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The Journal of Ephraim Sharpe [Solo, In Progress]

Celeste Monroe

Shenaniginstigator In Chief
DAO/DA2 Timeline
Posts
201
#1
((30 Solace: 34 Dragon; The Anchorage; Gwaren docks))

“What do you have?” Celeste asked as the door closed behind her. She’d never been in Little Mary’s private quarters before, but the other woman had led her back here as soon as she had walked into the Anchorage. Something was definitely afoot.

“Maybe nothing,” Mary replied, her tone matching the shrug of small shoulders. “Maybe a wild goose chase.” She didn’t want it to be, but she was plainly not letting herself hope.

Celeste glanced around. The drawing room was simply furnished: two comfy looking armchairs and a couch in front of a small fireplace, end tables with oil lamps, rug on the floor. It was the details that could have kept her here for hours: a lifetime’s worth of trinkets and mementos. A glass barometer on the wall. Scrimshaw carvings ranging from crude to exquisite, on whale’s teeth, bone, narwhal tusks. Polished wood carvings decorated with bright beads from Rivain. A brass spyglass. A harpoon hanging next to a shark jaw large enough to give a landlubber nightmares for a month. A massive ship’s wheel, the wood polished smooth and dark by scores of hands, leaning against a wall. Everywhere she looked, there was something with a story behind it, but she had come to hear another story, evidently, so she dropped into one of the chairs, sinking into cushions that were padded to enable hours of listening.

“Tell me.”

Mary nodded, settling into the other chair. “About a year and a half ago, the dock workers brought me a stray,” she began. ‘Stray’ was the term for a sailor who had been dumped ashore by his ship when he became unable to work. It was a dirty trick that no reputable captain would pull, but there was no shortage of disreputable captains sailing the seas of Thedas, and Mary took in two or three a year. “He seemed hale enough, but his mind was …” She lifted her hand, waggled it. “He wasn’t violent. Just sort of shuffled wherever he was led and stayed where he was put. He’d feed himself and handle his own business in the privy, but he never really seemed aware of where he was. His eyes never really focused on the here and now. He’d talk to himself – nonsense, mostly, or hum a tune, and sometimes, he would just cry without a sound, tears sliding down his face for an hour or more.” Mary’s usually serene face grew troubled as she continued. “Sometimes, he’d just lay curled up in his bed, staring into space with a look of absolute terror on his face. We couldn’t reach him at all then: you could blow a bos’n’s whistle in his ear, and he wouldn’t even blink. He’d stay like that for a few hours, then fall asleep and wake up normal – well, normal for him,” she added with a shrug.

“You ever get a name for him?” Celeste wanted to know. It sounded a bit like what had happened to Spivey, but only a bit.

Mary shook her head. “Some of the crew took to calling him Sunny Jim as a joke, but they weren’t cruel about it. Never answered to that or anything else, though.”

“And the bastards who left him high and dry?” The hard edge in Celeste’s voice was rare for her. The crew of the Wicked Grace was her family; she didn’t love them all, and one or two she didn’t even particularly like, but she would no more have abandoned them on a dock than she would have cut off her arm.

“Well now, that’s where this tale gets truly strange,” Mary told her with an odd smile. “Nobody seems to know. One man swears it was a two masted schooner, another that it was a three masted barque, and there’s one fellow ready to swear on his life that it had no sails at all, just two rows of oars down each side.” She nodded her agreement to Celeste’s snort of disbelief at that one. “Every one of them remembers something different, and none of them can remember the name of the ship or anyone else sailing on her. I even had customs check their lists, but every ship they had on record in that time frame was one that I knew, and none of them would put off an invalid and rob him to boot. His sea bag held a single change of clothes … and this.”

