Porkins’ Pirate Adventure: Half-Mast
My fellow Toileteers, Great Sitters on the Porcelain Throne, esteemed ladies and gentlemen of The Bowl, I apologize to all of you for everything you will read below and in the future.
The words, the length, the style, the music, all of it, is utter garbage. The task became greater than my meager talents and patience could bear. Ambition and pride took hold and, like a fool, I allowed it. If you know what’s good for you, you’ll smash that back button and get out of here. With that said, welcome to my adventure through the Pirate Metal Archipelago:
On my way home from the local tavern where I had returned a lost legendary magical helm found in a cave but 200 feet away, I am approached by an odd fellow with a peg leg and an eye patch. As I click through the dialogue options from this incomprehensible goblin, I realize I’ve just been given a side quest. “Thank ye. Listen t’ naught but metal of me scallywags fer one week ‘n return t’ me,” he says. He then turns to engage in an automated animation of tying a knot to a post that isn’t there before he clips through the dock into oblivion. He better be back when I reload the area.
“Metal of me scallywags?” What does that mean? There aren’t any quest markers on my map so I guess I need to talk to some people first. Walking further down the dock, a dialogue prompt opens next to a cloaked figure disembarking from a well-appointed frigate. “Ahoy!” I yell, waving. He slowly turns and pulls back his hood. A flattened visage with a short, sharp, yellowed beak hits daylight, his black, deep-set eyes peer through to my soul.
Ah, fuck. Owlkind.
I back away, but not in time. His stomach undulates like stormy seas before his beak gapes and spews a pillow of assorted fur and bones on my boots.
“What ye want, traveler?” he asks while casually wiping his beak of stray hairs and bone bits.
Once I’ve discretely kicked off the bone-hair amalgam generously gifted, I skip through the pleasantry options and go straight for the goods: “Good day, sir. Have you encountered any metal of scallywags nearby?”
“SKREEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE,” he bellows with eyes widening like plates. “’Tis pirate metal ye seek, do ye? Aye, there be pirate metal. I shall take ye t’ it. 20 gold ‘n we shall set sail.”
Pirate metal. Goddammit. For a whole week. What did I agree to? Well, I need the XP and surely the quest reward will be more than the 20 gold pieces for the trip. Alright. Let’s do it. How bad can it be? I hand over the gold.
“REEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE,” screeches the Owlkind.
I flinch from the ear-piecing sound. “Jesus Christ! Do you have to do that all the time?”
We disembark into a lengthy cut scene.
DAY ONE: Running Wild – Under Jolly Roger (1987)
On the horizon, an archipelago comes into view, each island with flag poles flying high bearing various iterations of the skull and crossbones. Ok, a little clichéd. But it’ll be fine. It’s fine. This is all fine. It’s good that I’m doing this.
The Owlkind deftly docks the frigate on the first island and throws a rope onto the long pier. A leather-skinned, denim-clad old man hobbles up and grabs the rope. With a few absent-minded flicks of his wrist, the boat is moored tight and the gangplank descends.
“Off wit’ ye,” the owl grunts. Suddenly, another torrent of bone-fur slurry ejects from his cavernous maw and onto my clothes. Where does all of this come from? He’d have to have eaten six cows for this much barf. I didn’t see him eat anything on the voyage. I smile wanly and carefully back my way down the gangplank, owl-vomit sloughing off slowly with every step. The owl turns back to the deck, issuing forth a deafening skree. I won’t miss that.
The aged dockhand gently guides me down the pier. I notice his battle jacket is the oldest I’ve ever seen. Only the faintest whiff of indigo remains, the edges frayed to the seams, and most patches are so worn they are unreadable. But the patch on the back is loud and clear: Running Wild, it proclaims.
“Hey, Running Wild. They had a hand in shaping first-wave black metal way back in the day and started this whole pirate metal thing. They used to be called Granite Hearts. Ever hear their demo? I bet not. I have,” I say, trying to spark up conversation and let him know he’s dealing with a real metal badass who is a knower of things. He doesn’t make any movement suggesting acknowledgement. I try repeating myself but louder and adding that there’s a big Running Wild revival in Kazakhstan he probably didn’t know about but would if he did any research. Nothing. I tap him on the shoulder and he turns to look at me, a permanent shit-eating grin plastered on his face.
“Hey, man. Did you hear me?” I ask, annoyed. How dare he not be impressed with my wealth of metal arcana. He shakes his head and slowly points to his ears, widening his smile. I guess he can’t hear. Perfect.
