I have known fear, it had dwelt in my heart for many years, but I have conquered that fear and made it a weapon. I will drive that blade into the heart of my enemies, make them feel the cold sweat as they know the Blacktalon has come for them, that their lives are forfeit and they will feel my horrible wrath as I rip their souls from their bodies.
Kensik was a bright eyed and inquisitive tengu, with ebony feathers and black skin. One day when his parents and he were “finding” food they were set upon by a mob yelling about “thieves and monsters.” His father told Kensik to run and then pulled his falchion from his back and turned to face the mob. Kensik was separated from his parents as the mob attacked and dragged them to the ground, fear winning over he ran until he was sick and then hid in a crate. Lost and frightened, he cried himself to sleep. As fortune would have it the crate was bound for the ship The Red Maiden, captained by a mountain of man called Carthage Blackpool. A fate which would lead him to conquer his fear and become a gentleman adventurer known as a pirate.
Kensik was awakened by rocking and the sound of waves lapping at wood. Then immense creaking and the sounds of men. He hid in the crate for what seemed like days but eventually his thirst and hunger got the better of him and he snuck out during the night to look for food. Sneaking along the ship as best he knew how, he came across what appeared to be a galley and snuck inside. His hunger got the better of him and instead taking the food and sneaking back to his crate, he opened a pickle jar and began devouring its contents. The noise drew the attention of the sleeping cook and he caught Kensik before he could run.
Kensik was hauled before the Captain, who was rather imposing to a young tengu, being twice his height and solid muscle with black eyes that showed no hint of kindness or sympathy.
“Stowaway? There are no free rides or nurse maids on this ship bird, you will work or you will die, which will it be?” Kensik shrunk down, “Work sir.” “Very well then!” the Captain bellowed, “Jibbs, find this boy some work and tell the crew we have a new cabin boy.”
Kensik worked hard and long hours mainly because he was afraid. He was fed small portions of food which while edible tasted much like they were left overs. He was not one to be picky. He had to climb the rigging, or get ropes, swab the deck, and clean the cups, never anything nice and never anything the crew would want to do.
One day a crewman gave him a sword to clean and polish. This Kensik knew, his father had taught him how to care for swords from a young age. The sword was poorly cared for and Kensik felt sorry for it and he began cleaning, polishing, and sharpening it for all his worth. When the crewman came to retrieve in he is surprised to find it like new and rewarded the Tengu by teaching him a song, which Kensik learned quickly.
More crewman brought him swords to care for in trade for stories, songs, and riddles.
Eventually the Captain brought his personal blade to Kensik to see what he could do.
“Let’s see what you can do bird.” was all the Captain said as he handed him the weathered blade. Afterwards the captain nodded and patted him on the head, “So you have a talent after all.”
Eventually Kensik began telling stories of his own and singing his own songs, often with more skill than any crewman who had originally taught them to him. The crew began calling him “The Song Bird” and beginning teaching him skills in exchange for teaching them his songs, or just so that he would sing while they are working.
The Red Maiden eventually boarded a ship but Kensik was so afraid during the fight he ran and hid. The Captain found him after the fight again tucked in a crate..
“What’s yer problem Song Bird.”
“Do you want to be a member of me crew?”
Kensik realized he did, he had started to feel like he belonged.
“Then you have to fight.”
“But I don’t know how.”
“Then we be teaching you.”
“But I’m afraid.”
“What would you fight for little bird, fight for even though you’re afraid?”
“To not be afraid.”
“That’s a clever response bird.”
“I tell you what bird, if I be teaching you to conquer the fear, will you fight for me and me crew?”
A glimmer of hope flared in Kensik’s heart, and for a moment he caught a glimpse of sympathy in the Captain’s eyes before it was swallowed by the blackness.
“Get up then, you be having work to do. When you be done we’ll discuss your payment.”
Kensik worked long and hard, but not out of fear or for songs, but for hope.
The next day a crewman woke Kensik out of his nest early, and there was nothing gentle about it.
“Get up bird, the Captain wants you.”
Kensik felt the fear creeping in, this crewman had taught him a song, why would he be so mean?
The Captain was waiting impatiently when he arrived.
“You there bird, what took you so long?”
“Uh, I came quickly.” Kensik said in a meek voice.
“What’s that bird? Speak up!”
“I came quickly!”
“Could have been quicker, and you will address your superiors when talking to them.”
“Now this fear problem you be having. Why be you afraid?”
“Because I could get hurt or die, Captain.”
“Then learn to fight bird. Every day you must challenge a new member of the crew to a brawl, if you don’t I’ll throw you overboard.”
Kensik’s heart fell.
“You don’t like it do you? Well suck it up, I can’t be having a soft crewman on me ship, go to it or I’ll be getting to tossing a bird out of the nest early.”
Kensik began to skulk away.
“Oh and no more singing songs, until I tell you otherwise.”
His heart fell further.
