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Over the last few days of the trip, someone - Kaldalis wasn’t sure who - had taken to loudly announcing how many days were left. Over the course of a few hours, it became a meme, with people announcing the number of days remaining as a salutation. Or randomly barking it out mid-conversation. Kaldalis wondered if it was going to be something that continued through the entire campaign, or if it was going to dry up once they were on land again.

By the time his quest ticked over to 13/14 days, Kaldalis had firmly come to grips with two things.

The first was his new self.

He didn’t have a whole backstory, but he felt like he was starting to really get “into character” as Kaldalis. Balrim had a whole thing cooked up about his life growing up in the desert on the east side of Zara, and Myrin had an involved tale about being adopted by human parents who refused to see her as an adult even after she came of age, due to her short stature.

But they were roleplayers. It was expected that they’d go the whole nine.

Kaldalis didn’t have any of that, but he had an impression of who he “was” and how he should behave. He figured that Kaldalis was no chess team math nerd, but he was far from a meathead. Bold and brash, but not a fool. Generally, it was the persona Dylan had always played videogames - a hopeful hero, but tempered by enough restraint to stay alive.

The second thing he’d come to grips with was that he did not want to be on a boat anymore. Like, really just 100% done. Day in and day out of open ocean was wearing on his nerves, especially since his routine was basically just a way of killing time. No matter what he did, none of the other NPCs offered him any quests since Heluna’s, and so he’d had no way to gain additional levels. Being stuck at level two was a real drag, and while it gave him an edge in sparring, he hadn’t gotten anything else new. His weapon skills had increased to the cap for his level, but it was only ten, not enough for any new abilities. He felt like he was as prepared as he could get for the adventure to just start already.

Kaldalis never thought he’d be nostalgic for loading screens and teleporting boats, but here he was.

He filled the time as best he could, trying to keep from going entirely crazy. He got to know Heluna a little better over the course of the few days since their little adventure. Apparently doing the quest had solidified him as a trustworthy friend, and she invited him along to the nightly card games the crew had belowdecks while most of the adventurers were sleeping. He didn’t fully understand the rules, but the game seemed to be more an excuse to sit around drinking and chatting than anyone being really invested in their cards. And once the others got to know him, they didn’t take quite so much glee in raking his crescents across the table into their pockets. And they didn’t mind when he turned over his cards and had them rolling laughing as they pushed the pot over his way.

Apparently winning a game you barely understand is a laugh riot.

When his spear skill capped out for his new level, he toyed around with the other starter weapons, but nothing stuck as well as the spear. A few of the alpha players tried to turn him on to their own particular favorite, but nothing felt as natural as the spear.

Similarly, no one dismissing fishing as a dead-end skill could convince him to stop. The cast of faces on the fishing deck rotated pretty regularly, and so he got a chance to exchange pleasantries with everyone with relative frequency. The only face that was as much a staple of the fishing deck as himself - if not more so - was Aurigeant, who seemed to spend his time doing almost nothing else.

But filling his time could only go so far.

It didn’t matter that he was mid-fish when he heard the call that land was sighted. He almost hucked the rod overboard in his hurry to rush to the deck, and he didn’t stop running until he was at the stern of the ship with a handful of other adventurers. They all looked out, scanning the sea until they had picked out the faint lump on the horizon.

Someone nearby let out a whoop of excitement, and Kaldalis joined the rest in echoing it. There it was. A place where he could gather materials for new gear, do quests for exp, and finally get into a real fight with real monsters.

Finally.

If absolutely nothing else, something was going to change. At long last. Even if they all ended up just sitting there on the fucking beach doing the exact same things as they were doing now, the change from boat to beach was enough for him at this point.

“Alright,” one of the sailors nearby called out, drawing the attention of the celebrating adventurers. “We’re all happy to see rocks and shit again. You aren’t special for that. But can you all fuck off somewhere out of our way? We gotta prep this bitch of a boat before we ram nose-first into those same rocks.” The sailor pointed out to the ocean off the starboard side. “Especially with that fucking thing coming on.”

On the edge of the horizon there was a thick swirl of grey cloud, the upper parts of it forming a thunderhead that looked like an enormous anvil floating over the ocean on a collision course with the ship. It looked surprisingly close, considering that he hadn’t even noticed it until the sailor had pointed it out.

“Oh,” Kaldalis said, staring at it even as he dispersed from the crowd, making room for the crew to work. “That’s probably not good.”

The ship shifted in a way he wasn’t expecting. After two weeks, everyone had their sea legs, but this sudden change in the ship’s smooth rocking threw more than one adventurer to the deck. Kaldalis only kept his feet by the extra balance his tail afforded him. As the ship continued to shift in this new way - the change so sudden it felt like a cutscene had just started - he wondered if he would be able to walk a straight line without a tail once he got back to his own body.

