The Foresight reached the island of Scheria by nightfall. Though the darkness made it hard to see it clearly, the coast became visible thanks to the stars above.
The satyrs swore the oath and thus were incorporated into the crew. While they proved friendly fellows, the new recruits also made unwarranted advances on the crew’s female members; though Cassandra, a harsh taskmistress, quickly disciplined them. Rhadamanthe had taken time aside from his navigator duties to teach the newcomers the basics of the Travian tongue, and they turned out to be fast learners.
As he reviewed the deck, Kairos had to admit their presence added some much needed levity to the trip. Satyrs were famously talented with wind instruments, and a group of them played a song for the delighted crew with crudely shaped wood flutes. Time on a ship was long and monotonous, and the pirate captain thought his men deserved a break.
“Oh, my captain!” Kairos noticed Nessus standing near the ship’s bow, carving a long wood bow with a knife. The satyr wore a helmet adapted for his horn and an iron breastplate recovered from the slaver ship, alongside a quiver of arrows on his back. This ensemble would have been his gladiator outfit in Lyce, and it made the friendly satyr look intimidating. “Have you come to enjoy the show?”
“Sort of.” Rook had left on a recon mission, and Kairos waited for his pet to return with news about the island. “Do you have a bow crafting skill?” Some Skills Trees depended on the species, so it wouldn’t strike Kairos as odd to see a satyr [Rogue] with a specialized crafting ability.
“Oh, that?” The satyr raised the bow with a hint of dissatisfaction. “It’s the best I could fashion in these circumstances. If I had bones and other materials, I could craft something better. A bow powerful enough to pierce through most armor. And it’s not a Skill either, just talent.”
“Is that so?” Kairos asked, interested. If the satyr wasn’t boasting, such a bow might prove useful. “Could you teach me how to make them?”
“You wish to learn from a barbaric, uncivilized satyr?” Nessus mused. “You’re an unusual human, oh my captain.”
“If your bows are better than ours, then it doesn’t matter where they come from. I will take what works over what’s usual every time.”
“That’s what she said. But I will be glad to teach you how to make a composite bow, if you give me tips about your Cass. She’s such a feisty woman, I’m already in love.”
Kairos forced himself to smile. “She’s recently widowed.”
“Even better. I will make her forget all about her previous husband.”
Kairos swore never to introduce the satyr to his mother. In all likelihood, she would lose patience and devour the braggart.
While the night was dark, the captain noticed a bright light coming from the island: that of a mighty lighthouse shining bright. Though they were too far away to make landfall on Scheria, the light source could guide ships towards it for miles. In fact, the lighthouse’s burning brightness was almost entrancing.
“The Lady’s Light,” Nessus said. “Your Scylla’s lair. Though she’s no princess in a tower.”
“How does she make the lighthouse so bright?” Kairos asked with curiosity. It looked closer to a miniature sun than a bonfire.
“I heard tales that a phoenix made its nest at the top, before your ancestors climbed Olympus and slaughtered the old gods,” Nessus explained. “The Scylla was bound to protect an egg until it hatched.”
“What, you think she stays there because it’s a nice place? It’s dreary, dull, and nobody in their right mind ever visits.” Nessus smirked. “Except madmen like you.”
“I simply wonder why no one tried to steal it,” Kairos said. “A phoenix’s egg is a king’s prize.”
“Oh, many tried, but they all died. That Scylla, you see, cannot be harmed. Arrows bounce off her skin, swords break before they can pierce her hide, and she is a powerful witch. She’s very fond of fireballs from what I heard.”
Kairos frowned. “And you’re telling us that now?”
“Well, I assumed you already had a plan, oh captain, my captain.”
“She is of the [Hero] rank?” Kairos asked for confirmation, the satyr nodding. If so then, his [Heroslayer] skill should allow him to harm her; if not, perhaps the spear would do the trick. “What else do you know?”
“Not much, except that she allows a clan of harpies to make their lair on the island as her ‘handmaidens.’ They inform their mistress of what happens on the island, and assist her in battle. Nothing we can’t handle though, my captain; they’re vultures, not hawks.”
