I looked up into Renshaw’s eyes and saw the warrior. This was the man who’d gained his levels and expanded his profession by killing those he met in war. He went from calling me ‘friend’ to holding a conjured knife at my throat. If I’d had the drop on him, I still couldn’t hope to overpower him. He had an arsenal of spells and the mana pool to use them. He had me.
“Okay, okay! You know that quest the king posted about Davy Jones lieutenant?” I waited for him to nod slightly. “Well, I went overboard in a storm. Right before I drowned that guy appeared below me and pushed me to the surface! But then I had these cursed …”
“Wait.” Renshaw ordered. A moment later a white light shone in a circle surrounding us. “Alright, go ahead.”
“What was that?”
“A spell that will let me know if you’re lying.”
My head hit the grass with a thump. All the wind was gone from my sails. The story I’d fabricated on the fly was worthless.
I hoped whatever I had in store for me didn’t wind up having my spirit chained aboard the Perdition for eternity.
My clenched fists shook and I screamed out a blue streak that would have impressed any veteran sailor. Renshaw’s eyebrows were raised, but his blade hadn’t budged.
“Okay. What do you know about Davy Jones?”
“Jack squat. Keep talking.”
“I was aboard the ship that was carrying the Antarus princess to Oorkom. We were attacked by a mercenary crew and I was taken prisoner. They dropped me into Lazlo’s Deep. Davy Jones took an interest in me because the sea gave me my perk awhile back. He let me choose between death and working for him and I picked the profession he offered, now I’m supposed to be his lieutenant but I don’t know jack about what that means or how I’m supposed to go about it or whether I’m a bad guy or whether I have a choice at all …”
I sputtered out and found wetness welling in my vision. “So sod off! I did the best I knew how.”
Renshaw’s eyes were wide, but his hand was steady as ever. “What was your purpose learning magic?”
“I needed magic. I’d be chopped to pieces if I tried a combat class.”
“Why come here? Why my home? Why Tulisang?”
“Tulisang was the closest place to get out of the danger zone I was in. Oorkom was out and I figured I could stay under the radar in a lawless town. I tried finding books to teach myself at the library but … you know, it’s Andros. I found your fliers there.”
Renshaw cast another spell, and the golden glow around the dagger brightened. “Did you know who I was before you came here?”
“Did you have any intentions here other than learning magic?”
“No, I’ll swear it!”
“Oh, uh … I swear I only came to this place to learn magic.”
Renshaw seemed to be reading a prompt. “Next, your curse. Does it override your mind or will?”
“Uh, it can? I can’t disobey Jones’ orders or undermine him.”
“Tell me every order Jones has given you.”
“Well, I need to unlock my profession and get a crew so I’m not a liability to him. Uh … self-sufficiency … then there’s … uh-hem, causing chaos on the seas.”
Renshaw waited a moment. It drew out long enough to be uncomfortable. “Wait, that’s it? Those are the only orders he’s ever given you?”
“Well, yeah. He’s not one to hold your hand.”
Renshaw pressed his blade more firmly against my throat. I felt the skin part like it was fleeing the edge of the ice. “There are no other orders or compunctions on you?”
“No, I don’t think so …”
“Yes or no!”
“No! No other orders or compunctions! That’s it, that’s the whole deal.”
Renshaw got off my chest and backed away. He still looked ready to fry me if I did something stupid. I took a deep, shuddering breath and stared at the sky. I could really use a dip in the sea.
After a few minutes waiting for the other shoe to drop and dreading what might come next, I looked for Renshaw. He was still studying me, but his attitude seems to have changed. “Fascinating …”
“So,” I said, finding my throat parched. “I’m not in magical chains?”
“You’re not in magical chains.”
He didn’t elaborate when I gave him the opportunity, so I had to ask the next question. “I’m not going to find myself in chains?”
Renshaw picked up his chair and sat in it. “Working with curses is dangerous, but I’m not out to stake you. I can tell your spirit is held captive somewhere far north of here, but so long as you don’t try and deceive me, I believe I can tell if your will is being overridden.”
I filed away what he said about my heart being in the north. Davy Jones was somewhere in the northern passive ocean. “So the whole … you know, the whole Davy Jones thing … that doesn’t turn you off?”
