Making waves: beyond Almeri’s coasts

June 2, 2020 at 2:33 pm

“What would an ocean be without a monster lurking in the dark? It would be like sleep without dreams.”

― Werner Herzog

Traveling north from Falcon’s Reach, the Tien river delta has one last outpost of civilization at Storr’s Haven. Here the Venettine garrison oversees the final stage of boarding the mighty Hartwood logs for transport down the coast, and launches patrols to protect the shipping that hugs the shoreline.

What lies beyond the sight of its rocky cliffs and lush green hills is not known to many who call this land home. The Thessalan Expanse — known commonly as the MIddlesea — circles the globe with little land to slow the wind or break the storms that lash the open waters. It is only the brave or the foolhardy who leave the site of land behind to ply these waters for trade or conquest.

The wind and weather patterns usually move from West to East, as does typical sea travel. The storms will often form far from the shorelines only to build in intensity and crash down on unsuspecting coastal communities. These storms are much more frequent in the winter months (the season of the shark) and can last for days before dissipating or moving on. At sea, they tend to move quickly and are difficult to avoid.

The largest group of ocean-going people are the Einen who dwell on the northern shores of the Middlesea. These are fierce dark-skinned mariners whose tall, narrow-hulled ships take on the waves, the winds, and all the dangers of the deep to lie claim over the Expanse. Perhaps taking a lesson from the builders of Sky Ships, the Einen fuse the skeletons of the great whales to the hulls of their ships, which seems to give them the flexibility and strength to withstand the crush of the seas.

The most prized of these are the skeletons of the gale Whales — massive magical creatures who can sometimes be seen nearly flying in a breach, crackling with electrical. Their bodies generate a sort of lightning that arcs between the barbs that run along their backs, and add another level of danger to their hunting.

 

New creature: Gale whale

ST100 / DX12 / IQ5 / MA12 or 16 / AD 4 / D4d (swallow) or 1d+2 electric shock / Size 14-hex

Massive kings of the ocean depths, the gale whales can sometimes be seen breaching the surface and brightening the horizon the electrical sparks. Their dark gray forms are mottled with bright blue stripes that follow rows of bright, horny barbs that run along the backs of the whales, Their magical nature is pronounced when they crest above the surface and sail through the air for up to three rounds before returning to the sea. Normally not aggressive, but if injured or harassed they will strike back and have been known to break hulls and sink the ships of those who hunt them.

Like many whales, the gale whales travel in pods of up to 2d ranging far in their annual migration.

While most of the Einen are fishermen or traders, a few have chosen the life of a raider. Known as the Vikarr (‘horned’ in their tongue), they use the barbs of gale whales to ornament their helms, shields, and even as jewelry. It is said that Vikarr wizards can use these barbs to fuel elemental magics.

 

Outside of man, one of the few creatures that prey on the gale whales are the gargantuan megalodons (ST50 / DX14 / IQ4 / MA16 / AD 2 / D3d / Size 10-hex long) that roam the deeps. Rarely are more than 1-2 megalodons seen together, but there are often smaller white sharks following in their wake (ST20 / DX12 / IQ4 / MA16 / AD 1 / D2d / Size 4-6 hexes long). The Einen believe that all sharks are avatars of the sea god Khark and would only attack one in self-defense.

Nearly as numerous, but not as daring, are the seaman of the wide shallow bay of Sycorax. Somewhat protected from the raging storms of the open seas, the Sycorans ply their waters on round-bellied cogs or rowed galleons. Even barges and trading canoes criss-cross the waterlines of the godless realm connecting the shore communities to the many low islands in the bay. The greatest danger here is running afoul of the karkinid crab-men who scavenge coastal waters. The wizards of the Grey Ring offer bounties on the karkinids, and host feasts after successful hunts where the beasts are boiled and served with great ceremony. While it is true that Sycorax has become more aggressive in its interests, it do not seem to have any kind of centralized navy. Yet.

Between the shores of Almeri and the steep fjords that the Einen call home, there are few land masses larger than a few bare rocks and a few foreboding volcanic spires. One location that does stand out is a shallow maze of rocky reefs and stone pillars known as the Lethren Stacks. The story goes that Lethrie was once a mighty island empire that defied the will of Khark, who brought his storms down and shattered its towers and drowned the land and people. The area is believed to be cursed and few risk its treacherous waters.

While this may be true, it is certain that the Stacks are home to several octopus enclaves that prey on coastal shipping. Some have even coaxed kraken (ITL, p.97) into aiding them, using the huge beasts to pull ships down to the depths. This region may also be the origin of the octopi that have seized the Venettine throne and cowed the great capital with their hard-shelled shock troops.

While this only a few of the peoples and locations on or within Almeri’s Middlesea, it is certain that there are more secrets lurking below its surface.