“Eh? Pirates?”

Iris followed the captain’s gaze and adjusted her optical magnification by a factor of six. Indeed, there was a group of ships – eighteen, not sixteen – approaching their own ship at a high speed. Each of these ships flew the same flag, a black flag with a white skull superimposed against a pair of crossed bones. The ships were crewed by burly, muscled men, far outnumbering the captain’s measly crew of fifteen. As Iris watched, there was a flash of light, then a fireball came hurtling towards their ship. She felt the shield on her arm grow slightly warmer, and the fireball crashed into an invisible barrier before reaching the deck of the ship, dissipating.

The captain turned to Iris with an impressed glance, but Iris only returned a sweet smile, stroking Tate’s outer rim, enveloped by a sense of happy warmth through the mental link.

“So, captain. What are we going to do?”

Iris could, in fact, sink the entire enemy flotilla from where she stood. However, it would require her to use her shooters in close proximity to the sailors, and that was technology which the world in its current state would not be able to comprehend. It might cause problems for Lily if she were to use it without consideration. Therefore, she was resolved not to use her shooters unless the situation took a dire turn. But more than that, she was curious about how the captain would act. The man carried about him an air of confidence and experience; he likely had a plan.

The captain rubbed his chin as he thought about their situation, then sighed. He turned to the signaller and shouted.

“Raise the white flag and stop this ship’s movement!”

Iris cast her gaze aside, disappointed.

“Surrender, huh.”

Iris primed her Varia pack and prepared for battle, sighing and shaking her head. However, the captain continued staring at the enemy flotilla with resolve burning in his eyes.

“Nay, lass. Parley. We’re going to negotiate.”

“Negotiate? After they opened fire on us? Obviously they have no intention of negotiating.”

“Still, we are honor-bound to give them the chance.”

Iris cocked an eyebrow. She found it strange to think about honor when they were in a possibly life-threatening situation. Perhaps it was a human quirk. If so, it was a horribly impractical one.

In accordance with the captain’s instructions, the ship stopped moving and the white flag was raised. In her magnified vision, Iris saw the pirates pointing at the party’s ship and laughing, while their vessels picked up speed and closed in. Soon, the party’s ship was completely surrounded by the pirates, who were jeering at them. One well-dressed man in a coat stepped onto the party’s ship, holding the guard of a cutlass at his side while he strode. He carried himself with an air of dignity and refinement, but there was something about him that repulsed Iris. The captain strode forward and held the man’s gaze.

“I presume you’re the leader of this lot then.”

The man laughed and clasped his hands behind his back, casually pacing in front of the captain. The captain did not move from his spot.

“I suppose you could say that, yes. These men do follow my instructions. My, my. This is a nice ship. Very big, very spacious. Perhaps you’d like to give it to us?”

“Gonna have to say no to that. Can’t give up this ship.”

The man laughed.

“I’m sorry, you seem to think you have a choice in the matter.”

The pirates that had started boarding the ship, a party of about twenty, chuckled and jeered. The man smirked, and his eyes came to rest on Iris.

“Oh, what do we have here? A beautiful flower, adrift on the sea. Tell you what, old man. I’ll let you keep your ship. In exchange, give us this lovely beauty you have over there.”

“That I’ll have to refuse as well. The lass is my client.”

The man laughed and walked over to Iris.

“Then I’ll burn this ship and take her by force.”

He moved to place one gloved hand on the face of the stoic Iris. Just as she was about to blow a hole in his head with the Varia, however, a phantasmal sword made of condensed mana pierced his chest. Staggering away, he clutched his chest, clawing at the wound, even as he began to cough up blood, gurgling and choking. He turned his head toward the captain, but the captain had not moved from his spot. He staggered back a few more steps, then collapsed on the deck, dead.

“It seems negotiations have failed.”

The captain did not move as he spoke, his hands in the pockets of his coat. Behind him, tens, no, hundreds of phantasmal swords appeared, floating in the air. Some were made of pure, condensed mana. Some were burning with fire. Some were cackling with electricity. Each was the size of a claymore. The pirate group that had boarded the ship paled at this sight, and turned to flee back onto their vessels. The captain waited until they were off his ship, then each was impaled by a mana sword, sent flying at speeds incomprehensible to the human eye, impaling them even as they tried to cross their boarding platform. He turned to Iris to offer an explanation.

“See, cleaning blood off the deck’s annoying. So I generally try to avoid killing anyone until they get off my ship. That guy over there’s an exception though.”

He gestured at the prone corpse of the pirates’ leader with a jerk of his head, then turned his attention to a myriad of magic attacks that were now flying directly at him. For each incoming projectile, a mana sword launched and intercepted the attack, interfering with their mana construction, causing them to dissipate harmlessly above the ship. As the pirate flotilla began distancing itself from his ship, turning to flee, hundreds of swords made of fire struck each ship’s hull, engulfing the flotilla in a surreal ember light as the ships blazed, burning up, and burning each ship’s crew. Those few that managed to abandon ship in time and jump into the ocean were immediately struck down with mana swords. All the while, the captain did not move, and the stock of phantasmal swords floating behind him showed no signs of diminishing: each time one was launched, another two took its place. Iris checked her archives for the classification of this magic, and found a partial match.

<<Spellsword>>. A magic system that allowed users to create phantasmal swords out of thin air using mana, with the added ability of imbuing said swords with aspects of a natural element. However, according to her data, even those with an affinity for the system were able to create only three swords at a time, on average. To be able to sustain hundreds at a time, to be able to create replacements at such a quick rate, was the mark of a <<Paragon>>.

The captain turned to the single pirate ship left, the one furthest away, which he had left unscathed. Through her magnified vision, Iris saw the crew of that ship panicking, pointing and shouting at each other. The captain spoke, his voice ringing out across the water, his coat billowing out behind him on the wind.

“Go! Tell your allies that this is the fate of those who would attempt to sink Ragneil, Captain of the Atonement!”