The Let's Play Archive

Sunless Sea

by Black Wombat

Part 13: Checkerboard dreams

Journal entry 12 – Checkerboard dreams

The journal of Captain Petra Blackwood

January 27th, 1888 -

We departed the Chelonate with all haste, and headed north, past the last few rotting remains of Chelonate hunter victories. For quite some time, we steamed into the dark, lonely zee, until the lookout saw a golden glittering on the horizon.

A beam of sunlight broke through the roof of the Neath, here. It seemed unreal. The colors too bright, the island itself too alive to exist in the Unterzee. The crew crowded around the rail to watch as we steamed closer. I think a few of us were crying.

I may have been one of them.

The light burned where it touched me, but I did not care. I looked so different there; my skin was pale white, not pale green. My hair was a dark, dark red. My crew seemed different as well – Filled with color and courage and memories suddenly bubbling to the surface. I ordered my zailors to put ashore at the dock that had been built here, and to explore the island – quickly. We could not stay long.

The island was bursting with all manner of life. Mangrove Collage seemed like the Prickfinger Wastes in comparison. I saw Grandalt trying to keep the zailors focused on filling the hold, but it was no use – Much food was gathered, but they were also simply too entranced to make this a solid, coherent foraging mission.

I myself became distracted by a lone home built on the island. Who did this? Was it someone who knew how they wanted to die? Or did the dying come as a surprise? It was hard to say. If only I could stay here, and live in this beauty!

But I can't. By the time my crew had finished gathering a few bushels of supplies, my eyes were burning, and my skin was turning red. We could stay no longer. Reluctantly, we went back aboard the Unfinished and departed once more into the darkness. The only zailor I found to have stayed aboard was A.J Kalan. She claimed the sun scared the zee-bats, and she needed to stay and keep them calm – but she had a fear in her own eyes as well.

Maybe she is the wisest of us all.

Janauary 28th, 1888 -
As if to drive home the point that the surface is a place of beauty and wonder, while we muddle about in a land of terror and darkness, our trip north has brought us to what must be the worst place in all the Neath.

Have I ever told you, journal, my opinion of sorrow-spiders?

I hate them. I have little revulsion from almost any other creature in the Neath – although some I view with caution and a healthy respect. No, I reserve my hate for sorrow-spiders alone.

And here we are, now, in the largest nest of them. I cannot say, however, that I am not also curious about them. I have heard that some people have learned to live a sort of symbiotic relationship with them. I decided to investigate, against the complaints of several crew members.

They call their settlement 'The Nativity', which has enough implications that I am surprised the Bishop of Southwark himself has not leaped across the whole wide Zee and burned this place with his righteous anger.

I spent some time speaking to various people about town, and handed out a few bottles of mushroom wine I'd taken from pirates to loosen tongues. It seems they have some kind of arrangement with the sorrow-spiders, indeed, for they refused to speak of them – merely of their 'generous neighbors', elsewhere on the island.

Even as I prepared to assist them with their festival to celebrate the spider-squeezings they harvest and sell, they would tell me little, other than that I should not leave the town without an escort.

I was, however, approached by a very sensible man. He wanted nothing more than to get off the island. He said he was a doctor. He would work for his way. I accepted, of course – Because he would be useful, but also because I feel duty-bound to help as many people as possible escape this scuttering, eye-stealing hell.

With that, I gladly headed north. Away from this place.

Here, two pages are torn out of the journal. They would be located later, inside of Captain Blackwood's sea-chest, in a separate envelope labeled 'Other peoples' words'. It is clearly written in her handwriting, but somehow seems older than the rest of her journal – the ink slightly more faded.

January 28th, 1888

We will be in Irem today. We will have felt the warm breezes from cold ice and have known the unusual customs of its people. They have always been polite, yet strangeness fills them and their way of life. I will always want to see this place.

Irem's harbor is beautiful. The many-headed serpent that will be constructed here has been a thing of beauty and wonder. The crew I have bought find the place wondrous, but also slightly unnerving. But there are things I will have done here, so I must finish them promptly.

I spoke to the man about the whisper-lock box I have. He tells me it is owned by another zee-captain, and only she will know the words to open it. Much like the Scholar, he has offered me a price for it, but I seek to open it as much for curiosity as for its contents. I have found the captain and learned the passphrase. All is well.

The markets of Irem are unlike anything that has been or will be or can be. They offer goods for memories and stories of times past and future. A story of my voyage buys me several bushels of parabola linen that have sold well in London. I also learn the Irem have paid me well for coffee. I can use this to my advantage.

