The Faithful Bride was always a crowded, noisy tavern with far too many people coming and going. Music and raucous singing never ceased and often the patrons were too imbibed with liquor to care what was going on around them, as evidenced by the men casually drinking their grog while a fight rolled across the floor.
It was for all these reasons why it was the perfect place for the Keepers of the Code to come together to discuss important business, no one paid any attention to the slow trickle of pirates gathering in the small storage room at the back of the tavern. A makeshift table had been formed out of crates and barrels in the middle of the room, however the assembled number was greater than what it would accomodate. There had not been such a large gathering of the Keepers of the Code in years, and for many this was the first time meeting their brethren face-to-face.
“I’ll not waste time,” the words from Alania Seastone, the guildmaster of the Keepers of the Code, immediately brought all conversation in the room to a halt without her having to raise her voice; “for those of you who may not be abreast of current events, we are here because Jolly Roger’s forces around Port Royal have vanished, save for the undead that always seem to be there.”
“Fer three months Roger has been layin’ siege to Port Royal,” Captain Graves said, “an’ now he abruptly stops his attacks. The Harkaway has vanished w’out a trace; not so much as a whisper ‘bout where she’s t’ be found.”
Nodding in agreement, Alania added, “We can only conclude this must mean he's changing his strategy. Lady Grace Anderson has intercepted missives from the Royal Navy officers on Padres del Fuego asking for reinforcements.”
“The Navy has had to completely abandon re-taking Las Pulgas due to the undead’s aggression,” Heads turned sharply to the back of the room where Lady Grace had slipped in unnoticed; she continued, “and the undead within the Catacombs have been greatly increasing the frequency of their attacks on the East India Trading Company’s mining operation.”
Remy Lemaitre, an ex-EITC mercenary, snorted, “as if they're actually mining anything from that fruitless rock. There's something else they’re after and we know that,” he then muttered under his breath, “même si on ne sait pas ce que c’est...”
“Now is not the time to worry about that,” spoke up a seasoned pirate by the name of Jack Alberic; “There have been fewer of Jolly Roger’s ships sighted in the Windward and Leeward passages, but there's a small flotilla that's been seen east of Padres del Fuego in the Hinterseas.”
“That's his target then?” Jesse Tidus did not look up from the dirt he was trying to remove from under his nails; “Why?”
With a shrug, Alania’s first mate Wade McCallister answered, “He's after the same thing the East India Trading Company is, or he's looking for any remaining weapon caches from the days of the conquistadors that once lived there.”
“Padres del Fuego be a large island, with a large presence of th’ undead already.” Graves pointed out. “Th’ Royal Lubbers will ne’er be able t’ defend the island, an’ they be better armed than we. They’ll stay in th’ Fort, save thar own hides, an’ we should do likewise. Defend th’ town, consolidate arrr forces. Defend the chokepoints approachin’ th’ town proper with barricades an’ riflemen. We can hold out, if not drives ‘em back.”
“We should send our fastest ships immediately to rally the pirate guilds loyal to our cause.” Charity Ironflint advised, then added “If there's time, we can recruit enough ships to form a line of battle off the coast and hopefully drive the undead fleets away.”
“A line of battle be worthless, we should scuttle barges t’ create...”
From outside the room there was a shout and a thud, but none of the pirates paid it any mind until the door was thrown open so hard it hit the wall; instantly the Keepers of the Code were on their feet, cutlasses and daggers drawn, a dozen or so flintlocks pointed in the direction of the intruder standing in the doorway. It was a russet-haired woman, lean and bronzed from ship’s work and no taller than the shoulder of many of the male pirates there. She seemed unphased by the arsenal pointed at her as she looked back at them all; a young man pushed past her into the room.
“Cap’n Seastone, I tried t’ stop her!” Insisted Nathan, one of the younger Keepers whom had been tasked with watching the door.
“Ye’d better have good reason fer this, Joan.” Graves warned. “Me orders are not easily disobeyed.”
“There was no more time for waiting Graves!” The woman evidently named ‘Joan’ shouted back, “Th’ winds have shifted; they carry with them th’ groaning of rotting wood an’ th’ clattering of th’ undead, The Harkaway is making way for Tortuga!”
Instantly the room exploded into outcries of disbelief and outrage.
“That’s not possible!”
“Curse that soulless devil to the Pit!”
“We have t’ warn the town!”
“SILENCE!” Alaina roared, the word commanding order back into the room. Her eyes cut across the table at Captain Graves sharply, “Who is this?! Some sun-mad sailor ranting nonsense?!”
