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“The Quarass is dead. May she live again.”

That was all they said. In the streets, in their homes, staring at armored [Soldiers] with hatred, or dying with blades in hand. That was what was spoken. The people of Germina whispered the words. Then they shouted them. They gathered in the streets.

The Quarass was dead.

They were words which shook the world. At least, the world according to Germina. In fact, most of the other nations had already moved past that news. It was weeks-old, and just one revelation among many.

At the time, yes, the news had rocked the foundations of every nation that had heard it. It had become the topic of every conversation, every bit of gossip and worry and [Generals], [Strategists], and [Rulers] had all gathered to discuss the events surrounding the Quarass’ death. Because she had been killed by none other than Flos Reimarch.

The legendary King of Destruction himself. Slumbering no more. The man who had conquered an entire continent as a boy, then begun a war of conquest that had threatened to engulf the world. He had been stopped—but only by a hair’s breadth by every nation uniting to force his armies back. And, some speculated, had he not gone into his slumber after the death of two of his Seven, his famous generals and leaders, his empire might still be the mightiest in the world.

That was Flos. And he had reawakened. Months ago, the rumors had begun spreading. The quiet, tiny kingdom of Reim, reduced to a single city and a few villages had suddenly revitalized. Somehow, the impoverished people living there were transforming themselves into an army. And then had come the news that had given more than one ruler a sleepless night.

The King of Destruction had awoken. He was forming an army. He was back.

Of course, it had always been a possibility. Flos Reimarch had never died, and never suffered a grievous injury to force him to retreat. He’d simply…stopped. And his kingdom had collapsed into pieces and been claimed by other nations as his armies disbanded or turned traitor, his loyalists fleeing without the benefits of his Skills or leadership. And the King of Destruction had returned to his throne in the city where he had been born and sat no longer on this throne.

It was a mark of how much he had been feared that even decades after his kingdom had vanished that no one dared to attack Reim. Yes, the King of Destruction was slumbering, his people impoverished, his treasuries empty. And yes, even his legendary Seven—now five—were scattered, and only his Steward, Orthenon, known as the King of Destruction’s left hand, still remained.

But though his enemies were legion, no one dared send an army against him to finish Flos Reimarch off for good. Just in case that were to arouse his wrath and reawaken that slumbering monster.

But now he was back. Someone, something had woken him up. And the other nations closest to Reim had done the only thing they could think of: they had declared war and sent a coalition army to take Flos’ head before he could regain his former strength.

They had failed.

It was a story the people of Germina knew. After all, they had sent their sons and daughters off to war. Their country of Germina bordered Reim. And their ruler, the Quarass, had personally desired Flos’ death. So Germina and the Kingdom of Hellios had spearheaded the attack. And Germina had not stopped there; they had sent child-assassins to slay Flos, and a powerful [Geomancer] with an ambush force from Hellios to draw Flos out of his capital and slay him.

Again, they had failed. And though the coalition army had first routed a force led by Gazi and Orthenon, they had discovered it was a trap; upon nearing the capital of Reim, the King of Destruction had unveiled a working of Drevish, one of his Seven, now deceased. The legendary [Architect]’s will had laid the army to waste with lightning hurled from the towers of Reim. And Flos himself had led his army on the counterattack and taken the remains of the coalition army prisoner.

He had ransomed many of the [Soldiers] and surviving officers back to their countries, in accordance with the traditions of war in Chandrar. And also in the same tradition, those that their nations had not bought back became slaves, which he sold to one of the Traders of Roshal, a nation that controlled the slave trade across Chandrar and the rest of the world.

All of this was backdrop, however. The true tragedy had come in the months afterward. Flos Reimarch had not been content with the defeat of the coalition army. Or rather, his wrath had spared the other nations who had taken part and focused solely on two countries. Germina and Hellios. Leading his army from Reim, he had come north. And on the battlefield he had smashed Hellios’ army and the might of Germina in the course of a day. His armies had split, one to occupy a surrendering Hellios.

But he had accepted no quarter from Germina. The King of Destruction led his armies personally into the capital of Germina, the city built around an oasis from which Germina had been founded. Ger. And in its streets he had cut down everyone in his way and ascended the steps to the Palace of the Quarass. And there he had beheaded her.

The Quarass is dead. Let her rise again.

They could all remember the moment Flos had strode down the palace steps, bloody blade in hand. They had not seen her head, but they knew. You could feel the Quarass’ death, feel her Skills protecting her nation pass with her. They had raged against the King of Destruction, then, but his army had filled the city. So they had been forced to choose between subjugation and death.

It might have been surprising how few chose death to an outsider, especially given how beloved the Quarass had been. But that was because outsiders didn’t understand the truth. Now, nearly a month after the Quarass’ passing, as Flos’ armies still occupied much of Ger and the country, keeping order, hope had blossomed on the streets. They whispered it, and gathered in secret.

The Quarass lives.

 

—-

 

This was Germina. Hot, arid land, almost desert, defined the nation. Germina, like Reim, was not a land of riches. Chandrar, the continent was not rich. It was arid, which meant heat by day and freezing cold by night in many regions. Some parts were prosperous, but no part of Chandrar was as rich as the jungles of Baleros, overflowing with life, or Terandria or Izril, whose greenery was but a dream for many living in barren parts of Chandrar.

Perhaps only Rhir was harsher, and even then, only because of the Demons. But Chandrarian citizens often claimed parts of Chandrar were worse even than the blighted lands of the Demon King. Toss an army of demons in the great desert and see how many crawled out.

Yes, the desert. Chandrar had several, but the largest was the desert which occupied the center of the continent, effectively cutting off civilization for thousands of miles so that nations had emerged around it, but never flourished inside the unrelenting hell of sands.

As luck would have it, the Kingdom of Germina bordered that desert, situated in the northeastern quadrant of Chandrar. It was one of the kingdoms closest to the desert that bordered it on the west; aside from the damned Khelthans, of course. Reim and Germina were both hard lands to settle and grow anything but the tough Yellats in.

But Ger had been blessed. For it was located on an oasis, a vast reservoir of water that had sustained Germina for thousands of years. The first Quarass had claimed the land, and the Kingdom of Germina had begun millennia ago. It was a Shield Kingdom, one of four remaining, ancient, sometimes waning in power, but never erased. Not even the King of Destruction could do that.

Germina was, of course, landlocked. To the northeast Hellios was a sometimes friendly neighbor, ruled by the current Queen Calliope. There was no [King]—Treland of Hellios had died decades past at Flos’ hands during his first wars of expansion. Calliope was the only ruler of her kingdom, followed by her son, Prince Siyal. Both had been spared death. For now.

The other nations around Germina were likewise small, having reclaimed themselves out of Flos’ empire once he slumbered. They were powers, but not, say, equivalent to the confederation of String People nations to the south, or the richer coastal nations on the south of Chandrar.

To the north, nations like the realm of Belchan which was a parliamentary government who elected a [Minister], and the Republic of Jecrass, who had a [King], ruled. Minor powers, but powers nonetheless. West of Germina was the land of Kheltha, of course, and no one threatened them. They had stayed out of the war with Flos.

None of these nations could by themselves threaten Flos, even with his small army. The King of Destruction was too high-level, and his vassals—Orthenon, the King’s Steward, Gazi the Omniscient, Mars the Illusionist, and Takhatres, Lord of the Skies, were all titans in their own way. The only threat to Reim was if multiple nations united to crush it—a process that Germina’s folk hoped was already underway—or if the Empire of Sands took action.

Of all the nations on Chandrar, the Empire of Sands was the newest. In the decades after Flos had entered his slumber, a new [Emperor] had risen and claimed the western civilizations across the great desert. He had expanded rapidly and his empire was now a major power, if a distant one. But he had set himself as an enemy of Flos, and announced it by sending him the head of one of his Seven. Drevish, the [Architect].

But both nations were too far apart to yet do battle. The desert separated them and while Takhatres had led his tribe to raid the Empire of Sands, no retaliatory force had made the dangerous journey to strike at Reim. The King of Destruction had likewise ground to a stop as spring began; his armies continued to occupy Hellios and Germina, but all three nations were still mortal. They needed to eat, plant crops, and bury the dead.

But now a change had come over the citizens of Ger. The initial shock of the King of Destruction’s army sweeping through the capital in a bloody evening had faded. Their fear and despair had turned to fury. And that seed of hope was growing. So, you could feel it as you walked across the mud-brick streets of Ger, past houses built of the same material.

If you peeked down a street not patrolled by [Soldiers] wearing Reim’s colors, you could see people gathering. Their clothes were light in color and plain; mostly white or grey, the product of wool or other light fabrics for the day. The women dressed in long, flowing dress sometimes banded by color, but often as plain as the long-sleeved clothing worn by men. Both genders kept little of their skin exposed to the sands that could sometimes blow in, scalding and stinging exposed flesh. But Germina was hardly colorless; the people just left it to the buildings.

Pigments. Dyes made of crushed insect shells, or plants, bright and colorful, adorned each house. You couldn’t walk past one building without some motif. Often they complimented each other; it was rare to see a house that clashed. Sometimes the houses were drawn with fanciful motifs, like a bird, or a stylized mythical creature. Other times they were just plain colors, artfully brought together by the owners. But the paints were beautiful and the owners of each building tended to them more than their clothing. After all, they would pass in time, but a home could last for centuries if it was tended to.

Color on the buildings, white clothing. Rebellion on the streets. More than one young man was hiding a knife, or a club unsuccessfully in their clothes. Young women did it too of course, but they were more artful about it. If you passed by some girls with braided hair, you’d notice the shiv woven into the hair, ready to be plucked out.

But there hadn’t been much violence this morning. The city was waiting. There had been a few incidents, some too-obvious malcontents arrested, an idiot attacking a band of [Soldiers] killed, but the city was quiet.

“Too quiet.”

Venith Crusland, one of Flos’ vassals and a [Lord] and veteran of countless wars, grunted to his wife as they surveyed the city from the steps of the palace of the Quarass, known as the Seat of Ger. Probably because it did look a bit like a seat, being the tallest building built on a slope on top of the city. Or maybe because it was located directly on top of the reservoir of water that fed the city via the wells. Or…Venith didn’t care.

He was surveying the streets of the city from this commanding spot, using a monocle enchanted with a farseeing spell. He hated the thing because it was a stupid device you had to hold with your cheek against your eye and because it stank to him of pointlessness. Why couldn’t the [Enchanter] who’d made it create something more practical? With two lenses? He held it up to his eye as he followed a patrol of [Soldiers] across the city, noting how people got out of the way.

“Maresar, do you see? They’re all congregating near that one plaza. And it’s too quiet. Did you hear me?”

“Twice. And it’s fine.”

The [Lord] glanced up. He had dark hair, not entirely black, closer to brown, and a stern, set face. His wife, Maresar, was far more relaxed than Venith, who was restlessly feeling at his sword and shield. She was tall, had short-cropped, black hair, and darker skin than Venith. She was a former [Bandit Lord], but she hadn’t bothered stringing her longbow. That relaxed Venith a bit; Maresar’s instincts were excellent and if she didn’t seem ready for battle, it meant they were probably safe.

“What do you think? There. Look at that group. Fifteen youths. All armed. We should break it up, orders or not.”

He offered the monocle to Maresar, but she declined. She squinted at the spot he’d pointed to, picking it out with her eyes, enhanced by her [Eagle Eyes] Skill. She shook her head.

“No. They’re not a threat.”

“Until they attack someone. I don’t want to lose another soldier to a cut throat. You and I could—”

“No. We have orders.”

Venith bit his tongue. He and Maresar had been assigned to Ger by Orthenon a month ago, when it had become clear that the citizens were not tolerating Flos’ armies. With Maresar’s help, Venith had made it clear that anyone attacking soldiers would be dealt with in moments. She could hit half the city from her vantage point with her bow and no amount of civilians armed with knives or clubs or stones could harm Venith. They were too high-level. Still, today, Venith felt his back crawling.

“It won’t be one or two groups that erupt if this comes to a head. You’ve seen this before. You know this city will erupt in violence and if it does, it will be all of them versus us.”

“I know.”

“So…”

“We have orders. He told us to wait, so we’re waiting. Don’t you trust him?”

“I do.”

Venith ground out the words. He did trust, but it was hard. He shifted, walking back and forth until Maresar caught him. She squeezed his shoulder gently and Venith looked at his wife. He grew calmer again.

To change the subject, he glanced southwest. He couldn’t see anything; a damn dust cloud had kicked up, obscuring the horizon, but he imagined he could still see the capital of Reim, the city in the distance.

“Calac’s in Reim still, isn’t he? With Orthenon.”

The [Lord] spoke sourly. He didn’t quite like Orthenon, although they were on the same side. The King’s Steward had his grudging respect over his friendship. Maresar nodded.

“And one of the twins. And Gazi.”

“Hmf. Do you think he’s well? Calac, I mean. He wanted to accompany us, but after his previous failure—”

“You told him no. So I said no. What more do you want?”

Venith didn’t say anything. Being a [Lord] was difficult. Being a father was worse. He glanced down at the streets again, spotted a girl with a potion bottle, handing it to a man who placed it in his pocket. He grimaced.

“Where is he? He told us to wait, but did he tell you anything? His Majesty?”

He looked up. Maresar bit her lip absently. She was scanning the city.

“No. But he’s here. You can feel it too, can’t you?”

The [Lord] nodded tightly. He swept his monocle across the city.

“What’s he doing?”

“He told me he was going to crush them.”

Venith’s head snapped up. He stared at Maresar.

“The rebels? Himself? By force?”

“Yes. Maybe? And no. He told us to wait. Trust him. You do, don’t you? Or are you having second thoughts?”

“I do. I do. I made my choice and I don’t regret it. It’s just, it’s been so long—”

At last, Venith saw Maresar smile.

“Yes. It has. But if I look at him, it feels like yesterday, doesn’t it?”

“…Yes. It does. Sometimes. Other times…”

“So. Wait.”

Venith did. He saw them moving. The citizens of Ger. They were moving towards one spot, some gathering on rooftops, all of them. Towards a place hidden by a line of houses. He longed to ride down there and find out what—but he had orders. So he waited. And he waited for the King of Destruction. And on the wind he heard the whispers.

The Quarass lives.

But Venith had seen her die. He glanced at Maresar and shook his head. Germina was a Shield Kingdom. Ancient. It had been defeated easily enough on the battlefield, but Venith knew that a kingdom’s power wasn’t always based in the force of its army. There were old secrets. And he feared Germina had at least a few. So he waited. And he wondered where his [King] was. Usually you could spot him by the crowd. And the commotion.

 

—-

 

There was a crowd. But the King of Destruction would not have been welcome in it. They were gathering as Venith had noticed, in a plaza too small to hold all of them. But they had chosen it precisely because it was out of sight of the palace. The people of Ger waited as a group of men, all former [Councilors], [First Warriors] or [Highborn]—Ger had no [Lords] or [Ladies]—fussed at the center of the gathering.

They were a motley group, different in station and rank. Some were barely important and had the Quarass been alive, the inner circle of men wouldn’t have deigned to consort with them. But two thirds of the Quarass’ court had been slain when the King of Destruction had taken the palace. So those that remained weren’t in a position to quibble.

In fact, the leader of this group of men was a [Councilor of State], the only member of the Quarass’ council who’d survived. He was hardly a leader, but he had loved the Quarass as fiercely as the other men.

As they all had. All those gathered in the plaza, sitting, standing, were fixed on the circle in the center. The men, sixteen or so, formed a ring of bodies, shielding something, someone with their long robes. It was the [Councilor of State] who walked back and forth, murmuring to himself, glancing at the sun, which was nearly overhead. He was dressed in a colorful robe, bright scarlet, normally strange for a man to be wearing. It made him look like a splash of blood amid the white. Every eye followed him as he walked back and forth.

And he was afraid. You could see it if you looked in his eyes, so he kept his gaze upwards, towards the clear blue skies and relentless sun. He was waiting for it to be exactly midday, but the sweat that rolled down his face had as much to do with the fear churning away at him as the heat. The other men standing in the circle were likewise sweating harder than the crowd, and more than one of them followed the leader in red’s pacing back and forth. The others had to fight to keep from glancing behind them. They too were afraid.

Perhaps, had they been zealots, they might have clung to the righteousness of their purpose. They could have reassured themselves in the divinity of their task, the infallibility guiding them, that they were following a higher power. But faith was dead as were the gods. So it was only men who gathered here. Men, who were desperately afraid that their gathering would be broken up, or worse, that they would fail.

The people of Germina had gathered here because they knew what must be done. They knew who waited in the circle of men in robes. If the men here failed—and oh, they could fail—they would be torn apart. If the King of Destruction’s soldiers were to interfere, if everything wasn’t right or something went wrong…

Sweat and fear hung in the air in the circle of men. But the crowd was just waiting. They were common laborers and highborn folk. Men and women. But those in the circle, those in charge, for now, were men.

Men. Not women, for all that there were just as many daughters of Germina in the crowd as sons, young and old. But that was the way of things. The Quarass ruled, female, her word law, her lineage passed from daughter to daughter. And it was men who found her when the Quarass died.

The last of the crowd entered the plaza as the sun finally reached its zenith in the sky. A few people pushed through the crowd, though everyone was fighting for a view. A sea of faces, and the feeling that this was an important moment.

In such atmospheres, an errant cough or someone who needed to use the bathroom precisely at the wrong moment stood out. The leader in red was afraid of each instance, afraid that anything ruining the sanctity of the moment would cause the ritual to fail. But there were so many.

A pair of crying babies provoked each other. Someone tripped, causing a small collapse in the crowd. And worst of all, one of the men in the circle hurried out, causing a ripple to run through the crowd. Every eye fixed on the man, a [First Warrior], equivalent to what other countries called a [Knight] in terms of rank, hurried over to the [Councilor of State].

“Dead gods, what is it? Get back to your place! We’re about to start!”

The [Councilor] scream-whispered at the [First Warrior]. The younger man was far more fit than he, but both were practically white in the face. The [First Warrior] shook his head.

“The—she’s thirsty. She needs a drink.”

“A drink?

Belatedly, the [Councilor] realized he’d forgotten to provide for that simple amenity. The…person sitting in the circle of men, who’d closed ranks to avoid her being seen by the crowd, had been sitting for hours in the sun. The [Councilor] cursed.

“Water. Fine, then. Sands take it! Get some!”

“From where?”

“I don’t know! But hurry!”

The [Councilor] saw the [First Warrior] hesitate, and then turn. He called out; his voice strangled.

“Water. We need water. Has anyone a flask?”

Silence. And then several people offered theirs. The warrior hurried around, grabbing two nearest and disappeared into the circle. Standing at the edge of the circle, the [Councilor] heard a muffled voice, a quiet, female one. A child’s voice. And then the [First Warrior] hurried out. The circle made room for him and he nodded at the [Councilor].

Good. All was well. All would be well. The [Councilor of State] wished he were dead. He wished someone else were in his position. If he got this wrong—

If he had been capable, he would have prayed. But the thought of prayer didn’t even cross the [Councilor]’s mind. So he was just afraid. But the sun was overhead. And so he began.

“People of Germina. Bear witness! Gather here, in this sacred heart of the city. Gather, and bear witness! The Quarass is dead! So gather, sons and daughters! Gather! I, the son of Ger, call to you! Gather and bear witness!”

The crowd shifted. All eyes were on the [Councilor] now, on his red robes. He felt his voice crack on the last sentence. Oh, dead gods, he’d said it wrong. It wasn’t ‘people of Germina’, was it? It was ‘children of Germina’ or was it—‘chosen of Ger?’ And was it sons or daughters or—what had the old woman he’d consulted say it should be? She’d told him to shout this without the crowd, but he hadn’t dared. It was all going to go wrong. It wasn’t going to work! And then what?

Everyone was staring at him. The [Councilor] froze, but there was nowhere to run. So his tongue went on as his mind began screaming.

Gather! Gather together! Gather to bear witness! The Quarass has fallen! But Germina must live! So gather—

He faltered. They were gathered. What should he do? He switched to the next part, stumbling over his words.

“Pay heed. Lay down your burdens and still your hearts. For you will bear witness to a resurrection. The Quarass has fallen. By blade, by war. By wrath and treachery, by the King of Destruction!”

That stirred the people in the crowd. The [Councilor] saw faces contort with fury. He went on.

“But now is not the time for vengeance. The Quarass is dead. Germina is broken. The sands will take the kingdom and wash the stones away to dust. Our blood shall soak the deserts and no thing will grow. The kingdom needs its heart. So the Quarass must live.”

She must live.

The murmur came from the crowd, thousands of voices speaking as one. They hadn’t practiced it; it was spontaneous and it dried the [Councilor]’s throat even more. He coughed.

“So—so we are gathered. To witness her rebirth. By blood of lineage she will be called. By the needs of her people she shall arise! By the will of Germina, she returns! Bear witness!”

Lies. All lies. The ritual called for the Quarass’ firstborn daughter. But her daughter was dead, killed in her bed six years past after trying to take the throne. The bloodline of the Quarass had ended with her. So they’d found a child. A girl who looked a bit like the Quarass. The old woman had said that might do. But she wasn’t sure. And the child was—a child.

But he was in too far. He’d never had a choice, really. He was the only one who knew the words, or so the others had been convinced. But the [Councilor] didn’t know the words. What he was shouting was a mix of what he could remember and what the old woman thought was supposed to be said. He was sure that ‘bear witness’ wasn’t supposed to be said so many times!

“So let seven come forth. Three of the sands. Three of Chandrar. Of those gathered here, who has the will? Who will be chosen? The will of Germina calls you. Who will witness the Quarass and make the oath?”

This time the crowd moved as one. Those sitting surged to their feet. And those standing crowded closer. The [Councilor] had to shout as the men in the circle locked arms, afraid they’d be rushed.

“Hold! Hold back! I will—choose among you.”

Only, here it all went wrong. The crowd was pushing forwards and someone—the [Councilor] didn’t know who—shouted.

“The three aren’t chosen! One comes from foreign lands! One comes of Germina! And one comes as a child!”

The [Councilor] froze. And the crowd drew back. He looked to see who’d said it. It had been a young voice. Female. Worse, she’s sounded confident. The [Councilor] ran with it.

“Yes! Yes! One of Germina! Who will—”

A surge again. But the [Councilor] was ready. He jabbed a finger at a likely figure. He remembered one of the old three, an old woman who’d been the Quarass’ guide until her passing. The three had to be exemplary, so he pointed at a woman in the crowd.

“You. Name yourself!”

The figure he’d indicated stepped forwards as people looked at her. She hardly needed introduction as she gave her name.

“[Highborn] Vaitsha Zectiou. I am Vaitsha, daughter of Germina. I will witness the Quarass.”

She was one of the richest of the [Highborn] in the city. A powerful woman. The [Councilor] nodded and she stepped forwards, until she stood in front of the circle of men. She shot the [Councilor] a sideways look as he scanned the crowd.

The child was next. He didn’t remember a child—but the Quarass had been in power when he’d been born. So he pointed at a young boy.

“You. Do you have the courage to accompany the Quarass until her passing?”

The young boy shook and trembled in fear. He looked about to wet himself and stammered a string of gibberish. The [Councilor] knew he’d picked wrong. So he shook his head before the boy could speak again. He sought once more, found another boy in the crowd, this one older. Nine or so? He looked like a [Street Tough], if he had a class at all. But his eyes were piercing and he didn’t waver as the [Councilor] pointed at him.

“You. Have you the courage to accompany the Quarass?”

“I do! And may I serve the Quarass and the sands take me if I have anything less!”

The youth shouted back. He had a scar above one eye, and, as he walked through the crowd, a large one on his uncovered left leg. At least he wasn’t a slave. What a mistake that would be!

Two down. But the last was suddenly a pressing issue for the [Councilor]. A foreigner? Germina had few foreigners in its capital before the war with Reim. And now—he shouted desperately.

“Who comes from foreign lands? Who of Chandrar will bear witness to the Quarass? Who will swear the oath?”

And then there was silence. The children of Germina looked around, suddenly wary. A foreigner? Any one of them would have volunteered, but according to the rules one voice had shouted—and the [Councilor] didn’t even know if they were real!—it had to be a foreigner. But who could that be? One of the [Soldiers] patrolling the streets? If they had to kidnap someone—

Fear. It was all going to fall apart. If a patrol happened by and they heard what was happening because the ritual took too long—they’d stationed people to ward off any patrols headed this way. But they had to have a third. The [Councilor] shouted again.

“Is there anyone not of Chandrar? Not born on Germina’s soil?”

He hoped someone in the crowd had been born outside of Germina. A cousin, maybe. Or a wife? A husband from afar? Anyone! He heard a few voices and the crowd broke up, seeking the speakers. But then a figure bellowed, louder than the rest.

“I have come far, from lands where Germina’s name has long passed. I am a son of the sands, Chandrar born. I am not of Ger and was not borne of its waters. But I will bear witness to the Quarass. I will swear the oath.”

The crowd parted. A giant strode forth, a tall man with dark skin, his features plain, but his arms and body huge. For all that, he looked intelligent, and he had a pair of glass spectacles on his broad nose. A [Scholar]? He glanced around and people stared up at him. The [Councilor] could have wept.

“Yes! Come, then! And all bear witness! You three, stand before the circle. The Quarass is dead, but she must live!”

They were at the heart of it now, and hope was replacing fear in the [Councilor]’s chest. The three stood together, Vaitsha and—damn, the other two hadn’t named themselves!

No hope for it. The [Councilor] lifted his arms and turned, the ill-fitting red robe swirling around him.

“You three will bring her forth! The Quarass is dead, but the Quarass lives! Step forwards and claim her, chosen three! And swear an oath—”

He broke off. The bespectacled giant was looking at him. It was just a look, but it told the [Councilor] he’d erred somehow. The broad-shouldered man spoke, in a voice that carried across the crowd in a way that the [Councilor]’s shouting could not. The crying babies went silent. The gathering, already silent, went still.

“The Quarass is dead. Germina waits. So by Ger and by the blood of Quar, let the kingdom never pass in the shadow of the sun. Let the Quarass be reborn. So we gather here. Three. One of Ger, to remind the Quarass to be of who she was. One of childhood to follow the Quarass until her death and take it in her place. And one of distant sands, to tell her of what is and what must be. Let us bring her forth, and swear our oath on blood and the stones of Ger to ever be her protectors.”

There was silence after that. And the [Councilor] felt something stir in his chest. The words struck home; they were too real to be fake. He sagged in relief. Someone else knew the old words!

“Yes. Yes, that’s—that is what must be done. So bring her forth. You three. Enter and call her name. And let it be the last time her name is ever spoken. Hear it, and know that who you find within is dead. And she will emerge the Quarass. Swear your oaths before her then.”

And like that, the circle of men opened. It was a precise movement, so that the crowd only saw the backs of the three before they stepped forwards and the circle closed. And then there was nothing.

No one spoke. No one moved. The [Counselor] heard very little, even close to the circle of men as he way. He could see them looking outwards, arms linked, eyes wide. But what passed in the circle—no one could say.

There were voices. A female voice—that of Vaitsha. A rumble from the giant. A high-pitched voice from the youth, nervous despite his courage. And then—the [Councilor] heard a higher voice still. A girl’s tremulous words. A name, but he didn’t hear it. And then the circle opened and the crowd saw her.

A girl. She was dressed in white, a simple dress of cotton. Her face was dark, and her eyes pale yellow. Her hair was parted in a widow’s peak and a warm black—that was slightly like the look of the old Quarass, though fifty years separated the two. This child couldn’t have been more than ten.

And she was a child. Not the Quarass. How could she be? The [Councilor] froze. He could feel the crowd rustle. But not like before. Now it was an ominous sound. They had been promised the Quarass. And the child who was shaking with nerves and fear was not her. Her dress was wet near the neck where she’d spilled some water on herself while drinking.

“Hold.”

The giant said the word before something could happen. He looked across the citizens of Germina and the [Councilor], who had never prayed, tried to believe that he knew what was missing. And somehow, the foreigner did.

“Before the Quarass is reborn, she must accept the oaths of the three and hear her people call for her. So I stand here. A foreigner of the sands. Finder of the Quarass, charge me with my oaths.”