A sailor's sea bag was more than a piece of luggage: it held his life. Clothes, gear, souvenirs and mementos of past ports of call. Celeste had yet to meet a sailor who didn't keep the canvas or leather bags stuffed to the brim; one that sparsely populated had been cleared out by thieves, and Celeste's eyes were flinty as she reached out to take the battered, leather-covered book that Little Mary held out to her.

“The Journal of Ephraim Sharpe,” she read from the letters inked on the front in black, then looked questioningly at Mary. “Not him?”

Mary shook her head. “I don't think so. The aging of the paper, the fade of the ink … I'd say it's a hundred years old, maybe more.”

Celeste opened it and carefully turned the brittle pages, frowning as she scanned the neat, closely spaced script. “No dates.” That was odd in a sailor's log, assuming that's what it was. “Any of the entries give any clues as to when they were written?”

“Not that I've found.”

Celeste turned to the end, her frown deepening at the torn edges. “Missing quite a few pages,”she murmured, glancing at the writing on the final page, the cutoff there confirming that not all of the pages torn out had been blank.

“Like I said, there's a good chance that this is nothing more than an old woman's imagination running wild,” Mary replied with a shrug. "Like as not, they've been torn out in one privy or another for ass-wiping."

Celeste looked at Mary sharply; she'd never heard her call herself 'old' before, and it was very nearly as disturbing as contemplating Brannigan's mortality … which meant that she wasn't going to do it. Instead, she turned back to the beginning and began to read.

The Journal of Ephraim Sharpe

If you are reading this, then I am dead, and good riddance. This body has long since become a prison that I cannot escape any other way, and I no longer care if the Maker is real and waiting to judge me. No punishment he could devise could match the hell that I’ve lived in these last years. The treasure that I sold my soul for lies untouched and perhaps untouchable; it’s for damn sure that I never laid hands on it, but maybe you’ll have better luck, whoever you are.

Don’t think I’m doing you any favors, friend. The odds are good that you’ll end up as I am now: burning with a fever that never breaks; plagued by a hunger that no amount of food can assuage; unable to die, yet unable to enjoy immortality. I’ve one last gambit left to try, so wish me luck. Or perhaps not. If you’re reading this, it worked, after all, and you’ll need all the luck you can get. Or maybe after reading my story, you’ll put this journal down and walk away. That would be the wise thing to do, and that’s fine, because sooner or later, some bastard as greedy as I was will come along, and a part of me wants somebody to get that treasure, even if I’ll never see a sovereign.

I’m not going to make it easy, though. Not like we had it. The key came to us whole and ready to use, and maybe that’s where we went wrong: going after the treasure too fast. You’ll get it a piece at a time, and maybe after you’ve found them all and put it together, you’ll be ready to face the Guardian. Or maybe not. Maybe no one can ever be ready, and maybe I’m just a bastard who wants somebody else to suffer as much as I have.

I’m not a total bastard, though, and to prove it, I’ll tell you the whole damn story from the beginning. Between that and putting the key together, you’ll know a damn sight more than I ever did.

Introductions first, like civilized men. My name is Ephraim Sharpe, and I was born the son of a farmer in Amaranthine, Ferelden. I hated the dirt. Hated the work. Hated my father, who beat the shit out of me for not working, or not working hard enough, or not doing the work correctly, or just because he felt like hitting something. When I was fourteen, I hit him back. Hard. And I kept hitting him until he was dead. Then I left. Went to Gwaren, signed on as a cabin boy on a cargo ship, and I’ve been a sailor ever since. Never did get any fonder of work, but at least there was no dirt, so I’d stay on a crew long enough to earn some coin, then walk away in whatever port struck my fancy and do as I pleased until the money ran out. My pleasures were simple ones: cheap ale, cheap food, cheap whores; I could make a little coin last a decent amount of time. The important thing was no work: no rising with the sun to do what somebody else wanted me to do. I’d try begging when the money started running out, but I was never any good at it; I’d get mad at the cheap bastards who refused me, and sooner or later I’d drag one into an alley, kill him and take his coin.

