“What’s it like, being a [General], Uncle Zel?”
“A general? Hm. That’s a difficult question. Why, are you planning on becoming a [General] instead of a Named Adventurer, Selys?”
“No…I don’t want to join the army. Grandma hates them. I do too. Every time they come home they cause trouble. They tried to kill some Antinium.”
“Ah. I heard about that incident. How is the city adapting to them?”
“Dunno. They’re weird, but I don’t see them often. There’s one in the City Watch. Did you know that?”
“He’s really strange. He’s always polite and everyone avoids him. Why are we talking about the Antinium? What’s it like being a [General]? Huh? Tell me!”
“What part of being a [General] interests you, Selys?”
“Um…what’s it like being famous.”
“You know. Everyone staring at you. Grandma said you led a huge army against a Gnoll Tribe last month!”
“The Vaskia Skyhunter Tribe. It wasn’t that large of an army. But yes. I had to do that.”
“So? What’s it like?”
“Being at the center of attention! Is it fun?”
“It’s not exactly like that, Selys. I’m a [General], not a hero. People take orders. It’s not like being an adventurer or a celebrity.”
“But they do pay attention to you, right?”
“I wish they did that to me. No one ever pays attention to me. Grandma’s famous. So are you. I’m just Selys.”
“It’s not everything you might think it is, Selys. Fame is a one-way street. Once you go down it, you can’t go back.”
“Huh? What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Er—being stared at by everyone isn’t always fun, Selys.”
“Why do you do it, then?”
“Wait, you don’t know?”
“I’m thinking. Hush for one second.”
“…Why do I do it? Well, I don’t like being famous. Having everyone’s eyes on you, being trusted to lead an army…that’s a heavy responsibility. There’s something unique about being the one person in the world everyone’s watching. That’s true.”
“What’s it like, Uncle Zel?”
“Does it feel good?”
“That’s hard to say too. Being in command, taking charge…some love the feeling of doing that. Others hate it. I do it because there’s no one else. Because it’s my duty. Because…it must be done.”
“Oh. Okay. Well, I bet that I’ll like it. When I’m a Named Adventurer I’ll visit you all the time, okay? I’ll be more famous than you are!”
“Don’t laugh! I’m serious.”
“I’m sorry, Selys. I know you are. I was just thinking that might be pleasant. When you’re more famous than me, come visit me anytime. It would be refreshing to have a niece more famous than I am.”
“Just you wait. I’m going to do it. Grandma’s teaching me how to use a sword, and I can go into the sewers when I’m fifteen! Evvy’s parents are going to let her try when she’s fourteen, but Grandma says I’m too reckless. I’m not.”
“I’m sure she’s just being careful. And she is the Guildmistress of the Adventurer’s Guild, Selys.”
“Yeah. Anyways, I’ve been practicing with those claws you gave me! Look, I brought them!”
“Oh. Well done. I suppose if you’re here, I should teach you another trick. Unless you want to use a sword?”
“Nope! I’m gonna learn how to do everything. Teach me another trick!”
“Alright. Stand back and give me some room. You’re going to want to be a bit back from your opponent when you do this—”
“Wow! Let me try!”
“Careful. It’s not easy. And remember what I told you?”
“Don’t do this to anyone I know?”
“Right. But the second part—”
“‘Stay out of trouble.’ I know, Uncle.”
“I’m just concerned for my favorite niece.”
“Really? Your favorite?”
“Well, maybe my second favorite—”
Someone smacked Selys with a claw. She jerked, felt the binding on her wrist and stared at a Drake. He had an ugly, flat face, like a Human’s. And he was standing too close to her. She tried to back up, nearly fell, and realized she was sitting in a chair. Her hands were bound to the back with rope. She saw other Drakes in the room, huge, thickset ones and thought of the worst.
“Touch me and I’ll—”
The Drake in front of her glared at her. He had dark orange scales, greasy and uncared for. He also had a knife. Selys realized that when he brandished it. She eyed the blade, but kept talking.
“If you lay one claw on me, I’ll bite your hand off, got it?”
The Drake exchanged a glance with his buddies.
“Cooperate and you won’t be harmed.”
“Yeah. Cooperate or we’ll have to persuade you. Which would be fun for us. And not for you.”
Another Drake leered at her. Selys stared at him. He was shorter, with brown scales. She glanced around. This was bad. Really bad. What was—
The Drake in front of her slapped down a piece of parchment. Selys stared at it. The Drake put down an ink pot and quill. He pointed.
Selys stared at him. She stared at the contract. It was hard to make out since the only light in the room was a single lantern. But she could make out what looked like a legal contract. ‘I, Selys Shivertail, hereby authorize Watch Captain Zevara to relinquish the artifact in my possession to the bearer of this document. Said artifact is known as…’
The pieces flew together in her mind. The Drake [Receptionist] looked at the parchment, at the thugs, and then relaxed.
“Ancestors, that’s a relief.”
Her reaction caught the Drakes off-guard. They stared at her. Selys glanced around. Dimly lit room, about eight Drake guys—okay, one female skulking near the back, although she was twice as big as Selys so it was an easy mistake—she’d jumped to a far worse conclusion. Not that this wasn’t bad. But Selys felt better. She glared at the Drake.
“You hit me.”
“Sign the document. You won’t be hurt. We’ll keep you here until we obtain the artifact, and then you’ll be let go. Unharmed, if you cooperate.”
If looks could kill, Selys would have been Liscor’s most-wanted years ago. She glared around and then yanked at her bindings.
“Hey! My hands are tied. How am I supposed to sign anything if I’m tied up? Are you idiots?”
The [Thug] in front of Selys stared at her. She glared at him.
“Untie my hands! Unless you want me to sign that parchment with my tongue? I can’t tail-write, you know!”
Her response caught all the Drakes in the room off-guard. One of them coughed.
“What, you’re just going to sign? Like that?”
“Uh, yeah? I’m not stupid. I’m locked up in this room and you’ve got knives. Give me the quill.”
The Drakes exchanged glances as Selys glared at them. What did they think she was going to do? Resist torture? An artifact wasn’t worth that, no matter what it was!
“Fine. I’ll release you. Don’t move. And don’t try to run.”
“Don’t worry, I won’t. And watch my claws! I got them polished the other day!”
“She can’t be serious.”
One of the other [Thugs] muttered as the Drake with the knife began sawing through Selys’ bindings. Selys tried to breathe normally. She was being mouthy, but she was terrified. She waited until she felt the bindings fall off her claws and then grabbed the quill.
Everyone in the room tensed. Selys stared at them.
“I’m signing the document.”
Slowly, she dipped the quill into ink and scrawled her name across the bottom of the parchment. The Drakes blinked. Selys pushed the parchment back towards the Drake with the orange scales.
“There. How long until you let me go.”
He looked at her.
The [Thug] picked up the parchment, frowned at it, and looked around.
“We have the signature. Let’s go—pick it up?”
His companions looked nonplussed. The short Drake looked bewildered.
“I thought we’d have to torture her.”
“Why don’t we leave a guard—”
“Just like that? Okay, what if we—”
“You think you’re going? Not a chance. I’ll go with—”
Selys watched them argue, feeling a sense of unreality to the day. First she’d been to a funeral. And she’d been given armor. She’d gone into the sewers, then gone to Pallass, been kidnapped…
She’d been to a funeral. This morning. Selys could barely remember the smell of smoke and long speeches now. It felt distant already. But at the same time—
Her uncle was dead. Zel Shivertail was gone. Those were the facts. Everything that followed, all of this—it was over his armor. The Heartflame Breastplate. Selys had barely seen it more than a minute. Who cared about it? Why was this happening?
She lowered her head as her tail curled around her legs. Dead. But his ashes weren’t even buried and Drakes were fighting over his legacy. That was the worst of what they could be. That was what she’d tried to tell Erin. Drakes were descended from Dragons, yes. That was true. But where Dragons were greedy, Drakes could be so petty.
“Alright! We’ll do it like that!”
Selys looked up. The [Thugs] had come to a decision. Five went over to the door, while two folded their arms, looking annoyed. The one with orange scales came over to Selys.
“We’re going to take the artifact. Where is it being held?”
“I don’t know.”
Selys glared at the Drake’s incredulous face.
“Do you think I had time to put it somewhere? Zevara has it! I don’t know where it is!”
“You must have seen where it was last.”
“Yeah, but they moved it! I don’t know where it is!”
Selys folded her arms. The hired muscle looked at each other. One growled.
“Maybe she’s lying.”
The young Drake [Receptionist] stared at the thug. He narrowed his eyes and came over.
“I don’t like the way she’s talking back.”
Too late, Selys’ mouth finally got her into trouble. The other Drake caught her arm and she yelped as he gripped it hard enough to bruise.
“Tell us where the armor is. You know where they put it. You’re just lying to us to buy time. I want to know where.”
“I don’t know! Let go of me!”
Selys grabbed the arm holding her, but the Drake was far stronger than she was. He grabbed her other arm and spoke menacingly a few inches away from her face. His breath stank.
“Think really hard, Miss. Or else I’m going to have to—”
The Drake gasped and jerked. Selys felt him let go, and saw him jerk backwards. Something was protruding out of his shoulder. The silvery tip of the rapier pulled back as the Drake cried out in agony. Pisces appeared behind him.
“I would ask that you refrain from threatening Miss Selys, good Drakes of Pallass. Or I might be forced to harm you.”
He turned as the Drake he’d wounded grabbed at his shoulder. Pisces whirled, and the [Thugs] in the room cried out in shock. Pisces smiled, his white robes shining in the lantern light, his bloody rapier held at the ready.
“It appears that degenerate behavior is not simply a Human trait. I would have expected this in Terandria. Or Wistram. But here? Is there no regard for grief, no respect for mourning?”
They hesitated. Pisces flicked his gaze from Drake to Drake. There were seven of them, spread out around the room. The [Necromancer] backed up towards Selys.
“I would advise you to lay down your arms. You are outmatched. I am a Silver-rank adventurer and my team—”
The Drake he’d stabbed rose up, punched Pisces with a roar, and the other Drakes charged. Pisces yelped, and Selys saw him stagger back. The injured Drake charged him—
–And received a face full of razor-sharp stone shards. He screamed and fell, clawing at his eyes. Pisces whirled. A Drake charged him with a club. The [Mage]’s form blurred and he lunged—the thrust of his rapier went through the Drake’s chest and out the other side. The Drake stumbled, dropped. Pisces backed up, cursing, as he tried to withdraw his fragile blade.
“He’s a [Mage]! Rush him!”
The Drakes charged. Pisces looked up, let go of his rapier’s handle, and flicked his fingers.
A gout of fire blasted from his fingertips, catching two of the Drakes. They screamed and dropped to roll about on the ground and Pisces turned, forcing the others to back up. He fumbled for something at his belt—
Selys shouted. A [Thug] was throwing one of the knives he held in his claws. Pisces blurred as something dropped and appeared three feet to his left. The knife missed him and the [Mage] flicked his finger. Selys saw a ring on his finger glow, and a bolt of white light shot across the room and struck the knife-thrower in the chest. She heard a crack and the Drake folded up with a hole in the upper right hand part of his chest.
