–Today in the News—
Dateline: 30 Octembus, 2030
Byline: Marcelyn MacIlroy
A Festival of the Masks Story
More than sixteen centuries ago, on the coast of Central, a ship was fighting for its life among the jagged rocks as a storm clawed at the body of the land, dragging the ship ever closer to certain doom with each wave crashing over the side.
There were only a few of the crew left; they had been being hunted by something aboard the ship for the entire voyage, and now the seas themselves turned against them picking the remaining men off, one by one.
When they had left port—sailing from Elandia—more than a year before, there had been nearly 300 sailors aboard, and nearly the same number of passengers, but not long out of sight of land, something had gone tragically wrong… no one was alive now who remembered what it had been, but something had come then, and it had been hunting them ever since.
Some of the few survivors thought it had been borne of dark magicks, others said, no, it came out of the sea itself. Wherever it had come from, it was among them now, and once all the prey aboard this vessel was gone, it meant to abandon it, and make for the land it could see between the lightning flashes.
Within hours, the struggling ship had been gored to death on the rocks, and was going down within sight of a stretch of rocky shoreline that the survivors of the hunt and the storm thought they might be able to make it to, if they swam as hard as they could; if they swam for their lives.
There were only 15 left then, five jumped overboard as the keel ground against the rocks, and nine of the remaining ten were swept over by the rolling seas. Coming up sputtering for air, they began to pull for shore, knowing that if they could just make it to land, they would be safe at last.
But the tenth man remained; the Whitetip had been his ship, his command, and he wasn’t going to let some faceless monster take her without a fight. Though he searched the body of the ship, from stem to stern, he found no trace of the creature that had been hunting them for more than a year, and so, taking his Rutter and wrapping it in several thicknesses of oilcloth, and binding it to his back before jumping into the arms of the sea himself, praying that the ink on the pages would be preserved by the oilcloth.
Clambering ashore after an eternity in the water, bumping into what felt like every rock for hundreds of li, he looked down at his legs, and realized his feet were bleeding from the battering of wave against stone.
Dropping to his knees, he gave thanks to the Patriarch of all Mysteries for his salvation. Then, almost without being aware of it, he crumpled to the sand where he slept like the dead until the caress of the waves against his legs woke him once more.
Opening his eyes a slit, he realized that the sun had risen and by the smell of the freshening breeze, he was on land. Then memory came crashing back; the storm… the ship! What had happened to his ship?
Looking out toward the now passive sea, he saw no evidence of a ship ever having been there, and he knew that it might all have been a nightmare, but for the Rutter strapped to his back.
Remembering the heavy book at last, he clawed the straps from his shoulders and unbound the book that would be his salvation in the courts of the crown of Elandia… There it was, all the information he had gathered, all the knowledge he had accrued, all of it safe and in one location. He stared at the cover, knowing that he had to be sure it was safe, so he opened it.
There they were… his words, as precise and pristine as the day they had been written, proof positive that the oilcloth had saved the book from the clutching fingers of the sea. And he sighed in relief, knowing that he had survived it all. And he had the record of it.
Closing the book again, he wrapped it again, and slipped the straps over his shoulders, intending to try to find any of his men or passengers who had made it to this strange place as well.
He wandered along the coast for days until he finally reached a small settlement of Natives, some of whom spoke his tongue, and he was able to beg shelter from them. By then, he knew… he could feel it, he was being hunted again.
The creature had returned to finish its terrible work, but it wasn’t going to get him without a fight, he vowed, and so he husbanded his strength, resting and growing stronger again. But he knew that he had to move on; he didn’t want to endanger the good people who had sheltered, fed and clothed him so kindly.
So, he left behind a double handful of the coins he had salvaged from the wreckage that had been washing up on the beaches as payment for their kindness to him and a note stating that he was grateful but he had to move on. And he went on his way.
He heard nothing more from the good folk of that village, though others did, and by the time he was exhausted again, and forced to rest, he knew the creature was closing in slowly, gradually tightening the noose that was around his neck.
Soon, there was nothing to do, but wait for the creature to come to him, to try to take him as it had so many others.
And come it did, late one moonless night. The commander never felt the single swipe that removed his head from his neck, never felt the creature drink his cooling blood as his hearts ceased their frantic hammering at last.
But he had had the last laugh; when he had been waiting for the creature to come for him, he had put the Rutter where it would be safe, where the creature would never find it. He knew the creature wanted to destroy all trace of knowledge of its existence, and now it would fail.
The tale of the sinking Whitetip would be known, in time.
Though the commander died that night in a nameless place on the coast of Central, his name isn’t lost to history. It was Captain Nelson Dutch, heroic captain of the Whitetip, and the good ship Rubywave that served so valiantly in the battle of Xintiba during the last days of the Fyedorian Empire, who was washed ashore that night on a stretch of the coast about ten li south of the Bay of Saint Ferenc, and the town where he sheltered with the people who spoke Elandi well enough to surprise him is still there too. then it was a tiny village by the name of Shesan Point; now it is called Ferenc Coreale.
And it was there in the woods south of the sprawling modern city, on a lonely stretch of beach that anthropologists working with the University there found the remains of a ship, bearing the name Whitetip was recently uncovered. But that isn’t all of the story.
The truly frightening part is the fact that someone from the ship is still out there, still trying to bring the scattered crew back together.
There have been many sightings of people dressed in the garb of sailors of long ago, and those who have seen them say they have been muttering about finding people like the bosun’s mate, or the coxswain, or even the captain himself.
And though none have gone with them to confirm the sightings, the thought that they would sail the seas forever aboard the lost Whitetip, haunted by the creature who had devoured them in life is a powerfully frightening image for many on the coast of Central this year. Especially since more than 600 bodies have been found in that stretch of woods, all bearing signs of mutilation and violent death.
How’s that for a nightmare, folks? Imagine if you will, that you are one of the anthropologists who has found this ship, or even only some of the wreckage, and you see, up the beach something that appears to be a sailor shambling towards you.
Now, perhaps this might not be such a frightening sight, but you know something of the legends about this ship, and you might be forgiven for beginning to wonder if they aren’t true, especially when you hear him muttering about finding the bosun’…!
But when it happens to one of our own… well, the King may have done her a great service by bringing Lady di Lathomier home that day. For it was she who told me this tale. Believe it or not.
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