I might have been lazy, but I wasn’t a fool, so I never hung around long enough after for the guards to ask me any questions. I’d sign on with another ship that was heading out, and the cycle would begin again, and if nothing had changed, it’s likely that I would have continued the same way until I got caught or died an old man.

Things did change, obviously, and it began in Llomeryn, in my thirtieth year.
 

Celeste Monroe

Shenaniginstigator In Chief
DAO/DA2 Timeline
Posts
201
#2
“Sounds like a real charmer,” Celeste remarked with a sardonic quirk of her mouth. “What he doesn’t sound like is a farmer’s son turned sailor.”

“No,” Mary agreed. “I’ve read my share of logs and diaries, and this one is too well spoken, too neat. Good grammar, no misspelling.” She snorted. “The only one I know who even talks like that is Brannigan.”

Celeste nodded, frowning. “He talks about Ferelden,” she mused. “How long ago did it become a kingdom?”

“Four-hundred years, give or take a couple, but the Alamarri called it that for centuries before Calenhad united the clans.”

“No help there, then.” Celeste turned to the next page, and when Mary set a tumbler of whiskey on the table beside her, she took it without looking up and sipped as she read.

I’d been there about two weeks after spending four months on an Orlesian frigate that did nothing but make runs between Val Royeaux and Gwaren. I’d had my fill of freezing my ass off on the Frozen Sea, and the Orlesian authorities were still looking for the killer of the bloke I’d shanked just before taking that berth, so I had jumped ship in Gwaren and boarded a Rivaini barque, then left as soon as we reached balmier latitudes.

No need to waste money on a room; I just slept in a nook beneath the docks, well above the high tide line, and the rats – both the two and four legged kind – soon learned that I slept light and woke ugly and left me alone. Drink and whore all night, sleep all day, and I had enough coin to last another month, at least, which was why when a man sat down next to me and told me he was looking to fill out a crew, I didn’t even look around.

“Not interested,” I told him, draining my mug and signaling to the bartender to fill it again. The hand that slapped the bar beside my empty mug was missing the last two fingers, but that was nothing unusual. Between fighting pirates and getting caught in rigging, losing a finger or two was getting off light. What was unusual was the ruby the size of my thumbnail that the hand left behind when it moved away again.

I covered it with my own hand before the bartender turned, palming it and dropping my hand below the edge of the bar before opening it enough to examine the stone. If it was real, it was more than enough to get me shanked by just about anyone in here.


“Still not interested?” He sounded amused, and I closed my hand around the gem again before turning my head to look him over. He wasn’t much to look at: average height and build; greasy brown hair that had at best a passing acquaintance with a comb; a face that was almost aggressively forgettable. The only noteworthy aspect to him, apart from the missing fingers on his right hand, were his eyes. Both of them were ice blue, and the left one had a slight outward cast that made it hard to tell where exactly he was looking.

“I’m listening,” I told him, though in all honesty, what I was really doing was sizing him up and wondering how easy it might be to just follow him out, drag him into an alley, slit his throat and take whatever gems he still had on him.

The smile that he gave me made me wonder if he had guessed my line of thought, and his words confirmed it.
“I can assure you that the amount that you would gain by robbing me, Ephraim Sharpe, is paltry compared to the share that would be yours if you sign on for this voyage.”

The use of my name set off all sorts of alarm bells. “Who the fuck are you?” I demanded, dropping one hand to the hilt of the dagger on my belt, keeping the other closed tight around the ruby.

If my response intimidated him, he gave no sign.
“I’m a captain in need of a crew,” he replied, “and you are just the type of man that I need on that crew. You may call me Martel.”

“And just what kind of man do you think I am?” I was a competent enough sailor, but if he’d asked around enough to know that, he’d also know of my aversion to work and my tendency to jump ship whenever it suited me.

