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A note from captaink-19

Surprise!  I decided to add a bonus chapter this week!  (I didn't think anyone would mind ...)

Special thanks to my patron MagicWafflez for the chapter name!

When I woke I felt better than I had any right to. I came to realize that it may have been because I’d slept longer than I should have, nearly an entire day. Normally I’d wake based on my work schedule or the rhythms of noise around me. Since I’d begun sleeping underwater I’d noticed that I felt the changes in the tide as it went through its stages. After my exhaustion yesterday, I’d been oblivious to all of these.

I didn’t test the full movement of my right arm, I could tell it was still hurt. My bruises were sore and painful – particularly my right forearm – but I wasn’t as stiff as I’d expect. Sleeping in a liquid helped, I guess.

My burns baffled me. The bruising would improve with time, I understood that. The burns shouldn’t have improved as much as they did, especially not in the environment I’d been in all night! I considered maybe they hadn’t been as serious as I’d thought yesterday, but the memory of being hit and stumbling to the ocean with my clothes burning hadn’t become any less vivid. I was still wearing the burnt scraps, their durability trashed.

I’d been thinking of seawater as anathema to injury recovery because … well of course it was! Every sailor knew the dangers of infection! Yet the injuries I’d had weren’t hampered by my underwater environment, they’d all seemed to be better for it. Was this a benefit to my curse? It wouldn’t make sense for a being cursed to be in water to die of sepsis after receiving a cut, would it? Maybe my environment improved my recovery rate!

Swimming to the surface showed that my recovery rate wasn’t miraculous. I let my right arm relax and settled for a very inefficient swim stroke. I could breathe the atmosphere, I didn’t need to race anywhere.

Peeking above the surface showed that the two Free Brethren ship still controlled the harbor, though they hadn’t been unscathed. The docks were quiet, I didn’t see anyone moving about. I submerged just below the surface and took a circuitous route to the docks. A shark startled me, but it was a small one and didn’t seem interested in live prey.

There were no sounds of battle in Tulisang. I saw a building that had been burned down, but the ashes had long been extinguished. The area where the mage battle had taken place looked like the warzone it had been. Other places I hadn’t seen battle also showed evidence of it. I couldn’t see the ground along the docks from my position, but I imagined there were plenty of dried bloodstains. Wait, would the have already cleared the bodies? I didn’t want to know. It wasn’t any of my concern.

I swam along the dock to the shallower areas where the draft of larger ships couldn’t come. Most of these were fishing vessels or even a few pleasure craft. I swam along like I was window shopping. I wasn’t going for the very best, I was looking for something I could manage. A larger stow capacity than my previous dinghy would be nice, but depending on how changing between cursed ships effected it the effort might be worthless.

I was skimming past the fishing boats when one made me stop. As much as I hated stealing what was no doubt someone’s livelihood, a fishing boat was probably well suited for my purposes. I just needed to find one set up for one-man control … there! No, as I peeked over its gunwale I saw personal effects laying about. I’d be stealing a boat today, but if I had to toss a bunch of personal stuff I’d feel even guiltier.

I found one that suited my purposes and spent several minutes inspecting it. It badly needed some hull maintenance but that wouldn’t be a concern to me when it was cursed. The apparent disuse also helped me assuage my conscience.

I had something else to do before skipping town, as my stomach was reminding me. I’d gone from eating whatever I could scavenge in the sea to Renshaw’s oh-so-delicious and filling meal yesterday to a day-long fast. My stomach wasn’t happy, and I could tell the difference in my energy levels. I needed to get some food. The battle of yesterday scared me away from going back into town, but the apparent desertion of the streets and the knowledge that it was my best option for stocking up won me over.

I crawled into the fishing boat I’d picked and changed out of my rags and into my captain’s outfit. Yesterday, looking important had been a bad thing. I hoped that today it would be the opposite. I took a deep breath as I felt the attribute bonuses it offered expand my own.

