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I got up, looking at the burning hole in the middle of the ship.

Right. Time to find another way.

I started hunting through the ship, strangely not finding any pirates.

I clambered onto a crate, grabbing onto the lip of the deck – another hole of mine – and pulled myself up. I distantly heard a voice calling.

I slowly went towards the voice.

“Parley! Sentinel! The pirates wish to parley!” A sailor was calling, walking through the hallways.

“Parley! Sentinel- holy shit!” He called out, as I turned the corner, sword pointed towards him. It paid to be careful.

He was holding his hands up.

“The pirate captain wants to speak with you he said he’ll kill innocents if you don’t meet please don’t kill me.” The poor sailor said as fast as he could.

I snorted at him.

“I only kill pirates. Anyways. Lead the way.” I said.

“By the way, how many are left?” I asked him.

He shrugged at me.

“Not completely sure miss- ma’am – Sentinel?” He said. “One of em’s got a Mist skill, something fierce and all twisty-like. It cloaks them, hides them, and I know for-sure he’s making fake pirates show up, then vanish, hiding their true number. Can’t be more than twenty, and if you gave me some good enough odds, I’d bet under 10. Only if the odds were real good though.”

A twist, a turn, a ladder, and we were near the door of the captain’s quarters.

“He’s in there.” The sailor said, a tremor of fear going through his voice.

Clearly, someone was listening on the other side, and the door opened.

“Come in!” A voice I recognized as the pirate captain’s said.

“I’ll warn you though – we’ve got the so-called leader of this sluggish mess here, along with a dozen sailors! If you try anything, they’ll all die!” He said.

I hadn’t planned on throwing [Nova]s through the door until they were all dead, but, well, now I wasn’t going to. It was a good idea though!

“I’d rather not.” I yelled back.

Going into close quarters, alone, surrounded by pirates? I wasn’t completely stupid. Most of my bag of fancy tricks was gone, I was down to mostly just my own skills, and they weren’t exactly super combat focused. Good, yes, but not “walk into a trap deliberately and expect to win” good.

I’d only beaten the last ambush by using three of my most powerful gems that I had with me.

“Come in, or we start slitting throats!” The pirate captain yelled.

I suppressed the urge to roll my eyes. Did these pirates only have one trick up their sleeve?

“I really don’t care. Honestly.” I yelled back.

“Their blood will be on your hands! As surely as you slit their throat yourself!”

Honestly. Pirates. Almost as bad as adventurers. At least they were honest about their scum and villainy!

“No, it won’t be. I’m here. You’re there. You’re the one slitting throats, not me. Why on Pallos would I take a shred of responsibility for your actions? That’s just moronic.”

Dead silence followed that pronouncement. Tumbleweeds would’ve blown through, if it wasn’t the wrong place seven times over.

“We want to leave.” The pirate captain finally came out with. “With the merchant’s tax.”

Not damn likely. Not after all the mess I’d gone through.

“Please agree.” A second voice I recognized as the merchant captain.

I couldn’t resist. I rolled my eyes.

“Leave the slaves and your loot behind, and you can go free.”

More silence. I couldn’t help myself, I kept talking.

“All the slaves have already been freed, and I have control of your boat. I could just sink this boat, and sail away. Why should I accept your terms?”

I had no idea what I was saying, no idea if my negotiations were any good.

“You gotta sleep at some point! We can just kill you then!” The pirate leader shouted back.

“So do you. I’m a Sentinel. I only have half my bag of tricks, but even then, I can burn the ship down and fly to shore, pick you off one at a time, never let you sleep, throw poisonous gas into the hold, go invisible, have shields, blades, dozens of tricks more that I won’t tell you but you’ll discover at the worst time, and a nearly unlimited supply of Arcanite. I’ve literally trained for years how to do this. The only reason I’m negotiating is you’re literally not worth the effort, nor me explaining to the Quartermaster that I need to restock everything. Dude’s a grouch. Huge pain in the ass to work with.”

I paused, letting that sink in, hoping my casual attitude and ‘killing you is no problem, dealing with the paperwork is a hassle’ approach projecting more confidence than I felt.

“You? You’re just another day, and a particularly obnoxious one at that. I’ll repeat what I said earlier. Fuck off, and I’ll let you go. I literally don’t care enough to hunt you all down.”

I was bluffing like hell. Half the tricks I mentioned I’d already used, the other half I had only on a technicality. Like the poison gas. I could make a poisonous gas if I screwed with the potions and Radiance enough. I assumed the gas was poisonous anyways, it was the dose that made the poison after all.

Technicalities. I did try to avoid lying.

