He is a man not so very different from most of his thieving brethren that plague the ocean, at least at first glance. Only of moderate size and height, his somewhat scrawny body is clad in tattered rags that are the color of a dirty greyish-brown, their once searing hues of red and gold long since robbed of their vitality by endless gouts of blood and spray. His skinny neck is adorned with a an old gold torc plundered some years ago, one that is comically too large for it, causing this battered bit of vanity to jangle in a most absurd manner with every step he takes. And the long, elaborately curled dread locks tumbling down in a long, matted blanket around his narrow cheeks sometimes get in the way of his vision, prompting some of the most hilarious incidents one will ever witness on his pirate schooner, The Floating Log.
And yet there is something in him capable of prompting a certain nervousness in the not-so-stout-of heart and the more sensitive. Perhaps it is the absurd but disturbing notion one can’t seem to shake off that this man is somehow less than human, a primeval relic hailing from a time that existed before the first mammals emerged from slithering reptiles. It might be the oddly elongated face that gives this ludricious impression, the almost disturbing manner it seemingly tapers into a rather blunt snout filled with protruding teeth that stick out in the the most grotesque nature. Or perhaps the eyes are responsible, those narrow slits that are positioned so strangely as to peer out from almost either side of his face. There’s no denying that these little slits of dull yellow are unsettling, portraying a false tranquility that seems to exist only for the purpose of hiding an inexorable hunger awaiting the correct moment to spring its deadly ambush on foolish prey blind to the existence of the predator in their midst.. Or maybe the casual observer is simply blind to that which stares him right in the eye, namely the bony little knobs that peek out from the weather-beaten folds of tanned skin that are not concealed by the folds of his ragged clothing.
Every hint of his fumbling indolence, every suggestion of a bored sloth, becomes the deadly ploy he employs to lull his quarries into the dangerous complacency that will doom them.
A pirate he is and something infinitely more sinister as the reader will soon come to discover in the natural progression of this narration, but even the most credulous believer in the inexplicable would admit it a hard stretch of the imagination to belief that this particular man was capable of becoming either of the above described, were he to have known the notorious corsair back in the days when that worthy was still a snivel-nosed child.
A formerly prosperous family that has but recently fallen on hard times, is certainly not one in need of an addle-brained idiot to feed, and yet, through some cruel caprice on the part of the gods, a burden of that very kind was imposed on the Sorgon clan. The terrible hurricane that had devastated the coastal regions of the kingdom, had left behind a grim legacy in the form of the splintered wreck of their once thriving port district. Shrewd lot that they were, the merchants organising the commercial sea traffic had taken the natural decision to bypass that ruined place all together in the subsequent months, knowing full well that the on-going succession war between two rival noble families dominating that region would ensure that all reconstruction efforts would be painfully slow in coming. And so the Sorgon clan found themselves reduced to near starvation, kept barely afloat by the occasional pittance offered to them by the few fisherman desperate enough to shrug off the nightmarish memories inflicted on them by the deadly water spouts, and venture into the vast expanse of the ocean to once again ply their trade.
Into this world of vastly reduced circumstances, was their only son born. Christened Gabriel by his hopeful mother, he proved to be the burden that his more pessimistic father had feared him to be from the very start. Slow-witted and indolent, throughout the earliest years of his child-hood he proved to be of no use at all to his hard-working and hungry family, one that could not afford the luxury of supporting a stupid laggard, even one that was their only son in a clan where daughters had often been the disappointing norm. His clumsy, lethargic mind refused to grasp even the most rudimentary ideas behind what exactly was needed to build a sea-worthy craft, and his thick, stubby fingers proved just as inept when he grasped the heavy tools of the shop-wright’s craft, coming close to inflicting some serious injury both to himself and the others working alongside him more than once. Sunning himself drowsily like a marine iguana outside along the shattered water-front was all he seemed good for, a favorite past-time of his that soon earned him the contemptuous nick-name of ‘‘Gurad’‘, which in the local dialect roughly meant ‘‘reptile or worm’‘, the two words being almost the same when employed to disparage all cold-blooded slithering reptiles in general.
