The group of pirates Gennady and I had found ourselves working with were called Ginah’s Crew; they were notorious as some of the best, and most merciful, pirates prior to the arrival of the Elise in Luke. Lisa explained to me how they would often specifically target only large merchant vessels, choosing to spare the crew and guards— although it was difficult to keep the latter alive when they fought back.
Still, I was not wholly buying into the idea of this ‘noble’ pirate group. I thought the Dark Crusaders were good— and perhaps most of them like Gerritt and Karna were such— but the fact of the matter was that their leadership was content with allowing callous, evil individuals run amok as long as they were useful to them. Perhaps this situation was different: with a significantly smaller group, it was far easier to control each and every member of a pirate ship, unlike the massive organization that was the Dark Crusaders.
Yet, I still made sure to keep an eye out for any such signs that indicated if anyone in Ginah’s Crew was not who I thought they were. And this time, I was not the same affection-starved, traumatized, and manipulated girl I had been after I just met Victor, who was blinded by the fact that him saving my life must have meant he was any way redeemable.
I eyed the pirates warily, standing off in my own corner of the ship as we reached their hideout. It was a cave hidden behind a beach, with rocks protruding out of the water, making it difficult to navigate into the pirate lair.
Gennady had gone to bed early: apparently getting ambushed by both our own crew, then pirates, then three different ships was pretty exhausting. I stayed awake, simply because I wanted one of us to be up, keeping watch for each other, whenever possible. I was aware that doing that for however long we were stuck helping Ginah’s Crew was literally impossible, but we could at least maintain some level of caution when dealing with them.
Unfortunately, it seemed like these pirates did not feel the same way about us, as a man casually approached me.
“Yo, little Miss.” He waved a hand, striding up to me and flashing a grin. “That was quite the tough fight you guys put up, huh? Your Dwarf friend nicked me in the shoulder. Could’ve killed me.”
I took one look at him and recognized him as the first pirate who boarded our ship— the one that nimbly avoided my volley of spells. He wore a simple beige colored pants that was rolled up to his knees, but he was not wearing any shirt, showing off his chiseled abdominal muscles and broad chest for all to see. I glanced past the large scar on the right side of his chest, and met his gaze.
I shrugged. “You guys attacked us first. Your friend would’ve killed me if I didn’t have a fast enough reaction time.”
“That’s true,” he said, nodding sagely. Then he put out a hand and I eyed it. “But the misunderstanding has been resolved! So it’s good to meet you, Melas— the name’s Braz.”
I scowled, remembering that Gennady revealed my real name to not only Lisa and Jack, but this crew of pirates we had just met as well. Nodding curtly, I slowly shook his hand.
“So,” I started, not wasting any time with small talk, “what do you want?”
“What do I want?” he asked, blinking. “Well, I’m just here to chat with you. Get to know our new ally!”
“I’m not your ally,” I said simply. “I’m helping you cripple the Elise’s supply of enuim, and that’s it. Then you guys will have to help bring me to Jahar’taw one way or another.”
He winked at me. “Exactly what I said: allies.”
I sighed, shaking my head.
“And this is your guys’ hideout?”
“It’s our secret base,” he agreed, looking over at the cave as we slowly made our way to it past some dangerous looking rocks. “We’ve been here for a month now. Kai found it for us when we decided to come back to fight the Elise.”
“And Kai is your quartermaster?”
“He is one of the damned best ones there is!”
“Right,” I said, staring past Braz, at the man standing next to Ginah. He had a rifle slung around his shoulder, and unlike the regular mana guns I had seen which typically had a mana crystal and no ammunition, his rifle had had a magazine to insert bullets into. It was almost like Felix’s revolver, except I was pretty sure Kai’s rifle was less deadly but had a longer range.
It was a hunch— not confirmed. But seeing Felix fire shots that bore through concrete like it was nothing, I was pretty sure I would have still died even if I had three or four Force Barriers protecting me.
“What happens now?” I asked, as the ship finally circumvented the rocks in our path, and entered the dark overhang that was the entrance to the cave.
