I leapt back into the Doomed Integrity and crossed my fingers I hadn’t been noticed. The tentacle raised its scavenged meal out of sight. The squid must be above the main deck. I’d known in the back of my mind leaving a feast of corpses would attract scavengers, but I hadn’t expected something like this! I didn’t even know what squid usually ate.
My instinct was to sit tight and wait for the creature to move on. Sitting tight sounded good until I looked behind me and saw another tentacle in the hold. It only seemed to be inching along, looking for more snacks, but having it around made me feel like my hiding spot was way too vulnerable.
I dropped into stealth and lay prone, then slipped outside the hold, swimming just above the muck of the sea floor, dragging my trident along with me. I tried no to disturb the silt, and hoped that my stealth abilities, the environment, and the squid’s preoccupation with the recently deceased isopods would all serve to let me just slip away to my fishing boat.
It didn’t work.
I glanced behind and saw it was following me, not deterred by my stealth in the slightest. It didn’t lash out and grab me, it was either patient or just curious. I hoped it was just curious. Contrary to what most people thought, predators didn’t attack out of hand. Okay, some did. Most predators attacked for a reason: you were in their territory, you were making them nervous, or you were their prey.
The squid was swimming in a long, sinuous line; its many arms hugged together in a streamline form. It looked a lot like a sea serpent when it swam like that, only instead of snaking through the water it seemed to drift, propelled by jetting water through its mantle.
It followed me to the fishing boat. I considered turning back to the Doomed Integrity but thought better of it. I could only hide in the Doomed Integrity, I could escape in the fishing boat. It seemed like it would let me. I slipped over the side and only one of the club-like tentacles extended in my direction. I activated my Raise Ship ability.
That’s when everything went sideways.
Maybe the creature needed ambient mana and got defensive. Maybe it thought I was readying a powerful attack spell. The second my mana reached out into the ocean to grab more ambient mana to infuse the boat with, the squid went nuts. Its arms exploded into movement, the club tentacle that had been extended in curiosity batted across the deck. It only dealt superficial damage, but it stunned me.
I ignored the notifications about my ship and interface as I tried to right myself. The squid loomed above me, many of its arms grasping the gunwale and lines of my vessel. One of its arms wrapped around me above my waist. The suction cups of its limbs were lined with teeth, but my sturdy clothing kept these from harming me. It raised me towards its beak – such an ugly orifice for an otherwise graceful creature.
I thrust my trident into its beak. I wasn’t thinking about scoring a critical hit, I was thinking of keeping that beak as far from me as possible. It worked, and then some! The full length of the trident tines pierced the creatures’ mouth and the surrounding, vulnerable flesh. It immediately released its hold on me and the boat, jetting away with my trident still stuck. I’d taken a large chunk of its HP with that strike. I decided the price of the trident was well worth the opportunity to escape and manned the sails of my craft to harness the current and flee. Because I was now in a mana dead-zone, I was much slower getting started than I’d like. Slow enough that the squid decided payback was in order.
I felt one of its tentacles reach out and grab the gunwale, instantly increasing my drag. I turned as it was pulling itself down on me again. I used a water push spell to try and hit the trident, forcing it deeper into sensitive flesh again. It didn’t really work, but the squid still flinched back. I drew my sword and hacked at the tentacle it had holding my boat. My corroded sword wasn’t up to the task of shearing the flesh, and the arms of the creature were the least vulnerable areas for draining HP.
I backed off when the squid pulled itself closer and more arms reached out for me, spamming my water push spell at my trident and its mouth. The unwieldy, doubtlessly painful implement sticking inside of it was my saving grace. It coiled most of its arms around the trident, not seeking to pull it out but just to control the thing that had wounded it. Every movement, every bit of drag on the trident from the water, inflicted pain on the beast. It wasn’t actively bleeding, but it was still dropping small amounts of health every few seconds.
I stepped forward to hack at its tentacle again. I didn’t need to cut through it, I just needed to convince it to let go! I was out of the mana dead-zone, and as soon as I lost my passenger I was sure I could stay ahead of it.