Still, they cared for this strange, lack-witted boy out of some futile hope that he would someday make a worthy heir to the sad remains of their previously proud business. But even the love and patience of one’s progenitors is not finite, more so when it is roughly abraded by the cruel circumstances of hardship and neediness.
When famine struck, the young Guard suddenly found himself destitute of the parental affection that had tolerantly sustained him for so long. Their desperate need to save themselves from starvation compelled them at last to make the choice that they had secretly dreaded for so long that they would have to make. As their final stash of dried fish finally gave out, they cast him out on the harsh streets to fend for himself. A son that could not help to support his parents was worth less than any daughter.
Hungry and destitute, Gurad wondered a bleak landscape littered with the bodies of the dead and the dying. So many hundreds had perished from the famine that there were very few relations left behind to bury the deceased, leaving the port’s municipal authorities very alarmed indeed about the prospect of a plague being incubated by the ever growing heaps of the unclaimed rotting dead that simply lay around, choking up the roads and streets. With no better alternative, they immediately issued a decree that ordered anyone willing to work for a few meals a day, to organize themselves into work-gangs given the task of hauling the bodies away from the town proper and dumping them in the nearby estuaries and mud-flats. Ignoring the furious denouncements of the clergy that warned secular officials about the spiritual penalty incurred for denying the souls of the fallen the decent burial they were owed, the local government decided to provide an unexpected favor to the ravenous estuary crocodiles that infested these dark, dank,water-logged morasses. These loathsome man-eating reptiles were the answer to his prayers. Charging no exorbitant fees for their services, they would only be too glad to aid the mayor in his sanitation woes.
Alas, those charged with delivering the corpses of the dead into the very jaws of these monstrous aquatic terrors theirs, soon found themselves unable to share the mayor’s optimism about his brilliant new scheme. Sustained only by the paltry few scraps of rotting bread promised to them, these poor wretches soon wasted away under the ruthless toil their charge imposed on them. Dangerously exhausted and weakened, many ended up as unwitting meals for the reptiles they were tasked to feed, their last delirious sight being that of a hulking shadow rearing out of the waters to clamp its massive jaws over their heads, dragging them beneath to join the ranks of the dead they had so recently deposited in the estuary-beds.
As news of the horrors that awaited these unfortunate work-gangs reached the ears of the populace, even the most hungry begun to ignore the call for more volunteers, preferring to take their chances on the streets rather than face the near certain death that awaited them in the estuaries. But their reluctance did not deter the mayor. Within months, his hirelings begun to make the rounds, forcibly drafting any unfortunate with the tragic luck to encounter them as he scrounged a living on the streets.
Such a one was Guard. The mayor’s men caught him unawares as he gnawed on a rat, and dragged him away, ignoring his impotent curses and biting. The next few days found him cowering with terror as he joined the other pitiful wretches in their grim work, with only the brutal blows of the slave-driver’s pike preventing him from loosing his courage entirely and fleeing away from the general direction of the swamp as fast as he could.
But a child cannot run on infrequent amounts of stale bread and large doses of brutal punishment alone. Never a robust boy from the start, he had been further weakened by the starvation that he had endured on the streets, rendering him easy prey to the fatigue felling so many of his comrades. It was no surprise then when the day finally came that found Guard unable to walk another step, his weakened constitution and mind lost in a numb oblivion to the useless goads of both furious curses and cruel blows. At last, cursing all the while, two of the guards gathered his filthy, emaciated frame in their arms and dumped him into the river to meet his fate there. It would have been a waste of time and effort on their part to dispatch him when the thrice cursed crocs infesting this vile place could easily take care of that task for them.
