5.17 S

“Me?”

Selys stood in a dark room. A flame in an oil lamp gave it light, but it was too dark. A black casket lay on the long hardwood table in the center of the room. It seemed to absorb what little light there was. Outside the rain fell, turning everything dark and obscuring the sky. Selys stood, listening to the screaming.

“Check it again. I don’t care. Check it again! That can’t be what he wrote!”

The [Mage] standing in the scrying orb was being besieged by all sides. He held up the will like a shield as the angry Drake woman shouted at him.

“General Shivertail’s will is perfectly clear! Miss Shivertail, he left his personal equipment to one Selys Shivertail. That would include the—”

His gaze flicked towards Selys, towards the casket. Selys remembered the brilliant armor. But she also remembered her uncle’s face. She didn’t know what to say. Her face was pale. Her knees felt weak. She knew she should be shocked, and she was. But another thought was surfacing in her mind, cresting all the other thoughts.

Why? Why did you have to do that, Uncle?

Her first reaction wasn’t gratitude. Selys wasn’t agog at her good fortune. For a moment, just a moment, she was angry at Zel, angry at her uncle, for putting her in this situation. And then she was ashamed. She looked at the casket and then at the angry Drakes, fighting over Zel Shivertail’s possessions. His sister-in-law was pointing at her and screeching.

“Unacceptable! Unacceptable! That Drake girl isn’t one of the main family! She didn’t even know my brother!”

“Selys.”

Someone shifted the scrying orb. Selys saw Watch Captain Zevara hold the noisy magical artifact away from her. She edged over to Selys and whispered.

“Why did General Shivertail leave…?”

She looked stunned. Selys stared at her and shrugged.

“That’s Uncle Zel for you.”

Watch Captain Zevara gaped. Selys laughed a bit bitterly.

“He must have written the will years ago. Back when I wanted—well, I used to want to be an adventurer. He remembered it and never said anything.”

“Typical of him, really.”

Tekshia looked only a bit shaken. She glanced at the casket and shook her head. She looked almost fond for a second.

“He would accidentally leave you something like that. He never wore fancy armor and he had few magical artifacts compared to other [Generals]. Did you hear that part about giving you a sword? I bet he thought…”

All three Drakes winced as they heard an angry squawk from the orb. Zevara looked at Selys and made a rapid decision. She cleared her throat loudly and stared into the scrying orb.

“Ladies and gentledrakes, I’m afraid I must interrupt. Am I to assume that the contents of General Shivertail’s will have been read out?”

“Yes! And there’s nothing I can do to change it!”

The beleaguered [Mage] was shielding himself from several angry members of the Shivertail family. Zevara nodded.

“In that case, I, Zevara Sunderscale have borne witness and will oversee the distribution of General Shivertail’s will within Liscor.”

“Oh no you won’t.

The angry sister-in-law strode up to the scrying orb. Selys got a good look at her nostrils and angry mouth as she grabbed it and glared into it.

“That will cannot apply to the armor! Where is this Selys Shivertail? Is that her? Come over here! Renounce your claim to the armor—”

“Enough, Xalia!”

Zel Shivertail’s father angrily grabbed for the orb. He glared into it and stared at Selys.

“This will be a matter for our cities to decide. Watch Captain Zevara, I want you to hold onto the armor until—”

“You don’t give orders here! Give that back to me!”

Xalia fought with her father over the orb. Zevara regarded the skirmishing Drakes with a look of revulsion. She spoke loudly as she held the scrying orb away from her face.

“The will is clear. Zel Shivertail has left his possessions to Miss Selys Shivertail. You may dispute the will’s contents as you please under the law, but until then, I’m afraid we have pressing business to attend to in Liscor. I apologize for the necessity, but we really must go.”

“Don’t you dare—

Zevara muttered a word and the scream was cut short. The room was suddenly very quiet. Selys looked at Zevara. Tekshia sighed.

“Ancestors, what a mess. Now I remember why I haven’t seen my sister in twelve years.”

“What’s going to happen?”

Selys looked around, her tail twitching uncertainly. The two older Drakes looked at her and Selys was dismayed to see that neither of them had an answer for her. The awkward silence was punctuated by a door opening.

“Watch Captain? Is everything alright in here?”

A Gnoll [Guardsmen] glanced inside quickly. He must have heard the shouting. Zevara looked at him. She glanced at Selys, hesitated, and then snapped an order.

“No. Get me every [Guardsman] you can spare and secure this building! I want Relc, Klbkch—and get me Wall Lord Ilvriss and Embria!”

She turned to Selys and Tekshia as the Gnoll barked an order and someone started running. Zevara sighed.

“You’d better take a seat. This might take a while.”

They looked at Zel Shivertail’s casket.

“Elsewhere. I’ll find you a room.”

Selys stared at the Watch Captain as she strode out the door. Then she looked at the casket as her grandmother began muttering about Wall Lords and the army. A [Fireball] had just landed right in the middle of Selys’ normal life and blown it to pieces. But it had already been shattered.

Zel Shivertail was dead. Her uncle was gone. All that followed seemed oddly appropriate in light of it. Selys took a seat and waited. What else was there to do?

 

—-

 

“The Heartflame Breastplate. A national artifact and a symbol of the Drake people. Mentioned in several stories and older myths…the last known sighting was over two centuries ago in a war between the Humans and our people. General Ironscales had possession of the armor and it was deemed lost when she fell in battle.”

Ilvriss stood with his back to the window. His eyes blazed. He was a Lord of the Wall, but he looked as excited as a child who’d peeked into the Adventurer’s Guild for the first time. His tail swished back and forth as he spoke.

“We know the legends. The stories of it stopping an enchanted lance thrust to the heart? It never being broken? All confirmed by history. Of course, I haven’t had the time to properly investigate all the old tales—and Liscor lacks an archive. But every [General] knows the stories.”

“Stories. Myths. An artifact from the legends was sitting in the Reinhart armory for two hundred years. And turns up now.”

Tekshia sat in a chair, looking older than Selys could remember. Ilvriss nodded and the spark went out.

“True. It didn’t save General Shivertail. He—must have been truly cornered to have fought so hard.”

He looked towards the door. They were sitting in another room. Ilvriss had come at once and he’d seen Zel’s body. He looked—Selys had heard of his animosity with Zel, but Ilvriss looked truly unhappy. He shook himself, as if trying to wake himself.

“Speculation about his death is…in regards to the armor, I concur with Watch Captain Zevara’s assessment. It does belong to Selys Shivertail by law.”

“You’re serious?”

Selys looked up. She stared at Tekshia and Ilvriss.

“This had better not be a joke. Grandma, if this is anything like that prank you pulled on my 20th birthday, I swear I’ll—”

“This is no joke, Miss Shivertail.”

Ilvriss stroked at his chin with a claw as he spoke. Selys shut up. It really was intimidating to be around him. Not only was Ilvriss classically handsome in all the Drake ways, he was a Lord of the Wall. That was practically royalty to Liscor, who had no nobility of their own. And Erin had thrown a pan at him? Selys was too nervous to do anything but listen as Ilvriss spoke with the confidence of his station.

“Drake law is specific. We lost the Heartflame Breastplate in a war with the Humans. Whomever had a claim to it lost that claim and it became a possession of Zel Shivertail when Magnolia Reinhart gave it to him. He gave it to Miss Selys via his will, so it is legally hers.”

“Is there a specific law that states that? My extended family will fight tooth and claw if it isn’t.”

Tekshia looked at Ilvriss. He closed his eyes and nodded.

“‘Lands, property, and possessions lost to war are forfeited. A city, group, or individual cannot claim ownership over an object they used for the purpose of making war.’ The Agreement at Osthia, ECL. 426.”

“What a weird law. Why would we give away anything we lose in war?”

Selys shook her head. She’d just had a conversation with Erin about that very thing. Ilvriss smiled drily.

“If that law didn’t exist we’d go to war more often than we did. Like wills, these laws were put in place in order to prevent fights over lost treasures.”

“And conveniently, it means that Miss Selys’ case is rock solid. Anyone who wants that armor will have to overturn universal law to get it. Even a Walled City would have trouble making that case.”

Watch Captain Zevara sighed as she rubbed her eyes. She looked at Ilvriss.

“…And that means we have a national-grade artifact sitting in the other room. Ancestors. I’ve got Relc watching General Shivertail’s body with his partner, but I’ll need more than that if word gets out.”

“I will send my men to secure the building.”

Ilvriss nodded at once. Zevara raised a weary claw.

