In the marshes north of Lissala, there was a place that no animal dared to approach. A deep cavern, home to a monster of legends.
A foul bog surrounded this lair, alongside an expanse of mud, black waters, and poisonous plants. The remains of countless men and animals rot in the waters; the toxic stench of the area poisoned those who lingered without wearing protection for too long.
Carrying an amphora full of wine, a bag of meat, and his spear, Kairos looked at the cavern with slight apprehension. Even if he had visited the marsh for months and wore a scarf around his mouth to protect himself from the stench, the raider knew better than to lower his guard. He was a guest tolerated by the local predator, but his host could change her mind at any moment.
Before he dared approach the cavern, Kairos decided to allocate his skill points, just in case one ability might help. He first examined the skill tree opened by his new [Cutthroat] specialization. The subclass gave him access to three new skills: [Heartseeker], which made it easier to target enemies’ vitals; [Turncoat], which could help him fool others, even spells; and [Shadow Knife], a variant of the [Sneak] skill specialized in surprise attacks. All very interesting.
Still, now that he had become the Foresight’s captain, Kairos decided to also improve his leadership and diplomacy. Personal strength was important, but not as much as keeping his crew united. Diplomatic Skills might also mesh well with [Beast Tongue] and help him pacify the hydra, while better combat abilities still wouldn’t make up for the vast difference in power.
In the end, Kairos decided to improve his [Speech], [Leadership], [Barter], [Seamanship], and [Raider] skills first; since [Poison Brewer] had served him well, he also spent a point on it. Finally, he purchased two ranks in the [Heartseeker] skill, since it synergized well with his spear.
You upgraded [Speech 1] to [Speech 2]. People are now more likely to believe your words and find you trustworthy.
You upgraded [Leadership 1] to [Leadership 2]. Your subordinates are more likely to trust your judgment, and you have an easier time reading their emotional mood. Additionally, their teamwork and morale improve when they fight under your command.
You upgraded [Barter 1] to [Barter 2]. Your knowledge of basic negotiation has improved, alongside your understanding of trade and logistics.
You upgraded [Seamanship 1] to [Seamanship 2]. Your knowledge of ships, swimming, and navigation has improved; you no longer suffer from nausea or similar sickness at sea, even in harsh maritime conditions.
You upgraded [Raider 1] to [Raider 2]. When you forcefully board a ship, climb fortifications, or invade another’s sanctuary, your enemies now have a slight chance of suffering from the [Terror] ailment.
You upgraded [Poison Brewer 1] to [Poison Brewer 2]. You gain intuitive knowledge of non-magical poisonous plants, including how to use them to brew poisons and antidotes.
You spent 2 Skill Points to gain [Heartseeker 2]. You gain an intuitive knack for targeting living humanoids’ vitals, including creatures such as minotaurs, harpies, and even mermaids. This improves your chances of performing critical hits.
He had exhausted all his Skill Points, but it should prove a worthwhile investment.
Knowing the marsh like the back of his hand, Kairos easily walked towards the cave on an earth trail. The raider suddenly wondered how many people had perished before they even approached the cave, falling to the place’s natural defenses. He had taken the opportunity to scavenge some stuff during his previous visits, since the beast cared nothing for metal trinkets.
Reaching the cave, Kairos put the meat and amphora before the entrance, took a few steps back, and then waited. While the creature tolerated his presence to a point, she would never tolerate anyone stepping into her lair. Even with a [Legend] and magical weapon, the pirate knew better than to challenge the beast.
Especially after all the time he spent befriending her.
Upon smelling the meat, the hydra emerged from her cave, her long heads casting a dreadful shadow on Kairos. The beast was a colossal snake almost thirteen meters long, with crimson scales and nine heads. Her fangs dripped with venomous saliva, although Kairos found no hostility in the beast’s many eyes. She accepted his presence and his tribute.
That creature was a powerful [Hero] rank creature, though Kairos couldn’t read her level with his current [Observer] rank. Many adventurers tried to invade her lair, their bones now slumbering beneath the marsh. Eventually, the locals simply gave up and left her alone, especially since she didn’t approach settlements unless provoked.
