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Kairos had often wondered how it would feel to rule. To be a commander, a tribe chief, or a pirate lord. The [Hero] thought the job would involve a lot of speaking: barking out at soldiers, issuing edicts with a commanding voice, or ordering everyone to follow his lead...

But as it turned out, he spent most of his time listening nowadays.

“So.” Kairos considered the scouts’ reports. His officers surrounded a table with a map-in-progress of the island covering it. “You noticed an enormous coral reef west, a mountain in the north, and a river of fire on the northeast?”

“Yes.” Eos nodded. As a crew veteran and a survivor of the battle with Andromache months ago, Kairos had promoted him to the rank of tributary captain. He and his crew had circled the entire island on a stolen Orthian ship, to map out the coasts. “A stream of lava falls from the cliffs and into the sea below, creating a steaming lake of boiling water underneath. It's quite the sight.”

The [Hero] absorbed the information, as Rhadamanthe wrote everything down the island’s map. It had been two weeks since Boeotia’s sack, and Kairos had focused on developing the colony since. He had even established a command center, sort of: five goatskin tents joined together in a cross-shaped structure. His ‘throne room’ occupied the center, while the left tent served as a meeting place to discuss colony activities.

“So the mountain is probably an active volcano,” Cassandra said. “It is the fire river's source up north, and the freshwater flowing through the entire island. Perhaps we could use it to swim towards the northern half?”

“We already tried, beauty,” Nessus explained, who had been put in charge of the scouts and the colony’s watch. “Same result as with the previous attempts. Ships return to their entry point as soon as they reach the Mint Woods. Even when they travel in a straight line.”

“What about you, Rook?” Kairos asked his griffin, who had built a bone and straw nest in a corner. “Did you reach the northern half by flight?”

“I’m sorry, Kairos,” the griffin apologized. He had grown a few inches lately, perhaps due to a puberty growth spurt. Soon it would become impossible for Kairos to carry him on his shoulder. “I tried to fly above it. I tried really hard, from the sea and the north. I always ran circles. It’s so annoying!”

Distressing. “Even Rook couldn’t cross the barrier,” the [Hero] told his men. “Could it be mind magic?”

Andromache, the best spellcaster among them, shook her head. “It is spatial magic of the highest tier, probably a subtle form of teleportation. Theurgic magic.”

“Can a single spell cover an area this large?” Thales asked as the officers muttered words of concern. The island was nowhere near as big as Travia, but roughly two and a half hundred kilometers in length according to their estimations. Its shape reminded Kairos of a spear’s tip, with the crescent bay located on its southern edge. Tall cliffs made it almost impossible to land anywhere else, making the island a natural fortress.

However, as Sertorius had warned, it possessed magical defenses too. An enormous forest, which the scouts nicknamed the Mint Woods due to the numerous mint plants growing inside, separated the island into two halves. Anyone attempting to cross it ended up magically returning to the forest’s entrance. If Rook failed to fly to the mountain, then the effect blanketed the whole northern half of the island.

At least the southern part overflowed with resources. Cypress and stone pines could be exploited for timber, while preliminary diggings had revealed iron, tin, and lead strains. The Cetus’ rapacious hunger had left the landmass free of mortal exploitation.

Or so Kairos had thought, until Nessus put a bag on the table and spilled the contents: rusty cutlery, broken pots, even coins from Lyce and Thessala.

“We found ruins to the east,” Nessus said, indicating the spot on the map. “A small village with two dozen houses. Since we scavenged stuff from various countries, the previous inhabitants were probably shipwrecked people who banded together.”

“In ruins, you said?” Cassandra asked with a frown.

“Half the houses were overturned, and we found claw marks on the ground.” Nessus extended his hands. “Of this size.”

Kairos blinked a few times, wondering if the archer exaggerated. But he looked serious.

The other people present exchanged glances, until Cass dared to voice her skepticism. “Nessus, you and the scouts found claw marks fifty centimeters long?”

“Yes, we did.”

A short silence followed, broken by an intimidated Thales. “That… that's worrying…”

“Gee, you think?” Nessus replied dryly. “The place looked abandoned for decades, and the previous occupiers didn’t leave any hints. We couldn't even find bones. Smells like a cleanup, if you ask good old Nessus.”

“What about the western scouts?” Eos asked the satyr.

