The twisted, moldy knots of the ship's walls became a road in Pebble's mind. He explored the highways and byways, marking his progress by the black marks where seawater seeped through the creaking wood. Memorizing the tangled lines helped him forget the pain.
A sneering, mustachioed human counted the blows, but only for the sake of the sailors who passed off the bloody barbed chain before the striker's arm became tired. A sheet of thick orc blood covered the floor. The machine that stretched Pebble's arms apart shook each time the chain fell. Much to the humans' amusement, a bold rat had begun to feast on his trapped fingers, his timid brethren sniffing at the putrid air just a few feet behind.
“This is getting boring,” mumbled the shirtless human who held the chain, wiping sweat from his eyes. “An hour and no screams.”
“We're still just softening him up,” said the man with the mustache. “Soon we'll grab a bucket of salt from the hold. Then we'll have a little orc music to wile away the time.”
A low rumbling silenced them. The heavy hatch over their heads gaped open, and sunlight like dragon's breathe flooded the room.
“Release the prisoner,” said a dark-haired elf. He wore an embroidered robe and spoke with impatient authority.
“Damn your pointy ears,” cried one of Pebble's captors. “We're not beholden to you! Five good men went down trying to pin this beast. He'll pay us our debt before you get to question him.”
The elf looked the men over with an expression that suggested he'd just encountered an unpleasant odor. “The Captain General himself has ordered this prisoner be brought to Theramore. Do as you wish, but remember his signature on your letter of marque is all that separates this wretched pirate ship from the guns of the towers. I, for one, would be rather glad if you refused the order.”
The humans seemed frozen in place. Finally, the shirtless one pulled a lever and Pebble felt his arms fall to his sides. He was still in pain, but on his feet at last. Two of the humans drew up the shackles to bind his hands behind his back.
The elf led the way to the upper deck. Pebble followed, his pride clamped on his jaw to keep the moans as quiet as possible. Though the sudden shock of daylight was painful, he was able to spy a lighter moored to the side of the ship. Before he could study further, a sharp boot sent Pebble face down onto the little boat's planks.
“Shameful,” said a familiar voice from the stern. “Like watching remora pick at a proud reef shark.”
Astonishment flushed Pebble's pain away. After an embarrassing struggle, he managed to turn on his side and lift his head up.
A few white whiskers had settled like snowflakes on the black beard, but otherwise Blackspar was unchanged.
“Release his bonds.” A smoking pipe bobbed up and down as the dwarf spoke.
“You can't be serious, sir,” said the elf as he climbed down a rope ladder. Human and dwarf sailors began to untie the lighter's moorings.
“Don't dawdle, chaplain.” Blackspar never shouted when he gave orders. He merely bore his coal black eyes into subordinates until he was obeyed. “And close his wounds. Show me why you priests are good for more than just standing around looking pretty.”
The elf narrowed his glowing eyes, but Pebble soon felt his pain withering. As soon as the shackles fell, he pulled himself to his feet.
“Hail, Captain Blackspar.” Pebble spoke proudly and clearly. “Permission to come aboard?”
The elf sneered at the absurd scene, but the others in the boat all knew that protocol demands a sailor always ask permission to come aboard, even in an extraordinary set of circumstances where the sailor is already aboard.
“Granted,” Blackspar said, obviously pleased by the gesture. “But I am a captain general now. I will forgive your breach of etiquette, as you have no doubt never heard of a captain general. It's an old rank, and an ill-defined one, but it suits me. Those overgrown barnacles that call themselves the Theramore Assembly will never make me an admiral. That title implies too much power. Sit down, please.”
Still conscious he was surrounded by enemies, Pebble slowly lowered himself onto one of the benches. As the lighter's oars moaned to life and the boat pulled into open water, he looked up at the ship and saw a score of screwed faces staring malevolently down on him.
“Pirate scum.” Blackspar shook his head. “I give them letters of marque and call them 'privateers.' Then they go out and kill other pirate scum, if the grog hasn't got hold of them. They collect my bounty and I shake their hands, but I'd hang the lot of them if I could. They're cheaper than training a crew of regular sailors, and Theramore's treasury does not rank among it's glories.”
