I HAVE lived in many half-worlds myself … and so I know you.

I leaned at a deck rail watching a monotonous sea,
the same circling birds and the same plunge of furrows carved by the plowing keel.

I leaned so …
and you fluttered struggling between two waves in the air now …
and then under the water and out again …
a fish … a bird … a fin thing … a wing thing.

Child of water, child of air, fin thing and wing thing …
I have lived in many half worlds myself … and so I know you.

Carl Sandburg


Standing on the plateau in the late afternoon, over the bodies of their fallen foes, the party considered how best to get back to Rickety’s Squibs, knowing that by morning the mountaintop would likely be crawling with giant assembling for their weekly potluck. Standing on the edge, Leo pointed to the blue-brown line of the river as it meandered through the jungle, and noted that it emptied directly into the harbor by Rickety’s. “We’ve got a thousand feet of rope, we could build a raft…”

Thaduk suggested that the roof of Aaron’s small house in the stockade would be easy enough to remove for lumber (rather than felling a forest). Although it would require going off the trail they followed to get here and bushwhacking through the jungle, the party agreed to spend the night at Aaron’s stockade, then take the river. Then came the question of getting back down the mountain.

Rummy reminded them that the cave on the plateau supposedly connected to the ones lower down the mountain. Leo pulled out his spyglass and, scanning the mountain’s base, pointed out a lady giant carrying a kettle of water large enough for a man to lie down in up from the river towards the lowest cave entrance. This bit of information quickly squashed any notions of going through the mountain.

Instead they took off, jogging back down the trail by which they had come up. With Rummy taking point, Leo whistling a marching tune to keep everyone’s spirits up, and Thaduk carrying anyone who started to flag, they made it to Aaron’s stockade just before nightfall. Tired from hiking and fighting, they set watches and turned in early for the night.

Late into the third watch in the pre-dawn darkness, Thaduk and Sandara sat up talking. At Thaduk’s prodding, Sandara went into, very boring, detail about how she, almost by accident, became the chosen prophet of Besmara—covering her childhood in a small sea-side town in the New England colony, her love of the sea and of stories and plays featuring daring buccaneers, and of finding a small shrine to the patron Saint of Piracy in her local Catholic church and saying a prayer, not knowing that the previous prophet had died the night before.

As she droned on, Thaduk noticed an overly-large hand with long curled nails reach up to the top of the palisade behind her. A moment later, a pair of feral, hunch-backed giants peeked over the wall. Jumping to his feet, Thaduk glared at the giants and roared out a blistering tirade or Orcish threats and curses. The creatures froze, half-way over the wall, then turned tail and vanished back into the jungle. Sandara started at the sudden outburst and looked around hurriedly, but saw nothing. Everyone else came running out of the small house, jolted from their sleep. Thaduk explained what he had seen, and the others, since it was almost dawn and they were awake anyways, decided to get to work building the raft.

Thaduk asked Sandara if she could lend her experience as a sailor to the raft-building endeavor. “I thought you’d never ask,” she laughed. “It’s done.” She whipped her hat off her head and dropped it into the small spring bubbling out from between the roots of the large tree that canopied the stockade. As the water soaked into the felt, the hat began to grow and change, taking the form of a twenty-foot, single-masted longship large enough for a dozen people. Grabbing the prow she lightly lifted the hat boat, shook the water off, and placed the boat, er hat, back on her head.

That settled, they headed into the jungle, Thaduk and Rummy beating a track west towards where Leo had spotted the river. A ways into the woods, Rummy spotted a large number of dark tear-drop shaped masses hanging from the trees up ahead—like clusters of night-black bananas. “Bats,” Leo said simply.


Rummy tried to pick a path around the nesting flock, cautioning everyone to be as quiet as possible. As he turned to make a hissing reprimand of Thaduk, who has snapped a small twig, he tripped, stumbling over a large branch, on which had fallen a large coconut, and which was draped over a rock to create a natural lever. Rummy’s backside came down hard on the raised end of the branch and the coconut went sailing to strike into a cluster of the bats…

With barely audible, high-pitched shrieks, the startled flock burst into flight and began swarming, swirling in and around the party, buffeting them with their unusually large wings and making the occasional small, nipping bite—their anticoagulant saliva making the small wounds much bloodier than was to be expected. With a sharp whistle, Leo unleashed a gust of wind, blowing a mass of the bats out of the way and leaving a brief path open. They ran through the breech in the swarm and bolted for the river. Sandara through her hat into the water and dove, landing in the rapidly expanding boat and everyone else piled in behind her.

