Kairos was many things, but an oathbreaker wasn’t one of them.
As promised, he had funded Nessus’ entire celebration party; an act which unfortunately destroyed his remaining funds. For everyone’s safety and to allow Andromache to participate, the party took place in the city’s outskirts, in a meadow close to the forest. The sun had fallen behind the horizon, campfires illuminated the darkness, and songs drowned out the rustling of leaves.
Kairos came to the party dressed casually, though he hid a chestplate beneath his shirt. It didn’t hurt to be careful. The pirate had also brought a bag and his [Anemoi Spear], should he need to defend himself.
As per the party’s rules, he came wearing a mask; his was made of wood and covered the upper half of his face, representing a snake. Rook followed his partner on foot, entranced by the music.
Most of his crew had already gathered in the meadow, with the satyrs playing instruments, couples dancing, shipmates drinking and eating. While Kairos recognized most of the guests as his crewmates, he also noticed a few new faces. A trio of wild, naked women with pristine white skin, clawed hands, and sharp fangs tore apart a goat on an improvised altar. Nessus hadn’t lied; he had summoned a group of maenads to his feast. These mad nymphs had a terrible reputation, preferring the wilderness’ savage freedom to civilization, and so the young [Hero] observed them carefully.
Kairos also noticed Thales’ presence, the automaton showcasing a fountain of brass and glass to onlookers. The phoenix egg stood at the celebration’s center, protected by a watchful Scylla. Its mere presence warmed the air, like summer’s hottest days.
Much to Kairos’ surprise, except for the masks, almost everyone was naked. The one exception was Rhadamanthe, who wore priestly garbs and oversaw the animal sacrifices. His prayers celebrated Queen Alexandria, the new goddess of war, love, and pleasure, and asked her to bless this gathering.
Nessus, who wore a boar mask, immediately noticed Kairos and intercepted him. “My captain,” the satyr complained, “is this a prank?”
“What’s the matter?” Kairos asked with a frown, Rhadamanthe joining the duo soon afterward.
“You're still dressed!” Nessus protested, touching his captain’s chest with his finger. “And is that armor I sense beneath your clothing?”
“You brought maenads to this feast,” Kairos replied, pointing his spear at the bloodthirsty nymphs. He heard the tales of how they had torn many [Heroes] to pieces with their bare hands.
“If you do not undress, they will kill you,” Nessus insisted. “The rites demand it. I will have to show you the door if you insist otherwise.”
“What rites?” Kairos glanced at Rhadamanthe with skepticism.
“This is a fertility rite once celebrating Dionysus, an old god,” the minotaur admitted. “Though he is long dead, the ritual still has power. You may bring a curse on yourself if you do not follow its steps. You may keep the spear, however.”
With no other choice, Kairos removed his clothes and tossed them on the grass, keeping only the [Anemoi Spear] and mask. He thought he would freeze, but the fires and phoenix egg warmed him up. No wonder that old god died, if he refused to wear armor!
“Do not be so tense, my captain,” Nessus teased Kairos. “Relax.”
“I thought you needed to be a [Spellcaster] to hold such a rite?” the young captain asked Rhadamanthe, ignoring the satyr.
“No, [Rituals] can be used by anyone, so long as the proper steps are followed,” the minotaur replied. “If it is successful, all participants may benefit from it.”
“See, my captain?” said Nessus. “I coupled business with pleasure. Surely you have no more reason to complain?”
Kairos shrugged, before offering his bag to the two. “In any case, I brought contraceptives and a few healing potions.”
If the raider had a better [Vitality] rank to avoid the side-effects, he would have tested the Mandrake Breath on himself.
“We’ll make good use of these,” Nessus said, taking the bag and waving a hand at the celebration. “Just enjoy yourself, oh my captain. Drink, dance, go wild. Tonight, you are free from the burden of command, Kairos. Nothing is forbidden, and everything is permitted.”
His sheer enthusiasm was enough for the young [Hero] to crack a smile, and he joined the celebration in earnest.
Though instead of drinking and eating, Kairos decided to check on Thales first. The engineer had brought a strange device, which appeared like a fountain made of three different parts: a basin at the top, which sprouted wine; an empty, closed container at the bottom; and a glass sphere full of alcohol in the middle. Wine flowed from one container to the other through expertly crafted bronze pipes.
