Tales of Tallow and Ash

This is a place where I’ll post stories related to the Scorched Sailor, his companions, and my other characters, if they don’t fit into any active RP threads. It’s nice to be able to put these stories out somewhere.

If this doesn’t interest you, then pass this thread on by. If you’re still reading, thanks a bunch!

The Scorched Sailor can also be seen in The Argo, an impossible voyage and a tale of obsession, the Shade Hunt, a deadly chase to stop a murderous Shadow, and he has made appearances at the Inflammatory Salon and last Hallowmas’ eventful party. The story of how he got his ship, The Reckoning Postponed, can be found over in The Tower of Mind and Law, although by now that tale might need a few revisions.

I’ll keep the list updated and post here whenever there’s a story to tell – thanks for reading!

  1. DELIVERANCE: In which the Sailor is taken to the Doctor’s and a number of postal errands are completed.

  2. HUNT: In which the Sailor searches for a moment of clarity.

  3. HAVING RECURRING DREAMS: DEATH BY WATER: In which the Sailor sleeps, and is visited.

  4. UBI SUNT: In which the Sailor tries to find himself.

  5. SACKS: In which The Courier gets into the Christmas Spirit.

  6. THALASSOPHOBIA: In which the Waterlogged Mechanic tries to help.

  7. TAROT: In which the Sailor seeks answers in the cards.

  8. CONSIDER PHLEBAS: In which a Storm abates.

  9. CREW MANIFEST: In which a document is scandalously leaked from the Ministry of Public Decency, and we finally meet our crew.

  10. PREPARATIONS: Rumours are milled and plans are made.
    edited by Barse on 10/11/2018


[OOC: This takes place during the events of the Shade Hunt, after the Scorched Sailor is dismembered by his quarry. Down one arm, the Sailor begins this story bleeding and out cold. He will return to the hunt after this ordeal is done. I nicked some text and the general idea from the most recent ES, The Clay Man’s Arm (which, for the most part, I thought was very good).]

             [url=http://fallenlondon.storynexus.com/Profile/the%20courier]The Courier[/url] is working.

Footsteps echo through the mausoleum like thunder, disturbing air that has not been disturbed for years. The lid to a stone casket shakes. Masonry shudders, and dust swirls around the casket’s inscription. Lady Elizabeth Gossamer, 1850-1882. Taken too soon, waiting for love. The great stone door – carved with crying cherubs and neat little piles of bones – crashes open, doing considerable damage to both door and wall. A hulking figure stands in the doorway clutching something crumpled in a gigantic hand. It stomps over to the casket, and lays its burden down next to a serene depiction of Lady Gossamer’s face.


Left once more in peace, the crumpled piece of paper settles with the dust, gently unfurling. It is a letter, faded and old. It lacks an envelope. 21st December 1881, it reads. Dearest Liza, I hope this letter finds you in good health. I have latterly realised something important…

The Courier is working.

A man in Hollow Street is perturbed to find a box full of cats thrust into his arms by a large figure in a postman’s uniform that disappears into an alleyway before he can object. Later he will return home to a house infested with rats, and will find a use for his new acquisitions. For now, he is puzzled.

A society woman, taking an evening stroll down Elderwick Avenue, is startled to find what appears to be a prison shiv offered to her, hilt first, by a hand that is grey as granite and twice as big as her own. Later that evening her husband will raise a hand to her, and she will send him to the doctor’s, the small blade buried in his palm. That hand will shake for the rest of his life. For now, though, she slips the small instrument under the band of her corsage, meaning to dispose of it later.

A family on Tollway Street, huddled together to escape the cold, are delivered an eviction notice, two weeks after it was issued by their landlord and one week after said landlord turfed them out. It helps them not one bit.

The Courier is working.

He is halfway to Grabskirt Lane, rounding onto Mammoth Street, when something catches his impenetrable brain like a fishhook. The sounds of conflict echo from around Seven Devils Square. He is suddenly possessed of a familiar certainty.


He creeps as best he can (which is badly) towards the sounds of battle, hearing nothing but his own internal imperative. There is something happening here, something brutal and bloody, but he does not care. He cares about the message. He finds it slumped against a wall, still and cooperative. He heaves the message onto his shoulder, where it hangs limply. The message will be delivered.

The Scorched Sailor drifts in and out of consciousness as his large frame is carried unceremoniously through the London streets. Somewhere along the line someone had fashioned a makeshift tourniquet and tied it around his stump, and he stares faintly at this as his captor – saviour? – weaves tirelessly in and out of alleyways. Once he surfaces from unconsciousness to find the world around him dark, and wonders how long he’s been out, only to realise that the huge figure is carrying him deep underground.

Tunnel walls. The damp drip of stalactites. Pain. Heavy, inexorable footsteps. A sign above an arched opening.


The heavy landing of his body onto a cold, hard surface rouses the Sailor somewhat, sending shooting pain all through his body. He does not feel quite connected to the pile of rag-clad flesh on the operating table – this was a doctor’s? – and he registers the pain much like one might register the yowling of an alley cat. Something heavy clangs down beside him.

“FIX.” A voice like a landslide. “MESSAGE DELIVERED.” Footsteps recede like thunder. A small face appears at the edge of the Sailor’s vision. Grey. A Clay Man, but thin, and… different.

“You’re not doing so well there, are you?” the Clay Scholar asks, his words the skittering of pebbles. “I wonder, am I the only “doctor” that freak knows? No matter. It’s best to do what it says, and besides… You will do nicely.” He concentrates on the heavy object that was dropped beside the Sailor. “Not yet dead. Good.” Busying himself around the table, he readies instruments with precise and rocky fingers. The Sailor is powerless to move, and does not really want to: he fears that if he is able to move his body, he will be able to feel it too, and the pain is not something he wishes to re-experience. The Scholar, a needle looking extremely small and delicate in his hand, warms up to his captive audience. “They all thought it wasn’t possible, of course. The key is recognising that interactions between the two materials, while malleable, already exist.” The needle is full of some kind of anaesthetic, and the Sailor can feel himself falling into sleep. “Clay and flesh… and, my, what have we here, wax? Hrmm. Clay, flesh, wax, they all stand in relation already. Divisions or states of being, you see…” From then on, all is darkness.

