Based loosely on real in game events..
THE EBONFIRE CHRONICLES
Facing the Damned
"That's odd," Jatazi said as she steadied her telescope to counteract the rocking of the ship. "The lights are on but nobody's home."
"Go dark," said Manix quickly as he choked out the flame of the lantern at the stern. Jatazi followed suit with the two lanterns at the bow and the ship faded into the shadows of the large jagged rocks that protruded up from the shallows of Galleon's Grave.
The island outpost had an impressive silhouette in the moonlight. Two massive boulders reached out from the sea as if they were the arms of some giant stone golem capturing a galleon, rotted by the years, within its clutches. Jatazi had always wondered how the wreck managed to find itself upon such heights. They called this part of the seas the Wilds. She didn't know why for certain but always noticed that the weather was more unstable and predatory up here. The wind was colder and faster and storms would often trap unsuspecting and unprepared ships, tearing them apart like some wild animal on the hunt. The storms got so bad here that there were legends of massive tidal waves called white squalls within the region, some of which were rumored to reach hundreds of feet high. She thought perhaps that is how the unfortunate galleon found its way up so high on the island. Manix, on the other hand, was convinced that the wreck was nothing more than the result of plate tectonics and an unlucky crew caught at the wrong place at the wrong time. Though Jatazi did notice that Manix was always more alert to the horizon when they neared Galleon's Grave.
"There is a storm brewing to the west," Manix grimaced. "Lets just sell these chests and head back to the Ancients. I'd rather test my luck with krakens and megalodons than a storm any day. Help me raise the sails... Jatazi?"
Jatazi waved a dismissive hand as she continued to look through her telescope. She leaned forward with a squint. "There's someone on the southern dock!" she whispered forcefully, just loud enough for Manix to hear her from the other side of the ship.
Manix stretched for his eye of reach sniper rifle. "Hostile?" he asked.
"No," replied Jatazi. "A woman I think. She is waving her arms to us. She seems in distress!"
"Stay on high alert. Check for powder kegs in the water. It may be a trap." Manix cautioned as he rotated the helm towards the southern dock. The water was still around the outpost which was usually alive with the sound of hammers, forges and peddlers. Now it seemed as if there was some bubble of abjuration surrounding its borders and creating a vacuum of eerie silence within.
"Ey! O'er here! Mayday! O'er here!" the stranger called from the docks, breaking that uneasy silence as the ship approached. "Mayday! O'er..."
"We hear you!" Manix interrupted with a hint of annoyance, worried that the yelling might beckon something unnatural from the depths.
"Let me see your hands!" Jatazi demanded to the stranger with the point of a her pistol as the ship approached.
The woman on the docks did not seem eager to pick a fight or give the crew of the approaching ship any reason to doubt her intentions. She complied instantly with her arms out and upwards with her palms open and clearly visible.
Manix lassoed a rope to the nearest dock post and expertly tied a sailors knot to secure the ship. He looked west to the darkening clouds on the horizon and tossed a second rope to another post just to be safe. On a usual day, the hawkers and peddlers would rush to the docks to help secure any inbound vessel with the hopes of acquiring a tip or a contract with the crew, but this was no usual day and the only person in sight was the strange woman on the dock with her arms raised high in the air at the end of Jatazi's barrel.
"What's your name?" Jatazi questioned with a feigned gruffness to her voice.
"They call me Face," the woman responded without hesitation.
Manix thought it was an odd name for a woman, though he also thought he could guess why. As he inspected the stranger he noticed that she was very similar in build and age to Jatazi. Both were slender but curved in just the right parts. Both had similar fashion sense. Both even seemed to have similar hair in the darkness of night. The similarities were so significant that Manix became nervous that he might catch himself playfully approaching the wrong woman from behind. Jatazi wouldn't be happy with him if that happened. Fortunately for Manix there was one major difference between the women. While Jatazi's face was tan, smooth and youthful, Face's was pale, rough and scarred. It was as if the stranger was born with twenty years of hardship already upon her.
