I turned to look about the deck and saw the last of the soldiers being surrounded and ignobly backstabbed until his HP disappeared. The sailor who’d helped me lower the raft was dead, bright red bubbles still forming in his wound. It wasn’t pandemonium anymore; the defenders were dead, and the attackers were catching their breath. I wasn’t unnoticed, several pirates were watching me with amused faces. They’d probably seen the whole drama that had just occurred with me throwing Hali overboard. I was just glad for every second they weren’t chasing down the life rafts.

Now on the deck I saw a Chortin with a tricorn hat, a sword at his side and a dozen throwing blades in bandoliers strapped across his chest. Even before I read his stats I knew who this pirate was: Lawless Jack. The pirate captain was a level 31 Chortin; not the highest among his crew but he had to spare some thought to his profession as a captain. He didn’t need the levels or even the weapon skills to hold his power. He passed my sentence with a casual wave.

The resting period was over. It was just me against a crew of pirates 4x my level. So did I grab a rigging knife and go down swinging, taking half the crew with me? Bloody stars, no! I did what a lobster does when it sees a hand from above reaching for it – I bolted away like a flash towards the nearest hidey-hole. I’ve already mentioned I don’t like fights where I know the outcome was against me.

Maybe the pirates really needed the breather they’d been taking, or maybe they’d expected more defiance in the person who threw his crewmates overboard but stayed himself. I made it to the ladder before them and fairly flew down to the shouts of some and the laughter of others. I knew where I wanted to go – the lower hold. The one place on the ship I hadn’t seen promised safety because some part of my brain said the pirates weren’t supposed to go down there. Instead, I bolted across the gun deck. I don’t know why I decided to do so – maybe the laughter from above had irked me. I knew I wasn’t a threat to them, and they knew it too. But they hadn’t even charged after me! Only two had given chase. Bloody fishguts, at least take me seriously!

I also knew that only a minute had passed since I’d sent Hali and the princess off. They needed time to get away – preferably a two-day lead. Since I couldn’t give them that, I would do my best to tie down as many of the pirates as possible. I had one ace – if I could call it that. More of a jack, really. I knew that I hadn’t fired my last artillery shot. My bolt was sitting there ready, patiently waiting for me to pull the trigger.

I grabbed the scorpion and spun it around towards my pursuit. The Tarish pirate had just enough time to realize he was looking at a fully loaded scorpion. He’d been expecting me to bolt, not turn this beauty on him. His hawk-like expression somehow still went wide eyed right before I pulled the trigger.

Because the enchantment sensed the enemy so close, the split-shot bolt separated into its four parts scarcely after it had left the scorpion. Three of the bolts hit the Tarish pirate, knocking him flat on his back – dead. The pirates may have had an increased health pool, but artillery was artillery.

I got lucky with the fourth bolt, as I hadn’t aimed or accounted for the human pirate. The fourth bolt hit his pelvis. Judging by the crippled, agony, and severe bleed debuffs that immediately afflicted him, it’d hit somewhere important.

The human pirate stumbled and fell, twisting his body. A savage, blood-curdling shriek rose from his throat. In the pregnant silence after it, there was no laughter from the main deck.

I bolted around the crippled pirate to the hatch and made my way further down. He could be magically stabilized of course, but that bleed on him was an ugly thing. It was better to occupy the pirates with a comrade needing help than glean his XP and waste my precious time. The ladders again flew by below me, but I felt trepidation with my plan. The guards had said the captain had defenses and a magical alert around the lower hold. If the alert was just an alert, I wasn’t too concerned if Michaels knew what I was up to. Heck, as the new captain I might even get the alert! But I didn’t know what kind of defenses there might be. They’d always kept a guard on watch, just to discourage any nosy sailor from taking a peek and risking the captain’s wrath. Was there even a trap? Was it a bluff?

I decided to slow as I approached where the guards had stood their watch. Surely the captain wouldn’t booby-trap his own ship, right?

My observation and traps skills saved me, showing me the pair of gossamer threads at the bottom of the steps. Tripwires! Bloody fishguts, the captain had booby-trapped his ship! I didn’t see what the trap did, only that it was manually activated instead of magically. That would have to do, since the pounding steps told me my precious seconds were almost up.

