Interlude – Death and Stitches

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[Book 8, Blood of Liscor, is coming out on Audible and as an e-book soon! Here’s the pre-order page!]

 

(The author is on break until October 25! Are you getting tired of announcements? Are you clicking on the links?)

 

The [Innkeeper] was sleeping. Throughout the end of the second day of the party and into the third, she would rest. Level-less, for all that she had sent across the world.

A deep slumber, deserved for someone who had taken the world by the throat and squeezed until only her mortal body betrayed her. A worthy entry for her, one that even her teachers among the dead would have approved.

But oh, if you admired her like the Titan, men and women who doubtless fell in love with aspects of her, talent or bravery or just power, surely you could criticize? For Erin could have done that all better.

It was truly, ah, ahaha—to be funny about it?

6/10.

Six out of ten, ranked against what was truly real and powerful. Six out of ten, for what Dragons and immortals and rulers could do.

But if she had planned it, think of what she might have done. Sleep, instead of play until she failed. Potions of stamina, higher stakes.

Then—let Erin Solstice sit there for days, into weeks, into, perhaps, months! There would come a point of defeat, but let her stand there and slowly choke the best players of the world into submission. Prove her superiority beyond the denial of even the meanest fool.

A tyrant of her game, so monstrously beautiful that she came to define it. One supposed that Erin was too kind. She saw herself as simply someone helping pull her beloved sport forwards a step. For what she’d done?

Nerrhavia still admired her. She stood, as she had for a month, in a tiny barrier encircled by magic, keeping her ghostly form anchored in this world. Imprisoned, but hardly helpless. She had her tongue, a powerful ally, her knowledge—and most crucially?

She had a ghost’s power. So, as Erin Solstice completed her grand chess tournament, Nerrhavia turned her attention away from the sweaty Necromancer, Az’kerash, and all the others throwing themselves at Erin like dogs in heat.

She could see Erin failing. Chess didn’t interest her. The idea of winning a level as a ghost tickled her fancy, but she had no chance if she played Erin Solstice remotely. Her opinion of Erin Solstice was high beyond belief, but she and the [Innkeeper] were different.

If it were true to say that she had not been one of Erin’s ‘friends’ in the lands of the dead, she had still left an impact. She did not want Erin dead, even if the wretched girl had placed herself in Nerrhavia’s way by revealing her hidden fortress to her enemies.

If she wanted Erin dead—well, Nerrhavia didn’t waste potential allies like that. It was all about talent. It was, when you got down to it—

All about delightful possibility. So, as the Necromancer began to cry out in outrage, then fall silent and the [Innkeeper] passed out, Nerrhavia glanced only once at the celebrating [Lord] in the scrying orb.

“Calidus Reinhart. Hm. A name to remember. Great deeds inevitably reward themselves. Doubtless he gained more than a single level.”

The Necromancer didn’t hear her. He was staring at something and smiling. Levelling up himself?

Now that was interesting. Nerrhavia tapped a finger against her lips. She didn’t say this out loud, obviously, but [Strategists] did level from games of intelligence and cunning, yet only at low-levels. Chess was a notable outlier. Yet even a hundred games of chess against Grandmasters should not level a [Necromancer].

It suggested, to her, that anyone within the so-called <Intelligence> category had been eligible for levels during this event. And that—that was more astounding than Erin’s gameplay.

At any rate, she went back to work, and here the ghost did need to concentrate. In Az’kerash’s personal study, he had his most prized books—few spellbooks, but mementos such as he kept. An ancient emblem of a dead nation, portraits and sketches saved from wrathful fires. Even a rapier and a golden bell.

It painted a delightful picture of the man he had been for Nerrhavia to use. And she had been doing just that, to the point where he delivered meals at regular intervals and had given his servants orders to gainsay her almost nothing.

Of course, an actual undead lich might have been stripped of emotion, so she was pleased to have someone with an ego to work with. It was far easier than a being of pure logic, although there were levers there. The world was levers to her.

The Immortal Tyrant’s brows knotted as she manipulated another one now. She reached out, to the very edge of her binding circle, and plucked at something. She had to work hard. Willpower was an essential quality for a spirit.

A ghost, you see, was still a manifestation of power in the world. Unlike a spirit of the now-defunct deadlands—a ghost was a type of undead. In theory, Nerrhavia could have floated around and possibly been safe.

In practice, she hadn’t been bound to any type of spectral undead body, mostly because Az’kerash had no idea how to make them. Spirits, wraiths, specters, ghosts—all were rare undead in the modern age, and he was actually a somewhat boring [Necromancer] in that regard.

—However, Nerrhavia could still chill the air, and even in the binding circle, if she really concentrated, she could actually manipulate objects. Lift a small cube of wood off the floor, poke an annoying skeleton in the head—

Or pluck a string. That was the object within her hands. A complex piece of string almost resembling a cat’s cradle, strung about her fingers, and gently vibrating as she pulled at one end or another.

This complex piece of string was semi-translucent; it was actually made of ethereal thread a certain Stitch Witch had sold Az’kerash. He hadn’t had much use for it aside from his undead until Nerrhavia demanded he make this.

Now, the string let the ghost manipulate it—and it was bound to a tiny little doll, hand-carved out of wax and given the likeness of a Drake with rose-red scales crossed with violet. Az’kerash had needed to carve the doll to exacting likeness and even hand-paint it himself.

However, when Nerrhavia moved the string connecting the doll to her hand, another being moved. It was the third puppet she had controlled today, and this one moved slowly, rotating its head and moving with an astounding grace given her controls.

But then—she was the Immortal Tyrant of the greatest Stitch-folk Empire. Nerrhavia took care with her puppet. Unlike the two that Az’kerash had sacrificed in Pallass, this one would take a week of labor to replace.

Contrary to what the Necromancer might believe, she didn’t wish to waste his time to no use. So the puppet moved. It stretched, and through the strings, Nerrhavia even saw-felt-tasted the world, albeit dimly.

As if touch could become a second sight merely through the subtle vibrations of the strings. It was a curious feeling that even she had scarcely experienced save for with delightful drugs, so this puppeteering was enjoyable enough.

It was hardly ideal, though. Az’kerash had added spells to his undead, and he could enchant most vessels for Nerrhavia to have a modicum of physical or magical power like bound [Deathbolts]—but she hadn’t asked for him to do that to this body.

“Why would I need your pitiful drabs of magic, [Necromancer]? Restore unto me my levels and Skills and I will happily take you by the hand and walk over the corpses of the enemies that have hounded you so.”

It was not an idle boast either. Nerrhavia’s Skills and levels had made her one of the greatest beings to ever walk this world. The Necromancer might remind her she was a powerless spirit in his captivity and subject to his whims, but that was just what he thought. She had all the secrets and knowledge, and her cooperation was totally dependent on her mood.

The Necromancer was entirely pitiful to Nerrhavia. He didn’t even try torturing her. It wouldn’t have worked, but he was that sort of ‘evil Necromancer’.

Amusing. Anyways, as he laughed and celebrated his new level, Nerrhavia’s doll slowly moved about his small laboratory. She picked something up, inspected it, and, sighing, drew out a line of shimmering thread and carefully tied it to the object and a bit of hair.

Just one strand—and there were precious few. The puppet slowly found a candle, lit it, and burned the bit of hair. It burnt into a wisp of smoke that seemed to linger as the candle—white as could be, with an equally pale flame—left a residue in the air.

Swiftly and carefully, the Immortal Tyrant had her puppet draw a symbol with the drifting smoke in the air. Then she held up the object she had picked up, and the smoke gathered around it.

At this point, even the Necromancer noticed her actions, and he turned from his jubilations.

“Nerrhavia. What are you doing now?”

She studiously ignored him. Nerrhavia was whispering, and the puppet copied her voice. Az’kerash frowned; it was no language he knew. It sounded sibilant, and there was magic in the very words.

“Master?”

A timid undead poked its head through the doorway. When it saw Nerrhavia, it almost fled. But Az’kerash turned to Bea.

“What is it, Bea?”

The Plague Zombie’s appearance surprised Az’kerash. Her twisted features, beauty marred by rot, was replaced by a dusky flesh tone. She looked at him with a delicately sculpted nose and lips that moved in sync with her voice—

And he nearly destroyed her. The Necromancer’s finger was aiming a spell at Bea—when he caught himself.

“Bea—Bea. What…have you done with your face?”

He knew before the zombie replied, cheerfully and innocently.

“Makeup, Master. Her Majesty, Nerrhavia, taught me to put it on. She said you would like it.”

She looked like a spitting image of—the woman she had been. Az’kerash found himself breathing hard, and he turned and saw a slight smile on Nerrhavia’s face as she kept chanting.

Everything she did was like that. Az’kerash tried not to look, but he did. Oh, the Immortal Tyrant was an expert. Somehow, she had used clay and makeup to replicate a face with a simple picture as a guide. On Bea’s face.

He took the zombie’s hand and stared until his remembered heart hurt too much.

“It is beautiful, Bea. Please, never wear such makeup again. Take it off after you ask your question.”

“Yes, Master. But I thought I was going into the city?”

“What city?”

Again, Bea peeked at Nerrhavia, and Az’kerash felt his elation over his new level draining rapidly. But it came back as Bea ducked her head.

“Master. Did you level up?

“Yes, Bea. I now have a power over undeath—the power to create spectral undead. Tell your brothers and sisters.”

The beaming plague zombie practically ran to do so. Doubtless the other minions of the Necromancer had felt the slight change in his power. And the castle itself! It was actually already generating more death magic than before. Very helpful, as he had been casting magic repeatedly.

But for Nerrhavia, Az’kerash would have personally celebrated the moment, analyzed every Skill, and congratulated himself on his newfound power.

…With her here, it somehow diminished his moment. Az’kerash eyed Nerrhavia balefully and then kept watching what she was doing.

There were a few reasons why he didn’t consign her to the soul prison where the other ghosts bickered and waited for him to speak to them. Firstly, because Nerrhavia was an ally against foes so great that the Necromancer had to believe they were above him in power.

Secondly? She had too many secrets he needed. So he watched and listened, because if he wasn’t mistaken—she was casting a spell.

A ghost was casting a spell. But it wasn’t magic he knew. Or rather, he only vaguely recognized the symbolic burning of the hair and smoke-rune as a type of curse magic.

Perhaps not a curse-curse, but something similar. A sending. The words of magic? Strange. Only when he was sure Nerrhavia was done and checking over the object that she held did Az’kerash speak.

“That was no spell like [Curse of the Frozen Flesh].”

She glanced up, raising her brows.

“Of course not. I cannot cast magic like that, trapped as I am. Did you level after all? Congratulations. I would be bragging and turning cartwheels if I had your body. You are restrained.”