"What happened here? Talk fast!" Jatazi demanded, slightly irritated that her attempts to intimidate the stranger seemed to be failing. Either that or the barrel of Jatazi's pistol was the least of the fears to the woman on the dock had at that particular moment. The thought made Jatazi want to shiver. She resisted that urge.
"Skeletons. They came from the ground as they always done," Face started her account in horrific reflection. "Ey've gotten bold. I've not seen 'em at an outpost b'fore. 'Ere must 'ave been a hundred so! Started with Madame Oksana, that Order of Souls lady. Bound 'em all I tell yah! E'ryone 'ere... 'cept me! Lucky I'm as fit as a fiddle! Able to hide meself in a barrel! 'Ey all went aboard these ghastly lookin' galleons what appeared from the deeps and went north! Sank me sloop along the way, 'em b******s! A whole armada of 'em. Nine at the least!" She calmed down slightly. "I was able to free the merchants when things were settled. 'Ey all done boarded 'emselves up in 'eir huts. It wasn't long at all 'fore another galleon dressed in the sails of legends went rushin' after 'em. Payin' no mind to me or the others 'ere." Face nodded to her right pocket, daring not to remove her hands from above her head. "'Ey left a note."
Jatazi stepped up onto the dock, steady and sure her aim didn't falter from her target. She reached her free hand into Face's pocket, removed a parchment, and handed it back to Manix.
"The Crew of the Dancing Demon," Manix read gruffly, "challenge ye to The Final Stand of the Wilds. Be east of Marauder's Arch before daybreak or Galleon's Grave will be destroyed."
"Marauder's Arch is just north of here. No more than six grids away," Jatazi added. "That must be where that galleon of legends went!" She looked to Manix for approval. "We should help them!" she finished.
Manix's face tensed. He looked west to the growing storm and paused in a long silence. "Well," he finally said. "I don't like it one bit, but we need this outpost if we're to continue on out here on the Sea of Thieves. It seems to me as if we don't have a choice. The ship is stocked well enough so long as we get there before the storm and that galleon of legends should help us make short work of it. Those undead may have the numbers but their brains have decayed just as much as their guts. Jatazi, grab what supplies you can from the island and I will ready the ship. Be quick about it."
Jatazi paused. "What about her?" she asked while motioning to Face.
"What about her?" Manix repeated. "I see no ship here aside from the wreck that towers above us. She is stranded, and a stranded pirate is a poor pirate, and no one finds themselves upon the Sea of Thieves unless they are a pirate to some extent. She has no choice either. Not because she is staring down the barrel of your gun, but because this outpost is as much a part of her livelihood as it is ours." Manix paused and squinted his eyes upon Face. "Or have I misjudged you?"
Face gulped nervously when she realized just exactly what the helmsman of the moonlit brigantine was asking of her. "Ya've not misjudged, nay." She responded after some time.
Manix stroked his dread-locked beard for a moment, smiled grimly, and straightened the posture of his already broad and well built figure. "Good. These brigantines are designed to be sailed by a crew of three anyway. Welcome aboard the Fiddler's Green. I'm Manix Ebonfire."
Jatazi lowered her pistol slowly and glared with uncertainty at the stranger known now to her as Face. "I'm Jatazi Ebonfire. Why don't you help me gather supplies before we set sail?"
Face nodded with a forced smile and the two made their way up the dock to the supply barrels which neighbored the deathly quiet and boarded up buildings of Galleon's Grave.
"Set sails to starboard!" Manix commanded.The Fiddler's Green sliced through the waters as Jatazi and Face heaved and hulled at the heavy ropes and angled the sails to catch the easterly winds. The brigantine moved swiftly. It wouldn't be long before they reached Marauder's Arch.
Manix and Jatazi were focused on the horizon in an unnerving silence. It is something the two of them had always practiced before a pending battle. They felt the meditation helped them mentally prepare. The silence would cleanse their souls of demons and come to terms with their potential demise.