Captain outfit:

+5 armor rating

+1 Strength

+2 Agility

+1 Dexterity

+1 Constitution

+2 Luck

+2 Charisma

It felt strange leaving a modest fishing vessel in such attire, but no one seemed to be watching. I dropped into stealth in the nearest alley and proceeded into town cautiously. It wasn’t that I saw no one at all, but the emptiness of the place was eerie. I wondered if there was a temporary truce between the factions or if they’d all just regrouped and were picking their battles.

I was heading towards the stall market, hoping that when madness descended yesterday the stall owners had left their food behind. Before I got there I smelled bread and circled the block to a bakery. They weren’t in operation, but I didn’t care if my bread wasn’t fresh from the oven. I tried the back door and found that it was – predictably – locked. Thankfully I finally had the tools on hand to make use of my lockpicking skill.

Now I’d seen lockpickers who could open locks in seconds, but that wasn’t me. That wasn’t most people with the skill. So long as I had time I could figure the lock out, though, and I opened the back door after less than ten minutes of fiddling. Okay, maybe it was just a little over ten minutes. I wish there were more – less illicit – ways to level the skill.

The shop was quiet and the ovens were cold. I made my way to the front of the store and helped myself to a variety of loaves, a tub of soft-butter the size of my head, and a jar of preserves. I stopped by the counter as I was leaving, and after a few moments of deliberation left some silver coins. I had nearly 10 gold in currency in my bag, I could afford to compensate a shop owner for my thievery.

I left and ran into the problem of not having a key to lock the door again behind me. I sighed and considered that locking up a shop was the non-criminal application of my skill and pulled out my lockpicks again. It was good practice, and since I was familiar with the lock already it only took me half the time.

I stopped by a general store and went through the same process, picking out a better variety of foodstuffs. The only tense moments occurred when I was locking back up and an armed patrol passed by. I was in stealth and they didn’t notice me.

I returned to the fishing boat I’d chosen and went over everything again before readying it to sail. I didn’t claim it just yet. My reasoning was that I didn’t want the top of the sail to be showing above the surface in these shallow waters, but then it also occurred to me that leaving a large dead-zone of mana on the pier would also be a bad idea. Glad I’d dodged that arrow, I got underway under normal power. The Brethren ships didn’t seem to care that one fisherman was brave enough to actually go fishing and I made it out of port without any difficulties.

A couple miles out I triggered my ability to raise the fishing boat as my own.

Would you like to raise ‘fishing boat’ as your ship?

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 confirmed the prompts and felt my awareness of the Sea Cruiser shrivel. My mana rushed outwards and multiplied itself. I watched as the mana tendrils extended not only into the sea but the air as well, multiplying before they returned and flooded the fishing boat. The proess was much faster than it had been for the Sea Cruiser. My interface shrunk to accommodate my more modest vessel.

‘Fishing boat’ has been raised as your cursed ship! Ship interface has been adjusted for ship type.

Sea Cruiser has been discarded.

Previous alterations on Sea Cruiser have been carried over where applicable.

2300 XP has been allocated to sails.

I was glad to see that I hadn’t lost as many XP in the transfer to the fishing boat as I had to the Sea Cruiser. Nevertheless, I expected those points would be whittled down a lot more by the time I’d finished experimenting with different ships.

The fishing boat’s durability points were also recalculated based upon its status. I received no notifications about cursed effects and checking in my interface showed that I indeed had a perfectly ordinary kind of cursed vessel.

I submerged to take greater advantage of the current I wanted and set my course for the ship I’d just lost.

Soon, I was again at the Sea Cruiser’s resting place. Raising her and then letting her down in a different spot had made her more vulnerable to the forces of the sea. It would have only taken a few storms to push her off her place on the ridge in the first place, I’d cut down on the time it would take for her to reach the bottom.

