9.43 L – The Wandering Inn

9.43 L

(I am releasing a chapter a day rather than one every 3-4 days. Make sure you’re on the right one and you haven’t missed one! –pirateaba)



That beach. That damn beach.

“What kind of an [Innkeeper] has a beach in their inn? What is a beach? Damn her!”

The Wandering Inn ate business like an Eater Goat on a rampage. Ulia Ovena, the owner of Celum’s Blazehound, actually pounded the counter of her fancy establishment.

Erin was also making enemies of Adalton Serristail of The Noble’s Fancy in Pallass, but he was able to keep most of his Drake patrons because they were too good for a Human establishment in Liscor.

He just wished they’d stop asking him to pull a beachfront from under his tail. The worst part?

The beach stuck around. Erin Solstice was very open about the fact that she could have it essentially forever.

“Maybe I’ll turn it into a winter resort in the summer, y’know? Keep things nice and cool in there. Although, I have the Snow Golem area. Anyways, who wants a piña colada? Kevin, do we need this in the world?”

“Yes. Give.”




You could either curse her name, like Ulia and Agnes were doing—or adapt. Improvise.

Timbor Parithad had lost business to Erin. In fact, he’d lost Imani and Palt, who were not only selling in Erin’s inn but on holiday.

A huge blow, even if they were teaching his own [Cooks] how to advance their cooking. But Timbor, owner of The Drunken Gnoll, had learned a few tricks.

“Commiseration Hour! Anyone who didn’t get in The Wandering Inn—drinks are half off!”

He’d put a huge sign up as well: Beachfront Tips! Come exchange your knowledge here! 

So his inn was full of people scheming on how to get in or badgering people for tales of what was in there, and a lot of patrons had come by to brag and drop anecdotes…and sand…all over the place.

Timbor was proud of it. He might be one of those lampreys that clung to a whale, but it put gold in his pocket. Besides, he’d be called a hanger-on by Peslas if the Drake wanted. The ‘best’ [Innkeeper] in Liscor was what, Level 34?

Timbor was Level 24 before he came to Liscor. By the time he’d survived the raiders, war, and rebuilt his inn?

Peslas was sweating because Timbor was closing on him like a shark in the waters. One more level…and Timbor had a good feeling about tonight. He smirked as he swept some sand out the front door and into the snow.

His inn just lacked Peslas’ wealth and staffing, and that wasn’t too hard to equalize since Timbor would hire Gnolls and Humans and Drakes, and he was considering Silveran’s Cleaners too.




Yes, The Wandering Inn was having a good time. Why, even Yelroan was busy blinding half the people around him with his sunglasses on the beach. Saliss had a copy, and he was walking around with them shining. The Gnoll was working on a breakdown of Erin’s guests.

That was what he did for fun in between reading Laken’s [Engineers]’ math on their trebuchets. Yelroan was also very, very interested in the stress-tests of Pallass’ Engineering Guild on the durability of their steel. That was confidential information, but he had long ears.

There was actually only one person who didn’t seem to be having the greatest time ever. Strangely, it was Lyonette du Marquin.

It was hard for Erin to fathom why it was a problem. But Lyonette happily explained.

“Erin. Is this really what people wear on beaches?”

She looked scandalized as Erin turned. The [Innkeeper] had realized there weren’t as many good options for beach-people, and where Kevin was only too happy to just change into some shorts and charge forth, she had quickly drawn up a guide.

The issue was waterproof fabric, but you could adapt even a dress into something beach-friendly. ‘Spats’ were not a concept that this world had in store, but the irony was that someone had already opened the door for beach-type clothing.

Worldview Fashion, the Earth-forward store that had catered to Magnolia Reinhart, Lady Pryde Ulta, and Wuvren Sitil, had a version of tracksuits and the lead [Designer] herself had already come over, happy to offer their designs…for a free pass to the beach.

However, Lyonette objected. Not to the bikini or two-piece swimsuits. She hadn’t gotten past the short leggings on the dress-type swimsuit, which was really just a shoulder-hanging ensemble with [Waterproof Fabric].

“Erin, it’s inches above my knees!”

“…Yup. Sure is.”

Erin had on shorts and a t-shirt. She gestured at her clothing.

“This is also good. You could go swimming in that.”

“Hurgkh. I mean—it’s a lovely outfit, Erin. I could see myself wearing it if I were shoveling snow outside. But if you get wet, someone might see your undergarments!”

“Lyonette, it’s a beach. Everyone’s in their undergarments. You don’t wear underwear in the water, just shorts.”

The [Princess]’ appalled look grew into true horror. Relc, who’d been stomping around in the water, playing ‘monster’ for the children laughing, stopped pulling at his pants.

“You don’t? Great! Give me one second—”

He raced off, and Lyonette turned her look of scandal onto Erin once more. The [Innkeeper] folded her arms.

“This time you can’t say it’s because I’m weird. Where I’m from, everyone wears beach clothes like this, Lyonette. Even the older folk. Even royalty and rich people. Right, Kevin?”

The Earther charged past Erin with a soccer ball they were using as a volleyball.

“Right! In fact, the old people will let it all hang free! Nude beaches. Let’s not do that.”

“Excuse me, what?”

Saliss grew insanely interested, but Erin and Lyonette shooed him off. Lyonette, still covering her legs, hissed at Erin.

“This isn’t normal to me! Mrsha’s gone bare again!”

“Yeah…she’s got fur.”

She was picking up swimming very quickly. But Lyonette was having trouble. The thing was…

She could swim* and had gone paddling around in the shallows with the kids, but she didn’t care for the swimsuits, even when she was given the most conservative one, and she didn’t know how to beach properly.


*She could not swim.


It was a mystery to Erin, because she had been told by Lyonette herself that Calanfer had a beach.

“You said you visited the coast a lot!”

“Yes, I did! And I quite liked the beach!”

“What did you do?”

“Well, we walked down it and collected seashells and—”

“You didn’t swim?”

“Us? Royalty? With monsters in the water and all kinds of…people watching us? Erin, please.

Lyonette had learned to swim as a matter of self-preservation, but she swam like a sinking sponge. And unlike her daughter, she didn’t learn fast enough.

Erin was trying to be nice, but she had to keep approving would-be guests, and this felt like a ‘Lyonette’ issue.

“Lyon, you can sunbathe—”

With my legs exposed? I’ll ruin my skin!”

Sunbathing. Another non-Calanferian thing apparently. Erin tried again.

“Why don’t you have fun in a circle with the Antinium or something?”

“I don’t have anyone to go with.”

Lyonette was downcast. Someone stopped as they trudged by with a huge piece of roast corn on a stick.

“What a shame. I don’t know how that happened.”