“They didn’t come back.”

“That is the third group we lost so far,” Eos said with a frown. “One is bad luck, two is worrying, three is a pattern.”

Kairos decided to sum up the situation. “So, there’s a magical forest north, which prevents us from accessing half the island. In the west, something causes our men to disappear, and in the east, we found the ruins of a previous colony destroyed by a colossal creature. Did I get everything right?”

“That sums it up, oh my captain,” Nessus said.

“Wonderful.” The [Hero] then glanced at his spellcasters. “Andromache, Rhadamanthe, what about you?”

“We both tried divination spells, to no avail,” Andromache said with frustration. “Even with our combined expertise, the magic shrouding this island remains impenetrable. But we learned a few details.”

Rhadamanthe nodded. “The spell is [God]-ranked, radiates from the island's northern mountain, and was cast before the Anthropomachia.”

Cassandra immediately put the two and two together, as almost everyone in the room gasped. “Cast by an Olympian?”

“Perhaps,” the minotaur said, though with hesitation.

Andromache was far more decisive. “The anti-divination ward was cast by an Olympian, yes. As for the magic protecting the forest, I suspect it is a different effect. Multiple spells work together to form a defense perimeter.”

“Which means something to protect,” Nessus mused with greedy eyes. “Maybe we could bypass the forest by digging a tunnel, or climbing the northern cliffs? They are steep and hard, but...”

“If a griffin cannot fly past the barrier, I doubt climbing cliffs will work.” Cass turned at her captain. “Kairos, maybe you could pierce the effect with [Legend Slayer]?”

The [Hero] shook his head. “My Skill is limited to [Demigod] Rank and below. It won’t work on a [God]'s magic.”

“Only a powerful deity skilled in magic could design something this complex, Kairos,” Andromache pointed out. The captain noted that she had started using his name rather than ‘human’ since Boeotia, but didn’t comment on it. “There will be no easy way in, no shortcut. However, magical perimeters are rarely absolute. It must exclude specific individuals from its influence.”

“We will only know with time, study, and effort,” Rhadamanthe summed it up.

“It is linked to the river, I feel it,” Andromache said. “Its waters overflow with magical power.”

After some consideration, Kairos decided on a course of action. “I want to know what happened to the missing patrols. We’ll move west with a larger, experienced force.”

“So we go on a hunt together again, oh my captain?” Nessus asked, eager to put his skills to the test. “Perhaps you intend to add another beast to your menagerie?”

“My exact thoughts,” the [Hero] replied, causing his men to chuckle. “Cass will be in charge with my absence. Go gather your soldiers, Nessus, we leave in two hours.”

“I hope that beast is a fair maiden,” Nessus mused while leaving the meeting.

Kairos looked at Cassandra next. “What about Orthia?”

“My contacts informed me that Orthia prepares a rescue fleet, but doesn’t know the queen and prince's location yet. I believe the island’s anti-divination magic prevents their spellcasters from tracking down our hostages, for now. But mark my word, they will learn it eventually. People talk.”

Still, it meant more time to prepare. “And the other thing?”

“Nothing yet.”

So Mithridates hadn’t sent any directive about what to do with the hostages yet. Perhaps the Poison King was waiting for the situation to clear up first. “Alright,” the [Hero] turned to Thales next. “What about the colony?”

“We, uh, we finished raising the fortifications and preparing the area.” Thales joined his fingers, embarrassed to become the center of attention. “It will take years to complete the town, but considering the labor force and plentiful resources, I believe we could have key infrastructure ready within months.”

“That’s optimistic,” Cassandra said with skepticism, “we do have funds from the last raid to fuel the construction, but they will not last forever. We need to develop consistent streams of income.”

“What do you suggest?” Kairos asked, prizing her insight.

“Start exploiting the island’s mineral resources and create a special status for merchants,” she explained. “Though we are in uncharted waters, the colony has potential as a trading port. We need to attract skilled [Crafters] by offering them favorable conditions.”

Kairos' [Barter] Skill activated, providing him with intuitive insight. “Why not create a merchant guild? Members would get tribute exemptions, and exclusivity on specific exports.”

“That’s… a good idea.” Cass smiled, enthusiastic. “Yes, that could work. Am I free to draft a special status for merchant partners?”

