Mating Rituals Pt.2

*Warning. This chapter contains sexual content and graphic depictions of sex in the text. If you do not wish to read, or feel uncomfortable at the material please skip this chapter. You may miss terribly important and crucial plot points, but this is your choice.

 

A long time ago, when Erin Solstice was still new to the city of Liscor. When she still lived in her first inn, and people had just gotten to know about the odd Human girl who’d appeared outside the city—she’d had a conversation.

It had gone something like this:

“You have not had sex yet. This is a bad thing, yes?”

That had been then, and a young woman had entertained the idea of sexual gratification, dating, and intercourse with her friends, Krshia and Selys. She had even gone on a date.

It had ended poorly, for the would-be suitors. Erin had ended up with a rather interesting collection of dildos. Which had subsequently been destroyed by her undead skeleton. The first time.

It happened. But since that day, the topic had not come up again. And yes, there were more important things in life to focus on. Monster attacks, keeping friends alive. The possibility of war.

And yet, at the same time, it was extraordinary that the topic never came up again. Erin Solstice didn’t lack for friends, of any species or gender. But she discussed bowel movements and periods with more frequency than anything touching on mating—

Sex.

Indeed, what was uncomfortable to many males wasn’t banned in The Wandering Inn. As, case in point, a few days after Erin’s night of glorious fire and celebration, she found herself in the outhouse.

It was a nice outhouse. Rebuilt, refurbished—Lyonette wanted the inn to connect to Liscor’s sewage lines, but for now, the toilets were attended with herbs to cover the smell and cleaned regularly. It was one of the tasks the staff got to do. And the young woman named Erin Solstice was doing her business.

Again, a natural activity. Erin went to the bathroom at least once a day, which was what she considered healthy. But she didn’t talk about it. Still, at this particular time, Erin happened to look down. And her face fell.

“Aw.”

She was on her period. Which wasn’t generally a problem. But…it was if you didn’t have anything like a pad and you really didn’t want to go back indoors with your new underwear and pants. Erin grimaced.

What to do? What to do…as crises went, Erin decided this was a low-level event. After a few minutes of cursing, she began shouting.

Hey! Hey! Someone get Lyonette!

After a few seconds, her shouting roused someone. Namely, the Workers on the rooftop. Erin waited, and then Lyonette came out.

“What’s wrong, Erin?”

“Uh…can you get me my pad?”

“Pad? What do—oh.

It took Lyonette only a fraction of a second to get it. Inside, Erin felt embarrassed, but she went on.

“It’s in my room. Um—I think in the drawers? It’s washed! Sorry, I just—”

“I’ve got it. One second.”

And indeed, a minute later, Erin had relief. Well—in a way. She still felt a bit crummy, but as she left the outhouse and reentered the inn—after washing her hands outside, thankyouverymuch, Erin was chatting to Lyonette.

The morning crowd looked up as the two young women entered the inn and went over to the bar. Not to drink per se, but just to chat.

“I wasn’t keeping count. Yuck. I hate being on my period. I just feel…euragh. You know?”

“…No. Do you mean, cramps? My mother used to have the worst ones.”

Erin frowned.

“Yeah, a bit. But I also get mad a bit more easily.”

“Really? Compared to usual?”

The young woman frowned. She didn’t see a few of the breakfasters looking up, especially some of the Gnolls who had good ears.

“Ha. Ha. I never asked, but um…you get them?”

Lyonette gave Erin a look.

“Yes, Erin. I get them.”

“I’m just checking! Maybe you get a fancy Skill that stops menstruation or whatever. Or…I was wondering if there were any differences because we’re…”

Erin made a wild hand gesture to say ‘from different worlds, and thus having the distinct possibility of some kind of genetic differences from the environments we are raised in, the proximity of magic, and other extraneous and unknown factors.’ The [Princess] just shrugged in reply.

“Actually, I usually take a potion. My entire family does. But we’re like you, Erin. Actually—my bleeding is bad.”

“Really?”

“Yes. Mrsha got worried the first time it happened. But since Octavia’s here, I think I might switch to potions.”

“Potions? Well, I know they stop you bleeding—but do they like, work perfectly? Are there side effects?”

“Mm…not really. You can get a few symptoms, but [Alchemists] are good about it. And it apparently stops you menstruating at all. So the one downside is that sometimes you have a [Lady] or even a [Queen] who has children in her sixties if she’s taken the potion all her life…”

“Whoa. But that’s…well, I guess biologically…wait, do you know about eggs?”

“…Eggs? We’re talking about children, Erin. What are you talking about?”

Biology! Wait, you don’t know? You don’t know!

The [Princess] just gave Erin one of her looks.

“Erin, it’s too early for this.”

But the young woman was already excited.

“I need to sit down with you and explain! There’s this thing—inside our bodies. Our, you know, vaginas—and we have eggs—”

She felt a bit embarrassed. The [Princess] was just staring, trying to process the fact that Humans laid eggs. It promised to be an interesting discussion, but a voice growled, interrupting them.

“Excuse me. Do you mind? I’m trying to eat, here!”

A Gnoll looked up from his table. And he was male—that was just a…fact worth noting. Erin and Lyonette turned and looked at him.

“What?”

“Do you mind? I’m having breakfast!”

The Gnoll looked affronted. Lyonette and Erin looked at each other. Both frowned at the guest.

“What’s the matter? It’s just biology!”

“It’s disgusting. Humans bleed from…I can’t.”

He pushed back his morning steak. Erin glowered.

“Hey, Dierr, you don’t like it? It’s what women have to go through! You don’t like hearing about it? How you do think I like blood coming out my—”

Half the diners instantly stopped eating as Lyonette slapped a hand over Erin’s mouth. The young woman hesitated.

“Um—sorry. Maybe it is a bit crude.”

Dierr, who was a regular of Erin’s inn, shook his head a few times.

“Humans. Gnoll women don’t go through that.”

“Yeah? Oh wait, yeah. They don’t.”

Erin recalled a conversation with a female Gnoll. It was true—Gnolls didn’t go through the monthly bleeding process. Neither did Drakes. They had different systems that had evolved in their species. Erin hesitated.

“Well, yeah. Gnolls don’t have periods, but they have um, what’s the term? Estrus? Mating periods. And Krshia told me that when they do, they have the same sort of, y’know…stuff. Coming out of you-know-where. Actually, she told me it can be blood, or brown…”

That did it. Almost every male diner and most of the female ones put down their utensils and had to push their plates back for a second. Lyonette covered her face.

Erin.

“I don’t need to hear this!”

Dierr stood up, looking ill and agitated. Erin looked around; some of the guests were doing the same.

“I came here for entertainment, not—that!”

Some of the other regulars were grousing. They weren’t Olesm, or Relc, or Palt or the other big-names that often took part in the inn’s dramas, but…regular diners.

Dierr, an affable [Hunter] who really liked getting his food within a minute of ordering, Menolit, the Drake [Veteran] with half a tail who’d fought in Liscor’s army until being honorably discharged, Ulevissia, a Drake [Mage] who made her entire living making door locks, Fleaears, whose unfortunate name didn’t relate at all to his [Tanner] profession, at least, one hoped—

“I am so sorry. Erin, be quiet. Everyone, please! Let me get you something on the house. Why don’t we all sit and—”

Lyonette rushed around, trying to keep the regulars in their seats. Erin stared around.

“But it’s natural. I mean, okay. I’m sorry I said it out loud. It’s like talking about poo, I guess—”

Erin!

The [Princess] snapped at her. Erin shut up as her regulars glared at her. She flushed, and then looked about when she heard a vague, slapping sound.

Temile, and some of the Players of Celum who stayed at Erin’s inn—and the ones who came every day to rehearse—were laughing so hard there wasn’t actually much sound. Just wheezing, painful, choking guffaws, and slapping the table. Temile slowly slid out of his chair as Erin glared at him.

He wasn’t the only one. Mrsha was giggling, even if she didn’t really get all of what had been said. Erin propped her hands on her hips. At least some people were being amused.

“It’s natural!

“But some things we don’t need to discuss while our guests are eating, Erin. I’ll get Octavia for you; she’s probably asleep still. After another all-nighter at that naked Drake’s lab.”

“Saliss.”

“I know his name. But—dead gods! Can’t he put on clothes?”

“It’d take an army. Anyways, he’s cool.”

“Well, he’s apparently up all night and into the morning! Octavia got back in time for breakfast! Exhausted from making potions all day.”

“Only making potions?”

One of the other regulars quipped as Lyonette went around the inn, doling out a few of the chocolate squares as an apology. Erin saw Menolit, the Drake [Veteran], grinning as he took a square of chocolate. She frowned at him.

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

The Drake stared at her. Menolit was scarred, and half of his tail was missing, owing to his service in Liscor’s army. He was touchy about the tail, but Erin liked him and he liked being here—partly because Humans didn’t care as much about the tail.

“Thank you, Miss Lyonette. Er—Miss Solstice, if a young woman’s out with a fellow all night, you don’t think it’s all making potions…?”

He waggled his brows and grinned. Erin gave him a blank look for a second, and then blinked.

“Wha—oh! Hey! No way. That would never—no way. I mean—Saliss wouldn’t—he’s teaching—right?”

She looked at Lyonette, flustered. The [Princess] looked up, absently.

“What? No, I doubt it. And if she is—who cares?”

“But…”

“He’s the best [Alchemist] in the city. Saliss of Lights. I mean, you know there’re other apprenticeships that work that way. A young [Alchemist], does favors for a master…”

Menolit said it matter-of-factly. Erin just looked at him.

“Menolit!”

“What?”

The Drake looked at her. Erin pointed at Mrsha, flushing.

“There are kids here! Don’t talk about s-e-x!”

Mrsha immediately began trying to spell the word out. Menolit gave Erin a long look as his lips moved.

“What, sex? Miss Solstice, it’s natural. I’m not judging. Someone wants to spice things up with that Drake, be my guest. I wish he’d put on pants too, but the Drake’s got spirit.”

“That’s not all he has. Although between you and me, I’d have expected a Named Adventurer to be better.”

Ulevissia quipped. There was laughter and people relaxed. Erin on the other hand—was flushing.

“Hey! Enough! That’s enough. Let’s not get…weird, here.”

She waved her hands, and the laughter died down as Erin pushed a bit with her ability to control the mood in the inn. It was fairly subtle, for her. But Lyonette noticed, as did Temile and a few [Actors]; their classes made them sensitive to such things.

And a few others. At her table, Selys Shivertail looked up from a morning gossip session with Drassi. She hadn’t really partaken of the conversation so far—because she was trying to eat breakfast too—but now she frowned at Erin, vaguely. As the [Innkeeper] argued with Menolit and then went around the room, chatting with her regulars, Selys paused.

“Hey, Selys, Drassi. How’s it going?”

“I’m off-duty! I don’t start for another hour. Hi, Erin.”

Drassi announced hurriedly. Erin waved that off, although the comment was more aimed at Lyonette than the self-proclaimed ‘cool boss’. Selys smiled as Erin sat down.

“Hi, Erin. Rough morning?”

“You know me, spitting blood, shooting it out of my crotch—I keep forgetting Drakes and Gnolls don’t have periods.”

Erin sighed. Selys and Drassi looked at each other.

“Well, we have our problems, Erin. You don’t have dead scales.”

“You don’t have ingrown hairs or split ends.”

“Point.”

The three females grinned at each other. It was a longstanding practice of species to practice the game of ‘who had the most bodily issues’ with each other. Erin sat down as Selys glanced at Drassi.

“So…well, you’ve told us all about your monthlies. Feeling okay?”

“Yeah. It’s not bad today. I mean, you know…I could use a warm compress or something. That really helps. But maybe I’ll talk to Octavia when she wakes up. Potions are handy.”

“No arguments there!”

Drassi grinned. The [Gossip] and [Bartender] looked in fine form today. But then, she was enjoying her new class and position serving alcohol. And she’d certainly had enough work these last few days.

Ever since the night of glory and fire. These days, the pink flame was carefully kept burning in a concealed, controlled lantern. The same one Erin had used for the blue flames of sadness. Sometimes it went out if you didn’t feed it, but Erin could always conjure the fire again.

Anyways, at the moment Selys had just come in for her gossip session with one of her best friends. Best two friends, really. The young Human woman smiled as Selys offered her some fried dumplings. Palt had made them; the Centaur wasn’t in today, but he would be, no doubt. Selys gave Erin a side-long look.

“We were just talking about recent events. Speaking of which…are you worried about Octavia?”

“What? No. I mean, a bit. Saliss is like…I mean, I think he’s a good guy. But Octavia shouldn’t be…y’know? When she’s learning from him? That’s weird, right?”

Erin looked awkward as she danced around the subject. Drassi scratched at the spines on her neck.

“Madly having sex in their laboratory all night long?”

The [Innkeeper] choked on her bite. Selys snorted and had to pound on Erin’s back. She was assisted by a flying kick from Mrsha. Erin coughed up the food stuck in her airways and rubbed at her back.

Ow. Thank you, Mrsha. Drassi!

“What? Unless—do you think they’re being kinky? Like—I dunno, you hear stories.”

Drassi!

“Like what?”

Selys leaned over as Mrsha leapt up onto the table and swiped a dumpling. Drassi grinned.

“You know Stitch-People. I hear they can switch out body parts and do a lot of crazy things. And they can repair their bodies, so they can get rough. Like—have you heard the stories about how the male ones can have huge, things? And some Drakes—and Gnolls!—want to know how it feels. But you can tear—

Drassi! Mrsha is right there!

Erin shouted. Mrsha recoiled as Erin pointed at her. Drassi looked at Selys. The [Heiress] was nodding.

“Don’t be vulgar, Drassi.”

“You know you’d try it.”

“Mrsha’s just a kid. Mrsha, go over there. And I don’t think Octavia’s sleeping with Saliss, Erin. But if she is…well, I don’t think [Alchemists] are that different. If Saliss was a high-level [Warrior], now—Drassi?”

The [Gossip] was nodding as Mrsha was ushered off the table. Erin practically hurried her over to Lyonette.

“[Alchemists] are kinky, Selys. Kinky. Potions. Sex.”

Oh. But how would you know?”

“I dated a few of Liscor’s [Alchemists]. They’re low-level, but they still make stamina potions. And that’s—”

Hey.

Erin slapped her hands down on the table. Selys and Drassi started, looked at her. Erin was flushing and glaring at the two of them.

“This isn’t appropriate for the morning, you know? Mrsha’s here, and she has good ears. Right?”

She looked from face to face. And Erin Solstice, who had happily pontificated on the issue of periods in front of the entire room, looked…awkward. Selys and Drassi blinked at each other.

And they both had the same thought again. The two engaged in a sub-vocal argument, and in the end, Selys lost. She looked at Erin.

“Erin…why don’t you have a seat?”

“I’m not gonna sit if you two are going to be weird—”

“Have a seat, come on.”

The two practically pushed Erin into a seat. The [Innkeeper] looked at the two of them.

“What? What?

Selys took a breath. She remembered that conversation from a while ago. She hadn’t given it a lot of thought, but now…she looked at Erin.

“So…have you had sex recently?”

Erin froze. Dierr glanced up from his seat and pretended to be interested in his steak again. A Centaur, opening the door to the common room, halted in his tracks. Montressa and Beza ran into Palt’s behind, but the Centaur motioned them back.

The young woman paused.

“What? What sort of question is that?”

“…A normal one?”

Selys raised a brow. Erin looked at her friend, and then at Drassi.

“Seems sort of personal, right?”

“I dunno. We’re friends. Drassi’s not gonna spill it, Erin.”

“[Gossip]’s honor. But yeah, have you had a good one recently, Erin?”

“Hey now. I really don’t feel like—”

“Krshia told me she doesn’t think you’ve masturbated all month. And she said that last month. And the month before that. Erin—do you have a problem? Because there’s a potion for that.”

The two female friends stared at Erin. The [Innkeeper] stood up. Her face was beet red.

“Krshia said—? I don’t need to take this!”

She began to storm off, but the two Drakes grabbed her arms and towed her back. It was hard; Erin had [Lesser Strength].

“Erin, come on!”

“We’re not judging—

“You aren’t, Drassi? I am.”

“Hey! Let go of—”

Erin found herself sitting at the table, held captive…well, not really. But the two Drakes were looking at her seriously. Selys had to go first.

“Erin…do you think maybe you’re being a bit…prudish?”

“About se—about the thing? Yes! Especially with a kid around!”

Drassi glanced at Mrsha.

“But she knows about sex, Erin. Gnoll kids do.”

“What? She’s far too young to—”

“She’s a Gnoll, Erin. She lived in a tribe. She has a nose and ears. All Gnoll kids know about sex when they’re young. What’s wrong?”

The young woman from Earth opened and closed her mouth. Drassi just blinked at her innocently.

No—not even innocently. She just looked blank. What was the problem here? Erin hesitated.

“Well—okay. But it’s still not something we need to talk about, right?”

“Not if we don’t want to. But seriously, Erin. Are you…stressed? Because if Krshia’s right—”

“I’m fine!”

“So you do use the dildos she says she keeps giving you?”

Erin was practicing her guppy impersonations. Her mouth kept opening and shutting.

“I—don’t have to answer that!”

Selys looked serious.

“Erin, we’re not judging. It’s normal. But seriously—you talk about periods and using the outhouse and you get nervous about the idea of sex?”

“I’m totally fine with it! Anyone can have sex! Relc had sex just the other day! I think!”

Erin threw her hands up. Drassi leaned over.

“Really? With who? That Garuda [Guardswoman]?”

“It’s private! He didn’t need to tell me and I didn’t need to ask!”

Erin glared at Drassi, trying to forget she’d been bugging Relc about that exact thing. Selys raised her brows.

“Good for Relc. He deserves it. Poor guy would have trouble with Drake women, although he’s popular even if he’s a bit…”

“Ugly?”

“Drassi, be nice.”

“I’m not being mean! I like Relc! I’d give him a try if I thought it wouldn’t make things weird.”

Sometimes Erin didn’t understand Drake aesthetics. Relc looked fine to her. But she found the conversation pivoting back to her again.

“All I’m saying is that I have no problem with Relc hooking up, Erin. It’s natural. Nothing to be ashamed of, even if Embria objects. Well…she is his daughter.”

Selys paused. Erin fidgeted.

“I know that. And I’m not judging.”

“Good. So…have you had sex at all since the last time Krshia and I talked to you?”

“I don’t need to answer that.”

“…Have you masturbated?”

Selys.

“Erin, I think you might be stressed.”

“Pent up.”

“It’s okay to want to have a good time.”

“Roll around on the carpet with some fun guy. Oh wait, Humans get rug-burns.”

“Even relieve yourself now and then.”

“Hey, can Humans use their hands? I’ve been debating with some of my friends about that. Because we have claws with you know, talons. And if you slip—

Drassi, please.”

The [Gossip] subsided, but she and Selys both looked amused. Erin did not want to be at the table with them. She folded her arms, like a bulwark against all things erotic.

“It’s personal.

Selys recognized the signs of a stubborn Erin coming on. She rolled her eyes, exasperated.

“If you don’t want to talk about it, fine. But we’re just talking to you—as friends—about whether you’re happy. Honestly. We wouldn’t want to do anything. But if you’re frustrated…”

That was all she said. And she gave Erin a serious look. So much so that the [Innkeeper] realized that Selys wasn’t making fun of her. Not really. Erin slowly uncrossed her arms.

“I…well…it’s not necessary.

“No, but it’s fun.”

“You could get pregnant.”

“From a Drake or Gnoll, Erin? And there are potions for that. Actually—I think I have my answer. Dead gods. How long has it been, six months? That’s a long time for…and nothing else?”

“Wow.”

Drassi gave Erin an almost admiring look. The [Innkeeper] didn’t like the look. She glared, went on the offensive.

“Well, what about you, Selys? Have you had sex? Or you, Drassi?”

The two Drakes blinked. They looked at each other. Drassi paused, and then shrugged.

“Well, I lost my last boyfriend during a fight two weeks back, but I’m not hurting for company, you know? I’m fine.”

“And I had sex yesterday. In my apartments.”

Selys stared at Erin. The young woman blinked.

“What?”

“It was good. And yes—we knew each other. But it’s not serious. But I enjoyed it, and so did he—which is why we got together. Well…and we see each other more often because of my position. He actually came by to talk about it.”

“Wh—but—Selys! What about Pisces?”

The [Heiress] looked at Erin. And this time, it was a long look. And somehow—not as amused or exasperated as she’d been before.

“What about him?”

Erin felt like she was treading on dangerous ground all of a sudden. But she didn’t know why.

“Well…I thought you and him were a thing. You know? You said you liked him, and you two were always talking, arguing. And you had that kiss under the mistletoe, and you told me you thought he wasn’t that bad. So I thought…”

Drassi’s head slowly turned towards Selys and her stare said that her friend had said nothing of the sort to her. Selys flushed. But she’d invited this. She took a breath, and then nodded, as the scales in her cheeks darkened a bit.

“I said that, Erin. But we haven’t done anything. Literally, nothing besides that kiss, and that was for a dare. I like Pisces.”

“Yeah. So…”

“So what?

There was an edge in Selys’ voice. Erin hesitated.

“But if you like—”

“He hasn’t said anything to me. And I haven’t said anything to him. We’re both adults, Erin. Not engaged or anything. Should I be sitting here, saving my chastity like a—like a Human [Princess] while I pine for him?”

Across the inn, Lyonette slipped as she cleaned a table. Erin turned red. Selys’ voice had a note of real contempt.

“No. I just thought you liked him. So…”

That was all. Selys relented.

“I…might. But I’m not expected to wait for him, am I? And I can have fun, right? Honestly, Erin. You sound like…”

She bit her tongue before she said something actually hurtful. Erin sounded a bit like some of the old Drakes who scolded the young, promiscuous ones. Not Selys’ grandmother; Tekshia had only told Selys that she wasn’t allowed to get pregnant before she turned twenty.

But it was strange. Strange indeed, that Erin Solstice was so…awkward. And Selys looked at her friend and sighed.

“Sorry, Erin. I’m not mad. But…have you never thought about it?”

The young woman looked past Selys. And Palt silently trotted into the inn. And the Centaur pulled out a cigar and considered his moves. Numbtongue wandered out of the garden where he’d been playing music. And the young woman was just…conscious of those facts.

“I…”

“You know, Culyss still likes you. Even after getting beaten up by all the Goblins. You never really told me what that was about.”

The young woman blinked. She remembered the Drake. Selys looked at Erin.

“Tell you what, Erin. You don’t have to do anything. I feel bad about introducing you to Culyss before you were…well, you know. But why don’t I introduce you to…my friend? You know him, anyways. He’s coming by later. I mean…just so you know I’m fine talking about it.”

She sighed, a bit embarrassed. Erin stared at her friend.

