The only stop we made was at the stable to pick out a few horses for our trip after going through the teleportation gate. We needed to go a bit out of the way to find horses accustomed to going through teleportation gates, which caused Professor Gideon to fidget with impatience.
The man was a nervous wreck throughout the trip. He said very little after going through the teleportation gate, only snapping at the reigns of his black steed to go faster. Soon, we arrived at a rather thin trail with the Forest of Elshire to our left. I could see the thin fog spilling over onto our trail, making the road look kind of creepy. To our right, there was a thin stream that acted as a fence, marking the border of the Elshire Forest and the edge of the Beast Glades.
Emily sat behind Himes on a white stallion as I rode with Varay on a particularly gentle brown horse, leaving us with little else to do but talk. However, we rode in silence most of the trip; it was hard to talk over the sound of our horses’ hoofbeats clicking on the ground.
Eventually, the familiar, briny smell of the ocean filled the air. I could almost taste the salt on my tongue from the growing breezes that whipped against my face. While the weather was cool, it was obvious that it was growing much more humid, fast. My shirt began sticking to my skin, leaving me uncomfortable and grimy.
“We’re almost here!” Professor Gideon yelled over the howl of the wind. Soon, the trees that made up the dense, magical forest began spreading apart, and eventually clearing up to a wide plain of wild grass and shrubs.
The ocean came into view, quickly widening from the horizon as we drew closer to the edge of the shore. The strength and speed of the winds grew stronger the closer we got to our destination, soon drowning out the sound of our horses’ gallop. Large rocks began popping up more and more on the field of grass that sandwiched us on both sides until we had stopped our horses on the edge of a rocky ledge that overlooked the shore.
I had to shield my face with the hood of my cloak against the sharp, sand-filled winds that cut against my body. I was about to ask if we had arrived when I spotted something unnatural on the coast.
It was a humongous boat, or rather, what was left of it. As the waves lapped against its metal exterior, I couldn’t help but feel like I had seen it before, when it suddenly popped into my mind.
“Wait, isn’t that the Dicatheous?” I gasped, peeking out from underneath my cloak as I turned to Professor Gideon.
“No,” he said, his voice barely audible against the wind. “It’s worse.”
“Wait, it’s not the Dicatheous?” I asked, taking another glance at the familiar ship to make sure.
While I wasn’t able to see the departure of the monumental ship because it overlapped with the start of my second year at Xyrus Academy, I had seen it when it was still being constructed. I could still remember quite clearly the first time I had laid eyes on the mysterious craft that spewed black smoke like some sort of metallic dragon. To be able to carry hundreds of people and still traverse the unknown dangers of the ocean, it was hard to believe it at that time.
“What do you mean worse?” Varay cut in as she surveyed our surroundings, her hand resting firmly on the pommel of the thin sword strapped to her waist.
“Leave the horses here. We’ll need to go on foot if we want to get to that wreckage site.” Ignoring us both, Professor Gideon swung his leg over his horse, dismounting rather clumsily. “Emily, Himes! Grab the bag!”
I opened my mouth to ask again, exasperated by how constantly the professor kept doing things at his own pace, disregarding everyone else. However, with a consoling squeeze on the shoulder from Emily, I just let out a sigh and we followed Professor Gideon. The old inventor was already making his way down the rocky slope to the shore rather nimbly despite how wet the rocks were. Varay and Himes trailed closely behind, both of them with their necks stretched, looking for any signs of danger as they easily hopped from one stone to another.
“I’m going to need the ship completely out of the water. Can either one of you ladies do the honors?” Professor Gideon turned his head, switching glances between Varay and me.
My hand shot up in the air.
“Let me tr—” I volunteered excitedly before remembering what Master Aldir had constantly warned me about. “I mean, Varay should do it.”
The lance gave me a sympathetic look before getting to work. The task wasn’t hard for her; with a simple wave of her hand, she swept the tides back enough to reveal the whole ship, then she took a moment to conjure a wall of ice around the remains of the wreckage to keep the water from spilling back in.
Varay made an opening in the ice fortress for us to enter through and almost immediately after crossing, I stopped to gaze in awe.
Perhaps it was because I had only seen the Dicatheous during its construction, but many of the features I remembered about the ship, from its large metal frame and multiple cylindrical pipes, undoubtedly resembled this large contraption. Regardless, neither of these two metallic monstrosities looked nothing like the wooden sailboats that I was accustomed to.
Further inspection of the large craft led me to notice the reason why it had been stranded here, partly sunken, in the first place. Apart from the more obvious dents that had deformed the base of the ship, there were rows of puncture marks as well.
“Don’t those kind of look like…bite marks?” I marveled, walking toward the side of the ship.
“Dang, imagine how big the monster was to have a mouth that could take a chomp at this,” Emily sighed.
I couldn’t help but grow more and more curious the longer I studied the giant boat. If it truly was not Dicatheous, then what was it? Who had built it? For what purpose did it come to this continent?
Another observation I drew was that, while the thick metal frame had incurred fairly substantial damages, it didn’t seem… old. There weren’t any signs of rust that I knew happened to most metals left in places like this for too long.
