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Kairos and his mother walked across the docks, moving towards the Savage.

Serras' crew had repurposed Pelopidas’ pleasure cruiser into a raiding ship. They had reinforced the hull with a powerful spiked ram, added ballistae at the back, and even dyed the sails black; the pirates had chosen a bloody skull for their symbol, hoping to inspire terror in all those who would look upon it.

Kairos hadn’t heard much from Serras since he left the Foresight's crew, so this hostage scheme was probably his first score. In preparation for the meeting, Aurelia had traded her wolf pelts for a white wool mantle, the traditional Lycean clothing for married women. A wise choice, considering who they would be speaking to.

As they approached the Savage and prepared to board it, Kairos and his mother crossed paths with a small crew disembarking from a fisherman ship. It was a group of four, a family unit including a couple and two daughters. The younger girls swooned upon seeing Kairos, one even bold enough to wink at him. The flattered [Hero] returned the gesture, as the two families crossed paths.

Aurelia noticed the exchange and immediately started pestering her son. “You should find yourself a wife, Kairos,” she said, once the other family was out of earshot.

“Mother, not this again...”

“Honestly, I thought you had spared Andromache for that purpose,” Aurelia argued. “Imagine my disappointment when I learned otherwise.”

That explained why his mother had shown such interest in the Scylla. “Besides the fact that Andromache is a colossal monster who occasionally takes a human form,” Kairos pointed out the obvious, “she hates me.”

“I disliked your father too at first when he tried to ransom me, but he won me over.”

"I will only marry when the potential benefits justify it."

"If that is your reason, then there is an alternative solution. Since you are a [Hero] now, you could easily take an unmarried merchant's daughter as your concubine. You could father children on her and secure our bloodline, until you can find a wife worthy of your rank.” Kairos said nothing, so Aurelia suggested something even more scandalous. “Or perhaps you could marry Cassandra. The mourning period has ended, so she is available.”

This time, her son couldn’t stay silent. “Why are you so desperate to see me married, mother?”

Her gaze immediately harshened. “I probably won’t have any new children of my own, and if you perish, so too will the Marius family line.”

Kairos flinched at the blunt answer.

“Our family’s history may not be the most glorious or clean, especially considering the monster we descend from,” his mother argued, her gaze softening, “but I don’t want our name to die out either.”

“It won’t, mother,” Kairos promised. "We can always adopt. Some families do that in Lyce to preserve the name."

"Yes, but…" Aurelia sighed in despair. "I would rather have grandchildren of my own blood."

“I understand, but as I told you, there is a moment for all things. I have too much on my plate as it is.”

“Oh, but I have the time,” Aurelia said, immediately seizing the opportunity. “I can arrange everything.”

Kairos sighed loudly, his mother delighting at his unease.

They climbed onto the Savage, where Serras and other shipmates waited for them. Two raiders escorted their prisoner. “You brought your mother, Kairos?” Serras asked.

“I lived in Lyce half my life,” Aurelia replied, hands on her waist. “No one in Lissala knows its people better than I do.”

The axeman looked at the imperious woman with a surprised glance but didn’t argue. He knew very well who, or rather what, she was. “Just make him explain how we can arrange an exchange with his kin,” the fighter asked. “I can tell he’s worth his weight in gold.”

Kairos looked at the captive, who had so far been listening to the conversation without a word. It was a tall man in his early twenties, with dark brown eyes, short black hair, and soft white skin. He was impeccably groomed and shaved, with a handsome face that could charm anyone. His crimson and white toga, laced with gold, indicated this prisoner was a high-ranking member of the Lycean Republic, perhaps a noble or magistrate. He smiled at Kairos and Aurelia upon noticing them, though his eyes remained sharply astute.

Kairos couldn’t explain why, but he had a bad feeling about that man. Something about his ironclad confidence, or his eerie composure in such a dire situation. He looked like a cat surrounded by mice oblivious to the danger.

The captain immediately used [Observer] on the captive.

Julius Flavius Sertorius

Legend: None (Elite)

Race: Human

Class: Spellcaster (Priest, Mage Rider, Judge)

Level: 24

Flavius? As in, a member of the Flavii family?

“Serras, what have you done?” Kairos asked, panicked. His mother’s gaze harshened, as she too realized the sheer magnitude of the man’s blunder.

“What?” the axeman replied, confused. “Is he poisonous or something?”

“The Flavii are one of the hundred families forming the Senex, Lyce’s government,” Aurelia hissed. “One of the most powerful clans, I should add.”

“So that brat is practically royalty,” Serras said, his greed blinding him. “Good, we can ask for a higher price.”