“Is this a magical item?” Kairos asked as he observed the strange device. His [Magic] stat was too low for him to notice such things.
“No, no, it only uses natural forces,” Thales explained, before describing the device in detail. “See, the basin’s wine goes down thanks to gravity and reaches the third container at the bottom. This pushes the air up. The pressurized air reaches the intermediate container and then pushes the wine upward into a stream that spurts in the basin above. Rinse and repeat. The process stops eventually, but it can last for hours.”
“That’s… ingenious,” Kairos admitted. “If not very useful in practical situations.”
“Ah, but I have found a way to use a similar system to push weight with steam!” the automaton defended his creation. “It could even propel a ship forward!”
Kairos raised an eyebrow in skepticism. “Truly?”
“In theory, yes…” Thales’ fingers fidgeted, the inventor suddenly a lot less confident. “Obviously I never tried with something that big before, but I am sure it would work!”
Well, maybe the [Hero] would let him test his theory; thinking about it, his fountain system could be useful for plumbing or water transportation. The more he observed the automaton, the more Kairos grew convinced that he wasted his talents. Thales was intelligent but aimless; he needed a firm hand to guide him towards productive ends.
And Kairos would be that hand.
“You can spellcast?” the young captain asked the automaton. While Kairos didn’t know of any [Crafter] class capable of doing so, Thales might have delved into that field of study.
“I do not cast spells like a [Spellcaster] class,” Thales admitted. “But I can infuse items with magic thanks to some of my crafting Skills. I am currently trying to figure out how to generate a soul, to sire a child of my own.”
“Andromache is excellent at crafting magical items,” Kairos said, sensing an opening. “Perhaps she could enlighten you.”
Thales looked at the Scylla, clearly cowering in fear of her might. Kairos gently put a hand on the automaton’s shoulder and led him towards the ancient witch, who looked down on them both. “What is this doll?” Andromache asked in Greek, frowning at Thales. Though Aurelia had started teaching her the Travian tongue, the Scylla still refused to use the language unless strictly necessary. “Hephaestus’ spawn?”
“An automaton from Thessala, Your Highness,” Thales replied in Greek, slightly intimidated by the witch’s bestial form. “Should I call you Your Highness? Your Grace?”
“It is a scrawny, cowardly thing,” Andromache replied dismissively, much to Thales’ chagrin. “Hephaestus made a titan thirty meters high. This era’s creations are mere imitations of what came before.”
Much to the Scylla’s surprise, her comment only awakened Thales’ curiosity. “Have you met such a colossus, Your Grace? How was it made?”
“Of bronze and gold,” the Scylla replied, smiling as if reminiscing about the ‘good old times.’ “Zeus commissioned it to protect his prize Europa, while he was away; Hephaestus shaped it in the image of Helios, the god of the sun. Once this duty was fulfilled, Talos served the city of Rhodes as its sworn defender.”
“You said Talos?” Thales asked, entranced by her story. “Like Talos of Thessala? The Maker?”
“He was no [Demigod] then,” Andromache confirmed, and even Kairos paid attention to the story. Talos was the patron of Thessala, and the source of almost all automatons in the region. There were rumors he had been created before the Anthropomachia, but the young captain didn’t know his true origins.
“How was the Maker animated?” the inventor asked, now fully hooked by her tale. “Was it a Skill, or a spell?”
Andromache didn’t know the details, though she suspected the rare [Craft Automaton] skill. Before Kairos knew it, the two had engaged in a debate before his eyes, Thales’ interest in the old world infectious enough to draw a smile from the Scylla. The [Hero] had the intuition the automaton would join his crew by the party’s end.
Rook, who had followed his partner like a shadow, touched the phoenix egg with his claws. “What is it?” Kairos asked his pet.
“Big bird will hatch soon!” Rook yapped. “I can feel it, Kairos! He’s so warm and big and old!”
Truly? Kairos glanced at Nessus, who was busy dancing with a maenad. Was the rite’s purpose to help the egg hatch? Had the wily satyr planned for it? Or was it an unrelated coincidence?
The [Hero] couldn’t shake the feeling Nessus knew more than he let on.
