7.03

“Pallass is under attack.”

It was one of those sentences that you could say too many times. And it was such an innocuous set of words. Pallass is under attack.

If you had no idea of the Walled City the name referred to, much less the significance of that statement, the line would pass you by. In Baleros’ cities, many might ask where that was, or which city. They might recognize it, but again, only from afar. It was not their continent, not their species. Who cared?

But that was a terribly selfish point of view. Understandable, but selfish. Who cared what happened if one of the Drake Walled Cities fell?

The answer was: everyone. Everyone who thought about the future. About the position of the Drakes and their feud with the Human-controlled north. Who knew of the placement of the Antinium Hives. Anyone who knew the Necromancer of Terandria lived.

Not just Drakes. In the Blighted King’s courts, King Othius the Fourth felt a chill. His court fell silent. Yes, it was the Blighted Kingdom of Rhir, separated by thousands of miles from Izril’s politics. And yes, most of Rhir’s people would have laughed at the petty wars and challenges that the Izrilian people regarded as important.

However, the people of Rhir also knew that their arms, the steel they used in battle against their ancient foe was wrought of metal mined in other continents. Shipped across seas by fleets of other nations. And Drakes bled on Rhir’s soil, dying far from home to fulfill ancient oaths.

“Send for my court of war. Bring me more scrying devices.”

Othius looked to his left. Nereshal, his steward, bowed. The [Chronomancer] swept from the room, moving at a walk—but still faster than the running messengers who had brought the news. And Othius looked into the scrying orb that had been placed on the pedestal before him. His nobility stood silent, watchful. Wary.

For anyone who thought Rhir could stand against the Demons alone was a fool. And now, the Blighted King had seen one of the six pillars that held up the Drake species shake. He looked into the scrying glass and saw.

 

—-

 

“Wyverns.”

The King of Destruction looked up. His eyes sharpened as he balanced the tiny scrying orb on his palm. He stared into the orb. It was indeed an odd thing, to see an event unfolding across the world in a moment’s notice. Stranger still to think it was commonplace in another world.

But scrying orbs had existed since anyone could remember. The odd thing was that there was now a system in place, and a mentality that allowed events to be broadcast the world over. Wistram was behind it; Flos had heard the shrill sound and flash from the scrying orb. That in itself was highly suspicious, and the King of Destruction had not appreciated the thought that his scrying orb was a vessel that could be…found.

Gazi the Omniscient liked it as much as her [King]. All but one of the half-Gazer’s eyes were fixed on the scrying orb, and narrowed. She looked at the King of Destruction.

“My lord.”

“I know, Gazi. So that’s the way of it, is it?”

Flos stared into the scrying orb thoughtfully. He shook his head, ruefully.

“You warned me as much. But I will take this as confirmation. Still—”

He paused, and grinned.

“It’s too much of a lure for me to resist the bait. Pallass is under attack? Amerys couldn’t break Zeres. And Wyverns, of all things?”

The King of Destruction grinned like a hunting wolf.

“Have you fought such beasts, Gazi? I’ve encountered them only twice.”

“Yes, my lord. They are native to Izril. Chandrar is inhospitable to most species.”

“And how dangerous are they?”

Gazi thoughtfully paused.

“You have fought Griffins, my lord?”

“Of course. Can you ride Wyverns?”

“Yes. And they are larger than Griffins. Scaled. These look like variants of the species. Stronger.”

Flos Reimarch grew more interested by the second.

“[Griffin Riders] were always a dangerous force. Do the Drakes have [Wyvern Riders]?”

“Fissival. Orthenon would know more.”

“Yes. Fascinating. I’d love to be there. And this is the way of it. Whenever something happens now, it must be…”

Flos waved a hand at the scrying orb, and his tone suggested distaste as much as mild interest. He glanced at Gazi. Then at the orb.

“And we watch. I am beginning to understand more of what Trey and Teres tell me about entertainment in their world.”

“Yes, your Majesty.”

“And one more thing.”

Flos Reimarch looked into the scrying orb. And his eyes stared past the scene of Pallass in chaos. He ignored the frantic Drake’s voice as Noass shouted at Lyonette, and the view swung to The Wandering Inn. One of Gazi’s eyes locked into the image, and Relc’s and Klbkch’s faces. But Flos Reimarch stared into the orb itself. At the magical glass.

“How convenient of Wistram to broadcast this image the world over. Do you see me, Archmage Feor?”

He leaned over the orb. And across the world, a [Diviner] monitoring the spell felt her heart skip a beat as the King of Reim looked straight at her. She backed up and the other [Mages] staring back through the magical connection froze. Flos Reimarch’s voice was pleasant.

“Give me back Amerys. Show her to me, Archmage. I am losing my patience. And I will break your academy to find her.”

That was all he said. Then the King of Destruction sat back and his gaze focused on the image in the scrying orb. He looked at Gazi.

“Even so, fascinating.”

Flos clapped his hands and the door opened.

“Your majesty?”

He turned to the [Servant].

“Go to the treasury, and find a larger scrying orb. I’m sure we looted one from Germina or Hellios. Fetch me Trey and Teres as well. And Mars—send her a [Message] to find a scrying orb.”

The [Servant] bowed. Flos sighed as he sat back. He nodded to Gazi.

“This would be an opportune time to try that ‘popcorn’ Trey kept telling me about, wouldn’t it?”

She smiled. The King of Destruction clapped his hands again. Then he began watching. Such was the luxury of a spectator, and perhaps, the arrogance of [Kings]. But it was true that the world over, people were watching.

And why not? It was one thing to hear of battles won, and great events. Another to see them as they happened. This world was caught by a phenomenon Trey and Teres were well aware of. Flos had yet to put a name to it, but he already saw it, even if he could not yet grasp what it might become. That strange thing.

Spectacle.

 

—-

 

They watched the world over. Niers Astoragon paused in a lunch with Foliana. He looked up.

Wyverns hit Pallass? Impossible. They have a Tier 7, city-wide defensive spell. And the spell is powered by their walls. Even a regular [Mage] capable of hitting them with Tier 7 spells wouldn’t be able to break through.”

“Mm. Wyverns can’t do it usually. Pass the butter.”

Foliana agreed. Niers ignored her; the butter saucer moved past him as Foliana picked it up.

“They must have been caught off-guard. Typical. That’s how they get you. Millions of gold pieces of enchantments and thousands of [Soldiers] and some idiot forgets to activate a spell. Even so—those must be Frost Wyverns. See the snow?”

The [Grandmaster Strategist] was already thinking out loud.

“Bestiary. There must be something on Wyvern abilities. Either they flew above Pallass’ line of sight—creating a blizzard and flying in by stealth? No—get me the [Messages] from the Walled Cities. And a bestiary on Wyverns. All of them.”

He turned to the officer who’d brought him the news. The Titan sat back as Foliana peered at the scrying orb.

“It made a sound.”

The Titan nodded. He leaned back; Foliana had coincidentally placed the butter so that it would obstruct the scrying mirror’s view of the Fraerling. In cover, Niers raised a finger, touched one eye, then traced ‘W’ in the air. Foliana blinked once with both eyes. Neither his face or the Squirrel Beastkin’s moved an inch as he sat forwards.

“Foliana, put that butter somewhere else. There’s enough there to stop my heart five times over.”

“Mm.”

She moved it. Niers Astoragon looked at the scrying orb. Unconsciously, one hand drummed on the table. He had nothing to gain or lose by Pallass’ falling. He knew of the Antinium of course, but from where Niers sat, the fate of a Walled City was less important. Like Flos, he was just an interested member of the worldwide audience.

Except that wasn’t entirely true. If you were looking—and no one but Foliana was—you might see the slightest, tiniest clues of stress on the Fraerling. He told himself it was nothing. It was Pallass, not Liscor. But his eyes searched the inn as Noass turned to face the magic door.

“Help. Someone—”

Niers ignored the Drake’s voice. He stared into the inn. Looking at faces he recognized, vaguely. But searching. Searching for her.

He didn’t see her. And the Titan’s fingers drummed faster on the tiny lunch table. He told himself that he didn’t know. That it was just a guess. Not to make assumptions. And after all, it was Pallass. There was no way. But he didn’t see her. And the Titan of Baleros watched, searching for a face.

Foliana watched too. She watched her old friend staring at the scrying orb. And her attention was more on him than the events in the City of Invention. Because Wyverns were just monsters. But what she saw was fascinating. Slowly, ever so slowly, she lifted a raw egg to her mouth and slurped it down. The Squirrel-woman paused.

“Nasty.”

 

—-

 

If the world was a map, and attention a flickering point of light, then the words summoned a growing sea of lights. First, they flickered on and off, like fireflies. But then there was a swell, a gathering of light from every continent. Some came for idle amusement, others to speculate on the future, for personal gain or because the news affected them in ways large or small.

A father watched his daughter in a scrying pool. A sister nearly choked on the spoonful of gelato as her suitor stared at her in consternation. She dabbed the sticky liquid from her neckline, biting back an exclamation.

“Isn’t that…?”

A young woman’s face, so changed that only her family would be sure, sure it was her. And even then, not completely. Others looked upon the Antinium and shuddered. The Blighted King stared at his foes and his eyes narrowed.

But these were passing sights. The image reflected in the scrying orb was of one thing alone. The attack on Pallass. And the world watched.

…But damn the world. Who cared what they thought? The sentence screamed across the Drake cities, far louder there than anywhere else. It mattered to Izril. Tyrion Veltras watched with cold attention, neither smiling nor frowning. Magnolia Reinhart clutched her dress, white-knuckled. And they were only Humans.

In Manus, the war council sprinted into the meeting room where the scrying orb had been set up. [Hunt Commander] Makhir nearly ran down General Milka. He was panting from the run from the walls.

Dragonspeaker Luciva Skybreath was only a beat behind the others. She charged into the room, and the [Strategist] whirled. In the inner keep of Manus, Luciva could hear more shouts as Wall Lords and Ladies, and the other protectors of the City of War scrambled for a room to see the situation for themselves.

Report!

She bellowed. The [Strategist] replied at a shout even as Rafaema stopped, nearly colliding with Luciva’s back. The young Drake woman flexed her wings. She’d flown here. The others clustered around the scrying orb as the Gnoll [Strategist] spoke, words tumbling from his mouth.

“Pallass is under attack. They report a Wyvern assault from the walls. Grand Strategist Chaldion has issued a city-wide alarm.”

Wyverns?

For a second those gathered in the room looked at each other. Wall Lord Kishield looked blankly around.

“Does that mean…Oldbloods?”

The other people in the room looked at him. Makhir opened his mouth, and General Milka snapped.

“No! This isn’t a damn code. These are actual Wyverns.”

What?

Two more were crowding Rafaema. She turned and they backed up. Dragonspeaker Luciva turned. She nodded to the young Wall Lady. Everyone was on their feet, and slowly they began spreading around the circular table.

“Impossible. Wyverns can’t assault Pallass. No—is it Fissival? Damn them! If they’ve launched a surprise attack—”

“Maybe Salazsar? There was that dispute with the Trisstral Alliance. If Salazsar is replying to Pallass backing the alliance—”

“Impossible. There’s no way they’d have hired Fissival—”

“What about from Elleis?”

The babble of military voices was cut short by the [Strategist]. The Gnoll snapped, his voice cutting his superiors short.

“They’re not mounted! These are wild Wyverns, as far as we can tell!”

Manus’ elite stared at the [Strategist]. Not in offense over him interrupting, but pure shock.

“Impossible.”

This time the word was flat and it came from half a dozen throats. Dragonspeaker Luciva stared into the scrying orb, but it was a blur—someone was running. Sound was filtering through, but it was just a din of shrieks, screams, explosions—

It was the sound of a battlefield. Luciva could pick out the distinctive hunting scream of the Wyverns, but little else. She turned.

“Do we have another viewpoint?”

“Negative, Dragonspeaker. The anti-scrying wards are in full effect.”

“Then the walls aren’t down and the spells aren’t comprised. How did a weyr of Wyverns—?”

“I have a report here. Wyverns sighted, count above one thousand. Liscor spotted them first, and they were confirmed on a southern course, heading straight for Pallass.”

Spearmaster Lulv pounded a furred fist onto the table.

Liscor! How many attacks has this been? This cannot be a coincidence. Is this the Human’s retaliation?”

“There is no [Beast Master] in the north capable of moving an entire weyr at once. It might be possible if they controlled the leader, say—”

Voices. There was no orderly chain of command where one person raised their arm and went first, nor any niceties like, say, Pallass’ Assembly of Crafts. And that could be a contentious room when things got heated. But in Manus’ circles, the leaders of the Walled City were [Generals] and [Commanders], officers used to taking charge. They shouted over each other.

Luciva Skybreath tuned them all out. Her mind focused, dividing the situation into pieces. The whole was too confusing, the facts unknown. She breathed in and out. And time…

Slowed…

The Dragonspeaker opened her eyes. Her mind raced a thousand miles a second, ahead of the voices. She stared at the scrying orb. And when she spoke, her voice cut through even the loudest shout.

“Oldblood Drakes. I want every single flier capable of reaching Pallass within eight hours moving. No—have them on alert. Officers with speed skills in position.”

The other commanders in the room looked towards Luciva. Some were nodding, but then a young voice spoke up.

“Done.”

The youngest occupant of the room by far folded her arms. Rafaema met Luciva’s eyes calmly as the Dragonspeaker spun. Rafaema, a Wall Lady by rank, seemed one of the least fazed by the situation unfolding in the scrying orb. She nodded at Luciva.

“I ordered them to go to alert when I got the message. Four full wings. They’re already heading towards Pallass.”

The Dragonspeaker met Rafaema’s eyes and surprise flickered in her gaze for only a moment. Then she snapped at the Gnoll [Strategist].

“Send a counter order for the wings to hold their position.”

She nodded towards Rafaema. The younger Drake shrugged, flexing her brilliant wings slightly. Dragonspeaker Luciva looked around the table.

“Even at max flight speed, they will not reach Pallass in time. The intervention might be unneeded. Or worse.”

“Nothing like an unwanted companion to the chase. Pallass would take offence.”

Hunt Commander Makhir nodded. He glanced at Rafaema. The younger Drake shrugged.

“And if the Walled City falls?”

General Milka consulted a tome. The pages fluttered without her touching them as the Drake stared at the information. She looked up and shook her head.

“They will not. I don’t know how the Wyverns took the walls, but they should have…1st Army and 4th in position. Either one should be able to repel the attack. And if the Wyverns possess greater numbers or abilities—they can take cover. A few minutes’ difference won’t change the results.”

“And what are the odds of that? I can’t believe they gained the city.”

“There are precedents. What species of Wyvern are these? If they’re rare variants—Hunt Commander, thoughts?”

The Gnoll scratched a scar along his chin, where he’d taken a wound from an encounter with a Wyvern.

“I’ve heard reports of Wyverns causing volcanic eruptions and launching attacks in the ash clouds. And I’ve seen them with any number of abilities. There are variants in Baleros that camouflage themselves. But in numbers? I have never encountered a weyr over two hundred. And the group I saw was ordinary. I don’t know what they might have done.”

“Pool their breath attacks.”

Again, Rafaema spoke up. Every head turned towards her. Dragonspeaker Luciva inclined her head slightly.

“What do you mean by that, Wall Lady Rafaema?”

The young Drake shrugged.

“I’ve been reading older accounts. Wyverns and Oldblood Drakes can pool their magical abilities together. In fact, A Drake riding a Wyvern can combine his attack with the Wyvern’s. Even different elements. I’ve seen it done. There was a flying wing in Manus eighty years ago that used that tactic.”

Her tail flicked back and forth as she spoke. The other leaders looked at each other. Each one nodded. General Milka nodded to herself, doing a quick check of her tome.

“Report, Dragonspeaker. Pallass’ protections spells did not activate. Some were used, but I’m getting more [Messages]. Summarized—confirmation of Grand Strategist’s alert. Pallass is under attack by feral Wyverns. Frost Wyverns.

“Impossible.”

Someone muttered it a third time. Not in shock, but now just disbelief. Dragonspeaker Luciva’s lips twisted.

“They didn’t activate the protection spells?”

“Must have been caught off-guard. Idiots. They didn’t get Chaldion. He can fight them off.”

“There’s no way they’ll take the city.”

“But the death toll has to be in the hundreds already. Thousands, maybe. Listen.

That calm voice came from Spearmaster Lulv. He was leaning on the table, looking at the scrying orb. Now, all the voices in the war room fell silent.

This is what they all saw, the world over. A shaking, moving street. No—someone running while holding whatever was providing the magical image. In Manus, the leaders heard a wheezing pant, a cough—

Shrieks in the distance, tearing the air. Faint at first, and then growing louder. The viewpoint jerked up as a scream increased in volume. The image revealed a huge, plummeting shape. A Wyvern sixty feet long dropped out of the air, diving. Its hunting scream reached a crescendo as it flashed past the onlooker.

The image shook, a visible flinch. And then, pattering footfalls. Someone else ran into view.

“Take cover! Take cover! Get inside!

A Drake ran into view. The perspective changed, and Dragonspeaker Luciva saw a pair of Dullahans running towards an open door. A Drake was shouting at them, waving at them as he ran towards the scrying orb. Luciva saw a young, frightened Dullahan boy grabbing at a sister. The sister nearly dropped her head as he ran towards the Gnoll holding the door open.

For a second Luciva closed her eyes, seeing the girl’s face. Not because it was someone she knew, but because it was familiar. Then she forced her eyes open.

The first Drake was catching his breath. He looked around wildly, ducked as another shadow passed overhead. So did whoever was holding the magical device providing the image. The first Drake looked up, then spoke breathlessly.

“I—I think we’re clear. Are we still broadcasting?”

“I believe so.”

Someone fumbled with the mirror. Another Drake appeared in frame, and part of his arm. The two Drakes were both male, both familiar. One—the one with the arm holding the magical scrying device—had a monocle, dangling from a chain loop secured around one of his neck-spines. He was expensively dressed. His comrade was less so, but the two were a well-fed pair.

The first Drake spoke in a rush after gaining his voice back.

“This is Sir Relz and Noass, your [Commentators] coming to you live from Pallass! Is ‘live’ the word we’re using, Sir Relz? Where’s the logic in that?”

“Who cares, Noass? Pallass is under attack! It’s been bare minutes and we—”

Both Drakes ducked as a Wyvern shot down past them. Noass shouted.

Get inside! Get off the streets!

Sir Relz was speaking into the mirror as he tried to angle it, showing the audience a view of the skies—and then a close-up of the side of his face. He was inept at placing the viewpoint just right.

“Ancestors damn it, get out of the way! Show us numbers! Where’s the army?”

Someone growled in Manus’ war room, but it was otherwise completely silent. Sir Relz was still panting for breath.

“We’re using a portable scrying mirror—and under the effects of [Spectator’s Concealment]! Which we’ve gained as a result of our class. So long as we don’t interfere, it is extremely effective as long as the Wyverns are occupied! This—we’re—Noass, how did this happen?

The other Drake jumped. His jaw worked soundlessly.

“I—we all heard a massive explosion! Someone on the walls, I think. Then there was a chill—and Wyverns were attacking! Grand Strategist Chaldion shouted the alarm and then—how did this happen? We—we’ll have a better view from the edge of the 8th floor. Come on—”

Sir Relz’s pale face again, then more running. The Dragonspeaker looked around.

“Massive explosion?”

“Combined dragonbreath.”

Rafaema’s voice was certain. Some of the others nodded, looking sideways at her. She was an oddity. Despite her age, they all gave her a level of deference no one else commanded. She was striking. Beautiful, in a way that even the other Oldblood Drakes were not, that even Dragonspeaker Luciva wasn’t, for all her heritage was among the purest of all Drakes.

The young female Drake looked no older than…twenty three. Which was impossible, given the station she was accorded. The way she looked about, the understanding in her eye made her older than her appearance. She was poised, intent.

And she was a Dragon.

But that was irrelevant to this moment. Rafaema’s eyes were locked on the scene unfolding in Pallass with everyone else. And Dragonspeaker Luciva saw the image halt at the edge of the 8th Floor. The two Drakes stared out in horror at their city.

And Dragonspeaker Luciva saw what they did. Pallass, the City of Invention, was under attack. Wyverns flew through the skies, casting huge shadows above the Walled City. It was snowing. And the Wyverns were attacking.

There weren’t many of them. For a city of Pallass’ size, the near-thousand of them weren’t a vast horde that would blot out the skies. But the Wyverns were huge. And the sight of them there, breathing frost and diving down on the small figures below—

It shook the world. It pierced Dragonspeaker Luciva’s heart, and the war room went still. This was the nightmare Manus’ children had sworn to avert. But they were not alone in seeing it.

Watch. Flos of Reim stared at the Walled City and smiled that predator’s grin, his hand itching. The Blighted King sighed. Niers Astoragon cursed while Foliana tried to eat another raw egg.

In his chair, the Necromancer, Az’kerash, watched with a raised eyebrow, almost mockingly. Incredulous more than anything else.

And Tyrion Veltras smiled. His eyes shone with a cold light.

Attention. More and more joined to see. Spectacle. Tragedy. Triumph too, but it was all one thing. And more strange watchers still.

“I see Pallass. It is smaller than I thought. And weaker still.”

“Perhaps, my Queen.”

