The Ghost Ship
She loomed out of the mist, a two-masted caravel. Behind her frightening figurehead of an angry-looking gorgon, we could make out her name,
. Clearly an old ship, she had been wrought in the style of the previous century, yet her paintwork was bright and her worn ironwork was still whole and clean. Not a soul could be seen on her decks as she drifted through the unearthly fog. Chains and lines hung sloppily over various parts of the ship’s rail, to no purpose that we could then divine.
Hearing no response to our hails, I readied a prize crew to board the silent vessel. Captain Bradigoss was reluctant at first, but finally agreed to allow it. Filled with unease, the grizzled old salt ordered me sternly to take the ship’s strongest fighters, but couldn’t name any particular reason.
Once aboard her, we soon found signs of heavy fighting. Blood and debris littered her below decks, and the stench of death filled her, worse than a charnel house in the summer’s heat. There in the depths of the accursed ship, we were set upon; sailors staggered forth from the shadows, wildly swinging knives and cutlasses, any weapon that lay to hand. At first, the men struck back, slaying several of the mariners. Then, as our eyes adjusted to the gloom, we could see that these men had no eyes! Bleeding holes yawned where their eyes should have been, and as their mouths opened in inarticulate screams of rage and pain, we could see that their tongues had been rudely hacked out as well! Unwilling to massacre these accursed wretches out of hand and hearing the noise of others approaching from the lower deck, we fell back, retreating to our longboat.
In our preliminary exploration of the uncanny vessel, I had found a book that appeared to be the captain’s log. Once we were safely away from the vessel, I took the opportunity to glance through it, hoping to find some clue about whatever bizarre misfortune had stuck the crew of The Lady Tantalia. The journal’s entries shed little light upon the situation, but what hints they provided were very disquieting:
The Log of Captain Shahnersson
Month of the Scarlet Dome, Feast Eve of St. Diofaldus: Set out from Inglesborg with a full cargo of Eastern cloth. Men in good spirits, in expectation of rich bonus upon our return to Empire ports. Some clouds, gusty winds. Ordered men to reduce sail in expectation of storms, but captain hopes to outrun worst of it.
Several entries later:
Month of the Scarlet Dome, Eve of Desrettis Fast: Finally, fair weather! Men’s spirits improving at passing of storm and lower seas; some damage reported to sheets and storm sails. Encountered wreckage floating in water, apparently from merchant vessel foundered in storm; items recovered included several barrels of grog, one watertight chest containing small personal effects, and a figurehead in good condition.
The next day something unusual happened:
Month of the Scarlet Dome, Day of Desrettis Fast: Vessel damaged by collision with unknown object. Some damage to bowsprit, the figurehead, and along port side of vessel. Five crewmen (followed by names) injured in collision, but hull damage repaired by ship’s carpenter. Figurehead replaced by one recovered from wreck; some grumbling among crew, as new figurehead is of gorgon; more suited to warship than trader.
A week after that:
Month of Griffons Fall, Day of Harvest Calling: Ship’s Surgeon believes illness is aboard, but cannot identify. Several sailors unable to sleep, claim a ghost aboard ship. They claim to have been bitten by ghost of poisonous snake, each has black spot on limb. Men sent to search crew quarters for snakes; some nuisance contraband found, but no reptiles. Some reports of woman on vessel, but no women found in search.
The final entry:
(Undated, in a different hand) Captain and Lieutenant dead of stony curse; most men have spot on limb; other men missing altogether; Sailors with spots tearing own eyes out and cutting own tongues, claim only way to survive is to serve lady. Lady strong and solid now, killing any who resist her with stony curse.
As our longboat fell behind the drifting ship, I again noticed the lines and chains dangling from the vessel silently drifting closer to our ship; especially a stout chain trailing into the depths, with objects hanging from it. If only I hadnt kept looking! If only the water had been less clear! I could have been spared the sight of dozens of sailors, their faces bearing expressions of utmost agony and horror, men transformed into statues of solid stone!
After we made it back to the ship, the Captain had us arm ourselves and wait, all hands standing silently on deck. In the calm seas, we could see the accursed vessel drifting nearer, her decks now packed with members of her blind and accursed crew. Through the mists, we couldn’t quite make out the female shape that stood among them, noting only the suggestion of writhing serpents on her head and the hissing voice that commanded her crew of blind madmen.
Somehow I sensed that, when we were close enough to board, all our swords and axes would be futile; this day would end with none alive but the blind and the mad.
This encounter is meant to be a bit bizarre and surreal, with off-key scenes of horror that will catch the PCs off guard.
The steps needed to destroy this dreadful undead gorgon are unclear. Perhaps the destruction of the gorgon figurehead would suffice, or perhaps she has grown too strong for that. She is likely to try to infiltrate another ship if hers is destroyed, taking the shape of a ghostly sea viper and biting the sailors when they are in darkened areas. Her ghostly bite is not lethal, but drives men mad; those bitten may hear her voice in the darkness, inviting them to make that darkness last forever. Her tendency to keep trophies dangling in the water around the ship may give warning to others about the threat that awaits them.