Interlude – Senior Guardsman Relc

Hi Dad,

Dear Father,

 

But of course, you could make out the faint charcoal marks. On the actual, neatly rolled-up parchment. A Mage’s Guild [Message] spell would have omitted all of that, and charged ten times what the Runner’s Guild did with their bulk letter deliveries.

Twenty times, maybe. Especially for so many words. When he read on, he saw she’d written the actual letter in ink, tracing over words. It was good handwriting. Neat, legible; the exact opposite of the kind of scribbling that got you in trouble each time you wrote in the Watch’s logbooks or made a report rather than your partner.

 

Embria, reporting in. Liscor’s been quiet these last few weeks. I know you might not believe it, but there have been only two major monster incidents; both from the dungeon and wildlife.

Stray Wyvern preying on one of the farms and some kind of larval-bug creature that came out of the hole. The adult version, that is. Typically, the Watch and our 4th Company was pulled in to deal with them despite them bypassing the adventurers’ ‘security’. Turns out they tore apart three metal barriers to get to the surface.

Not a problem for either one. Aside from that, I hear the Watch is having to enforce more problems with civilians—young people. More and more are picking up crude ‘skateboards’ and they are a hazard, especially since they try to do tricks on them. I am informed that Pallass has it a thousand times worse.

 

It read somewhat like a report, and he grinned at the first sentence. Then he just read on. Waiting. Skimming down. Normally he’d read each word before laboring over a reply. This time…

 

…6th and 9th companies coming back and one more. I’m familiar with the 6th, and having so many [Soldiers] in Liscor means Hectval will think twice about an offensive. More and more civilians are enlisting into the Watch offensive, and the Watch Captain refuses to petition the army for training and ranks. Of course, I’m sure you know what they’d think about Antinium fighting under command. Strategically, it’s currently your infantry-bow mix, since Liscor doesn’t have the horses to field…

 

He’d thought the war with Hectval was strange, but the explanation about the Scalespeaker made sense on Hectval’s side. Liscor? Relc’s claws tightened.

 

…Liscor’s own [Actors], which I caught two of the [Lieutenants] actually in a tryout for. Wasn’t sure if I should enforce discipline, but if they had actually passed—I decided to ignore it. It’s off-duty, and mixing with civilians regular people is important. I hear they’re making an Actor’s Guild…

 

Nothing. Now he saw it.

 

Humans in the city have doubled again. There are some fights for the Watch to deal with, unpleasantness—nothing the Watch Captain calls on…

…still checking for Shield Spiders, but our patrols find very few nests, almost all empty. If the city does approve mass-resettlement of farmsteads, we’ll be needed more than ever since the Watch doesn’t have outriders…

…new food all the time. I tried a bunch of rice-dishes; feels like Oteslia or Zeres and a Balerosian restaurant or something. I’d include a recipe, but unless your city gets shipments…

 

Nothing. Not one word. If you knew it was missing—he could see how she danced around one place. She might not visit that often, it was true. Not her.

Yet even with all the changes in Liscor, the last…four letters? Not one word.

The Wandering Inn. He blinked a few times and read the end of the letter.

 

Signing off. Thanks for the tip; I’ll look into the tassel-maker you mentioned if I go for decorations.

–Wing Com

–Embria

 

There it was. A very nice, long letter from a daughter to a father. A bit formal, but chock-full of details from home. She’d put effort into it. If you looked close, you could see how all the details were there to hide the gaping void.

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

Slowly, the Drake put the letter down on the low table and sat down. He ignored the bare apartment room, which had about as much as his old apartment rooms. Everything he needed to carry could fit in a bag of holding—or a large rucksack.

Actually, there was more furniture in this place he was leasing. He stared down at the parchment, watching it trying to re-curl into a roll. Four letters since the day she had mentioned Liscor going to war with Hectval.

Not once had she mentioned The Wandering Inn. Embria had not told her father Erin was dead.

Nor had anyone else. However, that implied there were other people sending Relc letters.

There were not. Maybe, the Drake entertained, if Klbkch had still been at his job, he would have sent one each week like clockwork. Aside from Klbkch, though, who would send Relc a letter?

Well. Erin Solstice, that’s who. He had thought she forgot and had tried not to let it bother him.

Now he knew.

Now, he knew.

Relc Grasstongue, Senior Guardsman, former [Sergeant] of Liscor’s army, and [Spearmaster], sat in the bare room, looking down at the letter. He didn’t touch breakfast—a two-day old scone, the last in the basket and some cheese developing a second layer.

He just sat there. Thinking of how it had happened. How it could have been stopped, if someone was there. Thinking of home, which was now different from how he imagined it. The poor kid, who would have to live with losing a parent again. He knew how that felt.

Relc’s huge arms were crossed, the scars on them and his scales illuminated by the steadily-growing light, as dawn turned to morning.

His stomach growled, but he didn’t bother eating. He didn’t rise to perform his normal training with the spear, or fiddle with the blacksmith puzzles he hadn’t solved.

Senior Guardsman Relc didn’t move until it was time to stand up. Exactly then, he did rise, in one motion. He reached for his spear, walked out the door, locked it, and went to work.

 

—-

 

Routine was what defined Relc’s life. He was a former [Soldier]; he followed orders of course, but what he had taken even more to heart was…routine.

As in, the day might come with surprises, but he knew how his day started and ended. Then, after he left the army, he knew how his job went. There were some things that always happened, such that while Relc was infamously bad with regulations, proper protocol, and memorizing new directives, he could tell when sewer-patrols were beginning before the Watch Captain started assigning groups and found himself other work to do, or was first in line to join up his weekly-break to the next-month’s rotation and create the legendary 5-day holiday (you could add one day off per month as needed).

Thus, despite being in a new Drake city, the comparably small city of Cellidel, which was smaller than the Liscor of today, Relc Grasstongue knew better than to look for the day-patrol listings on the side of the Watch House’s wall, right next to the armory.

Funny. Small changes kept throwing him off. In Liscor, they posted the patrols right by the door where the Senior Guard on desk-duty sat. That was so inquiring citizens could see who was going where. Relc supposed it didn’t matter too much, but all he saw in Cellidel were differences to Liscor, good and bad.

For instance, Cellidel was a proper Drake city—which meant far more Drakes than Gnolls, unlike Liscor, who had experienced their Gnoll-boom two decades back. No Humans whatsoever.

Thus, a more Drake Watch. In fact, Relc had counted the Gnoll [Guards]; all six of them. Even if he missed those on night-shifts or other Watch Houses, that was low.

He was in the main Watch House, which, like the one that had held Zevara, was also privy to the Watch Captain of the city. Nominally, it was for the best [Guards] and rookies, whereas experienced veterans took lead in other Watch Houses. However, Relc suspected his Senior Guardsman status was less of a reason than the Watch Captain wanting to keep an eye on him and see how he did the first few months.

For all that, the old Drake, Terigrals, was much like the Watch Captain before Zevara, and seemed happy to have a Level 30+ [Guard] of any class serving in his city. The other Drakes treated Relc somewhat warily as a newcomer, but a few were former soldiers for the city too and Relc had gotten in with them fairly easily, especially when he’d thumped a few with his spear to prove he’d earned his status.

One of them greeted Relc now.

There’s our [Spearmaster]!”

Relc grinned and slapped the other Drake on the shoulder as the other [Guards] saw him walk in. It wasn’t hard to do that.

“Hey—you. How’s it going? Anything interesting happen while I was away? Monster attacks? [Bandits]? No? Mind if I take a nap?”

The other Drake didn’t miss Relc’s omission. He rolled his eyes as the others laughed.

“My name is Possel, Relc. Pos. Just…how many days has it been?”

The bigger Drake—he was probably the biggest one here, certainly the most muscular—grinned innocently.

“I’m trying! There are a lot of you.”

“We’ve been partnered eighteen times this month.”

“Right! Pas, my buddy!”

The other Drake made a slight hissing sound and shrugged off Relc’s arm, but his tail didn’t actually lash or curl up. Which was, of course, because that was how Relc acted with all of them. Of course he knew Pos’ name.

Relc kept smiling and joking with the others for three minutes, then was able to grab some armor and dress up. Then he was allowed to be ignored.

It was routine. The newcomer, especially the hotshot from another Watch House, was always the target. So the smart Drake played up not remembering faces, didn’t make enemies all at once, and waited for someone else to be the focus of the locker-room dynamics.

Not that there were exactly lockers; he’d just heard Erin using the phrase once. Relc sighed as he finished outfitting himself with his armor.

Cellidel vs Liscor. Interesting differences. In Liscor, you wore sturdy leather with chainmail underneath; the chainmail being optional for the Watch who did monster patrols or wanted some in case they tangled with criminals. It got hot, yeah, but it was solid, dependable—but a bit cheap.

Money was the thing. Like how a [Mage] could cast [Message] spells all day but charged you five copper a word. Outfitting even a few thousand [Guards] with chainmail was expensive, and so it wasn’t for everyone. They hadn’t really needed heavier armor, although with the dungeon, Embria had written that the Watch was looking into more serious armor and weaponry.

Cellidel on the other claw? They had a Watch who worked with their standing army. A much smaller army than Liscor’s roving mercenary army since it sustained itself on the city’s budget; so that meant a much better Watch.

“Aw. It’s got rust on it. How’d that happen? Anyone have a rust-removal tonic? Or just some steel wire? Oil?”

Relc poked at the padded metal armor he’d been issued when they realized he only had leather and chainmail. A Drake tossed a brush at him, looking exasperated.

“Because you keep storing it after it rains without wiping it down or maintaining it!”

“Well, I’m used to leather. Thanks.”

Relc amiably caught the brush and began scraping off rust. A nearby Drake winced at the sound as she put on her armor. Cellidel’s Watch got padded metal armor; more expensive, more protective. Heavier, though; they arrived a touch slower than Liscor’s Watch could thanks to it. It was a good tradeoff, though.

“Leather armor…Relc. You know leather gets mildew and mold and Creler-crap on it too, right? Do you do the exact same thing you do with our armor to your gear?”

“Er…I guess I’ve had a problem with that too.”

A groan from the Drake who’d asked. Relc just grinned, cleaned up his armor, and tossed the brush back with thanks. He put on his armor with commendable speed; there was even tail-armor for Cellidel’s Watch, another difference.

The Drakes stood around, metal flashing, talking, more male Drakes than female, but that wasn’t unusual. Relc listened to city-gossip, and he didn’t bother checking the patrol reports.

He knew what was coming next. It was the start of the month. Thus, when the Watch Captain, Terigrals, strode out of his ground-floor office and barked an order, Relc was lining up before some of the other [Guards], who’d been taken…off-guard.

If Klbkch had been there, Relc would have mentioned that joke and laughed until Zevara snapped at him.

Since Klbkch was gone, he was in a different city, and Erin was dead, Relc just stood to attention.

Routine. This was how a Watch started its month. This was how you kept corruption from spreading up the ranks, in part.

“Guardsman Possel. Do you swear that you have committed no crime against Cellidel’s citizens, broken no law of the city or of your class, and have not violated the integrity of your position as Senior Guardsman in any way?”

The Watch Captain held up a crystal. The first Drake in line barked a reply.

“Yes, Watch Captain!”

The stone glowed white. The Watch Captain nodded, walked ahead, waited until the stone turned clear, and began again.

“Guardswoman Gesa—”

Relc waited. When Terigrals walked up to him, he looked up, asked Relc the same thing.

“Yes, Watch Captain. I swear.”

Relc gave him a grin. The Watch Captain’s face stolidly watched the truth stone, and when it turned white, he smiled.

“Well then, get to work, Guardsman! You’re with Pos. Have you memorized the streets yet?”

“A few…”

Relc hazarded. Again, it was best to stretch how little you knew until you couldn’t get away with it any longer. That was how you avoided taking too much on. Terigrals still bought it; he thought of Relc as being from far, far away, as far as Fissival, despite Cellidel being only south of Pallass for a bit. Liscor was another world.

“Well then, with Senior Guardsman Pos.”

The other Drake groaned, but only in jest. Relc watched as the stone went down the line.

Twice it went grey, and the two Drakes gulped as the Watch Captain singled them out for questioning later. It was far from a perfect system, but it did catch the lowest-hanging fruit. Smart Watch Captains like Zevara did more than administer the truth stone.

“Damn, I forget they do the truth stone checks around now. If I’d walked out that door, I’d be ten minutes away and jogging back. Fine way to start the day. Good thing you took your time polishing your armor. Word to the wise: normally the Watch Captain gets on [Guards] who waste time when they’ve technically started their shift.”

Relc grinned and winked at Pos.

“I won’t forget next time.”

The Drake nodded. The two strolled out of the Watch House with the other patrols, as the night shift began to come in. Like that, Relc started each day as the last.

On autopilot. He didn’t even need to really think, not consciously. He was so used to being a [Guard] that he just…guarded. Another joke that would have made Klbkch ask if Relc was going to do this all day. And Relc would have said…

“Something funny?”

Pos glanced at Relc. The [Senior Guardsman] blinked, schooled his features.

“Just uh, thinking of breakfast.”

“Huh. Must have been some breakfast.”

There it was. Pos seemed like a decent Drake. A bit uptight, and he kept calling Relc [Spearmaster], but he was fine to work with. He wasn’t Klb, though, Relc’s partner of…years. Dead gods, it was years, wasn’t it? It felt like yesterday when Relc was assigned an Antinium and told he might have to take Klbkch out if it came to it.

Relc thought of the past as he went about his day. And yes, he could do that too.

 

—-

 

A Senior Guard was superior to regular [Guards] in every way. They were essentially as high as you could get in the Watch’s hierarchy.

Oh, there were other jobs and it varied from city to city, like a [Watchman] who might be dedicated to a permanent position, [Trackers], [Investigators], [Outriders], etc. All of whom played unique roles, but you could still generalize them.

There were rookies, who knew nothing, got bossed about and assigned to bigger patrols, and had to train, regular [Guards] who took orders, patrolled, and you could lump up into huge groups when they had to fight big trouble…and Senior Guards.

Watch Captains directed their lot, and the Watch Commander, if there was one, breathed down the necks of the Watch Captains. [Watch Sergeants] also existed as a kind of discipline-trainer medium, but Senior Guards were the glue that held it all together.

More autonomous than regular [Guards]! Able to take on threats a normal patrol couldn’t! And—they had to be respected [Guards], who could liaison with the community. You weren’t just appointed your position. You had to have hundreds of people willing to vouch for you and experience.

No Senior Guard was under Level 20. So a patrol of two or four or six, the biggest traditional regular patrol, meant you had a good number of [Guards] with decent Skills, ready to crack heads and write down names if they had to. They usually got assigned entire districts to patrol, unlike lower-level [Guards], who had set routes. Senior Guards got independence—so long as they used it wisely.

What that meant was that Pos and Relc took it easier than regular [Guards]. Harsh, but true. They ambled out onto the street, able to chat, take a more leisurely route. Because if they spotted trouble, they’d be on it like dogs on a bone. If someone blew a whistle, or the bells rang for monsters, they got to be first-in-line to see what it was.

That was the tradeoff Relc liked. Peace and relaxation until you nearly died. Still, he automatically did what a Senior Guard was supposed to do.

Head on a swivel, never looking in one place too long. Walk at an easy pace. Earholes open; don’t walk in a straight line from street to street. Vary it up; stick near crowds. Say hi to people. In fact, that sometimes was the job.

“Morning, Miss. Anything new from out of city?”

Pos greeted a Drake [Shopkeeper], who was setting up. She glanced at him.

“Oh! Senior Guardsman—well, there’s a [Merchant] in, I think. Prices as high as Giants’ eyebrows, though! You wouldn’t believe.”

Pos nodded, studied some hairy fruits—Relc eyed them too.

“What are these?”

“Prelons?”

The Drake and Pos gave Relc a blank look. He’d been in the city for a month and recalled the local produce.

“Oh, right. Are they sweet or sour or…?”

“Sourish. But these are matured, so they lose a bit of it. Very nice.”

Relc’s stomach growled, and he recalled he’d ignored breakfast so he reached into his money pouch.

“How much for two?”

“Two coppers each, but I’ll do you a deal and make it three for both.”

“Deal!”

Relc happily took two of the largest, and, as the woman showed him how to disembowel one with a knife, split the thick fruit’s hide with his claws. Both Drakes, Pos, and the [Shopkeeper] were impressed.

“That’s some strength you’ve got there!”

Pos commented as Relc walked on, sniffing the pale-red fruit, somewhat similar to the red-brown shell with all the long hair. Relc shrugged.

“Skills. What, you need knives to open things? Everything splits if you squeeze it hard enough.”

“Huh. I guess you really are the expert from another city. Here I thought that was an exaggeration, for all you’re good on the training field.”

“What, you think I’m all talk? That hurts, Pez.”

Pos. Well, why else would you be here?”

Relc paused, chewing the stringy but somewhat tasty fruit. Why else indeed?

