Kairos faced his mother, both sitting around the kitchen table. The young [Hero] wore armor, ready to raid, while Aurelia dressed with wolf pelts. A single feather glowed between the two of them, a promise of hope, and an apple of discord.
“I cannot, Kairos.” Aurelia scowled, shaking her head. “I cannot decide.”
“The more we wait, the greater the risk of theft.”
“What do you want me to say? That I want a son raised from the dead over the daughter? Or that you should revive your father instead, and leave your siblings to rot in the Underworld? Don’t force me to make that choice, Kairos. I will regret it for the rest of my days.”
More than risk losing the feather? Then again, Kairos himself wasn’t sure how to use the artifact. How could he justify raising one family member over another, especially to himself? “If only I could ask the dead for their opinion,” the young [Hero] complained out loud. “But Queen Persephone closed all doors to the Underworld.”
“You could ask a [Necromancer],” Aurelia suggested, joining her fingers as she tried to figure out a solution. “They are somewhat common in the witch island of Achlys, or among the Cyclops of Argos.”
“Maybe,” Kairos said, putting the feather in an ingredient pouch around his belt. He planned to entrust the artifact to the one crewmate who wouldn’t be tempted to use it. “But neither are on our next trip’s itinerary. If the chance presents itself, though, I will ask them for advice.”
“You reached a decision?” His mother’s face softened in sorrow. “You are leaving Lissala?”
“Yes. I considered it, and this seems to be the best solution.”
“I know a child has to leave the nest at some point, but it’s always heartbreaking.” Aurelia rose up, and so did her child. “Hug me, my son.”
He did. Though his mother remained dignified, he could feel the sorrow in her embrace. While this wasn’t farewell, she wouldn’t see him for a while. “I will take care of the gravestones,” Aurelia whispered. “Please, come back to visit us whenever you can. I will be waiting to see your sail at the docks."
“I promise,” he said while breaking the embrace, before trying to lighten the mood. “Sorry to put your marriage plans on hold.”
“Oh, do not worry about that, it’s handled.”
Kairos froze. “What do you mean?”
“It’s handled,” Aurelia replied with a warm smile. “I found you a good match, my son. One that I believe will help you fulfill your ambitions.”
“And who is the other party?”
“I cannot tell you yet. If it is confirmed, her family will approach you. You will be pleased with them, I am sure.” Her sharp smile made Kairos uneasy, but he decided to keep an open mind.
Someone knocked on the family house’s door, interrupting the emotional moment. “It must be Cassandra,” Aurelia said, dusting off her wolf pelts. “Take care of her, would you? She loves you almost as much as I do.”
“I know,” Kairos said with a smirk, before grabbing his spear and moving to the door. Cass waited on the other side, dressed in full armor.
“Kairos.” His first-mate nodded at him. “We are ready to sail at your command.”
“Give me a moment to pay my respects, and we will go.”
Since he wouldn’t come back for a while, Kairos decided to leave flowers on the garden’s gravestones. Once there were three, but with his uncle’s demise, the number had grown to four.
His father, Chron, who perished during a raid in Vali, bequeathing the Foresight to Panos. His older brother Taulas, a brave and promising raider who drowned during a naval battle. His gentle sister Histria, who died of starvation while far too young. And now, his uncle Panos, slain by the Thessalans in a desperate bid for greatness.
So many family members had been taken before their time.
Kairos had to fight the urge to touch the feather, to feel its warmth on his fingers. How much he would give to have four of them, instead of one! Had this truly been a gift from that fiery bird, or a cruel joke at his expense?
He felt another kind of warmth as Cassandra put her hand on his shoulder. “Kairos, you don’t have to shoulder that burden alone.”
“Even my mother couldn’t help me carry it,” he replied, sighing. “Father… I think Father would want Taulas or Histria to return to life, and Uncle would agree too. But which one? Which one, Cass?”
His first-mate didn’t say anything, didn’t offer empty words. She just listened, and let him vent.
“The terrible thing is, they would each ask me to raise the other.” Taulas had the potential to become a [Hero] too, and Histria had been taken before she could grow. Both deserved to live.
And even then… if they unearthed the bodies, burnt the remains to cinders, and applied the feather to them, what would happen if it failed? If the artifact’s power had been exaggerated? Above all, Kairos was afraid of being disappointed.
Eventually, the anger and frustration vanished, leaving only emptiness. Kairos cursed himself for being unable to make a choice, and decided to take his mind away from this madness. “You can brief me on the situation,” he told Cassandra as he put flowers in front of his sister Histria’s resting place.
“The raiding force we gathered is small but experienced,” Cass said softly as she removed her hand from his shoulder. She still looked concerned for him, but understood his desire to distract himself with work. “I think we can credibly assault fortified towns, especially with Andromache as the vanguard.”