A Clay Man raps on the hull of the ship that the fearsome figure had directed him towards, pebbles and debris falling from a craggy break above the elbow of one arm. The ship is huge, and looks almost like it’s falling apart, and the Clay Man is on the verge of denouncing the messenger as a madman when a small, damp head pokes a head out from a porthole (or was it just a hole in the hull?).

The Waterlogged Mechanic calls down to the one-armed figure. “Can I help you?”

The Clay Man gazes up. “My name’s Talus. I was sent here, and told to give you a message…”

The Courier watches as the Waterlogged Mechanic’s posture changes and Talus is beckoned aboard The Reckoning Postponed. He can see the shapes of things in the leaden obfuscate of his head, and right now they are shifting. Two messages survive now that were not going to survive this morning. The Sailor will not now bleed out, mortally wounded in a fight he could never have won, unable to be saved by his friends. Talus will not now meet the sledgehammers of Jasper and Frank for running a rival smuggling operation. Instead, the Sailor will soon wake, healed, in a way, and be reunited with those he was taken from. Instead, Talus will find a use for his skills at zee, working for someone new. Two stories that would not have touched now will. The Courier cannot comprehend this, as such, but he is aware that his actions have changed something. He is fulfilling his function. No word lost. Universal deliverance approaches.

The half-light of Wolfstack’s gas-lamps illuminates his ancient postal uniform and impassive, craggy face. Huge and Clay, something is scratched into his forehead; old, illegible. He turns into the darkness of an alleyway before it’s possible for anyone to make the letters out. He proceeds into the city, slow, unstoppable. “MESSAGE DELIVERED.”

The Courier is working.
edited by Barselaar on 3/19/2017


[Fruits of the Zee seemed a good time to write something based on one of my favourite pieces of text, the result for hunting a Plated Seal as a Monster-Hunter. It’s weird and maybe nonsense and an extremely loose interpretation of what goes on down there, but I had fun.]

I stand at the railing of my ship as the zee breeze explores the ridges and whorls of my bare skin. My crew are asleep; or at least, they want me to believe they are asleep. The deck is creaking and empty, the cantankerous engine is silent in the bowels. We have deliveries to make and jobs to run and I know that the crew would prefer to be moving and out under the false-stars. I am grateful for their allowances.

The mirror of dark water that confronts me comes as a comfort. The zee does not forgive, they whisper in the corners of taverns, not understanding that it’s less than that, that it is not forgiveness that the zee lacks, but care. Your race, your creed, your past, your family, your future, your shame, the long ugly welts that scar every inch of your skin – I struggle to halt the rush of thoughts – bounce equally back or are swallowed at random, killed or saved without thought or judgement.

I stretch, and stand upright, breathing salt air as vertebrae crack and some long-held tension in my shoulder pops. Tonight is good. The false-stars illuminate a clearer night than we’ve seen in months. I heft a jagged bone spike without realising I’ve reached for it. I wait, fingers drumming on the notched harpoon, desperately self-conscious and and trying to summon the Hunter’s calm. Somewhere close, there’s the slightest disturbance in the water.

I dive –

– the cold takes a few seconds to realise I’m there and then wraps around my bones, python-like, and some precious air escapes before –

– the serrated shape of the plated seal slicks past, a fish in a dream, and roars in delight, the night-waters hissing as bubbles of life flee to the surface from the barbarous surfeit of many-barbed spite –

– prey and blood-tithe and sport; the deep-zee trappings of war, the onset of flood and the gnashing of jaws and the now-irresistible pull of the calm leads to –

the Movement

– which is not so much a movement as a shift of the mind and can only be done in the deep and the cold and the dark; the concept of man becomes harder to find so relinquish the hold and embrace the shapes of the thoughts of the zee –

– simpler patterns and older, the cold aquatic imperatives: swim kill eat repeat, warmth an intruder, uncertainty is death and the seal (whose mind unlike our sub-un-conscious first-second-third-thoughts is one layer, thin and sharp as razors) sees or feels or knows –

– (down here they are the same) –

– the preyshape change, take forms not its own, flesh to scale to leathery hide, bone harpoon to tooth and claw till in the shadow of where I was before there is something in my shape bristling with implication, large and dangerous and not-prey that moves –

the Act

– only here where eyes are peligin (and they are, sudden as life as if they always had been) and the vulgar life-colours cannot see can the water shiver this way, cradle and reject me, propel me like an oil slick in impossible directions, the pulse of a tail I don’t have, the angle of a fin that isn’t there, the zee moving around me and not me through it –

– the joyous bellow at predator, partner, rival, realisation of not hunt but competition, domination, seduction writ in blood and black, the deep dance, the old feast, guard and attack, not to kill but to be the better killer –

– the joyous bellow as the zee pivots around me, the fulcrum of the Act, deep-monster from above and the ecstatic elision of me and I and it until two are one and then nothing but a frenzy of hook and gouge and tooth and blood uniting at the wounds, the complete abandonment and reforging of self –

– because what does the deep know of self? –

– in the cold unearthly certainty of the Movement there is no concept of doubt and there is just enough left of man there to be smarter, more cunning, and so the gladiators’ dance is over as it begins, my teeth my talons up to my elbows my harpoon lodged in a crack of the plating and without hesitating rips –

– and I (something like me is back again) drink of the tithe of the predator, sacrament of the hunter, baptism of lady black and even as I return to myself I see as the seal sees with no doubts or fears or wisdom just a cold knowledge of exactly what must, no, will be done –

The feeling stays with me for a while, long after I let the wounded seal free. As I watch the barbed, lumbering beast descend into the frigid waters my thoughts are still and empty as the zee, my actions economical, no energy wasted. Later I will reflect that I’m glad the crew are not there to see me, eyes black as absence, bloodied and semi-nude in all my monstrosity. Later I will reflect that chasing this alien calm is just another form of addiction, and I will have to fight once more to not visit the hold full of carefully stamped wooden boxes. Later, all manner of guilts and seconds thoughts and hesitations will flood back in as the Hunt ebbs from my system.