The other club-like tentacle reached for me, and it was only my ability to immediately drop and hit the deck that saved me. I rolled away, dropping my sword because I realized mid-roll that I was about to stab myself because I didn’t know what I was doing. I spammed the water push spell again as fast as I could as I gained my feet. It didn’t back away so quickly this time, and I had to move towards the bow of the ship to escape it.
I pulled a harpoon from my bag and readied it. I waited until I saw its ugly beak again and then hurled it with all my might. I didn’t quite send the harpoon down its gullet, but I was close. The squid jerked away and closed its arms to this second, even deeper injury. The beast looked like a man did when someone had just scored a knockout blow and they stood there, blank, as their center of gravity tipped back and they eventually crashed to the floor.
The squid wasn’t knocked out or dead. It roused itself after drifting for a few moments. It was angrier than ever. Maybe it somehow understood that it would starve – unable to properly hunt and eat its prey – carrying the weapons in its flesh that it now did. It was ignoring its sense of self-preservation.
Thankfully, it had released its grip on my boat. Now it had to catch me again if it wanted me. My confidence that I could outrun it wavered as it surged, closing the distance between us in spurts. I hastily pulled out another harpoon and threw it. I missed, losing my weapon in the deep. I pulled out another and steadied myself. Each of my critical hits had taken over 150 HP, and I’d drained a few more with my sword attacks. It was sitting just above 800 HP now. I had 10 harpoons left. If I hit it with each of them, it would drop enough health to let me go.
If it dropped that much health, why didn’t I just finish it off?
I waited for the squid to surge closer again – it was only 15 feet away now – before I threw my third harpoon. It stuck in the squid’s mantle and took another 50 HP. It also bought me a bit more space between it and myself. I pulled out my next harpoon and inflicted more damage and gained more space. The time after that the squid didn’t hesitate. It had stopped retreating.
I sent the next harpoon a little faster and didn’t miss. I panicked just a little on the one after that, activating water push just after the harpoon left my hand. My idea was I’d push the harpoon towards my opponent even harder, but I just ended up knocking it off course and lost it. Still, I’d have to remember that trick.
I had 2 harpoons left when the squid gave up. It was a mess, harpoons filling its mantle, another harpoon parallel to its esophagus and a trident sticking from its beak. It was just over 400 HP and losing a few more every second. It dropped behind, then released a large ink cloud and jetted off.
I only thought about it for a moment before I turned my boat and pursued.
I needed to gain XP. I wasn’t keen on doing that by killing other people, so it would have to be monsters. There was no safe way of doing that, so I’d have to accept some risks. Picking a fight with this squid might not have been an acceptable risk, but chasing down a fleeing, injured squid was about as safe as I could hope for.
I’d caught a glimpse of the direction it had gone and caught up to it quickly. It hadn’t gone too far before it slowed to rest. I pulled my ship alongside and a bit below it, then sent another harpoon into its mantle.
That was the moment it realized it wasn’t the predator anymore. It had taken its injuries, but didn’t think of me as a threat once it stopped pursuit. I’d just shown it differently.
I was prepared for it to turn and give chase to me again, but it didn’t. It fled. I kept pace with it. If I’d wanted to I could have slowly surpassed it, but I didn’t need to head it off. I’d spent long months chasing down large beasts on whaling crews. If you could let a beast bleed out and tire yourself, why be hasty?
That’s what I did for the next three hours. I followed the squid as its stamina drained and its life force slipped away. When it bottomed out its stamina and stopped, exhausted, I pulled alongside it again. My last two harpoons did 60 damage each to the exhausted beast, and left it with 20 HP. Those two weapons also renewed the damage it was taking over time, as the other effects had slowed and stopped. The squid was effectively dead, but I didn’t approach until every last HP was gone. I only had to wait a few minutes.
5,300 XP gained for slaying Giant Squid.
