here."
"No further blood shed," Hamm corrected. "However, should you refuse to comply, I'll slaughter the entire Navy presence here, burn all the Company's assets, and send both your heads back to England on a silver platter."
The executive scoffed. "We've scraped seafarers worse than you off our boot before, swine! Isn't that right, Cudgel?"
The other executive coughed nervously. "What? Yes, yes, we have. Of course we have. Much worse."
Finn sighed. "It seems there's been a miscommunication," he said sternly. "You see, my Company friend..." Hamm gestured expectantly to the executive, waiting for him to divulge his name. The executive's face twisted into a confused expression. The captain rubbed his temple and turned to the other executive.
"You're Cudel, correct?"
Cudgel nodded apprehensively.
"What's your friend's name?"
"Flint, sir. Henry Flint."
Flint facepalmed. "You see, Mr. Flint," Hamm continued. "I'm not the man you were hoping for. I dance with the devil, Flint, and I gamble with God. And if you cross me, make no mistake, I will make you regret it if it's the last thing I do."
Flint shook his head, stalwart as ever. "I will never submit to you."
Hamm began to speak again, but was interrupted by a frustrated yelp from the Adipocere. "Sod, can we just kill something already?!" James demanded. "Novel idea!" Hamm agreed, throwing a small stink pot on the ground and enveloping the area around him in thick noxious gas. He quickly donned his plague mask to avoid breathing in the toxins and rolled to dodge the onslaught of fire from nearby Dragoons.
The ground force spilled on to the island and began to pillage everything in sight. Taking advantage of the chaos, Finn gutted both Company men with his dagger one after the other before joining the crew. After several minutes of indiscriminate rampage on the docks, Hamm rallied the pirates and led the march to Fort Charles. Meanwhile, the Comet began to fire wildly at the town with explosive rounds every few minutes, adding several dozen on to the death toll for every moment the town refused to submit.
The gates to Fort Charles were blown upon by a barrage of grenades from the invaders. Several Navy cadets and Company grunts attempted to intercept the pirates, but the crew of the Adipocere was oddly empowered in Hamm's presence, as if his influence on the battle was giving them the advantage. With an ornate dagger in his right hand and a silver flintlock in his left, the fully armed Finn Hamm was a sight to behold on the battlefield.
The pirates charged into Fort Charles, laughing as they decimated a multitude of hastily-made barricades erected by panicked officials of the town. The guards within the outer fort stood no chance against the invaders, who set alight the wooden battlements of the fort and torched the woodland in the path of their advance.
Hamm and his men cut a savage swath through the inner fort, freeing prisoners and encouraging them to aid them in their assault. Most of the prisoners were more than happy to exact revenge on their cruel captors, some even proving to be more brutal them Hamm's men. Waves and waves of Navymen flooded into their warpath, only to be cut down like the rest.
Finally, the invasion force arrived at the fort's armaments and set about preparing a detonation to remember. With pillaged gunpowder, the pirates primed the fort for total and absolutely annihilation. Matchstick in hand, Hamm turned to Bill before lighting the fuse.
"Take what you can?" Bill asked.
"And give nothing back!" Hamm interjected.
The fuse was lit, and the brigands ran in the opposite direction, cackling wildly. Taking cover behind a rampart, the pirates covered their ears in anticipation for the blast. A few moments passed - nothing. Finn looked back at the armaments, confused. One of the brigands ran back to inspect the fuse and, to no one's surprise, was blown away the moment he came within the blast radius. The explosion shook the fort to its core, and suddenly, the sounds of blades clashing stopped.
"Stop! Stop, enough of this madness, I say!"
A Navy captain rushed into the central fort with his hands up, accompanied by five dazed Dragoons. "We submit to your demands, now please, stop this mindless violence!" the captain pleaded. Hamm rose from his cover and approached the cowering Navymen, dagger in hand. The pirate rose his dagger high, poised to strike the captain.
"I'm so glad you finally came around," Finn said gently, stowing his blade. The captain breathed a sigh of relief.
Back aboard the Adipocere, one hour later...
Several tons of top notch medical supplies, inspected by experts aboard the Adipocere, were being loaded on to the fleet. Finn commended himself for his choice to bring along the Red Ransom; though no enemy ships had come to box the fleet in, choosing to bring the galleon along had paid off when Hamm realized the sheer magnitude of cargo space that would be needed to accomodate the medicine.
"Everything seems to be in order," Bill noted, standing alonside Hamm on the deck of the Adipo. "Just a few more crates and we should have exactly one years' worth of medicine for Garcia's operation. It seems this invasion was a resounding success."
"Of course it was," Hamm nodded. "Prepare the fleet to depart for Isla de la Avaricia and assure the mercenaries that their pay is coming."
Bill nodded and walked off. Hamm, pleased with himself, was so caught up with the prospects of his inevitable success that he didn't notice the incoming trio of ships arrive at Port Royal's docks until a boarding party brute forced their way on to the deck of the Adipocere.
Leading the trio was a massive charcoal-colored war frigate embroidered with ominous skull designs and black sails. Flanking the frigate was two plainly colored sloops roughly the size of the Adipo. Looking upon the hulking warship with awe, he didn't quite recognize it until its captain stepped foot on the sloop's deck.
"Not another step, or I'll shoot, you ingrate!" Calico threatened, aiming a blunderbuss at the other captain's head.
"That's no way to treat the Pirate King," the stranger warned, stepping closer to reveal his dark hair and green eyes.
"King?" Calico repeated, dumbfounded.
"Where is Finn Hamm? This is the Adipocere, is it not?" the stranger impressed, ignoring Calico's concern.
Hamm pushed through the crowd that had amassed on the deck of the sloop to face the stranger. Removing his mask, he addressed the other captain personally.
"Richard Cannonwalker," Hamm said in an overly patronizing tone. "What a pleasant surprise. What brings you here?"
"Adrian," Cannonwalker nodded. "I've heard much about your exploits as of late. I see you've deliberately ignored my warnings... again."
Teller rose an eyebrow. "Adrian?" he asked quietly to James. "Who is Adrian?" James shrugged. "No idea."
Hamm cleared his throat awkwardly. Cannonwalker continued before he could offer a response. "Ah. I see these people are blissfully unaware of the truth."
"I don't know what truth you're talking about," Hamm stated monotonously.
"The truth about who you are. Or who you once were, for that matter," Cannonwalker explained knowingly. "Don't presume the Court has forgotten about your betrayal, or that the Caribbean has forgotten the terror of the Pirate Lord of the Adriatic Sea."
Hamm clenched his fist angrily, unwilling to tolerate being humilated in front of his own crew.
"You may have walked away from the Brethren Court, Adrian," the Pirate King continued. "But that does not make you exempt from our laws. You of all people should know that we don't treat traitors kindly. Defy us again - pull another stunt like you did in Mar de Plata, or blockade a major port town without our approval - and you will regret it. Understood?"
Finn was silent.
"I'll take that as a yes. Oh, and, good luck on your quest. We'll be watching with keen interest," Cannonwalker teased, returning to the deck of the Black Warrior and departing from Port Royal. Hamm stormed back to his cabin, quickly followed by Bill.
Before the officer could inquire as to their next move, Finn stabbed another dagger into the massive map spread about his desk.
"When we find this weapons cache," he enunciated slowly, and with seething hatred. "Our first act will be to put that insufferable cur in his place."
"You plan to... usurp the Pirate King?" Bill asked.
"Usurp, yes," Hamm explained. "But not before I destroy everything he holds dear."
Chapter 5 - The Isle of Sacrifice
As the Adipocere prepared to depart from Port Royal, Teller was skulking around the lower decks of the sloop. A small portion of the medicine had been stored upon the fleet's flagship to lessen the burden of the Ransom, providing Teller with a unique opportunity to further his long term goals.
Working quickly, Teller unfastened the straps on one small box of medicinal supplies, then quietly made his way to his bunk. In all his months so far aboard the dreaded ship, his personal belongings had not been searched once; he could only hope the trend would continue. With any luck, the medicine could provide a unique advantage in the future, God willing.
