“Ten thousand gold coins would be a fair price.”
For a second, Kairos thought he had misheard. Cassandra had finished examining the phoenix egg alongside Rhadamanthe, the enormous, ruby-like artifact standing proudly on the sand. Its mere presence radiated warmth. “You mean silver coins, Cass.”
“No, ten thousand gold coins,” his first mate replied gravely. “Which would make it worth around two hundred fifty-thousand silver coins.”
“A phoenix’s egg is a prized magical artifact, Kairos, especially by the witches of Achlys,” Rhadamanthe explained. “It is a powerful source of fire magic, and could even fuel a new [Legend].”
“It could buy us a small army, or feed our city for a year,” Cassandra added. “If someone doesn’t try to steal it from us first.”
A treasure worthy of an invulnerable guardian. Kairos wondered how many would-be heroes had tried to steal it, only to fall to the invincible Scylla. Without his [Hero Slayer] Skill, this mission would have been suicide.
The Foresight had made landfall on the beach near the lighthouse's ruins, the crew busy raising stones for the dead, searching the tower’s debris for treasure, or patrolling the area in case the harpies returned. Nessus had taken command of the scouts, eager to hunt runaways for easy experience points. The crew’s losses had been minimal and could be counted on one hand. The lost satyr deserter had crashed against the reef when he tried to escape, and his corpse was promptly fed to Andromache.
Speaking of the beast, she glared at the group with hateful eyes, tightly chained to a cliff while Rook watched over her. Andromache's body had healed from the flames within hours, and Kairos needed to regularly expose her to hydra venom to weaken her. Her hound-heads snarled at the sailors, though they reserved their full wrath for the captain himself.
The Foresight’s crew was giving her a wide berth, and Kairos had heard a few doubt his choice behind his back. The Scylla and her harpy servants had killed some of their shipmates, and many questioned his decision to spare her. Even his officers were divided.
“You are playing with fire, sparing that one,” Cass said. “And the whole goal of this expedition was to slay her to make you ascend.”
“Defeat her,” Kairos replied.
“She is beaten, but you are not a [Hero] yet,” Cassandra pointed out.
Kairos winced, glancing at the Scylla’s hateful face. “Maybe we need an oath and an official surrender first.”
“Can she be bound by an oath at all?” Cass turned to Rhadamanthe. “She is a Scylla, not to mention a powerful sorceress.”
“All creatures can be bound by the Furies,” the minotaur replied firmly. “[Gods] and [Demigods] are powerful enough to fight a broken oath's consequences, but she is a [Hero] Rank. She will not survive the punishment.”
“So you agree with me?” Kairos asked his navigator. “It’s worth a shot?”
The minotaur nodded. “It is unconventional, but the opportunity to recruit such a powerful and wise creature… it is tempting. Beyond her strength, she possesses great knowledge.”
“I think you underestimate our crew's resentment, Kairos,” Cassandra said. “We lost a few people cleaning that beach, and while your decision makes sense, the Scylla remains dangerous. Even if the oath works, she will be like a captive bear; her feral nature will always return to the forefront. Our crewmates will fear her as much as our enemies.”
Kairos listened to their arguments, before looking up at the Scylla with his spear raised. “Andromache,” he said in Greek, “how much is this egg worth to you?”
“I am bound to it,” the Scylla replied in Greek. “I cannot move far from the egg. Where it goes, I must follow.”
Andromache’s expression turned into one of bitterness. “Like the rest of my sisterhood, I was once a nymph cursed by the jealous goddess Circe for crimes against her person. I am bound to protect this egg until it hatches, after which my curse shall be lifted.”
“So you stood watch over it since before the Anthropomachia?” It astonished Kairos that she remained sane after such a long vigil. “Why is this phoenix important? What is its purpose?”
“I do not know,” she replied. “I was not given a reason. Your kind may have brought down Mount Olympus, but my punishment remains. The flames hastened the bird’s growth, and soon, it will hatch.”
“Then here is what I offer you,” Kairos declared. “Swear fealty to me before the Furies, join my crew, and I shall spare your life and the egg. You shall be allowed to continue your vigil, but you shall serve me even after your curse is lifted.”
The Scylla’s eyes flared with anger. “You would condemn me to eternal servitude?”
“Unless you prefer death’s sweet release.” Kairos drove a hard bargain. “In which case, I will kill you and sell the egg to benefit my people. It makes no difference to me.”
The Scylla strained against her chains with enough force to shake up the cliff. Shipmates drew their weapons, Cass included, while Rook moved in front of Kairos to defend him; only the captain remained stone-faced. Thankfully, the chains held, and Andromache couldn’t cast spells while bound and deprived of her staff. Eventually, her wrath subsided and she seethed in silence.