Renshaw shrugged. “I’ve heard different stories about the man, but don’t think he’s the epitome of evil. I think king Leopold just doesn’t like the thought of sea trade being interrupted.”
I couldn’t help but gape. Renshaw didn’t care. All this time, all the worrying I’d done about my secret ever getting out, and he bloody didn’t care!
“You’re not the first person I’ve met who had a curse, you know. Maybe no one else was cursed by such a powerful being, but a curse doesn’t turn you into spawn from the underworld!”
I closed my gaping mouth with effort. “I think you may know more about my curse than I do.”
“Nonsense!” Renshaw said, standing and fetching a chair for me. I noticed he brought it into the circle he’d cast that spotted any lies. “No one knows the details of your curse except those who’ve had it. There are some common threads between cursed beings, and we will find out what they are.”
Renshaw sat just outside his circle. I noticed he wasn’t giving me a choice: he was going to find out the details of my curse and I wasn’t leaving until he was satisfied. “Start by telling me your whole story, in detail.”
I did. Starting from my job on the Wind Runner and feeling Jones as a kindred spirit in the water, to my latest activities trying to raise ships and crew. It was … relieving. Purifying, even. I wasn’t holding onto a dark secret anymore. I wasn’t alone.
Renshaw loosened up as we talked. Whatever he’d seemed to fear I was, he gradually convinced himself that I wasn’t. I wondered what could possibly be more concerning to him than a servant of Davy Jones, but it was a big world and the Sea had never been part of Renshaw’s life. The only things he knew about Jones were tails that sailors swapped in taverns.
When I ended with him realizing what I was in the mental plane and attacking me, it was with a tacit question. Renshaw understood and explained.
“When a master mentalist such as myself pulls an initiate into Tadra – that’s the name of the mental sphere – the initiate is unanchored and incapable of defending themselves. I intended to pull you into my own mindscape, where I could control the environment. Instead, I found myself pulled into your mindscape. I was baffled how that was possible, but I realized your ship was cursed, and so were you. That was your anchor point, and you couldn’t be rooted from it.
“From there, well I assumed the worst. The fact that you’d hidden your cursed nature from me made me think this was all a trick – a trap to remove me. I refused to allow that.”
“I’m sorry I lied to you.”
“I believe you. I don’t blame you for keeping your secret, but it truly is meaningless to me.”
“So … you’re not going to turn me over to Andros’s monarch?”
“You’re not going to try and harm me or mine?” he responded.
“Then we’re good.” Renshaw said, leaning back. “I’ve no loyalty to Andros. At this stage of my life, an interesting friend is worth more than quest rewards.” Renshaw reached over to the small table that still held his tea. “Besides, I think the king would double-cross a rogue mage who competed that quest.”
I snorted. Then laughed. “Wow, I … I didn’t expect this.”
“So,” Renshaw said, both of us trying to pick up the pieces of where we stood. “You picked up Mental magic?”
“Yeah, I did. I don’t really know how to use it, though.”
“We’ll go over that if you’re willing. Another time, perhaps, when you don’t have a deathly time limit counting down. How much time do you have left, anyway?”
“Just over three hours.”
“I don’t want to make you play with your life by detaining you; that trouble during the skirmish sounds like it was bad enough. Go back and recharge, then there’s a friend of mine you should visit this afternoon.”
Renshaw shrugged. “Professional acquaintance might be a better word. He’s a weapons instructor, and we’ve competed for clients in the past, but he dislikes training magic. We’ve left each other’s specialty fields alone and even recommended clients before. He’s just who you need to train your combat skills.”
“Can he be trusted with my secret?”
“No. At least, I wouldn’t. He’s a mercenary, settled here just because he likes the climate. He’ll help you level your first skills quickly though, for the right price. You seem to have the funds.”
I got the name and location for the man’s training yard from Renshaw and was about to leave.
“I’ll see you tomorrow morning?” Renshaw called.
I chewed my cheek for a moment. Renshaw could have done whatever he wanted with me already, do it wasn’t that much of a risk. Still …
“If you’ll swear nothing you’re doing is a trap.”