As he stowed away the medicine, someone coughed behind him.
"I didn't think you were the sort," the man chuckled.
Teller jumped and pulled out a throwing knife, prepared to gut his uninvited guest. However, to his relief, the only one below decks with him was James.
"I could have killed you," Teller said, stowing the blade.
"And it would have been top notch comedy," James agreed.
Teller rose to meet James, who had stepped closer. "What do you make of that business with the captain?" he asked. The revelation of the name Adrian had an odd effect on Hamm, as if it evoked an array of old memories that he'd like nothing more than to forget. There was also the matter of him apparently being a Pirate Lord - at least, a former one. Teller knew relatively little of the Brethren Court's ways, but every sailor had some awareness of the weight the title held.
"Hard to say," James started. "If you ask me, he should quit riling up that King-whats-his-face before it's too late. He's not a man I'd cross." Just then, another voice joined the conversation.
"Interesting times, gentlemen," Ellison said, interrupting James' thought. One of Hamm's senior officers, this was the first time either of them had seen him without his plague mask on. His face - despite being riddled with countless dozens of horrid battle scars - looked almost normal. Young, sporting crimson hair and hazel eyes that could be confused for a kind person's.
"Ancient artifacts. Old enemies from the captain's past. Doing the dirty work for the Caribbean's conniving nobles," he continied. "I'd be nervous, too. Then I'd remember who singlehandedly brought the entire Brethren Court to its knees and then left like nothing happened." With that, the officer shoved off to parts unknown. James and Teller exchanged a nervous look for a few moments before the sound of the crew gathering above decks grew evident. Too shaken to ask any questions, the two joined the rest of their colleagues.
The Adipocere arrived at Isla de la Avaricia's coast once again. Immediately, the fleet began to unload the several tons of medicine they had acquired at Port Royal with the assistance of a small army of eager Spanish privateers. A noticeably quieter Finn Hamm led Calico, Bill, and Ellison up the shore to the estate, where they could only hope a compliant Garcia was waiting.
"Welcome back to my home, gentlemen," Garcia said, inviting the men up to his rooftop lookout. As Hamm took a seat, Garcia dismissed the nervous privateers that had escorted them in. "Please, leave us." The Spaniards nodded respectively and ran off. The noble cracked open a bottle of rum and offered Hamm some, to which he politely declined. Garcia shrugged and began drinking before addressing his guest.
"I see you've acquired my medicine," Garcia noted graciously.
"It was nothing," Hamm said sternly. "I hope you'll be upholding your end of the bargain," he continued after a moment.
"You have done me a tremendous favor," Garcia nodded. "And yes, I do possess the means for finding your artifact. But I'm afraid before I divulge it, I must ask you one more favor."
Hamm was silent, his expression hidden beneath his mask.
"That insufferable Pierre le Porc has crossed me again, and I lack the resources to strike back at the moment. I need a man with your skills to send them a mess-"
Finn flipped the table and grabbed Garcia by the throat, shoving him to the edge of the railing, inches from tossing him over. "Dismissing your men was a grave mistake," Hamm threatened him slowly. "And crossing me was your last." Garcia fumbled around helplessy, desperately clinging on to his last breaths of oxygen. The officers watched the confrontation apathetically.
Garcia attempted to utter a few words. "What was that?" Hamm asked, feigning concern and slightly releasing his grip.
"I... I yield!" Garcia yelped. Hamm let him go, stepping back and wiping dirt off his coat. "There, was that so difficult?" he asked.
"You drive... a hard bargain," Garcia struggled to say, coughing furiously. "I'll give you the whereabouts of the artifact. But don't expect any favors from the likes of me in the future!"
"I'm listening," Finn said, crossing his arms.
"It's a coin," Garcia explained. "Silver, or so I heard. Kept stowed away at the Hive Queen's nest on Isla Perdida. But no one's gone to that island and survived. It's suicide!"
"Thinking you could get away with swindling me was suicide," Finn spat, kicking the downed table out of his way as he and his officers departed the estate. Hamm paid off the crews of the two mercenary ships that accompanied him, and the Adipocere was off.
It was a calm afternoon the day the Adipocere arrived at Isla Perdida, colloquially known as the Isle of Sacrifice. One of the most wild islands in the Caribbean, Garcia had not been lying when he said few men who came here ever left in one piece. Hamm and his most trusted men had come here once before, long before he captained the Adipocere as it is now - when he was known by another name. He had committed a great atrocity on Perdida many years before and sorely hoped he would never have to return. However, fate had brought him here once more.
"This is the place," Bill confirmed as the crew made landfall on the beach. From here, the crew was able to stare death itself in the face, as the jungle did not extend out far enough to quite encompass the beach. "I know it is," Hamm said without fear or favor.
"How shall we go about finding this artifact?" Calico asked, stepping up to the front of the crowd with Ellison. Hamm chewed on the question for a few moments. True, Perdida was a truly colossal island for its complete lack of permanent human residents. From what he'd heard of the Hive Queen, she was an ancient creature rooted in ancient mythology who effectively ruled the island and all of its inhabitants. If she was connected to every living thing on the island, drawing her out could be a relatively simple task.
"Burn it to the ground," Hamm said with malice. "Burn it all to the ground." Bill was about to inquire further before the realization hit him and the rest of the officers. Calico turned to face the rest of the crew, who had heard nothing of their conversation. "It's time to give this damned island hell!" he barked. "Everyone grab a torch - burn it all down!" The crew howled with glee and set to work.
Hamm led the assault into the jungle, cutting down every critter in his path and occasionally firing his own incendiary shots with his modified pistol. The flames spread rapidly, forcing waves of the island's natural inhabitants to flee further into the heart of the jungle. Soon, a great high pitched supernatural wailing was heard to the far east end of the island. A moment later, another cry. "There!" Finn interjected, pointing to the distant source of the wailing. "Follow the screams!"
The men cut a savage swath through the jungle, and as more creatures were eviscerated by their blades or enveloped in the all-consuming flames, the screams grew more anguished and intense. The fire covered at least a quarter of the island now, and growing at an alarming rate. Soon, as the men were rushing through the forest, a swarm of giant green wasps descended upon their heads. "Scatter!" Calico screamed.
One man was immediately swiped by a giant wasp and carried into the darkness of the jungle, his terrified screams carrying on for several moments before he was ripped apart by the creature. Another wasp attacked, this one attempting to grab the vulnerable Hamm, but it was quickly blasted by Calico's blunderbuss. Hamm nodded appreciately at his officer before returning to the heat.
"This is... not what I signed up for!" Teller screamed, desperately slashing away at the massive swarm alongside James. "This... is exactly what I signed up for!" James exclaimed, laughing maniacally as he gutted yet another giant wasp. However, he was snuck up on by one of the critters and nearly injected with its massive stinger - narrowly saved by a pair Elena's throwing knives.
"When did you get here?" James asked, dumbfounded. "I've been here this whole time, you've just been having too much fun to notice me!" Elena cackled, ending two more wasps with her precise bladework. James looked to Teller, whose only response was a quick shrug. James sighed and returned to the matter at hand.
"Drop!" Finn cried. The crew obeyed, all 22 of them within his immediate vicinity instantly dropping down. A bright flash originating from Hamm sent the remaining wasps fleeing in all directions, blinding their eyes, which were unadjusted to such levels of light. Hamm stowed away his voodoo staff and ran to meet Bill, who was dispelling the last of the wasps.
"How many dead?" Finn asked.
"Three. Two injured."
"That flash will only disable them for a short time," Hamm explained. "We'll need to keep moving."
"We're close," Calico offered. Hamm nodded and signaled the men to resume their advance.
"Wait," Elena said. "What about the injured?"
"They can either join us and finish the job or stay behind and wait to get eaten," Finn said apathetically without turning back. Elena sighed and began to walk.
As Calico had predicted, within minutes, the crew had arrived at the east end of the island where the Queen's massive nest was situated. The area was littered with eggs and strange goo, which the men were careful to avoid in their advance. Mid-scream, the Hive Queen - a massive wasp ten times the size of her drones - crawled into view. Instantly, it became aware of the defilers' presence, and its cries of angush became low, vengeful growls.