Yellow Splatters walked on by as Lyonette bit her lip and turned red. Erin gave Lyonette a long look and raised hands.

“Why don’t you go play with Mrsha? You keep saying you miss your mother-daughter time.”




Sometimes it felt like the world conspired against Lyonette du Marquin. Or perhaps it was the role she occupied.

She often enabled and helped create Erin’s mad moments, but in this case, Erin had been annoyingly self-sufficient. Erin probably didn’t mean to leave Lyonette out, but a confluence of factors messed with Lyonette.

For one—her daughter splashed water at her. Visma interpreted her sign-language and then shouted as she waved a fist.

Shoo! This is for us only! Kids only! Get lost, loser! That’s what she said, Miss Lyonette, not me.”

“Miss Mrsha! The shame of it!”

Ser Sest was woebegone as the kids played ‘sharks and fishies’ in the water. But they didn’t want an adult Crelering up the situation, and after they let her join in one session, Lyonette ended up failing to catch even one kid after six minutes. They were fast as could be! And she ended up exhausted, routed, and falling back.

The worst part to Lyonette, sulking in the shade of a spell which looked like a shadowy dome of ‘gloom’, was that her damn Thronebearers did so well.

Ser Lormel was still laid up, but he was actually happy not to go to the beach. He was currently writing notes back to the countless [Knights] who’d sent him missives, and Lyonette had even bought him a speaking stone so he could talk to people.

Ser Sest on the other hand? He had actually been allowed to continue playing with the kids, and he leapt around in the water.

Where are you? I, Ser Sest, the beast of the ocean, have come to devour you! The Kraken strikes! Aha!

He dove in an exaggerated way, and Visma, shrieking with laughter, leapt away.

“Curse you, Sest.”

Her other Thronebearers were just as bad. Ser Dalimont, also nominally on Princess-duty, was chatting with Ama to the left.

“I just received word that the Thronebearers of Calanfer have formally approved my alliance with the Order of Solstice. Which is a relief.”

“Oh. Does that mean you’re not in trouble?”

“Better. They would like me to continue working with you all officially. And when my [Princess] arrives…”

He had a drink in hand, and both he and Sest had taken off their armor and looked annoyingly fit. In fact, the Wishdrinks hosts had come by to ask the Thronebearers for tips. Especially Sest, who had what even Kevin and Joseph had done a double-take on and called a ‘six-pack’.

Six of what? Lyonette hadn’t stared too long at any exposed skin, though she now recalled Sest was a popular figure back home.

Dame Ushar had no such problems. The Thronebearers liked to rotate, two on, two off, if there wasn’t a crisis that warranted more. Even with Ser Lormel gone, Dame Ushar had parked herself in a beach chair and was sipping from a drink and enjoying the scenery. She was not the only one.

Lyonette was worried someone was going to approach her and invite her to join the volleyball, or sit around the fire, or even make a sandcastle. She worried about it for fourteen minutes as she sat in the [Shade] spell—then got mad no one was approaching her.

“What are you supposed to do here, exactly?”

“Enjoy oneself. Which must be difficult for you. I don’t particularly care what anyone else says, so this has been exceedingly pleasant for me—and I think I’ll spend all week here.”

A dry voice to her left made Lyonette look over. And there was Chaldion, up to his knees in hot sand, drinking more ice and rum while reading a book.

“Princess Marquin.”

“Strategist. That’s Miss Marquin to you.”

He rolled his eyes.

“Oh, of course. Enjoying the shade? I didn’t set up the spell. Oddly, some Goblin had the ability.”

He eyed Gothica, who was sitting with her parasol in the spell to the right. Chaldion’s lips quirked.

“I can work and observe as well as play. But I’m happy to sit and relax. You’re the self-conscious one.”

Lyonette realized she was probably the only one here experiencing anxiety. Even normally skittish people were letting their hair down. Tesy was here, even if he was painting while trying to keep out of view with a Skill!

I’ve got the ball! I’ve got—

Someone sprayed sand and charged past them and nearly hit both sitting Drake and Human. Lehra kicked the ball back, then turned.

“Sorry—oh, Grand Strategist and, uh, Lyonette. We’re just playing—”

“Pay no mind. Friendly fire seems inevitable. But you can make it up to me by securing me that new pudding.”

Chaldion wiped sand from his bare chest. Lehra instantly agreed, then her ears perked up.


Imani was pushing a cart of colorful pudding with ‘sand’ on top, even tiny umbrellas. It was probably bread crumbs, but the sweet treat had a line already.

“I’ll get you some, Grand Strategist!”

And off Lehra charged, making it to the front of the line by sheer enthusiasm. Even Lyonette had to admire Chaldion spotting the pudding and securing it by using Lehra as a gofer.

What a scheming bastard. He gave her a smug look as his bodyguards sweatily surveyed the garden for threats. Chaldion probably hadn’t even told them that it was unlikely you could bring much harm into the Gardens of Sanctuary, even if this wasn’t the main one.




Lyonette tried to stay on the beach and have fun, but she gloomed herself out. She was about to go and greet Laken, who was grumpily inspecting the garden by hand as Durene beamed about, when a beach volleyball hit her in the head.

A gloomy Ser Sest swept up part of the common room as Lyonette, back in winter clothes, strode about the place where she felt she could do some good. But annoyingly…

“Calescent! Do you need help in the kitchen? Me and Sest can—”

The Hobgoblin looked up as Pebblesnatch, Silvermop, and two other helpers all paused in making more fruit-based dishes. Pebblesnatch beamed, and Calescent waved a hand.

“No, thank you, Lyonette. Cute Goblin [Cook] is helping. Then we all get a break. With special spicy steak.”

He pulled out a dish he’d been saving for himself, marinating, and all the cooking staff licked their lips. Lyonette gave him a wan smile.

“Oh, excellent. Maybe Liska needs help?”

The [Doorgnoll] had her feet up as she ate a pudding and flicked her paw.

“Door open to Liscor. Who’s coming through? No access to the beach unless you’re on the list! Alright, step inside, wait a second—door open to Invrisil—don’t go through! Wait for them to come through. Who needs travel? No access to the beach!”

She wasn’t even touching the damn door. Lyonette stared at Liska as the smug Gnoll controlled the door with her paw. The dial clicked around, and Liska only looked up and nearly fell out of her seat when Lyonette cleared her throat.

“Miss Lyonette! I was, uh—”

“You seem to have everything under control. Proceed.

Lyonette was too sweet, but she stomped off without further comment. Even Ishkr seemed happy as a clam.

“Ishkr! How are the drinks going? Are you swamped? You need help with Erin’s insane new Solstice event, right? What can I do?”

