Dead ship floating
Chapter 4: Storm Brewing
Location: The Amethyst
Timeline: Day 1, 3pm
Lorelei held the alchemical torch ahead of them as the clockwork motorboat sliced through the fog. As the boarding party came closer to the derelict sky ship it became easier to see the fine details. The sails were mere tatters hanging uselessly from the masts, and a rot was spreading across the hull. Even from a distance the Amethyst looked like it was going to fall apart at any moment, yet it was still floating above the sea as if held there by an invisible force.
It was a creepy sight, and somehow it turned the aimless tune Wren was humming to a minor key. "Anyone believe in ghosts?" he uttered in the silence.
The old sky ship was also listing slightly to one side, a fact that became clear when they tried to land the motorboat on top. It skidded sideways on the damp rotten wood and slammed into a lifeboat that had been parked atop the deck.
No sooner had the motorboat come to rest on the worm-eaten deck of The Amethyst than the crew was confronted by gaunt-faced man dressed in shabby finery who energetically leaped onto the deck of the motorboat. "Mon Dieu!" the figure cried, before launching in a stream of excited Gaulish so rapid and manic as to be incomprehensible. In turn, the Gaul embraced each member of the boarding party, planting grateful kisses on both cheeks. As he approached Lorelei she visibly flinched and took a step back, although was caught by surprise and only managed to push him off after he'd managed at least one cheek kiss. She shot him a very reproachful look but said nothing. Wren laughed a little after his turn, hurriedly wiping his cheeks with the back of a gloved hand after Gaul moved on to the next. In that moment he had decided the strange man was too solid to be a ghost.
When it came Ivan’s turn to receive his sudden kiss the masked man made sure to keep the stranger at his arm’s length. Instead of wasting time with unnecessary contact, Ivan started with the question on everybody’s mind. “What are you... doing here?”
Shifting gracefully to respect the masked man's desire to avoid physical contact, the Gaul continued in near-perfect if heavily accented Britannian, "Why, slowly dying of course ... of hunger, of thirst, but mostly of boredom. Thank you for subduing my lifeboat, she had been threatening me since we got here. I had been set adrift and marooned on this, um, fine vessle, no?" At this point, he slipped back into a rapid stream of Gaulish, with anyone familiar with the tongue able to pick out, "Miserable fat pirate bastard." Giving a slight bow, the Gaul introduced himself as, "Monsieur Ciprian Cendrars, citizen of Montmartre, at your service. And whom do I thank for my most timely rescue?"
"We are from the Steamhawke" Erm said to the strange man who had appeared, seemingly out of nowhere, "We need to search... Have you searched the ship at all?"
Ciprian gave a Gaulic shrug, "Save verifying I was alone and there was no food or drink to be had, I did not bother. A prison is a prison, no matter how gilded, no?" He paused before breaking into a wide grin, "Now that there is company, shall we see what secrets she keeps?"
He looked around the deck as far as he could see from his position, like most others ships it had the deck and a upper deck with a wheel, unlike other ships though, the feel about this one sent a shiver down Erms spine just at the thought of exploring. "I'm Erm by the way"
Ciprian again bowed, "A pleasure to meet you, young master Erm." He took a step back from the Steamhawke party, produced a fist-sized pneumatic device from under his greatcoat and took a moment to stoke a tiny coal boiler at the base of the gadget. "Day 9. Rescued. Exploring the Amethyst with crew of the Steamhawke," he spoke into a small protrusion at the top. Looking back at the recent arrivals, he said, "So, who goes first?"
Ivan coughed slightly (Or as much of a cough as he could muster given his condition) and reached into his jacket. With a second of rummaging he retrieved an aged, metal military canteen which he swiftly offered to the stranger Ciprian. “Water?” he wheezingly asked as he did. He could only assume that being marooned on a ghost ship for any period of time would probably work up a mighty thirst. “I am... Ivan.” he finished. It was only polite to give one’s name.
Ciprian accepted Ivan's offer with a smile and gratitude reflected in his eyes as he took three hearty swigs from the canteen. "You are a gentleman, Monsieur," he said, returning the canteen to Ivan. "The drink has refreshed my body," he paused, "soon we must find drink that will refresh my spirits."