The lighter glided over the smooth surface of what Pebble could finally see was a mud-filled bay with Alliance ships anchored all around.
“Thrall and Rexxar staged their invasion over there, if you're curious.” Blackspar jabbed the mouth of his pipe at the swampy shore. “Split themselves into three divisions. I'm told it was quite a sight.”
Pebble hid his desperate, burning desire to know more beneath cool, hooded eyes. “What was the outcome of the battle?”
“Your friends won,” Blackspar said without changing expression. “Didn't stay long, though. Jaina and Thrall made sure of that.”
Blackspar stamped his wooden leg on the planks. “Dead as my big toe. In case you were wondering, Old Starchbreeches kept his ships dispersed over the archipelago because I assured him the Theramore Navy was rushing to reinforce him.” A little smile pushed through the whiskers. “Guess I was too late.”
Pebble did not blink. “What happened to my warriors?”
Blackspar shrugged. “They all fought well, I can tell you. The idea of a Horde Navy, even a green water force, caused quite a stir among my men. I didn't believe the reports at first. Neither did most of my officers, but then we toured the islands and saw the wrecks of the Kul Tiras. I gather most of your warriors made it back to shore, just like you wanted them to. It was a foolish choice, by the way, piloting a vessel on your own directly into the enemy, even if it was one of those new fangled Horde spike ships. Self-sacrifice might seem noble, but it's usually an act of selfish pride. If I hadn't saved you, your navy would be without it's best commander, and then where would they be?” The old dwarf puffed a few rings over the side of the lighter.
The oblong teeth of Theramore's towers were gleaming at them in the distance. “Am I still a prisoner, sir?” Pebble asked gravely.
“Gracious me.” Blackspar's face lit up with a cruel grin. “You honor me to call me 'sir.' The Alliance has strict regulations forbidding its officers from extending the courtesies and privileges of rank to persons or things in the employ of a foreign power, but from now on, I shall waive those orders and chance the consequences.”
As Pebble's strength returned, his patience disappeared. “You did not answer my question, sir.”
“No, Captain Pebble,” Blackspar said patiently. “You are not my prisoner. Jaina's explicit instructions. All captured members of your service are to be returned to the Horde as soon as is practical.”
“Then why are we rowing towards Theramore?” Pebble calculated whether he could swim to shore, but his strength had not returned completely, and marines with rifles were stationed throughout the lighter.
“You'll see when we get there, captain.” Blackspar settled his back against the bench. “You wouldn't believe me if I told you, at any rate.”
Wary, Pebble resolved to wait, partly to see if a better escape route presented itself. In any case, there was one more question he needed answered. “Where have you been all these years, sir?”
“Thought I was dead, did you?” Blackspar chuckled. “Nearly was. Old Starchbreeches had a very smart bunch of marines done up in a line, rifles cocked and at the ready. The Bronzebeards don't forget their friends, though. Not completely. Muradin leaned on old Magni, who leaned on the other kings of the Alliance, and after the confabs were all done, I ended up with a commuted sentence. Life in a dungeon in the Alterac Mountains. When you were in the camps, very likely we were neighbors.”
Blackspar fidgeted with his top hat as he spoke. “I spent many long years in my cell. I used to beg the jailers for just a little salt, so I could put it in my water. A sailor in a place like that needs something, anything to remind him of the sea. I'd be there still, if not for Jaina. She's a good egg, that one. When she had the crazy idea to take her few thousand followers across the ocean from which no ship had returned, no respectable sailor would listen. Sea captains are a hard-headed lot, as you know, Captain Pebble.
“Eventually, Jaina was in despair. Her people were encamped outside of Southshore, provisioned and equipped, with a pile of cash from a few wealthy donors, but no one competent to pilot their ships. Like a girl on the Solstice with no young man to escort her to the ball. Against all odds, they rattled around the deepest recesses of their memories, and someone thought of crazy old Captain Blackspar, rotting away in his prison cell. Jaina bribed my guards to let me out. She was willing to hide me away in Southshore, but no one in the Alliance even bothered to check up on my captivity. Even my enemies had forgotten me.
