Clouds of an incoming storm cover the sky over Darkwater, the darkness of the docks below broken only by the dim flickering of salt rusted lanterns that hang on iron hooks along the dockside. The firelight throwing dancing shadows along ground that cause the young woman sitting on the edge of a shipping crate to rest her hand on the pistol strapped to her thigh. The cold sting of the iron hammer on her fingertips bringing a measure of comfort in the darkness. Beyond her, beyond the docks, flashes of lightning illuminate the storm churned waves of the Laurentian Ocean.
Kidd sighed as she drew her gaze away from the coming rains to scan the dockside. Empty. As it was ten minutes ago, and ten minutes before that, and an hour before that. Around her the silence of the docks is broken only by the crashing of waves against the dock pillars, interspersed with the chittering of the Dagger Rats that dart between the shipping crates and her boots. Occasionally one stops, sniffing curiously in her direction. But they scare easily if you point a pistol at them. They know well enough the acrid smell of black powder. The rats weren't what worried the young captain tonight. No. Tonight, Kidd was meant to meet an informant who supposedly had information on the only rat she cared about. The rat that stole the Black Rose from her captain.
It's not like him to be late, something bad must have happened. She thought as she stood and stretched.
A crash from behind her caused Kidd to jump and draw her weapon. The ripples in the black water break as a body floats to the surface. Kidd narrows her eyes, searching in dark for anything that might identify the corpse. She has it soon enough. A glint catches her eye as the lantern light reflects off of a silver badge. A raven carrying a rose in its mouth. The very same raven she has tattooed on her right forearm. The very same raven that flew on the flag above the Black Rose.
"Damn it Gorrinson," She swore as the corpse of the old dwarf bobbed idly in the waves. Blood oozing slowing out of gash along his throat as Kidd turned him over in the water.
"Took some time to run this one down, captain!" A hoarse voice breaks through Kidd's concentration. The gravelly rasp is only too familar to the young captain. She spun on her heel to face the man who took everything from her.
"Morrathi Korr." Kidd growls, her lips curling in disgust. "Not satisfied taking the Rose from me, so you have to kill my men as well?"
Morrathi steps forward into the lantern light, a coy smile on his lips. His pockmarked face still bearing the scars from Kidd's last encounter with her mutinous First Mate. Tonight he's dressed in a leather long coat over a simple cotton shirt stained with the blood of the dwarf that now sinks to the bottom of Darkwater's deep bay. He wipes the blood from a long, serrated dirk before hiding it back beneath his coat.
"Oh come now, captain. We both know that serving under you is just an invitation to meet the King of Bones face to face. Or did you fail to learn that little lesson when we forced you to watch the execution of your previous crew?"
Kidd's hand twitched towards the pistol on her thigh, but she stopped short as her fingers brushed the handle. She knew the game he was trying to play. He used the same trick the last time she tracked him down on the Blood Coast. She refused to fall for it again, so she took a deep, steady breath. Allowing the smell of coming rain and the crash of the distant waves to quell her rising fury. When she opened them again, she smiled back at the grinning coward.
"And we both know you had no hand in either their capture, their execution, or their subsequent turning into vampire spawn." She said as she returned to her seat on the crate and crossed her arms with a shrug. "You were always too much of a coward for wet work, Morrathi. I suppose that hasn't changed even in undeath."
Morrathi's smile faded and he flashed his new found fangs at his former captain. "YOU lead us to that acursed placed. YOU told us you would protect us. YOU are the reason they all crew the Hells damned Black Rose now!" Morrathi took a deep breath and stepped closer to her. "There is only one coward on this dock, Captain Kidd. It's not me."
Kidd stared long and hard at her former friend. He was right on all counts. She couldn't protect her crew that night in the Drowned Castle. It was, is, and will always be her greatest failure as a captain. She still bore the scars of her failure on her neck and on her chest from the claws of creatures none of them were prepared to face. But every sailor on the Rose knew the risks of running work along the Blood Coast after the emergence of the vampire fleets. They had all accepted the risk, and none had accepted her offer to stay on Darkwater's docks five years ago. None, except Morrathi that is.
