Interlude – Strategists at Sea (Pt. 2)

(I will be taking part in an online panel on r/Fantasy on the 23rd of April! Find out more here!)

 

“The Diamond Swords of Serept. One of the true relics of this world. Six blades, each forged by Serept of Khelt. A [King] beyond mere mortal [Kings]. He reigned for three thousand years before time consumed him. And no foe less than that ever humbled him.”

The swords shone in the ancient chest. Each one a different color; each one shaped of diamond.

Most people didn’t even know diamonds could take on color. More fools, they. But these blades had been forged of colored diamond. For instance—one was the shortest of swords, curved, a mix between a dagger and sword, really. And the diamond it had been made of was black.

Yet—transparent. Yet, lustrous. It shone in the light, the first time it had been seen in hundreds of years under the sun. Beautiful, deadly.

Magical.

“They are among Khelt’s great treasures. Each one is fit for a [General] or [King] of the old world. Perhaps none now live who are worthy of them. But a blade is meant to be used. And so—I offer my bargain.”

The speaker moved. His form was made of sand. Magic. An ancient curse. But it had replicated Fetohep of Khelt to perfection. He stood on the decks of the Emerald Signet, no longer the visage in the air. Speaking as he regarded his treasure.

“The chest is cursed. As are the artifacts. Death will befall any thief, as it did to those who stole the treasure from Khelt long ago. Yet, the blades endure. If Serept the Creator had any flaw, it was that his work was too perfect; the curse consumed the [Thieves] at sea so completely they never even uttered a word of distress. So my treasure was lost.”

The Revenant, the undead [King] turned his head. And he met a young [Lord]’s eyes. Wil Kallinad stood with Venaz, Feshi, Merrik, Yerranola, and Peki.

Staring. This was their adventure at sea. A tale of boredom, sea creatures, danger, friendship, failed romance, and hope, mixed with awe and fear throughout. But it had been their small adventure. Until this moment.

Now, they looked at a legend. And who more fitting to this story than Fetohep of Khelt? A ruler of an ancient nation. He looked at his blades, at Wil, and pointed.

“Boy. I say again: this is my bargain. It is no joke, or prank.”

His eyes flashed as the apparition spoke. It was powerful magic that gave Fetohep a presence thousands of miles from where he actually was. He gestured at the swords, each a different color and style.

“Three of the six swords. Half of the treasure that belongs to me. You will return the other three blades to my presence. And in exchange—I will grant you the use of the other three swords. For as long as you live. No longer.”

He turned his head, expecting a response. And Wil Kallinad was frozen. Because he had expected treasure, dreamed of it. But with it in front of him he couldn’t help but feel like he was dreaming.

It was Merrik who found his voice first. The Dwarf looked at Fetohep, gripping his beard in one fist. But his voice was steady. Forged of his own species’ resilience. He had seen wonders.

“Er—you, sir. You’re undead, ain’t you? Who are you, then? Some old spirit? How can we return your swords to you? Chuck ‘em back over the sides?”

Wil choked. Fetohep’s head slowly turned. But Merrik looked genuinely confused.

“I am Fetohep of Khelt. Dwarf. Ruler of Khelt, paradise of Chandrar. Do you not know of me?

Peki started. She bowed slightly. Fetohep’s gaze flickered to her. Venaz copied the gesture.

“Khelt? Dead gods.”

He whispered, looking as stunned as Wil. Yerranola copied the gesture on the grounds that it was probably wise. But she and Feshi looked as confused as Merrik. The Dwarf bowed, eying his companions.

“I apologize, er, King Fetohep. I haven’t heard of Khelt. But I’ve never been to Chandrar.”

“And Khelt’s name has not reached Deríthal-vel? Do the Dwarves forget old friends so easily? Perhaps even legends fade. Perhaps young Atwood was correct…”

The [King] looked—disgruntled. Wil Kallinad spoke, trying, suddenly, to remember how to bow to the Chandrarian ruler. Just so—he made an attempt of it, putting his hand just below his heart, two fingers extended, sweeping his leg back like…

“King Fetohep. I am Wil Kallinad of Pheislant. I greet you and beg your majesty’s forgiveness.”

The eyes flashed at him.

“It is given, young man. As is the ignorance of your companions. I did not think to find my lost treasures today. But you have found them. So, once again, for a third time, I offer my bargain.”

He sounded overly patient. And he emphasized ‘my’. Wil gulped.

“Three swords, your Majesty?”

“Yes. You may pick each one. And you will make haste to Chandrar to deliver the other relics to me. Yes. You alone, Wil Kallinad.”

Fetohep twisted his fingers. The swords flashed in the light—a trick of the blades, or magic? The sand-figure turned.

“The curse shall seize whomever touches my swords. However—Wil Kallinad, I grant you the right to touch my blades. And those three blades you first pick will be yours to share. Again, until your deaths.”

“What happens then?”

Fetohep looked at Yerranola. The Selphid hurriedly bowed again. The [King] sounded impatient, and moderated his tone as if he was speaking to dullards.

“The blades shall return to me. Upon your death. In the light of the sun they cannot escape my gaze. So they will come to Khelt. Any attempt to hide them away will meet with the curse of Khelt. And it will consume the blood of any who attempt to withhold them, down to the last child of those who would steal from me. Do you…understand what I am offering you?”

The [King] seemed to fear this was very much in doubt. The students traded looks. The [Sailors], Captain Lasc, and everyone else were just staring. Wil still wanted to know if this was a trick. But Merrik spoke up again.

“So, three of the six swords, your Majesty? And you can locate them after our deaths? Seems a rather fortuitous deal to suddenly make. What’s to stop us from claiming six? There are…six of us. Perhaps we could take all six and return them to you before we die? Anyways, if three of us were to get the swords, what about me? I’m a Dwarf. Time lasts for me longer than most folk.”

He sounded like he was debating the Titan, the Professor in class. But Fetohep was not Niers Astoragon. He looked at Merrik. And then he laughed.

With dark humor. With amusement at the effrontery. The sand making up his body expanded. The [King] rose, looking down at Merrik. The people on the ship.

Your lifespan is still short compared to mine. And if you would try Khelt’s wrath, pick up the sword, Dwarf. Do not take my offer as weakness; I make it because my generosity outweighs the gratitude you have done me for locating my treasure. I could take my swords back.

He flicked his wrist. A vortex of sand engulfed the Kheltian chest. A miniature maelstrom. And the stone chest and swords began to lift off the ground. Higher, higher. Wil cried out with dismay. Feshi sighed.

“Damn it, Merrik.”

The chest soared across the sea as Fetohep pointed. But it circled back. And the ruler spread his arms.

“But I still offer this bargain out of the mortality I remember. Gratitude. For acts of daring, for luck, for these things should be rewarded. Now. Tell me, Dwarf.”

He leaned down. Merrik stared up at the glowing eyes.

“Do you wish to bargain with me? For I am no [Merchant].”

Merrik raised his hands. He grinned, backing up, as the chest lowered itself to the deck.

“No, your Majesty. Please excuse my impertinence. I’ve a tongue on me. Too chatty by far. That’s what the old grandfathers used to say.”

“It is excused, Dwarf.”

The [King] shrank back down. He looked from face to face. Now, curiously.

“A Terandrian [Lord]. A Dwarf. A Selphid, a son of the House of Minos, a Plains Gnoll. And a Garuda. Do you hail from Chandrar, girl?”

He looked at Peki. The [Martial Artist] bowed, in a different style. A warrior’s salute.

“I come from Pomle.”

“Ah. How did such a group come searching for my treasure?”

Fetohep turned to Wil. The young [Lord] replied, trying to explain.

“We’re…students of the Titan of Baleros, Niers Astoragon, your Majesty. And we…”

The undead [King]’s eyes flickered at the Titan’s name. And he smiled—although his emaciated face was always smiling.

“I see. Youthful adventure. Then, thank your luck, young Kallinad. You have the right of choosing of the Swords of Serept. If you choose, choose wisely; each one is different. If not…I shall return in one day’s time. Give me your answer then.”

He raised a hand before Wil could respond, and his form collapsed into sand. The sand blew off the side of the ship, and into the sea. And then—only the diamond swords remained. Wil stared, wide-eyed, around at the others.

It had been such a quick encounter. And yet—his mind was spinning. Venaz exhaled slowly.

“He could have blasted our flesh from our bones. What was that? Some kind of astral projection spell. And yet, the power. Wil, you didn’t tell me the chest was cursed.

He gave Wil a vaguely reproachful look. Wil weakly spoke.

“I didn’t think it was worth mentioning. Even the Professor’s notes said it was unlikely to be the actual treasure…”

He looked at a [Storm Sailor] standing to the side. Inky’s eyes were wide. As awed as the other’s. She looked at him.

“It was just sitting there. In a pile of bones. Was that undead a…ruler of Khelt?

“The Kingdom of Undead. Ruled by nigh-immortal monarchs. A beauteous place, or so it’s said. For the few that enter. Never conquered; even the King of Destruction struck a deal rather than invade.”

Lasc murmured. He shook himself. And stared at Wil, purely shocked. The swords glittered in the chest. A black dagger, a green diamond greatsword. A rose blade, with only one edge. A yellow longsword…

Magic. Treasure. Relics. Relic-class artifacts. Wil felt light-headed.

“This isn’t happening. Yerra? Pinch me.”

“I’m trying. But it’s not working on me. But if I feel something, I know I’m dreaming. Dead gods. Dead gods—we found something.”

The Selphid was pinching her dead flesh. Feshi was sniffing the air, wide-eyed.

“We found them? Just—lying there? What will you do, Wil? Take the offer, surely? But would not someone steal them?”

“Fetohep might object. But maybe he only knows where the blades are. How strong’s the curse? How…am I dreaming?”

Wil murmured weakly. He looked around. His friends were gazing at him. The [Sailors] were murmuring. But it was a different kind of awe than seeing the Treant.

Treasure. Wil felt it tugging at him. But he had to know. He reached for one arm, and hesitated.

“Peki? Hit me.”

The Garuda turned her head. She nodded. Merrik’s head snapped around.

“No, wait. Peki, don’t actually—”

Wil saw the Garuda raise a fist—

 

—-

 

Wil Kallinad woke up in his bunk with a jaw that felt broken.

It wasn’t. But he groaned and would have shouted with the pain except that just made the jaw feel worse. He felt for a healing potion, drank it, and got up.

Someone—something was going insane abovedecks. Wil stumbled up the stairs. It was dark. But the entire crew of The Emerald Signet was on the decks.

Drinking. They cheered as they saw Wil, lifting mugs. Countless barrels had been breached, and food and liquor was being consumed liberally.

The ship was celebrating. Including Wil’s friends. He saw Peki duck her head and hide behind a wing as he stumbled towards them.

“Wil! Never ask Peki to punch you! But she’s sorry, right, Peki?”

“Sorry.”

The Garuda looked shamefaced. Wil stared around. Everyone was partying. The chest was closed and guarded by a group of [Storm Sailors], but even they were drinking. And Captain Lasc was toasting Wil.

A treasure of Khelt! Now there’s a story worthy of the seas!

He looked at Wil, raising his mug. Wil looked around. Feshi was passing around a refill to his friends. Then a huge arm grabbed him.

“Wil. You’ve done it. That is to say—the Professor was right. A treasure. And relics. I’m envious. However—it’s yours by right. And this all started of Daquin. Come, you have to toast with me! The world won’t forget your name in a hurry! No—this is the beginning of your legend.”

Venaz was slightly wet-eyed as he raised a mug. He towed Wil towards the center of the ship and everyone shouted as Venaz slammed a hand on Wil’s shoulder.

Treasure!

The Minotaur roared. Wil could smell how drunk he was. Dumbfounded, the [Lord] looked around. But he’d missed hours of this. Apparently—once the shock had worn off, a massive party had begun.

And everyone had convinced themselves this was real. Feshi had even plucked some fur off her arm—electing not to be hit by Peki. The Gnoll, Yerra, everyone was looking at Wil.

So, gradually, he realized it was real. Wil had to have a drink. And there was plenty about.

“Three blades. To give to anyone of your choosing. Imagine if the Professor were to get one? You could trade them.”

“Fetohep might not approve of passing them about. Sounded like Wil had to choose.”

Merrik was wagging a finger. But Inky, Delivan, the other [Sailors] were staring at Wil out of the corner of their eyes. Venaz was nodding.

“Well, yes. Perhaps it’s not that simple. But if Wil says ‘yes’—and what benefit is there to saying no?—he suddenly has a mission.”

“Chandrar. It’s far from Izril. But—well, the blades are important. If you could drop me at a port before we go there, I could go to Izril.”

Feshi was nodding. The others were looking at Wil. And he—well, he was about four drinks in by this time and his head was spinning.

“I just can’t believe—”

“Enough of that! It’s real! As real as anything! What are you going to do, Wil?”

Yerra was happily soused. She leaned on Wil, hugging him with excitement for her friend. And Wil Kallinad thought as he downed his drink.

 

—-

 

The next day, Fetohep of Khelt appeared in a whirling spectacle of sand on the decks of the ship. He paused, and looked around.

Face-down [Sailors]. A few comatose forms. Had the ship already been attacked for his treasures?

No—they were just drunk. Or hung over and wishing they were dead. Fetohep saw a group of people start.

“Oh—oh—dead gods, he’s here. Is it day already?

A Selphid stared up at the bright, blue skies. She wobbled out of her seat and rolled over on the moving deck. The undead [King] stared at her as she waved at something past his shoulder.

“Hey. Heeey. It’s me. Yerranola. Wil—he’s got a decision.”

A [Lord] unsteadily rose to his feet. He was still drunk. But he had made his decision.

“King Fetohep of Khelt—I accept your terms. But—may I beg some of your time? We have one last place to visit. A shipwreck. With treasure. Not as glorious as yours—or more glorious, actually. May we visit it first?”

He was doing his best to be polite. The ruler of Khelt, the immortal undead, Fetohep, eyed Wil’s unfocused gaze. He spoke, curtly.

“By all means. What is time to one such as I? But I have your word?”

“Yes. Three swords, right?”

“…That is what I said.”

Wil Kallinad nodded a few times. He looked for Captain Lasc, who’d passed out in his cabin. Vaguely, Wil waved his hand.

“We sail to Chandrar! After the last shipwreck.”

He clarified and the awake drunks cheered. Some people on deck woke up and spat curses. Fetohep saw a figure standing next to the steering wheel jerk up.

To Chandrar!

Merrik swung the ship’s wheel around. Wil’s face went slack as his friends turned. The boom swung across the deck. Wil ducked. So did Feshi. Peki, Venaz, and Yerra didn’t.

Fetohep of Khelt saw the three go overboard. There was a splash, confusion—the [King] sighed. He looked at Wil and turned away.

Mortals.

 

—-

 

An Alluring Prize; a Sailor’s Nightmare

 

Drunken excitement. Incredulity. The first day, The Emerald Signet was chaos. But as the second day dawned, aching heads led to purpose. The ship set sail; for there was one last shipwreck to investigate. And Fetohep, overly patient and perhaps, regretting his generosity, had allowed it before their transit to Chandrar.

But the ship was in search of a final treasure. And—if you thought the excitement was at a fever’s pitch, it was even higher. Because Wil and his friends had a thought.

The final shipwreck might contain something even greater. What that might be, only Wil knew. And he refused to share. But his anticipation was a physical thing.

A Dragonship.

So the Storm Ship, eagerly led by Captain Lasc, sailed off in search of that ninth and final shipwreck. They had a ways to go. The first day of the final leg of their journey was libations.

The second was hangover, planning. And on the third? There was a battle.

Under the sea, two Drowned Ships clashed. Captain Therrium of The Passing Shadow led his crew through the waters. The Drowned Folk swam out of the magical field protecting their ship. Into another pocket of air. They hit the decks, showering water, and locked blades with the enemy crew.

In near-silence. The two ships fought in the dark waters. Therrium, half-Eel, swung his sword with vicious grace. Each time he locked blades with another enemy [Depth Sailor], an electrical current shocked his opponent, running though his enchanted blade.

His [First Mate] was just as deadly. Half-starfish, she cut and hacked with two blades, a hatchet and shortsword, eschewing safety. Her wounds began to heal and she was fearless. Even when the enemy [Captain] hacked half the fingers off her right hand, she just slashed with her other axe.

The fighting was short, fierce, and bitter. But not bloody—at least, not as much as it could have been. The other [Depth Captain] surrendered, presenting her blade to Therrium. The Drowned Man grimaced, counting the wounded; the other ship had surrendered rather than be slaughtered.

“You sail under my command now.”

He snapped at the [Depth Captain] who’d lost. She compressed her lips, but signed the document.

“For six months, aye. And the treasure?”

“We wait! A final shipwreck awaits and I will have the entirety of it or naught at all. The landfolk’s luck is running strong. We wait.”

That had been what the quarrel was about. The other ship had wanted to attack now and claim the Swords of Serept. Therrium had disagreed. Now, he had two ships under his command. But—he was restless.

“They have a Kheltian treasure, Captain. Better to cut our losses and seize them now, rather than later?”

The [First Mate] examined her slowly-regrowing fingers as the others tended to their wounds. The defeated crew were doing the same, heads hung low. The Undersea Crews often came to blows. But they didn’t kill each other; they preferred submission to slaughter of their own kind.

“Patience has gotten us further than not. I say we wait. After all—that [Lord] is as keen on the final shipwreck as he is on those relics. What’s worth delaying claiming the blades?”

The crew looked up sharply as Therrium stared around. The [First Mate]’s eyes lit up.

“An even greater treasure, Captain?”

“Exactly. Now, get the ships moving. Get our [Mages]—I’ll blow winds in the sails of the landfolk if I have to!”

Therrium gritted his teeth. He was taking a risk. More treasure. Something…his instincts were screaming there was a double fortune to be had. But he was worried. He cursed as The Emerald Signet moved too slowly for him, for all it was covering the ocean at a quick pace. But it would have been too slow even if it moved as fast as the Illuminary for Therrium.

Because word was spreading. The students had found the Diamond Swords of Serept. And now—everyone was aware of that fact.

 

—-

 

Wil Kallinad was not an idiot. Or he tried not to be. Nor was Captain Lasc. After that day of libations, Wil had suddenly realized the swords made him the biggest target on the sea.

Lasc was already on top of that. He’d posted his most trusted [Sailors] around the chest. Not Inky, in fact, but [Storm Sailors] who’d served with him for over ten years in some cases. And he had blunt words for Wil.

“If you think there’s something worth searching for, I’ll deliver you to this final shipwreck, Lord Kallinad. But until then—I’ll be plotting a course away from every major sailing route, sir. And I’ll treat every vessel we come across as potentially hostile. Any [Pirate] gets wind of this bounty and we’ll be fighting for our lives.”

The chest was under lock and key—well, metaphorically. It was sitting in the center of the ship; the crew had moved it there, but they’d feared to stow it below. Fetohep of Khelt had warned dire consequences for anyone but Wil who touched the blades.

So, now the ship sailed. Wil had helped Lasc plot the most evasive route he could devise towards his final destination. But no one, not even the [Storm Captain] knew where the final shipwreck was. Wil was on tenterhooks—

For the first four days. But he was at sea. And even with the [Storm Captain] and an excellent ship, the sea was vast.

The Emerald Signet moves faster than most ships her size, especially without as much cargo, sirs. We’re running high on the waters, actually. But we’ll still be six more days at sea.”

Delivan announced. The [Strategists] nodded. They were taking turns guarding the chest with the [Storm Sailors]. And—debating.

“So, what will you do with the swords, Wil? The three of them you can pick, I mean?”

“I hope I can ask Fetohep what each of them do. They must have different enchantments. And—I might bequeath all of them away.”

Wil grimaced at the thought. But he had been debating for the last four days with his friends the most optimal way to use the bounty. Merrik looked shocked.

“You won’t keep even one? You can’t imagine how powerful a single blade might make you! I can’t imagine it! Are you mad?”

“We’ve been over this, Merrik. Wil is a decent fighter, but those swords are best used in the hands of experts. I myself would give them away if I owned them.”

Venaz didn’t look happy to admit that, but he had agreed with Wil. The [Lord] was nodding.

“I…I might give all three away. One has to go to the King of Pheislant. The monarchy would be offended if I didn’t. And it will boost House Kallinad’s reputation through the ceiling.”

“Damn. Politics over relics?”

Merrik spluttered. Wil raised an admonitory finger.

“It might deter Ailendamus. It’s smart, Merrik. The second blade? I might…give it to Lady Foliana.”

Three-Color Stalker?

Feshi was combing her hair. She glanced up. Wil nodded as the others inhaled.

