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I stopped by the market to gather some provisions. I was frankly surprised I had the money for it. Even if the potions I’d first sold could have gone for much more, they had padded my wallet a good deal. But what could have set me up with renting a simple room for weeks disappeared quickly when outfitting yourself with magical items and mage lessons. I wasn’t normally a big spender, but then I didn’t normally stick around port long enough to need much coin. Room and board were part of shipboard life.

I had about 5 gold left when I went into the market, and I left with 4. That was hardly trifling, but I wouldn’t be able to afford many lessons with Renshaw at that rate. I needed to do some work.

It turns out that Captains of the Deep had a need for capital after all.

Among my purchases were charts of the local waters that I meticulously updated with the locations of the ships on my shopping list. I’d learned as a boy that it paid to be detailed in navigation. Navigation rolled under the umbrella of Seamanship unless you specialized as a navigator. With my 18 levels of Seamanship, the charts seemed to come alive as I plotted my course.

The ship I was headed for was a brig just over two days out. I thought I could make it in under two, even in my little boat. It had a few advantages over a normal ship. The currents were more favorable than the winds for the journey out, so I’d make the trip there submerged and surface on the return trip.

The ship was named the Sea Cruiser; reports said it went down in bad weather on its way from Port Hafen to Dagat. It was transporting ore. Apparently, the ore was very valuable, as Smitty was getting paid a handsome rate for the amount recovered along with the ships’ pay chest. I had a prioritized list of the rocks they wanted, I was going to fill my adventuring bag with as much of the cargo as I could and then add a bit more into my dinghy for good measure. The crates aboard the Sea Cruiser were well labeled, so I shouldn’t have too much trouble. That was good. I didn’t know diddly-squat about ores.

I picked the Sea Cruiser because she was far enough away from the shipping lanes that I shouldn’t need to worry about anyone nearby. It was also a good opportunity for me to make a good sum of money to finance my continued practice of magic and hopefully some sword training too. Most importantly to me was that a brig was a decent ship if I wound up being stuck with it. I didn’t know the extent of my professional abilities. Claiming the dinghy as my cursed ship had been necessary to get out of danger quickly, but I could have become the ‘Dread Captain Seaborn: owner of a dinghy’ for the rest of my long life of service to Jones.

Scratch that. If I’d been stuck with a dinghy, Jones wouldn’t have let me free. He’d have chained me to the Perdition, and I’d spend the next few centuries regretting my deal.

The sea meant freedom. Being chained in servitude like that would kill me. Even the obligation of service I had now was chafing me – though the terms seemed more lenient than anyone could hope. I’d been my own master since my curse, hadn’t I?

No, no I hadn’t. I’d been an agent. It rankled.

When I claimed the dinghy, Jones had pretty much said I could get a new ship. Would that mean losing the dinghy, or would I have a cursed dinghy tied down on the deck of a cursed ship? If the next ship I claimed had a sense or permanence to it, I thought a brig would be respectable.

As I returned my charts to my bag, my thoughts wandered to the documents left there by the previous owner. I hadn’t read them because whenever I happened to think of it, I was either busy with something else or underwater. Now, before I set sail, seemed like as good a time as any.

The paper was old but the ink was clearly legible. The protective capabilities of the storage bag were impressive. I’d been worried the paper would crumble to dust when I removed it.

There were three documents. The first was a letter, the second was a map, and the third was undecipherable. Not because I couldn’t read the words, but because they made no sense to me.

The letter proved to be an insightful bit of drama:

I know this is a concerning prospect. Theron is certain enough that we found the key that he’s financing this expedition from his own pocket to supplement the grant from the Society! I know he has the quest to find it, but should we be wrong he’ll never recover financially. I worry for him too. While he’s prone to develop obsessions, he either fulfills them or forgets them, ignoring that he ever cared. Even though he gets depressed when he gives up, I’d almost rather see that than the manic behavior he’s been having lately.

Adventuring in the seas has proven to be a lucrative niche in the Society, yet we’re ignoring more and more opportunities for the sake of this Passage. He thinks it’s a portal. I find myself agreeing with you more and more: the Eastern Passage is a myth.

Despite all this, I’m with him to the end. We’re his team. We’ve got to be there for him, or he’ll become an empty shell. So when I ask you to ease up on him, please take it to heart. Wouldn’t you sacrifice your time and comfort for him? He’s done as much for you time and again.

There were no dates or names signed. I didn’t know who wrote it or the name of the Chortin who’d carried it. The only name was that of their group leader: Theron. I could infer more about the Galaxy thanks to the letter, though. It was a hired ship, but Theron would have to be a rich man indeed to hire a galleon like that for an expeditionary journey. Likely the captain of the Galaxy had taken on a cargo headed in the direction of the expedition to pad his costs. The ship didn’t seem to have gotten very far.