I am purchasing a strange fish here in the market, and will be speaking to Maybe's daughter about the nature of her voyage. She was a strange zailor. I knew more than before about her.

She has sought her mother. She knows not where she will be but must find that place. I assisted her in searching Irem, but no-one knew when she would be here. There is no choice but to continue our search at other places, times.

Irem is as beautiful as it is confusing. My heart will feel heavy leaving. But there will be too many mysteries to solve. I am needed elsewhere.

I have returned someday.

End of expunged section.

January 30th, 1888 – Morning

We have left Irem's waters, and all seems to have returned to normal. However, the crew are starting to grow unsettled. I hear murmurs about us never returning to London, about the zee eating us. Even perfectly normal events have started to take on a mystical air that I must dispel.

You can also resolve this by spending a Zee-story, which lowers terror by 5. Not a bad choice if you're having trouble.

Today, we set down on Nuncio again. During our trip, the nature of this place has nibbled at the back of my mind. Today, I have decided, I will take a shift at the Dead Letters office and see if I can thus sate my curiosity.

January 30th, 1888 – Evening

I have worked my shift, and I can say, without reservation – no. The mystery has only deepens.

The dead-letter office seems to be primarily under the care of a rat. A very smart rat, and a mechanic who has created a remarkable device capable of restoring the letters that wash up on the shore. I wonder if such a device could exist elsewhere, or if Nuncio itself is special.

After helping him sort mail for several hours, I asked him if I could be permitted to enter some of the deeper rooms of the complex. He was surprisingly open and helpful about it.

Below Nuncio sits an enormous cavern, filled with what seems to be the lost mail of bygone eras. Something has been drawing things here far longer than London has been in the Neath; there must be such wonders below! But the darkness is beyond oppressive. I will need to return with light if I am to properly search it, which I shall, someday soon.

For now, we head south-west, to Khan's Shadow, to restock some of our supplies.

January 31st, 1888 -

An otherwise unremarkable day only punctuated by an attack by a group of rats who fancied themselves pirates. It went poorly for them.

Febuary 1st, 1888 - Morning

My dreams have been becoming more intense lately. I welcome this, of course, for the secrets of the Mirror-Marches can come into the mind in many ways.

Pictured – Something usually not worth gaining 5 terror.

We stopped shortly in Khan's Shadow. Just long enough to purchase some fuel and ask around for Maybe's mother – who had been here, once, but currently was not.

I purchased a good supply of fuel, and we were on our way.

I decided to take a trip through the Khanate. I'd avoided it long enough – And Port Cecil might well be on the other side of it. And in any case, Khan's Shadow was very close, and once we're in the city itself, I don't think they will fire on me without provocation. I hope.

Febuary 1st, 1888 – Evening

The Khanate is quite a place. Abuzz with activity, certainly, but in a strange way. The flows of life are similar to London, but different enough to be obvious even to a casual observer.

We entered through the southern gate, and visited the Copper Quarter – the one part of the city open to all forgieners. It is not a noteworthy or important part of the city, and I am certain that isn't without intent. The whole place is a low-class commercial quarter, and those merchants even willing to deal with me are only interested in scamming as many coins from my pocket into theirs as possible. And it all happens under the omnipresent, blindingly obvious eyes of the White-and-Golds. They could learn a few lessons from the special constables, let me tell you.

That isn't to say the whole trip was a waste. I encountered a unusual religious observance. The people here worship, or at least revere, the sky – the real sky, not the false one. After seeing the sun, perhaps I can understand why, a little. But the sky is very, very far from here, and almost no-one here has ever seen the surface. I imagine if they wound up below a REAL sky, they would be terrified.

North of the Copper Quarter lies to Nephrite Quarter. I'm told it is possible for a foreign merchant to be permitted to do business there. But I will need to be properly licensed, and for that, I will need to go north and speak to their aristocracy.

The homes of the rich Khanates are quite lavish – beautiful, in a barbaric kind of way. Not homes, for all their glory, fit for a chimneysweep or chandler, but nice, I suppose.

A short visit to the court let me learn that some of the current fads, which I could cater to in order to curry favor, should I deign to do so. I doubt it, however.

Seriously, getting into the Nephrite quarter is REALLY not worth it. It takes many hundreds of echos worth of bribes, and there's not really anything too valuble in there. And since you have Khan's Shadow nearby for resupply, you don't even need to worry about securing it in that regard. However, even if you don't plan to do much here, exploring the place is nice – There's so many little landmarks you can get about two full secrets worth of fragments for fully exploring the place.

We continued north, out of the Abora Gate, and as we left the Khanate behind, we almost immediately spotted strange coral growths. We've found the reefs. Port Cecil won't be far away now.