“In exchange for the Professor giving me suitable artifacts or money in return.”

“Smart. As if people weren’t afraid of Lady Foliana enough already.”

Yerranola was lounging on a bed; Peki was the only one absent, being chosen to sit with the chest. They rotated every half-hour—every few hours at night. The [Storm Sailors] were keeping watch too, but Wil didn’t dare take his eyes off the chest.

“If I get anything, I’ll share it with all of you. Fair’s fair.”

“Aw, that’s noble of you, lad. And of course, we’ll accept.”

Merrik laughed and the others chortled. No false modesty here. The students didn’t look a gift-horse in the mouth; they immediately sold it off and counted their gold. Venaz glanced up.

“It will be worth it, just to say we participated in this trip. Let alone if we find whatever has you so excited for the ninth shipwreck. And to visit Khelt. I hear it is a paradise. But where might the third blade go, Wil?”

The Lord Kallinad looked embarrassed. He scratched at his head.

“Well—I might just make it a gift to the Order itself. But, um, I think it’d go best to my sister. Talia. She’s a Knight of the Summer. And the Order of Seasons would owe me a debt. If she refuses—perhaps to one of the Knight-Commanders. I doubt they’d refuse.”

“Smart.”

The others agreed. But Merrik looked wistful.

“If I didn’t think that Fetohep fellow was being serious, I’d risk swinging the blades about. Not to steal, but—I wonder if he’ll let us hold them? Just once?”

“We can always ask. He seemed rather reasonable. And generous.”

Yerranola smiled. The others looked at her, nodding. Feshi sighed.

“I wish I could go with you. But I can’t travel all the way to Khelt and back and expect to make it to the Meeting of Tribes. I’ll sail to Izril as soon as we make port.”

“We’re…passing by the House of Minos. Assuming this isn’t part of a trick, we could charter a ship from there, Feshi.”

Venaz glanced at Wil. The [Lord] locked his lips.

“I can’t say anything. But we’ll get you to the Meeting of Tribes, Feshi. Anyways, that’s my plan. I know it’s not dramatic—”

“But it’s smart. No need to die over the blades. I get it. I just wish I could own them.”

Merrik leaned back. He reached for a wine flask. Then frowned.

“Empty. Venaz, pour me something out of that keg.”

The Minotaur reached over and pressed on a tap. Nothing happened. The other students sighed.

“Who’s going to get more drinks? Not me.”

Yerranola instantly raised her hand. The others did likewise. Wil was slowest. With good humor, he rose. He walked up the deck, on top of the world. True, nothing was happening now and they had more time at sea—but he had done it.

Strange—he didn’t feel like he’d earned the blades. And he hadn’t. But then—he wasn’t going to own any of them. Privately, in his heart of hearts, Wil was hurt by that too. He would have loved to own…well, he didn’t even know what the swords did. And that was for the best.

“Delivan, do we have anything to drink? We’re out.”

Wil hailed the [First Mate] on the deck. The man looked up. So did Inky and a small gathering of [Sailors]. The [First Mate] grimaced.

“You too? This might be worse than I thought. Lord Kallinad—we might have a situation on our hands that needs resolving soonest.”

Delivan glanced around. So did Wil, reading the expressions on the other sailors.

“What’s wrong?”

“We’re out of drink. We must have used it up all during the party.”

Inky crossed her arms. She looked bad-tempered. The other [Sailors] murmured. Wil hesitated.

“Well, we’re about a week from our destination. We’ll have to make do.”

“No, we bleeding well won’t.”

Begal snapped. The [Lord] looked at him. Delivan gestured.

“Lord Kallinad. Might I explain a few customs of the sea? Including the Sailor’s Ration? Captain Lasc! We’ve a situation on our hands.”

He looked grave. And Wil slowly realized they’d reached the [Sailor]’s worst nightmare. Worse than krakens, or monsters, or being becalmed.

No. Rum.

 

—-

 

The Merchant’s Garden

 

The Sailor’s Ration was a nautical term. It referred to, well, the standard food a [Sailor] got per day. If they were running out, it might not be much food, or good food. Of course—any good ship had bags of holding, and barrels besides.

Horrible hardtack, water, bread—all that could be eaten. But what couldn’t run out, the truest part of the Sailor’s Ration that they really meant when they referred to it was—rum. Alcohol. Liquor of any kind.

It could not be allowed to run out. Or dire things happened.

“Y’see, Lord Kallinad, a man or woman on the seas can live eating hardtack, even with their bleedin’ gums. They can fight monsters and sail through storms. But not go thirsty. Each [Sailor] gets their tot per day. And they need it. It’s the only thing that keeps them going. It runs out and, well, it’s bad.”

Delivan explained as Captain Lasc cursed over the absence.

“We shouldn’t have breached so many kegs. But I didn’t think to count for the celebration. There’s no hope for it. We’ll have to find someone to trade with. Worst case? We make for the House of Minos.”

“Over alcohol? Captain Lasc, you agreed that being covert was key!”

Wil was aghast. The [Storm Captain] shook his head.

“Lord Kallinad, lack of the Sailor’s Ration is the surest path to mutiny. I won’t risk it. The crew? They drink the stuff with each meal. You want to imagine what happens when it runs out? Fights will start occurring within the day.”

The [Lord] covered his face. He could just imagine; he had classmates who were just as alcoholic.

“Please tell me we don’t have to visit a port.”

He wasn’t about to have every [Thief] coming after the treasure. Although…did Minotaur [Thieves] exist? That might almost be worth seeing. But the [Captain] was shaking his head.

“We can cast about for local ships. I’ve a Skill—[Ship’s Beacon]. Most [Captains] have some method, even if it’s a [Message] scroll. By your leave, Lord Kallinad. We’ll know if any ship is willing to trade us within the day. If there are any in these waters, they will; they know a Sailor’s Ration. Won’t take more than a bit.”

And sure enough—the [Captain] fired what looked like a glowing, green flare of light from the prow of his ship. And Wil saw an answering flare within five minutes, far distant. The [Captain] turned his ship. And that was that.

“We’re meeting a foreign ship in the waters with a relic-class treasure just to get rum?”

Feshi looked horrified as the crew loitered on the decks. Most of them—including Merrik and Yerranola—gave her incredulous looks.

“Of course. We can’t do without rum!”

Or whiskey. I’d sooner cut off my leg. At least that grows back. We ran out last night. You lot were lucky you had some left! I’d have come calling if I knew you still had some!”

Inky hung over the railing, looking miserable. Like any true alcoholic—she was already looking antsy. Wil glanced at her.

“But it can’t be that bad, Inky. If you had to go without drink for a week—”

“I’d kill you and eat your liver, Lord Kallinad. You think your lot drinks? That’s cute.”

The [Storm Sailor] didn’t bat an eyelid. Venaz folded his arms.

“I’ve seen you [Sailors] drink, Inky. I’d say the Titan’s students can keep up with you.”

The part-Octopus woman laughed. So did the other [Sailors]. Inky shook her head at the Minotaur.

“Sea Cow, you think that’s all there is to it? We might not be able to outdrink Minotaurs, but—we have a stiff glass of whiskey for breakfast. We’re always drunk. You’ve never talked to me when I’m not partly sloshed.”

“Dead gods.”

Even Yerranola looked impressed. Inky stared into the sea.

“Hard enough keeping sky watch, sea watch, and undersea watch while you’re sober.”

“So all that stuff you told me about enjoying the sea…?”

Wil raised one eyebrow. Inky glanced at him.

“Obviously I was tellin’ the truth, Lord Kallinad. But the drink makes it better. Think you’d get [Sailors] willing to stare at the sea for hours sober?

And that was that. The Emerald Signet cut through the waters. And soon enough, Wil saw a distant ship.

Ship sighted! I’m readin’ The Gold of Paxil, Captain!”

“That’s a Balerosian ship. [Merchant] name. Seems true enough. Take us closer. And raise the flags!”

Captain Lasc ordered. Wil saw the other ship doing the same. It was indeed a merchant’s ship. A galleon, same as The Emerald Signet.

Nevertheless, the crew was leery of the other ship. They’d thrown a tarp over the treasure chest, and they stood at the railing, calling out to the other ship.

It was crewed, Wil saw, by Lizardfolk. And the [Captain] was a Naga.

“Hail to you, Storm Captain! What seems to be the problem? Or are you here for trade?”

A bestrewn Naga, covered in wealth from bangles to rich clothing as they so liked to do was at the helm. He was a [Merchant Captain] and smiled as the Lizardfolk called greetings. Captain Lasc shouted back.

“Trade is our goal, sir! Do you have spare drink? We’ve spent our Sailor’s Ration and my crew is in dire straits!”

“Why of course! For a small fee, we can share our drink! Come aboard! I’ll swear on truth spell that we mean only to trade in peace! And we’ve other goods—we’re bound for Wistram! More than enough alcohol to go around!”

“That’s a relief. Those [Mages] won’t miss a few dozen kegs.”

Merrik murmured to Peki. The Garuda snorted.

“They drink a lot.”

Wil wasn’t sure that his fellow students and he were the ones to be throwing stones. But the two ships were docking.

There was a procedure for making sure the opposition wasn’t planning something devious or underhanded. Lasc shouted across the deck while the other side cast a [Detect Lies] spell.

“I’m not a [Pirate] or planning to attack you in any way!”

Me neither!

The Naga [Captain] shouted back. The formalities completed, the two strode over the gangplanks and shook hands.

“And what takes your ship around Minos’ waters? Trade? We run this route; it’s preferable to save time by going through Minotaur waters. And yourself?”

“Escorting a few of my passengers to Terandria. We ran into some trouble along the way. [Necromancers]. But all’s settled; we just happened to use up most of our rum celebrating. We’d have stopped at Minos, but you were closer. You have our thanks.”

Captain Lasc lied fairly smoothly, blending truth with omission. The [Merchant Captain] chortled.

“So I see. May I know your name, sir?”

“Lord Charles de Trevalier.”

Wil lied smoothly. It was standard practice for the Kallinad family to pretend to be one of their enemies if they had to pretend to their nobility. Wil had chosen a particularly annoying member of the Trevalier family he’d known as a boy. The [Merchant] beamed, shaking his hand and going down the line.

“Charmed, charmed! Welcome, Lord Trevalier. And if I can interest you in my wares? I’ll have the drinks delivered at once. Let’s talk about the price…”

Lizardfolk [Sailors] were already merrily rolling up barrels of relief for the crew of The Emerald Signet to cheers from Lasc’s crew. The [Captain] began haggling with the Naga as Wil and his fellow students stepped aboard the other ship.

As a formality. Wil hissed at Peki (whom he did not exactly trust to keep her mouth shut), and Yerra (whom he didn’t trust for the exact same reason) to stay with the covered chest. They did so, much to Wil’s relief. And Captain Xenic, for that was his name, seemed to be exactly what he seemed to be: a [Merchant] who plied his goods across sea routes.

He had an interesting ship. Wil spotted a wide, glass deck in the middle of the ship. Perplexed, he found himself staring down into a veritable greenhouse of growing plants.

“What’s this? I didn’t know you could grow plants at sea!”

“And why not, Lord Charles? We have a fishery as well. We add to it with what we catch of course, but as you can see—I have [Expanded Cargo Hold] as a Skill.”

The garden and interior storage was indeed larger than the dimensions of the ship should allow. Fascinated, the students stared through the opening.

It was a neat little system. Sun would shine down through the glass ceiling, giving the plants light. For air—the crew could pull back parts of the deck. And water?

“[Hydromancers]. And water is easy to desalinate! Well, the garden is a huge savings. Each ship has their little secrets. Storm Captains and their ship spells, Drowned ships which can dive…we have mostly food products bound for Wistram. The [Mages] import all sorts. Lots of sugar and some rather smelly beans for some reason. Cacao, I think. But can I interest you in any of it? Prices may be steep…”

“I’m not in the market for much, Captain Xenic. But I’ll gladly purchase some…sugar? My Garuda friend loves it.”

Out of politeness, Wil spent some gold on a few bags of sugar. Costly, but Peki did love it. As did Yerra. And Feshi. And probably Inky if her gold teeth were any indication. Or maybe that was bad dental hygiene.

Xenic insisted on taking Wil below and showing him more of the garden and fish tank, which was impressive. The Lizardfolk crew could help themselves to snacks from the breeding and growing fish; they were mostly Lizardfolk. Only a few Nagas on board, including Xenic himself.

“That should be enough for two weeks without another party; more than enough time to get you to port without a disaster. Can I interest you in anything else?”

“No, Captain Xenic. And I thank you for your hospitality.”

“Not at all! Not at all! It’s a fascinating company you have, Lord Trevalier.”

The Naga twinkled at Wil. To the [Lord]’s relief, Venaz had kept his mouth shut and Merrik and Feshi had stoutly done the same. Now, the Naga looked at the different species and Wil tensed.

“May I ask where such a group gathered?”

Wil hesitated, then did his best impression of a Trevalier. He turned his head and narrowed his eyes.

“The Minotaur is a bodyguard. As for my companions—I believe that is my business, wouldn’t you agree?”

The Naga instantly bowed slightly, looking abashed.

“As you say, Lord Trevalier. My apologies. I am a curious sort.”

“Well, I shall accept your apology.”

Wil copied Fetohep’s mannerisms there. The [Captain] apologized again, and rather to Wil’s relief—that was the end of it.

No one asked about the covered treasure chest; the [Sailors] were doing their best to block the view of the other crew anyways. The Naga didn’t press too hard about Wil’s companions; why would he? It was polite conversation.

The barrels were loaded onto The Emerald Signet and paid for. All without a hitch. Because, and this was important: that was normally how it worked. Coincidental hijinks and unfortunate events did not occur.

Even so, Wil heaved a sigh of relief as the other ship sailed off. But it was done. He turned to Captain Lasc.

Now may we continue our voyage?”

“Yes, Lord Kallinad. And we have the drinks to do it.”

The [Storm Captain] snatched a cup out of Yerra’s hand as she bent towards the first barrel, already being breached.

“With restraint to our passengers, of course. No more drinking games.”

“Damn.”

The Selphid sighed. But that was it.

 

—-

 

As The Gold of Paxil returned to its trip, Captain Xenic glanced over his shoulder. He had not asked about the odd passengers. Or the tarp over the chest. Or anything else, really.

Because he hadn’t needed to. The Naga already knew…all of it. And he carefully slithered into his cabin and checked the map.

“Aha. I have the coordinates. Someone, get a [Message] spell to Wistram, and…Lord Seagrass. I’m sure he’ll be happy to pay for the information.”

Captain Xenic chuckled to himself as his ship sailed at speed towards Wistram. He also had an [Aeromancer] on board and he could have outrun or caught The Emerald Signet if he chose. But he was a [Merchant]; he didn’t rob ships, even if he thought he could have taken the treasure.

And he’d earn a large enough bounty for relaying the location of Wil Kallinad to these sources. Xenic was laboring over his [Message] scroll, neatly writing down a few observation and the coordinates when he glanced up.

Captain! Ships sighted on the horizon!

“Oh, what now? Do they need more water? Food? Wait—did you say, ships?

The [Merchant Captain] slithered out of his cabin. He stopped on the deck as the Lizardpeople [Sailors] pointed.

In the distance were a trio of ships, headed straight for The Gold of Paxil. Each one was flying a black flag, with a skull. And that skull was bleeding from one eye socket.

“The Bloodtear Pirates.”

Xenic’s smile vanished. He whirled.

Take us about! Now! We sail for the House of Minos! Send a [Message]! Now!

The Lizardfolk scrambled to obey. Xenic shouted.

Fire every single scroll-spell we have! Dump the cargo! All of it!

The ship turned, shedding inventory as fast as it could. But the Bloodtear Pirates were sailing straight at them. They did not respond to Xenic’s hails. They did not slow. And this?

This was just a diversion. A snack before the main course.

 

—-

 

Thirty minutes later, Captain Xenic slithered into his cabin. He stared down at the blood on his scales. He listened, as his crew surrendered outside the cabin. They had been…

Slaughtered. The survivors might live, if the Bloodtear Pirates didn’t seize the ship. And if they did—they’d still live. As [Slaves].

But not the [Captain]. Someone crashed into the door that Xenic had locked. The Naga looked up.

“I should have known they’d be followed. A costly mistake, that.”

He lay against his map table. Watching blood run onto the precious paper. An odd sight. The Naga slipped.

He was looking for something. His head was fuzzy. But he had a purpose. The [Merchant] had been cheated. Not by Wil. He’d made a business decision—been unprepared for the stakes. He bore Wil no ill-will.

“Funny.”

The Naga chuckled, and then refocused. He was rather bitter about being a small player in this…story. A casualty at the wrong place and the wrong time.

But even he could have one last bite. The door shook as someone cracked the reinforced wood. But Xenic had found it. He idly studied the [Message] scroll. With a flourish, he wrote a few last lines.

“…have been ambushed by the Bloodtear Pirates. In pursuit of The Emerald Signet. Captain Seagrass, hurry, if you intend to reach the ship on time. Yours…”

Xenic signed his name. Then he activated the scroll. It flashed and vanished as the Naga sat back. He was smiling, content, as the first [Pirate] strolled through the door. The Naga rose—

A sword cut through his midsection. The [Captain] of the Bloodtear Pirates turned.

“Loot the ship quickly. We’re returning to the hunt.”

That was all. A small detail on the waves. But it had mattered. The Emerald Signet sailed on, blissfully ignorant of what had happened. More days passed, without crisis or incident.

They were three days from their destination when it happened.

 

—-

 

Shocking Revelations and Sand Gets Everywhere

 

“I can tell you now we’re three days from our destination, Captain Lasc. But we’ll be taking a different route than what we have planned. And I’d like to discuss what will happen when we arrive at the shipwreck. It may be…the [Divers] will recover more than they can immediately haul.”

Wil Kallinad was speaking to Captain Lasc as the man plotted their course across the sea. They were relatively far from any useful landmarks. In the…well, sea. Featureless, at least from the air.

But they were still within range of the House of Minos. Wil pointed to it as Captain Lasc turned.

“Your final destination is yours to keep, Lord Kallinad. I’ll sail wherever you point me. If you want to steer us in circles for a few days, you have my command.”

The man really did seem to be decent and honest. Wil nodded at him, grateful.

“Thank you, Captain. Once we reach the shipwreck I think we’ll know as soon as it’s found. Assuming it’s there. If it is…significant, we may end up calling in the House of Minos for support. Venaz assured me their navy would respond to his call.”

Lasc’s eyebrows rose.

“That’s a force of the sea right there, Lord Kallinad. Begging your pardon—no, I won’t ask what we’ll find. But what manner of danger might there be?”

Wil hesitated.

“…I don’t know, Captain. But if it is anything like the crab, I’ll defer to your judgment.”

“Yes, Lord Kallinad. I wouldn’t have it any other way. Then—tell me where we’ll go today.”

Wil was giving the [Captain] a slightly circuitous route towards their final destination that would get them there in 3 days—if he corrected their course the next day. That done, he left the cabin.

“How much longer, Wil? I’m booooored.

Yerranola announced as she stared at the treasure chest. The students were now playing cards and relaxing next to the chest. Inky was teaching them a sailor’s version of the game.

“Three days, Yerra. Be patient. We’re nearly there.”

“Fine. But I’ve gotten bored again. And the drinking is—okay, it’s helping a bit. But now I’m bored again.”

The Selphid flopped onto the deck, spread-eagled. Wil sat next to her as Feshi glanced suspiciously at Merrik’s hands. He was gambling well; Venaz, and Feshi had tells. Peki and Inky on the other hand were doing well. Merrik’s beard concealed most of his expressions.

They were done with discussing who might use the Swords of Serept best; Wil had considered everyone from The Blighted King to an Archmage of Wistram for maximum benefit. He’d stuck with Talia getting a blade if she wanted one, and possibly Foliana, but Venaz had assured him that there were better people to give the third blade to than Pheislant’s monarchies. Wil would see.

But it was in the future. Right now? Boredom, or rather, anticipation had resumed. And anticipation was worse, in a way. Yerranola stared up at Wil.

“Do something.”

Wil patted her on the head. The Selphid bit at his fingers. She was going stir-crazy.

“Unless you want to make that more serious, do something else, Wil.”

“Like what? Play chess?”

“No. Don’t wanna.”

“Play cards, then.”

“Don’t wanna.”

Wil exhaled. Yerranola was being willfully childish. He envied her, in a way. He cast around, had another lazy idea.

“How about we put on the scrying orb?”

“Oh—fine. We haven’t done it in…a while. Actually.”

Yerranola sat up. The other students glanced at her. They hadn’t used the scrying orb; Umina and Marian had kept them abreast of the Professor’s newest lessons. Wil set it up as Yerranola complained.

