Interlude – Niers

“I can’t believe it. I can’t. Is it a message? A code? Were they just bored? Or—something else?”

“Mm. I don’t know.”

“It has to be something. It can’t just be nothing. I have to know what it means.”

“You agree it means something, don’t you? Foliana? Foliana?

The Squirrel-tribe Beastkin looked up. Foliana, leader of the Forgotten Wing Company, head of one of the Four Great Companies of Baleros, and world-famous assassin known as Three-Color Stalker, looked up. She was eating a plate of spaghetti. In a hot tub.

Foliana was a squirrel. Or rather, a squirrel with decidedly humanoid features but still evidently a squirrel. Just larger. She was of the Beastkin, the furred people of Baleros who resembled animals. Naturally, Foliana was of the Squirrel tribe. Her eyes were remarkable; the pupils were a mix of three distinct colors, bright red-pink, dreamy yellow, and clear green.

The rest of Foliana’s body was bland. In fact, so bland that she was often overlooked when people were standing right next to her. And if Foliana so chose, she could literally turn invisible. She wasn’t invisible now. She was sitting in a hot tub, her fur damp, as steam rose about her. And floating across from her in the water, staring at a miniature chess board upon which spectral chess pieces sat was Niers Astoragon. The Titan.

He was a Fraerling, a race of tiny people. He was also the second-in-command of the Forgotten Wing Company and considered to be one of, if not the greatest [Strategists] living. He floated in the hot tub, staring at the chess pieces that until recently had been moving and playing a game of chess all without his involvement.

“They played for over half a day and then just stopped. Dozens of chess games, all against themselves. At least, I think against themselves. The quality of their play was phenomenal. I can’t imagine they had an opponent of that level.”

“Mhm.”

Foliana slurped spaghetti off her plate. It was floating in a wooden bowl and she had a fork. The spaghetti had an ink-sauce that the Lizardfolk liked on top of it and there was a meatball.

If it seemed extraordinary that Foliana was eating spaghetti despite not having known of Italy or Earth for that matter, it shouldn’t have been. After all, there were only so many ways to make pasta and meatballs were meat…balls. It wasn’t exactly rocket science.

Now, if Foliana had called the dish spaghetti, that would have been a lot of coincidences. But both she and Niers knew the dish as a Dullahan favorite called Damcli Noodles. With meatballs. It was just that anyone from Earth would recognize the dish as spaghetti if they were in the room. Which they weren’t.

It was Foliana’s second bowl of spaghetti too. She slurped up more noodles as Niers stared at the chess board, waiting for his mysterious opponent to make another move. He didn’t seem to mind that Foliana was dripping ink sauce into the hot tub and the occasional noodle. Neither did she. She was eating spaghetti. Muffins were dead. Spaghetti was all.

“I just don’t understand. What do you think?”

Niers looked up hopefully. It was his and Foliana’s custom to have a hot bath after a campaign. They’d just finished a dirty series of skirmishes in one of the swampier regions of Baleros, which made the bath doubly important. Although Baleros was hot and humid, people preferred hot baths. It was a luxury and it provided several useful benefits if you had a bath Balerosian-style.

That meant the water was hot enough to scald, which meant it was hot enough to kill leeches and other parasites. And Baleros had plenty of bugs and objectionable things that liked to infest the body. So Niers and Foliana were bathing, as many did. Naked.

In Foliana’s case there wasn’t much to see due to the fur. There wasn’t much to see in Niers’ case, but that was only because he was tiny. Neither Niers nor Foliana was embarrassed or even conscious of their nudity, but it had been remarked upon. Foliana began to eat her meatball as she replied to Niers.

“I think it’s weird that none of your students want to bathe with us. Mm.”

Niers sighed. But Foliana had answered his question in her own particular way. He shrugged, letting his body sink down a bit more into the water. Fraerlings were natural floaters, given that there really wasn’t much weight for them to sink with.

“They’re nervous. Even my oldest students don’t want to share a hot tub. And I think you scare them.”

“Mm. Not all of them. Some didn’t want to join us because of the naked thing. Why?”

The tiny man shrugged.

“Other continents don’t practice mixed bathing. Or nude bathing. Or bathing at all, for that matter. It depends on the culture, but I don’t think that bathing together is a custom in Izril, Chandrar, or Terandria.”

“Weird.”

“Only to us. I’ve heard of foreigners insisting on wearing clothing into the water.”

“Why?”

Niers grinned, forgetting about the chess board for one moment.

“I think they’re afraid to see each other’s genitals. Especially Terandrians. I met a group of noblemen once who nearly fainted at the idea of seeing each other naked.”

“Why? Are they afraid of seeing something scary?”

“Or being seen, I suspect. The noblewomen were far more relaxed about the idea. They even invited me to join them.”

“Naked?”

“I suspect I was less threatening due to my size. Not that their husbands seemed to think so. Anyways, you won’t get my students to join me. Half are too afraid I’ll ask them a question they can’t answer or you’ll stab them—”

“Why?”