Screams echoed at the meadow's edge, startling Kairos. The trees trembled and collapsed, as a colossal shape emerged from the forest. Guests fled from their spots, while the young captain immediately rushed towards the chaos’ source, weapon raised.
A rumbling noise echoed across the meadow, as a titanic, reptilian beast made her presence known.
“Human!” Kairos’ favorite hydra showed up in all her magnificent glory, her many heads looking at him. “Here you are!”
The [Hero] raised his spear at the guests, to show he had the situation well in hand. Most believed in him, having grown used to his stunts, but Andromache showed her fangs at the newcomer. Thales hid behind the egg, though he peeked at the hydra with curiosity. “Why have you come, Your Majesty?”
“Your smell, human,” the hydra hissed. “You smell good.”
Argh, she must have sensed his [Monster Lure] Legendary Skill. But to think it worked over such a great distance… Kairos guessed a few monsters had probably approached the camp, only to be scared away by Andromache’s presence. Unfortunately, even the Scylla couldn’t intimidate a creature so old and powerful as an ancient hydra.
“You promised me more food, more, more!” the hydra yapped, whipping the ground with her tail and startling the guests. “More!”
“And I will deliver,” Kairos said, before turning to look at Nessus. “Serve Her Majesty a feast worthy of her.”
“What, you want a hydra to dine with us?” one of his crewmates asked, aghast.
“You would prefer to provide the food,” Kairos asked, “or to become the food?”
Nobody argued further.
The hydra was granted her own space to make sure her toxic stench wouldn’t poison the guests, alongside food and wine aplenty. This seemed to sooth the ancient reptile’s ego, and though they gave her a wide berth, the guests started to relax.
Truthfully, Kairos didn’t enjoy the festivities afterward all that much. The captain drank wine in moderation, even diluting it in water; he preferred to keep a clear mind in all matters. Alcohol untied tongues, and in excess drove men to madness. Rook remained with Andromache and Thales while they debated, keeping watch over the egg.
The other guests didn’t waste time though. Whether it was the wine, the music, the nakedness, or whatever magic ritual was taking place, quite a few people were already having intercourse in public. Nessus was busy ravishing a maenad, Kairos wondering if he had summoned the mad nymphs for this very purpose.
Within minutes, Kairos moved to the edge of the celebration, nearly stepping on drunken men, couples rutting in the grass, and emptied amphoras. Though he understood the need to let his crew blow off some steam, the sheer debauchery made the captain uneasy.
“I’m surprised you haven’t found a partner yet, Kairos.”
Kairos turned his head, as a woman approached him. Though she wore a dove mask and undid her braid to let her hair flow down her waist, he instantly recognized her voice as Cassandra’s.
To his shame, his eyes wandered to her naked body. Without any armor on, her slender, yet athletic figure was fully exposed. She had even made some effort on her appearance, using oil to make her skin appear more lustrous. He wondered how it would feel with—
Kairos quickly corrected his expression before his mind wandered where it shouldn’t... but another body part betrayed his thoughts, to Cassandra’s amusement. “I didn’t have the opportunity yet.”
“But the flesh is willing,” she teased him.
“Don’t joke about this,” Kairos protested. “My mother already pestered me enough.”
Cassandra burst out laughing.
“It’s not funny.”
“Sorry, sorry,” Cass calmed herself, though she didn’t stop smirking. “I understand Aurelia though. She is my best friend and now that the mourning period is done, I’ve started receiving demands. Obviously, she wants me to find the better party, and she can think of no one better than her own son.”
It didn’t surprise Kairos that Cass had suitors, but it made him somewhat uneasy. “Any serious ones?”
“Some,” his first mate admitted. “But I prefer to take a step back and consider them carefully before committing. I do not want a repeat of my… difficult relationship with your uncle.”
Your uncle. The wording made Kairos wince.
Now that the mourning was done, nothing bound Cassandra to the young captain’s family. Neither blood nor marriage laws, which Panos never applied. She was no longer his honorary aunt, but a family friend. While he knew he could always trust her as a first mate… Kairos wondered what would happen if her new husband went against the captain’s future agenda.
“Kairos? You have fallen silent.”
“You are quite lovely, Cass,” Kairos said, trying to sound neutral. “It doesn’t surprise me.”
