In the way of things, Selys Shivertail found she was bored.
Not just ‘bored’, like she got during a slow period working at the Adventurer’s Guild, back in the ‘good old days’ when Liscor didn’t have a single Gold-rank team, much less five. Or the bored you got from being stuck in bed with a fever.
Or even the bored that came from doing something monotonous, like helping your grandmother, Tekshia Shivertail, sort beans by color. All those boredoms were, well, temporary. Not philosophical. But Selys’ new boredom was the worst of all.
It came from having lots of money. And it was a slow, insidious thing.
At first, Selys bought whatever she wanted. Clothing. A new apartment. Little artifacts. Then she realized that the amount of pleasure she derived from buying things was proportional to how much of her money she’d spent.
A handbag or vial of perfume from Baleros she’d saved for had been infinitely more valuable than the same bag she could buy twenty of. Money devalued objects. On the other hand—it was still money. Selys could go to Pallass’ spa, rent a horse, eat well—those were fun things to do.
The problem was that it didn’t feel meaningful. Selys, as a [Heiress], had money. She wanted to do something with said money. She confessed her problems to her friends and found…little sympathy.
“It’s just that I don’t know what to do with all the gold, Erin. I could keep it with the Merchant’s Guild or—invest it. I mean, I’m building an apartment area.”
“Uh huh. So…make two of them?”
Erin gave Selys a blank look as she poked a pot of boiling clams. The shells were mostly clean, but some scum was being boiled off. Erin poked at one, looking as disgusted as the clam was to be in each other’s presence.
“I don’t want to just be a landowner, Erin.”
“Okay. So do something else. I wish I had lots of gold. Can I get a loan?”
“No. Be serious, Erin.”
The Drake watched a clam pop open. Erin was making clams; she’d gotten them imported from the markets. Pallass imported all sorts of things, even seafood. As did Invrisil. But even so…
“Why are you making clams, Erin? They have to be extremely expensive.”
“Nah. They were a gift. Okay, so you have money and you need to spend it. What about…about…investing in a business?”
“You mean, like the Golden Triangle?”
“No…hey, can you pass me that plate?”
Selys did. Erin took the clams out and put them on a plate. She eyed them and then reached for the knife at her waist.
“Okay, the trick is to not cut off the fingers. I thought you went to that bigwig shindig with all the movers and shakers a bit ago?”
Her Drake friend rubbed at one earhole.
“…I have no idea what you just said. If you mean, Sir Relz’ invitation—I didn’t enjoy it. There was an auction, and they all wanted me to, well, back their projects. You know, give money to their projects?”
“Invest. Why didn’t you?”
“Well—it was just I was watching the auction. And there was this potion on sale. And um…I’m not that rich, Erin. That was a lot of money being thrown around.”
The [Heiress] felt awkward admitting that. She had more money than she could have ever dreamed of saving and it was change compared to that auction. Hence her state of having too much and too little.
Erin was—unsympathetic. The [Innkeeper] glanced up.
“Okay, but if you want to make more money, you invest in stuff. Or buy stocks, but we don’t have them. So…ew.”
She stared at the halved clams and the insides. Selys looked dubiously at the clams.
“Liscor doesn’t eat clams, Erin. We do get water, but clams don’t survive the spring and they can’t migrate. You sure these are good to eat?”
“People eat clams. And oysters. I’ve had them. Okay…I think you just get some hot butter, which I have here, with garlic. Let’s lever one out and—ew.”
Both young women recoiled from the clam Erin pried out of the shell. Clams, to the uninitiated, had an uncanny resemblance to slugs, snails, and other members of the mollusk family.
“Erin. That’s disgusting.”
“No it’s not. I think. This—this is a delicacy. Yum. Hold on.”
Erin gingerly dipped the clam in a bit of the hot butter and nibbled at it. She brightened up.
“Hm. The butter really helps, you know. I can work with this. I’ll ask Lasica for a fancier clam-recipe. But this works. Hey Selys, want—”
The Drake had backed out of the kitchen by the time Erin turned around with the tray in hand. Erin sighed.
“I’d still take an investment in the inn!”
She shouted after Selys. The Drake saw Erin leave the kitchen.
“Hey! Anyone wanna try a clam with butter?”
She waved one hand. People looked around. Mrsha came racing out of the garden’s door, took one look at the clams, and raced back the way she’d come.
That was conversation one. But as Selys saw Menolit, Bezale—who liked seafood, since it reminded her of home—Montressa, and a few others gather around to share thoughts, she did have a thought.
All of Erin’s ‘bigwigs’ had indeed been into investing. They had cornered everything from Pallass’ spas to local agriculture, trade—Selys had been dismayed to see how fast they’d jumped on the opportunities in Liscor. They hadn’t come to visit, but a number had bought space in Liscor for construction projects.
Even a certain Wall Lord in Salazsar had purchased land, which had led to a number of representatives flooding into Liscor from Salazsar, Manus, one from Fissival and Zeres…
Liscor would have its elite class, even if a good number wouldn’t ever visit the city. But that meant Selys wasn’t on the ground floor by herself. Actually, her apartment already had six floors thanks to Antinium labor and a lot of Human tenants. But while it was steady—buying a second area of land wasn’t very tenable. It was long-term income and Selys wanted something exciting.
She looked around The Wandering Inn, and then at Erin. The Drake’s eyes narrowed. Well—some things were obvious. And if Erin had been serious…
The Wandering Inn was hopping. And not just with the clientele. Lyonette had taken credit for, well, developing the inn’s actual income source in clientele, both guests and regular diners. She had made great strides, even if there were complications.
“Belgrade…Pawn…I don’t know how to say this. But no. Please undo that.”
The [Princess] rubbed at her forehead. Belgrade and Pawn looked crestfallen.
“But Lyonette, the stables are done!”
Belgrade pointed at the stables. Lyonette stared at it.
“Yes. And it’s…good. But—and I don’t know how to say this—you can’t have a stables with two floors.”
The two Antinium looked at her. Pawn raised one hand.
“Horses don’t like heights. I realize you two wouldn’t know this. Uh…it’s not something I usually have to explain.”
“But there is even a ramp. See? Thus, twice as many horses can be stored due to vertical design. I came up with it myself.”
“Yes, but—no. Belgrade, please make it one floor only. We can store fodder on the second floor or use it for something else. But no second-floor stables.”
It was amazing how the Antinium were both more efficient than any other species and simultaneously, more inept. They’d somehow put up the framework for the entire stables in a morning, before Lyonette had been able to see it. Belgrade’s antennae drooped.
“Very well. But perhaps if we lifted the horses with—”
“That’s not the problem, Belgrade. Excuse me—”
Lyonette had just seen her second headache of the day. She waved at a group of [Porters] walking with a wagon up the hill. It was filled with sealed barrels, but the smell was still fishy.
“Hello! Excuse me—this is bound for House Sanito, isn’t it? Preserved fish? Not the front, please! We have an unloading area. Around back.”
A Gnoll leading the group gave Lyonette a blank look.
“House who? We were only told by the warehouse owner, Reira, to deliver this to the inn. And to collect our pay.”
Lyonette groaned. She waved at the Gnoll, pointing.
“Go around back! Some of our workers will unload the wagons. And you’re not being paid by us. Look, I’ll give you a receipt! Reira will get her pay.”
“A receipt? She won’t like that…”
The [Cargomaster] was dubious, but Lyonette convinced him to take his things around back. There, the Gnolls and Drakes met a new addition to the inn’s staff.
“Put everything there. Yes, just in there. The Workers will take it from there.”
The [Porters] eyed the Antinium Workers who were waiting for the barrels. Lyonette had, with permission and some help from Pawn, ‘hired’ eighteen Workers. They weren’t Painted Antinium.
They were Bird’s crew, who had worked on the inn. Now, they were both construction and general labor. They rolled the barrels into the basement, through the loading ramp. Meanwhile, Lyonette took one of the receipts, noted down the details of the cargo—tonnes of fish for House Sanito, dated it, signed it, and gave one copy for the [Cargomaster].
Loading ramps. Receipts. This was the changing inn. And—ironically, it wasn’t all Erin’s fault.
The trade between Liscor and the other nobles houses was. Lyonette gestured at the Workers.
“Move the door over to the basement and we’ll roll a few barrels through and give it time to recharge.”
“Yes, Miss Lyonette.”
The Workers obediently walked into the inn and came out carrying the magic door, much to the annoyance of people wanting to visit Esthelm, or Celum, or…Lyonette went over to reassure them, then communicate with House Sanito.
“Excuse me. We have about two thousand and two hundred pounds of preserved fish. We have your delivery—do you have payment for the food?”
The [Princess] opened the door to House Sanito. The woman standing on the other side gave her an open-mouthed response.
“A-already? But we ordered that just an hour ago!”
Lyonette gave the woman a strange look.
“Yes. It just needed to come up from the warehouses. We can probably give you four hundred pounds’ worth at a time. But I’d like to collect the payment as well, if that’s alright.”
“Um, excuse me, Miss. Dear—”
Belatedly, Lyonette realized she’d been speaking to Lady Edere Sanito. The woman hurried off, very flustered, and Lyonette reflected that they had better move the door; she doubted Lady Sanito wanted barrels of smelly fish rolled through her carpeted hallways.
Oh, so busy. Lyonette got a few barrels through as Lord Sanito hurried out to see the cheap food he’d bought with his own eyes. The rest stayed in the basement until they could be shipped out via door—the inn was part warehouse now, given Erin’s new Skills and the Antinium expanding the already-large area.
It was all money to Lyonette. Money she would reinvest and use in the name of The Wandering Inn. She’d nearly paid off her fine from Zevara with her own income; she could have done it easily with the money from the inn, but that wasn’t hers. This money would make more projects possible. It had already opened doors and curried favor—literally.
“Hey Lyonette, wanna clam?”
Erin offered Lyonette the clams she’d received from another of the noble houses. Lord Toldos of House Everight had some coastal holdings. He’d sent the clams to Erin as thanks for her getting him some much-needed tools, cheap from Esthelm.
House Everight did border the sea, but since his lands were on the eastern side of Izril, it wasn’t part of the Baleros-Chandrar-Terandria circuit that [Merchants] liked to get to. Hither to this point, Lord Toldos had relied on Invrisil for trade.
All this to say that when Selys found Lyonette, chewing on a clam and remarking that it was lacking…everything…in terms of actual seasoning or preparation to Erin, the [Princess] should have jumped at the suggestion that Selys invest in the inn.
“Ooh. You mean it, Selys? I told you I was serious. Lyonette—we could build a park. Or the water slide! Huh? Huh?”
The [Princess] blinked at the Drake [Heiress].
“You want to give money to the inn for a share of the profits?”
“Yeah. Or something. Erin says you could use the gold.”
The Terandrian [Princess] thought about this. She looked at Selys—then she laughed.
“Hah. No. Never.”
Erin and Selys were both surprised. They shouldn’t have been. The Wandering Inn was like a castle to Lyonette; it was certainly built of stone as well as wood and modeled after Terandrian designs. And no self-respecting [Princess] went in for [Merchants] buying shares of their kingdom.
“We can fund everything within reason on the inn’s income alone, Erin. If Selys had ten times as much gold as she does…or a hundred times…we’d talk. Now, if you’ll excuse me—I have to get someone to deliver this gold. Ishkr!”
The [Princess] shouted for Ishkr by reflex. The Gnoll, who was masterminding the kitchen and common room of the inn, looked up.
“I’m busy. Send Welle.”
Lyonette stopped as he gestured to a Drake [Server]. She hesitated, and then nodded.
Everything changed. Ishkr was a [Head Waiter] and Lyonette’s second-in-command since Drassi was now moonlighting as the announcer for Wistram TV. Drassi still did the night-shift as [Bartender], but Ishkr had won the coveted position in the bloodless, not-very-contentious ‘war’ behind the scenes.
Welle went for delivery instead of Ishkr. And Selys realized she was no better than when she’d started. She went looking for more advice in regards to spending her money.
She’d just reached Liscor to talk with her grandmother, when an unwelcome perspective strode over to her.
“Hey Selys! How’s my favorite girl with scales?”
Hawk appeared next to Selys so fast she didn’t see him. As always, the Courier moved like lightning. The [Heiress] turned her head—and scowled.
“Hawk. I thought you were working!”
“I was. But I had to find you. Someone just got attacked! In the streets! And I knew you were around the inn, so I had to check on the love of my life.”
Hawk gave Selys a deep look of caring. Selys propped her claws on her hips.
“Attacked? By what? A monster?”
“Nope. Some thug. Looked low-level. Just grabbed the poor kid’s moneybag and ran. Gave him a blow; he’s alright. The Watch is already on it.”
Selys peered at the crowd clustered around the Watch officer taking a description from the dazed…
“Oh no. Welle?”