“I do? Wait…is it…”

Her eyes went round. Selys rolled her eyes as Drassi leaned forwards with a [Gossip] and a [Bartender]’s instincts for juicy tidbits.

It was truly odd. But it was natural. She just wondered if Erin was shy. Or maybe she hadn’t ever been in a relationship. Selys thought Erin had said she had done it at least once, but maybe…she’d had a bad experience. The Drake shook her head.

It was natural. Why was everyone so hung up on it? But then—this was the perspective of someone who had grown up with a former adventurer for a parental figure. Tekshia…didn’t have the same views as some Drakes her age. And Drassi was everyone’s friend.

Maybe it really was different for Humans? But then, that was the nature of carnality. Some people took to it more than others, and others saw it as deviant, or special, or…awkward. But it definitely happened. Even if people didn’t always talk about it.

So what was the problem?

 

—-

 

Sex. Ulvama brushed a sweaty strand of hair off her face. She was having sex.

Intercourse, mating, procreation…she straddled a sweaty Hobgoblin and grinned in the dim lighting of the hut. Raidpear, Hobgoblin, member of the Redfang Tribe, and a member of the Solstice Goblin group within the lands of the Unseen Empire, grunted. Ulvama grinned down at him and increased her tempo.

“Good? Good?

Her voice was teasing, challenging, even. Which meant Raidpear metaphorically and physically stiffened at the taunt.

Fine.

He grunted. The two were engaged in copulation, another good word. And both were enjoying themselves. Ulvama slowed and squeezed—the Hobgoblin groaned and the [Shaman] smiled.

She enjoyed what she did. And to Ulvama, her job, her class, and position as [Shaman] necessitated having sex. She had explained it to Pebblesnatch, once.

Sex was power. It was influence, and it was necessary. That was why Ulvama had actively sought out and formed a relationship with the strongest Goblin among the Solstice Tribe. The [Shaman] might have gone after Leafarmor, the female Hob, but it was also her opinion that males were easier.

Abruptly, the [Shaman] switched positions. She leaned down, so the two’s faces were close. The intimacy made Raidpear shudder. And the [Shaman] fed off both the pleasure, the control—and the magic. Her painted tattoos glowed in the darkness. She was enjoying herself, but—she didn’t like Raidpear.

Or rather, she enjoyed his company. She certainly enjoyed this, and she had few objections to Raidpear as a fellow Goblin.

But that was the extent of Ulvama’s emotions. Sex was a type of currency to her, a give and take. It was not like that for everyone.

Raidpear probably understood that, or guessed on some level their relationship wasn’t born of mutual attraction. But he was a Redfang, and casual dalliance came easily to their tribe, who lived and died with each battle. It was a good position for Ulvama; he wouldn’t grow touchy if she ended things.

Still—she was using her knowledge to manipulate him. Like taunting the Redfang; their tribe didn’t like losing, or running away from a challenge.

“Now? Now?

She laughed as she methodically moved. Raidpear gritted his teeth.

“No.”

It was a contest. But the [Shaman] had already won, no matter who ‘beat’ the other in this match. Indeed—Ulvama threw back her head, and Raidpear finally released. The two panted. And the Hobgoblin Redfang looked triumphant. Ulvama laughed. Her crimson eyes flashed as she embraced him, not without affection.

“Again?”

Her fingers moved as she whispered a little spell. Raidpear made a deep sound in his throat. Instantly, he rose to action, and stared at Ulvama. She got off him and moved down the cot, gliding downwards. The two Hobs were caught up in each other. Raidpear hissed—

And then they both saw the flash of light as one of the watching Goblins shifted in the tent’s opening. Ulvama and Raidpear whirled. They saw about ten younger Goblins, six male, four female, all staring at them.

Young Goblins. Cave Goblins, some of the Mountain City Tribe, the Flooded Plains—no Redfangs, but they were a small group—all staring at the two. They paused as Ulvama’s eyes narrowed.

Out!

Raidpear roared. The Goblins started. Ulvama was faster. The [Shaman] leaned down, snatched up some of the soil at the bottom of the primitive hut, and blew the handful at the voyeurs.

The dust and grit swirled at the young Goblins. They shouted in pain as it covered their skin and stung, burning and itching. They fled, and Ulvama glared.

“Stupid young Goblins.”

She grumbled, and Raidpear laughed. The humor broke the moment of intense passion Ulvama was going for, and the [Shaman] was put out. But that didn’t stop them.

Indeed, they were so noisy at times that one night, Pebblesnatch had run in with a bucket of water and thrown it at them. But Goblins had sex. That was what they did. In fact…they were pretty good at it. And Ulvama, a self-styled master, bared her teeth in the shadowed hut.

A few Goblins peeked back inside as she got to work re-establishing the mood. They were hit by Raidpear’s codpiece.

 

—-

 

Sex. There were masters of it. Some used it as recreation, others for a goal—some to manipulate, seeking intimacy. It was only all-consuming for some, but it was interesting how it factored into people’s lives. It could be as significant as a full night’s sleep in changing how a day went. Well—the two didn’t always go hand in hand.

But it mattered. And yes—to some more than others.

I want to have sex! I want to have sex! I swear, I’m going to lock your muscles down if we don’t have sex!

A voice shouted in Geneva Scala’s head. The [Doctor], the battlefield surgeon, the woman known to some as the Last Light of Baleros, hope of the dying [Soldiers] everywhere, paused.

“Okasha.”

I don’t care what you say! We haven’t had it once! I have needs! I’m not like you! I can’t control the body unless you’re asleep and you have to rest and I’m…

There was a sob from inside Geneva’s head. Well, rather, Okasha was projecting her tiny voice directly into Geneva’s eardrums. But it felt like it was literally inside her head.

I’m sorry, okay? But it’s frustrating. I feel like a prisoner.

“I’m…sorry.”

The [Doctor] paused. She was in her personal quarters, in the United Nations headquarters. And she was preparing her field-kit, her bag of medicines, experimental poultices, surgical tools, and so on.

She was about to make a house call. But the [Doctor], one of the people from Earth in Baleros, the continent of mercenaries, and war, was more extraordinary than even the other members of the United Nations company, designed to find and protect people from their world.

She had a secret. And that was that Geneva Scala was paralyzed. Or she should be. A long while ago, a few months now, she had been struck by a mace. Her spine had been…shattered.

A terrible blow. Not just one you could hope to repair either; the blow had done more damage than Geneva could calculate; she’d inspected the wound with a mirror and Okasha’s help, but she suspected that even in her world, she might have been paralyzed but for the most experimental and cutting edge medical technologies.

She would have been helpless. But—Okasha had saved her. The Selphid, a member of the parasitic species that could control bodies’ nervous systems had entered Geneva’s body with her permission. And the two had become something new.

A Selphid living in a living body. Something anathema to the entire world. With Okasha, Geneva could move. And not only that—the two could work together. Okasha could even boost Geneva’s body past its limits. And because Geneva was alive, she could heal damage done, even use her Skills while Okasha used hers.

They were two souls and one body. But they were not alike. Geneva had gotten used to her roommate. They had their quarrels, but Okasha had given up much to be Geneva’s shadow.

Still—when differences emerged, they could be tricky. And at the moment—Okasha was vocally unhappy.

I’m frustrated. I know you are, no matter how much you try to hide it.

“I’m not—”

Geneva opened her mouth, and closed it. It was hard to argue with someone in your nervous system.

I could tell yesterday. You were aroused right after dinner! But you never do anything. You just drink and work and drink and work and drink and then you work some more! You don’t stop!

“We are dealing with a crisis, Okasha. There is a plague beginning in Baleros. And it will spread.”

The [Doctor] was tired. She had indeed been working all day and night. She snapped at Okasha.

“The Yellow Rivers disease is growing in infectious cases and no one but you, me, and the United Nations company is taking it seriously. People do not want to talk about it—and there is no cure!”

It’s gross. I’m used to bodies, but I don’t know how you can touch them—

Geneva grimaced. The Yellow Rivers infection, which was a sexually-transmitted disease, was indeed…nasty. Even by the standards of someone in the medical field. And they were used to a lot of horrible things the body could do. But the yellow pus and the open wound the infection caused in the genital regions that spread so quickly along with the smell…

It was a good thing that Okasha could stem Geneva’s gag reflex, and keep her from vomiting. Because even Aiko and the other aspiring [Nurses] and [Doctors] that Geneva had added to her clinic had trouble tending to the patients. But Geneva Scala was tackling the patients—and she had over a hundred of them since the original two had appeared in Quallet Marshhand’s company.

The [Doctor] knew it was going to get worse. But she’d been up for…well, only thirty-two hours. She said as much and Okasha shouted in her head.

You drink stamina potions like water! It’s not healthy! I’m the one making sure your organs are working! If it wasn’t for me, your lower intestine would be gone!

“And I’m grateful, really. But Okasha, I have to keep working. If I don’t—”

‘People die, Hippocratic Oath, I’m Geneva Scala, Last Light of Baleros. If I don’t do something, no one will’. Blah, blah! I’ve heard it!

The Italian [Doctor] winced. She didn’t sound like…

“I’m sorry. But I don’t have any tools from my world, or antibiotics or medicine. So I have to work myself hard. We can sleep after this.”

And have sex.

“Okasha. Have you not seen the Yellow Rivers infection? This isn’t the time for—”

Wear a condom! You made them and they work! You can spot the infection! Wear one! Find someone! I know you like some of the people around you! Or—we can go to your room, and…

“No.”

Geneva, I am going to throw your body at the nearest breathing person if I don’t get something to have fun with.

The [Doctor] grimly considered the Selphid’s threat. Okasha could and would override Geneva’s nervous systems in dire situations, but this sounded like a threat. And Geneva’s understanding of the Selphid suggested that Okasha might actually be at risk of breaking down.

“…Okay. I’ll look into it.”

Really? You promise? Swear?

Okasha raised Geneva’s right arm, which she often got to control. Geneva saw and felt her right hand extend a pinky.

It was odd, pinky-swearing with herself. The [Doctor] sighed, already regretting it. How was she going to…?

Well, there were no shortage of male Humans from Earth in the United Nations company…or in the city they were in, Talenqual. But Geneva did not want to proposition say…Dawson, and deal with the consequences. It would be like, well, sleeping with someone in your company. And that led to problems.

Ideally, she’d have asked someone like…Ken. Or Luan, if he wasn’t married. Someone who could be discreet and whom it wasn’t risky to deal with. But Ken was involved with that Lizardwoman—or had they broken up?

The United Nations company was certainly not celibate, by and large. And many relationships occurred outside of the group, because of the friction it caused when couples formed or broke up. But it was mostly casual, and Geneva thought it was positive as long as everyone wore protection, which she’d lectured them at length about. With visual aids on the Yellow Rivers issue.

She was reluctant to call it an epidemic yet, or a pandemic, but Geneva Scala feared…that this disease was magical in nature. If so—it could become a worldwide issue quickly.

But no one was listening. No one with the power to change things. Maybe her scheduled visit to the Academy with the Titan of Baleros…? Geneva’s head hurt.

So much to do. Where was she? Oh yes. Sex. She had to have sex with someone. Geneva tried to remember her days in medical school. She’d hooked up. Although when you were thrown into the fire and you were working all day—that sometimes killed your sex drive. But she remembered enjoying it.

It hadn’t been a concern since she’d come to this world. Since she’d become a [Doctor] and measured her days in lives saved and lost. Geneva supposed she’d just have to do it to keep Okasha from going insane. It had to be hard, being her.

So…not Ken. And Geneva wasn’t keen on a female partner. Not her wheelhouse. That would have left Daly usually. But—

Daly and his bombs. Geneva felt a flash of fury. Her breathing quickened and she nearly dropped the experimental disinfectant.

“Careful!”

Okasha spoke with Geneva’s mouth. She caught the vial with the [Rogue]’s agility. And Geneva felt her fury abate, almost magically.

I’m making you calm. Calm, Geneva! Be happy! Think about sex!

“Not with Daly.”

Geneva muttered, but Okasha was manipulating her brain, releasing endorphins, getting rid of the adrenaline spike. It sometimes frightened Geneva, how casually the Selphid could do that. But Okasha respected boundaries. If not, she wouldn’t be begging to have sex. Or…was she manipulating Geneva on a deeper level?

No, don’t think of that. Think of…sex. Geneva sighed.

“I’ll find someone. Tonight, Okasha. Stop flooding my system.

The building sense of arousal vanished.

Sorry.

“I’ll ask about it. Ironically, we’re going to a good place to ask.”

Geneva Scala sighed. Okasha paused.

I slept through part of your day. What was it again?

The [Doctor] grimly hefted her field bag.

“We’re paying a visit to the brothel. The owner wants to make sure her clients and her workers aren’t infected.”

Oh. Ew.”

 

—-

 

It was everywhere. Sex! The urges of copulation! Like a disease!

Honestly, it was. But if it wasn’t focused on all the time—it occurred. As rarely as a period? More often? Less? It did vary. But sometimes, when it did occur…it could change everything.

In an inn, a half-Elf was considering just how it would change her team’s dynamics. But—it was time. Her skin glistened with her bath water. She had a fragrance on. And…she was nervous?

She knew who was going to come through that door. This wasn’t her room. But she’d walked into it, fresh from her bath, and she was ready to make a mistake. If it was a mistake. Probably? Yes? No?

She was a bit…intoxicated. But the half-Elf was ready. Dead gods, she was. So she prepared as she heard the heavy steps coming down the hallway, pausing, leaving the clamor in the common room behind.

The half-Elf lowered her half-naked form over the inn’s bedspread. After a moment, she lay on her front, tugging the towel up to just cover her breasts. She adopted a languorous, sensual pose and faced towards the door. A subtle fragrance hung in the air that she’d worked on for ten minutes to get just right.

The air was hot. Expectant. And the glimmer of sweat on the half-Elf’s skin was…illuminating…in the half-shaded room. As the door opened and the half-Elf [Mage] looked up, a soft, lilting tune began to play, almost unheard.

The scene was set. Falene Skystrall looked up as the footsteps paused outside of the door and—

“Hey, half-Elf! Ylawes is drunk. He said you wanted to talk. Mind if I dump—”

Dawil kicked the door open. The Dwarf paused and stared as Falene blinked up from her sensual pose on the bed. He had Ylawes over one shoulder; the groaning [Knight]’s head was in danger of hitting the floor.

He stared at Falene. She stared back. The half-Elf immediately reached for her towel and covered her breasts. Dawil’s jaw worked as the Dwarf and member of the Silver Swords stared at his companion.

“Uh.”

“Get out.”

Dawil paused, and then his face broke into a huge grin. He laughed at Falene as she tried to cover herself up; Ylawes was barely conscious as he stumbled over to the bed.

You pervert! He’s only a boy! Barely twenty seven!

Get out!

The Dwarf roared with laughter as Falene raised her arms. He ran for it, still shouting with laughter.

“Poor lad can’t even catch a break with a grandmother thrice his age after him! Hah! Hey! No [Fireball]! No—

 

—-

 

“So—you’re telling me it’s natural for two girls to…have sex?”

Fierre looked at Ryoka. The young woman shifted uncomfortably. They were sitting in Fierre’s office. The desk lay between them. Ryoka had suggested it because it beat her room, which would invariably lead to them sharing a bed.

But she’d brought it up because no one in this world besides…people from Earth really knew about sexuality. At all. Maybe they existed—no, Ryoka suspected they surely did. But they were in a pre-acceptance era, and that was compared to Earth. Pre-understanding, even.

“Yeah. So—it’s normal. Just a different perspective. Some girls like guys. Some guys like guys. Some girls are actually guys and they were all along. It’s…I’m going to use some terminology here, so it’s complex, okay, Fierre? But the point is…”

Ryoka trailed off. She looked at Fierre. And she paused.

It was…an awkward scene. Fierre was leaning over the desk. And she was looking at Ryoka like a piece of meat. And blood. Which was, to Vampires, pretty damn amorously.

But did she like Ryoka? Did Ryoka like girls? Well, the answer was ‘depends’, both ways. Ryoka had had these moments with Fierre before. And the young woman thought it was a mix of things.

It could be interest. Or that the two were the only two who shared Fierre’s secret, that Ryoka liked immortals and Fierre wanted to drink blood, and that the two understood each other and they were alone. And Fierre could be charming Ryoka with her eyes.

But she probably didn’t need to. And Ryoka…thought of Belavierr. Of the [Witches]. And she opened her eyes. And her tone was steady.

“It’s about being okay, Fierre. With who you are. Nothing’s wrong about any way you are.”

She met the Vampire’s eyes. And some of the ardor behind the red irises faded. Some of the teasing, too. Fierre sat back and nodded.

“Tell me. You said the Lord of the Dance was…what was it? Homosexual?”

“Or gay. Terminology, again. Homosexual is the term used to describe feelings of sexual attraction to one’s own gender. But he could also be straight, or heterosexual, but just open to dancing with other guys. Which I’ll grant you, is odd in Terandria…”

Fierre was making notes. The informant and letter opener and information broker was at least good at understanding new things.

“Very odd in Terandria. But go on.”

“I don’t want to assume. But let’s start with terms. There’s homosexuality, heterosexuality, bisexuality, as three broad concepts. But it’s not one thing or another. It varies. And there’s the concept of transgender people, people who enjoy cross-dressing sexuality as a spectrum…”

The young woman wanted to talk about this right—even though she wasn’t an expert. And it was…important information. Fierre’s eyes glittered with the pleasure of acquiring new and valuable information. But she also was looking at Ryoka’s…

Throat. Which was about as uncomfortable as a guy staring at her breasts, when you got down to it. Different purposes, but the same general intent. Both wanted to put something in you—although Fierre also wanted to take something out too. The Vampire girl paused.

“What was it when two girls liked each other? Did you say…homosexual applies?”

“Yes. Well, there are other terms. It could be bisexuality, curiosity…the colloquial term is lesbian…or gay as a catch-all…”

“And how would two—girls—make love? I mean, the parts…well, I guess there are ways. Do you know about that too?”

Ryoka paused. She stared at Fierre.

“Well, yeah. We can get into that.”

She hesitated. She had a definite feeling that this moment, this…intimate scene with the two in the locked, secure, ‘you couldn’t break in with a small army if you tried or hear what goes on in there’ room, might escalate.

And Ryoka could have run at any moment if she wanted to, or shut it down. But did she want to?

She had needs. And Fierre…Ryoka needed a new term for someone who had an immortal fetish. Immortaphilia. But then again—why did they have to be so stupidly sexy?

Vampire teeth. Ryoka didn’t know if she wanted this. But she was pretty sure she was staying because she was uncertain. She paused.

“Let’s go over from the top. From a biological perspective…”

 

—-

 

Fierre was not the only person asking about sex that day. Nor was Ryoka the only one giving out an explanation. But hers was willingly. Others found the task of explaining the birds and the bees and the way they had intercourse especially if they were kinky, an…awkward task.

“Master, what is sex?”

Az’kerash, the Necromancer, master of the undead, and former Archmage of Wistram, looked up. Bea was sitting in front of him, as was her wont. When he allowed it, his Chosen hung about him, like flies attracted to rotting meat.

Although, it was notable, Bea was never surrounded by flies. Or by the living, for long. She had recently been out on one of his assignments, and she had come back with this question on her lips.

“Sex?”

“Yes, Master.”

Az’kerash didn’t blink, or hesitate, as many a parent would when faced with the question. He had created Bea, but he was a rational [Mage], and he had stripped out lesser emotions long ago.

“A biological imperative that allows for reproduction and entertainment of sorts. It takes many forms. If some try to accost you, fulfill your roles as I have taught you.”

Bea nodded. That was easy. She could, like Venitra, and Kerash and Ijvani, blend into society at a moment’s notice. She could even simulate sex—until her partner expired. That wasn’t the question.

“But master, why do people want to do it?”

“Entertainment, Bea. Is this necessary? You know many biological functions of the living are incomprehensible to you.”

Miffed, but amused, Az’kerash moved a strand of Bea’s hair. She smiled, leaning into the gesture. And she was more like a child than the woman’s body she possessed in that moment. Part child, part creation, part undead.

Her eyes glowed faintly in the half light—Az’kerash was studying a bidding war over Saliss’ Youth Potion, a rare item that went on the market and always precipitated a huge bidding battle. He was half of a mind to buy it. It was useless to him, but…Az’kerash well understood the allure to many.

Bea watched her creator for a second. Then she had to go on.

“But master, do you want to have sex with me? I heard [Necromancers] do that. And sometimes, [Golem Artificers]. Is that true?”

“Zelkyr believed in creating perfection that it might serve him. Adorn him. And yes, he believed in creating what he desired. I never did. You were never made for that. Never.”

“Because you don’t want to?”

Az’kerash nodded. And his dark eyes and white pupils were tired.

“I left it behind with my life, Bea. But Zelkyr believed in creating one who would love him as no other had in this world, before or since. Was it wrong? Did he make a [Slave] dressed in stone, or did they love him beyond what he had simply made them to be? I asked Cognita, once. And she told me it was love that bound her as much as spell. But I do not know where the answer lay. Zelkyr loved his three most perfect creations, and he loved magic and craft more than any woman.”

“Because they were better at it?”

The question made Az’kerash smile. Another, living man might have guffawed. It was fleeting, but he did smile.

“Perhaps. But regardless, he and I differed. His creations loved him and he experienced the pleasures of flesh. But Bea–they withered on him. In time, he began to hunger for something more than fleeting joy. He looked at his wondrous creations, beheld their flaws as they withered, and one was—broken.”

“In Rhir.”

The Necromancer paused.

“Yes. He and I beheld…our imperfections. And thereafter, Zelkyr forsook love. He pursued something greater than Truestone, the height of his creation. He and I. But the difference is, I never had his desires.”

“But you loved. Do you not love us?”

Bea looked upset. Az’kerash bent and kissed her on the forehead again, as he did sometimes. But never on the lips, which Bea knew now was…different.

“Never. Can I love something I know too completely, Bea? I love you like part of myself. But can I love that in a carnal way?”

Bea opened her mouth. Az’kerash put a finger to her lips.

“I do not wish an answer. Let us understand only this.”

He closed his eyes, and paused a moment. Part of his fragmented mind came together, for an answer.

“Love is painful, Bea. I found immortality. My old friend…I do not think he did. I do not think so. And he and I both found love a painful thing, even though one of us trusted to the love we found in others, and another to the love he fashioned, that was eternal. It is not something I need now, grasping immortality. Part of it is simply biological and I…”

He touched his body and Bea understood.

“Yes, master. But…the woman I killed said it was more than that.”

“Oh yes. More, so much you do not need to know, Bea. Sex is not love. But one goes hand in hand with the other. I loved a woman like no other. And she died.”

Bea went still. Az’kerash looked at her face and she remembered a sight she was not supposed to see.