“He’s got artifacts!”
“Get around him!”
The Drakes were shouting. Selys was standing up, but she had no intention of getting into the fight. She backed towards one wall as Pisces looked around. Five Drakes remaining, two of them burned badly. They dodged as he raised his hand and shot a stream of crackling electricity towards them. One had a buckler and caught the electricity on the wooden frame, grimacing. Pisces backed up towards a corner.
“I would advise you all to surrender.”
It wasn’t witty repartee, but the murder in the eyes of the Drake who’d spoken did a lot for the delivery. Pisces sighed.
“Yeah. Look behind you.”
Amazingly, one of the Drakes actually did turn his head. That saved him. The others were just readying themselves to charge when the long scythe of bone shot out and buried itself in the back of the first Drake’s head. He fell. The others turned. And screamed.
A tall, tall creature of bone stood behind them. It had no face, just a torso without neck or head. Its arms were long whips of bone ending with a curved scythe. It had long legs and a strange, ball-like waist from which it could rotate and bend it’s upper body freely. It did so now, leaning low to the ground and slashing at the other Drakes with its arms, cutting their flesh as they screamed and backed up.
“Ancestors, an undead!”
“He’s a [Necromancer]! Run!”
One went for the doors. The Bone Horror tangled him with its arms, cutting him over and over with whipping strikes that flayed the Drake. Another slashed at it, but Pisces’ creation simply ignored the blows. Pisces blasted a third Drake with a spray of stone, making her scream and back up—
Someone grabbed Selys. She hadn’t seen the fourth Drake running towards her. She’d been too focused on Pisces’ creation. Now the Drake grabbed Selys with one hand, keeping his club raised towards Pisces. The [Necromancer] whirled. The air around his hands frosted with cold as he pointed at the Drake.
“Let her go.”
“Back away or I’ll club her brains out! Tell that thing to leave!”
The Drake was gripping Selys’ arm hard, his claw slippery with sweat. He was shaking. Of his seven buddies, five were dead and the other two bleeding badly. He tried to pull Selys towards the door.
“Don’t be foolish. You have nowhere to run. Let her go and I’ll spare your life.”
Pisces’ voice was cold and somehow, larger. The Drake gulped.
“I won’t fall for that! I’m not turning into a zombie—back off!”
He was shaking with fear. Pisces stared at him. The light from the lantern in the room flickered suddenly, though there was no breeze. The [Thug] jumped.
“Don’t move! You cast a spell and she’s dead, you hear me?”
“Let her go. Do not make me ask twice.”
This time Pisces’ voice was deeper. It echoed and cracked with dark intent. The Drake holding Selys whimpered. Pisces took a step and he raised the club.
“Touch her and you will suffer long after death. Don’t mistake me for a common [Necromancer], fool. I could do things with your body that would make you scream to hear about.”
The Drake nearly let go of Selys in his panic. He stared at Pisces. Now the [Mage] was grinning horribly, and the shadows behind him danced on the wall. There was a stench of graveyard rot in the air, and he seemed to grow as the Drake retreated.
“I could make you a puppet in your flesh. Would you like that? Let her go, or I will ensure you live…forever.”
The Drake was panicking. Selys stared at him. She stared at Pisces. Neither male was focused on her. Selys looked at her captor and tapped him on the shoulder with her free hand.
“Hey. Look at this.”
The Drake looked down. Selys’ hand shot up. She raised her index and middle finger and jabbed them into her captor’s left eye. Her claws went into the Drake’s eyeball. He screamed and let her go. Selys stepped back and wiped her claws on her clothes. Then she kicked him between the legs. The Drake fell, screaming. Pisces turned to Selys. She stared at him. He blinked.
Half an hour later, Selys sat in Watch Captain Venim’s office. She had a cup of hot tea in her claws and Venim was downstairs, supervising the capture of the thugs that had kidnapped her.
Well, capture and cleaning up. Of the eight, five had died to Pisces or his Bone Horror. The other three were badly wounded, and it was a testament to the bloodshed that the one with the least amount of injuries was the one with a missing eye and bruising in the groin. The surviving Drakes were being arrested downstairs. Meanwhile, Pisces stood next to Selys in the office, looking around with interest.
He’d been interviewed at length as soon as the Pallass Watch had arrived. They’d come within minutes of Selys walking out into the street and shouting for help—apparently someone had seen her kidnapping and they had already been canvassing the city. They hadn’t expected Pisces to arrive first, though.
The [Necromancer] hadn’t given Venim or his people much of an explanation as to how he’d saved Selys. He’d made the Bone Horror vanish into the bag of holding he held before the Watch had arrived. With just his rapier in hand he’d greeted the City Watch. They knew he was a [Necromancer] somehow—perhaps from Liscor’s Watch, but they’d been impressed and disturbed by his nearly flawless victory nonetheless.
Now the two waited in silence for Venim to come back to the office. Selys heard Pisces’ robes swishing as he looked around. He walked behind Venim’s desk and eyed a stack of papers.
“I wouldn’t touch that.”
Pisces started and sniffed.
“I’m just investigating. A Watch Captain shouldn’t leave classified documents lying around.”
Selys eyed him severely.
“It’s generally considered polite not to snoop.”
“Polite, but not informative.”
The [Necromancer] sighed, but he backed away from the desk. He looked at Selys.
“How are you feeling?”
Her head had been treated with a splash of healing potion and she was fine, albeit a bit shaken. Selys sipped at her tea.
“How are you? How’s the face?”
Pisces rubbed at one cheek, where the shadow of a bruise was forming. He shrugged.
“A minor injury. I’m more embarrassed about it, in truth. I shouldn’t have let my guard down.”
“Yeah. What was that?”
“That! That—appearing and stabbing that Drake before facing them all down. What were you thinking?”
Pisces looked surprised and a bit hurt.
“I was trying to intimidate them.”
Selys glared at him. Her nerves were shot.
“By yourself? You don’t give speeches, you idiot! You’re lucky that Drake on the floor didn’t stab you while you were showing off! You should have stabbed him in the back and laid a trap, rather than played the shining [Knight] in armor!”
The young man blinked at her.
“That’s strangely pragmatic of you.”
“I’m not an idiot! But you were, rushing in there! You could have been killed! [Mages] die after being stabbed, and taking on a bunch of [Thugs] with knives is a death sentence! What were you doing?”
Pisces hesitated. He rubbed at his cheek and glanced past Selys.
“I was…concerned for your safety.”
Selys sat back. Pisces hesitated.
“I thought that I could distract their attention from you, or ambush them once they’d left. I grew worried when the Drake grabbed you.”
So he’d stepped in to protect her? Selys regretted shouting at him. She shifted uncomfortably in her chair.
“I only regret that I didn’t stop your kidnapping.”
“You couldn’t have known.”
“No, but I was there. Invisible, yes. I could have cut the first Drake down, but I elected to follow you.”
The gratitude infusing Selys’ heart faded slightly. She looked up over her cup’s rim at him.
“I thought it best to know the scope of the threat before I stepped in.”
“So you let them drag me away?”
“It was that or fight them all in the street. I had to know their numbers.”
Selys glared at Pisces as he hunched his shoulders. She opened her mouth, thought better, and closed it.
“Well. That was smart of you.”
“You think so?”
“It was the smart thing to do. There was no telling how many of them there were, or if they had more friends. So yeah, good job.”
Selys grudgingly agreed with Pisces’ decision. He blinked at her, looking slightly pleased.
“Well, I’m happy to help. Unfortunately, I fear that this is only the first event of many. I’m sorry you were targeted—although I noticed you were able to defend yourself. That was an ah, appropriately vicious attack you performed.”
“What? Oh, poking that guy in the eye? Yeah…he deserved it. And I wasn’t about to wait for you to scare him into letting me go.”
The Drake [Receptionist] wiped her claws on her clothes for the umpteenth time, shuddering as she recalled the feeling. Pisces flicked his eyes towards her claws.
“Nevertheless, it was an adroitly done maneuver. Did someone teach you how to do that?”
“My uncle taught me how to fight when I was growing up. I was never good at claw fighting, but he showed me how to defend myself.”
“Ah. By poking eyes out?”
“Not everyone has time to learn how to use a rapier. Anyways.”
The young Drake woman cleared her throat awkwardly. She looked at Pisces.
“Thank you for saving me.”
It was the first time she’d gotten to say it. Pisces shook his head slightly.
“It was nothing.”
False modesty was somehow annoying on Pisces, who was often the exact opposite of modest. Selys raised one of her brows at him. He caught her glance and smiled slightly.
“Well, it wasn’t nothing. But I considered it my responsibility. I did invite you to enter Pallass. I should have considered the risks.”
“The risks. You mean, more of that might happen?”
“Perhaps. You are the inheritor of the armor.”
“Yeah. Damn it.”
Selys closed her eyes. All this, and she’d only held the armor for a day! She was about to ask Pisces who he thought had hired the Drakes when the door opened and Venim walked in.
“Apologies for the delay.”
He glanced at Pisces and nodded to Selys.
“We’ve arrested the surviving Drakes who kidnapped you, Miss Shivertail. We’ll interrogate them—after they heal up a bit.”
“Oh. Thank you. Do you know um, who told them to get me? Or was it just them?”
“That’s unclear. The Drakes didn’t say much—well, only one was conscious, so we’ll have to rely on truth spells when the other two wake up. We’ll charge them for kidnapping and attempted extortion, but my guess is they’re just hired [Thugs] and [Rogues].”
“Do you have any clues as to who might have organized their kidnapping of Selys?”
Pisces leaned forwards over Venim’s desk. The Drake Watch Captain frowned at Pisces.
“No. It could have been anyone.”
Selys’ heart sank. Venim nodded.
“You are the owner of the Heartflame Breastplate, Miss Selys. And while I’d like to assure you of your safety…things are moving quickly in Pallass. I’ve informed Watch Captain Zevara and she’s requested that you immediately return to Liscor. I just need the rest of your statement and your…bodyguard’s before you go.”
“My who? Oh, Pisces? He’s not my bodyguard—”
“Oh. Then what was he doing in Pallass?”
Venim frowned at Pisces. The [Mage] smiled calmly.
“I came through. No one stopped me, so I assumed the passageway between Liscor and Pallass was free for public use on this day.”
“You just walked through?”
“Mm, yes. In a crowd.”
The Watch Captain flicked his gaze to Selys, who shrugged, keeping her tail still. Venim grunted.
“Well, the door is open, but I’ll have to ask you to refrain from visiting Pallass without requesting permission first, Mister…Pisces.”
Pisces bowed slightly, smiling.
“Oh, I believe I’ve had my fill of Pallass. What do you think, Selys?”
Selys looked around. Her head didn’t hurt. But she had a headache now. She raised her clawed hand.
“I think I’ve had enough too. Can I go back to Liscor now?”