The Drake had gotten to Liscor just before Selys. And the unlucky young man had been got. Hawk blinked.
“You know him?”
“Yes! Erin is going to throw a fit. I’d better let her know. Wait…if you saw what happened, why didn’t you do anything?”
The Drake rounded on Hawk as she reached for the door. The Courier raised his hands.
“Whoa! Selys! You know I’m a Courier. I can’t get involved in beating up criminals. There’s professionalism of my class to consider. I know you’re used to…Ryoka and other Runners, but I don’t make enemies. If I’d known Welle was Erin’s friend, I’d have stopped the mugger, but—”
“Ugh. That is just so like you, Hawk! You could have saved Welle, but you stand back because you won’t do anything. Erin would, and she’s not even a fighter! Or P—”
Selys stopped. But Hawk’s ears had already twitched. He folded his muscular arms.
“Go on, say it.”
“I wasn’t going to say anything.”
“Yes you were. You said ‘P’. You mean, Pisces.”
“—Or Ceria, or Yvlon or—”
“It’s always Pisces this, Pisces can do that. I’m sorry I don’t animate the dead, Selys.”
“It’s not just that! You didn’t even do Erin’s delivery!”
“Yeah? Well, you seem to take every opportunity to complain about being with me. Is it just me or do I think that’s unfaithful?”
The Drake gasped in outrage. The moment of reflection that Hawk might be correct turned into fury.
“Unfaithful? We’ve been seeing each other for less than a month! I thought it was casual, but you’re always like this! You know what? If that’s how you feel—we’re done.”
Hawk’s angry face turned into one of shock, then astonished hurt. He tried to pursue Selys. Meanwhile, Welle, forgotten, groaned as he tried to give a description of the attacker—some Human—to the [Guardswoman].
Which, to be fair, was a bit more important at that moment in time. He had been mugged. The [Guardswoman] was taking it seriously too. Mainly because she had a good idea of what was about to happen next.
“Someone mugged Welle? Numbtongue! Bird! Palt! Let’s go!”
Erin grabbed a frying pan. Lyonette grabbed her and dragged her back.
“Oh no you don’t, Erin. I told you—you can’t overturn the city every time!”
“He’s got a bump on his head. If you explode a building or cause another fight, Zevara will eat you. Not to mention, it’s dangerous. It just takes one idiot with a knife.”
Erin hesitated. She lowered the frying pan and the [Guardswoman] relaxed.
“This is just a standard mugging, Miss Solstice. Looked like it was unplanned too, so the criminal’s probably not got a hiding place planned. Rest assured, we’ll get him. With Mr. Soot gone, the underworld is in chaos. Our Gnolls are on his scent already.”
“But—okay. As long as Relc and Klbkch—oh. I mean, Relc gets on it! Tell him I’ll give him free dinner if he gets the money back tonight!”
The [Innkeeper] saw the [Guardswoman]’s face change at Relc’s name. Erin stopped.
“Guardsman Relc—was reassigned to another city, Miss Solstice. A week ago.”
The young woman and Lyonette both turned to look at each other. The Drake [Guardswoman] hesitated. She sensed—too late—the equivalent of a [Dangersense] going off in her head.
“I thought you knew. Er—he was reassigned after the Golden Triangle incident. I heard his apartment was burned down.”
“He never told me that. Where’s he been living? I’d have let him stay at the inn for free! For a while, at least.”
Erin looked around, shocked. She saw the [Guardswoman] slowly step back. Erin’s head snapped around.
“Where is Relc?”
“Er…I have to get back to duty, Miss—”
“Where. Is. Relc?”
There was no helping it. The [Guardswoman] stepped backwards, towards the magic door. She opened it, blurted the answer, and slammed the door.
“He already left, Miss Solstice.”
For a minute, Erin just looked at the wood door.
“But he didn’t tell me. He should have…”
Her emotions flickered between shock, hurt, sadness—and then Erin looked at the door. This time Lyonette didn’t try and stop her.
“You know I’m always happy to take…donations to the Watch, Selys. But frankly, it’s not something you can invest in.”
Zevara played awkwardly with a quill as Selys sat in her office a little bit later. The [Heiress] sniffed. After a second, Zevara offered her handkerchief.
“…Here. Er, Selys, if you need time—”
The Drake was crying. She and Hawk were officially quits. But it had not been an amicable breakup. She’d thought it wouldn’t affect her, but Hawk had said some pointedly—accurate—things. And she’d done likewise and the end result was that the Courier had gone to Pallass to drown his sorrows at Tails and Scales.
And Selys was here. The Drake wiped at her eyes as Zevara coughed and shuffled her papers.
“It’s just so hard. What am I supposed to do, Zevara?”
“…Enjoy your life?”
“Oh, as if I could just do that! I want to have a purpose! I can’t just—just—”
Selys blew her nose, which was really her nostrils. With Zevara’s handkerchief. The Watch Captain opened her mouth and closed it slowly. She decided not to press Selys for an upgrade to the jail, which the Watch needed. Oh, and they wanted to build some actual watch towers outside of Liscor. And there was the enchanted arms budget—Zevara was calling in and buying favors, but…
“Maybe it’s not Liscor, Selys. Pallass has more to…invest in than we do, frankly.”
“But everything in Pallass is taken!”
The younger Drake’s tears were slowing, proof that her breakup hadn’t been the most shattering thing ever. Zevara shrugged.
“Pallass, Esthelm, Celum—Selys, think outside Liscor. I know I’m a traitor to my city for saying that, but frankly—Liscor’s economy was never huge. It was based on our army. Still is. We’re transitioning out of it, but until then—”
“Sorry. Listening to Olesm’s lectures to the Council. They’re working on it.”
Selys was nodding. She stood up.
“Thanks, Zevara. I’ll wash this—”
“Don’t worry. It’s fine. Just—”
The two Drakes were arranging for an after-work dinner together somewhere, maybe with Krshia or Drassi. Zevara had been talked into it and she had to admit it was nicer than her work-eat-sleep schedule that had been her life before this. That was when—it happened.
“Watch Captain! It’s the Solstice-alarm!”
Zevara heard a shout from below. She looked up. So did Selys.
“The Solstice alarm?”
“Where? And how bad?”
Zevara bellowed as she reached for her sword. The voice came, urgently.
“Look out the window.”
Selys and Zevara turned.
In the street outside the Watch House, a young woman stood in the street. A Hobgoblin stood behind her. Already cause for alarm. There was Bird, Palt, looking exasperated—and a crowd. Of course.
Erin had a frying pan. With her other hand she made a fist. She shouted at the barracks.
“Give us back our Relc! Give us back our Relc!”
The crowd murmured. Rumors spread like wildfire. The Watch had kidnapped Relc? No—they’d exiled Relc? Or was he in prison…?
Selys slowly put her face in her claws. Zevara stared out the window at Erin.
“Even when he’s gone, he—Ancestors damn it.”
She strode from her office before Erin could set fire to half the city. Some idiots had actually picked up her chant. Then—the Watch Captain hurried back into her office for a moment. Selys saw her go to a little ringed calendar. The hand-written note on top said—
‘Days Since Crazy Human Incident: 8.’
Zevara gloomily reset it to zero. Then she stalked out of the office again. But the funny thing was that things changed even here. Selys watched as Erin Solstice waved her fist and shouted. Zevara appeared in the street, flanked by a few [Guards]—but far too few for the crowd. She pointed as Erin ran towards her.
Erin fell flat on her face as her body locked up. Zevara looked happier than Selys had seen her all week. The former [Receptionist] decided to take her advice and visit another city.
Well, where to? Really, there was only one option. Celum was a wreck. Esthelm was still a tiny mining town. And Invrisil had Magnolia Reinhart, who was not inclined to like Erin Solstice or her friends at the moment. Selys didn’t know these other noble’s lands and she didn’t really want to deal with them.
“So, your logic is that because you don’t want to invest in a city literally rebuilding itself, or one of the most populated Human cities in all of Izril, or explore new areas, you came to Pallass.”
“Don’t say it like that. I’m not good at business! I was a [Receptionist]!”
“Ineptitude must be contagious. You know, Erin asked me how to make clam-based dishes via [Message] spell?”
Lasica shook her head.
“Just ask someone or buy a cookbook. What am I, her personal teacher?”
Even so, she’d come to The Wandering Inn, or rather, Selys had met her in the street. Now the [Chef] gave Selys a long look, not missing the telltale signs of crying.
“And I suppose you’re the reason there’s now a drunk Rabbit Beastman in our bar at midday?”
Selys flushed. Lasica shook her head.
“Just don’t go to the bar, alright? By all means, ask if anyone wants you to invest. Hah, good luck though. You do realize that if you’ve heard of a good idea, someone’s already invested in it? That’s why you find new things.”
“But this is the City of Invention. New things…”
“Our [Engineers], [Alchemists], and [Blacksmiths] are loyal to Pallass and their investors, Selys. I have to go. I want some of those fresh clams.”
Lasica left and Selys sighed. It was true. New things could be like…Octavia’s shop. But guess who had Octavia acting as her [Alchemist]? Erin. In a way, Erin had already invested in the good things.
She had a Hobgoblin who mined precious stones for fun, a Stitch-girl [Alchemist] who made medicine and matches…Antinium builders and Wistram [Mages]! Erin had a lot of talent at her disposal.
Selys just had money.
“Maybe I’ll just buy slaves or something.”
The Drake muttered. That was a joke Erin would not have appreciated. Selys had never actually seen slaves. They were obviously banned in Liscor…Selys assumed. She wasn’t sure about other cities.
She walked along, wondering if that [Sharpener] that Erin had mentioned—Lorent?—wanted to upgrade his business. How did you do anything? Give them money and get like, ten percent of their earnings? That was all long-term stuff. No, you wanted someone to have something you could sell now.
If she had lots of money, she’d literally hire an adventuring team to hunt down the other parts of the Heartflame set. Which she was sort of doing. Or maybe finance a [Merchant] to buy and sell goods?
None of that really appealed to her. Who would you trust, anyways? Trust was what mattered.
“Maybe Numbtongue wants to be financed to mine for treasure?”
Selys made a fist and smacked it into her palm. That was an idea! The Hobgoblin might actually go for that. Not that gemstones were as valuable as Selys would want given Salazsar…
She sighed. Selys was about to go for a dip into the spa—Pallass’ spas, now, those were amazing. They had magically infused waters, personal masseuses, experts at scale, fur, or feather or armor care who could tend to you.
“Maybe I’ll make a spa on my land. Beat out the public bathhouses…”
Dreamily, the Drake imagined that. But only in that way you had of daydreaming, not connecting it with the actual money she had that could make the project happen. She wasn’t super passionate about that anyways…
It was as Selys was walking through Pallass when she heard a familiar voice. Not Magus Grimalkin, as it turned out, who was heading towards the inn but casually ignored Selys since she wasn’t germane to his plans. Or Jelaqua or Maughin, who were on a date, but also avoided Selys on the basis that she was connected to Erin and they just wanted a quiet time to themselves.
No—this voice was female, brisk, familiar. Selys’ head turned.
“They are cracking down, Mirn. I don’t know who put an ember under Chaldion’s tail—I don’t think it’s him. It’s just after the riots…”
A Drake was stalking through the crowd with her friend. She stood out with rose and cobalt scales—bright, vibrant. Her companion looked much rougher. He had a scar across his mouth, and he looked like, well, a criminal.
But Onieva seemed exactly as Selys remembered her, out of place among the rich elites of Pallass. Now—the Drake was clearly in a bad mood. Onieva’s tail was clearing a path as she walked through the crowd with how much it was lashing. Drakes were like that. Selys hesitated—and then raised her claw and called out.
“Onieva! Hey, Onieva!”
The two Drakes started. The effect on Mirn was immediate. He whirled around and confronted Selys as she strode over.
“Hey. I don’t know what you want with Onieva, but get lost, Miss. She’s busy.”
Onieva blinked as she recognized the [Heiress]. She pulled back Mirn, who was poised to chase Selys off.
“Hold on, Mirn. Selys is…an acquaintance.”
“Oh. You sure, Onieva?”
Mirn looked Selys up and down. His eyes, far from friendly, focused on Selys and then something else. Not past her, precisely. He gave Onieva a look.
“Well, she’s all yours. Nothing to do with me either way. Take her or leave her, Onieva. But don’t bring her with you when you find me. I have to…find somewhere.”
With that he stalked off. Selys stared at Onieva’s rude friend, wondering what that was all about. Onieva shouted after Mirn.
“Stay classy, Mirn!”
“Shove it up your tailhole, Onieva!”
The Drake shouted back. A number of people glared after Mirn. Onieva, used to the phenomenon, beckoned Selys over.
“Off to another fancy party?”
She gave Selys a smile that instantly managed to be needling. The [Heiress] glowered.
