Interlude – Trade and Travel – The Wandering Inn

Interlude – Trade and Travel

(MelasD, a fellow author and reader of The Wandering Inn, has released a webcomic for their story, Salvos! A webcomic for a web serial? Sounds like a good idea. Check it out here and give them some support!)


Foreword: I have returned.

It is a day of prophecy.

In Batman’s The Dark Knight Returns, by Frank Miller, Bruce Wayne receives a vision of a bat flying through his window and that tells him to return to being Batman.

When I went to sleep, I woke up to find a huge carpenter ant crawling on me. And thus got far less sleep.

I am Antman. Also, I have not gotten optimal sleep and I’m starting this without a huge amount of notes.

Nothing’s changed. Everything’s changed. It’s good to be back.



This was one of the most inevitable, inescapable tales in the world. One of the oldest. It started with a mischievous, sometimes silly, rambunctious, brave, kind, and occasionally annoying girl with a future ahead of her.

She lived in The Wandering Inn, and she had come here to make this place, these people, her new family and home. She would never forget where she had come from, but for now, here was ‘home’. And she, in this place, worked a bit of the magic she sometimes saw floating around her.

It was not Mrsha. The furry cub with a round head of white fur who had looked sometimes like a miniature wolf had grown up into a girl. In doing so, she’d become less of a feral Gnoll girl unable to communicate and more of a cute kid. She’d stride around with her kilt and her fancy new wand, waving her notecards self-importantly.

She was growing fast. But she was a kid. There was still a world between her and the knowing glint in Nanette Weishart’s eyes. They were both brown, but Nanette’s sometimes seemed like they were staring at what could be, rather than what was. Both were shooting up in height, but Nanette was getting—stretched. Changing from the innocent, round-cheeked girl full of simple happiness to someone who had sat in the rain, a weary lost soul.

Now—she looked like she was free of a great burden, and her hatless head hung higher. She looked like she was searching for something, and it evoked a great curiosity in how she talked. Mrsha, sometimes, blathered. She talked and talked, demanding to be heard, even if the ‘talking’ was eloquent essays.

Nanette asked. She was not a full teen yet, but she was getting close. And she had no hat, it was true. But a witch was always a Witch.

Today was the day Nanette undid her pigtails. She appeared, hair bound up behind her in a ponytail like Ryoka’s, and Lyonette threw a fit.

“Nanette! Your hair!”

“I thought it was a nice time for a change, Miss Lyonette. I haven’t changed my hair since I was a girl. Do you like it?”

Nanette gave Lyonette an innocent look, and the [Princess], who had just been tugging at her own over-long hair, hesitated.

“It’s—certainly striking, Nanette! But that style. It’s so…rugged. You should really have it properly styled. Dame Ushar isn’t one to use scissors, but Ser Lormel and Ser Sest both have rudimentary hair care experience. But neither is an actual [Hairdresser], and you need more than that. Not that you don’t look fetching in your own way! But the entire ensemble is…”

Lyonette’s main objection seemed to be that Nanette looked like Ryoka. She had even changed her blue robes for baggy trousers and a long-sleeved shirt, an oddly modern look.

“Where did you get that clothing, Nanette?”

“Miss Bezale gave it to me to show off. It’s from a new store in Invrisil. Worldview Fashion.

“A—a new store?”

Lyonette was so taken aback by all these new things that she was almost facing the other way. Nanette gave Lyonette an innocent smile.

“I think she hopes it will get Miss Erin’s attention without bothering her.”

“It’s gotten my attention. Nanette, my dear, I hate to criticize—”

“It’s the pants, isn’t it? They feel a bit silly, but I didn’t know what to wear since I always just had my robes and hair.”

All the time? Your mother never told you how to dress up…?”

“No. We wore travel clothes. Could you show me some fashion, Miss Lyonette? I do like your hair styles.”

The [Princess] paused a second, and her own hair, which she brushed and took care of, unlike Erin and Mrsha, was long enough to be put in a ponytail as well. But Lyonette would have rather run to Celum and back than copy Ryoka’s ‘look’.

“This? Oh, well. I was thinking I should do something fancier now I’m not waiting the tables all the time. You know, a ribbon or some color intertwined throughout? It’s a complicated look I never pulled off, but Aielef, my older sister, used to take the courts by storm with it. Not that I think it needs to be this long. I’ve actually been considering a trip to Invrisil. I respect Drakes and Gnolls! But, uh—not their [Barbers].”

Gnollish barbers had one technique, which was to use primitive clippers to take off too-long clumps of hair. Even Erin had decided to self-barber rather than have one of them shave her head short.

Nanette’s interested look made Lyonette hurry to her calendar.

“I think I could take time off. Why—yes, what about tonight? Yelroan’s new calendar says…I have time off. Time off? What am I going to do with these other days? More Mrsha lessons? But she’s scheduled in too…”

“You’ll have to find a hobby, Miss Lyonette. I’d be delighted if you helped me manage my hair and clothes. I think I could manage with what I’ve been gifted, but…”

The young girl scuffed her foot in the second floor’s hallway, looking a bit lost. Lyonette had to take her hand.

“Nanette, I shall absolutely do this for you. Ser Sest!”

He appeared, stepping out of a room and bowing like an instant-butler-knight. Sest’s own immaculately trimmed mustache bobbed as he smiled.

“Shall I reconnoiter fashion and any barbarism in the City of Adventurers, Princess?”

Lyonette rolled her eyes at the pun.

Aha. Yes, but also take a look to Pallass for fashion.”

He did a double-take at that.

“Pallass, Your Highness…?”

“We are living in a Drake city, Sest. Pallass, Invrisil, and ask Krshia if the Silverfangs have any styles for us to take a look at. But we’ll trust hair to humanity.”

“I shall send Dalimont to replace me. At once, Princess Lyonette!”

And he was off. But before he managed to clatter down the stairs towards the noisy inn below, where Mrsha was banging on some drums for Kevin’s ‘music jam night’—Lyonette was notedly above, despite her love of her daughter—Nanette raised a shy hand.

“Miss Lyonette? I hate to be a bother, but I have a teensy request. W-would it be fine for me to do something a bit interesting? I should like to pay for something fun, but I don’t know if I have the coins or permission, especially because it’s about Miss Erin’s garden.”

“What now? Of course! If you have a project…”

Lyonette was envisioning a grand time, especially if she could pull someone else with hair and a need to improve their looks along. She had in mind…Montressa, if the [Aegiscaster] was around. She was a [Lady]. Or perhaps Viceria, a Wistram-mage with more than a hint of her style. Or perhaps even Riverfarm? Come to it…Riverfarm?

Erin and Ryoka were out. And Lyonette was only too keen to humor Nanette finding her way, so when the girl asked…

“What’s the project?”

“I should like to hire a Courier, Miss Lyonette. For ten gold coins. But I can’t afford it…”

Ten gold coins? The number made Ser Dalimont’s brows shoot up as he headed up the stairs. That wasn’t a small amount of money. But for a Courier—it was.

“Are you sending something to a nearby city, Miss Nanette?”

That was his best guess. Nanette might be able to buy Hawk’s services to a city not close via teleportation…but even then, that was about half-price. Honestly, it was really low for Courier-fees.

Lyonette agreed, biting her lip hesitantly.

“That’s a bit—steep, Nanette. For us. For a Courier, it’s also cheap. You could hire a City Runner to run a hundred miles for every ten a Courier charges. Unless it’s to, what…Esthelm? Hawk wouldn’t even think of it. And we have the door.”

“I know. But may I still try? I want to do something fun. The Courier might want more…but if they’re the right ones, they’ll only ask ten gold.”

Nanette looked excited. Lyonette chewed on her lip.

“What is it?”

She had no conception of how any Courier would work for nothing like that unless Nanette wanted to rely on a Courier that was friends with the inn, which wasn’t something Lyonette thought was appropriate. But Nanette had a plan.

“I just need ten gold pieces, please, Miss Lyonette? I already have twelve saved. And Miss Ryoka’s agreed to deliver the goods as close to Oteslia as she can manage and have them shipped the rest of the way.”

“Twelve? Wait, what are the twelve for?

Now, Lyonette was all turned around. Nanette explained patiently.

“The twelve are for me to send the package overseas via normal ships and City Runners. It’ll take a month or two, especially with the seas churned up. But it’ll be a Runner’s Guild delivery, and the ten gold coins will go into the Merchant’s Guild, so they’ll pay the Courier at their destination.”

“…I don’t follow. So you’re sending something overseas, and the Courier picks it up? No, I see. You’re hiring a Courier to pick up the delivery at your destination. But what is it?”

“I don’t know. It will depend on what I get. This is what I want to ship. To Khelt. I think it’s fine, especially because it’s Khelt. Few people want to bother King Fetohep. He puts bounties on anyone who steals from him.”

Nanette showed Lyonette what she wanted to send, and the [Princess] did a double-take.

“I truly don’t know about this, Nanette…”

“Please? I’ll ask Miss Erin, but I wanted to ask you about the money, Miss Lyonette. If it’s too much…”

Nanette’s head hung, and the [Princess] looked at her attempt at reinventing her look and thought of what Nanette had really asked for so far. She put a hand over her heart—

“Oh, of course. It’s your little experiment and—why, of course. Yelroan has his budget, and we do have the coin. Let me just—”

She began to fuss about with Ser Dalimont. Nanette’s head rose, and her eyes twinkled. But only Dalimont caught that, and he hesitated. The witch peeked at him, and he decided the better part of valor was not to make an enemy here.

Thusly, Nanette got her wish. And the most interesting of bounties was posted in the Runner’s Guild of…Chandrar.


Courier wanted. 10 Gold Coins. Delivery within two months. Route free. Courier with negotiation Skills preferred. Non-priority. Non-secret. 

Preferably a Sea Courier. 


The request was put into the Guild’s systems and languished, unclaimed, for about three and a half days.

A short amount of time for seemingly such a nebulous request. But the little witch knew how to tickle fancy. Any Courier who eyed the low price—yet it was backed by Ryoka Griffin, a Courier of Izril—and saw such odd requirements would, of course, ask what the heck it was about.

In fact, two Couriers from Izril and one from Baleros expressed interest, but they were too far from Chandrar or Khelt to take it. The first Courier to pick the delivery was, in fact, a Sea Courier.

His name was Seve-Alrelious. The Hundredfriends Courier of A’ctelios Salash. He accepted Nanette’s request instantly and informed the girl he would take it—she might get to see him in two months, or three, if that was acceptable.

She agreed, and he adjusted his course from his planned route towards his home. He stopped in the paradise of Khelt just in time for Nanette’s paid delivery to get there.




This was all months ago, before the winter had even begun. This is how the old story began and a little witch’s cunning plan.

This was what Nanette sent to King Fetohep of Khelt: a carefully wrapped box with air-holes and packed with water-absorbant soil that a certain Drake [Druid] had helped her make.

It contained a single, slightly battered yellow flower. Yellow as a coin of gold, which the oblivious Couriers and [Captains] shipped overseas without realizing the value of.

A faerie’s flower.

It sat in the palm of King Fetohep of Khelt, Eternal King of Khelt, Protector of Jecrass, King of the Rising Sands, His Majesty of Undying Will, and so on—as his golden eyes winked with amusement and indulgence at the little witch’s plan.

But he played along. He read the note out with urbane amusement to Pewerthe, his potter.

“Observe, Pewerthe, a child’s cunning like your own. I correct myself; a young witch’s cunning. They are talented as any [Bard] in the art of words. Perhaps more because they bargain thusly, not just flatter and entertain. I have wondered if one would be a match for your tongue.”

He turned his head, and the flush upon Pewerthe’s own dusky cheeks made her duck her head.

“I am not silver-tongued, Your Majesty. Nor have I heard of the cunning of [Witches].”

“No? Then perhaps I say, ‘all witches’ in error. I should give this one more credit. The few still upon Chandrar’s soil have not impressed me overmuch within my short span of ruling Khelt. Records show the cunning ones did dance upon the sands. The Witch of Waves made a great pact with Serept…”

Because she loved her king, and he was teaching her how to rule if no one replaced her, Pewerthe often listened to King Fetohep’s tales of past monarchs. But because her feet hurt and she didn’t want to stand for two hours, or even sit, she ducked her head.

“Your Majesty, the seedling might need water and planting. It is ephemeral—and one-of-a-kind outside of the inn and Oteslia, I understand.”

Fetohep hesitated. His glowing gaze swung to the plant, and he noted its somewhat bedraggled form from being in the box so long.

“Ah, yes. I forget how frail flowers can be. They bloom in moments and fade so quickly. Rather like trees. One cannot but scatter seeds without suddenly having a forest sprout behind them.”

So said the monarch who forgot how years worked, sometimes. He quickly rang a bell, and a servant raced forwards. Fetohep leaned forwards.

“Summon Farmer Colovt. Summon to me any [Druids] in our capital and the royal gardener. I have a seedling that must not die.”

Pewerthe exhaled in relief as Fetohep held the precious gift aloft. He was distracted by the novelty of the Faerie Flower that Nanette had sent. He didn’t want it for the alchemical value or the wonders it could create.

Oh, no. He wanted it because no one else had it, aside from a few gardens in Oteslia and The Wandering Inn. Few things made Fetohep happier than, in a decade’s time, taking a foreign dignitary for a stroll in his garden and having them pass by ten thousand Faerie Flowers in bloom while the world was squabbling over owning a dozen.

In that way, though, Pewerthe was rather skilled herself, because the [Potter] didn’t have to listen to a four-hour tale about the Witch of Waves and King Serept. Indeed, she even received the missive that Nanette had sent with her flower gift. Her eyebrows rose—and she smiled so hugely when she read the polite note that Fetohep turned from exhorting his servants to find him a suitable pot.

“Ah. You see?”

“It’s very clever.”

“Too clever, perhaps. I am minded to play the same trick—or just perhaps to answer Nanette with the spirit of her message. I shall deliberate. Unless you have a thought?”

Pewerthe’s smile grew wider. She read the note, which Nanette had addressed to Fetohep.


Your Eternal Majesty,

Here is a Faerie Flower from The Wandering Inn. It is a small gift, but I hope you will enjoy it as you have done so much for Erin and everyone here. 

If it pleases you, I have hired a Courier to take a delivery back to me at their own time. They have instructions to stop at every big nation or city along the way and trade. Please send a small gift back, and they will trade it with everyone they meet who has something better to offer.

I should be very delighted to see what I receive. Thank you for indulging me,

—Nanette Weishart


“Trade? And only something better?”

“It is an old story.”

Fetohep’s eyes were glinting with real delight, firstly because he had the flower, and secondly because this piqued all of his interests as a king who enjoyed the world on these sort of terms.

The naked ambition of Nanette wasn’t lost on either he or Pewerthe, though. Fetohep crooked a finger as he opened his vaults slightly. One of the servants stumbled as a glowing diamond, pale yellow and as fat as Fetohep’s hand, gleamed into life, and the king carelessly caught it.

“This would be a simple enough gift. But I think—lazy of me. It is perhaps what Nanette Weishart wants. She may well receive a valuable item if this was the first exchange. Or perhaps she thinks I shall be so glad to be gifted the Faerie Flower that Khelt’s largesse might be a relic. An Amulet of Greater Flameward, for instance?”

He lifted a dangling locket, and a gem flashed like a thousand burning flames were contained within the stone, all hung about literal water bound into the chain and locket. Pewerthe, used to such displays, only smiled.

“I’m sure she would be delighted, Your Majesty. But if I may make a suggestion?”


He was smiling. He was definitely smiling. Pewerthe indicated the flower being fussed over.

“Your Majesty, that flower is exceedingly rare, but if you describe the inn correctly, Nanette dug it out of the garden, and there are plenty there.”

“True. So this gift is not worth a great diamond. Should we answer her in kind?”

Now he was laughing, his ancient mouth opening, exposing his withered throat, skin preserved by sand, and yellowed teeth. Pewerthe’s eyes twinkled.

“What if you told her we’ll send her something appropriate? I suggest—a pot. From my shop.”

“How valuable are they?”

“I make them well. I would charge a single fancy for the fanciest pot I can make.”

That might have been because Pewerthe had no real notion of value for living in Khelt—they were a barter economy. But that was also why Fetohep chuckled.

“Excellent. I shall write to my correspondent, Mrsha, and inform her that Nanette shall receive a fine pot from a street vendor in return. With respect to you, I shall downplay the gift.”

Pewerthe had to cover her own smile and laugh. Then she set out to find a nice, lovely blue pot made with clay she’d dug herself from around an oasis. It had a yellow handle, and the amphora benefited from her Skills, but it was—well.

Just a pot.

When she returned to the palace, Pewerthe walked through the streets of Koirezune, looking around at the precious heart of Khelt. Like every other part of her kingdom she had toured for His Majesty, it was no less glorious than it had ever been.

Sandstone, mundane unpainted sandstone, was rarer to see than colorful murals, lifelike statues, or great gardens. The ‘vendors’ still hawked beautiful creations for favors, and there were a pair of aspiring [Duelists] on the streets; another group heading to play ‘tennis’.

It felt as if the Kheltians were moving with more passion than before. A good thing. But Pewerthe also saw some Commended Volunteers cleaning up a beetle nest with clear disgust. Some took to it, but another citizen tired of sweeping and just put the broom aside and walked off.

She was encouraged that they were trying. Worried that this fad would pass. Did only she notice the lack of undead? The creeping signs of a few insects, a bit less sand swept from the walkways?

It had never seemed more beautiful despite that. The city hummed with purpose, and it was in the King of Khelt, too.

He sat upon his throne less often and was often seen striding about. The bored indulgence and wit had sharpened itself into intent. Fetohep was still, often, regal majesty. But even here, in the cavernous palace, his intent was making itself manifest.

He was, at this moment, striding about a room where several [Sculptors] that Pewerthe had personally recommended were finishing their touches on two new cities.

One for Gnolls, one for Centaurs. With him were all three [Chieftains], the Herdmistress Geraeri, and the King of Khelt was consulting with a young man as he spoke. He was slyly consulting from a scroll, whereupon he glanced up and spoke with great care.

“Prazer, Mateus. I correct myself again. Muito prazer. Esse cidade é…”

He checked his notes.

“…linda. However! What word do I seek? ‘Insufficient’.”

The young man was following along, and Fetohep turned to a [Mage], who spoke without bothering to try another language.

“[Translation]. His Majesty of Khelt is looking for the word for ‘insufficient’.”

“And any corrections to my address.”

Fetohep consulted with the grinning Mateus, who was pleased to talk to the King of Khelt and correct him on his command of Portuguese. He seemed more happy that anyone wanted to learn his language.

No one, not even Flos Reimarch or Orthenon, had the time to converse. Even Wistram had just uncovered a [Translation] spell.

But the King of Khelt insisted on trying. He had a command of Drathian that let him converse more-or-less fluently with another Earther in his care. He nodded and gestured at the city.

“Linda, mas pouco ambiciosa. Translator. We have limited numbers of undead still capable of construction, and most are dedicated to Jecrass. It is my intent to build this city with as much art from each culture as can be instilled. Doubtless, the city will be upgraded in time, but search for any other great marvels of your homeland.”

He seemed happy. For a second, Pewerthe watched as the King of Khelt returned to his conversation, then switched into perfect Drathian to address a nervous girl holding a broken plate, afraid of being scolded.

It smelled like change in Khelt, wild and glorious. But she feared the wind might soon bring something else as well.




When Seve-Alrelious, the Hundredfriends Courier, bowed before Fetohep, the King of Khelt offered him the pot, much to his and Nanette’s dismay.

“You have a challenge ahead of you, Courier.”

“I—confess it may be harder than I thought. Is it a—great pot of magic, Your Majesty?”


She bowed innocently.

“It has [Shatterproof] and [Deeper Container] baked into the clay, Courier. Oh, and the pot cools whatever liquid or object is within it. As if it were in shade. No better. I am a Level 30 [Potter]. But I did not put all my Skills into it. I think it was a day’s work for fun.”


Seve’s face fell, and Fetohep laughed again.

“Your task is simple, Courier. Exchange it for something better. You are displeased.”

“No, Your Majesty…”

Seve stood in front of Khelt’s monarch, an audience he had never had before, and he was well flattered by the chance. He had been excited to visit Khelt, but he couldn’t hide the dismay that Fetohep saw on him.

To pass beyond the borders of Khelt and have a week’s stay in the city—he’d been touring and eating for free at the finest shops, telling people stories, and being gifted food, and that was a wonderful time. But this…


Someone ooked in an aggressive manner, and Seve elbowed a furry, orange, glowing Orangutan next to him.

“Shut up, Erek! I am sorry, Your Majesty. Erek wanted to see, but I apologize for his—”

The Hundredfriends’ companion was a summoned being, a glowing tattoo on his arm. Erek, the Orangutan, squatted on his long limbs, staring around Khelt’s palace with great entertainment. But even he sensed Seve’s dismay and ooked aggressively at Fetohep.

“I take no offense to the…monkey. What species is he?”

“Erek is an Orangutan. From Baleros. I met him there.”

“Ah, I had heard your countless companions were delighting my city. You have my thanks for that. Servant—tender the Hundredfriends Courier a small gift of Khelt’s regard. A pristine bag of holding, perhaps. One capable of a wagonload of goods.”

“At once, Your Majesty.”

Erek and Seve turned their heads as a man with bright yellow hair—dyed yellow, not just blonde—hurried off.

“Your Majesty is too kind!”

Seve ducked his head lower as he knelt, and Erek prostrated himself. Fetohep raised his brows. But both Erek and Seve knew that a bag of holding that valuable was worth thousands of gold pieces. And it would double the Courier’s own personal bag.

That was the kind of largesse that Khelt was known for. Which, of course, made the pot all the weirder.

“That is mere gratitude, Hundredfriends Courier. Servant. Bring the Orangutan his preferred treat. Which would be…?”

“Fruits, Your Majesty? Or—Erek loves bananas, and he’s been long from home.”

“Fetch a bushel for him to snack upon.”

Erek clapped his hands in delight, but Seve returned to his conversation with Fetohep.

“The pot, then, Your Majesty?”

“I understand your dismay, Hundredfriends Courier. You have, no doubt, come here expecting me to send you with a chest of treasures to Izril and to make mighty trades of increasing value. Perhaps you thought to return with a Djinni’s bottle or a suit of mithril chainmail before even leaving Chandrar’s shores.”

The thought—had occurred to Seve, and he had to confess, he had wanted to go home.

A’ctelios Salash called him. Tombhome. The Carven City. He had been away from home for years, and only the novelty of this job had made him consider adjusting his plans. However, Fetohep’s gaze was direct.

“I have warred with A’ctelios Salash of late. You, doubtless, know of it. Have you thoughts?”

Then, Seve felt a chill, because the King of Khelt’s regard on him was colder, and Pewerthe shivered. The Shield Kingdom of A’ctelios had changed of late. Seve had heard rumors, but he had wanted to see it himself.

As for the attack—an Ash Giant and multiple Jaws of Zeikhal had fallen while attacking Tombhome. Armies had entered Tombhome, even the famous Scourgeriders of Emrist. They had put the Carven City to sleep once more. At great cost.

Seve had been born in A’ctelios Salash. He had eaten of its flesh. He was one of them.

To look at him, he looked like most Chandrarians, if a Courier. Thus his brown skin was tanned, and he was amazingly fit for a Courier who traveled both land and sea. He was often bare-chested to show off the glowing tattoos of countless animals he had befriended.

That was his power, to summon them to fight with him. From great beasts of the sea to friendly birds to Erek—his friends were with him, and so were the people he had met. He had friends in every continent, among every people.

Odd, for the Courier of the most feared and reviled city to be so loved. But that was also, perhaps, because he was a citizen of A’ctelios Salash.

He did not tire easily, he bled less quickly, and he healed from great wounds at alarming speed. He was stronger, quicker, and the one drawback was that he had to eat the Carven City’s flesh. Or he would be driven back in madness to his home.

A citizen of A’ctelios Salash. A man who might be…like that city now was. Did he hear a heart beating in the vast being that lay buried in the sands? Did those eyes, ringed and hollowed out, stare through his blue gaze?

Seve’s head rose, and he met the golden gaze of another kind of monster to much of the world. A Revenant. An undead king, who ruled this land with death magic.

The Hundredfriends Courier’s smile looked like that burning flame in Fetohep’s eye sockets. It had little mercy. It was bright. It made Pewerthe shiver.

It looked like a dagger. It reminded Pewerthe of the [Bandits] who had held her captive when they had been tricked into murdering each other in one night of bloodshed. They had smiled like that.

“I have heard of that, on the day that mysteries struck this world, Your Majesty. And I did think to ask whether my friends or family lay dead. The Scourge of Emrist burned its way into my city. They, doubtless, destroyed much of my home.”