Lightning flashed and lit the darkness around them, revealing that Morrathi had not come alone. Flashes of movement to the vampire's right caused Kidd to shift her gaze beyond the shade of the man in front of her. She barely caught sight of another figure dipping behind a crate close to the main road that led to the dockside. Far too big to be Dagger Rat, she thought. It seems she was right, Korr was still too craven to do the work himself. She glanced back at the man stalking slowly towards her, his footfalls causing the the old wooden planks to creak and groan. She had to keep him talking for just a while longer.
"Let me ask you something Morrathi." The spawn stopped a few dozen feet before her and narrowed his eyes. His gaze searching her face for some hint of her intentions.
"What might that be, dear captain?" He growled.
"When you sold us out to that damned vampire, what were you promised?" She stood as the question left her lips, each subsequent question spoken while she circled the now confused Morrathi. "Was it gold? My ship perhaps?" Kidd circled behind the man, putting herself between him the shape waiting beyond her sight, her hand straying to the pistol on her hip. "Or was it the eternal life you're now cursed with? Forever bound to the Vampire Lord that captains the Rose. Who lured you to your curse with honeyed words and false promises. The creature that possesses all that you desire in that black heart of yours." Kidd was testing Morrathi, hoping to anger the man. It didn't take much.
Morrathi growled and spun on his heels, the rasp of the dirk leaving its sheathe was all the warning Kidd needed. Even with his preternatural speed, he was still a poor fighter. Kidd lept backward as the dirk met empty air, pushing off the dock's edge and launching herself to the left across open water to the adjecent warf. She landed hard on her shoulder and rolled to her feet as the shadow surged out from the crates behind her. Kidd reached for her pistol but was too slow. The creature slammed into her, sending her crashing to the ground. Wood cracking beneath the combined weight of the two combatants. Through the darkness Kidd could see the burning red eyes of the Ghast that had her pinned. It's long fangs like butcher knives glinting in the lightning of the coming storm. But Kidd had not come this far to be killed by a coward and his pet.
Slamming the heel of her left boot against the wood of the docks she felt the spring give as the small comparment opened, a razor blade sprining out of the heel. Kidd twisted out of the creatures grasp as it bit toward her throat catching only splinters as she rolled to her feet, swinging her heel up in the same fluid motion . The blade in her boot catching the creature in the eye as it thrashed in pain and surprise. Blood spashed into Kidd's face as she cartwheeled backward to land on the very edge of the planks where the dock met the bay. While the creature recovered, she pulled her pistol from the holster and drew the hammer back with her thumb. From the other side of the docks she could feel Morrathi's satisfaction. No doubt he thought she was trapped and her death would come soon. But she refused to give him the pleasure. Only one of them would die tonight, Kidd had no intention of it being her.
From this distance Kidd could clearly see the wretched form of the Ghast that stalked toward her. The ruined form of a man twisted and corrupted through cruel experimentation and vile magics. Pale, gaunt skin hugs bones that had been broken and reshaped to accomodate the leathery wings folded on its forearms. Claws as sharp as her own razor blades carving deep gouges in the old wood of the dockside as it slowly moved toward its prey. the Ghast's face is stained red with its own wet blood as it struggles to open the eye that caught the worst of her bladed boot.
A hideous, piercing shriek rings in Kidd's ears as the creature braces and throws itself at her again. Only this time she was ready, she ducked and rolled between the creature's outstreched arms. Breaking into a sprint as she turns and fires, the bark of her pistol and the flare of blackpowder echoing across the empty bay. But the shot was wide, and the she knew it. The Ghast extended its foul wings and took the sky in a series of powerful wingbeats. Hiding itself in the darkness of the clouds above. But Kidd wasn't allowed a moment to rest.
She heard Morrathi before she saw him, his boots hammering against the planks as he charged her from behind. Kidd skid to a halt and dove backward, using the momentum from her roll to propel her left boot into the air, catching the spawn in neck as she drove her heel deep upon feeling the connection. Using the force of the kick to lift the man into the air she carred him forward with her leg, over her head, and drove him through the already splintered wood, crashing into the dark water below the docks. Morrathi never was a good swimmer, but it wouldn't take him long to resurface.
From overhead the shriek of the Ghast broke through her thoughts, but before the beast could land a blinding flash lit up the night as a flare errupted into the sky from the roof a nearby building. Blinded the creature flailed wildly at it's remaining eye as it plummeted toward the earth. The flare was followed quickly by the resounding crack and flash of rifle fire from the rooftops as the creature was torn to shreds, sending it careening into the water where it struggled to stay above the waves. Kidd took this moment to pull her second pistol from its place on the holster on her thigh and level it with the creature's head before pulling the trigger, its body falling limp and sinking to the depths.
