Interlude – Singing Ships

(I am on break until the 28th for Patrons! I’ll post one more chapter of Volume 9 then, and the side story poll. Don’t let me forget the poll.)

 

Lamont was not a superstitious man. He was Scottish, but he was not Christian, though he’d been to church quite a lot growing up. He was ‘old’ and ‘experienced’ in that he’d not only reached the age of twenty-three, but managed to find work on fishing vessels as a deckhand.

That was the kind of tough work that ranged from delightful days to ones where you worked twenty-four hours without sleep before passing out in a bunk as the waves rocked the boat up and down and sent everything not tied down flying. A young person’s job, and Lamont had been doing it since he was sixteen, albeit not always deckhand work.

He knew the sea, which was probably why he’d become a [Sailor] and actually gained sixteen levels before Wistram found him. Although, Lamont would happily compare his experience on this world’s ships to modern vessels all day. Not always drawbacks!

Oh, the mundane ones sucked. They were smaller, far slower, and, given this world’s dodgy relationship with the sciences, sometimes lacked for hygiene or basic nutrition. The [Captains] sometimes knew about scurvy or good diets—sometimes they had a Skill. That was why it was so inconsistent, and Lamont had learned after a short voyage on a rat and lice-infested ship to check out the captain and crew.

His first five months in this world before being found had been a wild, fun ride, as terrifying and desperate as some moments had been, like realizing he had no way back. The magic had made up for it. His first ride in a real, magical ship where the food was preserved—the [Cook] could make a dish that tasted like your favorite food from home, and he got to see a Treant—those were the best times in Lamont’s life.

Wistram—had not been as fun. At first it had been a magical experience, but Lamont had realized they were trapped sooner than most. He had fallen into boredom until he took to reading, practicing magic, and sailing around Wistram’s bubble of calm.

Thus, he fit into the ‘old’, ‘experienced’, ‘high-level’, and ‘non-religious’ camps of Wistram’s Earthers. If you had to give him a label, those were some of his. And, oh, Wistram loved sorting the Earthers. Lamont at 23 was older than average for most Earthers, and he’d gained more than ten levels in a single class.

That was something of an anomaly. A lot of Earthers had been grabbed very quick, so the ‘first wave’, which Lamont may have been part of, or the second one, had either leveled up or…died. The point was, he had been considered a valuable asset, and some of his time in Wistram had been just talking ships and modern nautical experiences with the [Mages].

Few had spent a lot of time with Lamont. Most wanted to know more about grander technology. Some of the smart ones in Lamont’s opinion were keenly interested in the advances of shipbuilding and sea exploration, but most wanted to either work on Saif’s gun, build an airplane or the internet, or see if they could create crème brûlée. They got really disappointed when they figured out it was just burnt custard.

That was why Lamont was glad he’d escaped Wistram. They’d lost a lot of Earthers, yes, and he was shaken by Troy being the King of Destruction’s servant. Not that he knew the guy, but Troy had been from London, and he’d seemed quite nice—they’d swapped a few hours of talk.

However, despite it all, Lamont was now on a seafaring vessel, Sorecue, and Shadeward Doroumata, one of the most respected Drowned Folk [Mages], was their new guardian. The other Earthers were apprehensive—Lamont was as well, but he felt free.

He felt that tingle in his fingers and the shiver in his spine as he stood on the deck of Sorecue. That alone earned him approving looks from the crew. A lot of Earthers didn’t dare do it, even three weeks into their voyage. In fact, they had been so noisy—by Drowned Folk standards—that Doroumata had ordered them to sail just below the surface of the waves, like ‘landfolk’ vessels.

Drowned Folk law. Lamont hadn’t crewed with them before going to Wistram, and few of their own went to the Academy of [Mages], but he knew more than most. They only took their own kind on board their vessels. Not just because they were discriminating—they sailed in the depths, below the water, with magical shields, and visited Drowned Folk settlements. Even Storm Sailors might not see one in their lifetime.

Drowned Folk vessels sailed for Drowned Folk. Some were [Pirates], but they protected their own. The landfolk could be enemies or friends, but they were different.

In the deep, the Drowned Vessels belonged only to those who had taken the Gift of the Sea—trading half their body to become part fish. If the magical barriers surrounding Sorecue failed, the water barely a dozen feet from Lamont’s face, pressing against the pale green barrier, would implode, and Lamont was fairly certain he’d be dead if Doroumata didn’t do something.

Only a Drowned Person could survive that. Although…Lamont had heard that when Drowned Ship shields imploded deep underwater, the survival ratio was virtually nil either way.

Anyways. That was where he was. But what…Lamont looked around. What did he see? And why did he clasp his hands together, like his father had shown him how to do, and the old words of a prayer spring to his lips?

If they could have prayed, perhaps the [Depth Sailors] might have too. They stood on the deck, looking out into a light green world. Far below, the waters turned dark and murky.

Everywhere Lamont looked, back, forwards, the waters surrounded him. A terror—even for an experienced [Sailor] like him—seized a part of Lamont’s heart.

The water had no end. He could see perfectly through it until the world just turned…black. They sailed through the sea, and so the ‘ceiling’ was the watery sky, which separated them from the air, the real sky. But the deep abyss below them had no end to it that Lamont could see.

Down, down, down…when they had first escaped Wistram, they had dove so deep that the light of the water began to vanish. Then—they had been sailing through an absolute black world pierced only by faint movement, strange witch-light, and the illumination spells Doroumata cast.

They’d had to surface when Sidney and a number of the Earther guests had begun freaking out. Like every Drowned Ship, Sorecue operated in almost complete silence. It was their laws:

 

Make no sound about the watch. 

Maintain the bubble.

Listen not to the whispers.

Douse every light.

 

…Among others. The crew was used to it, but the Earthers couldn’t handle it. Swimming through a sea of blackness without light or speaking?

Depth Magus Doroumata had cloaked their vessel in silence spells, so the danger was less about talking than the Earthers’ health. She’d ordered the [Captain], the silent Toriegh, to rise until they could see the surface.

That helped. Now, Lamont could admire the wonderland of the ocean around him. He’d see schools of fish swimming around the ship, sometimes caught in drifting nets put out for supplies, or seaweed, but the real sights were when it was a storm and he saw water lashing around the magical bubble. Or when the light from the sky turned the water orange or yellow, or when some creatures passed by—a trio of sharks with algae for teeth or seahorses curiously trying to probe the magical barrier.

All of it was beautiful, and Lamont had quite enjoyed gaining the Drowned Crew’s grudging respect and friendship. They were bored out of their minds from months of sitting and waiting for Doroumata to conclude their business at Wistram, so they were talkative off-duty. Still, Lamont had begun to chafe, and the other Earthers had long since passed into impatience by this point.

Until the day when Fetohep of Khelt stormed across Chandrar and took Izril by storm. Until the days when every great nation called the alarm, and Sorecue, the Earthers, Doroumata, and the crew bore witness to strange happenings in the deep.

[Messages] from every Drowned city, raising the alarm. Doroumata had begun to steer them into the deeps, but then waited—waited and prepared the crew for battle with Seamwalkers, the horrors that [Sailors] whispered of—or worse.

She had waited for armageddon, and it had never come. But other things…had.

Ghost ships passing through the waters. A Drowned Woman’s ghost stepping onto the ship as Doroumata hesitated, then knelt. Lamont’s blood chilled with delight and terror at the memories.

“Revelation.”

A Drowned Boy [Deckhand], swabbing the decks with an actual mop, glanced up at Lamont. He had no context for Lamont’s use of the word. Religion was…not something this world really had.

It felt like that to Lamont. Revelation. The end of everything. Ghosts coming back, the great war between Drakes and Gnolls? He’d seen it on the scrying orb. But the greatest event—

Ah. Lamont recalled the moment when the water had split. Just a hairline fracture across the water itself, then a shockwave. Then the earthquake that perhaps had been felt as far as Baleros and Chandrar.

The greatest ghosts of Gnolls had split Izril. Split Izril—then, as Lamont felt and saw the earth torn in twain, raised new lands. Lamont had borne witness to the earth rising, undersea mountains breaking the surf and rising in the distance.

Izril had grown. The south of the continent had changed, and an entirely new land had been created. If that were not the stuff of fantasy and legend—Lamont had no words for the rest.

Wonders. Horrors. Premonitions. This world had changed, and Lamont knew it would never be the same. So he stood on the deck with the Drowned Crew and watched. It was [Depth Captain] Toriegh who broke the silence at last. In the bright emerald waters that had cleared of silt and dust at last, they looked…into the changed world.

“Dead gods. Kraken’s Pass is gone.”

The Drowned Folk looked at each other uneasily. Lamont shivered as he looked down into one of the death areas of the sea—where Krakens infested the huge valley that ships had to cross or skirt for hundreds upon hundreds of miles. It ran from Izril’s south across much of the ocean.

Now—it had collapsed. No—the stone and rock had shifted such that the ‘pass’ was no longer a single, connected cut in the earth. It had closed, the wound in the ground sealed in this place.

“The sea is changed forever. Kraken’s Pass has been closed. Across the world, other ships report the same. They…the Gnolls have altered the currents. Igawiz’s Jet is confirmed to have vanished or changed where it was. Tides are altered.”

Depth Magus Doroumata was, as ever, shrouded in veils of darkness. The old half-starfish woman sat surrounded by her identical daughters, each with the same face, all as pale as the moonlight. All surrounded by darkness magic, which protected the Drowned Folk in the deeps.

Her hand was shriveled, but her eyes gleamed deep violet with power as she spoke. Captain Toriegh started and looked away to bow briefly.

“As they would be, aye. A new land changes all. But the Krakens have lost their home. I beg leave to keep moving, Depth Magus. They’ve surely stirred, and Sorecue could not handle even a new spawn.”

The [Depth Magus] nodded slowly, and one of her daughters whispered as the crew shuddered.

“Fear not, Sorecue’s own. Even Krakens cannot see us so easily. We had to see. Each ship in two thousand miles is in danger. The Krakens might abandon their home or fight. Surely they wake and move.”

Toriegh spat. Not onto his deck, but off the prow of the ship. It passed through the magical bubble and vanished into the water. Lamont watched with fascination as the [Captain] looked around.

“Direr and direr still, aye. [First Mate], take us forwards as the Shadeward bid. On her course—slowly. All eyes, watchful.”

The crew dispersed, but many stayed on the railings, looking about and peering into the darkness. Lamont saw one of Doroumata’s daughters conferring with the [First Mate], a half-eel Drowned Man.

It was Doroumata who Lamont watched, though. She seemed…concerned. As one might after the end of the world had not happened—or might have, and they had all survived. Fetohep of Khelt had gone home and told everyone that the Seamwalker threat was reduced. That Khelt had managed to hold back the end, but he had refused to elaborate.

He was in consultation with many, many powers, and five days after the events at Izril had ended and everyone had gone home, people were figuring out what to do next. What did it mean? What had they been told?