Kairos answered with a nod and a smile of his own.

Afterward, the meeting focused more on the village’s logistics and urban development. Thales wished to divert the nearest river for sanitation purposes, while Andromache proposed to alter the weather for agriculture. The Scylla’s sheer magical power never ceased to amaze Kairos.

“Are we done?” the pirate lord asked.

“Not yet,” Cass said. “There is a new captain wishing to join the colony.”

“Another?” Eos let out a groan. “We haven't finished building the piers yet!”

Well, Kairos certainly hadn’t expected his colony to have so much success. Once the news of the Boeotia raid reached Travia, ambitious captains and colonists had started traveling to Histria faster than their infrastructures could support them. “I will receive them.”

“Him,” Cass said, with a warm tone that made the [Hero] raise an eyebrow.

After dismissing everyone but Cass and Rhadamanthe, Kairos left the gathering room and moved to his ‘throne’ in the central tent. He had made this glorified barbarian chair from the few Cetus bones he didn't feed to the Foresight, and piled up a hoard of gold and silver from the Boeotia raid behind it. Kairos wanted to mimic the same ‘atmosphere’ of Mithridates’ tent, a mix of opulence and intimidation.

The captain sat on his throne, with Cass and Rhadamanthe standing at his sides and Rook leaping at his feet. The griffin delighted at showing off in front of guests, like a fearsome, feathered warhound. Kairos found him more cute than intimidating, but indulged Rook’s vanity all the same.

The [Hero] adjusted his posture, wielding his [Anemoi Spear] to look fearsome. “Let him in.”

A man in his early thirties stepped inside the tent. He was handsome and strongly-built, with darkened skin, short black hair, and blue eyes like the ocean. He was clearly a frontline warrior, if Kairos could trust the large poleaxe he carried, and he wore an armor of manticore fur.

Castor Epulon

Legend: None (Elite)

Race: Human

Class: Fighter (Berserker, Skald, Raider)

Level: 32

And he shared a class specialization with Kairos too. [Raider] was available to both [Fighter] and [Rogue]; and since the [Terror] effect stacked, the more of them in a pirate fleet, the better.

“Lord Kairos.” The newcomer nodded respectfully at the people present, though he only smiled at Cassandra. “Rhadamanthe, Cass.”

Cass. How familiar. And most importantly, she smiled back. “You know each other?” Kairos asked his first mate.

“This is Castor, the Longstrider’s captain,” Cass answered. “An old friend, who lives in the city of Kratul.”

Kratul? Queen Teuta’s fief?

“I was away on a raid when you attacked Boeotia,” said Castor, sounding slightly disappointed. “A shame. If the timing had been different, I would have sailed at your side.”

“There is still time for you to do so,” Kairos replied. “Cass’ friends are always welcome in Histria. Are you here to visit, or to settle?”

“I would like to settle here, yes,” said Castor. “This colony’s location makes it an ideal naval base, and it would be easier to attack my favorite trading routes. I’ve also heard you’re building a fleet.”

That was one way to put it. Not letting an opportunity to build goodwill pass, Kairos intended to reward his veteran crewmates with tributary captainship. Like Eos, they would receive stolen Boeotian ships to command as they saw fit… after they swore oaths of loyalty first.

“The Longstrider will become the thirtieth ship if you join us,” Kairos said. “However, you will need to become a tributary and sign our charter before you can take shelter in Histria.”

As a new colony's Pirate Lord, Kairos had established a city charter and set strict laws. Some he based on Travian ones, others on what he had learned from his [Lycean Education] Skill. The [Hero] would reform his homeland into something better, one step at a time.

“I wanted to discuss that,” Castor said, suddenly less enthusiastic. “I would prefer not to become a tributary captain.”

They all wanted to argue about that part. “I am afraid this is non-negotiable, Castor,” Cass said while shaking her head. “You will sooner move the world than change Kairos’ mind on this policy. Trust me, I tried.”

“I was about to suggest a compromise,” Castor argued. “I won’t become a tributary, but I will pay you to use the port as shelter and base. I will remain free, but still contribute to your colony.”

It was a nice offer, but unfortunately for Castor, it wasn’t about money.

“I will state it clearly,” Kairos declared. “The colony of Histria moves in one direction. Mine.”

