Iona’s eyes adjusted as they got in, and she was in the middle of a brief look around when massive earthen spikes detached themselves from the ceiling, impaling the ship, dooming it to the depths.
Iona flung herself from the sinking ship, leaving the remaining pirates behind. The ones who hadn’t died from the attack would sink or swim on their own merits – mostly swim, the skill was easy enough to get, or to have merged into another skill. Their career had been enough to forfeit any protection Iona might’ve extended towards them.
Iona managed to make it to rocky ground inside the cave, rolling as she landed, making sure she’d taken cover behind some rocks. She looked up, then around the cavern.
While dimly lit, there were enough torches, and pure sunlight from outside, to see well enough. A couple of holes in the ceiling let some natural light in, with unnaturally large patches of grass and trees near where they landed – the work of some skilled person amplifying what nature was providing. A clever Earth mage had made a number of large stalactites hanging from the ceiling. It meant that with nearly no effort, the stalactite could be broken off, the large mass plunging down on any unsuspecting invaders – like Iona. Given the narrow cave entrance that ships would be forced to use, it was a solid defense.
The pirates had nearly an entire port built inside. Four docks, with one ship left. Iona hoped that the pirates were ambitious, and she wasn’t going to miss a fourth pirate ship out and about once she was done here.
She mentally sighed. There was no way she was going to be that lucky.
A variety of buildings were shoddily built of wood and stone. Even as Iona watched, they creaked and swayed in the breeze.
Animals filled pens, sheep and chicken, pigs and cows. They were the primary beneficiaries of the unnaturally large patches of grass. Naturally, the pirates were the beneficiaries of said animals. They were packed against each other, each animal with practically no room to move. Not a humane practice, but only worth frowning over, possibly tut-tutting over later with a date.
A building looked like a warehouse, another a tavern. The big one was probably where the mayor//pirate admiral administered from, and that one was probably a brothel.
Almost a full, working town.
Iona was briefly starting to reconsider the mission when she spotted the last pen, separated from the rest by a gap.
All the better not to hear them screaming.
Humans, dwarves, beast-kin, all had collars and chains. Even a harpy was present, weights cruelly punched through her wings.
Iona felt revulsion filling her, almost forcing its way out, as the brothel and tavern took on new, ominous light.
As she studied the town, she noticed a detail that she’d missed on her first check, the distance and the light making the bodies swinging on the gallows hard to see.
Left to rot.
Iona wasn’t quite sure how, but it looked like the pirates somehow thought she was still on the wreck. Perhaps a combination of the light and shadow as the ship passed into the cave, combined with the falling rocks and spray of breaking planks and splashing water had hidden her as she jumped off. Either way, nobody was approaching her hiding spot.
However – Iona had dramatically underestimated how many pirates there were. She believed she could take a ship full of pirates, especially as she could force the terrain to her benefit, and it was harder to surround her and kill her via a hundred cuts.
Hell, she could take them all if it was a hundred one vs ones. She’d trained under Alruna after all.
But she was slowing. She’d taken a few hits, point-blank instant spells cast right as people died, and had more than a few cuts, was bleeding from more than a few places. She kept reshaping and reforming her armor to close any holes, but it thinned her armor. Not to mention, Iona couldn’t hear anymore. Missing an entire sense was bad news, especially if she needed to handle so many pirates at the same time.
The Wobby Pass flashed through her mind again. The ratio was similar, and Iona was alone, without even a companion or another Valkyrie to watch her back.
She knew she had limited time. What Iona needed to do was even the odds, and unorganized pirates were a lot easier to handle than organized.
Fire. Fire was the answer. Sure, they probably had a water mage or eight around – it was a good element for mages living on the sea – but it’d cause a distraction. Iona briefly cursed taking Ice, and not Fire for her arrows, before putting the thought aside. There were torches everywhere, and some looked like they were dangerously close to the main building.
Ugh. That would probably end with Iona needing to save the innocents trapped in the buildings.
Perhaps the slaves would participate. It would dramatically change the odds, even if they just acted as a distraction.
Fire. Fire in a lot of places, but none too large. Nothing that would cause uninvolved people to burn alive.
Iona’s [Vow] would be pissed, and Iona would die shortly after.