“What do you mean?” Braz cocked a brow.
“We’re supposed to take out this Elise, aren’t we? How do we go about doing that?”
The man— I just noticed that he was probably in his 30’s, despite his youthful personality— leaned his back on the edge of the boat, shrugging. “Don’t know. But I’ll do whatever Ginah tells me to do.”
“You mean your Captain hasn’t told you any of her plans?” I glanced between him and Ginah who was still standing off in the distance. Kai had broken off from talking to her, and was heading below deck to do whatever a quartermaster was supposed to do.
“Yes!” Braz said, almost over eagerly. “She hasn’t led us astray so far, and she took us all in even though most of us have been misfits all our lives. Especially me! And she made us better men than we were before!”
I tilted my head to the side. “Aren’t you guys… pirates?”
He raised a finger, still grinning. “That’s why I said ‘than we were before’.”
I looked at the man for a moment, as he held that pose. Eventually, I decided to let the issue drop, and ask the more important question.
“What exactly did you do before—”
I was interrupted by a cheer. We had finally entered the dimly lit cavern, and our ship finally came to a stop at a beach of glittering white sand. A few dozen more pirates were waiting at the beach for us, and they threw their hands up in the air and they whooped and hollered as Ginah addressed them.
“We’re back, boys! And we’ve got Jack and Lisa with us now!” Ginah loudly exclaimed. Then she cast a sidelong glance at me for a moment, before adding, “And we’ve got others too to help us bring down the Elise. So we celebrate tonight!”
I stared down at the very many cheering faces standing at the beach, before looking over at the other two larger ships also anchored next to us. I frowned.
“Who are these guys?”
“Them?” Braz turned to face me. “They’re the rest of our crew.”
As it turned out, Ginah’s Crew was not just the small ship of pirates I had assumed they were. They were almost four times as big as I initially thought they were, which in retrospect, was a foolish thought.
They were pulling hit and run tactics against the Elise, which meant they would only bring a select few trustworthy elites with them, which explained how good of a fighter each of the pirates seemed to be. And considering that they were preparing to assail The Lightbringer’s Vessel— a mana powered ship— before they realized it was tailing us, it only made sense that they took a smaller, faster boat to keep up with it.
I carefully walked down the gangplank as Gennady, Lisa, and Jack followed behind me. There was, of course, cheering as we came down— as the pirates welcomed us ‘new allies’ into their ranks. Apparently, the Elise was really disliked around here, and anyone joining their fight against the criminal organization was accepted with open arms, a slap on the back, and a drink on them.
Gennady, who had just woken up from a nap, wasted no time before he was downing some ale and mingling with our new acquaintances.
The party hadn’t started yet.
I followed Ginah as she led us to some hastily set up structures that were supposed to be where I was going to be sleeping in. We walked in silence, as my first interaction with the pirate Captain did not exactly leave a good impression on her, even if she had changed her mind slightly since then.
Finally, I decided to break the silence.
“How long have you been a… pirate?” I asked.
“About five years,” she said, continuing past a group of her crew calling out to her. She grinned and waved back, but otherwise did not say anything.
“And why did you become a pirate?”
“Is this an interrogation or something?” Ginah sighed, shaking her head.
“I’m just curious.” I folded my arms, as we finally came to a stop at a small wooden building. “I’ve been told that you’re considered a ‘good’ pirate, but I’d like to know what made you become a pirate in the first place, since it’s not the most noble of jobs.”
She paused, looking me over for a moment. She rubbed her temples as she answered.
“The world is not so simple, Melas. And especially not in Laxis.” That was all she said. “Go on. This is where you’ll be staying.”
I looked at the small house that was built like a small dormitory, before realizing that it was a shared sleeping quarters. And a large one at that.
“Don’t worry,” Ginah reassured me. “Only women and children will be sleeping here… you’re a girl, right?”
I nodded hesitantly in response. Then she relaxed.
“Good. Just wanted to make sure since you’re hiding behind a mask and all.”