She was still intact. Seeing what had happened to her had been my reason for detouring in this direction. I’d needed to know if every ship I ‘discarded’ would be subjected to the same forces that had destroyed my first dinghy. The Sea Cruiser had pretty much returned to her initial durability, minus about fifty points. That gave me hope that I wouldn’t be stranded every time I came out here to claim a new ship.

I practiced my magic until I was depleted before going to bed, as I was trying to make it a habit. I thought I noticed some improvement in the quantity of water I could move but hadn’t seemed to cross the threshold yet.

I awoke the next day and surfaced my fishing boat so I could eat my breakfast without tasting seawater. I checked my list of ships in the area and considered my next move.

My primary focus was to give Tulisang a few days to settle down. Even if the number of Andros’ army had increased, I doubted they’d planned on a full takeover. They had to know they’d need vastly superior numbers to take and control the city for months. Even if they controlled the streets and the harbor, Tulisang would remain a hotbed of unrest for a long time, and they’d have to rule with a strong hand. They didn’t have the troops for that, so after some territory shifts the town should return to its status quo. At least I hoped it did. I needed to learn some more magic basics, and a sparring partner would be good too.

In the meantime I would continue experimenting with my interface and ship types, finishing jobs to keep Smitty happy and my purse full. Finding ways to gain XP should also be on my to-do list.

I decided to head towards a sloop that was only a day or so away. It had been traveling from Nilfheim when local pirates set upon it. I hadn’t gotten the whole story from Smitty, but I’d gathered that pirates were never happy to have their prize sink instead of being looted.

There was a ship on the horizon, so I sailed on the surface until I was out of sight. By that point the winds were more accommodating than the underwater currents, so I stayed above.

I was on my way to claim the Integrity.

There might have been a bit of irony or justice in me claiming a ship from the nation that had started me on this path I was on. If there was, I didn’t feel it. The Integrity was below me now, and I didn’t feel any sense of vindication at the wreck.

It had taken me nearly an entire day since I’d arrived at the coordinates Smitty had to locate it. While the Sea Cruiser had been at the very spot I’d been given, the Integrity was over a mile away. It was also much deeper. Smitty had hoped that it would be in an area that would be manageable for normal diving, but he’d been wrong. The only reason this recovery was possible was because I was the one doing it.

I circled the sunken sloop and winced at the damage. I don’t know what tale had been told to Smitty, but this didn’t look like the attackers had spared any thought for looting anything. The whole port side looked like it had been stove in. It had barely 10% of its hull durability left. Sure, some of that would have been taken by its time her on the bottom, but I’d already seen examples of ships in ‘good’ shape despite the ocean’s ravaging. This ship had been brutalized before it had been sent down.

After some deliberation, I decided my trident would be my weapon going in. Nearly anything could be in residency and I wanted to be able to keep it away from me if possible. A sword would be more maneuverable, but I didn’t trust a blade to keep a sea creature from harming me at the same time.

I left my fishing vessel and began to clear the sloop. My Vision ability let me quickly pick up on the movement from inside.

Name

Giant Isopod

Level

8

Health

350

Mana

100

Stamina

300

A moment after I’d analyzed them, one scurried out at me. It looked like a pill bug if a pill bug lived underwater, was about four feet long and had mandibles capable of ripping into your flesh. I was glad I’d picked the trident.

A thrust to the head of one didn’t penetrate its armor much, but it did manage to injure it. Its reaction was to pull back and curl up in an armored ball. That would be a happy result – seeing as how I could then kill a creature that was only defending – but its fellows weren’t dissuaded by their comrades’ pain. There were at least seven that had taken an interest in making me their meal.

Thrusting at the others only caused them to back up for a moment unless I actually injured them, where they’d roll into a defensive position. I quickly set to making all of them go on the defensive, but as I did the first ones I’d attacked would unroll and attack again.

