As you stumble into the derelict dockside tavern, a gust of sea wind knocks the door out of your hand and slams it against the wall. The crowd of sailors all turn to see the source of the noise, and you pull your hood closer around your face, pull the door shut, and find a seat in the corner. You've already attracted too much attention to yourself.
You don't plan to stay here long. You'll book passage aboard a boat sailing up along the coast, then head inland, where you've heard that an ancient ruin complex was recently uncovered by a rockslide in the Makindi Trenches.
Near where you're sitting, a salty old sea-dog is regaling a table of rough-looking sailors with a tale of past adventure. You find yourself listening to his story with increasing interest.
"... So the big-shot explorer got that huge stone head aboard his ship, and the whole fleet pulled anchor and got underway. It was easy as you please, and he and his bunch had only been on the island for a couple of hours. Smooth sailing, right? I couldn't figure out why he'd brought nine ships for an easy run like this.
"Then things started turning sour. A storm blew up. The sea got choppy, and the skies grew dark and foggy. Then, through the mist, we heard one of the other ships sound the alarm, and sounds of yelling and fighting from that direction. Then another ship started ringing its bell, and another, and then the water next to our ship started to froth, and something reared up—something big.
"Well, we'd fought sea serpents before. The bosun sounded the alarm, and the quartermaster started handing out pikes. But it just kept rising, going up and up, and then all at once, it crashed down onto the deck and wrapped clean around the boat. We saw the head come around the other side again—only it wasn't a head. This wasn't any serpent—it was a tentacle."
At this, the listeners titter and chuckle. One man claps the old sailor on the back and walks away, shaking his head.
"A tentacle!" the man insists again. "Yeah, I know how it sounds. But that's what it was. The sails billowed, the boat creaked—we were held fast. We stabbed it and stabbed it, but nothing happened. Then the storm died down. The sails went limp, the fog started to lift. Everything was still. We saw the other boats, all held like we were. Except for one—the flagship, with the big explorer and his precious cargo still aboard, adrift on its own in the middle of the fleet.
"The leader of the hunters he'd brought with him watched it all unfold. 'I told him this would happen,' she said. 'There were warning glyphs all around that thing, old merfolk words for big, and ocean, and angry. But he wouldn't listen. Just had to have his prize.'
"Then the ocean ... moved, like there was something huge coming up, pushing all that water out of the way. A great mountain of water rose up amongst the fleet, right under the flagship. I saw the ship silhouetted against the sky, that damned explorer leaning off the bow like a maniac, looking down to see whatever was swallowing him whole. There was a flash of light, the sun behind him, and then down went the ship, into the belly of the beast.
"The mountain of water fell, and all those tentacles unwound and slipped back into the depths. Just like that, the thing was gone. The boats were all half-crushed, taking on water, but we managed to limp back to port." The other listeners aren't laughing anymore, faces pale, eyes nervous.
"That was my last voyage," says the man. "Never set foot on so much as a raft after that." He reaches for his drink, and the spell is broken. You come to your senses, watch as the other listeners rise, one by one, and walk away. Their demeanor says it all—just another tall tale from another worn-out sailor.
Maybe so. But maybe you won't catch a boat after all. Maybe you'll check around town, see if there's a guide here who can travel with you amongst the enormous trees of the Turntimber. Maybe you'll go overland, and stay off the sea.
Just in case.