My legs dangled over the side of the boat. Wind whipped overhead, disturbing the cold and nearly translucent waters of Nesoi and filling the air with the scent of salt water. It left a biting chill where it passed. Despite its nearly idyllic, paradise like environment, Nesoi was not a place of fond memories for me. Mostly, I had been here on porting jobs. I’ve been told that hiring an Avatar is cheaper than renting an underwater drone, even including the gross overhead of water breathing potions.
One problem with water breathing potions. Drinking them meant filling your lungs with water. Sure, I mean, breathing the water worked fine with the potion. It was the sensation that sucked. Ice cold, it stabbed against your lungs with pins and needles. It filled you like a lead weight. I was dreading it. I groaned as I sat up.
Your body had a visceral sort of reaction to being filled with water; it wasn’t a pleasant kind, magic potions or no. Sputtering, vomiting, and retching were all common for first timers. Even experienced as I was, I wasn’t looking forward to it much. I toyed with the dimly glowing blue potion in my hand. It was one of the few I had brought with me, one of several preparations for a quaint fishing trip in the world of Nesoi. Except instead of standing safely at the surface and reeling them in, I was planning on swimming with the fish. Literally, if I could help it.
Nesoi was a perfect hunting ground, known for its wide, hot oceans, and voracious predators. Hot by ocean standards at least. It was almost like fresh water, and was filled to the brim with plants and coral that decorated the bottom of the shallow water between islands, far from the drop off point that led into the deep ocean. I shuddered, thinking of the leviathans that slept out there. Today I planned to hunt the huge, piranha-like creatures, known as the Natteri. Known for their vicious, gaping maws and their unending appetites, the Natteri didn’t inhabit the waters of Nesoi so much as infest them. But I was most interested in the potential skills they would grant.
Other than their mouths, Natteri are known for another thing: feeding frenzies. A little bit of blood in the water would attract them, and they would seem to manifest from the water itself, flying and flinging themselves from burrows to tear into whatever was leaking blood into the water, and if there was nothing left… they often began to tear into each other, breeding a vicious cycle and beginning a feeding frenzy. They were the only reason this place wasn’t a resort paradise like Elysium.
Even as low level as they were, dozens or hundreds of them became a money sink to deal with, especially since they seemed to respawn. Spawning wasn’t something unheard of it, monsters coalescing out of magic beyond a gate, but in Nesoi it hadn’t been seen. As far as I was aware. I had hunted them before, though. Though I looked forward to it less this time. It made me think of my previous trips to Nesoi. I looked at the scars on my hands. Healing magic would repair you… for the most part. Repairing scars completely or regenerating limbs was another playing field, and pretty expensive. My last trip to Nesoi was doing porting work for a company.
We had worked in a huge team to move Prismarine Ore mined from the reefs below. Fighting the Natteri like that was easy; we formed a formation of spears in the water and— well, none of it applied today. Because I was alone. No cadre of porters at my side, or friendly faces to jump into the water with. And no point in delaying myself any longer. I tilted back one of the potions from my pocket, drinking in the bitter, salty concoction. Everyone had said there was no flavor in these, but for me, it tasted like carbonated brine. I grabbed the bag of “bait” at my side, a blood laden plastic bag, before swinging forward, looking over the side of the boat into the shallow water that swam around the island I beached on.
I reluctantly slid into the water, rapidly blinking to adjust my eyes, before forcing myself to take a deep breath. Immediately, reflexively, I grabbed at my neck, gagging, but it passed after a moment as my body adjusted to the feeling of being underwater. I took a long, hard pull of water as I sunk. It was probably twelve feet deep here, not nearly enough to dampen the sunlight. I fiddled with the bag of bait I brought, sinking into the water. Blood wafted off of it, not a lot left from the raw leftover meat I had sourced from a local butcher. I pulled at the rope that had tied around itself in the bag, fumbling as I loosened its cord from the knots it had accumulated during the trip.
The ball of meat floated upwards, attached to the string by way of a crudely fashioned metal hook I had stabbed inside of it. Hopefully it would be enough to catch myself a Natteri. It bobbed and floated in the water like a basketball sized balloon, buffeted by the slight currents of Nesoi’s shallow waters. Blood seeped from it, wafting in red through the water. It wasn’t long before I sensed the first of the curious creatures, swiping around me in wide loops. It smelled the blood in the water. I crouched down low as it swung by my… fishing line. The fish nibbled at it, pulling little chunks into its mouth. It had a sharp, alien body, with strange, puffy eyes that stretched outwards, and was a nearly iridescent, shining purple. Finally, it ripped into the balloon of meat, hooking on it, and jerking my hand as it desperately struggled to try to flit away. I grabbed the rope with both hands and pulled downwards, setting the hook into its mouth.