“Thank you, Wall Lord. But Wing Commander Embria insists her men take that duty. We’ll move everything to a safer location within the hour, as soon as a [Healer] arrives to…”

She broke off delicately. Tekshia snorted.

“Rob my nephew’s corpse? Did you have to tell that army hothead what was happening?”

“I didn’t have a choice! I’m a Watch Captain, Miss Tekshia. It’s my duty and they would kick up a fuss if I didn’t mention it. And I’m sure they’ll want to speak with Selys about…”

All eyes turned to Selys. She looked around.

“My armor?”

Her armor. The Heartflame Breastplate. Selys wanted to think about it, but the image of Zel’s face kept flashing through her mind. Why was no one talking…? Probably because this was easier to talk about. Because this was something they could actually do something about. The older Drakes talked, arguing about what should be done. Selys sat still, not really listening.

She felt like throwing up. Why was all this happening? Before she knew it, it was dark and Tekshia was turning to her.

“Selys, dear. Go back home and sleep. We’ll sort this out.”

“Gee, thanks, Grandma.”

Selys tried to be sarcastic, but her heart wasn’t in it. Ilvriss turned.

“I’ll send someone—”

“Forget it. The rain’s not going to kill me.”

Selys got up and walked out of the room. The older Drakes looked at each other. Zevara sighed.

“But someone else might. Do you think Miss Selys understands what just happened?”

Tekshia sighed.

“She’s young. And she just saw her uncle’s corpse. I don’t think she’s grasped it yet.”

“Well, what should be done?”

Zevara looked from Ilvriss to Tekshia. All three Drakes eyed each other. They were on the same side. Nominally. But the image of that artifact shone in their minds. What would happen next?

Selys didn’t know. She walked through the street, not realizing that half a dozen shadows were following her. She walked into her small apartment, took off her soaked clothes, dried herself, changed, and lay down in her bed. She was too tired. Too tired to…

Selys slept.

 

[Heiress Class Obtained!]

[Heiress Level 4!]

[Skill –  Increased Income obtained!]

[Skill –  Lingering Presence obtained!]

 

“Ancestors!”

Selys shot out of her bed, her face lighting up with sudden surprise and happiness. Then she sagged.

“Oh.”

She stared out the dark, rainy window and then covered her face with her claws and wept.

 

—-

 

Everything happened too fast. Selys woke up after a night full of troubled dreams. She walked around her apartment, swearing and eating the dried meat and stale bread she had in her cupboards. She opened the door to her house to collect some rainwater to wash, and realized her house was being guarded. The big, burly Gnoll standing right outside her door tipped her off.

She stared at him. He nodded to her and adjusted his helmet. He was standing beneath the eaves of her doorway so the rain didn’t hit him.

“Miss Shivertail. Watch Captain Zevara sends her regards, yes? She would like to speak with you as soon as you’re willing. Before the funeral.”

Selys just looked at him. There were so many things she could say in reply, but none of them came out. Her usual biting remarks were missing. The funeral was today.

“When is it?”

The Gnoll glanced towards the sky.

“Hrr. Four and a half hours from now if I’m a judge. The bells will ring from every wall twenty minutes ahead of time. Everyone will be there. I do not think anyone would miss it, no.”

Selys didn’t think so either. She closed the door and put on her rain gear. She didn’t feel like showering. When she left her house the Gnoll [Guardsman] followed. They met Watch Captain Zevara in Liscor’s largest plaza. The Watch Captain looked like she’d been up for hours. She looked tired and grumpy as she drank a stamina potion.

Selys knew what that was like. Erin had talked about something called ‘coffee’, but all Selys knew was that if you were flagging, a stamina potion would keep you awake long enough to finish your shift. You just felt like you were dead inside the entire time.

“Miss Shivertail. Apologies for the guard. In light of recent events I thought it was best.”

“What’s all this?”

The plaza was full of people. A stage had been constructed in the center of the plaza and Selys could see wet flags, wood barricades already holding back groups of civilians…

“The Council wanted the funeral to be public.”

“Funeral. But I thought we were going to send off his body—”

Zevara paused.

“We were. But a compromise was reached last night. General Shivertail’s family have no objections to holding the funeral here. A delegation from Pallass will arrive and General Shivertail’s funeral will be seen by all the Drake cities. His ashes will be sent to his home for burial.”

Bury me with my—Selys blinked. That was the compromise? She met Zevara’s eyes and the Watch Captain nodded ever so slightly. Then Selys fixed on something else she’d said.

“Ashes? You’re going to burn him? Why?”

The Watch Captain hesitated. She gestured at the Gnoll standing behind Selys and he backed up. Zevara walked closer and lowered her voice, although the rain drowned out the sound of her voice.

“There’s been a concerning development. I’ve kept it quiet, but I thought you and your aunt should know. We had a [Healer] remove the…armor from General Shivertail. However, the Drake complained of an odd feeling and diagnosed himself as sick shortly after touching General Shivertail’s body. He fell ill and passed away within the hour, despite the use of healing potions and antidotes.”

What?

Selys stared at Zevara in shock. The Drake woman nodded grimly.

“We’ve decided to cremate General Shivertail’s corpse in light of these events. Magnolia Reinhart did warn us—I exchanged a [Message] spell with her people and they’re convinced that whatever that was only affects those that touch the body.”

“Won’t anyone mind burning…?”

“It’s standard procedure with some burials. It won’t be out of place. We can claim it was in his will. I know this is all very hard—”

“For me?”

Selys stared at Zevara. The Watch Captain nodded uncertainly.

“It must be hard to deal with.”

She saw the [Receptionist] narrow her eyes in the rain. Selys spoke slowly.

“My uncle’s dead. That’s my business. I’m not the one dealing with his dead body killing people. I’ll be fine, Watch Captain. You do your job. I’ll be fine.”

She turned and walked away. Zevara stared at her back. She turned and found someone to glare at. The Gnoll [Guardsman]. He flicked his ears unhappily as the rain pattered off his armor and helmet. Zevara glared at him. Damn Gnoll hearing.

“You didn’t hear anything.”

He saluted.

“Not a thing, Captain.”

 

—-

 

Everything was a blur. Meaningless, but inescapable in its own way. Selys stood in the wet square as people worked around her. In silence. The crowd that had gathered was tired, wet, but determined to be there. They weren’t openly mourning—they had shed all their tears a week ago. But they came, Gnolls and Drakes and Humans.

Erin came. So did Mrsha, Lyonette, and the adventurers. Selys couldn’t face them so she stood next to Zevara as the Watch Captain kept the center of the plaza clear. Selys was allowed to be there. She was a relative. People stared at her, and Tekshia when she appeared.

Zel’s funeral was a production of the highest order. He was a war hero and this event mattered. It had to matter. So Liscor had pulled out all the stops it could. So had Pallass. The Walled City had sent a company of [Soldiers] to match Liscor’s own 4th Company. Embria and her men stood in the rain, presenting her arms. Pallass’ dignitaries and senators from their Assembly of Crafts stood with Liscor’s Council for the world to see. Every Drake city was watching.

And yet, there was a limit to how much they could do. When all was said and done, this was a funeral. It couldn’t be a parade and so the grandeur and effort of the cities was in appearance. The funeral itself was shorter. Somber. Quiet, save for the rain.

It happened too quickly for Selys. Pallbearers of the city’s finest Drakes carried Zel Shivertail’s body through the streets, past silent crowds. Ilvriss, Zevara, Embria…a [General] from Pallass, other officers Selys didn’t know, carried the casket. They laid Selys’ uncle down on a pyre of wet wood. Then they gave speeches.

Selys hid behind Zevara. She would have stood behind her grandmother, but Tekshia was too short. There was no such thing as a [Priest] in this world, not anymore. It was more fitting to let Watch Captain Zevara, Embria, and the other Drake leaders give speeches anyways. Zel Shivertail had been a soldier, and this was a military burial.

She didn’t listen to the words. She just stared at the blank casket and the dried brushwood and logs soaked in oil. Liscor didn’t have much wood—they usually imported it and hoarded what they had to last through the winter and spring. They’d had to get this wood from another city. Not from Celum. Pallass had insisted on providing high quality timber, as if it made a difference. Despite the rain the fire would burn hot and bright—courtesy of an [Alchemist] mixture.

After the speeches were done, Watch Captain Zevara stood and spoke Zel’s last rites. She spoke of heroism, of courage and sacrifice, of a [General], a legend. The Tidebreaker. Nothing about Selys’ uncle. She finished with a question Selys had heard once.