He suppressed a sigh. She sounded genuine, which was the worst part of it. Nerrhavia idly lifted the piece of wax—again, something he’d had to carve for her. He had no idea why, and she did not deign to tell him, but he was learning.

For instance, that entire chant of hers? He had already memorized and was analyzing it, trying to pick it apart for…

Oh, now Az’kerash understood why this was called the Waning World. For he realized, belatedly, that he had no idea how to even begin learning this…language. He knew Drathian, bits of it, and he had studied the dead language of magic that Earthers called Latin. But like most, he had never considered other languages aside from variations in the written one used universally across the world.

He didn’t even know how to begin breaking down a new language by syntax or conjugation. It was a distressing gap in the Necromancer’s knowledge. Obviously, for the former Archmage of Death, it was a fascinating academic endeavor, but he had not realized something Nerrhavia knew:

Everything was valuable. A [Linguist], if such a class existed, had power that was buried deep within their class.

Like, say—learning a magical language. Az’kerash was no undead like Toren—he was distinctly a person, not born of death. And even Toren could merely understand what was said, not speak every tongue conceived. This was a mastery won of practice—and of secret texts. Possibly sacred texts.

Nerrhavia glanced up at Az’kerash as she industriously caressed the object she was holding. She seemed to be speaking—or talking with someone unseen. Even smiling.

“I thought that one day I might die, Necromancer. Upon my own terms, of course. But I considered what might happen if my [Mages] left my employ and I was forced to rebuild anew. I am no spellcaster, but a ruler. Yet even I can learn, so I sought out the greatest teachers in the world. Belavierr was but one of them. So. I taught myself a magic that required no Skills nor levels.”

Az’kerash thought of Pisces’ spellbook, and he felt green with envy. Ancient magic? The kind Dragons and Djinni and Unicorns made use of?

“Is the language you spoke magical by its nature?”

“It is—but I would not risk experimentation with the words. I have only ambient magic to draw on. You might well hurt yourself with the magic you possess. Far better to have a teacher.”

Like her. And there was another brick between him and throwing her out of his castle. Well, it seemed like Nerrhavia was capable of what might have been a Tier 4 or even Tier 5 spell without a body. Then again, she had just burnt a thread made of mithril in a Dream Candle, and she needed a piece of Living Wax developed from studies in A’ctelios Salash.

Add in a six-minute incantation. All that to do…what? Az’kerash eyed the object that Nerrhavia was holding. He knew whose hair that was the Immortal Tyrant had burned. And what image the…finger she was holding was made in the likeness of.

Erin Solstice. It had made Az’kerash feel like he was committing some kind of crime when he procured the finger mold for Nerrhavia, but she had thrown an incredible fit until she had it.

As for the hair—he’d had some already to make his failed zombie-Erin. But she had a completely different use for it.

Was she…talking to Erin? Az’kerash turned to the scrying orb—a team was carrying the sleeping [Innkeeper] upstairs.

In that case, Nerrhavia was speaking to Erin Solstice in her dreams. Fascinating. Disturbing. Possibly dangerous. He looked at Nerrhavia and guessed that she was using the artificial body part as a kind of proxy. He saw her take the finger as if in a handshake.

Then she raised it to her lips and kissed it. A skeleton sweeping past Az’kerash’s study and the Necromancer gave Nerrhavia odd looks. The skeleton produced a rolling slime from within his ribcage and motioned a few undead forward.

Bea, still wearing makeup, Toren, Maviola, Ijvani, and Wesixa all presented themselves for their trip as the Necromancer stared at them blankly. He didn’t know why all of them were wearing clothes—Toren had a very fetching outfit on, and but for the grinning skull head, he had a scarf, full bodice, and long pants of a female adventurer.

The Healing Slime was in the bodice. Wesixa and Ijvani were not so good with clothing and were enchanted to look like a Human and a Gnoll, respectively. They all wore clothing, and they were waiting for Nerrhavia’s puppet.

Maviola stared as Nerrhavia licked the finger. Then put it in her mouth. Toren put his hands over her eyes.

Nerrhavia. What are you doing?”

Az’kerash hissed at her. She broke off from whatever she was doing in Erin’s dreams to glare at him.

“Need you be a constant voyeur, Perril Chandler? I am used to such things, but some would find it quite intrusive. Then again, Wistram was always full of…desperate men and women. Very commendably celibate. One assumed it was a choice, but perhaps it isn’t?”

He stared at her. There was no winning here, so Az’kerash turned to his Chosen.

“What are you doing here?”

“Going for our visit to the city? Nerrhavia told us to come now, Master.”

“Your visit. To the city.”

The Necromancer repeated the words as he looked at them up and down. Maviola beamed.

“Yes, thank you for giving us permission, Archmage Chandler! I am going to see people! And Nerrhavia is taking us.”

Az’kerash stared back at Nerrhavia, and she broke off from ducking what might have been slaps or punches.

“I believe a carriage is needed. I will be there shortly. You may come too, if you wish.”

“I think not.”

She shrugged, and Az’kerash watched as her puppet walked out, leading a trail of his Chosen, his children, out. He stepped back and remembered he’d levelled up.

Spectral undead. That meant actual ethereal undead, not just ones imbued with those qualities. He had to look them up, experiment—and maybe he could raise a ghost and just pop Nerrhavia into it. Then he could be rid of her…or she’d be free to hound him around the castle.

Az’kerash slowly walked off to sit down and read a book and think how he’d lost control of his castle. Then he thought about his new [Teacher of Magic] Skill. He wondered if Pisces were awake.

 

——

 

The other Chosen were waiting when Nerrhavia finished her sending spell and had her puppet meet them in the courtyard. Two carriages were prepared, with illusory horses masking the skeletal ones.

It was a slight risk, even with the copious illusion spells, to have undead wandering about. Pallass proved that, but a lesser city wouldn’t have the power to detect anything amiss unless someone truly high-level were there.

So Az’kerash probably didn’t fear that. His Chosen running amok and slaughtering people? Definitely.

However, there was a reason why he suffered Nerrhavia guiding his Chosen, and it was this:

He was a fairly poor parent in many ways. He had no experience. In fairness, neither did Nerrhavia, but she had been an aunt long, long ago. And she was what he was not.

A ruler.

The undead came into the courtyard flanked by lesser undead like a band of unruly children spawned by some horrific monster. A skeleton with black bones infused with metal, wearing a staff and robes.

A bone-white woman armored like a knight, stomping next to a figure in a trench coat, with a face made of green acid. A trembling being of string and pieces, even more like a marionette than Nerrhavia’s own corpse. A thin being of sinew with only a rapier and a silver bell that seldom chimed.

More Chosen still came flocking out, some half-made, others experimental. Most were intelligent and had voices; Az’kerash had been hard at work. In fact, he had even recreated the figure in the trenchcoat, which a woman who looked so out of place among the horrors, Bea, wearing makeup, practically clung to.

It was that duo that Nerrhavia glanced at, and the figure that Toren fixed on. Even Healing Slime poked its ‘head’ out of his body to stare. For that figure was old and new.

Oom lived once more.

A slime, foul green like some mildew at the bottom of a marsh. Putrid acid so corrosive even Acid Flies would melt in his body. A compact, intelligent slime, capable of holding a humanoid shape, intelligent enough to wear clothing and even pretend to some humanity.

Oom. Bea was smiling hugely, nevermind that it was not the same Oom. He had been made in the same way, but it was a new slime, a new character to fit the old one’s role.

Upgraded, in fact. Toren thought it was silly for the Plague Zombie to like him so, but she was always in his presence. It seemed as though Venitra and Ijvani had not disagreed, either.

The oldest Chosen had welcomed their own back. They stood apart from the new ones and the two outsiders. The new Chosen regarded Oom with a mixture of wariness and competition—and pity.

After all—of all of them, there was some irony in Oom’s recreation despite Bea’s joy.

He could not level. Az’kerash had tried, but Oom was neither a Golem nor an undead creation, and the Necromancer had tried the levelling formula on him to no avail. He had been relegated to something of a bodyguard role for Bea in that sense. But there were other beings who could level who were not Az’kerash’s children.

Namely, a pale [Lady] with braided red hair and who burned with pale fire. And among them all, Toren, the Skeleton, with Healing Slime. The [Relic Guardian] was warily ignored by most of the Chosen or looked up to by the new ones. After all, he taught them how to fight properly.

The rowdy Chosen who often competed with each other stood silent, at attention in her presence. They were all physically more powerful than her, even Toren, but Venitra, Ijvani, Oom—were all on their best behavior. Or else Nerrhavia might say something.

She was a kind of scary that none of the Chosen had ever met before. They did not like how she spoke to their master. She was a living being who was a ghost, so a bit better than an actual mortal fleshbag, but they had thought she was just a simple spirit.

Well, right now, Nerrhavia spoke brisky.

“I am going to visit a local city this evening. It will be a half-hour ride.”

With an enchanted carriage, they could speed up when out of sight of a main road. The Chosen looked at each other as Nerrhavia went on.

“If you would like to train, do so. Otherwise, you may join Maviola, Toren, and I. Or wander the city. You will keep yourselves behaved, as I have taught you. If someone tries to accost you or insult you—defend yourselves. But you will not kill anyone.”

At this, Venitra shifted and Oom blurbled quietly. They didn’t know if they wanted to follow Nerrhavia to a city, but this was just silly.

“What if we are justifiably attacked, Majesty Nerrhavia? Master has always given permission for us to defend ourselves.”

Bea raised a hand. She liked Nerrhavia, the traitor. The Immortal Tyrant smiled icily at Bea, and the Plague Zombie’s own smile faltered.

“I imagine he has. And I imagine you would all quite like to defend yourselves. This is a Drake city we are headed to. Why should I indulge your passions, you Chosen?”

She looked at Venitra, and the bone woman burst out.

“They’re just living things! They don’t matter! Who cares if one dies in secret?”

Nerrhavia’s Drake puppet just studied Venitra. Neither one needed to blink, but somehow, Venitra ended up staring past Nerrhavia’s head. When the Immortal Tyrant replied, it was icily.

“They do not matter? Let us assume, Venitra, that you are correct. Let us assume there is no one of any value in the city. Even so, why should your master or I indulge your fits of fancy? What purpose does their death serve other than to amuse you?”

Venitra opened her mouth uncertainly, and Nerrhavia reached out and poked her in the cheek. Hard. Her voice was icily annoyed.

“Furthermore, do you think a disappearing person is simply gone? Drakes, Gnolls, Humans, have families. Even the most unloved person has an enemy or acquaintance who will take notice of their absence. Even a [Beggar] suddenly gone might be observed. Az’kerash wishes to keep hidden. Why would endangering him by killing a citizen of that city be wise?”