He pointed at the [Councilor]. The man jumped, and stopped looking for a way to escape. He turned back and again, his tongue took over for his brain.

“Do you swear to protect the Quarass, stranger of the sands? Do you swear to be her guardian and guide? If so, swear by blood. Swear on the stones of Ger, with all to witness!”

It was a desperate shout. The stranger nodded. He reached for his belt and pulled out a simple dagger of steel. He cut his arm, a powerful gash that made half the crowd wince. His blood ran down his arm as he held it out, letting his blood drip on the mud brick stones.

“I swear it by the Shield Kingdoms, by Germina’s soil and the Oasis of Ger. The Quarass lives and let my flesh and blood spill upon the sands before her.”

His words echoed. They shouldn’t have. But for a second they rolled, like distant desert thunder. And for a second, the [Councilor] could swear he felt a breeze blow in the plaza. It smelled of distant lands. Of sands, a world unknown.

Suddenly, the atmosphere changed. The fear in the [Councilor] went away. He felt a stirring in the air, like magic, but more powerful. He turned. Suddenly there were words in his chest, and his eyes were alight.

“You. Child. Do you swear to protect the Quarass? Do you swear to be her guardian and companion? If so, swear by blood. Swear on the stones of Ger, with all to witness.”

The youth had no dagger. But there was a bit of mud brick broken on the ground. As if by chance, he bent and snatched it up. With a single furious slash he opened his wrist. Blood dripped onto the stones.

“I swear! I swear by the Shield Kingdoms! By the Oasis and waters! The Quarass lives! Let me die before she does!”

And his voice was thunder. This time the breeze blew, and the [Councilor] was reminded of his youth. Of a time he had all but forgotten, when he was young and knew so little. When he was young.

All watched as he turned for Vaitsha.

“Do you swear, daughter of Ger? Do you swear to protect the Quarass? To be her guardian and friend? If so, swear by blood. Swear on the stones of Ger, with all to witness.”

Vaitsha’s eyes were wide. She spoke, trembling, pulled by the same force now guiding everyone present. Her hands retrieved a delicate belt knife, ivory and steel, and her cut was no less deep than the other two. Her blood ran down her dress and stained the ground.

“I swear. I swear by the Shield Kingdoms, by Germina, my home. By the Oasis, I swear to be her friend. And let me die before she does. Let me be worthy of it.”

A sigh ran through the audience. But it wasn’t over. The [Councilor] turned. Now he shouted. Now he screamed, where he had not dared to before. As if he were afraid of being silly. Now his lungs burst as he howled at those gathered.

“The oaths are pledged! The three stand before you! And she awaits! So call to her! Sons and daughters of Germina, call to your Quarass! And so long as Germina endures, let her come! Call her!”

He saw them look at her. The child looked up, shaking. And the voice that came from her was a scream that shook Ger. It broke paint. It made the foreigners on the streets clap their hands to their ears and sink to the ground. It killed—yes. Two rooftops collapsed, sending those sitting them to their deaths. The word.

Quarass!

The girl fell backwards. Her eyes rolled up in her head. She collapsed, and the giant caught her. A brown hand laid the child down on the ground and every eye fixed on her. Men. Women. Children. Even the [Councilor], who had forgotten to run. He stared. Hoping. Praying that the ritual really could bring her back.

Hope. That was all they had. Not faith for gods. Not religion. But perhaps there was something similar. The gods were dead, but you had to believe in something. And so they called for her. And, slowly, the small figure stirred. She raised her head, looked around. She sat up, clutching at her brow. And then she got to her feet, unsteadily, using one hand for support.

She was the same as she had been. A child with a large forehead. Dark hair. Pale yellow eyes. But when she looked around, her gaze found the [Councilor]. And his heart stopped. Because he felt it. He saw it in her gaze. He felt it in his soul.

“The Quarass lives.”

It was a whisper. Then a shout. The [Councilor] turned. He raised his arms and his eyes wept even as he laughed and screamed it.

The Quarass lives!

It was her. You couldn’t deny it. It was the same presence. The same feel that came from her. Faint, weak, but there. She was the Quarass of Germina. And the crowd roared. They fell to their knees and bowed. The sixteen men fell to their knees, weeping like the [Councilor].

Only the three who had pledged their oaths stood. The boy was caught between bowing and staring at the girl Quarass in disbelief. Vaitsha was staring at her ruler with tears in her eyes. And the giant? He looked around and spoke. And his words cut through the rejoicing like a razor sheared wool.

“The Quarass died. And she lives. I have sworn it. To protect her with my life before hers. I swore it on Ger. I swore it on the waters that give you life and on my blood. But that is the oath of a foreigner. There is one more oath I have to give.”

The [Councilor] turned to him in disbelief. The crowd looked up. The giant with dark skin and glasses reached for his neck. He had noting there, but as his hand grasped something and tore it away, an amulet shimmered into existence. It dropped from his hand, a broken jewel and silver chain. And the giant changed.

He grew no shorter. But his bulging arms became thinner, if not by much. His skin changed, and his dark hair became red and gold, only slightly faded by time. There were wrinkles on his face left by age. Grief and mirth. But what changed most about him was his presence.

Before he had been a man. A colossus who commanded the eye. But the figure who stood before the Quarass now was a different kind of giant. The kind men fought and died for. A figure to love or hate, but never ignore. He attracted every eye, as if the world bent around him. But that was his nature. For he was a [King].

The King of Destruction stood in front of the Quarass. He surveyed the crowd, which had gone still with shock and fear and turned. The [Councilor] quailed before him, but it was the Quarass he sought.

She stared up at him, a small figure. She did not turn to run or flee, though she shook. The other two tried to place themselves in front of the king. The street boy tried to charge the King of Destruction but his legs wouldn’t move. Vaitsha tried to throw herself in his path, but the King of Destruction walked around her. He stopped in front of the Quarass. Then he bent.

His arm was still cut open. His blood still ran. The [King] slowly bent onto one knee, looking down at the Quarass. And his voice had that same quality, the same echo as he met the Quarass’ eyes.

“I swore to protect you. And I swear it again. I will allow no harm to come to you. I will pledge myself to death before you. So long as Germina endures, I will be your guardian and guide. I, Flos Reimarch, swear it by my Seven. By Reim, my kingdom, my heart. I swear it by my crown. I swear it as your King.

His voice rang throughout the plaza. Flos, the King of Destruction, turned. And when he looked around, the spell broke. The crowd screamed in horror and awe and the [Councilor of State] regained his senses. He raised a hand, pointed at the figure behind Flos.

“P-protect the—”

The words froze in his mouth. The King of Destruction was too close. He could slay the Quarass in a moment. The other men who’d been part of the circle had their weapons drawn, but they were afraid. Even the [First Warriors] were no match for the legendary king.

But he was alone and the crowd had seen their Quarass. They surged forwards, shouting the same words. They might have swarmed Flos, but the [King] only raised his wounded arm. He pointed.

Halt.

And they did. Against their will, they stopped moving. The King of Destruction looked at them.

“People of Germina, do you seek my life?”

Of course they did. They shouted at him, helpless to move but free to rage.

Murderer! Monster!

“You ravaged our lands!”

“You killed my son!”

“You killed my mother!”

“This is our city! Begone, murderer! Begone!”

“King of Death! King of Destruction!”

The insults and cries poured out, jumbling, too many to be heard. Flos listened, seeing the rage in them. Then he raised a hand and there was a silence again.

“Yes. I did all these things. And I would do them a second time. I destroyed your armies. I slaughtered your kin, your friends and countrymen. I invaded your lands and I hold your city in my hands. But tell me, people of Germina. Should I do it a second time? For these are my lands now. I claimed them by right of conquest. And you who strike at my [Soldiers] strike at my kingdom. You would make war. So tell me, people of Germina, should I bring destruction to Ger a second time?”

He spread his arms, looking around. The crowd quailed. The King of Destruction’s eyes blazed.

“I left your people unscathed! I left your homes intact! My armies did not despoil, did not loot or rape or pillage! But still Germina seethes, fighting my armies day by day. Your people’s blood and mine run in the sands. To what end?”

“Our freedom. Germina will not tolerate you, tyrant.”

The voice came from behind Flos. He turned and looked at Vaitsha. The [Highborn] lady stared hatred at him. The King returned her glace as if she were an ant.

“Then the war has not ended. And to protect my people, I would slaughter all present. Man, woman, children. Make no mistake, Vaitsha of Ger. But I have said it once and I say it again: I am your [King]. And you have witnessed this as well: my oath.”

He raised his arm. And the sight of the blood reminded everyone that yes, Flos had sworn the oath. So the bloodlust pumping through their veins slowed and they listened. Warily, for here paced the lion. Flos looked from face to face, and few could meet his eyes for long.

“Forty years.”

The [Councilor of State] blinked. He stared at Flos. So did the others. Flos said it again.

“Forty years. How long may a Human man live? Even a [King]? A hundred years? Likely, at most. So. Forty years. And if blades take me, or a spell claims my life or my heart gives out, much less time. But forty years. For forty years, I claim Germina. I claim your kingdom and name you as my people. My subjects.”

There was a roar of protest from the crowd. But again, Flos silenced them.

“Forty years! And I will rule you as [King] and Germina shall prosper. Once, I rode across Germina and you fought for me. Do you not remember those days? Were they not the greatest you have lived through before or since?”

He turned, eyes blazing. The [Councilor of State] flinched. But he did remember. There was war, but there was always war. And people returned from the front lines with gold and treasure and more levels than you could count. There was no shortage of food, and Germina grew as it expanded. He remembered those days. And he remembered them as Flos turned his head and he caught a glimpse of that figure from afar. It was true. Once he had been their [King].

“Germina was once mine. Mine, but it forgot me as I slumbered. And its ruler has always been the Quarass. She reigned even as I ruled. But when I awoke from my slumber, she took arms against me. For that she died. I killed her.”

Yes. And if they could have killed him, the people in the crowd might. But they looked at the Quarass, standing still behind Flos. And they felt something shift in the air. This time they listened, wondering what came next.

“Your Quarass lives. She is young, but she lives. And I came here to swear the oath you all heard today. Let all the children of Germina hear it, not only those of Ger! I stand surety for the Quarass’ life with my own.”

Flos raised his arm a third time. The bleeding was slowing, but still it ran. Vaitsha and the youth were pale behind Flos from blood loss, but he seemed not to even notice.

“As long as I endure, I will protect the Quarass. And when I pass, Germina will rise once again. But will it do so as a broken nation, governed by an iron fist, or as a proud one? I cannot be shifted. I have claimed Germina, but I would rather you join my kingdom. Join my kingdom and ride with me across all the sands of Chandrar! Let your kingdom return to its glory, children of Germina! Be mine until my death. I have need of you.”

He held out a hand and the [Councilor] felt something pull at his heart. A part of him wanted to step forwards and shout that he would follow Flos. But only a part. The rest of him wanted to shout at the [King], if only he dared. And he saw the rest of those gathered were just as conflicted.

The King of Destruction saw it too. He waited for a heartbeat, and then turned. The Quarass stood behind him, a child, but their ruler. It was to her Flos spoke next.

“This is my pact, Quarass of Germina. You sent armies into my lands. You attacked my people. And you used children as weapons of war. For all these things and more, you paid with your life. But we were once allies.”

He extended a hand to her, the same hand streaked with drying blood. The citizens of Ger looked up as Flos held it towards the small figure.

“I hold you no grudge now; join with me and let your people strive alongside mine until it is time. I will not contest Ger and I will not keep you from your throne. But we must be allies of blood until my death. Take your kingdom, Quarass, but do it as part of my own, and I will make yours a nation remembered in legends for a thousand years. Will you accept my offer?”

The Quarass looked at him. Her eyes were old. Scarcely half an hour ago they had been young, innocent and afraid. But something older looked out from them. Old and young. She was still a child. But she was the Quarass. And because she was both, she hesitated. The citizens waited. On her words turned their fates. If she ordered it, they would fall on Flos and it would be his death and theirs. If she ordered it.

At last, the Quarass nodded. Oh, so slightly. And she reached out with her tiny hand and took Flos’ outstretched palm. Her voice was quiet, but all could hear it. The silence was absolute. The Quarass spoke.

“Yes. By Ger’s waters I say it is so.”

A sigh ran through the crowd. A sigh, and then a voice of protest, swiftly cut off. The spell was broken. A hubbub rose, voices asking what had happened, someone shouting again, trying to shout to the Quarass. A woman screamed vengeance against Flos and launched herself, but the crowd was against her. There was still something moving them. The will of the Quarass, this time.

The [Councilor] felt it. He bowed to the Quarass, sinking to his knees in his red robes, sweat staining his clothing. He was so relieved he couldn’t move; his legs had given out. Some of the other former councilors and members of her court did the same, or tried to move closer. But the King of Destruction forced them back with a glance.

So it was with the crowd. Those who wished to see the Quarass crowded forwards, or simply wept in place with the same relief. But others who couldn’t stand the agreement, who stared at Flos with hatred, began to push away.

Not towards him, though some vowed vengeance and shouted his death at the [King]’s back. But they still moved back out of the crowd, as if they couldn’t help it. And they kept moving, running down the streets, fleeing the [Soldiers] of Flos’ army who were finally moving towards their [King]. They fled the city, a few hundred, while the rest of Ger remained.

Chaos. Venith Crusland marched a full three hundred [Soldiers] through the crowd, ordering them back, shouting at them to make way. His [Soldiers] forced through towards the King of Destruction and encircled him, ignoring the insults and crowd pushing forwards. There was no violence, which surprised him but not Maresar.

“He told you. Keep them back. [Thunder Arrow]!”

She drew an arrow and shot it into the sky. The people closest to her ducked and covered their ears, flinching back. Venith guided his horse forwards, shouting.

“Form a ring around the [King]! Back up! Back up, I said! Your Quarass will be fine! You can see her later! Get back!

“Venith! Venith!

He heard someone shouting his name in the press. The voice was familiar, so Venith pointed. A group of his [Soldiers] pushed into the crowd and emerged with someone. An unfamiliar Germinan girl. Venith stared at her, confused. Then the girl tugged at a ring and her figure changed.

Like Flos, the illusion magic turned the dark-skinned girl into another figure. Slightly taller, fairer skinned, like a Terandrian or someone born of Izril. Venith did recognize her.

“Teres!”

The young girl from another world nodded and Venith pointed. The [Soldiers] brought her into the circle of space and Venith leaned down to shout at her.

“Is this his Majesty’s doing?”

“Yes! He helped bring back the Quarass!”

“I gathered that! What next?”

Teres could only shake her head. Venith cursed. He held out a hand.

“Come on, I’ll bring you to him!”

He rode Teres towards Flos, who’d stayed where he was. The King of Destruction stood in silence next to the Quarass, keeping the people around her away by sheer force of presence. The young child was staring wide-eyed at her citizens, who were still fighting to get to her. Calling out her name.

“A strange sight, isn’t it? You’ll get used to it soon.”

The King of Destruction remarked as Venith led Teres towards him. The [Lord] stopped to let Teres jump to the ground, then turned to marshal his soldiers to keep holding the crowds back. Flos turned. The Quarass looked up at him. Teres, who’d approached hesitantly, halted and shuddered.

The child. Teres had seen her before the ceremony, before everyone had called out her name. And she’d just looked like a kid, then. An ordinary kid like the young boy with the scars standing behind her. But now her gaze held something old in it. And she didn’t look as afraid as before, even as the King of Destruction bent to speak with her.

“A second thing, Quarass. These child [Assassins] that Germina uses. I wish them stopped. I know your kingdom houses their training grounds and my people have not found them yet. I do not wish the children killed or…abandoned. But let them grow as children. No more of them, not as tools of Reim. Not ever. Have we a second deal?”

The Quarass tilted her head. Her lips were calmly pressed together, her gaze imperious. Teres saw her glance towards her crowd, up at Flos—not one whit afraid. A silent calculation ran behind her eyes, and then she nodded. Her voice was still a child’s, but it sounded like an adult.

“I agree. But I will not stop from using my [Assassins]. They are mine. And we are allies, King of Destruction. The Quarass kneels, but she does not bow.”

Flos nodded gravely. He met the Quarass’ eyes levelly. It was a ludicrous sight, the imposing King of Destruction of over six feet in height stooping to address the tiny Quarass. Ludicrous until they glanced at you.

“Just so. My soldiers will stop patrolling by sundown. Your palace will be cleared by then as well. And if ever you should call, I will come. It is a heavy burden you wear. That invisible crown.”

The Quarass hesitated. The impassive mask slipped suddenly.

“Yes. It is. Thank you.”

For a second she looked like a child again. Then her back straightened and she nodded to Venith and Maresar and the [Soldiers].

“Withdraw them. Those are my people. They should come to me.”

“As you wish. Venith!

Flos turned and roared. Teres and the Quarass jumped, as well as everyone around Flos. He had an incredible voice. Venith turned and Flos raised his arm. He’d healed it with a potion and apparently shared it about because neither Vaitsha nor the boy were bleeding any longer. Flos waved his hand at Venith in a circle.

“To me! We leave the Quarass to her people!”

The crowd roared and Venith slowly drew the circle inwards, forming around Flos and Teres. The Quarass took a few deep breaths, then glanced at Teres with a frown. She was standing by the King of Destruction and you would have had to have been a fool to not have noticed how she was standing by his side where no one else was.

“Who is this? She is not one of your Seven, King Flos of Reim. Is she a wife? A consort? A slave?”

Teres’ jaw dropped. Flos laughed, and the child-Quarass scowled, embarrassed.

“No. She is not. This is Teres, one of my two personal attendants. Remember her, Quarass.”

“I will.”

Those old eyes swung to Teres and the girl shuddered. She heard the clatter of hooves and saw Venith riding towards Flos.

“To the palace, your Majesty? I can’t keep the crowd back and the ones who fled the city looked—”

“To the gates, Venith! Leave Ger as I promised! Those who fled are enemies of Reim—and of Germina.”

The King of Destruction looked at the Quarass and she nodded. He stepped forwards. Venith dismounted, but the King of Destruction waved a hand.

“Keep your horse, I’ll walk. Teres, with me!”

He beckoned her, and she followed. Just like that, or perhaps, as expected. You couldn’t help but follow if someone like Flos beckoned. The Quarass knew that. She knew many things, for all she was a girl of barely nine years. She was old and young. She had died, and her body had been carried out of the Seat of Ger weeks before. But she now lived again.

The Quarass lives. And as she watched the King of Destruction go, his pledge echoed in her mind. The young Quarass heard a timid voice.

“Quarass?”

She turned. Vaitsha was on her knees. So was the [Councilor of States] and what remained of the Quarass’ court. She knew them all from memory. She knew their names, their pasts, everything the old Quarass had known. But the new one didn’t feel the same way about all of them. She was afraid, scared, and at the same time, weighed down, just like Flos had said. She wished he had stayed, but her memories told her she had to be alone. At least for now.

“Rise, Vaitsha. I am the Quarass. And you are one of my three. What is it you have to say?”

The [Highborn] lady rose, cheeks pale. Eyes sparkling as she looked at her ruler in the flesh. She hesitated, but the young Quarass wasn’t the King of Destruction yet so she gave words to the uncertainty she and the others around her probably felt.

“Quarass, is it wise? He is the King of Destruction. And he swore an oath. But.”

She trailed off. But. But he had still invaded. But Germina would be absorbed into Reim, even if the Quarass could still rule. But the world feared and hated the King of Destruction and Germina would have to fight wars in Flos’ name. The Quarass knew that too, but she took a different view from the old one. Each Quarass was different, after all.

“Yes. He is destruction and yes, he did invade. But we have sworn an oath. Better to be a kingdom under another [King] than one ruined by fruitless war. The King of Destruction is a fool, and a force of nature. He cannot be stopped. And though he is a fool, he does not forswear himself. So we are part of Reim. And any who would harm him go against my will. Let that be known.”

She saw Vaitsha’s head bow, along with the other members of court. The Quarass felt a headache, the first in her young life beset her. How many would be traitorous, or how many could be trusted once they realized she wasn’t the old Quarass? Had the [Councilor of States]—whose name was Ilhmet, a detail even the old Quarass hadn’t really cared much to remember—chosen wisely in Vaitsha and…

The Quarass glanced at the ground. The young street boy had not risen. He was still kneeling, pressing his head to the mud brick. She bent.

“You. What is your name?”

He looked up with her with wide eyes.

“Me, Quarass?”

She glared at him. A young face looking into a boy five years older than she was.

“Yes, you. You are one of my three, are you not? Well, the King of Destruction is already left. So tell me your name, my guardian and companion. And rise, for I have need of your strength.”

The young boy rose. He smiled at his Quarass, and she saw he was strong, for all he was a street child. His body was wiry, and his eyes burned with the courage of a man already.

“I will be your strength, Quarass! And whatever else you ask of me! I am Khalid, who has no last name!”

There was still blood on his skin and clothes from where his arm had bled. The Quarass stared at it. Then she held out her hand. Khalid stared at it, but the Quarass was intent.

“Then, Khalid. I will hold you to that oath. Until my death, let us remake Germina into what it was and could be. Come with me.”

Khalid hesitated. But the Quarass was frowning, so he gingerly took her hand. And the crowd that surged forwards as the King of Destruction left paused when they saw him holding the Quarass’ hands. They stopped and stared as the Quarass turned, and her eyes flashed with the memories of countless dead women, and Vaitsha and her court knelt behind her.

It was indeed a moment you saw only once in your life. Of such moments were legends born, here, on a small mud brick street, between a street boy and a girl ruler. But such legends are not always told, and another legend that had already echoed around the world once walked calmly out of the city of Ger, capital of Germina.

 

—-

 

Flos Reimarch, King of Destruction and ruler of Reim and now Germina, stretched his arms up and yawned. Something popped and he twisted his neck.

“Ah, that’s better. Venith, pull your soldiers out of Germina but keep them in place. You and Maresar will hold here until Orthenon gives you further orders; he’ll no doubt wish to visit, but I shall recall you to Reim shortly. Germina is now allied with Reim, if you had not heard. Maresar, rally your riders. Those who fled the city will soon take up arms against it, and I would rather the Quarass not deal with traitors on her first day.”

Venith and Maresar turned towards their King. The [Soldiers], who had been pelted with paint pellets and sand, coughed and wiped their faces. Teres stared at Flos.

“What, just like that?

He glanced at her. Flos Reimarch’s voice was a normal Human baritone, when he wasn’t speaking as a [King]. But if you listened, you could still hear that odd reverberation behind some of his words. He was tall, imposing, and Teres had to admit, handsome, all of which gave him the regal air of…of…well, a [King]. One right out of a children’s book, if the artist was exceptionally talented.

“I told you I planned on crushing Germina’s rebellion today, didn’t I, Teres?”

“You did, but I thought you’d be hanging people or doing something else! I had no idea you meant all that!”

Venith coughed as he stood next to his king. He glanced at Teres, with the same bit of bewilderment she always saw him give her. He was still working out her exact rank. Maresar, who was more easygoing and didn’t really care, leaned on Venith’s horse and addressed Flos over the back.

“The Quarass. We can trust her?”

Flos stroked his beard.

“Hm. I can’t say for certain, but my instincts tell me yes. And I have sworn to leave her city. The Quarass was always practical, and her current incarnation seems level-headed. More importantly, she is brave, which is a far better quality to have. So we will give her trust—but only that. Venith’s army will camp outside and still request supplies from Germina. Even if she rallies her entire city, it would be a mistake to set them against your forces.”

“As you wish, your Majesty. And I will hunt down those stragglers. May I ask why they fled?”

“[The Choice of the Conquered].”

Flos sighed. Maresar’s brows shot up, but she only nodded. Teres stared at Flos.

“The choice of the what? Is that a Skill?”

Venith shot her a glare, probably for talking to the King of Destruction out of turn. Some of the [Soldiers] were also giving Teres the fisheye, but she was used to it. Flos only grinned as he replied.

“Of course. It’s one of my Skills. A powerful one, too. You saw those in the crowd who left after I made my vow and the Quarass allied herself with me? They are rebels. Traitors who won’t obey me or her.”

Teres remembered them pushing out of the crowd, shouting at Flos.

“You mean, you made them like that?”

Flos hesitated.

“Say rather that I gave them a choice. I gave everyone present a choice, Teres. That is the nature of the Skill. If there is even a glimmer of chance that they would acknowledge me as their ruler, they weren’t affected. Only those who will never bow, never suffer me will flee. Only someone exceptionally high-level or strong of will could have stayed.”

Oh. So it’s like a…lie detector test? A loyalty test?”

“Mm. Something like that. But as I said, it only finds those for whom I would never command their loyalties. Anyone with even a hint—isn’t affected. Half the crowd could well end up trying to kill me, but there’s a chance they’ll be my citizens. Which is fine by me!”

He laughed again, carefree as could be. That was Flos, and believe it or not, this was actually not that strange of a day for Teres anymore. She shook her head.

“So we resurrected a Quarass, identified a bunch of enemies, and now Maresar hunts them down, Venith camps, and we…do what?”

“Confer, for one more moment. Venith, I need a horse and escort. We head to Hellios on a similar errand. Actually, I would do without the escort if you need the men, but Orthenon will object.”

“As would I. You’ll have a hundred men, your Majesty.”

Flos sighed as Venith turned and shouted for horses and the escort. He looked at Maresar.

“Lady Maresar—”

“I wasn’t a [Lady] when you first met me, your Majesty.”

He grinned.

“Bandit Lord Maresar, then. Maresar the Wolf.”

She laughed and Flos went on as Venith gave both his liege and his wife a look of chagrin.

“Hunt down the fleeing traitors by all means, but don’t overreach. Some might have high levels and flee to pockets of resistance. I struck a deal with the Quarass to ban her child assassins, but some of her [Assassins] may rebel. So be on the lookout for them.”

“I will be careful, my liege.”

“And Maresar, take them captive if possible. Execute them swiftly only if you must.”

Flos sighed. Maresar nodded, the slight smile on her face never changing. Teres eyed her. Take them captive meant turn them into slaves. But she bit her lip rather than say anything. If Trey had been here, he might have objected. Flos sighed.

“It is a pity that they fled, Teres. [Choice of the Conquered] is a useful Skill, but…were I a better king, much less a better [King], I think they would all have stayed. But this is enough. Now Germina is part of Reim.”

“And that’s a good thing? It feels like you just gave up the country.”

Flos smiled.

“Hardly. You think I could manage to subdue Germina without years of martial rule? This was far easier since I knew the Quarass could be reborn. And this is how my empire always expanded. Province by province, kingdom by kingdom. Germina will regain much of its strength with its Quarass, and now its armies will march alongside mine.”

“It’s that easy?”

The King shrugged. Venith had left and was returning with two horses.

“Not at all. Orthenon will need to work closely with the Quarass, and there will still be unrest, difficulties…but it will be far easier now. Venith, I commend you for keeping Germina and the area from full-blown revolt until the Quarass was found. I was honestly worried that they’d forgotten the ritual.”

“It was nothing, your Majesty. And I will await Orthenon’s visit with pleasure.”

Lady Maresar rolled her eyes and smiled silently. Flos grinned and patted the stallion Venith led towards him. He swung himself into the saddle as Teres awkwardly mounted with a stirrup.

“I missed your lies, Venith. Well, Teres! To Hellios, then! It is a two-day ride from capital to capital nonstop. If we rest our horses and with my Skills, we’ll make it in one. Come! You can tell me a story of gods on the way.”

And like that he was gone. Venith shouted at the escort of [Soldiers] to ride after the King of Destruction as he rode down the road that slowly changed from mud bricks to just dirt. The King of Destruction rode on, Teres, a girl from another world at his side. It was early spring. And this was how the King of Destruction spent his days. Riding, talking about other worlds, laughing with his companions of old.

And plotting to take over the world. As one does.

 

—-

 

The ride through Germina’s lands was quiet. That wasn’t to say that Teres didn’t see people. There were villages, even a town they passed on the road heading east. But there were no travellers on the road aside from a City Runner who took one look at their procession and started running perpendicular to them.

Germina might have had trade, but the [Merchants] and caravans normally travelling between nations and cities had no desire to be caught up in the continuing battles between Germina’s remnants and Flos’ army.