“Who will stand to avenge him? Which Drake will honor his memory?”

It was a question asked after Drakes died in battle. It was customary for someone to speak. Selys waited, numb, wet, and cold, and saw the eyes of the crowd.

They were staring at her. Selys turned white with shock, and then red. She was standing in the small crowd around the casket. And she was the youngest Drake there. That sent a cold shock down Selys’ spine. They were expecting her to—

Rumors had already spread about Zel’s will. But even without them, the stares of the crowd—Selys saw a [Mage] transmitting the scene—her face—to the world. She wanted to disappear. Again, Zevara asked the question as was custom.

“Who will stand to avenge our fallen? Who will rise for Zel Shivertail?”

The eyes. Selys felt like they were all focused on her. But what was she supposed to do? She wasn’t an adventurer! She was just—

Ordinary. Selys looked down at her feet in silence. Zevara raised her voice.

“Who among you will answer the call?”

“I will.”

For a heart-stopping second Selys thought it was her. But it wasn’t. Ilvriss stepped forwards, his face grim in the rain. Selys saw some of Pallass’ senators glare at him. Then Embria stepped forwards.

“I will.”

“As will I.”

More Drakes stepped forwards. Some in the crowd, others among the dignitaries. They shouted vengeance upon the Goblin Lord, heroes of the Drakes who wouldn’t let the Tidebreaker’s death rest.

It was a pretty scene. Selys wanted it to end. After the shouting had died down, Zevara turned. This was the final moment. She accepted a torch from a [Guardsman] and Selys saw two other Drakes take the brightly burning torches.

Tekshia and Embria. They had been chosen. No one had asked Selys. It was a custom. An officer for Zel from Liscor. The Watch Captain of the city. And Zel’s relative. Tekshia. They approached the pyre.

The casket was closed. Selys could remember what lay in it. Only, Zel’s body was stripped of the armor now. She wondered what he looked like.

The armor. Her armor. Selys wondered why it was hers. He’d given it to her so she could be an adventurer. She vaguely recalled telling him she wanted to be one. Years, oh, years ago.

It had been just a child’s fancy. But he’d remembered it. She stared as the three Drakes stepped forwards. They stood around the pyre. Waiting.

Tekshia Shivertail was the first. She gently placed the burning torch on the pyre. Zevara was next. She held her burning torch to her side until it ignited and stepped back. On the other end, Embria laid her torch on the wood reverentially.

The fire sputtered in the rain, but the alchemical mixture had been mixed well. There was a moment of silence, then the fire engulfed the casket with incredible speed. Selys heard a sigh from the crowd. She stared at the burning wood.

The flames danced in the rain, searing vision, a bright, living thing in the dark landscape. The pyre burned brightly for a long time, and then the rain reduced the fires to ash, then steaming embers. Selys stood in the rain, watching the ash smoke and fizzle until someone touched her arm.

Tekshia. The old Drake woman leaned on Selys’ arm. She’d stood so straight, so proudly during the funeral. Now she looked tired. Selys unconsciously offered her arm and Tekshia took it.

People were leaving. The after speeches went unspoken. No one wanted to say anything. Rather than leave all at once, the crowd in the plaza just trickled away. Many stayed, staring at the place where Zel Shivertail had been put to rest. Tekshia’s voice was soft as she and Selys walked down the street.

“I’m too old, Selys. Too old to do this again.”

“It wasn’t the same.”

Selys whispered the words. Tekshia looked at her.

“The same as what?”

“As Mom and Dad’s funeral.”

The elderly Drake paused.

“No. It wasn’t.”

That was all they said. Selys walked her grandmother back to her apartment, a lovely spacious one she’d had longer than Selys had been alive. She saw her grandmother off, stood in the rain. Until she realized someone was waiting for her.

“Do you get tired of bothering people?”

Wing Commander Embria stood stiffly in the rain. Her red scales reminded Selys of the embers. She saluted stiffly.

“I apologize for my interruption.”

“Good. For you.”

Selys glared at her. Embria hesitated.

“Miss Shiv—Miss Selys. I know this must be hard for you, but there are some matters we must discuss in regards to your—to General Shivertail’s will. If you’ll come with me?”

 

—-

 

The armor sat on a stand. It was a breastplate made of some kind of gold metal. There was really a limit to what you could say about it. Whatever [Blacksmith] had made it had engraved faint patterns into the armor, but the rippling fiery enchantment over the armor made it hard to see. When you stared at it, it was a breastplate that shone like fire and gold, like the dawning sun.

Like a pyre. If Selys hadn’t known what it was she would have thought it was a beautiful artifact, worthy of a Gold-rank adventurer, maybe even a Named One. But because she knew what it was it looked…almost cheap. You would have thought a legendary artifact would light up the entire room or make everyone that stared at it fall to their knees in awe. But it was just magic.

Just magic.

“It’s yours.”

Zevara awkwardly gestured at it. She stood in the small room—one of the unused rooms in Liscor’s city hall—with Embria and Ilvriss. Selys looked at the others.

“Mine.”

“That’s correct. There was an argument—a battle, really—over the contents of the will. But the law was clear and Salazsar and Pallass both backed your right to the armor. The other Walled Cities couldn’t protest, and while the Shivertail family was noisy…well, it’s yours.”

Selys stared at the armor. The Heartflame Breastplate. Just last week she’d had trouble meeting her rent since she’d spent too much on jewelry. Now she had this. This.

“I didn’t want it. I don’t want it.”

The Drakes looked at her with varying degrees of shock. Selys looked around. Military people. [Warriors]. They probably dreamed about getting artifacts like this. But she was a [Receptionist]. What was she supposed to do, wear it in case she was assaulted at her desk?

“This is mine?”

They nodded. Selys looked at the armor.

“What the hell am I supposed to use it for? A paperweight?

Watch Captain Zevara cleared her throat.

“Miss Selys, I know this is a lot to take in. But this armor—you need to do something with it. We can’t keep guarding it forever. One of the Shivertails let it slip that it was bequeathed to you, and there are already hundreds of [Message] spells asking about it. Soon there will be [Thieves] and people trying to take it at all costs.”

“Someone already tried.”

Everyone looked at Ilvriss. The Wall Lord nodded to the armor.

“Last night one of my people caught someone lurking around the side of the building. They escaped, but there was an attempted break in an hour later. A [Burglar], a local criminal, according to Senior Guardsman Relc, who apprehended him.”

“It’s already started. And it’s only going to get worse. Artifacts like this attract people like flies. And this one—Miss Selys—”

“I heard you. What am I supposed to do with it?”

“Sell it?”

What?

Selys looked at Ilvriss. He studied her and the armor with a quick, appraising gaze.

“I would like to offer to buy the armor from you, Miss Selys. I realize I can’t offer you fair compensation for a legendary artifact without a known value, but consider it. You could sell the artifact in exchange for coin, goods, services…this could make you a very wealthy Drake.”

“Wall Lord! Miss Selys hasn’t had time to process any of this. Give her time—”

“It’s an offer, Watch Captain Zevara. I have no doubt Miss Selys will receive countless others by the time the day is done. I simply want her to be aware that I can pay my price up front and out of pocket.”

Ilvriss’ voice was calm. Selys couldn’t imagine how much he was talking about. Ten thousand gold coins? No, for any powerful artifact—

“The army could use the breastplate. Miss Shivertail might consider choosing to give the armor away to someone allied with her interests, rather than an outsider.”

Embria slid smoothly into the conversation, smiling politely at Selys. If she hoped to be friendly it didn’t work. Selys eyed her and Ilvriss. Zevara raised her claws.

“Wing Commander, Wall Lord! Please, let Miss Selys decide for herself.”

“You mean, to sell an incredibly powerful magical artifact. Just like that?”

The Drakes looked at each other. Zevara coughed.

“Not right away. If you have any questions, feel free to ask. Your grandmother is sure to have an opinion on the issue.”

“You don’t have to make a decision today. We can defer the issue.”

“The issue of guarding it will of course be undertaken by my [Soldiers].”

“And my people. There’s no cost of course, but there is a limit—”

“A representative from Pallass is waiting to speak with you and you have [Message] spells from—”

It was like rush hour and she was alone at her desk. Selys looked from face to face as the Drakes who were far, far too important to ever speak with her normally jostled each other for her attention. Then she had a thought.

“I can’t. I’d love to ask—but I can’t. I have to go. I have an appointment. My job.”

“Doing what? I’m sure it can wait.”