A large group had formed in Erin’s inn, waiting for Selys’ return. Watch Captain Zevara, Ilvriss, Tekshia—and a member of Liscor’s council! He was the Guildmaster of the Merchant’s Guild and he practically knocked over Pisces when Selys walked through the doorway.
“Miss Shivertail! I’m terribly glad to see you. What an affront, to be kidnapped while walking Pallass’ streets? I want you to know that Liscor did everything in its power to ensure you were found as soon as—”
“Thank you, Guildmaster Fleiss. Please, give Selys some room.”
To the [Receptionist]’s relief, Zevara stepped in and forced the heavyset Drake back. She nodded to Venim.
“Thank you, Watch Captain.”
“My pleasure, Watch Captain.”
He saluted her and left. Selys looked around, bewildered, as the others clustered around her. Erin tried to push past Fleiss.
“Selys, are you okay? I heard about what happened! Are you hurt? Did you—”
“Drakes first! Please! Miss Shivertail, we really must speak about your inheritance. I hate to bring up the subject so soon—”
Tekshia raised her voice. The others fell silent. The Guildmistress stepped closer to Selys and inspected her granddaughter. She nodded.
“I heard you poked an eye out, Selys. Good job. Next time try ducking before they hit you.”
Selys rolled her eyes. Tekshia nodded at her.
“Looks like you’ve had a rough time. All these Drakes want to speak with you. I just came to tell you that you can have tomorrow off. But I’ll expect you back into work at noon the day after, understand?”
“Enough. Don’t whine, it’s unbecoming. Now, I’ll be going. Innkeeper?”
“Give me another one of those ‘cookies’ you made. A bag, actually. I want to share them with some of my friends.”
Tekshia turned. She paused and glanced over her shoulder at Pisces. He was standing behind the others, forgotten. Tekshia met his eyes.
He bowed very politely. Tekshia snorted and walked away. Selys saw the others looking after her. Zevara cleared her throat.
“You’re ah, well, Miss Selys? Don’t take Miss Tekshia’s words too seriously. She was quite insistent you be found when Pallass informed us of the kidnapping.”
Selys smiled wryly.
“Don’t worry, I know. That was her being considerate and caring. I think. Trust Grandmother not to give me more than a day off for being kidnapped.”
“Speaking of kidnapping…”
Ilvriss broke in. The Wall Lord looked around, his tail wagging furiously.
“This is a disgrace. A citizen was kidnapped in Pallass on the streets? What kind of Walled City allows that kind of crime?”
“The kind that has an inheritor of the Heartflame Breastplate walking its streets, I think.”
Zevara glanced meaningfully at Selys, who flushed. She consulted a piece of parchment.
“Watch Captain Venim tells me they were local thugs, hired to kidnap Miss Selys and force her to sign a waiver allowing them to take the Heartflame Breastplate. They’d take it, drop it at a safe location and receive their payment. Forty thousand gold pieces, allegedly. Not that they saw any of it—they may have intended to take the armor for themselves once they had it.”
“Dead gods, plots already?”
Fleiss shuddered. Zevara just shook her head.
“It was a shoddy plan that never would have worked. Whoever hired them must have panicked when they saw you in Pallass and didn’t think things through. If I’d have seen the document I’d have arrested the Drakes and found out where you were being kept. Fortunately you didn’t have to wait that long.”
She glanced at Pisces, who smiled politely.
“I was accompanying Selys and happened to be in the area, Watch Captain.”
“Good. Thank you.”
Zevara nodded at him and turned her back on Pisces. Ilvriss glanced at the [Necromancer] and then at Selys. He looked quite a bit kinder as he went over to her.
“Miss Selys, I understand you must be shaken.”
Selys wasn’t going to lie—she was more than a bit unsteady. Wall Lord Ilvriss nodded sympathetically.
“I just wanted to let you know that my offer still stands. I don’t want to force you into a decision, but perhaps it would be best if you allowed some of my people to escort you—”
Selys’ eyes narrowed.
“Ancestors, I just got kidnapped and you’re already trying to buy the armor from me?”
Her raised voice made the others look at her. Selys turned red with embarrassment and anger. Her voice cracked as she shouted at Ilvriss.
“I don’t know what to do with the armor! Leave me alone!”
She turned and ran out of the inn. Zevara called out after her.
“Miss Selys, wait!”
Her voice had the authority of command in it. And she used a Skill. Selys stopped unwillingly. Zevara looked a bit ashamed of herself. She cleared her throat.
“You’re going to need an escort.”
Selys hated everyone and everything by the time she got back to her room. There was a [Guardsman] outside her door—a pair of them, actually—and four had had to walk her back through the rainy streets. Zevara had suggested putting Selys up in an inn—and Ilvriss had immediately offered the Tailless Thief. Selys had turned them both down instantly.
She was miserable. She sat in her bed, tossing her wet cloak to the floor and stomping into her kitchen. She reached for a mug, opened her cupboard, and realized she had nothing to drink. No tea leaves, no bottles, nothing. She’d forgotten to go shopping.
Selys shouted. She turned and saw Pisces sitting at her table. He offered her a cup of dark red wine.
For a second Selys considered poking his eye out. Her heart beat out of her chest. Pisces seemed to realize and coughed.
“Sorry. I should have announced myself.”
She stared at him.
“How did you follow me?”
“As a point of fact, I slipped in before you got here. Watch Captain Zevara made an error. She posted a guard who checked for invisible or concealed intruders before the escort brought you here. There was a window of opportunity as you opened the door. I followed you in.”
His self-satisfied explanation made Selys clench her fists.
“Pisces, I’m not in the mood.”
“I understand that. And I will leave instantly. I just wanted to give you this, actually.”
The [Necromancer] stood up and reached into his bag of holding. He produced a bottle of wine, a plate of steaming spaghetti and meatballs, and a bowl of salad. The salad had spilled a bit and he shook a few leaves of lettuce off of the bowl.
“Apologies. Bags of holding are tricky to use. It’s practically impossible to put a cup of water inside and not spill it all.”
Selys just looked at the food and wine, and then at Pisces. Her stomach rumbled. She hadn’t had lunch—she’d barely eaten breakfast. The sight of food made her feel faint. Pisces shrugged and smiled a bit as he explained.
“You are under a version of house arrest. Ah, pardon me. I misspoke. You’re being ‘protected’. I thought you wouldn’t wish to eat dinner or go shopping—or subject yourself to a public setting—so I asked Erin to make you dinner. I apologize if I’ve overstepped.”
He looked at her questioningly. Selys made her mouth work as her stomach made a motion for food.
“No, that’s—considerate of you, actually. Thank you.”
He offered her a crooked smile.
“Consider it further recompense for putting you into harm’s way in Pallass. I should have considered the risks. I will leave you alone now, if you’ll open a window to let me jump out.”
Selys hesitated. She looked at the food, and at Pisces.
“You don’t have to go. In fact—here.”
She went and grabbed two cups from her cupboards. She offered one to Pisces. He looked at it, surprised. Selys gestured at the table.
“I’ll let you have the salad.”
It was an awkward meal. Selys had never talked to Pisces, not in any intimate way. She barely knew him, and yet he’d been around Erin’s inn as long as she had. Longer, really. He wasn’t what Selys would call an ideal dining partner, but she needed someone to talk to. She was upset.
“Look, there’s threats to my life, people wanting to buy it from me—I just want to be left alone! Why is that so hard? Why does everyone have to bother me? And it’s just for the piece of armor my stupid uncle left me!”
She was on her fourth cup of wine. Pisces his second. He ate silently as Selys gnashed down a bite of food. Selys paused.
“I didn’t meant that. Uncle Zel—it’s not about him! That’s the problem! I just—I didn’t ask for this!”
“Some might call it good fortune.”
“Yeah? Tell that to the back of my head! And how good is this fortune? Am I just supposed to sell the armor? Get rich?”
“That’s the theory, yes.”
“I’d do it in a heartbeat if I didn’t think it would get me in trouble. But everyone wants it. If I sell it to one person, I get in trouble with everyone else.”
“A tricky conundrum, yes. But you would be rich.”
“Rich doesn’t help if everyone hates your guts!”
“You seem certain that would be the case.”
Selys rested her head on her hands and nearly poked herself in the cheek.
“It’s politics. I’ve seen it happen. If you’re not a patriot to your city, if you’re not a good Drake—you get treated like a traitor. If I get in trouble in Pallass for instance, I’ll get blacklisted until the end of my life and treated like a criminal. I don’t need that kind of drama.”
“And yet, you have an obligation to do something with the armor. Surely there is an optimal choice for you.”
Pisces’ reasonable tone made Selys angry. She jabbed a fork at him.
“What would you know? No one likes you! And everyone wants to be my best friend now!”
She paused. Pisces looked hurt. It didn’t show in his face, but his eyes reflected it. Selys paused, ashamed, and her tail drooped.
“Sorry. I didn’t mean—I’ve had a hard day. You have no idea how bad it’s been.”
“I might, actually.”
Pisces shifted in his chair and got up. He walked past Selys to fill his cup—not with wine, but with some water from a jug. It was stale. He grimaced, but sipped it anyways. Selys looked at him, confused.
“How do you mean?”
The [Necromancer] sat awkwardly, resting his weight on Selys’ kitchen table. He studied Selys.
“Well, it’s true that I am a pariah in Liscor. But I would argue you seem to be one too, although your fortunes are the inverse of mine.”
Selys sort of got what Pisces meant, but the wine was making actual cognition difficult. Pisces saw this and flicked his fingers.
“Let me speak plainly. I attract attention because I am a [Necromancer]. A criminal. An undesirable element and perhaps not least, a Human. This is not a new experience for me. I have long been a noteworthy individual worthy of contempt. However, you are the same. Everyone knows you as the bearer of the Heartflame Breastplate. A Drake inheriting Zel Shivertail’s will. They all want something from you. But they do not care about you, do they?”
“No. They don’t.”
Selys bowed her head. She was just an ordinary person, changed by circumstance. Pisces nodded.
“So. I understand the feeling. It is not pleasant, even if the attention is envy, or intrigue, I imagine.”
“No. How do you deal with it?”
The young man pondered the question for a moment, sipping from his cup.
“There are many answers. Many personalities would react differently. I ignore the scorn. I weather hatred as ignorance. I am myself. I will not change for societal pressure. But you do not have that luxury, I fear. They want your inheritance.”
“They can have it. It’s no good to me.”
Selys slumped at her table. She heard Pisces sigh. He sat across from her.
“That attitude is defeatist.”
“Consider me defeated. What am I supposed to do?”
The words made her look up. Selys frowned at Pisces.
“I am being honest.”
He challenged her. Pisces looked in Selys eyes. He had gray-green eyes, not vibrant, a dreamer’s, perhaps. But they were serious.
“You have been reacting to all that has happened, Selys. So much has changed for you. I understand that it must be…impossible in many respects. But have you truly taken a step back to think about all this?”
No. There was no stepping back in a hurricane. Selys shook her head. Pisces tapped the table with his cup.
“Then allow me to help. If you would.”
If he could make sense of it all…Pisces nodded.
“Let us ask one question then, and one question alone. Do you want the armor?”
