To my dearest Elanore

Being at sea so long has a way of changing a man, wearing down even the most heart-felt and resolute beliefs, casting them like stones from a jagged shore into the unforgiving waters below. It challenges a man in both body and mind, testing them day and night to hold fast to things beyond sight and sound, trying to chip away vows and promises and wear away promises and vows made so long ago. But fear not, for while the test of time and trade may ravage the weaker willed, I have remained strong and devoted to you, my love. For even as the allures of the sea, and the temptations of so many foreign ports seek to enthrall and subdue a man's will, they have fallen upon deaf ears and blind eyes. But, I must be boring you with such things, so instead allow me to thrill you with a tale of our latest exploits…

Daggertail

o0o0o0o0o0

It seems like only hours ago we were last in port, celebrating after a particularly good raid at the local tavern. Most of the men had chosen to pursue more worldly matters, leaving myself and my first mate to tend to matters more important than chasing tails and examining the bottom of tankards. Not that it was much of a bother; many of them are too hardened to the sea life to appreciate the finer things in life And it was better that way; having only two sets of eyes to keep a pack of sea rats in line was easy enough when they were busy with their own vices. But taking even a few into places with easily pocketed objects, and guards all too eager to increase their quota of captured criminals would be a foolish move.

That's not to say that it was difficult to get away with all but the most obvious crimes in Bohemia, what with the local ruler having a majority of his guards chasing phantoms and standing ready to enforce the local rulers' subjective laws-not that they were adept at it. Many of them chose to strut around like overstuffed peacocks; flaunting their badge of office over everyone they deemed a lower status, adding a new layer of gloom to the normally depressing poor district. And of course, the few times they did manage to do more than find a particularly slow pickpocket it was often to enforce one of the most idiotic laws set in place. But, complaining about the incompetence of the local watch would be stabbing myself in the foot. After all, being lax in their duties makes smuggling and piracy a lucrative business in local waters.

On the up side of things, it made procuring the services of a tailor quite easy; many of the specialized merchants were starved for business, as many of the locals who had the sovereigns and influence to leave the city, or conduct their business outside the ruler's influence did so, leaving those who couldn't afford that luxury make due as long as they could. Not to say that I purposely forced my chosen tailor down to barely more than half it would have cost normally, I simply used the current state of affairs and my own reputation to negotiate a more… acceptable price for the simple services I sought. And it wasn't my fault that Tharius chose that time to loosen his knuckles, intimidating the much smaller tailor into my price range. I didn't argue, either. Five sovereigns for less than an hour of work, most of which was fitting. It was hardly a reasonable price to pay in such difficult times. All things considered the craftsmanship may have been worth the original price. But only a fool or someone who doesn't have a highly intimidating subordinate pays full price for services.

I couldn't help but stay a little longer, admiring both the tailor's handiwork in the shop's full length mirror, smirking at the roguish Espeon that met my gaze. I cut an imposing figure, despite being what most would call frail. This was accented further by a large tricorn hat set with a long Staraptor feather I favored, despite my ears being less than cooperative at times. For all the years spent at sea, and the battles fought and won my fur still retained the silkiness of youth. Combined with what had been described by more than a few ladies as alluring green eyes, it was easy to see why many of the crew liked to joke about their 'soft' captain. An oversized waistcoat made from crushed red velvet covered my off-white linen shirt, both of which had been expertly mended by the skilled, if not nervous shrew. Out of habit I let my forked tail curl around my knees, the ends sheathed in a tight fitting leather casing. Normally there would have been a dirk set in-between the ends, but openly displaying my trademark weapon would be foolish so far inland. This of course drew my attention to the other reason I had come inland. After several months of single night stays, and quick departures from port I hadn't had time to acquire a new set of boots. My current ones were worn thin enough that-

"Captain, a ship has been sighted."A deep voice growled, erasing the vivid memory of the tailor's shop and snapping me back to the less elegant reality of my cabin aboard the Sea dagger. Gone was the elegant fitting mirror, and the nervous shopkeeper making final alterations, replaced by a heavily scarred writing desk and open journal. A single lit candle provided the only light now, casting eerie shadows as it flickered in the sudden breeze. I glanced up from a half-finished entry, setting my quill aside and pretending not to be caught off guard by the sudden intrusion. "Sygal claims it bears the Seviro colors, and is unescorted."

The massive frame of a Luxray stood in the doorway, hunching to fit through the narrow entryway His off-white shirt was torn in places, clumps of charcoal fur poking through the worn fabric. Several gold earrings glittered in the candlelight, sparkling like tiny stars against the matted fur of his mane. A heavy falchion hung from his sharkskin belt, the awkward blade being both a potent weapon, and a conductor for the lethal voltage the electric type could generate.

"I do hope he has sharper eyes than the last fool who was on watch." I snapped, leaning back in my chair and reaching for a half-drained glass of razz wine. "The last thing we need to do is approach the wrong vessel again, especially after the last failed ambush." In response the feline shrugged, flicking his star-tipped tail idly. It was an expected response; after years of bravado and feigned temper, the best reaction any outburst could goad from him was a curled lip or quiet growl. I sipped at the lukewarm drink, ignoring the eerie glow his blood red eyes had taken on.

"Aye, captain," He replied, running a hand through his shaggy mane. "Sygal was insistent he spotted the right one, otherwise I wouldn't have disturbed you."

"Good, then have the men prepare a warm welcome for them." Tharius nodded, turning to leave. "And Tharius, have Skrim ready his command for boarding. Something tells me that the Seviro's haven't forgotten the last… visit we paid one of their ships." The feline chuckled darkly, shaking his head and disappearing into the gloom, closing the door softly behind him.

"One of these days I'll install a bell to ring, or some other way not to be walked in on." I muttered, draining the glass in one gulp and frowning. A sighting this soon meant that the shipping charts had been inaccurate, or that someone had informed them of possible attacks. Whatever the cause, it made things more dangerous than anticipated-not enough to abandon such an easy target, but enough to warrant extra caution. I snapped the journal closed with a shrug, snuffing out the candle with my free hand, plunging the room into darkness, Still, it's better to continue with the plan and save face, than play the coward and give the men a new reason to call me soft.

o0o0o0o0o0

Ribbons of sunlight streamed the maze of jagged rocks that made up the Petorian coastline, reflecting on the foamy waves and creating a constantly shifting display through the salty spray. The network of sea-worn caves, hidden reefs, and narrow beaches had well earned its name among pirates. The devil's teeth stood as an imposing challenge to the most daring rouge, offering ample places to hide from pursuers and store ill-gotten goods. Provided you had the guts, and the skill to sail through the hazards that had earned the uninhabited stretch of coast such a dubious name. Though, having a good scout doesn't hurt.