“No it can’t. My grandmother gave me a task and it’s today. Now, in fact.”

“Doing what?”

Selys wanted to laugh hysterically.

“I’ve got to go supervise a [Necromancer] in the sewers.”

They stared at her as if she were mad.

 

—-

 

“Hey. Sorry I’m late.”

Selys walked down the street. Pisces glanced up and sniffed. He was standing next to a sewer entrance. He wasn’t wet. A barrier of air shielded him from overhead, keeping his spotless robes nice and dry.

“I would complain, but given the circumstances I will refrain.”

“Gee. Thanks.”

Pisces glanced at Selys, and then his eyes flicked down the street. Selys didn’t have to turn to know that a group of figures was not-so-discreetly loitering there.

“I assume that those following you are friendly in some sense of the word?”

“They’re [Guardsmen]. And Liscor’s [Soldiers]. Oh, and I think some of them are Wall Lord Ilvriss’ people.”

“Ah.”

Pisces glanced at Selys, and then at the sewer entrance. It was an iron doorway set into a tunnel that went all the way down to the sewers, Selys knew. It was locked, but Selys had a key. Pisces glanced at Selys again. She just glared at him. She was wet. She didn’t like Pisces that much and she didn’t want to hear a single acerbic comment out of him. She wasn’t Erin who had the patience to deal with weirdos all day. But to her surprise, Pisces cleared his throat.

“I could do this myself. Or we could postpone this task for another day.”

The Drake [Receptionist] blinked at him.

“I have a job to do. And I have to follow you and make sure you’re doing it right.”

“Yes, but if you’d like to take a break I would be more than willing to relegate this errand to a later date. I understand today might be somewhat stressful…”

He trailed off and Selys realized what he was getting at. He was actually being tactful. She paused.

“I’d never hear the end of it from my grandmother if I shirked my duties.”

“You could tell her I failed to turn up. Or that I requested an extension.”

Why was he trying to be helpful? Selys tail curled with stress.

“I—appreciate the offer, Pisces. But Zevara, Olesm, and everyone else are breathing down my tail to get the sewers cleared. Let’s just get this over with.”

“As you wish. I assume you have the key?”

“Yeah. Move over.”

Selys fished around and came up with an old key. She unlocked the doors while Pisces stared over her shoulder.

“Please tell me that your escort isn’t going to follow us into the sewers. Fifteen Drakes and Gnolls crowded down there would be—”

He paused.

“—Fairly entertaining, actually.”

Selys bared her teeth.

“I don’t think they get paid enough for that. Besides, we’re not going in far, are we? Here we are.”

The sewer doors opened and let a terrible stench out. Pisces covered his nose and coughed. Selys gagged. She heard the [Necromancer] mutter a word, and a breeze blew past her. The smell vanished.

“Huh. Thanks.”

“Wind spell. A shame I never mastered scent illusions. Are you alright, Miss Shivertail?”

She was getting sick of being called Miss Shivertail. Selys eyed Pisces.

“It’s Selys. I’ll live. Where’s your undead creation?”

“In here.”

Pisces patted a bag of holding at his side. He hesitated. The steps leading down weren’t wet, but the rain was blowing in and there was a good amount of moss coating the old stones.

“You really needn’t come down with me. Neither of us need be here, to be honest.”

“I’m going. Stop trying to talk me out of it.”

Selys glared and walked past Pisces. She took the steps down as the stench of the sewers grew worse and worse. The steps led down to a very large, very flooded sewer. Selys had been down here only once before, back when she’d wanted to become an adventurer. One hour in here had disabused her of that notion.

The sewers of Liscor. Every decent city had sewers, at least in Izril. It rained too much not to invest in such things. But sewers brought trouble. They were a breeding ground for disease and pests, for one thing. Monsters had a nasty habit of invading the sewers, and as such, it was considered a rite of passage for most adventurers to start at Bronze-rank by slaying giant rats, slugs, slimes, and other monsters in the sewers for copper and silver coins. It was disgusting work, but it was plentiful.

If Liscor’s sewers were different from other sewers in other cities, it was in size. To manage the runoff of water, the sewers had been built larger to withstand the heavy rains that came every year. Selys could see black and filthy water rushing down the main tunnel as she descended the steps.

You’d expect sewers to be filled with green sludge, or resemble some kind of bog. You would be wrong. These sewers were meant to send the water out of Liscor. If they were clogged something had gone wrong. And in fact, it was that very issue Selys was here to address with Pisces.

“Ancestors, what a stench.

“It’s certainly pungent.”

Pisces seemed more immune to the horrendous smell down here than Selys. He wrinkled his noise and covered his face with one sleeve, eying the moss and lichen growing on the walls of the ancient stone. Selys breathed through her mouth.

“According to Olesm, the sewers are getting clogged thanks to moth bodies and rats. Those damn things stop water flow with their nests. Fortress Beavers do it too sometimes. I saw several streets being flooded since the drains are blocked.”

“That was my understanding. Olesm commissioned me to solve the problem, and I offered the use of my undead. I have my creation ready to deploy. Should I…?”

“Yes!”

Selys just wanted to be out of here. Why was she here when she had just inherited a magical artifact? If she sold it, she’d never have to work in the sewers again. She watched as Pisces rummaged around in his bag of holding, and then produced a handful of bones. He tossed them to the ground and pointed.

“Rise.”

Selys had never seen anyone animate an undead before. She watched in horror—and fascination—as the bones floated upwards and rotated, joining together to create a skeletal…thing on the floor. It was definitely not the skeleton of anything that had once been alive.

It resembled a dead animal that was half dog, half cat, and somehow, half rat. There were too many bones, and it had tearing jaws, long claws, and ‘spines’ of sharpened bones. It looked like it had been born to hunt down other creatures its size. Selys shuddered.

That’s your creation?”

“Please don’t be alarmed. This creation is totally under my control. It is a variant of a Bone Horror, scaled down for utility. It will not approach you or harm you in any way.”

Pisces spoke quickly, holding his hand out as the bone hunter…thing flexed its body, raising a clawed leg and opening and shutting its mouth. Selys stared at Pisces and then at the undead horror he’d made.

“I’m not scared of it.”

“You aren’t? Ah, well, that is good. As I told Olesm, it won’t take any action without my command and it will follow my instructions most precisely. You need not look at it.”

The thing appeared to be checking its body for faults. Selys stared at it, and then at Pisces. He was half-shielding it from her view.

“Are you afraid I’ll faint or something?”

He sniffed.

“I am aware of your people’s fear of the undead. I would not wish you to faint or become hysterical, especially given our proximity to the water.”

He stared at her with a mixture of disdain and condescension. Selys felt her blood boil. He thought she was going to run away screaming? She’d heard from the other [Receptionists] that they were terrified of him. Selys glared at Pisces. She stared at his Bone Horror and raised her foot. Then she kicked it into the water with a splash.

Pisces gaped at her. Selys glared at him.

“What? Don’t tell me it’s too fragile to take a kick?”

“No, but—that—”

Selys folded her arms.

“I’m not afraid of the undead. I just don’t like them. Is it going to get to work or do I have to kick you into the water after it?”

It was cathartic to see the [Necromancer]’s jaw drop. Pisces raised a finger, and then turned and pointed. Selys saw the water shift, and a dark shape moved out of sight. She waited, and then saw  the undead thing clamber out of the water and lope down the elevated walkways.

“Good.”

Pisces watched it go, and then eyed Selys. He almost looked impressed. Selys got the impression that no one had ever kicked his creations before. She just glared at him.

“What?”

“Er, nothing.”

“Good to hear. How long until that thing gets to work?”

“It should already be hunting down rat nests, ah, Selys. It will locate them, climb into their dens and eradicate them. If it senses a blockage it will excavate the offending area.”

Selys raised one of her brows.

“Excavate?”

“It will, ah, disassemble any corpse or blockage it finds. My creation can dissect most creatures quite quickly.”

“Gross.”

Selys sighed. Well, adventurers did the same thing. That was one of the reasons why it was so hard to get people to do sewer work, despite the higher pay. It was a disgusting job where you had to haul dead and rotten body parts around. And if you fell into the waters—well, if there hadn’t been rain for a while it could get nasty.

“Just show me when it kills things. I’ll stand here, say that you’re not creating an army of undead in the sewers and go home. You can leave and I can go, okay?”

“That sounds like an excellent plan. Selys.”

“I know.”

