Both stared off into the sea, simply content in each other’s company for the moment. A fleeting moment, as the young girl spoke up. “Smythe, you've told me many stories over the years but you've never told me how you lost your arm. You promised me you would when I was old enough to have tied every knot on the ship, and today was the Scaffold.” With a sigh the old man re-positioned his worn frame on the crow’s nest with his muscular left arm.
“My little Ami. Not so little anymore. I suppose you are old enough for a story of that nature.” The grizzled crewman tamped some fresh tobacco into his pipe. “Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale, a tale of a fateful trip. It started from a tropic port, aboard a tiny ship.” Ami raised an eyebrow, incredulous of the musical tone. “What, you've never heard that song? Youngins these days, won’t spare a coin for a good bard.” Ami rolled her eyes. “Aye, aye. I’ll tell you the story of Avaricious.”
Many years back the waters were rough for several seasons and brought within a day’s sail of the mainland a wondrous floating island. The people called it Magpie Island for two reasons. The first was it was surrounded by birds, and the second is that magical trinkets seemed to follow in its wake. It was not more than a few days before it was swept back into the Dead of the gyre. In that short time it had sparked all kinds of commotion, rumors of pirate treasure, dragon hordes, wealth beyond imagining. Nobles, mages, and merchants alike all decided to mount expeditions, chasing after the island into the Dead. No one returned with any success, if they returned at all. Ours was going to be the ship to change that.
The Dead is a dangerous place for a ship. Without currents or air cabin fever sets in mighty fast, but this was the age of great magic, and we had a very wealthy patron. It was believed such things could easily be overcome with imprisoned elementals, citruses in preservation containers, and a water purification system with enough charges. They were right; sailing through the Dead was as easy as a dream for us. Some sailors claimed to see things in the water but we paid them no mind.
Expectations are treacherous things. When we arrived I could not, did not, want to believe this was the place of wonder and adventure so many of us had spent months dreaming of. The smell was simply indescribable, so laden with decay it was as if the whole island consisted of the bodies every dead fish and sea creature. Stepping onto the treacherous surface it even gave way like a bloated corpse. Perhaps the assessment was not too far off, as the surrounding waters seemed utterly devoid of sea life. Of course, it wasn't. Even in the massive floating pile of human refuse stranded in the middle of the Dead there was life. They had followed us. Skin whiter than cream and faces without eyes that see- they thrust up our discarded food tins, rigged playing cards, a pipe which no longer lit itself, every item of trash thrown overboard followed us to the filthy heap in their webbed fingers.
We couldn't leave empty handed. There was magic here, all of us could feel it in the fetid air, surely there were some artifacts worth saving. So the search began. I was the first to run into them, the crew of the Justification. They had been missing for months and presumed lost at sea but there was their ship, and most of the crew. They all looked in a bad way; salt crusting over their faces and sea-blind eyes staring vacantly out of hunched and withered bodies. Yet each of them, even the lowest crewman, had a pile of wealth beyond imagining. Enchanted music boxes, almost-full wands, ancient swords, things men kill for all discarded and floating in the ocean. The captain was excited, and asked to see what one of the men had found that day. He didn't understand it then, when the fellow pulled off his back the same pipe that had come from our ship. He grabbed the pipe from him and threw it off into the pile in disgust, the man running after it as if it was his most prized possession. Poor sap didn't get a dozen paces when several of his crewmates shoved him aside in pursuit. All of them fell into a soft spot in the debris, a trap created by one of the trash golems the place was infested with. The ones the golem did not get before they went under the water the pale ones did. A life holds magic too, you know.
Avaricious is a special sort of hell; it's the hell we created ourselves. It is the hell we deserve. How fitting that we should become so enamored of our worthless possessions we do not see the filth we create with it, fighting and killing and bleeding until only one man stands king of the rotting heap. You will remain trapped there as long as you cannot let go, and collecting is addictive. Even the smallest most worthless piece of vaguely enchanted garbage must be relinquished if you are to be set free, otherwise the pale ones will not let you leave. They will hunt you as you lie stranded without magic in the Dead praying for a swift death and drinking their sweet blue blood-
Smythe blinked, clearing the haze of memory from his eyes. He emptied the ashes from within the pipe, cleaned it, and set it within his pocket. Ami sat patiently, waiting for the story to continue. As Smythe began to descend from the nest Ami looked over the edge. "You promised you would tell me how you lost your arm." Smythe did not look up from his footing on the rigging.
"Who do you think was king?"