Crafting was an art.
While one could make items without the System’s help, Skills shortened the process and subtly guided their user through the steps. The higher the Skill's rank, the better the result.
With the funds from the previous raid, Kairos had established a rudimentary workshop at the back of his house. A table, shelves, and benches lined the walls, full of vials, harvested plants, roots, and embalmed animals. The pirate currently used a double boiler to heat up a dose of poison, keeping urns filled with sand nearby to extinguish a potential house fire.
Kairos eventually harvested a vial of poison, so purple it might as well be black.
You have refined [Hydra’s Venom] into 100 ml of [Hydra’s Venom+].
The [Poison] damage has been increased.
Kairos had first tried to reverse engineer King Mithridates’ gift, but couldn't reproduce it. The concoction included more than fifty substances, and while the Travian identified half of them, he couldn’t recreate the antidote without royal resources.
After this failure, the pirate captain had spent his time refining poisons and crafting medicine. As it turned out, [Poison Brewer 3] allowed the young [Hero] to refine poisons into healing remedies. So far he had only managed to make medicine capable of curing ailments, but his current project looked promising.
Kairos had left a mandragora’s root to marinate in various substances for three hours, until the plant turned black and dry. The raider harvested the thick yellow liquid in a pot and tossed the now useless root with the trash.
You successfully harvested one liter of [Mandrake Breath].
[Mandrake Breath] will cure [Paralysis], [Terror], [Despair], non-magical [Sterility], and briefly boost [Luck] by one rank. However, it will cause hallucinations if the user has C or less in Vitality.
Besides keeping some for his crew, Kairos would sell the substance for a hefty price. His [Poison Brewer] skill also informed him that the substance could be further refined into a powerful hallucinogenic, to use as a weapon or recreational tool.
The young captain heard someone knock on the house’s door, interrupting his work. “I’m coming,” he shouted before moving towards the entrance, finding Spot watching over the door. Rook was probably hunting rats somewhere.
“Treat?” the cerberus asked, wagging his tail while protecting the home’s threshold.
“Later.” Even after upgrading [Beast Tongue], Spot only ever spoke one word. Since the cerberus hadn’t barked at the new guest, they were probably friends.
Kairos opened the door, finding Rhadamanthe waiting on the other side.
“Kairos,” the minotaur said with a respectful nod. He wore white, priestly robes and a hood. “Your mother is not here?”
With her high [Perception] and werewolf Skills, Aurelia usually sensed people approaching long before they knocked.
“She is at the harbor, visiting Andromache.” The Scylla refused to leave the phoenix egg's vicinity, and thus the Foresight. Aurelia had taken it upon herself to bring the monster her meals, perhaps out of sympathy for their outsider status. “I can give her a message if you wish.”
“No, it is just as well. I came to see you.”
As expected. “I prepared the incense you asked for."
Though he mostly honored the minotaur deity Asterius, Rhadamanthe served all the gods and officiated most of Lissala’s rites. The spellcaster had asked Kairos to craft incense for him, to use in public ceremonies.
“Have you studied the stars today?” Kairos asked while giving the minotaur what he came for. “Any prophecy on the Orthia raid?”
“It has become harder to read our shared fate since your ascension to [Hero],” Rhadamanthe admitted. “The future is dark to me.”
“I see…” Rhadamanthe’s prophecies were notoriously vague, but a few hints about the future were better than none. “No clue on where we could recruit a shipwright?”
“The Foresight repairs itself with your presence, Kairos. This defeats the purpose of a shipwright.”
“We haven’t tested this ability’s limits,” the young captain pointed out. “For all we know, it could only heal minor damage. A shipwright would alleviate my worries.”
“A shipwright, we can find easily enough,” Rhadamanthe said. “One who knows how to repair a monster-eating ship like the Foresight, however, is a rarer beast.”
“Ah.” Kairos crossed his arms. “You have a point there. Any idea?”
“Only one person comes to my mind,” the minotaur replied, clearing his throat. “Thales the Promethean.”
“Whom?” Kairos frowned. “I have never heard of him.”
“Because he likes it this way,” Rhadamanthe said. “Thales fled Thessala after violating the city’s laws, and has been hiding in Travia since. He is a hermit who has not left his workshop in years… and an old friend. His brilliance is only matched by his eccentricities.”
“I’m sorry Rhadamanthe, but a mad hermit doesn’t sound like crewmate material,” Kairos said, “no matter how bright. Besides, why would he want to join us?”