Only one type of caravan would brave the journey right now, and Teres was glad not to see any of that sort. She contented herself with looking around at the arid lands and sparse settlements until that grew boring. Germina, as a nation of oases, was relatively flat, much like Reim. Hellios was apparently more fertile, if only by comparison.

It was a day’s ride from Ger to the capital city of Hellios, Blalevault, even with the fresh horses and Flos’ Skill, which made the ground pass underneath the hooves of their horses flash past. It was a deceptively slow journey to Teres; until she realized that she was comparing the speed they were going at to that of a car.

Still, a day was a day, which meant that somehow they had to pass the time. Teres didn’t know how the [Soldiers] following them and riding ahead did it, but Flos occupied himself by talking with her. It went something like this. They would be riding along in silence, Teres not thinking of much in particular and zoning out until she had a thought or question and rode closer to Flos to ask it. Or he did the same to her.

“So, if bringing the Quarass back was so important, why did you wait for nearly a month to do it? Venith was sending you reports of how hard it was to keep control. Why did you wait for them to decide to do it and not do it yourself? Or at least tell them how to do it? That priest guy had no idea.”

Flos, was the King of Destruction, but he was surprisingly approachable. And he liked to talk. He shrugged as he rode, back straight, as if he’d been born in the saddle. Teres had learned to ride, if only to keep up, but she wasn’t nearly as good as Flos or Orthenon. Even though she’d gained the [Rider] class and several Skills.

“The court of the Quarass was in hiding, Teres. They feared I would execute them, especially if they knew what I was doing. If I had told them I desired the Quarass’ rebirth, do you think they would have trusted me? No, they would have been suspicious. Moreover, I think that the rebirth of the Quarass is a function of the will of the people as much as it is a hidden requirement of her class. If I had forced it, perhaps the ritual would have failed.”

“Oh. So what is the Quarass? You killed her—and now she’s back? I thought she was like a [Queen].”

“She is the ruler of Germina. No more, no less. There is no one in the world like her. [Quarass] is a unique class. And the first Skill she obtains is [Memory of the Quarass].”

Teres could guess what that Skill did. She shuddered, remembering the old look in the girl’s eyes.

“Is it evil? I mean, they turned that girl into…”

Flos’ face was troubled. He hesitated, and casually slapped a bug threatening to bite his horse out of the air.

“She would not have gained the class had she not wished it. But you are right, the child did not know what being Quarass meant. Still, if you are asking whether the class and Skill will take her over—it affects her, but each Quarass is different. I should know; I have met three now. Her Skill does not convey wisdom, nor, I think, is it always helpful. But that child had a spark of her own. She may prove to be a better ruler than the previous Quarass. At the very least, she and I are allies. But I will keep Maresar and Venith here until Orthenon may speak with her and establish governance to his liking. And hers.”

Teres digested that. She frowned.

“Okay. But how do the memories carry over? That was like…rebirth.”

“A form of it. It is a function of her class, which, as I said, is unique. A power that Germina somehow discovered. Or created. Secrets, Teres. This world has secrets. The power of the Quarass’ class to resurrect itself is one such, if a small one.”

That didn’t seem small to Teres. She opened her mouth, inhaled a bug at speed and coughed. Flos slapped her on the back, laughing, until she spat out the bug and washed her mouth out twice.

“Beware of bugs. Especially as fast as we travel. My turn to ask a question. I believe I asked you to tell me more about gods on the way here, Teres. You told me much about the various religions…can you elaborate on these holy wars you said took place?”

Teres scowled as she spat some water out. She could still taste bitterness in her mouth. And a feeler. She spat that out too.

“Trey’s the one to ask.”

“But he stayed in the capital. I don’t think he enjoys riding or my company enough. These holy wars?”

Sighing, Teres thought for a second.

“I don’t know. Okay. There were these kingdoms who believed in Christianity. And they had the Pope.”

“He who was highest of the [Clerics].”

“Um…yes? The closest man to god. And he said—I think, something like ‘the people living in these countries don’t believe in our god. Go kill them.’ And that’s what happened.”

“And the nations who practiced Christianity…?”

“They went to war. And they killed a lot of Muslims. And they got killed.”

“Hm. It feels like you skipped over a lot of the details in your account. But I understand the gist. And these nations sent their warriors to fight and die? For a god’s will? Did he manifest to them?”

“Nope. The Pope said so and so everyone went off.”

“On his word alone. Unbelievable.”

Flos frowned to himself. Teres couldn’t help but interject her opinion.

“That’s faith for you. It makes people crazy. Anyways, Trey’s the one you want to talk to. He actually paid attention during the sermons in church.”

“I will ask him about it.”

Flos nodded slowly. He glanced up at Teres.

“Still, faith is a powerful thing. I’ve thought on it, Teresa Atwood. And I believe it is one of the fundamental differences that separates my world from yours.”

“Probably. But I mean, didn’t those people love their Quarass? That entire ritual looked a lot like something religious, you know.”

“Mm. Perhaps it did. But I think there were differences.”

“Which are?”

The King took a few moments to think. He opened his mouth, frowned, and spat out a bug. Teres was vaguely disappointed by that.

“The difference is this. In this world, Humans—no, people know the gods to be dead. We cannot believe in them; I have never heard of a…[Preacher] in my world, let alone religion. And so, we know there is a limit to all things. Immortals may die. Magic is finite. The gods are dead.”

That was a cynical outlook on life. Unusual, coming from Flos, who was normally impossible to depress. The King of Destruction went on as Teres shielded her face with a scarf.

“Faith has its limits in the heart, Teres. Not like your world. And so I may conquer the hearts of Germina’s folk, by nurturing their fear that the line of the Quarass will die out and by giving them hope that I will let it continue. They do not have the blind faith of your world that some…god will swoop down from the heavens to make things right. That is what they do, isn’t it?”

It sounded like Flos had trouble saying the word ‘god’. He had to frown as he pronounced it, but he’d been saying the word more often of late. And asking questions about god nonstop on their ride here, for that matter. Teres nodded, smiling at the image of gods swooping down out of the sky like birds. But wait, wasn’t that what they did? She frowned.

“Well, some myths, er, have that. Beams of light from heaven. But sometimes it’s just a voice. Or—or people say miracles happen thanks to god, like a bridge collapsing and no one getting hurt. But they never see god. It’s all invisible. The invisible hand of god.”

“Ah, invisible workings. So they flit about invisibly?”

“No, no…they’re miracles. It might not even be god, but you see, if there was a god he’d be omniscience and omnipotent. So he could just save lives by willing it. You see…”

Teres had trouble explaining what a god was to Flos. He seemed incapable of grasping a being that was all-knowing and all-powerful. He kept asking for clarification until he finally got it. And when he did, he just shook his head with a vague look of disappointment.

“Omnipotence. Omniscience. Odd things to imagine. Your gods sound more like dreams, to me. How would such a being exist? Why would they let evil exist? Ah, wait, I know the answer to that one. Evil must exist, or how else would we outline what is good? Dark needs light to shine. Ah, but it must be aggravating to be a god!”

He laughed heartily as Teres gave him a sidelong look. That was another thing Flos did. One second he was interested in mundane things—like ice cream—the next, he was speaking of good and evil as if he understood the perspective of gods. She rolled her shoulders and shifted in her saddle, wishing she had a pillow.

“I guess that’s what some people say. But that’s only if gods exist. And that’s up for debate.”

Half a year ago she would have laughed at any suggestion gods existed. Now she wasn’t so sure. Flos smiled.

“If they exist. If they exist? And here I thought your world had more faith than mine.”

The question and the smile—more like a smirk—needled Teres. Sometimes Flos behaved that way, as if their two worlds were in competition. And sometimes Teres felt as if she had to defend Earth, as if Flos’ admiration or scorn mattered.

“Well, we can’t know for certain! There are contradictions in holy books, like dinosaurs existing when ‘apparently’ the god of Christianity made the earth in seven days. And no one can prove their god exists because they don’t do miracles, which all apparently happened in the past. So it sounds like bollocks to me. Anyways, if people knew it wouldn’t be faith, right? It’s the eternal question or some shite like that.”

To the young woman’s surprise, her outburst only provoked gales of laughter from Flos, that made some of the soldiers riding ahead of them turn to see what was going on. He righted himself in his saddle before he fell off and gave Teres an amused glance.

“Ah, Teres! The eternal question? You clearly don’t believe in gods, but you don’t understand. Teres, you are that answer to your world’s eternal question. Because you can ask whether god exists or not in this world. I cannot. The fact that your world can even believe in gods while we know that none exist in our world…doesn’t that prove there are yet some in yours?”

It—Teres opened her mouth. Closed it. She rode on, shaken. Flos shook his head.

“Or maybe it only proves we had some. And that they now lie dead.”

He stared ahead. Teres was determined not to open that can of worms no matter what. She wondered what Trey would think when she told him what Flos had said. If they could talk without fighting. She slumped in her saddle. She and Trey hadn’t been getting along since…well, it was his fault and her fault. But she hated being alone from her twin.

“Do you always talk like this? Is that why none of the others would ride with you?”

Flos snorted; he seemed to enjoy it when Teres poked at him.

“They have their duties. And I don’t always pester my vassals. For one thing, they don’t have entertaining stories like you do. Well, not true ones at any rate. I’m not always so introspective, Teres. Sometimes, yes, I think deeply about the world. Other times I wonder what ‘soda’ tastes like. The rebirth of the Quarass was a time for deep thoughts. I fear our next errand will be a time for quick thinking and petty triviality.”

Teres glanced up the empty road. She thought she could see the land rising ahead of them.

“We’re going to Hellios, right? To conquer it? Crush it?”

“That. To bring Hellios into my kingdom, rather than waste time occupying it. Although we might have to expend more resources and time on Hellios.”

Flos sighed. He leaned on his saddle and his horse glanced up at him. Teres scrunched her eyebrows together.

“Okay, another question. If it’s important to take over both nations, why didn’t you do Hellios while you were waiting for Germina to resurrect their Quarass?”

The King of Destruction smiled again, although he was studying the landscape ahead with a kind of weary anticipation.

“Ah. That answer is simple. The Queen of Hellios, Queen Calliope, is haughty. As are Hellosians. A proud people, whereas the folk of Germina love their Quarass. It is far easier to convince them to submit once another nation has followed suit. Besides, a month of occupation proves to them that they cannot oust me so easily. The hearts of men are not so easily won over.”

“What about the hearts of women?”

“Even harder. But it’s vital we secure Hellios, as Orthenon tells me the other nations won’t let us consolidate these lands for much longer. We had a break during the winter and, I think, while the other kingdoms secured their borders in case I continued to advance. But our new neighbors won’t fall as easily as Germina or Hellios this time.”

Teres’ stomach churned.

“You mean, more armies? More war?”

“Perhaps. It need not come to that. But I wish to secure Hellios. If we do, we’ll have ample time to react to any threat coming from the north. There are a trio of nations bordering our lands at the moment to the north and east. Of them, the realm of Belchan and the Jecrass Republic are closest. Even so, Belchan is eight days north of Hellios’ capital even with a marching Skill for any army. No danger—unless we’re attacked from multiple spots at once.”

Eight days of marching with Flos’ Skill? Teres tried to figure out how far that was.

“How many miles is that?”

Flos counted on his fingers and gave up.

“You’ll have to ask Orthenon when we return. I don’t know exact distances of the places I’ve visited, but I know exactly how long it takes to march an army there, or a group of [Riders]. It’s one of the reasons Orthenon and Takhatres are so invaluable; they can reach the swiftest of attacking forces where Mars or Gazi or I would struggle to react in time.”

“But you sent Takhatres across the desert. Why did you do that? His tribe could have wiped out both Germina and Hellios.”

And saved Reim from nearly falling to the coalition army. Flos nodded as if he read Teres’ mind.

“Takhatres would be invaluable here. But he’s occupying the Empire of Sands. While his tribe harasses them they’re forced to expend forces on him, and he can hit any army trying to cross the desert. My kingdom needs that time. We can manage without Takhatres for the moment. Already you could say Reim has expanded three times over. If I can take control of Hellios and Germina’s armies and their economies, I will have a true base of power to draw on besides my Seven.”

“I guess…”

“Fear not, Teres. My enemies at present aren’t a concern. Any single army a kingdom nearby could field is no match for mine. And as I said, we have ample time to react if Hellios is secure. I’m more interested in the future. Now, I was thinking about our chat from last night…”

Oh no. Here we go again. Teres sighed. Flos had that look in his eye.

“So, these guns from your world. I understand they shoot hundreds of ‘rounds’ per minute. Bullets, which despite being tiny can go straight through armor. But Mars is surely immune to such weapons. Her armor is magical. I’ve seen it withstand countless weapons at point-blank range. A sledgehammer swung by an Ogre couldn’t dent it. A ballista couldn’t pierce her chest plate.”

“I understand that. But they’re guns, Flos. They’re a lot more powerful.”

“How much more? I refuse to believe your bullets have more force than a ballista in a single shot.”

“Oh yeah? What about tanks? They have…armor piercing rounds. They could put a hole in a castle. Can Mars survive that?”

“Yes.”

Flos’ calm expression made Teres grind her teeth.

“No she can’t. Don’t be stupid.”

“You haven’t seen Mars as I have, Teres.”

“And you haven’t seen a tank. Or a missile. They can blow up—look, if one hits her, she’s dead! Maybe she survives ordinary guns and not like…RPG’s or sniper rifles, but she can’t beat a tank. She can’t. One of them rolls through and it’ll shred an army, Mars or not. It has machine guns, Flos. I explained them to you. An army from this world can’t beat one from mine.”

The King of Destruction gave Teres a sideways look, almost irritated himself. He breathed out slowly.

Fine. I accept the power of your weapons. But you are still incorrect. It would be simple to triumph in a battle I planned against your world.”

He raised a finger as Teres furiously opened her mouth. Instantly, her mouth shut. She glared as Flos went on.

“In case Mars isn’t totally proof against your missiles and tanks, I would find a single high-level [Pyromancer] and order the [Mage] to disable combustion on the enemy army. What will your guns do, then? From what I understand, they must ignite, mustn’t they?”

“Well, yes, but—guns aren’t that simple. It wouldn’t—”

Teres tried to remember how exactly guns did work. It wouldn’t work if—that wasn’t fair, was it? What about bombs? Or…she stared at Flos.

“How did you come up with that?”

He sighed.

“Easily. I spent several days devising numerous strategies against your world’s weapons until I realized your lack of magic is a crippling weakness. It doesn’t interest me any longer. What else have you?”

She glared.

“We have bombers. And nukes. I told you about them too. And before you say anything, they’re flying miles up. Too high for Amerys to reach like you said yesterday. How would you stop one of those?”

“A flying vessel that can go higher than even Amerys could reach, is it? Capable of destroying cities with a single weapon? I see. Indeed, that is a challenge, indeed…”

Flos murmured to himself, stroking his beard. Teres resisted the urge to roll her eyes. Every time she told him about the military might of Earth, or some device his world hadn’t dreamed of yet, Flos would grow excited.

“You know this is stupid, right? If our world invaded yours—and I don’t even know if that’s possible—you’d be fighting an entire world.

“So? I have one right here. And mine is filled with species yours has never seen, Teres. We have magic. You have technology. It would be a fair battle in some ways.”

“Please.”

“No, I’m serious. If I had to prepare against Earth, if, say, a portal had opened between our world and yours and both sides were sending armies through, I know how I’d begin to compete with your advanced weaponry.”

Teres felt a flutter of uncertainty in her chest. He’d been thinking of it?

“Really? How?”

Flos casually stretched one arm, then the next.

“The first thing I would do is collect some guns and armor to be copied and retreat. Prisoners too; your world’s [Engineers] and soldiers. After all, traitors and turncoats exist in every world. And even if producing these weapons is beyond us, we can always capture more. But I would make every effort to manufacture some of the materials of your world. And—yes, I think preparations can be made. Kevlar is a cloth, you said? An army of Stitch-People made of kevlar would do well against your powerful guns, wouldn’t you say?”

“Stitch-People? But—you can’t do that. Can you?”

Teres tried to imagine the few String People she’d met being made out of kevlar. It boggled the mind. But that was how they worked, right? They sewed fabric for limbs. Flos looked amused at her reaction.

“Of course they could. Any cloth would do. String People are like Dullahans in that they craft themselves. But if I had to choose between the two, I would wish for an army of the Stitch-folk every time. Tell me, how would an army of Humans with guns face a similar army, equipped with guns but made of this wonderful material you and Trey keep telling me exists, but can’t describe in any detail?”

Teres bit her lip. Flos eyed her and went on.

“Now, to counter your aircraft…you said they’re electrical? Amerys might be able to disable them no matter how high they fly so long as she knows they’re there. But just in case…how high did you say they could fly, again? And how fast?”

“Mach 9.”

“And that means…? Come now, Teres. This is all hypothetical. And besides, I wouldn’t conquer your world right away if we discovered a portal leading between our worlds.”

“Oh, thanks.”

“I’d request their surrender first.”

 

—-

 

Some days Teres didn’t know if Flos was merely insanely overconfident, or if he was actually deviously intelligent. Certainly she’d given up trying to convince him that Earth was impossibly advanced for his world to take on. After hearing some of Flos’ theories about how to counter everything from a nuclear bomb to bioweapons, she was half-believing he’d have a shot. The thought wasn’t pleasant, but Teres was also sure of something else.

Flos was a good ruler. A good man, for what that was worth. Yes, he believed slavery was fair, but that was a fault she was trying to work on. And he might be the King of Destruction, but she had never seen him behave in a way that was less than…noble. It was strange for Teres to admire someone; she was used to crushes like she had on Orthenon, but Flos inspired. However, what she sometimes forgot was that he didn’t always inspire loyalty, like the devotion of his subjects. Sometimes what he inspired was hate.

Case in point. The next day, after a long night of riding, sleeping after being pestered by Flos to describe various military scenarios and then what Oreos were like, Teres woke up after four hours of sleepy riding to find they’d passed into Hellios and were nearing its capital. It was…northing like Ger had been.

If the capital of Germina had been quiet, discontent, simmering out of sight, Hellios’ capital city was a full-blown boil with a grease fire on top. Flos’ army was camped outside of its gates and Teres could see scorch marks on the earth and arrows. Fresh ones too; a new volley was launched and landed well clear of Flos’ army camped well outside of the walls of the city.

Hellios had fallen, and the city had been taken, but Flos’ army had withdrawn from occupying it after Orthenon had decided it wasn’t worth the casualties it would take to hold it. Part of that reasoning probably had to do with the person he’d stationed in charge of the army.

“My king! I’ve longed to see you!”

The instant Flos approached the camp, a tall, bodacious woman dressed in very form-fitting armor ran out to greet him. She was tall, impossibly fair of skin, and had the kind of beauty that inspired the words bodacious, exquisite, delectable, and uh, beautiful.

Mars the Illusionist stopped in front of Flos’ horse, beaming up at him. Teres glanced sideways at her as some [Hostlers] raced forwards to take the horses of the other soldiers. She dismounted as Flos, laughing, leapt from the saddle.

“Mars! How goes it, my [Vanguard]? I see that Hellios still has some fire!”

The woman pursed her lips, looking vexed but only for a second. Luscious lips. That was another phrase. She needed no makeup, and her skin was perfect despite the heat. Teres could see some of the male soldiers—and two of the female ones—giving Mars a long look. She tried not to stare as well. Flos appeared impervious to Mars’ charms, however. The [Vanguard] and one of Flos’ infamous Seven led them to the center of the camp.

“The defenders shoot arrows at us any time we get within range, milord. But they’re smart enough not to sally out or sneak out—at least, after the last eight times they tried. We have them cornered and they know it. They don’t dare attack so long as I’m here.”

She reclined on a chair, her body languid, her molded breastplate gleaming in the sun. Teres stared at her chest. She met Mars’ eyes as the [Vanguard] winked at her.

“Hello, Teres. Like the spell? It’s a new look.”

“It’s great. Do all of your illusions have huge breasts?”

“They attract attention. And arrows, strangely enough. I can’t count how many [Mages] have seared me straight across the chest rather than aim for my head, for all it looks unguarded…”

Mars sighed, and her lips curved up in a smile that would win any heart. But it was all an illusion. Teres knew that, although she had to fight to remember that when a stray gust of wind blew Mars’ hair, or she wiped a bit of dust from her gleaming, gilded armor.

But that was Mars the Illusionist for you. She hid her true form with spells. But illusion or not, she was the most powerful of Flos’ servants, at least in level. And with her present, Hellios’ forces cooped up in the walls of their city wouldn’t dare sally forth. Teres had seen Mars fight in a battle only once. And when she had, she’d been unstoppable. Invincible.

Still, Mars was hardly a leader like Venith or Maresar and the camp showed it. She’d left the organization to a [Strategist] under her command and apparently she’d spent her time in camp sparring, taunting Hellios’ defenders, or drinking and gambling.

“A true soldier to the last. But I need into that city, Mars. Would you care to walk to me?”

“After a month spent staring at the walls and listening to their weak insults? Walking with my sovereign? You don’t have to tempt me any further.”

Mars leapt up. She grabbed Flos’ arm and laughing, he followed her. The two walked through the camp as men and women raced forwards, but Flos walked through them with a single sentence.

“I intend to take Hellios myself.”

And that was it. The [Strategist], one of Venith’s men, fell back with the others. They didn’t ask how Flos intended to do it, or if he was crazy. The King of Destruction wanted to take Hellios with just Mars and Teres. So they watched and the [Soldiers] dashed out of their tent and cheered Flos’ name.

King of Destruction! Teres could fell the reverberation in the air as they approached Hellios’ capital. Blalevault was a city set into the side of the mountain, hence the reason why the defenders couldn’t go around Mars’ army in the cover of night. But it was well-fortified and the walls were imposing. Flos stopped at the point where the arrows littered the ground. Behind him, his army spread out, chanting his name.

Flos!

The roar came from thousands of voices. Hellios seemed to shake with the sound. The King of Destruction raised a hand and his army roared. Teres, standing next to him, shook with the sound, but neither Flos nor Mars moved. She was smiling up at him, and he was smiling at her. Like the oldest of friends or lovers. That was how Flos looked at all of his Seven. It was a look to make Teres jealous, for only her bond with Trey was more intimate.

Hellios had spotted the King of Destruction. They’d heard him long ago. Teres could hear someone blowing a horn and saw people racing across the walls, filling it. Archers, [Knights], she saw several draw their bows back.

“Incoming. Stand behind me, Teres.”

Mars warned the girl. She raised her shield as the first arrows flew. They were over three hundred meters away from the walls by Teres’ metric reckoning, but a few arrows still flew all that distance. Then one shot from a bow aimed straight at Flos. It fell through the air, aimed at his face—

The arrow snapped on Mars’ shield as she lifted it. The [Vanguard] poised like some kind of action hero, lifting her shield over Flos’ head. The King of Destruction held still as Hellios loosed more arrows, but whoever had shot that arrow must have used a Skill, for none came closer.

Hellios! I have come to speak with your Queen! Open your gates and let us enter in peace!

Flos bellowed the words at the walls. His voice was so loud! Teres winced. She saw the bows stop loosing arrows. For a second there was silence, then she heard a distant shout.

Sands take you, King of Destruction!

Someone on the walls bellowed the words back. There was a shout, and more sound as the defenders screamed and jeered. The sound was a cacophony with few words Teres could hear, but what she could make out was all foul.

Flos’ army shouted back, but they fell silent as Flos raised a hand. Mars glared at Hellios.

“The barking of a defeated army, your Majesty. They can’t hold out for even a day and they know it. And Orthenon has the rest of the country locked down. Do you want me to send the army forth? We can take those walls.”

“No. I won’t waste lives. Ours or theirs. This is simple enough, anyways. Hellios might not be Germina in terms of loving their Quarass, but they are still loyal.”

Flos walked forwards, heedless of the second volley of arrows that fell short and the fireball that exploded after only a hundred meters in the air. He raised a hand and pointed at the walls—the jeering redoubled in volume as the people on Hellios’ walls dared the King of Destruction to come closer. But Flos only looked at one person.

Mars! Enter the throne room. If anyone threatens my subjects or myself, put Queen Calliope to death and slay everyone in the castle! My army, if I or Teres should fall, burn Blalevault to the ground and erase Hellios from every map in the world.

The people on Hellios’ walls suddenly went quiet. Behind Flos, his army roared his name. Teres turned to stare at Flos. He wasn’t smiling.

Mars was. At his command, she strolled forwards, her bright red hair, the color of today, last time it had been purple, streaming behind her in the wind. Her face was bare, her armor beautiful. But it fooled no one.

Here came Mars the Illusionist. Teres saw the defenders pull back as one. Then they began firing and loosing spells as she came within range.

Hundreds of arrows struck Mars in the face, across her armor, and yes, across her breastplate. A [Fireball] exploded, engulfing her in flames. Someone threw a bolt of lightning. Both standard spells. War spells that could kill a group of [Soldiers] in a single blast. But when the smoke cleared, Mars was walking forwards. Her pure skin wasn’t scratched. Her armor gleamed.

An illusion. But the Mars underneath was just as unharmed, Teres knew. And the knowledge made Hellios’ defenders quail, then redouble their assault. Teres watched as they shot quiversful of arrows at her, and then, when she was within forty feet of the walls, they just gave up.

Open the gates. Or Mars will cut every soldier on the walls down.

Flos bellowed at Blalevault’s walls. They hesitated, but this time Teres could sense the fear on the distant figures. The gates opened and Mars strolled through.

“Our turn.”

Flos calmly walked forwards. Teres stared at him and then walked after him, cringing as the walls grew closer.

“Wait! But should we let Mars—”

“If they were going to shoot me, they would do it regardless. No, they’ll refrain, tempting a target as I might be. And those who think to kill me will be held back by those who fear for their lives, or their families.”

“Are you sure?

Flos looked back over his shoulder.

“No. So you need not accompany, Teres. But I will protect you if someone tries.”

For a second Teres debated staying as Flos walked onwards. But perhaps it was his nature as [King], or maybe it was her. She followed.

Mars was through the gates by the time they arrived and heading up the street. Blalevault was organized such that the street leading through the central gates led straight up towards the keep built into the back of the mountain. Teres saw that while the defenders had given up, some were still trying to hold her back from the palace.

They couldn’t stop her. Teres saw a man fling himself at Mars. He was as tall as her illusion and broader still, but when he tried to stop her with a bear hug she just kept walking. His legs began sliding and he scrabbled for purchase. He couldn’t so much as break her stride and ended up being dragged ten feet before she kicked him off her.

“After Mars.”

Flos walked through the gates. Teres stared up at the faces on the walls. Hundreds of eyes stared hatred and fear at Flos. If she had time, she could have stared at Hellios impressive walls, built up from thick-cut blocks of stone, or the architecture of the city, which was all stone, intricate work compared to Germina’s simple mud huts, but terribly lacking in color despite the colorful roofs. If she had time she could have seen the people, judged the condition of Hellios’ defenders after a month of defeat. But Flos was walking so fast that Teres could only see a blur of faces.

They were all there. Hellosians, the people of Blalevault. Staring at Flos, some clearly trying to shout insults at him. But fear and his presence held their tongues. Flos walked up the street, glancing to his left and right, his face impassive. What he felt, Teres couldn’t guess at. He was moving too fast. He’d spend two days in Germina, blending in with the people under his illusion spell, listening to them. But here he was nearly at the castle when someone threw a rock at him.

Flos!

The King was already turning. His sword was in its sheathe, but it slashed the rock into fragments before the world had left Teres’ mouth. The crowd gasped and drew back in horror. The King of Destruction turned and pointed at the culprit. She froze, tiny hand lifting a second rock.

A child. A girl, who was instantly shielded by her mother. The people of Blalevault stared at the girl in horror, and then at Flos, remembering his vow. The King of Destruction studied the girl for a second and then shook his head.

“Children don’t count.”

The breath that the crowd let out was like a gust of wind. Flos paused as Teres stopped by his side. He looked at the child holding the rock.

“I hate you! Die, King of Destruction!”

She struggled in her mother’s grip. Children were supposed to be cute, but there was nothing cute in the way this girl’s face contorted. Her mother held onto her.