Again, the knowing smile.
“The type of man that will kill whoever stands between him and a fortune,” he replied. “The type of man being looked for in Val Royeaux, Ostwick, Antiva City …” He trailed off blandly, but he had made his point, naming the last three ports where I had killed and robbed men, and I felt my hackles rising, though I gave no outward sign.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I told him in a level voice. I was a damn good liar, in addition to my other sterling qualities. “You’ve got the wrong man. Now, fuck off.”

I turned my back on him, but I didn’t move my hand away from my dagger, and I damn sure didn’t turn loose of the ruby.

He chuckled.
“Ephraim, Ephraim, Ephraim,” he chided me, sounding almost fatherly. “If I wanted to turn you in to the authorities, don’t you think I already would have done so? I’m trying to make you a rich man. Well, to be honest, I’m trying to make myself a very rich man; you getting rich would simply be a side effect, but quite a pleasant one, wouldn’t you agree?” I said nothing, kept my back turned and tensed when he laid his hand on my shoulder, but he just patted it briefly before drawing back.

“Keep the stone,” he told me. “Satisfy yourself that it’s real. If that’s all that you want, then go back to doing what you’ve been doing. Your secrets are safe with me.” A long pause, then, “But if you decide that you want more out of life – much more – I sail in three days. My ship, the Varghest, is tied up at dock three.”

He left then, and I went back to drinking my ale and told myself that was the end of it. I’d sell the ruby for more coin than I’d ever had in my life, make my way to a port where I hadn’t killed anyone recently – Wycome sounded good, live a life free of work until the money ran out and take pains never to cross paths with this Martel again.

Maker’s balls, but I wish I’d held to that plan.
 

Celeste Monroe

Shenaniginstigator In Chief
DAO/DA2 Timeline
Posts
201
#3
Celeste turned the page and frowned. “Some kind of cipher,” she murmured, studying the jumble of letters on the page. She'd played around with some basic substitution ciphers, but this looked more complex.

“Think you can break it?” Mary wanted to know, leaning forward to peer at the journal.

“Not sure.” Celeste turned the page, then another page, and another, then stopped as her eye fell onto legible script. “What's this?”

If you're reading this, obviously I didn't, but if you want to know my story, and have a shot at the treasure, you'll have to play my game. I've hidden pieces of the key around Thedas, and with each one a keyword that will unlock another part of the story and a clue to the location of the next piece.

“Keyword.” Celeste frowned. “It's a Vigenère cipher, then … or something like it.”

“Hard to crack?”

“Damn near impossible without the keyword,” Celeste replied, reading the last lines thoughtfully.

I'll give you the first piece for free … almost. Find my crypt in the city of the dead, but you won't find me in it. If I ever find my grave, there'll be no marker. I want no visitors, only an end to this hell and rest at last, if it's possible. I wish you better luck than I had, friend, and you'll need every drop you can get.

“That sounds ominous,” Mary said apprehensively.

“Doesn't it though?” Celeste leafed through the rest of the pages: more ciphers. “City of the dead is probably the Grand Necropolis in Cumberland,” she mused. “Could look there, see if there's a crypt for an Ephraim Sharpe. If not -” she shrugged. “Nothing lost but a bit of time.“ The load of furs was headed for Nevarra, anyway.

“But if there is?” Mary looked worried.

“See what's in it,” Celeste replied with an easy grin. “If it leads to treasure, you'll get a double share for putting us onto it.” The Anchorage operated on a shoestring at the best of times, and Mary couldn't say no to an aging or crippled sailor with nowhere else to go. A decent windfall would let her provide for more.

“Not worth you risking your life,” Mary told her. “It's likely balderdash, anyway. I shouldn't have kept the damn thing. Maker knows they always need paper in the privvy. No point in you getting involved in some crazy shit.”

“Don't worry, Mary.” Celeste came to her feet, bent and kissed the older woman's forehead, tucking the journal under one arm. "Crazy shit is what we do best."
 