“The Foresight, or Andromache, might catch his eye,” the minotaur confirmed. “Meeting with a survivor of the Anthropomachia could tempt him. With the gods’ blessing, I might convince Thales to join our crew, if only so he may interrogate the Scylla.”
Kairos wasn’t as thrilled as Rhadamanthe, but he was willing to give his shipmate the benefit of the doubt. “I guess it costs us nothing to arrange a meeting,” the captain decided with a shrug. “Any idea about an additional physician to assist you?”
The minotaur didn’t look optimistic. “It will be easier to find a replacement navigator. I am the only one capable of casting healing magic in Lissala, while many navigators would gladly join a young [Hero]’s party.”
“But none as experienced or talented as you, my friend.”
“You flatter me,” Rhadamanthe replied with stoicism.
“Hardly. I still wonder why you chose to join my family’s crew instead of a more powerful one.”
“I am but an instrument of the gods,” Rhadamanthe replied. “I go where they ask me to.”
Kairos wasn’t sure what to make of it. As far as he knew, the minotaur had shown up in Lissala decades ago on a merchant ship, and remained evasive even to this day about his true origins. While everyone respected him for his wisdom, few could say they were close to him, except the priest’s own wife.
Perhaps Rhadamanthe had skeletons in his closet. His captain respected him enough not to dig dirt where he shouldn’t.
After the minotaur politely denied his offer of a breakfast, Kairos left the house to do his morning errands, taking the [Anemoi Spear] with him. He started by touring Lissala’s defenses, in case the watch needed help.
As he walked the streets, Kairos sensed countless glances upon him. Some of his neighbors stepped out of his way when he approached; perhaps out of respect, or fear. A group of women laughed while he passed by, the young pirate hearing them exchange salacious rumors about his person.
Now that he had achieved the rank of [Hero], Kairos left no one indifferent.
When he reached the northern wall, the spearman found a group of [Elites] and [Commons] trying to fill a large hole in the wooden palisade. Other warriors, including Serras—Captain Serras now—and Nessus, surrounded a large beast’s corpse. “Here I am, oh my captain,” Nessus said while waving a hand at his leader. “You’re late to the party!”
“What happened?” Kairos asked with a frown, observing the corpse. The dead creature was a lion twice as big as normal, with a black goat head protruding from its back; the tail turned into a venomous snake past the halfway point. The creature’s legs had been crippled by arrows, allowing close-range fighters to hack it to death with spears and axes.
“That chimera emerged from the forest and broke past the fence,” Serras said, spitting on the ground. His axe’s edge was drenched in blood, like his clothes. “We sent it to the Underworld.”
“Another monster?” A daemon and a manticore had wandered dangerously close to the city yesterday, before being scared away by the watch.
“It didn’t run fast enough,” Nessus joked darkly.
“Something seems to attract monsters.” Serras looked at Kairos suspiciously. “Maybe your pet Scylla strings them along.”
No... but his [Monster Lure] Legendary Skill might attract these creatures. If so, Kairos might have to relocate to the countryside to avoid a disaster. The watch could manage manticores and chimera, but something like an invulnerable Nemean Lion might destroy half the town.
The young captain was loath to abandon his family’s tombstones though. His mother would take care of them, but their absence would still leave a hole in Kairos’ heart.
“Anyway,” Serras changed the subject. “Since you’re here, I’m facing a little problem that you might help me with. Could you do me a favor, lad? For old time’s sake?”
“Depends on the favor.”
“Nothing too bothersome for a [Hero], don’t worry,” Serras replied, crossing his arms. There was a hint of genuine respect in his voice, but a clearer undercurrent of jealousy. The axeman had missed his chance at glory and he hated it. “We captured a valuable Lycean hostage, a rich, arrogant brat your age. But he only speaks his native tongue, so it’s hard to contact his family for the ransom.”
“You want me to translate for you?” Kairos asked, the warrior nodding. “How about a trade then? I will work as a translator, in exchange for the chimera’s remains.”
“You want to harvest the parts?”
“No, I want to feed the corpse to my ship,” Kairos replied, Serras shrugging off in response. “I will see you this afternoon, after my morning errands.”
“Meet us on the Savage, I will have the beast’s corpse transported to your ship in the meantime,” Serras replied, before smirking. “Oh, and good luck with your big raid in Orthia. If we weren’t busy with that Lyce thing, our crew would have lent you a hand.”