“Well then, on we go,” Professor Gideon grunted, stepping into one of the larger holes that had punctured through the bottom of the ship.
“Wait.” Varay held up her arm to halt the professor. Before he could respond, the lance sent a large pulse of mana through the abandoned ship.
“No signs of life,” she confirmed.
“An unnecessary precaution, but thanks,” Professor Gideon grumbled, climbing into the hole at the base of the ship.
“Don’t go too far ahead, Master!” Emily ran in after him, her eyes practically twinkling in excitement.
Looking at Varay, I couldn’t help but notice the faint traces of concern on her normally expressionless face. Even after checking for any potential dangers, there was still something worrying the lance.
Upon stepping inside the ship after Himes, my nose caught on to the acrid smell of wood rotting. The air was heavy and warm, and bitter to the tongue, forcing me to breathe through my nose despite the less-than-pleasant aroma of molding lumber.
The lower levels were spacious, with not much inside except for the columns of iron—some broken, others bent—that had once supported the ceiling. Shattered remains of wooden crates littered the floor but whatever was inside most likely had either perished or been washed away by the ocean water.
I could see the old inventor studying the remains of whatever he could find before he and Himes climbed up the metal stairs leading to the next floor up. This left me, Emily, and Varay to explore the abandoned vessel on our own accord; only, we had no idea what it was we were searching for, and why we were here in the first place.
After finding little else of interest, we weaved through the mounds of seaweed and sand that had infiltrated the ship and followed after Professor Gideon and his butler to the floor above.
It was easy to figure out that the bottommost levels of this abandoned ship had been used as mostly storage, but the strange thing was that everything was destroyed. Varay had been the one to point it out, but even if she hadn’t revealed that fact, I would’ve still put together the traces. On the metal floors—where shattered remnants of items lay scattered—were blackened marks of what looked like soot; someone or some people had deliberately wiped all traces of what could’ve been used as valuable pieces of information.
“Looks like whoever was on this ship didn’t want anyone knowing who they were,” I said, kicking some debris in hopes of finding anything of value.
Varay looked around, but stayed close to Emily and I, in case something were to pop up.
“What’s weird is that even the upper floors here are damp for some reason. How did the water come all the way up here when the ship was only half-sunken?” Emily pointed out, running her hand along the wooden floor, only to come up wet.
“That’s because, until a few weeks ago, this ship was fully submerged in the ocean.” We all looked over our shoulders to see Professor Gideon and Himes walking down the stairs from the floor above us.
“Which is why no one had seen this ship, despite its size, until recently,” Varay concluded.
The inventor simply nodded as he and Himes made their way to us. “The journal I was reading earlier was written by a group of adventurers who were coming back from a scouting mission. They had taken the same route to reach their destination, but it was only on the way back that the tides had receded enough to reveal this.
“I see. Master, then what do you think happened to all the crewmembers that were on this ship?” Emily asked. “Do you think they all drowned?”
“No.” Professor Gideon shook his head. “There would be at least some remains of human bodies left on this ship.”
Emily and I exchanged glances, not quite catching on to what the old inventor was getting at.
Letting out a sigh, Professor Gideon squatted in front of the blackened mark on the floor and scratched at it with his finger. “It means you’re right, Princess. The people on here definitely did not want them seeing this ship, let alone whatever and whoever they had inside.”
“That means that—”
“Yes. Either they all escaped and are out there somewhere…or perhaps, their captain oh-so-kindly nudged them off the ship.”
“I had a hunch when I first saw the ship but does that mean…” Varay’s voice trailed off as she stared intently at Professor Gideon.
“After reading the report, I wished dearly to whatever divine being was watching over us that my guess would be wrong, but I don’t think it is,” he sighed.
“What—what is it? What is going on?” I butted in, their solemn tones filling me with unease.
“I had assumed that the crew of the Dicatheous went through some troubles when we lost contact with them a few years back, so when I read the the report, I thought maybe—just maybe, the crew had somehow repaired the ship and almost made it back. But the materials used to build this, down to the very frame of this ship, differ ever-so-slightly in design.
“After coming here, I’m positive that this ship isn’t, and never was, the Dicatheous. It’s still a little rough around the edges, but the technology put into this ship was top secret, known only to me and few of the key designers,” Professor Gideon explained.
Emily drew in a sharp breath, her eyes wide with fear as the horrifying reality began to dawn on everyone here. “Master, you can’t mean to say—”
“It’s exactly what I mean to say,” Professor Gideon interrupted. “Think about it— the fact that there are no corpses, no personal belongings left behind. There are almost no discernable traces that anyone has ever been here. Why? Because the leader of this ship didn’t want their enemy to know that they are capable of making this. And with good reason; the very fact that this exists changes the very dynamics of this war.”
“And by war, you mean…” my voice trailed off into silence. I locked eyes with Varay and she nodded, her eyes stern and grave. My hands trembled as I brought them up to my mouth.
Professor Gideon sprung up from the ground, handing his bag to Himes. “Yes, Princess. It means that Alacrya has, in their arsenal, the ability to build ships capable of carrying whole battalions across the ocean to Dicathen.”