As for Lamont, it seemed the question was now this: what would happen to the Earthers in the Drowned Folk’s care? He saw Doroumata slowly swing around to him as she turned, and her eyes seemed to glitter from beneath a face in darkness.

He shuddered. If only she didn’t look so creepy, he could believe this was purely a good thing. But did it beat Wistram? For now—for him—yes.

It was better than the Drakes, of whom Lamont had a low opinion. It beat Wistram now that Eldavin was dead. It probably beat sailing off with the King of Destruction and going to Chandrar, especially if the horror stories he’d heard from Sidney applied to everywhere there. But not all Earthers felt that way.

 

——

 

“Lamont! What did they say?”

Belowdecks of the Sorecue was completely different from above. The decks of a Drowned Folk vessel were dark. They had a lot of similarities to landfolk ships—deck, railings, even masts and sails for when they needed to sail above the waters.

However, Drowned Folk decks were austere; you only went above to keep the watch, fight for your ship, or disembark. They were thus dark most of the time, since they wanted to attract no notice when diving amidst monsters, and as silent as the grave.

Belowdecks, Drowned Folk had more vibrant, if hushed, lives. All the padding and finery was here, and each ship had some rooms devoted to entertainment along with the regular ones for rest and necessary business and so on.

The Earthers had been granted access to one such area just for them to gather and speak in. Sorecue was vast enough that it had several, and the crew were a bit unhappy to cede one, but it was for the best.

Especially because the Earthers had played havoc in the gardens. Drowned Folk apparently loved bonsai and other such plants, so each crewmember had a berth where they could grow anything they wanted. Plucking fruits off the delicate masterpieces and removing a few leaves had been…bad.

The card lounge was likewise too important for the crew’s happiness to give up; although, they had turned over two magical card decks.

Which was why the Earthers relaxing in their scrying orb lounge and pub were also playing cards. It was fairly funny to see Sidney, a fourteen year-old girl, playing serious cards with a stack of silver and bronze coins against Haley. Three weeks had made cardsharps out of everyone.

Lamont sat down and was dealt into a variant of poker of this world. Someone offered him a glass of scented water, and he took it.

“They were still checking out Kraken’s Pass. Amazing stuff—the entire landscape’s been pressed in, like someone just pushed the earth together. Apparently there’s all kinds of geological changes, right? So we’re moving on now, and I guess we’re sticking to the plan. Whatever it is. You should go up and take a look. It’s absolutely amazing.”

“Um. No. No…I don’t think so.”

Haley looked up from her cards and turned slightly green at the suggestion. She was one of the Earthers who’d had a violently claustrophobic reaction to being trapped in a giant bubble surrounded by water. The [Squire] put down her cards as Sidney pushed six silver coins into the center.

“Six silver. Double decks?”

“Pass.”

“Pass.”

“Hell no.”

Malia glared at one of the players, who rolled their eyes. Sidney wasn’t affected by the foul language. Lamont glanced around the room and saw most of the Earthers were present.

Of the Earthers who’d been ‘rescued’ from Wistram, the most notable were possibly Sidney; the young girl who’d lost her family; Malia, the [Thought Healer] who’d stuck with her; Sang-min, the Terandrian [Mercenary] who’d actually had a successful career; Lamont, the [Sailor]; Caroline, the [Romance Writer]; and Haley, the [Squire].

There were a lot more Earthers, but many didn’t stand out in a huge way. Especially not like Troy Atwood did in hindsight, or Flynn or Elena. On the whole, though? It was certainly a huge victory for the Drowned Folk by certain metrics. They had gone from zero Earthers to three dozen. All accounts said that the Drakes had gotten away with similar numbers.

Whether or not that mattered was up for debate. The Earthers’ knowledge of their world was varied but inconsistent, and it wasn’t always helpful. Then again, the Drowned Folk might have completely different perspectives than Wistram had on what mattered.

“Are we going to go to a Drowned City? Or just keep sailing around until we grow gills? Are they going to make us Drowned Folk?”

The Earther who’d sworn was Caroline, and she was noticeably stressed. She had already had a rough go of it, like Sidney, and Lamont understood she was from Baleros. She’d survived a battlefield, kidnapping, and later rescue by Wistram. But all the Earthers nodded as they frowned at Lamont, as if he were defending the Drowned Folk.

Which he was, a bit. Lamont sighed gustily as he placed a magic card down. Instantly, it switched with one of Sidney’s, and he brightened up. Oho, three-of-a-kind.

Lamooont!

She complained and tossed her cards down. Lamont tossed in two more silver coins, smiling. Magical cards were a lot more fun than regular ones.

“Listen, we were on course to get to Shadeward Doroumata’s vessel, the, um, Nombernaught, right? It stands to reason that we got distracted by the disasters around the world. We’re close. I can’t say how much, but we don’t want to sail into a Kraken with the world jumbled up.”

“Fair, but what are we going to do there? End up as prisoners a second time? I don’t want to trade Wistram for…underwater life.”

Haley complained, fidgeting with the sword she’d kept from Terandria. She would have been, like Elena, Lamont, and a few others, the ‘restless’ group who had not wanted to be stuck in Wistram at all. She had been training as a [Knight] until Wistram had found and yanked her.

Lamont shrugged as he showed his cards then collected the silver.

“Can’t say. But Doroumata hasn’t said we’re going to be prisoners, has she? She said we’d be freer.”

One of the Earthers not playing cards looked up from reading a book. He put a finger between the pages and spoke with a slightly accented tone.

“Said. Hasn’t proven. And Wistram said a lot of things too.”

Everyone turned to Sang-min, the [Mercenary]. He looked at Lamont, and the [Sailor] put up his hands.

“Got me there, Sang-min. You’re right. But I’m saying…we are out of Wistram, right? Just like Elena wanted?”

“Sure. And where’s she? I think this was all that bastard Troy’s plan.”

Another Earther drawled with his feet up on a table. He raised a mug grumpily.

“We got out, but I think we’re just split up. At least Wistram had magic and more space than a ship. So we get to see the sea. Hurrah. Here’s to the new captors. Same as the old ones. How d’you say that in Latin? I think that’s an expression.”

The room fell silent again, and Lamont saw Sidney’s face fall as she shuffled the deck. He saw a few Earthers look up from the scrying orb and then down again.

“Come on, now.”

That was all he could say. Sidney’s lip was trembling dangerously, and she looked around the generous lounge…that they’d been stuck in for three weeks. No windows—no light that could travel to the outside. A box in the sea. Lamont hoped she wouldn’t start crying. Not for him, but because someone might snap back at her, and then he’d have to slap a head or two.

Thankfully, no one did, and the mood in the room returned to the strained amiability Lamont was used to.

In truth, he got it. The others didn’t know what was happening. But what was more worrisome was that Doroumata, who had gone toe-to-toe with Eldavin and was clearly some kind of super-mage from the Drowned Folk—even she didn’t know what was going on.

The crew was nervous. This wasn’t a no-name ship. Sorecue had been poised to surface and go to Khelt’s aid if they’d needed it. They’d been preparing to fight what Lamont understood were giant, horrific monsters if they appeared near a Drowned city.

Yet here they were. Here the world was. The worst had happened, and they were here. An…ending had come, and they had missed it. A great war was over, and Lamont thought that he had only seen part of it at Ailendamus and the Great Plains.

What happened next?

 

——

 

The answer was, in part, the question.

What had happened to Izril? From the Walled Cities to the remaining Gnoll tribes to other nations, everyone had seen the ghosts appear. Maybe they hadn’t witnessed all of it, but they’d seen Izril crack then increase in size. So…exactly how much land had just appeared?

The answer was unexpectedly hard to get. For one thing—scrying spells could show a vast amount of land, especially if you anchored them high.

“It turns out we cannot—cannot anchor them high enough. And our coordinate-based system seems to, ah, have completely failed in this case, Sir Relz. So this is a very exciting time.”

The broadcast that Lamont and the Earthers were half-watching was going over the events in the Gnoll Plains for the umpteenth time. What was more interesting was that Sir Relz was right now interviewing a Drake [Mage] patiently explaining the problem.

“I’m hearing you right, Tobeis? Can’t you just, ah, shift the [Scrying] spell left a bit?”

“Um…no, Sir Relz.”

The Drake gave Sir Relz the same kind of look and tone as a [Farmer] might when asked if he could just move his field left slightly. He clarified after a second.

“That’s theoretically possible, Sir Relz, but it requires a rather complete understanding of the—the geography and, er, world itself. Part of coordinate-based divination is that we can’t just throw scrying spells into the earth. If that were so, we’d just locate every dungeon below us in a straight line and do that—it’s not practical.”

“I see. I see. So you’re, er, more like tossing a dart at random. You need to know what you’re aiming at.”

The Drake seemed gratified by the explanation.

“Exactly! And let me tell you, there’s a lot more places that don’t exist than there are that exist. We’re surrounded by nothingness—coordinate-wise.”

“Um. We are?”

The existential dread of being a single mote in a void of oblivion was glossed over with a wave of the Drake’s claw.

“So, um, the point is we can anchor the scrying spells fairly high up, but it’s just not an option.”

“So what are we doing to explore this new land?”

For answer, the Drake just pointed, and the scrying orb switched to show a Drake Oldblood flying high above.

“We are mapping this new area with eyes in the sky. It seems to be—amazingly vast. That we cannot even guess as to how much land has arisen suggests the Great Plains may have…doubled. Or tripled in size.”

Sir Relz leaned forwards slowly.

Did you just say ‘tripled’ the Great Plains?

“Only speculation, Sir Relz.”

“Ah, but I like it. You heard it here first, people! The Great Plains have tripled in size! Now, I see a ship’s deck behind you. What’s this about?”

The [Mage], Tobeis, seemed to be regretting his words. He tried to choose them more carefully.

“…In accordance with the need for fliers, we need [Cartographers] and, well, everything. But the Walled Cities have sent scouting fleets around the exterior of this landmass, as that is the most practical way to do so quickly. I understand land-based expeditions are being prepared, but we believe it may be safest to maneuver via the coast for now.”

“Safest? How dangerous are you suggesting this new land might be?”

Tobeis hesitated.

“There could be anything, Sir Relz. These were underwater lands, so we are cautiously suggesting this may be the sunken sixth continent in part. Unearthed dungeons? It could be anything, so I’m not saying—

“The Sixth Continent? You heard it here first, people. If you’re just tuning in, it might not be the 6th Continent—what was it called? But it could be—

At this point, Sang-min tossed a coaster at the scrying orb, and it bounced off the enchanted glass.

“What a fool. He is lying.”

Sidney had flinched at the sudden movement, and Sang-min gave her a concerned look as Malia patted the girl’s hand. Haley rolled her eyes and nodded, glaring at the Drakes.

“No journalism…standards. You know? They’re not even saying the obvious; I bet they want to claim the land first. Drakes.”

