Her face the sinking stars desire:
Unto her place the slow deeps bring
Shadow of errant winds that wing
O’er sterile gulfs of foam and fire.

Her beauty is the light of pearls.
AII stars and dreams and sunsets die
To make the fluctuant glooms that lie
Around her; and low noonlight swirls

Down ocean’s firmamental deep
To weave for who glimmers there
Elusive visions, vague and fair;
And night is as a dreamless sleep:

She has not known the night’s unrest
Nor the white curse of clearer day;
The tremors of the tempest play
Like slow delight about her breast.

The berylline pallors of her face
Illume the kingdom of the drowned.
In her the love that none has found,
The unflowering rapture, folded grace,

Await some lover strayed and lone,
Some god misled, who shall not come
Though the decrescent seas lie dumb
And sunken in their wells of stone.

But nevermore of him, perchance,
Her enigmatic musings are,
Whose purpling tresses float afar
In grottoes of the last romance.

Serene, an immanence of fire
She dwells for ever, ocean-thralled,
Soul of the sea’s vast emerald.
Her face the sinking stars desire.

Clark Ashton Smith, The Nereid

As the storm receded behind them, ahead the party saw a large island. The coastline appeared to be vast, virgin forest, filled with trees in a dizzying and shocking array of colours: leaves of bright pinks and sky blue and metallic gold against boughs like marble columns or twisting serpents in myriad pastel shades. Overhead the sky was a garish shade of yellow, lit by an overly large magenta sun and streaked with wisps of stark white clouds, without a hint of gray or shadow, or any other colour to them.

unseelie-ship-1.jpgAs the Dümplom prepared to drop anchor in the small bay, two ships appear around the headlands to either side of them, moving in perfect synchronicity, like some bizarre mirror image. The ship to their starboard side was beautiful, its hull the same stark, unblemished white of the clouds, with massive trumpet-shaped pink flowers in place of sails, growing from a living mast. The ship to port was entirely alien, a mass of undulating shapes in every colour of the rainbow (and then some) which somehow together give the vague impression of a ship.

Zarina, still perched on Leo’s shoulder, screams, “They’ve spotted us! Hurry, we must sink them before they can alert Leanne!”

“Any chance they’d parlay?” Caddis inquired.

“You’re mortals, so unlikely. Even less so if they know I’m aboard…”

Caddis gave the order to engage. Leo changed their heading to intercept the flowered ship and put it between them and the second ship. Looking up, he noticed that behind them, the storm seemed to suddenly change directions, one moment receding and the next approaching their stern with terrifying speed.

Leopold’s excellent sailing gave the Dümplom an early advantage, bringing them easily into range to deliver a full broadside to their target. The Flower-ship took a pounding, but did not retaliate immediately. “Do they not have cannons? I don’t see any cannons…” Then the trumpet-shaped flowers clinging to the mast turned and pelted out what looked like giant walnuts, each easily ten to twelve feet in length. The projectiles fell short of the Dümplom, but the great splashes they made entering the water attested to their lethal potential.

Quothe Rummy, “No cannons my ass!”

While the flower-cannons lacked range, the mass of archers on the enemy ship clearly had no such problems. A cloud of arrows filled the sky, arcing towards the Dümplom. Luckily, the greater range of the Dümplom’s cannons meant that they suffered only a few minor injuries from the continuous barrage from the archers.

For several long minutes the Dümplom tacked around its prey, trading cannon, seed, and arrow fire. Despite the clear advantage of position held by the Dümplom, neither of the enemy ships deviated from their course. The two sailed strait at each other, passing each other with only a couple feet of space between them, then sailed on. They continued to fire at the Dümplom, mostly ineffectually, but seemed somehow incapable of maneuvering at all.

Even with this vast advantage in maneuverability, the Dümplom’s luck did not hold out long. As Caddis gave the order to unleash a third broadside at the Flower-ship, there was a deafening KABOOM! from below decks, as one of the cannons exploded. Zeke Leerly, one of the buccaneers they’d picked up from Pegsworthy’s crew, was killed and Jessica, who has been aiding the crews in loading the cannons, came up on deck with severe burns and a dislocated shoulder.

