The next morning I went straight to Renshaw’s and found him meditating out back again. I sat down a bit stiffly with a slight groan.
“You all right?” he asked me.
“Fine, fine.” I said. “Just slept wrong is all.”
“Chipper yesterday and groaning this morning. You sure you didn’t find a girlfriend?”
“Unless you count a bunch of drowners trying to make a snack out of me,” I said, rubbing my sore arm.
Renshaw nodded to my motion. “Injury?”
“Oh, not from them. They were just an annoyance. I got a bone bruise from the skirmish. All my other injuries healed up remarkably fast, but this one is still hurting.”
Renshaw moved over and motioned for my arm. A moment later life magic glowed around his hands. His brow furrowed. “How’d you get this?”
“Umm, guy hit me with a shield.”
“I am not a dedicated healer, but I’ve picked up and practiced my share of healing spells on the battlefield.” A minute later, my arm was nearly healed. “There, that’s the best I can do.”
“Wow! Thank you, I really appreciate that!”
“I’m guessing you took more injuries than that?”
“Yes, but like I said, they weren’t so bad.”
“Mm-hmm,” Renshaw said. “Let’s enter Tadra real quick …”
As soon as we entered the mental world Renshaw returned to our topic. “Now, you’ll find that cursed beings interact with the world differently. Sometimes that results in a specific vulnerability, but generally they are resistant to normal damage. The injuries you took weren’t as harmful because of your curse.”
“Really?” I tried thinking of the other times I’d been injured, like the giant moray eel that had gotten me just after my change. I’d thought it hadn’t injured me so badly because I’d just raised my constitution, but that didn’t cover it, did it? “That’s … amazing. That’s an advantage I’ll gladly take!”
Renshaw raised a cautioning hand. “Your resistance to physical damages is broad, but it doesn’t come without a tradeoff. Damage from cursed weapons will affect you the same as a normal weapon used to, but you’re incredibly susceptible to blessed weapons. Remember when we had our misunderstanding? I applied a blessing to the knife I held on you. I could have struck you anywhere and you’d have taken damage like it was a critical hit.”
I recalled the way my skin had seemed to pull away at even a light cut. “Okay, yeah … that’s not so good.” Still, blessed weapons were used by people – I would have greater protection from all sea creatures!
Except lots of sea creatures were powerful enough that my resistance didn’t matter, and any fleets that were hunting me would probably arm themselves with the most damaging weapons they could. Fishguts.
I trained with Renshaw in the mental realm for the rest of the morning, learning about the nature of my own mindscape and the things outside of it. We sparred frequently. Despite Renshaw’s vastly superior experience, fighting inside my powerful mindscape meant we were more or less on equal footing. I had great difficulties even entering Renshaw’s mindscape, though.
In the afternoon I trained with Kane until evening, where I practiced magic until my mana was depleted and I was exhausted. After a few days of this, I was exhausted before I ever touched my mana.
I was paying both Renshaw and Kane their fees, which weren’t cheap. I needed to go out again and salvage another wreck or two for Smitty. I let both my tutors know: Renshaw understood perfectly, and Kane grumbled about it being a good thing I paid up front.
When I woke that morning it wasn’t to run off to Renshaw’s home, it was in the other direction. I went out to sea, slipping below the hulls of ships coming into port and laughing at their ignorance. I could be clear of anyone’s reach this way – navies had no means of stopping me down here!
For the next few hours, I simply enjoyed being back at sea. Spending time in the harbor might have refreshed my land timer but being out here refreshed my soul.
This time was also an opportunity to practice. I took my time, sailing on the surface, and stopped frequently to empty my mana pool. I’d picked up air push/pull, but not the air blade or the water whip. With my progress and the opportunity of being out for several days, Renshaw had given me more spells as homework along with some books. Two were compendiums of magic skills, one for air and one for water. With the basic info on the spell, I could have a baseline for how to develop it.
The other books were skill books, detailed treatises on specific spells. They had been written by a professional mage while imbued with mana. They helped the reader understand the material and gain the skill written on. Renshaw had warned me that the books he was giving me had been read a great many times and weren’t particularly helpful in that regard; their magic nearly depleted. Still, they helped me understand things better.
Water whip was particularly difficult. My other spells were straightforward, basic things. Push, pull. A mana expenditure, and a reaction. Water whip wasn’t like that. It was much more versatile, and I had much more control. That control was difficult to master, though. Even once I unlocked the spell, I’d have to work to refine my control over it.
I travelled towards the Falai Cliffs. I planned to make three stops: one at a cargo ship on the way there, one at a transport on the way back, and one at my ultimate destination of the H.M.S. Alayne.