Be at peace, foul creature.
From the rooftops a voice echoed, "Just in time, eh cap'm?" Tryndal's voice carried down from his perch on a rooftop to her left. His mess of ashy blonde hair held back from his face with a strip of red cloth. Kidd could see the hints of a smile as the flare died and he reloaded his rifle, slinging it across his back. Pleased himself as always. The rest of her new crew slid down the roofs and landed on the dockside, closing the distance, but remaining a few dozen feet back. They knew not to interfere with what was coming next.
"Oh aye!" She shouted back. "Any later and I would have kept all the fun to myself."
Kidd allowed herself a moment to breathe, she wasn't safe. Not yet. But having her new first mate and her crew nearby brought some measure of comfort. Her new family could never replace what she lost, but she would sooner die than let them suffer a similar fate. That motivation had been her driving force all these years while she tracked Korr down. Now it was time to close this cruel chapter of her life.
Even as the thought crossed her mind, Morrathi surfaced on the far side of docks in front her. Sputtering and coughing up water as he struggled to pull himself to safety. But Kidd wouldn't allow it. She sprinted down the dock past crates and shrieking Dagger Rats to grab Morrathi by the collar and slam him against a nearby pillar still gasping for breath. The blade's wound had healed, but the blood still dripped down his neck and onto her skin as she wrapped a hand around his throat. Her free hand pressing a pistol to his temple. Now all she saw in her old first mate's cold eyes was fear and desperation. Perhaps there was regret too. but she doubted it heavily.
"You feel that?" Kidd whispered, this conversation was for them and them alone. "Relish that fear Korr. Drink in the desperation and hopelessness. I felt the same as I watched the crew, my FAMILY, slaughtered while you were no doubt laughing and drinking in some pisshole bar somewhere. I hope these years running from me have been worth it." Morrathi struggled weakly against her iron grip, still drained from his swim in the bay. Kidd leaned forward, putting her lips to Morrathi's ear as he struggled to catch his breath.
"Doesn't matter now. I hope the ocean is more merciful than I am Korr." The squeeze of the trigger was a release to Kidd. The bark of the pistol and the ringing in her ears a relief. As Morrathi fell out her hand and dropped to the docks, his blood pooling and dripping through the slats into the water of the bay below, Kidd felt at peace. For the first time in five long years the torment in her heart lifted as she turned to face the open ocean behind her. Tonight was the start of something new for Captain Darius Elizabeth Kidd.
As she turned back to the body of the monster she'd shot, she could see his wound beginning to heal. A pale mist drifted lazily from the hole in his head. An expected, if not irritating, development. But one that was easily corrected as she locked the iron weights around Morrathi's ankles. He wouldn't be food for the Dagger Rats tonight, much to their disappointment. Tonight, and for all nights to come, this creature would face the judgement of the Laurentian tides.
A fitting punishment, Kidd thought as she waved her men forward. Dragging the body towards a skiff that had tied off during their battle.
An older man waited within, oars in hand. The glow of a pipe illuminating his rough salt and pepper beard and his wrinkled salt weathered skin. He grinned as they pushed the corpse into the boat and Kidd holstered her pistol. It was a relief to see the old man again after so long apart. Though their last conversation was less that of a father and daughter, and more angry cursing and bloody knuckles.
"It's done then?" He asked.
"Aye, what's it look like you salt dried old bastard?" Kidd replied with a grin.
The old man grunted as he took the legs of the corpse and tossed it towards the bow. The sudden shift in weight causing the boat to tip violently to the side and the old man stepped to counter balance the weight until the skiff settled again. He had known that Kidd wanted Morrathi dead, and she had shown more restraint in his execution than he had expected. At least judging from the from the fact his body was still intact.. Her choice of final damnation for the beast was as cunning as it was cruel. An eternity at the bottom of the ocean.
Perhaps she will finally rest, he thought as he drew the skiff away from the docks and towards the open sea.
"Don't forget to clean my pistols lass! I'll be expecting them back when you die!"
"No promises father, I am your daughter after all!"
