“This… is about halfway. Giver take. Half a mind to take you a mite farther, but it’s getting late in the day…” The old woman said as she set down her oars and looked critically up at the sky.
Blinking, Drake looked around. They were sitting in the middle of the body of water, with not a land in sight. What did she-
The boat flipped. Water filled his mouth. Saltwater, Drake thought bitterly. Immediately, the heavy metal studded leather armor he was wearing pulled him deeper into the dark water, away from the relative safety of the boat. As he sank, the old woman seemed to flip through the water like a dolphin, instantly circling the boat and righting it as he sank helplessly downward.
As he moved his arms ineffectually, trying to reverse his descent, she grinned at him and flipped him off. Then she kicked her feet and practically leaped out of the water and back up onto the boat.
‘Swimming Skills,’ Drake thought sourly, as he considered his options. After a bit of hesitation, he put his armor back into his interspatial ring and glared upwards as he began to swim. Ryx, for whatever reason, maintained his physical form and used his small claws to cling to the rough cloth of Drake’s undershirt. He wasn’t the best swimmer, but the stats he had compensated for a lot, even when you didn’t have the Skill.
Still, about 20 seconds later, Drake realized he had two problems: rapidly swarming fish monster and the boat was rapidly moving away across the water. That damn old woman must have been sandbagging on the row out here.
Another voice in Drake’s head whispered that this was his own fault. He had accepted her offer of “take him halfway there” as an offer to take him to another small island with more boat traffic, not literally halfway there. But he hadn’t attempted to iron out the details. That was quite unlike him.
In fact, he had simply been furiously trying to figure out why Sydney had given him these orders, without worrying much about the execution. Perhaps he had assumed he would figure out when he got there, but… It was inexcusable. It was his fault. He was letting his insecurities cloud his judgment.
And now… a local had attempted to rob and perhaps even kill him. This was not something he would let go.
The bone gauntlet on his left hand throbbed. Wincing, Drake raised it an aimed at the departing boat. Although the strange stone left by the Ghosthound allowed you somehow to deny the System and provided some shelter from the reverberations, it didn’t totally insulate you. If you did it without their strange alter, your Class wouldn’t suffer the painful instability, but it also wouldn’t evolve.
Drake didn’t regret his decision, but he wished it wasn’t QUITE so fucking painful.
“Eternal Grasp.” He whispered as the many-toothed fish drew closer. There was a query from his bone gauntlet, and Drake responded by blasting it with an image of Mr. Fantastic’s arm stretching out almost infinitely.
With a small noise, the gauntlet trembled. THen it began to bubble. Finally, it erupted outwards, growing faster than it ever had in Drake’s practice. So much so that the force of it expanding knocked off the stroke of his swimming, and made him flounder somewhat as the strange monsters swamp closer.
There were two main varieties. One was a fat looking eel with a long snout, and the other was a silvery fish the size of a hog with sharp looking fins along its sides. Both were below Level 30, but there were probably a hundred of them gathering around Drake, with more lurking along the edges of his sphere of Perception.
The eels arrived first, undulating through the water to flash crooked teeth. Ryx squealed, or perhaps simply growled underwater but then morphed into his shield form in a second. In that form, Ryx was a large, perfectly circular shield positively bristling with spikes. And if those spikes inflicted wounds lingered, Drake knew that necrosis would set in fast enough to matter in this strange, underwater battle.
He managed to right himself just as the first arrived, twisting around the shield as Drake swung it slowly to defend. But as it passed by a hair’s breadth, Ryx stretched, extending his quills to rake across the side of the eel. It hissed in annoyance and came to bite Drake. Sighing, Drake activated his bone armor.
Over the past several months, this was the point he had pushed himself on the most. In half a second, the plates of bone erupted from his body to form a protective shell. Without understanding what was happening, the eel smashed its head into the shoulder guard and paused in the water, clearly stunned.
With a deft twist, Drake smashed the thing against his armor, grinding it to mush. It was at that point that he started to wonder how long his enhanced body would be able to hold out without air, especially while fighting. A half second later, his bone gauntlet smashed up into the boat, now almost 100 yards away.
Instantly he pulled back, and the hand retracted enough to pull the stretched out bone tight between them. And Drake pulled. Sensation was still maintained through the extended arm, so he felt his fingers gripping onto the soft wood of the boat as water flowed up into the hole he had made in the side.
Then, he pulled harder, and his bone armored body jerked forward, hitting one of the boar sized fish directly in the jolt of movement. The thing’s bones seemed to crack like rotten wood, and suddenly Drake was among the fish. As much as he could he swung Ryx in tight circles to keep them from swarming him. Because once they understood he was now moving quickly sideways through the water as he retracted his Eternal Grasp, they had the mobility to still run laps around him.
Their attacks didn’t seem to damage his bone armor, but one thing that Drake had learned from the Ghosthound is to never give the opponent even the tiniest advantage they could use against you. That was how giants were slain. So he gritted his teeth and pulled the bone gauntlet back even more quickly. His speed jumped, and he smashed into another boarfish that was trying to slash at him with its fins. The exertion caused his Class to twinge once more.
Seven more scraped against his legs, arms, and back in the following second, but he had also smashed three aside with Ryx. It was then the eels caught up and began attacking his joints where his armor revealed him.
At that moment, Drake swore. A blade had clunked awkwardly against his hand up in the boat ahead of him. That foolish old woman was trying to hack his grip away. Little did she know that the Eternal Grasp-
Drake hit the boat with enough force to smash it to splinters. It also briefly threw him above the water, which gave him the chance to gulp down a breath before he splashed back underwater. Unsure of his move above the water, the sea monsters began to circle. He looked around wildly and spotted the old woman swimming away through the water faster than she had been traveling by boat.
“You…” Drake began but checked himself. One of the things that Sydney was very firm about was gendered language. So even though he was far away from anyone hearing, he bit back the acidic term and just growled.
But then he lowered his gaze and swore an oath to find her, whatever it took.
Once he was no longer pursuing the old woman, he could use his bone gauntlet in more offensive ways. It took all of five minutes to rip the remaining monsters to shreds. It took a further 6 hours after that to find dry land.
Bedraggled and furious, Drake walked slowly out of the water while dragging a Level 49 Seadragon Raid Boss that was too large for his Interspatial ring, but he wanted to keep for the materials. It had honestly been more luck than anything else that allowed Drake to kill it. If it had used its strange energy breath, he might have died. But it tried to swallow him.
Famous monster last move.
When he emerged from the water, there was a young Asian child on shore, picking his or her nose. As he approached, the child began to cry. Around the child, there were two huts, a small canoe, and a few trees. The island was about the size of a football field.
“I hate this Zone,” Drake said darkly.