“She’s using magic,” Ginah said, looking in my direction.
“I know,” the man sighed. “I just told you that.”
Their ship was now parallel to ours; they had a crew of dozens on deck, all armed and ready with weapons. And yet, I found my attention switching between the dangerous pirates getting ready to attack us, and my own two allies on board our own vessel.
Because I had used magic.
It was a silly thing to worry about, but I felt it was a valid concern. If they found my use of magic to be something so completely heinous that I had no choice but to kill them… Well, I guess learning how to work a ship will be on my to-do list.
The two pirates standing out front continued their chatter. Their conversation was barely audible due to the close proximity they were to us now. The fog did obscure some of their appearance, but I could vaguely tell by their body language that they
“Think she’s part of the Elise?”
“Probably. It’s a good thing we got here in time. Any later—”
Wait, part of the Elise? I frowned. Why’re they asking that?
I got up, opening my mouth to call out to them, when I saw the man raise his rifle once again. He’s going to shoot me again, isn’t he?
He shot me again.
I erected two Force Barriers this time; I overlaid them one over the other, and it took the powerful blast without shattering. The translucent glass-like protection cracked, with small shards scattering along the hard wooden floor, but it stayed strong. I pointed back at the pirates, releasing a Fireball in their direction.
The large sphere flew across the narrow gap between our ships, looking like it was about to land on where the two main pirates were standing. The woman called Ginah pulled out a hilt from her waist, and a crackling red whip of energy shot out of it. She struck at the Fireball out of the air, and the spell exploded before it even reached the ship.
I paused. “Mana tools can do that?” I asked, turning to Gennady.
“Yes,” he said. “They can do just about anything, lass. Didn’t I tell you?”
The man fired another shot, and this time I jumped out of the way; my Force barrier broke from the impact, letting the beam burrow a hole through the wall on the back side of the ship.
I had just got back to my feet when the first pirate set foot on our deck, getting off the wooden plank they attached to our ship. I drew my dagger, readying spells by my side. I quickly pre-cast the Explosive Orbs by my side, as I shot two Magic Missiles at the pirate.
The pirate rolled out of the way of the attacks, the small explosions going off behind him as he charged me. More pirates were arriving now, and they were rushing me as well. Gennady pulled out his own gun and fired a shot at the first pirate— the pirate managed to block the first with his cutlass, but the second grazed him on the shoulder, knocking him down.
I saw three pirates standing side by side as they made their way towards me. I was not about to set off a Fireball in my own ship; that would probably cause irreparable damage by the time I could put it out. Instead, I pointed at them and a snare shot out. It caught nothing however, as each pirate skillfully evaded the magical bolas.
These guys are good! I watched as Gennady frantically pulled out various mana tools from his bag as more and more pirates surrounded him as well. They were wary of me, and I too was of them.
I glanced back and forth between the pirates surrounding me, with the three glowing orbs still hovering around me. A man took a step forward—
And I sent the Explosive Orbs out in all directions. The pirates were quick, as expected. They leapt out of the way of the blasts, but the Frost Javelin had already finished forming; the layer of fog around us allowed me to cast the spell far faster than I could otherwise have.
The Frost Javelin shot out in an arc, dancing through the air as if it had a mind of its own. And it in a sense, it did. I could not control the exact movements of the projectile, but I was able to somewhat direct it where I wanted it to go.
Got you. It was about to skewer a pirate who was backing as fast as he could, but suddenly the Frost Javelin shattered into a thousand pieces. Icy shards rained down around the pirate, as the man with the rifle, still on his ship, lowered his gun.
“Watch out for the Goblin’s spells,” he shouted, gesturing at me. “Those are quite powerful.”
I clicked my tongue. He’s annoying. I glanced around the battlefield, surveying the situation. The pirates were good— they were overwhelming Gennady and I, and… Lisa and Jack are still standing there, dumbstruck.
I yelled at them. “Hey guys, a little help here?” I was not sure if they would heed my call to action; they might just let me die now that they know I was a spellcaster.