The Chortin I found was part of an adventuring team. That was expected, none but adventurers and I had the bags for it. From the contents of his bag, he a very specialized member. The fact that the bag contained only tools was abnormal. I’d only had my bag for what, a week? It was already accumulating miscellaneous bric-a-brac. This adventurer had cleared his bag of everything but his trap-building materials and potions. That meant that he was probably a consummate professional, both as a trap maker and team member. If he’d had the only bag among his team, it would have included everybody’s gear. It seemed that every team member had their own bag, so they were probably a very large team that made a lot of money – or else the cost of bags had been less in past decades.

What I hadn’t expected was to find out what their mission was: the Eastern Passage. The Eastern Passage was hardly a legend. It was a footnote in maritime lore. There were old stories about explorers who found some secret route from the oceans at the center of the world to the ones on the edge. Sometimes they stumbled upon it, other stories claimed they made deals with monsters or mer-folk for the knowledge. That was how old those stories were – they dated back to times before the mer-folk were an isolationist sect rarely seen by surface-dwellers.

The map was of a section of the eastern coastline, only there were lines drawn from different islands and surrounding points. The confluence was marked with some hasty scrawls that looked like someone was excited about the lines meeting. The last page took some time, but I was able to gather that it was notes on the portal that was supposedly the Eastern Passage. There was something about old ruins indicating the location, a guardian watching the portal, and unknown criteria to be met. Pretty standard adventurer stuff, I assumed.

I put the papers back in my bag. I might make a trip out that way someday, should I get bored. I didn’t expect anything to come of it though. Theron had apparently had a quest for something, but I didn’t get a quest to find the Eastern Passage after reading the map. I wasn’t going to start believing in tales like that because of the notes of a long-dead adventurer.

What I’d really hoped to learn was the identity of the person whose bag I now carried. It had been a long shot, but I felt I owed that person. The bag was easily the most versatile item I’d ever found. It seemed a shame that an adventurer as skilled as he seemed to be had been done in by a falling armoire on a sinking ship.

I returned the papers to the bag. They were an interesting bit of insight on a lucky find but had no relevance on my work today. Today, I was heading out to get myself a ship!

The trip out was uneventful. I sailed until late at night, then took my ship to the sea floor and set up my usual camp, hiding myself in a concealed position. When I woke the next morning and set out, a curious shark followed along with me. I briefly considered how much XP he might be worth but reprimanded myself for it. Adventurers went through life appraising creatures and people for XP. I wasn’t an adventurer; I hadn’t joined their special society. I was a normal person, and normal people don’t look at a friendly shark and start salivating over XP.

Okay, I wasn’t a normal person and most landlubbers wouldn’t call any shark friendly, but I wasn’t going to let my mouth water over potential experience points.

I wondered if it was possible to tame this shark. Menagerie Master was the profession Jones had offered to befriend and control sea creatures. I’d turned it down in favor of my current profession, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t befriend a shark, did it?

I had no idea how to go about it. I let my boat drift and swam with the shark, matching its movements. Its curiosity turned into a game when it realized I was mirroring it, and it would speed up suddenly then turn and stop, as if to catch me. I was able to swim fast enough to keep the game interesting but couldn’t match the top speed of this underwater predator.

All the while, I was trying to establish a rapport with it, a connection. I had no experience with animal handling, but this was how people in stories did it, right? Befriend the creature and it would be your lifelong companion?

Apparently not. I didn’t get any sort of skill, and the shark left me after about half a day, probably off to fill its stomach.

I returned to my dinghy, which I’d strayed away from. I’d noticed that when I was on land, I had the sense of the closest route to the sea. When I was in the sea, I had a sense of the closest route to my ship – or non-ship. Without me aboard it had drifted and settled to the ocean floor. When I approximated I was above it, I shifted from adrift swimming to my cursed ability. I fell through the water to the ocean floor like I was falling through air, or had an anchor pulling me down.

That was a good way to think of it! When I was swimming like a normal person, I was ‘adrift’. When I was walking about the ocean floor like a cursed ghost captain, I was ‘anchored’. Brilliant!

I knew from experimentation that the ‘fall’ would hurt when done for any kind of distance, though it didn’t inflict as much damage on me as I’d expect. So, when I got close to the sea floor, I shifted back to drifting. My momentum was not stopped, but the water resistance slowed me. I wished it was possible to reach speeds like that in any direction, I would be truly unstoppable! I could escape any underwater predator. Heck, I could take down any underwater predator! I’d sprint in, inflict the damage of a passing blade travelling at freefall speeds, then be gone before I had to face retaliation. Physics would insist on some limitations to that, but I didn’t try to think of what they’d be since it was a dream anyway. ‘Anchored’ always meant down. I could spring a trap like that, diving down on something from above, but then my only escape was to the sea floor. If whatever I’d attacked followed me, I’d be pinned. Still, I filed the idea away. It could come in handy.

