And I’m tired!
- Fiction: ROCCA JACK AND THE LIQUID GOLD JOB. Privateers! Bears! A vampire! And Cursed Jersey!
- RPG material: Artifacts, Chapter 2: The World, Iteration ∞.0. Note the infinity symbol! How swanky!
There ya go.
Need to think about the title, but it’s in the can.
“That is reasonable, Captain Hwinda,” Miss Mehrotra allowed. “That is also why you brought the tribe of bears out, yes?”
“They’re good sorts,” Jack replied, slightly defensively. “They’ll be a lot happier up in Virginia.” Where everybody’s crazy anyway, he thought. Certainly the Virginians themselves were eager to resettle a tribe of well-behaved bears who turned human when the moon was in the sky. Not to mention turning them into mad Virginians, themselves: the last he saw of Mr. Bear, he was being bemusedly fitted for a doublet and hose.
“Yes, better there than home,” Miss Mehrotra mused. “Although a bearwere or two might liven up dull quarterly meetings — well, no matter.”
The Emancipation was exactly where Amos’s charm told him it was. Unfortunately, the charm didn’t give a damn about anything else that might be with the ship. That pretty much included things like brackish hydras. This one wasn’t big enough to curl itself around the ship, but it had given it a try.
Amos handled it well, all things considered. “Why is it doing that?” he muttered, after getting a good look through the spyglass. “It can’t eat the ship.”
“It’s a Dominion monster,” Jack replied. “The first ones were bred to drag ships down, only they’re just too stupid to be trained at all. We usually kill every single one we see, but… Cursed Jersey.”
“Cursed Jersey.” In Amos’s mouth, the name came out like a curse. Which, to be fair, was how it was sounding in Jack’s mouth, too. “We don’t have these things, up in the States.”
“Yeah, they like warmer waters. Big problem, down in the Gulf.’ Jack sighed. “We can kill it with enough volley fire, but it’ll wreck your ship first. The cargo, too.”
“We had run afoul of a sudden squall,” Amos went on. “The captain, God rest her soul, knew these waters well enough to navigate the channel into the Bay, but we took some damage in the dark, and lost most of the water stores. She sent me and most of the crew to the island to find a spring for refilling our barrels. If only we had just tried to reach Newport, instead! We could have stretched out the water for that long.”
“Cursed Jersey’s no place to sail with sprung barrels,” Jack told him. “I’d have looked for water, myself.”
Amos shuddered. “Well, we found some. It saved our lives, too. Just not how we reckoned it would. While we were filling from a spring on the island, those damned beasts woke up and swarmed the Emancipation! They can hop on the water, you see. Hop on the water, and jump right up the anchor chain…
“We heard the fighting as we returned. When we saw what those things were starting to do to the crew still left aboard, we rowed like the damned, but everybody was dead by the time we came alongside, including the captain.
“Then it was our turn to be savaged.”
“Maybe there’s something in the bag?” Mercer snorted. “Which leads to the next question: how do we find out? Before you ask: I can’t use my vampiric powers to dominate bears. …Or any other animal, but I definitely can’t do anything with bears. What about you? Any special elven affinity with nature?”
“Oh God no,” Jack replied. “Nature’s either horrible, vicious, or boring. Why do you think we all go to sea?” He heard a sudden hubbub outside, and grimaced. “Dammit, I knew I shouldn’t have said the b-word.”
The two of them didn’t rush to the deck, though: to Jack’s trained ear, the hubbub was more Well, that’s weird than it was Sell yourselves dearly, ye scurvy tars! Besides, nobody had run to meet them halfway. One thing Rocca Jack had learned by the age of sixteen was that panic was contagious, and everybody would catch a case from the captain. Instead, he got close enough to the knot of sailors on the deck (it was an interested knot, not a tensely alert one, which was also good) to say, “What’s all this about, then?” instead of shouting it.
Vampires! And bears!
“Is there a problem, Captain?” Mercer asked him. “I’m sorry I interrupted, if that’s what this is about.”
Jack waved that away as he activated a lightstone; it was dark by now, and pretty close to moonrise. “That’s fine, Mr. Mercer. No, this is me asking you how you want us to approach the job, now. There’s no sign of the Emancipation here, and we’re guessing that she’s somewhere here in the Bay. It’s a good guess, but we don’t have any evidence. Except maybe Mr. Bear, and it’s just something weird. There’s a lot of weird crap in Cursed Jersey.”
“So you want… direction, then? Advice?”