The Sea dagger was anchored within a sheltered cove, the unsecured ends of her spotless sails fluttering in a swift breeze. She was nothing like the traditional pirate vessels so many like to tell tales about dockside. Most favored the bulkier warships of the south, relying on large and bloodthirsty crews to overpower their victims. But the Sea dagger was built for speed; modified from an old staysail schooner, she could outrun any ship that tried to give chase, or overtake the few who saw through the rouse and attempted to escape.

The area showed few signs of life; a lone hut was built above the tide line, scattered tools lay discarded beneath a lone palm, having been abandoned upon the schooner's arrival. Footprints zigzagged through the sand, leading from the abandoned camp, slowly vanishing as the tide crept up the sandy shore. It was a common sight for the crew, as this little known scoop of land was known only to myself, and its lone inhabitant.

I strode across the deck at a slow pace, watching a small fishing boat slip into the hidden cove. It was times like these that made being a wanted criminal worth it; the salty air stinging at your eyes and nose, the summer sun beating down on your fur mercilessly; the horizon stretching onward for as far as the eye could see; all of it spoke of one thing, freedom. Living by wit and blade rather than laws and commands, preying on the 'civilized' men of the land, creating a new name and a new life for yourself upon the unbiased sea. It was the freedom to erase the past, and create a future devoid of the trappings of blood and society. And I loved it.

Aside from the skeleton crew it took to pilot the ship, my command was on the small side; this was due less to having little need for more than a minimum of bodies to keep the ship sailing smoothly, and more out of caution. The larger the crew, the greater the need for supplies, and the less space you have to store ill-gotten goods. And with a larger crew, there was more danger of dissent after a few weeks of bad raids-something Tharius was quick to point out every time we argued over expanding the crew. And when a Luxray's fur begins to spark during an argument, the wise 'mon backs down. Even so, one such argument did end in taking on a small group of ex-marines looking for a ship; a decision that has been quite profitable so far.

The leader of the marines, a tan rodent with mangy fur was singing a rather morbid chantey to himself, sharpening a set of inch long claws with a file. I observed him for a long moment, once again trying to decide if he was indeed a Raticate, or a very hairy Machoke. Both were possible, as the heritage of most sea rats is a sorted affair to begin with, and Skrim liked to boast that his father had once torn a mast down with his bare hands. Hardly believable, but his exploits were enough to put an ounce of truth to the drunken exaggerations.

Skrim's second in command, a heavyset Vaporeon named Derino was leaning against the starboard railing, the remains of a fish eaten raw hanging from his jaw. I cringed inwardly at the sight, fighting down a wave of revulsion at the unpleasant sight; he may be as deadly as a Sharpedo both in and out of the water, but his grisly eating habits were becoming increasingly difficult to tolerate. The water Eon returned my stare, flashing a mouthful of needle-like teeth, a thin rope of bloody drool falling from his mouth. I shivered again, returning the morbid grin with a glare of my own.

Turning away from the disgusting sight before I lost my appetite and quite likely my last meal, I locked eyes with the oldest, and most questionable of the assault group, a Quagsire who went by Ger. Whether it was part of how his kind was, or that the rumors that he once won a head bashing contest with an Aggron were true, the water/ground crewman's stare was as vacant as the open sea. Rather than give myself a headache matching the vacant gaze of Ger, I glanced across the deck, focusing on the youngest member of the suicidal Raticate's command.

Squirt was a Squirtle, and while the irony to his name was irritating, his small stature and nervous attitude was fitting enough to let it slide. As it was, the turtle was barely old enough to call himself a man, let alone fight alongside the veteran seamen. But, the jumpy turtle had been part of the bargain; he was the son of their former leader, or so the rodent had claimed. And despite my initial misgivings, he had proven able to shed the tentative shell he had when at sea, turning into a whirlwind of steel when the fighting began. And small stature, combined with an iron hard shell proved to be invaluable more than once.

I passed the group of veterans, casting one last glance at the quartet of mixed 'mon, nodding to their scruffy leader. Skrim returned the gesture, falling into a loose military salute. Old habits indeed die hard, even for those who were cast aside by those who engrained them it seems. One of these days, I must speak with him after a few rounds and find out-

"Captain!" The slap of bare feet against the deck mixed with the heavy thump of my own boots, driving away the thought. I stopped mid-step, glancing over my shoulder and flicking my tail as a warning to the unseen crewman. "Captain!" The voice repeated, stopping just out of reach of my tail dagger.

"What is it?" I growled, turning to face the speaker. A young Dewott was standing at attention a respectful distance away, his right arm raised in a smart salute. His bare chest heaved from the exertion of swimming back to the ship, and running to make his report, sea water streaming from his fur and pooling around the spotters feet.

"Captain, sightet ship from north!" I ignored the hasty report for the moment, casting a critical gaze along the sopping wet form. Like many of his kind, the fur along Sygal's arms and chest had been tattooed; several symbols and patterns were picked out in black pigment, standing out clearly against the normally light blue fur. A large tooth carved from lapis lazuli hung from his neck, possibly a charm or symbol of his tribe. A pair of carved scallop daggers clung to the darker fur of his hips, the wickedly curved blades being as much a part of him as the fur on his body. I stared down at the barbaric 'mon, pretending not to notice that he had once again chosen to scout in the nude.

"I know, Tharius already passed that information on." The otter shifted his weight nervously, slapping the deck with his thick, rudder-like tail. Normally he would make his report to Tharius, who had a better ear for eastern accents than I did. But whatever the Dewott had seen must be important enough to disregard that order. "Do you have something new to report, or are you wasting my time?"

"Yes, there something else. Ship changet course, following shore closer." Sygal replied, waving toward the cove's entrance in emphasis. "It pass by here sooner than first said, but no ship following it still."

"How strange… no matter, go below deck and rouse the men, our prey is coming to us." The Dewott saluted again, nearly slipping on the puddle of sea water at his feet in his haste to pass on the command. I shook my head, watching the otter dash across the deck, nearly slipping a second time as he overshot the hatch, skidding across the polished deck. Undaunted, the eager crewman collected himself and ran on all fours, pulling the trapdoor open and vanishing.

"And put some clothes on while you're down there!" I shouted, chuckling as several angry shouts and curses drifted up from the hold. He was a strange one, to say the least; a castaway struggling to find his next meal in the slums of some backwater port when I found him. A foreigner in a strange land, the young otter had been eager to join, if only for the promise of a full stomach and somewhere safer to sleep than beneath a crumbling archway. It didn't hurt that his concept of fair pay extended only to those, and a few other… simple needs, either.