“Do you miss her, Master?”

“When I think of her, yes. But it would be poorer to forget, even after a century’s passing.”

And he looked at her face. Bea bowed her head, afraid to ask more.

Az’kerash sighed.

“Ijvani is coming soon. And she has brought a…gift. Come, Bea. Talk no more of sex.”

“Yes, Master. I have only one question, please?”

“Ask.”

“Why do some people prefer to use this instead of this when we have sex? Or sometimes, they ask to touch my feet, or…”

She lifted up her clothing. Az’kerash stared at her. After a second, he pointed.

Bea blinked, felt a slight pop, and appeared outside the castle. Venitra and Kerash started and looked at her.

“Well?”

The bone woman, Venitra, demanded. Bea turned.

“He didn’t explain about the other bit. I think we should just kill them before they get to that part.”

“Oh. Did he ask what the difference in gender meant? Or why the Drakes and Humans are so secretive when it’s the same one?”

“He did not. But apparently, Golems do it better.”

“Huh.”

 

—-

 

Some people were indeed better at understanding sex, whether it was from the viewpoint of science, or a practiced expert. But there were also the young.

And the purely ignorant. There were some people for whom sex—did not apply.

Rebellion was fomenting in the Hive of the Free Antinium. The rule of Revalantor Klbkch was in jeopardy.

The Antinium had seen the light of Heaven. But also—they had heard of a new way. An Antinium had left the Hive. Bird was gone. And he had chosen that.

The law of the Antinium was being threatened, at a time when the other Hives were finally connected to it and beginning to mingle. Even now, representatives from the other Hives were making the long, long journey towards Liscor. For Bird, again.

But this was not about Bird today. Bird had been unbanned from hunting birds and had brought the old reign of terror back to the skies of Liscor. Rather, it was another Antinium who had business with sex.

And business with the business of excretion. Yellow Splatters carefully wiped his excrement away with his hand. And if it was gross and vulgar to do that—well, people did it and it didn’t waste toilet paper. And toilet paper was a waste of resources.

He carefully wiped his hand after that, removing any filth in the sand. Then, Yellow Splatters left the excretion cubicle along with many Soldiers and Workers doing the same. They stared at him as he left, awed, perhaps, that Yellow Splatters, the [Sergeant], the Soldier who spoke, excreted just like they did.

Antinium used their version of septic tanks, which were regularly cleaned. Well, theirs were just chambers in the earth that waste ran into. And it was useful and thus used as fertilizer and composting. Mostly to grow mushrooms, which became food again.

It was an easy process, by and large. Antinium had very efficient bodies, so their waste wasn’t that egregious. Yellow Splatters had heard…stories. He was grateful for efficient bowel movements, and headed back to the barracks where the Painted Antinium were gathered.

Yellow Splatters produced waste every two or three days, sooner if he went into battle. He never talked about it. But it happened. Sometimes natural occurrences weren’t talked about.

Like excretion. But on the other hand…sometimes such discussions were unique indeed. As Yellow Splatters entered the barracks and returned to his seat, Belgrade approached him. The [Tactician] looked unusually upset today.

“Belgrade. How can I help you today?”

Yellow Splatters used the greeting he’d learned from Pawn. The [Tactician] stopped next to the [Sergeant] as Yellow Splatters fondly cast his eyes over the barracks. His home for his people. Pawn was not there; he was going out, to visit the inn as he often did to speak with Lyonette. But the Painted Antinium were there, practicing, reading, sleeping—

Living. Yellow Splatters would do anything to protect that. And his people knew their deaths were not in vain. There was a Heaven. He waited as Belgrade collected his thoughts. Then the Antinium Worker spoke.

“Sex.”

Yellow Splatters turned.

“What?”

Belgrade looked at him, as seriously as could be.

“Sex. This is an issue I feel I must bring up among the Painted Soldiers, Yellow Splatters. Now that there is an issue of it occurring, this is something I wish to curtail.”

The [Sergeant] paused. He was, besides Klbkch and the Grand Queen, the leader of all the Antinium in times of emergency. His level of command was matched only by Anand, who Klbkch had nominated as a secondary commander if both leaders were incapacitated. Indeed, their duality was even similar to Klbkch and the Grand Queen’s. One lead from the front, the other behind.

And yet, with all of his planning and his knowledge of the world…sex was not one of the challenges Yellow Splatters had faced. Until now. He stared at Belgrade.

“Go on.”

“Sex. The possibility of it has arisen. I have studied other species’ habits as a hobby, and I believe we are in danger of it.”

The Antinium [Trapsetter Tactician] was unusually nervous as he nodded to Yellow Splatters. The Soldier just stared at him.

“Why?”

“Sex occurs between males and females. It requires both genders to occur, according to the people I have bought drinks for in The Wandering Inn. It is also pleasurable, and, a means towards pregnancy and birthing.”

“Which are?”

“A period of increasing incapacitation in which another life form is incubated inside the female’s body until it is birthed, thereby increasing the population count. It is, apparently, the other species’ way of reproduction.”

“As opposed to birthing pods?”

“Yes. Inefficient, but that is other species. But the incapacitation takes months of time, in which the female is apparently increasingly burdened by the strain of reproduction. I fear very much that this is going to occur in the Hive.”

It…did sound like a problem. Yellow Splatters was hazy on sex, and pregnancy, and the pleasurable aspect of it, but incapacitation didn’t sound good. He nodded.

“How can we alleviate this crisis?”

“By forbidding sex. You must instruct your Soldiers and Workers not to have sex. I would like to get Pawn’s approval on this decision myself. I understand it is recreational, and if Miss Solstice insists, I will change my opinions, but I do not think the benefits, even for reproduction in this inefficient manner, outweigh the negatives. Do you agree?”

The [Sergeant] was nodding. Absolutely. Then he paused.

“Wait. You believe the Workers and Soldiers will have sex?”

“Yes.”

“With whom?”

That was Yellow Splatters for you. Whom, not ‘who’. Grammatical and precise, even in the face of unexpected sexual intercourse. Belgrade stared at him.

“With your female Soldiers, of course. Now that you have both genders, it is a given.”

He stated this as fact. Yellow Splatters paused.

“Female Soldiers?”

“Yes! Chesacre and Thaina! The two who survived the Dungeon sortie.”

Yellow Splatter paused. He…remembered that. Klbkch had determined that there was a surplus of Soldiers and Workers and had ordered thousands into the dungeon. To…reduce both side’s numbers. Two had survived, by a miracle. Saved from Facestealer by a skeleton, of all things.

“Yes. But that is just their names.”

“They are female names.”

Belgrade was agitated. Yellow Splatters didn’t follow.

“But they are just names.”

“But they are female names, Yellow Splatters. Chesacre and Thaina have informed me they are.”

That threw Yellow Splatters for a loop. He looked around and found the two Soldiers, who were sitting and reading books together. They were inseparable; they were the only two survivors, after all. They had been found, dancing among the slaughter.

A miracle, like the ones Pawn prayed for. Yellow Splatters felt for the two; he had even determined to make sure they were never put in that situation again. But they had not taken on a set paint yet; they were thinking of whom they would be. And…he could admit they had different names than most Soldiers.

But…female? Yellow Splatters felt the need to clarify.

“Names do not define gender. Do they?”

“Chesacre and Thaina inform me they are female. Why would I doubt their sendings?”

Belgrade gave Yellow Splatters a blank look. Of course, other Soldiers did not speak, but they had adopted their own sign language—learned from Mrsha and made up themselves—and they could communicate in a…mental way. It was something Yellow Splatters felt himself. The [Sergeant] had to disagree, though.

“But Soldiers are neither male nor female, Belgrade. We are.”

“You do not identify as male?”

“…No. Why would I?”

“I do. My name is masculine. So is Pawn’s. They are based on the greatest chess players of Erin’s world. Well, except Pawn’s. But he thinks he is male.”

“Surely it is not a choice?”

“It is. And I am concerned about the possibility of female pregnancies! What is so hard to understand?”

Belgrade was growing increasingly agitated. Babies could appear out of nowhere! And, apparently, you had to feed them sweets, take care of them, make sure they didn’t work too hard…two would be fine, but many? He was worried.

Yellow Splatters on the other hand had a bit more insight than Belgrade in one area. Slowly, he leaned forwards.

“Belgrade.”

“Yes?”

“I believe you misunderstand one thing about gender.”

“Which is?”

“Biologically, I believe gender is determined on genitalia.”

“What? Why would that be the case?”

“Isn’t there a difference?”

Belgrade had to think about this.

“And if there is?”

“We should at least make sure the biological risk of pregnancy is tied to genitalia, correct?”

Belgrade thought about this.

“…Yes. I suppose that would be a contributing factor towards pregnancies. I didn’t actually ask how the sex entailed; no one would accept my offer to pay to observe this.”

The [Sergeant] nodded slowly.

“Then, let us assume pregnancy does depend on that aspect.”

“Yes. And?”

Slowly, the [Sergeant] pointed at his loincloth. He removed it, casually.

Not all the Antinium wore loincloths. Indeed, only the ones who went above did. Most of them didn’t wear clothing at all; it wasn’t needed. But other species made a fuss and it was the rules, so the Antinium obeyed. But now, Yellow Splatters removed his clothing, such as it was. Belgrade stared down at his groin.

“Yes?”

“I do not believe we have either markings of male or female.”

“Really? Are you sure?”

Belgrade inspected the smooth chitin. Yellow Splatters nodded carefully.

“We have a disposal valve.”

“That takes place in sex. But I will admit…I don’t see the other two parts I was instructed to look for. And the disposal orifice is apparently only for advanced experts in sex.”

“Really? Why would you use that area?”

“…They didn’t really say. Then…is pregnancy not a danger to the Antinium?”

Belgrade relaxed. Yellow Splatters nodded.

“Evidently not.”

“But Chesacre and Thaina informed me they are female.”

“Then they are. What is the problem with that? I think it is a good tool to further differentiate Antinium.”

The two looked at each other. Belgrade nodded.

“Indeed. Perhaps other Antinium are female. Fascinating. Is Klbkch female? The Grand Queen?”

They thought about this.

“…Klbkch is probably male. And the Grand Queen female.”

“Biologically, I understand she is. And that Klbkch’s original gender was male.”

“With genitalia?”

“I did not ask him. Would you like to ask?”

“…No. But how do you know so much about this, Yellow Splatters? I had considered myself an authority, even if Miss Erin will not explain the rest to me until I am older.”

Belgrade looked at Yellow Splatters, impressed. The [Sergeant] paused, and for the first time, was truly uncomfortable.

“I should not say.”

“Why? Is it something Klbkch has told you?”

“No…”

“Then why is it not permissible to speak?”

Belgrade looked at Yellow Splatters with the innocent inquisition of someone who really didn’t know. And Yellow Splatters paused only for a moment, because the Antinium outside of Klbkch and the Grand Queen really didn’t keep secrets from one another. It was just an instinct that made him hesitate.

“Well, I have received all this information secondhand. From Pawn. He, I understand, has talked about sex with Lyonette. She tells him many things. And he has seen female genitalia.”

“Really?”

“Yes. And she hugs him and they sit in her room.”

Yellow Splatters realized he was talking in a vacuum. Every other Antinium in the room had turned to stare at him. The [Sergeant] paused, and for once, understood the word ‘gossip.’ But it was too late. Belgrade scooted forwards.

“He did not tell me this. Tell me more.”

“I—understand massages are involved. And hand-holding. But Pawn would know more. I…think it would be wise to be silent, now.”

“…What are massages?”

It was a question that would begin a very eventful little day in The Wandering Inn in earnest.

 

—-

 

“Your meal, sir.”

Garry the [Chef] sat in an outdoor café, waiting for his order. When it came, he stared at the glistening pasta, seasoned with white alfredo sauce and herbs with delight. The Gnoll [Waitress] bowed slightly, stared at him, and saw the Antinium pick up his fork.

“Thank you very much, Miss. I am very happy to partake of it. Do I tip you now? Erin told me it is very important to tip people.”

“No, that comes later. If you would like. Er…sir.”

The Antinium Worker nodded. He picked up the knife and fork and carefully collected some noodles. He was on holiday. He had gotten his…third holiday ever. The Free Queen had given him money, and let Garry go to the city.

Normally, Garry would go straight to The Wandering Inn, but today he wanted to be…adventurous. So here he was, in an outdoor café, a ritzy one, eating good food to expand his own repertoire of recipes.

Garry could eat pasta. He could eat gluten, come to that, because he was a [Chef]. And any decent [Chef] learned a Skill to internalize any food—or make any food he served or ate tolerable.

It was Garry’s new Skill—[Non-Allergen Cooking]. And he wanted to be the first one to serve his fellow Antinium pasta. And bread! All the bread they could eat.

So Garry, with great anticipation, took a bite of his pasta-salad paired with some fine bread and wine. It was a fancy dish, and all the other posh diners were staring out of the corner of their eyes at the Antinium Worker sitting in their midst.

The Worker chewed happily—for two seconds. Then—his mandibles opened. He put down his fork.

“I am very sorry to say this, Miss Waitress, but I fear the pasta is rotten. You may wish to inform the [Chef].”

Instantly, the other diners in the restaurant spat out their food. The Gnoll waitress looked horrified.

“Are you sure, sir?”

“Absolutely.”

Garry pointed at his bite of pasta.

“This cheese is sour. I believe it has been expired, which is not a flaw in my cooking, but in this restaurant…”

Instantly, the diners relaxed. There was a laugh that ran around the tables. The [Waitress] laughed too, relieved.

“Oh, no! That’s the meal, sir.”

Garry stared at the Gnoll.

“But this cheese is sour. Therefore, it is rotten.”

“Sour cheese is a delicacy. Mister, uh, Garry. You pair it with the proper foods.”

The Gnoll [Waitress] explained patiently. Garry stared at her. Slowly, he tasted the cheese, and the delicate mix of vegetables with the sauce. And then the wine.

“Oh. I see. I retract my comments.”

“Is it to your liking, sir?”

“It is very flavorful.”

Garry was truthful. And it was. It was good cooking. Sour cheese was awful, horrendous if eaten on its own, but that was why you mixed it with other food. You created an experience with some wine, other mixes of flavor—

There was just one problem. Garry finished his plate of course, he always finished his plate. And he tipped the Gnoll [Waitress] well enough to make her smile and thank him profusely. But he looked at the gold coins he put on the table.

It was okay. But could you make this for a thousand Soldiers and Workers? Or one hungry Free Queen? Garry walked away from the café, not in as good a mood as when he’d sat down.

He thought about the money he had spent, that his Queen had given him. That he could have bought nice things with, for the other Workers and Soldiers. And Garry felt bad and didn’t like the sour, expensive dish.

His head hung low, Garry decided not to go to the next restaurant. He could have bought so much food for his fellow Antinium. What was the purpose of a fancy meal only one person could eat? It went against his ideals as a [Chef].

And—speak of them already—Garry looked up with surprise as he saw more Antinium headed towards him.

“Garry! Garry, we must sequester your aid. It is an emergency!”

Belgrade waved his arms, all four of them as he shouted. He was accompanied by Anand and Yellow Splatters. Garry stared.

It was not unusual to see his fellow Antinium—well, it was since Garry was so often attending to the Free Queen. But it was astonishing to see them above in Liscor today.

“Belgrade, Anand, Yellow Splatters. What are you doing? The Hive is supposed to be closed.”

Revalantor Klbkch had forbidden any of the Painted Antinium from going above after the Bird incidents. He had—not been happy about Bird.

Only the Free Queen had overridden his restrictions to give Garry the day off. But the other Antinium were either having an emergency…or defying Klbkch’s orders.

Unthinkable. But something impelled the Antinium upwards. And that thing was—

Sex?

Garry stared at Belgrade. The Worker nodded.

“Apparently, sex is something other species have. But—and this is my opinion which Anand and Yellow Splatters do not share—I believe sex can lead to unwanted phenomena such as pregnancy!”

“What is that?”

“Something that happens between males and females. Which Antinium are not.”

“Chesacre and Thaina say—”

“They are not female.”

“They say they are. I believe them.”

Yellow Splatters’ arms were folded. Anand looked between Belgrade and Yellow Splatters.

“This is why we are here, Garry. The matter must not wait. If Belgrade is right—all the Antinium could become pregnant. That might make Revalantor Klbkch angry indeed.”

His antennae were flailing with his anxiety. Garry was stunned. All of them…pregnant? He hadn’t thought about it.

“How?”

“We don’t know! We have come above to find out! It could be triggered by sexual intercourse, whatever that is. Maybe—massages? Or hugging? Hand holding? These are all displays of intimacy!”

“Hugging? Hand holding?”

The Antinium looked at each other. This was indeed serious. Serious enough to disobey Klbkch over, even. Garry thought about the food he’d eaten. And he was ashamed. He straightened, and put his hand on his purse.

“I see. This matter concerns the Hive. In that case, you have my support. Was Revalantor Klbkch informed?”

“We…thought it best not to tell him. He need not know about this.”

The other Antinium looked at each other. And rebellion was born of that carnal passion which brought down even empire. Garry nodded.

“In that case, friends, come. I have funds allocated to me by the Free Queen. Let us see if anyone will teach us the intricacies of sex. I only hope I have enough.”

The Antinium nodded. Four now, they turned. The first person they saw was a Drake. They approached him at speed. Yellow Splatters stopped the Drake, who looked alarmed.

“What is it? Raskghar? Oh dead gods, is it the moths again?”

“No, citizen. We merely seek information on…sex.”

“We are willing to pay you for a demonstration. Or to partake of it with us.”

Belgrade offered the Drake some coins. He stared at the four Antinium. And then he backed away slowly. And then turned to run. Belgrade turned to the other Antinium as the Drake fled, shouting for the Watch.

“See? I told you. Handholding. We may already be pregnant.”

 

—-

 

When you got down to it, what was sex? It wasn’t something you had to explain to anyone who had partaken, but even someone who thought they understood the concept could be surprised.

And surely—every parent who had ever had that question pop up dreaded the conversation like nothing else. Because it meant their children would have…sex. Or were at that age.

I mean—sex. Just fine when you had it yourself. No problems there? But a kid? And how did you explain it to them? Especially in a way that conveyed…everything?

Erin Solstice didn’t know. But she thought she understood some of her parent’s pain over their conversations.

“Sex! Sex! Seeeeeex!”

A Gnoll cub raced past Erin on the floor, laughing and shouting the word. Erin covered her face with both hands. Ekirra and Mrsha were howling with laughter as they raced about, playing tag and as Ekirra shouted the word.

He’d learned another one at her inn. His playdates to The Wandering Inn were in jeopardy. But it wasn’t her fault. Despairingly, Erin looked up.

At Relc, Senior Guardsman of the Watch. And his four…criminals. Who had attempted to accost Liscor’s citizens for inappropriate acts.

Belgrade, Anand, Yellow Splatters, and Garry looked up at Erin apprehensively. They had been marched into Erin’s inn and the situation had been explained to her.

Relc had brought them. But the Drake was hardly putting them in chains. He and Drassi were leaning on the bar, laughing so hard they were close to puking. So were Selys and half the inn.

“Sex? How did you—who told you about that?”

“I was informed of the dangers of pregnancy here, Erin.”

Belgrade shook like a leaf, fearful of punishment. Erin wanted to hug him, but she had to fold her arms first.

“Sex is—you can’t go around and ask people for sex, guys!”

“Yeah, you have to be subtle. They were going up to strangers—half of them blokes—and asking—for sex—for gold—

Relc choked as he guffawed. He inhaled, came close to passing out as he laughed himself over the bar’s counter. Drassi tried to haul him up and fell over.

“I do not see what is so funny. Sex is not a good thing. It can lead to pregnancy. Or have I been misinformed?”

Belgrade looked anxious. But that was him. Anand was giving Erin a resigned look—he’d clearly figured out this was a misunderstanding. Yellow Splatters’ arms were folded and he was looking uncertain. And Garry…he waved at Erin.

“Hello, Erin. I am sorry to bother you on your day off. And to be arrested.”

Erin spared a smile for the least-seen Worker.

“Hi Garry, I am happy to see you. But—guys. What is with today and sex?

“It’s a sign, Erin.”

Selys called out from her table. There were a lot of sniggers from around Erin’s inn. Not just from her regulars. Erin glowered around and saw Montressa and Beza trying not to snigger. Palt was smoking furiously and she knew he was hiding a smile.

“Oi! Smoke!”

“I’m venting it. See?”

The [Smoker] pointed. The haze was streaming out an open window. Erin threw her hands up.

Alright, laugh! I don’t think it’s funny!”

“It’s hilarious, Erin. These four finally want to have sex and—”

Relc pulled himself over the bar. He laughed at Erin.

“Who was gonna arrest ‘em? Watch Captain Z just said to send them here. It’s your problem.”

“She said that?”

Erin’s look of chagrin made even Lyonette laugh. But the [Princess] was staring at the Antinium. At last, she came over.

“Well, I suppose we’d better tell them about sex, Erin. So this doesn’t happen again. Pawn should be able to do it. He’s actually in the city.”

“What?”

The other Antinium looked at Lyonette. She blinked.

“Pawn. He’s in the city. Buying things. Um…didn’t he tell you?”

“He said he was going above. Despite the restrictions Revalantor Klbkch placed?”

“Restrictions? Pawn said he had a special allowance.”

The [Princess] looked astonished. Then her eyes narrowed.

“Typical. Well…I suppose he decided to lie.”

She smiled about it for some reason. Erin stared at Lyonette.

“I don’t think we should encourage the Antinium to break rules, Lyonette.”

Even if she was her own bad kid who’d run away from home. Lyonette blinked at Erin, and then she blushed furiously.

“Right. I meant—well, that’s one thing. Before Pawn gets here—we do have to do some explaining. First off, Belgrade, no one is getting pregnant from hand-holding.”

“…Hugging? Massages?”

Lyonette turned beet red. Erin blinked at her and then at Belgrade. Her eyes slowly narrowed—

“No. Sex is totally different. It’s—well, I might have to get a diagram.”

“I know! It’s when a male and a female get in bed! And grunt a lot! And the bed gets wet, but it’s not pee! It happens all the time!

Ekirra raced over. Erin covered her eyes again.

“Ekirra, dear, why don’t you play in the garden with Visma? She’s helping beautify the pond.”

The Drake was indeed putting shiny stones in the pond, or rather, choosing the shiny ones Numbtongue brought back from his expeditions and putting the ones she didn’t want on the pond floor.

“Why? It happens all the time.”

“All the time?”

The Antinium stared as the little Gnoll nodded solemnly. So did Mrsha. Then they fell over each other, laughing. They were enjoying this. Erin was not.

“It’s serious! Ekirra, in the garden. You too, Mrsha!”

“They know about sex, Erin. I keep telling you—Ishkr, tell her.”

