“Anything yet?” Olivia asked, climbing up the ladder to the top deck of the Alchemical Sorcerer. Hunter was standing watch there with one of Olivia’s purple-clad soldiers manning the main cannon. Both shook their heads.
“Still nothing,” Hunter said with a twinge of impatience. “Would have thought that a soulsteel warship with an Abyssal standing guard would have elicited a reaction by now.”
“Hm,” Olivia frowned. “Well the ocean is big. I guess we’re not sailing through the right part.”
“That would seem to be the case,” Hunter replied dryly. “I don’t know enough about the campaign against the Silver Prince to say what part is the right part though.”
Olivia sighed. “Okay well, I guess we keep sailing towards important places until we get found then.”
“Sounds about right,” Hunter said. Olivia nodded and turned to leave, but just then a prickling on the back of her neck gave her pause. She turned to scan the horizon again, seeing nothing except for a lone albatross.
“Hunter,” Olivia said, now going into full paranoia mode, “How long has that albatross been there?”
Hunter turned to look. “Not long. Don’t remember seeing it.”
“We may be being tracked by Lunars,” Olivia said, “So even animals are under suspicion now.” She and Hunter shared a meaningful glance. Hunter casually strolled to the edge of the deck and waved at the Albatross.
Nothing happened for a moment, just long enough for Hunter and Olivia to start to relax, when a massive whirlpool suddenly yawned open in front of the ship, with several others appearing in a random pattern around them. Olivia’s minion at the helm was alert enough to throw the ship hard to starboard, which caused everyone on the deck to lose their footing except Olivia, whose wings pumped once and kept her afloat, and Hunter, who in the blink of an eye was standing sideways on the side of the top deck. In the next moment, a dozen octopus-beastmen surged over the sides of the ship while the nearby albatross was now a falcon-human hybrid with a massive silver powerbow aimed at the ship and a silver-tattooed shark-human hybrid was suddenly standing on the prow with shark-tooth razor wires wrapped around his oily body.
“Olivia, now!” Hunter shrieked, holding himself back from murdering the beastmen but knowing this would only last a single moment. Olivia beat her wings as furiously as possible and surged to a point where she was most visible, then, feeling the power of her Crown of Thunders surging through her body, augmented it with essence she channeled through one of her Pokéballs to enable her to augment her voice, and cried out, “Halt in the name of the Guild!”
These words were calculated to get the attention of the Lunars and create a moment’s hesitation, enough for them to focus on her features of unearthly beauty, which she needed for the next statement to register. As the falcon, shark, and leader of the octopus beastmen turned to her, she dialed the charm up to 11 to sell what would probably be viewed as a convenient lie: “We are not emissaries of the Silver Prince. We are emissaries of the Guild, here with one of his stolen ships, to aid the cause against the Silver Prince. We come in the name of free trade and free love!”
Hunter was not the direct target of this booming voice and even he was affected, inspired to join her cause. He could feel the rage of the Nerverborn stir inside him and he suppressed the urge to butcher the nearest octopus beastman, causing some of their anger to leak into his frame. He turned his face away, but the falcon Lunar flew closer, having obviously spotted Hunter’s true nature, and countered boldly, “If that is so, why do you have one of the Silver Prince’s servants on your ship?” Hunter kept one hand to the side of his face and hoped Olivia could explain that away.
Olivia flew closer to Hunter, almost protective, and said gently, “Hunter here is a renegade who has escaped the service of the Silver Prince. He lives to slaughter others like himself, and has been a most valuable asset to the Guild.”
“She speaks the truth,” A cold woman’s voice boomed out, and in the next moment a beautiful dolphin leaped out of the water onto the deck, transforming in midair into a beautiful young woman with purple hair and silver spiral tattoos all over her body. She landed gracefully on the deck, and as she did so, the whirlpools around them subsided. “His true motivation in life is none other than to kill all Abyssals.” With her words, the tension seemed to leave the Lunars and the lead octopus beastman, who promptly gestured to his peers and dove into the water. They quickly followed, leaving only the shark, falcon and dolphin Lunars. The falcon shed his feathers as he landed, becoming a tall, willowy man still carrying his powerbow. The shark Lunar remained in his war form, perhaps less trusting but clearly deferring to his leader’s decision.
