7.60

A day had passed since the run that defined Izril, for a moment. No—just a night. And what a sleepless night, for so many.

The electric shock of adrenaline in the veins, the excitement. The grief and fury and satisfaction of victory—all of that mixed together in the body, both chemical, emotional, until sleep was an impossibility.

Rewatch the clips being broadcast on Wistram News Network. Talk with the others who’d seen it. Speculate. Worry.

The day after an event as momentous as the ‘Wind Runner’s Delivery’—or perhaps, ‘Maviola El’s Final Ride’—or ‘Saliss of Lights Saves Those Stupid Humans From Themselves’ as the other species were naming the event, was far too much to process.

Especially if you weren’t used to such moments in your life. A certain [Innkeeper] and her clientele, for instance, could actually get some sleep after the events of the run. Even if they worried for Ryoka Griffin. Even if friends had died—they had lived through such days.

The unprepared did not sleep. And indeed, he was so exhausted that after riding for two hours and returning the plough horse he’d borrowed, Farmer Lupp practically collapsed into his bed.

He could have slept for sixteen hours, despite going to sleep as the sun was rising. As it turned out, he got exactly three hours.

Someone knocked on his door, loudly. The [Farmer] ignored it until the banging became too loud to ignore. He stumbled upright.

“Corn crows take it, who’s making a racket at…?”

Well, it was a proper time to get up. The [Farmer] blearily looked around, and realized he didn’t need to put on clothes; he’d had them on.

He walked towards the door. Scowling at first. Then smiling.

She did it. The Wind Runner, Ryoka Griffin. Someone he knew. Come to that—all of Reizmelt had celebrated. Lupp would have stuck around, but the huge gathering didn’t suit him. And he’d been happy enough to see the Lischelle-Drakle family receive news that their daughter was well.

Maybe he’d head into the city, see if people were still talking about it. Bring some corn, roast it and share it about.

The [Farmer] was smiling as he opened the door. Right up until he saw the four people standing on his doorstep.

“Farmer Lupp.”

It was not a question. The [Farmer] looked at the four people. They wore ordinary traveller’s clothing. Innocuous, inconspicuous, bearing common self-defense weapons. A dagger, a sword, a bow on one’s back and a small quiver. They could have been [Hunters] and perhaps if he saw them on the road, riding the four horses tied to his gate, Lupp would have ignored them completely.

…What made them different today was that they had put on hoods, tied strips of cloth over their faces, covering all but their eyes. A simple disguise you could put on and take off in a minute.

[Assassins]. The [Farmer] tried to back up. One of the four swung up a crossbow and aimed it at his chest.

“I—I—I don’t have much gold. It’s under my bed—”

He started, even as he knew that wasn’t why they were here. The [Assassin] looked at him.

“Farmer Lupp. Local [Farmer], grower of corn—”

“Good corn.”

One of them had plucked some freshly grown corn. Lupp, for a moment, was terribly offended. He defended his corn against crows and thieves—the scarecrow standing in the field was proof of that. As if that was the worst sin they would commit on his land this morning.

“T-that’s me. If you’re here to rob me—”

He had gold from Lady Bethal, who bought his corn these days. The [Assassin] shook his head.

“You know why we’re here.”

“I don’t—please—”

“Farmer Lupp. An acquaintance of the Wind Runner of Reizmelt, Ryoka Griffin. A…friend.”

The [Assassin] hesitated. He looked at the others, almost embarrassed.

“One of the few acquaintances she has. She’s paid you visits for more than just deliveries.”

“Just to deliver things from my daughter. I don’t know her at all.”

The [Farmer] had a bow. And he had shovels, pitchforks—none of which came to hand. He was no killer, either. The [Assassin] looked at him, almost pityingly.

“Blame yourself, [Farmer]. There’s not many on our list. And you’re by far the easiest.”

The others. Fierre, an Information Broker, used to watching her back. Mad Madain? A former Gold-rank Adventurer? A [Fistfighter] in Invrisil? Forget the damned inn.

“Who will miss a [Farmer]? Step out and we’ll make it quick.”

Lupp had the door in his hands. He pushed—but one of the [Assassins] was holding it open.

“I don’t know her.”

A lie. The [Assassin] produced a red, glowing stone. He offered it to Lupp. He did not look…happy to do this. Just resigned. Tired.

The Guild of Assassins was burning. But neither Lupp nor Ryoka had considered that even if the Faces were massacred, the Guild broken—they could still find one or two agents to take vengeance.

“You don’t have to do this.”

He tried one last time. The [Assassin] in front looked at him.

“You’re friends with Ryoka Griffin. She destroyed our home. Will it be slow or quick, farmer?”

The old man’s heart beat too quickly. He was shaking. Like other people in this situation, he was searching for a way out. But few attempts on his life had been made like this. A [Mugger], a [Thief]—a confrontation at a tavern.

This—was different. The [Farmer] looked at the [Assassins]. If he shoved the door closed and went to run—

They’d put a bolt in his back before he even took a step. The [Corn Farmer] looked at them. Then…he let go of the door.

“I know Ryoka Griffin.”

They stirred. The [Farmer] opened and closed his hands.

“I know that young woman. She’s a friend. Not one I knew long. But I think I knew her well enough. She was so sad. Too sad for a girl her age. Younger’n my daughter, even.”

He was shaking harder. His eyes blurred a bit. Lupp had to say it, though.

“I saw her on that orb. Running for her life. Defying your Guild. She never looked—”

He swallowed. Then smiled through the tears.

“She never looked happier. She flew. I was never prouder of anyone. If you’re here to kill me for being her friend—d-do it. I’ll never regret knowing the Wind Runner.”

Lupp’s voice stumbled a bit. He wished he’d said his last words as bravely as he thought them, with confidence and daring.

…It was enough. The [Assassins] listened, politely. Then, the one in front nodded.

“Said well enough. Do it.”

The one with the crossbow raised it. Lupp closed his eyes.

Snap. A bowstring cracking.

Thud.

 

—-

 

Lupp cracked one eye open. He saw the [Assassin] collapse. An arrow was sticking out of his head.

The scarecrow had shot him in the face.

The scarecrow had—?

The [Assassins] whirled. A second arrow knocked the leader down. He screamed as he tried to drag it out of his thigh. Lupp stared. He fell back, as the other two crashed around the side of the house, for cover.

Lupp was stunned. He didn’t know what was happening. He certainly wasn’t about to fight or take cover more effectively. He just had one thought.

I’ve leveled up. I’ve gained [Awaken Scarecrows]. No—[Automated Scarecrows]. I didn’t hear it. I must have leveled—

He realized, a moment later, that this wasn’t true. The big hint was the shouting voice.

Take them!

It wasn’t the [Assassins]. Lupp heard them die. Screams—two more thunks as arrows hit them. He dared to peek out his door. He saw his scarecrow lower the bow. Then—brush at its face.

The wicker creation he used to scare crows away as, even dressed up as himself, became a figure standing in the field. The illusion spell melted off the [Archer] as she looked around.

More figures spread out in his field of corn. Each one had a bow. They’d killed the [Assassins].

“Secure the farm! Make sure there’s no backup. What word from the other teams?”

“Reizmelt secure. Second farm secure. Assassin team headed to the farm intercepted and dead.”

“Good.”

The figure walked up the hill towards Lupp. Reflexively, he almost closed the door in her face.

“Farmer Lupp? It’s safe.”

“Who—who are—”

The figure nodded at him. She—it was a she—was wearing a strange armor that seemed to take on the characteristics of whatever was around her. Right now it looked like the dirt of his farm’s path; if she laid down, she’d be all but invisible.

“I am a [Stealth Archer] in the employ of the House of El, Farmer Lupp. You are under the protection of the Five Families.”

The House of…

The woman nodded, her eyes on the distance.

“The aegis of the Veltras Family is on you. Until the Guild is destroyed, we will be protecting your farm.”

The other figures in his field, searching the bodies of the [Assassins], wore the colors of House Veltras. [Soldiers]. Expert [Marksmen]. Lupp stared.

“But—how—”

“Lord Veltras requested aid from the Five Families. Friends and family of the Wind Runner of Reizmelt are to be guarded. Obviously.”

The [Stealth Archer] smiled, eying the dead [Assassins]. She turned to Farmer Lupp.

“Apologies about the delay. Veltras’ agents were still getting into position. I would have taken all four if I had to, but…”

She shrugged. She must have come first; the other [Archers] looked exhausted, having ridden through the night to get here. Lupp was at a loss for words. He looked at the [Stealth Archer]. At the dead [Assassins]. Relief made him weak.

As before, so, now. All the [Farmer] could think to do was point towards his open door.

“Thank you. Thank you. Would you like—some corn?”

 

—–

Even their most tertiary agents were dying. The Guild of Assassins lay in ruins. The headquarters in First Landing was obliterated and two more of their bases were burning.

There was no leadership. Conflicting [Messages], ordering them to regroup, or strike at their enemies—the agents of the Circle of Thorns were similarly panicked.

The truth was—their great gambit had failed. In every conceivable way. And now that the threat upon his sons was ended, both Tyrion Veltras and the Five Families—and even lesser houses of Izril were turning their might upon the Guild without fear.

The worst had happened to them. So—now came wrath and ruination.

 

—-

 

House of El. Lord Deilan had, with Zedalien’s advice, stones brought out. [Appraisal], [Truth]—to find agents in his lands. Any that were located were not engaged directly, like Veltras’ forces who were running down every [Assassin] they could find.

“Seeker arrows. Target is fleeing.”

One of the El Family’s [Archers] stood on the roof of their manor. He drew a crafted arrow, one of the El Family’s creations, and loosed it. It flew up and kept flying, defying physics, arcing with more range and accuracy than even most Skills could allow. The [Eagle-eye Marksman] saw the fleeing figure crumple.

 

—-

 

The Wellfar Family at sea sunk another burning ship. The Guild had ships, some of whom had been trying to flee. In vain; Wellfar’s navy was their strength, and even their flagship was out. In a show of force, it had bombarded the cutter-sized ship with firepower meant for another warship.

It was raining, as water fell around one of the [Captains]. He grimaced and wiped at his cap. Then turned his attention towards the coast, sighting other ships. Not one rat would flee Izril.

For Gresaria and Regein Wellfar. The Harbormistress of First Landing’s reputation had been such that even [Captains] who had disliked her work keeping the docks clear of contraband were refusing to carry [Assassins].

It was personal to them, such that the [Lords] and [Ladies] were leading their own ships, on the hunt for [Assassins] in the waters. Out for blood.

 

—-

 

The Terland Family was more prosaic. They did not take to arms themselves; well, some of the younger hotheads did. But Ulva Terland simply gave one order, and remained secluded, safeguarded until the threat passed.

For the Terland family, that was enough.

The Guild’s stronghold in the northeast was fortified against magical attack as well as mundane. It was less-obvious than the one in First Landing. But overconfidence had lost its chief protection—secrecy. And like the Guild in First Landing, it might have staved off an army with its fortifications.

But not a bombardment from a relic of the House of Wellfar. And similarly—

They’re coming!

A cry. The [Assassins] watched the doors, which were being battered by some unknown force. The Guild was trembling with the impacts. They coated their weapons with poisons, trained Wands of [Fireball] on the door.

An [Assassin] peeked out an arrow slit. But the fog-spells made it impossible to see what was assailing them. House Terland, of course. But what kind of army? They’d loosed arrows and bolts and spells, but heard no cry of—

A fist punched through the arrow slit. Through enchanted stone. The [Assassin] screamed—a second before the fist tried to draw her through the small opening.

Her body resisted. But the Golem’s strength was inexorable. It pulled—and most of the [Assassin] followed.

The other [Assassins] saw a glowing rune as the Golem proceeded to punch through the wall again. Then the double doors burst open.

“They’re just Golems! Destroy them and—”

The words left the [Assassin] leading the defense. The wind sucked out of the room. They gasped—looking up.

A glowing Golem’s Heart. Whirling pieces of armor surrounding it. But the body of one of Terland’s greatest relic-protectors was just…

Poetically, perhaps. Given the Wind Runner’s involvement. The [Assassins] did not admire the Wind Golem. They fell, choking for air or grabbing emergency artifacts like Jars of Air as the lesser Golems charged into their guild. The few Humans hung back until the job was done.

 

—-

 

The Reinhart Family, mostly confined to their estates in decadence, placed bets on how many [Assassins] were dying. They had lost nothing, given nothing. They took part in small ways.

Their matriarch, and not well-beloved, was gone. Most watched the slaughter with urbane amusement.

 

—-

 

House Veltras’ army had long been considered the largest and most powerful, at least under Tyrion Veltras. A standing force that was mighty—yet, as the [Assassins] had proven, flawed in some crucial areas.

Counterintelligence was the game of Reinharts. That would change. But at least in open conflict, they were greatly feared. And all the pent-up wrath of nearly a month was unleashed in the bloodiest purge of their lands and the surrounding region.

[Assassins] fought [Soldiers] in one-sided melees. The Skills that allowed them to kill foes in armor, from afar, in secret, were of less use in a pitched battle. And the best of them, who had killed [Knights] and high-level foes, the Faces, were dead.

Or being hunted down.

There were three. One was fifteen, a daughter, an [Alchemist] in training. Like her mother, she had a gift. A boy, fourteen, held back by the younger daughter, who was eleven. The daughter had inherited something…odd. A preternatural strength that meant that even at her age, she was stronger than her siblings.

It came from her mother. They had not seen her for the last month; she was a travelling [Trader]-[Alchemist], who had a lot of clients.

They, and her husband, had been shocked beyond belief when she returned, missing an arm, in the late hours of the night. She had told them to pack everything in their comfortable manor. To run with her.

They had asked too many questions. Or perhaps—

An army had followed them. The [Commander] wore the insignia of House Veltras. A reassuring sight; they had lived on the edges of House Veltras’ territory all their lives.

But the [Soldiers] were training their weapons upon the manor. And the [Commander] was shouting.

Mire of the Assassins’ Guild. Leave your manor now or we will demolish it to ash.

“Mire? Mother, who’s that?”

The oldest daughter stared up their mother, Chena Vall. Chena said nothing.

“Chena—what’s going on? They have to be joking. This—”

Her husband was a local [Vintner], respected for his quality. He’d met Chena while working on an alchemical stock of his wine…

Decades lay between them. Her children had grown up here without fear of hunger or sickness. Everything she had wanted. Mire looked at her husband and the truth, the real truth of who she was, finally gave way.

Maybe he had suspicions. Tiny clues he pushed aside. Perhaps he had wondered about their youngest daughter’s gifts, somehow transmitted by potions she’d drunk while carrying her.

It broke him in two. The [Vintner] exited the manor, holding his hands up.

“There has to be some kind of mistake. My wife—her name is Chena. Chena Vall. I’m Loren Vall. [Commander]—”

“Mire the [Alchemist] is a one-armed [Assassin] from the Guild. Hold your ground, sir. You will be taken in for questioning in your involvement in the Guild’s attempt on the lives of Lord Sammial and Hethon Veltras and the threats made to the Five Families of Izril.”

His eyes bulged.

“Lords…but we sent our wishes for their health! We’ve been staunch supporters of the Veltras family all our lives. Chena! Chena, come out and tell them—”

He wanted to go back towards the manor. The children looked up at their mother. She was crouched—a glowing potion in her grip.

“Mother? What’s that potion?”

Her daughter locked eyes on the glowing liquid, of a far greater potency than the humble [Trader]-[Alchemist] should have been able to brew. Her mother said nothing.

“Stay down. The windows are warded.”

Chena! Come out here! This is all a mistake, Commander—”

Stay where you are! Do not go inside!

The man didn’t listen. He went for the door after a moment’s hesitation.

Loose!

A snap of bowstrings. A scream from inside. Mire said nothing.

Father!

The youngest daughter let go of her brother. He ran for the door.

Stop—

The bows which had slain Loren trained on the boy. He halted. And Mire spoke at last.

Enough! Don’t kill him!

Exit with your arms raised.

The [Assassin] did. Her arm, actually. The [Commander] stared at her.

“That’s her. [Assassin]! Drop your gear on the ground! [Mages]—

They were checking her, appraising her to make sure she had no secret weapons. Bitterly, Mire tossed her potion, her belt, her bag of holding, secret blades on the ground.

Her son, her daughters, stared at her. The illusion ended. The [Assassin] laughed.

“You’ve taken it all from me. I surrender. Just—just let them live and I’ll tell you everything.”

“Secure her.”

The [Commander] didn’t take his burning eyes off Mire. [Soldiers]—Veltras’ best—dragged her down, securing her in cuffs that blocked both Skills and magic. Relics in their own right. Mire bared her teeth as they shackled her legs; hard to do with one arm.

Mother!

“Keep them back. Mire the Alchemist. You have made an attempt on the lives of multiple members of the Five Families. What say you, if anything?”

They forced her face into the dirt. Mire spat up at them.

“I’m an [Assassin]. I had my orders. You’re a [Soldier]. Listen, I know all the Faces, and the Guild’s locations—”

“I’m sure you do. My duty, however, is clear. For your crimes, the House of Veltras judges you guilty. By admission. By witness. By magic. That is enough. The sentence is death. Execute her.”

“Wh—no! I have information!”

Mire had not been expecting that. She’d been prepared to bargain it all away. There was a cry from the manor.

“Keep the children back. No—lock them inside. Away from the windows.”

The [Commander] glanced over Mire’s shoulder. Mire struggled then, trying to throw the arms off. Break the grips—fight barehanded.

“Sword.”

The [Commander] dismounted. Mire cursed, screaming. There were voices from behind her. Arguing, begging, pleading. One of the [Soldiers] cried out as the youngest daughter shoved him aside. The children raced past the guards. It couldn’t be true. Even now—

Mire looked up as the sword swung down. Her head rolled. The [Commander] wiped the blade and handed it to the [Soldier].

“Target neutralized. To the next. You—you. Ensure the children are managed until Lord Veltras decides their fate.

Such was House Veltras’ justice.

 

—-

 

The hatred of it—it was almost funny. Look how efficiently vicious they were when you roused them to it.

House Veltras, and its prideful [Lord]. If only they were this ruthless to begin with, it would have never come to that.

You couldn’t have threatened Magnolia Reinhart the same way you did Lord Tyrion. But now he’d found his wrath.

“We were close. I had my hand on his throat. I could have killed them. I was more powerful than the leader of one of the Five Families.”

She mumbled. Not sure if the words were actually coming out of her lips. She felt odd. Naked.

Her mask was gone. That was worse than the lack of her gear. Her mask.

The [Toxins Expert] had wondered why she wasn’t dead when she first woke up. But the answer was obvious.

To her disappointment, it was not Lord Tyrion Veltras who descended the steps into this small place. But it made a lot of sense. The [Assassin] mumbled.

“Am I in the Veltras Manor?”

“I would not suffer your presence. Nor would Ullim. Your companions are dead. Your Guild is burning, [Assassin]. The cure has been delivered. All your plans have come to naught.”

Jericha descended the steps and looked at the [Toxins Expert]. The [Assassin] paused. It had been she who’d defeated the [Assassin] in the moments when Lord Tyrion had gone to secure the cure. If it had been the [Lord]—well, the [Toxins Expert] thought she wouldn’t have been in one piece.

…Comparatively. She spat some blood, hoping that the woman would come closer. Even her blood was poisonous. But the second to Lord Tyrion was careful. She’d removed all the [Assassin]’s weapons, even the hidden ones.

“The Guild’s being destroyed? The other Faces?”

“Dead or being hunted.”

“…The Circle?”

“It will be rooted out and purged. Every traitorous member. My [Lord] has sworn it.”

“Huh. Okay.”

Jericha hesitated. She eyed the restrained [Assassin].

“You have nothing else to say?”

“I never liked the Guild. Or my fellows. I had a few friends. I came close, though. Your [Lord] begged me on his knees for my help.”

Jericha clenched one hand. She took a step forwards—then relaxed. She stepped back, sighed.

“House Veltras is extinguishing your fellow [Assassins] one by one, [Assassin]. But your existence proves we were unprepared. There are more, aren’t there?”

“Oh yes.”

The [Mage] found a seat. She sat there, and the [Toxins Expert] looked up at her.

“You will tell me everything. Your Guild—your secrets. Where you all sprung from.”

“And if I do…you’ll kill me swiftly?”

A hoarse laugh. Jericha’s stony face twitched. She looked at the [Assassin] and almost smiled.

“No. That is what you will tell me. Either way, you’ll live. We have personal business to settle.”

“Ah.”

The [Assassin] began to giggle, and laugh. She wondered if Jericha even knew how she’d been trained. If she should surpass that—she’d be very impressed.

Oh well. She kept laughing, until the [Silence] spell cut off the sound. And still laughed then.

She’d been so close! For a no one like her—hadn’t that been something?

Alas. Here came the consequences.

 

—-

 

“Our best [Assassins] are dead. Some of our agents have been compromised. Rooted out. They—they’ve killed one of the Petals of Death!”

The Circle of Thorns met thusly. Not in person; but their representatives filled the room built for them. Some from far away. Puppet proxies, magical reflections, their origin and sending disguised.

