Dark gray skies rumble and crackle ominously with thunder. The water roils. Wind howls and screeches as it billows faintly a shining white canvas.
Through sea and storm the Tempestas sails straight ahead. Great waves rise and break against the magic ship’s hull, sending up saltwater sprays. These gales are not enough to slow the [Storm Captain] Everlet Windstrom and his crew’s unstoppable expedition. They’ve weathered worse conditions, and they plan to weather even worse. After all, Everlet muses, that is what it means to be a [Storm Captain].
The greatest worry they may have had to face in this storm would have been damaged cargo and sick passengers. On this voyage however, Everlet doesn’t find himself much concerned. If the Adventurers’ Guild is brought low by a rocking boat, they wouldn’t have lasted long anyways.
Everlet inhales the wet and salty air with a wide smile. His white handlebar mustache goes up to reveal bright and shiny teeth. This, this is what he lives for. To fight the world itself! To feel it battering against you with all its might, but to steal your life and victory back from its closing maw!
“Captain Windstrom, this is amazing!”
Everlet grins at the young man who organized this expedition. A fine boy, still in his early years, leading his men to the blank places on the charts; Into Uncertainty; To Adventure!
The [Captain] barks another laugh. “Ha! Good to see someone else who can enjoy the seas! The last landlubbers we ferried kept calling us madmen!”
Franky smiles back. He leans back on the railing and gestures behind himself at the churning skies above. “Maybe you are crazy, but this is still awesome! The storm doesn’t matter at all to you, does it? There’s barely any rain touching the ship!”
Everlet nods at the compliment. Most [Captains] would have reefed sails and battened hatches. If they were higher level, then they might have hung a tiny bit of sail and tracked timidly downwind. But Everlet Windstrom…
“I’m a [Storm Captain]!” he declares. “We don’t hide from a bit of piddly rain! If I can’t navigate through a weak storm like this, I don’t deserve this class in the first place!”
Franky chuckles. His eyes stare at the sky in wonder. A crack of lightning strikes somewhere in the distance, illuminating the chaotic sea ahead. “Your kids must be proud,” he ventures, at which Everlet’s mood sours.
“I’ve got one son. One! And that brat has no idea how to live properly. He worked hard to get his [City Defender] class, and now he squanders it away in a safe city, letting grunts do all the work,” he growls, “He’s got no dreams! No ambitions! He smothered his damn sense of adventure for a cushy job,” he rants, and would have continued to do so if not for another voice interrupting him.
“The Bulwark merely allowed you to win again. It is only by The Bulwark’s generosity that a lady such as yourself continues to accrue wealth.” a voice is heard from the midship of the Tempestas.
Curious, both Everlet and Franky lean over the aft railing of the forecastle and look down.
Franky immediately recognizes the duo. The first is Gun Widow, the sentient, undead, spider, tank… girl? Maybe? Yeah, he’s still not sure what to make of it, and was a bit weirded out until he’d read in some reports that Gun Widow was created by none other than Quasi.
That explained the absurdity. It’s not any less weird, it’s just more manageable.
Across from Gun Widow is another notable figure, Darius. He’s a skinny old man who speaks in the third person. Oh, and he’s the highest leveled and most experienced person to join the guild.
“Thus, the Bulwark demands a rematch!” the elder proclaims.
“Is that the Unbroken Bulwark?” Everlet whispers to Franky.
“Um. Yes. Yes he is,” he answers back, chuckling at the scene.
Gun Widow raises and lowers her barrel in acknowledgement. Then, it points the barrel down at Darius’s crotch, where his last piece of clothing resides. The near-naked man merely smirks.
“The Bulwark accepts the wager, but know this, Gun Widow!” He points up at the deathy tank of death. “If the Bulwark allows you to win again, you will be graced with a vision of masculinity few have ever survived. A miracle forged through the Bulwark’s many feats and legends. So be prepared, for few can glimpse at magnificence and live to tell such a tale.”
Ignoring the declaration, Gun Widow extends a foot and smacks the hardwood deck. The cards, spread across the wooden floor, bounce into the air and land in an organized pile. The naked men crowded around ooh in amazement at such skill by which even [High-Rollers], a second tier class of [Gambler], would be impressed by.
Everlet strokes his mustache with an unreadable expression. Here is a man who has braved the world, has lived and loved in every port, sought danger like a parched man seeks water, survived, and still searches for more; a man who has fought the skies, the seas, and the [Pirates] that roam them.
A man who knows a winning bet when he sees it. So, he raises his hand upward, and in reply, the lightning cracks and booms above him. All eyes and one turret turn to witness the [Storm Captain]’s maddened gaze.
“I call next.”
The Sanguine Desert; an expanse of scarlet sand between the westward seas and the Aesir kingdoms. A land of unrelenting sun, it is a desolate region riddled with death, destruction, and the occasional [Sultan]. Well, maybe more than occasional. There’s seventy three [Sultans], and the [Empress] who rules them. That number has stayed steady across hundreds of thousands of years, rarely changing. One [Sultan] for each of the natural oases that pepper the desert. A single city rules an oasis, producing food and goods that are traded between the kingdoms of sand.
But, of those cities, only one can truly be known to be a hub of trade.
“Huh,” Quasi mutters in surprise as he looks out of his carriage. Where grassland meets sand is the beginning to a massive stone bridge thirty meters wide and eighty miles far, all leading to a distant speck of a city on the horizon. On the bridge is a constant influx of traffic, almost all of which are [Merchants] and [Traders].
The rest of his team take turns peering out the window at the structure, staring at the impressive bridge over the desert. Even Abernick, having heard of the bridge, is still amazed by the real thing.