Xrn of the Centenium spoke softly. The hovering image of Pallass she had conjured reflected off the huge eyes of the Grand Queen of the Antinium. Now, even the Antinium watched. With glee. With cold analysis. With incredulity.

Watch. Noass stared over the edge as the scrying mirror caught part of Sir Relz’s slack face. The Drake’s scales were white, drained of blood. It was the other [Commentator], Noass, who began screaming.

Ancestors! Look out! They’re dive-bombing the lower floors!”

He pointed. More Wyverns were diving. They hunted like eagles. The huge, scaled monsters dove and struck their prey, carrying them up, tearing at them. If you looked, you could see struggling shapes falling as the Wyverns bit. Or the beasts just breathed their killing frost and tore apart the frozen shapes.

“What happened to the [Soldiers] on the walls?

Noass screamed. Sir Relz’s voice was distant.

“This isn’t possible. Pallass can’t be—where’s the army?”

The image jerked. There was fighting below. You could stare down into Pallass’ heart. And there was a glint of steel below, running figures. But so far away. And the Wyverns—Noass ducked as one flew past, but the Wyvern ignored the two Drakes. Its serpentine neck was covered in blood. And it looked—it looked like it was laughing.

They had stolen the skies. The two Drakes looked at each other. Noass’ face was frozen with horror, but then he faced the image. And the [Commentator] did the only thing he could: speak.

“Pallass—everyone. If you can hear me! Get indoors! My name is Noass, and I am live on the attack on Pallass! If anyone can hear me—any adventurers nearby, any Drake forces! Pallass under attack! I don’t know what’s happened on the walls! But we’re going to find out. Someone—anyone. We saw the door to Liscor is open. Flee through it! Adventurers, [Soldiers]—”

His voice broke. Sir Relz appeared in frame. Luciva recognized him at last. One of Pallass’ nobility. A Wall Lord, but without the emphasis on rank and station other Walled Cities accorded him. Nevertheless, he looked dead into the image, and Dragonspeaker Luciva met his eyes.

“This is an emergency. Anyone who can hear this in Pallass, seek cover. Indoors! We will broadcast the image as long as we can. We are counting hundreds, repeat hundreds, of Wyverns. If anyone can send help—”

Luciva had heard enough. The Dragonspeaker looked around.

“Send the wings. Now.”

Hunt Commander Makhir raced out of the room. In Pallass, Noass was turning.

“It’s so cold. Dead gods, there’s frost on the upper part of the ninth floor and the ramparts—there. You see? It looks like the Wyverns overtook the walls—we’ll have to get up there. But where…?”

He looked at Sir Relz. The other Drake shook his head.

“I don’t know. Perhaps the explosion? I—I—the stairs? The elevators are surely not working…”

The wide-eyed Drakes were familiar to some viewers. After all, they had achieved a minor fame during their impromptu commentary of the attack on Liscor. And then the other one. Indeed, they’d even gained a class. But this was a new side of the Drake pair.

They sounded a bit harried, a bit stressed. As if this attack was more personal, more immediate than their commentary on any battle before this. And someone watching, from say, Liscor, might have found that a bit ironic.

But no one was laughing in The Wandering Inn. Lyonette stared at the scrying orb and then at the magical door. Relc had dragged it into the common room when they’d heard about the attack. Now—she stared at a street where snow was falling.

“We have to do something.”

Selys was white-faced. She looked around wildly.

“Keldrass?”

“His team’s on the way. He’s in Liscor, getting the Heartflame Breastplate.”

Relc called out tersely. He had his spear out and was tensed, ready to move. Lyonette heard a shriek, louder through the door than the scrying orb. She looked around for Mrsha; the Gnoll was holding Apista, safely behind Pawn. The Antinium were all on their feet. Even Bird was downstairs, staring at the Wyverns longingly.

“The Wings…?”

“They went through. Selys, get back. It’s too dangerous to get near the door.”

Lyonette looked around.

“We shouldn’t have brought it out there. Relc. Bring it back. Put it in the hallway.”

The Drake [Spearmaster] started.

“The Wyverns can’t—”

He looked around. Krshia, Elirr, Gnolls, Drakes—the Senior Guardsman hesitated, then he nodded. He grabbed the door.

“We have to do something. Where’s Zevara? Change the door back to Liscor! Can we send anyone?”

Lism was on his feet. It was Olesm who shook his head.

“No. Uncle. Wyverns are a Gold-rank threat! And the door doesn’t have the mana to send enough people. Let me go to Liscor. I’m getting Guildmistress Alonna and every [Mage] I can find. We have to send the Flamewardens through!”

“What about—get the other Gold-rank teams! Can’t we send anyone else?”

Lism stared around, frustrated. Relc had disappeared and Olesm with him. But the other occupants of the inn? Lyonette was checking on Mrsha. The Gnoll was hugging Pawn’s back. The Worker looked at the Gnoll, into the scrying orb. The two Drakes were trying to shout at people to get indoors. Pawn stood up abruptly.

“I will go.”

What?

The [Priest] looked around. Yellow Splatters nodded. The [Sergeant] turned his head.

“Painted Antinium, with me.”

The Soldiers stepped forwards as one. Lyonette spun.

“No! Pawn—”

Belgrade was also present for the inn’s reopening. The [Strategist] shook his head.

“The door doesn’t have the mana for so many, even if Strategist Olesm gets the [Mages].”

“Then a core of Antinium. Pawn, you will stay behind.”

“I must go. I can hea—”

“No one is going through that door.”

Klbkch’s voice ran through the inn. The Antinium and other guests stopped. Everyone looked at him. Klbkch’s arms were folded.

“Antinium are not allowed in Pallass. To go through would be an act of war.”

Yellow Splatters paused. Pawn looked at Klbkch and his mandibles parted. But slowly, he sat back down. Lyonette’s head turned.

“Erin’s over there.”

Krshia found her. The Gnoll’s paw gripped Lyonette’s arm, and her brown eyes caught Lyonette’s. With her other paw, the [Shopkeeper] stroked Mrsha’s head.

“We must wait. Olesm will find reinforcements.”

“That’s right. I’ll—I’ll go to the hallways. Call out to anyone on the streets. They can come through.”

Selys stood up shakily. Lism pushed past her.

“I’ll do it. You stay back! All of you—no one goes in that hallway! If a Wyvern breathes frost—stay here!”

He shoved the door open. Lyonette looked around. No one was speaking. This was like the other attacks on Liscor, but those had been immediate, terrifying, but present. This—this was almost worse. They were watching the attack unfold and it was unbearable.

“Can we…no. No—Ishkr! Drassi!”

The two oldest workers at the inn looked up. Lyonette whirled around.

“Healing potions. Erin has a stockpile. And acid jars! We have some—get me everything you can! We’ll push it through the door!”

They had to do something. Moved to action, the other occupants of the inn began talking. Lyonette ran into the kitchen, Apista buzzing after her, stinger poised. She rushed back out with a crate in her hands, trying not to drop the glowing green acid in the bottles and heard a shout.

There was suddenly silence. Lyonette froze. In the scrying orb, Noass was pointing. The two Drakes were trying to get to some stairs, but they’d come across a Wyvern.

It was flying over the heads of some apartments. Low—and huge. And it was pursuing—Lyonette nearly dropped the crate.

An Oldblood Drake. But a child. The Drake was flying frantically. Noass was waving his arms and shouting.

Get down! Get below the buildings!

The Drake wasn’t listening. Lyonette saw the image shake, trying to follow the Drake—and then the Wyvern dove. She heard a scream—the image changed again.

The Wyvern had caught the Drake. And worse, it had heard Noass. The [Commentator] froze as the Skill hiding him failed. The Wyvern landed, crushing the Drake it had caught under one paw. The Drake child was screaming and Noass was backing up. He was fumbling at his belt for…a dagger. Sir Relz’ claw shook on the scrying orb.

“My wand—[Firefly]—”

The two Drakes backed up. The Wyvern was staring at them. A second set of eyelids flashed across its eyes as it stared at the [Commentators]. Narrowly, as if trying to figure out if they were there. But then its maw opened. Lyonette saw a dark red mouth. Opening wide, wide. The Wyvern inhaled and Noass threw himself to one side.

A flash of green hurtled out of the sky. A feathered shape dove. And Bevussa Slenderscale drove the shortsword through the Wyvern’s eye. She landed, and Zassil crashed into the Wyvern’s jaw. The frost breath caught in the Wyvern’s mouth as he slammed the jaws shut.

Bevussa!

Lyonette screamed. So did half the patrons in the inn. They were on their feet. Bevussa pushed the sword deeper, and the Wyvern’s eyeball gushed around it. Two other shapes dove.

“Issa! Now! [Pillar of Earth]!”

A Drake landed on the ground as another Drake pointed a wand from above. Kin’s spell caused a section of the street to rise, shoving one of the Wyvern’s claws up. The other Drake, Issa, dove. She yanked the young Drake out from under the claw as the Wyvern recoiled. She was away in a moment.

Bevussa! Dodge!

The Garuda flipped backwards just in time. The Wyvern’s head snapped and tore the air where she had been as Zassil was thrown off. The Wyvern screamed, blasting the air, but the four fliers were already away.

Noass and Sir Relz stared as Issa landed next to them. She shoved the young Drake at them. Noass caught the Drake and Issa shouted.

Get clear! Get to safety!

She was in the air in a moment. Bevussa, Zassil, and Kin were flitting about the Wyvern. It flapped its wings and tried to tag them with the frost breath. Bevussa’s shortsword was still buried in its eye, and the adventurers used that to their advantage, flying in the Frost Wyvern’s blind spot.

“That’s—that’s an adventuring team! Our team!”

Noass’ voice was stunned. He pointed as Bevussa dove again. The Garuda had a spear this time, pulled from a bag of holding. She was aiming for the Wyvern’s neck as it tried to fly. Bevussa thrust the steel-tipped spear and it penetrated the Wyvern’s neck. Not deep, but as the Garuda yanked it free, blood sprayed and the Wyvern screamed again. It flew, and the Wings of Pallass flew after it.

“I believe that was the Wings of Pallass.”

Sir Relz looked shakily up at the sky. Noass stared. Then he found his voice.

“It was! Pallass’ Gold-rank team! The Wings of Pallass! That was Zassil, the team captain, and Bevussa, their Garuda flier! They’re using boar spears—Ancestors! Look!”

Again the view swiveled, and the audience of the world saw the Wyvern just in time to see it fall. Bevussa yanked her shortsword out of the eye as Issa and Zassil cut the Wyvern across the neck. Their blades opened the cut Bevussa had made and the two Oldblood Drakes pulled the wound open, cutting and slashing.

The Frost Wyvern fell with a scream. Noass and Sir Relz shouted. Lyonette heard a cheer. The Wandering Inn’s patrons were all on their feet. They shouted, screaming for the Wings of Pallass.

For victory. That was part of it, too, spectacle. And now, the Wings of Pallass soared higher, circling the city. Noass pointed.

After them!

Lyonette didn’t remember putting down the crate of acid jars. She only realized she’d joined the audience. As Sir Noass and Relz raced through the city, trying to track the four Gold-rank adventurers and shouting commentary, she watched.

But that was the thing. They were all observers, even Sir Relz and Noass, who’d been part of it for a moment. All they could do was watch. But Bevussa flew.

 

—-

 

It was snowing. Her city was shadowed by huge storm clouds, unleashing not rain but fat snowflakes. Bevussa felt them on her feathers as she flew, felt the chill. But she’d never felt more on fire in her life.

Wyverns’ shrieks tore through the sky. They filled the airspace of Pallass, diving, breathing—

Wyverns. How had it happened? Bevussa had never seen so many, never all at once. And these ones—they were bigger, and their color was different than what she knew. The Garuda’s mind was racing, but there was only one fact.

This was her city. She flapped her wings for altitude and shouted.

Wings! On me!

Bevussa was flying higher, scouting out the city. She was looking for—something. Anything. But all she saw was chaos.

The battlements were gone. The bulk of the Wyverns were still on it, feasting on the dead. Bevussa saw a huge part of the north and western walls was…frozen. Ice covered everything, as if some massive spell had detonated there.

If there was any blessing, it was that the Wyverns had first stopped to gorge on the dead on the battlements. But more Wyverns were diving into the city for more food at the moment.

And the city? Bevussa looked down and saw distant specks. People on each floor running for cover. It had been bare minutes since the alarm had gone out and everyone had been caught unaware. The Gold-rank adventurer’s eyes narrowed as she saw smaller shapes than the Wyvern.

Flying? The Garuda cursed as she realized what she was seeing. Zassil called out.

Bevussa! Civilians in the air!

I see them!

Dozens—no, hundreds of them. Garuda and Oldblood Drakes, the only species in Pallass with the ability to fly. Bevussa swore a blue streak.

It was the instinct of Garuda to fly when they were in danger. Oldblood Drakes blessed with wings were different, but the young of both species learned from each other. It was idiotic to do with flying Wyverns, but the children had forgotten their heads in their panic! Now, they were in the air, trying to avoid the Wyverns or even fight back.

Bevussa saw an Oldblood Drake shooting lightning at a Wyvern before one dove and crushed her against the ground. Another was pursuing a Garuda and the screaming teen was diving between buildings as the Wyvern gained altitude. Bevussa knew it was about to dive.

Down!

She dropped. Bevussa dove through the air and her enchanted shortsword was in her talons. She hit the Wyvern across the wing. Too risky to go for the eyes. She slashed and her sword cut into the thick membrane of the Wyvern’s wing.

It shrieked at the unexpected attack. The Wyvern turned, and the other three Wings hit it. Zassil had his spear and went straight through a part of the Wyvern’s wings. Issa and Kin were throwing spells with wands, flashes of [Light] and Kin’s fire, distracting the Wyverns.

“Back!”

The four adventurers were flying backwards even before the Wyvern tried to breathe. They couldn’t stick around for a fight, not with something heavier and stronger than all of them combined! Bevussa twisted in the air, looking for the Garuda the Wyvern had been chasing. Where was—?

Bevussa! It’s targeting you!

Kin’s voice alerted Bevussa just in time. She dove and the Wyvern’s jaws snapped as it nearly bit her in half. She flew, diving lower, but the Wyvern was hot on her tail feathers.

Captain!

It was fast! Bevussa was diving, but the Wyvern could accelerate as fast as she could. She spoke a word.

“[Mach Wings]!”

And the Garuda accelerated. The Wyvern screamed and dove, but Bevussa was suddenly going twice as fast with each flap of her wings. She twisted—it was still going after her! Bevussa looked ahead and realized she was heading straight for a group of residential apartments. The Wyvern was trying to box her in!

The Garuda turned. She moved in a tight circle, and hurtled straight at the Wyvern. It wasn’t prepared for that, and its jaws opened reflexively and the long, sinuous head reared back to strike. Bevussa knew that was what it would do. She activated her second Skill.

[Instantaneous Redirection]. One moment Bevussa was flying at the Wyvern—the next, away, perpendicular. It was a move impossible to make without a Skill and the dumfounded Wyvern lashed out at where Bevussa would have been. It floundered, momentum lost, confused, and Bevussa screamed.

Wings of Pallass, Wyvern-hunter tactics! Neck and wings! Now!

The three Drakes dropped on the Wyvern out of the skies as Bevussa flew back. This time, the strike was surgical. The three Gold-ranks had lined up their dives as Bevussa distracted the Wyvern. Now, they went for the kill. Bevussa whispered.

“[Sundering Slash].”

She cut the Wyvern across the neck. Issa and Zassil cut the Wyvern’s wings at the same time. Kin spun past as the Wyvern dropped, and one of her precise [Stone Darts] shot through the monster’s eye. The Wyvern dropped, screaming. Bevussa followed it down. It was headed for a building, so she and the Wings rammed it. Just enough for it to—

The Wyvern hit the street with a crunch. Bevussa heard another scream and guessed it had broken its legs. At least. She saw Zassil aiming his spear. Going for a kill at a dive; bleeding a Wyvern along critical spots on its neck was the only real way to kill it for fliers. Or letting it crash and kill itself. It had too much mass to try to get through bone.

“Zassil! Leave it!”

Bevussa shouted at the other Drake, not caring if anyone heard her giving orders to her ‘Captain’. Zassil started.

“But—”

The Wyvern was still moving. In any other situation, Bevussa would have finished it off, but she pointed.

Leave it! Take them out of the sky! Follow me!”

The Wings flew after her. Bevussa dove along the streets of the 6th floor, shouting at Garuda and Oldblood Drakes. This was a favorite spot with them; the 6th floor had been built up to the ceiling of the 5th. It was an aerial maze, meant for the Garuda populations and a popular hangout. Now, it was filled with panicked civilians. Children.

Stop flying you fools! You’re making yourself targets!

Bevussa bellowed as she shot through the air. Her voice made some of the frantic shapes in the air drop. Kin, Issa, and Zassil followed in her wake in an arrow formation, shouting the same instructions.

The older Garuda were wise enough not to fly. And prompted by Bevussa’s voice, more Garuda and Drakes dove, searching for places to land. Bevussa had taught some of the frightened faces she saw. She clenched her beak and dipped one wing, turning sharply.

On me! We’re dropping Wyverns! Aim only for their wings! Keep moving! If one of them hits you with their breath, you’re dead!

The frost would kill the Wings in a moment, weighing their wings down, rendering them immobile. Kin paled as she saw where Bevussa was taking them.

Straight into the center of the city. Where the Wyverns were flying at their thickest.

“Bevussa! There are hundreds!

“Then we bring them down one after another!”

The Gold-rank Captain screamed at her teammate. She flew straight at the nearest Wyvern. Cut along the wing bone. Cut through it! Drop it!

But there were so many. Bevussa looked up. She looked around. She’d fought in the army against a dozen Wyverns. But there were hundreds.

There were so many—

Bevussa felt a shadow pass over her. She looked up. A Wyvern dove. Bevussa tried to dodge, but she’d used her Skill too recently. She went down in free fall, tangled with the Wyvern, stabbing, trying to get free. The other Wings were fighting the second Wyvern that had dived at them.

 

—-

 

“No.”

Noass stared as Bevussa’ shape disappeared, falling out of view, fighting the Wyvern. The Wings of Pallass had been there for only a second before they’d been swallowed.

And the Wyverns screamed. More were flying off the walls, deciding to enter the fighting below. More and more. One dropped onto the 4th Floor, hunting for prey. The Wyvern was drooling, in hunting mode. All it smelled and saw was prey.

It looked around, savoring the fear. The Wyvern swung its head back and forth, looking for food. Some of the stone structures had food in them. The Wyvern could smell it. The monster was trying to figure out how to crack open one of the buildings when a door swung open. The Wyvern smelled meat. Lots of it. Sweat too. It opened its mouth to bite before the door could close.

Something hit the Wyvern in the jaws. The Wyvern’s head snapped back. It nearly fell on its back. The monster’s head rang. It looked around, stunned. Its teeth were broken. Something had—it was bleeding.

The Wyvern flopped on its back, getting up, now drooling blood from its broken gums. It tried to howl, but the second discus of lead and steel hit it in the neck. The Wyvern’s neck deformed and it collapsed. It looked up, stunned, uncomprehending. What was hitting it? What was—

A giant Drake walked out of his house. He was huge. The Wyvern was far larger, but this was the biggest prey it had ever seen of its kind. It tried to bite the Drake, feebly. But it’s upper teeth were destroyed. It couldn’t breathe. The Wyvern still tried to lunge.

Grimalkin punched the Wyvern in the head. His fist cracked bone and sent the splinters into the Wyvern’s brain. The monster slumped. Grimalkin cracked his neck and looked around.

“The weights make good impromptu throwing weapons. Apprentices! Find anyone on the street and get them inside! Don’t let a Wyvern eat you! I’m heading up.”

His wide-eyed apprentices stared at him from the opening of Grimalkin’s mansion. Ferkr gaped at the two deformed weights. They were from the weights bar. Grimalkin had hurled the fifty-pound weights like discuses and crippled the Wyvern with it.

“Master—”

Move.

Grimalkin didn’t waste words on Ferkr. It had been minutes since the attack. Chaldion’s voice had alerted Grimalkin; the [Sinew Magus] hadn’t heard the screams or explosion in his mansion. Now, he turned. Grimalkin stared up. His eyes narrowed.

“What idiot didn’t activate the [Cage of Pallass] spell? If they’re alive, I am going to kill them.”

Then he ran. Grimalkin of Pallass charged down the street. He ran faster than someone of his size had any right to move. The Drake reached the edge of the 6th Floor and saw.

The Wyverns were still assailing the upper floors. They had the air and fewer of them were reaching the lower floors. Grimalkin saw the flash of armor and magic below.

“The army.”

He looked up and back. The 5th Floor. Grimalkin heard screams. He crouched.

“[Reduce Weight]. [Warlock’s Leap].”

His eyes flashed. Then Grimalkin leapt.

The 5th Floor was being assailed by another Wyvern. It was herding a group of Drakes up, snapping at the ones trying to flee. Grimalkin landed. The Wyvern’s head swiveled. It stared at Grimalkin and then charged at him, ignoring the other prey for this large one. Grimalkin stared at it. He lowered his stance, made one fist. As the Wyvern lunged, he punched.

The Wyvern felt something smash through its teeth. Something immovable. As hard as stone. It recoiled, stunned. Grimalkin pointed a claw.