I also couldn’t see a way to take them prisoner. The sailors had been shown to just bend over, the adventurers were useless. Them surrendering to me would necessitate managing up to a dozen prisoners, and I literally couldn’t handle that many. They’d murder me in my sleep.

More of a pause, some soft arguing. I had an idea, a way to kick them while they were down.

“By the way, one of your lieutenants got the drop on me with a team of people. Eight against one. He managed to slit my throat and everything. He’s dead, I’m not, because I’m a bloody Sentinel. Ask yourself, how do you kill someone undying? Ask the pirates that were there what happened. Well. They missed the end, I guess. Too much gore in the way to see what happened.”

 

You could hear a pin drop after that, only interrupted by a dry retching noise coming from the quarters. Heh. At least one of them had a weak stomach.

 

“Fine!” The pirate captain yelled after an eternity. “How are we doing this?”

Erm. Welp. I had no idea.

Ok, think, think. I needed to, erm.

Ok. I needed the pirates off this boat.

I needed the ex-slaves and loot from their boat to my boat.

I needed… I actually didn’t care after that point.

“Right, you’re all going to leave this ship, while the slaves and loot are moved from your boat to this one.”

“Hang on, what are you defining as ‘loot’? We need to eat!”

I pursed my lips at that. Shit. I really couldn’t let them starve to death, that would be cruel. And a violation.

“Meh, fine, I don’t care too much about your food and water stores.”

“Get the good food!” A voice called from the cabin, one I hadn’t heard before. There was a smack, and a cry.

Well. Least I could do for the brave sailor.

“And the good food.” I said.

“Fine, fine, we’re coming out now.” The pirate captain called out.

“No.” I said, taking a few steps back.

I was bluffing like hell. If they all charged me at once? I’d take down a few, but I’d die. I couldn’t win 1 versus I-dunno-how-many. Not with most of my gems blown.

The last fight had been far too close for comfort.

A pause.

“How do you want to do this then?” A frustrated voice called out.

Eh. What could one more hole hurt?

“Break out from the hull, and jump into the sea.” I said, remembering the one last diver pirate who was hanging around. “You can climb back into your boat.”

A pained voice, the agony of the seaborn listening to some poor landlubber mauling all the terminology.

“Ship. She’s a ship, not a boat.”

What-ever.

“Not all of us can swim!” He said, sudden inspiration striking.

I narrowed my eyes. There was treachery afoot.

“Use some of the wood from the walls to float!”

“Planks.” A new voice chimed in.

“Hull!” New voice number-I-lost-track.

“Please stop mauling the language and my ship.” The merchant captain called out. “I’d rather the pirates killed me instead.”

No gratitude. Honestly. It wasn’t like I’d made this twenty times more difficult for the merchant captain, nor turned “lose half your cargo” into “lose almost all your cargo and most of your ship”.

“Break the wall and all jump out.” I ordered, the slightly humorous note that had been creeping into my voice gone. “Alternatively, I can just start shooting [Nova] into the quarters, and taking my chances that there’s enough people left around to move this tub to land.”

“Fine. FINE! You win.” The voice came out.

I’d eat my hat if there wasn’t treachery afoot.

And yet – From my position down the hall, I saw them expertly taking apart part of the hull, to the anguished cries of the merchant and the sailors, then jumping out one at a time, most of them holding a log. Plank.

Whatever.

After some time, the pirates seemed to be all gone, including a flashily-dressed one.

“All clear?” I asked.

“Clear.” A shaky voice came from the cabin.

Welp. Time to discover what surprise they had in wait for me.

It’d be dumb for me to walk in there though.

“Alright. Come out.” I said, winding myself up like a spring. Something bad was going to happen. Pirates and dealing fairly?

One by one, the sailors exited the room. None had weapons, but I was suspicious. This was going too well, and the sailors looked scared.

“Stop.” I said, halting the line of sailors leaving the room, pointing my sword at them.

“What’s the trick?” I asked them.

They all glanced at each other, but tellingly, didn’t deny there was a trick. Nor did they confirm one.

A soft sound behind me. [Bullet Time] activating. The start of a word, deep and heavy as the ocean depths.

Bless Artemis and her relentless hours of training. Bless Ranger Team 4, and throwing pebbles at me for two years. Bless all the training I’d gotten.

I threw a [Nova] behind me, while throwing up a [Veil] close to me after a brief moment – enough to clear the [Nova] away from me, so I didn’t end up blowing up my own skill against my shield. I started to duck and roll.

[Veil] broke, as I heard the roar of [Nova] detonating in someone’s face. I activated my stored [Veil]s, only for those to also get promptly broken as well.

I felt the back of my armor bending, absorbing an impact, starting to push me forward.

