I practiced magic on the deck of the Sea Cruiser until my mana was gone. Water push and pull was different when you were submerged for a number of reasons. The first was directing what you were pushing and pulling. Contrary to my initial musings, it required more control than moving water around a bowl did. I had to focus on moving only a parcel of water within the ocean, not the whole ocean.
I discovered that manifesting and controlling my raw mana was much easier than it had been previously. Did that have to do with being in water? Or did the practice come more intuitively after I’d had time to internalize it?
Then there was the discovery that physics stuck its head into the magical world every now and again. Implied in the casting of a spell was that you were causing the effect, and that the effect didn’t impact you. Maybe Renshaw would have disabused me of that notion, but when I imagined myself casting water push, I imagined the water moving away from me however far the spell could move it. I didn’t imagine me moving in the opposite direction! That would make magic even more chaotic than it already seemed to be! I tried imagining the potential backlash of wielding spells like that. Forget spells that involved force, wouldn’t any mage casting lightning be setting themselves up for electrocution? Mages should be invulnerable to the effects of their spell, shouldn’t they?
Yet when I tried pushing water while swimming adrift, I surprised myself by pushing myself away just as much as I’d pushed the water. It was all the more confusing because when I’d been anchored to the deck I hadn’t had any push-back at all. I used magic and the water moved. The magic moved the water, not I. I wasn’t dealing with an opposite reaction.
I anchored myself in the rigging as an experiment and had no pushback. I tried letting myself drift but kept a hand on the rigging. No pushback. I let go of the rigging and tried again. I pushed myself back into the rigging.
With enough experimentation, I realized that if I secured myself to anything or felt gravity (like when I anchored myself) then physics let magic and me do our thing. If I was suspended in the water, physics reared it head and said that a force between two unsecured objects (the water I was pushing and me) would move them apart at an equal speed.
Before I started complaining, I thought back to how useful mobility was in the sea. Anchoring myself let me drop from wherever I was towards the sea floor. Pushing and pulling water weren’t nearly the same, but they were more versatile, letting me move suddenly in the opposite direction of my spell.
I tried an experiment where I swam upwards, anchored myself, and tried to do a push while I was in ‘freefall’. I wasn’t good enough at manipulating mana to do it on the move like that; I was uncertain of what gallon-sized globule of water I was trying to move in this vast ocean. I had to switch back to drifting before I touched down, elsewise I could hurt myself from the fall. The more time I gave myself to practice the spell, the further I would fall and the more risk I took. I only tried that experiment once. More experimentation could wait until I had the real spell and could just activate it – or however you used spells once you knew them.
Once exhausted, I set up my little camp in the captain’s cabin, intending to sleep as I always did, only in a more secure spot. I discovered that sleeping aboard my own ship came with its perks. While normally I pulled out an old quilt that I’d bought in Andros for the express purpose of a blanket, it never shared the qualities of my curse. It behaved exactly as you’d expect a sodden quilt in the harbor to behave. In my cabin, that sodden old quilt actually felt like a blanket!
I’d noticed throughout the day that things were different aboard the ship when it was submerged. Not only did the inrushing water fail to make everything aboard a chaotic mess, it didn’t treat the things aboard as water should. I’d dropped a wooden fork from the galley; rather than drift to deck it had fell with a clatter.
It seemed that some of the nuances of the ship were integral and didn’t have to be paid for with XP. That was good, because as frugal as I was trying to be to save for my Raise Crew ability, I probably would have wasted some for a good night’s sleep.
I woke in the morning more refreshed and alive than I had in weeks. I checked, and indeed had a well-rested buff. Boy, it had been awhile since I’d had that!
Chipper as I was, I still peeked my head out of my cabin cautiously. I had no idea if my ship would alert me for intruders, but I didn’t want to open the door to surprise a predator.
No predators. That was always good.
I practiced magic again in the morning, looking to exhaust my mana and refill it when I set out. It was just before I bottomed out that I got a notification.
Congratulations! You have learned the spell Water Push!
Haha! I had my own spell! All my practice the day before must have paid dividends, because I’d learned a spell in only a matter of days (some of which I hadn’t practiced at all). True, it was a beginner’s spell that my Heart at Sea perk certainly helped me learn, but still. I was a proper mage now!