I brought my fishing boat around and maneuvered the squid into the gravity effect of my ship, laying it across the deck. I felt empty – not really because I’d killed the squid but because I was still thinking about my minor breakdown in the Doomed Integrity earlier.
5,300 XP was a large amount, particularly for something that was only two levels above me. A squid like this could be handled easily enough by an armed crew in a worthy ship, but a sailor alone in its environment shouldn’t have had a chance against it. It rated the XP I’d gotten from it.
It was about half of the XP I’d gotten from the warrior in Tulisang. Looking at that one way, you could easily advance much faster by killing people. Looking at it the other way, I’d gotten a solid amount of XP and owned it free and clear – no one wanted retribution for the death I’d just caused here. No one was going to have to explain to their friends’ loved ones why the person I’d killed wasn’t coming home.
I needed to move past that. I’d saved myself and avoided hurting everyone who’d given me the chance. I had no reason to be morose!
I finished removing the harpoons in the squid’s mantle, then removed the trident. It took a good deal of cutting and yanking to remove the barbed tines. I’d have to be more careful, that worked for me this time but I didn’t always want to lose my weapon in the thing I’d stabbed. The last harpoon – the critical one that had nearly gone down the beast’s throat – was the hardest to remove, but I didn’t want to leave it and loose three of my harpoons today.
Finally, I took a trophy in the form of a large section of tentacle. If it tasted anything like octopus, I’d give it a shot. I could probably make some money if I dragged the corpse back to town – assuming things had settled down enough for someone to feel like buying – but didn’t want the attention or the need to answer questions. Questions like, “Where did you find this deep-sea creature?” “How – and why – did you take it on?” “Didn’t this fishing boat belong to so-and-so?”
Questions weren’t worth the coin I might make. I had trouble enough keeping the secrets I had.
I decided to head back to Tulisang and test the waters, see what was going on. I’d take my time; there were a number of things I wanted to practice.
I returned to the resting place of the Sea Cruiser for one more test before heading back to Tulisang. I hadn’t thought to purchase my Raise Crew ability for the deceased that were here when I dropped by earlier. I was only mildly hopeful for the results, so I wasn’t too let down when the spirits of this crew were beyond my reach as well. I didn’t know how long after death I could reach a person’s lingering spirit – or if I could reach them post-mortem at all – but the length of time that my most recent claims had been sunk obviously disqualified them.
I took the time to maintain my harpoons and do my practice while aboard the Cruiser. It had become something of a stopping point for me, being a convenient distance from Tulisang and still at a depth where filtered light graced the surroundings instead of requiring my Vision ability. I gained level 2 in spears while sharpening my harpoons, so my earlier actions with them were a solid means of growth.
I practiced throwing along with my magic, shifting between swimming and drifting long enough for a throw, attempting to throw without anchoring myself (possible, but incredibly weaker) and throwing with an application of my water push spell. That last one took some careful timing, but I was able to send my projectile with even more force, so it was worth keeping up on.
I finally unlocked a larger version of water push to go with it! I’d been stretching the amount I pushed since I first unlocked the spell, but now it clicked. I had to pay a bit more attention to the mana cost of the spell, as it fluctuated based on how much I was doing, but with my mana pool I could cast the spells I knew for a long time.
Again, I was lagging slightly behind in advancing water pull, but I was confident I’d get it soon if I dedicated my next practice session to it.
I surfaced to watch the sun set while I enjoyed my simple bread and butter. I saw sails on the horizon, so I had to dive before they came closer or else risk them noticing me. Descending into the dark water was its own kind of sunset, I guess. If I didn’t have to hide myself because I was cursed, my situation wouldn’t be nearly so hard. That was the nature of ‘cursed’ though. I was alive because of it, so I couldn’t complain.
When sailing to Tulisang the next morning, I thought I had a stroke of genius: I would practice using my spells to move faster! Surely a bit of magic to push the water behind me and pull the water ahead would speed me along at least a little bit, right?