“They will pay and then they will send a fleet, to hunt you to the Underworld if needed,” Aurelia snapped angrily. “The Flavii will not take this insult lying down. And this young man is a [Judge], one of their magistrates. You didn’t insult a single man, you challenged the entire Republic.”

“You can still return him home,” Kairos argued to Serras. “Find a peaceful solution that will spare you Lyce’s reprisals.”

“Release a prisoner so valuable, after all the trouble we faced to catch him?” Unfortunately for his crew, Serras didn’t seem impressed. “Surely you jest.”

“You underestimate the danger,” Kairos warned him.

“I will take my chance,” Serras replied with a shrug. “Our ships are faster than their own.”

That kind of mentality was exactly why Kairos had done away with him. No foresight at all.

The captive, who had looked at the argument with cold eyes, turned to Kairos. “Are you these savages' leader?” he asked in Lycean, his voice eerily calm for his situation.

“No, or you wouldn’t be here,” Kairos replied in the same tongue. “Sertorius, is it?”

“I have been called that, yes.” While Lyceans had a birth name, they mostly used a cognomen, a nickname used to distinguish that individual’s family branch. By calling him Sertorius instead of Julius, Kairos had already established himself as a far more cultured intermediary than Serras. “I keep asking for better accommodations, but these men cannot even speak properly.”

Aurelia built further upon this. “We were asked to translate, Your Honor,” she said in Lycean, using his formal title.

“Your Lycean etiquette is perfect, and you dress like civilized people.” The man frowned, perhaps using the [Observer] Skill to examine the two. “Your family name, Marius… The Bestial Proscriptions?”

Aurelia narrowed her eyes in response. No doubt she remembered her own exile. “I am surprised you can remember our name. Our family’s very existence was wiped off from memory, our belongings confiscated.”

“I am a [Judge]. We keep records of these things.” The captive focused on Aurelia and her son, ignoring Serras entirely. “Yes, I see. You are Aurelia Marius, daughter of Lucius Marius, former scribe in the service of the House of Sulla. I assume this [Hero] is your son?”

“He does not carry the curse,” Aurelia said with a nod. “We apologize for the inconvenience. Though we left the Republic, it is still our motherland.”

“Very good. Then you will help me clear up this misunderstanding.” Sertorius glanced at Serras and his men with contempt. “They put my freedom’s price at six thousand. This is an insult; I refused to be sold at less than fifteen thousand.”

“Wait, you understand Travian?” Kairos questioned the prisoner in Lycean. How could he know the ransom’s price unless he overheard the Savage’s crew speak about it?

“Yes, but I will not speak my captors' tongue,” the magistrate replied with incredible arrogance. “They abducted me, so they should make the effort. I will not prostrate myself before bandits like a common slave.”

Kairos exchanged a glance with his mother, who took the lead on this case. “How did you end up here, Your Honor?”

“I was traveling back to Lyce from Vali when these ruffians fell upon my ship,” he explained. “Vali provided an escort, which proved better at surrendering than fighting; my slaves and personal bodyguard were murdered defending my person.”

“We cannot pay the ransom on your behalf,” Aurelia said, turning to Kairos. “But certainly we can reimburse you for the material loss.”

“You want to pay back the price of slaves?” Kairos asked, balking at the idea.

However, his mother’s steely glare made him reconsider, as he quickly understood the underlying message. This man was too dangerous to offend and had to be placated into leniency. Or else, they might share Serras’ grim fate.

“I lost four trained slaves, scribes, and intellectuals,” Sertorius said. “Each worth eighty gold coins. I will pay reparation to my bodyguard’s family myself since he died defending me.”

Three hundred and twenty gold was a handsome sum, even if Kairos could afford to cover it thanks to his previous raids' plunder. “Fine,” the captain said, although he didn’t like it one bit.

“I appreciate the gesture, Lady Marius,” the Lycean Judge thanked Aurelia. “It seems you can often find a gold nugget buried beneath a pile of shit.”

“You are welcome, Your Honor,” she replied, the very picture of cultured diplomacy. “How may we contact your family to arrange your release?”

“You may send a letter to my sister, Julia,” Sertorius replied. “We have client families in the port of Feronia.”

“Then I will arrange for the ransom to be delivered and your eventual release.”

“So?” Serras asked, interrupting the discussion. “What does he say?”

“He is setting up a way to contact his family,” Kairos replied in Travian. “But he asks for a ransom of fifteen thousand gold coins. Six thousand is too low for him.”

Serras blinked. “Is this a joke?”

“No, he is serious. He believes he is worth that much.”

Serras exchanged a glance with his shipmates, who all exploded in laughter.