She said that without having met more than a portion at Wistram—but everyone was beginning to get what that meant. Lamont nodded, but thoughtfully.

“I just bet there are other nations doing the same, though. Not just Izril. I mean…it’s new land. Wouldn’t everyone want that?”

He scowled around the table, and Depth Magus Doroumata nodded.

Yes. Chandrar is mobilizing fleets too. Terandria, Baleros—every nation will be interested. Who arrives is different. This is a game of time. But tell me…why does that Drake upset you? What is ‘journalism’? Not writing in a journal?”

Lamont stared into a face full of less wrinkles than he thought, and half of her gaze was rough and her flesh turned to more like spikes—a starfish’s ridged exterior. He leapt out of his seat, tripped, and Sidney screamed.

Doroumata saved Lamont from slamming into the wooden floor with a finger that halted his fall. He got up, and Sidney’s shriek turned to a whisper as the [Depth Mage] captured the sound.

A teardrop of quivering liquid hung on her finger, eating the oaths and exclamations from around the room. She let it fall, and then the room went silent.

“I apologize, children.”

“How did you—? I didn’t see you—!”

Caroline nearly fell out of her seat. Doroumata simply smiled.

“I move around my ship where I please. It is a valuable Skill for old bones. I intended to speak with you all. What is ‘journalism’?”

Lamont got up shakily as Haley took her hand off her sword. Then, and only then, did two of Doroumata’s daughters walk into the room along with the [Captain]. They stopped, nodded around, and offered refreshments—the fish cake snacks that Drowned Folk made to preserve catches.

No one wanted any, and so Lamont found himself sitting as Sidney, Haley, Caroline, and Sang-min joined him at the table. Sidney’s fairly justified fear of many things actually dissipated a bit around Doroumata. The old woman made the girl sit next to her, and despite Malia’s worries, Sidney looked reassured.

“You sleep better, child? I told you—no creatures of the deep, even Krakens, will find me. Rats are banished aboard Sorecue.”

“Yes, Shadeward.”

Doroumata smiled. She patted Sidney’s hand, and in that sense, she looked like Lamont’s own grandmother.

His hypothetical grandmother who could blow a hole in an aircraft carrier if he made her angry. If he’d had Doroumata as a grandmother, Lamont bet he’d have gotten into fewer scraps as a boy.

At any rate, Doroumata was curious, so the Earthers found themselves doing what they had gotten used to—explaining Earth things. The old Drowned Woman frowned at Sir Relz, muted on the scrying orb.

“So he lacks for a principle of…ethics.”

Caroline nodded vigorously.

“A code. A standard. I mean, he’s just over exaggerating, but it’s—that?”

She was chewing on some dried seaweed, much to Sang-min’s amusement. Only Caroline had developed a taste for dried seaweed.

“One doesn’t need another world to know that Drake’s as crooked as two [Harbormasters] on the take.”

Captain Toriegh opined. Doroumata just tapped one lip.

“These are things I wish to know. I and countless Drowned Folk. If only I had taken one of the…documents I knew Wistram was making, it would simplify things. We must begin again, it seems. I hope you will speak long. It will help the Drowned People greatly.”

She and the other Drowned People watched the Earthers. A few months ago, Lamont thought everyone would have shown cautious willingness, but now they traded uncertain looks.

Elena had always been one of the most vocal against sharing Earth tech. Lamont had seen why, but he’d thought that Wistram had a point that they had magic—sharing some of Earth’s knowledge wouldn’t help.

Then Eldavin went and made super flying soldiers with magic armor. It might have been something he could do, but everyone knew they were Aaron’s designs.

Moreover…they were just tired of doing this. It was Haley who raised a wary hand.

“Er, Depth Magus? Can we ask what will happen to us? Are we going to be…guests of the Drowned Folk forever?”

Captain Toriegh exchanged a quick glance with one of the daughters, but Doroumata just sat back, eyes steady.

“No. We are not Wistram. That we need your knowledge is certain. But I have spoken to the late Grand Magus Eldavin. I have seen Wistram’s faults and strengths. I am one leader among many, and I am simply Shadeward of Nombernaught. Yet I will speak that you will have freedom. I require aid and knowledge for my people. You desire freedom and choice. These ideas do not necessarily fight each other.”

From the way Lamont saw Toriegh react, he didn’t think Doroumata was ‘simply’ anything. The woman’s words certainly made him and the others excited.

“Hold on—how would that work? Don’t you need us?”

Doroumata paused and gestured as she swallowed. Instantly, a drink was placed into her hand, and she took a sip of some dark, dark, dark tea. Her daughter spoke for her in that uncanny way—picking up her exact words like they were…the same person.

“Surely so, Earther Obi. Yet we will do what is fair on the sea or under it. Coin for deed. We will…pay you to tell us what you know. You will be free to seek your own path within a week, and we may arrange transport to any port in the world. But we will reward information fairly.”

Ah. Lamont got it at the same time as the rest. So they’d be free…but being paid for their knowledge was much more of an incentive than Wistram. And by the same token…

Lamont wondered if Obi, or most of the others, knew how hard it was to make a living outside of Wistram. How dangerous it could be. Himself, he would take any gold Doroumata wanted to give out.

They had well and truly left Wistram, so it began to sink in for the other Earthers. They might be free, but now they were, um, free. And their safety net had vanished. Did they miss Wistram?

Well, it was too late. Unless they went back. They were free to do whatever, but it would be very nice to have their new start in this world with a pocket full of gold.

Doroumata watched their expressions. Her offer was certainly taken fairly well, but after some prodding, Haley expressed what the others were feeling.

“It’s just that—I don’t know if we can live on a Drowned Ship, or even multiple Drowned Ships, Shadeward. We’re not used to being quiet or…being so far underwater. No offense, but it’s been hard for three weeks, even surfacing to get some air.”

The old woman’s eyes glinted, and she raised her other hand. It was, Lamont realized, a long starfish’s ‘arm’. It was wrapped around a staff, and she used it to lever herself out of her chair. Two of her daughters instantly supported her, and the [Depth Mage] nodded slowly.

“Understandable. We have taken this into account.”

Haley waited for elaboration, but Doroumata just turned.

“Oh, good. Um…so what are we going to do?”

“We will reach Nombernaught by nightfall. You shall see then. Captain Toriegh. Send a [Message] to Nombernaught. Tell them to weigh Nom’s Anchor. It is time.”

Lamont watched the Drowned Captain shoot to his feet, do a double-take, then hurry around Doroumata, whispering frantically. He looked at the other Earthers.

What did that mean? Well, they would find out by nightfall. Lamont saw one of Doroumata’s daughters turn back. They were all ages, from their forties down to younger than twenty. One winked at him.

“Lamont, I think she likes you.”

Caroline whispered in Lamont’s ear with delight as the Drowned Folk left the Earthers alone. Lamont rolled his eyes. The world’s first and hopefully only shipper grinned at the [Sailor] who had no respect for her version of ‘ships’.

“What ever gave you that idea, Caroline?”

“The wink? The look? Although she might be the same person…so that’s weird. I’m just saying—

Lamont politely pushed his glass of water back, muffling a sigh.

“That’s not flirting. That’s a wink.”

“It could be.”

“No, it’s not. Asking if I want to go for a drink after her shift, is. Suggesting she’s got an empty bunk that night is definitely flirting. Asking if I want to walk a round of watch belowdecks is flirting.”

“Right…”

Caroline looked put out as Lamont got up. She frowned at him.

“Where are you going?”

With a straight face, the [Sailor] adjusted his clothing.

“To go fishing with her. You should try it. You get to see them thinking about going for the bait, and Drowned Folk use little fish.”

He stood up with a wink at Sidney. Caroline nearly fell out of her seat.

“Wait—details!

Lamont rolled his eyes. Of all the Earthers to escape with…he was just glad it wasn’t Leon. Or George. George. He hated both of them.

Anyways, Lamont whistled a sailor’s tune from Earth as he went above decks. Caroline made everything dramatic. Sometimes you were just fascinated. Fascinated by a different world. And at least one of Doroumata’s daughter-apprentices was curious too.

“Tell me what song you’re singing.”

She smiled at him behind a veil, and Lamont looked into the beautiful sea. He smiled and took a fishing rod and a little fish.

“Only if you teach me one of your songs in return. Fair’s fair.”

Curiously, for a response, Dorace only laughed, a quiet laugh like a whisper as the ship journeyed on.

“You’ll hear one tonight. Stay up late, landman, Scotsman. It will be a night to make you love us if any does.”

 

——

 

And as light faded from the deck of Sorecue, the green water turned orange and then faded to a deep blue as one of the two moons in the night’s sky shone bright and full. The deep waters revealed something else on the horizon.

The shores of Izril. But new shores, on a tip of a peninsula never seen. Instead of the slow gradient of land—vast cliffs of earth rose upwards, ending abruptly at a lip of stone quickly turning into a beach.

Archmage Kishkeria had sent a wave of green magic, turning much of the soil to blooming grass, but the plant-life in the deep ocean had merged with the memory of plants that had once grown in this soil.

A wild world awaited, and not all flat. Mountains had risen, and in the distance, a broken city was visible on the horizon.

And that—that was only what could be seen whenever Sorecue surfaced. Yellow grass sprouting amid what might become a beach in decades to come if this entire cliff face didn’t slide into the sea. Strange ruins, a mountain colored blue, not yet frosted at the tip.

The corpse of a giant shellfish with too many legs, rotting in the distance. It had been killed as it rose into the unforgiving sun, and strange birds were already descending upon it.

Rot, that broken city—and beyond both, a horizon never seen in this age. Only the High Passes far, far away were even recognizable.

Up, across that shoreline Sorecue sailed, not yet surfacing again. Not yet.

For there were other vessels in the water. In fact…the very same Drake expeditionary fleet was navigating south around the continent from Zeres, using wind and water spells to boost their voyage.

This was a race to see what could be seen, especially anything valuable. The other nations knew it well. However, most vessels had been at port due to Fetohep’s warnings. Many Drowned Folk ships had been too, but where they docked was…closer than other continents to Izril.

Thus, more than one Drowned Ship was currently hovering around the new Izril. One, in particular, was close enough to spot Sorecue. The vessel had dropped its cloaking, and if you knew what to look at or had the right Skills, another submerged ship was as obvious as a beacon.

“Drowned Ship bearing 136 degrees.”

“One thirty-six, confirmed. No hostile colors. Captain, orders?”

A Drowned Captain aboard his own ship was using a telescope to see through the dark waters. He grunted.

“Signal them. Lantern speak.”

“Lantern speak, aye.” 

The crew got to work. They took lanterns and opened and closed the colored shutters. Ships above and below the seas used this as communications, although Drowned Folk had a few more. If they were in the deeps and wary of using light to attract…something…they’d get closer. But if they were both still wary, they’d send messages by literally shooting them into each other’s bubbles.

