Transcript – The Red Wolf

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Scroll & Dagger presents
The Pensive Tower
Episode Eighteen: The Red Wolf

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This is the memory of Applorna Ylita Whinsel. Senar, aged twenty, identified as female. Memory regards her experience growing up in the port town of Niffport and of the events of the Dusday Raid, and was donated on the twenty-fourth of the month of Leafturn in the year 725. Inscribed by Paxton Ferox on the twenty-ninth of Sunsfall, 729.

We Begin.

People always talk about the sea with this wistful look in their eyes. They all talk about adventure, new opportunities, exploring new lands, feeling the spray of the sea, all that noise.

And sure, there is that. But what those misty-eyed dreamers never talk about are the dangers that come with ocean travel. The storms that come out of nowhere, hidden currents that can carry you hundreds of miles in the wrong direction, or even turn you over; and, of course, there’s the pirates waiting out there like woodlions, ready to pounce on any unsuspecting prey that might wander over into their territory.

Growing up in Niffport, there was little question that my life would revolve around the sea in one way or another. Most people around here are involved with ships, fishing or some form of trade. Well, I hate the smell and feel of raw fish, so that was out, and I’m not particularly skilled with woodwork or net making. But most of all, I really didn’t want to go to sea.

My mother, Seren, is the quartermaster on the merchant ship, Saberwind. She always wanted to take me to sea, show me the life of adventure that she’d always loved so much. Unfortunately, just being on a ship is enough to send my stomach in to spasms. To this day, I refuse to get on a ship unless I absolutely have to.

Even getting here, it’s quicker to sail along the Wind Coast and then come up the Yossgi River. Going by train takes almost twice as long but I went that way anyway just because I didn’t want to have to endure the week of sea travel.

To say my mother was disappointed when I told her all this would be… an understatement. I think she’d been looking forward to sharing the life she loved so much with me. I daresay it even broke her heart a little that I refused point blank to get on a ship. It was such a huge part of who she was.

But she didn’t force the issue. I told her I didn’t want that life and she respected it, though our relationship was a little strained for a few months, not helped by the fact that she went back out to sea soon after.

And while that might not have been the best thing for our relationship, I will say it did give my father the chance to show me more of what he does.

My father, Macrick, he’s a lot like me, likes the sea fine to look at but has no real interest in getting on top of it. Maybe it’s a Senari thing? My mother’s a human and… come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a sailor who looks like me. Maybe we just like the feeling of solid ground under our hooves too much.

Anyway, my father is a dockworker. He loads and unloads cargo from the ships that dock in Niffport, helps with mooring and cast off, all the little jobs that need doing. And while I might not want to sail, or be that good with my hands, I’ve always been big and strong for my age. At ten, I was nearly as tall as some of the young men who worked the docks and could lift much more than they could and work much longer without getting tired.

My dad took me to work with him a few times when I was younger and I would help with loading cargo into the holds of a few ships, hoisting fully loaded barrels over my head like they weighed nothing. My dad liked that. He would tease some of his co-workers, saying I could do the work of three of them and I was barely off Mother’s apron strings. He seemed so proud of me. I really liked that feeling.

I remember that first day I went to work on the docks, he took me to the pub with him after work, bought me a lemonade, and I asked him if I could come back and do it again tomorrow.

He gave this sort of soft laugh and said of course I could. I think he expected me to carry on with it for a while until I found something else I’d rather do. Probably thought it was just a phase. I mean I was a kid. They get obsessed over things for a while, then drop it and move onto the next thing.

I think he was more surprised than anyone when I kept coming back to it. Days turned to weeks, turned into months and then into years. And every morning, I was there by the front door waiting for him when he left for work.

He even asked me once, as we were leaving the house, I think I was fourteen at the time, he asked me if I wasn’t sure there wasn’t something I wouldn’t rather be doing. I told him I was sure and we left it at that.

Mother was actually quite supportive of my decision. I still remember the look on her face the first time Saberwind came into port and she looked down at the gangplank to see me, in my slightly-too-big-for-me longshore gear, coming to help unload.

