The voyage has been so long. Day after day after day. Week in, week out. Sailing east across the vast unknown expanse of the salt ocean, with nothing marring the endless, flat horizon save for the occasional seabird in flight. The first part of the voyage settled into a predictable and somnolent routine. Only the discovery of the Admiral Islands altered the daily regimen of sailing into the sunrise skies. No one expected such an epic voyage to be so... boring. Spirits and supply levels remain high, but the tedium is indeed starting to take a toll.
The history-making voyage sets a new navigational record with each passing moment, but it certainly did not feel that spectacular on board. With day blending into day and only the discovery of some small islands to punctuate the journey, excitement was certainly at a premium.
To keep morale up and provide needed entertainment, Archduke Bower established the after dinner time each evening to story time. The crew would gather around and weave fantastic tales for the amusement of their mates. As many of the ships' crew is experienced seafarers, most of their stories relate to adventures on the ocean. Crewman Djohaal spun an oft-repeated yarn about what may face them at the end of the ocean.
Everyone got a good laugh about this one... but some laughed a bit uneasily. After all, no one knew for sure what was out there.
Archduke Bower kept his crew spellbound with a fantastic take of adventure on the high seas. He told stories of ships fighting against ships to capture prizes and glory.
In his tales, the villainous Captain Longclaws tries to plunder ships of their cargo. Gold plated cans of Fancy Feast and Friskies are the pirate's objective.
Bower's story continued... "Longclaws had the Fancy Feast galleon in his sights and was not about to let them escape. He ordered his ship to set a course directly for the galleon. It appeared as it he would ram the ship; not a wise idea, since his ship was much smaller. However, it was a tactic to weaken the resolve of the now-terrified captain. The crew trembled in fear as they contemplated their fate at the paws of the nefarious Longclaws. Here, on the high sea, there was no help... they were on their own. Their captain tried to exhort them to defend their ship, urging them not to be fraidy cats. But, as the spear-tipped prow of his Ship of Evil, that dastardly vessel, Vetspayer, turned menacingly toward their bow, panic struck. Longclaws had the grappling hooks readied for a boarding party extraordinaire. The last rays of hope were snuffed out when the first pirates came aboard. The captain knew that the invaders would only leave after having plundered every last can of Fancy Feast. Now, if he could only find a way to save himself and his crew from being tossed overboard..."
He certainly had a way with telling stories. Eventually, he drew his story to a close and declared it to be lights out time. The night watch began uneventfully, as had the last few dozen nights.
As the night wore on, it became increasingly foggy. This, in itself, is not unusual at sea. But, as the night wore on, the crew of the lead ship began to notice a strange odor. Soon, the other ships noticed the same. The smell was unfamiliar. It was a somewhat acrid, slightly dirty smell. No one had smelled it before. Could it be a large fish, dead, floating at the surface? It was certainly not a pleasant smell. But, it was not a strong odor. It seemed as if they were sailing in the direction of the scent. This was the first interesting thing which happened in the last few weeks.
Continuing to sail east, the odd smell intensified. And, as the day wore on, it did not seem to get much brighter. The fog was getting somewhat darker as the day progresses. Unusual, since fog disperses upon the break of day. Perhaps the unusual smell carried by the fog is related to the atypical behavior of the thickening clouds. As the smell lingered, it led to additional speculation. What could it be? After much discussion, the general consensus was that the fog smelled like a wet dog. Sailing into a wet dog did not sound appealing to the crew, many of whom shuddered at the prospect.
Noon approached and the fog remained. The intensity of the smell was even stronger than before and the fog started gaining a more yellowish-brown cast. This was indeed odd. As it became apparent that this was not ordinary fog, more and more crew members complained of physical ailments, primarily respiratory. There were several crew members wheezing, quite a few coughing and others dizzy and nauseous. Something in this fog was making the crew sick. Archduke Bower ordered a full stop so that the officers could assess their options and make plans.
The choking, brownish-yellow haze stopped the fleet.
The officers from each ship met up with Archduke Bower to discuss the situation. Three options emerged as possible courses of action. First, Captain Slinkaway suggested a full reverse and to head back home. Next, Captain Dunsel proposed heading onward. After all, how much more fog could there be. And, after all, it was only fog. Shiphand Rosco P. Coltrane had one final suggestion: get those Duke boys. After a good hour of debate, Archduke Bower finally came to a decision: the fleet would move ahead. And, as a precaution, all crew members would wear a cloth mask to avoid breathing in too much of the fog until after they had passed through the bizarre fog bank.
The eerie, almost otherworldly glow in the fog helped sailors track the sun as they continued heading east for parts unknown.
Sailing east all day and into the night, morning came with the eerie fog and ever-increasing foul stench. The crew was faring better by using fabric masks to keep the noxious fog out of their lungs. The conditions were certainly unpleasant, but not untenable. Though still unfamiliar and defying a clear descriptor, the general consensus grew to believe that the smell most resembled that of a wet dog, perhaps combined with smoke.
As unappealing as that assessment was, the crew was determined to continue eastward into the great unknown. The brave felines sailed eastward, glad that their masks were sparing them the unpleasant smell which seems to be pervasive in the area. Other than the unpleasant nature of the atmosphere, business continued more or less in the same nearly-automatic fashion which filled the time since departing the islands.
The Quartermasters of the lead ships were engaged in a meeting aboard the lead vessel. The topic today: distributing canvas for sail repairs. Also on the agenda are food reserves and medicinal catnip reserves.
Three boatswains had a meeting in the other end of the stateroom. They wanted to prioritize a maintenance list which would include the sail repairs.
Riggers from several ships milled about outside on the deck, waiting to find out what the future would hold for their sails. They planned on informing the quartermasters about a need for replacing rope for several ships.
Stewards had a meeting of their own, calculating the payments due to each sailor for the week. A ledger for each ship tracked the pay. Schulmonetas would be waiting, with hefty discovery bonuses, when the ships returned home.
Archduke Bower and the first officer were discussing the log book entries for the day when the first ship suddenly shuddered and came to a stop. Crew members were knocked off their feet and loose items slid off of tables and crashed to the floors. It appeared as if the ship had struck a rock. The thick brownish haze had made visual checks almost impossible. No one knew this was coming. All hands raced to their posts to secure the ship and sound the alarm for the trailing vessels. Above the din of the crew scurrying about, a new and unfamiliar sound could be heard: a deep, low rumble. This sound was definitely not the surf. Then, a clanking sound seemed to come from the direction of the rock.
The haze started to clear up some.
This was definitely not a rock.
Something far larger was emerging from the smoky brown haze.
This was no rock...
This... was a ship.