At the present moment, however, the only thing disturbing the surface of the zee is the listing prow of The Reckoning Postponed, arcing its slow way through Void’s Approach under the guiding hand of a man who, for now, does not care if he is seen.
edited by Barse on 8/29/2017


You are diminished. The storm bellows across the water, raking the waves into razor-spray that scratches his cheek, salt-burning. A fraction of a man. Lesser. The voice of the zee joins the shouting of the wind, deep and dark. A blind man remaking himself in an image he cannot see. Lost in the fires of his own reforging. You used to be OURS. The waters rise, sheer and peligin, roil and thrash with the storm, give the wind visible body. He cannot tell where the sky starts and the zee stops, now. He tastes blood and realises he has bitten his tongue. He is far too calm. Now we do not know you. Tallow and stone and fire and worse. You have lost more than yet remains.

He realises he is naked. A wave crashes against him, and his clay arm disintegrates like so many pebbles. Wind claws at his skin, and great black emptinesses well up where once he was burned. Salt water rushes up through his windpipe, and he retches. Coldness envelops the fires inside him. The water he produces is milky, with a waxy sheen. His body crumples as if deflated. A final furious gust rips his head from his neck, and it lands in the zee, face down and sinking.

Almost immediately the storm quietens, the waters calm. Yours is no existence. In the rumble of distant thunder, the sound of the rising tide, he hears them one last time before the dark zee takes him. We reclaim what is left. This is a mercy.

The Scorched Sailor dreams.

edited by Barse on 8/4/2018


(This takes place after the events of the Shade Hunt, which will be wrapping up soon. I was going to do a few more &quotDreams&quot posts but the new Home Comfort was too cool not to immediately run with.)

The Scorched Sailor has not slept well in weeks. Every night he wakes gasping, clutching at his arm, or his neck, terrified that he will find nothing but empty air, unable to get back to sleep. One night, chest heaving and stark awake, he has an idea. The more nights that pass without sleep, the better the idea seems…

Incomplete. Recently, in a grimy morgue in the backstreets of Watchmaker’s Hill, an Avaricious Mortician was startled to find a figure in his workplace after closing time. He couldn’t make out their face; a tomb-colonist, maybe, or a particularly strangely dressed Clay Man. The figure heaved a package onto the table, wrapped in hessian and string.

“Preserve it,” the figure said. There was threat there, and desperation. The Mortician, who had sewed enough wounds up to want his own skin to remain very much intact, unwrapped the parcel. It smelled like death. A forearm, badly cared for and cut off at the elbow. The figure sat in the corner and waited as he worked through to the small hours with formaldehyde and honey, agents to preserve and seal, contain the rot and ward off decay.

The next morning, the Mortician rose to find the grisly trophy gone. Where he had left it on the gurney there was now a not-insignificant wad of echoes. He shook his head – this city, he thought. This city…

Diminished. A week earlier, over the dark zee, the gatekeeper of the City of Remembrance is woken by a noise. It is her job to welcome scholars and searchers to the dock, to make sure the rule of Scrimshander is kept. She dons her cowl and steps outside.

“Soldier, scholar, servant of art,
Hist’ry welcomes without toll,
But be warned, 'ere you depa–“

There is no one there. The dock is empty. Further out to zee, and far above, a dark and ragged shape moves silently through the water, listing dramatically. A wreckship, she thinks, shed enough of its load to float up from the deep. She turns back towards the city with a wry smile. A Drownie, getting spooked by strange noises in the zee? Ridiculous. As she enters the ivory gate, however, she stops dead. Is there… a finger-bone missing?

The Reckoning Postponed, half-wrecked (and, if you believe the Wolfstack dockers, possibly haunted) yet almost supernaturally zee-worthy, circled Scrimshander aimlessly once or twice more before changing course decisively homewards, unnoticed.

UNFINISHED. Yesterday, perhaps, someone went looking for something forgotten. Through the gate, beneath the keystone with its unreadable characters, down where the air grows thick and syrupy with the irrigo taint. Memories and selves sloughed off like snakeskin. Perhaps, down there amongst the lost and unclaimed, someone found something they had cast aside long ago, something no one should be without. Perhaps something that entered the Nadir anonymous left with a name. Who is to say?

Lesser. The Scorched Sailor keeps an eye on the horizon. The air is getting frigid; he is getting close. The Reckoning Postponed makes its peculiar way through the black waters of the zee, along the thin line between zailing and sinking. He has always felt at home on the water, but now the dreams press in on him, make him claustrophobic even as the dark expanse of the zee opens up. This, he hopes, is the final thing he must do. Maybe then he will be able to sleep.

The memories of his last trip here are jumbled, and he does not care to sort them, but he can recall enough. Enough to know that when the colour leaches from the zee around the Reck, he is getting close. Enough to know that the blaze of topaz ahead is the Chapel of Lights. Enough to recognise the cracked iron laughter of the bells as a call to worship. Almost there.

Ashore, the few and ragged faithful scatter from the Sailor’s gaze, muttering urgently among themselves. “Is that one of-“ “They’re not supposed to come back.” “How is it even-“ He does his best to ignore them, although the persistent susurrus prickles his head like the footsteps of a spider. No one attempts to stop him on his approach to the Chapel.

The doors are unlocked. The Priest is stood at the altar. Someone is standing at the crucible, violet sparks dancing along the edge of their sword. The Sailor unwraps his scarves, pulls apart his bandages, until his face and neck are exposed. The Priest just looks at him, sadly.

“Now we have the wax, which is the streak beneath our skin, and the wick, which is the faith we have skeined…” The words come unbidden to the Sailor’s tongue, just as they did before, but this time they end differently, in a rejection of scars, a need for rest, the inviolable desire to return home and be with friends. His dreams, his travels, everything since his awful return to London from the dock at the end of world, all this he speaks until the words burn like fire. “It will heal. We must render ourselves a little, but there will be absolution, and what is pain to that?”

The armed figure steps forward, places the tip of its sword against the scarred ridge that circles the Sailor’s neck. A brown-boned, skinless, eyeless scarecrow, tattered into tendoned gristle, skull-glyphs ablaze. The Sailor stares into its sockets with longing. Perhaps he imagines the recognition he swears flickers in its empty face. “You will not hurt us,” the Sailor says. “We are the same.”

The Priest sighs as the sword hits the floor, backing slowly across the ancient flagstones as the Sailor steps around the placated flesh-golem towards him. The Sailor stares at him, his eyes burning-dark like a zee monster’s. His voice is rough, and extremely quiet. “You will return what was taken from me.”