He didn’t know what to do, but getting beaten up was better than getting thrown overboard. He found the crewman named Jibbs who he feared the least, and there was some laughter as he squeaked a challenge until they realized he was serious, then everyone got all stern and Jibbs came at him. Kensik landed a lucky but glancing blow, but Jibbs beat him soundly. The next day it was Severs, and this fight lasted a little longer mainly because Kensik was more afraid of being hit and dodged more. And so it went on, after a few days the crew took to calling it “beat the bird” and bets were exchanged about who would be next and how long the fight would last, but not if Kensik would win. After a few weeks it was a daily tradition, but Kensik was getting faster, landing more hits. There started being bets about Kensik winning. Just when he was getting used to fighting bare-handed the captain decreed that practice weapons be used. They weren’t sharp but they hurt a lot more. Kensik then had more reason to fight well, but more fear too.
Then it happened. Jenks went down in a heap. The crew roared up, money was exchanged, and people patted Kensik on the back. Kensik didn’t know what happened. The Captain stalked over. “Sing bird, you won. You deserve to sing. When you’re done, come to me quarters.” Kensik sang a song, and the crew sang along. When Jenks was revived, though injured, he seemed to enjoy the scene. When Kensik went to the Captain’s quarters, the Captain was in his chair watching the surf roll past the stern. “New rules bird, you no longer challenge the crew, they challenge you. If you win you can sing.”
The new way was rougher as no one wanted to lose to the bird, and yet there was some respect too. After his third win, though with seven losses, he went to his nest in the cargo hold only to find it gone. He was angry, where was he supposed to sleep! “Where is my nest!” he yelled at the nearest crewman, causing the crewman to jump. “Relax bird, the captain said he needed space in the hold and crew don’t get special treatment, go sleep in the crew’s cabin.” In the back of the cabin he found his meager possessions carelessly dumped in a pile on the floor, so he put them together and fell asleep.
After his eighth win with twelve losses the Captain called him to quarters again. “Tomorrow we are taking a ship, you will report to the master of arms he will arm you and you will fight. You will be helping hold the ship and you will sing while doing it.” “Yes Captain!” he replied,though in his heart he was afraid. “If you survive you will get your share of the spoils.” Kensik was filled with anticipation and fear, “if he survived” meant there was a chance he would die. He grabbed an rusty and dull cutlass from the master of arms and spent most the night cleaning and sharpening it until it gleamed.
The boarding was loud and the screams of men louder. The crew surged forth and Kensik sang as loud as he could. Some members of the other crew snuck aboard, one spied Kensik and ran for him. Kensik stepped back and stumbled over some rope, falling to the deck. The man raised his sword, but was surprised by the sudden protrusion of a blade from his chest. He slumped to the deck dead, behind him stood Jibbs. “Get up and sing bird!” Kensik got up and sang, and another enemy charged in at him. Kensik took a blow to his arm, but managed to mortally wound his opponent in return. When the fight was over, the Red Maiden had won, the other ship was taken and many cheers went up. Kensik’s wound was tended and various requests went up for songs as the booty was loaded ,the captives put in the brig, and new crew were assigned duties. Kensik was given his share and a hammock since the new crew got the floor. Some jokes were being made about “the bird having talons after all.”
After a few days this turned his nickname from bird to Talon. Kensik didn’t mind Talon nearly as much, but he didn’t think he had done terribly well. The challenges started up again a few days later, especially from the new crew that thought it was a game until the third one got beaten down, then they took it more seriously. Talon would sing requested songs at night and tell stories about lovely women and great riches.
After a few days the ship docked in Port Peril and most of the crew took leave to wile away their riches on wine and women. Talon didn’t know what to do so he sat on the deck gazing out at the sea. He faintly heard someone come up behind him, but didn’t stir. “The sea done captured your heart boy?” It was the Captain, but why did he call him boy? Talon guessed he still was a boy but he hadn’t thought about it for a few weeks. “I guess Captain.” The captain chuckled. “No she got your heart alright, you ain’t barely looked at the land since we docked. What will you buy with your share?” “I don’t know, I guess there’s really nothing I want Captain, maybe a new sword?” “Yeah or some light armor would do you, but I got something more valuable I’ll sell you fer all your loot until I says otherwise.” Talon turned his head quizzically. “Come to my cabin and I’ll show you.”
Talon followed the Captain to his cabin. The Captain closed the door and locked it behind him and held out his hand. Talon handed over his treasure and the Captain pocketed it. “Sit down and hand me your blade.” Talon handed it as well to the Captain. The Captain walked over to his large heavy desk and broke the sword in half over it. “Well ain’t that a problem, be pretty hard to fight with a broken sword.” Talon wanted to run, had he come into a trap? Then the Captain picked up the two pieces of the sword, held them together and began saying some hushed and mysterious words Talon couldn’t understand, but when he was done the sword was whole again. The Captain handed it back. Talon stared at it with wonder. “This ‘er be magic boy and I be willing to teach it to you whenever the crew be in town running wild. However tell a soul I taught you this and I be killing you dead.” Talon had never really seen magic that fixed things so he was rather amazed. “I will teach you this spell and you will go to the master at arms and fix broken blades to practice it. When you’re done there go the quartermaster and fix things for him. Once you’ve fixed everything on the ship I’ll show you a new spell.”
