Beneath the Dragoneye Moons

by

Selkie

Chapter 193 – Major Interlude – Iona – Julie d’Audrey I

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A note from Selkie

I wrote 4 chapters last week, so you're all getting a bonus chapter this week. Enjoy!

 

Since we're at the end of book 4 (Wow! Where did the time go?) We're at the usually-scheduled Iona interlude! I expect the comments section to be a full salt mine.

 

Want to read more Elaine? She's on Patreon. 18 chapters of pure, wholesome, Elaine-goodness. (2 more Iona chapters)

 

I get the Iona chapter with the crossover is somewhat poorly timed. Unfortunate, but as I said - needed to do it for patreon. 

Dread Pirate Iona adjusted her tricorn hat as her commandeered ship cut through the waves, flying Iona’s personal flag.

The Wakacola sea wasn’t the largest sea on Pallos, but it was one that technically fell under the Valkyrie’s area of protection. Unfortunately, after the goblin catastrophe and the practical fall of the order, there were less than two dozen Valkyries left, which had them stretched to the breaking point trying to cover everything.

Which meant some problems didn’t get the attention they needed. Some problems grew.

Like the current rampant piracy problem on the Wakacola sea.

Grandmaster Sigrun was stubborn. She refused to shrink the scale that the Valkyries operated on, or the territory that was under their protection – and that, in turn, paid them. That hadn’t stopped other orders, sects, and nobles from encroaching on their territory, luring away towns with promises of prompt protection.

Iona was conflicted on the matter. On one hand, she saw Sigrun’s point. The Valkyrie order would come back, one day. By letting it shrink, the size they could grow to in the future, and the speed it would occur at, would be limited.

On the other, if Sigrun had properly reevaluated the size the Valkyries could operate at, people wouldn’t have gotten hurt. There wouldn’t be pirates on the Wakacola sea. The Valkyries would have more time to train new recruits, although the pool of candidates would be shrunk.

Iona was a full Valkyrie, and one of the extraordinarily rare people to be permitted to have a combat class above 256 without being sworn to nobility. A perk of the order, which the king of Rolland had yanked once news of their diminished size had reached him.

Not before Sigrun had made absolutely sure that every surviving Valkyrie had classed up past 256 though. There’d been some grumbling over it, but they’d technically followed the laws as written. From what Iona could tell, the lords and ladies were slightly annoyed, and had decided.

They’ll die out soon enough. No sense in kicking up a fuss now. Just play the long game.

Which had Iona – and the surviving Valkyries – pissed.

They would not go gently into the night.

Nor would they swear themselves to a noble, and let themselves get absorbed, becoming just another elite unit under some duchess. Their independence was just one small part of their pride.

Which, from what Iona had gathered, was causing some more subtle tensions. Not all the nobility wanted the Valkyries gone. The king, in spite of yanking their ability to have more large classers, had given them some support. Mostly in the form of public speeches and a break in taxes, but it was more than nothing. It wasn’t like he was some fantasy absolute ruler, able to do what he wanted. No, he needed consensus, and to get other nobles on his side. Which, in this particular case, he had some. Not all of the nobility wanted them gone.

The only ones that wanted them to stick around lived nowhere close to the Valkyrie’s lands, and gained nothing if they were fully eliminated. However, their rivals would gain.

In short, the only people that cared for the Valkyries because they were Valkyries, and not because they stood something to gain or lose themselves – were the Valkyries themselves.

Still. There was more territory, and more problems, than the Valkyries could handle, and Iona was given more-or-less discretion to decide which problems she’d tackle.

She unfolded a letter with well-worn creases, which had prompted her to visit the Wakacola sea, and handle the pirate problem.

My dearest Iona

While our time together has been nothing short of extraordinary, I am deeply saddened to inform you that my father has discovered our relationship. He has delivered an ultimatum to me – marry Matthieu d’Baschet of the Baschet Trading Emporium, a most unpleasant man which I have told you about – or join the Abbey of the Guiding Waves.

I always knew that one day I would need to make a choice like this, and my answer was easy – I have elected to become one of the nuns at the Abbey of the Guiding Waves, as a more peaceful life calls to me.