My momentum carried me to the sea floor, where I cushioned the manageable impact with my knees. If I took the time to practice, I could switch back to anchoring and roll instead … but no, I didn’t have the time for that now. My break to swim with the shark had put me behind schedule.

I arrived at the coordinates of the Sea Cruiser that night but didn’t see the ship. I was at a depth where the sunlight from above only ever made a twilight appearance in the water, but the moons lacked even that power at these depths. My Vision ability let me see 80 feet in every direction. I was tired, and not at all thrilled at the thought of combing the area in a tight grid to find wreck I was looking for. I made camp on the sea floor again and grumbled about timelines and how I could have found it in two days.

I awoke the next morning to no friendly shark, though I’d had dreams of it catching up to me and being my companion after all. I surfaced for my meal – eating underwater always spoiled the taste – and then set to my search for the Sea Cruiser. In the morning light, I had much better visibility. It still wasn’t as clear at this depth as it was just below the surface, but it would do.

I started to make a grid search of the ocean floor. It wasn’t hard, the coordinates were on a ‘ridge’ – or at least what passed for a ridge, given that in another mile or two the depth was two or three times what is was here. Salvaging at that depth wasn’t feasible, because you needed more protections against the environment than just breathing water. Smitty didn’t give me many assignments for those depths because he didn’t bother taking them. If I did salvage those ships, I’d have to come up with an excuse for how I did it, because while he didn’t care about whatever ‘item’ I had that let me breathe underwater, anything that let me pull of a dive like that might be worth killing over.

Finding the Sea Cruiser didn’t take 15 minutes. The coordinates for the ship had been quite accurate. I was new to the salvage business, but I imagined that wasn’t all that common.

The Sea Cruiser was a brig outfitted for hauling, but I could identify the ports for the artillery deck. Her foremast had broken off, leaving just her main mast, and she’d settled on the sea floor on her port side. I circled her a few times in my dinghy, examining her condition and looking for any obvious threats. I wasn’t in Lazlo’s Deep, where I’d found the Galaxy and that monstrous Moray, but it wasn’t that far off and wrecks made good homes.

It was probably a minute point, but the Sea Cruiser didn’t show up as a wreck, it showed up as a sunken ship.

Sea Cruiser

Sunken Ship

Durability: 13,914/28,000

I also got a durability count this time. After all its time underwater, it was hardly in good shape. Nevertheless, its hull was intact, it still had a mast and it wasn’t categorized as a ‘wreck’. It was worth investigating further.

I let my dinghy settle on the ocean floor and swam up to the main deck of the Sea Cruiser. She showed signs of the storm she went down in. After having twisted and broken up the deck, the missing foremast had been chopped free. It must’ve broken and been dragging in the water. Damage on the starboard side showed where. The crew had cut the mast and its lines and let them sink, rather than let them drag the ship down. In the end it hadn’t saved them. I didn’t recall Smitty’s backstory, but the tale was easy to read: all hands lost.

While there was a chance of finding remains on board, I didn’t expect to find the hold filled with the crew. When the ship goes down, it seemed more likely that you be swept away than not. Then there was nature’s course; shifting waters, decomposition, and scavengers pulling at the mortal remains. Unless a person was in a closed off area, they were most likely gone forever.

Looking about the deck, I realized that the hatches were still sealed. The only obvious hole was the damage around the missing mast. I swallowed. So, a hold full of crew was a possibility. The thought of desecrating their resting place seemed wrong. It was one thing to pull some cargo from the Sea Cruiser, it was another to turn it into a cursed ship!

First, I had to know whether there even were remains.

There were.

It was not a ship full of bodies, as my imagination had initially conjured. The location and positioning of the bodies were more eerie than that. I surmised that these were the men who hadn’t been able to fit on the rafts or lifeboats, those who hadn’t trusted the sea enough to tie themselves to barrels or scraps and try their luck. These were the men who had stuck it out, seeing the ship making it through as their last chance. They would have done their best to manage her after she’d been crippled.

What had those last minutes been like? Had they realized it was untenable and locked themselves below in the chance the ship would make it through? Had a few brave men tried to wrestle the ship through the storm while their crewmates hid down here and processed the thoughts terrified men go through before death?

I saw skeletons packed between crates. At first I thought these men had been crushed, but realized they’d hunted out ways to not be thrown about. Another pair of skeletons were lashed to the mainmast. One was missing its pelvis and legs, the other was oddly adhered to the mast. I wished I hadn’t examined it closer. The rotting flesh, bound tightly against the mast, had eventually become a type of adhesive.