In this case, the [Captain] was almost certain the other ship was friendly, and that was confirmed a moment later.

“It’s…Sorecue. Crewed by no less than Shadeward Doroumata herself!”

The Drowned Folk crew all looked up. They might have heard she was at Wistram, but even so. The [Captain] tugged at his beard with a rubbery ‘hand’. He was part eel, a fairly common merging in Drowned Folk, but he had a beard despite being split across fish and man.

It took a bit of work on his eel side with its rubbery skin, but added to the cap he wore; when he was annoyed or just for the show of it, one eye would spark with lightning. It was an effect he was most certainly aware of, and the cut of his clothing also contrived to make him look like he was a drowned [Lord] of Terandria. Old, thick brass on worn velvet.

Drowned Folk fashion sometimes consisted of making them look like they’d just been blown out of a story. This Drowned Man was suited to the clash of swords and daring battles at sea. Quite appropriately—he was one of the most famous Drowned Captains in the world. He murmured as he scratched at his beard.

“Now there’s a strange encounter any other day. How many years has it been since she’s left Nombernaught?”

He paced down the deck as he watched the other ship slow and the exchange continue via lanterns. His own ship was actually quite a bit larger than Sorecue, which had a reputation as a bodyguard, slightly squat and barrel-chested, but filled with a quite decent spread of amenities and a shield-focused ward that had stopped blows from Krakens.

By contrast, his craft was a long, sleek hunter, specialized in running down enemy vessels and delivering devastating broadsides before boarding for the kill and hauling away as much loot as possible. The decks were stained dark blue and gold, adding to the camouflage effect and also that sense of faded style the [Captain] liked.

Sorecue’s own reaction to learning this ship’s name was to give an immediate hail and cautiously turn so it faced the vessel. Neither were going to kill each other today, but facing head on, neither ship had a good shot at the other’s side.

Such was the reputation of this vessel that it put a smile on the Drowned Man’s face.

The Passing Shadow. And there stood none other than the famous [Depth Captain] himself, Therrium Sailwinds. As feared as any famous [Pirate]. He had notably been involved in the battles at sea with the Titan’s students and the fighting for the Diamond Swords of Serept, but he’d failed to acquire the treasure.

It still rankled Therrium, but that was the life of someone in his position. You won and you lost, and if you kept losing…well, then your crew might have something to say about it. But he had never had that problem.

“Raise the sails and rise. We’re breaking waters. Ask Sorecue if the esteemed Shadeward will join our ship. And their [Captain] and company if they so please.”

He doubted it. They didn’t have time, but there was always later. As for now…Therrium grinned as water ran from the top of their magical barriers.

He was going to enjoy this, at least.

 

——

 

The Passing Shadow breached the waves like a whale rising, shedding water in a magnificent display as its hull appeared suddenly in the night. It scared the hell out of the Drakes approaching from the east.

Drowned Ship rising! To arms! Alert the [Admiral]!

The Passing Shadow! Sighting confirmed—Grade 8 threat! Orders?”

A babble of voices broke out from around the [Admiral] crewing the expeditionary force. His blood chilled at the sight of the famous pirates, but he hailed from Zeres, and there were eighteen ships in his fleet. Nevermind that most were still clustered around Zeres in case Khelt came back…and trying to pull out that giant halberd from one of the towers. The [Admiral] roared, coming to an instant decision.

“We have an armada! All about and battle stations! Alert the Admiralty we are preparing to engage! Get me mage targets for full long-range bombardments! I want barrier spells now and—”

If he were calmer, the Drake might have noticed some oddities. The Passing Shadow had come up far, far out of range of the Drake vessels. Nor had it raised any colors for battle.

 

——

 

On his ship, Therrium rolled his eyes as the Drakes prepared for combat. If he’d wanted them dead he’d have shredded one of their galleons from below before they saw him and surfaced in their midst. He spat to one of his officers.

“Drakes. They just fought the Gnolls and saw a continent split in twain and they’re already raring to spill more blood? Even the Bloodtear Pirates would get sick of so much fighting.”

“They must want to claim all this land. Want me to loose a few arrows? Bet I could poison a [Captain].”

A Drowned Woman with a quillfish’s spines on one shoulder and a bow grinned. Therrium waved her down.

“Not now. We have orders. No one open fire, even if they loose a few spells.”

It was rare for Therrium to take marching orders from anyone, but the crew nodded. They watched the Drakes turning, spreading out to flank The Passing Shadow.

They had to realize something was off, so they approached slowly. But it seemed the Drakes wouldn’t turn down an enemy like Therrium, no matter what. The Drowned Man yawned as he idly watched Sorecue rising out of the waters to his left.

He grinned as the Drakes reacted to the second vessel appearing. Then his grin slipped a bit as the dark night brightened and another craft shed its camouflage.

Kraken’s tits! Submerged ship was hiding—it’s her! That maniac!

There was only one person the crow’s nest could mean. Therrium swung around, and the Drake armada began breaking up in alarm as that by now world-famous glow, like a lighthouse in its own right, shone from the decks of the smaller ship whose translucent, glowing hull was as bright as the eye of its captain.

The Illuminary shot upwards as the Drake fleet retreated back in alarm. Now, three Drowned Ships were facing eighteen. But again, neither was on an attack heading. The fastest [Pirate] in the world joined Therrium, and she had the gall to wave from the railing as they passed close enough for Therrium to throw his spyglass like a hatchet.

Rasea Zecrew caught it and tossed it back with a laugh.

“Therrium! Why so hostile? No hard feelings?”

“Rasea Zecrew. Your ship is everywhere, it seems. Cause trouble here and I’ll personally gut you this time. What are you doing here?”

He pointed at her, and the [Pirate Captain] held up her hands in mocking surrender.

“My ship was repairing from the fight at the Great Plains and checking out the new land. I heard what was up, and I claim the right to bear witness by this.”

She tapped the anglerfish part of her body and then sombered.

“I wouldn’t miss this for all the gold in Khelt. We’ll pull back if we’re not welcome, but we thought we’d give the Drakes a show.”

“Hmph. Fine.”

The Illuminary had landfolk and Drowned Folk in equal measure, but Rasea did have a claim. Therrium didn’t have it in his heart to chase her off.

Not today. If anything, he wished he had a scrying orb and Wistram’s eyes on him, but perhaps…perhaps this moment was too good to be sullied as cheap entertainment.

You had to be here. This was the kind of thing [Sailors], whether they be [Storm Sailors], [Depth Sailors], or [Pirates], would brag about for years to come.

In the distance, the Drakes were clearly weighing the odds of taking on three vessels of fame with their fleet. And it seemed the others had grown tired of the charade or wanted to make it clear that…this was not the Drakes’ finest hour.

“More craft surfacing, Captain.”

Both Rasea and Therrium looked around. Sorecue was flickering welcomes at the others, but the two piratical vessels stayed together as more ships began rising. They broke the waters, and Therrium and Rasea named each one.

“Tom’s Wake. Fortiseid. Shell Bazaar?”

One had been a Terandrian freighter before it was converted into a Drowned Folk supership, nearly doubling it in size, but they’d left the standard galleon design. Fortiseid was a massive ship that was never designed for open sea maneuvering; like the Krakenbane Destroyers of the Iron Vanguard, it was circular and moved as fast as a snail unless it kept to currents, but had half again the mass of The Passing Shadow and the Illuminary combined.

Shell Bazaar, that colorful train of ships, was not just one vessel, but many chained together in a flotilla and pulled by the giant lobster, Renny, himself. It was considered ill luck not to contribute something to his snack. Not to mention you’d get no deals from the wonders and countless vendors who purchased berths for its constant voyages. The flotilla was as colorful as Fortiseid was not.

Those were the first three. Then came Geib’s Foot, Vixadem, The Ourth Hour, and those were just the famous vessels.

Smaller crafts, barely more than skippers, were surfacing or rising in the distance. Therrium guessed every ship within two hundred miles had been making for this place for the last five days.

It made sense there were so many. Rasea caught her breath from laughing as the Drake ‘fleet’ turned tail and ran, all sails to the wind.

“Ah, now here’s a sight! Why’s Shell Bazaar here, though? Not that I’d begrudge anyone a chance to see.”

“Drowned Folk [Captain].”

“Right, new management. Who got the last [Captain]? Wasn’t us. I liked her.”

The light conversation was taking place as the Drowned Folk gathered. Therrium was noting enemies and friends or just famous names, and he noticed a group of Humans on the decks of Sorecue.

Humans? Well—if Doroumata wanted them there, she had the most right of anyone to invite landfolk. And still…Therrium saw the Drowned Folk rising.

The Drake scouting fleet was in the distance already, fleeing back to their City of Waves. However, even if Zeres disgorged its entire armada, they would hesitate to sail into this storm. For it was not dozens, but nearly a hundred and forty ships gathered here.

A hundred and forty. And these were the ships who had been able to attend. It was something Therrium knew existed below, but he had never seen so many Drowned Folk on land.

They were a sparse people, closer to Selphids or half-Elves in population density. They had to be; they could not live in the water unaided, even with their gifts. Their homes were few in number, but now…

Now they walked from water to see.

Drowned Folk. They emerged from the water, heads breaking through the waves, water running off their clothing, eyes gleaming under the moonlight. Therrium saw the glowing, yellow-red eye of a half-shark Drowned Man breach the water, a fin running along his back.

He was a poorer fellow, for he wore no grand uniform, but he walked next to a mage of the sea, her body semi-translucent, running with magic blood as she clenched a book in one delicate hand, her skin showing her organs beneath.

They rose out of the waves side-by side, the saltwater dripping off them. But these were not a horde of monsters, like an army of sea-zombies wandering onto land after walking the ocean’s floor. These were proud people, the light of intelligence in their eyes. They stepped onto the new land of Izril like that.

Walking out of the surf. Rising from the waves, striding seemingly across the top of the water onto land. It was just a trick. They stood on submerged vessels that slowly rose around them, but they were stepping onto the ground by…the thousands.

“Captain, do we take ourselves to shore?”

The crew looked longingly at that sight, and Therrium ached in his bones to join them. But he shook his head.

“Some ships must stay just in case of attack. We do not have the right. We are pirates and raiders of the sea. Let them go first.”

He had killed men and women ever since he was six and old enough to lift the hand-crossbows at his side. This was not his time, nor Rasea’s, nor the other Drowned Folk who watched at the edges.

Even so, Therrium’s eyes stung. He raised one hand, and his Human hand touched his cheek. The wind was blowing salt along the night’s waves, but that didn’t explain the line of water running from one eye.

“Ah. Why am I crying? What a disgrace.”

Therrium was embarrassed to weep in front of his crew. But then he heard a loud hiccup. The [Depth Captain] turned and saw snot and tears running from both Rasea’s eyes and her nose.

“Zecrew?”

She was wiping at her face with a handkerchief, in full waterworks.