In total, four other crews had agreed to join in the Orthia raid under Kairos’ command; two triremes and two lighter raiding galleys, each commanded by an independent captain. The young [Hero] had already participated in such operations while under his uncle’s command, but never in a position of leadership. The captains all came from Lissala, so Kairos knew them well. He was more than happy to have their help… with one exception.
“Is it wise to take Agron with us?” the young captain asked his second-in-command. “Rhadamanthe embodies everything good about minotaurs, but Agron gives them a bad name.”
“Mithridates wants the coast terrorized,” Cassandra replied. “You will find nobody better at it than Agron. If you want to keep your hands clean, you should let someone else take the blame for your expedition’s worst excesses.”
Kairos frowned as he left flowers to his brother Taulas, surprised by her suggestion. “I didn’t know this side of you, Cass.”
“I’ll take that as a compliment,” she replied with a smile. “Also, one of the captains, Cynane, is one of Queen Teuta’s tributaries. This means we have her attention.”
Kairos had the feeling this raid may make or break his reputation among his fellow pirate lords. If it worked, more people would flock to fight under his banner, and he might receive the patronage of older Travian warlords. If he failed, his ambitions would die strangled in their crib.
“Thanks for your help, Cass,” Kairos said, from the bottom of his heart. She had been the one meeting with other captains on his behalf, convincing them to join the raid. “You were right too.”
“Sure I was,” she said with a smirk, “but about what?”
“Though we are both [Heroes], I am no Teuta yet. What I need is a kingdom of my own.”
“What do you mean?”
“You were at the feast. My mere presence attracts monsters like hydras and puts the city of Lissala in danger. It breeds resentment.”
Cassandra immediately caught on. “You want to leave Lissala?”
“Yes, and found another Travian colony somewhere else. One that could serve as a naval base to launch raids against our enemies.”
“Kairos, you understand founding a city is no easy task?” Cass reminded him. “While colonizing new islands is an honored Travian tradition, you will need brave people, resources, a keen sense of logistics, money...”
“Yes.” Kairos nodded. “Which is why I won’t be able to do it without you.”
She chuckled. “Trying flattery, are you? Well, do you have an island in mind?”
“Rhadamanthe and Thales are selecting the possible candidates,” Kairos replied. The automaton engineer ended up joining the crew after yesterday’s events. “Our navigator noted a few uncharted islands during his travels.”
“You also know that there is a reason most of them are uncharted?” Cass teased him. “It wouldn’t do well to flee from monsters, only to settle on an island filled with them.”
“Actually, I think otherwise. I will inevitably bring monsters to whatever colony I build, so it should be designed with that threat in mind.”
“Why do I have the feeling our crew will become a menagerie?” His first mate shook her head. “Fine, Kairos. I will go along with it.”
“You think it’s possible?”
“It doesn’t matter if it is possible or not. You will find a way to surprise me.”
Kairos chuckled, though his smile wavered as he approached Panos’ tomb. “Cass, about the feather—”
“Keep it,” she interrupted him. “The bird gave it to you, not I.”
Kairos frowned, as he left flowers to his uncle. “Still, I’m surprised you didn’t ask me to raise Panos.”
“Don’t hate me for what I’m about to say, Kairos, especially in front of his gravestone… but I think we are better off with your uncle gone.” Cassandra paused shortly as if considering her words. “As a crew. He had his chance, let him rest now.”
Well, Kairos had underestimated her bitterness. He didn’t blame Cass for feeling this way, but he had hoped her relationship had ended on better terms. “What was the Quest that the hag gave you, years ago?”
“Kairos, don’t you have enough things to worry about?
“I said we would get to it, once we completed mine,” he reminded her. “You’ve done so much for me, I thought I should return the favor.”
“If you want to know…” His first-mate crossed her arms, a bit uneasy. “I must hunt and destroy the Argo.”
Kairos frowned, having heard that name. Sailors feared it almost as much as sea monsters. “The ghost ship?”
“You can understand why I put it on hold. Finding it alone is a challenge, and let’s not talk about defeating its undead crew.”
“Well, you said it yourself. I will surprise you.”
Once he was done paying his respects to his family, Kairos gave one last glance to his hometown of Lissala. In a way, it was a part of him he would leave behind. It made him feel a bit sorrowful… but also excited.
Kairos had lived in someone else’s home long enough.
Now, it was time for him to build his own.
The Foresight sailed the open sea, followed by a small fleet of ships. The winds were wild and strong, but Kairos used his spear to redirect them so they didn’t veer them off-course.
