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The rest of the evening at the Reef was uneventful, though unease was shared by all. War wasn’t exactly bad news for pirates – and war on a grand scale offered more opportunities – but everyone seemed to realize that the problem was growing. Andros wasn’t involved yet, but it probably would be. What would happen to small-time pirates when Andros started shipping supplies to its allies in armed convoys?

I made my exit with a safe margin of time left and returned to the sea. I was disappointed that my Vision skill didn’t extend to night vision in dark alleys, only working underwater or on the surface. I made my way by the clearest, best-lit streets to avoid any underhandedness.

I was also disappointed I couldn’t summon my ship to me, and there seemed to be a range for calling it to the surface or sending it below. Remote Operations was a skill that seemed to expand my range and allow me to sail my ship without direct control, but it wasn’t worth the XP cost right now.

I sailed my dinghy below the waters until I found a secure spot to “make camp”. I’d remembered too late that the bedroll and blanket I’d purchased to make my arrangements more comfortable was in my spatial bag. Oh well, I’d been sleeping like this for the last few days, and in much more dangerous areas to boot. I arranged my dinghy to offer me some concealment and protection and went to sleep.

When I awoke I wasn’t disoriented at being underwater. I was getting used to it. My internal clock said it was sometime in the morning, but it wasn’t until I’d peeked my head above the surface that I’d gotten a good fix on the time from the sun’s position. I made my way to town and Mama Jo’s shop – then passed by. I decided I didn’t want to risk her wrath by showing up too early to check on things.

Smitty’s Salvage was on a different side of town. During my walk, I got the impression that I was in different territory yet couldn’t put my finger on what or why. The shops weren’t in any worse shape, there was no change in the smells of the air, and a surprisingly average type of clientele was out purchasing goods.

Seeing groups of ladies shopping in this place – a pirate town! – had shocked me at first, but shopkeepers and salesmen had been pandering to them. I guess even pirates needed a place to sell their goods and bring their families. The conversation I overheard between one woman and her young boy left no question piracy was normal in the household.

“When can I join da at sea?”

“You’re not leaving shore until there’s an opportunity for you to join the trade that won’t see you squashed! The boy king’s been promising to knuckle down on us, and he’s going to follow through any time now …”

Just another boy longing to grow up like his da.

When I made my way to Smitty’s Salvage headquarters, I hadn’t expected a warehouse named ‘Smitty’s Emporium’. I knocked and entered into what looked like a secondhand shop. The clerk was a blonde young woman who looked like she’d been hired for her beauty alone.

“Hello! Welcome to Smitty’s Emporium! Is there anything I can help you find today?”

“Uh, yeah. I’m looking for Smitty?”

“Mr. Smitty is in his office right now, what is your business with him?”

“I’m looking for a job in salvage.”

“Oh,” she said, and dropped the over-the-top friendliness down to ‘polite’. “Mr. Smitty!” she yelled over the warehouse floor. “New hire looking to meet you!”

“Send ‘im back!”

The clerk pointed out the direction to me. “Back right corner of the warehouse, you can get within sight if you stick to the right-hand side.”

I thanked her and quickly found ‘within sight’ meant navigating around piles and piles of equipment, supplies, and salvaged goods. Some of it looked like it had been placed there this morning, some looked like it never moved. It took me a moment to traverse the labyrinth and I cheated a bit by clambering over a stack of crates instead of finding a way around.

Smitty was hard at work writing a letter – or letters – and open ledgers lay about his desk and closed ledgers about the rest of the small office. He wasn’t the man I’d pictured. I’d pictured a man who’d poured everything into Endurance, Agility and Strength to be a great diver. Instead, he looked like a wizened little man. Appearances could be deceiving, but stats didn’t lie (often) …

Name

Smitty

Age

48

Race

Human

Profession

Accountant

Level

10

XP

2,035

 

 

Health

100

Mana

160

Stamina

130

 

 

Strength

11

Agility

10

Dexterity

13

Constitution

10

Endurance

13

Intelligence

16

Wisdom

14

Charisma

14

Luck

15

 

Smitty wasn’t a diver, he was an accountant!