I said I wasn’t gonna cry until it happened, but then you started crying and I started—

The two [Captains] looked at each other. Therrium noticed the Humans on board Doroumata’s ship were watching the gathering with awe, but clearly had no idea what was going on. That they did…

“Ahoy.”

Another vessel drew alongside theirs, heading for shore. A Drowned Woman raised her hat, saluting the two famous [Captains] and their crew. Then she hesitated.

“…Are you two crying?”

Both Rasea and Therrium chorused at once.

No.

 

——

 

The Drowned People lined their railings. Light flashed from some eyes, and they stood, crossed between sea and land. Fish-people. No…that was the wrong folk, for they were not merfolk. They were half and half, but they were split vertically rather than horizontally.

Why did they weep? Lamont didn’t know. All he did know—the thing the Earthers felt as they gathered in hushed awe—was that the strange happenings and miracles that had begun the day Fetohep rode from his palace had not ended.

Perhaps they would never end. Perhaps this was the way the world was.

For there stood Doroumata, and the old [Depth Mage] and her daughters looked into the waters as the Drowned Folk stood on Izril’s new shores. They turned to face her, and Lamont felt that chill on his skin intensify.

The Shadeward looked across the gathering and straightened her back. She looked as emotional as the rest, but she said not a word. She was simply…there.

Waiting. Waiting for something that was coming.

Lamont could not have said who broke that silence. It was hardly quiet; the creaking of countless ships, the sound of his own breath in his lungs, the wind blowing was all noise. But it was background, the sounds you heard at all times on the sea.

When he did hear a voice…it was a quiet man’s voice. Some tenor, sung from a young sailor among the Drowned. Then more joined in. Each Drowned Person aboard their ship, Drowned Men and Women, the youngest deckhands, added their voice to a song that was a thousand strong in an instant.

They began to sing.

 

“I slipped off the deck, and there I drowned

Now I will never leave her

We left land to be born at sea

And we’ll never truly leave her.”

 

It was such…a melancholy song. Or was there a note in triumph there? He thought there was. It was one of those old songs that anyone could pick up. But this…

This was a Drowned Folk song.

 

I gave one eye into the deep

And I will never leave her

I breathe water in my sleep

So I will never leave her.

 

Smiles divided in half as they sang, poorly or beautifully—the people who’d taken the gift of the sea. They could look like monsters to some, people afflicted by a curse. But every [Sailor] that Lamont had ever met had talked about the gift like a second chance. Drowning at sea was a terrible thing, but if you were lucky…you’d live again.

Yet there was a price. As the song went on, they came to a verse where the massed voices suddenly went quiet. Bare hundreds amidst the thousand sang on, standing out from the rest of their kin.

 

“My family wept upon the land

I wish that I could leave her

I left half my heart on sand

Yet I will never leave her.”

 

People who had become Drowned Folk, not been born to it. That was who they had to be. Gnolls, fur dripping wet with water, Garuda who might never fly again. Even Stitch-folk and, rarest of all—a Centaur, standing upon two hooves and a pair of stilted claws on her other side.

This verse was only for them, and it could not capture a fraction of the loss and regret some had. Others simply sang the words with a smile. They had chosen to live.

It was not a long song, but it had a thousand verses, as such songs did. Yet the song had a completely different cadence from a drinking song in this moment. There were so many people.

The swell of voices filled the night sky, the greatest chorus that Lamont had ever witnessed. Echoing voices, the rush of the tide, and the creaking ships all the background of a true song of the sea.

He looked around and saw Sidney with eyes wide, holding Malia’s hand. Sang-min was leaning over the railing, quietly studying the gathering. Haley was trying to record it all with a phone. And Lamont?

He was wondering what they were all looking towards. Doroumata, singing quietly with her daughters, the Drowned Folk—they’d turned from her and looked out from the land they’d come to…what? Settle? Claim?

They were looking out to the sea; Lamont couldn’t understand why. This was a goodbye song, a farewell song like [Sailors] would sing when they left a ship for good. But he saw no signs of tools or supplies to settle this land.

What were they looking at? The dark sea? A final ship? Then Lamont traced the angle of their gazes and realized what they were waiting for. As the song ran on, which Drowned Folk called Land’s Farewell, something curious happened. The milling voices lowered in volume, but the song still felt as loud as ever. If anything…louder.

The [Sailor] heard…a reverberation. A haunting thrum, as if the ocean itself were taking part in this song. Then, as Lamont looked around wildly, he saw the Drowned Folk looking down. Down, into the waters of the distance. And Lamont realized what was happening.

It was not his imagination, nor was it some Skill or trick of magic. The waters were singing. But it was not the water itself that sang…it was the people far underwater singing so loudly that it reached the surface.

Look down. There, you’ll see them. Lights, in the distant sea, as if the dawn were rising a second time. So far down they hadn’t been visible. They hadn’t ever moved. But it had taken them nearly a day to rise, even buoyed up as fast as they could go.

There they were. Illuminated by distant, tiny little lights. Standing and looking up at the sky, eyes wide with fear and uncertainty. Lamont looked upon Doroumata’s ship at last.

Nombernaught. And he realized why it mattered—for it was no ship that the Shadeward crewed. The other vessels floating on the water were toys on the sand compared to this. They were houses, vessels for a single crew.

There…there was a Drowned Folk City.

Nombernaught, the Port of Eellen, rose out of the darkness. The oldest relic that had kept them in the deeps, Nom’s Anchor, had been removed. That was why the vessels had come. For this. For the decision of the Shadeward, who had told all that there would be no more protection of the deep.

The Drowned People sang as a city rose, floating up from the depths of the ocean. One final verse lingered as Lamont looked down at the home intended for the Earthers.

 

“My soul never shall surface from below

I shall never leave her.

As I walk on land, half sinks below

And I shall never leave her.”

 

Pale spires of worn pearl. Roads not made of heavy stone like granite, but far lighter materials. Wood and bright colors that looked too vivid to be natural, but they were. Bright coral, without hard edges, entire trees of pink and towers of magenta red.

Coral? Had they grown entire, living parts of the city? Yes, they had. And while some parts had died and been melded with stone and metal, others grew free. The base of Nombernaught swam with fish, hatcheries growing up in the protective bubble of the city. As it became larger and larger, and the water it displaced began to move the ships back, Lamont saw more and more details.

Little shapes scurrying along, ignoring the Drowned Folk, or tied to leashes. Pets of the deep. Crabs trained to clean up the streets. And the streets were not all stone!

Was that an…elevator of water? No, a loop which carried those fearless of drowning around the city. A river that moved vertically as well as horizontally; free transportation.

Like Venice, that city on the waters. But Nombernaught was surrounded by the waters, and like Drowned Folk, the exterior was bleak, a camouflaged heart that grew more vibrant the further in you entered. Protected by a magical shield to rival any Walled City’s protections.

And the people—oh, the people. Lamont laid his first eyes on young Drowned Folk. Scared Drowned children staring with huge eyes up at the terrifying, alien sky and Sidney herself as the girl peered down at them. The citizens looked resolved and worried, gazing upwards, but it was done.

At last, as the strains of voices died down, Lamont watched the city rising from the ocean. Pale spires shooting upwards and upwards until his neck was craning back, floors of people rising over even the tallest ships.

Nombernaught kept rising. A city drifting towards land. It was only then that Doroumata spoke. She raised her voice and magnified it as the citizens and ships that voyaged here and away turned to her.

“Two thousand years Nombernaught has sat in the depths above the Cauzn Strait. No longer. The ocean changes, and there is danger in the deep. In any other time, we would batten the sails and watch for foes. But the world…is different. A new land has appeared, and the dead speak. So I call for Nombernaught to rise. Once more, a Drowned City shall rest between sky and sea. We lay claim to this land, and we shall trade and war and love the land as much as sea. Izril will be our home.”

The Drowned Folk did not cheer, but they did sigh, like the wind and waves themselves. With regret, with apprehension—with understanding. The currents were disrupted. Krakens and other creatures stirred.

Most importantly…they looked at land unclaimed and saw what Doroumata surely did. A chance for something more.

Would it break them or change them from who they were? No one could answer, but before anyone could cheer or do something as silly as applaud, Doroumata held up one hand.

Her head turned, and her eyes fixed on something at sea. The Drowned Folk stirred, and many pointed. Even the citizens of Nombernaught, some breathing air for the first time, or looking to step onto land with shaky legs—looked around.

“There.”

Lamont turned and saw something else upon the waves. He gasped, and Haley choked.

“Half-Elves?”

Ships grown out of wood, with sails of leaves, looking more as if they had grown into being then been carved, slowed, caught in the gazes of an entire city of people. They had not expected this any more than the Drakes.

From whence did they hail? Chandrar? Terandria? Not all the ships were alike, but the pointed ears of the passengers and their half-immortal strain was obvious.

They sailed across the waters, silently meeting the gazes of the Drowned Folk and Drakes. Only a handful; a dozen ships at most, a paltry amount compared to this great gathering of the Drowned. Yet they were armed and bore settlers.

“A first wave. Settlers of their kind.”

Someone whispered next to Lamont. He nodded slowly, and one of the half-Elves leading the ships bowed slightly. Doroumata lifted a hand. Then she turned, and Nombernaught finished rising. Then—yes, then, Lamont saw the city anchor itself at the coast. The Drowned Folk sighed, for they had their first city on maps that all folk would know.

But their eyes followed the half-Elves, and their cheering, when it came, was subdued. The Drowned Folk looked at this strange new home uncertainly, and the Earthers, and realized something along with much of the world.

As the Drakes had realized as they fled back to their homes. As the Gnolls stirred from their mourning and loss to realize how many people were setting foot on lands meant for them. Each species, each nation, and each part of the world had been visited by ghosts. They had been warned in vaguery or harsh certainties what would come, what might come, and what must be done.

The end had been averted, and the world was changed. This was their hour, now.

But that was the thing about such days.

Every species thought it was their hour and age to shine.

 

——

 

The Drowned Folk’s city rising surprised the half-Elves almost as much as their ships surprised the seafolk. It almost caused several ships to turn right back around and head home.

“They have settled an entire region in one fell swoop. This was surely folly; it will take decades for the first forests to begin growing. By that time, the Drakes will be founding their cities too fast for us to keep up. I do not relish fighting from behind saplings, brothers and sisters.”

Only a half-Elf could refer to Drakes building cities as ‘fast’. It spoke to a certain attitude, of a species that thought they had forever.

And no, it did not fly for all those present. The venerable [Lady of the Woods], a class that was quasi-noble, and unique to forest-dwellers, came from no less than Gaiil-Drome’s representatives.

Trust even the non-Humans of Terandria to have noble-sounding classes. But she had a point in that the Drowned Folk had just stolen a march on every species. However, a number of other representatives around the grown-wood table in their largest colony ship, in and of itself a relic, talked the agitated Terandrians out of heading home.

