The Slickerman: Haunter of the Hurron Ocean
From "The Pantheon Fantastical," by Silvana Rhinebeck
Silvana Rhinebeck was a Binder, Professor Emerita at the Magist Imperial University, and Imperial Magus to the Emperor. Her life’s work culminated with The Pantheon Fantastical, a rigorous encyclopedia of the Uncanny Beings of the Meridian. Although it is unfinished due to her sudden disappearance, The Pantheon Fantastical remains the foremost authority on Uncannies and is a key text for all students, scholars, and professionals engaged in the study of the Meridian.
Many decades ago, while investigating a separate matter at the Cape of False Promise, I found myself in an oceanside tavern with a group of veteran seafarers. I was a post-grad at the time and, wayward from years of rigorous study without certain purpose, only just beginning to develop what would become the first manuscript of this Pantheon.
Over too many carafes of firewine, I listened to the old salts recount tales of their voyages. They began to share stories of the “Slickerman,” a presence on the open seas dogging vessels around the Salavas Islands. By this point, however, I was very drunk, and I misattributed these as engagements with sea creatures such as tentacle behemoths or perhaps whales. I spent the next morning nursing a crushing hangover and thought nothing more of this Slickerman.
Until, that is, I was putting the finishing touches on the Pantheon’s first volume, when I came across this line in Colm ‘ja Roarer’s exhaustive histories of the Salavas Economic Zone:
The heavy traffic and violent altercations between competing merchants of yesteryear are no more, and now the SEZ is remarkably placid outside of the occasional naval disaster or sighting of the ‘Slickéd Man’ who is said to chew through hulls.
It’s Colm’s fault such a tantalizing detail would be buried in his otherwise impenetrably dull writing. But upon reading this, I recalled my night of drinking with those old sailors and immediately set out to solve this new riddle.
The Slickerman — or Slickéd Man, Slicky Man, or even Gooey Man — is first referenced in old vessel logs from competing merchants racing to the Salavas Isles to procure spice wholesale after the opening of Amalcross’s Spice Bazaar in 301 AE. Because Imperial taxes do not apply in the Salavas Economic Zone, merchants could resell the spice at a profit, provided their ships arrived before the market was glutted. The stakes were incredibly high.
Rivalries between merchants and trading companies grew. Soon, armed vessels from competing operations were engaging in battle, and Binders were hired to fortify hulls, empower weaponry, and hasten sea travel through any magical means possible. In doing so, these Binders and their employers created large amounts of magical waste, which they offloaded into the Hurron. By 302 AE, swaths of the Hurron surrounding the Salavas Islands were covered in a toxic, combustible sheen.
Early in 303 AE, sightings of a “gooey man” swimming in the sheen began; often, he would be confused for an overboard sailor, as he would appear alongside vessels treading through. Yet, upon closer inspection, crewmembers would realize no sailor was twelve feet long, finned, and baring teeth that seemed to gleam in the darkest night. The Gooey Man was said to swim circles around even the fastest ships, with one captain recalling his galleon “bucking about in the goo’d one’s wake like a fly-bit filly.” His skin appeared oily, almost like that of a seal’s, and he emitted sounds that were either a hysterical laugh or a frenzied wail — no one could agree on which.
In 304 AE, the “slicky man” may have sunk The Righteous Stud, one of two vessels employed by House Ferric on a spice run. The Righteous Stud and its sister ship The Solemn Wench were engaging a third vessel belonging to a competing merchant when the Stud’s hull was breached and then “eaten from the inside out,” per one survivor’s account. Dozens of firsthand reports mention the “slicky” or “gooey man” in the water at the time of the battle; some suggest his teeth glistened with blood and that he could be seen egressing from the Stud’s hull as it sank. But authorities treated this with suspicion as the Wench still completed her spice run despite the loss and only reported the sinking after returning to Amalcross ten days later.
All this activity around the SEZ culminated in a political crisis between the Amal Empire and the Salavasters in 305 AE; the Navy of the Unified Militaries finally stepped in when the Salavasters’ ambassador threatened to shutter the nascent Spice Bazaar and permanently end spice sales to humans.
Slickerman sightings continued unabated, however, and it is possible he is responsible for a few more sinkings: of The Windkeeper, in 389 AE; The Mother’s Trumpet, in 412 AE; The Hornet and The Bee, both in 536 AE; and The Tallis Voyager, in 608 AE. The Slickerman only seems to appear to humans and only seems to sink vessels polluting the Hurron in some way. There is no indication he has ever antagonized the Salavasters.
I saw the Slickerman myself on a voyage south of the Salavas Islands. He is much as he was described in 303 AE, though he appeared to me shorter than twelve feet — no more than ten feet, at most. His teeth do indeed glisten. And, to my ear at least, he seemed to be laughing. If he was the same Slickerman from those early days of the Spice Bazaar, then he is one of the oldest Uncannies we have discovered on record.
I cannot say for certain what the Slickerman’s origin and motives are, but I can guess. I believe he lived in the Hurron long before the beginnings of the spice trade and that the pollutants of the competing vessels affected his home. I believe his first instinct is not violence, though he can certainly be compelled to enact it. And I believe he still surfaces, albeit infrequently, to remind us that we do not share the Hurron Ocean with him — but, rather, that he shares it with us.
Ballads of the Distant Reaches is a reader-supported publication. To receive new short stories, lore and illustrations and to support our work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
Love the detail-excellent story.