“I just—”

Finally, Venitra, what purpose does a death serve? Why should a living being die? Your amusement? Worthless. What higher calling does any being’s death add to or change in the world? Does it save another’s life, change fate? You have no idea. You do not even know the name of the city we are visiting. You do not know who you wish to kill or with what purpose. In that way you are a mindless brute. Look down, and do not gaze upon me. You have not the wit nor intelligence to deserve it if that is how you think.”

The other Chosen sat in a kind of awed silence. Venitra tried to glare at Nerrhavia, but her eyes slunk down to her feet. Toren was impressed. It wasn’t a Skill, it was just a level of bossing higher than Erin could dream of.

“Ridiculous that your master ever put up with this.”

Nerrhavia had a fan that the Drake slowly drew and unfurled with a snap of the wrist. Half the Chosen jumped, but Venitra was stubborn. Also, possibly stupid.

“They’re beneath us.”

She muttered sulkily at the ground. Nerrhavia laughed mockingly.

“So that gives you the right to murder them? You silly little girl. Do you think you are above all others? You are not above me or your master. We do not give you permission to slaughter, so you shall not. That is law. That is order.”

“I understand. We understand, Great Nerrhavia.”

Ijvani broke in, trying to take the pressure off of Venitra. The Immortal Tyrant turned to the skeletal [Mage].

“Do you? Good, then I shall not accompany you if you head into the city. I have my own business to attend to.”

Oom, Ijvani, and Venitra brightened up so suddenly and so obviously that Toren slapped a hand to his skeletal forehead. Even Maviola and Healing Slime could tell they were suspiciously happy about that.

“We will. Be. On our. Best behavior.”

Oom spoke! The Acidic Slime burbled, for Az’kerash had given him a voice. He was still working on Toren’s. Nerrhavia eyed him with amusement as Ijvani and Venitra nodded.

“I am sure you will be. And because I am not such an idiot as to believe your words, let me say this. Upon leaving the city, I will inquire as to any missing persons or deaths with the Watch. I will check, and if any are reported and I find you are the ones responsible, there will be punishment.”

Punishment? The three Chosen’s smiles slipped. Slowly, Nerrhavia raised one of her puppet’s hands.

“I will cut off the hand of any Chosen who kills. You, Oom, will lose a proportional part of your body. Then I will burn that part beyond salvation.”

All the Chosen stared at Nerrhavia as she gently chopped the air with a hand. Cut off their hand? Or similar appendage?

“You—you can’t do that. Master made us. No one can take our hand. Forever?”

Venitra’s voice trembled. Nerrhavia laughed at her scornfully.

“Can I not? I have declared my law and the punishment. You are unruly brats, suckling at the Necromancer’s teats without consequence or responsibility. By my throne and my empire, I swear I will cut off your hand if it is the last thing I do. You are free to break my law if you think it is worth the price. If I see a reason to revoke it, I will. For no other reason. When you murder someone, it surely must have a point. Or else you are a rabid beast to be put down without mercy or thought.”

She looked around, and the Chosen listened. In silence, listening to the Immortal Tyrant teach them such lessons as Az’kerash and Belavierr had never thought to impart. They filed into the carriages like schoolchildren following the guidance of the world’s evilest schoolteacher. They were almost moving—when Nerrhavia snapped at the Chosen.

Seatbelts, everyone!

 

——

 

“Miss Nerrhavia? I have a question.”

“Yes, Ijvani?”

The world’s most dangerous field trip was underway. The Chosen sat mostly in silence, but now and then, one asked the Immortal Tyrant a question. Mostly because, unlike Az’kerash, she had time, she wasn’t busy, and she knew things.

“Why are we wearing a seatbelt? We are in a carriage enchanted by Master himself. And we are the greatest of the undead. None of us will be hurt even without one, except the slime.”

The skeleton tugged at the strap of cloth and metal that Nerrhavia had insisted they wear. Some carriages had them, and Nerrhavia sighed. Ijvani glared at Toren as he raised two fingers defensively.

“Because, silly child, you are copying people. And if you think there is no crash you can run into that will not harm your bones—you have never seen a magical carriage crash before. I have studied this world. Lady Reinhart is the one with a powered carriage, correct? She doubtless wears a seatbelt. At the speeds one can crash, if the enchantment fails? The impact will grind your bones into powder.

All the Chosen checked their seatbelts. Nerrhavia went on, staring at a distant sight.

“Seatbelts were something I implemented in my rule. They had fallen out of favor, not that vehicles were often used. I put them on flying carpets for all but [Trick Fliers]. Deaths declined by 35% in the first year alone.”

Flying carpets with seatbelts? The Chosen looked at each other. And thus, they learned an important lesson about personal safety. The carriage was silent—until Venitra raised a sulky hand.

“I have a question. I wish to level up. Ijvani is a Level 12 [Mage]. Kerash is a Level 16 [Tribal Warrior]. I am a Level 7 [Warrior]. Why are they higher-level than I am? Master will be disappointed in me.”

Nerrhavia sighed.

“Rest assured, you are all pathetic equally in my eyes.”

Venitra squirmed lower in her seat until Nerrhavia glared at her. The Immortal Tyrant spoke, and the giggling Maviola listened attentively.

“Listen to me, child. Ijvani learns from the Necromancer himself and studies magic; it would be impossible for her not to level. Kerash is a warrior in the world, fighting as a Gnoll. These two pursue a kind of passion and level from it—however slowly. Embarrassingly slowly, in fact. For the magic that Ijvani is learning and Kerash fighting in a war, they should both be above Level 20! But—you are Revenants. Difficult to challenge. Do you wish to level up quickly?”

Venitra nodded eagerly. Nerrhavia’s Drake puppet slowly rolled up the blinds of a window. They were passing down a trade road to a local city. She had demanded they go to this one, despite it not being the closest, for reasons only she knew. Toren was just happy enough to have Healing Slime and Maviola outside.

Wow, he missed being outside. He stared out the window at passing Drakes on horseback. Good times. He missed the inn.

Where had his life gone wrong? Chaperoning someone else’s kids? But he saw Nerrhavia extend a clawed finger and point.

“I have a surefire way for you to level faster than your kind, Venitra. Climb that mountain there. With your bare hands and no weapons. On your front. Do not stand, do not use your legs. For a Revenant, it should be a suitable challenge.”

All the Chosen stared out the window. Venitra looked up—and had to poke her disguised head out the window and crane it up.

One of the High Passes rose in the distance like a monolith extending into the clouds. She stared at Nerrhavia accusingly, and the Immortal Tyrant flicked her hands.

“Go on. I will stop the carriage to let you get out.”

“But that’s so high. How long would it take? Master said there are dangers for even me up there. There’s a Dragon in the High Passes.”

Venitra looked nervous, and Nerrhavia sat back.

“Ah, him. An interesting puzzle, that one. A shame your master made him an enemy, but it’s almost better that it’s him, not some newcomer. I know his story, and he will be a fine player in any game. One worthy of me.”

Nerrhavia’s smile was knowing. Venitra would have been pale if her bones could change color. She feared the Dragon. Nerrhavia? Nerrhavia knew him. She went on calmly.

“Of course there are things that could kill you. It might take months. A Goblin King barely made that journey, according to modern history. Even in the height of my power, I did not seek to conquer the High Passes. But climb. And if you return, you will be someone your master acknowledges as worthy.”

Venitra’s head rose, and Nerrhavia went on, looking around. She met everyone’s gaze, and all the undead couldn’t hold it—except for Toren. And her eyes glittered the tiniest bit of approval at him.

“You are all young. So you do not understand how this world works. I? I can cast magic, even as a ghost. I have secrets and stolen power that followed me into death. For most of the world is a trick. A law can be broken, a kingdom thwarted. Most power is bought or stolen or what the world is—a great trick. True authority, true power, is fleeting, rare. Only a few people have it. That [Innkeeper] is one such. You all? Your strength comes from your master. If you wish to become your parents, Belavierr, Az’kerash, you must struggle and earn it.”

“How?”

Maviola was eager as Nerrhavia explained in brief how she viewed the world. The Immortal Tyrant actually smiled at the young girl as she fanned herself.

“Why, my dear, climb your own mountains. But you are young, and your mother would be…displeased with me if I did not take care of you. We are friends, or were. Now, show me how you pour tea again and sit straighter. You were made with taste buds, were you not?”

Maviola did just that, and Toren clattered his jaw in a sigh. Right up until Nerrhavia stared at him.

“Skeleton. Did I tell you to stop working?”

Gloomily, he went back to work. Not all the Chosen were bustling with impatience. As the only competent undead, Nerrhavia had him working.

Namely, inscribing a tiny piece of bone with a needle tipped with Truestone and gemstone ink. It was one of over a thousand that Toren had to fit into place in a sculpture. Nerrhavia had drawn a larger version of the sigil, but he had to do a tiny copy.

Magic sucked. Ijvani was doing the exact same thing, but no one else but Maviola had the dexterity. Well, maybe Devail, but he was an idiot.

Nerrhavia hummed a long-dead song as Maviola poured her some tea, and she eyed the little bird they were making out of tiny pieces of bone. Each incantation writ on thousands of pieces of bone. It flexed its wings and raised a little beak as she whispered to it.

“We have so little time. So little time to raise unruly children and cause enough mayhem and restore me my throne and body. Hurry up, little skeleton. Two more pieces.”

Toren slowly scribbled on the bone and placed it in a socket in the body. Ijvani did likewise, and the bird opened its wings—and Nerrhavia laughed as it perched on a claw. She gave it instructions and tossed it out the window. Toren saw the undead bird spread its wings—then pop out of existence.

Huh. Teleporting birds? He wondered if that crazy Antinium squatting in his inn would notice it. And even if he did, who would believe Bird?

 

——

 

Even if a bird could, in theory, teleport, cast [Haste] on itself, and change dimensions akin to how [Greater Teleport] worked, it took a while to get anywhere in this vast world.

But the evening was turning to night, and Nerrhavia’s little field trip had all night—the place they were visiting never quite closed, or so she had been assured. Besides, in other places of the world, it wasn’t dark.

Daylight tended to be consistent across the world despite certain geographic features. But Gnomes hadn’t made the sun. So it was still night elsewhere.

—Even so, the Blighted Kingdom banished darkness in its capital of Paranfer. At night, magical streetlamps and the very streets emitted a glow that, while it didn’t make up for the sun, made skulking in corners impossible.

There was still crime in the Blighted Kingdom—but like everything here, it had adapted to the rules of the struggle against Demons. You could cheat and buy illicit goods, and there were certainly enough people and ships who came in and out to have a black market.

