The air was cool. It was not a freezing temperature just yet, although Ginah found it to be rather cold for her taste. Growing up in a tropical climate had her accustomed to warm weather all year round. And if it wasn’t warm, it was raining.
Right now it was neither. And because of that, Ginah wished she was below deck drinking a warm cup of tea. It was still spring in the Taw Kingdom— it was going to be summer soon, and Ginah was glad for it. If they had arrived in the Dwarven country in the middle of winter, Ginah was certain she would not be able to even be outside right now.
The pirate Captain buttoned up her coat with a sigh. I need to buy warmer clothes, the mundane thought crossed her mind as she cast her gaze towards the horizon. It was morning. The sun was just rising, and its light was glimmering off the distant waters.
Ginah was just beginning to contemplate going and getting another layer of clothing when footsteps approached her from behind. She turned around, and greeted the Dwarf.
“Gennady, you’re awake early,” she said, nodding at him.
“‘Course,” he snorted. He held out a bundle of cloth to her, which she accepted gratefully. “Here ya go.”
“Oh, thank you.”
He grunted in affirmation, before following her gaze along the ocean waters. “We’re getting pretty close to Jahar’taw. Haven’t been there in years.”
“Never been there,” Ginah remarked. “What’s it like?”
“Too cold for ya Humans,” he said, shaking his head. “And it’s cramped, imposing, and ya don’t ever feel like ya have personal space there.”
“Doesn’t sound very welcoming.”
“It’s not,” the Dwarf sighed, leaning on the wooden railing. “But it’s my home.”
Ginah simply nodded at that. She wasn’t really sure how to respond to that. Despite having known him for a while now, she never really got to know him proper. It was not because either of them actively avoided each other— Gennady seemed rather sociable, and Ginah wasn’t averse to interacting with others either.
It was just that the two of them only spoke to each other about important things. And they had gotten into arguments before, back when Ginah wanted to abandon Melas to the Church. But that was all in the past now. So the two just stood there in silence.
The deck of the ship slowly began to fill up as crew members began to wake up and go about their duties. Most of those in her crew— the most elite fighters who had been with her since the beginning— followed her in this trip. Still only two dozen joined her; compared to the hundreds she had been in charge of back in Luke, this was a small amount.
But most of them had been noncombatants. They didn’t want to leave their city. That was where they had been born. Even for Ginah, it had not been a simple decision to make. It was not easy to simply get up and leave your home. Only the most daring of them did. Like Sevin. He was not a fighter, but he had nothing left for him in Luke. So he came with them.
Ginah didn’t see Sevin milling about above deck. He was either still asleep, or down below working on his tinkering skills. Not that he was needed to help keep the ship afloat. Perhaps he might have been able to work the mana cannons. But that was not necessary— Elda was very much capable of handling it herself.
So the pirate Captain continued steering the ship with the helm as the current started to pick up. The waves turned choppy, as some storm clouds began to form heavenward. It was not unexpected. The winds and weather could change anytime at sea.
Ginah simply prepared for it. Nothing bad would happen. She was used to dealing with this. She called out to the others above— those like Lisa who were simply basking in the sun— to go down below. Then she turned to Gennady.
“Do you know where Melas is?” she asked.
“No clue,” he said, shrugging. “Probably below deck— sleeping, studying, or practicing her magic.”
“It’s probably better for you to go down below. Check on her— make sure she doesn’t go up and accidentally slip and fall off the ship.”
The Dwarf nodded and started down the stairs, almost stumbling and falling as the waves whipped at the ship. He caught himself, and went down slower. Ginah turned her attention back to captaining the ship.
They had not run into too many sea Monsters in this voyage, which was actually very fortunate. Ginah would have thought there would have been more incidents considering the current season, but apparently the Monsters just weren’t very active this year.
Or maybe it was just luck. And if it was, Ginah knew luck didn’t last forever. So she had to be cautious— in case they got attacked.
Gennady heard the patter of the rain fade away as he went below deck. His heavy footsteps drew the attention of Lisa who was standing in the hallway, talking to Jack. Lisa waved at him, and Jack just grunted.
“Lisa, how are ya doing. Jack, good to see you’re still in a terrible mood like always.”
“Shut it, Dwarf.” The man scowled, folding his arms. “I’m not in the mood for your yapping today.”
“When are you ever in the mood to talk to me?” Gennady rolled his eyes. Jack scowled even harder, but before he could respond, Lisa stepped in front of him.