As he toured the ship, the captain was quite pleased with his now well-staffed crew. Thales remained at the back, assisting Rhadamanthe as the minotaur calculated their position. As always, Rook served as the group’s sentry and scout, surveying the sea from above. Cass surveyed the oarsmen inside the Foresight’s belly. And Nessus, cunning Nessus, was busy carving a second bow on the deck. Unlike the wooden one he had created for the Scylla raid, this new weapon was made of bones and sinew.
“My captain?” the satyr asked when he noticed his captain glaring at him.
“You knew, you bastard,” Kairos accused the hunter. “You knew the egg would hatch.”
“I didn’t know for sure the egg would hatch, just that the ritual might help. Anyway, didn’t you get a few levels and a feather out of it? Surely, it worked out well for us all.” Nessus shrugged, sending one glance to Andromache standing near the hull. The Scylla had been watching the sea in human form without a word since they set sail. “Most of us anyway.”
Kairos crossed his arms. “Who are you, Nessus?”
“Just a [Rogue] lost on the road of life, my captain.”
“I don't believe you,” the captain replied, skeptical. “Most [Rogues] don’t know how to hold a ritual dedicated to some pre-Anthropomachia old god, in the hope of hatching a phoenix egg.”
“Only those who keep an open mind,” Nessus replied with a bellowing laugh. “My captain, I have sworn the oath before the crones, so my loyalty to you is assured. Certainly, I’m allowed to keep a few secrets for myself?”
Kairos considered that for a moment. The satyr did prove himself invaluable in battle, followed his oath to the letter, and his ploy did help the crew in a roundabout way. Quite a few shipmates would say the ritual had been worth it, if only for the massive experience bounty it yielded.
“I will let this slide, once,” the captain decided. “But if you want to do something that risky again, you will have to inform me.”
“Promised,” the satyr swore, though Kairos couldn’t tell if he was genuine. “Anyway, are we making a detour or something? I heard the men say we are not moving towards our planned target.”
“The phoenix went south-west, towards the grand central ocean. I wish to see where it went, before sailing east towards the Thessalan city-states.”
Since Mithridates wanted an alibi, the reavers would attack some of the villages he indicated in his notes, before setting Orthia’s shores ablaze. By coming from the open sea rather than trailing the coasts, the raiders would remain undetected by Thessalan ships until they struck.
“Getting greedy for more feathers?”
Kairos chuckled. Truth was, Nessus had a point. It was part of his decision to follow the phoenix’s trail, though he was also curious. The witch-goddess Circe had granted that egg to Andromache to keep until it hatched, meaning the creature served an unknown purpose.
Speaking of Andromache, Kairos decided to leave the satyr to his bow carving and approached the Scylla. Though she sensed his presence, the shapeshifting monster didn’t even look at her captain. Her cold eyes watched the sea with bitterness.
“I am sorry,” Kairos said, though Andromache didn’t answer. “That was a cruel joke that the gods played on you.”
“I did as Circe asked, but she did not deliver,” Andromache said in Greek. There was no emotion in her voice, no anger, no nothing. She hadn't even considered escaping; her will had been thoroughly crushed. “Even though the egg hatched and I am no longer bound to it, I remain as I am. The curse had no exit clause.”
“The old gods were cruel and deceitful,” Kairos replied, looking at the sea. “I can’t imagine so many of my ancestors wishing them dead for power alone. Mother said they abused the wives and daughters of mortals, and slew fathers and sons over trivial matters.”
The Scylla grunted. Perhaps the event had made her reconsider her stance on the Anthropomachia. "You don't feel any link to the phoenix?" the captain asked Andromache.
"No," she replied bitterly. "And my [Legend] didn't change."
“Why were you cursed in the first place? What warranted such transformation?”
“The same crime as my sisters,” Andromache rasped, her lips parting ways to reveal the sharp fangs beneath the human face. “We were nymphs lusted after by the sea god Glaucus, whom Circe desired for herself. In her jealousy, she cursed us with a monstrous shape, until we atoned for our mishap.”
Kairos thought he had misheard for a second, or that the Scylla was joking. When he realized that no, she was entirely serious, he couldn’t help but ask for confirmation still. “Wait, are you saying that you did nothing to Circe personally? Did you even touch Glaucus?”
“I refused him, but it was not enough in the eyes of the witch-queen.”
To have been loved by someone else was her ‘crime’?
After her tale of the Anthropomachia, Kairos had thought mortals were the Old Gods’ slaves, but she had been wrong.
Mortals were their playthings.
Kairos couldn’t help but see parallels with his own life. He who had been born in abject poverty, forced to scavenge the scraps of people who had it better than him. Forced to suffer through humiliations, sorrows, and injustices. The old gods had been born with their power, and never appreciated it; they wielded it carelessly, without thinking of others.