Soon enough the crew began to emerge from below deck, growling oaths and curses at the still nude Dewott that had disturbed them. A few still clung to partially finished bottles of aspear rum, draining the last mouthfuls of the vile drink before hurling the empty bottles overboard. Others milled about the deck, rendered blind and dumb from the sudden exposure to sunlight. Only a few were fully conscious, already readying the ship for departure without having to be ordered.

"Come on you lot, get a move on! Kradin, set the sails properly this time, or I'll have any tears patched with your hide! Felch, take Eerin and Mygos and weigh anchor! Skrim, see that your men are ready to assault once we hit! The rest of you, get to your posts!" I gave the muttered curses and glares from several crewmen only passing notice; snapping orders and cuffing those slow to move with the flat of my tail blade.

"Sygal, take up position above the mainsail! We don't want out prey's odd course to take another turn without us knowing!" The otter nodded, ducking past a Dewgong and scrambling up the mainsail like a Mankey. I shook my head in amusement, watching the curious islander shimmy his way up the slick pole with all the ease of walking up a flight of stairs. In the space of a minute he was already positioned at the top, clinging to the ship's banner with both feet and one hand, the other clutching a spyglass. Just pray to whatever sea-demons your people worship that it can support your weight…

o0o0o0o0o0

With a strong southern breeze in her sails, the Sea dagger sped along the ocean like a predator on the hunt, cutting a swift path across the rolling waves. Clusters of jagged rock jutted out from the flat coastline, forming into large tide pools and providing shelter for growths of colorful coral that sparkled in the afternoon light. Of course, this also meant that the waters around them were likewise choked with it as well. I felt uneasy hugging the coastline so tightly, but if our prey thought to find shelter among the treacherous waters, they were going to be proven dead wrong.

Something didn't feel right; while there are a few small villages along the coast with enough space to land a small ship, most of them are too poor to offer more than a few simple goods for barter. The kind of thing other villages, or perhaps a private vessel might have business with, but not a major merchant ship. Perhaps trouble aboard the ship? Contaminated food, or a crewman having picked up more than a hangover from one of the burlesque houses? Or perhaps-

"Something troubling you, captain?" I nearly leapt out of my fur, wheeling around and instinctively reaching for the cutlass at my waist. A charcoal paw rose in defense, static arcing along the charged fur. "I'll take that as a yes."

"My apologies, I should have been more aware." I said, drawing in a slow breath and relaxing my sword arm, using my free hand to smooth the fur of my neck back into place. "Is there something to report?" The feline shook his head, lowering his sparking hand reluctantly.

"You've been staring at nothing since we left the cove. It's not like you to become so vacant before an attack." The feline paused, staring down the bridge of his nose with a sharp look. "It isn't wise to let worries and personal thoughts become a distraction before an attack."

"It's nothing like that." I lied, forcing more confidence into the words than I felt. "I was going through a mental list of their inventory and got lost in thought." For a moment the feline tensed, his thick mane standing on end as electricity coursed through the highly conductive fur. But, with a rumbling growl it settled into place once again, bright blue sparks discharging from his star-tipped tail as it lashed the air.

"Hopefully your concern for what goods we're pursuing doesn't keep your attention away from the blades hired to protect them. It was by the grace of Lugia that we found your pet tribal and that filthy rodent you insisted on hiring." Tharius growled, cracking his knuckles audibly. "Only a fool tempts the gods' whims a second time."

"And only a fool ignores opportunity when it presents itself. Be it the whims of the gods or luck turning in your favor, the end results are the same."

"If you say so, captain."

"Tharius, while your concern is commendable it is misplaced. I am perfectly capable of-"

"Captain, enemy ship coming from starboard, crew not see us as threat yet!" The argument died in my throat, replaced by a loud curse and several hastily barked orders. To their credit the crew reacted quickly despite the slightly confusing orders, moving like a well oiled machine. In moments the quiet deck was alive with activity, what few crewmen were needed to steer the ship running to their posts, while others tested their weapons, or muttered prayers to Giratina for deliverance, should their lives end today.

"Fortune favors the bold, Tharius. Either wait for the gods to smile upon you, or rely on your earthly skill and wit to gain what you desire." I said, flashing the feline a toothy smile. "And it seems the latter will bring in a rather nice haul today."

"And should the gods grow tired of your rash nature, fortune may yet favor the pious." Tharius muttered, saluting stiffly before walking off, the heavy clomp of his boots fading into the chorus of activity. I paid the gesture little notice, considering his parting words. The gods are a real thing, and a force to be respected. But the odds that any one of the deities would give more than a passing notice to all but their chosen was too farfetched to hold as a reason to be pious. And if they do take notice… I shivered inwardly, forcing the thought back into the dark corner it had emerged from.

Dismissing the worry with a flick of my ear I turned and walked toward the starboard railing, letting anticipation overcome doubt at the sight of our prey. A set of rich purple sails hung limply from their rigging, fluttering now and then as the breeze shifted. A cross-hatch of gold diamonds was stitched along each one, modeled after the merchant baron's own scaled hide-or possibly to imitate the legendary serpents of the west, I couldn't be sure. Beyond the gaudy sails she was unremarkable, just another brigantine carrying simple goods between coastal ports for further export aboard the sturdier and far better defended ships destined for ports across the Kessian sea.

It was this fact that made her a prize target; most pirates liked to attack after the goods had been sold and traded, coveting the wealth being ferried back. It was this attitude my crew and I exploit time and again, attacking the goods themselves and profiting from one simple fact: merchants don't always care where it comes from if it slips by the taxes. That's one thing that's a core truth; no matter where you make port, there will always be those looking to evade tariffs and excise men.

I stared out at the swiftly approaching ship, weighing the options for attack carefully. Normally all it took was a few well placed shots to thin out the hired guards before boarding. But something was wrong; something had them hugging the coastline tighter than usual. And something gave them reason to sail at a slower pace. The latter wasn't as large a concern; the medicinal berries and herbs that made up the bulk of their cargo would hold for months at sea. No, it was the defensive shift in their path that had me concerned.

Perhaps taking advantage of their dangerous course would be in order? After all, a short loss of control would cause more panic than a few of their mercenary guards sprouting bolts suddenly. And it would give Hawk a challenge, which might get her to stop complaining about boring shots for a little while. Yes, that would be the best course of action. Satisfied, I glanced at the rocky shoreline, a feral grin crossing my muzzle. And should things go poorly, there's more than one way to overtake a ship.

"Hard to port, we'll circle around and drive them toward shore!" A low groan rumbled through the ship as it turned sharply, a low wave breaking across the deck from her sudden change in heading. I crossed the deck at a brisk pace, looking up long enough to assure myself that Sygal hadn't lost his grip before casting a quick glance across the deck. Many of the men were wringing sea water from their clothes, or shaking bare limbs in a weak attempt to dry off. I paid their annoyance little notice, making a beeline for the one crewman I needed.