I tried doing a water push without manifesting my mana. It worked. I triggered the spell, the water that I’d wanted to move did, and my mana dropped by only 2 points. It was a cheap spell, but then it didn’t have much use for a normal mage.
Normal mages didn’t live underwater.
I used the spell again, and again. I was going to try it in rapid succession, launching masses of water in every direction, when I became aware that I couldn’t. In the time it took to process that feeling, it went away. I used the spell. I used it again. For a brief time after each use, there was an internal clock on the spell, telling me that I had to wait. I decided to ask Renshaw about it.
I was nearly bottomed out as far as mana went, but all my spells hadn’t used as much mana as I normally wasted with manifestations. More efficient, indeed.
In my excitement, I tried using my spell to push a mass of water 100 times the size I’d been practicing with. I succeeded … in pushing the same amount as always. Ah, that made sense. I’d learned the basic spell, now it was time to practice and upgrade it to something fearsome.
I finished emptying my mana by practicing water pull, then used my compass to orient myself towards shore and started swimming. I could anchor myself and start walking, but that would entail hiking down into deeper waters and then back up later. Swimming was the shortest route, and I was strong enough at it that it was feasible (being able to breathe no matter what helped a lot).
It would probably take me six days, but I could make it back.
It took me five days, for which I was proud. I swam nearly the whole way, sinking to the ocean floor to sleep, rest, and scavenge.
Scavenging became necessary. I ran out of food since I hadn’t planned to be out as long as I was (or burning through as much energy as I had to). I’d settled myself in to tightening my belt and pushing through when I realized I had another option. I nearly slapped my head because I hadn’t thought of it the last time I’d been rushing towards shore for food.
There was life all around me!
The depths of the water dictated what plant life grew and regulated what kind of species filled it. I could scavenge from the sea the same way people could scavenge from the land as they travelled. At most depths there weren’t any edible plants, but I was still in coastal waters so I could swim over the deeper areas and farm the underwater gardens when they appeared. I didn’t touch anything I didn’t recognize and left even more behind because it needed to be cooked or prepared a certain way – I wasn’t that desperate yet – but I scavenged a type of seaweed and a spongey plant that grew along rocky outcroppings like a head of cauliflower.
They were both just as appetizing as they sounded but getting food inside me mattered.
I also caught a fish that had seemed to lack a survival instinct. It had flitted about me for awhile, curiously inspecting me, but it didn’t take a hint when I missed with my first sword strike. My second debilitated it, and by then it was too late. Sushi wasn’t my favorite, but in Carr the Chortin didn’t eat it any other way.
I also picked up some crustaceans, their scuttling escape maneuvers no match for someone who could sprint. They also tasted better cooked, better yet with seasonings I didn’t have.
I saw predators on three different occasions. Twice they were sharks, though not the same one that I’d played with on the trip out. I’d been harboring a secret hope that it would find me again and I’d start taming a pet, but no luck there and I didn’t have time to play with every ocean creature. When one of the sharks had moved from ‘curious’ to ‘aggressive’ I’d used water push to punch it in the gills and dropped from where I was drifting to the sea floor. It didn’t follow.
The third predator I’d encountered was a sea serpent. It had claimed a kill already, a large shark, and if it noticed me it paid me no mind. I wanted to kill it since it was still a juvenile and would net me a good deal of XP, but I didn’t attack. I wasn’t prepared to, even with my unique underwater abilities it still had me outclassed in speed and maneuverability. That left my weapons against its – a corroded old sword and a handful of daggers against a maw of teeth and crushing coils. I’d gambled on a lot of things in my life, but I knew when my luck stat was shaking its head, going, ‘nothing I can do for you, bub.’
If I’d stopped to fight the serpent, I wouldn’t have made it in the time I did. I sighted land and realized I was several miles south of my target. I could pinpoint exactly where the sea cruiser was behind me, between that and my compass I wasn’t too far off course. Not bad. I adjusted my course and swam towards the harbor below the surface.
Before I got close, a ship came up from behind me. Partly because I was tired and partly because it seemed like an amusing prank, I swam to meet it as it passed and grabbed ahold of the rudder. Hanging on to it wasn’t exactly the relief my tired muscles were going for, but I traveled much faster. I tried to keep my body as streamlined as possible.