He looked up at me just as I made my realization. “Hmph. I run Smitty’s Salvage, I’m responsible for the legal permits, contracts, and most of the logistics for the whole coast of Andros. I don’t need to be able to hold my own breath when I don’t have time to dip a toe into the water!”

I waved my hands in what I hoped was a placating matter. “No disrespect, sir! Just surprised me is all. Had a picture of a different person.”

“Hmph. Someone like my man Sid, no doubt. You’re looking for work?”

“That’s right.”

“You done salvage before?”

“I’ve done some free diving, but nothing like a proper company.”

“Let me see your stats.” I’d already assured myself that he didn’t have an analyze skill higher than Donovan – my current benchmark for my Hide True Nature threshold – and let him see. He glanced at my stats then did a double take. “You’re a mage?”

“Picked up the magic at sea – never really developed it.”

“You never developed it and pushed your Wisdom and Intelligence that high?”

“Uh, yeah.”

He obviously thought that showed a true deficiency in Wisdom and Intelligence but didn’t push it. I needed to think up a better lie.

“You never specialized in diving itself, but your swimming score is very high for your age, and you’ve a decent bonus from your achievement. I’ll take you on … probationary, of course. You do a job with Sid and he likes you, I’ll find you as much work as you can handle.”

That sounded fair, and we settled into discussing pay. I’d a vague interest in seeing if my new Trade skill exerted itself, but Smitty had a hard line on standard wages for everybody and I didn’t budge him. The pay was by the hour, but the hours were counted by the head of the dive and the head diver also got to make notes of any slackers for docked pay. I’d preferred to be paid by the job, but it was a small matter to me. My main goal was to find these sunken ships.

“Sid and the crew are out at a site now. You can head out with them tomorrow.”

“How late will they be working?”

Smitty glanced at me. “They should be back just before sunset, why?”

“The day is still young. I’ve a small craft I could go meet them in and get started.”

Smitty clapped his hands. “That’s the kind of industriousness I like! They’re not far up the coast. Let me show you …”

He pulled out a chart and indicated a spot just a few miles north of the harbor. It was an unarmed foreign ship that had scuttled itself when pirates started pursuit. The crew made for the shore in life rafts and the company that owned it paid for the cargo to be recovered.

“Does that happen often? Ships doing that to avoid pirates?”

Smitty waved a hand dismissively. “Some folk have ideas about local pirates being bloodthirsty monsters and overreact like that. They really would have saved money if they’d invited the boys on and let them have the pick of their goods – it’s not like they could have carried off everything in their holds! It’s good business for me though. I get an easy job the boys can take care of while still making it to the tavern in the evenings.”

While he explained, I examined his notations on the map. The current job – marked ‘Min. Co.’ – wasn’t the only one listed. There were others, with notes tagged on details of manifests and dates it sank. Most were in deeper waters, and their dates were older. Those were probably the ones Smitty couldn’t afford to reach with a normal crew. I saw one by the Falai cliffs labelled ‘Gov.’ that was marked over in red ink and had several question marks by a list of names. Smitty rolled the chart up before I could satisfy my curiosity. It would take me an hour of scouring the chart to do that!

Smitty insisted on showing me his wares before I left, and I realized he had another angle to his business. He’d rope in prospective salvagers and sell them a ‘starting kit’ to get things going. He’d loan them credit, of course, to be repaid after they’d made money on the job. I didn’t ask, but I was guessing there was a suitable interest rate on that credit to keep a diver around for more than one or two jobs. I declined everything he tried to show me.

 

I had a little bit of time left to kill before noon, and I’m ashamed to say I spent a good deal of it waiting outside her door rather than step in early and see whether it was ready. I could just imagine trying to understand her as she said ‘I say noon! It’s not noon! Come back at noon!’

I plucked up my courage and stepped in early. Was I a dread captain or wasn’t I a dread captain? The gnome who greeted me was like a whole different person.