However, thankfully, Jack finally broke out of his stupor. Was he actually going to help? He took a step forward, leaning out of the ship’s deck in the direction of the pirates, and shouted.
“Oi, Ginah! What in Hell are you doing?”
I stopped. The pirates stopped. Gennady stopped. Lisa’s gaze snapped to her partner. He continued.
“You’re attacking out clients, you dumb bitch—”
“Language, Jack,” the man with the rifle said, before he lowered his weapon. “And what do you mean by that?”
“I mean that you guys will get our pay docked! I’m not going to call you nice things for that!” Jack snapped, pointing his short sword at the man then at the woman.
The woman, Ginah, paused. “These are your clients?” she asked, glancing over at myself and Gennady.
“Yes!” Jack, Gennady, and myself screamed.
“Huh.” Ginah looked at us once over. “Well, what about your dead crew?”
“They attacked us,” I explained. “I think someone paid them off— probably the Elise.”
“Oh, so I’m not mistaken about that then.” She nodded. “Then I guess you guys better come over to our ship.”
Lisa hurried down from quarterdeck, finally joining us as we stood amongst the pirates. I still stood on my guard since we were surrounded, but it seemed like the misunderstanding had been resolved for now.
“Why’s that? What’s going on Ginah?” Lisa asked. “Why are you guys here? We thought you left Luke once the Elise chased you out.”
“Well, we did. But we decided to come back because we don’t like those bastards. And we’ve been messing with them for the last few weeks, and were tailing a few of their ships just earlier, until we realized they were tailing you. So we can over here to warn you when we saw the fighting and thought we were too late.”
I wanted to comment on the sheer absurdity of this casual conversation happening across ships, but what Ginah said took precedence over that.
“…a few ships are tailing us?”
“Yes,” she said casually, gesturing vaguely in the direction we had come from. “They’re quite a ways back. But they should be catching up soon—”
And as if those words were some kind of a trigger, I saw the first shadow of a boat emerge from the thick, white fog. I recognized it immediately. It was a large ship, moving at an incredibly fast speed for its size— because it was powered by mana. It was The Lightbringer’s Vessel, and it was followed by two other ships at its rear.
I saw the nebulous figures of men standing on the deck of the large ship, with some of them pointing frantically at us. A figure fell as the man standing next to Ginah took aim and fired a shot at them.
“Let’s go!” he yelled, gesturing us over.
“What is going on?” Gennady asked, looking around confused.
“I have no idea,” I said, looking between the pirate’s and the oncoming ships. “But they better explain later.”
Because if we somehow got ourselves wrapped up in an entire ordeal, I would be so annoyed.
We boarded the pirate ship captained by the woman named Ginah, and fled from the three pursuing ships. The Lightbringer’s Vessel was fast, but it did not stray too far from its two escorts for whatever reason. Probably because unlike the other two, it had little in terms of firepower or combat potential. And with the cover of the fog and night, we managed to lose them after an hour.
It was only when I was sure we were safe, did I even sheathe my dagger. I had already healed up, and removed the bandages on my arm at that point, so I was less worried about getting into a fight. I was still cautious, of course; these pirates were skilled fighters as evident from our brief incursion against them, but with Gennady by my side and with both of us prepared, I felt like we might have been able to take them on— at least, until we could somehow escape.
“So,” I said, stopping in front of Lisa and Ginah as the two women were in the middle of a discussion. “What’s happening?”
“Aria,” Lisa started, then she paused. She looked over to Ginah for a moment, then she folded her arms. “First, you have to tell me what was that? That was… magic?”
“Yes.” I nodded curtly. “It was.” I didn’t clarify anything, and just stood there.
Ginah placed her hands on her hip as she turned to address me. She was dressed in nothing more than a pair of ripped pants and a tube top, with a blue coat hanging loosely around her shoulders. “You’re not part of the Dark Crusaders are you?”
I studied the expression of the two women, and saw they were scrutinizing me as well; I took a deep breath, remembering their reaction to my use of magic at the start of the battle, and decided to answer honestly rather than giving some indefinite response.