Selys paused. Her instinctive reaction was to say ‘no, of course not’, but that wasn’t a true answer, was it? She spoke slowly.
“I don’t know. I haven’t really looked at it. I didn’t know what it was. Now I know. You showed me those stories in Pallass. And they were amazing! I had no idea that was what it was. I knew it was valuable. But it’s still like—I haven’t looked at it, you know? I didn’t care. When I saw my uncle, lying there—”
Her throat closed. Pisces looked at her. Sympathetically. Had Selys ever seen him look like that?
“Of course you didn’t pay attention to it. And that is the problem. You don’t know what others are so fixated on. You were cursed Selys. Cursed with a conscience. Cursed with affection. You cared about your uncle’s passing more than the armor. If you were greedy and selfish, you would not be in your predicament.”
Like the rest of the Shivertail family. Selys shuddered. That was true, though. She’d watched her uncle’s funeral this morning. It was too soon. But Pisces was also right in that she had to face it.
“Okay. Do I need the damn armor? I don’t know. I want to look at it.”
“Then perhaps you should. That would be an adequate first step. Do you wish to see it now? Or later?”
Selys stared at him.
“Wait, what? You mean…go to it now?”
Rain was pattering on the shutters of her window. Pisces nodded.
Selys opened her mouth. It was under lock and key! It was being guarded! It was valuable!
And it was hers. She closed her mouth. And stood up.
Watch Captain Zevara was not happy that Pisces had emerged from Selys’ apartment with her. Nor was she happy that they’d forced the [Guardsmen] assigned to her to bring them to her and the room the armor was being kept in. The Watch Captain stared at Selys.
“You want to do what?”
“I want to look at it.”
Zevara was probably off-duty. But she’d come hurrying as soon as Selys had made the request. The Drake folded her arms.
“It’s mine, isn’t it? I want to look at it.”
“Yes, but the security is there for a reason, Miss Selys.”
“And it’s still my armor. Unless you’re not going to let me see it?”
Selys stared at Zevara. The Watch Captain backpedaled immediately.
“No, it’s just that—of course you can look at it. For how long?”
“Is there a time limit?”
Perhaps she didn’t deserve this. Zevara’s jaw worked silently. She looked at Relc. The [Guardsman] was leaning against the wall next to the iron door, snoozing. The [Mage] that Ilvriss had assigned to the door was glaring at him, clearly envious.
“Relc. Wake up.”
“I’m up! Do I get to stab anyone?”
Relc jerked awake. He looked comical as he fumbled to attention and Zevara chewed him out, but Selys suspected that anyone trying to sneak into the room behind him would find that Relc was more attentive than he seemed. Zevara sighed as she looked at Selys.
“Take as long as you like, Miss Shivertail. Relc and Wall Lord Ilvriss’ people have the room warded and under guard.”
Selys put her hand on the door knob and heard the [Mage] mutter something. She paused.
“He deactivated the ward spell. Don’t be alarmed.”
Pisces nodded at the Drake [Mage]. She eyed him warily. Zevara turned towards Pisces with a frown.
“Thank you for brining Miss Shivertail dinner…Mister Pisces. But I’m afraid that this is a restricted area.”
“He can come in.”
Selys thought Zevara might actually inhale her tongue. The Watch Captain turned towards her. Selys put her claws on her hips.
“It is mine, isn’t it?”
“Yes! But do you—”
Zevara bit her tongue on the rest of the sentence. Do you trust him? Pisces pretended not to hear. Selys sighed.
“Please let us in, Watch Captain.”
Zevara was in a bad mood. She looked at Selys, threw up her arms and stalked away. Selys looked at Relc. He yawned.
“Go on in, Selys. Hey, bone-guy.”
Selys and Pisces entered the room. It was fairly large, a meeting room, in fact. It had no windows and someone had cleared out the table and chairs to put a single stand in the center of the room. On it hung a shimmering, golden piece of armor.
Selys’ heart skipped a beat. She stared at the Heartflame Breastplate, taking it in. This was the legendary armor. This was the artifact everyone wanted.
She still thought it looked sort of cheap. It was gaudy. Gold metal, shining colors—it was impressive, yes, but—
Pisces’ inhalation of breath was more fitting for the moment. He stared at the armor as Relc closed the door and began flirting with the [Mage] on duty. The [Necromancer] approached the armor, stepping around it to stare from every angle. He reached out, hands shaking, and then looked at Selys.
For some reason Selys’ voice was hushed. She held her breath as Pisces touched the armor. Then she felt silly and walked forwards. The metal was warm to the touch. That was all. There was no zap of magic, no aura of power. It was just armor.
But it was magical. Pisces ran a finger over the armor, seeing something that Selys could not. He murmured to himself as he inspected it.
“Warm. What exquisite spellcraft. And the metal—it’s alloyed with gold, but what the rest of the metal is…adamantium? Some spell-metal, perhaps?”
“It’s impressive. I can see why the legends say it was indestructible. It doesn’t have a scratch, even when—”
Selys’ throat closed. Pisces looked up.
“Your uncle—General Shivertail. Was his body…damaged by the battle?”
“It was. It was horrible. Part of his head was missing and his body was cut and burned like—”
Selys felt like she shouldn’t talk about it, but she had to. The words spilled out and Pisces listened.
“Ah. Those wounds are…incredible. But also a sign of the armor’s power, I think. General Shivertail was renowned for his durability and toughness in battle.”
“He was. He could block an unenchanted axe strike with his scales! But still, he—”
Selys broke off, shaking her head. Pisces peered at the armor and coughed.
“Ah, look here. I had wondered about the name, but this truly is a breastplate and not a cuirass, isn’t it? Curious that such a powerful armor would lack rear protection.”
He indicated the armor. It was indeed just a breastplate. In that it only covered the front. Selys was no armor expert, but she knew that a cuirass covered both front and back. It was a strange design flaw. She wondered if that was one of the reasons why Zel had—
“Maybe they lost the other half?”
“It wouldn’t be called the Heartflame Breastplate if it were. Artifacts are seldom so easily dismantled. No, this is simply an oversight. Quite a curious one. One has to wonder why the Drakes who made this didn’t think to shield their backs.”
“Drakes do not run.”
Selys regretted saying the words as soon as they came out. It was such an instinctive response, the kind of thing you heard the army say all the time. General Sserys had coined the phrase and it was a saying among the Drakes. But it was so…
Pisces raised a sardonic eyebrow.
“Drakes might not run, but presumably they do turn around at some point. I believe my point stands.”
She glared at him, and then laughed despite herself. Pisces smiled. That was it. He always seemed to be laughing at his own sense of humor, his mockery of the world. For the first time, Selys was laughing with him. She stopped as soon as she realized.
“Okay, tell me, Mister Intelligent. Why would the Drakes make a mistake like this? Unless they didn’t have enough metal for the back?”
Pisces stroked his bare chin.
“Hm. That is a theory, but I suspect we’ve already obtained the answer. Do you recall the revelation of the Heartflame Armor’s abilities we uncovered in Pallass’ library? It had an enchantment. A fiery ward that sprang up around the armor and user.”
“Huh. That does seem likely. So it would have protected the back. But are you sure it came from the armor?”
Pisces nodded. He gestured at the shining breastplate.
“It seems realistic to assume that the fiery protection on the armor was an effect of the Heartflame Breastplate, especially considering the motif and name.”
That was true. Selys stared at the armor. But no one had mentioned her uncle using the ability, and both Ilvriss and Zevara had just thought the armor was…well, legendary. They hadn’t wanted to test the ability, and she was sure they would have tried had they known.
“Do you know how it could be activated?”
“No, and I suspect Magnolia Reinhart herself may have lacked the information. The true powers of artifacts are often hidden from public knowledge. That is why I considered research—it may have more abilities lost to time.”
“So uncle wouldn’t have known how to use it?”
“He may not have had time to research it, if he had thought of it. An [Enchanter] would have known to ask such questions, but would a Reinhart have let him inspect the armor? Well…we shall never know if it was inspected before. As for now…”
He pondered over the armor, checking its front and back as Selys gently ran her claws over it. It was warm. Soothing.
“Spell activation is tricky. If it were a ring, it would be activated by twisting, but usually armor is activated by contact or some other set of rules. Touching it in a certain place, striking it with enough force…but the myth of the armor seems to indicate that the protection effect could be triggered at will. Why don’t we try a few activation phrases?”
“You know some? And it’ll work? Don’t you have to put it on?”
Selys couldn’t imagine…it was hers, but could she…? No. And Pisces was shaking his head.
“Simply uttering the right phrase should work, Selys. It’s actually quite difficult to make the armor ‘sense’ who is speaking, so personalizing the command trigger to only activate when the wearer speaks is usually not included in the enchantment’s features.”
Pisces nodded conspiratorially. He smirked.
“In fact, keeping the secret phrase of an artifact hidden is quite vital unless it has been truly customized to a certain vocal pattern. Otherwise an enemy could trigger the enchantment in battle. It has happened on more than one occasion, historically speaking.”
“Okay, then what are some command phrases?”
“Well…why don’t we keep inspecting it? Perhaps there are hidden touch-mechanics. And I will utter as many phrases as I know. Thankfully, we know the common language has remained unchanged forever, although written text often replaces itself. So any phrase would work. It’s the key that could be anything. A phrase, a single word…there are a number of mage-sounds that I will try first. And I will have you do the same.”
“It could be that the armor only activates for a Drake. That would be a tricky enchantment, but it is possible. Keep your hands on the armor. Also, if you know any archaic Drake expressions, they would be the most likely activation code.”
It sounded impossible, and yet, exciting, too. A mystery to solve. Selys placed her claw on the armor.
“How about this? Drakes do not run.”
The armor was warm underneath her claw. Selys waited, but nothing happened. She heard a cough. Pisces looked away from her.
“Ah, Sserys’ famous line probably postdates the creation of the armor by at least six hundred years…why don’t we try a few older phrases? Allow me to begin.”
He made a sound and had Selys copy it. She came up with a phrase—nothing happened. Pisces ran through over a hundred different mage-sounds, some of which Selys found nearly impossible to copy. Nothing happened. The two gave up when their voices went hoarse after about two hours. It was a fruitless two hours, but for some reason Selys felt much better afterwards, albeit with a sore throat. She’d had fun laughing at some of the phrases and sounds Pisces came up with.
“Ah, well, activating an artifact is an extraordinarily difficult task in the best of circumstances, and I am no [Enchanter]. A true shame, really. I always wanted to learn that discipline, but I never got the chance in Wistram…”
Pisces was chatting to Selys as he closed the door. Relc stood to attention, as did the [Mage]. Selys didn’t have to look at Relc’s red cheeks to know she’d shot him down. Or slapped him.
“Thanks for helping, Pisces. I’m going home—but I appreciate you giving me that advice.”
He smiled at her and hesitated as the sleepy [Guardsmen] marched over to escort Selys back to her apartment.
“I could come back tomorrow. This is a fascinating artifact, and if you would permit me to try and discover the key…”
Now it was her turn to pause. Selys looked at Pisces. He really had been helpful today. Surprisingly so. She found herself nodding.