“I’m just sick of that Drake. Noass? He’s so—dismissive of non-Drake events. You know?”

We know.

Feshi growled as she put down her hand and folded her arms. Yerranola watched as Wil prodded the scrying orb. A figure flickered into focus. Well—two.

Noass was there. He was the regular anchor now—Sir Relz was more of a commentator while Noass delivered all the news. And the broadcast now had a system.

If you’re just tuning in, you’re watching live, Wistram Worldwide! The WWW’s broadcast has all of the most important events in—the entire world! And of course, our first topic tonight: the sea. Obviously, essential. And we’ve been keeping an eye on this story the entire time.

The Drake’s voice made Wil stir a bit. In the left side of the screen, he had a picture within a picture, a separate viewpoint. Of a ship. On the ocean. The other students looked up.

“Did he say the sea?”

“Mhm. We might find something interesting.”

Inky snorted as she shuffled the deck.

“From a landsman? I doubt it.”

“Joining us today is a special guest with a—seafarer’s perspective. Of the sea. I’m joined in the studio by Gold-rank adventurer, Seborn Sailwinds. Adventurer Sailwinds, I understand you grew up on the sea.”

That’s correct. I’m a Drowned Man.

The half-Crab [Rogue] sat at the desk, staring unblinkingly at Noass. The Drake was sweating a bit.

“Er—you’re new to Pallass, but I understand you have a historical career with the Halfseekers. But before that you were a [Sailor], correct?”

I wasn’t a sailor. I was a [Pirate]. A member of the Undersea Crews. And I’m here to advertise my team. Hire the Halfseekers. There. I said it, Jelaqua.

Seborn sat back in his chair. He stared into the ‘camera’ as he spoke. He didn’t seem as…eager to be here as most of the guests Noass brought on. The [Commentator] coughed.

“Er—we try not to advertise directly, Mister Sailwinds. So—so you were at sea? I understand it’s a lifestyle, to uh, sail. Different perspectives.”

It’s Adventurer Seborn. And I’m a Drowned Man. Of course I lived at sea. I thought you were asking me intelligent questions.

Noass colored.

“Well then, can you give us a rundown on the different sort of…enemies that might be inhibiting our people of interest?”

He gestured at the ship in the orb. Wil leaned forwards. It looked…familiar. But Seborn was speaking.

It’ll mostly be [Pirates]. Or the Undersea crews. They’re on a Storm Ship—I doubt many [Storm Sailors] will attack their own, but it might happen for treasure of this magnitude.

“Storm Sailors? Ah—you mean—no, but [Pirates] attack ships. [Storm Sailors] are, er, just [Sailors], correct?”

Noass was metaphorically at sea, up to his earholes, and floundering. Seborn took a long drink of the complimentary water with a lemon he’d been provided and spoke irritably.

[Storm Sailors] aren’t always honest; they can turn to piracy, but they don’t have the class. And some Drowned Folk or those with some aspect of the sea can still be [Storm Sailors]. In the same way, [Pirates] can be Drowned Crews or airbreathers. And only Drowned Folk join the Undersea Crews; they become [Depth Sailors], not [Storm Sailors]. And the Undersea Crews are only loyal to Drowned Folk. Understand?

Noass hesitated.

“It all sounds…er, very complex.”

It’s not.

The Drake was mopping at his brow with a handkerchief. That task was taken over by a Gnoll [Assistant], standing mostly off-screen.

“I—well, let’s cut to this attack. I understand The Gold of Paxil was sunk by a group of [Pirates] on an intercept course with this ship in all likelihood. By—the Bloodtear Pirates. What can you tell us about this group, Adventurer Seborn?”

All the students looked up. Yerranola sat up.

“Did he just say…?”

Seborn was nodding as an image of the Bloodtear Pirates’ flag appeared on screen, disappearing the one of the ship.

Bloodtear Pirates. Marauders. They keep their word, but they give no quarter. They have a number of ships in their armada, spread out. Three is just an attack force. Still, more than enough to destroy a single Storm Ship.

“I see. However, our, ah ship in question is carrying a full complement of [Storm Sailors] as well as regular ones and captained by an experienced [Storm Captain]. As well as six [Strategists]. Could that even the odds?”

Three-to-one against Bloodtear Pirates? Not likely. How long do I have to be here?

“Aw, come on, Seborn! At least smile for the audience! Hey, I’m his Captain. Can I go on—”

Another voice from the side. Noass snapped as Jelaqua, wearing a Drake’s body, was pulled off-screen.

“No! Er—apologies for the interruption, everyone. So—The Emerald Signet’s only chance is to outrun the opposition, is that right, Adventurer Seborn? But I doubt any group would lose the opportunity to seize The Diamond Swords of Serept. Can you rate that as a treasure on a scale of one to ten?”

Eleven?

“—And I think we have Archmage Nailihuaile waiting, who can give us a rundown of some of the effects of the blades! If you’re just tuning in, you’re watching Wistram Worldwide live! With me is Adventurer Seborn of the Halfseekers, and we’re…”

The image flicked back to the ship as Noass kept talking. Wil stared. He stared at the ship. Which was…very familiar. He just hadn’t recognized it because he hadn’t seen an aerial view of it.

It was a good view. It had, well a deck full of [Sailors], a nice view of the ship. A [Captain] at the helm. A treasure chest in the center…and sitting next to it…a group of students sitting at a table. Two were sitting on the ground and one was staring into a scrying orb.

Wil stared up at the sky. Then down at the orb. After about a minute, the image of the young man on the deck glanced up straight at the viewers for a second, and then looked back down.

“…Wil. Why are we on the scrying orb?”

Yerranola spoke very, very slowly. Wil’s ears were just ringing.

The Diamond Swords of Serept. And that—that Drake was saying it over and over again. Announcing to the entire damn world that—

“We’re being scried? We’re on the orb?

Venaz stood up, incredulous. Feshi stood up, hair on end. She stared up, as if she could see the spell monitoring them.

“But how? Why? But they shouldn’t know we have the Swords of Serept. Not unless—”

Captain Lasc! We have an emergency!

Wil was on his feet, shouting. The [Captain] looked up, and vaulted over the command deck. He ran towards Wil, looking alarmed. So did the other [Sailors]. Delivan—Venaz swore.

“Wil! We have a spy! We have—”

He turned his head. Merrik and Peki put down their cards. They stared at Inky. The [Storm Sailor] stared back.

“Ah, no. Inky?”

“It wasn’t me!”

Venaz slowly reached for a sword. Merrik was swearing, pulling his armor out of his bag of holding. Captain Lasc looked at Wil, bewildered.

“What’s going on? Lord Kallinad?”

For answer, Wil pointed into the scrying orb. The crew stared into it. And—on the orb—Captain Lasc was captured vaulting over the deck. The view cut back to Noass, who spoke urgently.

“Um. It looks like something’s going on. Hold on, viewers. We are of course monitoring the ship via [Distant Vision], not scrying; the ship is warded. Let me see if we can get ahold of our contact on board the ship. Mister Begal? Hello?”

Suddenly, the voice was duplicated. One of the [Sailors] swore, recoiled, and clapped a hand to his side. A voice was speaking from the man’s pocket. Wil’s head slowly turned.

Begal?

“Damn idiot [Mages]—”

Captain Lasc whirled as the [Sailor] grinned and backed up desperately. Lasc turned to Wil.

“What’s going on?”

“They know. Everyone knows we have the swords! They’re broadcasting it from Wistram! They have our position—and we have [Pirates] on our tail!

Wil leapt to his feet. The [Storm Captain] drew his sword with an oath. Noass peered at the stone in his claw.

“Oh wait, I’m being told we might have to wait until later. We’ll check back in later—uh oh. What’s happening on deck?”

Someone slapped the scrying orb. It went dark. Captain Lasc advanced and Begal stumbled backwards. The [Storm Captain] had drawn his sword and his metal gauntlet flashed.

“I should have known a crew like this would have one or two traitors. But you served on my ship four years. What did it take?”

“Just gold, Cap’n. No hard feelings, eh?”

Begal was smiling widely, desperately as he backed up. Captain Lasc aimed his shortsword at the man’s chest.

“Who hired you? How many more are with you? Tell us—and I might not keelhaul you right where you stand.”

The [Sailor] looked from side to side. His eyes darted. And then—he smiled.

“How many, Captain? More’n one or two. Looks like the jig’s up, boys. Show Captain Lasc how many of us were bought.”

There was a sound. Metal, sliding on metal. The crowd around Wil moved. [Sailors] stepped back. The crew of three hundred was on deck. And of that number—

Over two thirds of the crew drew their blades. Wil felt his stomach drop through the deck. Captain Lasc stared around, eyes wide. Delivan swore.

“All of you? You salt-sucking traitors!”

“Sorry, Captain Lasc. But everyone heard that there’d be real treasure on this voyage. We’ve been keeping our real employers updated every day and night.”

Another [Sailor] spoke up. She had a hand-crossbow aimed at Delivan’s chest. The loyal crew, less than a hundred, faced over two hundred mutineers. Wil looked to his side.

Inky stood with the loyalists. So did the [Storm Sailors], all of them. The female [Sailor] didn’t seem concerned as the [Storm Sailors] stood, looking around tensely, outnumbered two-to-one.

“I know [Storm Sailors] are good, but you and the [Strategists] are flanked, Captain Lasc. Throw down your blade. The treasure belongs to our employers.”

The mutineers nodded. Captain Lasc’s jaw twitched. Wil saw Venaz tensing by the table. But he had two dozen blades aimed at him. Merrik and Peki were standing together. But there were so many—and they had the drop on Wil’s side.

“Let’s negotiate. You heard King Fetohep. The curse—”

Wil croaked. He saw the female [Sailor] turn the crossbow towards him.

“I reckon that Fetohep will negotiate with whoever had the blades, boyo. And my bosses can defeat one curse. They know treasure. There’s no negotiations.”

Begal nodded. He bared his teeth. He opened his mouth, but the female [Sailor] spoke over him.

“The Bloodtear Pirates will have the swords. And any man, woman, or Selphid who don’t want to be slaughtered will surrender now.”

Wil stared at her in shock. So did the [Sailors]. Begal hesitated.

“The Bloodtear…? We’re working for the Undersea Crews! Therrium himself’s paying us, you idiot!”

The female [Sailor] blinked. She turned her head.

“The Undersea Crews?”

Another [Sailor] laughed incredulously.

“We’re hired by Savere! Are you both mad?

“Wait—who’s with Savere? And who’s Bloodtear?”

“I’m with the Screaming Sails. The Bloodtears are our enemies!

Another [Sailor] shouted. The organized mutineers looked at each other. They tried to point their blades at each other. And that was a mistake. Because one man knew whose side he was on.

Captain Lasc. As the [Sailors] around him wavered, his hand moved. He stepped forwards and beheaded Begal. He turned, stabbed his sword through another [Sailor]’s face. And his fist moved. He struck four chins and the [Sailors] crumpled. The mutineers stared as the [Storm Captain] raised his blade. He brought it down, slashing through the [Sailor] threatening Wil.

To me, [Storm Sailors]! Slaughter these mutinous dogs!

The stalemate erupted into chaos. Wil saw Venaz explode upwards. The mutineers began attacking Lasc’s crew—and each other, shouting. Three stabbed Venaz in the back.

The Minotaur ignored the blades. He grabbed the table, lifted it with a roar and swung it around him. Wil dove as [Sailors] were sent flying by the blow. The Minotaur lifted the table and threw it. A group of mutineers screamed as he drew a battleaxe.

Form up! Wil! Get behind us!

Yerranola and Feshi were fighting next to Delivan. Inky and the [Storm Sailors] howled as they drew their blades and cut into the lower-level [Sailors]. Merrik had his hammer out. He ignored the weapons bouncing off his armor and charged into the fighting. Peki was already punching and kicking, striking every mutineer—and some of the loyalists—around her.

Wil stood. He drew a sword and the emergency wand he carried. He locked blades with a traitorous [Sailor]. The man was strong. He raised his off-hand as Wil raised his wand. Both of them stared at the wand aimed at each other’s chests. They shouted and dodged.

A bolt of fire hit Wil in his chest. But his enchanted armor that Yerranola had made him wear took the spell. The other man was not so lucky. He fell with a hole in his neck. Wil turned, aiming his wand, slashing—

[Battalion of Glory]! Use your damn Skills! Peki! Yerra! Wil! Get back here, Venaz!

Merrik howled at the students. They began activating their skills and Lasc’s loyalists formed a formation against the disorganized mutineers. Too late, the traitors realized they had to work together or die. They tried to rally. But they were unprepared for the students being able to use their Skills. Merrik and Peki.

And Captain Lasc’s wrath. The [Storm Captain] pointed, and the deck erupted with a line of spikes, impaling dozens of the traitors. He was a blur, as his armored fist struck faces and deflected blades and even bolts and spells.

His blade cut down traitor after traitor. The battle was short and swift. Wil was pointing his wand at a fleeing [Sailor] when Feshi’s arrow took the female traitor in the back of the head. He looked around for another enemy, but they were all dead.

The deck was a massacre. Some of the traitors had surrendered. The rest had died. The [Storm Sailors] were panting. Their levels, aided by the [Strategists], had triumphed.

But—The Emerald Signet ran red with blood. And less than a hundred crew remained. Wil found Lasc, leaned on a railing. The [Storm Captain] wasn’t hurt badly. His wounds were already healing via potion. But he looked—

“Captain Lasc?”

“Traitors. I thought there might be. But not among my own crew. Some of them stayed with me for years, like that bastard, Begal, Lord Kallinad. But the ones who stuck around were—”

Lasc raised his head. Wil saw Inky helping fix up Venaz. The Minotaur had hacked apart [Sailors] but they’d cut into him without his armor. The Octopus-Woman grinned in response.

“[Storm Sailors] don’t jump ship so easily, mates. Even those of us who belong to the sea. Captain, what do we do with them?”

Delivan was staring at the traitors with his crossbow loaded and aimed. Lasc spoke curtly.

“They go over the plank. Or put a bolt in their heads, Delivan. Then get me any [Sailor] who can move.”

“Aye, Captain.”

“Captain Lasc?”

Wil stared at the [Sailors] as they were ordered towards the sides. Some just climbed the railings and jumped; the others pleaded as Lasc strode towards the wheel.

“If their mates are in the area, they’ll live. Otherwise they can pray for Nelgaunts or the sea’s mercy. I don’t care. We can’t hold them and I won’t risk it. Lord Kallinad, we have to move. We’re being scried.

The [Storm Captain] pointed up. Wil realized what he meant. His heart leapt. But his mind—began to move.

“We can’t cancel the scrying spell, Captain Lasc. They have us via remote surveillance, not a scrying spell. But we can lose the spell if we sail through fog or anything to obstruct it. I heard at least four different groups being shouted at us.”

“So did I. Each one dangerous names. We can’t fight any of ‘em. Not with a third of my crew. We sail for the House of Minos at once! To the sails! Get me my emergency items!

Captain Lasc roared. [Sailors] ran. They were understaffed, but there were enough to do the work. Wil saw the boom turning; he looked around.

Merrik! Get the scrying orb!

“Why? So we can see that idiot who’s given us away?”

The Dwarf groused. Wil pointed.

“So we can see who’s coming after us! Venaz! Contact the House of Minos!”

“I need a [Message] spell!”

The Minotaur ran belowdecks. Wil saw Captain Lasc gritting his teeth.

“We’re less than a day away. If I use all of my [Gale] scrolls. We’ll blow a maelstrom into our sails, Lord Kallinad. But I don’t know if—”

He broke off. Wil saw the [Captain] stare at something past his head. Wil felt a shadow fall over his back. He heard a sound, roaring water.

Slowly, he turned. A warship had surfaced next to The Emerald Signet. And a Drowned Man stood on the railings, looking down at the two. He was half-Eel, his body rubbery. And he wore a [Captain]’s hat. He aimed a sword down at the crew as he spoke.

I am Captain Therrium of The Passing Shadow. The ship behind you is The Sinking Light. We are the Undersea Crews. Surrender the treasure to us and you will live. Resist—and die.

The Drowned Man’s crew stood at the railings. Aiming weapons down. Wil froze. He saw Captain Lasc hesitate. And then take his hand off the wheel. Slowly, he raised his hands.

“Salt take me. How long were you there? We watched the sea—”

From the beginning. We dove lower than your eyes, [Storm Captain].

A woman with a starfish’s body on her right half grinned down at Lasc. And on the other side—the other Drowned Ship was closing. Wil Kallinad closed his eyes. He heard boot steps on the deck. And then—the Drowned Folk were herding the [Sailors] into the center of the boat.

“Wil!”

Yerranola shouted. The students had their weapons out, but the Drowned Crew surrounded them. Captain Therrium glanced dismissively at Peki and Merrik as they backed up.

Hold your blades, landfolk. I don’t intend to spill your blood. And I would have let you pick up the last of the treasure. But those idiots leaked too much information. So. This is it?

He scowled, but smiled as he strode over to Kheltian casket. The crew was frozen as the Drowned Folk clustered around. Therrium sighed.

Ah.”

“You’re making an enemy of the Titan of Baleros, Captain Therrium. And House Kallinad. I beg you, don’t do this.”

Wil’s heart was breaking. He saw the [Depth Captain] turn his head. The man smiled.

“I fear no landman, [Lordling]. Open the casket.”

He pointed at a [Depth Sailor]. Cautiously, the man did—using an oar. Therrium sighed as the diamond blades flashed with light. He nodded.

We’ll take nothing else. Grab the casket and put it on my ship. Leave the landfolk unless they resist.

He strode past Wil as the Drowned Crew cheered. Well—the ones from the other ship looked disgruntled, but a group of the [Depth Sailors] seized the chest. Wil stared at Therrium. The Drowned Man paused.

It’s nothing personal, Lord Kallinad. You did much that even seafolk acknowledge. But your adventure was failed from the start. Thank yon friends for it.

He nodded at Venaz and Yerranola. They paled.

“I’m so sorry, Wil—”

Yerranola began. Venaz clenched his fists.

“I don’t suppose you’d accept a duel, Captain Therrium?”

And spill blood needlessly? No, Minotaur. I’m a practical [Captain]. No fool, like Rasea. We’ll be gone without blood spilled—well, other than already spilled. And let the world see how the Undersea Crews work.

The Captain spoke, looking at the sky. Then he glanced around.

The scrying orb was still there. The [Mages] had enhanced it as much as possible, but it was barely more than an aerial view. But the [Depth Captain] was still visible.

And—Captain Therrium ignored Noass babbling about the ‘exciting and unexpected new developments’. He narrowed his eyes at the Drowned Man with a half-Crab body. Seborn stared into the picture.

Ah. My boy.

Captain Therrium spoke slowly. He reached for the orb. Seborn’s eyes narrowed. He cut off the Drake.

Noass. I recognize that [Depth Captain] and crew.

“You do? Tell us—who are they?”

The [Rogue] spoke slowly. And it was as if he locked eyes with his father from afar.

That would be The Passing Shadow, one of the Undersea Crews. And the [Depth Captain] is Captain Therrium Sailwinds.

“Sailwinds? Um—no relation?”

Noass grinned. Seborn folded his arms.

Relation. Captain Therrium is a lawless [Thief]. Despised even by other Drowned Folk for not honoring his word. A backstabbing shrimp.

The crew of The Passing Shadow jolted to a stop. They slowly turned to stare at Captain Therrium. The [Depth Captain]’s eyes narrowed. But then he grinned.

Arrogant brat. I’ll give him his dues with this. And a lashing, which he also deserves. Load it up! And hurry! I don’t intend to stick around! I want us diving and out of range in five minutes!

He roared at his crew. They lugged the chest towards the ship. Wil helplessly watched. His mind spun with ideas—all of which Niers would have termed ‘death-inviting’. Therrium was just…too cautious. He kept his crew on the decks, aiming their weapons at The Emerald Signet. Perhaps if Captain Lasc used [Depth Explosion]? But—that probably only worked underwater.

And—the Bloodtear Pirates weren’t here. No one was coming. So, as the Drowned Folk carried the casket, the [King] sighed. He raised one hand.

Sand flurried up from the casket, blowing the lid open. A figure rose from the deck as Therrium whirled. An undead [King] stood on the decks. His eyes flashed.

“Thieves. The Swords of Serept are not yours to take. Begone from this vessel.”

Fetohep of Khelt looked at Therrium. The [Depth Captain] recoiled, and then his eyes narrowed.

Fetohep of Khelt.

He nodded, slightly. The ruler of Khelt’s flaming sockets flashed with light. He turned his head and the Drowned Crew froze. The ones holding the casket hesitated.