The Gnoll [Waiter] paused as he swept the floor. He looked at Erin, and at Selys, who was waving him over into the discussion.

“…I’m just working. I’d like to keep working, please.”

Ishkr retreated out of the conversation. Relc chortled.

“Look, boys, it’s simple. Sex is where you take your thing, and you go like—”

It was amazing how with two hands he could break down sex into a single motion. One hand pointed, and two fingers made a circle and—Erin shouted.

Relc! Come on!”

“Can you give details, please?”

Belgrade and Anand were taking furious notes. Relc was only too happy to, as were other members of the inn. Erin threw up her hands.

“Perverts!”

“Erin, how else are they going to learn? Isn’t it better for them to learn?”

That reasonable question came from Selys. Erin hesitated. She looked at the Workers, who had gone over to a table with some of the guests willing to talk to them about sex. It was entertainment to the guests and…well, they did have to know.

“I guess.”

Erin subsided. She still felt embarrassed—doubly so when Ekirra leapt around singing about what he’d seen.

“Ekirra, dear.”

Lyonette’s voice was stern and made the little Gnoll pause, warily. Erin stared askance as he ducked his head and stopped laughing around.

“Hey! That didn’t work with me.”

“Because I’m the mean, strict mother and person managing this inn. And you’re the cool boss.

The [Princess] grinned at Erin’s expression. The young woman stared as Belgrade asked Ulevissia.

“So you’re sure that there is no pregnancy from any act other than inserting the…what did you call it?”

“Penis.”

“Shaft.”

“Thing.”

“Second-spear? Mini-Relc?”

“…These are a lot of terms. Are you sure they refer to the same organ?”

Laughter from around the room. Even Erin’s lips twitched. It was so…vulgar? Well, that or silly. And all the regulars had their own opinions.

“Yes, and you should give someone a gift. You have to court someone before you can have sex, dear little Belgrade.”

Ulevissia was telling the [Tactician]. Relc laughed.

“Not if it’s a single night. Then, you only have to use one of your best pickup lines. I’ll teach you a few. Okay, if they’re a Gnoll you say—”

More laughter as half of the crowd told Relc to stop giving bad advice. Erin shook her head. And then she heard someone cursing.

“Lizard-faced harpy. Gifts? That’s how females suck you dry. You pay a day’s pay and what do they do?”

That remark stood out to Erin in the crowd, as did the sour expression and what she sensed—dark anger. Erin turned.

“Hey. Menolit. Do you have a problem?”

The Drake [Veteran] stopped cursing Ulevissia under his breath. He glanced up, and then away from Erin.

“Sorry, Miss Solstice.”

Erin looked at the Drake [Mage]-[Tinkerer], but she hadn’t heard anything. She went over to Menolit’s table, sensing his dark mood at Ulevissia’s comments.

“What’s wrong? Most women don’t need gifts, you know, Menolit.”

She stared down at the Drake. She knew Menolit, and his upset expression and—she realized she was looking at his tail for signs of his mood. But most of his tail was gone, leaving only a stump.

The Drake [Veteran] noticed Erin’s glance. He bared his teeth.

“Don’t mind me. I was just going to tell those Antinium it’s not all about romance or how you do in bed. If you don’t get there, what’s the point? It’s harder when you’re disfigured is all I want to say, Erin.”

His expression twisted. And Erin sensed and saw his bleak expression.

“Hey. I’m sorry.”

She sat down at his table. Menolit turned his head, embarrassed, cursing.

“Fuck me like a lizard—don’t mind me, Miss Solstice. I’m just an idiot.”

“No you’re not. Is it…hard? Is it really that bad in Liscor?”

The [Veteran] looked at Erin. He indicated his tail.

“This? Yeah. You don’t know. Which is why I like it here. Gnolls don’t see it as much, but they’ve lived here long enough. It’s like missing part of my face. It happens in battle, but rarely. Drakes don’t strike each other’s tails if we can help it. But when it’s me and half a dozen fellows at a bar, there’s no point competing and I’m hardly rich or funny—”

He cut himself off.

“Don’t mind me.”

But Erin did mind. She reached out. And caught herself.

A trite comment would have been to say that he’d find someone. It would be thoughtless. ‘You don’t need sex, I’m fine’, would also…not apply to him. Erin looked at Menolit.

“…You know, Humans don’t care about tails. Look at me. I think Relc’s a great guy, and I don’t even notice what people say about him.”

She nodded at Relc. Menolit glanced up. He half-grinned, half-grimaced at her. And his mood didn’t really change. Erin could feel his black fury and despair and hurt, oh, the hurt, while he sat in her inn.

She was growing as an [Innkeeper]. Menolit spat his response.

“I’d—wonder if you’d give me a chance, then, Miss Solstice?”

He looked at her, challengingly. Erin hesitated.

“I’m not dating anyone.”

“Right. But if you were…I imagine it would be someone in your species, or someone like…Olesm Swifttail. Someone else. Someone with high levels or…”

Menolit didn’t finish. He laughed harshly. And paused, as Erin reached out.

“Hey. Stop that.”

She looked at him, squeezing his wrist hard. Erin Solstice looked at Menolit.

“I’m not interested in you, Menolit. I shouldn’t have said that about Humans. But it doesn’t matter what you look like to me.”

She met his eyes. Menolit paused, searching them. Then he shrugged.

“…Wish every woman was like you, Miss Erin.”

“Nah. We bleed too much each month.”

He laughed at that. Then shook his head.

“…I’m sorry. Can I—I’d like to order something. The fire drink. The—Minotaur’s Punch.”

Erin hesitated, but what else could she do? She nodded.

“Drassi—”

The [Bartender] went to her bar and fetched the pink flame, mixing the drink of glory and nostalgia. It hurt, but not as much as the Faerie Flower drink raw. Erin brought it back to Menolit.

“On the house.”

“Thank you.”

He saluted her, crisply, and then drank. Erin saw him go somewhere else for a second. Then—Menolit heaved himself up and joined the laughing conversation.

Perhaps not better, but at least it was something. Erin wandered back to the bar, feeling sad for him. But she couldn’t fix the world’s ills. But maybe if she circulated the thought among some of her female regulars…

Here she was doing it. Erin blinked. But it was different for someone else—

“Psst, Erin.”

Lyonette drew the [Innkeeper] aside. She sighed as Erin looked at her quizzically.

“You can’t give all these drinks on the house, Erin.”

“But he’s a regular…”

The [Princess] stopped Erin.

“We have to mix the Minotaur’s Shots with flammable alcohol. That’s not as cheap as mead or ale. That’s the eighteenth ‘on the house’ drink in the last two days! You get a limit of…four per day. Fine?”

“Okay.”

Erin sighed. She looked at Belgrade and Anand and Garry and Yellow Splatters. Then she heard the clip-clop of hooves.

“Erin, is now a bad time?”

“I’m not explaining the birds and the bees to you, Palt.”

The Centaur smiled.

“I assume that’s a metaphor?”

“Yeah. Anyways, it’s weird. Do you—is it—nah.”

Erin waved a hand. The Centaur nodded, adjusting his cigar in his mouth. He paused.

“…It’s one of those things everyone learns about, I suppose. But I’m sure they’ll learn enough. And you don’t need to hover over them. Why not take a break? I’ve been meaning to treat you to a meal in the city. Take an hour off?”

Lyonette looked at Palt. Erin glanced up vaguely.

“What? Oh…well, that’d be nice.”

“I know a good place—”

“Oh, wait. Garry told me about sour cheeses, you know? He was really upset and he’s only got his day off, so I really need to teach him. Sorry. Can we do it another time?”

“Of course.”

Palt smiled as Erin gestured towards the kitchen. He talked with Erin a few more seconds, and then she went to extract Garry from the crowd. Palt nodded at Lyonette, who gave him a sympathetic look. When Erin was out of earshot, she whispered.

“You’re going to have to be more direct.”

Then she turned and went back to work. Palt blinked at the [Princess]’ back, and then trotted back to the table.

“Hah! I saw you fail your charm spell over there!”

Montressa and Beza snorted as Palt sat down. He glared at them.

“Don’t even joke about that. Charm spells and love potions are banned hard in Baleros. I don’t know why Izril doesn’t have stricter laws. It happens at Wistram all the time.”

The two female [Mages] quieted. Montressa rubbed at her red hair.

“Yeah. Sorry.”

Palt puffed a few times, calming himself down. He made an apologetic gesture for his outburst.

“Anyways, it never works for romance. It’s illusory love. Infatuation, not the real thing. Real love potions…dead gods, I don’t imagine even Saliss of Lights could brew those.”

“Still, you did your best.”

“Did I? I should have just asked her on a date. But I feel like she’d turn me down straight off.”

Palt looked at Montressa and Beza. The two [Mages] traded looks. Beza snorted.

“If I were looking for romance, I’d march up to the male and tell him I liked him. That’s how it works best. Honesty.”

“And how has that worked outside of Minos?”

The [Illusionist] replied acidly. Bezale sipped from her drink, her expression neutral.

“It’s worked quite well, actually. The only ones who turn me down are the ones who couldn’t have managed in the bedroom anyways.”

Montressa snorted, but she waved a hand as Palt looked at her.

“Don’t talk to me. My name was mud in Wistram and before that…”

The two [Mages] paused. Before that was Pisces. They fell silent. Then Palt sighed.

“Maybe I’ll challenge Erin to a game of chess. But if I go for it too early—”

“She’s a challenge. And she’s a master of chess. Do you think you even have a chance?”

The [Aegiscaster] waggled her eyebrows at Palt. The Centaur shifted.

“I can only try. Besides, this is…more advanced than chess. If it was a game, it would be more convoluted than any board game ever made. With rules that keep changing. And I think—different species and different genders play according to different rules. So that you never really know who wins.”

The two female [Mages] glanced at each other. Palt was the sort to pontificate on romance and make it a challenge. Even so, Beza had to ask.

“What do you see in her?”

Palt sipped from his drink calmly.

“Aside from the fact that she creates moments? The fact that she’s brave enough to brawl with you, Beza? Or that she’s smart? And hides behind a mask better than some of the Elusive Lot?”

The two [Mages] looked at Palt. Montressa whispered. He was head-over-hooves if he was singing Erin’s praises. And Centaurs had a lot of space between their head and hooves.

“Yeah. Besides all that?”

“She’s very cute.”

 

—-

 

Cuteness was in the eye of the beholder. Badarrow thought of Snapjaw as ‘cute’, or he would have if someone vouchsafed the word to him.

In reality, he looked at Snapjaw like…a box. And inside that box was something different than most people saw. Everyone was like that.

Snapjaw, who had a huge mouthful of teeth, who could eat a Wyvern. Who could be friendly—who had served with the Goblin Lord.

As his enemy. But who also wept for Eater of Spears, and her other fallen friends, just like Badarrow had. That was how they had met. The two liked each other, despite having somewhat different personalities. Badarrow was taciturn, Snapjaw outgoing.

But trust—oh yes, they had that. Trust was an important thing. That was probably why Badarrow was carefully watching Snapjaw open her mouth.

The same mouth that could, with a bite, turn a Wyvern’s hide into mincemeat. And jaws that could crush stones for fun. But that was also the thrill.

Snapjaw sucked carefully and Badarrow hissed. Careful. But he let Snapjaw do all the work. Her teeth were sharp and only the [Eater] was moving. Slowly. But with agonizing—control.

The female Hobgoblin’s eyes were dancing with enjoyment as she looked up. Badarrow tensed, trying to last. And she teased him, and then—abruptly—began to hum a marching tone.

Ah!

Badarrow moved. Snapjaw relaxed and no blood was shed. But she kept humming, loudly, and Badarrow was having trouble holding on, even with a [Sniper]’s discipline, a Redfang’s pride. But he waited—as Snapjaw began growing louder and louder, tickling, stroking his thighs and then—

The door opened right as Badarrow released. Snapjaw gulped, blinked—and both Hobgoblins turned as Calescent marched into the room with a pair of plates and hot, spicy food.

“Both of you not at breakfast! Must eat! I have l—”

He paused, staring at the two mid-fellatio. Badarrow glared silently. Calescent paused. He looked at both of them. Studied his dish.

“Too much spices. Bad for this. I come back in thirty minutes, with less-spicy dish.”

He slowly backed out of the room and closed the door. Badarrow didn’t move as Snapjaw slowly rose. She studied the closed door.

“Need locks.”

“Mhm.”

He was panting. Snapjaw licked her lips and then nudged him.

“Your turn.”

The Hobgoblin grunted obligingly and Snapjaw laid down on the bed. Badarrow bent over and Snapjaw smiled expectantly—and then had a thought. She whispered down to Badarrow.

“Bet no Goblin ask Calescent to lick things. Too afraid of spicy burning.”

They both giggled at the thought. Down the hall of the private quarters, oblivious to the comments on his sex life, Calescent marched. He walked to the second door and opened it brusquely; he hadn’t learned his lesson.

“Breakfast and lunch are important meals! Everyone needs—”

He paused. Calescent walked out of the room, checked the door. He stared back inside. This was indeed Chieftain Rags’ room. He walked inside, stared at Redscar.

And Leapwolf. The two Goblins were naked. Leapwolf was on the bed and Redscar was paused, hand on an erect phallus. Leapwolf stared at Calescent and turned red. Redscar’s grip tightened as he grinned at Calescent. Leapwolf groaned, back arching, sweat on his brow.

“Chieftain?”

Calescent pointed lamely at his bowls. He heard a growl.

Next time, knock.

Rags was peering at the two Goblins who’d been giving her a demonstration. For fun. And education. Calescent slowly nodded as he saw Rags sitting in a chair.

“Food?”

All three Goblins shouted at him and the Hobgoblin hurried out the door. He sighed.

“Probably need locks. Must make better food for after-sex.”

He marched off.

 

—-

 

Did it offend people, to discuss sex? To say penis? Or vagina? Or describe sex in intimate ways? The answer was yes. Perhaps, because most people weren’t good at it.

Call it crude, or needlessly lascivious. Unchaste, as some might label discussions of anything close to carnality. But it happened, and there was a difference in…understanding.

For example, what the Antinium learning expedition found was that there was a very wide sample size of techniques between the species they surveyed. And there was a correlation between genders; they’d surveyed enough people to ensure it wasn’t casual correlation.

“Okay, so there are different positions—and uh, if you’re really persuasive, there’s even the butt—”

Relc’s lesson on sex with some visual hand-gestures was interrupted by a female Gnoll who kicked him in the back. She urgently pulled him aside and spoke to the Antinium.

“Ignore him. He doesn’t know what he’s talking about. If you want to make the female happy, you can’t just rush into it. If that happens, I know I’ll have a bad time, yes?”

Her comment was accompanied by nods from around the table. Female nods. Relc flushed.

“Hey! I don’t get any complaints!”

“We know what to expect from you.”

That comment made Relc flush. The female Gnoll leaned over and Belgrade, Anand, and Yellow Splatters all leaned in. They were taking notes.

“Touching first. Obviously you court her—the experience is the entire event. Not one quick explosion. At least—not for us. And technique matters! You can’t just go at it like—”

She nodded at Relc. The Drake grinned.

“But I can go all day! Not bad, right, Beilmark?”

The Senior Guardswoman rolled her eyes. She was partnering with Relc for the interim—there was a situation with Bearclaw in Liscor and she’d come to ask why he hadn’t checked back in. She’d been sucked into the debate.

“Relc, not all women want to go for an hour.”

“But that is important. Just a bit of time. Mm—just not really short.

“As long as they build up to it properly, it doesn’t matter—”

Belgrade was frantically scribbling down what was, when you got down to it, a lot of contradictory advice.

“I see, I see. May I see a demonstration?”

Laughter. The Worker looked up—he had been serious.

“Will you please demonstrate? Be specific as possible, please. I can pay—”

“We talked about this.”

Relc coughed, looking amused.

“Oh, it’s inappropriate. I apologize. Then—may I receive a verbal description of the techniques employed?”

Beilmark had to sit back, laughing, but Relc jumped in.

“I’ve got one. You can use Skills in bed. [Triple Thrust]. Oh yeah.”

The entire group around the table stared at Relc. Menolit choked on his drink.

Really? How does that…work?”

The Drake [Guardsman] paused, and some of his bravado faded.

“It uh, tends to hit the right spot, and then her navel and thigh. Hurts like hell.”

The others stared at him. Montressa sprayed her drink out her nose. Gales of laughter followed Relc as he turned around, shouting.

“It’s a combat Skill! Shut up! I only did it once!”

Yellow Splatters laughed too. He was enjoying himself. But Anand and Belgrade, [Tacticians] to the end, were serious and focused. Belgrade nodded.

“I believe we have enough data. Clearly, the time has come.”

“…To do what?”

“Am I to assume that sex is a somewhat difficult proposition that cannot be easily obtained?”

“Not with some women.”

Menolit muttered. Beilmark nodded cautiously.

“One cannot just do it on the streets, yes? That is why you cannot ask for it, hm?”

She looked meaningfully at the Antinium. Belgrade nodded.

“We are aware. Thus, since it is most likely an experience out of reach of most Antinium, I believe we must endeavor to synthesize the experience for other Antinium.”

Anand was nodding. Yellow Splatters and the crowd looked at the two Workers. The [Sergeant] spoke shortly.

“What?”

“A story. We should convey our advanced knowledge of sex so that Antinium may understand how it happens and derive enjoyment. Just as one reads a book of cooking, and enjoys the idea of cooking, sex. Come, Yellow Splatters. We should begin work at once.”

The Antinium were gesturing towards a table. At this point Erin had to intervene.

“No!”

She stuck her head out of the kitchen where she was showing Garry how the chocolate had been made. The Workers looked at her.

“No writing sex stories here!”

“Aw! Erin!

She shook a fist at Relc. And that should have been the end of that. Erin went into the kitchen to keep teaching Garry, because some things were better than sex for the Worker. And he loved Erin’s presence more than sex.

But the Antinium had changed. So much so that their rebellion didn’t stop here. Belgrade looked around.

“Miss Solstice had expressed her desire that writing of this story should not occur here. Therefore, it must not.”

Anand was busily packing the ink and parchment up.

“Agreed. Let us go to a more secluded spot. Bird’s room. Come, Yellow Splatters.”

The [Sergeant] rose. Relc saw Beilmark turn to him. The Gnolls whispered.

“Should we stop them?”

“Are you kidding? Hey, Belgrade, Anand! We’ll pay for copies.”

“Aha. And you see? This is already turning into a monetary benefit.”

Anand nodded as the three trundled up the stairs. Relc stared at their backs, and then at Beilmark.

“We’re gonna be heroes when we return to the barracks.”

The Senior Guardswoman nodded. She stared at Relc, and then around the inn.

“Dead gods. Does Klbkch always have this much fun with you?”

“Yeah, but he can’t appreciate it. Come on, let’s get a drink, do a quick patrol, and come back. Hopefully they have something brilliant.

The two Workers and Soldier went up the stairs. They immediately went to Bird’s room and knocked.

Bird was not inside. He was on the roof, eating a Bird.

“Mmf. Birds. Birds! I love birds.

The [Bird Hunter] looked up as the three Antinium paused in his crude tower. He was shaking, crouched over a disassembled bird. Blood ran from his mandibles and onto his body. The Antinium stared at him. In this moment, you could see the Antinium that plagued the nightmares of Drakes.

Until he spoke.

“Oh, hello Anand, Belgrade, Yellow Splatters. I have fulfilled my obsession. Would you like a bird?”

He offered a piece of bird to them. Anand waved it away.

“Bird, we have no time for birds. We must write a story of sexual prowess and deed for the Antinium. May we borrow your room?”

Bird stared at the Antinium. He opened and closed his mandibles a few times.

“…Yes.”

“Thank you.”

The Antinium went downstairs and entered Bird’s room. Bird thought about asking if he and Pawn were invited to the writing of sex. He had seen Pawn just a few minutes ago.

 

—-

 

“All clear. You don’t have Yellow River.”

Geneva finished her inspection. The Lizardman sighed in relief. He flopped onto his bed, back-first, and Geneva began taking her gloves off.

“Miss Scala, you are a lifesaver. I was terrified when I saw—”

“Just dead scale matter and dirt. It’s built up here—you need to take better care of your hygiene. As I said. And the condoms—”

The Lizardman’s name was Xeppal. And he was a [Prostitute]. Geneva briskly took off her gloves as Xeppal sat up and nodded.

“No fear, Doctor Scala. I’ve heard about the Yellow Rivers. Thank you, thank you for coming out. Everyone was afraid…”

He gestured towards the doors. Geneva nodded.

The brothel she was visiting wasn’t the highest of classes in Talenqual, but that just meant it was important to visit. The Slippery Tail did a lot of business and it was a vector for diseases.

“Your manager asked me to visit. And she’s assured me she’ll pay for protection and insist on it.”

“That’s a relief. Miss Dushal’s a good one. Dullahan, but she takes care of us. Some places—well, they don’t even have security. You get a bad client and…”

Geneva grimaced. Sex work existed in Baleros. In all five continents, actually. Terandria was apparently strictest, as were cities in Izril, but sex workers existed everywhere. The only difference was how much protection they were afforded.

It was one of those things that made her angry. If it had been regulated, the Yellow Rivers diseases would be easier to deal with. As it was, she had to seek out the owners of brothels, and they were sometimes less than cooperative.

“It’s a difficult situation, security?”

Xeppal nodded.

“You get someone who’s the wrong sort? Well, my female friends have more trouble than I do. Me—women come to me because I have this.”

He showed her his member. Lizardfolk had an odd design compared to a Human penis. Geneva had been inspecting it for the Yellow Rivers symptoms, telltale pus. Now she could admire the flaccid shaft.

…Both of them. Xeppal waggled his brows at Geneva. It was a bigger specimen than most she’d seen, male or female.

“Did it surprise you, Doctor?”

“Hemipenes? I’ve heard of it, but it was something interesting to see. I knew that snakes and lizards had them.”

“Evolutionary traits. Well, it’s not that unusual, but members of other species are certainly intimidated.”

“Is that a Skill that gave you your enlarged hemipenes, or were you born with them?”

Geneva refused to rise to the bait. Xeppal shrugged.

“Both, Doctor. As I said—I’m in this business. Have been for seven years.”

“…That would make you fourteen when you started.”

The Lizardman shrugged.

“Had to make a living. It’s not always easy, even with the community to fall back on, or family. Especially if you have bad ones.”

Geneva nodded. She was familiar with that too. Xeppal was her last client for the day, and she began packing up her bag while she asked him questions. All the other sex workers had told her similar tales.

Some were in it because it was a fun job, others because they had no choice. But Talenqual’s company, the Feathered Brigade, didn’t regulate this industry as much as other companies and there was plenty of abuse in the system.

“Tell me about the dangers.”