The process is long, and messy. A thing, once coaxed into life, is not quick to let go of it, and the false-life imbued in the golem by the glyphs is a hardy and tenacious one. The Priest’s flensing knife is calm and smooth, if reluctant, and the candles gutter and flare angrily as the Chapel is violated. The wind howls. The Sailor helps as much as he can, giving the waste and the offcuts to the zee. It is a profane and violent act, and takes hours, but eventually the Priest stands up. “It’s done,” he says, gesturing at the large sealed jar on the altar. “But you cannot leave the Chapel unprotected–“

“Then give your own self to be guardian.” The Sailor sweeps the jar under one arm – his flesh one, careful not to break the glass – and strides from the Chapel. The Priest just observes, his eyes full of sorrow, as if a friend had just refused his help. A gust through the open door blows out a number of candles.

In the quiet dark of the Reck, the Sailor contemplates his prizes. An arm. A finger. Organs. A name. These, at least, he’d been able to track down. His missing pieces. Maybe now he will be able to rest. He settles down in his hammock as the old ship creaks in underneath him, her hull a botch job of patches and repairs, a hulking mess of replacements and ruin. She is not the same ship that she was on her maiden voyage, all that time ago. So few of her original parts remain. The zee laps at her hull, trying, as always, to find purchase, to get in through the cracks between what she is and what she was.

edited by Barse on 12/11/2017


The Courier’s head is thrumming. The last few weeks have been his most fruitful all year, with deliveries out all across the city. The inscrutable drives that steer him have been firing on all cylinders, compelling the lumbering Clay Man to intercept presents and Christmas cards at every opportunity. In front of fireplaces and around dinner tables, Aunts have been offended that their nephews and nieces haven’t sent them anything, parents’ festive missives to offspring have gone undelivered and a number of people have received someone else’s bills inside fragrant, decorative envelopes. One notary arrives at her office on Christmas Eve to find all of her paperwork vanished, replaced with a towering pile of well-wishes from a diaspora of strangers. None were addressed to her. The Courier has been, as it were, in his element, handing out mail with aplomb and a monotone bellow of “MESSAGE DELIVERED.”

But today there is something different. He knows this with the unshakable certainty that accompanies everything the Courier thinks he knows. The unshakable certainty, for example, that this cake, addressed to the Shuttered Palace, must instead be rerouted – forcefully, if necessary – to the rooftop shack of a certain urchin, or the knowledge that this crumpled, beer-stained note, abandoned halfway through its composition, needs to be delivered to an apartment in Veilgarden housing a worried spouse. He holds these truths to be self-evident, even if he is not able to explain exactly why. There are Rules. Tonight, however, the spiderwebs of certitude that he follows around London are eclipsed by a singular presence, winding around the city in a spiral that begins in the heart of the Bazaar. Something almost, but not quite, like himself: the Crimson Beast of Winter is prowling Fallen London, and the Courier cannot help but follow.

He witnesses a man with a face like an eagle press, white-faced, a bottle of ’68 into crimson-robed arms. He watches as Mr Sacks leaves wet footprints on the hearth. He receives a number of perplexed looks, being as he is a great hulking figure trying to appear inconspicuous while peering into a parlour window. The wine disappears into the sack; the sack is hefted over what may, or may not, be a shoulder, and Mr Sacks proceeds to the next homestead, trilling in a distinctly non-menacing manner. “What will you put in my sack?”

The Courier follows his incarnadine quarry through labyrinthine streets, fixated upon the hessian sack – which, he utterly fails to notice, does not grow or fill out no matter how much wine or honey is stashed in there. His strange stone mind registers only one thing: that Mr Sacks is taking custody of deliveries, and doing nothing with them. This resounds deeply within him as wrong. In Sacks the Courier recognises a fellow liminal being; it’s unthinkable that its cargo is its own. It exists solely to get its payload from one place to another, and as the Courier watches Mr Sacks hobble back up into the spires of the Bazaar, he becomes possessed of the peculiar conviction that he would be much better suited to this job. Yes, indeed. He will get these things to where they need to go. “SUSPECTED UNDELIVERY. INTERVENTION NECESSARY.” Bats squawk and skitter, disturbed by his proclamation.

To this end, the Courier follows Mr Sacks around London for over a week, with all the stealth and grace of a volcanic buffalo. Nevertheless, if Sacks notices him then it does not show it; the lumbering red-cowled figure never once acknowledges its Clay pursuer. In these few days, while the Courier is occupied in his task, London experiences an unprecedented rise in the reliability of the postal service. Letters arrive both at their intended destination and at the time expected of them; packages are delivered with their contents untampered-with; Aunts send fruitcakes to their nieces and nephews, and all of them are received without incident, blowing out the doorstop and paperweight market. Many people, faced with such a wave of continued contact with their extended family, are not entirely sure this surge in postal diligence is a good thing. All the while, the Courier is witnessing things enter the sack, and nothing actually getting delivered. Dreams, diamonds, shrieks and stories all disappear into the sack, and every night when Sacks (is it a different Sacks to the night before? The Courier cannot tell) emerges from the Bazaar the sack shows no sign of having been emptied. The Courier’s gaze is flinty. His certitude is granite.

It is the twelfth day that the Crimson Beast of Winter has been abroad in London. It has been becoming increasingly unsteady and decrepit, its robe hanging looser, its tread uneven. The citizens it terrorises for tribute do not seem to notice its weakness, pressing offerings into trembling arms and ushering it out the door. No one but the Courier is around that night to see it finally collapse in an anonymous alley in Spite. Finally the figure, now a puddle, acknowledges its pursuer. It tilts what remains of its face up to look at him. Melting lacre drips from the fur trim of the hood. The face within is a blurred, unreadable horror. “My dear… please…”

The Courier knows what he must do. Sacks is beyond saving; he concerns himself naught for the noman’s safety as he picks up the sodden robe and swings it across his back, hood up. He is far too big for it. It is made for something with limbs he does not possess. Cloth strains and tears; he cares not. One giant, stony hand closes around the neck of Mr Sacks’ sack, and as it does so the Courier’s mind blazes, calculating paths to a thousand households at once as he is yanked onto an inexorable path by the shimmering threads of Fate – real, or imagined – that govern him. He feels a joyous swelling deep in his rocky, unfinished self. He heaves the sack over his shoulder and addresses the city at large. “HAVE YOU BEEN GOOD?” He does not care that Christmas was almost a fortnight ago. He does not care what is in the sack. He is Doing his Job. “DELIVERY IN TRANSIT,” he says, spooking a heavily-bonneted lady, and then, as if struck by some deep inspiration, he does his best imitation of a smile. “HO. HO. HO.”

edited by Barse on 12/29/2017


“I thought the dreams would stop. I thought this would help. Gatherin’ meself, I thought this was what they wanted. But it ain’t getting’ any better. Every night, the wind and the waves are still there.