[Guard] trades between cities weren’t unheard of, although for Liscor, it was understandably rare with the Bloodfields. Sometimes it was to help—or, Relc knew, to let a [Guard] escape a mistake they’d made.

That was what Terigrals had known. He’d heard about the Golden Triangle debacle and Relc’s involvement. When Relc had arrived via the wagon he’d hitched a ride to, the Watch Captain had put a claw on his shoulder in a grandfatherly, commanding-officer type of way. Like the older leaders in Liscor’s army.

“Heard about your bother in Liscor, Senior Guardsman Relc. Don’t you worry; we had our share of troubles with that damned scam. Lost nearly half a gold to it myself. Not your fault, and no one will hear it from me why you’re here. I’m glad Watch Captain Zevara reached out to me. We could use you for a few months until you can go back. Besides! [Guards] don’t abandon their own.”

It was the same kind of sentiment as in Liscor’s army. Once you were one of them, you didn’t get kicked out unless you broke all faith with your people.

Funny. Relc thought that Watch Captain Zevara would have taken his badge…if he hadn’t tried to give back the money, warn people off. Terigrals? Relc had pinned him as a team-Drake, like the army from the moment he’d said that. He was like the old Watch Captain, before Zevara.

Strange. Something felt…off. Relc recalled the old Watch Captain. Before Watch Captain Zevara had been Watch Captain Eresc. An older Drake in his twilight years, having served honorably in Liscor’s army before being granted a retirement and position in the Watch.

No one in Liscor had minded at the time. Liscor’s Council often took notes from the army…even if relationships had been become strained since the Second Antinium Wars.

There was a time before the Antinium had come to Liscor. It felt like another world, another life to Relc. Another era.

Back then, the army had visited the city more often. Not super-regularly, but parts of the army often came back to rest, amid fanfare and the general goodwill of the populace. It only followed that high-ranking officials would be friends of the army, or even former members. [Strategists] like Olesm would earn their first twenty levels in the city, and then be hired into the army.

In the same way, retired [Soldiers] and [Veterans] joined the Watch. At least, before the Antinium came and Liscor’s army refused to stay in the city with them around. Now, Embria never talked about retiring into the Watch. She was in the army, and no one came back to Liscor.

Liscor’s army was becoming somewhere you lived and died; older members stayed on, or only went back to Liscor to die. The Antinium were the reason. But in those days…

It meant Eresc had taken Relc in after he’d quit the army; the Drake hadn’t earned his ire for being dishonorably discharged. Relc resigning was a mixed thing in Eresc’s eyes. He understood why, if not condoned it. He hadn’t hurled food and mud at Relc as the Drake left his company.

His current company, 1st, and his old friends in 4th Company, Embria’s command now. They had heard Relc out, then booed him as he left the army. For quitting! For running away from the battlefields with Embria.

Because her mother was dead. Because he, Relc, didn’t want to die.

Why was he remembering it now? Relc watched the street as Pos stopped again to gossip with another assistant about the [Merchants]. That was Senior Guardsman’s walk-and-talk; you picked up hints. Trouble over some big order? You checked it out. Relc relaxed, standing, resting his weight on his spear.

He had a vague…sense…of the street behind him too. Like he was staring through water. It happened at the same time as he stared ahead and it had been distracting as heck until he’d gotten used to it.

[Eyes in the Back]. His latest Skill, purchased with a lot of his blood. Well, it meant Relc could be even lazier and do his job. He couldn’t see details, but anyone running in a hurry would be easy to spot.

Relc yawned and scratched at his side, between a gap in his metal armor. Why Eresc, though? Relc remembered him. Like Terigrals…uptight, ran a strict Watch, but so did Captain Z—Zevara.

But hadn’t he quit after…? Relc’s eyes opened wide. Oh, right. After they found out he had been ignoring someone killing Antinium Workers. Zevara, Senior Guardswoman Zevara, had reported it and Liscor’s Council had replaced him with her. He had hated the Antinium.

Relc stopped. He stared ahead and was in a mix of emotions. The past. It drifted onto him, prompted by…well, by learning Erin was dead. Only, it wasn’t the same past he remembered.

Absently, Relc looked at the Prelon in his hand, uneaten. He sighed. Then turned his head.

“[Thief]! Th—”

A Drake began to scream. Relc’s eyes, his actual eyes, focused on the running figure bursting from a shop, arms full of something. Oh? Food. Relc had ‘seen’ the motion with his Skill, but his eyes picked up on all the details.

The outraged Drake never got a chance to pursue the young Drake running full-tilt with arms full of dried meats, links of salami, sausage, etc. The [Butcher] was just emerging with the classic butcher’s knife—a terror to [Guards] who had to calm down an enraged [Butcher] in a street fight—when the Prelon bounced off the back of the [Thief].

No. Wait. The Prelon exploded as it hit the back of the [Thief] and the Drake girl screamed and pitched into the street. Relc had thrown it so hard that even the tough rind had split. The Drake sighed.

Now he’d missed breakfast twice.

 

—-

 

Routine. Here is how it happened. Relc walked over as the [Thief] rolled around and the [Butcher] stopped in shock. They might have tried to threaten the [Thief], but Relc blocked their cleaver; sometimes you got angry civilians who might kick or attack your criminal.

“Watch business! Everyone stand back! Just a [Thief] with some food.”

He bent down and picked up the burst Prelon as Pos ran over. Relc dusted off some of the good fruit and ate it. It was important to keep your strength up.

Oh—the arrest. Whatever. At this point, your classic [Thief], [Pickpocket], or so on, tried to run or gave up depending on how hard you hit them. This one might have gotten up and used a Skill to cartwheel into the crowd or something—but Relc’s foot was on her back. He just stood there, not even with all his weight, pinning her down.

“Shoplifter, eh?”

Pos squatted down to investigate the now-dirty meat and [Thief]. Relc chewed his fruit.

Next, you put them in manacles, or just marched them to the Watch House if they were this young. After that, you had your partner write the report and you went on your way. Relc doubted this girl would get a stay in the overnight cells or actual prison. She couldn’t have been more than twelve.

In this scenario, you walked to the parent’s house once you got it out of her, and talked with them, sometimes about the fine. Boring, annoying if they kicked up a fuss…sometimes lower-level [Guards] got the duty. Killed an hour sometimes. Two if the parents were criminals or did something stupid and you had to arrest them…

“Thank you for stopping her, Senior G—”

“Not at all. Just doing my job.”

Relc realized he’d preempted the [Butcher]. But the Drake nodded at him, respectfully eying the burst Prelon. Some others were murmuring. Relc waited for Pos to say ‘let’s get her to the Watch House’, or ‘something stupid and not-really-funny here’, like some of the [Guards] who thought you had to have a quip every time you arrested someone.

Klbkch never bothered. However, to Relc’s surprise, routine failed him. Pos stood up and was talking with the [Butcher]. Relc abandoned his inner thoughts of the past for a second to actually listen.

“She’s just a kid, Senior Guardsman. The meat’s not even that damaged. I’ll cut off the dirty parts; give it to the dog. It’s not even a silver’s worth of damage.”

“You’re sure? That’s generous of you, sir. I agree. Young miss, where’s your family?”

Relc blinked; lifted his foot. The Drake [Thief] glared up defiantly at Pos. The Senior Guard squatted down with a sigh.

“Come on, now. We’re not your enemies. You know it’s a crime to steal, don’t you? Or are you…hungry?”

He eyed the [Thief]. Relc slowly chewed a gritty piece of fruit and eyed her. She did look hungry.

Street kid. Means we have to worry about if she has parents, if they’re mistreating her, find them and/or arrange for her to go into Lism’s kid-thing. Wait, do they have that here?

He adjusted his routine to fit the new parameters. However, to his surprise, Cellidel did things differently. After a few minutes of talking, lecturing the girl and asking about her family, while she remained tight-lipped, staring at Relc and rubbing at her back, Pos stood up.

“Alright. If we catch you again…go on now.”

The [Thief] bolted. Relc nearly threw something at her. He turned to Pos. Admittedly, he had been zoning out for the last six minutes, but what was that about?

“You’re just letting her go?”

Pos grimaced.

“You saw her. I doubt a night in the Watch House’s cell will do her good. I’m not going to haul her to prison either. Are you?”

He went to eye Relc, but Relc was already eying him.

“Not me. Don’t we take her to the Watch House, figure out if she does have parents and send her to the orphanage or keep her in custody until then?”

The other Senior Guard blinked.

“We…have an orphanage. I think. Send one to…? Your city does that?”

They had for a while now. The only other option was to keep tossing the kids in cells or prison. Relc mentioned the way Liscor’s system worked and Pos shook his head.

“That sounds—interesting. We don’t have that. Mind you, any building would be full up. There are always street kids. Nice throw though; I doubt she’ll be running around, even if she is a [Thief].”

“Thanks.”

They were done either way, but Relc thought that was what Cellidel lacked. Even so, they were back to routine in a heartbeat. He ambled on, sure that they were not going to find more ‘work’ this street. Once the Senior Guard moved, only the most daring (and clever) criminals decided they wanted to act concurrently. Which was actually smart because if Relc was arresting someone, he was distracted.

Back to daydreams and history. Yes, Relc remembered that scandal. Although at the time he’d been fed up with his partner, Klbkch. Only Relc had been considered strong enough to take care of Klbkch if he went rogue, so Zevara’s promotion hadn’t been on Relc’s mind apart from her shaking things up as she took over, disgruntled old [Guards] resigning, etc.

Eresc had ignored Liscor’s civilians attacking Antinium in those days. Right when they came into the city, a lot of people had been grateful—and a lot more had feared the Black Tide infesting their city, even as a deal from the Antinium wars.

Mind you, only Liscor would have even considered the option. However, Relc’s job back then had been to stop both Liscorians and Antinium from killing each other.

Not that a Worker ever fought back. So some got pelted with rubbish, or even killed in that case. But if they became Aberration—it was an entirely different story. Klbkch had hunted his own people down without exception, and Relc’s animosity towards him had turned to curiosity about who Klbkch was.

Despite that, the Slayer and the Gecko of Liscor hadn’t shared a full conversation for three years after they started working together.

Relc remembered all that. He often did when thinking of the past, usually laughing at how much he hadn’t liked Klbkch and how uptight Klbkch had been—and that was compared to Klbkch now!—and little else. Good memories.

Except suddenly, there was a hole in his memories. No—not a hole. The inverse. A bit of understanding, thought, that hadn’t been there in all his other recollections.

“…Funny. In those days there were a lot more Aberrations. Not that there were a lot. We had to stop mobs and people from hitting them, tossing stuff on them…”

Relc slowed, as Pos went to use a toilet. Cellidel had a sewer like Liscor’s and Relc had thus-far avoided sewer-patrol, although it seemed rookies were usually made to do that anyways. He thought.

Aberrations. It seemed like one had come up every two weeks. Usually, Klbkch had ‘sensed’ it and they sometimes stopped it before anyone but Workers died. Yet Relc recalled that as the city had grown used to the Antinium, the Aberration numbers had gone way down.

He’d always assumed it was the Antinium settling in. Now, though…part of Relc thought of Pawn and Erin and…well, Eresc hadn’t stopped civilians attacking Workers, had he? Zevara had. She’d arrested people and the Watch had been forced to protect Workers, much to the disgust of some.

Afterwards? Aberration numbers died down.

Was that a…what was the word Klbkch used? A correlation? Relc thought about it. He didn’t like what his brain suggested, so he smacked it. Even so, it told him that maybe the Workers became Aberration because some people beat them, attacked them on the job, threw things at them.

Pawn had been the first Worker to ever take a name that Relc had ever met. He’d been consumed with Klbkch dying at the time. But…he’d always thought it was a miracle, much like the funny little Worker himself. What if, though, it had just been because of the first person to ever feed an Antinium, teach one to play chess?

That was Erin. Extraordinary because she’d done what was now obvious at a time when it was not. Relc’s thoughts spiraled back to her.

By the time Pos got back to Relc, the past had changed. It shouldn’t have. The past was supposed to stay the same, but suddenly Relc saw it a different way.

Eresc hadn’t been the best Watch Captain. He was a military [Captain], not a [Watch Captain]. The difference? He hadn’t seen Antinium like people.

Zevara had been responsible for helping the Antinium integrate into Liscor and smooth tensions. She had also made him work harder, which he had resented.

Relc’s job in the old Watch was to laze about, show new [Guards] how to hold a spear, and hit anything that moved when the going got hot. Eresc had arranged it for him as a sort of amiable-retirement. Zevara had, on her first week, told Relc to his face he could either work harder or get out of the Watch.

He’d always resented that. Relc had never liked Captain Z as much as Eresc, because one was easier on him.

“But one sucked more.”

One hadn’t seen the Antinium as people, and Relc had agreed with him—right up until he hadn’t. He had resented Zevara because she took the Antinium’s side.

Like he hated Goblins. Right up until an [Innkeeper] kicked him out of her inn and drew a line in the sand.

Relc leaned on his spear and felt old. Part of him hated Goblins and always would. He had fought them, and they had killed his parents. Or so he had been told. Even so. One day, the only Human he respected, liked, had turned to him and told him to leave the lovely inn forever because of a Goblin.

He had been so angry at her. Until he realized how lonely he was without The Wandering Inn. When she’d let him back in, when the door to the garden had opened for him despite all the bad words between them—he’d been so happy.

Now. She was. Dead.

 

—-

 

The key to it was not talking about Erin. Not talking about Goblins or Antinium. Pos had asked a few times and Relc had laughed it off; Antinium? You barely saw them. We had one in the Watch. Total. Barely knew the guy’s name. Couldn’t pronounce it.

Routine. Relc clung to it. He went through the motions.

A Senior Guard didn’t run into crime often. In fact, they were often a deterrence to people who knew what their status meant. Relc stood behind Pos in one of their more-regular duties; sorting out arguments.

—and then he pulled the wagon up in front of my business! It’s a damned restaurant and there’s no space on the street to even get in unless you kiss the wall!

“I was there for five minutes, but he had the gall to order me to—”

Two angry Drakes over a space-disturbance. The most common dispute a [Guard] faced. Relc smiled and nodded, glassy-eyed. One Drake had light red scales; the other had summer green. One turned to the other.

This is the fourth time! I am going to lodge a complaint at the blah blah angry angry threat! If you don’t threat, I’ll Senior Guardsman do something!

“Oh yeah? Well I’m in the Transportation Guild and I blah blah your face blah insult, Senior Guardsman, take my side!”

Keep your face impervious, nod a few times and pretend to write things down. Don’t look at either one; don’t favor either one and look more and more angry until they get nervous. Relc had found that if you did that, you got away with not listening to anything until the voices stopped seven out of ten times.

Pos handled it. He turned his head to Relc a few times and the [Guard] nodded, scowling or smiling on cue. This was what Relc said:

“That’s right.”

Disturbances.

“Can’t have that.”

“Good day to you.”

Afterwards, Pos sighed as they walked away.

“Ancestors, I hate that kind of dispute. I want to just throttle them; you’re as cool as can be though, Relc. Is that [Spearmaster] training?”

“Absolutely.”

“Really? I wish I could manage angry idiots like that.”

Relc hadn’t actually paid attention to the last conversation either. He was still thinking of the inn. When…had he learned he was lonely?

When Klbkch died. When he found there was a friendly young woman who always had time to talk, and didn’t get noticeably bored or irritated with him.

When his daughter returned, bringing back old memories.

When the [Innkeeper] kicked him out.

And…when his partner died.

When he left his city because of his mistakes.

And then when learned his friend was dead too.

Even his wallowing had become routine. Relc going back in time, looking at his mistakes, thinking of Erin was routine. So he went about his routine and absent-mindedly went through his mental routine. Relc went back to Embria’s letter. She hadn’t told him. Maybe she’d thought it would crush him. Probably right. But she should have told him. Had they buried her? Drassi had said…

Should he write a letter back telling Embria he knew? Should he go back? He had to save up vacation days. Would it…did he want to?

Relc! Hear that? It’s—

 

—-

 

The Senior Guardsman found himself moving. He heard the shouts of pain, the impact of one fist into a face or body part, and ran.

Fight. Break it up, see who’s fighting. Mugging? Hit the muggers. Civilian dispute? More carefully hit people. Murder?

“This is the Watch! Everybody stop—”

Relc heard Pos shout, but he was slower in his armor. The Gecko of Liscor? He had run in armor across the battlefield to fight the enemy. His old spear was in his claws, the same one he’d used to kill countless enemy officers, [Mages]. A hit-and-run, high-level [Soldier] who took out targets and escaped.

For a [Guard], even a Senior Guard, Relc was the very definition of overkill. His mind snapped back to the real world for a second. He saw—

A street fight. Two Gnolls, probably only fifteen and seventeen, brawling with a group of Gnolls their age. Relc slowed as the Gnolls whirled.

What he saw was a stupid street fight, the kind you broke up unless someone had a knife or there was a gang, so he relaxed, went back on autopilot after surveying the scene, and lowered his spear.

What they saw was a huge Drake in armor with more muscle than any two of them combined charging at them with spear-raised. Their ears went flat, and the little group of youths bolted, shouting.