“Oh, I don’t need to whine, Doctor. Miss Dushal has been fine to us.”

“And elsewhere? I want to know.”

Xeppal paused.

“The Last Light cares about us?”

“I’m just Geneva. I care.”

The Lizardman paused. Then he shrugged.

“…It’s worse in places with no law. You get a Gold-rank or someone with high-levels that has…bad tendencies? We die. Can’t stop a Level 30 [Warrior]. But we keep an ear out for each other, if we’re wise. If we’re not, it’s bad. Disease—danger—I suppose there’s worse jobs. We enjoy ourselves, mostly. You get Skills, you can get clients who just love you—and, well, people look out for us. I hear it’s bad in Terandria in places, Chandrar—but there are things you hear.”

“Like what?”

“Oh—there’s a group in Izril. Northern. Humans. The Sisters of Chell. Criminal gang. Very big and they take care of you. Mostly females, but if you’re in their city and you work in our trade, you’re safe. No one abuses someone in the Sisters of Chell’s territory.”

“They hunt them down?”

Xeppal grinned.

“Worse. Some of the Sisters—most of them are former [Nightworkers], only, they turn into [Nightstalkers]. [Seductresses]. You try hitting one of them; she might be a Sister of Chell and decide to take souvenirs.”

The [Doctor] paused. She winced, but Okasha laughed. Geneva was just imagining how you’d save that. Well, you could heal it, but the resulting damage…

“I don’t need to keep you, Doctor. Thank you, and we’ll refer anyone to your clinic who has the Yellow River. Hopefully not many.”

Xeppal shuddered. Geneva nodded.

“You’re sure you can use the condoms?”

“What? Oh, you made them in all sizes. Centaur, Dullahan, Human, Lizardman—well, Dullahans and Humans have similar ones. I can put it on just fine. See? Wait…”

Geneva sighed.

“Remember, don’t tear it. Some room at the top. Here—”

She grabbed Xeppal and briskly demonstrated. Geneva was so focused on her work, she didn’t realize the hemipenes were growing until she was halfway through putting the condom on. Xeppal grinned.

“Sorry, Doctor Scala. I can’t help it.”

Geneva blinked downwards. And Okasha made a faint sound. The [Doctor] paused. No.

Yes! Do it or I swear I will!

She hesitated. But the young woman looked at Xeppal, and decided—why not? He was an expert.

“Xeppal, tell me if this is intrusive. But if you wouldn’t mind—would you care to try out the condom? With me?”

As lines went, it was a poor one. The Lizardman blinked at Geneva and then beamed from earhole to earhole.

“For you, Doctor? I’ll give you my best service.”

Geneva almost smiled. She began putting her work case aside, but Xeppal slid off the bed. And—he knew the meaning of foreplay. Geneva felt herself getting hot. She blinked. She’d have no problems with Xeppal, prodigious size or not. Her roommate was getting her body ready.

The Lizardman looked at Geneva. And she felt…more than just physically excited. She’d forgotten what it was like. For a moment, she relaxed, and managed a smile.

“I think we need to get some of the [Doctor] uniforms in. I think our clients will enjoy it.”

Xeppal whispered in Geneva’s ear, and licked gently. She shivered. It might be fun after all.

Yes, yes, yes, yesyesyesyesyesyes—

She just wished Okasha would shut up.

 

—-

 

“After copious amounts of foreplay, the female was ready to achieve orgasms, which would be the first of many if the mating ritual succeeded in its intended goal. Thereupon, the male inserted his phallus, also known as penis, mini-Relc, or member into the vaginal orifice. Other forms of intercourse would come later.”

A group of Antinium sat in a tent made of cloth. Bird’s Fortress of Fluff had been upgraded. And the three Antinium were squeezed under it, writing in the shade of the hung blankets and comfy pillows.

They were writing about sex. Anand took over.

“And then they had sex. And much sex was had. So much sex that insemination was guaranteed. Which resulted in much procreative pleasure. And—”

Anand looked up from the story, quill in hand.

Yellow Splatters and Belgrade stared at him as all three hid under the blanket in Bird’s room to write their carnal fiction. Anand looked at them, searching for inspiration.

“What do I write next?”

“Um. They had intense sex, which was so intense, they…”

Yellow Splatters paused. It was Belgrade who came up with the rest.

“…They were covered in fluids.”

The other two Antinium looked at him. Anand wrote that down quickly.

“So lewd. So much sex. Well done, Belgrade.”

“Thank you, Anand. Do not forget to mention the part about cunnilingus.”

“Does that come before the sex?”

“Hm. Better write it in twice, before and after.”

“Indeed. Did not Guardswoman Beilmark say that there could never be enough?”

“Indeed, indeed. I believe we are finishing up. Let us present our work to the others.”

 

—-

 

“I hate you.”

Erin stared at Relc. He’d come back after an hour’s quick patrol with Beilmark and he was practically dancing in place, rubbing his claws together. The young woman folded her arms.

“And you, Beilmark? Really?”

The Gnoll Guardswoman didn’t even look ashamed.

“Miss Solstice, it’s hurting no one. And I think even if we laugh about it, better to have something than nothing, eh?”

Erin glared. She was fed up with it. Fed up with people saying ‘it wasn’t any big deal’. Maybe—it wasn’t. Menolit deserved to find someone. He was lonely. Erin wanted him to find love.

And Selys and Drassi—great! Really! Erin had thought about it and that was fine.

But she put her foot down with the Antinium. No. No—they were kids. In a way—almost like her kids. They weren’t even three years old.

“You don’t think it’s wrong for them to be learning about this? Let alone trying it! What if they had?”

“Eh, they’re big kids. Yellow Splatters is as tall as I am.”

“But they’re kids.

“Are they?”

Beilmark paused. She looked doubtful. She sniffed at Erin.

“Anyways, good sex is good for the body, Miss Solstice. I would know—I wouldn’t have married my husband and stayed all this time if we weren’t having it regularly! Especially with kids and work!”

She laughed. Relc was nodding. Erin bit her tongue.

“I just—I’m not saying it’s bad! It’s just not super necessary, y’know?”

“Hear that? Ouch. Good luck.”

Montressa chortled as she elbowed Palt in the flank. He gave her a resigned look.

“Life’s not all about that, Montressa.”

“She’s not going to even let you get onto Tier 1 of dating with that attitude.”

The [Mages] watched as the young woman folded her arms, looking flustered, annoyed—embarrassed. Relc was rolling his eyes, Beilmark was politely declining to argue about the Antinium’s age—

And then Hawk walked into the inn.

The Rabbit-kin Beastman was as always, one of those people Erin looked at when she imagined physical perfection. Not that she desired to emulate furry abs, but he did have abs.

It had to be the vegetarian diet. Mostly vegetarian, anyways. And Hawk’s entire body was…athletic. From his toned legs and muscles that moved every time he walked—Erin slapped herself. She was focusing on the sex thing too now! Bad influence!

The Courier looked around as Erin, relieved to have a break, walked over to him.

“Hawk! Thank goodness! What’s up? I thought you were heading north!”

“Hey, Erin. Sorry. I was a bit delayed, but I am running north. Bunch of deliveries around Invrisil—and it’s dicier, with the Assassin’s Guild. But uh, I wanted to stop by.”

“Hey, sounds great! Can I get you anything? Carrot cake? Carrot bread?”

“You know—I’ll take some bread. And cookies?”

“We can make some right now.”

Lyonette hurried over; the Courier was a big customer. Erin smiled at Hawk. And not in a sexual way!

Yes, she had eyed his poofy tail and yes, she wanted to touch it. It was a bunny poofball! On Hawk! But that was all. She could admire his physique, but wanting to…no. Nope!

“I can’t stay long enough for cookies, but I’ll pay for whatever you have in stock. Thank you.”

The Courier nodded at Lyonette. She hurried into the kitchen and Hawk looked around.

“Can I get you a drink? A Minotaur’s Punch? Oh, right. Alcohol and running.”

Hawk gave Erin a smile.

“Exactly. No, I’m just here to uh—oh. Excuse me a moment, would you?”

He walked across the room. With each stride, Hawk seemed to go twice as far as normal. A Courier’s Skills. Erin saw him pause at a table, and sit down. She heard his voice and slapped herself in the face. Hard. But there he was. Sitting across from Selys.

“So, I’m heading north, but I’d love to reconnect again when I come back this way.”

“I’d like that. No promises, but it was a fun night yesterday.”

Selys smiled. Erin stopped herself from slapping herself a third time. Hawk smiled.

“I did enjoy it. Can I bring you a souvenir?”

“You can. But nothing too big, or I’ll have to reply. Let’s not get into a gift-war.”

“Never fear.”

The Courier was laughing with Selys for a moment as Lyonette hurried out with his food in a bag. He put it into a bag of holding, paid, and stopped by Erin. She said something; he left.

“Well…”

Selys was sitting at her table, sipping calmly from a fruit drink with ice, courtesy of the sad flames as Erin and Drassi converged on the table. The Drake looked calmly at her friends.

“So, he’s a nice guy. And we dated before.”

“You—what? But—”

Erin pointed at Hawk. Selys and Hawk? Drassi was grinning ear-to-ear.

“You said you liked him, Selys! What changed?”

“Well, good carrot-based foods for one. Erin helped there. And…I’m wealthy and Hawk’s always been rich. It used to be people going after him for his gold, but now I think he and I understand each other more, you know? So we can do the same things without it being awkward.”

“Wow. And I imagine a Courier—”

“Whoa. Whoa. Hold on. You two? Really?”

Erin was incredulous. Selys just smiled coyly.

“It’s casual. If we find anyone we like, we’ll stop. Neither one of us expects it to go the distance. But—yes. What’s the big deal, Erin? What’s wrong with us?

She gave Erin a look. The young woman opened and closed her mouth. And it was a disapproving sniff from across the room that answered her.

“Bit of a stretch, Beastkin Rabbit and a Drake. Or am I wrong?”

Erin turned in her seat. She stared at Menolit and with a sinking feeling in her heart, realized he was drunk. And it wasn’t even evening. The Drake [Veteran] glared at the three young women.

“Too good for Drakes, Miss?”

“Excuse me?”

Selys’ face went flat as Menolit stood up. But Erin and Drassi both saw her narrow her eyes. Menolit didn’t seem to care. He seemed to relish the hostile attention.

“A Rabbit-man and a Drake? Do the parts fit? Is it that much better than with honest Drakes, or is nothing broken? Good thing too, going exotic. Maybe I should! Although I hear Humans have hair down there. And they bleed. So not so great for us fellows, is it? But I guess it balances out—poor fellow over there probably can’t find anyone who’s not into getting torn a new one.”

He waved at Palt. The Centaur looked around. Everyone stared at the half-man, half-horse. Drassi winced.

“Ooh. How would you—?”

Menolit talked over her. He was drunk, and angry, and sad—Erin stood up slowly as he whirled.

“Or the Minotauress? Giant cow-woman?”

“You—”

Beza stood up and Montressa and Palt forced her down—with spells as much as muscle. Menolit stared at Beza, and then waved at Palt.

“At least I have a friend over there. Two of us who’ll never get anything. One of us can’t fit, and the other’s a freak! Neither one works, see? At least the Courier got some, but then, he’s rich—

He turned as Erin walked forwards. The young woman stared at Menolit.

“Hey, Menolit. Why’d you have to say that?”

The [Veteran] looked at Erin.

“Am I wrong?”

She looked up at him.

“Yeah.”

Really? So looks don’t matter at all? This? Doesn’t matter?”

He waved his tail around, the severed stump of it. Erin wiped some spit off her face. She looked past Menolit, at Palt.

The Centaur was holding back Beza. And he had a calm expression on his face. But [Illusionists] wore masks. Erin sensed how he was feeling too. So she spoke to both of them.

“You know, Menolit. I’m sorry about what I said. Because the truth is, I don’t have a problem with how you look. I really don’t. It doesn’t matter who you are. What you look like. What scars you have. If I like you, it’ll work. Somehow.”

I suppose if you weren’t putting it in—no, wait, that’s what potions are for. Stretching, shrinking or getting bigger yourself…

Drassi.

Erin looked at the [Gossip]. Drassi stopped whispering. She looked at Menolit. The Drake was looking at her.

“Then what about me?

“I don’t know. I’m sorry, but I don’t like you, Menolit. But Selys? What did she do to you? Hawk?”

The Drake [Veteran] paused. He looked past Selys. Erin pushed gently, and the alcohol in his system, some of the fury, turned maudlin. He lowered his gaze.

“I’m sorry. I’ve disgraced myself.”

“Let’s get you home, buddy.”

Relc strode forwards. Erin looked at him, and shook her head.

“He’s fine. Come on, let’s get you sat down.”

“I should go. I’m—”

“You remember what I said a few nights ago, Menolit? People get second chances.”

The young woman led him back to his seat. The angry drunk [Veteran] gone. And he had been a good fighter. People relaxed. Erin sat Menolit down, gave him some goat’s milk. The Drake lowered his head.

“I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay. You can apologize again. But Menolit?”

“Hm?”

“If you say that stuff again, I’m gonna hit you with a pan.”

He smiled at that. And Erin smiled too. She couldn’t save the world yet, but she was working on one sad Drake. Among others.

 

—-

 

And then the Antinium came downstairs and presented their story. Relc nearly died of laughter. So did most people. The Antinium might have noticed the laughter wasn’t their intended response, but they looked…pleased.

“We are eliciting a response. And I am pleased at it. Let us sell our copies to Liscor and bring the story to the Antinium. Aside from experiencing the pleasures of sex, and the act of pregnancy—no—wait—that is for females—I think we have done a good job.”

“Yes, we must simply ensure Chesacre and Thaina do not engage in it.”

That caught Erin’s attention. The young woman stared at the Antinium.

“Wait, there are female Antinium in the Hive? Wait—wait—aren’t those two the Soldiers that Pawn introduced me to?”

Belgrade nodded solemnly.

“Yes. They are female. I believe two pregnancies is not too dangerous, but given the complications of childbirth, we should not risk their deaths…”

“Unless they wish to bear offspring. Perhaps it is worth the risk.”

“Ah, so they say. And it is not that great a risk, yes? These…two Soldiers are female, hm? How did that come about? Or are Antinium different and we cannot tell?”

Beilmark grinned at the three Antinium. And the pieces clicked for Erin.

“Oh. Oh.

It was just a misunderstanding. Erin put her head down and sighed. But then someone spoke up.

“Hey lads. You know you can buy sex?”

Relc leaned on his spear, grinning widely. Belgrade, Anand, and Yellow Splatters stared at him. Garry poked his head out of the kitchen.

“What? But I was informed it was illegal to solicit sexual intercourse.”

“Oh, on the streets, yeah. But why not visit a brothel?”

Relc looked around. Beilmark was falling off her chair, her chest heaving with mirth. Erin stood up. Anand was opening and closing his mandibles.

“So it is legal? I was under the impression it was not.”

The Senior Guardsman shrugged.

“Liscor’s strict about it. And so’re most Drake cities, but I bet Pallass has some regulated brothels. Very regulated, but it happens. Gnolls are different. They’re the ones who don’t like selling sex; but Drakes allow it, so long as it’s managed.”

Relc! How do you know that?

Erin strode over to him, finger pointing. Relc gave Erin a puzzled look.

“I’m a Senior Guardsman. Plus, I patrol there. What’s the harm?”

“Oh. I mean—don’t tell them that! Look!”

The Antinium were electrified. Belgrade huddled with Anand and Yellow Splatters and Garry who came out of the kitchen. He looked at Relc.

“We have funds. Will we be able to purchase this sex?”

“Um. Yeah. Why? How much do you have?”

“Fifty six gold pieces, eleven silver, and thirty two copper pieces.”

Garry announced instantly. The room paused. Relc blinked a few times.

“Uh—yeah. I don’t think you’ll need—even a gold piece for some of the best is like—well, you could get an hour from Liscor’s best for one gold. Most’ll be a handful of silver…they have more money than I have! Klb’s holding out on us!”

He looked at Beilmark. Belgrade seemed shocked.

“These are very generous rates, especially if offspring will be produced from the act. A bargain.”

Relc choked on his spit.

“That…never happens, Belgrade, buddy. It’s a bad thing, uh, if it happens when you don’t want it.”

“What if we would like it to be so? Could we pay for this?”

Belgrade looked at Relc. It was Erin who answered. And she was getting angry.

“It’s more than you think. And I’m afraid you can’t do it easily, Belgrade. It’s not a light thing. And you shouldn’t encourage them, Relc! It can’t happen!”

She rounded on Relc. And she was angry now. This was going too far. Relc held up his claws.

“Hold up. They can get laid, Erin. I bet you some of the girls would go for it, especially in Liscor just to say they did. Especially the big dude, Yellow Splatters.”

“What if we lack genitalia?”

Crash. Ishkr had just walked into a wall. Belgrade looked around innocently.

“Did I not say? We considered this might be an issue.”

“You lack…”

“Yes. See?”

Anand pulled back his loincloth. Erin recoiled—but there was nothing there. Just smooth chitin.

Everyone in the room looked at the Antinium. Relc’s jaw dropped. Then his spear dropped.

“Oh Ancestors. You poor guys.”

“Why is he upset?”

Yellow Splatters murmured to Anand. But most of the males in the room looked horrified. Menolit stared at the Antinium. Erin sighed.

They had never had genitalia to lose, which was sort of the point. But Relc just stared at the Antinium and then gave them all hugs.

“Ancestors. Not even once?”

“Is this a bad thing?”

“Can we not have sex, then?”

The Drake turned to the others. No one wanted to answer.

“I mean—you can do some things. But the big thing? No. I’m sorry.”

He put his claw solemnly on Belgrade’s shoulder. The Antinium sighed.

“Alas.”

“Relc, maybe we can take them to a brothel. Pay a male Drake and a female one. Or Gnolls. I know a few. At least let them see. And there are other things, yes?”

Beilmark was whispering to Relc. The Drake was nodding.

“Yeah, yeah. They can see it—”

Absolutely not!

Erin shouted. That was it. The room went still as the [Innkeeper]’s aura crashed down. And suddenly, there was silence.

Erin Solstice walked forwards. She glared at Relc, at Selys, at everyone. And she was angry.

“Are you all mad? They’re kids! Belgrade’s not even three! They just learned about clouds last year! They shouldn’t know about sex!

She was so angry she was shaking. The others looked at her, unable to move or argue back. Relc was slowly raising one claw—Erin stared at him and his arm shook. But he seemed determined to speak. And if he did—Erin was gonna deck him. It was unacceptable. It was not right!

“Excuse me. May I speak?”

Someone spoke under the crushing weight of the aura. Erin blinked. Her control was such that even Lyonette was moving in slow-motion. Erin’s aura was fueled by anger. But it was Belgrade who was speaking.

Her anger was not directed at him. Now, the [Tactician] spoke brightly to Erin and the room. He nodded slightly at Erin.

“I would like to see sex. I would like to try it, whatever I can do with my limitations.”

Erin looked at him.

“Belgrade. I’m sorry, but no. It’s too early. And you’re too—”

“Young?”

“Yeah. Belgrade, you need to be adults before you have sex. At least eight—no, at least sixteen! Yeah! Sixteen! Wait—is it sixteen?”

Erin had to think. The Antinium looked at her. And then…they shook their heads.

“No, Erin. I would like to have it now. Please.”

Belgrade spoke quietly. Erin stared at him. She looked at Yellow Splatters, and Anand, and even Garry. And they were nodding.

“I as well.”

“I would like to try it.”

“If I could share it with all Antinium, I would.”

It was Belgrade who went on, speaking to Erin. Belgrade, who wept for the dead. Who was unsure of his place. But he spoke with a level voice, never looking away from Erin.

“I understand we are considered young by your standards, Miss Erin. But I would like to…try this thing known as sexual intercourse. Even if I cannot, even if I am young. For I am afraid we will never be the age you seek. Not sixteen. Or ten. Or even eight. Most Antinium never live past four years. I cannot remember one who has lived six years, besides the Queen and Revelator Klbkch.”

The other three Antinium nodded. They were hungry. In a way like children, but also…adults. Like people, wanting, searching for something they had never known existed. Just like a thirsty man longed for water even if he had never seen it in his life.

“I do not understand the pleasure of it. But I would like to.”

The [Trapsetter Tactician] looked around. He looked at Erin, and then touched his chest.

“You tell me I should wait. But I will never have that long. And I? I would like to leave something of myself behind when I die. Even if I go to Heaven. I would like to know what it is like to be with someone like that. Someone else, whom I share this moment with. That is what I understand. That is what I desire. I am sorry if I am wrong, Miss Erin. But this is how I feel.”

He bowed, and stepped back. And suddenly, Erin didn’t see the young, silly Antinium children. But that old look that not even her parents had known.

The look of someone who had buried too many friends, had seen too much sorrow. Had killed. Erin saw it in the mirror some days.

And she was suddenly ashamed. Her aura winked out and people moved, gasped. Erin stepped back. She was not blushing. That was embarrassment? This?

This was shame. Erin had fought, but for the wrong reason. She looked at Belgrade, who did not expect to grow to be six years old. And she covered her face.

“Don’t ever say that again, Belgrade. You’re not going to die before you turn sixteen. You’re going to live a long time. And—you’re going to experience so many things. I promise you.”

The [Tactician] turned to Erin. An adult, older than she. Who measured his age by his fallen comrades. And a child.

“You promise?”

“Yeah. But—”

Erin silently looked at Relc. The Drake cleared his throat.

“I could arrange something. But…yeah.”

“Is it something we have missed greatly? Something all Antinium should know?”

Yellow Splatters looked at Relc. And the [Sergeant] was greatly disturbed. Erin shook her head as the other hesitated.

“It’s just…part of life. One thing. I guess it can be good? But you don’t need it to live a full life, guys.”

Her voice was a question. And no one had the heart to contradict her. Because she was right and wrong. But perhaps—that was her perspective. The young woman wiped away her tears as everyone felt compelled to buy the Antinium a drink, or speculate on other experiences which were just as good as sex. Things for them to show their people.

And in time, a Hobgoblin came into the inn. Numbtongue felt refreshed. Sometimes you just needed some alone time. Especially with females all over, none of which he was comfortable having sex with. And it was hard finding a spot in the inn where someone wouldn’t notice or ask to play tag where you could relieve yourself.

He had to sit in a cave to feel properly isolated. The Hobgoblin paused as he saw the Antinium in the inn, caught up with the happenings.

“There’s more to life than just sex. And there’s beautiful things too.”

Erin was telling the Antinium. The [Bard] nodded, and smiled. He took his guitar out. And he began to play a gentle song. The Antinium looked at him.

Beautiful.

Anand whispered. Amid the discussions of sex, the Hobgoblin’s music was like a calming breeze. Which was what it was. The song was gentle, light. Meant to be played on a ukulele. And Erin knew it. She smiled. Numbtongue understood.

