I really wished I knew what manner of creature had claimed the Alayne. The prompt calling it a ‘creature’ in the first place made me think ‘animal’, but it said another creature like it was counting me. So another person could have claimed it.
This was the problem with knowledge granted by the world! Sometimes it was incredibly useful, miraculous even. Other times it was frustrating and misleading.
I decided that I wanted to make the most of the time I had. Whatever occupant normally inhabited the Alayne wasn’t here now, which gave me an opportunity. If the owner was a person who could turn the weapons of the galleon against me, I wanted to take away their advantage. I loved artillery when it was in my hands, because it was so good at causing damage regardless of rank. I did not want to see a broadside of it coming at me!
The second reason was I’d just diced up 123 drowners. The tidal forces might affect what creatures showed up, but that was definitely going to garner some interest. There was no sense waiting for the scavengers to arrive before enacting my plan.
My plan was simple. I retrieved my fishing boat and brought it alongside the Alayne. Then I pillaged the ammunition for all the weapons onboard. And boy, was there a lot! The ship didn’t have specialty equipment like runes or the multishot armor-piercing bolts the Raven had, but they were fully stocked on the bread-and-butter single enchantment items.
Enchanted Bolt of Flame
Upon contact, causes fire damage
Enchanted Bolt of Ice
Upon contact, causes ice damage
Enchanted Bolt of Poison
Upon contact, releases a cloud that causes poison damage
These three types of bolts were standard combat munitions. Fire was always an enemy aboard a ship. If you set a vessel aflame, you crippled their combat effectiveness because part of the crew had to put their attention on fighting the fire. It was easy to get out of hand, so it was preferred by navies but not pirates.
Ice bolts could warp the hull of lower-quality ships, causing damage and leaks. I’d shown that with enough of them in a concentrated area, you could freeze the hull and make it brittle enough to shatter. With the right application they could break a ship that had “gone turtle”.
Poison bolts always seemed the nastiest to me. They were designed to release a small cloud when they struck, and with enough of them landing on the deck of a ship you could get the poison to seep through the whole ship, killing everyone without causing any damage. Thankfully, the quantity of bolts needed to have that effect put the tactic beyond the price range of most pirates. This ship, however, was funded by Andros’s taxes, and I removed loads of bundled poison bolts from their storage.
Then there were the enchantments that a ship captain had to request or procure themselves:
Enchanted Sonic Bolt
Upon activation, causes sonic damage to surrounding area while in motion
Enchanted Shock Bolt
Upon contact, releases an electric charge
I was pretty sure those two bolts were designed to drive off aggressive sea creatures. The Alayne had no kraken-fighting arms or other means of sea combat, it was clearly specialized in surface warfare. There were not nearly as many of those bolts as the basic types. I expected it was much more difficult for an enchanter to produce.
Enchanted Explosive Bolt
Upon contact, releases explosive energy
The last type I found was something I hadn’t seen before. It seemed self-explanatory, but the simple fact that I only found a dozen of them told me they were powerful and expensive.
They had no dual-enchantments on their munitions, which was a bit disappointing. I enjoyed multishot bolts – they were a strong force multiplier. The Alayne wouldn’t have really needed to pay the cost for them because they had enough ballistae crammed onto the gun deck – and presumably enough artillery specialists to man them – that they could put out a withering barrage as it was.
The onagers had simple rounds, chain shot, and two types of enchanted rounds – poison and mass. Poison worked the same way as the ballista bolts, the only difference being it was more difficult to hit the deck of the ship but you got a larger volume of poison for each hit. The other type was unique:
Enchanted Round of Mass
Upon activation, increases the density of the round.
I was no expert, but it looked like whatever magic this enchantment used made the round suddenly heavier. That seemed to me like the enchantment would make it a nightmare for aiming properly, but if it was heavy enough to cause substantial damage on impact it could be worth it.