Break it up. No fighting! Blah blah you are warned!

Relc shouted after them. Routine. He went back to the two combatants who’d frozen, blood on their fur, and raised a finger.

“Fighting is bad…when you’re not paid to do it. Wait. When you’re not on the right side of the law. Fighting…okay, don’t punch each other in public. Got it? There we g—”

Pos skidded around the corner, saw the two Gnolls, and swore. Relc saw him sprint forwards, check one with his armored body, and grab the other with a club raised.

You two are under arrest! Where are the others, Relc?”

The Drake snapped out of routine, looked at Pos, and stared at the Gnoll on the ground.

“Hey, they’re just fighting—”

“Another damn fight! In the street of all places! How many were there? You are under arrest. Relc, cover that one. Where are your manacles?”

Relc opened his mouth. He looked at the Gnoll on the ground as the other one growled a protest, backing away from Pos.

“We weren’t attacking anyone! We’re not in a gang!”

“We’ll find out about that under truth spell. Even if you’re not in a gang, you think you can just beat each other up like savages? You know the law! You’re just lucky a [Shopkeeper] didn’t call for us, or that would be a charge on top of—I said, don’t move!

Pos raised the club. The Gnoll ducked backwards, clearly looking to run. All things considered, Relc would have blocked him. Instead, the Drake was bending over the older Gnoll that Pos had run into.

Just winded. He was looking at Relc, but not getting up.

“I’m not resisting.”

The [Spearmaster] gave him a blank look.

“I can see that. Pos. What are you doing?”

The Drake gave Relc a look.

“Where are your cuffs? Don’t tell me you lost them! Here!”

He fumbled for his iron manacles at his side and the younger Gnoll tried to run for it. Two things happened in that moment. Pos whirled, with the power of a Skill and swung the club.

Relc yanked it out of his claw. Pos missed and the Gnoll ran—straight into Relc’s arm. He bent over the immovable limb. Relc shoved him back and turned to face Pos.

Relc!

“Hold on. You stay there. You can sit up.”

Relc pointed to the two young males, who were both looking worried. They froze as Relc turned to Pos.

“You were about to lay him flat. What’s the problem? They’re kids. It’s an alley-fight. No one had a knife.”

“They’re brawling. You don’t think they’re a hazard?”

Pos was glowering at Relc. He hesitated as Relc, rather than get angry or retort, gave him the blankest look imaginable.

“…Let me get this straight. You want to haul these two to the Watch House, test them about being in a gang when I’m sure they’re not via truth spell, and then write a report and toss them in a cell or something? Or have to visit their parents?”

Pos opened his mouth. Relc stared at him. Then he offered Pos the club and looked at the Gnolls.

“Get out of here. Don’t punch each other. In public.”

The two Gnolls stared at him, as much surprised as Pos. Relc made a ‘shoo’ gesture with his claws and they ran for it. Pos inhaled, but one look at Relc again and he snatched his club back.

“…You really don’t like extra work, I guess?”

He gave Relc a side-long look. Relc just shrugged.

“You let that little [Thief] off with just a warning. I thought you’d appreciate less paperwork.”

“That’s…dif—okay.”

Pos hesitated, bit something off, and muttered. He was still breathing hard as Relc ambled out of the alleyway.

What was that about? Relc forgot about it and went back to routine. He caught Pos looking at him a few times, but when their one actual criminal of the entire patrol appeared, Relc was right there.

Marital stabbing. Which, lest it conjure the image of an angry wife stabbing a husband, was the reverse. Relc snatched the blade with his bare claw, and slapped the Drake. Then he hauled the Drake up and carried him to the Watch House.

Nothing interesting this time. Although Relc did think on the Gnoll-kids incident later. Terigrals had told him he was needed. The first two weeks, Relc had been busy. He must have helped bust at least three minor criminal gangs up. Cellidel had a minor crime-problem. Funny though. When he counted the other arrests over the last month…

Relc sat up in his bed before he fell asleep.

“—that’s a lot of Gnolls for a Drake city.”

He had a hard time getting to sleep. He had an uneasy feeling things weren’t going to routine.

 

—-

 

Routine wake up and stare at the letter instead of practicing.

Routine get to work, joke about, and get some other [Guard] on patrol. Drake.

Routine get back, check out.

A blur of routine. Then—Relc stared at the ledger as they signed in the [Rogue]. He had volunteered to write it in for once. He felt his heart sink.

The ledger wasn’t spaced exactly like Liscor’s, but it had the same kind of thing. Name, details, brief physical description, crime details…

Species. Relc flipped through the ledger slowly, ignored by the rest of the Watch House. He went back down a month.

That was a lot of Gnolls for a Drake city.

The Drake [Spearmaster] felt an uneasy chill run down his scales as he quickly filled in the report. Like his reflections on the past, it seemed obvious now, but only when someone pointed it out to him.

Pos’ behavior during their patrol wasn’t unique. Relc supposed he hadn’t noticed his patrol-partners or squad being more hostile to Gnolls vs Drakes…but then, he hadn’t been paying attention.

Now he thought of it, Cellidel was a Drake city. Much higher Drake population vs Gnoll. Liscor had what was certainly Gnoll-heavy districts, like where they had apartments, and businesses that catered more towards Gnolls, but it was hard to find anywhere you didn’t see two—or now at least three—species mingling.

Cellidel? Drake streets and Gnoll streets.

The anxious pit in Relc’s stomach was a familiar one. Not recently familiar; it was like the day Erin had told him the Golden Triangle thing was fake. It was an older feeling than that, though.

The feeling he got before a bad battle. Where High Command sent someone to check on you, make sure you knew you had to get your target. The kind of day when every old [Soldier] double-checked their wills and pensions were in order.

One ledger wasn’t proof. Possel wasn’t proof by himself. There was, unfortunately, an easy way to check his suspicions. So as Relc stowed his gear and signed out for the day, he added a new part into his routine.

“I hate cleaning my gear.”

He grumbled as he actually added some oil to the metal and chainmail before putting it away. It had showered briefly and some of the other [Guards] grunted affirmatives, ignored Relc; one was all too keen to talk.

“Damn rain. The worst part is rookies who never maintain their gear. You know one got mold on their armor? It spread to half the Watch House I was in. We had to pay an [Alchemist] twice to get rid of it!”

It was one of those tired stories you heard about three dozen times each year. Relc nodded. Routine, routine. Then he added the bait.

“You know what’s worse? Fur. Sometimes you’re on patrol, and it gets on your armor. Wet fur especially.”

Across the room, Possel’s head rose. He eyed Relc, and a few Drakes chimed in.

“I swear to the Ancestors, sometimes it feels like I have it in my lungs after I patrol a street. Especially if all those Gnolls are shedding. Someone needs to grab a broom. And the smell on rainy days? It gets in my nostrils and I want to gag.”

“Mhm.”

Relc’s heart sank. Possel nodded though, and he glanced around, chiming in.

Ah. The fluttering feeling got worse.

His ability to pick up on clues was bad, Relc would admit. However, once someone pointed it out to him, he was far from ignorant. In fact, a Liscorian [Guard] like Tkrn or someone who’d grown up there all their life might be more oblivious—well, Tkrn wouldn’t be because he was a Gnoll.

Relc, though. He had been in Liscor’s army, which did have a large Gnoll population compared to many armies outside of Walled Cities. One of the things he learned as [Sergeant] had been which cities they were deployed to where it was fine to let your squad off to drink and have fun on their own—and which ones where you had them stick together. Especially the Gnolls.

The ‘fur in your armor’ line was actually something he’d heard a long time ago, when they’d been working side-by-side with another army in a joint defensive campaign. For numerous reasons it had been a bad job, but one of the reasons was that the mostly-Drake army had gotten into fights with Liscor’s forces for comments like that.

Fur in your armor. Relc had sometimes slept next to fellow [Soldiers] and he could count on one claw the number of times fur had ever bothered him. However, that trick was one of the ones you learned to gauge a crowd. Other telling comments were smell, comments about ‘savages’, or someone saying, ‘I hate those furbags’. That last one was really a big clue.

Relc finished his work in silence, stowed his armor, and turned. Possel tapped him on the shoulder.

“Some of the Senior Guards go to have a drink with a few regular [Guards] every few days. Want to join us, [Spearmaster]?”

The Senior Guardsman looked into Possel’s eyes, and saw a gauging look. Relc grinned.

“Sure. If I’m not buying…”

Possel groaned good-naturedly, but he visibly relaxed and some of the other Drakes re-introduced themselves. Relc called Possel, ‘Pause’, ‘Pauws’, and ‘Pas’ three times before he got it right.

 

—-

 

Routine. Relc went to have a drink. He told jokes, war stories, and didn’t blink when someone brought up the troublemakers.

“It’s the Meeting of Tribes thing. I heard they always get like this. Did you hear about that damn tribe that sacked a Drake city? Gave me nightmares.”

“Woven Bladegrass. We’re on the lookout for that lot. Anyways, there’s always crime, but now there are protests. And there’s always a Gnoll with a bow on their back. What about you, Relc? Ever have that kind of thing in Liscor?”

Relc hesitated, with a mouth full of walnuts. The other Drakes snorted as he tried to speak through it. When Relc did speak, he grinned at Possel.

“Liscor? Oh, sure, we have Gnoll troubles. But remember what I told you about Antinium? Ever heard of an…Aberration?

The other Drakes leaned in, and Relc told the story. They gaped, or turned horrified and were so distracted they left him alone—in the sense that they pestered him about the bugs more than the Gnolls.

Relc could dodge in and out of a conversation. However, sitting there was illuminating. Gnoll problems? He went automatically through the drinking and talking and complaining, chipped in a silver coin, and left.

None of this was original, think-on-your-feet stuff. It, like all of Relc’s tactics, was routine. He’d learned the obvious; what you said and didn’t say in a group that leaned one way. It was easy if you knew the steps to follow along.

Strange. He kept thinking of Erin as he walked back to the empty apartment. Now, if that had been her inn and someone had said the same thing—only replaced Gnolls with Antinium or Goblins—she would have walked on over and argued. Even if it was a full squad of [Guards].

That was…extraordinarily hard to do. Also stupid, but it was very Erin. It took a certain kind of someone to harvest acid flies. If she had been there, she would have kicked up a fuss.

Relc thought of her. Then his thoughts shifted to someone else who occasionally crossed his mind. Another Human woman, albeit one he had known less long. If differently.

Ryoka Griffin. Relc smiled for a second. Then he sighed. He’d followed her run to the north. Good on her. Flying? He wondered if he could beat her in a race anymore. He almost hoped some days that the Street or City Runner who found him with the letters would be her…but that was nigh-impossible. It had only been one night.

He had liked her. She had been very complimentary too, about how fast he was. People didn’t appreciate that about Relc enough, in Relc’s opinion. However, mutual admiration aside—Relc thought more of how Ryoka would have interacted with that conversation. His guess? Bar fight.

Relc was not a master of fast, innovative thinking. However, he had seen all kinds of things and knew when not to shout what he really felt. Ryoka Griffin…was the exact opposite. She had no routine, no cover-jokes, no way to duck a bad conversation. She’d probably sit there and start talking and that was when someone threw the mug at your head. She and Erin would both get into trouble in minutes. Dangerous trouble, which might make them enemies of their co-workers.

But they would do it because it was right. Relc stopped, with the key in the lock. He ignored the other transitory Drakes and Gnolls glancing at him as they went to their own rooms in the cheap apartment complex. Ah, yes. He’d paid for a small place, despite being able to afford a bit more on a Senior Guardsman’s salary. Relc glanced around.

I don’t see many Gnolls living in the expensive streets either. Cellidel’s Watch had the opinion Gnolls caused more crime. They were certainly poorer on average than Drakes. Or maybe it was that the Watch didn’t patrol their streets as heavily, and…Relc didn’t like any of this.

He wanted to be back home. The Drake entered his apartment and sat down. Erin had offered him a room in her inn after his place burned down and he’d felt…

For a moment, Relc indulged in a dream. It was a dream he’d had now and then—okay, often. Before hearing about Erin, especially. He went back to it now as he lay on his back.

In his dream, he was staying in The Wandering Inn, and had a great breakfast each day. That little kid, Mrsha, was always making life fun by stealing his food, and he’d see something hilarious every day.

That was easy. Harder to imagine, but what Relc had carefully put into the dream were other…nice parts. Embria taking a room there, for instance. Not next to his! And they didn’t talk all the time, but he saw her before she got to work and they’d share breakfast. Stuff like that.

Klbkch was back, and they walked around Liscor, doing fun stuff like delivering Christmas presents as Santa-[Guards] like the good old days. Relc smiled and shifted, almost wanting to walk into that dream. He raised a fist and hit the air—punching an imaginary crook.

Then—the excess—was sometimes a certain City Runner—or was it Courier, now—sometimes dropped by the inn for a day or two, or a week. That was great too.

The perfect dream sat in front of Relc. The Drake closed his eyes. Because when he opened them, he would not see The Wandering Inn’s ceiling, and the comfy bed, but the cracked ceiling of the small apartment, and he would be lying on the floor.

When he opened his eyes, he would have to confront the clear prejudice about Gnolls in Cellidel’s Watch. The fact that Erin was gone. That he was in disgrace in his city’s eyes.

Relc closed his eyes tightly. He didn’t want to open them.

“Why does Cellidel have to be so damn stupid?”

He grumbled softly. If it were a routine?

This would all be so much easier.

 

—-

 

The next day, Relc thought about it. He did not practice with his spear, as much as he wanted to. The apartment was too small and he didn’t know it well enough to swing his spear around; if he put a hole in the wall, he’d be out far too much money.

Unfortunately, there was no entry in Relc’s vast array of routine-strategies for this. If he was in the army, it would be easy. You sometimes got hostile Drakes or Gnolls—and they either shaped up with tough…not-love, or they got out. If it was really bad, you sorted it at a ground-level with some ‘chats’ with other [Soldiers], or you went up.

The Watch was the same way, although Relc would probably just leave it to Captain Z. In Cellidel, he had no Captain Z, no superiors he knew or army to back him up…and no Erin.

Possel had not been a Drake alone. There had been eight other [Guards], six of them Senior Guards in his buddy-group and not one of them had blinked at the Gnoll-talk. To Relc’s understanding, that meant it was the Watch’s mentality. Six Senior Guards was a Watch House. If there were dissenting opinions, they were in the minority.

So what did you do? Well…talk to the Watch Captain. Only, that was what a snitch did and Relc was familiar with [Guard]-politics enough to know how a newcomer complaining went. More importantly? Terigrals might do something.

But if he was a Watch Captain worth even a pinch of salt, he had to know how his Watch felt. If he let that talk go—then he didn’t care or he agreed.

“So what do I do? Go to the Council? Does Cellidel have a Council? Who else do you go to?”

Relc had no idea. Not one. Not a clue. This…this wasn’t routine. This wasn’t familiar waters. This was so far out at sea he could see Krakens eying him. Who could find a solution in this?

Erin Solstice, that’s who. The Human who’d fight an entire city over letting a Goblin in, or intervene in a riot to save some [Lords]. Who would bring war to the City of Adventurers and the Guild of Assassins for a friend.

Relc had always known she was crazy, amazing, and brave. Now he thought it was extraordinary how she did…something.

Because he had no idea what to do. He could ask Zevara for help? She was a Watch Captain in a different city. No jurisdiction. He could ask to be transferred out?

Relc considered it. That—was probably his move. Keep his head and tail down, not start anything, let them believe he was buddy-buddy—and put in an application and word with Zevara to get back to Liscor now. She’d understand. Wouldn’t she? Surely she would. He could send a letter via Embria—no, a [Message].

That was easy. Routine. Relc knew it was him ducking out, but he didn’t have a good answer and he was no Erin. So he took comfort in that idea; Terigrals would be upset, but Relc could claim he was homesick.

It was a great plan and Relc stuck to it, having wrestled with it for hours into the morning after bad sleep. He would routine through, put in his application, and all would be well.

Routine walk to the Watch House. Routine talk with the others. Routine start your day with a larger patrol. Routine—

Shortsword!

The shout came as the patrol intervened in what had been a robbery of a store. Someone screamed; someone else blew a whistle and in came the Watch.

This was when you had to be alert, and Relc was. [Robbers], [Bandits] taking a risk on a city, [Rogues]—all tried this. You could grab money or goods and run, but you were going to tangle with angry [Shopkeepers] or the Watch.

So this was when crime armed up. Relc had seen too many fellow [Guards] injured or killed by a crossbow bolt from a hidden weapon one of the [Rogues] was carrying—or a dagger. It was one of the reasons he and Klbkch had been prized, like Jeiss and Beilmark.

For this moment, you needed Senior Guards who could tangle with deadly weapons. So, when the squad of six hit the scene, Relc went in.

The group had nearly cleaned out the shop. They were halfway out the back door, but they knew the Watch was on their tails and so they were covering the front. Relc knew all of this.