The river was broad, shallow, and muddy, but flowing in the right direction, with just enough drop to give the boat some speed. Luckily Sandara’s hat-boat also came with a few yards of sail and two sets of oars, so the party made a solid five knots heading downstream.

Leo took the helm, pulling out the map and trying to gauge where they had left the aurified meiolania, while using message spells to chat up Jessica. He praised her beauty, asked how she liked life at sea, and learned that she was surprisingly fond of the former captain—mostly because of what he had not done after kidnapping them all (i.e. not raping her), than for how he actually treated them.

Thaduk, meanwhile, pulled out a spear leaned over the back of the boat, trying to skewer one of the large, broad-finned fish which were swimming in its wake. As he stabbed, the fish dodged, not sideways or down, but up, leaping out of the water, over the shaft of the spear, and right at Thaduk’s face. Thaduk flinched and the fish went right past his head to land flopping on the floor of the boat, where he quickly pounded its head in with his fist. Leo identified the fish as an onwu azu, a piranha like fish known as the “flying death” by locals.

The water around them began to churn, as more of the fish became agitated. Singing with all his might, Leo calmed the waters. While normally this would have been bad, and should have made it easier for the fish to leap, the shear force of Leo’s song made the surface of the river as flat and smooth as glass—an almost impenetrable barrier of surface tension. The small boat sailed on without further molestation by the carnivorous piscines and landed at the point Leo estimated to be nearest their giant golden turtle sometime just after noon.

gold-turtle.jpgThey tied off the boat and trekked inland, soon locating their prize. The golden turtle was truly massive, almost three meters long and weight in at nearly twenty tons. After numerous discussions about how they might move the thing—cutting it up, building pulley systems, and other less reasonable approaches—Leo pointed out his trump card. His spell of buoyancy could easily affect an object of the turtle’s volume irrespective of weight, so as long as they could get it to the river, he could float it.

Rummy pointed out that they had a flask of quickfreeze oil, not much, but enough to maybe slide the thing. Every got to work. They hacked down all the tree between the turtle and the river. Thaduk and Adriana took a couple of palms and used them as rollers to flatted out all the smaller vegetation along their desired path. The girls, meanwhile, hauled bucket after bucket of water up from the river (being careful not to rile up the man-eating fish again) and sluiced the path, soaking the flattened vegetation and turning the ground into thick, slick mud.

Once the path was prepared, Leo made sure the boat was out of the way and Rummy iced the muddy ground right in front of the golden turtle. Everyone got on one side and started pushing. Adriana and Thaduk raged-out and heaved. Slowly, ever so slowly, the twenty-ton lump of gold started to budge.

Inch by excruciating inch, they began to slide the massive object. Rummy, who had apparently been exposed to curling in the northern Empire before migrating to Nova Britannia, ran around to the front and began sweeping the ice with a broom hastily made from pine branches. Finally, with a last screaming heave from Thaduk that nearly threw his back out, the turtle was tipped over onto its back went sliding quickly down the muddy slope towards the river, picking up more and more speed as it went. The massive, fast-moving turtle shot off the bank and went sailing a good twenty feet out into the river. It landed with a mighty splash, sending a fourty-foot column of water into the air—nearly swamping the small hat-boat, and raining down hundreds of dead fish.

The party piled into the boat and rowed out to where the turtle sank. After a few minutes of poking about, they struck gold (literally) and Leo’s buoyancy spell brought it up to the surface. They tied it off and started tugging it downriver.

careened_ship.jpgBy nightfall, the party, quite exhausted from their efforts retrieving the turtle, sailed into the harbor at Rickety’s Squibs. Leo jumped ashore and ran to the tavern, announcing their triumphal return and immediately breaking into a rousing retelling of their fight against giants—mostly to keep everyone in the tap room and distracted. While he did this, the others tugged the turtle to the remains of the Ginger Belle, just west of the shipyard. The large ship was careened on its side, half in the water, and a large hole cut in the side from where it was being cannibalized for parts. They stashed the golden turtle in the water-logged hold of the careened ship, then returned to the tap room to join the festivities.

