For the most part, the journey to Saltbur has passed uneventfully. Ta’Kel and Darius, both new to ocean travel, took some time to get over their queasy stomachs, but Levna and Torgosh are old hands by now and thought nothing of it. Many days were spent together on the decks of the Sea Nymph and the group is starting to get to know each other quite well. The weather gradually cooled down as the boat sailed north, and by now the passengers and crew are bundling up to keep out the frosty winter air of the North Sea. Only Torgosh seems relatively warm, covered in a thick, natural blanket of fur, though even he guards himself against the cold with extra layers. Nearly three weeks have passed in this manner and Saltbur is almost in sight…
Everyone is on deck in the mid-afternoon, eagerly anticipating their arrival. The Captain has declared that the ship’s crew will get an extended holiday once the boat reaches the shore, and the sailors seem anxious for some much needed rest.
Suddenly there is a great, blinding flash of light, as several columns of electricity, fingers of Whaythrad’s mighty hand of justice, stretch from heaven to sea in the distance off the port side of the ship. The Captain shakes his head.
“Great news mates,” he shouts to the crew with apparent sarcasm, “the Strage is moving in. It looks like we won’t make it to town quite yet.”
Everyone knows that the Strage is nothing to take lightly, and that it occasionally moves inland, cutting off coastal shipping routes for a short time. The sailors groan as they set to work maneuvering the Sea Nymph towards the land. Before too long, the captain has located a small cove with steep cliffs on all sides, and the ship is anchored safely for the night while the Strage flashes wildly in the distance.
In the middle of the night, Torgosh nearly jumps out of his hammock, awakened by several dull thuds, as if something had hit the side of the boat. Immediately he hears cries from outside and footsteps on deck. He is in the crew compartment on deck level, underneath the stern castle. Several crew members, Darius, Ta’kel and Mayuun, are also sleeping in this small room, and Levna is in the small, adjacent guest cabin, but they are only just starting to stir from their sleep.
Startled out of a nice, warm dream, Torgosh leaps to his feet. Something does not feel right. Torgosh begins to shake and rouse all of those still sleeping around him. When he is satisfied that they are awake, he rushes to the door leading out onto the deck, cracks it slightly, and peeks through the opening. It is the middle of the night, and furthermore, something has covered the deck in a thick, acrid smoke that obscures Torgosh’s vision beyond 15 feet. There is a great commotion from outside, and someone near bye must be holding a torch because Torgosh can see light to the extent of his vision that isn’t obscured by smoke, though he cannot see anyone within this range. There are more dull thuds and some scraping and scuffling sounds, and the sound of arrows whistling through the air and clattering on the deck. There is a loud crash as something falls from a great distance onto the deck, and there are several hacking sounds followed by loud splashes in the water. Loud cries for help resound from some of the crew members who must have been on watch.
Torgosh pushes the door open, slips out onto the deck, and immediately maneuvers to his right, keeping the cabin wall to his back as he faces towards the center of the ship. A large barrel of water is on his right as are three crew members, one armored, another holding a torch which is illuminating this area, and one standing far enough away to be just at the edge of the boat. The nearest mast is ten feet in front of him. Stairs leading down to the cargo deck and up to the stern castle are found on the other side of the door he came through and on the other side of the barrel. He cannot spot any enemy combatants, but he can certainly hear commotion all throughout the deck.
Ta’kel, wielding his longsword La’saan follows the gnoll out onto the deck, but quickly loses track of the rogue in the confusion and smoke. He finds himself standing next to the mast nearest to the crews cabin. Mayuun follows, panting with anxiety but ready to defend her friend at the slightest instigation. Ta’kel can see two crew members holding torches. The one about ten feet to his left is standing at the ships edge. There is a grappling hook attached to the boat and the mariner has just finished hacking through the rope. About ten feet in front of Ta’kel lies the corpse of a mariner who apparently fell from the crows nest after being slain by an arrow. He still can’t make out any enemies from where he is standing.
Darius follows, standing just behind Ta’kel while chanting a prayer to Nidrahat and the forces of nature and casting holy water about him as he walks.