The Drake folded her arms. Pisces blinked at her, still looking off-guard and raked a hand through his hair. They stood together in silence as the waters flowed past them. There really wasn’t much Selys wanted to look at. After a while, Pisces spoke.

“If occurs to me that we haven’t spoken at length before now.”

“I don’t hang around Erin’s inn that often. And you don’t show up in the Adventurer’s Guild too much.”

“Yes, well, I am aware when my presence is unwanted.”

“Maybe if you stopped making undead and sneering at everyone we’d all like you more.”

Pisces’ eyes flashed.

“My pursuit of necromancy is my choice to make! My spells are useful—even if only a few individuals are willing to acknowledge that fact. The fact that the Adventurer’s Guild refused to consider my reasonable offer after Olesm had approved it reflects more poorly on you than I. Or am I incorrect in thinking you resorted to my services due to a lack of interest in your ‘tried and tested’ methods of clearing the sewers?”

His voice was hurt and waspish. Pisces sniffed haughtily and immediately regretted the action. Selys just sighed.

“Yeah, you’re wrong. I said it was okay.”

Pisces paused.

“You did?”

Selys nodded, keeping her eyes on the dark waters. Why was she here?

“Yup. My grandmother was the one who objected. You know her? Tekshia Shivertail? She hates all [Necromancers].”

“But you don’t?”

The young man in white robes peered at Selys, looking suddenly a lot more interested and a lot less standoffish than before. Selys frowned.

“I don’t like [Necromancers]. Or the undead. But I thought Olesm’s idea made sense. It’s for the rats. I hate those things.”

“More than the undead.”

Selys’ tail curled around her legs with distaste.

“Have you ever woken up to a giant rat creeping around your kitchen?”

“Not as such. But I see your point. Well. I withdraw my former complaint. Am I to assume that it was your intervention that allowed this project to continue?”

Selys shrugged uncomfortably.

“I talked with my grandmother. Don’t thank me. It’s just that we have a sewer problem and I live here. Better a [Necromancer]’s creations than sending adventurers down to deal with it. Do you know how many adventurers die each year in the sewers?”

“I believe that would be a rhetorical question.”

Pisces backed away as Selys raised her foot threateningly. She glared at him and sighed.

“Two. On average, two idiots lose their footing and drown. Or actually die if the rats swarm them. I know that’s not a lot and it really only happens if someone’s careless. But that’s two reports I have to make—two dead bodies someone has to explain to their families. That’s why I’ll tolerate your damn undead, even if I hate them.”

“I see.”

The necromancer fell silent and Selys kicked at a crumbling bit of stone. Pisces was not her ideal talking partner. She’d be happy if they never talked, actually. It wasn’t that he was that unpleasant—not once you took him down a peg—but Selys could live her entire life without needing to engage him in conversation. But here she was. She’d actually kissed him once. Why? Oh yeah. The mistletoe.

If Pisces recalled that incident he didn’t seem to remember. Or care. He was focused on what Selys had said, frowning over her words like a true debater.

“While I appreciate your pragmatism Selys, your statements raise a question for me. If you can see the utility of the undead, why do you despise them? Because of their appearance? Their nature?”

The question didn’t so much hit Selys in the gut as bounce off her scales. But it wasn’t a fun question, either. Selys stared past Pisces, wondering if she shouldn’t answer, evade the question, or kick him into the sewers. But no—that wouldn’t be fair. She sighed.

“My parents died when the Necromancer attacked the city.”

“Ah.”

The young man froze. Selys eyed him.

“Are you going to tell me you’re sorry?”

He wavered.

“I would like to express my condolences. Yes. But it was not my undead that killed your parents.”

Selys’ tail uncurled and lashed a bit.

“I didn’t say it was.”

“No, but the implication is there. And I understand your animosity towards all undead. But if I may—I would place the guilt on the Necromancer.”

Not the undead?”

Pisces spread his hands.

“They are monsters. Some think. Most are mindless. But they hunger after the living, and yes, cause death and destruction if not stopped. But they are a force of nature, Selys. And to a [Necromancer], they are tools. Servants. And sometimes, yes, sometimes, valuable creations. Works of genius.”

“That killed my parents.”

Pisces shoulders hunched.

“Yes. In that sense the undead can be weapons. And they can be horrific. But it was the Necromancer who made war on Liscor. I don’t ask you to put aside your hatred, but look at my creation and see it as a tool, however disgusting, Selys. I see value in it. I know the bone and shape frightens others, but there is a craftsman’s pride in my creation.”

“That’s what you say. All I see is a horrible bone thing.”

Selys turned away. She heard a sigh. Pisces looked at her back, but didn’t pursue the topic. She felt…well, not angry. Not really. She’d gone over her parent’s deaths too many times to flare up at Pisces. After a while, Selys couldn’t help it. She looked over her shoulder at Pisces, who was busy reading a spellbook he’d pulled out of his bag of holding.

“You should have given it armor.”

“Excuse me?”

He looked up. Selys gestured around the sewers.

“Some of the rats and monsters you see here get big. They’ll smash this thing with their bodies if it provokes them, no matter how many claws and spines you give it.”

“Really?”

“You ever seen a three hundred pound rat body slam someone? They’ll crush your little bone horror. You should have given it armor. And a ranged attack.”

Pisces closed his book.

“That’s not exactly possible with most undead, Miss Selys.”

She snorted.

“Yeah, not with skeletons. But what about Crypt Lords? Skeleton archers? Ancestors, you’d probably have done better than your bone horror if you just animated three skeletons and given them bows and swords!”

That stung his pride.

“My Bone Horror was customized to fight in narrow spaces!”

“By a [Necromancer] who’s never ventured into the sewers in his life! What happens if it runs into a slime?”

“Well—I ah, suppose it would destroy the slime’s core.”

“Not if it’s engulfed entirely. Did you give it a way to deal with armored rats?”

Armored rats?”

“They get weird. You could have made your bone horror better.”

He flushed.

“And I suppose you have a better idea?”

Selys did, actually.

“Yeah. Armor. And a projectile weapon. Let it shoot bone spikes. There are some undead that do that, aren’t there? That way, it might survive an encounter with some of the nastier things down here. And make a bigger Bone Horror too. Something that can hunt down the huge monsters. That way you can have the little one flush out the tiny monsters while the big one patrols the sewers.”

She pointed down the sewers. The main water tunnel branched off down the intersections, but there were walkways on both sides of the canal where something could patrol. Selys looked back at Pisces and saw him staring at her. She smirked at him.

“If you’re going to create an undead monster, Pisces, do it right. Can you make more?”

The [Necromancer] had to fumble to reply.

“Um. Yes. I can. I lack the bones, but assuming my creation secures enough corpses…I can create another later tonight if that is acceptable. A variant like you described—I haven’t tried—bone spikes, you said? Which undead uses…?”

“Ever heard of a Spiked Stalker?”

“I—well, I’ve heard the name, but I’ve never encountered one…how do you know about them?”

Selys rolled her eyes mockingly.

“I’m a [Receptionist] for the Adventurer’s Guild. I have to memorize monster weaknesses and variants. You’re the [Necromancer] here. What’s your excuse?”

She saw him blink at her, and then, surprisingly, grin.

“My apologies, Selys. I will be sure to brush up on my knowledge of the undead. Am I to take it that you’re approving my creation of more undead to patrol the sewers?”

Selys wavered. Tekshia hadn’t given her permission. But Tekshia wasn’t watching a bit of poo float down the sewers. She nodded firmly.

“Yeah. Do that. Four should be enough if they’re working around the clock.”

“I’ll draw up new plans. And speaking of work—I believe my creation has already cleared out a nest. Would you like to inspect it?”

She was feeling a little better. Selys sighed.

“Might as well. Lead the way.”

Pisces took her down two corridors and into a gap in the sewer walls where the stone had crumbled away and enterprising rats had built a nest. Right up until a certain undead had found them, that was. Selys looked at the ravaged rat corpses with disgust. Blood was already running into the waters. Design flaws aside, Pisces’ creation really was good at its job.

“Alright, I think I’ve seen enough. I don’t need to watch it disembowel a moth corpse to know it’ll do it.”

“Excellent. And there are bones here for me to use. I’ll ah, get to work after you leave.”

“Considerate of you. Well, thanks Pisces. I’ll tell grandmother—I mean, the Guildmistress—that you’re doing a good job.”

Awkwardly, Selys turned away from the bloody nest. She looked around the dark sewer tunnels with dismay. Pisces had created a [Light] spell, but the only other light came from the drains that let a little light in from above.