Talon did as told and whispers spread around the ship about Talon’s mysterious power. Eventually crewmates brought him things to fix. There were so many things to fix and things were always getting broken, especially during a boarding, which Talon took an active part in. It took most a year but eventually Talon fixed everything on the ship. He sang a song of triumph. The next time they were in port the Captain took him aside again. He took out a rock and made it glow, then stuck in a hooded lantern. “Fire is a dangerous thing below ship, keep this light lit as long as you can. When I’m certain you understand I’ll teach you a new spell.”
Talon faithfully lit his lantern and the crew took to calling it “Talon’s lamp”, there was even some fighting over it. It took several weeks but Talon eventually mastered the spell. He was assigned to night watch in case of emergency light needs. Talon took place in several more ship boardings, including joining the fray on the other ship. And so it went, over the course of a year, the captain giving him new tasks for the spells he was teaching. The captain never seemed to cast these spells in front of the crew, strangely. Eventually the captain taught him how to wrap himself in illusion making him appear insane and crazed. This last trick rather shocked the crew and the enemy when he used it in battle. The Captain congratulated him and told him he would from now on join the Captain’s party for boarding and skirmishes. Talon was given new black clothes (his old ones were getting rather worn and small anyhow), leather armor and a nasty looking khopesh. He also was now openly spending time with the captain not for learning magic, but as his personal attendant. Talon began to color his sword black before battle using magic which seemed to unnerve his enemies. The crew began calling him the Blacktalon, in part because of the black clothes and sword and from the crew calling him Blackpool’s Talon until it had gotten shortened.
Another year passed, Blacktalon was considered a valuable member of the crew and nary a day went by where he did not provide them with song or story to lighten their mood and ease their minds. Even the Captain occasioned to listen to these performances. Then Captain began a new lesson.
“You know some basic magic now lad and I have to say it suits you, in a way it never suited me. I have one last trick to teach you, but there is a cost and it’s not money.” “What’s the cost Captain?” Blacktalon asked confidently. “Once you master it you must leave this ship.” Blacktalon was shocked. “Why captain?!” “Two reasons. First, you have grown comfortable here, and that’s dangerous, comfort leads to complacency which leads to death. Second, you need to find your own way in the world, not rest in my shadow. You have the makings of a great pirate, but while you’re called Blackpool’s son you will not have your own life.” “Blackpool’s son Captain? I’m not your son.” Kensik replied. The Captain smiled, “Not by blood, but just because you’re not me kin does not mean I don’t think of you as a son. You ain’t heard it, but the crew sometimes calls you that. I don’t want our bond to shadow your life.” Blacktalon contemplated this, he once had a father but that life was lost to him, this was his life now and he knew the captain spoke true. “Alright father, teach me your trick and I’ll go out into the world to make you proud.”
Fear, making fear a weapon was the trick, driving that fear into your opponent’s heart. It took over a year to master but terror is a powerful tool and Blacktalon made good use of it. Sometimes they would take a ship and an enemy or two would know his name. It took a year and a half to master this weapon and Blacktalon knew that even some of his own crew feared him. It was time to pay the price.
Those that were still among the crew from when Blacktalon had come on board, a scared little Tengu in a crate, gave him hugs and exchanged pleasantries, the newer crew that had known him since he was Talon exchanged handshakes, those that only knew Blacktalon nodded or busied themselves with work. The captain gave him the biggest hug of all and presented him with a cage covered in cloth. “Bloody difficult to hide this thing.” he leaned close “Ain’t going to send my son into the world alone.” Blacktalon removed the cloth, a white faced monkey lay passed out on the bottom, a flask of rum in his hand. The Captain seemed mildly embarrassed “So yeah, alcohol keeps monkeys quiet, and that one took too it a bit too well.” Blacktalon smiled “I’ll find my way so his flask never runs dry.” “You do that lad, you do that. And don’t forget old Blackpool and his crew.” With that the crew cheered, some out of congratulations that Blacktalon was going to find his way in the world, and some out of relief that the Blacktalon would no longer find them in their dreams.
It has been two years since Blacktalon left the Red Maiden and his father. He saw the Captain a couple times when they both made port at the same time, but six months ago the Red Maiden went missing and is believed to be lost in a hurricane. The whispers of him being Blackpool’s son (along with some of the more amusing rumors about the Captain making love to a giant crow, Besmara, or a harpy) have begun to die down. Blacktalon has found himself at a tavern called Formidably Maid to swap tales and keep Jolly Roger (his monkey) happy. Roger had passed out rather unexpectedly when Kensik’s world suddenly started to go black, dropping him into his recurring dream where he is forging a black khopesh using an anvil that looks suspiciously like his heart.