A sapphire blue sky with the occasional puff of clouds stretched wide over the ramshackle port town of Briggs’ Reach. Ships in their coming and goings dotted the small fishing town’s harbor and sky. Of anyone, the broad-shouldered Peter Townsend was as recognizable a feature in Briggs’ Reach as the brightly colored fishing cottages in the town. A former sky pirate, then later privateer for the Queen, Pete was rarely surprised these days. It was a unique qualification, so he was told, that made him well suited as dockmaster for Briggs’ Reach. However, as the Brass Griffin touched water and drifted toward an empty slip in the docks, he whistled low in astonishment.
“Ahoy aboard!” Townsend bellowed to the Griffin, lighting his pipe and walking toward the damaged schooner. The dockmaster had witnessed ravaged airships before, but this much wreckage a person just did not see every day on a ship still air-worthy.
The Griffin’s bow was scoured with long, clawed gashes. The grooves were cut deep into her timbers, but fortunately stopped above the waterline. Blackened wood, burnt and pitted, marred the remaining railing and belaying pins along the length of her port side. The sails were stained with soot and peppered with small charred holes. Through some miracle the gas bag itself seemed dirty, but intact.
Krumer appeared on the quarterdeck a moment later while two of the crew scrambled to the dock to tie off the mooring lines.
The first mate held up a hand at the dockmaster’s call and waved with a tired smile. “Ahoy, Townsend!”
Peter took a slow pull off his pipe, scowling at the Griffin’s damage, “looks like ya took a beatin’ this trip. What took ta chewin’ on ya?”
“Lightning drake,” Krumer replied with a brittle tone.
Townsend glanced up at Krumer for a moment when he heard the orc’s harsh tone. The dockmaster simply nodded in acknowledgement before he continued to survey the damage, “ah, they can make a mess of a ship. I heard tell of one causin’ a fair share of trouble along the shipping lanes. Good ta see ya still sailin’. So, Cap’n Hunter about?”
Krumer hesitated, “missing since the drake attack. Beast took him overboard.”
Townsend took a thoughtful pull from his pipe, letting a respectful quiet settle between them. Eventually, he replied, “my sympathies, lad; he was a good Captain.”
The first mate set his mouth in a thin line, then folded his thick, scarred arms over his chest. He scowled from beneath the black dreadlocks that framed his face, “missing isn’t lost, Peter. We’ve hope, still. We didn’t find a body on ground.”
Townsend finally tore his attention away from the condition of the Griffin. He gave Krumer a sad, understanding look. “Good ta keep hopes up, but at a good sailin’ height … how’d he be able to survive?” The dockmaster blew out a ring of smoke that coiled about his head, “yer likely chasin’ phantoms lad. Not that I blame ya. Been chasin’ my own, lately. So much so, I’ve been neglectin’ checkin’ all the ships comin’ in over the past few days.”
“Why? Is something wrong?” Mr. Whitehorse replied.
Townsend frowned a moment while he dredged up the recent events in his mind. “Had some odd thefts lately. Little things, like a pair of iron padlocks, one combination lock. A few burlap sacks that happened to have some salted fish. What worries me is the dead rabbit I found just yesterday.”
“Missing locks, that is odd. What was so off about the rabbit?” The first mate asked, his curiosity piqued.
“Drained dry,” the dockmaster explained, “throat torn out.”
A young man, human, dressed in a loose shirt, brown trousers and worn shoes skid to a stop along the boardwalk, calling out in their direction, “Oy! Ya the Brass Griffin?”
Krumer gave Pete a look. The dockmaster shrugged and puffed on his pipe. Once the gangplank was tossed down, the first mate walked to the dock proper and raised his voice in return.
“We’re the Griffin. State your business,” Mr. Whitehorse replied.
The young man drug his eyes from the gaping wounds in the ship, then glanced uncertainly between the dockmaster and Krumer. “Ah’m from the Black Morgan. We picked up somethin’ o’ yers less’n a day back.”
“Picked up what? What’s your name, boy? An where’s the Morgan tied at?” Krumer asked sternly.
“Name’s Johnny and we’re at pier twelve. But wha’ yer wantin’s at the infirm’ry, backside o’ the apoth’cary,” Johnny replied, jerking a thumb over his shoulder.
The first mate raised an eyebrow, “indeed? Tell your Captain, the Griffin thanks him for the message. Fair winds to you, boy.” Krumer fished two pence out of his pocket and tossed to the boy.
“Aye!” The young man raced off down the docks the way he came.
Pete took another draw on his pipe. “Think it’s Hunter?”
Krumer sighed, “Spirits willing.”