Face wanted nothing to do with this dismaying tradition. She broke that silence. "So the two of ya related?"
"Eww!" Jatazi blurted out with a nervous chuckle. "We're engaged." She explained.
"Ya done took his surname though," Face stated mockingly with a hint of inquiry. "Bonfire was it?"
"Ebonfire," Manix corrected coldly. "And if you know of any friendly officiates on the Sea of Thieves by all means point us their way. After so long we just decided to skip the ceremony and share the name."
"Ya be a captain, are ya not?" Face asked Manix. "I kin tell by the way you handle this 'ere ship, ya be a captain. Just done and officiate ya'selfs. I 'ear all captains have power to do 'at kinda thing." The woman smirked.
"The ancients don't like it when you take matters into your own hands like that," Jatazi protested in superstition. "And most other captains would just as well kill us before joining us in ceremony. No, the surname is as far I dare take it until we find ourselves in less hostile tidings."
"Either way 'ere, Manix," Face started. "Ya got ya'self a good lookin' one 'ere, an' stylish to boot! I wish I could look 'at good in a hat like 'at." The woman reached out for Jatazi's triangle hat which was black and adorned with the teeth of some giant sea creature.
Jatazi pulled away. A long silence had found its way back to the ship.
"But not much be lookin' good on me head on account of me knocker," Face continued in an effort break the returning tension. "If only I could at least change me hair color. I'm sure 'at would done an help loads!"
Jatazi smiled faintly. As weary as she was of this new companion she confessed to herself that she felt more at ease with the distraction of conversation compared to the normal ritual rumination. "I have some hair dyes in the cargo hold. I picked them up just the other day," Jatazi said as she walked over to the stairs and disappeared below deck. "It won't have time to dry but we can get it started while we travel. I think a vibrant red would do nicely! What do you think?" Jatazi shouted from below.
"Aye 'at would do nicely me thinks," replied Face from above with a smile, although she could guess that Jatazi's gesture was not of trust and friendship as much as it was to take their mind off of the daunting dangers ahead.
The ship got quiet once more. Lightning flashed to the west. A soft thunder rolled a few seconds later. The waves slowly became more choppy. The lightning became consistent enough to help illuminate the deck as Jastazi wove the dye into Face's hair. Jatazi's knack for these sort of things proved on point once again. The rose red dye, though still dark and wet, had already taken at least ten years off of Face.
Face broke the silence again. "Why ya call it the Fiddler's Green?" she asked. "Looks to be purple to me. I saw it in the lightnin'."
"All of our ships are called the Fiddler's Green." Jatazi explained. "The first one actually was green and we used to paint the others but after you sink so many you grow more attached to the name and less attached to the ship."
Face got noticeably nervous. "Jus' 'ow many ship 'ave the two ya sunk?" she asked.
"More than we dare recall," Jatazi answered.
"It's the Sea of Thieves," Manix added. "There will always be another ship."
"But whats it mean? Fiddler's Green?" Face pushed.
"It's a sea shanty from another realm about a sort of seafarer's afterlife called the Fiddler's Green. I'll sing it for you if we survive this." Manix promised.
"You don't want that," Jatazi interjected. "Manix can work magic with a hurdy gurdy but his voice is not for sh..." Thunder interrupted her. This time louder than before. This time not thunder at all... Cannon fire! More volleys sound from ahead. Jatazi raised her telescope. "Sails!" she shouted. "Three sets! One of legends and the other two are something I've not seen before! Hell on the high seas! Load the cannons! Ready your weapons!"
