Gateway Eureka

Fresh Arrival

Tammus. Thats what its inhabitants call their world. Tammus saw an ever-changing landscape through its untamed wildlands and rising powers for thousands of years. Kingdoms and empires warring for supremacy and monsters seeking destruction. Humans, elves, and dwarves, the three primary races of Tammus, built vast civilizations across the lands, each aiming to create stability for their people. The three known continents cycled through war and peace without end until it almost seemed permanent.

Through sword and magic, peace was once established and protected in recent history, ending years of conflict. For the first time in generations, it seemed that peace would last forever. The three races lived without animosity, only raising arms in unison against the monstrosities of the wild. Unfortunately, time would show that it was all an illusion. But the looming threat wouldn come from the known world; it instead came from beyond.

Somewhere in the land of elves, a coastal city fights off a foreign army. The once magnificent stone and timber elven city is in chaos. Smoke rises into the sky from the fires consuming the city, clouding the view of the ocean. The enemy is unlike anything anyone has ever seen before. They fight unconventionally, with ranged weapons that produce the crack of thunder.

Elven knights sprint toward a line of enemy warriors in one of the countless stone streets consumed in warfare. Their eyes are rage-filled, furious that these invaders dare invade their homeland. Their armor rattles as they run, swords ready to strike. Abruptly, several loud pops vibrate through the streets as a handful of elven knights collapse onto the ground.

At the end of the road, thick smoke dissipates to reveal the foreign warriors. They are human, wielding long wooden and steel weapons—flintlock muskets. They are armored with steel breastplates, greaves, and helmets with red and white fabric underneath, similar to a conquistador. While those with firearms retreat to load another shot, others with swords and shields step in front to meet the elf defenders.

They yell and grunt as both sides collide. Swords strike against swords, and steel grinds against steel. Its a mess of a melee fight as many dozens of elves and humans try to cut each other down. Its only one of an endless series of fights in the ongoing battle for the city. Several enemy wyverns fly overhead, shooting fireballs at the buildings below. Some burst into flames as they fall, shot down by friendly wyverns. A barrage of bright streaks of lights shoots up towards the enemy wyverns by mages on the ground.

One of the elf knights, Neris, swings his sword at one of the enemy swordsmen, magically enhancing his raw strength to ensure the kill. The sword forcibly tears through the steel breastplate, sending out sparks, and the foe falls backward onto the ground, nearly cut in half. The blade shines red with blood. Theres sweat on Neris forehead, and hes exhausted. He briefly glances at the fight as bodies continue to fall one by one. The sound of metal clashing against metal is constant.

Ever since the sun rose, they have been fighting, and with each enemy they kill, another shows up, and another ally falls. He doesn even know who they are or where they came from. No one knows anything about them; they just appeared and attacked during the night. There was never a warning.

Suddenly, the enemy musketmen emerge from hiding and point their firearms at the knights again. Plumes of thick smoke appear as the thunderous noise of death fills everyones ears. Another volley of gunfire shreds through the street, and Neris falls. It feels like he was knocked down by a cavalry unit with a lance, getting the wind knocked out of him, and he groans as he rolls over. He notices a massive dent in his breastplate on his shoulder with black burn marks. His armor deflected the projectile, but most of his fellow knights weren so lucky.

It must be the enchantments his armor has which saved him. It was expensive to get his armor enchanted, making them stronger and more durable. His friends had thought enchanting his armor was a waste, but now he knows it was well worth it. And to think that the dwarves were mindlessly bragging about making the best armor in all the lands.

Neris struggles to regain his senses as the battle continues to rage on. He sluggishly puts his hands under him and tries to stand back up. Then he hears the most satisfying thing hes heard all day.

Speaking in their native elf language, the commanding knight yells out, ”Friendly reinforcements have entered the city! Keep fighting! ”

Sure enough, as soon as Neris gets on his feet, a streak of bright red light flashes by and impacts behind the enemy musketmen. The following explosion engulfs the enemy, but it also destroys the wall of the building behind them. The shockwave nearly knocks down Neris, and stone and wood debris scatter everywhere as half of the building collapses.

Neris turns around and sees a sight he won forget. On the roof of one of the buildings is a robed mage with a staff. It glows red with magic. Beside the mage emerge dozens of archers, all synchronized as they aim.

The commanding officer orders the remaining knights to push forward, and Neris regains focus. He tightly grips his sword and charges at his next opponent. Volleys of arrows rain down from the elf archers, striking the enemy without fail.