After a minute of burning through stamina trying to make them all roll up, I attacked one and used water push on it when it rolled up on itself. I was satisfied to see it trundle itself up even tighter as it rolled back into the ship.

That was my means of whittling down their numbers! I did that for three others. That left me with just three on hand. I sent two into a defensive ball and then attacked the third, trying to stab its underbelly before it could protect itself. I didn’t get it on the first try, and the first isopod I’d sent rolling back into the ship came scurrying back out. I sure got that one good when its turn came, the tines of my trident impaling its flesh. With a twist I tore a chunk out of its underbelly, sending its HP plummeting. It received a crippled debuff but didn’t bleed. I’d have to come back to it to finish it off.

After I’d maimed all the attacking isopods and finished off two, they retreated. I followed cautiously. My caution was warranted as there were more inside, though these were smaller. The same technique worked on them, but I found that I could crush their exoskeletons with a hard swing. Momentum was a powerful tool, especially in an environment that typically resisted it.

After finishing off some of the smaller ones the larger brethren came back to play and I retreated a bit. It was still only a matter of time before they’d given up and tried to hide. I sought them out and dispatched them. While doing so I discovered that they’d made a nest out of ship. Breaking into the nest in spots exposed creatures that appeared to be some kind of breeding queen. I dispatched them as well.

The XP rewards for killing the creatures was minimal – exactly what I’d expect from a shrimp’s larger cousins that were a lower level than me. Still, they added up and I’d gained 1,060 XP for clearing them out.

I’d checked all corners of the ship in clearing the nest. When I was finished, I claimed the sloop. I went through the required mental prompts – looking askance at my fishing boat when it said my previous ship would be discarded – and a moment later I was watching my mana surge out into the surrounding water. I was wondering if it would be possible to replicate this without using the ability. I had a large mana pool but being able to refill it from the atmosphere would be a huge leg up in protracted battles!

Doomed Integrity has been raised as your cursed ship! Ship interface has been adjusted for ship type.

I froze as I saw the name change. I understood the change – the ship was cursed after all – but the phrase ‘doomed integrity’ was a lot more ominous to me personally than simply saying the ship was ‘cursed’. It implied that while I tried to be a good man it was destined to fail.

That shook me.

I tried to ignore the feeling and move on, bringing up my new interface.

Doomed Integrity (Cursed)

Ship Class

Sloop

Captain

Domenic Seaborn

Ship Durability

4,000/23,000

Ship level

2

Cursed Status:

Merciless

Ship alterations:

Speed

Maneuverability

Handling

Durability

Modifications:

Repairs

Effects

Relationships

I looked up ‘Merciless’ under the ship effects:

The ships history and your experience with it have an effect on the nature of the ship’s curse. You have no history or connection with this ship. Given your relationship with race who owned it and your extermination of all life on board, cursed status has been set as: Merciless.

Merciless: the commander of this ship has no pity and offers no quarter. Effect causes anyone attacked by this ship to be affected by an instance with the chance to cause:

Fear; decreased mental resistances.

Desperation; increased defensive capabilities and severely decreased mental resistances.

Resiliency; improved physical capabilities and mental resistance.

I did not like the name of the ship, and I did not like the type of cursed effect. The effects of Merciless I could take or leave – it seemed just as likely to put people’s backs to the wall and create strong defenders as it did to cripple their resistances. No, what I really didn’t like was the reason I’d been given that particular curse. ‘Extermination of all life on board?’ Since when did killing a nest of sea creatures count for such a harsh title? And why did it say I had no connection with the ship only to turn around and say because I didn’t get along with the Madu, I deserved a curse that reflected that?

I growled and tried to ignore the system messages. I’d lost another 400 XP in the transfer between the fishing boat and Doomed Integrity, which didn’t improve my mood. A quick glance showed that the fishing boat was still intact, I could lose this annoying sloop after I’d played around with it for a few hours.