Sadly, the full-sized ballista on the forecastle had no enchanted bolts. Its bolts could be attached to a line so the Alayne could link itself to its prey and reel them in, but that wasn’t as interesting. It’s heavy-hitting range was cool, but even on a large ship it was a bulky, spacious thing.
I took several trips to ferry the munitions from the ship to the cavern. It seemed unlikely that anyone would drop by to explore, but I still took the time to cart them to the empty space above the waterline. My first goal was to deprive a potential enemy of their weapons. My second was to try and salvage these for my own use.
By the time I finished there were visitors starting to show up for the drowner feast. There was no one showing up to the Alayne, though. After a few minutes of twiddling my thumbs, I decided to disassemble some of the ballistae, too. Why not? Maybe it would help improve my artillery skill.
If my job had been to set them up, I’d have been hopeless. Thankfully, taking things apart was inherently easier. I tried to keep them in segments – I had no desire to mess with the dovetailed carpentry or reinforced metal sections. Using some tools I found, I broke down half a dozen of the contraptions – only causing them minimal damage in the process. I ferried these to my new hideout.
I decided that I didn’t want to tempt fate much more, and withdrew from the area. Larger critters were showing up at the buffet line, and it was getting late. I took my boat away from the area of interest and practiced my magic until I fell asleep.
The next day the waters grew more turbulent as a storm system moved in. I’d spent so much time underwater, oblivious to the weather patterns above, that seeing the storm’s approach surprised me. I wasn’t in any danger, but it was a good reminder to pay attention. The fair-weather season was drawing to a close.
I carefully scouted out the Alayne again, only to realize that its claimant still hadn’t shown up. What if they didn’t call the galleon home? What if they were off somewhere else, not sparing a second thought on the ship they’d once claimed? That would be a bummer for me, I really wanted to test this out.
After waiting in a nearby hiding place for several hours, I dismantled and stored more ballistae. I forced myself to stop and lie in wait just after midday. It wouldn’t do for something to pop in on me while I was ferrying its weapons off. I squirreled away the fishing boat about a quarter mile from the shipwreck and snuck back to hide myself again. If the owner of the vessel didn’t show up today, I’d leave the Alayne unclaimed.
My choice to hide was made just in time. Only a few minutes after I sequestered myself, I thought I saw something approaching from the ocean. Another scavenger, perhaps? A large one? When it swam from behind an outcropping into view my eyes went wide. It was a kraken!
I’d heard people compare krakens to octopus or squid. Sure, the many-limbed creature might be related. That didn’t change the fact the giant squid I’d recently taken down was a minnow compared to this thing. The kraken was a beefed-up boatswain’s mate to the squid’s cabin boy.
The many-limbed sea-creature was dragging half of a small whale carcass along. The carcass was decomposing, but that didn’t matter to the kraken. As terrifying and large as it was, it was still relatively young. It was at the age where a defense party would try and lure it to attack. They would wait for the kraken to commit and then sever as many tentacles as their fighting arms could reach. If they were successful the kraken wouldn’t be able to sustain itself. If they were lucky it would hang around long enough for them to finish killing it and gain the XP.
You had to do it early, because mature krakens never gave you the chance. There was one kraken plaguing shipping lanes when I was a kid, tales said its level was in the 70’s. It had started playing with ways to break ships: swarming one side, targeting masts, or even crushing the keel without draping any of its tentacles near a fighting arm. It had taken a fleet with mages who could somehow prevent the beast from diving to finish it, and even then not every ship from that fleet returned.
The young age of the kraken gave me no illusions that I could handle it. Not even with Coe’s whaling crew would I have a chance. Killing a kraken required a heavy investment of time, people, and equipment. I was a low-level guy with a fishing boat. Forget about it.
The kraken ran its tentacles along the Alayne, as though checking that everything was the same as it left it. It didn’t seem to notice or care about the missing armaments. It sat itself on the main deck of the ship and extended its arms in all directions. It stayed like that for half an hour, feeling what was going on in the ocean around them. They were supposed to have weak eyesight but could detect movement with their tentacles. I didn’t chance it, I stayed right where I was.
