Surpassing her infamous father's accomplishments, Tawni Balfour embarks on a journey filled with battle and mayhem as she seizes control of the important waterways around the Gold Sea. She not only faces pirates and creatures from the bottom of the sea, but also her own dark past as she sets out to become the Pirate Queen of the Gold Sea.
Mission 1: The Pirate's Daughter
After the death of her infamous pirate father, Tawni Balfour takes command of his ship. She immediately sets out to accomplish something her father never dreamed of doing - conquering the Strait of Storms. Her dream to control the entire Gold Sea begins or ends here. She must defeat the towns of Frigiston and Yanathrae, or fade into mediocrity. Tawni Balfour:
"Who's going to miss a man who never did anything unless it put gold in his pocket? In fact, Captain Black knifed his own brother over a few copper pieces, barely the price of a bowl of porridge. Ha! That's my daddy. Good riddance, I say!"
A pair of sailors carried my father's large corpse to the end of the plank. He was wrapped in a section of sail and weighted down with a sack of the same gold-plated lead coins he often used to pay for his meals. All eyes fell on me - his daughter and the new captain - to say some words, but what do I say about a man I would have killed if he hadn't first met his fate at the point of a rival pirate's blade? "This bag of meat used to be Black Balfour," I said loud enough for the entire crew to hear. "He never met a person he didn't cheat, beat, or kill!" Everyone cheered. Holding a flask in my hands, I stepped out onto the plank. The wood wobbled beneath my feet, threatening to break under the weight of so many people, but I ignored the dangerous creaking. With my teeth, I removed the stopper from the flask and poured most of its contents over the body of the man who sired me. Then I spat out the cork and gulped the rest. "Good riddance!" I said, nodding to the sailors. I threw the flask away as the sailors heaved Black Balfour into the sea to become a meal for the sharks. When we prepared the body this morning, I had secretly cut the ropes securing the weights to my father's corpse so the sea would eat through them in a day or two. Black Balfour would spend a short while ripening on the bottom of the Gold Sea, and when the weights broke free, his body would rise to the surface where some lucky sharks would have a tasty meal. I grinned at the thought. "Serves you right," I said so only I could hear. I wasn't at all surprised to find a blade thrusting for my belly the moment I stepped on deck. Few pirates will accept a woman as their captain, and my father's First Mate, Gory Gordy, was such a man. I had been waiting for him to make his move, which was why I had concealed a pair of daggers beneath the baggy sleeves of my white blouse. I wanted to appear unarmed for this ceremony, a perfect target for a coward like Gory Gordy. I side-stepped Gordy's sword but not quick enough to avoid a stinging slash above my naval, and then I jumped out of his reach as the crew formed a circle around us. I gritted my teeth against the pain. "What took you so long?" I asked. I still didn't draw my weapons. Let Gordy think he's got the advantage. Men get stupid when they think they have the power. "I wanted to show your father some respect while he was still above the sea," Gory Gordy said. "Funny. My father never had any respect for you. He always said you were dumber than dirt. That's why he kept you as First Mate - too stupid to mutiny!" "You talk too much, wench!" Gordy lunged at me three more times but I dodged them all. "A sword against an unarmed woman. Not exactly fair, is it? At least give me a dagger," I said as the First Mate paused for a breath. "No doing! And you're no woman!" "Fine," I said, reaching into my shirtsleeves, "I'll use my own then." Gordy blinked, realizing too late that I wasn't as helpless as he had thought. I used that moment of shock to throw my first knife. It sunk to the hilt in his right thigh. After that, my opponent's sword didn't matter. He was lame and couldn't keep me at bay forever. I danced around him, taunted him, and cut him a few times. When I was no longer having any fun, I spun around the First Mate so quickly that his back was still facing me as I ended his life. I pointed my bloody blade at Gordy's body and said, "Throw this overboard. And somebody swab his blood off my ship!"