Lorelei appeared to barely be paying attention, although in truth she found his presence eerie. Why would someone be imprisoned on an abandoned ship? It seemed suspicious and strange. And even though she'd never admit it, she did not like the presence the ship seemed to have. She felt cautious and edgy, and was clearly on the alert. When people made introductions, she reluctantly turned her gaze back to Ciprian, eyes narrowed and untrusting, "I am Lorelei. I must ask, sir, why you have been marooned on this ship? And who by?"
Responding with a sardonic laugh, he replied, "If I must blame anyone, it is myself alone. I chose my friends poorly. I left Paree with a group of Anatollians whose trade and livelihood were, shall we say, unclear. Once beyond civilization, they did me the kindness of lightening my load by lifting most of my possessions and set me adrift on that tres miserable lifeboat."
Unconsciously, Ciprian's posture shifted and he began relaying his account as a more formal narrative, "By my count, I had been adrift for about a week when I encountered the fog. At first, its alchemical properties delighted me -- the strange colors, the phantasms of illumination ... it was all like some wondrous dream. But, in truth, it is more of a nightmare, no? To have no sense of time, of scale of direction? When I saw the Amethyst, at first I thought she was one more phantasm. But she proved to be real enough ... and, at least on her, I could stretch my legs."
Finishing his story, Ciprian's nostrils twitched slightly as he regarded Lorelei -- as if his nose had detected something of note, "And would Madame have cigarette with which she would be willing to part? My pouch, he has been empty many days."
Lorelei listened to his story with the expression of someone exerting patience. However, she was satisfied with his account of what had happened, although she questioned why the criminals had not simply just thrown him overboard. In all honesty, Lorelei would simply have enslaved him or killed him. A lifeboat seemed wasteful. But then, not all villians were cold-blooded killers, and some had mercy of sorts. The psychoactive alchemical fog caught her attention far more. At his last comment, she gave a shrug and a lip corner twitch and deftly rolled two cigarettes using rolling leaves. She passed one to him and lit one herself. She did not speak, but allowed him to continue, now content.
Ciprian accepted the cigarette with the giddy expression of a child on Noël morning. Placing it to his lips and lighting it with an oversized match, he inhaled with a look on his face that was nothing short of ecstatic, "Thank you, Madame, now I can think clearly again." Addressing the entire boarding party, Ciprian continued, "And, my companions, if I may be so bold, why have you come so purposefully to the Amethyst? And," he added as he eyed their weapons and other gear, "for what purpose so well equipped?"
"We're so equipped to search the ship, for 'stuff'" Erm said as he reached the far side of the deck and leaned his head over the side. Ivan stepped forward quickly to further clarify. “We’re a... salvage crew. We received reports of... a possible derelict... and when traveling unknown waters... it pays to be... prepared.” his stunted method of speaking and mask gave him a perfect poker face to go with his white lie, although it was certainly technically true.
Ciprian's eyes sparkled as he grinned, "Salvage, yes. Do you mind if I ... comment dites vous ... tag along?"
The side of the ship looked degraded somewhat, the rough structure looked as it should, but it seemed to ripple slightly as the fog rolled through it. Erm turned back to the group and shuddered as he thought about what would happen if the deck beneath them turned like the side seemed. "C-can we make this quick and get off here?"
Pointing to a darkened doorway in the aftcastle, "That portal, he leads below deck," Ciprian informed the others, "Who goes first?" Ivan began to march down the stairs beneath the deck without a word. As he went further down the stairs a strange thing occurred. The soft clop of boots against wood gave way to a sharp crunch, like eggshells beneath one’s feet. Ivan paused and examined the sole of his foot, finding a dull brown goo and the remains of what appeared to be some kind of insect. Lorelei followed swiftly, her long sword half drawn. The crunch made her frown, and she wrinkled her nose in revoultion when she realized what it was, muttering, "Delightful."
