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With my purse replenished, I returned to my training regimen with a will. A gold coin was usually enough for a sailor to spend weeks ashore living high on the best he could buy, lazing about and drinking his fill of overpriced alcohol and hangover cures. The regular tutelage of both Renshaw and Kane ate through coin much faster than standard room and board, however.

Their services were not exclusive. Kane was often juggling a number of students who came to him for training, and when he had more than he could handle he’d pit some of us against each other to practice. Without exception, they were all veteran pirates. I’d never actually asked about the pay and work for piracy since I’d stuck to the mostly law-abiding sailor life, but I discovered that successful pirate crews made several times even my own veteran pay on each of their excursions. Some pirates spent their money indulging themselves, but a surprising amount simply viewed it as their income to go back to their families. Others, like the ones I happened to train with, were acutely aware of their business and invested their ill-gotten earnings in becoming better fighters.

And they all were better fighters. They weren’t the match of Lawless Jack’s crew, but they averaged personal levels in the 20’s and weapon skill levels in the high teens to low 20’s. Whenever I fought with someone in a straight sparring match, I lost. It was as simple as that. When Kane organized more creative fights, where we had the range of his training yard and could use whatever tricks we pleased, I pulled out some victories. My opponents learned to hate my ‘bag of tricks’ adventurer bag. Instead of discouraging them, however, I soon found that the older and wiser among them were lining up for the chance to practice with an ‘adventurer’.

Not being a true adventurer was something I had to clear up routinely. People saw the bag and they assumed, because only adventurers could get those bags, right? I didn’t realize even Kane had thought that until he mentioned something about “my society” trying to establish a local chapter house. For once it was my turn to go off on him, though he redirected my frustrations back into my training. He was an excellent trainer; I’d give him that.

Still, it didn’t matter what weapon or what handicap the other person had, I didn’t have the skill of a veteran fighter. It would take years of training to accomplish that. That’s why I’d gone for magic training, and it was paying heavy dividends.

My Heart at Sea perk truly was exceptional when it came to nautical matters. It extended to my mastery of both water and air magic, and I learned spells in both fields at “a prodigious rate” according to Renshaw. I felt like it was too slow, and I never had enough time to practice, despite doing little else besides train. He reminded me that mastering a magical discipline was like mastering a weapon’s skill; it took time. I had a bit of a cheat with the aptitude granted by my perk, but it wasn’t a substitute for hours of practice.

Our training time was not solely focused on expanding my list of spells. Discussions on magical theory, principles of mana, and my own cursed nature all took place. We thoroughly explored Tadra with mental magic, and I discovered that outside my well-established mindscape the realm was indeed filled with the chaotic stuff of dreams and nightmares, both equally dangerous. I never made any progress in visiting another mindscape, and not even Renshaw’s abilities could hold me prisoner in his. There were drawbacks to this, but as far as mental combat went I’d have an edge.

Several mornings were dedicated to Renshaw’s curiosity. I felt I owed it to him because I considered him a true friend now: he’d seen my cursed nature and had stuck by me. Questions about my ocean magic, physical characteristics, and even my psyche were all worth having him as a companion.

As a part of satisfying his curiosity, we spent some time testing my affinities for other fields of magic. He wanted to gauge how much my perk was affecting my progression rate. We discovered – to both of our surprise – that I had an affinity for life magic and a lesser affinity for dark magic. That was unusual. Typically, life paired with light and dark paired with death, but I had no affinity whatsoever for either light or death.

We weren’t able to open those new affinities into a discipline I could train in. I’d love to explore the possibilities both those fields offered, but I’d have to slog through the studying and practice to unlock them like every other person who wanted to become a mage. It had taken Renshaw nearly his whole life to access all the fields of magic, and that was only possible because he had at least a slight affinity for all of them.

The second boon to my magical training was my mana. At 250 MP, I had a very large pool and recovery rate for someone just starting out. I was also the master of two deeper magics, which combined lowered the cost of each magic spell by 20% and made my recovery rate 20% faster.

When Renshaw realized I was disappointed about not learning a healing spell from life magic (and who wouldn’t want that? Particularly when abusing your body in weapons training half the day, every day!) he taught me the spell cleansing waters. He had to dig though his compendium for a bit to find it, as it wasn’t something he’d ever bothered learning himself. Water magic had a few healing spells, but life magic was where the powerful and efficient healing came from.