‘We're in the thick of it now,’ Manix thought to himself as the bottom of the Fiddler's Green smacked into the waves of the now churning sea. They had entered the wake of the battle. Before them was a massive galleon with a hull as black as the night sky and sails decorated with the slightly luminescent teal blue symbol of Athena's Fortune, a mark reserved for only the most notorious of pirates. Parallel to the galleon's port side was another massive ship which looked as if its hull was constructed with no more than mere scrap planks with torn canopies for sails. It had no natural business being afloat. It had no natural business being able to turn and quicken as swiftly as what was being witnessed at that very moment. No, there was nothing natural about this ship at all. A second abomination of a ship was further out to port. Its silhouette shown grotesquely in the flashes of encroaching lightning, patiently waiting and toying with its prey. Manix remembered that Face had mentioned nine ships within the skeletal armada. Though he had heard many songs and tales of legendary pirates, he could not believe that the lone galleon of Athena had already sunk seven ships in the short time it had taken the Fiddler's Green to arrive. Within seconds the nearest of the ghost ships made a sharp pinwheel to starboard and rammed hulls with the galleon of Athena. A few shots were exchanged moments later. Manix noticed the encounter was so far less chaotic than he had anticipated. He didn't know yet what to make of it but knew that something was off.
"What flag on the Athena, Jatazi?" Manix beckoned.
"The Jolly Roger!" Jatazi replied with her telescope fixed on the mainmast of the legendary ship.
"S**t!" Manix cursed, remembering all of the times he had encountered hostility from other crews flying that same flag. "Face, raise the mainsail! Jatazi, to the crow's nest and raise the pendant of alliance!" He was hopeful that this extraordinary situation would be enough to negotiate cooperation with the legendary crew. Manix banked the brigantine to starboard away from the battle, patiently waiting for the galleon to respond with their own pendant of alliance.
Unfortunately patience was a luxury they did not rightfully own. The second cursed ship hastened with demonic speed to intercept the Fiddler's Green.
"Incoming!" Jatazi screamed. "Rotate to port! Cannons ready on starboard!"
Manix twisted the helm desperately to the left but it was too late. The cursed ship was too fast and already upon them with cannon fire, expertly aimed at the hull of the ship.
"I'm on it!" Face called, already half way down the stairs with a hammer and nails in hand.
"How are we looking down there?" Manix yelled down to Face.
"Many a hole!" Face responded over the racket of her hammering. "Lucky 'ey all be minor! Barely a fish tank of water down 'ere! We be done an' patched up soon!"
They didn't have soon to wait. The cursed ship pivoted to face the Fiddler's Green head on and quickened. Manix knew that they could not outrun the sorcery of their foe. Their only chance was being able to match their ability to rotate. He developed a plan. He knew they only had one shot.
"Face, whatever isn't patched yet we will need to let sit! Cannons to starboard! Jatazi, cut the mainsail and toss the anchor!" Manix commanded as the steering finally locked to the left. He shoved the butt of his eye of reach into the crossbars of the helm and railing of the ship, wrenching the wheel and locking it in place. He hurried to a free cannon.
Jatazi unsheathed her sword, and with one slash each, severed the thick ropes which held the mainsail in a neatly rolled and folded position upon the mast. She quickly turned to the center of the deck and released the locking mechanism which held up the anchor. The sails billowed with the strengthening winds and, like a well oiled machine, the Fiddler's Green locked anchor with the seafloor and corkscrewed. The sudden change of momentum would have sent the crew out of their boots if not for their years of experience.
"Fire!" Manix screamed while lighting the fuse of his cannon. Face followed his lead. Volley after volley roared and precisely punctured the lower hull of the ghostly galleon which rushed for them. The shadow of the cursed ship's approaching figurehead loomed over the deck of the Fiddler's Green. It was the skull of an open mouthed kraken ready to devour the brigantine whole. "Prepare for impact! Jatazi! Board them as they..." The brilliantly crafted purple coated wood of the brigantine crunched deafeningly under the pressure of the cursed ship's bow. The force of the impact sent Manix tumbling down the stairs below deck. He looked around frantically for Jatazi and Face. No one. He called out for them. Nothing. The water began to leak in. He had to repair the ship.