When the kraken felt like all was right in its domain, it used three of its tentacles to maneuver its large meal towards its maw, where it began to tear the flesh into shreds it could swallow. Its other arms remained watching. I’ll admit I was fascinated by the dangerous creature, so I continues to observe.
Its coloration was a gray-green with soft white flesh on its underside. It ate with its mouth facing the surface, its head pointed down. I couldn’t see inside its maw or its rows of teeth, but I knew they’d be there. Those teeth were the horrific center of many sailor stories.
Terrifying was an apt description but as a hidden observer, awe-inspiring was accurate too. I wished that the creature wasn’t hostile, and that I could swim all around it, poking and prodding. I was sure I picked the right profession, but I couldn’t help but wonder what it would be like to have chosen to command beasts such as this.
After some time of watching, the kraken suddenly slid off the main deck to the port side. It backed itself into the corner made by the hull and the sea floor, shoving its meal behind it. Its arms twisted into a defensive pattern – extended in all directions but coiled back on themselves. It looked almost like the head of a flower.
I felt an ominous sensation, wondering what could possibly frighten a kraken. Was there an even larger kraken moving in? A pod of Liopleuros? After a few minutes of tense waiting by both me and the kraken, the only thing of note that appeared in my vision was another whale.
What kind of whale was that? It was too far for me to properly analyze it. It drifted around slowly, either unaware or unconcerned about the nearby kraken. It meandered in the direction of the cavern, where numerous sharks and other creatures were now picking up leftovers.
I decided that now was my opportunity to skedaddle and I did so, swimming in stealth along the sea floor towards my boat. I counted myself lucky to have had the experience I did and walk away from it unhurt! The kraken could keep the Alayne, it was welcome to it.
My route took me closer to the cavern and I slowed, wary of anything that might prefer a fresh kill. That wariness and my observation skill highlighted that whale I’d seen heading in this direction. It still seemed like an uninterested party to the feast, but now that I was closer I noticed it was very odd. For starters, it seemed to have chitinous armor plating around its front half. It had alternating dark and light coloring, something common in sea camouflage. It had the shape of a fish – like a bass instead of a whale – but it was about 40 feet long. The size had made me jump to conclusions, but it was clearly no whale.
Analyzing it didn’t help much, because I wasn’t familiar with the creature. I didn’t have the skill to see what those plates did for its armor rating, either. I was about to make a mental note of it and continue on my merry way when a reef shark got too close.
The shark was nearly 8 feet long, and probably enjoyed a place of power among its fellows. But as soon as it got within striking distance of the dunkleosteus, the dunkleosteus surged forward with a burst of speed, closing the distance. Its mouth snapped open, showing two bony jaw plates. The mouth snapped shut just as quickly, leaving a severed tail to drift to the sea floor. The rest of the shark had been swallowed up.
It seemed like the kraken had been the wiser of the two of us, recognizing the danger this creature presented. I didn’t tarry any longer. Once at my ship I made ready and departed with best possible speed, looking over my shoulder the whole time.
Creatures like the kraken and dunkleosteus made you feel like the vastness of the ocean wasn’t big enough. A person wanted to both flee far away and keep an eye on the danger at the same time.
I had dreams that night of approaching the kraken and befriending it. It followed me around and I sailed the seas in my little boat; any ships that came to collect the reward on my head were sunk by my companion. It was a glorious dream that seemed to last forever. Then at the end I looked around and realized my pet kraken was level 100, I had crew working in chains at my feet, and I was sailing a ship called the Perdition.
I woke up in a sweat. The dream had been great up until that point. It was only at the end that I looked back and realized I’d become something I didn’t want to be. I tried to remember all the things I’d done in the middle. Where should I have stopped? What did I do wrong?
Was it really wrong?
I practiced my magic until depletion, then practiced the basic weapons forms Kane had taught me. Once my mana had regenerated I did it again, until my anxiety about the future could be ignored.
