Silly Sunless Sea Drabbles

David Stark / Zarkonnen
20 Feb 2024, 7:35 a.m.

Some shenanigans your captain might experience in Sunless Sea.

Wait - is that... Yes, it's the Redolent Fleshmerchant, last seen running from a mob in the Chelonate. Of course he'd end up in Hideaway. What better place to be forgotten? What better place to sample the strange bounties of the sea?

He's talking to a Fatigued Campaigner, but then he recognizes you and rapidly sidles over, clearly delighted. He explains that he is no mere exile, but is rather expanding his "busineth venturth". His eyes glimmering with a demented avarice, he asks you to supply him with a large quantity of explosives upon your next visit. He has... certain backers of considerable means, and hopes to re-establish his reputation in the Chelonate by supplying them with high-quality turtle flesh.

You're walking through the corridors of the university, echoes pleasantly jangling in your pockets. You'd arrived at the Alarming Scholar's office with a number of items for sale: a serrated sea-monster tooth, a conch shell from the Elder Continent covered in incomprehensible runes, some notes on the secret feasts of the Chapel of Light, and an Ambiguous Eolith you picked up for cheap at a dockside stall in Port Palmerston. The office smelled of resin and ink and chalk, and the Scholar took their time sorting through your offerings, offering commentary as they went.

The tooth wasn't technically a tooth from an anatomical perspective - see there, the laminar matrix suggests that it's derived from a kind of baleen. And here, the venom channel. You shuddered.

The runes on the conch shell advertised some specialized services only suitable for Rubbery Men. Akin to the kind of pamphlet stuffed into your mailbox offering seances and unguents and devices to rectify the posture. Still, interesting.

The notes, too, very interesting. Certain parallels to folk beliefs practiced on Mutton Island. Oh, or perhaps an obscure connection to snuffers? Interesting, interesting. Well worth paying for.

Finally, the tiny eolith. The Scholar examined it, turning it this way and that, experimentally placing their fingers into the concavities of its shape in various configurations. There followed a small lecture on stone tools and prehistory, and then seventy echoes. Twice what you paid in Palmerston, for such a small thing, and so easily acquired. Hardly any peril at all, as long as you didn't talk to the wrong devils. Compare that to harpooning monstrous eels, searching through cursed ruins, or sweating with terror in the cold of the Chapel.

Would they be interested in more such items, if you found any? Yes.

As the Scholar dismissed you from their office, gears began to turn in your head.

And so now you are so cheerful, walking through the university, that you stop to examine a postgraduate poster about The Anatomy Of The Secondary Pharyngeal Jaw Of The Spider Eel. But only briefly. Very briefly.

You exit the university and head to your ship, forming plans.

At Palmerston, you have to put in a special order and wait for three days. Then a Salt-Smudged Devil delivers a modestly sized box containing dozens of those eoliths, cushioned in what you first think is straw but is pretty clearly human hair - never mind, each of them is different and surely interesting to the Scholar.

Back at Wolfstack, after a long time at sea where five of your crew died, and the rest nearly suffocated under a surfeit of singing fish, you remember the box. You leave your engineer to prepare the ship for much-needed repairs and head to the university.

The Spider Eel poster has been replaced with an even more gruesome one about Solacefruit-mimicking parasitic crabs. You hurry past.

The Scholar focuses their gaze on you, jaw working rhythmically. What do you bring them this time?

"You said you'd be interested in more of these stones, so I've been collecting them on me travels."

You put the box on the table and start taking out eoliths, lining them up in a neat row. The scholar holds up a hand to stop you. Then they take the very first of the stones and begin examining it. Once again, they turn it this way and that. They try out how their fingers might fit around it. They pause, retrieve a magnifying glass, and examine its surface. They pause again, uncrank their jaw, and lick the stone with their long, thick, round tongue. Then they declare themselves satisfied.

"See how they worked the flakes in a clockwise direction. Considering the angle and spacing, you can infer certain things about their anatomy. Long fingers, I think, but fewer of them. And the material - not stone at all, but antler. Very good."

They pick up the next stone and subject it to an even lengthier examination.