Struggling feebly to lift himself above above the murky surface with what little strength his wasted body could muster, he was not unduly frightened when that brutal maw clamped down on his legs. The promise of oblivion had already seeped into a mind rapidly loosing the will to continue a futile struggle. The death he had been destined for since the day his parents had cast him out, had finally found him. What point could there be in attempting to resist the inevitable?
But it was not death that had come to visit him this night. As he was pulled increasingly into the opaque depths, fresh air rushed into his screaming lungs, and the frantic gasps wracking his chest ceased. His vision clearing, Gurad’s eyes found themselves widening in frightened awe as they beheld the massive snout of the beast that held him captive. Even in the darkness of the submerged waters, he could tell the monster was larger than any of its brothers that he had previously seen. The massive head alone that pinioned his legs in its vast mouth, appeared to be as long as what a person in a more composed frame of mind would have estimated to be at least five feet.
But why did not the fear of impending death overcome him? After all, it was a gruesome demise that awaited him at the ravenous jaws of this great leviathan. He’d witnessed for himself what the brutes were capable of inflicting on the frail human body with the savage ripping movements of their jaws.
But the lidded slits that returned his trembling gaze were not filled with the opportunistic hunger he had anticipated. Instead, there was an almost concerned look in those narrow dull yellow eyes as if the creature was actually trying to determine if he was still alive. For a surreal moment, Gurad has this odd sensation of being a lost hatchling that had safely found its way back to the soft, protective embrace of mother’s jaws again..
Thrust into the embrace of the primordial Voonsai, Gurad for the very first time in his existence, learnt the meaning of complete mastery over his own destiny. No longer compelled to require the shaky affection of a treacherous pair of parents for his survival, he relapsed into the comfort of the crocodiles patience, content to lie partially immersed in the dark waters and revel in the soothing kiss of the sun with only his nostrils showing above the surface, even as he kept a greedy eye out for any small creature foolish enough to stroll into his ambush as it came to the water’s edge for a drink, blissfully unaware of the peril lurking only a few feet away, as motionless as a dead log. Caution too, came with his other blessings, as he instictively understood the importance of going out of his way to avoid the dominant male crocodiles of the estuaries that would have no qualms about devouring him or any other juvenile they encountered in the course of patrolling their domains.
As time progressed, his spirit teacher deemed him ready to leave his watery refuge and led him clandestinely into the heart of the city where he found himself coming face to face with other young neophytes that the being had awoken and imbued with its primal essence.
But he found no satisfaction being among them. The male crocodile is a ruthless, solitary survivor that harbors not the slightest shred of affection for others of his species. Those weaker than him are mere food to be eaten, and those stronger, to be avoided like the mortal peril to his existence that they pose, until he grows strong enough to attack and butcher them in a savage struggle for dominance.
And so finding himself surrounded by these soft, enticing mammals, the primitive thoughts of the crocodile quickly dismissed all thoughts of comradeship, turning instead to the far simpler notion of sating its apetite. Some of the smaller Wyldlings begun to turn up dead, their corpses found partially eaten and decomposed in the filthy, scum choked bodies of canals and rivers. It was not their mere physical flesh alone that had sated Guard’s hunger, for the magic of Voonsai that lay within their souls, passed on to the crocodile lurking in the gloomy depths of Guard’s own, suffusing him as he snapped their necks with his terrible bite and relished the soft texture of their delicate flesh that was so very different from the slimy frogs and molluscs he had become accustomed to…
But it was impossible that his murderous acts of fratricide go unnoticed for long. One of his intended victims, a wolf swifter and cannier than than the rest of his pack, narrowly escaped Guarad’s attempt on his life and quickly spread the alarm about the traitorous killer in their midst. As furious growls and roars pursed him, Gurad reacted with the classic good sense of the croc by casting himself into a river and letting it cast him away from the frenzied mob of Wyldlings eager to tear him open and eat his guts, but too afraid to get their assorted paws wet. No fear for the crocodile who is at home in the water, despite being saddled with a pair of lungs like his very outraged furry brethren. Strangely enough, he felt no feelings of wrath coming from his teacher. Perhaps that wise being understood that it was useless to punish a crocodile for being a crocodile.