He still crashed through the door anyways. He had to. He had [Iron Scales], [Thick Skin], and all the other Skills of his level. He was a [Spearmaster].

And he had been the Gecko of Liscor. The [Robbers] were waiting for a [Guard] to come through and two had shortbows. They were prepared—but not for the Drake to hit the door and go through it so fast that both shots went wide. Relc spotted six [Robbers]. Five Gnolls, one Drake. He shouted.

Senior Guardsman! Put down your weapons or get hurt!

It wasn’t the smartest thing to say, but he didn’t expect it to work. Sure enough, the nearest one swung the shortbow up; another had a sword. Relc leapt forwards.

Don’t kill them if you can. He swung the spear up, and hit the first [Robber] between the legs. He let go of the spear, and punched the sword-wielder in the face.

Broken nose; not dead. The second went down, but Relc realized he hadn’t hit a guy, but a female [Robber]. It still probably hurt like hell, but she was aiming the bow at him. So he shouted.

[Relc Kick]!

He snap-kicked her in the stomach and she went down. Relc whirled his spear, and jabbed with the butt of it—hard. A third robber was hesitating between running and fighting, astonished at how fast two of his buddies had gone down.

A spear—even the non-pointy end of it—hitting you in the ribs hard enough to crack them generally took the wind out of most people. If he’d used his spear-tip—well, Relc was pivoting to give him a patented [Relc Punch] when the second shortbow loosed.

He saw the arrow flash towards his neck and moved.

[Whirlwind Dodge]! Relc threw himself across the room, with a shout. He felt something graze his cheek, landed—got up. The [Robber]-[Archer] turned to track him, dropping an arrow, fumbling for another—

Relc threw a chair at them. The third [Robber] went down with a shout of pain; the other three ran, including the one who Relc had hit in the chest. The Senior Guardsman rose slowly, spear raised—waiting for the arrow if the chair hadn’t done the job.

The unconscious Drake with the bow was laid out, eyes rolled up. The other two were down. Relc breathed in; the first time since he’d seen the arrow coming his way.

The [Shopkeeper] and people inside stared at Relc as he looked around. The rest of the six-[Guard] squad were pursuing the others; two came in after Relc; the others were cutting off their escape-routes.

“Everything’s under control. Hi.”

He breathed at them. The civilians stared. Relc saw one of the [Guards] cover the fallen three; the other one pointed.

“We’ve got them! This way!”

He ran after the Drake…then, once he was out of the back of the shop, Relc stopped. He leaned against a wall and shuddered.

His breath came in bursts—for a few seconds. Then he calmed himself.

Nearly died. If that had been a [Piercing Shot] and hit him in the neck or eye—Relc saw dozens of other moments. However, he straightened. Three more.

He was catching up in moments, running with [Lightning Sprint]—when he heard the shout.

Shortsword!

Relc saw the three [Robbers] boxed in, one [Guard] plus Relc behind, the three [Guards] including a Senior Guardswoman ahead. They were all Gnolls and they saw the odds—not to mention Relc. One moment of hesitation and two of the [Robbers] surrendered. One tossed down the club they held and the other a crate of coin and goods.

The last was too slow. He had a shortsword. Relc heard the shout, saw the Gnoll hesitate. He feinted at one of the [Guards] who recoiled, and then seemed to gauge the odds. He wavered, looked at his buddies. Then the [Guard] from behind threw a net.

“[Snare Net]!”

A rare trick for a [Guard]. It worked, though. Down the Gnoll went, shortsword dropped like the amateur he was. Relc relaxed, watching the other two—

Then the squad of Drakes swarmed the downed Gnoll and began kicking and hitting him.

“Bastard nearly stuck me!”

The Drake who’d been feinted at put an entire body’s weight of force behind a kick. The other two Gnolls were shouting, but one of the [Guards] had an arrow trained on them. The Gnoll on the ground curled up. Relc saw the net-[Guard] kick them in the back and someone else jabbed the downed robber with their own spear, hard enough to break something.

The [Guards] vented their fear and adrenaline in a moment of violence—despite Relc being the only one to actually fight the downed [Robber]. Then…they kept going. It wasn’t one kick or two.

“Stop! He’s already given up—”

One of the Gnolls barked, but was taken to her knees by a kick from behind. Relc saw the Watch throwing the other two Gnolls down to manacle them. But the one on the ground—

“That’s enough. You’ve got him—just arrest him before you need a healing potion.

The beating continued. Ten seconds, twenty…now the [Robbers] were shouting.

He is going to die. Stop! That’s an order!

The Gnoll was already unconscious. One of the [Guards] finally halted, boot-raised, and looked at the blood on it. He spat and then they bent to cuff the Gnoll and call for a prisoner-wagon—as if they needed it for him. The other [Robbers] were herded onto it, or dumped there if they were unconscious. Yet the Gnoll already swelling with bruises and broken bones never moved. Nor was a healing potion used.

Relc listened to his own voice, bellowing at the [Guards] to stop! Shouting at them, berating them for doing what would cost them their badges in Liscor.

He…stood there, as one of the patrol clapped him on the shoulder.

“Fastest entry I’ve ever seen! We never even caught up. Good job, Relc!”

“…Thanks.”

That was the first word Relc had said. The shouting, the admonitions to stop—had never made it out of his lips. He had been too afraid.

Routine? Senior Guardsman Relc stuck to routine. Never rocked the boat. The patrol applauded him, told the others how fast he’d been and wrote him up in the ledger afterwards. He went through his routine.

He hadn’t done a thing.

 

—-

 

The [Robber] did…not die. A healing potion saved his life, when the Watch’s [Healer] made the call that one was needed.

It did not change the fact that Relc had thought he was dead when they put him on the prisoner-wagon. Nor that he had done nothing. The Gnoll was a [Robber], a criminal and no one in the Watch would have shed a tear if he died. If Relc had stabbed him in stopping the armed robbery, defending his life, protecting someone—he wouldn’t have lost sleep over it.

He did not sleep that night, when he returned to his apartment. That was because there was a difference. Killing someone in battle was not the same as stomping them to death after they were down and out.

Relc kept seeing it. He kept hearing himself bellowing, seeing himself thrusting the other [Guards] back and restoring…law. And what would come next. No—it was just him doing his job! Yet Relc was certain what they’d say, how they’d react.

He hadn’t done a thing. In the past, Relc had forgotten to go to work. He’d fudged his working hours, stolen ink, and had his own list of ‘going too far’ in arresting criminals that Zevara had chewed him out for. He’d been drunk on duty, picked fights with other [Guards], and once accidentally burned the entire month’s ledger to ashes.

However, this night, for the first time, he was afraid to go to sleep. Afraid that when he slept, he’d hear a voice telling him his [Guardsman] class was gone.

Fear was not unusual for Relc Grasstongue. Fear was why he’d left the army. Yet he could run into danger. He’d charged into that robbery, ducked two—three—arrows that might have ended his life and he’d do it again.

However, he was more afraid of being the target of the Watch’s ire than confronting a Creler nest. Relc could stab his way out of one problem. The Watch being against you?

That was dangerous. That was what Relc was afraid of. He’d seen it happen. Lived it, like when he’d quit the army. And then he’d made tracks to Liscor. A lone dissenter in a city? There…were things that could happen, in bad Watches.

The [Robber] had lived. Relc still couldn’t sleep. Something was dawning on him. Something…terrible. A realization.

It came to him by midnight. A terrible voice whispered in his head, like Erin’s when she softly told him to leave. That was how he heard it. Relc opened his eyes.

He sat up slowly. Oh. So that was it. Relc sat there. When he spoke, it was to the silent, dark room, filled with shadows. The unfamiliar sounds of the city, the distant sounds of someone moving around in the room overhead. Thumping from another room to his left. Probably someone having sex or a dance party.

Unpleasant sounds, a cheap room—all things he could ignore. Had ignored. The voice did not tell him he had lost his class. It did not take anything from him. It just told him something he had begun to realize after Erin kicked him out, after the Golden Triangle mistake. Relc stared at his claws as he sat on his bed.

“I thought I was a great guy.”

That was all.

That was everything.

The big Drake sat there and didn’t know anymore. Not anything. Not one thing. It was suddenly all in question. Every single pillar in his life, everything routine was built on.

Was he a good person? Unclear. Unsure. He feared…he listened to the voice whisper in his head. Remembered the Gnoll being beaten to death as he watched.

He thought of Embria.

Had he done a good job as a father? …Probably not. What kind of kid ran away to join the army? Didn’t talk to her father for years? What had he given her besides a spear and a class where she’d die young, in battle?

Was Relc Grasstongue a good friend? A good [Guardsman]? A good [Soldier]? A good guest, even? Did he make good decisions?

Had he ever made one good decision?

The Drake had no answers. What did he have that was good? That was his alone, and not luck or more than him, like Embria? The inn? He hadn’t made the inn. His puzzles? His levels?

Relc’s bowed head and silent figure remained, as the shuffling above stopped, the thumping ceased and two voices rose—then a door slammed. As the entire city fell into near-silence and only a few souls were awake.

The quietest hour of the night. Just before dawn.

 

—-

 

It was in this hour, this moment when one was at their lowest when inspiration struck. When the soul rose. When…

Relc didn’t have a moment of clarity. He didn’t see the pieces fall into place, like a blacksmith’s puzzle. He just sat there and nothing got better.

Miracles were something for The Wandering Inn, and he wasn’t there. All Relc had was Relc. He had his day off; there was no routine today.

So dawn came. Light filled the room through the shutters and nothing was better, only that he was more tired. Noise resumed, and it was only distracting.

Relc had no idea anymore. Was he going to go to the Watch and overturn all the prejudices? Demand change? Did he dare to even stop his fellow [Guards] and incur their wrath?

He feared the answer. If he wasn’t a good guy, hadn’t made good decisions—what did he have now?

No home. No family beyond Embria. No possessions. Friends? One was gone, the other, dead…a few more distant friends like Beilmark and Jeiss.

What did he have? At last, the man moved. He muttered something.

“Let’s start from the beginning.”

That was all he had. Relc didn’t know anymore. So he sat down and started from the only place he knew.

Routine.

Slowly, Relc undid the strings on his boots, customized for a Drake’s claws; segmented so you put them on in three parts, and re-tied them.

He tied his boots. That was where you started. Some armies taught their [Soldiers] to make beds. That appealed to Relc, but Liscor’s army was always on the move, and often camped rather than expected any formal bed. So—the first thing they taught you was how to put on your boots.

Before anything else, boots. Sometimes you had to sleep in them, which sucked—unless you got raided at night. So, put on your boots right.

Each piece went on, secure, laced together. No frayed string—then you tied a knot that would last you all day; that wouldn’t slip or get loose, or let the string trip you up. Then you had your feet set. ‘If nothing else’, the [Sergeant] had once told Relc, ‘you can fight naked but in good boots.’ You could fight and dodge arrows and blades, but if you slipped—it was all over.

Relc smiled for a second as he looked at the knot. That was done. Thusly, Relc Grasstongue had on good boots. That was what he knew. The entirety of it.

Clothing came next, or ideally, before the boots if you weren’t ready for battle. Relc had never taken his clothes off from yesterday. Clothes…didn’t matter. Armor might matter, but his armor had changed. Armor did not define Relc.

Routine. The Drake thought about what he did. And he realized—there was something he’d been neglecting to do. Something that was ‘Relc’, if there was anything that was Relc. So he got up. His body creaked a bit as he walked to the door. Relc left his apartment.

A few Gnolls and Drakes gave him wary looks, but they recognized Relc as being a [Guard] and no one called out to him. They watched him, especially Gnolls, Relc realized, as one watches an unpredictable danger.

He couldn’t think of that right now. Relc was still trying to rebuild Relc with no false gaps, no imaginary pieces. So he counted the things he knew.

Blacksmith puzzles. He liked them. Relc walked down the steps of the apartment complex. There was a little plaza in a three-sided space; the complex could hold a lot of transitory people. All the rooms looked down into the center area. It was good enough.

Food. Relc was into food. He liked Embria. Treasured her. Wanted the best for her. But what did he have? Well, he had the [Carpenter] class. He had tried to garden. He enjoyed drinks, but that didn’t define him.

Love? He stared at the sky. He…had rather liked Embria’s mother.

“Oresha.”

However, they had been [Soldiers]. Young. Her getting pregnant hadn’t…been in Relc’s mind. It would have been rather like Ryoka Griffin getting pregnant—he hadn’t known her.

Family. That was Embria. Relc wasn’t skilled in fields outside of fighting. He didn’t have some amazing backup talent. He wasn’t building anything. Wasn’t dreaming of a project. The Drake stood in the courtyard, ignoring other people coming and going, occasionally glancing at the intimidating Drake. Walking wide of him, especially his enchanted spear.

His spear. One of his few possessions. His treasure. Now didn’t that suck? The Drake smiled bitterly. In the end, he had three things, he supposed.

Good boots. Embria. And this. He looked at the long spear, taller than he was by a bit. A killing weapon. A [Mage]-killer. A weapon to slay enemy officers if they wore armor or not.

Charge into enemy ranks. Alone. Run past [Soldiers]; dodge arrows. Strike them dead and run.

At first it had been entire attack-groups. Then he had been an ‘elite’, sent in for missions like this when both sides were fighting.

When had it just been him, charging ahead of the rest? When had they begun calling him the ‘Gecko’? Put bounties on his head, begun targeting him?

Relc raised the spear, slowly. It was so much a part of him that he knew its weight perfectly. He could balance it on a tip of his claw. This, more than anything, was what he knew. More than boots. He was ashamed to say it, but he knew the spear more than his daughter.

Relc began from the start. And each day, this was how he started. First boots. Then—he hefted the spear and began to practice.

A [Spearman]’s routine. No, a [Spearmaster]’s warm-up. Every day since he had first been a [Soldier], at thirteen years old, Relc had swung a spear. First clumsily, then experimentally. Some days he hadn’t warmed up, just rolled out of the way of a thrusting blade and fought.

But in peace, even on his days off—the spear rose and fell, tracing slow thrusts, pivots. Some of the people in the apartments watched, uneasily at first, as the Drake practiced in the courtyard. However, the bitter look on Relc’s face had changed.

He concentrated on the spear. He knew it back to front. He twirled it, in a delicate motion, the tip of the spear just a fraction from striking the ground. He whirled it across his shoulders, striking the ground behind him. Pivoted.

Thrust. Slash! Parry—each motion was deceptively simple. You might think it looked so easy. That was because it was an expert who held it. He never wavered. Each motion was decisive. He slowed, striking in slow-motion. That was because Relc knew how to slash. It wasn’t a wild burst of motion, but something he had practiced a million times before.

When a [Warrior] who had just picked up a weapon attacked you, it was all muscle and luck and reaction. This Drake knew every part of the attack and defense, every opening. When he struck, he knew he would hit.

The longer Relc practiced, the smoother the motions became, and that was startling, because he had already moved with astonishing grace for his appearance. He practiced on, as the sun rose, heralding dawn on his day off. For minutes—then half an hour. Then longer.

A full practice, to shake off the lack since Erin had died. Each pattern he went through, movements of attack and defense to strike every conceivable angle.

Parry arrows. Cut spells. Face down a charging monster or evade. Most of the adults had gone to work before dawn, working the earliest shifts. None had time to watch what seemed to them to be mostly boring, slow motions. The longer someone stared though, the more hypnotic it became.

Speed wasn’t what Relc craved. Speed was for the practice courts, for battle. Control, practice—that was what mattered here. He lost himself in the routine he had been taught by the army’s best [Spearmen], [Spear Drakes], [Spear Hunters], and so on. Even the old [General]. Everyone who had ever used a spear had gone through these motions.

Then—he went further. His motions changed from the static, [Soldier]’s sensible attack and defensive motions into something else. A combination of the two.

From practicing jabs and thrusts and rotations, the Drake’s steps and spear movements shifted. It began to look like a…dance. When he walked forwards, his feet melded with the ground, and he seemed to glide along. The spear became a part of his body, and it reached out, touching the air, creating patterns as the sun caught the metal edge.

Someone caught their breath as they watched. Below, the Drake leapt, planted the spear and travelled. He struck the air and ground. He carried himself across the courtyard and his tail never touched the earth.

He landed, and the spear whirled. A hundred arrows failed to strike him as it formed a shield from every angle. He swung it, and released his claw. The spear shot out, and he grabbed the end and swung it in an arc that covered countless feet around him. Dust rose and fell, in a huge arc around Relc. Not one bit touching him.

Sweat gleamed on his scales. The [Spearmaster] wasn’t done, though. The sky overhead was strange. The day had come, yet the moon was still faintly falling. So, as he raised his weapon overhead, walking forwards. His weapon saluted the sky, an invisible opponent, and then moved in a glittering pattern.

The spear’s tip caught the light. The bright, rising glow that met the dark starlight night and became something else. The very color of true magic. The metal edge caught it and carried it with the trailing blade as it spun.

For a moment, the spearman caught the light on the tip of his spear and traced a picture no one had ever seen copied down. A word no one had ever learned.