Kairos never tried to attack the hydra. Instead, he came each morning and left food near the lair for weeks, until the hydra grew accustomed to his presence. Since she left her venomous saliva behind after eating, the raider had had an easy time harvesting the venom, albeit in small quantities.
Now though, he wanted more than a single bottle. He hoped his improved [Beast Tongue] would help him with that, although he would wait for the hydra to eat first. A full belly calmed even the most vicious predator.
Kairos watched the mythical monster devour the meat and drink the wine with different heads, his body tense. Eventually, the hydra finished eating, letting out a belch as she did. “Oh great hydra,” the raider said, the mighty serpent looking at him with her nine heads with curiosity. “I please implore you to listen to my humble request.”
Kairos wondered what kind of wisdom this ancient creature had to share. It had lived in the area for centuries, and many said hydras possessed great intelligence beneath their predatory exterior.
“You servant,” she spoke with all her heads. The beast couldn’t convey him something more complicated than basic concepts, but her opinion was clear. “Me beautiful master! You bring food, you live. That all. Give me!”
Well, that was disappointing, but not unexpected.
“Oh great and beautiful hydra, I wish to take your venom to slay my enemies,” Kairos implored the creature. “If you would please help your humble servant, I will bring you more food and wine.”
The hydra clearly struggled to comprehend his words, though she understood the basics of his proposal. “Enemies meat?”
“Yes, once I kill them, I shall bring you their flesh as an offering.”
The hydra glanced at the empty wine amphora, before lowering one of her heads and spitting venom inside. Kairos watched with astonishment as the creature filled the jar to the brim with her toxic saliva, and realized that her natural regeneration also applied to her poison reserves.
“Bring more,” the hydra barked, once the deed was done. “Next time. More!”
“I shall.” Kairos bowed, even if he doubted the creature would understand the gesture. “Thank you, great and beautiful hydra.”
The beast turned her back on him without answering, slithering back into her cave. Knowing he shouldn’t linger, Kairos grabbed the amphora and returned to Lissala. With the hydra’s smell on his clothes, all animals fled at his approach.
It was early morning, so the city was mostly asleep except for a few fishermen. The Foresight and the Savage were no longer in the water, having been dragged to the shore and put beneath hangars; this would protect them from the elements, and allow shipbuilders to remove barnacles infesting the hull. The raider wondered if the Foresight would become immune to such hazards as his [Legend] grew.
When he returned to his house, Kairos found Spot and Rook sleeping near the threshold. They were so cute as they snored, the cerberus on his back and the griffin curled up like a cat. Neither woke up at his approach.
Kairos entered the kitchen to find his mother Aurelia talking with Cassandra around the kitchen table, each having a cup of warm goat milk. While Aurelia wore her trademark wolf pelt, Cass had traded her usual clothes for black ones. A third bowl awaited Kairos himself, alongside a tapestry representing five crimson serpents' heads circling a yellow eye on a black field.
“What is this, mother?” Kairos asked after removing his scarf, kissing his two favorite women on the cheek each before sitting. He put the amphora in a corner, careful not to spill any of the poison.
“Your flag,” Aurelia replied with a warm smile. “Do you like it? I made it myself, though I can change it if you wish.”
“No, it fits wonderfully.” Though Rook would sulk at not being chosen as the crew’s new symbol. “Why five heads though? My friend has nine.”
“Not enough red,” his mother replied dryly, since good dye cost a lot. She glanced at the poisonous amphora. “You went to visit that tamed hydra again?”
“Maybe he also visited that wood girl on the way,” Cass teased Kairos.
The young raider crossed his arms as he sat at the table. “It was a dryad.”
“Of course,” she said, her smile widening.
“It’s true!” he protested, but nobody believed him, “And anyway, we broke up.” In truth though, she merely stopped appearing to him a year ago. Kairos never learned why, although he heard dryads and nymphs were fickle creatures, prone to mood swings.
“Poor Kairos.” His first mate scratched his hair like a big sister. She was all business while on a ship, but the mask slipped while at home. “What are we going to do with him, Aurelia?”
“I thought about setting him up with Thais, Nearchus’ spirited daughter,” his mother replied while Kairos playfully pushed Cass' hand away, before bringing the milk cup to her lips. “If I remember, you seemed fond of her at the harvest festival.”
