goes like this... Following
the Anglo-Spanish Wars, the Spades are forced to leave
their firstborn, Jonathan, with a family of friendly
Caribbean natives because someone may have been
after them. They settled at the freeport of Paradise
with their two other songs, Willie Jay and the
youngest, Virgil, but were killed by unknown
hands before they could retrieve him.
He was raised by the natives until his early adulthood, when the tribe was wiped out mysteriously. Finding them dead when he returned from a hunting trip, he took to traveling, looking for his real family, becoming a buccaneer in the service of the King of England in the process. Eventually he found Paradise and his two brothers.
By then, having grown up without their parents for most of their lives, the somewhat badly adapted Willie Jay had become a smuggler and Virgil, calling himself "Ace", was a gambler and privateer not always on the right side of the law. Jonathan's goal thus became to reunite his family and keep his brothers out of trouble.
When Simone Lorcquet came to the island, she shook things up, and not just with her singing at the Paradise Inn. All three brothers found her interesting though it would be Ace who would court her more actively.
Not that it was all fun and games! Ace had to deal with a rather nasty loan shark by the name of Oily Pete, and Jonathan had to contend with the racist Colonel Vaugnharvey. And what of "model" citizen Jeremiah Dark, a rich merchant from the Old World who knew their parents and seemed to be hiding something? It sometimes seemed like their only friends were Mayor Thorndike, who was a friend of their parents, and young Jesse Waylons, Johnny's young swab, fascinated by tales of piracy.
They were never able to prove that Dark was behind the hijackings of multiple supply ships by pirates flying a yellow skull and crossbones, and when the supplies ran too low, the brothers went (not all voluntarily) to a nearby island to trade for some.
After negotiations, they had the stuff, including documents and a knife with a strange inscription. This clue leads the brothers on a quest to find its owner, a freebooter who may have stolen and hidden a treasure of great value. But before they follow up on it, the island natives that helped them now attack Paradise because they've fallen victim to a disease from something traded to them. The port is defended, and in the process, Ace makes friends with one of Oily Pete's men, sympathetic henchman Jimmy da Gun.
Now following their leads, they sail to a port called Salvation, and then to Rosary Island, all the while disturbed by dreams of sharks come to revenge themselves on the owners of weapons used to kill the natives. The treasure will be found where X marks the spot on Rosary, and allows the brothers to at least pay off Ace's debts.
On this trip, they meet Lupita, a gunpowder smuggler Johnny has to bring to justice, but she gets away (without her merchandise). Willie Jay seems interested in her, but he kinda smells, you know?
Back home, Ace decides he'll go to Port Casper soon to participate in a card game for big money, and then there's another attack on supply ships. Johnny sails out to stop them but runs his ship aground and isn't able to help. Deep questions as to the effects of this first Shift are explored, but no answers come up. Investigations into the hijackings turn up nothing even with the help of Auntie Voudoun, an old Native friend of Johnny's. Meanwhile, Willie accompanies Ace to the card tournament, but so do a number of luminaries from Paradise.
When asked to throw the game by Oily Pete, Ace refuses, but still gets his ass kicked by Lupita who may be cheating. A bar fight starts and a drunk, angry pirate runs off to his ship and fires a canon right at the inn, gravely injuring Simone and killing Dark, though he soon reappears quite alive (a voodoo is suspected). The brothers visit Simone at the local witch doctor's, again mystified by a Shift, they try to collect their wits before they are sent on an expedition into dangerous Spanish territory. On the way, they find a clue to the identity of the supply ship hijackers - an old piece of map with Dark's signature at the bottom.
The brothers come across a damaged Spanish ship that attacks them, and they must neutralize its skeleton crew (no, not literally). On the ship they find the rest of the map, battle plans across sections of the Caribbean. They return to their ship with their paper booty, and the next settlement they pass tells them the native village they have been interacting with has been completely destroyed.
Upon their return to Paradise, the port is attacked by galleons far out on the bay, and Dark claims someone has betrayed Paradise to the Spanish. The brothers volunteer to prove it wasn't them despite their frequent off-world trips.
They find the true culprits, Spaniards holed up at the edge of the Gulf. They also discover that they are working with Dark and are most probably the hijackers that have made their lives difficult. They beat the bad guys, but also confront Dark, who shows his hand by admitting he killed their parents, as well as hinting that he too, shifts. The confrontation turns violent as Dark squares off against the brothers sword in hand, and boards his ship. The town is badly damaged in the battle, forcing Vaughnharvey to declare martial law, and then Dark is finally killed as his ship is sunk.
Through this, Paradise gets wind of a secret Spanish operation to kidnap citizens and use them as slaves. Investigating, Johnny is kidnapped as well. He's rescued, of course, and Paradise's mayor approves an attack on the far side of the island, where these Spaniards are apparently set up.
