From the Background:
Something is wrong.
Ever since you got up this morning, you've felt a disturbing sensation. It's nothing that you could put a name to, just a growing feeling that all is not as it should be. At first you were the only one to feel it, but more and more people have become jumpy as the day has worn on. By opening time even Wert, your usually unflappable guardian and employer, appears ill at ease.
The atmosphere in 'The Flotsam and Jetsam' is heavy with tension, the customers subdued and edgy. You wipe down the counter, not to clean up puddles of beer, but just for something to do. In some ways it feels like the stillness that precedes a storm, in other ways like something else entirely.
Ellen, the youngest of the barmaids, is bringing a tray of empties back when she stumbles, spilling dregs on a swarthy mariner from the south who's been playing cards with several of his shipmates all evening. At once the man is on his feet, one hand at her throat, the other drawing back into a fist. What little noise the crowd had been making is instantly silenced.
You vault across the counter, but before your feet touch the floor on the other side, the southerner's fist is enclosed by a larger one. You hadn't even noticed that Captain Mack was in tonight, but there he is, towering over the angry sailor.
'That's enough, boy,' warns the Captain. 'Now let the lady go and she can apologise for her accident.'
A couple of the southerner's fellows begin to move their chairs back from the table, only to freeze as you draw your knife and Wert takes down the massive driftwood club that hangs behind the bar.
'No need for things to get out of hand,' Captain Mack says, his knuckles whitening as he tightens his grip on the other man's fist. 'We don't want any rough play in here, especially not at this time.'
Without taking his eyes from the southerner's face he calls, 'Am I right, lads?'
The growl of assent comes from all around. With a grimace, the southerner releases Ellen, who promptly bursts into tears and runs into the rear of the inn.
Captain Mack slackens his grip. 'I think it's about time you and your friends were getting back to your ship, don't you? If you set sail at first light, you should make it to Kalagar before nightfall tomorrow.'
With a muttered curse the southerner pulls his hand out of the Captain's and heads for the door. His companions gather up the cards and money from the table and follow him. One of them pauses to throw you a silver piece and mutter, 'This is for the girl, he should not have done that,' before hurrying after the others.
Gradually the interrupted conversations resume, but the air of unease remains. There is little grumbling when Wert decides to close early.
As the regulars begin to shuffle out onto the streets of Red Crab Bay, Captain Mack comes across to the bar, and you thank him for helping prevent a fight. He shrugs it off, and asks for a room for the next four nights. This surprises you, as he has never stayed in town for so long before. You ask if there is anything wrong with the Griffin, his ship.
'No, she's good. But no wise sailor's going to spend any more time at sea than he needs to for the next few days.'
Curious, you ask why. For a moment you think he will refuse to answer, and then he asks an unexpected question. 'How do you feel?'
You tell him of the unease you have felt all day. He comments, as much to himself as to you, that you must have seafarer's blood. Reluctant to dredge up painful memories, you merely tell him that your father had his own ship, and you have a boat.
'But you don't know what tonight is? He hasn't told you?'
You shake your head and quietly explain that your father died many years ago.
'That would explain it.' The Captain takes a deep breath, then continues, 'From now until Lifeday, anyone at sea after dark risks catching the Sanguine Wave.'
His words mean nothing to you, and your expression clearly shows as much. Captain Mack sighs and begins to explain.
'Around a hundred years ago a man was washed ashore, about forty, fifty miles down the coast. Out of his wits, he was, and told tales so wild that none would believe him at first.
'He said he'd been First Mate on a ship out of Ashkyos, bound for Targûl Island. There'd been a fight between him and the Captain, and some of the crew were ripe for mutiny. Then, one night, as they were scheming below decks, there came a terrible cry from above, so they hurried up on deck. And there, by Lunaras' light, they saw that a vast patch of the sea ahead was as red as blood. The helmsman was trying to turn aside and steer away from it, but he hadn't spotted it soon enough, and they caught the edge of the red water.
'At once the sky changed and a chill mist came up, and the sea turned to blood on every side. And it really was blood, they could tell, now that it was all around them.