Hawk, the ship's top marksman, was standing near the bow, wringing out her shirt with a look of disgust. The wiry Meinshao was an oddity, even among the riff-raff crew Tharius and I had assembled. Like all of her kind, a matched pair of sleeve-like growths of fur hung from her wrists, often dragging along the ground like a child wearing her father's shirt. An equally long growth of fur fell from her cheeks, the pale grey fur fading into a vibrant yellow at the tips. Several of copper and colorful stone charms had been woven into the waist length fur, sparkling like jewels set in granite.

She also favored the dress style of a man, sporting a dark purple shirt that accented her fur highlights over a worn jerkin, cotton breeches a size too big for her frame, knee length leather boots, and a polished wooden box strapped to a sharkskin belt. Combined with a finely crafted crossbow strapped across her back, and a silver sword hilt at her side she was anything but the usual type of pirate any man expected to see. And anyone foolish enough to take her as delicate due to being a woman soon found out that she far more than a soft housewife playing in at man's role.

"Ye really need ta work on yer warnins, cap'n." Hawk grumbled, wringing out the fur along her right arm with a frown. "Nearly got knocked ovahboad by thet wave."

"I'll make sure to do that." I replied dryly, taking a step back to avoid being splashed. "But for now, I have a question for you." The soaked Meinshao paused, glancing up and fixing me with a searching look. A sly grin crossed her dripping muzzle, the charms in her fur jingling softly as she shook her head.

"If et's what I'm thinken, no. Yer too… how you say, uptight foah my teste."

"That's not what I was going to ask, but thank you for answering a question for a more opportune time." I growled, tempering the anger rising in my chest. "No, my question pertains to your marksmanship, not your loose nature with the crew."

"Oh, in thet case what is it?" A wicked gleam sparkled in her violet-tinged eyes, the playful look fading into something more predatory. I matched her gaze with a cold one of my own, curling my tail around so the blade flashed noticeably. If Hawk took notice of the threat she gave no indication, turning her attention to the still dripping length of fur on her other arm.

"What are the chances that you could land a killing shot on their helmsman" I started to ask, waving a hand toward the approaching ship "before their crew can see you as a threat?" Her smile broadened, a set of ivory canines appearing from beneath the smoky fur of her lip. The wiry mongoose paused for a moment, fingering a few of the charms in her fur idly. "Preferably without theatrics, as time is not a luxury we have." The playful grin faltered, whatever cheeky response was building behind those amethyst pools faded into the darker recesses of her mind.

"If thet's the case then it should be no problem. So long as ye cen keep from bahkin mo' orders an' turnin us roun' without warnin, you name the eye, an' I'll drive a bolt into et." Hawk stated proudly, unhooking the crossbow from her back and butting it against her shoulder. "Just give the order, cap'n."

"First, make sure your men are ready to attack when we draw near. A single death is disorienting, but several more should take most of the fight out of them." I had half a mind to pry past her mental defenses, exploiting her kind's fragile nature to psychic intrusion and dig her original answer out. But, the energy and focus required couldn't be spared with our prey so close. And she knew it.

Hawk nodded, waving her free hand in a series of sharp gestures. I didn't have to look back to know that the half dozen she commanded were returning the silent commands, the dull thump of boots against wood confirming that they were taking up position. "Is all ready, cap'n."

"Good. Wait for the usual signal, and then take out their helmsman," I said, adding "and take out his left eye. Should he survive, at least the sinister side will be weakened." in a moment of sadistic humor. A sharp trill of laughter followed, the sharp sound ringing out like a tower bell across the otherwise silent deck.

o0o0o0o0o0

It took only minutes to organize the last pieces of the feint, going so far as to raise a forged version of their banner rather than the Jolly Roger others would. Of course, if the crewman manning their crow's nest had sharp enough eyes, they might see the pair of hourglasses and skull hidden within the diamond pattern. A bit of twisted humor on Tharius' part, but I had to commend him on devising such a ruse. The little warning would alert us of any crews wary enough, granting the precious minutes needed to turn tail before being too close to escape.

There was no turning back now, not with our prey close enough to see its overstuffed captain strutting across the deck. I stared at the pompous Prinplup for a long moment, burning his image into my mind. A less vindictive captain might be satisfied with simply attacking in a flurry of blades, taking what they want and leaving. But for me, part of the prize was seeing the grip of terror in those who thought themselves better than most, watching as all their sovereign-won power melted away, leaving only what skill and wit they had left to save them.

With effort I pushed that dark thought aside, slipping a hand into my waistcoat and retrieving a small pocket watch, rubbing my thumb along its engraved surface slowly. There was one other thing the soft coastal merchants were good for; many had a keen eye for the trinkets to show off their status, and were all too willing to part with them should it become a choice of their gold, or their life. Perhaps today it would be a ring, or a small trinket to bestow upon a lady?

I replaced the palm sized disk to its pocket carefully, keeping my eyes fixed on the other ship and motioning with my tail. The dull metallic twang of a crossbow firing met the silent command, followed by a cold laugh. The lethal accuracy of Hawk had done its work; already the enemy ship was turning toward the rocky shoreline, several crewmen rushing to retake control from the dead man's grip. Others were readying weapons, realizing only too late that the ship approaching them wasn't one of their own.

A flurry of bolts followed their leaders' example, sending another four to hellgates and wounding two others. Spurred on by drawing first blood the rest of the crew whooped and hollered, shouting obscenities and promises of death that would make any shipyard rat cringe. A few of the defenders lost their nerve from that sight alone, throwing their weapons down and jumping into the shallow water, abandoning the fight before it had even begun.

"Ten schillings to the one who takes their captain alive!" I shouted, drawing my own blade and preparing for impact. Moving like a predatory creature more than a ship the Sea dagger made a wild turn, crashing into the starboard bow of her victim with a bone jarring crash. The crunch of wood impacting against wood was deafening, those not used to the sound covering their ears and cringing until it passed. As it faded, a much more satisfying sound replaced the low groan; the sound of battle.

Like a furry tide the crew poured across the railings, slamming into the unprepared defenders like a hammer against plaster, bowling over the first rank of sailors with ease. The battle soon joined in full, what few seasoned mercenaries hadn't been felled by the volley of crossbow fire rushing into the chaos with a savage war cry. Others soon followed their example, shaking off their initial panic and surging forward to meet the attackers head on.