We always knew our time together would be short, a brief fling, two ships passing in the night.

Do not cry for me! I am happy with my choice. My only regret is that I was not able to see you one last time, not able to place one last kiss on your red lips. I was not able to feel your hands along my tail. I was not able to...

The letter got quite a bit more lurid after that point, to the point where even Iona was flushing reading it.

Yours,

Sister Julie d’Audrey.

Well. If it was Julie’s one regret that she’d never see Iona again – Iona was going to fix that.

A small voice whispered in Iona’s ear that this might not be the only letter Julie had sent out, but that was between Julie and the other letter senders.

It helped that the Abbey of the Guiding Waves was on the Wakacola sea, and Iona was killing quite a few birds with one stone. Handling the piracy problem, seeing her old friend, possibly for the last time, and making sure that the Abbey where her friend was going to wouldn’t be bothered by said pirates.

All in all, a fairly neat and tidy arrangement. Sigrun hadn’t even raised an eyebrow when Iona had come and requested the assignment, the dust from her old job still on her boots.

Not that any of the Valkyries had time to get the dust off their boots. Too much to do. Which neatly looped around back to Iona’s thoughts on reducing their size, and taking the time to properly recruit and train the next generation.

Big, flashy deeds were great for recruitment though…

Iona once again thanked her Patrons for her not being the Grandmaster, and someone else having all the headaches.

“Whatcha got there?” A nasally voice came from over her shoulder, and an embarrassed Iona whirled around, mentally reaching for her armor, ready to slam it into position, and physically reaching for her axe.

It was just Woodrow ‘Bird’s Eye’ Payne, one of the more reputable pirates, if such a thing existed. Iona had started small, and by “small” she meant “quietly requested passage on merchant ships until a pirate ship eventually visited, and murdered nearly the entire pirate crew.” It spoke to just how bad the pirate problem was that it’d only taken three trips for her efforts to bear fruit, and not years.

It amazed Iona that anyone was even still trying to ship goods around.

The merchant crew had looked more than a little green as Iona had single-handedly slaughtered her way through the pirates, only sparing a few of the weaker, less combat-inclined ones.

Still, Iona couldn’t crew an entire ship by herself, nor did she even have any idea how. Hence, she spared a few of the more cowardly pirates, those without a [Piracy] class or skills, to better sail her brand-new ship around for her.

Iona’s ability to look at people’s skills – all of them – was quite the boon. It wasn’t perfect, but Bird’s Eye lacked any fighting classes or skills, which made his story of being gang-pressed into service by pirates believable. The skill helped in fights in other ways.

“None of your business. You should go swab the sails or something.” Iona retorted back.

She’d spared him, and a dozen other pirates, to form some semblance of a crew.

And directions.

“You sure? You do spend a lot of time... looking... at...”

Bird’s Eye trailed off as Iona’s look steadily grew stormier with every word he said. She towered over him, and wasn’t afraid of using a little intimidation. Especially not when it came to her personal matters.

“How about I get back to swabbing the deck or looking for ships, eh?” Bird’s Eye said, quickly clambering up the line to the crow’s nest.

Iona sighed, and turned back to the waves. They weren’t moving fast, but the pirates had been working together.

“This is a terrible mistake.” Petey ‘Cowardly’ Paddley said. “Lord Admiral Bloodpyre’s going to kill us all.” He cried out.

Iona gave him a flat look. Nobody with the name ‘Lord Admiral Bloodpyre’ was going to scare her.

“Yeah, yeah, you’d kill us faster...” He muttered under his breath, continuing to haul lines as needed.

Iona hadn’t threatened anyone – not directly. She’d simply fought and killed most of the pirates, and had started yelling orders out to the remaining pirates, who’d decided not to argue with the one-woman wrecking crew.

Iona was slightly out of her depths here on the ship, and was somewhat regretting her choices. Still, the ship was moving, and with the collective spine of the remaining pirates not enough to support a mannequin, she wasn’t afraid of treachery, or them steering her wrong.

No way were they going as fast as they could. Or doing everything properly.

Iona eyed a storm that was starting to brew on the horizon, weighing the chances of the ship making it through intact.

Ah well. Worst-case, she could swim. Being a physical Classer was awesome.