“How am I supposed to maintain my privacy if I’m sleeping with others?” I ask, drawing my lips into a thin line.
“The answer’s simple: you don’t. Sorry, can’t do anything about it. Not unless you decide to build yourself your own room.”
“Listen,” Ginah cut me off. “We’re low on supplies and on manpower, compared to the Elise. This isn’t the most luxurious lodgings, but you’ll have to make do if you really are willing to work with us.”
I narrowed my eyes.
“Compromises require both sides to make concessions, not just me,” I stated flatly.
She halted midtep— she was already about to leave, but my words made her turn around and stay for a moment longer.
“I am aware,” she said.
“Then what do I gain out of this?” I asked, raising an eyebrow. “Other than giving up my privacy and identity to a bunch of strangers, of course.”
“We’re giving you a place to stay.”
“No.” I met her gaze. Her brown eyes flickered for a moment, as I continued. “You providing me with living arrangements is to be expected, since I am offering to help you now. Your payment to me comes later— after the job is finished. Until then, I should be given some sort of accommodation beyond the bare minimum, no?”
She hesitated, and I finally realized something: before, I had assumed Ginah to be some sort of boisterous, inspiring pirate Captain. But now that I finally had a good look at her and it was just the two of us, I realized that she was a lot more hesitant in her dealings with me. She almost looked… stressed. Overburdened by work.
And yet, I put my foot down.
“What do you suggest then?” she asked, gritting her teeth.
I raised a finger, pointing past her. “There,” I said simply.
Ginah followed it, and blinked. “You want to sleep on the ship?”
“Yes. I want my own room.” I stepped past her, jerking my head in the direction of the small vessel we arrived in. “A proper room. I don’t care where, as long as I don’t have to sleep with a dozen other people I’ve never met.”
“I…” she trailed off.
“I’m sure you can get someone to sleep in one of these shared spaces.”
“Fine,” she said, voice hiding none of her irritation. “I think I’ve changed my mind about you again. You’re… troublesome.”
I did not respond. Instead, I followed her as she brought me back onto the ship. After speaking with a crewmember, I soon found myself in my own private quarters. There was still some swaying, as part of the boat was still in the water, but it was unnoticeable. Or I was getting used to it.
“Here you go. Your own room.” Ginah was not enthused, but I was.
“Thanks.” I bowed my head slightly; I was grateful for it, although I found the fact that I had to push to get it slightly grating on my nerves.
She grunted in affirmation as she was about to leave, but I called out to her just before she shut the door.
“And about my, uh…”
The pirate Captain rolled her eyes. “Yes, your ‘abilities’. I’ll keep it a secret. Not that I was intending to spread it around. I had already told my men to keep a lid on it.”
“Right,” I said, as she looked at me.
“Is that all? Did you need anything else? Must I fetch you dinner too?” she asked, not sarcastically at all.
“No. I’m good.”
“Great.” And with that, Ginah left the room.
I slowly settled into the room; it was not the biggest room, considering I was lodging in the smallest ship, but it was good enough for me. The bed was not even a proper mattress, but a thick piece of cloth tied between two sides of the room like a hammock, and there was not even a desk. Still, I had slept in even worse conditions when I was a slave.
I put down my bag, and sat on the bed-hammock for a moment. I glanced up the porthole, into the sandy beach with tables being set up for some sort of party. Contrary to what I had seen written on Ginah’s face, it seemed that morale here was high. Which made no sense— they were going up against a group that supposedly took over all of Luke’s underground in a year and chased them out. Their chances of success probably weren’t too high.
But I was here now. And while I was not interested in completely destroying this organization, I did not like what they were doing with the enuim. If this drug was really able to make people… more agreeable… I could see a thousand different terrible uses for it, and not a single good one.
And I did not like what I was imagining.
I stood up, strutting over to my bag after deciding to study to get my mind off any unpleasant thoughts; I was rummaging through my bag, about to pull out the sheets of paper to practice drawing the runes when I paused.
