Savage Tide; Pathfinder
journal of Cold Captain Wyther
a chronicle of regret
This thick tome is bound in leather and closed with two brass clasps. A true antique, the first entry in this journal is over 70 years old, and that indicates only when the book was first written in, not when it was crafted. It bears no notable markings on the cover or spine. Upon casual inspection, the handwriting inside appears to be penned in as many as four or five different hands, but closer attention reveals that the many hands are the same, the different styles instead representative of an individual’s natural progression both as a scribe and as a writer. While the book has clearly been subject to numerous abuses over the course of its life and sports several stains and small rips, the overall integrity of the volume is quite good.
Acquired from a secret panel in the headboard of the bed belonging to “Cold” Captain Wyther, this journal describes itself as the lifetime chronicle of the man it belonged to. A stunning find, this tome explains the full arc of Wythers’ life from his early adulthood throughout the entirety of his service to Demogorgon.
There are months and sometimes even years between individual entries, the first of which being written at the age of twenty-four and the most recent dated only a few short weeks before it was discovered. There are some notable patterns that run throughout the work that can be seen, most notably the fact that Wyther goes from idealistic but dutiful as a man, to shocked and dismayed by his deal with Demogorgon and what it costs him, to debauched and savage as he embraces his life, to rueful and maudlin as he begins to consider the implications of his life and see the end of his usefulness approaching. His handwriting and command over language become better with each entry, to the point that at the end of his life, his entries move the reader to tears. A deeply thoughtful man, the notorious pirate’s journal reveals him to be a tragic figure, made a villain by fate and forces beyond his ken.
The weighty book is full of fascinating and tragic stories, useful information, and unsettling implications, among them:
“Cold” Captain Wyther started his life as John Wyther, a deckhand and sailor from Absalom. At the age of 23, the fishing vessel he was serving on was attacked by pirates. Most of the crew of the ship was killed, except for those that John was able to save via his intervention in the melee. John describes himself as being inept at combat, but his determination to survive allowed him to hold out long enough to deter the raiders. Lauded as a hero for his courage in the defense of others, John was offered a job on a privateer vessel operated by the state. Despite the months at a time it would mean being away from his wife and daughter, the young man couldn’t pass up such an offer.
John’s fall occurred two years later, serving on that privateer vessel. After a terrible storm left the crew stranded with sails that had been stripped to ribbons and a hull that had been penetrated, the crew helplessly limped their way towards what they believed to be Absalom, but instead spent three weeks adrift, low on supplies and dangerously close to death. Most of the men on the ship perished of exposure or lack of water, but John’s desire to see his family again compelled him to survive.
When at last the ship ran aground, only he and five others remained, only one of whom was higher ranked than he. Unfortunately, they did not arrive home, or anywhere they would find succor, for that matter: the ship had run aground on a massive clot of sargasso, a ships’ graveyard where a handful of vessels had already become trapped solidly enough to spell death for their crew. John called the place “Journey’s End”, for it was an inescapable hell that swallowed ships whole. It was here that John described finding, at the center of the sargasso, a vessel christened the Thunderer, and inside of it, a small idol with two howling, ape-like heads, four tentacles for arms, and reptilian legs. The idol spoke to him and offered him a deal: in exchange for his submission, his obedience, and total surrender of his life, not only would he ensure that John would make it home, but he would make him rich, powerful, and feared beyond his imagining. The choice seemed obvious, and in desperation, he accepted.
When John returned to his vessel, he found it overrun with hellish beasts seemingly made out of living vines. They had already torn apart the men left on board, but as John approached, they receded, as if in fear…or deference. As John boarded the vessel and the last of the creatures retreated, so, too, did the sargasso that held the ship fast. The idol clutched beneath his arm, John drifted alone across the sea, guided by the unseen hand of his new patron.
John returned to Absalom to find that all of his family – including his wife and child – had died via a series of tragic accidents. He returned to the sea, prompted by his new master, who in time made it apparent that the deal John had struck was responsible for his family’s death. With nothing left, John embraced his mission, though this alone took years of running and hiding before he relinquished himself to his fate.