I avoided the tripwires and undid the simple knot that held the plank door closed. These planks had been put here to keep prying eyes out, not offer another level of security. Lucky me, I had no time to pick locks. I shut the door behind me as a pirate yelled from the top of the ladder. Not knowing what the trap did or its radius, I put as much distance between myself and the door as I could.

The pirate crashed through the door and for a moment I’d thought it hadn’t worked, that the pirate had somehow bypassed the trap. But no, inertia had carried him into the hold. He was out cold on the floor, along with another pirate on the stairs. A sleeping trap! That made sense, the captain wouldn’t want to compromise the ships’ integrity because of a nosy crewman or a guard’s mistake. I hurried to the sleeping pirate, checked that he indeed had the unconscious debuff with a 1 hour timer, and closed the door to the stairs. No need to let them peek down here either!

The pirate had a stone that glowed with green light, so I appropriated it to see with. Then I pulled a hatchet from the pirate’s waist and brought it down on his neck. It took me five strikes to drain his HP. If he hadn’t been unconscious for me to exploit crippling blows, I never would have brought him down. As it was I made his 1 hour timer shiver and drop before he was dead.

I’ve heard tales of people who refused to injure foes in such dishonest combat but hadn’t met many who I’d believed. I did acknowledge that killing wasn’t always as straightforward as ‘he deserved it.’ I had killed in pirate attacks before – though I’d been lucky then that the pirates were poor-level amateurs compared to this lot – as well as accidently in fights with other sailors. ‘Accidently’ killing those sailors didn’t cover it, as the fight had been plenty real and each of our crews had intended to hurt the other. ‘Accidently’ meant that when the fight was over and cooler heads prevailed, there were bodies cooling on the floor and no one knew who was most responsible. Those deaths had busted me up. That had been the first time I’d felt guilty for XP.

All of that crossed my mind as I killed the pirate, because I knew taking life could affect even seasoned killers (which I wasn’t). Still, I hadn’t hesitated and I somehow doubted I was going to lose sleep over this fellow any more than the other pirates.

By now there were shouts from the top of the stairs as more pirates congregated around my hideout. They were being cautious, though. I’d played a trick on them with the scorpion, killing one of their own and crippling another. That was a one-time deal, yet somehow I’d pulled another trick out of my hat and done the same thing again! They weren’t going to charge forward brazenly again. Which was fortunate, because I really was vulnerable now. They’d learned the right lesson at the wrong time.

I examined the crates around me, all tied down ridiculously securely. The captain hadn’t wanted the cargo down here to cause any troubles during the whole trip. He wanted to lock it away and forget it – apart from the few soldiers who I’d been promised had been inspecting the hold. Amazing how much that fact irked me, that there was some part of the ships’ safety that I couldn’t be sure of. Forbidden cargo and a secret mission? Fine! But why couldn’t I look for leaks?

I loosened some of the lines on a stack of large crates and opened it up. I whistled silently at what lay inside: a suit of master-craft armor! With frankly ridiculous bonuses to attributes for wearing the complete set! For a moment I envisioned myself donning the gear and greeting the pirates with it. Let them tangle with a cornered foe who had something to equalize the playing field! Make them pay for every minute my increased stamina and constitution would demand of them!

I had to shake my head and discard the fantasy. I’d never worn heavy armor like this, I’d be awkward and unwieldy. Having an armor skill increased your movement capabilities with each upgrade, but not having the skill penalized you for trying until you’d mastered the basics. The experienced raiders aboard my ship would know how and where to strike to bring me down.

My ship. This was my ship! I was the bloody captain of the Wind Runner, even if it was by default, and I’d be hung from the yardarm before I let them take her from me and pillage this hold!

There had to be more around here! Perhaps a suit of light armor I could use – the penalties for that wouldn’t be worse than the benefits a master-crafted set would bring. The next crate had an identical set of armor as the first and looking at the crates they were stacked atop of I imagined they were all the same. I moved on to different crates, these ones longer and narrower. I had a similar reaction to opening these as the first: silent awe. These were blades – also master-craft work – that inflicted an incredible amount of damage. I had two levels of swordsmanship thanks to Blake, I could use these to inflict some pain!