…But that black market paid dues to the Blighted Throne like everyone else. And if you took what should have been used by the Blighted Kingdom, soldiers would find you and kill you. Of course, that was the threat of any nation—it was just that here, even a Face could find themselves hanging from a rope by the harbor very, very quickly.

The point was that Paranfer was very safe, except for the times when Demons attacked, and then it was very unsafe. Yet it was so safe that all the shipments bound for the war effort came through this main harbor, behind the legendary 1st Wall.

And it was here that the Heroes of Rhir were also quartered, by and large. One of them was now known to the world as Antal the [Chess Player].

But there were nine hundred and ninety-seven more who had just come via the great summoning ritual. All of them Human.

Almost all of them still [Heroes].

Including Antal, that was nine hundred and ninety-eight Earthers. Not the round thousand it had been.

Two were already dead.

For one, it was an accident. An [Alchemist] on demonstration hadn’t noticed one of the Earthers inspecting vials in the lab. Normally, one did not uncork a vial and sniff something in an [Alchemist]’s workshop.

—But some of the thousand still didn’t quite believe this was reality. The poison had been fast, at least. His death had helped solidify the reality for the others, as well as the [Clown]’s ‘lessons’.

If you asked him to prove this world was real and they weren’t in a virtual reality, dreaming, or that this weren’t some hoax, he would oblige.

By stabbing you.

Repeatedly.

Nonlethally.

But very painfully. And then, a healing potion would undo most of the damage and you would be convinced this was reality or a simulation so advanced that it was worth not risking your life.

However, it was safe to say that aside from grounding the new [Heroes] in reality, the Blighted Kingdom’s approach to this thousand was far, far more nuanced than last time.

Last time, the Blighted King had sent a paltry handful of Humans too afraid to behead a chained Goblin to the front lines. He had been surprised by their rapid levelling and the talents some of them had shown.

This time, understanding his mistake, he had summoned as many as possible to Rhir. And he was giving them training, conditioning, and all the facilities Paranfer had at its disposal.

And it was the Blighted Kingdom.

The diplomatic arm was so good that their ‘locked in a room’ experiment with the officers could make a Drake [General] and a Lizardfolk [Mercenary] come out as friends within hours fairly reliably. They had classes that most kingdoms aside from Calanfer and a few others lacked.

For instance—[Thought Healers]. [Counselors]. [Analysts]. Mind you, they were employing their talents less in counseling survivors of Demon clashes and more in different ways now.

“Earther Antal has little desire to fight, even in the ‘Adventure Room’ simulations. He enjoys the fake adventure; not the gladiatorial displays or fighting Slimes. My appraisal is that he may be a competent [Strategist] if his [Chess Player] class can transition to that. Otherwise, he will be a support role at best.”

“Take him off rotation in physical training unless he wishes to stay, then. The Adventure Rooms that Wistram has pioneered are an excellent way to gauge the personality of the Earthers. I recommend, Lord Hayvon, that we use them as a test of character for foreign officers, especially if we can manipulate the simulation into more stressful and possibly realistic environments.”

“Do that. Assemble a team of [Enchanters] and [Illusionists] and submit a budget. Communicate with the…Ullsinoi Faction and Archmages Feor, Eldavin, and Viltach regarding blueprints for the Adventure Room’s function.”

One way the Earthers were being divided was how well they stood up to mild stress, like fighting mostly harmless slimes, or faced down danger. That way, less shell-shocked Earthers would emerge from a fight.

By the time this lot clashed with Demons, they would be ready. [Weapon Masters] and experts in every fighting style known to the Blighted Kingdom were teaching Earthers, as well as [Mages] for other disciplines.

But the Blighted King was also making a record of every outstanding talent the Earthers had, and most, like Antal, had at least one specialty. Chess might not kill Demons, but a great [Strategist] might. At the very least—it was a notable talent.

So the Blighted Kingdom had a huge base of powerful children who could level so quickly that even in training, some had already passed Level 10. They had knowledge from Earth that the Blighted Kingdom was trying to replicate, and in time, they would be a force ready to take down the Demons—

Assuming the Demons just waited for them to arrive, that was.

The problem was what everyone knew and why the Blighted Kingdom was receiving more support than it had in a century.

The Deathless were back. Silvenia, the Death of Magic, did not sit idle, nor did the Death of Chains, Czautha. The Death of Wings, the only other Death known to have survived the last great assault on the Demon King, had not shown herself.

—But Silvenia was bad enough. Her magic was second to none, and the Blighted King’s analysts suspected that she was healing the other Deathless and herself now she was no longer struggling for survival.

Worse still, she was capable of conducting a war on her own, and she was why the second Earther, Nerrain, had died. No one could prove how a nest of Crelers had spontaneously appeared in the heart of the capital. The sewers, streets, food—it was all rigorously tested, and [Detect Life] should have weeded the monsters out.

Yet a dozen Crelers had come pouring out of a cupboard one day, and only one Earther had died thanks to Richard being there. If anything, the amazing part was that more Earthers weren’t dead.

 

——

 

She could see them. Not with scrying spells; all of Rhir behind the 5th Wall was a blockade of magic. But it was one thing to block [Scrying] and another to block her.

Her vision was magnified so great that if she even inhaled, it would have both blinded her and completely lost what she was looking at. The trick was not to enchant your eyes, then, but a patch of air and fix it with spells so precise even a Fraerling would have been impressed.

A telescope, in short. The Death of Magic then needed the right altitude and position to spy on the Earthers.

“Training.

She saw a line of young men and some women practicing with swords. Some were joking around, but many were diligently working. Silvenia grimaced and slowly manipulated her controls, looking around.

The Blighted Kingdom couldn’t keep their Earthers indoors forever. They knew she was about, but Silvenia’s magical acumen was so high that they couldn’t stop everything. So she hovered higher, practically below the clouds hundreds of miles from 5th Wall, and began casting.

“[Create: Pebble]. [Enchantment: Void Resistance]. [Enchantment: Adamantium’s Strength]. [Bind Spell: Geyser of the Water Serpent]. [Alter Spell: Acidic Blightwater]. [Greater Lightning Bolt]—[Drain Momentum]. [Greater Lightning Bolt]—[Drain Momentum]. [Coordinate Lock]. [Spell Skill: Unerring Aim]…”

She was chanting, because even she had to concentrate on this. The idea was simple and actually based on some of the things Flora the Earther had told her. Well, the silly girl thought it was new to Silvenia. Guns?

She laughed at the revolver. A small pebble appeared in the half-Elf’s hand. Her wounded magical flesh curled around it as she enchanted it to move through the air without taking drag. To be hard as Adamantium and unleash a geyser of acid wherever it landed. Then?

She just drained all the kinetic force out of two real lightning bolts and anchored it in the vibrating stone. She followed the spell she’d set up and went back to the Earthers practicing swordplay.

Unleash.

A pebble large enough to just hold in your hand shot out of the skies so fast it should have caused a sonic boom—except that it had no air resistance. It barely slowed as it flashed past 5th Wall, ready to detonate and wipe out everything in five hundred feet. From impact—then the water would begin raining down, poisoning and melting everything in its radius.

That was what was supposed to happen. Instead, Silvenia saw the stone flash through the air as she cast [True Slow Time] to watch. It shot down from the heavens—then the thin film of the void began to fade, and she saw the spells she’d cast on it dissipating. It crossed, oh, another hundred miles before the spells just wore out. Then it was just a piece of magical stone, fading out—

Then the sheer kinetic energy of the spell turned into a shockwave, a sonic boom that shattered the air before 4th Wall, and Silvenia heard alarm spells going off across 5th Wall and 4th Wall.

She hovered in the air and cursed.

“You damn cowards. Everywhere?

She raised her hands and began throwing [Lightning Bolts], a storm of them criss-crossing the air. But her suspicions were right. All around 5th Wall, being reconstructed and rebuilt higher—the bolts of magic began to fizzle out.

Two hundred feet in front, and it looked like they’d even saturated the coastline! Madness!

The folly of Drakes killing an entire species of magical talent was one thing. This? This would inhibit the magical growth of every [Mage], every child and person living here. It would poison the earth, but they’d done it once, and they knew how to fight her.

Anti-magic, dug into the ground for hundreds of miles. It was a very simple trick that only required, oh, the annual income of eight nations to pull off and the hoarded resources of Khelt. The Blighted Kingdom had killed magic everywhere all along 5th Wall and behind it, all the way up to 4th Wall.

It meant that their [Mages] would fight as if every Tier 4 spell were a Tier 1 spell. They’d be barely useful, and magic would be so dead they’d only have their Skills to recharge their mana supplies. Artifacts not well-enchanted would go dead, and even magical potions might lose efficacy fast.

In exchange? None of Silvenia’s summoned Demon armies could attack the 5th Wall. Her long-range spells just fizzled out—even a Tier 7 spell would begin losing power so fast that it had no chance of even passing 3rd Wall if she cast it from afar.

The Death of Magic sat cross-legged in the air as she considered her moves. She could fly out to sea and attack Paranfer from an angle that they couldn’t cover with anti-magic. However…they wanted her to try that. One detection and she’d be facing that damn Lord Hayvon and every force they could throw at her. She’d risk being boxed in and killed.

She could remove the anti-magic stones. Silvenia pointed down and crooked a finger.

“[Hellfire Pillar]. Hello! And goodbye.”

The Tier 7 spell shot down and began to burn, black-red fire eating the ground in front of 5th Wall as defenders ran screaming. It died fast as anti-magic and water spells hit it—mostly from the anti-magic.

But it burnt up the protection in that area. If Silvenia kept casting that spell, she’d make a gap or deplete their resources. Eventually.

…Unfortunately, time was all the Blighted Kingdom wanted. They had their Earthers. Far more than any nation, as far as Silvenia knew. She had better uses for her mana, so she just sighed.

“You win this time. Mm. Mmm…[Activate Greater Teleportation Rune].”

Below her, the ground flashed. Silvenia flew off as a scream filled the air, and the defenders of 5th Wall looked up. Three Adult Crelers fled Silvenia as they disgorged hundreds of Crelers. It had been hard to find three of them—but she’d done it just as a present. They fell towards 5th Wall from above as she flew off, cackling.

The Crelers would survive the fall. But the defenders got to look up and see them coming down. Silvenia poured herself a cup of coffee as she watched.

“We like to have fun here. [Activate Greater Teleportation Rune].”

Even without being able to use her full magic, she could still bind a teleportation rune high up and drop, oh, a thousand pounds of stones. She’d calculated where the defenders would rush to fight the Crelers and watched as they ran.