“Relinquish my treasure to this ship, Drowned Man. It is not yours to take.”

The [Depth Captain] glanced at Fetohep, and then at Wil.

And if I were to promise they’d reach Khelt? They will not by The Emerald Signet. The ship is mine, as are its treasures. But I’d not be averse to taking the same offer. Three blades, for a lifetime.

Fetohep’s gaze had been flashing silent ire at Wil. Slowly, his head rotated.

“Did you mishear me, mortal? I gave you an order.”

Captain Therrium was taken aback.

You…intend for me to put the treasure I’ve taken back? What of your deal?

The undead ruler sighed.

“Mortals. You seem to not understand. My offer extends only to Wil Kallinad. Gratitude to the one who discovered my artifacts. It is not a ransom. And you have taken this ship? What of it? My treasure is mine. I do not negotiate with thieves.”

He grinned that undead grin. The [Depth Captain] heard a muffled laugh. Venaz turned his head away. But the Minotaur was smiling too. Captain Therrium put a hand on his sword.

I see. In that case—I’ll have to claim the Swords of Serept forever. [First Mate]?

He raised his Human hand. A Drowned Woman pointed her wand.

[Dispel Magic].

Fetohep’s form—wavered. The sand lost its cohesion. It fell to the deck, dissipating. Therrium snorted. Sand instantly began to whip around the chest, and the crew shouted, trying to hold onto it. But the [Depth Captain] only pointed.

Curses. I’ve seen the sand trick. Hold it down.

“[Anchor Lash]!”

One of his [Depth Sailors] pointed. A pair of anchors flew and lashed around the chest. The sand stopped lifting it up. Therrium waved the crew onwards as Wil’s heart sank. The [Depth Sailors] grabbed at the chest again. One of them, a half-Shrimp Drowned Man who’d been very hurt by Seborn’s comment, grabbed the handle. Then, puzzled, he looked down.

A hand was grabbing his arm. It was made of sand. And Fetohep’s face rose out of the box and the sand reformed.

Fool. [The Desiccation of Zeikhal].

Before Wil’s eyes, the Drowned Man—dried up. He turned into a mummy as the water was sucked from his body. A corpse. And then—his form dried up further. He fell to the ground, turning to dust. Only some yellowed bone remained.

The Drowned Crews stared at the dust. The ones holding the casket let go. It instantly clattered to the deck. Fetohep rose.

“You have earned my wr—”

Captain Therrium rolled his eyes and pointed a wand. The bolt of magic blew apart Fetohep’s head. He turned to his [First Mate].

Lash the damn chest to the side of my ship. He can’t use the sand trick underwater. We’ll blast it with as many [Dispel Magic] spells as we need to.

Aye, Depth Captain! Grab the chest! Use ropes, idiots!

The [First Mate] shouted. The Drowned Crew moved, throwing grapples. But before they could grab the casket—it shot open, snapping the anchor ropes.

This time a raging whirlwind of sand rose into the air. It engulfed all three ships. Wil shielded his face—but the sand only affected the Drowned Crews. They shouted, stumbling around. And a figure materialized in front of the stunned crew.

“Begin sailing, Kallinad. The sand will rage for ten minutes.”

Fetohep of Khelt’s flaming eyes stared at Wil. The [Lord] saw Captain Lasc jerk. Figures were rising out of the sands, attacking the Drowned Crews. Therrium whirled, hacking them apart with ease, but they kept coming.

“But—”

“Hurry. That Drowned Captain…may be able to combat the lesser elements of my curse. I do not care to waste my time on him. You have your chance. If you lose the chest again, I will recover it.”

The [King] glowered. Wil nodded. He turned.

Captain Lasc!

The [Storm Captain] was running for his wheel. The [Sailors] scrambled, cutting loose mooring lines. Captain Therrium saw.

You were warned! Cut them all down!

He tried to fight clear of the sands. His crews did likewise. They saw figures moving in the screen of sand. And then—

A table? It crashed into a group of Drowned Sailors. And Captain Therrium saw a group of forty [Storm Sailors]. Inky, and Merrik and Peki in front. The [Strategists] stood at their backs.

“[Unit: Enhanced Strength]. [Unstoppable Advance]. [Arrowguard Formation]…”

Venaz was murmuring Skills. At the same time, the other three [Strategists] were doing the same.

“[Lucky Dodge]. [Keen Blades]. [Ram’s Charge].”

Wil pointed at Therrium. The [Depth Captain] recoiled. He saw more sand-warriors coming out of the sandstorm whirling around him. And—four [Strategists] plus two [Commanders] were combining their abilities. He spun around.

Back to the ship! Fall back!

The Drowned Crews needed no encouragement. They streamed back to the ship. Wil exhaled. He looked at Venaz. Then—they turned.

[Unit: Enhanced Strength]! [Unstoppable Advance]!

The Minotaur began chanting again as Wil and the other [Storm Sailors] faced the second crew. The other [Depth Captain] saw Wil pointing.

“[Ram’s Charge]. [Blades of Glory]! [Everpiercing Swords]! [Unit: Form of Giants]—”

The [Strategist] saw her face pale. She shouted.

Retreat! Let them burn their Skills!

Her crew ran, as the sand-apparitions followed. Wil grinned. He didn’t have [Blades of Glory], or the other Skills he was shouting. The [Storm Sailors] rushed forwards, cutting the lines. Venaz was laughing.

Neither crew realized or remembered they’d used the Skills in a battle not ten minutes ago! They had to recharge! It didn’t take either [Depth Captain] long to realize the trick. They howled, but the gangplanks and ropes had been thrown off the ship. And The Emerald Signet was moving.

After them!

Captain Therrium was red in the face. He saw the [Storm Captain] unfurling a scroll.

“[Galewinds]!”

Lasc shouted. Instantly, a breeze filled The Emerald Signet’s sails. It shot forwards as the two Drowned Ships turned. And still—the sandstorm was battering the two ships.

For six more minutes. Captain Therrium was shielding his face. He cursed Fetohep’s magical protections. He’d grab the chest and strip them one layer at a time. He knew curses!

 

—-

 

The Emerald Signet emerged from the sandstorm with the two Drowned Ships in hot pursuit. Captain Lasc had a death-grip on his ship’s helm. His lookouts were shouting information as Delivan strode to the back of the ship.

Permission to fire ship-spells, Captain?

“Granted!”

Aye, sir! [Depth Explosion]!

A blast rocked The Passing Shadow. Therrium’s ship listed for a second—but it was reinforced.

“Damn! They have armor on them! These aren’t ordinary Drowned Ships! And they’re fast!

“Not as fast as we are! Which is why they’re throwing spells! Brace!

Inky shouted. She was halfway up the mast, staring backwards. She dropped to the deck as magical bolts of light began shooting from the other ships.

Dead gods, that’s a bombardment spell! Watch out! Those are [Light Spears]!

Dozens of the oversized magical arrows were hitting The Emerald Signet. Wil saw one burn a [Sailor] off her feet. He took cover behind the mast with the others.

Take cover! We’re gaining! We’re headed straight for the House of Minos!

Captain Lasc bellowed, ignoring the spells raining down around him. Two tore through the sails and he swore as the spells caught the fabric on fire.

Douse those flames! Get to cover and get the wounded belowdecks! Drop all unnecessary cargo!

He was steering the ship, trading some speed for a slight variation in their movement. A huge blast of fire missed the sails as Lasc spun the wheel, anticipating it. Helplessly, the students could only watch the other two ships gaining.

“We have to do something!”

“King Fetohep—can you help—King Fetohep?”

Wil turned. The casket was inert again. Merrik swore.

“Damn. I knew something was up! The ‘curse’ must have limited magic! No wonder the [King] wanted us to take the casket!”

“Don’t worry. A [Storm Ship] can outmaneuver Drowned Ships. And Lasc has a final option if we keep our distance. We can do this—”

Delivan was reassuring the others as he peered from the bow, using the few ship-spells Lasc had available to him through his bond as [First Mate]. Wil saw the other ships slowing a bit, even as they used their own wind spells to fill their sails. They were indeed slower; they were heavier in the water, built for withstanding pressure in the depths as well as above the sea!

But something made Wil loathe to celebrate. He turned his head. And his mind recalled a pertinent detail. Just in time too.

Captain! Ships from dead ahead! They’re flying [Pirate] flags!

“Ah.”

The [Strategists] looked up. None of them looked surprised. On the other hand, the sailors whirled, looking alarmed. Captain Lasc stared ahead.

“Those flags. Those are the Bloodtear Pirates.”

Inky went dead white. Feshi poked her head up as she aimed a bow at the ships to the rear.

“Any relation to the Bloodfeast Raiders? It’s a very common name, yes?”

Maybe because both groups slaughter anyone they catch!

Delivan shouted. Feshi paled. Wil saw Captain Lasc turn his head desperately, but it was the sea. There wasn’t much room to maneuver.

And—if the Drowned Ships were slower, the Bloodtear Pirates were not. Their sails were filled with magical wind and they were as fast as The Emerald Signet. Maybe…faster?

Wil saw the [Storm Captain] turn his head again, and then caught his eye.

“Lord Kallinad! Anything you and your friends can do would be appreciated!”

“Me?”

Wil started. And then he realized—the [Captain] was asking him for help. Inky, Delivan—the [Storm Sailors] were outmatched.

Yet, Wil knew nothing of the ocean. On the other hand…he narrowed his eyes as he saw the approaching Bloodtear Pirates. The pursuing Drowned Ships. And he realized.

This was his forte. A battle. It didn’t matter where or when. He knew little of the majesty of the sea. But war? He glanced at his fellow classmates. This was all they did. Wil took a breath as his mind began to race.

“Venaz, are you thinking what I’m thinking?”

“Absolutely not. But I’ll listen to your idea and decide which one’s best.”

The Minotaur grinned. Yerranola looked up.

“You two have ideas too?”

“Almost like a time quiz, but the deadline is death. Eh, Peki?”

Merrik was calculating something on his fingers. Feshi nodded. The students broke into a huddle as the [Sailors] stared. Inky looked at Delivan.

“They’re mad.”

“Landlubbers.”

The [First Mate] agreed.

 

—-

 

Action, Drama, Reaction, and More Action.

 

The Bloodtear Pirates stormed through the seas towards The Emerald Signet and the pursuing Drowned Ships. They flew the colors of [Pirates]. And they issued no [Messages], shouted nothing.

They had only one desire when they hunted. They were quite genial other times. But on the chase? Never.

They saw the pursuit and closed on The Emerald Signet at all speed. Three ships. Captain Therrium hesitated when he saw them, but he bore on, cursing. It was a race to the treasure, nothing else.

The Bloodtear Pirates were readying attack spells when they saw something move from the first ship. A Garuda flew off The Emerald Signet. She raced ahead of the boat, screaming.

Help, help! We’ve been attacked by Drowned Folk!

She didn’t seem to notice the [Pirate] flags. The Bloodtear Pirates exchanged glances. The lead [Captain] saw the colorful Garuda flying at them. Definitely a landlubber.

Heave to!

He bellowed. The [Pirates] aimed at the Garuda. She landed on the deck, crying, in front of the [Captain.]

“But they’re trying to kill us! They stole the treasure! But they want to kill us all!”

“They did?”

The [Pirate Captain] stared at Peki. He eyed the water dribbling down her cheeks. She didn’t seem to be actually…crying. She nodded. The Bloodtear Captain glanced at his crew. He shrugged.

“Capture her. Get all three ships. We’ll have to sink them all, anyways.”

The Garuda stared at the [Captain] as he grinned at her behind the helm.

“You’re going to attack us?”

“Yep.”

He laughed. Peki thought about this and shrugged.

“Okay. Watch the boom.”

“Huh?”

She kicked the wheel. The [Captain] swore, grabbing, but a foot kicked him off his feet. He went tumbling—

And his ship turned as the boom swung around. It crashed into the second ship, and both slowed. Peki flew off as the Bloodtear Pirates loosed spells and arrows after her back. The [Martial Artist] nimbly dodged. They ruled the seas, but she had trained to fight in the air. Everything but booms.

The third ship came on, though. It was on a collision course with The Emerald Signet! Desperately, the Storm Ship turned, but the pirate ship turned to catch it. They too had a magical wind in their sails. A magical wind—

“[Galewinds].”

Peki flapped past them and cast the scroll. The [Pirate Captain] of the third ship looked up as a second wind blew crossways, blasting the sail around. He swore as the ship turned against his will. He began to fight the two winds as Peki flapped off.

“Ah, the old, ‘distract them with Peki’, and then ‘catch them off-guard with Peki again gambit’. Classic.”

Merrik chortled as he watched The Emerald Signet racing past the ships. All three turned to join the chase. Now—five ship’s worth of spells were flying at The Emerald Signet’s rear.

A Gnoll braced behind cover as she stared at Merrik. Peki landed on the deck, panting, but only slightly singed.

“How often do you use that tactic?”

“You’d be surprised.”

Our turns.

Wil and Venaz appeared at one side of the ship. They winced as a hail of [Fireballs] exploded around the sails.

Sails are down! Replace them now!

We need five minutes!

Inky howled as Captain Lasc felt his ship slow. Desperately, the [Storm Captain] looked over his shoulder. The other ships were coming alongside.

Board them and take the treasure! Repel the Bloodtear Pirates!

Therrium was howling as his ship exchanged fire with the others. Ahead, The Emerald Signet, floundering, was throwing up a white flag.

“Kill them.”

The [Pirate Captain] pointed. But he saw Wil, Venaz, and Yerra dragging something to the port.

Stop! Stop! We surrender! We’ll give you the casket! But kill us and it goes over!

Wil shouted. All five ships stopped. They drew alongside.

It’s a trick!

The first mate opined. Therrium peered through a spyglass.

“No. It’s the real casket! They can’t create a fake although—get me a [Detect Magic] spell!”

It was the casket. Genuine. One of the Bloodtear Pirate ships streamed forwards and the other Drowned Ship, The Sinking Light, rammed them. They began to fight.

“Give us the treasure.”

Another of the Bloodtear Pirates was blocking The Passing Shadow. Fearless, their crews were boarding, hacking at Therrium’s crew. The Drowned Man slashed through the enemy as he roared, trying to get his ship closer.

The [Pirate Captain] had a crossbow aimed at Wil’s head and the [Pirates] were poised to catch. Wil nodded.

“Take it.”

“Open the casket.”

The [Pirate Captain] was in no mood to play games or be tricked again. Wil slowly did so. The diamond swords shone from within the casket. The [Pirate Captain] stared.

“Get me a null magic net. And hand it over.”

Slowly, the [Strategists] balanced it on the railing. The Bloodtear Pirates yanked it away. They stared at the treasure, forgetting The Emerald Signet for a second. One of the [Pirates] reached for a shimmering blade.

“Stop, idiot! Wait for the net—”

The [Pirate Captain] saw a hand grab the unlucky [Pirate]. Fetohep rose, sighing.

“Sand.”

He didn’t cast a spell. Sand just flooded the [Pirate]’s nose, mouth, eyes, ears—she fell back, choking. The Bloodtear Pirates drew back.

“Neutralize the magic.”

The [Pirate Captain] ordered. Fetohep looked at him. He glanced to the side.

“This is tedious. But amusing in its own way.”

The undead [King] pronounced. He said that, but he was grinning. Always grinning. The [Pirates] turned as The Emerald Signet shot forwards again; the sails were full and restored. The [Pirate Captain] frowned.

“Do we pursue, Captain?”

“…No. Let them go. We’ll deal with the spectre and the two Drowned Ships.”

The [Pirate Captain] came to a quick decision. He looked around. A pair of [Pirates] had a net that cancelled magic and were sneaking up on Fetohep’s left. The [King] pointed a finger.

Magical sand blasted the ambushers. Then, the undead [King] lifted his other hand. A whirlwind blasted the [Pirates] back. It whirled under the casket, pushed it up. And—to the disbelief of the [Pirate Captain], the casket flew through the air.

It landed on The Emerald Signet as the ship stormed ahead. Wil saw Fetohep rise from the casket as the Bloodtear [Pirate Captain] screamed curses and resumed the chase.

“I warned you that once you lost the casket, I would grant you no more chances.”

“Yes, your Majesty. What about a ruse?”

One of Fetohep’s burning flames in his eye sockets flashed.

“I shall consider it amusing. Show me how you continue to struggle, young [Lord].”

The Bloodtear Pirates and Drowned Crews stopped fighting as they realized The Emerald Signet was getting away again. They continued chasing, fighting each other as well as the ship ahead. And now—the [Strategists] were in their element.

You want one of the swords? Fetch!”

Feshi howled. She heaved over a glittering blade into the sea. One of the Drowned Ships began to dive until Therrium cursed the other [Depth Pirate] out.

It’s made of glass, you idiot!

“Glass and string. Nice try, Feshi. My turn.”

Yerra consoled the heartbroken Gnoll. The other [Strategists] were trying another trick. They dumped the barrels of liquor overboard. And as they floated towards the other ship, Feshi loosed an arrow for Yerra.

“[Bursting Arrow]!”

The barrels exploded with fire. The other ships swerved. The [Strategists] were laughing, trying to exchange ideas.

Peki, fly one of the spare sails in front of the other ships! Blind them!

“No, we’ll have you attack the rudders! Anyone got a powerful wand?”

They were throwing ideas around left and right. Peki took into the air and began dropping explosive alchemical flasks Feshi had brought, from out of arrow range. But the other ships were coming on, doggedly.

It was a chase. The Emerald Signet had managed to gain a five-minute lead. And it kept to it; it was lighter in the water with less weight. And the Bloodtear Pirates, for all two were smaller ships, were fighting it out with the Drowned Crews.

For all that, it was neck and neck. And—Captain Lasc looked at his stash of emergency wind scrolls.

“Three left.”

“We just need to get in range of the House of Minos! I’ve sent a distress call!”

Venaz shouted. He was staring ahead, trying to see the distant archipelago. But they were still far distant.

“How many ships are in the area? How fast are they coming to rendezvous?”

Wil turned his head, trying to calculate over the map table. Venaz looked at him.

“No, we just need to get in range of the isles! We’ll have support! We’re nearly—”

Crash. Something from behind. Wil turned his head.

“What was—”

“Harpoons! They just shot them into our hull!”

Merrik howled. One of the Bloodtear Pirates had launched the metal harpoons. Inky raced up from belowdecks.

“We’re taking on water! I need hands below! Help me patch up—”

More explosions. The other ships were loosing more spells.

“Dead gods. They’re recharged. Captain Lasc! We might not survive a volley! It’ll tear us apart—leave us dead in the water at the least!”

Delivan hunkered down as spells rained around The Emerald Signet. The [Storm Captain] bit his lip.

“I could use my last card, but we might all perish. Lord Kallinad! Have you anything left?”

“Not unless King Fetohep aids us. I think—”

Wil ducked his head as something shredded the command deck. Lasc fell back, swearing; something had opened his shoulder. He looked back; the ships were gaining; they’d put more holes in the sails.

Here they came. Therrium was in front this time. The Drowned Man’s blade was bared. Captain Lasc slowly drew his blade and planted it in the deck. He turned back to staring ahead.

Captain Lasc! A ship to the port!

Another [Pirate]?”

Yerranola shouted hopelessly. But Venaz’ head had turned. He snatched Delivan’s spyglass.

“No! That’s a warship from the House of Minos! Keep going! We’re going to make it!”

He grinned wildly.

“Just one?

The young [Lord] looked alarmed. There were five ships in pursuit! And this Minotaurian Warship didn’t look that much bigger! In fact, it was turning in the distance!

“Is it not engaging?”

“No! It’s—”

 

—-

 

“Captain, warship ahead! It flies the colors of House Minos!”

The Drowned Sailor called down to Therrium. His head rose as he hunkered down, avoiding flaming arrows from the damned Bloodtear Pirate ships. He looked up.

“We’re already in Minos’ waters? Damn. Catch that ship! Fire all spells!

He pointed at The Emerald Signet. His [First Mate] moved to obey. She strode to the front of the ship. Therrium saw a flash. He raised his head, then felt something hit his ship.

What was that?

He roared. Then he saw a plume of splinters. His [First Mate] stared at her missing legs. Then—at the ballista bolt made of metal that had shattered the deck.

The warship is firing at us! Damned Minotaurs!

The Bloodtear Pirates saw the impact on The Passing Shadow. One of the [Pirate Captains] saw the warship presenting broadsides, far, far in the distance.

“Then close with them and destroy the ship! They can’t reload in—”

Splash. The [Pirates] ducked as something hit the waters next to their ship. Another ballista bolt.

“So they have two ballistae. So wh—”

Crack.

