Adrift on the Ocean
A submission by Mark Thornton
1. The light filters painfully between the salted slits of your eyes, your head throbs like a demon’s rage and tongue is glued to the roof of your mouth with a sour taste you would gladly rinse away with slat water. And that’s all you can do. The storm that hit the ship you were crewing on last night was swift and terrible. A tropical cyclone that tore the twin masts from the deck with cataclysmic ferocity. You got hit on the head by a falling spar but that’s about it for your recollections of last night.
It dawns on you, perhaps inspired by the blush spreading up from the horizon that you are still alive – take that in the eye, you shades of the night! Surely you can’t be the only survivor? And how come you feel (largely) dry? You struggle to break through the insistent ache pounding on your skull and see that you are in a rowing boat and you are far from being alone. Captain Zkurvay sits bolt upright, holding the tiller and seven other nautical refugees are packed to the gunnels in the small craft. There is a dwarf clinging tightly to your right leg and a hobb nestled against your chest – that explains why your breathing was so laboured. You are not (yet) having a heart attack.
As you push your fellow travelers aside and sit up, you suddenly feel ravenously hungry. ‘Skipper!’ you call. ‘DO we have vittles? Do we have water?’
Zkurvay grins without humour, chews his lip, then spits. Whether it was flesh or saliva, you cannot tell. ‘We have a precious little by way of sustenance, mate. Not enough for all eight of this cursed crew, by Trollgod!’ He looks round at his companions. We have a perhaps a week’s rations if we are parsimonious. A week for seven not for eight. One of you must jump ship and swim. The current may take you somewhere better.’
Terror flits form one mariner’s face to the next. Who will be cast off. Make a L1 SR on CHR. If you make it go to (2). If you fail, the die is cast. You are the unlucky soul who must surrender to the great unknown. The captain and crew tell you to close your eyes while they offer a prayer for your everlasting spirit but when you shut your eyes, you are sized and tossed unceremoniously over board. The end.
2. A sigh of relief goes round the boat. It is the hobb who is selected for a one way ticket to the seabed. He has one eye and half his nose was eaten away by a gremlin in a bun fight at a baker’s last time you made port. His looks have counted against him. Go to (3).
3. Zkurvay breaks out the rations – hard tack biscuits and salted pork, always a favourite. As he hands you the meager morsels that will be your diet for heaven knows how long, a goblin grabs the food from your hands. When you protest, he springs at you, slavering and shrieking. The captain and the other seafarers crowd back in the stern to see who will win. There is nothing for it but to fight hand to hand for dear life. It is soon apparent that the goblin is trying to heave your sorry carcass overboard. You do the same without pity. Roll 3d6 for the goblin’s strength then both attempt saving rolls on this attribute. As soon as one of you makes a higher level roll than the other, he tips his opponent into the foaming sea. If you go into the briny, you quickly become numb with cold and are visited by a shark. Finis. If you heave the goblin out into the waves go to (4).
4. The boat seems tiny amidst the great rollers that reign in your otherwise featureless world. One towering waves picks ‘Little Shippy’, as the captain calls your haven against the elements, up aloft and drops it back into a trough between the whitecaps. Someone has been lost overboard! Was it you? Make a L1 SR on DEX to adjust and balance your weight while you can. If you fail, your lungs quickly fill with ocean and your heart stops beating. If you make it go to (5).
5. Your ‘Little Shippy-mates’ are overjoyed when the seas calm and are ecstatic when they see that there are just five passengers remaining. No one misses the dwarf troll who went into the deep – you all thought he would soon demand your share of the food and no one fancied trying to stop him. It seems strange to be becalmed after an eternity of being tossed like a Khazanian wimple and a mood of mistrust settles on the survivors. Go to (6).
6. You eye each other warily. There is no pressing reason to seek to remove another now that food and water concerns have eased but these dire circumstances do not charity make for. Suddenly, an elf who has been stonily silent up until now, lets out an ungodly howl and lunges at you with a knife. Make a L1 SR on SPD – are you able to react in time to seize his wrist and turn the blade against its wielder? If you fail, the dagger slices into your throat, severing an artery and sluicing everyone with your life blood. You cannot long do without this vital fluid. Your corpse is fed in pieces methodically to fish trailing Little Shippy. If you make the roll, you turn the tables on the crazed elf and it his blood that flows fast and fatally. Captain Zkurvay eyes you with grudging respect and you notice you are given more room in the boat after this show of prowess. Go to (7).
7. A few hours later, the dwarf whom you woke to find attached to your leg suggests you try catching the fish teeming about Little Shippy. Everyone is cheered by this prospect of action – it tears away the curtain of futility that had been drawn across your souls. The task proves easy and each of you soon holds in their hands a squirming, fresh piece of meat. You are about to take the sea creature to your lips and tear into it when you pause. Make a L1 SR on INT. Go to (8).
8. If you failed the roll you eat the sashimi-style feast greedily. A mistake. Not one that you are destined to learn from though. The fish is poisonous. Your lips, then your throat and finally your heart swell to bursting point then burst they do. You explode messily all over your remaining companions who curse you for a sloppy diner. Not that you know. If you make it go to (9).