“Sun-mad!?” Graves shouted, incredulous. “Why, she be no more mad’n you or I, Cap’n! Though that arrrgument could be made, ha!”
The guildmaster of the Keepers of the Code frowns and looks at Joan with a scowl, “And how did you come by this information?”
The sea-witch did not seem to be intimidated; “Call it a vision, if such a crude term is familiar to y’. But th’ wind speaks to those who can hear it, an’ it has told me Jolly Roger's flagship is north of Tortuga as we speak. He waits for th’ moonrise, when his power is at its strongest.”
Alania shook her head, “We have absolutely no cause to think Jolly Roger is moving to attack Tortuga.”
“It could be a possibility...” Wade said quietly.
“There's even less reason for him to attack Tortuga than there is Padres del Fuego,” Charity stated; “what is here for him to gain?”
“Jack Sparrow.” Everyone turned to look at Lady Grace as she went on, “We know Jolly Roger wants to make Sparrow pay for what he did to him.”
“There be another, more strategic reason.” Graves said. “We be here, all th’ Keepers; unless I miss me guess. Roger found out, like as not, an’ he be on his way t’ destroy us.” A collective gasp of understanding rippled through the room. Graves continued; “A victory here cements his rule o’ the seas; without th’ Keepers there be none left t’ oppose him. Leastways, non left willin’ to fight. It’d be a blow t’ moral as well as destruction of a fightin’ force.” Graves nodded, as if he’d convinced himself. “Assumin’ he knows we be here, if I were he I’d attack; ye can lay t’ that.”
“Mark my warning all of y’,” Joan raised her voice to be heard over the murmuring in the room, “as sure as the tide, Jolly Roger is sailing for Tortuga. If y’ don't prepare now, y’ may not live to see tomorrow's sunrise.”
Whispering went around the table that was silenced with Alaina’s raised hand. She looked to her right at the most feared pirate in the West Indies and spoke:
“Captain Graves, you're one of the most pragmatic and strategically minded people in this room. Would you trust this woman at her word?”
He looked at Alainia and unwaveringly answered, “I’d do more’n that, cap’n. I trust her with me life.”
It was an organized type of panic that swept through the town of Tortuga. The ring of steel echoed across the island as swords were sharpened, various pirate captains mustering fighting crews on the beaches while others worked to erect hasty barricades out of whatever materials could be found.
Alania stood on a lookout point above the harbor staring out at the sea, her fist tightening around her father’s staff in her hand. She had ordered three fast sloops to go north to verify Joan's claim.
The sun was setting, and they had not returned.
“This is absolutely dreadful,” Jesse bemoaned as he worked alongside two other Keepers to prepare a large number of black powder pistols and rifles for the impending fight; “this gunpowder is going to take weeks to get off of my hands, and it’s getting my clothes dirty.”
Rolling his eyes, Remy did not stop cleaning the barrel of the flintlock in his hands, but Nathan set down his ramrod and looked at Jesse, “You know, I get the feelin’ you haven’t been in many battles.”
“I prefer negotiation to conflict little laddie,” Jesse said as he tried to wipe some charcoal from his palm, only succeeding in smearing it further. “Ugh. This is appalling.”
“I think this may be punishment for some offence we gave Capitaine Seastone…” Remy muttered to Nathan.
“I absolutely agree,” answered Jesse, “Although I do not know why she would be mad at me. Unless she.…..oh would you look there?” Jesse's attention had been captured by the sight of Joan walking ahead of them; “it's that captivating woman from earlier. What was her name? Something with a J...Jane? No, no it was Joan. Why you know, she wouldn't look so bad were she not wearing sailor's slops. I wonder how such a lovely woman came in such a state?”
“That 'lovely woman’ is part of Edward Graves’ crew,” Nathan replied, “I heard 'im say so. If you're goin’ to go lookin’ for female company, you’d be safer with a wench from the King’s Arm; that one’ll probably use your guts for chum.”
“Oh how ghastly, that poor girl!” Jesse gasped, “Surely she’s not a part of that cruel man’s crew by choice. Why I’ll wager she’s just waiting for someone to rescue her!” Jesse started to smooth his hair back and frowned at his dirty hands. He wiped them off on Nathan’s coat before sprinting away in Joan’s direction. She was standing at a barricade, a voodoo staff in her left hand as she murmured under her breath working an enchantment on the wall of wood.
Jesse halted next to her, “My dear lady!” With a flourish and a bow he brought her free hand to his lips, “I am your most humble servant, Jesse Tidus. Might you bestow me with the pleasure of knowing your name, Love?”