“Once I return to Lyce,” Sertorius said in Lycean while looking at Serras, a smile on his lips, “I will raise a fleet and have you all crucified.”

Serras’ shipmates laughed louder, unable to understand his words. Only Aurelia and her son remained calm. Most would have mistaken that man’s behavior as empty boasting, but Kairos knew better; he sensed a shark’s cold-bloodedness behind the charming smile. Sertorius would follow through with his threat.

Well, Serras had brought it on himself, and Kairos did try to warn him. Perhaps he could recover the Savage after he bit the dust? If Lyce didn’t sink the ship first.

“Kairos, is it?” Sertorius asked, looking at the young captain. “I will remember you.”


Afterward, Kairos’ mother remained on the Savage, both to entertain the ‘guest’ and serve as an intermediary with his family. No doubt Aurelia hoped to secure a future favor with Sertorius, perhaps lifting the proscription targeting her family.

In any case, Kairos moved on to the Foresight and found Rhadamanthe had beaten him to the place, backed by another person… though Kairos could only use the term ‘person’ loosely.

Thales the Promethean

Legend: None (Elite)

Race: Automaton (Talosborn)

Class: Crafter (Alchemist, Inventor, Engineer, Shipwright, Mathematician, Promethean, Trap Master, Physician)

Level: 38

 

As it turned out, Thales the Promethean was an automaton.

Kairos had seen a few in his life, but never one like this. The creature was a gaunt, scarecrow-like combination of various metal parts cobbled into a humanoid shape; unlike humans though, it had four arms and hands instead of two. It used a blue crystal flickering with magical energy for a head, and kept it hidden beneath a brown, tattered hood. The machine seemed positively ancient, with older parts rusted or replaced with newer material.

While the machine boasted an impressive number of eight subclasses, Kairos focused more on the [Talosborn] part. This automaton had been personally created by Talos of Thessala, [Demigod] of machines and protector of the eponymous city-state.

What was one of its creations doing here in Travia? Kairos considered the matter before remembering that Talos forbade its creations to make more automatons of their own, and those who braved this mandate were called Prometheans. This Thales must have fled its own city after trying to duplicate itself.

The automaton was holding a scroll with two hands, and scribbling notes with the others. It didn’t even seem to notice Kairos approach until Rhadamanthe put a hand on its shoulder. “Thales,” the minotaur said, the automaton finally raising its crystal head from its scroll and looking at the newcomer. “This is our captain, Kairos.”

“Good day to you, sir!” The automaton's voice was clearly male, and full of energy. “I was analyzing your marvelous ship, such a fascinating magical creation!”

“Happy to meet you, Thales,” Kairos saluted the automaton, before glancing at the Foresight. “Are you the cause of these new transformations?”

The Foresight’s ram had slowly started to take a snake-like shape, growing scales over the wood; more feathers had also appeared on the flanks, they didn't develop into wings yet.

“I could not resist testing its assimilation ability,” Thales replied, looking back at his scroll. “I wondered if it absorbed all mass, or if it just replaced discarded parts. I can now safely conclude that it does both; it mostly replaces old wooden parts with monsters’ remains, but also uses the surplus to grow bigger. I wonder what would happen, if I fed the ship a monster heavier than itself...”

“That will wait,” Kairos said, the only creatures fitting the description too dangerous to challenge. “Rhadamanthe spoke of you, but he didn’t give me many details. Your very existence comes as a surprise to me.”

“What is there to know?” Thales replied, not raising his head from the scroll, and instead continued scribbling. “I don't leave my home often, for I have little time. Truthfully, if Rhadamanthe hadn't informed me of this magical ship, I would have remained in my workshop. My work is too important.”

“What kind of work?” Kairos asked with a frown.

“My, but understanding and creating life!” the automaton replied while abruptly raising one of his four hands at the sky, a finger pointed at the sun. “Which is why your ship interests me so much! If it can make living and inanimate parts coexist, when will it eventually become ‘alive’? Can it even ‘become’ alive? Surely you must feel curious too.”

Of course Kairos felt curious. This ship was almost part of the family.

The captain peeked over the automaton’s shoulder to look at the scroll. To his amazement, Thales had drawn a detailed replica of the Foresight, though a few parts didn't match. It seemed the engineer considered various improvements. “I suggest replacing the wooden ballistae with a metal one, smaller, lighter, and more powerful," the automaton said. "I also noticed that you carry crates on your back like donkeys, while I designed a tackle system to lift heavy charges.”

“Tackle?” Kairos asked, confused.

In response, Thales quickly drew a strange system involving two wheels intertwined with a cable on his scroll. The picture represented a stick human figure dragging the rope, which then lifted a heavy crate above the ground. Kairos had never seen anything like this. “And it works?”