Fetohep never moved. Seve paused, and his voice deepened.

“If A’ctelios was stirring, if they heard a heartbeat from those dark depths—then, Your Majesty, I bear you and Khelt no ill will. For that is our pact. If I were there, and if any would trust me in that hour, I would have claimed a torch and thrown it down those sacral veins. If the heart beats, we are the blade that should devour it, stab it until it bursts.”

He stopped again, and Erek paused in unpeeling his fourth banana.

“…And if we have failed our charge, the Scourge is the least of what we deserve. If Tombhome is corrupt, if it is craven, bring poison. Bring plagues. Bring the nightmares of Chandrar until it is filled only with true intent. My family, my friends, honored the laws of A’ctelios Salash. I can only wonder what has changed. I wanted to see it.”

He looked up, and the King of Khelt only moved then to lift a hand.

“Well said, Seve-Alrelious. To my knowledge, the main city is the one that seems—altered. The former leader is dead. I was told he was dead.”

He hesitated then, and his golden gaze flickered. Seve was confused.


Another pause.

“Yes. His son inherited his position. Baosar is dead. But my understanding of Tombhome is incomplete, and the Scourgeriders of Emrist sacrificed themselves to the last to silence it. I am disturbed. Tell me what you know of Tombhome. Given recent events—is it lost?”

He leaned forwards, and Seve spread his hands as he bowed. This meeting with Fetohep was adjusting his own intentions towards home, and he replied honestly.

“If Tombhome was stirring…I felt a great call towards home at sea, which is why I have come back, Your Majesty. Yet it faded on the day you mentioned. You ask me if A’ctelios is lost. To that, I can only say that it is not one thing. There are multiple eyes, multiple components of the Cities of the Mind, Your Majesty. Multiple…districts is the best way I can describe it. I was born elsewhere and never lived long in what you would know as the main city.”

Even Fetohep paused in his intent listening at this. He murmured.

“Intriguing. I did not realize there were other communities beside the Carven City alone.”

“Is Khelt one city, Your Majesty? With greatest respect.”

“I take your point. Intriguing. Then you have contributed twice to Khelt in a single day. Yet I am glad to have caught you by chance before you returned to A’ctelios Salash. Tell me, Seve-Alrelious. What is the…second stage of a citizen of A’ctelios? My Scourgeriders claimed to have fought them in the deeps. What does that mean? Is that beyond the pale?”

Now, Seve’s skin was erupting in goosebumps. They’d reached a second stage? He swallowed hard.

“If—any citizen reached a second stage, a true awakening, it would be cause for great joy. And alarm. Some would send them deeper. I believe the correct course would be to announce it quietly to our allies in the other Shield Kingdoms. The last time, I think the Quarass was asked how best to use one.”

“And in this case? If I told you there were multiple, perhaps dozens of them?”

Seve inhaled and exhaled slowly.

“I would say…that is a very, very bad sign. I would ask the current leader why they were not killed or divided up. I—would want to see all this myself.”

I see.

Neither man spoke for a long while, and the luxurious throne room of Khelt’s king, despite the marbled floors and great throne chair gleaming with gold—seemed tarnished, as if the air itself had a pall over it. It was Fetohep’s hand that rose first, before he spoke, and his rings flashed.

“Here is my order unto you, Seve-Alrelious. It is mete that you came here, if only to chase a child’s whim. For you did not know the scope of Tombhome’s change. Few do. I have commanded the mortal armies still present at A’ctelios Salash to allow no one but the necessary [Traders] to recover flesh from the city. It is to be blockaded until I am satisfied by the answers given to me.”

“That seems wise, Your Majesty.”

Tombhome would never starve, but they did want the outside world for what it held, alchemy and other goods if nothing else. Fetohep nodded slowly.

“Another time, I would pry those answers out myself even if it took a million soldiers. Today—though it pains me, I shall not press A’ctelios Salash beyond that. I shall hope the madness abates. But I say to you, Seve-Alrelious: do not go home. Take this contract. If needs must, I will match any price you wish, but do not go home yet. Not until I know what lies within. I would not have the great Courier and only man to know the Carven City well—lost. What say you to this?”

Seve considered it, and he nodded slowly.

“I think—I think this is well, Your Majesty. I ache to return and ask my friends and family what has happened. I need no further payment, but if I could beg your indulgence to send a note?”

“I shall have it conveyed within. Tell me, Seve-Alrelious. Can you withstand the desire to return home?”

Another pressing question. Seve had to think.

“I can purchase enough flesh from home for another year. Tombhome does not call loudly as long as I eat enough, and I will make sure I do. Yet it will always call me in time.”

Fetohep exhaled, or made some similar sound since he had no working lungs.

“Hsst. A year will do. Thank you, Seve-Alrelious. When you next return, I will have answers or a better understanding and you will not enter alone.”

Seve could only bow, and the conversation switched to the delivery, to both’s relief.

“This job might be a good distraction, regardless. I confess, I did think I was about a great task, Your Majesty.”

Seve shrugged, calming down now it seemed they were back on firmer ground. To that, Fetohep chuckled, and his mood grew lighter and calmer.

“You are. Do you not see it, Hundredfriends Courier? What a poor gift and challenge it would be had I offered you a Relic-class item or a chest of gold. What a disservice to your story. You are the famed Courier. Do you not see the value of offering this humble pot? It comes from Khelt, and you may inform your next host it is a gift from Fetohep. But it is still a pot worth a single meal in Khelt. Do you understand?”

Seve’s head rose with a great frown, but it was Erek who clapped his hands in delight and ooked a complex series of syllables. Then—Seve got it. Fetohep nodded at the ape.

“A worthy mind, your companion.”

It was a challenge. One that the Hundredfriends Courier suddenly grew excited about. Because—of course.

He didn’t just have the pot. He had the story. He had Fetohep’s name. He sprang to his feet.

“I do see it, Your Majesty. I apologize! I have a plan, now…though I may not head to Izril right away.”

“Doubtless, Witch Nanette would prefer you to take the long route. I understand she was slightly dismayed by my great gift.”

Fetohep was full of laughter today. He gestured at a map being held up for him.

“For my own amusement, where will you head first?”

Seve had to think.

“I think I will take any Courier contracts without a time limit that lead to Izril. But I think…I must head south first, to Tyrant’s Rest. It’s the only place I can find the flesh of Tombhome. Then I’ll bounce north to Reim.”

“The capital of Nerrhavia’s Fallen. And the King of Destruction. Oh well.”

Fetohep heaved a huge, dramatic sigh. But he was already following Seve’s course.

“I advise you to stop in Jecrass. My name will at least open doors in Nerrhavia to begin with. Will you trade it, one object for one?”

Seve shook his head. His lips quirked.

“Given the value of the pot, anything I can trade it for, any object, will do. If I trade parts of whatever I get, I’ll think myself fortunate.”

“Very wise. Then our business concludes. But I offer you at least the refreshments of the palace before you leave. I would speak to you about your adventures, Seve-Alrelious. Let it not be said that I was a poor host. Does your monkey have an end to his stomach, incidentally?”

Erek had eaten an entire bunch of bananas. Which was fifteen. Seve grimaced.

“Unfortunately, the pact we struck means he’s part of me, Your Majesty. Anything he eats just becomes his energy later on. So he can eat without end, or until he gets bored. I’ve never seen any drawbacks.”

“Ah. A challenge. Bring me a thousand bananas for Erek. Pewerthe, you shall dine with us too. Do you have any dish in the world save the flesh of your home you would enjoy?”

Seve and Erek’s eyes grew round, and the Orangutan checked his stomach. Then Seve rose with a huge smile and a twinkle in his eyes. And his great journey began.




It turned out that an Orangutan could get sick of eating bananas. Not physically sick, but Erek had gone through eighty-four before he’d decided even the taste and novelty of them wore off.

He was a good companion, though, and Fetohep had gifted Seve the rest of the bananas for the road. By the time the two reached Tyrant’s Rest, they had begun giving the damn things away.

They spoiled slowly in the bag of holding, but Seve thought he would throw up bananas after fifteen days on the road of eating them for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. He decided to make use of inns instead.

He was a slow land-Courier, he had to admit. He was best on the small, agile boat that had an enchanted sail and cut the water fast enough for him to travel between continents if he took currents.

It was a precariously small ship for someone—except Seve. He had packed it up into his bag of holding, and he was enjoying having actual space thanks to Fetohep’s gift.

Nerrhavia seemed…well on his journey south. But then, Seve kept to the western edge, crossing into it along Zeikhal, the great desert. The largest kingdom of Stitch-folk was vast, thriving, and yet even here, it was touched by the King of Destruction’s war.

Mind you—the signs were everywhere. Prices were up, and Seve was a welcome guest in many cities starved for trade or foreign visitors from the north. The bananas didn’t hurt, either.

“It isn’t just the King of Destruction’s war, though the levies of soldiers are striking even here. Normally, it’s just the closest cities…but he has not advanced far yet. He’s been besieging the forts to the north, and even the mighty King of Reim cannot take them without bleeding.”

A [Magistrate] confided to Seve over a banana pudding. Magistrate Oireikol was actually more concerned about the western front than north.

“Pomle has been destroyed.”

“Pomle has?”

Seve dropped his pudding, and Erek flipped over his plate, which made Oireikol’s daughter scream. Neither had heard about it, and Oireikol was almost as appalled as them.

“General Thelican used a great weapon to—it was disavowed by the Court of Silk and Steel, but it is done. Now, the martial artists are attacking without stop. They have sacked three towns, one city, and two forts! They do not often attack settlements, but their numbers are growing.”

“Disastrous. I visited Pomle—I liked Pomle. Orjin must be unstoppable.”

“It’s not him.”

Even the Strongest had changed? Seve was shaken by this; too long at sea and away from home had left him missing headlines. He had debated heading to Pomle first, actually. It was a long detour, but if anyone needed a pot…




The issue of Fetohep’s first gift was actually bigger than Seve thought. Here was the issue.

Everyone liked bananas. Seve could give one to an urchin on the streets, a Hemp boy, or a Silk noblewoman and get a smile most of the time because fruits from Baleros were hard to acquire.

But the pot? Many people were interested in it, but Fetohep’s name closed as many doors as it opened. When they heard it was a pot from Khelt, they asked if it had gold, a story, or some powerful effect.

When they heard it didn’t really break, it looked nice, and things you put in it got a bit cooler—they lost interest. And, Seve suspected, many of them didn’t want the damn pot because they were afraid they might offend Fetohep if they broke or resold it.

His hope was that it would attract attention from someone who coveted ties with Khelt, and he’d begin his trading journey like that.

The problem was, Seve really had forgotten that each nation’s history mattered a lot to them. In that Khelt had not only stolen Alked Fellbow, one of their Named-rank adventurers, but they’d also sent the Scourgeriders of Emrist at Nerrhavia recently, during the battle at Pomle.

They were polite about it, in the Court of Silks, in an obvious way. Queen Yisame herself was fascinated by the pot. She spoke to him directly, a rare honor, but one a Courier was allowed.

“So it truly is a humble pot? A strange gift, but it has some charm. I would purchase it—but I fear it is not germane at this time to accept Khelt’s small gifts.”

She sat upon her throne, talking to him as he knelt before her, and his heart sank. One of her chancellors jumped in very quickly.

“Not least because it is upon Khelt to be munificent—or not be present at all!”

A great murmur arose from the Silk-caste Stitch-folk, many hiding their expressions behind fans or murmuring in the lounge-type court. Yisame lifted a hand.

“You have my permission to seek a worthy trade, Hundredfriends Courier. I have some passing interest in how your journey continues, as I like the…tale of it. But I cannot purchase this pot, I regret to say.”

She sounded genuinely regretful, so she was either a master of disassembling or seriously upset she couldn’t buy the pot. Her court certainly seemed to think Yisame was playing up her pot regrets.

After three dozen offers and the prospective buyers backing out at the last moment, Seve was so sick of the Court of Silks that he left the palace entirely.

He did manage to foist fifty bananas he had off onto an oddly friendly Great Sage Etrikah. She rewarded his generosity with a peculiar flask of bright blue liquid.

“I can give these to my relatives. You may have this, Courier, if you report on its effects.”

“What is it, Great Sage?”

“A restorative draught. It has herbs, salts, and other edibles to refresh you as you sweat and journey. Drink it at sea or after a long day and tell me if you feel it helps. That is all I want.”

He noted what looked like chopped up seaweed or something in the brew and wondered if it was as nasty as it looked. One sip confirmed it was bad—and unpleasantly salty.

“Is this for…”

“It’s for annoying [Soldiers] who complain about lack of water and for this musclebound fool who begged me for a recipe. The taste I can improve, but this is made of common ingredients.”

So it wasn’t something valuable. Still, it was free, so Seve asked if she had more he could trade for a pot. Her reply was a blank stare.

“I don’t need a random pot.”




Staying in the city of Tyrant’s Rest was horrible. Seve resolved to leave after one day, damn the trades. He only stayed the one day so he could find the flesh of Tombhome he needed; he was almost out.

He had bugs in his room! Little metal ones. Erek, who had vanished once he got two metal ants in his fur and discovered they weren’t fun to eat, was replaced by Kithru and Emigege.

Kithru was a cat, one of those sleek, black ones, and he had the power to generate black fog like shadows and blend into it. He was often called upon when Seve needed a scout, but he was also a cat.

Emigege was a lizard with a long tongue. He was eight feet long, and his main power was a tongue that could roll out and strike a target. Neither one was a great fighter, but that was fine. Seve didn’t need fighters as much as friends.

The two helped fight off the literal infestation of metal bugs as Seve slept, but neither could stomach the bugs, just smack them around. A frustrated Kithru, meowing as he tried to smash a beetle to death only to discover it was metal all the way through, woke up Seve from a very bad night of sleep.

“Is there a plague of insects in this city?”

The [Innkeeper] barely apologized for the bad service. He had bags under his eyes and took a hammer to the insects that Seve’s friends had gathered up.

“You have to…smash them…to bits! They’re everywhere. It was just a few—then the palace swept the city, destroyed them, uprooted the very sewers! They vanished for a while, and we thought that was that. I heard the Great Sage was behind it, and she did a very good job! Even now, the Fox-folk have less of these things in their district.”

“What changed?”

The sour look said it all.

“They came—from the west! Dozens of cities were infested with them, and they came back as a storm.”

No one could quite tell how the bugs had spread so far beyond Tyrant’s Rest, but Great Sage Etrikah had a theory that involved every outbreak and a map that charted where General Thelican had stopped on his way towards Pomle.

Anyways, the bugs aside, finding the flesh of Tombhome was another expensive proposition. It cost Seve nearly sixty gold pieces to buy a huge chunk of it.

He was lucky; it was bound for Rhir, but the [Merchant] agreed to sell him enough for a long time. But the price was ridiculously high.

Here was the thing. The meat of A’ctelios Salash didn’t cost that much. It wasn’t that far from Tombhome to here—a good ways, yes, but the meat never spoiled. You could literally leave it out in the sun or drag it on the ground behind you and, apart from dirt, it wouldn’t go bad. Nothing would eat it, not bugs, not most animals.

If you bought this cube of three-by-three from A’ctelios, you’d pay…two copper coins, probably. Let alone the huge, quarried chunk of flesh that was sitting by the [Magistrate]’s office.

The cost wasn’t that, or just the expense of shipping it. Although the [Merchant] would make a vast profit by taking it to Rhir.

The cost was the tax each city levied on the flesh of A’ctelios Salash. Namely—the cost for bringing it through the gates and the inspectors who gravely wrapped the huge piece of meat.

They had cloth on every part of their body and a mask on. They used bright, waxed paper with huge, red and black symbols.

‘Proscribed.’ Until it left the city, it had to be kept in the wrapping. There were also sixteen men. Eight for the [Merchant], eight for Seve.

“We will accompany you until you leave the city, Courier. We have all signed the Pact of A’ctelios. Your coin has been received. Your name, noted. Will you be dining at all until you leave?”

They meant ‘normal food’. Seve shook his head.

“No. Just a visit to the Runner’s Guild, and then I leave. I have snacks, but I will not eat them until I go.”

“Very good.”

The scarred man was a [Guard] who was taking this job for the coin. But he looked more serious and more alert than most bored members of the Watch. Mostly because of the package, bound up, that Seve put in his bag of holding.

Seve hated the customs in Chandrar, even though he understood the need. Paying to have the meat wrapped up or inspected was a pain, but a single bite meant you were hooked upon it. He took great care himself never to make that mistake. It was the greatest sin of Tombhome to share that flesh without asking.

The [Magistrate] was patently uneasy about even having the meat around him, for all he had probably had to do this before. The sixteen men that Seve and the [Merchant] had hired were a large part of the sixty gold coins.

They were paid well. They’d stick with both Seve and the [Merchant] until the flesh left their city. Oh—and they had all signed a magical contract.

If someone were to eat the flesh of Tombhome in the city without their consent while under their guard, all the ones assigned to Seve or the [Merchant] would be put to death.

That was the Pact of A’ctelios. The likelihood was honestly almost nonexistent, especially in Seve’s case, but it was the rule of most Chandrarian cities.

If that was all, Seve would be fine. But it was the disgust on the [Magistrate]’s face, and even the other people, that made him feel nettled. He knew what had happened with his home…but they looked upon him, a known Courier, with distaste.

“What is it like, if I may ask, Hundredfriends Courier, to have to rely on this…food? I have heard children are allowed to leave the Carven City rather than partake of this. Who could, in their right minds, choose to stay and eat it? Or was there no choice?”

The [Magistrate] shuddered, and Seve exhaled slowly. It was just as well Erek wasn’t here, or he might try to punch the magistrate’s foot. He bowed around to the others.

“I have always had a choice, Magistrate, folk of Nerrhavia’s Fallen. If you have heard rumors that people are tricked or there is no choice—there was for me. And I would damn anyone who broke that rule to the Pact of A’ctelios in a heartbeat.”

He got a few nods, but the pale-faced Cotton man covering his nose still shook his head.

“Even so. What possessed you to eat…?”

It smelled good. That was what turned your stomach. Even if he did not need it—it was sweet, a mouthwatering scent like rare meat. It was a perfectly huge, reddish pink cube of meat you could grill up until it ran with juice, sweating in the sun.

It had no visible veins, no innards—it was just flesh. Because the being it was carved from was so vast that a single organ could be eaten and eaten for ages. What made the others shudder with horror or grow nauseous and pale was that part of them wanted to eat it.

And Seve? He stood there, smiling, angry, eyes flashing even as his tattooed friends swam across his body, some snarling, others making silent, insulting gestures. The Hundredfriends Courier was polite, though, and he responded simply.

“From the day I was old enough to think, Magistrate, I beheld the adults who partook of the meat of Tombhome. I was disgusted by the frailty of my own flesh. I bled, and the wounds did not close before my eyes. I jumped and did not soar. I was alone—and now I am part of a throng who takes part in a single communion.”

They did shudder at that, as he intended them to. But why? He saw his guards look at him, and Seve answered for them.

“Perhaps it’s cowardice. But a Sandworm of the Great Desert can swallow multiple men whole in a single bite. I have seen Crelers thronging, great monsters, and, yes, simply war. Standing against them with frail body and a single life—is hard. When I walk against great monsters now, another is behind my eyes. And it terrifies them. If you have ever railed at the weakness of your body—Tombhome calls you home.”

A great silence arose at that, and the voice of the old [Merchant] broke in.

“Enough. Enough. You go too far, Hundredfriends Courier.”

He was a Stitch-man, and he had never eaten of the flesh, though he made his living by it. He looked at Seve’s youthful, stronger body and shook his head.

“It is a choice. I have been tempted, but the cost is too high.”

Seve nodded. He felt at his belt pouch, anda picture was there. He turned and gave the magistrate and his guards a polite smile.

“Yes. It must be. But if you ask why—I have stared down deep into the vein-wells of A’ctelios Salash. I was once a boy, not a Courier. I wanted to be part of a great mystery. And we eat our old foe and home. It does not rot. It grows back. If not us—then who?”

His eyes were alight with the profane and with that insanity all Couriers and Named-rank adventurers shared. Someone murmured.

“Nerrhavia and A’ctelios should have fallen. Let both be cast into oblivion’s sands.”

To that, Seve turned so fast and fluidly he seemed a different being, one that was a next evolution of his kind—brighter, stronger—and made the Stitch-folk start with unease. But all he did was smile wider.

“This kingdom brought down Nerrhavia, and the Immortal Tyrant died at last. Even when it was ascendant—it was too weak to destroy Tombhome. If ever that great force shall appear once again, I will watch it try.”




The Hundredfriends Courier was not all sunshine and smiles. Rather like someone who was a great friend, rather than just a ‘good friend’, he would be on your side and sail through a magical hurricane to deliver medicine for you.

But he was also strongly—him. He would not apologize for being part of A’ctelios Salash. He took pride in it, despite what it did and had done.

It was complicated. He was complicated. But he was also a Courier, so he stopped by the Runner’s Guild, despite his burning desire to leave Nerrhavia’s Fallen. Stitch-folk had such opinions on someone who had changed their flesh, as if it were any different from how they could change their thread.

“I have…a Courier-level delivery for you, Hundredfriends Courier. Non-priority. But it is close to, er, Liscor.”

To his vague surprise, there was something he could take. He wasn’t going straight to Izril, so Seve had sort of thought there wasn’t much work for him. But rather like a City Runner got bulk deliveries of letters, there were people who were willing to pay for goods to go via a Courier—at their own pace.

“I have a bag of holding full of space. If the client wants that—”

“I can check. Will you give me five minutes?”

Seve was prepared to wait only an hour, but to his surprise, three minutes was all it took for a rather fast reply.

“The client is pleased and prepared to wait. You are a very trusted Courier, Hundredfriends.”

“I try.”


The [Receptionist] was very taken with Erek, who climbed up into a chair and bared his teeth at her. He offered her a hand to shake, and she hesitated before handing Seve something.

“You will need to collect the item—and they want a private handoff.”

The guards were not happy about that. But Seve convinced them to hold onto his bag of holding, and he left Erek to guard it too. The Orangutan was apparently trying to flirt with the Stitch-woman with a banana. He often tried his luck, and over the years, he’d never had any success. But he could understand what everyone said, perfectly, and often surprised people by playing ‘dumb’.

He could forge Seve’s signature and write too. And that really surprised people, but Seve kept the secret for Erek. In truth, there was a reason Erek was often ‘out’ of his tattoo and not hiding. He was intelligent, strong, and functionally immortal so long as Seve lived. Seve had often thought Erek could easily be a Silver-rank adventurer even without Skills.




His handoff was weird. It raised all kinds of what Seve would call ‘suspicions’.

For one thing, the woman who came to the door he knocked on clearly didn’t live there. She invited him into the living room, and she was dressed very well. Silk—and this was a back alley Hemp neighborhood.

She was trying to dress in nondescript clothing, but it was expensive. Oh—and there were three people watching him from upstairs.

“Is this something illegal? Because if it is—I’m being paid to keep it covert, but how I react depends on how much trouble I’ll be in.”

He asked her cooly, straight up, and she wavered.

“Illegal? No. No, not as such, I believe.”

That was an evasive answer. It didn’t pass any truth stone, and Seve eyed the wrapped package.

“It is spelled not to open without the correct code-phrase. It will destroy itself if anyone attempts it—though it will be impossible to trigger the effect just moving it around. You are being trusted not to open it.”

“I am an exceptionally reliable Courier. How dangerous is the protection?”

He was. He never opened anyone’s packages. The woman’s voice was husky as she spoke.

“Very. We appreciate your delivery of this. You will be paid more upon receipt. Time is not of the most critical essence so much as integrity.

They must really not trust this with another Courier. Given how shady this all felt…Seve eyed the black package, but it was just big enough to hold something two hands big and wrapped up with black cloth and glowing wax seals, so it could be anything. He slowly put it in his pack, then took the gold she offered.

More than enough to cover his A’ctelios purchase. Suspicious, suspicious, suspicious.

Oh well. It was entertaining enough, and he did like a good story. If someone came after him because of this—he’d play it by ear.

He was hard to kill. He gave the woman his best smile.

“I understand. If you are an underworld gang or some kind of cult, conspiracy, or cabal—”

She started, and he glanced meaningfully upstairs.

“—I don’t care. I’m paid to do this delivery. So long as it isn’t going to directly kill lots of people…? I need a yes or no on that.”

“No. Not kill people.”

She replied slowly, and Seve nodded.

“Then I’m your Courier.”

She regarded him and pulled the veil over her lower face tighter. She had, Seve noticed, very old thread. Hand-me-down cloth? Down-on-her-luck nobility?

“I knew you would understand something about loyalty. That is all it is. Loyalty. You must love your city, even if it is now changed.”