All across the deck battle-fury began to flow, though few could feel it like I did. All 'mon give off a certain amount of psychic energy, much like an individual scent. And in times of stress or focused emotion, this can build into an empathic overload, forcing the mental state onto those sensitive to such things. It can overtake the lesser psychics, purging all rational thought and leaving that singular emotion or impulse in its wake. I forced the red haze threatening to cloud my vision away with a growl, creating a bubble of psychic deadness around myself to keep it and any other unwanted intrusions at bay.

Now free of the madness trying to claw its way into my mind I leapt across the railing, batting aside the murderous point of a boat hook and driving my tail dagger into its owner's throat. The surprised Houndour dropped his improvised weapon, clutching feebly at the blade lodged in his neck until with a savage twist, the keen edge cut through his jugular, sending the young dark type to the door to hellgates. It felt good ridding the world of another of his foul kind. So help me, it felt good.

There was no time to savor the death, however, as within moments another crewman charged across the deck. And unlike the first to fall, this one wielded a far less improvised weapon. In one fluid motion I kicked the dead canine at the lumbering Drapion and ducking, cold steel bouncing off the chitinous armor of the insect it was made of granite. Pain shot up my arm from the numbing impact, growing worse as I was forced to deflect the bug's sloppy counter.

I grit my teeth, parrying another crude attack and thrusting my tail dagger forward, growling as the smaller blade failed to find any weakness in the bug's gut. A sound like something being sucked into a bog met the third failed attack, and only when the foul rumbling began forming words did I realize the vile dark type was laughing.

"What's the matter, kitten? Playing with the big boy too much for a frail psychic?" The Drapion chuckled, slapping a hand on his armored chest. I didn't rise to the bait, knowing full well that his kind were fully immune to anything my element could throw at him. There were other tricks to beat one of his kind, but keeping the dark type thinking he had the advantage was more important than trying to sate my pride with a reckless attack.

"It could be, if you would be so kind as to find me a big boy to play with." I retorted, feigning an attack on his shoulder and aiming another tail blow at his ankle. The attack failed to do more than tear a gash in his breeches, the armor beneath holding fast against a blow that should have cut his tendon. A growl rumbled in my throat as the follow up attack managed only to leave a long scratch along his gut, the shriek of metal grinding against chitin drowning out the sound.

The insect was blessedly slow, combined with his sloppy swordsmanship and difficulty paying attention to more than one blade at a time it gave me a small advantage. One that I intended to press for every inch of ground it was worth. In one fluid motion I thrust my tail dagger toward his face, using the momentary gap in his defense to deliver a swift kick to his exposed knee. At the same time I delivered a numbing blow to the joint with my cutlass, smirking as a roar of pain erupted from the insect.

"So used to carving up dockyard trash that a real fight is too much for you?" In the precious seconds it took for him to regain a solid footing I switched hands, not trusting my fingers to maintain a grip without aid for much longer. The Drapion bellowed in frustration, throwing his weapon down and spitting a glob of tar-like phlegm onto his palm. Upon contact with the air, whatever toxins his body produced began to smoke, wisps of pale purple vapor rising from his hand.

I took a step back, watching in horror as the venomous insect slapped his hands together, spreading the deadly substance onto extended claws. What started as a battle of attrition had taken a far deadlier turn. Poison was a foul weapon few chose to use in the civilized world, a relic from when claw and fang had yet to replace wood and steel. I glared at the loathsome substance, fighting down a wave of revulsion as the scent of it assaulted my senses.

"Where's your confidence now, Kitten?" Armor was one thing; enough strikes could break through even the iron carapace protecting the foul dark type. But a poison claw fighter! That was something far more difficult to handle.

"I could ask you the same." I spat, waving my tail blade sharply. The roar of battle diminished somehow, falling away like autumn leaves as I stared at the deadly cocktail coating his claws, One, possibly two hits and it would be over-two more than I intended to allow. "Then again, it's fitting that one of your kind would rely on such low tactics." Another bubbling laugh came from the dark type as he charged, throwing his arms wide in preparation to strike.

With a speed I thought impossible for his kind the Drapion closed, oblivious to the widening crack in his injured kneecap in his rush to kill. It was by instinct more than skill that I managed to deflect the noxious weapons, the foul substance coming so close I could almost feel it in my fur. Undaunted he brought his other hand downward in a cleaving arc, tearing the fine velvet of my waistcoat but missing the soft flesh beneath it. I hopped back a few steps, steeling myself for the next attack.

One that was destined not to come

"Captain!" An all too familiar voice rang out, both myself and the Drapion looking up in shock as a blue blur fell from the nearest sail. A long strip of the rich cloth trailed the furry meteor like a comet's tail, a pair of wickedly curved daggers slowing the suicidal attackers descent just enough. I blinked in surprise, watching as both Sygal and a long strip of sailcloth fell, the lightweight otter landing squarely on his targets shoulders and flattening the much heavier sailor with a sickening crunch.

Not content that the fall had been lethal, Sygal's daggers flashed again and again, puncturing the fractured carapace with ease. Acid green blood sprayed in arcs with each savage attack, clinging to his thick, waterproof fur. I watched the ferocious display with a mixture of awe and wariness, preparing to attack the crazed otter should he be so lost in a killing frenzy to attack anything that dared to breathe. Luckily whatever madness had gripped the tribal otter stopped once his victim fell still, his daggers lashing out one final time before falling still.

"Is captain okay?" Sygal squirmed free of the torn sailcloth, wiping acid green gore from his shell blades before replacing them at his hips. For having fallen at least ten feet after sliding down a now ruined sail and landing on something as hard as stone the otter looked no worse for the reckless attack. If anything, he seemed quite proud of doing something that would have left most with broken ankles if they were lucky.

I dared a look at the gore left from his suicidal fall, instantly regretting the decision. Between being crushed by the Dewott's weight, and the flurry of blows following after the Drapion's back was little more than a puddle of shattered chitin and mutilated innards, acid green blood seeping across the deck from the twisted mess. The tribal flashed a toothy grin, looking back at the gory remains of his kill. "I did good, yes?"

"Aye.": I replied, swallowing the glob of bile working its way up my throat. There would be time for praise later, along with a more tangible reward for such brave, if not reckless loyalty and ferocity later. For now, there was still the matter of subduing the last resistance and claiming our due. I motioned toward the last pockets of fighting further down the deck, not bothering to wait for the still grinning otter to understand before turning and walking away, grateful for an excuse to distance myself from the awful sight.

What had started as a crew of forty or more was now reduced to a dozen able bodies, the last survivors in any shape to fight having splintered into pockets of three and four. It was a final resistance held together by fear rather than loyalty, desperation giving the outnumbered crewmen the will to keep fighting, pointless as it was. The rest were scattered across the deck, some howling in pain while others lay quiet, all of them expecting to soon see the door to hellgates soon, no matter which side won.