“I am Shakkai, the Unbroken,” the dolphin Lunar said calmly, discreetly clicking as she spoke. “I see that you are Hunter of the Gloaming Truths. I have heard tales of your exploits. Who may I ask, are you?” she said politely, turning to Olivia. Olivia replied, “I am Olivia of the Guild. I am pleased to make your acquaintance,” she added as flirtatiously as possible. Shakkai smiled pleasantly in response, and continued, “These are my packmates, Red Sea Drowning and Miller Ennium. We are participating in the war against the Skullstone Archipelago, and so have the support of the octopus beastmen who are the kin of our war’s leader, Hachi.”
Hunter and Olivia nodded to the other Lunars, then Hunter spoke up. “So I’m assuming you heard stories of me from Vaelynith. I am actually looking for her, can you take us to her?”
Shakkai’s eyes flickered for a moment, then nodded. “Yes, we can guide you to her. She is on one of the main support islands.”
“Thank you so much,” Olivia said sweetly. “Once you have given our helmsman and navigator the directions, perhaps you and I can get more acquainted, with your packmates if they like.” Olivia was really cranking up the seduction body language, which Shakkai did not seem to be reciprocating, nor did Red Sea Drowning, who stalked off to the edge of the ship and threw himself overboard. Miller, on the other hand, seemed very interested. “Don’t mind him, he just gets restless every time we’re not in actual battle. Let me give you a hand with that navigation.” Olivia batted her eyelashes graciously and skipped off to the cabin arm-in-arm with him.
The Alchemical Sorcerer cut through the water quickly once a course was set, and before nightfall the ship had already found its way to the unnamed island which was now the forward support base for the campaign against the Silver Prince. Red Sea swam ahead to alert the Lunars that the incoming ship was not hostile, but a sizable crowd was still on hand when the ship pulled into the natural harbor next to several Coral and Wavecrest ships that were already anchored there.
Olivia hadn’t had enough time to get Miller to form an intimacy with her, but it had at least passed the tedium of waiting for arrival. Now that they were here, it was time to get to work. She and Hunter were soon on land with Shakkai, pressing through the bustling crowd of Lunars, beastmen, Coral pirates, Wavecrest sailors and the occasional Gemstone Intelligence Agent to the main meeting hall. They quickly found it, a hastily assembled building built with stone, wood and bone, and entered. Inside, after the guards allowed Shakkai and her guests to pass, they found three other Lunars and several Wavecrest and Coral captains seated around a fire, discussing all manner of strategies and situations. Two of the Lunars were a massive Octopus totem Lunar with sunglasses concealing his eyes and a ratlike Lunar in his undersized war form. The third Lunar was none other than Vaelynith, who, upon seeing Hunter, leaped up and rushed over to give him a hug.
“Hunter! It’s so good to see you!”
“Thanks Vae, it’s uh, good to see you too,” Hunter replied a bit awkwardly. “We have to talk with you about some stuff, in private.”
“Sure!” Vae said, bouncy as ever. She led them to a side room. As she did so she was still talking. “Do you like the hall? I helped build it! Well my zombies did, and elementals. It was fun! I finally have a flying zombie unicorn by the way, it’s super fun to ride around on! Okay we’re here, what’s up?”
Olivia took the opportunity to introduce herself. “Hi Vae, I’ve heard so much about you. My name is Olivia of the Guild, and I’m here with Hunter on Guild business. We found out recently that you attended an auction where you purchased some stolen property.”
Vae’s face registered shock. “Stolen?? Oh dear, I didn’t know!”
“It’s okay Vae,” Hunter replied in what passed for a soothing voice. “We’re on a mission to collect the artifacts that were sold, and we were hoping to get the Void Essence Extractor back.”
“Hmm,” Vae said, clearly worried. “Well they’re testing it right now to see if it can help turn a Shadowland back into normal Creation faster. If it does, they’re really not going to want to part with it.”
“Clearly we all understand how important this campaign is,” Olivia rejoined. “I’m not here to hinder that campaign, on the contrary, I’m here to further the campaign as much as possible.”
“What do you mean?” Vae asked innocently. Hunter smirked inwardly. He knew Vae’s innocence wasn’t an act per se, but it did cause people to underestimate her. Olivia for her part didn’t seem to condescend or to mistrust, but instead continued being as diplomatic as possible.