Seve gave her an odd look, and somehow, she understood more of him than the magistrate.

“Yes. We are a Shield Kingdom of Chandrar. For all we have been fools and nuisances and corrupt—when they call, if we are true, we will be that army without end. Nagas under the Eyes of Baleros. Terandrian Crusades. Even Dragons leading armies of Drakes have been pushed back by us.

Not Khelt. Not just cunning Germina or the power of Merreid’s Djinni or Qualvekkaras’ Garudas in the sky. But by the army without fear, who threw themselves forwards with fury to match any of the King of Destruction’s armies.

“To legends.”

She whispered, that stranger. Then she bowed—and he left the house. He smiled, because he did like being part of stories.




When he got back to the Runner’s Guild, Seve realized that Erek’s flirting could have consequences.

Dire ones.

Not in that Erek was overly pushy. He was a good sort. But while he was waiting, he saw someone come into the Runner’s Guild and approached them.

Because he wasn’t in danger of getting hurt. And because he was Erek. He offered her a banana, and they got to talking.

“Ook. Ooook. Okrh. Gerrook. Ook. Hae! Hae! Hae!”

That last part was a monkey’s scream. He slapped his chest—then eyed his companion, who had the banana in front of them. The rest of the Runner’s Guild, including the guards for the meat, were sitting still. Seve just stared as the nine-foot-tall woman made out of stone tilted her head left.

“I do not follow. But you are speaking to me, aren’t you? How strange. I noticed it the last time I was in Baleros, but my master did not believe me.”


Cognita Truestone sat there, and Seve strode forwards as Erek, ever-helpful, pulled something out of the bag of holding.

He offered her the pot, and Cognita inspected it.

“It is a pot.”


“I see.”

“Cognita Truestone!”

She glanced up. Her eyes were cool emeralds, and he stopped when she regarded him.

“Seve-Alrelious. We meet again.”

“What are you doing—”

No, wait, he knew this one. But Cognita was busy with the pot.

“This comes from Khelt. The clay there is good. A lovely, blue fire. I believe your companion is trying to sell it to me.”


He had to explain the basics of his job to her, and Cognita sighed when she understood, which was halfway through the explanation.

“Of course. There is a Drake story about the same thing. Trading one good for another ever-upwards. Only, Drake society tells it backwards, which is a parable about never giving anything away. Including affection.”

She moodily peeled the banana and took a bite. Seve had no idea she could do that.

“Can you taste it?”

“No. I convert it to energy. As for this—I like the clay.”

She did? Seve couldn’t tell good clay from crap clay, but apparently this was nice clay. Cognita studied the pot, then glanced up.

“How much is it worth?”

“A meal in Khelt, I was told.”

“I see. Then—if you wish a suitable exchange, should I procure the gold or simply an object?

“An object would do.”

Another nod. Cognita delved into her bag of holding and produced something. It was…a Yellat.

It was three feet long and the largest damn Yellat that Seve had ever seen. It had an oddly glossy skin without the dirt he was used to seeing, and it had a huge stalk.

“This is a Yellat acquired from the fields I have been managing. It is too large to sell at established rates, and Nerrhavia does not respect Yellats. Will you take it?”


If nothing else, Seve was tired of the pot, and that looked like food. He took the Yellat gingerly, and Cognita rose.

“Ook. Ooke…not interested in your advances, but thank you…ok-ook.”

She took Erek’s hand as the Orangutan’s mouth dropped open and turned. Cognita looked rather pleased with herself. She strode off, and Seve stared at Erek.

“She didn’t actually say something, did she? That’s impossible. Even for…”

Erek fell over backwards in a dead faint.




Northwards with Yellat in tow. This time, Seve passed through Nerrhavia faster, owing to his desire to leave by a northern coast.

To do this, he used the help of Russivec, the Bicorn of House Walchaís. A charging fellow who ran north. He had a bifurcated, huge horn, and he was half-bull, half-horse. Bethal Walchaís, after the success of her initial horse-breeding, had tried to import stranger horse-breeds still.

But the Bicorn had been too temperamental for even her. He had a habit of playing ‘chicken’ with wagons or oncoming traffic. In that he’d race straight at a wagon and dare it to keep going. He didn’t care if they hit each other. He never had, even before he’d agreed to become Seve’s companion.

Part of the reason that Seve’s animal-companions joined him was for the ride. They got to experience the world and have longer lifespans than he did. Even if they were tattoos, they stared out of his body without fearing hunger or predation.

The other reason was because they had needed help. The huge Nelgaunt whale-creature that Seve called his friend had been wounded and dying when he rescued him. Russivec had been herdless, close to being put down for being a menace.

Aside from apologizing to people on the road north, it wasn’t hard to make good time, and it took him only eight days of hard riding to get to the northern border.

Seve was soured on Nerrhavia for a bit, and he hadn’t found what he, personally, wanted. Oh, the desert land appealed to him, and the Stitch-folk with their great fashion and the milling cities were, to him, wider and grander than many other continents’ cities.

He could call Chandrar home proudly. But Seve always left, as well, because he was a seeker and Nerrhavia had nothing for him.

“Especially now. Sorry. I doubt you lot will find what you want in Reim, or anywhere else. Khelt, perhaps, once we earn King Fetohep’s respect, but I didn’t want to ask. Jecrass?”

Russivec grunted and tossed his head, and Seve patted him on the flank.

“A deal.”

The Bicorn actually picked up speed at that, and the tattoos shimmered as his friends silently danced over his flesh with excitement. But first they had to get through the warfront, so Seve grew watchful as he closed on Nerrhavia’s northern borders where fortresses dotted the land.

There he saw the war with the King of Destruction first-hand.




Who had said that Reim was having trouble with the forts? Oh, a [Magistrate]. That was what it looked like on paper, but the [Soldiers] seemed disturbingly relaxed to Seve.

The war camp was filled with [Soldiers] that Seve could only describe as ‘veteran’. Despite the magic flashing from the fort in the distance, they sat or even slept, their armor worn by battle, but in good condition.

Unlike a rookie [Soldier] who polished their spear until it was sharp, a [Soldier] of Reim, a man, checked it twice with a whetstone, put it next to him as he relaxed, and sat there, laughing and joking with his squad. Of the two—he looked far more dangerous.

They were confident. Even the half-Giants, who waved at Seve as they sat around, had the air of people who had broken armies before them.

It made Seve feel intimidated himself as he approached the huge tent where the King of Destruction lay. The legends of the King of Destruction had manifested in this eternal campaign, and he held court in a simple tent as his army besieged Nerrhavia’s forts.

Casually. That was the thing. They were facing a fortress, one of the Bastions that Nerrhavia’s Fallen had on their northern border, enchanted spires hurling magical bolts through the air, a killing trench dug around the old blackstone walls.

Seve had heard this was a relic from the age of Nerrhavia, the Immortal Tyrant herself, and even if it was faded, the magic mostly gone, Reim’s army just parked outside of it with a cheerful indifference that the Stitch-folk didn’t share.

Perhaps it was because, for all they were up against a great nation of Chandrar—it was only one nation, not dozens. They were on the offensive, and for once, Flos Reimarch, the King of Destruction, had no more enemies gnawing on his sides.

He was building trebuchets. And his ‘trouble’ was mostly Flos putting his feet up while Nerrhavia sweated and watched more and more of his armies coming south. And his Seven…

When Seve found Flos Reimarch and was granted an audience with him, the King of Destruction was playing a game. It was no less than Gazi the Omniscient and the steward, Orthenon, who escorted him.

They were the ones building the trebuchets. Amazingly, both had apparently memorized how to make them from the first wars of conquest, so the secret of Drakes and Minotaurs was turning into an unpleasant surprise for Nerrhavia in their magical forts.

Mind you, they still had wall enchantments that were hurling magical bolts at Reim’s army from vast distances. But the walls were also exchanging fire with the Archmage of Chandrar, and she had lit up an entire wall with lightning and sent the Stitch-folk running as Seve rode towards Reim’s lines.

“Your Majesty, a Courier to see you with a story to catch your ear.”

Orthenon announced loudly, and Seve heard Flos Reimarch laughing before he met the King of Destruction face-to-face.

Seve had seen Flos Reimarch before. He was too young to remember the original, but he remembered a hollowed man on his visits to Reim, a tired, quiet city, snuffed out of ambition.

The huge figure laughing as he swung around a fan like a mace was a completely different person. He was dancing around a huge…sandbox in the middle of his war tent. Everything else had been shoved to the side, and even the war table had been flipped over and a bunch of sand pushed onto the ground. There were actual little miniatures of forts, rocks, and things that Seve suspected were meant to go on said war table and map.

But they were being used as a young man sat across from the King of Destruction, nervously giving orders as Flos bellowed his.

In the background, another young man, Trey Atwood, had his face in his hands. Elena watched, rolling her eyes, and half the Earthers were with Flos, the other half clearly wondering what the hell was going on with their lives.

Forwards the left flank! Forwards the—stop the cavalry there! Damn!”

Flos was energetically shouting, but he was in trouble. Waves of his [Soldiers] were charging left, but a wing of horses in a wedge formation literally plowed into them on the left.

Heidec Formation! Heidec—

“They don’t know what that is, Flos. I don’t.”

Trey shouted at last, and Flos threw up his hands.

“Fighting retreat! Dead gods, they’re getting slaughtered!”

He pounded the floor, watching as his soldiers were being hacked to pieces. But he was still smiling, despite the carnage. Dozens of them were dying! Their sand bodies slowly falling to…


Seve had thought he was watching some kind of battle being broadcast via sand magic or something, but he realized it was literally just sand.

Sand Golems. Hundreds of them, vying for dominance across a literal sandbox. It was the strangest thing he had ever seen, and he instantly saw the appeal for the King of Destruction.

“It’s a little war in the middle of a big war.”

Gazi rolled her eyes as Flos Reimarch looked up. The King of Destruction burst into a smile, and he rose.

“Seve-Alrelious. The Hundredfriends Courier! Come in! You have it in a moment. Isn’t it fun? People do this all the time where Trey comes from. All the battle, none of the bloodshed. I quite enjoy it, though I prefer actual war. War should have meaning…but I am hooked by the strategy. Though every time I lose, it’s because the little Golems can’t obey commands. And it doesn’t follow real life.”

“You can’t have one super-powered Golem. That’s cheating.”

Trey answered, sounding peeved. Flos scowled.

“Give me Minizi for half my army. That’s more fun to me, and that’s how my Seven fight. Didn’t someone have a system for points? I could use a half-Giant, too.”

“This is so stupid.”

Elena buried her face in her hands, and Seve was amazed by the informality of this ‘court’. Flos just started laughing.

“It may be! But there is something to seeing how the soldiers move…ah, nevermind. It is a game. But I am hooked for now, and it beats watching the trebuchets go up. And we have a guest! Is this the famous monkey I’ve heard of?”

He was taken with Seve. Taken with Erek, and he insisted on having a banana without even checking for poison. The only thing he wasn’t taken with was Seve’s background.

“A’ctelios Salash. I have a grudge against that place, you know. Terrible deeds have been done there. One of my vassals, Trey there, has a rightful blood feud against that place, and so does the Quarass. She, I trust, and Gazi herself has said A’ctelios has become corrupt.”

Trey Atwood had frozen up when he realized where Seve was from. The Courier bowed politely to him as he sat cross-legged with Flos, drinking wine.

“So I have heard. I intended to return to set things right if I could, but this project has taken my time.”

“Set things right? How? With fire? With an explosion?”

Trey broke in, and Flos paused with his winecup raised.

“Careful, Trey. The Hundredfriends Courier is a guest—and an honorable man.”

“He’s different from the rest of Tombhome, then.”

Seve bristled as he and Trey locked eyes. The young man had a scar on his throat, and he looked—odd. He was clearly a talented [Mage], and there was a five-foot-tall figure behind him. Made of red sand? She looked like—

He gave Gazi a quick glance, and the Gazer had a complicated expression on her face. Seve addressed Trey politely.

“I understand you have seen something dire in A’ctelios. But I am from Tombhome, and it is my home, Magus Trey. Not everyone there is corrupt. Though if it is corrupt, it should be dealt with. By good people of the city, as well as outside powers.”

He nodded to Flos, and the King of Destruction nodded back reasonably. But Trey’s eyes flashed.

“Nothing in that city should remain. Do you know what pakheil are? Do you know they’re changing guests into them?”

Seve’s skin crawled.

He shouldn’t know about—changing guests into them?

“That has to be untrue. Or—did they have a choice? Because that would be inconceivable to A’ctelios Salash.”

Inconceivable? It almost woke up! Flos, don’t eat with him. If he’s really from there—”

Seve’s hand tightened on his goblet at the assertion.

“I would never offer someone A’ctelios’ flesh without great reason. I would have you take it back. And if you say there is rot in Tombhome—”

He looked at Gazi, and she nodded seriously.

“—Then I acknowledge it. But my people and I are products of the Carven City. Great things can bloom amidst rot. Every field and farm rises from fertilizer.”

“Poetically said.”

Flos smiled. Trey just snarled.

“You’re crazy. Great things? You’re all addicted to the flesh. I can see it on you. It’s in you. That—monster. A plague of people. Don’t talk to him.”

Seve slowly rose as the tent grew still.

“I have only changed as I pleased. But I dislike being called a monster, even in your court, King of Destruction.”

Flos waved a hand.

“Oh, no. State your mind, Courier. I do not often make it a policy to be rude to guests, let alone Couriers. But I am pleased Trey is stating his mind. I will not interfere.”

The Hundredfriends Courier nodded and faced Trey.

“Whatever you saw in Tombhome does not define all of us. Or do you serve a murderous king who only knows war? People are more complex than—”

Trey pointed a finger at Seve.

“You, like Roshal, are one thing. One thing defines you. And one thing is all I need to understand. One owns slaves. The other are monsters.”

Flos stiffened slightly, then sighed. Seve paused, then knocked the hand down.

“Roshal and Tombhome are not the same. Recant that.”

Trey’s eyes were like bright swords, digging at Seve.

“Both cities would be better off as smoking craters in the ground.”

Children and all?

This time, Seve was the one who stepped forwards. Trey jerked, and before one could throw a punch, cast a spell—Erek put his hands on both’s chests and pushed.


Seve and Trey went flying. A huge woman coming into the tent with the most unrealistic proportions Seve had ever seen—let alone armor with literal breasts—caught Trey with a laugh. Seve stumbled back, and Orthenon steadied him.

“Enough! Mars, welcome. You’re just in time to play some games. We’ve heard you speak, Trey. Now—listen. If you can’t, step outside.”

Flos Reimarch put his cup down, clapped his hands, and Trey stormed out. Seve sat down, shaken.

What had that boy seen in A’ctelios? More and more, Seve felt the need to return home—and more and more, he began to realize it was as well he hadn’t gone.

Perhaps he needed backup.




“A gift? And Fetohep was the first one?”

Flos had the most disgusted look on his face when Seve told him about the trades. He was entirely reluctant to do anything Fetohep had started.

“I don’t think I’m interested in Khelt’s Eternal Glorious Haughty Majesty and his ‘taste’, which is just anything expensive. I regret to say that unless you find a buyer, I do not wish t—is that a Yellat? It’s the largest one I’ve ever seen!”

His eyes lit up the moment he saw the three-foot Yellat. Flos almost snatched it from Seve, and he held it up.

“Look at that skin! It must be decades grown; they shed layers of skin and refine, you know. The taste. Orthenon! Do you see it?”

“That’s a Yellat, Your Majesty.”

The Steward was unimpressed by the Yellat. Flos stared at him.

“You fool, Orthenon. This is no Yellat. This…I’m almost tempted to re-bury it and keep it growing. The roots are trimmed, but they’d regrow. This has to be sixty years old! Most monsters dig these up because they’re magical at this stage. This is a prince of Yellats, and Cognita Truestone just handed it over?”

“She claimed Nerrhavia doesn’t value Yellats, even old ones.”


Flos whispered. He held the Yellat up and struggled—then turned.

“I must have it. How much for it? No, you need a gift that exceeds the value of this Yellat, don’t you? Mars, give me one of your swords.”

“Eat shit! Even for you, Flos, a sword for a Yellat?”

She protectively held onto her sword at her side, appalled at the notion. Flos looked around.

“Where’s Amerys? She can enchant something for this Yellat.”

Seve was beginning to get into his task, so he coughed dramatically.

“Your Majesty, I have to leave soon. I do not have time to wait for an enchanter as this is bound for Izril.”

He was hoping it would pressure the King of Destruction, and sure enough, Flos began pacing back and forth.

“I could give you swords, arms—is a trebuchet ready? No, that’s a silly gift, and they’re inconvenient. What would serve? What would—”

He was pacing around his war-tent when his eyes fell on something.

The Sand Golems. Flos seized a handful and watched them try to form a phalanx in his hands. His eyes lit up.





The [Sand Mage] was not happy about Flos’ idea, which was to buy the super-Yellat for the price of one hundred Sand Golems.

“They’re not easy to make! It took me a month to make this entire amount, and you want to sell them?”

“Trey. Trey. Trey, I well understand your complaint, but I have two responses. First—you can make more. Second—this is a magnificent Yellat. They’ll last for a long time, won’t they?”

Trey barely looked at Seve as he shoved his hands in the pockets of his robes.

“…A week or two and their bindings decay, but any [Mage] can strengthen them.”

“Well, Seve?”

A hundred Golems to fight little wargames. Well, why not? Taking the Golems from the annoying [Mage] also tickled his interest, and the Yellat probably had an expiration date, so Seve agreed.

A hundred Golems lined up for his bag of holding, and Flos proudly told him how they could simulate arrows, hold shields, and actually fight a little war.

“There’s room for improvement like Skills and such, but Trey might be able to sell them—if they weren’t made of sand.”

“They’re for fun.”

Trey sighed. Elena raised a hand.

“They’re for nerds. This is the lamest thing I’ve ever seen. Please don’t bring it into this world.”

Flos and Trey stared at her, both hurt. Elena pointed at the figurines.

“That literally. Literally. Makes me respect you both less. I’m telling the Quarass.”

“She’ll see the value in these.”

Elena threw up her hands as Flos dismissed the threat. Seve just raised his brows as Trey glanced at him.

“Nothing to say to me?”

“So long as you’re not doing anything? No. I’ll save whatever I have to say for A’ctelios itself.”

Flos’ eyes lingered on Trey when the young man said that, and they lit up with approval—and Seve shivered.

The King of Destruction, for a second, had looked exactly like his legend.




Nothing would do but Flos ‘show’ Seve how to use the Sand Golems, which involved six games until Orthenon finally dragged him away. The irony was that Flos was a poor player. So was Mars, because despite their ability to correctly judge how to send the Golems into a fight, they tended to get mad when a ‘good’ Golem didn’t hold the line. And they pestered Trey to create super-Golems to better reflect reality.

One of the strange young men and women was very good, owing to what he called ‘experience’ in the game. That was who Seve had seen playing Flos, and he assumed they were a [Strategist], although the fellow doubled over laughing when he asked that.

Another good player? Erek. He beat Flos Reimarch with the novel trick of arming each Sand Golem with ‘rocks’, which let him win a tense siege.

Seve hated to admit it because Trey had made them, but the Sand Golems were clearly the product of a high-level [Mage]. They were very responsive to commands, which made sense when he heard that Trey was also a [Schemer].

Class synergy. It fit him, too. Seve moved on, passing by Khelt again on his road north.




Jecrass was where the trade exchange got interesting. Seve was already surprised to see Khelt-Jecrass, the third that had been annexed by Khelt.

It was already looking fairly odd; undead supervised by Kheltian officers were everywhere. Not on the streets, although there were a number of laboring skeletons avoided by most Jecrassians, but they were in force at the borders.

Apparently, they had been hacking up monsters and bandits, and hundreds were tilling fields or rerouting parts of the rivers to irrigate farmland.

Khelt had big plans. By contrast, Jecrass seemed impoverished by the war. The great grasslands and rivers felt luscious to Seve, and he admired the actual trees and countless rivers that fed the land of famous riders.

Russivec loved it too and galloped around, braying at his cousins, who regarded the magical Bicorn with bemusement. Seve’s heart hurt, but he realized that this was it.

“Are you sure?”

Russivec bowed his head after the third day of riding through Jecrass. He had been pacing left and right, thinking long, and his scarred head, glowing with magic, dipped sadly.

But Seve had known it. The [Worldtraveller Inkfriend] closed his eyes.

“After a celebration, then. Erek, break out any snacks we have. We’ll halt before we get to Jecrass’ capital. Come out, everyone.”

His tattoos shone, and everyone except for the water-based friends appeared. Yowling cats, two of them, an alligator from Nerrhavia’s Fallen, flying birds—and more.

They flew around as a traveling [Shepherd] and herd turned to stare. Half the sheep walked into the river in amazement as a menagerie glowed around Seve.

Unlikely friends. Carnivores and herbivores, climbing all over Russivec, who grunted and dipped his head and then looked to a herd of wild Bicorns. Seve stood there, and Erek poured a cup of beer. He gulped down half, and Russivec gulped the other half.

“You won’t get anyone feeding you drinks after this. Try not to raid a bar.”

Heh. The Bicorn grinned, and Seve knew he’d remember a lot of tricks. Seve was no [Beast Master], but his friends learned a lot.

“Are you sure? Jecrass is full of people who love to ride Bicorns, and it’s been at war.”

Russivec hesitated, but he stared at the Bicorns, and the lonely bull-horse from Izril pawed the ground and then nodded at Seve. So the Courier asked nothing more, and he just smiled and talked about the past.

Then—as dusk was falling and the Bicorn herd was warily sniffing at him, Seve produced a magic dagger. He slowly drew it across Russivec’s tattoo, and the glowing lines of magic slowly parted as Seve weakened the magic line by line. The bull, glowing with magic, stood there, and his fur slowly changed from emerald green, spectral light, to ordinary, blue-black fur.

He inhaled, then, and the Bicorn pawed at the ground. He danced a few steps, stumbled, and looked around, blinking as if waking from a great, gentle dream. Then he stepped forwards, and Seve embraced him.

Erek had tears in his eyes. So did Seve.

“My friend. We’ll check on you when we come back. Alright?”

Russivec nodded. Water leaked from his eyes, and then he turned. Seve wiped at his face, and the Bicorns surrounded the now-mortal member of their herd. The largest bull looked wary as Russivec jerked his head at him.

“If I were him, I’d back down.”

Russivec was huge, mean as hell, and he had fought on three continents. He was now mortal, and Seve hoped he’d see him again.

A few curious Bicorns were eying Seve, but the Hundredfriends Courier held up a hand.

“Sorry. No one to join us. Not when we send someone off.”

He met most of his friends by chance. If the Bicorns understood—they whuffed at him, and Seve raised his head. The other animals inspected Jecrass, but not a one asked to go.

Few had ever stayed more than a decade. Erek was one, Arveil another. Most would go when they found somewhere they wanted. That was his pact. If he found them wounded or lost—he would carry them to a new home.

It was half the reason Seve travelled. And it was good and bitter and made him feel alive, so he waved at Russivec, and the Bicorn brayed back. Then Seve set out on his journey, and another friend, another place, was forever defined by the Bicorn he knew, here.

Small stories a Courier shared with no one. Jecrass’ capital itself was full of tamed horses, riding high and fast, and celebration that the war was over, even if uncertainty hung in the air. But there were hundreds of proud, swaggering [Duelists], half of whom challenged Seve.

Erek was so gloomy that he only cheered up after beating three with a sword. The threat of losing to an Orangutan cleared them away, and Seve then headed to the modest palace, full of balconies and a huge orchard of orange trees, where the Queen of Jecrass graciously granted him an audience thanks to his connections with Khelt’s king.

It was here that Seve made a third trade.

It was important to note who didn’t trade with Seve. After Cognita had broken the ice on the first trade, he had gotten semi-constant offers for the Yellat from [Chefs], but nothing had seemed better than it.

Gold obviously wouldn’t do. When he got the Sand Golem soldiers, Seve and Erek had to admit…they might have refused a lot of trade offers because they were hooked on the tiny soldiers.

Each night, they’d play a game, and every [Innkeeper], [Strategist], and so on had made an offer on them. Some of the trades were actually tempting, like five rolls of Sand Worm hide.

But Seve didn’t even start getting bored of the Sand Golems until Jecrass. And the only other person who had the means to make an offer—the [Prince] of Hellios’ fine, quarried stone was too heavy—was the Quarass.

She took one look at the Sand Golems and rolled her eyes. She was polite, but more interested in Erek and Seve’s thoughts about A’ctelios.

Jecrass was where a buyer emerged. Only, the [King] and [Queen] weren’t interested in all of them. And they weren’t married.