“We have made our choice, sister. To turn back before we even see the possibilities is surely as rash as walking Zeikhal barefoot.”

The veiled half-Elf’s soothing platitude passed over the [Lady of the Wood]’s head, and she gave the Claiven Earth’s leader a blank look then an ingenuous smile.

“I’m sure we would not want that. I take your point, but I must insist we re-reroute our landing. North of the Drowned Folk. They are a brigand’s lot, so I have understood from my learnings of the world.”

“But they might be staunch allies. If we were to make an entreaty—”

“I shall not move on this, brother. We must insist. Safety is paramount, especially if our kin follow.”

And that was that. Much to the disbelief of Kanid’s Leaf’s [Jungle Warden], he found the entire fleet turning north, because, after eight hours, the [Lady of the Woods] and her group did not back down.

“Eight hours of arguing. They really are timeless in Terandria. How did they ever make it to the rally point so swiftly?”

The Balerosian half-Elf had to admit, he had been a tiny bit prejudiced toward his cousins from Terandria. They were always, always the superior lot. They lived in villages that had not changed for tens of thousands of years and were the originals.

Not like, say, a half-Elven colony that had founded itself in previous ages and claimed their place among other species, winning respect by the weight of their deeds until they created entire forests and became nations in their own right.

Oh, no, that didn’t count. You were always second-best to the smallest village, where eating bugs was a part of life and which had grass older than most royal bloodlines.

It was one of the lizard-Elves who talked the surly [Warden] down—mostly by offering him a nali-stick and letting him vent.

Lizard-Elves, not in that they were more Elf than the other half-Elves, but because they had grown up in Lizardfolk villages. That was why Kanid’s Leaf had boomed in population, in part; the prolific and friendly Lizardfolk that had welcomed and clashed with their kind over the centuries always bore half-Elf children no matter the parents.

It also meant that some of their children took on distinctly…Lizardfolk attributes. Like a propensity to chatter and, this was funny, the ability to actually swing around a forest like some Humans thought half-Elves could do.

The [Lady of the Woods] had been astonishingly offended to learn that Iturtexi, one of the half-Elves who’d grown up among Lizardfolk, could actually swing from vines like the monkeys and apes she’d befriended. Then, of course, do a double back-flip and shoot an arrow through a venomous snake’s head.

She was not typical of the half-Elven representatives, but the [Warden], who was named Jespeire, thanks to the Dullahan roots in his family line, was sure that she was one of the half-Elves who was needed for this new world.

And it would be a new world, if a half-Elven colony were founded. Young half-Elves crewed many of the ancient colony-ships he saw, or the more modern vessels purchased with pooled gold for this expedition.

In truth, for all his grumblings, he was humbled at how many folk from home had come when the call had gone out. Terandrians, Chandrarians, Balerosians, and, yes, even a small, small group from Rhir had all mustered together to create a new land.

Whether or not they would succeed depended on their enemies or allies, and it just seemed like the Drowned Folk would make good neighbors. But then—Baleros and Chandrar dealt more with Drowned Folk.

“I suppose some separation is wise. But we have no idea what threats may emerge.”

Iturtexi rolled her eyes as she hung on the railings of the ship…backwards, so she was hanging upside-down over the side.

“We’ve got food for ages, Jespeire. So many chests of holding. As long as we’re not fighting, we’re okay, and there are high-level half-Elves everywhere.”

Also true. Although neither the Herald of Forests nor the Mage of Rivers were present. They would have been welcome allies, but Jespeire supposed they were bound to the Claiven Earth. Besides, with Khelt ascendant, they might well be needed.

He had mixed feelings on the politics of the other nations as well. Gaiil-Drome’s half-Elves were mixed in with some who had come from Ailendamus, and tensions had already necessitated both moving to separate ships. He wondered if some of his people might be working for other powers?

Almost definitely. So Jespeire’s mind was awhirl with risks, as well as a surge of elation.

Another great forest. A land not filled with leeches. A place to make a name for myself. 

For all these reasons and more, he had volunteered to come, and short of true calamity, he would not return home. However, Jespeire was not ignorant of the dangers, either.

“Warden Jespeire. I admire your restraint in the discussions. It takes a true brother of the trees, no matter which forest, to listen instead of making rash decisions.”

…And here was the [Lady of the Woods] again, to spoil his mood. Jespeire’s fiery red hair turned, and Iturtexi elected to drop into the water by ‘accident’ and swim to another ship rather than join the discussion.

He glared at the traitor as he bowed.

“Lady Ruveden, I was simply glad we could come to an agreement. We are all in this together.”

“Yes, indeed.”

She carried herself like how people told stories of half-Elves, as if you were supposed to glide across the ground and walk through forest pathways of leaves without disturbing a single one. They were all timeless half-immortals, but she wore that and the knowledge of her ancestry like a shawl to be flaunted.

Then again, Jespeire supposed she deserved some of that air of superiority. After all—her feet didn’t touch the ground of the ship’s deck. She drifted along as they spoke.

“Forgive me if I am direct, but your hair…”

It was not natural to see a half-Elf with red hair or more than faint orange, given their common ancestry, but Jespeire only indicated his tanned skin.

“I believe it was a fluke, Lady Ruveden.”

“Oh, of course. I trust it did not make you stand out too much? Forgive me, I was simply—intrigued.”

Absolutely no offense was taken, he assured her. Especially because that was a bald-faced lie, and Jespeire had dyed his hair and never looked back.

But he wasn’t going to be lectured by her and risk snapping back. So Lady Ruveden moved on rather quickly.

“This expedition…I hope you do not take my words as bald-faced cowardice, treebrother.”

Jespeire nearly tripped off the ship as he heard that. Treebrother? Nagas preserve them, this was going to take some doing not laughing at the names they used. He nodded, composing his face still further.

“Not at all. I’m well aware of the dangers, and despite my comrades’…my tree-people’s frivolity, they are fine warriors and explorers.”

Tree-people? He saw Ruveden mouth the word, then smile politely, and for a second, both half-Elves realized they were trying to humor the other.

Then they laughed, and that was genuine. Jespeire relaxed, and Ruveden looked to Izril. Her smile faded.

“You saw that Drake fleet? I believe they might be our truer enemies. The Drakes will not take kindly to anyone settling ‘their’ land.”

“And what do the Gnolls think?”

She sighed.

“In my experience, Drakes would not ask, but I am glad we have approached the tribes for the possibility of alliance. What does hearten me is that we may not be alone. Even if this new part of Izril is wilderness—do you know when our kin on Izril will meet us?”

Jespeire frowned, trying to recall the messages.

“Soon. They will be slower than us since most are headed by land, but a few are sailing around the High Passes. Apparently, the old currents have died, making their headway slow.”

“I see, I see. Who is leading that group at sea? Forgive me—our scrying and [Message] artifacts were damaged in the—unpleasantness with our cousins from the north. And I am obviously no academical [Mage].”

That Ailendamus squabble must have been even bigger than he’d heard. And not an academic mage? Well, they would have plenty of time to learn more, so Jespeire turned with Ruveden to inquire.

“Excuse me. But is there any [Mage] who can recall our communications with the Izrilian half-Elves…?”

The Balerosian half-Elves were sharing space with another Terandrian group who had provided this colony ship, one of three in the fleet along with one from the Claiven Earth and another from Terandria. A [Mage] bowed to Ruveden and Jespeire.

“I am from the Village of the Spring. It is my pleasure to meet…”

“Gaiil-Drome. Welcome, treebrother.”

“Kanid’s Leaf. Greetings as well.”

Even small villages had sent a number of people, although this half-Elf looked practically windswept and overwhelmed. He had to be from one of the timeless villages. Jespeire hoped he’d do well. But he had magic and so pulled the requested information for them.

“…It appears that they are mostly half-Elves of the cities. Some from Vail Forest, but I understand there are few villages remaining on Izril. Almost none in the south; what few will meet us independently. A Zedalien marshals them.”

“What a strange name. Didn’t he…have ties to the House of El?”

“Formerly, I believe.”

Even distant members of their people were making the journey. Ruveden nodded in relief.

“We shall call upon every brother and sister on Izril. I know there are not many, but I have asked a Falene Skystrall to join us if possible. She may even bring her Gold-rank team to bear; she and I hail from the same nation, and we know each other, you see.”

“That would be welcome. Are there any other half-Elven adventurers of note on Izril?”

“Ah, there is. Elia Arcsinger herself is in the north. She would be a boon.”

The Village of the Spring [Mage] perked up at that famous Named Adventurer, but it was surprisingly Ruveden’s turn to hesitate.

“Yes…yes indeed. Someone should reach out to her. Or not. Soon, all will know that we are planting roots here. Now, with that said, will you not join us, Warden Jespeire, magus of the Village of the Spring? Forgive me, I do not know your name. I have in mind a lengthy repast for fine conversation this evening…”

Jespeire groaned internally as he smiled and accepted, but only one more day—or two—and he’d get a chance to get on land. He was just glad they’d survived the sea voyage with the colony ship’s magic. The seas were unpredictable and dangerous. The only other peoples who had made it from continent to continent were Couriers charting the new waters, the bravest of [Captains] and [Merchants], the Drowned Folk—

And, for some reason, the Dwarves. But they’d headed for the north.

He wondered why.

 

——

 

It was an uncertain thing, finding a landing point on the new lands that didn’t look incredibly dangerous. No one had any idea about soil composition, what might lie beneath the ground, proximity to monsters, dangerous magic, animals—or angry sea-life still alive, and whatnot.

Heck, you might even pitch camp on solid ground that turned out to be a sinkhole. There was no telling. But every nation and species saw opportunity in those new lands.

Which was why it was so curious as to why a Dwarven ship made landfall not in the south, but by sailing into First Landing’s harbor.

It caused a stir among the noble families and the largest Human city on Izril. Dwarves were not unheard of in Izril, obviously, their trade-goods famous across the world for quality.

But an entire ship of Dwarves? Well, that was enough to even get young Terlands and Wellfars jockeying with El and the rare Reinhart or Veltras scions for a good look.

Mostly children. The nobility concealed their unseemly curiosity behind a flurry of invitations or casually-parked carriages or balcony parties as the Dwarven ship unloaded.

And what a sight it was.

If the half-Elves had ancient vessels that looked like someone had grown parts of the sails and hull to create sleek, seamless ships that cut the water with incredible speed—they also looked like they’d snap if you sneezed on them.

Drowned Ships, by contrast, were often unusually tall, eschewing the aerodynamics of ships that sailed on top of the waves for something that could maneuver in three dimensions. Their magical shields meant you often saw them without sails, and they even had designs that allowed them to prepare for aquatic events like fighting foes beneath or straight above them.

The Dwarven ships, by contrast to each, were new, heavy in the water, and squat. They had three huge masts on this vessel, but since wind and sea currents were all locked up, they’d made it to Izril by sheer Dwarven grit.