“Which way leads out of here? I’ve got a lot to do and I can’t stand around watching crap float by with you. However much more fun that might be.”

“Ah. I’ll guide you out. Am I to take it that you’re deliberating on your current predicament?”

Pisces stood up and pointed. Selys followed him, frowning.

“My ‘predicament’? What would you know about what I’m up to?”

She heard a sniff and a cough as Pisces walked in front of her, shining the light orb so they could see where they stepped.

“Gah! An unfortunate habit—Miss Selys, I would wager that the entire city knows the contents of General Shivertail’s will, at least what pertains to you. He left the Heartflame Breastplate to you, and it is no leap of the imagination to assume that every important figure in the south of Izril desires it badly. Have you had many offers to sell?”

Selys bit her lip.

“Two, so far. Well, one to donate to Liscor’s army. Apparently I have more [Message] spells waiting for me. And people.”

“Hmph. No doubt. Well, I would hate to offer my advice unsolicited, but I do hope that you take care in choosing what you do with the armor. Leaving it be is obviously untenable, but selling it or giving to the wrong faction would be politically risky.”

Pisces’ knowing tone made Selys glare at his back.

“What do you know of Drake politics?”

He shot an amused glance over his shoulder.

“Enough to understand that strengthening Wall Lord Ilvriss’ position would undermine Pallass’ authority to restrict his travel through their Walled City. Salazsar and Pallass are currently at odds, so I wouldn’t be surprised if you were immediately approached with a counteroffer to sell the armor to Pallass. And if you don’t agree, I would imagine Pallass would quickly put pressure on Liscor and you to sell the armor to them or one of their allies.”

Selys gulped. That did sound likely, now that Pisces said it. Her little sewer adventure meant she’d missed speaking with the important people waiting to talk to her. Was that really what they’d do?

“You’re sure?”

“Well, I suspect that if you didn’t give away the breastplate within the day, multiple factions would start forming alliances to compete for the armor. Pallass doesn’t have to have the armor—neither does Oteslia, or any of the other Walled Cities. Simply denying it to their adversaries would be enough, and you would be caught in a whirlwind of competing influences, so to speak.”

“Is there a best move?”

Selys felt dizzy at the thought of all that. Pisces laughed.

“For you? For your finances? Or for Liscor? If you are worried about your safety and would rather see this taken care of efficiently, I would gift the armor to Liscor’s army for a small sum of gold. They can hardly afford to outbid a Walled City, but you would be considered a patriot and would offend the fewest number of parties that way.”

They’d reached the stairs leading up. Selys shook her head.

“How do you know all this? Wait—you’re just making all this up! You can’t know all this.”

“Can’t I?”

Pisces gave her a superior glance. He began walking up the stairs backwards, looking down at her as he rattled off a list of facts.

“The Heartflame Breastplate. Last in the possession of General Ironscales of Oteslia. Lost in a conflict with the Reinhart and El family over a dispute regarding trade from Chandrar that resulted in a clash north of Liscor, a rare exception to the traditional conflicts on the Blood Fields. The armor and General Ironscales were lost when her command was routed and she disappeared in the chaos. The Heartflame Breastplate is known for its keen defensive properties and was considered to be unbreakable whether by magic or physical force…”

He trailed off as Selys stared at him. Pisces shrugged.

“Artifacts are of extreme interest to [Mages], particularly ones that haven’t been discovered yet. I confess, I did listen to the gossip. As for politics, I have studied Drake culture as a matter of interest. I am sympathetic to your circumstances, Selys. You have been thrust into an unpleasant dilemma.”

“Don’t I know it.”

Selys groaned. She could smell damp, refreshing air from above. She climbed out of the sewers with Pisces and locked the metal doors. She stank and she wanted a hot bath, but she’d have to make a report. Selys glanced sideways at Pisces.

“Okay, you’re smart for all you don’t know undead as well as you think you do. What would you do if you were in my boots?”

“Me? Do you mean, who would I sell to? No one. Not at the moment.”

“What do you mean?”

The young Drake woman frowned at him. Pisces rolled his eyes heavenwards, a gesture that reminded Selys of herself.

“Simply put, the desire for you to sell or give away one of the most precious artifacts known to Drakes does not seem to be in your best interests, is it? Artifacts appreciate in value. And this artifact, well, it is an unknown quantity in part.”

“How so? It’s the Heartflame Breastplate. Everyone knows about it!”

Pisces smirked.

“Ah, yes, everyone. Tell me, Selys. How much do you know about the artifact you possess? Its history? All of its magical effects? You know a few rumors passed down by Drakes around a mug of ale. Are you certain you know everything about such a legendary artifact? Just like that?”

Selys nearly bit her tongue. She hadn’t thought of any of that. She was still grappling with the idea that the armor was hers! She looked hard at Pisces.

“I don’t suppose you know a lot about it, then?”

He hesitated. Pisces stroked his chin and looked at Selys. He seemed to waver, and then shrugged to himself. He drew closer and Selys heard him whisper as the rain soaked them from above.

“I know where we could find out.”

 

—-

 

There was a crowd of Drakes passing through The Wandering Inn. They first came through the door to Liscor, waited impatiently as the connection was switched to Pallass, and walked through without so much as looking around the inn. Sometimes the Drakes would come the other way, and they were forced to wait in queues as they travelled from Pallass to the inn to Liscor.

None of them had much good to say about Humans today, and the [Innkeeper] in charge of changing the doorway from place to place was pretty fed up with it all. She’d just opened the door to Pallass for the umpteenth time when someone spoke her name.

“Hey Erin.”

Erin Solstice looked up in surprise.

“Selys!”

She waved at Selys, who smiled as Drakes poured past her into Pallass. The Walled City was windy today, without a cloud in the sky. Erin eyed the lovely weather longingly. Selys glanced at the doorway.

“Lots of traffic?”

“Everyone wants to come through and back and through again!”

Erin rolled her eyes as a group of Pallassian [Soldiers] in yellow armor marched past her. She lowered her voice.

“Hey Selys, want something to eat? No one’s hungry and they’re all glaring at me. They just want to travel to Liscor which is good because I have the you know whos in the basement.”

She pointed and Selys glanced at the trap door to her basement. It was open a crack and she saw a crimson eye staring at her before the trap door closed. Erin grimaced.

“I feel really bad, but it’s like—you know?”

She waved her hands to indicate that Hobgoblins in her inn was not a safe move right after Zel Shivertail’s funeral. Selys nodded. She edged towards the door.

“I’m not hungry, Erin. Actually…I’m going through to Pallass. Do I need to sign something or can I just walk through?”

“Oh? Well…no one’s signing things today. Go on through, I guess. I’m going to have to let people go to Liscor in a minute, but if you wait you can get back in. I think.”

Erin gestured to some of the Drakes and a pair of Gnolls who’d come into the inn and were waiting impatiently. Selys nodded.

“How long do I have? If I want to stay in Pallass for a while?”

The young woman had to think.

“They’re holding the door open for the next…six hours. Just come back by then, okay? I feel really bad for the [Mages]—they’ve got to work really hard.”

She pointed to a sweating Drake standing by the door in the inn. There were more on Pallass’ side and they were rotating in shifts. Selys nodded. She glanced casually over to her right at a patch of empty air.

“Well then. I’ll see you later, Erin.”

“Sure! And—wait a minute! What’s this about you inheriting—aw, she’s gone.”

Selys had already left through the doorway. Erin sighed and looked at the [Mage] standing by the door. He was frowning at Selys’ back, or rather, the air to her right, but he looked up as Erin sidled over. She leaned over conspiratorially as the Drake glared at her suspiciously.

“Psst. Want a snack?”

The [Mage] stared at her. He glanced around at the unhappy Drakes and then at her inn, perhaps realizing for the first time that it was an inn and not a waiting zone made into his own personal hell. He hesitated, and then replied in a whisper.

“…What kind of snack?”

 

—-

 

Selys walked through Pallass, trying to look casual and not gawk. A Walled City! She’d just walked through and now she was here! She looked around and jumped as a young man strolled across the street next to her. Pisces smiled pleasantly and whispered.

“Don’t jump!”

“I thought you were invisible!”

“I just kept the spell up long enough to enter Pallass. Humans aren’t unheard of in the city. I just wanted to avoid suspicion at the doorway, a sentiment which I thought you would share.”

The Drake [Receptionist] glared at him. She was on pins and needles just having walked into Pallass. The idea of it! But Pisces had been so sure. And he’d been right! No one looked twice at Selys. Everyone was entering and leaving Pallass, and so the normally vigilant guard on Erin’s inn had been slack enough for Pisces and Selys to slip through.