“Don’t, spare her, your Majesty, please!”

She begged as Flos drew closer. The people around the woman drew back. Teres saw a few men clench their fists and thought that if Flos hurt the girl, they would attack him, order or not. But that wasn’t what Flos did. He bent and looked down at the girl.

“Why do you hate me, child?”

The girl went still for a second in her mother’s arms. She looked up.

“You killed my da.”

Then she threw herself at Flos. Her mother had to drag her back. Flos looked at her, and then around at the citizens of Hellios. They stared at him, and the same hatred in the girl’s eyes was in theirs.

Then Teres understood. Hellios was different from Germina in one way. The people of Germina had hated Flos for killing the Quarass. For bringing war to the country. For all these things, they hated Flos, but Hellios’ hatred ran deeper. It was darker. And Flos knew it.

“What is your name, girl.”

He looked down at the struggling girl. She shouted defiantly in his face.

“Delani of Hellios! You’ll die! Queen Calliope and Prince Siyal will cut off your head!

She screamed, red in the face as she tried to kick at Flos. Teres saw his shoulders slump for a second. Then he knelt.

“Quiet.”

And the girl was. She held still, flushed with rage as Flos looked at her. He spoke quietly, to her, to the watchers.

“I did not make war first, Delani of Hellios. I understand that does nothing for your heart. But do not waste your life here. Grow. And wait. And find me when you are older if you still bear a grudge. I will be waiting.”

Then he stood up and kept walking. There was only silence after that. Delani’s mother dragged her away and no one else attacked Flos. Teres followed him. It was a long road up to the keep.

“They loathe me in Hellios twice-over, Teres. There are no memories of my reign over them that are pleasant. I have taken this city twice now. Both times I was hated. I fear Hellios will be harder to rule than Germina by far. But I will not have it stab at my back a third time.”

Flos spoke quietly as he entered the open doors to the castle. The wooden gates looked…cracked, as if Mars had rammed her way through. Teres stared at three bodies in the entryway. They looked unconscious, rather than dead.

The keep was stone. Impressively tall, but short. Apparently it was expanded with each generation. Flos slowed his pace; Teres could hear a commotion coming ahead of them, from the throne room. He stared at the servants cowering in the stone entryway and gestured around it to Teres.

“The first time I walked these halls was as a boy. I was…fourteen? Fifteen? Maybe fourteen. King Treland had made an incursion into Reim, hoping to take our lands after my mother’s passing.”

“What happened? I mean, how did you defeat him?”

Teres expected that was the start of Flos’ famous exploits, but he shook his head.

“I couldn’t defeat him in outright battle. So I used trickery, of course. His armies were stronger. He was a much higher-level [King] than I at the time. So I diverted my forces. Gazi—she was with me, even back then—helped me lead a small force north, around his troops. Treland hadn’t expected that and we took the walls by surprise. He’d left only a token force behind.”

“Oh. And then?”

Flos’ face was shadowed. He stared ahead. The doors to the throne room were thrown open. Two [Knights] lay on the ground. One’s faceplate had been bashed in. The other was clutching at his groin.

“I marched up to his throne room and challenged him to personal combat. He accepted, so I killed him there. Calliope was a young woman, then. It feels…like only a moment has passed since then. A moment and a century.”

Then he entered the throne room. Teres heard a blather of voices before he entered, shouts, and then dead silence. She walked forwards and saw a tableau.

Here stood the King of Destruction. His sword was sheathed at its side and he wore plain clothing, well, plain for a monarch, though she knew he had armor on underneath. And there was the court of Queen Calliope.

They had…nobles, courtiers, a Master of Ceremonies, [Knights], [Ladies] who might have been in waiting, pages, servants, even a steward of their own. But they were the backdrop. The true actors to the scene stood on the dais surrounding the throne at the back of the room.

Three of them. One was Mars. Her shield was on one arm and her sword drawn. She held it lazily, pointed at a woman with a crown sitting still in the chair. Queen Calliope. And next to her, his sword drawn and aimed at Mars, was Prince Siyal.

Teres had seen him once. He’d been a [Messenger] who’d brought news of war. She remembered an angry young man and found her memory hadn’t lied. Prince Siyal’s face was flushed and the expensive sword in his hands was held in a double-grip. Mars didn’t appear bothered, though the sword was nearly poking her in the cheek. She was only a few steps away from Queen Calliope, who stared past her at the King of Destruction with burning eyes.

Queen Calliope. She was…well, she looked like a [Queen]. In that she had an expensive dress on. And she had a crown, although that was silver rather than gold. But other than that? She didn’t look like Flos, who had the bearing of a hero of stories. Calliope just looked like a middle-aged woman, hair going to grey but artfully concealed by some kind of hair dye that hadn’t been applied recently enough to cover a few hairs. She looked normal.

And perhaps that was most telling of all. Because when Flos walked forwards, the room shuddered. The King of Destruction slowly walked towards the throne. Mars stepped back, sheathing her sword as Flos came to a stop, still far away from the throne. He spoke quietly, but with that same echo Teres had heard yesterday.

“Twice now, Hellios has made war on Reim. Once, Treland invaded and I took his head. The second time? You have cause for fury, Calliope, but you acted poorly as ruler of your nation.”

“Flos of Reim. You will answer for your crimes against Hellios.”

Queen Calliope’s voice shook, but whether with rage or fear it was hard to say. Her eyes were locked on Flos and her hands were white on the armrests of her throne. Prince Siyal hadn’t lowered his sword, only pointed it at Flos.

“Threaten my mother, King of Destruction and I will—”

Flos raised a finger. Prince Siyal’s mouth snapped shut. Teres could see him trying to open it furiously, but both monarchs never looked away from each other. Flos shook his head.

“Tell me, Calliope. Was vengeance worth the cost?”

“You murdered my husband.”

“He attacked Reim. I challenged him to a duel. He lost. I did not despoil Hellios, though it was within my power. Now, you send your armies against me. Twice, Calliope. Should I repay you for the lives of my people you slaughtered as they fled towards me?”

Queen Calliope’s face didn’t move, though the rest of the court visibly drew back.

“Do it. And the world will see you for the monster you are.”

For a second Teres saw Flos’ eyes narrow. He glanced around the room and she thought he was measuring up every life there. Weighing it. Standing next to the throne, Mars looked around, her gaze cold, her smile taunting. But then the King of Destruction shook his head.

“I do not come here for your head, Calliope of Hellios. I do come for your kingdom. I would have Hellios join Reim, have your people work with mine as equals and your armies and mine march to the ends of the earth together.”

The intake of breath was sharp. Calliope glared at Flos.

“Never. We would rather die than join with you. That is Hellios’ answer, Flos of Reim. And Germina would answer the same in a heartbeat, if you have not asked them already.”

Again, Teres sensed that the room wasn’t quite on Calliope’s side. Even her son, Siyal, gave his mother a glance before glaring at Flos. The King of Destruction spread his hands.

“Germina has agreed. The Quarass of Germina was dead, but now she has risen. And the new Quarass has pledged to join her kingdom with my own.”

The Quarass lives. The murmur that went through the court was short-lived. Calliope glared around, and then compressed her lips.

“My answer stands. What will you, then, King of Destruction? Or—will you accept this? Withdraw your forces from Hellios. When the last of your soldiers is gone, I will accept an alliance with your kingdom.”

Teres glared at Calliope as more murmurs sprang up. She saw Mars roll her eyes and mime to Flos a punching motion. The King ignored her. But he did stare at Calliope with something like disgust.

“I trust you less than the Quarass of Germina. I will not settle for an alliance, even sealed by blood. I require your abdication, Calliope. You will not be harmed on my word as a King. But Hellios will be part of Reim. Until such time as it is earned back.”

What?

The word burst from Siyal’s mouth at last. He strode down the dais—two men and a woman threw themselves at him, stopping him from approaching Flos. Siyal struggled and then shouted at the King, face flushed.

“You dare to claim our throne? By what right? King of Destruction or not—”

He fell silent as Flos looked at him directly once. Siyal paled as Flos glared.

“Yes. I dare, Prince Siyal. By what right? By right of conquest. Or did you think this was a negotiation? Do you think you held off Mars with that sword? If I ordered it, she would clear this room of life in a minute.”

“Thirty seconds.”

Flos ignored that too. He pointed at Siyal, who’d gone pale.

Did you think my words were an idle boast? I could erase Blalevault as easily as Hellios. I could empty this city and wash your stone buildings with blood. I should. By rights I should, to make up for Hellios’ slaughter of my people. For war. I do not because I remember that the people of a country do not answer for the monarchs’ crime. So I offer your mother—and you—this one opportunity. Take it, or I will take your lives.”

Siyal backed up a step. Then he half-looked at his mother. She stared at him and Teres wondered what kind of a mother she had been. She got her answer as Calliope dipped her head slightly. Siyal froze, and then turned. And he raised his sword.

“Flos of Reim. I challenge you to a duel. For Hellios! To the death!”

The throne room was silent. Teres saw one of the people around Siyal, the man, trying to pull him back. The woman was sobbing, pleading with him. Flos stared at Siyal, and then looked at Calliope. This time Teres felt his fury like a hot brand, burning her chest.

“He is your son. Low, even for you, Calliope. Or did you think it would work? If so, you understand nothing of why your husband fell.”

“Your enemy is me, Flos of Reim! I challenge you—”

Siyal paused as Flos looked at him again. The King of Destruction shook his head.

“I refuse your challenge.”

“Then your honor is forfeit! Leave go of me—”

Siyal struggled forwards, but stopped as Mars blocked his way. There was no smile on her face this time as she placed her blade in front of his chest. Flos looked at Siyal.

“Do not throw away your life, Prince Siyal. If you raise your blade against me, Mars will answer you. And she is not merciful in battle.”

The young man hesitated, raising his blade. And Teres prayed he wouldn’t try it. Siyal glanced at his mother again, but she gave him no cue this time.

“I—better to die defending my home than to see it destroyed! You would tear Hellios apart and destroy our legacy!”

The [Prince] hurled the words at Flos, as if trying to convince himself. Flos sighed. But he faced Siyal more readily than Calliope.

“No. Recall what I said to your mother. I take Hellios, but only because I find its ruler unworthy of it.”

Now there was another conversation happening. A different tone than the raw contempt between Calliope and Flos. Siyal wavered, his sword loose in his grip. Teres thought she could have disarmed him with a single blow. If Orthenon had seen Siyal’s grip, he would have smacked the [Prince] across the head.

“Then—Hellios is to be mine? If my mother abdicates?”

Mars rolled her eyes. Flos was more patient and just shook his head again.

“Are you worthy of it? No. But you might be, in time. You are young, foolish. But I have seen worse become the best of men. Your mother will not rule Hellios, but you might. Here is what I offer. Serve me, Siyal of Hellios. Win battles in my name. Grow, [Prince], into a man who could lead your country. And I will restore Hellios to you. Not just your lands of now, but the lands Hellios held in days of yore.”

What?

The court was shaking. From fear, something like incredulity was blossoming. Hope, worming its way out of despair. Siyal shook his head.

“You don’t own those lands! And Hellios was mighty! In our founding—how do you offer kingdoms so easily?”

The King of Destruction spread his hands. He turned to face the room, slowly looking at the faces around him.

“How now? Boy, I am Flos. One day I will rule all of Chandrar and the lands beyond it. Why should I not reward my loyal vassals? But a kingdom must be won by valor and service. So that is my offer to you, as a [King] to a [Prince]. Will you accept it?”

The [Prince] wavered. He stared at Flos white-faced. And Teres saw his sword-tip lower. Or maybe his arms were just tired? But the voice came from the throne, harsh and unrelenting.

“Siyal will never serve you, Flos of Reim. And I will never leave this throne.”

Flos looked up. Calliope was staring at him. She stood, then. It was a grand gesture as she pointed down at Flos. But she still seemed smaller.

“If you wish to take Hellios, it will not be with false promises. Do as you did in decades past, Flos of Reim. Or begone from my sight.”

She glared at Flos. And he bowed his head. Teres saw him close his eyes. And then open them a moment later. Flos sighed. Then he shrugged.

“So be it.”

He began walking towards Calliope. Flos strode up the throne room, casually, as if he were going for a stroll. But he drew his sword. And his eyes were locked on Calliope’s head.

Teres felt a surge of cold panic run through her. He wasn’t going to—now? Here? Just like that?

The suddenness had caught everyone else off-guard as well. For a moment Teres saw them make the same incredulous assessment. And then the terrifying realization that Flos was serious.

“The Queen—”

Several warriors lunged forwards. But they stopped when Mars turned to face them. Siyal was on the floor, choking, clutching at his throat where she’d struck him. Flos kept walking. Calliope backed up, sat down on her throne. She stared at Flos. He came up the dais steps, two at a time. He raised his sword as the noise reached a furor behind him and Teres ducked behind Mars, her sword drawn too. And he—

“Enough! I yield. I abdicate. I abdicate.”

The words burst from Calliope’s lips. She stared up at Flos. He paused, sword in hand. Slowly, he sheathed it. Then he nodded.

“Do it, then.”

With all eyes on her, with trembling hands, Calliope lifted the silver crown from her head. Flos took it. Then without looking he hurled it across the room. Someone whimpered. Calliope stared at Flos. He nodded.

“Good. Then I accept your crown, Calliope. Let it be known that you have abdicated, and that I take Hellios as my own. Prince Siyal will not become [King]. But I pledge upon my own crown that should he prove his worth, I will grant him Hellios.”

He turned and walked down the steps of the dais. Siyal scrambled up onto all fours. He coughed, and then shouted with a strangled voice.

“Do you think I’ll serve you just like that? King of Destruction?”

Flos didn’t bother to slow as he walked past Siyal.

“No. But if you are a true [King], you will come for your kingdom.”

And to that there was nothing Siyal said. He lowered his head as Flos strode past Mars and Teres. Silently, the two women followed him. Flos was nearing the doors to the throne room when Calliope shouted at his back.

She was on her feet now. tears streaked the makeup on her face. No longer a [Queen], just a woman. But she still hated him, Teres could see.

“Are you pleased with yourself, Flos of Reim? Or must you take everything from me on the tip of a sword? My husband and my home, and now my son?

Flos turned once at the doors. He put his hand on them as Mars stood at his side. A King and his vassal. And he looked old, then. Old and disappointed. He stared back at Calliope. And it was disappointment, more than his contempt, more than his fury, that made the woman quail.

“Would that you had never invaded, Calliope. Would that Treland had never taken arms against me. Had that happened, I might never have been known as the King of Destruction and we might have lived in peace as neighbors. But, I think, we would never have been friends.”

Then he turned and was gone.

 

—-

 

They left Blalevault in silence. No one stopped them. If anything, the people were relieved. News of what had passed in the throne room was already spreading. And the people were…wary.

They did not hate Flos one bit less. But he had offered them something. Like Germina, it was a deal. A chance, a way out besides death. They could rise up, or they could bide their time. Wait and take the King of Destruction’s offer.

Teres thought she knew what they’d choose. But Flos didn’t seem happy, for all he’d won a bloodless victory. He gave curt orders in the camp. Watch the city; he didn’t trust Calliope, for all she was no longer [Queen]. Then he retired to Mars’ tent.

Teres found him inside, drinking a cup of wine with the [Vanguard]. Mars was talking softly, but she wasn’t as provocative as before. She’s switched guises; from a redheaded beauty to a younger woman, still flawless, but more like a soldier, with short-cropped green hair.

“Teres. Come in. We were talking about the past.”

Flos looked up. He took a gulp of his wine as Mars sat back and motioned for Teres to join her. There was a cup of wine and Teres accepted it, drinking a bit and grimacing. Mars drank the poorest of wines, but Flos didn’t seem to care.

“I don’t know if Siyal will accept my offer. Either way, it will be a long time before I trust Blalevault to a small guard. Orthenon will have to work hard to keep the city from erupting in plots. Then again—Hellios was manageable in my first campaign once I let them fight their enemies. Which they have many of, thankfully.”

“Do you think that Queen will give you trouble, Flos?”

Mars spoke softly, using Flos’ name for the first time Teres could remember. Flos shook his head, staring into his goblet.

“Calliope? She’s not brave or clever enough for true dissent. And she’s lost her class. Her Skills too, some of them. She’ll keep some Skills, gain a new class. But she cannot take back her abdication. Nor will her people forget. Siyal is the one who will decide their fates, if anyone from her line does.”

Mars nodded. She offered Flos a refill from a wineskin and he took it and drank again. Teres gulped. She looked from Mars to Flos.

“Were you—were you actually going to cut off her head if she didn’t say anything?”

She didn’t know if she wanted the answer. But to her surprise, that made Flos laugh. He looked up, grinning slightly.

“Kill her? No. Calliope must have thought so. But I had no intention of killing her in that moment. I was going to slice that damn throne in half. Take her crown, break it. Maybe spank her like a child.”

“What? But that’s so…”

Teres almost said childish. But Flos was smiling and Mars was giving her a thumbs up.

“Why shouldn’t I? And it would work better than you think. A [Queen] needs dignity, Teres. More than a [King], sometimes. And Calliope is prideful. I’m not in the habit of killing more than I have to, despite what the rumors about me say. And I don’t kill monarchs. Usually.”

Teres paused. That begged the question.

“How many rulers have you killed?”

Flos looked at Mars. She held up a number on her fingers, balancing the cup between her thighs. Flos shook his head and counted on his fingers.

“Er…sixteen? No—twenty three if you count…often in battle, we’re drawn to each other, you see. And when I was first starting out, other rulers thought they could best me in battle with their [Champions]. That stopped when Mars joined me, but I suppose I came to them after that.”

“Twenty three?

“It happens. I don’t think of it as a good thing. And I don’t plan on killing any rulers out of turn, Teres. Calliope was a fool. But she had cause to hate me. Hellios does.”

“But you didn’t start the war. They did. And you spared them. They wouldn’t have done the same if they were in your shoes!”

Flos shook his head slightly. He looked tired now. Tired, when he had been full of life in Germina. He looked as old as he was, that was it.

“What did that ever matter? They have cause. That child has cause. And I will not take their hatred away. I will bear it. That is what a [King] does. For Reim, I will take the hatred of my enemies. For my kingdom, I will be a monster. But Teres—sometimes it is hard. I am glad you were here to see a day when I was not forced to be that monster.”

He looked up. And Teres saw him smile again. So she sat on a rug in Mars’ tent. And she said the first thing that came to mind.

“This is awful wine. You know, I heard there were magical wines in this world, which we don’t have. But this is terrible.”

“Hey, we’re in a camp outside of a city famous for exporting stone. What do you want?”

Mars protested. Flos laughed.

“This is terrible stuff. But I’ll drink it and gladly. Still, when we get the chance, remind me to show you some magical wines, Teres. They are quite lovely, although you can sometimes taste the magic in them. [Mages] love the stuff, but I prefer…”

He began telling Teres a story, and Mars chipped in, grinning. And Teres sat and listened to the King of Destruction as he forgot his gloom and became lively again. And she thought that was why she was here. She and Trey could do what all of Flos’ vassals and armies and Skills could not. So she kept him company for a while, as Hellios fell to the King of Destruction and the Quarass sat on her throne and looked to the future.

This was Chandrar. And believe it or not, this wasn’t that out of the ordinary as days went.

 

—-

 

As Teres and Flos drank in Mars’ tent outside the capital of Hellios, two nations away a young boy perched in the window of the tallest tower in Reim. Not in the window of the tower, of course, but on a stool just on the edge. Trey Atwood wasn’t suicidal. He stared across the nation of Reim, north and east, as if he could see his sister there. Of course he couldn’t, and any mental link with his twin sister was purely in his head. But he liked to imagine he knew she was well.

“There you are.”

A quiet voice spoke behind Trey. He yelped, nearly fell out of his stool, and windmilled desperately, although he was far from the window’s ledge. He fell onto the ground and looked up.

Four eyes returned his gaze. The fifth, main eye was shut. But Gazi’s sharp-toothed smile more than made up for its lack. The half-Gazer knelt. She was wearing her brown scale armor and on her back was tied the claymore she never let leave her side. Trey backed up on the ground, babbling.

“Oh please, not more training. I’m tired, I don’t want to be hit with sticks or cast spells while blindfolded and if you make me dodge your sword again, I swear I’ll jump and die and—”

“Shush.”

Gazi raised a curiously segmented finger to her lips. Trey went quiet. The Gazer put a foot on her chair and stared out the window. He saw one of her four eyes twist downwards. Another stared at him and the other two rolled around, exposing the whites of her eye. Checking the staircase behind her and the floors below.

Gazi, or Gazi the Omniscient, one of the King of Destruction’s Seven, waited for Trey to get up. She glanced out the tower and shook her head.

“If you jumped, you might not die.”

“What?”

She grinned at him, an unsettling smile that had too many teeth and sadistic malice. Trey knew it was a fake smile Gazi used, but it still intimidated him.

“If you lived, which you could, you’d break both legs but not die. With healing potions you’d be on your feet in a month. Sooner if my lord used better quality potions on you. Which he would. But you would wish you’d be dead.”

Trey shuddered. He edged away from the window. Gazi looked at him.

“You don’t like heights. Why did you come up here?”

“To escape you. I thought you were going to make me train.”

“It’s for your own good. If you aren’t accompanying my lord, you should be working to improve yourself. And if you fear heights, you should be cured of that.”

“No thanks. Please? Just let me look out. I’m waiting for Teres to get back. They’re done with Hellios now, right?”

Gazi tilted her head.

“Yes. Orthenon received a [Message] not an hour ago. He is preparing to ride to Germina and Hellios to arrange a system of control. We must have their resources, not to mention their warriors.”

“Flos got both nations to cooperate? Just like that?”

“He is the King of Destruction. But no, it will not be that simple. There will be unrest, but that is a job for the King’s [Steward]. And for me.”

Gazi indicated the sword on her back. The famous Named Adventurer and [Scout] was known for her ability to catch spies and plotters. Trey wondered if she would be fine with her wounded eye. Someone had damaged it before she returned to Reim. But Gazi seemed confident.

“If you say so. I just want to see Teres.”

And Flos. But Trey didn’t say that out loud. He both admired and hated the King of Destruction at times. Admired for what Flos was, and hated because he allowed slaves. Because he was still someone who would kill thousands to rule the world. Strangely, that was why Gazi seemed to have taken Trey under her wing. It was a mixed blessing, because of all of Flos’ Seven, Gazi was the one who scared Trey the most. Orthenon didn’t count.

“Well, we will all be back in time for his return. Orthenon moves faster and I will wait for his arrival. But in the meantime—”

“No training, please?”

Trey begged. Gazi gave him a sinister curve of the lips.

“Not yet. I was going to say there’s someone on the road.”

“Is it Flos? Teres?”

Trey heard a sigh as he scrambled to the window. He stared out across the roads leading to Reim, the capital city of Flos’ small kingdom.

“What did I just say? No. It’s someone you know, though. See if you can make them out. Use the spell.”

“The spell? But—”

A foot kicked Trey in the back. He screamed a bit and grabbed the window.

“Okay, okay! Don’t do that again!”

“Cast the spell. You’re capable of it. And you don’t need the staff. Do it with your hands. Concentrate…”

It was hard to do that with a steep drop below and Gazi’s impending foot threatening him from behind. But Trey had been taught by Gazi and she was surprisingly good, if ruthless, at teaching magic. He concentrated, pulling a strand of magic from a reservoir in his body he hadn’t known existed. He wove it upwards, focusing on a spell. Trey spoke.

“[Farsight]. Ow!

His vision zoomed in, accompanied by a stinging pain as his pupils frantically sought to compensate. Trey blinked, and then stared at the tiny dot that he’d spotted coming down the road. His eyes widened. He saw a caravan of dark-skinned travellers. Camels, a wagon, no, a box with wheels completely covered from the sun. And leading them was a veiled girl he knew.

“Nawalishifra! She finally came!”

Gazi nodded. She leaned out the window carelessly besides Trey.

“She swore an oath. And it seems she’s brought much of her tribe with her. Good. My [King] has lamented the lack of a good [Blacksmith]. We have a few, but…let us greet her.”

“How?”

Gazi turned. Trey froze as he saw all four eyes turn towards him. He gripped the edge of the window, but he felt a hand on his.

“Gazi? Gazi, how—no, no, no—

 

—-

 

“So, we have arrived. Strike my hands, but this journey was long. And we would have made it quicker had you dung-beetles not gotten half the carts stuck in the sand. This is Reim, is it? It seems too poor to be the home of the King of Destruction.”

Nawalishifra Tannousin, or Nawal of the Tannousin clan stopped and shaded her eyes as she stared up at the palace that was Reim’s capital. Behind her, the caravan of Tannousin warriors and clanswomen and clansmen stopped. They had travelled for weeks and were dusty with grime. Their passage into Reim had taken three stops as [Soldiers] halted them, but each time Nawal had spoken their name and they had let her pass.

Now she stared up at the towers, and then back at the walls of the city. Reim was circular, and it had towers jutting up at regular intervals across each wall. Much like a crown. In fact, she had heard that the towers had come to life and shot lightning down at the army that had besieged Reim not two months past.

The thought of so much devastation made Nawal shudder. But still she stood by her words. Tall as the citadel was, she could see the places where stone had eroded. The city, for all it was bustling, was too plain, and the people too underfed, too poor. Was this truly the home of the King of Destruction, whose grandeur and terror had conquered a continent?

A low voice from behind Nawal made her turn. One of the senior clanswomen, who was like Nawal, veiled, lowered her voice and hissed at Nawal.

“Nawalishifra, remember what the [Headman] told you, and the elders. Mind your tongue! You have sworn an oath and the King of Destruction sent part of his payment, but you are not to offend! You are a woman—”

“Do you think I do not know that, you sand clod, you? Bezha, do I not bleed monthly? Do I not have breasts? Am I not veiled? Do not speak to me of what I know. I will mind my tongue in the presence of the King of Destruction and his servants, and not before.”

Nawal glared irritably at Bezha. She heard a sigh from the older woman.

“Only know that you are here because no one else was suited and you made an oath, a foolish oath!”

“How was I to know that the master of Trey Atwood was the King of Destruction himself? Were it any other man, my boast would have been true. And it will still be true, the sands take me if I lie!”

“Do not be overconfident!”

Bezha snapped back. Nawal tossed her head, but kept silent. In truth, she was afraid. She was the best [Blacksmith] of the Tannousin clan since her father’s passing. But she was young, not of the level he had been and she feared the King of Destruction might scorn a weapon made by a woman, for all he had claimed otherwise.

If the elders and [Headman] could have sent anyone else, they would have. But Nawal was the only one skilled to work Naq-Alrama metal flawlessly. So she had come, and if she failed to uphold her vow to forge the King of Destruction a blade beyond what he had ever seen before, her tribe would surely suffer his wrath.

All these things were the knowledge that kept Nawal moving towards the citadel, though part of her was terrified and would have fled screaming. The King of Destruction. She had glimpsed him but once, speaking to the world, a figure as grand as she had imagined. What madness would his palace hold? What wonders? Part of her wondered if the stories of his majesty were over exaggerated. But surely there was some truth. Or else, why fear him? Surely…

Nawal paused near the gates. She had expected to be welcomed by a thousand servants, or to be ushered into the most meager of stables like insignificant servants until the King of Destruction deigned to see them. But neither event had occurred. A man was striding towards her, tall and gaunt, as smooth as a moonlight shadow across the courtyard. He was clearly a warrior of very high-level and Nawal was stepping back to let one of the men greet him. That was, until she heard the scream.

All of the Tannousin clan looked about in confusion. Some of the guards grabbed their weapons uncertainly. Nawal glanced to her left, to her right, behind her, at the strange man who’d stopped, and then up. She saw a shape hurtling from one of the towers and heard a familiar voice screaming.

AaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhohgodI’mgoingtodie—

Another shape plunged with him. The Tannousin caravan scattered in fear, but Nawal held put. She’d spotted the figure, and she saw the wand in the armored woman’s hand. As Trey Atwood plummeted to the ground, fifteen feet from it, Gazi raised a wand and spoke a word.

“[Featherfall].”

The two slowed. Trey, arms flailing, still screaming, slowed until he reached the ground. He landed softly and clung to the stones, shivering like…something that wobbled a lot. Nawal stared at the woman who’d landed on her feet next to him.