“I’m not,” I said.
“Good.” Ginah seemed satisfied with that. She turned to Lisa and inclined her head in my direction. “Seems like she really did save your asses, huh?”
The other woman sighed. “She did.” Then she turned to me. “Thank you, Aria.”
“So what’s going on?” I asked, ignoring their gratitude; those could be exchanged later. “What’s this about the Elise chasing after you guys?” I pointed first at Lisa, then at Jack who was grumbling off to the side by himself.
Lisa hesitated. “I… don’t know,” she finally said. “I had no idea this would happen. I didn’t think they would try to force us into submission, after having done nothing but put some light pressure on us for so long.”
“So those guys were after you?”
“Yes.” She nodded.
I tapped a finger on my mask before turning to Ginah. “And how about you guys? You’re pirates, right?”
The pirate Captain shot me a grin and jerked a thumb at herself. “We are indeed.”
“What’s this have anything to do with you guys?”
She shook her head. “You don’t know anything about the Elise, do you?”
“No,” Gennady piped up. “We just got to the city.”
I nodded my head in agreement with the Dwarf, and looked up expectantly at Ginah. “So… are you going to tell us?”
“I can tell you what’s wrong with them,” a voice came from the side. Jack strutted up to us, his hands hidden in his pockets, with a clear scowl on his face. “They’re an organization of the most villainous scum in all of Luke. They came and took the underground by storm, and would crush anyone who doesn’t join them so completely and utterly that everyone quickly began to fear them.”
“What’s wrong with that?” I raised an eyebrow.
Everyone turned to stare at me, giving me a look, and I shrugged.
“What? Aren’t you all criminals here?”
“Yes,” Ginah said. “But that doesn’t make us monsters. We support those who help us, and allow those who don’t to go about their business. Only when they’re our enemies do we even consider such drastic courses of action.”
Jack voiced his agreement. “And they are ruthless. They don’t care if you’re in the business to support your family. They will force you to do jobs you wouldn’t want to do for them.”
“I see.” I listened as Ginah continued to explain.
“Their leader— a Half Elf named Bahr— is also said to be capable of magic. We think he might be from the Dark Crusaders. That’s why he was able to bring the group into prominence so quickly— he had their funding and their connections to help him get to where he is now.”
“So what?” I asked, frowning. “You don’t like that the Dark Crusaders are crossing into your territory to spread their influence or something?”
“No.” She exhaled deeply and turned to Lisa. “What’s with this girl? We just explained it to her. She daft or something?”
Lisa smiled meekly and tried to calm down the pirate. “She’s just… an odd one.”
I drew my lips into a thin line at their casual remarks about me in front of me. I’m completely normal! I wanted to argue, but then I remembered the time I tried to convince a rapist to stop what he was doing. Yeah… they’re probably right.
“Listen,” I said, speaking over everyone else. “I don’t care about this Elise, and I don’t care about what they’re doing. I just want to get to the Taw Kingdom like I paid Lisa and Jack to do.”
Ginah snorted. “Good luck with that. If you haven’t noticed, their ship is gone and their crew is dead.”
“But I paid them!” I protested.
“Tough luck. But that’s not happening anymore.”
I glanced over at Lisa and Jack and got an apologetic smile and a grunt in response. I turned to Ginah.
“You guys have a working ship— Gennady and I can pay you what we offered them to bring us to Taw. Or at least to a port outside of Luke.”
“Not happening,” she said simply.
“Why?” I asked, annoyed at this development.
“Because we came back to Luke for a reason, girl. We don’t like how the Elise is exploiting the people of the city. We tried to oppose them, but they chased us out. But we aren’t going to run anymore. We are pirates, but we aren’t evil. The way they do things— we can’t allow it.”
I felt my irritation rising, but Gennady placed a hand on my shoulder to stop me. “Let me talk for a moment,” he said, and I allowed him.
Jack glared at the Dwarf as he stepped forward, but did not say anything otherwise.