“—And the other half is too embarrassed. A shame; I thought Venaz would join us at least, but Minotaurs are surprisingly prudish. Not about seeing each other nude, but he refused to get in the tub with anyone of the opposite sex.”

“Mm…”

“He’s male.”

“Ah.”

Foliana nodded and slurped from her bowl of noodles. She knew who Venaz was of course. She’d met Niers’ students who attended his [Strategist] academy. And she had a very clear image of the Minotaur in her head. But the fact that he was big, muscular, and had a deep voice hadn’t helped her that much. He could have been a flat-chested female Minotaur. You never knew.

Niers realized he’d gotten sidetracked. He scowled and paddled over to his chessboard, which had floated away from him in the hot water.

“Enough about bathing. Back to the game. What do you think? About that.”

“I think it’s weird that your chessboard floats in the water. Mhm.”

The Fraerling glared up at his old friend, but with resignation. Foliana had an odd way of thinking. It was circular and she bounced from idea to idea and was surprisingly stubborn about changing lines of thought.

“Why? It’s a practical thing, to have a floating chessboard. Especially if I want to play while bathing. Like now.”

“But everything you have floats.”

That was true. Almost all of Niers’ possessions that were in any way valuable floated. His map case, his bag of holding, even his sword’s handle was made of highly buoyant wood that would allow it to float in the water. Niers grimaced.

“I’ve told you this before. Fraerlings like to make things that float. It rains in Baleros, if you hadn’t noticed. And if you’ve lost your sword or something valuable, the last thing you want to do is dive into a freshwater sea eight feet deep and try to retrieve it while fish and frogs try to swallow you whole.”

“Mm. So you don’t like ponds.”

“I’m six inches tall. Of course I don’t like ponds! Now will you tell me what you think about the game?”

“…This game?”

Niers splashed water at Foliana. She lifted her spaghetti bowl and kept eating, undeterred. After a few seconds, Niers began talking half to himself and half to Foliana.

“You don’t understand it. But you don’t play chess. I do. Dead gods, people think I invented the game. But this? Look at this!”

He waved a trembling hand at the chess board. Foliana looked into her bowl. It was empty. And the water was cooling. She decided she was done with her bath. She got out as Niers talked.

“My opponent—he—she—it—played twenty six games. All master-class games! At speed! Against themselves! Are they trying to tell me I’m not on their level? Or—was this a demonstration? Are there two players of that quality in this world? Selphid’s tits, tell me there are.”

Foliana paused in toweling herself off.

“Selphids have tits?”

Niers sighed. He rubbed at his face. He had grey and black hair and a sharp beard. And an irked expression. He looked up and glared.

“Selphids don’t have tits, Foliana. You know that. You’ve heard the expression before.”

“Mm. Yes. But how do you know that?”

Foliana waited, but she only heard a sigh.

“Pass me a towel, would you?”

The Squirrel-woman delicately picked up a tiny piece of fabric and passed it to Niers as he climbed out of the tub. She lifted his chess board up and set it on a table before doing the same to Niers. He industriously dried himself—his towel was spelled to absorb moisture and made of the highest-quality cotton grown on Baleros.

Foliana was using a much cheaper towel. She’d probably acquired it from someone else’s bathroom in the citadel. The former palace turned into living quarters for the Forgotten Wing company was their home when not on campaign.

“Selphids look like blobs. You know that. They don’t have tits. And yes, I’ve seen that first-hand.”

“Lewd. Mm. What would the children say?”

“They’re the ones that taught me that expression.”

Niers looked around for some clothes and walked across his table towards them. He walked past his bed, personal belongings, and a small library of books which had all been arranged on the table Foliana was sitting at. Eating a third bowl of spaghetti. This one was flavored with pieces of seaweed and a pink, sweet glaze sauce to cut the saltiness.

“So your mysterious opponent played a lot of games.”

“Yes.”

“And?”

Foliana saw Niers glance at his chess board as he came back, throwing on a pair of leggings and hose.

“And now someone else has a hold of it. An idiot, by the looks of things.”

Someone was moving the magical chess pieces. Only, they weren’t playing a game with them. Many pairs of hands were piling up the chess pieces on top of each other. Niers sighed.

“Someone else has the chess board. Damn! But who?”

They were making a tower out of the magical chess pieces. It had to be children. Niers stared glumly at the board as the tower fell over and then was quickly reassembled. He shook his head. Foliana looked interested for the first time.

“Looks like fun. Can I help?”

“No.”

“Mm.”

The Squirrel Beastkin didn’t look too disappointed. Because she already had a normal-sized chessboard and was piling up the chess pieces to make her own tower. Niers eyed it balefully but let it go. For now.

“I just don’t know what they were doing. They had to know I’d see what was happening. Right? Or they’d do this with another chess board. Unless they’re too poor to—no, they’d have sold the magical chessboard. This is a message. It must be. But what? It could be a code, but it was too fast for me to decipher. Or just a display of abilities? Maybe…”

Foliana paused in piling up a rook on top of her very tall tower of chess pieces.