Castor frowned at the [Hero]’s bluntness. “I thought all Travian ships could find shelter in our nation’s ports and colonies? That’s our fundamental law, the one that binds us together.”

“And that law remains, albeit with a strict interpretation. Although you are always welcome if you wish to trade or to resupply, raiding ships won’t find a safe harbor unless they follow our community’s rules.”

“Your rules, you mean,” the Longstrider’s captain said, crossing his arms. “And you fetch a high price. Not only must I become a tributary captain, but I must also make an oath of loyalty to you and your successors, and obey the colony’s laws. An oath sworn on the Furies.”

“This is true.” The man had done his research, but not well enough to know he wouldn’t change Kairos’ mind. Now that he could dictate his terms, the warlord didn’t hesitate to reinforce loyalty with magic.

Castor, however, remained reluctant. “What bothers me is that you or your representatives must approve every raid beforehand. And I heard that among other restrictions, you ban raids on Lycean ships.”

If only the [Hero] had a crucified Serras to parade around, and show why he settled on this course of action…

"We want to gradually move away from reaving, and restrict raids to countries like the Thessalan League,” Kairos said. “We are small, and most of our neighbours too powerful to antagonize. While I honor the value of freedom, what one captain does impacts the whole fleet. It is imperative that we all move in one direction. A hydra cannot hunt if its heads bicker.”

Ultimately, Kairos wanted to avoid blunders like Serras', and focus pirate raids on nations with whom Travia was already in an open conflict with. He didn't trust pirate captains to ignore neutral ships while he wasn't looking, hence the oaths and heavy restrictions. To establish trade relationships with nations like Lyce, Achlys, or Vali, Kairos needed to make their sailors feel safe in his waters.

“Travia was founded on the concept of freedom,” Castor argued, glancing at Rhadamanthe and Cass. Perhaps he hoped to find support, but both remained silent. “That all captains were kings on their own ship, and brothers-in-arms. Lycean ships are my usual targets, and I would lose my income for an uncertain future.”

“You are free,” Kairos replied. “You are free to accept and prosper with us, or refuse and find another colony. As for income… take a good look around.”

Castor frowned, but glanced at the riches piled behind Kairos’ throne. The [Hero] had specifically arranged this scene to lord Boeotia’s wealth to newcomers, and intimidate visitors. The choice was clear: wealth, or freedom.

And freedom didn't fill an empty stomach.

Still, Kairos sweetened the deal with promises. “We have raided Boeotia, even capturing one of Orthia’s queens and princelings. This is but the beginning. Certainly, you will prey on Lycean ships no longer, but you will join a pack of wolves. Alone, you can hunt a hare; together, we can bring down a deer.”

“But I will have to share the deer,” Castor said, skeptical. “When the hare is all mine.”

“Perhaps, but a deer’s limb will provide more meat then ten hares,” Kairos replied bluntly, slouching on his throne. “We both know you wouldn’t be here if you could do it on your own.”

“But that deal is profitable only if you keep winning. What happens when you won’t? The wheel always turns, and you made powerful enemies.”

“Mark my word, Castor, I will always prevail.” Kairos’ words were more for show than anything. He couldn’t afford to show weakness. “So let’s cut to the chase. What will it be?”

The [Hero] let a heavy silence fall on the room, leaving his guest to stew for a while. Eventually, he bent the knee like all the others before him. “Fine,” Castor decided. “The Longstrider will sail at your command.”

“Wonderful,” Kairos said, before looking at Rhadamanthe. “My friend will be our witness. Make the oath.”

“Now?” Castor asked, startled.

“Now or never.”

Eventually, the captain caved in, swearing fealty as a tributary captain, before promising to follow Histria's laws and submit to its charter. The room echoed with Rhadamanthe’s magic, and the pact was sealed. “Welcome to the pack,” the [Hero] congratulated his new recruit.

“I hope I will not regret this,” Castor said.

“You won’t,” Kairos replied before dismissing him.

“Lord Kairos,” the tributary captain excused himself with a courtly bow, and a wink at Cassandra, “We shall meet soon? You still owe me a drink.”

“Sure,” Cass replied with a smile, as the young man exited the tent. Kairos considered his words thoughtfully.

He called Kairos lord, but not king.

Not yet. But maybe one day.

Congratulations, you earned one level (total thirty-two) and 3 Skill Points.