Kairos wasn’t sure he would have wanted that kind of help, but he thanked Serras anyway before excusing himself. Nessus immediately followed his superior. “Captain, you will be pleased to learn that all the wine bottles I asked for have been safely delivered.”
“Unfortunately.” Kairos knew he would live to regret accepting to fund that party. Nessus had him buy enough wine and food to feed a Lycean legion. “I thought it would be a private party for the crew, but do you intend to invite the whole city? Andromache eats for ten, not for one hundred.”
“No, no, I only intend to invite the local spirits and a few guests,” the satyr said, before whispering inside his captain’s ear. “I know a song to summon the maenads.”
“Maenads?” Kairos flinched in horror. “Those mad nymphs? They tear people to pieces!”
“Don’t worry, they’re excellent company once you give them free blood to drink,” Nessus said, before ‘reassuring’ his captain. “Not ours. I got that part covered.”
Kairos glared at the satyr.
“Captain, captain, oh my captain.” Nessus shook his head and patted Kairos on the shoulder. “Loosen up. It’s not my first orgy, I know how these things are done. Everyone will have fun, and the crew’s cohesion will only grow stronger. Who knows, maybe you will even get laid!”
“I won’t need your help for that.” Now that he had become a [Hero], Kairos had received two dozen offers of marriage, usually from female captains, or merchants' daughters. Wiser ones went through Kairos’ mother or Cassandra, hoping to win their favor first.
“Then I offer you these wise words,” Nessus said. “Try them all until you find the right one.”
Kairos chuckled. Admittedly, while he was in no hurry to marry yet, maybe he could have a little fun. No harm in that.
The young captain mentally noted to make contraceptives later that day though. He had the feeling it would spare his crew a lot of trouble down the line.
After finishing his deliveries, Kairos decided to visit Andromache and his mother at the harbor, though he would spend his new Skill Points first.
He considered improving his [Heartseeker] and [Cutthroat] skills for better combat prowess before deciding his crew was already staffed with warriors stronger than him. Since the captain would focus on recruitment and resource management in the short-term, [Barter] sounded like a wiser investment for now.
Kairos checked his other skills, his gaze wandering to [Lycean Education]. Available thanks to his cultural history and his mother’s teaching, it had mostly improved his knowledge of tongues like Lycean, Thessalan, and Greek. Perhaps it would also help with Serras’ hostage?
Kairos took the risk, the System filling his mind with new knowledge and information.
You upgraded [Barter 2] to [Barter 3]. You can now intuitively guess the monetary value of objects and glean part of their history.
You spent 2 SP to upgrade [Lycean Education 1] to [Lycean Education 3]. You gain intuitive knowledge of the Lycean Republic’s political institutions, laws, geography and poetic tradition. Additionally, Lycean citizens will be more well-disposed towards your person, and your Charisma is treated as one rank higher than it is when you interact with them.
Interesting development, though highly situational. Kairos guessed it was the downside of cultural Skills.
The captain then glanced at the [Anemoi Spear], and [Barter 3] caused a new System screen to appear.
Rank: Artifact 3 (formerly Artifact 5)
A spear crafted by the Anemoi, the old gods of the four winds, as a symbol of rulership. Its power has declined with its makers' demise at the hands of Typhon, but still holds power over the four winds. Its might depends on the wielder's.
1 Star Power: The Anemoi Spear is the source of Four Winds, and naturally boosts the user’s wind spells.
2 Stars Power: The spear can unleash sustained gusts, whose power depends on the user’s will; from a breeze to a blast.
3 Stars Power: The spear’s user can manipulate the four winds around his person, using the spear as he would a conductor’s baton. This can be used to start miniature tornados, shred trees, or redirect winds.
Neat. While Kairos wouldn’t equal Pelopidas in the fighting department anytime soon, he could reproduce his tricks. The spearman suddenly realized that his predecessor had probably invested his extra SP into upgrading his physical stats like [Health], [Strength], and [Vitality]. No wonder the hydra venom took so long to work.
Kairos eventually made his way to the harbor, the Foresight resting on the beach. Andromache slouched on the sand in her Scylla form, to better keep watch over the ship and its cargo. Her mere presence had chased everyone away, with one exception.
Kairos’ mother discussed with the Scylla in Greek, next to three pigs' remains. Aurelia was laughing, and Andromache… chuckled?
Kairos had never seen the Scylla happy before. Even while she glared at the [Hero] as usual upon seeing him approach, she seemed happier than usual. Even her hound-heads didn’t bark at the captain.