"Sir..?" Bill asked with concern as the Queen stalked closer to her pray. Ignoring him, Hamm drew his staff once more and fearlessly launched a cursed fireball in the Queen's direction. The projectile hit her instantly, slowing her advance for the time being. But the act of aggression caused dozens of wasps to spring from their hiding places and descend upon the crew once more.
Three wasps went directly for Hamm but were instantly blasted with a blinding light spell from his staff. He blasted multiple more wasps until his staff abruptly stopped working, all of its mana drained for the time being. Frustrated but by no means defenseless, Hamm drew his dagger and pistol and went straight for the Queen to finish the job.
Still recovering from the blast, Hamm was able to get off several cuts on her disgusting body before he regained spacial awareness. Roaring loudly, it was caught off guard once more when Hamm fired a shot at its massive eye. Enraged, the monster swiped Hamm aside with its hulking insectoid leg, sending him flying to the left.
The Queen crawled closer to the seemingly immobilized Hamm on the ground, preparing to crush him with its fangs. At the last second, Hamm rolled out of the way and jumped back to his fleet. The aggravated monster attempted to strike Finn several times more, but the nimble pirate had now mapped out its predictable attack pattern and freely exploited it. Every few moments, he would swipe once more with his dagger, occassionally chaining in well-placed shots with his repeater pistol. With each cut, Finn inched closer to the creature's vulnerable heart.
Beyond their one-on-one duel, the pirates were slowly gaining the advantage over the wasp drones, as they too had learned to combat their attack styles. The Queen grew more aggravated and more desperate by the minute, leaving it open to Finn's precise dagger strikes. A moment before he could deliver the killing blow, however, the Queen leapt up into the air and landed behind Hamm, stabbing him in the back with a giant venomous stinger.
Finn cried out in pain, garnering the attention of Bill. The officer sliced through the drone he had been fighting and barreled into the Queen's path, shooting it twice square in the chest with his two pistols. The Queen prepared to make a desperate counterattack, but before it could retaliate, its head was blown off by Calico's blunderbuss. The monster toppled over to its back lifelessly, its guts spilling out all over the grass. The remaining wasp drones, shocked by the defeat of their Queen, dispersed in all directions, battered, broken, and without a leader to rally them.
Ellison stepped forward to survey the bloodbath and noticed a strange foreign object spill out from the Queen's innards. Steeling himself, the officer reached into the mess of blood and guts and pulled out a coin that had miraculously retained its shining silver glow even after festering inside the monster's digestive tract for what must have been years. After a few moments, the coin began to pulsate foreboding black waves of power. Ellison handed the coin to the shaken Finn, who grinned, knowing he had found the second artifact.
However, his good mood was immediately dispelled by the sharp pain in his back. The monster's venom was now being dispsersed throughout his entire body, attacking all of his vital systems. Bill and Calico quickly rushed to his side. Reassuring everyone that he had faced worse, the two officers helped Finn to his feet and began to escort him out of the flaming jungle and back to the Adipocere.
Several hours after the departure of the Adipocere...
"Adrian was here, alright," Neban confirmed based on the gunpowder and discarded throwing blades strewn about the landscape. The Company had been following the Adipocere's path for months, and had nearly given up the trail before noticing the smoke in the horizon, which led them to Perdida.
"So... they finally found the artifact," Remington observed, kneeling down to inspect the rotting corpse of the Hive Queen.
"Shall we continue our pursuit, then?" Neban asked.
"No," Remington said, shaking his head. "They've already seized the other two artifacts. Their search will inevitably lead them to the last."
"Right into our grasp..."
"Precisely. Ready the fleet to return to Fort Dundee. All we need do now is wait."
Chapter 6 - The Unholy Pact
Hamm was sprawled out helplessly on the deck of the Adipocere, surrounded by all three of his officers who desperately attempted to treat his wounds. Though the blood loss was minimal, there was little any of them could do to cure him of the toxins that were spreading throughout his body. The tonics they had packed did little to nothing to help him.
"This... is a disaster," Calico muttered, attempting in vain to help his dying captain. "If only we hadn't given away that damn medicine to that freak Garcia. I'd wager there was plenty of supplies in that lot to treat some measly wasp venom..."
The entire crew had gathered topside to watch the spectacle in silence. Had Hamm had his way, none of them would be seeing him in this state, but there was hardly any room elsewhere to properly attend to his wounds. James slowly removed his hat and placed it against his chest as a sign of respect. Suddenly, however, Teller appeared from below decks, box in hand.
Teller kneeled down alongside the three officers and opened the box, scrambling through its contents before finding what he was looking for.
"What the devil are you doing?" Calico asked, but Bill signaled his fellow to stop.
Carefully, Teller removed Finn's mask and began to pour a strange tonic into his mouth. Reluctantly, the captain swallowed the tonic one strained gulp at a time before the entire bottle had been emptied. Finn went silent for a moment before erupting into a grotesque coughing fit, which Ellison quickly helped him recover from. After the coughing had passed, Finn, now free of affliction, looked upon Teller.
"You," Finn began. "You saved a box of the medicine." Teller nodded apprehensively, fearing punishment.
"You saved my life," he continued.
"You'd do the same for me," Teller said, helping Hamm up off the ground. Hamm considered that last comment for a moment then shrugged dismissively. "You've done me a great favor," Finn thanked him. "As such, I see it only fit that you be rewarded in turn." Hamm rose to his feet, slowly drawing his dagger.
"How so?" Teller asked.
"Teller Lastname, by the power bested in me by the spirits of the land and sea, you are now an officer of the Adipocere," Finn proclaimed, quickly slicing a small cut on Teller's left hand. Strangely, the cut drew no blood.
Teller clutched his hand, surprised to experience relatively no pain. "Does this mean I have to wear one of those masks?" he asked, gesturing towards Calico. Finn scoffed.
"Those masks signify something that transcends mere rank," Hamm explained. "Perhaps you will earn the right to wear one someday. For now, however, bask in the glory of an elevated rank."
"You have my thanks," Teller said, bowing. "It's Lohand, by the wa-"
"Don't push it," Finn warned. "At any rate, I believe it's high time we return to our adventure, is it not?"
The crew cheered, thirsting for adventure. Ellison coughed.
"That's all well and good," the officer said. "But it seems we're fresh out of leads, as it were."
"Something tells me we just got a new one," Bill said, pointing in the horizon.
Suddenly, the calm night sky unfolded into a sinister shade of dark green. Torrents of wind began to batter the ship, sending them rocking back and forth. "What's happening?" Teller exclaimed. The wind accelerated before abruptly coming to a complete stop. A delapidated ship came into view, partially obscured by the thick green fog that now enveloped the area around the Adipocere. Before Hamm could issue an order, three undead figures - one significantly more imposing than the others - appeared on the sloop's deck.
"Bring me Hamm!"
Finn steeled himself and stepped forward to face the undead boarders, flanked by his four officers. "You called?"
The leader stalked closer to Hamm, grunting lowly. He emanated an unholy green glow - raw dark power. He seemed to lack one hand, which he had replaced with some sort of murder contraption comprised of a massive hand cannon and several knives.
"Ah, so ye've finally come out of hiding after all these years. I surely missed our adventures together," the skeletal pirate said in a mocking tone.
"Whatever you think you know of me, Roger," Hamm said, "it's all changed."
"So it has, so it has," the demon nodded. There was no doubt in Teller's mind now - the menacing figure that had boarded the Adipocere was none other than the nefarious Jolly Roger. And he was convinced Hamm was a fool for showing himself.
"I hear tell ye've found an artifact or two with some... interestin' properties," Jolly continued. "So the rumors are true. Ye be seeking El Patron's weapon cache on Raven's Cove."
Seeing no strategic advantage in deceit, Finn told the truth. "We've been on the hunt for cursed weapons, yes," he explained. "But we know nothing of this El Patron or Raven's Cove."