For days, he allowed the powerful currents of the river to carry him far away from the fading thoughts of his teacher, not caring since the crocodile is not one to form any emotional bonds. But as he was increasingly swept away from the vicinity of Voonsai and the other Wyldlings, a peculiar thing happened.
The river’s course would take it to colder waters eventually as it left the sultry climate of the inland behind, and so it wasn’t long before it begun to cool dramatically to Guard’s keen senses. And as that begun to occur, the crocodile begun to desert him. Slowly its dominance over his mind begun to fade away, leaving a completely unsettled and very human Guard behind.
Three days passed and his frantic paddling finally brought him to the banks of a somewhat deprived rural farming settlement. Sodding wet, extremely fatigued and penniless, the old Gurad might have panicked at his bleak prospects in a place like this where charity was likely to be very meager. But fortunately for him, he had changed in many ways since that mysterious encounter in the lake. Though frightened and bewildered by the crocodile’s abandonment of him, his memories of the skills it had imparted to him remained yet fresh, and he employed them to good use. Lurking in isolated thickets growing along the desolate banks, he took to ambushing drunken fisher-men that’d had a drop too many, knocking them senseless and relieving them of whatever food or paltry valuables they carried on them. The latter would do when he managed to make his way to a more civilized place. And that he must, for the pickings to be made here were slim and it would not be very long before a hunt for him would be initiated by his enraged victims.
The answer to his feverent prayers finally came to him in the form of a small merchant barge bound for the nearest costal port. Emerging from his hide-out and slithering into its fish smelling hold as the crew remained outside purchasing provisions, he made himself very comfortable inside. The next week or so passed smoothly enough as the little cog made its way to the mouth of the sea. Slightly ripe fish were a decent enough meal to one that had dined on far worse with no squeamishness.
When the ship fnally touched its port of destination, Gurad vacated its premises, making his slow but cautious way out of the hold when he was certain that the crew had disembarked first.
The moment he set sight upon what would probably be his home for many years to come, he knew he had made the right decision. As far as his astonished eyes could see, markets and wharfs abounded all the way to very horizon. A canny survivor could make his fortune here very easily indeed..
That assessment proved to be initially correct. Drunks were a plenty in this seedy port, and slaying them as they staggered out proved to be easy enough for one accustomed to lying patiently in wait for his prey to come within his reach. Striking swiftly and silently, he disposed of the bodies in the sea, and soon earned himself a small fortune that did nicely to keep him relatively well-fed.
But he was hunting in the domain of more formidable rivals, a dangerous mistake that the crocodile would have been careful to avoid. Guard the human would soon be paying a painful price for his greedy heedlessness.
As he took up his position in a dark alley leading to one one of those grim water-front taverns that day and lay in wait for a potential victim, Gurad had no way of knowing that he himself would be prey. Before he could so much as hear a footstep, a band of furious thieves hailing from the local guild sprung upon him from the dark shadows and quickly proceeded to beat him to a bloody pulp. When their savage work was done, they warned him in no uncertain terms that if they ever found him trying to violate their monopoly in this city, they would snap his neck.
Picking himself up gingerly after he was sure that they had left, Gurad wondered whether there was another lucrative trade less crowded for eager new-comers.
Piracy soon became an obvious option. The talk he had picked up hanging around various taverns had enlightened him on the existence of numerous pirate captains lurking in the neighboring archipelago. Hiding among the bays and shallows of the numerous islands, they earned a more than profitable income from harassing the wallowing merchant galleons that hauled their profitable cargoes of precious stones from the exotic colonies of the kingdom in the southern seas.