Over the years, it became a bit of a tradition that I meet her on the gangplank when her ship came back home. And that’s why I was the first one to know the first time the Saberwind was attacked by the Siren’s Howl.

This happened around three years ago. I’d just finished rolling out some barrels of apple vinegar that was being shipped out to Xealica when the call came down that the Saberwind was coming into harbour.

My mother had been gone for just over two months so I was excited to see her again. I finished what I was about quickly and moved to join the gangplank team.

The Saberwind dropped anchor and me and the others moved into position as the mooring lines were thrown and tied. As soon as the gangplank was positioned and secured, I hopped up, expecting to see, as I usually did, my mother striding into sight, happy to see me and ready to tell me stories of where she had been and what she had seen.

This time, however, when my mother’s face came into view, it was as dark as any ocean storm I had ever seen in my life.

She pushed past me without so much as a word. I had never, in my life, seen her so angry, not even when I told her I didn’t want to go on board a ship. She strode along the dock like an angry she-wolf. I think I saw her actually snap at one or two of the dockworkers who got in her way.

I was curious, to say the least, so, ignoring my foreman’s angry shouts to get back to work, I took off after my mother.

She was heading for the Dock Office. This was hardly unusual. As quartermaster it was her job to report any and all cargo deliveries with the port authority so that taxes could be calculated and the Merchant’s Guild kept up to date of what’s for sale.

I opened the door in time to catch my mother all but snarling at the clerk of the manifest.

Before I could even ask what had happened, I heard her say the magic word; Pirates.

The Saberwind had been coming up the Dogr Strait when an unknown ship flying Federal colours had started gaining on them. Saberwind‘s captain, Captain Dolman – he’s been working in the Wind Sea for years so he’s encountered pirates before – he apparently got the crew to arm, just in case. But, before they could fully prepare, the ship raised its true colours. The black flag of a pirate, showing a stalking crimson wolf with a skeletal face.

The attack was quick and merciless. Before any of them knew what had happened, this other ship had fastened them with grappling hooks and the deck of the Saberwind was full of men and women pointing swords and pistols in all directions.

To hear my mother tell it, the captain was almost immediately at gunpoint and was forced to stand the crew down. And that’s when he crossed over from this other ship and onto the Saberwind.

I didn’t know it at the time, but I was about to hear the first description of a figure that would become close to a legend of the Niffport docks over the next few years.

The captain of the pirate vessel was a pencori. He was tall, at least tall by human standards, with sun-darkened skin and a thick head of fiery red curls through which could be seen the tips of two ash grey horns.

He was wearing a coat, mother said, that looked like a patchwork of flags, all stitched together. Some Federal, some from other countries, some even looked like other pirate flags. At his waist hung a long, curved sabre with an ornate hilt. He came over and gently, but firmly, asked my mother for the logbook.

My mother said later, when she, my father and me were all back at home, that she’d considered refusing. But she’d taken one look around the deck, at all her crewmates with weapons pointed at them, then looked back at the pirate captain. He’d been smiling, pleasantly she said, but there was a hardness to his eyes that left my mother in no doubt as to what would happen if she did refuse.

So, she went and fetched the log and manifest and handed it over to this man who thanked her and began going through what the Saberwind had in her hold.

It did not take long for the pirates to choose the choicest cargo, five barrels of xocoa beans from Laparynth, several bolts of silk from the Laohin Republic and, of course, whatever money was on board was taken as well.

The captain then thanked my mother, Dolman and the Saberwind‘s crew for their cooperation and returned to his vessel, followed by his own crew.

Mother wanted them to grab their own guns and go after them, storm the pirate vessel and get their stolen cargo, but Dolman held her back. They wouldn’t have a hope, he told her, quite rightly.

The crew of the Saberwind were hardly weak people, every single crew member had seen and been in their fair share of tavern or street brawls, it kind of went with the life they’d chosen. But one of the key parts of a street fight is not to kill the other side. Beat them black and blue, sure, but everyone is supposed to come away breathing.

The Saberwind‘s crew might have been experienced brawlers but pirates? Well they’re used to killing and would kill them too without hesitation. Especially, Dolman pointed out, if they were stupid enough to give the pirates a reason to.