Namely, oars and what even resembled water wheels—only they helped push the ship through the water rather than harnessing the power of the waves. Nothing had stopped Graniteoath on her voyage here either; the prow was armed in the famed Dwarfsteel, and she had solved the issue of an angry sea serpent by ramming into the monster until it fled.

She was disembarking now, and the tough ship had a lot of cargo. Chests of holding were disgorging fortunes in metal, but unlike usual, the cargo of the ship wasn’t goods, but people.

Dwarves, to be precise. They marched off their ship and immediately began hugging the ground, much to the amusement of the onlookers.

Dead gods and grandfathers, I’ll never get on a boat again! The damned thing bumped up and down like we were being shaken all day and night!

One of the deep, booming voices from the Dwarves raised in complaint. The Wellfars, the ship-nobles, winced as they understood.

The turbulence from the new part of Izril rising must have turned the seas choppy. Unlike a high-prowed vessel, Graniteoath must have bobbed up and down hard.

“What a silly design. Mother, why’d anyone build a ship like that?”

A Wellfar girl whispered up to her mother. The [Lady] and her family were out for a day in First Landing, and she had one of those trendy hats that Magnolia Reinhart had started—with the new style from Baleros. Namely a peacock-sized feather in the brim, after that Titan of Baleros.

A rakish look all over a more sea-themed coloration than the eye-searing pink of Magnolia. The noble lady could then fit in with trend-settings in any part of Izril. Except for, and this was a small alteration to the dress, a cutoff on her left shoulder exposing a rather interesting tattoo that ran down her arm. She also had anchor earrings.

Noble sailors. She watched the complaining Dwarves while answering out of the corner of her mouth.

“Do not point; it’s unseemly. Dwarven ships toss and turn, but their cargo is meant to be metal and goods, not people. Warships will crack before that one so much as groans.”

However, it seemed like the Dwarves were still not happy with their voyage, and so they were disembarking fast. From the chaos came order, with astonishing speed to the Humans. It only took a few minutes before an entire column of Dwarves was marching down the ramps.

And oh, but they were a sight.

Dwarves! Taller than you thought, some as tall as five-foot-five, others shorter, but squatter, tougher than most Humans. And, yes—they had beards.

Some had chosen to shave, but it turned out the first Dwarf complaining about the ride had been female. She was wiping salt out of her beard as she began strapping armor and a pack onto her shoulders.

Armor, yes. And what were probably enchanted packs of holding. The Dwarves—and surely they hailed from Deríthal-Vel, the one home of Dwarves—tended towards heavy armor. Chainmail at the lightest, and many had plate.

Not all; some just wore work-clothes, but they had come prepared for some trouble. There were even ones with magical items, students of magic. [Runecrafters].

“‘Tis a veritable army of Dwarves. Why now?”

One watcher wondered aloud, and the people of First Landing eyed what had to be at least two thousand Dwarves coming off one of their principle trade ships. Well, it was a sight to gossip about, and it was only two thousand.

More might be alarming, and well the Dwarves knew that. So one of the [Stoneguard] assigned to this trip was quietly checking in for the leader of the expedition.

“…Looks like the other ships made it. Fifteen, all confirmed in their ports of origin. They’re heading back for the rest.”

“Tell them to wait for a break in the storms.”

The slightly-green expedition commander advised. There was no sign of the other Dwarves, obviously. They had indeed disembarked far to the south and west and even along the more rarely-used eastern ports. You could not see them, but they were there. That was Dwarf-tactics for you. They could be organized without needing line-of-sight.

Of course, the smart ones saw the ships as one unit, and so in both the north and south, various leaders sat up and took notice. But the Dwarves did not come into First Landing as raiders.

If anything, they put on a bit of a show as they marched through the streets. Not all might have armor, but all of them had steel-toed boots, and they marched in good order.

Hello! Look at all the Dwarves!

The beaming Wellfar [Lady] called out, and the Dwarves looked up and saw civilians, nobles, merchants, and more watching them pass.

Unlike the half-Elves, who sailed in silence and grace, and the Drowned Folk’s nightly gathering, the Dwarves glanced at each other, and the leader developed a twinkle in his eye. He called out down the line.

“Hoi there! Boys and girls of Deríthal, march in proper step! Let’s give the folk of First Landing a memory for the day, eh? This street’s full of good, enchanted stone. We’re not going to break anything. One, two, three, four—”

And then, to the delight of the Humans and onlookers, the Dwarves broke into song. They slowed down a fraction, and their boots came down as one.

Thum. Thum. Thum. The sound of metal and weight coming down as one was brisk and not solemn or the beat of war. The Dwarves divided up into two columns, male and female, and they came marching with tools on one shoulder, winking at the children.

Their voices rose as one, and they sang.

 

“We marched from Deríthal to where hammers call

On the anvil or ‘gainst our foes, swinging as we laugh

The tall folk only want one thing: Dwarven steel and craft!”

 

Half the contingent raised gleaming crossbows and axes, faces full of mirth. The male side of the Dwarven group winked at the awestruck children.

 

We’ll humor them with quartz and mithril spall

For I know not pyrite’s shine from Grasgil’s pall!

Still I’ll march and laugh for all my days

But when Grandfather calls I’ll march once more

And go back home to stone forevermore.

 

It was a marching song, one with a hundred verses. Right on cue, a chorus of female voices took up their part with a laugh. Their heads looked back at Graniteoath, and they might not see it again. So there was a note of farewell there, even sadness. But they had said their goodbyes; like the half-Elves, like the others, they had come for the opportunity.

And this was a song that their people had sung when leaving home for as long as anyone could remember.

 

My grandfather forged a shawl for me to wear

It was made of gems and sixteen span

Ne’er a uglier sight on sea nor land!

 

Laughter from their counterparts and people who knew this story. The female Dwarves sung on.

 

It would not break and it would not tear

I gave it to a traveller for them to bear.

Two centuries later I saw it one last time

A Human [Queen] wore it as a shawl

And I laughed all the way out her halls!

 

They marched through First Landing, singing their way through the Humans’ good graces. None of the ones disembarking had any time to go to a noble’s party; they had a schedule to keep.

A long way to go. It was an [Expedition Leader] who led the way, following one of the trade routes south. He intended to be one of the first to his destination, but how he wished for a magic door!

Well, time would tell what he got to see. And if the plan went off according to how everyone hoped, he’d be changing his class upwards.

Apparently, all that could be given to him was [Expedition Leader], but his success—and the others’—would allow for proper classes of governance like back home.

That was the promise, and Deríthal-Vel had their backs. Supplies, personnel, all within reason were theirs so long as they could turn a profit within two years. It wasn’t unreasonable to expect gold to begin coming in within three months, in which case they’d be ready to pay off their debts to home.

For the first time in an age, like half-Elves, the Dwarves were going to create a new city. But—and here was where they differed from the idealistic half-Elves—the Dwarves had adopted a far more concrete plan.

They already had a place waiting for them. And they knew it would work for their kind and be spacious and have everything they needed.

With a bit of cleaning to get the Goblin blood out of it. But the Humans had already cleared Dwarfhalls Rest, and that old mountain had forges—or should.

“From Dwarfhalls Rest will flow Dwarfsteel and more. There’s even that Adamantium vein those greedy Drakes in Salazsar found. Demas Metal, Adamantium, and a new frontier—we could pay off the loans in the first year.”

That was what kept their spirits high, and after they had done a few verses of song, the Dwarves adopted a faster pace and stopped stamping and singing for the Humans.

They could actually crack the cobblestones of poorer cities if they did that trick there, but there was nothing like a jolly singing Dwarf to smooth the way. They talked with good humor; silent marching was for Drakes.

The [Expedition Leader] refused to be drawn into hypotheticals about all the coin they’d make. He just scratched at his short beard and nodded to one of the [Stoneguard].

“Just make sure our first [Scouts] confirm there’s no Goblins there. Or monsters. Or undead. Once we get set up, we can begin seeing where the markets lie. Trade with Salazsar’ll be tricky—but less so if Reinhart builds her new route or that magic door lets us ship to the south. Worst comes to worst, we just send caravans past the Bloodfields.”

Yes, now was the time to think of trade. And more. Whether it was arms or material, the Dwarves had decided they had to come to Izril.

Not just for the opportunity. The [Expedition Leader] fell silent, and one of the [Veteran Stoneguard] glanced at him.

“Strange days lie behind us. I’ve only heard the hammers of Deríthal fall silent like that once before. And that was—”

“Hushen up that talk and put some lead in your boots.”

The [Expedition Leader] snapped back, glancing around. That was not a topic you wanted to jinx this project with. The [Veteran] fell silent, but her glare said that he should remember it too; they were both over eighty years old.

Dwarves were between Humans and half-Elves for longevity, which didn’t mean much. In practice—eighty years was a lot of time, no matter which species, if you were in the living world. So they were definitely among the oldest that would be joining the expedition, but both had held jobs in forging and fighting for a long time, and their expertise was invaluable.

They were also old enough to remember the other time Deríthal had gone silent. After a moment, the [Expedition Leader] grunted into his beard and motioned his best warrior over.

“Aye, that’s on the list of things to do, but keep it quiet. There’s no guarantee he’ll work for us or that he’s still at Esthelm. If we run into comrades like Dawil the [Axemaster], he’ll know more. Always good to know a Gold-ranker in the area. But not a word of it until Master Pelt agrees to join us in Dwarfhalls and it’s all settled.”

The female Dwarf nodded seriously.

“‘Course we know that. Not a word. But he won’t join. He was told never to lift a hammer in Dwarfhome again—”

“Ah, but it’s not Dwarfhome, is it?”

That was the reasoning, but whether or not one of the greatest [Smiths] to ever leave Deríthal-Vel agreed—well. They could but ask.

Either way, Dwarves would be coming to Izril in numbers not seen since they had left. And that had been when the Walled City of Shields was shattered and their last allies in the north fell. So long ago only a few would even know the events.

And yet…it was time. Even now, the Dwarves could all remember that day when Khelt had, apparently, saved the world.

When the dead had risen. The [Stoneguard] chewed on her beard, as most Dwarves did as a bad habit.

“Would that I’d seen some of what they said happened in other kingdoms with the Humans. I heard a ghost strode into Cenidau’s Frost Courts and nigh on melted the place with wrath. Put half the warriors down before it vanished.”

The [Expedition Leader], Afnild, had heard much the same, but he listened with the keen interest, even the obsessive fascination of someone who knew such tales might be real.

After all—ghosts had come to Deríthal-Vel too. Only a few, but they had shaken Dwarfhome. And gone away empty-handed. What they sought had been…not there.

Or sleeping? It was a thought that the [Expedition Leader] didn’t dare voice even with the leaders back home. The only person he’d consider talking to about it would be someone who knew. And that was part—a small part, but part—of the reason why he had come to Izril.