Well, that was a way to put it, since Kairos had originally invested in [Poison Brewing] to make contraceptives. Though he had fond memories of that girl, she was only a summer fling, and more interested in someone else from what he had heard. “Is it not a bit early for me to marry, mother?” the young captain asked with diplomacy, having expected this discussion to come up.
“When I was your age, I already gave birth to your brother Taulas,” his mother replied. “Now that you are a captain, you could, should, find a desirable prospect.”
“I could have better marriage prospects once I have gained more fame,” Kairos replied, sitting around the table. “If I marry now, it will be with a minor captain or a merchant’s daughter. It will help, certainly, but if I become a [Hero]...”
“If,” Aurelia replied laconically. “I am very proud of your success, Kairos, but the future is always uncertain.”
Cassandra responded with a strained smile. She and Panos never married, and it cost her dearly.
“No, not yet, mother,” Kairos replied formally. “I will marry, but at the right moment, and when it will benefit our family the most.”
“There is never a right moment, my son,” Aurelia sighed. “But you are an adult, so I cannot force your hand. I ask you to please consider it.”
“You all sound so formal,” Cass noted. “The kid is still young, Aurelia. Give him time. Maybe he will meet a nice Lycean woman by accident and marry her.”
Aurelia chuckled since this was exactly how she married Kairos’ father Chron. “He had three concubines then,” she said with a proud smile, “I warned him that I would only marry him if he set them aside, and never touched another woman for the rest of his life.”
“And the astonishing thing is, he listened,” Cassandra chuckled back. “The crew said that Chron ruled the Foresight, but you ruled him at home.”
“She ruled everyone,” Kairos mused, “I still remember how she forced me to study mathematics until dawn.”
“And that turned you into a brilliant, educated, and respectable young man,” Aurelia replied with pride, “If we were in Lyce, you would fit at home among the patricians.”
Kairos didn’t respond, though it made him ponder about his ‘other homeland.’ While she had been exiled due to her werewolf curse, his mother still hoped that her child could gain Lycean citizenship. “Cassandra and I were discussing the question of Panos’ inheritance before you arrived,” Aurelia changed the subject while Kairos drank his goat milk. “As the heir, the choice of how to deal with it rests with you.”
“Besides the Foresight, you inherit the gambling house and brothel at the docks, alongside his house and possessions,” Cassandra said, her hands fidgeting. “Your mother offered to let me stay in the house for free and keep Panos’ savings.”
“That’s fair,” Kairos agreed, reassuring her. “As for the gambling house and brothel, we can keep the arrangement you had with Uncle. We split the business’ revenues fifty-fifty.”
“That is very kind of you,” Cassandra replied. He could see the subject had preoccupied her for a while, and a source of income outside of raiding eased her mind.
“I also would like to expand these places, and invest in new activities,” the raider added. “Did you have plans with Uncle?”
“I had plans,” Cassandra corrected with a smile. “Panos was more interested in enjoying these places than developing them. It makes for a decent income, but far less than I had planned.”
“Your uncle was a great raider and merrymaker, but poor with money,” Aurelia said, before turning to Cassandra. “Sorry.”
“No harm taken, this is the truth,” Cass sighed, “I will be honest, it… it wasn’t all good between us lately. I even considered leaving him.”
Both Kairos and his mother grimaced. They had figured as much since Panos had kept delaying marriage and the couple had no children. “Did he…” Aurelia trailed, unsure how to address the subject.
“He spent too much, gambled everything away,” Cassandra replied with a harsh tone, the mask slipping, “No plan for the future. 'Let’s enjoy the moment,' he said. And this plan… I told him, I told him not to try something so stupid as boarding a [Hero]’s vessel before he was dead, but he never listened! I warned him either could die any moment, but he refused to marry, or even write a joint testament.”
Everyone let her vent out without a word until Cass calmed herself. “I’m sorry, Kairos,” she said, “I know that you don’t want to hear about your uncle this way. Thing is, I put him on my testament, but he didn’t even write one. If you weren’t so kind, I would have been left with nothing.”
“No, no, Cass, it’s okay, I understand,” Kairos replied. He loved Uncle Panos, but he wasn’t blind to his flaws.