The Alayne was the galleon Smitty had warned me away from exploring. At the time I’d agreed with him, because inviting danger wasn’t my MO. However, I needed to grow. I needed to practice my abilities and I needed to bank some money. The Alayne was an opportunity for both. I planned to be careful, but I had to take some risks.
Besides, it was a fully armed galleon warship! It was designed and built to sail the seas as a big heavy-hitting weapon platform. Would anyone who appreciated artillery as much as I did turn that down? The power of artillery was the only reason I’d survived Lawless Jack’s raid. Well, that and the sacrifice of others, runes, traps, and more luck than my attribute points were good for.
I’d thought about where the Wind Runner had gone down. I didn’t know exactly where, but I could probably put it within a 40 mile radius. The ocean depth in that area meant scavenging was impossible for the normal outfit. The proximity to Lazlo’s Deep would also turn people away.
That didn’t mean I couldn’t find it someday. As a matter of fact, it would be a priority once I had the crew to take her. I couldn’t go out there and depend on my Raise Crew ability, I had no guarantee if it would work.
But if it did … the men I’d sailed with who’d gone down could have a second chance! It might not be an existence they’d aspire to, but it would be something, right?
Maybe I’d even be able to get Redmund back.
I tried not to raise my hopes to high, but it was a dream. A positive dream; not one where I heard his accusations or his screaming.
My first stop at the cargo ship was nearly a bust. It was a carrack; the precursor to the galleon. As a cargo ship it served well, some were capable of carrying over 1,000 tons. It was stable in bad weather and had good hull durability.
I didn’t like them for two reasons: number one was their maneuverability suffered. I remembered trying to change course with one just after getting my seamanship skill, I messed up and earned a canning from the first mate. Not a fond memory of mine.
Reason number two was they were downright ugly, in my professional opinion. They had a forecastle that was as high or higher than the stern, making it look like something had taken a bite out of the middle and gotten indigestion from it. It hadn’t taken too long for shipwrights to improve upon the design, but they’d been the go-to cargo ship of the last human empire, so they were hard to get rid of.
Every ship on the seas had its purpose. Some were built to carry troops or armament, some were built to fight monsters, some were built to pull things from the ocean and some were built to move stuff from one place to the next. One type of ship was not intrinsically better than another, it all depended on what it was supposed to do.
Except for stinking carracks. Galleons were their superior in every way. Yes, I was probably just bitter about their troublesome maneuverability.
Its cargo was mostly timber, something that couldn’t fit in my inventory or on my fishing vessel. Smitty had told me to expect this, and said just to grab the tools aboard. I found them corroded and at half-durability, probably not worth the space they took. I brought them anyway, if for no other reason than as proof to Smitty that I’d tried.
I claimed the carrack despite my distaste for it. There was nothing unique about it, no curse was applied based on my bad experience with a different ship. Without raising the sails and catching the wind I had no way of seeing how my much improved seamanship skills handled the unwieldy thing. The reason for raising it was primarily to observe my Raise Ship ability, I still had hopes of imitating it with my own mana.
From there I reclaimed my fishing vessel and headed towards the Alayne. It took another two days to reach the general area, during which I learned air blade! I may have taken one of the scrappier pieces of salvage from the carrack to practice on, eventually cutting it into pieces.
While the area around the cliffs looked normal enough, I still felt a bit of trepidation going in. Something had killed previous scavengers here, caution was a necessity. It was presumed that the Alayne had hit a shoal while chasing pirates, so I made sure to have a detailed chart of the area and consulted it while approaching the cliffs.
Charting my course underwater was a new thing. I’d always surfaced to chart my courses so I didn’t ruin the paper. The other night, however, I’d accidentally left one of Renshaw’s books out when I dove. I thought I’d ruined it, but it was just fine! The water seemed not to touch it! I realized it was a part of claiming my ship; my things were magically preserved. I slapped myself for not experimenting with that sooner.
Winding my way past the reef and through the shoals was much easier with my combination of abilities. If being a terror on the seas didn’t work out, I could do wonders for charting areas like this – I made dozens of little corrections on my chart as I went. Then again, if being a terror on the seas didn’t work out I’d probably be in chains aboard the Perdition.
I found the Alayne right where it should be and immediately settled my boat on the floor out of sight. Tidal forces were stronger here, so I had to secure it properly. The Alayne was wedged into a nearly upright position, but I could see where rocks had torn the port side. It had probably been thrashed around a bit before finding its resting place.