“Hardly. You were right. I don’t care for parties. Or…that kind of society. I don’t fit in.”
“You looked like you were doing okay. But fine.”
Onieva raised her claws as Selys glared. The Drake woman grinned.
“—What’s up? It’s rare you caught me; I’m usually inside.”
“You don’t go out much?”
“Eh, I’m not a society person. I’m just the black sheep of the family. The [Layabout]. That’s even my class. But as long as Saliss and Chaldion pay for me…”
She winked. Selys grinned.
“I wish I had that problem. Actually…”
It didn’t take her long to explain her woes to Onieva, who promptly laughed at her.
“You have too much money and that’s your problem? Give it to me and I’ll make that go away. It’s great that’s your one problem in the entire world.”
“I didn’t mean it like that. I know other people have bigger problems. But this one is mine. If you’re going to be a Lizard, leave me alone.”
Selys swatted at Onieva, but the Drake leaned out of the way nimbly. She was quick on her feet!
“Poor you. But fine. I guess it beats my problem.”
“Oh? What was that? Something about places?”
Onieva hesitated and waved it off.
“That—that was for Mirn. You know how it is.”
“He didn’t seem to like me.”
Selys glared in the way Mirn had gone. Rude Drake. No wonder Onieva liked him. The [Layabout] looked amused.
“Mirn just didn’t think he had anything in common with you. And he’s almost always right. Mirn gravitates towards people he needs to protect.”
“And I’m not one of them? Well, thanks for that.”
Selys felt at her high-power wand. Onieva laughed, but nodded along.
“If he’s rude to you, that’s Mirn.”
“Don’t you mean, ‘sorry, that’s just Mirn’?”
“Nope. That’s Mirn. It’s not my problem. Anyways—he actually runs a bar.”
Then again, Selys had met some rude bartenders and she could just imagine Mirn operating one with [Toughs] and so on in the crowd. She scowled and kicked along the ground. And Onieva…
Looked at Selys. Unlike Mirn, Onieva wasn’t only interested in people she needed to protect. And unlike Mirn, she did feel for Selys. The Drake was clearly unused to the things that Saliss had lived through. Sudden fame, wealth, power…
But more than that, Onieva was curious about Selys. For two reasons. The first was that she and Mirn had been looking for a safe place to establish his bar.
A literal safe place where some [Guard] wouldn’t kick down the door, arrest anyone they caught, and have everyone inside exiled or put to death. That was hard.
The riots had put the Watch on full-alert and they tended to go after the criminals and deviants when they were mad. One got lumped with the other, to mutual disgust, generally. Which made finding a good spot harder and harder.
They couldn’t use Saliss’ laboratory. Safety and all that. And neither could they go outside the city. It had to be convenient, easy…
Strange. Onieva tilted her head left and right, chasing a thought. It had always been too bad that Rufelt and Lasica weren’t at home with their people, or so Onieva had believed. She hadn’t decided to risk it. But it occurred to her there was another fortress of a building she had never considered.
“…But that damned checkpoint. Still—safety in numbers.”
“What was that?”
Selys looked up. Onieva grinned at her. And she decided Selys was a good test. She’d have to—well, Erin was another and more important. But Selys interested her for another reason.
A personal one. So Onieva glanced at Selys and coughed.
“Nothing. Say, you are Selys Shivertail, right? How well did you know your…I want to say, uncle? Zel Shivertail? I actually met him a few times.”
Onieva saw Selys freeze. The Drake looked up, and Onieva felt guilty because Selys’ expression had gone bleak for a moment.
“You did? I mean, I know Uncle—General Shivertail—visited Pallass a lot. He used to tell me stories of all the Walled Cities.”
The female Drake laughed at Selys.
“Yes, he visited. And of course I met him. I’m Saliss of Light—”
She froze. What a slip!
“—’s cousin! I badgered him all the time to introduce me. I talked with Zel. He was a good person. Actually—Mirn met him too.”
“Yup. They got along.”
Selys frowned, disbelieving. And it was true, Mirn hadn’t met Zel Shivertail, but the Drake who had taken over the underground meeting place before him had. She was fairly certain Selys wasn’t using lie-detection Skills or magic. The story was true enough anyways.
If only you knew.
Onieva wanted to reintroduce Mirn and remind him this was Shivertail’s niece. Well, that might be a disaster of another kind. But yes—Zel Shivertail had known more of the Walled Cities than most Drakes. Including their community. It was one of the reasons why they shunned him.
But now, here was the question. How much had he told his niece? Zel had even mentioned to Onieva that his only good relatives lived in Liscor. So…Onieva pressed Selys.
“He was a good Drake. I was devastated to hear his passing.”
“Yes. I mean, thank you. I—the Heartflame Breastplate came from him. I didn’t expect that. But I always liked it when he was able to visit.”
Selys was far away. Onieva hated to do it. But—Ancestors take it.
“Still. He wasn’t perfect. He had his flaws.”
She saw Selys’ shoulders hunch. Onieva’s eyes locked on Selys, her tail, her face, the way she stood…
Oh yes. You knew.
Zel Shivertail’s secret had been the most open secret of any Drake in Izril. In high society, they’d known. Only the Tidebreaker could be tolerated. How could his family have not known?
What mattered was how Selys reacted. The Drake inhaled and kept her face calm.
What did Onieva mean? No—she had to mean something else. Selys chose her words carefully. She remembered digging up Sserys’ grave in the darkness, the urn…
No, that was something she would never talk about. Never think about, really. She had fulfilled her beloved Uncle’s wishes. Selys nodded, but stiffly. She looked at Onieva, and felt a flash of irritation enter her voice.
“He wasn’t perfect. But he was still General Shivertail. The Tidebreaker.”
“Of course. I didn’t mean to say—”
“That’s all there was to it, right? No need to talk about his flaws.”
“But he was more than a [General].”
Selys felt her insides twist. She glared.
“Maybe he was. But I knew him. How well did you know him?”
Onieva hesitated, and then lifted her claw.
What did that mean? Selys calmed down. Onieva frowned. The word hung between them, unspoken, though neither knew the other was thinking it.
If only you could be sure. But Onieva had not lived this long by taking risks. The two walked on, and conversation resumed stiffly, and then with natural grace.
Onieva followed Selys to The Wandering Inn.
Erin was still being lectured by the time the two Drakes walked in. Onieva sized up the inn and looked around.
“Oh, but it would be perfect.”
“Erin’s not looking for a [Bartender]. Well, she might be with Drassi gone, but I doubt your friend Mirn could take Drassi’s place.”
“I’ll let him apply. He’s a one-Drake show, anyways. Hm.”
Private rooms. Basement…Onieva frowned as she heard scraping sounds. She left Selys to remember, belatedly, that she’d been going looking for investments, not walking about with Onieva! As the Drake groaned and headed over to Numbtongue—who wasn’t interested in her offer, and Mrsha the Adventurous, who was—Onieva peeked downstairs.
“Ancestors damn it!”
The Workers looked up at the barrels of fish that were being rolled through the door. Onieva snapped her claws and closed the door.
“Well, I can always get a deeper basement. Or—”
It wasn’t about space. They could settle in a place twice as large as a bedroom. They had before. It was safety.
And The Wandering Inn…could be quite safe. Not, perhaps, from monsters, but those weren’t the kind of enemies Onieva worried about. But how did she test Erin?
As Onieva walked back to the common room, she saw the usual bustle around the room. She tried to remember that she didn’t know anyone here; dead gods, but she’d have to reintroduce herself to Erin as Saliss’ cousin. She hated that. It was always the same introduction and dance…
How to do it? As Onieva pondered, trying to figure out how to test Erin without alerting anyone else—and that was a tall order because Erin could be very oblivious, on purpose or accidentally—she heard a voice from the stage.
“Rose! Help me brainstorm plays, will you?”
Galina was there, with the Players of Celum whom she had been drawn to like iron to a magnet. The theatre-girl from Earth was happy as could be.
By contrast, Rose was a bit of a Kevin in that she was aimless, but satisfied being aimless. Joseph was ‘soccer-guy’ much to his displeasure, and Leon and Troy were a team who did their own thing. Imani practically ruled the kitchen when Erin wasn’t doing something in it; she’d even learned to deal with Mrsha, mainly by offering the Gnoll treats to leave her alone.
But Kevin and Rose were amiable helpers. Kevin was especially amiable at the moment, thanks to Palt.
In one corner of the inn, Grimalkin was waiting for Erin too. Waiting to confirm his theories of time travel. But all that was beside the point. Galina had a problem.
“There are a few plays we’re adapting to the stage, Rose. But a lot of them don’t work. You know more than the others. Brainstorm with me?”
“Sure. What plays are you guys making?”
Galina had a list. All of Erin’s, plus the new ones she’d suggested. Some, like Chicago, needed adaptation, but they’d been hits among the Players and both Liscor and Invrisil’s groups were trying them out and adapting them.
The problem was that Galina had yet to get Erin’s recall ability. Mainly because Galina wanted to act, not just produce.
“If only I could remember everything like Erin. Okay. There are some like Angels in America that just don’t work. You know? Way too much of…everything from home.”
Rose was nodding. It was true; a lot became too topical. Stuff like Long Day’s Journey into Night worked—that was about the Human condition, more than the era, which was really the condition of people everywhere—although there were interesting differences.
“Well, there are a lot of movies that do work. Titanic…uh, Hunchback of Notre Dame…”
“Not just Disney, Rose, or blockbusters. I want to bring something new! Fresh!”
“Okay. Here’s a play. Have you seen Rent, the musical?”
Galina had. Her eyes flickered, but she frowned.
“Rose. That’s Broadway, though. Not exactly the Bard of Avon. Also—not my favorite play.”
“Hey, I liked it. You wanted help…”
The young woman rose to go, huffily, and Galina dragged her back.
“No, I’m sorry! It’s just that we’ve used our rotation of plays and the Players want to do something fast.”
Rose glanced at the [Actors] on stage. They were set to do Juliet and Romeo tonight, or so it said on the placard next to the stage. And the audience, while it was there, wasn’t as large because a lot of people had seen the play already. Or five times.
Rose smiled at the Juliet and Romeo title, though. She had laughed every time she’d seen it for the first week at how Erin had flipped just the name. And that gave her an idea.
“Well…I do have one idea, Galina. Remember how Jasi pushed for Lady Macbeth and how you rewrote some of the plays for a female lead?”
“Yes, but before you start, they’re doing that with a lot of plays already.”
Galina held up a hand. It wasn’t like the Players of Celum weren’t also willing to innovate. Rose grinned.
“But what if we put on a play that catered to a wider base? Listen—”
She walked over to Temile, who turned to her, always willing to listen to Erin or her ‘group’. The [Actor] didn’t know what they shared aside from a place of origin, but he knew that he knew and was fine with that.
Background. Onieva was looking about, waiting for Erin when she saw two [Actors] upon the stage. They were performing the famous and most oft-quoted scene of Shakespeare to the plebeians.
“O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?
Deny thy father and refuse thy name.
Or if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love
And I’ll no longer be a Capulet.”
It was the same lines. The same play. For a moment, you couldn’t even tell what Rose had changed about it. There were two Drakes, not, scandalously, a Drake and a Gnoll, or a Drake and a Human. Especially a male, Human Romeo and a female Drake Juliet, as Erin had learned once.
But then Onieva’s head turned. And something ran through the inn. A few casual watchers looked up. Frowned. Blinked a few times.
It was a mark of how Rose and Galina had entered this world and been sheltered that they thought it was a good idea. And, perhaps, how plays were seen by the [Actors]. It was, in the end, a small change.
However, the Drake Juliet speaking to the Drake Romeo—both of them, in fact, were male.
“What is this, Rose? Galina?”
Temile was staring nervously at the two leads of the play. So were the other [Actors]. Rose was smiling, oblivious to the attention drawing to the stage.
“I told you, Temile, just roll with it!”
“We’ll have two male actors. It’ll be a hit, trust me! I haven’t found the GSM crowd yet in Liscor, but I haven’t had the chance yet. We can change the script, like Lady Macbeth. How’s this? We’ll call it: Romeo and Romeo. Or Juliet and Juliet!”
Rose spread out her hands, smiling hugely. Temile looked at her. He stared at the two leads. The pieces fell together.
“You mean…two male leads. Falling in love with each other.”
His voice was a bit too loud. Or perhaps he hadn’t realized that the inn had gone silent. Rose didn’t see the two [Actors] had frozen on stage, in the spotlight of every eye.
“Why not? It’s a true story! It’s—”
Someone shouted the word and Onieva started breathing again. She stared at the stage.
What followed was just ringing in her ears. The Drake [Alchemist] sat there, staring at the two [Actors] who’d hurried off-stage. Rose must have been convincing or they didn’t understand what she was suggesting. And she of course didn’t know.