I pulled out The Thauma. One of the first books I was given to learn magic from. It was then I realized I hadn’t been practicing my magic at all since I started tinkering under Gennady. Spellcasting was almost second nature to me, due to the circumstances that resulted in me ending up in this world, but I had been neglecting it.
I was still able to fight well using magic, as seen from the brief scuffle I had with the pirates, but I was not happy with my performance. If I continued practicing magic I could’ve… I shook my head. That wouldn’t have helped much, since I had no more grimoires to learn from. Or maybe not.
I carefully flipped through The Thauma, recalling that it was more than just a book schooling me how to spellcast. I had learned all the most advanced spells in it— Magic Missile, Explosive Orbs, Dispel Magic, Force Bindings, Force Barrier— although these were considered intermediate level spells and not truly powerful ones. It was supposed to be an introductory book, after all.
And yet, something about the book stood out beyond the rest: it was written during a time when magic had not been so rigorously studied by spellcasters. The Demon Lord himself wrote The Thauma almost four thousand years ago. And while these spells were not advanced ones of the current time period, they were some of the more powerful ones back when it was written.
With the instructions on how to learn them, the Demon Lord also offered advice— how to create spells. Or at least, how to experiment with the current spells in a spellcasters repertoire, to possibly upgrade it or even mix spells together to achieve a different effect.
The ideas presented in The Thauma were incredibly abstract— more so than the almost-scientific tomes of recent centuries— which not only dissuaded me from meddling with it beyond the spells it taught, but also made me wary of how things could go wrong. I did not want a spell to blow up in my face, especially not when I was in some random inn.
It was dangerous in both exposing me as a ‘heretic’, as well dangerous in that it could kill me. And although simply reading what was said in the grimoire was obviously not dangerous, I carefully turned the pages of it, treating it as though it were.
I found myself looking at the last chapter of The Thauma; it had some concluding words by the Demon Lord, trying to explain the benefits of learning magic and how knowing such spells would be helpful for all species’. Clearly, his words were not very compelling.
I ignored all that, and slowly read through the important bits— the ones which dealt with going beyond with one’s spellcasting. My understanding of what was being said was nebulous at best, but if I were reading it correctly, spells were often derivative of one another. A spell could very rarely be made from nothing, and typically had to be built off the understanding of something else.
One way which this was exemplified was in how I learned Magic Bolt: I was in the middle of what I now realize was a panic attack, and was afraid of the incoming Abominations that I somehow emulated the feeling of firing a pistol and manifested it as a spell instead.
And while I might not have used a wide variety of mana tools, there was something I had done once or twice that seemed like it would be pretty effective in a fight. It was a tactic I had just used again recently, after nearly losing my life after doing it the first time— destabilizing a mana crystal.
It was dangerous. Probably would take a while to learn for me to do it safely. But it had to have worked. I knew it had to.
Magic was simply the manipulation of mana in the world around you, whereas using mana tools was pushing and pulling the mana inside of a mana crystal. If the solid form of pure mana could somehow achieve such raw destructive power by itself, would it not make sense for the mana in around me to be able to do so too?
I pulled out the Lesser mana crystal I had bought and held it in the palm of my hands. I inspected it for a second before shaking my head. Nope, I thought. Too dangerous.
I needed something that was weaker. A small Inferior mana crystal. I wanted to experiment with the feeling of pushing the mana in it to the brink of exploding, but not exactly just there yet.
I got up and pocketed my mana crystal and headed out of my room; I made sure to keep all my belongings safely hidden of course. I kept only the important things with me.
I once again went down the gangplank of the ship and trudged through the soft sand floor of the beach. I walked past all the festivities— people were drinking and socializing, enjoying each other’s company— I paused as I saw Braz already passed out at the bench of a table. How long have I been reading?
I thought I was in my room for no more than an hour, but it seemed that I might’ve lost track of time. I shook my head, and continued searching for Gennady. He had to have at least one or two Inferior mana crystals he could spare me.
I could have broken off a small shard from my Inferior mana crystal, but I did not want to damage it.
I found Gennady drunk, and laughing with a group of pirates.