Relc Grasstongue finally lowered the spear. Practice done. The sun began to dry sweat from his scales. He did not have an answer for his problems. However—he did know who he was and what he had.

In the end, he knew this. Relc knew how to kill people. How to be a soldier.

Yet—he looked down at the spear he held in his claws. This was what he was proud of. A way to hurt people, yes. A weapon’s mastery, which could turn to brute force, hacking, blood and death instead of anything like art.

But this—this moment was what he owned too. The seconds in which he saw something more than wood and metal in what he held. More than a clumsy, stupid Drake who traced patterns he knew by heart.

Something beautiful.

The Drake jumped as he heard applause. Loud and followed by cheering. He looked up.

There on the apartment balconies were children. Young Drakes and more than them, Gnolls. Too young to hold jobs, or not quite adults. They were looking down at the strange Drake who had shown them something as the sun rose.

“That was amazing, sir!”

A little Gnoll shouted. His older sister hurried him away, but the Drake [Guard] just grinned and waved. The moment broke, but Relc stood there. The children left—most of them. They had been taught not to talk to [Guards].

Yet when he turned, he saw someone watching him. The bruises had mostly healed, although his right eye was a bit bruised still. But the younger Gnoll in the alley-fight was watching him. He raised a paw. Relc waved.

He hadn’t known he shared the same apartment as the would-be criminal. The Gnoll hesitated. He looked around, and wavered between walking off, but was unable to. He came forwards, hesitantly.

“That was…amazing. Sir. Guardsman.”

“I’m Relc. Thanks. I know I’m awes—I know it’s cool.”

The Drake grinned. The Gnoll looked at him.

“Are you a…[Spear Hunter]? Some kind of [Spear…Warrior]? I’ve never seen a [Guard] practice like that. Or even the adventurers!”

Relc leaned on his spear.

“Nope. [Spearmaster].”

The Gnoll’s eyes widened. He was just a kid. Street kid—Relc saw his fur was more unkempt than a mother would allow. The army made you wash, too. The Gnoll eyed Relc’s spear. Then he hesitated.

“That’s…not common, right?”

“There are a few people with the class in Izril. Like…a hundred? Maybe.”

Relc wasn’t sure. Maybe there were a thousand, honestly. He knew he had gotten his class from defeating a [Spearmaster] in battle, but you could be certified or something. Tekshia was a [Spearmaster] and she hadn’t killed an enemy [Spearmaster] in battle.

The Gnoll’s eyes widened. He looked at Relc.

“So you’re high-level? As in…over level 30? 40?”

Relc just grinned. In truth, his levels were spread out. He was a [Spearmaster], a [Senior Guardsman], a [Sergeant]…he shrugged.

“I’m pretty good for a [Guard]. No one can beat me with a spear, at any rate. I was the best in my old city. Here? I’m pretty sure I’m still the best.”

It was not a boast. Jeiss was the best [Swordsman] in Liscor. Klbkch was the Slayer, albeit weakened from war. Neither one could beat Relc. Not Zevara. No one.

The Gnoll youth was suitably impressed. However, it seemed like he had a question. He nodded at the spear again.

“Why don’t you teach it then, sir? Wouldn’t that pay more than being a [Guard]?”

Relc blinked. He scratched at his neck-spines, noting how uncomfortable the young Gnoll was. As if he’d never talked to a Senior Guard before. He was way too formal, too. Kids in Liscor would come up and bother Relc all the time.

Cellidel. His smile faded as he thought of this city. However, he replied casually and honestly, pleased by the conversation after his workout.

“Eh. Because I guess I figured out I’ll never actually be good with the spear. Just passable. Besides, I’m a terrible teacher. For instance, that last set of moves? The thing I did where I go across the courtyard without touching the ground? The only other person who ever managed to learn that was my daughter.”

The young Gnoll man looked at Relc, uncertain what to point out was off in that reply. There were a few things. Not good with a spear? And what had he said?

The ‘only’ other person to ever learn a [Spearmaster]’s routine?

What the Gnoll came up with in the end was a weak grin.

“It looks pretty good to me.

Relc’s amused snort made the Gnoll kid turn red under his fur.

“You say that now, kid. The world’s larger than you think. An enchanted spear and a [Spearmaster] class don’t go that far in a big battle, believe me. There’s a lot more to go.”

“It’s enchanted? Really?”

“Sure is. Here. Want to see?”

Now the young man looked like he suspected a trap. However, he looked at the spear.

“Can I?”

“Of course you can. Here. It’s not fancy. It’s just a magic-cutting and strength enchantment. You can’t even tell. Don’t be worried! You can’t break it!”

Relc offered the spear. The young Gnoll took it hesitantly, blinking at how light it was for what it looked like. He tried to twirl it and nearly dropped it. Flushing, he grabbed it.

“I don’t know how to use a spear. Sorry—”

He tried to give it back to Relc, but the Drake just laughed.

“Try and swing it! Go on!”

The young man tried. Relc corrected him. The Gnoll did a good jab, and Relc laughed.

There. See?”

Absently, he ruffled the Gnoll’s head. The younger Gnoll stared at Relc, but didn’t object. Relc took the spear back and copied the motion. Then sighed.

“I’m pretty good with a spear. But I’m not even sure I’m the best in the city. There’s an old woman who’s a [Spearmaster] too. If I’m not even the best in a city—besides, I know there’s a lot better than me. Did you see that crazy undead Drake with the sword?”

The Gnoll hesitated.

“I heard about it.”

Relc nodded.

That’s high-level. That’s skill. Me? I’m not close.”

He flexed one hand absently.

“[Spearmaster]. It’s a weird word. It means I ‘mastered’ the spear at Level 30. For that matter, it bumped me down to Level 30 when I was a Level 34 [Vanguard of the Spear]. Class consolidations are weird. There are enough of us that you can probably run into one in an army. We’re far from that guy.”

“Then what comes after [Spearmaster]?”

Relc blinked at the young Gnoll and realized he’d never asked his name. He grinned, and drifted back in time.

“You mean, a real master? I only met one once. Not in Manus. Not in Oteslia or Pallass or all the rest. They’re [Spearmasters], like a [Fencer] with a golden bell. A master has a different class.”

“Who was it?”

The Gnoll looked at Relc, overflowing with a young man’s curiosity. That was how they got you. A [Veteran] talked to applicants, or found someone on the streets like this kid and you signed up for the army. Especially if you had nothing left. Especially if you were fighting Antinium, or Goblins. Relc shook his head—then focused on the question.

“I never knew the class. Or even his name. An old Gnoll with a hunting spear showed me. He was leaving his tribe; said he was done.”

“Done? With his tribe? It was a Gnoll?

The City Gnoll looked at Relc. The Drake nodded.

“Better than any [Spearmaster] in the city I’ve met. He was done. I’m not sure what it was. I think his tribe wanted him to stay. Just like me—but he was done. Leaving. We got to talking. And, well…he showed me a real master’s skills. More than a [Spear Art]. I never figured out exactly what he did, but he and I were standing in a bunch of tall grass. He swung his spear and—cut the grass.”

“Okay.”

Relc glowered at the young man.

“It was cooler than how it sounds! He cut the grass from here—”

He gestured at his waist.

“—to here.”

About ankle-level. Relc went on.

“Right in front of us. Then he walked off. I walked to see how far he cut the grass. Two hundred and thirty eight steps.”

The young Gnoll’s jaw was open. Relc winked at him.

That’s why I don’t brag. Too much.”

Without being told, the young Gnoll knew it was that last move the Drake had been practicing. And if that wasn’t the full thing…he was surprised when a huge, clawed hand was held out.

“My name’s Relc. Did I say that? Who’re you?”

The young man hesitated, wary. But—the Drake had let him go once. So he shook the clawed hand.

“Vokkhar. Vok for short.”

“Hey, nice to meet you, kid. Just don’t let me or anyone else catch you in a fight. The Watch in this city don’t seem to like…Gnolls that much.”

Vok blinked at Relc.

“They don’t.”

He flinched, fearing—but Relc just nodded. He looked tired as he leaned on his spear. Then he patted Vok on the arm.

“I’m from Liscor. It’s different, here.”

“Different for Gnolls?”

Relc turned back. He was walking back to his apartments. He looked at Vok, and saw the longing, hungry gaze. He shrugged.

“I wouldn’t know. I think so, but you’d have to ask them. I miss it.”

Then he turned and walked up to his rooms. Relc grabbed a change of clothes, visited a public bathhouse where only Drakes were allowed in during this hour. Fur in the water. He washed, had a meal at an outdoor stall.

Then he sent Zevara a [Message] requesting reassignment. He did not go into details. He felt a bit better.

 

—-

 

Relc’s routine didn’t come back the next day. What he did do was practice in the pre-dawn morning, before he went to work. He spotted Vok watching and some of the Gnoll kids and waved to them.

When he went to work…he went to work. He armored up, mostly in silence, greeting a few [Guards], and listened.

Two of the Gnolls in the Watch House were present as Terigrals gave a speech. But they were [Guards]. Part of the team. The Watch Captain was like that. His briefing though, was blunt.

“This Woven Bladegrass issue and the Meeting of Tribes is causing havoc across Izril. I want patrols being sharp. Make sure there’s no trouble.”

“What trouble is that, Watch Captain?”

Possel asked, directly. Terigrals glowered.

“Riots. Mobs overblowing issues or taking sides. There were Gnoll riots in Vershe; Drakes joined in too. Once one starts, it becomes looting and chaos. We won’t have that here.”

The other [Guards] nodded. Relc just listened. Terigrals went on.

“The real instigator is that tribe—there are reports of them sending agents into a city and causing trouble. Watch out for that. Plains Gnolls will be checked at the gates and we have updated lists of known members of that tribe. However—there’s also a troublemaker stirring up chaos. Remember Sellme?

The Watch groaned. Relc’s head rose. He nudged one of the others.

“Who?”

The [Guardswoman] whispered back.

“The [Painter]! They were in Salazsar, but they’ve come back this way. They often paint things about rich, corrupt idiots, but they attack the Watch too!”

“…painting of ‘Watch brutality’ in Vershe tripped off the riots. They might be in Cellidel for all I know. There’s a bounty—but if you see even a hint of them, call it in.”

Relc tilted his head, trying to imagine this famous painter…and failing completely. All he knew was that his job had gotten even less fun. Patrols being more vigilant happened to mean they were all focusing on Gnoll districts.

And as luck happened, Pos and Relc were put together. The Drake grinned at Relc.

“If there’s any luck out of this mess, it’ll be us catching Sellme in the act, right Relc? You can run down a [Painter].”

“Unless I slip on paint. How come no one’s got them so far?”

“Skills. I hear they even evaded a Wall Lord and Named Adventurer. I bet that’s how the painting did it too. Agitation-Skill. Damned riots…”

“Yeah. I’m sure it was all the painting.”

Pos glanced at Relc, but the Drake was straight-faced as they marched out of the Watch House. Relc had no routine. He just did his job. Which happened not to be arresting anyone that day. Some days were like that.

 

—-

 

In fact, the next day had no major arrests either. What did happen in between then, though, were two things.

Zevara sent back an approval of his request, but informed Relc that Watch Captain Terigrals had requested him to stay for the duration of the crisis in Cellidel.

Second—chaos came to the city. A Sellme painting had appeared on a wall, lampooning the Merchant’s Guild. It was apparently about the Prelons—the Merchant’s Guild enforced a heavy tax on the [Harvester]-[Farmers] in the local Grower’s Guild.

Thus, the painting was of fat [Merchant] Drakes counting gold as they sat on the shoulders of Drakes and Gnolls with baskets full of produce, who got only coppers.

Topical, accurate to public sentiment, and hugely embarrassing. It had appeared overnight in a crowded street, but no Watch patrol or civilian remembered seeing anyone painting there. Sellme had appeared and disappeared by the power of some Skill.

Well, the painting of the Merchant’s Guild was actually very popular, despite the guild trying to whitewash the walls within hours of it going up. It exposed a lot of resentment against the powerful, multi-city guild and the Merchant’s Guild was packed with angry people; Relc spent all day with Pos making sure no one hit a [Merchant]—all of them were hiding in their homes and the upshot was they promised to do…something.

Negotiations with the city’s Council and Grower’s Guild were underway by the end of the day.

However, it seemed Sellme’s very presence had a secondary effect. Which was that while he, she, they, or it had not painted a picture, the Watch and populace seemed to be expecting a painting.

About Gnolls. In fact, that very expectation seemed to be building unrest before the painting came out. The Watch was jumpy as they guarded the Merchant’s Guild. Relc, thinking on it, reflected he was right.

It wasn’t the painting. Even the idea was stirring something here. The idea, the Meeting of Tribes, the Woven Bladegrass attacks…the King of Destruction and Gnoll tribes there.

“We need you, Senior Guardsman Relc. I understand nostalgia—and I am prepared to send you back with commendations for your hard work. But give me—three weeks. Until that damned troublemaker is caught or taken out of the city. If you can get Sellme, I’ll give you every award we have on top of the bounty!”

That was Terigrals’ offer. Relc just saluted.

 

—-

 

In the meantime, Relc found himself with a growing audience of kids each day that passed. Vok was first, and then a bunch of Gnolls and some Drakes watched Relc in the cheap apartment complex.

By the second morning, Vok had found a stick. Relc called it a ‘stick’ despite Vok claiming it was a quarterstaff. Relc responded by taking the stick and demonstrating that you could snap a stick with your arms.

“You can’t do that with a spear. It’s not balanced; it’s not even long enough! Look—wait. Give me a second.”

Vok looked at the stick he’d bought, crestfallen. It had cost him nearly five copper! He looked up as Relc came down from his apartment with a second spear in his hands.

“What’s that?

“Short spear. Cut down. See the difference? Here.”

Relc tossed the actual weapon at Vok. The young Gnoll caught it clumsily. Relc went back to practicing.

“Try to do a thrust like that. No—wait.”

The young man hesitated.

“What’s wrong?”

“Everything.”

The Drake sighed. Vok was breathing wrong, standing wrong, holding the spear wrong…he corrected the Gnoll and let him practice the most basic techniques. Trying to do a spear-dance was stupid if you couldn’t even do a basic thrust. And spears were beautiful because an amateur could learn it fast, and a master had far more to learn still.

The next day, he found eight Gnolls from various ages asking for lessons. Relc just shrugged.

 

—-

 

The second Sellme painting was of the Merchant’s Guild, again. This time spouting empty promises at the negotiating table while one ran out of the back with all the gold. Since it turned out the Merchant’s Guild was moving some of their assets out of Cellidel…

Sellme was interesting to Relc. They were a phenomenon, a wave. Where they went, chaos followed. He’d begun reading some Watch reports. They exposed corruption or brought to light issues in a city and riots or conflict followed in many cases.

Of course, they were the Watch’s worst nightmare. What good did riots do? All Sellme left, in Pos and Terigrals’ eyes at least, was dead bodies, countless thousands of gold coin’s worth of damage, and lingering unrest.

Relc thought Sellme was rather like Erin if she decided to paint. He couldn’t help but like that, despite having to stand guard-duty over the Merchant’s Guild all day, occasionally getting snacks courtesy of grateful staff, gossiping and joking with fellow [Guards]…wait, he loved that. Sellme was alright by him.

Nearly a week had gone by and Relc was relieved that Sellme had, as of yet, made this mostly an issue about greedy [Merchants]. It actually meant his job was all about them, and they were all-Drake.

Interestingly, the fourth painting Sellme did caused trouble. The [Painter] exposed the leader of one of the Guilds—Mason’s Guild—in no uncertain terms. A predator on younger, female Drakes; they painted the accusation on the Mason’s Guild wall itself.

Relc and the Watch never got to the Guildmaster in time. A mob got him first. The question of how Sellme knew—or if this was an unsubstantiated allegation—consumed the day, until previously-silent victims came forwards. Somehow, Sellme had gotten wind and delivered a justice of their own.

The Watch did not look good, of course. Relc sensed the increasing unease. If Sellme was running down Cellidel’s lists of faults…

It was interesting because to the [Senior Guardsman], it rang of guilt. Relc wondered if Klbkch would have been able to use [Detect Guilt] here. The Watch wouldn’t be this jumpy if they really thought all was well. Or maybe they just put it down to those crazy Gnolls.

In fact, it was Gnolls they were watching, convinced Sellme was one of them. They were cracking down hard on those coming in and out of the city.

However, as Relc had observed, it was Sellme’s fourth painting that had caused an actual death. The first had been the Merchant Guild, and the second.

The third made Relc think Sellme was almost certainly a Drake. It wasn’t just that it was ignored; it was deliberately not talked about.

A fresco on a longer section of walls at just over head-height, long and horizontal. It was a mirror of the actual street, complete with pedestrians, a store opening, and had very little of a theme at first.

Until you saw the two male Drakes holding hands and walking together with tails twined as well, and every other pedestrian on the street watching them and whispering—or pointing. Relc had seen it before it was erased.

No one talked about it. Not everything Sellme did was shouted, it seemed. However, if the [Painter] had been disappointed by the third painting, the fourth had drawn blood.