She was arguing with the Drakes and City Gnolls and Humans who’d stormed to the front of the stage to protest this…this disgusting, deviant display. Onieva didn’t need to hear that. She had heard it a thousand times.
What she saw, in her mind, were the two actors, one professing his love for the other. It was just a play. But Rose had come up with it. And Onieva—
Looked at her.
“It’s fine. You’re being disgusting. Has no one heard of—has no one heard of LGBT+ rights? Gay rights? This is insane. This is—”
Rose looked around. And her outrage faded when she realized rather than a minority confronting a majority, she stood alone. Galina was looking around, wide-eyed.
“We have a word for that. Turnscales. Also—illegal. Miss Solstice will hear of this! Apologize to those [Actors]!”
The Drake who was so offended was actually offended on behalf of Temile’s Drake [Actors]. She was pointing as Rose confronted her.
“Apologize for what? I didn’t assume anything! That was four lines! It’s a play. You know—what’s Turnscale? Does it mean gay? You know, it’s okay for a man to love a man. Or a woman to love a woman! Or both! Back home—”
That was as far as Rose got. The Drake woman listening recoiled. Then her eyes narrowed. She raised a fist and struck Rose. The young woman hadn’t been expecting that and stumbled backwards with a shriek. She would have been struck again, by the Drake woman or someone else.
Onieva knew this. And she had a cup in her claws. And in her claws—it was a deadly weapon. Grimalkin was watching, half-risen, unsure. The inn’s staff was pushing forwards. But Onieva would have protected Rose and damn the consequences. She was poised to take out the entire crowd.
Then—Erin stomped her foot.
The shout knocked the crowd flat. Literally. Onieva almost saw the aura flash across the inn. Maviola’s training hadn’t been for nothing. Erin Solstice strode forwards.
“Who’s attacking Rose? I’ll attack you! I’m in the mood to punch someone and it’s not me!”
She was angry. The [Innkeeper] was furious. She also had two tissues stuffed up her nose from where she’d gotten a nosebleed when Zevara had used her Skill on her. The bleeding had stopped with a healing potion, but Erin was still peeved.
“Erin! Oh my god—”
Rose fled behind her, face white. The crowd began babbling, pointing at the stage, furious—Erin shouted.
And there was silence. Well, a few kept talking.
“—most disgusting display I’ve ever seen. I was defending—”
Erin strode over to the Drake woman. This time she took a page out of Bird’s book. She opened her mouth, inhaled, and screamed.
“Aaaaaaaah! Aaaaaaaaaaah! Shut up! Shut up!”
The Drake woman—shut up. Erin looked around, ready to scream everyone else’s ears off. She looked at Rose.
“Okay. What is this about? It’s just a play! What made you all so mad?”
“She was making the [Actors] act like Turnscales!”
A voice bellowed, despite Erin’s aura weighing everyone down. Erin’s brow furrowed.
“Like…it was two men, playing Romeo and Juliet, Erin. They’re mad because—oh god.”
Rose stared around the room, afraid. Erin gave her a puzzled look.
“So what? Oh. Oh.”
Her eyes widened and she lowered her voice.
“You mean they were gay?”
The young woman nodded slowly. And now she was watching Erin’s face. Onieva was listening, invisible in the crowd.
“Erin, these people don’t know about homosexuality at all. I mean—they do, but they don’t. They’re intolerant!”
A rumble ran through the room. Erin lifted a hand. She tugged Rose out of the crowd, and the two’s voices continued, as Lyonette began to disperse the crowd with help. But a few people were listening, including an [Alchemist] who had potions to enhance hearing.
“Oh. I get it. They don’t like…well, that’s wrong. Everyone deserves equal rights, right?”
Rose almost fainted with relief. She clutched at Erin’s arm.
“No one knows about LGBTQ rights. That’s why I haven’t met anyone! This entire world is—is in the dark ages!”
Erin was nodding, but her brow furrowed.
“Wait, what’s that last bit? LGBTQ…? What’s the Q?”
“Queer? Like…GSM? DSG?”
Rose gave Erin a look. She was naming acronyms. Erin gave her a very blank stare.
“Gender Sexual Minorities?”
“Um…is that a movement? I mean, I’m all for gay marriage. I think I met someone who was gay once. They said so, which was my big clue. But I don’t keep up on or know about, about…”
The [Innkeeper] waved her hands to indicate everything and anything. Rose hesitated.
Rose was looking at Erin. Looking around the room, at Galina, who was glancing at her, a few others. And realizing…everything.
She was not the only one. Selys was standing uncomfortably, not exactly nodding to the mutters, but definitely not painting herself as a target. She saw Onieva walk over.
The Drake was wide-eyed. Even quivering a bit. And Selys interpreted it the wrong way. Or the right way? Not as Onieva was actually feeling, anyways.
“Oh. Onieva, are you going?”
“Yes. Yes, I—who’s that Human, Selys? The one with Erin?”
“Rose. Look, Onieva—”
Selys trailed off. What did she say? And before she could come up with something, Onieva was gone. To Pallass. Onieva’s mind was racing.
If you were smart, you picked up on more than just what Rose’s beliefs were.
Back home. And—she spoke so knowledgably. Onieva had to know more.
It could be a trap. It could be dangerous. She’d approach this with all the caution in mind. There had been traps before and she could not get caught. But…
Mirn had to know. They had to know.
Onieva looked back at Rose, just once. The way Rose looked around with horror, as if seeing something clinging to this entire world that terrified her. With fear, too. For herself. And at Erin’s confused face.
It told her a lot.
Grimalkin of Pallass had notes. He had lots of notes. He also, incidentally, was the [Sinew Magus] of Pallass. He had fought in wars. He had travelled the world.
He took lots of notes because he was a [Magus] and a scholar and he believed in gathering evidence, proving theories. He did not act incautiously.
But he was also a warrior. So he acted.
“Hey Grimalkin. That was something, huh?”
It had taken an hour for Erin to restore order, and she’d kicked out half a dozen people. More had left of their own volition, swearing to boycott the inn. Most didn’t want to talk about it.
Grimalkin did too, but it was a…lesser consideration. He needed to know more.
“It has been an eventful year so far, hasn’t it, Miss Solstice? Will you sit for a moment?”
The Drake pulled out a seat. Erin hesitated. She suspected a trap and she was right. But Grimalkin was an ally, and a friend of sorts.
She sat. And the showdown commenced.
A note-taking Grimalkin appeared in front of Erin. He had a hypothesis. And he used it in one move. The Drake leaned back in his chair, looking pensive.
“You know, as I’ve made so many breakthroughs in my studies, I can’t help but think of the future.”
Erin blinked. The Drake nodded as he gestured around.
“What might the world look like in a thousand years’ time? Ten thousand? Will there be a world? How might weight training have evolved? Perhaps…agriculture, architecture, magic…one does wonder. But there’s no way to know, after all, is there?”
Erin tried to dodge the question…and failed. True, it was for reasons perpendicular to the ones Grimalkin suspected. But he saw it.
The Drake’s face was smooth.
“You know, Miss Solstice, that unpleasantness with Miss Rose—”
“She’s from elsewhere. Er—far away. I can’t say where.”
Erin was sweating. She’d walked into a trap! Her eyes darted around, looking for an escape rope. But Grimalkin didn’t press her on the weak point. But that was only to keep her off-guard.
“Oh, naturally. But there are, after all, different nations with different sensibilities. Selphids don’t care. And of course—you two do have your different perspectives.”
Grimalkin had cast [Silence], so he said this next part smoothly.
“I couldn’t help but overhear a bit. Perhaps the issue of—Turnscales in society is not so contentious. Merely Drake culture. We must seem so…backwards to other people. Even, perhaps, left behind in time?”
Another wince. The Magus sighed. Erin was close to fainting. Or running away. Or hyperventilating. She looked around. She had to—
“Aha! Kevin! My guy! Switch with me, would you? Sorry, Grimalkin! I’ve gotta get back to work!”
Erin used Kevin, shoving him into the seat. It was super-effective! At least, in slowing Grimalkin down. But she’d just exposed her weak points.
The [Sinew Magus] looked at Kevin and he tried the same trick.
“Don’t you feel as though you’re…lost in time sometimes?”
Erin froze mid-step. Kevin blinked at Grimalkin. He was unguarded. Erin had to warn them all! She spun—and Kevin nodded.
“All the time, man. I mean…what is time? Time. Is it a river or a whirlpool or is it…”
He trailed off. Grimalkin stared at him. Kevin’s unfocused gaze came back to reality.
“Time? You know, if it goes backwards, does it go up or down? Those are the real questions.”
“Er. Yes. [Chronomancers] do exist and they’ve postulated—I mean, what?”
“Sometimes I wonder—you know, the word? Some times. That’s an interesting word when you think about it. Some of the times. Which is what it means. But what about…alltimes? But that’s not one word, right? But it should be.”
The [Sinew Magus]’ mouth opened and closed as he ran straight into the most logical wall of illogic he’d ever heard. He peered at Kevin, and then he and Erin both smelled the distinct scent in the air.
The Drake sighed, disgusted. Erin fled, resolving to thank Palt rather than scold him. His quarry escaped. Grimalkin folded his arms.
“Even so. That was no anomaly. I’m sure of it. But what do I do with the knowledge?”
“That’s the question, dude. What do you do with knowledge?”
“Oh, shut up.”
In the end, it had all been a failure. A big waste of time. But why—why did it matter? Money could just sit around, right? Did it lose value if you didn’t touch it? Surely not.
It was all about Selys, after all. And she told Erin what the real problem was.
“I’m just worried about the future, you know?”
Erin gave her friend a suspicious look, then glanced towards Grimalkin’s table, but he’d already left.
“Yeah. I mean, no. What are you worried about?”
“Um. Whether I’ll die in the future, whether I can defend myself or Mrsha—what I want to do with my life, how to invest my money in case it runs out, safeguarding my stuff…”
Selys ticked off the points on her claws. Erin clutched at her stomach.
“Ooh. Now I get it. That makes me feel bad just thinking about the future. Or maybe it was the clams. Did I boil them long enough?”
The [Heiress] laughed.
“Erin, you’re the worst at committing to things. At least I try. But that’s why you have Lyonette. I just wish…”
“Hey! I plan for things! I had all kinds of stuff I…introduced.”
Erin looked around for Grimalkin again and leaned over sneakily to Selys.
“Remember the hamburgers? Or pizza? Or stuff?”
“You just copied that, Erin. That’s short-term stuff. It matters, I’m talking about the future.”
Erin raised a finger and had to concede—Selys was right. The [Innkeeper] leaned on the table with a sigh.
“Maybe you’re right, Selys. I’m bad about that. I just don’t like…that kind of big stuff. I did have things I wanted to do.”
“Mhm. I was going to buy a Golem. You know, so Toren could get a friend?”
The Drake paused with a forkful of spaghetti-and-clams that Lasica had helped Erin make before taking half the clams as payment to her mouth. She gave Erin a look.
“Really? You were going to buy a Golem?”
“Mhm. Before I got kidnapped to Celum, and even after that, I was looking into prices. But Stone Golems are expensive. Like, even the cheapest ones that needed repair were over a thousand gold pieces.”
“Um. Yeah. Golems aren’t cheap.”
“I know! But I wanted one! Just imagine how useful it would have been! I had other plans too. Like…getting the inn enchanted. But look where we are. Lyonette is the one who really got Hedault to do that.”
Erin waved a hand towards the kitchen. She peered at the doorway to the garden, where Mrsha, Ekirra, and Visma were playing ‘Gnollball’ with Numbtongue, which was really him just throwing them as hard as he could from the hill into the pond.
“Some things I didn’t even imagine. Like Numbtongue. Or…I wish I had done some of the things before.”
Her eyes glimmered. Selys remembered five Hobgoblins sitting around a table as if it were yesterday and forever ago. So did Erin.
She was genuinely curious, but not if it hurt Erin. The [Innkeeper] hesitated. Then she smiled, ruefully.
“You know, I barely remember. Hold on, I can check! I think…”
The young woman charged into the garden, and the door vanished. Selys heard a loud thump, and cursing from upstairs. Then Erin hopped through the doorway, barely seconds later.
“Ouch. I ran into my dresser! But—data! Here it is!”
She showed Selys a little journal she took notes in. It wasn’t really a diary so much as interesting chess notations, thoughts, grocery lists, and…a page of little items, with annotations.
“My list of future-stuff. Big ideas I had. See?”
There was ‘Golems’ written on one line. With little annotations.
Golems—stone? Metal? Super expensive! Build yourself? Get Pisces to make?
It was also crossed out and ‘bad idea’ had been written there. Probably after Toren. That was one entry. Selys grinned.
“Maybe he can do that. Not all of these ideas are bad, Erin.”
“Yeah. I know, right? Let’s see what else I wrote.”
