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Torn World waters are hazardous enough without monsters; the coasts are dotted with rocks at and below the waterline, and the tides are powerful and dramatic. Add to this the moving hazards of enormous underwater creatures - some of them actively preying on humans! - and the seas become a ricochetball board of perils.
But sea travel is not optional; it is the only way to traverse the gaps between land, and the treasures of the sea are well worth the risks inherent in fishing and traveling it.
Vessels range from small personal boats, such as canoes and rowboats, to great multi-masted sailing ships upwards of 100 feet, often equipped with both sails and steam-powered paddles. The Empire maintains fleets of cargo ships, as well as ramships and warships, and tourism is a growing economy in the pleasant southern islands. Though they are not currently at war, the Empire maintains the armadas that survived their latest conflict, turning them instead to battle the sea monsters that threaten their ocean harvests and commerce.
All sea going crews keep a sharp eye out for incidental hazards. Large ships keep lookouts high in crowsnests, as well as at the bow and prow, to sweep the area around and ahead for things that might blunder into their path. There is active study in the use of painting with specific colors and patterns to dissuade sea monsters, and spikes, rams and spring-mounted bumpers are used on larger ships to keep the damage from collisions to a minimum. The ability to turn away from an oncoming creature is very valuable, and keeping ships nimble is an important design consideration to avoid accidents.
The weed-eater, a fat, placid herbivore found in shallow waters all over Torn World, is a danger to small and mid-sized boats, commonly trying to feed on anchor ropes and simply blundering into anything in its way. It grows up to 20 feet in length, and can easily capsize similar-sized or smaller vessels.
The giant sea turtle thinks of itself as the ruler of the seas, and with good reason, considering its impenetrable shell and dangerous beak. It doesn't often target ships (unless it feels threatened), but does expect them to get out of its way. With a top size near 35 feet, clipping one of these hard-shelled monsters can damage even a large boat and easily sink a smaller boat, especially if the turtle takes exception to being hit. The giant sea turtles can be found in deep water, or closer to shore during nesting seasons, and it is common throughout the west and spreading quickly east and north. Only the polar seas are inhospitable to it.
A larger herbivore, the blimpfish, is common in water of medium depth in most moderate and warm climates. It is a water-breathing whale that mates at the surface, and it cannot easily distinguish between a potential mate and a medium-sized ship. Its amorous attempts at copulation can be devastating, as they can reach 60 feet in length.
The trapjaw, a big predator (up to 40 feet) similar to a flippered alligator that likes shallow water, will gleefully and purposefully ram small and medium-sized ships, attempting to knock delicious crew members into the water to eat. They are common throughout Torn World and are a leading cause of amputation for unlucky swimmers.
The dreamskate, a ray-like monster that grows to 40 feet, often leaps out of the water in playful curiosity as well as to hunt for surface birds and other animals, and can land in or near vessels. The impact itself can be damaging, but they can also pose a danger to crews on larger ships because of their poisoned spine and dermal denticles, mouth full of sharp teeth and powerful wings. They are common in tropical and temperate areas, and sometimes travel in schools.
The largest of the sea monsters is the thunder-whale, often topping 100 feet. Its size alone is of great danger; hitting one at speed can badly damage even a large boat. They surface to breathe, and will actively ram a large boat that they consider a threat; it can sink the largest Empire boats with a good blow. But its greatest danger is the sonic wave it is named for: it can disable prey using sound waves, and may kill the entire crew, even if it doesn't shatter the vessel with its sonic attack. They are found in deep and medium-depth waters.
Fishing vessels range between small personal craft to larger, more industrial operations with mechanical net retrieval; the seas are rich with delicious fish in all sizes. But fishermen don't always catch the things they are out looking for!
Weed-eaters are a shallow-water hazard for entanglement, as well as for collision; they frequently graze right into a net, mistaking rope for seaweed, then panic and become entangled. They can drag a small boat under, if the fishers don't recognize the problem and jettison the net fast enough.
In the spring, young jellyriggers can appear in numerous swarms, and although their immature venom is not as immediately deadly as the adult version, their touch is highly unpleasant and multiple stings can still kill. Their long, dangling tendrils can become badly tangled in nets, often resulting in the loss of a net altogether; fishers try to keep an eye out for these swarms and pull in the nets before they lose their catch and good nets. Purple jellyriggers are found in cold western waters, while pink jellyriggers are found in warm central waters. They are most common in deep water, but may drift into shallower water as well.
The snagtooth, an armored, dolphin-like monster with curling tusks, often chases prey into large nets in shallow or medium waters, where it becomes caught itself. Smaller vessels may be capsized, while larger vessels may see this as a boon; snagtooth flesh is tasty! However, it is tough to get through its armor, and the creature usually damages nets, fishers, and even boats, in its struggle. The snagtooth often battles larger sea monsters, and will fight ferociously to the bitter end. These are found in warm southern waters near the Duurludirj islands.
Slightly larger than snagtooth, but similarly armored, the soldierfish is a frequent hitchhiker in nets, and also poses a danger to fishers when hauled into boats. It is even tastier than snagtooth, and is becoming rare in some areas as it has been deliberately hunted to scarcity. They are still common in northern waters.