The last few days were something I wasn’t conditioned for, even if I was capable of it. I rested whenever I needed to, either treading water or laying down on the sea floor, but it was still more swimming than I’d done in a long time. I didn’t see a bump to my endurance, but I was sure I was close. If I did a little more work I’d probably raise it.
I’d also received a few prompts over the last few days:
You have advanced to skill level 15 in Swimming! +4% breathing capacity, +4% water movement speed per level.
Congratulations! You have learned the spell Water Pull!
I expected to advance in swimming after how much of it I was doing and how close I’d been to progressing. The breathing capacity didn’t mean much to me anymore now that I could breathe water. The movement speed was all the better, though.
Learning the spell was also expected after I’d picked up water push, but it had taken a few more practice sessions. I’d moved on to trying to upgrade the spell by moving more water with my manifested mana but hadn’t had any further progress.
When the ship I was trailing began its turn into port, I dropped off. Hitching a ride was well and good, but I worried that me hanging onto the rudder would mess with their steering while they were trying to make careful corrections.
At the pylons of the pier, I checked that my appearance was in order: I was just a shirtless diver coming up from scavenging along the bottom with an adventuring bag. I popped to the surface and climbed up, my land timer starting to count down once again. People noticed me, but they didn’t point me out or look at me funny, so success!
It was early evening, the sun’s descent towards the horizon bringing an evening cool. It seemed to have been a very hot day, but I hadn’t noticed with where I’d been. I let my clothes dry out as I walked. I’d been conscious of how much time I spent in the sea and tried to keep my hygiene up. I’d noticed early on that I hadn’t been as foul as I’d expect given where I’d been spending most of my time, but still found some fresh water to clean up in now and again. Now I noticed more of an air about me, like salt winds and brine. I wasn’t offensive to myself, but I’d wager other people would thank me to clean up.
I decided to head straight to Smitty’s, despite my need for a bath. I didn’t know how late he’d be in, but I’d just as soon free up the space in my bag.
The buxom girl who minded the counter was just heading out, but she directed me to the back where Smitty was still working. When I found him in his office, the accountant was in his element, surrounded by legal books, ledgers, letters, and a row of different writing implements. I’ll give the miser one thing, he was dedicated. He looked up in annoyance at my intrusion, and the expression didn’t disappear when he saw it was me.
“So, you haven’t run off. Forget where to find those ships, did ya’?”
I pulled a lump of ore from my bag and set it on the letter he was writing. “Salvage from the Sea Cruiser. Shall I empty my bag here or do you have a spot for it?”
The ore I’d happened to pull out was gold ore, otherwise he probably wouldn’t have forgiven me for placing it as I did. He snatched it up and bounded out of his office, his annoyed demeanor disappearing.
The warehouse was considerably emptier than before. Either he’d sold some stuff off or he had another storage facility. He led me to a stack of sacks and asked if I’d managed to keep the ores separated. I hadn’t, which wasn’t what he wanted to hear but had expected.
He helped me dump the ores from my bag into the sacks, which I hadn’t expected of him. He looked over the sacks of miscellaneous ores and tutted over payment, which I did expect.
“I can’t know just what the value of what you brought back is until I get someone to sort it out and evaluate it.”
“That’s okay, I wouldn’t want to rush it. I’ll take 30% whenever you’ve sold it back.”
He scooched some of the bags into a more orderly arrangement. “I’ll be able to get your money to you as soon as I have it appraised.”
I sighed. “Yeah, that’s what I figured.”
He arched an eyebrow at me. “I’ll remind you that 30% is a generous offer, Mr. Seaborn.”
Having him call me Seaborn struck me the wrong way, but I tried to ignore it. “There’s a difference between 30% of the appraised value and 30% of what it actually sells for.”
He waved my concerns away. “If you waited until all your salvage had sold, you’d be waiting a long time. I’ll have you paid within days. Besides, I’m not in the business of marking up goods exorbitantly when I’m hired for a recovery job. If I did it wouldn’t be worth it for people to recover their goods. Why would they, if they could just buy it on the market for the same price?”
That all made sense, but I didn’t trust him. I reminded myself not to be greedy, that I only needed money to fund my training. “Fine, at least this should be easier to divide.” I removed the pay chest from my bag, making sure the coins inside rattled about as I set it on the floor, leaking seawater.