With increasing reinforcements, the Neris and his compatriots can overpower the invaders. The enemy has lost both their numerical advantage and otherworldly ranged weapons. They are outmatched, and their attack has failed.

Neris hacks and slashes with every ounce of strength. A constant stream of magic reinforces the blunt energy behind every strike. The last remnants of enemy resistance are cut down, and the fight ends relatively quickly. Neris looks around at the carnage; dozens of bodies, both allies and enemies, lay dead. The once beautifully crafted stone roads are stained with blood and littered with debris.

More reinforcements arrive to aid his battered platoon members. The mage with the staff attempts to heal his allies minor injuries while the more critically injured knights are taken away.

Even though this skirmish is over, the battle for the city rages on. Swords clashing against swords can still be heard in neighboring streets, and the deadly sounds of thunder reverberate through the air. Its everywhere.

Neris walks towards the half-collapsed building where the remains of the enemy musketmen and their weapons lay on the ground. Its roof has fallen on one side, forming a ramp up to the remaining half. Neris struggles, but he manages to get to the top and gets a better look at his beloved home. The coastal city of Seren is on fire. Staring toward the ocean in the distance, he can see countless silhouettes in the water. The unmistakable shape of sails dots the orange horizon, and he recognizes that the true battle for the city is about to begin.

Another wave is coming.

.

.

Far away from all the woes of war, a new day rises. In an isolated country, there is an ongoing celebration.

Cheering and applause overtake all senses as crowds celebrate in front of a massive neoclassical building called the Federal Palace, the countrys capitol building. The Federation of Hirreinica has just inaugurated thirty-six-year-old Dennis Robert Wilson as its seventh President.

Overlooking the crowds from the polished marble balcony he was sworn in, Dennis stands tall with a unique appearance as he gives his inaugural address to the people. A light brown beard with an imperial mustache and a slicked-back undercut. Hes wearing a black morning dress, like most other officials attending the ceremony. Hes also notably one of the few men not wearing a top hat, as is common in current fashion.

”We shall forever remember the tragedy that befell our lands all those years ago and commemorate those who sacrificed their lives by ensuring greatness to what they helped create. ”

Dennis voice is magnified through loudspeakers as he nears the end of his speech, but he still exerts his voice to convey passion. Patriotism builds within the hearts of citizens hanging on to Dennis words. At only forty-eight years since its founding, Hirreinica is a very young country, younger than many attendees. Few know that Hirreinica is the culmination of nearly half a century of clandestine American manipulation. Even so, Hirreinicas short history is unlike any other country, full of immense progress and success.

In the minds of the older guests, Hirreinica is both a blessing and a curse. Its a country born out of one of the deadliest and most devastating wars in recent history. It has brought lasting peace and progression but also rapid change, pushing aside centuries worth of culture and tradition.

”With your trust bestowed upon me, I shall do my utmost to bring prosperity to the five realms of our great federation. Hirreinica will continue to grow and become a shining beacon in these eternal lands of chaos. Starting today, a new era begins! ”

Dennis waves his hands as the crowds erupt in ear-shattering applause. Emotions run high and optimism higher, for Hirreinica enters a new age under new leadership. Joyful faces stare up at the unique flag of their beloved country, hung on the tallest flagpoles in Wesking, the capital city. Camera crews swing around the large boxy and primitive mechanical contraptions trying to capture every moment. The images of the Capitol are broadcasted to analog television sets across the country for citizens to see.

As the ceremony comes to a close, President Dennis Wilson makes his way inside the Federal Palace, accompanied by several agents of the Hirreinican Secret Service, whom all wear identical black three-piece suits, bowler hats, and dark sunglasses with large round lenses. All of them with facial hair. Dennis clears his throat as he walks, having strained his voice in his speech. It took much effort to express himself so energetically. Hes usually far more reserved.

”Are you alright, sir? ” asks one of the agents.

”Im alright, ” Dennis speaks more softly, ”Im just not used to giving public speeches. ”

Dennis makes his way through the interior of the Federal Palace. Its a magnificent neoclassical building that is finely decorated with a vintage aesthetic incorporating modern touches. Marble floors, mahogany wainscotting, and bronze electric lamps. He enters a hall where several senators, representatives, governors, and other government officials have congregated following the ceremony.

Dennis stops, slides his fingers into his waistcoats pocket to take out his polished silver pocket watch, and checks the time. He should be heading to the home he will live in for the next four years.