This was not an effective use of her mana, but it cheered her up. 5th Wall would not fall if she did this every day for a year. She hated stalemates.

Stalemate meant both sides were trying to tip the scales. It meant that she, the Death of Magic, was being thwarted.

And now, high-level foes are coming out of the ground like the damn monsters from the Gates. By which she meant the area the Demons knew as the Gates of Hell, a term born of Rhir’s reputation. It was there that all the horrors came from, including the Crelers. Only the Antinium knew what lay below. Silvenia had gone down once and decided she wanted to kill the Blighted Kingdom before she died.

…It was looking harder by the month. First, this ‘Archmage Eldavin’ appeared with actual old magic, next? Khelt started banging a drum, you had children from another world, and Ailendamus showed it had some powerful figures hidden there.

Silvenia liked a challenge, but she couldn’t help but feel like her opponents hadn’t earned their strength. She was old. She was a half-Elf so old Feor looked like a newborn babe; she had once been an [Archmage] of Wistram until she had learned the Demons’ truth and become the feared Death of Magic.

Now you had—children—like Amerys and Valeterisa, floating about and calling themselves Archmages. Silvenia would have loved to fly over to Chandrar or Wistram and remind them how an [Archmage] disputed things. But she couldn’t.

The Demons needed her, and irresponsible she might be, but she had seen how bad things could get. Czautha was no magical genius. Silvenia was capable of filling almost every role with pure magic.

She just—highly resented being the only magical figure in this world. She was Silvenia of Ages, the Archmage of Terandria, the Archmage of the Forgotten Era—master of ancient magics and old techniques!

She was not the world’s greatest [Enchanter]. She could do maybe 60%, possibly 70% of what someone of her level could, and that last 30% was huge. She was no [Smith] or [Baker] or [Candlestick Maker].

“A Level 60 [Chandler]! A Level 60 [Chandler] for all the gold in Rhir!

Imagine what she could do with that! Give her one Level 60 [Chandler] and she’d be lighting a candle under the Blighted Kingdom’s ass that would burn Othius off his throne. Silvenia salivated at the idea of actual magical candles that she could empower her magic with.

That was her problem. She was a dynamo, a force beyond all others—but she knew she could be even stronger with proper support. The Deathless of Rhir had good synergy in battle. Little in magic.

Anyways, the fuming Death of Magic was thinking of how to use her power today—probably in service to the Demons by creating Purewater Stones that just produced purified water out of moisture in the air.

She had better things to do than solve hydration for the world. 

Silvenia was just about to fly back when the funniest thing happened. She sensed she was being pinged.

Magically, of course. The sensation wasn’t mental so much as her own wards alerting her that someone was trying to locate her by some means.

Which was, of course, objectively hilarious. Were the Blighted Kingdom’s [Mages] that overconfident?

Silvenia was almost about to toss a spell back down the connection when she realized something interesting. Whoever this was was smarter than the average Archmage of the era.

…In that they knew there was more than one way to locate someone. A [Scrying] spell would have meant a fairly direct link, and you could punish that, as when Rhisveri and Eldavin had dueled.

This, though, wouldn’t be easily traceable back to the sender. Something was coming, sending the locator spell so Silvenia would just destroy that.

She was so fascinated that despite being far, far away, the Death of Magic began shooting out to sea to find what was headed towards her.

Silvenia, where are you going?

The Death of Chains, Czautha, queried her the moment she sensed Silvenia leaving the shores. She might be thinking Silvenia was doing something stupid, so the Death of Magic replied impatiently.

“Someone’s sent me mail.”

“Ah. Roshal?”

“If they are, I’ll send it back. It looks like…a bird? Interesting. Death magic. I’ll let you know.”

Neither she nor Czautha were nervous about a single spell coming Silvenia’s way. If one could kill the Death of Magic and if she couldn’t detect a trap—she was an idiot.

But she had to own, the strange bird made of ivory sections all patched together still made Silvenia blink. Not because it was indecipherable—she could clock the spellcaster as being well below her level.

No, because it was old and…odd. This kind of patchwork magic where you carved a bunch of tiny, intricate pieces to make a greater whole was efficient if you feared your creation might get damaged, but time-consuming. It spoke to her of old empires where you had a thousand apprentices doing Golem-work for a [Mage].

Or undead. And this thing was certainly undead-based…but again, it was sort of laughably wasteful. The ivory that made this bird had been taken from a high-level undead. Thousands of pieces.

So imagine destroying a Skeleton Lord and getting, oh, a hundred pieces per skull or maybe ten or less from a Skeleton Knight. That was how expensive this thousand-some piece jigsaw was. Someone had cannibalized a lot of undead. Silvenia thought it was an idiotic move for a [Necromancer]—but she had no insight into how a certain Necromancer didn’t really authorize someone smashing up his favorite undead for spell catalysts.

Anyways, Silvenia read a few more things. The bird had a lot of powerful spells that someone else had enchanted it with, but the basis of it was to seek and find and deliver a few bound vocalized words. It also had something odd in its mouth she wasn’t quite sure about, but if it were dangerous, it was in a weak vessel.

“Silvenia. Silvenia Ettertree.”

The bird was croaking. Silvenia crossed her arms and rolled her eyes. Someone at least knew her old name.

“Who sent you, little bird?”

“Message for Silvenia Ettertree.”

The bird’s rough caw and its flapping of wings as it sped towards her halted once the former [Archmage] came within range. Then it hovered, and another voice came out of its mouth.

“Hello, child. You are astonishing, a glimmering tear of wrath in this world of dust. You would have fit in my era and empire quite well.”

A woman’s voice, silky and smooth, came out of the beak. Silvenia’s smile grew wider with amusement—then it suddenly turned into a glare.

Child? The voice was complimentary—and condescending. The Death of Magic debated taking the bird apart to see who had made it and throwing a spell back, but she had to own, intrigue warred with irritation.

The Nerrhavia special. The bird went on, staring at her with two gemstone eyes.

“I am an ally. Or at least, more than most in this world. I have studied your Demons and you. You were not here when I was alive. So, I shall keep an open mind.”

“Oh, a ghost.”

The Death of Magic snapped her fingers. Now things were making sense. Either the speaker was a fool or she was dropping the right clues. She was disappointed—the little bird didn’t seem to have a two-way spell, which would have been a risk. It was just a recording.

Will you do me a favor, Silvenia the Deathless? I shall, of course, repay it. My means are limited for now, but I have such things as even a ‘Deathless’ would want.

That teasing voice went on, and Silvenia began getting annoyed again. She had to own, it was very funny to get essentially the immortal monster’s equivalent of an Archmage going door to door asking for a cup of magicore.

Still, the gall. Silvenia began silent-casting a spell as she sweetly replied.

“Oh, little bird, tell me your mistress’ wish. Then I shall carefully shove this [Pillar of Flame] down her throat.”

There was no way that the sender could keep her true location hidden from Silvenia. But the bird simply tilted its head, and then a sharp voice came out of its beak.

Ah, little half-Elf. I’ve humbled [Archmages] like you and made them a footrest before my throne. Watch your threats.

Silvenia blinked and realized that the voice had been speaking all along. She grinned. Silvenia floated sideways, regarding the bird.

“And just what do you want, mysterious sender? Or should I prize that out from your beak?”

The voice replied with a hint of archness.

“A spell for a favor, Death of Magic. Simply cast the spell into this little one’s beak, and I shall oblige you with a taste of my favor.”

Silvenia thought about it. It sounded amusing, so she withheld blasting the bird.

“Very well, I’ll bite. And if I don’t like what comes next, I will personally place you at the top of my long list of crossed out names.”

The sultry voice chuckled.

Then, Archmage, show me your wrath. Pour it in here.

The bird opened its beak, and Silvenia blinked. For a few seconds, she hung in the air, wondering if the innuendo had gone too far. Then she laughed. She threw her ruined head back, and her tortured flesh, replaced magical organs, exposed her teeth and damaged body.

Then she pointed at the bird.

“[Hurricane of Flames]. [Disintegration Orb, Beam Dispersal]. [A Hundred Thousand Seeking Arrows of Deathlight]!”

She fired three spells straight into the bird and thought it would vaporize whatever cheap containment spell the bird had. Three, instead of one, and all three designed to be wide-dispersal, difficult-to-contain spells, not like [Disintegration Ray].

Instead of shredding the bird, Silvenia saw the most unsettling thing. Which was all three spells…vanishing into a vortex in the bird’s mouth. Completely, mid-activation.

“Ah. That’s not good.”

Silvenia reinforced her shields, but the bird made no move to attack back. Instead, it closed its beak, seemed to swallow, and then spoke once more.

“Much obliged, Silvenia. Your clue is this: the Crossroads of Izril do lie on Izril’s lands. I am sure you have already put feelers down. I knew them well when I lived, and my true home is based on the same power as the Crossroads. The reason the [Innkeeper] posted the quest is that the bounty of the Crossroads will pull this world back into older ages. All your little spells may come from great mages, but the material of your robes and wands are crude glass. The finest sand in this analogy is found in the new lands and the Crossroads.”

The Death of Magic’s brows rose. She floated closer, eying the bird with rapt interest. Did that mean what she thought it did…?

“Who are you? Let’s say I believe you, and that would be a nice clue. What kind of ally do you wish to be?”

For answer, the bird belched a bit of smoke and the magic began to die. Silvenia grabbed it as the voice murmured, and she began tracing the link back. Back to…

Wait a second. It was just a recording. Silvenia stared as Nerrhavia’s voice chuckled.

“If this is just a recording you hear later and you struck my little creation before it even reached you, I will still consider the debt owed, Death of Magic. Thank you for your spells. I’ll be in touch.”

The recording ended, and the bird began to fall to pieces. Silvenia automatically caught them with a spell for decryption and analysis later. Then she hung in the air for a long, long time before Czautha asked what had happened.

Silvenia, like Az’kerash, wore the most befuddled expression of anger, pain, and embarrassment as she realized she’d just been bamboozled, played, tricked, and possibly even confounded.

She began firing Tier 7 spells at 5th Wall, and the Blighted Kingdom wondered why she was so damn mad today.

 

——

 

This was the story of an imposter. In the cavalcade of great and terrible undead, of ancient myths and rulers preparing to change the world—

This was the story of a silly fool.

A slime that people called Oom.

He knew he wasn’t really the real Oom. That was just what they called him.

The real Oom was dead. He’d gone down in battle against Zel Shivertail, the Tidebreaker. Who that was—this slime didn’t know. He had been created—or rather, altered by the Necromancer. The Necromancer had gone out, found a suitable Slime wandering around Izril, a former Mud Slime, and subjected it to a barrage of upgrades that changed his very nature and intelligence.