If he got back to his own body.

“Okay.” Kaldalis took a few careful breaths to clear his head. He tried to think of what he would do if they ended up in a storm - or, god (or whoever) forbid, a shipwreck - and his first thought was that he wouldn’t like having to deal with it alone. He took a run towards the door that would take him belowdecks. “I have to find Balrim and Myrin. If we can all stick together, we can deal with what comes. When it doubt, know where you’re healer is, right?”

The wind shifted and picked up, and the calls and cries of the adventurers and crew alike turned to shouts and screams. The boat didn’t just shift, it jerked as every sail was suddenly filled. Again, his tail saved him from a tumble to the deck, jerking up to counterswing the boat’s sudden change. The crew’s movements went from hurried to frantic, and the figures in the rigging adjusting sails and lines started to work double time to deal with the abrupt storm.

“Kaldalis!” someone yelled, the voice carried by the wind. He turned to face it but the speaker barrelled into him. It was Heluna, looking frantic as she grabbed his arm. For a moment, he was holding her up before she got her feet under herself again. “This way! This way!” She adjusted as the ship teetered back the other way, and dragged him bodily along back the way she’d come.

“What’s going on?” he yelled over the wind.

“Motherfucking storm!” she screamed. “What the fuck do you THINK is going on?” Despite her volume, the wind whipped her voice away, and he could just barely pick out her words. As if to punctuate it, there was a flash on the horizon, beneath the cloud.

One one-thousand

Two one-thousand

Three one-thousand

Four one-thousand

Five one-thousand

Rumble.

Kaldalis didn’t remember exactly what each second meant in terms of distance, but that was pretty close.

“Grab this!” Heluna yelled over the rumble of thunder. She pressed a rope into his hands. “Stay right the fuck here on the railing. Hold this rope. Don’t let go unless you want us all to eat shit, okay?”

“Okay!” he yelled back, wrapping the rope twice around his left forearm, and grabbing a hold of the railing with his right hand. “Just here, right?”

“Yeah! Keep it taut! Just like that!” She looked over his shoulder at the ocean beyond. “You can swim, right?”

“Yeah? Am I gonna need to?”

She slapped his shoulder and gave him a grin. “If you see me yelling and waving, move whatever direction I’m pointing, alright?”

“Okay!” He settled himself in and watched as she sprinted off elsewhere. His eyes followed the rope up into the sail on the forward mast. The rope was tied right to one of the sails there, and he wondered what purpose he was actually serving. Then again, it was possible that this was just a cutscene, and Heluna had put him here just to make sure that he was positioned for the optimal view of the excitement to come.

He watched Heluna grab a few of the other adventurers on the deck, positioning them with their own ropes in other places on the deck. He felt a stab of self-consciousness as he suspected this job was just to keep him out of the way as the rest of the deck became a flurry of activity.

His suspicions fled when the storm hit the boat.

The thunderhead passed between the ship and the sun, and the world changed. It was suddenly dark as night. The streaks of lightning went from a way to count down how much closer the storm was to periodic and unpredictable flashes of the choppy seas around them. Sheets of rain came down. And the tension in Kaldalis’s rope redoubled, almost lifting him from his feet as the wind drowned out everything. Amid the spotty lantern light on the deck, he tried to keep an eye out for Heluna, to spot her if he was supposed to move.

Kaldalis felt it, rather than saw it, when the mast broke. Even in the near-blackness of the area above the ship, he could sense the enormous mass of wood and cloth as it toppled into the sea. Kaldalis briefly suspected that the people holding the lines might be able to save the mast - keeping it tethered to the ship to be recovered after the storm. But he heard a dozen screams in the darkness, some of them coming from too far out over the deck for the voices to still be aboard the ship.

The line tightened, and Kaldalis tried to hold. And the tension redoubled. And then redoubled again. He was pulled from his feet, and over the railing, and for a long moment, he dangled there between the ship and the rope, one hand on the rope, the other on the railing. He held on because he didn’t have a choice - the rope was too tightly wrapped around his arm. For a moment, he thought his right hand would give out and he would be plunged into the sea, but there was a snap and the tension let loose. His rope broke. At the very least, he could tell Heluna he’d done his bes-

Lightning streaked the sky, thunder filling his ears at that same moment. The flash illuminated more than a choppy sea. The mast wasn’t in the water. It was being gripped by enormous tentacles. The storm hadn’t taken the mast, an aquatic monstrosity had. And before the flash faded, he saw more tentacles reaching out towards the ship.

Travel on the Persimmon 14/14

There was a little chime, and the quest advanced to the next objective.

Survive 0/1

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About the author

RileySKeene

Bio: Husband-and-wife writing duo. Author of six fantasy novels and three LitRPG novels.

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