==The Feral Vixen==
Yesterday, I ordered the crew to set sail for the Strait of Storms. Since the First Mate was dead, I did the navigating myself; something my father had never been capable of doing. By now, the crew was probably wondering what kind of captain Tawni Balfour would make. Perhaps they were even wondering what I was up to. Where was I taking them? Well, let them wonder! It kept them off guard. Confused men rarely mutiny. A knock on the door startled me from my thoughts. "Come in!" Two young sailors entered. They seemed uncertain why they had been summoned to my cabin. One had a missing tooth and an angry red rash on his neck. I reminded myself not to touch that man in the future. The other was handsome, fair-haired. "You're Driden, right?" I asked the latter. Because I had been one of the crew for several years, I knew the names of every sailor, but my father hired this good-looking young man at our last port, so I didn't know him that well. "Yes, Captain," said Driden. "I hear you can read and write." "Yes, Captain. My father was a scribe back in... back in Erathia. We were at sea when the Reckoning came," Driden said. "Good. I have a task for the two of you," I said, coming to my feet. I walked around my table and leaned against its corner. "Go below and find some paint. I don't care what color you use. Then you're to go to the back of the ship and scrape off the words painted on the hull and replace them with new ones," I said. The two men nodded. I had decided to rename my father's ship. In his usual unimaginative way, he had named it the 'Black Death.' I always hated that name. "What name do you want, Captain?" "The Feral Vixen." "Yes, Captain," they said and quickly left.
I stepped out of my cabin around midday. In one hand I held a dagger. In the other, a map I had been working on for the past few days. I walked purposefully to the main mast and pinned the map to the wood. "All hands gather around! You all might as well take a look!" I shouted, stepping back to let the sailors congregate around the mast. I used a crate secured to the deck as a stage. When everyone had a chance to see the map, I waved my hands over my head to get their attention. "Look here! What are we?" "Men of the sea!" several responded. I shook my head and shouted, "Are we so like common land-lubbin' swine that we have to give ourselves pretty names? What are we?" "Dogs!" "Scum!" "Thieves! Murderers!" All of those were correct, but finally one of them shouted the right answer. "We are pirates!" said a short, square-jawed man with a shaved head oiled so that it sparkled beneath the sun. His name was Arnoc the Hairless, one of the contenders for First Mate. If I let my decision be determined by the outcome of a brawl, my money would be on this man. Arnoc had fists like rocks and he was well known for his ability to take pain. His forearms were covered with pink scar tissue, the result of many bets that he could keep his arm over a burning flame twice as long as anyone. He never lost. Arnoc was also an experienced sailor and navigator. But could he be trusted? Although he didn't seem to be the ambitious sort, there was no telling what he thought about following a woman. "Good," I said, pointing at the bald man. To everyone, I yelled, "We are pirates! But we are not the only ones, are we? What's the saying? The Gold Sea is home to more pirates than fish!" I paused to let this last part set in. None of them would have to think for long before they recalled that the devious Captain Swift had recently killed their very own Captain Black. About half of our battles are with other pirates, not merchant ships. It dawned on me a long time ago that none of us were earning the kind of profits that were available on the Gold Sea. "My father," I said, "was getting old. His tactics were old, even his thoughts were old. That's why he died! This is a new world, and it requires new thinking." Several of the men cheered. They were the ones that never liked my father anyway. The ones I truly had to convince were respected men, like Arnoc the Hairless, who had been loyal to Black Balfour for many years. "What do you want to do? Kill all the other pirates?" asked a crewman toward the back where I couldn't see him. "No, that would take too long. I'm going to conquer the Gold Sea!" This time, most of the crew laughed at such a thought. That's all right though. They didn't believe in me. Yet. At least they feared me. "How are you goin' to do that?" Arnoc asked. "By first conquering the Strait of Storms," I said, pointing at the map pinned to the mast.