Jolly nodded. "Aye, it be an island lost to the sands of time. But when the East India Company caught wind of it, my interest was piqued. Now we be locked in a race fer the island and its treasures - and ye have two of the three artifacts needed to find the Cove."
"If you want the artifacts, you're going to have to take them over my dead body."
Jolly cackled. "I could, I could. But I stand a better chance against the Company with the likes of ye and yer crew at me side."
"What are you proposing then?" Finn asked skeptically. "An alliance?"
"Aye. An alliance, fer the time being. To outwit those Company devils."
"And what's in it for my crew and I?"
"We split the weapons we find at the Cove. Walk away with an equal share and no less - that is, if ye prove to be helpful in our battle with Beckett's lackeys."
Considering his options, Finn saw a decisive advantage in allying with Roger and his undead army. With such a colossal ally at his side, the Company wouldn't stand a chance, and the riches would be his for the taking. "You've got yourself a deal," Hamm agreed. "Where to, then?"
"The last artifact already be in the hands of the Company," Roger explained, pacing back and forth on the sloop's deck and making uncomfortable eye contact with some of the crew. "My spies tell me they've taken it back to their base at Padres. But we also caught wind of some plan they're devisin' to get the island using only their one artifact."
"Some scheme involin' local gypsies. But none of it will matter if we intercept their fleet before they can depart for the Cove."
"Then let's get moving."
"Aye," Jolly agreed. Immediately, Jolly and his two undead guards teleported back aboard their flagship - now accompanied by an alarming amount of smaller undead frigates that had come into view moments before. The full force of Roger's unholy fleet was being assembled.
Jolly's flagship began to sail southeast towards Padres del Fuego, and Finn quickly ordered the crew to tail them. The captain and Bill disappeared back inside the sloop's cabin. "Are you sure we can trust this Roger?" Bill asked. Finn pondered for a moment. "Perhaps. Perhaps not," he explained. "Either way, we may have leverage over him if push comes to shove."
"Chief among their potential is the ability to kill the hornless devil," Finn recounted Tia Dalma's words regarding the cursed blades.
The Harkaway, Roger's flagship, and the Adipocere led the massive undead fleet to the coast of Padres. Immediately, the cannons of Fort Dundee began to open fire on the alliance, particularly focused on the Harkaway.
"Go! Bring me their heads!" Jolly barked from aboard his flagship. Taking it as a sign that the Adipocere would once again be leading the ground assault, the sloop sped up towards the coast, the guns from the fort being tanked by Jolly. Several undead ships tailed their advance to aid in the invasion effort, to Finn's relief.
Within minutes, the Adipocere's crew, backed by a sizeable brigade of undead soldiers, made landfall on the beach of Padres. Calico spotted a path up the coast directly into Fort Dundee. Luckily, their arrival had seemingly gone unnoticed thanks to Jolly drawing fire back aboard the Harkaway. Finn turned to face the undead force that would be accompanying him.
"We follow you!" one of the undead spat, feebly lowering its bony head in his direction out of respect. "Now we kill! Kill for the Master!"
"Lovely," Finn nodded, raising his dagger into the air as he began the charge into Fort Dundee. His crew howled in excitement as the march began, but the undead howled louder. The alliance force charged headfirst into the fort, knocking down the massive ramparts that impeded their warpath and almost instantly getting the attention of the Company-Navy soldiers stationed there. However, much of the soldiers had been preoccupied manning the cannons to fend off the undead fleet outside, and the ground invasion was allowed to waltz directly into the fort's walls.
Panicked Navymen attempted to call out for help, but no one heard their cries on account of the constant battery of the fort from the Harkaway. Jolly's sinister cackle was heard vividly in the distance, riling up the undead troops on the ground. Finn was hard-pressed to keep them under control even after they had been sworn into his temporary servitude by their Master.
The undead horde cleared the way for the advance of the far less squishy crew of the Adipocere, who served as the main pain-bringers of the operation while the skeletons soaked up most of the damage from the fort's defenders. Soon, the invasion force had breached the inner sanctum of Fort Dundee.
A familiar voice called out to Hamm, using the name he had long disowned. Standing at the northern entrance across from the invaders, two Company asassins stood valiantly. Undead soldiers, unfazed, poured into the inner fort and wrecked havoc on the lowly Company grunts and Navy guards.
"Go," Finn commanded to his men. "Turn this fort inside out and bring me that artifact. I'll handle these yellow cowards."
The crew dispersed and joined the undead in their rampage, leaving Finn to face the two assassins alone. "I see you still haven't wised up," Neban chuckled. "You should have joined us when you had the chance. Now, your past has caught up to you."
"Tell me, Adrian," Remington began. "How many of these criminals would follow you if they knew who you really were? That you were once one of us? That you betrayed us, then betrayed the Brethren Court? How many people have you turned your back on? How many more?"
Finn drew two identical daggers and stalked closer to his prey. "You made a mistake coming here," he threatened. "I've beaten you both before and I can do it again."
"That was a long, long time ago," Neban reminded him, drawing a blade of his own. Remington drew his own blade in kind.
"You're right, that was a long time ago," Finn nodded, stepping closer. "You have no idea how long I've waited for this. You left empty handed on Tortuga all those years ago. Prepare for another disappointment."
Instantly, Finn tossed both daggers at the assassins. Remington nimbly dodged to avoid being hit, but Neban was not so lucky, the blade landing square in his left shoulder. He clutched his arm in pain and fell to the ground while Remington rushed forward to meet Finn. Another two small blades were thrown in his direction, one nearly cutting off his ear and one being swatted away by his own blade at the last second.
Soon, Remington closed the gap between the two combatants. Finn quickly drew his dagger and engaged Remington directly, locking blades for a split second before withdrawing. Remington rushed Finn with a flurry of quick cuts, but the pirate captain had faced Remington before and had a basic idea of how to counter his attacks. The assassin thrusted directly at Hamm's chest, but Finn sidestepped, grabbing his arm and twisting it violently. Dazed, Remington fell to the ground, his blade sliding several feet away. Before he could finish the job, Neban rushed into battle to save his comrade.
The second assassin struck directly at Finn's head, but his swipes were unrefined and predictable, allowing Hamm to easily disarm him with a quick stab directed at his hand. Shocked by the loss of his index finger, Neban left himself open to an elegant coup de grace; Finn sliced him twice in the chest and once in the throat in one fluid motion.
Remington snapped back to attention and began to crawl desperately towards his knife, but Hamm lazily kicked it far away from his grasp. As he prepared to finish him off by stomping his head in, however, a blast from the Harkaway knocked a massive rampart free that collapsed into the fort's inner sanctum. Fleeing for his life, Hamm rolled in the other direction to avoid being crushed.
Breathing heavily, he noticed Bill and Teller, accompanied by James and the lookout Elena, sneak into a hidden office built into the fort's walls. Looking back at the rubble where Remington was, he overcame his desire to get revenge and hurried to join the others.
"Search the office! It must be in here!" Bill yelled. The four of them began to ransack the office, turning over everything to find the artifact. Finn stalked into the office and began to assist them. After a minute of frantic searching, Teller ripped a painting off the wall to reveal a hidden safe that had been left open.
Teller stepped aside as Finn stepped closer to inspect the safe. The small compartment inside, labeled "SPECIMEN ATTICUS," was completely empty. Bill found something else of note. Handing Finn an official document with the seal of several important EITC officials, including Cutler Beckett himself, he read aloud:
"The gypsy Valentina has perfected the ritual to find Raven's Cove using the artifact. As it happens, she posssesses innate knowledge of the island and has need for only one of the three artifacts to locate its hidden weapons cache. We will depart for the Cove with the tide."
Finn angrily tore the document to pieces and began to further wreck the office. His rampage continued for a few moments before he began to hear frantic shouting outside.
"The Company fleet! They're leaving!"
Finn and the others rushed outside to see that a massive Company ship of the line with the name "Leviathan," engraved on its stern had just departed the fort from a hidden dock, accompanied by two Navy warships. Hamm quickly rallied the crew and ran back to the beach to reboard the Adipocere. He didn't bother to instruct the undead sodiers - they had already begun to retreat back to their own ships.