One of them was shouting. Raving, in a panic. In fear of his very life. Some of the others were likewise. Two were silent. The rest?

“We are all in danger! What will we do? The Five Families—that damned Veltras has sworn to find all of us! We have to hide. We—we must—”

They had tried to take it all, and in the process, lost everything they had. The Circle could still fight back, though. They had agents, members of the Guild who weren’t active fighters. They just had to…

The inner sanctum of the Circle of Thorns was suddenly filled with a strange sound. The Petals of Death, and the speaker, jerked. Suddenly—

There was applause. Half of the Petals of Death stood on their feet, applauding, a standing ovation. One of them spoke.

Well done! Splendid! This has been the greatest display of ineptitude from the Circle! More than in a thousand years! More blood spilled, more members lost! A disaster like none ever seen! The guild is broken, the Circle is hunted!

The Petal of Death laughed. The others were laughing, applauding, even cheering.

The other Petals stirred.

“Wh—what? Are you mad? There’s no time to applaud!

“On the contrary. It’s exactly what we wanted!”

It was a standing ovation. Half the Petals applauded, the other half sat in bewildered silence.

“For so long, your Guild has been a powerful force. Reinhart used it to kill our agents. It may have preyed on Izril—but it was a spider that caught too many flies. And the Circle has been both a check on the Five Families and an opponent of all who would take Izril. No more. Well done.

Another Petal leaned forwards. The Petals of Death who hadn’t applauded stirred. They were, of course, minor [Lords] and [Ladies]. Those who had connections with the Circle. Who desired a change in how things were.

But…what had that Petal said? ‘Your Guild’? Suddenly—the Petals were silent.

“You. We inducted you into our order. You’re…[Lady] Melisaw.”

One of the Petals murmured. It was anathema to reveal one of their members to each other. But—the figure appeared, shedding the disguise on her scrying mirror.

It was Lady Melisaw. A slightly pudgy [Lady]. Born of a small House in Izril, who had faithfully worked her way up the ranks. It was her—

And then it wasn’t. A blur surrounded the real woman. It might not even have been Human. The Petals recoiled.

Well done. But we don’t meet face-to-face, do we? And all my lovely agents swore that I was who I said I was.”

“You—who are you?”

The other Petals, who’d applauded, changed. They laughed. The Circle of Thorns, the true Circle, looked at their imposters.

“Izril’s famous Guild lies in ruins. Nobles are dead, fighting each other, and more will die as the Circle is destroyed. The best part is—I couldn’t have even planned this. I was prepared to do something, but you all hung yourselves without me needing to do more than nod along.”

Another fake Petal chuckled. The others laughed.

“You were once called Izril’s unseen dagger. A weapon that fought in secrecy. Look at you now. Rot and decay have crept into your ranks. If all of us could infiltrate—you deluded fools. Well, we have you to thank. We’ll see you all soon enough. Count on it, fools.”

The blurred woman. She sneered as the Petals of Izril looked at each other in horror. Other species! Other nations.

Other continents. The Circle of Thorns was filled with more mocking laughter. Then the traitorous half vanished. The remaining Petals realized—they were compromised. The Circle had been infected from the start. They panicked, shouting at each other, screaming, the smart ones disconnecting from their conference right away.

Only two remained, in silence. Perhaps—shock? Or something else. The last two Petals sat there a moment, regarding each other. Then they too, vanished.

 

—-

 

So. Deception on all sides. Vengeance and death. The day after the cure was delivered and two young [Lord]’s lives were saved contained almost as much death as the day before.

From some. Blood and panic and wrath.

Not all. The [Lord] of House Veltras, for instance, surprisingly, had forsworn the same fury that led his people to cleanse his lands. He knelt at his son’s bedside, listening to calm breathing in slumber. It was a sweet sound.

It could consume you, that bitter need to draw blood. To exact more pain than you’d taken. Some things mattered more, though. Tyrion Veltras just listened to his sons sleeping. If not for them—he would have heard nothing else.

Presently, he rose. Ullim remained. And countless guards. Tyrion was exhausted. But he stopped at one more room, to look in, for a moment.

The savior of House Veltras lay unconscious. The [Healer] still ministered to her. Worried. But she still breathed. Tyrion Veltras nodded to her again, then went to rest for the first time since this ordeal began.

 

—-

 

Away from Izril’s north, boiling with anger. Away from bloodshed. The news was focused on all these things of course, the discourse of the world obsessing over the new Courier, the implications, a weakened Izril…

But this time, this time, they hadn’t missed it. It had been a tagline on other events around Liscor, the Wyvern attack on Pallass. Hints of it had appeared before.

Now—it was impossible to ignore. It was a name, which was suddenly on everyone’s tongues. Multiple names.

The Wandering Inn. Liscor. And, following that, an almost inevitable question.

“Who is Erin Solstice?”

Why was that name important? Yet—if you traced why the [Lord] of House Everight had fought at Invrisil—why Grimalkin of Pallass had been seen fighting—the Black Tide…it came down to a name.

Erin Solstice. You had to be smart to uncover that name. Most curious viewers would only get as far as ‘The Wandering Inn’, and only if they broke down the events at Invrisil in a meaningful way.

Most remember Maviola El, Saliss of Lights, Ryoka Griffin, as the names. But the clever ones?

“Who is Erin Solstice?”

The question appeared on the streets of Liscor. Humans from Invrisil sidled up to groups of Drakes or Gnolls. Hello, fellow citizen! What an event. I am much shock! Are you? We are all friends here. What say you know about Erin Solstice?

…About that level of subterfuge, from some of them. The Liscorians would give the Humans odd looks. They were clearly outsiders, but they were only too happy to talk.

“The Crazy Human of Liscor? Been here for ages. You want to know about her?”

And of course, they did. So the others would chuckle, motion a friend over, and relay what was almost becoming a sport of its own, or tradition in Liscor. Telling stories of the [Innkeeper]. Erin Solstice.

“Now, look. She might look normal on the outside. But she’s strong as a [Minotaur]. Once beat a [Knight] barehanded. I saw it myself.”

“She’s actually an adventurer. Went into Liscor’s dungeon. You didn’t hear about that? She’s a retired adventurer—carries jars of acid around.”

“The best chess player in all of Liscor. She beat our [Strategist] on her first day here. Undefeatable. I tried playing her myself—she beat me while making a pie! Without even looking at the board!”

“She’s actually not entirely Human. Part-Drake. Oldblood. She can spit blood. It’s like, her special attack. That, and throwing frying pans. Why? Don’t ask me. She’s crazy.

“Employs Goblins and Antinium. Not that there’s anything wrong with either! I know this Painted Worker—has a bee on his chest and yellow striped antennae. I wave at him all the time. There’s some good ones! Anyways, they’re her security.”

“Don’t kill Goblins. Don’t even joke about that. She’s mad. Rip your legs off and beat you to death with them. She’s so crazy, she destroyed her own inn. Twice! Burned it down just to build it up again.”

The [Informants] and such were writing down notes frantically. The happy citizens went on.

“She makes all kinds of new food. Well—brings ‘em over. She’s Terandrian, I think. A [Princess]—or related to the throne. I’ve heard it, now and then.”

“She’s been married. At least once. Young, for her age, but then, I was married at sixteen myself. To a Gnoll. That’s the little white Gnoll running about.”

And inevitably, at some point, one of the others would interrupt.

“Hold on, that’s not true! That kid’s the last Gnoll of a tribe. The Human only rescued her. Fought the Goblin Lord one-on-one.”

“No, you’re both wrong. I was there. She rescued the kid from bees. Poor mite was carried off by Ashfire Bees—there’s a colony nearby. So the [Innkeeper] took some magic flowers, put the hive to sleep…”

Everyone stared at the last speaker. He threw up his claws.

“What, you believe everything but that? It’s true! She has magic flowers—”

No one listened to the more obviously fake tales. But there was documented proof! She’d fought Skinner, she had an army of Antinium at her beck and call—

“And she’s a sexual fiend.

One of the Gnolls whispered to the others in confidence. He looked around.

Insatiable. I heard she’s had sex with Senior Guardsmen, the strategist of Liscor…”

The other listeners turned to him. One of the other Drakes nudged his friend. He indicated the Gnoll, who was sighing over Erin Solstice’s sexual conquests.

“Why do you hang out with him? And what’s he on about? Sexual fiend? He is so creepy.”

“I know. I thought he was fun, but—yeesh. Ancestors.

They edged out of that particular gossip circle. Some people always ruined a good thing. But so it went. The Wandering Inn’s name was repeated on distant continents. And as for the [Innkeeper]? People wondered about her. Some people added her to their internal lists, or tried to factor her into plans.

They didn’t know her completely. Not yet. But they knew her name.

 

—-

 

And in time, Erin Solstice woke up. She stretched out in her bed and looked up at the sun shining through the window.

It was rare that she got up after the sun rose. For a moment, Erin Solstice stared at the ceiling.

Had everything that happened last night…actually happened? Yes, it had. The good and the bad.

Living and the dead. Erin Solstice thought about all of it.

Ryoka flying, Maviola—Saliss. Some were still out there, their fates unclear. But Ryoka was alive. She would live.

The [Innkeeper] lay there, thinking of getting up. She…was tired. She had called every favor she could think of. And today, it was over. It was cleanup and aftermath.

She went back to sleep. The [Innkeeper] dozed, woke up, stared at the ceiling again, felt the sore muscles in her arms and legs from yesterday. She put a pillow over her head to block the sun. Curled up in her bed sheets.

“Erin? Erin? You know what? I bet she’s asleep.”

Montressa’s voice at the door. Erin heard it, then dozed off. This was nice. This was…

The chatter of a beaver. A door, and the fresh air of a place. The [Garden of Sanctuary]. Erin’s head sleepily rose—

Pow. Mrsha’s flying head butt hit Erin in the back. She screamed.

Mrsha!

The white Gnoll had no time for sleeping [Innkeepers]. She leapt onto the bed. That was okay. It was when a Fortress Beaver tried to climb onto the bed that Erin jumped out of it. The giant beaver weighed more than she did! By a lot, actually!

Alright! That’s it! Everyone, get out!

Mrsha and the beavers fled. Erin threw a shoe after them.

Stop coming into my room when I’m sleeping! Mrsha! You were warned!

She dressed herself, rubbing at her lower back and groaning. Mrsha had learned you could get anyone out of bed if you did that. It was certainly true, but it was a bad lesson.

“Ow. Ow. Ow.”

Erin hobbled past her chess board. She paused. She has three in her room these days. One for studying, one for fun, and the magical one. You needed at least three in your room, obviously. The magical chessboard and the go board, arranged side-by-side for moments like this, had a message on it via both arranged pieces.

 

Want to talk?

 

Erin stared at the board. Well, it was more like ‘wnt 2 tlk?’, since there were a finite amount of pieces. She groaned, rubbed at her back, then her stomach.

 

Srry. Bsy. Ltr.

 

She scrawled, and then hobbled downstairs, not seeing the frantic counter message. Erin appreciated her mysterious opponent.

But here was more immediate. And now she was awake, Erin’s stomach was growling.

“Food! I’m so hungry!

She hopped down the stairs and shouted it, spreading her arms wide. Erin stopped.

Her inn, her full inn, with countless guests at the tables, all turned to stare at Erin. Dead silent. They gave the [Innkeeper] the stare, the one that asked who she was. That waited for her to explode, spit blood, or conjure armies.

Expectant, bewildered, amused or awed, or more emotions. There were…hundreds of people in her inn? At least a hundred! Humans, Drakes, Gnolls…Erin realized her arms were still spread.

She lowered them. She looked around at the sea of faces. Erin glanced over her shoulder. She backed up the stairs, slowly.

“Erin?”

Lyonette unfroze as the inn murmured. A good portion of the regulars were laughing their tails off. The rest were asking—was that her? She signaled to Silveran and found Erin upstairs, peeking down.

“Why is the inn so full, Lyonette?”

“Because we have a lot of customers?”

Erin gave Lyonette a long look. The [Princess] rolled her eyes.

“Because you brought an army to Invrisil?”

“Yeah, but I didn’t think they’d all come back to have breakfast!”

“Brunch. You’ve been asleep for a long time. I was going to let you sleep in; or are the walls not soundproof?”

“Nah. I was attacked by Mrsha. And the beavers.”

“That little…I’ll have a word with her. Do you need a potion?”

The [Innkeeper] rubbed at her back. Yes.

“…No. Are uh, all those people…”

“Most just want to know about the inn. But it is fairly busy. Tell you what—oh, thank you, Silveran!”

The Worker had come up the stairs with a tray of breakfast. Erin brightened up.

“I could eat it in my room!”

“No. That’s how we get more bugs. Um. No offense Silveran. Bug-bugs. We’re not repeating Bird’s room. Take it to the private dining room, please?”

The Worker nodded. Erin shuddered. Bird had cultivated an infestation of buzzing insects in his dead bird collection one time. Preserved they might be, but that still didn’t stop the creepy-crawlies.

“Silveran! I’ll eat in the Garden instead! There, please?”

Lyonette nodded. The Worker turned and instead of going downstairs, walked at a wall. The door appeared, and Erin followed.

 

—-

 

It was a sign that Imani was swamped by the guests that she was taking out the premade foods. Breakfast for Erin was a bacon-and-egg hash, one she’d made oh, a month ago. It was still fresh as when she’d made it, and hot!

“Mm. Thanks, Silveran. What’s that? Milk? Thank you!”

Erin sat on the hilltop, next to the Sage’s Grass, which had a faint aroma, and ate breakfast in the sun. She realized she was not alone.

The flood of people in the main inn had chased the shy or reclusive into the Garden. Those with access, that was. A trio of Goblins looked up from the arid section. Erin stared down at them, mouth full of hash.

“Issat—ahem. Numbtongue! Badarrow! Snapjaw!

She waved at them, coughing. The three Goblins looked up. What were they doing? They were all lying down and…

Sunbathing? Erin saw them sit up. Save for towels or undergarments, they had been lazily basking in the sun! With a bowl of roasted peanuts.

“I didn’t know you guys sunbathed!

Erin saw Numbtongue’s head rise, and then fall. The [Bard] was snoozing. And because Erin wasn’t the new, amazing thing, he let Badarrow get up. The [Sniper] ascended the hill as Erin turned towards him.

“Badarrow.”

“Erin.”

They looked at each other for a long while. In the rush of, well, everything, his arrival had been slightly overshadowed. Not entirely, but it was still something to see him standing there. He looked at her like a long-lost friend. Uncertain of what to say.

Erin knew what to say.

“Want something to eat? Take a seat, take a seat! Did you have breakfast?”

Badarrow sat cross-legged. He smiled as Erin indicated her plate.

“Had food. Good…”

He tried to think of the word.

“Thick soup.”

“Porridge?”

He shook his head.

“Tasty thick soup. Dark skin cook make. Say from home.”

Oh. Imani’s porridges. Yeah, they’re more savory. Like, made out of pureed beans.”

“What that? Bug?”

The [Sniper] was alarmed by the word ‘pureed’ for a second. Erin laughed.

“No, it’s fine! Its regular beans. Not bugs. She just blends it all up really smooth. That’s probably what you ate.”

“Oh. Yes. Good. Pureed soup. Ate lots. Too many Humans so—”

He waved at the Garden. Erin laughed. She took a bite of her breakfast—she was starving.

“That’s great. I didn’t know you sunbathed, though!”

“At Goblinhome. High Passes cold. So—Goblins lie in sun when sun out.”

“What? No way! You do it like that?”

“No. Furs. Wrap up like…”

He gestured. Erin had forgotten that Badarrow was the least-talkative, but he had no choice with her. And his diction was much improved! Snapjaw?

“Watch out for Razorbeaks or Wyverns, but warm. Also, wrap up next to big fire. With Carn Wolf at night. Lots of Goblins.”

“You all snuggle together?”

The [Innkeeper] was delighted. Badarrow hesitated. She was probably right, but he disliked how she said it for some reason he couldn’t explain.

“Sit together for warm.”

He corrected her. Erin laughed.

“Call it what you like. But that’s so great! So…I’m glad you’re okay.”

She’d locked them in here during the battle. But they’d gotten out and fought near the end. Badarrow gazed at Erin.

“Lots of fighting. Lots of Humans. [Assassins]. Entire city fighting.

Because of you. He looked at Erin. And the day’s events became realer in her mind. She ran a hand through her hair.

“Has anyone found Maviola? Saliss?”

He shrugged. The Hobgoblin didn’t know who they were, not having met them for long enough.

“I’ll ask. I’m just glad…you three are okay. It was something.”

“Yes.”

“Heck of a Tuesday, huh? Wait till next week.”

The [Archer] blinked at Erin. Then he narrowed his eyes. Erin kept her face straight. The Hob hesitated, then reached out and shoved her slightly.

“Lie.”

“You got me!”

Erin giggled with laughter. Badarrow relaxed. The [Innkeeper] sat with him, offering the Hob some of her bacon, asking how he’d slept, in peace while her inn buzzed.

A shape in the large pond made Erin turn. She saw a huge Fortress Beaver and some kits surface, their large dam and some fish the residents of that area of her garden. And then—a rather wet, giant, white fish beached itself.

Mrsha the Fish had been swimming around in the pond, hiding in the dam from the wrath of adults. Now she galloped up the hill, charging at Erin.

Oh no you don’t! No, Mrsha—

She was going to tackle Erin and then shake herself dry! The [Innkeeper] was serious this time! She did not need this! But Mrsha was filled with too much energy—and perhaps, worry. She was the ruiner of clothes! The bringer of baths! The—

Badarrow grabbed Mrsha as she leapt. The Gnoll found herself under one arm. She struggled, but the Hob carried her down the hill. Then he tossed her into the pond.

Mrsha the Cannonball hit the pond with a splash. Erin laughed until she nearly choked on some potato. That was why you needed a Goblin around!

And that was how Erin Solstice greeted the next day. She finished her breakfast as Mrsha tried to tackle Badarrow and the [Archer] tossed her in the pond three more times. Eventually, Mrsha the Waterlogged gave up and went over to Snapjaw and Numbtongue to dry off. Erin finished breakfast.

The Wandering Inn came alive.

 

—-

 

Olesm Swifttail found Erin Solstice as she emerged from the Garden of Sanctuary. People flooded towards her—and then back as three Hobgoblins emerged behind Erin. And one wet Gnoll, ready to shake herself like a dog on her unsuspecting victims.

Olesm though—was used to the inn. He pushed past wretched Humanity, wailing as Mrsha the Waterlogged unloaded her vengeance to shouts of dismay.

“Erin! Erin, we found Maviola! She’s alive!”

Mrsha! You’re in so much—what? She is? That’s great! What about Saliss?”

“A [Fisherman] saw him float past! He’s alive too!”

“That’s amazing news!

Erin threw her arms up. She hugged Olesm tight. And Fierre was safe and Salamani had gone after Ryoka! That was…she let go of Olesm, beaming.

“I was so worried! They have to get back here but—they’re alive. Thank you for telling me, Olesm! [Boon of the Guest]!

She pointed at him. The blue Drake, who had been demurring, blinked.

“It was nothing, Erin. I was so w—what?

Erin waggled her finger.

“[Boon of the Guest]? Aw, come on.

She poked Olesm a few times in the chest.

“…Feel any different?”

He rubbed at his front.

“…No. Is that your new Skill, Erin?”

“It should be, but it’s not working! Aw. Don’t tell me I have to do it Lyonette-style and kiss people?”

Wh-wh—

“Mrsha! Come here!”

Erin ran after Mrsha. The little Gnoll wiggled hard—and harder when she realized Erin was going to kiss her head. Erin planted a dramatic mwah on Mrsha’s head.

“How do you feel, Mrsha?”

Mrsha squirmed out of Erin’s hands. How did she feel? She made a furry fist, punched the nearest leg.

Earl Altestiel stared down at Mrsha. Mrsha stared up at him and rubbed her paw as she stared at his cloth armor leggings. His escort looked outraged.

“How dare you—”

The [Knight Marshal] rolled his eyes and stopped Kiish from menacing Mrsha.

“Kiish, enough. Miss Erin Solstice. Good morning to you. And—if I am not being too forwards, I believe your boon Skill requires a missing condition that you are not giving it. I couldn’t help but overhear.”

“Earl Altestiel! I mean—er—good morning, s-sire?”

Erin tried her best. The Earl waved it away.

“I should be delighted, Miss Erin, if you would allow me to address you informally, and insist you do the same.”

Olesm’s jaw dropped. Erin just pretended to wipe away some sweat.

“Phew! Well, I’m happy enough to do that, Altestiel! How are you? Did you come from Invrisil this morning?”

“As soon as the doors opened. One cannot help but feel that this is the place to be—especially in light of yesterday. Good morning to you as well, Strategist Olesm…Goblins Numbtongue and…Badarrow, is it?”

The Earl was good. He’d read the inn, learned the lessons that normally took a pan to the head. He barely stumbled as he turned to the Hobgoblins.