“[Lightning Bolt].”

A flash. The Wyvern jerked as the lightning struck it. But even a lightning bolt couldn’t kill it. It flopped back weakly. Grimalkin charged in. One clawed hand grabbed the Wyvern’s head. He put a foot on the neck. Then he jerked up.

The Wyvern’s head could move in almost any direction, but it still had bone. It fought weakly as the [Sinew Magus] pulled it up, up, bending it backwards. The Drake’s muscles bulged and he growled. Grimalkin twisted the Wyvern’s head backwards until he heard a snap. Then he dropped the Wyvern.

“Ancestors.”

Someone breathed. Grimalkin turned his head. The Drakes were staring. Grimalkin nodded at them.

“Get to safety. Find the nearest building and get inside. I can’t stay.”

He was already moving. Grimalkin checked the Wyvern’s head to make sure it was dead. The eyes stared blankly at the [Mage] of Pallass. Grimalkin nodded to the Drakes. Then he jumped. He flew through the air, almost weightless, grabbing hold of an elevator’s cable, then leapt again. Onto the 6th Floor. Higher and higher.

 

—-

 

“We just saw the Wings of Pallass go down! They were intercepted by the Wyverns—they are still diving! It has been—minutes since the alarm in Pallass was called and the higher floors are getting overrun!”

Noass was shouting as he half-faced the scrying mirror, pointing down at the chaos below. He and Sir Relz had stopped near the stairs to the battlements. The Drake was pointing down into the heart of the city.

“The Watch is fighting to try and reclaim the battlements, but Wyverns are assailing them! I can see fighting on the 2nd floor where the garrisons are located—but there is a bottleneck on all four staircases! And the Wyverns are assailing any large groups! This—this is a disaster! Sir Relz, thoughts?”

The other Drake gulped.

“The army normally deploys outside the city for attack. They’re stationed for sorting, not having to retake the walls. Clearly there’s been an error in their stationing. But normally the battlements have more than enough personnel to repel an attack. But as you can see—”

He turned. A group of armored figures were fighting at one of the staircases. The Watch and [Soldiers] were battling multiple Wyverns, assaulting them as they tried to take the stairs.

“There are too many Wyverns above! And the lower floors are congested as the Wyverns slow reinforcements! We—we could be seeing a disaster. I think there are thousands, thousands dead. I repeat, thousands. The Wyverns are slowing to eat their kills, but whenever they breathe that damned frost attack at a cluster, everyone dies—and we just saw a Gold-rank team fall prey to their diving!”

Noass was nodding, looking around.

“The Wyverns are assaulting groups heading up, preventing anyone from making a foothold on the upper floors. Everyone is retreating. This is a disaster. Where are the higher-level officers? Are they all trapped below?”

The Drake’s voice was despairing. And their commentary wasn’t going to just those watching from outside Pallass. People in the city were picking up the broadcast, watching from inside their homes. Sir Relz turned to Noass.

“Can you see anyone? Noass? Anyone?”

Noass’ voice was bleak.

“I see pockets of fighting everywhere. The Watch is spread out across the city. But Wyverns are a Gold-rank threat. An entire squad can barely fight one, and these are Frost Wyverns. They have a variant of Dragon’s breath, like an Oldblood Drake! Even if our [Soldiers] beat one, two, or three attacking at once? I—I just don’t see—”

The Drake’s voice stopped. Sir Relz looked at him and then tried to angle his scrying mirror.

“What do you see? Noass?”

“I—I see someone moving up! Look! There!

Noass pointed. Sir Relz’s mirror moved. And then they saw him. A small figure from afar, but growing larger. Leaping. Yes, leaping up the floors. He stopped as a Wyvern dove. The two Drakes peered.

“I don’t see—a Wyvern’s diving at him—”

“Who? An officer?”

“No! It’s—Ancestors!

The Wyvern hit the huge figure and crashed. The two Drakes gaped as they saw the figure charge it. There was a bloom of fire—the Wyvern’s head was missing. And the figure turned, scanning for opponents. Then he leapt higher.

“Who is that? It’s a Drakeno, it must be him—he must have heard the alarm! Look! It’s Pallass’ Strongest [Mage]! Grimalkin!

The [Sinew Magus] leapt higher. He was on the 7th Floor now. The two Drakes stared as he landed below.

Magus Grimalkin!

Noass bellowed. Grimalkin’s head whipped around. He spotted the two Drakes. They saw him squat, his form perfect, then leap. The two Drakes backed up as a huge shape soared over the railing of the 8th Floor.

Grimalkin landed lightly. He turned his head. His arms and part of his huge neck were covered in blood. But it wasn’t his. The [Sinew Magus] eyed Noass and Sir Relz.

“You two! Get inside! Hide from the Wyvern attack!”

He barked at them. Noass’ mouth worked. Sir Relz took over.

“Magus! Magus, we’re broadcasting live—”

What? Broadcasting what—”

Grimalkin looked at Sir Relz. He stared into the image and then his brows snapped together.

“You idiots! If you have the strength to use a scrying orb, get people off the streets!”

“But people have to see—”

Out of my way. I don’t have time for this. I’m retaking the walls.”

Grimalkin had spotted the fighting on the stairs. He sprinted past the two Drakes. Noass turned.

“That—that was Grimalkin of Pallass. Known as the Fist Mage, but also Pallass’ self-proclaimed strongest [Mage]. He’s known for—dead gods! Is he insane?

The Drake was charging straight at the three Wyverns on the stairs. They’d pushed back the [Soldiers] and [Guards] fighting there. Grimalkin roared as he charged the nearest one. It reared up and Noass gasped.

“He can’t fight three at once! He’s a [Mage], even if he’s known for hand-to-hand fighting. He’s mad. He’s going to die—”

Grimalkin halted as the Wyvern turned on him. He planted his legs and made a fist. He chanted as the Wyvern charged at him.

“[Gauntlet of Force]. [Lion’s Strength]. [Bound Spell: Impact Shockwave]. [Thunder Step].

The last spell was followed by a sound. Sir Relz’s scrying mirror jerked as Grimalkin exploded forwards. The Wyvern lunged. And Grimalkin struck. He hit the Wyvern’s head as it bit at him. The top of the Wyvern’s head exploded.

The other two triumphant Wyverns froze. They stopped shrieking. Sir Relz jerked. Noass’ jaw dropped. They stared as the fleeing [Soldiers] and [Guards] turned back. Grimalkin turned. He looked at the other two Wyverns.

They dove. Grimalkin blurred sideways and the first missed with its claws. The second he jumped at. He struck it in midair.

“Release.”

[Impact Shockwave]. The spell activated. The Wyvern crashed out of the air as the spell hammered it to the ground. It writhed as a tremor went through its body, tearing muscle and sinew. Grimalkin held out a claw.

“[Siege Fireball].”

A huge flaming ball of fire appeared. The [Magus] threw it and the fireball engulfed the Wyvern in an explosion. The Drake turned as the scorched, burnt form of the second Wyvern slumped, burning.

The third turned. It stared at Grimalkin, and met his eyes. Then the Wyvern tried to flee. It reared back, flapping its wings. Too late.

“[Thunder Step].”

Grimalkin appeared in front of the Wyvern. It was exposed as it reared up, flapping. The head reared back in shock, trying to breathe frost, or bite. Too slow. Grimalkin drew back a fist.

Pallass’ Strongest!

He punched through the Wyvern’s chest. The huge beast froze in the middle of rearing back. It moved, a convulsion—Grimalkin tore his claw loose. It was clutching the remains of a heart. He dropped it and the Wyvern collapsed.

Noass and Sir Relz stared. Grimalkin shook the blood off his claws. Then he turned.

Soldiers! Reform and regroup! Take the 9th! Pallass will not fall!

His bellow was audible even from afar. The [Soldiers] stared as Grimalkin leapt up the stairs. They charged after him. So did Sir Relz and Noass. They saw Grimalkin leaping up to the 9th floor. Then—

Higher. Noass pointed.

“He’s going up! He’s going up to the walls alone!”

Grimalkin was leaping up on a roof on the 9th floor. He crouched and jumped a final time. The Drake landed on Pallass’ battlements. Sir Relz craned back, running to see him.

The weyr of Frost Wyverns was confused. They were hearing death-shrieks from their comrades. A few, but more and more. More were flapping towards the edge, walking on their two clawed legs to search for prey. It was so easy from above. Easier than in the mountains, even.

Over a third of the weyr still held the walls; the rest were in the city. The Wyverns on the battlements were complacent. Nothing but them was alive at this point. None of them were prepared for the single Drake who landed on the battlements.

Grimalkin. He landed lightly, and looked alone. Hundreds of Wyverns stared, offended and surprised. Prey had come to them? And he smelled like blood. Wyvern blood. They recoiled, and then screamed.

But he did not smell afraid. The [Sinew Magus] stared about, assessing the situation, ignoring the Wyverns closest to him.

He stood on the walls alone. Hundreds of Wyverns flew around him, more diving into the heart of the Walled City. The [Sinew Magus] looked around. All he saw were frozen bodies and blood. Without the protections of Pallass’ magic, the defenders of the wall had been caught off-guard. Overconfident, the Day Strategist hadn’t reinforced them. The Drake closed his eyes for a second, seeing a frozen Gnoll he recognized.

Watch Captain Rekhassha. Something had eaten part of the statue of ice she’d become. Grimalkin opened his eyes. A Wyvern was staring at him. A wyrm, a youngling of its species. It darted its head at Grimalkin, like a snake striking.

He caught it. Grimalkin dodged the head and his right arm encircled the young Wyvern’s neck. It tried to jerk back.

“[Magic Anchor].”

Grimalkin’s feet glowed. The Drake didn’t even budge as the Wyvern tried to pull back. The [Sinew Magus] regarded its flapping wings, the rest of its body. He looked around.

“You pestilential beasts don’t deserve to stand here.”

His muscles bulged. The Wyvern screamed—and began choking. The other Wyverns reared back. Impossible! But Grimalkin kept squeezing. He just squeezed and squeezed the Wyvern’s neck. And then—the Wyvern’s eyes bulged. It jerked, spasmed.

Stopped moving. Grimalkin dropped the Wyvern’s head. He’d crushed its neck, windpipe. The Wyverns stared. And then they shrieked.

A mother dove at Grimalkin. He dodged it, struck a blow that shattered the huge leg. It screamed and Grimalkin pointed. A bolt of lightning hit the Wyvern in the head, sending it reeling backwards. Another landed—Grimalkin held out a claw.

“[Stone Sphere]!”

A boulder appeared in his hand, as large as his chest. Grimalkin heaved it. It went straight through the Wyvern’s opened wings. The second boulder struck the Wyvern in the face and shattered its skull.

The weyr stared. Grimalkin stood there. He raised his arms. Below, Sir Relz and Noass stared. The people of Pallass looked at the image of Grimalkin standing on the walls. The Drake’s muscles rippled as he flexed. He roared up at the Wyverns.

I am Grimalkin of Pallass! Come, you wretched beasts! I will bring all of you down if I must!

Alone. They dove at him, screaming. He raised his arm and a gauntlet of stone blocked one strike from a pair of claws. The magus turned, grabbed the Wyvern’s claws and threw it. The Wyvern crashed across the stone. Grimalkin ducked another.

“Weak. Weak!

One claw grabbed the Wyvern’s tail as it flew past him, dragging it back as it tried to fly forwards. Alarmed, the Wyvern tried to fly. It outweighed the huge Drake several times! It was impossible. The Drake couldn’t—

Grimalkin roared as he heaved. His feet were anchored to the ground by his spell. And the Wyvern lost. Grimalkin threw it back, across the wall. He charged it. And his fist crushed its vulnerable neck. Grimalkin raised one fist and the Wyverns backed up.

Grimalkin of Pallass! He’s fighting them alone!

Noass was screaming. He and Sir Relz were jumping up and down, pointing like hatchlings. And the roar echoed them. It came from below, from Drakes, Gnolls, Dullahans, and Garuda. They saw him standing on the walls and screamed his name.

“Grimalkin!”

The [Sinew Magus] heard them. He turned and raised a fist. And Pallass roared. The Wyverns wavered at the unexpected sound. Grimalkin looked around the walls. Then he twisted.

A strike to the back. It was so fast that even Grimalkin couldn’t catch it. Something blew him across the battlements. The Drake twisted, catching himself as he landed. He stared at his torn scales, felt his back muscle ripped open. He looked up.

The Wyvern Lord landed, howling its fury. Grimalkin eyed it. It was larger than the lesser Wyverns by a third. At least. And its scales glimmered. There was something intelligent in its gaze as it hissed at Grimalkin. It kept its wings folded, a smaller target. And the Wyvern’s head swayed back and forth as it crouched.

Grimalkin put one hand on his belt. A little vial appeared in his claws and he tossed it down. The Wyvern Lord’s eyes narrowed as Grimalkin’s injuries healed. The [Sinew Magus] nodded.

“You must be the leader. Good.”

The two stared each other down. Appraising each other. Grimalkin looked around, keeping attention focused on the Wyvern Lord. The rest of the weyr was circling, but keeping their distance. He nodded.

“[Bound Spell: Siege Fireball].”

Mana condensed around one claw. The Wyvern Lord’s eyes narrowed. It struck charging, its head snapping. Grimalkin dodged. Or tried to. The biting jaws missed his torso, but the Wyvern’s head struck him. The [Sinew Magus] flew backwards.

Strong.

Grimalkin gritted his teeth. He stared at his chest, feeling the bruise on his scales. He looked at the Wyvern Lord—

[Flash Step]. The spell saved Grimalkin’s life. The Wyvern Lord’s tail cracked the air where Grimalkin’s head had been. It had swung around, using its tail to strike a second blow. The [Sinew Magus] saw the Wyvern Lord turning. He pointed a finger.

“[Siege Fireball]!”

The huge orb of fire shot from his claw, larger than Grimalkin himself. The fiery spell hit the Wyvern Lord as it tried to draw back. Grimalkin felt a flash, an explosion of heat. He waited, his guard up. The smoke cleared, and the Drake heard a shriek.

The Wyvern Lord was standing in the radius of scorched stone. Unharmed. It howled at Grimalkin. He eyed its scales.

“Spell resistance.”

The two stared at each other. Grimalkin gritted his teeth. Then he charged. The Wyvern Lord roared as it flew at him. They collided like thunder. And Grimalkin—cursed. Just once.

 

—-

 

“Desk Sergeant! There are too many! We have to fall back!”

Hold your ground! Hold the street or I’ll toss you off the floor myself!

Kel shouted as a cluster of [Guards] on the 8th floor fought to hold. The City Watch blocked off the streets around their Watch House. Civilians were fleeing past them, through the gaps on either side of the street. And the Watch held the middle.

Barely. A Wyvern flew overhead. The [Guards] ducked. A group of the Watch with bows loosed and the Wyvern howled as arrows lodged in its wings. It breathed—

Shields!

The Watch raised their shields along with Kel. The frost froze his scales and Kel shouted in agony. But the shields blocked the worst of the frost breath. The tower shields cracked as the metal couldn’t handle the extreme change in temperature. Kel turned his head as the Wyvern landed.

Archers! Take out the eyes! Shields, forwards! Push it back!

The [Guards] advanced. Long pikes braced as the [Guards] with shields tried to hold the Wyvern back as it looked for something to bite. Kel looked past the Wyvern and swore.

A group of Gnolls were running. They stopped as the Wyvern turned. The Desk Sergeant pointed.

Charge! Protect the civilians!

The squad of [Guards] rammed forwards. The Wyvern recoiled and the Gnoll family turned to run. Kel shouted.

“[Protector’s Order]! Run! Get past us!

The Gnoll family halted mid-step. They turned back. The [Guards] formed an opening, striking at the Wyvern’s hide. Their steel weapons barely cut the Wyvern’s hide! It hissed, slammed its head into a rank of shields—then it turned and slammed its tail like a whip.

The first rank of [Guards] flung backwards against the second rank. Kel felt an impact, pushed the Dullahan falling onto him back up. He looked around. The Gnoll family was running into the safe zone. Good, good.

He looked up and saw the Wyvern opening its jaws. An arrow bounced off its head, but missed the eye. The disorganized [Guards] tried to raise their shields, but their formation was filled with gaps. The Wyvern breathed.

Frost engulfed the squad. In his chainmail, Kel felt his scales freeze. He screamed. But the deathly cold hadn’t killed him. Nearly—but it was the Dullahan in the first rank who had taken the frost. The [Guardswoman]’s head dropped from her body as she toppled. Frost covered her armor.

“Damn you. Form ranks! Archers, shoot its eyes out! Shields forwards!

Kel fumbled for the spear he was carrying. The [Guards] reformed. The Wyvern retreated as more arrows flew. It had killed half of the first rank and some in the second. But Pallass’ Watch refused to die. This time the Wyvern charged, trying to scatter them.

It pierced its chest on their pikes. The long pikes designed for stopping a horse’s charge groaned, but six of them struck the Wyvern’s chest. Two snapped, but the rest buried themselves deep. The Wyvern uttered a scream. It tried to back up, but Drakes and Gnolls and Dullahans cut at it. A Garuda went for the eyes, flying.

It tore the Garuda apart. Another [Guard] died as the Wyvern broke loose of the pikes. It twisted, and the long, whip-like tail snapped around. It struck a [Guard] and the impact cracked the Drake’s chest, breaking armor and bone.

Dead and dead. Kel’s healing potion did nothing to the staring face. So he turned on the Wyvern. The Watch cut the creature’s legs, shot its wings so full of arrows that when it tried to fly, it couldn’t.

Red blood froze on the cobblestones. But it began to melt the frost as the Wyvern fell. The Watch stood, panting, counting their losses as the Wyvern slumped over. They’d done it. Kel, wide eyed, leaned on the rim of his shield.

“We got it?”

He’d never fought a Wyvern. But the Watch had been trained to fight monsters. He looked around.

“Desk Sergeant? Orders?”

Kel looked around. The city was in panic. He was hearing multiple horns calling the alarm. Order dictated he take every [Guard] he could spare and reinforce the area.

But the Watch on the 8th floor was holding this ground. They’d funneled every civilian they could find into the Watch House, the blocks they were holding. And the squad was down a third of their number. Kel shook his head.

“We—we hold this spot. Grab those shields! Pull back down the street. We need to reinforce.”

A shriek. First faint, then growing louder. A wail of fury. Kel turned his head. He saw a second Wyvern land next to the corpse of the first. It looked at its dead companion and then howled at the squad. Kel felt his heart drop.

“Ancestors. Form up. Form—”

He was turning, raising his shield. But the Drake tasted despair on his tongue. Foul. He put himself in the front row, shoulder-to-shoulder with Patrol Leader Medain. Kel looked up as the Frost Wyvern opened its maw, cold vapors pouring out of its throat.

“Archers.”

It was a plea. The [Guards] aimed. And they loosed. Nine arrows flew. Half missed the Wyvern’s moving head. They were [Guards], not expert [Archers].

Four arrows struck the Wyvern’s head. Two along the neck. One glanced off a tooth. The last—missed the eye. Kel closed his eyes. Then he opened them.

“Brace—”

The Wyvern pointed its head at Kel. It inhaled—and Kel heard a voice.

Guardsman, left! [Rapid Retreat]!

Kel jerked at the voice of command. He felt his legs move. The Watch surged left, moving fast—faster than Kel could have imagined. The Wyvern exhaled.

Frost stung Kel’s back. Froze his scales against his armor. He cried out, but the Wyvern had missed. It stared at the empty street, then the squad that had dodged as one. The Wyvern recoiled. Kel looked around.

Fall back! Archers, covering fire! Aim for the wings! Keep it from flying!

The Watch reacted instinctively. They fell back, showering the Wyvern with arrows. It hissed as the arrows struck its wings. Kel looked around. Where—?

There. A Drake with light blue scales was shouting from a rooftop. He pointed.

Now! Relc!

On it!

A huge Drake charged past Kel. He had a long spear in one hand. Kel shouted. The Drake was alone! But he was so quick! A blur shot towards the Wyvern. Relc charged into the monster’s huge chest.

“[Triple Thrust]!”

His spear struck three times in an instant. The Wyvern recoiled, staring down at the three holes punched in its hide. It tried to back up, fanning its wings.

[Attack Formation]! Hit the wings!

The [Strategist] shouted. Kel saw the [Archers] aiming, placing their shots. The Wyvern’s wings filled with holes. It tried to fly—Relc braced, and stabbed with all of his might. His spear went deep into the Wyvern’s side. It shrieked and tried to get away. The [Guardsman] pushed in. The spear slowly pierced the Wyvern and it writhed, trying to get away.

“Forwards! Watch the legs! Use the pikes and strike it from afar!”

The squad surged forwards again. They joined the unknown Drake and stabbed mercilessly. The Wyvern tried to fly one last time, but like the first it died.

Relc’s spear was embedded halfway through its guts. The Drake pulled the spear out, grunting with effort. He looked around.

“Hey.”

“Who are you? Guardsman?”

Kel recognized the uniform, but not the Drake’s colors. Then a light went in his head. He stared at Liscor’s insignia. Then the stripes on one armband.

“Senior Guardsman?”

Relc grinned.

“That’s me. Hey Olesm! Get down here! The Wyverns will pick you off!”