Even with fear pounding in their veins, the last sailors could do little more than fend off half-hearted attacks directed at them, the portion of my own crew still engaged herding them away from the only real threat left among their numbers. Others had broken off, licking their wounds and watching from a short distance away, swords held at the ready. A few went so far as to paw at some of the dead, coin pouches and other small objects of value being relieved from those who no longer needed them.

Honor demanded that I put a stop to such a morbid act, but practicality won over them could lead to trouble down the road, and if their lust for gold could justify such a thing, let their conscience justify it. I stepped over the crumpled form of a Dunsparce, paying the dying crewman's pleas little notice as I drove the point of my cutlass into his chest. The small token of mercy did little to easy my guilt, but it would do until I could find something more fortifying at the bottom of a bottle. But first, there was the matter of one last stubborn obstacle refusing to die or give up.

A massive Krookodile, the last surviving mercenary judging by the suit of studded armor strapped to his chest stood as the last real chance of resistance. Small brass rings had been hammered into the blackened leather, giving the naturally tough reptilian hide beneath an extra layer of protection. A heavy mace caked in blood and greasy brain matter was held loosely in his right hand, the wavy blade of an oversized dirk held in the left. Despite bleeding from several cuts and what looked to be teeth sticking out of his right arm the crocodile kept fighting, so lost in rage that pain did little to slow his movements.

Skrim and his group were the only ones crazy enough to assault the towering mass of muscle and leathery hide head-on, and even that was only with defensive strikes. The rodent's face was a mass of bloodied fur, what was left of his incisors bared in a menacing snarl. It didn't take a genius to figure out where the teeth had come from, or how dangerous the Krookodile would prove to be; anything that could withstand one of Skrim's hyper fangs AND break his steel-hard teeth was something not quite real.

The rest of his elite team wasn't in much better shape. Derino was holding his left arm close, struggling to fend off the crocodile's dagger with bone-hilted broadsword, a mix of pain and anger twisting his features into a determined scowl. Ger looked calm as always despite a massive bruise on the left side of his head, the normally blue skin turning a violent shade of purple. Squirt was doing his best to hack at the behemoth's knees, retreating into his shell and dodging a blow from the crocodile's mace by mere inches.

Taking advantage of the momentary gap Derino hammered against the brute's off-hand weapon, knocking the smaller blade aside and slashing down with a two-handed grip. The blade hit home, biting into the brass-studded leather but failing to pierce the scaly hide below. In retaliation the Krookodile brought the deflected blade around, only the longer reach of Derino's weapon saving him from a slash that would have split his gut open.

Seizing the opportunity Skrim and Ger closed in unison, The Quagsire latching onto the ground type's injured arm, spitting a glob of phlegm into the crocodile's face. At the same time Skrim lunged at his unprotected chest, tearing at the brute's armor with tooth and claw. Bloody froth spread across the dark armor, scraps of leather and several brass studs flying in all directions as the crazed rodent hacked at it. With a roar of frustration the crocodile threw the vacant water type off, cracking the Raticate squarely in the forehead with his freed elbow. Knocked senseless, Skrim crumpled to the deck, narrowly avoiding the crocodile's snapping jaws.

Bellowing a cry that would make a Magmar's blood run cold Derino redoubled his attack, bringing the flat of his broadsword crashing down on the crocodile's left knee. At the same time Squirt hacked at the other leg with a serrated knife, the saw-toothed edge biting into the thick scales. Dark red blood dribbled from the flesh wound, failing to do any real damage. It did force the mercenary to shift his weight off the injury, which was the attacks true intention. A sickening pop came from the injured joint as it gave under the added weight, a sliver of bone piercing the crimson scales as the Krookodile fell.

Immobilized but far from beaten the mercenary lashed out with his mace, polished wood splintering under the crocodile's massive strength, leaving a fist sized depression where Squirt had been only a moment before. His other weapon whistled through the air, drawing a long gash along Derino's oversized gut before he could pull away. Growling, the wounded Vaporeon brought his own weapon around for another attack, the blade once again biting into the thick leather but failing to inflict a meaningful wound.

Blood dripping from his ruined muzzle Skrim picked himself up off the deck, hissing through what was left of his incisors and lunging at the crippled Krookodile. Like a thing possessed he ripped at the torn section of the crocodiles' armor, rending apart what was left of the studded leather in seconds. Unsatisfied he pressed the attack, sinking his inch long claws into the scaly hide and tearing two sets of gash marks from chest to stomach before the mercenary's mace smashed the rodent square in the side, sending him flying several paces, the rodent landing in a bloodied heap.

For a moment I thought the blow had finished him, but like his still fighting opponent the Raticate refused to die so easily. He was hardly in any condition to continue, however; the blow must have cracked several of his ribs, judging by the way his chest had started to cave from the blow. His breathing was also shallow, likely from the crushing blow his chest had taken. But, so long as no one broke away from the corralled resistance and went for an avenging kill he would live. 'He'd chew his way through the door to hellgates if it meant one more slug o rum', or so his subordinates liked to say.

And failing that, I could always be persuaded to lend a more worldly form of aid. For a price, of course.

It was obvious how the fight would end, even if the Krookodile refused to accept the outcome. Derino circled around the crippled crocodile's back, the brutal punishment his commander suffered having forced some measure of caution into the mercenaries strategy. At the same time, Squirt closed the distance in front, baiting the dragon so to speak. Any sane fighter, even injured as the massive reptile was would have seen the obvious trap forming. But the brute was so far gone that anything beyond killing the things hurting him didn't register.

Bellowing in blind fury the reptile brought both his weapons down in a wide arc, intent on bisecting the much smaller turtle in front of him. Faster than the eye could follow the mismatched pair came crashing down, the entire ship vibrating from the awesome display of strength. It was almost a shame that the display was wasted on inanimate wood. At the last second Squirt had leapt forward, sinking both serrated daggers into the behemoth's exposed chest, driving the heels of his boots into the long gashes left by his commander.

The Krookodile leaned onto his ruined leg, seemingly oblivious to the shards of bone protruding from what was left of his kneecap, snapping at the annoyance clinging to his chest. It was this mistake that the other veteran had been waiting for. Snarling like the beast of the sea himself Derino brought his weapon down upon the berserk crocodile's neck, armored scales giving way to the heavy length of steel. Dark red blood bubbled from the wound, flowing down the polished length as it was ripped free.

For the first time since I had started watching the gory spectacle, something in the Krookodile's eyes changed. Perhaps the terrible wounds already inflicted upon him were sinking in, or perhaps whatever bestial madness had gripped his mind was finally wearing off. Whatever the cause, a new look seeped into the obsidian pools behind the band of black scales: Fear. Mortality has a funny way of sinking in at the worst moments, shattering even the strongest hearts and purging the berserk rage some have chosen to master.