No, not woman. Gazer. Her four eyes turned towards Nawal, though her main eye remained shut. Nawal shuddered and the Tannousin clan backed up around her, keeping their eyes down. It was said that those who met the main eye of Gazi the Omniscient died soon thereafter. But Nawal was staring at the famed adventurer’s armor. At her sword.

Gazi grinned at the Tannousin clan, and then addressed Trey on the ground.

“You need to practice that spell. It’s always useful to know. I’ll toss you off the tower every morning until you can do it. Blindfolded. With your hands tied.”

No…

He moaned. And then looked up. Nawal’s smile was locked in place as Trey scrambled to his feet, blushing as he looked at her.

“Nawal! I mean, Nawalishifra?”

Nawal’s heart sank. But Trey had addressed her, and the other Tannousin men were terrified. She heisted, then bowed.

“That is correct, Trey Atwood. We have come, in accordance with my oath. To forge the King of Destruction a blade unlike any he has ever seen!”

She prayed her boast was not idle. But perhaps she had time to perfect a masterwork? It didn’t seem like the King of Destruction had that high hopes for her. Maybe he would forget. Maybe he would be content with just a blade of Naq-Alrama metal and not the best blade ever forged. He’d only sent one person to greet them, after all, and Trey and Gazi the Omniscient didn’t count. Trey smiled.

“He’ll be delighted, I’m sure. He was expecting you. He’s out, but—Orthenon! This is Nawalishifra. The [Blacksmith] I told you about.”

Nawal froze. The Tannousin men and women turned, like statues, to stare at the gaunt man waiting for them. Orthenon, the Left Hand of the King of Destruction raised an eyebrow as he stared at the Tannousin folk. At Trey. And Gazi, who grinned. And at Nawal. And she quailed and wished she had never boasted of metal, never picked up a hammer so she might not disgrace her tribe and her father with her failure.

The King’s Steward. Gazi the Omniscient. And the King of Destruction was expecting her.

Oh, sands take her. What had she gotten herself into?

 


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137 thoughts on “6.12 K

  1. This time everything went right. If last chapter was a combination of bad sleeps and bad energy, this chapter I did a lot of things right. Good sleep, good motivation, good music…

    And still, I’ve been writing for…ten hours? I had a break or two, but that’s about right. I started in the morning (for me), wrote into the night, and now it’s legit morning. I can hear birds. I guess it just goes to show that even at my best, I don’t work less. I just get more out of said work.

    A few notes. I don’t know about localizing Teres’ dialogue to UK English, so some colloquialisms might be off, but I couldn’t focus on that with this chapter. Next, it is a long one, but I intend to do only a set arc of Flos…and if I need to, I’ll cut later chapters. For now I’m on a roll, so you get this one.

    Lastly–I hope it’s good! We’re back to Flos after a long time, and I hope I conveyed the King of Destruction well! His story is unlike the others in some ways. If Erin deals with magic meeting reality, Flos is a legend coming back to life. Hope you enjoy it and thanks for reading!

    • For what it’s worth I absolutely love Flos !
      It was also clear you were on a roll writing it, thank you for the effort as well as giving us some truly larger than life characters.

    • I really like how, when you write your characters, you keep everything plausible by including realistic gaps in their knowledge that are appropriate for the character.

    • In my opinion, earth could easily lose a long term war against innworld. The Selphids are truly dangerous. It would not take an army of them to completely control our government, military, and media. I wonder how it is possible that they don’t already control innworld.

      • assuming a portal opened between worlds, there’s three possible things that would happen, skills would work on earth, so earth suddenly has skills, skills don’t upgrade on earth, so skills can only be gained on the other world, or skills don’t work on earth.

        For the first one. We will rapidly catch up power wise because of how fast everyone from earth so far levels.

        The second one would result on people on earth trying to get through the portal and learn skills as fast as possible, so how we do depends on if we take the portal during the initial conflict. The last would be a stalemate, we would slaughter people envading, but wouldn’t be able to invade ourselves.

    • Flos has always been a bit overwhelming,
      How do they know they were gods that died?

      Hot air pops the rice or I guess any grain can be , butter , honey, suger. Bubble slice!

  2. The typos are dead. The typos live. Leave more typos so I can find some before they appear again!

    (Living readers: CiaranCu, Jack Trowell, CarpDM, AVR, Vroomba, Doblin James)

    • I am not sure if people have already picked up on these and you already changed them. I found them at work and Emailed myself.

      He wished someone else were in his potion. Position
      And you used children as weapons of war. For all these things are more, are => and
      “Withdraw them. Those are my people. They should come to me.” Them => Then
      with paint pelts (Pellets) ??? not sure could be pelted with paint
      was a normal, Human baritone (comma after baritone instead of normal)
      “A true soldier to the last. But I need into that city, Mars. Would you care to walk with me?” Okay I changed this one and do not recall what I changed.
      Then without looking her hurled it across the room. Then without looking, he hurled it across the room. Then without looking at her, hurled it across the room.
      . Which he would. But you [would] wish you’d be dead.”

    • Then your honor is forfeit! Leave go of me → Let go of me

      The [Prince] hurled the worlds at Flos → The [Prince] hurled the words at Flos

    • “One was Mars. Her shield was on one arm and his sword drawn.”
      Pretty sure that’s both her. The next sentence is correctly talking about the [Prince]’s sword.

    • Mistakes:
      The [Councilor] turned to him in disbelief. The crowd looked up. The giant with dark skin and glasses reached for his neck. He had noting there, but as his hand grasped something and tore it away, an amulet shimmered into existence

      Nothing

      “And you haven’t seen a tank. Or a missile. They can blow up—look, if one hits her, she’s dead! Maybe she survives ordinary guns and not like…RPG’s or sniper rifles, but she can’t beat a tank.

      should be plural, not possessive

      Case in point. The next day, after a long night of riding, sleeping after being pestered by Flos to describe various military scenarios and then what Oreos were like, Teres woke up after four hours of sleepy riding to find they’d passed into Hellios and were nearing its capital. It was…northing like Ger had been.

      Nothing

      King of Destruction! Teres could fell the reverberation in the air as they approached Hellios’ capital.

      Feel

    • Typo in Venith’s surname.
      Crusland => Crusand

      (Note: I found the same typo in the Glossary and in Chapter 4.02 K).

    • Often they complimented each other; it was rare to see a house that clashed.
      complimented -> complemented

      His sword was in its sheathe
      sheathe (verb) -> sheath (noun)

    • Inconsistencies.
      In this Chapter there are 2 statements about [King] Treland that contradict what is stated in Chapter 4.04 K.

      1st:
      The 1st is that in Ch 4.04 K, it was stated that due to Treland tyranny rule, his people came to Flos, “…begging for protection, to bring down a king that cared more for his own wealth and that of his friends than his people…” and us such Flos “…went to war for the thousands who died under his rule, not to steal land or wealth.”

      But in this Chapter, it is stated that after Flos mother passed away, Treland had made an incursion into Reim, hoping to take Flos lands, which in turn forced Flos to retaliate against him.

      2nd:
      The 2nd is that in Ch 4.04 K, Siyal said: “He was a [King]! He deserved an honorable death, not an execution on the battlefield!…”

      But in this Chapter, it is stated that Treland died in his throne room, due to him accepted Flos challenge of a personal combat there.

    • “which made the ground pass underneath the hooves of their horses flash past”
      Remove “pass”

      “northing like Ger”
      northing -> nothing

      “He’d spend two days in Germina”
      He’d spent two days

      “She’s switched guises;”
      She’s -> She’d

      “She heisted, then bowed.”
      heisted -> hesitated

      Some may be already fixed, it took me a few days to get through the chapter

    • “No one spoke. No one moved. The [Counselor] heard very little, even close to the circle of men as he way.”
      way -> was

    • “The [Counselor] heard very little, even close to the circle of men as he way.”
      Every other instance is [Councilor]
      way –> was

      “But I need into that city, Mars.”
      Need a way into? Need to get into?

    • “They feared I would execute them, especially if they knew what I was doing.”

      —Flos is referring to the people plotting to bring back the Quarass. Should be “if I knew what they were doing.”

      “But I need into that city, Mars. Would you care to walk to me?”

      —“…walk with me.”

      “Teres could fell the reverberation in the air…”

      —“Teres could feel…”

    • Something for the next typo ritual:

      “realm of Belchan which was a parliamentary government who elected a [Minister], and the Republic of Jecrass, who had a [King], …”
      also: “Republic of Jecrass” further down

      It’s the “Republic of Belchan” and the “Realm of Jecrass” in chapter 6.15.
      Incidentally, a Republic (opposite of monarchy) but with a [King] seems interesting. Easiest correction would be switching “realm”/”republic” here.

  3. I hope this is taken as the compliment it is intended as. Stories rarely gets me this involved.

    Fuck Flos, I hope Trey or someone else guts the bastard.

    • The truly impressive part is how polarizing the characters are, below is not a joke.

      No joke: I love Flos and would honestly be happy if he successfully conquered the world, he’s one of my favorite characters.

  4. Most of Flos’s solutions to technology make the giant mistake of solving one issue without solving the real one. Earth is a massive integrated advanced society built on innovation without magic of any kind or classes as a crush. He can make one single high class engineer we have a couple million. You can shut off a nuke but you can’t shut off a couple million people who are trained to innovate whereas a single shot kills off his high level servants…He could probably hurt a lot of people but poor guy would just start a genocide. The slavery thing alone would be a rallying point.

    • Exactly! And he mentionned how he would try to copy modern weapons and that we would lack magic, while forgetting that he would also lack the industrial base tomake use of whatever he might learn from our technology while at the same time scientist would be delighted to have a new field of research with magic and the class system.

      We have seen how people from our world have been able to level fast, so imagine level 20+ [Marines] or the pure number of [Engineer] that we would be able to field

      • That who’d require that the people on earth who’d get magic, there is no guarantee that they who’d without going to the innworld first.

        Classes looks to be an deal with something on that planet, there are no guarantee that that entity could extend the offer through the portal. It depends on what the entity you make an deal with to get classes is and how it works. If it is an god or something like it and there are gods on earth then there is an high chance it who’d be impossible/hard as the system who’d have to steal the people away from those Gods first. Having mortals steal other mortals is one thing having an God starting to convert people on other planets is an different thing. So it comes down to how the system works and what limits it set an how our gods who’d react to the competition.

          • Exactly what I was thinking. The fact that no one developed magical powers on Earth makes very probable that mana is absent. Same things for the [Classes].

            So I think an invasion of one of those worlds by the other would be impossible in the short term. If the inn world manages to build an industrialized society and that their technology catches ours, it would be possible but difficult.

    • Less of one that you who’d think there is slavery everywhere on Earth already, yet most don’t care, search for “slavery in Mauritania”, most likely you don’t even know about the country.
      Yes it is the industrialisation and transportation that makes Earth so dangerous. But that does not say we are going to be more united in the response to Flos than the Inn world is. If the portal opened in the middle of Africa with the other end inside Flos’s kingdom he who’d have years to prepare before going to war. Time to find ways around a lot of things, get alliances and plan. He could definitely take Earth. It who’d be about as hard as taking the Inn world just in a different way.

      • @Havard
        I agree that slavery and forced labor are more common on Earth than most people like to believe, but I disagree that would make a country like America less likely to invade based on the grounds of slavery.

        In a hypothetical portal scenario the greatest military powers (America, Russia, China) would be quick to move to claim new magical resources, and pointing at slavery would give them an opportunity to justify military action.

      • And also slavery in Ohio. Slavery is still legal in the whole US as long as the slaves are also convicted. 13th amendment.

        That’s how for-profit prisons make money.

    • That’s a weakness as well, though. You don’t have to do that much to make that massive machine grind to a halt. Have Amerys take down the power grid and you’ve crippled the country in an instant. Have a couple of geomancers ruin oil production and you’ve done ever better. There are loads of ways to provoke a failure cascade just with the mundane tools at our disposal, and adding magic and skills expands the possibilities dramatically.

      You’re also overestimating how easy it is to retain the specialized institutional knowledge that makes all the pieces of the machine run. Capabilities dying with the people who created them happens here, too. The US, for instance, simply doesn’t have the ability to make a lot of the things it used to make, because all the people who knew how are dead or in China. When NASA needed a heavy-lift engine for the SLS, they had to literally go pull a Saturn V engine out of the Smithsonian, because we’d lost so much in the forty years since Apollo was cancelled.

      • We didn’t pull a Saturn V out of the Smithsonian because we didn’t know how to build a rocket. We pulled it out of the Smithsonian because the blueprints didn’t work and we needed to see how they jerry rigged it to get the thing up in the air so we wouldn’t be spending years solving the same problems twice. NASA engineers were in such a time crunch during the space race results mattered more than documenting how they did it. It all got held in peoples heads and spread by word of mouth, with changes happening too fast when one fix caused another problem that needed to be fixed to write it all down. No-one, absolutely no-one, ever knew completely how the Saturn V worked back then. Too many systems handled by too many people fixing their problems as they came up, and none of it got compiled into a single blueprint.

        • I realize that sounds like brain drain, but it’s not. That’s a completely different problem. The brains existed to build a Saturn V, and they knew the job better than the engineers who built the things originally, after all it was actually a field studied in college, it was taught. They just weren’t making it up on the fly like back then, they had a larger well of knowledge on the subject. But when looking at a blueprint that doesn’t make any sense from any field, well, people are going to wonder how the heck it worked in the first place. And they’ll actually have to pull one to find out how, because it’s just not there. We have complete blueprints for a Saturn V now, we created them when we pulled it from the Smithsonian. Anyone with enough money could build one, just follow the instructions.

          • Yeah, exactly. Having the blueprint is not enough to make something that does what it’s supposed to do; the devil’s in the details, in all those problems that they had to solve the first time. You have to know how it works, actually understand the thing. That takes institutional, organizational knowledge, and once that’s gone getting it back is really hard. Teaching people in classrooms from textbooks does not cut it. This is an issue all across American manufacturing,

      • Hrrm? Oh that is just nonsense.

        Amerys couldn’t shut down the whole US national electrical grid much less a small states’ or counties’ grid. She can only dish out as much power as lightening bolt or dozen and the grid is designed to take that sort of punishment all the time on a state much less national level. Lightening strikes are common and normal on the power grid. It’d take something on par with a small CME (even that is questionable, google the March ’89 Geomagnetic Storm, large CME’s are a different story of course but even less worth considering) to take out the whole grid at once and there probably isn’t anyone with enough magic (short of the dead gods in book) who could pull that off. Amerys could maybe shut down one power plant or disable a switching station or 2 tops. Even that is questionable.

        Same goes for any geomancer trying to shut down global or national oil supplies (oil is produced all over the world and country in vast fields, refineries are also spread out all over the world and country and are highly earthquake resistant, most are built to resist 7-8 Richter scale quakes as a matter of safety, economics, and regulation, etc.). On top of that oil, both in a refined and unrefined state, is stockpiled both on a state and national level in the US to act as a buffer against price shocks and supply short falls. So even if all oil production and refining stopped tomorrow there would be enough supply for at least a couple of weeks with minimal rationing. A invasion of the mainland US that actually successfully destroyed oil production and refining capabilities would result in existing stockpiles getting rationed almost exclusively for the military, farms, and trains which would realistically allow those services to continue operating for quite a while without resupply too BTW.

        Mind you this is all assuming (very much ASS-U-ME-ing going on here) that Flos’ wrecking crews’ magic would even work properly on Earth. Something or someone seems to be inhibiting magic from working at all on Earth.

        Also the US’s manufacturing capabilities haven’t changed much in decades despite the nonsense of “nothing is made in the US anymore”. The US still 2nd only to China for a reason in terms of global trade and is actually expected to retake the lead by 2020 due to automation. Essentially machines are cheaper than the cheapest near-slave wage Chinese labor will ever be.

        And the reason why they had to pull the Saturn V from the Smithsonian to re-model it for new production was because the private companies that originally produced it didn’t properly document their work not because the engineering or production capabilities vanished. The fact that they were able to reproduce it quickly is kind’ve the tip off that sort of concept is just silly to begin with.

        • “Something or someone seems to be inhibiting magic from working at all on Earth.”

          Or it simply doesn’t exist. The faerie could have existed in our world on their own brand of magic, independent from any other.*

          *Dragons living through a magical drought is because of that.

    • His biggest problem, logistics. Inn World sucks at logistics. Out of just the weird errata I know, a horse company at a rush can do about 70-80 miles a day. Flos’ skill is described as doubling that, so his one day journey was between 140-160 miles, I’ll go 160 to be high side generous. That’s about the distance from Germina to Hellios. Later he said the next city he had to worry about was 7 days away at speed, so 1120 miles. We do that in a single day with cars, which isn’t close to our fastest form of transportation. Someone will say they did it on poor roads, but I also know over extremely rough terrain and no roads at all, we do about 300 miles per day; even taking time to dig trucks out of mud and obstacles. Even at our slowest, in much worse conditions than Flos had, we’d double his speed.

      It only gets worse from there. Flos simply cannot move the type of tonnage we can. And he’s not going to be able to build the type of worldwide shipping network needed to do it, even if he owned all of Inn World. We take vacations on ships that could transport his entire army in luxury they couldn’t dream of. And those things are babies compared to our actual cargo ships. Add in air freight capacity and it just gets ludicrous. All of it moves at speed Flos can’t touch. We very probably move more further in a single day than all of Inn World does in an entire year.

      Flos is, to us, for all intensive purposes a stationary target. No matter how many levels or how much personal power he and his high leveled individuals have, they simply cannot move fast enough to matter. We’d bury him under people and equipment.

      • Messed up there.. One shipping city. A single city. Very probably moves more further in a single day than all of Inn World does in a year. Earth most definitely ships more further in a day than all of Inn World does in a decade.

      • Yes, very much this.

        Most people don’t realize it but the US and most other modern militaries are effectively shipping companies that are appallingly good at blowing stuff up. And that is by necessity. In post WWII (really post WWI) warfare if your force moves slower than your enemy you’re probably going to lose even if you have better weapons, more men, better training, etc. short of talking about stuff like using nukes or chemical warfare of course.

        If someone wants to bring nukes, biological weapons, or chemical warfare into it then Flos’ armies, and really the entire InnWorld, is turbo screwed short of some unbelievably absurd book breaking amounts of plot amour being introduced.

        Anyways….any sort of massed slow-ish moving force, like one of Flos’ or any other InnWorld’s armies, would be dead meat in modern warfare. Anyone skeptical of that fact should google The Highway of Death in the 1st Gulf War if you want a real world example of this.

        And the Iraqis actually had a fair amount of modern weapons, as well as the training to properly use them, to try and defend themselves too and they still got slaughtered when moving (relatively speaking, they were probably moving faster than what Flos’ armies could move on the road) slowly in a mass.

        Another whole other issue that Flos seems incredibly ignorant of is that arguably modern radio communications and spread out massed formations are just as important to both the lethality and resiliency of modern militaries ability to survive attacks as the ability to move massive amounts of hardware and men quickly.

        He is made to appear so hyper competent at war and all I find it strange that at least the effects of radio comms on the battlefield haven’t occurred to him after seeing cellphones. Everything else seems to come to him with hardly a glance or thought. Who knows, maybe he brushed the significance of radio comms off along with the effectiveness of nukes?

        sarcasm/ After all he can use magic to talk or send message to those far away so that is totally equivalent riiiight? /sarcasm

        *sighs heavily* I can’t wait for more stuff on Baleros and the Doc. Or Erin and the Inn (hoping she intros soda at her bar). Or Relc. Or bees high on flowers. Or almost anything else really.

      • And all that equipment is relatively easy to replace. If a high-level individual die, him and his [Skills] are extremely difficult to replace. Furthermore, to reach this level it takes years, sometimes decades. Same thing to train a [Mage] powerful enough to threaten a modern army. I don’t know how long it takes to train a sniper or bomber pilot, but it is probably much, much shorter.

    • So he can stop one plague how about a thousand!
      We have guns that shoot faster than if they used gunpowder that run off of electricity.
      We would turn the sky to fire and the ocean to acid, spread the worst poisons and all of that BEFORE we steal their magic.
      His solution goes both ways and with it we would be unstoppable.
      He does realize that we would quickly get levels and skills right?

    • Not only that he is making mistakes in his understanding of how much of the tech works which is leading to draw false conclusions about defeating the tech.

      Talk of disabling ignition to prevent guns from working is a fundamental understanding of how they work for instance. The primer doesn’t ignite itself or even ignite AT ALL. It goes off in response to physical force from the hammer striking it and then explodes in a controlled manner which in turn is what sets off the powder. Its the force of the explosion of that primer, not necessarily the heat of it going off, that will set off the powder. Mind you this is for modern smokeless powder which is actually a form of nitrocelluose with a bunch of other stuff added in to improve performance or reduce flash. Black powder (and brown powder BTW) is a different story and does actually have to be ignited and burn before it can build sufficient pressure to detonate.

      He is smart guy but he is only fooling himself here and the kids don’t understand or know enough about the subjects to really rebut him properly so its making him come off as better than he really is.

      Personally I stopped caring much about Flos’ opinions about the defeatability of modern weaponry when he essentially brushed off stuff like nuclear and chemical weapons as if they were nothing. The guy is so high on his own supply of self righteousness and ambition I can’t see him as a believable character anymore really. But that is neither here nor there.

    • The real thing he would need to know is if the System can work on Earth. If Skills don’t make it over to Earth he’s screwed. He also needs to not accidentally introduce magic to Earth.

      The other thing is he needs to be the one to invade. The current situation is he is being invaded by Earth! The Blighted King seems to be willing to elevate Earthers to power.

      Oh, the other potential issue is that Innworld might get plagued like happened with so many Native Americans.

      • I think this is already happening in a smaller scale. Remember the “Yellow Rivers” from the recent Doctor chapters? It was stated that this was “one of the new ones” by someone native to Baleros. Where did it come from? And since it’s apparently an STD how did people get it? My theory would be from an earther and it just spreads so fast because the natives have nothing in the way a) resistance, b) things like condomes to inhibit said STDs and c) probably not much if anything in terms of germ theory or how diseases work.

  5. It seems to me like the ability to make people who would never accept him flee is pretty bad. Not accepting something doesn’t mean you will act against itand vice versa. Also the one who left could be essential to the order of the city.
    Add to that that the very high lvl people who probably have much more influence are not affected, this seems like a gamble.

    Also being forced to flee just for your thought and not your acts is pretty grim.

    • Yes, but keeping them in the city would also allow them to spread their opinions. Even a small seed of unrest could grow, and eliminating your most ardent detractors right at the beginning will decrease unrest in the long run. From a purely practical perspective I think its a useful Skill.

      The moral/ethical element is less debatable, and just another mark against Flos. Yes, his people all seem to passionately support him, but how much of that is due to mind-affecting Skills?

      • The whole skill system is an ethical nightmare. There’s most of the lord skills, of course, but you’ve also got Lyon and Krshia both getting skills that make people give them money, public perception of Erin’s inn changing overnight because of a skill, and Natural Allies: Goblins brainwashing an entire species. And that’s before you get into the passive effects, which are probably even worse (Reynold’s instinctive subservience to Laken on their first meeting leaps to mind)

        • The entire world and how it operates is different. Take for example faith… They don’t have any of in the way earth does. As flos said himself the fact we can debate it means we have it.

          Skills both operate with and against people depending on who they are. For Erin with goblin ally it lets other goblins know she is friendly when otherwise they would not know. Take Ries and the necromancer and the goblin lord effects and skills turned his own allies into puppets fighting for the necromancer even when they knew it wasn’t the goblin lord giving commands or orders.

          As for war… The side that knows what they are dealing tend to have a better chance. A better question might be if they keep the skills and levels when they go to earth, if they still level up, or if leveling spreads to earth. Magic is a strong point, but How Much magic is there without the reinforcement of Skill or Level?

          • On a completely different subject, I think Flos’ comments on faith and the fact that it’s taken him time to even say “God” lends more credence to the idea that there’s something behind the monotonous repetition of “the gods are dead” whenever the topic is broached.

            • I feel like the fact that Innworld’s gods are dead is much less reassuring than it should be when you remember that the single most powerful individual in their world (and by a considerable margin at that) is an evil necromancer.

                • One salient point. Something powerful created Innworld. That’s whom everyone should be worried about. Even humans on this side. The power of “make it so” triumphs everything else because it’s opposite “make it not so” is also implied.

          • “As flos said himself the fact we can debate it means we have it.”

            Nah that is a fallacy.

            We debate about all kinds of things which know don’t exist (ie. whats inside of a blackhole, faster than light travel, time travel, etc.). Ignorance and misunderstandings mean debates about completely false and wrong things are totally possible and are in fact common place.

  6. Lol, the world of the Kin of Destruction hasn’t got out of the middle ages in > 6000 years. Most of professional military tacticians and chess-grandmasters can equal or exceed the Titan. Frankly, InnWorld tactics are amateurish. Flos will be buried by technology, by logistics he cannot even comprehend, by scientists/analysts who will study and dissect mages and magic and devise counters in weeks. We can create precisely targeted biological weapons against all mage kind. We could even study how high-level bodies are changed at the genetic level and make biological weapons targeting these characteristics.

    A few rail gun rounds will take care of Mars/Amerys. Mages can easily identified by satellites and sensors and made as priority targets for elimination. Mages appear to have a range limit that can be pathetic compared to even 18th century weapons. We have weapons that can be guided across continents and far more missiles to spend on this all night and day, all hours of the day – every mage alive in InnWorld can spend all their hours awake and be eliminated a hundred times over.

    Our world is ridiculously sophisticated and complex. Most folks don’t cannot even comprehend the numbers. We move HUNDREDS of millions of tonnes of cargo *daily* – we move more mass in a day than InnWorld probably does in a several decades. Numbers and Logistics matter a lot in war. We have professional armies that can move across the world in a day and who are trained in warfare that will make mincemeat of their archers. Our military schools can make up for losses in numbers in weeks. If several first and second world nations on Earth move to a War economy, it will be extraordinarily scary.

    And this is all without anyone from our world gaining classes and making the job faster. The InnKeep world is remarkably *LAZY* – Liscor can’t even counter or reverse-engineer Trebuchets for god’s sake. Even the human mages studying the weapon couldn’t understand it! They are too used to their classes and gifted world-magic skills. (It appears only Goblins can think for themselves and that too only when they are not in the thrall of a Lord).

    He cannot win a direct war – but he does have a chance to win a covert one. Get a mind mage, infiltrate governments at high level, and “convert” them to your side. It will years, possibly decades, but you could do it slowly and he could then become The King of Worlds, assuming he lives that long. But asking for surrender and fighting a direct war ? He will be dust in the wind within a few days.

    • Your comment about all the innworld people being lazy is very true, mostly because of the leveling system. People don’t look at a trebuchet and think “how can I build this?”, Instead they think “I hope I gain the ‘siege weapon engineer’ skill during my next level up.” The people are just so used to being given knowledge that inventing and creating falls by the wayside. The knowledge that the world dispenses is very limited and that’s why the world is stagnated. It’s also part of why the people from Earth are so successful, the natives are used to skills and levels being the path to success while the Earth people see invention and hard work as the path to success with skills as a side benefit.

    • Before we get too carried away with the chest beating mind a lot of those scenarios are dependent upon us bringing everything there. There’s an unknown barrier* that requires a blood sacrifice to cross, and what it does bring amounts to some flesh and a few technological trinkets. No one’s going to be conquering Innworld with an iPad.

      *Natural, or a god?

  7. Shield Kingdom, hmm…

    Wild guess: way back when this world was just a video game, it would start with 4 established powers. Players would know which they were because they would be indicated on the map by elaborate shields.

  8. The idea that any kind of war could possibly be “won” against a world with nukes is almost laughable, frankly. Even if high-level [Mages] can block them or stop them from going off (which frankly I find questionable), there’s no way there are enough people at that level to stop a full salvo of nuclear missiles, and every single one that gets through would cause immense casualties.

