I woke with the feel of water against my skin and instantly bolted up wide-eyed, holding my breath and checking for my air counter. How did I get underwater? Where was I? When did my cabin flood? How could I get out?
… Since when did I have my own cabin?
My lack of an air timer helped me realize that recent events had not been an elaborate dream. I had fought pirates and been captured, thrown to the sea, recruited by Davy Jones himself, and was sleeping with the fishes on the bottom of the sea. Normally when people said ‘go sleep with the fishes’ they meant something else.
After I calmed myself and took stock, I felt much better than I had last night. Actually, I had no reference for how long I’d been out. I’d laid up here sometime in the night, because the filtered light of the sun hadn’t been visible. Judging by how rested I felt, I’d been out a while. Was it mid-morning? Afternoon? Evening? Surely I hadn’t been out of it a whole day?
It was possible that I had, especially after I’d improved my attributes so much. The body took some time adjusting, and part of that was sleep. Not that it really mattered how long I was out. The world presumed me dead; most thought I perished on the Wind Runner and the pirates who knew better thought I was chum on the bottom. It’s not like I had to get up and make it to my ship before it left harbor, did I?
I stretched and removed my bandages. As expected, there was no trace of injury. I hoped that Moray was stuck with its black eye. I also took a moment to examine myself. I was hungry, and the relevant debuff had appeared, but I wasn’t dehydrated. I felt like I could use something to wet my whistle, but it was the same kind of thirst you got when you wanted a mug of ale: your body didn’t really need it, but it still sounded nice.
That made me wonder how I wasn’t thirsty. Was breathing the water preventing me from getting dehydrated? Fish didn’t need to stop and take a drink after all. I also marveled that my skin wasn’t the slightest bit pruned. These were the kind of side benefits to being cursed that you didn’t hear about.
Yesterday I’d bounced back and forth a lot between loving my status as a cursed sailor and dreading what might come of it. Today I was much more balanced. It would come at a cost, but I’d made my deal and I’d handle the consequences when they arose.
I scavenged the cabin once more for anything that I might find useful enough to take with me. All the clothing here had been severely damaged, but some of it was still an improvement on my rags. I pulled together a mismatched outfit that fit me when I remembered that I now had a bag of holding and put all the clothes in it. I could change outfits now! Sure, my selection was between scraps and a sunken wardrobe; but oh, the possibilities that it opened! It had been years since I’d had more clothes than what I carried in my tote.
I made sure I was ready, removed the armoire blocking the door and drew my corroded sword. I dropped into stealth and had to shake my head. It hadn’t even occurred to me to stealth myself last night. I must’ve been tired. In my defense, I’d never activated it underwater before.
I cautiously inched the door open, using my observe and analyze skills to search for the Moray or any other predator. No sign of it, but I took my time. It was an ambush predator, so where might it be hiding even if I didn’t see it?
When I had reassured myself that the coast was clear, I crept out and moved further aft to the next set of cabins. One was filled with silt. The other had a hole in the deck and a second hole in the bulkhead. The first disappeared into the hold below, and the second led to the ocean. I didn’t tempt fate by going into the next hold, not even with my new gear. I looked carefully into the depths of the sea as far as I could see. It was only 80 feet, because there was no light from above. I must’ve slept through a whole day. I saw a shark that was about 4 feet long, but as long as we gave each other our space we should be fine.
I squirmed through the hole and made my way along the hull to the deck. I tried again to see if I could raise the ship, but no luck. That was ok, I didn’t need a ship this big right now. I didn’t want to imagine what kind of repairs I’d need to make, either. Did hull integrity matter when you could sail beneath the waves and rise at will?
What I did next would probably be embarrassing if my ‘legend’ ever did get out, but I thought it a worthwhile experiment. I went to where a dinghy was lashed upside down to the deck. I carefully checked around and under it, then cut away the lines securing it. Using my strength and the advantage I had by anchoring myself, I maneuvered the dinghy over the side and dropped it in the shadow of the Galaxy’s hull – which seemed to have fewer openings or hiding spots for critters – and let it settle on the ocean floor.
I examined the dinghy carefully, noting the damage it had and the barnacle growth over a significant portion. It had a small mast stowed that I raised into position, though I didn’t try to rig the sail yet. I placed my hand on the tiller and thought Raise Ship.
Would you like to raise ‘dinghy’ as your ship?
I mentally shouted ‘yes!’ I felt a familiar rush through my body, like I’d felt when I first stood on the prow of a ship and felt the splash of the waves. The feeling poured out of me and my mana points dropped by 30. My mana wasn’t infused into the dinghy, though. My mana diffused into the sea around me, and I felt it thickening, pulling ambient mana from my surroundings in an exponential growth. Then all the mana that had manifested was sucked into the dinghy, leaving the water feeling bland in the afterglow.