“I’m surveying the situation! Relc—there’s trouble two streets that way! Another Wyvern!”

The Drake cursed.

“Damn. Alright! Here I go!”

He turned. Kel didn’t even see the Drake start running. Relc was blurring down the street as the Drake on the rooftop took another look around and then ran.

“Squad—injured?”

“They got Shais.”

“No. I’m alive.”

Shais panted. Kel looked around as the squad sounded off. Then he heard a voice.

“Who’s in charge here?”

Kel looked around. The Drake called Olesm was standing in the street. He looked and sounded like an officer, but again, not one Kel had ever met. The Desk Sergeant instinctively saluted.

“Desk Sergeant Kel! 8th Floor’s Watch House! Who—who are you?”

“Olesm. Strategist for Liscor.”

Liscor?

The [Guards] stared. But yes—of course! Kel’s eyes widened.

“The door?”

Olesm nodded. He was staring at the sky, adjusting a glowing ring on one clawed finger.

“Liscor’s sending all of its Gold-rank adventurers. I came through as well as Relc.”

“He’s going to fight a Wyvern? We have to reinforce—”

Patrol Leader Medain turned. Olesm barked.

“Belay that, Guardsman! Relc is a [Spearmaster]! He’ll reinforce any squad that needs help! You’re all with me! We’re going to expand the zone of control and find as many civilians as possible. Are they in the Watch House?”

“As many as we can find.”

Kel answered. His mind was in a whirl, but it was a relief to hear the steady note in Olesm’s voice. But he was younger than Kel! Yet no one was questioning him. Medain turned, a faint light of recognition in his eyes.

“Wait. Relc. Was that the Gecko of Liscor…? I heard they had a monster in their Watch—”

Olesm ignored them. He was looking around.

“Desk Sergeant, how many [Guards] do you have? Where are they located? I need a map of the area. And I’m assuming command of your sector as Liscor’s [Strategist]. Unless you object?”

“Nossir!”

Kel saluted. He felt a surge of relief. And then—almost a sense of incredulity. Liscor was coming to help Pallass? He looked at Olesm.

“Is it just you, Strategist?”

The younger Drake met Kel’s gaze. He smiled for half a second and shook his head.

“The door can’t move many people through. But don’t worry, Sergeant. We’re not the only ones.”

He pointed. And Kel saw it at last. It had taken an age. Or maybe minutes. In the scale of the attack, it felt like forever. But he saw the Drakes wearing plate armor. The Flamewardens charge down the street, heading for the stairs. Keldrass wore the Heartflame Breastplate, and it burned with fire as he roared.

For Pallass! Take the walls!

 

—-

 

Wyverns flew into the city, spiraling down, landing. A dozen had occupied the 4th Floor. A dozen. Watch Captain Qissa was trying to just hold them in place. Her [Mages] were blasting the Wyverns, but they had resistance to spells and they were just huge. Even a [Fireball] couldn’t do more than hurt one.

“Where’s 1st Army? Where’s General Duln?”

She bellowed at one of her Senior Guards. The Drake shouted back.

“I don’t know! They’re all fighting below! They’re making their way up, but—”

Duck!

Everyone threw themselves down as all twelve Wyverns breathed at once. The combined breath attack hit a magical barrier—and shattered the spell. Qissa felt the frost eating at her scales. She heard [Guards] screaming. The Senior Guardsman shouted at the Watch Captain.

“The Frost Resistance potions aren’t working! It’s too cold!”

“Keep them pinned! Just keep them pinned—until reinforcements get here! Tell the 1st I need reinforcements now! They need to take the stairs even if the Wyverns hit them! The higher floors are being overrun!

Qissa was shouting. She saw one of the Wyverns lunging, trying to break the walls of [Guards] behind their steel barriers. They were meant to close a street down, not fight Wyverns! It smashed into the steel and Qissa saw the metal tear. She swore and grabbed the enchanted spear she carried.

“I’m going in!”

“Watch Captain! No—”

Hands grabbed for her. Qissa fought them. Someone had to hold the Wyverns! She saw the [Guards] bunching up as six Wyverns charged them. They were going to be overrun! And then—

Something flew past Qissa’s head. She turned as she saw something. Not a spell. It was too slow. Slower than an arrow. It was a flying…glass…jar. And it shone with red. Like a—

Down!

The flask exploded as it hit the first Wyvern in the head. Qissa saw everyone duck. But the Wyverns just blinked as the red, oily liquid covered them. Two of the Wyverns stared at the red liquid on their friends. Then they turned back to the [Guards].

And one of the red-covered Wyverns bit the first in the neck. The other Wyverns recoiled. But then the other three Wyverns attacked their fellows. They screamed, foaming at the mouth.

“Ancestors, what—”

The Wyverns were fighting amongst themselves! Three had gone berserk, the ones covered in the red oil. It had absorbed into their scales somehow, and they were frothing, biting their friends. Qissa stared. How, by the walls…?

Then she heard a voice.

“See, this is why I stay in my cell. I leave for one day, and this is what happens.”

Qissa knew that voice. She turned her head and there he was. A Drake with dusky yellow scales. He was slim, tall. And oh yes, naked.

Saliss stood in the war torn street, juggling a trio of glowing potions. Or—alchemical mixtures. He nodded at Qissa.

“Watch Captain. I open my door for a breath of air and I saw all these Wyverns. What’s going on?”

“We—we’re under attack.”

Qissa replied slowly. Saliss paused. He looked at the fighting Wyverns. The nine were killing their enraged companions.

“You don’t say? How many?”

“I don’t know. The upper floors are overrun. They’ve taken the walls. The 1st Army is trapped below—I heard Magus Grimalkin was on the walls. Alone.

The Watch Captain searched for more information, but the [Alchemist] just nodded.

“Got it. Well, I guess it’s my turn to earn my keep. Pull the Watch back.”

Qissa looked at him. Saliss. The Drake she’d arrested countless times, fined, reprimanded. Pallass’ number one public nuisance. And Named Adventurer. She turned.

Fall back! Named Adventurer is advancing!

The Watch scrambled back. Saliss waited until they were clear. Then he aimed for the Wyverns. They were biting the corpses of their enraged comrades, trying to kill them even after they were dead. They looked up as the three glass jars flew at them.

The first detonated in midair, spraying the Wyverns with a brown-black liquid that glistened. They raised their wings, but the liquid did nothing. The second liquid was clear. It splattered over all of them, again exploding just above the cluster of nine Wyverns. They hissed—the smell was terrible. And the third? The flask covered the lot with a red powder.

And nothing else happened. Saliss eyed the Wyverns as they shrieked their displeasure. Qissa stared at them, but they weren’t possessed by madness. Just—covered by all three substances. She looked at Saliss.

Alchemist—

Saliss looked at her.

“I have to know what their limits are. These are variants. They have some kind of magical resistance. Test one. [Flash Sparks].”

He clicked his claws. Qissa saw a flicker of light near one of the Wyvern’s feet as the monster inhaled, aiming at Saliss. And the Wyverns ignited.

All three liquids exploded. The red powder actually exploded. Qissa threw her claws up, shielding her face.

Ancestors!

The fire’s heat hit her from afar. And it kept burning, unlike a [Fireball]. The mixture consumed the Wyverns, and they screamed, trying to roll, put the fire out. But it stuck to them. Saliss watched. The Wyverns’ shrieks lasted only ten seconds. Then they slumped. They were still burning, the alchemical substances sticking to them.

“Test complete. Durability’s up from regular Wyverns. But they’re not chilled. Fire does work.”

He nodded. The [Alchemist] turned. The Watch was staring. Civilians looked at Saliss out of their windows. The [Alchemist] paused. Then he posed.

“Hello, Pallass! Did you miss me? Sorry I missed the alarm call—I work in a soundproof laboratory! And I hate Chaldion.”

“You—you—”

Qissa stared at Saliss. The Drake waved at the buildings. He winked at her and pitched his voice so everyone could hear.

“I guess I’ll help out. I’ll bill the city later. Oh, and don’t eat those Wyverns. Mm. I wonder if Lasica can do a Wyvern steak. I’ll find out later. See you, Watch Captain.”

He turned. And he spread his arms wide, revealing his nudity. Pallass’ citizens stared. Some shouted at him, almost as if they were in a normal day. The Drake was acting like it. And his absurdity made them forget their fear. Saliss grinned around. Then he looked up. Qissa looked at him.

“Saliss.”

“Can’t stay, Watch Captain. Take this for the frostbite. Share it.”

Saliss tossed a vial at her. The Drake caught the warm vial and saw Saliss pulling out two vials. He downed each. And then he exhaled.

“Whew. That’s hot. And this—”

The second potion was a Potion of Speed. Qissa recognized it. Saliss’ form blurred. He turned. And she thought she saw him look back for one second before he ran. Ran towards the stairs, already pulling more potions out of his bag of holding.

The [Alchemist] shot towards the stairs. [Soldiers] were trying to fight the Wyverns attacking from above. Others had landed on the northern grand staircase and were snapping at the 1st Army trying to advance. Saliss ran past the Wyverns. Qissa barely saw his arms move. Two potions flew—and burst. One Wyvern swallowed a potion and immediately began writhing in agony, screaming. The second was hit in the head by the liquid that solidified, covering its eyes, its nostrils. Saliss ran past them, not even slowing. He threw a third flask up.

Lightning exploded in midair, downing a Wyvern. It crashed onto the steps. Saliss tossed a potion at its head and there was a bloom of light. Qissa’s jaw dropped. She’d heard rumors of how Saliss fought. But this—she watched the [Alchemist] climbing. Faster and faster, and the Named Adventurer was still naked. But he ran faster, towards the walls. And Qissa watched him. She’d heard what he’d whispered before he left.

She thought he’d said, ‘Sorry I’m late.’

 

—-

 

“Grimalkin of Pallass is fighting on the walls alone, ladies and gentledrakes! We saw him engage what looked to be the leader of the Wyverns, but we are not in position to see more! We can only assume Grimalkin is fighting to take down the leader of the weyr! Right now, Sir Relz and I are hearing that the Wyverns are being pushed back by the 1st Army! They’ve reached the 4th floor, but they are far, far from our position!”

Noass was bellowing at Sir Relz and the magical scrying orb. He pointed across the 9th Floor.

“The forges are under attack! The [Blacksmiths] must have been caught completely off-guard. We’re trying to see—I see Master Maughin over there! Look!

He pointed Maughin’s huge figure was visible against his forge. He had a hammer in hand and was throwing it at a Wyvern that had landed. The other [Smiths] were throwing tools too, crouched behind their forges. The Wyverns weren’t interested in the iron and smoke, but some had still assailed the smithy. One reared back, and a hammer struck it in the face. The Wyvern recoiled, and hissed. It lunged at Maughin—

Damned Wyverns!

Pelt’s hammer cracked the Wyvern across the skull. The Wyvern crashed down for a second. Maughin retreated and Pelt raised his hand. His hammer flew back into his hand. He threw it again, and then another hammer his apprentice handed him. He was standing in his forge, protecting his Grasgil bardiche.

“Get everything in the bag of holding! And get to cover!”

The Dwarf roared at his apprentice and the other [Smiths]. They were running for shelter from their exposed forges. Pelt swore as the Wyvern he’d clocked ran at him. He looked around. Then he picked up part of his broken anvil and with an oath, hurled it at the Wyvern.

The huge piece of metal sent the monster reeling backwards. But it kept coming. Pelt ran backwards as the Wyvern snapped at him, trying to bite him. Maughin tackled it from the side. The [Armorer] was huge, nearly the size of a War Walker! But the Wyvern was larger still. It rammed him against the wall of his smithy.

“That’s Maughin and Pelt! Our two best [Smiths]!”

Noass cried out in dismay. Maughin groaned, trying to shove the Wyvern off him. Pelt swore and hammered at the Wyvern’s leg, but it was too large for him to bring down alone. One of his strikes split the scales on the Wyvern and the monster shrieked. It turned its head, aiming at him.

Pelt!

Maughin roared. He tried to shove the Wyvern off him as Pelt backed up. The Wyvern opened its maw. And a shadow passed by Pelt. The Dwarf turned. Seborn appeared out of Pelt’s shadow. The Drowned Man grabbed Pelt and vanished.

“What—?”

Maughin stared. Then he saw a shadow. A giant man, as tall as he was, raised a staff.

“[Earthen Spire].”

Maughin felt an impact. The Wyvern slammed into the forge’s ceiling, breaking through it as a spire of stone shot up, impaling it from below. It didn’t pierce the beast’s hide, but it threw the Wyvern off Maughin. He felt someone pull him back as the Wyvern landed on its back, stunned. Maughin stared. He recognized the half-Giant.

“…Moore?”

“We got here as fast as we could.”

The half-Giant nodded at Seborn. The Drowned Man leapt forwards, slashing at the Wyvern as it tried to rise. His enchanted daggers went through the beast’s wings. The [Rogue] slashed a series of gashes through the Wyvern’s left wing. Then he leapt backwards as the Wyvern slashed at him.

“Ulinde! Now!

The Drowned Man turned. Maughin saw a female Drake—no, a Selphid, run past him. The [Spellslinger] aimed both wands at the Wyvern.

“[Sticky Webs]!”

The white strands engulfed the Wyvern as it tried to rise. It was stuck, and thrashed, tearing loose of the magical bindings. But that was enough. Maughin’s head turned. And then he saw her.

A huge Raskghar—no, someone wearing a Raskghar’s form surged past Ulinde and Seborn. She had a flail in her hands. Now, she whirled it. Bringing the steel mace down on the Wyvern’s head. Again and again. The two-handed flail danced in Jelaqua Ivirith’s paws. The [Iron Tempest] struck the Wyvern’s head as it tried to rise, bombarding the same spot with all her might.

From the other side, Seborn was slashing at the base of the Wyvern’s neck. Moore and Ulinde stood back, staff and wands raised. But the Wyvern never got free of the bindings. Jelaqua delivered the last blow and the Wyvern’s skull deformed. She stepped back.

“That’s—who is that? What in the name of the Walled Cities is that…that’s not a Gnoll!”

Noass was staring at Jelaqua. Sir Relz pointed.

“I recognize the half-Giant and Drowned Man. This is the Halfseekers. That must be their team captain, Jelaqua Ivirith. A Selphid, wearing a…some unknown body. Didn’t we hear about some strange new monster in Liscor’s dungeon, Noass?”

“It might be, Sir Relz! And it looks like two Selphids—they’ve taken down a Wyvern!”

Jelaqua strode over to Maughin. The [Armorer], shaken, looked at Jelaqua. She smiled at him.

“Jelaqua.”

“Hey handsome. I heard the alarm. Sorry we were late. There are Wyverns all over! I can’t stay, but we’ll get everyone to safety. Come on.”

She grabbed him. Maughin stared at Jelaqua, his lover. He reached out.

“You came at the right time.”

The Selphid smiled at him behind a Raskghar’s face. She blew him a kiss. Maughin realized her combat body was male, much to his discomfort.

“I couldn’t let you die, could I? Sorry about the body, but I don’t want to wreck the good ones.”

The Halfseekers formed up behind Jelaqua. Seborn snapped at Jelaqua’s back.

“We fought our way three floors up here for your date, Jelaqua. Now’s not the time to relax!”

Moore shook his head, scanning the 9th Floor.

“Jelaqua, we’re needed.”

“I know. Maughin, get to cover.”

“One moment!”

The [Armorer] ran for his forge. Jelaqua cursed.

“Maughin, I really love you, but now’s not the time to—”

“Here! I finished it this morning!”

The smith hunted around his anvil. Then he tossed something at Jelaqua. She stared at the flail, twice as large as her old one. She whistled.

“Oh wow. Just what I need!”

Maughin nodded. He watched as Jelaqua tossed her old flail to one side. She spun the huge ball of iron, larger than her head with ease. Her huge body could easily swing the flail, and the force behind it—he nodded.

“Made for the Raskghar form. Go. We’ll get to safety.”

“Hah. So that’s the Selphid? Peh. She smells like a dog. Get out of here. Emessa! Grab my bag of holding! We’re not sticking around to get eaten by Wyverns!”

Pelt jogged past Maughin on his shorter legs. His apprentice ran after him. Jelaqua smiled at Maughin. Then she looked up.

“Get clear, Maughin. Halfseekers, on me! We’re clearing the 9th and the staircase! Ulinde, stay behind—no, stay in front of Moore! Your body’s expendable. Let’s go!”

The Halfseekers charged across the 9th floor. Noass was pointing.

“It looks like more Gold-rank teams are entering the fray! They’ve downed a Wyvern—of course, the Halfseekers are a veteran team! Sir Relz! Sir Relz?”

“Noass, I’m seeing more explosions from below. Someone’s—it looks like someone’s breaking through the lower floors! Look! The staircase!”

He pointed. Someone was racing up the steps. And Wyverns were falling, some literally exploding in midair, others crashing down, wings entangled, or covered in a burning mixture. Sir Relz gasped.

“It’s Saliss of Lights! Pallass’ Named Adventurer!

Here he came. Jelaqua’s eyes widened as the Halfseekers faced down another Wyvern. She brought the flail’s head down crushing the Wyvern’s clawed foot. A glass jar sailed past her face and into the Wyvern’s head. The Wyvern screamed as acid burned its face. Something raced past Jelaqua.

Saliss. Noass was shouting as the [Alchemist] charged up the walls.

“That is Saliss Oliwing, Pallass’ resident Named Adventurer! Saliss of Lights! He’s cleared a path up the stairs all by himself! And he’s going onto the walls!

The Named Adventurer was climbing higher. Wyverns swooped down on him, screaming. But the [Alchemist] was a blur. He stopped and threw potions. Jelaqua saw one, eight, sixteen—

They detonated in midair. Burning webs, flashes of lightning, alchemical explosions ate up the Wyverns diving at Saliss. Ulinde gaped.

“How did he—”

“That is Saliss of Lights, everyone! The Named Adventurer rumored to have the highest attacking power in the world! He’s a pure [Alchemist]—”

Noass stared, lost for words for a second. Saliss was spinning, throwing objects he plucked from his bag of holding. A Wyvern landed across from him. A potion hit it, covering it with acid. A second detonated, lightning blasting the Wyvern. A third, a fourth—the Wyvern disappeared.

The Named Adventurer stood on the stairs. He turned. And posed. His naked body faced Pallass. And they shouted. He had many names. ‘That naked bastard’, ‘Pallass’ number one nuisance’, ‘that insane [Alchemist]’. But he was also theirs.

Saliss of Lights!

He climbed higher. Jelaqua looked up towards the walls. The Named Adventurer had gone alone. She stared at her team.

“We’ll take the 9th. On me!”

Her team ran. And Saliss climbed higher. Into a sea of Wyverns. A naked [Alchemist]. But that was what it meant to be a Named Adventurer. Jelaqua shook her head.

“Not us. Not yet.”

Then she turned and ran towards the next Wyvern she spotted.

 

—-

 

Grimalkin of Pallass knelt on the walls of Pallass. He stared at the ground for a second. Then he stood up. He clutched at his arm. It wasn’t moving. And he could barely feel the ice encrusting it.

“You’re fairly strong.”

That was all he said. The Wyvern Lord stared down at him. It opened its mouth again. Grimalkin dodged left.

“[Greater Frostward]—”

He recast the spell, but the frozen breath still hit him. And it froze his legs, his entire right side. Grimalkin stumbled.

Cold. Absolute, piercing cold. It went through his spell—no, the spell was working. But it was just too cold. Grimalkin could see frost forming hundreds of feet from the radius of the Wyvern Lord’s blast. And at the epicenter—he stumbled forwards. Numb. Completely. His right arm barely moved.

“[Flashfire].”

Fire caught. Grimalkin lit up his entire body. Intentionally. The flames burned, warming him. Slightly. But the cold—

Grimalkin saw a movement. He raised his guard. The impact from the Wyvern Lord’s tail tossed him through the air like a toy. He hit the ground hard.

“Greater Wyvern.”

The [Sinew Magus] spat some blood from his mouth as the Wyvern Lord flew after him. He raised himself up. No good. His muscle was as good as dead on his right side. The frostbite had killed it. So he gritted his teeth and spoke a word.

“[Muscular Restructuring]!”

His muscles shifted. Grimalkin felt the dead muscle moving. His entire body rippled as the Wyvern Lord landed. The huge Wyvern stared at Grimalkin. His right arm was gone. Should have been gone. But then the Magus was flexing his arm and moving his legs. Grimalkin grimaced. He looked…a bit thinner? As if he’d shed a bit of mass. He glared up at the Wyvern.

“Looks like I can’t block that breath. I wonder if this is what it’s like to fight a Dragon. It makes me wish I’d invested in better shield spells. Dodging—”

He [Flash Stepped] sideways just in time. The Wyvern Lord had exhaled again. But instead of a stream of frost, it had hurled an orb of frost. It exploded on the walls and Grimalkin felt the chill piercing him even as he dashed further away.

“Continuous ability to use breath attacks, changing the nature of the attack—spell resistance—”

The [Sinew Magus] disappeared as the Wyvern Lord dove. The thundering impact would have killed the Drake if it had hit him. Grimalkin continued, appearing backwards. He threw two [Fireballs]. They exploded on the Wyvern Lord’s scales. But all it did was disorient the Wyvern for a few seconds.