The toothy trapjaw will also seek prey in nets and become entangled itself, as will the dreamskate.
The giant sea turtle will often tangle itself in nets or long lines, but is adept at cutting itself free; the biggest danger in netting a giant sea turtle is that it takes offense at being ensnared and will turn and attack the offending boat.
It is critical in many cases to simply give up a net for lost and release it, with its un-looked-for cargo, rather than haul it in and risk damage to the crew and the boat, so nets are always made with easy-to-release fastenings, and are often designed to fail when something unexpectedly large or strong blunders in. Fishers have to be willing to lose their cargo, faced with this danger, and are expected to be smart and react fast enough to release a net before they are hauled under. They must be well-trained to identify the things they might find that are toxic, as well as in recognize more obvious dangers they've pulled in.
Ring leeches, commonly growing between one and ten feet in length, can sometimes be caught up in nets designed for fish of that size, but are more often attached to long-term prey, and pose minimal risk to fishers. They are, however, a great danger to boats themselves, as they will often confuse a hull for a tasty animal. They have very sharp teeth designed to cut through tough sea monster hide, and they can also chew easily through wood. The biggest danger is that its attachment won't be noticed by the crew of the ship, and it can cause a ship to spring leaks.
The female harpoon snail lays its young in living hosts, and frequently confuses ships for other large sea monsters; it can sink a boat of any size by drilling through the hull. It is particularly difficult to dislodge because its shell deflects spears and because it tends to attach directly to the bottom of boats (as opposed to ring leeches and barnacles, which are more frequently found at the sides). It is intolerant of pollution, so there has been some success in dumping toxins around it to convince it to release.
Drill barnacles cause similar damage, though much slower. They attach to the hulls of ships and feed by filter, but if they don't get enough nutrients in this fashion, they will drill inwards in search of blood. Removing drill barnacles is a tedious and difficult task that must be done regularly on all ships; though any individual drill site is minimal, enough of them can cause a ship to take on enough water to sink.
To combat these invasive creatures, a crewmember is frequently sent to lower decks to listen carefully for chewing and drilling sounds and to check for damage and water. Large ships are also designed with multiple bulkheads, so that a penetration in one area of the hull can be isolated, and a single drill site won't sink the ship. There has also been some design experimentation with double hulls. All ships are prepared to make emergency patches while out to sea. Patches made by divers on the exterior of hulls are risky to attach, but sometimes necessary.
Not all sea monster damage is accidental or incidental... plenty of creatures in the Torn World seas will actively go out of their way to attack a ship in their territory, whether for food, in self-defense, or simply for the sport.
By far the most clever, and arguably the most dangerous, the smartarm is similar to Earth myths about kraken, and the colossal squid. Eight mobile tentacles and two additional grabbing arms give the smartarm incredible reach and allow it to climb onto anything; it can survive for some time out of the water. It is smart enough to attack from many angles at once, and can sweep an entire crew off of a deck with one arm. It also tends to attack the people, rather than the tools; where other monsters may get distracted trying to eat pointy parts of the ship, the smartarm will climb up into the rigging and pick off the sailors calling orders! In most cases, it will recognize a losing battle and retreat to fight another day... armed with more experience than it had before. It is, however, highly territorial and less rational about incursions near its nesting ground - where 'near' can be a mile or more.
Responsible for most of the amputations of warsailors and monster-fighters is the deathfin, a flippered monster that grows to 60 feet. The deathfin is fortunately rare, but difficult to kill and frequently deadly. It keeps its body out of reach and can scoop tasty crew members off the deck of a ship with a mouth full of teeth on a very long neck. Its northern cousin, the heat-thief, is even larger, up to 80 feet, and more dangerous.
The giant sea turtle is the next most likely sea monster to remove limbs. It rarely goes looking for a fight, but it does take exception to being tangled in nets or bumped. Angered, a giant sea turtle will turn on a ship with its sharp biting beak, capable of biting through a hull, and it is difficult to get through its great shell to defend against. It will happily snip off limbs of anyone in the water.
The sea serpent is a ribbon-like snake that grows to 75 feet. It was originally a venomous creature, but has adapted to become a constrictor, and will attack up to medium-sized ships, wrapping itself entirely around a boat and crushing it, then swallowing the crewmembers (or any tasty cargo) whole. Luckily, it is quite rare and only found in deep water.
Unlike the Irfai, who frequently pursue sea monsters for the glory of fighting them, the Duurludirj believe that the best battle is one you avoid; flight is always the preferable option. There is no shame in turning tail, and a good captain knows which monsters will follow into shallow water, which might be distracted by jettisoning a small dummy float, which might simply be outrun, and in what cases it's best to turn and fight. A nimble ship with great speed is greatly desirable for avoiding conflict with the most dangerous denizens of Torn World.
The Best Defense...
True to the famous saying, the best defense is often a swift and deadly offense. Warships prefer to defeat their foe at a distance, before a sea monster can get the ship within the reach of their claws and teeth and tentacles. To this goal, distance weapons are employed as a first wave.