The sloop quickly sailed up next to the Harkaway, where a distracted Jolly Roger was still ordering his skeleton fleet to fire upon the fort.
"Roger!" Hamm barked. "The Company - they're on their way to the Cove!"
"The gypsy Valentina helped them - but it doesn't matter! We need to follow them!"
Finn wasted no more time and quickly reboarded his flagship. The Adipocere sailed to the front of Jolly's flotilla and began to pursue the expeditionary fleet, which wasn't far ahead. Jolly immediately instructed his fleet to tail the Adipocere, and within moments they were off.
Chapter 7 - El Patron's Legacy
The crew of the Leviathan and its two Elite escorts immediately poured out on to the island the second they made landfall. A small army of Company and Navy allies emerged from on board the expedition fleet and quickly began to mount a defensive; using whatever they could find, they constructed makeshift barricades all throughout the island to slow the inevitable advance of their enemies.
At first sight, Raven's Cove appeared to completely uninhabited. However, as the expedition fleet began to secure the beaches, several dozen mortified townspeople appeared from the shadows and demanded that they leave. The two Company men who begrudgingly shared a leadership position both appeared in the town center to attend the issue of the natives.
"Leave this sacred place!" a man demaned. A Navyman quickly pushed him into the circle the rest of the natives had been forced into. Ridley Burch, the captain of the Leviathan and technical leader of the expedition, arrived at the scene first, and was quickly joined by the insufferable Remington. Though the assassin had no formal rank within the fleet, he had been dispatched by Cutler Beckett himself several years ago to hunt down the traitor Finn Hamm, and his investigation just happened to bring him here.
"What's happened here?" Birch asked one of the Company grunts, who was training a pistol on the crowd of townspeople. The grunt lowered his pistol and turned to face his superior.
"They... live here, sir," the grunt explained. "We'd thought the island was long abandoned, but it appears remnants of El Patron's conquest here still remain. Remington, overhearing the conversation, quickly stepped in.
"Then we shall use them as tools to find the mines," the assassin suggested. "No one knows this island better than its inhabitants do. If they will not comply, then we will make examples of them." Offended by Remington's audacity and blatant disregard for human life, Birch belayed the order.
"This is my operation, Remington," the captain warned him. "You're only here because of a hunch Hamm might be following us, but lo and behold -" he paused for a moment, "-there's no sign of him. I won't have you issuing commands to my men."
The assassin chuckled. "My orders were to hunt down the pirate and his crew at all costs. If he is here to find your lost weapons stash, then we must locate it before he does - thereby seizing the element of surprise. Now," Remington said harshly. "We are rapidly losing time. If you intend to find the cache before the pirate and his friends, then we must act quickly." Birch weighed his options for a moment, sighing with contempt.
"Do it," Birch nodded. "Find out what they know. We must locate the weapons before time runs out."
The Adipocere, closely tailed by the Harkaway and the rest of the undead fleet, landed on the side of the island opposite from the expedition fleet's touchdown point. The crew quickly unloaded and met Roger and his men on the beach to strategize.
"The Company may have arrived here before us," Finn projected, pacing back and forth in front of his crew and Roger. "But I believe thanks to our undead friend, we may maintain a small numbers advantage. Our number one priority must be to locate El Patron's weapons cache - our adversaries here will only serve as a distraction to the real goal."
"Me boys and I will handle the Company dogs," Jolly offered, standing akimbo. "Ye can focus on finding the weapons while we see to 'em."
"Sounds like a plan," Hamm nodded. "Well, what are we waiting for? Commence the attack!"
From the eastern end of the cove, the massive alliance army, led by Hamm, charged into the town, demolishing every hastily made barricade in their path. Soon, the first hints of human adversaries came into view - small pairings of Company men and their Navy counterparts that grew more voluminous as they progressed further into the heart of the island. A Navyman on horseback spotted the invaders and raced to the town center to warn Birch and his men.
"Captain, sir!" the dragoon said, leaping off his steed.
"What is it, lieutenant?" Birch asked, keeping his eyes fixed on the small downward sloping path that Remington and his contact from Padres had led several men down just moments prior.
"They... they've arrived, sir. Hamm and his crew. And it seems they've brought-"
The dragoon jumped in terror as a loud gunshot was heard in the distance. As if on cue, an unholy joint force of undead and living buccaneers poured into the town center, slashing and tearing through the unprepared Company and Navy men. Several low ranking men began to flee in terror.
"Nay! Stand your ground!" Birch ordered, drawing an ornate rapier. Standing unafraid, he warded off two particularly aggressive undead soldiers. Reluctantly, his men rallied around him and stood ready to face the demonic invasion force. With an almost audible thud, the two armies clashed into each other at the town's center.
After dispatching two inexperienced Navy marines, Hamm rallied his men. "This way! Follow them!" he shouted, pointing towards the path that Remington had ventured down. The crew ran to his side and followed him down the path. A small group of grunts noticed them fleeing the main battle and attempted to contest them but were instantly shot down by a green lightning bolt from parts unknown.
"GO! I'LL COVER YE!" Jolly barked from behind, impaling a marine. Finn nodded appreciatively and led his men down the path.
As the crew raced down the path, James gravitated towards Teller and Elena, who were directly behind Bill and the other officers with Finn at the very front of the charge.
"Glad I found ya! Or should I say, glad to be in your presence again, your officerness!" James shouted with bated breaths, struggling to keep up with the sprinting pace the crew was keeping.
"Not a good time, James!" Teller shouted above the still vivid sounds of savage conflict in the distance.
"Is there ever a good time for such talk?" Elena gasped.
"Stow it, all of you!" Ellison shouted. Before James could make a snarky comment in response, Hamm skidded to a stop, causing several of the crew in the back to topple over. Hamm hushed them all, slowly creeping around a corner to look upon a massive chasm. At the very bottom, just barely visible in a small landlocked pond, was a massive carrack whose masts had seemingly toppled over. Judging by the state of disrepair it was in and its precarious position, Finn guessed it had been there for centuries.
"What is it?" Bill asked, looking over the edge with Hamm.
"This looks to be El Patron's ship," Finn began, kneeling down to get a better look. "Look there - looks like an entrance into the mountain," he said, pointing at a massive hole carved into the mountainside. The path ended at the cave entrace.
"Could this be it?" Ellison asked.
Finn nodded. "But it looks like they're a few steps ahead of us." Leading down to the cave entrance were several paits of footprints. Hamm rose and gestured for the crew to begin their advance. The men treaded carefuly into the cave, one of them lightning a torch to increase visibility. However, while the cave seemed to be impossibly dark at first, several other sources of illumination soon came into view.
The cave opened up as the crew progressed further inside, and soon several odd totems came into view. They emanated strange green and blue fire that felt absolutely ancient. They were composed of old bones and feathers and radiated odd whispers in an unintelligable language. As the crew explored the cave further, they began to notice tracks and mine shafts, among various tools like picks and shovels.
"What is this place?" Teller asked, inspecting a fragile old skeleton.
"It's a... mine," Calico concluded.
"Fascinating discovery," a voice called, accompanied by a slow rhythmic clapping. Remington, a hooded figure, and a small group of Company assassins entered the room from an adjacent chamber. His clapping reverberated off the walls of the mine, causing something to come loose in the distance.
"You," Finn spat, drawing his dagger and stepping forward. The rest of the crew followed suit and drew their weapons.
"Thought you'd gotten rid of me?" Remington asked. "Guess again. These mines belong to the East India Company now. I'd suggest you come quietly, or we'll be forced to... detain you. Valentina, if you will?"
Just then, the hooded figure behind Remington threw back her cowl, revealing a woman's old, dark, weathered face. She began to mutter a strange incantation and knelt down, drawing arcane symbols in the centuries-old mine's dust. The assassins began to glow a curious shade of cyan, as if empowered. Remington chuckled quietly and dashed at Finn with lightning speed, nearly mutilating him with his sharpened blade.