Maybe when I was capable of moving tons of water, it would. Right now, all it did was distract me from the sails, slowing me down and forcing me to reorient myself.
I was nervous while entering the port, but traffic was coming and going like there had never been any trouble at all. That helped persuade me from the water and back into town. Climbing up the docks in my full captain’s outfit didn’t provide the same anonymity or working excuse that my sailor duds offered, but I wanted to keep them on. No one was around to see my emergence, but I did get some looks as I walked about in wet clothes. I was fine with that; they were a cooling relief to the memory of the land burning me the last time I was here.
I swung by Smitty’s just to make sure the building was still standing, then grabbed some fruits and vegetables at the market for some greater variety in my diet. My purpose for coming ashore, though, was to check one place in particular.
The residential quarter was quiet. While the busier parts of town had cleaned up rubble and carried on, the people here still seemed to be in a state of shock. I found Renshaw meditating cross-legged on his porch. He regarded me placidly as I approached.
“So, you didn’t die.”
“It was a near thing.”
We didn’t say anything for several moments. I noted the time of day and glanced around.
“I’m afraid my classes have been temporarily suspended. If I see this playing out as I suspect, the suspension will be permanent.”
“Are things that bad here? It looked to me like the town was getting back to normal!”
“Business must be conducted, and so it shall be. No matter how bad things get, transactions will still be happening. Most of the townsfolk aren’t much worse off than they were before, but they’re scared. Investing in magical tutorship that hasn’t seen dividends for most and likely won’t for years to come isn’t a priority.”
“I’m sorry to hear that.”
We lapsed into another, rather uncomfortable silence.
“Would it be possible to contact Bing? I would like to talk with him … apologize for the way I left things.”
Renshaw sighed and stood wearily. “Bing is gone.”
Renshaw snapped his fingers. “Just like that. He managed to get a note to me. His parents didn’t want him around now that Tulisang was turning into a warzone. The mage colleges wouldn’t accept him yet, so they sent him to a family friend until he can wriggle his way into the kings’ ranks of pet casters.”
I was stunned. I’d carefully considered what I wanted to say, what things I felt I ought to apologize for. I’d held a fantasy in my head of taking the boy under my wing the way I’d done for Redmund – at least as much as I could for a kid that was a boy genius. I didn’t get to do that. I’d left a lot of short-lived friendships behind in my travels, but it was usually me doing the leaving. Even as I would leave one ship or port, I’d be signing onto a new one. Leave the friends I had, make new ones. Sometimes I even ran into old friends and acquaintances, but I doubted I would see him again. If I did …
“I hope I don’t cross paths with him again.”
As strange as it was to say, Renshaw nodded. “Me too,” he said, his voice a bit hoarse. We both new Bing would fulfill his duties consummately. If I encountered him, then it would probably be because Andros was hunting the servant of Davy Jones. If Renshaw encountered him, it was because they were cracking down on him teaching magic within their borders. We didn’t want to face Bing like that.
Renshaw cleared his throat. “Care to join me out back? My schedule’s wide open.”
“I have time, and the coin to pay for a lesson if you’re willing.” I didn’t want to pay for a social visit, but Renshaw had just lost his primary source of revenue and I could help him out.
Renshaw grabbed some tea while I took off my coat and laid it out to dry, letting the rest of my clothes dry on me. When the seawater had stopped being cool, I’d started getting uncomfortable. Renshaw nodded to me as he handed me a drink.
“Decide to take a dip?”
“An embarrassing story I’d rather not repeat,” I said, dodging the question. I could come up with a lie quickly, having gone in the drink many times and seeing it happen to many others, but I didn’t feel like lying right now. Lies didn’t suit me.
I tried starting a different topic. “I upgraded my water push and pull.”
“Did you? That’s interesting, only a short while after you gained the spell. That’s rather quick. You must have been emptying your whole mana pool religiously!”
“I was practicing quite a bit, but I think it has to do with a perk of mine. I pick up on sea related skills much faster than others. Maybe it applies to magic?”