“Odd...” Ivan wheezed lightly. Considering the remote location of the ship and the lack of provisions on board it was strange to find any living creatures aboard. Despite this he pressed on, only to find himself crushing more and more strange bugs beneath his feet. Finally he stopped, determined to investigate the path ahead before continuing. Reaching into his jacket and pulling out a small alchemical torch Ivan shone it down the path ahead. Lorelei tried at first to avoid the weird bugs, although she found she quite enjoyed the satisfying crunch and squish, and thereafter promptly stood on as many as possible.
As soon as the light hit the base of the stairs Ivan stepped back up a step suddenly. A horrible scuttling sound emanated from the hallway below them as if hundreds of cockroaches had begun to escape the light that disturbed them. However far from any normal insect the path ahead was inundated with hundreds, perhaps thousands, of fat, slimy brown slugs. Each one flitted about on a series of long, spider-like legs, crawling on top of each other and covering every inch of the floor, walls, and ceiling.
Ivan turned to Ciprian slowly, obviously startled at the sudden development. “I assume... these weren’t here... when you were down here?” he queried, bluntly.
"Non," Ciprian said, looking distastefully at the infestation, "I think I might have rememberd so many ... companions. Perhaps some group hallucination brought on by the alchemical fog?" Ciprian's eyes narrowed, "Or, better yet, a programmed illusion to deter us from exploring further? Most humans are revolved by ... comment dites vous ... bugs, especially in large numbers, no? Even those who train themselves to overcome fear do not necessarily train to overcome revulsion. Voilà, a very effective ward for someone wishing to keep people away." Ciprian paused, realized he had run down a fairly lengthy chain of axioms and took a drag on his cigarette. He added "Perhaps" as he continued to smoke and eye the creepy-crawlies warily.
Wren, mostly quiet until now, stepped forward at that interesting theory. It seemed reasonable, especially if Ciprian was remembering the absence of bugs properly. With this fog already having proven itself capable of meddling with their wits, most things were up in the air. "Well then, hallucination or no, let's see what we can do about them." Shouldering his way past the people clogging the stairs, Wren unhooked the fan-like device from his belt. He'd brought it with the intent of (hopefully) dealing with the fog if it became too troublesome. The gadgeteer had been working on it from the moment he boarded the Steamhawke, and had barely been seen without it even as they'd been exploring the sandbar earlier (it was earlier, wasn't it?). He'd had a half successful, albeit unexpected, test run with it earlier in the Elphin's presence. But the blond was eager to try out his new invention and passed along absent-minded apologies as he bumped into the other's, pushing his way past and down into the front of the group. He wrinkled his nose, pausing a moment as he stepped on his first bugs.
"Assuming that they really do react to our perception..." he began, flicking the mode switch along with a few other dials on the base of the device. "...and thus the bug-squishing, this will hopefully do the trick." And that was all the warning they had before Wren, with an eager glint in his eye, raised the device and pulled the trigger. The front hook of the device shot forward, a taut cable extending behind it. The blades revolved at high speeds, pushing the air forward and out around it. As the ultra-fan-2308XTB (the name was a work in progress) sped forward, the bugs were pushed forward and to the side, squashed against the walls and effectively clearing the hallway for a good 30 feet. There was still a furious buzzing from the darkness beyond that. The hook suddenly retracted and snapped back into place on the machine.
Wren, with a triumphant grin, stepped to the side and gestured down the hallway with a wave of his hand. The floor was mostly clear, but the walls might as well have been painted in bug guts. "After you."
Erm nodded to Wren in thanks as he moved down the clear hallway, even though he knew the bugs weren't real the smell of their guts upon the wall seemed real enough in his nostrils. They moved deeper into the belly of the ship without further bug incident, the sound of millions of little feet scurrying in the walls scratched all along.
Lorelei listened and watched with a look of pure boredom, smoking silently. They weren't even real? And just disgusting bugs? That had to be the worst trap in the whole world. She couldn't pretend to be a master trapbuilder, but she knew how to rig up a good bear trap or a pit trap. They caused pain and injury, sometimes even death. This was just childish, like a brother putting worms in his sisters sandwich. Not that Lorelei would know anything about that. Nope. As Wren sorted the matter, she gave him the barest nod in thanks, and continued onwards, torch in hand and sword now drawn.