Face felt a sudden blow to the sternum. A jouster had struck her square on. However the jouster's horse was a ship and its lance was its bow. A sudden cold wetness overtook her as she was swallowed by the sea. She looked up through the deeps to see the moonlight turned rose red by a stain within the water. She heard more cannon fire, muffled by viscosity of her inevitable grave. I hope the Fiddler's Green welcomes me when I arrive, Face thought to herself while closing her eyes in acceptance. All pirates could predict that the sea would be their final resting place. What none of them could predict is how... or when. Face felt a hardness to her back pushing her upwards to the surface. She instinctively latched onto the oxygen bound barrel which had just discarded its cargo of cannonballs and could now make use of its natural buoyancy. Face gasped for air and saw the carnage surrounding her. Planks and splinters circled her like sharks on the hunt. Face thought back to the red tainting of the sea and patted herself down in search of wounds. Her stomach ached from the blow of the impact. It was certainly bruised, perhaps a fractured rib, but nothing more serious than that. She slicked back her hair which was obstructing her view. Her hands were red with hair dye and she couldn't help but cackle with relief. Finally gathering herself, Face strained to see above the waves and searched for any signs of life. Somehow the Fiddler's Green was still afloat!
Jatazi held on tightly to the ladder of the cursed ship. She heard the unison marching of clanking bones fade into the cargo hold. The deck was clear. Now was her chance. Jatazi hoisted herself up the ladder, readied her sword, and charged into the underbelly of the ship. The undead crew, focused on repairing the damage inflicted by the Fiddler's Green, could not have expected how fast and skilled the young human was with a sword. It wasn't long before the hold of the ship was carpeted in bones. The water raised swiftly and it was soon time for Jatazi to leave that wreck of a ship to the sea. She ran above deck to spot the Fiddler's Green, miraculously just barely above water and within a swimmer's reach. A waterlogged Face was climbing the ladder back aboard the brigantine and the sound of Manix hammering echoed within its hull. What's more, she noticed, the galleon of legends had also been victorious and now sailed the pendant of an accepted alliance! Jatazi couldn't help but smile, but that smile was nothing if not short lived.
The ghastly wail of a demonic conch-shell resonated through the air. Lightning struck the open seas with a crack of thunder. The pitch black clouds and frigid rain rushed in like a swarm of locusts. The water bubbled and glowed green.
"Man overboard!" someone cried from the newly allied galleon. Their masts rocked like a pendulum as another ship from the undead armada suddenly surfaced from underneath.
The waves stirred violently and Jatazi knew she could no longer swim back to the brigantine, but as the ship she stood on continued to sink she knew she had to try. The sea raged around her. It swallowed her up and spat her out to its own sadistic delight. With every stroke forward she move a body's length back. Exhaustion overtook her. Her muscles cramped and slowed with the lactic acid being released within. Another soul was condemned to the depths. Another soul was rejected. The green glow from the abyss blinded Jatazi and she soon found herself on the deck of yet another cursed galleon! However this one was different. As she laid upon the deck, Jatazi had expected the skeletal crew to attack her. They did not. Instead they loaded green glowing cannonballs in the cannons as the ship turned to target the Fiddler's Green. Her temples ached suddenly and intensely. She turned to see a blackend skeleton dressed in a black coat and matching hat with smouldering green fiery eyes. A guttural voice penetrated her mind. ‘Welcome aboard the Dancing Demon, Jatazi Ebonfire.’
Manix ducked instinctively as more cannon fire hit the hull of the ship around him. He groaned as he realized he was stuck in an open door prison beneath the deck of the Fiddler’s Green. His freedom was conditioned solely to the mercy of the merciless enemy cannons. He had to keep the brigantine afloat, but something was wrong. A green aura enveloped the interior of the cargo hold. Manix’s muscles twitched and spasmed as if being controlled by another mind. He fell to the floor and the water quickly inched above his head.