Levna is the last to leave the cabin, dagger at the ready, and preparing to unleash a magical bolt of energy should the need arise. She ends up standing behind Darius, just having passed through the door onto the main deck.
Suddenly another grappling hook hurtles through the air and latches onto the deck near the mariner on the port (left) side. Startled, he busies himself trying to cut it. At the same time, the mariners to the right of Torgosh rush to the edge of the deck on the starboard (righthand) side and begin swinging their weapons amidst the billowing smoke. The mariner standing at the edge of the boat staggers backwards, cut open by a horrid diagonal slash to the torso, then slumps to his knees and topples. Shortly afterwards, another near bye mariner falls to the ground slain and his torch is extinguished. The four adventurers wince as the whistling of many arrows fills the air over their heads, followed by another loud thud from somewhere ahead and the clatter of projectiles on the deck.
Darius finishes uttering his prayers just as three more mariners arrive beside them from below decks, and those about him feel the divine, but feral glow of nature’s blessing.
Torgosh watches as two pirates vault onto the deck on the starboard side, but is unable to reach them, blocked by several crew members who have immediately engaged the intruders with cutlasses and knives.
As the party advances farther onto the deck there is a feral cry, one that Torgosh recognizes instantly, for it is the ragged bark of a gnoll hurling itself into combat. A hulking beast of Torgosh’s race, decked in the tattered garb of one who’s seen many battles on the high seas, comes charging at the group. To their surprise, it turns at the last minute, leaps onto the mast, climbs a short way up, and then holds a torch up to the furled sail and rigging, trying to set it ablaze.
Torgosh uses the opportunity to silently maneuver through the smoke. He grabs a dangling rope and with a quick tug, launches himself through the air, hammering his short sword into the back of the enemy who is dislodged from the mast and drops to his feet on the deck. To Torgosh’s amazement, the hardy beast is still clinging to life, though severely wounded. A mariner wearing leather armor and wielding a cutlass rushes to Torgosh’s aid, but his swings go wide.
Meanwhile Ta’kel rushes to the edge of the deck on the port side next to a crew member who is busily sawing away at a rope.
“What? How?” says Ta’kel to the mariner at his side in the curt Ryn dialect.
“PIRATES, MATE! Ye aint been to Saltbur afore ave ye? NOW SHUTUP AND CUT SOME DAMN ROPES!” the crewman responds in kind.
Finding two lodged grappling hooks nearby, Ta’kel swings his blade La’saan at the thick cords, severing one completely. Glancing over the side he watches as another gnollish swashbuckler falls through the air, but is able to land back in the boat from whence he came, which is filled with vicious looking mariners shouting coarse words of encouragement at their comrades in the flickering dark and brandishing their jagged, rusty cutlasses. Mayuun, who followed Ta’kel, spots a pirate stalking her owner nearby and without a moments hesitation leaps through the air, tearing out the poor old salt’s jugular. Down boy, down!
“Just like chopping wood” Darius tries to reassure himself, " Just like chopping wood."
He approaches the mariner who spoke with Ta’kel and hacks into a rope with his hand axe, but only manages to fray it somewhat. One more stroke should do it…
Keeping just behind Ta’kel, Levna spots a great commotion fifteen feet away in the smokey darkness and muttering her carefully memorized syllables under her breath, hurls a small orb of purple energy shaped like a screaming, decapitated skull, at a large shape bearing down on someone who appears to be Captain Baddelharrow. The projectile explodes into the foe, toppling him completely and the smell of singed flesh and fur fills the air nearby.
Just then, several pirates leap over the side of the ship all around the party. Mayuun turns and savagely tears into the face of a new arrival, who clutches at his bleeding wounds, but doesn’t yet fall. The crew clashes with the raiders all throughout the deck and the sounds of slashing blades, grappling hooks tearing into wood, ropes being hacked, arrows hurtling by, and the cries of the wounded and dying assault the ears of everyone on board.