‘Dinghy’ has been raised as your cursed ship! Ship interface has been adjusted for ship type.
The ship interface had been mostly closed to me on the Wind Runner, and I hadn’t had time to explore the nuances I could have controlled. The ship interface that opened to me now was much different. It was smaller, which made sense because it was a dinghy and not a galleon with cargo and crew. Dinghy’s didn’t count as ships, and you wouldn’t normally get a ship interface with one. I got around that with my profession. My special interface had different aspects, some were normal things that could be expected, but most had to do with its cursed status.
“That’s not a ship!” a distinctive voice in my mind growled. I jumped and looked about, even though the words were clearly mental and not audible. How could Davy Jones speak into my mind? “Sink it as soon as you come across something better!”
“Why couldn’t I raise the Galaxy?” I asked aloud. When I got no response, I tried ‘thinking’ my question but didn’t get any better result. Either the connection was one way or Jones was ignoring me. In the latter case, it wouldn’t do to pester him.
The potential for control and advancement was a baffling list. There were half a dozen options for the sail – a half-dozen even on this tiny not-a-ship interface! – but I couldn’t use most of them yet. The list was confusing me, so I thought of the ship interface in a different format. Instantly, I saw the applicable sail modifications on the sail, the hull adjustments on the hull, and every other adjustment or upgrade on its constituent parts. I smiled. I’d heard captains talking about their preferred ways of organizing their interface; very few captains stuck with the standard list format. I liked seeing what I could do with each bit of the ship in its place. I was an experienced sailor … I didn’t need help understanding how the ship operated!
Actually, I did need a little help. This was my first time sailing underwater.
The dinghy could sail as it was, but there were various advancements for improvement. For instance, if I raised the sail I could catch the ‘breeze’ and propel my ship forward. (Thinking of an underwater breeze rebelled against my common sense, so I decided to think of it as catching a ‘current’.) I could turn any which way and have the current always in my sails, because the dinghy was pulling ambient mana from the surrounding water to achieve this effect. However, I would only make way at an average pace for a dinghy doing this. Spending XP on upgrades would improve my speed. Real currents would also affect me, either for better or worse.
I also tried changing the name of my dinghy but couldn’t. Not even to ‘small fry’ which would have been my choice. You name ships, not dinghy’s. This wasn’t a ship … yeah, yeah. I got the message already!
I was lost in exploring the ship interface when that shark from earlier – or was it a slightly bigger one? – dropped by and curiously examined what I was doing. I briefly considered attacking it. I was sure I could take one like this but dicing up chum was a dangerous idea in this location. It wasn’t acting aggressive, but it reminded me that this was not the area to do this kind of tinkering. I was only a short way away from the wreck where I’d been attacked by a giant Moray, for crying out loud!
I raised the sail. While I’m sure it would have been a mess had I tried to do it before I claimed the dinghy as my own, now it fluttered in the current like new canvas. I secured it, and just like that I was sailing the deep! I quickly set the lines and took my place at the tiller. I picked up decent speed, faster than I could have been swimming, anyway. I adjusted course port and starboard without losing any speed or having to adjust the sail at all, which felt very odd. I tried climbing and diving – reflexively pushing and pulling on the tiller, though that did nothing – and the dinghy responded to my will. I didn’t have mental control over my speed, that was dictated by my sail and any upgrades I purchased.
I breathed a sigh of relief that I hadn’t raised the Galaxy. I didn’t know what the mana cost would be for Summon Crew, but I doubted I had the reservoir it would take to conjure a crew large enough to control that ship. There was no way I could have done it on my own!
I withdrew my compass and set a course that would take me to Andros – at least somewhere along its coast. Then I played around with my ship interface some more and otherwise enjoyed being a captain of the deep. The feeling of the water rushing by was different than a sea breeze. I lost my discomfiture over breathing underwater and instead reveled in the sensations. This was the kind of kinship I’d wanted with sailing! This was what I couldn’t feel before I’d been changed.
For the moment, everything was perfect.
It took me three days to sight land. I rose to the surface to navigate with the stars, dove to the depths where I hid my dinghy and myself while I slept, and otherwise played around with the ship interface. I splurged a few thousand XP on speed advancements. I was getting very hungry and didn’t want to be tottering towards shore when my stomach started to consume my health pool.