Queen Jecaina and King Raelt of Jecrass were in an odd position. Both had the class—both were now ruling Jecrass—and both were clearly not at home with the other.

They liked each other, but King Raelt walked in halfway through Jecaina greeting Seve and sat down on the other throne crammed onto the dais. But apart, because again, not a married couple.

“Did I hear there were some fascinating Sand Golems around?”

“Fath—Raelt, this is Seve, the Hundredfriends Courier.

“Greetings on behalf of Jecrass. What brings you here?”

Raelt nodded at Seve, but he was actually far less formal than the Arbiter Queen. She was holding court like, well, a [Queen]. He was staring at the Sand Golems fighting gladiatorial-style on a table.

Half the Riverwardens were clustered around, entertained, but Jecaina sighed.

“We may trade for them for the novelty, but I cannot think that we can offer you something commensurate, Courier Alrelious.”

Commensurate? Raelt and Seve had to frown at that word, but Seve bowed.

“Would a handful suit, Your Majesty?”

“Mm. Perhaps. But aside from the novelty of watching them bash each other…perhaps you would care more to see the project of Jecrass? My father, His Majesty, could attend too.”

Jecaina’s waspish tone made Raelt start, and they stepped away from the Sand Golems to…a map of municipal plans. Or rather, a small city.

“Oh, is this a city? Looks good, looks good.”

Raelt nodded at the streets and even miniature sewers, houses—it was a fascinatingly complex thing, and Seve marveled at it.

“It’s Khelt’s city, which they are willing to reconstruct for us. One of their artisans worked on reproducing this—it’s too well-made. But we are redesigning it. You have been to more cities than most, Hundredfriends Courier. Did you have an opinion on the sewers?”


Seve was confused, and Raelt shrugged.

“We have never had them. We could run a river through the city.

“And then we must worry about contamination, and I have heard there are sewer monsters and how much they need to be cleaned. Let alone Nerrhavia Fallen’s current woes. But it might cut back on disease, too.”

Jecaina was stressed. Raelt gave his daughter a concerned look.

“Isn’t this something for an advisor to worry about?”

“It’s something we should worry about.”

She hissed at him, and the two eyed Seve and dropped the matter, but if that didn’t speak to a difference in styles, nothing would. Seve did his best to think of something novel.

“I would say, rather than sewers…clean wells and hot water, Your Majesty.”

“Hot water and clean wells?”

She was perplexed. Seve explained.

“I have been to places beset by plague and even been honored to meet the Last Light of Baleros.”

“I’ve heard of her. The Dullahan?”

“N…not quite. At any rate, she claims hot water, soap, and clean wells cut down on disease and infection a thousandfold. Chandrar often lacks for wood. Even Jecrass. Hot water might do well, and access to wells.”

“Access to wells. Hmm. Here’s one. And here. And here. I wonder.”

Jecaina flitted over the map of the proposed Kheltian-style city. It was built like some of Fetohep’s cities, but she was right to be skeptical. His cities relied on, well, magic and undead labor a lot of the time. This city?

She peered at each well, then had a sudden idea. The Arbiter Queen strode back to the warring Sand Golems and, to the displeasure of the audience, scooped up twenty. Then she dumped them in the miniature city.

“Can I make them fetch water? Or pretend to?”

Seve was fascinated by the idea. He thought it over and told Jecaina that while they didn’t make-believe well, if they put a colored pebble in each well, the Golems could use that as water. Jecaina watched like a hawk as the Golems each brought pebbles over to their ‘homes’. Then she pointed.

“There. Those Golems take far longer to get from the well to their homes. And there’s only one thoroughfare, and they’re getting stuck here.”

Some of her court gathered around as the mindless Golems, who often tried to take the most direct route without the benefit of an aerial view, began smacking into each other while trying to move around the city.

“That’s true. What a fascinating use for these things, Your Majesty.”

One of her Riverwardens was amazed. Jecaina smiled proudly. Seve had never considered using the Sand Golems for that—and neither had Raelt.

But he had sourced a trade good for the twenty Golems.

“I have…oranges. A rare fruit in Jecrass. We do not have many goods after the war, but I will offer you royal oranges. All of the ones we have. A terrible loss as they are my favorite fruit, but I can offer you three hundred of them. Which I have been treated to since my return and recovery.”

Oranges? It wasn’t exactly Khelt’s fruit bonanza, but they looked pretty good. Jecaina gave her father an exasperated look, but Seve did some math.

“Three hundred for twenty?”

“I could take fifty—”

“Twenty will do.”

With a sigh, Raelt admitted that the twenty Sand Golems were probably enough for small-scale engagements. Plus, maybe they could make more, and Jecaina could use them for her architectural planning.

So. Three hundred oranges up, eighty Sand Golems remained. They were both perishable goods, though, as the magic would run out on the Golems and the oranges would rot.

…Actually, a lot of them were slightly mushy. Actually, that seemed to be the defining trait of these oranges. And they stained.

So Seve was exceptionally glad that he found a new buyer for both items in his final destination on Chandrar.

Glorious Medain.




These Golems are a genius invention! I only wish I had another nine hundred and twenty of them! Fetch me every [Mage] in the city! Let’s make them tiny bits of armor and bows! Why, we could simulate entire wars with enough! I only wonder why eighty. It’s just not a nice, round number.”

King Perric of Medain was agog with the Sand Golems, and Seve wisely refrained from telling him he’d sold twenty to his enemy—or where he’d gotten them from.

“You intend to use them for wargames, High King?”

He stood in the throne room, and Perric gave him a mystified look.

“What other purpose could there be? Chess pieces? Hah! This is far more engaging…the Titan should have invented this. Wait. This could be Medain’s national game. Excellent! And your price shall be—”

A chest of gemstones. Rather to Seve’s surprise, Perric offered him a casket with no less than thirty gems, some as fat as robin eggs. Cut sapphires, a fat topaz, onyx…

“Your Majesty is exceedingly generous.”

He murmured. Erek had long-since wandered off, not keen on Perric. The High King smiled as Seve wondered if he could object.

“Of course I am. A [High King] should be no less. If anyone can better my gift to this ‘Nanette’, tell them it was I who made the best gift of it.”

“Of course, Your Majesty.”

Well, there went objecting to the gift. Seve sighed heavily and thought Fetohep would have some choice words to describe Perric’s elevation of the trading.

Similarly, it occurred to him that Perric was acting rather like Flos, a comparison the High King might like…but the Quarass might have smiled at Jecaina’s use for the Sand Golems.

Perric had already left, so Seve went to find Erek. There he found a far more interesting trade taking place.

“Ooh. It stains so badly. And it tastes…decent. Oranges. They come from his lands, you said?”


A Djinni dressed in a rather revealing outfit was sampling an orange that Erek was offering her. She was laughing—but she stopped when she heard the footsteps. When she saw it was Seve, she relaxed again.

She was floating in the air, a grey-skinned woman with two small horns jutting out of her head, looking like, well—a Demon.

Yet she was also clad in silks and fit the look of the High King’s palace, which was the richest place that Seve had been to yet.

Fetohep’s own palace was grander, make no mistake. The ancient stone and work of his predecessors gave the King of Khelt an air of majesty, but the sheer monetary value of Perric’s own abode stood out.

Silk everything. Silken drapes, rugs that were tributed to him, paintings, many of himself, gilded with gold, or great adventurers he considered friends. Seve had the feeling that he was lowering the value of everything he touched.

The Djinni was yet another proof of the High King’s wealth. She addressed him lightly as she turned from Erek.

“Oh, Courier. Have you been entertaining His Great Majesty of Virulent Girth?”


Seve had to stop a second, and the Djinni winked at him.

“He demands I only speak of him in the positive. I am Maef, one of his concubines in his harem. Are you selling oranges?”

A Djinni as a concubine seemed incredibly risky to Seve, who knew exactly how dangerous they were. But he was wise enough to know there were eyes everywhere in the palace, so he bowed.

“I am. Are you…interested in them?”

He doubted a Djinni needed food, but then again, she looked bored and had to pass the time. For an answer, Maef took a greedy bite of the orange, peel and all.

“Mm. Bitter.”

Orange juice ran down her cheek, her arm, and somehow, coincidentally, onto the expensive silk rug. Seve winced. The oranges did stain so.

Carelessly, Maef tossed the peel and some of the orange down where it continued to drip.

“I litter so. No orders against it. How many did you say you had? Three hundred?

She batted her eyes at Seve, and he raised a finger.

“A few parts to this. You didn’t buy them from us. Also, you must exchange them for a good. Money won’t do.”

“No? Damn.”

The Djinni floated upside down, frowning—something dangled from her ears, and she brightened.

“Oh! How about this? Here.”

Then she unhooked two platinum earrings with big pearls, and she presented them to Seve with a smile. He gave her a long, long look.

“If I’m accused of theft from the High King—”

“No, no. I sold them to you. I’m the only one who gets in trouble. And while I dislike jewels because I’m just adornment myself and His Mightily Spontaneous Eruption gifts them to me like water—someone else may love them more. At the very least, the pearls are pretty and pure. Purer than the gems he gave you.”


The oranges wouldn’t last, and Seve saw Erek was nodding. The Orangutan would throw an unholy fit if he didn’t make the trade it seemed. So he quickly dragged out six crates of oranges, and the Djinni made them vanish by literally engulfing them with her body.

She winked.

“You may wish to set sail fast, Hundredfriends Courier. Oh, but beware the docks. Some pests have apparently been causing trouble in Medain.”

Seve tucked the earrings into his bag of holding.

“Thank you, Lady Maef. Brigands?”

She pursed her lips.

“Not…quite. But they do most of the same thing, even if they claim to simply be citizens of another power. They fight well, though. They’ve beaten King Perric of Indeterminable Stamina’s precious guards in multiple fights. Even a Gold-rank adventurer.”

Strange. Seve thanked her, but he was not afraid of most bandits anyways. As it turned out—they were an odd people.




“Renounce Khelt! Renounce undeath! Hear the Prophet’s words or—”

That was when someone hit the shouting man with a club. Seve, setting up his ship at the docks, hadn’t realized that the people of this…‘Prophet’ were so widespread.

He’d heard some comments from Roshal to Nerrhavia about a Prophet causing trouble, but it was louder in the north.

And apparently—this Prophet was in Medain right now. They called themselves the People of…the People of G…

The People of God. Seve winced and put a hand to his head and wondered why their name rang so. Perhaps it was just their voices.

But while he expected the shouting pilgrim to go over as High King Perric’s [Guards] tried to knock them off the podium at the harbor’s mouth where they where exhorting passersby—he was not prepared for the bleeding man to get up, eyes shining with wrath, and clap his hands together.

The shockwave knocked everyone for a hundred paces around him flat. Then the People of God started fighting the Watch—and began winning.

Seve watched with Erek, open-mouthed, as one raised an ordinary buckler, caught a [Light Arrow] spell, and bounced it like they had a magic-shield.

“Dead gods, they fight well!”

He exclaimed, and someone spoke.

“Not dead. Not Him. But this city is awash with fear. The High King down to the ordinary folk. There is no use wasting more time here. Recruiting will swell our numbers only slightly; if High King Perric will not listen, then we must go to the root of evil. It was not the Pharaoh’s underlings that Moses strode against. It was he himself. This is all part of a greater plan.”

Then Seve turned and saw a hooded man standing and watching the fighting, flanked by several members of that group that looked—sharper than usual.

The difference being that of angry pilgrims armed with strange power—and warriors. Each one was wearing armor, stylized with odd…elongated crosses. They hung around their necks, and they had on enchanted gear.

Dangerous. Erek had frozen in the act of tying the sail onto Seve’s boat. He peered at the man who’d spoken and saw white robes, a beard…not much else. Pale skin for Chandrar.

Deep voice. It had a bit of an echo, and Seve nodded.

“Are you the Prophet of these people?”

“I am the first of many. You are a Courier. I have heard it said you gained entry to the High King’s palace in a day, where he had been deaf and blind to my coming for this last week.”

The Prophet sounded annoyed. His followers looked angry. Seve glanced at a woman armed with a mace, who was watching the fighting.

“Prophet, should we…?”

“Leave them. Faith will heal all wounds, and this is not our chosen battle. Men should not fight men when a truer enemy will gain the attention of all. There are broken [Knights] here, two kingdoms knelt, even if the half-Elves will not listen. A coming revelation will show all the true path.”

They nodded respectfully, and she took her hand off her mace.

Okay, they were mad. Something in Seve itched at the way the man spoke. It reminded him, a bit, of Baosar, the last leader of A’ctelios Salash.

“It is said that you were also gifted a great treasure by the High King.”

The Prophet turned to Seve, and the Courier exhaled.

“Yes. A gift for a gift. I am on a journey, trading it for something better. Do you have something to trade with me?”

The Prophet’s guards did not appear to like his casual tone. One spoke harshly.

“You do not know whom you speak to, Courier.”

“I apologize. I speak to everyone this way, from [Kings] to [Beggars].”

The man bristled further, but the woman who’d spoken up addressed him sharply.

“Izreal. That is how Couriers work.”

The warrior-pilgrim hesitated and then shot back at Seve tightly.

“Well, know this. If you speak with some deference to the monarchy, you are speaking to someone above that.”

That was an interesting claim. Seve felt his skin tingling, and he hoped Erek could get the boat ready faster. He had a sense of what was coming next. Because the Prophet interjected.

“We are on a mission that requires, of many things, mundane coin. Sustenance is no issue.”

“It falls from the heavens.”

One of his followers murmured. The Prophet tilted his head.

“Yes—but coins do not. Would you, Courier, care to donate some of that wealth bestowed on you? I can offer you a blessing in return.”

Seve casually let his hands lower towards his belt and hooked his thumbs into it. The guards noticed; they were experienced warriors. Converts?

“—I’m bound to give this to my client. I can’t give something for nothing.”

“Have you heard of our faith? Do you know of it? Perhaps we should speak at length.”

The Prophet seemed keen to get his ear, and Seve had a keenness to leave right now. But the sail needed to go up, and Erek was fumbling the knots. He nodded to his craft.

“I’m afraid I must leave right away, Prophet. With respect, a Courier stops for no man.”

“Would you stop for ___?”

His ears hurt. Seve froze—and the Prophet was stepping forwards. He reached out, and Seve saw that cross-like amulet rise.

“Let me show you something you have never dreamed of. A miracle—”

And then Seve’s flesh began to burn. He shouted in pain, stumbled back—and flames erupted from his skin. The guards leapt forwards, and the Prophet—

Jerked back as Seve leapt into the saltwater of the harbor. His skin was burning!

The flames went out, and Erek reached down. He yanked Seve out, and the Courier rolled around on the dock.

My skin!

It was burned. It was in agony. It hurt worse than any wound he’d taken in—a decade! And the Prophet had—

“I did not attack him. Was that—who is this man?”

The Prophet himself seemed shaken and turned to one of his followers. He didn’t know Seve, but when he heard the words ‘A’ctelios Salash’, his expression changed to one of disgust.

“Ah. That city I deemed profane.”

Then he backed up a step. Seve, panting, rose.

“If that was an attack—”

“No attack. But it seems you are beyond redemption. For now. A time will come when everyone will be saved, but you…perhaps not. But I would still ask if you would consider donating these riches.”

Now, Seve was worried because the guards were tense, eying him like some kind of monster—and he was in genuine pain. He had thought he could tangle with them with ease—but if that happened again—

The woman who had spoken up earnestly was watching the fighting People of God with concern. Now, she turned to the Prophet.

“Your Holiness. What if we offered him a few things to trade? A blessing is ephemeral, and you have often said that ‘the people of this world must see first, then believe’.”

With that, she drew several old, raggedy looking scrolls out of a bag of holding. She had seven, and the Prophet hesitated.

“Hm. We have articles of faith. It would not do to be accused of—theft.”

He sounded incredibly displeased, but the woman approached with a huge smile.

“Please, Courier. Take these and believe me when I tell you they are worth more than a casket of jewels.”

So they knew what he had and wanted to give him—spell scrolls? They had not a whiff of magic about them, but Seve was eying the Prophet’s guards and fairly certain he was going to get kicked and beaten down if he didn’t accept right now.

Erek was growling—and the woman held up a hand.

“Please, we are on a great mission against evil. Please be reasonable.”

Erek made a fist to show her how reasonable he felt, and Seve whispered.

“Erek. Not now.”

That Prophet made him uneasy. The Orangutan hesitated, and Seve brought out the casket of gems. He heard a murmur, from the Prophet himself, when he flipped the lid.

“Thank you.”

The seven scrolls were handed to him, and Seve snatched them. Without a word, he pushed himself up and got onto the ship.

“If that’s all?”

“Go, with my blessing. I shall pray for your speed and fortune, Hundredfriends Courier. Remember this—you have met with the instrument of fate this day.”

The Prophet bowed, and his servants looked like they thought Seve was getting a great blessing indeed. But when the Prophet put his hands together—Seve felt nothing.

If that’s a Skill, it’s not working, or he’s full of shit. Seve almost spat into the water, but he just grabbed the tiller of his ship. He only spat into the water long after he was out of range of the Prophet and the People of God had vanished into the docks.


Erek was concerned, and Seve shuddered as he felt at his skin.

“Sorry, Erek. I know you wanted to hit him—but he set me on fire without even touching me. We might have been in trouble, and I remembered the earrings.”

He fished them out, and the Orangutan folded his arms, clearly thinking of the chest of gems. That…had been worth more.

But Seve wasn’t willing to die over them, and he fished out the seven ragged scrolls.

“I know. At least they gave us—I was about to chance a fight and hope the Watch or Perric could help us, but the scrolls made my hands tingle. Like that bastard, but less. What is this? Garbage?”

His hopes quickly turned to disappointment as he checked the scrolls. They were bad lambskin or parchment—but clearly old, recycled parchment.

Some had huge tears, and that was artistic and cool if it was an artifact from a dungeon—dispiriting if you were hoping it was actually valuable. Each one was also not a spell scroll.

He knew magic, and this wasn’t it. It was, in fact, written tightly with…weird words.

“And lo, unto a new world was sent the Prophet, into the Great Desert in which he was cast to refine his spirit and find the first People of G__, and preach faith anew into this empty land of spirit.

On the eighth day, as they lay suffering of flies, the Prophet walked amongst his people and put his hands upon their sores—what is this?

Seve hurled the scroll down with a curse. It was just text! He covered his face and snapped.

“Erek, get me a [Message] scroll. I’m lodging a complaint with the Runner’s Guild and sending a missive to the High King. Are they all…? Yes, they are!”

Some were different, but they were all oddly written texts. One kept referencing a ‘Lazarus’, another was about a blind man…they looked like stories, but Seve was in no mood for it. He picked up the first scroll, ready to hurl them into the ocean, and then his eye caught one thing on the bottom.

The entire thing was written like a parable, a story, aside from a single word at the bottom. Seve’s eyes flickered down the scroll, and he read the bottom.

“…so unto you who weep, whose flesh bleeds, who lieth sick and with pestilence or infection, I sayeth unto you: [Heal]?”

Just healing? What kind of Skill or stupid spell was th—

The scroll flashed. Seve shouted, and Erek whirled. He saw his companion, skin burnt, tattoos flitting about with worry for their friend, flash—and Seve’s shout was panicked.

“Erek! What happened to me? Er—”

Then he reappeared as the golden light vanished—and Erek’s jaw opened. The Orangutan pointed.

Ook! Oke—hae?

Seve stumbled around, feeling at himself. Erek pointed, waved his arms, and then Seve realized what Erek had seen.

His burns were gone! Seve had been burnt by whatever fire the Prophet had conjured. But the scroll had just healed him.

“What the—I thought his magic or whatever hurt me! Profane. He’s been to A’ctelios Salash or seen it. He scorched me like nothing I’ve felt. But this?”

He was healed. It was like a healing potion! Suddenly—Seve noticed one of the scrolls floating in the water and leapt after it.

“Erek! Secure the scrolls!”

Suddenly, his trade goods were back and a lot more valuable. A lot more. But Seve was left with huge mysteries.

What the hell was the Prophet’s power? How could he make a healing scroll? Was he a [Mage] with ancient magic? Or was it something else?

And where was he going if Medain didn’t have what he wanted? Well, Seve would have been happy to ponder the question at sea while heading to Izril—but as luck didn’t have it, he never made it the way he intended.




Damn you, Prophet! Damn you and your blessing! [Steady the Ship]!”


Storm at sea. Seve ran into it as he tried to head east and north, along his usual route before Izril’s New Lands.

Unfortunately, the current was against him. The tide ran west now, and Seve couldn’t make it to even the House of Minos.

The current’s changed, Erek! We have to go west! To Baleros! Arveil! Turn!

The Nelgaunt, the huge, friendly guardian of the sea, stopped laboring in the lashing water and turned. Seve, water soaked and cursing, saw Erek haul on the tiller.

It was a cold winter storm, and he’d been fighting it three days, trying to make headway—but it was not to be. In fact, he suspected he’d been swept west despite his best efforts; he tried to orient himself with a compass.

The compass swung wildly, showing him what it was aimed at—Wistram. There were compasses tuned to certain cities, using lodestones. In this case, Seve cursed when he saw the needle swinging east and compared it to one tuned to Cenidau and adjusted to give him a rough ‘north’.

“We’re already heading towards Baleros! Dead gods damn it! Igawiz’s Jet nothing! Can Chandrarians even get to Izril directly?”

If so, maybe they needed new routes because this new ocean was all topsy-turvy. Seve clung to the lashing deck of his small skipper, feeling them pick up speed. He was almost glad of giving up on Izril despite the delays. He could always find work and trade more before heading to Liscor. He fixed his gaze on the water, and that was what saved him.

Seve saw the bobbing…mass of what looked like seaweed at first in the storm-churned oceans as a faint thing. Then he noticed the orange glow, and his blood ran cold.

Arveil noticed it next, and Seve’s hesitation turned to fear and then a cold dread as the Nelgaunt howled, geysering water. He tried to turn—but it was too late. Erek looked up and began to scream as well, and Seve whispered.


Then he shouted as the bobbing mass of hundreds of Crelers, all fused together like bugs did to make a living raft, noticed him at last. Thousands of legs began to move, and they broke apart, arcing into the water, wiggling forwards. It was Crelers at sea!

Every sailor’s nightmare. Seve began summoning his companions as fast as he could, nevermind that not all were able to fight in the water. If they died—they’d become tattoos until their power recharged.

“Everyone! Get ready! Crelers! Watch out for—”

He was hoping it was just babies. Right up until he saw a huge, shark-like shape, and a Juvenile Creler arced out of the water, biting, landing on Arveil and tearing into the Nelgaunt, who stopped dragging the boat and turned to fight.

There was no outrunning Crelers in the water with both of them caught by the storm. Seve knew it. They were amazingly fast in the water.

Those long, spindly legs? Their wiggling, translucent bodies? They ‘swam’ in the water, both like fish and using their feet like oars. And they attacked you from all sides, from everywhere.

Hundreds. And one Courier. Seve drew a sword and stood on the deck. His tattoos were blazing with magic. His friends leapt into the surf or fought. A tiny cat, launching himself into the water and biting, clawing at a baby Creler erupting up. Erek pounded the first down with an oar, splitting the fragile body and revealing glowing orange innards, which oozed onto the deck.

But more were coming, and they were balls of mouths and razors. Seve was shouting, sword swinging, as his friends started vanishing.

This was a Sea Courier’s trial. Worse than land Couriers. He was alone, deep at sea, with no help coming. And still—he began howling at them as they rolled over his ship. They were everywhere, biting, their venom piercing his flesh.

Then he began laughing as they took the first bites from his flesh. 

“Salash! Salash’s blood runs in me. Tombhome is in my marrow. A’ctelios in my veins. Come, horrors of Rhir! [Cleave the Earth]! [Friends: Primal Awakening]!

He split one with a sword. Stomped another into the deck so hard that it buried its fangs in his legs, began biting—and somewhere in the Creler’s mind, it realized he wasn’t flinching.

Seve ground the Creler further into the wood until it stopped moving. Then he kicked it off the boat. His foot burned with agony, and he screamed with it. But his flesh didn’t mortify as the poison raced through it.

Even as the Creler bit…he began healing. Slowly. Not like lightning, but their poison? They took a bite out of him—and the Crelers did something they had never conceived of in their vicious lives.

They spat his flesh out. They, who ate seaweed and fish, great beasts of the sea, and [Sailors]—avoided biting him. His summoned friends laid about them, howling, and when they were bit—they just vanished.

And the ‘mere animals’ fought with far more ferocity than the Crelers had dreamed. Kithru grew twice as large, and his ability to create shadowy fog began wrapping tendrils of smoke that ensnared his enemies as he savaged two Crelers. They tore open his side, and he vanished, becoming a silent, yowling tattoo, egging the others on.