If anything, the destruction of the old world had been worth getting rid of them. At least now, anyone could become a deity if they proved themselves worthy.
Now, even though she had slain countless men, Kairos couldn’t help but seethe at the sheer injustice Andromache had suffered from. She had been turned into a monster over a lovers’ quarrel, enslaved for eons, and been taught her fate was a just punishment, rather than a callous act of cruelty.
Wouldn’t Kairos have grown bitter too, in the same circumstances?
“Andromache,” the captain said, staring at the endless ocean. “I swear, we will find a way to lift your curse. Whether by ourselves, or by finding someone who can.”
The Scylla glared at him with a scowl. “Have you not listened, foolish [Hero]?” the witch hissed. “It is a godly curse, with no exit clause.”
“So what? My ancestors killed plenty of deities, according to your own tales. What the old gods have made, we can undo. For no matter what you say, you are no criminal, but a victim.”
His argument made her pause, both because it had merit and because she didn’t understand where it came from. “Why do you care?” she asked angrily. “Is that not why you forced me into bondage? To have a pet monster at your command?”
“Even if the circumstances of your joining were… difficult, you are now part of the crew, Andromache,” Kairos said. “Which means your safety and well-being is one of my priorities as a captain.”
Andromache looked at him strangely, her face an emotionless mask. He couldn’t tell if his words had soothed her heart, or wounded her ego. Eventually, she broke the silence. “You are a fool.”
“Perhaps, but I will stand by what I say.”
Andromache let out a sound which Kairos took for a faint chuckle, before glancing back at the sea.
“You have points to invest.” Much to Kairos’ surprise, the Scylla spoke in Travian rather than Greek for once. “You should upgrade your [Magic] stat. Magic, true magic, is what separates men from divinities.”
“Why?” Kairos asked, before smiling slyly. “You will teach me?”
“Perhaps,” she said, much to his surprise. “If you mean what you say about lifting my curse, then I shall make use of you. I will work you to the bone until you fulfill your ill-conceived promise.”
Kairos smiled. The captain could tell Andromache trusted him a little more, and it pleased him.
As for his points, yes, he could invest in his [Magic] stat and increase his remaining skills to rank 3. Afterward, he would have to decide whether to invest in new abilities, or hoard SPs for later. The best subclasses needed high Stats to access, and the price to raise them was high.
Kairos glanced above, as Rook circled the Foresight in the skies. “Land, Kairos!” the griffin screeched. “Big island at the front! Very big!”
“Captain,” Rhadamanthe shouted at the ship’s back, the raiders on the deck tensing up. “Trouble brewing?”
“We’re approaching an island, according to Rook,” Kairos replied, Cass emerging from below deck at the commotion. “A large one.”
“Mmm, I look at the map, but I see nothing,” Thales said, holding a scroll with his four hands. “We must be in uncharted waters.”
“The currents probably caused us to veer farther west than expected,” Rhadamanthe grumbled. “I would need the night sky to pinpoint our exact position, and the sun will not fall for hours.”
“We could check the island,” Cass pointed out. “If only to forage food and freshwater.”
Kairos was about to give his seal of approval when his intuition kicked in.
He couldn’t put a word on the sensation. A cold feeling raced through his back, like a shiver down his spine. An ominous warning, that he should turn back now while he still could. His [Seamanship 3] Skill had activated, intuitively warning him of danger.
Either a storm or...
“We turn back,” Kairos decided immediately, suddenly realizing why these waters had remained uncharted. “Right now.”
“What?” Cass asked, surprised. “Are you serious?”
“We turn back,” the captain said, trusting his intuition. “That’s an order. My skills are telling me there’s danger afoot.”
“Captain, the current is against us, and we are far from the coast,” Rhadamanthe said. “It will be difficult—”
“Do as I say,” Kairos snapped, trying to remain calm. If his men sensed his fear, panic may spread through the ranks. “I will redirect the winds, push against the current if you must.”
“You are too late,” Andromache said at his side. “The beast smelled you.”
Kairos glanced at the Scylla, whose eyes were looking at something further west of the Foresight. “Many of your kind perished in these waters,” she said, showing her bestial teeth. “I can smell the blood on her scales.”
“Kairos!” Rook screeched in alarm from above, quickly confirming Andromache's warning. “Big shadow in the water!”
“How big?” Kairos asked, praying it was a small one.
“Big!” Rook yapped back in rising dread. “Bigger than the ship!”
Kairos froze, while Nessus raised the alarm with his bow raised; thanks to his eyesight skills, the satyr had seen it first.
An enormous blue fin as big as the Foresight itself, rising from the waves as something approached the fleet from the side. Something colossal.
Kairos’ fear had come true.
His [Monster Lure] skill had summoned a sea monster.