    I also feel like we need to talk more about sniper rifles in this “Innworld vs Earth” discussion. Innworld’s biggest advantage is the ability to field single people who have the Skills to influence or end entire battles, but sniper rifles are uniquely suited to ending the threat of a single person from a safe distance. Now certainly, many of those high-level individuals will have the defensive Skills or artifacts to survive being sniped! But I suspect only the very best and the very richest will be able survive a bullet that they have no idea is coming. Which means that snipers become an extremely effective means of decimating Innworld’s greatest strength.

    And let’s not forget to talk about home field advantage. As soon as Earth’s soldiers walk into Innworld, they instantly gain the ability to level. Compare that to the difficulty of analyzing, reproducing, and manufacturing Earth technology, and it’s clear that Earth has a significant advantage in any invasion.

    But much more importantly– while we know what happens when people from Earth enter the Innworld, no one knows what happens when people from Innworld go to Earth. Now, is it likely that any Innworlder who goes to Earth loses all their levels? No, of course not. But even the remote possibility would be an incredible deterrent against invasion– who would want to be the first person to enter the World Without Levels and risk losing every level they’ve gained?

    • Hiroshima Nagasaki
      And that is before we blend magic and metal and get a walking nuclear apocalypse that can fly around the world and hit what ever city they want.
      I would like to see Flos try to keep the people Waring when we start using them for target practice like that.
      The USA could have ended our involvement in the middle east in a DAY if we had just ignored all the rules of war that we have made.
      How easy would it be for us to just label the people of inn world as OTHER.

  9. I really like Flos, he’s just the kind of character I’d love to sit down and have a long conversation with, on several random topics. Still, I’m can’t get around his motives for wanting to conquer everything.

    He acts like a pacifist most of the time, avoiding conflict and simply trying to help people, . I mean, couldn’t he have the same impact and be admired just the same, WITHOUT asking everyone to submit?

    I dunno, I expect dark things to come from him when the real business starts running.

    • Maybe a betting pool on who would win in a cage match? Fios or the Necromancer? Anyone who’s goals is conquer the world needs to keep that in mind.

  10. I am not a fan of this arc and find myself skipping bits. Flos is thoroughly detestable. I find myself wishing that someone would slip a MIRV’ed ICBM through a portal about two AU’s out and drop it on his head at cee-fractional speeds. Good luck detecting it and even if the warheads did not detonate the holes would probably be bigger than if they did.

  11. It took some time for me to realise but I think I understand Flos problem in understanding our military capacity and what it means. He sees everything that is said to him through tinted glass. He sees a tank like a high-level warrior class, a plane like some sort of high-level mage class. missile like a powerful spell. Not exactly of course, but he seems to believe they are champions. That puts his hand on one would allow him to use them too, have his own champion. But A tank, plane, gun, missile is irrelevant, utterly so. it our ability to produce and deploy them that matter. It is our ability to resupply them, to repair them to rotate them with new one that make them a viable weapon. Plane, ship and tank are staving beast needing a strong industry and supplies line to be operational. Even if he manages to capture one and figure how to use it. It will so hard to keep them going they will be a drain of resource and war effort. he simply can’t suddenly build the infrastructure to produce and supply them event if he gets some of our people. Their pretty much nobody that could tell them how to build and maintain our war machinery and how to build and maintain the machinery that is a prerequire to do that. He needs to kidnap an army of specialist that somehow need to build it without ready access to our resource, part, fuel and electricity. Then protect that from sabotage or carpet booming. The only place he can reasonably get access to those resource is by raiding us. In brief those things are a produce of our society and work because of our industry. He only ever saw creation and invention that are the result of individual. He does not understand that a high-level engineer will not suddenly give him weapon on equal footing.

    About the raiding thing, that kind of hard to pull to an army that is more mobile that you. That one other problem, obviously Flos don’t conceive the highly mobile kind of warfare as we have learned to do. Historically it took us a while too. As other people have mentioned, Flos will look to pick a fight with us that we will absolutely refuse to give him while we run circle around him and rain dead on him day and night.

    With bring me to my other point, scale, that probably Flos biggest disillusion. the comment on the mage disabling combustion on a battlefield bugged me until I realise that he did not understand what battlefield actually mean. To us anyway, to him he thinks of two army facing each other and fighting in formation. At best, he allows some legroom for mage or rider. For us you see it that part of the direct battlefield, you know where it is it part of the indirect battlefield. his mage unless his level is around 50-60 would be utterly pointless. He can’t understand a battlefield that encompass everything, to us this is part of the word it is part of the freaking battlefield.

    I also think that defeat in detail is a concept that innworld have not yet seen. His comment of mage stopping mage and missile is kind of ridiculous since the kind of mage that would have the power to do that sort of thing are rare as hell, but it can make a sort of sense if you are only thinking of defending your army and direct war asset. It just lacks the perspective to see what kind of nightmare an army of fast-moving flying harbinger of destruction mean to an unguarded war industry, supply line and granary. Or what that mean to your war.

    Also, he believes in decapitating blow, that is understandable in a world of champion and king. But our is a society of redundancy and expendable people noting is truly essential. It would be really hard to hurt our war potential in a significant way for him. Of course, we can do that do that to each other but that do the fact we built specialised weapon and spend century gathering intel on ourselves to make surgical strike. We can see a massive amount of damage to or population and production base without real issue. Killing one or a few leaders would not cripple us. Our army are expendable. The closest think innworld have of us are the antium and they don’t know how to deal whit them.

    He is not stupid he his just incapable to adjust his perspective. He learns of our word and try to fit it in parameter that he understands. Flos is a king that always got what he wanted, pretty must how he wanted, have no or almost no defeat to his name and is constantly surrounded by mostly yes man. He may be good at thinking outside the box, but he absolutely sucks at realising he is wrong or not the best.

    So I must say that I find this incredibly well made, that he just can’t suddenly grap what our world mean and how it function. I think it is little detain like those that make the character of innworld so alive, so must like people.

    • Actually, by use of a repair spell, he wouldn’t have a problem repurposing our stuff, and with a few defectors that at least basically know how those things work, he could get them to have a class. Additionally, assuming that it is a single portal and it opens in his land, he might at least be able to defend it if he gets there first

      • The cost of repairing (especially depending on the damage, doing a repair to recharge a battery is different than fixing a broken screen on a phone for instance) and duplicating stuff with magic increases greatly with the size and complexity of the item though.

        Even for the dragon duplicating Ryoka’s phone cost quite a bit of magic. Repairing a machine gun or a truck or a encrypted radio would probably be nearly impractical with magic for most mages I bet. Repairing even Numbtounge’s guitar completely with magic was too expensive.

        Also a few defectors or captured and enslaved soldiers who know how to work a machine gun or tank does not a army make.

        More realistically losses from being attacked with modern military weapons would be so sudden and drastic any sort of Innworld army would get just about wiped out in a single battle and the attacking country defeated in a week or 2.

    • This, precisely. It’s a cliché that generals are always fighting the last war, but that’s one of Flos’s big problems here – he’s spent his entire life fighting in a single paradigm. A few stories told by children aren’t going to change that overnight, no matter how many times one explains how new capabilities change the battlefield. The fact that he’s a legend on the battlefield in his world actually serves as a hinderance, because he keeps trying to reach for things he understands to make this new information understandable – but it’s so different that he actually does have to toss out everything he knows to make sense of it. Nothing, from the scale of the battles to the technologies used to the tactics employed to the capability of a single soldier, is meaningfully similar.

      The other big problem is that, yeah, he’s having this explained to him by children who don’t really know anything. If someone with a smattering of a military background were to point out something like, “Okay, but our convoy could have turned this day-long ride, that’s twice the speed of what a normal army from your world could have accomplished, into a two-hour ride. And in what are functionally horses who will never suffer from exhaustion.”, he’d probably grasp certain implications much more readily – but the kids really don’t understand why some things they grew up seeing every day might be important in a military context, just how to explain the power of the ones they do understand, or what limitations there might be on either side. And once you’ve muddled the explanation once, it’s hard to really fix that.

      That said, it’s kind of a silly argument in the first place – there are no portals between the worlds suitable for an invasion, so we can’t establish the basic circumstances under which such a war would occur. I don’t think it’s as lopsided in Earth’s favor as one might first assume (they have no meaningful industry, and a low population density, but they would still would be a nightmare to occupy; and if we can’t occupy them, they could likely jumpstart the process of industrialization surprisingly quickly once they had a model to work with and Skills to enhance the process, with output of higher quality. This setting aside the fact that they have some surprising counters to our technology if they get clever.), but without even knowing where they armies are or how they got there, it’s a meaningless argument. Though I guess I feel safe in saying that the first phase of the war would be defined by who made the smallest mistakes, rather than the most clever tactic; listening to Flos here, we see how easy it would be for him to lose an army to bombs that he underestimates, but how easy would it be for Earth to assume that a single woman with a sword was no threat, and lose an entire base to Mars?

      • Assuming a Portal opens and Flos’s Forces start coming through I think it would be a bloodbath.

        In the long run, I agree with most of the commentators here in that Flos is going to lose, even assuming they can use all their magic and skills on Earth.

        In the short run however, Mars and any gold rank+ is a force of nature. We can talk about anti-ship missiles, railguns, and bombers all day but it will take time for Earth forces to realize that’s necessary. Until Earth forces can muster the necessary firepower (and realize they need to do so) to stop her, Mars is going to be causing serious morale problems as she tanks direct hits from assault rifles. I can see her causing the first Earth forces she encounters (Probably Police and then infantry) to break and run as it turns into a standard movie scene horror show as the Earth forces realize they are totally out classed.

        Thinking about it, an invasion by Flos on Earth would probably look just like a Hollywood alien invasion movie. Huge initial success by Flos as Mars and the other high levels lay waste to everything around them. A mid movie scene with the Earth characters analyzing why they’re loosing and realizing that the big scary monster is the key to winning and coming up with a plan to defeat the big scary monster. A grand finale battle as the Earth characters focus everything on Mars and eventually take her down. Then quick victory by earth as Flos’s army collapses without their super weapon. Cue montage of cheering and Roll credits.

        That said, I do think that Innworld could eventually win. Innworld’s strength is its hero’s and individuals. That’s also it’s weakness as if they get killed they can’t be replaced.

        Earth’s strength is it’s infrastructure, which has been built of the past 300 years or so. (I’m only really counting industrial infrastructure now.) This is what allows Earth to build on the successes of the past to create greater successes in the future.

        Earth’s infrastructure is also it’s soft underbelly. I don’t expect someone like Flos to realize that. He’ll just keep attacking armies trying to do a decapitation strike without fully realizing that there are no indefeasible people as Innworld thinks of things. Someone like Lady Margolia however might realize that if she starts picking apart Earth infrastructure piece by piece then all of Earths advantages start vanishing.

        So to win, Innworld would basically have to run a terrorist campaign. Which it is well suited to do.

        • And as an idle thought, if Magnolia were in charge of a hypothetical campaign… She’d probably actually bother with the diplomatic angles that Flos is ill-suited to, working out a few alliances and trade agreements. Her, I can see actually negotiating for some modern equipment before the beginning of large-scale conflicts. It’d put the Innworld on a much less shaky footing, though they’d still lack the foundation for a prolonged war.

          Of course, if Magnolia were in charge, I doubt there’d be a war at all. Based on her interactions with Ryoka, she’d probably move as quickly as she could to corner the new economic opportunities, and then leverage those as best she could to accomplish her political ends, with a dash of assassins where necessary… Overall, probably a much safer person to put in charge, for both sides.

          Speaking of terrorist campaigns, though… Imagine if someone were to release Crelers in some unnoticed corner of Earth. Without any natural “monsters” of our own capable of fighting back, how horrifying would the problem get before humanity could even try to deal with it? We could bomb the site of the initial release, which we could safely write off as lost, but they’d likely have already spread like wildfire… It’d get pretty ugly, that’s all I’m saying.

          • @Jane
            “Her, I can see actually negotiating for some modern equipment before the beginning of large-scale conflicts”
            Me too.

            But it wouldn’t matter. Even if Earth sold her some top of the line CnC lathes or a modern induction smelter she wouldn’t know how to use them, have the people to run them, have the parts and materials to keep them running on hand when they break, or be able to get sufficient quantity of quality materials to put out enough weapons to change the outcome of a war with Earth.

            Yeah that magic Repair skill is nifty but its far from free and the more you want to do with it the more it costs to use and those mages would be needed elsewhere. She’d need to have a supply of parts and materials available without the use of magic to make it work out economically.

            “Of course, if Magnolia were in charge, I doubt there’d be a war at all.”
            Yeah. She wouldn’t attack unless threatened and would know she’d lose any war quickly anyways.

            Given the cost of trying to jump between worlds any sort of invasion seems silly to consider so far though.

            “Imagine if someone were to release Crelers in some unnoticed corner of Earth.”
            They’d breed like nuts for a few months to a year and then when they started to effect any populated areas, or even just killed some tourists, they’d get wiped out in the space of a few months.

            Something like a Creler is horrible if you have to fight it hand to hand but if you have guns, flamethrowers, or explosives on hand than they’re easy peasy to kill.

            • See, this is part of why I say these arguments are meaningless – how long do both sides have to prepare before such a war? Because if the Innverse has a few years of peace with which to prepare first, then even without outside support, we can expect their industry to advance rapidly after encountering Earth; once they have a model to work from, they’ll be able to leapfrog a lot of the biggest obstacles that would otherwise keep them from reaching their potential, as magic and skills can act as temporary substitutes for what would normally be required to make the tools necessary for industrialization. They wouldn’t be a superpower for a couple of decades at a minimum, but they could likely keep basic supplies for a war up in a couple of years if they focused their development around a military economy.

              Just seeing what’s possible would be enough for someone of sufficiently high level to copy what they understood, and to make that model available for others; what was once the biggest problem for advancement of the Innverse, a tendency to rely on high-level Skills instead of something that outlived an individual, would instead become a great strength.

              The idea that Flos seems to have, that both sides see each other and then immediately declare war… It simply seems daft. That’s never been how things have worked.

              Regarding Crelers, though… I think you’re underestimating the ease with which they can be dealt with. When the Horns fought a dozen newly-hatch Crelers, they were hard-pressed to deal with them despite the use of magic that would outstrip what a normal police force would have access to, and guns are at a disadvantage against an extremely fast opponent in close quarters. Which they would quite likely be in, once they spread to urban areas. And while the military might deal with them with ease, what about small towns? Their response time is likely to be too slow to prevent a significant loss of life.

              That aside, though, you’re also missing their most dangerous aspect – their rapid rate of reproduction. Even if a person with a gun found them to be a trivial threat, they apparently spread like locusts – if you miss an egg, a new nest just spawns elsewhere. And they’ll have plenty of time to spread unchecked before Earth gives up and goes scorched-earth on where they were initially left. If they were initially dropped in, say, the Amazon, what are the odds that they’ll have spread past the point that they could be contained before that happened? What are the odds that some eggs might have made it into a shipment off the continent?

              They might not represent a significant threat to the military, but it would be devastating to soft targets. And honestly, we haven’t had a real threat from wildlife in generations – just look at the irrational fear people have of sharks. Something like this would cause mass panic far beyond the danger they actually represented – which would probably be significant enough on its own.

              • “how long do both sides have to prepare before such a war?”

                Prep time is mostly meaningless to talk about because many Earth forces have large standing armies and/or vast conscript armies that can be called up to start fighting within days along with the shipping and economies to keep it all running. Once the fighting starts it’ll boil down to Earth weaponry and industry vs Innworld’s short range magics and medieval warfare and Innworld will always lose that fight.

                A month, or year, or decade of prep time won’t change that outcome. It will increase the fatalities on Earth’s side initially but that is it. It takes too long and requires too much resources to set up a modern industrial base to competitive with Earth’s to matter. The population difference alone (and what that means for Earth’s potential armies and industry) is a monumental problem for Innworld to even cope with much less deal with effectively. Maybe if they had a century to prep Innworld would have a shot but Magnolia or Flos’ would be dead of old age well before they’d be ready on those timescales. And yeah it’d a century easy even with short cuts with magic.

                “Just seeing what’s possible would be enough for someone of sufficiently high level to copy what they understood, and to make that model available for others”

                Except if you want to understand lots of modern tech you need to know the science behind it and levels don’t help much there otherwise trebuchets and elevators wouldn’t be such a big deal on Innworld. You need years of schooling and the teachers to do the teaching. Earth probably won’t just give that away and stealing science books or download wikipedia won’t grant them understanding either.

                The other issue is that Innworld being a medieval style economy means sharing of techniques and information between high level types, or even cities really, doesn’t actually happen. They all guard each others methods and means jealously. Even when fighting guys like Flos. That won’t change until its far too late, if ever, when fighting Earth forces.

                “The idea that Flos seems to have, that both sides see each other and then immediately declare war… It simply seems daft.”

                Yup. I don’t think he cares if Earth forces declare war or not though. He seems set on invasion no matter what to me. He is just trying to rationalize things.

                “Regarding Crelers…….a normal police force”

                Police wouldn’t be involved with dealing with something like Crelers for more than a few days or weeks once it became apparent how widespread they would be if left alone to spread for a while. They’d probably be the first responders but then the military would get involved pronto. Once military weapons are involved its game over for Crelers.

                Crelers are only crazy deadly if you have to deal with them hand to hand. If you have guns, bombs, or flame throwers they’ll get wiped out fast.

                “If they were initially dropped in, say, the Amazon, what are the odds that they’ll have spread past the point that they could be contained before that happened?”

                Even if they got dropped there and left for a year or more to spread they’d still get wiped out. It’d probably take burning down most of the Amazon to do it but it’d still happen.

                Remember poor local farmers have already destroyed much of the Amazon just through strip and burn. Doing more of that on a larger scale and backing up those forces with a military would mean crelers would get wiped out still.

                Remember too that even Innworld’s medieval style forces have largely suppressed Crelers and that was while being forced to fight them hand to hand. They’re dangerous to avg. unprepared people or if you’re just armed with sticks but not that big of a threat to a modern military force or economy that you’re making them out to be.

                And response times for military involvement are too low for a missed egg or two to really grow much into a large (thousands of em’) colony in time to do much damage to unarmed or unprepared citizens.

                • Regarding industrialization, I’m thinking of the Meiji Restoration as a model here – a relatively small subset of the country (world, in this case) who understand and embrace the need for change, and who possess the centralized authority and resources to pursue it. Under such conditions, rapid progress has been accomplished in our own world – Japan went from a functionally pre-industrial society to one of the Great Powers in a couple of decades. This was accomplished with the need to import foreign tools, a population that knew little of modern techniques, and with foreign powers more inclined to exploit them than help them. We can safely expect that the Innworld would be able to outpace that model in this hypothetical, especially as they wouldn’t have to concern themselves with a navy (presumably).

                  It’s true that the entire world couldn’t be industrialized overnight, but that’s missing the point – it doesn’t need to be. The difference between a country with an industrial base and without one is huge – but the difference between a country with an industrial base and one with a larger one is much less so. One is a dire qualitative difference, while the other is a matter of scale that can be overcome by circumstantial differences – like one country choosing to pursue battleships while the other pursued aircraft carriers. The Innworld’s ability to supply itself would be extremely brittle, but it would still exist, compared to the hypothetical situation where they had no mines or factories at all. The quality wouldn’t be up to par either, but this is where the question of whether the Innverse’s advantages can make up the difference comes in.

                  Now, the population difference is indeed one I see as difficult to overcome, as I said initially, but – we are talking about a united Innworld (per Flos’s plans at least, though we’ve drifted from that scenario somewhat) versus a modern Earth, which is not united. The full population of the Innworld is certainly greater than individual nations in our own world, and once they succeed in annexing and integrating an Earth nation, they can (presumably) begin to take advantage of their population and infrastructure as well. If they can succeed in an initial war, their position becomes much stronger.

                  I think you overestimate how much education is necessary to use or produce much of what is talked about here – what they need to make doesn’t need to be good. It just needs to work at a basic level before they refine their techniques. And for that, they need something that a high-level [Engineer] can grasp, and break down into parts that a common factory worker can reproduce. I suspect that an [Engineer] taking a tour of a factory floor for a given product is usually all that they would need.

                  For this, we can look to China (or Japan again, for that matter) as an example – when they started out, their initial output was considered cheap rubbish good only for their price, but after a couple of decades, they’re one of the dominant manufacturing powers, and at the forefront of mobile technology. Having an industry begets advancement in that industry, as it builds institutional knowledge; if they can break things down to a level they can start with, they’ll be able to advance quickly enough.

                  The two exceptions I can think for this would be advanced electronics and modern aircraft, both of which demand tolerances that I don’t think the Innverse could meet for a generation, but… Well, that’s what importing foreign workers is for. Or just buying the end product wholesale, I guess – it’s not like there’s an embargo.

                  And there’s really no reason to presume that absolutely no one would grant the Innverse this sort of access – they have plenty of things they can trade, simple gold if nothing else, and what they would be asking for would be relatively minor in contrast. And if things do get unreasonable… Well, they do have invisibility spells.

                  As for the exchange of information on Innworld… Well, we’re also talking a circumstance under which the entire world has been conquered and answers to a single ruler – that would presumably invite some cultural changes of its own. When the ruler of all the world demands that you do something, you’ll probably do it, however grudgingly. That said, the exchange of knowledge is less necessary than one might initially think – we’re talking about copying what Earth is doing, rather than independent innovation. It only takes a single high-level individual studying and reproducing what we’re doing and translating it into something that the Innworld can do to get things started in single field – refinement can come later, after the need to share knowledge can be drilled into their heads.

                  Regarding Crelers… Have you studied how blights, pandemics, invasive species, or other ecological threats spread in our own world? Because I believe it’s more akin to those, regardless of the teeth and claws they later develop. You can’t just burn something like this out, because by the time the problem has grown large enough to become noticeable, some stupid bird has eaten an egg, gotten itself infested, and taken the threat a hundred miles from where you thought it would be. And by the time you notice, it’s spread another hundred miles still.

                  The threat is containable in the Innverse because the entire world recognizes them as an unnatural threat, as per Mrsha’s chapter – even the wildlife, which is much more dangerous there than it is here, does its best to strangle Crelers in the crib. In our own world, which lacks such conditions, they’d be treated to an all-you-can-eat buffet until they run into humans.

                  As for how easily the military could deal with them, sure – but the issue is that the military can’t be everywhere, and people would still die waiting for a response. Take the town of Black Eagle, Montana (pulled out of a random search for small towns) – it has 904 residents over the space of two square miles, and seems located pretty far from anything of note. If a pack of Crelers came in looking for a snack, how many of them would die before a response could be organized? At least some would die before anyone in town noticed anything was wrong and called for help – and more would die every few minutes waiting for that help to arrive. Even if the military was already in town for some strange reason, it would take time to pinpoint the Crelers location and to get there. What will that do to civilian morale, to not be able to go outside anywhere but the densest urban areas without having to worry that you’ll be snatched by a monster? And what will that do to our food supply, once every small farm needs a military detachment to keep secure?

                  Once they’ve spread throughout a region, which I believe they would, it would become a constant low-grade threat destroying people’s peace of mind. They’ll never be an existential threat to humanity, but they would cause us no end of headaches, and would probably destroy the natural world as we know it.

                  • The replies are getting kinda scrunched and waaaay long here so I’m gonna try to keep my reply as brief as possible, not trying to be jerk or anything so don’t go reading tone into it:

                    a) Japan was making far less of a jump in tech/industry than Innworld would have to.
                    b) Japan’s modernization still took from the 1870’s to the late 1920’s to complete. Flos/Magnolia still probably die of old age even if you want to argue Innworld could modernize that fast. Without strong leaders a unified effort will fall apart fast.
                    c) Japan was able to import tools, teachers, material, and knowledge easily from elsewhere, that won’t be true for Innworlders.
                    e) Innworlders would still need a huge navy/merchant marine for shipping materials not available locally and/or trade.
                    f) Nah, if its Earth vs Innworld the whole Innworld needs industrialization to have even a vague hope short of acts of god/author.
                    g) If its a single country, even a large one, in Innworld vs whole Earth or just 1 major Earth nation than that country loses hard and fast by default even with modern weapons/industrialization.
                    h) See Gulf War I/II for a modern example of a country with modern weapons and a large military getting curbstomped when just 1 major power gets involved.
                    i) Exact numbers aren’t given for Innworld pop. but its probably less than 100 million and maybe less than 50 million. They don’t have many cities with 1 million pop. and Krshia’s reaction to even a billion people is the give away there. CA alone has almost 40 million people and US has over 300 million. China has over 1 billion people. India is around there too I believe. Lots of smaller EU countries have less but if one gets invaded they all go to war.
                    j) I think you don’t understand engineering and education the requirements to even make something like a obsolete CPU like a Pentium 200Mhz or a common PSU or a old style carb aspirated gas engine work in even a half assed manner and then churn them out by the 100,000. It took billions of dollars and years/decades to figure out all that stuff for a reason and it took billions of dollars and years/decades for other countries to either copy or reproduce it for a reason too.
                    k) Innworld’s magic doesn’t work on Earth and stuff like gold is too rare and expensive for them to give away to buy tech, materials, etc.
                    l) Invisibility won’t work on Earth because magic doesn’t work there. Spies and other agents won’t have much success either because their skills won’t work on Earth either…and that assumes that a easy and cheap method of inter-world travel shows up too.
                    m) Even if Flos conquers all of Innworld and tells people to cooperate or else they’ll still not do it properly since culturally they see themselves as conquered peoples of country x or y and don’t actually like or respect Flos as a leader.
                    n) You’re misunderstanding exchange of knowledge, its not just copying this or that science book or wiki article and memorizing it, its coordinating vast projects and economies across huge distances and multiple countries. Innworld can’t really do that and Flos can’t really decree it to happen overnight or over any reasonable time frame either. It requires IT/comms infrastructure (at a minimum telegraph and radio) that’d take years to implement on its own before any real work got done.
                    o) The crelers take too much time to mature and reproduce even if you want to say they can spread via bird or rabbit or whatever, they’d all get wiped out pretty fast and outbreaks would be easy to spot. Nowhere on Earth is as isolated as most of Innworld thanks to satellites, drones, planes, radios, cellphones, etc.
                    p) The military doesn’t have to be everywhere. They just have to be sent wherever they’re needed and a small-ish force can wipe out tens to hundreds of crelers easy. Dangerous but stupid and close up attack only animals are just gun fodder for a modern military force.
                    q) In Africa poorly trained farmers and police kill big dangerous animals like lions, tigers, elephants, etc. all the time with a mag dump from 7.62x39mm (assault rifle cartridge) AK’s. Modern militaries will have much much MUCH more powerful weapons than that at their disposal. Crelers are so dead they’re pretty much a joke.

                    • The Meiji Restoration was concluded in 1868, while the Russo-Japanese War took place in 1904 – that’s a period of 32 years. The Russo-Japanese war was what established Japan as one of the Great Powers.

                      Japan needed to import tools and materials, but that was a disadvantage for them relative to the Innworld, as it complicated their efforts to build their own infrastructure and industry; the Innworld would be able to make use of magic and skills to substitute much of the effort. Rather than relying on back-breaking labor to clear land to lay down rails or clear out mineshafts, and few well-chosen spells could be used in their place. Bringing in experts would still be helpful, but presumably much less of an issue than bringing in high-quality steel or heavy equipment.

                      Take a look at the rate of imports from Japan during industrialization – you’ll note that their exports during the initial phases were, well, pitiful, before increasing exponentially as industrialization advanced. If the Innworld can bypass that early, awkward phase through their unique advantages, they’ll be in a much stronger position than most comparable nations.

                      It’s true that the gap between Japan and the West wasn’t as large as the one between Innworld and Earth, but I don’t think they need to get completely up to par – just to be able to make the equivalent of World War 2 trucks, guns, and radios. At that point, I can see things like [Strategists] skills making up the difference between 100-year-old equipment and a modern (land) army. An army of horses, swords, and bows, by contrast… I have a hard time seeing that work just from a mobility and logistics perspective. Even if they were only going up against a regional power.

                      And regarding a navy… I was thinking more in terms of the massive battleships and aircraft carriers that are genuinely taxing on an economy, rather than transport vessels. Japan considered a navy capable of fighting the other great powers a high priority, while I question whether it would even be possible for a navy built in the Innverse to encounter Eath’s, bar true stupidity on the part of the Innverse. That said, though, it’s not as though the old shipping fleets disappear overnight – they can probably rely on it for some time while they focus on more critical matters.