Cleansing waters worked very slowly. I’d experienced healing spells before, and simple injuries were gone in the time it took to snap your fingers. This spell didn’t do that. By investing a steady, continuous supply of mana into the spell, you imbued the surrounding water with healing magic. An hour or two later, bruises would fade. Several hours, and simple bone breaks would begin to mend. The time involved and the requirement to be encapsulated in water made it an overlooked spell, but it fit my situation rather well. Between my resistances to physical damage and regularly practicing cleansing waters, I managed to keep up with my training pace.

Cleansing waters and summon water were the utilitarian spells I learned. My other spells were combat or defense oriented. I learned water whip and progressed in in far enough to not only achieve dexterous control over the whip but manage two at once. I was extremely proud of myself until Renshaw had to burst my bubble by mentioning masters of the spell could control as many arms as an octopus.

I learned freezing spells – which were even more difficult to maintain at this latitude. I didn’t learn Renshaw’s ability to summon a dagger made of ice but given the quantity of blades I’d taken to carrying on me that was fine. It would take more time and practice to learn spells that inflicted direct damage on an opponent – like frostbite – but freezing water was just what I was looking for to give me an edge in a weapon’s fight. I could cause my opponent to be momentarily stuck in a puddle or – if given enough time – I could summon and freeze enough water to alter the landscape.

The spells I most enjoyed were movement-based spells. Water and air were the disciplines of fluidity and offered spells to increase my own speed and hinder the speed of my opponents. All the other spells had useful – even powerful – applications, but the ability to simply be faster than your opponent was the edge I needed to stay alive against opponents with years more training than me.

My air spells saw a more narrow, focused progression. I improved the spells I’d already learned: push, pull, gust, blade and my new movement spells. Renshaw had pointed out that when it came to combat, water carried more weight in the early stages – literally. A basic freeze spell could have a much greater impact than a simple air push. The caveat to that was most water spells required water to already be present, but that wasn’t a problem in my normal environment.

A simple air push could interrupt and off-balance opponent, but it wasn’t powerful enough to disrupt or cause damage to someone otherwise. I needed to train it up a great deal before I’d be able to send someone flying. Higher tiered air spells like lightning, on the other hand, often packed enough punch to kill or incapacitate enemies with a single hit. Unfortunately, lightning remained firmly outside of my abilities, and Renshaw reminded me not to mess with it yet.

Shocking touch was the entry-level spell for mages looking to wield lightning, but it too remained beyond me. The way the mana moved and affected things was different. It caused a change in two different areas that Renshaw called a ‘polarity’ and a sudden, immediate action between the points that caused the damage. I could channel it through conductive weapons when I finally mastered it, but time was once again my unflappable moderator.

There were many other spells that I’d started to practice but hadn’t mastered. I firmly believed my money was Renshaw’s primary source of income; he saw no one else in the morning and very few during the rest of his day. The looming trouble had scared away both his classes and pirate clientele.

And trouble was looming. The local garrison was set on maintaining their foothold in their corner of the city and stayed there. Outside of the city though, troops were massing. It started as rumors of extra patrols, but people quickly realized that there were more troops surrounding the town than in it. It hadn’t come to a fight yet, but everyone knew King Leopold was getting ready to assume control of Tulisang with martial law, stamping out the port as a pirate stronghold for good. It made my pirate sparring partners nervous. The town could only support its level of piracy because pirates took ships filled with goods and sold them here. If they didn’t have an outlet for that, they’d be looking to take more liquid assets like silver and gold. There weren’t enough ships carrying silver and gold to feed every pirate’s family.

I worried that my neutrality in the conflict would lead to trouble, but I encountered no problems. Granted, I stayed busy training and outside of the whole affair as much as possible. The prior battle seemed to have shaken the townsfolk, though. The Tulisang pirates and the Free Brethren factions seemed t have come to some sort of an arrangement in the face of their shared enemy bearing down on them. The military people seemed like they didn’t want to force the issue and were hoping that a display of power would overcome the resistance Tulisang was prepared to offer.