Grimmault Kidd laughed as he rowed toward the Sea Graves of Darkwater. A burial for the undead, the irony of the mutiner's punishment was not lost on the old captain. He could only hope that his daughter's next course would not leave her in a grave of her own. The hopes of any father, he reckoned. He glanced back at his daughter, surrounded by her new crew and a First Mate that would dive into a Kraken's jaws if she asked him to. He knew she would be in good hands.
But as he looked out into the coming hurricane, a sense of dread settled in the pit of his stomach. Far more than rain was coming with that storm, he could feel it in his bones. An evil lay beyond it. He could only hope that the world was braced from what it brought on its heels.
As dawn breaks on Darkwater Bay, the deep purple of night gives way to the soft reds and oranges of the morning sun. The storm of the previous night lingering only in the humidity of the air. The streets of the Bay wake up once more; street merchants setup their stalls and lay out their wares for the coming day and the smell of coffee and bread drift through the alleys. Street kids emerge from their hidden holes, searching for their breakfast as the shouts of dock workers drift up from the Brine Wharf.
He grew up here, among the street rats and the filthy alleys. As much as he struggled to survive in those early years, he loved this city and all its faults. From here he could see his favorite baker, Eliza, handing out day old bread to a line of dirty children from the back her shop. She has been the difference between starvation and life for so many kids, including Tryndal. One of the few good hearts in a city of sin.
Sighing, Tryndal looked over the shabby storefronts and cobbled together homes of Darkwater's lower quarter. From his perch atop a warehouse roof he could see all of his home. The crowd growing crowds of Ferox Street beginning to wake up, the Black Mast Fleet beginning their patrol and collecting their "fees". All the way up to Mizzenmast, where the more wealthy of Darkwater's pirate governance maintained their lavish estates. It was funny to him, lavish and pirate sounded strange together when he said them out loud. But he supposed that was every pirates goal.
I don't think we all want to be thieves and murderers forever, do we? He thought.
A voice from the street below shook him from his thoughts. Rising to his feet he looked down to see his captain, her fiery red hair pulled back into braid under a well fitted tricorne hat. A hand shading her eyes from the morning sun as she grinned up at him, "Going to stay up there forever, or is my First Mate actually going do his job for a change?"
Tryndal laughed and leapt down from the roof, landing light in front of Captain Kidd before dipping into a low bow. Equal parts respect and sarcasm. "Oh no Captain, me? Work?" He asked as he straightened up and smiled at her. "Not on your life." Though she was right, as always, he was overdue to check the crews progress on the Rose. "My apologies Cap'n," he continued. "I was lost in me own thoughts this mornin'."
Kidd sighed and clapped a hand on his shoulder. He knew she understood, she was the one who rescued him from his life on these streets. Saw talent in a filthy Elven kid from Ferox Street, or maybe it was just pity. But she gave him a proper home. A proper family among the crew of the Black Rose. The least he could do was keep on top of his responsibilities.
"It's fine, Tryn. I understand." Kidd said as she turned him towards the Brine Wharf and nudged him forward. "But we need to leave before noon if we want to make good time to Carneval. It's a two week trip and I don't intend on making the Reiage's wait any longer than necessary for their cargo. They paid us a regular ransom for it, after all."
The Reiages, it still bothered him that a pirate crew was doing work for the East Iolan Trading Company. A legitimate business has no right making deals with pirates. But Tryndal trusted his captain's judgement, and after last night he owed it to her to make sure these coming weeks were uneventful. It was the least he could do for her.
He stretched and retied the cloth that kept his blonde hair away from his thin face, ensuring it didn't cover his knife like ears. Many people didn't like elves, many thought they were too high and mighty. But he wasn't ashamed of his kin nor would he let anyone tell him what he was. He was a pirate, First Mate of Captain Darius Kidd, the fiercest pirate in the Sapphire Isles.
"Aye cap'n! Finish your business in town, I'll make sure the roaches on the Rose are keeping Her ready to make way." He said, reaffirming his resolve. "She'll be ready sail as soon as your boots hit the deck!"
Kidd grinned and turned to walk back onto Ferox Street, "I'll make sure to buy a crate of Serpent Black for you! I know that Dwarven black brew is your favorite! Not sure how, tastes like the underside of a hydra's ass."
Tryndal couldn't stop himself from laughing. The captain never did like coffee, she was a fan of harder drinks. So he ignored her teasing, instead grateful that she took care of him and the rest of crew. Few pirate captains cared about their crew, fewer still knew them all by name. Darius Kidd was a different breed, for good or ill.