“Sure. Why not? I owe you one.”
The smile he gave her was surprised, but he made a show of bowing to her as he bade her farewell. Relc muttered about ‘showoffs’ until the [Mage] standing next to him gave him a look. Pisces grinned impudently.
“Good night, Miss Selys.”
She smiled wearily.
“It’s just Selys.”
He nodded and strode into the rain. Selys watched him go, and then looked up. It was raining, still. It was always raining. And then she felt tired. Good moments were only that.
The next day Selys woke up, went outside, and visited her friends. She had to. She had to be social and normal or she’d go crazy. To her relief, she managed to find her usual gossip group and circle. Or rather, they found her. They walked through the rain from shelter to shelter as the [Guardsmen] followed, laughing and talking.
Today Selys was the topic of conversation. Drassi was off work so she was here, as were eight of Selys’ female friends and eleven male ones, even the ones Selys didn’t talk to this often. Even the ones she’d been fighting with, and an ex-boyfriend. They all wanted to make up and talk with her. No guesses why.
After fifteen minutes Selys was sick of it. The other Drakes were wagging their tails, agog over the gossip about Selys being approached by a Wall Lord and other cities to sell the armor. They wanted to know everything about it, what the reaction had been when the will had been read out loud. No one asked Selys about who had been wearing the armor.
“Can we…see it?”
One of the male Drakes suggested that quickly. The others leapt on his suggestion. That would be so rude! Selys was busy—and Watch Captain Zevara had it under lock and key. Guarded. No one could see it. But if they could…
“I think Zevara wants to keep everyone away. There are [Thieves] who want it, and there was an attempted break-in already.”
Everyone sighed in disappointment. Drassi nodded, though.
“There was another [Thief], Selys! They caught her this morning! Alive!”
Selys stared at her friend. But Drassi would know. She had both earholes to the ground and she caught rumors like a lizard caught flies. That analogy had caused a fight the last time Selys had jokingly said it out loud.
“Well, I’m sure Zevara can handle it. And Ilvriss. And Embria. I’m so done with talking about it.”
Instantly everyone took the cue. One of Selys friends looked around in the rain.
“I know, right? It’s so tiring talking about politics? Why don’t we go to a bar and relax instead?”
“It’s only just past morning!”
“Well—what if we—”
The others started arguing over the favorite place Selys might like, picking all of her favorites. Selys listened gloomily. It was a bit sickening. And depressing. Selys knew her friends and she wasn’t surprised by how they were behaving. She’d probably act the same way. At least Drassi was open about it.
“All I want to do is tell people I know you, Selys. Everyone’s asking me to introduce them to you, and they want to see the armor! I bet you could get a date with any guy in the city—even the married ones—if you promised to let them touch it. By the way, did you hear about the Goblins in Erin’s inn? They got their own artifacts—”
“No one wants to hear about Goblins, Drassi!”
One of Selys’ female friends, Wuvisa, glared at Drassi. The [Barmaid] rolled her eyes.
“They’re not bad Wuvisa. They don’t cause trouble—or try to slap your tail or butt like the Drakes in the bars I used to work at! They’re really scary, true, but listen—”
“Miss Selys Shivertail?”
A voice interrupted Drassi. All the young Drakes turned. Watch Captain Zevara strode up to them. She was in full uniform and Selys saw more than one of her male friends eye her tail admiringly. What was the saying? There was nothing like a Drake in uniform. Or something. Selys just sighed. She had no time for tails, and neither did Zevara. The Watch Captain nodded to Selys.
“I’m afraid I’ll have to borrow you, Miss Shivertail. There are a number of dignitaries and officials waiting to speak with you. In connection to your inheritance.”
The other Drakes oohed and tried to pester Zevara with questions. Selys didn’t. She looked at Zevara’s unhappy face and sighed.
Zevara led Selys through the city and into Liscor’s city hall. There was a small meeting room set up, with snacks and drinks. The Watch Captain offered Selys a seat and after a moment, showed a Drake in. Selys rose as a Drake from Pallass—a senator from the Assembly of Crafts—walked in and gave Selys a bright smile. She was the first of a series of Drakes who had requested to meet Selys. All about the armor she owned. Selys sat, nibbling on her snacks and sipping from a cup, bewildered, listening.
Each Drake wanted something from her, and each one phrased it differently. A Senator from Pallass, a [Mage] representing Wistram, a Drake speaking for Zeres, one from Oteslia, a trio of Drakes from lesser cities, Wing Commander Embria…
That last conversation stood out to Selys. At least Embria was short and to the point. She didn’t beat about the bush or offer Selys condolences for her loss or compliments. She walked in, gave Selys a firm handshake, and got straight to it.
“We want the armor.”
“So does everyone else.”
Selys’ arms were folded. Embria nodded.
“I’m well aware of the politics, Miss Selys. May I call you Selys?”
“Very well. I’m sure you’ve had any number of offers for the armor. Trades, bargains—and threats, no doubt.”
Selys was silent. More than one Drake had hinted not quite overtly that there could be trouble if the armor didn’t come their way. That was a scary threat, especially when it came from an entire Walled City. But a [Receptionist] could at least do a good blank face, so Embria got nothing more than the others. Embria went on without missing a beat.
“I want you to know that your safety is my priority, and the priority of Liscor’s High Command, regardless of what your decision is. Obviously, the army would appreciate the use of such a powerful artifact. We could reimburse you some of the cost, although I’m afraid purchasing the armor outright would strain a Walled City’s military budget.”
“So what’s your incentive? You’ll protect me if all the bad Drakes get angry?”
Embria’s face didn’t move, but her tail gave the tiniest of twitches, telling Selys she was getting to the Drake.
“We hope you could think of your civic pride. If not to us, then perhaps you might consider relinquishing it to the city’s custody? It could still be your possession, but be put to use defending the city itself as the situation demands.”
“Only it’d be yours. I get the point. Thanks, Wing Commander, is it? You can skip the part where I’ll end up dead in my bed if I don’t give the armor to you. I’ll just assume you said it, okay?”
Selys saw Embria’s eyes flash. The Drake stood up.
“Now listen here you ungrateful—”
“Wing Commander Embria!”
The red-scaled Drake snapped to attention. Zevara opened the door, giving her a frown. The Wing Commander’s red cheeks turned darker. Selys waved at Zevara who gave her a resigned look. She’d had to stop Drakes from trying to throttle or attack Selys three times before now. Selys was in a bad mood and she was inclined to share it.
“I think that’s enough for now, Wing Commander. Don’t you?”
“Yes. My apologies, Miss Selys. I shouldn’t have lost my temper. Consider my offer carefully. Liscor’s army is here to serve the city.”
“We didn’t see you when all the moths were trying to eat us!”
Selys shouted at Embria’s back. She heard the door slam and sat back with some satisfaction. Zevara eyed her as she took a seat—and a handful of dried fruit.
“I thought [Receptionists] were supposed to be welcoming.”
“Not in the Adventurer’s Guild. And it’s my day off. How many more do I have?”
Selys sighed. She was tired. Zevara shook her head.
“None for now. Ilvriss declined to take up your time. He just wants you to remember—”
“He’ll buy the armor. Yeah, yeah. And if I sell to him, Pallass might send an arrow into my skull.”
Zevara grimaced as she chewed.
“That’s a threat. I’d like to say it’s an idle one. If they do that, it’ll be a war.”
“Doesn’t help me if I’m dead. All these Drakes—you know, Oteslia offered me thirty thousand gold pieces and food for life? Just that. Food. They’ll feed me. What am I, a [Gourmet]?”
“It’s hard to compete with sheer wealth. Salazsar is rich, Oteslia less so. Other groups will offer you different incentives.”
“One of the Drakes offered me slaves. Is that legal here?”
“It’s rare, but not unheard of. There are strict rules about them, though.”
“Whatever. I don’t want slaves. I don’t want Wistram’s lesser artifacts or the gratitude of Liscor’s army. What should I do?”
Selys looked pleadingly at Zevara. She wasn’t that much older than Selys. Maybe seven or eight years at most. But the Watch Captain felt older. Zevara hesitated.
“I have no idea, Miss Selys. It’s a tricky situation with a time limit, as you know.”
“How long do I have?”
“I’m not sure. Wall Lord Ilvriss is protecting the armor and I believe his escort can ward off any potential thieves. I have Relc and Klbkch on guard duty as well, but Wall Lord Ilvriss is a member of Salazsar when all is said and done. There is some question about him influencing you…”
“Politics. He helped us defend Liscor.”
“My thoughts exactly. And he hasn’t given me any reason to doubt his word. It’s just that giving him aid—and by proxy, Salazar—would put Liscor in a tricky spot, especially with this doorway to Pallass. I can’t make a decision for you, but you should know what might occur.”
Zevara offered Selys a sympathetic look. She glanced at Selys’ empty cup and reached for the tea pot.
“You could just sell it. The amount of gold you’d get from an heirloom like that would set you up for life.”
“But if I sell it to Ilvriss—”
“Sell it to Wistram. Or the army. Those are the safest bets. They might not be able to outbid a larger city, but you’ll get the least amount of trouble for it. I think we Drakes would be happier if none of us had it, rather than one of us.”
Selys buried her head in her hands. Zevara looked at her and cleared her throat a few times.
“Look at it this way, Miss Selys. Make a decision and you’ll be rich for life.”
“However long I have left.”
There was nothing Zevara could say to that.
It was too hard. Selys lay on her grandmother’s desk, groaning. Her grandmother looked at her, and then pushed her off.
“I have work to do, Selys. This is your day off. Enjoy it.”
“How? I can’t go anywhere without an escort, and I have a magical artifact under lock and key! What am I supposed to do?”
“Stop lying on the floor. It’s dirty.”
Selys got up. She felt wretched.
“What do you think I should do, Grandma?”
“Sell it. Or give it away. I don’t particularly care.”
Tekshia sighed as Selys groaned and flopped back onto her desk. She rapped Selys on the head with a knuckle.
“You’re making too much of a fuss about this, Selys. The armor is armor. You’ll make enemies no matter what you do, so take the best deal and live with your choices! I had someone after my head when I was eleven! You’ll manage.”
“You need to decide for yourself. No moping! Get out there and make a choice, young one! And don’t let me catch you bothering the adventurers downstairs!”
“I know one I can bother.”
“Then go find them. But stay out of my Guild! Until work tomorrow. I expect you on time, escort and armor or not.”
There was no good way out. No right decision. Selys was trapped. And she hated everything. Right now she hated Pisces, despite him being very helpful of late.
“Try these command phrases next. ‘Ia curim law’. ‘What is will be and shall ever be the will of flame.’ Um…‘Drakes rule.’”
Pisces paced back and forth as Selys kept her hands on the Heartflame Breastplate. She looked up at him.
“Seriously? Drakes rule?”
“Any phrase could work, Selys. Any one at all. It’s the most nonsensical that would be chosen so no one would guess.”
“There’s no point. I give up.”