The [Head Server] turned, hugely bemused, from behind the bar where he had appeared. He hefted something in his paws.

“I’m fine, Miss Lyonette. I just went to get some rum for Chaldion. Rufelt and Lasica are here, and he’s serving drinks…she’s mostly relaxing. Everything is fine. I was going to go down to Liscor.”

“For ingredients?”

“No. Selys told me to give this to Watch Captain Zevara with a coupon for access and a free ‘swimsuit’ from Worldview Fashion.”

Ishkr had one of the puddings, and Lyonette’s face fell.

“You seem organized.”

“Erin told me what she was doing in advance. We have it all under control, Lyonette.”

“Damn her.”

Gloom and doom. Ishkr gave Lyonette the most understanding look so far.

“If…you’d like to take anything over, you can certainly help out, Miss Lyonette.”

“No. I think I’ll go for a walk.”

Ishkr nodded reasonably, then hesitated as Ser Sest stared out a window.

Wait, in the snow?




Lyonette made it about ten minutes outdoors before she realized that the knee-deep snow was hellishly cold and remembered why everyone wanted to be indoors.

Sest! Why didn’t you stop me?

A [Knight] is always here to enable his mistress’ bad choices, Your Highness! We’re trained not to say ‘no’ when you’ll just ignore us!”

The golden [Knight] seemed to know Lyonette too well. She sighed, but getting into the snow did remind her that the beach was a welcome reprieve.

It was just—if Lyonette stopped shivering and had insight for one moment, she wasn’t mad Erin had kept this from her.

Erin had wanted to surprise everyone, so aside from critical staff, she had prepared a warm surprise for the dead of winter. It was just—Lyonette wasn’t enjoying it because Lyonette was in an odd place.

Erin no longer needed as much help. Oh, someone had to manage the inn, but between Ishkr, Yelroan, Peggy, Rosencrantz, and more, Lyonette was no longer the one heroine keeping it all from falling apart.

Mrsha was no longer the exact same girl she used to be. Taking in poor Nanette, ironically, had helped both girls find a friend, and so they were more self-sufficient.

Which left Lyonette in the place of having time for herself at last. Only, she’d broken up with Pawn and now…

What did she do for fun, again? Have tea with Witch Eloise, shop for clothes with Nanette…the most stereotypical of things.

“Maybe I should practice sword swings.”

Lyonette had been practicing as much as she could, if not to the level of any [Warrior]. But was that her?

[Worldly Princess]. Lyonette had shot up to Level 28 in record time, consolidated her class…and then stopped levelling at some point. Her friends had passed her. She realized, perhaps, that she had ceased doing things for her and had focused more on Mrsha, which was all right and proper.

But now that she had time? She had forgotten how it was done.

Such was the melancholy of Lyonette du Marquin. She stood in the same wretched snow that Erin had once rescued her from, and she didn’t want to go home. This was a better home, but she needed something to occupy her. Beach or otherwise…Lyonette closed her eyes as she tried to look around for the inn.

It was moderately dangerous out here, mostly from frostbite or a rogue Snow Golem. Shield Spiders were deep in their nests, and Rock Crabs were hibernating too. No one would be out here with the stupid Winter Sprites’ storms. You’d have to be cr—


Lyonette was walking near the stream that Erin had used to use for water. It was, amazingly, still flowing, owing to the swift waters. And a snowdrift next to the stream, holding a fishing pole, sneezed as Lyonette passed by.

The [Princess] screamed. She drew her sword, or tried to, and the snowdrift jumped.

Aah! I fell asleep! Dead gods, it’s cold even with the Ring of Frost Resistance!”

The Snow Golem jumped up—and Lyonette gobbled as snow fell away and revealed…

Lady Walchaís?

Bethal Walchaís emerged, holding a fishing pole and shivering. She had on a fur hood, pale grey and puffy. Clearly enchanted, as were her leggings, and she had apparently been sitting there long enough for the snow to cover her!

Well, given how fast it was coming down, that wasn’t hard. But she swore as she threw her fishing pole down.

Damn you, fish! Oh, it’s you. The [Princess] of Calanfer.”

She did a double-take as Lyonette stared. And two more snowdrifts moved.

“Lady Walchaís, perhaps it’s time to call it in?”

Ser Sest had noticed the two Rose Knights, but they glumly emerged from the snow and made Lyonette nearly scream again. They were both shivering, and Dame Welca and Ser Kerrig looked miserable, despite their magical armor. Bethal rounded on them as she eyed Lyonette and Sest.

“Shush! Go away! This is a wilderness survival. You two aren’t taking part. I’ll have this fish in the hour. I told Thomast I could do it. Once he scavenges some root…things…we’ll make it through the night.”

Her stomach growled loudly as she spoke, and Ser Kerrig wiped snow from his visor as he flipped it up.

“You said that yesterday, Lady Walchaís.”

She turned red, and Lyonette noticed that Bethal was rather pale. It wasn’t from the weather; she had multiple cold-resistance enchantments on. She deliberately stabbed a finger into her palm.

“We did not fight off a Rock Crab and sit in this miserable weather to be second place, Kerrig. The first place is a week in this damn, Five Families-cursed hellhole of cold. And if I needs must starve the last day out, I will!”

Lyonette vaguely remembered Bethal being excited to take part in Liscor Hunted. But it seemed her good mood had turned to annoyance.

“Um. Excuse me.”

“Oh. Hello.”

Bethal swung around as if she’d completely forgotten Lyonette. The Rose Knights bowed.

“Your Highness du Marquin.”

“No, it’s just Lyonette…I’m just a [Barmaid] at The Wandering Inn.”

Bethal eyed Lyonette. The old lie that no one had really bought from the start felt completely inane coming out of her mouth.

“Yes, and I’m a Marquis of Avel. Well, everyone has their hobbies. Good day to you. Are you out for a walk in this…delightful weather?”

The blizzard howled around them as the wind picked up, and Lyonette shivered. Bethal scowled around and shaded her eyes.

“I think we have a tent…over there. Thomast and I are competing for the longest stay in Liscor Hunted, you see. There’s a prize and entry in their hall of fame if we last a week. Which we will accomplish…and I was just fishing. For these damn fish!

She screamed at the river. Lyonette winced. Did Bethal mean the Flatfish?

“They’re quite toothy, Lady Walchaís. And parts are inedible. Even poisonous, I think.”

Bethal’s face fell when she heard that.

“It was the only food source I could find. You’re allowed to hunt, but not bring anything else or buy anything, obviously. Even if…”

She turned and stared longingly at The Wandering Inn in the distance, then at Liscor. Bethal’s stomach rumbled louder, and Lyonette felt vaguely bad for her.