“You are not so unfortunate either,” Cassandra winked at him. “Sometimes, I forget you are no longer a boy, but a man grown. Quite the dashing one, I would say. I would think that the women on the crew would throw themselves at your feet, but I guess I was mistaken.”
“They respect and fear me,” Kairos said, observing the gathering. “Even with a mask on, a fence stands between us.”
“Can you blame them?” Cass asked, a hand on her waist. “You command monsters like hounds, and the gods always seem to favor you. They put you on a pedestal, and won’t make the first move.”
It was just as good. Kairos didn’t feel like making love in front of an audience. It felt… licentious. Nessus might say there was no shame in it, but the [Hero] preferred privacy. “I wonder if I could make use of that peculiar ability,” said the pirate captain. “If I could lead monsters to a town and soften it up before a raid…”
“I cannot believe I am agreeing with Nessus, but stop thinking about the future for a moment,” his first mate said with a chuckle. “Enjoy the present moment.”
The young captain observed his first mate closely, before changing the subject. “Any partner in mind so far?”
“Why, you want to beat them to the chase?” Cass asked him playfully. Kairos swore she got off on teasing him.
Instead of answering, the [Hero] locked eyes with his first mate, his intuition flaring up. As she held his gaze, he realized Cass wasn’t entirely teasing him.
She was testing the waters.
“I can’t marry you,” said the young captain, frowning behind his mask. “Don’t get me wrong, you are beautiful, smart, powerful, and reliable. If you had made the offer before the Pelopidas raid, I would have seriously considered it.”
“Here’s the problem.” Cassandra shook her head. “I only have my person to offer, and nothing else. No land, no riches, no political support… and as a [Hero], you could find a match with those qualities. One that could support your future goals.”
Kairos sighed. “Yes.”
“You know what your weakness is, Kairos?” Cass asked, but it was purely rhetorical. “It’s not your ambition, but your burning greed.”
“Me, greedy?” Kairos pointed his spear at the gathering. “I paid for it all.”
“Because you thought Nessus was worth more in the long run,” Cass countered. “Yes, you’re greedy, Kairos. And not just for gold; for power and status too. I’ve seen the way you looked at Mithridates. You wanted everything he owned, and if you could have taken it by force, you would have. And if someone interests you like that Scylla, you want to own them too.”
“You exaggerate. I’m only motivated by tactical interests.”
“I’ve known you for years, Kairos. It goes deeper than mere practicality. A part of you will always want it all.”
Well, of course Kairos wanted more; he had started with nothing. “Why are you in a hurry to get married?”
“As I told you, I have nothing but myself.” Cassandra let out a sorrowful sigh. “If I am sick or wounded, I cannot sail on the Sunsea. Same if I bear children, and I want to when the right time comes. Who will take care of me then, or when I grow old? I have no husband, no siblings, no adult son or daughter. Though I receive some income from Panos’ ventures, it is only because you allow me to.”
“You’re not alone,” Kairos replied. “Aurelia and I will always be there to support you.”
“And I thank you for it,” Cass nodded, though her smile turned somewhat bittersweet. “But I would prefer a more… legal foundation to stand on. Goodwill is a paper-thin shield.”
Once burned, twice shy.
“Well, if that’s really a problem,” the young captain smirked at her, “I could take a concubine. Queen Teuta does have four consorts, even though she remains unmarried.”
Cass slapped him on the back of the head for his insolence. “Ouch,” Kairos complained, though he was more amused than wounded. "What was that for?"
“Sometimes, I forget you are young, though wise beyond your years,” Cass sighed. “Become a king first before you entertain such thoughts. While she isn’t Mithridates, Teuta is a pirate queen with an army and great riches. You have a ship, a good crew, and a magical spear.”
“That’s a good start,” Kairos replied with a smirk.
“Yes, but while you and Teuta are both [Heroes], you have a long way to go to become a pirate king.”
“But I will become one still,” the young man replied with confidence.
Cassandra rolled her eyes. “Remember what I told you about greed. Anyway, we should return to the feast before they set the forest on fire. The heat is killing me.”
Now that she mentioned it, Kairos had started sweating from the temperature too. However, it didn’t look as if the crew had started more campfires. The heat…
Kairos’ eyes widened and glanced at the celebration’s center.