In one last fit of desperation the Krookodile threw his weapons down, pawing madly at the slick-shelled Squirtle hanging onto his chest. In retaliation, Squirt wrenched one of the blades free, scales and chunks of meat clinging to the serrated edge as he drove it in again, flattening against the thick hide like a leech. The crocodile roared in frustration, the sound elevating into a pained wail as a crossbow bold lodged itself in the beast's snout moments before several inches of steel burst from the back of his mouth. The behemoth shuddered, uttering one last gurgling croak before pitching forward, falling to the deck with a resounding crash.

Silence settle across the deck like a shroud, only the gentle lapping of the waves dared disturb the tranquility. Derino released his grip, reaching down and grabbing onto the now dead crocodile's arm, and in another display of his raw strength managed to roll the mass of muscle onto its side. Satisfied, he reached a hand down to the now freed Squirt, ignoring the bleeding gash along his stomach in favor of aiding his younger partner.

The spell broken, what remained of the boarded crew threw down their weapons in unison, unwilling to continue with their last hope lying dead on the deck. I flicked my tail in thought, watching as the demoralized sailors were prodded and pushed toward the center of the deck. At rough count it had cost us at least three men-four if Skrim wasn't as tough as his fellow mercenaries liked to boast. A few others were badly injured, but nothing a few days on light duty and enough rum to dull out the pain wouldn't fix.

I looked across the deck, catching the watchful eye of Tharius and nodding. The Luxray made no return gesture, instead turning away and barking orders to the other crewmen, leaving me free to tend to a more specialized matter. I strode across the bloodstained deck, paying only passing notice to the wounded and dead. The crew could tend to the less life threatening injuries. What healing talent I had mastered would serve only one this day… and only grudgingly at that.

"I doubt you can hear this, but what I'm about to do is coming out of your pay."

o0o0o0o0o0

"To think a preening coward like you would be put in a position of authority." A warm breeze swept across the battered deck, carrying away the growing reek of drying blood and sweaty fur in a merciful wave of briny air. I savored the summer zephyr washing across my fur, noting with annoyance at how much damage the Drapion's claws had done to my waistcoat. "I should rightly have you stuffed and made into a proper figurehead; maybe then all the work that must have gone into preening yourself will have a use!"

As expected, the Seviro's had placed one of their own in a place of authority, likely a rich son given a ship to lord over like his personal plaything. A well-to-do son of a rich family more concerned with the sheen of his feathers than the state of his ship. Another more plausible reason was that the lump of shivering feathers and fat had been pushed aside, given enough power to keep him satisfied, while other more competent-or better connected-men were given more important roles.

The mass of azure and navy feathers was crouched on his knees, flanked by the pair who had retrieved him. One hand was clutching the bleeding ruin of his beak while the other was outstretched in a helpless gesture. Bright red blood flowed freely through his fingers, staining the front of his silk waistcoat scarlet. The injury was hardly a dignified craven captain had put up a struggle when he has been escorted from his cabin, leading one of the men to smash the pommel of their sword into the struggling Primplup's face.

Pleas for mercy and offers of gold in exchange for his miserable hide poured from his mouth, the mixture of choked squawking and lies only furthering my contempt for the man. It would be easy enough to silence the fool and spare myself the misery of hearing his hollow promises, but there was still some use to him. Something had caused them to change course, and I wanted to know what it was before it could affect my own ship.

"Keep your tongue in check, or I will cut it from your sniveling beak!" I snarled, driving the toe of my boot into his gut. The captain doubled over from the blow, clutching his stomach feebly as what little dignity he had left ran down his legs. "If I wanted to hear the incessant chatter of a fool, I would spend a night among the beggars and drunks in port."

"No, what I want to hear from you are answers. Your ship took a dangerous change in course, skimming closer to the shoreline than a vessel bound for port would. Yet your crew was lax and unprepared for an attack. I have to wonder, what would make a man take such a bold risk?" For the first time since being dragged from his cabin the Prinplup was silent, a sickening gurgle the only thing to come from his shattered beak.

It was tempting to reward his sudden defiance with a crushed windpipe, wrenching what bits of information I could from his dying mind. But that would take far more effort than a nagging question warranted. No, if whatever had changed their course couldn't be found while unloading our cargo then it could stay a mystery. And after draining most of my mental reserves stabilizing Skrim, the chances of pulling more than a few incoherent fragments from his dying mind were low.

That wasn't to say my interest in the bleeding wreck had ended. If the captain had found the courage to be miserly with his words, then his babblings about gold would have to do. "Hold him up." The pair flanking him, a Seadra and Staraptor respectively, grabbed the penguin by the arms, hauling the bloodied mass back to his feet less than gently.

"And Felch, remove your spines from his back. A prisoner of such distinction is not worth poisoning." A look of horror froze on the penguin's face, blood dripping from his broken beak as it mouthed a silent prayer. I paused, curling my tail around and fingering the dagger held in its grip. "On second thought leave them there. We wouldn't want the captain to do something as foolish as try to escape, would we?" The pair laughed darkly, twisting the penguin's arms so hard it was a wonder they didn't break.

"Now, you were saying something before, about the value you placed on your life? What was it again, everything on your person?" Not waiting for any sort of answer I took a step forward, releasing my grip on the keen blade and thrusting the other hand into the folds of his bloodied waistcoat. The restrained captain began to protest, but fell silent as five inches of steel whistled through the air, stopping close enough for the captive to see his own reflection in its polished surface.

"If you give me any trouble more trouble, I will cut your eye from its socket and feed it to you." Whether it was the thought of death being mere inches away, or Felch had accidentally poisoned their captive while retrieving him, the effect was the same. A gurgling moan rattled in his throat, eyes rolling upward as the beaten captain passed out. I sighed, glaring at the unconscious form with disgust.

o0o0o0o0o0

All things considered it had been a successful raid. Two crewmen were dead, one still clutching the dagger in his throat, while the other had been beaten beyond recognition. Another four had suffered broken bones from the Krookodile's initial rampage, but nothing enough rum and a makeshift splint wouldn't take care of until we made port. Others had suffered various cuts and minor bludgeons from the uncoordinated defenders, though nothing life threatening or that would interfere with duties.

The same couldn't be said for the shattered crew. Only eleven had survived unharmed, another dozen being able bodied enough to salvage. A good twenty had died in the fighting, not including a half dozen with the telltale trappings of professional muscle for hire. Another six had been given mercy killings, though I suspected their motive was not pity. A suspicion that was confirmed as one of the 'merciful' crewman drove his dagger into a dying Azumarill's throat when he refused to give up his coin pouch.