She leaned forward on the bow of the ship, taking a moment to enjoy the spray of the waves, and the rocking of the boat. Iona spent a few moments letting the sea water spray her long hair, then turned around, leaned back, and took in the view of the ship.

She could see most of it from where she was, and it was an interesting angle. Iona took out her notebook and a pencil, and started to sketch the scene, as seen from where she was.

Everyone needed a hobby, and Valkyrie Dusk’s was one she could practice on the road. It was somewhat useful to boot, as her practice [Drawing] occasionally came in handy when she needed to sketch out a person’s face, or make a crude map.

Mostly, she drew the people and places she’d been. When she came back from a mission, she dropped off her notebook, got a new one, and kept going. It made a sort of travelogue of her journey and adventures, snapshots into each of her missions.

One day she’d get a companion, and if nothing else, she’d have more time on the road to sketch.

Less time overall, as companions needed care, attention, and love, but more “on-the-road" sketches.

Possibly new points of view! Most certainly new subject matters to draw. She’d have the cutest companion!

Iona finished with a sketch of the ship, and since the storm hadn’t quite blown in yet, she flipped the page, and decided to sketch Bird’s Eye, high up in the crow’s nest.

Interesting view. Iona mused, as she tried to get the line of his jaw just right. Might give him the drawing when I’m done.

Might be good for morale.

Iona continued working through the night, [Gaze of the Galaxy] giving her near-perfect vision.

Fortunately, the storm mostly missed them, and was extremely mild.


“Cave’s ahead!” Bird’s Eye yelled, which had Iona glance around for a moment before climbing up the ropes to the nest herself.

Yup. That was shore and a cave, just like the pirates had described.

“Full speed!” Iona shouted, pointing towards the cave.

“We are going full speed…” Bird’s Eye muttered – not quietly enough for Iona to not hear.

“But we’ll crash.” Cowardly whined from below.

“So?” Iona asked, giving him a puzzled look. “What do we need this boat for after anyways?”

He opened his mouth, then closed it, a thoughtful look on his face.

It looked completely wrong on him.

They closed in rapidly on the cave, charting a course like a sailor that had four too many beers. The downside of eliminating all the competent pirates when she took over the ship. Iona didn’t care too much, as long as they got there, but it was slightly irritating that the pirates would have more than enough time to prepare.

She mentally shrugged. Such was life.

A pirate ship came out of the cave to “greet” Iona and her crew, with Iona’s flag clearly indicating her allegiances.

“Not-Pirate.”

Iona knelt, and sent a quick prayer to Selene and Lunaris, her patrons.

“Selene. Lunaris. I’m going into battle now. Pirates. It’s not going to be pretty. But it’ll help the people here. They need protection. Anyways. Going to be in an abbey after this. I’ll see if they’re cool with me sending you a prayer from there. Talk to you soon!”

Iona stood up, and mentally reached for her armor. With a thought, it flowed from her back, around her chest, down her arms and legs, the Mallium merging and contorting to her form, flowing like liquid before hardening once it was in position.

The final touch was the helmet, the metal climbing up Iona’s neck, flowing into position. A small pair of wings sprouted above her ears, the classic calling card of the Valkyrie order.

Her round shield stayed on her back, unneeded for this stage.

Iona had decided to focus on shortbows when everything was said and done. Her initial class had been good for all types of bows, but when the dust settled, the Valkyrie order had found itself poor in people, and rich in materials. It was easy to give Iona a full suit of Mallium armor – all the remaining physical Valkyries had a full suit of armor, made out of magic materials. Iona had opted for flexibility, others had gotten suits with different properties.

The remaining mages of the Valkyrie order were kitted out in gems and Arcanite, able to act like one-woman armies.

In the end, there were a few odds and ends. Iona was already walking the archery path, and with one of the spare pieces being a shortbow made out of Springwood, famous for being able to take the abuse of a high-statted physical classer without needing a corresponding “strengthen bow” skill, Iona had jumped on it.

It was useful with her mixed fighting style as well. The bow neatly tucked on Iona’s back, leaving her with a full range of motion when she got in close to fight.