The phoenix egg was shining.
“Big bird coming!” Rook squealed as he took flight. “Big bird coming!”
“Everyone, back off!” Kairos shouted, unleashing a wind blast at the skies as a warning. The guests listened and retreated towards the woods. Rhadamanthe grabbed Thales and put as much distance as he could between the egg and them. Even the hydra interrupted her dinner to look at the egg, tensing like a snake facing an eagle.
“Finally!” Andromache exclaimed in Greek, a wide smile on her lips. She alone remained close to the egg, torn between fear and excitement. “The moment has come! Salvation is at hand!”
And Nessus calmly slouched on the grass with his legs crossed, as if watching an entertaining spectacle.
The egg burst open.
To Kairos, it seemed as if the stone-like structure had melted away, only to unleash a volcanic eruption. An immense pillar of fire erupted from the egg’s core, filling the skies with its incandescent light. The Foresight's captain had to cover his eyes with his hand to protect himself from the sheer radiance, the night turning as clear as day.
The flames quickly coalesced into the shape of a colossal bird of prey, one that burned like the sun. The creature was at least fifteen meters wide with the wings expanded, a true beast of legend; even the hydra and Andromache looked like children in comparison.
Kairos immediately used [Observer], distinguishing only a few words.
Legend: Sun Reborn (Demigod)
The fiery bird let out a screech that sounded like a mighty war song and flapped his wings. The sheer power behind them unleashed a mighty gust knocking the closest party-goers to the ground. Thales’ wine fountain fell to the side, its containers broken. Yet, although embers fell on the grass and the nearby leaves, none started a forest fire; they extinguished themselves on their own.
Kairos looked up as the beast passed over him and Rook, and to his surprise, the creature briefly gazed back. While he had ignored Andromache’s presence, the newborn phoenix seemed to recognize Kairos, and something fell from his tail. A magnificent, scarlet feather that looked ablaze; yet when the raider grabbed it with his free hand, his fingers didn’t burn on contact. They simply felt warm.
And with a final shout, the phoenix flew away towards the southern sea. Within a minute, the beast had become another bright star in the sky.
For a long moment, nobody dared say a word. The Foresight’s crew looked at the horizon and the colossal bird, mesmerized by the scene. Even the hydra didn’t say a word for a while, like a snake expecting a hawk to return anytime soon.
Of the egg, only a shell of molten stone remained.
“Big bird is free!” Rook rejoiced above them.
“Is this…” Cassandra removed her mask to look at the feather more closely, looking more astonished than she had ever been.
Kairos’ [Barter] Skill immediately allowed him to understand this gift’s true significance.
|[Phoenix Feather]: This heavenly feather, if applied to someone’s ashes, will raise them from the dead. The feather’s power can only bring back one person and is exhausted afterward. The Feather cannot revive [Demigod] rank entities and above.|
This was a divine gift. With it, Kairos could raise his family. He could raise his siblings, his father, even his uncle. He could recover those who had been taken away from him, extract them from the dark halls of the Underworld.
But he could only bring back one person.
It wasn’t enough! Could the feather be replicated? Was there a loophole to extend its power? Kairos couldn’t choose between his family members. One person alone wasn’t enough.
“Kairos.” Cassandra’s hand moved towards him, towards the fiery feather.
“It’s mine,” Kairos hastily replied, moving the feather against his chest. However, when he looked into her eyes, he didn’t see any ill-placed greed, but concern. Only then, did he realize the danger.
This feather was an apple of discord, a poisoned gift. People would fight him for it if they knew.
Congratulations, you earned five levels (total thirty-one) and 15 Skill Points.
You participated to the [Dionysus Mystery] ritual. You gain a [Health] bonus for the month, with your stat rank being treated as one step higher.
A phoenix’s birth was a momentous event, and simply witnessing it came with an enormous feast of experience points. Kairos only had to glance at his men to see that their levels had all increased, some by a dozen.
Only one person was unhappy with the feast’s fiery conclusion.
“The curse…” Andromache whispered to herself, looking at her hands while her expression turned into one of absolute despair. “The curse… hasn’t been lifted?”
For the first time since he met her, Kairos pitied the Scylla.