“Gennady— how’s my favorite Dwarf doing?” She smiled, offering the Dwarf a hand. “Well, you’re the only Dwarf I know. But still, that’s factually correct, right?”
“Hah!” He accepted the hand, and patted her on the back. “I like you, Lisa,” he said, grinning. “Even if you’re just being friendly with me for my contacts.”
The young woman waved her hand dismissively. “What? No— come on, Gennady. You’re so much fun to be around! Especially when you irritate that grouch over there.”
“Whose side are you even on, Lisa?” Jack asked, sighing.
“No one’s,” she said, backing away from the both of them. “Whoever can get me the most money in the moment, actually. Which makes it anyone.”
Gennady chortled and Jack just buried his face in his palm. When he was done laughing, the Dwarf turned to Lisa and asked her, “Do you know where Melas is at?”
“Melas?” The two exchanged a glance. “Nope,” Lisa said, shrugging. “Haven’t seen her all day.”
“I see.” He rubbed his chin as he thought of where she could be.
“Is something wrong?”
“No, nothing.” Gennady shook his head and started past them. “Just wanted to tell her to avoid going outside. It’s raining, and we don’t want her to be thrown off board by the wind.”
This time, it was Lisa who rolled her eyes. “Oh please. She may be a child, but she isn’t that small.”
“Gotta make sure, y’know?”
“Well, why not check her room?” she asked. “That’s where she usually holes herself up when she isn’t outside.”
“Right, I’ll go check. Thanks.”
Gennady waved the two goodbye and continued down the hallway. He passed by an open door and stopped as he spotted Sevin. The young man was sitting on a cloth blanket, and was inspecting a small device he had made. He sighed, and placed it down on the ground—
And its mana crystal fell off, and rolled out the door. Sevin yelped as he jumped up to get it, but caught himself when he saw Gennady standing by the doorway. The Dwarf picked up the Lesser mana crystal and held it out to him.
“What are ya doing, lad?”
“Me?” He accepted it gratefully as Gennady cocked a brow. “I was just working on this thing. It’s like a lamp, but not actually a lamp since it concentrates the light in a single spot. I was thinking it would be good for exploring caves and stuff y’know? I had that thought when we were staying at that cove… a lamp shines a lot of light, but when you’re trying to find—”
Gennady cut him off with a wave of his hand. “That’s not what I’m asking you, lad.” He pointed at the mana tool on the ground, then at the mana crystal. “What are you doing trying to work on it during a storm? You’ll mess up its runes!”
“What? Oh—” Sevin sputtered out an excuse before the Dwarf just smacked lightly on the back.
“Save your words, Sevin. Just make sure to be careful with your mana tools. Especially when it’s still a work in progress— that’s when they’re the most fragile.”
“Yes Master Gennady.”
The Dwarf nodded, content with his answer and with being addressed with the proper respect he deserved. Melas refused to call him that— she just couldn’t properly acknowledge him as an expert in his craft, despite knowing that he was one. Probably due to the poor introduction the two had when they first met. Speaking of…
“Have ya seen Melas?”
“Melas?” Sevin paused, frowning. “I don’t think I have. Why? Is something wrong?”
“Nothing’s wrong, lad,” Gennady snorted. “Why does everyone think something’s wrong just because I’m looking for her?”
The young man scratched the back of his head. “Uh, I don’t know—”
“That’s a rhetorical question,” the Dwarf interrupted him, shaking his head. “I’ll just go find her.” He started back away from the door, then stopped right as he remembered something. With one last comment, he turned around. “And don’t use Dwarven speak, lad. Saying ‘y’know’ as if you’ve used it all your life. You’ll just sound weird to us Dwarves.”
“Oh, uh, right.”
Then Gennady left the room.
It was shortly after when he reached Melas’s room. He banged on the door a few times, calling for her to no avail. He pushed on it lightly, and as expected it opened up without resistance. So she’s not in her room, huh?
He stood there, stumped, running his fingers through his beard. He was just about to turn around and start loudly calling her name as he walked down the hallway when he caught sight of Elda.
The female pirate was just turning round the corner. Gennady did not know her well, per se. But she knew Melas— even if just barely, considering they had gone on raids together again the Elise back in Luke. It didn’t hurt to try asking, so he called out to her.