“Mm. You should stop.”

“Stop? Stop what?”

“Pacing. And acting lovesick.”

She looked at Niers. He was indeed pacing around the magical chessboard, which was tiny compared to the duplicate he’d had made and sent across the world to his mysterious opponent. Niers stopped pacing.

“I’m not lovesick.”

“Yes you are. This is bad. Worse than the time you travelled to Terandria. Remember?”

Niers gritted his teeth and colored.

“I’d rather not.”

“It was when you thought there was a [Lady]. Mm. Who was a strategic genius. Remember?”

“Yes. Please stop talking.”

“And it turned out it was the Lord of the Dance instead?”

The Titan turned beet red and shouted.

“How was I supposed to know it was him? He never mentioned his name! And the stationary he sent me was perfumed!

“Mhm. You were lovesick then too. You had flowers.”

Niers Astoragon had made his enemies weep. He’d broken armies with nothing more than a quill and ink and a bit of bark to write on. He’d defeated one of the King of Destruction’s Seven and fought other Great Companies. But only Foliana could make him cover his eyes in sheer embarrassment.

“It was a mistake. And this isn’t the same.”

“Really?”

For a second Niers contemplated going over to kick Foliana’s bowl of spaghetti into her lap. He looked up sharply and saw Foliana’s tri-color stare looking right back. That was the last thing many people saw. And Niers’ anger slowly subsided. Because Foliana didn’t look like she was making a joke.

“Go on.”

The Squirrel-woman nodded. She slurped down a noodle and balanced a pawn at the top of her tower, which was several times Niers’ height. The magical chessboard’s tower kept falling over due to poor structural design.

“You used to play chess with your mysterious mage friend from Wistram. You were lovesick. Or obsessed. Mm. Close enough.”

Niers scowled darkly.

“I stopped that.”

“Yes. After you found out it was half the mages in Wistram working together to play you.”

“It was fairly obvious after all the gossip started. Mages can’t keep their mouths shut. What’s your point?”

“You could have kept going. But you stopped. Because it wasn’t one person.”

“No. It wasn’t. I thought it was Archmage Feor. He played the first few games, but he’s not at my level. Not without using predictive magics and boosting his mind, I think. It could have been another of the Archmages…so what?”

“You’re lonely.”

Foliana’s words made Niers pause. Then he shook his head.

“No I’m not.”

“Yes you are.”

“I’m not, Foliana. I live in a citadel filled with people. I meet people all the time.”

“Subordinates. Other people. Not [Strategists]. Doesn’t matter. You’re lonely. No one you meet is as good as you.”

“At chess? That’s not—”

“At anything you do.”

Niers fell silent. He stroked his beard silently, and Foliana went on. Her eyes were focused as she stared at Niers around the chess tower.

“You’re lonely. You want to meet someone like you. But you never have. And you’re afraid to meet this person or find out who they are. In case you’re disappointed.”

The Titan scowled. That was the problem with Foliana. She was vague one second, and then focused the next. Rather like how she operated in everything, actually.

“What are you, my personal [Healer]?”

“Nope.”

Niers sighed. He paced away from the chessboard and came back after a moment. He spread his arms, looking up at Foliana seriously.

“I’m fine. I have students. I have a career. We built this company—I don’t want for excitement.”

“But you’re lonely.”

“Yes, damn it! Will you stop saying that? What does it matter? You don’t seem lonely and I know you don’t have anyone in your life!”

Foliana blinked at Niers.

“It matters because you’re you. You like people. You need people. I don’t. Someday I’ll retire. Go somewhere else.”

“Where?”

“Don’t know. Cottage in the jungle perhaps. Be alone. I don’t need people. You do.”

Niers grumbled. He flushed, kicked the chess board and upset a lot of Cave Goblins across the world, and then gave in.

“Fine. So what if I’m lonely? I have my opponent. I can find out who they are. I just choose not to. I don’t want to be spoiled. I want to have this and not have it ruined. Is that too much?”

He pointed to the chess board. The chess pieces were righting themselves on the board, which had flipped back over. Foliana shrugged.

“Not too much. But stop complaining.”

She began eating again and Niers realized he’d been talking to her all throughout their bath, and before that. And he’d brought up his mysterious chess opponent…well, a lot of times. He’d probably talked for at least three hours this time.

“Very well. I’m sorry.”

“Good.”

“And I will be able to play more games soon, you know. I had a new board and pieces commissioned. It took a while, but this new ‘Go’ game should be delivered to them soon.”

Foliana scratched her head. The game of ‘Go’ was sweeping across Baleros, in no small part thanks to Niers, whose love of the game had put a spotlight on it. It had even received attention from those who followed such things in other continents, although Olesm’s name had not been connected to the game. Niers had been inaccurately credited with creating the game. Again. And this time it wasn’t even his fault.