“—And incredible physical strength and agility. Far stronger than a normal Wyvern.”

He waited. The Wyvern Lord turned towards him. It shot towards the stationary Drake. Grimalkin didn’t move. The Wyvern Lord passed through the illusion and halted, confused.

Grimalkin stepped out of his [Invisibility] spell and lined up a punch. [Lion’s Strength], [Gauntlet of Force], [Tremor Wave]—

His punch rocked the Wyvern Lord back as he struck its chest. The Wyvern lurched with the blow, its entire frame moving up with the impact. Grimalkin was already ducking away as the Wyvern Lord whirled. It winced—

And that was all. Grimalkin stared at the place where he’d hit it. He’d have punched through a normal Wyvern’s hide with that hit. But it was just a heavy punch to the Wyvern. He saw it open its jaws.

“[Siege Fire—]”

The explosion as ice met fire hurled Grimalkin back. But the frost engulfed the heat. Freezing him again. Grimalkin blocked his face. So long as his brain wasn’t frozen—he narrowed his gaze, feeling his eyes freezing. He had to stay up. Had to—

The [Sinew Magus] stopped moving. He stood in place, a layer of ice covering his entire body. His eyes stared ahead. The Wyvern Lord howled triumphantly. But it still stared at Grimalkin warily. It looked up, shrieking a command.

Another Wyvern landed. It stared at Grimalkin, just as warily. It shrieked. The Drake didn’t move. It was surely dead, waiting to be eaten. The Wyvern cautiously approached—

Grimalkin burst out of the icy shell. One fist slammed the Wyvern’s head up in an uppercut. The Wyvern rocked backwards as Grimalkin emerged, coughing. Frostbite turned his scales black. He fumbled for a healing potion.

“Feor was easier than—”

He rolled. The Wyvern Lord exhaled again. Grimalkin felt himself freezing and popped the vial into his mouth. He chewed it down, shards and all. Live. He had to stand. The [Sinew Magus] rose.

“What’s taking so long?”

He looked around. The wall was filled with Wyverns. Some were retreating with injuries. They were using this place as a staging ground to attack. They had to be driven off here, and the Wyvern Lord slain or the weyr would never leave. He knew it.

But he was alone. Grimalkin growled as the Wyvern Lord advanced, cautiously. It was checking to make sure Grimalkin was real by fanning its wings, watching the dust hit him.

“Clever.”

Grimalkin looked around. No one stood on the walls. He heard shouting from below. But the walls! Grimalkin looked around. He bellowed, in frustration at the Wyvern Lord.

“I cannot stand alone! I am not Zel Shivertail!”

The Wyvern Lord blinked at Grimalkin. He shouted.

Drakes do not stand alone! Where are my reinforcements?

He shouted to the air, to the Wyverns. But he was not unheard. Below him, far below, Chaldion looked up.

“Here.”

[Grand Strategist] nodded to the figures around him. He opened the scroll. The figures around him did likewise.

“Activate [Gateway].”

Grimalkin saw a flash of light. He turned. The Wyvern Lord looked as well. A few feet away, the air glowed. And Chaldion stepped out of the air. He nodded calmly to Grimalkin.

“Grand Strategist is in position.”

More figures stepped out of the light with him. A Dullahan with a huge mace, glowing red-hot and a tower shield appeared. He nodded.

“1st [General] Duln. Apologies for the delay, Magus. I was giving orders and equipping a strike force for battle.”

[Soldiers] rushed out of the air around him. They took up a formation on the walls. A Garuda officer pointed a glowing spear. They were all wearing enchanted gear and their weapons burned. Heat enchantments.

“[Engineers], reclaim those siege weapons! [Archers], ready!”

The officer bellowed. Grimalkin saw the [General] point at the Wyvern.

“[Volley Fire].”

Bows snapped as the [Archers] instantly raised and fired. Each shot landed. The Wyvern Lord recoiled as the enchanted arrows exploded and blasted it back. General Duln pointed up.

“[Phantom Volley].”

A second wave of arrows appeared, exact copies of the first. They blasted the Wyverns overhead to pieces. General Duln pointed.

“[Lineholders], advance! With me! Support Magus Grimalkin!”

1st Army advanced, pursuing the Wyvern Lord. More were flooding out of the magical gateway—until it closed. Nearly four hundred [Soldiers] had leapt through the gateways. And more were surging up the stairs far below. A coordinated push. Chaldion pointed.

“Lieutenant, hit and retreat. Cover the [Engineers]. [Speed Formation].”

A group of Garuda led by the [Lieutenant] shot into the air. They shot through the skies, as fast as Bevussa, flying in formation as they aimed at the first Wyvern. Grimalkin hauled himself up.

“Grand Strategist.”

“Magus. Are you hurt?”

A pair of [Healers] rushed over. Grimalkin looked around.

“The Wyvern Lord is immune to low-tier spells and enchantments.”

“I saw.”

Chaldion pointed. The Wyvern Lord was flying backwards, howling. Wyverns flew around it. The barrage of arrows had barely scratched it. General Duln pointed.

“[Shieldwall Formation]! [Rapid Advance]!”

The Wyverns and the Wyvern Lord exhaled. But this time the ranks of [Soldiers] didn’t freeze as the magical frost struck them. Their shields repelled the frost and cold thanks to the [General]’s Skill.

But it could not stop the ground and air from freezing. The [Soldiers] slowed, shouting in pain as their armor froze from the ambient temperature alone. But they were alive and they kept charging. [Archers] loosed arrows, hitting Wyverns in the wings and pulling them down into the range of the [General] and his elites. The Wyverns died, but the Wyvern Lord landed and struck a blow that sent a group of [Soldiers] flying.

“General Duln can’t handle the Wyvern leader alone. Can you take the walls?”

“Go. Saliss has nearly arrived.”

Chaldion’s one eye flashed at Grimalkin. The [Grand Strategist] looked around as Grimalkin charged after Duln. Chaldion stood alone as the 1st Army fought to take the walls. An [Engineer] swung up a ballista coated in ice. The siege weapon hadn’t been destroyed. He triggered it and a bolt went through a Wyvern.

“I will not let this city fall yet.”

The [Grand Strategist] stared around the walls. The 1st Army had caught the Wyverns off-guard. But there were nearly as many Wyverns as [Soldiers]. Without reinforcements, the group on the walls would be crushed. Chaldion slowly removed the eye patch he wore. His fake, red gemstone eye shone in his left socket. He whispered.

“[Path to Victory].”

The Drake’s eyes flashed. He looked around at Pallass. The [Grand Strategist] nodded.

“I see one road.”

His eyes found the naked Drake charging up the walls. It looked at the Wyvern Lord and Chaldion’s gaze narrowed. Then he stared down at something. The Drake froze.

“What is that?

The light vanished from Chaldion’s gaze. He blinked a few times. Then he touched a stone.

[Long-Range Command]. This is Grand Strategist Chaldion! Guardsmen! Fall back from the 8th floor, east! Climb to the 9th and hold the line there!

Below, on the 8th Floor, Desk Sergeant Kel and the other fighters on the ground looked up. They stared at Olesm and each other in alarm, but then they rushed for the stairs. Chaldion spun. He pointed at the [Soldiers] around him. More reinforcements were taking the walls, seeing the fighting above.

“[Army: Veteran’s Knowledge]!”

A group of struggling Dullahan [Guards] fighting a Wyvern on a staircase paused for a moment as Chaldion shouted. Then their formation tightened up. They advanced, shields held ready. The Wyvern backed up. It twisted—the Dullahans were already bracing as its tail came around in the sneak attack Wyverns loved to use. The Wyvern recoiled as it failed to dislodge the Dullahans.

Seamlessly, the Dullahans hacked at the tail, and two moved left, into the Wyvern’s blind spot. They aimed for the Wyvern’s hindquarters, trying to hamstring it. As if they’d fought Wyverns a hundred times.

Chaldion had. The [Grand Strategist] looked around, surveying the battle.

“[Rapid Retreat]. Fall back—now!”

He pointed. A group of [Soldiers] fled as Wyverns landed, about to encircle their position. Chaldion nodded. He looked at another catapult.

“Catapult! Hit the Wyverns there. [Marked Target].”

The catapult swung around and loosed, hitting a cluster of Wyverns in the air. Chaldion watched the bodies fall. Then he turned. A shadow passed overhead. A Wyvern was heading for the lone Drake, seeking an easy target. The Drake paused. He flipped up his eye patch.

“[Fireball].”

A flaming orb shot from the red jewel in his left eye. It struck the Wyvern in the face. Chaldion shielded his head from the explosion. The Garuda squad flew into the Wyvern as it recoiled in the air.

“Take it down! Protect the [Strategist]!”

Chaldion walked forwards as the Wyvern crashed to the ground around him. He looked around.

“Hm. First deviation. And—now—”

A series of explosions tore apart a group of Wyverns on the stairs. A naked Drake appeared through the smoke as Chaldion watched. He kicked past a Wyvern. Spotted Chaldion.

“Oh, it’s you.”

Saliss of Lights stared at Chaldion. The Grand Strategist nodded.

“Saliss. You’re late.”

“What took you? I heard Grimalkin got here first. And before you ask—I didn’t hear your alarm. Kill me later.”

The two glared at each other. Chaldion turned his head.

“I have one path. The 1st Army is advancing up the stairs. 4th is marching on the city at all speed. I need you on the eastern wall.”

Saliss looked around. Wyverns were flying through the air there; the 1st Army had teleported onto the northwestern side with Grimalkin. No one but Wyverns flew there. The Named Adventurer sighed.

“This is why I miss my cell.”

Chaldion glared at him. Saliss paused.

“Five minutes, no holds barred. Agreed?”

“The city will pay you back. Go.”

Saliss popped another vial. Chaldion watched him sprint away. The [Grand Strategist] checked himself.

“Two deviations.”

He stared at the image of victory he’d called forth. It was one road. And the future was already changing. But the old Drake reached out for it. He looked up. Wyverns flew through the skies. And in the city, they were still harassing the [Soldiers] and Watch trying to advance. Chaldion reached for a scroll. As he did, he touched the magical stone and his voice echoed again throughout all of Pallass.

“This is Grand Strategist Chaldion! All fliers, land! You have forty seconds!

Across the ramparts, Garuda dropped to the ground. Oldblood Drakes did likewise. Chaldion counted slowly.

“That is Grand Strategist Chaldion of Pallass’ voice we’re hearing! Of course, he’s the high strategist in charge of Pallass’ armies! Over Level 50—I went to his 50th level celebration! If he can’t clear the walls with reinforcements, no one can!”

Sir Relz was shouting as he pointed up at the walls. He and Noass had seen part of the 1st Army arriving and they were trying to get to the fighting. Sir Relz looked up.

“They must have used a spell to appear on the walls. But I doubt all of 1st Army can teleport up there. If Strategist Chaldion can’t reclaim the walls—if the Wyverns kill him, the army might struggle to reclaim them. What then? They can freely attack Pallass from the interior. If 1st Army can’t reclaim the walls—”

Noass turned. He stared at Sir Relz and then lashed out.

“If they take the walls? Control yourself you fool!”

The other Drake slapped Sir Relz across the face.

“Pallass will never fall!”

Sir Relz rocked back. He stared at Noass in shock and then nodded.

“Forgive me, Noass. I don’t know what got into me.”

The two Drakes looked up.

“What was Strategist Chaldion’s announcement? Fliers to land? That sounds like—”

A flash blinded everything. Noass and Sir Relz staggered, shouting incoherently. Above them, a Wyvern fell out of the skies, charred, wings burning. There was a flash of an explosion—and only then, the sound of thunder.

Lightning fell out of the skies as Chaldion triggered Pallass’ attack spells. But the lightning fell inside the city. Wyvern after Wyvern was struck by bolt after bolt. The Drake [Grand Strategist] stood on the walls and aimed the attack spells. By the dozens now, Wyverns fell.

Chaldion was laughing. His ruby eye gleamed. He pointed and the Wyvern Lord was struck by a hail of bolts. The Greater Wyvern screamed as it attacked the Dullahans surrounding it. Grimalkin saw Chaldion pointing. More lightning fell. The Wyvern Lord howled. Then it charged General Duln. The [General] raised his shield—

The impact threw the [General] into the air. Chaldion stopped laughing. The Wyvern Lord turned. The electricity arced off its scales. It seized one [Soldier] wearing glowing magical gear, and bit the Gnoll in two. Magical weapons bounced harmlessly off its scales. Chaldion stared at the Wyvern Lord. Then he shook his head and began picking off Wyverns lower in the city.

“Stay alive, Miss Erin Solstice.”

His vision of victory had seen only what may happen, what could happen. And he had not seen her in it. The future could change. In his vision, the Wyvern Lord had fled when the bolts struck it. In this one, the Wyvern Lord shrieked, refusing to flee or die. Chaldion gritted his teeth.

Three deviations.”

 

—-

 

Erin Solstice had never seen a Wyvern before. She knew what they were. Vaguely. If you asked someone from her world, they might know. If Erin had been asked, she’d describe them as ‘like a Dragon, but smaller. And with less…stuff.’

And that was what Erin saw. A huge, winged beast. Wyverns had no forelegs, just two huge hind legs. They were like eagles, but adapted to run on the ground in their own way, oh, and they were huge, with scales like armor. Gigantic.

Like Dragons. But smaller. It didn’t make them any less terrifying. And they were attacking Pallass.

“Come on! Run!

Erin grabbed at Rufelt and Lasica. The married couple ran after her as Erin charged out of the building they’d been hiding in. She was no hero. And she hadn’t gone out fighting when the Wyverns attacked and Chaldion sounded the alarm. The only thing Erin had done was grab Rufelt and Lasica and push them into the nearest building they could find.

Someone’s home. Erin had busted through the window and cut herself twice on the glass going through before opening the door. She’d healed the cuts and Rufelt and Lasica had sat inside with her. They wanted to go to their bar. Erin had told them to sit right there.

That was the sensible thing to do. Erin was no warrior. All she had on her was a pair of healing potions and Pelt’s knife. She had a realistic expectation of what that would do against a Wyvern capable of eating her with one bite.

So she’d stayed in the apartment and shouted at everyone she saw to get inside, opening the door twice as people rushed by. Most were indoors; the citizens of Pallass were smart enough to do that. And everything had been fine, really. Erin hadn’t known how the battle had been going, but she’d heard Chaldion’s voice again, warning fliers to get out of the skies.

And what she’d seen from the windows had looked good. Bad would have been Wyverns flying about, looking for prey, but it sounded like all of them were fighting. Erin had been reassuring Rufelt and Lasica, peering out the windows. She’d wanted to do something, but it was too risky and there was nothing in the home that could help Erin. She’d grabbed a frying pan and two knives from the kitchen just in case, but that was all. And everything had been fine.

Right up until a smoking Wyvern had crashed onto the house and caved in the ceiling from above. Erin had no idea where it had come from, but the entire building was coming down.

Get out! Go! Go!

Erin shouted at Rufelt and Lasica. The Gnoll appeared with his wife out of the dust. Erin ushered them out of the door and ran herself. Just in time—the building collapsed with the dead Wyvern.

“We have to find somewhere else!”

Erin was coughing, half-blinded by the dust. She looked around. The nearest house had no lights on. Erin rushed over to it as Rufelt doubled over, hacking and trying to brush dust off Lasica.

“Anyone in there? Hey! Open up!”

Erin hammered on the door. There were bars over the window. She yanked on the door as she shouted, but it was closed. Erin whirled.

Another house! Erin charged over to it. This one had a light on.

“Hey! Open up!”

“Go away!”

A terrified voice called from within. Erin kicked at the door.

Open up! We’re going to get eaten out here!”

She checked the windows, but someone had put the shutters up from the inside! Erin growled.

“If you don’t open up—”

Erin! Come on!”

Rufelt shouted at her. He was hurrying Lasica back. Towards the stairs.

“Oh no. No, Rufelt—we can’t go to the bar! Its two floors up! Let’s go to the prison!”

Erin ran after them. Rufelt was headed for the stairs. Rufelt stared at Erin as she pointed. The Gnoll’s fur was full of dust. He shook his head as Lasica coughed.

“The prison? Are you mad? What if the prisoners escape?”

“How? They’re locked up! I bet there’s tons of [Guards] there! And I’d rather fight prisoners than Wyverns!”

The Gnoll was shaking his head. He was in shock. And not thinking! Erin was cool—okay, somewhat cool—okay, she was afraid, but she had been in this kind of situation before. Rufelt was panicking.

“No, no. The bar is warded. It’s just up the stairs. We can take the stairs against the walls. Come on—”

“Rufelt! Lasica, come on, talk some sense into—”

Rufelt snarled as Erin reached for Lasica.

“Don’t touch her! We’re going to the bar!”

He held Lasica firmly against him. Erin stared at him, wide-eyed. Lasica stopped coughing. Through streaming eyes, she looked at Erin.

“It’s enchanted, Erin. If we get there, even a Wyvern couldn’t break in.”

“But—fine! Let’s go!”

Erin realized they were wasting time out here. She turned. Frying pan, knives. She had lost the pan when the Wyvern fell. But she had a spare knife and Pelt’s.

“Go!”

The couple didn’t waste time arguing. Erin saw they were headed for a stairwell set against the walls. Under the cover of the 4th Floor in short, where Wyverns couldn’t spot them. She sighed in relief.

“This way. There’s no one on the stairs—”

Everyone must have fled. Erin estimated that barely fifteen minutes had passed. It felt like ages, but everything was happening so fast. She ran past a patch of frost. Then she saw blood. Rufelt and Lasica froze. Erin averted her gaze.

Don’t stop!

“But—”

They’re dead. Don’t stop!

She ran them forwards. Erin was looking around for the telltale Wyverns. She was trying to think.

Weapons. She could use the knives, aim for the eyes. Anything else? No acid jars, nothing else—Erin cursed. She was terrified she’d trip and break an acid jar on herself. She needed a bag of holding! She ran up the stairwell set into stone, leading Rufelt and Lasica.

4th Floor, then 5th. No one was on the stairs. Erin panted as she got to the 5th Floor. She heard more thunderous booms in the distance. Was someone throwing lightning? Good!

“This way! The bar’s not far!”

Rufelt and Lasica pointed. Erin stared ahead.

“Oh no. No, stop—”

To get to Tails and Scales, they had to leave the overhang of the floor above. They’d be running out into the open. Erin charged after the two, but the Gnoll and Drake were fast! And they were ignoring Erin. Idiots! Erin had the rare thought. She looked up.

Pallass was at war with the Wyverns. Lightning bolts hit Wyverns, appearing out of the skies. Armed [Soldiers] were advancing up the stairs as fast as they could. They’d taken the ground all the way up to the 6th Floor!

But that meant nothing to an airborne foe. Wyverns kept diving out of the sky. There were only a few fliers in the air. Erin thought she saw a familiar green figure darting at a Wyvern. But then Erin saw what she’d feared.

Rufelt and Lasica were running to their bar. Rufelt fumbled for his key as Lasica looked up. And a Wyvern crashed into a building opposite the bar.

Dead gods!

Erin heard a scream. A group of people emerged, running for their lives as the Wyvern flapped its wings and hissed. Something had knocked it out of the sky, but it hadn’t killed the beast. Erin saw three Drakes, a family of Dullahans, a Gnoll—she shouted at Rufelt.

Get that door open!

“I’m trying!

The Gnoll howled, his face pale under his fur. He was jamming the key into the lock. But even the most basic of actions was hard. Lasica grabbed the key.

“You have it upside down! Let me—”

Watch out!

Erin hurled the spare kitchen knife. She aimed straight for the Wyvern’s eye, but the monster moved. The knife glanced off its head as it righted itself. It had been aiming straight at Rufelt and Lasica.

Instead, the beast turned to her. Erin froze. Then she ran and dove behind a wall. She felt an incredible cold freezing her legs, but the blast of frost missed her. Erin scrambled to her feet. She ran back out, nearly slipped on the frost now coating the floor.

Rufelt! Lasica!

The couple had hidden from the blast. Now they scrambled to get their door open. Erin saw the other occupants of the house running for the bar. Two of the Drakes looked like [Warriors]. They were covering a young female Drake as she ran, claws over her head as if that would help. But the Wyvern was in the air. It dove—Erin saw it crush one of the Drakes flat.

Somehow, the Drake survived. He was screaming, but he hammered on the claw with a sword. The other was slashing at the Wyvern. The monster flew up, hissing. It looked for another target. Saw Rufelt and Lasica.

No.

Erin threw Pelt’s knife. It spun through the air and hit the Wyvern. The tip of the Dwarf’s blade sank halfway through the Wyvern’s neck. The monster recoiled. It turned to Erin again. This time it dove at her. Erin stared up at it.

“[Like Fire…]”

She was an idiot. Erin knew she wasn’t going to be able to use her Skill. She stared up at the Wyvern as it dove, moving to dodge. Too slow. It was tracking her as it dove. Erin grabbed for a healing potion. So stupid. But she didn’t regret a thing.

“Hairballs. And I just bought this scroll today, too.”

Someone muttered to Erin’s left. She saw the Gnoll who’d run out of the house turn. He flung open a scroll of parchment, pointed up.

“[Improved Featherfall]!”

The huge, falling shape of the Wyvern slowed. Erin nearly halted mid-run, but the Wyvern was still diving. But slowly! She saw the Gnoll shouting at her.

