None of them really had any idea how to sail aside from pointing the front of the sea towards land. Suffice to say, the next six hours were rough. When the storm wasn’t smashing them with enough thunder and lightning to knock their heading off from their goal, the monsters that Skarch explained were called Murlocs were leaping up to attack the boat.
It soon got to the point that Randidly, completely soaked to the skin, said fuck it on keeping his Mana with some juice left and spent it all to shift the fist he had used to crush the Kraken into long, rake like claws. The depth of the water was only about 25 meters at this point, so he simply gripped the bottom of the sea and started dragging themselves towards shore.
Not that anyone noticed.
“I’ve faced down worse storms than this,” Silo said gravely. His hair was wet, yet the wind had somehow twisted it up onto his head in an elegant and appealing look. The flashes of lightning showed his strong cheekbones in profile, outlining his as a bold silhouette against the darkness. “Don’t give up. If we work together, we will make it through this.”
Randidly wanted to roll his eyes. No one was giving up, and Silo’s desperate grip on the rudder did almost nothing but make him useless when the Murlocs launched attacks on the boat. Skarch seemed to be genuinely enjoying the feeling of the rain and was whispering to her spear between short bouts of combat.
Azriel was as unflappable as usual. “What is the limits of the Skill you are using to give me energy?”
“I feel like this is something that we would normally talk about quietly,” Randidly said with a wry smile on his face.
Azriel spared Silo a dismissive glance. The man was muttering self-righteously to himself. It was now Skarch’s turn to be within the small cabin, so he was their only “audience”.
“Well fine,” Randidly said with a sigh. “I don’t think there is a limit, per se… but think of yourself as a stream bed with the energy as the water. Slowly, it will get naturally larger… attempts to hasten that development usually result in side effects…”
As he trailed off, Randidly recalled a few experiments he had performed with Nathan. Not that the people were worse off immediately, but their growth simply stalled out in the aftermath. Perhaps a better metaphor would be to say it would be akin to giving a high school student with an interest in architecture wooden boards and 100 pounds of instant concrete mix and asking them to build a house. The flood of Aether in a person’s body gave them a lot of tools, but they had no knowledge of how to use it, so most of it would be wasted. Their images were too weak to support all the tools they had. Unused tools would become a swamp that would bind the individual, as well.
Twisting his mouth, Randidly then checked his inward connection to Azriel. It was a thin stream, compared to the vast rivers that were flowing to Alana and Annie, but it was growing quickly. He had never chronicled the growth so directly, but it really seemed like Azriel was accelerating forward at a speed that was slightly intimidating to even him. Of all the people he had met, she was that most fun to fight.
“What are you smiling about?” Azriel asked.
Randidly simply shook his head and rapped on the deck. “Skarch, Silo. Looks like we are coming close.”
Skarch made her way up out of the hold below and Silo looked upon his aggrieved suffrage underneath the slanting rain. Underneath the water, Randidly’s feelers had shifted into something akin to spider legs, and he was pushing them faster and faster towards shore.
It was right before they ran aground and he was knocked off into the water that Randidly realized perhaps his desire for speed had thrown them headlong towards a watery grave. Well, grave was a strong term. But as Randidly cracked his head against a rock, his felt very, very annoyed with himself.
Skarch and Silo faired well enough; Skarch hadn’t yet left the door frame and had been able to get a grip. Although he didn’t do much as a steersman, Silo had been able to cling to the tiller like an ill-willed spider. Standing with a curse, Randidly looked around for Azriel.
“Did you do that on purpose?”
Randidly glanced behind him. Azriel had a mild expression, with her hair and clothes plastered to her skin in a way that emphasized how slender her limbs were. She was a small, compact person, who looked more like a rat standing in the frothy, thigh-deep water of the shallows where they had run aground.
Randidly cleared his throat. “…Azriel, now seems like a poor time to sharpen your spear. Maybe we should just wait until we ashore to finish this discussion up.”
“…hmmm. Perhaps.” Even in the rain, her needle-like spear gleamed dangerously as she polished it with an unhealthy amount of vigor. Randidly was torn between feeling slightly bad about the crash and her obvious fury and feeling amused by adorable her resemblance to a cat tossed into a bathtub was.
Luckily, their moment of tension was interrupted as a large way buoyed the boat up past the point it had run aground on and smashed it into another nearby rock. Skarch’s laughter was clear over the sound of the storm. She leaped lightly off of the boat and landed on a stone that sat relatively shallowly in the water.
The boat was flipped over, with Silo in it. Randidly sighed.
Thirty minutes later, Randidly had moved some of the short trees into a basic shelter so the group could gather up in a shivering mess. It was strange. Physically, their bodies were obviously cold, but their Vitality and Endurance should more than make up for it. They were in no danger of dying of hypothermia, or anything. But physiologically, this was not an area that the System benefitted them.
Apparently, the Nexus amused itself watching the shivers of someone who is mildly cold.
Still, Randidly couldn’t complain too much. He had gained three Levels in Child of Rain already.
“Based on my calculations,” Silo began, looking around at the group. It was difficult for Randidly to take him seriously because they happened to make their shelter over a stump that would serve as a basic table and Silo was standing with one leg up on it. He leaned over onto his raised knee with sparkling eyes. “We should be on one of the small islands around Kragjist- that’s the big one where Sergeant Platton is operating.”
“The island chains are huge,” Skarch pointed out with a shake of her head. “The wights infest the area like fleas, sure. But with it raining like this, we won’t know whether we are walking into an enemy base or not until it’s too late. I dearly wish for a good placement in this tournament, but we will simply lose our lives if we act foolishly.”
As if to underscore her statement, thunder rumbled overhead with enough volume to block out the volume of the rain on the shelter around them. Azriel tapped her spear against the wall, not looking at Randidly. Her weapon looked wicked sharp. It made Randidly feel somewhat helpless; sure, he was at fault for their abrupt crash, but hadn’t the rain-soaked her to the skin regardless?
Randidly opened his mouth. “I-”
Randidly paused and looked at Silo, who was looking at him in surprise. After waiting a half second, Silo continued. “…I think we should risk it and press forward. Like you pointed out, visibility will be low. And we are all aware these rain storms might last days. It is too much to wait it out. Besides… we are elite compared to most of the opponents on the front lines. The low visibility is a boon to us.”
“We might run into a squad of Zeitguard or even one of the Witch Kings,” Azriel said evenly. Her eyes slide from Silo to Skarch, and then back. Even though she didn’t look at Randidly, he knew it was because she already knew what his answer was going to be. There was no point in asking. “Can we handle that?”
“A Witch King? Obviously not,” Silo scoffed. Then his hands clenched into fists. “Well… perhaps we could buy enough time for the others to flee. Since this was my idea, I will take responsibility if the worst happens. But the Zeitguard… they should be similar in strength to us. It is entirely possible to handle a few quickly if we work together.”
“… I came here for glory. I will not turn away if it is thrust upon me.” Skarch said abruptly. “I simply wished to confirm you were all aware of the risks.”
“Alright then,” Randidly said slowly, looking around at the group. His eyes were brilliant lime green in the strange twilight of the rain-shrouded island. “Then let’s begin.”