But they weren’t armor. I opened several different crates; all incredible quality weapons and tools. I found an enchanted dagger that had a chance to inflict a fear debuff, but otherwise the swords were the things immediately useful. There were a few smaller chests of a size just smaller than my torso, but they had a lock on each. Time was closing in. It’d been a scant three minutes, but the pirates weren’t going to give a person like me long. Still, my curiosity got the better of me. I had no lockpicks, but I had something better. I grabbed the sword with the highest damage output of 59-67 per hit and swung at the latches of the locked box. They surrendered quickly, not designed to withstand such a blade as the one I held. I opened the lid and froze.

Fireball Rune

Breaking this rune allows the wielder to access the stored fireball spell within. No restriction on mana or magical ability.

These were stacked on each other, surrounded by padding, with a note on top that said, ‘handle with extreme care!’ I broke out into a cold sweat when I thought of how I’d taken a sword to the box! Why didn’t they put a warning like this on the outside?

Runes were special stones that went through a process that allowed them to contain spells and mana. They were imbued with both and then anyone who broke them would be capable of channeling that magic. They were extremely useful, allowing ordinary soldiers to use the power of a mage on the battlefield, or make already dangerous special operations teams much more so. The prohibitive measure against them was their cost. This box alone was worth at least as much as the majestic armor I’d first uncovered – which I approximated at ‘way more than I’d ever seen’.

I looked around and spotted another box. I glanced back at the flimsy door that kept the pirates organizing themselves from seeing me. They were being kind enough to give me time, having decided they weren’t going to risk losing another life at my hands. I could use this time.

I saw the body of the pirate I’d killed on the deck.

I got an idea.


Some time later, I reviewed my accomplishments since the battle had started while I waited for the pirates. I could make guesses by the order of my kills and the XP I’d gained when and how the pirates had died. The first pirates had been lucky shots with the scorpion. Later came more kills with less XP awarded – pirates that I’d injured with the scorpion but had died by other hands on deck.

16,482 XP gained for slaying Human Pirate

19,120 XP gained for slaying Chortin Pirate

10,943 XP gained for slaying Chortin Pirate

3,527 XP gained for slaying Tarish Pirate

6,773 XP gained for slaying Human Pirate

Not bad, from what I could gather I’d killed two pirates outright and injured three more. Then there were my kills on deck and on my way below:

13,486 XP gained for slaying Tarish Pirate

17,095 XP gained for slaying Tarish Pirate

5,955 XP gained for slaying Human Pirate

That last one was the sleeping pirate I’d executed. Apparently cheap shots from traps I hadn’t even set up didn’t grant me as much XP. Though I’d wager that if I had set up the trap myself, I’d have gotten full XP for the execution. Maybe a little less, but when you’re dealing with multiples of a thousand, it was hard to nitpick the measurements. I also was enjoying a significant XP bonus due to the Royal Blessing the princess had given me before she’d fled. I assumed she’d been giving it to as many as she could.

That led me to the last bit:

Congratulations! Level up! You have reached level 9.

Congratulations! Level up! You have reached level 10.

Congratulations! You have reached level 10! Your XP points no longer automatically go to leveling. You now understand yourself better and can consciously allocate your XP to your own level, profession, or other uses.

Notice: You have not chosen a profession! You have several options open to you; would you like to choose now?

I shouldn’t have been surprised at reaching level 10, but I was. It was only a short while ago I made 8 on Coe’s whaler. This battle had put me over 10 by thousands, something unheard of. Well, unheard of in normal times, for normal people. War leveled people up quickly – the reason so many seamen accepted positions in the navy. Adventurers were also known for leveling up quickly – but they usually went about it by nearly killing themselves in engagements … repeatedly. I’d rather think of myself as among my navy brethren.

I considered choosing a profession, but my gut told me not to. I was expecting the pirates to enter any second. It wouldn’t do to be distracted. I also wasn’t sure what I’d pick. My dilemma was the same as always, though now I was leaning heavily towards a command profession. Being a captain was addictive, even if I was hiding under scrap. I didn’t want to waste the choice, though. If I chose a combat profession, it might give me the edge I needed to make it out of here alive. (Yes, I know that was a dream, but let cornered men have their dreams!)

In my research for the right profession, I’d talked with a harpooner who’d been in a similar spot as me. He’d been fighting pirates when he reached level 10, and he had also been losing. His levels in spears gave him a choice of a combat class, and he took it to stay alive. Then he spent years going through a tedious process to un-choose his profession so he could be a harpooner instead of a mercenary. Had he regretted it? No. It was hard to regret something that let you live to drink your ale.