==Foz the Axe==
I was sitting at my table when the young sailor, Driden, returned from below deck. He placed what I had asked him to retrieve on the table in front of me, his expression confused and a little afraid. "Good, Driden," I said. "Now, I want you to go out and make an announcement to the entire crew." "Yes, Captain. What do you want me to say?" "Tell them that whoever is interested in being First Mate should report to me now." Driden stepped outside. Meanwhile, I prepared for the first taker. In my mind, I set the odds on who would be the first to step through that door. Would it be Arnoc the Hairless, or my father's Second Mate, Eight-fingers Oba? The door creaked open and in stepped Foz the Axe, a rugged man with bulging muscles. He had been a soldier before he became a pirate, so he was one of my best fighters. It was a shame I had to kill him. I fired the crossbow concealed beneath the table, the same bow Driden had brought up from the weapon stores below deck. The bolt pinned Foz to the door of my cabin. Foz the Axe groaned, clutched at the wound. I could tell by his stupid expression that he still hadn't figured out what happened. I put my foot up on the table, stuck it in the crossbow's stirrup, and drew back the string. "Anyone ambitious enough to be the first to answer my call is too ambitious for my ship, Foz. Sorry," I said. "You...you..." Foz tried to speak but the pain must've been too much to bear. Still, he struggled to free his favored axe from his belt. You had to give him credit for trying. I placed a second bolt in the crossbow and leveled it at Foz's chest. "I know it doesn't make you feel any better, but I'll give you a decent sailor's funeral." "Like you did...your father! I saw...the ropes. You cut them!" Foz said through teeth gritted against the agony in his stomach. He finally managed to raise his axe. "Fine then. I'll just throw you out with the refuse!" I fired. The bolt's power threw the pirate through the door behind him. He collapsed, dead, on the deck outside my quarters where all could see. Arnoc the Hairless was the first to examine the body. He glanced up at me, his face expressionless. "I guess he's not the First Mate," Arnoc said. "No," I replied, dropping the crossbow on the table. I frowned at my broken door. One of the hinges had snapped off. Then to Arnoc, I said, "You can have the job, if you want it." "Well, I don't see a crossbow in your hands, so I'll take it."
I was the first to jump from the dinghy onto the pebble-strewn beach. It had been a while since I placed foot on dry land, so it felt odd not to have the world swaying beneath me. Sometimes, when a sailor spends a long time at sea, he experiences a form of reverse seasickness when on solid ground. I already felt a mild queasiness creeping into my stomach, but I gritted my teeth, refusing to allow it to become anything more. I had come here to find a land route to the town of Frigiston since its leader, Jorgon One-foot, had wisely blocked any access to the bay with a giant chain. The men who would accompany me (all volunteers) climbed from the other boats and quickly removed sacks of food and bundles of weapons. Along the way, we would build or steal whatever we needed to siege Frigiston. Slowly, all the dinghies returned to the Feral Vixen, leaving only one. In it was my new First Mate, Arnoc the Hairless. "I hope I can trust you not to name yourself captain while I am gone," I said. "I make no promises," Arnoc said with an unpleasant smile. His smile always made my skin crawl. "Well, here's my promise. If you steal my ship, I swear I will hunt you down and gut you!" Arnoc laughed and waved as he single-handedly rowed the boat over the crashing waves, a job for two men normally. I wondered if I would ever see the Feral Vixen again. Drawing my sword, I waved it over my head to get everyone's attention. "I know we're pirates built for fighting on the sea, but I don't want any man with me who can't kill a man on dry land as well! Follow me. Soon the Strait of Storms will be ours!"
My head was in the cool water of a horse trough when two members of my crew approached. I washed some of the blood from my face and whipped my long hair, heavy with water, back where it began soaking through my blouse. "All the guards have been put to death. Our men are having fun now," said Eight-fingers Oba, my Second Mate and second-in-command while we were on land. Oba was tall for a sailor with taut, wiry muscles and dark skin. His short, black beard was peppered with gray. It was the only indication that he was around the same age my father had been before he died. Oba was a master with the spear, evidence of his decades as a whaler before becoming a pirate. "Not too much fun!" I ordered. "I need this town for its resources if I'm to capture Frigiston." "I'll make sure nothing is permanently destroyed," said the second sailor. The other sailor, Pete Girly, was too handsome to be a pirate - hence his name. But there was little about Pete Girly that was weak or feminine. The one exception was his fine, waist-length blonde hair. He was a merciless fighter who had been my father's whip-master. When someone earned some lashes, Pete Girly was the man who dealt them out. He was good, and he enjoyed his work. I waved my hand to encompass the town around us and said, "This town of thieves and murderers was easy. They were disorganized and not prepared for an attack. But you better believe old Jorgon One-foot will be ready." "He and his people are Barbarians. They're bred for battle," said Eight-fingers Oba. "We've taken Barbarian ships before," said Pete Girly confidently. "They're clumsy and stupid. No problem!" "That's on the sea," Oba replied. "Yes, we'll be fighting on land, and we'll be on Jorgon's territory. One of the few things my father said that made any sense was never to fight under another man's rules," I stated. I didn't want these two to think I got all my ideas from my father, so I quickly added, "But he also didn't care much for training. He was a fool that way. That's why I want you two to start training our troops." "What kind of training?" Pete Girly asked. "Well, I want you to take our crew and whoever you can recruit and have them practice the sword, the staff, the axe - whatever they can get their hands on!" I ordered. To Oba, I said, "You'll take the rest, maybe some of the orcs who live in the area, and turn them into decent ranged troops. I don't want them shooting themselves in the foot when they're on the battlefield." Pete Girly twisted an absent strand of his long hair around a finger. "I can do it, but we're not going to have anything as disciplined as the Erathians used to have - not with this bunch of scum." "Gods, no!" I said. "That's not what I want! I just want some men who can stand up to a Barbarian. They don't even have to survive - they just have to take one or two with them before they die."