Febuary 2nd, 1888 – Morning

At last, we've found Port Cecil. It's even stranger than I imagined; it looks less like man built a city into the side of a coral reef than that a coral reef grew around a city man had built.

I have several orders of business to attend too, now that I'm here. First, I decided to meet the contact the Admiralty has here. Surprisingly, he'd been waiting here, patiently, for someone to pick up the message – Are zee-captains so afraid to become involved in the affairs of the Empire that this information went undelivered for this long? It might explain a little of the state of the Empire.

Next was the matter of Scintillack, for the Widow. I gathered the more hale of my crew together – Many of their number had started to murmur of bad omens and poor sleep. I would not subject them to this.

Gathering Scintillack, even merely picking it rather than breaking it from the formations all around, is a strange experience. It is impossible to shake the feeling that it is... Somehow watching you. Even now, with it secured in tightly-closed boxes deep in the hold, I feel it is observing us somehow. I hope this isn't a plot by the Widow to spy on our ship – if it is, she'll be sorely dissapointed.

It seemed like a pity to come here and not have at least one run at the local specialty – Chess. I sat down with another neophyte player, and defeated him handily. Playing here opens the mind in strange ways, lulling one into kind of a waking dream. It is an enjoyable experience.

My second match did not end well for me – and it was time to depart anyway. My ship is prepared, and we set off. Westward. For home.

Febuary 2nd, 1888 – Evening

We were attacked by a most vicious creature! A albino eel, fully as long as our ship, that broke from the surf not fifty feet from us. It was far more aggressive than other zee-beasts we had fought; in the close quarters of the reefs, we had little room to maneuver, and it shook our ship so badly I feared we might break apart before it succumbed to our continual barrage of canon-fire.

I completely failed to screen shot this fight properly. The thing was waiting right outside of Port Cecil, and I wasn't expecting it to be so MEAN. A recent patch totally overhauled how zee-beasts fight. It's difficult to do more than just exchange blows with them. This dramatically changes the game, but probably for the better – it's been weird, zailing around and seeing some of the nastiest things the game has and just thinking, 'cha-CHING!' That won't happen anymore.

I ordered it butchered for parts – Eel-bones are quite valuable, and Jones kept one of the teeth as a trophy of some kind. Slaan reported later that, while butchering it, she discovered that it had swallowed a crate of mushroom wine whole. I think, for once, I will have no issues keeping the crew away from a large stash of alcohol.

Yeah, it jumped me this close to port. The jerk.

Febuary 4th, 1888

We stopped in at Pigmote Island to pick up some supplies and check in on our rodent friends. All seems to be well there with little to report.

Febuary 5th, 1888

We've arrived in Venderbight. The first order of business is to reunite our old passenger with his... Friend? Lover? I guess it doesn't matter. She was concerned, and while I certainly considered telling her the truth of the matter of what I know of tomb-colonists, I knew very well that unless she was willing to return, I would likely never receive my pay for the initial trip from London to Venderbight, nearly a quarter of a year ago.

He did pay rather generously, thankfully. Maybe someone older and wiser (Heavens knows there are plenty of such people here) made him understand that MOST Zee-Captains would have not taken to being unpaid for the first trip so well, and he is now making amends. Well! Let us not go forwards with hate in our hearts, but I do hope he never feels the need to leave Venderbight again. Or I shall ask for payment up-front.

In any case, I knew exactly what to do with this money.

The head chef of the Vengeance of Jonah was eager to come aboard; at last, no more meals of gruel and bat-bits. Now we can have a Chiroptian polencia cake with a reduction of redspore and vinegar. It will be much better, I'm sure.

With the Bandaged Poissonnier settled in nicely – a task that took most of a day, with all the gadgets he brought into the galley – We head south. Finally. Finally. To London. This trip has been marvelous, but also taxing. I admit, I have been finding myself edgy. Many of the crew have started acting unusual. Meis has taken to staying at the railing of the ship and starting north, standing motionless for hours at a time. I think Snark is developing an addition. Arch and Night, two of the newcomers, have decided they hate each other for reasons that don't make sense and neither can agree on. And I caught Inferior singing to his pet slug. He said it'd had a nightmare and was scared.

I don't know what to think. Maybe it did. Maybe we're all having a nightmare. Maybe we can wake up and everything will be beautiful and bright and like it was under the sun.

I'm going to take some blackspore powder. Try to sleep between here and London. Grandalt can handle this leg home. Maybe the dreams will leave me alone tonight. I'll have a lot to do tomorrow in port.

So much to do.