So now I had another excuse to procrastinate, as I always seemed to find one. Be a captain, or survive?

I’d say the pirates were a welcome interruption to my musings, but they weren’t. I wanted to get things over with, but there was a law somewhere in my brain that said ‘thou shalt not feel relief upon seeing your enemies approach.’ Maybe I’d get over that someday, but I wondered what it would say about me if I did.

I heard two people conferring on the ladder; and they did something that made them confident the sleep trap wasn’t operative. Then a team entered very cautiously; I could see the Chortin pirate they had on point had an observation skill of 15 and a traps skill of 17. He was the one they’d assigned to look for more traps, and I wondered how he’d found the time to level traps at sea. The others looked like a handpicked squad of tough guys. The leader had a bright white light, while the others had green. I wondered if there was a significance.

They’d taken the time to heal, receive various buffs, and deck themselves out in heavy armor. I hadn’t seen any heavy armor earlier – it was too restrictive if someone got knocked into the sea – so I assumed that they had some aboard their ship for odd situations like this. They were the team put together to ferret me out and disarm any other traps the captain might have put down here, though there hadn’t been any. They were a team that could have faced Blake and his best men and come out of it without casualties.

The leader stopped at the point where I’d killed the pirate and examined the deck, noting all the blood. He noted the crates I’d riffled though and the lines I hadn’t re-secured. He also noticed the deceased pirates’ boot up by the bow, lit by that pirates’ green stone-light. He slowly made his way towards it, scanning carefully for traps not only along the ground, but for wires at chest and even head height. I almost wished that I could learn from this guy, as I had never thought about checking for such traps or placing them like that. As they approached the signs of their comrade, they went further and further from me. Another figure stepped into the hold just enough for me to spot him. He was a guard to monitor the others and make sure I didn’t try to stealth and slip out. Not that I didn’t think for a moment the rest of the pirate crew wasn’t on the cargo deck above me!

The leader of the inspection team found the body of the pirate where I’d moved it, atop a pile of mismatched crates. “Here!” he yelled, “Dead!” I imagined they all knew that already. He circled the scene carefully, looking both for traps and for me lying in ambush.


He’d nearly completed his circuit when one of the thugs shifted the dead pirate to see what their comrade’s body was huddled all up around.

The leader immediately yelled “DON’T MO-”


It had been a tricky thing, rigging the trap so that it was hidden under the body and moving him triggered the first rune. It had taken all my ingenuity and benefits granted by my traps skill. After that, the chain reaction was expected. The one fire rune was enough to ignite all the other runes I’d placed there – both fireball and lightning. Without anyone channeling the energy they went off where they were broken. I’d saved two fireball runes and one lightning for my own use, but the rest of them were detonated all at once at the forward end of the hold. If the inspection team leader had thought about it, he’d realize that the odd feeling he was no doubt getting from his observe skill was the fact that the crates in the pile I’d made were all mismatched, unlike the other uniform piles. I’d made that pile quickly to act as a covering and hoping that the chainmail, blades, and other gear would act as shrapnel. I had no idea if it worked – the blast would have to tear through the item’s high durability – or if it was even necessary. It sure worked, though! The notifications were there for me to look at: the inspection team members were dead!

I received a deafened debuff for 5 minutes and some minor HP loss from debris (thankfully not my own shrapnel, but wooden splinters sent tumbling about the hold). My covering of discarded sackcloth bags had served its purpose, I’d remained unseen!

The guard watching at the stairs had been knocked back, but not seriously hurt. Now he and I both looked at the charred, scorched bulkheads, along with the hole in the overhead deck where I may have gotten lucky with more kills, and the gaping rent in the ships belly where the ocean freely invaded.

And she invaded fast …

The guard started yelling what had happened, and through my deafened debuff I realized that he was yelling in response to more yells from above. A pair of men stormed down into the hold. One of them was Lawless Jack himself. The other started gesticulating wildly. At first Jack shook his head and pointed at the rent, but as the water flooded about their feet and the ship adopted a slight lilt, he seemed to capitulate and dashed with his accomplice and the other pirate back up the stairs. They’d left the hold to me. It might be the only part of the ship I controlled, and it may be rapidly filling with water, but this was my ship! I would take it back one sinking deck at a time!