I unleashed every single [Nova] I had behind me. All the stored ones, in all my gemstones on me. A brutal barrage, capable of incinerating just about anything, a one-time explosion of power and heat.

My armor, separating before the blow.

Cold iron, piercing my back.

Breaking my spine.

Mashing my heart.

Cracking my sternum.

Exploding out of my chest in a rain of gore.

I tried to gasp, getting no air, like a fish out of water. More than my heart, the bottom of my trachea had gotten blocked, a wooden shaft stopping air.

I spasmed, trying to scream in pain, in agony, as [Center of the Galaxy] was broken, trying to fall as my legs no longer wanted to support me, being held upright by the cruel harpoon skewering me like a fish on a stick.

I panicked. [Center of the Galaxy] was no longer giving me the cold, distant detachment. I scrambled, trying to grab the harpoon, to somehow pull it out of me. I started spamming my skills, all of them, desperate for one to land, to miraculously pull me out of this.

[Bullet Time] was still active. It had been less than a second since I’d heard the soft, careful footfall behind me. Without it, I’d be speared through, only just starting to react now.

[Phases of the Moon] was working crazy overtime, and I tried a poor image on top of it. Can’t hurt to heal twice right?

Nothing happened. I was already focused on healing myself.

[Nova] was castable again, and I fired it behind me.

[Veil] felt kinda useless. Didn’t stop me throwing one up. Anything. Everything. To stay alive. To see another day.

Only to promptly drop [Veil] as I realized I could fire a beam of Radiance behind me.

I was starting to fall, to drop, my back crackling and sizzling, flesh boiling off of me. Fucker was trying to cook me alive on top of everything else?!

I remembered from earlier about pain and a skill of mine. [Vastness of the Stars] saved my life, giving me a calm detachment from the situation, doing a poor [Center of the Galaxy] substitute, but saving me either way.

Now I had time, and the ability to think, not scream silently in my mind as I felt consciousness start to fade, as my body started to topple over.

I wasn’t dead yet. I think.

Oh gods did he get a kill notification on me already, and I was just in the last vestiges of a fever-dream?

Problem: I had a harpoon through me, a stake through my heart, and I couldn’t heal while it was present.

Solution: Remove the harpoon. I didn’t need to kill the pirate short-term, I just needed it gone.

More specifically, I needed the harpoon shaft where my heart belonged gone. I could feel something hard and metal against my back where the harpoon had entered, a catch of some type stopping a harpoon from going too deep. I also had no idea how much longer it was. Trying to just pull it through wouldn’t work. I needed to cut the harpoon in half first.

I stopped the Radiance beam behind me. No notification? Just how tough was this dude?

I focused the Radiance inside of me, focusing where my heart should be, darkness creeping in on the edges of my vision.

Spots swimming in my eyes.

I still couldn’t breathe; blood was no longer being circulated. I grabbed the harpoon sticking out of me, and tried to pull. It was slick with blood – all of it mine – and I slipped as I tried to get ahold of it, cutting my hand on the wicked barbs on the front.

I finished my fall, landing on my side, watching blood pool under me. So much blood. I could swim in it! Yay blood swimming pool!

I was going delirious from blood loss. To do: Drink a blood potion.

The pressure my circulatory system was under sprayed another huge gout out in front of me, painting everything red.

Oh fuck me I hope he didn’t pull it back through.

Or – I hope he did. I’d heal right back up the moment it was gone.

Wait, how could he pull it back if I was on the floor? What - ?

Vision fading, I threw another [Nova] behind me, grabbing again at the harpoon, getting a better grip.

My vision faded to black.

 

A black crow watched me in the darkness. Beady, unblinking eyes stared at me.

 

With a silent scream, air still blocked by the wood, I heaved, pulling the front half of the harpoon out of me, instantly feeling flesh reknitting behind the pull.

My spine was still broken, my lungs closed off, but I had a heart again. The first beat was like the loudest drum I’d ever heard, the silence having been deafening. Vision returned, the crow fleeing with an angry caw, his prey denied to him.

For now.

Burning seemed to be good, and I threw another [Nova] over my shoulder breathed, panted on the floor, trying to avoid drinking too much of my own blood.

It was all wrong. Blood should stay inside of me! Wasn’t for swimming.

I slipped off the harpoon, now cut in half and lubricated with my blood, my spine and all the other muscles and organs in the middle regenerating as well.

I didn’t catch myself on the way down, just kept blasting, [Nova] after [Nova] behind me.

“Stop. Stop! STOP!”

Screams caught my attention, the sailors yelling at me, and I paused.

Oh.