Avaricious dreams of easy gold filled Gurad’s mind, prompting him to approach a well known corsair for employment on his vessel. At first, the disdainful pirate was amused more than anything else by the notion of this scrawny, awkward young urchin joining his pirate crew in their vicious predation of the surrounding seas, and told him in rough terms to leave. They were interested in someone who looked like he could actually lift a sword to raise against the royal navy, not half-starved cut-purses fallen on hard times.
But Gurad persisted in his entreaty in the most oily, fawning tones that his limited command of language could muster, assuring the pirate recruiter that he would prove his worth by toiling so very hard.
At this, the pirate shrugged and decided that it couldn’t hurt that much to offer him a place on his captain’s raider. At the very worst, if he did prove to be incompetent, they could simply cast him over-board and amuse themselves by seeing how far he would try to outswim the sharks.
So begun Gurad’s apprentinceship as a junior crew-man obboard the pirate vessel, the Saw Fish. It was a career that took off well enough, with Gurad honoring his promise to sweat as copiously as he could in the in service of his most exalted employers. Afraid of having to strike out and fend for an uncertain living on the streets again, he made a vailant and sincere effort to overcome his customary laziness and soon begun to outshine some of the other young recruits who were firmly of the opinion that scrubbing decks were beneath their masculine fantasies of being a pirate.
With such an admirable work ethic, he soon attracted the admiring attention of his immediate superiors that rewarded him by having him promoted rapidly to the position of a mid-ship man. And as a hitherto unknown but innate talent of his for scouting out dangerous reefs and shoals begun to manifest itself, he rapidly rose to the position of second mate, despite his swordmanship skills still being rudimentary and clumsy at best. It was interesting how quickly the captain would overlook that defect after Guard had saved the ship from being wrecked more than once.
Unfortunately, Guard’s heedless greed would get the better of him again. His vessel had begun to enter the tropical waters of the southern ocean where slow, sluggish merchant galleons transporting precious minerals from rich island mines, were plentifully ripe for the taking. The crew did very well for itself during its first initial forays, and Guard’s crew managed to successfully capture and board an especially large trading ship carrying what they hoped would prove to be a very precious cargo. Their hopes were not let down. Gold and silver were aplenty and each crew-man received a generous portion. But for himself, the captain reserved the lion’s share:An entire chestful of massive, well-cut rubies.
And this got Guard’s greedy mind entertaining notions that it should have not.
As his captain lay slumbering that very night, Gurad sneaked into his cabin, hoping that he possessed enough stealth to pry open the chest and squirrel away a single gem that his master would not miss. But once again fate proved to be less than kind. His typical clumsiness undid him. As he walked with his slow, nervous gait towards the large table on which the chest rested, he failed to notice the toppled stool lying in his path and promptly tripped over it.
A savage roar came from the adjoining four-poster as the hefty pirate captain, a huge bear of a man, threw aside his blankets and rushed out of bed, determined to break the ingrate’s neck with a single snap. Treachery of this nature he had suspected, given the recent spate of valubles missing from his cabin, but never from one that had benefitted so immensely from his generosity! But now as he sprung the trap that he had so cleverly conceived, the scum had shown his true colors. Giving voice to another infuriated bellow, he grabbed his cutlass and rushed at the cowering Guard, fully determined to remove that foul thief’s skinny excuse for a neck with a single powerful stroke.
As Gurad begun to scream in hysterical terror, helpless to save his life in the face of the certain death he so richly deserved, an old companion intervened at the most opportune moment and in a way he would never have imagined possible.
When the blade finally came down on its intended victim’s neck, it met not soft yielding flesh, but impenetrable bony scales…
Screams could be heard again, but this time they spoke of a horrid agony and terror that far outshadowed that of the ones that had preceded them. Awoken from their peaceful slumber by the blood-curdling commotion coming from the captain’s cabin, five of the burliest crew-men stormed into the cabin with their weapons, ready to fight for the safety of their beloved captain.