”Mister Wilson, ” a firm voice calls out.

Upon looking up, Dennis finds an older thick bearded gentleman wearing a dark full dress uniform, brightly decorated with gold embroidery, epaulettes, lanyards, medallions, and other ornaments. Hes King Mikel of Madariaga, one of the five monarchs of Hirreinica.

”Or rather, I should say, Mister President. ”

”Your Majesty, ” Dennis calmly replies as he tucks the pocket watch back into his waistcoat.

”Chosen by the will of the people. Quite an accomplishment, congratulations. ” King Mikel extends his hand.

Dennis shakes his hand and says, ”Thank you. I hope you enjoyed the ceremony. ”

”They never cease to intrigue me. ”

”Are you attending the inaugural ball later this evening? ” Dennis asks.

”I wouldn dare miss it. My family will be coming as well. I hope to introduce you to them. Prince Hodei even took leave from the Army to attend. ”

”I heard he was just promoted. Give him my regards. Im sure the people of Madariaga are proud of their Prince. ”

”Of course. He has his eyes set on becoming one of the Armys elite infantry units. There is no better honor for a royal than serving in the Armys best. By the way, I heard you still haven filled a few cabinet positions. May I suggest a few family members? ”

Dennis gently laughs off King Mikels attempt to assert his influence. Its a common occurrence that both men find humorous since they know no royal member will ever hold any official position in government. They understand that the Hirreinican Constitution dictates explicitly that the five monarchies of Hirreinica are purely ceremonial within their respective realm and can not hold any office in government, federal or otherwise. They serve only a cultural purpose, being representatives of their peoples traditions. Their fathers, before their ascension, agreed to these circumstances before merging their kingdoms with the rising federation.

But King Mikel and the other monarchs show no grudge over their reduced status. After half a century of rapid development and prosperity, they have become content with the Federation of Hirreinica. War has become a distant memory since its founding, and the Hirreinican people wouldn have it any other way.

”I already have a few individuals in mind, Your Majesty. No need to worry, ” Dennis says.

”How about my daughter? A President without a First Lady is no President at all. ”

Once again, Dennis brushes it off and only smirks. ”At most, shed be First Lady for eight years. You know political marriages are long gone. ”

”Mister President, ” one of the Secret Service agents says to Dennis, ”they
e waiting for you. ”

Dennis nods and says to Mikel, ”I should get going. We can speak more at the ball. ”

”Good luck Mister President. ”

Dennis walks away and follows the Secret Service agent leading him outside the Federal Palace towards a waiting motorcade. They are a new model of motorized vehicle designed after the American 1963 Lincoln Continental.

As the Presidential Motorcade departs the capitol building and heads for the Executive Mansion, a slight emergency arises elsewhere.

.

.

Several miles away, inside a massive hexagon-shaped building, several men in army service dress uniforms hurriedly make their way through the concrete and steel maze. Office workers step aside to let them through, realizing something significant has happened. One of the men, Leon Beckett, has three silver stars on both shoulders, clearly indicating his rank as Lieutenant General. All of them have worried faces.

The Hex, as it is called, is home to Hirreinicas military. Its where the Department of Defense is headquartered and where it commands whats perhaps the most sophisticated armed forces on Tammus.

General Beckett and his entourage reach the doors to an empty conference room where security officers let them through. Immediately, folders are thrown onto the glossy oak wood table in the middle. Beckett is visibly irritated.

”Years of hard and extensive work have culminated for this single day! We are minutes away from launching the first military satellite into orbit, and Im not there to watch! Whatever you brought me here for, it better be important! What happened? ” Beckett asks.

”Samagos has just been invaded, General. ”

The officer opens and sets down a map on the table. The map is titled Known World and displays only three land masses located in the north, center, and south. The northern continent is labeled Yurega with a star drawn on the western half with small text reading Wesking. The central continent is labeled Samagos, and the southern continent is labeled Hayerk.