Tharius had rounded up several of the more experienced men, vanishing into the cargo hold with his group in search of any crewmen who had taken to hiding. I had told him to bring any he found out alive, but I knew it was a futile order. Tharius wasn't one to take prisoners, often arguing that a captured ship should be stripped of valuables and razed. And more than once that argument had fallen in his favor. I sighed, looking out across the sunlit ocean and focusing on more pressing thoughts.

Something felt off about our prey's behavior, and not just the sudden change in course. Several of the slain crewmen were wearing clothes too well made for mere sailors, their weapons too well cared for. One even bore a gold ring-or at least he had before one of the grave robbers had relieved him of it. Even the mercenaries were higher quality than the Seviro's tight-fisted way with sovereigns normally allowed for. There was more to this shipment than simple medicine, though I couldn't place a finger on it.

Then there were the items I had relieved their captain of. It's not uncommon for a well paid captain, or higher ranking overseer to be carrying small baubles on their person. Some carried a small bauble, a ring or a bracelet from a lady whom was awaiting their next time in port. Most others carried them as signs of devotion, bringing simple bits of jewelry to purchase the affection of a particular escort. And on rare occasions, they were gifts to be sent to one's true love, love shown through both words and offerings of a better life.

Most of what he had hidden on his person was common; a small pouch of sovereigns stashed in a hidden pocket of his waistcoat, a silver pendant depicting Proteus, the mythical oracle and servant of Arceus, and a bone anklet favored by the northern nomad tribes. The typical odds and ends you find on a corrupt captain. They were the typical objects of small value collected over time only to be turned into a few quick sovereigns to fuel a particularly long drinking binge. But the last item, a finely crafted gold ring, stood out like a diamond among coal.

A single thin circle of silver was set between two thicker loops of gold, a fine layer of crushed sapphire filling most of gap like a miniature river frozen in time. Its seal was cast in pure gold, flecks of scarlet wax still clinging to the edges of the signet ring. On its surface, a single figure had been meticulously picked out; a Ninetales bearing a slender sword in one hand and a wreath in the other. All along the flat edge were words in an old tongue, though their meaning was lost to me.

Ninetales families were few, most having scattered to the four winds several hundred years ago, their numbers dwindling despite having a lifespan far longer than most other races. A lack of worthy blood to carry their heritage, or so many of the more arrogant members were fond of saying had claimed several of the bloodlines. The few that remained still clinging to the wealth and luxury their shamanic ways had won them so long ago.

I stared at the masterpiece of craftsmanship, trying to put a name to the crest depicted on it. For a moment I considered the possibility of it being a lucky find for a corrupt captain. Sometimes items bearing long dead crests surfaced, the last of their line having peddled priceless treasures away to sustain their last gasp of rich living. Such objects traded hands many times before being smelted and recast for their material value.

But that didn't explain the fresh wax clinging to it, or a set of fresh scratches obscuring one of the already indecipherable words. I was certain it had been used recently, either by its rightful owner before finding its way into a lowly captain's hands or by the captain himself was unclear. Where would a two-bit captain on a low importance route find something like this?

A burst of muffled shouting came from somewhere below deck, followed by a keening wail. Having enough sense about me, I managed to tuck the strange seal into my waistcoat before whirling around and facing the hatch. Several of the men closer to the open trapdoor had fallen to their knees, hands clutched against their ears in a vain attempt to drown out the horrible wail. Others were backing away, holding their weapons loosely and shaking their heads violently.

"Stay back; let whatever is screeching come to us!" It was doubtful that anyone on deck heard or understood the order over the keening wail, but the act was enough to steel my own resolve. "Watch your attacks, some of our own are down there!" A few heads turned, their responses swallowed by the terrible sound.

By some curse the sound grew worse, the very air rippling with the unearthly sound. Those already so deafened they couldn't stand threw their heads back, screams of agony doing little more than a pebble would to against a river. Seconds later an all too familiar black mane materialized from the opening, his golden eyes blazing with an eerie light. His muzzle was pulled into a fang ridden snarl, mouthing something at the thing he was dragging out of the hole.

A much more slender head appeared moments later, the sharp features and creamy fur belonging to what could only be a Ninetales. The vulpine's muzzle was pulled into an ugly grimace, a row of ivory teeth appearing to vibrate from the unearthly shriek their owner was creating. Apparently having had enough of the sound, Tharius brought a fist down on the side of his captives head, arresting the shriek for a moment.

"By all the gods shut up!" Tharius roared, beating his fist against the vulpine head a second time, uncurling his fist and clamping his hand tightly around the things muzzle before the shriek could resume. Not one to give up so easily, the fire type thrashed against the much larger feline's iron grip, wisps of bright orange flame curling like tiny fingers from where the Luxray's hand didn't keep its lips secure.

"Tharius, who or what did you find down there!" I demanded, looking the feline's captive over. The Ninetales sported a pair of well worn breeches, clumps of creamy fur poking through poorly mended patches. A sharkskin belt was pulled tight to keep the ill-fitting garment secure, its tarnished silver buckle standing in stark contrast to the finely groomed fur that poked out from our mystery guests exposed midriff. The remains of a dirty white shirt clung to her features, no longer able to disguise the vixen's rather sizable assets.

She also wore a pair of silk gloves, designs similar to those on the ring picked out with silver thread along the spotless fabric. Her feet were bare, dull nails scratching at the deck in a vain attempt to find purchase. Hatred burned in her deep green eyes, the sunken chips of jade burning like witch fire in the afternoon light. If anything, she was the most mismatched creature I had ever set eyes upon, even more out of place than the bastard children of her kind who found work in the highest class brothels.

"This creature attacked us below deck," Tharius twisted the vixen's pinned arm, drawing a muffled cry of pain from the thrashing form. "started throwing anything heavy at us before beginning that horrible screech. She should count herself lucky I thought you would want her alive, not as a new rug for your cabin."

"Good. Take her aboard and find something to keep her quiet for the time being. There's still much to do." Tharius nodded, the fur along his body standing on end as he drew upon his reserves. "Without harming her, Tharius. After all, one should never strike a lady." The feline fixed me with a withering glare, muttering something into the vixen's fur and dragging the squirming female off.

"The rest of you, get moving! I want this cargo loaded before the sun sets!" I shouted at the still recovering crew, picking my way across the bloodied deck to where the captain was still being held. "The captain and I have something new to discuss."

this was to be just the beginning of something that tested my integrity in more ways than one. For it seems that our mysterious guest was far more than a bastard vixen travelling by whatever small means she could afford. No, there was far more to those fiery eyes than scorn from a life denied, or even the wrath of a shamanic healer. Something that even as I write this, I find myself questioning: who was the puppeteer in our little game, and who was the puppet?