“This is worse than before. At least then, I wasn’t really me, and I could wake from the voices of the well and the gate and be me, if only for a while, if scarred and bleeding. Then it wasn’t me fault. It was something old, and hurting, using me to try to make amends. I could shake it off. I did.

“But it broke me, and now the fault is mine. I look out to zee now and wire coils around my heart. What I’ve done to meself – who I am now – it’s closed me off. I’m somethin’ else now, somethin’ the wind and the water hates, somethin’ to crash against and wear down and break. Why d’ye think we’ve not left port fer months? I see the dark past the buoys and the air turns solid in me throat and waves crash inside me ears. People here’re scared o’ me, but out there, in the salt and dark, I was home. But not now. Not now.

“I’ve made meself a monster, and Salt knows and Storm knows. I’ve made me ship a ghost, and zail around, a guilty remnant daring to think he belongs. I can’t go back out there. I’m nothin’, profane, a stain on the undernight. It’s all I can do to stay afloat when I sleep.” He is sat, slumped against a damp and peeling wall, staring at his hands. One clay and one flesh. “Somethin’ bad is comin’, fer me or fer everyone, I don’t know. But I can’t stay here and I can’t leave. A wall of water with a voice like thunder.” The air catches in his throat.

This is the longest speech the Waterlogged Mechanic has ever heard the Captain make, and it frightens her. They are alone in one of the old guest rooms, holes in the walls, furniture slowly rotting. It’s just the two of them on the Reck. The rest of the crew are making the most of the extended shore leave; Talus, the Clay Man who gave the Captain his arm, has returned to the Clay Quarter; the Blind Navigator is reconnecting with friends at the Observatory; even the Weather-Eyed Stormchaser, the grubby urchin who makes her bed among the Reck’s chimney-stacks, has rushed off to stay with the Ringbreakers. Only the Mechanic has stayed behind. London holds nothing for her, and without her constant maintenance and tinkering the groaning hulk of the ship might finally succumb once more to the depths.

She takes a deep breath. Somewhere, she knows, are stashed the grisly trophies reclaimed on their last voyage, ugly memories of pain. She has felt it too; currents work against them when they used to aid their passage, and they are met with violent headwinds seemingly whatever their bearing. But more than that, she’s worried about him. Seeing him now he seems less the mysterious terror of dockhands’ whispers, less the reclusive smuggler that pervades scornful stories in the Blind Helmsman. He’s just a tired old man, scared of the dark and the zee.

“Boss.” He doesn’t look up. “Captain.” She notices his hands – even his stony one – are trembling. Maybe this, then. He has told only a few people of his trip back into the Nadir, and fewer still what he brought back. She calls him by name, the first time he has heard it since he was whole. “Abraham.”

He looks up, and the storms that cloud his eyes clear momentarily. She wonders if she is doing the right thing, if he is not sick, unfit to zail or lead – or worse, if he is right. “We are who we are.“ She drips onto the floorboards, and the skeleton of The Reckoning Postponed creaks beneath her. “And sometimes, even here, a dream is just a dream.”

[Forgive the monologue - I wrote myself into a corner and sometimes a sledgehammer works better than a chisel.]
edited by Barse on 1/29/2018


                                         [i]&quot[...] and this card,[/i]

Which is blank, is something he carries on his back,
Which I am forbidden to see.&quot

It is long past time that The Reckoning Postponed set zail once more. The crew has grown tired of shore leave. Some itch for the waves; some wish to avoid the city constabulary; some simply itch to be away from their families once more. Arrangements have been made for a routine run to Venderbight, a hold full of mushroom wine and a number of other, less obvious nooks full of honey and pamphlets that would make Ministry censors blush. Journeys like these are the illicit bread and butter of zailors and smugglers everywhere, the tedious back-and-forths that make adventure affordable.

The Reck makes for a strange sight on the busy dock, listing and battered, a ruin that the stevedores and crew refuse to acknowledge as such. An agile urchin is scraping barnacles next to a ragged gash in the hull; crates of wine are lashed down and affixed to rotting floorboards that look as though they could buckle under the weight at any moment. But the old ship has lasted this long without failing, forever suspended in time in the instant before collapse. Roped are tied, cargo is loaded, and the crew adopt their usual positions. The ship is ready to depart, and the Scorched Sailor has not left his cabin in hours…

He paces his room, disgusted at his trembling hand and the thumping in his chest. He has left specific instructions with the Waterlogged Mechanic – the ship must set zail. If nothing else, the crew are relying on the work. The Reck must zail, but he cannot. The dread certitude is still lodged in his chest, his mind still turning reflexively away from thought of the waves. The crew can manage this without him – he has answers to seek elsewhere.

Try as he might to forget the things he did in the period leading up to his scorching, despite the irrigo and the trauma and all that came after, the Sailor can never forget it all. Tonight, he is grateful for this. As the clock strikes midnight and he climbs out of the window of his cabin in the musty darkness, he casts his mind back, presses about him for the weak spots of the world. This would be easier with a mirror, but reflections are duplicitous. This works too. His foot touches the planks exactly between this tick and that tock – he adjusts his hat to the proper angle – his stomach growls, having consumed very little since the new moon – something lurches in his head – unless it was the world itself – as he takes his first step into Wolfstack Docks and The Reckoning Postponed slips slowly into the undernight behind him.

It’s hard to be sure, now more than ever, exactly what’s real. Maybe those little rituals – the phrase “a conjunction of crypticisms” springs to him unbidden – were nothing more than folly, but all he can do is repeat what worked last time, and he can feel that he has made it. Once, he had thought that these routes were secret, known to him and few others, but these days it seems the rot of the well spreads far and strong. He wonders how many others walk these streets tonight, just out of step with the real. The familiar alleys of the docks are strange to him now, the shadows spilling with latent malice. He shrugs off his misgivings, and trudges towards Mrs Plenty’s Carnival.