Leo swung the Dümplom about to bring the starboard cannons to bear and ordered Zarina to help the gunners. The fairie wizzed over the side of the gunwhale and began tossing pixie-dust bombs into the muzzles of the cannons. The bomb-assisted broadside rocked the Flower-ship, opening a large hole near her stern and causing her to list badly. Caddis grabbed up his spyglass and looked to see how the enemy ship was doing, and got a good look at their captain, a beautiful women with pearlescent skin and long dark hair, wearing nothing but a wet, white shawl. “Bring us about, we’re going to board her!” he shouted to the crew, quite without thinking…

The crew went to work to follow the captain’s orders, adjusting course to bring them on course to board the Flower-ship. As the distance closed, another cloud of arrows rained down on the Dümplom. This time many of the shots hit home. One of the riggers, Elmo, took an arrow through the thigh, and very nearly fell from the rigging. Riaris, coming up to man the long-nine now that they were no longer broadside to the target, took three arrows—the last, in the left breast just above her heart, dropped her to the deck.

It was then that the storm hit. Wind, rain, and lightning lashed the Dümplom, but somehow seemed not to touch the two faerie ships. Leo held the wheel as steady as he could, but a powerful blast of wind heeled the ship over and blew it off course, right between and abaft of both the Flower-ship and the other one. Both ships unleashed hell, pelting the Dümplom with seeds, arrows, and now strange, twisting gouts of fire and ice from the second ship.

Caddis, against all reason, shouted again the order to board the Flower-ship. Leo clung to the wheel and turned it back onto an intercept course just as a massive wave caught up their stern and flung them into the enemy ship. They crashed into the faerie ship with a sickening sound of cracking wood. The two ships were hopelessly tangled together, with Dümplom’s bowsprit rammed halfway through the Flower-ship’s aft bulkhead. Shouts from below informed the officers that they were taking on water…

The Dümplom was sinking.

Captain Caddis wasn’t listening, however. He had already leaped the rail onto the deck of the Flower-ship and was charging towards the enemy captain (whether to kill her or bed her was hard to tell). Caddis fired an arrow at the captain, but she seemed to partly liquefy and it passed harmlessly through her.

Luckily, whatever force kept the storm from touched the faerie ship extended to the Dümplom now that they were so intertwined. Rummy rounded up every he could—carpenters, riggers, and swabs and ran belowdecks. He threw open the bilges, letting Fishguts out with orders to go help the captain, and then dove into the water with hammer and nails to try to plug the breach in their hull.

As Rummy and the rest of the crew worked frantically to shove the boats apart, bail out water, and plug the breach, Leo and Thaduk called up the gunnery crews, as well as Zarina, Chumlet, and Thaduk the Sot, and charged after Caddis. The crew of the Flower-ship, who, like their ship were strangely beautiful caricatures of humanity, shrouded head to toe in brightly coloured flowers, had their small boarding party outnumbered nearly 6 to 1. Zarina took the gunners and fanned out to screen Caddis from the ninety-odd, sword-wielding, pansy elves while the party and Fishguts continued to charge the captain.

As they neared the woman, Thaduk and Leopold also found themselves fascinated by her inhuman beauty. Of course, they were already charging, so the desire to get as close to her as possible made little difference. Suddenly, out of the hold came a massive cloud of tiny, winged, brightly-glowing humanoids, each about the size of a hummingbird and armed with toothpick-sized spears.

Caddis, seeing the look coming over his friend’s faces, finally recognized the fey enchantments at worked, and quickly dispelled the fascination from himself and Thaduk with his touch treatment. Thaduk continued his charge and rammed his spear through the woman. Again her skin around the point of impact seemed to liquefy, allowing the spear to pass through without harming her, but solidified too quickly as Thaduk retracted it, bringing a spout of normal-looking blood out with the spear-tip.

The woman lashed a hand out towards Caddis, sending a spray of poisonous liquid into his face, blinding and sickening him, then pointed at Thaduk. The swarm of pixies charged the big orc en masse—where one tiny spear was nothing more than an annoyance, several thousand of them left Thaduk disoriented and bleeding heavily. Caddis , blind, turned to run, hoping to leap into the water to clean out his eyes, but instead found himself running back aboard the sinking Dümplom. Sandara was able to relieve the weakness the poison had inflicted on him, but could do nothing for his blindness.

Leopold, meanwhile, unleashed a gust of wind to disperse the pixies and clear a path for him to rush up to the beautiful woman. Smiling, the enemy captain wrapped her arms around him, pulled him close to her naked breast, and kissed him deeply on the lips. Thaduk, in horror, watched as the woman against appeared to liquefy, this time pouring some large portion of her watery form down Leo’s throat, filling his lungs with water.