I’d remarked before how long a prepared and practiced person could hold their breath. I wasn’t worried as the hold flooded and I went about tying gear down again. I wasn’t 100% sure why I did that, just that I didn’t like leaving the gear adrift in such a way. Better it all goes down with the ship, at least all of it that I hadn’t already blown up. When I realized I’d completely exposed myself I glanced up the stairs to see if I was about to pay for my carelessness. Instead I saw an opaque, purple shielding. They’d retreated upwards and were sealing off the lower hold magically. It would flood, the Wind Runner would be crippled, but they could still plunder it.

I didn’t intend to let them. While I waited for the ocean to finish pouring in, I reviewed the kills that I’d received from my trap.

You have advanced to skill level 10 in Traps. +3% to successfully set traps, +3% chance to successfully disarm traps, and +2% chance to spot hidden traps per level. You now understand how to set and disarm magically sensitive triggers.

I’d advanced three levels in traps with my one successful ploy. I’d ground out the other 7 levels without killing any high-level sapients, but still! Three levels for one trap? That was amazing! Now I could also work magical triggers, something that had always eluded me since I had neither magical abilities or the right traps level.

22,143 XP gained for slaying Chortin Pirate

20,584 XP gained for slaying Tarish Pirate

21,672 XP gained for slaying Chortin Pirate

20,754 XP gained for slaying Tarish Pirate

19,470 XP gained for slaying Chortin Pirate

19,854 XP gained for slaying Chortin Pirate

10 XP gained for slaying Redmund

I exulted in each of the 6 pirates that I’d killed – the whole inspection team that had entered. They were high level enemies, 4x – well, now only 3x I guess – my level, which gave me a high modifier and a larger windfall of XP than I’d ever imagined.

Then my mind registered the last entry.

10 XP gained for slaying Redmund


I hadn’t killed Redmund. He hadn’t been down here, either before the inspection team or after! How could I have possibly killed him after the inspection team?

My eyes were drawn up to the hole in the deck above the explosion.

Oh no.

I hadn’t seen the boy once during the fight. Not on any deck, nor with his uncle as they fled the ship. Where had the cabin boy been? Judging by my notifications, he’d been hiding in the cargo hold … right above where I detonated my trap.

My eyes burned. I’d trained that boy! That boy had worshipped me! I had scarcely thought of any individual during the fight, only reacting to what I saw – just like calf-eyed Jennifer Marston. I was no better than a lady’s handmaid.

Why hadn’t I thought of Redmund? The boy had no way to defend himself – hiding was the only sensible thing he could do! And my trap killed him. The extra shrapnel I’d packed on had done something alright … it had done something absolutely terrible. I had done something terrible. That 10 XP burned in my mind, mocking me. Congratulations, Domenic! You’ve betrayed the boy who looked up to you for a measly 10 XP! Aren’t you proud?

When the ocean finished filling the hold, I was at the last air pocket trying to breath calmly. The air became forced into a bubble against the magical shielding between the hold and the cargo deck and wasn’t quick to disappear. The first time I tried diving, my air was just over a minute. Get ahold of yourself, Domenic! Lots of people died up there! You have no idea who’s living and who’s dead. Do what you were planning on! Be the one-man navy that brings Lawless Jack down!

I psyched myself up until my breathing time was almost 3 minutes. That should be more than I needed. I swam to the gaping rent in the ships belly and out of the ship.

Warning: you are leaving your ship without any of your crew aboard.

I willed the notification away. So that was my confirmation that there was no one else on board. Unless they weren’t recognized as ‘my’ crew because they’d signed on with Michaels. Funny, I couldn’t bring myself to call him ‘captain’. I’d taken his spot.

Some job I’d done, killing his nephew.

I swam forward, passing under the bow until I’d cleared the ship by a good distance. I surfaced slowly. No one was looking for a solitary human head bobbing about the ocean at night. I maneuvered myself until I had a good view of our main sail, then removed one of my two fireball runes.

I knew Lawless Jack had invested in making his sails fire-resistant, but I doubted Michaels had the same opportunity. Earlier I’d tried setting fire to the enemy sails for good reason – now I was doing the same to our own sails. My own sails.