Half-seen shapes skulk behind tent-flaps, and the Sailor gets the feeling that he is drawing stares that are not altogether friendly. He does his best to ignore them – he is not even sure that they are actually real, or that he is actually here, after all – and makes his way towards Madame Shoshana’s shabby, perfumed little tent. Normally, Shoshana is a sideshow, an actress, a charlatan and confidence trickster. The Sailor does not begrudge her this – down here, who isn’t at least one of those? – but tonight he requires mysticism more real. For a given value of real. And here, in this little tangent-place, things are definitely stranger, more inexplicable, than elsewhere.

He can’t say he is surprised when he pushes his way into the fortune-teller’s tent and finds it empty. Some small part of him sags in relief – he is not sure he wants to meet whatever passes for Shoshana here in this realm of half-things and shadowed reflections. All that he needs are her tools, and the tarot deck lies inviting on the shrouded table.

He is not sure he could stop himself now if he tried.

He lays the cards out in a misshapen circle – “The Cracked Wheel,” a woman’s voice whispers in his ear. Just briefly, he wonders if this is a good idea, if he hasn’t become so used to disaster, to surrendering control, that he has started walking into catastrophe without a second thought, but he is brought back to the tent by Shoshana’s voice once again, speaking as if far away. “Ask your question.”

“Why is this happening?” His voice sounds very small in the darkness of the tent. He moves to flip the first three cards.

The Wheel of Fortune. The intricately painted card bears a suspicious resemblance to the Carnival’s Ferris Wheel. The Seven of Swords. Snarling, atavistic figures wield wicked knives in savage brushstrokes. The Drowned Sailor. Suspended in the deep, he stares sightlessly with bloated eyes. After the third card is flipped, the Sailor is assaulted by images:

[the knives and the well, the call of the North,
accident and circumstance and nothing of the sort,
a wreck of a ship, rotting and haunted
a carnival mirror, bent and distorted
a reflection ignoring all it’s been taught and –]

The voice in the darkness chuckles, low and throaty. “A waste of a question. You already know why. The things you have seen… the things you have done. You are not what you were. Ask again.”

“The dreams – the thunder and the waves – what do they want?” Clay fingers reach to turn another triplet of cards.

The Fouled Anchor. The great stabiliser is trapped, snarled up in its own supports, unable to reach the seabed. The Mask. Behind its eyeholes there can be distinguished no face, only darkness. The Gibbet. Unsettlingly realistic, the hempen knot rendered in exquisite detail. Again the onslaught, flashes of prophecy almost too quick to follow:

[organs like dead weights tied to its feet
as its own forearm drags it down to the deep
and the darkness of Lady Black’s sleep;
the death of the lie, the false, incomplete –]

“You know what they want, you just don’t want to hear it. Another waste. Stop trembling and listen: don’t waste my time, half-man. This is all you get. Ask again.”

The Scorched Sailor does not speak for a long time. This has not gone as he hoped, and yet he knows that what she says is true. Here, half a tick disconnected from reality, the real and the true rings like cold iron. Silence. The light in the tent dims and sputters, until he can hardly see the cards. Finally, he speaks. “Who am I?” He reaches for the deck.

All three cards are blank. The voice sighs with pleasure, and the Sailor is convinced he can feel her breath on his neck. He resists the urge to turn around: something tells him it is not a good idea. “Finally. The right question. I thought we would never get here; you are perhaps not as lost as I thought. This is what you came here for. Take the knowledge back home. My gift to you.”

The Scorched Sailor splutters, frustrated. “But what–“ A huge gust of wind snatches the words from his mouth, pushing him backwards out of the tent.

“No more questions. Just three,” the voice whispers. “This is how things are done.” The wind carries him backwards into darkness, and he falls and he falls and he falls–

When the Sailor comes to, he finds himself slumped against Hangman’s Arch. He is startled to find that, for the first time in a while, he feels rested. London is beginning to wake up, gas lamps sputtering into life, shutters opening, the business of the night replaced with the business of morning. He turns the question over in his mind, tasting it, exploring its edges. This is not what he had hoped for. But it is… something.
edited by Barse on 2/17/2018


Six steps to the desk. Another three to the porthole.

Something is wrong with The Reckoning Postponed.

Sea chest on the left. Twelve feet to the door. Turn right.

The Scorched Sailor’s cabin, and the corridor outside, is, by all accounts, the same as always. This is worrisome, because he cannot shake the feeling that this is not his ship.

Ten steps to the service hatch. Three more to the patch of creeping mould. Up the ladder, past that jagged hole in the hull.

The feeling of uneasiness persists even as every step reveals that everything is as it should be. It isn’t until he reaches the deck, and is confronted with a raft of new and more pressing peculiarities, that he realises what is wrong: the silence. There is not another soul aboard The Reckoning Postponed.

Any introspection about exactly when he became the kind of old man who needs company, exactly when the noises of his eclectic and damaged crew going about their business became a comfort and not a distraction, is curtailed as he emerges onto the deck and is faced with… the zee. Perfectly flat, perfectly still, stretching to the horizon in all directions like an obsidian mirror.

This is not the Wolfstack Docks.

He lopes to the railing. The silence seems like it’s actively trying to muffle his footsteps. Even the ship, which the Waterlogged Mechanic likes to joke is held together by creaks and groans, is subservient to the heavy quiet.

For the longest of moments, nothing moves. The impassive face of the zee lies flat as glass, reflecting a perfect inverse of the false-stars and stalactites, hanging upside down in the air like towers. Then, the faintest of breezes, the smallest of ripples, rendered unmissable by the surrounding calm, plays with the edges of the Scorched Sailor’s scarves. They tremble, flickering around the lapels of his greatcoat, then are lifted, buffeted gently from side to side like charmed snakes, before the wind picks up even further, and his scarves and coattails stream behind him, desperate to follow the coursing air.

The zee is… no longer calm. Increasing and increasing in intensity, the surface bucks and bows, whirling strange eddies as the wind, ever stronger, traces unnatural and circulatory paths, whipping it into breakers and battening it back down. As the air careens past him, whistling past his ears and through the jagged and uneven bellows of the Reck’s interior, it first soughs then howls, in an eerie approximation of words. The stronger the wind, the clearer the voice. The Sailor, with dawning understanding, realises that is another of his dreams, and is not sure whether to be comforted or frightened by the unreality of the situation. Dream or no, this does not feel safe.