I saw no sea creature in the area. The absence was ominous, and I began to look for ambush predators that could have taken out human scavengers. I shuddered at the thought of stumbling across a large bobbit worm. Seeing a reef shark mosey through the area was a relief.
I encountered nothing dangerous as I approached. Well, the reef shark came by to give me a curious inspection but left me alone. Because I didn’t want to turn him into chum without knowing what bigger predators were in the area, I left him alone too.
I readied my trident and peeked into the decks I could see through the broken hull. I saw no danger. Same with the main deck. I decided I didn’t like the thought of staying in the home turf of whatever might/might not be in the area. I’d raise the ship to the surface, clear the decks, and go from there. Maybe I’d get lucky and strand the sea creature hiding on one of the decks – let it nearly expire and net the XP.
The problem was when I tried to activate my Raise Ship ability, it didn’t work.
You are unable to raise this ship. This ship has been claimed by another creature.
That … was interesting. And frightening. What could claim a ship? Would a minnow who took up residence count? I’d generally cleared the ships of enemies before I tried raising them, so I wasn’t sure how unique this situation was.
I shivered at the thought of there being another person capable of claiming ships. Why not? My profession was unique, but was it exclusive? Did Jones have another lieutenant out there somewhere?
No, not likely. There was a big to-do over him making me a Captain of the Deep, every ruler bordering the three oceans had received notification! I doubted another servant would have been ignored.
What to do, what to do? It was the artillery on deck that convinced me. There were powerful onagers here and even a full-sized ballista on the forecastle. The smaller scorpion ballistae could be operated by one person, a second would expedite things. A full-sized ballista was best run with a team. It was more powerful than its smaller cousin, but the size was a prohibitive factor aboard most ships. Aboard a galleon warship? It would have the first word in any battle!
I wanted to raise this ship. I wanted to know that I could come back here with a crew and have something powerful. Failing that, I wanted to study every piece of weaponry here and pillage the weapon lockers.
I armed myself: full outfit, all my knives, sword at my waist and trident in hand. I went below decks, prepared to do battle.
Battle didn’t happen. The decks were vacant. I covered the ship three times. I found a lot of interesting things – including the paychest – but I didn’t find whatever or whomever had claimed this ship.
That was comforting in one respect – if claims were so inviable then I didn’t need to worry about someone taking my ship from me. I still didn’t know who or what had claim over this ship, though. Whatever it was, it seemed to be out of the neighborhood.
Or was it? When I went topside on the ship I caught sight of two drowners. They were making their way towards the cliffs. I didn’t know if a few drowners could claim a ship, or if they’d be set up somewhere else if they had, but why not follow them? Worst case scenario would be some wasted time, right? They’d proven to be easy opponents.
My movement buffs allowed me to tail them easily. Since they were going somewhere with purpose, I didn’t swoop in and harvest them. They led me to a spot at the base of the cliffs.
The water didn’t slowly ease up to the cliffs, it was deep right up until you crashed against the rocks. I could feel the tidal forces and stayed low, eventually deciding to anchor myself and walk rather swim from handhold to handhold.
The drowners went straight to an underwater cavern in the cliff and disappeared. I figured it was their nest. I didn’t have much else to do to prepare: no spells to cast or more items to buff my stats. I went into the cavern.
The first 50 yards were uneventful. I saw no signs of anything beyond some odd bones strewn along the floor, slowly being pulled out by the tide. The cavern led upward, and if it was long enough would probably pass the waterline.
My curiosity to explore the structure of the cavern was interrupted by a sound like a gasp. A drowner detached itself from the wall and swam towards me, again making a sound that resonated in the water like the gasp of someone drowning, taking their last chance at air. I froze. Solitary drowners were ambush predators, and they remained that way into small groups. The only time they made their call was in a swarm.
I looked further into the cavern and my heart dropped. Just entering the limits of my Vision ability were dozens and dozens of drowners.
I ran. A few drowners would be easy XP. I had not bargained on a swarm! Swarms either broke up into smaller groups or moved in on an area like a plague, usually prompting an area quest for the local port to deal with them. While they couldn’t drown me by dragging me down, by knocking even a single HP off in a pass, a swarm could whittle me down. And these drowners were all around my level, so they were capable of doing that.
I made it just past the entrance of the cavern before the swarm burst out behind me and enveloped me. They moved like a cloud of tuna and centered around me. Unlike tuna fish, most predators would avoid this swarm.
I thrust my trident and speared two drowners – one through its head and the other just under its spine. Just like that, I lost the effective use of my weapon. I’d been really happy with my trident after the giant squid, but now? Not so much.