The two bent over the notes for the future as Kevin tried one of Palt’s cleansing cigars and rapidly sobered.
“Whoa. Dude. But why wouldn’t you want to be high?”
“Time and a place, Kevin. Don’t you have to practice football?”
The Centaur plucked the cigar out of Kevin’s hands. The young man groaned.
“Oh, thanks! You saved me! You know, Dreamleaf isn’t quite like weed…”
The two heard laughter. Selys and Erin were exclaiming over the paper.
“Erin! A ballista? What are you, Bird?”
“What? I wanted to put one on top of the inn! He has some good ideas! And look at this one—put the inn on wheels!”
“Do you even know how heavy an inn is?”
“Duh. That’s why it’s off the list. Ooh! Look at this one! Ping pong tables! Well, not all of these are huge. But this one is.”
Erin tapped one of her notes proudly. Selys read, frowning.
“Boom bark walls? You don’t mean…”
“I had the idea from the second inn. I was going to ask Moore if he could regrow the wall’s bark. You know, since he’s a nature mage? So if there was a siege—”
Erin made her arms go ‘boom’. Selys, Palt, and Kevin all stared at Erin. The [Innkeeper] looked around.
“But I didn’t bother. Didn’t seem too practical. What if the bark appeared on the inside? Well, I was also thinking about making an acid-fly squirt bottle. For…self-defense. But I don’t need to. Not all of this is useful after all. Or if I could do it—why bother?”
She sighed. Selys was nodding as Erin reached for the list. It was like her daydreams. Spa, funding adventurers—what was the point? It wasn’t what she really wanted to do, even if it was possible. Erin was closing the journal when a last entry caught Selys’ eye.
“Wait, what’s that word there? Bicycle? What’s that?”
Kevin blinked. Erin looked at the entry and sighed.
“Oh. Bikes. You know—it’s this vehicle. You can go around fast with it, and I wanted to make it, but—look.”
She showed Selys a much-worn page with a sketch. It was…it looked like some odd, odd wagon to Selys. She understood the concept. Two wheels, a seat—but Erin had erased and drawn around something connecting the wheels.
“I tried talking with [Blacksmiths] and [Carpenters]. I saw this movie where some guy made one out of steel, but that was like, a movie because it would cost way too much.”
“And it’d be way too heavy.”
Kevin chimed in. Erin nodded distractedly.
“Yeah! And I can’t figure out how the gears work. See, bicycles use gears, like Pallass’ elevators.”
“Well then, could someone from Pallass make one?”
Palt looked at Erin, with a keen interest. The same as Selys. But Erin was shrugging.
“Nah, I tried guys. But I never knew how bikes worked. My dad always made them. Listen—it’s no good. You know, because I’m from Earth? I can’t make gears or remember how the chain worked!”
She leaned forwards, whispering. Selys…hesitated.
Erin froze. She gave Selys a slow, panicked look.
“I’ve told you both, right? Wait—oh no. Have I not told you, Selys? I was sure I did!”
She began to panic, Selys’ eyes narrowed.
“What’s ‘Earth’? Erin…”
“Mind wipe her, Palt!”
Erin shouted. Selys just stared at her. Palt covered his face with his hands. Selys looked at him—but before she could press Erin on what that meant—Kevin spoke up.
“You know, gears are really tough. I don’t blame you, Erin.”
“Yes! Thank you, Kevin!”
“What’s—oh, never mind.”
Selys would look it up later. She was sure it was important, but like Grimalkin, she had no frame of reference to really understand what Erin had just said. Earth? Had Erin come from underground?
Oh, Ancestors. The Drake glanced at Erin and then coughed.
“Erin, how can you not know how these bikes worked if you rode them? I ride wagons and I could probably build one if I had to!”
Underground? Erin spluttered, but Kevin smiled.
“Gears are harder than they look, Selys. Actually—Erin, you don’t need shifting gears for a bike. Just a chain and pedal system. The gear system makes it really complex, but the first bicycles weren’t fancy at all.”
Erin, Palt, and Selys blinked at Kevin. Kevin, who had been stoned out of his mind a few seconds ago. And Erin…had a thought.
“Do you know bicycles, Kevin?”
“Know them? I used to work at a bicycle repair shop. Lot of people loved them. Wanted to be eco-friendly. You know, in California? San F—”
Kevin broke off, eying Selys. He coughed.
“—I thought about making one too. But Magnolia never went for it. And I didn’t need to until now…I actually had some sketches too.”
“Wait. Wait. You know how they work?”
Erin was blinking, caught off-guard by this sudden revelation. Kevin gave her a thumbs-up with both hands.
“I’d love to make one, actually. That, and a skateboard. Too bad there’s no waves or we could surf too. The trouble is getting the steel right. And parts. And money, obviously. And no rubber.”
There was…a certain logic to things. It wasn’t all coincidence, or Erin. She had just observed that sometimes the world fit together just right.
“Yeah. Chains are tough. You don’t want them breaking. And a bike has to be light. Really good steel.”
Palt observed, slowly lighting up a joint. Erin blinked.
“Well, obviously. But you’d need a master [Blacksmith], which I obviously didn’t know last year. And a good [Mage]. Or even [Enchanter].”
“And you’d have to pay them.”
The Centaur and [Innkeeper] looked at Selys. The Drake felt her heart fluttering, but she scratched at her chin calmly.
“Lots of money. Especially if you wanted to make more. I assume bicycles are popular?”
“Well, of course. You’d need to know how they were made to make them good and stuff.”
All three turned to Kevin. He looked around, raising his brows. The young man ran a hand through his hair and grinned.
“…And where would we get all of that in one place?”
Three smiles answered him. And the world, always changing…changed further.
Much had been said of Hedault, the [Enchanter] of Invrisil. The best the City of Adventurers had to offer, and that was saying a lot.
Other [Enchanters] had tried to establish themselves as the best of Invrisil. Most had moved away, or been…eliminated from the competition.
Not that Hedault himself had anything to do with that. Not at all. The truth was that if you weren’t exceedingly careful, you ended up touching the Sword of Cursed Locations and ended up buried two thousand feet down and uncovered ten years later by some very unhappy [Miners].
Stuff like that was what Hedault’s type of [Enchanter] had to face. To be precise—analysis and alteration.
Enchanting was actually made up of different divisions and specialties. Not that anyone outside of his field really cared. For instance, you had creation-specialists like Archmage Nailihuaile, experts in their own designs. Whereas Hedault was good at figuring out what an enchantment did, and repairing the spell or altering it.
He was precise, careful, and pedantic to a fault. Even Magnolia Reinhart arranged meetings in advance. Hedault did not like…chaos.
Ergo, he did not like the Horns of Hammerad or The Wandering Inn. If he would admit they had grown on him—it was more like moss grew on a moist surface.
Still. The [Enchanter] had arrived precisely forty minutes after receiving the politely-worded request via Montressa du Valeross because he sensed opportunity. He paused outside the door to Erin’s inn on Invrisil’s side and cast three spells.
“[Impact Shield]. [Second Skin: Film Weave]. [Invisibility].”
Then he stepped into The Wandering Inn. Hedault looked around, assessing the situation. If there was any…chaos…he was prepared to leave unless said disturbance was counterbalanced by, say, Grand Mage Eldavin.
He had made a mistake, however. As the [Enchanter] walked through the door to the common room, several people noticed him.
Palt. The Gentlemen Callers, who were considering how all this paid sitting-about was going to their waistlines. Erin Solstice, who looked around with a deep frown. Maviola El.
And every Gnoll in the inn, of course. Most just sniffed the air as Hedault passed by or noticed the movement of air on their fur. And this was because the [Enchanter] wasn’t an expert in subterfuge. He made it halfway across the inn as Erin nudged Palt and whispered to him. He was looking for—
Wham. A little Gnoll charged into the barrier around Hedault and recoiled. Mrsha flopped backwards, dazed, and Hedault whirled around.
“Mrsha! What happened?”
Lyonette exclaimed. Mrsha had gone running at something and collided with the air. Hedault reappeared, looking peeved. Mrsha promptly sat up, shook her head a few times, and then tackled his legs.
“Gnoll child, desist. Do not touch me.”
The [Enchanter] tried to shove Mrsha off his legs. The Gnoll girl, in the way children had of sensing when they weren’t wanted, tried to steal his wand. She slid off the [Second Skin] spell like Hedault had a layer of glass on him.
That only made him more fun. Lyonette grabbed Mrsha mid-leap.
“I am so sorry, Master Hedault. Mrsha, stop that!”
The Gnoll girl stared at Hedault’s side and the wand. The [Enchanter] straightened his clothing, tapping his wrist twice with his fingers.
“I believe I am done here. Once again, this inn—”
“Hedault! Buddy! Sorry about that. Thanks for coming!”
Too late. Erin Solstice appeared with a huge smile. She grabbed Hedault’s arm. He immediately tried to pull away.
“Let go of me, please.”
“Whoops, sorry. Let’s go over there! Pelt’s just about to arrive.”
“I believe my patience is at its end—”
“Don’t be like that. I have snacks! Want some clams?”
This was why Hedault hated the inn. It was a fascinating puzzle of possible enchantments, the garden, as well as the door being objects of interest. The [Enchanter] liked all that. He just disliked the spontaneous chaos of it all.
He was considering permanently blacklisting the inn, despite the fortuitous events that sometimes occurred within. And that was a serious threat because Hedault hadn’t told anyone he was considering it.
He found himself in one of the private dining rooms. There, waiting for him, was Kevin.
“Hey. You’re the [Enchanter]-guy, right? Nice to meet you. I’m Kevin.”
The [Enchanter] looked at Kevin, holding out a hand and trying to look professional, and the bowl of clams and fries. Were those…appetizers? He pinched the bridge of his nose.
At least she’d kept to her appointment this time.
Pelt stomped into the inn six minutes late. He ignored everyone, including Erin as she bustled over to him.
“Hey, Pelt! So glad you could make it. Hedault was trying to get out and—”
The Dwarf walked around the bar and pulled out a bottle of wine. Light drinking. He took the bottle and a mug with him. Erin faltered.
“Er…help yourself. Right this way.”
She led him to the private room. Hedault was impatiently tapping at his wrist and ignoring the clams.
“Here’s Pelt! Sorry for the delay, guys. Selys, Palt! It’s time!”
The Dwarf found himself sitting next to Hedault, in a presentation-style meeting as Kevin and Erin set up on one side of the room. Palt and Selys stood at the back.
The Dwarf looked at the [Enchanter]. Hedault nodded slowly.
“Master Pelt. You have my compliments on the Grasgil ring you sent me. I was indeed able to enchant it and the impurity was almost imperceptible.”
Pelt’s expression was sour.
“Damn dust. I would have trashed the entire ring but my apprentices can’t get me enough raw Grasgil. It’s a disgrace.”
That made Hedault smile for the first time. From anyone else, a Grasgil ring of that purity would have been perfect, not even worth critiquing. But a master [Smith] had different, higher, correct standards.
“Can I get you anything, Master Hedault?”
Palt spoke behind Hedault. The [Enchanter] looked at the door, decided he had wasted enough time to not just up and leave, and sighed.
“Water with lemon, please. Purified.”
“Anyone want clams?”
Erin offered the bowl around. Hedault and Pelt stared at her. The Dwarf eyed the mollusks, pushed it across the table, and grunted as he poured as much wine into the deep mug as it would allow. Erin’s smile faded as she saw the level of wine in the bottle half itself.
“I’m not made of time, Solstice. You have until this wine runs out. Or do you think I don’t have work? This had better be good.”
“Uh—well, sorry, Pelt—”
The Dwarf didn’t stop talking or give Erin a chance to speak. He gestured to Hedault.
“Both of us have jobs. We came because you insisted, but this is costing us gold. So if I don’t like what I hear in the next five minutes, I’ll ban you from my forge for a month.”
It was a very efficient way of dealing with Erin. Hedault nodded as the [Innkeeper] spluttered and coughed. When she spoke next, her manner was very subdued.
“Okay! Okay! I’m very sorry. But this is actually important! It’s a big project and we need the best [Enchanter] and [Blacksmith].”
The Human man and Dwarf glanced at each other. Kevin was passing around a copy of a diagram he’d been working on. The two leaned over it.
“What in the name of the Grandfather’s beards is this?”
Pelt stared at the piece of paper, then at the strange object lying on a tray. Hedault peered at it too.
It was, in fact, a gear made out of clay. A fixed gear, the spokes clumsily shaped. Erin drew back the sample gear.
“That’s a part we need Pelt to make. See—the thing is, we have a project we want you two to work on. We want to make…a bicycle.”
The two gave her blank looks. Pelt eyed the gear. It reminded him of the ones Pallass’ [Engineers] kept having him make. Kevin enthusiastically waved the diagram of the bike parts around.