The best thing they could do, he said, was to return to port, tell them what happened and hope to recoup losses from the insurance.

So, that’s what they’d done.

Most of that I heard a day or two later, in the pub, from some of the guys I know in the Saberwind‘s crew. My father was there as well, and he listened to it all with a very worried expression on his long face.

There in the dock office, though, all I heard was my mother cursing out the pirate and demanding the poor clerk of the manifest call out the navy and get them in pursuit of this ship.

Such a thing was completely impossible. They did not have the authority to deploy naval vessels and besides, as the clerk pointed out, the pirate ship could be anywhere by now. He would send a description of the vessel to the central office, along with their latitude and longitude, but that was all they could do for the moment.

My mother, looking disgusted, gave him the information and then turned to leave, noticing me for the first time. She gave me this rueful smile and walked out of the office. I followed after her.

Over the following years, I’d hear more stories of pirate raids in the Wind Sea and, often among them, I’d hear of the ship flying the flag of skull-faced red wolf. Those stories always went the same way. It would show up as if from nowhere, flying Federal colours, close with its quarry quickly, then the red and blue would drop to be replaced by that grim faced wolf.

The ones telling the stories soon went from “a flag I’d never seen before!” to “a flag I knew too well.”

I was eventually able to put a name to the red-haired pencori who was the ship’s captain. Wanted posters went up showing a face that many sailors in Niffport now recognised.

“Jare Ludnick, captain of the Siren’s Howl. Wanted for the amount of eight hundred dollars.”

I heard from some of the other dockworkers that the navy was eventually deployed to search out the Siren’s Howl, but they were never able to find it.

“It’s a cursed ship,” I remember one old timer, too much the worse for drink, said one night. “No other explanation! It appears one second and vanishes the next. The navy can’t find no sign of it. You tell me a better explanation.”

No one took him seriously, but the idea of a ship full of ghost pirates did catch the imagination, and the parents of Niffport began telling their young ones stories of the dreadful crew of the Siren’s Howl, and the black-hearted demon who led them.

Now so far you might be thinking this is nothing special. Pirate stories are exciting, yes, but they’re also just a part of life on the west coast. Why then, would I come all the way here to talk about one in particular.

Well, I’m here because of the night I finally saw the Siren’s Howl for myself. That and… a lot more besides.

This happened just two months ago. And it started off as a night like any other. I’d just finished squaring my gear away and helping my friend, Alfbert Vinn, lock up all the sheds. It was late in the evening, that time of day when folks have either gone to the pubs or have already gotten home. Point is, there weren’t many people out and about on the streets.

Me and Alfbert had already decided we were going to head to the Sailor’s Girl for a couple of drinks after work, meet up with one of our mutual friends who’d just arrived back in port on the Fairtide.

We were walking up the road when something caught my eye. Down one of the alleys, in the shadow of one of the houses. It looked like a person, about human sized, wearing a long black cloak and a deep hood. They were just standing there. I couldn’t tell what they were looking at, it looked like they were just staring at the wall.

I turned to Alf, asked him who he thought it was. He asked me what I was talking about. I turned back to point at the cloaked figure but it was gone.

I spent a few seconds just staring, I’d been certain I’d seen it.

Alf laughed, said I must be more tired than he’d thought. I snorted, reminded him he’d been up earlier than I had and we carried on towards the pub. I looked back a couple of times but didn’t see anyone or anything following us. I told myself Alf must have been right. I was tired and I’d seen shapes in the shadows that weren’t there.

We arrived at the Sailor’s Girl, it was as busy as it usually was at that time of day, middle of the week. Busy but not packed, we didn’t have any trouble finding a table.

Our friend, Xara SinBeal, found us a short while later and we passed a couple of pleasant hours talking and laughing, asking Xara where the Fairtide had been, what she had seen and so on.

But all the while, I couldn’t help but notice a girl sat by herself in the corner of the common room.

She was human, and looked a little familiar. I think I’d seen her before, working in a café or something like that. She was dressed plainly, in a shirt and trousers and she was still wearing a coat despite how warm it was inside. She was wearing a broad-brimmed hat. From what I could see, she was pretty… very pretty. I couldn’t tell you how old she was but I’d guess at late teens.