The city was waiting for the painting that came next. Gnolls were hungry for a voice. Tired of…well.

Routine.

 

—-

 

The end of the week and his happy [Merchant]-guarding duties behind him, Relc found he was teaching an entire class. For free!

Well, it was fun. It reminded him of Embria when she used to beg for lessons. He did it in the morning and before he slept, in the courtyard and a bunch of Gnolls and Drakes came, even some adults, to learn from an actual [Spearmaster].

Some didn’t have talent, patience, or any other quality. Some though—had a spark.

Not Vok. Ironically, he fell behind a talented Gnoll girl, barely older than Mrsha, who actually mastered a spear-flurry by her fourth day. That was pure talent. However, Relc cheered up the young Gnoll by telling him it was practice that equalized things. Practice; levels rewarded you.

Not everyone practiced; a lot liked to watch Relc’s incredible spear-dances. One of them, among others, came up one day and introduced themselves.

“You have amazing form, [Guardsman]. It’s a shame you use it in the Watch. A [Spearmaster] versus civilians isn’t very fair.”

Relc blinked at the young Drake man, older than Vok, but only a bit, with pale white scales.

“I don’t fight civilians. Just bad guys.”

“Are all the ‘bad guys’ you fight criminals? How many do you kill?”

Vok glanced at the Drake, who was a newcomer to the apartments. They had a strident attitude as they faced Relc. The Senior Guardsman put a claw in one earhole and scratched.

“Most of ‘em. I don’t usually have to kill many people, you know. I just punch them. You see, I have a Skill. It’s called [Relc Punch] and it’s the most powerful technique ever. See? [Relc Punch]!

He did it to the little girl with talent and she recoiled, shrieking with laughter. The pale-scaled Drake blinked, but then almost smiled. He tilted his head, regarding Relc.

“…You’re not from Cellidel, are you?”

“Do I know you?”

Relc eyed the newcomer, and then shrugged.

“That’s right. I’m from Liscor. Ever heard of it?”

Of course, everyone started asking about the Antinium. Relc barely got to talk to the Drake that day, and he was late for work. However, the Drake kept coming back to watch.

His name was ‘Tesy’, which was presumably a nickname, but Relc only ever heard him talking with younger kids in the apartment area. He couldn’t have been more than eighteen or nineteen years old. A kid.

Vok was a kid. Strange though; Relc kept forgetting they were all younger than Embria by a bit. It seemed like she was always younger in his head—until he saw her.

Erin was barely older than Tesy, but she wasn’t a kid. Maybe it was how they carried themselves. Vok was more street-wise than Erin Solstice after a year of living in Liscor. The same with Tesy; he’d rented the apartment, had a job or so it seemed—all things that Relc imagined Erin might actually struggle with.

On the other tail…he couldn’t see either facing down a hostile crowd in the streets. Or leading an army. That was the difference, Relc supposed. Erin had been through a lot and sometimes you could tell. Usually she was friendly, relaxing, funnily weird and a kid in a lot of ways, even when she beat you like a drum while playing chess.

Then—something would pop up and the [Innkeeper] would give you a look that an old [Veteran] was capable of. Someone who had seen things you only joked about.

Well, Tesy had a mouth like Erin’s. Which was to say that he’d tell Relc off about being a [Guard], or loudly point out to people how the [Landlord] of the apartment was overcharging them because they could. Relc was exceptionally surprised no one had tried to punch Tesy, but the white-scaled Drake had the ability to duck trouble that most kids learned if they were like him.

The Senior Guardsman supposed that ‘Sellme’ would be nothing less than that. It was a bit of a coincidence he uncovered the famous [Painter]’s identity—but then again, not. Once you looked at Tesy, it was obvious.

Faint traces of paint on his white scales sometimes. The odor of paint—like an [Alchemist]’s—before he used a scent-masking deodorant. Comments about the very same issues Sellme talked about. Clearly gossiping with locals, never seen ‘working’, but disappearing for stretches of time.

Elementary, as Erin would say. Senior Guardsman Relc had uncovered a lot of mysteries in his time.

‘Where did I put the jar of pickles?’

‘Did Mrsha eat my cookies?’

‘Who is the Scalenight Strangler?’

Admittedly, that last one was his only real ‘case’. For all Relc loved puzzles, there was a difference between being able to pursue clues and put together motive and whatever else you did and fiddle with blacksmith puzzles.

Klbkch had solved that last one; a [Murderer] oh, five years back. Relc had helped by walking around with Klbkch, asking questions, and then helping run down the murderous Drake. Klbkch needed a partner willing to sit in alleyways for up to six hours straight as they staked out more possible locations.

As for how he’d figured it out, he’d used his secret Antinium techniques to pick up on ‘audio cues’ or something, done a lot of asking questions and essentially narrowed down the streets where the murderer had come from. Relc had walked next to him.

He had always been miffed he didn’t get the [Investigator] class. Or [Detective], which Erin had explained to him and Mrsha one time.

Detective Relc had uncovered the cookie-case all on his own, though. His investigation had revealed Mrsha had only stolen one cookie—after Bird walked off with half the jar to make bird bait. He’d also found the pickle jar.

Anyways, he uncovered Tesy being Sellme the [Painter] by accident. Although only Relc could have figured it out…

 

—-

 

It was a monster attack that Relc was called to solve. And by ‘called’, it was ‘called out of bed’ by the scream for a [Guard].

Monster attacks were rare. Cellidel was not Liscor, and had a record of monster swarms attacking it every eight years at most. Stray Wyverns, roaming hostile monsters, all of that took place outside the city, mainly.

However, a monster always appeared, even in Walled Cities. In this case? It was one of the nasty types, not a sewer-monster grown to unnatural size.

They were called ‘Cericel’ in general. But you appended ‘Stalker’, or ‘Warrior’, or so on depending on how they grew.

The best way to describe one was to take a Ghoul, or other stringy, tough monster, and imagine they were living, feral things that travelled in packs. They were just smart enough to use weapons, but they preferred their claws. They had two longer arms and were humanoid…ish. They squatted a lot, but could jump ten feet into the air. Clawed feet.

What made them unique were their mouths. No mouth full of teeth; they had a sucker-type mouth and weird tendril-tongues. They drained victims, their scaly-exteriors sloughing off as they shed and grew.

But for Crelers, they might be one of the more dreaded nesting-type monsters around. The really bad variants grew wings or got big. They moved sluggishly under daylight and like the wind by night.

Typically, when this pack attacked, they went right over the walls and rampaged into the city. The Watch was already sounding the alarm, but they were chasing the rapid-moving predators that were trying to kill and run. They ran right into the apartment complex where Relc was sleeping; a bunch of helpless food only barred behind cheap wooden doors.

The Cericel Stalkers were tearing into wooden doors as terrified civilians screamed and tried to fend them off with self-defense weapons that did little against the Silver-rank monsters—each one Silver-ranked as a threat.

They were on the lower floors, going up, but some had climbed higher and one was on the fourth floor, tearing into a room with a few children inside and no adults.

One recoiled as a cheap training spear jabbed it in the chest, but Vok hadn’t attached a tip and he didn’t have Relc’s short spear. It backed up, snarling, and then tensed to leap through the shattered door.

Relc grabbed the monster by the tail. The Cericel Stalker whirled, fast as could be—and screamed as he tossed it over the balcony in one motion.

They could jump, but they didn’t bounce. Relc tossed his spare short spear at Vok and snapped.

“Get into another room and barricade the door!”

The Gnoll fumbled; missed grabbing the spear and had to pick it up. Relc didn’t see. He was already charging down the corridor. He slammed into another Stalker and hit it so hard both crashed into a room with two screaming Drakes. The monster opened its weird mouth, uttering a warbling scream; Relc punched it in the face and then speared it.

The Cericel realized something was hunting them as the second body fell from the 4th floor. They went up, flanking whatever was attacking their kind. They heard a voice coming down the stairs as four bounded up, ready to pounce and slash from all sides.

“[Lightning Sprint]! [Pierce Thrust]!”

A blur came at them, ran through two of them, and sent all four crashing down the stairs. The other two tried to slash, but then a sharp spear went through one’s neck and chest; and the other’s gut.

[Triple Thrust]. Relc kicked the last one off his spear, and finished it off as it writhed, screaming.

He’d fought Cericel before. Classic tactics worked; the Gecko of Liscor just smashed into them, using basic Skills. No [Spear Art] or [Spear Dance] in close-quarters. He checked his back and ran towards the Cericel, expecting to flank with their buddies.

Relc’s adrenaline was up, but he wasn’t worried for himself. He got over ten Cericel before the Watch and two adventurers helped corner the rest; they were all on the run from the Senior Guardsman.

Monsters could gut regular [Guards] and even lower-level adventurers. Versus one [Spearmaster] with an enchanted spear? Relc leaned on his spear, panting, covered in their stinking blood.

“I hate monster attacks.”

The Watch stared at him, wide-eyed. So did some of the Silver-ranks. Relc just sighed. It was the same job as Liscor; Klbkch and Relc had fought off monsters attacking some of the farmsteads from time to time.

The entire attack would have been bloody but for Relc, and the terrified apartment-dwellers were lucky he was here. To be fair—Pisces, Ceria, or any Gold-rank could have done as well.

Relc spent the rest of the night reassuring people, accepting accolades, and helping chase down the rest of the monsters in the city. When he discovered Sellme, the real event of the night, it was by accident.

The Drake was going to check on Vok and get his spear back when he noticed something. Fast as he’d been to take the fight to the monsters, they should have killed a number of people on the first and second floors. However, a bunch of kids had survived. As the monsters had made short work of the doors, they’d fled out the back and into the street; Relc had done the rest.

…The problem was, there was no back door in these apartments. However, the children had thrown open steel-doors and the Cericel had clawed at the metal until Relc arrived. Steel doors that had not been there until someone painted them.

That was high-level. Even so, Relc wouldn’t have noticed unless he’d been looking for Vok and the others. He was wandering around the first and second floors, checking a Cericel wasn’t there—although his [Dangersense] was pretty good. Calling out for kids.

He felt like he was missing…something. Relc caught himself wandering around and shook his head. His inner-intuition began going off, a lot louder than even when the Cericel attacked. Relc checked his back again, despite his Skill—then put himself against a wall.

Routine. Instinct. The Drake felt a familiar sensation and chased it down in his head. He gritted his teeth—then stabbed his arm with the tip of his enchanted spear.

Pain and clarity assailed him as soon as the tip of his spear pierced his scales. Relc turned his head—and focused on the two rooms he’d been walking past. He narrowed his eyes, crept forwards…and saw Sellme erasing the painted metal doors and talking quietly to a group of kids.

“You never saw me, understand?”

The gaggle of Drakes and Gnolls nodded solemnly. They might not even remember afterwards, save that Sellme had been there—not Tesy. Relc recognized the mind-altering Skill and slid back before the [Magical Painter] looked around.

It was a good Skill that Sellme had. A classic ‘can’t see me’ Skill a [Rogue] might employ. Maybe even stronger given how famous they were and their level.

However, it didn’t work on Relc for a few reasons. First, he had [Indomitable Will], a Skill that could beat off a [Terror] spell. Second? He was a veteran of battles where enemy illusion spells messed with perception and had recognized one working on him.

The last reason was the spear-trick Relc had learned. The anti-magic enchantment also worked on auras. Stab yourself and you were more immune to spells.

Detective Relc strikes again! Sellme, the [Magical Painter], arrested and brought to justice by the humble, good-looking, exceptionally cool Senior Guardsman…

Relc didn’t tell anyone that night. Nor the day after. When Vok and the other kids flocked to tell him how amazing he’d been the next morning, Relc saw Tesy was there.

“You killed a lot of monsters, Guardsman Relc. I’m glad you saved so many.”

“Aw, well. It’s my job. Those bastards aren’t too dangerous if you get them by surprise.”

Tesy nodded, smiling slightly.

“That’s what the Watch should do all the time.”

“Come on, Tesy. Senior Guardsman Relc is the best!”

A kid defended Relc. The Drake laughed. He ruffled a furry head, and then yawned. Well, he’d brag about it to Erin or Klbkch someday. If she actually could come back…Mrsha, maybe.

 

—-

 

It all went bad during the fifth painting in Sellme’s short tenure in Cellidel. Once again, the painting wasn’t about the Watch, but this time it did have commentary on the two species.

It was of a [Baker] refusing to admit Gnolls while, behind the counter, a bunch of Gnoll assistant-[Bakers] did the baking of the goods.

Relc wasn’t there when the painting was discovered. He was probably asleep or at morning practice with the kids, or heading to the Watch House when a large number of Drakes and comparatively fewer Gnolls saw the painting and caused an uproar. He wasn’t there when one of the Drakes, outraged at the painting, pointed at one of the Gnolls in the crowd and accused them of being Sellme.

The Gnoll just had tar or some oily substance on their fur. It was an unlucky coincidence, but the crowd turned into a vengeful lynch mob in a second. The Gnoll was never placed under arrest; they died there in the street.

That was the breaking point the city was waiting for. It wasn’t a picture of the Watch, but by the time Relc got to work, the air was tense.

“What? What are you talking about? Sellme got killed?”

“No, a damn Gnoll got killed because some idiot accused them of being Sellme! They all tried to put him in a citizen’s arrest and he drew a dagger and got gutted.”

Relc stopped chewing his breakfast as one of the [Guards] snapped an abbreviated version of the story.

“So. How many people got arrested?”

The Watch House went quiet. Relc looked around.

“…So no one got arrested? Sounds like murder to me.”

“It was an entire crowd. You want us to haul them all in here? They scattered before the Watch patrol arrived.”

One of the Senior Guards shot back. Relc looked for one of the two Gnoll [Guards] on duty. They were conspicuously looking away. Keeping silent.

“Maybe just cast [Detect Truth] and figure out which ones were actually the killers. How many people was it? A hundred? Two hundred? You can still…”

Senior Guardsman Relc. A word.”

The door of Terigrals’ office opened. It was all cascading together. Relc turned his head and felt a familiar sensation in his stomach. A sinking one. Especially when he saw the bloodied Gnoll kid holding the imitation short spear standing in the Watch Captain’s office.

 

—-

 

“Relc. What the hell do you think you’re doing?”

Possel snarled at Relc, gesturing to the spear on the table. It was cheap; not even steel-tipped. Someone had made this in a good likeness of an actual short spear.

A kid’s weapon. Still dangerous enough if you hit someone with it the right way. Especially if you had six buddies with spears all jabbing at once. That was why they called it a ‘spear wall’. Drake tactics were built around the idea of ‘if you run into a lot of pointy objects, you get hurt’.

Relc glanced at Possel, then at Watch Captain Terigrals, who was looking angrier than Relc had ever seen him. The Senior Guardsman looked at the Gnoll; his spear hadn’t done much good. Someone had given him two black eyes before arresting him, and a bloody nose.

It wasn’t Vok. Possel laid it out in a few words.

“There’s entire gangs running around with spears! For ‘self-defense’. My patrol ran into them and if they’d had steel tips…”

The Gnoll kid looked at Relc and then down. Terigrals turned to Relc.

“Senior Guardsman Relc. Have you been training civilians to use spears on your off-duty hours? With no regard for the consequences?

Relc twitched at the word. It didn’t suit Terigrals, not how he used it. He replied, slowly.

“Some kids watch me practice, yeah. I’ve been showing them the ropes. I know you…”

He didn’t know the name. But the Gnoll kid looked familiar. Possel looked incandescent. Terigrals spoke.

“This is the last thing we need at this time. Relc, I expected better of a Senior Guardsman.”

“Why?”

The question stumped the Watch Captain for a second. He pointed at the spear.

“Arming dangerous gangs—”

“They’re kids. Civilians know how to defend themselves. It doesn’t even have a metal tip. You could barely take out someone’s eye with it.”

“If that’s a [Guard] patrol which has to fight a gang with spears—

“I’m not teaching gangs to fight. What were the kids doing?”

“They had weapons! We followed up on an urgent call…”

For a bunch of kids holding wooden practice spears. Relc kept looking at the Gnoll kid. No one was offering him a healing potion, and—Relc looked at the Watch Captain and Senior Guardsman.

Routine. Relc stood there like he did when Zevara chewed him out. Hands behind his back, posture straight, face straight and staring through Terigrals’ head.

“Yes, Watch Captain.”

“No, Watch Captain.”

“It won’t happen again, Watch Captain.”

Relc was getting sick of routine. He looked at the Gnoll kid as he was put into the Watch’s lockup for the day.

He wanted to go home to Liscor. But how would that change anything for anyone but Relc? He was given a warning, a write-up, and assigned to patrol-duty with Possel for the foreseeable future, as Senior Guardsman Relc’s reliability was now under question.

 

—-

 

Relc could have listened to Terigrals chewing him out. However, among his amazing non-Skill abilities was the power to tune out things he didn’t want to listen to. So he stood there, inserting routine-comments as necessary.