“The leaders of the expedition slapped a few charts in my hands and pointed west. A handful of trained sailors were poor or stupid enough to sign on, but mostly we had to make due with land-lubbing soldiers and starry-eyed spellbookworms. I was very unpopular for the first few weeks, as you can imagine, but, at last, I brought them discipline and spirit, the things that every navy needs. We were a fair bunch of seadogs when Kalimdor finally came into view. By the Titans, that was a happy day. There was so much hollering and celebrating, it was all I could do to keep them at their stations. Luckily, we hit the coast before sundown, and in fair weather. With all those rocks along the rim, the whole fleet could easily have been wrecked.”
“I understand,” Pebble said sadly, looking down at the water. “I am glad to see you well, sir.”
“And I you, Captain Pebble.” A strange look fell across Blackspar's face. Pebble was sure he'd never seen the expression before.
Two thunderous booms sounded from the starboard. The mouth of the bay was in full view now. Seven Alliance ships waited idly between the lighter and the open ocean. They were all different sizes, some carrying the long, thick ram of a battleship. Each was prickly with cannon, their muzzles pouring out plumes of smoke.
“Yes, yes.” Blackspar's look turned sour as he waved at the ships. “I see you! Damned Commodore Grondy. That human would greet a mutton sandwich with a twenty gun salute.”
“You're sending your ships away?”
“Just a single squadron,” said Blackspar. “I have enough ships for my home waters.”
“Where are they going?”
The old dwarf brushed a bit of seagull feather from his shoulder. “To Auderbine.”
Pebble made his own face blank, like a gambler's. “I've never heard of it.”
“It's a port,” said Blackspar. Now his expression looked as pleased as when Pebble used to fill his tankard with grog. “A night elf city. I was there last year, negotiating the use of the docks. Odd folk, the night elves, but good seafarers. Their capitol is on an island, you know.”
“They must have a good fleet,” said Pebble, masking his interest as best he could.
“First rate,” said Blackspar. “Not very large, but with experienced sailors, and excellent officers. They'll need them now, of course.”
Pebble swallowed, and he knew that Blackspar noticed. “Why will they need them now?”
The old dwarf grinned triumphantly. “To protect the trade routes, Captain Pebble. Jaina and I have been in contact with King Magni, and with the court in Stormwind. The Alliance will have two great ports on both continents. Merchants on all sides are chomping at the bit to do business. In a few years, the Great Sea will be nothing more than an Alliance pond.”
The towers of the city were almost overhead. Pebble watched them approach with melancholy eyes. “That sounds like a grand enterprise, sir. Congratulations.”
“Thank you, captain,” Blackspar smirked. “You know, it almost didn't happen. Can you believe the goblins had the effrontery to suggest the Alliance outsource our sea trade to them? The Trade Princes wanted us to pay them protection. As if the ocean were some shady alley in Stormwind's Old Quarter. Not bloody likely!”
As Pebble digested all the new information he'd learned, a shadow swallowed the lighter. For the first time, Pebble noticed the lines of a five-masted behemoth, rigged like a battleship, but with a reptilian snout where usually the Alliance shipbuilders put the head of an eagle or a lion.
“Do you like her?” asked Blackspar. “She's my flagship. Not as spritely as the Wind Thief, but beautiful, no? I call her the Dragonfire. Had Jaina build her for me as soon as the towers were finished.”
Three decks loomed over their heads. Petty officers' whistles sounded on board as the lighter's crew began preparing the mooring cables.
“She's glorious, sir.”
“I agree,” Blackspar said with a jolly grin. “Maybe some day, you'll get to see her in action.”
Pebble's heart was quivering, but he stayed still. Knowing he was being searched for weakness, the tall orc pivoted on his heel and offered his host a placid smile. “I'll look forward to that.”
They studied one another a good long time. Blackspar broke his gaze first. “Still,” he said, as cheery as ever, “I'm glad to have any ship at all. I can be cavalier about it now, but I confess that my confinement did not agree with me. Even this dingy under my feet is a joy I cannot describe. Having my freedom stripped was. . . there's no words that can describe what it did to me.”
“Well, your confinement is over.” Though there was a time when Pebble had cursed his name, he felt pity when he heard the pain in Blackspar's voice. Some impulse he did not understand compelled him to try and comfort the dwarf. “You're a commander again, just like the good old days.”