“Ahh, good! You here early! I have everything ready for you!” She was pleasant and businesslike, nothing like the whirling dervish I’d encountered yesterday and expected.

I wondered if the bag she handed me was the same one, but all my items were inside. It looked so much better! I hadn’t even realized what kind of condition it had been in. The off-color probably should have been my first clue. This bag had its full 120 points of durability. It wasn’t new leather – Mama Jo’s restorative magic didn’t turn back the clock – but it was a worn, sturdy leather.

“Your clothes are over here. Come try fit!”

I put my new outfit on and felt pride in myself. Each article of clothing had a relatively high durability to withstand the abuse I intended to heap upon it in the sea. I hadn’t been able to measure yet whether my clothing was affected by my curse, but I expected there was some ability or nuance that didn’t apply to me that made it so I’d need a number of outfits. The pieces had a small bonus to armor rating, while others increased my primary attributes. With the whole ensemble, I had:

+5 armor rating

+1 Strength

+2 Agility

+1 Dexterity

+1 Constitution

+2 Luck

+2 Charisma

I hadn’t worn attribute enhancing clothing in a while. I’d given it a shot once, with pants that increased my Endurance and a shirt that increased my Constitution. My shirt had been stolen, and I’d worn through my pants faster than I’d earned the money that bought them. An outfit like this cost money. The cost of getting gear with higher stats was an exponential curve.

The Agility and Charisma both came from the complete outfit; reflecting how I looked in it and how it was tailor fit for me. I was wowed, and Mama Jo was pleased; both with her work and my expression.

My base layer was a white shirt tucked into a black pair of pants. I had a gamblers’ vest that was individually responsible for the bump in my dexterity and luck. Mama Jo called it a ‘holly green’ but I just thought of it as ‘green’. With the vest, I looked more like a gentleman gambler than a sailor, but I had something to fix that.

I’d borrowed the look from Davy Jones: a black tricorne hat and coat fit for the heavy seas. With the coat and hat, I didn’t just look like a sailor – I looked like a captain! Just needed to work a bit on the beard, though …

It was with great reluctance that I changed back into my simple, non-attribute enhancing clothes. My captain’s outfit wasn’t something to wear while going to find a job as a salvager. Indeed, it would be smart not to wear it at all around town or risk drawing attention to myself.

“Remind me what the bill came to?”

“Eight gold, four and a half silver.”

The tailoring was cheap in comparison to the repair, but she’d done amazingly well in a short time. I pulled out eight gold and seven silvers and thanked her for her work. She smiled and admonished me to take better care of my bag.

I found the dive site easily. Smitty had really nice charts and I had really good seamanship levels. There was also an obviously placed pair of barges anchored above the site.

As I approached, I saw a crew resting on the barges, apparently having just finished lunch and taking a moment before getting back to it. They were an odd assortment. Some, like Manny from the Reef last night, were normal people with stats high enough to be useful. A few were professional divers. There was also a handful of mutated people.

Every one of these people with a mutation probably had a different story behind it. Curses were a reason I’d heard before, so were hijinks with local remedies from questionable sources their mothers had taken while pregnant. Certain magical practitioners could do it as well, but most magical communities rebelled so strongly against the popular notion of an old magician turning people into newts that the single person I’d met who’d done it that way had needed to beg to be part of the experiment.

On the whole they were rather unsettling to look at, but gills were a distinct advantage in this trade. I recognized Sid as the one in the baggy shorts and hailed him.

He waved back. “You got a job?”

“Yep! I’m here to help you lads out.”

“Well tie your boat off, we’re about to head back down.” I really couldn’t tell what kind of emotions that man had. Was he happy to have another hand? Annoyed? It was anyone’s guess.

I tied off my dinghy to the barge and checked my gear before I dived. Manny noticed me. “You really taking all those blades down? They’ll just get in the way!”

I smiled. “Friend, if you only knew how many times in the last month I’d wished I had a blade …” Manny shrugged and did a swan dive from a tall pile of crates into the water. I followed less spectacularly, simply stepping off the bow.