Somewhere Over the Rainbow. A song about dreams and wishes. If any song had a bit of magic in it, it was that one, played by Iz Kamakawiwo’ole. Erin clapped along softly, and then she began to sing.

Nothing that engendered sex here. Just music. A thing everyone could experience. And beautiful. Touching.

From their seats, the Wistram [Mages] listened. And Montressa glanced at Erin and Numbtongue, singing in harmony and looked at Palt.

“That Hobgoblin might have a step up on you.”

The Centaur paused. And he looked at Numbtongue. And then he shook his head. The [Illusionist] slowly puffed on his cigar as he looked at Erin, thoughtfully.

“No. I don’t think he’s even scored a single point. And I don’t know if I have, either.”

That was all he said. And after a while, the Antinium stood up. Sex might be seen, or partaken in. Erin let them go with Relc. But the Senior Guardsman had a sudden thought as he went with the Antinium. He turned to Beilmark. And he was suddenly grave.

“Beil. Um…Antinium. Guys. You know, about your missing…do you…do you think that it’s possible—I mean, Klbkch looks different. And he’s Klb. But I’ve never heard—I mean, I thought it was him and the Queen or something. But does he not have…”

He gestured silently. Beilmark’s ears perked up. Belgrade and the others looked at each other.

“I cannot imagine why, Senior Guardsman Relc. He inhabited a Worker body before his new one. And I understand genitalia are a weak point.”

Relc stared. Then he leaned against the doorway.

“Oh no. No wonder he’s so angry—Beilmark. You take them. I’ve gotta—”

“Done.”

The Guardswoman was nodding. The Antinium stared at each other.

“Is it really that bad a thing?”

The female Gnoll shrugged as Anand looked at her.

“Males think so.”

 

—-

 

Sex. Or lack thereof. How it dominated things, when you let it. But there were bypasses. Workarounds. Like the vial Xif was showing Octavia and Saliss.

[Alchemists] didn’t just do it explosively, they didn’t do it at all. Because they didn’t need to. With this. Octavia eyed the vial. It was, of course, shimmering a bit. But she’d seen a number of odd ingredients going into it.

“I’ve seen aphrodisiacs. But um…Master Xif, Master Saliss. What is this?”

The two [Alchemists] looked at each other. Saliss tapped the vial.

“This is a potion you can drink that makes you orgasm. It’s outlawed in Pallass, mainly because of the impropriety.”

“Org—you mean, it helps in bed?”

Saliss rolled his eyes and Xif grinned.

“No. I mean, you drink this? You have a good time. Not the same as aphrodisiac, or a love potion. Different effects. Some are more mental, other long-lasting without being as…dramatic. See, I’m not good at this. Which is why we’re here. Hey, Xif.”

“Saliss. I whipped up one dose since I heard you’d be bringing Miss Cotton here. Miss Cotton.”

“Master Xif.”

The two nodded stiffly at each other. Saliss just grinned.

“Don’t worry, Octavia. This isn’t an imposition. Xif is delighted to have you here.”

“Yes, using my ingredients and shop.”

“We’re paying you back for it. And you get your share.”

Saliss rubbed his claws together. Octavia looked around.

“I’m sorry, but why does this benefit Master Xif? Also, why is this potion here if it’s banned in Pallass?”

The Gnoll coughed. And Saliss chuckled.

“We’re teaching you the recipe. So we…have to make some. And it occurred to us that Liscor doesn’t ban these potions. Or…other cities in the north.”

The Stitch-Woman’s eyes went round.

“Oh! Then—there’s a new market? But this potion, will it sell?”

She eyed the potion dubiously. Something that bypassed all the pleasure of sex? How was that better than the real thing? But Saliss was just nodding.

“It will sell. The reason the Walled Cities banned them was because too many ingredients went towards making them. A huge market and we actually had a shortage of other potions.”

“Why? Because it was addictive?”

“Not alchemically. But—here. Try some if you want. As much as you care to.”

He offered Octavia the vial. She hesitated. It was common to try a potion’s effects so you knew what it did. She eyed Saliss, and then downed the vial in one.

Octavia paused. She knew better than to say ‘nothing happened’. She just had to wait for…

The Stitch-Girl felt heat suffuse her face. She looked down.

“Oh—”

“Shoot! We forgot about that. I’m gonna need a towel, Xif. You have clothes. Sorry, Octavia.”

“Absolutely not. Get your own towels! I’ll never use mine again if you take them! They’re good towels!”

The two [Alchemists] began fighting. Octavia…slowly leaned against the counter. Her knees had lost all strength. She felt lightheaded and every few seconds.

“Um—I—M-Master Saliss?”

“Don’t worry! It goes away after a while! But it’s great, right?”

“I—”

Octavia made a sound and covered her mouth, but she had to drop to the floor. Xif swore as Saliss grabbed a towel and wrapped it around his waist. Then the two [Alchemists] looked at the apprentice.

“Uh. I forgot how the first time goes. You alright, Cotton?”

Saliss eyed Octavia. The Stitch-Girl didn’t make a sound for about five minutes. Xif and Saliss retreated. When Octavia could stand up—she did so shakily.

“Whew. That—hold on—”

She had to catch her breath. Saliss ushered her to a chair.

“Shouldn’t have given you the full dose. I’m sorry. Here, take a seat—no, don’t talk for like, five more minutes.”

He ushered her to a seat. Saliss came over to Xif, looking embarrassed as Octavia let the aftershocks ride her into a wonderful place. Xif eyed Saliss. He gestured at Octavia.

“Is this inappropriate? You’re the one who gives me speeches on student-master relationships, Saliss.”

“Eh. Nuance, Xif. She’s learning it. I’m not giving them to her regularly. And I’m not banning her from having a good time or smoking—well, I do ban smoking in my lab. But hush. If you didn’t like it, why’d you jump at the chance to make a few?”

The Gnoll [Alchemist] shrugged.

“I have no problem with them. You’re the reason they were banned.”

Saliss’ brows drew together. He leaned over and snapped.

“Some people need them more than others. Dullahans have problems. Young Drakes and Gnolls and Garudas don’t. Shut up and help me brew a teaching batch with Octavia and I’ll let you keep two bottles. And I’ll get you back into Erin’s good books if I can.”

Xif pursed his lips. Saliss would be walking away with most of them, but two bottles was…he nodded. Good for yourself, good for gifts, good for sale. But addictive in its own way. Also—hard to make.

“…How about some of the other fires?”

“You have the pink one.”

Saliss shook his head as he turned away from Octavia. He began setting up the ingredients and equipment they needed. Then he picked up the empty vial. He looked at Octavia, she was bending over, putting her head between her legs.

A wonderful experience. And yet, it was still a potion. With this, you could experience one of the things that made sex so great. And—arguably, experience it better than most could the old-fashioned way.

But people conflated that with the entire thing. Saliss paused.

“Alchemy. Who needs love?”

He only looked a bit sad as he said it. Then he tossed the vial aside and got to work.

 

—-

 

“Well, I think I’ve learned a lot today.”

Fierre nibbled on the tip of her quill as she finished writing. Ryoka reached for a drink with lemon in it. The two young woman were flushed in the small room.

They had just gone through a lot. From the discussion of sexuality as a broader thing than male or female, to the different ways people identified. Things from Earth. Which would be useful. Valuable?

Perhaps, perhaps not. Ryoka had told Fierre because she wanted the young Vampire to know. Not about Earth, but things that were important from there.

Like diseases. Ryoka looked at Fierre, whom she was pretty certain had some super-magical immunodeficiency syndrome. Could you get that from…

A kiss? Fierre’s pale lips were stained with a bit of ink. It was not the sexy look the Vampire girl was going for. But…her deep red irises drew Ryoka in. As did her teeth.

“So…about the way two girls have…sex. You showed me and told me, but uh—you know, it’s hard to visualize it without seeing. Do you think you could…elaborate?”

Elaborate. Ryoka felt a tingle along her spine. She looked at Fierre. Play dumb.

“How do you mean, elaborate?”

“We-ell…it’s not much, but the room’s secure from everything. And um…some of the things sound interesting. I’m open-minded. If you wanted…”

The Vampire girl smiled at Ryoka. And Ryoka felt her mind flying off in multiple directions.

 

You don’t like girls. You’ve tried that. I mean—you don’t like them as much as—

Shut up! Look at those lips! We could go for that! We have been dying over here!

Could be STD’s—

Can you get something from a finger? What if she wears…gloves?

 

And most of all—Ryoka shivered. She liked Fierre. She thought she did. A lot. Fierre was like her. A girl with a secret. A different perspective.

Immortal. Strong enough to put Ryoka through a wall. Now, why was that alluring when Ryoka never liked tough guys? She licked her lips.

“I…could. Show you something.”

“Just one or two things. Maybe.”

Fierre slid along her desk. Her chair screeched a bit. That nearly brought Ryoka out of it as Fierre did that thing where she stood up and pulled the chair with her.

Oh no. She was not a Vampire seductress, even like her mother tried to be. But Ryoka was really…really…

They both had trousers on. You could do a lot with clothes. Ryoka stared at Fierre. It would be…and you didn’t have to be unsafe. The Vampire sat next to Ryoka after a bit of a struggle getting the chair over her desk. She leaned over.

And Ryoka felt something touch her just over the crotch of her pants. She jumped and felt goose bumps. Okay. If she hadn’t thought she was into it—

That changed her mind. Ryoka stared at Fierre. The Vampire was close, but she had no body heat.

“If you wanted to show me…”

And why not? They were so alike. Ryoka gulped hard. So alike.

So alike.

Abruptly, Ryoka pushed Fierre back and stood up. The Vampire recoiled, so quickly her movements were unnatural. She looked up at Ryoka.

“I’m sorry. I can’t. It’s not a good idea.”

Ryoka’s voice trembled. She was breathing fast. Fierre looked up at her.

“Why not?”

“It’s not you. It’s me. Wait, that’s stupid. I’m sorry. But I think…I’ve tried it before. Boys. And girls.”

Ryoka stammered, her thoughts in a whirl. She was trying to explain. Fierre was drawing back, hurt, but Ryoka had to explain. She looked at the Vampire girl.

“It’s not that I wouldn’t try it. Or that I’m not attracted to you Fierre, because I am.”

“So. What?”

Now the Vampire’s voice was cold. Definitely hurt. Ryoka pulled at her hair.

“I…I…I’ve done it before. I’ve tried to be with someone. Even though I liked them. Loved them. For a hot second. But it’s never worked. I couldn’t even have friends. Fierre, you know what I’m like.”

The Vampire hesitated. The hostility halted for a moment and she looked at Ryoka. After a second, she spoke.

“Bad days?”

“Yes.”

Ryoka closed her eyes. She put her palms over her eyes and sat down.

“I’m sorry. But I can’t. It’d just—make me—I’m not ready. I don’t want to hurt you and I can’t lose you as a friend.”

She sat there, shaking, lust faded. Ryoka muttered into the ground.

“I don’t want to lose my friend. I don’t want to…change that between us. And it would. I can’t even be a good friend. I left the other ones behind. I left…a little kid alone because I’d burn everything down. If I can’t do that, what about a relationship?”

She just sat there, shattering. Fierre stared at Ryoka, wide-eyed. Then she raised her gloved hands, make herself laugh.

“I was kidding! It was a joke. I’m charming you. Obviously.”

She saw the young woman look up. Ryoka brushed at her eyes, refusing to take the offered lie.

“No. You weren’t. But it’s fine to experiment, you know. There’s nothing wrong with liking other people. No matter who you are.”

She had to be honest. Tell Fierre that. The Vampire girl looked at her. Then she went back behind her desk with her chair. She reached for something and pulled it out.

“It’s different for Vampires. There are so few of us, and most are related. And Humans—we can’t just casually…I’ve tried it a few times, but it was a mess. They have to be drunk and not notice how cold I am. And I just want to drink—”

Her teeth shone in the light. But the drink Fierre pulled out wasn’t blood, but alcohol. And blood. She mixed the two into a shot glass and Ryoka smelled strong spirits. The kind that went above 90-proof without killing you. Well…that you could theoretically survive. Magical liquor. It made Ryoka start crying—

No, she’d already begun before that. The young woman blinked as Fierre poured her a drink.

“I see. I’m sorry.”

The Vampire girl smiled. But she looked at Ryoka and the two stared at each other. Ryoka took the glass full of oblivion. Then she had to laugh. Because Fierre hadn’t tossed her out. She still had her friend.

Thank god.

“We’re so fucked.”

“Two messed up girls. I won’t even ask you how you know all that about sex.”

“I was a [Sex Guru] in a previous life.”

Fierre choked on her blood cocktail. Ryoka laughed as she drank and coughed. The two coughed and drank and eventually, Fierre sighed.

“At least I have toys.”

“What, really? They have those here?”

“Where are you from? I couldn’t have them at my home. One time, Fluffles the Fourth found my um…you know. And she was carrying it around my father found it—”

Ryoka began laughing. Fierre laughed too, her paled cheeks tinged with color.

“No way. I’ve been, well, making do. I had no idea—Erin hinted they had some dildos in Liscor, but—really? You can buy them? Tell me where and I’ll go yesterday.”

Fierre laughed.

“There’s a black market. And trust me, there’s variety. Well, there’s aphrodisiac potions too. Virility potions. Magical artifacts…”

“Artifacts? Like what?”

Ryoka. Artifacts. You want a good time? Illusions? [Mages] get horny too. And trust me—there’s a demand for them.”

The young woman was laughing. In relief. Because she felt like she’d made the right choice. She looked at Fierre, laughing, smiling, trying not to cry.

“You mean, there are magical sex machines?”

“Those are called Golems, Ryoka.”

 

—-

 

Sometimes people didn’t have sex. And that was as significant as when they did. Goblins—Goblins had it easy in a way.

They didn’t dance about it. They had a different idea of how sex worked. Of course, they also had such passions because you could die tomorrow.

Win some and lose some. But sometimes…it was hard.

Dawil found Falene at the bottom of her cups at the bar. She was alone; she was in fact, helping herself to the inn’s liquor.

“Go away, Dwarf.”

Falene waved a hand at one of the Dawils haunting her. She was past light intoxication and readiness for a few questionable choices. She was fully maudlin and trying for oblivion.

“You’re looking poor, half—Falene.”

Dawil caught himself. Falene wasn’t in the mood for their regular sparring sessions. The half-Elf ignored him.

“Go on, mock me.”

“…Nah. Don’t you worry about the lad, either. He didn’t notice a thing. Poor fellow got pulled in by a [Drinker]. Or was it a [Drunk]?”

Falene sniffed.

“But you’ll remember.”

“Shan’t say a word, even if you remember this. Which I doubt, frankly.”

The [Axe Champion] eyed the empty bottles around Falene. Wistram [Mages] could put away alcohol. He was beginning to think the academy had a problem. Falene sniffed a few more times. She had snot running down one delicate nostril.

“I just—I know it was a bad idea. But I’m tired of the road. I don’t mind it, but finding a partner—”

“Aye. Tough.”

“What would you know? You’re short. I’m a half-Elf. You can find company. Men see me and I’m a trophy. They can brag about it. But I want someone who at least—”

Falene put her head down. Dawil patted her awkwardly on the back. He reached for a glass as Falene tried to tell him about Feor, and her faction…and why Ylawes was a good second-choice—and she’d really just wanted a night—

The Dwarf nodded and patted her shoulder and tried not to let her kill herself drinking. He sighed.

Children. Sometimes he felt like an adult leading two brats around. But then he looked at Falene and sighed.

Aging slower than Humans sometimes really was a problem. He envied Ylawes, sometimes. A [Knight] in shining armor? You had to ward his doors at night.

Literally. And that didn’t even count teammates.

 

—-

 

 

A life without sex wasn’t so bad. If you had a purpose, it didn’t matter. If you’d never had it, what did you have to regret not having?

But it was probably good to relax people. Sometimes, it wouldn’t help. But you could probably correlate it.

At any rate, someone who was incapable of it was making a beeline towards The Wandering Inn. And he had two swords.

Klbkchhezeim of the Free Antinium walked in a murderous mood. He was addressing Tkrn, who was regretting bringing the news to the Antinium Senior Guardsman.

“They. Went. Above? Without my permission?”

“Yes, Senior Guardsman, but Relc and Beilmark got them and brought them to the inn—”

“I see. I will deal with them there. You may go, Guardsman Tkrn.”

The Gnoll hesitated. He had seen people like this before. And walking away usually meant someone was dead the next hour. But he hesitated—

Because Klbkch was really not in a good mood. And the Slayer Klbkch was out. Tkrn was bracing himself. He’d made mistakes once. If he got stabbed, well…he owed it to the Watch and the one Guardsman who’d been kind to him. He was preparing to reach out and duck when someone stepped out in front of the gates.

Relc. He blocked the way towards The Wandering Inn. And his face was grave.

“Klb—”

“Move aside, Relc. I have a discipline issue to address. I have let it go on for far too long.”

Klbkch was vibrating with anger. And his hands were on his sword hilts. Relc stared at them, and then he shook his head.

“Not now, Klb. Come on, let’s have a drink.”

The Antinium stared at Relc. The Drake was uncharacteristically sober. Klbkch hesitated.

“Has something happened?”

“What? Nah…nah…”

“Something has clearly happened. What?”

“We just want to buy you a drink, Klbkch. Come on. The lads are all here.”

Jeiss stepped out of the shadows. The Senior Guardsman and Councilman wore a similar look. And then Klbkch saw more Guardsmen. Some seniors, others regular ones.

All with that look of…Klbkch hesitated.

“What? Why? I have work to do—”

“We’ll cover your shift. It’s all set. Captain Z herself gave the all-clear. Come on.”

“No, I must—what is going on? I am busy. Hello?”

Before Klbkch knew it, the other [Guards] had seized his arms and were towing him in the direction of Wishdrinks. Relc shook his head. Tkrn stared at him.

“Senior Guardsman Relc?”

Had he heard about Klbkch’s mood? This was smooth, for Relc! The Drake looked at Tkrn.

“I guess you heard? I’m just torn up about it. Come on, we’ve booked Wishdrinks. When they heard—they’re giving us a special time. We’ve gotta have a good time, for Klb.”

“What? What happened?”

“You haven’t heard? Oh…oh man. Tkrn…listen…this is gonna break your heart. Klb—he—I can’t say it—”

A little while later, the Antinium Guardsman found himself in Wishdrinks. Everyone was plying him with alcohol, and asking how he felt. Even the staff were giving him special treatment.

Klbkch had no idea why. But the Watch was filling the room. Mostly male Guardsmen, but some female ones. They were acting like they were at a wake.

“I do not understand.”

“I can’t imagine. I heard of a fellow—got hit in that spot. Just…pulled out a wand and blew his head off after two months. You’ve been like this for years? I respect that.”

Jeiss was talking, toasting Klbkch. The Antinium stared at him, then the female Drake.

Watch Captain Zevara. She stared at Klbkch. Cleared her throat a few times.

“I don’t know how to say it, Klbkch. But um…I’m sorry? I heard from Relc. He’s an idiot, but he’s got good tact. You take care of yourself. You’re a valuable member of the Watch.”

Klbkch nodded. He opened and closed his mandibles as Zevara paused, patted him on the shoulder, and went back to mingling. He had no idea what was going on. But the Antinium had earned another day of reprieve. After a moment, Klbkch had to ask.

“…Am I being fired?”

 

—-

 

Somewhere, above, Belgrade, Anand, Garry, and Yellow Splatters were discovering that sex was not what they had expected. Not bad, but certainly unexpected. They were taking notes for part two of their story on sex.

Because they would bring their understanding to the Hive, those four males. They had gone out, into the world. And they had seen the truth.

Up close. Squelching. With fur and scales—not skin, but in different ways. They knew sex.

What fools those Antinium be. Far below, in the Painted Antinium’s barracks, Purple Smiles folded his arms. If he could have, he would have rolled his eyes.

Silly [Sergeants] and [Strategists]. They thought they knew. They thought they could analyze and study everything. But what they didn’t know—what Anand should have guessed at least, as he was better at it—was that some things you didn’t need to research.

You could intuit it. It wasn’t a formula to be cracked, a grand secret to be discovered and made gospel truth.

Sometimes, the secret was something you found. The other [Sergeant] watched as, in an area of the barracks reserved for the most sacred of things, two Soldiers sat.

Chesacre and Thaina. They were in a place next to a wall of…symbols. A place where Soldiers and Workers now, would take on their paint. Would become Painted Antinium.

The two Soldiers had not been painted yet. And they had thought long and hard on who they would be. Now—they chose.

But first, they performed ablutions. Cleansing their bodies before they were painted, that the paint would not be contaminated. But the two Soldiers did it together.

They were female. By name and personality, even if not by appearance. And that was what mattered. Purple Smiles watched as the two Soldiers did something new in this Hive, in this moment.

They were washing each other.

Chesacre had some soap and a little cloth. Thaina was dipping hers into a bucket. The two were gently cleaning each other off, with some soap and water. Slowly, carefully, they polished each other’s bodies, wiping grime away with water. Carefully.

Polishing chipped carapace. Touching each other. The Antinium had very few senses. But—they touched each other and felt it. The Painted Antinium watched.

Something new. Something that Pawn or Erin or another of the Individuals had not brought here. Purple Smiles understood it. A bit. But then—he listened. And watched.

And he saw the two Antinium touching each other.

On their multifaceted eyes. Mandibles, cleaning each and every inch of each other. And that action had significance.

Antennae too; they were most careful about that. The two delicately touched each other’s antennae. And they had sensation there.

And eroticism? The Workers and Soldiers stared—then, abruptly, looked away as one. They felt it.

They should not be watching this. This was something private. New. Sacred.

Individuality.

Purple Smiles looked away too, as he felt the two growing closer. He envied them. And loved what he could not comprehend. Yet. But the two—Individuals—would be greater than he was.

Or perhaps he had joined them. The Soldier looked away. None of the Antinium were looking anywhere near them. Something must be done.

Purple Smiles found some of the blankets reserved for the coveted Fortresses of Fluff and hung them up. A Worker created stands of wood by lashing together some wooden poles onto a base—the Antinium had been experimenting with hammocks and slides, which Erin had assured them were fun ways to relax—and Purple Smiles hung the blankets over them. Creating a private area.

A room. And in their privacy, that was now, suddenly, needed, the two Antinium stopped touching each other. They looked hesitantly at each other, and then Chesacre picked up a brush.

They began to paint a design onto each other’s bodies. Slowly, carefully, with infinite patience and grace.

A new type of picture, one that didn’t work without both halves. It was not a flower, or a heart—that would have been symbolic.

And it would have spoken to a culture neither Antinium knew. Rather, they were creating a building.