“What did she say?” Cassandra asked, being unable to understand Greek. She kept her sword unsheathed.
“She is bound to the egg and must follow it everywhere until it hatches,” her captain explained. While expected, it frustrated him and reduced their options. “We can either sell the egg or keep her, but not both.”
“Kill that thing and sell the egg,” Cass said firmly. “I would rather see you become a [Hero] for sure and receive a certain income, than gamble everything on that beast’s goodwill.”
“The Quest’s wording is ambiguous,” Rhadamanthe argued. “Perhaps this moment is our true test.”
“You could remake the world with perhapses, and money doesn’t bite.”
“She will be worth more than the egg in the long-term,” Kairos argued.
“Kairos, is this your foresight speaking, or your greed?” Cassandra asked with a frown. “It cost your uncle dearly.”
“I know!” Kairos snapped back angrily, before calming himself. “I know. But this is a once a lifetime opportunity.”
Cassandra shook her head sadly. “Look, Kairos, the duty of older people is to spare the young from the mistakes they made,” she said, pointing her sword at captive Andromache. “Letting her live is a mistake. The satyrs are manageable; this thing isn't.”
“I knew I was always on your mind, fair lady.” Kairos looked away from the Scylla, seeing Nessus and the scouts return from their hunt. The group carried a few dead harpies and bags full of pearl, gold, and trinkets; probably trophies gathered from Andromache's previous victims.
“What do you think, Nessus?” Kairos asked, pointing his spear at the Scylla. “Spare, or kill?”
“You shouldn’t ask me, my captain,” the satyr replied. “Ask her.”
The captain nodded, looking at Andromache in the eyes and speaking to her in Greek. “Have you reached a decision?”
The Scylla glared back, her hound-heads showing their fangs. “What is your name, human?”
“Kairos Marius Remus.”
“I have asked for mercy, and if servitude is the price you ask… then I will pay it. I have only traded one master for another. But know this.”
Andromache raised her human lips, revealing sharp fangs underneath.
“I have lived for countless centuries,” she rasped, her tone threatening. “I have seen the four mankinds perish one after another, and I shall outlive the fifth. I have lived through the Titanomachia, Gigantomachia, and Anthropomachia. When you are dust and ashes, Kairos, and your soul passes into the underworld, I will still be there, waiting. And I will remember.”
“She’s looking forward to working with us,” Kairos told his group in Travian.
“I doubt that,” Cass replied dryly.
“Oh my captain, didn’t you say all shipmates had the right to vote on important issues?” Nessus asked, the various officers nodding in confirmation. “Well then, problem solved. Either your men trust your judgment, or they don’t.”
Yes. Ultimately, a captain only had as much power as their crew let them; [Legend] or not, Kairos was no exception. “What do you say, Rook?” the young man asked his griffin.
“Protect big bird!” the griffin leaped on the phoenix’s egg. “Me beautiful bird too! Stick together!”
Kairos couldn’t help but smirk.
When the evening came, the crew gathered around campfires on the beach. Kairos stood before them, clearing his throat while all eyes set on him. “Alright,” the captain began. “We are now facing a decision that will decide our future as a crew for years to come. A decision that I know has you split.”
“That’s one way to put it,” one of the raiders, Eos, replied. “That thing ate one of our own. I know we say an eye for an eye, but I wouldn’t trade a satyr for that thing.”
“Yeah, we came here to do one thing, and that’s to slay that creature,” a rower spat on the sand, while Andromache’s face remained a mask of stone.
“We can still do so,” Kairos said. “We can finish her off, harvest her body parts, take her treasure, and then sell everything. This will complete the Quest, and all will be as we have always done.”
The men exchanged nods and murmurs.
“But if we keep doing the same things, we can expect the same results,” Kairos continued. “We will raid, sell our bounty to other countries for their table scrap, spend it all and repeat the cycle. At the end of the day, no matter how big the payout, we will only be as good as our next score. Even if we win it big, we will stay poor.”
His harsh words were welcomed with scowls and silence. A few oarsmen, the wiser ones, glanced away, while some crossed their arms. Rhadamanthe nodded in agreement, while Cass looked worried.
“Which is why things have to change,” Kairos continued. “Our ways have been unchanging like the tides for centuries. They allowed us to survive, but never to thrive. For Travia to grow strong, it has to adapt, and we have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to try something different. Yes, recruiting a Scylla in a crew has never been done before. But the reward will be worth the risk. If you, the bravest men in the seven seas, are still afraid of her while she is bound by chains… imagine what our enemies will feel.”