“It’ll take a while for it to arrive. But I’d bet half my fortune that it was my opponent who taught the game to this Olesm Swifttail to begin with. It’s too much of a coincidence. I know they’re in Liscor, or thereabouts.”

Foliana tilted her head.

“Why will it take a while to arrive? You hired a Courier.”

“Yes. But I had to prepare several fake boards, send a bunch of duplicate messages, you know how it goes.”

“Paranoid.”

“Not at all. I am being watched and this would attract a lot of attention. It’s a sensible precaution.”

“And fun.”

The Fraerling smiled.

“Immensely. I enjoy watching all the [Spies] and [Informants] scurry about and reveal themselves. And spreading gossip. I have a mind to send one of the Go boards to the King of Destruction. Although that might be too politically dangerous.”

“Mm. Send it to the woman with flowers.”

“Reinhart? She’d make it a talking point or use it against me somehow. Some people are too dangerous to play games around. Maybe I’ll send it to the Wistram mages. With itching powder.”

“Okay. And you’re not going to find out what the chess games mean? Or who your opponent is in Liscor?”

Niers hesitated. He visibly struggled with himself, and then scowled at the magical chess board.

“No. Not yet. But Liscor is on my watch list for other reasons. Here. Stop eating those noodles and look at this.”

Niers gestured to Foliana. Then he eyed the tower of chess pieces she’d built. He walked over and kicked the support rook out of place. The entire tower of chess pieces crashed down around him. Niers leapt out of the way as a pawn narrowly missed his head. The Fraerling breathed out shakily.

“Jungle rot.”

“That wasn’t very smart. You’re supposed to be smart.”

“Are you coming or not?”

Niers stomped over to his collection of maps. They were quite large and not Fraerling-sized, which was to say Foliana-sized. That was because [Cartographers] willing to illustrate a tiny piece of parchment with a needle were rare and because Niers didn’t mind the larger maps. He could walk over them and inspect them from every angle. The three-dimensional ones that were magical were even more fun.

A map of Izril was laid out on the table. Niers walked onto it and began pointing out details to Foliana. He had a number of pieces on the map. Pins and little flags with notes written on them. Small notes for Foliana, which meant big lists of details all in Niers’ neat handwriting.

“You know they have a Goblin Lord over there. And that there was that attack on Liscor from the dungeon. Well, I have news about the Goblin Lord and the dungeon.”

“Dungeon first. What’s new? Another attack?”

The Titan nodded.

“Something like that. I haven’t received another letter from that [Tactician] in Liscor. Olesm Swifttail, I think. Neither have my students. And reports are spotty—the Walled Cities are keeping a tight grip on things—but it sounds like something’s happening over there.”

“Monsters?”

Niers nodded. He walked across the mountain range that was the High Passes and stared down at Liscor.

“I’d bet my hats on it. A Gold-rank dungeon next to a city’s a recipe for disaster. And this one’s a vengeance dungeon by all accounts. I wish I could see it—”

“Go find your opponent while you’re at it.”

Niers ignored that. He studied the map and shook his head.

“It can’t be good. Especially since I heard a group of Gold-rank adventurers travelled from Pallass to Liscor via that door we saw. Amazing thing. That’s a useful treasure.”

“We have teleporter mages.”

“And that’s a powerful artifact that can do far more than just teleport, Foliana. I’d pay—no, never mind. I’d never get it back here without it being stolen, Couriers or no. That poor [Innkeeper] will lose it soon, if not to Wistram then to someone else raiding her inn for it. Where was I? The dungeon. Something’s going on. It could be like the one we found, you know.”

He looked up meaningfully at Foliana. She paused for the first time.

“If it is, they’re dead.”

“Probably. I just wonder how my opponent—no, forget it. Don’t poke me with that fork. The second bit of news that I can speculate on is this: the Goblin Lord’s been defeated.”

“Really? I didn’t hear that.”

Foliana didn’t pay attention to worldwide news. She relied on Niers to tell her everything, which was a wise move because Niers had a network of information that spanned the world. The Fraerling nodded.

“The reports are that Lord Tyrion Veltras—he’s one of the foremost [Lords] of Izril, one of the Five Families—assembled a massive army of Humans and assaulted them at a mountain. Here. And apparently he hired the Kingslayer’s team to help him defeat the Goblins. They chased the Great Chieftain and Goblin Lord out of the mountain and are pursuing them.”

“Oh. I did hear about that. One of your students was telling the others something like that.”

Niers smiled, for a moment becoming a proud teacher.

“Really? What did they say? I’d be interested in knowing who—and how good their analysis is.”

“Mm. It was the Lizardgirl. Nervous.”

“Umina?”

“Mm.”

“Good child. What did she say?”

Foliana tilted her head side to side as she thought.

“Goblin Lord’s on the run. Lost a big battle. Apparently the Human [Lord] is very good. At…fighting? Leading? Strategy?”

The Fraerling snorted. Trust Foliana not to remember nuance. He’d go ask Umina about her thoughts later. Make her paranoid about what he knew that she knew.