“You wouldn’t have just happened to forget about that, would you?”
“If I did that,” I said, nudging the chest with my toe, “Your lesson on economics wouldn’t have jarred my memory.”
Smitty didn’t say anything, he just examined the chest and let me consider how petty I was being. He tapped the corroded lock a few times. “I don’t suppose you found the key?”
“That’s unfortunate. It probably wouldn’t fit right anyway, with the corrosion and all.”
I held out my hand. “Give me some lockpicks and I’ll open it for free.”
He considered me. Anyone else he had pick the lock would see the money inside as well, which would be a security concern for him. He couldn’t ‘miscount’ how much the chest had if I was here, but then I didn’t really think he was that crooked. Not by more than a few silvers, anyway.
He went to the front where the ‘shop’ was and returned with a lockpicking set. I sat down in front of the lock, observing both it and the design of the lockpicks. I glanced up at Smitty, standing over me. “I’m only level 2 in lockpicking. This will take a while.” He didn’t waste any time getting back to his ledgers.
I felt out the pins of the lock for a half hour. I’d thought that the lock was simply well designed, better than my skill could easily overcome, but I eventually threw up my hands in disgust. It wasn’t a matter of finding the right pins or applying the right amount of pressure – the thing was far too corroded inside to operate!
I glanced around the warehouse until my eyes landed on a large prybar. I turned the chest so the crack of the lid was facing up and smashed the prybar down into it. The same conditions that had rendered the lock unusable made cracking through the lid and popping it open easy. It took me less than two minutes. Why had I fiddled with lockpicks for half an hour?
Smitty had come to check on me when he heard the ruckus I was making but hadn’t objected. Now, we both watched as the last of the seawater flowed out of the chest along with the coins. It wasn’t a glittering chest of gold, every coin was tarnished by seawater. It was mostly silver, though there was a fair amount of copper and a few gold.
Smitty set to counting, setting stacks aside by order of value. I rubbed the tarnish off the worst coins and left them for him to count. I didn’t want to intrude on his system or give him cause to double check my work. He tallied everything, made a note of how much was of each currency, and made some simple calculations – which he then showed me. “I figure I owe you 7 gold, 42 silver and 73 coppers from this chest. Do you agree?”
I followed his calculations and agreed. The chest had contained a total of about 25 gold. There was no appraised value V.S. market value on currency, so business was straightforward. I would have to polish up the coins a bit, though.
“Do you have a preference in denominations?” he asked. If someone didn’t want to show gold, they could take more silver instead. If they didn’t want to carry around all the silver it would take to make a gold, they’d take the higher value coin. Since I didn’t have to worry about the weight or mass so much with my storage bag, I took most of my pay in silver with just a few gold. That seemed to suit Smitty just fine.
“Before you go, I ought to tell you: there’s been two people that dropped in asking about you.”
“Really?” I said, not sure if I should feign disinterest or not.
“I don’t make a habit of sharing details about my employees but seeing as I had no idea where you were or if you were even doing work for me right then, I told them as much.”
He generically described two people that could have been anybody. They were human, so that was something, but then there weren’t many non-humans in Andros.
“Listen,” Smitty said, “I’ll tell you what I tell all my employees: so long as you do good work for me, I don’t care what other problems you have. I don’t ask, you don’t tell. Something slips and I may forget I heard. But you go about bringing trouble here and the guards will get their citizen’s report. Clear?”
“As crystal waters,” I said. “Before I head out, I wonder if there’s something I might buy from you tonight.”
The annoyed look was back on his face. “You can spend your money on trinkets when we reopen tomorrow. I have better things to do!”
“How many harpoons would I have to buy to make it worth your while?”
His interest was piqued, and he was no doubt wondering if he could keep his hands on more of the silver he’d paid me with. “What exactly are you looking for?”
I’d thought about that sea serpent a lot on my return; the number of sharks I’d seen as well. I needed to find sources of XP and wading into combat with my sword was far from ideal. I intended to find a weapons trainer, but I also needed ranged weapons for submerged work – my knives weren’t up to the task I had in mind.