The darkness below deck seemed to grow thicker the further away from the stairs they moved, the damp, clinging mist rolled about their feet. If they listened closely they could hear whispers, voices of pain and promise.
Upon hearing the whispers, Ciprian cocked his head slightly. Bringing the fist-sized gadget he was carrying up to his face, he pushed down a button, holding it for a moment, and then pressing another. The device reproduced the audio of the past few moments, including the subtle whispers. Ciprian frowned, "This one is not in our heads. Whatever is ahead, he is real. Or at least really making noise."
Ivan perked up suddenly as Ciprian finished speaking, just as a soft metallic click emanated from the wood floor. The old man’s arm shot out, knocking the Frenchman backwards and off his feet. No sooner had he hit the floor when a long, sharp spear jutted out of a crack in flooring, piercing the air where Ciprian had been moments before.
Crouching down to examine the floor, it was quickly made obvious that not every imperfection in the hallway was the result of age. The spear retracted into the crack it came from, cleverly disguised as nothing more than an ill -maintained floorboard. Knowing what to look for, Ivan did a quick search of the proceeding area, discovering many more such trapped cracks. He swiftly pointed these out to his companions. “Watch... where you step.” Ivan suggested, bluntly stating the obvious.
Ciprian picked himself up and looked sheepish as he dusted off his threadbare top hat. He gave Ivan a quick bow, "It is good to have a friend with quick wits ... in his fists."
It was at this very moment that each of the party's alchemical torches extinguished themselves, plunging the group into total darkness. Wren blinked in the sudden darkness, unable to see so much as his hand in front of his face. Reaching blindly forward, he knocked his hand against the side of somebody's face, though he had no idea who that might have been. "Ow..." Ivan muttered as under his breath as he could. Lorelei felt her imaginary hackles rise as her world plunged into darkness, and gripped her weapon a lot tighter. Whether or not one feared the dark, it made survival a whole lot more difficult, what with eyesight being the main human sense and all.
"Well, this makes things a bit more difficult..." he uttered, staying quite where he was. His other hand was rummaging in one of his belts before pulling out a small sphere-like object. Just a simple light-maker. But he flicked it once, twice, and there was nothing. "But on the bright side, this is surely a sign we're on the right track, wouldn't you say?" Night vision goggles. Why oh why had he never thought of such a brilliant idea before. Well, Wren knew what his next project was going to be if he got out of here with his head still attached to his shoulders.
"Who wants to be the guinea pig?" he asked to the darkness, sticking the useless device back in his pocket. A long, though entirely reasonable silence followed. Finally, Ivan spoke up. “That depends... what’s being... tested.” he queried, obviously suspect of anything this giddy man could make. Lorelei snorted into contempt and finished her smoke, the embers an orange blurr in the dark. No comment.
"Aaah, sorry to disappoint. I don't think I have anything too useful here, unless you want to try flying down the hallway." His fan-like device had an ulterior hooking mode. Though he was not quite confident in the strength of the cable to actually draw a full-grown man any reasonable distance without breaking. "But somebody has to find...or trigger...these traps we can't see, or admit defeat and go back the way we came." Wren looked around -- which was perfectly useless since he could not see a thing -- hoping for some reaction from the group. "Unless anyone knows another way?"
Ivan grumped slightly, but took the hint. Ever so slowly he began to travel down the dangerous hallway. Each footfall of his boot was only made after a long balancing act involving gently testing the area he was about to step before carefully transferring his weight onto that foot. When his testing and prodding revealed to him he was about to step on a trap he would carefully bring the weight off that foot and slowly move it somewhere else.
Over the course of almost a half hour Ivan performed this odd, careful act. Finally he had made it do the end of the hallway, and with a brief search of the walls Ivan came across a switch inside what appeared to be a powerbox, which he swiftly flipped. A mechanical grown emanated from the walls as the old, long dead machinery begrudgingly came to life. The old hallway lights brightened as well as they could muster with what little power remained, but it was more than enough to see the floor.