 

“Finally, a new level!” Kairos announced his joy to all. “I thought the day would never come!”

“I warned you that you would enter the grind upon getting past level 30,” Cass said with a smirk. “Every new level will make you sweat for it.”

“Also, am I really that persuasive?” Kairos asked Cassandra. So far, all the captains that tried arguing for a special status ended up making the oath anyway.

“You have many diplomatic skills,” Cassandra pointed out. “Of course you are persuasive.”

“I was starting to doubt, after Timaea’s refusal to stand down.”

“The [Speech] Skill improves your persuasiveness, but does not guarantee obedience,” Rhadamanthe reminded his captain. “Though I heard Alexandria’s words dominate listeners’ minds.”

She was one of the new gods, so Kairos wouldn’t expect anything less.

“Your [Leadership] will also improve your men’s morale,” Cassandra said, having a weaker version of the Skill herself. “But as Castor said, it will only work so long as you keep winning.”

[Leadership] had also proved good at attracting followers, sometimes too well; Agron, of all people, had offered to bend the knee. Kairos had expected another Serras, but it seemed the minotaur captain was surprisingly savvy for a bloodthirsty pyromaniac. He knew the [Hero] could lead him far. Still, the Travian warlord had been on the fence about hiring him permanently, even with a magical oath to make him behave.

“Cass,” the captain said, focusing on the matter at hand, “the way you looked at each other…”

“Castor made overtures, back when I was with your uncle. I denied him hoping Panos would propose, but we all know how that turned out.” Cass put her hands on her waist, a coy smile on her face. “Are you jealous, Kairos?”

“No, I’m not,” he lied.

She didn’t believe him, even with [Speech 3]’s help.

Kairos shouldn’t have felt jealous. He denied Cassandra when she was interested, he couldn’t blame her for searching for a husband. She was ten years older than him, while he could afford to wait a bit longer for a more politically advantageous partner. Still, the thought of seeing his first mate settling down with Castor bothered him for some reason.

“Anyway, if we are done, I will go prepare,” Kairos said as he rose up from his throne, wind swirling around his spear. “You can use the seat in my absence, Cass.”

“Keep it warm for you?” his first mate chuckled, but her expression quickly turned serious. “Before you go, there’s something I wish to ask you.”

“Sure, go ahead.”

“What do you intend to do with the feather?”

Ah. The hardest question of all. “Thales suggested feeding it to the Foresight, in the hope it could copy its resurrection power.”

“Such a course of action is equally likely to waste the power,” Rhadamanthe warned. “This would be a fool’s gamble.”

“Hence why I didn’t do it.” Kairos glanced at Rhadamanthe. “No sighting of the phoenix either?”

“No,” the minotaur answered. “If the creature is on the island at all, it must be on the mountain.”

“You cannot delay this decision forever, Kairos,” Cass said. “I tell you that because some people have been asking questions. Rumors are spreading among the colonists, and it inflames their greed. If you don’t use the feather, unsavory individuals might be tempted to steal it.”

“I know,” Kairos replied, “but I need more time. The right moment isn’t here yet.”

Cassandra shook her head in disappointment. “There will be no right moment.”

And she was probably right.

Kairos banished the matter from his thoughts and stepped out of the tent, with Rook in tow. Soon, he faced the bright sun, and the village of Histria.

The colony covered an area of forty hectares, surrounded by a trench and a stone rampart, itself topped by a palisade of stakes. Two main roads crossed the camp, leaving a total of four fortified gates, and Thales considered adding wooden towers. The engineer had delimited every area based on specific needs; rows of goatskin tents for the colonists, basic storehouses to store the food, public latrines near the river for public sanitation...

Of course, the amenities were rudimentary, and Kairos couldn’t call it a town yet. But it was a start, the foundation on which Histria would grow, step by step. Some colonists had already started building their future homes from timber and stone.

The place remained vulnerable though. Orthia would send a fleet; the shadows of Mithridates and Lyce loomed over them; and the island’s mysteries needed to be uncovered.

Nessus had joked about recruiting monsters, but so far, this policy served Kairos well. Andromache had proven an invaluable asset, Rook was his best friend, and the pirate wouldn’t have become an [Hero] at all without befriending a hydra. He needed more allies.

Time to build an army of beasts and men.

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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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