Only vaguely, because this was clearly a self-inflicted bit of nonsense.

“Where is your husband, Lady Walchaís?”

“Oh, looking for forage. He’s got more energy, so he said he’d find blue fruits and onions. I…do you know how to attract these damn fish? I baited the hook with some rabbit meat, but I swear, I’ve been here an hour and not a bite.”

Lyonette had no idea how to fish, but the look of desperation in Bethal’s eyes made her, shivering, stomp over to the river.

“I could take a look at your line. We set up Acid Fly traps in the spring, and I’ve seen the fish a lot.”

“Oh. W-were those the jars? We used them to boil water. I shall return them, but we are allowed to forage for things.”

Bethal shivered as she rubbed her gloved hands together. Lyonette assured her it was fine. Actually, she was getting more impressed by the moment.

“This weather is freezing. Even if you have cold-resistance gear…how much food did you bring?”

“Us? A day’s worth. It’s been seven days, and I admit, it’s been fairly dire, but we found some poor, delicious rabbits, and if we’d bagged that Corusdeer, we’d be eating fine.”

Seven days? And they hadn’t had any food?

“What about gear?”

“A tent with holes in it. A single frying pan—no wood. I think they deliberately give us used gear to make the entire experience damn authentic. It wasn’t even warm enough for us to shiver together and warm up naked. We just shivered. That damn Drake called it the ‘Erin difficulty start’.”

Bethal wasn’t the biggest fan of Menolit right now. In fact, she seemed like she was willing to bend the rules about no help if it meant a meal tonight.

“I m-must admit, I’ll go to Menolit and say we lasted only seven days. Our Skills and artifacts are an edge, so I’ll happily accept a bit of help catching a fish from a local expert, Miss Lyonette. I’m only out here because the only other competitor refuses to give in. And she’s made it personal.”

Other competitor? Lyonette had a faint suspicion, but she agreed to help Bethal as best she could.

“I could bring you a dish—”

“No, no! Just help me catch a fish. Mayhap they don’t like rabbit? Let’s see the lin—huh.”

Bethal pulled up the improvised fishing rod, a stick with string on it, and both she and Lyonette stared at her hook and bait.

Or rather, the piece of string where it used to be. Something had bit the entire hook off. Bethal had been sitting here with a string in the water this entire time.

The [Lady] stared at her line—then lost her temper. Her face went slack, then her cheeks puffed up—then she began screaming.

You Reinhart-scheming fish! You worthless piece of Wellfar sea-crap! Get out of that damn river so I can eat you! I’ll reroute this entire river! I’ll dam the entire river and let you all die! A Walchaís’ grudge on it!

She went stomping up and down the bank, screaming at the water, and Lyonette felt Bethal’s aura materialize.

It felt like thorns. Lyonette had not known Bethal as well as some in The Wandering Inn, but even she knew of House Walchaís.

Bethal, the last of her line, married to Chevalier Thomast, an insanely skilled [Duelist]. Bethal was an unpredictable woman who’d made a fortune investing in horseflesh…and her Rose Knights were peacekeepers in a wide area.

She was respected and also held at a remove by many who feared her amazing temper and aura. Lyonette had heard that it was a thing to be respected, and she saw it in action.

Dead gods, she thought she could see enraged, twining thorns and vines around Bethal! It was the most impressive manifestation besides a Knight of Seasons she’d seen. Sest was no less impressed.

“Princess Marquin, the [Ladies] of Izril seem to be aura-masters by and large.”

Bethal felt like a high-level [Lady] to Lyonette; she would have stood at the head of Calanfer’s aristocracy for sheer levels.

However, the [Lady] was throwing a tantrum like Sammial, and the similarities were even down to her kicking snow into the stream as she cursed the fish out. Lyonette was watching Bethal, but she and the three [Knights] noticed the dark shape in the frigid waters at the same time.

Watch out!

Lady Walchaís!

Both Knights of the Petal leapt forwards as Lyonette screamed. Bethal turned—and a Flatfish, all teeth, launched itself out of the water at her face.


Ser Kerrig was fast. He had his battleaxe out and tried to block the fish. Lyonette tackled Bethal, and the two nearly went into the water, but it was Ser Sest who moved fastest.

“[Bodyguard’s Shield]!”

He appeared in front of Bethal, and the fish slammed into him. Sest nearly fell over as Kerrig halted his swing before he could hit the Thronebearer. The fish landed in the water with a huge splash, and Lyonette scrambled up.

Bethal was wide-eyed, but she got up fast and retreated. Then she felt at herself, realized she was safe, and spoke.

“Well, there goes my record attempt. Thank you, Princess Marquin. And to your [Knight]! I had no idea that damn fish was so—toothy!”

Shamefaced, Welca and Kerrig bowed to Sest, who winced as he rotated his shield-arm.

“It must have been forty pounds! What a beast! Are you alright, Princess? We should have called for backup. Though I thought…

He looked around with a huge frown, and a figure appeared in the snow. Tessa, Shriekblade, made Welca whirl with an oath, but Tessa was just sharpening a dagger. She looked—bad-tempered, and she muttered.

“It wasn’t a threat. I’m watching. Whatever. Everything sucks.”

She vanished again. Sest gave Lyonette a concerned look, and Bethal raised her brows.

“Is that the Named-rank Adventurer who stays at the inn?”

“One of them. I haven’t seen her in days. Even Erin can’t get her to…are you alright? Again, I think the Floodplains are too dangerous, Lady Walchaís. With respect, it’s a miserable place to try to survive in without help. Even Erin herself nearly died thanks to those fishes.”

“I suppose you’re right. But what a shame! First it takes my bait. Then? Nearly my life! I feel like I should catch one, if only to last another day for pride’s sake. Otherwise I shan’t hear the end of it from her.

Bethal sighed, and Lyonette daringly strode close to the river. She saw at least one shape and stepped back from the bank.

“Perhaps you could hunt the fish with a net. Erin used to say she’d bait them out onto the grass where they’re not dangerous. If you wanted to at least prove you can catch one…”

“Bait it? With what, our naked, succulent bodies?”

Bethal stomped over, and Lyonette almost laughed. Was she always like that? She shrugged.

“Maybe an aura-decoy. If anyone could make one. I’m just a novice, but I heard animals fall for it.”

It slipped out absently. Perhaps because Bethal was here. Lyonette had taught Erin how to use her aura, but Maviola El had been the better teacher.

She was dead. But Bethal snapped her fingers and sneezed again.

“Oh, I should have done that from the start! I just didn’t know animals fell for it. What, you mean like this? Hmm…how do you do it again? Buck bwauwk…cluck?”

She held out her hands. Then she began making sounds like a chicken. Lyonette was beginning to suspect Bethal was all crazy—until she stared at something in Bethal’s hands.