The damage and very public mess of the last few days leads to a trial (of course called by Vaughnharvey) in which Oily Pete tries to frame the brothers. Ace proves him a traitor instead and kills him during an oily escape. The other fallout from this is that Willie Jay is exiled to an island where he act as look-out against foreign powers to further keep him out of trouble (outside his brothers' influence). He leaves by ship for that abandoned French fort, but leaves his brothers their parents' journal, in which they find mentions of possible shifting on their parts too, as well as examples of a strange language that never changes from shift to shift.
Attending Oily Pete's funeral, Ace is challenged to a duel by Pete's brother Greasy Gil. It will end badly for Gil, who gets his ear chopped off and disappears in the wilds of the island. Meanwhile, Ace can't see Simone because her father Horace Lorcquet has arrived from France to see what kind of decadent life she's leading and doesn't approve.
Thornedike is later murdered, and Vaughnharvey asks the brothers for help in the investigation. They find that he didn't want to do business with dangerous supporters of slavers in American colonies, and they had him killed. Johnny and Ace eventually stop a plot by these extremists to lay siege to Paradise. Greasy Gil returns briefly during this episode, sporting a wooden ear.
As Horace Lorcquet is elected mayor, putting the brothers' position in jeopardy, they have a linguist named Bartleby, investigate the strange script in their parents' journal. He makes headway, but it is stolen by Sir Francis Drake, famous explorer thought to have returned to England long ago. Confronting Drake, they discover he's an impostor with a life-like mask.
Under pain of torture, he gives them they key to the alien alphabet - it's Atlantean! Johnny then has his Native contact call her friend, John Julian, one of the few black pirates with their own ships, who brings them to the Bermuda Triangle, which hides a lost colony of Atlantis. They are all captured there, and the brothers, referred to by the Atlanteans as "shifters" are thrown into a cell... with a man called Twelve. [Click here for Twelve's history]
They discover that Twelve is a shifter too, and while they compare notes, Julian breaks them out. In getting back to their ship, they discover that the Atlanteans seem not only to know about the Shifts, but may be able to control or at least initiate them. They succeed in their escape and hightail it out of there, and when they get back to the Caribbean are told by Auntie Voudoun that any debt she is owed is wiped clean. Paradise is in mourning, however for the loss of Simone. She's been taken in the night by a Southern islanders. Mad with love, Ace goes after her, and with the help of Jonathan and Twelve, reaches the island. They only want Simone to sing a fertility song or they will attack Paradise to take the women they need, so after a game of Boom Chest won by Ace, a deal is made with the islanders that Paradise will send someone to sing every 10 years. Returning home as heroes, the mayor warms up to the brothers, and even offers Twelve citizenship.
That citizenship is contested by Vaughnharvey, but it is finally given, though a vision he has of a sinking ship makes wary and start to plan their next expedition a little better.
Given their past involvement with the Spanish, the trio is sent on a mission to prevent them from assassinating English aristocrats who support the freeport on a giant warship named the Gigantic. They successfully do so and continue to rise in the esteem of Paradise's top officers. Young Jessee Waylons even graduates to full sailor. But while Jonathan and Twelve are on a mission with the kid round Mexico way, Ace gets wind that Willie Jay is no longer sending his reports from his fort. He undertakes a rescue mission alone and finds his brother in a strange coffin full of oily fluids. In the shadows, Jeremiah Dark lurks, alive and well somehow, and he's stolen something from Willie. Some kind of shimmering particles extracted from his body! In pursuit, the two Spades are distracted by a grouchy local animal while Dark escapes.
Getting back to the ship, they are surprised to find Willie remembers things differently, i.e. he doesn't have memories native to the present reality, and still believes himself a time agent, with all the requisite skills. He hasn't properly shifted with the rest of the world! It also makes it more complicated for the brothers to figure out where Dark discovered the process he put Willie through, because it hasn't translated in his mind. Speaking of a "cyclical time loop" makes Ace twitch to a local whirlpool, and they start pouring over maps to find a possible island near there where Dark might have developed his techniques, in the hopes of curing Willie's shiftlessness. They sail to a small island called Oscuridad, a Spanish word for Darkness, and on the journey, Willie learns the basics of sword fighting and sailing from the crew.
They soon discover the island's inhabitants are willing - or at least ambivalent - slaves of Jeremiah Dark. Following clues, the heroes brave the island's wilderness and Dark's assassins to get to his secret laboratory. He is not there to get his comeuppance, but the alchemical equipment is there to restore Willie Jay to normal, after which the heroes, with the help of a pair of muscled natives sick of being slaves, burn down Dark's laboratory and free the settlement. After the party, they return to their ship, then home.