Erek whirled an oar left and right, like a swordsman himself, punching Crelers hard enough to rupture their internals. Birds dragged Crelers into the surf, fearless of water or their tearing bodies. The Hundredfriends Courier and his companions had no fear!

No sustenance either. Seve-Alrelious stood in the rain, and the swarm hesitated. It attacked him, clawing, biting, but his presence unsettled it. They tried to kill him. Not as food, but as a strange, dark rival.

The one thing in this world they were afraid of eating. 

They still wanted him dead, though. Seve drank one potion, then two. His friends began vanishing. Arveil went down with a wail, and Erek howled. He vanished, throwing himself into the sea with as many Crelers as he could attract climbing over him. But his eyes were desperate as he looked back at Seve.

This could be it. The swarm—wasn’t breaking. The Juvenile Creler kept smashing the boat from below, hitting it with its huge body and refusing to fight. If he went into the water, they’d tear him apart in seconds. Seve wondered if that girl would wait for months. Would they know? His friends would appear in the water when he died.

He had to give them a chance. He seized the tiller of his ship, reaching for a Scroll of Northern Winds. They were on him, and one bit half of his right ear off. He ignored it as he swung his sword around.

“Tombhome! Call me home! Call me—”

Light in the darkness. A yellow beam, so bright he thought he’d run into a lighthouse at first. A cone of it, shining from above.

Then he saw the warship. It towered above his tiny, beset craft, and Seve howled.

Crelers! Crelers in the water! Warn ships!

If they didn’t see it—but then he heard a voice from above.

“Crelers in the water. Scorch the seas until they’re dead. Open fire—[Lances of Perdition]. Fire.

Then the first burning bolt of lightning hit the water, ionizing it, and set fire to everything in its path. Seve threw up his hands, and more arced down into the nest of Crelers. They screamed, and some popped from the heat, but he was beset on the deck as the warship fired. Ironically—he was still—

“I’m going down.”

Sir! Wait for—

Someone cried out above, but the figure who had spotted Seve and spoken launched from the deck like a harpoon. He dropped, swords drawn, and landed like an explosion on Seve’s boat. The tiny vessel nearly capsized as the second figure began slicing Crelers apart. They turned on the figure as Seve tore the one on his face off, losing the rest of his ear in the process. He began laying about him, a fearless, howling fighter.

The other figure was waterlogged, fur soaked, and the Crelers leapt at him. But he swung his sword around him in an arc, knocking them back before they could touch him. Then he inhaled.

“Hold onto something, Courier—[Howl of the Plains]!”

Seve grabbed onto the mast right before a shockwave lifted his feet off the ground. It hurled most of the Crelers into the water, and the stabbing lances of magic rained down around him.

Then it was done. Seve staggered upright, bleeding, half of a potion in his mouth. He swallowed, gulped for air, and turned.

“Thank you! Dead gods, you saved me!”

“Saved you?”

The stranger looked at Seve. One ear was missing, he had literal chunks taken out of his flesh, and his tattoos had gone dark, recharging mana. But he had the poise to thank his rescuer—and his eyes were bright.

Even at his end, he hadn’t been afraid. So that was a warrior of A’ctelios Salash. It impressed even the Gnoll, who sheathed his blades. He nodded to the ship.

“Lower a ladder! Come aboard, Courier. We need to scour any eggs from the waters if I know maritime law right. No Crelers left to live.”

“Maritime law. You must be a landperson. But no ship will let Crelers live, be it Drowned Crews or [Pirates]. The least we’d do is tip off the nearest armada. I’ve seen shark packs kill Crelers then swim to the Last Tide to throw themselves off because they’re infected.”

“Everyone hates Crelers.”

The figure grabbed a ladder and offered Seve a hand. The grateful Courier climbed as figures congratulated the Gnoll.

“Head Slave Iert, that was risky—”

“I don’t answer to you. Shut up and get us a towel and something to eat. Someone else grab his boat before it goes under.”

Seve paused, panting, as he heard the voices and finally placed the accents. His head rose—and the Gnoll accepted a towel. His eyes flickered to Seve, and the Courier inhaled.


Then, Seve looked around and recognized the flag in the storm. He looked up, sighed, and nodded.





The warship cut the waters like a warning. It was made of old wood, enchanted, of course, and painted with an innocuously calm blue on the hull. But the trim of the railings was a royal Terandrian red, and the seal of Roshal stood out like a brand on the ship’s side.

Roshal was not so obvious as other nations. Their seal, that of Lailight Scintillation, was of a market city intertwined with flowers, coins, a horse, and other goods arching above the city in a complex pattern, to represent what you might buy there.

Only when you looked closely did you realize the flowers and other goods looked like…chains, draped over the city.

The warship was far less subtle. The crew stood at the ready in the thousands, and only a great navy could boast one of similar make. It ran heavy, with sixteen Magic Throwers on deck and more below, concealed via hatches.

Though they had less room for the weapons thanks to the long rows of cages beneath, some ensorcelled to dampen both magic and Skills. Silenced. 

The above decks held mostly the crew, half of whom were [Slaves], the other half lesser workers in Roshal. Seve wished he could point to something to say that the ship was noticeably different than any other, but they still tended to the rigging and cleaned the decks like any other ship. Perhaps it was the militancy that stood out to him.

Unlike a Drake ship, which was full of military doctrine, or Wellfar, or even [Storm Sailors], Roshal did not seem like it was wary of an attack. Rather, it seemed like it was waiting to see whether it was attacked or would be the aggressors. There were a lot of soldiers of every species, and Seve wondered whether all Roshal’s ‘trade’ ships had so many soldiers.

It was one of the richest nations in the world, even if a lot of lists excluded them. Many harbors would let them dock, if not trade. But Seve disliked being on the ship even long enough to rest after his battle with the Crelers.

A’ctelios and Roshal had a history, but one that had its fair share of strife. Roshal had, like all things, tried a dalliance at control of Tombhome. Only to find that some things couldn’t be enslaved.

Even so, Iert, the Gnoll who appeared to be in charge of this ship, was knowledgeable enough about Seve not to be surprised when, the next day, Seve appeared with half his ear regrown.

“So you really can regrow body parts.”

“Yes. I fear little.”

Seve was curt. He did not like his saviors, but that they had saved his life meant he gave them the time of day. But they were headed in opposite directions, so he planned on jumping ship.

“We’re closer to Baleros than Izril.”

“Hrr. True. That damn storm blew us all around. I’m bound for Izril, but if you wish to leave…we’ve cast [Repair] on your vessel enough. Can I tempt you with any more meals? My master is a fan of Couriers like you.”

“I’m grateful, but no.”

The Emir Yazdil himself was Iert’s master, and so Seve was trying not to offend. Iert seemed to sense his displeasure.

“It’s the [Slaves], isn’t it?”

Erek was recovering from his fighting, but even if he was here—Seve scowled. He glanced belowdecks.

“You seem happy enough. I can’t say the same for anyone else here.”

“Flip of the coin. Bad master, bad time.”

The Gnoll shrugged, and Seve resisted the urge to spit on the decks. This was a warship, one of the nasty ones that Roshal ran to acquire ‘cargo’. As far as he knew, they didn’t go to Izril.

They usually sail Baleros or Rhir at most. What’s going on?

He had to go. Seve itched to say something that would get him in serious trouble on this ship with thousands of crew, and his dislike was all over his face.

Iert was calm, but the ship’s [Captain], a slave trader himself, looked displeased.

“Some gratitude for us would be appropriate, Courier. Or does a son of Chandrar dislike Roshal that much?”

“I run deliveries all over. I just dislike seeing people in chains. Besides—of all the sons of Chandrar, you had better ask that to someone in Jecrass, Reim, Medain, Nerrhavia—anyone but me. Roshal has warred with A’ctelios before. We never forgot.”

Seve shot back. The [Slaver Captain] laughed.

“Jecrass doesn’t fit that list as well. Belchan and Jecrass were straying from civility. We mark our friends and allies. It’s not like you’d be put in irons for existing.”

“No. But again, Roshal tried. Until they found out that Tombhome is louder than any chains. And that we need to go home, even if you bury us ten thousand feet underground and encase us in metal. Do you know those stories?”

Seve smiled, and the [Slaver Captain] hesitated, then turned on his heel.

“Iert, your guest is free to leave as he wills. It is the Naga’s will, after all.”

He scowled at the [Slave] who seemed to be able to give him orders, and Iert snorted.

“Good job unnerving him. Not enough low-level masters remember the rules are there for a reason.”

“A’ctelios is against the rules?”

Few of Tombhome left, so the odds of them being put into slavery because they were in debt or committed crimes was low. Iert hesitated.

“To most. Same with Goblins. A very few species are off-limits except if you have dispensation. I quite admired your fighting below, Hundredfriends Courier. The Emir certainly liked the tale. And he’s heard of your delivery.”

“Of course he has. I’m not interested in trading. The young lady—”

“You aren’t going to her directly. A trade is a trade. Humor the Emir. He likes to be part of things he thinks matters. He can certainly best your current offer. What is it?”

Iert interrupted, and there was a firm note in his voice. And then Seve remembered the scrolls in his bag of holding and had a desire not to show Iert what he carried for another reason.

“…I got a pair of earrings from Medain. But the casket of gems was ‘acquired’ by a certain Prophet.”

Iert sighed.

“Nasty. But—oh, those are nice earrings. Expensive. Let me swap them for something. We have sweets. Hey! Get me one of the gift sets. The finest stuff. Marzipan, that Turkish Delight stuff—the damned chocolates, the entire set. How would this do?”

He came back with six boxes of assorted sweets. Seve grudgingly tasted them, and he found they were a variety of new, sugary products.

“Interesting. What is this, Terandrian? Everyone’s figuring out gelato.”

He had done a lot of food-runs for the money until he got sick of rushing ice cream across the ocean for people. But this…Iert nibbled at a chocolate-covered sugar cookie.

“Nope. We’re making it. We’ve got all the recipes. It’s six boxes of various kinds of sugar. That’s sixty-four snacks per box.”

So over three hundred pastries? Seve sighed.

“…That’s better than the earrings. Alright. Trade them over. Want some meat in return?”

Half the crew listening in blanched. Iert just snorted lightly.

“Be on your way, Courier. The Naga’s friendly to anyone who’s not his enemy directly. And even to most of them.”

“I know he is. The King of Destruction smiles and laughs a lot too. What’s your point?”

The Gnoll grinned at that silently. Seve-Alrelious was only too glad to get back to his ship and sail onwards. That was his encounter with Roshal. But he had some cause to regret departing from them and not enduring a voyage to Izril; the storm that broke during the fight with the Crelers came back with a vengeance after a day.

It hammered him straight into the water. Seve, proof against Crelers, last remembered seeing Erek lunging at him as a forty-foot wave tossed them free of Arveil’s harness. Then?





As the wave bore down, Erek saw Seve gripping as hard as he could to the mast of the ship. However, the wave was high—so high it would have been a vast cliff on land.

Too high to swing over even with the longest of vines. And his friend, the man who wore Erek’s life in glowing ink on his skin, was weakened, healing from his fight with the Crelers.

The churning waters rose higher, and Erek, looking around wildly, thought he smelled and saw something familiar in the sea. Then, he wondered how far the storm had blown them. Days at sea. If—

He swung himself up higher, towards the mast, gripping onto it with his feet pads and his strength. Then, he cupped his hands together for one second and screamed into the night.

Sound fact: monkey and ape-calls were able to echo for miles in the forest. In this storm? Perhaps it was futile. But Erek screamed—then dove at Seve as the water hit. He grabbed his Human friend in his hands as they went down, and the water, like needles, shredded his magical skin. He tried to swim ‘up’, but then he felt the magic in him vanishing as Arveil dove towards them.

Seve passed out—and Erek vanished. Then he was staring out of Seve’s tattoos, in the water, surrounded by the rest of the Courier’s friends.

Was this it? In these deeps, was this where their great journey ended? 

Erek ‘held’ Kithru in his arms, the closest the tattoos could get in the quasi-world they inhabited between being called to reality. If they appeared in the ocean, Arveil would pull as many as she could to safety.

The world spun and tumbled, and Erek closed his eyes, wondering if the flesh of Tombhome let Seve survive without air. The glowing light of Seve’s tattoos shone in the dark waters like a beacon, but he was unconscious.

Yet the waters still broke, and Erek looked up as a figure leapt into the ocean. For a second, he wondered if it was the dangerous Iert, who smelled like death.

No. The figure who dove in swam in an ungainly breaststroke. He was huge and made for Seve, and Erek’s heart leapt as he saw a familiar face. Mottled green fur, wide, staring eyes that took in Seve’s tattooed body.

The Gorilla grabbed Seve. And then hauled him up as two more figures leapt into the ocean. Then—Erek knew they were safe.

He was close to Baleros’ heartland jungles.





When Seve woke up, he wasn’t sure how he was alive. The last thing he remembered was a storm and losing his connection to his friends.

He thought he’d washed up, at first—then quickly realized he was lying in a bed. He sat up, scattering leaves and—strangely—feathers and cotton.

“How—? Erek?

His first thought was for his closest friend, who sometimes wandered off without him. He sensed Erek outside the odd hut he was in and guessed Erek must have appeared a few minutes before he woke. Seve swung himself out of bed and then heard the hooting.

Not like owls, but a deep grunt from inside your chest. A familiar—no, deeper, exhalation. It sounded like…


That was how he found himself in the clan of the Jungleclad Gorillas. Erek was in the center of a huge gathering of dozens of them, little Gorillas staring shyly at him from behind huge members of their species, who sat with their hands supporting their broad-chested bodies, green fur making them blend with parts of the forest.

Gorillas? They were listening as Erek ooked excitedly, dancing around, making gestures with his hands, occasionally pulling something out of Seve’s bag of holding. The glowing ape was at the center of the tribe—and when Seve emerged, the rest of the Jungleclad ape clan set up a furor.

“Dead gods. Another tribe. Erek! Did you know your people were here?”

The Orangutan proudly slapped his chest, then leapt over to make introductions. Seve met a huge leader of their society.


He was actually shorter than Seve, just under six feet tall, but he was far, far wider across and heavier. He peered up at Seve, eyes bright with curiosity.

“Thank you for saving me.”

Seve spoke, and the Jungleclad leader hrmed harder, tilting his head left and right. Seve remembered the first time he’d met Erek’s tribe.

This one didn’t seem to understand speech. Or maybe…

He tried something and did the same thing Erek had once done to him. Seve touched his chest.

“Thank. You.”

Then he handed the leader some of his travel rations, salted cod from Medain. The huge figure delicately took the morsel, nibbled at it, and then, to Seve’s relief, smiled. He turned to Erek, and the two began hooting at each other. Seve just stood there as the clan gathered around him, now curious and wanting to know who they had saved.




Baleros. The ape clans were only common here. He had to be near the great jungles in the mainland. Luck had saved his life—and his connection with Erek.

This was a coastal tribe, far from civilization. When they had heard Erek, they had headed out to sea. On a ship!

Okay, not a ship. They had a fishing raft and crude nets, but Seve was blown away when he saw them trying to repair it. It was a huge construction, made of trees chopped in two to form a base that could hold up to six of their clan without issue.

“Erek, they’re seafaring!”

The Orangutan rolled his eyes at Seve’s amazement. Seve knew he shouldn’t be that surprised. Erek understood multiple languages, and he could steer a ship, write, and use weapons or tools. But a vehicle just—stood out.

Then again, Erek’s own clan used weapons. So did the Jungleclad Gorillas.

They were armed, Seve noted, with axes to better let them move around without snagging a spear on branches or brush. Some had just old, stone-age axeheads, but their leader, who seemed to go by Hrmrhr, at least how he spoke, had an actual steel one.

It was clear they salvaged both shipwrecks and had some contact with other species because their arboreal tree-village, connected by simple bridges to the more dangerous ground, was filled with salvaged goods.

Pillow fabric, metal used for nails, even a rainwater collector. The huts had roofs, and while nothing looked like structures from home—Seve had always known the Beastkin and monkey and ape clans had strong ties, and he had even heard of them being employed in mercenary companies like the Forgotten Wing.

But it was another thing to realize just how intelligent they were. From fishing to village-building, the Jungleclad clan seemed very self-sufficient. They were not agriculturalists; they clearly went out to hunt for food.

It did seem like they had trouble where food was concerned. Despite Hrmrhr’s very polite acceptance of Seve’s fish offering, seafood and meat in general was low on their dietary list. It seemed like they had learned to fish to supplement the need to scavenge for food, especially come winter.

Getting food in a jungle filled with damn monsters and other hazards was tough. Seve wasn’t the only injured person in their village, and unlike other societies, the one thing that the Jungleclad clan didn’t have was magic or Skills.

A particularly badly hurt ape was lying on his back, whimpering as their doctor used some crude tweezers to yank out nearly a hundred quills from his front. He must have run into nasty, quill-laden animals.

“Here. What about this?”

Seve offered the doctor a healing potion and wondered if they’d know wh—

The doctor snatched the potion, opened it, sniffed it excitedly, then poured a few drops on the wounded member’s front. Instantly, quills began popping out of the flesh, and the doctor ran off, screaming, to find more patients.

That won Seve a lot of friendship. The Jungleclads definitely knew potions, and after a day, Erek helped Seve interpret more of what they were saying.

There was definitely a language barrier between the Orangutan and Gorilla, but they knew how to overcome it. Seve…Seve was lost. He’d picked up some Drathian, but the notion of learning another language was incredible to him. But Erek was gesturing expressively with his body, and then he’d translate back to Seve in writing.

No Lizardfolk. They hunt Jungleclad. Jungleclad hide. Steal from their farms.

“Oh, flesh below. No wonder they have problems with the locals if that’s going on. Do they know it’s causing trouble?”

Erek shrugged expressively.

Lizardfolk hunt. Sometimes they are hungry. Jungleclad mostly too far to hunt. Need healing. Lots of needle-things.

“Like needledogs? That’s a deterrent for an ape, I bet.”

The Jungleclads were immensely strong, and with their axes, they could chase off even Stelbore, but needles and porcupine-type monsters were their nightmare. Not just because it hurt like hell to be quilled a hundred times, but because the quills almost always caused infections.

Apparently, the Jungleclads lost more to that kind of infection than anything else. Erek self-importantly gave them some lectures on heating water and cleaning wounds from Geneva as Seve demonstrated for them, but the lack of healing was apparent.

So Seve decided to hand over all but two of his potions to the leader as thanks. Then he remembered his ‘gift’ from the Prophet.

“Erek. Ask them if they have anything to trade for this.”

He had a mission, after all, and the Jungleclads grew instantly excited when Erek told them what the scrolls did.

Six healing scrolls? They rummaged all throughout their village to find something worth trading for. Seve tried to tell Erek that they didn’t have to beat the scrolls; he’d match the price for Nanette.

But this was a point of pride, and after two attempts, Erek got mad at Seve calling the Jungleclads poor and slapped him on the shoulder. An Orangutan slap hurt like hell.

And the Jungleclads did have something worth selling. Even their leader’s axe wasn’t much value to Seve, but when they had him for supper that night, eating hot fruit that they roasted over the fire to kill any parasites before peeling, one of them brought out an instrument that made Seve spit out half his food.

What is that?

A grinning Gorilla was tuning a huge…guitar. Only, he wasn’t a one-man performance. Or woman. It was hard for Seve to say. There were several other players, one with a drum made of a huge piece of hollowed wood of some gigantic nut or something, another holding a tambourine—filled with clattering bits of wood—and another had a flute!

But the guitar was insane. Seve had seen all kinds of variations of it. A gitar, a now-common guitar like that Hobgoblin in The Wandering Inn had, two-stringed instruments, one-stringed variants, violin-combos…

The Gorilla had a thirty-six string guitar. It had three ends, and the strings criss-crossed over each other so that he could play on multiple octaves, and if he plunked one string or used the pick, the vibrations would make the other strings strum too.

It gave his instrument the craziest, most haunting sounds that Seve had ever heard, and he could hit amazingly high notes with what Seve suspected was salvaged fishing lines lashed tightly across the instrument.

When the Jungleclads saw how taken Seve was with the instrument, they decided to offer it to him. Seve almost objected, but the guitarist was very proud to pay for his clan’s healing. And he seemed confident he could make another one.

In the end, Seve got the thirty-six string guitar and four tambourines filled with clattering nutshells that made such a racket that it sounded like the forest exploding when you shook them. He thanked his hosts and resolved to come back this way if ever he passed along Baleros’ coast.

They spread out in their treetop village, built into the side of a vast redwood like a ring of mushrooms, green-coated Gorillas raising their arms overhead and shouting, waving and smiling in their way as Erek waved and danced, and the Hundredfriends Courier lifted a hand in farewell.

A people so few in this world knew. Tucked away, hidden in Baleros, a sea of green, colorful plants and slinking animals shying away. All set across the placid, deceptively calm azure sea lapping at the pale beaches.

Seve didn’t stop smiling until the shouting had long since echoed away and they were bushwacking towards civilization.

“Erek. Just how many ape and monkey tribes do you know of in Baleros?”

He asked Erek as they set out to find civilization. The Orangutan gave him an innocent look and scratched his head.

“Ooke? Ook?”

“Yes, you. Don’t play dumb.”


“Alright, keep your secrets. See if I care.”

“Heheheh. Ook.”

The Orangutan chuckled, and Seve paused one last time as he looked back.

“Did you want to stay?”

He seldom asked. Erek looked back once at the Jungleclad village, and then patted Seve on the shoulder. He shook his head, and Seve smiled, relieved.

This was almost what Seve had been searching for himself. Jecrass had been well, Medain a failure, and Roshal not to be even acknowledged. But the Jungleclads had no notion of A’ctelios Salash. It was simply…a good place to stay. But Seve?

He was searching for something himself.




Seve was a world-class Courier. A fearless fighter, able to navigate the sea and survive incidents like the storm, and he could literally be an army with his friends.

…He didn’t do land. Survival situations with Seve were usually him walking one way and trusting in the flesh of Tombhome to feed him as long as he needed. Erek, exasperated, was the one who had to scout with Seve’s aerial friends and try to navigate for him.

Fortunately, Erek did find civilization. Unfortunately—it wasn’t the friendly sort.

“You have trespassed in the territory of the Eyes of Baleros. Close your eyes. Draw your blade and die.”

Gazers. They appeared out of nowhere as Seve headed for what Erek had claimed was a ‘structure’ in the deep jungle. He’d evaded most monsters and thought he’d been lucky that no nasty, Gold-rank types were around.

As it turned out…he had missed the Gazers, who literally de-cloaked their invisibility spells. They had no bows. They were armed with long spears, and their weapons trained on him were their eyes.

“I’m a Courier! I’m lost—”

Seve raised his hands, and they shouted at him.

Close your eyes.

He did, squeezing them shut, and then they relaxed. But he felt, even saw through his eyelids, their own eyes blazing at him.

Gazer eyes were of every color, and some had dozens of eyes on their bodies. Seve had heard that Gazers were the least-similar species in the world, in that a Gazer could look radically different from another member of their species.

When they finally calmed down enough to let him explain and open one eye, he saw they were very dissimilar.

For instance, one of them had eyes all around her head. Her hair was cropped only to the very top of her head because otherwise it would fall and cover the eyes facing in every direction.

Whereas their leader had three central eyes, the middle of which was so bright and painfully purple that Seve saw it even through his closed eye. It had the power to turn anything he stared at invisible.

“You are not permitted within the Eyes of Baleros’ lands. If you are lost—we will send you away.”

“Thank you. I don’t mean any harm, I swear. But I am curious. Am I in the deep jungles? Gazer territory?”

They only had one main settlement that he knew of in the heartland jungles. The Gazers were unhappy with the questions, but their leader, Yixef, responded after a moment.

“You are somewhere there, yes. This is the land of one of Baleros’ Great Companies. No one is welcome. The Forgotten Wing Company acknowledges our territory. They will escort you out. Until they arrive…do not open your other eye.”

Gazers apparently felt like staring hard, or opening your eyes widely, was dangerous. Given the fact that they attacked with their vision, Seve holding one eye closed seemed to be the equivalent of having his hands raised.

Squinting also made them relax a bit. It made it harder for Seve to get a good look at them, but they actually did let him head towards a settlement. They did have needs, and they were direct in asking him.

“Do you have healing potions? It has been claimed there is a shortage.”

“…Only two. And I’ll need more myself. None to trade, I’m afraid. But I am a Courier. Do you have messages for me to take?”

They had no Runner’s Guild, so arranging payment was informal, but the Gazers did have requests for goods to come to them, and a few had letters and packages. When he was done with that, Seve thought to offer them Nanette’s trade.