Renshaw shrugged. “Could be. Are you interested in expanding your other field now?”
I was about to say ‘yes’ but paused. I looked over Renshaw’s impressive collection of magics. “Actually, what can you tell me about deeper magics?”
“Just in general,” I said, hoping I could glean some information about ocean magic. If he brought it up, I could pursue the line of inquiry freely without suspicion.
“There’s no such thing as ‘in general’ when it comes to deeper magics.” Renshaw said, dashing my hopes. “The basic magic fields are a web: interconnected and similar but still complex. Deeper magics are not. As much as they can relate to the basic magics, they are not based in or tied to them. They defy mortal attempts to explain, simply because they are so difficult to identify, explore and catalogue. Certain types – such as mental magic – are relatively well understood and knowledge of them can be shared and passed down. Experimentation can produce consistent results for everyone with the skill.
“Other types are not so accommodating. I encountered a man with extremely high affinities for earth and fire, a typically difficult pairing. He had discovered what he called ‘volcano magic’. It wasn’t just a synergy between earth and fire, it was a deeper magic. Everyone asked him the obvious question: did it give him the power to summon volcanoes? He scoffed and lectured at the complexity and power of a true volcano, then summoned a geyser of lava in front of his bored audience!” Renshaw laughed at the memory.
“What was more impressive was his ability to control heat as a source of power. The deeper magic gave him the understanding and ability to do so in a way a fire mage could only dream! He could sap the heat from a forge in a second, then turn and shatter a shield by pouring that heat back in. He tried to teach others the deeper magic, but it was beyond them. Fire and earth mages were both able to improve their technique because of his knowledge but couldn’t replicate his abilities.”
“Is information on deeper magics closely guarded?” I asked.
Renshaw snorted. “In Andros it’s practically sacrosanct! It’s different everywhere. In some places, a master of a deeper magic only wants to share that with anyone who has the skill. I’ve met several such people, but alas, I’m too much of a generalist for most of them. Unlocking every base magic is a prestigious accomplishment, but it doesn’t lend itself to a narrow field of focus that most deeper magics represent.”
So maybe I could find a teacher eventually – if they didn’t mind teaching someone in my position. More likely I’d have to glean what I could from hints Jones dropped.
“Can you teach me about your spiritual magic?” Maybe I could extend my reach for raising crew.
“I do not teach anyone spiritual magic.” Renshaw said firmly. “Students have a habit of going from trying to speak with other spirits – living or departed – to trying to commandeer the power in spiritual essence and finding themselves possessed or a burned-out soul. Spiritual magic is strictly off the table.”
I hadn’t seen Renshaw put his foot down like this before, so I dropped the topic. If I couldn’t raise a crew with my ability I could come back to it. “What about your second deeper magic: mental magic?”
Renshaw nodded to me. “That is a field often learned and explored by the powerful and high society. I wouldn’t presume to say it’s the most common deeper magic, but … it probably is. I am willing to teach students this, but I tag a high fee to it. If I taught every sailor and pirate who came through my door, the monarchy would quickly take notice and either chain me or kill me. Not to mention that it’s a powerful ability, and I expect compensation for guiding them to it.”
“Just how high is this fee?”
Renshaw clearly didn’t think I had the funds for that. I did though, even if it was most of my coin. If I got the same bonus to both mana cost and recovery that I got with Ocean magic, 7 gold was easily worth it. Besides, my purpose of making money was to spend it on training. I surprised him by asking to learn it.
“I won’t give you a discount because I consider you a friend, and I take the payment in advance,” he said, trying to politely knock down any scam I might try to pull. I response, I pulled the seven gold from my adventurer’s bag. The look on Renshaw’s face was worth it.
“Since when did salvaging bring such a profit?”
“You can always get lucky with the right find. I’ve gotten lucky with a good job exploring for Smitty. Don’t worry, it’s all on the up-and-up. I’ve got a contract with him and I expect he’ll make me validate it before he lets me go. This does represent most of my savings, though.”