“Kairos,” his mother welcomed him. “Come, join us for a minute.”
“I see you are getting along well,” her son said. Did she cast a spell on the Scylla?
“She is like me,” Andromache said with a smile, showing her sharpened teeth. “Wearing a human mask.”
“You will get used to it,” Aurelia replied, a flash of ferality in her gaze. Though his mother hid it well, Kairos knew she was very much in tune with her wolf side. “We were discussing the Iliad and comparing our versions.”
That old world tale? Aurelia had made her son memorize each line. “So, was it a truthful account?” Kairos asked, sitting near his mother.
“With a few embellishments,” Andromache replied.
“I am astonished the story survived through the eons,” Aurelia said. “The old world seems so wonderful, so grand, compared to ours.”
“This planet is a mere husk of what came before.”
“How was it?” Kairos asked the Scylla. “Before the Anthropomachia?”
Andromache looked at the sea with longing, considering her words.
“The earth was green and plentiful. Roads linked cities continents away, while great and mighty creatures roamed verdant forests. The power of magic was greater, and Typhon hadn’t cast half the stars down to earth.” She shook her head. “Your kind ruined everything.”
“You lived through it, did you not?” Aurelia asked. “The Anthropomachia? You witnessed it.”
The Scylla nodded gravely. “The world is ruled by a cycle, a pattern determined by the will of the Fate System. Sons killing their fathers. A new race overthrowing the old.”
The witch raised her hand, and the beach’s sand started shifting. The grains turned into tiny figures, indistinct mirages born of illusion magic. Kairos and his mother looked at the spectacle in silence, amazed.
“Once the world was ruled by the Protogenos Ouranos, until his son Kronos castrated him and split apart heaven and earth,” Andromache narrated, while the sand figures started making war with one another. “Then the titans ruled until they were overthrown by their children, the Olympians led by mighty Zeus. The thunder king ruled for eons, sealing Typhon the God-Eater, and crafted mortalkind in his image. The first minotaur, the mermaids and the centaurs… and the humans most of all, who came to dominate the earth.”
The figures moved atop a large mountain, overseeing a vast land filled with tinier people. Kairos recognized the tall construct as the legendary Mount Olympus, while Andromache continued her tale.
“Mortals are weak, but they are cunning, and driven to conquer all they see. When Zeus looked upon the world, he saw many heroes and demigods; far too many. So he organized the Trojan War, to weed out their numbers.”
Kairos remembered the Iliad, this ancient poem narrating the ancient battle between the city of Troy and the Greeks. To think it had been true all along, instead of a mere myth twisted by time...
“But while powerful, the gods are not all-knowing,” Andromache said. “For Zeus had made a terrible mistake, and taught the mortals the wrong lesson. ‘If the gods fear we may one day overthrow them,’ said a wise one among the unwise, ‘then it means it can be done.’”
The mirage scene shifted, representing tiny people surrounding a giant woman made of earth and stones.
“A cabal of ambitious humans approached Gaia, mother of all, whose children Zeus once imprisoned in Tartarus. Through false praise and empty promises, the mortals cajoled her until she shared with them terrible secrets: that the gods, with the proper tools, could be slain like any animal; and that their power, their [Legend], could be stolen by their slayers. The humans formed a secret pact with Gaia, to free her children from the gods’ bindings if she helped them overthrow the Olympians. Where the titans had lost using strength, they would win through guile.”
The Scylla’s magic reshaped the beach into miniature cities, with long streets, canals, mighty pyramids, and tall towers.
“The mortals built a great civilization, which honored the gods above all else. Zeus grew complacent while his enemies toiled in the darkness, hidden behind a veil of false piety. The humans secretly won the cyclops to their cause, chief among them the mage Orgonos, whom the Olympians had slighted. After having once crafted Zeus’ thunderbolts, the cyclops secretly made weapons for humans. While mortals sang the gods' praise, their hearts burned with greed and envy.”
The moment wasn’t right yet.
Until one day, it was.
The cities of sand collapsed, into a gaping hole, from which a colossal beast emerged. A giant with a hundred serpent heads.
“Orgonos undid the seal holding back Typhon the God-Eater,” Andromache continued, her gaze hollow, as if she was reliving that terrible day. “The world trembled with the monster’s freedom, and a hole opened in the Underworld’s prisons. Monsters and black-hearted fiends spilled out, your cursed ancestor among them. He slew grim Hades through an act of cruelty so horrendous, that I refuse to speak of it; and this terrible deed would forever be known as the Crime of Lycaon.”