Now they were walking down the street, mingling with the crowd—of which there were a few Humans, it was true—looking for a building. Selys followed Pisces as he read signs. The [Necromancer] practically exuded confidence as he walked down the street, as if he had every right to be here.

“Hm. I think that building is it. Right up ahead. The architecture matches what we might expect, anyways. Ah yes, here we are!”

He pointed. Selys saw Pallass’ Archive, the repository of books and Drake knowledge, looming in front of them. It wasn’t so much a library as a treasury of texts. Drakes certainly couldn’t just walk in and take out books. They hoarded their valuable scrolls and books. Normally Selys would have been turned away at the door, but again, Pisces had a solution.

“Name?”

“Selys Shivertail.”

The Drake on duty at the desk looked down at his parchment, did a double take, and stared at her. Selys smiled weakly. He stared at her, opened his mouth.

“Uh—Shivertail?”

“That’s right. I’m uh, visiting Pallass for the day. I was hoping I could read a few books…?”

Selys let the question linger in the air. The Drake stared at her and then at his parchment.

“You’re not on the approved list. But uh—you’re—I saw you on the scrying spell! You were at General Shivertail’s funeral! Standing right there!”

He gestured. Selys felt a pang in her stomach. She felt a nudge in her side and elbowed the air. Hard. She heard a muffled yelp. The Drake librarian didn’t notice.

“That’s right. I couldn’t stay in Liscor, so I wanted to visit Pallass. It’s an amazing city. I know I’m not on the list, but I thought I could just…”

The Drake fumbled for his papers.

“We’re not supposed to let anyone in. But you’re—I mean, you knew—I don’t see what the harm is. If you’re just looking. I can just write you in as…well, I don’t know if I need to write this. Purpose of visit? Why not? I was devastated to hear about General Shivertail passing. Those damn Goblins.”

Selys nodded and made appropriate sounds, sensing someone move past her. Within five minutes she was past the front desk and moving down the shelves. The helpful Drake had even pointed her in the direction of the texts she’d wanted to find. She paused at a shelf and whispered.

“Are you there?”

“You hit me.”

Pisces’ injured voice was a whisper. He needn’t have bothered; few Drakes were in the archive and none of them were in their section. Selys glared in the direction of the voice.

“Be glad I didn’t do worse.”

“Be glad the [Invisibility] spell didn’t fail right then and there! Physical contact makes it break!”

Pisces retorted angrily. Selys paused.

“You should have mentioned that.”

“I didn’t expect to be attacked! Now, take that book off the shelves in front of you. The one with the green cover. That’s the one we’re looking for, or so I believe.”

Selys did so, carefully. She opened the book, noting the title. General Ironscales, Assorted Myths and Factual Accounts.

“Huh. I didn’t know there was a book like this.”

Pisces’ voice was dismissive.

“Opportunistic [Writers]. This one appears to be a compilation of gossip more than a piece by an accredited [Historian]. But myth may be what we need, so long as it’s detailed. Open it.”

Selys did. The words on the page were tightly written and she read quickly. A [Receptionist] had to have the [Speed Reading] skill or go insane. Pisces was almost as quick and he quickly helped her locate the section they were looking for.

“Here we are. The Heartflame Breastplate. Rumored to be worn by…part of a complete set…a complete set? Really?”

Selys glanced up. She felt an invisible hand turn the page of the book she was holding. Pisces voice was animated.

“Fascinating. I had no idea! This armor was known for far more than its defensive properties. Look at this passage. ‘One rumor attributes the armor’s defensive abilities to more than just its intrinsic toughness. Legend has it that General Ironscales would walk into battle surrounded by a barrier of flames that could turn aside arrow and spell alike. This rumor may have been due to her ability to breathe fire, but a separate and verified historical entry notes her ‘protection of flames’, rather than ‘protection from flames’ or other wording.’”

“Is that what you were talking about?”

Selys’ heart beat faster. The Heartflame Breastplate was more than just a powerful piece of armor? Pisces sounded excited.

“This is why I told you that research was essential. No doubt other cities are looking into the myths as well. Too often people assume to know everything, when in fact the truth is only a fraction of the whole! Let’s see if we can find any more references to the armor.”

Selys paged through the book, noting every reference to the Heartflame Breastplate she could. There were more books that mentioned the legendary artifact, and with the helpful Drake librarian’s help, Selys went through lists of Drake artifacts, accounts of wars involving the breastplate, and more fables about Ironscales and the artifact.

“This is incredible.”

Hours later, Selys found herself leaving the archives, head spinning. She had learned so much about the Heartflame Breastplate. It had been part of a set, it had a power—all of the stories pointed to it having some kind of flame enchantment that was activated by means of some kind of secret command—and yet there was so much she didn’t know. She walked down the busy street, talking quietly with an invisible Pisces.

“I had no idea it was this famous. I mean, sure you hear children’s stories, but there are so many! Like the Spear of Kissle, or the tale about Hessca the [Dragonslayer]. None of that’s real.

“And yet, there is a nugget of truth in some legends. You possess the Heartflame Breastplate. An artifact worthy of any Walled City, any hero. You do. Is that not enough to make you believe in some of the mythology?”

“Yes. No. It doesn’t seem real.”

Selys kept her voice low. Anyone looking at her would just think she was talking to herself. Pisces’ voice was thoughtful.

“You are taking this quite calmly. Are you sure you’re not in a state of shock? I can hardly believe your levelheadedness myself.”

Selys shook her head.

“I don’t know. The Heartflame Breastplate? Me, owning it? Thanks to Uncle Zel? I—I still haven’t really felt like it was mine, you know. It’s so sudden. They just showed me the armor, said it was mine, and told me to give it to someone.”

She walked past a burly Drake who was walking her way and sensed Pisces shifting closer to her. There was a group of Drakes walking and he had to move to avoid them. Selys paused until she felt him nearby and went on.

“It’s all too fast. This wasn’t supposed to happen to me, you know? Maybe to Erin. But not me. I just knew my uncle. And he was a hero, but I—it’s too sudden. I can’t believe it happened. And the armor only belongs to me because he’s gone, you know? It’s like everyone’s forgotten that. But I—”

She looked around and realized she couldn’t sense Pisces’ robes swishing  by her side. Instead, the burly Drake she’d just passed had turned and was walking her way. Too close to her. Selys walked away from him, irritated, but he was right by her side. What was his problem? She turned and glared at him.

“Hey, some personal space here?”

“Selys Shivertail?”

He looked down at her. He had dark orange scales and a scar over his snout. Selys paused.

“That’s me. How do you know my name?”

She looked at him, and realized the big Drakes she’d passed were also standing behind him. A lot of them. In fact, they looked like they were all following her. Selys backed up a step. The Drake with orange scales nodded.

“That’s her. Do it.”

Selys turned and shouted.

Hel—

Something hit Selys on the back of the head. She sagged and someone caught her. Selys heard a panicked shout from someone across the street, and then a voice.

“Let’s move!”

The world turned black as Selys felt herself being carried away at speed. She saw the empty street as her head lolled back and Drakes staring at her in alarm, but no one was following her as the thugs ran with her. No one was coming to save her.

No one at all.

 


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61 thoughts on “5.17 S

  1. Whew. I’m tired. Very tired. I’ve written for two days in a row and I didn’t realize how tough that would be. And I think you might be able to tell, because a two chapter side story has turned into a 3-parter. It’s happened before.

    But I wanted to take my time on this chapter, not least because it continues the plot of Zel Shivertail’s death. We keep coming back to it…because that’s how the world works, I guess. We never buried him and up till now we never really explored Selys’ relationship with her uncle in any depth. But it was there, and we only saw Erin’s perspective.

    And what a twist! A legendary artifact? Selys becoming a [Heiress]? What does it mean? And of course, why did Pisces appear in this story? Of all the events that have taken place, you could argue this is one of the biggest.

    And yet, it’s overshadowed by a death. It’s obfuscated by weird things like clearing out the sewers with bone horrors and Pisces being Pisces. How will it end? Is it entertaining? What do you think will happen? Let me know in the comments and I’ll get at least a day of rest before I finish this up! I didn’t intend for us to take longer on this, but like I said, I’m trying not to rush. And if I have a few days where I can’t compress a story into a masterful one or two chapter arc, I’ll live.