                      The Gulf War was so lopsided because of our overwhelming advantage in airpower – but I have a hard time believing that the Innworld wouldn’t be able to devise a counter to that. Planes are surprisingly delicate things in many ways, and Innworlders are capable of literally superhuman feats. Of course, modern military aircraft are capable of firing on targets literally beyond sight, so that may not matter. If they can’t counter our planes, I acknowledge that they’ve lost before they begun – trying to match our aeronautics industry would be a hopeless feat for them. If they can counter airpower, though, I think they’d have a chance.

                      I believe I said quite clearly that electronics would be too delicate for them to reproduce? I think older cars are within their grasp, though – looking at Ford’s old assembly lines, that’s something that an [Engineer] would be able to work with. Let’s not forget that we’re talking about people who intuitively understand the concepts associated with the Class, and who often have dedicated skills to grant them a deeper understanding of such things – that can substitute for years of training and education. Scalability is the issue here, but that’s what industrialization is all about – taking something that would normally take a skilled craftsmen an unpleasantly long time to make, and breaking it down into something that minimally trained labor can handle. Personally, I’d be more concerned about the supply chain – do they even have oil in the Innverse, or an appropriate substitute? And can they mine a sufficient quantity of iron without waking some horrible monster?

                      To be blunt, if magic simply doesn’t work on Earth, than this whole argument is quite impossible; it’s a prerequisite for them to even get to Earth and back. There’s no point invading if you’re just sending people off to a foreign world never to be seen again, after all. And there’s little evidence to support any conclusion on whether magic or skills would work on Earth – we don’t know how they work or what they’re empowered by. It could be something innate to the user, it could be something they would be brought with them when they crossed the worlds, or it could be something innate to the world that cannot be removed – we have nothing that suggests an answer in any way, but for the fact that we know that natives of Innworld have these things since childhood while those from Earth do not.

                      Flos’s empire seemed quite loyal to him from what we’ve heard, before he went into his slumber, and we have seen that people naturally obey a certain [Emperor] who simply willed himself into being one; I’m reasonably certain that a function of such Ruler classes is that those who submit to their rule become inclined to treat them as their ruler. We’ve seen Flos’s magnetism work on people in earlier chapters, for that matter – either he’s one of the most charismatic people alive, or his class simply inspires people. Either way, if he did conquer the world, most people would follow him until his death. It wouldn’t work that way in our world, but their world is just… Different.

                      Large-scale projects are more difficult in the absence of modern communication and bureaucracy, but they’re still possible – early industrialization and widespread colonization began before the telegraph was invented, after all, and industrialization proceeded with the telegraph as the primary tool – to say nothing of the vast trade empires and construction projects that existed before either began at all. And the Innverse has message spells and [Couriers] who can travel vast distances in a single day – I’d say they’re roughly equivalent to the telegraph at the moment.

                      While I can’t find appropriate passages to support my conclusion at the moment, the implication that I had from earlier chapters was that Crelers grew and reproduced fairly quickly, but took a while to fully mature – which is why an adult Creler is something terrifying that commands a massive bounty, while it’s still not uncommon to run across a nest of hatchlings. That their rate of spread could be more readily compared to mosquitos than that of wolves, to frame it in those terms.

                      Regarding detection, I think you’re being too optimistic – we’re talking about things smaller than a person, who will in most cases will not be standing out in the open. These do not make for good conditions for searching by satellite or by plane, and you need to exterminate every last one in existence to truly resolve the problem. And by the time they’ve spread to the point that they’re running into people on foot, well, that’s the entire problem, isn’t it?

                      For response times to be adequate, I contend that the military would have to be everywhere – because by the time the average civilian calls in to report a Creler, they’re about to die. It’s not a vague threat like wolves or mountain lions, who will probably leave a person alone, and it’s not something that a person can handle on their own if they have to, like a rabid dog – it’s an immediate threat that requires a military response to be able to handle. These are monsters with a simple see->kill response cycle.

                      The issue isn’t “Whether the military can handle them”, but rather “How long will it take the military to get to Nowheresville, Idaho to respond to an active attack”. We’ve seen from previous mass stabbings that a single individual can do a surprising amount of damage in a matter of minutes, and Crelers are both more dangerous than a person with a knife, and attack in packs – that’s the kind of response times we would need to match to avoid headlines screaming “Dozens die in another tragic alien attack”, no matter how easily they suppress the threat once they arrive.

                    • Again, things are getting waaaay scrunched now, I will try to keep my reply very short, don’t try to read tone into it, also sorry for late reply:

                      1) Modernization continued well past the Meiji Restoration and was still a huge issue for Japan’s industry when the war started, google the history of Japan’s semiauto rifle program and the TG&E Garand’s and their inability to produce them.

                      2) TP magic in Innworld is very expensive and not at all cheap, its not even clear un-gimped Wistram mages could make it cheap.

                      3) Japan had trade partners that it could grow from tech and econ-wise, Innworld doesn’t really have this and a unified Innworld would need what amounts to a command economy on par with a totalitarian govt. to function, Flos & other leaders only know feudalistic economies and govt. and probably won’t be willing to switch.

                      4) Pirates are still a problem for even a unified Innworld and Innworld will need a navy to counter Earth’s in a invasion or defense scenario.

                      5) Jet planes are delicate but its damn tough to hit them with anything due to their speed, stealth tech, and altitude. If all Innworld has is WWII-ish tech they’ll lose because they can’t counter any of that. Or even deal with BVR conventional weapons really.

                      6) If they can’t do electronics Innworld loses by default. All the advanced tech needs electronics to work.

                      7) Ivolethe hinted pretty heavily that magic won’t work on Earth and is a property of Innworld, can’t find the text but it was there.

                      8) Flos appears to be able to get the avg. peasant to do his bidding pretty well but anyone with a strong will or another leader doesn’t appear to be nearly so obedient to say the least and Flos needs to have his remaining Seven act as watch dogs to keep conquered countries in line.

                      9) “Possible” isn’t enough, especially if you want stuff done in reasonable time frames much less Flos or Magnolia’s life spans. You need “pretty much certain”, or better yet, “we know we can do this in x amount of time”.

                      10) Couriers take days to go across continents, telegraph can do it in minutes or hours.

                      11) Mosquitos are being eradicated in parts of the world (Zika mosquitos) thanks to modern tech and methods of killing them, most or all of which won’t be applicable to killing baby crelers…point is we’re totally capable of killing small very fast spreading organisms.

                      12) Tracking organisms smaller than a person under brush or tree cover with planes or drones is totally doable and is done all the time (google tracking rat populations), satellites would be used to pick up larger infestations, time from detection to response would probably be within a day to hours realistically.

                      13) People would be able to call in infestations without the creler seeing them because people would be able to see signs of infestation on the local animals and environment, they don’t have to ID them visually on foot and could easily do it from a car or 4 wheel ATV.

                      14) A team of soldiers can be sent all over the world in less than a day to deal even with infestations of hundreds of crelers….that isn’t vaguely a issue at all and happens all the time today.

                      15) A bad horror movie like scenario where crelers can only ever be ID’d on foot by people who only ever spot them a few 10’s of feet away with no guns is kind’ve unrealistic to say the least…..

                      16) Many farmers and suburban types already own shotguns and semi auto rifles and can probably easily kill most minor creler infestations when they attack their crops or livestock. Huge armies of soliders aren’t required.

        • “it will take time for Earth forces to realize that’s necessary”
          No, that isn’t how this sort of thing works. Especially not in today’s world where everyone has a cellphone and cameras are everywhere.

          Once the cops get killed and it becomes apparent that a unknown force is invading they’ll call up the national guard and/or military very quickly depending on the country getting invaded. Some sort of military response would happen on day 1 (even if it was “just” attacks by helicopters or fighter planes) of any medieval style invasion army.

          “Mars is going to be causing serious morale problems as she tanks direct hits from assault rifles”
          Nah the troops will just shoot her (or any other super strong high level type) in the face with rocket launchers, Carl Gustaf 80mm recoilless rifles, 60mm mortars, or rifle grenades.

          Those are all common man portable weapons you’ll see even small groups of troops have.

          Even if Mars or Gazi’s magic and/or armor prevent penetration of all projectiles the over pressure wave from direct hit (actually even a near hit by even a “mere” 60mm mortar or hand grenade will do this, they’re really deadly guys) by explosive projectiles will shred the lung tissue of either of them like wet paper. Google barotrauma if you want to know more.

          The blast and/or lack of oxygen from damaged lungs will knock them right out (assuming it doesn’t scramble their brain tissue already, remember living brain tissue has the consistency of yogurt and sudden shocks from explosions can kill or cause TBI’s), instantly or close enough to it not to matter, and then they’ll drown in their own fluids leaking from their shredded lung tissue in less than a minute. The same will be true for anyone else around them so someone running up with a health potion won’t be a option.
          ———–
          Is it just me or are there a lot of people who have a generalized lack of knowledge about just how deadly most modern weapons are or what they can do? Like the kids from Earth in the Flos chapters I can understand, they’re kids n’ all and they don’t seem to be interested in military stuff at all.

          But seriously guys modern military weapons are deadlier than many seem to want to believe or at least want to consider. Going by some of the comments lots of people need to like ramp up the deadliness factor by 10-20 times just for conventional weapons and then maybe they’ll have a better of idea of just how bad it really is.

          I remember hearing about the expected fatality rates from even mild version of the Cold War (so no WMD’s, conventional war only) kicking off in EU as resulting battlefield survival times of being measured in seconds for the average troops (and that is without massed medieval style armies, everyone is spread out in modern wars to improve survival rates) and I’m just blown away by how weak many of you guys/gals seem to think the weapons and their effects are. Too many video games I guess.

          • Hi tts,

            It will take time for the Earth Forces to understand what they are facing. Especially in a first contact situation. Yes, there is going to be a lot of shaky cell phone video and panics calls but the commanders will have trouble believing a lot of the reports and will have the same issues that Flos has in understanding what they mean. It’s a complete cultural disconnect.

            We know that they are high level characters invading but every single earth general and strategist will be primed to think in terms of standard humans. The fact that the invaders have super humans on their side will take a while to process. Fog of War is going to be nasty in this case.

            Yes, there will be soldier reports on Mars but will the Earth General really believe that the bimbo in the impractical boob plate armor can lift and throw a tank? It sounds insane.

            The first responders will be prepped to fight a medieval style army or some sort of conventional force. (Terrorists, infantry squads, ect) Against most of the Innworld army I think they would succeed. However, the most dangerous weapon of all is surprise and high level characters like Mars fundamentally don’t work in the way that every human on earth thinks people work.

            As an example, would a 60mm mortar or hand granade cause barotrama on Gazi or Mars? We know that high levels give people more “Hit Points” and make them tougher and harder to kill. Zel Shivertail kept fighting with half his brain destroyed, Trembourg kept fighting after his heart stopped, and Reiss also kept going long after he died. Records of Velan the Kind show that arrows bounced of him, and that he ignored fireballs.

            It’s not that I think the modern weapons are weak, I think that the high level characters are very strong. They are essentially video game characters and I think that is going to be a hideous surprise to whichever SOB finds that out the hard way.

            • “It will take time for the Earth Forces to understand what they are facing. Especially in a first contact situation. …It’s a complete cultural disconnect.”

              You don’t need to understand Flos’ culture to see his men killing people and respond accordingly. Especially on a mass scale. The time required for some sort of military response would be measured probably in hours but would definitely happen on the 1st day. Not days, weeks, months, or years afterwards. Any sort of cultural issues would be worked out once the shooting stopped.

              “The fact that the invaders have super humans on their side will take a while to process.”

              That would effect tactics and maaaaaybe overall strategy but not response times nor would it change outcomes. Those super humans will be dead pretty fast once you open up on them with a machine gun from a few hundred yd away. Or if you shoot at them with a light 105mm gun.

              “However, the most dangerous weapon of all is surprise and high level characters like Mars fundamentally don’t work in the way that every human on earth thinks people work.”

              True but mostly irrelevant. Most of Flos’ forces are normal-ish man to man physical combatants. Even modern urban CQB combat knows how to deal with that sort of thing and will have a decisive edge due to guns. For the true “supers” in Flos’ army, like Mars, artillery, machine guns, standard gravity dropped bombs, or missiles would kill them pretty quick.

              “As an example, would a 60mm mortar or hand granade cause barotrama on Gazi or Mars? We know that high levels give people more “Hit Points” and make them tougher and harder to kill.”

              Yeah it’ll still kill them. Even if their lung tissue had the resiliency of iron they’d still experience barotrauma with close range 60mm mortar or hand grenade blasts which can shred steel. If you want to argue that still won’t happen with that level of weaponry then I’d point out 105mm gun and 200lbs bomb strikes are easy for infantry to call in too and dropped bombs from air craft would definitely be part of a 1st day response to invasion. The toughness of those “supers” means they can still move around for a while sometimes even after they’re really dead but they’re still dead and stop moving within a few minutes.

              “I think that the high level characters are very strong.”

              In hand to hand combat they’re a nightmare and will slay the crap out of any Earther.

              The thing that many here seem to be downplaying or ignoring is that once Earth military forces get involved they aren’t really going to bother to fight hand to hand with any of these “supers” or any invasion force.

              Earth forces are going to make the fight unfair as possible and in a fight where its swords. arrows, and close range magic vs a 200lb bomb dropped from 8,000ft up or a 105mm gun shell a mile or 2 away there isn’t a single “super” in Innworld who will win. They probably won’t even know what hit them or see it coming. Yeah they’re “supers” compared to you or me but none can dodge or are immune to near hits from explosives even if you want to argue their armor would be impenetrable by anything.

              The only person who might win that fight is someone like Teriarch but he doesn’t care about mortal wars and there really isn’t anyone close to his level of physical power in Innworld. Especially if they go and start the war I’d bet.

  12. Yay were back with Flos! While he’s far from my favorite character I’ve never understood the hate he gets. His chapter are always interesting because we get to see what’s happening in Chandrar and he’s a fantastic character with so much potentional to be either a hero or a villain. Can’t wait to see where this arc goes next. I hope we get some word of what’s been going on with Amerys because she’s been MIA for a long time and it’s weird that Flos doesn’t care that one of his Seven is missing.

    • He is generally seen as terrible by many because he is a conquering slaver whose main ambition is to do mo’ conquering and mo’ slaving as ruler of the world(s) since Innworld isn’t enough for him he also wants Earth too. (thats the reason he “woke up” remember) Any attempts to humanize him come off as false and stilted to many because of that.

      There really isn’t any potential for him to be anything other than a villain. Like even if he ends up somehow sacrificing himself to save the world he’ll still die a villain but maybe be thought of as somewhat less of a ***hole.

      Finally the outcomes of many of his chapters are also highly predictable since he is juuuuust about guaranteed to win any and all battles (he is hyper competent at combat + OP as all get out in most combat scenarios, basically will take the whole world to beat him just like last time) except for maybe any sort of final battle. Makes any sort of drama seem hollow for many I’d say.

      • Which is why he is written from the prospective of being consumed by his class.

        Those around him don’t notice because they just tick it towards him being a king.

        • I don’t really think there is such a thing as “consumed by their class” in Innworld. The class can definitely influence what you think and do but you aren’t its slave or puppet.

          And Flos for all his faults doesn’t have the sort of personality or ego that would tolerate that sort of thing or be bent by it either. Erin and some of the other strong willed people in Innworld are the same way. And those do seem to be the sorts of people who get lots of levels too.

          The others around Flos either grew up around him, in what is pretty much medieval style society, and so see his actions as permissible by way of “might makes right” or because they see him as a means to their ends. Or they’re just effected by his skills as king to be predisposed to him (mostly peasants).

          • Greydath mentioned being consumed by a class when he saw headscratcher losing his shit in a fight . Byres father did the same when looking at the dog lord who acted like a dog ( sniffing and snarling)

          • “The class can definitely influence what you think and do but you aren’t its slave or puppet.”

            You know there literally is a [slave] class which does just that lol…

            • Actually I don’t think its clear what that class does yet.

              I’d certainly expect it to try and make you follow your slavedriver’s orders but that isn’t the same as eliminating free will or thought.

              Do Emporer Laken’s followers HAVE to follow all his orders? They seem to be able to still use critical thinking skills and be able to still disagree or even run away if they so chose.

              Same thing with Erin or Ryoka resisting Magnolia’s orders. Which did surprise her but was still possible to do even if it was difficult.

    • It’s not just Flos that many dislike, in my experience, but his whole storyline in general and the characters that are involved in it.

  13. Self-absorbed flawed and very well written character.

    So Flos must be super important in the Inn World storyline.

    But please break up massive chapters.

    Hard not to skip parts in a web serial.

  14. Flos seems to be aiming toward becoming god-emperor. Am I the only one who sees this? He’s boning up on the connotations of religion, conquering, walking among his subjects in a different form, and looks toward using advanced technology. Not a good sign…

  15. Wow, as much as Flo might be underestimating Earth, some people here are underestimating the chances of Innworld on a massive degree.

    Sure, modern armies are powerful, but while that is so, those powerful armies still fail to quickly defeat inferior forces, or at least do so quickly. Just think about how Afganistan hurt both the USSR and NATO for example or how Vietnam forced the US forces to leave. Sure, they had outside help, but are people really so naive to think that Russia, China or another would not help America’s allies in Innworld and vice-versa? Neither world would magicly unite… we have no hate for

    A huge advantage that Innworld get is the time prepare. By now, many powers are already aware of earth and making preparations. For all we know, Earth is not aware of the existence of the other world. Depending on the location of a potential portal, it would take months or years for Earth powers to bicker and fight amongst themselves. Most democracies would probaly need to have elections before any action is taken. Plus, there would be many, probably a majority, that would want to avoid war unless directly attacked. Scholars and business people would certainly prefer trade and research collaboration. If countries choose war, the would be numerous conflcts and resistance both internal and external.

    As for weaponry, earth has a clear advantage. However, biological weapons would hurt both worlds but the interconnectivness of earth makes it very vulnerable to a strike. If [Plague mages] are able to make some kind of super disease, our communications could be our undoing as disease could spread very far before being detected. I could very well see the MAD doctrine being applicable to wars between both worlds powers…

    And what about covert war, here too it could go both way. Abilities to enforce an obedience curse (like the one the Necromancer placed on Ryoka) on select individual would cripple any country and Innworld’s assassins are at least as terrifying as drone strikes.

    I do agree that if earth armies and professionnals get the ability to level-up it would be terrifying. But just as Earth can level-up, Innworld can learn. what would be the effect of Niers reading the Art of War… or Pallass’ ingeniers getting their hands on engineering.

    Heck, if someone like Teriarch saw a nuke, he could probably build another on the spot, after all, he did it for a much more complicated cellphone.

    Finally, our world is already of the edge of collapse, both environnemental and societal. We are much more fragile than we like to think and a war between worlds would probably mean a war between earth powers… it would be devastating for both worlds but it’s far from unbelievable than most people in any or both world would perish from such a conflict if it started in earnest…

    • “still fail to quickly defeat inferior forces”

      You’re thinking of insurgencies where those opposing the major militaries already live in country, don’t stick out, will be hidden or supported by locals, don’t get into direct conflict, use terrorism, constant low level fighting for years, etc.

      Yes those sorts of conflicts major militaries can lose because they get worn down over a period of years without a obvious enemy to fight and the smaller forces are able to effectively hide or run away.

      But Flos doesn’t know how to fight that sort of war, isn’t interested in really fighting that sort of war, and in the end can’t actually do that sort of thing, since you know, he’d be the invader. Flos knows how to do big battles with massed formations and physical combat troops backed up by short range magics (basically medieval combat) and how to delegate assassinations to kill strongmen/kings like himself.

      He tries those 2 methods against even a 3rd rate Earth military and him and his forces will be wiped out in a week. He won’t even be able to get his forces into visual range of the Earth forces before they’re all dead.

      “Most democracies would probaly need to have elections before any action is taken.”

      Hahahah, oh man, you need to take another look at what went down with the whole 9/11 business and the following wars. Or for that matter the 1st Gulf War. Or really any of them.

      “Plus, there would be many, probably a majority, that would want to avoid war unless directly attacked.”

      Flos is pretty clear that he wants to invade…..

      “However, biological weapons would hurt both worlds but the interconnectivness of earth makes it very vulnerable to a strike.”

      Except as a last ditch effort biological weapons aren’t a front line weapon and wouldn’t be used where they could spread easily to Earth forces.

      The biological weapons in use are used because they kill so fast you can drop them behind enemy lines and just run away for a week or so and then much of the enemy forces will be either dead or incapacitated. At that point the enemy forces that remain are “quarantined” via gun fire until the diseases run their course.

      “I could very well see the MAD doctrine being applicable to wars between both worlds powers”

      Nah. If the Wistram mages weren’t gimped than maybe.

      But they are gimped and artifacts are rare, seem to tend to be single use or have long and expensive “recharge” times, and are only brought out and used sparingly. Even the strongest of Innworld forces that have the strongest magics have to ration them carefully and even then those artifacts didn’t seem to be anywhere near on par with WMD’s or even some of the more powerful conventional weapons (ie. MOAB, BLU82, MLRS, etc).

      Remember Magnolia’s artifact that barely blew a hole in the bone dome to try and save the general? That was supposed to be pretty strong by their reckoning and it was only about as good as a single 120mm shell, at the most, in terms of damage. And her pink carriage, while awesome to read about, is less destructive and take less resistant to damage than a common IFV. That carriage is supposed to be pretty awesome compared to what everyone else has though, practically a one of a kind in current Innworld even if they were more common in the past, and even then its hinted at that Magnolia has a hard time coming up with the necessary magic to keep it running.

      Now think about the destruction a “small” tactical 20KT nuke could do. Or what a few hundred pounds of Sarin or VX could do to a massed army like Flos and Innworld have (either are literally hundreds of times more lethal than chlorine gas, they’re also battlefield persistent for days or weeks, and kill so fast when delivered via aerosol no curative is practical). Or something on par with the Bubonic Plague but faster acting released onto Innworld’s cities or armies via missile or gravity bomb while our forces keep a day or 2 away.

      There is no comparison if you want to talk about conventional weapons only and adding WMD’s to the mix just makes things absurd.

      “And what about covert war, here too it could go both way. ”

      Assassinations? Yeah Innworld will have a big advantage there actually. At least on any attacking forces going into Innworld. On Earth those assassins wouldn’t be able to do much good without their skills (remember magic won’t work on Earth) But assassinating a few people won’t stop a Earth army like it would a Innworld army that relies on a few high level skilled people for most of their defensive and offensive capabilities. Innworld armies and countries would get blown up so fast too that sabotage wouldn’t really have a chance to matter.

      “or Pallass’ ingeniers getting their hands on engineering.”

      They can barely make trebuchets (which are hilariously simple google them you’ll see) and elevators are their high tech. It takes years to learn to be a engineer or physicist and that assumes you understand the basic intro math (ie. algebra, trigonometry) which Innworld engineers probably don’t have. Remember Innworld’s armies are going to get wiped out in days or weeks, they don’t have any time to learn anything.

      Also as others have mentioned Earth tech is resource intensive and requires all kinds of machining and tooling that have to be set up to get stuff done. Its very impressive once it gets going but its also a logistical nightmare to keep it going. And Innworld is only about on par with a medieval society in terms of shipping and economics. They could copy a few guns at a incredible magical expense but nothing to change the course of a battle much less a war.

      “Heck, if someone like Teriarch saw a nuke, he could probably build another on the spot”

      True. But the dragon doesn’t care about mortal conflicts. And even for him the cellphone was expensive to copy.

      “Finally, our world is already of the edge of collapse, both environnemental and societal.”

      In a long term sense yes. In the time it’ll take to wipe out Innworld’s armies which miiiiight take months at the most? No that doesn’t matter.

      “it’s far from unbelievable than most people in any or both world would perish from such a conflict if it started in earnest”

      Assuming that if Flos somehow figures out how to invade the Earth and him and his forces can still use magic there he’ll initially kill tens to hundreds of thousands of Earthers if he goes Full Ghengis Khan (which would be horrible) but then he is going to get butchered and Innworld would get devastated if Earth figured out how to invade it.

      With how expensive it seems to be able to jump between worlds given what is going on in Rhir (remember they’re “spending” their children’s lives to get Earthers in the hope of “buying” a hero to solve their demon problem) a invasion of any sort isn’t going to happen but still its a fry cry from “most people on both worlds”.

      Now Pirate could always just go “you know what? Screw it. Mages can now bounce nukes and bullets right back at Earth forces easy peasy and inter-world travel now costs a penny. Why? Cuz’ I say so and its magic and its a fantasy story I don’t really have to explain a thing ***LOUD WET FARTY PLOPS PANTS SHARTIN’ NOISES***” but that doesn’t seem to be his/her style and would probably ruin the story permanently.

      Honestly the whole invasion thing never really made any sense to me from the get go. I mean Magnolia is so hyper competent at getting information for political purposes how wouldn’t she know what is going on in Rhir right now and put 2 and 2 together about what is going on with these Earther’s popping up? And Flos wouldn’t wonder that maybe 2 kids randomly showing up in front of him with no idea what happened is more of a rare mistake of some sort rather than the start of a invasion of sorts much less a invasion opportunity to him?

      • Look, I’m not saying that Flos would stand a chance if he directly brought his army to invade earth as soon as he finds some kind of portal. If that’s his strategy, I’d give him low odds of acheiving much.

        Everything depends on the scenario.

        For now, the only known way of travel is to abduct people from earth via a ritual performed in Innworld. In that scenario, people from Earth may end up in positions of power in Innworld or simply be used by the existing powers. In the long run, it ends up (re-)introducing new ideas and, probably, Innworld catching up to Earth’s standards.

        Perhaps it’s also possible that there is also a way for people to be sent to Earth from Innworld via some other ritual.

        Parhaps even creating a portal is possible. Even then, the most likely scenario is that the portal can only be opened with magic, thus if the KoD want to open such a portal he can wait to be prepared. Such a portal could probably only be opened and closed from Innworld’s side. Easy to send spies to collect info, sabotage, spread desinformation, dorm alliances, recruit/kidnap people, etc. In order for the Earth powers to do the same they’d need to realise that Innworld exists, find the portal while it’s opened, overwhelm the defenders of the portal, get to Innworld, subdue the caster maintaining the portal (else, if they kill him the few people who make it through the portal have to stay there until they find someone to create them a portal to come home).

        So unless there is some permanent portal, Earth can master the magic / science necessary to send people to Innworld or create a portal there, there is little way for Earth to invade (without inside allies).

        Now, magic probably doesn’t work on Earth, so there is that. Whether non-magical skills like [Enhanced strength], [Basic cooking] or [Sniper shot] are also disabled toatally or partially when on Earth is up in the air. But give Innworld a few years (or months, or decades) to assimilate information and methods from Earth and their production base would probably surpass Earth pretty fast despite the initial demographic disadvantage (with their much bigger planet that’s mostly unspoiled, a time dilatation favoring Innworld and the extra help of skills and magic).

        So, like I said, it can go either way, but I think that for Innworld to just get curbstomped, they’d need a few strategic mistakes…

        But most of all, it depends on how the contact between worlds occur.

        • “I’m not saying that Flos would stand a chance if he directly brought his army to invade earth as soon as he finds some kind of portal.”

          He has pretty much said he’ll do exactly that though. Flos already said he’ll demand the countries of Earth surrender to him and if they don’t (they won’t) he’ll destroy them all.

          And remember he is still just gonna use medieval tactics and armies. That is all he knows how to do and he won’t have time to learn or develop anything else.

          “In the long run, it ends up (re-)introducing new ideas and, probably, Innworld catching up to Earth’s standards.”

          In the very long run (like a century) sure it maybe could. So long as you had people like Magnolia able to unite if not the whole Innworld than at least a big chunk of it. Once they die it’d probably all fall apart though. They don’t really unite and work together except in instances of immediate threats like the Goblin King and then go right back to fighting eachother.

          “Parhaps even creating a portal is possible.”

          So far there is no indication of a cheap or easy inter-world portal or anything like that so I think its pointless to speculate about.

