Like a giant bird of prey, the pirate ship rapidly closed the distance between it and the slow, cumbersome merchant vessel. Massive in size, but sleek and streamlined, its hull was as black as pitch and boasted the devastating power of sixty broadside cannon, while its prow was adorned with the gruesome visage of a snarling gargoyle. Each of its three masts sported a set of sails the color of fresh blood, and each sail was emblazoned with a chilling skull and crossed swords motif. Atop the tallest mast flew the colors of her Captain, a devil-horned skull with fangs on a black background. As scary as the ship was, her Captain was an even more frightening sight as he stood on the quarterdeck. Topping seven feet tall and built like a tank, his muscles, honed and sculpted from years of toil at sea, were clearly visible beneath his clothes. From beneath his black tricorne hat his hair spilled in a wild mass of dark brown dreadlocks, and into these he had braided beads, coins, seashells and all manner of trinkets, which clanked and jangled whenever he moved. His face was a nightmarish mask; his eyes were the color of arsenic flecked with blue chips of ice, and they seemed to be without compassion or even humanity. The skin on his face was tanned by the sun and chapped by the wind, and carried a permanent layer of brown stubble. His eyebrows, nose, lips and chin all sported gold piercings, and a gold hoop hung from each ear. His terrifying demeanor was completed by a long, ropy scar, pocked with stitchmarks, which stretched diagonally across his face, narrowly missing his left eye. Over his bare, hairy chest, tatooed with an anchor, he wore a black frock coat; its ragged and torn edges made him look as if he had a pair of tattered batwings growing out of his shoulders. His frayed black trousers were tucked into a pair of plain boots, and they were held up by a brown leather belt buckled with a human skull. Into this he had thrust a long, glittering scimitar with a cross hilt made of human bone. Three pairs of pistols, carried in a bandoleer slung across his left shoulder, gave him all the firepower he needed. In all the seas and oceans there had never been a man like him; from the lowly position of humble cabin boy he had clawed his way to the top by being the cruelest, the meanest, the most cunning and the most savage. No man alive was a fiercer fighter than he. His crew was almost as foul and evil as he; the Captain’s hellish vessel was manned by 200 of society’s worst, the rakings and scrapings of runaway slaves, debtors, outlaws, vagabonds, criminals and cutthroats to whom wickedness and sadism was second nature. Their leader watched as the merchant ship tried vainly to escape. It would do them no good; soon the pirates would be on it like a hawk upon a chicken. And although the Captain very seldom smiled, that particular thought made the corners of his mouth twitch in anticipation.