The air surrounding Levna cools slightly as her eyelids droop, half-closed in concentration. Magical energy begins to swirl around her hand, surrounding it with a blue glow. She feels her hand cool past the point of pain and on to numbness.
Darius hacks at more ropes but the fierce combat surrounding him and the wet, slippery conditions on board cause him to miss or only graze his intended targets. Realizing he won’t be able to cut one of the grappling hooks in time, he steps back just as a large gnoll pulls itself onto the deck. Darius seizes the opportunity and hacks into the creature’s shoulder with his hand axe. The enraged beast pulls himself up to his full height and swings an enormous, gnoll-sized cutlass at Darius, who just barely manages to side-step the swing.
At mid-deck, Torgosh quickly plunges his blade once more into the back of the creature he so viciously wounded moments ago, and the beast crumples to the ground at his feet, dropping his torch which is extinguished in a puddle. That’s one less Direfrost in the world…
Before Ta’kel has a chance to swing, Mayuun throws herself once more on the gnoll across from her and the adversary falls, victim of the Reithpol wolf’s many savage, lacerating bites. Ta’kel instead turns his attention to a nearby rope, but like Darius, has difficulty landing a solid, cutting blow. A pirate manages to climb onto the deck and, sliding out of the way along the edge of the ship, Ta’kel swings wildly, landing a blow or two. The pirate responds with a cruel, painful slash to Ta’kel’s side. At the same time, Mayuun is jabbed by another boarding pirate and she howls in agony. The two friends fight on valiantly in the very heart of the chaos…
Just as Ta’kel has realized that he is completely surrounded, Captain Spradlock creates an opening by skewering two pirates in a row with one thrust of his massive whaling harpoon.
“Now that’s how it’s done me boy,” he shouts, grinning like a madman, despite several bleeding wounds that have been inflicted upon him.
The fighting continues around the party, and grappling hooks hurtle through the air, though there are noticeably fewer, and all arrows have ceased to fly.
The smoke thickens on deck and the intensity of the fighting reaches a fever pitch. Clashing steel resounds, accompanied by the gut-wrenching sound of blades thumping into living flesh and bones cracking.
The captain of the Sea Nymph charges to the edge of the deck, snatching up a cutlass from the cold hands of a fallen pirate, and hacks through a rope, sending a shadowy figure climbing up towards Ta’kel tumbling to a watery grave in the cold North Sea below.
The Gnoll attacking Darius howls in fury, enraged by the axe blow to it’s shoulder, and charges. Darius drops his bloody axe and grabs his quarterstaff. Deep within, Darius feels a strange surge of energy, a throb of power sent by the living earth itself, and swings as if he had been training for combat his whole life, toppling the attacker with one skull crushing blow.
At the same time, Ta’kel lands an expertly placed strike, dropping the pirate who had wounded him. In his mind, Ta’kel is still amidst the snow capped mountain tops of the Reithpol range hunting game, or fighting off the demonic adversaries of the Saia people, and he says a small prayer for the departing spirits. With a deft move, he spins around and sends La’saan slicing cleanly down the spine of another pirate, who had felled a crew member moments before. The foe flops lifelessly to the ground, another sacrifice in defense of Imryna’s people.
Levna and Torgosh both throw themselves into the dark, smokey melee on the port side, hacking with their weapons and doing their best to support their comrades and drive the raiders off.
Suddenly, there are loud cries from the opposing forces. Those nearby suddenly turn and leap back over the edge of the Sea Nymph into their vessels below and push off into the night. Captain Baddelharrow’s men give a tremendous roar of victory as the enemies flee, and Levna, Ta’kel, Torgosh and Darius can’t help but join in. Even Mayuun howls along.
Eventually, someone tosses a small, smoking bag over the edge of the ship and the haze gradually clears, leaving behind the survivors and several dozen dead.
“Mates, clear ‘em off. Take what you want, pile the weapons and armor in the center o the deck, and then feed ’em to the sharks. We’ll give OUR boys a proper service before we bury ’em at sea,” says Spradlock sternly, though the relief on his face shows clearly in the torch light.