The Lost Ship (Part One)

By Ed Greenwood

The blue mists fell away once more, leaving the king and queen standing together in chill, clinging gray-white fog.

"I begin to like this less and less," Filfaeril announced firmly. "Can't you work Vangey's device so as to take us straight back home?"

"A moment, dearest," the Dragon of Cormyr replied, striding a few steps across the dark planks underfoot. A drift of mist swallowed him, and his queen had to run to keep him from entirely disappearing from view.

She found him standing at a low, stout wooden rail, of strangely fluted, ornate design. A ship's rail. Azoun was peering over the edge, crouching low to guard against overbalancing -- though the ship seemed rock-steady beneath them -- and nodding rather grimly.

"Where are we?" the Dragon Queen demanded, rubbing her shoulder against his in the unspoken signal that she wanted him to put a comforting arm around her. He obliged. "A ship, so much is obvious, but I feel no sea beneath us, hear no waves -- smell no waves!"

"'Twould be a surprise if you did, Fee," her husband replied, pointing at a sudden gap in the fog, that opened on a glimpse of treetops, "being as we're sailing on air."

Everyone in the Heartlands of the Realms, and anyone who betimes visits a tavern elsewhere in Faerûn, too, has heard of the "Lost Ship."

The tales told of it are many, colorful, and contradictory, but all agree that for years it has been sailing the skies of the Realms, hither and yon, flying low and silent yet never seeming to run into trees, the spires of tall keeps, or mountainsides.

Some say it's a trap for spellcasters, a lure whereby wraith-wizards of ancient Netheril, who haunt it, drain the lives or possess the bodies or steal the spells of any mages foolhardy enough to venture aboard. Others say it's a haunted ship of insane, despairing undead who endlessly flee something even more terrible that pursues them through the skies. Still others believe it's a disguised crèche for dragon eggs, girded about with spells to snare and capture adventurers to be food for hungry hatchlings. Or it may be the abandoned home of a god, or a huge sentient monster masquerading as a ship, or a magical temple stolen from its rightful place by now-cursed thieves, now adrift in the skies. Some say pirates dwell aboard, dropping down on long lines to raid and plunder, only to be picked up again tendays or months later. There are almost as many tales as there are tellers, each one wild and strange, yet . . . fascinating.

Elminster, of course, knows rather more about it, though even he doesn't know how it came to fly endlessly, and to what purpose.

"The Lost Ship" bears no name on its counter or bows beyond a few recent, fanciful, and largely defaced scribblings ("Sky Witch," "Laeroth's Revenge," and "Dire Queen" are but three). This skyship (as described in "Sailors on the Sea of Air" in issue #124 of Dragon Magazine), is possibly of early Halruaan build, and it has been sailing for centuries.

In appearance, the flying ship is ghostly gray, darkening to a deep brown underneath (where the wooden hull is exposed), with upperworks largely clad in a smooth, seamless layer of (unknown, but inert, nonferrous, and seemingly useless) gray metal as soft as soap, that can be scraped away but promptly melts into air, and has no strength at all. Its yards (ropes) seem to be "normal" heavy hemp but are a matching gray in hue -- as are its sails, which are largely in tatters. Its rigging is, or appears to once have been, what our real world would term that of a "brigantine:" two masts, with four square-rigged sails on the foremast, three jibs (triangular sails) between that mast and the bowsprit, another two jibs between the foremast and the mizzenmast, and on that mizzen, a large gaff surmounted by two square-rigged topsails. Streamers of torn sail and detached ropes sway, flutter, and dangle everywhere, without responding to the "wind" of the ship's passage or prevailing breezes around it, and the ruinous nature of this rigging seems to have no effect on the way the ship sails.

The Lost Ship has a low-profile, slender hull, with a raised-four-steps foredeck in the bows and a raised-seven-steps poop (small aft) deck. Cabins with windows, bunk beds, chart tables, and chairs are beneath both raised decks, and hatches in the cabin floors and in the main deck adjacent to the cabins lead down into a long, low hold that over the centuries has accumulated quite a collection of murdered passengers and their (picked-over, worthless) moldering belongings. (As Elminster wryly observed, the chief cargo carried by the ghostly vessel seems to be all the fanciful tales folk spin about it.)

Under the hold is a bilge full of black, ill-smelling ancient water that is tainted with a many-times-cast magical curse. Anyone foolish enough to drink more than a few drops (enough to fill a potion bottle or flask) turns into a gray render. The physical change takes 4+1d4 hours; after the form is fully assumed, treat the victim as if it had received the effects of an alternate form effect that lasts for 1d8 days. Beings who sample mere drops immediately feel stiff and numb, taking a -1 penalty to Dexterity. Additionally, the victim's skin turns a light shade of gray, but this condition passes off in 4+1d4 hours.

There's obviously a lot more to learn about the Lost Ship, and our next column will explore as much as is known. Lucky Azoun and Filfaeril.

© 2006 Wizards of the Coast, Inc. All rights reserved.