==Quest: Ocean Gate==
Sorry, our commander has orders these doors closed to all travelers except for one named Tawni Balfour. He claims the gods gave him this mission in a dream - if you believe such a thing. Progress
You are most certainly NOT the person our commander is seeking! Completion
Well, maybe now that we found Tawni Balfour our commander will finally start acting normal again. Do you want to pass through now?
We cut our way inland through vines and thick underbrush. There were few trails. I was beginning to think no one lived on this peninsula. Then the elves attacked. Two of my new recruits went down in the first volley of arrows. Those who were too stupid to keep their heads down died on the spot. I drew my sword even though it would do me no good. "Can anyone get to them?" I asked. A chorus of "no's" responded. Then my Second Mate, Oba, said, "Only chance is a Dragon Thrust!" A Dragon Thrust was a term we used for a ship-to-ship maneuver where you rammed the weak middle of another ship with your reinforced bow. It shook up the enemy just long enough for your marines to cast their lines and swing across to the enemy deck. What we needed was that initial thrust! "Get ready for a Dragon Thrust!" I ordered the men. And then I jumped up, screaming at the top of my lungs. My body came alive with energy as the arrows zipped around me. If any struck me, I wouldn't know until later. I felt no pain - only a lust for blood. I charged across the open ground to a clump of trees where I knew there was at least one sniper. Soon, I was staring into the frightened, blue eyes of an elf trying to draw the dagger from his belt. I gutted him. "Dragon Thrust!" I shouted the signal for my men to follow me. At least, I hoped they would follow. Something tugged at my left hand, so I spun in that direction and saw another archer concealed in one of the upper branches. He was notching another arrow in his longbow. I reached for one of my knives with my left hand, but I dropped it as a wave of agony jumped up my arm. When did that arrow pierce my palm? No time to worry about that now. I drove my sword into the ground, tossed a throwing knife with my right hand, and retrieved my weapon before the elven archer hit the ground. Soon, Oba and my men were all around me, protecting me as they flushed out the rest of the elves. "That was a brave thing, Captain," Oba said. I held my bloody left hand in front of his face. "Take it out!"
==The Strait Conquered==
The sound of more than three hundred laborers sawing and pounding on wood floated up from far below. I stood at the edge of the Cliffs of Yanathrae and stared down to the construction site far below. On the other side of the Strait of Storms in the Bay of Frigis was a similar scene under the supervision of my Second Mate, Eight-fingers Oba. At this rate, it wouldn't take long before the docks and shipyards were finished, and then I could start building a fleet to solidify my hold on the Strait of Storms. I smiled at the expanse of blue steel water stretching to the horizon. It was mine! I had already surpassed anything my father had done, and I wasn't finished yet. Mission 2: Bloody Cove
Within minutes, Tawni's new shipyards are reduced to burning lumber by a sneak attack. Her fleet is crippled. Even her flagship, the Feral Vixen, is no longer seaworthy. Tawni soon learns the same pirate who killed her father orchestrated the attack to keep her from controlling the Strait of Storms. So, Tawni sets out to find Captain Swift's legendary hideout, Bloody Cove, for a little retribution.