Only one remained. The other two had taken one look at the crowd and decided to go back to the Garden. Numbtongue scratched at his stomach.

“Hi.”

“So what’s this about my boon Skill needing something else?”

Erin waved an urgent hand. Then recalled that you didn’t tell strangers your Skill. And perhaps she shouldn’t have been shouting it all the time. But they never came with instruction manuals! The Earl smiled into one hand.

“A [Boon] Skill is a rarer form of Skill, Miss Erin. Blessings and boons are the purview of very high-level individuals—and usually rulers.”

“Oh. Well…I got mine. Which doesn’t mean anything.

Erin hesitated. Level 45 [Magical Innkeeper]. She felt like it was hovering over her head, but Saliss’ ring should be protecting her.

“Indeed. I’m unfamiliar with [Boon of the Guest], however. Kiish? Ventel?”

He gestured and the two [Strategists] stepped forwards. Kiish was consulting a book.

“…It is not immediately within our records, Earl. But then—this is the battlefield edition.”

“Is that…a book of Skills?”

Olesm had seen the like at Manus. He edged over slowly and Kiish gave him a long look. The Drake stopped—she edged back and then jumped in alarm. Numbtongue and Mrsha were peering over her shoulder.

“And their effects. I’m not surprised. We could inquire of Desonis’ libraries…but there is usually a simpler way. Miss Erin—that is to say, Erin. Would you concentrate on your Skill? Surely you feel something is missing.”

That was true. The [Innkeeper] had felt similar promptings before, like how [Basic Cooking] helped her cook dishes. Now—she felt the urge to…

“Hm. I think I can use it. [Boon of the Guest]. But I’m trying to give a boon. What is the boon? Is it me?”

…No, it’s not. Erin’s eyes opened. Her instincts had said to use it on Olesm, Mrsha. That was correct. So what was missing?

“What is a guest’s boon, anyways? I’m familiar with other [Boons], Earl Altestiel.”

“Indeed, Strategist Olesm. Boon of the Whetstone, Blessing of Armor, as the King of Destruction indicated—normally they’re quite straightforward. A boon is singular, by the way, Erin. Whereas a blessing is usually more widespread.”

“Ah. Well, maybe…”

Erin had a thought. The other two were speculating. Erin looked around.

Guests. Her guests were there. Some familiar, many new. She didn’t see Wilovan or Ratici. Oh. No.

Poor Teor. Erin had heard he’d…she closed her eyes. And Lord Toldos! She had asked him first, after Lord Sanito. And he had agreed without an objection.

Redit…Maviola’s friend, Gresaria Wellfar…they had been here moments. And slipped away. Erin remembered them, though.

Old guests and new. Once—she looked around as a familiar, scarred Drake laughed. Menolit. He was a regular face.

But once there had been another Drake. Even bigger, laughing, causing trouble…

“It’s possible that it needs to be a guest. In which case, we should ask Palt. Hey, P—

Olesm was waving a claw at the Centaur when Erin’s hand descended on his shoulder. He looked back in time for him to see her eyes flash.

For a moment, her hazel irises lit up.

[Boon of the Guest: Relc]!

Olesm staggered. Altestiel’s head snapped around. Mrsha whirled. Numbtongue looked around as Olesm blinked.

“What the—I feel—”

He felt at his chest. And then at his arms. Erin blinked at Olesm. Was his voice…deeper? And the [Strategist], who had been decently fit, suddenly looked muscular.

“Yeah. Yeah! I feel amazing!”

Olesm flexed his arms. Erin stared at him.

“Olesm? Are you stronger?”

“Let me see! Where’s—aha!”

Olesm looked around. Then he found a table and lifted it up.

“Hey, our food—”

One of the protesting diners stopped as the heavy, wooden table lifted off the ground. Olesm grunted, and the wood rose…

“No way.”

Erin breathed. Olesm’s grip slipped as Mrsha hopped on the table. It fell with a crash.

“I’m stronger! Did you see that?”

“The boon is your guests? The variety—”

Kiish stared at Erin. The Earl, meanwhile, was laughing. Olesm seemed to have inherited more than just Relc’s famous strength though, or maybe it was the sudden rush of power.

“I feel tougher. Is this how Relc feels all the time? I need—”

“To the weights room! We have to quantify this!”

Palt galloped over, followed by Montressa and Bezale. Olesm looked up.

Yeah! Let’s go!

They practically left Erin in the dust. And half the inn—Erin was actually unable to follow the blue-scaled Drake as a flood of people went after him.

“Whoa! We need bigger hallways! Hey—I’m the one with the Skill! Hey—”

She stumbled. Someone caught her.

“You do realize what this means, don’t you?”

She blinked. The Earl had remained. Even his company was pushing to see, and discovering the weights room along with a lot of guests. Altestiel was looking at Erin.

“It means the boon can be a lot of guests? I dunno.”

The [Innkeeper] met his eyes innocently. Altestiel smiled.

“You had the same thought I did. Any guest means any guest, surely? Such as…”

Xrn the Small Queen? Ilvriss? Relc? Klbkch?

…Zel?

Erin had thought the exact same thing. She took a slow breath. Altestiel was a bit worrying. In that…he wasn’t fooled. He’d seen too much of what she could do, too soon.

“I…who were you thinking of?”

“To name a few names? Xrn. Myself. Magnolia Reinhart.”

That last one surprised Erin. She thought for a moment and then smiled.

“Not Magnolia.”

“Not Magnolia Reinhart? Is it her level?”

The Earl was surprised. Erin shook her head.

“She’s never been a guest. She came through the door once, but she wasn’t exactly a guest. You…I don’t think you’re quite right either. But Zel—I think I could do a bit of Zel.”

She frowned, puzzling it out. It was because…the Earl was probably around Zel’s level. Maybe even lower? Erin didn’t know that, but they were close enough.

“It’s because…Zel was a guest for a long time. You’ve only been here twice.”

“Ah. A Skill worthy of the [Innkeeper] indeed. One cannot simply steal a guest’s full might.”

Erin laughed lightly. But she was edging away from Altestiel ever-so-slowly. He was giving her a very disconcerting look.

One full of admiration.

“I guess…not. It’s not like Olesm’s that strong, anyways.”

Dead gods, did you see how much that was?

The roar came from the weights room. Erin scowled. She looked at Altestiel. The Earl was chuckling. Then he looked at Erin, seriously.

“Miss Erin Solstice. I have no intention of purloining the secrets of your class—or Skills. If my understanding made you uncomfortable, I sincerely apologize. It is simply—”

He gestured towards her. Towards the inn. The [Knight Marshal of the Rains] bowed slightly, towards the shorter, younger [Innkeeper]. Erin tensed—Lyonette peeked out of the kitchen with a worried frown.

“…I am a taken admirer of you already, Miss Erin Solstice. Would you do the honor of hosting my small group? I would be delighted to play another game of chess, if you have the time.”

Erin Solstice blinked. Kiish, hurrying back to check on the Earl, smacked into a wall.

 

—-

 

They kept staring at her. Too many people, a vast crowd. Even though it was her inn—Erin did not like being the object of attention. The center of it, if need be, but not a thing.

She had to do something with them. And unlike the restaurant, it was her inn. So, Erin Solstice leaned over and shouted.

Joseph!

The young man jumped.

“I wasn’t doing anyth—what, Erin?”

“Everyone’s cooped up inside! Let’s get a game of baseball started! And some football?”

People’s heads lifted at the familiar names. Some with the interest of casual players. Others—

“Did she say ‘baseball’? The game on the news? You can just play it around here?”

What a funny thing to say. And yet—Erin’s inn was one of the few places in this world that had a working collection of gear, players, and the knowledge of how the game should go to casually pick it up.

Joseph looked around as people focused on him as well. Joseph, the [Kicker]. Joseph—another name that had circulated, albeit in a different context.

“You’re asking me to start baseball?”

“Just get it set up! Ask Rose to help! Please?”

He nodded after a second. And like a gathering wave, the crowd split. Some remained in the inn, but the rest followed Joseph, because they wanted to see the game, because they wanted to be outside, and because they might appear on Wistram News Network.

Soon, Erin heard the crack of a baseball meeting a bat. It was a simple sound. Crisp, loud—it made some of the others stir.

It was a good sound, was the point. Oh, it might not be a regulation bat by Earth’s standards—the bat was in fact, an enchanted piece of wood someone had brought from Liscor that Rose immediately disqualified on the grounds that it was enchanted to bounce the ball twice as far as normal—but it had a cadence to it.

Not like the thud of a club hitting a skull. Not the snapping of crossbow strings. Or even the breaking of bones. It was the sound of a sport.

The sound you heard on a peaceful day. And you needed that.

“Give the bat to a kid if they play with adults! But you can’t just bring an enchanted bat to a casual game! If Gold-rank adventurers start playing, bring it out.”

Rose the referee snapped at the unhappy Drake. Erin laughed. Liscor had a proper football field too, and a baseball diamond! People trooped down the hill. Some remained to watch Erin experiment with her new Skill.

“Let’s see. [Boon of the Relc]!”

Yeah! Y—why am I saying that?

Jelaqua paused in flexing her arms. Everyone started laughing. The last three people Erin had applied it to had all made similar sounds as they experienced the rush of the Skill activating.

Some notes on the boon. Firstly, it was definitely different from Lyonette’s boon. Erin could reapply the boon a lot faster, but it was still one person it could be active on only. Which limited its strength a lot compared to a blessing.

Moreover, she had the sense that it wasn’t permanent like Lyonette’s boon was. Erin’s was more varied, more temporary.

And it changed your personality a bit. Jelaqua immediately headed to the weights room. But to her disappointment, it did nothing for her personal best.

“What? But my body’s fresh! I—oh, rot. I’m stronger. Not my body! How is that fair?”

The Selphid complained. Another funny lesson.

“That’s boon Skills for you. Not like enchantments. My turn! Do me next, Erin! Can you do someone other than Relc?”

Montressa waved an excited hand. That was just what Erin had been thinking of. Also—she was seeing how impressed the others were.

A [Boon of the Guest] Skill was…good. But it shouldn’t have been this effective, or easy to reapply. Unless—you were a Level 45 [Innkeeper]. That might have made the difference.

“Okay. What boon…what boon? What about—”

And here Erin made her first mistake.

“[Boon of Saliss]!”

She tapped Montressa forehead. The [Mage] blinked.

“Whoa. My eyes feel—and my—”

The [Aegiscaster] stumbled back, and then caught herself nimbly. She was not the most agile on her feet, being just above Palt and behind Bezale for nimbleness. But that seemed to be a lesser effect.

The greater one being Montressa’s throwing abilities. That was fascinating to everyone.

“Shouldn’t she be good at alchemy?”

Maybe. But Saliss is a battle-[Alchemist]. Maybe it’s—dead gods, Montressa!

She skimmed a coaster over Palt’s head. It curved—and Mrsha and Visma ran after it, jumping and missing it. Ekirra was already outside, queuing for a game of football.

“This feels great. I feel agile, I could throw anything—maybe I’m smarter! Or better at alchemy. Let me see! Where’s Octavia! Whew!”

Montressa was grinning, on a giddy high of her own. It seemed to be a common phenomenon. Then she paused.

“Does it feel…stuffy to anyone in here?”

Menolit’s head turned with a sudden insight. So did Erin’s.

“Uh oh. Let me just—”

“Montressa. Not a good idea—”

“I feel really confined—”

Palt, Bezale, and Ulinde tackled Montressa before the worst could happen. And before it did, Erin reapplied the boon on another assumption.

“[Boon of Bird]!”

She pointed at Bird. The [Bird Hunter] stopped, halfway towards collecting his breakfast. Everyone turned to stare at him.

What would happen? What would—Bird slowly picked up a hard-boiled egg. He chewed at it as Erin’s finger wavered.

“Um. Bird?”

“Hello. I am Bird. I feel no different.”

“What, not at all?”

The [Innkeeper] felt crestfallen. Bird looked at her, almost sternly.

“I am already Bird. I am so much Bird that I cannot be more Bird, Erin. Therefore, the boon has no effect. That is obvious. You must use more logic.”

“Sorry. I’ll do better next time.”

“Good.”

He took his tray and walked back upstairs. After a moment, Erin decided to try [Boon of Pisces]. She hoped it would cause sniffing. Because that would be hilarious.

Someone stopped her as she looked around for a target of her suddenly boon-shy audience. Montressa’s crimson cheeks had suddenly alerted her guests that there was danger in the boon—at least as strongly as Erin could apply it.

“Psst. Erin. Would you mind putting the boon on me and leaving it on? I’ll pay. Anything except being naked to my feathers I’d take. And some of your soups? Do they go bad?”

Erin twisted. And there was…

“Bevussa?”

The Garuda was smiling. But she and her team were all geared up, unlike the other casual guests. Erin blinked.

“Oh, right! You want to use it to go into the dungeon? What, am I going to rent my Skill out?”

She saw Lyonette’s eyes light up. Erin scowled at her. But Bevussa demurred.

“Not the dungeon. Someone saw the Wings of Pallass in action. Or they just realized they can hire one of the few flying teams on the continent. We have a job to the north. Search and recover some heirloom from ruins high up along the High Passes. Can we use your door?”

Erin’s jaw dropped. So did several Pallassians. A job for a Drake adventuring team?

“Wow! I mean—sure. I don’t know about my boon, Bevussa…”

“That’s fine. But what about your magical foods? That’s a cheaper Barkskin equivalent, right? Even if they do taste like Shield Spider entrails.”

Erin put her hands on her hips.

“I’ll have you know they’re improved! And a bit stronger? Maybe. Um…you could take them for like, a few days before they get nasty. A lot more if they’re refrigerated or in a bag of holding. Anyways, the Scale Soup is now the Scaleguard Sandwich! It’s…a giant stuffed artichoke leaf. But it tastes better!”

Bevussa brightened up.

“I’ll take eight, then. Double dose.”

“Aw, Captain—

“Shut up, Issa. Artichokes won’t kill you.”

Erin bustled into her kitchen, happy as could be. Her forays into magical food had paid off! Indeed, even the giant artichoke leaf sandwich was a thousand times more appealing than…blue sludge. Someone actually ordered it just to see what it tasted like.

“A job to the north? Think we might get any takers?”

Keldrass and his team, relaxing after their combat as well. Bevussa could only shrug; her team could fly to their destination and back, meaning they didn’t have nearly the same travel time and they could deploy faster.

“But the Flamewardens are the mostly highly-armored, elite group in the region.”

Bevussa snorted at that. Jelaqua raised a fist and punched Keldrass in the shoulder.

“Only because you outbid us for the Heartflame Breastplate, scalehead.”

The Oldblood Drake smirked. Right up until Selys slapped her forehead.

“Oh, Ancestors. I forgot. This isn’t a great time to bring it up, but—Keldrass? Once your lease of the Heartflame Armor is up, it’s actually going to General Edellein. Or Pallass in general. They want to lease it for a month and…they’re paying a lot more. Sorry.”

What? But I’ve been wearing it for—”

Keldrass choked on his drink as Jelaqua chortled. The Drake tried to argue, but he wasn’t really able to outbid Pallass. He looked like he was going to cry.

 

—-

 

Everything was changing. Not just in the inn. Levels had been earned by many after the battle in Invrisil. Almost everyone who had fought had leveled, come to that. But among the notable levels were…

Pawn. The [Priest] was walking the Painted Antinium’s barracks in his Hive. He should have been at the inn. And he would be.

But he was mourning the dead. There were always dead. Precious few in this battle. Only six Soldiers and eight Workers had fallen and the Black Tide had marched on Invrisil.

He was responsible for that. And Xrn. Yet still.

The Centenium was waiting for him after he turned from the fresh markings on the wall.

“A strange Antinium, even for an Individual. We did not mourn our dead—save for the greatest among us. You though—you treat each Antinium as if they were Centenium or Queens.”

“Should I not?”

Xrn tilted her head as she considered the [Priest]’s question.

“I am not Klbkch. If you wish to, I can only admire such beliefs. But I will not share them. If I cared, I could not sacrifice.”

“That is at least better than Klbkch.”

Pawn replied slowly. He had seen Xrn wiping out her enemies, flying overhead, like a figure out of Ryoka and Erin’s tales.

A peak of might. Compared to her…but Pawn was growing stronger. And Xrn knew it too.

“You are beginning to learn more tenets of your class. A different power. And it comes from…Heaven? Belief, rather than a thing?

She asked him about that constantly. Pawn nodded.

“As ever.”

“Good. Keep it that way. And show me—your new Skill.”

Pawn hesitated. Xrn was pushy. Klbkch was authoritative, though. He put two of his four hands together, and murmured.

“[Prayer: A Leaf in the Storm].”

He felt it working. A tiny thing, here. But if Antinium prayed together as they marched—Xrn studied Pawn. She raised her staff.

“[Ice Spike].”

She loosed it at his shoulder. The spike of ice shot towards Pawn. He flinched; but at the last moment something pushed the spike slightly to the side. It missed him.

“That was dangerous, Xrn.”

She ignored him.

“A Skill that allows the Antinium to march through missiles and even spells. Magnificent. You have the Skills that we needed in the first and second wars.”

“But they are not Skills I desire to use for war.”

The Centenium paused and turned back to Pawn. She was going to investigate Yellow Splatters. She looked mystified at the pushback in Pawn’s words. Then she smiled.

“Of course you do not desire it. How amusing. How amusing…

She walked off, chuckling. Pawn watched her back. And he thought—the Antinium should have a farm on the surface, as they had been offered. Just a farm. Xrn, he realized, thought of some great conflict. Yet Pawn was realizing more and more that someone had to save the Antinium. Find them a safe place, not a temporary reprieve. Erin had begun it. And she had helped make him.

He would have to do it himself.

 

—-

 

Another level of note was the first in the entire existence of the young…woman…who sat in her room. She had declined to join the hustle and bustle below.

She could hear the chatter. Laughter, Erin’s voice. And then the game outside. She could hear more clearly. Her eyes felt sharper, and they had been already capable of perfect night-vision.

The sunlight streamed through one window. Fierre could have left the shutters closed. But she was watching the ray of light from the shadows.

Slowly—she extended a hand. Moving it through the ray of light. Instantly, her skin turned dark, as if it had tanned for hours. She regarded the peeling skin after a second pass, the red sunburn.

But it faded. She would heal. She had to know how weak she was.

Because she was strong.

Fierre’s stomach did not growl, as it had almost continuously after Ryoka had given her the potion. She sat, languid, able to think. And she realized she’d been operating on a lower level of energy and thought. Because she had been starving.

Only now, she knew what she was missing.

A Level 7 [Assassin]. A Vampire. She bared her teeth. That kind of…windfall…wouldn’t come so easily again. Amid the distraction, with all those—

But now she knew. Fierre smacked her lips together. Felt it again. She made a sound.

Hrkgh. Hkk. Hk—

It was…rather like watching a cat throw up a hairball. With about as much grace and appeal. Fierre slowly regurgitated something black into her hand. She regarded it.

“…Ew.”

She went for the charcoal pills she’d had made up. But secretly, as she wiped at the bile in her mouth, she was very pleased. And—confident. She felt so confident now. Invrisil? She was done with Reizmelt, honestly. Invrisil would be her home.

The Vampire stretched. Someone—something was on her side. Ryoka, perhaps. And she was on Ryoka’s. She lay back. Her class was attuned to her—[Assassin] wasn’t her first choice, but it was a good one for an information broker like her. And clearly—it was giving her the Skills she needed.

Her very first one had been [Body: Reject Toxins]. Fierre began to chuckle to herself. She rolled over on the floor, languid, powerful, a True Vampire of Izril—

And rolled into the ray of light.

Aah! Ow, ow, ow!

 

—-

 

The last great leveler among the many was not someone Erin knew. Nor was she at The Wandering Inn.

The two [Witches] spotted her on their way back towards Riverfarm. Laken Godart waited for them. The [Emperor] was suddenly very busy, having established more of his credentials by their involvement.

And more—because he was suddenly a firm believer that the party could happen.

“Lady Maviola El. Quite a striking person, eh, Rie?”

“Absolutely, your Majesty.”

The nervous [Lady] watched as the flame-haired woman rode off. Neither one mentioned the fact that she wasn’t going to return that horse. Laken nodded.

“We’ll need to upgrade everything as she said. Well, we already have suitable housing. Gifts—there’s Ryoka’s work to be done. But let’s devote every resource towards the party. I will leave it in your capable hands to directly manage it, Rie.”

“Your confidence in me is—is very gratifying, Emperor Godart.”

“Mhm.”

That was all he said. The [Lady]’s loyalty might never have been higher. As for Laken Godart himself—he drummed his fingers on his leg.

“That statue of Ivolethe, Rie? Have two more made. Tell Jelov if he can’t get one done within three days, I’ll ask for the others to do it. And do we have [Poets]?”

“A smattering, amateur, one with the class as their main, Emperor.”

“Have them come to me later today. I think some suitable odes would be in order. Now…”

He leaned back and tracked the progress of the two [Witches]. Then he heard them.

Stop! Would you stop—

Alevica was screaming as they screeched into Riverfarm. And it was a scream, a howl of wind.