Renshaw looked at me much more seriously. “Are you sure you want to do this?”
“I don’t even know what mental magic is yet, but I want to find out!”
“Very well. To start we’ll have to meditate. Proper meditation, not what you do!”
I grinned and thought about annoying him about the difference between meditation and introspection, but I was the student now. I was here to learn.
Renshaw guided me into the proper cross-legged pose, explaining as he did so. “Introspection is the starting point for meditation in the way conjuring mana is for spellcasting. Like for spellcasting, you achieve better, easier results when the proper form takes over.” He pressed his hands on my back and shoulders, straightening my posture. Then he told me to relax and instantly corrected my posture again.
“When meditating, you’ll be able to see your minor skills that don’t show on your stat sheet much easier, as well as see what skills have been enveloped by other ones.” Oh boy, seamanship was going to be a long list. Renshaw finished getting me into position, then sank into the same position opposite me as easily as sitting down.
“In addition to understanding yourself, meditating also allows you to regenerate your mana faster because the center of your mana less restricted from permeating you.”
“What do you mean?”
“Another lesson, we’ll get around to that someday.”
“Is meditation a skill?”
“No, it is a technique. You won’t achieve it on your stat sheet or be able to rank it up. It is still a valuable tool. Start with introspection as you normally would, and we’ll go from there.”
Renshaw directed me for a half-hour until he thought I was in the right zone. Then he had me stand up and do a couple jumping jacks before returning straight to meditation.
“If you can drop straight into meditation, you’ll be better than most. Practicing returning to the state you just left will help.” After a few more minutes, he started talking about mental magic.
“Mental magic is a deeper magic accessible to most sapient beings and a few sentient ones. It is of the mind, but the mind is merely the entry point. There is a mental landscape, a separate plane of existence from the world we live in. We sometimes stumble into it in dreams. When someone has the deeper magic, they can enter it and take others with them. This is usually done for combat, as there is a very limited range that people can do this. Clandestine meetings are impractical, and people are uniquely vulnerable there. Your physical body is also completely vulnerable while your mind is in that realm.
“I am going to pull you into the mental sphere now, just to dip your toes, as it were. Do not panic, I will be present and have complete dominion over my mental landscape. No matter what you may see, I will not allow harm to come to you. Are you ready?”
“Yes,” no sooner had the word left my tongue than I felt slightly dizzy and my senses grew fuzzy, only to snap back into focus a moment later. Now I was standing, and the worries I’d scarcely had time to conjure about the environment Renshaw would bring me to were forgotten. This wasn’t a foreign, inhospitable land. I was aboard a ship! I could feel that it was my ship too. I was bobbing in the waves just offshore some landmass, the sun bright overhead and the waters crystal clear.
“What …?” A confused voice said. I saw Renshaw also on deck. He looked around, gaping, horror on his face. I followed his gaze and saw it was my ship he was looking at. The planks of the ship were dark, and the tattered, torn sails were black. The layout wasn’t my last claimed ship, or even my recent conquests. If not for the color, I’d say that I was on the Raven.
“How did you bring me here?” Renshaw asked, his voice rising. He looked at the ship, then looked carefully at me, his eyes narrowing. Suddenly he blurred, streaking towards me and shoving me. With his shove, I again felt dizzy, and my senses returned me to me meditating position.
Congratulations! You have learned a Deeper magic: Mental magic! This power gives you limited control over the Tadra realm. Be warned: Deeper magics carry greater risks!
You have learned a Deeper magic! +10% mana recovery, -10% mana cost.
I’d scarcely recovered my bodies’ senses and noticed the prompt waiting for me when Renshaw’s kick hit my chest. I sprawled backwards; the wind knocked out of me. Renshaw straddled my chest, a wickedly sharp summoned ice dagger in hand, a nimbus of golden light surrounding it. I could feel my skin retreating from where he held it at my throat.
“Now, Domenic … you’re going to tell me all about this curse you’ve been hiding from me.”