”Right here. ” The officer points to a southeastern portion of Samagos. ”In the Grand Duchy of Eshe. ”

”Why do we care? It was only a matter of time before war broke out in that region. ”

”General, the situation is grave. Enough to prompt military surveillance in that region, at which point satellite communications will become a priority. ”

General Beckett absorbs the severity in the officers voice before he asks, ”Who invaded? ”

”Imperium Visantium. They call themselves Visanti. Witnesses say there are hundreds of their ships near the coast. ”

”And where is this Imperium Visantium located? ”

The officers glance at each other with concern. ”We don know. They
e not from any of the three continents. ”

Beckett lifts his head, visibly confused. ”They obviously came from somewhere. ”

The officer then points to the vast empty ocean labeled East Madic on the right side of the map and says, ”We think they originate from an undiscovered landmass in the east. Its confirmed that they speak a language not known to exist in Yurega, Samagos, or Hayerk, but there are some similarities to our English. And they use the same script as us. ”

That in itself is unnaturally odd. Hirreinica is the only country that uses the English language and alphabet. Even then, English as a language was relatively unknown before Hirreinica was founded, having been confined to a small portion of the continent.

”We also confirmed that these invaders wield firearms, General, ” another officer adds. ”The elves repelled most coastal raids, but their defenses were breached in a few areas. Battles are ongoing as we speak. ”

”How the hell can that be possible? We should be the only country with firearms. ”

No one can answer Beckett. They are all at a loss at how another civilization obtained firearms. This is clearly a major revelation for the Hirreinican military and a threat they must study further. As far as historical records go, no one has documented the existence of eastern continents or civilizations, mainly because no one has dared to venture that far into the endless oceans.

”For them to coordinate these attacks with hundreds of ships simultaneously means that they had this planned. ” Beckett taps his finger on the map as he thinks aloud. ”If they originate from a landmass in the far east, they must have sent explorers or scouts beforehand, correct? How did no one notice them until now? ”

”W-well, ” one of the officers hesitates, ”Federal Intelligence was already aware of unknown explorers for several months. But they only just shared their files with us in light of the attacks. ”

”What?! Federal Intelligence already knew? Why did they not tell us? ”

”We don know, ” the officer responds, ”maybe they didn think they would be a threat. ”

”Clearly, they were! Where are our nearest assets? Can we get reliable eyes on the invading forces? ”

”All ground and air assets are within our borders. And the nearest available naval units are near our coasts in anticipation of the satellite launch. The only people that might already be there would be from Federal Intelligence. ”

”Damn it! If we
e fast, we can get our own observers on the scene within a week at best. Inform the President of everything we know. He should have arrived at the Executive Mansion by now. ”

They all salute General Beckett before leaving him alone in the room. He stares at the map on the table. Its only half a world map, showing only one hemisphere of Tammus. Hirreinica could have sailed across the world years ago, but there was never a reason to. Historically, the country adopted isolationist policies as soon as it got on its feet, making it infamously known as a hermit nation to foreign societies. Exploration would simply bring too much unwanted attention, especially if its status as an insignificant country can be used to its advantage in the future. No one truly knows the extent of their capability.

.

.

Hours later, the countrys new President has already arrived at the Executive Mansion, a grandeur neoclassical palace where the First Family resides. It sits perfectly at the fork of a river.

Sitting at his new shiny desk, President Dennis R. Wilson takes his time to absorb all that has happened. He mindlessly stares at an analog television set seated against the wall of the large, decorated office. The machine displays a grainy, low-resolution image of a rocket waiting to launch with the sunny beaches of an island in the background. But Dennis focus isn on the pending rocket launch. Its on his new job. Being president is still setting in, as he never thought he would be elected. His thoughts and emotions are mixed.

Countless candidates were running for President. Many of whom were already well-established and known. Most had sizable reputations and prominent personalities to go along with them. Even still, somehow, someway, Dennis ended up winning. It wasn a close race, but neither was it a landslide. His promised policies, political stance, and overall planned direction of his administration are relatively moderate, significantly differing from the other candidates. Dennis is a soft-spoken man, rarely raising his voice to the high energy levels of his opponents, who are far more vocal and aggressive. So if Dennis wasn the loudest and proudest, how did he win?

Dennis suspects that the public preferred him precisely because his administration would be the least extreme. Its a reflection of themselves, a pacifist populace who can decide between all the egotistical politicians with big and controversial plans. That, or his uniqueness among politicians created enough contrast for him to outshine them all.

Nevertheless, Dennis isn particularly thrilled after overcoming the odds against him and becoming the most powerful individual in the country. He stares at the television without showing any excitement about becoming President. In fact, he never intended to serve as President, nor did he want to. Its part of the reason he was far more reserved than the candidates who bathed in the spotlights.

Behind closed doors, Dennis is an undercover American agent. Most of the Presidential candidates are secretly American operatives, as well as half the Senators in Congress. His purpose in running was solely to saturate the ballots and reduce the likelihood that a native politician would take office. The CIA had someone else in mind to be President. Winning was an accident.