“Hey Elda!” he said, strutting up to her. “Do you know where Melas is? She isn’t in her room.”
“Melas?” She cocked her head.
He quickly explained. “Yeah, just wanted to tell her to stay indoors. There’s a storm brewing, and I don’t want her to accidentally go outside.”
“I really don’t think that’ll be a problem,” she said, scratching the side of her head. “But if you really want to know, she’s in…” And she told him.
Gennady smacked his forehead. “Why didn’t I think of checking there?”
I sat in the lunchroom, gobbling down on the plate in front of me. Well, I had been gobbling it down. That was until the ship began to rock and sway as the weather outside took a turn for the worst.
Despite having been on sea for a while now, I still wasn’t completely immune to getting sea sick; I could survive the choppy waters of a thunderstorm as long as I didn’t do anything too physically exerting or… eating.
So now I was sick. Sea sick. And I was struggling to eat.
It wasn’t enough to completely deter me from having my meal. I was hungry— I had stayed up all night and had little to eat the night before. So I was going to eat my lunch. I grabbed a bucket, just as a precaution, and returned to my meal, slowly trying to scoop up the rest of it into my mouth.
I took a bite, and a loud noise startled me out of my seat.
“There you are, Melas!” Gennady bellowed as he entered the room.
I felt the half eaten part of my meal jerk in my stomach, and clasped it tightly, stopping myself from puking. I turned and glared at him. “Don’t yell at me!”
“Sorry,” he said, walking up to me. “I was just looking for you.”
Sighing, I wiped my mouth before quickly taking another bite out of my lunch. “What did you need me for?” I asked, feeling my forehead crease.
“Nothing.” He looked at me straight faced. “Just wanted to tell ya to stay indoors cuz it’s raining.”
“Is that it?” I raised an eyebrow as I gulped down a swig of water. I lowered the glass back down as he nodded. “You don’t have to tell me that. I could tell.” I gestured at the room as it rocked.
“Just wanted to make sure you knew,” he said, reaching to smack me on the back. “I’m your bodyguard after all.”
I tried to dodge, but I was sluggish from motion sickness; his palms struck my back, and I scowled. “Is that all?” I asked. “If that’s all, can I return to my meal in peace?”
“Go ahead and eat, I won’t bother you.”
Or so he said, but he simply grabbed a drink and took a seat next to me. Resigning myself to his company, I resumed eating my meal. Gennady quickly downed his ale and slammed the cup down on the wooden table.
“So,” he started, turning to me with his foam covered beard, “how has your tinkering been progressing? Made anything good lately?”
“Other than simple tools? Nope.” I had been practicing magic. I had even learned a new spell— I realized that I had been neglecting my Thaumaturgy, which was the most varied school of magic I knew, so I had been using my knowledge of tinkering to aid me in it. It had worked out rather well if I had to say so myself.
“C’mon lass, is that really all you’ve done all this time?” Gennady shook his head and leaned his back on the table. “You’re making me look bad as your teacher”
I took another bite. “I have an idea— a design for a weapon— sketched out. But it requires delicate and fine precision, which I can’t do in this ship with all this swaying.”
“You’ve got to learn to keep your hands steady,” he said simply. “Not when there’s a storm like this. I don’t expect you to be able to continue your work through an earthquake like me. But on a normal day with some minor shaking? You can do it, lass. Sevin certainly has learned how.”
“That’s not the problem,” I sighed. I pointed a thumb at the bucket next to me. “Focusing my eyes on a steady object makes me nauseous.”
“Oh.” He paused, folding his arms. “Yeah, can’t help you with that.”
“Didn’t think so.” I dug my fork into the last of the fish and scooped it all into my mouth. Finishing my meal, I unsteadily stood up and turned to the Dwarf. “So, are we anywhere near the Taw Kingdom yet?”
“We’re pretty much in their waters by now,” he said. “But if you mean close to Jahar’taw? We’ve still got a little bit more to go before we reach there.”
“Think we need to make any more stops in any ports?” I asked, giving up and slumping back down to my seat.
“Not unless it’s completely necessary.”
Nodding, I glanced up to the ceiling and exhaled deeply. “That’s good.”
Gennady smiled and placed one hand on my shoulder. “Don’t need to worry so much, lass,” he said reassuringly. “We’re almost there. It’s the final stretch.”
“I know.” I looked over to him with a sidelong glance. “I just hope nothing goes wrong. Things just…” I trailed off.