There was still a mage light active above the deck, so it was easy to see. I held up the fire rune in my right hand and treaded water. I broke it. Instantly I felt the mana flow into me, like a heat that had filled my hand and spread up my arm. Only this mana had a purpose. It had already been committed to the fireball spell. I could feel it wanted to escape me, to express itself in its intended purpose. Not wishing to tempt fate by holding it in, I willed the mana to leave my hand in the direction I pointed.

There was a reason the runes were so useful. I had never utilized magic in my life, yet I managed to conjure a fireball and send it accurately into my mainsail. That might not seem like a hard target, but it was my first time and I really wanted the biggest sail to be the one going up!

I stuck around just long enough to see that the flames caught. In fact, they clawed at the material greedily. Shredding our sails had been the first thing the Raven had done when she launched her surprise attack, but the flames didn’t care if the sails were ragged. I ducked under the surface again. The fireball had been obvious in its direction. I wasn’t going to stick around there. I ducked between the two ships and grabbed some air. While there, I overheard loud voices.

“The treasure’s lost, captain! The ship is going down!”

“We don’t need the sails; we can strip them down and have lookouts for that runt. We’ll send divers through the hole in the belly to fill nets and use winches to pull the loot to our deck.”

“Captain, the shield I put up isn’t going to …”

“Hurry up and smother that fire! Put the sail overboard! You were saying, my friend?”

“My shield isn’t going to last an hour! Then the ship is going down – and fast.”

There was a pause for several moments. I debated whether hanging out was pushing my luck, but I was virtually invisible down here even if someone decided to look.

“Recall the Gull. Regis will reinforce the barrier until we can get the loot out. We’ll pick up the rafts they escaped in later.”

“Captain! The princess is the whole point of all this!”

“The value of the loot in that hold will be worth even more than the reward for bringing in the girl alive! They’re in bloody rowboats! We’ll catch up to them in no time. Send a signal to the Gull, get Regis back here, and we’ll have the loot offloaded in three hours. It’s 25 miles to the nearest shore. We’ll pick her highness up before they have land in sight!”

“Aye, captain.” Said the second voice. I was glad. I hadn’t realized Lawless Jack had another ship out there, but I’d forced him to recall it from picking up the princess. I’d only bought the princess a three-hour lead, but it was better than the seconds she’d had when I let her boat drop.

Correction: she had a three-hour lead on Lawless Jack’s timeline. I hadn’t had my final word yet.

I discarded my previous plan of swimming to the aft of the ship to launch my second fireball. Instead I swam just a little ways ahead to where a line was dangling in the water from a grappling hook overhead. I used it to climb to the level of the Raven’s first gun deck – because even though the ship was small it was presumptuous enough to have one more gun deck than mine! – and clambered through the porthole right under the mouth of their scorpions. There was no one on this deck. I’d wager they had a person remain behind on the top deck – besides the captain who was there now – but I’d been right, and their gun deck was empty. I took a moment to look around. I was partly amazed and partly horrified. Our weapons had been suitable. These were devastating.

Upgraded Scorpion Ballista

Durability 385/400

The other ballistae were the same as the first, if not possessing better durability. Then I looked through their stocks of munitions:

Enchanted Multishot Bolt of Armor Piercing

When fired, bolt multiplies into four bolts. Each bolt possesses the other enchanted qualities.

Ignores 35% armor

Bypasses 50% armor with -70% damage reduction


Enchanted Multishot Bolt of Flame

When fired, bolt multiplies into four bolts. Each bolt possesses the other enchanted qualities.

Upon contact, causes fire damage


Enchanted Multishot Bolt of Ice

When fired, bolt multiplies into four bolts. Each bolt possesses the other enchanted qualities.

Upon contact, causes ice damage


Enchanted Multishot Bolt of Poison

When fired, bolt multiplies into four bolts. Each bolt possesses the other enchanted qualities.

Upon contact, releases a cloud that causes poison damage


These were just the munitions they had on hand for the ballistae! Every type of bolt they had here was doubly enchanted – first with multishot and then with anything else they could afford. Now that I thought of it, their return volleys to me and my artillery companion had remained strong even after their crew was mustering on their deck. It had only taken a few of them to keep enchanted armor piercing bolts returning fire. I could only imagine what nasty surprises they hadn’t sprung on us with their onagers on the main deck. I suppose I should be grateful they bothered to board us at all, instead of just poisoning us. Or at least glad that Lawless Jack would get a bonus for capturing the princess alive – which was probably his motivation.