Then he’d gotten a kind of…download of what Oom had been, how to use his new body, and been introduced to a bunch of Chosen, who thought he was like the old one. This slime knew Oom. He had some of the old one’s memories, and he was upgraded to be even more dangerous.

…But he was no Oom. The old one’s memories had been vividly fierce, proud to be the Chosen, and until his demise, confident that he would succeed in his purpose: killing the Tidebreaker.

He had arguably done that. But that old slime was dead, and the new one—oh, the new one was a silly little slime. So was the old Oom, because while he had been affectionate and proud of his Chosen, he hadn’t seen the undead resting her head on his shoulder now.

Oom turned his ‘head’ and saw Bea snuggling up next to him. She looked like a person, with all the makeup and clothing, but that didn’t matter. When he had awoken, she had been there. Weeping and calling him Oom.

The slime was not Oom, but he also was. He was younger, in a sense, than Healing Slime, who had been made of rarer and more fantastic things than he. A Potion Slime should have been royalty compared to a little Mud Slime. But here he was.

Bea. She fed him all his old treats and never let him go, in case he died again. Yet she had levels and he did not. Venitra had personally told him that one day, their Master would surely give him levels and for now, he was sadly weaker.

As if levels mattered. The slime had never dreamed of being powerful, only surviving clashes with damn Fortress Beavers and other predators in its home. Now—he was supposed to be part of an undead army.

He didn’t care. He was afraid that the other Chosen would find out he didn’t really love Az’kerash. Or that the Necromancer would dispose of him for being useless. He had debated running away—

Yet here he was. Nerrhavia was gazing at him as the carriage rolled on, and the slime was afraid she saw right through him. But he didn’t run.

He was just a small, stupid slime. Maybe it was part of Oom, or maybe it was him.

Just a slime, trying to be a man. He couldn’t cast magic, and he couldn’t level up. But he wanted to protect Bea. A slime in a silly trenchcoat. When trouble came, he’d do his best for the weepy zombie. That was all he could do. And the Immortal Tyrant looked at Oom and saw the foundation that she’d once made [Heroes] out of.

 

——

 

Nerrhavia was in the city, browsing through a shop when she got the notification her bird had done its job. Maviola was hiking up her skirts delicately, and Toren was learning how to walk.

“No, not like that. That is simply walking, like a brick. Walk like the [Sword Dancer] you met. Not suggestively with a sway to your hips. Too obvious. Subtly. Like—yes. Very good.”

Nerrhavia’s school lessons extended to a lot of things. The skeleton dressed as a Human woman with a mask on was attracting looks. As was Nerrhavia’s false Drake body.

But the other Chosen were out exploring the city, and Nerrhavia herself was in the oddest of shops. Toren didn’t get why she had been so excited, but Cormeng’s Grand Emporium of Antiques and Pawnshop was apparently enough to get the Immortal Tyrant outside and shopping.

Not that she’d bought anything. The owner had given her, Toren, and Maviola a long look, but when Nerrhavia assured him they were merely browsing, he’d let her in.

It was a really, really big store for a hole-in-the-wall set in the side alley. Toren had been walking in a straight line past rows of antiques for ten minutes, and he felt like that was bigger than a corner shop should be.

Well, Maviola was eying a sign next to the counter. It puzzled her, because it said, ‘proudly served over 120 cities!’. She took that to mean it was a chain store?

Nerrhavia knew the truth. In between teaching the two undead, she was inspecting items on display. She seemed to be looking for things, and now and then, she would murmur appreciatively.

“Oh, beautiful! Look, it’s all glass.”

She eyed a cabinet full of ‘jewels’, and Toren could tell the jewels were about as magical as a rock. No, wait. An actual rock, not a…nevermind. Nerrhavia passed by entire sections of abandoned junk that a few Drakes were browsing through.

It was a Drake city, but Maviola and the man at the counter were both Human, which was apparently a rarity in the south. Neither one was getting a friendly look, and neither had Bea or Venitra in her Gnoll disguise.

Classic Lism Drakes everywhere. Toren at least got the benefit of looking like an adventurer, so he got a pass. Nerrhavia stopped as she found an aisle she wanted. She pulled out old dresses of ancient fabric, and Toren put one against his body.

Nerrhavia gave him a single glance.

“In no age of fashion between my era or yours.”

He put the dress back silently. She could have been nicer about it. Nerrhavia seemed quite pleased by this, so she walked over and put something down, wedging it behind the dresses.

“The shopkeeper cannot see me, can he, children? He is a sharp one—but he won’t notice if I leave this here. Let’s see. I know there’s something else here. It should be if this era really has lost the magic of my time. You, skeleton. Find me vases.”

Toren wondered if this was better than being stuck in the castle or attached to a sleigh with ringing bells. A Drake glowering at Maviola stared as Toren’s ample bosom jiggled at him. He backed away as Toren waved—then patted Healing Slime and fed it some food.

Nerrhavia laughed. She seemed content to walk about and explore, as if relaxed suddenly. For all she talked about hurrying…she was a dead woman.

She knew they had time, so she went hunting with Toren until she found what she wanted.

“Ah, this is it. This vase. Perfect!

It looked like crap to Toren. Half the design that was painted on the clay was peeling, and it looked old, but he did have to admit that the bits of glass baked into the clay were nice. Still—even for the many vases, this place was terrible. But Nerrhavia sighed and then placed the second object in the pot.

“And that is that. Your master, Az’kerash, will throw another tantrum. But—what did he want? Seithbone? He will have to wait less time than he thinks, though explaining my methods is far too tiresome.”

She turned to Maviola and Toren, and the two undead exchanged glances. What did that mean? But then Toren saw what Nerrhavia had placed inside the vase, and something clicked in his head.

Wait a second. Wait a second—Nerrhavia had just placed a wax finger in the jar. The same one she’d just been using an hour ago. And she’d hidden another one in the dress pockets. Toren stared sharply at Nerrhavia, and she held her own finger to her lips.

They ended up buying a bunch of fake jewelry for Toren and Maviola, and he tried on eight rings on his fingers and wished they were magic. Or that he had earlobes for earrings. Nerrhavia paid the man at the counter, and they left as he quickly changed the sign and shouted at the other people that they had fifteen minutes before the shop was closing—for good!

It was one of those things that Toren decided he would never know the truth about. He was happy enough to stroll along after Nerrhavia as she announced they were done with…something…and that it had been a very productive day and they would all go back to the castle and everyone would get a treat.

She was in such a good mood that they went to find the other Chosen themselves—and thereby ran into Venitra in the middle of a fight.

Nerrhavia stopped as Toren saw a group of Drakes cheering on one of their own, who was punching, cursing, and attacking a Gnoll with her guard up.

“Venitra! You’re in trouble, stop!”

Ijvani was on the sidelines, being blocked by a bunch of the locals. When they saw Nerrhavia, all the Chosen, stopped, and the Drake lunged. He clocked Venitra in the jaw and probably broke his fist.

The Chosen didn’t fight back, but retreated, pretending to be hurt, as the Drake massaged his fist. Nerrhavia’s eyes swung to the Drakes and took in the moment.

It was a fight in the streets, although only Venitra was moving. Devail and Wesixa stood back, just watching with Ijvani, who was telling Venitra not to fight. The [Mage], wearing a Drake disguise, had a staff raised that was keeping the other side back.

Drakes. It looked like the Chosen hadn’t fought back. If they had—the angry dozen young Drake men would be dead. Venitra was dodging punches—well, except for that last one.

But there were two Chosen on the ground. Nerrhavia looked up, and Toren saw Oom. And Bea.

The zombie was on the ground, and the Human woman she appeared to be looked distressed—because Oom was lying on top of her. Covering her, as a pair of Drakes kicked him, cursing. They backed up and stopped when they saw Nerrhavia, Toren, and Maviola, but Oom kept covering Bea. And the Drake attacking Venitra hissed.

That’s for the Meeting of Tribes! You traitorous murderers!”

Some of the Drakes were cheering. It seemed like this was a city that had strong beliefs of how the Meeting of Tribes should have gone down.

Toren shifted uncomfortably. He tried to separate the Drake trying to punch Venitra out, and a bunch of Drakes blocked him. Some were ready for a fight, and Toren didn’t draw his sword. He held his arms up, wishing he had a voice.

You idiots, I’m trying to save you from…

Nerrhavia’s smile was calm as the Drake fanned herself. Some of the people on the street were looking nervous—she looked like a rich foreigner, and she was watching the fight. Oom slowly rose, unharmed, as Bea patted him anxiously.

“Oom, are you alright?”

Toren wished he had eyes to roll. Oom was a slime. But he seemed more concerned about her, and Healing Slime vibrated angrily in Toren’s bosom. The two Chosen retreated behind Nerrhavia as new voices emerged from the crowd.

“Hey, break it up! Break it up—

A group of Drakes came pushing forwards, and one yanked the young man who was staring at his swollen knuckles back. They had clearly seen the fighting, but whether or not they’d stopped it because they’d just seen it or because Nerrhavia was here—it was hard to say.

“You idiot. What are you doing? What are you—”

Someone was arguing with the younger Drake with the bruised fists, and it seemed like he was in danger of being punched himself. Nerrhavia strode forward.

“Are you this young man’s father? He has attacked and injured my ward, who, I am assured, did nothing to provoke the attack. Perhaps she did not move out of the way for him, but that was all.”

The Drake turned, and Toren saw him put up his claws. He wore a leatherworker’s vest, and he spoke quickly.

“Miss, the Watch is coming, and they will sort this out. My son is a fool, but please don’t tell your guards to do anything. We don’t want trouble in our city. Nothing like Cellidel.”

He clearly meant Toren, and the other Drakes seemed to think Toren was some adventurer or higher-level bodyguard. They were watching him as if ready to take him out if there were a fight. Nerrhavia rolled her eyes.

“Trouble? Your son provoked a fight with my follower.”

“She’s barely injured. I can’t even see a mark.”

The Drake tried to point to Venitra, who was in fact glaring so hard that the Gnoll—and Chosen—seemed ready to kill the Drake. Nerrhavia’s tone was icy. She stared at the man in the eye.

“I suppose that makes it better, then. So long as we beat every child or victim without a mark, there would never be a need for the Watch. What is your name?”

“Listen, Miss, the Watch is—”

What is your name?

“—Leatherworker Joerss.”

Nerrhavia was speaking over the other Drakes trying to justify or talk, and somehow, her voice was louder. She was staring the older Drake in the eyes, and she shifted to the younger one as he looked ready to speak. His open mouth shut.

“Are you going to take responsibility for this, Mister Joerss?”

“My son starting a fight? We’ll go to the Watch, and if they find nothing caused the fight—”

Are you going to take responsibility, Mister Joerss?