More holes open in the beach, giants spilled out; among them was a mighty werewolf, with red sand covering his fur. Blood.
“Hades’ widow, Queen Persephone, hastily closed the Underworld’s gates, but Lycaon and countless monsters had escaped. While the gods struggled against Typhon and the escaped titans, they were blind to the daggers raised at their backs. The Anthropomachia, the Human War, had started.”
Powerful figures fought the giant, only to be swarmed by tinier creatures. While the great figures killed many, the way a bear brought down a wolf pack, numbers prevailed.
“Using the Cyclops’ weapons, the humans treacherously slew their own protectors to steal their [Legends],” Andromache said with contempt. “‘Why should we be ruled, and not rule ourselves?’ said Queen Alexandria, as she raised her armies in rebellion. ‘Why not destroy the old to make room for the new?’ When at long last Zeus understood what was happening, it was already too late. Humans had slain many gods and stolen their powers. The giants had joined them, and the final battle was at hand.”
The image changed back to Mount Olympus, assaulted by countless figures. Men of metal, armored heroes, werewolves, giants, and Typhon braved a devastating thunderstorm, while the earth trembled.
“A great and terrible host climbed Mount Olympus to challenge the old gods for control. Infuriated by Gaia’s treachery, Zeus ordered his brother Poseidon, lord of the seas, to drown the Earth and mortals both. And so he did. For days the seas rose, sinking the mortals’ civilization beneath the waves while their heroes confronted the old gods.”
The waters rose, drowning the mountain until it became an island. The storm cleared, but few of the illusory figures remained.
“When the bloodbath ended after three days and nights, Olympus had become a grave. Your ancestors had prevailed through sheer numbers. Of the old gods, few remained; chief among them Queen Persephone, who now rules the Underworld. Mighty Zeus fell last, slain by Typhon. In a final act of foresight, Orgonos betrayed the weakened God-Eater and sealed him again, bringing the war to an end. But when the few survivors, these so-called New Gods, gazed from Olympus, they could only see an endless sea. The cycle had repeated itself, and drowned the world with tears.”
“So our islands used to be mountains?” Kairos asked for confirmation. It was good to see which creation myth was correct.
“Yes. Only those who fled to the summits survived, to rebuild the world anew.” Andromache collapsed the illusion with a wave of her hand. “Of the previous world, only ghosts and relics remain. Like your spear. Like me.”
“You have a true talent for storytelling,” Aurelia complimented the Scylla.
“Thank you.” Andromache did her best not to look flattered, but she was. “But know this, human. The cycle is eternal and will repeat itself. There is a season for all things, and mankind’s will end one day. To believe otherwise is the height of arrogance.”
“Yet you still remain,” Kairos pointed out. Even some of the old gods had survived the transition.
“A shadow of what I once was,” Andromache replied with a hateful sneer. ”Brought low enough to be bested and bound by a mere man.”
“There is nothing ‘mere’ about my family,” Aurelia replied with a prideful frown.
The Scylla held her gaze, the scene reminding Kairos of a wolf facing a sea serpent. “Every new era is lesser than the last,” Andromache said dismissively. “The world will never return to its previous glory. The great empires splintered into barren rocks and petty kingdoms.”
“Yet you stand watch over the egg, in the hope of regaining your lost glory,” Kairos pointed out.
Andromache’s good mood vanished, her hound-heads showing their fangs. “Because I was cursed and forced into this monstrous shape.”
“If your situation was truly hopeless, you wouldn’t have asked for mercy back then,” Kairos replied. “Yet you asked me to hold my hand because the egg was bound to hatch. Deep down, you still believe you can be free and regain what you lost. You still have hope.”
Andromache didn’t respond, her hound-heads silent. Kairos would have paid a fortune to guess what she thought, behind that cold face of her.
“I have lost much too,” Aurelia told Andromache, her voice bitter. “Perhaps not as much as you did, but our family was once respected in Lyce until Lycaon’s curse awakened in me. My parents had a villa that made our current home look like a shack. None of my children would have died of starvation.”
Kairos looked away, the memory still fresh in his mind.
“But one day...” His mother’s face turned into a determined stare. “One day, we will return home, my son. I promise you.”
“About that, mother…” Her son cleared his throat, his thoughts wandering to Serras’ hostage. “There is something you should know.”