“The Guild has been attempting to make inroads to this area of Creation for a long time with little success, but I feel this is a golden opportunity for all of us. As a gesture of good faith, we are prepared to exchange the Void Essence Extractor for something of much more immediate military value.”
Hunter raised an eyebrow. He wasn’t sure where this was going.
After a dramatic pause, Olivia continued, “I’m referring of course to the ship we sailed in on.”
“You guys didn’t come in the Moral Ambiguity?” Vae asked, surprised. Hunter smiled. “No, Kami has the Moral Ambiguity right now. We came in on a ship we recently stole from the Silver prince which is about the size of that other one that attacked us before.”
“Wow!” Vae said, shocked. “That ship was almost twice as big as ours!”
“That’s right,” Olivia said. “And we’re prepared to exchange it for the Void Essence Extractor, which belongs to our friends from Autochthonia. We feel this ship would be best used in battle against the Silver Prince’s forces directly.”
Hunter definitely liked where this was going now. He chimed in, “I figure you’re probably not in charge of these decisions, so maybe we can arrange a demonstration of its usefulness. I know a guy who can feed information to the Silver Prince so we can lure out some of his forces. That might help.”
“Excellent,” Olivia said. “I’m also hoping this will make it clear that the Guild has only the best interests of Creation in mind. If Guild convoys of weapons, artifacts and mercenaries are committed to the cause, it should help bring down the Skullstone leadership more quickly with less overall loss of life. Additionally, we know that the Silver Prince is likely to lose in the next 3 months so he’s going to start getting desperate. Guild spies and economic sanctions will prevent the Silver Prince from gaining support from any unexpected allies. All we ask is that you allow us to cooperate and bring our work to this region.”
Vae nodded. “That sounds great! I think we should talk with Hachi and Splinter!”
Olivia smiled warmly. “Thank you so much, I appreciate your support. Maybe when we’re done here we can go on a scouting mission, just the two of us, two girls flying free in the breeze…”
Vae giggled helplessly as Hunter shot a glance to Olivia, who smiled innocently back. Hunter couldn’t help but smirk.
Three days was how long the entire process took, from initially broaching the concept of the exchange to Splinter and Hachi, to Olivia demonstrating (to Hunter) just how powerful she had become by persuading two elder Lunars to agree to her plans, to hammering out details as Olivia made contact with guild agents in the area and Hunter sent messages to his last spy in the Skullstone bureaucracy, both with the assistance of Shakkai’s message spells. Three busy days, and now the Alchemical Sorcerer was sailing towards what would hopefully be a trap. Shakkai’s group was present to observe the power of the Alchemical Sorcerer firsthand along with Vae, Hunter and Olivia.
As they crossed into the shadowland surrounding the target island, Vae sidled up to Hunter. “Hunter, how did you find out about the auction in the first place?”
“Ah,” Hunter said, clearing his throat. “That’s actually something else we should talk about. The auction was put on by a Yozi-worshipping technomage and the Pool of Death.”
Vae’s eyes widened. “What?? I thought he was dead!”
“Not yet,” Hunter replied, grinding his teeth. “Anyway, the technomage used the opportunity to implant everyone with some kind of tracking devices that let him see what they were seeing. It’s probably how he found out the Silver Prince was losing the war, watching your meetings through your eyes.”
“Oh no!” Vae gasped, horrified. “Can I get them out, do you think?”
“Well our friend Mithril says he destroyed the technology he was using to monitor you, but we should probably have them removed just to be sure.”
“Okay,” Vae breathed a sigh of relief. “I guess that can wait then. So did the guy try to sell the intel of what he saw through me to the Silver Prince? Is that how you got this ship?”
“I don’t know,” Hunter admitted. “It might have been part of the deal, we sort of broke it up. The guy was trying to get a bell from the Silver Prince that seems to have been made from a Third Circle Demon, and he was trying to sell the Moral Ambiguity to him to get it.”
“Wow, you guys got the Moral Ambiguity stolen? Good thing you got it back.”
“Apparently if the Silver Prince had access to Jacob’s disease he could win this war, so he’s desperate enough to sell this bell and a huge stack of Soulsteel to this Yozi-worshipping guy.”
“Well this is the Silver Prince, I’m sure betrayal was on the menu,” Vae mused. Hunter couldn’t help but chuckle. “Well apparently at least one of the bars of Soulsteel was a trap, there might be tracking devices on this ship too for that matter, but this way at least it’ll be a more tempting target.”