They were not interested in the guitar. Gazer hands were often clumsier and sometimes had eyes, and so they were largely unskilled, and the tamborines were too obnoxious, apparently.

The mountain of sweets from Roshal, on the other hand, got over a hundred Gazers staring at Seve. So many eyes actually lit him up like a [Light] spell, and their leader had to shout at them to stop staring when they set one of the sweet boxes on fire.

“These…are hard to get here. Forgotten Wing gives some. These are new. We want them.”

Yixef looked put-upon by the very-insistent Gazer who actually had a blindfold over his eyes—they were so powerful he had to mitigate the effect. Seve smiled.

“Do you have anything to trade?”

His thought was to get a Gazer weapon or some curio of their people that would do very well outside of their homeland. But when they were asked for something to trade, the Gazers seemed to have an easy answer.

“This. One of these for the six boxes. Only one. It is more than fair.”

Yixef offered Seve a huge opal the size of Seve’s hand. It was cool, round, and it had the most iconic striations that Seve had ever seen. He peered at it and thought it looked like…

“What is it?”

“A Gazer’s Eye.”

Seve dropped the eye, but Erek caught it just in time. It was a petrified eye!

“Are you sure?”

“It is an eye of a dead Gazer. A powerful one. Not all eyes turn to stone. Forgotten Wing trades for them, and they are valuable across the world. We know the value of our eyes. Take it in trade. It has magic already.”

This trade for Roshal’s sweets made Seve as uneasy as the last one, so he felt it was slightly appropriate he give over Roshal’s succulents for a damn eye. It felt like it swiveled to stare at him, so he hurriedly put it away.

When the Forgotten Wing representatives, a band of Centaurs, warily came to escort him back to civilization, Seve was glad to leave the Gazers behind. They were secretive, protective, and refused to answer any questions. Half glared at him as if they thought he was a spy.

So that was one of the Four Great Companies? They were insular, clearly powerful, and…Seve had no idea why they lived in the center of the jungle like that. They clearly loved sweets, but few Gazers ever emerged from their home.

What were they doing in there?




The Forgotten Wing Company brought Seve back to civilization—well, another type of it—and he made a beeline for the coast as he delivered the Gazers’ goods or arranged for them to be sent onwards.

Despite the storm and despite having to buy healing potions at an insane markup, Seve was making a profit. Few people could risk his voyages, so Sea Couriers were making their weight in gold charting new routes or taking on risk.

In this case, he accepted a charter instead of a ship to bring a wagonload of goods to another place desperate for trade—Wistram Academy.

“They keep saying they’ll teleport it over, but they’re screaming for fruit and sugar and everything else until they finally create a teleporter. Here’s me holding my breath!”

The Lizardfolk [Harbormaster] laughed as Seve set out from a city with his bag of holding loaded up. He even had a chest of holding that he’d have to stay away from, bobbing behind his repaired craft.

Seve was sad not to go to Talenqual, but he couldn’t justify the long journey there, even for Paeth. He would have had to bounce all the way south along the coast, and he really was trying to make it to Izril to meet the two-month deadline.

What would Fraerlings have traded for? With a sigh, Seve accepted the rush-job and was almost about to go to sea when someone approached him.

“Hey! Are you the Hundredfriends Courier who ate the flesh of A’ctelios Salash?”

Seve-Alrelious turned as an excited Lizardman hurried over.

“That’s me.”

The small crowd of Lizardfolk gathered around as the [Harbormaster] turned. The Lizardman cleared his throat.

“I think—I want to have some! Do you have some of that meat? I’ll pay! It makes you stronger, right? And you heal? Sign me up!”

He gave Seve a huge, toothy smile.

“I’m a Bronze-rank adventurer, and I’ll visit Tombhome every now and then if I get stronger.”

Seve stopped in front of his craft, and Erek put a hand over his face. The Hundredfriends Courier turned and looked the Lizardman up and down.

“You want to eat the Carven City’s flesh? Do you know there’s no going back?”

His face was suddenly stony, and the Lizardman faltered in front of the Hundredfriends Courier’s stare.

“I—yeah, of course, I know. I’m not stupid. But everyone needs a leg up, right? I’m an adventurer. I’ll take that risk. If I eat a bit every few months, I won’t have to leave, right? I did my research.”

He had done some research. The words were almost right, but the intent…Seve looked around.

“Is this your family?”

The gaggle of Lizardfolk shook their heads. They were just curious. Seve’s face darkened further.

“I see. Then are you alone?”

“No, I’ve got parents. My father’s a Naga, even. Why?”

The Lizardman looked askance at the questions. Seve’s eyes flashed.

“Then where are they? If you’re serious about joining Tombhome, then where are your family and friends? Where is the grieving?”


Seve took a step across the docks, and the Bronze-rank adventurer stepped back. Because now, Seve was intense, like he had been when he faced the Crelers. His tattoos shone brighter, and his voice rose as the Lizardfolk’s smiles grew uncertain.

“Yes. Where is the year of grieving? The celebration? Where is your resolve and the knowledge you will never be the same? Failing that, where is the cause?”

He made a show of looking the Lizardman up and down.

“Where are your missing limbs, the sickness in your body? Are you a warrior facing an impossible foe? An avenger, a last resort of people under siege? What beast will you slay that you would sacrifice this life for?”

“I’m an adventurer. I just meant—listen. I’m serious.”

Seve walked across the docks. He had something in his belt pouch, and the Lizardman tensed when Seve pulled it out. But the Courier just showed it to the Lizardman, and the crowd went silent.

“Then you know what this is? This is what happens when you lose control. Are you prepared to become—”

“What is that?”

Someone screamed. The adventurer blanched, and several Lizardfolk became sick to their stomachs.

“W-w-what is…?”

The mage-picture was proscribed by A’ctelios Salash itself. It sullied their reputation, or so Baosar had claimed. But Seve had kept it.

“That is a future. Do you want to eat, now?”

The Bronze-rank adventurer backed up. Seve tucked the picture away as the [Harbormaster] stared at him.

“That’s what I thought. Tombhome’s gift isn’t light. It isn’t easy. Rhir’s people know what they face, and even there, few of the Blighted Kingdom are willing to embrace my home. Get lost.”




He fumed for four days at sea about the encounter until Erek grew tired of Seve’s sulking and kicked him into the ocean.

Seve just wanted some respect. The fear, the wariness, the condemnation, even, he accepted as fair, especially now. But at least respect what it meant to be of A’ctelios Salash.

Flos Reimarch and Fetohep respected A’ctelios. For all either might abhor it—neither had tried to invade or bring it to ‘justice’. Even the King of Destruction, even Eternal Khelt, knew the strength of the Carven City.

Wistram, at least, was polite, and the [Mages] liked Seve as a Courier more than anything else. In fact, Wistram was far different than he remembered.

It felt—new. There were more [Mages] running about, casting magic, than Seve remembered. In fact, on his way in, there had been a damn windstorm.

“Isn’t Wistram always sunny? And why were there dozens of students jumping off the balconies? You can get hurt if you land wrong.”

“Sorry, Courier. We’re letting the [Aeromancers] practice today. Wistram’s changing.”

The [Bard], Mena, who greeted him at the docks, was all smiles. She introduced herself.

“Bard Mena Alstren, Terras faction. We have a few deliveries for you to Izril if you’re headed that way.”

“I am. Terras. So Archmage Eldavin is back from Terandria? How different is Wistram?”

Her response was a laugh.




Wistram was filled with magic. It had always been filled with [Mages]—but magic? They had learned, in the past, low-tier magic.

Tiers 1-5 were accessible, and an Archmage or the highest-ranking [Mages] were studying Tier 5 magic. You could reliably get a good education above the average non-Wistram [Mage] here, and the academy essentially churned out [Mages] of that level.

But that was not…magic. These days? A novice, Year 2 [Mage] might be practicing levitation.

“I’m doing it! I’m doing—aaaah!

Aaron Vanwell winced as he heard the scream outside his window. Said student bounced off something, hit a balcony two floors down, and broke their arm.

Someone call a [Healer]!

“No, wait! Someone call a bone-magic specialist! Or physical magic!”

Aaron peered out the window as the unlucky student was taken to be treated…by [Mages] practicing magic to strengthen limbs or actually repair bones. The fact that a second-year student had even cast [Levitation] for a second was amazing.

“They’re working hard.”

He was smiling today, as ever. He’d been happier of late. Despite a lot of his friends having left—Eldavin was still furious at him and the other conspirators for it.

But Aaron smiled. He was getting back to the basics. He sat at his workbench, using a fine-tuned wand that Viltach had made to solder components into place.

Components from a laptop and two iPhones. Thanks to [Repair], Aaron could break pieces off hardware and replace them. It was a terrifying thing to do because too much damage could destroy an object beyond [Repair], but Eldavin had managed to completely reconstruct the things Aaron had damaged for good.

“[Repair]. Alright. I think that’s good. Battery, battery.”

A simple lithium battery was Aaron’s biggest want. He could repair a computer all day and harvest parts from it—but the battery was a separate beast.

He had this odd situation where he had incredibly, incredibly advanced components for free and pre-industrial era tech to combine. Magic made it all fun, though.

“Aaron? Aaron? My guy, you have to meet the Courier who just dropped in! He’s got an Orangutan, and he’s trading goods from Baleros. There’s a thirty-six string guitar!”

Flynn skidded into Aaron’s rooms, and the [Magictech Engineer] lifted his newest creation.

“A thirty-six string guitar? No way. I want it.”

He was instantly taken. He loved guitars, and Flynn was about to run with him and Pokey, his Needlehound dog, when he stared at what Aaron had made.

“What’s that?

“My newest creation. I’m back to engineering with magic. Guess what it is?”

Flynn took one look at the broad top, thinner base with several exposed copper wires, and the bulb set in the center and snorted.

“You made a flashlight? [Light] spells exist, Aaron.”

“Yeah, but this one’s magic and tech. Listen, I’m experimenting. It’s essentially a flashlight, but the ‘lightbulb’ is a crystal. And it runs on mana.”

“Is it bright?”

“Yep. Before you ask, it’s just a flashlight. I was trying to make sure I understood how to convert mana to electricity and wire things up.”

Flynn shook his head as they trotted down the hallway. Aaron wasn’t invested in the flashlight as much as the joy of creation.

“I still don’t get how you called everyone’s iPhone after like a week. Were you some kind of technical wizard back home?”

Aaron waved it off, embarrassed.

“Oh, that. I did make things for fun. Built computers…I got an award when I was a kid, but that was actually different. It turns out software and hardware interact with magic in stupid ways here. We were actually experimenting when we found out you can cast a [Resonance] spell. It’s some kind of Tier 5 magic like linking scrying orbs. So the way you do it is—”

“All iPhones are alike.”

Exactly. Then Viltach helped me set up the chat box. It wasn’t so much us using the iPhone’s software as faking it. But that’s not engineering, you see? This is wires and actual soldering and conversion of mana and electricity.”

“…Can you make me a pair of night-vision goggles or something?”

“Don’t you have Eldavin for that? His super-armor means you can fly, cast magic—what else is there for me to do?”

Flynn looked sideways at Aaron and hesitated. Eldavin’s soldiers of the future weren’t fighting in any wars—yet—but he was still making more armor slowly. He was the greatest [Mage] in Wistram bar none, and he had asked Aaron to create things to take the load off him having to do it himself.

Well, until he trained enough [Mages] to do what he did. That would take some time, but in the moment—Terras was ascendant.

And Aaron was happy. Not about Eldavin, necessarily, though he was glad he hadn’t killed the Dragon. He was happy because he was free, and this flashlight…




Seve-Alrelious had fun in Wistram. Mostly because the [Mages] were all over his guitar. At first, they chuckled over the simple design and refused to believe Gorillas had made it. But then, when [Bards] like Mena or ‘good musicians’ picked it up, they discovered that playing a guitar with overlapping strings was…really hard.

“Hold on, I’ve nearly got it. Give me another five minutes.”

“You sound like a dog passing water. Allow me! This is h—uh, well, it’s harder than…hm…”

[Mage] after [Mage] was taking turns with it, refusing to admit that they had no idea how to take advantage of the overlapping strings or multiple sets of strings you could play on. Erek looked incredibly smug.

Seve noticed there were a lot fewer Golems than he remembered. Most were just doing day-labor, and the lack of Cognita…well.

“Are you selling it? It’s amazing. Someone made that in the jungle? Apes?”

A young man pushed forwards, and Seve smiled as Aaron Vanwell’s head swung from Erek to Seve to the guitar. He had dreadlocks, looked earnest and excited, and when he took his turn on the guitar, he did better than most.

“What will you take for it?”

There was no end to offers for it. When Seve casually took the Gazer’s Eye out of his bag of holding, even several Council [Mages] came running.

“Is that a Gazer’s Eye? And you’ve been trading goods across Chandrar? Where are you bound?”

“Izril. Liscor, actually. I might not deliver this—but it’s meant to go there in the end. I’ll only take something better than these two items. Better, and I’m not interested in anything you can just buy for gold.”

The [Mages] dashed off to find items to bid, more interested in the Gazer’s Eye than the guitar. But Aaron, hearing that, blinked and looked at Seve.

“Liscor, you said?”

“That’s right. A girl there asked for me to do a bunch of trades, and it’s been an adventure so far. I’ll see if anyone has anything better to sell once I head up—I’m planning on going through Zeres because I can swing around the New Lands. I’ve had enough of storms at sea.”

The coastal route would be slow and boring, but he’d be able to get an eyeful of the continent’s newest addition, and he figured he could buy wind spells for the journey. Aaron bit his lip, then he pulled something out.

“How about this for the guitar? Sell it to whomever you want, but tell them not to mess with the wiring. I think it’ll be…valuable.”

His eyes glinted as he held up—an artifact? It looked like a tube with an elongated end. The object in the center glowed, and it projected a beam of light far longer than any [Light] spell. Seve was fascinated and turned to Aaron.

“What is it?”

The young man looked quite pleased with the reaction.

“A flashlight.”

“Strange. I’ve seen magical lanterns, but this one is shaped completely differently. Does it run on magic?”

“Yeah, you can either power it here—see the magicore grip?—or you put in a mana stone here. It’s very simple. I built it as a proof-of-concept, but I don’t really need it, and it’s not useful in Wistram.”

“So why would I want it?”

Aaron gave Seve a serious look.

Because, no one’s made it before. See that metal, here? This thing runs on a battery and a lightbulb I yanked from…it’ll be really interesting to some people. Illuminating. Why don’t you take it and—”

Something about the way he said it made Seve think that Aaron was selling something he shouldn’t, rather like the Djinni, Maef. He thought about whether a girl would like a guitar or this and decided Aaron probably wasn’t scamming him, at least.

So he tucked it into his bag of holding just in time, because a figure came striding down the banquet hall, and Aaron quickly shielded Seve with his body to hide the trade. The huge man—no, half-Elf—didn’t notice anyways.

His eyes were all on the Gazer’s Eye that Erek was waving around.

“That is a Gazer’s Eye. Excellent. Who is the owner? Ah, young man. I would like to purchase this Gazer’s Eye. It is just the thing I need, and good components are invaluable in this day and age.”

“Archmage Eldavin. It’s an honor to meet you.”

The half-Elf stopped, and he was every bit as extraordinary as Seve thought. A true [Mage] in this age.

“Is it? Well, I’m quite flattered even Couriers think so. Seve-Alrelious?”

He knew Seve’s origin and shook his hands calmly, without flinching. Then he went straight to business.

“I would like that Gazer’s Eye. How much?”

“It’s not for sale, Archmage. Only trade.”

“Trade? You could buy anything in Wistram for the right price. How about four thousand gold pieces? I’m a busy man.”

Seve sighed.

“It’s not for sale, Archmage. Offer me something better and I will happily trade for it. But it’s the form of how I do this, not mere gold. You understand? I have traded this across Chandrar, Baleros, and now Wistram.”

“Oh. I know that!”

Aaron got excited as he recognized the form of the story, and Eldavin’s eyes flickered.

“Oh, commendable. I think I remember…”

He put his hand to his head for a second and looked uncertain. Then he glanced around at the other [Mages] queuing for their offer.

“I do need it. Gazer Eyes are first-class magical items that you can use for all kinds of artifacts or magic.”

“Surely the Archmage of Memory has something to trade?”

Eldavin felt in his bag of holding.

“Absolutely I do.”

Aaron and Seve gave him an expectant look. Eldavin cursed, turned to fumble around, and muttered loudly.

“Let’s see. Not that, not that, a Helm of Waterbreathing? No, no. What about…aha!

Seve had the distinct impression the Archmage began casting magic as he pretended to ‘pull something out’. He raised his eyebrows, determined to not be impressed.

Even an Archmage couldn’t just pull something worth the Gazer’s Eye out of his pocket. But what the Archmage of Memory presented him with a huge twinkle in his eye was…

A stone.

It was a flat skipping stone, polished from lying on a riverbed or somewhere, and Seve felt absolutely nothing from it when he picked it up.

“This is…what exactly, Archmage?”

“This is a very valuable object, young man. I note the skeptical look. I intended it for some promising young [Elementalists], but I am willing to part with one for a Gazer’s Eye. In fact, I’ll give you the entire class’ supply.”

He had a bag of river-rocks. There were sixteen in all, and each one seemed mundane as hell. Seve raised his brows.

“What are they, Archmage?”

Eldavin was really trying to make this sale. There was, Seve noticed, a very energetic pair of Archmages heading his way, Verdan Blackwood and Feor, and Eldavin wanted to close the deal. The half-Elf leaned forwards, looking only a bit sweaty.

“Trust me, young man. In terms of monetary value, this exceeds the Gazer’s Eye, especially because making these damn stones is a headache. I’d probably not even recreate them, and the elemental class can damn well do without. It took me four weeks because you have to bind them…well, nevermind. These are Stones of the Elements. Do you have any magical training?”

“No. I can do [Light], but that’s about it.”

Eldavin frowned.

“Well, go ahead and try to cast [Light] without casting it.”

Seve didn’t quite know what that meant, but he obligingly began to cast the one spell he knew—and the Stone of the Elements in his hand changed. It turned into a glowing substance, like solid light, and lit up in his grip.

My eyes! Damn it! My flashlight isn’t half as bright as that!”

Aaron shouted, and Seve himself had to shade his eyes and release the spell. Eldavin, with a smirk, held up another stone, and it turned into a blazing rock.

“Look. It can also do—argh! Hot!

He swore as he burned his hand and skipped the stone straight into a huge jello that High Magus Telim was about to steal. The swearing Eldavin shook his hand out, but the demonstration sold Seve.

“Do they run out of power?”

“No. They’re very pure bits of stone. Don’t let the look fool you. How about it? I doubt anyone has Stones of the Elements these days. They only last a hundred years—which is quite a long time and valuable. I shan’t make a second offer!”

He gave Seve a desperate smile, and the Hundredfriends Courier had to think on it. Wistram might have a lot of [Mages], but they weren’t exactly good at coming up with things that would appeal to a girl.

Verdan had a bar of pure gold, and Feor had an entire jewel-encrusted hand mirror. Other [Mages] wanted to trade for various artifacts like a Wand of Fireblast, a Scroll of Invisibility, or sets of magic.

If Eldavin was telling the truth, then something only an Archmage could make was a lot more valuable. In the end, he walked away with the Gazer’s Eye and Seve took the stones.

“Dude. Eldavin makes all kinds of amazing bullshit for nothing. And you can’t even call him on it because no one else can do it.”

Aaron sighed longingly as he eyed the stones. Seve was moved to offer him the one that had been in the jello.

“How about you take this one?”

“Are you sure?”

“I have fifteen more for Nanette. Besides. The flashlight’s worth a lot, right?”

Seve watched Aaron’s face change from delight to a serious look, and the price of the Stone of the Elements was worth confirming it.





From Wistram to Zeres, around the New Lands of Izril. Seve told the dockmaster that he’d had an uneventful trip when he reached the City of Waves.

He lied.

He made one pit-stop along the way to the City of Waves. Unintentionally. He hadn’t realized that the unpredictable sea-currents meant he was able to run into all kinds of people at sea.

Not just Drowned Folk. Nombernaught had appealed to Seve, and he’d been about to angle towards it to make a trade when his intuition had pinged him.

[Sense Opportunity].

He’d sent one of his bird-friends to scout a blip in the distance. Then, Seve swung away from the Drowned City and sailed south, into the deep sea, pursuing a very slow, very…unique place.

The Drowned Folk were there, too. One vessel, which immediately began sinking the moment they realized Seve was coming their way. But when they realized it was a Courier and they knew him, the ship resurfaced.

“Courier. Fancy seeing you here. We were just stopping at this deserted island.”

The [Captain] was very wary as he greeted Seve. The Hundredfriends Courier made a show of looking around.

“Deserted? It’s full of Humans. With green skin.”

That provoked an uproar of laughter from the ‘Humans’ around him, and the Drowned Captain’s strained smile turned into a slightly more genuine one.

True enough. Humans. Half-Elves. I can’t tell landfolk apart, can you? Green skin, green scales…


The Goblins always found the excuses of the people who visited them amusing. Not that many people landed on their island. But some did.

As Wailant Strongheart had once told Numbtongue, the laws of the sea were not that of land. Seve had dealt with Goblins before and fought them only once at sea. He’d traded with them or just nodded at them before—and even traded goods with Demons, too.

It was very dangerous to be caught associating with Demons. Same with Goblins, but the rewards were worth it.

“What are you buying?”

“Feathers. Roc feathers, Flashwing—there’s enough alchemical goods and feathers to make me a fortune. And all they want is sugar. This…fell off a boat from Baleros.”

That probably meant the Drowned Captain had acquired a bunch of sugar from a ship that his people had raided. He didn’t look like a [Pirate] himself, but [Pirates] had to sell their hauls somewhere. This kind of bouncing from ship-to-ship was why Drowned Vessels were often all painted with the same brush of piracy.

“Are you headed to Zeres next?”

“Yep. The moment I saw the island I realized I was going to have the most profitable week in my life. Drakes would never be caught dead here.”

So the Drowned Man and his crew were about to make a fortune selling rare feathers into the Zeresian markets. And all they had to do was keep their mouths shut about where the feathers came from.

Not bad at all.

Seve met the Goblins on a simple beach that looked like it had seen fighting recently. He wondered if the Minotaurs had been attacking and if so—it explained a lot of what they wanted to trade for.

“Is ballista. You want? Put one on your boat.”

The ballista was bigger than his entire ship. The Drowned Folk were mightily interested in it, despite the waterlogged state of the weapon.

“Er…what will you take for it? I have lots to trade.”

The Goblin laughed.

“Trade’s good! Trade is great! Gold is stupid. I wipe my butt with it. Whatchu got?”

Everything Seve had was on offer, but his main goods for Nanette made the Goblins gather around. They liked the flashlight for the novelty, and they were respectful in handling it and shining it in each other’s faces. The Stones of the Elements were also curios the little Goblins loved, and they had to be caught before they ran off with them.

Unfortunately, the Goblins weren’t impressed enough. When Seve pointed out the unique construction of the flashlight, one of their [Shamans] laughed.

“Is just light. You want me to do it? [Cone of Brilliance].”

She pointed a finger up—and the Drowned Captain and Seve saw a vast cone of light shooting up over the Isle of Goblins like a lighthouse.

“Dead gods, stop! Do you want to tell everyone we’re here?”

“Oops. Sorry.”

The [Shaman]’s demonstration proved that Goblin magic was too powerful for the flashlight. Seve tried the Stones of the Elements, but again, the magical expert didn’t really care.

“Is just a fancy stone. Pure so it goes earth, goes water, goes air, even. Is okay. Our Goblin Lord can do better.”

She pointed towards a figure that Seve had taken to be a rock sitting on a hill, flanked by two boulders. Only then did Seve realize that it was a Goblin sitting there, covered in moss, flanked by two Hobs.

He felt a chill and realized that the Isle of Goblins didn’t have to fear being seen. If any one ship came at them with malice aforethought—it probably wouldn’t reach their island.

Damn. The scrolls of healing would probably be very useful here. Sighing, Seve realized he had nothing left to give—until Erek pulled out the tambourines.

Ratatatat! The clacking of the shells in the tamborine was tuned to be like firecrackers going off—that was how Aaron had described them. Unlike the usual ringing of a regular tambourine, this one sounded like a thousand gigantic beetles tap dancing.

The bored Goblins instantly turned and came crowding back around Erek. They, who had dismissed the magic without much interest, loved the unique instruments. In fact, the [Shaman] was dismayed that Seve didn’t have the guitar to trade.

“Is very nice music. Big nuts. We don’t have many trees like this. We want this!”

The novelty of the music was paying off a lot more than Seve could have imagined, and he thanked the Jungleclad clan as he rubbed his hands.