They’d replaced her broom. After all, it was just a broom. Alevica had spares. But—the problem the Witch Runner had was that she wasn’t flying.

Mavika’s leg was still broken, and set. So she’d decided to use Alevica’s broom. They were flying through the air like an arrow, weaving through trees on the ground—Mavika the Crow seemed to be enjoying herself.

“You’re insane! How do you know how to fly?”

“Did you think you were the only [Witch] who ever tried?”

Mavika’s voice was almost amused. She was sitting side-saddle on the broom, her splinted leg and good one dangling as her flock trailed behind. She remained like that even as the broom slowly rotated her upside down—to avoid a branch.

That was more than Alevica could do. The [Witch] was holding onto the broom’s bottom and flying along behind.

They passed over a large crowd toasting the preening Centaur and slowed at last. Mavika lowered the broom as Alevica ran to throw up. And there she was.

Charlay the Dustrider was being celebrated. Modesty was…not in her nature.

“There I was, eleven [Assassins] on my tail! But I kicked up a dust cloud and circled back around—they never saw me coming!”

The proud Centaur was itching to demonstrate her new Skills. Her enthusiastic crowd…backed up. They were all set for listening to the local heroine’s tales, but they were getting tired of the clouds of dust she could generate with her hooves.

 

—-

 

Those who were not laughing or smiling came for lunch. They had a bit of trouble entering, though.

“Hold on. Who’re you lot. Shady buggers.”

“Who are you, sir?”

Wilovan, Ratici, and the Brothers of Serendipitous Meetings stared at the group of adventurers letting people enter the inn.

“Captain Todi of Todi’s Elites. Making sure no bastards come into this inn—just a bit of pro bono work, actually. And you’re a group of ne’er-do-wells if I ever saw ‘em. Here, Miss Solstice, should we kick ‘em back—”

Wilovan, Ratici!

Erin shoved Todi out of the way. She grabbed the two Gentlemen Callers and hugged them tight.

“How are you? Come in. All of you!”

The Brothers stirred. They had hoped—not even expected—an open door. But what they got was a free lunch, drinks—

Friendship. Captain Todi was promptly ignored as Erin sat with the Brothers. She had abandoned a game of chess for it, having given her last boon and realized that it was running out of power.

You couldn’t keep slapping it on people. So, she’d given her [Boon of Numbtongue] to Drassi. The [Reporter] was off-duty since the news was just doing coverage of the aftermath and she’d done practically all-day coverage yesterday. She was currently jamming out with Numbtongue on one of his spare guitars.

“Thank you.”

That was all Erin said at first. The Brothers were reduced in number. Perhaps some hadn’t come, but…

“Are you burying Teor today? Or have you already…?”

“We’ll see our fellows off later, Miss Solstice. Don’t you worry. A proper, respectful little thing. Nothing grand, but nothing small.”

She nodded. Then looked at Ratici.

“If it’s alright…I’d like to come.”

“That’s not necessary, Erin—”

“I’d like to. He died because I asked him to. It’s the least I could do. I’m going to Redit’s funeral. And Lord Toldos…he’s being…prepared.”

The Brothers looked at Erin. She held their gazes. They tipped their hats to her. And then they ate.

Food, drink. Baseball, the news, or a game of chess. Uncomplicated things. A bit of excitement. But it was healing, resting after those days of days. After a while, Erin Solstice had a thought.

“After you two are done, Ratici, Wilovan—and the rest of you. You should see something. In my [Garden of Sanctuary].”

They looked up at her. Erin’s eyes glittered. But they would be there.

They would always be there.

 

—-

 

Lord Alman Sanito didn’t know why he was here. He felt ashamed. And certainly out of place.

He had not ridden with old Lord Toldos to his death. And…he had not been asked to.

House Sanito had fought for Invrisil. Their banner had earned them commendations from other nobility. But he had not.

“You have a wife and kids.”

That was all the [Innkeeper] had said. Now—Alman looked around the inn. His son, young, a [Lord], looked at his father uncertainly.

“Go to your mother.”

Lord Sanito informed the boy. He wasn’t sure if this inn was for his sons. It was so—informal. No one had greeted him. He had to wait for others to be served first! Albeit not long.

Erin Solstice herself had greeted him like, well, one of her guests. It wasn’t even to upbraid him; she’d completely forgotten he was here amid the other guests.

Including an Earl. Lord Sanito had swallowed his complaints for that alone. Even so—

He forgot his complaints. He forgot the small bit of anger at the death of old Lord Toldos, dying and not being mourned by all of Izril amid the drama of yesterday. The retainers, who had come here, lost, of House Everight—

She brought them to their knees. Not with any word. With sight. With a single place.

The hill was grassy. A small bench. Sometimes a tree. And always, if you came here, a statue. So lifelike that but for color they could have turned and greeted you.

Lord Toldos sat on the bench, in a moment that had never happened. But might have. He looked half-relaxed, turned to talk with the young man beside him as Redit looked ahead, perhaps watching something.

Teor had his tricorne in his hands. An earnest look on his face as he spoke to the old [Lord]. The Brother’s hats were in their hands.

“What…is this?”

“Memory. Statues. I don’t know. But if you ever want to come here—my door will always be open.”

Erin looked at the three and rubbed at her eyes. There were more. Antinium, gathered together, inspecting what might have been an actual anthill in the grass over there. Two more Brothers she had seen, walking along.

Here they were. And here they remained. Lord Sanito looked at Erin Solstice.

“May I—show my family this place?”

“Of course. Wilovan? Ratici?”

The two Gentlemen Callers were looking at Teor. Crimshaw looked about him.

“…More than a fellow could ask for. This—”

He didn’t finish his sentence. He didn’t need to. The Brothers of Serendipitous Meetings looked around. Good fellows. Bad men. They lived well, they were able to sleep most nights.

But they would die forgotten, but for the other short-lived people who remembered them.

Except here was immortality. A bit of forever. Erin Solstice stood on the hill for a while. And she wondered if the first person to gain this Skill, the Harpy [Empress]—had made this place.

Surely, she had. She had been like Erin, in that. The [Innkeeper] saw one last statue, as she turned to go. Then she did start crying.

Tritel stood on the hill, his gloves dangling from one hand. He looked content. But he was waiting. And the longer the better. But someday—his friend would be here too.

 

—-

 

Look upon her. She had led more Goblins to death than Garen Redfang, his old Chieftain. She had asked Humans, Drakes, Gnolls, and more to die for her.

They would not have done it if she didn’t care. Badarrow was still shaking from his encounter with the hill.

He stood in the Garden, far below. Amid mortality. That hilltop could tear your heart to pieces if you stayed. It was terrifying. Wondrous. But terrifying.

In the inn, Numbtongue was listening to Drassi trying to copy a riff. He was grinning—but ducked out as a crowd of admirers drew around, wanting to try the guitar.

Like the other Goblins, he wasn’t at home with so many…other species. Even now, he still felt like Badarrow. A sense that but for Erin, they might have been enemies.

Were there daggers behind the Earl’s smile? Badarrow stayed in the Garden as Numbtongue trudged over.

“Erin went up to the hill?”

“Mm.”

The [Sniper] grunted. He didn’t need to talk with Numbtongue. The [Bard] was chatty—perhaps because he had not recently been in the company of other Goblins.

Chieftain will want to see hill.

“Yes.”

Numbtongue stirred. He looked at his old friend. His brother-in-arms. But time had changed them.

Snapjaw. Numbtongue’s posture had been by turns, amazed, happy for Badarrow. And faintly, envious. Badarrow understood, of course, and it was just the shadow.

“Erin not changed.”

That was all Badarrow said. Numbtongue looked up at her, lost on that hill in the mists.

“No. She’s changed a lot. Fire and…lot changed. Garden. See?”

Badarrow nodded. But for once, the Goblin communication network had lost his true meaning.

“Yes. But not changed. Here.”

He tapped his breast. Numbtongue looked at him.

“No. True.”

They looked back up.

“Will you come with to Goblinhome?”

The [Bard] stirred. He looked at Badarrow.

“Maybe. For bit. But this…will you stay?”

“No.”

Badarrow knew it to be true. Numbtongue’s face fell. Badarrow looked at him.

“Erin does not need…me. Lots of Antinium. Scary blue-death one. Adventurers. She does not need…us.”

He meant himself and Snapjaw. It hurt, a bit. For the days when there were just five Redfangs—Badarrow would have traded so much. If only you could make the past the same as today and take the best of both.

“Yes. Does not need…”

“She needs you.”

Badarrow looked at Numbtongue. The [Bard] blinked. But that too was true. Not Badarrow, but Numbtongue. The [Sniper] looked at his friend.

“Shorthilt. Pyrite.”

He reached out and touched Numbtongue’s chest. The [Soulbard] closed his eyes.

“Yes.”

“Good.”

That was all Badarrow said. Numbtongue blinked. Badarrow had been shocked, even frightened, uncertain about the ghosts that Numbtongue had taken. But now—the [Sniper]’s eyes held something else as he looked towards the hill.

“Good?”

“Yes. Good. You stay here, protect here. Visit Goblinhome. Talk to Chieftain. But here. Maybe if you have Shorthilt. And Pyrite, then…

Numbtongue’s eyes widened, and he nodded slowly. The two stood there. And looked up towards the hill as the [Innkeeper] descended.

Perhaps.

 

—-

 

Tragedy and grief took place in the garden. Elsewhere—Joseph kicked a football into the air and people ran after it, shouting. People laughed.

Mrsha sniffed the air. She padded over the floor. And eventually, the patch of air grunted.

“Gnolls. I could have sworn I was odorless.”

That was true. But as Grimalkin reappeared, Mrsha smirked and pointed at his foot. The [Sinew Magus] regarded his foot.

He’d stepped in some spilled blue fruit juice on the way over. He folded his arms as Mrsha smirked up at him.

“I am not spying. I was simply observing without wishing to cause an altercation. There is a difference.”

Mrsha smirked. Then she went to fetch Grimalkin some of Imani’s healthy appetizers. The Mrsha-fee was 18% of whatever she got. Grimalkin murmured as he eyed the odd bowl of orbs.

“What is this. Some kind of…ball of compacted nuts? Hm. What is it called? A…protein ball? What is that?”

He eyed the mix of nuts held together and baked for a slightly crispy bite. Imani had worked them up when she noticed the gym’s popularity. Grimalkin popped one into his mouth.

“Is this…actually nutritious? Where’s the person who made it? I need a word.”

Mrsha nibbled at hers happily. Indeed, Imani had changed the inn for the better. Joseph was playing football, Rose helping out…

And here came the Players of Celum. They swept through the door with a second wave of guests.

Here’s the heroine of the Battle for Invrisil! No, the Three-City War! I’m working on the title!”

Andel the [Writer], Wesle, Jasi, Emme, Kilkran—the entire crowd made Mrsha’s head snap around. And there was Galina!

Each to their own. Wesle elbowed Andel before the [Writer] could go on.

“We’re not here to cause a scene, Andel. We are here to say hello to Erin. And to take part in that game of baseball! At least, I am.”

The Players of Celum?

Eltistiman checked a running Human before they could lunge at the Players, begging for autographs. More chaos in the inn—and Erin wasn’t out of the garden yet! But this time the Players were taking some of the drama off the [Innkeeper].

Earl Altestiel looked up with a blank stare of shock from his game with Bird. Not only because he was losing somehow, but because he hadn’t put together the Erin-Players connection yet.

“I am winning. Yay.”

Bird confided in Olesm, who was playing Kiish. The [Strategist] looked at Bird in dismay.

“You’re not doing that bird-game, are you?”

“I am not always silly, Olesm. I am playing to win. And I am a [Tactician].”

“You—oh.

Bird had leveled up in that class at first. Olesm stared at Bird’s game—he was pressing the Earl! True, neither were using Skills. But how?

“Are you just that talented?”

Bird made the closest sound he could to someone blowing a raspberry. Silveran and the other Antinium turned to stare at him.

“Foolish Olesm. Talent does not define a chess player. That is what Erin says. And I play her every day. She bets bird dishes on each game. So I must beat her.”

Erin Solstice knew her opponents. At least, how to motivate Bird. Wesle spotted the games of chess and headed over with the air of a [Humble Actor] who intended to use [Method Acting] to win a few games by copying Erin’s skills.

He was about to get his rear end handed back to him. Meanwhile, Jasi spotted Drassi and asked to play on the guitar. And wasn’t that a repeat of the same moment everyone had seen on the news?

 

—-

 

Laughter resumed. By the time Erin Solstice reemerged with the silent crowd, they were swept up in the mood and they could smile.

Times for silence, times for action. Times for merriment.

And time to work. Most of the Earthers had a spot. And even if it wasn’t permanent, they were gainfully employed, like Rose. Heck, even Leon was helping manage the games outside. Troy was somewhere else, though. Galina was acting.

And Kevin was working.

The Wandering Inn was still under construction, although less than eight Workers were working on Bird’s tower or small renovations these days. That might soon change, especially since Selys was looking at spots for the new shop.

She wanted more in Liscor, but Kevin didn’t want to walk. And neither did Hedault or Pelt.

For the moment, it was a sign hung on one of the private rooms. Kevin had turned it into, well, an office.

He was creating a filing system. Kevin, who had worked part-time in a bike shop, now wished he’d memorized the system they’d used to file orders. And it was ironic—he’d hated his duties and only worked because he needed money.

This time?

Is this the shop?

A man pushed open the door. Kevin glanced up, in the act of dipping his quill into a pot of ink.

“Hello. This is Solar Cycles. I’m Kevin. How can I help you?”

The richly-adorned man hesitated. It was a small room, but Kevin had put the bike shop’s new name on the door. He was rather proud of it. Catchy and puntastic.

“You’re the one who made that vehicle?”

“I’m Kevin. [Mechanic], and one of the co-owners of Solar Cycles. I didn’t make the bike alone; I’m just managing the shop. How can I help you Mister…?”

The man drew himself up. He was wearing silk, and, Kevin noted, some ostentatious rings.

“I am the representative of Lord Helmaunt Terland. [Merchant] Enitere. Lord Helmaunt will purchase six of your cycles—at an appropriate price.”

Kevin blinked at the man. He sighed.

“I’m sorry, sir. But we’re not accepting new orders right away.”

The [Merchant]’s eyes bulged.

“Did you not hear me? My [Lord]—”

“Can you authenticate his identity?”

Kevin interrupted Enitere. The haughty fellow hesitated.

“Au-authenticate?”

“Prove his identity? We’ll take Mage’s Guild certifications—they have to come and tell me in person, though. Merchant’s Guild works too.”

“How dare you imply that I—”

Also, does he beat a [Marquis]? This Lord Helmaunt? Or Lord Deilan El?”

Kevin happily interrupted the man. The [Merchant] lost his words again.

“A—a [Marquis]?”

The first few orders had been scary. And they’d come in like rain, even yesterday. But today, Kevin had a system down. He helpfully showed the man the list he was working on.

“You’ll have to be put on the reserve list, mister. Once you authenticate. I have dozens of orders, and Master Pelt and Master Hedault are at work at once, but we do have to go by priority. Some people have paid for it—and we can’t rightly offend the leader of the House of El, can we?”

“Er. No. Lord Deilan ah—that is to say—”

“Also, our prices are high. But here—I’m having these worked up. But here’s a prototype. Prices subject to change.”

Kevin helpfully offered the man a small catalogue with all the prototype bikes. Tricycles, the standard bike, a highly-tuned version like the one Ryoka had ridden—he hoped the one she had was still working, he wanted it back!—and more. The [Merchant] took it.

“Er, thank you.”

“Tell your [Lord] we’ll accept his order and get right back to him! Solar Cycles!”

Kevin called after the man. He went back to work. Every few minutes someone would interrupt. An [Engineer] from Pallass, a [Trader] seeking to get on the ground floor of this business way too late—

All his experience running the counter on Earth made Kevin…ideally placed for this job. In fact, he had talked to a number of people not even in this room.

“Mechanic Kevin? Another speaking stone for you!”

A Gnoll City Runner knocked on his office, breathless. She was half-exasperated, half in awe. A speaking stone! Way above the [Messages] that you normally got. Yet—Kevin had defaulted to the service industry standard. He didn’t even think as he thumbed it—after tossing the City Runner a seal and a tip—and raised it to his lips.

He’d done phones too, after all.

“Yello. This is Solar Cycles. I’m Kevin. We’re not accepting new orders at the moment, but if you’d like to leave an order, I can get back to you. Inquire at your Mage’s Guild for prices and options. Hello?”

It could have been anyone Kevin was talking to. A member of the Four Great Companies—royalty from some distant nation.

The smart ones made appointments. But Kevin just spoke casually. He was taking a page out of the Erin-book, or rather, the Kevin-manual. Just roll with it, like begging in Invrisil.

He heard silence from the other end for a moment. And wondered if he’d failed to activate the stone. It looked expensive. A custom-linked speaking stone—a lodestone enchanted that you could link with another across the world. Not like even the other ones the Mage’s Guild had given him. Odd. Was it not a stone at all? It looked like…

…bone…

Then the voice spoke.

I am Fetohep of Khelt.

Kevin’s fingers jerked back. He stared at the speaking stone.

“Um. Hi? Can I help you—”

He was scrambling for an encyclopedia of names. Khelt, Khelt…that name sounded familiar. The hollow voice spoke in his ear.

“I desire these bicycles for my kingdom. Money is no object.”

Kevin found Fetohep’s name in the encyclopedia. He instantly made a notation at the top of his list.

“Er—of course, your Majesty. Your Undying Majesty, Ruler of the Sands, Guardian of the Kingdom of Khelt in death and life—”

He was reading off a list of appellations provided by the Diplomat’s Handbook, Edition #2411. This seemed to please the Ruler of Khelt.

I wish a dozen of these vehicles.

“Y-yes. Absolutely, your Majesty. But Solar Cycles—our shop is just manufacturing these highly-artisan, custom-forged works. We can’t mass-produce them. We—have orders for a lot of [Lords] and [Ladies]—other kingdoms, even—”

Khelt shall obtain them first.

It was not a question. Kevin winced.

“The issue is—”

Whatever the highest order is—I will double it. Do not take more of my time with the minutiae of lesser bidders. Simply inform the Mage’s Guild of Khelt of the price and it shall be paid. I am content to wait for the peak of craftsmanship. Time matters less to me.

Kevin was writing like a madman, underlining Fetohep’s words and desperately wishing he had an auto-transcription Skill. Selys needed to hire a [Receptionist] or [Secretary] now. If he had a minute to run—but he was speaking frantically.

“Absolutely, your Majesty. We have a small selection—I will send it via the Mage’s Guild.”

Good. Now you will answer my queries. You are the inventor of these…bicycles?

The delicate question made Kevin hesitate. This was where it got tricky. He’d done this before and slowly replied.

“It’s…a collaboration, your Majesty. The idea isn’t mine. I’m just a [Mechanic] that puts together the pieces which are made by Masters—”

Then where does the notion of this device hail from? Some…new…creation?

“I’m afraid I can’t reveal confidential details, your Majesty. It’s…new, yes.”

I…see. The secrets shall remain thusly, then. Send your selection to my Mage’s Guild.

The pregnant pauses could have formed a baby shower. Kevin was sweating. But he’d deflected well enough.

“At once, your Majesty. And we will deliver the first bicycle to you right away—”

And notify everyone else they’re being bumped down the list. Kevin was no entrepreneur, but he’d heard of bidding wars over less back home. You could dream. He relaxed—a moment too soon.

The voice of the undead ruler spoke through the speaking stone.

This is well. I await your work with interest. And should your work please me, Khelt’s borders will lie open to you and your kin. Remember that, Kevin of Earth. I shall not forget your name.

Kevin’s fingers slipped. He gasped and involuntarily, spoke.

“How did—”

He snapped his mouth shut. But too late. The chuckle was all he heard—then the bone speaking charm disintegrated. Kevin stared at the bone dust on his table.

They knew. And there were some smart people out there. The kind who had insight. Who listened. Who looked for the root of things.

Kevin’s papers scattered as he vaulted his desk and ran.

 

—-

 

It was too late to put the Djinni back in the bottle. Too late to take back awareness.

Too late to take back friendships, too.

Delanay d’Artien waved at the group being cheered into Invrisil. The Silver Swords were still a bit grimy, but they entered the city to wild cheers. Ylawes looked right at his childhood friend and Delanay blinked as he saw Ylawes’ intent gaze.

 

—-

 

It was unmistakable. Look at them. Even if they hid their levels via anti-appraisal gear. Look at them.

Erin Solstice. Lyonette. Standing amid [Actors], an Earl, Antinium unlike any other—

It was only a matter of time. And with that understanding, everything shifted. Sometimes you had to be bold.

Erin Solstice was talking urgently with Kevin. The young man was wide-eyed. She pointed towards the Garden.

The Gnoll sighed as he stood, adjusting his clothing. Damn well past time. He strode forwards.

“Miss Solstice? My name is Ferris—”

He got that out before someone shoved him. The Gnoll stumbled. Erin’s head turned. Ferris turned.