Two skeletons were in each other’s arms. Even after the abuse and tossing of the ship, even after the violent death of drowning, they embraced each other. Had they been lovers? Near strangers who both happened to share their terror and need for someone to be there at their demise?

None of the skeletons were ‘just’ skeletal frames. They all showed pieces of what they once were. Bones still had their gristle, scraps of flesh and hair remained stuck in patches. The thought of scavengers picking my body over had never appealed to me, but I wished these souls’ remains had somehow been bleached of the reminders that they had been living. This was death, ant they had not met it peacefully.

I kept wondering if I’d find a body clutching a knife in their chest. I didn’t, thankfully. I guess the chaos that would be present when a person went from knowing in the back of their mind they were about to die, to knowing that they were going to die wasn’t an opportune moment for suicide.

I had my sword ready the entire time. No moray eels or other monsters sprang out at me this time, though. I noted that crates did have markings on them, and even if they weren’t clear anymore they were still manageable.

I investigated all corners of the ship. Everything was in the disarray I’d expect; items thrown about before being hastily lashed down, thrown about some more when some lashings came loose, evidence of creatures having entered, made their homes here, and died out. I found some small fish, but this ship wasn’t the hive of life the Galaxy had been. Plants didn’t grow well at this depth, so the ship was surprisingly free of growth. Even the barnacles on the hull looked like they’d been there since the ship sank.

Eventually I made my way back to the deck and swam my way over to the wheel. I let my fingers play over the wood. Despite the sobriety the grisly crew remains inflicted on me and my reservations about cursing their resting place, I knew I would claim this ship. I needed to explore my abilities. My profession was directly tied to being a ship captain – the abilities I had without a ship were negligible.

I needed this ship.

Yet I still allowed myself to take a moment and reflect on the ships’ history. A moment of respect for the departed crew was due. The tale of this ship was not unique, but it had significance. People had died here, hopeless and afraid.

I spent several minutes thinking. It was just as much to let myself process everything as it was to respect the crew. Then, I rested my hand on the ship’s wheel and activated Raise Ship.

Would you like to raise Sea Cruiser as your ship?

I confirmed the prompt, and it was followed by another.

At your current level, you may not claim two ships at the same time. Upgrade your ability to claim two ships if you wish to have both.

If you proceed, your other ship will be discarded. Would you like to proceed?

I contemplated it briefly, not so much because it was a hard decision but because I needed to internalize what this implied. My Raise Ship ability had a hidden progression path. I now knew that upgrading it would allow me to claim an additional ship. Not ‘a higher tier ship’ but another ship. I wasn’t just getting this as an opportunity to upgrade from my dinghy, I got to choose the type of ship I claimed as my own.

These prompts also told me that I wouldn’t be stuck with my old ship. I could raise the Sea Cruiser, then go back to my dinghy to travel to other ship locations and experiment with those. It was the ideal situation for me, I got to experiment and play as much as I needed!

I confirmed that I wanted to proceed.

I felt the same rush I received when I raised the dinghy, only now I was conscious of the mana and magic I was using. This was an expression of my ocean magic; I could feel the same connection to it that I made when I manifested my mana.

I recalled that raising the dinghy had cost 30 MP. This cost much more, but that didn’t surprise me. What surprised me was that my mana wasn’t going into the ship. My mana was going out into the surrounding ocean.

If I’d been using mana manipulation, I’d say it was diffusing, leaching into the ocean and disappearing. It was an ability though, following a framework like a spell would, so I knew it wasn’t wasted. Paying closer attention, I realized that the mana was reaching out, a thousand thin tendrils extending in every direction there was water. I ignored the multitude and focused on just one. A single strand of mana, quantifiably a fraction of a point, was stretched further than I could follow. The structure and resiliency of such a small thread was amazing, but that wasn’t even the best part.

The mana thread was pulling ambient mana in the ocean to it. It was growing, multiplying, draining the surrounding area of the magic that flowed everywhere but was conventionally only tappable in your own mana pool. My deeper magic ability didn’t rely on my own mana pool, though. I would never be able to do this if it did! The mana strand that was worth a fraction of a mana point was worth half of one, then one, as it stretched out further it was worth two, then three …

The process to raise the dinghy had been a rush, a splash of cold water on the face and it was over. This was slower, observable. My initial expenditure of mana was multiplied, then it thickened, and every thread of mana was jerked back. It flooded into the ship and suffused it. My mana pool had dropped by 150, but thousands of mana points had filled the ship.

Sea Cruiser has been raised as your cursed ship! Ship interface has been adjusted for ship type.

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