Renshaw recommended I stop by a bookstore in town for subjects I was interested in – from magic and weapons to military strategy. After another venture for Smitty to restock my purse, I did just that.

The bookstore was an amazing example of maximizing space. The shelves were stuffed floor to ceiling and the aisles were narrow. There were no desks or study areas like you’d find in a nice library, everything about the place was designed to offer you a selection that you’d pay for and leave with.

Books were not uncommon, but the sheer volume of magical skill books made this place very attractive for thieves. Because of that, it was built nearly like a prison, with bars over the windows and a high-level security guard keeping watch. The security guard sat to one side of the door when you entered, and the shop owner sat behind his counter on the other side of the door. There’d be no sneaking books out of this store.

“Hello, uh … I was wondering if you could help me?” I showed the shop keeper the list of titles that Renshaw and Kane had recommended.

He glanced over the list and his eyebrows rose. I took the opportunity to analyze him. I was expecting he’d have a profession like ‘librarian’, but he had some unique profession called ‘bindery’. It was a bit rude to ask since his stats weren’t open, but I apologized and asked anyway.

“Bindery,” he explained after looking at me askance, “is a profession involved in making books. Between my partners and I, we can create quality paper with raw materials, transcribe or copy contents, and offer a durable finished product. We don’t manufacture skill books ourselves, but we sell blank books for mages here.” He gestured at his shelves. “All the magical skill books have some amount of mana left in them, but as second-hand goods the quality will determine the price. We’ll still offer you the best price anywhere in Andros!” He handed my list back and left me to find them on my own. I didn’t blame him and browsing gave me the opportunity to find books I wasn’t looking for.

Over half of the shop was dedicated to skill books of various kinds, including spell books which was why Renshaw recommended the place. A quarter was stuffed with informative works – these were books that weren’t imbued with mana to help you learn or culminate with a new spell or ability. This was where I found the most interesting naval strategy books.

The last corner of the shop was crammed with all manner of mismatched books. There were books and pamphlets casually lying around that would no doubt have the store closed and the owner arrested for sedition before the mage colleges even had a chance to seize the spell books. There was also a large amount dedicated to entertainment, including a surprising amount of fiction.

Included in those shelves was a book titled The travels of Jordan Voyager, which I immediately picked up, flooded with nostalgia. This was the book that my mother had used to teach me to read. I was impatient and determined not to spend my time indoors learning my letters. She’d picked up this book of sea adventures, and then I couldn’t learn to read fast enough! Jordan Voyager claimed that his stories were true, and would no doubt be apoplectic to find it stacked with the fiction. It’d be interesting to read the stories again now that I knew what sea life was like, maybe Jordan’s tales were tamer than my own.

The shopkeeper had required that I leave my adventurer’s bag at his desk when I entered, so I was soon carting a growing pile of books around. My book of guilty entertainment pleasure, a guide to naval warfare, a codex of sea creatures, a compendium of ways to unlock magical affinities … what was the difference between a codex and a compendium anyway?

I decided not to skimp and picked up every book that I thought would be useful for learning or even if I thought I’d reference it when needed. Renshaw had pointed out that I could carry a veritable library in my bag. While having lots of empty inventory space was useful for my salvage job, it made more sense to carry whatever I needed. I had to go through and clear it out a few times though. That squid steak I’d collected was nasty by the time I thought about cooking it.

It made me curious why it was so comparatively empty when I’d found it. The adventurer had been a specialist, and the trapmaking supplies were impressively complete, but there was a lot more space that could have been used. Was that normal practice? Was there a particular reason? Had he just cleaned it out or gotten a new one? I doubted I’d ever know. The letter and map that it had contained was already more than I had any right to expect.

I ended up blowing nearly all my money on books. The shopkeeper actually asked if I was buying on behalf of a noble! With the amount of gold that went from my purse to his, I guess only a rich man or very successful pirate would make a purchase like this. I’d never been particularly attached to my coin, not after I’d paid my mums’ debts. My current attitude of ‘money in, money out’ would shock most people.

After doing so much ‘money out’ spending, I had to turn around and go back to sea so I could keep paying for more training. My seagoing ventures were where I reminded myself I was living. In port I did nothing but train and study. Those were predominant subjects of my voyages as well, but I was free out at sea. I had no timer counting down the minutes, no one giving me looks as I climbed out of the harbor, and the breath of the wind on my face as chop was splashed aboard my abused boat.