While neither Jonathan nor Twelve have returned, it's a happy reunion between Ace and Simone as things heat up between them. Even her father seems happier with the match (though Ace's cockiness makes that difficult later on). Things get complicated when Twelve's long-lost mother shows up on Paradise, but before she can tell her story, she's attacked by a voodoo spell and placed in a coma. With the brothers suspected of the crime and the murder of a prominent doctor, they are given 48 hours to clear their name and, as it turns out, stop the voodoo priest before her turns everyone into a zombie using a concoction he wants to throw down the well. Simone is almost converted before it's too late, and the boys walk away from the adventure with a stronger friendship with the Islander ambassador (whose people see voodoo as an abomination), a new one with the port's fixer Bellune, and quite the opposite with a dumb criminal called Helm. When Twelve's mother wakes up, she tells the Spades she used to work with their parents and came in late the day of the accident that turned them and Dark into shifters. After a year of working on the data as lab workers disappeared left and right, Mary and Richard Spade suspecting foul play by Dark (who was pushing to control reality rather than fix what was broken), put everything on a ship and sailed away while Dark was off somewhere. They cast a spell that fogged the island and made it impossible to find, before leaving on rowboats with their workers. After reaching a port, they all left on a different ship, scattered to the four winds. Twelve's mother, discovering she was pregnant with Dark's child, dropped him anonymously at an orphanage while she hid under different assumed names lest Dark track her down. Only now does she feel safe to come looking for her son as she's (incorrectly) learned Dark was dead. She gives the boys a map to the lab, probably still on that tiny island, untouched, a location unknown to Dark.
When Ace and Willie try to access it, they find the island empty but the beach filled with explosive mines. Discouraged, a scavenger ship's captain tells them he knows where how to reach the building and offers them a deal: recover a relic on Shipwreck Island, territory to some priestly pirates, and they'll get the information. To sweeten the deal, they lend them one of their own as a guide, and give them a cook who turns out to be instrumental in passing the pirates rigorous trading ceremony to gain access to the island. They sail there and find it's at the center of a small Sargasso Sea filled with ship wrecks and algae, where their guide Spit-spot takes them to a giant crashed ship surrounded by pirate priests. With some difficulty, they take possession of a large but portable idol responsible for the strange weather that leads ships here. As a turbulent storm rises up, and with Lupita's pirates after them, the boys use the idol to sail safely out of the typhoon. The scavengers make good on their promise and reveal the location of their parents' lab on the island, and once again using the idol, manage to navigate the strange mists on that side of the island. There, they discover the truth of what they call shifting and set to destroying the large totem at the center of the compound, just as their parents had prescribed. Then in comes Lupita to give them a head's up that she and her crew have stolen the idol aboard their ship and are bringing it back to Dark, who has paid them handsomely for it and has rebuilt his lab near Paradise. As the central totem, in flames, threatens to bring the ceiling down, they all race back to the beach only to find that Lupita's men have betrayed her, scuttled the Trefle, all hands lost, and sailed away, leaving her stranded with Ace and Willy. The totem crashes down behind them as they begin to despair...
Recently... Forced to spend the night, Ace, Willie and Lupita hear strange things in what's left of the compound and the next morning, discover a secret tunnel that leads them to a derelict swoop in a cave that opens on the back of the island. Unfortunately, La Salope is cursed and like Dark's men who, decades before, had been marked with the black spot for stealing the totem, our heroes are also marked. From the ship's log, they discover how Dark had his men steal and transport the totem while he sailed away unscathed on the Infernale, then killed the cursed men without ever stepping onto the cursed sloop. The trio soon discover they can't go home, some force preventing them from sailing in that direction, and in any case need a crew. They head to Tortuga instead to do some recruiting and run afoul of Lupita's men who have already handed off the smaller idol to Dark. They also run into their old friend Helm, and coerce him into getting La Salope ship-shape and putting a crew on her, with his own money, while they go off looking for a witch doctor who could tell them about the curse.
The old man, living behind the city walls, can help... for a price. Either they pay him in treasure - but Lupita's wealth is on a ship they cannot board - or they bring him hair from the Mayor's head (or some other piece of him). A plan is hatched to pose as famous barbers and use Don Benito's love for Mary Read, a pirate queen currently berthed in Tortuga. Finding Don Benito completely bald, they end up stealing one of his mustaches and head back to the witch doctor who tells them that they cannot reverse the curse since the totem has been destroyed, but they can transfer it to the Infernale which was also involved in the Islanders' betrayal. Dark no longer sails her. A Scandinavian pirate called Yellow Beard does, and he can usually be found pillaging English holdings around Jamaica.
Of course, Helm tries to lay claim to La Salope, but the crew he has recruited doesn't take well to being cursed, so captaincy so reverts to Ace who must inspire an essentially mutinous crew to help them help themselves and find Yellow Beard. When they do, Ace must shake his hand to transfer the curse, something done using a bit of fast talk and a lot of rum, but out-matched, escaping the gigantic ship's guns needs more planning. Willie's demolition skills certainly come in handy. Freed from the curse, La Salope returns to Tortuga to drop Lupita off so she can take her revenge on her former crew, while the boys sail home to Paradise where Dark is supposed to have gone. The trip, however, is a series of short (and uneventful) shifts in which the sloop becomes a train in space, a Roman galley, a prison bus, a flying carriage over India, a Viking longboat, and finally... SHIFT>