There was an elegant solution. Iona drew her bow, and carefully sighted.
It wasn’t the longest shot Iona had ever tried to make, but the size of the target at the range made it one of the hardest shots. About the size of the smallest coin, although blessedly not the size of the tiny bit of Arcanite embedded in every coin that provided its value. And the torch needed to fall the right way.
Iona stilled her breathing, not even hearing her heartbeat in her ears. She sent a quick prayer to Selene and Lunaris, then a second one to Xaoc for good measure.
Selene and Lunaris wouldn’t mind. What Iona was asking for was a bit outside of their domain – and entirely in Xaoc’s.
She drew the bow to full, and carefully worked on her aim, carefully adjusting for the slight breeze, trying to get a feel for the capricious wind and how it’d grab and twist her arrow.
Iona loosed, and cursed as a gust knocked the arrow off-course. A chicken squawked, but the pirates hadn’t noticed her attack.
They had noticed that she wasn’t in the water, or the ruins of the ship, and had started to break up, searching the cavern.
A second arrow pulled, aimed, and fired.
Hitting the stone next to the torch.
Iona bit off a curse as some pirates were getting closer and closer to her hiding spot. They were moving in a careful, methodical manner, but Iona was rapidly running out of time.
She pulled one more time, and let the world fall away as she focused, ignoring even the incoming pirates who’d see her any second now.
Aim. Adjust. Observe. Adjust. Breathe. Adjust.
And… relax, the arrow springing forth from her bow like a horse at the races, like a dog promised a cookie. It eagerly crossed the distance, and Iona continued to focus, not moving, staring at the arrow, willing for it to land, to connect.
Which it did. The arrow clanged against the holder, cheap like all the pirates’ things. Quality holders had four brackets of metal, this had a single thin one made of wood – not even stone. Their Earth mage had better things to do than arrange lighting, or was a late comer.
Either way, the arrow went through the wood, cleanly breaking it. For a brief moment, the arrow itself held up the torch, a single narrow shaft of wood holding back disaster.
Then the arrow finished its flight, shattering against the wall, as the torch slowly tipped over.
Right onto the hairy pig’s back.
The torch fluttered, then caught, flames igniting, then rapidly spreading from pig to pig, trapped haunch to haunch next to each other.
Concerned noises turned into loud squeals of fear, as the fire spread. The shoddily built pen couldn’t contain the sheer panicked porcine mass, and the flaming pigs scattered throughout the settlement, letting everyone know in no uncertain terms that they were on fire.
Setting small fires in every direction.
The burning bacon was an excellent distraction, but Iona jerked as a club hit her head, sending her sprawling.
Blah. Without [Moon’s Twilight] active, Iona was a regular weight – which, given her size, mass, and equipment was still a few hundred pounds. Light enough for another physical classer to move her with a solid blow.
The pirate’s cries went unnoticed, with all the yelling and screaming – not that Iona could hear a word of that.
Her time was limited though. Iona began the second round of bloody work, fighting her way towards the “town”. Most of the pirates were running around, trying to deal with the searing swine and the fire. Those seeing the bloody, flame-lit rampaging Valkyrie descending upon them like the Goddess of War promptly decided that they’d rather go chase the burning pigs. The ones waaayyyyyyyyyyyyyyy over there.
Their organization broken, panic rising, the pirates broke and fled. Iona quickly went through the buildings, making sure that nobody was about to burn to death, then quickly climbed one of the only remaining upright structures. She unslung her bow, preparing for the next stage.
The first shot was a weak [Blizzard Shot] fired straight up, then raining back down on the town. Iona felt somewhat green as a few shards of ice rained down on recently released prisoners, her [Glacial Slow] hitting them and [Vow] being unhappy about the collateral damage. Still, it was for the greater good – smothering the last of the fire so nobody was at risk of burning alive.
It wasn’t quite sporting or honorable to shoot fleeing pirates in the back, but the Valkyries only had those notions in a dueling arena. Additionally, Alruna had made sure those ideas were out of Iona’s head entirely. Alruna was all about being out in the field, and getting stuff done. She had no time or patience for showy fights that got nothing done – and as a result, neither did Iona.