“Ah, Melas!” he cheerfully greeted me. “Glad you’re here, lass. Want a drink?”
“No thanks,” I politely turned him down. “I was just wondering if you have any spare Inferior mana crystals I could borrow?”
“Inferior mana crystals?” He furrowed his brows. “Now why would you want those? Aren’t ya past the point of making simple everyday tools?”
“I am,” I said. “But I need those for… something else.”
“Well if you do insist, you can just go grab some from my bike. There’s a few in the compartments on the side.” He waved a hand in the direction of the ship.
I nodded my head and was about to turn around before I paused. “Your bike?”
“Ye, lass. Just make sure not to touch the things in me bag.”
Gennady didn’t seem to realize it, and I hesitated for a moment. I pursed my lips for a moment, considering where to say it.
“What’s wrong?” The Dwarf cocked his head. He still seemed rather jovial, and I did not want to ruin his mood. However, I had no choice: I had to tell him.
“Gennady,” I started, ignoring the stares from the pirates seated around him, “about your bike…”
He took a swig of ale, and slammed the cup down. He wiped some of the foam off his beard as he frowned. “Out with it, lass? What’s wrong?”
I sighed. “Your bike is gone.”
There was a look of bewilderment— as if what I just told him made no sense. And perhaps it didn’t. Even if he was sober, he might not have understood immediately. However, I realized the problem in our rushed departure due to our flight.
“We left it,” I said, not meeting his eyes. “Back at Lisa and Jack’s ship. We didn’t bring it with us when we left their ship.”
Gennady’s eyes widened as it finally settled in.
“M-my bike…” he trailed off.
“I’m sorry.” I meekly met his gaze, but he turned away.
I thought the Dwarf would be mad. I thought he would be upset and maybe blame me for dragging him into this. He never would’ve left for Jahar’taw if not for me, after all, right? But he didn’t. Instead, he called over a lady who was serving drinks to the table.
“Give me your best drink, lassie. I don’t think I’ll be sleeping tonight.”
I felt bad for him, and wanted to say something, but it did not seem like now was the time. I had already apologized, but it did not feel like it was enough. I was just about to leave before Gennady stopped me.
“It’s not your fault,” he said softly.
I stared at Gennady for a moment. He continued.
“Don’t blame yourself. I came with you out of my own accord.”
I wanted to protest— but I caught myself. Neither of us would feel better that way; instead, I just tried to give him my best smile.
“Hey, maybe I could make you another one if I get good enough with tinkering.”
He snorted. “No way that’ll happen. I doubt you’ll ever be able to understand how steam engines work. Just work on what you’re doing, and don’t spread out your skills too much.
“And don’t worry,” he added, “we’ll get back at those pirates. Damned speciesist pricks.”
“Right,” I said, nodding.
Then he went back to his drink and I left him there. I was just about to return to the ship— go back to my room and just rest— when a young man stopped me.
“Hey, I heard you were looking for Inferiors.”
“I am,” I answered curtly. “Why?”
“Well,” he said, reaching to his side and pulling out a gleaming mana crystal before handing it to me. “I just so happened to have some which I didn’t need. So you can have it.”
I blinked. “Wait, I can’t accept this—”
“It’s fine.” The young man grinned. “Ginah told us you and Mr Gennady are here to help us. So we might as well help you back where we can, right?”
I slowly reached over and grabbed it. “…thank you.”
“It’s not a problem.” He shot me a thumbs up.
I was just about to ask him for his name when he ran off, going over to Gennady; he began talking to the Dwarf, striking up a conversation with him. Then I realized, others were doing the same. They were trying to cheer him up— regale him by getting him to talk about other topics.
Should I also…? I shook my head. I did not want to drink, and I absolutely did not want to accidentally reveal any of my secrets by accident.
The fact that the people here were friendly, and were willing to help lighten Gennady’s mood was good. I could let them do that without feeling bad. However, I had to do what was important for me— and by extension, them.
If I could better my magic, I would be able to aid them better, no? So instead, I grasped the small Inferior mana crystal in between my fingers, and returned to my room.
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