Now, the Drakes, at least near Nerrhavia, seemed to sense that something was wrong. They fell silent and began looking at Nerrhavia. Joerss hesitated, and he looked at his son, then Nerrhavia. He ducked his head slowly.

“…Yes, Miss, if there’s some fine, I will pay it. Rest assured.”

“No. No. No.”

She folded her fan and poked him in the chest with it. Now, Nerrhavia was so close that her puppet was eye-to-eye with the Drake. She peered at him.

“I am not talking about coins. Damn the coins. I am asking whether you are going to take responsibility for what that Drake did. Completely. Without reservation or regret. Answer me.”

“Miss, the Watch—”

“Answer me. Your son has caused an offense, and he is your son. The act was not yours, but this is your moment to take responsibility or not. Tell me.

The Drake swallowed slowly. He looked at Nerrhavia and then Toren, then answered, his hands on his belt.

“…Of course I’ll take responsibility for my son’s actions.”

He met Nerrhavia’s gaze, and the Drake’s eyes wavered—but then Nerrhavia stepped back. Lightly, as if suddenly happy. She smiled and nodded.

“I see.”

The Drakes gazed at her in confusion. Nerrhavia turned and bent to whisper to Bea, who perked up, then motioned to Toren.

“Get the carriages. We’re leaving.”

The street was silent as some of the Watch finally came over on horseback. A few Drakes looking annoyed by the confrontation with a picky foreigner. Nerrhavia walked back to the two Drakes, father and son, as Toren brought the carriages out. She passed by a mounted Watch officer who went to stop her, and she went by his outstretched claw as if it didn’t exist.

“I can see that you take some responsibility in your life, sir. Which means as a father, you likely taught your son something of that character. Then he has made his choice which has led him here, and you have taken all the responsibility for it.”

“Miss, the Watch will investigate, but it was just a scuffle between two folks. Move al—”

The Watch officer trying to move Nerrhavia aside caught a slap so fast that he folded up and went down despite his helmet. Toren, opening the door to let Venitra in, winced. Nerrhavia was using an undead puppet—even if it weren’t as strong as a Draugr, he bet that hurt.

The Watch reached for their blades, but the crowd just stared as Nerrhavia produced a bit of rope. She twined a loop together and handed that end to Bea. Then Nerrhavia took the other end and again, she made a simple loop, with a cunning knot that could be adjusted, and nodded at the leatherworker and the panting young man.

“You have taken responsibility.”

“Yes, Miss?”

He looked quietly at her, and the Immortal Tyrant, who had ruled her kingdom a thousand years, beamed at him.

“I absolve you of that. Your son made his choice, and we shall call it quits afterwards. Regardless. Goodbye.”

She reached out, and the two Drakes recoiled, but Nerrhavia looped the bit of rope around the Drake’s wrist. The one who had been fighting Venitra. His father looked at the rope as it tightened and reached out with a cry, but it was too late.

The other piece of the rope that Nerrhavia had produced tightened as well, and a horse reared and tried to look back as it stared at its hindleg. The two were connected, but the horse was still—until Bea scratched it and whispered.

“Scarlet Frenzy Fever.”

The Watch’s horse reared with the sharp pain—then it began to pant. Then—scream. The Drakes fumbling with the bit of rope saw the animal scream, toss its head—then it began racing forwards. With the length of rope attached to the wrist.

Nerrhavia walked to the carriage, shut the door, and the vehicle began moving as Toren heard a scream from behind him. Screams, cries of panic—and the sound of a scream cut off and a body dragging across the street as a horse raced forwards.

Venitra, Ijvani, Oom, and the others stared at Nerrhavia as the coach left the city. The Immortal Tyrant smiled and sat there.

“That was an example of law and punishment, children. Now. Seatbelts. Today has been a fine day.”

The two carriages rolled out of the Drake city bordering the forest near the High Passes, never to return. Nerrhavia was done, and Toren looked at her and wondered—why she thought Erin would ever like her.

But perhaps Nerrhavia didn’t care about that. Only something else. Vengeance and enemies. Ambition?

She met his eyes, and as if she could read the thoughts bouncing around in his skull, Nerrhavia spoke.

“When I was alive, I tried to stay that way. I ruled for thousands of years, and my confidants and friends were the Witch of Webs and death, who I feared and made preparations against. But when I died, I found that unlike the other ghosts, I was satisfied. I had done it all, and my discontent was only that death itself was so petty and dull. Of course I wanted to live if the opportunity arose, but I have died. A ghost should come back differently. Or how little we learn.”

The skeleton thought about that. Then he slowly nodded and sat back in his carriage.

He had to get out of here. And take Maviola too. First the [Witch], now the ghost of the Immortal Tyrant. Who was going to be Az’kerash’s next guest? A Creler?

Toren hadn’t read a history book, but he had a feeling Nerrhavia had been sort of a jerk in life.

 

——

 

One last thing. In between the second day and the third day, the world’s greatest [Necromancer] and [Archmage] sat and thought about how stupid soft power was. A skeleton learned how to take tea with an undead [Lady], and the Immortal Tyrant made such plans as she thought would benefit…someone.

However, as the world slept and rested, one person—one group of people got little rest.

A single pair of pale wings rose, and a tiny roach fanned them on the faded, mildewed face of a screaming man carved upon the wall. He screamed forever, eyes wide and hollow. Nevertheless, they stared at everything as a bright beetle made of metal that was like silver or mithril, but more mundane, crawled over the ancient stonework.

A relief carved into the walls, so long and complex that it stretched a hundred feet down the staircase of equally ancient stone, still tarnished by the blood that had run down here, long ago. The relief had been original, commissioned by the original owner of this place.

It was of a nation she had destroyed, piece by piece, and of the people, whose fates had been so horribly depicted here. The screaming man was the best person to look at if you had to stare—he simply screamed, a witness to it all. His eyes gazed sightlessly out from worse depictions of what had been done.

Those who had come later had left this decoration in place to remind them of what this place meant. Even if it was now abandoned, the old pillars and tributary vessels were like altars to some great ruler—and once, it was said, this place had been a gleaming shrine to one woman’s ego.

No longer. Now, the rot that had always been there had crept in and tarnished metal into rust, turned bright stone into haunted, filthy reliefs of twisted stone. It looked like it should be—a deep, dark memory of great evil.

A tomb. Almost always left alone, save for the guards. One aimed a spear and tried to kill the roach, for not even insects were allowed down here. A steel speartip gouged the screaming face out of the old stone—and put him to rest forever. But it missed the roach, which skittered past grim-faced Stitch-folk who stomped or cursed.

Many drew back, and their clothes were fine and they carried no weapons. One of them shielded her face with a fan as if protecting it from the roach, which fled across the ground. A [Mage] raised a hand to blast it, but was forestalled.

“No magic. Not here.”

So the group halted, and the torches swung crazily, for not even magical light was brought down into this dark place. Ranks of warriors armed in bright metal held their ground, and it seemed like even their enchanted gear was dimmer here. Or perhaps it was just the shadows. The leader, who lived down here, just shook his head.

“A roach. Move on.”

How he kept his sanity, few knew. But he, at least, knew the way, and he carried them down another flight of stairs, past armed guards who stood silent, their own gear unpolished and fading with the stonework.

Hidden protectors who would murder anyone trying to enter this place without authorization. They watched even the woman with the fan, for here were their nation’s treasures. And their greatest foe, both. Yet even they did not follow, and their eyes swiveled in their sockets uneasily.

For what this group sought lay further below. They were a hundred feet underground and heading deeper still, until the blackness seemed to squeeze the throat of the woman holding the fan. And today had been such a good day. She had been about to sleep.

Queen Yisame of Nerrhavia’s Fallen had been ready to get some fine rest. She’d played some chess, and while she hadn’t gotten to face the [Innkeeper], she’d been part of the moment. She’d been so excited when her [Great Sage], Etrikah, had made a championship game that she’d thrown a party.

She was all ready to write Yvlon a note and wake up tomorrow to see what had happened—but not all was well. Those damn bugs…

Well, the skittering tin roach made one of the group freeze a moment, but that was only because—tensions were high.

It was the most private, elite group of the Council of Steel. Thelican, the Ministers of Defense—but they included Etrikah, one of the top [Mages] in the Academy of a Hundred Thousand Tomes.

The Captain of the Royal Guard and a hundred of the finest guards. Also, two Named-rank adventurers.

They were normally enemies, or at least, different factions, but in silence they descended, following the person who had come charging into court and put their arguments about Pomle, the King of Destruction, and everything else to rest.

It was a rarely-seen Stitch-folk person, Hemp, of all things. Normally none of the Silk Stitch-folk would associate with one of them except in a [Guard] capacity, but this was…a special case.

This was a hereditary post, and the [Crypt Guardian] was leading them down, down through the palace. Not out in the streets where such a congregation would be the talk of Tyrant’s Rest, the capital city, even at this late hour.

Down, down, into the foundation of where Nerrhavia’s Fallen had been built. A kingdom named after the greatest villain to ever walk this continent. Stitch-folk did not believe in hiding her name. No one should forget.

Even so—Yisame’s skin was already crawling before she saw the insect, and she drew a shawl around herself. She did not like being reminded of this place. This…this was the heart of the palace.

A guarded layer of vaults, the armory, treasury, and most valuable items were stored this far down, secure from even the best [Thieves]. But something lay deeper. A resting place for less than ash. The remains had been burnt, destroyed—and the tomb erected as a kind of memorial for the pieces of her which even enchanted weapons couldn’t fully eradicate.

Nerrhavia’s grave.

The actual room was quite small, given how far down they were. Just a sealed layer of spells upon spells and countless traps—many of them aimed inwards as well as outwards. They had to wait as the [Crypt Guardian] disabled them.

Yisame’s eyes locked on the grave as the rest of the Council of Steel froze. A carved grave, in the shape of a sarcophagus, lay closed. For a moment, Yisame feared the stone prison had shifted. That—something—someone had moved it.

But no. A [Minister] let out a shaky breath, and everyone laughed. Yisame saw them turn to the [Crypt Guardian], ready to blast the poor Stitch-man for wasting their time.

…Then Yisame saw something. Nerrhavia’s final resting place was both a prison and a tomb for her remains and the artifacts of her rule that no one had destroyed—or dare destroy. There were things down here that were still extant, still powerful ages after her death.

Like the tapestries hanging from the walls. They were old, faded, some deep indigo, writ with gold. Others were white silk, written with actual blood. A few were…even more gruesome than that.

Like the screaming man of the carvings above, a face looked down at Yisame, and few dared even gaze into the hollowed sockets. A tongue hung from a mouth upon which words had been written on flesh. Carved there.