A third ballista bolt hit the side of the ship. The Bloodtear Pirates looked up. Then—a stone cracked into the decks of the other Drowned Ship. The boat rocked.

“Three ballistae and a catapult. Damn. Fine then—”

Another bolt hit the decks. The [Pirates] slowly turned to look at their [Captain]. He snatched a spyglass up. Impossible. They couldn’t have four—

The warship had four. And a catapult in the center. As the [Captain] watched, he saw distant figures reloading.

They did it like this. Two Minotaurs pulled the arm of the catapult down. One slammed a boulder out of a bag of holding into the firing arm—the catapult was adjusted and fired. In less than thirty seconds, another boulder was in the air.

And the ballistae? Just as fast. Minotaurs just pulled the massive siege weapon back, reloading it.

Devils in the deep.

The Bloodtear [Pirate Captain] had heard stories. But the Minotaurs surprised him. They kept firing; before a bolt landed, another was in the air. All five ships began to take evasive action.

Captain Therrium was swearing. But he pointed his ship ahead at The Emerald Signet.

“Bring down the Minotaur’s warship first! This isn’t over! Send out a call to any Undersea Crews nearby!”

 

—-

 

The Minotaurs weren’t even using spells. Wil stared. They just had siege weapons, but the weapons had incredible range. And the Minotaurs were expert marksmen. They were pumping out a rain of fire that the other ships had to dodge or be sunk by, even with [Reinforced Hulls].

“Dead gods! I had no idea that’s how Minotaurs fought!

Yerranola was staring. Venaz was laughing proudly.

“No [Pirates] challenge our waters! Well—a few do, but most know better! Minotaur warships are a terror of the seas! And we fight on land just as well! I told you—”

The students looked at each other. Venaz’ boasts were being backed up a bit—if only by the dramatic save. The Minotaur stood on the prow, bellowing towards the distant ship. Wil heard an answering roar back.

But—Lasc kept glancing back.

“They’re still coming, Mister Venaz! And they might be damned experts at close quarters, but they’ll be outnumbered five-to-one! Those are all expert, high-level [Pirates]!”

“Don’t worry, Captain Lasc. The other ships won’t make it. See?”

The Minotaurian ship was moving backwards, as The Emerald Signet fled in its wake. But the other ships kept coming; they were tough and even the impacts from the ballista bolts and catapults weren’t doing more than slowing them. Wil glanced over his shoulder.

“Venaz? Are you sure?

He could see Captain Therrium in the distance. The [Depth Captain] was pointing. And—Wil heard someone swearing.

“My [Dangersense] is going off. Captain Lasc—”

Delivan looked backwards. An [Archer] was standing on the deck. Lasc peered through a spyglass.

“Damn. No wonder the Bloodtear Pirates have abandoned attacking The Passing Shadow. Everyone! Get belowdecks! They’ve got a poison archer!”

The others looked up. Lasc pointed at the [Archer] that Therrium had placed on the prow. She was sighting—and she was half-Drowned. Wil saw yellowish skin, something like…spikes? He saw her spitting something. Lasc pointed.

“Blowfish. One dose from her arrows and you’re dead.”

The crew ran for the decks. Wil looked at Venaz. Within a few more minutes, they’d be in range. No—were they already? Therrium was pointing at Wil.

Stop your ship or die. This is your last chance.

The Drowned man shouted. One of the Bloodtear Pirates was accelerating, using a skill on the right. Wil saw Lasc’s eyes flick from left to right.

“Mister Venaz—”

“Hold course. We’re nearly safe.”

The Minotaur crouched behind the safety of the deck, but he looked—confident. Wil saw the Minotaur vessel turning ahead, offering more covering fire. But the two ships were catching up to the wounded Storm Ship. Wil saw Therrium raise a hand. The [Archer] drew back, sighting.

And the Bloodtear Pirate ship began to draw alongside. The [Pirates] whirled grappling hooks, shouting. Wil saw Lasc bare his teeth.

Prepare to repel boarders!

He reached for his sword, planted in the deck. Wil reached for his blade, staring at the casket. He saw Venaz looking up at the sky as the Bloodtear Pirates’ ship drew alongside. Wil looked back.

“Time to fight. Wil, stay behind us.”

Yerranola rose, Merrik and Peki by her side. Feshi reached for another arrow. And Wil saw Venaz close his eyes.

“Ah. Her wrath. Honor to you.”

He stood. Wil looked up at him. And then—he saw a shadow flash across the sky. Venaz knelt.

The [Pirate Captain] drawing alongside The Emerald Signet looked up. He saw something flying through the sky. Rotating. It fell towards him. He stared up. It looked like—but it was too large.

“Is that…an axe?

It cut through the mast, crashed through the deck and the [Captain]. The ship buckled, and then—sank.

Captain Therrium stared at the gigantic axe buried in the ship. He stared at the sky. He reached for the helm.

The Bloodtear Pirates turned. The Minotaur warship launched another volley, but the other four ships fled. Fled, in a moment. For reinforcements, to regroup. They asked no questions.

That was an axe.

 

—-

 

Axes, the Minotaur [Prince], a Moment’s Peace

 

“What in the name of the Grandfathers was that?

Merrik stared at the place the ship had sunk. Wil looked at Venaz. The Minotaur replied calmly, smirking.

“That. Was an axe.”

The students looked at him. The other ships were fleeing. Wil turned to Peki.

“Peki, punch Venaz.”

The Garuda raised a fist. The Minotaur stepped back, scowling.

“It was what I meant! We’re in range of the House of Minos. Well—it must have expanded last I checked. She leveled.”

“She? Who?”

Captain! Lord Kallinad! Minotaur warship is turning! They want to board!

Inky called out from the crow’s nest. Venaz’s head turned. But he pointed at the place the Bloodtear Pirates’ ship had sunk.

“Her range. That axe was thrown by the King of Minotaurs herself. It was her great Skill. One of the reasons we are safe. The [Axe of Gigant]. A shipbreaking blow.”

He pointed into the distance. Wil saw the other warship drawing alongside. He looked at Venaz.

“Venaz. I’ve known [Kings]. Even the King of Destruction. We studied him. I’ve never, ever seen a Skill like that.”

“Because your [Kings] were rulers. Our King won her title by strength, Wil. Strength and honor. And her class, her first class? Was [Axe Thrower].”

The Minotaur warship was filled with Minotaurs. And like Venaz, they had knelt the direction the axe had come. Now—Wil saw Venaz pointing.

The waters were stirring. Something rose, from where the [Pirate]’s ship had sunk. An axe rose out of the waters and slowly flew back the way it had come.

It was much smaller than when it had landed. But it flashed through the air, rotating. Wil and the others stared.

“The pride of the Minotaurs. Be honored, Wil Kallinad. For you, our King threw one of her personal weapons. She does not do it often; even most [Pirates] do not know of her strength.”

Venaz beamed. Wil nodded, speechless.

“And are we…safe?”

Merrik looked up at Venaz. He nodded.

“So long as we remain here? Of course! We’ll have time to replenish our stocks. Repair the ship. And perhaps even sail with a fleet as an escort—depending on if Kallinad can pay for it. But once we reach the House of Minos’ harbors even The Iron Vanguard would fear to invade!”

He laughed, spreading his arms wide. Wil looked ahead. The other warship was moving alongside theirs. He saw the ballistae, the catapult. And—striding alongside the decks, his arms spread in welcome, a Minotaur in full armor. Venaz’s eyes widened. He turned to Wil.

“And here I thought we couldn’t get more lucky. Wil—you’ll have the honor of being escorted by a Prince of Minotaurs.”

“A Prince?”

Wil stared at the distant Minotaur. Venaz was nodding.

“As you understand it. He is next in line for the throne. Excluding our King’s son—this would be her younger brother. As honorable as she is. And nearly as mighty. Er—he’s not the one I beat to take the Professor’s classes. Don’t tell him I bragged about that. And be respectful.”

He was older, gray mixed into his mane and fur. But as big as Venaz. He roared a greeting.

Venaz of Hammerad! In the name of the House of Minos, I welcome you home!

Prince Khedal! The honor is ours! Your timing was most fortuitous!

The two Minotaurs strode up the gangplanks as the ships docked. Khedal was a unit of a Minotaur, even as they reckoned such things. He and Venaz struck each other on the shoulders and grabbed each other’s forearms as they locked horns.

And he had a presence, like that of the [General] of Pheislant. A high-level person. He turned to Wil as Venaz began to introduce the crew.

“Ah, Lord Kallinad. I have seen your story unfolding. It is the privilege of the House of Minos to aid you, as well as one of our own.”

He inclined his head. And he was suddenly, incredibly formal. He gave Wil a bow—a Terandrian courtier’s bow. It was impressively done. Wil found himself fumbling his reply.

“The honor was ah, mine, Prince Khedal. Your warship was timely. And the aid of your Que—your King was impressive.”

Khedal was nodding. His horns were actually gilded with silver—and his armor was as ornamental as functional. Wil saw dozens of Minotaur [Sailors] hard at work; the [Storm Sailors] eyed them nervously.

“The King of Minos directed our ship to your defense as soon as she saw you were inbound. That she provided the honor of her Skill was unasked for.”

“I shall surely thank her. And if my companions and I are worthy of it—we would be honored twice by an audience.”

Venaz was nodding. Khedal studied Merrik, Peki, and the others. The Garuda whispered.

“Strong Sea Cow.”

The Prince’s eyes narrowed. But then he was nodding.

“Few are worthy, but she would wish it. And of course, we shall bring your ship to harbor. Come—have you replacement sails? If not, my [Oarsmen] will bring you to shore. It is not far.”

He turned to Captain Lasc. The [Storm Captain] saluted.

“Our sails are going up as we speak. It is an honor…Prince Khedal?”

“Yes, it is. We were prepared to fight to the death in your defense. I do not know if it would have been fitting for those not of House Minos, or even one son. But our King is far wiser and more honorable than I.”

The Minotaur Prince nodded slightly. Lasc blinked. So did Wil. Khedal was somehow more uptight and arrogant than Venaz. Wil saw where he got it from if it was a cultural thing. However—he was also commanding.

“Let us return to harbor before we speak more, Venaz of Hammerad. You have been gone too long. No doubt you will be feasted in the Thronehall of Minos. You must tell of us of your accomplishments. We have witnessed some, such as Daquin.”

“Yes. I have failed as much as triumphed. But I hope to speak of the accomplishments of my companions as well.”

Venaz hung his head as Khedal nodded. Wil felt his knees going weak.

Safety. He looked at Yerra and saw her and Feshi staring into the distance. Perhaps they were just shadows, but the Archipelago of the House of Minos awaited. A mysterious place. Wil looked back at the casket.

And saw something on the horizon. The [Lord] stared.

“Venaz. Prince Khedal.”

The two Minotaurs turned. Wil pointed silently. Prince Khedal looked over his shoulder and frowned.

“Spyglass.”

One was placed into his hands. The Minotaur sighted. Then he looked up abruptly.

“It seems my boast of safety was premature. There is a fleet approaching.”

“A fleet?”

“Storm Ships. Sixty of them.”

Sixty?

“Prince-Commander Khedal. Another sighting. Southeast this time.”

The Minotaur turned. He sighted again.

“Eighty warships.”

A third call. Khedal looked.

“Thirty six. Closer to forty.”

“What is it?”

“Did he say Storm Ships? That can only be—Lord Admiral Seagrass. The Tyrant Seagrass.

Delivan’s eyes were wide. He looked at Lasc.

“But we’ve broken no laws of the sea, have we, Captain Lasc?”

“Not a one. Perhaps Lord Seagrass is here to give us an escort.”

“Yeah. And perhaps my beard is a nest for baby chicks.”

Merrik snorted. He looked at Prince Khedal. The Minotaur was consulting with his subordinates. He looked up, abruptly.

“We could sail for the House of Minos’ shores. And repel this Lord Seagrass. We have clashed with his ships before. He will never take Minos’ shores. However. I do not believe this is wise. Not for a single son of Minos, and a treasure that is not ours.”

He looked at Wil. The [Lord] numbly nodded. Venaz looked at Khedal, clenching his fists.

“But Prince Khedal—! Are we to surrender the treasure after all this time? Fetohep of Khelt has charged Wil with delivering it! Do we bow to dishonor?”

Khedal’s hand moved like a blur. He grabbed Venaz so hard Wil saw the other Minotaur’s armor move.

Never.

Khedal’s voice was low. He pointed.

Captain Lasc! Head north! Now! We will sail past the House of Minos! Open the Bottle of Winds!”

“We?”

The Minotaurs leapt to follow Prince Khedal’s orders. The Minotaur turned as he strode across the gangplank. He nodded at Wil.

“I cannot in good conscience risk the life of our King and subjects in a siege if this Lord Seagrass would dare it. However—I have placed you under my protection. The least we can do is escort you closer to another harbor. We will delay this Lord Seagrass and his fleets as long as we are able. Minotaurs! Make ready for battle!”

A roar came from the warship. Venaz clung to the railing, looking alarmed.

Prince Khedal! You cannot risk your life! You are Prince to the House of Minos.”

The Minotaur turned back to Venaz. He looked gravely at the younger Minotaur.

I do not rule the House of Minos, Venaz of Hammerad. My life is worthless before that of my King. And honor is everything.”

He spread his arms, indicating the sea, the sky, the ship, the other Minotaurs. As proud as the sun. Fearless.

Wil looked at Venaz. The Minotaur’s jaw moved. Then he clasped a fist to his chest.

“You do us the greatest of honors, Prince Khedal. We will not dishonor you!”

And that was it. Captain Lasc was swearing as he moved his ship and the Minotaurian vessel kept pace. The two ships raced forwards, propelled by winds blown from a jar Khedal held.

This was the final hour. Wil saw Fetohep rising from his casket.

“The world has not forgotten Khelt’s treasures, it seems.”

The undead [King] smiled. Wil looked at his friends. And in the distance—the fleet of over a hundred ships drew closer.

“[Stormlord Captain] Seagrass. He uses his fleet to trade and make a fortune. He’s tamed his parts of the sea. No one challenges him—he’s a [King] of the waves.”

Inky breathed. Wil looked at her.

“If he’s a [Stormlord], don’t you owe your allegiance to him?”

The [Storm Sailor] grinned at Wil.

“Even a [Stormlord] doesn’t command us [Storm Sailors]. We pledged to this cause and we’ll…”

She eyed the other navy.

“…Run as long as possible and then surrender when we’ve done most of what we can. We might still make it. There’s one trick Lasc has left. A [Storm Captain]’s desperation.”

“Which is?”

Lord Kallinad! To the prow! More ships ahead!

Alright! I’m done! Stop with the ‘more ships’! It’s getting ridiculous!”

Yerranola threw down her hatchet on the deck and threw her hands up. She stomped up the deck with Wil. Lasc was calm.

“Don’t worry, Miss Yerranola. I don’t think we’ll have more.”

“How do you know?”

“…Don’t reckon there are many more ships in the sea, Miss.”

He pointed. Ahead of them, Drowned Ships were rising out of the sea. Captain Therrium eyed the Minotaurian warship, and The Emerald Signet as dozens of Drowned Ships rose around him. The Undersea Crews, all of them in the area.

From the west came an armada. Captain Lasc was counting.

“The Bloodtear Pirates, the Death’s Heads, the Salt Dogs—I see a dozen [Pirate] bands. More.”

“Ooh, the Death’s Heads? They’re Selphids. Maybe I can talk them out of killing us!”

Yerranola stared into the distance. Merrik stared.

“Good. That leaves only…a few dozen warships. From that side.”

“The Salt Dogs are Gnolls.”

“Think you can talk them out of fighting us?”

Yerranola looked at Feshi. The Gnoll [Strategist] shook her head.

“Nope. They’re evil.”

“Ah.”

The students and [Sailors] stood at the railings. Looking around. Wil wondered aloud.

“How did they all get here?”

“I think everyone was following us already. Kind of flattering, when you think about it. What’s our game, Wil?”

“Toss the swords over the edge and pray they fight over it while we run?”

Yerranola suggested. King Fetohep gave her a cold look. He seemed amused.

“I should mention this to Atwood.”

Wil had no idea what that meant. And then—well—he saw the final ship show up. The last, fitting element.

A glowing ship on the horizon. It sped after both ships, faster than any other ship on the ocean. It shone with brilliant light. Wil recognized it now, the second time.

The Illuminary. And standing on the deck was Captain Rasea Zecrew. Yerranola called out as the ship sailed at them.

“Oh, thank Rhir! They’re going to save us! We can get on the ship, speed out of here—”

Ahoy! Looks like a real fight! Look at all these ships! I haven’t seen so many in a decade in the same place! It was worth sticking around!”

Captain Rasea excitedly drew up alongside The Emerald Signet. The Minotaurian warship was turning and Prince Khedal was staring at Captain Rasea with clear rage. The ballistae on her ship were duplicates of the ones on his warship.

The [Pirate Captain] gave Wil a wink. He just looked at her.

“…Are you coming to bail us out, Captain Rasea? Help us escape?”

Her eyes widened.

“You know, that sounds like a lot of fun. But no. We’re robbing you. Mind handing over the Swords of Serept?”

She winked at Wil. Then she did a double-take.

“Hey, did you recruit an undead sand-person onto your ship?”

Fetohep looked offended. Wil just stared at Captain Rasea. He felt…let down. Not so much by the impending doom and the three vast navies as…her.

“Captain Rasea, you promised me you’d let our ship go.”

She had promised. And somehow, in this moment, this singular broken vow stung most of all. The [Pirate Captain]’s eyes widened.

“Well—obviously, I lied. I just thought you wouldn’t give up the treasure beforehand. I was right to wait. The Treant proved that. But I didn’t lie, lie. I gave you my oath.”

“But you still broke it.”

Not exactly.

The [Pirate Captain] smiled. Lord Seagrass was pursuing from behind. The Drowned Crews were advancing, chanting. The [Pirates] were roaring as they came on. But Rasea just smiled. She stared at the sky as Wil looked at her.

“Here’s a lesson from the sea, Lord Kallinad. You can trust a [Pirate] like me—but only her words. I swore by the Flag of Savere that you’d not be troubled by us.”

She pointed at her mast. Everyone looked up. The flag hung beneath her colors. Wil nodded slowly. And Captain Rasea swept her hat from her head.

“So. Lads? Burn the flag.

Her crew pointed up. Wands and arrows. The Centaur fired two shots. Wil saw the flag explode into flames. He stared at Rasea. She laughed as she put the hat back onto her head.

“But that’s Savere’s flag.”

It burned in the scrying orb as Noass commentated fast as he ever had and Seborn stared at the sight. And Niers Astoragon watched his beloved pupils. Captain Rasea laughed without a care in the world.

“So? I only put it up because my sister gets prickly if I don’t! I care nothing for nations! For rules! For laws or armies!”

She stood on her ship as it turned towards The Emerald Signet. Captain Rasea Zecrew bowed. And her eyes shone with the purest light of adventure.

Insanity.

“After all, I’m a [Pirate].

Then she grabbed the rope as the boom swung by her head. She soared through the air. And landed on the deck of The Emerald Signet. Captain Lasc drew his sword and Rasea leapt at him. They locked blades as the other fleets shot through the waves.

The final battle for the Swords of Serept began.

 

—-

 

The Final Battle. A [Storm Captain]’s Skill. A Choice is Made.

 

War at sea. That was the only word for it. Three navies were clashing in the ocean. The first, a massive trading fleet and armada led by the [Stormlord Captain], one of the five most powerful [Lords] in the world. The 4th most famous…according to landfolk.

Lord Admiral Seagrass. He stood on the deck of the largest ship in the fleet. Smiling like steel. His trimmed beard, his precise, almost flamboyant but also military dress and his words all added to his appearance. Each syllable was clipped and clear.

He had been both lawbreaker and the law itself on the seas. Now, his fleets that brought goods from continent to continent ruled the seas. He spoke as his [Storm Captains] angled, loosing spells.

“An odd detour from our trading route. The cargo had better be worth the cost. Get me those blades. Send the eastern fleet to stop those [Pirates]. The rest—down the Undersea Crews! Encircle The Emerald Signet.

Over a hundred ships sailed forwards, crewed by [Storm Sailors]. The [Pirates] turned their ships, swearing as they saw one of the powers of the sea headed at them.

But the Undersea Crews came on. Captain Therrium was leading the charge. They were aiming at The Emerald Signet, which was locked in battle with the Illuminary. And a single warship from the House of Minos stood in the way.

The battle looked like a…dance from above. The watchers through the scrying orbs, from Niers Astoragon to the King of Destruction and Archmage Nailihuaile and the rest saw the ships meeting, clashing, and separating.