Memories flashed in my mind. Everything that ever seemed to be going right always went wrong for me. It wasn’t the worst thing in the world; I was still alive. But still— when I had thought I could actually be friends with Rin, Shang, and the other Beastkin, I was rejected by them. And when I thought I found a home in the Dark Crusaders, I finally saw through Victor’s manipulation and that he was actually a monster.
I wanted to be comfortable with Ginah’s Crew. They had helped me defeat Saintess Lilith who had been trying to capture me to the Holy Xan Empire after all. But this almost seemed like the high before the fall— where things in a story, after going right for a while, would start to fall apart.
I closed my eyes, trying to calm myself. This is not a story, Melas, I told myself. This is real life. Stop being so paranoid. I did not make a very convincing argument to myself, but luckily for me, Gennady was there.
“Just because things always go wrong, doesn’t mean they always will,” he opined. “I know you’ve been through terrible things, Melas. But if you keep looking for something dark to happen, eventually you’ll be right, and that won’t make you happy. However, if you choose to look for a brighter future, you’ll also eventually be right, but it’ll make you happy.”
I paused, considering this. Then I scoffed. “Is that really your advice?” I asked, staring at him. “I had expected someone as old as you would be able to give me better wisdom than that.”
“Hey.” He put his hands up defensively. “I’m smart, not wise. You’re expecting the wrong thing from me, lass.”
“What if I don’t think you’re either?”
“Oh is that how it is?” Gennady crossed his arms in front of his chest. “Then I guess I won’t be teaching you any more tinkering.”
He glared at me, and I stared back defiantly at him. This lasted a moment, before we both broke out into a laugh.
“Who am I kidding,” he said, standing up to grab another drink. “I couldn’t not teach you even if I wanted to. You don’t have the most talent, but you’re dedicated, I’ll give ya that.”
“Thanks.” I grinned. “Now let me pay you back by teaching you how to be less of an alcoholic.”
“Only by your standards as a Human! An alcoholic for a Dwarf is someone who drinks himself to death!”
“That sounds dangerous.”
“Only if you die.” He took a large swig from his newly produced mug of ale. “And as you can see, I’m still very much alive.”
He chortled at his own joke, and I giggled too. I felt my face soften and my body relax a bit; the tension wasn’t completely gone, and somewhere in the back of my head the worries remained, but I was feeling better now.
As much as gibed him for giving me that obvious advice, it actually helped. He was right: it was easy to lose track of the good things and focus only on the bad. So instead, I focused on the good right in front of me.
Gennady finished his drink once again, and placed it on the table. The boat rocked, almost causing the plates and the cups to fall off. We barely caught it in time, stopping a minor accident from happening.
“That was close,” I said, wiping at my brow. “Ginah would’ve scolded us for that.”
“Yeah,” he concurred. “It’s quite a bad storm this time, huh?”
I felt my stomach wretched as the boat jerked once again, but with a few deep breaths I managed to make the feeling go away. “I hope it ends soon— in fact, I hope we reach land soon. I can’t wait to walk on solid ground.”
The Dwarf nodded. “Honestly, other than the constant storms, I’m surprised with how smooth our voyage has been.”
I paused, turning to him as he continued. Is he…?
“I’ve taken a few boat trips between Taw and Laxis before y’know. I’ve even gone further past Laxis, and never once have I been on one where no Monsters attacked the ship during this season.”
Narrowing my eyes, I felt my mouth open.
“So even with the storms, at least there haven’t been any Monster attacks, right?”
I was too late. The ship rocked once again, but this time everything tilted. The tables and chairs slid to the side, knocking over the plates and mugs we had just saved. I stumbled, barely catching myself from falling as Gennady fell over.
“What was that?” he asked, turning to me. But I did not respond.
Instead, we heard yells coming from the hallway. People were shouting and running around in a panic. Gennady and I hurried to the noise, and we found Elda shouting at the other crew members as they frantically scrambled past her.
“What’s going on?”
“Monster attack!” she yelled at us, as the ship was rocked once more. There were more shouts, and Elda ran up the stairs to the above deck.
Gennady was just about to follow her but he stopped. I grabbed him by the arm and he turned to face me. Meeting his gaze, I spoke slowly.
“You just had to [jinx] us, didn’t you?”
I ignored his confused questions, and rushed after Elda and the others up the stairway, up into the heavy downpour up above.
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