“With Elia Arcsinger demoralizing the Goblins and an army larger than theirs at his back? He’d better win every battle. That’s not skill, Foliana. That’s just good preparation. Mind you, he hasn’t engaged them yet. He’s running them away from their fortress. And that’s curious because I know the man.”

“During the Second Antinium War?”

“Yes. I met him briefly—he was younger—but I’ve been to a few gatherings. Always on Izril. He never travels. And I know reports of the man.”

“Does he like Damcli Noodles?”

Niers looked up.

“No. And I don’t think he has a favorite food. I didn’t care for him. He’s everything I don’t like about Humans. Well, about every species that has men like that, really. But he is a good leader. He can choose when to fight and he hasn’t engaged yet. There are a few reasons why that could be.”

Niers studied the map. He traced the speculative arrows he’d drawn leading away from the mountain and eyed the nearby cities. Invrisil, a section of the map he’d planted a big flag next to and written ‘Emperor?’ on in huge letters. Then he snapped his fingers and grinned.

“Ah. I see what he might be doing.”

“Fast. Sure?”

Foliana spoke around a mouthful of noodles. Niers nodded.

“It’s a good strategy. If it’s what I think he’s doing. I’d say it’s clever, too. It might work. And if it does…well, we might get some work in Izril if things go really poorly. Or well. Otherwise, we won’t be bothered. I doubt his enemies will notice it before it’s too late.”

“But you did. In seventeen seconds. Why?”

The Titan sighed.

“Because everyone’s an idiot? Or because I’ve seen this before. A variation, anyways. I keep telling my students that part of good strategy is just experience. Everyone tries the same little tricks without realizing they’re doing the exact same things over and over again. Depressing, really. And people wonder why I drink.”

“Because you’re an alcoholic?”

The Fraerling raised a finger.

“If the world was filled with an unlimited supply of any alcohol you wanted for a few silver coins, what would you do? There’s a reason why most Fraerlings who visit the city develop bad habits. You big people make things far too cheap for us.”

“Okay. What’s Veltras’s plan?”

Niers hesitated. He stroked his chin and wavered.

“I have a theory. But I’d rather not share it. Hold on. Let me write this down.”

He searched around and came back with a quill and ink. Foliana watched him scribble on a piece of paper, writing large so she could see it. Then Niers bent down and folded the paper. He handed it up to Foliana.

“You can open that in, oh, ten day’s time or so. And if I’m right…hey, stop that!”

Foliana was already opening the paper. She ignored Niers throwing his ink pot at her and read. She nodded, her tail moving a bit with interest.

“Hmm. Oh, makes sense. Hmm. Obvious when you think about it. This is good.”

“It was supposed to be a secret! I could be wrong, you know!”

Niers fumed. Foliana shrugged.

“Don’t think so. Sounds right.”

“Well, give it back. It’s no use now. I shouldn’t have written it down without warding it anyways. You could be scryed.”

“Good joke.”

“Even you could be. Come on.”

Niers held up his hands, but Foliana hesitated. She looked at the paper and then smiled slightly.

“Won’t. I’m going to show all your students so they’ll be really impressed. They’ll keep the secret, mhm. But be impressed.”

What? Absolutely not! Give that back Foliana, right now!”

The Fraerling leapt surprisingly high, but Foliana stepped back from the table and that was that. She retreated to Niers’ door.

“Going to show them now. Bye.”

She faded from view. But Niers knew she was there and he saw his door open. He roared in fury.

Dead gods damn it, Foliana! Give that back!”

She made no reply. She was moving and Niers had known Foliana for so long that he could vaguely guess where she was. And where she was going. He leapt from his table, landing lightly on the ground and raced after Foliana. For a small person his voice was very loud.

“Get back here! I could be wrong! This is my reputation on the line! Foliana! [Rapid Advance]!”

He charged after Foliana. She ran through the citadel, and Niers’ students and his subordinates and staff were treated to the Titan running after his commander through the hallways, furiously shouting at her. But Foliana didn’t slow. She ran on, smiling. And despite Niers’ escalating threats, he was smiling too. They were, after all, friends. So Foliana ran and Niers chased.

She was still naked.

 


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75 thoughts on “Interlude – Niers

  1. This side story popped out of me. Like an egg. Is that how it works? Anyways, I had to write it. This is one of THREE side stories I’ll be writing this month. The one you voted on last month, The Greatest Game (Allegedly), will be a regular chapter. But you get to vote on another short side story because this one is half the length of a regular chapter. A fourth the length of the last chapter, actually.

    I’ve got a complicated schedule. Just call this my Christmas gift to you all, okay? The first installment. Hope you like just a day in the life of Niers and Foliana. They’re fun to write. Thanks for reading! Look forwards to next the chapter! And vote!

    • Glad you wrote it, it’s really good! I would really like to see what Niers first impression of Erin would be. And how long he would take to realize she’s not from this world.

