The Lesser Evil slips from its berth at Tidewater Rock, with Rear Captain Bruno waving valiantly to his newly-minted bride who stands upon the docks. Lady Smythee quietly sniffles while she dabs at her eyes with a lace kerchief, her first gift from Bruno given to her upon this very dock many weeks ago.
Having arrived at the Windward Isle after the wedding celebration, arrangements were made to properly garrison the Rock. Twenty four crew were selected and agreed to stay behind, all under the command of the original Tilly. Having two Tilly’s on board the Lesser Evil has been confusing, and the original Tilly was deemed well-suited to lead the new garrison as captain of the guard, as Royster, the former captain of the guard, now lies in rest below the decks of the Lesser Evil in repose, awaiting one last call to service by Fens.
Four other guards were left behind upon the Rock. Unbreathing, never resting, always on duty, they have pledged their fealty to stand guard and protect the Rock from any intruders. And as reward, upon the return of the Lesser Evil to the Rock, they have been promised release from service faithfully performed.
As the Lesser Evil turns with the wind, Windward Isle drops out of sight. The promise of a grand treasure lies before them, their destination Mancatcher Cove. A lonely group of nameless isles, purportedly guarded by a coven of sahuagin, awaits them. But for now, it is open seas. With a grunt, Bruno unties the leashes which hold his bulky armour in place, letting it drop to the deck.
“Enough of that weight. Fishguts!” Bruno calls out.
An uneven pounding of feet announce Fishguts as he responds to the call. “Take this blasted armour below to me bunk. Not going to wear an anchor around my neck on board ship”
“But Rear Captain” a smirking Tilly cajoles “that armour was a wedding gift from your most permanent bride. That armour should feel light as feather. For certainly it is lighter than the burden that ring upon your finger has placed.”
Picking up an empty crabpot and tossing it at the shape-changing wench, Bruno gives the squat gnome a harsh glare and goes growling below decks. “Time for the kitchens” he continues his muttering. “Ain’t had a decent meal since last I was at the stove me’self, and no squiggly watery gnome is going to stop me from me pans.”
It is a five day sail to the Cove where lies the treasure, and Bruno immerses himself in his duties. Having been initially cajoled into wedding the mistress of the Rock, Bruno nonetheless fulfilled his matrimonial duties with vigor. Though initially a marriage for alliance, the sight of the lady standing upon the dock waving to her departing husband betrays that perhaps more has arisen with the holy joining of the pair. And while Bruno has grown a measure of affection for the lady, he is nonetheless thankful to answer the call of the sea once more. For one who has been unfettered so long does not take easily to the bonds of marriage. A separation of the sea between the pair, though, may help nurture the budding fondness in the unbound heart of the cook.
On board the Lesser Evil, the rest of the crew labor with gladness at their duties. Having celebrated the marriage, and for once having had a sail without incident to deposit the lady and her entourage back upon the Rock, the morale of the crew is high for having had a respite from danger, brief though it may have been.
Rogald the glowing berserker from the north, and Tilly the squid, continue to acquaint and train the many new crew with their duties. The other officers, though, practice the use of new skills gained. Caldor and Fens both seem excited about new discoveries they have made in their spellcraft, while Brother Jamie sings sweet hymns to Besmara while tending the wheel, taking advice on navigation from Gorbo who proudly lets the wind stream through both of his hairs as he stands upon the Gorbodeck. Five glorious days at sea with fine weather, excellent grub, and a crew as fine as any that sails upon the Shackles. Yes, life as a pirate has turned out to be the perfect calling for those who sail upon the Lesser Evil.
And then, the cluster of islands for which they have sought searching for treasure comes in sight.
One large island off to the west, with a dark gaping cove, beckons them as their destination. A number of other islands form a ring to the east about the archipelago, making the approach treacherous sailing. But for the moment, any thought of approaching the cove is put aside, as through his spyglass Gorbo spots a ship moored off the eastern edge of the islands. A quick look at its mast and flag reveals it is the vessel of the pirate captain who had attacked them after Bruno’s wedding. Though she had been slain in the battle that wedding night several weeks ago, still her ship flies her flag. It is now evident that after the captain had been slain, the crew had sought refuge amongst the sahuagin, rumored to control these islands, and with whom they are likely in vile league.
“All hands on deck” Gorbo crackles. “We’ll take that ship as a prize!”