Interestingly, I got dehydrated when sailing on the surface, but the effect went away when I had access to water. When my curse wasn’t sustaining me, I still had to take care of my body. (I tried drinking a bit of seawater as an experiment, but that went about as well as expected. I could breathe the stuff, but drinking was still out.) I wouldn’t have done so well without the seas’ nurturing. The body could go a few days without food, and only your HP recovery rate would be affected (along with feeling hungry.) Whereas if I’d needed water, a severely dehydrated debuff would have been eating away at my health pool already, and it would have been a close race to the shore.
I wanted to know if my XP points were lost on the dinghy, or if they’d carry over to my next ship. Without a guide handy – and seriously doubting whether one even existed for my profession – I tried to play it safe.
The shore was an uninhabited zone. Since I hadn’t landed at the Falai cliffs and I couldn’t have traveled far enough northeast yet, I was on the southern edge of Andros’ habitable border. It was about eight more days of travel for me to reach Port Dagat; the officially recognized port of commerce in Andros. Alternatively, it was probably less than a full day of sailing to reach Tulisang. Tulisang was the unrecognized and unsanctioned hub of Andros’ sea trade. That was because it is essentially a pirate town. The monarchy maintained a presence there but had no illusions of control. I wasn’t clear on whether the government representatives were bought off or were just too cowed to stir anything up.
I had only been to Tulisang once, most of my business had been in Dagat further north. I had stuck close to my crew then and we’d all made it out without any incident, but it was a rough town. The more I thought about it, the more I realized it was exactly the sort of place I needed. Not because they’d react much better to a lieutenant of Davy Jones, but because the stifling bureaucracy in Dagat would not treat a shipwrecked soul without an itinerary – like me – very kindly.
It was also worth considering that most of the local piracy was targeted on vessels of Andros’ own monarch. It hurt the government-structured economy, but the lower castes couldn’t afford the normal prices. Where there was a market, there were pirates. The more pirates stole, the higher the monarchy raised its prices to make up the difference. Then the pirates found even more customers who could no longer afford to feed themselves. My crew and I had been regaled with the economic theory on our one Tulisang visit.
The point was while pirates of the high seas like Lawless Jack could find refuge here, it wasn’t home to anyone if they weren’t locals. There’d be an assortment – and I would still be on the low-end of average levels – but I shouldn’t be too outclassed by the citizens.
All of that was pondering that could be postponed. As soon as I landed, my eyes were fixated on a heavily laden fruit tree. I hopped from the bow to the sand and nearly died.
I felt a burning agony sear up through my legs to my heart. My heart felt like it was quivering, readying itself to implode. My HP’s swirled downward faster than I’d ever seen. 90% … 80% … 65% … 50% … 35%. My spine arced back violently, throwing me down into an onrushing wave. The pain stopped, and the source of my pain disappeared, but not the effects of it. Before I recovered, heat filled my legs again as the wave receded, forsaking me to the beach. I understood on a primitive level that the water meant protection and the beach meant destruction. I stumbled after the wave but wasn’t fast enough. My foot struck wet sand instead of surf, and the lightning pain sent me sprawling. 20% … 5% …
Another wave saved my life, though it picked me up and tried to push me back on the beach. This time I refused to be left behind, and stumble-ran-crawled through the surf until I was breathing water and the shore was safely behind me.
I was at 5% health. 5%! 14 bloody hit points! Why, that was less than the bonus I’d gotten from my belt! Whatever that was had nearly killed me faster than the Hammernose had managed! What in the bloody, storming fishguts!?
With a groan, I pulled out a health potion and downed it, hardly noticing the syrupy seawater flavor that afflicted it. It didn’t quite manage to bring me to 50%, so I took another one. The adventurer had stocked 10 of these average quality health potions and one superior potion that would restore 250 health – nearly my entire pool – in three seconds. I had more healing power at my fingertips than ever before, so of course I took a second potion to push me to 79%.
I tried to sit and contemplate what had happened but needed to stretch my muscles instead. Health potions were only guaranteed to refill HP. The fact that they healed flesh and removed certain debuffs was nice, but no one ever claimed that they could take away all aches and pains. I could be at full HP and feel like I’d been keelhauled. The upswing of that was not everything that hurt me would take HP’s off.
After I’d limbered up, I decided against sitting here. The pressure of the waves could be felt here, trying to push or pull me, dash me on the beach or drag me to sea on its whim. Considering how close I’d come to death’s door; I wasn’t going to leave my fate to the whims of the tide.