The good-weather season was now past. The passive ocean still held its namesake and the storms were visible a long way off if you were paying attention, but they wound up and hit hard if you were careless. I wasn’t careless, but by normal sailor standards I was reckless. I wanted to practice my ship handling in tempestuous weather. I wanted to explore the forces going on under the waves when seas were rough. But above all that, I wanted to feel the terrible wrath of nature during a hurricane.

I’d been called mad before for enjoying dangerous weather while on a ships’ crew. At them time I’d felt chastised; there were people’s lives on the line, it was no time to be having fun! But now I could sink my boat beneath the waves and call it a reprieve from the storm, not a loss. I would never presume to command the waves of the ocean, but I rejoiced in riding them.

I still practiced raising ships and familiarizing myself with their effects, but it was somewhat rote. I needed a crew to sail any decent ship, and I had none. I couldn’t gather one despite my attempts. Most of the spirits I tried to summon were beyond my reach. The others soundly rejected me.

Renshaw still refused to teach me spiritual magic, but he offered a few explanations. Most spirits didn’t linger in the physical world after death, I was reaching into a different existence to summon them. I needed an avenue to do that. For most people it was their body, their physical remains were their last connection to their spirit. In most cases, the bodies of crew were lost at sea and inaccessible to me.

In other cases, the ship itself was a connection. If a captain who went down with his beloved ship I had a high likelihood of connecting to his spirit.

The last factor Renshaw told me of was time. It was possible for someone to be resuscitated if they were very recently deceased. The more time that elapsed, the further that person’s spirit went and the more inaccessible it became. Renshaw posited that any spirit more than a year gone would be beyond my skill. It made me consider investing in the XP into the second level of the Raise Crew ability to try and improve my odds, but 75,000 XP price tag was more than I could afford yet.

I explored more wrecks and returned with a portion of their goods to Smitty. If they were worth it, I’d make several trips. Smitty kept his promise and never asked about the ‘artifact’ I used to make my dives or what my limits were, but he kept scrounging up older and deeper wrecks for me to explore, things that should have been beyond most divers. Rather than give him an indication with some of those ships, I looted them and then claimed the loot came from other, more accessible ships.

Three times he officially invoked the magic of our contract to make sure I was staying honest. The magic was weak, and only tested the bare bones of my statements and the contents of my bag. I’d been worried that my rearranging activities would raise an alarm, but the contract was too vague for that. A magical contract it might be, but the magic was the quality you’d expect of a dockside business, not like anything you’d expect from a magical institute or royal agreement.

For over three months, my life consisted of my training and my money-making voyages. My spells were not my only area of growth.

Name

Domenic Seaborn

Age

24

Race

Human (Cursed)

Profession

Captain of the Deep

Level

10

XP

49,197

Health

250

Mana

260

Stamina

230

Strength

22

Agility

23

Dexterity

21

Constitution

25

Endurance

23

Intelligence

26

Wisdom

25

Charisma

18

Luck

19

Skills

Seamanship 19

Swimming 15

Sea Legs 14

Rowing 8

Carpentry 3

Fishing 8

Singing 2

Cooking 2

Analyze 8

Observation 10

Climbing 11

First Aid 2

Lock Picking 4

Stealth 7

Leadership 2

Trade 1

Traps 10

Dirty fighting 4

Artillery 2

Unarmed combat 8

Swordsmanship 8

Small blades 10

Spears 8

Axes 7

Light armor 4

Archery 4

Magic

Air magic

Water magic

Ocean magic

Mental magic

Achievements

Lifesaving III

Trickster

Perks

Adaptable

Heart at Sea

I’d increased my base attributes of dexterity, endurance and intelligence by 1 each. I picked up a few levels in light armor and progressed in all my weapon skills, though small blades was the only skill I hit level 10 in. I also picked up a level in stealth while sneaking around hunting on my voyages. I progressed two levels in lockpicking, thanks to a couple of locks I acquired and practiced on when I was looking to unwind.

I also had a birthday. It made me sorry I wasn’t around to give my mother a gift, as was traditional. I’d missed a lot of those opportunities over the years.