“Of course it works. Tell me where to stand, and I can move the world.” Thales’ chest opened to reveal a hidden compartment, where he put the scroll. Kairos noticed dozens of papers inside before it closed. “Now, I will need full access to the ship. Your men refused to let me on board and look inside.”

Kairos frowned. “I am not sure—”

“Nonsense, there is too much work to do,” Thales interrupted him. “Now, now, we must inspect the cargo hold, see what—”

“No,” Kairos said abruptly, silencing the chatterbox. “I believe you are mistaken, Thales. I am looking for a shipwright, not for a scientific inspection. I do not do charity.”

“But your ship is a unique magical wonder that must be studi—”

“My ship, my rules.”

The automaton looked at Rhadamanthe for support, but found none. “Sir, you are most vexing,” Thales said. “But you must be a reasonable creature of flesh and bones for Rhadamanthe to trust you so much. Certainly, we can reach an arrangement.”

“I only grant full access to the ship’s crew,” Kairos said while drawing the line in the sand. “You will have to convince me you are worth taking along.”

“Leave my workshop for the dangerous sea, when I can hardly defend myself?” Thales asked. “What could I learn with you, that I cannot do from my home's safety?”

“You hunger for my sea maps and notes,” Rhadamanthe pointed out.

“A true man of science does not close himself to any source of knowledge,” the automaton replied.

“You cannot fight?” Kairos asked, highly disappointed. No way he would hire someone who couldn’t wield a weapon, even a [Crafter].

“I…” The automaton’s fingers fidgeted in embarrassment. “Well, if you define fighting as brawling in the mud like boars, or hitting meatbags with sticks, then I confess my weakness. I can use catapults, ballistae, or craft traps, however.”

“His workshop is an unbreakable fortress,” Rhadamanthe said.

That information pleased Kairos. Leaving the automaton to take care of the artillery would free Cassandra and Rhadamanthe to fight, since they usually managed these weapons. “I see,” the captain said. “As a [Shipwright], could you take care of the Foresight?”

“Yes, I have all the Skills needed.” Thales nodded. “Since I am also a physician, I can repair both living and inanimate parts.”

Good, so he could serve as an additional healer; even if he would never be as good at it as a spellcaster like Rhadamanthe. This Thales had the Skills Kairos was looking for. His attitude and objectives though… “Why are you here, in Travia?” the [Hero] asked.

“I broke the first law of Thessala, that only Talos may create new automatons,” Thales said, his voice turning passionate. “Which is stupid and shortsighted! How can we improve on a design without experimentation? Innovation? Trial and error? I was forced to flee my lab before the city’s guards could scrap me.”

“And you have been hiding in Travia ever since?”

Thales nodded. “I figured Thessala would not dare look for me in enemy lands, and I was correct. I set a workshop in the wilderness, and though it is a mere shadow of my previous laboratory, it allows me to experiment in peace.”

“I met Thales when I first arrived,” Rhadamanthe said, with a hint of fondness. “We discussed astronomy and remained in contact.”

When the minotaur first arrived? If so then Thales had been in hiding for decades. Kairos doubted Talos or anyone was still looking for him now, though he couldn’t set aside the possibility. “We intend to raid the Thessalan League soon,” the captain said. “Do you have any problem with that?”

“I feel little love for my old motherland,” the automaton said, though he didn’t hide his unease. “But I would prefer anonymity.”

“We have a Scylla onboard, and I am a [Hero],” Kairos said. “We will become targets.”

The [Crafter] remained silent, considering all possibilities and trying to process an answer.

“You know what, why don’t you meet the crew first?” Kairos suggested. “We have a party planned, so you can meet our Scylla and teammates. We are a very colorful group, I’m sure you will learn a lot.”

“Sir, I cannot drink,” the automaton protested.

“Good for you, you will keep a clear head,” replied the [Hero]. “I will introduce you to our Scylla. She is a powerful witch who survived the Anthropomachia, and knows many old world's secrets.”

The automaton reminded Kairos of a badger watching at a honeycomb. He had noticed the bees flying nearby, but the honey looked so tempting. Eventually, Thales started to click as if his body parts pulled in all directions. “I need to consider it.”

Which was a roundabout way of saying yes, I will come.

Kairos had charmed a hydra, one hook at a time. It was all about patience and lowering the target’s defense. Killing it with kindness.

That automaton would be no different.

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Void Herald

Bio: I'm Maxime Julien Durand ([email protected]), a European warlock living in the distant realm known as France, spending half my time writing and the other half managing magical websites.

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