I’d killed the dude ages ago. While [Center] was broken, when the heat washed over me and started cooking me – that wasn’t his skills. That was the combined heat and power from all my stored [Nova]s going off at once, breaking through my Radiance resistance and starting to cook me alive.

I’d just missed the notification in my panic, my desire to live removing anything not immediately essential to my survival from my awareness. Fight or Flight was a hell of a drug.

I spent some time panting and heaving on the ground, sailors running around me – giving me a wide berth, throwing me terrified, horrified looks – to try and contain the frankly absurd fire I’d started. Multiple [Nova]’s all in the ship’s vulnerable belly? All stacked together? Oof. If this ship was still able to sail, it would be on virtue of the captain having skills keeping it all together.

I’d be lucky if I hadn’t sunk us all. I was in no state to be swimming, crashing as adrenaline fled my system, whoozy from the lack of blood.

I slowly crept my hand towards my potion pouch.

Why was there a floor in the way? Why was the floor so wet? Man, that was a lot of blood, someone was probably badly hurt.

“Miss? Miss, are you ok? Belay that, miss, are you alive?” The merchant captain asked me.

I groaned in affirmative, then realized my work wasn’t done.

“Up.” I tried to order, but a dry hacking came out instead, the blood that had flooded my lungs when the harpoon violated them, from when I’d inadvertently breathed some in, coming up instead. A brutal, hacking and coughing session occurred, as I tried to get blood and other crap out of my lungs, and sweet, sweet, delicious air into them.

A sailor helped pick me up, and I looked at the horribly mauled body of the pirate captain.

Heh. Extra-extra-extra-extra crispy.

[*Ding!* You have slain a [Pirate Captain of the Fog] (Mist, lv 210)// [Shallow-Sea Monster Whaler] (Ocean, lv 205)]

“Help me.” I croaked. I hated to show weakness, not now, but I didn’t think I needed to be afraid of the sailors. They were all looking at me like I was a monster.

I mean, from their point of view I’d been ambushed, skewered from behind, run all the way through – and lived. Yeah, I’d be pants-shitting terrified of any monster who shrugged off a stake through the heart, who looked like a sweet and innocent nothing until that moment.

An amused thought flitted through my head. No way would any of the sailors here dare harass me again. Some were probably saying some prayers right now, that the specter of vengeance wouldn’t descend upon them now that I’d revealed my true colors.

Others would probably use it to brag. Whatever.

They wouldn’t stop staring at my chest. I mean, I know sailors were on the cruder side, but that was just rude, especially since it wasn’t like I had-

I looked down, at the twisted and bent metal of my armor bursting out, coated in a thick layer of slowly-drying blood, pale flesh pulsing underneath it to the beat of my heart.

Ah hmmm yes. I might stare as well.

You all get a pass.

This time.

I limped as I walked, mostly because some of my armor was still in my flesh, having been bent inwards in the first place, then healed around it. It was too large, too solid for [Phases of the Moon] to remove.

A stiff breeze could knock me over at this stage. I’d literally come under the attention of the grim reaper, and even though there were, what, nine pirates left? No idea, could barely keep my eyes open, the sailors had been shown to not have that much of a backbone, and they could try to overrun the ship again.

I could only hope they didn’t try. I gasped out some instructions to the sailor next to me, orders to make a show of force, to let the pirates know that I’d won, I was still alive, and angry.

“Give them the uh.” I said, trying to think, trying to process. Damn potion bag had broken. “The ‘don’t make me come over there’ speech. Like to kids. Yeah. That one.”

“Don’t forget their captives. Or their loot.” I reminded the sailor, who grinned at the prospect of being placed in charge of acquiring the loot.

I had no doubt a sizeable chunk of it would vanish. I didn’t care.

One of the sailors nodded and ran off. How many were helping me? I was starting to regain some strength, regain some vitality. Not enough to fight well – besides blasting someone to pieces with Radiance of course – but enough to start moving better on my own. I felt like I was going to keel over at any point, my hands ghostly pale from the lack of blood.

Smoke and mirrors. I wasn’t forgetting that catchphrase of Magic’s again. I had to look strong if any pirate saw me. Or the adventurers.

With some help, I limped back down to my room, opening the door.

Seeing the three adventurers still there, backs to the wall with the door, staring at the empty space where the hull used to be.

Right. I couldn’t sleep here.

Also –

“Fucking useless adventurers.” I spat at them, grabbing my bag, turning and limping away. To whatever room still had four walls and a hammock.

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Elaine, the very-hard-to-kill.

 

Read me: Book 3 is now finished on Patreon! Hurray! This means I'm taking a break! Hurray for me, boo for all of you! This chapter's even a bit special, because Patreon gets nothing today! Special treatment to not cliff you all!

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