My gear had also been overhauled. I couldn’t argue with Kane over having the equipment in my bag any more than I could argue with Renshaw over a library. I had a set of light armor to call my own now, and went to the weaponsmith for a spear, a couple of throwing javelins to complement my harpoons, an axe and a sword. The sword made me very excited; not because I was giddy with the thought of going off and having adventures, but because that was the first day I didn’t have to hear anything from Kane about the pitiful excuse that my corroded sword was!

All my weapons were standard and functional, having no enchantments or stat buffs. I’d considered forking over more money for better equipment, but when I learned the right spells I could apply them to whatever weapon I was using. Trying to get a weapon worth naming would only draw unwanted attention to myself.

Besides, one day people would probably be naming my weapons for me, average quality or not.

One day, the town was in an uproar. Not because of politics, but because there was open, public quest for the area. Some flying wolf-bats had followed some other creature on their migration pattern, and had decided to set up shop in the area. They were posing enough of a threat that a quest was generated to deal with them.

Such things were great for towns, because while the rewards might be trifling for someone who killed monsters on the regular, anyone who participated would get the reward. People with no experience besides running a business would leap at the chance for an easy bonus. Parents would grab their children and find ways for them to participate – some of my earliest XP was from my mother coaching me how to help in a similar quest for Pristav. The town was abuzz and nearly everyone was looking to get in on the action.

Except for me. The quest rewards weren’t worth the risk of going further inland. I would be better served by going out to sea and hunting. Kane was conscripted to help organize and lead groups of amateur participants, so our afternoon training was cancelled. Renshaw was expecting to meet a prospective student that afternoon, so I had some unexpected time off. I did some shopping for basic supplies with anyone who was still open and laughed at the sudden inflation of prices for armor and weapons. I practiced magic out of sight and otherwise had an uneventful afternoon watching the shenanigans.

Completely uneventful, up until that evening. I was out later than usual, because I’d spent several hours in the sea earlier. I was walking the docks looking for an unobtrusive spot to slip into the water for the night when people started streaming from a side alley to a ship. They wore old coats and floppy hats or tattered brown or gray cloaks with hoods pulled up. The evening was cool, but the temperature wasn’t nearly enough to validate bundling up like that.

They streamed from the alley to the ship and climbed aboard without fuss from the watch on deck. By the time I started counting, there were over fifty people. There may have been as many as thirty more. When the stream of people ended and there didn’t seem to be any other activity, I continued walking past the odd ship. As I was passing the gangplank, a man stepped on it and froze when he saw me. I recognized him: it was Donovan from Donovan’s Reef.

He looked at me with an expression that would have had me turning right around had I seen it upon entering his tavern. He looked at me like I was a rogue that had stolen his daughter from him. He seemed to be considering whether he was going to ignore me or step on my throat.

“Good evening,” he said flatly. I don’t think I’d ever heard anyone say ‘good evening’ as coldly or unwelcomingly as he did.

“Evening,” I replied, knuckling my brow and hurrying on my way. He watched me until I was out of sight. I was even more careful about when and where I slipped into the sea that night.

My days of training came to an end two days later when in the morning I surfaced and saw a ship blocking the harbor mouth.

The Athair

Ship Class: Warship

Captain: Commander Darius

Ship Durability: 41,000/45,000

Ship Level: 5

The most disturbing thing about the warship popping up to block the harbor? It wasn’t flying the flag of Andros. It was flying the flag of Oorkom. Why would a warship from a neighboring country be here? Andros could have asked for help in pacifying the town, sure; but it was unlikely given the troubles they were having in their own war. What would bring a ship like this down here?

I’d do it.

If they had somehow found out that I was operating out of Tulisang, Andros would willingly invite a neighbor and that neighbor would willingly send a warship. Which raised the question: were they here for me?

A look at the harbor told me that several ships had fled already, escaping before the Athair arrived. One was waiting with its ballistae loaded, daring the more dangerous ship to test it. For the most part, though, the harbor was calm. There weren’t any hysterical reactions to this new development. I couldn’t hear sounds of fighting, but I imagined that the army had arrived in force to surround the town as well.