“Yes.” The strange look came again to Blackspar's face. Something alien, like a creature from primeval times, found it's way onto Pebble's shoulder. Seconds passed before he understood it was Blackspar's warm, gentle hand. “Though not everything was good in the old days, was it Captain Pebble?”
For a while, the orc was speechless. Finally, he managed to force saliva back into his mouth. “Decidedly not, sir. Who knows, though. Maybe there are even better days ahead.”
“Maybe,” Blackspar said, his face deep in shadow. “I doubt it, though.”
A dozen ropes rained from the Dragonfire's deck. The rowers moved efficiently to stow their oars and tie the lines to hooks on the lighter's sides. Soon a score of unseen hands was lifting the boat out of the water, pulling them all to their destiny on top of the giant ship.
A sudden wave of sound made Pebble bolt upright, even though the movement made the lighter swing awkwardly in the air. A band was playing a fanfare, blasting their drums and trumpets over the deck, a clash that probably carried for miles over the gently rolling ocean. The center of the Dragonfire's main deck was split by a pristine red carpet. Lines of armored humans saluted with their broadswords. Rows of dwarves held their rifles at attention. A column of tan-skinned sailors stood erect and proud, as if daring the newcomers to find any part of the ship less than proper.
The crew of the lighter disembarked first, filing into various positions in the formation. The elf shook his head as he walked out of sight.
Blackspar strode onto the deck as regally as his one leg would allow. When all the company could see him, he removed his top hat, revealing for the first time that the thick sable hair had given way to a freckled scalp. At a sign from him, the band fell silent.
Still on the lighter, Pebble felt the ocean gape beneath him. With all the enemy guns arrayed on the other end of the ship, escape was a real possibility for the first time since he'd been captured.
Pressing a hand to his neck, Blackspar cleared his throat. “Under the witness of the crew of the Alliance Fighting Ship Dragonfire, I, Ethan Blackspar, Captain General of the Theramore Navy, request the honor. . . and the privilege. . . of the presence of Pebble, Captain of the Horde Navy, as his guest for dinner.”
The wood creaked as Pebble took his first step. Not a single muscle stirred among the crew as he traced the path of the red carpet. With a gentle sweep of his legs, Pebble lowered his heavy frame into a low bow, touching his palm to his chest in his own salute.
Every timber of the ship shook under the howling cheers.
The Seawolf shuddered as the logs rolled under her keel. Pebble stood by the steering wheel, watching the waves of the surf break over the teams of pullers and wedgers and fasteners as they jerked the ship forward. Soon the water would be deep enough to support the Seawolf's bulk. Yo'jin was aloft the newly risen mainmast, which was still green in places where moss had clung to the living tree. Ma'grek was on the quarterdeck, spyglass trained toward the horizon, just in case the Freebooters returned while they were vulnerable.
“You've gone quiet again,” Pebble commented. “You should be celebrating. We're about to quit this island.”
“I'll celebrate when we're over the horizon,” Ma'grek said. His telescope did not waver from it's vantage over the hovering sun, yellow as a bad tooth.
“Try to lighten your load,” said Pebble. “If not for the crew, then at least for the sake of the boy. He's more nervous than ever.”
Corda sat on a barrel below the quarterdeck, constantly fidgeting and wringing his fingers.
“The crew will need some rest as soon as possible,” said Yo'jin from his perch. “Some of them haven't slept since yesterday.”
“It doesn't take many to keep the Seawolf afloat.” Pebble called upwards. “As soon as we're off, we'll send most of the crew to their bunks.”
They had already unfurled the canvas from the cross spars. The sails were whistling in the breeze, anxious to push into the ocean.
Corda hopped off his makeshift chair. Like a sputtering machine, he paced back and forth along the deck, whispering frantically words that only he could hear. Pebble wondered if he could do something to comfort the boy, but suddenly the ship bucked forward, ripping him off his own feet.
Laughing at his clumsiness, Pebble shouted so the crew could hear him. “Board ship! Prepare to raise the gangplank! Get the stores and ballast below! The Seawolf is howling for her cubs!”