Spring-launched harpoons are a staple of the Duurludirj warsailors. This weapon can penetrate some kinds of armor at close range, and a good shot at a longer range can take a monster in the eye or other vulnerable spot. Aiming such a weapon from a moving ship is a very chancy business, requiring experience to accommodate for the sway of the ship, deflection of water, and the motion of the sea monster. Typically, a volley of several harpoons is shot at an encroaching monster. Large monsters may require many shots to bleed out, requiring deadly close combat while it continues to battle; it is difficult enough to hit a monster, let alone to get a harpoon into a vital organ.
The Exploder is a new design of harpoon, still spring-launched, but with a chemically-charged, explosive head that is meant to penetrate the monster and cause extensive damage from within. It is infamous for causing the complete destruction of the ship it was being tested on by exploding before it was launched. Its inventor, Dlujan, is having some difficulty convincing other ships to continue testing it, despite revised safety considerations.
Once the initial wave of harpoons has done what it can, the monster has either decided the ship isn't worth pursuing (the ideal situation!) or is closing in on the ship.
The warsailors have one more opportunity to keep the battle from getting to their decks: repellants and poisons. Barrels of toxins are rolled out and smashed open in the path of oncoming monsters, aimed for maximum effect at open mouths, nostrils and gills. The science of toxicology is a long-honored one, and may turn a monster aside, particularly if it has been injured. Some toxins are designed specifically to sting in open wounds, making a harpoon strike even more unpleasant to the big monster, and some more benign ones are intended just to 'taste bad.'
Because of the shipboard danger of the poisons and recent public outcry about the contamination of fish and beaches, some captains dislike the use of them, and may choose to use less hazardous close-range deterrents, such as sharp bobbing caltrops (also a common beach hazard), or things that make a challenging or off-putting noise in the water; some captains swear by playing music deep within their holds. The science of sea monster deflection is a contentious one, and new techniques are constantly in trial.
As many times as not, a sea monster is unfazed by the deterrents. Poisons and small swallowed burrs, even deadly ones, take some time to take affect (assuming they can even get enough of them into the creature!), so warsailors may need to battle the monster directly until the poisons have done their work, the creature bleeds out from harpoon wounds, or it dies from internal injuries. Worse still, many monsters come unscathed through the first defenses of the warsailors, or surprise a ship so that none of them can be used. Now comes the hand-to-scale battle!
Though specialists continue to experiment with whirling bladed machines, steam-powered spikes and other mechanical ways to take on the tenacious monsters of the deep, the best and truest way to combat the sea monsters remains a clever, athletic fighter with a blade. No automated method is as capable of finding a weakness in armor, avoiding the sharp bits, or reacting as quickly as a warsailor or monster-fighter on his (or her!) own feet carrying their weapon of choice. Spears, axes and swords are all used to devastating effect, and some warsailors and monster-fighters also use cudgels for blunt damage or bolas to tangle limbs or ensnare mouths; a wide selection of weapons are hung securely with easy-release connections throughout most ships, so that no one is ever unarmed for long.
For the Duurludirj, teamwork is considered more effective and respectable than single-handed heroics, and warsailors train in groups as well as hone individual skills. Warsailors attempt to divide the attention of an attacking monster by slashing and yelling at it from all directions, eventually allowing one of them a lucky shot at a vulnerable area, or simply wearing the monster down together while it bleeds out, succumbs to internal attack, or gives up. Spring-launched harpoons may be employed at close range, but take so much time to maneuver, aim, and reload that few shots can be counted on during such a battle.
Conversely, for the Irfai, individuals vie for the honor of attempting to kill a sea monster. They will generally divide the attention of their enemy as a group, but deliberately give a pre-chosen monster-fighter the chance to jump in and make a defining kill, often relying on sneak-and-stab techniques. Many Irfai monster-fighters choose to make a leap for the top of the head, staying out of reach of claws and teeth while trying to make a killing blow to an unprotected eye with a long knife. They employ hooks like climbing anchors to stay on their monster, and they often are dragged underwater as the sea monster tries to shake them off; holding their breath for long periods of time is a necessary skill. The Irfai see poison and swallowed weapons as 'cheating' and frequently go out of their way to engage the sea monsters, rather than avoiding them. Their boats tend to be smaller personal vessels, rather than the impressive Duurludirj ships. Sea monster fighting is considered a great challenge and aspiration for the Irfai, and those killed in the battle are afforded great honor, and their families are well cared-for. Though their casualty rate tends to be higher than Duurludirj warsailors, their exploits are far more showy.
The Future of Sea Monsters
Sea monster technology is a thriving industry; ships are constantly in need of improvement and repair, and weapons and nets are frequently lost at sea. There is incredible pressure to make more effective fighting machinery, more agile ships, and better protection for fishers and hunters. Better, safer toxins that have less widespread affect, or better delivery systems, are constantly sought. More reliable deterrents and more knowledge about how sea monsters breed, move and fight is a growing field of study.
As the technology improves, the sea monster populations may become threatened - or they may adapt their own, more vicious defenses! Harmony on the high seas is highly unlikely in the foreseeable future.
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History of the Irfai: The Irfai are a culture of sea monster-fighters who were isolated in a tiny shard after the Upheaval.