But their captain was already past the point where their help could have saved him. The last glimpse they ever got of him was a fleeting sight of his crushed and mangled body clenched in the jaws of the most massive crocodile they had ever set eye on, as it bareled its vast, thrashing frame right through the flimsy wooden walls and plunged into the freedom of the waters below..
Roleplaying Notes:Gurad’s mysterious abscence during the slaying of their captain by that ravenous monster, and his mysterious return a few days later, naked and covered with mud from the estuaries as he was, did provoke suspicions that should have ordinarily proved fatal for him.
But ever since the first mate’s subsequent attempts to interrogate and torture Gurad ended on a disastrous note with him suffering the same gruesome fate as his former master, no one else has dared to mount an assault on this ugly, skinny man, for fear that the same monstrous force that devoured the captain and his first mate, might be tempted to drag them into the briny depths of the ocean too. A demon has seized control of their ship , and no mere mortal man can be brave enough to stand up to him even if that abomination should decide to lead them to the very bottom of the sea to taunt and plunder Davy Jones himself should such a desire seize its evil, blood thirsty mind.
Though quick to capitalize on his recently obtained reputation and name himself captain of the Floating Log as he calls the newly renamed pirate vessel (undoubtedly a choice inspired by the manner in which a croc floating in a river blinds all onlookers to its presence), this malignant terror is still somewhat befuddled by the resurgence of his long lost other-half. It is astonishing that it should desert him for such an eternity and then make a dramatic comeback only as the ship sailed into the the tropics. And more mysterious still, the croc has its has its very own physical form , instead of sharing one with him as it previously did. While it is always hovering in the back-ground of his frail human mind, awaiting the opportunity to grant him its potent ruthlesness ferocity should he need to rely on it when his survival is in jeopardy, it has developed a separate body of its own, giving him the ability to become a full-fledged crocodile. When that occurs, the petty sentience of Gurad is overwhelmed completely, and he becomes one with the croc, reveling in the the primordial satisfaction of patrolling the water of the near-by estuaries and viciously slaying any puny interlopers of his species that dare to intrude into his domain. But more often, he is simply content to lie in the shallows, lazily awaiting a foolish monkey to loose its grip in the branches above and fall right into his outstretched maw. No effort is needed to seize his prey when that prey delivers itself right into his jaws.
But the human pirate Gurad is wary of loosing himself entirely to the bestial half of himself and has begun to seek help from the exotic islander shamans of these foreign parts that venerate Hoko, the mysterious crocodile headed god, obtaining esoteric potions from them that can stifle the desire of the crocodile to crush his human self utterly.
He is careful not to imbibe too much of his potions though. The shamans of Hoko revere him as a living embodiment of their god and warn him that like the god himself, he must strike a balance between the reptile and the man. Choking either completely would result in a total loss of that entity. The croc must have some outlet for its overriding needs, if Gurad is not to loose its formidable presence within him completely. So it is that whenever the wet season begins and the dominant males of the surrounding croc population begin to savagely vie with one another for the right to hold prime mating territory, the man-croc surrenders humanity utterly and slips into the waters to feast..
Why this singular Wyldling should go in a direction so radical from that of the others, is beyond understanding. Climate temperature was never a determining factor in their transformation which was never as complete as that which Gurad undergoes, but it just possibly might have something to do with Gurad having dined on Voonsai’s other adoptees during the formative years of his life. Perhaps his inner beast has developed a strange hunger for them, a thought that they might do well to ponder should they ever come into the presence of this monstrous pirate. Who can tell that if in an effort to strengthen its grip on Gurad, it might seek to absorb the mystical essence of Voonsai that lies within them by endeavoring to devour those that should have been as cherished siblings to it?
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CodexVoonsai ( NPCs ) Major - Natural
Has your kid been acting strangely? Returning home late at night, bearing bruises and clothes torn? Something else than puberty may be the reason.