Aurelia put a hand on Cass’ shoulder in sympathy, the other woman touching it with her own fingers. “What’s your plan?” Kairos’ mother asked.
“I will wear the black for nine days,” Cass replied. “Afterward, I will see.”
She was a desirable woman and respected raider. Many would ask for her hand once the mourning period was over, though Kairos wasn’t sure if Cass would accept any. Or at least, he didn’t see anyone she might be interested in.
“Speaking of this mess,” Aurelia cleared her throat as she broke the physical contact, “who ordered the attack, Cassandra? You remained tight-lipped about it.”
“Mithridates, the Poison King.”
Mithridates? He was a famous king and [Hero] ruling the island of Pergamon. His realm was part of the Thessalan League, alongside the city-state of Sybaris, whose champion Kairos slew. “Aren’t Pergamon and Sybaris allied?” Kairos asked with a frown.
“They are,” Cass confirmed with a knowing smile. “But Mithridates prefers subjects to allies.”
Ah, Kairos understood now. The king weakened an ally to better gobble it up later. Typical Thessalan politics. “Well, I guess Pergamon shall be the Foresight’s next stop then,” the raider said. “Is he reliable? Or will he try to silence us?”
“He is fair in his dealings, from what I’ve seen,” Cass replied. “I don’t think this is the last dirty job he might offer us.”
Good. Maybe this king could become a stable source of income, perhaps an ally. Aurelia, though, remained skeptical. “I wouldn’t trust kings." Lyce was a republic who overthrew its divine monarchy and made that feat into a boast. “They are fickle and the power always goes to their head.”
“Times are hard, Aurelia,” Cass replied. “There was no plan for what happened after we claimed the reward, because we were happy to have a lucrative job at all.”
Which was the whole problem for Travia. They resorted to piracy to survive, but as a result never had a stable source of wealth. They were only as good as their last raid.
It had to change.
“I think we should diversify,” Kairos spoke his mind, having considered it thoughtfully. “Transport goods when we aren’t reaving, and develop good barter relationships among the merchants of Lyce or Alexandria; while we limit our raids to enemies like the Thessalans.”
“Have you considered the Lycean slave trade?” Aurelia proposed. Slavery being an established institution in her previous homeland, she didn’t support the practice but didn’t frown on it either. “I know you are against it, but as Cassandra said it, times are hard and winter approaches.”
“I thought of the spice trade, especially salt,” Kairos replied. “Very few merchants are willing to make long journeys to transport them, and we will only make friends with it. While the slave trade will make us enemies, especially at home.”
“We already have a terrible reputation abroad, Kairos,” Cassandra said. “There is a reason why our relations with foreigners almost always end in piracy.”
“Which is why we must change it,” Kairos replied firmly. “We won’t be able to develop Travia without trade, and for that we need allies.”
“Develop Travia?” Cass raised an eyebrow.
“I want to see my country become as respected and feared as Lyce,” he said, a bit embarrassed to say it out loud, “It’s a big dream, but we have to start somewhere.”
“Well, you know what they say,” Aurelia smiled warmly at her son, “to reach the moon, you must shoot for the stars.”
“The problem is the crew,” Cass pointed out, less enthusiastic. “Finding good rowers is easy enough, but we lack officers, physicians, engineers, shipwrights… with Serras’ departure, we are almost starting back from scratch.”
They would have to recruit during their travels then. Kairos could live with that; he wanted to recruit the best of the best, whether they were Travian or not. Merit and loyalty first. However, to attract powerful crewmates, secure allies, and inspire fear in the Foresight’s targets, Kairos needed to become impressive himself. He needed to build his [Legend] into something fearsome.
And he knew just where to start.
Kairos had only visited Lissala’s temple of the Fates twice. When he was still a child, his brother Taulas had come seeking a trial and received one. His sister Histria followed a few years later.
Both died without fulfilling their trials, and Kairos hoped that the third time would be the charm.
While the gods worshiped in Lissala had their statues outside, such as the lord of magic Orgonos, the temple only had one occupant. A single creature occupying a vast empty space of marble columns, needing neither food nor drink, desiring neither worship nor offering.
One of the Fates.