It was just about then that the ocean waves, which were subdued and eerily quiet in the shadowland, began to froth and boil. Hunter grinned and leaped to the edge of the boat, standing sideways on the hull again, as Olivia’s crewmen manned the Alchemical Sorcerer’s weapons. Vae stood back and began casting Impenetrable Frost Barrier, which soon shielded the entire deck from ranged attacks. Red Sea leaped into the water while Miller took to the sky, and Shakkai began shaping a very powerful spell that would take some time.
Then out of the ocean roared a massive skeletal monster hundreds of feet long, made of bone and sinew and with two soulsteel-clad black figures on its nose. The skeletal behemoth dwarfed the ship and pointed its massive jaws at the ship, yawning an enormous gape that threatened to swallow the ship whole.
Hunter took a flying leap and landed on one of the monster’s many arms, then dashed up the side of the skeleton nimbly, hoping to reach the figures at the top before anything else got to them. One of the two figures seemed to be fiddling with something black and heavy embedded in the monster’s skull as Hunter approached. Blasts of death energy soon shot out from the Alchemical Sorcerer at the skull of the monster but they were reflected back towards their original targets, and only the Alchemical Sorcerer’s high speed and Vae’s barrier prevented the shots from destroying the ship. The monster bore down on the ship, and Red Sea and Miller’s attacks didn’t seem to even register.
Hunter reached the skull and promptly met one of the figures in combat, a male figure clad entirely in soulsteel armor. He had been looking forward to trying out the new enlarged version of his Grand Daiklave in combat and brought it around in a deadly swirling pattern that his opponent seemed wholly unprepared for. Despite blasts of black essence augmenting the enemy’s blocks, Hunter’s attacks seemed to overwhelm the Abyssal, who was soon cut cleanly in half. Hunter smirked. Clearly this Abyssal was new, perhaps a replacement to the one he murdered a few months back. Without even slowing down he rained soulsteel death on the Abyssal’s partner, a skeletal creature surrounded by a miasma of death who nonetheless fell quickly. A final blow to the large black technological device embedded in the monster’s skull, and Hunter waved down at the ship before leaping off the skull and hopping from fragment to fragment, as the Alchemical Sorcerer’s energy blasts now tore massive chunks through the monster.
Hunter landed dramatically back on the Alchemical Sorcerer and bowed to the assembled Lunars, then flicked his massive Grand Daiklave and sheathed it on his back. Olivia dramatically struck a pose next to Hunter as the skeletal behemoth collapsed into the ocean behind them and she asked, “Do we have a deal?”
“Very nice of you to lend us a ride with your new ship,” Hunter said in what passed for a diplomatic voice to Shakkai. She nodded, “Of course. We are now allies with the Guild and while I’m sure we could have simply passed you off to one of their new cargo ships entering the area, I thought it would be a sign of good faith to send you on your way with our fastest ship.” Hunter nodded. “It is appreciated.”
“I’m a little surprised you’re not belowdecks with Olivia and Vae,” Shakkai said with a bit of a smirk. Hunter coughed slightly. “Ah well, the company of mortals and mortal pleasures are no longer for me to enjoy.” Shakkai raised an eyebrow. “Is that so?” Hunter nodded, now trying not to make eye contact. “My place in this world is to destroy it. The best I can do is decide which parts need destroying first.”
Shakkai smiled. Then she got a faraway look in her eyes. “I looked at both you and Olivia with Motive-Dissecting Eye when we were tracking you. I can see that you truly are dedicated to killing Abyssals, and that is how you channel that destructive force positively. I am curious, do you trust Olivia?”
Hunter shrugged. “She hasn’t given me a reason not to.”
Shakkai seemed a bit hesitant, her eyes wandered and she chewed on her lip for a moment. Then she simply said, “She may yet.” With that, she turned and strolled to the edge of the boat, glanced back, and leaped into the ocean, turning into a beautiful silver-tattooed dolphin mid-leap.
Hunter blinked. Then he shrugged and resolved to bide his time.
After all, all things become as they are meant to be, with time…
- Hunter and Olivia gain +1 xp due to Eli and Louis’s contributions.
- The Alchemical Sorcerer has been forfeited in exchange for the Void Essence Extractor, currently in Olivia’s possession