I wanted to load up one side with poison bolts and run down the line firing them at the pirate crew on the Wind Runner but had no shot. The two ships were tied together, the only thing I could shoot was the gun deck directly opposite me.

At least, that was the only thing I could shoot on the Wind Runner.

My lucky kill earlier on the Wind Runner’s gun deck with the multishot bolt had given me an idea. The ballistae had an interesting design flaw, if it could be considered that: they could be swiveled a full 360 degrees. It took me over a half hour to arm each of the upgraded scorpions with a multishot ice bolt. I was going to aim them all at the center mast but didn’t like the idea of having stray ice bolts making things slippery while I was trying to run around. Instead, I cleared the bow of gear and food and aimed every ballista there. That took me another fifteen minutes, staying quiet because now they were starting their whole operation to dive for their loot. My cargo. Didn’t matter that I hadn’t known it existed an hour ago, it was my ship now and I was responsible for everything on it.

Including the bodies. Especially Redmund’s body.

A moment of grief interrupted me, but I steeled myself and pulled the trigger. The multishot of ice scarcely had time to separate, holding a tight pattern. The bolts stuck into the wood of the hull, causing a small area of ice to spread. Between the bolts themselves ice grew much faster, as the proximity of the bolts multiplied the effects.

I think there was a pause as the people on the main deck asked themselves if they heard something, but I didn’t hesitate. I was on to the next one. Triggered. The next one. Triggered. The next …

By now shouts were raised as people understood that the ballistae were being fired but didn’t seem to realize they were under attack. They couldn’t understand that one lousy seaman had stolen aboard their attack ship and was turning their weapons on them. I had fired 12 of my 20 shots when the first pirate barged in. I chastised him for his rudeness with my lightning rune, the action feeling familiar even if it was only my second time using runes. It didn’t kill him, but it sent him smoking back onto the stairs with enough debuffs to keep him out of this fight. The rush of power made my head swim. Let him be a warning to the others!

The hull had a nice layer of ice and at four bolts per shot I was looking at having 80 ice bolts in a very concentrated area. I finished my 17th shot when more pirates entered, ignoring my smoking warning. I growled and nimbly spun my current shot around to face them. Two bolts hit a human and would freeze the last of his HP’s off quickly if he didn’t get help. Another hit a Chortin, who seemed to be vulnerable to the damage. Just as much HP fell off him as the human. The fourth went wild, even in the confined shooting gallery. You can’t get them all. I spun the next one around and fired it as well, killing a Tarish pirate outright and crippling another Chortin. This also served to drive the other pirates back as they wondered what sort of devilry I was doing to reload and fire so fast. They didn’t understand my preparation.

I fired the last upgraded scorpion at my original target and noted with satisfaction that the wood that I had concentrated fire on was brittle, warping and cracking. The direct damage to the ship’s hull wasn’t going to sink it, but a targeted weak spot could cripple it. I’d had the same thought with my first shot of the battle. It hadn’t worked then, but it was going to work now!

I broke my last fireball rune and pointed at the center of my target. The mana flowed into me and then out in a ball of flame. Shrapnel of ice and wood exploded, knocking off a chunk of my HP. I didn’t care. I laughed. I laughed madly in a manic power rush. I had created a hole in the Raven just above the waterline. I had blown out the keel. The integrity of the Raven was compromised, they’d be hard pressed to stay afloat in the next storm, and they could forget about making repair outside of dry dock!

Hearing movement behind me, I turned to see a third of the pirate crew crowded around, staring at the hole I’d made. I laughed harder. The looks on their faces! Oh, it was almost worth my fate!

Congratulations! You have earned +1 to your main attribute: Intelligence.

Congratulations! You have earned +1 to your main attribute: Luck.

You have advanced to skill level 2 in Artillery. +2% accuracy, +2% reload speed per level.

Congratulations! You have earned the achievement: Trickster!

I raised my arms above my head, exulting in a victory confirmed by my propmpts. “I am the avatar of the sea! And I bring her vengeance!”

I gave one last laugh as a pirate stepped forward and crushed my head with a club.

A note from captaink-19

Edited for grammar and clarity; thanks for the input in the comments!

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