Ivan’s breathing was noticeably loud, even by his standards. The careful, coordinated movements, tense body, and extended amount of time he had made to get across the room had clearly put a toll on his body. He started resting again the wall in an effort to catch his breath. “I’m just... not as young... as I used to be...” he muttered to no one in particular.
Still resting his head, he shouted across the hallway to his companions. “You can... see the floor! Just don’t step on... the cracks... and you’ll be fine!” he instructed.
Ahead of them was an old rotten door, and as the group approached it a strange silence set in around them. They could still hear the cogs grinding in the distance, and Ivan's laboured breathing, and yet it felt as if with every step towards that door that something heavy in the air was further muffling their ears. Individually, each member of the group felt a growing terror, but as nobody wanted to admit to cowardice the unit kept on walking.
In the next room it was even harder to see, the single ceiling light flashing on and off intermittently. It was only a small room and with only a single feature. A wooden chair was against the wall with what appeared to be a long dead sailor slouched in the seat. It was difficult to pick out any details at all but the corpse was practically skeletal, with his head resting against the wall and only whispy beard hairs identifying his gender.
Shifting his weight very slowly from one foot to the other, Ciprian examined the floor around the wooden chair. Verifying their were no obvious cracks, he examined the chair itself. Again, seeing nothing to alarm him about the chair, Ciprian began a very gradual and very delicate pat-down of Pete's body. From one pocket of the Captain's vest, he slowly produced produced a pocket watch. The time peice was gold, or at least gold plated, the back was inlaid with hundreds of tiny ametysts of different hues, forming a picture of, what else, The Amethyst herself, shown at three-quarters broadside. Holding the watch at arm's length, with the face side away from him and the rest of the crew, he depressed the button that popped open the watch's face plate.
When nothing catastrophic occured, Ciprian breathed a sigh of relief and brought the watch around to look at. In addition to the obvious hour, minute and second hands there was an ornate fourth hand that served no clear purpose. And, complimenting the standard ciricle of numbers, 1 - 12, around the edge of watchface was a second circle of glyphs, which Ciprian recognized as alchemical and astrological symbols.
Ciprian was deeply intrigued but also knew its meaning and purpose was beyond his ken. He slowly passed the pocket watch off to Wren. "I believe you are the proper person to make sense of this ... device." The blond hummed in agreement, already inspecting the watch best he could in the dim lighting.
Moving to the second vest pocket Captain Pete's corpse, Ciprian slowly fished out a yellowed piece of parchment. As he carefully drew it to him, subtle movement on the Captain's vest brought the Gaul to a dead stop. Looking more closely, he spotted a fine string stetching from back of the parchment to ... a cleverly concealed pistol resting in Captain Pete's lap. Carefully producing a pen-knife from his own pocket, Ciprian cut the string.
Unfolding the brittle, weather-stained document, Ciprian began to read aloud, "Barry... that inbred curr of a brother" After a few moments of struggling he continued "stole treasure... disabled the ship... bas....."
Erm shook his head, "looks like Blue Barry took all of the treasure and left his brother here to die alone on his ship."
Ciprian raised a hand, "Can we be so sure? If I was trying to hide a treasure, discouraging people from even looking seems like a good way to start. Can we even be sure this is corpse is really Captain Pete? Also, someone had to set all those traps. Perhaps it can be done from the parts of the ship we have already traversed, but that seems less likely. And why bother going to all that trouble if there is nothing to hide? The treasure, maybe she is not here. But, then again, maybe she is. Perhaps we should look a little longer, no?
Lorelei frowned as Ciprian challenged Erm's statement, her brain trying to tick over what was going on. She wouldn't have thought of it herself, but the man did have a good point, strange as he was. This was a strange set-up. Especially with the pistol trap. Who the hell set that up? So she raised her own voice, "I agree. We should look on. A pocketwatch is hardly enough for our troubles."