I continue following him until we reach a clearing on the other side of the island. It’s a beach, it’s filthy, and it reeks. Empty Miller High Life bottles and Pabst cans are everywhere, several of them have taken up residents from local flora and fauna. A booze-driven ecosystem.
The old man lets out two long whoops from deep in his diaphragm. A loud groan arises from a pile of detritus and seaweed. An arm emerges. The hand finds a battery-powered boombox sitting next to a family of can-housed hermit crabs. After a minute of hapless flopping, the hand lands on the play button on the old cassette deck. The speakers hiss loudly. The arm and hand go slack. Loud snoring. It has to be mid-afternoon by now. Are all of these trash heaps people? What is going on here?
Wind seeps from the boombox and shouts surface. Something about a “starboard bow” and cannon fire. This must be an intro. Galloping thrashy riffs fade in leading into a boisterous singalong chorus. “Uuuuunder Jolly Roger!” I find myself shouting almost unconsciously. This couldn’t start any better. Maybe this whole thing won’t be so bad.
The next few tracks breeze by effortlessly. Just good meat-and-potatoes heavy metal with satisfying solos and rock-solid choruses. Sure, it’s about pirates all the time but the tunes are rockin’.
The tape flips and we’re onto side B. “Raise Your Fists” comes on. Did he just say something about a school bell and homework? He did. Do pirates do homework? A bit off-theme but the chorus is simple and effective.
I guess with the pirate school day done, Running Wild goes into…what is this, post-nuclear apocalypse? Sure. Doesn’t make a lick of sense but that’s “Land of Ice.” Sweet doomy start though. The next track, “Raw Ride,” hits on a pirate’s favorite pastime: car racing. Ok. This is followed by “Merciless Game,” which is (you guessed it) a politically-minded romp about starving children in poverty. Even buccaneers have a heart, fam.
After a quick 35-minutes, the tape ends. Click. “Wait, where did all the pirate stuff go? This was only half a pirate album. Will this count for my quest?” Silence but for heavy breathing.
I hear rustling in the underbrush behind me. It’s the Owlkind with the old man in tow.
“RREEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE,” he squawks. “Time t’ shove off.” He grabs me by the arm and we fast travel to the awaiting frigate. The old man whoops twice as he releases the boat from the dock. A few disgruntled moans bleed through the wind noise. I notice there are more trash mounds all around the island. How many people were on this island? Are they even people? Who was that old man?
Before I can think more, a new cut scene begins.
DAY TWO: Alestorm – Captain Morgan’s Revenge (2008)
Sailing in to the next island, the landscape is vastly different from the debris-strewn shores of Running Wild. There’s a neon arch sign at the mouth of the pier towering two stories tall. ALESTORM, it reads, with a crude glass beer schooner clink animation on either side of the logo. Palm trees adorn the land, each overflowing with coconuts. The beach scatters the plundered treasures of once-sailed-now-sunken vessels and slain crews. There are also merch booths. Everywhere. Alestorm everything. You need an Alestorm-logo toilet seat, footed pajamas, or full dining set? It’s here. And the lines are long.
We’re greeted by a tan, blonde, early-20s man wearing a pastel polo with a popped color and a backwards visor. “Ahoy, bro. Welcome to Alestorm island.” An Alestorm sticker appears in my inventory along with a mai tai. “Just a little something for you. Make sure to put that sticker up somewhere people can see it, dude.” He’s serious and expectant.
“Uh…alright,” I reply. I highlight the bumper sticker and somehow there is an equip option. I select it. There’s now a giant ALESTORM logo on the front of my shirt. After looking around, I see that everyone on the island had to do this. The corners of the young man’s mouth curl up but his eyes don’t change. He appears satisfied.
“Come with me,” he commands. I lose control of my body. I’m following two steps behind him as he neatly weaves through merch queues until we reach our destination, a tiki bar ornamented with all of the trappings. You got your rope netting, ship wheels, anchors, wicker, carved faux totems. The drinks are served mostly in hollowed fruit with paper umbrellas and only come in eye-peeling colors. Each of my fellow bar denizens is closely followed by their own version of my companion. They all seem outwardly happy but something is missing. Their body language is tense and they all seem intensely alert. Their cookie-cutter companions stare unflinchingly at them. “Having a good time?” they chime in cacophonous unison. It’s not a question. Everyone nods. Quickly. “Good. The show is about to start. Here, have another drink. Have three.” Triple-decker libations of layered purple and orange pop up on the bar next to me and at every other table in the bar. I see myself gulp each one, as do the rest. No one is in control any longer.