The other assassins began to dart around the chamber as well, moving too quickly for the crew to spot them. Two pirates were instantly overwhelmed, unable to defend themselves from the unassailable assassins. The men backed into corners and huddled around each other for protection.
As assassin leapt for Finn's throat, but the pirate reacted with equally supernatural reflexes, sidestepping and gutting him with minimal effort. James fired his pistol wildly into the chamber, miraculously hitting another assassin. Remington grumbled angrily and dispatched another pair of pirates.
Calico and Bill fought side by side, ruthlessly and efficiently keeping their unseen assailants at bay. But following a slight lapse in concentration, Bill was sliced in the leg, narrowly missing a vein. The officer fell to the ground and clutched his limb in pain. Another assassin raced toward him to finish the job, but Calico valiantly rushed forward to defend his friend, bringing the butt of his blunderbuss down on their head.
However, Calico was slowly being overwhelmed. Cut after cut began to weight heavily on him, and he, too, was soon forced to kneel down in agony. Seizing the opportunity, rushed to the giant's side and prepared to bring his blade down on his head.
"NO!" Finn exclaimed from across the chamber.
The assassin cut Calico's head clean off, sending it rolling on the ground. Hamm's face twisted into an expression of pure rage. He threw a flurry of blades in Remington's direction, but the assassin dashed to his left, causing the blades to land near the woman, interrupting her concentration on the spell for a moment.
Realizing what had to be done, Finn sprinted to the other end of the room and dropkicked Valentina square in the chest. The woman hissed with vitriol and attempted to cast a curse on the pirate, but mid-incantation, Finn elegantly sliced at her throat. She fell to the ground, choking on her own blood. The strange magical presence that had invaded the room passed, and the assassins lost their blue glow. Remington, who had rushed forward to save her, fell flat on his face, his empowerment spell lifted.
The crew redoubled their assault, now on equal ground with the assassins. Remington hopped to his feet and turned to face Finn.
"Do you feel that, Remington?" Finn asked, circling his opponent. "That's the cold sting of your rapidly approaching death."
Remington spat and charged furiously at Hamm, his attacks no longer magically empowered but still fueled by his indefatigable rage. After rapidly exchanging blows for over a minute, Finn slowly began to appear sluggish, as if the fight was weighing a heavier toll on him that it was Remington. The assassin slashed wildly at the pirate's face, leaving a sizeable cut on his left cheek.
Hamm screamed out in pain, dropping to his knees.
"This is the end for you... Adrian," Remington struggled to say, panting heavily. But Finn immediately snapped back into focus, leaping up to his feet and driving his cold dagger into Remington's stomach. Too exhausted to orally react, Remington keeled over, mouth gaping open. Hamm retrieved his dagger from the assassin's stomach, causing torrents of blood to spill free out on to the ground. And with that, the last of the assassins had been eliminated. Finn regrouped with his men.
"Secure the mines," Finn panted. "Find the weapons. Take only your fair share." As the rest of crew departed, Bill and Ellison stayed behind to confer with the captain.
"Finn..." Bill started, gesturing towards Calico's lifeless corpose. Hamm shook his head dismissively and avoided looking towards the body as he walked off with the others to explore the mine. Bill and Ellison exchanged looks before joining the crew.
"Remarkable," Elena marveled, wrenching a jewelled cutlass free from under a pile of rocks in an adjacent chamber. Miraculously, the cutlass appeared to be in pristine condition. As she inspected its balance, she noted that a peculiar black trail followed the blade's path. She tossed her old rusty blade aside and stowed her new weapon in its place. James, digging through an old minecart, discovered a multi-barreled pistol. "Not bad at all," he nodded.
Hamm began to explore untouched parts of the mine. Glinting in a river illuminated by an eerie totem's green flames was a sword unlike any he had seen before. It was sabre-like in appearance, and its hilt was embellished by two crimson rubies. The blade itself was sharper than any he'd had the pleasure of wielding in the past. Performing a quick rotation of quick cuts and jabs, he found its performance more than satisfactory, and stowed it away on his belt.
The captain wandered through the rest of the mine, taking a keen interest in the myriad of the other weapons his crew was discovering in every nook and cranny. Teller seemed particularly enamored by his own discovery. Stuck into the walls of the mine was a glowing golden dagger that he seemingly located by listening closely, as if the blade was calling to him, but Finn heard nothing. As Teller wrenched the dagger free from the rocks, Hamm was hit by the realization that Tia Dalma's prophecy was being fulfilled. He stared with cold hatred at his newest officer, plotting his next course of action.
"Boys! It's time to alert our friend Jolly that we've secured the mines," Finn announced. "Don't fret, we'll be back soon enough, God willing."
The crew returned to the surface to find that Jolly and his undead army had nearly driven the expedition fleet off the island - or so they thought. Before Finn could report to his skeletal ally, Roger screamed in rage.
"HAMM! WHERE WERE YE!?"
"What? What are you talking about?" Finn asked, running up to Jolly's side.
"THE COMPANY! THEY'VE MADE OFF WITH ALL THE LOOT! THEY'RE GETTING AWAY!"
Finn coughed. "Perhaps you should come with me."
Crate by crate, the weapons were loaded on to the Adipocere and the Harkaway, as close to a 50-50 split as possible. Jolly and Hamm watched as the crews made their rounds back and forth from the mines with the weapons, silently pondering what untapped potential they may harbor. Only time would tell. As it happened, the Company had discovered another entrance to the caves that led to a completely different section of the mines, closed off from the chambers the crew had discovered. Further inspection revealed that the mines had effectively been split in half by some sort of cave collapse that occured some time ago - it stood to reason the now dead mysterious remnants of the town dug their own entrances to the mines as a response.
"It's unfortunate they were able to make off with half the haul," Finn noted. "But the weapons we unearthed may give us an edge over them in the long run."
"Aye," Jolly nodded, arms crossed. "We'll see. It's been a pleasure doing business with ye, Adrian."
Finn was silent.
Roger chuckled. "Or Hamm, if ye prefer. But it appears we're done here. Until we meet again..." But before Jolly could depart, Finn made him another offer he'd be hard-pressed to refuse.
"Just a moment, Roger," he began. Jolly halted, facing the much smaller man. Teller approached the two, but sensing the confidentiality of the conversation, he ducked behind a barrel and listened closely. "I know you've had your run-ins with the Brethren Court in the past. I've had my share, as well. But there's no telling what powers these weapons might hold. What if we were to... use them?"
"Use 'em?" Jolly asked. "To get our revenge on the Court?"
"Precisely," Hamm nodded. "With the power of El Patron's lost weapons at our side, how could a few plucky Pirate Lords stand a chance against our combined strength?" Jolly grumbled lowly for a moment before erupting into laughter.
"I've always liked the way ye think, Hamm," Jolly grinned. "Now that ye mention it, I 'ahve been itching to put those pathetic dogs in their place."
"Then we have a deal. Meet back at the Cove exactly one week from now - bring everything you have. We'll discuss strategy then."
Jolly furiously shook hands with Hamm and then stormed off, causing Teller to duck down further. Watching as Finn leaned up against a rail muttering something to himself, he silently escaped from behind the shack and hunted down Elena and James.
"What in God's name are you doing?" James protested as Teller lugged him behind an abandoned cabin in the outskirts of the town along with Elena.
"I overheard the captain speaking with Jolly Roger," Teller explained.
"And?" Elena asked.
"And they're planning to use the weapons against the Brethren Court."
"What!?" James exclaimed. "Shipwreck Cove's the best defended bastion in the Caribbean. That's suicide!"
"I'm not too keen on making an enemy of the Court, either," Elena nodded.
"Then we're in agreement," Teller went on. "We need to do something."
"You mean... kill the captain? Mutiny?" James asked in bewilderment.
"What choice do we have?" Teller asked. "Besides, the three of us against one man? I don't care how powerful Hamm says he is, he wouldn't last long against all of us."
"Three? Wouldn't it be a better idea to at least try and get help from the others?" James asked.