“It’s not hard to make, actually. I was trying to break down the components—we could definitely make a skateboard. We just need some good wood and—”
“A what now?”
Hedault was puzzling over the diagram as Kevin tried to explain a skateboard to Pelt. Erin was telling Pelt about how they’d made the gear out of clay since they’d realized they needed a prototype and how easy that was.
Selys Shivertail, sitting in the back, stared at the worst presentation she’d ever seen with horror on her face. The two master artisans were listening with increasing confusion and impatience. Erin did not know how to present. She was operating from the assumption that everyone knew how cool a bicycle was, and Kevin was talking about skateboards.
“So, you can do tricks on it, it’s good exercise—say, how’s Esthelm treating you, Pelt? Anything new happen recently?”
Selys was no expert investor. But she was a [Receptionist]. She looked around, then clapped her claws together as loudly as possible.
Erin and Kevin stopped talking and looked at Selys. The Drake shook her head.
“I’m sorry. But Erin—stop. This isn’t how you present your idea.”
“What? But Selys—”
The [Receptionist] dragged the two Humans to the side and whispered furiously as Palt hurried in with Hedault’s glass of water. Pelt was still eying the mollusks suspiciously; he thought he’d seen one move.
“What’s the problem, Selys? I was working on Pelt. Let him have a few drinks. He likes me.”
“Well, Master Hedault doesn’t.”
Selys pointed to Erin. The [Innkeeper] peered at Hedault’s vexed expression. In another man, he would have been shouting.
The Drake sighed. Erin was better at Pelt than Hedault. It was a personality thing. She took over.
“Erin. Pelt might be a friend, but Master Hedault isn’t. And they’re both busy. This is a big project. Have you never worked with—listen. You’re going to explain what a bicycle is, from the start, as fast as you can. You have five minutes, maximum. Think of it like that. And you want them to like your idea.”
The young woman blinked. Then her eyes lit up.
“Oh! Like those TV shows! But I’m no good at those kinds of presentations…Kevin?”
He hesitated. He hadn’t exactly majored in business either. Selys looked around. But…there was a better diplomat waiting in the wings. Or hooves, as the case might be.
Palt, the Centaur, glanced up from where he was trying to soothe Hedault and keep him from leaving. The Centaur looked at Selys, at the confused Humans. He gave the Drake a nod and they walked to the front of the room.
The first thing Palt did was dim the lights in the room. In this case, the lantern’s lights went lower. Next, he cast a simple spell.
A miniature grassy meadow appeared. It hovered in the air, like a hologram to the Humans. Pelt and Hedault looked at the illusion and saw, rolling onto it, a bicycle.
Palt didn’t know exactly how they worked. However—he didn’t need to.
“Hey, Kevin. Where’s the picture of the bicycle-thingy? Make this thing work.”
Selys shook the laptop at Kevin. He took it hurriedly.
He had pictures. On his computer. Palt spoke as he copied laptop screen—something else Erin had yet to explain to Selys’ satisfaction. Palt and Hedault frowned as Palt blocked the screen and showed them the illusion…of the screen…which was the same thing.
“This is a bicycle, gentlemen.”
The Dwarf smith grunted. The Centaur bowed.
“Excuse me. Dwarf and gentleman. It’s a personal vehicle designed to replace…horses. And running, to a large extent. With it, the average person can move about faster than even your average Runner with Skills. And aside from the cost of construction and occasional maintenance—it runs on no magic.”
The [Enchanter] and [Blacksmith] sat up. Pelt eyed the illusion, then adjusted it based on the laptop Erin and Kevin covertly showed him. Erin pointed before Palt or Hedault could see the electronic.
“See this? It can be done!”
Palt had replicated what he saw on screen exactly. There was Kevin, posing for a picture with a mountain bike on some rock and a scenic view. Pelt and Hedault glanced at Kevin. He gave them two thumbs-up.
“Looks like you already have one of these things.”
“Nope. Um. It’s from home, and Kevin was trying them out. Palt is copying an image we have…uh…of the bike.”
Erin lied quickly. Pelt frowned at her, and then at the image. Hedault peered at the bicycle.
“Interesting structure. But I understand the basic idea. How does one…balance with two wheels?”
“Yeah. You’re going to just fall over.”
Selys and Pelt both looked to Kevin; they agreed. He grinned.
“Not at all. It’s actually easy. See, you don’t just stand there. You’re always moving, and so long as you are, there’s no need to worry. See how the front section there—has a hinge?”
“Ah. A turning mechanism. Why not three wheels, though? Or four?”
More like a coach, then. Kevin shook his head.
“The point of a bicycle is to be efficient as possible. More wheels means more resistance and a larger…structure.”
“I believe we’re talking about a lightweight vehicle, Master Hedault, Master Pelt. Something designed for speed.”
Palt pulled the presentation back on track. Selys nodded. They had to understand what a bike was first.
“Kevin, let’s put aside how the bicycle functions first. Tell us two things: firstly, how light did you say your ‘bike’ was? And how fast could it go?”
Kevin had to think for a second.
“Well…some can get lighter, but my mountain bike was about thirty pounds.”
Pelt’s brows rose. He glanced at the bike.
“That’s not steel, then. Hollowed metal?”
“Yep. And if I’m going uphill, it’s obviously slower. Downhill, faster. But I’d say the average speed of a bike is…”
Kevin looked at Erin. She just shrugged; she wasn’t a cyclist. Kevin hedged.
“…Thirty miles per hour.”
“Thirty? That’s about the top speed of a horse. Is that a precise measurement?”
Hedault was incredulous. Kevin grinned.
“Bicycles can go fast. On wheels, you could reach top speeds even higher than that. Especially downhill.”
“Like a wagon. Only, the rider’s the horse? Why would anyone want to do that?”
Pelt wasn’t quite sold. But the Dwarf got the picture when Selys laid it out for him with Palt’s illusions as illustration.
“Master Pelt, you might not want to use one because you can afford to hire a carriage. But imagine a Runner using one of these. Or the average pedestrian. It’s a new, casual mode of transport. It won’t replace the magical carriage. But it’s the ideal thing for shorter travel. Especially down roads.”
“And imagine what you could do with Skills. Kevin’s speeds are based on—prototypes. Without magic.”
Kevin blinked, caught himself, and nodded. Hedault frowned.
And it was. Somewhat to Erin’s surprise as she saw the others taking over, she realized that the two craftsmen weren’t impressed by bicycles as a game-changing thing. Because it wasn’t. The reason Erin hadn’t pushed for a bicycle before now was because…it wasn’t necessary.
There were faster vehicles in the world. Magnolia’s carriage, [Riders] with Skills. Flying carpets, teleportation spells. Heck, her door was proof enough there were more efficient ways to do things. Now, a plane might change this world. But a bicycle?
In smaller ways. It was a symbol of industrialization. It was easier to care for than a horse, better in some areas. However, you did need to be sold on it.
And what sold Pelt and Hedault wasn’t the economic viability of the bicycles. It was two things.
“I’m willing to finance this project, Master Hedault, Master Pelt. I’ll pay you for your services, your best rates.”
Selys really hoped it wasn’t going to be that much. But the promise of lucre for their hard work definitely drew Pelt and Hedault’s attention. Even so—what really got them was Kevin’s comment in response to Pelt’s question.
“Why us? You could have hired…Raekea? Yeah, that Gnoll [Smith]. Get her to make you some prototypes. I make works of art.”
“But she can’t do it. She can’t work the right metal. The bicycle has to be a work of art. Each little improvement makes it that much better. We need the best; it’s all about efficiency. The weight of the metal, and enchanting it…”
Hedault and Pelt sat up. Efficiency? They looked at the bicycle. And unintentionally or perhaps intentionally, Kevin had spoken to their skillsets.
It wasn’t about making one. It was about making one go as fast as possible. They were drawn to the challenge of the concept. Kevin nodded.
“Do you know what aluminum is? It’s this lightweight metal used in alloys—I don’t know if you’d know about it. It was…”
He looked at Erin. Aluminum as an industrial metal had been invented in the last two hundred years of Human civilization owing to the difficulty of properly smelting it. It was plentiful, but not something Erin had ever seen in circulation in Liscor, or even Pallass’ forges.
Pelt snorted. But his eyes had lit up.
“You think there’s a metal in this world that Dwarves haven’t learned of before Humans? Tell me more. What does it look like?”
“Um…silvery. If it’s raw. Really lightweight compared to steel, but a lot more ductile. Weaker.”
The Dwarf tapped his fingers impatiently on the table.
“Be more specific. Tell me something unique about this metal.”
Kevin was sweating as he tried to recall useful little bits of information. He snapped his fingers.
“Oh! I’ve got one. It’s not magnetic! You know, if you have—”
The Dwarf’s eyes sharpened.
“Ah. Keep going. What’s the melting heat?”
“Er…I know it’s actually sort of common, just hard to process…”
The [Blacksmith] grilled Kevin for a few minutes, but in the end he had his answer.
“It can’t be Dwarfsteel. Not if it’s that malleable and needs alloying like that. And Humans have discovered tin long ago. I think you must be talking about Serraleun.”
“You know about it?”
Erin blinked at Pelt. He took a deeper gulp of wine as he snorted.
“Of course. Different names, same metal. And you’re wrong. Humans ‘discovered’ that ages ago. Can’t just slap your own stupid names on the metal. ‘Aluminum’. Hah. Serraleun’s a tricky bastard of a metal, but Chandrarian [Smiths] have worked with it before. It’s one of the many metals that goes into Naq-Alrama steel.”
“Ooh. Is that a secret?”
The Dwarf glowered.
“Not one I’m going to get in trouble with since they put so many damn metals in there. Everything from Adamantium to—”
He glanced at Palt and Hedault’s avaricious expressions and Pelt’s tone became circumspect.
“So, could you actually make a bicycle out of this metal, Pelt?”
Selys was excited. The Dwarf [Blacksmith] eyed the sample gear and flicked his fingers at it.
“Gah. I hate—what did you call it? Gears? So many little teeth and they have to be perfectly aligned. Of course, I can do it, but I have to make them myself. My apprentices aren’t that good yet.”
“They do have to be perfect. And the chain—”
Kevin could actually describe a bike’s chain well, having worked with them so long. Pelt nodded impatiently.
“It’s damn chain. I make chainmail. It’s even made of parts, so I could do that. Just a pain to make all the little bits. Still—there are ways to speed up the process if I knew I was making thousands of parts. However. I’m not working with Serraleun.”
The Dwarf looked around and counted on his fingers.
“Firstly, the process is a pain in my ass. Even building the contraption you need to smelt the stuff takes an [Enchanter] and time. Second, I hate the stuff. It’s poison if you get it in your lungs. Third, I don’t want to.”
Erin sidled around with the bottle of mostly-empty wine. She waved it at the Dwarf and he smacked it away.
“I’m not done. If you wanted me to make it out of your ‘aluminum’, I’d say no. But why bother? You. Boy. Did your smiths not think of using mithril? Or a lighter metal?”
He pointed at Kevin. The young man jumped.
“Me? I mean—no. Aluminum was cheap because they made a lot of it. Isn’t mithril expensive?”
“Yup. But I’d be able to get more of it than Serraleun. And even a weak alloy of mithril is strong.”
“You wouldn’t even need mithril, per se. Pure steel might actually work, if Master Pelt can make everything out of that.”
Hedault broke into the talk about metals for the first time. The [Enchanter] had been doing calculations. Now, the others looked at him.
“But steel’s too expensive. And heavy.”
Kevin put in. Hedault nodded, but absently.
“What I meant was steel of the purity Master Pelt can produce. You see—pure metals can hold enchantments very well. And if you give me a block of pure steel weighing thirty pounds, I can halve the weight with a basic enchantment. With Master Pelt’s quality of steel and more effort? I could reduce it to almost a third of its weight.”
The conference table fell silent. Erin silently ‘oohed’ in the background.
“Master Hedault, maybe we’ve been looking at this the wrong way. If the problem is just making this device light and strong enough, Kevin—what about wood?”
“Wood? I’ve…heard of people making bikes like that. Bamboo. But I don’t know if it’d be strong enough—still, with magic that changes everything.”
The young man ran a hand through his hair. He looked questioningly at Hedault. The [Enchanter] sighed.
“Not all woods work well. Wood is tricky because the grain structure forces the enchantment to be customized.”
“So not practical for making lots of them?”
“Not at all. However, there are a few magical woods…”
Selys was thinking.
“Master Pelt can make all the gears and little things that Kevin needs. Master Hedault, you can make the bicycle strong enough with the right materials. A really, really efficient bicycle might be expensive. But what about…just pure iron made as light as you can and tough as you can?”
“I can do that. Certainly, enchant iron to be as strong as steel.”
Hedault flicked his fingers. Pelt yawned.