Since specialization came with greater power than being a generalist, and after a disastrous attempt to try and mix longbows with axe fighting, Iona had decided that shortbows were the direction she was taking herself in.

Iona strung her bow, and [Gaze of the Galaxy] was helpful once more, magnifying and improving her vision. She decided to start off with some normal arrows, and wanted to make her first shot count.

She glanced at the ship. The pirates were yelling something, but they were too far away and Iona honestly didn’t care.

Iona carefully examined the pirates on the ship, using her divine blessing to read their skills. Not all of them, just the important-looking ones.

Iona spotted the captain, made obvious by his skills, and quickly looked over them. She grinned as she saw that he was more magically-inclined, and without a reflex skill like [Speedster’s Perception] that might’ve bailed him out.

She nocked an arrow, and pulled her Springwood bow taut, the magical wood allowing Iona to bring her full [Vow]-boosted stats to bear.

After all. This action was defending the denizens of the Wakacola sea. It was protecting the merchants, the sailors, and the ports. Most of the Valkyrie’s missions were protection details of various sorts – only items like Iona’s planned detour after this wouldn’t trigger her [Vow]’s increased stats.

[Chilled Mind] had a dozen uses, but one that Iona found nice was it magnified her perception dozens of times when she had an arrow fully drawn, making the whole world seem like it was moving in slow motion. [Shortbow Skills] stacked with [New Moon’s Dance], which was multiplied by both [Valkyrie’s Valor] and [Weapon Mastery].

It helped guide her hand, read the wind, and make the tiny, subtle adjustments needed. Iona only got one initial shot, one surprise attack.

She finished finding her aim, exhaled to relax, and let go, the arrow screaming across the distance in a moment.

Planting itself directly in the important-looking pirate’s eye.

[*Ding!* You have slain a [Pirate Lieutenant (270 - Decay)]//[Loot Locator (260 – Mantle)]]

Iona let some of the tension leave her shoulders as the pirates started to madly scramble around, raising shields and preparing spells.

A second ranging shot over their physical shields indicated a lack of barrier, and Iona prepared her next trick.

[Ice Arrow Conjuration] summoned a crystal-clear arrow made out of ice, which Iona put on her bow. A benefit of the skill was it also let her fire said arrows, although anyone else trying to use the arrow would just have it shatter on them – ice wasn’t made for shooting with bows. Iona aimed high and fired, putting the arrow on a slow, lazy path that would bring it far over the top of the pirate ship.

She rapidly drew and fired a second arrow, letting [Trick Shot] guide her. It did exactly what it needed to do, intercepting the Ice arrow when it was above the pirate ship, redirecting it to aim straight down at the pirates.

Then it exploded into a dozen tiny shards, [Blizzard Shot] turning the arrow into an icy barrage. [Glacial Slow] then applied a chilling cold to all pirates hit, slowing them down. The pirates that had strong strength and vitality basically shrugged Iona’s attack off, while more magically and speed-focused pirates were slowed down.

Not that Iona needed the debuff to kill them all. She gave a mental sigh as the skill failed to level. Even massively outnumbered and surrounded, her level compared to the pirates was too high, and the task wasn’t difficult enough. She’d need to repeat the process a few more times, in the hopes of grinding out enough experience to get another level.

The pirates weren’t taking the attack lying down. Some of the stronger pirates were throwing out attacks on the very edge of their range. Small earthen bullets, throwing knives, javelins, arrows, wooden spikes, and dozens of other attacks came Iona’s way. No Forbidden Four classers here today, although it’s more likely that the pirates would turn on one themselves, rather than tolerate their presence.

She was careful to twist and turn her head in such a way that nothing got in her eyes, but for the most part she let her armor, reinforced by her [Celestial Armaments] skill, take the blows, returning fire with her own arrows. In one part because dodging everything wouldn’t work, in another for the sheer intimidating factor - “None of your attacks matter.”

Iona’s ship stopped moving properly though, as the various pirates she’d gang-pressed into service had vanished, deciding to risk her wrath rather than be in the line of fire of the rest of the pirates. She eyed the wooden deck dubiously.