"A minute, s'il vous plaît," Ciprian said to the others, "We have not finished patting down our new friend Pirate Pete ... or whoever that is." The Gaul continued his gradual patdown of the corpse, in addition to pistol, he found an elegantly engraved cutlass, with a small compass set into the pommel, which had been concealed behind the dead pirate's cloak. Looking at the impressive brace of blades on Lorelei, he passed the cutlass in her direction, careful to do it slowly and with the hilt-end facing her, "It appears Madame will know what to do with this."
Lorelei shrugged and allowed the barest of smiles, sheathing her own sword and grasping the cutlass and giving it the typical inspectory twists and pokes. A blade so elegant and ornate rarely played well in a real fight. Usage would knock or break the compass, and the engravings would become a scratchy mess. Normally a smithy wouldn't even bother making the blade itself sharp or strong, being more of a ritual object, but this one seemed adequate. It would work, at least. They required far less training to use then either of her other swords did, and worked excellently at close combat, and were effective as tools as well. With it in hand she began to check the room, generally making herself busy while the others continued molesting the corpse of the purple guy.
Continuing his exploration, in spite of his initial revulsion it really was no different than with the drunks he had occasionally rolled on the backstreets of Montmartre during lean months. He slid several gold rings, some set with gems, off the withered fingers. As he reached his hands into the corpse's trouser pockets, his eyes visably brightened. As we withdrew his hands, he produced two handfuls of cut gemstones of various sizes and types and some platinum and gold coins of diverse vintage and orgin. He looked briefly at Ivan but then shook his head, as Ciprian remembered his near brush with death in the corridor. "It seems wise if Monsieur's hands are kept free," he said to the hulking figure in the mask, and handed the gems and coins to Erm.
Ciprian had briefly considered trying to conceal a small gem in the cuff of his shirt before displaying the contents of the corpse's pockets, but quickly decided against the notion. His new companions struck him as trustworthy, if eccentric. And, even if they proved otherwise, one gem was unlikely to prove a significant enough bargaining chip to be worth risking their ire.
The Frenchman leant forwards to take one last close look at the body.
And at that moment the lights went out again, just for a second.
When the room was once again illuminated, the ceiling light was swinging violently, casting horrifying shadows across the walls. The dead captain Pete was sat straight in his chair, his pitch black eye sockets mere inches from Ciprian's face, and the group screamed in unison.
"Give me... my treasures!" choked the dead pirate, his jaw flapping slackly.
"T..t...take them!" screamed Erm, throwing a handful gems back towards Pete.
"Not these trinkets!" howled Pete, batting the gems out of the air. He stood upright, his stiff and rotten joints cracking loudly. "The lost treasure of Quazlatah, dear brother, was mine by birthright, not yours!" The sound of his voice was scratching the souls of those present, and they could take it no longer. Wren pulled a pistol from his coat and promptly unloaded it into the dead pirate's chest. With each gunshot Pete staggered backwards until he tripped over the chair and fell head over heels. As he hit the ground a deathly scream echoed through the ship, and the terror was overwhelming.
"Run!" shouted one of them, although afterwards nobody could remember who. The group sped back the way they came, paying no attention this time to avoiding triggering any traps in the hallway. Many a pressure pad was stepped on in their haste, and all manner of weapons were thrown or fired at them through gaps in the walls. Purple Pete was behind them again, for it is difficult to kill someone already dead, and they could feel him getting closer no matter how fast they ran. Ivan was huffing and puffing, until he fell face downwards triggering a trap as he dropped. An axe was flung through the corridor, sailing over Ivan and burying itself in Pete's head. While the dead pirate captain was busying himself with trying to remove the weapon from his skull, Ivan was being raised off the floor by helpful hands and being ushered forwards towards the stairs.
Up on deck the group threw themselves into the motorboat, struggling to activate the clockwork engine. They were motivated by the sight of the dead pirate emerging from below, the axe still lodged in his head. "I told you dear brother, I told you that if you ever returned to this hateful fog that you'd take my place in limbo!' As he staggered along the deck, the motorboat sprang to life and scraped noisily against the wooden surface before arcing upwards and away from captain Pete and the dead ship floating.