The next entry comes years later, and shows John – now ‘Cold’ Captain Wyther – having fully embraced his new life, though whether out of reluctance, or eagerness, or spirituality, or for some other reason, is unknown. He speaks candidly of committing sins so black as to damn a man’s soul, of the founding of the Crimson Fleet, and of spoils taken from around the world. The entries in this section show a vicious and remorseless man, truly the Captain Wyther known by the world at large, and while the man’s ability to use language gets better with each entry, so, too, do the depths of his depravity. By the time he is forty, he has slain hundreds, and the Crimson Fleet has grown to be the scourge of the Pirate Isles. One settlement, alone, is free of his crew’s wrath: by order of his demonic patron, the Sea Princes and their settlement of Sasserine are not to be interfered with. This perplexes Wyther, who describes Sasserine as a “pearl easily plucked”, but he stays his hand in accordance with his patron, who, as the fleet grows in size, brings Wyther to the Abyss for the first time, to a place called Lemoriax, where in the bowels of a hellish pit, Wyther is infused with demonic taint, becoming a Lemorian, a half-fiend. From this point on, he does not age, he increases in stature and strength, he is invested with a number of demonic gifts, and the depths of his wickedness and inhumanity henceforth exceed the sins of his human life sevenfold.
In the entries that follow, some eight or nine spread out over three or four decades, a curious pattern begins to emerge: in an entry, Wyther will speak with pride about the plunder he has acquired, the power of his fleet, and victories he is especially proud of, then vacillate to feelings of conflict and disgust over having been tempted to perform some despicable act. This confession is then followed by oaths and promises that he will never go “that far” or sink “that deep”. These vows are followed, usually years later, by another entry which repeats the order and theme of the one before, only now the act which he swore away from is apparently commonplace. It’s repeated so consistently it almost seems like a joke: but in fact, it seems clear that Wyther’s patron is pushing him to more and more horrible acts as years go by, and against whatever shred of humanity and goodness exists within him, he finds himself gradually succumbing to the will of his master, each time swearing that this compromise will be the last. Each time, he is wrong.
Entries made during this period, as far back as twenty years, indicate when the first of the shadow pearls were passed on to the Crimson Fleet and distributed to agents around the world. The first batch, a clutch of three pearls, were all bound for Absalom and the delivery was reported as being made without incident.
It’s within a few years of the first deliveries being made that Wyther hits upon what he believes to be the reason for Demogorgon’s interest in him: as the production of the shadow pearls increased and the destinations for their delivery required an increasing number of blockades run, treaties violated, embargos defied, men killed, boats scuttled, and vessels dispatched to all corners of the globe, it became clear that it was an undertaking of the kind whose demands required nothing less than a feared and bloodthirsty pirate captain in control of a massive fleet with a reputation so awe-inspiring that all who opposed him would flee or die, a man who could consolidate enough power to remain undisturbed and in control long enough to complete the task. The realization of this causes Wyther to momentarily free his mind from Demogorgon’s influence and see his own life and its course objectively, and for the first time in decades, there is something of the man he once was alight inside him. His emotions, written plain on the page, follow the usual stages of grief, starting with the end of his denial of what he sees before him.
The unfortunate conclusion he comes to is that of acceptance of his fate as a tool Demogorgon has used to achieve his ends, a tool that, he believes, will very soon have outlived its usefulness. “He has made me”, he pens, "as surely as the smith will smelt raw ore into ingots, and forge those into shot for cannons. Specialized ammunition, perhaps, but no longer needed once the battle is won. I feel the battle looming on the horizon, and I know that when my usefulness is discharged, I shall be left alone on that field, without hope for recovery. I pray that the gods may yet forgive a young fool who, in his darkest hour, signed a contract without considering the cost. But I suspect they will not.
“I see clearly now that it was Lord Demogorgon who lead me to that baleful place, who took from me my wife and child, who gave me no option but to return to the sea, and then drove me to the terrible sins I have committed. Ultimately, however, I had my choices, and I made them. I was weak. And perhaps that is why I was chosen. Lord Demogorgon’s scheming and manipulating of my life, and its calculated repercussions, is clearly but one of many acts in his theatre of grand guignol. With my final curtain soon to come, I wonder: who are the dramatis personae of this farce? I wonder if what remains of my usefulness will permit me to encounter them.” Wythers’ conclusion that he was a pawn in some much larger game whose fate was orchestrated by powers beyond his ken resonates, echoing what his killers had been told on a handful of occasions by others. But the question remains: if Wyther and Vanthus are Demogorgon’s pieces, then who sits behind the board on the side of the Gang of Five?