“Excuse me—”

Someone dragged him off his feet. The [Infiltrator] went for his sidearm. But he paused as he felt the prick on his fur.

Ferry! My old buddy! Let’s go for a drink!”

A grinning Gnoll had grabbed him. The same one who pushed him. Ferris growled, on sudden alert.

“I’m sorry, I think you’re—”

He heard a whisper, in his mind. A kind of sub-vocalization Skill that you used if you had certain classes.

You’re out of your jurisdiction, Manus. Play along. Pallass’ Eyes.

The Gnoll grinned at him. Ferris twisted, debating his options. And he saw someone stroll past him, using a cane for support.

“Well, well. It seems there are some interesting players in the inn today. Would you mind if I joined your company?”

Altestiel had sensed the intruder and his escort before seeing him. The [Knight Marshal] was already on his feet.

Erin’s head turned.

“Chaldion?”

Kiish straightened. The [Knights] of Desonis and the others in the Earl’s escort looked up. The [Soldiers] of Pallass that Chaldion had managed to bring into Erin’s inn despite her ban eyed the Humans.

The [Knight Marshal of the Rains] and the [Grand Strategist of Victory] locked gazes. It was like distant storms, humidity and wind in the air meeting the clarion call of horns, the sound of metal on metal.

Everyone flinched back as the two looked at each other.

“Grand Strategist. What an unexpected surprise.”

“The Earl of Desonis, the Knight Marshal of Rains. It has been a while since I met a Terandrian of such note.”

Chaldion’s good eye glittered. Olesm slid back from his table. He couldn’t help it. Nor had his legs moved. He stared down. His chair was being pushed with a slow screeching sound without anything touching it.

“Ancestors.”

He breathed. The others were of the same opinion. Desonis’ company squared up as the Drakes behind Chaldion halted. Everyone was far clear of the clash. They watched with trepidation, awe, speculation, or just sheer enjoyment of the moment.

The two hadn’t blinked. And for all Chaldion only had one eye to Altestiel’s two—was he stronger? Two invisible forces clashed—the players outside looked up, as if sensing a change in the weather. The intensity in the air was like nothing they’d felt except those few times—

“Dun dun. Dun dun dun. Ba dum.”

A voice from the side. Altestiel’s gaze flickered. Chaldion looked sideways. Erin Solstice.

She did a quiet drumroll on the table.

Dun dun dun!

Both auras collapsed in an instant. Tension had a half-life of seconds in front of that kind of…Erin looked at the two.

“Stop stare-fighting in my inn. Want to play chess?”

She looked at the two. Chaldion’s lips moved. The Earl laughed. Erin Solstice looked at the two as the inn relaxed. Then she had a thought. She went upstairs and came down.

“I have a special board I’d like you two to play on. You two are pretty good at chess. So do your best. I will too.”

Dun dun dun. They stared at the chessboard and the smart ones remembered another kind of legend. A mysterious opponent.

You couldn’t take it back. Nor did Erin Solstice try. She sat down and moved a pawn forwards.

 

—-

 

“The Wandering Inn.”

Ignorant of the chess tournament occurring in the inn itself, Geneva Scala stared at the tiny spot on the map where Liscor was. She’d had to look it up.

Paige, Daly, everyone was clustered around.

“Joseph’s there?”

“Yep. And a bike. And…Ryoka Griffin?”

“Could be.”

Daly traced a finger across the map. It wasn’t even a world map; and the distances were already vast. He looked at Geneva.

“It’s a long way away. If we even wanted to get over there. Let alone move the entire company…”

“Do we need to?”

“Strength in numbers.”

He countered. The others murmured. It was so far. A continent away. But there was…certainty.

“One person could make the journey. But it’d take a long time.”

Paige muttered. Siri looked around. Luan rubbed at his neck.

“It’s really far, yeah?”

Ken and Aiko nodded. The [Rower] glanced at them and looked at Geneva.

“To get there in any reasonable time…we’d need a Courier or something like that.”

There was significance in his words. The other stirred. After a moment, Kirana sighed.

“…Seve is on a delivery.”

“For now.”

That was all Geneva said. It was far indeed. And who might go to who? Did they need to? Rather—

She wanted to meet them. Joseph, the owner of The Wandering Inn, perhaps. Ryoka Griffin.

 

—-

 

Names to remember. Certainly, other people wanted to meet Ryoka Griffin. Humble and grand.

Like the Gnoll who stood on Pallass’ walls. He had worked all night. Feverish. But now—the [Soldiers] who liked to mock him were staring. Eying something different than the feathered wings. It looked like wings still. But the fabric, the copy—

He leapt. And the Flying Gnoll of Pallass, Felkhr, jerked as something happened. His usual falling turned into—the Pallassian [Soldiers] on the walls stared. Someone fainted.

I’m flying! I’m f—

Felkhr shouted as the wind let him glide down the walls. Then he made a rookie’s mistake in the annals of flight.

Encouraged by his performance thus far, he tried to flap the wing-gliders he’d fashioned. Instantly, he lost the air resistance and went into a nosedive.

Everyone winced. Potions of Featherfalling normally saved Felkhr. Not this time; he’d gone down faster due to the aerodynamics of the wings.

“I—I was flying—”

They ported him off the ground in a stretcher. The Gnoll lay there, moaning. Both his arms were broken.

It wasn’t the first time, but this time hurt more. He was onto something! He was close! The Gnoll almost wept with frustration. His head lolled back.

Had he fallen unconscious—not a good thing as the [Healer] kept slapping him awake so they could set the arms and tend to the bleeding first—he might have been rewarded.

But perhaps that was just as well. Someone caught him in the knot of onlookers. The Flying Gnoll moaned as he was carried towards one of the large elevators.

“I was so close—”

“You’ll do better next time. And I think I can improve your designs. You don’t flap the wings, see. Not unless you had a lot more coverage. You could probably enchant them, but you’re doing it wrong. You’re way too heavy, to begin with.”

Someone spoke to him. The Gnoll, through a haze of pain, looked up.

“Wh—who’re you?”

The voice was so confident. The young man stepped into the Flying Gnoll’s line of view.

“I’m Troy. And I like flying.”

 

—-

 

The chess tournament was Olesm vs Bird. Erin vs the magical chessboard.

The Earl vs Chaldion. For round one. Lesser players queued up, but the line of other Pallassian [Strategists] and Kiish and Belgrade were putting down weaker players before they ran into the top seeds.

And here was the competitive spirit. The Earl half-turned in his seat as he placed a knight, threatening two pieces at once. Chaldion looked annoyed as Altestiel smiled at Erin.

“You are aware, Miss Solstice, that your chess ability is so supreme that it is actually of considerable material value? One can level after playing you, and I would imagine that the effect reduces quite considerably after the first few games—but any [Strategist] or [General] would benefit from playing you. So long as they continued to struggle. I wonder if anyone ever mentioned that to you outright? I feel it is only natural to do so.”

Olesm guiltily knocked over a piece. Chaldion regarded the Earl steadily as Erin blinked and looked up. The [Grand Strategist] interrupted Erin’s reply.

“That was obvious, I assumed, Earl Altestiel. If I lost my first game against Miss Solstice, I might have benefitted more. Unfortunately, I won.”

The [Knight Marshal]’s smile faded. The two stared at each other and went back to the game. Erin finished her game with her opponent first. She was instantly deluged in offers for a game while the Earl and Chaldion played a slow—intense grudge-match.

“Kiish. Play this board. I’ll wait for the next opponent.”

Erin thrust the [Strategist] into the seat across from the magical chessboard, which was resetting its side. The [Strategist] instantly froze up.

“Me? Play—”

Chaldion and the Earl turned to look at her. It could be someone else. But Kiish’s fingers trembled as she moved the pieces.

“Erin! Play me, play me—”

“Miss Solstice.”

“Is that chessboard…?”

Erin backed up as she realized the crowd she’d dispersed had come back threefold. She looked around. Saw two Hobs walking out of the inn, and came to an instant decision.

“Okay, bathroom break!”

That stopped the mob in their tracks. There were acceptable things to follow someone around for—that wasn’t one of them. Erin edged out of the inn. She hurried after the two Goblins and flung her arms around their shoulders.

“Gotcha!”

Badarrow and Snapjaw started. They looked over their shoulders.

“Erin? Not playing game?”

Snapjaw pointed at the inn. Erin rolled her eyes.

“I’ll come back after twenty minutes.”

She’d ditched them! Just like that! She winked at the Goblins.

“It’s not like the tournament revolves around me.”

How she liked to lie. The [Innkeeper] walked past the outhouses with the Goblins.

“So, tell me about Goblinhome.”

The two looked at each other. They had just been looking up at the High Passes, where Goblinhome was buried. Talking about the future.

“Don’t say much. Secret place. Secret things. Humans should not find.”

Snapjaw said it half to Badarrow, half to Erin. He glared at her, hurt on Erin’s behalf. But the [Innkeeper] just nodded.

“Don’t tell me where it is. But I’ll give you a mana stone if it reaches…or again. We can figure it out. Just—how can I help?”

The two looked at her. Snapjaw hesitated. Badarrow nudged her. See? See? She hadn’t believed him. She ignored his smirk deliberately.

“Goblinhome needs things. Nails. Potions. Rabbiteater got. But…was going to buy from there.”

She waved a claw at Liscor. Erin looked alarmed.

“That’s…dangerous. Numbtongue tries it sometimes, but—”

Both Hobgoblins grinned. They produced helmets and put them on. Erin started laughing.

Hah! But wait—if you need stuff, Krshia can help. And Lyonette! What do you need? I bet you they can get discounts.”

Snapjaw removed her helmet with some relief. It was tight on her head! She consulted the internal list Rags had given her and went to the very first thing in light of recent events and in general.

“Potions?”

Badarrow’s eyes brightened. So did Erin’s. They’d had the same thought.

“Why didn’t you say so? If that’s what you want—here. Let’s walk around the side and…”

She ushered the two Hobs around the side of The Wandering Inn. Then, Erin pointed and asked for a boost.

They climbed through Stitchwork’s window. Octavia nearly tossed the vial she was working on at them.

Erin! Don’t do that!

She clutched at her heart. Erin paused.

“Sorry, I didn’t think we’d scare you!”

Octavia had a thing about surprise-visitors of late. She waved it off.

“It’s okay. Just—don’t do that. Why didn’t you use the [Garden]?”

“I think Mrsha’s using it to play teleport-tag with some kids. I don’t want them to smash into a wall.”

The games Mrsha played with her friends were really fun. Teleport tag meant you could run through walls and it was almost as fun as monster hide-and-seek. That was where Palt cast [Cloud of Darkness] and the monster found people—you could move around in the dark.

“Why are you here, Erin? It’s a huge crowd out there, by the way. And no one’s buying. They keep asking if Saliss is here. Or where the restroom is. Or Solar Cycles.”

Glumly, Octavia went back to her brew. It was fair. She wasn’t the highest-level yet and her first Invisibility Potion attempt had failed.

But here was Erin Solstice. And Snapjaw and Badarrow. Erin pointed at the two.

“They want mana potions.”

Octavia’s ears perked up. She turned around.

Really?

Then she eyed her potential customers.

“Um…although, Erin, I have some I can give out. But the cost is—”

“They can pay, Octavia.”

The [Alchemist] brightened up instantly.

“Excellent! Not that I would have been stingy! It’s just—money for goods. How many mana potions do you need? I have a deal with Wailant, that cutpurse farming b—but I have lots of Sage’s Grass, even if I do have to pay more than I should for it. You won’t get cheaper potions around!”

Snapjaw nudged Badarrow. Whoa. And she thought all his coincidence-stories had been just talk! Octavia pointed at rows of potions, sold generally to the [Mages] in the inn.

“How many are you looking for, um, Snapjaw? Badarrow? Great to see you again, by the way. I said that, right?”

Badarrow nodded. Snapjaw consulted her internal orders. She pointed at the shelf.

“…All of it?”

Octavia turned around slowly. She removed an ear and Snapjaw nearly leapt into Badarrow’s arms.

“What was that? Let me just resew—”

“As many as have. And healing potions. As many as can buy?”

Badarrow informed her. Octavia looked at Erin—the [Innkeeper] was just as amazed.

“Er—and what’s your budget?”

The two Hobgoblins conferred. That made Octavia worry—right up until Snapjaw pulled something out of her bag of holding.

“Gold?”

She put a handful on the counter. Then another. Then—a lump of gold. Erin and Octavia stared at it.

“How did—”

Badarrow smirked. Numbtongue wasn’t the only gifted Goblin miner. Pyrite’s legacy. Snapjaw shrugged.

“Found some in Goblinhome when digging. Kept running into it. Very pretty. Too heavy, though. Used for adventurer bait. Is good as gold coins? Have more. Also—this?”

She produced something else that made both of them stir.

A wyvern’s fang. Octavia blinked at it.

“That’s…”

“Good for arrowheads. Weapons. Got more. Good meat?”

“D-do you have a Wyvern’s head?”

“…Bones? Good soup stock. Calescent make good Wyvern-brain jelly.”

Badarrow shook his head rapidly behind Snapjaw, making a gagging motion. Octavia was blinking.

Goblins. Who had artifacts, gold from adventurers. Who didn’t prize money. And who had access to a lot of monster parts. Heck, even Goblin toenails if you believed Xif—

“Will give more. For potions. All potions. Many as can make.”

Badarrow informed Octavia. She looked around. Her shelf of mana potions? All she could make?

She looked at Erin. Then she thought about the offer from Pallass. Octavia shook her head.

“This is why I stick around.”

 

—–

 

Erin Solstice returned to the chess tournament after a few more minutes. So much was happening. But she should have been watchful.

All this attention—not all of it was positive. You had to watch for the future. Someone waited for their moment to get to her.

And someone found Joseph as he went for some hydration, panting. The games of football and baseball were underway. He was ascending the hill, and reflecting that they needed a barrel of water and some oranges or something.

“Ishkr, could we get—”

Someone grabbed him and pulled him behind the inn. Joseph jerked.

“Hey, what the—”

“Joseph of The Wandering Inn.”

Someone whispered into his ear. Joseph twisted. He saw a figure, covered in…shadows? They came from a hat he wore on his head. Someone in disguise.

“Who are you? Hey! H—“

The figure stopped him again. Joseph realized the sounds from the game and inn had stopped. They were in a bubble of silence. The figure advanced.

“I have an offer for you from my employers.”

“Whatever you want—”

“Hear me out.”

Joseph held still. The figure looked around. And then advanced.

“You stand to make a lot of gold. If you agree. Listen to me, carefully. Do you think you could train a football team to beat both Liscor and Pallass’ teams within the month?”

The young man from Spain stared at the shadowy—suddenly much-less-frightening figure. The Invrisil representative produced an exclusivity contract for their new team—they wanted to be the best team in all of Izril! And they were both Humans here—if Joseph would become exclusive manager, they’d pay—Joseph’s eyes bulged at the sum.

He…was going to need to talk with Erin about that.

 

—-

 

Calruz of Hammerad did not go out to celebrate. Nor—did he leave his cell. That being difficult. But he did stare at the scrying orb someone had left behind by accident.

Placed just outside his cell, actually. Since the cell would have cut off the signal. He could ask for it turned off since you could watch it all day. Rhata and Haldagaz were sitting on his head, watching the replay. The Minotaur kept watching.

“Well done, Ryoka.”

He waited. Doing one-armed pushups. Then lifting weights. It was odd to think he was in far better shape now than even before entering prison. But what else was he supposed to do?

 

—-

 

Erin Solstice actually had to go to the bathroom after four more games.

Stop following me!

She opened the door to the outhouse twice to throw things at the crowd, who hadn’t believed her after her first bit of duplicity. Erin eventually stopped throwing rolls of toilet paper as the crowd dispersed, mostly thanks to the cloud of smoke covering them.

“Thank you, Palt.”

Someone was waiting for her after she left. Erin stopped adjusting her belt and blinked.

“Oh. You.”

She had been prepared to throw something at the next person to bother her. But this person merited some respect.

“I wonder if I might borrow you for a moment before you return to that engaging tournament? I’m taking part myself—but we have urgent business.”

“We do? Urgent? What about?”

Erin followed the long, sinuous tail and walked apace with Hexel the [Architect] as they left the inn. Instantly—a crowd spotted her.

“She’s trying to get away! Get—”

They walked into the [Garden] and everyone who wasn’t wise splatted into the seemingly-open doorway.

The Lamia was here. Of course he was. With a Gnoll who had been cheering him on as he rose through the tournament’s ranks. But the [Architect] had business with Erin. As they slowly walked around the Garden, he admired the Fortress Beaver’s dam.

“You are aware I love buildings, don’t you, Miss Solstice? There’s something indescribable about edifices. Permanent—until someone knocks them down.”

“Or blows ‘em up.”

The [Architect] nodded.

“In your case, your inn has been destroyed, what, twice now?”

“Mhm. Wait. Maybe three times? You lose track. You know, Lyonette wanted to hire you, but she said you declined.”

“I was rather busy with my principal job. I still am; I must design an entire city, and that is no small task. One I enjoy—but I have realized your inn should become just as high a priority.”

Erin waved a hand awkwardly.

“Aw. You don’t have to. It’s decent as it is—unless you think there’s something wrong?”

“No, it’s quite Terandrian in design, but wonderfully made. The Antinium did a fine job. I certainly don’t intend to redesign everything…but I would like to offer my services for certain improvements that you desperately need. This day, in fact.”

“Like what?”

Erin couldn’t think what was alarming the Lamia so. Hexel looked at her, and sighed.

“Your magical door. With this incident with the Guild of Assassins, the door must be guarded at all times. It is no longer appropriate to just leave it…unsecured.”

“We have the hallway of traps.”

Hexel rolled his eyes.

“Yes. But—Miss Solstice. Allow me to put it like this. You are aware one can simply…pick up the magic door and move it wherever they please? If I wanted, I could grab the door and drag it out of the inn.”

“…No one’s done that more than once. Besides, we need to move it sometimes. For tactical advantage and stuff.”

Erin shuffled her feet, coughed. Hexel gave her a long look.

“So you left it unsecured. Moreover—even with the hallway of traps, the [Assassins] simply walked into your inn because you did not detect them.”

“If you’re going to tell me I’m being stupid, I’ll admit to that, but it’s hurtful, Hexel.”

The Lamia laughed at this.

“I would not be that indiscreet. And rather like your [Farmer] friend’s solution to your door’s mana problem—I have an [Architect]’s solution to these needs. If you will look at this?”

He murmured a Skill and produced a piece of paper. It unfolded—into multiple dimensions. Erin saw a three-dimensional projection, a blueprint in color and detail, appear.

She had not seen his presentation to the Council of Liscor and was agog. The Lamia gestured at the floating design.

“Allow me to show you my proposed fix. This is the simplest of methods to secure your door. You see?”

Erin saw. And it was so much easier to see than a blueprint, or even a picture. She saw the door, suspended above a small staircase. Fixed in place by…

“Bars of wood? No, wait—”

Yes! They were like wooden door bars, except they secured the door by all four corners! And they had…locks! They turned as Hexel manipulated the design. The door came clear and two Gnolls that looked like Ishkr carried it off.

“A simple lock and wooden bars means ordinary wood with your [Reinforced Structure] Skill can lock the door into place when it is in this entry spot. And it would still be stronger—far stronger—than normal brickwork or stone. The cost, with Antinium labor, is almost negligible. You could make this almost instantaneously.”

“That’s so smart! Hexel, you’re a genius!”

“You only noticed now?”

The Lamia grinned. Then he rolled up the scroll, making the projection vanish.

“That’s the simplest measure of course; one could still break the wood itself. This is a more ambitious design. I made it for fun.”

The second ‘Portal Entry Room’ as he’d titled it appeared and Erin’s eyes bulged. The first design had spoken to the practical [Architect], who could create something cost-effective and workable. This was the mad dream of a builder with an unlimited budget.

The second room was a lot larger than the first. A dedicated area for people to enter and exit by. However—it was trapped to all hell and back.

The magic door hung suspended over a walkway with a hundred foot drop into a pit. The inn actually extended all that way down, having been built extensively downwards. Meanwhile, a single suspended bridge allowed access to the inn which could not only be collapsed at will, but was also supported by an advanced version of Belgrade’s kill box.

For final effect, the entire room was underneath a body of water…Erin read the floating words ‘lake? Connected to Liscor reservoir?’ scrawled there. If necessary, and via trapdoors, you could flood the entire room and seal it underwater in an emergency.

“…That would be the second-most daring design. As I said, not practical. Very fun to draw up.”

Hexel rolled up the scroll and Erin’s mouth closed.

“That is insane. You made that for fun?”

“You didn’t like it?”

“I did, but—why are you helping? Not that I mind, Hexel, but—you have a job.”

The [Architect] smiled with his pointed teeth.

“I do. It’s self-interest as much as my occupation. I wouldn’t like to have the door stolen, or have [Assassins] bothering me in my sleep. I’ve nearly died once on Izril; that’s enough. If you’d like, I can work on a simple security system and have it done…today?”