”Mister President. ” A voice takes him out of his daze.

A couple of men in similar black attire enter the office. They are both American/Hirreinican intelligence officers.

”How
e you holding up, Wilson? ” one officer asks.

”Overwhelmed, but thats an understatement, ” Dennies replies.

”Already winning the space race? ” the officer sarcastically says and points to the analog television. ”You work fast. It looks like its about ready to go. ”

They watch the television set as the image vibrates when the rocket engines finally ignite. Fire and smoke violently spew from the pad. The large red arms swing out and release the rocket as it slowly ascends.

”Ain that something? ” the man says to Dennis.

”So, what are you here for? ” Dennis asks.

The intelligence officers slide a few profile images of women in front of him with their names scribbled in ink.

”Just crossed Gateway Eureka recently, ” the officer says, referring to the portal connecting Earth with Tammus.

”What for? ”

”They
e your nominations for the remaining cabinet positions. ”

”Really? Women? You know, a lot of people here still cling to their old ways. There are still a lot of old-timers from before the Federation. People aren gonna stomach a military headed by a female Secretary of Defense too easily. ”

”Call it a little social experiment. Hirreinica is ready to take another step away from those old social structures. What better way than have them in some of the most powerful offices in the country? ”

Dennis slides his fingers through his hair as he can already see his approval rating taking the hit. When the country was founded and abruptly enforced universal suffrage and equality, the backlash nearly caused another war for its sheer radicalism. But Dennis can agree that current cultural expectations remain rigid and need a firm push.

”Alright, sure, ” Dennis says with a defeated tone. ”They get the job. Lets just hope it goes smoothly with the public. Is there anything else you need? ”

”Youll probably hear from the military later today, but Samagos was just invaded. The culprits came from the other side of the world, though you should already know this. ”

”Hardly. I heard a lone nuclear submarine found an unknown ship out of pure chance and tailed it to Samagos. I didn even know we patrolled that far out. ”

”Few people did. Anyways, the Director should have sent you a memo. ”

One of the officers lifts a briefcase from his lap and opens it on the desk as they talk. Handcuffs secure the briefcase to the officers hand.

”It was something about a new directorate in Federal Intelligence. Whats that all about? ” Dennis asks.

After unlocking the briefcases lock with a key, the officer places a folder in front of Dennis. It has large bold letters that read Top Secret.

”Thats whats in here. The American President authorized a joint intelligence directorate—the Directorate of Exotic Development. Actually, he authorized it two months ago. Im one of its board directors. ”

Dennis opens the folder and is met with a myriad of classified information. The Directorate of Exotic Development—DED—or simply Dead for short, is a secret joint effort by Hirreinicas and Americas respective intelligence agencies. The FIA and CIA. The first page is titled Operation SIROTHESTER, dated November 2016.

”Rothester, ” Dennis softly says, ”thats what we
e doing? Again? ”

”Theres no better time than now. Isolation won last for too long. Those invaders arrogantly laid out their plans for everyone. Invade and conquer. No mercy. They will come for us eventually. ”

Invade and conquer? If conflict spreads to Hirreinica, Dennis can already see the problem. They will need to intervene at some point or another.

Hirreinica is the most technologically advanced country in any of the three continents, courtesy of the United States. The technological disparity between Hirreinica and other known civilizations is measured by centuries. However, no one outside Hirreinica knows it is a developed country. The first president historically enacted a strict policy of isolation. Hirreinica, as the world currently believes, is a closed-off hermit state. They are mysterious people who hide and keep to themselves, having limited economic ties to foreign nations.

Hirreinicans are an extremely pacifistic people as a result of isolation. A sudden war to expel the invaders will be far more harmful than good, especially when the fight is on another continent. It simply won be tolerated. So, doing what they do best, the CIA wants a clandestine operation to do all the work, one more grand than any before.

”To defeat the invaders without fighting them, huh? And with none the wiser. How are we going to do this? We have no presence on the other side of the world. No friends to give us a hand and no expeditionary capability, ” Dennis questions.