“Run! Inside!”

The bar was open! Erin raced towards it, staring upwards. What was happening?

Above her, she saw the Wyvern drifting through the air down towards her. It was…falling! But all the momentum was gone. Erin saw it trying to dive, flapping its wings furiously, but the magical enchantment was letting it fall at a feather’s pace.

“Everyone inside! Now!”

Rufelt was at the door, waving people in. Erin saw the Gnoll barrel through, and then the two Drake [Warriors] making their way for the door. Erin charged after them. She grabbed the Drake’s other arm and they ran for the door.

The Wyvern landed on the ground, screaming its displeasure. It turned for the bar. Rufelt slammed the door shut. Erin saw the Wyvern charging. Then Rufelt slamming a bar over the door. And then—

Thump.

Inside Tails and Scales, the door rattled with the impact. Once. Erin looked around warily. She heard a muffled shriek, and felt another thump.

The door rattled. That was it. The bar didn’t shake. The expensive alcohols on the walls didn’t so much as quiver in their vessels. Erin stared at the door. It rattled weakly a third time, and then there was silence.

“Oh wow.”

“Told you.”

Rufelt grinned at Erin. His face was pale and his fur was damp with sweat. Erin felt her legs go out from under her. She sat down on the ground hard. She was alive. She was alive—

She’d have to find Pelt’s knife again. She kept nearly losing it.

That inane thought popped into Erin’s head. She laughed, shakily. Then she heard someone else laugh.

“Dead gods. And I thought I was crazy.”

The Gnoll who’d saved Erin was bent over. Like her, he looked wide-eyed. But he glanced at Erin as she slowly got back up. She looked at him.

“You saved me.”

“No, no. I just used a scroll. You distracted it.”

He waved a paw, breathlessly. Erin looked at him, and saw Rufelt hurry back across the bar.

“Lasica! Are you alright?”

He was tending to his wife. Erin stared at him, and then saw the bar had more occupants. The Dullahan family, the young Drake—Erin saw one of the two [Warriors] hurry over while the other collapsed, drinking from a healing potion.

“Lady Salkis! Are you alright?”

Erin saw the young Drake look up. Erin did a double-take as she looked at the female Drake. Her scales were jet black, but glittering, lustrous. You’d describe them as onyx, without any other coloration marring or changing her appearance.

Erin stared for a moment—the Drake was clearly someone important. And she was shaking in her chair. She turned back to the Gnoll.

“What did you do? Was that…[Featherfall]? Does that work on Wyverns?”

The Gnoll shook his head. He’d gone over to a window to look out it. Erin hurried over. He half-spoke to her as the others in the bar talked in much the same, frantic, relieved way.

“Normally, not. But I bought an improved version of the spell. It works even on large beasts like that one, or so I guessed. Glad it bought us time. Still, that was three weeks’ pay!”

He groaned. Rufelt came over with Lasica. The Gnoll was holding his wife’s shoulder. Lasica nodded to the unknown Gnoll.

“I’ll pay you back, Felkhr. Thank you. You saved us. And you, Erin.”

She looked at Erin, still pale behind her scales. Erin smiled.

“Hey. At least we’re alive.”

She did not say the part about ‘why did we have to go to your bar? We almost died, y’know.’ Rufelt and Lasica probably got that. Shakily, they nodded. Erin turned.

“Felkhr?”

“Call me Felk if you want. I know it’s a mouthful for a non-Gnoll.”

Felkhr extended a paw. Erin shook it, and then a memory made her eyes widen. She’d thought he was familiar, but—

“You’re that Gnoll who jumped off the walls the first time I was here!”

The Gnoll laughed. Some of the others in the bar looked around as he grinned.

“That’s me! The Flying Gnoll of Pallass. But that’s just a hobby. You attacked that Wyvern to distract it.”

“Well, I’d have done better if I had something else. I need more knives.”

Erin scowled. Lasica and Rufelt looked between the two. Rufelt shook himself.

“We should be safe now. The door will keep the Wyverns out.”

“What if they breathe frost? Can it block that?”

“It should. We paid for it to be practically indestructible.”

Lasica murmured. Erin nodded. She glanced around the bar. Then she looked outside through the windows. She couldn’t see anyone else on the street, or the Wyvern who’d attacked them. Darn, she’d have to find the knife later. Erin reached for the door latch and Rufelt blocked her.

“What are you doing?

Erin stared at him.

“Going to look around. I’ll just open the door. But if someone needs to get in…”

The Gnoll stared at her. He let go slowly. Erin nodded. She cracked the door open, stared around. No one on the streets.

“Darn. Those Wyverns are awful.”

“How did they get in the city? There should have been protections! This is Pallass!”

One of the Dullahans wailed. Erin heard a chorus of agreements. She ignored them, thinking.

“Not much we can do here. If I had my stash of acid jars, we could throw them at the Wyverns.”

“What?”

The others looked at her as if she were mad. Felkhr just grinned. Erin shook her head.

“Well, if we can do something—”

“The army and the Watch will drive them off.”

Rufelt shook his head. Erin propped her hands on her hips. The Gnoll was going back to the bar, pushing Lasica into a seat. What had gotten into him?

“So what, we do nothing?”

“Exactly! We stay safe! There’s nothing we can do to hurt the Wyverns, anyways.”

He snapped at her. Erin puffed out her cheeks. She glared at Rufelt—but her intuition was pinging her. She stared at him, at Lasica, and then her gaze travelled past Rufelt.

It was true, Tails and Scales was not Erin’s inn. They didn’t have her emergency supplies, or a handy Hobgoblin or Bird. But it was a bar. Erin stared at the drinks, ready to be mixed. At Lasica’s hotplate. Erin stared and then pointed.

“Hey, Rufelt, which of those are flammable?”

 

—-

 

“Ladies and Gentledrakes! I think I’m seeing the Wyverns being driven back!”

From his reporting position, Noass and Sir Relz had regained some of their usual aplomb. The two Drakes were grinning, pointing down into the city as they slowly panned the magical viewpoint across Pallass. Noass was pointing out flying shapes—a lot less of them than there had been twenty minutes ago.

“The Wyvern attack is being blunted! There’s fighting on the walls, but Grand Strategist Chaldion has led a successful counter attack and Pallass’ wall spells are activating! Indeed, a number of high-rank individuals have taken to the field and pushed the Wyverns back!”

“Of course, Noass. This is Pallass. After the—the initial attack, as one might expect, things looked hopeless. But the presence of Magus Grimalkin, Saliss of Lights, and notable Gold-rank teams such as the Halfseekers and the Wings of Pallass have reversed the battle along with the Watch and army. I think we just saw the Wings flying after a Wyvern down there.”

Sir Relz was adjusting his monocle, nodding. The two Drakes were doing a lot of that. Noass pointed above.

“We’re not on the top of the walls for fear of being caught up in the battle, but we can see a furious engagement taking place that seems to be going all the way of Pallass! I’m seeing more fliers taking back the air as the wall spells down Wyverns—Pallass’ magical defenses, no doubt being employed by Chaldion himself! Not only that, we can see some of the fighting on the eastern wall! Look!”

The vision turned and revealed a far, far distant series of lights, flashing and exploding. It looked like fireworks, but instead of crackling sparks, the viewers saw clouds of shining particles, crackling thunder—and conventional explosions. Sir Relz shook his head in awe.

“Saliss of Lights appears to be single—yes, single-handedly holding down the Wyverns on the eastern wall, to use a Human expression. That’s why they call him Saliss ‘of Lights’, by the way. The [Alchemist] is famous for his ability to prepare hundreds, perhaps as many as a thousand alchemical weapons. And he is using them all up in the defense of his home city!”

“One wonders if Pallass’ Assembly will recompense him for it. Surely so—and—yes! More Wyverns are fleeing! They’ve been decimated below and they’re on the run, see?”

Noass pointed excitedly. Wyverns were indeed flying up, escaping the fighting. Many had wounds, and the weyr had been reduced by at least half.

“It looks like the 1st Army has seized nearly seven floors. And the Wyverns are even being repelled by civilians at some point. Dead gods! Look at that Gnoll, loosing arrows from atop her apartment!”

The image focused on a single Gnoll with a shortbow, taking potshots at a Wyvern. Noass was nodding.

“Exceptionally brave. And very much in the Pallassian spirit! Get out of our city!”

He pumped a fist up and down. At this point, one of the viewers of the magical broadcast had to roll his eyes.

“You wouldn’t imagine he was in a panic ten minutes ago.”

Niers remarked to Foliana. The two were watching the broadcast. Niers had been watching the fighting. To the [Grandmaster Strategist], it had been a fairly neat retaking of the walls. Too slow for his liking, but Chaldion had executed the counterattack well.

Not that Pallass had been in danger of falling. The two Drakes had been unsure of it, but Niers could count. Pallass was a vast city. It had never been going to fall. The question had been how much damage the Wyverns could do.

And the answer was a lot. But not as bad as it could have been. Niers was counting and he estimated the casualties were around three to eight thousand at most. The Wyverns had done the most damage on their first attack, with the frost breath attacks on large groups. But after the citizens had fled, it was just [Soldiers] the Wyverns were fighting. For a weyr of a thousand, it was bad.

“Are they going to win?”

The Titan of Baleros rolled his eyes.

“It’s a Walled City versus a thousand Wyverns. More like six hundred at this point. What do you think, Foliana?”

“Mm. You tell me. That’s what I pay you for.”

Niers threw a piece of walnut at Foliana. She let it sail into her mouth and chewed. The Fraerling sighed.

“They’ll fight them off. The question is whether Grimalkin of Pallass was maimed or killed. These Drakes don’t know. That would be a disaster. The same as if their Named Adventurer dies, or their Grand Strategist.”

“Likely?”

“I don’t know. That looked like a Greater Wyvern. Remember those?”

“Yup. Nasty. Think they’ll die?”

“I don’t know. Now, shut up and let me watch.”

Niers scanned the image. That Drake, Noass—and what a name, Niers had to chuckle over Drake naming conventions even if it was juvenile—was still ranting about Pallassian ‘spirit’. He was pointing out more civilians getting in the way of the actual army by and large.

“You can see some Garuda youths harassing a Wyvern. I hope it doesn’t turn on them! But then, they might level! Pallass is in uproar. We even see—hello? What’s this?”

The ‘camera’ or rather, scrying mirror turned and revealed another sight, focusing on it below. Niers felt his heart jump. No. But there she was, right when he’d thought she wasn’t part of it.

“I—what am I seeing, Sir Relz?”

“I think it’s a Human, Noass. A rarity in Pallass. She appears to be throwing…what is that, an alchemical weapon? Yes, some kind of fiery explosive at a Wyvern! Keeping it from attacking that apartment! There! And there’s a Gnoll and a [Warrior]! Oh—oh, they’re retreating inside! Looks like they’ve distracted the Wyvern. It’s attacking their building—”

“No, don’t do that!”

Niers gripped the arms of his chair. Foliana peered at the young Human woman as she ducked inside and the Wyvern charged the building. She looked at Niers’ face and her eyes narrowed.

Ancestors! I recognize that bar! That’s Tails and Scales, one of the most reputable establishments in the city! The Wyvern’s going to smash it! Oh—no—no, wait! It can’t break the building! It must be enchanted! And I see a squad of [Soldiers] already attacking the Wyvern! Splendid! Those brave Pallassian citizens—and that Human—helped save that family!”

Sir Relz was nodding pompously. Niers sat back with an explosive sigh of relief. Dangerous! His heart was beating faster than it had any right to. The Titan looked at Foliana.

“Hm.”

“What?”

Hmm. Who’s the Human?”

“No one.”

“You think it’s your mystery chess person.”

“Shut up, Foliana.”

“You like her. Because she’s female. And not male.”

“I just—would you be quiet?”

A furry finger poked Niers. He found his steak-cutting knife and stabbed it into Foliana’s finger.

“Ow.”

 

—-

 

“Hah! Take that you overgrown—you—is it a lizard or a bird?”

Erin shook her fist as the Wyvern screeched outside the inn. She could hear [Soldiers] attacking it and Erin saw the Wyvern retreating through one of the windows. The others were watching anxiously. Felkhr grinned at Erin. She hadn’t been sure if the impromptu molotovs would work, but when she’d seen the Wyvern trying to attack that family, Erin had done it anyways.

“That was impressive. And you have a powerful arm, Miss Solstice!”

“Nah, nah. It’s just a Skill. And I’ve had plenty of practice. Hey! Rufelt! Got any more molotovs? Just in case?”

“This is a waste of good alcohol!”

The [Bartender] Gnoll complained, but he was already mixing flammable cooking oil with the spirits and a soaked cloth into a bottle. Erin seized it. Just in case.

“Better that than nothing! And it doesn’t really hurt the Wyverns, just makes them mad. I think the only way to hurt them is to throw it in their mouths. Or eyes.”

Erin nodded outside. The Wyvern had gone silent. She unbarred the door and saw a bleeding corpse.

“Ew.”

Lady Salkis, the highborn Drake, turned pale. The [Bodyguard] next to her—an injured Drake named Viss, snapped at Erin.

“Will you stop that? You’re exposing Lady Salkis and the others to danger!”

“What if someone needs help? Your buddy’s willing to help!”

Erin retorted. She was keeping the door mostly closed; wary of frost breath from above. She nodded at Felkhr. The other Drake [Bodyguard] blushed.

“It’s fine. Viss. I’m quite fine. We should all do our part to help.”

Lady Salkis was staring at the dead Wyvern corpse from across the bar. She half-rose.

“If someone is in need, you help too, Viss.”

“Yes, Lady Salkis.”

He sighed and stood up. Erin nodded, peering out the door.

“We’ll all help. Careful with the bottle. Just light and throw.”

Felkhr offered one of the molotovs to Viss. The Drake nodded.

“Give me one. I’m feeling better now.”

Lasica rose from her chair. Rufelt instantly stopped making a molotov.

“Absolutely not. You sit, Lasica. You inhaled too much dust—I’m not having you in danger.”

“It’s my city, Rufelt! If I can’t throw those—what did you call them, Erin?”

“Molotovs.”

“Yes, those! At least give me one to drink! I can’t stand this.”

“No. You’ll have water or something without alcohol. Remember what the [Healer] said? Sit, Lasica.”

Rufelt pressed Lasica down. His wife hissed at Rufelt.

“Stop babying me!”

Erin’s head swung back to Rufelt and Lasica with a frown as she checked outside the door. Something was definitely off about Rufelt. She stared at the way Rufelt was arguing with Lasica quietly. And then she stared at the drink Lasica wasn’t allowed to have. Erin peered at the molotov in her hands and then her eyes widened. She turned to the Drake.

“Oh my god. Lasica. Are you—?”

It looks like the Wyverns are in full retreat! I see them above Pallass’ walls, but the ones in the city have fled! And the 1st Army is advancing towards the walls at full speed!

Everyone in the bar jumped. Erin whirled. Someone was shouting. A Dullahan boy fled a mirror along the back wall.

“What happened? I am so sorry—what is this?

The Dullahan’s mother was scolding her son. His head nearly fell off his shoulders as he turned. Rufelt blinked.

“That’s—I bought a scrying mirror after the last few attacks. Is someone broadcasting the battle?”

“Yes!”

Erin recognized Noass and Sir Relz. They were showing Pallass from above. The 9th Floor. She saw the city from above. Wyverns were flying up. Noass was crowing.

“The city’s been retaken! But for the walls, and it’s over! You can see all the Wyverns flying in the air, battered and bloody! They’re probably thinking of retreating and the 1st Army is on their way up to reinforce the walls! I just heard that 4th Army is approaching the city—why they were out of the city at a time like this we’ll have to uncover. I think we might be able to see the end of the battle, Sir Relz. If we move up—”

The Drakes were heading towards the stairs when Erin heard a terrific roar. It was echoed a moment later from the doorway. Everyone in the bar flinched. Noass and Sir Relz stared up.

“W-what was that?”

“Oh no.”

Erin saw the viewpoint shift up. The weyr of Wyverns was in the skies. But Noass had underestimated how badly beaten the Wyverns were. Nearly half had died, but the rest, wounded, yes, were still in the air. They were being showered with lightning from Pallass’ walls, and enchanted munitions.

But there were still hundreds. Now, something screamed from the walls. Erin saw a vast Wyvern, larger than the rest, spiraling upwards. It exhaled and dove towards the stairs. A huge [Fireball] sailed past it. The Wyvern breathed—

And the [Soldiers] charging up the stairs froze. Erin saw a hundred turn into statues in a moment. And that was only those directly hit. Three floors froze around the stairs as the Wyvern Lord screamed. Outside the door, Erin felt the temperature drop. She backed up.

“Oh no, no—”

The Wyvern Lord landed in the city, shattering frozen figures. And as it howled, the weyr descended. For round two. Erin backed up from the door. It was—she heard the scream twice, from the scrying mirror and outside.

Take cover! They’re attacking again!

Noass was shouting as the Wyverns dove past him. There was no one on the streets, but the 1st Army and the Watch found themselves fighting the Wyverns. And this time the Wyverns were fighting en-masse. They landed on the top two floors, attacking everything in sight, not dividing. Erin looked out the doors.

“Someone has to bring down that Wyvern! It’s resisting the lightning bolts! I see Grimalkin heading its way with what looks like General Duln! Saliss of Lights is still fighting—”

Sir Relz cried. Erin watched, facing the mirror with everyone else. Wyverns were fighting. Another dove past Sir Relz and the Drake recoiled.

Then—a huge blast of flames shot upwards. The Wyvern reappeared, flaming, shrieking! The two Drakes saw it flap upwards, and then crash. They rushed towards the edge.

“Someone’s fighting the Wyverns! That was a breath attack!”

Sir Relz pointed out a group of Drakes in armor.

“That’s—the Flamewardens!”

Erin recognized the team a beat before Sir Relz. She pointed at Keldrass.

“He’s wearing the Heartflame Breastplate!”

“What?”

Everyone watched. The Flamewardens were aiming at another Wyvern. It covered them with frost, and they hunkered behind their armor. Then they exhaled as one.

Fire engulfed the Wyvern. The Drakes were beating it! Another fell, burning and screaming. And Keldrass, wearing the burning Heartflame Armor led the charge on another! Erin cheered.

“That’s the Flamewardens, a Gold-rank team and former army unit comprised of Oldblood Drakes! Known for their ability to decimate the enemy from range and up close! And I see more fighting! There’s—who is that?

Erin’s eyes widened as she saw the Wyvern Lord. It was breathing, beset on all sides by [Soldiers] and [Guards], but cutting through them with each attack. She saw a green Drake leap down the stairs, and slash at its side.

Relc!

 

—-

 

And there it was again. It wasn’t the outcome of the battle. It was how it played. Spectacle. And the unexpected. Across the world, people were watching for different reasons. Niers, to assess, to catch a view of that Human again.

“Who is that Drake? Did Pallass’ army have a [Spearmaster] that talented?”

Dragonspeaker Luciva was watching Relc as he attacked. She eyed the Drake as he delivered a swift attack to the Wyvern Lord’s side and leapt away. It kept trying to hit him, but Relc was dodging like mad, distracting it. She glanced across the table at Lulv.

“I—don’t believe so. I can’t place a [Spearmaster] within the 1st Army. Unless he’s transferred in. He’s adept at fighting. He’s buying time for the lower-leveled forces to fall back.”

Spearmaster Lulv frowned. He eyed Relc as the Drake tried to punch the Wyvern in the side. Relc shook out his fist, clearly swearing, and ducked the Wyvern’s tail.

“That was an idiotic move. But he’s quick. General Milka, who is that?”

The [General] shook her head.

“1st Army has no [Spearmaster], Lulv. And the Watch doesn’t either.”

“Not Pallass’. I think—that must be the Gecko of Liscor!”

One of the others exclaimed. Dragonspeaker Luciva looked around.

“But how—”

“The magical door. Liscor’s reinforced Pallass. Both the Flamewardens and the Wings of Pallass are listed in Liscor.”

Rafaema stared at the image. She narrowed her eyes at the Greater Wyvern. Spearmaster Lulv shook his head.

Pallass needs aid from Liscor? This is a disgrace.”

“Not ‘needs’. Ancestors, he’s talented. I remember the Gecko of Liscor. He’s part of Liscor’s army. Officer-slayer. What’s he doing in the Watch?

“Someone pull his file. Look—”

Relc was falling back. Dragonspeaker Luciva saw General Duln advancing with soldiers and Grimalkin.

“They’re having trouble felling the Greater Wyvern. And the weyr is attacking again. How strong is it?”

“Greater Wyverns are said to be as powerful as younger Dragons.”

“Hmf. Perhaps.”

Rafaema’s voice was cold. Spearmaster Lulv fell silent. Dragonspeaker Luciva frowned. Noass and Sir Relz were looking around at the other Wyverns. They were fighting and more unfamiliar faces were appearing.

“What is that? A [Strategist]?”

A blue-scaled Drake was leading a group of [Soldiers] and [Guards], independent of the 1st Army. As Dragonspeaker Luciva watched, they held a street close to the two Drakes, forcing a group of injured Wyverns attacking them to scatter.

“Not bad! Mark that young Drake!”