I played with using air push to fill the sails. My little entry-level spell made no discernable difference, so I used my mana in conjunction with the spell to try and make it progress faster. I didn’t try to step up a little at a time, though. I tried to manipulate as much air as I could manage. Today, by the end of my practice session I received an unexpected notification.
Congratulations! You have learned the spell Gust!
I hadn’t upgraded my air push spell, I’d learned something different. I checked in the compendium Renshaw had loaned me and found the description:
Gust is a large-scale air manipulation spell. It allows for basic directional command but precludes even moderate control. Effectiveness decreases when conflicts arise with natural weather effects.
The book didn’t say much about it, but I could gather what I needed to know. It was a supersized spell, and the tradeoff for getting the sheer volume of air it had for the reasonable mana cost was a lack of control. That might dissuade some mages, but weather mages or sailors like me would find it invaluable!
I put it to work. With every casting a huge stream of air would flood the sails and make the boat pick up the pace momentarily before slowing down again. I imagined scaling the spell up to where I could make my boat skim the water with how fast it was going, but to do something like that I’d probably have to expand my mana pool. I hadn’t had any problems with a lack of mana at the spell level I was practicing – usually having to exert myself to empty it at all – but gust was a spell that I couldn’t continually cast.
The effectiveness was also decreased by the storm. The wind wasn’t favorable. If I didn’t have the powers of a Captain of the Deep my last stop at the sunken transport ship wouldn’t have been impossible. As it was, it took me much longer than it should have.
The transport was exactly what you’d expect from a ship designed to carry as many troops as possible. Smitty had said nearly all the troops had been rescued, but a great deal of weapons and equipment had been lost with the ship. I found this to be true and spent hours moving weapons and armor from the transport to my fishing boat after I’d dumped the nearly worthless tools from my first stop. I only had the room for a fraction of the weapons, filling both my inventory and the available space aboard my boat.
Then I did what I really came for. The transport hadn’t been sunk for very long, I figured I had a better chance to reach the spirits of the crew here and enlist them. Normally hearing that so many of the souls aboard a ship survived its wreck was a good thing; I had to remind myself of that while I was searching for the remains of the men I’d heard were lost.
I found the remains of one such sailor, a poor soul who’d had the ocean’s smaller scavengers pick at him but was still clothed with most their flesh. I enacted my Raise Crew ability and was surprised when a list appeared before me.
Select the spirits you would like to raise:
I guess I hadn’t needed to find the remains. Once I enacted my ability, I could raise all the souls in the area! I picked Rylan Howard and felt a part of myself open up, extending itself. It wasn’t my mana, it wasn’t a matter of simple magic. It must be spiritual magic that was tied to my profession.
I didn’t receive the failure prompt I’d gotten from the Madu on the Doomed Integrity. That got me excited; very excited! Then I felt my spirit touch another. It was working! It was really working this time!
It was all the more crushing when I felt the utter rejection from the spirit I’d touched. A moment later the prompt repeated the blow.
The spirit of Rylan Howard has rejected your summons.
Raise Crew: bind the spirits of accepting individuals to your crew.
So it had indeed been working, but it hadn’t mattered. My ability could only bind the spirits of those who accepted. It wasn’t dissimilar to what Jones had done with me: he’d given me the choice, but once made he owned me entirely. I didn’t intend to rule my crew harshly, but I couldn’t exactly explain that to the spirit I was trying to reach.
I tried the other names on the list, including the last one whom I assumed was a soldier. The ability worked for all of them; they all soundly rejected me.
I growled with bitter disappointment. I didn’t know what kind of existence the spirits had, but I’d assumed some would jump at the chance to live again. Maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised. These were all navy men, after all. They were sworn devotees of Andros. If they knew what I was when I summoned them they weren’t likely to accept.