“Alright, what do you have for it? I’ll take the ballista.”

“Eh. They’re music things. So no ballista.”

“They’re nice tambourines.”

The Goblin [Shaman] gave him a level look.

“Yes. And that is a ballista. Not the same, funny Courier.”

Damn. Seve’s dream of sailing around with a gigantic ballista mounted to his tiny ship would never come true. And wasn’t that the dream of everyone? He sighed.

“Okay, but something better.”

“Yes, yes. Let me find things.”

For the next hour, little Goblins ran over holding things to trade with Seve and Erek, and the [Shamans] hunted around for something acceptable and not egregiously expensive. They were surprisingly adept bargainers and kept refusing to trade anything good.

“That is special sword. Too expensive.”

“Who made it?”

“Eh. Dunno. We pulled it up from shipwreck.”

A magnificent greatsword was on the shoulder of one of the Hobs training with it. Well, they were almost all damn Hobs. Seve was agog with the immaculate finish and engravings; it looked like a masterpiece from a Terandrian armory!

“Did you restore it or something?”

“No. Grey…beard did. With his fancy, stupid Skills.”

The [Shaman] stumbled over the name, and Seve saw a few Goblins turn and eye him. Erek nudged him in the side.

Seve decided to stop asking questions. The [Shaman] seemed keen on getting him out of there after that, so she hurried into her hut and finally shouted.

“Aha! What about this?

She came out waving something at him, and Seve saw she had—

A pillow.

It was hand-stitched, obviously, and it had a stylized, big, green Goblin head with two crimson eyes and a toothy smile on it.

It was the [Shaman]’s personal pillow. She sighed as she patted it.

“Can make another. Goblin Lord herself helped make. Is good pillow. You take for tamborines. Is good trade. Swear on it by Greybeard’s beard.”

She looked serious as she offered it to him. Seve was used to weird trades by now, and he decided that for the tambourines, it might serve as a good trade.

“Deal. Thank you.”

He set off from the island within ten minutes of handing the four tambourines over. The racket the Goblins were making was annoying some of the ones used to peace and quiet, and one threw a rock at him as he left. But they seemed happy, and Seve hoped a Goblin pillow was worth something.

But he’d mainly left because he’d sensed eyes on him after the [Shaman] had said ‘Greybeard’ and the merry Goblins were now watching him. As if he’d heard something he shouldn’t have. Erek sensed it too and busied himself with the ship.


“Yep. Bad news. Let’s get out of here, Erek. Want to try the pillow?”

The Goblins let them go, and Seve and Erek relaxed once they were well away from the island and it was a speck once more. They were incredibly dangerous, Goblins, Demons, but most were fair. Just…unpredictable at times.

Some of Seve’s bird-friends might have liked the island, but since he couldn’t be sure it was safe and they had left so fast, they contented themselves with waiting. Seve always wanted to be sure his friends were safe, and half were hankering for Khelt, anyways. Some of his friends were exceptionally picky, like Kithru, who fancied himself as a prime candidate for some aristocrat’s mansion despite being a touchy tomcat from the streets. So no harbor here, for Seve or them.

Seve still thought it was worth the trip, even if the pillow was a bit of an odd trade.

Erek fluffed it up a bit and lay down, sighing, as Seve headed off. He fell asleep surprisingly quickly and claimed he had a strange dream. So it was probably a good pillow.




Zeres was a bust for trades. The Serpentine Matriarch had no interest in Seve’s game, and he checked out the bazaar without much interest before collecting as much work as he could and heading out.

Seve didn’t go north directly. Instead, he cut into the Great Plains. He had to see the Meeting of Tribes after everything that had gone down.

It was not an easy path, but being Human, a Courier, and having Erek all helped. Twice, Seve was stopped by small bands of Gnolls who looked dispirited—but dangerous.

Az’muzarre, a disgraced tribe, almost turned him back both times until Seve brought up the Yellow Rivers journey and the fact that he was no direct friend to the Drakes.

Ironically, helping rescue Tyrion Veltras’ son gave him the most credit because the Gnolls reasoned that anyone who helped the enemy of the Drakes probably wasn’t on their side.

When he got to the Meeting of Tribes, the semi-permanent camp that might never disband, Seve saw the destruction had largely been healed.

Oh, he saw the hill where the Earth Elemental had died, and they warned him about the undead spawning in the place the battlefield had been—but most of the tribes had left.

Seve wasn’t allowed anywhere near the huge tent he heard called the ‘Earth Tent’ for some reason, a plain name for what he suspected to be a [Shaman]’s ritual area. Nor was there as much trade as the Meeting of Tribes had before.

In truth, that was fine with Seve. Now that he was on Izril, he was bearish on further trades. It seemed to him that most things that Nanette might want were not from Izril. Still, you could change his mind.

The Gnolls were fairly interested in the flashlight. When he showed it around, a metal Gnoll, a Chieftain called Adetr, came running. But he just inspected it from all angles, then called a Human, Rose, to inspect it.

She brought a suspicious rectangle all around the flashlight and then said that was good enough and she had a ‘recording’. Seve was not highly impressed by that, and the Gnolls apologized.

“We do not particularly wish to trade for something expensive, no, Courier. Perhaps something else?”

The Stones of the Elements were far too expensive for them, and the Gnolls waved them off. But the pillow?

“Ooh. It’s a nice pillow. Is that a Goblin on the front?”

“Yes…it’s a good pillow. Any takers?”

The Gnolls didn’t really seem to want it, but the Steelfur Chieftain was so embarrassed by whatever he’d done that he growled.

“Let’s see if we can trade for it.”

They went off and came back with another tribe’s [Shaman], who held up something.

“We’re Gaarh Marsh. If it helps Chieftain Adetr—I would be willing to trade for the pillow. How about…a Whistle of Friendship?”

“Say what now?”

Seve grew interested at once. The [Shaman] obligingly blew the whistle—and instantly, three birds fluttered over. They looked attentive, and when the [Shaman] tried to pet them on the head, one pecked his finger and flew off.

“Ow! You see, it gets their attention, but you’d better have a good reason or feed. We are in touch with nature. Poop on my yurt and I’ll feed you to a cat!

The [Shaman] wasn’t the most convincing, but the little whistle definitely did something. The pillow? He accepted it with a smile, and Seve suspected the trade was there to apologize.

Well, a dubious Goblin pillow wasn’t going to appeal to this Nanette. The whistle would. Seve was glad to make the trade, honestly. He was closing in on Liscor, and the snows were falling thick and heavy now. He’d been spared it in Baleros and Chandrar, and the sea had been rainstorms, but now Seve was ready to fulfill his contract.

Oh, right. Both of them.




The Bloodfeast Raiders struck when Seve was almost at Liscor. He paused, grimacing, and Erek balled up a fist, but they were far too far away to do anything, even if Seve thought he could have made a difference.


The comment came from across the table at the pub where a man and a woman were sitting to receive a delivery.

Seve’s mysterious package from Nerrhavia’s Fallen had almost been forgotten, but Erek had reminded him to make a stop before Pallass. Now, he was a bit let down because he got no more answers from the recipients.

One was female, the other male. They were both Drakes, and they were either pretending to be a married couple or actually married.

Either way, they were the most dysfunctional pair that Seve had ever met. The male Drake had murmured that, his eyes flashing as his clawed hand strayed towards his side, though he had no weapon there. The female Drake rolled her eyes expressively.

“Yes, yes, shut up, dear. Scum. You are one to talk.”

“I have principles.”

“So does everyone.”

He bridled at this, but the female Drake was the one who was checking over the parcel that Seve had delivered. She opened it without letting him see what it was and smiled.

“Oh, in perfect condition. Pay the good Courier, Azzy.”

Now that was an odd name. The huffing Drake glared at his wife.

“I resent paying for your affairs.”

“My dear, you couldn’t afford to pay for my affairs. My business? That you pay for to keep me in your good graces.”

Either they were pretending to be married or they had three children and had been together for twenty years. Seve was really having a hard time figuring out which it was.


“Yes, yes, Orangutan. I’m charmed.”

The Drake dismissed Erek, and he sulked, his charm lost on her. As for Azzy, he sighed as he counted out a sizeable bonus.

“Your discretion and efficiency are appreciated, Courier.”

“Not at all. It was just part of my job on the way here. To be honest, I apologize for the delay. I meant to go to Liscor directly, but I was blown off at sea.”


Both Drakes seemed interested, and suddenly, nothing would do but for Seve to give a shorthand of his adventures.

“You’re from A’ctelios Salash. I recognize your flesh.”

The female Drake gave Seve a sudden, intent look, and he thought she had just remembered his name. But she looked knowing—and Azzy glanced at her.


She kicked him so hard under the table it jumped. Azzy spoke through gritted teeth.

“My. Darling. Love. Things do seem to end up the way you say.”

“Everything is connected. A seamstress once told me to look for connections like that.”

The woman tapped her lips and gave Seve a searching look.

“May I ask what you’re taking to Liscor? Perhaps we could make a trade.”

Nerry and Azzy were an odd duo. Seve could see why the female Drake hated being called ‘Nerry’ if she had ties to Nerrhavia’s Fallen. Not many people in Izril would see the connection. As for Azzy, well. That was just unfortunate if the Drake had been named before Az’kerash came to Izril.

They inspected the items that Seve laid out, and his annoyance over wasting his time quickly became a realization that he might have found his final trade partners. Because, without having to be told, both knew exactly what he carried.

“Oh, a Whistle of Friendship. I suppose that’s good for a child. Pass.”

“Stones of the Elements? Who makes those anymore?”

“Archmage Eldavin.”

Both Nerry and Azzy chuckled at that.

“Is he wasting his time on…? Well, they are worth a good amount, but I would pass on either item. Perhaps for Ijvani…”

The stones were tempting Azzy when Nerry saw Erek produce the flashlight. Then she pointed at it.

“Buy that. Now.”

Azzy looked over and stared.

“What is that?

Neither one knew what it was, but Nerry was intent, and Azzy inspected it for only a minute before glancing up.

“I would like to make an offer on this, if you please.”

“Certainly. Can you sell me anything for it?”

Azzy checked his pockets. He had to stand up and go to his rooms, and Nerry quizzed Seve on how he had found Nerrhavia’s Fallen and other countries in Chandrar. When Azzy came back, he had an endless amount of goods.

Most of them never reached Seve. Nerry intercepted them all and discarded them one after another.

“No, no. No. Are you stupid? Are you trying to be…no. That’s too expensive. You shouldn’t have this. No, no—honestly, Toren would be more agreeable company.”

“I should have sent him. This is demeaning.”

Azzy grumbled, and Nerry shot him a cool look.

“You’re the one who wanted to ‘know what I was up to’. No. This is ridiculous. Are you some kind of hoarder without taste?”

“I acquired all of this.”

“Yes, and you have no idea what a child would like or how to trade properly. You can’t haggle, you can’t cook, you can’t raise children—”

Erek and Seve were giving each other long looks as the other Drakes in earshot gave Azzy a sympathetic look. The henpecked Drake was staring down at his feet, and Seve wondered if he should tell the Watch that one of the two was going to try to murder the other soon.

But Nerry did spot something in his collection of items that finally made her smile.

“Oh. This? This will do for a child like Nanette Weishart.”

Hm? How did she know Nanette’s name? Seve sat up, but then he relaxed and pretended not to notice. If there was one thing he had learned—this trading voyage had been all about knowing when not to get himself in trouble.

Nerry gave him a huge smile as she came back with what she considered an acceptable item. Seve was curious; for all Aaron had up and downplayed the flashlight, it had come from Wistram. What Nerry offered him in return was…

A key.

It was bone-white and had a tiny skeleton’s head on the top. The teeth looked simple, and she laughed when she waved it at Azzy.

“Of course you have one. This will do nicely.”

“Is that…?”

“A skeleton key. Perfect for inquisitive girls. I had one, you know. Will it do?”

Seve thought about it. A flashlight that produced light or…

“Thank you. A pleasure doing business with you, Miss…?”

“Nerry will do. Thank you, Courier. You have been a delight. But do take care when you go home. A’ctelios goes through periods of great triumph and downfall, you know.”

He stiffened at that, but unlike before—Nerry seemed knowing.

“I know that. We know that.”

“Yes, you do. But you don’t remember how far you can sink. You seem to be an example of Tombhome’s best. But you don’t know its worst. Bear it in mind.”

She made him shiver all over. Azzy rose and merely shook Seve’s hand.

“Travelling the world is a great joy. I wish you all the excitement, Courier. If only I could return to those halcyon days.”

He smiled sadly, and Seve thought, of the two, he was the one wearier and sadder. They were a bad couple. Seve was glad to see the back of them.




The Hundredfriends Courier arrived in Liscor as it snowed after a great battle had taken place. He walked into an inn from Pallass, and the Gnoll at the door raised a paw.

“No entry to the inn. Just trans—what is that?”


Erek waved at Liska, and she opened and closed her mouth. Seve raised his Courier’s seal.

“I have a delivery. If this is a bad time…”

Liska gave him a long look, from tattoos to Erek, and shook her head.

“No…you’re that guy who delivered Tyrion’s kid and the cure to Baleros, right? And that’s a thingamajig. A whatsit.”

“An ape.”

“No, a monkey.”

Erek slapped his forehead and ooked angrily. Liska shrugged.

“Sorry. You definitely fit the bill. You’re an Erin-thing. Go on through.”

She pointed him down the hallway and had to get up and unlock the door to let him in.

Ishkr! Courier for Erin! He’s got an ape!”

A Gnoll appeared, scowling at his little sister, and when he saw Seve, he smiled.

“Hundredfriends Courier? You’ve been expected. And you’re a welcome guest. Anything you want? On the house.”

Seve smiled tiredly, and the weight of his journey of months seemed to hit him—and fade away as he took in the inn.

It was humbler than he expected, to hear people talking about it. No one was exploding—but then, the air had the feeling after an explosion.

There were just core guests here, talking quietly, focusing around several people who looked—changed.

[Knights]. The Order of Solstice glanced up as the Hundredfriends Courier walked forwards, and someone pointed.

“Hey. That’s an Orangutan. Am I dreaming?”

Joseph stared at Erek. The Orangutan waved, clambered into a seat, and read the menu. Seve read the sign next to the menu and smiled.

“No Killing Goblins.”

“Hey, hey, hey! Someone can read!”

A slightly tired, warm voice called out, and Seve felt like he had a lighthouse at his back. He turned as he had so many times, when meeting the Gazers, Eldavin, Nerry, Azzy, the King of Destruction, Raelt—and knew Erin Solstice before he even laid eyes on her.

The inn itself smiled at him, and she walked slowly forwards, supported by a man who was all burns wearing blue armor.

“Normen, stop. Lie down already!”

“I’m fine, Miss Solstice. It’s just a burn.”

That man could have used Tombhome’s flesh. He had one eye, and he looked half-dead. But proud. Proud and weary and…he had a gravity about him that he had lacked yesterday.

The Grandmaster of the Order of Solstice and Erin herself approached the table, and Erin held out a hand to Seve.

“Hello. I owe you a big debt for both this delivery and delivering the Yellow Rivers cure. And hello. Are you an Orangutan? Can you speak?”

Erek, surprisingly, shrugged and mimed writing before gently shaking her hand. Erin turned to Seve, and he coughed.

“The pleasure is ours, Miss Erin. We owe you for helping get that cure to Baleros. It saved one of my friends’ lives.”

“You delivered it. Let’s call it a mutual debt of respect. And you are…?”


Seve and Erin knew each other already. It was Erek who introduced himself, trying to kiss Erin’s hand and ooking. She laughed, then called out.

“Mrsha! Get over here! And where’s Nanette?”

“In Liscor, shopping with Lyonette.”

“Well—someone go get her! Mrsha? Let me try—aha!

A door opened, and a little white Gnoll, who had been reading a book upstairs, fell through it as it opened under her. She went skidding across the floor and looked around wildly.

Hey! How dare you! Damn you!

She slapped a stone dangling from her side, and a pre-recorded note played. She waved her fists as Erin frowned at her.

“Hey, Mrsha, watch the language, or I’ll tell Lyonette. Do you have a spare notecard and quill? Erek here can write.”

The Orangutan and the white Gnoll girl stared at each other. It was hard to say who was more surprised by the other. Mrsha scribbled on a card as Seve watched, fascinated. She was very fast, and then she held it up.

Forsooth! A talking, orange Human who writes? It cannot be!

Erek delicately took a quill and wrote on a spare card. His handwriting was less polished, but he scribed the words big and handed the card back to Mrsha.

I can write. Double forsooth on you.

Her mouth dropped open, and Erin began laughing. She had to sit down, and Mrsha the Outforsoothed and Erek began writing as Seve explained his journey.

“I ran into trouble at sea, which delayed my trip.”

“You’ve been to two continents? All for Nanette’s little trick. Are you sure she paid you enough?”

“It was a fun adventure. I think I’m close to levelling from it.”

In fact, when he slept…Erin’s eyes twinkled at Seve.

“I think this might be it. It’s always at the end of a great journey when you level up, and you’ve brought treasures from kingdom to kingdom, haven’t you?”

“Yes. Is Miss Nanette here?”

“I’m here! I’m here!”

The girl came skidding into the inn, so excited she clomped snow into the room to the horror of Silverstache, who picked up a mop with a long sigh.

Ishkr took the mop from him.

“Oh, sir. A paying customer could never clean the floors. Please sit and allow me.”

Ishkr handed the mop to Peggy, who passed it to Inkpaper, who did sigh authentically. Nanette was bouncing up and down, but she bowed to Seve.

“Courier, thank you so much for taking my request. I hope you feel it was worth it?”

“It was more than I bargained for, honestly, but it was a grand adventure. Should I present…?”

Seve wasn’t sure how to do it, and Erin had a suggestion. She looked around.

“Let’s get you something to drink, first, and food. Calescent! Some of your fried rice for Seve and Erek! Not too hot, but it’s fricking cold out! You don’t have a problem with Goblins, do you, Seve?”

The Courier saw a Goblin in the kitchens and did a double-take. He turned to Erin and saw her expectant gaze.

“Not…that much, Miss Solstice.”

He would have to lie about the Isle of Goblins, even here. Not because he thought Erin Solstice would object, but rumors spread, and a Courier had to keep some secrets. But the rest? Soon, he had a plate full of hot rice, fiery flakes of pepper, and hot beef and a drink in front of him, and Erin called for the fire to be stoked.

“Alright, I suggest we let Seve tell his story and say what he traded along the way. Then Nanette can see what the flower became. Deal?”

That sounded like the best way to do it. So, Seve found himself sitting as the witch and Mrsha ran over together, excited, and Erin called over a Hobgoblin, a Stitch-girl, a [Princess] and her [Knights], a Drake [Spearmaster], and more.

Was this what he’d been searching for? He hoped it was. He checked, you see. Seve waited as Erin made the introductions to him, of countless species, and he laid eyes on the Antinium for the first time and tentatively shook a hand.

“I am Seve.”

“I am Bird. You must have seen many birds, Courier Seve? And you have birds on your skin. Therefore, you are a man of excellent taste, and we must become friends.”

“So soon?”

The Courier eyed the Antinium up and down, and Bird tilted his head.

“Erin makes friends faster. Plus, there is a very annoying boy whom you saved, and I am assured it is a good thing.”

“Sammial Veltras? He’s here?”

“Ryoka’s running around, but he’s here! Bird, don’t bother Seve, he’s telling stories. Do you want anything to eat? Oh, and Mrsha—no stealing his food. He’s from A’ctelios Salash, and you don’t wanna eat that.”

Then Seve hesitated, though he kept a smile on his face, and he wondered if he was wrong. But the wary look the girl gave him was just curious, and she began asking what kind of powers she’d get. Erin shooed Mrsha away.

“Don’t be annoying, Mrsha. Seve’s just like an anti-vegetarian. And he’s a great guy. He delivered the cure to Baleros.”

She smiled at him, and there wasn’t a hint of fear in her eyes. Just—curiosity.

Ah, at last. Seve’s smile grew until it was genuine, and Erek ooked again and clapped his hands. Was this it?

Another spot where he was not the monster of Tombhome? So he hoped. Even in Reim, with the fearless King of Destruction, they had treated him like another potential foe. In Medain, he was a curio, in Baleros, a fun new thing for the Lizardfolk.

But here he felt like a person in the world, because they did ask him about it. And he responded…

“It’s a great change. A great weight. I chose to eat Tombhome’s flesh.”

“Ew. I get it, I think, but ew. Does it—does it taste like organs?”

Erin shuddered, and Seve laughed.

“It’s the most delicious thing in the world. But it does look—odd. Would you like to see it?”

“Maybe later. We are putting food out, and you’ve gotta be careful. Relc would probably take a bite if you left it lying out without thinking twice.”

“Hey! Keep the hamburgers rolling, and we won’t have a problem. Tombhome, eh? I met a guy like that in the war who took the flesh or whatever you do. Scary as could be. Half the company debated doing it after they saw him walk out of a grinder, but…he had a picture and, wow, I am not hungry any more.”

Seve turned with sudden fascination to the Drake, and he thought he had found it. Another fine place, another point on his map worth returning to time and time again.

After all, if he was always the monster of A’ctelios Salash to everyone, why would he travel? His friends looked for homes, and so did he.

People to befriend. People who would understand. People who, rarely, needed what he could give them.

Perhaps, someday, someone to love. For now, Seve relaxed, well and truly, and fell in love with the inn a bit. He smiled as Mrsha finally spotted the gifts that Erek was placing in front of the [Witch].

Mrsha threw an instant tantrum.

No fair! No fair! How come she gets such amazing stuff and I don’t? You have to share!

She reached for the whistle, and Nanette smacked her hand down. The [Witch] looked proud and delighted.

“It’s all Courier Seve’s doing, Mrsha. And because I asked. What are these stones? They’re magical. And this key!”

“Uh oh.”

Erin spotted the key, and her face fell, like any parental figure who realized that a child had just been armed for mischief. But Nanette’s face was shining, and she turned to Mrsha proudly.

“You can’t just let everyone gift you things, Mrsha. I’m arming myself for my own adventures. But—what is it, and how did a flower become all this?”

She turned with eager eyes to the Courier, and he did laugh then and eyed the cup of blue juice he was served.

It looked disgusting, but he took a sip, and it was sweet. So he settled back as Nanette played with a stone in her hands, and everyone gathered around.

Then—he told them how he got here.


[Worldtraveller Inkfriend Level 46!]

[Skill – Vessel: Stormrider’s Blessing obtained!]


[Title – Trader of Fortunes obtained!]

[Title Skill – Trinket Trade: Something Better, Something Worse obtained!]


It only occurred to Seve after he woke up in The Wandering Inn with a smile the next day and stretched.

“Wait. Does that mean I’m not a good trader?”




The story was called, in some cultures, the Straw Trader story. And it was a classic tale of a man who started with a piece of straw and, by a series of increasingly convoluted deals, traded his way into fame and fortune.

Nanette knew this, of course, and her scheme paid off. A bag of magic stones, a whistle that called animals to you, and a literal skeleton key?

That was the sort of stuff that any growing girl wanted. However, there was a part of the story that was often forgotten—and it was the people Seve had traded with.

In some cases, it was just a new flower growing in Khelt’s gardens, to the satisfaction of their king. Just a single flower, and Seve’s presence had been but a small moment in each story he crossed paths with.





Cognita Truestone liked her blue pot. It was hers.

Like her hat, she had now acquired it, and she now owned three things in this world. Her hat, a blue pot from Khelt, and Wistram Academy.

She did take a second though, after Seve had headed off on his long journey, to take the pot to her room. There, she admired it for a moment, debated putting something in it, and then reached into the pot with a sigh.

It took her less than a second to peel the folded bit of gilded paper out, and she admired the penmanship.

“…The bearer of which shall be granted access to Khelt by order of His Majesty of Khelt, King Fetohep, at least once in the next thousand years.”

The hidden ticket was a one-time access to Khelt. Cognita Truestone wondered if Seve had known. If he had, he’d let the value of the pot speak to any prospective clients. Which had been her and only her.

Cognita rolled her eyes with a sigh and tucked the ticket into her bag of holding. It might be useful.


No one realized that the King of Khelt never sent mere pots out.




The King of Destruction, for his part, had the prized Yellat conveyed to his own gardens where it was buried in hopes it would continue to mature.

Then he convened his war tent and, in good humor, remarked it was well that Seve had taken the Sand Golems away from him.

“We have a war to conduct. I am not minded to push in far. I would rather take Nerrhavia apart as I did the west. Last time, they acquiesced more gracefully. This time? Pomle bothers me. Tiqr bothers me.”

“Yet it stands. So what is our order, my King?”

Mars smiled, and Flos Reimarch pointed a finger.