“Wh—the door entryway?”

“No. That’s quite another thing. You would have to dedicate a room—and even with my Skills and Antinium labor, it would take longer. I mean, a security system just in the interim. It is remarkably easy. Give me one hour and the use of your Workers?”

Erin ran to get Belgrade.

 

—-

 

She played two more long games against the Earl and Chaldion and beat both in the next hour. At the same time her mysterious chess opponent did the same.

Undefeated. They were playing at the top of their games. Erin was angling for a rematch when Hexel told her the ‘security device’ was done.

She found him overseeing an archway just over the door. It was ‘locked’ into the wall with a variant of the door-latch system he’d showed her. A very simple one, but he’d attached a metal lock to the bar.

“What is this?”

The archway looked close to one of those Japanese arches in temples to Erin’s eyes. The wood was…different.

“I had the Antinium and my assistants cut this to design. It’s just an amplifying design, Miss Solstice. Now—install it there, and there, please.”

The Antinium were already lowering the beams of the arch into the hallway. They’d cut holes perfectly fitting the pieces. Hexel was admiring of their technique.

“Antinium have a wonderful design system. Positively reminiscent of Dullahans, actually. Their concept of building individual pieces that can be assembled on-location is so much more efficient than static designs. And…aha!”

He gestured to the arch, a tiny bit smaller than the hallway itself. People would pass through…and it had something in the center. A socket. Erin stared at it blankly.

“It looks nice. But what’s it for?

Hexel produced a glowing gem. He showed it to Erin.

“This is mine. The archway goes here. Truth stone embeds here.”

He reached up as the stone glowed blue. Erin’s eyes widened as Hexel extended his body and placed the stone in the socket.

“Truth spells can replace it later, but your average truth stone won’t run out of charge for three days…now, we test it. You there. Halt!

Liska, who’d let in another group from Invrisil, looked up. And the mob of mostly-Humans stopped in their tracks. Hexel gestured at the stone, concealed from them.

It was about twelve people. The Lamia addressed them as they looked uncertainly at him and Erin.

“All of you. Are you entering this inn for malign purposes of any kind, be that theft, subterfuge, violence, magical works, or any purpose that goes against the interests of Liscor, The Wandering Inn, or the occupants of each? Answer one at a time, please.”

He pointed at the woman in front. She hesitated.

“No?”

The truth stone glowed blue. Erin clapped her hands together as she realized. How simple! And how elegant! Todi and his Elites, who’d been doing the same with truth stones, looked at the [Architect].

“Trust a [Builder] to make it simple. Alright, Miss! Go on through. Next!”

The Gold-rank Captain motioned the woman through with the voice of command. Erin stared at Todi.

“Thanks. Um. Who the heck are you?”

The man’s face fell. Meanwhile, Hexel asked the others to respond. He didn’t even have to repeat the question. They came through one at a time—until one man blustered at the back.

“No, obviously not! This is such a waste of time…”

The truth stone glowed…violet. Erin’s head turned. Todi’s head snapped around.

Back! Wands up!

Instantly, his entire team lifted [Wands of Fireball]. Hexel was already slithering back. The man froze as Liska stared at the glowing wands.

“Don’t shoot! Liska’s there!”

Erin shouted. Hexel was looking at the stone. He peeked out from behind Todi.

“Half-truth. They’re not entirely lying…”

The white-faced man was backed against the wall, scrambling to open the door. Todi cocked a crossbow and aimed it at his stomach.

“Don’t move or we’ll nail you to the wall. Got it?”

“Okay! Don’t hurt me!

The man began to sob. He was not an [Assassin]. Or the stone would have been red. Todi’s Elites made him divest himself of his belt, his money pouch, and his dagger. They got the truth out of him as the crowd watched at a safe distance.

“I was supposed to hire her. By any means necessary! Steal her recipe book, otherwise! I’m just an agent! I’m not a [Thief], though! I’m just a [Line Cook]! Don’t eat me!

He begged to Erin. She blinked. Eat him? And who was he pointing at?

Imani. The [Cook] looked exasperated.

“I’m teaching people recipes! Steal my book? You could buy a copy of whatever you wanted! I…”

Her face turned thoughtful.

“I could hold classes.

Hexel slithered over to Erin as the panic subsided. The [Innkeeper] was about to go to the finals of the game—when he stopped her.

“That is a stopgap. There are criminals and other classes who can beat an average truth stone. But as I said, I worked last night on designs and I can continue to do so. Add some design-based improvements to your inn to complement your Skills—your [Grand Theatre], for instance. I’ve worked with similar Skills.”

“Really?”

Erin brightened up at once. Then her face fell.

“H-how much would it cost…?”

Lyonette was there in a moment. Apista buzzed off her shoulder, chasing Erin away.

“Erin, allow me to handle this.”

She smiled at the Lamia. The [Architect] watched Erin run back to her chess tourney in some relief, and then Apista go back to terrorizing guests with her very presence.

The [Princess] and [Architect] had some measure of each other. They regarded each other in silence. Then, Lyonette gave him a sweet smile. She didn’t insult him by wasting his time, but she ushered him over to a table. A drink was already waiting—the sweet milkshakes the Lamia loved.

“Master Hexel, in addition to free room and board for you and your team—and we can certainly upgrade you to a room of your design, and individual rooms for your assistants if you would like—what else can we offer in addition to your fees?”

The Lamia chuckled as he took the milkshake and sipped gently.

“Ah, a reasonable Human at last! Well, to begin with, do you offer private dining?”

Lyonette’s eyes sparkled.

“Exclusive. A permanently reserved room for you and any guest? Antinium Workers can serve it; complete anonymity. Unlimited drinks from the bar, save for obviously excessive consumption?”

Hexel smiled widely.

“I think we can talk. Oh yes, indeed.”

 

—-

 

The final chess game of the tourney began. You could focus on chess—but there was so much going on that sometimes it was a waste.

Chess did not define everything. Then again—he did so love it.

Earl Altestiel watched Erin Solstice play an opponent who was unknown—and who he thought he knew.

Look at her. Amid the drama. An [Architect], the [Players], games of sports outside. He had been right to come here.

He only wished he could stay forever. Or…take that kind of crazy magic with him. But therein lay the rub.

Earl Altestiel was intelligent. Intelligent enough to make Chaldion come to the inn. To worry, perhaps, a certain chess player.

And because he was intelligent, and he’d done his research, he saw the problem and didn’t make the others’ mistakes. He did not sweep in with grandeur and offers of an estate. Even a royal title—and he thought he could convince his Queen to give one—because that was stupid.

Know your opponent. Not money, not threats, and not offers of power. The Earl had thought about it and he was stumped.

How did you get Erin Solstice to leave her inn? He sighed. At least he was here first, instead of that damned Fraerling. Perhaps it was this chess tournament?

People wanted to meet Erin Solstice. If only to play chess. And for other reasons.

 

—-

 

A certain Wall Lord. A certain Fraerling. A [Necromancer], a King of Destruction…

Many people took or tried to change what they thought the future would be today. And it was all coming together. All these plans, people tugging on strings.

For today, The Wandering Inn was just the center of potential. It was a day of excitement, a day of rest.

Until the last person came to the inn. And the future, potential, uncertain, arrived.

Too soon, perhaps too late.

“Krshia?”

The Gnoll [Shopkeeper] interrupted Erin from her game. She smiled. But her eyes were looking southwards. Ferris’ head rose. Ishkr looked at her. And Mrsha stopped playing and looked at Krshia Silverfang.

“It is time, Erin Solstice. The Meeting of Tribes will begin soon. Past time to go. The Silverfang tribe marches. Many from Liscor have already gone. I would like to speak with you, now, if I may. About Mrsha.”

 

 

 

 

Author’s Note: Can you feel the Volume ending? I have one more chapter left before my November break. I hope you’ve enjoyed these chapters.

They’ve worn me down. Enough so that my actual muscles—tendons, whatever, are a big unhappy. But stretching helps and it’s not actual pain. That part of my writing career sucked.

I’ll enjoy this break. But one more chapter. Let me know if you liked this aftermath chapter. And we’ll see if you can tell how Volume 7 ends.

Thanks for reading! Until next time, I’ll leave you with art by pkay, who did, among other things, an amazing Volume 7 cover about Ryoka, art of Erin by Arh, and more Erin, Cutlery Yvlon, and a commission of Pirate the character by Me! Not me…someone with a username of Me…give them lots of love!

 

Volume 7 Ryoka, Pisces, Yvlon, and more by pkay!

 

Sad Erin, Cutlery Yvlon, and Pirate commissioned by Me!

 

Chess, and Erin by Arh, colored by Enyavar!

 


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163 thoughts on “7.60

  1. Leave a typo for days after! The future! It’s coming. Also, typos.

    (Day typo-finders: Pwnster7757, belthanyl, Gorexn, LP, Ornerok, Koor, Maladal, MrWiggles, Twilgrimm, Octo, Metamere, Onyavar, Robert, Mishal, Quadralisk, Vento, Linnet Melody, Tarun Elankath, Ram Nevet)

    • Sad you know… I was kinda hoping someone of importance would be dead, someone. But nah… The sense of dangers been drained out of it you know? Not like the earlier volumes.. If THAT’S not gonna kill someone what is?

      • I mean, people of importance did die. Several incredibly important and powerful Faces died, the Harbormistress Gresaria I think her name was, the horse riding Courier Tritel, and nearly his horse Ci. Just because they are not directly tied to Erin or have not played a big role in the story doesn’t make them unimportant within the world itself. Saying otherwise kind of means that anyone who dies isn’t truly important to the story. I find it strange when people hope for someone in a story to die, important or otherwise. Here I am sad that so many had to die to accomplish their goal and other people are disappointed/sad that more/others didn’t die.

    • You are aware I love buildings, don’t you, Miss Solstice?

      Wouldn’t that be ‘aren’t you,’ instead of ‘don’t you’?

    • Not sure if its a typo but at the begining formating of the skill is [Boon of the Guest: Relc] later on the skill gets reduced to [Boon of Saliss]

  2. “Kiish. Play this board. I’ll wait for the next opponent.”

    Erin thrust the [Strategist] into the seat across from the magical chessboard, which was resetting its side. The [Strategist] instantly froze up.

    “Me? Play—”

    HAAAAAHAHAHAHAA Ohhhh just payback for the picture sent earlier! Nice!!

  3. I was so convinced you were about to kill Lupp, you cruel trickster. He lives to corn another day. Great wind-down chapter, though Erin’s new boon seems super busted- I’m guessing that it’s only completely free inside the inn and has a timer/cost outside of it.

    …I want [Boon of Bird] to be put on Bevussa. Either she flies around for hours screaming about how fuckin awesome it is to fly, or she tries to eat her own wing.

    I’m curious if the power of the boon directly relates to the power of the named (or receiving) guest, or their ties to the inn, or both? In any case, [Boon of Shivertail] on any of the regulars is bound to be absolutely top tier scary. Like, Gandalf on the horizon at dawn or Godzilla with a jetpack level power. And that’s not even her level 50 capstone… I’m still hoping for [Transformation: Giant Inn Mecha].

    As for the inn security bit with Hexel, I could have sworn that the door was secured like that in the rebuild but that might have been my imagination. Just some solid steel (or skill-buffed wood) latches and a padlock keeping it in place was my first thought when it got put in the murder hallway but the detector arch is a good addition.

    • “Either she flies around for hours screaming about how fuckin awesome it is to fly, or she tries to eat her own wing.”

      I laughed so hard I got the hiccups. Thank you for that!

    • I’m thinking it could be dangerous to cast Boon of Bird onto Bevussa because she would faint while flying.
      I’m chuckling at the idea of casting Boon of Bevussa onto Bird….
      Would he sprout feathers.. try to eat an arm.. unable to fly because he keeps fainting… lol

    • I’m guessing her level 50 skill will be something like, [The Wandering Inn: Wandering] which lets her inn literally wander around the world. It even ties into that little joke in volume 1 about Relc being confused at the name because it didn’t actually wander

  4. Have you considered getting something like a Theragun for your muscle/tendon soreness?

    Get something that is percussive and not vibrating, helps ease pain quite a bit, I got run over by a car and broke my wrist a while back, had constant pain even with therapy, but the massage gun helped ease the pain after a few weeks of consistently using it.

    Also thanks for the chapter!!! This story continuously amazes me with the quality and volume

  5. I love your chapters, the longer the better, but for health. Have you considered a speech to text program. They are quite good nowadays and might help with your wear and tare. Thank you for yet another enjoyable episode in the lives of Erin and her friends at the Wondering Inn.

  6. “and an commission of Pirate the character by Me! Not me…someone with a username of Me…give them lots of love!”
    Pirateaba, you made a typo there, is a commission not an commission.

    Also hi, it’s Me

    • I would also like to mention that I have a Ko-fi with terrible stick art for commissions! Most of the money I earn from that will go to getting more commissions, so you are supporting a worthy cause. Also, if this comment isn’t deleted, Pirateaba doesn’t mind this being here.
      https://ko-fi.com/theoneandonlytrueme

  7. Man,
    What a way for the the thorns to die. Cut down by there own arrogance and then to find out they were not the spider but the fly.

    For a moment I thought it was the necromancer but then to realize that the thorns had pricked them self it was an interesting reminder

    Since day one something felt off about that group. Knowing now that they were originally a group to counter balance the five families (I think) but focused on Magnolia and became infective…ignoble…corrupt? This sort hyper belief in there own self grander only to be led by the nose and be laughed at for making their own noose

    Only pirate Aba can be this deep and consistent

    • Never believe/read your own publicity.
      Thorns bought their own hype, over extended and had to pay for it. They might have succeeded, if not for Erin, but i doubt they would have stayed on top for long, either they would have eaten themselves, or outside world would have destroyed them.

      Really loved the “i did nothing, you destroyed yourselves” speech.

      • Overextended is one way to put it. They literally bet everything on one coin flip. Even before foolishly committing the entirety of the assassin’s guild to stopping the delivery, they had overplayed their hand.

        If you stop and think–which Tyrion failed to do, and the Circle *certainly* failed to do–you quickly realize that Tyrion could have ended the entire fiasco by just saying no strongly enough.

        The blackmail? It was ultimately a bluff. Well, it was a bluff or a really convoluted method of suicide.

        Think about it: The guild can’t win a stand-up fight with the armies of the Five Families. That was never on the table. If Tyrion’s sons actually *died*, that would have been the result. They *couldn’t* follow through on the threat. Not if they expected to survive.

        So Tyrion should have simply called their bluff.

        No desperately running around trying to find a cure. He should have simply made his announcement about what was happening, let the Families and every principled person holding any sort of power run into the fact that the Guild was going to threaten *them* and their families as well, when they inevitably tried to help.

        And then sat back and informed the Circle in the strongest possible terms that there would be no compromise. He would wait and see if his sons survived, and if they did not, it would be total war, unto the destruction of both the Guild and the Circle.

        And then either the Circle would have wisely relented, accepting the dent to their reputation, or they’d have foolishly allowed the kids to die and been destroyed in turn.

        There were no other realistic outcomes here.

        And that was the problem. The Circle painted themselves into a corner, and then felt they had to double down or have their aura of fear broken.

        And this is what happens when you bet everything on a bluff.

        • he could threaten the guild, but he has no idea who the circle are which prevents your entire scenrio to happen, cause what tyrion would do, threaten every single noble in the north as he doesn’t know who the enemy is and no real tools to discover?

            • Tyrion is going to kill every Drake in existance for the assassination of his wife. If a dog came by and killed one of his children, he’d Take the Dog Lord and fry him over a open flame and kill every dog in the world. He is an all or nothing type guy.

        • It is not in Tyrion to endanger his children like that (now, thousands of other peoples children, that’s fine, but not his), and CoT can’t backdown once the threat is made.
          CoT and AG worked by making sure that nobody knew where exactly to hit (though this update shows that AG had gotten rather lax on that), and that everyone knew that the first to move would get destroyed.

          That tactic can work, up to a point, but you can push people only so far until they will fight back no matter the cost.
          And once someone finally does move against you, then the floodgates open, you can’t afford to show any weakness, and Erin pulling armies from three different factions to hit them at once broke the effect.

        • Tyrion very nearly started a huge war with the drakes because they killed his wife.

          Then he halted his war because Magnolia threatened his kids.

          I am of the opinion that poisoning his kids and dangling the magic contract could have worked.

          Tyrion was ready to sign, and it took a literal miracle to turn things around.

          Half the Circle of Thorns’ leaders having a death wish for northern Izril due to infiltration would have doomed the group in the long run anyway. That’s true.

          Amazingly, the infiltrators just had to vote yes on the real members’ plans and everything went terribly wrong lol.

          Humans put down mad dog killers, but they tolerate bloody tyrants if they are brutal enough and cause enough fear through killing.

          Having Tyrion in their pocket, how much hard power would they have gained?
          Would it have been enough to rule through fear?

          Really like this volume.
          And The Meeting of the Tribes!
          Been waiting a few years for all gnolls, all the time :)

        • This was mentioned in this chapter but Tyrion’s biggest over sight was that he stuck his resources to his territory and to war
          He did nothing he considered magnolias territory
          No diplomacy, no social information gathering

          Outside of the military he did no information gathering and he nearly paid dearly for it

          Had he had contacts or more influence outside of Walmart able to get the antidote

          But that was more his late wife’s specialty

        • To be fair it was kind of expected. They tried to kill Magnolia Reinhardt and failed. So they sent Faces to kill her and showed that they could kill ANYONE only for Tyrion of all people to ride in and save her.

          One he broke the fear. Two he stopped them from killing her.

          So they had to keep upping it up. So they poison his sons knowing he wouldn’t let them die. It was working as they just had to wait… Until the cure was announced.

          They had to double down AGAIN because they sunk too much into this operation especially after the Runner Guild showed up their Assassins.

          This was further compounded by a Drake straight up telling everyone “hey I have the cure. Come and get it.”

          Then they crossed the line having it become a sunken cost fallacy.

          Really… Having a cure sent to get Tyrion indebted to someone working for the Circle of Thorns would have been perfect… If the runner didn’t waist time putting on makeup and taking a nap.

          When the announcement was made.

          Really… I would not be surprised if one member might try killing the [napping runner who cost us EVERYTHING] in the near future.

          Because if Erin didn’t summon three armies and if the [costly runner] bothered to move a bit quicker… They would have won.

          Instead the assassins broke along with their back.

          • They didn’t have to double down once the cure was announced: they could have started preparing for the worst, while hoping for the best. If the blockade held, good. Otherwise, Tyrion would unleash his wrath, but as long as the other four Families don’t join in the Guild would probably survive.

            The blockade they had was enough to stop anything short of a Named-Rank: there was no need to try in vain to make it truly impregnable. They still needed to at least try to stop Sallis to save face, but they could have done it in a way that risked fewer resources.

            • Sunken Cost Fallacy.

              At the point the circle was already divided. You had some like the ones the earth born characters know who took offense to the poison and simply opted for a ‘cure on their terms’ method.

              That could have worked by simply delaying their rivals until their runner delivered the cure.

              The problem is that you had the radicals… and the foreigners who didn’t care. If the Circle won they got a lot of power. If the Circle lost then they broke the hidden dagger.

              And after the previous losses… some may have simply saw it more profitable or useful to simply end the Circle of Thorns than to play it safe and save face.

              IF they killed the named rank drake they would greatly weaken the Walled Cities since Named Adventurers are the equivalent of Tanks or perhaps nukes to this world.

              Even if you could stop one.. they can do a scary amount of damage. Since only half of the Circle cared about the Circle able to survive past this encounter…

              They viewed it much easier to discard the Assassin Guild who failed Killing Couriers and killing Magnolia Reinhart in exchange for killing a valuable target. You had the radicals who wanted to kill the Named Drake to weaken the Walled Cities.

              In short it was too tempting to pass up. Like giving an alcoholic that is trying to recover… the keys to his own brewery where he can drink as much as he wants.

              It’s probably won’t end well as the offer is too hard to simply pass up.

    • The Circle of Thorns obviously served a purpose in the past when the Five Families were absolutely bloodthirsty and all powerful, like during the era of the [Vampire Lady] Reinhart ancestor of Magnolia.
      In this lifetime though, the Five Families are pale shadows of their glory. Their last hurrah was the war against the Goblin King. The intervention against the Necromancer and Antinium was just a minor thing compared to that, basically they showed up at the end when the Drakes had already done most of the job.

      Logically, it fits for the Circle to have fallen into decadence alongside the once upon a time great families.

      Although, I totally did not expect there to be so many infiltrates. Seems like the classic doppelganger sketch where the shapeshifters, working alone, have already replaced the entire opposition without realising it and only becoming aware when they start unmasking each other.

  8. It’s a shame that Altestiel only being there twice sets a current lower bound on how many times someone has to visit the inn to be boon-able.

    Because I was so looking forward to [Boon of Tamaroth].

    • Brilliant! Xrn will absolutely flip out if she learns Erin is channeling the power of a [Dead God].

