Three times now
when I have sought solace in solitude
over the headland on the rocky shore
I have displaced my insistent inner voice
with a simple quest:
"I will find a starfish".
And each time I have done this,
gingerly rockhopping away from it all
towards the kelp-caressed wavelets
I have found one
under the first stone I turn over.
But no matter how diligently
I continue the search
I have never found a second...
-- Alan McClure
Tired and quite drunk, the party retired to the lower hold, where hammocks had been set aside for them as the new crew members. A couple of growls and glares from Thaduk Jr. was enough to convince some of the other crew to shift about, allowing all of the conscripts from Moonplum to bunk next to each other. Once the sleeping arrangements were sorted out, the two Thaduk's agreed to take turns standing watch against any possible treachery.
Before turning in, Caddis, still very very buzzed from his heavy round of drinking with Fishguts, decided to head down to the bilges to look around. Sifting through the dark, rank water, Caddis found a very well-made hatchet. He also caught the attention of a very large and curious bilge-rat, which took a bite out of his thigh. Caddis quickly put the rat to sleep with his hypnotic stare, then decapitated it with the axe.
On his way back up to the crew quarters, Caddis ran into 'X', the ship's old, one-eyed, tomcat. The cat was clearly more interested in Caddis than rat-catching, and followed him halfway back to the bunks before turning and scurrying off elsewhere. Ignoring the cat, Caddis made his way up to the galley and stashed the axe amidst the other tools in the kitchen.
Meanwhile, as Caddis was down in the bilges, Thaduk heard an ear-piercing scream coming from the forward end of the main hold, which was cut off as suddenly as it had begun. Poking his head up the stairs, he spotted a body lying on a table near the larboard bulkhead, surrounded by a growing pool of blood. Hearing an odd, rhythmic thumping, Thaduk stayed down and watched as a peg-legged figure walked back from the galley, a blood-soaked saw in one hand.
As the figure got closer to the body, Thaduk recognized Habbly Quarne, the ship's stitchman. Reaching the body on the able, Habbly quickly went to work stitching up the bloody stump of an arm, which Thaduk now recognized as belonging to the old woman he had arm-wrestled half to death only an hour before, and affixing some kind of wooden cup to the end of her wrist.
Finally, well past midnight, the party turned in, only to be woken much too early by the sound of the morning bell and the rest of the hands rushing up on deck. As they made their way, bleary eyed and tired, to the steps out of the middle hold, they found their way blocked by a jaundiced orc and three other crewmen.
"In a hurry?" the orc asked, shoving Caddis backwards. Caddis responded by stepping into the galley, dipping a bowl in a barrel of grog, and handing it to Thaduk Jr.
Thaduk took a swig (great breakfast), glared at the orc and said, "I'm coming up." He then rushed the orc, and, with one punch, sent him flying up the stairs to crash-land on sprawled on the main deck in a tangled heap with his friends.
As he started back up the stairs, Fishguts shoved a platter of biscuits into Caddis's hands and told him to pass out breakfast to the crew. Reaching the top, Caddis stared in the sprawled orc's eyes. Somehow the idea crossed the orc's mind that "anyone who can hang with Thaduk without getting plastered is probably captain material".
With the crack of a whip, the bosun, Mr. Scourge, ordered Caddis to simply put the tray down and let the crew help themselves. He then announced that both parties--Thaduk, Caddis, and Adriana, as well as the four men Thaduk had just trounced--would be spending the day in the bilges as punishment for fighting on deck, saying that young Jack had spotted some over-large rats getting into their grain stores the day before, and telling them not to come out until whatever was down there was dead.
After grabbing their biscuits, the seven of them trekked back down the way they'd come towards the bilges. Caddis stopped off in the galley and grabbed the axe he'd found the night before, as well as a pair of cleavers for his friends. Hearing what was up, Fishguts slapped him on the back and quipped, "if you find a big one, bring it up and we'll have it for supper..."