    On a more important and related note, the side story poll is up for September and there are a LOT of options! I…sort of went nuts on this one. I blame lack of sleep again. Vote away and I’ll try to write a shorter side story this time. I’ve tried to let you pick options that will advance the plot as well as fun and interesting stories too. Ah, there’s so much to do. Thanks again for reading and leave a comment!

      • There are probably spells that detect undead being animated within the city. If he didn’t get official approval Pisces likely would have been caught and then summarily executed.

        • Probably but not my point.
          Olesm: “I am the city’s lone [Tactician]. I might not be exactly as important as Watch Captain Zevara, but I can do a lot on my own authority. Striking a deal and writing out a permit for a single undead under your supervision is within my jurisdiction.” Chapter 4.37 O

          • “…Strike a deal…”
            I believe that quote alone means he can deal directly with the guildmaster, bypassing Selys, not approve the quest itself. He obviously tried considering he got the Watch Captain approval and Selys to take it to her grandmother, but even then they weren’t able to get the guildmaster to let him actually take the quest.

            In the context with the chapter, however, it really does sound like he could have got Pisces the quest himself though. Maybe he wasn’t expecting the guildmaster to be completely against it?

        • There are a few possible options I guess:

          – A huge sceptic tank that gets emptied when water receeds

          – A pump dumping the water outside (operated by beasts of burden, by hand, by magic or even some kind of combustion magic)

          – A very long pipe leading to unflooded lower grounds (It would probably suffer the )

          – Dumping the waste in the dungeon or some underground river (connecting sewers to the dungeons doesn’t seem wise though, also, the sewers seem to predate the discovery of the dungeon so yeah)

          Some kind of pump seem the more likely…

    • [Heiress]… now we can only hope she doesn’t go the [Diabolist] route can we…

      Jokes aside, fun chapters, I’m kind of angry about how the hobs keep being treated… kind of hope they can have their artifacts appraised.

    • Whyyyyyyyy? Three days ago I found Volume 1 on Amazon, and now I’m here. Three days of reading millions of words, such bliss. But now I have the torturous task of waiting. Stupid web serials are the worst. Seriously, thank you so much for your work, you are way too negative, this is actually amazing and I don’t say that lightly. It was exactly the vacation I needed before a tough year of school. Again, thank you so much for your amazing work! Much appreciated!

      • Congrats on catching up! Now you get to experience the agony of waiting for the next chapter with the rest of us. Alternatively, you can always re-binge the entire series (I think I’m on my 3rd full read-through at this point). It’s impressive how many little nuggets of foreshadowing and interconnections between characters there are that are almost certainly missed during your first read-through. That being said, I only recommend doing so if you’re willing to sacrifice another 3 days of non-stop reading to Pirateaba. Words for the Word Throne!

    • I expect Pisces will do the smart thing and leave a trace of some kind with Selys, so he can invisibly run back to the door, get reinforcements, and charge back to mount a Big Damn Heroes rescue. Shame the Goblins probably wouldn’t be able to participate, being seen in Pallass would be hazardous to their health even under the pretext of rescuing a kidnapped Shivertail [Heiress].

      I’m very intrigued by these kidnappers. Who are they? Who might they be working for? The list of suspects is long but I wouldn’t put it past the more disgraceful Shivertails to be behind this, or one of the Walled Cities for that matter.

    • Certainly enjoyed these, not to tacklessly inject the real world but kudos for timing Zel’s funeral with John McCain’s…

      Selys has always been a difficult character for me to relate too and I think this did a good job of providing more insight into how and why she ticks as well as pushing her in New directions, the interactions with Pieces were well done.
      I do agree with the other comment that keeping Zel’s final wishes secret from the reader was a little clumsy. Hopefully the payoff will be worth it.

    • [Whomever] had a claim to it lost that claim and it became a possession of Zel Shivertail when Magnolia Reinhart gave it to him.

      Is “Whomever” correct in that sentence? It sounds a bit odd to me and I would have probably used “Whoever”, but I might be just mistaken.

    • “Is there a specific law that states that? My extended family will fight tooth and claw if {it} isn’t.”
      {it} -> {there}?

      “{Selys} tail curled with stress.”
      {Selys} -> {Selys’}

      “How much do you know about the artifact you possess? {It’s} history? All of its magical effects?”
      {It’s} -> {Its}

      “She looked around and realized she couldn’t sense Pisces’ robes {swishing by} her side.”
      Extra space.

  2. [Heiress] . That’s quite an interesting sounding class there. Coupled with Lingering Presence (Zel?), I’m guessing Selys just won’t be inheriting his personal effects but also his skills albeit in a reduced capacity of course. Ghostly advisor could work too.

    • Heiress sounds like a placeholder of a class to me. Something which might well turn into a more advanced class later, possibly in combination with others. Selys might end up a [General] or something, yes.

    • Selys is still in a state of shock. I blame Pisces for this oversight. Also the Watch Captain, Ilvriss, and Embria for failing to track her location and follow her, assuming they have actually left her without any guards. I mean we got a nation grade artifact, but they can’t keep track of her because the sewers smell bad?

    • She was next to a spellcaster who may have reached gold-rank on his own account since the Battle of Liscor. The goons didn’t know that of course but she had some reason to feel safe.

      I’m betting the part of Drake society which most of the Shivertails belong to doesn’t approve of gays, and the rest of that sentence spilled the beans on that.

  3. Don’t really like the false drama created by simply not listing the controversial thing due to burial location in the Will Reading. Its not like there is a lack of plot threads that can be woven in the story.

    Hope Pices gets back with help soon!

    • I disagree. You can figure it out fairly easily by reading between the lines (‘turnscale’, for one) and the unwillingness for even Selys to think about it directly in words tells us quite a lot about how ingrained a taboo that element of Drake society is. It is appropriately and accurately sad.

  4. It was so worth the 5$ i spent to read 3 chapters in one day just join patreon and i have no regrets keep up the amazing work pirateaba

  5. ….Does anyone else really want Zevara to be the one who gets the Heartflame Breastplate? She has the Oldblood fire-breathing ability that might be linked to the Breastplate’s powers, she would be an appropriately patriotic choice for Selys… and frankly, I just feel like she deserves a badass reward for everything she deals with.

  6. I understand that nothing extreme has happened in the last 8 years but really none of the recent events have caused him to update his will? I feel like one of his major preparations before the battle would be to update it. Especially after recieving the armor from magnolia, was there nowhere to update it in the city of adventures.

    • With the legalities involved and the people he’d have to inform I doubt he would be able to update his will outside of a walled city. Plus it’s not like he had any reason to think he would die soon.

  7. > you’d probably have done better than your bone horror if you
    > just animated three skeletons and given them bows and swords!

    Am i the only one who got a Harryhausen flashback on this?

  8. I have loved how this volume has been shaping into. I have eagerly read all of the volumes in a matter of a few weeks. Keep up the great work because I am thoroughly enjoying it. Since you asked us to vote, I have to say my favorite side stories are the Clown, Toren, and the adventurers going dungeon diving. I thought this particular side story started slow but has pleasantly caught my interest. I wonder if Pisces will be Selys’s knight in shining bone armor.

  9. Uncle Zel, the gentle juggernaut, modest national hero, leader of armies, shield of Drakes, wise tutor and a terminator all rolled into one. We will remember you, rest in peace.

  10. There’s a way to safely deal with the Breastplate, offer it up as bounty to whichever party clears the Liscor Dungeon.

    This way, everyone will be sending hordes into the dungeon and watching each other to prevent theft. Also Selys will offend no one since it will be to Liscor’s benefit and the other Drake cities will have to put their patriotism where their mouth is to prevent gnolls and humans from getting their hands on it.

  11. Re: keeping the breastplate safe, I would suggest letting the Antinium hold onto it. Nobody is going to break into a Hive. But I don’t imagine most people in-universe would think of that.

    • The Antinium could certainly keep the armor safe from almost any potential thief, but I cannot see any of the drakes being willing to let something so incredibly valuable be put into the hands of the Antinium. Not even Zevara, who is probably the most pro-Antinium drake of all the people who have the sway to decide where the armor is held for safekeeping.

  12. “-and was considered to be unbreakable whether by magic or physical force”

    So what you’re saying is, this armor is ‘blessed with invulnerability to all threats, physical or magical?’

  13. Those guys are going to regret pissing Pisces off. I think he was thoroughly enjoying his day helping Selys out (rooting around scrolls and books chasing logic chains? What’s not to like?). And, that unvarnished thuggery is just plain rude.

    I’m looking forward to how their entire enterprise gets marmalised.

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