Generally, ships had captains, and the System recognized them as such. If anyone on this ship was the captain though, it was Iona, and she had exactly zero ship-related skills. No [Strong Lines], no [Unbreakable Sails], no [Reinforced Hull] skills for her. In short, the ship was made out of mundane wood, and acted like it.

Which, given Iona’s skill combination and stats, meant that she needed to be a little careful. She couldn’t just try to jump the gap to the ships closing in – she'd just punch right through the hull instead. The gap needed to be smaller, or the ship’s deck reinforced in some way.

However, Iona could keep screwing with the pirates. Even though they were hunkered down, there was always a little slit that she could plant an arrow in. If there were no easy targets of opportunity, Iona took the time to shoot the lines, causing rope to snap and whiplash across the deck, injuring pirates and making their ship lurch oddly.

Which usually created more targets of opportunity. Rinse and repeat.

Then the pirates came close enough, and Iona traded her shield on her back for the bow in her hands, then drawing her axe, giving it a few experimental swings. She half-hunkered down, and waited.

If the pirates were exceptionally smart, and wanted Iona dead at all costs, they’d sink the ship slowly, from a distance, then attempt to drown her with multiple water mages and underwater swimmers. Iona would be in one hell of a pickle if that happened, and would probably try to emergency grab [Swimming] or some other related skill to try and survive. That would let her bring her stats to bear, although “trying to escape” probably wouldn’t trigger her [Vow]’s stat boost.

Still, pirates were greedy, and ships were expensive. Iona was counting on them coming close enough to try to board, and capture the ship intact, especially as all resistance seemed to have stopped.

She let a smirk cross her face.

After all, they’d pinned down the only fighter. They had more than enough people to kill one person, even though her level was quite a bit higher than theirs.

They had more than enough people... if [The Dusk Valkyrie] wasn’t a dark green quality class, a System reward for surviving the goblin horde. If Iona didn’t have a [Vow], strengthening her physical stats seven, almost eight times over.

Frustratingly, that made it harder to level.

Right when Iona judged them to be close enough, she unfurled from her kneeling position behind her shield, and shot off across the deck, the wooden planks beneath her creaking in protest. As she got near the edge, she took a mighty leap, soaring through the air with a tiny boost from [Snowflake Drift]. It wasn’t a particularly strong skill, but every little bit helped.

As Iona mostly-hurtled, partly-floated across the gap, her perception sped up, making everything seem slower. It was a strange quirk of the System, and how massive vitality and perception worked. Everyone talked and saw things at roughly the same rate, until they needed the increase in speed. From attacks, to being late, to running fast, to wanting to have a super-quick conversation with someone else with equally high vitality – or wanting to talk deliberately fast to screw with someone.

Either way, however vitality worked, the world now looked like it was moving slowly for Iona, giving her all the time to think and process as she drifted between the two ships.

A great white shark leapt out of the water on an intercept course for Iona, moving quickly – from the perspective of an outsider. For Iona?

She twisted in the air, and with the axe still in her hand, she punched the shark solidly on its nose, knocking it back down into the sea. It wasn’t dead, but it was stunned, and whatever pirate was companion to the shark wasn’t going to be too pleased – nor was the shark likely to do it again.

Still would be worth remembering. Extra motivation not to fall into the water.

However, the punch completely threw off her trajectory. She was still going to land on the ship, just not in the optimal landing spot.

Oh well. It didn’t matter.

Iona twisted again, activating [Moon’s Descent] to increase her weight, landing feet-first on some poor unfortunate pirate, his neck cracking as Iona’s speed and mass was far too much for him.

Then she was in the midst of them, and a wolf among sheep would’ve had a harder time.

No, she was like a tiger amongst lambs. The pirates moved slowly to Iona’s perception, each blade like it was dragging through water. Each shield too slow to block her, as she simply performed her [New Moon’s Dance], weaving her axe around their swords, spears, and other weapons.

In contrast, Iona moved like lightning, her axe flashing out to rip out a vulnerable neck, her shield striking forward to crush a skull. The whole time, the pirates moved in slow motion, and Iona didn’t need to worry about parrying, blocking – any of it.

Just. Chop, dead, slice, kill. Bloody butcher’s work. Man, woman, human, dwarf, orc, beastkin, ogre, young, old. Iona didn’t discriminate, she tore through them all.