'Some hoped that if they could just turn the ship around and go back the way they'd come, they might find themselves back on the Silver Sea, but they never got the chance to find out, for out of the mist came another ship. More wreck than ship it was, and must've been kept afloat by some dark sorcery. Black as night, rotting timbers and tattered sails alike, and not a man alive aboard it. But it had a crew, oh yes. Zombies and worse, dragging themselves to the broken rails, rusting daggers and cutlasses in their decaying hands, getting ready to attack once their ship was close enough.
'The Captain and First Mate, and those of the crew as wasn't driven mad by these horrors or too afraid to fight, put up the best defence they could, but for every undead raider they beat off another two crawled aboard. The First Mate got knocked overboard in the struggle, and lost the ships in the mist. Next thing he knew, he was back in the Silver Sea, and managed to keep himself afloat until he reached dry land.
'Everyone thought he was lying or crazed, or both, until wreckage from his ship was washed ashore, some so steeped in blood that days in the water hadn't leached it all away; and one corpse, with the skeletal hand of his killer still gripping his throat.
'The tale soon spread, and for a while any ship that went missing was thought to have suffered the same fate. There was no more blood-drenched wreckage, though, and when castaways were found they had other explanations for what had happened. Before long the First Mate's story was just another legend for old salts to tell on misty nights.
'Then, around twenty-five years later, a slaver ship out of Kalagar came across the bloody sea and was attacked by the black ship. The slaves were brought up on deck to help fight off the undead enemy, and a few of them fought their way to a lifeboat and escaped to tell of what had happened.
'They had something new to tell about the Zombies, too. See, one of the survivors had been grabbed off the streets to make up the numbers just before the ship set sail, and he'd put up a fight and killed one of the gang before the others took him down. The man he'd killed was one of the crew on that black ship.
'So people got to thinking that maybe the blood sea was in Hell, and the ship was where evil sailors go when they die. Some minstrel composed a song about it, and that's where the sea of blood got the name it's had ever since, from the last lines:
- 'For the black-hearted man in the watery grave
- Shall rise up to sail on the Sanguine Wave.'
'The minstrel called the ship of dead sailors the Black Hulk, and that name stuck as well. For a few months you could hear the song in every port. Then there was another quiet period, and most folks lost interest in the Sanguine Wave and the Black Hulk again.
'It was about nineteen years later that a Sorcerer found out about an extra-planar conjunction that happens once every twenty-five years or thereabouts, lasting for four nights. It was next due in just over six years' time. Someone else figured out that both of the ships that'd hit the Sanguine Wave had done so during the conjunction, and got to suspecting that it wasn't just coincidence.
'When the conjunction came around, those as believed there might be some truth to that idea wouldn't set sail. A few of the ships that were at sea during those evil nights were never seen again.
'Last time the conjunction came, there were more survivors from a ship that caught the Sanguine Wave and was attacked by the Black Hulk, and they named a few of the dead they'd seen aboard it. All wicked murderers who'd been scourges of the seas until their deaths.
'Now the conjunction's come round again, and I'm staying on land until it's passed. Don't want to risk running into the likes of Rangor Tridenthand or Shamit Nestafa...'
You give a start at the mention of Tridenthand, but Captain Mack misinterprets your response.
'No need to fear, my young friend. There's never been any sign that the Black Hulk could come through to Titan during the conjunction. There won't be any dead pirates coming here. Only those as are foolish enough to be at sea by night have anything to worry about.'
It is understandable that Captain Mack should make this mistake. Though he has been to 'The Flotsam and Jetsam' many times, he has never heard your life story, and has no idea what Rangor Tridenthand means to you.
More than thirteen years have passed since Tridenthand killed your parents, knifing your father in the back and stabbing your mother with the three-pronged spike he had in place of his left hand. When you learned what had happened you vowed to avenge their murders as soon as you were sufficiently old and capable. However, six years ago the peoples of Shantak Bay executed him for his crimes, denying you the opportunity to take the revenge of which you had dreamed. Unless there is some truth to the Captain's tale...
If the Sanguine Wave really exists, you could take out your boat, the Barnacle, and go looking for it. The Black Hulk sounds just the place where Tridenthand would have wound up, and boarding it would give you a chance to kill him yourself and finally put out the flame of hatred that has smouldered in your heart all these years.
But dare you sail into Hell itself for vengeance' sake?