I couldn't help but feel a deep sense of foreboding as we descended. The heat and smell grew more intense as I struggled to keep my sloshing, stinking bucket upright. Looking down forward, I could see the captain at the head of our procession, stone-faced, gazing into the depths. I followed his gaze, and couldn't help but shudder at what I saw. From down here, the pit we called the Blowhole felt like something else entirely. It wasn't just the giant nostril of an impossibly large creature. It was something else, something awful. As we progressed further and further into its recesses, I couldn't help but feel like we were marching down into the jaws of a great, gaping maw.
— Excerpt from a Gamburg resident's recollection of her captain's Casting Off
When a Creed-wracked
individual grows old, to old to continue life on Gamburg
, they are presented with a choice. No longer can they spend their days hacking away at the ever-regenerating flesh of the colossal whale-thing they call home, nor can they spend their nights drinking away their sorrows in one of the City of Stove Boats' many dismal alehouses. Their affliction has taken far too much hold over them by that point.
Aging and Changing
As a Creed-wracked ages, their transformation never quite stops. By the time they reach Gamburg, they have become tough, tougher than wood, their skin like stiff leather, their limbs gnarled. Scarlike white lines mar their bodies, flowing over their features like wood grain. In all likelihood, they are missing a limb, perhaps even two. Some even make it after having lost the full set. After all, when a Creed-wracked is set on completing a task, there are very few things capable of stopping them. A missing limb, or four, is not one such thing. These transformations continue as a Creed-wracked lives, and works, and ages in Gamburg. Sleepless nights turn to sleepless weeks, sleepless months. Blinking becomes a forgotten art, and the eyes stare wildly ever onward. The skin thickens and hardens yet more, like a full-body callous, and as the white scar-lines deepen and thicken, cutting ivory swathes through the rough skin, it begins to more and more resemble the bark of a tree. The Creed-wracked's supernatural vigor is not dampened, and is instead heightened, the poor soul never tiring as they hack fruitlessly away with their spades, bathing the Flensing Plain in blood.
The Creed-wracked's mind undergoes changes as well, but these are more subtle. The call begins again. The call that first brought them to the sea, long before they became what they are now. The call that brought them to Gamburg, after their name had been swept away by the waves. And now, as that name is once again slowly washed away, the paint on their ruined ship's hull disappearing bit by bit as each wave comes crashing down on it, the call begins again. The Creed-wracked is drawn to the great void in the heart of Gamburg, the centerpiece of that abysmal town. The gaping pit that reaches into the heart of Wrong John, the Great White Whale. The Blowhole. The Creed-wracked doesn't sleep anymore, just gazes down into the nothingness below. Eventually, even tearing into Wrong John's flesh no longer gives the joy it once did, and the Creed-wracked spends every waking moment (that being every moment) at the hole's edge.
The First Choice
This is where the choice comes in. There are two fates for those who last until this point. The first is that they resist the pull. This is, of course, physically impossible for the Creed-wracked to do of their own free will, once the Whaleman's Creed progresses past a certain point. Thus, this choice must be made early, when the Creed-wracked first feels themself drawn to the Blowhole, before it is too late to turn back. The Creed-wracked is bound in ropes and chains to the prow of their ship, and pierced by their own harpoon, which is hammered through both body and hull, until the Creed-wracked is pinned. This is the only way they can be held in place, for no mundane person or item may hold back a Creed-wracked. Only another Creed-wracked is capable of such a feat, and as Creed-wracked and ship are all one, different vessels sharing the same soul, the same name, they are the only things capable of holding one back.
From then the Creed-wracked is lowered into the abyss of the Blowhole, set to lay affixed to the cliffs of flesh on its side, staring ever-onward into the void. The process of transformation continues, until the Creed-wracked is left unrecognizable, their body having melded with their ship, transforming them into something resembling a particularly disgusting figurehead. A figurehead which babbles impossible secrets and forbidden words, which whispers madness into the ears of those who would listen. A fettered prophet, speaking the words of Wrong John, which it is unable to speak itself. Certain foolish individuals listen to these words and take them as portents or divine knowledge, decrees of an abhorrent intelligence far beyond mortal comprehension. These interpreters have a large following in Gamburg, and they are perhaps the closest thing that passes for a government in that lawless place.