They did not form an untidy scrum like some landfolk battle. Too many ships locked together meant that if one sank, it would pull the others down as masts and rigging entangled. And fire would spread. So the ships formed smaller knots of combat, boarding each other, separating—leaving vessels to drift into the ocean depths.

Some of the Drowned Vessels did it on purpose. They rose, smashing into Storm Ships from below. The [Storm Captains] hurled magic from their decks; the [Pirates] attacked with every trick, from improvised firebombs to swinging across the gaps to light parts of the other ships on fire.

Chaos and confusion. And at the heart of it—Wil Kallinad and his friends. He saw Captain Lasc moving backwards across the deck, dueling Captain Rasea Zecrew.

The Shining. Her entire body was lit up by the light and it was blinding the [Storm Captain]. But he refused to flee. He stepped backwards, his sword slashing at hers. And his left hand moved like lightning, punching, deflecting her sword. He struck her twice, but the [Pirate Captain] moved back each time. And she was laughing as she cut him deep across the leg.

To arms!

Venaz roared. The Illuminary’s crew were joining their [Captain]. Or trying to—Delivan had the helm. He roared at Venaz.

Help Captain Lasc! We won’t survive if the Illuminary boards! They’ll cut us to ribbons!

“Ah! Three at once? A fine battle!”

Rasea whirled as Venaz charged her from the left. She slashed and the Minotaur halted. She ducked as Peki kicked at her head; she was too fast! And her body lit up in a flash.

The half-Anglerfish woman darted forwards as the others were blinded. She stabbed Peki in the arm and the Garuda recoiled. Rasea kicked her across the deck, blocked a slash from Lasc—and turned to confront Merrik. The Dwarf charged in, and her blade cut into his armor. But he forced her back.

Wil, get back! She’s too high-level!

Yerranola shouted. Feshi was trying to aim into the melee, but Rasea was now fighting four-on-one. And pushing all four back. Wil looked around desperately. The [Pirate Captain] was the least of their worries.

Drowned Ships incoming!

Inky pointed ahead. The Undersea Crews were streaming forwards. Wil saw Therrium pointing at him. The Blowfish [Archer] was aiming her bow. And two ships were in the way.

The Illuminary and Prince Khedal’s warship from the House of Minos. A portion of the Illuminary’s crew swung onto the nearest Drowned Ship, stalling them, fighting against the larger crew fearlessly. And Prince Khedal stood on the sides of his ship as his Minotaurs fired their siege weapons constantly, focusing on single ships before moving to the next.

“So. This is the product of greed. Minotaurs. For a son of the House of Minos. For honor. We do battle. Nothing less. To me.

The Minotaur Prince looked around. A group of Minotaur [Sailors] stood at his back. They were armed with long-handled axes. Armor. Khedal stared at the dozens of ships headed for him.

“Give no ground. The Emerald Signet must escape. You—join the Humans. The rest of you—board and sink these trespassers.”

A group of Minotaurs rushed towards The Emerald Signet. They dove into the waters and swam towards the other boat. Prince Khedal locked eyes with Captain Therrium. He pointed as the first ship crashed into his warship.

For the House of Minos! Charge!

He leapt off his deck and onto The Passing Shadow. Drowned Sailors stared up at the Minotaur as he drew two large axes from his back. Captain Therrium looked around. Prince Khedal had landed on his ship alone as the Minotaurs fought the other Drowned Crews.

Are you mad, Minotaur?

“No. Surrender now and I will spare your ship.”

The Minotaur looked around. Therrium’s crew laughed. Prince Khedal’s eyes narrowed. They were green-and-yellow. Not red, as Venaz’s were, or the other Minotaurs fighting into a rage. They were hacking through the Drowned Folk. But Khedal just waited, axes in hand.

He turned his head. The Blowfish [Archer] loosed an arrow tipped with the deadly toxin. The Minotaur leaned out of the way. The arrow missed. The old prince turned. He saw a [Depth Sailor] leaping at him.

He hacked the Drowned Woman apart with one of his axes. Turned. Gracefully, he cut two [Sailors] in half with his other axe. He brought the other axe back, cleaving through a [Depth Sailor]’s guard. The Minotaur walked forwards, ignoring the blows to his armor. He began cutting down Therrium’s crew one by one, his blades leaving a trail of red.

Captain Therrium stopped smiling. He snarled as the Minotaur’s blades flashed. One minute, then two—the crew assaulted him from all sides. But all that happened was that they died. Khedal had no helmet, but he kept turning his head, avoiding arrows and spells. And the rest of his body was too armored. And he was cutting apart dozens of the crew, headed straight for Captain Therrium.

Take us down! Drown that damned Minotaur!

The [Depth Captain] ordered. He drew his sword and clashed with Khedal. The first blow from the Minotaur threw him back across the deck. Therrium’s body surged with electricity. He slashed, connecting with Khedal’s side as the Minotaur turned, hacking apart another [Depth Sailor].

The deadly charge of electricity made all of Khedal’s hair stand on end. And nothing else. He turned and Therrium leapt back before an axe could end him. The Drowned Crew backed up as the Minotaur turned.

“Worthless. You are all without honor, much less skill at arms.

He glared about. And blocked an arrow to the back of his head from the [Venom Archer] with the flat of his axe. Therrium stared uncertainly. But then he felt his ship sinking into the waves. He grinned.

Diving! Depth shields aren’t down! Brace!

The [Helmswoman] bellowed. Khedal looked around as the Drowned Crews grabbed ahold of parts of the ship. The ship was diving into the waters, and without the magical bubble that kept oxygen and atmosphere on the ship. Waters engulfed him as Therrium felt his other, eel-half breathing in the water.

He grinned. The Minotaur was stranded on his boat. Khedal was suddenly underwater as the Drowned Crews slowly moved through the water around him. They swam at him, as the Minotaur looked around. Blinded. Slowed. Unable to breathe.

The Drowned Folk closed. Hand-to-hand underwater; no arrows and fewer spells would work. They swam towards him. And the Minotaur Prince? His eyes slowly turned red.

 

—-

 

Blood turned the waters crimson where The Passing Shadow had sunk. After three minutes, a form surfaced.

Prince Khedal. His head broke the waves and he inhaled. He looked around—saw another ship passing by. The Minotaur swam towards it with one arm. He drove the axe he was carrying in his other hand into the side of the ship—and then drew the other one. He began to climb onto the ship.

Blood and water ran from his armor as the Drowned Crews saw the Minotaur coming over the side. Khedal’s eyes were red with rage. But he was calming down.

“Worthless tricks.”

He pulled himself over the railing and stood up. The [Depth Captain] drew her sword. Khedal threw one of his axes through her head and strode forwards.

Behind him, The Passing Shadow surfaced. The waters were still red with blood. Therrium gazed at the body parts of his crew that ran across the deck. He looked around.

Keep away from that Minotaur. Get me those damn swords!

 

—-

 

Boarding from the port! [Storm Sailors]!

The battle on board The Emerald Signet was a wild melee. Wil saw figures fighting around all sides of the ship. The students and Captain Lasc and his crew had formed a desperate circle around the chest. And their ship was being assaulted from all sides.

By order of Admiral Seagrass, surrender!

A [Storm Captain] strode over the decks. His [Storm Sailors] charged a group of Drowned Folk who snarled—another Octopus-type spat ink into the faces of the [Storm Sailors] before a crossbow bolt took her down.

Inky was standing next to Wil, aiming Delivan’s crossbow; the [First Mate] was desperately trying to steer the ship out of danger. Merrik and Peki were defending the Helm. But the ships kept coming.

“We can’t get away. Wil—”

Yerranola was shouting as she thrust back a pair of [Storm Sailors]. They stabbed her—the Selphid buried her hatchet in one head, ignoring the blades in her chest. Wil pointed his wand, blew the other [Sailor] off her.

It was a hopeless battle. All he could think was that they had to abandon the chest. But even that was—

Difficult. There was nowhere to run and the chest itself was being guarded. Fetohep stood in front of it, calmly looking around. An enemy [Storm Sailor] stumbled through Captain Lasc’s defenders. He looked up.

Thief.

The undead [King] swung a blade made of sand. Sand—but it cut through the [Storm Sailor]’s face. Fetohep calmly blocked two more [Depth Sailors] slashing at him. The ruler of Khelt turned, and his blade cut both down, finding holes in their guard.

He was a [Warrior]. And a good one! Even the other high-level [Warriors] were avoiding him. And—Fetohep looked amused.

In this battle, there was no amusement in Wil’s heart. Just thundering adrenaline. But Fetohep wasn’t the only one.

Hail to Lord Seagrass!

A form swung across the air. The [Storm Captain] cutting towards Lasc turned. Just in time for Rasea to shear the top of his head off. The [Storm Sailors] cried out as Rasea the Shining landed among them with four members of her crew. They diced the invaders in a blur. Then they pointed at Wil’s group.

“Oh dead gods. Here they come—”

Yerra turned. She charged one of the four [Pirates]. Captain Lasc punched at another.

“I’ll take that one! Inky—the other! Wil, Feshi, cover us!”

Venaz cut with his battleaxe at the Drake with a cutlass. Wil aimed his wand as Feshi shot an arrow. The four [Pirates] slid across the deck. One was dueling Lasc—another cut Yerra straight down her body.

Ah! Dead gods! They got my inner body!

The Selphid shouted. She kicked and the Gnoll went flying.

Rampaging!

She roared as she charged forwards. Captain Rasea was laughing. She was dueling Fetohep himself. The [King]’s eyes flashed as he parried her enchanted blade, but his hardened sand-sword was breaking with each clash. Rasea speared him through the chest.

“Well done, mortal. Your name?”

“Rasea Zecrew. Your Majesty.

She swept him a bow. Then beheaded the apparition. The sand-Fetohep collapsed.

Rasea reached for one of the Swords of Serept. A glowing, blue blade. Then she flicked her hand up.

Fetohep’s reaching hand missed hers by an inch. Rasea winked.

“Thought so. What a pain—”

The ruler of Khelt rose out of the ground again. He had reshaped himself out of the magical sand. Rasea grinned. She saluted him.

Back up, lads! We need a full crew to grab that damn box!

Her four [Pirates] and Rasea leapt backwards as more [Storm Sailors] flanked them from the left at Wil’s direction. None of them had fallen—and Venaz was bleeding. He cursed.

“They’re high-level. We can’t hold them off!”

Crew of the Illuminary. On me.

Captain Rasea stood at the railing. And Wil saw sixteen more shapes swinging onto the deck. His heart sank.

“Step aside, Lord Kallinad and you lot. Be a shame to cut your adventure short today.”

Rasea’s eyes glinted. Wil raised his sword and wand.

“Captain Rasea—”

Thwoom. The ship shook. Wil and the [Pirates] whirled. Three Storm Ships had docked.

For Lord Seagrass!

Hundreds of [Sailors] poured over the railings. Rasea grimaced.

“Well, well. Merchant Seagrass brought his trading fleet. Back up!”

Another impact. Two Drowned Vessels. Therrium strode onto the deck, eyes blazing.

Get. Me. Those. Swords!

The Drowned Crews and [Sailors] hit each other in a melee. Rasea looked towards Wil and Captain Lasc’s crew, a shrinking knot in the center of the fighting. She eyed Fetohep, defending his treasure. Her eyes…slowly passed over the diamond swords.

“Cap’n? Are we going in?”

The Oldblood Drake hacked apart a Drowned Woman. Rasea looked at her crew. A Centaur with a pair of crossbows calmly shot two [Sailors]. The Illuminary’s crew was waiting.

“Huh. You know, lads. I just had a thought.”

The [Pirates] groaned and grinned. Captain Rasea eyed the diamond swords.

“Back to the ship. Now!”

They dove over the railings, taking themselves out of the fight. Rasea swam like a fish towards her ship; she grabbed the line and was flung onto the deck.

“Captain? Too hairy for you?”

The Gnoll [Helmsman] laughed in disbelief. Rasea just grinned in reply. She pointed.

“Take us out of the melee. Get me to the Bloodtear’s ships. Over there!”

They were sinking two Drowned Vessels; giant holes had been taken out of the Drowned Vessels and the crews were swimming to other friendly ships. The Bloodtear Pirate group, eight ships in total was pulling back.

Seagrass’ navy was on the advance. And the Undersea Crews and [Pirates] were still outnumbered by them. It was Prince Khedal and the Minotaurs who were taking on the ships on The Emerald Signet’s starboard side. They cut through the [Sailors]. And only Therrium and the other Drowned Folk were keeping the battle equal on The Emerald Signet.

The Illuminary shot towards the Bloodtear Pirate’s ship. They saw the famed [Pirate] ship coming and the Bloodtear Pirates began aiming spells.

Hey! Hold!

Captain Rasea bellowed. Her ballistae were aiming at the lead ship. But she hadn’t fired. Yet.

The Captain of the Bloodtear Pirates hesitated. He met the shining gaze of the woman and held up a hand.

“No one attack! Yet.”

Rasea strode up the gangplank. She wasted no time.

“Hey, Bloodtear’s Lot. I had a thought. We’re all going after that damn treasure. But the way it’s looking, only one of us is going to get it. And there’s a treasure worth more than even the Swords of Serept or whatever. Waiting to be claimed.”

“A bigger treasure? Which is?”

The Bloodtear Captain looked incredulous. For an answer, Rasea pointed. The Bloodtear Crew turned their heads. And Rasea the Shining grinned.

Lord Seagrass’ command ship floated in the middle of his navy. The Bloodtear Captain looked at Rasea. And her eyes blazed.

“Merchant Seagrass himself. Why are we wasting time on swords? You with me? If you are—spread the word.”

The Bloodtear Pirates looked at each other. And then they grinned.

 

—-

 

The navy of ships began turning. [Pirate] vessels and Drowned Ships broke away from The Emerald Signet. Wil didn’t know why at first.

Nor did the others. Lord Seagrass turned his head, spotting the ships moving in concert. Thirty in total, Undersea Crews, [Pirates]—but they weren’t fighting each other.

“What are they doing?”

His eyes narrowed. But then he saw. The ships were turning. Coming his way. The [Stormlord] saw a glowing ship leading the charge.

Admiral Seagrass! The Illuminary is coming about!

“Send forward all ships!”

The [Stormlord Captain] bellowed. But the Illuminary was shooting across the waters. It surged past a group of Storm Ships. And Rasea was standing at the helm of her ship. Her eyes shone.

“Lads, today we topple the tyrant of the seas. Merchant Seagrass, I’ve been waiting to meet you! With me!

She grabbed hold of the rope. The boom snapped. And Rasea flew.

“She’s insane.

One of the Bloodtear Pirates remarked. The others nodded as they saw Rasea let go of the rope and fly through the air with her crew.

Eight landed on the deck, scattering [Storm Sailors]. Lord Seagrass stared as Rasea the Shining pulled her hat out of her bag of holding. His warship was the largest ship on the sea bar none. Hundreds of [Storm Sailors] for each of the [Pirates]. But more [Pirate] and Drowned Ships were sailing on his ship.

“Rasea Zecrew. Today’s the last time you haunt my trading lines.”

The [Stormlord Captain] slowly drew a sword with a green-grey blade. The [Pirate Captain] drew her shining blade.

“Ah, Merchant Seagrass. If you’ve the guts—come and take my head! I’ll wear your hat. Boys—get ready. Strobe pattern.”

The glowing Anglerfish side of her body began to light up, flashing bright, disconcerting patterns of light, blinding everyone but her crew who kept their backs to their [Captain]. They advanced, fighting.

 

—-

 

The knot of Lasc’s crew was shrinking. Inky was lying against the chest. Someone had cut off part of her tentacle-leg.

“It’ll grow back—just—just—watch your backs!”

The [Storm Sailor] cocked the crossbow and shot. Venaz whirled. He brought his axe down and cleaved open a head.

“We’re lost. We have to retreat. Take another vessel. Wil, what’s our plan?”

“We go with the [Storm Sailors]. Or we fight with Prince Khedal. Either way—we abandon the treasure.”

Wil looked at King Fetohep. The [King] stood next to the shining swords. He looked at Wil Kallinad.

“Lord Kallinad. We can still make it out.”

Captain Lasc was clutching at his side. He looked at Wil, wide-eyed with battle’s fury. Wil stared at him.

How? There are too many ships! The Emerald Signet can’t outrun them, let alone—”

“We won’t have to. Lord Kallinad. By your order, I’ll use my Skill. A [Storm Captain]’s first and last Skill. It’s an act of desperation. It could sink us all. But if you want to fight—”

He bared his teeth. Wil looked at his friends. A [Storm Captain]’s…? Inky looked alarmed. But all eyes fell on Wil.

“It’s your choice. If there’s a chance—I say take it.”

Venaz lifted his crimson axe. Feshi hesitated.

“Wil—there’s such a thing as a battle you don’t have to win at any cost. The Professor taught us that.”

“Yeah. But—”

Yerranola glanced at the swords. She saw Peki kicking people off the command deck, Merrik smashing an enemy [Captain]’s foot into the deck. The Selphid turned to Wil.

“I don’t want you to die, Wil. But whatever you decide—”

The [Lord] closed his eyes. He didn’t know. Too many lives were in his hands. But so much blood had been shed already, for this treasure. He looked to the figure standing there.

“King Fetohep. What would you say? Is your treasure worth all this?”

He gestured around at the fighting groups, almost ignoring the treasure as they tore each other apart. And the ruler of Khelt—smiled. He spoke, as Wil saw the Undersea Crews pushing back the [Storm Sailors]. The Storm Ships were retreating; covering Admiral Seagrass whose ship was under attack from all sides.

“Show me your resolve, son of House Kallinad. Or do you think my blades are so easily won? Risk everything for them. Or leave them and I will take my treasure.”

He flicked his sand-sword up. And Wil saw his flaming eyes glinting in amusement. The [Lord] felt a chill.

He knew this would happen. He had known from the beginning. This—was this all the undead [King]’s amusement? Or—Wil’s eyes snapped open. And he thought of the Professor.

Was it a test? He met Fetohep’s gaze. And turned his head.

“Captain Lasc? Use your Skill. Everyone—this is it. King Fetohep? I hope these blades are worth it. On me! [Stoneskin Formation]. We have three minutes.”

The crew spread out around the chest. Their skin deflected blades—for three minutes. Captain Lasc closed his eyes and raised his hand to the sky. Wil didn’t hear what he said. He turned.

A single force was advancing along the deck. Drowned Folk. And at their head—Captain Therrium. Prince Khedal’s warship was engulfed on all sides; there was no one coming to help. The Drowned Man looked at Wil.

Lord Kallinad. My crews have paid a heavy toll. There’s no second chance. ‘Twould have been better if you’d given over the blades to begin with.

“Captain Therrium. We’re the Titan’s students. We make our second chances. If you want to lose more—come and get them.”

Wil felt relaxed. Venaz grinned as he hefted his axe. The [Depth Captain] sighed. He raised his sword. And glanced up.

Clouds were racing over the skies. He looked at Captain Lasc as the [Storm Captain] sighed.

You fool. Summon as many storms as you like. We’ll be done with this ship and it will be sunk before it arrives.

“Perhaps. But if you take too long, this [Storm Captain] will brave it. Come on, Drowned Man. Take my treasure off my ship. I dare you.”

Captain Lasc strode forwards. Wil edged to the side. It was time. He saw Fetohep smiling. He just needed—

A distraction. Captain Lasc and Therrium were striding towards each other as Merrik and Peki jumped over the deck. The Drowned Crew outnumbered the waning [Storm Sailors]. And a shadow fell over…all of them.

Water hit the decks. The Undersea Crews, Captain Lasc’s [Sailors]—and the students gazed up as something made a sound. A hissing roar.

A wall of flesh and scales. A serpent’s head. Gigantic. The Sea Serpent rose, as high as the masts. And standing on top of it was a very angry man.

“This investment has cost me. But I will have those swords. Now.”

Admiral Seagrass landed on the decks. Therrium and Lasc looked at each other. They turned to face the [Stormlord Captain]. A second Sea Serpent and a Nelgaunt’s head rose out of the surf. The sea monsters regarded the deck full of—food.

“He owns sea serpents?

Yerranola whispered. Captain Therrium bared his teeth. In the distance—Lord Seagrass’ warship was on fire. But the Admiral was on deck. He glanced up at the sky.

“Some idiot summoned a storm? Surrender. All of you. And I’ll let you live.”

The Sea Serpent hissed. Captain Lasc and Therrium gave each other another look.

I take no orders from landmen.

“And I don’t sail under your command.”

“So be it.”