To speak to what might be three, five? Or only one Dwarf left who could even speculate, since you’d have an easier time grinding down diamonds back home. The only Dwarves who could get those answers, wake anything up or knew the truth, would be—

The [Hammer of a Hundred Metals], Master Pelt himself.

Or Taxus, who might well be dead, who no one had seen since he was cast out.

The only two Dwarves to ever be acclaimed as true smiths of Deríthal-Vel in the last seven hundred years.

So, the Dwarves put their burdens on their shoulders and marched forwards, looking for that promised mountain. They hummed and sang and waited, filling Izril once more with more species than there had been in a long, long time.

 

——

 

And so it went. Three species touched down on Izril within a day of each other. They were but the first, and their advent would captivate the peoples who already belonged to the continent. And a certain [Innkeeper] who knew all the stories and almost all the secrets.

A new land upon Izril meant the unexpected. It meant strife, but it also meant no one knew what would come of all the things unearthed. Not just there; the High Passes, the sea and lands had shaken. Everything was just…different.

[Cartographers] found their services in highest demand as they rewrote the world, from the land that people could see to the very currents and ocean’s bed itself. Adventurers looked uncertainly to untested grounds.

But it was the old classes who stirred themselves, and it was the first of them who heard that voice in their head, telling them who they were.

[Adventurers]. [Explorers]. They set forth by land and sea and air to explore, abandoning their homes for something truly new. In either world, Earth or this one—they had never thought this day would come. There were pockets and places that had seen so few people, but this was something different. And that was how the first maps were drawn.

First, they marked upon that map the first of Izril’s new cities: Nombernaught, the first trading port of the Drowned Folk in an age. The rest? It was waiting to be filled in.

A new land waited to be explored, filled with mysteries long lost, treasures unearthed, and the rest of Izril awoke as dungeons and old buried secrets were uncovered. Look up and seek the secrets in the sky. Look down and search for the Kingdom of Gnolls.

Look to the broken gateways, the Skills being recovered, and the lands even further still. And smile, for this was the promise of a new era:

Adventure awaits.

 

 

 

 

Author’s Notes: I’m a bit tired. Which makes me think this Volume 8 month-long break could have been longer. However, I have my week off coming up and I’ll use that and this update to finish The Last Tide Pt. 2.

This is, as Patrons may notice, my teaser for Volume 9 that I wrote early with about 5k added on with Dwarves and half-Elves respectively. It’s shorter…and honestly, if it wasn’t because I’m working on another project, I would not in good conscience post this.

So odd. In good conscience I can’t post 15,000 words. Yes, I heard myself. There was a time I could barely do 8,000. But I think it’s about form—I write a chapter knowing I have possibly 30,000 words so if I write like normal, a chapter half the length will feel incomplete. In some senses, the shorter chapter is harder because of the detail you need to cram into every paragraph.

Either way, though, it takes a lot of energy and I’ve noticed I ran out a bit even during this short beginning. I blame rewriting Volume 1; it’s mentally taxing to edit. I’ve put it at about 2-3 times more energy than writing for the same amount of words.

Also, I had a stealth chipmunk invade my house and I got little sleep in the two days it was running about before I found it and tossed it out. Between that and resuming physical therapy, I think I’m just below full strength. So, let’s see how about 5 days off improves me. Being a writer is about monitoring your writing condition…and probably health. Don’t push too hard, don’t take a decade to write a book. It’s not impossible to do either.

Anyways, that’s all from me. I will be back on the 28th with the secret chapter written for the comic which will take a while to produce especially since Rebecca Brewer will help edit it. But I’ll have one more Volume 9 chapter before the month ends and the side story poll! We’ll get to the other secret projects later.

Sigh. I need clones.

 

Ryoka, Erin, Lyonette, and Mrsha by jamcubi!

 

Chaos by Brack!

 

Pisces by Curry, commissioned by pop [#1 Pisces Simp] (and yes, that’s their name on Discord.)

 


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29 thoughts on “Interlude – Singing Ships

  1. Leave a typo for ships! The second best way to travel! Wait…airplanes. And rockets. And teleportation. Um. A way to travel!

    (Seasick readers: Gorexn, Quynin, MrWiggles, Litwickee, Cythro, Maladal, infiniplex, Maybe)

    • Came here to say the same thing. I *think* it’s supposed to be from delightful days where *something* to twenty-four hours with out sleep in a storm, but it could be that those are the delightful days and there’s another piece missing. Either way, definitely a confusing sentence.

  2. I realized something while reading this chapter – the new land is going to be covered in dead fish, and some of those fish are going to spontaneously reanimate. So explorers and settlers are going to encounter zombie fish flopping around trying to bite their feet. I can’t decide if that’s hilarious, terrifying, or both.

    • It’s a sliding scale of hilarity and terror. The larger and more numerous the teeth, the more it goes towards the terror end.

    • I see that idea, and present this horror:

      A massive school of Herring all for in a pile, and reanimate as a Wailing pit.

      What about a wave of reanimated giant crab?

      And last – undead Kraken.

    • Most fish are nearly helpless on land, so I think you could just walk around them. And big things like a zombie kraken probably lack the internal support (e.g. skeletal structure) to support their bodies properly out of the water. There’s a reason Arthropleura (prehistoric giant millipede) was flatish.

      I think you’d only have to worry when you start getting higher-level undead that have new bodies with the existing parts rearranged. Ceiling crawlers, crypt lords, wailing pits, draugr, bone horrors, etc. And you only get those when there are already a lot of weaker undead. (4 1/2 thousand corpses for Toren’s wailing pit in 6.48.) So I think the main places to worry about are coral reefs. And maybe big schools of fish. You could probably get a herring-based wailing pit, but it would be herring-sized, not goblin-sized, and might have herring-level intelligence.

      • > might have herring-level intelligence

        Now I’m imagining a horrific highlevel undead chasing people and other undead around and getting anxious when they leave, because it’s trying to be part of a school

  3. Nevermind that most were still clustered around Zeres in case Khelt came back…and trying to pull out that giant halberd from one of the towers.

    Oh, come on! Khelt deserves it more than anything to get that thing back, immediately.

  4. Well…the gnolls should hurry if they want to secure any piece of this new land…
    I wonder if the Antinium will try for a piece of the cake too. Imagine if Belgrade were to meet the Drowned People to learn boat craftmanship ^^

  5. I’m guessing the drownedfolk song was deliberately similar to Leaver Her Johnny? I hope the first Earth shanty is a banger.

  6. Pisces looks amaaazing.

    Why is Pisces robe torn and stained, its special, it never does that.?

    I love all the detailing on hair and sand and the booook

  7. I find it interesting how the writing style has changed from the beginning.

    There’s a lot of characters using the same phrases. “Dead gods” is one example. The other is the use of “Actually”.

    No real character development in Erin. She’s supposed to be this chess genius but she’s always running from responsibility like Ryoka.

    Ryoka on the other hand is too co-dependent on her attachments to either the immortals or her inner struggles. She also hasn’t had any real changes to her. She is overly self destructive.

    I expected them to have at least grown from the beginning.

    Lyonette… She also hasn’t really changed. The fact that she nearly did what she did… or maybe she did do it, from the last volume is disturbing to me. I wonder if she’ll discuss it with Pawn and Mrsha. She’s still overly controlling in an Inn that doesn’t belong to her.

    I know this is a story based on women rather than men. Which is why there are more powerful women in this. But the thing that has me is the lack thereof, of any representation of Indigenous / Aboriginal / First Nations women. Seeing that it would be brilliant to encompass all four colors of the medicine wheel. Missing and Murdered Indigenous women fighting back. Or given the chance to fight back.

    There could be a great deal more to this story if there weren’t so many lying, duplicitous, hypocrisy. In these women really isn’t befitting but I understand the notion of the drama is what most expect in a story.

    I don’t really see the point of the story if there isn’t anything to fight for.

    Mrsha, was the main target for the last volume but she’s showing signs of psychopathy. Torturing small animals for her delight, being overtly judgemental of everyone, not taking any responsibility for her actions, arrogance and pride to the point of self grandizement.

    She was so innocent in the beginning. Not any more.

    I wonder if there will be any real formidable foes in the future. It seems as if a lot of the foes are on par with the characters. There’s no real threat. Adversity is the best university. And no one is teaching any of the characters any lessons in the class of hard knocks.

    Say for example, an Earther is bridged into Inn world during the sacrifices of fetuses. But instead of being brought to a continent, the Earther is bridged underground. And has to fight Ancient Crelers to get to the surface. Losing themselves in the process and becomes an even bigger threat than most of the Inn world combined. Like the clown, but with “greater insanity” and “greater resistance” to practically every form of magic.

    Just my thoughts. How would Erin bring that person back into a sane mindset and make said person into an ally for the war against the gods?

    To say that I enjoy only a few characters is putting it lightly.

    Not sure if Ksmvr is ever going to get out of the “friendzone” with Yvlon. He practically confessed his love for her during the blood field battle but she’s been very much about that “you’re like a little brother to me” nonsense. So frustratingly realistic. Not to mention Ksmvr being a complete badass with his “dominance” or bugging Pisces to explain things to him. Ksmvr I enjoy.

    Pawn I enjoy. Someone of faith putting it up against all odds like the Stitch Witch and the Spear Master is awesome to read.

    The free queen has had the most character development thus far. Even owning a pet… named… Deferred Sus… I can’t… I can’t with that damn name. It’s too funny to think about.

    The humor has definitely improved. Especially with the whole 5 nation brawl over practically nothing because of the Horns. It was all supposed to be a peaceful and loving reunion… ruined by misunderstandings and jumping to conclusions that led to the biggest and most random brawl of the story thus far. Enjoyable.

    I think this chapter has shown a side to the fleets out at sea that we haven’t seen.

    I can only wonder what the writer has in store for the adventures ahead.

    Less is more in terms of characters.

    Having too many pieces on tth board has led to the problem of characters sounding the same and not progressively growing.

    Oh and Rabbit Eater… I wonder if all that pollen he seeded with bloom a goblin flower with his Dame.

    Give him a reason to be a good knight for the order of Solstice.

    Ooo, Erin should definitely make that a thing. Order of Solstice. With no monarch but an Inn Keeper as head. lol

    • Nah, it’s not just you.
      Me neither.
      The last 2 releases weren’t there, and there was a missing release date before signing ships.
      The fact that only you commented this likely means it’s not an issue for the patrons.

  8. Great chapter as always. The new people are bound to shake up Izril a bit. I really want to know what will happen with them.

    I have to say I do hope that the Gnolls will get at least a decent part of these new lands since they’ve been hit hard enough and deserve some recompensation but I can’t be too mad at Half-Elves and Drowned folk settlers since Izrill might well become more interesting with half elf and Drowned folk (dwarfs a great too ofc) settlements.

    Interesting that Pelt was exceptional even back in Derithal Vel, somehow I always thought he wouldn’t be that great compared to the dwarves masters back home. I wonder what happened that they exile one of their best smiths.

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