I could tell she was nervous. The way her eyes kept darting to the door, it was clear she was watching out for something or someone.

Xara noticed me looking and started making the inevitable jokes. I told her to grow up and took a pull on my drink. Alf wasn’t paying attention; he was looking at the window. He asked if someone was doing fireworks in town that night.

I was about to say something, nothing important I don’t think, I can’t remember it anyway but I was interrupted by screaming from outside.

It was the kind of screaming that got a whole pub full of people up on their feet inside of a second.

From outside we could hear crashes, loud bangs and other noises I couldn’t put a name to. It sounded like some sort of animal was attacking the town.

People started running out into the street, pulling out weapons as they went. Before I followed, I glanced back to where the girl had been sitting. She was gone.

I didn’t have time to think much more on the matter. The noises from outside were getting louder. Me, Xara and Alf joined the throng running out to see what was going on.

Niffport was on fire. At least, what of it I could see. The whole street, the rooves burned sending thick smoke up into the air.

People ran back and forth, some trying to save things from their houses, some helping people get away, others were forming fire teams and running buckets.

I could see several people running in the direction of the trokosh, to fetch Witness Hellum.

He had one of those things, um… I think they’re called aqua rods? You know, the ones that let you pull water in from somewhere and basically shoot it where you want. He used it for cleansing rituals but it would obviously be good for fighting fires since the harbour was close by.

We were about to run to join the bucket line. But then we saw what was at the top of the street, what was sending so many people running, screaming, in our direction. What had probably set those fires in the first place.

I don’t know how to describe them. They were… big. Bigger even than me and I’m not exactly a small girl. They looked… they looked like someone had smashed a whole bunch of animals together into one body. Every one of them was showing fur, fangs, scales, claws, leathery skin and some even had what looked like tentacles sprouting from where there should have been arms.

There were about thirty of them, I think, though there might have been more. They were charging up the street, towards us. As they moved, I saw their bodies warp and reshape. Wolf-like muzzles changed into long reptilian mouths with too many teeth, before sprouting long tusks. Their bodies bulged and shrank as muscles flexed and expanded beneath their skin. They ran at us at an incredible speed. Each one of the things carried a weapon, a long, serrated sword or a huge axe or a vicious looking spear. It was like watching nightmares come alive in front of us.

Alf and Xara ran but I couldn’t move. I was frozen by fear. I could only watch as they came for me, with murder in their eyes.

It was only when the sound of gunfire ripped through the night that I was shocked out of my stupor.

I turned in time to see a mob of people, lawkeepers, sailors, dockworkers, charging to meet the monsters. Rifles cracked and several of the things fell. Then the two forces met with the sound of a ship smashing into a dock. I saw my father was there, armed with a maul I’d seen him use to rivet a ship’s hull when he was working in the repair yard. My father is a big man, obviously, it’s him I get it from, and I watched as he raised that hammer and smashed it into the head of one of those monsters.

He turned and saw me then, shouted at me to run, find my mother, find somewhere safe.

I wanted to call back, but I knew he wouldn’t hear me, not over the noise that was going on.

So, I followed his advice. I couldn’t see the other two anymore, they’d probably gone to join the water line. But I had my father’s words ringing in my ears so, alone, I ran in the direction of my home. As I went, I chanced to glance up at one of the nearby roofs that wasn’t on fire. I saw them again. That… person I’d seen earlier, in the black cloak. They were stood there, watching what was going on. Then, it disappeared from sight.

I don’t know why that didn’t affect me more. I guess strangers in black cloaks disappearing into thin air was just one more thing on top of all the other craziness that had happened that night so I barely registered it. On any other day, sure, I would’ve wanted to know more. But then and there, I hardly cared. I had to get to my house. But that changed when I turned down a side road and I saw her.

The girl I’d seen earlier, in the pub. Her hat was gone, leaving her curly black hair to fall down around her face. She was pressed up against the wall. She had the air of someone trying to be brave but I could see fear in her eyes. Her big, brown eyes. They found me and my eyes locked with hers, and all thought of anything and anyone else went right out of my head. I skidded to a halt, my hooves nearly kicked up sparks on the cobbled street.