“More like ‘insight.’ You principals are paying quite a lot for our services, Mr. Mercer. I’d love for them to do that again, down the line — so it behooves me to make sure they get their money’s worth. That means making sure you are consulted, and kept in the loop.” Jack grinned. “Besides, you’ve got those super vampire senses, don’t you? That’d be a real useful trait for a privateer to have, down in the Caribbean.”
“Yes, right up to the point where I die of sunstroke. The North Atlantic is sea enough for me, thanks.” Mercer frowned. “I can tell you that our new friend doesn’t smell normal. Not bad normal! He’s just got a complex scent. I understand what your weathermage said about his brain, but he’s definitely smarter than the average bear. A lot smarter.”
More Mister Bear!
Jack looked over. “What’s Mr. Bear doing, Charlie?”
Charlie gave her own look. “My mystic senses tell me… he’s looking at the sky.” She shrugged. “I don’t know why you needed to tell me that?”
Jack snorted. “Can’t you talk to it?”
“I don’t speak Bear, Captain. I don’t know any spell that would let me talk to bears, either. I don’t think anybody does — oh, except maybe the Virginians. They’ve figured out sorcerous ways to talk to those crazy-smart cheetahs they have, sure.”
“And?” Jack prompted her after a moment.
Charlie sighed. “And I’ve never learned those spells, either. Captain, everybody we fight, protect, raid, or trade with is a humanoid. Everything that isn’t is a critter of some kind. I’m not even sure Mister Bear here understands what language is.”
This title is probably going to change.
“Ah, right.” Robbie looked at another towel, shrugged, and grabbed it. “We ran into Mister Bear here about twenty minutes ago. It was quiet on the island; real quiet, like no animals were living there. That was weird, so we kept looking around until we found a ruin with a basement, with disturbed ground all around it. So, either that’s where the people were, or some critters, right?”
“Right,” Jack nodded. “So you figured you should check it out, either way.”
“Well, sure. What the hell, right?” Robbie grinned. “That sounds stupid, when I say it out loud, huh? Anyway, as we get closer, Mister Bear shows up, waving away with those arms of his. So we all yell, ‘Crap, a bear!’ and other smart things while we’re looking for cover. All careful-like, because he’s keeping his distance, but we spread out a bit. That’s when we realized the ground was crunchy.”
“Crunchy?” That was Gonzales, who’d been muttering over the golboat and writing down numbers. “What was it, seashells?”
“Nah,” Robbie replied. “Bones.”
Up close, the bear was surprising, in a bunch of ways. First off, it didn’t smell particularly worse than everybody else from the scouting party. Sure, they all reeked of tidal pools, mud, sweat, and dried blood — but those were fresh smells. Jack had been expecting a rank odor or musk; instead, if he didn’t know better, he’d think this bear washed regularly.
Then he had to accept that he didn’t know better, because damned if the bear didn’t grab one of the sopping towels the other privateers were using to wipe themselves off, and do the exact same thing. Oh, it wasn’t doing as good a job as the others, thanks to clumsy-looking paws, but you could tell that it understood the idea, and that it didn’t like being dirty.
Plus, besides the hat the bear also wore a crude bag, slung over one shoulder. “I wonder if… he… made that, or traded for it,” Jack mused.
That question answered itself as the first foul monsters came hopping through the brush: all fourteen ballistae fired at once, flashing through the air and leaving behind the smell of ozone. Thirteen hit their targets, which gratifyingly exploded from the strikes; the fourteenth slammed against a sudden globe of blue and yellow materializing around the sailors scrambling onto the golboats. Jack frowned: that was a major ward spell. There were a couple of sailors in the party who could cast those, but why were they ready to set one off?
He ignored the question at the moment: the bolt crews were prepping another volley — with no enchantments, this time — while a squad of crossbowmen climbed the rigging and found good firing spots. Rocca Jack had a taut crew, who knew their business; his job right now was to stand where everybody could see him be in command, and hear his orders when things went wrong. Something usually did, in a fight. You got used to it.
In this case, Jack decided that the something was the swarm of — “What the hell are those things, Charlie?” They looked like headless, legless chickens, only much bigger, and with wings long enough to let them hop on the sand.
“Monsters,” Charlie replied, her eyes growing light. “Arcanely mutated, not first-generation cursed. They feel out of place, and they don’t like it. Oh, and they don’t like us, either. Everything on the land is hateful to them.”
“Right back at you, you ugly bastards,” Jack muttered. More loudly, he shouted, “Marble shot on the next volley! And aim away from the golboats! Ready… FIRE!”