Corpse Hunter

by

Chester.R.Hemsworth

Chapter Twenty Nine - The Captain's Quarters

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The final set of stairs led up to the main deck of the ship. As the Ascenders made their way up the staircase they were greeted by a vast ocean that stretched out to the horizon in every direction. Not a single speck of land was visible.

A strong wind filled all three of the ship's sails, pulling it along at a swift speed. Anyone who had the misfortune of falling off would not get the opportunity to climb back aboard. At least not without some magical or Fate related assistance.

Aiden thought about reiterating the importance of staying on the ship but he didn't say anything. Maria was well aware of what would happen if ended up in the water. He had made sure of that.

"I don't see anymore skeletons but I don't see a marble door either," said the girl with the beetle cage.

"There's likely a champion still on the boat that we have to fight before we can leave. And I have a feeling I know who it is," said the man in gray.

"Who?"

"The ship's captain."

"How do you know we have to fight the captain?"

"Levels like this one tend to follow a theme. When you can spot the theme you'll have a good idea of what to expect."

Maria nodded as she took in the new information. Aiden wanted to criticize the Ascension Academy for not teaching its students a fundamental piece of information. But Maria wasn't exactly your average student.

She was too dangerous for a classroom setting and her only tutor had apparently abandoned her a while back. The child was like the beetle she had brought with her from the previous floor. Caged and alone.

Well, not completely alone. She had the Corpse Hunter, for whatever that was worth. The man in gray didn't generally take on students.

Mainly because he hated all of the Column Dwellers in Plinth to varying degrees. And because the majority of them were either terrified of the man in gray or had absolutely no trust in his ability or desire to do good. Who could trust a man that lived in a graveyard and kept dead bodies in his home after all.

Of course that was just part of the process of keeping the dead from turning into monsters. But only a handful of people truly appreciated or even understood the work that Aiden did. Maria surely didn't understand, she was just a kid. Yet she wasn't afraid of him.

That had been one of the reasons he went after her. The last kid he met that had more courage than common sense had been torn apart by wild dogs. Aiden didn't care to find Maria in a similar state. His cemetery already had enough child sized coffins in it and it didn't need anymore.

Though the only way to keep that from happening was to keep children out of the Dungeon. Not that he could do anything about it. The laws were firm, no one could deny a Fate Holder's right to Ascend. Regardless of their age.

"What?" Aiden said, as he barely caught the end of whatever Maria was saying.

"I asked if we were going to look around or not? You've been staring off into the distance since we got up here."

"I have a lot on my mind," the man in gray said with a sigh.

There wasn't much on the main deck that wasn't part of the shop. Just the masts and a plethora of ropes, riggings, and other nautical features. Once they were certain there weren't any enemies present they headed for the helm.

Atop a raised platform stood the wooden wheel used to steer the ship. It was unmanned and the wheel gently rocked back and forth. The Dungeon was probably guiding the ship, or so Aiden assumed.

He put his hands on the helm and turned it to the left. The ship began to slowly cut in that direction. It wasn't often that the Corpse Hunter had the opportunity to pursue his passion of sailing.

If he were alone he could have stayed right where he was, guiding the ship aimlessly for hours. But he wasn't alone. And his companion had a deadline coming up, no pun intended.

Aiden let go of the wheel and it corrected itself. "Let's go check the captain's quarters. That's the only place we haven't been to yet."

Directly beneath the platform was a large room. It had a stained glass window that was too dirty to see through and a wooden door which was shut. On the front of the door was a carving of a skull wearing a tricorn.

"That skull has the same hat as the one you're wearing," Maria commented.

"It is a nice looking hat," Aiden replied, before kicking the door in.

The interior of the room was lavishly decorated. A plush red carpet lay sprawled out in the center of the space while a velvet couch sat along the left hand corner near the doorway. Against the far back wall was a desk and a chair that matched the style of the couch.

As the Ascenders stepped into the room the ship's captain spun around from the desk to greet them. She wore a tricorn on her bare skull, a long tattered dress, and an overcoat. The white of her pale bones was visible in the holes of the clothing, clashing against her otherwise dark attire.