Lord Seagrass drew his blade. The two [Captains] leapt forwards. The Sea Serpents hit the decks, biting [Sailors] in half, but the Drowned Folk were already leaping for the railings. They attacked the gigantic monsters from the water.

Kill them! Take the swords!

Therrium bellowed. Seagrass pointed as he deflected the two swords in a duel.

“[Pride of the Waves]. Get me my blades.

The [Storm Sailors] pushed back, suddenly fighting twice as viciously. Both sides hit Lasc’s crew and the students. They fought, desperately. And—fell back. Back, towards the mast, the treasure chest.

This was it. Wil saw the waves of enemies incoming. He looked at Fetohep. And he could have sworn he saw the undead king’s left eye flash at him.

“Choose, Lord Kallinad.”

Wil nodded. He closed his eyes. And then he reached down and picked something up.

Inky’s head turned as she reloaded Delivan’s crossbow. She saw the [Lord] holding a transparent blade that glittered in the fading light as rain began to fall. A magical sword.

A relic. Wil held the Diamond Sword of Serept aloft. The fighting crews looked at him. And Wil understood.

“Blades are meant to be used.”

“Just so.”

Fetohep nodded, pleased. Wil took a breath. He felt the blade humming in his hands. He saw Admiral Seagrass turning as Lasc staggered backwards, cut. The Illuminary was sailing at his ship and more.

Rain was falling. The waves were growing choppy as heavy winds began blowing. A storm was coming. And Wil held the blade.

Green diamond. A greatsword. Yet it was light. He marveled at the power rushing through his hands. And then—Wil turned.

Venaz.

He tossed the sword. Every head turned. The Minotaur whirled. He dropped his axe, saw the sword curving towards him. And he grabbed the hilt.

“Wil?”

Stunned, the Minotaur looked at the [Lord]. Then his eyes focused on the blade.

He has the damn sword! Get it!

A [Depth Pirate] shouted. She lunged. Venaz whirled. And his form blurred.

The [War Strategist] turned. And the greatsword whirled through the air. Fast. As if he were under a [Haste] spell. He slashed—a Bloodtear Pirate looked down at her sundered blade and the deep cut in her chest.

The Minotaur brought the blade down. So fast Wil didn’t even see the arc. The greatsword cleaved through armor and blades. The Minotaur slashed left and right—the [Depth Sailors] and [Storm Sailors] fell back, crying out.

“The Windblade of Serpisel.”

Fetohep of Khelt smiled. Venaz swung the sword and cleared the deck around him. Wil heard a bellow in the distance.

Prince Khedal was raising his axes. Roaring in delight and surprise. The Minotaur crews bellowed as Venaz held up the blade. And the enemy crews fell back in disarray.

All but Lord Seagrass. His eyes narrowed.

Stop that [Lord]!

He pointed a finger. Crossbows snapped, but Fetohep calmly cut the bolts down as Wil ducked behind the chest. And he was reaching for another sword.

The second blade was clear diamond. It had an odd hilt, with three reflective leaves. Wil rose with it as a [Storm Sailor] charged him. He raised the sword and the man stumbled back. Wil slashed—but the blade didn’t speed him up. The [Storm Sailor] ducked left, grinning.

He was fast. He lanced out and caught Wil in the shoulder. The enchanted leather peeled away as the [Storm Sailor] cut Wil shallowly. The [Lord] cried out. His friends were engaged, even Venaz. He saw the Minotaur turn and blur towards him. But the [Storm Sailor] was right there. He raised his blade as Fetohep watched.

And Wil stabbed him through the side. The [Storm Sailor] turned. He looked at Wil. And then—down at Wil, trying to shield himself with the sword.

The glowing sword. And a third Wil Kallinad raised his sword. He thrust—the [Storm Sailor] staggered back. He looked at the three Terandrian [Lords]. Down at the two holes in his body. They weren’t…illusions.

“That’s not fair.”

He murmured and collapsed. Wil Kallinad, shaking, saw another Wil staring wide-eyed at him. And on his right—another Wil. All three looked at each other; mirrored perfectly but for the cut on one of the Wil’s shoulders. Then they turned to Fetohep.

“Threefold Mirrorblade. A pity. I would have given that to young Atwood.”

The ruler of Khelt looked highly amused. Wil saw the crew charging forwards, trying to get to the chest. Through three pairs of eyes. All at once.

The image should have unsettled him. But—he heard sounds, tripled. And three minds could process it. The other two Wils looked at each other.

“Take the left side. I’ll take the right.”

One Wil spoke. The other fake-Wil nodded. He raised a hand, concentrated.

“I can’t use any Skills. But I can see—”

“Think—wait. My gear?”

All three pulled out a magical wand and stared at it. Then—all three aimed. Three enemy [Depth Sailors] went tumbling down with holes in their chests. Astonished, the [Lords] looked at Fetohep.

“Lesser artifacts.”

The [King] looked pleased at their expressions. Two Wils plunged forwards, into the fighting. Yerranola stared at a second Wil who cleaved into a [Storm Sailor]’s shoulder. He ducked a blade—the other Wil had seen it coming.

A [Depth Sailor] planted a sword in Wil’s stomach. All three [Lords] cried out. But the illusory-Wil just blinked. Then he stabbed the woman in her chest. Yerranola looked at Wil.

“Wil?”

“Didn’t hurt. Is that how it feels, Yerra?”

The Selphid’s mouth dropped open. The fake-Wil grinned. And advanced, fearless. The tide was turning as Venaz whirled, fast, putting his entire weight behind the swings of his enchanted blade. He was pressing Lord Seagrass back; the [Stormlord] was wary of the enchanted blade, and Venaz’ reach.

 

—-

 

Tulm the Mithril stared into the scrying orb. He turned to Xol.

“I want that one.”

“I as well. If desire were deed.”

The War Walker nodded slowly. He didn’t take his eyes off the battle reflected in the scrying orb. And even Tulm the Mithril was gazing at the blade Wil held.

Envious.

Relics. Everyone was fighting twice as hard to get to the blades. But Venaz, the two illusory Wils—and the final blade. The entire world watched as Lord Kallinad reached into the chest.

 

—-

 

The last blade. Wil stared at them. There was a red scimitar, a yellow single-sided blade, the black dagger, a blue—

“Which one?”

Fetohep was watching as the other two Wils fought.

Just pick a damn color!

Merrik roared. Wil looked around. Venaz stumbled backwards—Lord Seagrass had nicked him with his blade.

“Idiot. You don’t deserve that sword.”

He reached for the greatsword as Venaz swore; he had grown pale as Seagrass’ enchanted sword had cut him. The Minotaur rolled as a Wil charged forwards.

Seagr—

The [Lord] beheaded the artificial Wil. The real Wil recoiled; and he saw one of the leaves grow dark as his clone vanished. Did it have to recharge? But Venaz was running back and Admiral Seagrass was staring at Wil.

“Give me the third blade, boy.”

Throw it here and my crew will give you passage!

Therrium ordered. One of the Sea Serpents was screaming as Drowned Sailors clung to it. It dove, escaping the fighting. Wil reached into the chest, fumbling, as both [Captains] approached. He saw a flash of light off the portside bow. But one of the swords rose in his hand. He turned.

And shouted.

Yerranola, catch!

He threw the black dagger—it had been chance that guided his hand. Yerranola whirled. Her eyes went round.

“Me? But—”

The dagger clattered onto the deck. The Selphid had missed. She ran at it as everyone shouted. She dove—and a foot kicked her away.

“Aha! Mine!

Captain Rasea Zecrew crowed. She grinned; she’d swung off her ship again! She reached down—and a fake Wil tackled her. The [Pirate Captain] cursed. She stabbed Wil through the chest multiple times and he vanished.

Get the sword!

Inky dove for the blade. A dozen hands yanked her off. Wil saw the blade skittering across the deck, slicing a few feet—where was it?

Someone grabbed the blade. And held it aloft. The fighting deck stared at the black dagger, held aloft. And at the furry paw.

Feshi met Wil’s eyes with her wide, brown ones. The black dagger flashed.

“Ah. That would be the Sarcophagus Dagger of—”

A figure rose out of the decks. No—it stepped out of Feshi’s shadow. Out of the blade itself. Wil saw glowing eyes. A skeletal figure.

In fact—a skeleton. Wearing faded armor. The figure was dressed like some ancient warrior of old. And it—no—she—spoke.

Protect Khelt’s chosen.

She held a glaive. And she swung it around. Two of Seagrass’ [Storm Sailors] fell down, screaming as the frozen blade cut them, turning their skin black with frostbite.

A second shadow stepped out of the blade. This time a skeletal [Archer].

Serve eternal.

It loosed an arrow through a Drowned Man’s chest and into another figure standing behind him. Feshi stared around, terrified.

“What is—”

“Ancient Kheltian protectors. The Sarcophagus Dagger of Devi. A good tool for a [Strategist]. Let the champions of Khelt fight. They will rise eternal. Now, we have made our bargain. Return the rest of my blades, Wil Kallinad. And you and your comrades shall possess these blades until you die.”

Fetohep’s eyes glittered. Feshi looked around, horrified.

“No. I do not want this. Necromancy—

The Gnoll staggered back from the undead, staring at them. But more were rising. Fighting. And Lord Seagrass pointed.

“Claim the chest!”

He advanced on Feshi as the undead servants of Khelt formed a wall. They were good—but the admiral was hacking them apart. Their shadows returned to the dagger as Feshi fled.

“Protect the chest!”

The last remaining Wil ordered. The real Wil stood. And his friends placed themselves in a circle around the box. Merrik grumbled at Fetohep.

“Mind loaning me a blade?”

“No. They have been given to their owners. Fate has chosen.”

The storm was whipping the deck. Sailors slid back and forth as The Emerald Signet began to rock. Therrium was cursing. He looked at Wil.

You could have been saved.

“Indeed.”

Seagrass from one side, Therrium from the other. Lasc blocked Therrium. And Rasea slid forwards.

“You can’t get away, Seagrass!”

Damn you, you idiot!

The admiral cursed as Rasea leapt at him. Wil looked left and right. He saw ships being blown by the storm. It was getting worse and worse.

“It’s time! Delivan! Take us into the storm!

The [First Mate], unnoticed at the helm, spun the wheel. The boom moved—everyone ducked. Peki and Merrik charged left as Therrium backed up. Venaz was hacking at the Drowned Crew and they were afraid of the Minotaur with the enchanted blade.

And Feshi’s undead. The Gnoll, looking terrified, but resolute, pointed the dagger and Khelt’s elite undead charged, forcing the Drowned Crews back. But that left—

Yerra, and Wil. Rasea was battling Admiral Seagrass, but he was pressing her back. He tore left as Wil and Yerranola attacked the remaining enemy [Storm Sailors]. The last Wil went down as they hacked him apart. But the real Wil was unharmed but for a few cuts. And his Mirrorblade could still cleave flesh and metal.

Push them off the decks! We can do this!

Wil raised his sword. He saw the Drowned Crews falling back in disarray. The Emerald Signet was sailing into an oblivion of rain. It hammered the decks. And the storm was blowing the ship forwards.

“Admiral! We can’t stay in the storm! We have to—”

A [Storm Sailor] broke off as Seagrass snarled. He slashed at Rasea and she staggered as the energy-sapping blade cut her. He looked at Yerranola and Wil.

“Sword or not, you can’t defeat me. Give up.”

He warned the Selphid and Wil. The two [Strategists] looked at each other. They glanced at Fetohep. The [King] waved a hand.

“I have given you enough aid.”

Damn. Wil saw Seagrass advancing. He saw a Sea Serpent rising behind the [Stormlord Captain]. Seagrass gestured. The Sea Serpent reared back.

And a shape exploded out of the depths. It yanked the Sea Serpent down. The surprised monster screamed once. As something larger ate it.

Seagrass paused. He was still pointing. He turned his head. Wil froze. He saw the waves move. And in the distance—one of the Storm Ships making for The Emerald Signet exploded.

A shape burst out of the waves. It snapped the frigate in half. Wil saw the entire ship crash into the waves. And he saw the waters break as another ship disappeared. It was—

“The Kraken?

Yerranola whispered. No. It was—a whale. Wil saw a gigantic head. And—teeth. The Tearwhale surfaced, and snapped a [Pirate] boat in half.

Tearwhale pod! They’re in a feeding frenzy!

A [Storm Captain] turned his ship. Captain Rasea leapt to her feet.

“Evasive! Damn! Stop attacking my ship!

Damn them! Damn you all! Back to the ship! Dive! Get out of range!

Therrium howled. His crew flooded back to his ship. Captain Seagrass stared at the frenzy in the waters as the whale tore apart one of his pet Sea Serpents. A massive shape surfaced and Wil saw a frenzied eye. Biting jaws—he shielded his face as the Tearwhale crashed back into the sea.

Get out of here!

Even Rasea was running for her ship as a whale hit it from below. But Admiral Seagrass? He turned back, blade poised. And a figure charged him. He swung his sword. And beheaded Yerranola.

Yerra!

Wil shouted in horror. But the Selphid’s body kept moving. She tackled Seagrass. And he stared at the headless Selphid. Too late—he put the sword through her chest. But he missed her. And she rushed him towards the railing.

Get lost!

The [Stormlord Captain] went over the railing. Yerranola raised her arms. Wil saw something orange peeking through her decapitated neck. She turned as the [Storm Sailors] looked after their leader and then dove over the sides.

Selphids rule! Did you see that, Wil? I did it!

A tiny voice was coming from her inner body. Wil stared as the headless body held up a hand to high-five. He weakly slapped her hand.

“Did Yerra just throw Lord Seagrass off the ship?”

Inky was leaning on Venaz as the Minotaur dragged her over. Wil looked around.

Peki was lying on the deck as Merrik flopped down. Feshi was backing up from the obedient undead who were following her. Delivan was leaning on the helm as Captain Lasc clutched at his side. [Storm Sailors] were looking around for the enemy.

But there were none left. The storm engulfed the ships. And the Tearwhales—

Wil felt an impact that threw him to the deck. All the ships were fleeing. And the predators of the deeps were hungry.

“Take us out of here! We’re sailing into the storm!”

Captain Lasc seized the wheel. Wil Kallinad saw Fetohep studying the whales. The ruler addressed Wil.

“If they eat the swords, I shall be displeased. But I have been entertained enough. Bring my swords at all haste, Wil Kallinad. You have proven you were worthy of wielding them. For now. Do not ever be less.”

He vanished. The sand fell to the ground. Wil, disbelieving, looked around.

Sail into the heart of the storm! We’re still being followed!

Lasc overrode Delivan’s objections. He pointed back. Wil saw two ships swirling, refusing to give up the chase as the whales battered them.

The Illuminary and The Passing Shadow. Seagrass was lost to the waves, possibly dead, but probably not. The Storm Ships were in disarray. Even the [Pirates] and other Undersea Crews had had enough.

But the other two ships? They were coming at The Emerald Signet. Therrium had blood in his eyes. And Rasea was laughing as she dodged a whale.

As The Emerald Signet sailed forwards, Wil saw a ship block the two coming at them. He saw a warship, a horned head.

Prince Khedal had a deep cut down one cheek. And his armor was damaged around his side. His Minotaurs were wounded. Depleted in number. But the Prince looked at Wil. He clasped one fist to his chest as he looked at Venaz.

“We will buy you time. Sail on, Lord Kallinad. And Venaz of Hammerad—you are the pride of the House of Minos. You must not die.”

He raised a hand as his ship intercepted both [Pirates]. Wil shouted after him. But Prince Khedal didn’t look back. They disappeared as the rain shrouded the world. Venaz stared at the Prince of Minotaurs. And the sword he held. He started.

“Prince Khedal will not die. He is second only to our King. And I—”

He held up the sword. Wonderingly, he looked at Wil.

“You gave me the blade.”

“I guess I’m not trading it for favors. You can pay me back later.”

Wil weakly grinned. Venaz looked at him, and then reached out and hugged Wil, one-armed.

“I will pay you back. Somehow.”

“I—I have it? It was meant for Yerra. I—”

Feshi had managed to make the undead go back into the dagger. She held it out. But Yerra stepped back.

“You got it first, Feshi. And you heard what Fetohep said. It might be cursed.”

The students looked at each other. They might have said anything, or everything. They were alive, against all odds. And at that moment—Lasc shouted.

All hands on deck! Move! I need all hands!

The students jerked. Inky was trying to move, with her severed tentacle-leg. She pointed.

“We don’t have enough hands! We need your help! I’ll show you what to do!”

The students saw her pointing. The sails were in danger with the rain coming down. There were holes in the hull. And only a few [Sailors] were left. Venaz raced forwards, using the speed-enchantment of his blade. Wil saw one of the mirrors on his blade recharging and a second Wil ran to help patch the holes. Feshi, grimacing, pointed her blade and one of the undead appeared and began to scale the masts.

The ship entered the storm.

 

—-

 

An Ending. A Port, a Final Chase

 

That was how the battle ended. Not with capture, the loss of the treasure. But a storm. The storm Lasc had called.

And it was a terrible storm. A storm at sea; a [Storm Captain]’s first and last Skill of resort. Even in dire straits, they feared to use it.

Because the storm obeyed no one. And it could crack even a ship like The Emerald Signet in a moment.

Wil and the crew fought through the storm, securing the deck, patching holes in the hull. He watched his alter-self thrown off the deck and experienced the darkness of the sea until the fragment of him vanished.

Captain Lasc bellowed orders. He was navigating the ship, somehow finding a course. The waves grew higher. Wil saw one rise over the ship; it would have destroyed the mast had the sail still been attached. It smashed the deck.

A [Storm Sailor] was blown over the sides. No one was able to find them in the surf. The students and most of the crew sheltered belowdecks as water ran below. They bailed, desperately, running up and taking cover from waves.

Only Captain Lasc stayed at the helm, refusing to budge. The waves shook his ship. But the [Storm Captain] screamed defiance and sailed through wave after wave.

Wil didn’t know how much time passed. Hours. Then—days. The battering of the storm became background noise. He didn’t know where they were—if they were nearing the edge of the storm.

But they were still being chased. Twice, Wil saw the two ships. The Passing Shadow surfaced and Lasc took them into the storm rather than fight.

Yet, the Illuminary was the more deadly foe. It broke through the waves, a beacon in the darkness. Wil saw Lasc turning his ship. It was hot on their tail.

“Captain!”

One last ploy. One bit of strategy. Wil saw Rasea, a glowing figure on her shining ship. He thought he heard her laugh as she shot after his ship. Captain Zecrew shot forwards as a massive wave engulfed The Emerald Signet. Wil shouted.

Now!

Captain Lasc turned the ship. It stopped—the crew extinguished all the lights. Wil saw the Illuminary shoot over a wave.

Rasea was at the helm of her ship, staring ahead. She was laughing as the wind whipped at her hat and clothing. She shot forwards, chasing The Emerald Signet. She never saw the hiding ship as the waves rolled up, obscuring everything.

“I hope I never meet her again.”

Yerranola had found a new body. She shuddered as the Illuminary became a distant glow in the waters, surging forwards. Merrik stared after Rasea.

“Ah, but I like her. Shame she keeps trying to kill us.”

They lost the Illuminary. Therrium’s ship? They saw and lost and saw it again. But the storm was their foe. Lasc traded places with Delivan, and then Inky, as they lashed themselves to the helm. And—slowly—they broke clear of the storm.

The rains lessened. The waves stopped throwing the boat. Wil didn’t know when it happened. But one day he woke, and the heaving was gone. He stumbled up abovedecks and saw a blue sky.

Sky!

Peki was laughing and flying overhead. The crew cheered. Captain Lasc, panting, looked around.

“If any of you were [Sailors]—you’d be [Storm Sailors], Lord Kallinad. After that? After that battle?”

“We’ve all leveled. That’s prize enough, Captain Lasc. What now?”

Wil had the Mirrorblade sheathed at his side. Venaz had constructed a harness for it on his back for his greatsword; he only moved like a blur when he was holding it, though. A small flaw in a miraculous artifact. Even Feshi acknowledged the power of her sword. But she candidly feared what her clan would say.

Yet—they were not done yet. Lasc looked around. And he calculated their position.

“We’re in range of a port. We’ll make for it at once. Fortune favors us. We’re close to the exact spot you’d want us to be, Lord Kallinad.”

“Really? Where?”

The [Storm Captain] smiled wearily. He pointed in the distance, and far, so far Wil could barely see it, something broke the horizon.

“The Walled City of Zeres. Once we reach it—we’ll be safe. The Drakes are as secure as The House of Minos.”

“Almost.”

Venaz had to be contrary. But the sails rose and The Emerald Signet shot forwards. The wind was at their backs. Wil was staring as, in the distance, he saw land. And a tall—city. It was curved around the mouth of the harbor, the walls massive.