It wasn’t real, or even close to a chicken in appearance. But it felt like one. Something fluttered in Bethal’s hands, and Lyonette could imagine a feather-white chicken with a huge comb of red fluttering its wings and clucking in Bethal’s hands.

Lyonette stared as Bethal projected her aura, faking the feel of a chicken.

“You can do aura-decoys? But even the Knights of Seasons don’t usually know that.”

“Pshaw, [Knights]. I’m a [Lady]. If Magnolia can slap a volley of arrows out of the sky, I can do this. Y-you must really be used to Terandria, where only monarchy and [Knights] even practice. Funny. I forgot you were a [Princess]. How did you even come to that inn with that delightful [I-Innkeeper]?”

Bethal was chattering with cold and probably hunger. She was probably also delirious if she hadn’t eaten in a day. But Lyonette was oddly engaged.

“Oh, well…I ran away from home.”

She was shy about saying that, but Bethal probably knew. Yet the [Lady] burst into a huge grin when she heard it.

Splendid! With whom?”

“No one.”

“Oh, just for fun? Well, it seems it’s done you w-well. That reminds me of being a girl again. I did it all the time, and they’d hunt me down like a deer. Tracking hounds and all. They even sicced Gralton on me one time, that obstinate hound of a man.”

Lyonette paused. Was Bethal…approving? She had been used to people being sympathetic or understanding, but no one, not even Erin herself, had instantly led with ‘that was a good idea’. Yet Bethal looked delighted.

“You did? All the time?”

“My dear. I hung out with Magnolia and Ressa and all the lot. Wuvren—do you know her? The most sought-after [Lady] in Izril, you know—she was the woman of the lot who kept up with us. She looks however she pleases, but we were the girls who got in trouble and had to duck Lady Zanthia back in the day. Me, Wuvren, Magnolia, that arrogant bitch, Ressa…”

Bethal was so busy reminiscing that neither she nor Lyonette noticed the second Flatfish coming for the ‘bait’ until it was almost on top of them.


Both fled as Sest raised his shield, calculated trajectory, and saw the Flatfish land in the snow and begin flopping around. Bethal turned, catching herself, and Lyonette gasped.

“It worked!

She hadn’t expected it to! But the Flatfish was captured! Or rather, it lay, flopping and gasping, staring up at her with a set of eyes—and a lot of teeth in its huge mouth.

It was as odd as she remembered it. Flatfish looked like a sideways fish that had decided that symmetry was stupid and that it should put all its mouth, organs, and eyes on one part of the body. They liked to swim along riverbeds, staring ‘up’ at the world and leaping at potential prey.

“Ew. Disgusting. I’m going to eat that?”

Bethal was mildly horrified, but she was also salivating. She had to be very hungry, but Lyonette had eaten the fish before, and she turned.

“Let’s grab it. We’ve done it, Lady Walchaís. It might be heavy, but perhaps you could let your [Knights] handle it?”

“No, this is a job for [Ladies]. I may break the spirit of the game, but I couldn’t look Thomast in the eye if I let them do everything. Will you help me haul it back? And, uh…gut it? Perhaps he could, but I want to show him.”

Now Bethal was excited, and Lyonette agreed to help. Though…it looked to be twenty pounds, this fish. It was massive and still flopping around.

“Poor thing. Where’s my dagger? Let’s kill it fast.”

Bethal was surprisingly merciless even with the gasping fish flopping around. Lyonette felt a bit bad, and she reached for her own sword to put it out of its misery. The fish flopped more as it saw her approach then—

The Flatfish bounced off the ground, arced, and slapped Lyonette in the face with its entire body. She went over backwards with a shout, and it fell back into the water.

Stunned, fish-slapped, and now wet, Lyonette lay on her back. Had it just…? 

The Flatfish could get back in the water! Bethal shouted in frustration as she ran over.

“No! Lyonette, are you—”

The fish came back for more. Bethal dodged as it leapt at her, but it was fast—and this time, Welca was ready.

Your ladyship!

The fish hit her armor, bounced into the stream, losing two teeth on the enchanted, pink plate. Welca barely stumbled. She turned—

And saw Bethal was face-first on the hard snow. Lyonette, picking herself up and feeling a cut on her cheek from the fish’s scales, saw Bethal had an impressive nosebleed.

“Thank you…Welca…”

The [Lady]’s eyes were extremely bright. Welca began bowing as the three [Knights] felt a tremulation in their souls.

I am so sorry, Lady Walchaís! Please punish me for—”

“No, no. It wasn’t your fault. Was it, Princess Lyonette?”

“Not at all. It was the fish. What a slap.”

Lyonette’s voice was too-cool. She and Bethal stood there, and Ser Kerrig tried to interject.

“Perhaps, your ladyships, this is the time to return to The Wandering Inn for rest? I could signal the other [Knight] with Ser Thomast…”

“Absolutely not. Don’t be stupid, Ser Kerrig. That fish is going to die.”

“Yes, it is. In a stew. A lovely, hot stew.”

Lyonette had never gutted a fish from scratch; Erin just bought them from the shops, but she stared at the river, then turned to Bethal.

“Do you think it’d go for bait again?”

Bethal cracked her knuckles, smiling despite the freezing blood on her face.

“Why, I can vary it. What about a lovely rabbit this time?”




The Flatfish wasn’t stupid. It had to know that a random chicken and now a rabbit weren’t real and that there was something dangerous and tough up on the surface.

On the other hand, it had nearly taken a bite out of both very tender-looking women, and so after a few jumps to feint itself out of the water, it went for another bite.

It missed. The [Princess] who’d been acting as bait while holding the ‘rabbit’ cartwheeled out of the way in a [Flawless Dodge]. She caught herself, and the [Lady] rushed forwards as the fish tried to flop itself back into the water.

Get it!

She and Lyonette began kicking and trying to stab the Flatfish on the ground. It fought back. Despite being a fish on land that could only splash about…this one had a tackle attack too.

The fish of nemesis flopped up, twisted, and headbutted Lyonette in the chin. Bethal was trying to kick it with her boots when it slammed into her kneecap. Then it escaped into the water as the two tried to stab it with dagger and sword.

Get back here!

The fact that a [Lady] of Izril and a [Princess] of Calanfer were losing to one ornery fish was something none of the three uncomfortable [Knights] mentioned. They stood there, like blind statues, not saying anything to Bethal and Lyonette, who dared them to so much as laugh.

“We need…a net. Something to keep it down. Then—skktch!

Bethal drew a line across her throat. Lyonette agreed. The fish was so tough that she understood why Erin had once cut herself; her sword had bounced off the fish as it flopped because she hadn’t gotten a good angle or swing.