Cheers from exhausted lungs rose from the beach. Calloused, beaten hands grabbed the boxes and crates that held food and water. Guttural sounds of satisfaction escaped their fangs every time a new load was lowered beneath the planks and lashed to the walls.
Pebble felt the activity but watched it from under closed eyelids. Still on his feet, his arm braced on the railing, he drifted in and out of half sleep. He would need his strength for the first watch, the one where he would take the helm and set the course for Ratchet and Captain Seahorn's clucking, triumphant tongue.
An odd buzzing sound roused Pebble from his thoughts. Corda had climbed the stairs. Standing just beside Pebble, the child was bobbing up and down, his whole body possessed by some furious energy. A steady drumming beat from his lips.
“Easy now boy,” Pebble said softly. “Won't be long now.”
Corda looked up at him. His whole body trembled, and by his eyes he seemed not to have heard Pebble's words. The buzzing from his mouth became broken by a wild, giddy cackling.
Pebble shook his head, wondering if perhaps he could find some home for the boy among the farmers in Durotar, somewhere quiet where the horrors of his life might be forgotten.
The crew were mostly piled on deck by now. Pebble called down to them. “Every warrior who goes into the rigging, draw a health potion from Yo'jin. You're no good to your shipmates if you're too weary to hold the ropes.”
The gangplank slid into place along the hull. Pebble ordered just enough sail to pull the Seawolf into deep water without making the ship so fast it would tear itself apart on the stray patches of rock that jutted underneath the surface. When they were far from the beach, he would order full sail and speed them on their way.
Corda's fits were so intense now that the boy had to bury his face in his hands to keep the strange laughter under control. Pebble figured the child would prefer privacy until his nerves calmed, so he descended from the quarterdeck and began giving orders, singling out nonessential sailors with orders to go to their hammocks.
Orsha sat on the forward deck, staring into the approaching horizon. Pebble sauntered behind her, anxious to solicit her thoughts now that their voyage was essentially over, but a familiar howl drew all his attention back the way he came.
Shreds of lightning peeled off the quarterdeck. Every sailor collapsed into a crouch, hoping to avoid the tumbling bolts of energy. Atop the ship's railing, about where Pebble last addressed the Seawolf's company, was the slight frame of Corda.
“Crew of the Seawolf!” The voice that reverberated around the ship was old and hoarse, but stately, almost regal. Indeed, Corda's little arms jutted from his sides as he surveyed Pebble's ship like a king at his court. “Hear me!”
With Orsha at his heels, Pebble rushed to the foot of the quarterdeck. When he was close enough, he knew that the thing he knew as Corda wore a child's face to conceal it's true nature.
“You are all doomed,” it said, dispensing the bad news like a merchant casting aside a flawed trinket. “Your course is finished, but, in my infinite compassion, I will allow you to abandon your folly and taste of the sweet nectar of victory. Step forward, warriors, and swear fealty to the Blackrock Clan!”
A troll sailor answered from the rigging. “What be this farce?”
“No farce!” The thing did not like being questioned. “I am Warcheif Rend's councilor, Corda, son of Krek'sos. I will confer membership into the Blackrock to any who join with me.”
A shimmering arrow found it's way onto Corda's stubby chest. Orsha, for one, was not so bewildered by this odd twist of events that she did not know an enemy when she saw one. Even so, the bolt clearly had little effect.
“Do not tax you precious energy, my friends. Corda the Flayer will not be brought down by feeble charms.” He plucked the arrow by the shaft and let it fall to the deck. “The same magics that reversed my age will mend my flesh faster than you can defile it.”
Corda held aloft his little hands in a gesture of grand defiance. “The Warchief compelled every warlock in the Dark Horde to bless me with fell enchantments. With every sacrifice I reap, my powers grow stronger! The fetid souls of an entire goblin ship's crew feeds my veins! I was not powerful enough to raise the Eye of Sargeras, but I was able to subdue the ghosts of the Stormreavers. Behold! Even now, they heed their master's call!”
Pebble looked back to the beach, where the orc bones were pressing themselves together and rising from the sand. Swarms of skeleton warriors were already wading into the surf, grasping at the Seawolf as if they could traverse the distance by the force of their hate.