A magical building, of pale silver and odd angles. That rose across their bodies, whole only when they stood so. Apart, it was meaningless, two broken halves. Together, if they stood side by side and their arms twined—

The Antinium understood something in that moment, Purple Smile, Thaina, Chesacre. And that was something the male Antinium above had yet to learn entirely.

Sex was one thing. Love was another thing. Sometimes, often, the two were conflated. You could do it for many reasons, but it was designed for more than just pleasure.

Like happiness. And you didn’t need carnality for that. Happiness was also seeing someone else in pleasure. It was part of what you called romance.

Although, it was true—

Sometimes it was just plain smut. And that wasn’t a bad thing.

 

—-

 

“Oh! Oh Nagas—that’s amaze—how are you—dead gods!

There was something else people needed to know aside from wholesome love. And that was that of the many races in the world, one was best at having sex.

And that was Selphids. Geneva Scala felt her inner canals tighten and she and Xeppal both hissed. In pleasure. Geneva felt two objects moving in her, but there wasn’t even a hint of pain. Or stretching. She sensed something in her contract rhythmically as she moved up and down.

The sensation—wasn’t like regular sex. As Maughin could have told Geneva or anyone if the Dullahan was inclined to speak—and he wasn’t, Dullahans talked about sex as much as Erin—you might have your pride. You might believe you knew something. A few tricks. Or even a hundred.

But the truth was you were a neophyte. An amateur. You couldn’t even try to reach the heights of sexual conduct. Because you didn’t control your body. You were just a flesh-vessel, able to activate ten percent of the functions that a Selphid could.

And a Selphid in a living body? In ages past, Selphids had conquered almost the entire world and created an empire. Geneva had known that—that was why a Selphid could never inhabit a living body. For the power they could wield. But she had a new insight in this moment, as she felt herself clamp down, felt a burst of whiteness behind her eyes—and she couldn’t count how many she’d had—and saw Xeppal nearly inhale his tongue.

As terrible as the Selphid Empire had been, they’d had amazing sex. Geneva was vaguely aware as Xeppal climaxed and she rose to give the condom a…stress test with her mouth, that she was being watched.

Well, they’d been going at it for two hours. Xeppal was the best [Prostitute] in the Slippery Tail. He didn’t have a male refractory period. And Geneva?

She had Okasha. The Lizardman climaxed again. Geneva felt herself mimicking him, they were that in tune. She spat carefully, and reflected that she could improve the design of the condom. It was an industry in her world.

The last few moments of sex, six minutes later, actually made Geneva white out for a bit. Or maybe that was a thirty six hour work day and two hours of exhausting sex.

She came to with Xeppal lying beside her. The Lizardman was panting, staring at Geneva wide-eyed.

“Is—that was—incredible. Even with the—the—”

“Condom.”

Geneva smiled in a sultry way at the Lizardman. He was finally deflated, just worn out. The other sex workers stared through the door in awe. It was Okasha in charge; Geneva was happy to let her do it.

“I had no idea—how did you—”

“Let’s just say I have a few Skills myself.”

She winked at him. And Geneva Scala felt a bit alarmed. But how else would they explain…that? Xeppal just nodded.

“A [Doctor] and…? Hold on, I should be paying you.”

Okasha-Geneva just laughed. She bent over to kiss Xeppal—Geneva stopped her. Transmission of diseases! No, but wait—she’d tested Xeppal, hadn’t she? And he’d been clean.

And they’d been doing a lot of kissing already. At least the condoms worked. Geneva felt tingly as Okasha bade farewell and walked them out the doors. An awed crowd saw Geneva off.

She wasn’t even walking funny. Okasha had kept Geneva’s muscles from getting sore, or damaged and—the Selphid smiled, relaxed as could be.

She’d felt everything Geneva had. And she’d even enhanced the experience. Geneva stretched in the evening light. She felt light, clear-headed—had that technically been a three-way? What were the ethics of a hidden partner?

She’d worry about it tomorrow. For now, for once, she was ready to sleep for a day. Okasha laughed as she let Geneva take over.

That was amazing! Let’s do it again!

Geneva hesitated. She stared back at the brothel, and then thought about her duties. It was a bad idea to fraternize with patients. Even if this had been an unusual case. She had a job to uphold. An image to maintain.

She paused.

“We’ll come back in a few days.”

It was a hard truth to swallow for those who hadn’t experienced it. Yes, they inhabited rotting bodies. Yes, they were temporary guests using a shell. But they had learned their forms that people took for granted. Whatever you believed, no matter what you said—

Selphids did it better.

 

—-

 

There was always more to learn about sex. And yes, you could drown in it. It needn’t be all things. But it was a part of life.

Goblins having sex. Antinium understanding romance. The courting and travails therein in regards to Erin Solstice. Vampires and when you were ready to give as much as you took.

Geneva Scala, Last Light of Baleros and extremely eligible bachelorette. Sexual prodigy. Because Selphids were the best at what they did.

And…other couples. In The Wandering Inn, there was a fact no one kept track of. No one really thought of, or cared to measure. And that was that no one had had sex in this particular inn since its inception and construction.

Temile and the [Actors] were certainly contenders. But they tended to find company with their temporary, star-struck fans and since they were new to Liscor, they were still finding their feet.

It would happen. Oh yes. But no sex had been had. Sex had been written, and…that was all. But that evening, the record about no sex was broken.

By a digit. Or—just like phalluses, members, and penii had different words, so too did fingers. And in this case, one gently, delicately moved.

There was a gasp. A short intake of breath. Someone stopped.

“Am I…?”

“No. Go ahead.”

A pause. The digit moved again. And the breathless voice changed depending on how it moved. Poking. Prodding. Pinching delicately—learning what was best and not.

On both sides. After a while, there was liquid. On the digits. The Antinium stared at them, and this new thing. Lyonette exhaled slowly. She looked at Pawn.

“You’re being too careful. You can do…more.”

Her voice wobbled. The Antinium looked at her.

“Are you sure?”

“You’re in my room. Against Klbkch’s orders. And we planned this for the last month.”

The [Princess] snapped at him. Pawn paused.

“True.”

The [Princess] had been noticeably absent from the inn for a while. She hadn’t clashed on Erin’s views regarding Antinium. Perhaps because she had different ones. Perhaps because some things happened behind closed doors.

With chairs and a dresser blocking them. And the shutters were locked too. No little Gnolls or intruders would come in here, thank-you-very-much. And if someone used the Garden to enter—Lyonette had a sword.

“Sorry, Pawn. It’s just—I’m feeling a bit—close. Keep going.”

He did. Carefully. Lyonette made a sound and he stopped.

“Is that—”

“That’s a good sound! Don’t stop! Get the—the things!”

Pawn looked at the bag he’d bought from Krshia’s shop. The Gnoll [Shopkeeper], not working in the Council today, had been very amused by his order. But she had provided, and now, Pawn inspected the stash.

“And I will put them on…”

“Yes! It should fit. Does it—”

It turned out that one of the things Ryoka had told Fierre already existed in this world. Albeit, not common. But marital aids for lovers with problems in bed existed.

Strap-ons, if it wasn’t clear. Pawn stared down at the thing he was tying to his waist. It was mimicking a Human’s, which was what Lyonette had required. Gnolls and Drakes were a…step up.

“Where did you get this? Krshia only provided the harness.”

Lyonette was kicking the edge of the bed with impatience. They’d taken their time. Escalated to this moment over weeks of talking, conversation—experimenting. Seeing each other as more than just Antinium [Priest] and Human [Princess]. Slowly.

Which, of course, made this moment only the more special. Lyonette had been disturbed by Erin’s revelation that [Priests] were not supposed to do anything to other people. Pawn had considered this. And decided he could live with [Acolyte].

“Krshia keeps giving them to Erin. She never uses them. Is it ready? I’m ready.”

“Are you sure? This is an important moment, Lyonette—”

The irony was that Pawn could have educated Belgrade and the others in everything they needed to know. He faced the [Princess], and Lyonette du Marquin smiled up at the Antinium Worker. Her eyes shone as she replied.

“Well, I’m a terrible [Princess]. I guess my parents will have to live with that. Come here.”

She and the Antinium met on the bed. And Lyonette gasped and Pawn instantly cast [Heal Minor Wounds], which was hilarious. And silly. And an accident. And the two found something new out about each other and themselves.

And they had sex. But because it was the first time, it was sort of vanilla.

Sometimes vanilla was a good thing.

 

—-

 

One. Last. Thing.

And this was the biggest of them all. The pinnacle of a day full of madness and lewd things. Sex and romance. Heartbreak and choice.

Erin Solstice sat in her inn. She was not aware of Pawn and Lyonette—if she had been, she would have assumed they were just having one of their chats. Which usually took place in the room and why would she think on it?

She was ignorant of it. And…preoccupied herself. Erin stared aimlessly around as she sat in the Garden of Sanctuary. No one was in here; she could sense it.

Also, no one could go through the magic door. She was sure of that too, which was a relief. Mrsha was in Liscor, tossing meat bits at a young Frost Wyvern. The other guests were occupied.

She was alone. In her [Garden of Sanctuary], her Level 40 Skill that no one could enter.

In the tropical section, deep inside it, out of view.

Sitting behind a tree.

With a bunch of curtains up. Well, bed sheets.

Erin had been trying to figure out…the best place. Because when you got down to it, The Wandering Inn did not encourage privacy, at least, of the kind that made you reassured enough to do what you wanted to do.

There was nowhere not…exposed. The outhouses were outside, and grouped somewhat close together. Rooms? Hah! Those had windows, and Workers marching about on the roof and they were technically accessible via the Garden of Sanctuary. Erin was realizing the flaw in her new Skill.

And where else could you go if you were going to…not want to be seen? Make some noise? Really, think about it. Where could you go?

The Floodplains? If you weren’t in view from the walls of the city, there were Shield Spiders, Rock Crabs…caves had monsters in them.

There was nowhere in a city. Erin didn’t have an apartment. Gnolls had noses. Oh—and even if you thought about going somewhere else, like the Strongheart farm—

To begin, with, no. And secondly, there was only like…the barn. With cows and animals staring at you.

“Maybe if I went to Celum or Esthelm. But I bet I’d have to hike somewhere and find a cave or something. And there’s probably monsters inside. So much work. Hey—maybe Numbtongue’s mining stuff? Nah. Nah.”

Erin muttered. In some ways, she was rather like Numbtongue. She sat there, in her very private moment, and still felt like she was being watched.

She was self-conscious. And—honestly, a bit upset about today. Erin felt…bothered. She tried to put it into words.

“I don’t need to know about this. I don’t want to. It—it changes how you look at people. Hey! Garia and Fals had sex! Or—Selys and Hawk?”

She didn’t know about Garia and Fals, but now that she thought about it, she bet Garia had tried it. Ryoka had said how much Garia liked Fals.

And Erin hated it. She hated people talking about it. Dead gods, she’d hate someone having an entire…discussion about sex. It was vulgar! And lewd! And—why did you need to talk about it?

It changed everything when you found out about two people in a relationship doing the humpity-humpity. No—it changed nothing, or it shouldn’t. People were people.

At the same time—it did change things. But Erin wasn’t a prude. Was she?

She’d had an intimate relationship. Twice, thanks. Not…sex. Not the kind that would get you kicked off unicorns. But um, something that would get you in trouble if your parents found out about it. Heavy things, right up to the moment itself.

And it had been…fine? But it had never gotten there because Erin wasn’t ready. Because it hadn’t been right. Erin didn’t get the same buzz some people did. Maybe, as Krshia said, it had been bad sex. It had certainly been short.

Erin thought she knew herself. But this was another layer that she, Erin Solstice, hadn’t ever really explored. Didn’t understand. It made her…afraid.

Because she did want. She did…yearn. She had urges, like everyone else. Erin stared at her pants.

“Probably should take them off, yup, yup.”

But then she felt exposed. Erin sat down. Enough waiting. She knew how this worked.

“Come on, stupid.”

She poked herself.

“Ow.”

Erin paused. She had to get in the mood. Mood was important. But—something was off. She definitely felt a bit bothered after all the discussion. And yet—

“I want to. But what’s wrong with me?”

The young woman muttered to herself. She thought of Palt. Or—or Olesm? She tried to imagine it. Her. And a Centaur…

Okay, maybe that was pushing the limits. Backtrack.

Erin wasn’t a fool. She had known…something way back when. But in this, at least, she liked being ignorant. She suspected. Did Palt actually…? Nah. But why would he—?

He was a big shot [Illusionist] and she was just…Erin. Why would—and if they did—

Her imagination needed an upgrade. Erin Solstice sat, poking—okay not poking, but trying to get something started. Nothing happened. She kept thinking.

Numbtongue.

The [Innkeeper] paused. No. Too intimate. Too—close. She tried a generic person. But it had been a long time since then. And she was afraid that something was wrong.

“Darn.”

Erin buried her face in her arms. What was the matter with her? She wished she could talk about it with Ryoka, or Ceria. They were easy to talk to. Lyonette was—a [Princess]. Who was probably an actual virgin. And Krshia was too old and laughed, and guys were out and…

“Mm.”

Erin curled up into a ball and rolled over onto the dirt. She lay there for a while. She wasn’t happy. She was unhappy, in fact. At herself. Frustrated. Lost.

“I never enjoyed it. What’s the big whoop?”

She wanted to know. She didn’t want to know. She wanted—Erin Solstice closed her eyes. And it was a ridiculous thing. But she felt like crying. Just a tiny bit.

Nothing bad was happening at all in the world. There were no disasters, no pressing emergencies—yet. But it was strange. When all the bad things went away, there was only Erin, and her days were…good.

And yet. Erin Solstice tried to imagine it. But her body told her one thing, and her mind couldn’t imagine it. She wanted to and didn’t at the same time. Yes, yes.

And…no. She wasn’t interested. But one fact remained that Erin did know was true, that made her want to cry, even though she couldn’t. She had a family in this world, an inn. Good friends and things to do.

But sometimes even now, she just felt lonely.

 

 

Author’s Notes:

I wonder how you’ll regard this. Hi, I’m pirateaba and I’m tired. It’s VERY late and I wrote through the night. I’d sad…how many hours? Ah, 9:30 exactly almost. I streamed the entire thing.

Because if I was going to be too embarrassed, I might as well not write. But I wanted to write this chapter.

And not just because it’s sexual. Because it’s true. Sex happens, but like periods or poo, you don’t read it in stories sometimes. An entire story goes by without one person having a bowel movement or popping a pimple. Have I done pimples?

I digress. This chapter was meant to be real. Silly, yes, but real, and show a new side of characters. Big new sides of things. It will not happen all the time. In fact, I’m aware some members of the readership are young, or probably don’t want to read this.

And I get it. Because this changes how you see a character. I understand that. And it can be uncomfortable, so these chapters will be rare. Explicit content I might keep only to chapters devoted to them—but other aspects of love, no.

It’s an experiment. I don’t know how well I did, but I tried to write a good chapter as always. I’m tired. My break is coming up and I’m hitting peak exhaustion and I’m still recovering from my cough. But I feel satisfied by writing. Happiness, sadness, and sex.

A last note. I’m changing a lot of things, including how I post my after-chapter thoughts. Featuring more great art is something I also want to do. It’s a time to try new stuff. Below, I have two pictures of Erin Solstice, by pkay, and Staugroan, both amazing artists—on Twitter and Instagram, I believe. And I can’t link to either because they have uh, explicit content. But thank you for the art of Erin and thank you for reading.

Erin by StaugroanErin by pkay

 


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161 thoughts on “Mating Rituals Pt.2

  1. Some other people have said it already but yes, this chapter seems a bit disconected from the rest.
    But the thing is, this is normal, we got used to not hearing about sex and now it’s all in one chapter. We have yo take it as it is, an experimental chapyer so Pirate can be more comfortable writing in context sexual or romantic chapters later on.
    Just that

  2. Hm, I feel this chapter is under-cooked and overstuffed, some good ideas and potential but not one that should have been made using the “experimenting” writing style , or it’s exactly that an experiment and a throwaway… witch is how I will consider it, ignore it as a subpar chapter (much like the king of destruction chapters as far as I’m conserned) and move on, witch is what I suggest to everyone else who didn’t enjoy it as well.

    No point in complaining as the author can do what ever they like , you just take it or leave it, there are enough progressive and welcoming to all people on the internet that the writing will go on for a while still.

    • I rather like Flos, but i suppose it isn’t for everyone. i agree that this chapter wasn’t the best to read through. i don’t particularly care about the topic. it’s useful as character growth or subplot, but this whole chapter was only about sex. it was fine at first, a bit here and there is probably for the best, but this chapter just kept hitting the same thing over and over and over again. i quite reading out of boredom around halfway through. this is the second chapter which i skipped a whole paragraph, and this time i just scrolled to the bottom.
      the bit with relc hooking up was great. each of these little stories would be great tidbits interspersed into the story, but all at once?

  3. It is always painful to grow a story you are fond of. You wish to do it justice. Sexual intimacy is capable of dividing an audience because of the scandal tinted lenses that are, oh so fashionable. There is a scent of something rotting inherent in the fuss over material that is considered graphic. When: Corpses, Violence, Explosions are acceptable, perhaps with an age advisory, where uncovered skin is considered outrageous don’t you question what the reasons for that might be?

    I appreciate the disclaimer, always considerate. Thank you for your writing, your passion and your willingness to take risks despite the vocal and almost instant response the internet poses. Take care, and if anyone finds something they dislike within any writing, music or speech please remember you are usually able to choose to cease exposing yourself to it. If you have the time though, perhaps examine why it affects you so viscerally?

  4. I’ve never commented before and I generally trust the author, but it seems like more and more the story is being guided by fans, with Pirate playing hasty catchup to please them whether it be nerfing Erin or throwing smut and drugs around. I’m all for sex and smut when it’s good or relevant but I find that it’s presentation in The Wandering Inn to be less than well executed over the last volume or so. Whereas when it is sprinkled in naturally it seems to work much better.

    I’d like to offer a fair amount of praise for being so inclusive with non standard relationships and representation. Though, I do find the overfocus on what is a current social issue to be a bit forced, a fantasy setting is uniquely set up to employ these pairings in a natural way. As I feel they are represented well enough, however overmuch, I will instead focus on what is apparently the underrepresented viewpoint.

    I’m all for every kind of sexual lifestyle, but it is getting a bit much with the hardon the story seems to have against celibacy or virginity. It’s totally valid to not be ready or want it at all for practical or spiritual reasons (Erin could have any number of either given all the stress she regularly endures). Not to mention that Erin basically weaponised her virginity to properly host a party for fey creatures, and gain one of her most valuable resources (the flowers). Where it has little, if any, practical value in our world, it seems obvious that maintaining her virginity might be a tactically sound decision inline with her class and abilities, though admittedly she’d likely not let it slip since it is a secret.

    Add in the fact that earthworlders should understand the dangers better than most of stds and pregnancy in a world without modern medicine, and it seems like everybody is just perfectly fine with rolling those dice. Which might be true considering people have and do, do this but the lack of restraint still seems oddly prevalent. We see some pragmatism with the introductions of condoms and potions, but you’d think people would be more hesitant to have sex with people who probably don’t even bathe often and have radically different body morphologies to human beings in some cases. At least showing some process of getting over the differences and/or seeing past them would be more natural I feel.

    Between this chapter with the Inn patrons and her friends pushing and pushing Erin, pebblesnatch getting told to use her sex as a weapon by Ulvama, rags being pushed in several chapters, Lyonette jumping from zero attraction to fucking a bipedal Ant, Will and gang going to the brothel despite reservations, and the previous one where Trey was literally made fun of for being a virgin by a loli immortal for seemingly no reason, (that scene screamed overused Anime Trope to me) and it comes across as kind of juvenile and a soapboxy kind of stand against prudishness.

    Lyonette and Pawn going from where they were to, strap a dildo on it and fuck, was jarring to say the least. It would have been nice if their particular relationship stayed non sexual, or better executed if we saw more ramp up with the teachings and frustrations of a non sexual relationship for Lyonette not being enough.

    Geneva being manipulated into fucking someone who sentences prior she told needs to clean his dicks better was likewise fairly disgusting. I mean, can’t Okasha just release the chemicals and orgasms herself if she wants a release? Or if it doesn’t give the same release, at least mention it.

    Oh and the complete lack of main characters in heterosexual relationships with their own species seems pretty odd. I’m fine with everybody fucking whatever in principle but it seems like an overt and heavy handed message at this point that only one background same species male/female couple has worked where all others seem to fail miserably (Picies/Montressa, the UN kids, Tyrion/Dead Wife, Illvris/Perris, etc.).

    I really truly love this series and can honestly say it might be my favorite literary work. I won’t stop reading it just because of one hastily thrown together chapter, designed to seemingly check every box, but it does pull me out of the story in sharp contrast to everything else being so well done to pull me in.

    • As an aside, the constant appearance and pushing to smoke and accept “puffers” and “dreamleaf” is a bit like being forced to listen to potheads constantly try to get you to smoke. I’m fine with characters and people doing it but fuck, stop smoking in Erin’s Inn if she says it’s against the rules (Erin stand up for yourself, you make the rules in your Inn). Seems really forced these last few chapters considering it’s illegal in Liscor and Drakes take pride in their lawfullness and guard.

      You’d think the fucking Centaur of all people would realize how thin the ice he’s trotting on is. Go outside to smoke or something. He’s supposed to be smart but he just acts like an addict who now apparently wants to play Erin like a game and conquer her. I sincerely hope Pirate doesn’t force Erin into a relationship with a stoner fuck boy who mindfucked Selyss and helped nearly assassinate Picies. A little bit of cooking and the community is tripping over themselves to ride the damn ass.

    • >> Not to mention that Erin basically weaponised her virginity to properly host a party for fey creatures

      Was her virginity actually mentioned by the fey? I can’t recall that. …and I wouldn’t know where to start rereading to find that.

  5. Sure, sex happens in real life and all but so far the novel is so damn good without these added fan services. Do you really have to butcher your carefully build characters to add bit of a fan service? suddenly changing and adding sex scenes after writing a wonderful story this far is not ideal in my opinion. There are lot of good novels turned not so good after authors suddenly decided they need sexual content in their novels. Suddenly butchering the characters themselves is kinda the first step towards it. I hope you keep those sex content in devoted chapters as you mentioned.

    well while this chapter is quite fun it definetly ruin few characters I think.
    Lyonette – i thought she is special. A princess far away from her home raising child of another species and loving another species while struggling. But after this chapter? I don’t think I’ll be able to see her as a princess anymore. She completely turn in to common barmaid it seems. She is just another bland common character.
    Cognita – Tyrant of wistram? Nah.she is originally a glorified sex doll of Zelkyr.