A large skeletal parrot was perched on the captain's shoulder while a skeletal monkey sat on her lap clutching a dagger.

"Oh look, one for each of us," the Corpse Hunter said.

The captain rose from her chair drawing the cutlass from her belt. Then she let out a horrific laugh.

"Godsdamnit," said the man in gray in response to the laugh.

He drew his own sword and turned to Maria. "You take the monkey. Vagrant will handle the bird and I'll deal with the captain."

The two groups charged towards one another meeting in the middle of the room. The vulture and undead parrot collided mid air in a tangle of wings and talons. They clawed and pecked at one another with an unnatural vigor.

Aiden parried the captain's cutlass with his shortsword, nearly taking a dagger to the collarbone in the process. But he managed to throw up his shield before the rusty blade could hit its mark. Then he headbutted the skeleton, staggering the monster and causing it to take a step back.

The Corpse Hunter could have obliterated the undead creature with his Fate. That would've been the fastest way to end the fight and clear the floor. But he had already used up more of his energy than he wanted to on the skeleton's one deck below.

Not to mention the captain was much stronger than her crew. And that meant she would require a fair amount of his energy to turn into bone dust. He would probably need a rest after that and Maria didn't have time for him to wait around while he took a nap.

It was one thing for her to rest and be back in good enough shape to train. But any downtime caused solely by Aiden mismanaging his abilities was time wasted. He glanced over to see Maria engaged in a duel with the small primate.

The two had fought their way over to the couch and were balancing on the armrests as they swung their daggers at each other. Maria didn't look injured yet and seemed to be doing alright. Content that the child was holding her own, the Corpse Hunter turned back to his opponent.

A knife caught him just below the ribs, penance for dividing his attention while in combat. The skeleton cackled in his face as it withdrew the blood soaked blade. What a rookie mistake Aiden thought to himself.

He dodged out of the way of the captain's sword and retaliated with a shield bash. Broken shards of undead ribcage fell to the ground but the monster didn't stumble this time. It took the attack and continued to lash out unperturbed by its own injury.

It had been awhile since the Corpse Hunter had allowed himself to get distracted in a fight. He channeled the anger he felt for his own complacency into his next attack. The shortsword cut through the captain's left arm which fell to the ground, still clutching the bloody dagger.

The skeleton stopped laughing as it looked down at the severed limb.

"Not so funny now is it asshole?" the Corpse Hunter said.

Nearby Vagrant screeched loudly as he ripped one of the parrot's wings off. Great minds really did think alike. The skeletal bird splashed at its attacker with its talons as the vulture threw the boney wing to the side.

The captain raised its weapon above its head and slashed down at the man in gray who sidestepped the sword. It slashed through the carpet where he had once been, revealing the floorboards on the ground below. Aiden hacked into the monster's side scattering more of its ribcage onto the floor.

It dropped to one knee but held the sword up refusing to yield. The Corpse kicked the blade away before decapitating the undead captain who slumped to the floor. The sound of breaking glass caused him to look over his shoulder just in time to watch Maria and the monkey fly through the stained glass window.

Aiden ran outside to fund the girl kneeling over the creature, stabbing it in the face repeatedly. Rivulets of blood trickled down her face from the shards of glass.

"I think you got him," the Corpse Hunter said when its skull split in half down the middle.

"It was trying to stab you in the back," Maria said once she caught her breath.

"Good work then. I wasn't in the mood to be stabbed twice in the same level."

She looked up at Aiden and stared at the blood stain on the front of his overcoat. "What happened?"

"I lost my focus. I'm fine though," he said reassuringly.

"You're bleeding."

"I've lost enough blood in this Dungeon to fill a bathtub. I'll be alright."

"You're sure? We can stop and rest again."

"Trust me, I've had far worse happen to me than this."

"If you say so," Maria said reluctantly.

The Corpse Hunter had been through worse, that wasn't a lie. Though a short rest would have still helped. Or a healing Potion, though he didn't have many left and wanted to keep them on hand in case the kid got into trouble again.

When they reentered the captain's quarters they found Vagrant standing victorious over the remains of the undead parrot. His chest was clawed up a bit but the wounds weren't deep and had already stopped bleeding on their own.