Celeste Monroe

Shenaniginstigator In Chief
DAO/DA2 Timeline
Posts
201
#4
((20 Kingsway, 34 Dragon; Cumberland, Nevarra; Docks))

Celeste couldn't decide whether to be pissed or elated as she stumbled back into her cabin. Turned out that the sodding Nevarrans guarded the Grand Necropolis very nearly as zealously as they did their king (not being into graverobbing, the issue had never come up before now). Not only that, they didn't allow casual sightseers to wander among the elaborate crypts that were larger than a good many homes that Celeste had been in. Sneaking in to search for Ephraim Sharpe among all the Pentaghasts, Van Markhams, Forsythias, Anaxases and Myshitdontstinkyths had been easy enough, and Celeste had felt a thrill when she had finally found the name carved into a humble marble sarcophagus almost lost in the shadows between two towering mausoleums from the first Pentaghast dynasty.

Humble it might be, but there was no way they were going to heave the marble lid off the sarcophagus without some noise, and in a city of the dead, noise drew attention. A distraction had been needed, and her crew provided it, with Kali, Sorcha and Piper raising a ruckus in that quarter by getting caught trying to break in to one of the crypts and leading the guards on a merry chase well away from the area in question while Celeste, Gideon and Dax handled the real graverobbing and Julien served as lookout.

And it was a grave. If, as the journal had claimed, Ephraim Sharpe was not the body within, he'd found a substitute (and given his past history, it wasn't much of a stretch to imagine how he'd gone about it). Nothing was left but dry bones and rotting cloth; no mummy here … but there was a stink bomb that had gone off as soon as fresh air had hit it, coating the three graverobbers in a fine mist of what smelled like a mix of shit and rotting flesh. Dax, of course, had been intrigued, and was likely even now in his tiny workshop scraping the crap off of himself for analysis to see if he could re-create it.

Celeste was just pissed. And elated. But right now, mostly pissed, because she smelled like shit. The small leather bag that had been the only other content of the grave had contained a handful of gemstones that would have been considered decent treasure in their own right, and a scrap of parchment – suspiciously well preserved, given the state of decay of everything else in the grave – on which two words were written: CROWS NEST, along with an odd looking jumble of intersecting lines. Getting the keyword for the cipher, along with a damn good indicator that the treasure was more than empty talk, but before she sorted through the gems or had a go at deciphering the next few pages of the journal, she was getting a sodding bath.

No one had bothered telling Old Torgun what could and couldn't be done when the Wicked Grace was being built, so framing in a copper tub in the bench beneath the leaded glass windows of the stern in the captain's cabin, complete with a copper pipe that drained out just above the waterline had simply been an entertaining challenge. One person could fit fairly comfortably; two could fit if they were very friendly (and she and Daniel had gotten quite friendly indeed).

She didn't bother with it too often any more, but the smell had to go, so while Bailey hauled water from the cisterns, Celeste stripped down, setting her vest aside to be cleaned and piling the rest of her clothes for burning. The water wasn't hot; that required heating in the galley and was a rare luxury, indeed, but it was wet, and, along with a bar of perfumed soap and a rough sponge, did the job. She drained the tub, toweled off, donned an old tunic of Daniel's and a loose pair of trews, and settled at the desk.

The leather sack practically disintegrated in her hand, and she let the scraps fall away, holding the contents in her palm: two rubies, a sapphire, three diamonds and two emeralds. Small but unmistakably real and perfectly cut. Definitely enough there to keep Mary going for a few months. Setting them aside for the moment, she unrolled the parchment, studying the keywords and the lines before pulling out several blank pages, quill and ink, and opening the journal.

It was indeed a Vigenère cipher, and with a nine letter keyword, it was going to take a fucking long time to decipher, but since they were stuck here until Giles finished the dies … Sighing, she took up the quill, dipped it into the inkwell and began setting up the letter table.
 
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