      However, Erin seems unsure about being able to “boon” guests that outlevel her, like Zhel. Maybe that’s the hard limit? Or maybe only living guests? Otherwise, if she can also “boon” dead guests then she’s a greater necromancer than Pisces already. I doubt even Az’Kerash can match that so easily. Belavierr definitely can offer equivalent deals, at a terrible cost, but Erin being able to do it for free is mind blowing.

      Makes me wonder if gods have levels and, more importantly, whether Erin can “boon” people without levels? Like Teriarch, he definitely was a guest for long enough.

      [Boon of the Dragon]: the entire Drake race will line up to sell their souls, if necessary, for a taste of that. Probably, other races too.

      [Boon of the Faerie] or even [Boon of the Faerie King], if he shows up. Although, it’s more likely that faeries have immunity to being taken advantage of like that, without any bargain being struck. Otherwise, I expect it to provoke a terrible, bloody feud.

      • Tamaroth, faeries, Teri and other beings outside the system may not work with [Boon of the guest]. Similar to Lyonette being unable to give her boon to Ryoka.

  9. Enjoy your break when it comes! You’re a rockstar!

    Also please don’t have someone kidnap Erin! That… that would suck! Bad Pirate! Don’t even think about it!

  10. Well that tears it. The drake armies are going to have to come north to keep this subtle, patient enemy from conquering the human lands. But who is it? We’ve probably been given enough clues, i’m just too obtuse to get them. Only thing i can guess is, it’s something that followed the humans from Terandia.

    • It could be the Harpies since the Death of Wings (Harpy woman/Empress) is still looking to take back Izril. The only others I can think of that could fit are Vampires, Roshal, and the Elusive Lot.

      Vampires lost contact with their kind in other species so this could be them. Roshal is war profiteering all of Chandrar so whose to say their only connections were selling [Assassins] and the Bloodfeast Raiders. The infiltrators really acted like the Elusive Lot, which are more of a hodgepodge faction than a lead organization, and the Death of Magic was a Wistram [Archmage] at one point, so this could tie back in with helping out the Death of Wings.

        • Could be almost anyone, might be demons, might be drakes, might be Terandrians, anyone who benefits from Izril nobility being reeling, which is almost anyone who has any dealings with northern Izril.

    • it’s most likely the drakes, directed by the walled city of Minos.

      We know they have trained infiltrators and sabatours they equip with magic to appear human.

      they actually dispatched an infiltrator task force at roughly the right time to have agents positioned for this and naturally they might have sent more earlier independant of when they ordered some to make a mess as a counter to the liscor attack.

      the one agent we got to see much of also used the same tactic,nudging multiple enemies of the drakes who were hostile to each other to get them to cull each other’s numbers.

      it’s more likely then out of continent countries investing the resources in this backwater and the individuals most likely to pull it off on their own resources and interests confirmed they didn’t
      (the neceomancer’s words are backed by the readers seeing his thoughts while the stitch witch is too detached and disinterested to lie and was generally uninterested in the events beyond remembering she should be angry at maviola)
      (

      • Drakes seem unlikely to me, simply because if the Circle’s plot had worked they would have united the north under Tyrion against the Drakes. Killing Magnolia, who saved Liscor, probably also wouldn’t be high on Manus’s agenda.

        My first thought was Dragons who are younger than Teriarch, but there seems like too many to be Dragons, and there hasn’t been enough buildup to make their sudden introduction meaningful.

        My favorite theory so far is one or several of the Gnoll tribes, who want to weaken humans to eventually expand Gnoll territory and bring back lots of intelligence for the meeting of tribes. It is an established fact that the Gnolls want a homeland, or more territory to roam in, without competing with neighboring Drake cities, and that would actually flow with a lot of the buildup in this chapter. The only issue is that we haven’t seen Gnolls acting with that kind of advanced spy craft aside from maybe the small group in Salazar, but it wouldn’t be that strange for at least one of the tribes to specialize in it.

        The biggest thing against the Gnoll theory is the stated impression that the infiltrators were from other continents, and Gnolls mostly reside in southern Izril. Azkerash seemed to indicate he wasn’t involved with the Circle a few chapters back, otherwise I would suspect his puppeteering to weaken the entire continent.

        Terandria becomes the next most likely in my mind, but the big counter is that there are too few kingdoms with beef (that we know of so far) who aren’t more worried about looming conflict with Ailendamus. Maybe a strong coalition will be introduced besides the powers currently at odds. In order for it to be something that plays on a bunch of stuff already built up, the war between Ailendamus and the Dawn Concordat would probably have to be a ruse, an excuse to martial armies and navies without suspicion, launching at northern Izril suddenly instead of each other. Not sure how plausible that is considering that people have already died in the building conflict. Ailendamus probably can’t afford to be the antagonist on two fronts, fighting both the Dawn Concordat and northern Izril. There are only a few Terandrian kingdoms besides those four that have even been mentioned, and they don’t seem like a force to suddenly attack northern Izril based on stuff so far. Still, this is the most fitting source of the infiltrators, if they are from another continent, that I can think of right now.

        Then there is the Demon alliance, including Harpies and who knows how many aggrieved species from Izril’s more distant history. But that would seem like an odd shift from thousands of years of conflict centered on Rhir. Why now? And how can that alliance afford to dedicate effort to Izril unless the Blighted King suddenly dies? Seems unlikely, but a possibility.

        Who else does that even leave with a coherent reason to attack northern Izril right now, and was capable of infiltrating the Circle? Baleros and Chandrar have too many competing factions. None of the powers there can afford to overextend by attacking Izril, unless they suddenly have a permanent cease-fire or unexpected alliance with their rivals.

        Minotaurs could do it, and probably want to expand and fight. Would they, though? Playing along with the Circle seems very unlike their typical sense of honor.

        Wistram could maybe do it, but not really their MO. Same for seafaring factions and Drathians (not that we know that much about Drathians). What we know of Vampires so far doesn’t really make them a likely contender either.

        Of course, there is still plenty of time to introduce things if the secretive enemy doesn’t play a further role in the final end to this volume. Actually, there’s a good chance this volume ends with some other stuff, and the thread with the infiltrators comes back as a major part of the next volume. But if not that, I am left wondering how this volume ends. Just with Mrsha being kidnapped? I’d be content with final chapter being Ryoka wakes up, and deals with suddenly being the most famous Courier on Izril, and maybe being weak at first but recovering some and showing signs of being super-Ryoka, who has figured out how to negotiate with the wind to more reliably have it on her side.

        • the plan was never going to work though, it would have collapsed soon enough even if they got Tyrion
          (Magnolia for example noted she might need to pull an item out of the vault to uncontract Tyrion if he signs, not like she is the only one with such resources either, and a lot of people would have gone circle purging if Tyrion had submitted out of self preservation, pathetic losers as they all are enough of them would have competent advisors and subordinates who would figure that some bloodshed now is better then being hunted down one by one and enslaved/replaced)

          And if it did somehow work long term against all common sense and human nature it wouldn’t be a unified north, the infiltrators would naturally purge as much of the loyal circle on their way out after getting Tyrion’s contract and using it for something fun like starting a civil war, the circle was NEVER going to win and get a unified north because the circle lost months before the whole fiasco even started and it’s killers were just still debating how best to use the corpse.
          (And indeed their parting words are that they would get to killing the rest of circle soon, which they would, either by stealth or by revealing who they are and murdering any who manage to somehow escape their homes before getting Tyrion style executions)

          The only wrinkle is killing magnolia but for any drake faction that isn’t pro-peace it is practically a bonus.

          I personally think the infiltrators intended for failure rather then hoping they can utilize Tyrion’s contract before it is inevitably broken
          (kind of hard to get much use since most of is forces would be extremely wary of obeying obviously dumb commands when they know he is a puppet for unknown people)
          and assume Persua getting a free pass to deliver a cure was how they intended to assure it
          (Obviously with more overt intervention if Tyrion is about to sign, up to just having the kids killed before he can sign probabl)

  11. Was it a great wind down chapter? Of course it was! Had all the great elements- tension, sentiment, humor and some cool cameos.

    I wonder what [Boon of Teriarch] using his mage name (Eldavin?) of course, would do? But perhaps he hasn’t been to the Inn enough yet..

  12. Holy moly. Everyone, you’re not getting how absurd [Boon of the Guest] is. You’re thinking of Named Adventurers, dead heroes, a dragon disguised as a Magus. Nope.

    [Boon of the Guest: Tamarath]

    • I don’t think he has been a guest often enough. The Earl playing multiple chess games probably stayed longer and he wasn’t able to be a boon. Maybe [Boon of Ivolethe]?

      • I’m gonna have to go back and re-read, (oh noes! teh horrorz! :D ) but I seem to recall a couple — maybe three? — visits by someone else, too.

        [Boon of Gazi]

    • The Tidebreaker I think is probably the strongest Erin is going to get at this moment. Tamaroth and his 2 companions are likely outside of the system as whatever entity they are. Same with Teriarch who would be either #1 or #4 depending on how he holds up to Tamaroth. Same deal I think would be with Ryoka.
      Though the only way I’d be positive making this assertion is if we see Erin try to give [Boon of the Guest: Ryoka] and it fails.
      So her top tiers in terms of fighting capability are probably something like, Zel Shivertail, Gazi, Xrn the small queen, Klbch, Grimalkin, Saliss and with Relc at the bottom of the strong indivdiuals but possibly at the same time the most useful for your already strong people.

      • In terms of guests Tamaroth and his crew would be #1 to #3, but they’d probably not count, and they haven’t been guests for long enough. Teriarch falls under the same problem if he can even be done (it was mentioned by Erin that stronger individuals need more time).Klbkch is kinda gimmicky, since he has been a guest while having two different power levels, and most of his power comes from [Recaptured Sublimity]. Xrn and Gazi (and to a lesser extent Grimalkin) are iffy as their abilities are either racial (Gazi’s eye) or they’re mages, and we don’t know how it’d interact with [Boon of the Guest] (would it spells or enhanced learning capabilities?)
        If we presume mages work the order would look something like: Zel/Xrn — Saliss — Gazi/Grimalkin — Relc– Klbkch.

  13. Glad the circle of Thorns arc is over, they certainly got their ass kicked. I think its odd that Erin didn’t ask about Ryoka? Maybe she just assumes she is ok.

    • Well, since Ryoka was confirmed alive and under the care of a [Healer] in House Veltras’s territory, seems like all she could do was wait.
      I actually find it way odder how Maviola got to Riverfarm, already discussed things with Laken about the Solstice Party, and was leaving the town by the time Alevica and Mavika returned to Riverfarm.
      She shouldn’t have been able to get there so fast, as it was just the morning after the previous chapter.

  14. –Hello, fellow citizen! What an event. I am much shock! Are you? We are all friends here. What say you know about Erin Solstice?

    When I read that, I immediately got the image of Borat standing in Liscor’s Market.

    Another fantastic chapter, but then, this entire volume has been tops. Thank you, again.

  15. I wonder if that [Toxin Expert] assassin was trained by the last [Quarass] considering how the current [Quarass]’s emphasis on no child soldiers/assassins.

    The Silver Swords are back and oh boy are they in a surprise. Though hopefully Ylawes doesn’t accidentally start a mass Vampire hunt.

    Also bit of a nitpick here but why in the hell is Invrisil looking to form a Soccer team the day after their city was torn up by ‘armies’ and Assassins? Like the timing just seems really off here unless this is a third-party operating in Invrisil.

    • Pride, they just got saved by Liscor and Palass while they were helpless. It is good, but somewhat humiliating. They want to show that their city is not inferior that any of the two. That why it was specifically about those two. Preferably it would be done in an actual competition but in a friendly fashion as they actually are thankful. A sport match is perfect for that and it do not make it obvious.

    • If Sulawesi starts a vampire hunt I don’t think it will be an accident. Pretty sure that’s what he plans to talk to Delaney about.

    • My own take on the football thing: opportunity. It’s highly possible that [Informants] from all over the region are gathering the same kind of information. And, within 12 hours, just like the location of the Archmage’s Favor, the information will be worthless because everyone will already have it.

      However, if one looks around and finds *other* opportunities that their employer would heartily endorse, and they can get in before everyone else comes at him with their own offer …. I’m betting people forgot about Joseph until Erin screamed his name and made him a target. :)

  16. So vampirs build up exp, get really hungry and actualize it into levels by drinking blood from people with the classes they want…

    Interesting, at least it should mean Fierre has some reprive from hungrily staring at everyones necks for a while

    • I’m not sure they get xp the normal way. It very much seemed like she got her levels by draining a person to death. If so, that’s going to be a real problem going forward.
      I’d currently put better-than-even odds on Fierre eventually going full evil vampire, justifying the silver poisoning and forcing Ryoka to join team Buffy.

      • But she wasnt hungry in this way right after she healed, and she was supposedly no longer hungry after draining these 7 levels.

        I guess it could be time based, but I think exp is a more reasonable assumption.

    • Has anyone else found the one item that would make any vampire overpowered? Hint it’s hidden in the inn and is something that the inn keeper made with her own hands. Heck it might even provide shielding against Kelts sunshine armor…
      Just imagine magical mood at a high enough level to create gloom bread to protect a vampire from sunlight.

      • When you said one item to make any vampire overpowered, I thought you were going to bring up the blood cape that the Goblins had way back when. That is, liquid of choice cape.

        • If the level draining is the true source of vampire power, not the blood itself, then the cape won’t be of much interest to vampires.

          We were already told that outside of top tier relics, conjured food/sustenance isn’t as good as the real thing. Same with Djinni food.

  17. I don’t think the [Toxin Expert] was trained by the [Quarass]. I think the [Quarass] might be the dragon slayer assassin in the book the [Trap Master] was reading in her very first life which is why shes so familiar with poisons.

    • what….. Executing an assasin is the same as holding kids hostage and allmost killing them? The commander didnt kill her kids.

      • No he just murdered her husband, murdered her in front of her kids without a trial and after she’d surrendered and was cooperating then arrested her kids in case Tyrion wanted them killed. So yeah, it’s the same.

        • The soldiers came and repeatedly and clearly asked him to stand down. As far as they know he is was in league with his wife and was going to get a weapon or scroll to kill off the soldiers. If he was complying and they killed him only because of speculation then sure, ass hole move, but the only evil person here was his wife. She attempted to assassinate the children of the Lord whose lands she lived in. Throughout her marriage and the life of her kids she lied and didn’t prepare them for this scenario. The second she found out who the Veltras boys were targets she could have warned or relocated her family, but she let this happen instead. The Soldiers aren’t equipped with tasers or w/e. They were as humane as they safely could be when dealing with a monster who just so happened to be a mother.

        • There’s no need for a long trial like on Earth when the truth could be ascertained on the scene. There are truth stones, Skills, and Spells that can determine guilt. Criminals seem to have methods to hide their guiltiness but once it has been ascertained, like in this case, there’s no need for any long process.

          By Skills and Magic they determined that she was a Face of the Guild of Assassins, and since her participation in the attempt to stop Ryoka (and maybe even her attempt to kill Magnolia, given that Tyrion fought her) were known by the Veltras, the verdict was clear.
          She offered to give information to save herself. She was refused. There’s no more to it. It’s an execution of a criminal whose guilt had been proven beyond doubt, not a murder.

    • The death of her husband, and inprisonment of her children could be construed as some manner of atrocity by the ruling Veltras family.
      But the Veltras force gave him a chance to surrender, and there was no time to judge wether he and the children also were dangerous and well trained brood of assassins, as noone apparently knew Mire was prior to this incident.

      As for her capture and immediate execution upon admitting her guilt as a murderer many times over, the Veltras forces action is certainly justified.

      This individual is presumeably guilty of at least 100 murders, by virtue of her admission to beeing a face of the assasins guild, she’s presumeably allso co-conspirator in many more cases.

      She would get a capital punishment in every country on earth that practices them in peacetime, as she well deserves. The expediated judgement is reasonable considering how dangerous keeping a individual with a level 45+ combat class prisoner would be.

      In my opinion, if you are searching for moraly reprehensible responses to the plot. The slaughter of any and all Circle agents, no matter their involvement, is by far less justifiable.

      • No, I’m sorry but summary execution of a surrendered foe is a lesser evil sort of choice at the best of times, in front of her own children is just flat evil.

        As to killing the huband, he was not presenting a threat, he was fleeing. Ergo, evil.

        Also I’m amused at the concept that the person who gives the order deserves a lesser sentence, are you a politician by any chance?

        • It is not a “good” thing, but we have a saying in my country, roughly translating to “evil shall be banished through evil.” The only solution here, taking the preeminence of saving foces lives into account, is extreme prejudice.

          What would the force do if the husband emerges from the house alongside Mire as two level 45+ combatants? He is already resisting their direct order despite their drawn weapons.

          Even were he level 30, it could well cost them half their manpower just to subdue two such threats, assuming he is allowed to withdraw into the house and equip himself.

          As for my wording about the circles agents, lower level circles agents may well have had nothing to do with the scheeme, and be only political scheemers seeking to advance themselves.
          Obviously the leaders and major conspirators have made their bed and I would not argue any clemency for them.
          However many are probably people like Leka or Rie, neither of whom I think deserves a capital punishment for this particular scheme. Even though they may well have other dark crimes in their history (Rie certainly has).
          Such could we be uncovered in prison and apropriately punished in due time.
          And though i won’t call it “good”, the level of danger Mire and potentialy her husband presents justifies the extreme violence practiced in this particular encounter. In my oppinion at least.

          I have had a interest in politics, and pay some head to it, but it seems to me a world of filth and disgrace, which I want no part of.

          • The problem with that argument is that this is InnWorld, unless you have an appraisal item you’d have to kill anyone you arrested as they may pose a high level threat you couldn’t contain, down that path lies madness where there’s one person alive in the world feeling relieved at the fact they’re finally safe before they top themselves because they’re cripplingly lonely.

            • I agree with you genneraly.
              My counter argumet is simply that when the humble, but prosperous local [Trader] [Alchemist] is discovered to be a world class [Assassin]. The Assumption that her husband is not a threat, is one the commander simply can not afford.

            • I don’t think it’s fair to make sweeping judgments one way or another. Looking at just this case a known armed and dangerous assassin has been living in the Lords lands. This assassin played an active roll in the attempted murder of the Lords sons in an attempt to extort him. She fled to her base and the man claiming to be her husband exited. The soldiers repeatedly asked him to stand down so he could be taken for questioning and he refused and attempted to enter the base. In this specific scenario does it make sense to roll the dice and hope he isn’t arming himself? We the readers basically experience this chain as an omnipotent observer, but from the soldiers perspective they did everything in their power to keep the husband alive, but he didn’t comply with simple orders. Blame Mirn for living a lie and leading armed forces to her innocent family.

        • They had no way to know the husband wasn’t a threat. Are they supposed to risk him grabbing a scroll and killing a few after they asked him to stand down? Moral standards change depending on the situation, and in a world with skills a high level assassin is probably safer to kill on the spot. She made her choices to try to murder innocent children, she made her choice to kill runners and couriers and soldiers and adventures, and while being chased by forces she knew were armed and dangerous she made a choice to run towards her family. The soldiers were not the evil in this scenario

            • Yes, you are quite correct that what Mire did was evil, she forced soldiers to take her in her house in front of them instead of facing them on a different location where they would be safe. Her final acts as an assassin were murdering her husband and traumatizing her children.

              The Guild of Assassins and the House of Veltras are at war. Mire knew this and still choosed to put her family in danger. The soldiers took a dangerous threat out of circulation on a war they are engaging actively. It’s not about justice or fairness. Mire choosed to be an assassin, Mire choosed to hide his class from her family, Mire choosed to run “home” and put her family in danger.

              Everything that Mire did was wrong and evil.

            • The children were inside and the “murder” was capital punishment applied with 0 doubt she was guilty of murder, attempted murder of children, as well as the runners who were basically acting as emergency services, extortion and w/e she did off screen. It’s on thing to feel sorry for kids, and another to say that them existing should be a pass to do evil shiz or that because she decided to lead an army to them she should get a chance to escape and kill more good people.

              • The kids got outside or at least the youngest girl did, as far as I can tell. “One of the [Soldiers] cried out as the youngest daughter shoved him aside. The children raced past the guards.”

                Given the circumstances and the world I am inclined to excuse the soldiers actions though. And they did try to keep the children away from the execution. I hope, that Tyrion will find a way to help the children overcome that trauma.

                As to the death of their father: He should have stood down instead of trying to get to his wife. I feel sorry for Mires family though. In the end they too are victims of their mother.

        • sorta false, the husband is “fleeing” only from our perspective where we have an overview, to the soldiers the husband wasn’t standing down and maybe could be planning something with his wife to do damage.

          as for “in front of her kids”, it’s not ideal but understandable. they tried to keep the kids away but they also have to prioritize the execution, if she had one potion hidden somewhere she could blow them all up.

    • It was harsh. Killing the husband was also justified, he was too dumb to live. Were the soldiers supposed to let him do whatever he wanted? For all they knew, he may have been another Face of the Assassin’s guild. Holding the children for investigation is also justified, [Child Assassin] is a real class.