The vulture squawked when it saw the man in gray return.

"I could say the same to you," Aiden said with a slight grin.

"Can you really understand what he says?" Maria asked.

"Vagrant?" Aiden asked. "Of course I can."

"So your Fate lets you blow up skeletons and talk to birds? Can you talk to other animals?'

"No. Vagrant isn't an ordinary bird. He's my Familiar, an Ethereal spirit from a different Plane of Existence. We have a unique bond between us that isn't shared with anyone else. "

"Oh," Maria said, sounding disappointed. She looked down at her pet cage and frowned.

"You wanted me to talk to your beetle didn't you?" Aiden asked.

"No," she lied.

"Right. Well let's see if we can find anything valuable here and then head out."

Maria started searching the captain's body. She took the tricorn off the skeleton's head and looked at it for a moment before tucking it into her bag. Then she started rummaging around in its coat.

Vagrant hopped back up on the Corpse Hunter's shoulder and they walked over to the desk at the back of the room. There was a doorway next to it now that hadn't been there before it was made of smooth marble and read, "Push to leave. Pull to ascend."

In the desk the man in gray found a silver flask and a small coin purse. He wasn't expecting much loot. They were still on a low level and a reward for clearing a floor wasn't even a guarantee.

A lot of Ascenders made their money collecting and selling monster parts. It was a more reliable way to earn an income than hoping to find a magical item or a pile of gold. Not to say that didn't also happen from time to time.

Though that was more common in the higher levels where the risks were much greater. Aiden pocketed the flask and grabbed the leather pouch of coins. Then he walked over to the girl.

"Here," he said. "This is your half of the loot."

"I found something too, though I can't figure out how to open it." Maria handed the small ivory box to the Corpse Hunter and took the coin purse.

Aiden looked at it, moving the object over in his hand. The image of a skull wearing a tricorn was carved into the top of the box. It was the same symbol that they had seen on the door that led into this room.

When the man in gray pressed on the symbol it receded half an inch into the lid. Something inside clicked and the box opened revealing a second smaller box inside. This one had a small keyhole right in the middle of it.

"I almost forgot I had this," Aiden said as he pulled a key from his pocket. It was the one he'd found on one of the skeleton crew members earlier. He placed the key into the lock and opened it.

"Oh," the Corpse Hunter said in surprise.

"What is it?" Maria asked.

"It's a quest scroll. These aren't very common, especially on the lower levels of the Dungeon."

"What's a quest scroll?"

"It's a list of optional objectives you can accomplish for a greater reward after clearing a level of the Dungeon. They spawn randomly now and then when you slay a champion monster though the drop rate is quite low. It's no surprise that you haven't heard of them."

"Yeah, can’t say I’ve ever heard of that before. So what’s the quest?"

"You have to open it to find out. Once you open the scroll you have two choices. You can attempt the quest or ignore it and leave. If you leave the quest automatically fails and the scroll dissolves but there aren't any other repercussions.

"However, if you choose to accept the quest, the scroll will give you details on how to accomplish the objectives. You can cancel the quest at any time by destroying the scroll. That will spawn an exit door and you can either leave the Dungeon or Ascend to the next floor like normal."

"Are we going to do it?"

"Sure. The difficulty should be equal to the floor we're on unless it's an upgraded quest."

"What’s an upgraded quest?" Maria asked.

"It's like a normal quest, only harder but it also gives you much better loot. A copper quest is the most common upgrade while silver is the second most common. You’re not likely to see anything beyond that from a level thirteen quest scroll. Want to give it a shot?"

"Sure. It sounds exciting. Plus it'll probably help with my training."

"Alright then." The Corpse Hunter opened the scroll and began to read it.

The first thing he saw at the top of the parchment in big bold letters was, "GOLD QUEST.”

"Oh fuck."

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About the author

Chester.R.Hemsworth

  • United States

Bio: Just an aspiring writer.

https://www.royalroad.com/fiction/60280/designated-healer [Ongoing LITRPG]

New Chapters posted daily.

https://www.royalroad.com/fiction/50090/corpse-hunter [Finished]

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