    Ryoka seem to narrowly avoided stepping in to a minefield. I’m glad you atleast avoid butchering a good friendship for a bit of sex.
    Geneva- I’m still not comfortable with the idea of someone living inside the body together and take over the body whenever they wanted. But she seems to be enjoyed it. So no comment on that except the prostitutes think Geneva is a high lvl prostitute too. Once this info go out (lizard ppl like gossip and stuff. So it’s most likely to spread) her reputation will go down. She is supposed to be a respected doctor. If you really feel she need to have sex to satisfy the parasite can’t you atleast let her have normal sex instead of making her looks like a trained prostitute?
    Again. Sure adding sex is common in novels and sex does happen in real life. There is nothing wrong about talking about it unless it’s too extreme. But do you really have to destroy your characters to add little bit of sex and fan services? I’m reading your novel from arc 1. I enjoy reading every chapter either here or in RR. But now I’m a bit disappointed.
    Well. Sorry for the rant

    • I really enjoy the story, but stopped reading this about 5 minutes in. I don’t desire to read about this – it’s harshly out of tone with the other chapters.

      Thanks for giving me the heads-up – I’ll skip this chapter.

  6. Great work, as always. Love and sex (and sexual disfunction) are a part of the human condition. Please explore to your heart’s content, the disclaimer is a good heads up for the kids. Also, a spoiler bullet list of plot development points might be appreciated by people who don’t like R content.
    Looking forward to more romantic developments in the story (PG or R)! This story has always been a blend of romantic and tragic themes and archetypes, like Romeo and Juliet, and I really noticed the absence of romantic relationships in the first five or so volumes. Even the characters in the story noticed! There are, of course, real-life precedents for populations under siege maturing rapidly and putting romance on the down-low, so this is a feature, not a bug!

  7. Such a bunch of prudish comments and semi-prudity from the author too. I deeply respect pirate-a for making and effort and trying to cover the topic.

    That said, sexual need varies from “gray-A” to “super slut” and “No one needs to” erases a bunch of the range. I’d frame the advice as, “do what you feel the need to.”

    Also, kink was skipped. Except, ironically, where it was called vanilla. (Doing the princess with a strap on from a bug, it’s kinky.)

    Best part? Lesbian ants!

  8. Hey, long-time reader, a very big fan of your work and first-time commenter. I have to echo some of the sentiments here in the comment section, and while I really do love -anything- you post, including the previous Mating Rituals which I had to re-read as soon as I saw this was the next chapter coming, this one sticks out for me in a coarse way. I really hope you’ll read this comment and take on some criticism from a readers perspective as I wouldn’t write this unless I firmly believed it would improve your work.

    First of all, you’re pulling a Stephen King here. You’re writing a fun story with some kids, a spooky clown, brainwashing and memory/awareness-tampering, murders but you’re adding aliens, a god-turtle, spider-monsters, etc. You’re making a beef stew with potatoes, onions, carrots but also adding avocado, fried shrimps, chocolate and pasta and to an extent that the stew becomes a sauce. The parts with the sex-talk in the inn and the Antinium are excellent and fun reading, especially with Bird and Klb’s reactions. Last time I laughed like that was when Olesm put on that ring he got from the Titan and screamed. Seeing the goblins, the empire goblins, the UN, Ryoka and the Silver Swords again is great, I’ve missed them, but you’re adding too many stuff in the pot. I feel some other decisions could have been made as well, maybe something with Trey or Teres? They were featured not long ago and sex was mentioned then, but how about how they’re dealing with it now? With Trey being a virgin and “known” as one, him knowing his sister isn’t one and Teres being in a place that’s way more liberal with sex than England?

    Second of all, the character development is a bit jarring. Last big thing we saw in Lyonette and Pawn’s relationship was them dancing (?), as far as I can recall they haven’t kissed yet. They’re both fairly central supporting characters, having had several PoV chapters, so we as readers should have some awareness of how their relationship progresses. Either through subtle hints in various chapters or through direct reading. When did they start feeling sexual desires for each other, how does Lyonette -really- feel about the prospect of intimacy with them not only being different species but with him being Antinium, something almost completely alien to her and only like 3-4 years old compared to her? How did we go from a fairly platonic romance to Lyon being a vixen, getting Pawn to do some strap-on snu-snu?
    And to add on to that, how come Erin is thinking of Numbtongue when she’s trying to get in the mood to masturbate? It’s never brought up how she thinks of him other than loving him as a family. To me, in the context of the story, it’d be like her thinking of Bird or Lyon. Was she thinking of him because she thinks he has an attractive physique, was it a stray thought or something deeper or something else entirely?
    Ryoka and Ferrin being a thing has been hinted at during the story, I get that and feel okay with it, but why is their attempt at a relationship or a lay featured in a “side-chapter” that’s supposed to be skippable? Ferrin is a huge part of Ryoka’s life right now, being her closest friend. If anything happens there, it should totally be in a main chapter. That’s something that one can dig really deep and bite into, what with Ferrin being a vampire and the whole underlying prey/predator theme and whether Ryoka herself trusts herself enough to even consider opening up to that extent. It feels like you’ve got a shorter chapter’s worth of material there which has been heavily condensed to fit into this chapter.

    Third big criticism is the overall tone of it. I don’t mind sexual elements being part of the story, it has been part of it a lot, but in this chapter, it’s pretty heavy-handed. This is basically a big chapter where “everyone gets it on” and sex is talked about very often in the small descriptive segments before and after any dialogue. It doesn’t really fit with the tone of the story as it has been now, which I understand is the point of this being a skippable side-chapter, but it’s as if Darth Vader called some rebel a “motherfucker”. I don’t mind the Innworldians having such a cavalier attitude about sex, but I think rather than having a whole chapter focused on sex you do yourself and the readers a favour of intertwining it in the plot as you have done up to now. We had the very short sex-talk with Trey, we’ve had Relc romancing the Garuda, Ulvama seducing hobs and encouraging Pebblesnatch to do the same and Badarrow and Trapjaw hinting at having a romance. We’ve also breached upon darker elements such as sexual exploitation between alchemists. That’s just from the latest chapters. My point is that sex and sexuality is already a big, but not huge, part of the story. We, readers, are fine with it and if you want to try to write more mature stuff in the story, like describing Trapjaw giving Badarrow a blowie, feel free to do so because it wouldn’t stand out. As for some of your readers being fairly young, I think it’s a fair and valid point to say that up until now, you’ve written about goblin rape camps in Tremborags mountain, visceral gore and injuries, extreme mental trauma and an almost-rape by a close friend with Ceria and Calruz. This was never really a story for children and has never been one. There may be some reading it, but they were never your main audience and you should not be writing for them. You should be writing for yourself and for what you think you’d like to read. You’ve got the total freedom of not having a publisher, editor or censor telling you what to write and what not to write to appeal to this or that demographic. Use that freedom, man, as you have up until now.

    I hope you take this criticism with a light heart, as it’s just an attempt to help you better your writing and steer you onto a path that I think makes sense for the story. This ended up being far longer than I planned on it, but hopefully you’ll read it and gain something out of it. I’m just a reader, so take my advice with a grain of salt. I hope these Corona-times haven’t affected your situation too much and that you stay safe. Take care, buddy.

    PS. If Erin is ever going to have a romance with anyone, please let it be Pisces. He’s the only one that makes sense to me, especially with how he was the first human she met and has been by her side the entire time, how kind, attentive and caring he usually is with her in her heavier moments and how he can see her for who she truly is. Like how he was the first to figure out she wasn’t a native Innworlder and how gentle he was with her when she realized that there was another human across the world being a reporter. She’s also the only one who’s seen him for him from the very first time they met, not caring that he’s a “spooky evil necromancer” and just being bothered that he was an annoying prick who tried to swindle her. She treated him for how he acted, not for what he was, which must have been the first time in a long time for Pisces. They have both saved each other from certain death early on in the series, from getting gutted by Relc and by sending undead to assist her inn during the Skinner-fight, they have a connection. Now that he has “reformed” and stopped being as defensive, and with their mutual connection to Toren (so looking forward to that chapter) and Az’kerash, it makes sense to me with what little I know. Screw Ceria and Mons, I love them but they dumped him in Wistram and dating within the party will end badly. Their magical ice/death connection should stay a magical connection, not a romantic one. I am fangirling now but I don’t care.

    • On your P.S., I think the first real relationship Erin will have will be with Saliss. Pisces has never seemed to approach Erin in that way and has never really expressed interest in anyone other than Ceria. The Horns seem to be having a break in the story for a while so Erin can connect with new characters, and I have a feeling that they will stay away from the inn for a while after Invrisil and Ryoka to go on some quest. Not that Pisces wouldn’t be a good fit, he just won’t have enough proximity for a few months (or several volumes in writing time)

      Saliss on the other hand is a male reflection of Erin, and seems to be the only person she has expressed specific interest in becoming friends with earlier this volume. They are going to have a lot of chances to spend time together for at least a volume, and probably more time once she passes off the penicillin process to him. Plus, it would make sense that Erin wouldn’t care about how a person looked if she really liked them, as she has stated numerous times in this chapter.

        • They haven’t found it yet in story, I think he is assuming it’ll be found.

          Which is probably a reasonable assumption. Penecillin is actually a fairly common mold that can spread via air through super light ‘seeds’ which is a big part of the reason why it was accidentally found in the first place.

          Its all over the place really. The trick after finding it is to properly purify the antibacterial agents it produces without destroying them.

    • I have believed that Pisces and Ceria would develop into a relationship. I was quite interested in the dynamic action and dialogue with Saliss and Erin. As Saliss is a relatively new character I believe he and Erin could easily be developed into a romance…..
      Having said that….I’m not sure I wish to see Erin in a romantic situation. I can’t explain why, it just feels ..off. Perhaps its because if she singles someone out then there are many characters that will be diminished. Erin’s strength primarily comes from within but it is driven by characters that are affected by events and she reacts to assist them. I believe having her in a serious relationship will diminish the interactions with the remainder of the characters. In a sense I consider her in the way I think of the Queen of the Antium. Both are almost too independent to have a relationship.

      Regardless of what you do with your characters I will continue to love your writing and will read it until I’m unable.

    • Oh thank you for laying all this issues in such a way and giving a good solution or advice to them. I’m sure many people will enjoy this chapters about sex and all the different interactions between people and species, and it is certainly interesting to explore all the possibilities. However I have to admit that I also find some things disturbing like Lyonette and Pawn strap-on thing. I’m not sure if I’m just being narrow-minded or intolerant but I cannot help find this platonic kind of relationship turned to sexual unpleasant (as if Lyon didn’t care having sex with an insect which I think it is something not easy at all to accept, also she was educated as a princess). Well this is an example I did not enjoy (and also because as Pirateaba said I will not view them in the same way), I did enjoy some of the others in different measures. In this I agree that having the occasional (as is also natural) presence of sex-related stuff in its context would be better. But well it is for Pirateaba to decide and there are all kinds of people, I bet someone enjoys this things precisely because few novels dare to do so.

  9. Now I know why so many people dislike watching the Cats movie……And they’re more human than this too. Probably the films about the latest Teenage mutant ninja turtles or Sonic would be a better example…

  10. I rather like you not writing about sex. Kind of refreshing having an author with respect for the characters and not pimping out their characters for a vote initiative or patreon donation. And when you do write about sex, you keep it respectful.

  11. I’m seeing a lot of negativity in the comments, and I want to push back on that. Maybe I’m less prudish then the rest of the comments section, but I thought that taking a chapter to deal with a specific topic, a topic that has been somewhat neglected across the story, was a fairly masterful way to play catch up. Sex is a thing that exists, and every culture has it’s own mores surrounding it. Seeing how all the cultures of the innverse treat sex really tells you a lot about the culture itself. It was some exquisite world building.
    Plus finally payed off some of the Pawn x Lyon relationship you’ve been building in the background, and that’s maybe my favorite romantic relationship in the story so far.

  12. Long time reader. First time commenter.
    I would just like to say that I love your book. It is one of my favorites of all time. That being said, I would prefer that you focus on actually making the characters deeper rather than appealing to the lowest common denominator. You’ve gotten this far without gratuitous fan service. Why start now?

  13. I cannot remember the last time I laughed this hard.

    It was also a really insightful and sometimes touching (hah!) moment into many characters’ lives.

    But I also could not stop laughing at some of the humor. It was really good.

  14. Okay… after reading lots of comments, here are my two cents worth.

    First, I enjoyed reading this chapter – as I enjoy almost everything Pirateaba writes.

    Second, I respect people’s wishes that these topics remain outside of the main story. There are enough romance/sex/smut stories out there.

    Third, the one thing I would criticize would be the tease with the “terribly important and crucial plot points” in the warning. Because – let’s be honest – I don’t consider anything in this chapter as “terribly important and crucial” for the plots around the world. Nice world and character building, yes, but nothing plot-wise.
    Perhaps this tease was irony / a joke from Pirateaba but I think he could have spared himself many negative comments if he had left the warning as it was in the first Mating Rituals chapter.

    Anyway, Pirateaba, great story and enjoy your break!

  15. First, I would like to say I think it’s essential for a story to have at least hints of romance and sex to feel real, and I appreciate addressing these topics in this story. However, I didn’t like this chapter.

    I’d like to address Erin and her behavior before anything else. Erin, as a character, has, to me, been getting increasingly frustrating to read, this chapter truly just crystalizes what I’ve been finding so disappointing recently. It seems that Erin has gone from being able to talk about something, even if it makes her uncomfortable, to at the slightest hint of things being awkward shutting down. It’s happened with Grimalkin, Wailant, Saliss, Palt, any type of adult decision she has to make, and now a conversation about sex. This change to her character is incredibly annoying, especially when we have examples of similar situations being perfectly fine. When Zel called Erin out on how she treated Lyonette, she was able to handle it. She didn’t shut down or avoid it. In the first Mating Rituals, she was perfectly capable of having an actual conversation (even if she did stumble through parts of it), while she was in public. Here all she does is try to stop the conversation. She’s made plenty of adult decisions before. She helped Illvris circumvent Pallass, and got into arguments about it with Pallas’s officials. She decided she would rather have no business than turn out a band of hungry Goblins. If that’s not an adult decision, I honestly don’t know what is. I don’t understand why Erin isn’t able to deal with uncomfortable things anymore, but honestly, it’s getting beyond frustrating.

    In this chapter specifically, Erin even has an excellent reason to want to shut down the conversation. Not wanting to expose children to explicit sexual content, even if they “know” about it, is a valid opinion. But she doesn’t articulate this at all. When has Erin ever been afraid of stating her opinion and backing it up? She doesn’t think Goblins are monsters and has fought with Relc over it multiple times. Suddenly she can’t string two thoughts together?

    Beyond Erin, I’d like to talk about some other things in this chapter I find strange. We get an acknowledgment of potential feelings from Selys for Pisces, but instead of dealing with it, Selys decides to bang Hawk? Wtf? Why aren’t they talking about it? I mean, I understand why Pisces wouldn’t bring it up even if he were aware of it. He obviously has rejection issues, and that could make it hard to expose himself like that. But Selys’s excuse then is that he hasn’t said anything and she hasn’t said anything? That’s highschool level reasoning to the max. When has Selys held back on saying anything to Pisces? She’s told him directly to his face his minion designs suck and has had multiple real heartfelt, difficult conversations with him. They’ve both been significant catalysts for each other, and it feels weird for Selys to suddenly not want to talk to him about this. If there are actual reasons why she doesn’t want to talk about it, then those should be made plain. As it is, this just feels like dragging out the “will they won’t they” storyline between Pisces and Selys.

    Finally, I’d like to talk about Lyonette and Pawn. I found it kind of disappointing that we didn’t see some of the progression in their relationship. But I honestly love that they were able to advance their relationship. I had wondered what was going to happen, and I’m glad they could find solutions, although I’d like to know if they figured out the antennae thing, so that’s it’s not just a chore for Pawn.

    Despite the frustrations I’ve had I still love this story and I hope that my criticisims were constructive.

  16. I really enjoyed this chapter. It made me laugh a lot. I appreciate that Pirateaba worked with the variety of sexual experience. Keep it up!

  17. I wish the writer would be respected by ALL who choose to read TWI.
    I find it so rude and disrespectful to Pirateaba, when people complain about the content, and try to tell the writer what they should write in future.
    Respect the writer and their art!
    If you don’t like it, you don’t have to read it…take your prude shoes, and just… jog on.

    I really enjoyed the whole chapter, except I personally find the development with Lyonette and Pawn very awkward, it just does not sit well with me, at all, but that’s just my opinion.
    I’m still greatful for all Pirateabas hard work and storytelling, and gladly read evetything.
    I also read every single comment, since the very beginning, as it just interests me what others think (as long as they are not being disrespectful, or being ‘entitled’), and can be highly interesting and funny. It’s a great part of the online reading experience for me, completely different to reading a book on your own.
    And as always, I love the humour in TWI, especially the Antiniums in this chapter, fantastic!
    Thank you Pirateaba. ❤

    • There really is much rudness, if any at all here, in these comments though.

      I do see lots of people giving their opinion about the content though. And so long as that is done in a reasonable fashion its perfectly sensible to disagree with the author about what they wrote.

      If author didn’t want people to disagree about something they wrote they just would’ve turned off the comments or deleted anything they didn’t like after all you know.

  18. Many other readers seemed to find this chapter to forced or not integrated well into the story flow. In my opinion it Feld like some kind of interlude and developed story lines and character aspects that maybe wouldn’t fit in so well with epic action. And it was hilarious!
    Therefore I really liked this chapter and I do like the King of Destruction chapters as well. This chapter felt to me like something the author enjoyed writing and that’s all I could wish for!

  19. Hi,
    I’m a long time reader and first commenter.
    I really enjoyed the chapter, I commend you for trying to insert in this story the element of romance that I always found lacking. Sex and romance are a fundamental part of every human being, and they deserve space in a novel of such reach.
    I think I understand the criticism that has arrived, going from 0 to 100 on the sexual aspects can be a bit jarring for some readers.
    The only part that I’d liked to be different is the Lyonette x Pawn one, not because you wrote too much, but too little: you told us in this chapter that they’ve been discussing (and experimenting) for more than a month, I’d have REALLY enjoyed reading those discussion, the perplexities, the difficulties, finding a common ground both culturally and phisically; Your writers’ skill is more than capable to convey those feelings.

    In short: do not be afraid to experiment, there are way more successfull novels with a much more small-minded approach to sex and romance.

    “I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”

    ― Frank Herbert, Dune

  20. Wow, lots of people seem to be really salty over this chap. I thought it was hilarious relatively well done. Except the end. That was kinda sad. Y U gotta make me feels.

    I originally came across Wandering Inn on RoyalRoad and yea, plenty of examples there on how to ruin stories with smut. This, does not fall into nor feel like that category of story.

    As far as people saying you ruined “carefully crafted characters” yadda yadda, fans are directing the story blasé blasé. Eh they’re wrong. And to me, the fact they are all acting like the indignant Erin in this chapter, just doubled the humor I found in it all.

    Carry on with your bad self Pirateaba

  21. Hmm feels a bit dull for me. The sex stuff feels too humanized bucause i read some time ago that only humans and pigs and some animal enjoy sex. I was expecting entirely different kinds of sex or mating rituals from all the species in this novel. I enjoyed watching science shows and seeing something new even if its just fantasy. Sorry I was expecting something entirely amazing like how female hyenas can grow some sort of pseudo-penis in their vagina but i guess this is just not focused on those kind of stuff.

  22. Most comments: Hey so these characters just felt off, but we still enjoy your work.
    Criticism to those comments: Prune! Prune! Prune! You’re wrong. Sex! Sex! Sex

    I enjoyed this chapter,but seriously though,what the f*ck people? Some people felt uncomfortable for seeing characters that they like do things that they feel is too are out of place and the only response is “well you got a stick up the ass?”

  23. Seems like all the angry prudes popped up to comment on I want to counter.

    I’ve been reading since volume 1, and I adored this chapter. New sides to characters! Interesting dynamics! Some genuinely sexy scenes! I laughed, I was captivated. I’d love more.

    I do think you should make Mating Ritual chapters more common, for two reasons: They’re great, and by not waiting six volumes between, they’ll feel a little less out of place, and a little more relevant to the plot.

    Also, PiscesXCeria when.

  24. I’ll admit that I did put this chapter off for a little bit, because I was… not a fan of the first one, but I was really pleasantly surprised!

    I thought the whole thing was really mature and good, and it was funny without resorting to too much cringe humor or awkwardness. I also really appreciated the inclusion of Ryoka and Fierre, Chesacre and Thaina, and Redscar and Leapwolf. More queer rep is always good!

    I did feel that Chesacre and Thaina could have used a little bit more characterization beforehand, though. They seem like really neat characters and I eould like to get to know them better, and it would have made their… sex? hugging? makeout? date? scene at the end feel more natural. It was also a shame that Ryoka focused so much on her kink when… she’s definitely into Fierre for more than just that. Focusing on the kink aspect of it makes the relationship feel less legitimate, like she’s not actually bisexual.

    Other than that though, it was really good! I especially appreciated Erin’s and Ryoka’s respective breakdowns at the end, they felt very… real.

  25. I absolutely love this chapter. Sex is weird and awkward for the first timer. It is both big and small I. The true scope of things. I love the way you made me feel about two ants who owned their identity and excited love to the point that the rest of the antinum make a safe, private space for them to be in their moment of individuality. It brought tears to my eyes. Exceptual writing Pirate!!! Total immersion complete

  26. That was painful. Worse it was unnecessary. It made the story feel less than it was. Reading the confrontation between Rhaelt and Flos then hitting next to get this is almost insulting. Like that Issac Asimov short story that’s nothing but a long setup for a bad pun. No story can be everything. I have no idea what this chapter was supposed to accomplish. It made me feel like I walked in on my parents having sex except that actually happened and this was worse.

  27. I am sure I remember a scene when Olesm and Ceria slept together in the wandering inn. It sure seemed like they had sex, but technically, that was one of the previous inns that got destroyed.

  28. Ack. Lots of nice bits, but the way the whole hung together? Sorry, but this appears to be one theme that Pirate is not so good at. Please don’t let there be a third.

  29. I’ve seen a bunch of comments full of hate, and a bunch pushing back, and I’d like to join the latter chorus.

    I think it’s great how Erin being prudish is addressed. It’s a solid interlude chapter. And as always it was a very real chapter, it wasn’t romanticized or fanservicey or anything. It’s cool that you’re experimenting with this.

    Sure I have some chapters I like more than others, but as a whole throughout this epic story, not once have I thought that you made a bad decision. You’re telling a beautiful story, and I’m enjoying every moment of it. It’s a privilege to be along for the ride!

  30. Commenting for the first time just to say that I really enjoyed and appreciated this chapter. I’ve had my own difficulties with sex and still have a very complicated relationship with it, so many of the characters learning about and dealing with sex and sexuality in their own ways really speak to me. Thank you for that.

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