Part II – Click here for Part I
“More stories? I suppose. Judging from the black on those thunderheads, it’ll be naught but fools shippin out for the next few nights. Listen, you keep the fire in my brain fueled with that sleazy grog they pour over at The Sinner’s Conundrum, and I’ll melt your ears with a tale. Walk with me.”
Later, at the Sinner’s Conundrum-
“So you’ve heard about the Maelstrom, right? No? Good god, child, you really are new to the Estuary, aren’t you? Well, its that great whirlpool out as far as anyone’s gone. Some folks say it’s the center of Mindsea, but who’s to say it has a center? Anyway, the folks who say it’s the center also think the beach stretches out in a great circle, though no one can see the bend. Since I never seen the end of the beach either way, I don’t suppose I can argue with ‘em.
One of the first things you should know about the ‘Strom is that the Buddha-Whales and the Shadows Below both steer clear of it. You won’t see either of them within a few days journey of the whirlpool. So that’s something, though it don’t exactly make it safe.
If you’re crew on a ship that goes way out, you’ll see it. But it don’t much look like a whirlpool. It just looks like a wall of water, wide as the horizon, that decided to go sideways. But the weirdness don’t end at sea level. The skies aren’t right around the maelstrom. They’re yellow-green and clear, like they get sometimes on the physical before a tornado. But the tornado, or ‘spout, never comes. There’s just that merciless tension, the water going sideways, the godsdamned and witch-cursed living storms.
Aye…the storms, each screaming with the fury of the 10 pantheons. And by fury I refer rather fuckin specifically to the Storm Kings- more of’em than you can catch with a gaff hook. Each of those whore-sons runs their own cloud. You’ll be alright if its Zeus and company you run across- sure you’ll have to kill a few animals and endure a lot of beard-strokin, but it really ain’t so bad. Then there’s some that’s dangerous, but not mad or evil- like Thor. For a Storm King, he’s a jolly enough soul, but if yer cap’n don’t accept the challenge Thor issues him, he’ll kill you all dead right there. He don’t like cowards. Or giants. But if the weather that finds you is captained by Rudra, the relentless wind or gods forbid, Set-the-godsdamn-blackened-cloud, you’re done, just done. It’s blood on the deck, screams in the air and that’s it.
If yer boat don’t end up a blasted wreck, the Storm Kings’ll talk yer damn ear off. They love to go on about the so-called secrets of the universe, tellin you about how they each personally defeated chaos and brought order to creation. I was on a ship once that had the “privilege” to hold palaver with one of the older Storm Kings, El. We threw our salted meat off the side of the ship in sacrifice, and then the winds lectured us for a couple hours, telling us about all the goddeses he bedded and battles he won. Then he gets on to howlin’ about the Grand Generator- the spinnin wheel of creation. He ranted on and on, explaining that the generator built up a charge, and that charge was where the Storm King’s get their lightning, their “Vajra” he called it. He also whispered, jus to me, that the Great Generator’s beneath the waves, an its whats turnin the Maelstrom. I can’t rightly say I’m the type to put my trust in talkin clouds, but between you and me- I believe’em.
Aside from the clouds, you’ll find all sortsa weird creatures round the edges of ‘Strom. The Dreamers, the ones from the material that just stay for a voyage or two- they go crazy for the beasts. I can’t count how many books I seen from the Material, pages covered with scrawl about the monsters round the‘Strom. An’ not all of its crazy. You staple all them tomes together and you’d have a half decent collection of what you might find out there.
One of them was some slick Greek came through awhile back. He stayed longer than most Dreamers and ended up a half decent cartographer. We still use that lying fucker’s nautical charts. Anyway, he came back from one trip ravin’ about monsters he met out in the side-waters. One was a squid with wolves growin out of its arms, and a naked dame where a beak shoulda been. Scylla, I think he called it. Anyway that’s the kind of qlip you’ll see out there. Crazy beasts, stitched together outta broken lives n nightmares.