Up on deck, the sun was alright bright and hot, despite the early hour, turning the bilges into a sauna. While the darkness of the bilges was no problem for most of the group that went down, the heat and the stench quickly got to Caddis, Adriana, and most of the sailors that went with them. The grumbling from the orc, Jaundiced Japes they called him, and the other three was quickly silenced by Thaduk's threats and they all got to looking for the rats.
Soon enough, they found a half-dozen rats, each the size of a small dog, easily 8 pounds of more a piece. The rats lunged at them out of the dark corners of the bilges, scoring bites on several of the party. A quick scan with Caddis' evil-eye knocked four of them unconscious, easy pickings for the other sailors to finish off. The fifth was cut in two by Adriana and the last was crushed to a pulp by Thaduk.
The fight with the rats was over almost before it started, then Caddis felt something go past his leg under the water. Everyone started poking in the water, then, suddenly Caddis was grabbed and pulled under. Luckily this was not really a problem for him, given his ability to breath water.
Thaduk reached into the murky depths, felt Caddis' boot, and yanked. He pulled up Caddis, as well as the massive five-foot diameter starfish that was latched onto him. Thaduk held up the tangled mess and Adriana and the others began trying to cut the thing off of Caddis, but dealt more damage to their friend than the beast. Finally Caddis went limp and the starfish began slapping at Thaduk with a couple of loose appendages. Thaduk responded by squeezing harder, finally getting the beast to relinquish their friend and turn its attention entirely on him.
Once Caddis was free, Thaduk swung the giant starfish around like a rag, slamming it into one of the spars which framed the lower part of the ship. There was a great splintering sound as both the beam, and the hard mesodermal skeleton of the beast cracked. Japes and the other sailors, seeing the damage to the ship, panicked and climbed out of the bilges as fast as they could. Fipps Chumlett, who was among them was nice enough to grab Cad's skinny ass and haul him out (more for fear of Thaduk's ire than any real desire to save Caddis).
Enraged by the beating, the starfish wriggled free of Thaduk's grip and wrapped itself completely around him, biting at his midsection. Adriana hammered on the thing's back with her cleaver, this time being careful not to hit her engulfed comrade. Thaduk struggled, arms pinned, but finally managed to get his knife out of his belt and stab it into the creatures mouth, finally killing it.
Thaduk shouldered the dead creature and hauled it up on deck, tossing it down in front of Mr. Scourge. He then flopped down next to where they had laid Caddis' unconscious body. Adriana stayed behind to continue searching the bilges for anything potentially useful, and any more rats to dispose of. Mr. Scourge, for once, left them to relax and turned to whipping the other crew members into shape.
After a moment. Sandara Quinn, who was scrubbing the decks, worked her way over near Cad and Thad and healed them both with a burst of positive energy. Revived, The two made their way down to the galley, hauling the starfish for Fishguts. The cook and his mate then set to work boiling the monstrous echinoderm. Taking turns trying to season the olive-green mush that passed for starfish meat, with Fishguts narrowly saving Caddis from making it completely inedible.
Thaduk excused himself and headed to the lower hold where Adriana was just beginning to haul up the collection of weapons and gear she'd found discarded in the darkness of the bilges. The two of them stashed what they'd found in the footlockers that had been provided for them, then fetched up some scrab lumber which Thaduk spent the rest of the afternoon whittling into a couple of semi-usable spears.
After serving a dinner of nutmeg-laden giant starfish, Thaduk and Caddis, exhausted after a sleep-deprived night and the exertions of combat in the steamy bilges, retired to their bunks and went to sleep early. Adriana meanwhile, joined the crew on deck and challenged a dozen of them to a game of "Heave" (which involved taking turns drinking half-pints of rum in a single swig). She soon drank the entire ship under the table, thanks to her complete immunity to the effects of alcohol. Finally she retired to her bunk with an large pile of winnings and (assuming any of them remember it in the morning) the ire of the crew.
Next time: The Curse of the Killer Hangovers!