Selys leaned her cheek against the metal, not caring about smudging the legendary artifact anymore. Pisces turned to her.
“Don’t say that. Isn’t this exciting? The challenge. Imagine it! You could unlock the secrets of a powerful artifact today!”
His eyes gleamed. Selys just made a thbbting sound.
“It doesn’t matter. Someone else is going to get the armor. Let them have it.”
“Ah. So you’re inclined to sell?”
“I’m inclined not to die. Which means I have to sell at some point, only there’s no one I can sell it to that won’t make someone else mad! I’ll have to sell it and hire a [Bodyguard] for the rest of my life. How is that good?”
“You don’t have to sell it.”
“What? And keep it? Zevara won’t guard it forever—Relc’s already complaining about his job. [Thieves] will take it, or someone will kidnap me for it—what other options are there?”
“You could lend it—”
“Hah! That’s the same problem!”
“It doesn’t matter. I’ve got no choice.”
Selys turned her head away. She knew Pisces was trying to help, but she was just done with it all. Erin could handle something like this, but normal Selys had nothing. She’d just sell it to Embria. Or give it to Wistram. That was safe. Then she’d ask Zevara for protection…
What a mess. Selys leaned against the armor as she sensed Pisces coming over. He sat next to her quietly.
“Do you recall what I told you yesterday?”
“It’s not helping, Pisces.”
“Perhaps not. But you never gave me an answer. I asked you if you wanted this.”
“I don’t. Problem solved. Okay?”
Pisces didn’t move.
“That’s not a truthful answer. Truly, honestly, without the issue of pressure, do you want this armor?”
“It doesn’t matter!”
“I believe it does. You should make a choice that is honest to yourself.”
“Honest? Myself? Honestly, I don’t want this! I’m not special, Pisces! I’m not an adventurer like you!”
Selys raised her head. She wasn’t crying, but she was angry. She glared at the [Necromancer].
“I’m not meant for this. I’m just a [Receptionist]. This shouldn’t happen to me.”
“And yet it did. You may be Selys Shivertail, a [Receptionist], but your uncle was Zel Shivertail.”
“Don’t mention him. He’s not like me. He lived in a different world.”
Pisces raised his voice.
“So? You were part of that world. You can’t deny it! You may have only been his niece, but he cared about you enough to give you his armor!”
“It was a mistake!”
“It was his will. And you were part of his life! Enough so that he gave you this, even by mistake! You were part of a legend’s life, Selys. You can’t deny it.”
Selys thrust Pisces away. He retreated a bit, hurt. But he didn’t give up. He called at Selys as she wrapped her tail around her body.
“If you want to be ordinary, you can claim ignorance, but you know that you’re at least related to—”
“I said, shut up!”
Selys screamed at Pisces. She was so frustrated and angry that she actually hissed at him. The sound was loud in the small room, an angry viper’s hiss. Selys felt hot with embarrassment. No—not hot. Warm. She saw Pisces staring at her, pale-faced, and felt awful.
“Look, I didn’t mean to—you should probably go.”
Pisces was pointing, his finger shaking. Selys looked at him. Then she turned.
Behind her, the Heartflame Armor blazed. It was on fire. Flickering, ghostly pale red and orange flames licked across the armor, burning without smoke. There was heat without sound, motion without fuel. Selys stared at the armor as it blazed.
“You did it!”
Someone hugged her from behind. Selys yelped and looked into Pisces ecstatic face. The [Necromancer] danced about the armor, happier than Selys had ever seen him.
“That was it! That was it! Of all the sounds! What genius! What simple—”
“What? What was it? ”
Selys was confused until she recalled what she’d done. Her eyes widened.
“Hissing? But that’s—”
“So simple! Isn’t it? You wouldn’t expect it to be a phrase, and if you heard it in the heat of battle—and it’s something only a Drake would do! Do it again! Turn it off!”
“I’ll burn myself!”
“Try touching it from the inside!”
Cautiously, Selys did. She could feel the heat of the flames, but the inside of the breastplate was simply warm. Selys hissed, feeling embarrassed, but to her astonishment it worked! The flames immediately vanished. Pisces whistled slowly.
“Incredible. Hissing. A simple command, not lengthy, easy to activate and so simple that it would be overlooked by anyone attempting to guess the password. I suspect you can subvocalize the noise and activate the enchantment.”
“Make the sound so small, so inaudible that no one can hear it but you.”
She tried it. The flames flickered into life across the armor though the hissing sound barely passed her lips. Selys jumped. Pisces smiled widely.
Selys just stared at the armor. The flames licking across the metal were hypnotic. They weren’t just fiery red anymore—they had shifted to become slightly purple with a white core. As if the flames were reacting to something? It was magical fire, and a magical effect. Selys felt someone standing next to her. Pisces.
“And so I ask you one last time, Selys.”
She stared at him. Pisces pointed to the burning armor.
“Look at it. Selys. This armor was given to you. It was your uncle’s will that you have it. I have but one question for you: do you want it?”
Selys stared at him. She looked at the armor. She closed her eyes. She didn’t need to think of the answer. She’d known it all along.
“Are you sure?”
“It’s mine. It’s what my uncle gave to me. It’s mine.”
She reached out and turned the enchantment off. Selys touched the warm metal slowly. Mine. Hers. Of course she wanted it. What Drake wouldn’t? And there was a part of her that remembered. She’d wanted to be an adventurer, wanted to be a hero.
Maybe her uncle hadn’t thought of it. Maybe he hadn’t updated his will. But he had known the Goblin Lord was coming. Maybe he hadn’t cared. Or maybe he’d remembered and decided to do nothing anyways.
“What’s it like, Uncle?”
Pisces was staring. Selys turned her head. There was an epiphany in her mind, a rushing roar of understanding. She felt like her heart was about to beat out of her chest. Everything was slow and fast at the same time. Dreamlike.
“What a strange world we live in.”
That was Pisces for you. He stared curiously at Selys, waiting for her to elaborate. She stared at the armor.
“Is this real? Or am I dreaming? It doesn’t feel real. It’s like a fantasy. Something I’d imagine. How could this happen to someone like me?”
There was no answer. There never was. Selys was ordinary Selys. A Drake without aspirations, without ambition. Only, that wasn’t true. She’d had all those things, once. She’d just given up on them.
The armor was heavy. Probably six pounds. Which was heavy, for the average breastplate. But it was balanced well. Selys lifted it off the stand. If you wore it, it would be easy to move around in. Far lighter than if you had a back plate too.
It felt like it should be heavier. Selys lifted the armor up. A legend’s armor. It had been worn by General Ironscales, by heroes of the Drakes. It had been worn by the Tidebreaker, and it had seen more battle and glory than Selys could ever imagine. It was an artifact worthy of myth.
And it still looked a bit tacky. Selys inspected the Heartflame Breastplate.
Then she put it on.
Pisces gasped. Selys fastened the straps around her body, feeling the metal shift to fit her form. It was a perfect match, despite having been on Zel’s chest before now. It fit like a glove. And it was—comforting. Selys turned and Pisces backed up. His eyes were wide. He looked awed, in wonder and happy with it. Another emotion she’d never seen in him. Selys smiled.
“I’m going. Are you coming with?”
She laughed. And pointed.
Liscor was busy in the rain. People walked to and fro under awnings, grumbling about the rain but accustomed to the season’s weather. There was a lot to do. Business was business and there was actually more business in the spring. A lot of Drakes were on boats outside the city, hauling in prodigious catches of fish and watching out for aquatic monsters. Others were fishing from the walls, casting their lines into the water and returning with buckets of fish of varying sizes, shapes, and taste.
So there were plenty of people on the streets. Plenty of people who were going about their ordinary days doing what they thought of as mundane things. They looked up when they heard the shouting. They saw an ordinary Drake striding down the wet street. An ordinary Drake, a young woman. A [Receptionist].
Wearing the Heartflame Armor.
Selys heard the shouting. She’d been hearing it since she’d left the room with Pisces following. She had a crowd in her wake. Angry Drakes, [Guardsmen], officials. Shouting at her. Telling her all kinds of things.
“You can’t do that!”
“Put it back!”
“Who do you think you are?”
Noise. Selys walked through it all. She stopped in the street as Drakes and Gnolls paused, looking at her. The Heartflame Breastplate was warm on her chest. It shone. It would make a good nightlight. But that wasn’t all it could do. Selys took a breath, her heart pounding. Then, ever so softly, so quietly even the Gnolls couldn’t hear it, she hissed.
And there was fire. It sprang around Selys, covering her hands, her tail, her face—but she could see straight through the flames. It was only when she looked at her body that she saw the blue flame. She heard the angry shouting go silent. And then there were voices raised in awe.
They didn’t matter either. It was just Selys, standing in the street. She stood and felt the armor burning.
Heat. Selys closed her eyes. She felt warm. Only, it wasn’t heat. The burning flames around her didn’t touch her scales. She didn’t feel the temperature. But her heart—
Her heart beat fiercely in her chest. Her blood rushed. Selys opened her eyes and felt alive. She looked around and finally took in the crowd.
People were staring at her. Hundreds. Some were running, others shouting. A Drake had fallen to his knees. A Gnoll was staring mesmerized into the flames. Another Gnoll was shaking her head, pinching herself. So many eyes, so many faces.
All turned towards her. It was surreal. Selys had been at the center of attention in the Adventurer’s Guild. She had made announcements, shouted for attention—never this. This was something else. This was a moment she couldn’t forget, a brief window in time where a part of the world had stopped to stare.
At her. Selys looked around and then started walking. She had to. She had to move. The crowd parted before her and trailed in her wake. Selys walked through the rain as it burned and turned to steam on her armor.
She walked with her knees shaking, her head light. Every head turned towards her. Selys felt the world passing slowly. For a second, a minute, she was the center of the world. It was terrifying. Amazing.
She wasn’t supposed to be here. They were staring—Selys shook like a leaf. But she was warm. And that gave her the courage to on.
Down the street. Through the crowds as every person in Liscor came to a stop. Whatever they were doing, whatever they had planned—Selys occupied their attention. Zevara came running down the street and stopped. Embria paused as she and Ilvriss ran forwards. They became part of the audience.
Left at the intersection. Walking the same path from her apartment she’d always done. Selys looked around, trying to remember this feeling. Trying to capture every moment for the rest of her life.
There was a two-story building ahead of her. The doors were worn with age. Selys put her hand on the handle and opened it. Adventurers rose to their feet. The [Receptionist] on duty fell out of her chair. Selys walked into the Adventurer’s Guild.
Her home. She heard the crowd press at the doors. She saw an elderly Drake walk down the stairs and waved at her. Tekshia stared at her granddaughter, blazing, on fire. Selys walked past the line of wet adventurers, seeing them flinch back from her. She saw the Halfseekers turn. Gold-rank adventurers, staring at her just the same as the children.
The [Receptionist] at the desk backed away. Selys rested a claw on the wood and saw it begin to burn. She lifted her claw and turned. A room full of faces stared at her.
Ten minutes. That’s how long it had taken for her to come here at a slow walk. Ten minutes. That was enough.