Kairos hadn’t survived this far by underestimating his opponents, so he was a bit dubious. “If the Scylla can burn ships from afar, why rely on close-combat? She could set ships on fire and have the harpies capture her prey in the water.”
“I think she just likes to toy with her food, especially since nobody can hurt her,” Nessus replied ominously. “She’s a cat playing with mice.”
“Or more likely, her magic has a limit. Perhaps her spells only work near her lair, or she can only use them in a pinch.”
Nessus answered with a shrug, unable to provide an answer. Rook returned from his recon flight, the griffin landing on Kairos’ shoulder. “Island close,” the griffin jabbered. “Beach with cliff. Big tower! Stones, very bright, smelled scary! Forest everywhere else!”
“The Scylla usually waits near the cliff, nabbing sailors from her rookery,” Nessus said. “The harpies stay in the forest otherwise.”
“You can understand Rook?” Kairos asked. “Do you have [Beast Tongue 2]?”
“I should ask you the same question. I thought humans couldn’t nab that skill.”
“My mother is a werewolf,” Kairos explained.
“Ah, a wolfblood! I heard of you guys. You cannot transform into a werewolf, but you have access to some parts of your parent’s Skill Tree, is that right?” Kairos nodded in confirmation. “A shame though. True werewolves always transition to the [Elite] Rank rather than—”
The satyr never finished his sentence. Instead, he quickly drew his bow and fired an arrow in the night, his expression changing in the blink of an eye. Kairos grabbed his spear in alarm, as he heard something hitting the waters.
But by the time he even figured out what was going on, Nessus had shot two more arrows and screams echoed in the darkness. Two new flying figures fell into the sea, losing feathers in the fall. When the ship reached the closest shape floating in the water, Kairos glimpsed the shape of a winged, feathered woman. Nessus’ arrow had hit her between the eyes, killing her instantly.
By the new gods, he was a good shot.
“Harpies,” Nessus said, having killed three monsters with casual ease. “They probably followed your griffin.”
“Sorry…” Rook lowered his head in shame. “Forgive me."
“You can see in the dark?” Kairos asked the satyr while reassuring his griffin with a pat on the head. Cass and Rhadamanthe immediately left their current posts to rush towards the ram.
“[Darkvision 2],” Nessus explained with a fiendish smirk. “Really comes in handy for a late-night ambush.”
“Did you miss one?” Cass asked, worried.
“Please,” the satyr grumbled, his pride wounded. “With all due respect, beautiful, I’m the world’s best archer. They won’t report on us anytime soon.”
“But their absence will be noticed,” she pointed out.
“Ah, yes, good point,” the satyr agreed. “In which case, I say we have… a few hours maybe? It’s not unusual for harpies to hunt afar from the nest for a long time.”
“Then let’s think about a plan, while we still have the initiative,” Kairos decided.
As Nessus shared his information with the other crew officers, Rhadamanthe crossed his arms. “If she is a witch and tasked with defending the lighthouse, then she probably set up wards around her lair.”
“You can disable them?” Kairos asked the spellcaster.
“Probably not,” the minotaur admitted. “She is an ancient [Spellcaster], far stronger than me.”
“Even if you can’t remove the wards, we could use that against her,” Cass suggested. “If the Scylla’s lair is threatened, she will probably abandon the fight to defend it. She will panic.”
“Rook, have you seen another area where we could land?” Kairos asked his pet.
“Tiny cove near cliffs,” the griffin nodded, eager to make up for his mistake.
Rhadamanthe, using the various pieces of information he had been provided with, wrote down a rough map of Scheria island on a scroll. Kairos considered the various elements at play, before reaching a conclusion. “Oddly enough, I believe the Scylla, while threatening, might be less of an issue than the harpies following her,” the captain told his group. “Flight truly is a decisive advantage in battle. Nessus, can your satyrs provide cover fire?”
“We’ll do more than cover you,” the satyr boasted. “If you can somehow pierce the Scylla’s hide and open a wound, I can weaken her with my [Crippling Shot 2] Skill. It debuffs Strength and Agility.”
“Excellent.” Kairos turned to Rhadamanthe next. “I know you don’t have [Sneak] or a similar stealth skill, but perhaps do you have a spell that can hide your presence?”