I didn’t like it. Not one bit. After the near-deadly fiasco that was the last battle, I wasn’t about to set foot on the shore, either. It was time to skip town for a little while. I’d head out to sea, wait a week or so, then take a peek to see if the town was still standing.

I dropped back down to my boat and in minutes I was heading for the mouth of the bay, safely hidden at a depth that would take me right under the Athair. I’d slip past it and they’d be none the wiser.

Gosh, I loved my profession!

I saw the shadow of the Athair’s hull above me and made an obscene gesture at it. If they wanted to capture the lieutenant of Davy Jones, they’d have to force me to fight. Good luck with that! I had no reason to face them on their terms! Why should I ever? It was impossible for them to follow me beneath the waves, impossible for them to stop me once I submerged …

The bow of my fishing boat struck an invisible wall and splintered like I’d crashed into a reef. I was making decent speed and was utterly unprepared for the sudden shock. I was thrown from my vessel and crashed against the same barrier that had stopped my boat. Stars clouded my vision, and several prompts accompanied them. One was immediately relevant.

Your ship fishing boat has been sunk!

The boat had been old to start, and I’d worn it hard in storms and conditions it was never meant to see. Crashing into … whatever it was that I crashed into … had stove it in and dropped the last bits of its durability to zero. It was no longer a fishing boat; it was a wreck. With its destruction, my ship interface faded away.

I pushed away from the wall I’d encountered. Despite all my senses telling me there was nothing there, I was unable to pass through it. It had stopped my ship too, yet a saw a fish swim by without difficulty.

It was only stopping me.

It was a trap.

I swam away as quickly as I could, which between my skills, achievements and spell buffs was plenty fast. I heard a series of large splashes and glanced behind. A trio of boulders sank to the sea floor, one of them crushing the remains of my fishing boat. A smaller object followed them, a buoyant device tied to a weight by a length or rope. I didn’t see the purpose of that device, which led me to believe it was something dangerous, something worthy of following a set of boulders capable of smashing my vessel.

I was right. As I swam away the device exploded, sending sound through the water along with a concussive wave of force. Even with my distance from it, the force rippled through me and knocked me off my stroke. A glance showed that my HP had dropped appreciably. If I’d been right next to it, it probably would have killed me. Even now, with my resistances, my body felt off and I struggled to catch my breath.

I looked to see if there were any more of those unpleasant packages headed my way and instead saw a team of people drop through the surface. I anchored myself, dropping to the harbor floor to hide. Two of the attacking group had weights strapped to their feet which brought them quickly to the wreckage of my ship and the boulders the Athair had just sent down. They hardly needed the boulders, since they were wearing heavy armor that would have carried them down just as fast.

Following them down though the stunned and killed marine life floating up were ten more individuals. I recognized the range of specialties; fighters who specialized in taking and negating damage, mages, and combat specialists. They’d adapted themselves with underwater combat in mind, either having potions or spells that allowed them to breathe – one of the mages was even surrounded by a bubble which he directed where he wished. Another man shifted into the form of the largest crocodile I’d ever seen. The weapons of each member were picked to be maneuverable in the slower environment.

All of them were above level 40.

They were the most advanced fighting team I’d ever seen, and the speed and efficiency that they’d deployed with was frightening. If the Wind Runner had these men, we would have rebuffed Lawless Jack’s ambush. They were a strike team that had been gathered for the express purpose of ending my life.

Jones had warned me that people would seek to stamp me out. I guess this was what that looked like. The dread rolled through me. If I could pick my ideal environment to fight one of these fighters in, I still didn’t like the odds. Give me a ship armed with artillery and a trained crew and then I’d take a crack at them.

They were looking for me, trying to see if I was at the site of their ambush: either buried in rubble or turning the ambush around on them. They really were a brave group. If I’d been on the same level as Davy Jones theirs would have been a suicide mission. Brave, strong enemies … exactly the worst kind to have.

While they might have had potions or buffs to perception, they were still struggling to see very far since they lacked my abilities. Because I’d put distance between me and the ambush immediately, I was able to slip away without their noticing.

That left me alone in the harbor, facing a tightening net on one side and a volatile harbor town on the other.

Fishguts.

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A note from captaink-19

Is Domenic finally leaving Tulisang?  After 15 chapters?

😲


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