Inside the tavern, Leo bought a round of drinks for the house. He then called over Thaduk and the girls and continued his story, encouraging Thaduk to play the role of the Puritans and giants, adding his intimidating stature to the retelling.

While the storytelling and bragging continued, Rummy slipped back out, with the bound and gagged Badger Medlar in toe, and went to the warehouse to round up Fishguts. He sent Fishguts to the Ginger Belle, then grabbed a cross-cut saw from the shipyard and dragged Badger out to the wreck.

As the party raged in the tap room, screams filled the night. The old woman hung upside down from the careened ship’s beam. The sawing was slow, painfully slow, and no amount of gagging or wadding could drown out the old woman’s screams. Fishguts watched and Rummy pressed on with his act of execution.

The saw caught and bit—tailbone, pelvis, spine, ribs. By the ribs, at least, the screaming had stopped. Rummy sawed and sawed. Blood soaked every inch of his clothes, filled his boots, drenched his arms, splattered his face. Rummy’s mind was filled with the gleeful telepathic pleadings of the gelatinous monster at his back—an unending stream of blasphemies.

Finally the saw breached the woman’s jaw, then the skull split and the two halves of what had been Badger Medlar fell free, swinging independently. These were soon devoured by the thing that had been Fishguts. Rummy laid down his saw and stripped, tossing the soiled clothes to Fishguts to be devoured along with the corpse, then headed back to the warehouse. Mentally signalling to his pet demon that it should keep watch over their golden prize.

Cleaned and dressed, outwardly at least, Rummy rejoined his friends at the tap room. Leopold had finished his tale and turned his attentions to more aggressively wooing Jessica. A few more drinks, a few more compliments and the two of them were walking out the door, arm in arm, heading for “somewhere private”.

Leo and Jessica were met at the door by an irate and clearly drunk Tilly Bracket, who, while she had not been able to listen in on their unspoken conversation, was clearly outraged that Leo would be slinking off with someone other than herself. And, of course, she already had her brass knuckles on. Two punches later, Leo’s face was barely recognizable.

Leo did some quick talking, or as best he could manage given his dislocated jaw, and suggested that really, Rummy was the better looking of the two of them anyways and Tilly shouldn’t have to put up with his philandering bullshit. Tilly gave Rummy an appraising look over Leo’s shoulder. Rummy flashed a freshly opened bottle of plum wine at the notorious lush and she quickly brushed Leo off and joined Rummy at the bar.

With the dangerous woman thus distracted, Leo tried to get Sandara to heal his face, but was met by an angry rant about him taking advantage of an young, innocent, disabled girl. Jessica, however, seemed impressed by Leo’s taking a beating on her behalf (probably because she was unable to hear any of the relevant exchange) and quickly led him out of the tap room, laying many a kiss and healing spell over him.

Rummy and Tilly polished off the bottle of wine quickly. “So,” Rummy said, “you ever had sex on top of a giant solid-gold turtle?” The cougar never needs so much invitation from its prey, and the two of them quickly followed Leo and Jessica out of the tap room.

On the way out, the plate-clad shape of Guillaume caught Rummy’s eye and threw him an appreciately obscene gesture before rising from its seat. Rummy tried to telepathically explain to the demon that Tilly was not married, but Guillaume insisted that having the same sexual partner every night for a month clearly indicated some level of unspoken pact, and that was enough to slate his need to see a woman be unfaithful. Sighing, Rummy allowed the demon to follow Tilly and him to the wreckage of the Ginger Belle to watch them fucking on the biggest mass of gold any of them could imagine.

Not one to be left out, a drunken Thaduk approached Sandara and made a pass at her. The elven priestess considered the orc’s advance for a while, then led him outside to the docks. She stuffed a pair of pipes with some skunk-smelling, strangely wet tobacco and handed him one. For all that it stank, the rum-soaked tobacco was delicious, and the two friends sat quietly staring at the stars and smoking late into the night.

To be continued…