“Iron? I’ll bend it into shape if you want.”
“Oh wow. So we could actually do this?”
Erin looked about. The [Innkeeper] saw Kevin scratching at his head. The young man and expert in this room on bicycles raised one hand.
“…Maybe. There’s just one problem. And that’s the wheel.”
Everyone turned back to the image Palt was maintaining. Pelt frowned.
“Looks easy. Metal rim, good, solid metal structure…ah. What’s that stuff on the edge?”
He pointed and Erin’s heart sank. Rubber. Hedault peered at it too.
“I assume that is to grip the ground?”
“Yup. There’s no…”
Kevin looked at Erin. There wasn’t rubber or plastics that either knew about. He hesitated.
“Road bikes could be just metal, or leather or something so long as it grips the ground. But it’s just less efficient.”
“Hm. Spikes? I can do spikes.”
The group began to brainstorm. There were plenty of leathers Selys knew about.
“Why not ask for Wyvern leather or something? Pallass is still selling it cheap and that’s tough stuff. Any other problems, Kevin? What did you say the issue with the um, gears was?”
“It’s got to be smooth. You see, the problem is that you lose energy. Really efficient bicycles don’t weigh much, the gears are smooth—oh, and we need brakes and shock absorbers, although that can come later.”
“Ah. Then I could apply a force multiplier on the…pedals? What is being absorbed?”
Hedault was quite impressed by Kevin’s description of shock absorbers. However, he also considered it an overly-difficult solution to an easy fix with magic. He pointed at the saddle.
“I’ll enchant that with a [Cushion] spell. It will be magically-intensive to create, but that solves your need for these ‘springs’. And if you are worried about falling—a Ring of Feather Impact solves that.”
“Would you stop that?”
Selys whispered at Erin. Even Palt was in on this.
“If you want a light on this, there are spells. Master Hedault, all you’d need is a good crystal, even quartz and a directed [Light Beam] spell.”
“That’s a combat spell. [Light] will do, with a few enhancement spells.”
“What about spikes? I could put some chariot war scythes on the sides if you really wanted this thing to fight for you.”
The Dwarf was imagining where to mount them. Yup, some nice, spinning blades and you’d just ride past the enemy…Kevin hesitated.
“Maybe let’s not do that, dude. But hey—how light could we make this bicycle? I mean, obviously the iron ones can be lightweight. But if we really went at it?”
Pelt looked at Hedault. The [Enchanter] smiled.
“Mister Kevin. One of the final tests of a true [Enchanter] in most Terandrian academies is to enchant a small block of mithril. The metal is already feather-light. So the [Enchanter] must, with [Featherweight] and other buoyancy spells, enchant the block until he is able to keep it aloft by his breath alone.”
“Whoa. Dude. Hear me out, then. What if you had a bike that light, and then the person on it was so lightweight with like, an amulet or something they went off a jump…”
Kevin was imagining the greatest stunts either world had ever seen. Erin was rubbing her hands together. Selys was worried they were taking this too far.
“Remember, everyone. We’re trying to mass-produce these bicycles. Not make one really expensive one.”
Palt, Pelt, Hedault, and Kevin all gave her a betrayed look. Palt cleared his throat.
“We can always make a prototype that showcases all the abilities of a bicycle. No doubt there will be higher-end models. Er—Kevin. How would you make one for me?”
Kevin and Erin stopped. They looked at Palt. Centaur hooves, his entire body…Palt’s face fell. Erin solemnly put a hand on his shoulder. She had to stand on her tip-toes to do so.
“I’m sorry, pal.”
The Centaur sighed and put a cigar in his mouth. Erin didn’t have the heart to stop him. Hedault did.
Erin smiled hugely as she walked around the edge of the huddle.
“So—do you think we can get a bike tonight? I’d love to ride one!”
The others looked at her strangely. Pelt grunted.
“Tonight? Are you mad? I can’t make one tonight! You’re lucky if we can get a prototype with all those fiddly gears by the end of the week, and that’s if I can trust my apprentices with the work!”
“The end of the week?”
Erin was appalled. Hedault cleared his throat.
“Enchanting each piece and ascertaining how to streamline the process will also take time, Miss Solstice. I will move your work up in the queue since it isn’t as arduous as some of my tasks, but it will take time.”
That was disappointing. Erin had made the Toren-sled in an hour, after all! And she was used to setting up and implementing her big plans over a day. Even the Players of Celum hadn’t been, like, well, making something.
“I can totally work with them, Erin. Leave it to me.”
Kevin didn’t seem to mind the time it would take. Erin looked at Selys, but she was asking Pelt and Hedault for quotes on their prices and wincing. Palt trotted over to her.
“I think it will be quick, Erin. But you do have to wait for innovation.”
“That’s probably why I don’t innovate. Food is fast. Actually—magic food is hard. Maybe I’ll go make some.”
Erin realized she should probably do more cook-experimentation or Numbtongue would yell at her. She saw Selys digging in her bag of holding for gold which she thrust at Pelt.
“Are you still experimenting?”
The Centaur gave Erin a look. She held up her hands.
“Numbtongue makes me! I made an acid-fly jelly the other day.”
“What does that…do?”
“Um. It kills you if you eat it? But you can serve it on a plate and not damage the plate!”
Everyone in the conference room turned to look at Erin. They resolved never to eat anything remotely resembling jello in the inn. Erin threw up her hands.
“It was an experiment! I had to get rid of it just in case Mrsha ever got snacky. I’m not insane!”
The conference was winding down. Pelt and Hedault had agreed and Selys was arranging down payments on their services. Kevin was grinning at the prospect of working on his dream-bike. That was when he remembered the other idea he’d floated at the start and turned to Pelt.
“Hey. Do you think you could make me a skateboard sometime? I mean, when you have the chance. I just need a few parts. A skateboard is really easy to make compared to a bicycle.”
The Dwarf scratched at his beard.
“It’s a piece of wood with four wheels.”
Kevin pulled up a picture on his laptop and Palt copied it. The Dwarf eyed the object.
“…I can make that. Why can’t you?”
The young man from California hesitated and looked at Hedault.
“Well. I wanted a helmet. In case I fell on my head.”
The [Enchanter] raised his eyebrows.
“That can certainly be done. But what about a ring?”
The young man thought about that. And he grinned. Erin peered sideways at the group.
“How hard is it to make a skateboard, Kevin?”
When you really got down to it, it seemed simple. The expert in the room grimaced.
“There are a few parts, Erin. Stuff like ball bearings to make the wheels run smooth. Some parts are easy, like the board itself. If I had plywood and glue, I could make the base really fast. And a vacuum-sealable bag. And…a vacuum. Or a pump…and a place to actually skateboard.”
The little problems. Skateboards were even less useful than bikes because, well, they had been designed with urban roadways in mind. Kevin was describing them to Pelt and Hedault.
“See, the wheels only work on smooth roads. But even Invrisil has, like, cobblestones in too many places.”
The two nodded. Pelt was eying the image of Kevin doing a trick.
“Not sure what those tiny metal balls are for.”
“Ball bearings. You put them in to create a smooth spin to the wheels…”
“Huh. Why would that help? The rest looks easy. Just two support struts.”
“Well, yeah. It’s not rocket sc—er, really hard. It’s just—smooth, remember? It’s gotta be smooth. And if thing don’t work right, it’s just not fun.”
Kevin pretended not to notice Erin and Palt’s covert glares. What a problem. How did you make something as light and sturdy as plywood without…plywood? You had to experiment. And without ball bearings, how did you make the wheels? You had to invent the very simple stuff that went into a modern skateboard.
Or, alternatively—Hedault looked at Kevin. The [Enchanter]’s curiosity was piqued.
“If it’s just something that simple—I could enchant that in less than an hour. Wheels, board. And perhaps the…what is the term for that part?”
Erin’s eyes lit up. The [Innkeeper] slid forwards.
“Maybe, guys…we should do a proof of concept.”
She threw her arms around Hedault and Kevin’s shoulders since Pelt was too short. The [Enchanter] blinked. Kevin grinned wider. Hedault brushed Erin’s arm off.
“Perhaps. But we must first speak about boundaries, Miss Solstice. Stop. Touching. Me.”
Erin’s smile faltered.
It was so easy for her to do, and he hated her for it. He only saw the finished product, hours later. But then—so did she. She didn’t respect the craft; in many ways, Erin Solstice was callous.
This was how it had taken shape.
The metal moved under the [Blacksmith]’s hammer. It flowed and reshaped itself, touched by a master. It had been rendered pure by Skill and knowledge and talent and care. From the moment Pelt had selected the iron ore, chosen his crucible and ensured neither air nor foreign contaminant could disrupt the purity of his product.
It mattered. In a way, the Dwarf had finished forging before he’d even put hammer to metal. With the purity of his metal, what was shape to the substance he had wrought? But he was a master of both.
“It won’t flex just right.”
“Bah. It’s thin enough. It’s a test-run. And you can’t enchant wood the same way, right, Hedault?”
“Not at all. Give me twenty minutes.”
The [Enchanter] took the semblance of the board, curved upwards on both sides, made of steel rather than wood. The Dwarf was busy with the truck. He copied the form based on the one look he’d gotten from Kevin’s skateboard, fashioning a template out of clay.
“Yes. Holy…how did you know?”
“Eh. So long as I know the measurements of the board part, I can keep it the same ratio. Now stand back. I’ll need to fuller these wheels too.”
Erin had remarked that it was a stupid, stupid idea to make a bicycle out of steel. And perhaps this idea was just as cracked. But there was magic involved too. Hedault weighed the board on a little scale.
“Hm. Nearly a third of the weight, as I said. Here.”
He handed it to Kevin. The young man whistled as he lifted the board and offered it to Erin. She lifted the metal incredulously. Yes, steel was suddenly lighter than titanium. Maybe not as light as wood or aluminum could be—but close.
The thing was that they were taking shortcuts to the real thing. Hedault did the truck of the skateboard next, reinforcing it so the steel wouldn’t deform under the impacts the board needed to take, and making it lighter. It wasn’t something, say, Ceria, or even Palt or Montressa could have done. But that’s why Hedault was there. Erin had, in her way, found the best experts in the region. Arguably, a large part of the world around her to do what she wanted.
But it was easy because of how she did it. She wasn’t experimenting. She wasn’t…innovating. She was searching for a way to create what she knew would work.
And that made things easy. So much easier than finding it out after trial, failure, improvements on the design. In the same way a…an iPhone was indecipherable and beyond even the most advanced early super-computers of their eras, it was all about time.
Time, which equated to knowledge in this case, expertise, money, and talent. And the finished product was easy.
Easier than a bicycle. Kevin gingerly stared at the all-metal contraption. It was shiny.
“You could paint this in a wicked scheme. But the wheels—”
“I roughed them up a bit. Should grip. And the top’s got sandpaper on it.”
Literally. Pelt had just glued it to the metal. Kevin stood on the board. He experimentally pushed himself forwards and nearly fell—
“Whoa! It’s fast!”
“Lightweight enchantments, and [Grease] enchantments where it spins.”
Even Hedault had been caught up in the excitement of creation, once Erin had apologized properly and amended her behavior. And why not? For him, this was new.
Look at it. Of course, only the patrons of The Wandering Inn saw Kevin first enter through the door to Esthelm and shoot down the floor. Mrsha went insane, chasing after the coolest thing ever as Kevin shot around tables and chairs and wiped out because he was going way faster than he imagined. But Hedault’s ring cushioned the impact.
“Kevin, are you insane? Is that a metal skateboard?”
Joseph, wide-eyed, stared at the board. He immediately wanted a try. So did Rose. Galina just stared at the death of ankles everywhere and climbed onto her chair before Kevin could run into her.
“It’s just a trial for something else. Look at this! Whoops—it’s dangerous!”
Kevin tried to do a ‘walk the dog’ simple trick and hit Joseph in the leg. The [Kicker] howled in pain. A steel skateboard was still made of steel, even if it was lighter.
“Palt. What is that?”
Montressa looked at the Centaur. She knew.
“Something that might be completely useless. But it’s a prototype. I’ll share the details with you later.”
The Centaur was grinning like a madman. So was Kevin. Mrsha was begging for a turn along with half the young males in the room and some of the females.
So incautious. Erin hadn’t thought about what bringing this into existence meant. Which was why Ryoka often got peeved at her. She didn’t understand the levels of what it changed.
The skateboard? Perhaps on its own it wasn’t that revealing. It wouldn’t change the way wars were fought.
Ball bearings, though? Pelt had remained in his forge to puzzle that one out. He’d just given the skateboard a normal axis to spin on, but he was experimenting with the idea of using the tiny metal orbs like Kevin had described.
That was the unintentional little jump forwards hundreds of years. And that was just in the inception of the skateboard.