The Fates, also known as the Moirae, were ancient and powerful hags; however, unlike many [Demigods], they served the Fate System itself. Killing them provided no experience nor reward, only a cosmic punishment, and they respawned immediately after their demise. Instead, they offered difficult Quests to those who wanted to earn or strengthen their [Legend]. Those who fulfilled them earned additional Skill Points, even a new Rank sometimes.
Many visited the Fates for a quest, but few returned for a second, for they were difficult and the hags never changed their judgment. Either one fulfilled the quest they offered, or they would not receive another. The hags shared a common pool of knowledge, so visiting another didn’t help.
“Have you come for a quest, Cass?” Kairos suddenly asked as the two stepped into the temple, their steps echoing.
“Yes, a long time ago, but it’s still on standby,” Cass confessed, although she sounded rather optimistic. “Perhaps I should get back to it. I have the gut feeling now might be the time to try and fulfill it.”
“You seem quite enthusiastic about the way the wind is blowing,” Kairos noted. “I thought you would support my plans for the Foresight, but you haven’t even raised any remarks yet.”
“I loved your uncle,” his first mate smiled. “But you see farther than he ever did.”
The raider smirked back, as their host came into sight.
The Moira appeared as a hunched humanoid figure, her entire body draped in gray robes and a cowl. Thick darkness shrouded her face, while her exposed hands were white and shriveled. Her wise, heavy voice echoed as the duo approached and bowed before her. “I have been waiting for you, mortals.”
“Great wise one, we have come looking for your guidance,” Kairos said with great reverence. “My name is—”
“I know who you are, son of Chron and blood of Lycaon.”
This surprised Kairos and Cass a bit. Few commented on the Lycaon part. Like all those who carried the werewolf curse in their family, the raider descended from that ancient, cruel god-king sealed beneath Lyce. Though it was more a mark of shame than greatness.
“You yearn for a Quest,” the Moira said. “One that will solidify your myth, and mark you as a [Hero].”
“Yes, great wise one.”
“You understand that greatness requires no hesitation?” the Moira asked, the darkness below the cowl swirling like a whirlpool. “Many tales perish long before they blossom into myths.”
“I will take my chances.”
“Then, I shall bestow upon you a trial. Prove yourself and enter the realm of myths, or fall with the unworthy.”
As soon as she spoke these words, Kairos felt an invisible pressure on his shoulders, as if the strands of destiny tied his soul to a greater purpose. A System screen appeared before him, detailing the task ahead.
Quest Trial: Defeat the Scylla of Scheria
The island of Scheria has long been a haven of monsters, but none half as terrifying as cursed Andromache. From the ruined lighthouse that serves as her lair, the ancient creature preys on ships, devours men like cattle, and rules over beasts with an iron fist.
Defeat Andromache, Scylla of Scheria, and end her reign of terror.
Reward: 10 Skill Points and ascension to [Hero].
Kairos received another notification, with a map now available in his screen status. It showed the island’s rough location, alongside the creature’s lair on it.
“A Scylla?” Cass almost choked, being able to see the screen. “You want him to fight a monster capable of wiping out entire crews?”
“I have spoken,” the hag declared with a tone that brook no disobedience. “The task is set in stone. How you will fulfill it, however, Travian Reaver, is your choice alone. Come back victorious, or not at all.”
Unlike his first mate, Kairos didn’t mind the challenge. A Scylla was a powerful enemy yes, but he knew he could overcome her as he did Pelopidas. No one was invincible. The reward would also solidify him as a [Hero], and the Skill Points would further enhance his abilities. The wind spear he carried even seemed to radiate power, brimming at the chance of proving its might.
“It’s near Pergamon,” Kairos told Cass. “We could kill two birds with one stone.”
“Are you sure you want to do this?” she asked, a bit less enthusiastic than before. “A Scylla is not to be underestimated.”
“I know, but I will still try,” Kairos replied. “Will you follow me, Cass?”
“Always,” she replied. “But the others…”
“It will be a trial for all of us,” the raider declared. “I want people I can count on even in the direst of storms, not brutes who will only pick fights with helpless merchants. If they are afraid of danger, they can find another crew.”
The Moira said it best.
Greatness required no hesitation.