Admitting defeat, I returned to my fishing boat. I tried to race ahead of the worst of the storm, making as much progress in a forward direction as possible. When I deemed it counterproductive to continue late that night, I took the boat down and anchored it securely, sleeping through the most difficult part.
I awoke to find the winds still strong, but the seas were much more manageable. I sailed at depth and caught up on travel time, arriving back in Tulisang the day after that.
The sky was much darker than the afternoon hour called for when I pulled up to an empty dock. I picked it to give myself a bit of space from prying eyes, but the bad weather had people indoors or tucking their noses down as they finished their business. Not having the harbormaster show up to charge a docking fee was a nice bonus.
My haul made for an oddly shaped pile on the dock. I threw a tarp over everything when I was finished unloading and headed straight to Smitty’s. I wasn’t at all surprised to find the shop owner there. I was a bit surprised to find Sid – his shapeshifting field manager – Manny, and couple other guys. The guys were moving things around in the slow kind of way men did when they didn’t have much to do and nowhere else to be.
Smitty gave me the stink eye when I popped into his office. “So you didn’t get yourself killed after that battle in town. You skip town until you were sure it was safe? I expected you to have a ship explored every week! How long has it been?”
Why did Smitty assume once again that I came with empty pockets? I thought I’d made my point last time: I showed up when I had the goods for him. I also seemed to recall including my schedule in the terms of our contract. True, it had been awhile since I’d brought him anything of worth, but shouldn’t my shadow in his door make him rub his hands together with greed at what I was bringing him?
I didn’t say any of this, I just pulled a fine officer’s sword from my inventory and dropped it on his desk. Sinking a battleaxe into it would have felt better, but there was no way I’d have left without paying for the desk, its contents, and anything in proximity Smitty could claim I’d damaged. I settled for the clatter the sabre made.
“I’ve got a full inventory of weapons, two paychests, and a heaping pile of arms and armor under a tarp on the docks. I’d suggest we start with those.”
It was amazing how fast Smitty could put aside his irritation when had profit to collect sitting in front of him. He gathered up the men he had, and I led them to the dock where I’d left the stuff. A corner of the tarp had come loose and was blowing in the wind, but a little rainwater wasn’t much concern for things that had been pulled from the sea. After they looked at everything I’d assembled, Sid sent Manny off to grab a cart.
Smitty glanced around the dock. “How’d haul all this stuff back?”
“I’d borrowed a friend’s boat this time,” I said smoothly. I couldn’t risk having someone see my fishing boat was a cursed vessel under my command; it would take an idiot not to connect the dots and run to spread the word. I’d thought ahead this time and had the lie prepared. “I had to return it as soon as I offloaded this.”
Smitty grunted and pulled a blade from the pile. Most of it was standard issue, mass-produced gear. There were a few notable exceptions, which I had in my inventory. The transport hadn’t been sitting on the bottom for very long, so the quality of the gear wasn’t too bad.
Sid made small talk by asking about me and I returned the favor. He held his coat tightly about him, but I left mine undone and open, letting the wind whip at my coattails. I was already drenched, and it wasn’t like the storm had brought a chill with it. If anything, I appreciated the reprieve from the overbearing sun that plagued this corner of the sea.
Manny returned with the cart and I helped the men drag everything to the warehouse. There I added my inventory to the pile, along with the two small chests.
“This one is from the transport,” I said, slapping the corresponding chest. “And this one is from the H.M.S. Alayne.” Everyone jerked up at that.
“The Alayne?” Smitty said. “I thought I told you to avoid that wreck!”
“You warned me about it,” I said. “Didn’t say it was off limits.”
“You found it?” Manny said, eagerness in his voice.
“Yes, I did.”
“Any sign of the missing teams?”
I sighed. “No. I found a drowner swarm in a nearby cavern that might have had something to do with it – I took care of them. But a kraken had taken up residence in the ship. It showed up after I’d explored a bit. I don’t know if it was the real cause of the Alayne going down, but it might have snatched some of the people that went missing. I was lucky to get away.”