“Unfortunately no, I do not.” The minotaur shook his head. “Do you want to infiltrate the island, Captain?”
“Yes.” Kairos pointed at the hidden cove which Rook had found on the map. “We could have a small warband land here, move through the forest, and ambush the Scylla from behind while she moves towards the cliff. Since it’s the harpies’ territory, only warriors with [Sneak] or similar Skills will join.”
“I’ve got access to the [Hunting 2] and [Outdoorsmanship 2] Skills, oh my captain,” Nessus boasted, looking at Cassandra. “Our captain is in good hands.”
Kairos’ first mate rolled her eyes, much to the captain's amusement. “Cass, you are in charge of the Foresight,” said the young captain. “You will pretend to make a landing near the lighthouse and grab the Scylla’s attention, but stay carefully out of range from the main cliff. When the beast moves to try to attack you, our group will hit her from behind.”
If he could harm the Scylla and she wasn’t immune to poison, then he could repeat the Pelopidas tactic. Though this time, Kairos would make sure never to enter the creature’s range.
“Rhadamanthe, you stay on the ship and use your control of the wind to increase the Foresight’s speed,” the captain finished giving orders. “The Scylla will probably stop playing and try to incinerate the ship once she realizes our trick, so you will need to retreat. Rook, you will warn them and flee to the ship if the harpies pursue you.”
“This is very risky, Kairos,” Cass pointed out while the griffin nodded obediently. “Your group has no way to retreat from the island quickly. If things turn sour, you might be trapped with the creature.”
“A direct assault will be suicide, and the more time we give the Scylla, the warier she will become,” the young raider replied. “He who has the initiative dictates the battle’s pace.”
“We can hold out in the wilderness,” Nessus replied confidently. “We can retreat to the cove and you recover us later.”
“Can, not will,” Cass said, glancing at Kairos. “I’m sorry, but… this setup sounds too familiar to me.”
“I understand, Cass, but I’m not Uncle,” Kairos replied firmly. “I have nothing to prove, and I don’t intend to give the Scylla a fair, glorious fight. We won’t give her a chance at all. We will kill her like any other monster.”
The ruthlessness in his voice silenced Cass, who simply offered him a worried nod. Once everyone was briefed, Kairos invested his two new points in the necessary Skills. It was a shame he could only increase them as far as his Rank allowed. He would need to become a [Hero] to see what they could achieve at Rank 3.
You upgraded [Archery 1] to [Archery 2]. You can now use advanced bow techniques.
You upgraded [Sneak 1] to [Sneak 2]. You make less sound while moving, and have a lower chance of triggering land-based traps.
Now, time to hunt.
Carrying a bow, quiver, and his magical spear on his back, Kairos moved through Scheria’s thick forest completely unseen.
True to his word, Nessus proved an excellent guide through the wilderness, leading the group against the wind and quickly finding hidden paths. The warband included six people, the boastful hunter and Kairos included; three were satyrs, and the last one a human veteran raider called Eos. Each carried bows and knives, though their captain doubted the latter would see much use. So far, they had crossed the forest undetected, with no harpy coming to carry them away. They were running out of time though. The sun would rise in a few minutes, and the Foresight would get into position soon.
Eventually, they reached the Lady’s Light.
This sixty-meters tall tower stood atop a cliff, overseeing a large sand beach below; the only point where a ship could make landfall without facing dangerous reefs. The octagonal building clearly dated back to the era before the Anthropomachia, having been built with blocks of sandstones and limestones. Carvings on the walls represented the twelve Olympians, these deities killed by mankind's ancestors; from fair Aphrodite to mighty Zeus. Time didn’t damage the ancient building, making Kairos wonder if the Scylla had held watch over this place since its construction. The only entrances into the building were a few window holes near the top, and a massive archway facing the sea.
The raider banished these thoughts to focus on the task at hand. A flock of eight harpies nested on the lighthouse and nearby rocks, though far away from the light at the summit. These creatures looked like feral women, whose arms were clawed, feathered wings, and their feet sharp talons. Their faces paled with hunger, and they wore little clothing.
Their number climbed to nine when a new harpy flew from the sea towards the lighthouse and passed through one of the windows. She probably wished to warn their mistress of the Foresight’s approach.