"Hmm. I can see how you made the mistake, but if I can direct your eye through the magnifying glass, just here, you can see cleavage patterns that clearly indicate a natural process of flaking. Perhaps of more interest to a geologist. Still, perhaps as a paperweight? One echo."

A feeling of worry begins to form in your gut. The Scholar picks up the next rock. This time, the magnifying glass and tongue are joined by a contraption that shines an electrical light through the stone, which requires various lengthy adjustments.

"Ah, now this one, you can see a variety of rutile inclusions. Did they pick it for its aesthetic value? Also observe the way they picked an unusual orientation relative to the crystal matrix so as not to disrupt the rutile boundary through percussive..."

You nod repeatedly. Seventy echoes.

The Scholar picks up the next stone. You consider the number of stones still in the box, the lateness of the hour, the grumbling in your stomach.

But the Scholar is relentless. In the end, you make... basically no profit, given the cost at Palmerston. At least the Scholar is pleased. Or perhaps just maliciously amused. You stumble out of the university. The poster has been replaced with one about venomous mushrooms. What day is it? Why do you feel quite so weak?

Of course you've slept with all of your officers. It was all very above board. And below decks in some cases, yes. Your hurried departure from the Ligeia had nothing to do with it, and all this furor is being pushed by disgruntled former business partners who aim to beat you in the race to the Gant Pole.

You watch contentedly as your crew stow the last crates of supplies aboard. Your ship, the Alabaster, for once lives up to its name, repainted fresh and gleaming by Cotterell and Hathersage after that unfortunate run-in with the bound shark. You trace your intended journey across the map in your mind: stop in at the Shepherd Isles, proceed to Polythreme to meet an informant, then to Aestival to collect sunlight, and perhaps to certain other places thereafter.

A young woman wearing an eyepatch breathlessly ascends the gangplank just before it is withdrawn. She, the Enthusiastic Arachno-Syndicalist, wants to book passage on your ship to Saviour's Rocks. You ask her to repeat herself. Yes, passage to the place with all the sorrow-spiders for her and her three crates of pamphlets. You see, only by joining humankind with spiderkind in a relationship of mutual respect free of prejudice and artificial hierarchy can true liberation be achieved.

She seems very young. Has she perchance just graduated from university? Oh no, she was at Benthic, of course, but obtaining a degree would have served to reinforce existing power relations and the artificial division of mankind into social classes based on outdated notions of privilege and the elevation of certain kinds of knowledge over others. Can she pay for her passage? Yes, while money will soon become obsolete, she understands that under the current regime, zee-captains must make ends meet.

Has she ever met a sorrow-spider? Sadly not. Oh, the eyepatch? She smiles and lifts it up, revealing an intact eye. A popular sign of Arachno-Syndicalist affiliation, she explains.

Well, you have the cargo space, and the cabin, and the payment is generous and you're heading that way anyway, so why not? The spiders will welcome her one way or another.

IS THERE A BEE MORE BUNLESS? the red scrawl on the wall asks.

You are confused. You've been walking through the narrow passageways of Venderbight's poor quarters, its inhabitants more rags than flesh, the stink of soap permeating the sodden houses. You're by now accustomed to the strange questions and heresies that can be found in every dank corner of the Zee, but this one seems frivolous.

Your bosun, equally puzzled, inspects the wall more closely, her many earrings gently tinkling as she bends her head to peer at the writing. Yes, those are definitely two bees in "bee" and "bunless". They are not esses that some joker altered into bees later. Your bosun pauses, sniffs the wall, and then carefully extends a finger, scraping off a little bit of the red paint. She sticks the finger into her mouth and suckles thoughtfully. Her eyes roll back in her head and her legs give out. You try to catch her, but she slides to the floor, banging her head on a discarded skull.

You curse the fact that your most recent doctor was eaten by spiders and check the bosun's pulse. Slow and steady. You make sure she's comfortable and draw level with the writing. Feeling foolish as you do so, you also sniff the wall. It smells of clay, and soap, and the sweetness of rot, but there's another sweetness beneath that. Honey. Red honey.

You sit down on a pile of skulls and wait. Eventually, your bosun comes to.

"What did you see?"

She looks around her, panicked. "It's true! The bee! It..."

She pauses. "Never mind, Captain."

You return to your ship, and you decide not to commit that particular episode to the logbook.