There was no contest once the Valkyrie closed the distance to the pirates.

She had significantly more respect for the pirate's attacks once she was close though. There were a number of magic spells and skills that had great power, but terrible range.

Iona bit off a curse as one pirate brought to bear some sort of darkness magic, and tried to slice her in half. Her helmet blocked enough of the attack, but it still slashed her nose open horizontally.

She dampened down a flare of concern as she made sure to kill the mage with extreme prejudice. This wasn’t the Wobby Pass, it wasn’t Goblindeath, as the songs were calling it. It was just a single cut. Iona was roughly half-done with this wave of pirates to boot.

She wasn’t going to die screaming like most of the Valkyries had, a thousand small cuts chipping away at her until she had nothing left.

Iona was a blender of death, Celestial and Ice whirling as she slaughtered the pirates. There was a tense moment as one mage, further back than the rest, managed to encase Iona in a watery sphere, lifting her off the ground and cutting off her air.

Iona immediately began to struggle against the attack, thrashing with her whole body in an attempt to break the skill, flickering [Moon’s Descent] on and off to bobble herself in the water, making it harder and harder for the mage to keep enough control to hold onto her.

Then a pirate, seeing his chance at local fame and a silly number of levels, tried to stab Iona with a spear. Letting go of her axe, Iona grabbed the spear, and used it and the pirate as leverage to finally break out of the watery sphere.

Iona liked axes the most, but all Valkyries had been cross-trained on a wide variety of weapons. That’s why her skill was the broader [Weapon Mastery], and not the narrower, stronger [Axe Mastery], or some Celestial variant.

So while it’d been a few months since she last held a spear, much less practiced with one, she still felt comfortable hurling it with all her might at the Water mage who’d bubbled her, the spear utterly annihilating his chest, the planks of the deck creaking under the sheer force Iona subjected them to. The mage wasn’t even pinned or dragged along, the sheer force just ripping a massive hole through him without resistance, painting the deck with blood and gore.

Iona caught her axe on the way down, punched her shield through another pirate, chopped a third in half, head-to-groin, and the fight was back on.

She distantly noted a number of pirates abandoning ship, jumping off the sides, but she gave them no mind. She had bigger problems to worry about right now, and if she smashed the majority of the pirates – and more importantly, their ships – the few loose pirates who escaped would barely be a threat.

In a maelstrom of blood and steel, the surface of the ship was cleared, and Iona went to clear the lower decks of the ship.

It went about the same as the deck, Iona bursting into a room, killing pirates waiting in ambush with a single strike, or holding back her blow as a pirate cowered, no longer a threat. The only twist was a kid, no more than 10, trying to stab her in a room.

Iona had a small amount of mercy for plucky kids, running to their doom. Even when said kid was trying to knife her to death. She defenestrated him after checking that he had a [Swimming] skill.

Iona did need a new crew for this ship.

It was only when she got to the lowest level of the ship did a painful, high-pitched whine start, causing Iona to bleed from her ears. She grimaced, and looked around.

No pirates here. Normally Iona would assume a “surrendering” pirate would be quietly using a skill on her – more than one had tried something similar – but no, there was nobody.

Nobody visible.

Mirage mages. Iona gave a sigh, and rearranged her helmet slightly to catch the blood coming out of her ears, going as deaf as a doorknob. She didn’t want the Mirage-Sound mage to see that he was succeeding at hurting her. Right now, Iona’s best bet was to make it look like the pirate was utterly failing, and get them close enough for her to handle.

Iona strode back up to the deck, grabbing pirates as she went along.

“Hey! Need you to sail this ship where I say!” Iona grabbed a pirate by the scruff, yelled her orders, and continued up. She would’ve ignored his protests, even if she’d heard them.

Damn Sound mage. Iona could feel his attack in her teeth.

Iona continued through the ship, gathering up her new crew, entirely, literally deaf to their cries and protests.

She left the kids alone.

One pirate found his courage to try and backstab Iona. His knife just slid off her armor, and she whirled around, snapping his neck with a casual backhand.

She waited a few heartbeats until she got the kill notification, then carried on.