There was another Dreamer, a skinny fella name a Po. He wasn’t worth a qlip as a seaman, either above decks or below. Did nothing but worry, nag on people and drink. Grated on folks nerves so bad, his mates tossed him overboard- right into the middle of the ‘Strom. Now, I have no idea how it happened, but he actually washed up on the shore of the Estuary a few weeks later, three-quarters dead and looking like an even bigger pile than before. That haunted fucker just mumbled to himself and hiked his way back up the River. Never saw him again. I hear he was a fountain of creepy nonsense once he got back to the Physical.
Now, the most interesting thing I ever heard about the ‘Strom was from a mad cap’n with a mangey half-beard an eyes the color of pus. He ran a pirate crew based out of the Den and went by the name a Jack. Oh, he’d scream your ear off about his travels. He told everyone who’d listen, and some who wouldn’t, about how he was the only man to pilot a ship into the heart of the ‘Strom. Beautiful vessel, she was, named “The Crimson Princess.” Anyway, this mad bastard plied the sidewaters, stayed clear of the Buddha Whales and gave the laugh to the Shadows Below. Qlip, he even skirted the Storm-Kings. He drove into those bleedin sidewaters til he and his crew were looking out over the edge of the Maelstrom’s center. Jack says it was almost straight down, like it was Hell’s pit. Faces stared up out the frothy waves, and dirges from a thousand tongues filled the air. To hear him tell it, the waves sang, he yelled, his ship gave a creak and that was that. He and his whole crew plunged headlong into the watery grinder.
And what he told me he seen there, I don’t much believe. But this is a conversation about lore, which is a nice way of sayin rumor. So I’ll tell ya. Anyway, so he’s falling and there’s the sound of wood ripping and men screaming. Then its dark water, roaring and blackness. An that’s the part that makes sense. But what he told me next is hard to believe, even of the Mindsea.
He tells me he wakes up in this crazy palace with mother-a-pearl coatin’ every surface he could see. Opalescent rainbows, Jack says, just loving the way the words sound. And lookin up, he sees this beautiful girl, wearing next to nothing, decked out like the queen of whores. Anyway, he says he’s half mast by the time he notices the throne, and what’s more, the thing on it. There’s this serpent, what people might call a dragon. This thing roars and Jack says his mast might as well’ve snapped in two. Which is, apparently what happened to the dragon. ‘Cause once he got a closer look, he saw that this beast was cut right in the middle, the head and tail parts makin’ an effort to hold themselves together. Then the top half gets to talkin, and the bottom half slithers away, revealin a big toothy mouth where there should have been a gapin wound.
So the top half of the dragon starts yelling that he’s the king of the maelstrom, and the bottom half screams back no, he’s the qlip eatin king of chamber pots! The two start circling each other, arguing about who stole their magical staff an which one of em owns the pearl of wisdom. Then they get together an start conspiring, dragon face next to toothy hole, plottin and talking about the revenge they were gonna get on some old Storm King named Marduk.
Now while the serpent’s halves are getting cozy, that minx who roused him earlier slinks up and whispers in his ear. “Welcome to the palace of Varuna,” she says. “They are Rahu and Ketu, what is left of Tiamat. They are the Grand Generator.” As she says it, he sees this cackling electricity arcing between the halves of the dragon, building with every pass they make at one another. Then quick-like, she thrusts this black pearl into his hand, telling him “This is the pearl of wisdom.” Sometimes Jack’ll get liquored to the gills and tell you he seduced that woman and stole her heart along with that pearl, but that’s just pirate talk. Anyhow, second he touches the gem, he blacks out and when he wakes up he’s on the beach, as close to dead as can be. But he had that godsdamned pearl. Carries it with him to this day. If you can catch him half-talkative, he’ll show you. Between us, I’ve got half a mind to try and steal it.
Speaking of black outs, I’m think I’m bound for the abyss myself. Buy me another bottle and leave it.”