3. Sailors on the Sea of Stars

 

Something loomed out of the mist. I asked Godesto what it was. He shrugged. “The flotsam and jetsam of the timescape,” he said. Riojans have a way with words.

Somewhere out in the mist some lost souls are watching the silhouette of a galleon — sails furled, three masts sticking up, unadorned, like the bones of a dead sea creature — sail by in the mist and they’re asking “what is that?” And someone’s shrugging and saying “the flotsam and jetsam of the timescape.”

This is the Sea of Stars. Presumably the Captain and Seer know how to get out of here. We’ve been here before, but it was always the Lady of Brass’s job to get us between worlds. There’s some relation to mundane time and space here, but I have no idea what it is.

It’s an eerie, unsettling experience. Fog everywhere. A flat light above us. The ocean looks to be about 4 feet deep. And stars under the water. Sound gets whisked away. It feels like being on a ship in a bottle, packed with cotton.

Business as usual for the Chain. We’ve been here before. Some of the rank and file freaked out, but they looked to the officers and seeing as how we were mostly bored, sleeping, or eating, they relaxed. It’s easy to relax here. There’s a sound, like a choir, out in the mist that will lull you to sleep.

“Giant’s out in the fog,” Copper said.

“Huh?” I asked. Articulate.

The goblin hopped off the big cat and grabbed some raw fish. Took a bite and gave the rest to the cat. This is normal to me now.

“Big fuck-off giant walking around in the fog out there,” he said, grabbing another fish from a barrel.

I didn’t know what to say about this. “We in any danger?”

Copper wolfed down a fish head with one gulp. “‘Course we fucking are,” he said, licking his fingers. “Chain of Acheron. We’re not in danger, we’re not in business.”

Copper is, of course, a prophet.

Less than an hour later… or maybe an hour or maybe two, time gets away from you here, the Captain called out, “Somnium Tenebris! Aft” And every Riojan in ear shot soiled their pants. That was something to see. These guys don’t seem afraid of anything; not us, not Ajax, not giants in the mist, but three words from the Captain and they were all looking for passage off this boat.

We assembled on the quarterdeck and any questions we had were quickly replaced by reality. Something was coming after us. Something big. At first, I thought it was a sea creature.

“It’s a Mind Flayer dreadnaught,” Judge said. The thing was maybe twice as big as the Rosso Cielo and closing.

“It’s fast,” I said. It would catch up in only a few moments. It was... it looked alive. Like someone built a ship on a giant space squid. And the squid was hungry. I was reminded of Copper eating fish heads.

“Can we outrun it?” Sweet asked Lady Massingham.

“Not unless you’re a lot smarter than you look,” she said. She was making some internal calculation, and coming up short.

“Look!” Copper said. His eyes are the keenest in the Chain.

The ship unfurled sails designed to catch a psychic wind. Black, tattered. Someone had painted a crude device on them. One we recognized.

“Ajax,” Sweet guessed, before the sails were even finished unfurling.

“This is impossible,” The Captain spat as her hands gripped the wheel. “How did they know where we are? How did they find us??”

She turned and grabbed Sweet by the shirt and shouted. “Who ARE you people?!”

I’ve seen a lot of remarkable things in the Astral Sea, but watching Captain Massingham grab Sweet and shout in his face was maybe the most astonishing. This is someone I’ve personally watched punch his hand clear through a half-orc’s head... and he wasn’t even particularly angry in that moment, he was just working.

Sweet calmly pried the Captain’s hand off his shirt and wisely let the lady live. Sweet might make a good Commander.

“You want to live through this,” Sweet said. “Tell us what that thing can do.”

“They’ll board us.”

Judge put a hand on the pommel of his big two-hander. “Let’s just…,” he waved vaguely with his other hand, thick black fingernails on display. “What happens after that?”

“If we survive the boarding party... the ship’s tentacles will rip the ship apart.”

I figured there was maybe something I could do about that, and called on Takeshima. Lightning rained down into the reaching, grasping tentacles but they proved thicker than my lightning. Well, we are far from home.

“It won’t work,” the Captain said. She was despairing. “I watched those tentacles rip our sister ship apart. They had a wizard, too.”

“Yeah,” Sweet cracked his knuckles. “But they didn’t have us.” This was by way of being an order.

We got ready for work. Weapons drawn, wards cast. Nails fired his namesake.

“You ok?” I asked.

Nails took a drag. “There a reason you’re asking?”

“Mostly because your eyes are silver.”

Nails exhaled a long billow of smoke. “Says who?” he asked. Fair enough.

The boarding action was typical Duergar tactics. We heard them, knew they were there. They boarded the ship invisibly then dropped their psychic blinding field and shifted into their larger form to attack. Bigcat took some licks, but she’s probably about as tough as this entire boat. She’s built to take licks.

It was pretty clear whatever these guys were used to, it wasn’t us. The crew joined in and between their piracy and our brand of underhanded villainy, the boarding action turned into a tactical retrograde.

It took a moment after the dark dwarves retreated for us to get our bearings. Everyone was waiting for the command, including Sweet. Then he remembered his new pay grade.

“BOARD THE SHIP!” he hollered. In classic helltrooper style, we prepared to assault the ambush.

I don’t know what’s on that ship. I don’t know what we’ll find or what they expected. But they’re about to find out what happens when you cross swords with the Chain of Acheron.

Somnium Tenebris