The storm – and it is a storm by now, breakers crashing against the railings, rain whiplashing down onto the deck – howls and creaks in tongues of thunder.

-o you who turn the wheel and look to windward-

A prow, polished and gleaming despite the weather, looms out of the dense fog that has gathered around the Sailor’s vessel.

-consider yourself-

A figure stands at the helm of this new ship as it scuds past, seemingly indifferent to the lashing waves. It raises a hand, hailing The Reckoning Postponed with a jaunty wave.

-you were once handsome and tall as he-

A crack of lightning rips the air open, illuminating the other ship, and the Scorched Sailor stumbles backwards as he recognises himself, as he was, as he used to be, straight-backed, broad-shouldered, face marred by nothing but salt and time, beard flecked with grey and eyes flecked with hope. Another cannonade of thunder, another jagged and blinding tear in the sky renders the silhouette of the other vessel unmistakable. He and his ship, whole.

-his heart would have responded gaily, when invited-

The winds and waves continue to batter the Reck without mercy, and it seems to the Sailor that they are somehow still increasing in severity. Just as soon as it appeared, the other vessel is swallowed by the clouds, making smooth and unruffled progress in spite of the waves. The Sailor grips hold of the guardrail tight with clay hand, struggling to avoid being cast into the storm-tossed breakers.

-the well has picked your bones in whispers-

The waves are becoming worryingly large, the ship battered to port and starboard, listing alarmingly as the storm affords no respite. If the Reck is held together by creaks and groans, then these noises themselves seem on the brink of tearing. Zeewater washes up on deck, then sucks at the Sailor’s boots as it withdraws, sending him stumbling.

-but dry bones can harm no one-

There is a momentarily lull, and the Scorched Sailor looks up to see, advancing through the fog, a wave that dwarfs the chimneys of Wolfstack and St Dunstan’s spire, a towering wall of peligin death approaching head-on. The ship tilts ever more backwards as the water in front of it slopes upwards. It will not be long before the ship is vertical.

-these fragments you have shored against your ruins-

Bending his head against the sheer force of the storm and its words, the Sailor recalls Madame Shoshana and is seized by the faintest glimmerings of an idea. Allowing the slope of the wave of propel him back the way he came, he half-runs and half-falls back below deck, water rushing in from doorways and jagged hull-holes, turning the wide corridors into white-water torrents.

-he who was living is now dead-

He tries and fails to brace himself against the rushing waters, thrown against walls and gasping for breath. However, as the inboard seas run swirling and hawling, he realises with surprise that the strange currents of the storm, slamming him down – and really down, now, as the ship nears vertical – the interior of his ship, are taking him where he wishes to go.

-we who were living are now dying-

The water deposits him, spluttering and coughing, violently into his cabin, and the Sailor fights for breath before kicking out, in this sideways underwater approximation of his home, towards the cabinet. Is it his imagination, or does the timbre of the storm’s words seem less angry? He reaches the cabinet – now sitting sideways on the floor-that-should-be-a-wall – and kicks it open with a last heft of his boots.

All at once, the ship levels out. The waters withdraw, leaving dark stains and puddles, and the Scorched Sailor sodden, coughing up great bouts of brine and bile. Heaving himself up to his feet, he gathers up the contents of the cabinet. Thank Stone for that. He isn’t sure if you can drown in dreams, or if this even counts as a dream (it hurts, a lot), but he has no wish to find out, and is breathless with relief. The wind, much abated but still circling him, even indoors, whispers at the edges of his mind.

-we think of the key-

The storm has blown out one of the great portholes of his cabin, and, bundling the contents of the cabinet under one arm, he hauls himself out and onto a thin maintenance walkway on the outside of the ship. Once out there, he finds The Reckoning Postponed hanging, in perfect equilibrium, on the crest of the wave, aft positioned precariously over nothing but air, the waters impossibly still, as if frozen in time.

-each in his prison-

The Scorched Sailor unwraps, one by one, the lumpen packages he had rescued from his cabin. An arm, badly preserved. A finger, nothing but bones. A glass jar, viscera bobbing within. An eye, once lost in long-distant folly to a spider. There are other things, too, less tangible. An absence of scars. A lack of regret. Each is enumerated before the precipice of the frozen storm.

-thinking of the key, each confirms a prison-

The wind, now, sounds almost pleased. One by one, the Scorched Sailor drops these things from the maintenance walkway, over the crest of the wave, and into the inky darkness below. He stands and listens, sodden and exhausted, catching his breath as these old pieces of him sound distant splashes in the deeps below. They fall for tens of seconds before the noises reach him, and as the last object is dropped – the grisly jar – even the wind seems to hold its breath.

At the sound of its impact, a tension that the Scorched Sailor had not even noticed is released all at once in thunderous catharsis. The wave bursts back into motion, and breaks gloriously, jubilantly, crashing down into the zee and taking The Reckoning Postponed with it. Very faintly, over the sound of crashing water, it may be possible to make out one man’s exhilarated whooping. Maybe. But this is a dream, and there is no one there to hear.

As the businesses of the night pack up shop and are replaced by the barely more salubrious businesses of the morning, the crew of The Reckoning Postponed rise to find the Scorched Sailor standing at the prow of the ship, shoulders squared, looking out across the zee. This morning he has forsaken his greatcoat, and a number of his other outergarments besides, and has rolled up his sleeves, forearms bared, a single scarf being gently wafted by the wind.

The Weather-Eyed Stormchaser clambers atop the railing next to him and sits, dangling her feet out over the harbour, affixing her slate-grey eyes on the horizon. She has never seen him voluntarily show his scars before, and is trying hard not to stare. From the stories, she had thought the damage was worse.

“Mornin’ Guv- I mean, Cap’n,” she says. “So, where are we headed?”

The Scorched Sailor takes a long look at the zee, and then turns to take in his crew going about their duties. The ship beneath them groans and creaks like something haunted. A wide smile splits his scorched and scarred face.

“Anywhere we want.”