I swam to the underbelly of the dinghy and began pulling it out to sea using strictly my swimming ability. I didn’t want to touch the shore again, even underwater. That had hurt a lot. Because I hadn’t beached it properly, I pulled the dinghy into open water without too much trouble. Rather than clamber in, I sank the dinghy and turned her about, only rising to the surface again when I was safely beyond the surf. I watched the water drain from the dinghy, even what was below the waterline disappeared as if by magic, like there were open pores in the wood that sucked the water through and spat it back into the sea keeping it afloat. When I had a ship with holds, the same should happen with them, too. At least I hoped so. Having half my cursed ship flooded all the time sounded like an inconvenience.
What had nearly killed me while I stepped foot on the beach? I hadn’t seen any traps, and who put traps on an open beach, anyway? That didn’t explain why the seawater had protected me, either. No, the only thing that made sense was it had something to do with my curse.
Now that I thought about it, I was a fool. I knew the stories that Davy Jones couldn’t step foot on land. Yet I hadn’t even thought about the possibility that it was part of my curse, too. How stupid could I be? It was a mercy I hadn’t dropped dead on the spot!
This threw some kinks in my half-formed plans. I’d never wanted to be far from the sea, but to be unable to set foot on land? Land was where most business was done. Land was where people interacted, where I could talk, learn, buy, or trade. How would I manage to develop my profession with the hubs of the world closed to me? This couldn’t be a dead end. I didn’t have all the same powers Davy Jones had; of that I was sure. So didn’t it make sense my curse wouldn’t be as restrictive?
I focused on the Uproot skill in my profession. I’d glassed over it before because it had an initial cost of 40,000 XP and I hadn’t seen how ‘uprooting’ applied to anything I was doing. I’d paid for my oversight.
Uproot: Allows you to bear the dry land for a short amount of time.
Initial period: 8 hours
40,000 XP for 8 hours of time. Bloody fishguts.
Not seeing a way around it, I spent the XP. With all my expenditures, I’d gone from having 337,500 XP to 47,500. What was worse, I could no longer afford to buy the Raise Crew skill. I’d need to grind out more XP first.
I’d hoped that after my initial expenditure on Uproot, there’d be a lower cost to extend my time. I was mistaken. I could purchase another increment, but it cost 140,000 XP and only extended my time to 14 hours. At that rate, I’d have to make the seas red with the blood of my enemies to spend a whole day ashore.
Leaving behind the woes every being suffered of not having enough XP, I headed to shore to test my new ability. Then I spent nearly an hour of daylight hesitating. I wasn’t a masochist, and my earlier experience had been really painful. Even a new ability that said I could do it wasn’t enough to get past my mental block that said, ‘you’re going to kill yourself you dummy!’
I did step onto land, timing it so that a wave would catch me if I fell. I didn’t fall, instead a timer appeared to me. It was just like my air timer – only now it was for dry land. It started to count down from eight hours. The wave I’d been expecting caught me, and the timer disappeared. When the wave retreated, my timer started again at eight hours. I breathed a huge sigh of relief. I’d been worried that my time wouldn’t recuperate. 40,000 XP was an expensive limitation for 8 hours, but if that 8 hours hadn’t restored itself at some point … well, I’d probably have screamed some choice obscenities. It would have really reinforced the ‘cursed captains stay at sea’ thing, though.
I braved a few more steps onto land, then out of the surf. There was a warmth in my feet, but nothing like what had gotten me earlier. I returned to the sea to beach my dinghy – I’d thought of sinking her where no one else could stumble across her but I’d have to take her further than I cared to go to escape the power of the tide.
I was finally able to approach the fruit tree that had lured me in. Irrationally, I checked for traps the whole way. There were none, but I did startle some boars that had been meandering the coast, snacking on the wild fruits. The thought of glazed ham was much more attractive than fruit, but my two levels of cooking wouldn’t bring my dreams to reality – not out here with no cooking utensils or ingredients. I contented myself with gorging enough fruit to make my hunger debuff disappear, then proceeded to load more fruit into my bag. It would go bad eventually, but I’d heard that bags would slow decomposition.
I was aware of the sea the whole time. Not just my usual awareness, either. It was like there was a beacon in my head that said, ‘when your time is up, that’s the direction you run!’ Even though I had 7:35:08 on my timer, I still made my way back gladly. As soon as I set foot in the ocean and my timer vanished, I thought of another experiment and stepped back out again. In that brief moment, my time had climbed to 7:37:26. So my time didn’t just reset, I needed to rest in the sea before I could venture back out on land. I adjusted my mental timer to reflect hours and minutes, leaving off the seconds. If I was down to seconds, I was in trouble.
I used my profession to fill the sails and take me away from the shore, but then I found a natural air current and caught it instead. I’d wanted to make sure no one happened to spy me sailing unnaturally as I approached Tulisang, but I found that sailing normally was pure fun.