9. You recognize the purple belly spots as a sign of poison and yell a warning to the others. All heed your admonishment and are (very slightly and temporarily) grateful bar the dwarf who cannot stop his teeth from closing. He looks stunned and gulps, taking fish flesh down with that gulp. It is he, not you, who plumps up outside and in and splatters his mortal remains over his mates and Little Shippy. Some of you bother to wash; some are past caring. Go to (10).
10. Mercy be! Your eyes spot a hump on the horizon. It is not a whale but an island and the currents are taking you that way. Praise be to Trollgod! But all is not rosy in your garden yet. As you approach the atoll, Zkurvay fails to navigate safely through the reef – uncharted territory so let’s not be too harsh here, lads! Little Shippy has its bottom torn off and you all tumble out into the water. The reef is razor sharp and cuts are lethal in short order. Make a L1 SR on LK. If you fail, you are crisscrossed with cuts and pass out instantly due to the microorganisms that gleefully make their way into your bloodstream and play havoc with your cell structure. Adieu. If you make the roll go to (11).
11. Zkurvay drags Little Shippy with its gaping hole on to the beach and stands panting next to you. As you both suck in long breaths, from the trees hurtle croco-uruks, the result of a strange coupling many moons ago, which would not be legal even in Khazan. You must fight bare-handed against one of these snapping, snarling monsters. After surviving so much, you are not ready to die. Your blood is roused and you stand tall against a foe you might normally run from. If you fight with your hands, roll the 1d6 you again and add if you get an even number. You are possessed with an indomitable will to live!. The croco-uruk has a MR of 10. You may cast a spell if you can. If you are unable to win this battle, your atoms become united with those of your killer, deep within its stomach walls. If you triumph, go to (12).
12. As you shake off the grip of battle-lust, you take in what has happened to the others. The captain stands above two throttled croco-uruks. But there is another body, limbs askew, intertwined with those of one of the monsters. The slight man who had seemed most friendly has perished in the skirmish – but now you can see that ‘he’ was really a ‘she’. Zkurvay seems distraught at the death of this sixth member of your group of survivors and begins digging a grave with his bare hands. He won’t answer any of your questions and becomes taciturn to the point of silence. Go to (13).
13. You find shelter but have to move on regularly over the next few days to avoid the croco-uruks who are aware of your presence on their island, you are certain. You find only strange fruits to eat and water supplies run out. It is unconscionably hot by day and unnaturally cold at night. Your body is visibly deteriorating and so is Zkurvay’s. He has not spoken to you since the fight on the beach and seems to look through you. It would be easy to hope not to wake when you finally find the peace of sleep in the moon-drenched nights you spend on the atoll. Perhaps you will not wake. Make a L1 SR on your current CON (perhaps you took spite damage in combat?). If you fail, your spirit breaks free during the night and you succumb to the temptation of going to a better place. If you make it go to (14).
14. You wake and rub crusted eyes clean. Blearily, you look about you and see a peaceful expression on the Captain’s face. You shake him but to no avail. He has left you to join his unrequited love in another dimension. You are alone and know not what to do. Days pass in which you scarcely manage to elude croco-uruk hunters. You struggle to keep a grip on your sanity. Is it worth the effort, you ask yourself, the question itself restoring some faith in your destiny. Go to (15).
15. You realize one morning that you have circumnavigated the island when you sight Little Shippy on the beach not far from the grave Zkurvay dug. Wistfully, you wander to the boat with the ruptured bottom and climb over the gunnels and imagine it is sea worthy again and you are its esteemed captain. As your mid pictures the scene, an eerie chill ripples down your spine. Go to (16).
16. Make a L1 SR on WIZ. If you make it go to (18). If you fail go to (17).
17. ‘Little Shippy’ shimmers and vanishes as you stand bemused yet apprehensive. Instead of the boat you once traveled in, a man with demonic eyes emanating avarice confronts you, drooling with anticipation. A shape-shifter! He utters a low moan…”ji – mi-ji –mi-gi-me-gi-me” and reaches out with both hands and draws you into his being. You retain a vestige of consciousness, aware that he has completely and utterly subsumed you. Your very thoughts are his to do with as he will, your memories, your feelings, your imaginations. You are now immortal but have no control over your own destiny. The end.
18. ‘Little Shippy’ shimmers and vanishes as you stand bemused yet apprehensive. Instead of the boat you once traveled in, a man with demonic eyes emanating avarice confronts you, drooling with anticipation. A shape-shifter! He utters a low moan…”ji – mi-ji –mi-gi-me-gi-me” and reaches out with both hands and attempts to draw you into his being. However, you summon a warding chant of you own…”su-su-su-zhaym-dus-grayz-dus-grayz!” As you utter these magically-charged syllables you did not know resided within you, the creature throws its hands up and shrieks pitifully. It writhes in torments of indescribable self-loathing and flickers and fades, recalled to the hell pit where it was spawned.
In its place is a fine rowing boat, stocked with weapons, water, provisions, charts, compass and sextant. The tide rolls in and rolls out again with you at the tiller, bound for home or adventure. You have done a good thing here and come though against the odds. Take 300 APs and the thanks of heaven.