Face discovered a horrific scene below the deck of the Fiddler’s Green. Manix flopped around the floor in a dance like seizure, gasping for air and coughing whenever he flopped above the water. She secured the bulky man under his armpits and tugged him halfway up the stairs, distancing his head from the water. Just as she was about to resume Manix’s patchwork, the loud crack of splintering wood sounded again. The wind was so strong that it dragged the brigantine, ripping the anchor through the seafloor like a knife through butter, and crashed it fiercely into a nearby protruding rock. The hull of the brigantine chasmed and was illuminated with a mixture of lightning blue and unnatural green.
Manix came to just in time. He and Face rushed up to the deck and leaped upon the stone reckoning of the Fiddler’s Green, almost slipping off the edge of the rain soaked rock. The fractured ship caught the downward tide, pulled away from the rock, and sank slowly into the abyss. The shadow of the Dancing Demon dominated over them mockingly.
They heard an explosion from behind, ten times the volume of a cannon blast. A bright yellow flash lit up the cloud veiled night sky and reflected upon the endless onslaught of raindrops. The galleon of legends ignited its foe into a blazing inferno.
Manix searched the seas frantically to no avail. Jatazi was nowhere to be seen. He called out for her. No response. Suddenly a scream of terror escaped the Dancing Demon. Jatazi needed help. The green lit galleon rotated and set sail to attack the crew of legends. Manix and Face took advantage of the Dancing Demon’s close passing proximity and leapt for the ladder with arms locked incase one of them were to fall. The galleon of Athena began to rotate in the distance facing its cannon to the lead vessel of the undead fleet. Manix was careful not to cling to hope, a caution of his that proved to be well warranted. Instead of setting their cannons ablaze, the legendary galleon retired the pendant of their alliance and set sail in retreat to the east. He heard Jatazi scream once more. Without a second thought, Manix and Face quickly summited the ladder with blades drawn.
Face turned to the bow and tried to hold off the demonic crew. Her path worked to bottleneck the animated skeletons on the stairs leading below deck so that they could only advance in waves of one or two at a time. She knew she couldn’t handle them all and clung to the hope that Manix and Jatazi would soon come to her aid.
Manix saw Jatazi on her knees near the helm. The captain of the Dancing Demon towered over her with his boney fingers clutching Jatazi’s head. Jatazi was muttering some chant or incantation in a voice not her own. The skeletal captain’s green eyes glowed brighter. Manix charged forward and dashed up the stairs with the rage of a berserker and tackled the demon away from his mate. The black skeleton threw its attacker off of it with the force of ten men. Manix rolled and caught himself upon the rails of the vessel. The skeletal captain approached him slowly.
Jatazi snapped out of her trance, performed quickdraw with her pistol, pulled the trigger, and prayed that the gun wasn’t too waterlogged to function. Both her prayers and aim proved to be true. The bullet zipped through the rain and slugged the cursed captain in the back of its skull. The black skeleton stammered, just long enough for both Manix and Jatazi to set their swords upon it, carving and thinning its boney frame slice by slice until its form came completely undone. The rest of the cursed crew exploded in a chaos of boney shrapnel as if they were bound the fate of their captain.
The crew of the fallen Fiddler’s Green collapsed upon the ghost ship to catch their breath. It seemed all at once the storm had let up and the first morning’s light glistened upon the eastern horizon. The sea bubbled once more. The three companions grasped each other’s arms in support. The Dancing Demon turned with a mind of its own and began to plummet back down to the abyss of the Wilds to wait for a new captain. Manix, Jatazi and Face dove overboard and swam for a nearby protruding rock, still adorned with some scattered remains of the Fiddler’s Green. The three of them laid there in the rising warmth of the sun.
Manix reached for Jatazi’s hand and looked to Face with an exhausted smile. He sang off key but, in that moment, none of them cared. “Wrap me up in me oilskins and jumpers. No more on the docks I’ll be seen. Just tell me ol’ shipmates, I’m taking a trip, mates, and I’ll see you someday in Fiddler’s Green.”
“What will we do now?” asked Face.
Manix looked east to the silhouette of that farce of a legendary galleon. “It’s the Sea of Thieves,” he said. “There will always be another ship.”