“Why bother with a sword? I say we drag it out into the snow and let it freeze and suffocate.”

“Oh, good idea. In fact—let me use my aura next time. It’ll hit me, and I’ll tear it to shreds.”

“Can you do that?”

“I can pierce steel if I’m angry enough. Let’s let it try.”

They were scheming how to win this time when, out of this cold winter un-wonderland—a storm of ice and falling snow, frigid, below-zero temperatures, and wind chill—someone else walked out of the snow like she was having a stroll.

It was inconceivable that so many idiots were out here. But as it turned out—this particular idiot knew Bethal, and their proximity was no accident.

“Ah. Bethal. So you did survive another night. But it seems you need help. Heh. Thomast must pick up the slack.”

Bethal turned white—then red, and she swung around slowly as one of her friends, enemies, and certainly biggest of rivals walked out of the snow. Lyonette turned and stared.

This woman had almost no clothes on. That was to say—she scorned a jacket or even a second layer of clothes. She was not naked by any means. She wore a bright, yellow tracksuit that she seemed to have fallen in love with as her style. It matched some of her house’s colors, and the black lines gave her a fast, imperial look, as did her face.

Arrogance was not enough to describe Lady Pryde Ulta. Pride…pride was a good summation. And right now, she was smirking down at Bethal.

“Pryde. Having fun relying on your [Mage] to do all the work?”

“As a matter of fact, we haven’t needed to use magic at all. This is rigorous endurance training. And yes, privation in cold weather. Magus Grimalkin is hunting for blue fruits. I’m acquiring fish.”

Pryde Ulta looked at the river, and Lyonette realized she’d come for the only other guaranteed source of meat around Liscor. No wonder Grimalkin hadn’t shown up for the beach!

He and Pryde were camping together? Bethal didn’t seem happy for her friend. If anything, she and Pryde, whom Lyonette thought were supposed to be close, looked ready to fight.

“Well, you’re fishing too? I should have known you’d copy my moves. As a matter of fact, I’ve caught three fish so far.”

“Oh? Three, you say?”

Pryde eyed Bethal’s and Lyonette’s disheveled faces and the lack of any actual fish. Bethal colored.

“Yes! I just haven’t managed to secure them! I wish you all the luck. They’re harder to catch than you think, you know.”


Pryde went to the river, and now it was a contest. Bethal hissed at Lyonette.

“You must help me beat her.”

“Is she why you’ve been out here?”

Lyonette glanced at the [Lady] of House Ulta. Two high-level [Ladies] in Liscor? Times were changing, but Bethal just glared.

“Of course! She comes over with her new Drake ‘partner’ in their annoying workouts—have you seen House Ulta and their obsession with those damn weights? Then she has the gall to tell me they’ll do better! She even claimed Thomast couldn’t last as long as the Sinew Magus! I won’t repeat what she said about me.”

“Dead. Weight.”

Pryde called over, and Bethal’s eyes flashed. The [Lady of Pride] turned her head.

“Prove me wrong.”

Bethal strode over to the river.

“Lyonette, let’s lure that fish out, and I’ll skewer it. Come on!”

Lyonette was on Bethal’s side here. She hadn’t forgotten what had happened with Liscor, and Pryde’s dismissive look towards her rubbed her the wrong way. In fact, the [Lady] did nod to her.

“Princess Lyonette of Calanfer.”

“Lady Pryde. How do you do?”

“Well. I’m surprised to see Calanfer’s high-and-mighty lot condescending to Izril for so long. Perhaps you’ve learned respect for your cousins?”

High-and-mighty? She was saying—Lyonette snapped back fast.

“I’ve certainly seen more of Izril than any noble family! And it’s so funny to see you in Magus Grimalkin’s company, Lady Ulta. I knew him far longer, and better, whereas you only discovered him after a long time of twiddling your thumbs up in the north.”

Pryde paused a moment, and her face didn’t change, but she sounded irked as Bethal gave Lyonette an encouraging smirk.

“Calanferians do talk so. And travel, it’s true. The only thing your kingdom seems to be good at. Not fighting. The Dawn Concordat could have used an ally in the war, not a dead weight. But then, I suppose that was why you were in Izril—to scout the way in case the royal family needed to flee and abandon their allies. Are you bristling? By all means, send your Thronebearer to accost me. I don’t require a bodyguard…and yours might get snow on me before I put him down. Oh, and to hear Magus Grimalkin tell it, he came to The Wandering Inn and Erin Solstice. He never really mentioned your involvement.”

The [Lady] of House Ulta had made two enemies today. Lyonette and Lyonette’s boot, which was going to kick her into the river. Bethal was already against her, but the [Lady] stopped the [Princess] from trying it.

“Don’t do it. You’ll break your foot if you try her. She’s all ego. Plus, I’m pretty sure she doesn’t know how to fish. Let’s get ours and show her what’s what.”

They did their best. But the problem was that even a Flatfish learned not to fall for the aura-gambit after three attempts. Even when Bethal spread her arms in front of the water, the fish refused to go for her.

Pryde was just staring into the water, clearly trying to work out how to get the fish out of the stream. She touched the water with a bare hand—she was either immune to the cold or tough as nails, Lyonette had to admit. Pryde shivered.

“That’s cold as Zanthia’s heart.”

“Isn’t it? It’s colder than Lady Etruthi’s bedsheets.”

“Colder than your cooking pot last night, certainly.”

Bethal nearly leapt at Pryde, and Lyonette had to actually grab her from behind to keep her back. Bethal was so hungry that she gave up after half a minute, and Pryde, smirking, seemed to come to a decision.

“I noticed you firing your aura off, Bethal. Let me show you how it’s done.”

Then—she rolled up one sleeve and plunged her bare arm into the stream. Lyonette gasped.

“No, wait! It’ll—”

Too late. The fish bit and churned the water up as it took Pryde’s arm off at the elbow. Lyonette covered her mouth, waiting for the blood, the—

Pryde pulled her arm up out of the water with a grunt. She flexed her arm, and Lyonette saw a lot of compact muscle suddenly flex.

She was the one who’d trained with the weights. And she pulled the same damn fish out of the water as it bit furiously—then realized its sharp teeth weren’t even dimpling her flesh.

“[Pride is Unbreakable].”

Pryde tossed the fish aside and then stood there, raising her hands and smiling victoriously. She gazed down at Bethal and Lyonette, and the two stared at her. Then she walked over, picked up the fish, struck it against the ground in one blow that made it stop moving, and heaved it onto her shoulder. She walked back through the snow—and then turned theatrically.

“Oh, I’ll see you back at your camp, Bethal. I thought we should socialize as the only two out here, so I moved our tent near yours. Good luck fishing.”