      • Them meeting and becoming a couple (platonicly I’m guessing) is something I’ve been waiting for for ages.

        They’re both surrounded by people but are missing someone “on their level” who they can truly share with.

        Also, when he gets to Liscor, and meets up with Erin, there are bound to be world shaping events going down.

        Ever since she first arrived, she’s been at the center of a growing vortex of change. She’s been doing a (fairly) good job steering it through sheer force of kindness, but it seems to be getting out hand a bit. The players and changes are too far afield for her control. But teamed up with Neirs and the soon to be formed goblin city state? Plus, after this dungeon mess, her inn hopefully will level into an adventuring hub. Maybe get a door to Toren’s inn, as a way to bypass the dungeon until Rags, Erin’s hobs, and the cave gobbos can fully secure the city and tame the labyrinth.

        • them becoming a couple…wow… no, he is going to be Olesm 2.0 probably fall in love with her and set up shop to be around but ultimately thatch a large no. his entire body is the size of what an average dick is, erin is nice but she cant even get over drakes having scales and tails to date one

    • This was so much fun, thank you so much! Liscor’s current arc is great but it’s also pretty dark so it was nice to have this fun little short story as a breather.

    • Saying this is a “short” chapter is a bit much though. Lol. Half of 10000 words is still a pretty long chapter…

      For exemple, the average lenght of aSoIaF chapers is ~5145 words/chapter (1.77M in 344 chapters)…

      Truly, it’s just you spoiling us…

    • Woop spoke too soon about seeing on the other side of the board, i wonder why he got nothing out of that gameplay, i guess she could of just been running it to keep her mind moving. Putting complex thoughts on the background & working subconsciously is a valid tactic.

  2. Leave a typo for short chapters! Shorter chapters means no typos, right? Right? Nah.

    (Shorter typo finders: Jeff, Neceros, Corgi-dono, flssdd, AVR, ShadeDragon, Aoxz, Carol M)

  3. I really can’t wait for him to meet Erin. He is going to be so confused, he’s expecting some sort of hidden genius who is probably wise and old and he’s going to meet some crazy quirky Innkeeper

    • I think he’ll inevitably be disappointed though. Partly because he’s created so much expectation about his “mysterious chess opponent” that at this point no one could live up to his hype. And secondly, because in the end, Erin is far from being anywhere near Niers’ level of intelligence. She just happens to have more experienced, so she’s a match for a genius who has only played the game for about a year.

      Niers said he’s lonely for someone who is as good as him at, well, anything, and that person isn’t Erin. She’s not the brightest bulb at the best of times, and she’s good at chess only because she’s played it for longer. I bet she’ll lose to Niers a lot more at Go than at chess because in the end her skill doesn’t come from being super smart it comes from hard work and practice and she herself said she’s never been very into Go.

      But hopefully Niers will find friendship and happiness at the Wandering Inn anyway.

      • I dunno, Erin’s no fool. Yeah, she has more experience than anyone else, but that isn’t the whole of her skill. She explicitly stated that people considered her a chess prodigy back on Earth, and that she was seriously competing even as a child. Yeah, her experience is helps even the playing field, but if Niers hasn’t already improved enough to beat her easily than that experience can’t be the only thing she’s got going for her.

        Overall Erin’s far more intelligent than people seem to give her credit for.

        • Yeah, I don’t get how you could say Erin isn’t smart, she’s a bit distracted and unfocused, but find clever applications of various things all the time.

          • Not saying Erin isn’t smart, I’m saying Niers might be disappointed when they finally meet, because he’s created so much expectation and anticipation on his chess opponent being a mastermind genius like himself. And Erin is just a normal girl who is very, very good at two things, chess and people. She’s not dumb but she’s no Niers Astoragon or Magnolia Reinhart in terms of intellect.

            • Disagree. She knows far less about the world she’s in that Niers or Magnolia, but that doesn’t mean she’s not as smart as they are. She’s not as much a manipulator as they are, and she doesn’t have their experience being powerful people, but that doesn’t mean she can’t match them for intellect. You gotta raise your opinion of Erin, not sure where you’re getting the idea that she’s not really, really smart.

              • Erin herself says frequently that she’s just a regular girl who happens to have an edge on most people in the Innverse because shes from our world. I’m not sure where everyone is getting the idea that’s she’s some sort of genius. Like, she thinks AP classes are hard and a big deal. Erin is many things, charismatic, clever, ingenious, hardworking, stubborn, brave and altruistic but she’s no intellectual genius. Ryoka is definitely the brainier one of the two, and even Ryoka is a far step down from the likes of Niers and Magnolia.

            • Intellect is an incredibly broad term. Honestly I think we’re all arguing past each other, no one thinks Erin’s a moron, no one thinks she’s the second coming of Einstein.

              I will say that AP classes, and school in general, aren’t a great indicator of intelligence.

              • “(…)no one thinks Erin’s a moron, no one thinks she’s the second coming of Einstein.”

                Yup, thanks. That’s all I was trying to say.