A pact with Roshal upon a half-Giant’s face and tongue. Yisame looked up—and bile rose, and someone turned away and retched. Yet they were all the same.

They were contracts. In fact, Yisame even recognized one between the Immortal Tyrant and Zeres that the City of Waves had complained about recently. Mutual defense pacts, enforcement clauses—all defunct with Nerrhavia’s death.

In theory. The [Queen]’s eyes locked on something she had not seen last time she was here. And yes, it had been twelve years. But…

What new thing? I see nothing new! If this is some prank—I have had a long day of playing the world’s greatest chess players, and Her Majesty—”

General Thelican was blustering when his eyes found what Yisame had seen. He looked up, and his cloth tongue stilled in his mouth. Slowly, the Council of Steel gazed upwards.

Then—Yisame knew that the [Innkeeper]’s warnings were right. She felt Etrikah squeezing her arm so hard her claws dug into Yisame’s clothflesh. No one spoke for a long, long time.

For, hanging among the many old contracts and ancient treaties whose magic had survived the Immortal Tyrant—a new banner hung.

It was as yet blank. Mostly blank, but the glittering contract stood ready. Yisame’s lips moved as she read the words:

 

Contract Armed.

Stored Spells: [Hurricane of Flames], [Disintegration Orb, Beam Dispersal], [A Hundred Thousand Seeking Arrows of Deathlight].

 

“A…a contract? What will it do? Why are we here if that’s stored in—

One of the Council of Steel was shaking with fear, but Etrikah spoke.

“It will do nothing. If the records are true—the contracts do not activate unless their clauses are met. This one is waiting for a—a pact.”

“How is it active?”

No one wanted to answer that. They knew. So the contract waited, and Yisame saw the most curious thing as the rest of the Council of Steel turned to leave and either make plans or drink themselves into forgetting this had ever happened.

She whirled around, and the [Crypt Guardian]’s head rose. The contract glowed, and words began to write themselves in the air. Yisame’s heart stopped in her chest.

A contract for the Immortal Tyrant in whatever shape she was in. With powerful spells enforcing its compliance.

What—

What…contract would she offer? What terms? Yisame looked up, and her eyes shifted in confusion as she read a name in the air.

 

<Contract of Munificent Terms to the Unworthy>

 

What? It looked like…a quest! But the similarities didn’t end there. Yisame picked out a long list of details, far, far more elaborate than the simple way a <Quest> worked. Among them, she noticed a few things.

Enforcement spells—that was the list of magical power stored in the contract. Legal language not binding Nerrhavia in very obscure terms.

‘The parties within shall not seek via magical, mundane, or other means the identity or intentions of the Holder, but merely accept or refute said contract on behalf of involved within listed as ‘worthless trash’, ‘unscrupulous filth not fit to lick Khelta’s toes’, and ‘cowardly pukes hiding within a shell of an unworthy land of death’ and so forth…’

“What the…?”

Then Yisame got to the important part. She read a name, and it seemed to ring in her ears.

 

Signatory: Kasigna, identities unknown, unwanted.

Offer: Kill yourself so thoroughly there is no possibility of return.

Conditions: Refusal; scroll activates.

Addendum: Death or removal of underlined parties known as ‘Cauwine’, ‘Norechl’, ‘Tamaroth’, suitable abasement before demise and—

 

Nerrhavia’s contract kept writing itself until, suddenly, the brilliant lines of gold on indigo faded away. As if suddenly it had been canceled.

Yisame saw the scroll flicker quickly—then return to its first message. By the time Etrikah turned back to see what Yisame had seen, all she saw were the original words.

 

Contract Armed.

Stored Spells: [Hurricane of Flames], [Disintegration Orb, Beam Dispersal], [A Hundred Thousand Seeking Arrows of Deathlight].

 

It was just a little joke. A [Message] much like how Toren the skeleton could raise two middle fingers and say a lot. Besides, Nerrhavia had better things to do with a contract. So the Immortal Tyrant returned to making plans and waited.

Waited, patiently, as Rhir and the Demons squabbled and their time fell like grains of sand from an hourglass of unknown origin. Waited, as so many had done.

For the [Innkeeper] to wake up.

 

 

 

 

Author’s Note: So, I woke the day after writing a short chapter and I was so exhausted I couldn’t get up for a while.

This is backlash, and it gets stronger when I’m tired from writing, but especially after writing nearly 40,000 words. I regret that this short chapter to work on editing V1 turned into just…a short chapter because I was so tired.

Thus, I’m taking my monthly week off. I need it, especially to write good quality. Again, I’m once again putting Volume 1 rewrites behind regular chapters. We’ll try to fix it, but at least I’m writing some decent chapters.

It’s the marathon, not the sprint. I’ll keep playing with how I write. Maybe this wouldn’t be so bad now and then, a ‘short’ chapter? Hm.

If only I could go back in time and start from the beginning. Imagine it. Me with all my writing knowledge rewriting Volume 1? If someone offered me that right now, I’d probably stab them because I’m not writing 10 million words again.

Anyways, thank you for your patience and I hope you get some rest! I will. pirateaba away.

 

PS: I may post the edited V1 chapters I’ve done during my break at some point. There are entirely new chapters and some of the rewrites are good. Some are eh.

PPS: Book 8 is coming out on Audible! And the Merch Store is doing a Halloween lineup!

 

Blood of Liscor, Book 8 of The Wandering Inn by JAD Illustrated and STK Kreations!

JAD Illustrated: https://www.jadillustrated.com/

STK Kreations: http://www.stkkreations.com/

 

 


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32 thoughts on “Interlude – Death and Stitches

    • “I suppose that makes it better, then. So long as we beat every child or victim without a mark, there would never be a need for the Watch. What is your name?”

      “I suppose that makes it better, then. So long as we beat every child or victim without leaving a mark, there would never be a need for the Watch. What is your name?”

    • [Undying Lich, Myth of Death and Vengeance Level 78!] was his must recent level up. So I think his class does classify him as being a lich. But if he’s an undying one; and I’m sure the sorry so far has mentioned that his heart started beating again, so he’s a Lich that isn’t undead or completely alive.

    • Don’t think he’s alive even though he leveled.
      Liches are monsters that don’t level.
      Revenant Fehotep has discussed being hastily made and ill-prepared for a ruler of Khelt, with trouble or the inability to level, don’t remember which.
      Intelligent revenants in general do not level except for those made or modified by Pices/Zelkyr’s formula.
      I can’t remember a time when Az’Kerash himself ever labeled himself as a specific type of undead, but he has always called himself undead (doesn’t remember how to cook or even what food actually is, lacks hormonal emotions of living flesh, etc). My guess is that he is a higher order of undead than is typically seen and has the ability to level from that or he modified himself with the same formula that modified his chosen, though I feel as though the latter possibility should have gotten a mention if it is the case.

    • “A Level 60 [Chandler]!”
      If you’re talking about this? No. A Chandler was a person responsible for candles in a medieval household. We also get the word chandelier from that profession.

  1. Curiously the old tyrant seems to be trying to do something new without falling into her old tricks again. It does make a grim sort of sense considering how she lived, how she died, ad most of all… How boring the realm of death was.

    Yet she can’t help herself with the old tricks of the trade which can be satisfying and annoying in some ways.

    Like an Erin who woke up one day and said “Lets be an evil empress today!” And then did just that.

  2. “Ah, this is it. This vase. Perfect!”
    Is Nerrhavia making a phylactery? Do we have any idea how phylacteries work in this world? In most fantasy settings they contain the soul of magic user to make a Lich but Liches in TWI aren’t particularly high-level undead if I remember correctly. It’ll be interesting to see what comes of it.

    It’s also interesting to see Nerrhavia continue in her efforts to seduce(?) Erin. Doesn’t seem like she’s having any more success this time than the first time, but we’ll see what happens.

    • In most cased lich just means undead spellcaster.

      We know of only one actual lich, and none of what it means apart from coming back from death.

      I don’t think she is preparing to become a lich, I think she is making a gift for Erin. A horrible, twisted gift that she thinks she can use to entice Erin into a contract of some sort.

      • The liches you’re thinking of were chained together in an artillery battery at the Putrid One’s fortress, also a solo lich had the first Horns of Hammerad pinned down for Ryoka’s first emergency delivery to them. Kinda dim bulb monsters with spells. Az’Kerash is not classifiable as lich by his undead form or his class under the book, but I think Nerhavia’s POV is going to be a bit dismissive of poor Chandler in general.

        • [Undying Lich, Myth of Death and Vengeance Level 78!] was his must recent level up. So I think his class does classify him as being a lich. But if he’s an undying one; and I’m sure the sorry so far has mentioned that his heart started beating again, so he’s a Lich that isn’t undead or completely alive.

  3. The finger Nerrhavia placed into the vase was the Erin finger one, so I doubt its for a phylactery. If I had to guess the purpose of the finger in the dress, maybe she is trying to possess the wearer/give herself a living servant? The ugly vase would then let her collect Erin’s finger for future use.

    Granted I’m half expecting Nerrhavia is trying to pass on or at least expose Erin to whatever interdimensional Skill that lets that shop operate in 120 cities.

    • I think you are overestimating The store. My take is it’s a scam store. Given it’s selling glass as crystall, then immedietly close and run after selling enough. It has probably just moved 120 times

      • I agree that it’s probably a scam store that moves location, but that itself could be a skill that lets the shop appear in new cities pre-set up. High level [Grifter] skill maybe.

        • How much do you want to bet Mirn becomes Erin’s bartender if and when The Wandering Inm gains skills to move locations at will?

      • That makes a lot more sense. I was wondering why a store that might have such a strong skill would be selling fake junk like that jewelry they bought.

  4. I love Nerrhavia as Evil Miss Frizzle.
    “Seatbelts, everyone!” Also I hope that Chandler learns to be a better dad.

  5. I don’t know what’s worse, having the tyrants ire… or having her affection. Both seem to lead to terrible fates.
    This chapter was smaller. But it also felt more planned. Yay for a editing day.
    Thanks for the chapter. Have a good rest!

    • It’s honestly the most entertaining thing in volume 9. Forget evil water elemental or using small Gnolls as improvised ammunition against the tyranny of walls!

      Seducing a [Innkeeper] with finger licking is where it’s at in terms of comedy!

      It’s gonna be so funny if people start thinking Erin’s dating someone. Ilvriss x Lyonette’s got nothing on the new power couple(supposedly) in town!

  6. Question: If they killed magic after the 5th wall, wouldnt it mean that all the mages that was summoned from, would not be able to level and become kinda useless? unless they train another place, but then they would risk getting attacked.

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