I was careful to hold my breath, not wanting to give away that I could breathe underwater. It was harder than I’d expected. It was difficult to gauge without a timer telling me how much air I had, since I wasn’t used to it. I followed Manny down to a diver’s bell near the ship.

The crew was heading to one of two diving bells on either side of the ship, catching their breath before they entered. There they dragged and carried out crates and barrels to a wide cargo net on the sea floor. After they’d filled the net, they’d hoist it up to the barges above and unload it before repeating the process. I followed Manny to the bell, then inside the ship. They had a system in place for where to enter and where to exit, so people didn’t run into each other. Light stones had been placed strategically. We swam in, grabbed some cargo, went out. Repeat. I didn’t see much of the ship besides the first cargo deck. The team of amphibians were moving stuff from the lower decks up, so I never had any reason to explore and only a rough guess as to how little remained in the ship.

I found that the hardest part of the work was not giving myself away. For the first hour or so I followed Manny – doing what he did and taking breaks when he took them. Then I started sneaking breaths and making another trip or two. My Stamina explained why I could stay underwater that long, right?

Apparently not. One of the guys looked at me in amazement when I joined him in the diving bell. “Dude, how are you holding your breath that long?”

Caught. I thought I was thinking quickly when I responded, “Had a water breathing potion.”

He looked at me aghast. “Well don’t use it here!”

Good point, divers would probably want to save those for more restrictive jobs. Whoops.

The only other excitement came when the giant form of a great white eclipsed the light above me. I drew my blade and anchored myself to the sea floor, prepared to fight. It was a lightly-scarred 15-foot animal. I was just about to spring and swing when my analyze skill identified it as Sid! Sid was a shape-shifter, and his form was a great white! People noticed my reaction and moved to intervene. I sheathed my sword quickly and swam to the nearest bell. Others followed to have words with me. One splashed seawater at my face.

“Dude! What were you thinking, drawing on Sid like that?”

“Didn’t know he was a shapeshifter,” I growled.

“Yeah? How about you freaking pay attention next time, huh? You take a swing at anyone with that junk blade, and we’ll …”

I slipped back under and got back to work before he finished his threat. He actually tried to catch me, presumably to drag me back to where he could speak, but I outpaced him and left him behind. He could cool down for awhile, I didn’t need a hothead in my face about anything.

It did bug me that I’d come close to attacking Sid. I liked the guy – zero expression and all – and didn’t want that kind of responsibility on me.

It was during one of my breaks in the bell that Sid surfaced next to me in his human form and apologized.

“I’m sorry about that misunderstanding. I’d assumed that you’d either read my stats or Smitty had told you. I’m a shapeshifter, and on a larger operation like this I act as guard against anything that might sneak up on us.”

I thought of the drowner I’d dispatched last night and the Moray eel I’d been lucky to escape from. “I’m glad to have you on guard duty, I really am. I’m just sorry that I nearly carved your fin.”

“Probably needn’t have worried. Swinging a blade underwater isn’t as easy as you think.”

I wiped some seawater from my face and didn’t respond. Most swordsmen could only draw a scratch underwater, but I wasn’t most swordsmen. I could anchor myself underwater and have my movements as free as a monk on a mountaintop. I still couldn’t knock off all of Sid’s HP in one shot, but I could certainly maim him. How would that affect his shifting? Did he have the medical supplies in the barge up above to treat himself?

It was early evening when the amphibian diver climbed above decks and waved us off. Sid shifted again and went below to check the ship one last time for anything valuable and collect all the light stones. Then we hauled our latest load and the diving bells up to the barges. I took my leave at that point, sailing in my dinghy back to harbor while they maneuvered the barges. That was why I was the first of the crew back to hear the hubbub around the town square.

I cautiously approached the gathered crowd and asked what was going on. A sailor next to me was only too eager to fill me in.

“A messenger just arrived from the capitol! Every coastal monarch received a quest about a week ago and they’re notifying the whole world. Apparently Davy Jones has a new lieutenant!”

