Twilight of the Dawn
by Andrew Theisen
"Passage for three, Captain?"
Hugh Dunwich squinted his one eye probingly into the lightening morn. Behind him, the Serpent's Kiss rocked steadily against its moorings,its crew completing preparations for a long voyage. The three cloaked figures waited patiently at the end of the dock. Dunwich motioned them forward cautiously.
"Chang?" the old corsair ventured hesitantly.
"I hope we haven't kept you waiting?" The Ochalean rogue grinned beneath the phony moustache he wore.
"Bout damn time," Dunwich groused. "We were just aboot ta leave yuir long-haired arse."
Chang ran a hair through his wig. "Jealous, Captain? I can get you a good deal on one."
But Dunwich wasn't listening to his passenger's banter. His attention was focused on Loh Chang's companions: a tall black man and a slim blonde woman, both attired formally in shen-i. Either alone would have been conspicuous enough in the city of Beitung, but together...
"Where be Jono and Qiao-Xia?" he asked warily. The pair silently boarded the Serpent's Kiss, sparing no glances for the captain or Chang.
"You were contracted to transport three passengers. We are three. Now I suggest you weigh anchor before we have to answer to a minister of justice."
Dunwich's good eye popped open in surprise. "Minister? Now 'old on a minnit 'ere!"
Loh Chang produced a leather sack from one of his voluminous sleeves, stifling Dunwich's objections. "A bonus for your discretion and tact, Captain," was his explanation.
The captain of the Serpent's Kiss gritted his teeth and gave the order to hoist anchor. Pirate and criminal ascended the gangplank as the sun began to rise on the horizon.
A steady afternoon breeze was blowing in from the northwest. The Serpent's Kiss tacked its way into the wind, moving along the Shadow Coast. Loh Chang and Hugh Dunwich stood upon the quarterdeck, attending to various tasks, when an unexpected arrival drew the captain's attention to the deck.
"One o' yuir playmates has finally turned up. Been in 'is cabin three days running."
Loh Chang didn't look up from the map he was studying. "Probably too good to mingle with the likes of you and me."
"And just what in Pyts is 'e doin' aboard me ship?" Dunwich tapped at the patch over his eye irritably.
The Ochalean passenger shrugged. "You're not being paid to ask questions. Just get us to Caerdwicca, and there won't be any trouble."
Dunwich growled disdainfully. "Ye'd better see to it there isn't, Chang." He sighed. "Gorudiro bloody Dwair. Ambassador for the Pearl Islands, Minister of Foreign Affairs for Beitung."
"Champion of the Crown, Explorer of Lost Lands, Chief Advisor to the Immortals, and Divine Power In Charge of All," Chang mocked. "I'm fully aware of who he is, Captain. I don't need you to remind me." A brief pause. "Besides, that's 'former' Minister."
Dunwich's eyebrow rose, and was greeted by a sly smile from his passenger.
"He's none too pleased with me over that, to be sure. It's only the knowledge of my culpability in his current woes that makes his company the least bit bearable."
Chang sighed. Dunwich was obviously not going to be put off of this topic, and it might soothe the captain's woes to know the reason he was carrying a national hero aboard his pirate vessel. Not that Loh was entirely sure of the reasons himself. "Let's just say that my employers seem to think Dwair's company is vital to my mission." One of my employers anyway, Chang silently corrected.
Dunwich tapped at his eyepatch again. Doubtless thinking of ways he could profit by this knowledge, Chang thought. Not that he wouldn't be doing the same, if their positions were reversed.
"I dinnae s'pose ye'll be tellin' yuir ol' pal Dunwich what that mission be?"
"As I said before Captain, that's my business, not yours. You're being more than adequately compensated." Dunwich didn't miss the edge in Chang's voice. He knew when he was treading on thin ice; he also knew that Loh Chang's dangerous reputation was not at all exaggerated. Yet now that his curiosity was piqued, Chang couldn't keep from studying his nemesis Dwair. He ran a hand over his reddening bald scalp. He had long since doffed the disguise he wore when boarding the Serpent's Kiss.
Gorudiro Dwair stood silently and alone at the portside rail. His shen-i was a simple affair- green tunic and black pants- lacking any adornments of office. A long braid of black hair was tied at the back of his neck. His normally serene features focused intently on the distant shores of the Isle of Dawn.
"What is he looking at?" Chang muttered softly.
His reverie was quickly answered by a resounding call from the crow's nest. "Ahoy, Cap'n! Vessel to port!"
The ship's crew suddenly broke out of the serenity of smooth sailing and jolted into action. On the quarterdeck, Dunwich reached for his spyglass, peering into the direction indicated by the lookout.
Dunwich grunted as Chang watched silently over his shoulder. "Don't recognize the flag, an' they're ignorin' ours. Freebooters." He handed his spyglass over to his companion and stomped over to the rail. "Avast! All hands on deck! Man the armaments!"
Loh Chang watched the approaching vessel, though it was still too far to get an accurate picture of its weaponry and crew complement. "Is that necessary? Can't you outrun them?"
"Now who's tellin' who their business?" Dunwich irritably grabbed the spyglass from Chang. "They've got the wind at their back. The only way ta outrun 'em is ta go inta the Straits." And that would be tantamount to suicide, was the unspoken corollary. "All we kin do is try an' outgun 'em. 'Less'n you kin come up with somethin'?"
Loh Chang shook his head. "Not until we get closer. I need to know what we're dealing with first."
Dunwich nodded, as if expecting that response. "Looks like we wait, then, an' see."