Arrows in the back of the head it was.
Iona had dropped a dozen pirates, before needing to jerk her head out of the way. A flaming blue sickle passed where her head was, only for the flaming chain it was attached to suddenly stop, and jerk to the side, wrapping Iona up with burning flames.
Has to be Inferno. Fire can’t be solid. Iona thought, and let herself get pulled off her fragile ledge, [Celestial Armaments] flickering madly as it tried – and failed – to stop the attack from burning her armor.
She landed to the ground with a thud, and saw her attacker. A demon, one hand holding onto the chain, and the other hand ending in a wicked hook – also made out of burning blue flames. She sneered at Iona, full of confidence and looking all-too-smug.
Iona could see the demon’s foul mouth moving, forming words. Probably. Iona was still stone-deaf from earlier.
It was a bit rare to see a demon here, and some people had prejudices against them. Heck, prejudices were everywhere. Anti-fliers, anti-tails, anti-male, anti-female, anti-human, anti-demon – and that’s not even getting into all the religious aspects, nationalism, or the myriad of other potential woes. Iona was pretty heavily anti-immortal, as were most people in Roland.
Iona wasn’t into banter, so she quickly scanned the demon’s stats. [Blue Flames], [Weapon Creation], and [Move like a Wildfire] were the important ones, and Iona noted that the stat distribution had the demon like a speedster more than anything else. She flipped up, yanking the demon closer as she overcame her stance and weight, then grabbed the chain, flexing to break the bonds.
The demon’s mouth briefly opened up in surprise as Iona yanked the chain, bringing the demon along for the ride. Small flames erupted around her feet, but while in the air there was nowhere to jump off of, nowhere to go.
And Iona was faster, thanks to [Vow].
Iona finished reeling the demon into her grasp, and she quickly and efficiently broke her neck, letting her drop to the floor as the kill notification dinged.
System notifications were extra-weird when Iona couldn’t hear anything else.
Before Iona could even take a moment, a high-speed knife appeared directly in front of her, right into the small gap in her helmet exposing her face. Iona leaned back, narrowly catching the knife in her teeth.
She kept the movement back going as more knives appeared, but it was only the first one that gave her trouble. She spat it out, and looked around as she ducked and weaved, constantly moving in strange ways to not run eye-first into another knife.
She saw him then. A pirate, gaudily dressed, on the last ship in the port. She gave him a quick look with her blessing.
[Captain of the Black Shark] – Wood
[Blood-drenched Pirate Admiral of the Black Shark] – Spatial
The second class was significantly lower than the first one, and Iona was smelling a reset at some point in his history. This must be Lord Admiral Bloodpyre.
The two classes was giving her a moment’s pause. The narrower a class was, the more powerful it tended to be. The pirate had gone all-in on his ship. If he didn’t have his ship, he lost nearly all of his class skills, and would cripple his ability to level up.
Given that he was pushing 300, and had to have gotten them at 256 – he knew what he was doing.
Iona kept looking over the basics, not checking anything in-depth, and noted that the shark she’d punched was companion to the pirate. One line in particular caught her eye.
She couldn’t help but laugh.
Lord Admiral Bloodpyre
Not even Alfred!
Iona still couldn’t hear, but couldn’t help saying something.
“Alfie? Seriously, your name is Alfie?”
She couldn’t hear the pirate’s response, but from how he was going all red and swinging a saber around Iona could make some guesses.
One last triple-checked confirmed that the man, like all of the other magic-users Iona had encountered so far, was a sorcerer, not a wizard. Oh, sure the System still [Analyze]d both as mages, but the wizards – the “real” mages – were quite picky at the distinction, and bristled whenever people used the catch-all term “mage” for them.
It was a great way to distract them. Just start mentioning it to them mid-fight, and they’d get distracted as they started to rant about the differences, and how they were sooo much better than sorcerers who only used System-granted skills, and not whatever nonsense the “real mages” used.
Iona had never heard what the “real mages” used, she’d usually gotten an arrow through said wizard’s head by that point.
Either way, Alfie didn’t have any of the System skills that wizards usually had.
Iona grabbed her bow, and fired a few arrows at the pirate. The ship itself seemed to come alive, wooden planks rearranging themselves in small ways to get in the way of the arrows.