I was in a bit of a shocked haze as I made my way to the notice board where a handful of captains and men dressed like businessmen were gathered around Donovan and arguing with each other. Donovan himself looked nonplussed by the whole affair. When I realized one of the captains held the notice that had sparked everything, I snatched it from him on one of his wild gesticulations.

“Who do you think you are?” he snapped, rounding on me.

I had a fleeting thought of waving the notice in his face and saying ‘this guy!’ but thankfully it was only fleeting. I just gave him a dark look and set to reading while his peers pulled him back into their argument.

Notice to all citizens! His Majesty the king, Leopold the Fourth, has received a quest related to the stewardship of our kingdom. In his gracious wisdom, he has deigned to share the quest details with the masses and allow anyone who completes said quest to receive all quest rewards in addition to a reward of 20,000 gold to be paid upon systemic proof of personal completion.

Quest details are as follows:

You have unlocked the quest Terror of the Seas! Beware! Davy Jones, the scion of the sea, has conscripted a new lieutenant! This new lieutenant has been mandated with causing chaos! While he may be a fledgling in the early stages of his power, the restrictions on his power do not lie within the same boundaries as his master. Let him grow and discover his new parameters at your own risk!

Well … fishguts.

 

It seemed that every ruler involved in the sea trade had been given the other side of my Terror of the Seas quest chain the moment I’d received mine. I’d been hoping to at least get myself situated in anonymity, but now they were hunting me while I was ship-less. I had no illusions that there were leaders, researchers and mages with the abilities to hone in on my location, possibly even counter my own abilities. Average citizens would have average levels and skills, but I’d drawn the attention of the truly exceptional people across nearly half the world!

I didn’t notice the attention Donovan was paying to me while I was fuming.

I retreated to the pier and returned to the sea under the pretense of fixing crab pots. After I’d calmed myself and returned to the surface, I noticed my observe skill was buzzing in my head. Looking about the pier, shoreline, and neighboring ships didn’t reveal what was going on. The buzzing faded, leaving only the cries of seagulls and the hiss of sky-eels. One of the latter had caught a rat nearby. It reminded me of the giant moray I’d fought in the deep and I shuddered.

I returned to Donovan’s Reef for a meal and a drink. The new open quest was the talk of the tavern, and there was no trouble while I was there. The soup and flaky croissants I ate satisfied and itch I didn’t realize I’d had and went a long way towards improving my mood.

I didn’t speak with Donovan and avoided the few among the salvage crew who were present. I simultaneously wished to isolate myself and desired the presence of some company who cared about me.

Sometimes my love of the sea just wasn’t enough.

But I’d thrown everything away, hadn’t I? Could I think of a single person who’d sit down with me and share a drink, knowing the deal I’d made? Any of my friends from past crews? My own mother? Captain Coe? Michaels? Hali?

I imagined Redmund sitting across the table from me. With the wide-eyed gullibility of youth, could I have convinced him to sit at my table? Would he have tried a sip of ale if I’d slid my tankard towards him? Would he have understood if I tried to explain to him that I would be the cause of his premature death?

Only after I’d adequately blackened my mood after such a fine meal did I leave the tavern. After crossing two streets, I noticed my observe skill was buzzing in my head again. Because it was the still darkness of the evening, things moving about would be easier to spot but shadows obscured details.

My eyes roved past it twice before I locked onto it and the buzzing in my head clicked. There was a hawk watching me from its perch on a rooftop. Hawks normally surrendered the night to owls, didn’t they? That didn’t quite explain why my observe skill had picked it up, or why it seemed to be watching me.

When it became clear that I’d spotted the hawk, it flew off and disappeared. I thought back to the seagulls and sky-eels that had been flying earlier when my skill was buzzing, creatures that could easily have obscured another bird. Had the hawk been spying on me on behalf of someone? Had it truly taken less than a day for someone to suspect me of my secret?

I spent the next two hours trying to lose any observers. I spent the rest of the night underwater wondering if I’d succeeded, or if I’d be surfacing in the morning to a trap.

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captaink-19

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