“So,” Quasi begins, “they built a long ass bridge over a sea of sand, so as not to get murdered by giant sand worms.”
“Yes. It was the best way to assure safe trade between an oasis and the Aesir lands.” The [Prince] points at a distant structure. “The city is called Nundinae, and it is the desert’s most economically significant city. It’s also the place where we can get a guide.”
“-and information on riding worms,” Quasi adds with a cheeky grin. Abernick rolls his eyes.
“Oi, Ahmed,” a [Guard] with a short cape nudges another [Guard] who was focused on checking the passing carts.
“I’m busy, Mohad,” the other [Guard] says with a growl.
Mohad nudges Ahmed again, but with a bit more than the usual force.
Mohad sighs and turns around to growl at his buddy… and pauses as his eyes land on a distant carriage.
“That’s-” Ahmed begins.
“Yep.” Mohad nods.
The two stare wordlessly, watching the carriage thing as it slowly makes its way forward while [Merchants] and [Traders] give it as much distance as they can.
Mohad clears his throat. “Should we be doing something about this?”
Ahmed adjusts his leather cuirass. “I don't think so. Have you heard Camelot is making horseless carriages? I think that might be one of those.”
Mohad folds his arms. “I’ve heard, but I thought they actually looked like carriages. Not, well,” he waves his arm at the thing, “like a spider.”
“Could be a new model,” Ahmed adds. “Maybe they are here to sell it,” he thinks for a second, “actually, a carriage that walks would be better on sand.”
Mohad frowns. He shifts his head and gazes into the sprawling desert. The crimson sand glistens under the unwavering heat of the sun. He watches as a small mound rises and lowers as a predator travels underneath.
“The [Caravan Masters] would pay a very high price for such a carriage, even if it struggles on sand. Just the novelty of the vehicle would have them gallivanting over it.”
Ahmed grunts as he reaches into a satchel at his side and produces an enchanted iron block. “Well, if they're selling it, then we should mark them for immediate entry to the city, otherwise they could miss the Grand Auction over the two days.”
“Good point. Let's go speak with the owner.”
“So, this will allow us immediate entry into the city?” Fiona asks, holding up a metal plate covered in runic scrawls complicated as guild cards.
I shrug. “Probably.”
“You don't know?” Jessica interrupts with a question and a surprised eyebrow.
I roll my eyes at the expectation that I am perfect, which by the way is absolutely not true. I am merely near perfect. “Mimir barely gave any effort into runic crafting. He found the entirety of the runic language inflexible and inferior to intent and spell enchantments,” I raise a finger, “which I agree on. Runic enchants can’t be modified and require constant recharging to work. On top of that, they will eventually degrade over a long enough period of time.”
“Really?” Abernick extends his hand to Jessica, who then hands him the piece of metal, “Deflon was pretty effective with his crafting,” he traces his hand on the glowing lines of the metal.
“Well yeah, I’m not calling it weak. On the contrary, runic crafting is extremely effective. What you give up in variety and timeliness, you make up for in very powerful enchantments. But, anyone with a couple hundred levels in an enchanting class could produce items that are superior.”
Three pairs of eyes look at me like I’m some kind of idiot.
“What?” I ask, willfully ignoring the obvious.
Jessica sighs. “Nothing. Just… nothing.” She shakes her head. “So, are you going to sell the carriage like those [Guards] were wondering about?”
I shrug. “Maybe. Probably. Not sure, really. I’d rather not just sell the carriage, otherwise we would have to brave the sands on our feet.”
“Or we could fly,” Abernick grumbles.
“No flying!” I admonish the [Grand Necromancer] for the seventeenth time. “You can't have any proper adventure if you fly over everything. There’s a reason Gandalf never used the giant eagles.”
Abernick rubs his forehead, annoyed at my declaration. “Fine, I don’t care anymore.” He flicks the metal card at me, which I catch with ease. He then point’s in the direction of the city. “Do you even have a plan for when we get there?”
“Of course I do,” I answer in annoyance, “only an idiot would walk into a city without a plan.”
He perks up. “And what is this plan?”
I smile at him and point at my shoe. “I’m going to test out my new door kicking enchantments.”
“SHIP SIGHTED!” bellows a [Pirate] from the crow’s nest. Not a moment later, and the words are shouted and repeated several times until the [First Mate Pirate] hears the call. With a toothy smile filled with holes, the man rushes into the ship and quickly makes his way to the captain.
“Captain,” he calls and opens the door and meets a large, muscular man with a blackened dirty beard. “We got a ship, sir. The lads are arming up and preparing to engage.” he says.
A sharp mithril smile emerges on the captain’s face. He practically jumps out of his chair and grabs his enchanted spyglass. They run out of the ship and see the [Pirates] rushing around, preparing to maneuver and chase the sighted ship.
“Where is the ship?” the captain asks and the first mate points.
The [Pirate Captain] extends the spyglass with a grunt. He then raises it to his eye and sees the ship in all its detail. A galleon, with clearly enchanted sails and a well-leveled captain considering the speed. A difficult target for most [Pirate Captains], but with the cargo on board that kind of ship, it’s a worthy gamble to make.
With a growing smile, the [Pirate Captain] activates the enchantment on his spyglass to see the forces he’ll be dealing with.
He frowns at the sight. There’s the captain, a bald man with a handlebar mustache manning the wheel. The sailors are moving about, keeping busy with an unusual cheer. Everything is as it should be, but…
“Why the hell are they all naked?”
He then notices movement of a black, metallic monstrosity on the center of the ship. The monster rises on metal legs and turns its body. A long metal tube shifts and points to his direction.
A violet glow emerges from its depths.