I raised the Doomed Integrity to a depth where light filtered through the water, leaving bodies and bits of broken nest in my wake. I decided that would be my first experiment. Being submerged aboard one of my cursed ships didn’t cause everything to be affected – line didn’t just go floating off when it wasn’t secured.

After an hour of experimentation, I stumbled upon the mentality needed. I was moving from surfaced to submerged, watching as more chunks of nest were sucked out of the broken port side, when I willed for the hold to still be subject to that force. It was like how I willed the ship to rise and sink. Willpower wasn’t everything, as I needed some force to be acting on the nest and bodies that I wanted removed. My will did make it possible, though, otherwise my ‘cargo’ stayed aboard as if there wasn’t a hole in the hull.

I surfaced and submerged a number of times, clearing out the worst of the mess in the hold. I decided against staying in the surface with what would obviously be a ship-killing injury to any passerby and returned to the sea floor. There I went below decks to examine the hold more thoroughly.

Whatever cargo had been left after the first trip to the bottom had been ruined by the local crustaceans. The sight of the nearly empty hold didn’t bother me. If I recovered anything from this ship, I’d have to make up a story for Smitty on where it was and how I’d salvaged it. This ship could be just for me to practice with. Just knowing that a huge hole in the side of my ship wouldn’t incapacitate me by itself was worth coming out here, thought the damage did affect my movements.

My observation skill spotted a bit of white bone sticking out of the recently exposed nest. I used a harpoon to break more of the nest away and uncovered a skeleton.

It seems I’d been too quick too assume that no members of the crew had made it to the bottom with the ship. They’d just been packed into the isopod nest like everything else. Unlike the skeletons on the Sea Cruiser, this one was distinctly non-human. It was a Madu. I’d never seen a Madu skeleton before, but the skull and vertebrae of the neck seemed to fit what they’d look like without their distinct markings on their neck. The wider eye sockets and differently shaped jaw didn’t match any other race I knew of. It only made sense that a ship from Nilfheim would have a Madu on board – if not comprising the whole crew.

Now I had an opportunity that I hadn’t last time. I had enough XP to buy the Raise Crew ability.

Raise Crew: bind the spirits of accepting individuals to your crew.

I spent the points, seeing my total of 59,234 decrease to 9,234.

I looked at the skeleton of the Madu and hesitated. Did I want a Madu on my crew? Would I be stuck with them? Or would they be stuck to whatever ship I currently had? Would they be a reanimated skeleton or would they get their body back? I couldn’t answer those questions without trying.

I looked at the skeleton and engaged my new ability, feeling it extend to the remains. A moment passed, then I received a disappointing message.

The spirit of these remains is beyond your reach.

I fell back on my rear and stared at the wide-eyed skull in front of me. I felt tears well in my eyes unexpectedly.

“How am I ever going stay free if I keep going on like this?” I asked the skull. “I’ve hardly felt like myself since the Wind Runner. I’ve thought that if I just get to safety I’ll be okay. Well there is no safety on land, so if I just get a ship I’ll be okay. Well I can’t manage a decent ship without a crew, so once I’ve got a crew I’ll be okay.” I gestured at my companion’s bare remains. “Now I can’t even raise the crew I was expecting! And who am I kidding? You wouldn’t get along with me if it had worked. Your race is set to kill mine, and I guess that mine is set on just the same. That’s why you’re down here, huh? Some humans didn’t like a Nilfheim ship this far south?”

I wiped at my eyes. It was interesting how the salt tears in my eyes interacted with the saltwater around me. I could feel the difference between my tears on my face and the sea. Were the tears of someone cursed by Davy Jones an alchemy ingredient? I could be crying gold into the sea. I took a breath that was meant to steady me but instead turned into a shuddering window for more tears.

“I don’t know whether I’m living in a dream or a nightmare! I thought I got what I always wanted: a good profession that meant a life at sea. I thought with how much I moved around I wouldn’t miss normal company. I thought doing what I’ve always done would be enough. But no; I’m hiding who I am from everybody because everyone would despise me. I’m cut off. And I can’t even do my normal sailing because I’m a one man show.