What follows is a protracted silence lasting several years as Wyther conducts the business of the Crimson Fleet on behalf of Demogorgon with an almost rote resignation. Knowing that he is powerless to rebel against the Prince of Demons, he uses the Fleet to ship the shadow pearls across the known world, never indicating in his private memoirs where they have gone, or to whom. He writes poetry periodically, meditations on regret and what can change the nature of a man, whether his path was predestined or if he ever had any choice, all along. Ultimately, these odes amount to so much naval-gazing: beautiful and thought-provoking naval-gazing, but naval-gazing all the same.
These histrionics come to an abrupt end about seven months before the date of Wythers’ eventual death, with the arrival of “a scurrilous, silver-tongued cretin” named Vanthus Vanderboren to the Fleet base. Wyther sees in him almost instantly another pawn of Demogorgon, suspicions that are confirmed when his lord orders him to bring the knave to the Abyss to undergo the transformation in the pits of Lemoriax. While a few of Wythers’ top lieutenants have been given that dubious honor over the decades, none had made the trip to Lemoriax without first proving their devotion – and depravity – over years of service. The fact that Vanthus was escalated so quickly indicated to Wyther that perhaps his sun was preparing to set. When Demogorgon ordered Wyther to permit Vanthus to lead a siege on the colony of Farshore and to have the lion’s share of the Fleet’s might that wasn’t already at sea to do it, little else needed to be said on the matter. Even when reports came back from the Battle of Farshore that Vanthus had been killed in the fighting, Wyther knew it would grant him no reprieve: if it was not to be Vanthus, it would be someone else. Wyther describes this knowledge as being almost comforting, to know that things would soon come to an end.
The last two entries are written approximately three weeks before Wyther’s death and on the day, itself. The former details Vanthus’ return to the Crimson Fleet base: according to the account, Vanthus returned on the back of a flaming horse as black as pitch, a “Nightmare”. Vanthus, himself, had changed, all that remained of his corpus being his skeleton, and the hair on his skull. “A ludicrous embellishment”, Wyther opines, “no doubt granted the vain little shit so he wouldn’t be confused with the other skeletal berks wearing Vanderboren family armor.” He describes almost dispassionately how Vanthus demanded the use of Wyther’s personal flagship, The Crimson Scar, as well as his best crew, and how, in the chaos that followed, mutiny was imminent. He describes cutting down two of his best men and longest friends, men who revealed themselves to be jackals as soon as the scent of blood was in the air. Much of the remaining Fleet mutinied, taking their ships and scrambling out to the open sea. Most of those that remained loyal to Wyther were subsequently sent out over the following days to find and execute the mutineers by any means. In truth, Wyther explains, he knew that his part was over, and he preferred to spend whatever days he had left in peace. With the exception of the bound monsters who could not leave the base and a handful of demons-cum-jailors whom Demogorgon ordered never to leave Wyther’s company, the man was at long last alone, left to make peace with his inevitable death to come.
The ink of the final entry was still wet when it was found, and begins with Wyther writing that he hears a commotion coming from outside: gunfire, magic, steel, and teeth. Combined with what he had heard from his men in Scuttlecove – and knowing that the long-lost Sea Wyvern was docked in that port – all hinted that his lifetime of iniquity was finally returning upon him. Almost laconically, he pens his valediction: an apology to his wife, his child, and those he wronged unduly over the decades; acceptance of his own culpability as the agent of his fate; his advice for his murderers; a request; and a farewell.
“I am damned; this cannot – must not – be averted. I have done a thousand dreadful things as willingly as one might kill a fly; but I am no baby, I, that with base prayers I should repent the evils I have done. They are done, and cannot be taken back. It is my hope for you that you are good men, strong men, with little to regret. It is my hope for you that you are victorious. If men of honor you be, then perhaps, should you live, you will do an old captain one good turn: in the city of Absalom, in the Docks district, there is a small cemetery with only some forty of fifty plots, sat on the northern face of a small chapel dedicated to Aroden. In a plot on the western edge, marked with a carving of a daeva’s face in profile, are the plots of Regina and Jace Wyther.
“These markers have gone unvisited for nearly seventy-five years, and in my grief and pain over the task of burying my wife and son, filled with arrogant hatred of the gods whom I blamed unfairly, I confess that I refused their last rites. Please, should your travels ever take you to the City at the Center of the World, you would humble me if you laid my family to rest. Should you encounter me in whatever Stygian pit I shall most assuredly be confined to afterwards, you have my oath that you shall have the steel of Cold Captain Wyther for as long and as best as I am in a position to offer.
“Goodbye, heroes. May you make better choices than Cold Captain Wyther.”
The remaining pages are blank.