Renshaw looked grave. Testing someone’s word was not the way to establish a friendship, but we both seemed to understand the sensitivity of the situation. Renshaw recast his circle and stood in it. “I swear on my profession as a mage that nothing I’ve done or planned is designed to entrap you.”
I nodded. “Thank you. Thank you for everything.”
I spent enough time in the sea to completely refresh my Uproot ability, changing out of my good clothes to try and sell the illusion that I was just an ordinary diver on the docks. I needed to get another sailor outfit, as this one was worn and the other one had been destroyed by the fire-blast in the last skirmish.
There were more predators and scavengers in the port than usual. With a little bit of investigating, I discovered a number of bodies from the skirmish had found there way here. There were enough, in fact, that some group had probably disposed of them here deliberately. That irked me. I wouldn’t complain too loudly about the creatures, though. It just meant a bit more caution when entering the bay. In exchange, I practically had a shooting gallery for smaller sharks, drowners, and even saltwater crocodiles lured in from the surrounding areas. People would probably thing I was crazy for diving, but I was uniquely capable of handling the dangers.
Before I got around to getting XP, I went to the trainer Renshaw recommended. His training yard was on the edge of town, not attached to his home. I found him sitting in the shade of one of his buildings, his hands laced behind his head, watching casually as a small group trained on practice dummies.
“Are you Kane?” I asked.
“Aye, what are you lookin’ fer?”
“I’m looking for you, assuming I’m not interrupting.” I cast a meaningful glance at the practicing individuals.
Kane snorted. “They’re paying to rent the space, not the attentions of my sweet self.”
“Well, I’m looking to do the opposite. Marcus Renshaw sent me over, said you were the best trainer in town if I had the coin.” I played Renshaw’s words up just a bit. Kane might try to raise the price on me a bit, but I thought it was worth it to have his enthusiastic instruction.
“Is that so?” Kane said, looking me over. I wasn’t sure my flattery worked as intended when he sneered and asked “You lookin’ to be a spellsword?”
“I’m afraid I’m not familiar with the term …”
“A spellsword! You want to combine magic and weapons in a fight, take the best of both worlds.”
“Well, yes. That sounds like what I’m going for.”
“Well you’re an idiot! Any decent weapons-master will trounce ya anyway, and the mages’ll laugh as they call down the thunder! Forget what you’ve heard about spellswords being mage-hunters – any decent military command has their mages just as well protected as they’ve got their artillery. So unless ya got a good reason for being different, you’re best off sticking with either Renshaw or me. Forget us both trainin’ ya!”
Caught off guard by the sudden rant, I gave the best reason I could think of. “I’m not fighting for an army. I’m fighting aboard a ship. We carry our artillery with us, and there aren’t many mages running around. I’d be stupid not to practice the magic I’ve unlocked, but the charging guy with an axe is always a bigger concern for a small fry like me.”
“Hrrm,” Kane growled. “You’re just looking ta get some self-defense skills while you practice yer magery?”
“Something like that.”
“Fine! I’ll go over the basics with ya. I’ll not train a skill of yours past level 10, though! You get that high and I figure it’s time for you to choose what you really want to do with yourself!”
“Deal!” If he got my weapons skills to level 10 I’d be a happy sailor, indeed. By that point I imagined a bit more coin would open doors with him.
He told me his rate, to be paid up front, and I agreed. He had me show off my small blades skills since that was tied with unarmed fighting for my highest ranked fighting ability. He tsked at some of my demonstrations and muttered ‘sailor nonsense’ but heartily approved of the number of blades I carried and my throwing ability.
Unarmed combat didn’t go so well. He had me disarm and started fighting me himself. My experience was mostly in friendly wrestling and unfriendly tavern brawls, with the occasional scuffling in the street here and there. To a trainer like Kane – who not only had a high level unarmed skill but knew multiple styles of the skill – I was pathetic.
What nearly made him apoplectic was when he had me show him my swordsmanship. I’d no sooner drawn the blade than he snatched it from me, whatever disarm ability he’d used leaving my hand numb. He held up the corroded blade and looked at me, his face red, and proceeded to yell about weapon maintenance and all the different things he’d do to me if I didn’t take care of my weapons. The other people across the training yard all stopped to watch, entertained by the dressing-down I was receiving. I tried to explain that I’d salvaged the sword from a wreck and it had been that way from the start, but that only invited more abuse.