For ten minutes she had been a hero. Selys looked at her grandmother and saw Tekshia looking at her with an expression Selys had never seen on her face. Wonder? Awe? Respect? There were no words. Selys stepped behind her counter. She ran a claw over it and saw smoke rising. Then she leaned on the desk. She hissed and the flames died out.
In the silence, the smoke drifting from the desk drifted upwards and vanished. The Drakes, Gnolls, Humans, and other adventurers stared at Selys. She stood at her desk, wearing the Heartflame Breastplate. She smiled as wide as she ever had.
At the head of the crowd was a young man in white robes. Pisces stared at Selys. She beckoned him forwards, as if he were in line. He took a few hesitant steps. Selys leaned towards him.
“So what comes next? Huh?”
Pisces blinked. He stared at her, and then around the room. She didn’t have to say it. She knew he was thinking the same thing. Sometimes, just sometimes, it was good to be the center of attention. At last, Pisces smiled. He looked at Selys, that challenging, excited gleam in his eyes.
“I don’t know. But I’m eager to find out.”
Selys stood in a room with an odd group. Watch Captain Zevara. Wall Lord Ilvriss. Pisces. None of them were people she’d normally talk to. Well, maybe Pisces, but that was so new as well. And yet, she didn’t feel afraid of talking to them anymore. Instead, Selys was all business.
When you wore the Heartflame Breastplate, people listened to you. Sometimes it was because you were on fire. But it was also because you’d dared. Dared to put it on. Even Ilvriss hadn’t dared to try. It was Selys’ armor. Hers.
And she was talking about giving it away. Pisces stood with a sheaf of parchment in hand, reading through his notes, talking animatedly. He’d been using [Message] spells all day. He’d taught himself the spell, apparently.
“…and in light of the new enchantment’s trigger being discovered, all of the cities are bidding desperately. They regard the armor’s powers—correctly—as something that could turn the tide of battle if used to full effect. A [General] wouldn’t need to fear danger and take to the front lines with far more certainty with such a powerful protective enchantment.”
“If my uncle had known how it worked, I wonder if it would have helped him.”
“There’s no telling. But the armor—”
Ilvriss stared at the breastplate. Selys had put it back on the armor stand. People also tended to stare at your chest if you wore it while talking to them. And it got heavy. Pisces nodded.
“I have noted your increased bid for the armor, Wall Lord Ilvriss. Backed by your Walled City, you are of course fielding one of the highest bids for the armor, from a pure monetary perspective.”
“One of the highest? Who else is bidding?”
Ilvriss swung around to stare at Pisces. The [Necromancer] smiled.
“Confidential, I’m afraid. Some of the potential buyers wish to preserve their anonymity, I’m sure you understand.”
Ilvriss narrowed his eyes, but he couldn’t exactly sneer at or ignore Pisces. The young man cleared his throat.
“However, yours is certainly an alluring bid. And Pallass is aware of it. They are concerned about Wall Lord Ilvriss’ ties to Liscor and have come up with a counteroffer, Selys.”
He turned to Selys and smiled.
“They’re willing to offer you a modest sum if you’ll agree not to lend, lease, or otherwise give the armor to Wall Lord Ilvriss.”
Zevara and Ilvriss looked at Pisces. He looked smug. Selys stared at him.
“Not to sell it to Ilvriss? But then I’d be getting money—”
“For nothing. Exactly.”
Pisces looked around at the Drakes. He sighed.
“It’s a simple concept! A magical artifact can make money simply by existing and remaining neutral—especially in ideal circumstances like these. Pallass and the other Walled Cities are keen to get their hands on such an artifact, but not at the cost of outbidding each other. They would rather pay a small fee to ensure none of their enemies turn up on the battlefield wearing that armor than obtain it for themselves.”
Zevara looked aghast at the idea of paying someone for nothing. Pisces laughed. He actually laughed!
“No. Just politics. Terandria has treaties like this in place. That’s where I hit upon the idea.”
“And you’re willing to hold onto the armor? Even if it means risking losing it? We can’t guard it forever, especially if you want to wear it.”
Ilvriss turned to Selys, looking exasperated. She shook her head.
“I still want to earn money off it. More money, I guess. Come on in!”
She raised her voice and the door opened. Ilvriss looked past Selys and up as a giant head appeared. A half-Giant head. Moore stepped carefully into the room, bending so as not to bang his head on the ceiling. Jelaqua strode in after her and Seborn appeared at their backs. Selys shook Jelaqua’s hand.
“You’re serious about this?”
The Selphid stared at the armor. Zevara and Ilvriss, catching on, stared hard at Selys. The [Receptionist] just nodded.
“I’m willing to lease the armor to your team, Miss Jelaqua. Lease, not sell.”
“For the dungeon? How would that work?”
The Selphid scratched at the back of her head, her claws brushing the spines. Her tail twitched and Selys wondered if she could hiss using her body’s new throat. They’d figure something out if not.
“It’s very simple. I’ll let you use the armor to take on the dungeon—or any missions in the area. You’d have to give it back to me after a set amount of time, but you can use it until our contract expires.”
The Halfseekers stared at each other. Seborn raised a hand.
“And if we lose it or it breaks? We’re adventurers. Accidents happen.”
“If you can find something that can break the Heartflame Breastplate, I’d love to see it. From really far away.”
Selys folded her arms. She nodded at a book that Pisces had found for her.
“I’ve been doing some research. With Pisces. Possession of artifacts is very clear. Under Drake law it means that if you die with the armor on in the dungeon, it’s mine. If it’s stolen, it’s still mine. Only in war does that rule not apply. If you lose it in the dungeon, I’ll hire someone to get it back.”
“And it’s not likely to break. Alright. But what happens to you in the meantime? I’ve been hearing rumors that lots of people are targeting you. I’d hate to get my team involved in…”
Jelaqua looked around at the other Drakes and hesitated.
“That’s a good point. Miss Selys, your life would be danger if—especially if you lent the armor to adventurers.”
Ilvriss looked like he was struggling to find a flaw in Selys’ plan. The Drake [Receptionist] just smiled. She looked at Pisces who gave her a self-satisfied smirk.
“Pisces had an idea about that, actually. It’s the kind of underhanded thing I would expect from him.”
“I shall take that compliment in the spirit with which it was given.”
Zevara looked at Pisces. It was Selys who replied.
“In the event of my death, the armor doesn’t go to anyone in my family. No matter what I say, no matter what I might sign, it’ll go straight back to Magnolia Reinhart. With instructions on how to use it. That will is good for ten years, at which point I’ll have to renew it or write another one.”
Ilvriss spluttered in horror at the thought. Selys imagined that would be the reaction of most Drakes. She nodded.
“Back to her. I can’t change it no matter what. That will is solid and sealed by a Wistram Mage—”
“Falene. Pah. As if I couldn’t do the spellcasting myself given a moment’s time to study—”
The Watch Captain of Liscor ignored Pisces. She studied Selys seriously.
“And if she has you killed? Magnolia Reinhart uses [Assassins].”
Selys gritted her teeth.
“Then she’ll have to get through every Drake who cares about the armor to get me. And I’d say one Human [Lady] being after me is better than six Walled Cities pulling me apart, don’t you?”
Ilvriss had the decency to blush slightly. He looked around and sighed.
“Ancestors. You’re serious about this, aren’t you?”
“Absolutely. Jelaqua, if you’re willing, I’ll lease the armor to you. I know I could find a team in Pallass or someone else in Liscor—the Silver Swords, maybe—but I wanted to ask you first.”
Jelaqua looked dumbfounded. She looked at her teammates, and then at Selys, rather helplessly.
“Well of course we’d love to borrow it, even for a day! But Selys, we can’t afford—”
“Oh, it’s not about how much you can pay me now. I just want a cut of whatever you get.”
Selys interrupted the Selphid. Jelaqua snapped her fingers.
“You do? Of course! A cut of the treasure!”
“I don’t need artifacts or anything else. All I want is a percentage of anything you find. You can have first rights to artifacts and compensate me the cost.”
The Halfseekers stared at Selys. She held her breath as they turned. Moore covered their heads as he bent his to confer. Jelaqua turned back within a minute.
“Well, if it’s a percentage of our findings, we could offer you thirty percent—but let’s talk this over, okay? How’s a drink sound? At Erin’s?”
Selys smiled. She turned to Pisces and he gave her a thumbs-up. He looked satisfied as he edged over to Selys.
“I get a cut of the profits, right?”
She stared flatly at him. Pisces lost his smile.
“Ah. Was that the wrong time to ask?”
He yelped as Selys poked him in the side. The [Receptionist] winked.
It wasn’t over with the Halfseekers. Before they met to discuss the terms of their contract, which would be magically enforced and certified by Liscor’s Watch Captain, Selys strode into Tekshia Shivertail’s office. The elderly Drake looked up as Selys thrust a parchment onto the table for her. Selys didn’t wait for Tekshia to speak.
“The Goblins are going to be a Bronze-rank team. They’ll work their way up through the system, but this way Liscor can take credit for them entering the dungeon, and we get a cut of whatever they find. Otherwise we have five Goblins running about who aren’t under anyone’s control but Erin’s.”
Tekshia picked up the form to create a Bronze-rank team. She studied it. Then she pushed it back across the desk.
Selys leaned over the desk. She should have worn her armor.
Tekshia’s face didn’t change.
“I don’t trust them.”
“So? You’re not the [Guildmistress].”
Selys stared at her grandmother. She glared, and then took a deep breath.
“I’m not. But I say it should be this way, Grandma. If you’ll sign this, I’ll take responsibility for the Goblins. If they cause trouble, I’ll take the blame. Not you. You can put that in writing.”
She jabbed a claw at the parchment. For a second she thought Tekshia would scoff at her, but then, to her astonishment, Tekshia laughed. The elderly Drake grabbed a quill as Selys stared at her in astonishment.
“Do you know how long I’ve been waiting to hear you take some responsibility for your actions? Fine. If you’ll put your tail on the line…”
She signed the parchment with a flourish. Selys gaped at her.
“Oh, don’t stare. I’ve waited for ages for you to suggest something and have the spine to back up what you’re suggesting. You’ll never get anywhere by trying to get someone else to take the risks, Selys. An adult takes chances and backs them up! A shame you had to make Goblin adventurers your first big decision. Ah, well.”
Tekshia sighed as she pushed the parchment back towards Selys. The Drake stared and then snatched the parchment up. She peered at the signature. It was real. She glared at her grandmother.
“Wait, was this all another test? You mean all my suggestions—Pisces cleaning the sewers—all that was to prepare me to follow in your footsteps?”
The old Drake paused in nibbling at her quill tip.
“Hardly. I just don’t like [Necromancers]. What’s this about you following in my footsteps?”
“I thought—you were preparing to make me the Guildmaster! Guildmistress!”
“You’ve been having me run about, do all kinds of important work for the Guild. And you keep talking about your bad back and how much work there is. I thought…”
Selys trailed off as Tekshia gave her an incredulous look. The old Drake shook her head.