There were a number of innovative projectile weapons to work underwater. They were mostly variations of a crossbow – storing a fixed amount of energy to sling a bolt or spear forward. Elastic bands were the most commonly used methods of slinging spears, but there were much more powerful (and expensive) magic equivalents that used mana to work. The trouble with these types of weapons was that they were primarily fishing tools. They filled their role well – and I certainly didn’t want to get hit by one of their projectiles – but they weren’t exactly serpent killing tools.
What I thought of was to pick up some harpoons I could throw. A well-designed harpoon faced minimal resistance in the water, the trouble was the thrower. Given my unique circumstances, I believed I could make good use of it. I’d be just as restricted as a normal man if I was adrift and not anchored, but with practice I could probably jump from one condition to the other long enough to throw a harpoon. More things to practice …
Smitty rubbed his chin when I described what I was looking for. Then he led me to a cluttered corner filled with miscellaneous tools. I wondered how in the world he kept everything straight in his head – must be a professional perk of his.
He showed me a stack of harpoons lashed together. They were well used but had a light layer of dust on them and spots of rust. There were other tools as well, tridents, bidents, slinging devices, etc. I pulled the knots tying the bundle of harpoons loose and quickly inspected several. I only had one level of spears – gained from my time aboard the Essential – but I was well familiar with the care and maintenance of them.
There were no enchantments or other damage-dealing effects to these tools, and their rated damage per strike was brought down by their condition. They were all about five feet long and thin; if they’d been better maintained I’d have called them sleek. Because they were solid metal they still had a heft to them, but with my strength stat they were still lightweight. There was a wicked barb on the end, but the poor maintenance showed in the dull edges, broken barbs and tips. I immediately set those aside – along with the few that weren’t straight anymore – and had 14 harpoons left. I pulled two more out that were too rusted for me to deal with, leaving me with an even dozen.
“How much for these?”
“15 silver each.”
That seemed a bit high, but I was taking his best tools and didn’t want to haggle too hard given that he was my employer and I was pulling him away from his after-hours work.
My eyes flicked over the trident. I imagined I could use it as a polearm; it would serve better for that purpose than a harpoon or spear. “Same price for the trident?”
Smitty chewed his lip. “20 for the trident.”
“Do I get to keep the lockpicks?” I asked. His eyes darted back to me. While he was counting money he’d forgotten that he’d loaned me the picks. “Yes, that will include the picks.”
I reached into my bag and removed the two gold I owed him. It was always convenient not having to break change. I put the harpoons into my bag and inspected the trident before doing the same. The width of the trident forks just barely managed to fit through the mouth of my bag. I told Smitty I’d be back after my next run and bid him farewell.
The sun had nearly set, and it was probably past polite visiting hours, but I still hurried over to Renshaw’s establishment. I wasn’t expecting to get a lesson in today, but I wanted to make sure I was on his calendar tomorrow. It was dusk when I arrived but Renshaw was sitting cross-legged in the grass in front of his house. I saw he had a student with him, deep in meditation, so I made to leave. Renshaw saw me first and beckoned me over.
He slapped my shoulder with a smile. “I wondered if I’d see you again. I was a bit disappointed when you didn’t show up these last few days. You are easily the most interesting student I have right now.”
He was speaking softly, but I still glanced over his shoulder at the young boy meditating with his eyes closed – seemingly oblivious to us. Renshaw followed my eyes and shook his head.
“A very promising student, but he has yet to awaken any abilities. Clear and level-headed, though. He could rank every person in my class by order of potential and I’d agree with him. I appreciate brilliance wherever I see it, but especially so in someone so young.”
“I didn’t mean to interrupt your teaching; my job just took longer than expected and I wanted to make sure an appointment with you tomorrow afternoon would work.”
To my surprise, Renshaw actually insisted I come over earlier. “Join me for breakfast! We’ll see if we can’t pinpoint the uniqueness behind your water magic. I’ve been puzzling over it and have yet to find an answer. As a scholar, that’s a challenge!”
“I’m afraid that spending the day under your tutelage would wipe out most of my most recent paycheck.”
“Oh no, I won’t charge you when I’m learning something new myself. Join me in the morning, sit through the class I have. No charge for that either, but I think it will do you good to watch their attempts at mana manipulation. We’ll have our session in the afternoon, normal time, normal charge. Have you picked up push and pull yet?”
“As a matter of fact, I have. I’ll have some questions for you tomorrow about them.”