He was tempted to do the same for Possel. It was amazing, but the other Senior Guard had volunteered to partner up with Relc. It was to make a point. Relc knew what Possel was going to say before he said it as they walked out of the Watch House. Not the words, but the dance.

This too, was routine. Relc’s grip tightened on his spear as Possel snapped at him.

“I thought we were on the same page, Relc. First you kill a bunch of monsters and stop that robbery without anyone getting hurt—now this. Whose side are you on here?”

What would Erin say to that? Relc looked around the streets. Not a Gnoll to be seen. Drakes looked uneasy too. Uneasy and angry. It was easier to be angry than to be guilty.

Not all of Cellidel thought that poor Gnoll should have died. Drakes were divided; the Gnolls were not. They had already locked down their businesses, not gone to work. No one had begun protesting…yet. The city’s Council had passed a ruling against large gatherings until Sellme was caught, for safety.

Relc had been in a city that went bad twice as part of Liscor’s army. Both times, he’d seen it go up like this. That law was a bad one; predictable, but bad. Once you made a law civilians were going to break, it made them more likely to break another one.

Twice, Relc had been in a city that went to riots. One time he fought with the companies there, until the civilians’ anger broke on steel and magic. Bloody and bad. The other time, he’d received orders to walk away and Liscor’s army had let the city go up as the army turned on the government.

Even when they’d stopped the first bad riots, Relc had felt that the city wasn’t secure—just waiting until they left. Cellidel had the same atmosphere to it. He felt his scales crawling.

Relc! Are you listening?”

“Hm?”

Pos was staring at Relc. The Senior Guardsman scratched at his head. Shrugged.

“…What am I supposed to say? ‘Am I on your side?’ Do you think I’m going to stab you in the back?”

“You might as well be doing that! Arming street-kids at that age? What do you think they’ll do if they learn how to use a spear?”

“Join the watch? Defend themselves? Practice?”

“Don’t be a damned idiot. Are you blind or what?”

Pos went to slap Relc’s shoulder. The other Drake swatted his claw down before Pos reached him. They stopped and stared at each other. Relc’s face was blank. Possel hesitated, and regrouped.

“Relc. I get that you’re from another city. But you’re a [Guard], a Senior Guardsman, and so am I. We have to be united. Watch Captain Terigrals helped you out, didn’t he?”

The [Spearmaster] blinked. Possel hurried on.

“I don’t know what it was—but there’s not many reasons a [Guard] comes from another city. We don’t abandon our own. I need you to work with me, got it? Just stop teaching them how to use a spear and—it’s done.”

He spread his claws. Relc stared at him. He was thinking hard.

It wasn’t about Pos. Or even Cellidel and Sellme’s role here. It was just Relc.

It would be so easy to slip into routine. One write-up, some tension, and he could get back to work. Skate on by until he got to go back to Liscor.

Unless Cellidel goes really bad. However, Relc was good at running away. He’d survive, no question, regardless of what happened.

He just wondered what Erin would say about it.

They kept walking after a short silence. Relc debated bringing up the Gnoll [Guards] in the Watch, or pointing out that the kids were not all criminals and some were twelve. He had a feeling what Possel would say in reply. Something like, ‘good Gnolls’, which implied there were bad ones—the ones not on ‘our side’.

The two walked into the heart of the problem. They didn’t go deep into streets brimming with hostility, but the Watch maintained a heavy presence today. Coincidentally, Relc saw a lot of Gnolls staring daggers at them as he marched down the street.

The Watch was waiting for something. So were the people. It just took one moment…and there were lots of moments when tensions were running high, when there was anger in the air.

The excuse came when Possel ordered a group of over ten to break up. Not all Gnolls, but either way, it was the ‘no large gatherings’ order. He snapped.

“Break it up! All of you, get moving!”

One of the Gnoll workers glowered at Possel, who had a hand on his club—not the sword he carried. He spat, narrowly missing Possel’s boot.

The Senior Guardsman went for his club. He raised it—and Relc yanked him back.

“Stop that.”

It was a moment. A simple tug, but it took a lot to do. It changed…well, just what happened next.

The crowd broke up, running, and the Gnoll in front of the [Guards] ran too. Possel whirled, red under his scales.

Relc!

“Possel.”

“What the hell was that! Did you see him spit on me?”

“I saw him spit on the ground. You nearly bashed his brains in.”

Possel stared at Relc. His voice was trembling.

“Weren’t you listening to what I said?”

“Nope. I’m bad at listening.”

The two Drakes looked at each other and Relc felt the invisible fissure open up. No going back now. He was trembling with nervous energy. He felt like he could see the future. The instant they got back to the Watch House…

No, they didn’t even have to wait for that. A whistle blew and both Senior Guards whirled. Without a word they ran.

Relc got there first, obviously. He saw a melee. More running people. The exact same scene with Possel had played out, only there was no Relc. A Gnoll was on the ground, getting kicked, and two more were flat out.

Including a white-scaled Drake. It looked like someone had clocked him so hard he’d just gone over. Relc saw a squad of six [Guards] blowing a whistle; the street was rumbling, but no one wanted to go up against six—no, eight—[Guards], all wearing armor and armed. Unless…

“Senior Guard. Stop.

Relc snapped as one of the [Guards] drew back to kick the Gnoll on the ground again. The angry [Guard] glanced up as Possel skidded around the corner.

“Those bastards sprayed us with sewer water!”

He bellowed. All six were soaked to some degree and he’d gotten the worst of it. He drew back his leg to kick. Relc pointed.

Stop it. Arrest them, but stop kicking them.”

The answer was a snarl. The boot came back, swung forwards—

Relc bent down, and lifted the foot up higher. The Drake went over onto his back with a crash of metal as he overbalanced.

Relc!

Possel and the other [Guards] stared at Relc. The Senior Guardsman was breathing hard, although not from the run. Here it was. Here it came.

“That’s enough. They’re under arrest for spraying sewer water on [Guards]. Do you really want to start a fight here? Look around!”

The more level-headed [Guards] looked around and saw the stares. Some of them, even Possel, realized Relc was right. A few more kicks and half the watchers might decide to stop it themselves.

“Call for a prisoner-wagon.”

One muttered. A [Guard] blew the short whistle-call and they all stood there. Staring at Relc. It was a long time before the wagon arrived, and it came with ten more [Guards].

Leave it there. Leave it there.

Relc wasn’t talking to himself. He was staring at the angriest [Guard], who was trying to wash…well, crap off him. He was so angry he couldn’t even hold the water flask without it shaking.

“We’ll load them up. Just calm down. We’ll clean up later.”

One of the [Guards] was trying to talk him down. Relc just watched as all three, including Tesy, were loaded onto the wagon. A few began to wake up. Including the [Painter].

He was like Erin after all. Because as the Drake opened his eyes and spat a bit of bloody saliva out, he looked straight at the [Guards], including the angriest one, and spoke.

“Serves you right. Full of crap on the outside, as much as the inside.”

It wasn’t even a great insult. True, it was hard to come up with that kind of thing when someone had just knocked you out—but one word would probably have been enough. One look.

The [Guard] threw down the water flask, strode over, and kicked Tesy in the stomach so hard he doubled up in the two [Guards]’s grasps. They shouted at him.

“Eisst—!”

Relc grabbed the Drake, Eisst, wrenched his arm up behind his back, and walked him into the wagon. Hard; the wood creaked. The dizzy [Guard] cried out; more like an exhalation. Relc spoke, deliberately looking past Eisst and into the air.

“You’re under arrest for violence against civilians.”

“Relc! Are you insane?

“You saw him. We don’t kick prisoners. You…”

What was it Erin used to say? ‘You have the right to remain silent? Anything you something something?’ Relc just said what he normally said.

“—You’re in trouble, buddy. Don’t resist or I get to hit you. Since that’s resisting arrest. But if you don’t resist, then I can’t hit you.”

There was a distinction. It was slight, but it was the difference between kicking Tesy if he punched you—or if he was in manacles and helpless.

Eisst, winded, swore and went to kick Relc. The [Spearmaster] slammed him into the wagon again. This time the Drake’s armor cracked the wood.

The other [Guards] went silent. They looked at Possel, one of the three Senior guards on the scene, then the Senior Guardswoman leading the prisoner-wagon. They both stared at each other, then Relc.

Senior Guardsman Relc. The [Spearmaster]. The Gecko of Liscor. Who was tossing Eisst around like he weighed nothing, armor and all. The [Guard] was trying to rip free as Relc one-handed grabbed both his wrists together and fumbled for his manacles, sighing. He couldn’t budge.

Neither one stopped Relc. In dead silence, Relc finally got the manacles free, attached them to Eisst, and spun him around.

“Do you want to get into the wagon or is this going to be shackles on the legs too?”

The [Guard] was dizzy, and he had to know it was a bad idea. He still went for a knee to Relc’s groin. Which, to be fair, was entirely in Eisst’s limited character that Relc knew from this interaction.

Relc punched him. It wasn’t a [Relc Punch] and he didn’t shout. Tesy just saw him swing a fist, almost too fast to see. Eisst sagged and Relc sighed and tossed him into the wagon, between the three now-conscious prisoners.

The Watch was dead-silent. Relc nodded.

“Let’s get them back to the Watch House and write a report. I hate reports.”

He sighed. His heart was still beating…far too fast. He saw Possel hang back. He marched with the wagon as it rolled off. It was done.

It was done—he felt his [Dangersense] going off. No, his intuition. Relc’s mind was racing. He felt sweaty. However, now and then, to stifle the fear in his heart, he glanced at Tesy.

The stupid Drake even grinned like Erin.

 

—-

 

Watch Captain Terigrals heard Relc out in silence. The Watch House was dead silent as Relc booked the still-unconscious Eisst and gave a verbal report, then sat to write one down as well.

He knew he hadn’t stopped the unrest on the streets. Even if the entire city of Cellidel heard about the incident—so what?

Relc definitely hadn’t changed the Watch. He had just made himself the biggest target. He could have told you both things were going to occur. He had known it, the moment he’d grabbed Pos’ arm.

Nothing would change, save that Relc Grasstongue was now in trouble, not the amiably-ignored outsider. He was not Erin Solstice, who could change things, even in small ways.

So why had he done it? Relc supposed it was because you had to. Or he’d never be able to walk in The Wandering Inn again, whether Erin was alive or dead.

“Relc. We need to talk. My place, after we sign out. Sundown.”

Possel called to Relc as the Drake rose. Relc glanced up at him. He nodded. He didn’t go back onto the street; Terigrals had him hold the desk instead.

 

—-

 

“Are you sure, Possel? He is the Gecko. That’s what they called him.”

Possel shrugged.

“So? Do you want to be Eisst the next time he decides he doesn’t like how we do things? We’re about to have riots and he’s throwing his weight around. Besides.”

He glanced around. There were nine Senior Guards in his private home. Possel, unlike Relc, had bought his own place. The other [Guards] were still wearing armor. They looked at each other.

It wasn’t really a debate, either. They moved to the stairs, the other rooms of the house, as Possel stood in the living room. Relc was coming. Possel waited.

And waited.

The sun went down. The Drake stood there, growing more impatient by the second. When the door’s bell—the actual bell on a hook—finally rang, he snapped.

Come in!

 

—-

 

If he was being honest, Relc did take his time. He walked the city. He had a light dinner. He thought about the future, and what he had done today, asked himself what Erin would say.

…He had no idea what she would say. He wasn’t good at coming up with new things.

Relc was not super-imaginative. He didn’t come up with crazy new ideas like putting acid flies in cookies. So, when he did come to Possel’s home two hours past sundown, he was wearing plain clothes, obviously not carrying his spear.

“Pos!”

He finally greeted the other Drake with his name. Pos smiled.

“Relc. You’re a bit late. Come in.”

Relc shrugged through the doorway. He still looked huge without his armor. Bigger than Pos, but he was smiling.

“You wanted to talk about today? Bad stuff with the [Guards].”

“Exactly. But can I get you anything to drink first? We need to talk, Relc. It seems we don’t see eye-to-eye after all.”

The Drake [Spearmaster] grinned and rolled his arm, then the other, as Possel walked towards his pantry. The living room was nice. Sofa, even a few magical trinkets—a bachelor’s place. Ah, yeah. Possel had mentioned that.

“Well, I am taller than you. No drinks. I’m gonna be quick.”

Pos laughed. The others, unseen, waited, tensed. Relc saw Possel swing around.

“The thing is, Relc—we can’t have it continue like this. You understand? Eisst has a temper. He’s a good [Guard], but he’d never make Senior Guardsman. That’s fine; you were right to stop him from killing that Gnoll. Prisoners too. But it’s the way you do it. We’re the Watch.”

“Yup. We’re the Watch. I’m Relc. You’re Pos.”

The other Drake’s grin slipped.

“I’m being serious, Relc. I want you to be serious for once in your Ancestors-damned life. Can you do that?”

Relc Grasstongue didn’t look around. He massaged his right shoulder, and nodded.

“Sure. I’m glad you asked to talk, Pos. Because listen—I was going to ask too, but my place is too cramped. I’ve been thinking.”

All Relc knew was routine. All Relc had was this: good boots, knowledge of how to swing a spear, his friends, his blacksmith puzzles, and his daughter. He didn’t know how to fix any of this.

So he just did what he’d do. The Drake scratched at the scales on one arm.

“You don’t like Gnolls that much.”

“I’m fine with—”

Pos opened his mouth. Relc shushed him.

“No, no. Hold on. I get to talk because I’m Relc. Listen. You don’t like Gnolls. I can tell. I was in the army; I’ve been to more cities than you have. Way more. You told me you never left Cellidel.”

Possel blinked. Relc actually remembered a detail about his life? He saw Relc twist his neck. Left. Right. The Drake sighed.

“Liscor has tons of Gnolls. And Antinium. And Humans, these days. Well, I wasn’t cool with Antinium because they killed my friends, but one of them is my best buddy. Or was. Humans? I didn’t know ‘em, but they’re good too. I’m still not a fan of Goblins, but hey, they don’t like me much either. It’s a work in progress.”

“Goblins? What do you mean—

Relc spoke over him, cheerfully raising his voice until Pos stopped.

“The thing is: I don’t know the other stuff. Like how you fix Cellidel. All I know is: Gnolls are fine. I was in the army. I had a Gnoll commanding officer. Gnoll buddies. Drake buddies. Sometimes we fought with Gnoll tribes. Sometimes alongside Gnoll tribes. Sometimes we had to work in cities like this. We pick up recruits from all over the place and sometimes they enlist, but they just don’t like Gnolls. Or we have to serve with another army that’s all-Drake.”

The Senior Guards were listening, confused at where he was going with this. Relc went on, and now he was looking at Pos. Grinning slightly.

“The army’s not smart. I’m not smart. So when we have a problem, we fix it. I don’t know how to change the Watch, but I do know what we do to guys who can’t handle being around Gnolls. Or beat them up.”

“And…what’s that?”

Possel stared at Relc. The Drake began cracking his knuckles. He couldn’t be serious, could he? But he was. The Drake checked the door; it was still ajar so he shut it.

“Pos, buddy. This is a Liscor-army style lesson. If you pick up a sword, I’m going to hurt you.”

Pos laughed. It was incredulous. But it seemed as Relc walked forwards that he was getting bigger. The Gecko of Liscor glanced around. The house was so silent. He looked at Pos, who was waiting. Waiting for…

His eyes flickered as Relc grinned at him.

“Their [Dangersenses] are going off. And I’m not even carrying my spear. Now, here’s a Liscorian lesson. Don’t worry. It’ll be quick. I’ve gotta sleep since I have a shift in the morning. We can’t take all night.”

He raised a fist. Pos swung first, with a shout. Relc caught the fist and the smaller Drake looked up at him.

The other Senior Guards…watched.

They just watched.

 

—-

 

The next day, Relc hummed as he went to work. He entered the silent Watch House and noted Possel wasn’t there. He was off sick.

The thing about routine was that you could flip it. There was the routine of a [Guardsman] who kept his head down and didn’t rock the boat.

But what happened if the routine was ‘deal with this one [Guard] who we can’t handle’? Well, as it happened, Relc knew that too.

The first thing you did was teach him a lesson. Generally speaking, you sorted it out in private.

Unless of course, your [Dangersense] told you that even nine-on-one, you were in trouble. And you saw one Drake hit another across a room. And they knew you were there.

It was an illustrative lesson. None of the [Guards] looked at Relc. He paused by his armor locker and opened it.

What did you do if that first one failed? Well, routine told Relc a number of ways existed. He’d seen it in the army and his job.

The second way was hazing. Tricks, pranks, and so on. He opened his locker, pulled out his pristine armor, and detached the little note from it.

Touch my armor and I will break your arms.

Relc hummed as he dressed himself. It brought him back, doing things the Liscor-army way. He hadn’t changed anything. Not changed anyone’s minds, not changed the situation…just rearranged parts of a face. It was just something you did.

Guards, fall in!

The bark came from Terigrals’ office. Relc stood to attention and marched into a line as the Watch Captain came out. With a truth stone.