      Now, murdering the children would be evil but it remains to be seen if Veltras will go full Old Testament on the assassins or not.

      The thing is, the only outright evil thing already done is the torture of the [Toxin Expert]. It’s not even done for information, it’s about vengeance.

  18. I wonder when Belavier will leave Az’Kerash’s castle with Toren. There hasn’t been very much evil-doing from her side for the last few weeks, and if he keeps pissing the other chosen off he’s not going to last indefinitively in there…

    Not that we need another plotline split to lower the tempo of the story, but you’d think she can only spend so much time knitting cloth golems.

    • Maybe she is knitting him some armor? Protective sweater now that he is weaker than he was. Maybe it even keeps his magic from leaking so he can go off on his own again.

      • Clearly she is sewing him a meat-suit with a pocket near the stomach for the slime so he can feed it ingredients, use it as a battery, and supercharge his repairing

    • We know she was knitting at least one Gnoll. So it seems possible she plans on crashing Gnollmoot, which means she’s going to have to leave soon.

    • Agreed that Toren will probably leave with Belavier but that shouldn’t count towards which of the Necromancer’s Children she gets. At first I thought she would choose Venitra but now I’m leaning more towards Kerash or Bea. Kerash for some Gnollmoot evil or Bea for something more…impactful.

    • He is one dude, stuck on an island. He is the last official guild member and just spends his day telling himself to do stuff and polishing his “guild member of the month” trophy

  19. Level 50 skill that I want:
    [The Wandering Inn] — something about the door being able to open to anywhere in the world Open to The Last Light, The Singer, Wistram, etc.

    • I just want Erin to do Louis XIV and go “I am the Inn” and then suddenly have all the inn buffs and effects (including the door) available to her at will anywhere she is (for time, with a cooldown).

      • My money is on Erin turning the inn into a massive Cognizant-class golem and plowing it through Hectval’s battle lines like Captain Zecrew of the Illuminary did in the battle with Flos and the minotaurs a few chapters back.

        • My money is on that too. I’m waiting for years for that to happen, but my other guess is that she first learns a skill to control some parts of the inn like her body.

    • I would second that. And it would be justifiable inside the story since the teleportation door is already a part of the Inn, a feature for which it is known and a key element for a lot of the events in the Inn.
      Having a Skill that boosts it or even achieves the teleportation without that artifact makes sense, considering how we have seen something similar when Erin got the [Grand Theatre] after the Players performed in her Inn.

  20. The last line of the chapter has somehow gotten no discussion so far, so lets open up some.

    We have long knonwn that Krisha wants to show Mrsha to the gnollmoot, does Lyonette know this? (She takes magic lessons from Krshias book, and they are close. Presumeably they have talked about it but I can’t remember a moment like that “on screen”)
    Will Mrsha go with Krishia?
    I assume Krshia would let Lyonette join them, but would she?
    She just backed down and let Ryoka go, ending with Ryoka so hurt she can’t quickly recover even with potions and top rank healers, will this impact her willingness to let Mrsha go?

    Erin factor?

    Since Grimalkin is there and invisible, will he hear their discussion/argument and if so will he intervene and cite his apprentice Gnoll mage as a replacement? Would he?
    Does Erins friendship with Xrn, Prognugator of the Grand hive, make Pallas more or less willing to support Erin?
    Pallas are still largely forbidden from using the door, will they make a issue out of it with Krshia?

    Allso broader future topics of interest regarding Gnollmoot

    The cabal of white Gnolls at Salazar still want Mrsha, and said there would be hit squads targeting her. If so this is certainly a opportunity for both factions.
    Assuming they’re like Bunkr and mid 20s powelevel, can Silverfang and maybe a [Princess] defend Mrsha from such a hitsquad? Can they before they reach the Tribe?
    How strong is “Wanderer” and whatever goons he can scrounge up? How close to Salazar is the Gnollmoot?
    Would Ilvris support a Gnoll rescue mission if Erin called on him? (presumeably yes?)
    Would Alric be able to talk him out of it? Or can he hide Mrsha somewhere around Salazar?
    Would Ilvris deploy Project Perris for such a task? Shriekblade?

    Two broad topics and largely speculative but let’s talk about them!

    • I imagine that Numbtounge and maybe Bird would be sent with Mrsha, and assume Lyonette would go with. Isn’t she an honorary member of the Silverfang tribe? I don’t know how long the Inn can operate with both Erin and Lyonette, but I’m also unclear where the meeting takes place. Can a Runner gnoll just take a door stone? If the kidnap crew did bring Mrsha to Salazar I can’t see her not trying to get to Illvris, and certainly can’t see him being remotely okay with his secretary kidnapping children.

      For Pallas I kinda feel like the door will be reopened with both sides appreciateing the other a bit more. Jerks or not they lent her a battalion. She owes them a debt and allowing travel is just a start.

      • Yeah I don’t know how long the Inn can operate off only the earthers and Ishkr.

        It seemed Numbtounge was going to Goblinhome with Badarrow and Snapjaw. Which would seem to be just fine if Erin and Ryoka are going to the party anyway…

        But I just remembered this throwaway line in 7.57

        “And—they’d asked Hedault to add a tracking charm. That was very cheap, but Mrsha had already tied it to Bezale’s horn without the Minotauress noticing.”

        Looking at this I’m getting slightly more worried for the immediate future of our favourite Gnoll cub…

        • Yeah, and honestly crap like this makes it kinda hard to like Mrsha after a certain point. Like yeah she is still young and from a Gnoll Tribe, but she has also been lost and unable to call for help and almost died repeatedly. Like it’s one thing to not expect a kid to make the best choices to stay safe, it’s another for a kid character to actively take actions to put herself in danger. Like what happened to her tribe was horrible and maybe unavoidable, but if they hadn’t stuck around searching for her maybe at least some get away, but she doesn’t want a tracking charm cuz lol adventures? At a certain point Erin and Lyonette are just getting in the way of natural selection.

          • I think Mrsha’s [Last Survivor] class is influencing her to get into dangerous situations that she wouldn’t consider if she was still a [Young Hunter].

    • Erin knows and already agreed to let Mrsha go along to the Gnollmoot so Mrsha is going to be going.
      Lyonette will probably end up taking Mrsha and Erin staying behind or something along those lines imo but one of the two will be going. Krisha has also before this point invited at least Erin along as well as far as I can remember.

      Grimalkin’s disciple is going along to the Gnoolmoot as well I’m not surprised people didn’t remember that since it was quite possibly two volumes ago now.

      Pallas was only banned from using the door for the week or two weeks I believe they should be travelling through it again just as before soon enough that he’s not going to make an issue of it. This is only a few days after the momentous ban if you look at the timeline even if it feels like it has been a while in Innworld.

      Erin and Xrn’s relationship was already “known” before this it would sour some but others might see it as a way to make some stronger peace with the Antinium. Xrn is also in the faction of Antinium who do want a lasting peace so if there are conversations Xrn is probably one of the better ones to be talking to to convince them that this is a good thing to agree to and what not.

      I doubt he would deploy project Perris as Project Perris but would instead just ask that everyone be on the lookout for x individual and use them as just other guards under his command if he was going to do anything with it.

      The people targetting Mrsha should be slightly stronger than Bunkr I believe he was good compared to a Liscorian criminal but he was also supposedly still a small timer. Unless I’m mixing up characters. Liscors criminals are supposedly super weak because the watch has the likes of Relc and Klbch.

    • why can’t they just bring a rock into the moot and open a door there? if they actually bring mrsha I will burn all the books in the world related to gnolls.

      • I think Pallas is at the edge of the range of the door. Probably can’t go all the way to the gnoll moot like how they couldn’t go all the way to Veltras’s lands.

          • Nope, Hedault explained it to Selys while they were watching Ryoka’s run last chapter. The *amount* of mana available doesn’t matter, it’s the enchantment bindings on the door themselves that have limitations.

    • Another important point:
      Krsha is going to make it known to all Gnolls that there is another world.
      She is going to talk about the presence of humans from Earth in their world and she is going to mention the ones she knows.
      She is going to reveal everything, beyond the shadow of doubt or speculation. It’s just like how in the first volume she told the rest of the Silverfang tribe as soon as she found that about Erin.
      Because beyond everything else, Krsha’s loyalties are with her tribe and the Gnolls.

      And that’s potentially very dangerous for Erin’s group.

      Most of the “upper-echelon” people who “know” are actually still speculating, are few in number, and are spread around the world.
      But Krsha is going to reveal this at the Meeting of Tribes, so it would become public knowledge for all Gnolls everywhere.
      There’s no way to predict how other tribes will take it and what actions they will take afterwards.

      • True and it as a big deal but I think it will be overshadowed by the civil war sparked by the revelation that white Gnolls are not the doom of Gnolls but the doom of their enemies (weapons of vengeance, turbo-charged by the dying will of their tribe).
        Compared to such a schism, the reveal of another world is as remote (yet important!) as the eternal war on Rhir.

  21. Lovely chapter as so much of it was wonderful, and oddly enough mundane.

    Assassins try to have revenge and kill the Wind Runner friends… Only to be counter spite by the Five Families as they are not finish making them pay.

    We have Erin Rumors turned out by the dozen to the point you have no idea if they are making up rumors just to mess with people or if some of Licsor’s citizens question if the rumors are true. Especially since some of those rumors are about humans from the inn… Instead of the inn keeper herself.

    Love our favorite undead king making his sale to Kevin… Both in the purchase of the bikes and straight up telling him he can flee to Khelt if needed as he knows Kevin is from Earth.

    The fact he treated the talking stone/bone as a phone with no surprise or shock… Probably was the bit that revealed himself as someone from earth.

    Got to feel sorry for Ferris. Spends all that time trying to do his job, just for it to get a hundred times more complicated… And still no results.

    As for Plan Lure Erin?

    Gold? See how much her inn makes after Goblinhome starts trading with her.
    Fame? She already is kind of famous. She had an entire city roll out the red carpet when The Players went to give her a night on the town.
    Power? She brought 3 armies to fight on her command. That is pretty hard to top since they normally aren’t even friendly with one another.

    Chess? That… That actually might work. A Grand World Chess Championship.

    Assuming her inn doesn’t host it or She levels enough to just teleport over there. I mean she is nearly level 50.

    • I figure Fetohep just recognized the bicycle from his watching all the video content on the Atwood twinns phones as well as their discussions about Earth.

      At that point the evasive answer along with the class is all but confirmation that Kevin is a earther. More so than the bone-phone.

    • If Liscor somehow manages to NOT organise an official, world class chess tournament then I will be amazed and disappointed! Amazingly disappointed even!

      They got the Innworld’s closest thing to a chess grandmaster, Olesm’s chess newsletter and the Grand Strategist of Pallas as a guaranteed attendee. More has been done with less!

      It would also be the perfect excuse for the Titan to visit in person.

  22. I’d love to see Fetohep declare Khelt a sanctuary for the Earthers. It would make sense from his perspective given the knowledge they would bring, and Khelt is probably just about the most well defended nation in the world, aside from perhaps the minotaurs and the blighted kingdom. Trey could vouch for his honesty. And of all the people that could potentially get their hands on Earth’s technology, Khelt seems the least likely to go on the offensive with it or have any problems with spies or traitors. Given some time and cooperation it could rival the blighted kingdom.

    It’s a pity he’s so far away, I’d love to see him and Ryoka have a conversation. Or Erin talking to him about Toren.

      • Trey has been drifting away from Flos for a while. I expect him to stay at Wistram, or at least not return to Flos, and I’m 50/50 on whether he’ll actually follow through with his mission.

        • I mean, Aron kind of likes Amerys, at least more than the rest of the current archmages. So if Trey and Aron become friends, that’s certainly going to encourage him to break her out.

          Gazi seemed to be very serious about the plan so presumeably it has some chance of sucess. Not because Gazi wouldn’t send Trey to die for Flos, but I doubt she’d send him if there were not a reasonable chance of sucess. She allso hasn’t been seen at all since Ac’thelios.

          I would allso be suprised if Trey would abandon his newfound obsession with genocideing Ac’thelios. Flos or mayyyybe some far-fetched manner of alliancewith Cognita in exchange for freeing her are his only bets for that.

          My guess is that the earthers in Wistram split in 4 in a potential Amerys brake-out. With some staying, a few going to Cara or some to Erin, and a larger group following Amerys, Aron and Trey to Flos.

          There’s allso the mysterious sulphur buyer who snaggs earthers out there.

            • Ha, you think too little of your fellow readers!

              Some of still remember that someone is buying up the ingredients for gunpowder. For the longest time, my bet was on the Minotaurs (they completely closed their islands and exterminated all spies, seems like they have something to hide) but that gunslinger Earther helping the demons may have started something terrible. Although, I’ll laugh my ass off if this leads to Ryoka and the Doctor realising what a terrible mistake it was to keep power away from the good guys.

              • The point was it was a part of another paragraph i removed, regarding earther factions and non-earther factions with access to earthers.

                Something i ended up realizing is a pointless discussion. Because we know there were a thousand misscarriages in Rhir. So the reasonable assumption is that there allso were a thousand summoned earthers, of which we could estimate to know the fate of 450-750, 50 or so at UN 26 or so at wistram, 9 with Erin and say 3alive in cheandar 50 or so with Cara. Thats just guessing at a ratio of 2-4 dead for every confirmed alive. Even a really high number like 4:1 casulties says there are 50 or so earthers left out there to be found. More than enough for every relevant faction to, in the near future, have some level of earthers. If probably few Ryokas.

                Thats assuming there is no secound cast in Rhir, which they were setting up for.

                You are right about Geneva and Ryokas naive delusions of gatekeeping tech though.

                Basicly, as soon as they realized they were hundreds from earth, they should had been teching hard which luckily Daly and Paige did. Where as Erin has done the hard ”find good allies” part. So their faction may yet be, through no fault of either wunderkind, set up to save the day if the UN-TWI alliance can get its shit together soon enough.

  23. That probably helped, but like a certain [shop keeper] hired by Magnolia Reinhardt… she was elusive about how she came up with ‘her designs’ and was selling earth design clothing.

    It didn’t mean she actually came from earth or knew about it.

    The bike and the attempt to evade the answer were big hints. The casual ease he spoke treating a rare magical artifact as a mundane object… especially for someone who isn’t a big name player until recently?

    That probably was the bit that helped confirm it.

    That or Fetohep just said it regardless if they came from earth or not. If so than they know he knows. If they didn’t come from earth they would probably be in a bit of a panic.

    • This bottom part is the right idea for me. Fetohep just mentions it so that he can get a extra discount so others don’t go over him or whatever and put a little bit of fear into the sellers since there is as likely a chance they are from Earth as they stole something from an Earther.

  24. I feel dumb to not think that the roses were being sabotaged from inside but at the same time Northern Izril just seems to be so weak now basically everything the humans do gets sabotaged or something bad happens to their organisations/plans. The only reason they haven’t been kicked off the continent it feels like is that the Drakes are too busy infighting or dealing with Ants from this. But that’s probably not that good a long term representation of the five families and stuff. Just the Circle of Thorns.

    Shame Saliss was spotted floating in the river guess he will be returning to burn down Xif’s workshop at least hope we get to see that! I was hoping he’d get to spend some time hiding away from the world and return when he gets bored or something from the lack of the Solstice effect and general lack of nice things that he’s used to having!

    • can’t really take much time off.

      has to continue using his workshop to make anti aging potions for chaldion, can’t let the bastard die or no one will be left of his family to one day accapt her.

      also needs to do jobs to buy limited protection for the turnscales.

      and he is of course an alchemist who loves his job and needs his Pallas workshop and the enormous payout from Tyrion to continue his research and refill his stocks.

      She also has a apprentice now.

  25. I love how Pawn is leveling, and I can just see the start of a new pantheon, with Klbtch as a war demigod. No actual gods, however, but the idea of that old myth where Odin’s ghost goes to visit a Christian king who converted his kingdom comes to me as I imagine Pawn meeting Tamaroth. THAT would be horrifyingly amazing

  26. Ok. Pirate. WHERE IS KENT SCOTT! Please, I beg you. You keep teasing him but he never is directly involved with anything we are reading about since the first phone call! Is he the one buying up sulfer? How does he get to some of the people from Earth before the mages can? Was he behind the Golden Triangle? What do you mean he has no legs? Your world building is too good at being suspenseful. He has been one if my favorite characters since I first read that chapter (along with Bird obviously). Please, I am desperate for more.

    • Me too actually. I feel they are being hyped as being something big when they are eventually revealed. Given the hype, I was assuming that this person was a dragon in disguise (hacking Wistram after all) or a rogue Selphid who has enslaved the real Kent Scott and is currently hijacking his body. I was told before by another commenter on this lovely site, and this is a valid hint, that Kent Scott could be one of the slave lords because one of them has a serpentine body. Flos has stated before that he cannot go to war against these guys because of the artifacts they have and their grip on the economy of the continent. Considering that Fetohep was able to recognize the bicycle, I wonder if Kent Scott flexes their power to prove how wrong he is that that he is truly a provider of a safe haven. Heck if there is going to be any character to prove that nobody is truly safe it could be “Mr. Scott” and whatever hidden abilities and artifacts they have.

    • It’s a popular fan theory that Emir Yaldiz, the Naga leader of the Traders of Roshal could be Kent Scott. There is some circumstancial evidence pointing towards this:
      – Emir Yaldiz is a naga, so no legs.
      – He’s insanely rich and Roshal evidently has connections EVERYWHERE. Yaldiz would be in a prime position to have the information, the resources and the reach to outdo Wistram in finding Earthers.
      – Going off the previous point, Roshal is known to be able to force compliance via Skills and magic. So if an Earther appeared near Yaldiz, it would be easy for him to get someone to force said Earther to spill literally everything they know, from how an i-phone works, over technological possibilities, to gun powder. The information wouldn’t even have to be complete; given Roshal’s wealth, Yaldiz could set entire armies to start experimenting on whatever. Ideas on what is possible at all are enough to get started.
      – The last we know about the sulfur transports is that their trail disappears somewhere in Chandrar. Which is where Roshal’s HQ is located.

      So, some compelling evidence, but it could be another red herring, like Az’Kerash being the mysterious leader of the Circle of Thorns, which proved to be false.

  27. Funny thought.

    lyonette could save serious cash in the future with the guest boon skill.

    why hire an architect for the next redesign when you can drop a reasonable approximation of the naga architect’s capabilities and design sensibilities(personally as we saw does transfer to a degree) to the leading antinium worker and get his design fulfilled perfectly with perfect accuracy and efficiency
    (antinium hive mind means if the architect is one of them they will all perfectly understand what to do and why resulting in exactly what the architect envisions without needing a ton of high level skills to get there)

    the skill in general has a lot of monetary value, I can think of at least half a dozen people with semi-unlimited budget that would happily give Erin things like her own fiefdom and noble title or a nationwide amnesty for goblins or enough magic gear for her to have her own private named adventurer group just to have a few weeks of exclusive access to xrn’s magic to study it

    wistram would probably trade all the earthers who don’t want to stay with them(enough are willing to stay that erin’s cooperation with this new skill is far more valubale then the last cooperative ones) for this and consider it a good deal, and will have actual [archmage] class archmages by the end.

    and that’s just a fraction of the use, how much will alchemists pay in stock or favors to have saliss’s natural aptitude and some of his skills to speed their research fans gain levels ?

    What would someone like niers pay to have a retainer on tapping into grand strategist chladion’s skill set either as a training aid for students or for his actual company warfare?

    If the boon can be tossed a distance with some skill combination the possibilities get even more absurd (like how the witches did earlier or how the scrying orb network was used last chapter)

    I expect lyonette would be VERY active on trying to get Erin to monetize it on a bigger scale then just Buffing paying adventurers
    (which is insanely wasteful considering the broader uses some of the skill sets she has access to have)

  28. This is so good. So good. Thank you, pirateaba!

    Perfectly crafted – I love your trust in the audience to know and love the characters enough that you, in turn, feel confident enough not to introduce them again with a lot of exposition. And it worked. This is truly amazing.

    I had this – you know, this moment when your breath catches while inhaling – when I read about his gloves on the statue. Waiting for his friend. Wow.

    Love your work! And thankful for it!

  29. Who’s taking care of Ci? She’s smarter than a horse but does she count as a full person? Even if not, she deserves help! What does the Runner’s Guild even do with mounts of fallen Couriers? “Reclaiming” her as mere property would be wrong but abandoning her to wander alone with her grief would also be terrible.Tritel’s death should not be the end of her too. Will the Players at least remember to honour his memory with their plays? He and Ci never got to cash-in on doing their part for the Eranda delivery.

    Ryoka, Salamani and Hawk are being taken care of but I hope Selys at least sends him a get well message. Hawk might not be an eager hero but he still stepped up to the challenge when it mattered. Of course, Selys is her own person and can go after whoever she likes most but she owes him at least some words for calling him a coward and practically shaming him into risking his life. That was not a nice act, if it was done by someone going into battle it may have been tolerable but calling others cowards when you basically hide behind your wealth and hire adventurers to do the dirty work is not right. Apologies are in order!

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