Following the death of Captain Rudder, the crew of The Guiding Star have been locked up in the Tombs, Freeport’s prison, awaiting trial for piracy. Suddenly they are all released – a mysterious benefactor has paid their fines! The crew heads off to a dive bar on the Docks, hoping to get drunk on the little money they have left. As they pass through town, Peg-Leg Pete spots a poster for a circus – Dr Mirablis’ Carnival of Wonders – and it stirs hazy memories long since buried.
At the Rusty Anchor, the crew try to come up with a new plan to get rich. Farn and Erik recall that Rudder was killed by Jawbone Jack after he’d stolen the ghoul pirate’s treasure map – and that the map, sealed in a waterproof case, might still be salvageable from the wreck of The Guiding Star. To reach it they’ll need a diving bell or similar- and a ship to get them to the wreck. They’re approached by Harcourt Horkel, a drunkard with a ship that’s seen better days but still floats; he strikes a deal with them to use his ship, The Travelling Lady, in exchange for a share of the treasure.
After Pete goes outside to relieve himself, a cloaked man comes looking for him; the pirates fob him off, while Farn also goes out to the alley. The two pirates hear strange music coming from the Docks and decide to investigate. Estrella comes looking for them, notes that the stars in the sky are in a peculiar alignment – ‘The Devils’ Scales’ – and is then entranced by the music. When she wanders away, the rest of the crew follow her, and everyone winds up on the Docks when a small gang, led by the cloaked man, come searching for Pete. A fight breaks out, and the pirates manage to defeat the gang, who turn out to be cultists of some kind – and during the fight, the strange music peaks as a creature of some kind rears from the water and smashes into a nearby ship, damaging it!
With the fight over and the creature gone, the pirates scatter before they can be arrested again. They go with Horker to The Travelling Lady, which turns out to be a travelling carnival ship – albeit one that’s seen far better days. They turn in for the night, and Pete is plagued by dreams of a dark, twisted carnival, where he is captured and tormented by its sinister ringmaster, who tells him that ‘the stars are aligned, and your time has come’.
The next day, nursing bruises and hangovers, the crew put some effort into repairing the Lady, and hear that a number of ships have been rammed and damaged over the past weeks. Once the sun goes down, Pete persuades them to investigate the mysterious Carnival of Wonders, and they set off to Tent Town to check it out…