        • Seconded..
          There are multiple forms of genius, while Ryoka is the more intellectual of the two, this ‘being good at people thing’ is a trait that changes the course of history. Erin has been able to impress and overawe virtually everyone of significance.
          Only the truly weak characters in the story don’t take her seriously.
          I expect like most Niers isn’t going to be that impressed at first – but I expect more than her chess games will register on his radar before long.

          • Erins main boon is thinking outside the box, so rather then outright intelligent as in memorizing and comming to quick logical answers, she’s more about putting the obvious rules & code people follow and ask why do we think this way rather then this way?

            she might not come to a great conclusion because of it but it gives her more viewpoints.

      • I’ve always gotten the impression that Erin is extremely intelligent, and good at chess because she practices, but also because she’s really smart. And I’ve seen nothing that makes me think she’s not really smart.

          • I’d argue that if she put her mind to it then she could get closer than you would think. My impression of her is that she is super smart but is disinterested in actually using for things other than board games people. If she actually did apply herself in tactical settings she could be quite dangerous

        • @Ben This is basically what I meant. The way Carol M phrased things suggests Erin was only good at chess due to practice and effort, while the story seems to say that Erin built off of significant natural talent with a whole lot of effort.

          • I mean’t she was only better than Niers due to the difference in practice. And this is validated by Erin herself, who says that she’s only the best at chess in Innverse because she’s studied thousands of years worth of strategy her entire life while Innverse has had the game for all of two years. So much that Erin frequently states how far off she was from being on the level of a Grandmaster in the real world.

            That’s all I was trying to say, sorry if my phrasing was unclear.

      • “She just happens to have more experienced, so she’s a match”

        It’s perhaps worth pointing out that Niers says something similar about himself this chapter: he doesn’t see through Veltras because he’s a genius, but because he’s seen it all before. And besides, how much of Niers’ skill at chess comes just from being the highest level strategist in the world?

      • Bah. Intelligence and experience are two very different things. And moreover, a good heart trumps any other genetic predisposition. I don’t think it’s a live match, but once he gets to know her, I doubt Niers is going to feel disappointed

    • First impressions is the least of the ground-breakers. Being master level proficient in a game that’s only been in Innworld for two-years is earth-shattering.

  4. This is a delight! I love the format, too– full chapters are great, but for something like this, a small section is really all we need.

    Niers and Foliana’s friendship is always such a delight to see. They’re so good for each other!

    Also, let me just add my voice to the several who will certainly also say it: I can’t wait until Niers meets Erin. That’s going to be such a fantastic moment.

  5. Honestly when Erin started playing with the board in the last chapter, I was half-expecting her to realize that since what they needed was a plan, and she’s obviously playing against someone who’s brilliant…

    Well I was expecting her to just spell out HELP on the board, and have Niers come save the day.

  6. I love the format ^^
    But goddamn can he just scry her og visit her already xD this feels like watching one of those series where they have like 5 seasons of sexual tension between the main character and someone else and they do nothing about it, always with the aaaalmost did something, but then nothing happend, its frustrating 😛

  7. I can’t wait for the Titan to meet Erin. I just love the fact that foilianna is racing through the halls of her compound naked being chased by a 6-inch man screaming about how he’s going to kill her when he catches her. Not to mention meanwhile the academy is planning on stealing the door, the goblins are re-scouting the dungeon oh yeah mrsha just called a royal scramble everybody’s involved mosh pits cluster screw in the main chamber I’m so excited about so many things I am tempted to leave this story for another couple months just so I have a binge

    • I considered doing that, as it was so much fun going through hundreds of chapters when I first discovered this story. But I can’t help it, as soon as that email hits my inbox, I read.

  8. Guess we finally know the identity of one of the other five people in the world who could beat Erin at chess! The Lord of the Dance is almost certainly the dashing and charming [Lord] Magnolia mentioned!

    I’m way too excited and happy over this chapter. Apparently I’m more of a Niers fangirl than I thought. And his and Foliana’s friendship is so fun and sweet. And also kind of weird, but in the best possible way. I think Foliana and Erin would get along very well, especially if Erin kept shoving Foliana’s favorite food of the week in front of her.

    Also, I’m really impressed by Erin because, damn, it’s really freaking hard to play chess against yourself. Don’t get me wrong, it’s really fun (I do it often) and it’s good practice but to be able to play dozens of master-class games all against yourself? That’s amazing. Think about it, you can’t ever set traps because, well, your opponent will always know. So while it’s good practice for playing against someone who can predict your every move, it’s can also quickly turn into a second-rate game of both sides just trying to play the immediate optimal move.

    Uhh, my point is solo chess is great for practice and for taking you out of your comfort zone and finding weaknesses or inconsistencies in your own playing, but it’s really damn hard for the result to be a master-class game. So the fact that Erin could do it repeatedly is more impressive then anything else chess-related I’ve seen from her yet. Although I guess Bobby Fischer used to play solo chess a lot when he was young, and I’d bet even his solo games were master-class, so there’s that.