When she let go, Leo was drowning. His vision went black, his head swam. He tried to cough, tried to gasp, but lungs meant to hold air could not compress against the greater density of the liquid that filled them. With his last thought, he began to gargle and hum, flexing his diaphragm, vibrating his vocal chords, and using all the tricks of singing he had learned. While he could not breath around the water, his bardic talents allowed him to control the water itself, and with a miraculous gurgling song, expelled the liquid from his body and collapsed, gasping to the deck.

Thaduk and Fishguts, meanwhile, swung uselessly at the reforming swarm of tiny fairies. They were too small and there were simply too many of them for conventional attacks to do any good. Thaduk looked around for something to throw and picked up a strange, open-topped puffball mushroom filled with dew (the fairy equivalent of a water barrel perhaps) and chucked it at the tiny things, with similarly ineffective results.

Leo, recovering, drew his longsword and swung at the faerie-woman. The blade hummed as it bent into her flesh which seemed quite solid to the cold-forged blade. With a scream the woman backed away. Thaduk and Fishguts moved in to flank, pressing the advantage, and the three of them landed several solid blows against her. Meanwhile, Zarina and their crewmates were laying waste to the elven sailors. Still blinded, Caddis shouted encouragement from the bridge of the Dümplom, over the sound of musket-fire and bombs burst, urging the small strike-force on to victory.

The pixie swarm, now fully reformed, massed and dove again at Thaduk attempting to drive him off of their mistress. Fishguts jumped in the way and his supernatural sensory organs were assailed not so much by the tiny stabbing implements, but by the hundreds of brilliant, multi-coloured lights swirling in front of him. The horrible blob creature was blinded and schlorped off, swinging wildly, into the midst of the elven sailors, whose delicate senses were overwhelmed by the smell of him, further aiding the relentless assault of the Dümplom’s crew.

With this opening, the captain turned and ran from Leo and Thaduk, ordering the pixies to cover her retreat. Thaduk, trying to escape the violently stabbing pixies, climbed up the mast, hoping to get hold of one of the seeds from the flowers to throw. The fairies kept up their pursuit, stabbing and stabbing, until Thaduk tucked under the petals of one of the great, pink flowers, double-fisted potions of healing and invisibility to give himself some breathing room.

Leo continued to assault the captain, dogging her heals and slashing with his iron blade. Pivoting, she transformed herself entirely into a being of water and body-slammed him with the force of a tidal wave. Not to be outdone by such tactics, Leo sang again, using his power over the waves to slow and weaken the water-fae, forcing her back into her humanoid form.

Seeing the woman temporarily solidified, Thaduk grabbed a nearby trailing vine that passed for rigging on the living mast, hoisted his spear and swung down like an orcish reckingball. The spear rammed strait through the woman’s gut with a spray of viscera and the orc’s continuing momentum bore her to the deck. Leo’s triumphant shout of joy took the form of another blast of wind, swirling about and sending the last of the pixies flying to splatter against the desk and mast, or simply blowing them out into the storm—never to be seen again.

Seeing their captain smeared on the deck, the last of the elven sailors, reduced to only eleven in number from their original ninety, quickly surrendered and laid down arms. By comparison, only two of Dümplom’s small boarding force had been killed in the exchange. Leo offered the faerie sailors a place on the Dümplom, which they accepted, rather than go down with their damaged ship.

Rummy came up to report that the breach had been sealed, but the Dümplom was still in bad shape. Leo and Thaduk picked up the not-quite-dead captain and dragged her onto the Dümplom as well, planning to feed her to Fishguts in the morning. Caddis, whose sight was finally returning, sent Chumlet and the gunners down to empty the Flower-ship’s hold of anything useful, then skuttle her. Once everything salvageable was loaded aboard, they shoved off and watched the Flower-ship sink into the bay.

The storm, so fierce only minutes ago, seemed to dissipate as soon as the battle ceased. What remained of it somehow did not touch the Dümplom as it turned away from the Flower-ship’s wreckage.

Scanning the horizon, the party could see no sign of the second ship. Figuring that their presence had already been reported, Caddis gave the order to turn the Dümplom south, opposite the direction the other ship went, and they limped away as fast their smashed-up ship could carry them…

To be continued…