“And once I have a crew what then? I’ve never been a captain before! How do I know it’ll be any better at that point? It’s not like we’ll all be headed out whaling, or transporting cargo, or anything else. No, I’ll be the captain of a crew dedicated to Davy Jones’ goals, whatever they be. What will he have me doing? Just watching some ship he’s interested in, like he was watching Lawless Jack? I could only hope! He’ll throw me like a harpoon wherever he wants me. I’ll be fighting people or monsters as much as he directs.”

I wrung my hands together like I was trying to squeeze the blood out of each one. “This isn’t the deal I’d imagined!” I yelled.

My tears stopped flowing but my grief wasn’t done, leaving me feeling hollow. What kind of cursed effect would I get for claiming a ship like this? The Wailing Captain? Causes everyone who sees me to break down in tears? Oh, some captain of the deep I turned out to be!

I tried to list everything that was bothering me. The impending tasks from Jones topped the list. What I was going to do about a crew followed it closely. After that?

The man I killed in Tulisang bothered me. Not the fact that I’d taken his life. No, I’d struggled too hard against him to live to feel guilt for that. What bothered me is that I knew nothing about him. Not his name, not which faction he’d been in, not his reason for fighting. Judging by the XP I’d gotten from him, he’d been, what, just under level 20? What brought him out to fight in the streets?

Had he been fighting for the freedom of strangers? Had he been fighting for his way of life – looking to provide for his family? What family did he have? Were there kids and a widow crying because their dad had gone out and some nameless mage had killed him? Any of that man’s possible motives seemed more viable than mine. I hadn’t wanted to be there at all.

I thought back to the Wind Runner. Redmund hadn’t thought much of my common-sense desire to avoid warfare. ‘Domenic, don’t you think anything’s worth fighting for?’ he’d said. At the time I’d dismissed his idealism as youthfulness. Yet here I was crediting a man I’d killed for the ideals he might have held.

What were my ideals?

Jones had asked me what motivated me. I’d told him it was love of the sea and sharing the wonder of the world. That was true, but those things weren’t ideals. What did I care enough about to die for?

I didn’t know. I tried to think of something but I just didn’t know.

I thought of Bing and looked to my interactions with him for clues. I’d refused to let him lead me to the harbor, claiming it was a selfish choice because I didn’t want any guilt over his death. Was that really selfish? Now that I knew how close I’d come to death during that jaunt I wouldn’t be so picky. ‘You want to show me safely to the harbor, Bing? Far be it from me to look down on you! Lead on!’ That felt like the truly selfish choice, what did that say for my ideals?

“I don’t know who I’m becoming. I don’t if I’ve really changed, or if this has always been me. I don’t know if who I was would have amounted to anything anyway. So why does it seem like I’m set on the path of a villain?”

My skeletal companion had no answers for me. His spirit was beyond reach anyway; I had the prompt to prove it. He’d still proven to be a useful ally for my moment of catharsis. I broke it out of the nest it was packed in. I’d give the remains a burial at sea, the least any sailor deserved.

My observation skill picked up on the lack of isopod corpses first. That made me cautious when I looked for threats. A long tentacle reached down from above and grabbed another corpse.

Name

Giant Squid

Level

12

Health

1,140

Mana

500

Stamina

500

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A note from captaink-19

Next chapter will be released Sunday as usual.

To everyone who likes songs and shanties; I could use your help!  I've spent more time than I care to admit trying to write original content, but my writing powers to not extend to lyrical composition.  If you want to give it a shot - or even link an old existing one you'd like to see in the story - send me a message!  I'd love to include it and give you credit!

Lastly, thanks to everyone who's helped on Patreon!  Y'all get the early chapters, but I get a sounding board of great ideas and helpful pointers!


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