“Guildmaster? You thought I was grooming you to replace me? Hah!”
She barked a laugh and pointed her inky quill at Selys like a dagger. Tekshia grinned, her teeth inky in one spot.
“You can have my place when I’m dead, Selys, and not a moment before! I just wanted you to take some responsibility and start leveling up again!”
Selys felt like Tekshia had kicked the rug out from under her. The old Drake cackled.
“I’ll give you a small raise. Assuming you’re not too busy running around in armor?”
“I—but—you—I worked so hard—and you—”
Selys spluttered. Tekshia shook her head.
“You’re not having my job. Too much good fortune is bad for your character, anyways.”
“I hate you! I worked so hard! And for what? I’m not working overtime again!”
Selys raged as she turned and stomped away from the desk. She had to come back for the parchment. Tekshia nearly laughed her tail off. But she stopped Selys as the young Drake stormed for the door.
“It was a smart idea to keep it, Selys.”
Selys turned. The young Drake woman smiled at Tekshia, her anger forgotten.
“I know. And I couldn’t just give it away. After all, Uncle Zel gave it to me.”
“He did at that.”
The door closed. Tekshia watched Selys hurry down the street through the window and laughed before snorting.
“Guildmistress? Hah! Not this year.”
Then she reached under her desk and produced something round and soft to nibble on while she worked. It was a cookie.
It wasn’t over. Selys sat at a table in The Wandering Inn, talking animatedly with Jelaqua. She was no [Shopkeeper], but she had a certain degree of charm, and she could talk shop with any adventurer under the sun.
“I’m just asking for a reasonable percentage of whatever profits you make. With this armor you can literally walk through some traps unharmed. And the flame enchantment will protect you from all kinds of effects. For a Selphid you’d practically be invulnerable, wouldn’t you?”
“True. But we haven’t tested the magnitude of the enchantments. Forty percent is high. Hell, thirty percent is high! We’re doing all the work!”
“And I have a legendary artifact. With it on you might be a Named Adventurer, Jelaqua. Think of that. If you don’t want it, I could talk to Ylawes…”
The Selphid was thinking, Selys could tell. Jelaqua leaned back to whisper to Seborn, and someone passed by their table.
Erin lifted a mug, smiling. Selys smiled too. She had barely had time to talk with Erin over these last few days. But that was the thing, wasn’t it? Erin had her busy life to lead. She was always getting into trouble or finding something weird. And for once, Selys could relate.
“I’ll have a fruit drink, Erin. No more alcohol. But can I have another kebab?”
“Coming right up! Hey, did you know I didn’t make this for once? Ishkr’s really good at searing the meat. As good as I am with my [Advanced Cooking] Skill!”
Erin left and returned with some hot skewers of pork and chicken. Selys gobbled one down happily as Jelaqua looked resigned. She had her on the ropes! Selys would be content with thirty five percent, actually. It was just a matter of getting the Selphid to agree…
Selys paused as she chewed and swallowed. Her armor was going to be huge, especially if Jelaqua’s team found something. But there was something she had to do as well tonight. It had to be tonight. She’d talked with Zevara and it had to be tonight. Zel’s remains would be transported through to Pallass tomorrow with a huge honor guard. So…
“Erin, I need a big favor.”
The [Innkeeper] looked intrigued. Selys scooted her chair back to whisper in her ears.
“I need you to pull a few strings to get some people to help me. Here’s what I’ll need…”
Later that night, two [Guardsmen] stood in one corner of Liscor as the rain fell unceasingly. They were on duty—it was customary for the Watch to post a guard here regardless of weather or circumstance. The graveyards of all major cities were well-tended and the remains were disposed of in such a way that the undead couldn’t rise, but you could never be too certain.
It was wet. One of the [Guardsmen] shifted and yawned. He raised his voice and spoke above the patter of rain to his companion.
“Say, Klb, old buddy. How much trouble would we be in if we were caught doing this?”
The Antinium standing next to him paused. Rain dripped off his mandibles as he opened them to reply.
“By saying ‘we’, are you referring to you and I as Senior Guardsmen, the four of us present in the graveyard, or the entire group including Watch Captain Zevara and Miss Solstice?”
“Any of us.”
“Hmm. I believe in our case we would both be fired or forced to resign instantly, be court martialed, perhaps imprisoned and potentially be executed.”
“Ah. Right. I was just curious.”
They turned their attention back to watching. Not watching for intruders, but rather, watching for anyone who might catch the two intruders already in the graveyard. They were holding shovels. One of them whispered to the other.
“Can you hurry up?”
“I’m trying! This would be easier if you let me use an undead rather than do it myself—”
Pisces straightened, mopping dirt, sweat and rain from his forehead. Selys glared at him.
“What, and get murdered for desecrating the graveyard more than we already are?”
“I think this is a treasonous offense either way. The coffin is just a few more feet.”
“It has bones in it. Of course I’m sure!”
Pisces was irate. He hadn’t signed up for manual labor as he’d pointed out all night, but Selys had trusted no one else. Ironically, the [Necromancer] was her only expert in this field. Digging up a grave.
Not just any grave either. Selys shuddered. She pointed at Pisces.
“Don’t you dare steal so much as a bone from this graveyard. I mean it, Pisces!”
“I wouldn’t dare.”
He sounded sincere so Selys relaxed. Pisces grunted as he hopped back in the hole he’d dug.
“Besides, all the bones are disposed of in such a way that they can’t be used easily. Warded coffins, silver dust…it really is inconvenient. Or so I’ve heard.”
“Please stop talking. You’re standing over his grave.”
Selys closed her eyes tightly. She clutched the urn to her chest as Pisces kept digging. She heard him pause.
“Ah. Here we are.”
Selys looked down. Pisces clambered out of the hole he’d dug and eyed the gravestone in front of the hole. It was a marvelous tombstone, a grand thing that looked a lot better in the daylight. The name of the owner was emblazoned across it. A name every Drake child knew. A name from history.
“The coffin is right there. I presume you don’t want to open it? It’s probably loaded with enough ward spells to destroy half this graveyard if I managed to break through it at all.”
“No, it’s fine. It just needs to be next to the coffin. Here. Give me a moment.”
Pisces walked back. He stared at Selys as she opened the urn. In the pouring rain, Selys hesitated over the hole. A perverse part of her thought it would be so funny if she tripped and fell in. Then she stared at the urn.
It was so small. Too small. And try as she might, Selys couldn’t find enough sadness in her heart. It was there, but she’d done so much mourning that it was smaller. Truly. And this moment didn’t strike her as sad. She held the urn over the grave and said a few words that were lost to the rain. Perhaps Pisces heard it—perhaps not. The rain was loud. But then again, he could read lips.
Selys poured the urn’s contents into the hole in the ground. The ash fell, a brief cloud, settling into the grave. Selys stood there for a minute and then turned to Pisces.
“Okay, let’s cover it all back up. Hand me a shovel.”
The two got to work, piling the wet, heavy dirt back into the grave and tamping it down. Pisces even levitated the plaque back into place, adding the uprooted turf so it looked like no one had ever tampered with the grave. The two stepped back and there was a moment where they looked at each other. Pisces cleared his throat.
“Turnscale. Not a word I’m familiar with.”
Selys jumped. She glanced at Pisces and he shrugged. Selys hesitated and turned away.
“That’s probably because it’s not a word you’d find in any Drake book.”
He nodded, flicking wet hair out of his eyes.
“You’re most likely correct. But I can guess the meaning.”
“Yeah. It’s fairly obvious.”
“From the context of what you’ve done, I can only infer one conclusion. Selys. Am I right in thinking…?”
Selys looked at Pisces. He fell silent.
The [Necromancer] looked startled.
“Truly? I can understand General Shivertail. But was Sserys…?”
The Drake [Receptionist] hesitated.
“No one knew. He died long ago and uncle never talked about it. But I think he and uncle were…he wouldn’t have written that if it hadn’t been true.”
Zel Shivertail’s will. The words that had been taboo, unutterable. Unthinkable. They came to Selys, unbidden.
Bury me with my love.
A simple request, nothing more. She had honored it as best she could. Selys turned away. Pisces stared at the grave.
“Could you imagine?”
“If it were true. Think of what that would mean for history!”
“It was true. No one talked about it.”
Selys stared at the grave. It felt…good. She’d just dug up a grave, in a sense, despoiled the grave of Liscor’s greatest hero, General Sserys. If Embria had known about this she would have beheaded Selys and Pisces in an instant. Or stabbed them. She did use a spear. But Selys only felt good. It was what Zel had wanted. And she thought it was what Sserys would have wanted.
She lingered over the grave as Pisces walked back towards the entrance of the graveyard, where Relc and Klbkch were waiting. Selys stared at the grave. There was no grave for Zel, no marker of where he had been truly buried. But she thought he might have liked it that way. He didn’t like standing out, in the end. He’d done it out of duty.
And now he was gone. Selys rubbed at her eyes but found nothing to irritate them but grave dirt. It truly was the end. She bowed her head and spoke one last time.
“Goodbye, Uncle. Rest well.”
Above, the rain kept falling. It should have stopped. There should have been a moment of peace, perhaps a brief ray of sunlight or something else. But there was nothing. Selys turned and trudged away. She looked back only once.
She wondered what had been. What might have been. And for an instant, Selys imagined a tall [General], proud and commanding, laughing with Zel Shivertail over a cup in the corner of an inn. For a moment Selys could see it—then it was gone. Selys left the graveyard, empty urn in hand. She had to come back fifteen minutes later to find the lid.
Here’s how it finished. That night, Selys stayed up late, taking care to wash all the dirt off her scales in a tepid bath of rainwater and soap. Then she sat in her small apartment and made a small fire, though the rainy spring night really didn’t call for it. She let the fire burn hotly for a long while, breaking up the decaying logs and embers until it was burning low, and then extinguished it. Then Selys waited some more, until the embers were out. She gathered a dustpan and broom and began collecting what was in her fireplace. She got a good helping—not too much, and sifted through it to remove any telltale debris.
At last, Selys poured the hot ash and dust into the urn, and then set it carefully on her dresser, wiping the rim so it looked polished and untouched. Selys stared at it for a second and then shook her head.
“Have fun burying that with a big ceremony.”
She turned, blew out the candle on her bed, and lay down. She was so tired. Selys hadn’t ever been more exhausted in her life, not even after fighting for her life against the undead! She had worn herself down. But she felt good. Relaxed. Almost at once, Selys drifted off to sleep.
[Receptionist Level 19!]
[Heiress Level 6!]
[Skill – Legacy Whispers: Heartflame Set obtained!]
In the night, the rain poured down. Slowly, the Drake sat back up in her bed. Eyes wide. She heard thunder, and then words. There was no voice that spoke them, no tongue to shape them. They appeared in her head, searing, unforgettable.
To find the helm of fire,
Look to death’s ire;
That village without rest,
Where the Putrid One met his death.
They were there, and then only a memory. But what a memory. Selys sat in bed, clutching her covers to her chest, heart pounding wildly. She looked around.
And then she went back to sleep.