Quickly assembling upon the deck, the officers of the Lesser Evil make preparations to board. The vessel, alerted to the Lesser Evil bearing down on them, rapidly gets under way just as Brother Jamie brings the Lesser Evil astride. A series of boarding ropes from each ship are tossed, bringing the two vessels together in a grind. Boarding parties from both ships leap the short distance, and a quick melee ensues.
A quartet of pirates board near the bow of the Lesser Evil, and are greeted by Fens and a number of his zombies. A vicious fight ensues, and over the next several minutes, bloody howls issue from these combatants until finally the four pirates all lay dead, beaten into horrific demise.
Tilly, meanwhile, had assumed the form of a water elemental, swimming to the far side of the enemy vessel to climb on board. Immediately, she is surrounded by pirates hoping to repel the aqueous invader. Thus besieged and sorely pressed, Caldor lends aid by announcing to all his newfound spellcraft. Having sent a large fireball to erupt amidst the pirates as they gathered to board the Lesser Evil, Caldor follows it with a second fiery burst centered squarely upon Tilly. Though a bit of damage is caused to Tilly, her watery raiment protects her, whilst the pirates who were attacking Tilly are all destroyed.
That leaves the First Mate of the ship unchallenged, a huge bulking brawler of similar size to Bruno but viler still in temperament and language, if such is possible. With a bound he jumps on board the Lesser Evil and faces off against Bruno and Brother Jamie. Attacking the priest first, Brother Jamie soon finds himself staggered by the huge mauling fists of the brawler. Falling back, Bruno then takes on the attack while Gorbo strikes from behind.
Having boarded the enemy ship invisibly to attack the brawler, Gorbo was frustrated only to watch as the First Mate had in turn jumped on board the Lesser Evil. So retracing his steps, Gorbo jumped back to the Lesser Evil and launched a deadly attack upon the backside of the brawler, drawing great gashes which send a flow of blood upon the deck. Beset upon by all sides, and with Fens joining the fray as a distraction, the brawler soon succumbs to the combined assault, and the enemy ship is captured.
About a dozen enemy crew had cowered in the hold during the combat, not wishing to face off against the Lesser Evil and her undead minions. Pirates all, they soon swore fealty to the Lesser Evil – a better future than feeding the sharks now swirling about the ships. Sendara is assigned to the prize as its captain, and now the league of the Lesser Evil has two ships to prey upon the Shackles.
Sending a complement of sailors from the Lesser Evil to the prize, soon both ships are underway, making the approach around to the cove which Gorbo had sighted several hours previous. Dusk is quickly approaching, so it is decided to anchor the Lesser Evil at the mouth of the cove to await the morning. Sendara anchors her ship a bit further out to sea to serve as advance warning for any approaching threats from the sea. But it was not the danger from out at sea that assailed the Lesser Evil that night, it was from above.
The jungle growth which covered the island was most unusual in nature. Thick foliage entwined together appeared to offer an impenetrable mass of vegetation which darkened to black pitch as night fell across the Lesser Evil. And though only a few hundred feet across at the cove’s mouth, that distance would under normal conditions not allow for overgrowth above. But for this island, with sheer cliffs jutting up sharply from the water, a tangled covering of trees and vines had managed to form an umbrella of vegetation over the entire cove. Sounds of the jungle echoed out from the sides and above, as benign creatures such as jungle beetles, hornbills, and tarsiers twittered and jabbered out loud greetings to the Lesser Evil.
As Brother Jamie steered the Lesser Evil to the mouth of the cove, anchor was set just inside the edge of the great overhanging jungle. At this point, it was nearly sixty feet overhead, high enough for the top masts of the Lesser Evil to fit comfortably underneath.
But the growth above was not inhabited by benign creatures alone.
As the evening hours passed, soon but a few guards trod the planks of the Lesser Evil. In this deep of the night, the jungle chatter is shattered by the fearful shrieking of one of the guards, stirring the officers of the Lesser Evil quickly out of their bunks. Alert for unwelcome intruders so close to an unknown and hostile shore, they rush on deck to discover their poor hapless crewman hanging entangled above the deck in a mass of sentient vines. Wrapping tightly about the twitching pirate, before their eyes the vines suck the life juices from the poor Cheliaxian. In just seconds, his vital juices are drained, and the vines drop the skeletal husk of the pirate upon the deck in a jumble of bones.
Other vines had also dropped down from the jungle canopy above, and now begin to swing out to grab anyone moving upon the deck. Soon, Caldor and Fens find themselves caught in the vines, and feel their strength drain as the vines suck their life essence from their marrow.