Manny looked crestfallen, the others were stunned. I’d just claimed to have dove into a kraken’s abode and made off with a chest of gold. If I told the story in a tavern, they’d assume I was lying.
“Did you see what level it was?” Sid asked.
“Level 7, just under 20,000 health and 14,000 stamina. No mana to speak of.”
Sid nodded. “Yes, a typical youngling – probably driven from Lazlo’s Deep.” He turned to Smitty. “I’ll pass the word. I’m sure we can get a couple of ships to hunt it down after this storm blows through.”
Smitty agreed. “Domenic, how did the rest of the Alayne look?”
The Alayne now looked like a ship stripped of its weapons, so I didn’t want to encourage Smitty to send another salvage team. “Honestly? The ship looked pretty bare. I don’t know if they used all their munitions or they were lost when the ship went down, but I didn’t bring anything back.”
Manny cursed. Another man muttered “died for nothing”.
“Well, I’m sure we all appreciate the advance notice of the kraken. You, uh … you’d swear to seeing it, right?”
“Good, good. And you said there were drowners, too?”
“Yes, but I believe I took care of them.”
One of the men interrupted. “You took care of a swarm of drowners?”
I kept my gaze steady. “That’s right.”
After a few awkward, tense moments the man swore. “Must’ve been a lot of XP.”
The corner of my mouth twitched up. “I wouldn’t call it my favorite method of doing things, but the rewards weren’t half bad.” Not half bad for what they were. Compared to some of the fighters I’d killed, the swarm XP was literally half. I wasn’t going to brag on those, though.
The chests were opened; one with a pair of guys swinging axes and the other by the guy who’d questioned my story. He had a high-quality set of lockpicks and only took 3 minutes to open the damaged lock. No one said anything about his expertise.
The chest for the Alayne held a pitiful amount of coin. I supposed that made sense, being a navy vessel and all, but it reinforced with the guys the idea that the ship had been like a mimic treasure chest – a promise of riches that instead accrued a body count. The transport had a more respectable amount of coin for whatever reason, but it was clear neither planned on having to cover major expenditures.
I took my cut of the coin from the chests at about 6 gold. I’d rather not have the rest of the guys privy to my arrangement with Smitty, but oh well. Smitty also had the revenue for my share of the ores I’d brought in the first time, netting me another 2.
I asked if I could keep one of the swords that I’d picked up from the transport. Kane wouldn’t let the matter of my corroded sword drop and I’d had my eye on a replacement the whole way back.
“I wish I could let you do that, lad.” Smitty said. “Unfortunately, this was a government ship and they hired me to salvage and return their goods. You’ll get your cut of the fee I charge them, but the swords go back.”
That was disappointing, but the sword I’d had my eye on probably belonged to someone important anyway. I knew I was going to have to go to a weaponsmith and fork over the coin for new weapons.
I told him there was more in the transport and gave him a more accurate location on where it was sitting. I told him the carrack had been a bust and claimed not to have found the Integrity.
He’d dropped his irritated attitude as soon as I’d shown him the goods, but he seemed to be reappraising me as I listed the ships I’d explored. Maybe next time I wouldn’t have to drop the loot on his desk.
On my way out, I stopped to ask Sid a quick question. “By the way, you ever heard of a dunkleosteus?”
Sid’s eyes went wide. “Yes! You saw one?”
“Yeah, it pretty much ate a shark whole.”
“Dunkleosteus are uncommon and one of the few protected great monsters. Their armor is even tougher than their health pool. They’re one of the most powerful predators out there, they’ll even prey on kraken! But they don’t attack ships, so the government doesn’t allow them to be hunted. The more things keeping the kraken in check the better, right? We might get there and find our local kraken has already been taken care of.”
I just shook my head. I was just glad I’d made it out of there without being bothered by either of the giants. Apex predators might kill whatever was hunting you, but that didn’t mean they’d stop and give you a pass. There were always smaller bodies in the wakes of giants.