[This ends the sequence of posts unofficially written under the umbrella of Death By Water – this post cribs hard from The Waste Land, and a couple of other sea-poems. Getting to DbW 77 took rather longer than I had hubristically hoped, due in large part to an involuntary hiatus, so if you’re still here and reading, then thank you, and posts will be more regular from here on out. There is now a final journey, and destination, in mind.]
edited by Barse on 8/6/2018




A______ v___ B________ (The Scorched Sailor) – Placed on a Ministry watch-list in accordance with Annex Thirty-Three, Annex Thirty-Four and the Prelapsarian Conditionals of the Tragedy Procedures, this smuggler-turned-god-knows-what managed to [REDACTICATED by ORDER of MR PAGES] and ultimately [ERASIFIED for the COMMON GOOD], before returning home to London to [OBFUSCIDDEN by the MINISTRY]. Current assessments suggest he no longer poses a threat, but as per the Conditionals and the Spire-Sign an eye is kept on him, his ship – The Reckoning Postponed – and his crew, detailed below.

Talus (First Mate) – Fleeing the sledgehammers of Jasper and Frank after he was caught running a rival smuggling operation out of Wolfstack, Talus gave the Captain his arm and, together with the Clay Scholar, saved the Captain’s life. In return, he was saved from becoming shingle, was given safe harbour, and now oversees a far larger operation than he could ever have run by himself.

The Waterlogged Mechanic – Making her home in the dank engine-rooms of The Reckoning Postponed, the Waterlogged Mechanic cultivates rust. In a ship that spent a number of months at the bottom of the zee, this poses less of a problem than one might expect. With remarkable engineering knowledge for a Drownie, she keeps the ship running with a combination of hope, faith and liberal use of a gelatinous lubricant imported from Dahut.

The Weather-Eyed Stormchaser – Comrade of Slivvy and the Guttersnipe Princeling, the Weather-Eyed Stormchaser broke the Fisher-Kings’ oath to never set foot on the ground and ran away to zee in an attempt to get closer to the thunderous voice that echoes around her dreams. She makes a fine lookout, and can spot a squall before it even starts to brew.

The Blind Navigator – Nobody is quite sure how the Blind Navigator navigates, but it’s far too late to ask him now. Fed up of sitting static in the Observatory, the Navigator left the spiders so that he might roam underneath the false-stars as they used to roam above him.

The Pentecost Boatswain – After a pirate-king of yore fell afoul of a contract with some particularly nasty hidden clauses, his soul was lost, bobbling forlornly in its bottle across the zee away from pirate ship and brass trireme both. When he found the bottle, washed ashore on the Isle of Hands, the Pentecost Boatswain was reborn. Now he swings around amidships, cursing inventively and shouting orders that only sometimes go ignored.

The Cephalopod Cannoneer – Everybody is gently baffled by this Rubbery Man – a usually peaceful species – and his obsession with ordnance. He leaves trails of slime all over the cannonballs and damply struggles to light matches with his trembling fronds. Everybody has learned to heed the jubilant wiggling that means “Get down!”

The Bandaged Surgeon – This old revolutionary saw plenty of injuries when fighting for the cause, and got plenty more practice changing bandages and stitching people back together even after his… retirement. Life in the Colonies was too slow for the old firebrand, and so he set off to find adventure before he started to crumble too much to travel.

Tinker – The runt of her litter, Tinker was always teased for being the smallest of the tiny Rattus Faber. Despite her tiny stature, she never did have much talent for ratwork, preferring instead larger and heftier machinery. She wields her spanner like a club, tightening bolts half her height in great leaps, using her size to fix things that the Waterlogged Mechanic cannot reach.

The Sly Quartermistress – Chased out of Spite by the Special Constables for running an inheritance fraud scam, the Sly Quartermistress does things with numbers that might not be legal, or even possible. Either way, the money lasts longer when she’s around, and, if she filches a little bit off the top, why not? The finances still look better with her than without her.

Within, this humble Ministry Official attaches daguerreotypes so they might be easily identified:

edited by Barse on 8/10/2018


The crew of the Reckoning Postponed are abroad in London. The zee, while full of adventure, cannot match the intrigue of the Fifth City, and today, under the guise of shore leave, the ragtag zailors are after a brand of information, gossip and tall-tales that only London can offer. They slink into alleys and under awnings and disappear into the murk of the city, one by one, tracing their individual paths back to places that, once, they had called home.

The Scorched Sailor sits in his cabin, writing letters in a smudged, uneven hand, with the comforting noises of the docks around him. As he waits for his crew to return, the sheaf of papers beside him getting slowly larger, he notices an unfamiliar feeling. He feels in control.

As morning turns to evening turns to night, the crew of the Reckoning Postponed return in dribs and drabs to their listing ship with all manner of improbable hearsay. Talus is the first back onboard, with news from the indentured Clay Men working in the Caminus Yards. They say that there is a great collaboration between Caminus and Iron & Misery, and that the weapons and plating built there are greater and heavier than anything required at zee. They have no idea what they are building. Next back is the Weather-Eyed Stormchaser, who hangs upside down from a railing and reports that Colonel Molly let her fire a huge cannon and she stole this hat (a battered and collapsible garment for the opera) and wait was there something she was supposed to be doing? The Pentecost Boatswain returns with a fistful of other people’s teeth and news that more ships than usual have been sighted around Void’s Approach, and Tinker returns rather delirious, full of tales about pantries full of more cheese than one rattus faber could eat in a lifetime. The Sly Quartermistress has heard from an Elderwick scullery maid who heard from a Veilgarden tailor who heard from a Palace manservant that the Empress, since that incident at the Century Exhibition, is no longer as old as she had been, at which a number of the crew roll their eyes and the Quartermistress departs in anger. The Cephalopod Cannoneer returns with a cheerful wurble, and everybody nods and smiles. One of the Bandaged Surgeon’s medical associates has been hired to consult on something about which he will absolutely refuse to be drawn on, and which definitely isn’t some kind of lightweight diving-suit. The Blind Navigator spends half an hour talking about spiders and something blue – or is it green? – and retires to his cabin. The Waterlogged Mechanic is the last to arrive back aboard, and whispers a short something in the Sailor’s ear, which raises a few eyebrows. The Captain notes everything down with equal respect, and once he has heard everybody, grants the crew another two days of shore leave and locks the cabin door behind him.

It is four days until he emerges, calling his crew into conference around him, and when he does he is armed with A Plan.
edited by Barse on 10/11/2018