It desperately tried to struggle away, but, hand over hand, I reeled it towards me. A single trike was enough to kill a trash mob like this, and as I activated [Scratch], it was shredded to pieces. Actually eviscerated. It was in several pieces. I looked down at it, having failed to plan this far ahead. How do I get this back to my boat? I looked up towards the shore. Then back at the chunks that remained of the fish. Shrugging, I lifted one under my arm, and began trudging up the gently sloped shoreline, towards my boat. When my head crested above the water, I gasped and sputtered, water immediately draining itself from my lungs and mouth. I fell to my hands and knees, sputtering as the water clawed its way out of my system.
Waves lapped against my knees and wrists.
The smell of the ocean cohabited my nose, the sting of salt water flooding my senses.
I panted as I looked down at the chunk of meat I had collected. I couldn’t eat it yet; I had no idea what kind of debuff, or even skills for that matter, that it would give me. I dragged the meat, dropping it onto the boat. Scraps and pieces littered the water behind me. I looked back, groaning as I realized I had to step back into the waves.
“System, what debuff will eating this give me?”
I crossed my fingers, hoping it would reply to my query, but there was no reply, no prompts, and no dialogues. I sighed.
I wouldn’t risk eating it yet, not with the wolfman debuff already looming over me. I peered into the water, seeing there a shadow circling where I had blooded the first Natteri. I dove in, swimming after it. Adjusting was easier this time, and I easily tore into the sides of the second fish, repeating the process of carrying it back up the shoreline. Each one of the Natteri must have easily been 50 pounds of meat, nearly as large, if not larger than my torso. Each successive kill triggered more and more of them to lurk in the water, shadows flitting and ramming into each other in a great, ephemeral, watery arena. I pushed the boat off the shore, hopped in, and started the engine before I got caught in the feeding frenzy, now with at least a hundred and fifty pounds of meat in my boat.
The little boat sat deeper below the waterline as I tore away, looking for a distant mound of sand to cook on. I drove myself to the shore, beaching there, and pulling my bag out of the boat. I was at a small island, only a few dozen meters across. Not even a palm tree in sight.
Now lets see… I hate sushi, so that's off the menu. I thought to myself while unloading the fish from the boat. Today was a workout. My muscles were sore from hunting and swimming in the water. I stretched, drying myself in the ever fleeting afternoon sun. Water was no longer dripping down me, but my clothes were still damp. Shrugging, I flung off my shirt and turned on my butane burner.
With any luck it tastes like grilled salmon… I thought as I filleted the fish. I reached back into my bag, checking my ingredients. Lime… Garlic… butter… dill… Ready to go. I smiled.
I sliced apart the fish into strips of meat while I let the butter melt.
“You sure he went into that gate? The sun is half ready to set.” Tom asked, tapping his hand on his leg restlessly.
“Yeah. I’m positive. You think he is going camping?”
“In Nesoi? Not fucking likely.” Tom replied. “Shit. We’re probably going to have to rent a boat, too. At least the mobs around there ain’t bad.”
“Why is this gate so empty if the mobs are weak? You’d think that there would be more investment here, like in Elysium. God’s, have you been there? The beachfront property stretches as far as you can see.” Dick asked.
“Use your brain. The Natteri are easy pickings for any avatar to kill, but when one dies, they’re attracted to the blood in the water. They swarm in the hundreds. Maybe our new recruit will get himself killed before we even get there.”
“Goldy would kill us. Literally.” Tom replied. “Let’s go. We’re burning what's left of the sun. If nothing else… let’s bring back a body.”
Owl ran his fingers through his hair, pulling back the long, hanging blonde into a bun while he nonchalantly stared at the group that just entered the building he was watching. He recognized them; he had seen them previously trailing Damon. One of the members looked around, hesitating before he followed the other two into the building, in the way that someone does when they are sure that they are being followed, but not quite by who, or what. Maybe they’re guild recruits, Owl thought to himself.
This had been one of the longest monitoring assignments given to him by the USAG; a strange thing, since normally they intervened within 24 hours. Instead, he was given a near permanent watch. Even stranger, the person taking night shifts on this babysitting program was, apparently, higher rank than him. Wheels started turning in Owl’s head. But he was given strict orders not to interfere with anything that happens. Despite that…
I’ll confront them when they leave the gate. He thought to himself.