“You needed a ship.” Pebble's proud, confident voice rose high for all to hear. “You were arrogant enough to think you could make the journey back to Azeroth without the goblins' mercenaries, but those walking wind chimes were lousy sailors. They stranded you on this island until you could find another ship to steal.”
Corda smirked above him. “And a crew, Captain. I needed proper sailors to put my ship in order. You will all have as many riches as the Dark Horde can offer if you follow me!”
Another arrow shot impudently at Corda's forehead. Without looking back, Pebble knew Orsha was grinning.
Again Corda ripped the arrow away and threw it over his shoulder. Sparks of white flame crackled in his fists. “My Stormreavers will make you regret your insolence! You will obey me, or you will burn!”
Pebble's sword seemed to fall into his hands. In seconds, he was up the steps and running across the quarterdeck. Lifting the heavy blade above his head, he focused on a spot in the center of Corda's skull. Just before Pebble could strike, the warlock jumped down and sent a blast of flame at the captain's stomach. The impact sent him spinning over the railing. The main deck exploded in splinters when Pebble's body crashed at the foot of the stairs.
Through bleary vision, Pebble could just make out a dozen shapes falling on Corda from above. The sailors in the masts, fresh after Yo'jin's potions, were all attacking at once, swinging on pieces of rigging. The assault was spirited, but uncoordinated. Each warrior was repulsed in turn, either by the magic energy bursts or by Corda's surprisingly strong fists.
A wave of legs hopped over Pebble's fallen body. The rest of the crew was advancing on Corda in one solid mass, climbing the stairs on both flanks, even scaling the face of the quarterdeck by whatever handholds presented themselves. Exhausted fists grew pale as their owners used their last shreds of strength, gripping swords, axes, and polearms, each one desperate to be the lucky warrior that robbed the life from the evil creature in front of them.
From some hidden pocket, Corda had uncovered a vial of blue liquid. He drowned his tongue in a quick motion, then leapt high over the railing, filling the air with angry fire as he flew. A river of hissing flame pushed down a swathe of orcs and trolls. Pebble had to roll to avoid the tumbling unfortunates, including Orsha, who fell badly on her back and lay on the deck, still as a dead fish.
Landing softly on the main deck, Corda ran forward, putting distance between himself and the crew. “You shaman dirt-worshippers! Can't you see the truth before your eyes!”
A new blast of fire tore a hole in the stairs. The crew flew in everything direction.
“Very well.” Corda clearly thought he was being very agreeable. “I'll wait for another ship.”
The Seawolf began to shake, as if some giant had it between his hands. Rope and tackle descended from the topmasts. Feeling for his lost sword, Pebble covered his head to deflect any more blows to his already addled skull.
“Cower, you worthless humanspawn,” howled Corda. “If you will not follow me in life, you will all be my slaves in death!”
Horrid cries rose from the sea. The Stormreavers were getting closer. The planks of the ship roared as the invisible magic pressed on all sides.
Steadying himself against the mizzenmast, Pebble looked over Corda's head. High in the rigging spars, Yo'ijn was stalking the warlock. Still weaponless, the captain made a last desperate bid for his ship. Bracing in case of another burst of fel magic, he ran forward as hard as he could, his shoulder down like a battering ram.
The fireball came, caving in two of Pebble's ribs. With what senses were left alive in the pain, he looked up at Yo'jin to see if his distraction had worked. Graceful as a bird, the troll fell headfirst at Corda, dagger and cutlass in hand. The blades were just about to connect when the warlock twisted, sending Yo'jin bouncing across the deck in a ball of flailing, broken limbs.
“That one will be my first slave,” Corda gloated. “He will carry my standard.”
Pebble felt his wounded side. He tried to lift himself, but failed. The last able-bodied members of the crew were charging across the deck, but their numbers were not enough to overwhelm the warlock, who had just guzzled another dose of blue serum.
When the inevitable leveling bolt of flame came, though, it flared not from Corda, but from the quarterdeck. Confused, Pebble craned his neck to see this new danger.
The voice belonged to Ma'grek, but Pebble heard a brittle, pitiless aspect to it that he'd never known before.
