Dear reader, following our brief intermission, we welcome you once again to another Fridays in AEthrem! Are you prepared to face groups of determined individuals, secretive and dangerous? If yes, then you stand prepared! This week, we begin our review of some of AEthrem's many organizations and secret societies! Many dangerous groups operate around the globe, and this week's subject is no exception! Brace yourself - for today's episode focuses on the dread pirates of the Black Skull Brotherhood!
For a group of thieves and anarchists, the Black Skull Brotherhood has survived for quite some time. Dating back to a time when sailing ships were the primary means of rapid shipping, this group of allied pirates has been a thorn in the side of merchants for many years. Although many water-bound members of the Brotherhood remain, in modern times many have taken to the skies. Airship captains dread encountering a wing of fighters, or even worse, another airship, marked with the Black Skull.
Pirates of the Black Skull Brotherhood can be found throughout the world, raiding many lucrative trade routes. Despite this huge area of influence, however, the group lacks any true organization or leadership. Anarchists at heart, these criminals refuse to accept any leader but those they work with directly. The most powerful members of the Brotherhood are its captains - each commanding a ship or fighter squadron - and pirate lords - who manage just a handful of captains. Even ascending to these modest ranks requires brutal determination and constant vigilance - a captain or lord must keep their underlings happy or face mutiny, all while keeping an eye out for rival pirates, the law, and bounty hunters.
Respect and fear are the greatest currencies for a leader within the Brotherhood. A captain or lord gains sole right of plunder within their territory, and that territory is determined by their ability to claim and defend it from all rivals. If a lord or captain shows signs of weakness, their neighbors will move in quickly to grow their own hunting grounds. While any member of the Black Skull Brotherhood can call upon other members of equal rank if they feel that another has overstepped their bounds, it is typically better to deal with this interloper yourself. Usually, if a member airs a grievance about another pirate in the Brotherhood, others just see this as a sign of weakness, moving against the aggrieved themselves.
This loose alliance is driven by mutual benefit and held together by tradition. Members of the Black Skull Brotherhood fight among each other frequently, but will come together to eliminate rival pirates that refuse to join - the primary focus of the Brotherhood is to eliminate competition. When a unified response to the threat of law is needed, the local members may also come together - more than once, pirate hunters tailing a single ship have found an unexpected fleet waiting in ambush - although these pirates generally prefer evasion over confrontation.
By tradition, initiation into the Brotherhood is compulsory for anyone working aboard one of its vessels or supporting it as spies or port-bound crew. New members are tattooed with the group's infamous symbol - a leering black skull and crossbones - and the first brand of rank in the Black Skull Brotherhood. Additional brands are added to a pirate as the ascend in rank. Both membership and promotions are for life - no one leaves the brotherhood, and anyone failing in their new rank is likely to be murdered by someone else eyeing their position. The lucky few who escape alive have been marked for life, the tattoo and brands identifying them to the law and ensuring their death at the hands of any active Brotherhood members they encounter.
While opposing or hunting pirates, it is always good to be well aware of the Black Skull Brotherhood's controlling influence over this particular crime. Eliminating a pirate crew that has refused to join them can earn the respect of local Black Skulls, and maybe even a favor from less amoral Brotherhood leaders. Apprehending or destroying one of the Brotherhood's crews, however, will likely draw unwanted attention. While there may be no immediate reprisal - after all, a rival has just been eliminated - other leaders within the Brotherhood will pay close attention to the new potential threat you pose and strike out if they find you operating within their territory.
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