          Inter-world travel so still seems so expensive and difficult (along with being highly random who gets to go!) that its almost useless altogether so invasion talk is still fairly silly to say the least.

          “Whether non-magical skills like [Enhanced strength], [Basic cooking] or [Sniper shot] are also disabled toatally or partially when on Earth is up in the air”

          So far I think anything that uses magic in any way, and some of those skills you mentioned do, won’t work on Earth. Magic that gives knowledge (like cooking) will probably carry over to Earth since you’ll still retain that knowledge.

          “So, like I said, it can go either way,”

          Not on the time frames Magnolia or Flos are thinking of. They’re thinking of maybe a few years to prepare or build up stuff, not a century or more. Both would be dead of old age in those time frames.

          “I think that for Innworld to just get curbstomped, they’d need a few strategic mistakes…”

          Nah. The disparity in population size alone means Innworld is favored to get curbstomped from the get go. Probably less than 100 million people (including non-human sentients) on Innworld. Maybe even less than 50 million. And none of the countries really seem to work together, learning and education are at best apprentice and teacher models for the rich and nothing for anyone else, medieval era style shipping, medieval era style materials and mining and manufacture, etc.

          Innworld is so far outstripped in every way its not really reasonable to think they could hold their own or win in a war on Earth short of, like I’ve said before, the author breaking the book and letting them have easy access to magic that defeats most any attack.

          • “He has pretty much said he’ll do exactly that though. Flos already said he’ll demand the countries of Earth surrender to him and if they don’t (they won’t) he’ll destroy them all.”
            where did he say that? I searched the entire chapter and ones of the past and he said that nowhere, he said he is preparing in case a war started and both sides are sending armies.

            I feel like you are projecting a lot on him in many of your assumptions here and elsewhere in your comments

            • Its in the above chapter. He phrases it roughly has “I’d request their surrender” but he is being facetious there and knows already that won’t happen and fully expects to invade.

              Which is why I said “pretty much said” and not “exactly said”.

              Projecting?? I’ve given examples of their power to gauge Innworld’s power and chances based on what has been in the chapters vs actual Earth weapons or industry. Yeah not everything is exact but it can’t be given the information we have to work with as a comparison. How exactly is that projecting?

          • You are ignoring my most important point, it’s from Innworld that comes the only known way to interdimensional travel.

            For now, they can abduct people though human sacrifices and that’s the only way of travel. If that remains the case, the only conflicts possible would be between summoned humans and Flos for exemple. Since the humans only bring what they have on them and in their mind, Flos has the advantage for the medium term because he’s an established power and the people summoned start from the bottom.

            IF there are some upgrades made to the ritual to either send people from Innworld to Earth individually, summon specific people from Earth or even build some kind of temporary portal, the advantage remains with Innworld because there is no magic on Earth. Even, in the case that Innworld invades, all they lose is the forces they sent, then they can analyse their defeat and plan to avoid it next time. Earth countries are basicly in a passive situation where they don’t know where or when the enemy will attack.

            Meanwhile, Flos has all the time in the world to learn from it’s mistakes (even more so considering the time dillatation between worlds).

            Unless Flos makes the mistake of giving control of a portal mage/device to earth’s power he can’t REALLY lose…

            Personally, I think that the easiest way to conquer earth for earth would be to come alone with a small group of advisors. If some of the non-magical skills (Ex : charisma, strenght, agility, perception, etc.) work on our world, they’d probably be the equivalent of superhumans. From there, they only have to use their superior abilities to infiltrate a world power like the USA, the EU or China and use their abilities to initiate a coup then use the country as a powerbase.

            • “You are ignoring my most important point,”

              I’m not ignoring, I’m mostly dismissing it for reasons already given (its an expensive and essentially random means of grabbing people from Earth, many of whom seem to end up randomly all over Innworld too!).

              Flos having an advantage with the current means of inter-world travel is mostly meaningless because he still has to be able to invade Earth and so far there are no means to do so.

              You can certainly speculate about what might happen with one but until we know one exists and the gotchas that go along with using the thing (and there is almost certain to be big gotchas if it does exist) its pointless to speculate.

              We could go back and forth on the maybes and whatifs forever and go nowhere until Pirate puts a Earth to Innworld (or vice versa) portal in the story. Until then talking about possibilities that haven’t even been hinted at as correct in story is pointless.

              “Flos has all the time in the world to learn from it’s mistakes (even more so considering the time dillatation between worlds).”

              AFAIK there is no indication of time dilation, all the Earthers appear to be from around the same time period, and Flos will be dead of old age long before Innworld has modernized enough to be a threat to Earth even if a portal does exist.

              • “Flos having an advantage with the current means of inter-world travel is mostly meaningless because he still has to be able to invade Earth and so far there are no means to do so.”

                I mean, unless you want to go even further in speculation (like Earth creating a scientific way to travel dimensions), the whole premise of your argument that Earth would win a conflict IS that there would be a way to travel between world…

                If there is no way, you’re whole argument is worthless.

                And if travel between world is possible, then according to past precedent, it’s gonna be based in Innworld, with Innworld having control over it. Thus ending in asymetric warfare where Earth is hard pressed to play on it’s strenght while Innworld, barring major mistakes, has the initiative.

                Just look at how troublesome ISIS has been using mostly stolen military hardware and the resentment of the dissaffected… and this is but one method, countries like North Korea would probaly be glad to just sell tech and weapons if a representative of the KoD approached him.

                You dismiss my scenarios, but they’re probably much more likely than you’re own… which also necessitate a way for Innworld to invade lol, and it would probably be much harder to lead a whole army through a permanent portal as you seem to imply than to simply kindnap people for their knowledge (which has already been done) or just send a few spies, saboteurs and diplomats without giving Earth a way to enter their own realm.

                Right now, the status co is favoring Innworld since they get knowledge from the people that have been summoned without risking an invasion. Even the KoD seem to want to somewhat unite his world before focusing on Earth.

                In the end, I must reiterate that I don’t mean that any conflict would end in a KoD victory, that’s just silly… as silly as your idea that Earth would win any scenario of conflict against Innworld (the fact that you need to dismiss the very idea that Innworld would control any way of travel between world is pretty telling in itself lol).

                • “the whole premise of your argument that Earth would win a conflict IS that there would be a way to travel between world…If there is no way, you’re whole argument is worthless.”

                  You are right!

                  I was responding, to what seemed to me, to be mostly people assuming that Innworld would either hold its own in a fight against Earth or even win that fight which all seemed incredibly strange to me and rubbed me the wrong way to say the least.

                  The whole thing is based on assumptions (very very much ASS-U-ME) of course and so fairly silly but, in my perhaps weak defense, I tried to keep things to practical comparisons of real world weapons and methods that would’ve been actually used by either side in such a fight and as close as I can to how the actual characters themselves would probably respond given their knowledge and personality.

                  There is a point, for me at least, where extrapolations and whatifs and maaaybes get to be too far from the story and we can tilt things either which way depending on how you (or I, yes I’ve got biases too you know) want to and then I lose interest.

                  “Just look at how troublesome ISIS has been been using mostly stolen military hardware and the resentment of the dissaffected”

                  The region they’re in had plenty of weapons to steal on hand and the corrupt and ineffective govt. personnel to help make it possible. You try that sort of thing in China, EU, or US and see how well things turn out. Also I doubt foreign invaders who are also slavers (which Flos is) are going to be able to engender much sympathy towards Innworld forces from defeated Earth civillians.

                  The dissaffected poor of Earth will likely just have a new group to hate even more than the current crop of rich global oligarchs and rentiers running around ruining everything.

                  “as silly as your idea that Earth would win any scenario of conflict against Innworld”

                  Any scenario?

                  I’ve essentially said before that given enough time Innworld could be a real threat or at least hold off an attack by Earth forces….. BUT I’ve also said the time frames are unworkable (a century or so) given Flos/Magnolia’s likely lifespan.

                  I’ve focused on likely scenarios and situations based on what information we’ve got and I think I’m quite correct.

                  “he fact that you need to dismiss the very idea that Innworld would control any way of travel between world is pretty telling in itself lol”

                  Where are hints or information so far in story that they could? Its pure unfounded speculation! So far what little information we do have about inter-world travel suggests that anything will be very expensive and come with gotchas. Why ignore or downplay that?

                  For all you or I know a portal may exist BUT it wipes your memory if you step through. Or it costs lives to use the portal either which way (say 2-3 people have to die for each person sent through). Or the portal is cheap and easy to use but deposits you randomly anywhere on the destination planet. Or its cheap and easy to use and you can set the portal exit anywhere you need it to be but has such a long “recharge time” between uses that makes mass transit impractical….etc etc etc. Much of the really powerful magic on Innworld so far seems to always have some gotchas built in by default.

                  The author might not make it that way but the author might do anything!

                  “Also, as for the speed of industrialisation, you don’t seem to account for the effect of magic, numerous races, classes and skills…”

                  I’m assuming they’re about the same as people here but with way worse (medevial era) communications, balkanized global politics, medevial economies, pretty much non-existent education, etc.

                  Skills are a huge equalizer on a person to person basis as far producing things and they’ll beat any Earther in that comparison as far as producing stuff their Skills allow them to.

                  The thing is Skills only go so far.

                  The author has already pretty much said so in story already by pointing out how tech doesn’t really seem to advance much at all and how civilizations keep collapsing and have to essentially start over from scratch.

                  Skills essentially seem to give limited knowledge and allow for manipulating of things in very practical ways that would require a machine to duplicate here on Earth BUT they don’t necessarily give understanding of the underlying fundamentals nor do they give the user the critical thinking skills to invent new stuff or reapply existing stuff in new ways. That is all left to the Skill user to make happen.

                  If anything many of the crafting Skill users are functioning on a sort of “autopilot” once they’re going about making things. The exact opposite of what you need to do in order to understand something!! You need to use your brain to apply science and they’re not doing it!!!

                  So yes if you show them how to build a gun barrel by hand they can crank them out shockingly well for manual labor based production! But give them a text book on metallurgy or linear algebra or chemistry (all needed if you want to produce smokeless powder, primers, and necessarily strong metals at economic volumes and prices since magic is too expensive and scarce to do it all with) and tell them to produce guns or bombs or radios that fit their means of production and resources and economies and they’ll be hopelessly lost.

                  You’d have to educate them, build the tooling, set up the shipping lanes, set up the infrastructure, set up etc. It just takes a hell of a lot of time to get any of it done. Having to “only” (very much scare quotes there BTW) copy instead of innovate will help some but copying only goes so far. They’ll eventually have to innovate since not all means and methods on Earth will be practical on Innworld and magic doesn’t help a bit there. And Innworlders are reeaaallllyyy bad at innovation, their reliance on Skills have, perversely, hobbled them there.

                  • Fine, I do agree that Innworld would need to leverage it’s advantages to stand a chance anyway.

                    I do think that I made a point that there are at least a few scenarios where the KoD coud pretty much compete with with earth, even thought some conditions are needed and he needs to play his cards right (don’t go full Ghengis or open a way for earth to invade lol).

                    Also, I think you underestimate the KoD. He’s shown to not be the one to provoke his enemy uselessly and to be quite adept at ploting. Bringing an army in downtown New York and Tokyo to slaughter the populace would be contrary to his established character. Also, just look at how he played the populace of his two latest conquests, I have no doubt he’d be charismatic (and manipulative) enough to lead an ISIS-like rebellion if he wanted to (or to negotiate the buying of tech and weaponry).

                    As for the speed of industrialisation, what I meant was that magic, skills and co. would permit to bypass many of the bottleneck a nation faces while wanting to industrialize (boosting food production, building machines to build machines, keeping the chain of cold, etc.). Heck, with a bit of imagination even the demographic deficit could be relatively quickly bridged by quick spawning races (Ex: Lizardfolk, goblins, antinium, undead,etc.)

                    But frankly I don’t even think that we really disagree anymore. It just that like you where triggered by Flos being so arrogant, I was triggered by your hypothetical criticism of a future choice of the author to have Flos be able to fight Earth powers like it was impossible. Because I’m frankly sure that if Pirate would decided to go that way, it would probably make sense.

                    • “Fine, I do agree that Innworld would need to leverage it’s advantages to stand a chance anyway….But frankly I don’t even think that we really disagree anymore.”

                      I think on the likely outcome we’d mostly agree but would differ greatly on details.

                      For instance yes I’d say Flos is pretty far from stupid but he knows how to handle leaders like himself and people of a sort very similar to his medevial-ish era society. Many approaches and tactics that work well for him in Innworld will fail utterly on Earth.

                      “Bringing an army in downtown New York and Tokyo to slaughter the populace would be contrary to his established character….I have no doubt he’d be charismatic (and manipulative) ”

                      I’d disagree here. He has all but said he’ll crush any group that doesn’t bow to him eventually and modern cities don’t work at all the way he thinks they do (cities in a medevial era were pretty much like nations unto themselves with strong local rulers who often had lots of leeway or even total control of how the city itself was ran, that isn’t usually true of a modern city and certainly not Tokyo or NY where many issues like defense or trade laws are controlled by a higher govt. power like the federal govt.) and when he does defeat a city he’ll enslave however many people he wants both to pay for the conquering of the city and as a form of punishment.

                      Flos is only charming, empathetic, or respective of those who are useful to him and his ambitions. If you don’t fall into one of those groups then he’ll treat you like that little girl whose parents he killed at best and dismiss your anger at his actions in a snide and arrogant manner. At worst he’ll send you and your family off to the slavers and you get to watch your mom/sisters/nieces get turned into rape slaves while you get worked to death in some hellish pit for the rest of your short life. Slavery in a medevial society was generally a pretty horrible.

                      His “charisma” for the common man is all tied up in his ability to kill them and their families or do worse to them if they don’t do what he says. Which makes sense given that he is a medievial style king. They were generally all pretty horrible to say the least by today’s standards and even groups like ISIS would have a hard time tolerating dealing with him. Google the history leading up to the the Jacqueries and Enclosure if you want practical examples of how awful in general kings like Flos were to the common man much less slaves, peons, and serfs.

                      Whatever subtle victories you could imagine a guy like Flos could get would end up being quickly reversed once it was found out what he was doing to the captured and defeated.

                      “As for the speed of industrialisation, what I meant was that magic, skills and co. would permit to bypass many of the bottleneck a nation faces while wanting to industrialize (boosting food production, building machines to build machines, keeping the chain of cold, etc.).”

                      Its venturing into spoilers for me to comment on this with any detail but its already been pretty heavily hinted that anything like you’re talking about is short term only and also comes with commensurate consequences in Innworld. There are no free lunches possible.

                      “Heck, with a bit of imagination even the demographic deficit could be relatively quickly bridged by quick spawning races”

                      Even with all food, political, and land issues eliminated you’d still be talking decades to catch up with Earth’s demographics. And then they’d run into the same ecosystem destroying issues we’re dealing with today (ie. global warming, pollution, over population, etc).

              • As for time dillatation (or probably just disconnection) there where clues about it, however, I was mistaken about it necessarly disavantaging Earth as in at least on of the case, a few months in Innworld equated much longer on Earth… in an other case, thousands of years in Innworld seemed to have equated a few hundred years on Earth so I’ll conceed that point not to be valid.

              • Also, as for the speed of industrialisation, you don’t seem to account for the effect of magic, numerous races, classes and skills…

                It would probably be much faster than you think for Innworld to catch up if it really tried…

      • “Remember Magnolia’s artifact that barely blew a hole in the bone dome to try and save the general? That was supposed to be pretty strong by their reckoning and it was only about as good as a single 120mm shell, at the most, in terms of damage.”

        While I agree in general with your post, this part is pretty inaccurate. You might want to refresh your memory about what the lightning artifact actually did:

        ***4.49***
        A bolt, a beam, a cascade of lightning burst forth from the mouth of the tube, cutting through the bemused ranks of Goblin soldiers and some of the Humans too close to the radius of the blast. The lightning did not fry those it touched—rather, it vaporized them. It left a trail of melted ground and smoke around fifteen feet wide as it shot across the battlefield. It hit the bone of dome—
        **********
        A 15-foot wide (4.572 meters) cylinder of destruction stretching across the length of an entire battlefield, energetic enough to vaporize armored people and flash-melt the ground beneath it. (with explicit mention that the people weren’t merely fried/charred, but actually vaporized)

        Let’s say that Magnolia was half a kilometer away from the dome and that the ground was fairly flat and level. A cylinder 2.286 meters in radius and 500 meters in length would have a volume of 8,208.66 cubic meters, with close to half of that intersecting the ground. That’s around 4,104 cubic meters of dirt and stone turned to lava just as a side-effect of the beam’s passing, requiring temperatures just below what’s required to melt iron at a minimum.

        I can’t find any hard sources for how much energy would be required to raise the temperature of soil and rock to that degree, but suffice it to say that a solid line of modern tanks placed underneath the beam’s length would definitely be mission-killed just from the side-effects of its passage.

        Vaporizing people is a little easier to gauge. It takes roughly 3.1 gigajoules of energy to fully vaporize the average human body, (let alone an armored one) and we can be reasonably confident that the beam’s path took it past dozens, if not hundreds of targets. (now, if you assume that it ‘just’ turned all the water in their bodies to steam and left behind skeletons/armor, the amount of energy required per person goes down to 142 megajoules, which is still insane)

        That’s -way- more destructive force than a 120mm shell can put out, (6.1 megajoules for a KEW-A1 120mm round) or a TLAM-C cruise missile, (1.9 gigajoules) or even several full broadsides from an Iowa-class battleship’s 406mm cannons. (530 megajoules per 16-inch explosive shell, 9 cannons, so 4.77 gigajoules per broadside, not counting the smaller guns)

        All told, we’re really talking small nuke territory here, compressed into a focused beam instead of an omnidirectional blast. (and the scary part is that that’s just the side-effects of its passage. Presumably the bulk of its energy was expended on the magically-reinforced target rather than squandered on incidental stuff to the sides)

        I mean, we have plenty of stuff that’d make it look like a firecracker and the rarity of such artifacts makes them a joke compared to how many of our own high-end weapons we can crank out, (especially if we saw reason to abandon our nuclear proliferation treaties and went back to Cold War-era levels of nuke production) but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s still an -extremely- impressive attack, even by our standards.

        Tank-level firepower is more on the level of spells like Grand Fireball. (and even that is closer to heavy artillery than to tank firepower judging by the way it’s able to obliterate buildings)

        (disclaimer: I’m well aware that the number of joules a weapon releases is hardly the only factor in determining its destructive potential or effectiveness, but it certainly helps give you a ballpark idea of what you’re dealing with)

        • You’re absolutely right that in terms of raw energy Magnolia’s weapon beats the heck out of 120mm cannon round but in terms of overall lethality (people dead) and destructive effect (penetration on the dome) I still contend they’re overall pretty much the same. That is why I spoke of effect and not joules.

          Essentially she spent a HELL of a lot of energy for an effect about on par with a 120mm round. Technically (very) impressive but grossly inefficient.

          • You seem to be thinking of the dome as some sort of mundane structure made of conventional bone, not a reinforced magical construct strong enough to laugh off strikes from someone whose claws can shred steel like tissue paper, or withstand the force exerted on it from pulverizing giant metal golems as it grew back in place, (without chipping or cracking from the pressure) ignored mass bombardment from ordinary mage spells that have been established as the sort of thing that can level buildings, or partially withstood a blow from what’s essentially a small nuke in concentrated beam form. (all of which are things ordinary bone would be woefully suited for)

            Judging by what we see the beam do to the environment just as a side-effect of its passage, a 120mm shell would likely just bounce off the magic dome without so much as scratching it. (unless for some unfathomable reason the beam is expending 99.9% of its energy on its surroundings and only delivering a pittance to the target, but that seems unlikely)

            It doesn’t seem like it’s meant to be a weapon for clearing out armies, but an almost surgical tool meant for annihilating VIPs and crushing all but the very most potent magical defenses around them. She presumably has other artifacts for AoE work. (such as whatever artifact she alluded to in the Ryoka chapter where she claimed that she could kill tens of thousands of soldiers in minutes)

            Again, their biggest weakness comes from the fact that their high-end stuff is so rare and hard to replace compared to our own industrialized production capabilities, not that their high end stuff fails to measure up to our own military technology on an individual basis.

            Their best stuff can make a good show against our best stuff 1v1, but where their best stuff is rare and borderline-irreplaceable, ours is mass-produced and expendable. They have what it takes to win individual battles, but not the war.

            • The golems were incredibly strong vs soldiers and the medieval quality steel and iron armor they have but in terms of power they’re still incredibly weak vs the destructive capability of even light artillery.

              The magic the mages were tossing around during the battle didn’t seem anywhere near as strong as Typenous’ stuff and even that would probably struggle to “level buildings” unless used for prolonged time periods which probably aren’t practical for most mages to use.

              The weapon Magnolia used was in terms of joules comparable to a very small nuke but the way the energy was expended made it grossly inefficient to do much of anything. Nukes are incredibly destructive because of their explosive power and the overpressure wave it generates and can tear apart ferroconcrete bunkers. You’re right that an “energy beam” sort of thing like Magnolia used would be very strong against a single high level opponent but against structures it’d probably be very weak and wouldn’t do much damage to a large army because its essentially a “point” directed energy weapon.

              Modern artillery shells aren’t just simple steel projectiles so it won’t just bounce off. They have complex fuses that either detonate the shell just before contact, at contact, or after penetrating a certain depth depending on the desired effect.

              Yes I’m sure she has other weapons with AoE capabilities but there really hasn’t been any hints of them being able to do stuff like wipe out small armies or destroy small medevial era type cities in one go. There have been hints that maybe the old Wistram Archmages could do some of that stuff but they aren’t around anymore and no one else (well Tericarch could but otherwise no one, and he doesn’t seem interested in stepping in) seems capable of removing the block on the upper floors so there probably won’t be any either.

              I think even winning more than a battle or 2 would be a stretch for Innworld forces vs Earth forces if it ever came to that. If the Earth field commanders were pretty stupid, Innworld forces had a tactical advantage or 2, and Innworld forces had much higher numbers of men (and were willing to spend those lives massively) and plenty of fire power than yes the Earth forces can lose that battle but that is a lot of things you have to have go in favor of the Innworld forces and even then I wouldn’t say Innworld would be guaranteed to win that fight. Even then it’d be a pyrrhic victory.

              Yes I would agree that Earth being to cheaply and quickly manufacture its fire power is a overwhelming trump card.

              But even ignoring that the ground forces ranged fire power differential alone is just too great. Add in things like hugely better comms, muuuuch better mobility, overwhelmingly better airforce, tanks, artillery, Earth’s army sizes, etc. (without adding in stuff like WMD’s) and there is just no comparison.

              • “The golems were incredibly strong vs soldiers and the medieval quality steel and iron armor they have but in terms of power they’re still incredibly weak vs the destructive capability of even light artillery.”

                That’s not what I was referring to there. If you tried to use ordinary bone to crush a large bulky statue made of solid metal, it would buckle, shatter, and be ground into dust from the pressure required long before the metal started to deform. In order to crush the golems while retaining its form unharmed like we saw it do, the enchanted bone it’s made of has to be much, -much- more durable than actual bone. (a conclusion which is supported by the other things it was able to shrug off)

                A 120mm tank shell would certainly put a big hole in a dome made of ordinary bone, but what leads you to believe that it would do the same to a supernaturally durable enchanted shell of bone that was only penetrated by a concentrated beam with the energy equivalent of a small nuke?

                “Modern artillery shells aren’t just simple steel projectiles so it won’t just bounce off. They have complex fuses that either detonate the shell just before contact, at contact, or after penetrating a certain depth depending on the desired effect.”

                Figure of speech. Also, explosive artillery shells and kinetic penetrators are entirely different classes of weapon.

                • Yes the bone dome was clearly stronger bone than regular stuff but the golems being able to cut into medevial quality metals (which were quite bad usually) but having trouble with the dome isn’t a good indicator IMO of how strong it was really given the, generally, crap quality of medevial metals. I’m assuming it was about as roughly strong and hard as common cheaper concrete (3-4K psi stuff) over all though unreinforced without steel rebar so it would still be hard but brittle and shatter in large chunks when it did break.

                  Yes kinetic penetrators are a whole different class of shell but what does that have to do with what I was saying? I’m assuming they’d use explosive ones (which are common and would work fine for pretty much any medevial fortification) ones and not one meant for penetrating tank armor which would probably zip right through but leave a small hole and only spray a relatively small portion of the interior of the dome with fragments and hot gases. Explosive shells couldn’t bounce off no matter what (instant contact is common) and yes some are designed to penetrate a bit (usually fractions of a inch or in mm but still helps lots) before they go off. Also makes sense given the goal (try to save the general) so they’d need a bigger hole.

    • @Sparsebeard,
      You took the words right out of my mouth, at what I wanted to say too.
      Inn world have different standards compared to earth.

      Engineers can just built trebuchet out of nowhere just by gaining knowledge through levels, people can Survive being thrown off a cliff just by leveling, become better runners, swimmer, etc than the best earth can offer just by leveling.
      That’s excluding the boastes the extra knowledge and magic can o with that too.

  16. One of the things I enjoy is when the younger members of Earth attempt to talk about the weapons that Earth has, as if they were the most dangerous things that could get into the world. Even Ryoka kept falling into that line of thinking. Flos has the right of it, at least based on what Teres was attempting to brag about. Magnolia understood that they had plenty of counterpoints to guns and aircrafts and tanks as well. But very few have touched on what about Earth would REALLY change this world though.

    Thank you for the chapter. I wish I could afford to support you, but I catch up on every chapter as soon as I can with every new one 🙂

    • Ryoka’s (via the emperor) intro of trebuchets nearly got Liscor destroyed.

      Had that came to pass it would’ve changed everything in the wars between the drakes and humans and the drake cities could’ve been seriously threatened or even defeated by the humans.

      Point is that Earth’s weapons, even medieval era ones that are a joke by the standards of militaries a century or more ago, really are that deadly and that much of a game changer to be a real threat to Innworld’s armies and governments.

      Magnolia and Flos brushing off these much more modern weapons (even things like nukes!!) is them being either unimaginative or just a arrogance born out of ignorance of what they’re facing.

      I’d also point out those trebuchets weren’t countered via some clever tactic or really much of anything on Magnolia’s or Liscor’s part either. Yeah she gave a early warning but that warning wouldn’t have changed the course of things, it came too late.

      It took a miracle (Erin getting the goblins to fight other goblins on Liscor’s behalf, which no one, not even her it was a spur of the moment thing, saw coming) to save the city.

      • “Had that came to pass it would’ve changed everything in the wars between the drakes and humans and the drake cities could’ve been seriously threatened or even defeated by the humans.”

        Remember Pices thinking the walled cities incorporated dragon bone. No such thing for Liscor.

        • They may have dragon bone in them which would make them stronger than Liscor’s walls, but that probably wouldn’t have mattered much given how everyone thought of the trebuchets as some sort of defense nullifying trump card.

          Instead of hours or a day or 2 perhaps the walls of the stronger drake cities would’ve fallen in a week or a month of bombardment from the trebuchets.

          That sort of siege may not have been practical with Liscor under drake control but human control the human armies could protect their supply lines and rear guard more effectively make sieges of that sort possible. To me that seemed to be the whole end goal (as part of Tyrion’s revenge on the drakes).

  17. I don’t think it would be difficult for Flos to understand what a god is… How else do they think the world was created?

  18. It’s an interesting question on if modern technology could win against magic and levels but so far after seeing what Mars can Survive it would take a missile or something stronger to take her out

    • Naaaah.

      If something like a trebuchet can defeat the magic shields and walls of any of the cities, and her magic shields are probably about on par with a small city’s like Liscor, then smaller munitions would wipe her out easy.

      None of the weapons being used on her are all that strong in comparison to even black powder cannons or guns of over a century ago and those were good enough to make any stone fortifications worthless. And even small man portable anti tank rockets like a AT4 or a Carl Gustav can penetrate over a foot thick of RHA plating.

        • You’re probably right, but they still had to get to the towns shields to destroy the gate right?

          Even then given how the residents and guards of Liscor were talking it was guaranteed that the trebuchets would breach the walls in a fairly short time.

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