Dark Tales V – The Ship

Bulat-Pestivien Notre-Dame de Bulat Ankou 04

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The great ports have witnessed the comings and goings of a thousand years, of merchants, of privateers, and of ships of war. Whether the port hosts ships of the sea, of space, of dimension, or of time, matters not. Here meet and mingle the currents of history, of commerce, and of culture. In that seething cauldron facts and fancy mingle in a thousand tales. Tales of heroism and valor, of adventure and exploration, of bold attempts and even of disaster are told freely, in the light.

Other tales are whispered in the darkness, and from it draw their strength.

With the rising of the mist the chill of the deeps – of fathomless space, of wild seas, and of time itself – seeps within the tavern, where wavering tendrils of mist slip beneath the door and crawl across the floor to challenge the warmth and light within, twining around the legs of the intoxicated and sending the finest of strands of scent and moisture to mingle with their life’s breath.

The voice is rough from years of shouted orders, the hands strong and calloused – and the faint swirling of mist that follows each gesture teases the eye with almost-pictures to accompany the whispered tale.

The burdens and clothing have changed across the millennia. But the faces and the scene are always the same, playing out again and again across the years, an experience shared across all the generations of man.

A frantic crowd pressed towards the docks, and the few remaining ships. Women clutched children, men clutched the tools of their livelihood, and children clutched toys and pets in incomprehension. The cries and sobs of men, women, and children for relief, for each other, for news, for food, and for water, mingled into a roaring cacophony. There were injuries in the press, and sometimes deaths. Families were broken apart by human tides, and some would never know their loved ones fates.

All sought passage at any price, if not for themselves, then for their children, to escape onrushing doom – whether war, disaster, or plague mattered not.

Kindly captains choose as best they could, crammed their vessels to capacity, and sought safe harbors for the helpless refugees they carried. The mercenary sought payment – but payment could be found in plenty for any reasonable crew; what did money mean to the refugees in the face of death?

The Ankou was large, and fast, and well able to defend itself. It’s captain took aboard the children of the pressing throng, asking of their parents a reasonable sum, and urging them to give their sons and daughters whatever they could to help them find homes in safer realms. It packed itself with the innocent and helpless – and, filled to capacity, fled the harbor well ahead of onrushing destruction.

And when they were far beyond the docks – well out of sight, where none would see… the doors were locked to separate them into manageable groups, and the children slaughtered. Whatever there was of value about them – any money or precious goods that their parents had pressed upon them, anything which could be taken from their bodies, whether before or after death – joined their passage-prices deep in the hold. The blood was sluiced away, the bodies dumped – and the Ankou took full advantage of it’s speed, racing to the next threatened port, to once more offer kindly rescue.

But then there came a port where news had at last outraced the Ankou. It was known that it had picked up a packed cargo of refugee children shortly before – far too short a time before to have taken them anywhere but into death.

The doomed crowd sought vengeance for the slaughter of innocents promised escape, for cruel murder, and for the betrayal of hope. Many died – but even the well-practiced killers of the Ankou could not stand against such a horde. Their defense and escape failed – and the Ankou foundered, perhaps dragged to it’s doom by the vast fortune in blood-money weighting down it’s hold.

Now the Ankou sails, accursed – it’s spectral crew seeking out the scattered souls of the children it betrayed long past, snatching their new incarnations – and sailing across time and space to their ancient destinations, bound to accomplish now the promises that they had broken – no matter how loud the screams of protest, for only thus may they purchase even a moments rest.

As the moving fingers still, and the mist calms, the spinner of tales rises silently and departs, vanishing into the rolling fog outside – leaving behind to pay his tab a single, ancient, coin.

The times when the Ankou may trouble the waking world are brief and far between – times of crisis, or when dark powers rise. Then terrible dreams come, and dreamers wake screaming. Fits of madness come upon folk in the street, and evil men – murders and worse – hear the call, and gather, perhaps to find redemption battling an evil darker than theirs, and perhaps to join it. With fog and darkness comes the Ankou, whether to abduct victims in “fulfillment of their oath”, to once more repeat their ancient crimes in the midst of some terrible crisis, to hold their terrible version of “shore leave”, or to recruit more dark spirits to add to the horde (or perhaps hoard) of specters which lurk beneath it’s decks.

The specters of the Ankou can be fought, and even “slain” – but none yet, however mighty, have been able to prevent them from rising again to trouble the world, has sailed with the Ankou and returned, or has succeeded in calling forth mercy from the crew’s still hearts. 

If you want to look back, here we have…

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