”Since the DED is officially a research organization, itll have researchers in the field. Its good cover. No one will go through our files thinking we
e stirring a revolution. The board will oversee two groups, one for home and one for abroad. First is the Homeland Analysis and Assistance Group, and the other the Field Research and Observations Group. Or simply the Hag and her Frog, respectively. ”

”Whoever made these names must of had a fun day. Why do you need two groups? ”

”Hag will act as command and control. Theyll support Frog teams with intelligence and resources. But right now, Hag is inactive until satellite communications are up and running. ”

Dennis flips through the pages of the document to see more of the operation. Operation SIROTHESTER is the master plan for Hirreinican control, and it is split up into several stages. The first stage is codenamed SIDELINE, which is already in motion.

The intelligence officer then lays out more documents in front of Dennis. Four profile images of four men are in the corner, with their names, training, and experiences listed underneath. The first thing noticed is that its an all-American team, fresh from Earth.

”The Special Activities Division recruited these four. Well, actually, just one: Michael Speer. Delta Force. He personally handpicked the other three. A Ranger and two from Special Forces. This team will be sent to the other side and operate undercover, blending in with whatever society is over there and make way for the next stages. ”

”Infiltrate and manipulate, ” the other officer says, ”thats their goal. ”

”Just like Rothester, ” Dennis whispers. ”How long do they have to complete the first phase? ”

”Depends on the defenders in Samagos. We estimate a year or two before hostile ships start probing our shores. Maybe more if we lend some help. This team is the first and only team in Frog, but we expect more teams to join them once they get settled in. ”

Dennis reads through the profiles of each operator. He carefully analyzes their skills and capabilities. Recruiting soldiers wouldn typically be done for something akin to espionage, but the other side of the world is entirely unknown. Monsters and magic aside, they don know how hostile or dangerous it is, so combat experience is prioritized. They will need to be ready for any threat thrown at them.

”Devons, Kaufman, Montgomery, Speer… ” Dennis reads their names as he flips through the pages. He then notices something peculiar about one of the operators.

”This guy, Kaufman. The youngest of the four. Just released from hospital with a questionable mental state. ” Dennis looks up at the officers with a concerned facial expression. ”Why is he leading and not Speer? ”

The officer exhales and says, ”Speer insisted. Said it would straighten him out after the hell he went through. ”

”This is some heavy stuff. ” Dennis reads further into Kaufmans profile. ”Even earned himself a nickname by the locals. El Cazador? ”

”The Huntsman, ” the officer translates.

”Half of this stuff is illegal, ” Dennis points out.

”Officially, it never happened. ”

”Looks like that notoriety came back to bite him in the ass. Whats the official story there? ”

”A case of mistaken identity. Cartel went for a hit and got the wrong people. ”

”Whatever, ” Dennis sighs, ”where are they now? And what do we call them? ”

”Callsign is Indigo. They were sent out about a month ago. They should be arriving anytime now. ”

.

.

Halfway across the world, a massive coastal city wakes from its slumber in the morning hours as the rising sun shines an orange hue across the clouds. The citys coastline and docks are already swarmed with activity, its scenery dotted with inbound and outbound sailships. With the density of vessels offshore waiting to dock, the combined silhouette of their masts seems as if a forest floats atop the water.

A large full-rigged merchant ship prepares to dock among the crowd of sailships as sailors scramble around. A single man with a short beard stands motionless on the deck. He wears black trousers and a white shirt. His black hair flows with the wind as he observes the city for a few moments before turning to a nearby sailor to ask, ”What city is this? ”

”This here is Casturbon, mate! Biggest city in the Central Sea! ” the sailor replies before turning away.

Satisfied with the answer, the short-bearded man makes his way to the ships lower decks.

The loud creaking of wood echoes throughout the hull as he walks down the stairs. The muffled voices become louder and louder until its the only thing he hears. Its humid, and the smell is abysmal. The waves push and shove to sway the ship back and forth. The wooden floors are stained with patterns of dark spots as if they were canvas splattered with paint, courtesy of seasick sailors, leaving behind an enduring stench.

In the crowded berth deck, sunlight beams creep through the hulls cracks to shine faintly into an otherwise dark space. A circle of sailors surrounds two brawlers, betting on who falls first. Their hardy laughter overpowers the senses.

The short-bearded man walks past the brawl and towards a dark corner of the berth deck where three other similarly dressed men are at. One sleeps in a hammock, another sleeps on top of wooden crates, and the third sits on the floor, leaning against a chest with his head down.

He gently kicks the foot of the man who sits on the floor, and the man lifts his head. He brushes his dark brown hair away from his face to reveal his tired, hazel eyes.

”We
e here, ” the short-bearded man says. ”Mission start. ”

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