For a second, one long, almost eternal second, we just looked at each other. I know that’s stupid, my home had turned to the Depths all around me but, I couldn’t help it. It was as if I couldn’t see anything as more important than her. Then she reached out a hand and asked if I could help her.

I didn’t hesitate. I asked her what she needed.

She had to get to the dock, she said, there was a boat waiting for her. She had to get there.

I told her to follow me. And together we ran back down the street, towards the fire and the chaos.

I couldn’t see anything of what was happening anymore, the smoke was too thick. I just covered my mouth with my hand as best I could and narrowed my eyes. The girl’s hand grabbed my own sending a small thrill through me, though I know she only did it so we wouldn’t get separated.

There were shapes in the smoke. Moving, twisting, screaming, fighting. I ignored them all and just kept on going, heading straight for where I knew the docks were.

We were almost there, I could hear the water. And then one of those things came right as us, taller and broader than me, its head a snarling mass of teeth, its hugely muscled right arm clutching a heavy blade coated in blood, its left a writhing mass of whipping tendrils.

I didn’t stop to think, I knew I couldn’t. I let the girl’s hand go and ploughed straight into the thing. I think I caught it off guard, it was hard to tell since it didn’t have a true face. But either way, I tackled it to the ground, shouted at the girl to run and began laying into the thing with my fists, punching at everything and everywhere that wasn’t teeth or claws… which wasn’t a lot. I managed to pin its arm down but was too slow to do anything about the tendrils that wrapped themselves around me and began squeezing. I screamed, in anger as well as fear, and pain.

Then, a shot rang out and I felt the things around me loosening. I looked up and I saw him. Standing there in his coat made from scraps of many flags, a smoking pistol held in his hand. A face I’d gotten to know well from the wanted posters. Jare Ludnick, the Red Wolf. The captain of the Siren’s Howl. Beside him stood the girl.

He didn’t say anything, just turned and strode off towards the dock.

The girl looked like she was about to follow him but then gave me this look I couldn’t read; it made my heart beat a little faster. She came and helped me up, pulling something red and slimy looking out of my mane. Then she looked up at me, those eyes big and bright in the light of the moon. She smiled at me and said thank you.

I couldn’t think of anything else to say. I should have asked where she was going? What all of this had been about? But all I could think of was to ask her was what her name was. She seemed to hesitate, just for a moment, then looked up at me with those eyes again. Malana, she said. Malana gor-Dyn.

I watched as they rowed away into the harbour, her and the pirate. I raised a hand and she raised hers in farewell. They were heading towards a ship I could just about make out, anchored just outside of the harbour. I couldn’t see what was on the black flag that fluttered from her mast, but then, I didn’t really have to. I watched until they disappeared from view. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about them since.

Final Notes. The news about the Dusday Raid was heard all across the Federation. It was the first large scale khirroc attack to occur inside our borders in almost a hundred years; the first one to happen that far west in more than five hundred. To this day, it is unknown how they got there or why they attacked.

What is known is that the people of Niffport were able to fight them off and were able to get the fires under control. Many properties were damaged beyond repair but rebuilding work has gone fairly well, according to Mr. Whinsel, who we spoke to when we were trying to follow up with his daughter. Niffport is now, more or less, back to how it was before the attack.

Mr. Whinsel was unable to tell us what happened to his daughter. Apparently she left Niffport a few months after the attack. She gave no reason and she did not even wait for her mother to return to port from her latest voyage. The only thing Mr. Whinsel could think of that might be relevant was that, right before she left, Ms Whinsel had been talking a lot about the night of the attack.

[Paxton shuffles some papers and sighs]

Nothing here about the Siren’s Howl, Captain Ludnick or this mysterious girl, Malana gor-Dyn. I don’t even know what kind of name that is. Szelia was able to find out from the Central Law offices that the pirate vessel is still active in the Wind Sea and beyond, though it has not been sighted for several months.

Inscription complete.

[The venoscribe clicks, and the whirring stops.]

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