A lot of them grumbled, saying that they weren’t afraid of the Scylla. Kairos knew that by striking at their pride, he would force them to vote to spare the Scylla, if only to prove their bravery. It was underhanded, but the captain didn’t care so long as it worked.
Nessus raised his hand. “If I may speak, my captain?”
“I believe our young captain is completely mad,” Nessus declared with bluntness, causing a few people to laugh. However, the satyr waited for everyone to fall silent, before continuing. “But he is also mad enough to succeed. I say, let it ride all the way to victory.”
“Thank you, Nessus,” Kairos said, before clearing his throat. “I have made my case.”
“Those who wish to spare, raise their thumbs,” Rhadamanthe said, “those who want her dead, thumbs down.”
Every crew member raised their hands in one direction or the other. Nessus raised his thumb, while a doubtful Cass lowered it. Kairos observed the crew but found no side clearly in the lead. His crew was evenly split.
With no clear winner, Rhadamanthe began to count the votes in his head. The captain held his breath, praying Charon, Orgonos, and whichever deity listened to favor him.
“The ‘spare’ side wins,” the minotaur said. “By ten votes.”
Kairos let out a sigh of relief. This was a narrow margin, but a victory all the same.
Rhadamanthe turned to face the Scylla while the crew tensed up, addressing the ancient being in Greek. “Make the oath.”
“Let the Furies and the gods be my witnesses, that I shall serve the mortal Kairos in exchange for his mercy,” Andromache replied, every word heavy with bitter surrender. “So long as he lives and that the phoenix within the egg remains safe, he and his crew shall have my loyalty.”
As she spoke these words before Rhadamanthe and was forever bound, Kairos felt an influx of power coursing through his veins. Fate had smiled on him and granted him a blessing. An ancient force from ages past filled his bones, allowing him to transcend the human condition and enter the realm of myths.
You have completed a Quest. You gained 10 Skill points and strengthened your Legend! Your Legend evolved into [Monster Reaver]!
You upgraded your Personal Rank from [Elite] to [Hero]. You can now progress up to level 60, and rank-up your stats by sacrificing Skill Points. You earned the Legendary Skill: [Monster Lure] and upgraded your other Legendary Skills.
You gained three levels (total 25) and 9 Skill points.
[Monster Lure]: Legendary Skill, 3 Stars. You gain a degree of kinship with monsters; while not under your control, unintelligent monsters will not attack you unless provoked first, and intelligent ones will start off well-disposed towards you. However, monsters are also naturally attracted to your presence.
[Hero Slayer] has been upgraded to [Legend Slayer]: Legendary Skill, 3 Stars. If you attack [Hero] or [Demigod] rank enemies, you ignore their magical defenses and damage resistance.
[Shipbound: Foresight] has been upgraded to [Shipbound: Foresight, Monstrous Ship]: Legendary Skill, 3 Stars. The [Foresight] will now slowly repair itself as long as you remain in contact with it.
The [Foresight, Monstrous Ship] is now a Three Stars Legendary Item. It can absorb dead monsters’ parts and gain additional abilities from them.
As the power receded, Kairos couldn’t suppress a smirk of triumph. His shipmates looked at him as if they had sensed the divine power now coursing through him. Even the spear in his arm now radiated power and energy; the pirate captain could now call upon its abilities the same way Pelopidas once did.
He had been correct.
“Travia has a new [Hero],” Rhadamanthe said with respect. “May you bring an age of sorrow upon our enemies, captain.”
The crew erupted in cheers and applause, though none shouted louder than Nessus. Cass clapped her hands, but her smile was somewhat bittersweet.
Empowered by the crowd and the System, Kairos raised his spear at the chains holding Andromache back. The pirate captain unleashed bursts of winds at the chain-links, freeing the creature.
The applause ended instantly, shipmates raised their weapons on instinct upon seeing the Scylla free. The mighty beast loomed over the group with cold dead eyes, her hound-heads eerily silent. Rook bravely landed in front of Kairos, as if to defend him, yet Andromache made no move to attack.
Somehow, her silence seemed more threatening than her threats.
After glaring at Kairos for several seconds, Andromache glanced at the crew, noticing a raider keeping her serpent staff. She extended a hand, silently demanding her weapon back. The raider glanced at Kairos, who raised his chin in agreement, before handing the weapon to the Scylla.
“Never break your oath, mortal,” Andromache warned, swinging her staff at empty space like a club. “If the hatchling dies, so will you.”
“I gave my word and so did you,” Kairos replied, unimpressed. “Rhadamanthe will teach you our language. Besides casting spells, can you craft magical items?”
“Yes,” she replied dryly. “Rods, staves, wands, and jewels.”
As Kairos had suspected since she had used two magical staffs against him. He had the feeling these skills would prove more useful than her might. “Any other abilities which may be of use to us? Can you swim?”