“A Walled City. Zeres, the City of Waves. And from there—my clan. Izril.”

Feshi murmured. Wil nodded. He had only been to First Landing. Izril. He inhaled, breathing in the salt air. Nearly done. The adventure was nearly—

The Passing Shadow surfaced behind The Emerald Signet. Every head turned. Merrik groaned.

“It’s him.

Captain Therrium stood at the prow. His face was thunderous. He pointed as his ship gave one final chase.

“Drop everything. Drop the anchors. Drop the food! All we have to do is reach the harbor!”

Captain Lasc roared. His ship sped ahead. But it was battered. And the Drowned Ship was—keeping pace. It was throwing spells as the two ships raced towards Zeres. Wil stood at the prow, looking back.

In the distance, the Walled City was waiting. Wil saw a distant fleet of ships moving in and out of the harbor. He looked backwards. Therrium was pacing up and down the deck. His ship was beginning to gain.

“What if Peki throws an artificial Wil at Therrium? We can waste them. No offense, Wil.”

“None taken.”

Peki tried. But even the fake Wils were heavy and a hail of attacks came up from the enemy ship and nearly blasted her out of the sky. Therrium pointed at Wil.

My swords.

Wil looked back. His friends lined up near the railing.

“Time for one final clash. Wish I had one of those swords. But my hammer will do good enough. Let’s show this Drowned Man what the Titan’s students can do!”

Merrik roared. Peki landed next to him. Venaz drew his blade and his eyes gleamed.

“We won our treasure. And I have a debt to pay.”

“None of you die now!”

Yerranola warned the others. Feshi sighed as she summoned more of Khelt’s warriors. The two ships began to close. And Wil saw a flash in the distance.

Zeres’ towers lit up. And the Walled City shot something into the distance. Captain Therrium looked up with the others. He ran for the helm.

A ball of magic hit the water next to his ship. It exploded like Lasc’s [Depth Explosion] but twice as big. The Drowned Ship rocked. Wil saw a bolt of lightning arc through the sky and hit the sea.

“Zeres is attacking! Look! The navy’s coming! They know it’s us!”

Delivan was dancing and shouting; Drake ships were storming out of the bay. Wil saw distant crews of Drakes rowing against the wind. Magnificent Drake warships as their Walled City launched more spells.

Damn you landfolk! Damn your Drakes! Damn your Walled Cities!

Captain Therrium was shaking with rage. He saw the Drake armada coming at him.

Captain. We can’t fight that.

His [First Mate] was regrowing her lost limbs. The [Depth Captain] stared in despair at the distant ship. His was still pursuing. But—

It was over. Wil and the others were laughing. Cheering the Drakes. Yerra was yanking at them.

“Come on! Get below! Let’s get down before that Therrium launches a spell at our rears! It’d be like him!”

The [Depth Captain] was fuming. He saw Wil laughing, Merrik hugging Peki, and Feshi—Venaz raising his greatsword over his head. He bowed his own head.

We’ve lost the treasure. All of it.”

His crew looked at him. The Depth Captain turned. He’d never hear the end of it. But—he had one last thing. No victory.

Just vengeance.

Glisal. Aim for that [Lord]. Kill him.

He spoke to the half-Blowfish [Venom Archer]. She looked at Therrium’s face. Silently, she spat the deadly venom onto one arrow. She sighted. The Passing Shadow pursued for a second longer.

A bowstring twanged. Therrium turned the ship. It sank under the waves.

A single arrow flew, curving through the air.

 

—-

 

“We did it. What do we do?

“Go to Feshi’s clan? Deliver the swords? We have to get to Chandrar! We promised Fetohep, didn’t we? Dead gods! Another sea adventure? Can we hire a Courier to deliver the swords?”

“Let’s just get to harbor. We’ll sort the rest out later. I hope House Kallinad can pay Lasc for his ship!”

The students were celebrating. Merrik kept slapping Wil—and since he was short, some of the slaps were more on the lower back and buttocks. But everyone was laughing. Venaz was nodding.

“This—I have to repay you, Wil. The swords are bound to us.”

He gestured to the greatsword. Feshi stared at hers. Peki eyed it.

“Can I fight the undead?”

“I don’t know. I mean—yes, Peki. But I don’t know. The undead? My people hate the undead. Ever since the Necromancer slew the Great Chieftain, Kerash…it may be trouble, no?”

“We’ll deal with it, Feshi. Maybe Fetohep will allow us to trade blades? Let’s just—”

The arrow fell. Curving with the power of a Skill, towards Wil’s back. Yerranola laughed.

“I just wish I’d picked up the blade. I just never thought—”

She looked up. Saw the flicker in the sky. Without a word, Yerranola shoved Wil.

He hit the deck hard. He saw her shielding him, arms outstretched.

“What? Yerra, why did—?”

Venaz blinked. He saw Yerranola stumble. A black arrow shaft was sticking out of her chest.

Yerranola!

Merrik shouted. Peki’s head whipped around.

Arrows! Take cover!

The others looked around. But The Passing Shadow was gone. Yerranola lay on the deck. Wil scrambled to his feet. He ran to Yerranola.

“Yerra? Speak to me! Are you alright?”

This couldn’t be happening. Not now. Not after so much. Not after their adventure had—he saw the Selphid raising her head. Grinning, weakly.

“I’m okay. I just got scratched! Dead body, remember? I’m alright. I just—”

She was smiling. Laughing. Her expression froze. Her head fell back. Wil reached for her.

“Yerranola?”

The Selphid was silent. Wil shook her.

He waited. But the dead face didn’t move.

“…Yerra?”

 

 

 

 

Author’s Notes: This was an interlude. An adventure. With ups and downs. Miracles and tragedy.

It had a lot of words. I worked hard on it; it is a different, more contained story. And it is not over.

But for now, we’ll return to other chapters. We’ll find out what happens next—later. Hope you enjoyed; I will try to write less next chapter. But you know me and promises.

For art this time, we have LeChatDemon’s art of a mechanized…Niers Astoragon and Gazi. And a picture of Treants by Mg! I hope you enjoy! It’s amazing art. Thanks for reading.

LeChat’s Mechanized Characters

Treant and Laser Crab by Mg

 


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56 thoughts on “Interlude – Strategists at Sea (Pt. 2)

  1. Leave a typo for sea. Adventure. And an adventure’s ending.

    (Ending readers: Gorexn, James Walsh, Aoxz, randomdigits, Maladal, MrWiggles, delta201, Vento, zombieno53, Koor, Gecko13)

    • The “6” (8/7) Diamond Swords of Serept, order of Appearances:
      *Sarcophagus Dagger of Devi – Black Diamond Dagger
      *Windblade of Serpisel – Green Diamond Greatsword
      *? – Rose Diamond Blade, with only one edge
      *? – Yellow Diamond Longsword
      *Threefold Mirrorblade – Clear Diamond Sword
      *? – Blue Diamond Blade
      *? – Red Diamond Scimitar
      *? – Yellow Diamond Single-sided Blade

      There are 8 Diamond Swords not 6.
      7 if the Yellow Diamond Longsword and Yellow Diamond Single-sided Blade are one and the same Diamond sword.

  2. And no one important died.

    Kidding but in all seriousness she might not be dead. Paralysis is normal for blowfish poison so it might only be the host corpse that is under paralysis.

  3. Wow. That was an amazing chapter the amount of action at the end made it so… Invigorating. That said, I’m conflicted. Pirate you did an amazing job building to this point, I figured it was coming with how Yerra kept protecting everyone. My only hope was whatever happened would take advantage of her being a selphid so she still can come back. I still have that hope, fleeting as it is.

      • I hope that that’s it for her. The whole mess only happened because she and Venaz got drunk and bragged about the treasure hunt they were about to go on using the Titan’s information. If the Titan’s name hadn’t been attached to the hunt then there wouldn’t have been fleets of ships following them. It would have just looked like a rich boy going on a half-cocked treasure hunt with his friends. No one would have bought off two thirds of the crew. When they finally pulled up the swords, they would be out in the middle of the sea with no other ships within miles and no one already looking for them, so it’d be unlikely anyone would be able to track them down. Even if one of those Drowned ships had followed them at first, it probably would have given up after the second or third failed dive.

        Instead, hundreds or even thousands of people died because she and Venaz had no self control. Proper karma in a narrative demands that there be some sort of comeuppance when a character flaw leads to that sort of disaster. If they both get out of it with just some minor scars and a cool tale to brag about then it cheapens the story.

        • I think some degree of loss is needed. I don’t think it does the story any good to have characters get miraculously saved too often. Pirate has already used that device quite a few times.

          • Yeah, he’s brought so many people back at this point my default assumption is just that nobody important ever dies. The goblin battle saw like 99% of the goblins die but only like half the named ones. And who died in the creler attack? Just a bunch of people introduced for a few chapters so they could die later in place of the important characters.

            That said, this was an awesome sidestory. I loved all the giant sea monsters and the treasures, the crazy glowy pirate and the minotaur king. And Fetohep and his bargain. Great stuff. The timescale is wonky but whatever, that’s easy to forget about. Just feel like the death fakeouts have been overdone.

            • I’m hoping she makes it, not every story needs to be game of thrones. Enough people have died that you can’t really be certain characters are safe. Too many just makes it unnecessarily depressing.

  4. Well it is a coin toss as now it depends on if the drakes have a good doctor… And if they do not try to take claim of the swords. The race was good, but now the question remains on how they will be able to return the rest of the swords?

    Still loved the undead king simply enjoying his time outside and reminding everyone who he is.

    • They have quite firm property laws so I think they are fine. I don’t think they are going to fight who those swprds belong to, it might coat them something to leave as they have to pay for protection, but they schould be fine.

      • Worst comes to worst Wil can always give away the last treasure location for sword protection. These events definitely show just how unprepared Wil and the gang were for this level of treasure hunt and a even pieces of a dragonship is probably worth more than all those treasures combined.

  5. I wonder if anyone actualey piked up on all the mentions of Atwood in this chapter and actualey have the ability to find out who is an so good friend whith the old king to be given an sword. That tidbit of information is actualey worth q bit of money, depending on how much they know a bit to a lot.

      • I don’t think so, not yet. The King of Destruction was deliberately keeping Teres out of the public eye for his sojourn through Jecrass and Belchan, and I think he’s competent enough to realize whether or not that was doing anything useful.

    • Will actually has TWO sea adventures to go on still: returning the blades to Chandrar and searching for the dragon ship.

  6. Now I’m wondering if we are going to see a bit of a reversal of our Doctor situation. One where our selphid strategist is crippled in some way, maybe not strong enough to move a body, and joins our young lord in secret. 2 strategists 1 body could lead to some scary skill combos

  7. I don’t understand how everyone is travelling so fast. Considering that the seas are vaster than the continents and the continents are vaster than Earth continents, they should be at sea for at-least 4-6 months. Skills and [Galewind] can only do so much. But all this appears to be happening in weeks.

    • It is a magical world after all. Captains have skills so it’s not unexpected that they travel way faster in average, not even counting the galewind or other boosts along the way!!

      Imagine a slow movement that is actually equal to a huge displacement!

      We had it in chandrar with the idiot kings walk and as much as they are considered overly fast, even the couriers!

      • AFAIK, there is nothing in InnWorld mentioned so far that travels faster than the fastest transportation on Earth with the sole exception of [Teleportation]. Magnolia’s enchanted chariot is the fastest on land and it took the full day to travel from Liscor to her home. The flying carpet is nowhere as fast as a passenger plane.

        It took several weeks to cross a quarter of a continent while pushing the Goblins south and that was the limit of skills of powerful lords.

        The seas are bigger than the continents. The continents in Innworld are far vaster than the continents on earth. The seas are several times the size of seas on Earth.

        It takes 6-8 days to simply cross the Atlantic in modern ships. Sea frieght is one month from China to USA. These folks are using sail boats assisted with [Gailwind]. Even with spatial skills, considering the seas are supposedly FAR larger by orders of magnitude, it just doesn’t compute given the history established so far. Crossing the seas (especially with military forces) is supposed to be an epic endeavour in [InnWorld], but it has been significantly diluted in achievement down from the early books.

        At-least make the journey a few months for realism. Without any skills, it would be years.

        • It took several weeks, probably one and a half months total. (Each season is four months in this setting). So I think it took long enough.

          • Six weeks for ten different shipwrecks? That still sounds like a stretch.

            But it’s the final battle where distances really start to feel compressed. Three huge fleets all manage to gather at the House of Minos at the same time? Sure, we know that a few bands of Pirates and Drowned were following them beforehand, but everyone else would have had less than a week between when the Swords were discovered and they reached Minos. Including the Stormlord’s entire armada (which, being a trading fleet, should probably be scattered to far-off lands). Even for a modern navy, sailing at many times the speed of a galleon, that’s impossible.

            (It’s *also* pretty convenient that the House of Minos is both less than a day’s journey off their route to the final shipwreck, and only a couple of days away from Zeres. But I don’t think they’ve actually established where the island is, so I suppose it’s possible.)

  8. I See The Future!
    They’ll need someone to find the cure! An [Alchemist]! And who but Palass’ greatest one? And what’s this? An Inn you say?

  9. I’m sorry to say but this entire plotline was a mess. The strategists did nothing strategic. They barely did anything as buff-bots and just another pair of hands with a pointy stick. The games at Daquin were fantastic, they showed initiative back then but here they were purely reactive and got saved dozens upon dozens of times by plot armor. Everything was pure, dumb luck as the strategists got carried all the way by other characters, mostly enemies at that. Contrast with the Horns of Hammerrad that had to work for their victories!

    Don’t even get me started on how ridiculous it is that a Drake Walled City is their safe harbour. A Terrandrian lord and his human-crewed ship seeking shelter among Drakes! What possible reason does Zeres have for not simply taking the blades and ransoming them all?

    • I mean, it makes sense that zeres is a safe harbour. One think that has been said over and over is that drakes respect their own property laws, like with the heartflame breastplate. With all the press surrounding the swords, there’s no way the drakes would take them

    • I doubt a respected walled city, considered a trading hub, would reduce themselves to common thieves or pirates. There are actually consequences for stealing shit and general villainy.

      Will’s family and to extension Terrandrian kingdoms, might not be able to declare war on thieves or pirates. But they certainly can on a recognised power, and I’m pretty sure they would.

      I agree that Will and the others didn’t show much sense of strategy but you could probably chalk it up to inexperience. Also it wasn’t a war with them in command of units. Just them running away from an army of ships.

      Finally my own thoughts. I enjoyed it, but that arrow at the end? Come on seriously? They even said “we should go down stairs before the pirate shoots us out of spite” they then proceed to laugh and remain standing there.

      The whole scene reminded me of those Dynstay warrior deaths, where after every battle they celebrate only for an arrow to come out of nowhere and kill one of the characters.

  10. Against all the people saying Yerra needs to die, l think she doesn’t have to. All characters that have died in the story had great potential to grow into characters anyone would’ve enjoyed reading. Saving her doesn’t cheapen the story and in all honesty, only Erin really has 100% plot armour, the rest of the cast could easily die and are just being saved for the finale to fight against the dead god or necromancer or witch, any of the big three villains. You can’t expect a major villain to lose without any heroes that have overcome near-death events. I hope Yerra lives either through the situation we’ve seen before with the doctor. That would be insanely powerful and make Wil a legend for sure. Imagine being able to use rampage continuously with three bodies. It’s 50/100 chance she might die or live, but l can easily see Yerra living because of her race and Wil confessing his love for her. The minotaur gaining the haste sword though doesn’t really make sense to me unless he is able to think faster now with the sword since a strategist is more so focus on intelligence rather than physical ability. Anyways great interlude as always, so much action.

  11. The haste sword isn’t ideal but since vanez didn’t choose it there is no need for it to be useful for him in order to make sense he got it.

    it isn’t bad to occasionally have events not completely follow story logic.

    the mirror sword is also hilariously wasted on will since it doesn’t copy skills, imagine Saliss with an item that copies all his posssions suddenly tripling his potion firepower with no cost .

    or some chosen great warrior getting loaded with a country’s entire top level stash of magical gear since there is Preety much no risk of it being lost as only the copies actually fight.

    The only one who got a sword that is actually useful for a back lines strategist is the Gnoll who now has an indestructible loyal elite force with no logistic chain she can deploy as an ace card.

    • Actually, for a strategist to have three independent set of eye and mouth that are independent but share information and knowledge is truly powerful. He can be effectively at three spots of the battlefield at the same time and in doing so have a better understanding and control of it. Also, it makes it a lot harder to assassinate him on the battlefield which is a plus. It may not be perfect but it is a very good item for a strategist. Also, since he is rich, he can make good use of the fact that it copies lesser artifact. I fully agree that the haste sword is a poor fit for a strategist.

  12. Maybe yarhe can control will to get at least a little use out of the sword.

    Two bodies that can rampage at will with no worries about damaging the bodies could be reasonably useful if will can get decent’ish equipment from his family on loan(not much risk of losing it if only copies fight)

    not as good as a sylphid who is a professional fighter controlling a body that has actual good baseline physical stats but better then two copies of a minimally geared Skills less baseline human.

  13. Damn! The battles were the stuff of legend! The entire adventure escalated so fast! Seborn’s Father! Price Khedal! The Axe of Gigant! The Sea Serpents! The Tear Whales! I mean, it went from minor excursion to mythic battle that involves major contemporary powers in a week, I love it! (Even with the timeline inconsistencies I guess). P.S: Wistram is really trying hard to emulate all the worst bits of modern media aren’t they…

    I do have issues with the strategists not doing strategist things and just being mildly beneficial by buffing everyone. But wth, they’re out of their element and they probably haven’t practiced with large naval battles. Although one wouldn’t expect that from the students of Niers Astoragon. Hopefully they learnt a shit ton about naval warfare in the InnWorld from this excursion.

    Venaz is probably the only one perfectly matched for his sword though, his sword of haste perfectly complements his aggressive rush strategies. I feel like he is going to be the nightmare of every strategist in the Innworld 🙂

    Feshi has a dagger that gives an instant undead unit but most soldiers of any race would probably refuse to fight alongside undead and he can’t even offer this dagger at the Gnollmoot because it is bound to him. Perhaps Erin could help with the former problem.

    Will however- As the others have said, his body obviously has very poor value as an individual without skills, heck even Peki would’ve been better off with that blade. But hear me out, if his mind is replicated too, 3 x Will means you literally triplicate the amount of minds strategizing. Fighting against Will means fighting against 3 thinking strategists all on the forefront! If his does his logistics well, he could even have 2 Wills always awake at all points of the day (Each Will stays awake for 16 hours with a 8 hour offset from the previous Will), meaning he could raid dungeons or wage war 24/7 all day everyday. Or maybe he could keep 1 logistics Will, 1 grand strategy Will and 1 disposable combat Will. But can the new Individual Wills live long enough to develop their own personalities and refuse to die for the original Will once he realizes their memories die with them? Is there even an original Will once he splits in three? Do the 3 Wills share one will? Could Will find himself facing his worst enemy on the battlefield, himself? Will vs. Will will be interesting to read.

    P.S : Can’t wait for Will to use his new blade in Mating Rituals 3 :’)
    P.P.S : R.I.P Yerranola, you will be missed despite a mild lack of character development ;-;

    • If each clone has his own separate cooldown for skills, then the sword does have insane potential for a strategist or any leader class, imagine the King of Destruction or any monarch being able to spam their overpowered skills! That would really be a relic class weapon. I would be very surprised if at least one monarch doesn’t try to kill Will and steal the dagger despite the curse and inevitable war of vengeance by Khelt.

      Venaz’ sword of permanent haste surely must have other features because that by itself doesn’t seem too powerful. For the summoning dagger, I guess it all depends on how many can be summoned or how skilled the undead are, up to Named rank undead guardians perhaps?

      • It specifically says that Wil’s clones can’t use skills. So not *that* powerful.

        (Of course, nothing stops Wil’s clones from pointing dramatically and saying “[Attack Formation]” to bluff the enemy…)

  14. The funny thing is that except Will and co. there is another clear winner in this whole mess.

    This would be the house of Minos, as long as Prince Khedal did not die and considering how hard he seems to be to kill him, I expect him to live.

    By that I mean that while all the force they contributed and lost in the fight is a ship and some minotaur they were an undeniable faction of it and in a sense ultimately, they won. So, they are justified in grasping the spoil of war and that one hell of a gold mine. Probably a fleet wort of ship and minor artifact just sitting outside of their home. The other group are too bloodied to be able to challenge them in any meaningful way. So, all of it will be their. What more many of those ship probably still have cargo as this was an urged operation.

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