Then she strode off. Bethal covered her face with her gloves for a long moment, then exhaled.

“Lyonette? Lend me your sword.”

Without a word, Lyonette handed it to her.




Lady Pryde Ulta’s camp was two tents, not the large single tent that was packed against the ice and snow practically covering it.

Neither looked pleasant, but Bethal’s murderous mood turned cheerful the moment she saw Pryde’s camp.

“Oho. Two tents? How sad. Let me put her out of her misery. Lyonette, you distract her, and I’ll chop her head off.”

She motioned Lyonette left, and the [Princess] wasn’t sure if Bethal would actually take a swing at Pryde. Maybe…the [Lady]’s ego could probably stop a sword swing.

However, their rapid pursuit of Pryde turned out to have a net positive even better than murder. And that was the sight of Pryde Ulta, emerging from her tent, covered in a huge cloak and winter clothing as she stomped around the dead fish lying in the snow.

The instant she saw Bethal, poised with the sword, and Lyonette behind her tent, Pryde tossed the garments off her.

Her card-face was amazingly good, but Bethal smiled like a Demon filled with glee.

“Oh, my, don’t pretend for my sake, Pryde. Cold, are we?”

Without a word, Pryde bent over her fish. She produced a knife and studied her catch with distaste.

“I notice you’ve given up on the competition, Bethal. I’m just regulating my body temperature.”

Bethal’s mood returned to good spirits fast after seeing Pryde covering up. She kicked at her old tent savagely and bent one of the wood poles, making the entire thing collapse.

“I have, and I’m done. Lyonette helped me out anyways, and one of those damn fish—that one—nearly ate me. So I shall retire to the inn. Are you staying a night?”

“One. I intend to go the week.”

“Very good. Ser Kerrig, go find Thomast and tell him to meet me at The Wandering Inn. Miss Lyonette has graciously invited us for food. I shall let Pryde enjoy her night in the terrible cold.”

She was turning a loss into a kind of victory, and Lyonette admired it. Welca helped to break camp—which was mostly Bethal tossing what few things she wanted to keep in her bag of holding.

“I have an heirloom, a silk-and-fur tent that’s warm as can be, and I should have used it. This entire survival thing is a terrible idea. But good to brag about, one supposes. If it was just a tad less cold, I’d have had more fun.”

Pryde ignored Bethal and Lyonette as the two talked. She was working on the fish, and she had a frying pan. Lyonette wondered what you’d make with a Flatfish.

Sear it up, once you got the fire going, and that was about it. No condiments…dire. No wonder Bethal had wanted some onions. Then again, Bethal looked hungry enough to eat the fish raw. She was blowing on her gloved hands and clearly ready to leave when she glanced sideways.


Instead of calling out like usual, she turned and watched while pretending to be observing Welca and Sest struggle with the tent. Lyonette used her peripherals too, just like her mother had taught her to do, and both she and Bethal observed that Pryde was struggling.

Namely, she was trying to cut the fish with about the same level of expertise as Erin had. Her cooking dagger was at least sharp, but it became obvious to Lyonette that Pryde…didn’t know how to cook.

But for her Skill, she would have sliced her hand a dozen times already. She was actually shucking scales off with clumsy cuts, and then she tried to saw the fish in half and—

She cracked her knife in half. It was a soft sound in the snow, and Pryde instantly hid the tip and glanced up. Lyonette waited for Bethal’s cackle of glee and pouncing, but the [Lady] affected not to notice.

“Welca, are you almost done?”

“Almost, milady…it’s stuck in the snow!”

The panting [Knight] would rather have fought an Ice Troll than this. Bethal tsked, then lowered her voice so only Lyonette could hear.

“Say, Miss Lyonette. Can you actually gut a fish?”

“Me? I was never good at it, but I know how to prepare it. And I—had—[Flawless Attempt]. Why?”

“Where is it? Ah, here.”

Bethal was sorting through the goods that she was going to return to Menolit. At last, she came up with another camping knife. She nudged Lyonette.

“Offer her a hand, please?”


Lyonette looked at Pryde, who was now using the knife stub to cut at the fish, and Pryde’s face was still impassive. But Bethal just sighed.

“She’ll never ask. But she can’t cook, and she’s floundering.”

Was she? Bethal turned, and Pryde almost tried to hide the knife.

“Pryde, these knives are trash. Copper would do better, and you could split iron with those weights you keep lifting. Here, take mine. What a hideous fish. I’m glad I’m not having it after all.”

She strolled over, and Lyonette cleared her throat.

“Would you like help with that fish, Lady Pryde? That is, I’m sure you have it under control, but these have some nasty peculiarities. Even my employer, Erin Solstice, nearly cut her hand off when she first gutted one.”

Pryde’s eyes narrowed slightly, and she glowered at Bethal, but the other [Lady] gave her an innocent stare, and Pryde glanced at Lyonette. She hesitated, then nodded slowly.

“I—noticed it was tougher than usual. Ulta’s fish aren’t so large. I swore that I’d get the fish and have it ready for Grimalkin. I could use some help. If you have a moment.”

“Excellent! Then let’s see how it’s done. I’ve fished before, but Thomast always gutted them, and I just helped. You remove the innards and bait the next hook with them. Otherwise, you eat worms. That’s all I know.”

Bethal instantly squatted down, and Pryde glared at her. She lowered her voice.

“You needn’t feign interest, Bethal.”

“Nonsense. I might as well see my archnemesis cut up. Miss Lyonette? Can you show us how it’s done?”

What an odd relationship. One second, Bethal was about to cut Pryde’s head off, the next? Lyonette squatted down and began to show Pryde how to open the fish from the bottom.

Then she realized Pryde wasn’t simply incompetent—

“The fish is frozen! Hold on…”

She had [Basic Cooking], but it occurred to her that this fish was probably a rare example of an ingredient that needed [Advanced Cooking] or maybe [Advanced Butchery] or something given how tough it was. In this cold?

Lyonette quickly grew embarrassed when her attempts to use the basics of fish preparation failed. Bethal and Pryde both eyed the thick fish as Lyonette tried to saw through it.

“Maybe it needs warming? It’s dire, Pryde.”

“I know. How’d you start a fire? We’ve been in the cold the last seven days.”

“Oh, us? We dug up grass and burnt it after I used my aura to warm it. Then we ignited it—I shan’t tell you how long it took—and I used my [Briar Patch] Skill.”

“You burnt your Skill?”

“We have a few embers, though I fear they’re coals now. Let’s get one started.”

They headed into Pryde’s tent to try, and the [Lady] appeared more friendly as they gathered around a tiny attempt at a fire. She even nodded at Lyonette.