“I can swim faster than your ship and breathe underwater,” Andromache replied, her voice cutting steel. “Flames and storms are mine to command.”
Good. She could help with navigation or search undersea wrecks. “Can you follow us in the water? Or change your shape?”
Andromache raised her staff and muttered a word of ancient power, her body changing before the crew's eyes. Her lower body shrunk and shifted into normal legs. She looked like the nymph she had once been, a naked woman of striking beauty, and Nessus couldn’t help but whistle.
Still, Andromache’s beautiful face couldn’t hide the predatory hunger in her eyes, and the shadow she cast was still that of her true monstrous form. The mask of humanity was paper-thin. “Will this form be sufficient, Master?”
The sorceress said that last word with more venom than a hydra.
“Yes,” Kairos said, before switching from Greek to Travian. “Someone please clothe her.”
After one last glare at the Scylla as a female raider took her aside, Rook hopped on Kairos’ shoulder. The pirate petted him on the head, greatly pleased with himself.
When he opened his menu screen, the captain noticed an option next to his stats: [Rank-Up]?
Upgrade your Magic from D+ to C? Cost: 10 Skill Points.
Upgrade your Health from C+ to B? Cost: 20 Skill Points.
Upgrade your Charisma from B+ to A? Cost: 30 Skill Points.
So the higher the stat, the greater the price needed to upgrade it. “Rhadamanthe,” Kairos asked the minotaur. “You need C rank in Magic to cast spells, right?”
“Yes, and B to become skilled at it.”
“Can a [Rogue] class cast spells if they reach C rank?”
“It may unlock a new Skill Tree, especially if you receive tutelage from a magician,” the minotaur said. “But you will never be as good as a dedicated [Spellcaster], Kairos. It will take you years to become average at sorcery.”
Yes… the idea of casting spells interested Kairos, but the skill points investment was prohibitive for something he couldn’t immediately use. He should rather build upon his current strengths, rather than try to master an entirely new field.
Cassandra approached him. “Congratulations, Kairos. Your uncle would be proud of you… but not as much as I am.”
“Thank you, Cass.” The young raider hugged his first mate. “You aren’t mad?”
Cass sighed, before breaking the embrace. “I just pray to be mistaken. I buried far too many people.”
Kairos too. “You know what,” he said, hitting the sand with his spear. “Once we recover the payment from our Pelopidas raid, we will tackle your Quest next.”
She chuckled and patted him on the back. “After we recruit a [Crafter] or carpenter, Kairos,” Cass declared. “We will need one.”
“Are we ready to leave, captain?” Rhadamanthe asked in Travian. “If we make haste now, we can reach Pergamon tomorrow.”
“Almost,” Kairos replied, before turning to Nessus. “Toss the harpies’ remains on the deck. I want to try something.”
Much to everyone’s astonishment but Kairos’, the corpses seemed to melt into the Foresight’s deck and hull the second they touched the wood. The remains vanished within seconds as if they had never existed. A few seconds later, harpy feathers appeared on both sides of the Foresight above the oars.
“Enough victims and your ship might grow wings, oh my captain,” Nessus made a joke. Kairos himself wasn’t sure if he should take it seriously. Strangely though, the effect didn’t activate when they moved the phoenix’s egg into the cargo hold, nor animal meat. The pirate supposed it only worked with dead magical creatures' remains. “So, when do we drink ourselves silly over your success? I never partied with a Scylla before.”
“When we return to Travia,” Kairos said. “First, we will make a stop to Pergamon and meet with King Mithridates. He still owes us a reward for service rendered.”
“The Poison King?” the satyr groaned. “His men are the ones who caught me. He’s a grasping ruler, that one.”
“Aren’t we all?” Kairos replied, noticing Andromache on the deck. The transformed Scylla now wore a green chiton dress, looking at the lighthouse’s ruins with a stony gaze. Nobody in the crew dared to approach her. “Watch her closely, just in case.”
“How close are we talking about?” the satyr joked before climbing on the deck.
Before following his men on the ship, Kairos glanced at Rook, the griffin looking back with his big, naive eyes. The raider opened his menu, deciding to test the limits of a [Hero]’s skills.
|You upgraded [Beast Tongue 2] to [Beast Tongue 3]. You can now perfectly understand, and be understood, by any animal and magical creature.|
“You are ready to go, partner?” Kairos asked his pet.
“Oh yes, Kairos!” The griffin answered like a human would, wagging his tail. The change in vocabulary was considerable, from short words to fully-formed sentences. “I defended the ship like a lion! Because you are my friend!”
The captain chuckled, his eyes turning to the endless sea.
The world was waiting for him.