It is a difficult several minutes, as the party and crew fight for themselves and each other. Striking and cutting the vines is easy, but so many of them are active that as soon as one frees herself from the vines, another comes swinging down.
Realizing that the vines seem to be never-ending, Brother Jamie casts a light spell up into the dark canopy above. And his suspicions are confirmed. A great body of a plant creature is outlined above, with a snapping petal maw sending out clicking sounds as it directs its vines to grab the food now running upon the deck of the Lesser Evil.
Pointing out the creature’s main body, Bruno calls out “Man the ballista! Aim for that body above.” Rushing to the nearest siege engine, Bruno rapidly loads a bolt into the ballista and fires it up. It sticks quivering into the mass above, causing a high pitched shriek from the plant, which shivers it down to the ends of its trailing, grasping vines.
Several crew rush to the other three ballista and begin to fire as well. And though nearly a half-score crew are eventually grasped by the viney creature, only to have their desiccated hulks dropped back down onto the deck, the crew stand firm and deliver efficient fire at the creature above.
Gorbo leaps into action as well, infuriated and insulted that his ship has come under attack. Shouting “I’m going to kill you moth flubber!” he scrambles, flailing quickly up the vines while ignoring their painful grasps, and begins to stab wildly at the body of the creature sixty feet above. “Die you ant sodden flubber! Die!” he continues to shriek as the vines continue to grasp and drain the life fluid from the maniacal goblin.
Fens, hopeful that his zombies may divert the attention of the vines from the living to the dead, calls up a half dozen of his zombies from below to join the attack, as well as protect him from the deadly pesky vines which several times deliver their freezing touch upon the quickly weakening necromancer. While he is now protected, the drain upon his strength is severe. Calling forth one of his newly discovered magicks, Fens raises his hands above his head and shouts “Rise, my children! Rise and destroy the plant creature above.”
And in response, four of the dead, desiccated pirate crew of the Lesser Evil rise up from the deck, boney husks with scimitars grasped in their skeletal hands. They respond to Fens’ exhortations and begin to scramble up the vines. But their dexterity and climbing ability is no match to Gorbo’s talent, and they make but little headway. But worse, the plant seems to totally ignore the undead creatures. The plant, being a living creature, must feed as well on the flesh of the living. So Fens’ undead zombies and skeletons are disregarded by the plant, as yet another crewman is dropped lifeless to the deck of the Lesser Evil.
But soon it matters no longer. Weakened by ballista bolts and the frenzied thrusts of the goblin, the plant shivers once more as Gorbo buries his dagger into its pulpy mass, striking a solid core deep within. Its vegetal heart thus pierced, the creature goes limp, and the huge form unwinds itself from the canopy above to come crashing down, landing heavily upon the deck of the Lesser Evil.
Swept up by the falling detritus, Gorbo drops as well, thumping painfully upon the deck. Struggling out from the now lifeless mass of growth, he clambers on the top of the mass, and proceeds to stab at the plant over and over while delivering a ceaseless litany of goblin curses. Soon, Brother Jamie is able to reach Gorbo, and with a few words calms the frenzied fanatic. Out of breath, Gorbo steps back as Fens inspects the dead creature.
“This one is useless to me” Fens declares, then moves to gather the bones of the fallen pirate crew. More servants to join his depot below.
“Well, maybe to you” Bruno says, wiping sweat from his brow with his meaty hand as he swings the ballista aside. “But not to me. Fishguts, get your cleaver. It’s vegetable stew for the crew!” as he begins to slice off great strips of pulp to use for his meals on the morrow.
“Capt’n” Rosie calls out. Clambering up from down below, she had been directing the efforts of the crew during the battle. “Our blinkering rudder is gone. Cut away during the flacking battle. Catlicking sahuagin must have been at it while we were bass-flipping distracted.”
“Well” Gorbo says, now a bit soothed from his frenzy. “Nothing for it this night. We’ll needs work to repair it tomorrow. But I intend on landing on that bleazing island at first light and deliver wrath. Attack me ship, will they. Argh, we’ll see how they like what I have in store. And gain that treasure we’ve heard so much of.”
Shouts of praise ring out from the crew at the mention of treasure. Then, taking another breath, Gorbo turns to his exhausted crew “Now, crew, get to work. Get this ship back in order. Looks like we’ll not have much rest this evening after all!”