“The Horde is lost! Our path is clear!”
Lowering himself to the main deck, Ma'grek strode towards the piles of his fallen shipmates. Instead of the blue fire he'd used to defend the Seawolf, his hands were now covered in the same red flame that Corda wielded. Black orbs shone through the former shaman's eye sockets. With a flourish, Ma'grek brandished his staff, now topped with the sheep skull he'd found in the creek.
“My life for the Dark Horde!”
Corda's regal voice shattered into bitter laughter. The two of them made short work of the handful of crew members who could still resist. Even Thrak made a lunge for Ma'grek before being shot down.
A series of dull thuds rang along the Seawolf's deck. The first of the Stormreaver skeletons were climbing over the side, using their axes and bony toes to scale the hull. The eery army rallied behind Corda's beaming face.
With a strength that he himself would not have imagined, Pebble pulled himself up yet again. Hiding behind a spool of rope, he slid over to Yo'jin's lifeless body. Inside his friend's pouch, Pebble found a bottle of red-hued liquid.
“Tell me,” said the child-thing. “Why, my new disciple, did you decide to join me?”
Ma'grek shook his melancholy head. “I am tired of lying to myself. I know who I am, and I know that my shaman powers could never defeat you.”
“Quite right,” Corda cackled. “Now let's dispatch these wretches and be back to the island. I weary of this game.”
“Wait!” Ma'grek shouted. “We can still sail this ship with just you and I and the Stormreavers.”
Corda grimaced. “With these new sacrifices, I will live a hundred years. I can wait for a more agreeable bunch of wharf rats to serve me.”
“But who knows what's happening on Azeroth,” said Ma'grek. “Without your strength and wisdom, how long can Warchief Rend keep his enemies at bay?”
“True,” said Corda thoughtfully. “Very well. What do we need to do?”
Ma'grek lowered his staff and picked up a heavy chain. “First we need to secure this. Can the Stormreavers help?”
“Don't bother,” Corda spat. The orc ghosts swayed behind him. With no one to fight, they just stood there, their decaying jaws agape. “Give it to me.”
With the help of Corda's small but unnaturally powerful hands, Ma'grek quickly ran the chain out of the nook where it was stowed. Clenching his teeth, Pebble watched as they attached the end to a round hook. For the first time, the captain noticed that the rune tattoos on Ma'grek's arm were glowing and the flesh around them was darker, like ashen wood.
“Curious,” Corda said, perplexed. “I've spent much time at sea, and I've never seen a chain like this used for anything important.”
Ma'grek gathered the metal links in two loops along his arm. Appearing as casual as if he were in port at Ratchet, he led Corda down the ship, away from the Stormreavers.
“Here?” demanded the imperious voice, waving around the bare section of planking. “What do we need to do here?”
Ma'grek looked down at the man in a child's body. Demonic power oozed from his eyes, but some deeper intelligence danced behind the darkness. “My shaman powers couldn't defeat you. . . but maybe you can be beaten by a sailor!”
The chain fell around Corda's waist. With hands like spiders, Ma'grek tied the links into a proper sailor's knot.
A fresh surge of evil fire blew Ma'grek off his feet, but left the chain in place. “Seize him!”
The skeletons jostled each other, racing to their master. Pebble threw himself at the pounding legs, tripping the clumsy warriors into bony heaps. With bare fists, he beat his way toward Ma'grek, who was nearly on his feet despite the smoking holes in his clothes. The two orcs found themselves in the center of a storm of howling skulls and slashing axes.
“You bore me with you insolence!” Corda cried. “You try me with your trifling defiance.”
Pebble managed to put up his head long enough to glare at the warlock. “And you didn't ask for permission to come aboard!”
A wooden lever snapped into place under Pebble's hand. The chain around Corda's waist sang a jangling tune as it pulled taut.
The child-thing's scream as it was pulled backwards was not a horrible cry like before but instead nothing but a shrill, pathetic whimper. Corda's claws dug harmlessly into the planks of the Seawolf until the anchor yanked him over the side and down into the sparkling depths.
It was Pebble's turn to laugh as the Stormreavers clamored over one another, each struggling to be the first to follow their disappearing master.