Bah. Blasted narrow classes, blasted narrow skills. Made Alfie unreasonably powerful on his ship, and simple arrows wouldn’t do the trick.
Either way, she wasn’t going to stand back and let the pirate warp knives into her face. Iona carefully eyed the stone the port was built on, the wooden docks, and the pirate’s ship, tied up, quickly calculating material strengths and distances. Then she put her round shield up, covering her face entirely, and started to run.
She felt a number of weapons hit her shield, but she powered through them all, only staggering once as a “small” anchor hit her. Then she was far enough, fast enough, and she leapt, crossing the gap from the port to the deck of the ship in a single leap.
Then she was on the ship, gracefully moving from spot to spot as the ship itself seemed to rise up against her. The deck shifted and tried to open holes up for Iona to fall through, the planks twisted and tried to throw her balance off.
Iona had far, far too much dexterity to be concerned about that, as she rapidly ran over to where the pirate captain was. Alfie kept summoning weapons into his hands, then throwing them, only for them to promptly flicker out of existence –
And back into existence at a random angle at Iona, who twisted, dodged, and deflected the attacks.
She made it to the pirate, and with a savage grin, put her axe through his head.
Or would’ve, if he hadn’t bloody teleported away!
Iona cursed, then a mace hit her on the small of the back, with enough speed to make her stumble forward. She whirled around, seeing Alfie on the other side of the ship, the planks twisting and turning into more defenses.
Iona realized she’d screwed up. The pirate admiral had two classes relating to his ship, and was lord and master of his domain. Iona had boosts and powerful gear, but it wasn’t quite enough for this fight, not when she needed to brave a hail of steel and wood, only to turn around and need to do it again.
A new plan was needed. Iona fought her way to the front of the ship, then screamed in pain as a spear somehow managed to puncture her armor, her [Celestial Armaments] skill, her [Stellar Body] skill, and her vitality. She looked down at the spear, the tip blood, enchantments glowing along the length.
Iona gritted her teeth. This wasn’t the time to deal with the spear running through her flank – and her brief lessons from the healer teaching the squires first aid once upon a time had told her not to. She just thanked Lunaris and Selene that it hadn’t hit anything immediately vital, although it meant Iona was unfortunately due to find a healer next, instead of rushing to Julie.
Whining and wailing and gnashing her teeth would do Iona no good now. Deal with the threat here and now, stop herself bleeding out later.
Unlike the many squires and Valkyries, who never had a later to stop themselves bleeding out.
Iona shook her head, resetting herself, and continued her charge towards the pirate. She briefly debated trying to extract the spear from herself and throwing it at Alfie, but no. Even if it could break the planks, he’d just teleport out of range. She made it to him, faked an attack at Alfie, who just teleported away again. Iona twisted, and gracefully exited the ship, leaping back to dry land.
Alfie was back up in the crow’s nest, waving his saber around and probably taunting her. Iona didn’t care enough to try and read his lips, not that she had any skill in the matter.
[*Ding!* You have learned the General Skill [Lip Reading]. Would you like to replace a skill with it?]
Iona dismissed the notification, instead studying Alfie and his skills in detail.
Disgustingly, he had almost all his mana… although one of his skills let him pull Arcanite from anywhere it was located on his ship. Which explained that, his skills weren’t offering such a massive discount as to negate all his costs.
A mage that could go forever? A complete nightmare.
Attacking Iona from a distance was significantly harder than attacking her while she was on the ship, just due to the nature of his skills. It was easier to dodge the attacks, and Iona gracefully danced around the flurry of blades as they were conjured around her.
She continued to read his skills, and a piece of the puzzle clicked. He could re-use weapons on his ship – but once he conjured them off his ship, like he was doing now, Alfie couldn’t re-use the weapon, not without leaving and gathering them back up.
Iona kept reading his skills, getting more and more frustrated. He seemed to be invincible while on his ship, and –
That was it.
Iona checked, and felt a vicious smile overtake her face. The pirate captain had a skill for the ship’s hull. Unlike [Reinforced Hull], [Eternally Regrowing Bulwark] was an active skill, not a passive skill. The downside to a passive was it could be overwhelmed and broken, and since all of Alfie’s power relied on him being on his ship, he’d gotten a powerful variant that could heal whatever damage was done.