My vision goes blurry and the room spins. Lights begin flashing all over the bar; curtains I never noticed before raise in the back. Our companions lead us to the stage where five men stand waiting for us. One of them is in a kilt and holding a keytar. Another is in the corner with a whole host of ungodly instruments. In the middle of a stage sits a giant rubber duck, gazing vacantly above the island prisoners.
“AVAST, YE SCURVY DOGS! WELCOME T’ THE ISLAND! WE’RE ALESTORM!” roars what must be the frontman/keytarist. He begins tapping furiously while the guitar joins him in a symphonic power metal melody. The vocals kick in with a toneless growled shout. Accordion sounds abound but not from an accordion. It’s keytar accordion, which might be the worst sound on God’s green earth. Running Wild, this is not.
Our companions turn to us. We simultaneously begin the same cheering animation. The band members and companions smile that hollow, eyeless near-smirk. They are sated. Another song starts. Or does it? Is this a different song? The chorus sounds different. “The cuuursh uf Cap’n Mergin!!!!” I catch myself slur. Where did that come from? Did I do that? I look down and see my limbs flailing uncontrollably. The world blinks out.
“With the power of ale, he could not fail.” Was that a real lyric? More folk-tinged power metal. Long periods of songs about “wenches” and one of them runs a café. I think. I’m not really sure. There’s so much keytar. And it sounds exactly like what you would imagine when you first learned a keytar is a real thing that exists. Why are the vocals so loud? That’s the sound they want to emphasize in every song?
I feel myself falling but my companion catches me. He breaks an amyl nitrate into my nostrils. A rush of energy floods through my body. “You are needed. The show isn’t over yet,” he whispers softly into my ear. My skin tingles. No. I don’t want this. Let my body go. Please.
“Trr’rr on duhiiii SEEEEEAAAAAASShhhhh!” my voice shouts. I’m wearing a pirate hat and oversized striped shirt with a black vest. I don’t remember equipping these. Fake accordion bashes its way through my eardrums. “Losss uff wenches ‘n mead hahahahhahahahahahah das shu funny.” I wonder if I could kill all of this with more drink. I ask my companion. He stares back blankly and points at the stage. I ask again for more drink. After a minute, he forcefully tilts my head to watch. I think he knows it’s a trick, too experienced. Damn.
How long have I been here? It must be days. They just keep playing and I have no idea when one song ends and another begins. Several of the other prisoners lie prone on the floor, their bodies looted, presumably by their companions but who knows. There’s some martial snare playing under more of this godforsaken keytar. It’s a singalong of some sort. The remaining conscious denizens lock arms and sway; it’s hard to tell what they’re singing. I’m singing, too. Scotland, maybe?
The room tilts, suddenly. There sure are a lot of boots for some reason. Hey, the floor is pretty dirty. And sticky. It’s sticky on my cheek. Wait. My cheek?
A cut scene starts.
DAY THREE: Swashbuckle – Back to the Noose (2009)
Exploding pain in my eyes. I can’t keep them open. Even the red curtain through my eyelids is unbearable. It’s so bright, too bright. Someone turn off the lights and take this fucking icepick out of my head. It feels like squatters just vacated my brain. I try to sit up. Wrong move. I flop on my side and vomit. Three times, maybe four. Not much is coming out anymore but I’m still retching. That feels a little better.
I sit up, successfully this time. I’m on a dock, it seems. Wooden crates are stacked high, covered in netting and intermixed with barrels of various shapes and sizes. Why can’t any of these be blocking the godforsaken sun? I hear footsteps approaching, thunderous, heavy. Cuffed black boots fade in through my tightly squinted eyes. Dark billowy pants stretch up to a frilled, white, long-sleeved blouse accented by a black cloth vest. A round, thickly-bearded face peers down at me from under a tan tri-corner hat.
“Oh, aye. Alestorm. Another ‘un. BART!” he commands. I raise my hands to shield my vision as much as possible. A much smaller man in similar garb saunters up from behind. He kneels in close, only an inch or two between me and heavily yellowed teeth like corn kernels, at least half are dead. His breath lands hot on my neck and smells of rotten roadkill. I gag.
“Aye. Aye. Get ‘im t’ the bonfire,” he whispers, concerned. The taller man gingerly touches my shoulder with great trepidation as if I am a breathing small pox blanket. We fast travel. It is even brighter here. And blazing hot. Fire, a big one. The smell of smoke is overwhelming. It burns my throat as much as my eyes. I couldn’t open them even if I wanted.