I withdrew a harpoon but the creatures were already ramming me, clawing at me one minute and then gone the next back into the cloud. I lost my tricorne hat as I impaled a drowner. I tried to spear another one but the wriggling one I already had made it difficult, so I dropped the harpoon too and withdrew my sword.
The maintenance Kane had demanded I perform on the blade had improved its damage slightly, but it was still a sword scavenged from the forgotten deeps. It soon proved the versatility of its function, though.
While not as damaging as my other weapons, I could keep swinging. I cut with it, and after the edge cleaved flesh it was ready to do it again. The swarm was all moving clockwise, so it was easy to hack into the direction they were swimming. It wasn’t long before the water was tinged pink and bodies or pieces of bodies were swirling in the cloud, carried along by the movement of their brethren.
I wasn’t unfazed during this. Drowners were constantly darting out to ram me or scratch at me. My heavy coat protected me from most of their scratches, but my neck and face were quickly raw. I saw little I could do besides keep swinging.
I did try and move to a spot more affected by the tidal surge. Step by step I moved the thinning cloud with me. The force of the tide began to knock me slightly off balance, but it was much worse on the drowners. Their coherent tornado was consistently knocked about, and when it was I received a moment’s respite from the darting attacks.
They’d taken a third of my HP, every inch of my torso was bruised and my head was adding its own red-colored tint to the water. But as I kept swinging, there would be fewer and fewer drowners to attack, the damaging impacts would decrease, and I would pull out ahead. I just needed to keep hacking. There was no finesse to this. I repeated the same chop over and over, my muscles protesting the repetitive movement as much as the exertion.
Until I swung my sword and the drowners were out of reach. I’d thinned the cloud of bodies down enough that the cohesive swarm had backed off and spread out. They continued to charge with stupid, suicidal hunger, but were now a group swimming in a much larger ring, outside the easy reach of my sword. As I cut more darting attackers down they began to take on a different formation: one would dart in, turn, and dart back. This elliptical pattern had the frequency of strikes back up to the level the swarm had started at.
I wasn’t wholly without my own tricks and set myself adrift and swam upwards. When the tide pulled me towards the sea I anchored myself again and dropped straight past the pursuing drowners. They followed with the same single-minded intensity they’d had for the whole attack, but while some moved to encircle me others stacked me head on. That was there mistake, and after I’d maimed or killed them I repeated my maneuver.
The injured ones tried to escape my reach, but they were either injured enough to die soon or healthy enough to continue the attack. They were actually the hardest, as the edge on my blade was completely gone at that point and I wasn’t doing as much damage as when I’d started.
The very last one hesitated. It seemed to realize that all its fellows were now gore floating in the water. I tired of waiting for it to attack, so I pulled out a harpoon to throw at it. My arm was stiff enough that I missed the first time, but not the second.
I was below half-health. That was bad, but not as bad as it could have been. My face was a mess, and I downed a health potion to help. It didn’t heal me up, but it helped stop the bleeding and added HP back. My stamina was actually doing fine, tired as I felt. The shock of extended combat messed with my mind and muscles, but I’d put in much more exertion in a day of whale hunting or other sailing duties.
I recovered my trident and harpoons, though it took some searching for the harpoon throw I’d missed. I sat outside the mouth of the cavern and caught my breath.
You have advanced to skill level 3 in Swordsmanship. +1% damage, +1% attack speed per level.
The hacking I’d done with my sword hadn’t been the best example of swordsmanship, but after the training Kane had been priming me with it pushed me into the next skill level.
11,210 XP gained for slaying Drowner x 123
123 drowners. By focusing on the prompt, I got a more elaborate tally of drowners by how many were at each level. Most of them had been level 10 like me, and I’d gotten 100 XP each because that was their base value for my level. Some were smaller, including a group that was probably the young ones of the swarm. They’d only netted me a fraction of the base XP. There were a very few that were above level 10, and they earned me a bit more.
The presence of both old and young drowners convinced me that they’d attacked en-mass and there were no others in the cavern. I still waited for an hour to recuperate back to fighting shape before I went back in, very carefully this time.
The cavern was empty and did indeed extend beyond the water line. There was a decent amount of space in here, if you did a bit of climbing first. There were no other creatures, however.
The drowners had built nests, which I used my trident to break up and destroy. I found bones of victims both from the sea and land, but no items, valuables, or identifying paraphernalia.
Finally satisfied that everything was cleared out, I returned to the Alayne and placed my hand on it, activating my ability.
You are unable to raise this ship. This ship has been claimed by another creature.
Well fishguts. I’d cleared out a swarm of drowners, and they hadn’t even been the thing stopping me.