“So, you lot are trying to oppose this group… how?”
“We disrupt their business. Hit key locations to cut off their supply or drugs. Especially the enuim. That will ruin them for quite a bit and get their allies to leave them.”
“The enuim.” Gennady furrowed his brows. “They sell it?”
“Yes,” Jack answered the Dwarf almost begrudgingly. “They don’t just sell it— that’s their main product which they’ve gotten every other person in the city addicted to in less than a year.”
I eyed the look on everyone’s faces, then slowly raised a hand.
“What’s this ‘enuim’?” I asked.
Ginah faced me, and cocked a brow. “You don’t even know what that is? Are you actually a little girl and not a Goblin or something?”
I ignored that comment, and looked at Gennady as he tried to explain.
“The enuim is a terrible drug that doesn’t just get you addicted to it, it also makes anyone on it more… amenable. If you get someone high on the enuim before trying to get them to sign a deal or do… something for them… they’ll be more inclined to do it.” His brows arched darkly over his forehead as his implication sank in.
“That’s… not good,” I pointed out the obvious.
“It isn’t. And the worst part is? It’s not natural,” he said. “It was developed in the Holy Xan Empire by a group of corrupt Alchemists. They prescribed it as a medicine to the Noxeus to some noble families for their own advantage— to scam them of their gold. This went on for almost a year before they were caught. They were all executed for their crimes, of course. But at that point, the recipe had already been shared with criminal groups throughout the continent. It’s a problem in Soli, and hadn’t been an issue here in Vitae… until now.”
“You know, I don’t—” Ginah started, but Gennady quickly cut her off and held my gaze.
“Melas,” he said my real name once again, and this time, Lisa and Jack heard it. “I know you think money solves everything. That gold is enough to persuade someone to help you.”
“I don’t think that. I think it just increases your chances.”
“Same difference.” He shook his head. “However, there’s something else that works even better than that, and that’s favors. Giving people a reason to trust you, so they would help you back. I have seen what you can do— what you’re capable of doing for others— and I trust you, that’s why I offered to accompany you to Taw. But these people barely know you. They have no reason to bring you to Jahar’taw, even if you pay them.”
“What are you suggesting?” I asked, although I already knew what he was going to say.
“We help them out,” he answered simply. He turned to the pirate Captain and two smugglers, and nodded. “If we help you guys out, will ya bring us to Taw?”
“You’re offering to help us?” Ginah asked.
“Well, it entirely depends on what my friend here has to say.”
All eyes turned to me and awaited my response. I answered without hesitation.
“We’ll help you.”
Ginah blinked. “That was a quick reply.”
I walked forward, and met the look of everyone standing there.
“If I had known about this enuim drug, I would’ve offered this in the first place. I didn’t, so I saw no reason to get involved. But if innocent people are getting hurt and I know about it and can do something about it— I’ll help where I can. I can’t save everyone, but I definitely can contribute something, can’t I?”
Plus, I had something to gain from this deal; it was practical as well as good for my conscience. I was not a hero, but even an average person would jump in to help if they saw another man choking in the streets.
“Huh.” Ginah studied my face for a moment. “Perhaps I misjudged you.”
“But”— I raised a finger— “we won’t do anything beyond stopping the diffusion of these drugs. If you try to make us get involved in some petty underground politics unrelated to that, we won’t participate.”
“Of course.” She grinned, throwing me a thumbs up. “And we’ll find you a way to get to… uh, where did you want to go again?”
“Right.” She turned to a man in the distance and called him over. “Yo, Kai, get over here. We need you to figure out how to get these two to Jahar-thingy after they help us. Think you can do that?”
The man— the one who shot me with the rifle— came at her behest and nodded. “That won’t be too difficult,” he said, then he turned to face us. “They’re helping us deal with the Elise?”
“Yes.” Ginah nodded, a savage grin spreading across her face. “They’ll help us bring them down.”
I quickly clarified. “Only where it involves innocent people, and we won’t stick around beyond that.”
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