“Hold still,” I hear a brusque voice say. I feel hands over me, in my clothes, on my person. An arm reaches down my throat and travels down, down, down, up to mid-bicep. I don’t know what is happening (or how). Rhythmic chanting whispers all around me from somewhere in my head and yet miles away, the language unrecognizable, ancient, forgotten. Time swirls and dives. My flesh melts, separates into component parts. I see it as molecules and ether taken up into the wind, a tornado of elements extending to the sky. Everything burns, is cleansed. Then silence and stillness.
“’Tis done. Thankee, shaman.” It’s the smaller man. He is standing next to a gaunt skeleton of a man, his boot-leather skin draped over bone, sinew rising in small mounds. He stares through me and says nothing. A pile of Alestorm merchandise lies at my feet. A large, barrel-chested man dexterously scoops the heap with a shovel and deposits it into the raging fire. The shirts and hats (so many of them!) scream in pain as they are quickly carbonized and released into the sky. Did I see a face? No. No. Not possible.
“Cursed, ‘twas,” said the small man, eyes cast downward. “Many a man be less lucky than ye. Empty husks wash ashore every moon. Zombie men say naught but ‘Alestorm.’” He pauses, recalling some unspeakable horror, his eyes boring into the earth’s core. He shakes himself and shivers. “But fear ye not fer ye are wit’ Swashbuckle now. Follow me.” He proceeds down a small corridor protruding from the incinerator.
I stop. “Wait, please. I don’t know if I can keep doing this. It can’t be worth it,” I stand resolute, shaking my head.
“Aye,” he says slowly and softly. “Aye. I understand. Ye don’t needs t’ come but I reckon ye will be happy if ye did.” He continues down the corridor and disappears.
I collect myself and exhale. Fine. I’m already here and these guys saved me from some hellish state of being. I owe them. I proceed down the hallway.
The passage curves right and empties into a cavern lit with torches. A towering galleon stands amidst a pool of water three sizes too small for it. There is a sizeable crowd gathered in front, mostly crust punks. Interesting. Doom, Disrupt, and Infest patches decorate the black, safety-pinned attire. It really stinks in here.
Doors crash open on the ship’s hull, cannon fire flashes and thunders, echoing through the cavern. Rock shards rain down on the crowd from behind us. One of the shards buries itself in my shoulder and I lose 10 HP. Holy shit, those cannons are real. I look back and see a wall pockmarked with cannonballs. Hundreds of them.
The galleon illuminates with rising bonfires on each side while an acoustic intro rings out. A few death-thrash riffs later and we’re into a full-blown song, “Scurvy Back.” Galloping and driving with fast time changes, growly crust vocals, gang choruses. Hey, this isn’t bad! Not really sure why they want to bring scurvy back. Easily preventable disease these days. But whatever. Fun tune. It’s quickly followed by title track, “Back to the Noose,” another enjoyable crustcore take on death-thrash. The crowd is into it. A pit churns in the middle with more than a few windmills and spin kicks.
But as good a time as this is, the problems start mounting. After two proper tracks, the band breaks out another acoustic number, which quiets the audience and kills the pit. A couple more good tracks, including a blasting crust-grind Infest-esque “We Sunk Your Battleship,” get the crowd engaged again only for another acoustic stop. This time, it’s even worse. The acoustic interlude stops and the band members start performing a skit rife with falsetto yelling and repeating a line from National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation I suppose as some form of humor. This is embarrassing. The audience is uncomfortable.
The couple-songs-then-interlude pattern continues for the remainder of the set. Another eye-rolling skit. Some boos. A few bottles are thrown, smashing on the side of the galleon. “Play some fucking metal!” “Shut the fuck up and play!” Can’t say I disagree. Musicians, these guys are. Comedians, they are not.
After the show is over, I find the small man and thank him for inviting me. I ask about all the acoustic bits and the horrific skits. He shrugs. “Part of the show, it be. Would ye have come if naught fer t’ gimmick?” Well, I wouldn’t have come without the promise of quest rewards but I see his point. There are thousands of bands playing music like Swashbuckle and they just needed a hook to get some attention. Who can blame them.
I say my goodbyes and fast travel to the awaiting Owlkind standing in front of the gangplank. He examines me carefully. “Ye look healthy. D’ye visit t’ shaman?” I nod. He responds in kind. “Ye may board.” He stands to the side.
If you made it this far, I’m sorry. You probably should have been one of the smart ones and not made that decision. But don’t worry. The second (and last) part is coming soon so you have another chance to make better choices in the future.