The war council was a lot more spirited than it had been. The worry they’d had was over. The weyr might be attacking, but they were going to be defeated. To Manus, the concern wasn’t over casualties. [Soldiers] might die and it would be a disaster if a name like Grimalkin or Duln was lost, let alone Chaldion, but the others would level from this battle. Now, Manus’ elite was doing what they loved to do—headhunt for talent.

They weren’t the only ones. As Sir Relz and Noass pointed out the city, more figures were fighting. The Halfseekers were industriously webbing Wyverns and kicking them off the wall, to land on the street a floor down. Names. The kind of names that made people remember the Halfseekers, or the Wings of Pallass. That could be the beginning of an opportunity. It could make a career. A legend.

 

—-

 

“The Wyverns are falling back! Look! More are falling!”

Noass’ voice rang through The Wandering Inn. Lyonette collapsed into a chair and Mrsha waved a paw in her face anxiously. Lyonette had nearly keeled over when she saw Erin hurling incendiaries! But Erin was safe. And it looked like the Wyverns were going to be defeated.

“Stop looking at the other Wyverns! Show us Relc!

Zevara howled at the scrying orb. The Watch was crowding the inn. They’d come through the magical door, now that it looked like the worst of the crisis was averted. The common room was packed with spectators, for all that the [Grand Theatre] Skill was active. The rest of Liscor’s residents all shouted agreement.

“Relc’s taking on that Greater Wyvern alone! Dodge, you idiot! If you get killed I’ll never get my money back!”

Jeiss shouted at the scrying orb. Lyonette almost wanted to check on the magical door set to Pallass, but she didn’t. The Wyverns were attacking the 8th Floor and she might be hit with frost breath. She contented herself with shouting for people to keep sitting so everyone could see.

“I see—Magus Grimalkin engaging the Greater Wyvern—it looks tired, but it has yet to take any substantial damage! Truly, truly, dangerous. But the rest of the Wyverns are engaged on the 9th and 8th floor. They’re tearing up our [Soldiers]. Just—just too many to fight when they group up.”

Noass was speaking distractedly, pointing at a group of eight Wyverns assaulting Olesm’s position. Lism shoved people aside.

“Let me see! Let me see! Dead gods! Get some reinforcements to him, you idiots! Watch Captain, put more [Guardsmen] through that door! Now!”

He shouted at the others. Zevara was shouting, but it was too late. The Wyverns were advancing, trying to break up the wall of shields. Noass was staring at them.

“Grand Strategist Chaldion must be distracted. And all the other Gold-rank teams I see are out of range! Can anyone—oh! Oh! Look!”

The Wyverns were falling! One had retreated. A cheer went up through the inn. One Wyvern had blundered into the others—it was turning. Lashing out at its companions! And another recoiled as the [Guards] pressed the others back.

“What is happening? It looks like the Wyverns were hit with something—hold on! Yes! One’s down! Brilliant work! But what in the name of the walls…? Ancestors!”

A Wyvern crashed into a wall ahead of the two Drakes. Sir Relz and Noass stared.

“That Wyvern just slammed into the building! I think it broke its neck! Did someone throw it?”

Sir Relz shook his head.

“No! Noass, look! Ancestors! Someone shot out its eyes!

He pointed excitedly to the Wyvern. The image zoomed in and Lyonette saw two feathered shafts protruding from the Wyvern’s eyes. People gasped around her and Noass turned.

“There’s an expert [Archer] who’s joined the fray! Those Wyverns attacking that [Strategist]’s position—yes! I see arrows in their eyes now! Brilliant! Dead gods, the [Archer]’s downed another! See!”

Another Wyvern crashed out of the skies, screaming, blinded. In fact, Lyonette saw another Wyvern go down as something struck it. Just a blur, launched from below.

Ancestors speed that [Archer]’s bow! I don’t recall any archers this incredible! Eight shots, eight hits! From that distance? Who could it be?”

Noass was turning his head with Sir Relz. But whoever it was had yet to be seen. The Drakes began chatting excitedly. The viewpoint swung back to the battle with the Greater Wyvern, which was reaching its climax. Everyone focused on that.

Everyone except for a group of Antinium who had gone suddenly and unexpectedly silent. Pawn looked at Belgrade. Belgrade looked at Yellow Splatters. The [Sergeant] stared at…

No one. Yellow Splatter’s head slowly swiveled the room. He stood up, craning his neck. But he didn’t see the Antinium he was looking for.

“He’s…probably on the roof. I’ll go check.”

Pawn muttered. He stood up slowly. Pawn pushed towards the stairs. And he saw Klbkch looking around slowly. Just…looking. After all, they didn’t know. It was just a coincidence. A brilliant [Archer]. Yes. But they’d all had the same thought. And they looked for an Antinium, a Worker that was missing.

There was no way. Even he wouldn’t…surely not. Klbkch met Pawn’s eyes. The [Priest] ran up the stairs, towards the unfinished second floor. He flung open a door, shouted hopefully.

“Bird?”

Pawn saw an empty watchtower. And of course, of course, Bird wasn’t there.

 

—-

 

La, la, lala, la. I am Bird and big birds are in Pallass’ sky. They must surely die. Why? Because they’re birds. And I am Bird.

An Antinium Worker walked down Pallass’ streets. A [Hunter]. A [Bird Hunter] to be precise. He stared up at the Wyverns circling overhead. And he raised his bow.

Fwik. Thwik! The sound his arrows made as he loosed, one after another was soft. But whenever Bird shot, a Wyvern jerked or shrieked. His arrow sped through the air.

[Homing Shot], [Long-Range Shot]. I have a thought. And birds are good to eat, because they’re made of meat. I think.

Bird sang as he loosed arrows. He was bringing down Wyverns. So many and so fast that even Noass and Sir Relz were searching for him. Each arrow hit a Wyvern. Going through joints in the wings, hitting them in the eyes, opened mouths—

It was easy. For Bird. He saw where the Wyverns were going. He was a [Bird Hunter], after all. He paused as a Wyvern dove at him.

“Ooh, big bird.”

The first arrow missed the Wyvern’s eyes. Bird adjusted his aim, hit the eye on the second try. The Wyvern landed with a shriek. It reared up to breath, screaming fury.

“[Piercing Shot].”

Bird drew back—the arrow loosed. It shot through the Wyvern’s open mouth and the Wyvern jerked. The arrow struck the monster’s brain, piercing the Wyvern’s innards. It toppled over on its back.

“Ooh.”

Bird admired the still shape. Another Wyvern landed, screaming for its mate. Bird paused.

“No [Piercing Shot]. Okay.”

He reached for something. The Wyvern dove at him. Bird hopped sideways and tossed the acid jar into the Wyvern’s face. He rubbed at the acid as it splashed on his arm.

“Acid jar, acid in the face. Ruins all the taste. What a waste. No. Bad song.”

The [Singer] and [Hunter] walked past the writhing Wyvern. He aimed at its eye, loosed a few arrows, wandered on. That was all he did. He loosed arrows, three arms plucking arrows from his quiver and loosing, faster than any mortal [Archer].

That was all. Bird didn’t do any backflips, or slide down anything. He shot, stopping each time he loosed. Step, shoot, step, shoot. His arrows hit their targets, curving to strike what Bird wanted.

It was easy. And Bird was happy. Possibly happier than he’d ever been in his life.

“I was born for this moment. Probably.”

He sang as he went on. He wanted to find the biggest bird of all. Now that would be a good addition to his fortress of fluff. Although these big birds didn’t have feathers. Bird would think about it later. He sang as he walked on, down the streets of Pallass.

 

—-

 

“It’s practically impossible to kill with magic. Pull your [Soldiers] back, General Duln. No one below Level 30 will tackle this beast.”

Grimalkin stared down at the Greater Wyvern. It was on the stairs. And everyone, everyone was assaulting it.

Magus! The Flamewardens are ready to advance!

“On me!”

General Duln bellowed. The Gold-rank adventurers and the most elite [Soldiers] charged. The Wyvern Lord rushed forwards. It hit them—and rebounded. For all its mass and strength, the massed Skills threw it back. But it just opened its mouth—

“Oh no you don’t! [Triple Thrust]!”

Relc stabbed the Wyvern in the side. It twisted. The Gecko swore and dove. Frost missed him, but the cold froze his arms and side.

Gah!

Now!

Grimalkin charged in. The Wyvern Lord looked down as Grimalkin hit it. The shockwave of the two spells Grimalkin unleashed at once blasted the Wyvern Lord backwards. General Duln and the Flamewardens charged. The Wyvern recovered, twisted—

Watch o—

Noass winced as he saw Keldrass go flying. The Drake flew, never mind the armor he wore. He hit a building nearly a hundred and twenty feet away. He should have been splattered, but the glowing flames around the Heartflame Breastplate only went out.

“Dead gods, that artifact saved his life! Even the Greater Wyvern can’t break the enchantment!”

“He can’t take another hit like that. And Magus Grimalkin’s best strike didn’t so much as stop the Wyvern Lord.”

Grimalkin gritted his teeth as he grabbed the Wyvern Lord’s tail. It tried to throw him, as it lashed out at the [Soldiers] around him.

“Idiots. [Magical Anchor]!

If he could have prepared—[Mages] didn’t fight enemies like this at a drop of a hat! The Wyvern Lord heaved and Grimalkin felt his feet leave the ground. He let go and felt himself flying.

“[Featherfall]!”

The [Sinew Magus] landed. The Wyvern Lord was reeling back. General Duln had struck it a heavy blow and dented its scales. The Wyvern Lord was bleeding, but not enough.

“Grand Strategist! The Wyvern Lord—”

“I see it. We need to drag it back up to the walls. Hit it with spells away from the buildings. And the ballistae.”

Chaldion stared down at the Wyvern Lord. It was refusing to retreat. The weyr was falling like flies and still, the enraged animal wouldn’t leave. It was intelligent—what was making it so stubborn?

Grimalkin cracked his neck. One strike. He had to punch through the Wyvern’s neck. His muscles were torn across his body. But he refused to back down. This—this was the flaw of his magic. Once his muscles were damaged, he lost his magical power. Grimalkin began to bind another spell—

“Grimalkin, are you adopting my fashion sense?”

Slowly, Grimalkin’s head turned. He recognized that voice. The [Sinew Magus] saw a nude Drake, posing next to him. Saliss of Lights was covered in soot, dust and dried blood—but he was otherwise unharmed. He gestured at Grimalkin.

The [Sinew Magus] looked down. His clothes were gone, either frozen or destroyed from impacts. The [Mage] stared at Saliss. The Named Adventurer had never had anything to lose.

“Saliss.”

“I was taking on the eastern walls. No matter how many Wyverns I take down, they won’t retreat. That’s their leader, right?”

Grimalkin crossed his arms, watching as Relc kicked the Wyvern Lord and then fled.

“I can’t bring it down alone. It’s resistant to almost all spells. Worse than an Adult Creler. If I had time to prepare, I could do more damage with physical weapons. Gravity, prepared spells—not here.”

The [Alchemist] was nodding.

“I saw that. Can you let me take a shot?”

“What’s stopping you?”

“I need to set up. So—six seconds? In the right spot. Also, Duln’s in the way.”

Grimalkin nodded.

“Done. Chaldion! Pull back!

“General Duln, fall back! [Rapid Retreat]!”

The [Grand Strategist] pointed. The [General] and his [Soldiers] fell back as Grimalkin leapt forwards. The Flamewardens breathed as one and retreated. The flames licked around the Greater Wyvern and he hissed, but it did nothing to him. Relc bounded away as Grimalkin leapt in.

“[Ironskin]! [Siege Fireball]!”

He threw one in the Greater Wyvern’s face. It recoiled, lashed out. Grimalkin felt an impact slam him backwards. Pectoral muscles tore. He gritted his teeth.

“Thanks!”

Saliss threw the potions past Grimalkin. The Wyvern Lord turned. It’s head lashed out and it smashed one potion in midair. And liquid covered the Wyvern Lord.

It blinked. The other potions exploded around it. Coating the Wyvern Lord with…liquid? Grimalkin, rising, saw Saliss duck back as the Wyvern Lord whirled the [Alchemist] leapt out of the way of a breath of frost.

“Wow, that’s cold. Even my Icebody Potions don’t work on that!”

The [Alchemist] scraped at his scales. The Wyvern Lord was sniffing, trying to figure out what it had been doused with. It whirled on Saliss. Grimalkin stared. Poison? No—he saw Saliss blur.

“Here we go. [Slow Toss]. [Flash Hands]—”

The [Alchemist] threw potions, his hands blurring as he moved. Grimalkin counted fifteen—then thirty—the [Sinew Magus]’s eyes widened.

“[Haste]—”

He vanished. The Wyvern Lord stared, perplexed at the sea of bottles coming at it. They were all glowing, all filled with a sparking liquid. Flying…slowly. Saliss threw the last one, leapt away. The Wyvern Lord backed up. It flapped its wings, flying up. It didn’t like—

It flew past Saliss. The [Alchemist] waved at the Wyvern Lord.

“Combination attack. Lightning tempest. And you’re the magnet. [Remote Explosion].”

He snapped his claws. The jars exploded, releasing lightning. All at once. The bolt of lightning shot through the Wyvern, pulling all the charge out of the clouds, the air—

The impact threw Saliss head over heels. Grimalkin, already running, felt something kick his back. He turned. Saliss flew past him and crashed onto the steps. The [Alchemist] stared at Grimalkin, upside down.

“Please tell me that worked. I’m nearly out of bottles.”

Grimalkin stared at Saliss of Lights. The Named Adventurer who could destroy an army. If he prepared. He turned away. And then he sighed.

The Wyvern Lord was still standing. It was swaying, unsteady. It looked stunned. The lightning bolt had left a huge crater in its side. But it was still alive.

“Do you have another attack like that?”

Grimalkin began preparing a [Siege Fireball]. Saliss shot to his feet. The Named Adventurer’s eyes narrowed.

“A weaker one. Bust through those scales and I’ll melt and poison it from the insides. We’ll have to clear the floors.”

“Fine. Duln and I will advance in while you set it up. If we need to gather enough ropes—”

The Wyvern Lord howled. Above, the Wyverns heard the shriek of pain and lifted off. Saliss and Grimalkin backed up as the Wyvern Lord turned. Pain and fury glinted in its eyes. Saliss slapped a potion onto Grimalkin’s chest.

“Icebody potion. Get ready—”

The Wyvern Lord inhaled, panting, ragged. It would kill them! Kill them! They weren’t Dragons! It could not lose again! Not now! Not—

A blur. The Wyvern Lord’s head jerked. But the arrow still twisted and struck it above the eyelid. The Wyvern Lord turned. Another arrow missed its head. It reared back, searching—

An arrow struck the Wyvern Lord in the eye. But for the thick membrane that covered the Wyvern Lord’s eye, it would have gone straight through! As it was, it was like—being poked in the eye. Hard. The Wyvern Lord howled. It turned. Where—

Grimalkin and Saliss blinked. Another arrow hit the Wyvern Lord. Same eye, same spot. It didn’t pierce through. But the Greater Wyvern howled.

“Who’s shooting?”

Noass looked around with Sir Relz desperately. Grimalkin didn’t waste time. He charged in, hammering the Wyvern Lord’s wounded section with a fist. Saliss tossed potions at the Wyvern Lord’s head. They detonated, and the Wyvern Lord reeled. It opened its maw—dodged—

More arrows. All aiming for its eyes! They couldn’t pierce, but they hurt! The Greater Wyvern swiped at Grimalkin. Bit at the huge Drake—

An arrow landed in the Wyvern Lord’s nostril. An impossible shot. But the arrow curved and the Wyvern Lord felt the pinprick. In its nose! It howled and an arrow hit it in the eye a third time.

“Ancestors, it’s rising!”

Noass and Sir Relz scrambled back as the Wyvern Lord shot into the air. Grimalkin was clinging to one side, hammering at its wounded spot until the Greater Wyvern turned and threw him off. The [Sinew Magus] floated down. The Wyvern Lord stared around. Where was that damned—

More arrows were still flying at him! And now the ballistae and trebuchets were firing up at him. The Wyvern Lord dodged. And it looked around at its depleted weyr. Barely three hundred Wyverns remained. The others were tumbling from the sky. The Wyvern Lord faltered. An arrow bounced off its eyelid. And then the Wyvern Lord just…quit. It turned around, screamed once, and fled.

The weyr stared at their leader. The Greater Wyvern flew, heading south. Just—leaving. Defeated. It was done. Not dead. But just done. The lesser Wyverns flew after it, frantically abandoning the battle. They fell as Pallass’ spells and siege weapons continued hammering at their backs. They were broken. It would take them decades to recover from this. They were broken.

And below, Pallass erupted into cheers.

 

—-

 

Erin Solstice walked out of Tails and Scales in a daze. It was over. The city rang with cheering. Drakes and Gnolls and Dullahans and Garuda raced out of their houses, staring at the Wyverns. They were beaten. The last of them flapped off into the distance, and the corpses of the others littered the city.

There were dead. Oh yes. Erin saw the blood. Saw where the Wyvern Lord had made its last stand. But she also saw the people standing there.

Grimalkin of Pallass. Saliss of Lights. Chaldion, General Duln. The [Sinew Magus] had found some spare robes. Saliss had not. He stood on the steps, blowing kisses. And for once, the people of Pallass didn’t care. They surrounded the victors.

Heroes.

Relc, leaning on his spear, looked around as people clustered about him, asking his name, who he was. The Drake, surprisingly, blushed. Erin saw someone grab Bevussa and throw her up on their crowd. The rest of the Wings followed. The crowd was giving the same treatment to others who’d fought. Not Saliss, because he was naked. Grimalkin was too heavy, and Chaldion refused. But the others.

Cheering. Erin looked around. Lasica and Rufelt threw open their doors and the others flooded into the street. It was a familiar sight. Pallass had won. And this was their city. They could count the dead later. And they would. Erin knew the exhilaration would fade, and there would be questions, blame. Sorrow.

But for now, let us celebrate. That was what the cheers said. Let us shout. We are alive. Erin Solstice turned her head as she heard a pair of familiar voices.

“We are seeing the people of Pallass in the streets! I’m going to try and interview some of the heroes we saw fighting off the Greater Wyvern! I’m—excuse me! This is Noass! We have an important broadcast—excuse me!

A pair of Drakes fought past Erin, shoving as one held up a hand-mirror encrusted with jewels, like a camera. Erin stared at them and then opened her mouth.

“Nah.”

She let them go. This wasn’t her moment. Noass and Sir Relz were shouting. And Pallass was triumphant. Across the world, people sighed with relief—or regret.

Tyrion Veltras began to turn away, disinterested in the proceedings. Magnolia Reinhart sipped her tea at last, her throat having gone dry in the interim. Flos shrugged and began talking to Trey and Teres and Gazi about his favorite moments. The Blighted King nodded to Nereshal, leaning back in his throne. Niers kicked a raw egg over to Foliana.

The Grand Queen waved at Xrn with one huge feeler.

“Enough. We have gathered sufficient data.”

“Yes, my Queen.”

But Xrn kept the image open a moment longer. She saw the two obnoxious Drakes trying to speak to Grimalkin. They were trying not to let Saliss dance into frame. Xrn almost laughed as the Grand Queen glanced down at her in annoyance. Then she heard Noass speaking.

“We saw that mystery [Archer]. Who was he? Some new [Longbow Sniper] in Pallass’ army? Those were incredible shots! We placed them from the 8th floor! But even at that altitude, who could fire that far? Who—”

Erin Solstice was looking about for Relc, or Olesm. She vaguely heard Noass shouting something. And then—

The background roar of the crowd’s cheering faded. Erin almost didn’t notice since it had been so overwhelming. Her ears were ringing, and she saw Olesm.

“Olesm! Hey Olesm—that was—”

The Drake looked at her, and then, only then, Erin realized her voice was alone. Alone, in a city of millions. Everyone else had gone silent. And everyone, from Grimalkin to Noass to Rufelt and Lasica—everyone—was looking up.

Spectacle. Drama. It was indeed for different reasons that people watched the attack on Pallass. Because they valued different things. And perhaps—perhaps you thought the Wyverns were the thing. Or the fact that a Walled City was attacked. Perhaps, before this moment, people would have agreed it was the Skills and talents displayed that mattered.

But now, in this moment, everything changed. And you realized it wasn’t about the Wyverns. It wasn’t about the attack. It was about that most innocuous of things. A wandering, solitary member of a species. An accident. Coincidence. Or fate. No, coincidence. But look at how the world shook.

There he stood. He’d found a Wyvern on the staircase. And being him, he’d had to climb it. Erin had no idea how he’d gotten this far. Perhaps people hadn’t noticed him with the Wyverns swooping about. But there he was.

Bird. He was standing on the Wyvern, happily trying to munch on part of a charred wing. For just one second, Erin nearly laughed at the silly [Bird Hunter]. Bird! He’d come through to fight the Wyverns. Didn’t he realize how dangerous it was?

She nearly called out. But then Erin realized how still everyone was. She looked around and saw the color was gone from Lasica’s face. From Rufelt’s too. But—they knew Bird. Erin had told them about it. They’d seen Antinium.

But in her inn. And from afar. And this was—Erin faltered. She looked up. This was Pallass. A Walled City. And there he stood.

An Antinium in a Walled City. Erin didn’t know if someone had whispered it or if the thought was so loud she’d imagined it. The enemy. Here.