Just off of the eastern shores of the Shadow Coast lies a wild and treacherous region named for a famous Thyatian explorer- the Straits of Barbarossa. Following the cataclysm known as the Great Rain of Fire, a rupturing faultline separated the Isle of Dawn and the island of Aegos. The end result was a shallow, reef filled region that is dangerous for large vessels to cross. Due to the hazards, the only ships that regularly ply this area are small, fast moving pirate ships. They dart out from the isles to attack merchant vessels moving around the southern tip of the Isle of Dawn, then duck back into the area to avoid hostile imperial naval vessels.
The miles wide gap between the two coasts is perhaps even more deadly. Massive whirlpools have been known to open with little warning, drawing helpless ships down thousands of feet into the dark abyssal region created when the faultline opened. A few of the more stable whirlpools are marked on the map, but these are far from an extensive listing.
Historically, the islets nearest the Shadow Coast play home to pirates allied with Caerdwicca, while those nearest Aegos host pirates with Ne'er-Do-Wellian ties. These alliances are informal at best, but serve to function in a manner similar to that of crafts guilds- sanctioning the acts of other pirates, maintaining a watch on sea trade, etc. Merchants and pirate vessels plying the trades run flags indicating their allegiances (usually purchased at steep cost), which assists in ensuring their safety.
Recently there has been an upsurge in 'freelance' piracy- pirates who have no ties with Caerdwicca or Ne'er-Do-Well, or who choose to ignore the traditional allegiances- and shipping in the area has suffered. It is generally accepted that this is due in large part to the imperial navies of Thyatis and Alphatia being preoccupied elsewhere. The informal pirate alliances frown upon these freebooters, and retribution is swift and brutal.
There are dozens of islands off the Shadow Coast and northwestern Aegos, ranging in size from several miles wide to only a few hundred feet. They are almost universally rocky, barren terrain, unsuitable for farming or settlement. Of course, their very undesirability is what makes them appealing to the pirates of the region. They use the islands as temporary bases, pulling their ships into rocky harbors known only to them and striking in ambush against merchant vessels plying the coasts. The islands also provide safe terrain for the pirates to hide out from naval vessels or other pirates seeking them.
Among the larger islands, the island of Skullrock is perhaps the most well stocked and provisioned. It has a port class of E, and is in close contact with the barony of Caerdwicca and its ruler. At any given time, there may be 4 to 6 ships of varying size docked here, with their respective crews.
There are several dozen semi-permanent structures clustered around the harbor, which is in a sheltered cove near the base of a large mountain. A few enterprising pirates have retired from the sea trade and actually make a full-time living hosting various services on the island. The island gets its name from the skull-like appearance of the central mountain peak.
The island of Gray's Barrow is the second largest island on the Shadow Coast side of the Straits. Legend has it that the notorious pirate Gilgram the Gray, who met his demise at the hands of a mutinous crew, is buried here. The weatherbeaten dock has a port class of F, and can barely accommodate three medium sized vessels at any given time. Unlike Skullrock, "the Barrow," as it is familiarly known, has no permanent accomodations.
Dune Isle- the third largest islet off the Shadow Coast, named for the numerous rolling, sandy hills that comprise its entirety. There are no permanent harbors or ports of note here, though the isle boasts several small coves that are used as temporary shelters by seagoing vessels.
On the other side of the channel lay Thanos' Crown, which is nominally allied to Ne'er-Do-Well. Ancient Thothian settlers on Aegos named the volcanic islet for the ancient Immortal of Death. The volcano has been dormant for several decades now, but past experience has taught that it may erupt suddenly and without warning. One small harbor, port class F, rests on the southeastern shore of this island.
Sadrak's Folly is a long, rocky key off the coast of Aegos. Decades ago, an Alphatian mage decided to construct a lighthouse on the northern tip of the key, as an early warning system against pirate raids. He created an elaborate beacon that was powered by several elementals, and which was able to cast its light well into the dark foggy straits. Caerdwiccan pirates (though some say they were from Ne'er-Do-Well) sacked and destroyed the lighthouse in 942 AC.
Rather than let his pet project rest, Sadrak set about reconstructing it, this time with massive fortifications and magical defenses from outside attack. When the rebuilding was completed, almost five years later, Sadrak once more lit his beacon. Onlookers from the shore watched as the lighthouse exploded in a radiant burst, as the elementals freed themselves from captivity. The elementals never escaped from the lighthouse, but no one ever heard from the Alphatian or his mercenary company again either. Many adventurers have since tried to gain entry into the fortress, but its defenses are as formidable as ever. The spirit of Sadrak is said to linger within its walls still, and on particularly dark and foggy nights, a ghostly beacon has been known to emerge from the lighthouse and send its rays across the waters of the straits.
Hello and welcome to what will hopefully be a long and enjoyable undertaking. This series is a labor of love (or at least strong like) that has been germinating for some time. The primary objective was to detail the regions of the Isle of Dawn at long last, but to do so in a fun way, harkening back to the "Voyage of the Princess Ark" stories by Bruce Heard. I have chosen a different narrative style than he used, for reasons that should become apparent down the road.
For those who are wondering, the setting for these tales is 1004 AC, a few years after the gazetteer period, and just prior to the outbreak of the Wrath of the Immortals (which will play a part in upcoming chapters). The reasons I chose this time period are personal, stemming primarily from a desire to explore the repercussions of that period (which was a major point in the history of the Isle of Dawn) as well as for the fact that it just provides me with so much fodder to work with. Will this invalidate some of the information I provide on the areas of the Isle of Dawn? Perhaps, but hopefully not in a major way, and any massive changes will probably be updated in a future article.
At any rate, I encourage feedback from you- questions, comments, raspberries- and if I get enough feedback (and you let me know that it's okay) I'll include them here in future chapters. Hope you enjoy this as much as I have in writing it-
Andrew "Cthulhudrew" Theisen
Copyright (c) 2000, Andrew Theisen. Used by permission. All rights reserved.