At the cost of mana.
Iona looked at her axe as she cartwheeled to avoid a flurry of arrows.
She was not a lumberjack, but desperate times called for desperate measures.
So began the dance between Iona and Alfie. She’d hit the hull as hard as she could, with her axe, and with her gauntlets, having mentally reshaped the Mallium to form a row of spikes on her knuckles.
Alfie wasn’t taking this lying down, and continued his attacks. With more stable footing though, Iona was able to duck and weave – although she occasionally screwed up, the spear going through her stopping one twist or another.
Iona was bleeding though, painting the dock red even as she ripped and tore planks off the ship, keeping an eye on the captain’s mana. She anticipated a trick, and even if the captain’s mana was empty, she wasn’t going back on the ship. Not with the ease that he could hide and pull more mana.
No, Iona was staying here until the ship was sunk, and Alfie’s power was gone.
Distantly, she noted that the slaves seemed to be in the process of freeing themselves, aided by the slaves she’d freed in town. She just hoped it’d go smoothly over there – Iona didn’t have the ability to fight off pirates interfering with the slaves, not while keeping Alfie here busy.
Iona’s world was narrowing. The edges of her vision went dark, as she tunneled and focused solely on the task in front of her. Right before her vision became a single point, focused on the ship, she noticed that the shark was back, and circling.
So much for the plan of going underwater to break open the last few holes to sink the ship. Iona didn’t like the odds of her versus shark while underwater.
The shark didn’t like his odds versus Iona above water. Neither would move into the other’s domain.
Iona was getting frustrated though. It didn’t feel like she was making progress, even though she knew she was. She also didn’t know how she was going to finish sinking the ship – not until a pig ran past her, screaming and on fire.
Iona grabbed the pig with her left hand, ripped open a section of the hull with her right, and before [Eternally Regrowing Bulwark] could fix the problem, shoved said scorching swine into the hull. Blood sprayed from her injury onto the hull, a bloody reminder of where she’d inserted the first pig.
Iona had no idea how well that would work, but even if Alfie instantly killed the pig, the fat and flesh would merrily burn. Iona hadn’t seen an anti-fire skill, and she doubted that a pig would count as a weapon that Alfie could teleport.
As she shoved the 4th pig into the ship, Alfie suddenly started to target the remaining surviving pigs. Iona didn’t see that though, she was wholly focused on her task. The dock was getting slick with Iona’s blood, as her constant movements and dodging of attacks worked the spear inside of her, enlarging the wound, letting her life blood spill into the water.
Poor shark was going nuts – so much tasty blood, bleeding right above him, and nothing to do.
Finally – finally - the smell of burning wood met Iona’s nostrils again, and she looked up, to see thick, black smoke rising from the ship. Alfie’s mana was dropping fast, and not going back up. It could be a trap, but at this point, the fire was raging through the decks of the ship.
Iona staggered back to the rocky ground, not wanting to risk the shark trying one last stunt. She was slowing down though, which was bad as more attacks were able to solidly land, small cuts opening up on her face.
Something gave way, and the ship started to go down fast. Alfie continued to scream impotently at Iona, who couldn’t care less.
Iona let out a curse as she saw Alfie jump from his ship into the water, and for him to emerge on the back of his shark, zooming to escape the cave and the sinking wreck of his ship. She was hurting, and hurting badly, and had hoped the ship sinking would’ve been enough.
Iona unslung her bow, letting [Strength from the Stars] continue to fuel her. Bless the skill for providing her with boundless energy, letting her fight and fight and fight.
The Dusk Valkyrie nocked an arrow, took an almost lazy aim, and let it loose, staggering as the normally unnoticed recoil caused the spear inside her to shake, falling to one knee as darkness threatened her vision.
[*Ding!* You have slain a [Captain of the Black Shark - 311] (Wood)/ [Blood-drenched Pirate Admiral of the Black Shark - 270] (Spatial)]
With the notification, the confirmation of the kill, Iona couldn’t hold on anymore. She pitched forward as darkness took her.