“Oh, I can see where ya scrapped the barnacles off! Maybe this scrape here is where you tried to put an edge on it! But by thunder, boy! Look at this piece of scrap!” He proceeded to detail everything wrong with the blade and the gray matter between my ears. By the time he was through, I’d say he was even waxing eloquent, accent and all.
When he was through with his lecture – but still steaming – he had me go through some basic forms. That left him confused, I was proud to say.
“Where’d you learn swordsmanship, boy? It wasn’t swingin’ that piece of scrap. Not from a normal sailor, neither. Your basics are too solid, almost like you were in an army.”
“The man who taught my crew was an old army man, had his swordsmanship somewhere n the 30’s, I think.”
Kane grunted. “Well you got the basics to level with swords fine, too bad it’s the worst bloody weapon you could pick!”
“What?” I said, confused and disheartened.
“You think a light slashin’ weapon is any good at all against even decent light armor? Axes, hammers, maces … those are all better at killing people! You want a real weapon pick up one of those! Even better, we’ll level your spear skill. Now that’s a killing weapon for a low-level like you.”
My voice came out flat when I said, “I’ve seen swords cut people down easily enough.”
I thought I saw a hint of sympathy in Kane’s eyes, but it didn’t change his mind or reflect in his voice. “Level any weapon skill enough and put it in the hands of someone with a strength of twenty instead of the normal ten, and butchery will ensue. Yer trying to be the butcher, though, so if you want a proper tool for it we’ll get it started off right!”
‘Be the butcher’ wasn’t the most inspiring motto, but I’d prefer it to being on the receiving end.
Kane was disappointed and confused when I pulled out my harpoons. I explained that I’d picked up the skill by maintaining the weapons used in whaling and that had given me the starting point to use harpoons and advance it. I was glad I’d done maintenance on the harpoons, dodging a repeat of the lecture I’d gotten for the sword.
Kane had me throw the harpoons at targets of different ranges. He seemed to expect me to hit the closer targets that I did, even though I was proud of those strikes. That had been about the same distance as the squid had been, and apparently it wasn’t anything special. After that my accuracy diminished. All my practice had been underwater, and the harpoon flew a bit differently. I could correct it, but Kane wasn’t satisfied with eventually hitting a stationary target.
The trident surprised Kane and he in turned surprised me. I’d been assuming the trident fell under my spear skills, but Kane explained that some weapons were unique. Some spears were only a few features away from being polearms. Some swords were short enough that for certain people they classified as small blades. Some non-combat skills gave bonuses that applied to weapons.
In the case of a trident, I would never develop a skill called ‘tridents’. Depending on how I used it, spears, polearms or even fishing skills would help me wield it better. There were specific abilities related to combat professions – such as Kane’s own ‘unconventional weapons’ – that allowed for skills to cross over and affect non-standard weaponry. There were even combat professions that specialized in the unconventional. None of that would help me, though, since I couldn’t access any of them. I’d just have to practice with the trident and explore how well I performed with it.
When it came to practicing with gear Kane pulled out of a shed, I mentioned that I wasn’t able to pick up the shield skill. Kane seemed affronted by my ‘defeatist attitude’ and set to correcting me. Correction wasn’t that fun, and my skill with a shield didn’t improve for it. What was it with trainers thinking the way to train shield use was to hit the trainee until they had the proper motivation to suddenly do it right?
Apart from the failed shield exercises, Kane taught me the basics of fighting with a spear. I didn’t think that the larger weapon was ideal for combat aboard a ship but leveling the ability would improve my throwing skill with my harpoons, so I didn’t mention that.
After the lessons with the spear, I had to beg off any more training. My timer was running low. Kane demanded that I invest in the proper equipment if I wanted to keep training with him, but I convinced the man to allow me to continue using practice weapons until we knew what skills I should focus on. Kane agreed to that, muttering something about not spoiling any good weapons until he’d taught me proper care.