There was a logic to it. Selys saw Kevin shooting down the inn as guests cleared the way. The young man was over the moon.
“I wish I had a bigger place! And a ramp! Hey, can we get one built? If only Liscor didn’t have paving stones.”
He groused even as he gave Joseph a turn. Leon and Troy weren’t there, or they would have demanded the same. But then Selys observed something.
“You know, Pallass has really smooth walkways. No paving stones, just smooth. And there’s those giant ramps…”
Kevin looked up. He hadn’t been to Pallass. Erin’s eyes widened.
“Whoa. But Selys—I don’t think you quite know how skateboards work. Um—Kevin, they’re massive ramps.”
“Like, how big?”
He looked eagerly at Erin. The [Innkeeper] hesitated. And she was a bit too slow to stop it.
That was how he saw her. The muscular Drake turned his head as he stood on the 3rd Floor. He looked up and saw something else from her time. A crystallization of technology, brought with absurd ease to life. Because Erin Solstice had known it existed.
The young woman stared down one of the four great staircases of Pallass. As she had observed the very first time she’d come to Pallass, the staircases went up the entire Walled City on both sides. Thus, the ramps stretched down nearly three hundred feet. They separated both sides, flattening out on each floor for a bit before curving down.
“Kevin, don’t be stupid. You’ll die.”
Joseph cautioned his friend. Kevin was holding the skateboard on the 9th Floor, looking down. He was already getting looks. Not many people used the center ramps. Well—some of Pallass’ Street Runners did, especially the fearless Garuda who literally jumped off each floor to make deliveries.
“I’ve got a magical ring, guys. Right, Hedault?”
“He should survive a fall even if he jumped from the 9th Floor. I will need it back.”
The [Enchanter] couldn’t have said why he’d followed Kevin. Perhaps to see his invention used and analyze the efficacy. Or perhaps—the fluid motion of the wheels and the way Kevin had used it had called to him. He…would have liked a turn.
“Guys. This is the most incredible ramp I’ve ever seen. And I have a magical ring. I have to try it.”
If Kevin was worried about anyone, it was accidentally losing control of the skateboard and hitting someone with the flying metal object. So he began shouting.
“Hey! I’m going down! Get out of the way!”
That, of course, attracted attention. People looked up at the obnoxious shouting Human. Erin shouted too—that was when Grimalkin heard him.
“Hey. Is that Kevin? No way. Is that a skateboard? No way.”
Someone muttered. Leon and Troy looked up from where they’d been surreptitiously investigating Pallass with a big bag of coins.
More heads were turning. It wasn’t just Hedault. Or Grimalkin, or the Earthers. Kevin’s steel skateboard shone in the light as he slowly rolled to the edge of the ramp on the 9th floor. People were mostly just curious; some recognized Erin, or just wanted to know what the shouting was about. After all, they’d seen bad wipeouts that carried people down the staircase. One time a Dullahan had dropped his head and it had bounced down six floors.
People had demanded the guardrails that were on the staircases now. But this—this was different.
What was this Human doing? Across Pallass, people were staring. But more than people.
Young Drakes, Gnolls, Garuda, and Dullahans stared up at the Human around their age. It didn’t matter if they were rich, like Lady Salkis, who had demurely paused with her bodyguards, hiding the strange artifact she couldn’t puzzle out.
“What is that Human doing? I’d like to see.”
One of her bodyguards wanted to stop the young Drake lady, but she was insistent. And she was just in time to see Kevin take a deep breath.
“Okay. Here I go!”
He pushed forwards, balancing on the skateboard and crouching. The watchers had just a second to realize.
The board was on wheels. And the wheels cleared the edge of the ramp—
The young man shot down the ramp. It wasn’t a slow pickup of speed. He went over the side and blazed down the steep incline.
Erin’s jaw dropped. She turned to Hedault as everyone surged to the edge. The [Enchanter] tapped his wrist twice.
“…Maybe I made the [Grease] enchantment too strong.”
By the time he said that, though, Kevin was three floors down. The only thing stopping him from wiping out was the fact that he was going in a perfect straight line. And wind resistance. But on the 6th floor—as he cleared the flat straightaway, his skateboard’s acceleration carried him over the edge.
He touched the ground at the edge of the ramp going down to the 5th Floor and braced just in time. Erin saw him lose speed, but the force of landing made Kevin wobble. He went over the 5th Floor’s ramp and hit the stairs.
“Oh my god!”
The skateboard flipped. Kevin flipped. Erin saw, in slow-motion, the skateboard twirling past Kevin as he tried to grab it in midair. He had time! He could grab it, put it under his legs—
Maybe if he’d had Skills. Kevin missed. He rotated in the air and went head-first towards the ground.
The young man halted a foot from the ground. His flailing arms, and scream—all stopped as Hedault’s ring flashed. For a second Kevin hovered—and then the enchantment let him drop. He hit the ground.
His skateboard had slammed into the railing just past him, narrowly missing a watching group of Dullahans. Kevin heard exclamations, shouts from above. He tried to stand up—but his arms and legs were jelly.
“He nearly killed someone!”
“That ring saved him!”
“What in the name of the Ancestors was that thing? Some kind of artifact?”
People were shouting. Erin looked at Hedault. The [Enchanter] stared down at Kevin, surrounded by a crowd.
“That was quite dangerous.”
The man waved at the skateboard.
“Not the ring. It could have saved him from a much faster drop. Although…it’s only safe up to a certain amount of weight. I might have to adjust for that kind of acceleration. I meant the skateboard. It’s quite a projectile.”
Indeed, before Erin even got to Kevin, the nearest [Guard] had arrested him. They might not have known what law he’d broken, but he’d broken something. However, the [Guard] proved unable to escort Kevin to the Watch House or jail.
A mob of Pallass’ youth practically carried Kevin off. They demanded to know what he’d just been riding.
Lady Salkis herself would have been part of that mob, but for her damned [Bodyguards]. She couldn’t stop her tail from wagging.
“Find out what that is.”
“But Lady Salkis—”
“That’s an order.”
Look at it. No, look at it. In a moment, Kevin’s face became burned into a thousand eyes. A vision of speed. And the skateboard? Kevin was trying to explain as people fought to prevent it being stolen and begged for a chance. In his mind whirled visions of ramps, places where he could do that trick more safely—and lots of Hedault’s rings.
Grimalkin of Pallass saw it all. The Watch tried to stop the inevitable. But the mob of people proved too much for them. And they ended up just clearing a death-zone around the southern staircase as the first Garuda tried to ride down all nine floors. She ended up wiping out after just two floors and flying off as the skateboard blasted further down like some missile of death.
Look what you’ve done. He saw Erin Solstice amid it all. She wasn’t the focus of attention; Kevin was. But he knew who had caused this.
Look. Pallass wouldn’t ever be the same. A Drake went down one floor before he hopped off, screaming. His tail had nearly torn off every scale as it dragged behind the skateboard. Of course, each rider had to borrow Hedault’s ring. And the others wanted one of those boards yesterday.
“Even the damn [Enchanter].”
Hedault went down all nine floors like an arrow thanks to a [Sticky Web] spell on his feet. And Grimalkin, Erin—no one could have predicted that. Or how Hedault laughed.
She changed everything. Grimalkin watched Erin. Had she planned this? Or was it just chance? Thoughtlessness. Soon, Drassi or Wistram’s broadcast would pick it up. And then—well, he had seen what happened with football. Imagine this? What would it change? Nobody could know, not even Erin Solstice. What had she done?
“It’s not her fault.”
He told himself that. He had wondered if she was just a child. Or if some things—taking in Antinium, introducing the things she did—was because she knew something.
Either way. Grimalkin didn’t keep watching. He could have marched up there and he wondered what Erin Solstice would have said to him. But he wouldn’t do that.
Erin Solstice was a woman of virtues and her own kind of integrity. She could be forced into many situations. But—making someone of her level and talent an enemy was a foolish idea in the extreme. Despite, or rather, because of her background—Pallass, Izril, needed people like her on their side.
No. But Grimalkin wasn’t about to let this drop. He’d had more than enough time to collect all the evidence in the world. Even if nothing was definitive—there was a glut of tertiary information he’d have to be blind to ignore.
The [Sinew Magus] could not, would not just sit on it. He was a [Mage], yes. But also a [Soldier]. He had fought in the Antinium Wars and other conflicts. He had already acted on the information he’d gotten a bare two hours ago.
He wished he’d stayed at The Wandering Inn in hindsight. But then again…Grimalkin turned his head.
“Excuse me. But I believe our tour of Pallass isn’t completed. By all means, let us investigate your friend’s device later. Perhaps tell me about it as we walk. However—we were speaking.”
He addressed a pair of Humans. They looked up at him. Leon and Troy hesitated. Then they recalled that Grimalkin had personally offered them a tour, and the coins they were so eager to spend.
“Whatever you say, Magus Grimalkin.”
They looked giddy. Grimalkin smiled politely. And he glanced back at Erin. Attack her from the front? Ridiculous.
When you fought the enemy, you always went for the weak points. Grimalkin watched Troy and Leon marvel at his city, exclaiming. There were traitors in every war. And this wasn’t even war. You could buy what you wanted. Depending on the person.
“Where were we? Well, your friend is an example of what I’d like to know, gentlemen.”
The [Sinew Magus] strode with Leon and Troy. He watched them, noting how they glanced at each other.
“I’m sure it is. However, I do know that you and your…group have come from Magnolia Reinhart’s estates. Which indicates you have told her something.”
The [Sinew Magus] saw Troy gulp. Grimalkin did not need to loom. He just needed to exist. He looked at Leon.
“The Reinharts, as members of the Five Families of Izril, are not always the allies of the Walled Cities of Izril. Quite the opposite.”
Leon wavered as Grimalkin looked at him. The bag of coins was very heavy; Grimalkin had given it to him instead of a bag of holding on purpose. Leon tried to remember if Magnolia had ever given him that much money aside from when he’d first met her.
“Look…we’re just travellers. We’re not taking sides.”
“Of course I understand that. Which is why I’d like to incentivize you. That bag of coins? Consider that a free gift. And of course, Pallass is open to you. Grand Strategist Chaldion can arrange…anything you’d like. Rooms. Company. Artifacts.”
The two looked up at him. Leon looked around surreptitiously.
“What…do you want? There’s some stuff we sh—can’t talk to you about.”
Troy nodded emphatically. The Drake was prepared for that. Grimalkin checked his notes.
“Aside from anything of pertinence? Let us call it a free exchange. Obviously, secret. Especially from Miss Solstice. Nor is this an exclusive arrangement.”
“Of course not. I’m paying you for information. That’s all. I’m particularly interested in your reaction to Master Felkhr. You called him a ‘pioneer’. Let’s begin with that. And of course—you can decline to answer me at any time.”
Leon looked at Troy. He’d never really had a chance. Grimalkin had gone with the straight offer. He would have changed tactics as needed. But he didn’t need to. Slowly, the young man nodded.
“Okay. We could…talk.”
“Excellent. Then, of course, we’ll continue our tour. After that? Drinks. I know an excellent restaurant.”
Not Tails and Scales, obviously. Erin frequented that establishment. Grimalkin had a magical book with one thousand pages, enchanted to look like the slimmest of journals. Standard for Fissival [Mages].
Of course, he’d filled up two with observations on Erin. Notes. Theories. Now, the [Sinew Magus] had a fresh one and a magical quill from Wistram that auto-copied dictation. He did so love proper documentation. And this would not be theories.
He prepared his first manual for submission to Chaldion and made a mental note to ask for one of Pallass’ high-ranking officers. Female, with charm Skills unless they were like Rose. Another question to ask. But first things first. He underlined the first heading.
“Now. Tell me…everything.”
Author’s Note: Perhaps it’s not exactly the slice-of-life you imagined. Perhaps it’s more than you dreamed. Or maybe it’s just weird.
But here we are again. I changed up my lineup to write this chapter. Was that a good idea? Sometimes it’s okay to be spontaneous. And it’s a shorter chapter!
Well, under 20,000 words, which is rare! Hope it was worth it for you. An interesting note…of all the things I planned, besides Grimalkin, bicycles, and so on…Kevin’s scene going down the ramps was something I had in my notes since last year, I think.
I think you can even see it when Erin focuses on the ramps going down from Pallass. Anyways, that’s the writer’s side of things. Hope you enjoyed the reader’s side! Things are happening. And sometimes it does feel like plots drag on. Then again…Grimalkin’s note-taking has evolved.
Changes by the chapter. Let me know what you think and thanks for reading! Today’s artists are Brack, with new art including posh-Mrsha, Tomeo with some amazingly wonderful art including the ritual with Miss Califor, and cmarguel, who’s done a post-fight Erin!
Erin by cmarguel!
Posh-Mrsha and more by Brack!
Califor’s Ritual and more of Tomeo’s art!