She made it back to the stairs leading up to the deck, and turned back around and faced the crowd.

“Stay here until I call for you!” Iona yelled, then walked back onto the deck.

The ship looked like it’d been rotated a quarter-circle, and while Iona was bad at ships, she wasn’t that bad. The mage was obviously creating an illusion, hoping Iona would just walk right off the boat and into the sea below.

Iona had no idea how he was doing it, but the Sound mage was still attacking her, and his weak attacks were starting to stack up and cause her problems. Iona had no idea how he managed to hide in the crowd – probably disguised himself as just another pirate – but since nobody else was clutching their ears and bleeding, he or she probably had line of sight to her.

Iona went onto the deck, the floor slick with way more blood than most people would believe could fit in that many bodies.

Not Iona. She’d seen how much people bled. Had literally seen people drowned in blood.

She casually put her axe away at her hip, and slung her shield over her back. This next move would be difficult.

She walked down the deck, doing her best to act natural, like nothing was wrong. It only took a few steps into “open air” for the pirate to drop the “twisted ship” image – it must’ve been expensive to maintain, and had clearly failed. Iona’s acting was fairly bad, and the Sound-Mirage mage was persistent. It’d boggle the imagination that a persistent attack was doing nothing, and both Iona and the unknown mage knew that she was on a timer.

Iona made it to the bow, then carefully walked along the jutting bowsprit, balancing on the thin wooden spur.

She made it to the end of the bowsprit, looking like a maidenhead. Then in a single fluid motion, she took the bow off her back, drew the string back as she summoned an arrow with [Ice Arrow Conjuration], and fired an [Blizzard Shot] down the deck of the ship, thousands of tiny ice shards turning the top into a brief blizzard.

Iona was already running down the bowsprit as she fired the arrow, and carefully watched the storm. The icicles weren’t moving right in one spot, vanishing into a random space in the air and not coming back out the other side. Iona reached there, grabbed with both hands, felt flesh under her hands, and tore the mage in half.

The infernal ringing in her ears stopped. It wouldn’t heal her, or fix the damage, but it was done.

Iona took a moment to compose herself.

Safe. Not going to die.

She needed to spend some time with one of those people who claimed they could heal the mind. Iona was a hair skeptical – after all, most healers were instant, or nearly instant, but mind-healers claimed they needed months or years to work – and needed to be paid the entire time, of course, and made no promises they’d work. Iona was also crazy busy. Still, it was on her to-do list.

Iona shook her head, mentally resetting herself. She inhaled, and yelled down at the pirates cowering below decks.

“Get up here, you scurvy lot!” Iona said, having no idea if they were actually scurvy or not. She knew it was a term healers used now and then, but didn’t quite know what it meant. Still, sailors mentioned it constantly, and Iona was trying to communicate with them in a language they knew.

“Right! I’m Dread Pirate Iona, and I’m in charge now! Sail back into the cave!” Iona yelled, literally deaf to the complaints all around her. She simply pointed at the cave, and kept yelling until the pirates reluctantly turned the ship around, fixed the damage Iona had done to the ropes, and got it sailing back the right way.

Iona could kinda see why these pirates in particular had been left to fester until now. The Valkyries, for all their training in a dozen different disciplines, never bothered to cover water travel. The Wakacola sea was the only significant body of water in the area they protected, and even then it was at the edge. There were just too many other useful skills to learn – and Skills.

Hence, the finer points of sailing a galleon were ignored. One or two Valkyries got lessons on sailboats and other small craft – Iona in particular had taught herself how to row a boat, for romantically related reasons – but nothing approaching this size.

However, the pirates put their back into it. The steely-eyed Valkyrie who’d carved through them like a knife through butter was there, completely ignoring every word they said, covered in fresh blood and small shreds of flesh, menacingly stroking the blade of her axe with an armored thumb. They didn’t want to find out her method of enforcing her orders.

A [Pirate Captain] would flog them, deprive them of rum, or have other, more cruel and inventive punishments.

The Valkyrie? She’d started off murdering most of the crew, and no pirate wanted to be the first to discover how she handled minor infractions.

The commandeered ship sailed right back into the cave, Dread Pirate Iona at the bow.

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Selkie

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