“Surprise inspection. Guardswoman Aiss, do you swear that you have committed no crimes under Cellidel law, broken no Watch regulations, taken no bribes, and have not compromised your oath as a [Guard]?”

Relc stood there, ignoring the sidelong looks and expectant, vengeful glares.

If you failed with both tactics, the last step was to go up. Well—second-to-last. He heard [Guards] swearing via the truth spell, and waited until Terigrals got to him.

The Watch Captain did not look happy, but he met Relc’s gaze squarely. Why did he look disappointed? The other [Guards] all watched, even the ones already cleared as he spoke.

“Guardsman Relc. Do you swear that you have committed no crimes under Cellidel law, broken no Watch regulations, taken no bribes, and have not compromised your oath as a [Guard]?”

“Yessir.”

The truth stone glowed…gray. A darker hue than not. Not a full lie, but—the exhalation in the Watch House could have blown out a window.

Terigrals nodded. He raised his voice.

“Senior Guardsman Relc, how many incidents, to your knowledge, exist of you breaking the law or failing to uphold your oath?”

Relc thought.

“…Two, Watch Captain.”

Terigrals blinked. The stone glowed white. The Watch Captain eyed him.

“Then explain both, Senior Guardsman.”

Relc nodded.

“I saw a [Guard] continue to attack a downed criminal and failed to stop them during the armed robbery last week, Watch Captain. I also failed to speak up when an innocent kid was arrested for owning a practice spear, and got beaten bloody because of it. Those are my failings, sir, and I will accept full punishment for both.”

The entire Watch stared at the stone in Terigrals’ claw. It didn’t change color. It glowed serenely white the entire time.

Terigrals stared at the Drake.

“Nothing else, Guardsman Relc? You have not violated the law in any other way?”

Relc thought about it.

“Nossir. My conscience is as clear as a glass of water. As smooth as a Human’s ass, sir.”

Laughter. Terigrals hesitated and looked at the stone, but while it dipped into grey with the glass of water and Human’s ass comment, it was only a bit. Relc was telling the truth.

As truth stones saw it, at least.

The Watch Captain looked at Relc Grasstongue. Relc met his gaze.

“Do you have anything else you’d like to talk to me about, Watch Captain T?”

He asked innocently. Terigrals met his gaze. Relc waited. The Watch waited, uncertain of what came next.

Routine, you old Drake. If Terigrals acknowledged Pos, it meant he also knew that nine Senior Guards had waited to ambush one of their own. And if he did—the Watch Captain hesitated.

The truth stone was glowing in his claw. Relc stared at it, then Terigrals. Say something. I dare you.

“No, Senior Guardsman Relc. That will be all.”

Terigrals hid the stone before it turned dark. Relc saw it, even so.

 

—-

 

The end. Hold for applause. An extra drink on the house and spaghetti! If Relc was telling a story to Erin, that’s what would happen next.

But here, he just marched out the door. The Watch did not fall on their knees and swear to never work with bias again. The truth stone did not come to life and start reflecting their lies in how they conducted themselves.

What did happen was that Relc left the Watch House alone. Somehow, Terigrals forgot to assign him a partner. No one else mentioned it.

What happened at the last, in the army, in the Watch, wherever, was that if all else failed, then out came the knives. Not actual knives, although Relc had slept with his back to the wall, like the old days. The last part of the anti-routine was this:

They left you alone.

Alone. Not just on the job, not just in talking, but alone alone. In battle, when you were shoulder-to-shoulder with your fellow [Soldiers], there was the gap. If you blew your whistle while you were in danger—no one came.

That was how you died. Yet Relc had known that plenty of times. That was what the Gecko of Liscor did. He charged ahead of the other [Soldiers], alone, into enemy ranks, fought, and escaped.

He could survive that. He could survive riots. His life hadn’t been in danger. Something else had been.

 

—-

 

When the first crowds gathered in defiance of the city’s ordinances, the Watch cracked down. There were counter-protests, which was really people angry at the angry people, ready to fight.

None of it was particularly unique in Cellidel, even with Sellme. This was the beginning. It was going to get worse. Citizens in Cellidel had weapons. The Watch had training and experience, even Skills designed to fight criminals.

However, when they stood in a line in the street, facing down an angry crowd ten times their size, a hundred, that was when the Watch was most terrified. They braced as stones came their way; if arrows flew, they would charge. For now it was changing; the citizens weren’t angry enough yet. Not yet, but it just took a spark.

The Watch might be that spark. They were nervous. Of course they wanted to do something, make an example of someone, disperse the crowd by force before it could get larger. It wouldn’t work, but they were nervous.

They saw how outnumbered they were. How, if it really came down to it, even the Gnoll population in the city, minority though they were, had the Watch outnumbered. What kind of [Guard] could face down so many angry enemies and handle it?

Well, that would be the Senior Guardsman who stopped down his street as a crowd came his way. No line of [Guards] here. They saw one [Guard], and started shouting. He turned to look at them.

The Gecko of Liscor. [Spearmaster]—

For a second they wavered. That one Drake was looking at them without fear. With eyes like an [Innkeeper], or a [Veteran] of larger wars. His grip tightened on his spear—

Then Relc blinked. He shook his head, lowered the weapon, and looked around.

“Hold on.”

He looked at the crowd, and then sidled over to something. The people saw him edge over to a terrified vendor trying to pack up their stall. Relc waved at him, tried to hold a conversation—gave up. He plunked down some copper, and took the cheap wooden bowl of noodles spiced hot. He began to slurp them down. Then he walked forwards.

“Hey, Senior Guardsman Relc here. Best [Guardsman] in Cellidel. Can I help you all? There’s some kind of law about gatherings, but I don’t see the point. So long as you don’t smash anything or anyone, we’re cool. Cool? These noodles are great, by the way.”

He looked around. Some of the people in the crowd laughed; others stared at him suspiciously.

“What are you going to do about the people murdering Gnolls? Didn’t you see the latest Sellme drawing?”

One of them shouted. Relc waved a fork back.

“If you mean whoever killed that guy a day ago—I’ll investigate. Where was it?”

The speaker went silent, confused, but the acquiescence didn’t fly. It was just a [Guard], trying to calm them down. The crowd rumbled. Then someone focused on Relc.

“Hold on. Look. That’s the Drake that’s teaching the spear.”

Some of the Gnolls recognized him. Relc nodded. He waited. The fact that they knew him was probably because his patrols had never ended that badly. Or he knew Vok. Or maybe Sellme’s latest painting had a strikingly similar Drake arresting another [Guard], who was trying to hit a bunch of downed civilians.

Even so, if they went for him, Relc was going to…run away. So fast they’d never catch up, even if there was a City Runner in the mix. If they didn’t, he’d look into that murder.

They didn’t attack him. It might have been the fact that Relc was eating from a bowl of noodles, or the way he talked to them, with a different city’s approach.

Maybe it was just the badge. It gleamed on his armored chest.

Senior Guardsman Relc, Liscor’s Watch.

The piece of metal had never looked so fitting. Never seemed so important before. But then, it fit Relc today more than other days. He had been a [Senior Guardsman] for a long time, but he’d been surprisingly low-level for the position.

Below Level 20, if you could believe it. Zevara and the previous Watch Captain had made an exception for a Level 30+ [Spearmaster]. However, Relc had leveled painfully slowly in the class, even if you took his other classes into account.

Today, the former Level 18 [Senior Guardsman] stood and talked, listening to the crowd and the way the city waited. It wouldn’t be long. He also doubted he could stop it. The Watch wasn’t changing. Relc wasn’t smart enough to change their routine. A single Relc fist could only punch one person at a time, as amazing as he was.

Nevertheless, the badge shone. With trust. Such that even those citizens of Cellidel, Gnolls and Drakes, who didn’t know Relc, saw it. It was a Skill only for a [Guard], who needed it.

[Wear My Integrity]. A capstone Skill, along with another for a [Guardsman of Trust].

But what it really meant was different. Relc had once told Erin Solstice that a Senior Guard was special because they couldn’t just get the job. They had to have enough people willing to vouch for them. Hundreds.

A [Guard] was not a [Soldier]. The badge meant trust. If you didn’t have that, you weren’t a [Guard]. With it, he could do his job. You didn’t run away, even if you were alone, because someone was counting on you.

Relc Grasstongue kept the peace alone, where it went badly on other streets. The next day, martial law was declared.

 

—-

 

It was going to get worse. Watch Captain Zevara kept glancing at the reports from Cellidel. She sat in her office, checking over Calruz’s work reports, the army’s growing needs, and every other aspect of her job.

Wing Commander Embria had been by again, to make a personal appeal. Watch Captain Zevara normally resented that, but she had let it all slide because she agreed.

Cellidel. Why had she sent him there? She’d thought it was just crime, but this? Riots between Gnolls and Drakes. She didn’t have to double-check Relc’s claims. She believed what she was reading.

So. Why then was this the letter that sat on her desk? Watch Captain Zevara had written back; she recalled the letter, verbatim.

 

To Senior Guardsman Relc,

Effective immediately, you are recalled to Liscor on my authority as Watch Captain of Liscor. Watch Captain Terigrals has approved the transfer and you may proceed with your own transportation, or arrangements via the Merchant’s Guild.

–Zevara, Watch Captain

 

She wanted to add that any of Terigrals’ notes wouldn’t stick in his record. That she would have his badge if she could manage it, and that she wanted him back and his return was with honors as far as she saw it. He could give a full accounting then.

However. The letter sat on her desk, clumsily written—sent via City Runner days ago. That was then. He had to know what the city looked like, what the Watch was made of. Nevertheless.

 

Dear Watch Captain Zevara,

I, Relc Grasstongue, amazing Senior Guardsman, must respectfully decline to return to Liscor at this time. I believe Cellidel needs a Senior Guard who doesn’t have his tail up his ass. When it’s over, I’ll come back. I can help out here, a bit. Respectfully,

–Relc, [Guardsman of Trust]. (See? I leveled up!)

 

She smiled as she read it again. Was this really Relc? It couldn’t be. Then again—she sat back.

“I need a Street Runner to find Wing Commander Embria. Tell her it’s a personal matter. Correspondence.”

One of the [Guards] working desk-duty shouted back.

“Is it Relc? Is that idiot finally getting his tail back over here? We miss him!”

Zevara hesitated. Then she smiled.

“That’s Senior Guardsman Relc to you, Jeiss! No. He’s got an assignment to finish. We’ll hold his locker. Now. Get back to work!

 

 

 

 

Author’s Note: This is the Relc-chapter. It is not all of the Relc-chapter, as you can see. I actually managed to not get to 30k this time.

More importantly, it’s a different Relc-chapter from when I first came up with it. I hope it’s good. I’m planning on taking my break after next chapter.

Yes, I know. The vaccine was a ‘break’, but it sucked. I’m still not fully-rested from the village-Horns raid, so I feel like we need a quiet chapter for once. Will that happen? We’ll see, but rest matters for chapters like these.

So much going on. Situational stories. Drama, violence, Relc. That’s Volume 8 for you, but it’s also about pacing. I’m fighting to keep a balance, but I hope you like your side story! Once I have my rest, I’ll come back with more ambition! More energy!

One more chapter for now. Thanks for reading!

 

Ryoka’s Flight by LightResonance, commissioned by pirateaba!

 


Previous Chapter Next Chapter

149 thoughts on “Interlude – Senior Guardsman Relc

  1. “They were on the lower floors, going up, but some had climbed higher and one was on the foruth floor, tearing into a room with a few children inside and no adults”

    Should be fourth, I believe

  2. [Trustworthy Guardsman]? Very close to current but easier on the tongue, simple, solid, and good like Relic or his routines, and could both emphasize its value, and give room, the means, and reason to grow and level?

    • Actually, I’ve been dying to see an [Urban-Knight] for a while. Maybe the Gentlemen with Lyonette would be better “suited”, or maybe a latter, higher-class or consolidation for Relc. But if Rabbit-Eater could get a [Knight-Erant] class, something like it isn’t too far out. Also, funny.

  3. [Guardsman of Trust] is good, but doesnt quite hit it. To reflect him going from a passive to an acrive role? [Guardian of Trust]. Guard thing, sure. But by speaking out and actively seeking change, no matter how small, he’s preserving the public trust in his class. Plus it dovetails into helping kids and protection people.

  4. [Guardsmen of Trust fits really well for where Relc is at. The big question is what he gets if he advances in it enough to consolodate one of his other classes.

    [Spear of Justice]

  5. [True Senior Guardsman].

    I think there’s some room for fun narrative names here, but I don’t think that’s the right call when a very real issue is being brought to focus. The theme of truth also comes up a number of times to Relc throughout this chapter. Within the world of Innworld, I think the concept of someone being objectively declared ‘true’ would provide a good challenge for the ‘antagonists’ in this situation.

  6. It’s obvious. [Just Watchman]. It can feel plain, yes, but when you realize there’s two meanings to it…

  7. I knew I missed Relc but I didn’t realise how much I missed him intill now.
    It’s also nice to see him grow up even more, he’s been slowly getting there but it’s nice to see him realise it it himself.

  8. Hmm ok as a class consolidation if he levels in spear, and the others then
    Master Watch Sergeant of Trust
    Or if not in spear then
    Spearmaster Watch Sergeant of Trust
    You could also drop Trust and use another word or move it. But this form allows for a bit of class consolidation. Aaaand Relc could finally…. get his official… [Relc Punch!]?

  9. I like [Guardsman of Trust] generally, but is it truly fitting after his involvement the Golden Triangle incident in Liscor?

  10. I like the honorable or honor bound variety of suggestions. Although, I think it would be in keeping with his character and the best gift for his character (and fans) to become an [Awesome Senior Guardsman].
    I have personally never cared for Relic but this chapter made me like him. Not love him but maybe a step in that direction. I think it was the way he dealt with grief, that resembles my own, that made me feel a connection.

  11. I love how much Relc’s grown through this series despite only being a small supporting character. Looking forward to him and Erin meeting again

  12. I really like the view into Relc’s mind. Though I kind of have an issue picturing the big drake(despite all the great art), Klbkch is kind of easier.

    Thank you Pirate.

  13. [Trustworthy Senior Guardsman] is my vote. He’s not losing the senior. And a Guardsman of trust to me seams more about what people think of him and less about who he actually is.

    Adding trustworthy makes it seem more about who he is. Whether you currently trust him or not doesn’t change the fact that he IS trustworthy

  14. Relc is halfway through a mid-life super hero origin story. He’s so focused on being a better person and protecting people. He’s going to show up back in Liscor right before a mysterious masked drake with a spear starts fighting crime

  15. Sort of feel like the “system” should reward Erin, since her state is currently beyond death, and she is affecting world events despite being currently unable to affect the world.

    That said, the system might’ve been trying to reach her, which might end up breaking through to the realm of the dead…
    Interesting times indeed.

    • I’m anticipating that she may level up a few times when she’s finally resurrected, but not until then.

      • Bird will be so happy when Magical Witch Innkeeper Erin wakes up and her Inn goes all Baba Yaga’s hut on them.

  16. This was a fun chapter. Nice to see someone using their power for the sake of the oppressed. The system doesn’t run so smoothly if someone is determined to have it their own way.

  17. Someone’s been reading Pratchett’s Nightwatch, I see. It’s a new and good take on the same problem though.

    Good Chapter.

  18. So i saw this in here and well…

    ‘Sweat gleamed on his scales.’

    Along with other things… I probably have been reading stuff like this for the whole series and not realized.

    So my question is how can someone with scales sweat? I’m sure this question was probably answered in vol 1 but I think it may possibly be a waste of time. So here i am.

    Also loved the chapter and can’t wait to see more of Relc! As always stay awesome.

  19. Ha, of course the [Painter] would be a “blank canvas” (white scales)! Well, either that or rainbow-scaled.

    No wonder even notdetective Relc managed to figure it out so early! I like this, it would have felt ridiculous if it took him until he literally saw the [Painter] in action.

    • Also, another bit of ‘modern’ stories leaking into the world since the ritual that brought the earthers over. Sellme / Banksy, Yvlon literally going through the intro to Skyrim. Just a little wink wink to the readers, or something… more?

  20. If Relc gets a few more levels and a class up and Ryoka shows up – we could have [Commissioner] Relc Grasstongue and Batman cleaning up Cellidel city.

    • Oh lawd that’d be a sight to read I’m sure, but at the same time I feel it wouldn’t quite fit in with Innworld.

  21. And Kasigna couldn’t understand why Erin was chosen! She’s going to be personally responsible for inspiring more heroes than the ritual itself!

  22. Thank you for the chapter!!

    When I first saw that it was going to be a Relc chapter at first I wasn’t really that excited, but when I actually got to reading it, I really enjoyed it.

    My favourite part, I laughed the most on this part:

    “This is the fourth time! I am going to lodge a complaint at the blah blah angry angry threat! If you don’t threat, I’ll Senior Guardsman do something!”

    “Oh yeah? Well I’m in the Transportation Guild and I blah blah your face blah insult, Senior Guardsman, take my side!”

Leave a Reply to Taku saka Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s