Hidden beneath the trees and behind bushes, the pirate warband observed the area carefully. The burning sun at the tower’s summit radiated so much light, the group would probably be spotted the second they emerged from their spot.
“There, the wards.” Nessus pointed at symbols drawn on the ground near the tower’s stone archway. Kairos couldn’t see as well as he did, so he trusted the hunter’s judgment.
The ground started to faintly shake, as something moved within the tower. The harpies raised their heads at the entrance, with a mix of awe and fear. Kairos and his group held their breath, as the beast passed through the archway in all her terrible glory.
Much like the legends, the Scylla called Andromache was a centaur of a sort. The upper body belonged to a strikingly beautiful woman of normal physical proportions, with long black hair reaching her waist and sapphire eyes. She wore no clothing, though she carried a long bronze caduceus staff, representing two intertwined snakes surmounted by wings.
What was below the waist though…
The human torso stood above a nightmarish sight, a six-meters tall fusion between a crimson squid and a pack of dogs. Six houndlike heads, each big enough to swallow a man whole, formed a makeshift belt carried by twelve red tentacles. These limbs could easily crush a ship’s mast in two, slithering on the ground with fiendish dexterity. The hound heads frothed in hunger, looking in all directions for any sign of prey. Even the harpies quickly flew out of their mistress' reach, to escape their ravenous attention.
Kairos managed to stay calm, but the sight made him pause. Even the hardened killers alongside him faltered when they saw the monstrous abomination.
With one exception.
“Do you still want to woo that, oh my captain?” Nessus asked his leader. If he was afraid like his colleagues, he didn’t show it. “Though I think that’s obvious at this point that close-combat is a suicide, even with your magic spear.”
No kidding. Andromache made Pelopidas look like a child, but Kairos hadn’t gone so far to turn back now. “Can your men fight under pressure?” he whispered into Nessus' ear.
He answered with a nod. “It’s not our first hunt, though we never shadowed so big a whale.”
Good. Still, Kairos found it a bit unnerving how the satyr could alternate between casual friendliness and lethal focus in the blink of an eye. The captain had the feeling his smug boasting hid a cunning mind.
Kairos turned to the only other human [Rogue] in the group. “When I whistle, you will start throwing stones at the wards to trigger them and run away immediately afterward. Until then, don’t do anything that may reveal your presence.”
If the Scylla was truly bound to defend the lighthouse, then a distraction might afford them a few precious minutes.
“Once she gives chase, we will retreat to the east so the rising sun blinds her,” Kairos pointed at a spot near the lighthouse. “If she keeps coming, retreat into the forest. Nessus and I will focus on the Scylla, the rest of you on the harpies.”
Nessus relayed the orders in his tongue to the satyrs; his moxie and Kairos’ focus, though a mere illusion, emboldened the soldiers and freed them from their fear-induced paralysis. Each of their arrows' tips had been dipped in hydra venom, for added lethality.
Meanwhile, the Scylla exchanged words with the harpies. Kairos didn’t hear much, but the massive creature slithered towards the cliff while her harpy followers dispersed. As expected, Andromache intended to attack the Foresight once it ‘landed,’ with the harpies spreading in ambush. Only two of the winged creatures didn’t follow their sisters; instead they stood on the lighthouse’s windows to keep watch.
The Scylla’s back was turned, though the hound heads would certainly notice them once they left their cover.
“Target the Scylla,” Kairos ordered his group. ”Once she turns, Nessus and I will fire at her. The rest of you, you cover us from the harpies.”
“Captain, I told you I can’t pierce the beast's hide,” the satyr hunter said. “It’ll be a waste of arrows, at least until you open a wound.”
“But she won’t be able to see which of us can hurt her, at least not immediately,” Kairos said. Besides, he wanted to see that invulnerability at work for himself, in case it could reveal an overlooked weakness. “We shall confuse her, force her to waste her breath, make her see shadows in every corner.”
“I was wrong,” Nessus said, raising his bow alongside the other satyrs. “You aren’t a shark. You’re a serpent, slowly choking a poor beast’s neck. No mercy at all.”
Kairos aimed at the Scylla with his own weapon with a smile, and the group launched a volley at the creature.
The hunt had begun.