"It's too risky. Everyone else is too scared to confront Hamm."
"With good reason..."
"Teller's right," Elena admitted. "This needs to happen as soon as possible. Before we take to sea again. But that still leaves the matter of Ellison and Bill."
Teller nodded. "They'll be much easier to get rid of if we split them up and take them individually. Besides, without Hamm, they're not all they're cracked up to be." Elena nodded in agreement.
"Captain," Bill notified Hamm. "The last of the weapons has been recovered. We're ready to depart."
Hamm rose from his slouching position over a delapidated railing overlooking the crashing waves below. His eyes were the purest expression of cold hatred.
"Gather the crew," Finn ordered. "We have one last thing to attend to before we depart."
Chapter 8 - The Murder Contest Part II (Finale)
All remaining 25 crewmates of the Adipocere gathered at the center of Raven's Cove at a large clearing in the town. There was a certain air of uncertainty among them, and for good reason: no one could predict what Hamm would say next. Everyone had been made aware of Calico's passing in the mines, and some feared his death had wounded him deeply enough to send him over the edge, so to say.
"Ladies, gentlemen, and everything in between," Hamm announced at the center of the town, flanked by Ellison and Bill. It was only now that Teller realized just how far his voice could project, even when wearing his mask. But what truly concerned him was the uncanny wave of deju vu washing over him at that very moment.
"Every now and again, as you all know, measures must be taken to ensure the utmost loyalty of the crew," Hamm went on. "Raiding, pillaging, plundering, we do all these things more on a daily basis - but what truly tests a man's limits is his ability to kill without mercy and without hesitation. That said, then, I believe we still have a Culling to finish after our rude interruption all those weeks ago." The crowd cheered in anticipation, but some were understandably confused.
"But... we're the only ones here!" someone called. Finn nodded.
"This is true," the captain confirmed, pacing back and forth. Such is why I must make a small adjustment to the rules of the Culling, just for this occassion. I have reason to believe that there is a traitor within our ranks. Backstabber, mutineer, renegade, whatever term you wish to use will suffice. But make no mistake, this betrayer won't rest until every single one of you is dead. And his name is Teller Surname."
Teller, who had been standing safely toward the back of the crowd, instantly backed away, bewildered at the accusation. How could Hamm have known? Or did he have some other motive? The crew quickly spotted him and began to shout various expletives and colorful threats.
"Yes, it's true. An officer of our fair vessel has been plotting against us since day one. I was deceived - we were ALL deceived - when he was made officer. But now... I can see his threat, clear as day. And he must be eradicated," Hamm went on. Teller backed further away as the crew slowly caught up to him.
"Not so fast," Hamm warned, stopping their advancement. "This is the Culling, after all - there are rules. Mr. Teller will have one half hour to hide, after which, the gates will be opened, and you're all free to hunt him as if your lives depend on it. Use whatever means necessary to eliminate him, I do not care how. Now go, Teller! Run, because your life truly does depend on it! Haha!"
Teller instantly clutched his golden dagger and bolted down the path to the mines, never looking back at Hamm and the crew. Undoubtedly, many would have noticed the direction he was going, but Teller was convinced the mines were the best place to hold out until the heat died down - if it ever did. He could only hope that this new weapon of his would prove useful in the fight to come.
The so-called renegade descended deep into the mines to corridors he had not explored. Though most, if not all, of the cursed weapons had been looted, the winding caves were still teeming with various treaures, left behind in search for more valuable loot. Soon, he arrived at a small chamber only illuminated by a small totem that emitted a dull green glow. Using the shadows to his advantage, Teller nestled into a dark corner of the room, unlikely to be spotted by anyone passing by. If need be, he was more than prepared to defend himself with lethal force.
Soon enough, a half hour had surely passed, and Teller began to hear noises nearby. Footsteps and faint whispers that disappear as soon as they come close. A cold chill fell over Teller, and the weight of the darkness began to weigh on him. He could no longer discern the real noises from ones that he created in his mind.
"You don't belong here."
The voice called out with supernatural power, instantly dropping the room's temperature by several degrees. The already faint glow of the totem began to dim further, threatening to go out completely. Teller quickly turned to face the source of the voice at the back of the room.
"Leave this place," the presence said. An orange apparition folded into existence, followed by another, then another. "Your kind have already done enough damage."
Teller rose from his crouching position, clutching his dagger tightly. Within the orange apparitions, black, human-shaped figures were just barely visible, accompanied by glowing red eyes. They spoke in a dialect that transcended any language he was familiar with, yet somehow, he understood their words clear as day.
"If you will not let us return to our slumber," a ghost warned, "then you will die." All three presences drew ethereal blades that appeared just as sharp and deadly as a corporeal one. The moment the pirate drew his own blade, however, the spirits wavered, as if unsure if they should engage or not. Teller pointed the dagger directly at the centermost apparition, causing an unseen wind to force it to its feet. The two other presences instantly faded out of the living realm, soon followed by the one Teller had brought to its knees. He marveled at the blade and its powers, but was forced back into a hiding position the moment he began to hear more voices in the distance.
These voices, as opposed to the hushed ethereal whispers he had heard previously, felt significantly more substantial. He picked up on two distinct voices, very clearly, in his mind, belonging to humans. The voices grew louder, showing no signs of wavering. Soon, the two individuals were directly outside the entrance to his chamber, and he had no choice but to act before it was too late.
Teller leapt from the shadows and held his dagger up to one of their throats, and the other immediately drew their cutlass. He nearly gutted the man he was grappling before realizing who he'd found.
"How do you keep managing to almost kill me?" James asked as Teller withdrew. Elena stowed her cutlass.
"It's a blessing and a gift," Teller explained. "What are you two doing down here?"
"Searching for you, of course," Elena said. "Just... not with the intent to kill you. How did Hamm know what you were planning?"
"Something tells me he wants me dead for an entirely different reason," Teller guessed. "But we need to act quickly if we're going to turn this around on him. We can still go through with our plan, just with the added complication of-"
"THERE HE IS! GET HIM!"
"-several crazed pirates trying to murder us," Teller finished. Bill, accompanied by three crewmates, turned the corner and instantly engaged them. James quickly drew his flintlock and fired a shot at one of the men, killing them instantly. Bill drew two cutlasses and attacked Teller directly, proving himself a better swordsman than anyone could have guessed.
But though Bill was an irrevocable master of dual wielding, Teller had a few tricks up his own sleeve. The golden dagger he wielded, though small, seemed to deflect every swipe thrown at him with surprising ease. As Bill pressed his assault, he grew more frustrated by the second, unsure of why he couldn't easily dispatch the much smaller target.
Meanwhile, Elena and James were holding their own against the other crewmates, slowly gaining the advantage over them. Though they'd eventually be thrown a curveball thanks to the unpredictability of the cursed swords the crew wielded, the men soon realized they were extremely outclassed. Bill quickly withdrew from a blade lock with Teller and began to flourish his blades wildly, preparing to engage his target once again, but James fired a single shot into his back, ending his curious chain attack.
"We need to finish this," Teller urged them after catching a breath. "We need to go back to the surface and kill Hamm before he comes down here to kill us."
"Ain't there still one officer to attend to?" James asked.
"Ellison, yes," Teller admitted. "But killing him won't matter if we bring the entire crew down on our heads to do it."
"It's now or never," Elena agreed. The trio made their way out of the cave and returned to the surface, which was sparsely dotted with desperate crewmates hopelessly searching for Teller.
Within ten minutes, the trio arrived back at the ransacked town, where Hamm still stood on top of a small crate, as if he hadn't moved. Thankfully, Ellison was nowhere in sight, but a small gathering of pirates were in his vicinity in the town center. The three of them ducked behind an old shack the moment they spotted him, hoping to seize the element of surprise.
"You dissipate your energy hiding away in the shadows like rats searching for scraps, hoping for an advantage," Hamm noted without even looking in their general direction. "You only reveal yourselves to be the cowards I thought you were."
Teller exchanged nervous glances with his two friends before rising from his hiding place and stepping toward the town center to face Finn. James cursed himself for being a fool and quickly joined him, followed by Elena. If this was to be their final stand, they would face it together.