“...Joan Tidewalker,” she said slowly as if she were unsure if she really wanted to tell him.
“Ah! Such a lovely name befits your beauty!” Jesse went on...and on; “why you are radiant, the very image of Venus...or you would be my dear, why those old rags are a disservice to the exquisite artistry that lies upon your countenance---”
“Mr. Tidus,” Joan cut him off as she leaned on her staff, “have y’ some business with me? Now is hardly th’ time for idle talk.”
Jesse's brilliant green eyes shone with bewilderment. This response to his indisputable charms was unprecedented.
"Eh? Do I have-- do I have business with-- why, why... yes." Jesse stammered through his recovery, but slowly the coquettish wriggle returned to his eyebrows. “Yes, my business is with you! My dear, sweet, lovely Joan! I am here to deliver you from your unfortunate state of being! I pity a resplendent creature such as yourself living such an abhorrent---”
Joan turned and started walking away.
“Wait!” Jesse cried, chasing after her, “where are you going?! Don't run away from fate Joan! I know it must be frightening darling---”
Joan whirled around with all the force of a hurricane, “Mr. Tidus I have neither th’ time nor th’ inclination to listen to y’r nonsense. There's a fight f’r our lives to be had an’ I intend to survive. Good luck to y’.” With that she walked on the the next barricade, leaving Jesse sputtering behind her like a wet cat.
“Why--Why I---I’ve never...how RUDE!” Jesse exclaimed. Behind him, Remy and Nathan burst into rib breaking laughter. Jesse marched back over to them red-faced.
“I have never met such a vile woman!” Jesse snatched up a measure of lead shot and started ramming it down an unloaded musket, “And ungrateful! Why that Joan would be fortunate to have the favor of someone as handsome and genteel as myself!”
Remy looked up from his work to reply, but caught sight of something behind Jesse that made him quickly turn pale. Nathan glanced up to see what he was staring at and froze.
Unaware of whatever had suddenly terrified the two young men, Jesse kept ranting: “mark me, I will make her come to her senses! I do not care if she doesn't fancy me, I will persist until she gives in to my charm!”
“And would ye slay any demons that stand b’tween ye and yer intended?” A deep voice boomed. “Every hellish nightmare from a fevered dream?”
Jesse spun around to look up at the fiendish shape of Edward Graves towering over him.
“C-Ca-Captain Graves!” He squeaked as he jumped back only to hit the table of firearms behind him, his immediate escape blocked; “I-I did not see you there! My that’s a s-splendid coat---”
“Aye. Took it off th’ corpse o’ the last rapscallion t’ insult one of me crew.” Graves said. He leaned in and said only a little quieter; “It would be a hassle t’ have t’ clean yer blood off it, but it be a sacrifice I’m willin’ to make.” Graves straightened and put a hand on his sword. “Now, about fighting those demons! Ye can start with me, an’ work yer way up from there.”
With a scream Jesse fell over himself onto the ground, only to scramble up on hands and knees before getting his feet. He ran blindly away from Graves as fast as he could without looking back.
“As fer the two of ye.” Graves added, turning his attention to the two wide-eyed bystanders. He walked slowly towards them, hand still on his sword. “Ye’ll have t’ let me know how long it takes afore he tries to woo another. HA!” Graves let out a booming laugh, before inspecting the muskets that had been loaded. Particularly the one loaded by an embarrassed Jesse. With a grunt, Graves thrust the musket into Remy’s hands. “Reload this proper, lest ye want yer pirate brethren t’ explode and take ye with ‘im. The rest will have t’ be inspected as well, and that lad’s work redone, like as not.” Graves looked around at the two, still recovering from the sudden changes. “Well, what’re ye waitin’ fer, judgement day!? Get to it!”
Before the two could reply, a low boom echoed across the ocean, followed by a second and then a third, until the sounds blended into a slow, steady rumble. Graves frowned, looking to the direction of the harbor.
“What’s that? Thunder?” Remy asked.
“Nay, not thunder.” Graves answered. “But a storm approaches all th’ same.”
The doleful knell of a bell rang out, sounding the alarm as a cold and sickly green fog rolled over the island. They all looked skyward at the sallow moon and leering down at them all was the grinning face of Jolly Roger.
“Get t’ the town, warn th’ Keepers.” Graves ordered the two pirates. As he drew his sword he roared to those around him; “We hold ‘em here, lads! Here they come, and here we show ‘em th’ severity of thar mistake!” Thrusting his blade into the air he shouted; “Send ‘em back to the pit from whence they came!”