“We push. Are they still hunkered down after the last assault, Amerys?”

The Archmage was smiling placidly, and Gazi was checking her cracked armor. Orthenon buckled his sword into place as he picked up a spear, and Takhatres tilted his head up.

“Yep. And they’re watching us build those damn trebuchets all down the warfront.”

Flos Reimarch rubbed his hands, and he turned to his Seven. Orthenon plus Mars, Amerys, Takhatres, and Gazi. Five legends all gathered in one place. In the old days…

“Good. You five—take the fortress. As soon as you disable the wall spells, my armies will press forwards with Venith at the head. Zamea splits left, I go right. Time for a rampage.”

His vassals looked up, and Gazi exhaled. Mars rotated her shoulders and grinned. Amerys started giggling, and they left the tent.

Six hours later, the Bastion Nevekeh Fortress fell, and the King of Destruction’s forces entered Nerrhavia properly. And all the while, Flos Reimarch kept pointing out to Trey that he definitely knew how to conduct a battle.

Like that. You did it like that.




Jecrass was at peace. But what a tenuous peace. A third of the kingdom was gone and two monarchs ruled.

Medain was at peace, but it was under Khelt’s sway. Neither nation could be called whole, but their fates were intertwined.

It wasn’t just the feuds. Raelt…no longer felt like a [King].

He was less formal, more distracted, and felt like his pretense at being a [King] had been worn away by his captivity and torture, so he couldn’t even pretend to be head of state. Yet still.

Jecaina as [Queen]? She wasn’t ready. Or if she was, she shouldn’t have to be. He walked around his palace, something of a hero, something of a martyr to his people, and all of a failure to himself.

In the end, he had not been a great [King]. But what could he give Jecrass now?

He did not know. The King of Duels was good, no, he was overwhelming in one thing alone. And that was dueling. A poor thing for a [King], unless you were like Flos Reimarch.

Something caught Raelt’s eye as he passed by Nerrhavia Fallen’s news channel. They were broadcasting Chandrarian news, though they didn’t have the personality of Drassi or Noass or Sir Relz yet.

They should hire that Rémi Canada fellow. Raelt liked the newspaper more, but both stories were the same thing, actually.

This morning’s headlines were of oranges. Raelt stared.

Lots of oranges. Oranges, which, he happened to know, had that amazing staining quality even if you just got juice on your hand. It’d turn your skin, well, orange for a day or two even if you washed it right off.

Imagine what it did to expensive silk. Apparently, the palace of Medain had been covered in rotting oranges when High King Perric was hosting a bunch of dignitaries, even Terandrians who hadn’t left yet.

Hugely embarrassing. Rotting oranges everywhere. In the soup, in your bed, staining the toilet seat…

The mystery of the oranges wasn’t a mystery to Raelt, who smiled in great satisfaction at the orange on King Perric’s face. But…how had they gotten everywhere?

There was only one person who could move that fast. Raelt’s eyes opened, and he remembered her.


One of the few people who’d helped him at all. No friend to Perric either. His ebullience at Perric’s humiliation turned to…painful memory. Then Raelt lowered the newspaper.

“She’s a prisoner too. No one ever rescued her. That man…”

His hands tightened on the newspaper, and then Raelt tried to stop himself. But should he? Perric had kidnapped his daughter. He had always been a threat to Jecrass, and now?

There was something Raelt could do for Jecrass after all. The only question was—how? He slowly began to think, and Jecaina, chancing upon her father, stopped a second, because the light of determination had come back to her father’s gaze.

But still. Was this a good king’s decision? Or a good man’s? They were not always one and the same.




The Prophet was not just interested in the gemstones for the sheer lucre. He had intentions, which was to create a crown inlaid with the jewels. It was—symbolic.

Many things were. His people left Medain, and they had never been welcome in the Claiven Earth, but despite their inability to gather support from the High King, they had still gained numbers.

It was time. Death had rolled over Chandrar once, and for every good thing some people said of Khelt, they were still ruled by an immortal tyrant. Their land overflowed with hoarded riches, and if there was any symbol to prove the might of faith—

It would be there. Faith moved mountains, and so the People of God marched. Not just for material gain. Not just for fame or to grow their numbers.

God existed. Miracles rained down, and classes came to the People of God. If he existed, then those rules, those commandments, were true laws set in stone. If the Prophet feared one thing, it was that the power he had been granted was also in hand with the punishment for failure.

Divine wrath would fall upon Khelt. Or him. He still woke, sometimes, remembering the hands of the wrathful corpses-spirits reaching for him. Dead men and women rotting and reaching for his very soul, or so it felt. Twice they’d come, both times on a Solstice.

Whispering lies. Demanding fealty.

Faith had saved him, and they had fled. He had yet to hear his own revelation in pure terms, so perhaps he was unworthy.

But those wretched corpses who terrified him? That undead king had to be the culprit. He would scourge all of Khelt to destroy…destroy that. One had even whispered allegiance to King Fetohep as he fled.

The Prophet had never seen a worthier foe of God than them.




Some would call the Prophet’s power an omen of everything this world should strive against. The Antinium would, if they could see his miracles. At least, the old Antinium would.

Others might say the same of Roshal.

But Roshal had always been self-serving. That was it. They were honest about the fact that what they did, they did for their own nation, their own people. Every nation and organization did that.

Roshal just differed on what defined ‘people’.

Oh, and they were good about being preemptive. Hence Iert’s departure from Roshal. Hence the warship.

They still did business, and the belowdecks were unpleasant to be in. The Gnoll didn’t care for it, as it was far different from how the Naga ran things.

The Courier, Seve-Alrelious, had not appreciated the one time he’d gone below. The Slavers of Roshal had not appreciated him.

Even if he was stupid enough to want to, Seve couldn’t have liberated a warship. They were ready for battle, and the top Masters of Roshal, new and old, had armed this crew very, very well.

In the holds, the new [Slaves] and the ones not trusted to go above were oddly quiet of late. A rarity.

It was not a lack of tears that held them at bay. It was not that things were better. But at least one group sat very, very silent.

Thinking. They were fed—enough—unless someone was disobedient, and things would rot fast in this swaying hold where daylight was so rare. Most things rotted.

But that Courier had remarked that Roshal knew A’ctelios. No one could easily escape slavery. Not Djinni. Only the Death of Chains was any hope, and she was in Rhir and, sometimes, just a dream you wished for in dark hours.

He could not offer them that. But as he had said—

‘It will not break your chains. But if you do eat—they will be afraid to touch you.’

Like the Last Light of Baleros, they hid it away. Pondering their choice. Seve-Alrelious had always offered the choice to those who needed it.




The Jungleclad Clan of Baleros had less worries than those Roshal touched. Yet they had some.

Death, predation, hunger.

They had great joys like music, like meeting their cousin, like all people, but even the apes of Baleros had one great depression, at least. One great sadness.

The scrolls of healing were too valuable for their clan to hold onto. They kept two and sent scouts out on a dangerous trek. If they shouted, they would be met and trade could occur.

They could fish. They could make homes. They could scavenge, and yes, the monkeys who took one scroll could communicate and trade.

To varying levels. But they lacked magic. And they lacked one more thing.

The news from the Land of Colors was bad. Monsters had forced all the local clans to flee, and there were otherfolk everywhere. They might have to resettle in the heartlands, and it was already pushing them against Lizardfolk. The Beastkin were friendlier up north, but there were limits to how many could be in one place.

It seemed everything had failed. The dispirited Jungleclad Clan realized that, once again, all their work had been for naught.

They had sent precious metal axes.

They had sent some of their own with scavenged material.

They had worked hard.

The Land of Colors had been a good place that few otherfolk wanted to live near. This unexplained disaster…no one had seen the missing clan.

The tower would, again, fail to be built. Perhaps it was time to give up on the dream. If only the voice would stop telling them to try.




The Gazers of Baleros were not affected by The Dyed Lands. Or the local ape tribe. They were superior to both threats, and the other Great Companies were addressing the matter.

What they were not happy about was…Jungle Tails. A Great Company re-emerging. Seve-Alrelious was right to wonder why the Gazers hid in the heartland jungles.

It wasn’t entirely by choice. But the Gazers, and the Great Company that so few ever encountered, were here for a reason.

Even if the rest of the world had forgotten it.

Yixef did report that the Courier was unlikely to be a spy. Seve-Alrelious had visited Baleros a number of times, as his friend Erek proved, but he was no known friend to the Nagas.

“No trespassers. Not even for sweets.”

He was reprimanded, if not harshly. But the Eyes of Baleros company was very wary of late.

Thieves were appearing around the world, searching for great artifacts. Searching in particular for something. One half of a whole.

The Jungle Tails company had been defeated by Niers Astoragon, and for that, he had the Eyes of Baleros’ gratitude. After all, if Jungle Tails returned to power, they would come here next.

They could not, could never be allowed to reclaim what they thought of as ‘theirs’. Too many had died and sacrificed everything to stop them, and they tried again and again. Whenever they succeeded—

The Lightning Thief’s sacrifice could not be overturned so soon. They had lost one, but the Eyes of Baleros, the Relics that the Eyes of Baleros company had been founded to hold?

The Nagas couldn’t have them back. The great concern to the Gazers was that if they only had one—where was the other damn one? No one had found it, and the hope was it was in the depths of the ocean.




Time had been bought. At great, great cost.

Aaron Vanwell didn’t know how. He didn’t know who had done it, but he was grateful.

Eternally grateful. Sending a flashlight into the world might be treasonous to some, but his perception had changed markedly since he had first agreed that sharing Earth technology was bad.

Wistram had it. It had Eldavin, and so it felt fairer to share. The Earthers were everywhere.

He was in Wistram, and perhaps he should have left. But Aaron was back to pursuing what had attracted him from the start. Technology and magic, fused.

He was working late at night on a new concept, trying to marry software and magic now, and he knew it would require him to actually further his studies under Eldavin’s new methods.

Linked rituals, spell circuits…magic was evolving. Aaron was yawning when he heard the voice.


It was so faint he missed it. Then he heard it again.


Aaron froze. His blood ran cold, and he started from his chair. He looked around—and the voice whispered.

Three times. A plea—and Aaron didn’t know where it was—until he saw something.

He had a map of the world on one side of his room, tacked up. And there was a little dot…

Aaron stared at it.

Impossible. He was gone! But the voice had called, and Aaron was sure—

He listened for almost an hour after that, unable to move or think, but the voice never spoke after that. Only then did Aaron jerk, so tense he was hurt, and stare at the dot. Was that…?

He stared at the map and then reached down to his desk. Slowly, Aaron lifted a wand and spoke two words.

“[Flame Spray].”

He hit the map with fire, so much that it caught the entire piece of paper ablaze, and the smoke and flames nearly set his bed on fire too. Aaron had to conjure water to douse it, then threw open a window. The smoke flew out, and he sat down, dizzy and sick, and only rose to tell his neighbors he’d accidentally started a fire.

Then he sat there, staring at the scorch mark on his wall. Aaron Vanwell exhaled.

“Eat shit and rot there.”

Shakily, he got up. And like that, he was back to it. Only this time, he was now thinking about how to stop something from happening. He’d never asked for this.

He’d been tricked. But if it meant his freedom or not—Aaron pushed designs around, trying to think. Trying to fight to keep something lost.


How did you kill it?




The Goblins remembered the Eyes of Baleros and what they did. They were neutral parties, unless the Nagas attacked them.

Goblin Kings. Eyes of Baleros.

Every species had their bad moments. Drakes had made Draconic Empires. Selphids had controlled everyone from the inside out. Gnolls had Doomslayers.

The point was seats of power. Havens like the Isle of Goblins. Ways to rebuild or grow stronger. The Nagas got too strong if they got one or both eyes, and no one had managed to destroy the damn things. Well, they were also valuable, or else Izikere was sure someone would have just chucked them over the edge of the world.

She sat on a rock, listening, monitoring her home, and feeling the ocean currents sweeping her island through the ocean in a new path. Knowing it and knowing the dangers was her mission right now.

She was a protector. Greydath was the one who was too impatient to stay. He was a seeker, a hunter of his own kind. Izikere would have preferred to keep things as they were.

…But the world was moving too fast to hold still. One of the [Shamans], whom even Izikere considered ‘old’, was shouting at someone.

Shut up! Shut up! I changed your poo when you were small!

The person she was shouting at did not like the reminder. The old [Shaman] listened and sneered.

“Higher level? I’m so scared. Anazurhe, you used to suck on your thumb and come crying to me when you saw bats. Want me to say it louder? That’s what I thought.”

The Goblin Lord was smiling. She liked hearing the younger children play, and few things annoyed her. Even the tamborines were just good to hear, because it meant her people were occupied. The [Shaman] listened to the chagrined [Witch]’s reply.

She wasn’t using a [Scrying] spell. Izikere employed other means, not trusting [Mage] magic. The old [Shaman] speaking for her finally got the upper hand.

“Good. Now shush. You send back more sweet things. Don’t say ‘is expensive’! You greedy little Goblin. We are sending Goblins. To Izril.”

The [Witch] fell silent, and the [Shaman] smacked her lips.

“Yah. Yep. Too many died. Strong Goblins going. Get ready. No, no lying silent. No hiding. They’re coming. Get ready.”

She lowered the conch shell she’d been using and shrugged.

“I told her.”

“Good. We have to move. Something’s changing.”

Izikere was restless. Greydath was restless, and his advocacy had turned out to be correct after all. He had seen no ghosts, been visited by no spirits…but he had seen the New Lands rise. His sword felt like it was talking to him. It had called him north, and she didn’t know where he’d gone, but some glory-seekers had gone with him, despite knowing how dangerous his journeys were. It had to be.

They needed more Goblin Lords. They needed a King. It was too soon, but they needed one. Perhaps it was time to—push one.

Izikere sat, wondering how many Goblins might die, how many she was sending to their deaths. That was what Greydath wanted. Push and push until they were one day free of this madness or the world broke. Was there a third way? If so, their people needed to find it.

She felt…uneasy. The Goblin Lord was concentrating her magic. She had not levelled in an age, but she was practicing, refocusing herself. It had been a long time since she had the feeling of dangerous foes on the horizon. They had to be stronger than anyone else. Or if they died—let the next Goblin Lords be even stronger.




Not everyone had such momentous encounters with Seve, or even correlated it in their heads.

Oh, Adetr Steelfur definitely appreciated a working model of a flashlight, even a magitech one, and how the wiring and battery seemed to work. But aside from the shame of stealing a video of the object and not paying for it—the Gnolls paid it little mind.

In fact, the [Shaman] who had traded the Whistle of Friendship, a Gaarh Marsh trinket, to Seve barely thought about the pillow at all.

It was not exactly a fashionable pillow to him. He completely forgot about it for about a week. That was, until he ended up dicing with a bunch of guests.

“Roll them bones! Let’s not do gold and make it more interesting.”

A half-Elf cackled as the Named-rank adventurer, Colth, and several Wild Wastes Gnolls joined the Horns of Hammerad to play.

Gambling was a terrible thing. At first, they played for snacks and small things, and the [Shaman] got a bag of cookies. Then Ceria Springwalker, the [Prankster], decided to make things interesting.

“I’ll bet—my underclothes that I’m wearing right now. Colth?”

“I’ll bet my underclothes.”

“Stop it.”

Yvlon was trying not to throttle both of them. The Ice Squirrel got a bit too many excited wagers, and so did Colth. As the game progressed, a lot of weird things changed hands.

“I bet someone else’s gold tooth and, uh—someone else’s silver tooth.”

Berr slapped down two teeth, and Yvlon, who had been dragged along to learn something, or just to enable his habit, stared at him as she fumbled around.

“Why do you have that many teeth?”

“Hm? Well, they’re free. You just have to punch them out of people’s faces and then pick them up. It’s good money. What do you have?”

“Uh…how about some silver dust for ‘well cleansing’? My brother gives it to me.”

“Silver dust?”

The Gnolls muttered, but Yvlon shrugged.

“I’m not going to use it. You could—throw it in someone’s face?”

“It’s worth something. Okay, that’s a good ante. Ceria?”

“My underwear—”

They chased her off because it was the third time she’d tried it. Not everyone had had a good betting run. On the other hand, Ksmvr had gotten fifteen Gnolls to sign an agreement saying they’d plant a tree and dedicate it to him, and he was wearing Colth’s pants.

Pisces was performing dental work, which was actually fairly in demand.

The Gaarh Marsh [Shaman] had been losing a lot, but the game called to him, so he ran back to his tent to find anything he could trade. When he found the pillow, he raced back, and Ceria laughed at it.

“What’s that?”

“Some pillow I traded a Courier for. Is it good?”

“I love the design. I think it goes.”

It went into the pot, and everyone rolled down. The [Shaman] covered his face as he was kicked out, and the winner was, to her own surprise—

Yvlon Byres. She re-collected her bag of dust, Colth’s pants, and the two teeth with a look that said she really loved winning this particular hand.

“Colth, want your pants back?”

“I’ll win them back. Another round?”

Yvlon just tossed the pants at Colth and sighed. She did take the teeth because Pisces was shouting he could use them—and she took the pillow too. Ceria smiled appreciatively.

“It’s a nice pillow, Yvlon. Don’t toss it. We don’t have any high-quality travel gear.”

The woman felt at it with her metal hands, and it was soft. She tucked it into her bag of holding with a sigh.

“I know, I know. I don’t have a pillow either, and my bag of holding is big enough. Who puts a Goblin on a pillow?”

Ksmvr raised a hand.

“Erin would love it. Perhaps we can keep it to give to her if you do not like it.”

Yvlon shrugged. It wasn’t the worst idea, and it did feel nicer than sleeping on a pack. That was how she got a free pillow, but she really, in hindsight, could have used some context for it.




So that was the outcome of Seve-Alrelious’ journey across three continents. Gifts spread around, stories at their turning point, or long tales that might soon find new developments.

A world in motion.

Oh, and there was one last thing, wasn’t there? Seve’s final trade had Az’kerash puzzling over the mystery.

“I understand the magic, but this?”

“Oh my. What could that be. I have no idea.”

Nerrhavia’s deadpan tones made the Necromancer look up from his inspection of the strange flashlight.

“You know what it is.”

“What should I ask for this time? What favor? Hmm.

She made a show of thinking as the Necromancer began to lose his cool again. He was sick of her secrets! But somehow, Nerrhavia kept holding all the cards. She gave him a huge smile.

“Your problem, Archmage Perril Chandler, is that you fail to plan ahead.”

“I have agents in every part of the world!”

She tsked and corrected him.

“You have puppets. I have followers such that millenia after my death, some of them are good enough to send me my possessions. I wonder how I should reward them? By the way, that is what loyalty means. I’ll have you prepare a suitable reward, then I’ll give you a hint. Though how you missed this with Wistram being as subtle as a knife in the leg is beyond me.”

He stormed out of the room, and Nerrhavia watched him go. Taking him down several pegs was not just fun—but hopefully humanizing in the right way. If he kept humanizing himself in the wrong way?

“Even I have my limits to those I can control. I need vassals. I always had decent ones. I ever had an eye for quality, and he would have been a poor one.”

Nerrhavia murmured to herself. She wasn’t controlling a puppet, just waiting. It was abundantly clear to her that despite their inequitable relationship, power was also in the reach and breadth of their abilities, and she lacked that.

It was the quality of the gemstone, even uncut, that defined the worth of a person to her. Sometimes they shattered, but you had to risk it. And even then, you had to know how to strike them just right to turn crude ore into a shining blade she could drive into her enemy’s throats.

She’d been doing her homework and researching and planning, and she had options, but she had needed to get everything in order first. Now?




A little box and a letter appeared on someone’s desk in the winter. The note was very simple, and the entire thing had come, very normally, through a City Runner.

Though if you asked Fals how he’d gotten the delivery, you’d go to the Runner’s Guild, very normally, and they’d say it was a Drake sender in another city.

Only, the Drake didn’t exist, and if you tried to find anything else out—you’d get nothing.

Chaldion of Pallass had tried, mind you, and so had Manus. ‘Azzy’ and ‘Nerry’ and two suspicious Drakes meeting a Courier had prompted an investigation, but a local agent who had gone after them had never reported back.

Chaldion paid attention. Manus did not. Yet even the Grand Strategist’s best paranoia couldn’t have found the delivery that had been made from another city, through innocuous channels, to end up here. It was always hard playing defense when there were a thousand cracks in half a continent.

That was why Nerrhavia was all offense. The only question was how to procure the right tools in this day and age. Quality was one thing. Potential another. Placement? She had chosen a very appropriate person to send the gift she had waited so long for.

The letter was simple. It read, after the brief greeting:


I hope you will accept this small trinket from me as a sign of potential patronage. It is quite valuable, and I hope it serves you well in your endeavors. Consider it a sign of good faith; I will be in touch, and I have always had an eye for talent.

You have had other fine inspirations and mentors who had seen your worth, but never a patron. The Titan of Baleros has a thousand pupils, but he should have looked twice. I have great expectations for you, Olesm Swifttail.

We shall speak soon.

—An Interested Observer


The puzzled [Strategos] looked down at the black velvet box and flicked it open. He blinked and murmured as a strange wristband that looked ancient caught the light.

“A patron…?”

Just who was interested in him now? Ilvriss, the Titan, Maviola…he closed his eyes, and then he frowned.

He wasn’t stupid enough to put on a random artifact. He’d better have this tested and ask Fals who this had come from. Oh—and his eyes strayed to the bottom of the letter.

He was very suspicious, but the end of the letter made him think he had better be serious.


PS. Prepare your army well. Your beaten foe in Hectval’s Alliance is about to show fangs. They will begin from the skies. Find some caves and disguise where the bulk of your army lies.


If true…he’d been getting an uneasy sense on the quiet front as well. Olesm decided to call in Wing Commander Embria and ask Belgrade to check on the foothills. If this was a trap, it was a stupid one, and it wouldn’t hurt to have a fallback point.

“Things are about to change. As ever.”

Olesm sighed. Then he wondered what next month would bring.





Author’s Note:

Welladay, I’m back.

I might write a longer Author’s Note here because I have an entire month to summarize. And aside from a Patreon update a week in, I was actually quiet. I debated posting several times, but I didn’t—because I was unsure of how to explain what was going on.

I’ve written variations of this note like three times, because it’s hard to lay things out in a coherent manner. I have realized that I’m a bad communicator, both in terms of writing and personally.

…This is not reassuring given my career choice, but it’s fairer to say that I describe the forest without the trees. You can tell that I’m not always describing what places look like, and as for food or clothing, I hate it.

So here’s what happened: I was writing Gravesong, Book 2 during the month off. As I wrote, I was concerned about the effort and guilty about taking the break, so I threw myself into it.

I wrote, in two weeks, about 180,000 words. Even at top form, that was an insane amount, and while I was not proud of it, I got Arcs 1 and 2 (out of three) done.

Then I crashed. I realized in the third week of the month I might have to write another 100,000 words or more, and I hit a wall. I couldn’t finish writing, and I experienced burnout and an inability to continue writing for the first time in eight years.

It was pretty bad, actually. At one point I was rhyming every other sentence because I was so fried, and I was definitely unpleasant to be around in real life. There were incidents.

So, I stopped. I failed my goal, failed to even continue working, and took the next two weeks off as an extended break. I’m somewhat recovered, and I definitely needed the time off, but it was the first time I ever had creative burnout that bad. I’ve written through it before, but it was a kind of realization I had hit a limit—and I had already hit one in realizing I needed time off for Gravesong 2.

Well, now I’m in an odd state because I owe the book, but I’ve extended my deadlines and I’m taking it easier. This chapter back was me working hard to try to get back to normalcy, and I may take more time off soon—to write a chemistry chapter in advance and have it proofed by the volunteers, to work on Gravesong 2, but also if I need it.

Seven years? Eight years? Ever since 2016, I’ve been working, and it’s gone beyond my wildest dreams for success, but I can’t write a novel in a month, and I can hit burnout like a flaming tire rolling down a hill into a flock of baby ducks. It’s good I learned what happens so I can avoid it, but that was a tough month away.

But I’m back, and trying to remember that the journey is what matters, and it should be fun, hence this chapter back. Time to experiment, do crazy things, because The Wandering Inn does benefit from me editing and planning, but it also benefits from me being creative and vested.

That was my month of May. Hope yours was informative, if not as stressful.



How the Quarass probably looked when presented with the Sand Golem miniatures by Brack!


Loeri, the City of Ropes by Enuryn the [Naturalist]!


Radience, Horns of Hammerad, Fish Shipes, and more by Gridcube!


Cold by onionlittle!




SystemGlitch has created a track of songs for The Wandering Inn! I’ve written multiple chapters while listening to the main theme and Erin’s, which are my favorite. Give them some support!





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