“Ancestors.”

It came from Noass’ lips like a prayer. He stared in horror at Bird. Sir Relz’s scrying mirror was locked onto the Antinium. It was more than just one Antinium.

It was a symbol. And the world saw it. Clear. As. Day. The Blighted King recoiled on his throne. His court was in uproar. The Terandrian monarchs turned away in disgust or horror. Flos’ jaw dropped.

And theirs weren’t the important reactions. The Walled Cities watched. Wall Lord Ilvriss stared at his personal scrying orb. Fissival’s Scholarium was filled with statues.

In Manus, the war council had gone silent. So silent, you could have heard a heartbeat. But they’d all stopped. Dragonspeaker Luciva stared at the enemy of the Drakes.

Antinium.

She whispered it. And felt a chill like no other. Terror. At seeing that black-carapace. That alien, insectile form.

And in the Grand Hive of the Antinium, Xrn stared. In pure shock. The Centenium whispered.

“Who is that?”

She heard a sound and looked up. The Grand Queen was choking on a snack. And all that had passed before or since revealed itself to be just—

A prelude.

 

—-

 

“Antinium! Antinium!

Erin didn’t know who screamed the word first. But as she fought her way through the crowd, the terror ran through them like a shot. The word picked itself up, coming from thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of voices. A primal fear.

The enemy! These were not Liscor’s citizens, but Pallass’ people. And they had never seen an Antinium except in their nightmares. And if they had screamed for the Wyverns, they wailed now.

A stampede pushed against Erin, trying to force itself down the stairs. The 1st Army was shouting. Erin ran past [Soldiers]. They were forming lines, as if Bird were an army of every Antinium in the world. Even the officers were white-faced with shock.

“[Archers]! Aim! Aim! [Mages]!”

General Duln was shouting, raising his head to bellow. Chaldion was staring at Bird. And the Antinium was just sitting there. Gnawing on a bit of wing, oblivious to it all.

General Duln! Hold!

Grimalkin was bellowing at the [General]. He was fighting towards the panicked Dullahan, but everyone was in a frenzy. All save for a few, like Olesm, Relc, Erin, Chaldion—

And Saliss. The Named Adventurer just stared up at Bird. He crossed his arms.

“Huh.”

Someone pushed past him. Grimalkin had grabbed General Duln. Ranks of bows aimed at Bird. He finally noticed. Chaldion snapped an order.

Hold!

“I’m seeing an Antinium in Pallass! They’ve—they’ve taken the city! There’s one here! It was the archer! Look at the bow! It’s—”

Noass’ face was drained of blood. He was pointing up at Bird. The army was in uproar. Chaldion was shouting.

This is an order! Hold your fire!

The army and Watch held, quivering. And then they saw it. The scrying mirror reflected her as she burst between a pocket of surprised [Soldiers] at the front. It picked up a scrambling Human, running up the stairs.

“Oh my god! Bird! Stop! Don’t shoot!”

Erin Solstice ran forwards, spreading her arms wide, although anyone with half a decent shot could have feathered Bird as he perched on the Wyvern. And there she was.

Erin Solstice. Bird waved at her.

“Hello, Erin. Look at this big bird. I killed it myself.”

What is going on here!?

Noass screamed. He and Sir Relz fought their way forwards. Confusion. World leaders watched as the two Drakes moved forwards. They could hear Erin, arguing with General Duln, Chaldion, and Grimalkin.

“It’s just Bird! He doesn’t know!”

“An Antinium in Pallass? Kill it! Grand Strategist Chaldion, we might be compromised. We have to evacuate the Assembly.”

“No!”

“Hello. I am Bird.”

Even a genius wouldn’t be able to make sense of it all. But there she was. They had seen her before, perhaps. But her face appeared in the scrying mirror. As clear as day.

 

—-

 

Flos Reimarch stopped. He frowned at the screen and turned to Gazi.

“That young woman? That’s the girl who poked out your eye?”

“No way.”

Trey breathed. He stared at Gazi, incredulous. So did Teres. Gazi smiled. Her eyes, all of them, never left Erin’s face.

“Yes, your Majesty. And she comes from another world. Her name is—”

 

—-

 

“Erin Solstice.”

Niers uttered the name slowly. Trying to figure out…everything from it. He looked at the young woman. And his stomach twisted.

“It’s her. How does she know—? Foliana, look!”

He pointed at Erin. The Squirrel Beastkin nodded.

“She knows the ant-thing. How?”

“I don’t—”

Niers sat back. Suddenly, he had a thousand questions. Terrible suppositions. Questions. He stared, unable to look away.

 

—-

 

“The…chess player?”

Az’kerash blinked. His black eyes and white pupils locked on Erin. Venitra gasped.

“I know her, master.”

“I’m aware. But this—”

 

—-

 

“Did you hear? She said ‘oh my god’!”

Aaron Vanwell grabbed Beatrice’s shoulder. The [Mages] of Wistram were murmuring.

“And she’s in contact with the Antinium. One’s in Pallass. This is a disaster! I thought Montressa said—where are those Ullsinoi idiots?”

Archmage Nailihuaile was uncharacteristically upset. She stared at the image.

“How did they do it? The magic door? Is it—what is it?”

 

—-

 

“It looks like a variant of the Worker class spotted during the Antinium Wars. Not one of the ones native to Rhir’s Hives. We haven’t seen Antinium since their exodus, however, your Majesty. Your Majesty?”

Nereshal spoke slowly. The Blighted King didn’t answer. Othius the Fourth looked up. His voice trembled slightly.

“A common Worker?”

“Clearly not, Your Majesty. I simply meant in form—this one wields a bow. It may be—”

The [Chronomancer] paused. He looked at Erin Solstice. And his face drained of more color. He met his [King]’s eyes.

“Your Majesty. That young woman. That word she used…perhaps the summoning spell…”

He said no more.

 

—-

 

“A Human?”

The Grand Queen stared. In every Hive, the queens gazed at the Human. How she protected Bird. The Armored Queen, the Twisted Queen, the Silent Queen, the Flying Queen—

The Free Queen nearly fell over in her Hive. Garry dropped his platter of food as he stared at the image in the mirror.

Bird?

 

—-

 

“Erin Solstice?”

Magnolia Reinhart sprayed tea across Ressa and the magical mirror. She coughed.

What is going on?

 

—-

 

“Who is that?

Many had no idea who she was. Tyrion Veltras, [Kings], monarchs—but they all saw her face. And in Manus’ war room, Dragonspeaker Luciva repeated the question.

“Who is that? Why is there a Human speaking to an Antinium?”

She turned her head slowly. The Gnoll [Strategist] answered in a weak voice.

“She must be from Liscor. We know the Hive there is—”

“It has a name. Did it call itself Bird?”

Dead silence. Even Rafaema was staring, wide-eyed. Dragonspeaker Luciva turned her head.

“I want to know who that Human is now. Now!

 

—-

 

Every [Informant] in the world was scrambling to update their notes. The Walled Cities were in shock. And in The Wandering Inn, Klbkch swore as he saw Bird in the mirror.

“That krxsching idiot—”

Mrsha heard the first Antinium swear-word in her entire life. And not even Lyonette paid attention. Prognugators Tersk and Dekass were just staring.

“An Antinium…in Pallass.”

Watch Captain Zevara’s head turned, looking at Tersk. Then Klbkch. And she remembered it. Lyonette remembered it. Mrsha and every citizen of Liscor remembered it. They were allies now. But the dream of the Antinium.

The Antinium Wars echoed. And there she was. Erin Solstice, trying to shield Bird. Grimalkin just pushed Erin out of the way. He knew Bird. But this moment was larger than he was.

Antinium.

Chaldion’s voice cut through the silence. Bird jerked his head around.

“Oh. Hello.”

“You are trespassing in Pallass. Move and be destroyed.”

General Duln’s voice shook with fury. Thousands of warriors were aiming every weapon at Bird. He looked around. And only now vaguely realized he might be in trouble. He looked at Erin. And he didn’t move.

Bird was literal. He took instructions and suggestion at face value. And he was gifted at carrying them out exactly as you said. That was because he was Bird. Not anyone else. Just Bird. Erin’s lovely, singing…

“Bird.”

Erin looked up at him. Bird tilted his head. He wasn’t afraid. He could see the danger, but he just looked at her.

“Are you in trouble, Miss Erin?”

Grimalkin looked at her. Chaldion looked at Erin. The world stared as Erin replied.

“No. I think—you’re in trouble.”

“Really?”

Bird looked around. He shrugged.

“I see. But if I am in trouble, that is okay. Because I know how to get out of trouble. Ksmvr taught me. He said it always works in his experience.”

“What…?”

Erin stared at Bird. Uncomprehending. And if she’d put the pieces together, she might have stopped Bird. But the Antinium Worker was a literalist. He listened. And he took things at face value.

He stood. Chaldion pointed at him.

Antinium! Stand down!

“I would like to go home, please and thanks.”

“You are going nowhere. You are under arrest—you’re—”

General Duln didn’t have a word for what Bird was. He just pointed, mouthing soundlessly. Bird looked at him. And then at the sea of faces. Into the scrying mirror. At Grimalkin, at Chaldion.

“I am going home. I had fun hunting all the big birds.”

“Big—birds?

Noass choked. Bird looked at him. His voice was bright and cheerful.

“Yes. I am Bird and I hunt birds. That is my job. That was why I was created.”

He paused and muttered.

“Probably.”

Everyone was listening to him. Grimalkin spoke, overriding General Duln’s next words.

“Antinium Bird, you are under arrest for trespassing in Pallass. Move from this spot and you will be destroyed. Is this clear?”

Bird stared at Grimalkin.

“I would not like to be under arrest. I have things to do. You should not arrest me.”

He said it as if he was the one with the upper hand. Grimalkin stared at Bird. And then at Erin. Even she was speechless in this moment. He shook his head.

“Antinium, this is not an option. You are surrounded. Surrender or be destroyed.”

Bird paused. He nodded, murmuring to himself.

“And then Ksmvr said—yes.”

Bird raised his head. Pallass’ army tensed, but Bird just stood there. On the dead Wyvern’s back. He pointed at Grimalkin with one of his four arms.

“Tell me something, then. Is it war?

His words came out of the Antinium’s mandibles. A cheerful shout. It echoed across Pallass. And Grimalkin froze. Chaldion stared up.

General Duln’s face drained of the last of its color. The [Soldiers], the Watch—they felt it.

Mortal terror.

It swept around the world. War. The Grand Queen looked at Xrn. The Centenium was frozen. And in his inn, Klbkch rose. His hands touched the hilts of his swords. And Zevara gripped her hilt.

The Twisted Antinium roared. The Armored Queen swept herself up. The Flying Antinium’s wings beat. And the Free Queen looked at Bird. He stood there, and cheerfully shouted down at Grimalkin. And Erin realized what he was doing.

Too late. If the Horns had been there—but no. Bird spread his arms. All four of them. One held his bow, another an arrow. He basked in the sun as it shone down on him, all arms spread. Like a dark angel. A harbinger of Armageddon. He knew no fear.

I am Bird! Prognugator of the Free Antinium! I am unique! There are many Antinium, but the death of a Prognugator means war! Or do you not know of Klbkch the Slayer? Xrn the Small Queen? We are second only to our Queens! And I am Prognugator! I forget the rest! So tell me, is it war?

He screamed the words. And Erin realized Bird was bluffing. Bluffing, happily repeating Ksmvr’s lie. But it was such a spectacular lie that it wasn’t. The Antinium waited. The nations stared at Bird.

Bird pointed down at Grimalkin.

“I am Bird. Prognugator. Yes. And I hunt birds. I am a [Bird Hunter]. See?”

He pointed down at the Wyvern. And he looked at Erin. She saw him twitch an antenna in a ‘wink’. Chaldion stared up at Bird.

“A hunting Prognugator? One designed for anti-air attacks?”

Dragonspeaker Luciva whispered.

“It brought down Wyverns. With a bow. I didn’t think—is this what they’ve been developing? I have to change my plans.”

Az’kerash stared.

“The Prognugator of the Free Antinium. A new one. No—a new Centenium.”

Ilvriss was closing his eyes. He was trying not to laugh. Or cry.

“Bird the Hunter.”

Someone whispered it in Pallass. Erin looked up at Bird. She looked at Grimalkin’s twitching jaw, the ranks of silent [Soldiers]. She just wanted to go home. Could she redo today?

In The Wandering Inn, Klbkch felt every eye settle on him. Even the Antinium. No—especially Prognugator Tersk and Dekass. The Armored Antinium stared, suspicious. Klbkch slowly nodded. He tried his most sincere, slow tone.

“For the record…the Free Antinium do not have a program developing new Prognugators. Bird is not a Prognugator. He is lying.”

Klbkch looked about. He met every staring eye. And he realized no one in the entire world was going to believe him.

 


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148 thoughts on “7.03

  1. Grimalkin is an absolute monster, I mean where else will you see a wizard punch through wyverns? Pretty sure he’ll leel up too, seeing how hard was the fight…

  2. Can’t remember the last time I’ve cringed and laughed so hard in my life. I think I’ve ruptured my stomach, should probably go to the hospital. So happy I’m alive right now :’)

  3. Damn, Bird just made everything that happened seem insignificant. I’ll bet that despite the wyvern attack the moment Bird asked if it was war his words became the only thing on people’s minds.

  4. That bluff of Bird… such combination of cringe and laugh i have not seen before! Ilvriss not knowing to laugh or cry, and poor Klbkch… This will mess the entire Antinium situation, not to mention ALL the attention now turned to Erin.

  5. Thank you so much for another fabulous installment! Reading anything from TWI just makes me happy. I love the details, the slice of life. And I loved reading the 2 short stories after this chapter, that was a lovely surprise ❤ thank you!
    And I always read all the comments after every chapter, as other peoples reactions, thoughts and feelings about TWI are interesting to me.
    And now I have to wait to see what happens to Bird. I really hope he’s ok, and doesn’t get killed… I’ve cried for Bird before and always worry he’ll be hurt or killed.
    I adore his development, the little bits of cheekiness that are there sometimes, even though he is adorably innocent, which I hope he stays for a very long time.
    I hope he and Erin get to go straight back to the inn.
    And I really hope Erin stops running away from her problems at some point. She is starting to feel flakey to me. But she resisted Wistram and decided to stay at her inn, so I hope she’ll start treating it as her inn again, as it’s starting to feel like it’s not hers any more. There is nothing wrong with having holdays, time off, lots of help, and a ‘manager’ i.e. Lyonette, but I really wish Erin’s bond with her inn would grow more, instaed of weakening. The time she does spend there, she needs to commit to helping her inn be as good as possible.
    Sorry for the moan. I am 100% commited to the story, and will GLADLY read anything you write. I just felt the need to let my feelings about Erin known, and I’m worried about one of my favourite characters.
    It’s great to see some growth in her in other aspects like, starting to think more about possible consequences, which she showed in the attack on Pallas.
    It’s just her connection to her inn, which seems to be suffering, in my eyes.

    Well, I’ll just have to wait and see.
    Oh, and you will NEVER hear me complaining about anything being too long! Seriously, imo, there is no ‘too long’ when I reading a good story, and TWI is one of the BEST!
    So here’s hoping Bird and Erin can go back to the inn, and I’m wondering about the Grand Queen realising Erin is protecting Bird, at least it was noticed!

    What else am I wondering about…. hhmm… when Erin is finally going to get some sort of magical big screen in her inn, for projecting bigger images of what the world can see in the scrying orbs when things are broadcast?
    When will TWI be able to ‘film’ their plays and sell them, like the music is bein sold (new income Lyonette!), when Erin will hoast her ‘Inn World Chess Tournament Championship’ – obviously at TWI, where the best players world wide come to compete. Will Erin ever start serving magical food (and drinks!), that taste good! I bet Palt could be a massive help there, especially as he seems to be a good cook.

    I’m looking forward to reading anything you throw my way – even if it’s from.my least favourite characters. The only thing I don’t like….. is when you make me cry 😒 Fingers crossed, that doesn’t happen for a long time yet 🤞🏻

    Thank you, thank yiu, thank you Pirateaba for this wonderful inn world! ❤

    • Same here. I’m always waiting but I hate it when pirateaba finish a chap like that. Probably for the best effect/its the best ending to be done.

  6. funny thing is that everyone except the dragon speaker is actually underestimating the issue here.

    They ‘just’ think he is a new progunator.

    while her calling him a new centinium is technically incorrect he absolutely is one in actual fact.

    he is a true Antinium(telepathic link and all) who is a unique absurdly fast leveling individual who will be restored by the queen if killed and is going to be the template for new Antiniums (like how the builder is the basis of the soldiers and workers) to make more true Antinium.

    • Yeah, I don’t remember what Level Bird is right now, but he is extremely strong. He killed dozens of Wyverns with that bow and arrows, common bow and arrows, I might add. That’s Gold-rank, definitely. Heck, the other Gold-rank adventurers present could not match Bird’s rate of kills per second, and they were fighting in teams while Bird was alone.

      He has already shown that he can listen to the voices of the Soldiers, so maybe it’s just a matter of time until he learns how to telepathically speak to them. I don’t know if the Queen will use Bird as a model for the next generation of Workers, since none of them truly understand (or know) how he does this.

      That said, the Free Queen has been shown making several experiments, and even managed to resurrect Yellow Splatters as a new model of Antinium Soldier capable of speech. Which I guess cost her a lot of resources to do, otherwise she would have raised a bunch of new taller and stronger Soldiers capable of speech. It’s just a matter of time before she makes groundbreaking advances in her research.

    • >Az’kerash stared.

      >“The Prognugator of the Free Antinium. A new one. No—a new Centenium.”

      I think it’s not Dragonspeaker, but Az’Kerash nailed this bit about Centenium.

      – – – – –

      Bird as a project is not as epic as Centium as their development, birth and meaning was described by Klbkch; but I think you are right: if you look at his qualities, he’s powerful.

      His telepathy is not Centemium-level; and he is not paragon of Klbkch’s values (let’s call it traditional Antimium values); but on all other accounts he fits. So if you look at him as a project of traditional Antimium, he’s kind of half way there.

  7. I have to say this was one of my favourite chapters of anything, ever. It’s a bit cheesy but I was totally moved when Bevussa turned up with the wings! Even back in the day playing Baldurs Gate 2 I was really hyped fighting dragons and would min/max a character to be able to fight a few, having a huge swarm invading a city was a dream come true! Grimalkin did a great job of being a hero, being OP without feeling like a total Mary Sue. The bit with Bird at the end really felt like this is this story making its own unique mark, little events leading up to big ones. I’m really glad that all your work is allowing you to really take wing on these big events now, feels like we are in a new, higher level space.

  8. this makes me very happy. Thank you so much I feel blessed Bird is a treasure and I want one even if it means a room full of pillows feathers and the occasional mushy dead bird.

  9. Wyvern’s attack felt like Reign of Frost (Reign of Fire but with frost instead) mixed with Attack on the Titan. This is the kind of monster attack that terrifies me. Large pack of big enemies, who can shrug off your normal shots/cuts and who can and want to grab you from your home.

    >“Greater Wyverns are said to be as powerful as younger Dragons.”

    >“Hmf. Perhaps.”

    >Rafaema’s voice was cold.

    Hoho! Is this a Rafaema a second Izril Dragon in disguise? At first I’ve suspected of her to be Az’Kerash’s flesh puppet (a youth with the eyes of old), but she is an expert in many Dragon-related questions.

    >Ilvriss was closing his eyes. He was trying not to laugh. Or cry.

    My reaction exactly. Bird is hilarious; but amout of people his joke might kill… And all plans that Antimium have made… Uhhh…

  10. Can we touch on the fact Foliana now knows about Erin? Given what we know of Foliana’s personality, I fully expect her to poke at Erin in order to get a rise out of the Titan.

  11. “Bird raised his head. Pallass’ army tensed, but Bird just stood there. On the dead Wyvern’s back. He pointed at Grimalkin with one of his four arms.”

    …is…is this a pose straight from Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure?

    …my God. It is a pose from Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure.

    …Bird is really grandstanding here.

  12. I can’t stop but image Erin and Klbkch arguing to each other about Bird, with Erin defending Bird from Klbkch trying to severely punish him.

    Image Klbkch saying that Erin is a bad influence to Bird, by pointing out that she was even in prison that day, and Erin defending that at least she is present in Bird live by being there, unlike him who just dumped him to Erin and then having the minimum of contact with him as much as possible.

    The thing is that they will be doing so in the common room of The Wandering Inn, with everyone else present, and most of them will thing that Erin and Klbkch look like two parents fighting over Bird, their child, behavior. Now That would be High Parenting Drama.

    As a side note, it would show to everyone how much Erin really takes care and treats them like People, and how much LIKE People Klbkch, Bird and the rest of the Antinium can be.

  13. I came here for the Bird Police’s response, damnit! But seriously this is excellent, it was like watching a train crash in slow-mo at the end there, as soon as Ksmvr was mentioned I knew how it would go. I’m just shocked he didn’t say ‘Dominance’ under his breath.

  14. I don’t see a typo thread so, a typo:

    They’re stationed for sorting, not having to retake the walls.

    sortieing looks like it shouldn’t be a word but sadly it’s the word you want here.

    Magnificent chapter

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