“Good, good! I look forward to it. Stay safe!”
I left Renshaw’s to find The Bronze Hook, a tavern I’d heard of in town. Donovan’s Reef was an impressive establishment and he kept order inside it, but it was also the area where an owl had spied on me. Smitty had warned of people asking after me, and that made me wary. To my knowledge, no one had seen through my cover yet, and if I looked a bit shifty with my disappearances … well, I was surely no worse than half the town.
Even if the people following me were normal criminals, I still wanted to avoid them. My adventurer bag marked me, and I lacked the typical team that accompanied one. Someone looking to shake down some silver might think it was worthwhile to follow my movements.
Should I assume the worst? If I did, the smart thing to do would be go down to the dock, claim a boat I could manage and get out of Tulisang. It didn’t leave me with good options, but avoiding exposure and capture was the priority.
If I ran at every warning sign, though, I’d never establish the means to defend myself before they cornered me. ‘They’ being half the world. Given enough time, my secret would be exposed. What I had here was a trainer for my magical abilities, a list of ships to experiment with, and a job/cover to keep it all running. Being spied on was unsettling, but it wasn’t worth running yet.
I found The Bronze Hook by the docks. It wasn’t nearly as nice or large as the Reef, but it was what I expected from a dockside tavern. There was a murmur of conversation coming from inside, but no music or sounds of brawling. I waited for a while in the shadows nearby, observing the front. When my stomach growled for real food instead of seaweed, I convinced myself I was just being paranoid and entered.
Conversation didn’t die when I entered, but there was a drop-off as people noted my presence. There was plenty of lighting inside, but each lantern was subdued. The walls, tables and fixtures were clean but showed wear and patches from occasional damage. I made my way to the bar casually, my observation skill working overtime. A lot of patrons here were tense. Others seemed relaxed but weren’t. I wondered if I was the cause of it, but I spotted quite a few of the armbands I’d noticed around town before. These ones were a dark green. I wondered at the significance once again, even as I mapped my exits.
The innkeep here followed the stereotypical lines; belly, apron, the works. He was still less welcoming than the intimidating-cut figure Donovan had been. I smiled extravagantly, like I could make up for his lack of enthusiasm.
“Do you have anything on the stove?”
“Who are you here with?” he replied.
“Just dropping by for something simple to fill my belly.”
“We don’t have anything.”
I didn’t protest, question him or point to the food that was sitting at the tables of other patrons. This place was a member’s only club – at best. The presence here of whatever passed for an armed force in this quarter spelled trouble for me, and I wanted out. I knuckled my brow, apologized for bothering him, and moved to a side door. There were two burly fellows loitering in the alley directly outside, surprised at my exit.
“Evening boys,” I said, walking straight past. I didn’t look back, though I was listening. When I reached the street, I checked who was around. I saw nobody, but someone had stepped out the side door behind me and was saying some words to the burly guys. I quickened my pace, checking behind me. They were following.
As I approached the pier they started to close in, and I saw another figure appear further down the docks. He’d probably been sent to cut me off.
I quick-stepped to the pier. They were running now, closing as fast as they could. I took the last steps of land I needed and dove into the sea.
I waited to see if any of them would try following me. I doubted it, and my suspicions were confirmed. Whatever reason they had to chase me, trying to find me in the inky darkness of the waters wasn’t worth it.
I debated just disappearing below. It was safest. However, if they were after me because they suspected my identity, I didn’t want to give them more cause to suspect me. I swam to the next pier and surfaced loudly, splashing and gasping for breath. I looked over and saw that there were indeed figures standing on the dock, waiting and discussing their options. They saw me. I took an exaggerated breath and went below again. This time I stayed below. They’d assume I swam away and surfaced somewhere they didn’t see.
My thoughts were troubled as I found a spot to make camp. Where was the danger? What was the best option? If normal criminals were looking to mug me, I could deal with that. Stuff like that happened in most ports, it was business as usual. If someone was after me because I was the servant of Davy Jones, a fledgling power with quests of terror, then I should cut my losses and run. But where? Everyone would be on the lookout for me.
My blanket wasn’t as comfortable as it had been in my cabin. My worries hounded my thoughts until pure tiredness pulled me to sleep, then they hounded my dreams.