    Anyway, Erin, from one chess lover to another, you’re amazing. I wish I could get my ass handed to me by you. Also, please take your magical chess board back from the damn Goblins before they break or lose it.

    • Ah, you’re right! So let’s see, then… out of the five chess masters Magnolia mentioned, it seems we now know of:

      The old fool — Almost certainly Teriarch (Izril)
      The world’s smallest strategist — Niers (Baleros)
      A miserable king — Probably the Blighted King (Rhir)
      A dashing and quite charming lord — Potentially the Lord of the Dance (Terandria)

      That’s one for each continent except Chandrar, and only the “reclusive mage” is left. It seems likely that the last one is in Wistram then. Archmage Feor, perhaps? He would probably be the closest to Erin’s level of skill, though if he’s not a match for Niers he’s certainly not a real match for Erin…

      • I doubt it’s Feor for the same reason you stated, if he’s not a match for Niers he’s definitely not one for Erin. The reclusive mage may not even being a resident of Winstram. If he/she is really reclusive they might just live alone in the middle of nowhere, or maybe is in service to a ruler somewhere, like the time mage that keeps the Blighted King alive.

        • Erin already played versus the Necromancer and she kicked his ass several times. I don’t think he counts as one of the people who could win against her.

            • Pretty sure he lost two and tied one, or something like that. I don’t recall him winning Erin. But I could be wrong.

              Either way it’s not the Necromancer because Magnolia says that there are 5 people who could beat Erin, ONE on each continent. Teriarch is one of the five (the old fool) and he’s on Izril, so the reclusive mage can’t be the Necromancer because he’s also on Izril.

  9. That was a lovely interlude. I hope you know that I wish all your chapters were a hundred thousand words long, but even these short vignettes are fantastic and a great exploration of the characters.

    Pirate, would you be willing to do a character popularity poll? I’m very curious to see who everyone’s favorite character(s) are. Personally, it’s really tough for me to choose. Cutting it down to the bare minimum, I’d have to say it’s a toss up between Mrsha, Lyonette, the Hobs, Rags and (very recently) Bird. A lot, I know, but that’s what I love about your writing – you make your characters so varied and interesting and unique that you can’t help but want to read entire novels about each and every one of them. Yet the way you pepper them throughout your arcs leaves me satiated but ever yearning for more.

    Thanks for writing this wonderful story. Twice a week I’m constantly amazed at how strong my excitement is for these chapters. Truly one of the great highlights of my week.

    • I think there was a popularity poll a while back on Patreon. Probably not open for voting anymore, but you can still see the results.

  10. Thank you for the surprise story! I have to say, I’d be incredibly interested in reading a series of chapters about the early days of Foliana and Niers conquering their dungeon. I also think Foliana meeting Erin would be hilarious and make for a great read.

  11. Thank you for that! I really like Niers (and Foliana!!) and totally want him and Erin to meet. And, uh, it just occurred to me that their names are very nearly anagrams. I do think it’s kind of poetic that both Erin AND Niers did the online (or analog equivalent thereof) relationship over chess that failed miserably. Not that this will come up in any conversation with the both of them together…

  12. Got to say this chapter hurt me a little. Loved it as allways but…. well…. I thought Foliana and Muffins were forever. That a unscrupulous wretch like Spaghetti could usurp that special place in her heart. My belief in the fundamental power of goodness had been shattered. That such a great love could end so ingnominously… This tragedy is convincing proof that neither decency or justice hold any sway in the Innverse. The horror.

  13. It’s nice to have as an interlude but filler like this when the delay for Erin to meet Niers is tiring.

    I like your filler but not massive delays for the meeting. Unless you’re planning it for a plot arc.

    In which case I’m wrong.

    At least the reason for the delay is realistic. And funny. They’ll meet sometime next year?

  14. I wonder if cow and bull beastkin share the same animosity with minotaurs that drakes and gnolls have with lizardpeople and rashkgar.

  15. A naked furry in a hot tub is pretty cliche, i expect you’ll receive quite a few renderings. Also, i saw that you gave the squirrel a squirrelly personality. Are the other furries like that? Do the dogs slobber over things they like? Do otters romp? Are foxes sly and dashing and insist on being called kitsunes?

  16. Now I want to know what is up with Termania. Is it like the world’s richest land? What structure of society do they have?

  17. If half elves are long lived and can reproduce with other species to make more half elves, maybe one of them will have lived long enough to accumulate the strategic experience that’s a prerequisite for a relationship with Niers.

  18. now all we need is a spawn of great artists and draw every single character of importance in the story.. or just an iconic scene you know.. like the first Antinium War.. or maybe more recent like how Ryoka was saved by Teriarch? Or Zel’s fight with Az’Kerash and his minions. idk. even the fight against Skinner are great scenes! maybe mellow ones too, like the Immortal Moment? Ugh, there’s so many, many GREAT scenes that this web serial has spawned!

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