The Second Choice
The second choice, however, is to submit to the call. This goading siren song promises the Creed-wracked that they could kill Wrong John, slay the great beast they have devoted their life the felling, if only they ventured within. After all, if hacking away at its flesh has no effect, clearly the problem must be addressed from a different angle. Not with any less hacking, just a different, possibly more fatal target. There exist legends that speak of Wrong John's "life," an area that, if struck, would kill it. The theory's proponents argue that such an area must exist. After all, it is present in all whales, even the aberrant ones of the Pariah's Tides. Just as with those whales, they believe that the great whale's life is where it holds... whatever it is that keeps the thing alive, and that killing it is as simple as destroying that life. Regardless of this theory or the many other theories regarding what lurks in the belly of the beast, the Creed-wracked are nevertheless drawn there by whispered promises in the backs of their minds. Eventually, those promises grow too enticing for the Creed-wracked to resist, and they end up venturing into the darkness.
In times of old, the Creed-wracked would simply hurl themselves into the Blowhole, never to be seen again. As Gamburg has grown, however, traditions have been established. Even the twisted culture of Gamburg is still a culture, and like any other culture its residents have their own rituals and traditions. When a Creed-wracked decides that it is time to Cast Off and venture below, they now have the opportunity to enjoy a final festival in their honor, which prepares them for the trials they must face. This Casting Off celebration takes place at the edge of the precipice, down in the Blowhole itself. Above the rickety wooden platform, crafted from the discarded hulls of abandoned or destroyed ships, the fettered prophets moan and howl, a dull chorus of mindless voices which washes over the ceremony. Below it, the abyss offers no sound, just the foreboding, crushing presence of its darkness. All around, walls of warm, slimy whale-flesh box in the celebrants.
Despite these miserable surroundings, a Casting Off is a time of joy and revelry, a rare moment in the lives of the Creed-wracked, whose ordinary emotional range exists on a scale of sullen to raging mad. That's not to say that a Creed-wracked's "joy" is identical to an ordinary person's, tainted as it is with the hatred that runs through the veins of those afflicted with the Whaleman's Creed, but it is close enough. During the ceremony, the Creed-wracked of honor is subjected to a number of rites in order to prepare them to go below. Throughout the ceremony, words and images are carved into the Creed-wracked's skin by Gamburg's finest scrimshanders, whose skill in adorning both body and bone is unmatched. Though the knives used to cut are large and sharp, the cuts deep, no real harm is caused to the Creed-wracked. Their barklike skin is thick, rough, and unfeeling, and while they may bleed, their blood is viscous and dark, flowing like molasses. The meal set before them and all their guests is a grand affair, consisting of luxuries long thought forgotten, such as mostly-fresh fruit and vegetables, actual fresh meat rather than the tasteless salted pork they usually eat, and other such delicacies.
When the feast, which is more often that not plundered from the stores of the most recently crashed ship in Gamburg, is finished, the next phase of the Casting Off may begin. The Creed-wracked must be washed free of all that they are, must be made into the perfect vessel of hatred and destructive power, in order to have a proper shot at taking out Wrong John. The first thing they cast off is their clothing, as they stand naked in the warm, humid air before the drop. Then, one by one, others approach and throw buckets of Wrong John's blood and oil onto the Creed-wracked, each toss washing away a bit of the Creed-wracked's self. The foul fluids run along the grooves formed by the Creed's scarring, fill the symbols and words gouged in by expert knives. They are absorbed into the Creed-wracked's body, filling them with the primordial rage of Wrong John, their benefactor and their enemy, their quarry and their predator. At the end, there is little left besides the rage.
Finally, there comes the time for the most important rite of all. The final draught. It is an alcoholic beverage, a mix of fine rum and a very special ingredient: prophet-sap. The blood of the fettered prophets is a viscous substance, even more than that of a Creed-wracked. The dark, golden-red substance drips from the wounds of the fettered prophets, gathering at the end of the harpoons rammed into their chests, collected by the ones who listen to their insane gibbering. It is a valuable substance, and a dangerous substance, capable of granting the one who consumes it the sight of a prophet, even for just a brief moment. Such a thing can do terrible things to a person, and while it is used by navigators in order to travel the Tides, it is heavily diluted. A single drop is enough to destroy a mind. But Davy Jones' Liquor, as the last drink of the Creed-wracked is jokingly named, is a good one-third full of the stuff. As their last act before they are never seen again, the Creed-wracked quaffs the foul beverage, and understands exactly where they must go. They understand far more than that, likely too much, but it is too late for any of that now.
They make the leap. No ropes are needed. They aren't coming back up, and if they could be killed by a simple fall they are most definitely not up to the task. The celebrants pack up their things and make the long journey back up to the top, and far below yet another fool realizes that they should have taken the phrase 'belly of the beast' a little more seriously.