"Here I am, Adrian," Teller proclaimed with determination. "Just where you wanted me."
"Adrian died long ago," Hamm lectured Teller. "He was replaced by a man with much less to lose."
"You're afraid to face me," Teller noted. "That's why you sent your men to kill me, and that's why I doubt you'll face me alone now."
"You have no idea what I can do," Hamm threatened, turning to face him. Faster than any of them could perceive, a blast of countless colors and shades emanated from Finn's hand, colliding with Teller and sending him flying back several meters. James and Elena ran to help Teller to his feet. He recovered quickly, drawing his golden dagger and preparing to attack.
Finn jumped off the crate and ripped off his mask to reveal his eyes had turned from blue to dark red. "I am the master of my fate, not God, not Tia Dalma, and certainly not you," he spat, quickly stalking towards the three of them. "If you won't yield, then I will destroy you, just like I destroyed your brother all those years ago."
Teller's eyes gaped open. "You... you were the one who marched on Nassau in '32. You killed him!"
"Yes, I slaughtered that Company mongrel Edward Lohand just like I slaughtered all his friends," Hamm explained, drawing closer to his prey. "I recognized your eyes the moment I brought you on board, but I figured Edward's brother couldn't be nearly as much of a bother as he was. Surely not! And yet here you are, the only one left in my way. God as my witness, this is the end for you - and your dastardly friends!"
Finn rapidly picked up his pace, drawing his cursed saber and preparing to strike. James and Elena rushed into battle alongside Teller, but they spontaneously rose up two meters into the air, unable to move or speak. Hamm locked blades with Teller, his unquenched rage locking wills with Teller's stonewall defense.
Teller gazed directly into Finn's crazed eyes, unerring and unwilling to back down.
"I'm not afraid of you... Adrian," Teller gasped, staring into the black abyss of his enemy's pupils. "I never was."
Finn pressed down harder with his blade, threatening to break through Teller's defense. "Then die galllantly!"
Hamm released one hand from his blade, as if wavering, but the next second, another blast emanated from his hand, knocking Teller up against a delapidated shack that crumbled on impact. Subsequently, the spell on James and Elena was broken, allowing them to help Teller to his feet once more. The three of them charged at Hamm, determined to finish off their demonic foe.
But Finn was more than ready for him. He fought like none of them had seen before, using only one light sword but deflecting their blows as if he was wielding five. Every motion he underwent was made with the intent to kill his aversaries - even his blocks looked like they could behead a man. Soon, the rest of the crew had gathered at the town center to watch the spectacle, none of them daring to intervene on the fight or even utter a word.
Hamm rose his sabre up into the air, leaving his chest open to assault. Desperate to finish the fight, Teller attempted to slash at him, but at the last moment, his blade came down on Elena's cutlass. Though she deflected the blow, she immediately began to spark with icy blue particles. The red jewels on Hamm's blade grew brightly as he delivered the strike.
Elena was stopped in her tracks as every inch of her skin was frozen in ice. James and Teller were unable to act as well, not because they had been frozen, but because they couldn't believe their eyes. Grinning madly, Finn sliced at Elena again, this time aiming for her leg. The moment the blade hit her appendage, she burst into thousands of tiny pieces, utterly annihilated by Hamm's trick.
Finn wasted no time, immediately continuing his assault on James and Teller. With one less target to worry about, his assault had increased tenfold, and every strike he delivered, the two feared, could be their last. Still, by the skin of their teeth, the two pirates endured, though they wondered if they could maintain their defense for much longer. Soon enough, the rubies on Hamm's blade began to glow bright red once more, signaling another impending supernatural strike. Finn, noticing this, raised his sabre high into the sky once more, bring it down on Teller's blade. The boy closed his eyes tightly, prepared to die.
But the doom he was bracing for never came. Miraculously, the assault had suddenly stopped, and instead of Teller screaming in pain, it was Hamm that wailed in anguish, as he had now fallen victim to the unpredictable voodoo flux administered by the cursed blade. Finn spontaneously caught fire, forcing him to drop the blade. The flames completely enveloped him, scorching his skin and burning the clothes off his back. Desperate to survive, the captain sprinted towards the edge of the town and leapt into the crashing waves below.
James and Teller quickly ran to the edge where Hamm had jumped and looked into the water ten meters below. They could just barely make out frantic floundering for a few moments before all motion stopped, and the captain of the Adipocere sank to the unseen depths below. The two men breathed a sigh of relief, their conflict over. Shouting with glee, the rest of the crew ran to meet them.
"You did it! You killed the captain!"
The helmsman approched Teller, holding something small in his hand. "Seeing as how you're our new captain, I think it's best you take this," he said. The man handed Teller a miniature red spyglass, the very same that Hamm had used constantly over the course of their quest. "Unless you feel the title should go to someone else?"
Teller scratched his chin, considering the question. Then he looked graciously upon James, who was staring at him expectedly.
"Nope, I think I'd make a great captain!" Teller exclaimed, taking the spyglass for himself. James immediately looked offended.
"Were you expecting something else?" Teller asked.
"Yes, yes I was," James lectured.
"Pirate," the captain reminded him. James shrugged knowingly.
The Adipocere, under new leadership, raced at top speed towards Shipwreck Cove. Traveling into the massive mountain fortress, the crew was greeted by the Pirate King and another strange individual with white hair and odd red clothes.
"So," Cannonwalker addressed Captain Lohand informally. "You're the one who finally put Adrian in his place, hmm?" Teller simply nodded, not bothering to ask how he knew.
"His death is... regrettable," the other man nodded, sighing. "He was one of the best captains in the sea, and... a good friend - once."
"Don't be so glum," the King said. "Now, Lohand, is it? I can't imagine you came all this way just for a social call. What news do you have for us?"
"Before he died, I overheard Adrian discussing plans with Jolly Roger," Teller began.
"What sort of plans?" the other man asked.
"Plans to invade Shipwreck Cove - to topple the Brethen Court."
"Roger has been upset with us for some time," Cannonwalker nodded. "If what you say is true, then I suppose all it took to convince him to go the extra mile was a little encouragement from a friend. Nonetheless, even if he did try and invade the Cove - which I seriously doubt, given Adrian's apparent death - we're more than prepared to defend against him. Still..."
"Sir?" Teller asked.
"Perhaps, if you and your crew aren't otherwise occupied, you could remain here for some time. I don't want to take any chances," Cannonwalker explained. "We shall mount a defensive and have one hundred able-bodied men watch our shores at all times. And I can't imagine a better man to command our defense forces than the infamous Slayer of Adrian - Captain Lohand."
One week later...
"So, this is what we're to be, glorified guardsmen for some bigwig Lords?" James asked Teller, feigning anguish. The two of them walked back and forth on the massive ramparts of the Cove, watching the horizon lazily. Teller chuckled, unable to provide an answer. He hoped, at least, the King would be willing to pay handsomely for their services.
"It wasn't your fault, Teller," James assured the captain.
"Well, as long as your good mood isn't spoiled yet..."
James and Teller drank and laughed into the late hours of the night, only occassonally glancing into the horizon. Soon, however, the night sky turned a vile green, the yellow moon illuminating hundreds of strange, jagged shapes in the distance. The calm breeze accelerated into gale-force winds, and dark clouds poured torrents of rain on their heads.
The great storm of their lives was only just beginning.
Standing on the deck of the Harkaway, Finn Hamm stared with cold rage at the fortress in the distance alongside his former officer, Ellison. Just days ago, the red-haired man had wrenched his captain from the savage black waves of the sea, but instead of finding his old friend, he found a hateful, crimson-eyed shell of the man he once was, his scarred body only held together by the ceaseless loathing that coursed through his fiery veins.
Adrian thought only of revenge. He fantasized about Teller's death - ripping out his heart and watching all his blood spill out on to the cold ground. He thought of how he'd been robbed of his ship. He thought of how his crew had abandoned him. And he remembered just how dangerous a man with nothing left to lose could be.