“Thank you for your help, [Princess].”

“N-not at all. I only wish I had more clothes on. It’s cold.

Even Pryde had on her coat again, but she offered the huge cape of fur to Lyonette.

“Try this. Magus Grimalkin gifted it to me for this excursion. It’s apparently a Racdelbear he killed.”

A dire bear? It was huge, heavy, and Lyonette accepted it gratefully. Bethal ohoed with a smile.

“A gift? So how close are you two?”

Pryde’s face went stony again.

“Never you mind. This is just…a business trip between partners. I’ve been hosted at the Sinew Magus’ mansion for the last two weeks.”


“He’s a very gracious host.”

Bethal and Lyonette looked at each other. After a second, the [Lady of Thorns] patted Pryde on the arm.

“Let’s get that fire started. I’m sure a hot meal of fish will be most impressive. You know, there’s even that clothing store in Invrisil. They sell more than tracksuits…”

“He thinks this is good workout clothing.”

“Oh. Nevermind. Ah. Um. Well.”

“Is Thomast doing well?”

“Yes! Assuming he’s not frozen to death in the blizzard! I’d have to join him. You know, Pryde, you’re very composed in this storm…”

“Stow it.”

They were definitely friends. Lyonette was, in fact, reminded a bit now of how Seraphel would fight with some of their sisters like Aielef when they were younger. Cats and dogs until someone picked on them. At which point every [Princess] of Calanfer would make your life living Rhir.

The fire was the thing. Everyone was cold, and Lyonette joined the two in trying to light one…but even when she cracked and used some fire magic, nothing lit.

“Dead gods, this is impossible!”

Bethal had a bunch of dried briar thorns, but the coal had gone out, and even Lyonette’s weak flame wasn’t working on the cold, wet stuff.

“What about aura-flames?”

Pryde suggested as she squatted next to her empty fire, frustrated. Bethal raised her eyebrows.

“Have you levelled up without telling me? [Pride is Heat] or something?”

The blonde-haired woman shook her head.

“No. But you’re good, and so am I. Fire’s not our thing, but we can make things warm. Let’s work together. [Princess], do you have any aura-training? You have one.”

A challenging look. Lyonette’s chin rose, and she almost snapped—until she saw Bethal’s encouraging smile. It occurred to her that Pryde probably just talked like this. It was rather like ‘Testicles!’ Grimalkin, actually.

“I have some training.”

“Well, let’s all focus on flames. Right on the briar. On three. One, two…hmm?”

Everyone agreed. Lyonette put her hands in front of her, focusing hard, and felt Pryde and Bethal’s own powerful auras shift, concentrating on the campfire. They were powerful and so adept the temperature in the tent warmed fast. But fire was hard, and they narrowed their focus.

Flame, glorious flame. Fire! Fire for fish and dignity! Fire for—

It occurred to Lyonette that it was really hot suddenly, and then she wondered what the other two were focusing on. Relighting the embers? Or the campfire? Because the air was just air. How hot did you have to make it to combust—




The explosion from the tent blew it fifteen feet straight up, and both [Knights] charged towards their wards—and saw three sooty [Ladies] standing there, staring at the remnants of the firepit.

Pryde’s tent disappeared into the snow with most of her gear. Grimalkin’s was the only one left, but Bethal offered her tent to Pryde.

“Let’s just cut this—the sword.”

“The sword.”

Pryde agreed, ash all over her face. Lyonette’s cheeks were red, and she handed Pryde the sword.




Three women standing around in a blizzard with two [Knights] covering their eyes. One had a sword raised overhead, aiming down at a huge, dead fish with teeth, lying on the ground.

The two ladies and one [Princess] were covered in soot, and two, at least, looked like they’d been fighting something that had won.

Add that to the mysterious, flaming tent and it was just—weird. Stupid. The three were clearly in desperate straits, so the woman cleared her throat. Loudly.

“Excuse me. What are you doing in the cold?”

Pryde hesitated as she prepared to swing the sword down. Bethal and Lyonette turned—and the newcomer was also a woman.

Only, she was bundled up, had a scarf around her face, and was carrying bleating goat covered in ice.

Colfa val Lischelle-Drakle gave the three a look like they were all insane. Pryde looked at Bethal, who floundered and turned to Lyonette.

“We were…gutting a fish?”

Colfa stared at the giant, dead fish and the sword, then their two non-gutting knives, one of which was broken. She transferred the goat to her other arm; she had been stomping through the snow.

“Come with me.”

“We’re quite fine, Miss. Thank you for the—”

“Come on and I’ll show you how to filet the fish properly. This is no weather for that ridiculous Liscor Hunted nonsense. You won’t just be cold tonight with all the snow coming in. Tents? You should have at least built a snow hut.”

“A what?”




Colfa Lischelle-Drakle made one stop on her way back to her farm, which was actually a thirty minute march through the snow.

Forty minutes…but half that normally. She herself cut a swath through the snow with amazing energy for someone holding a goat under one arm. She dropped it off at a farm, and an amazed [Farmer] stared at her.

The Gnoll raised his hat.

“You actually found him, Miss Colfa? Thank you! You needn’t have—I thought no one could find anything in this snow.”

“I’m from a family of [Herders], Farmer Wirclaw. I had to try. My husband’s out looking, but he’ll be back, never fear.”

“You must be freezing. Let me offer you—”

“Later. Thank you, but I have five freezing guests.”

The Gnoll finally saw the five miserable Humans and nodded. He shook her hand, then she pointed.

“My farm is just there. Lischelle-Drakle. It’s not much yet, but it’s warm.”

She was one of the new [Farmers] to Liscor and, in fact, Fierre’s own mother. When Lyonette finally warmed up from the farmhouse fire, she noticed how new the place was. All timber brought from Invrisil, or maybe Celum, but sturdily built. This was a farmhouse attached to an actual farm, and she heard baahing sheep and voices.

“Bamer, tell Himilt not to act crazy. We have guests. I found them in the snow. More people doing Liscor Hunted’s ridiculous stunt. Even that Drake, what’s his name?”

“…I think Menolit?”

“Even he said it’s insanity and expected them all to give up.”

That wretch said what?

Bethal nearly knocked over the cup of tea she was sipping. Pryde just scowled, and Colfa returned and beckoned them into the kitchen.

She was a strange woman. Pale of skin, so much so that she seemed closer to snow, but she also had a rash on one cheek. Acne? Despite it, she was very dignified and down-to-earth in this barn.

She was also, Lyonette realized, quite good at cooking. She showed them all a cleaver, then hacked the Flatfish’s head off and cut it open in two motions. Then Colfa spoke.

“Take out the guts, yank the bones out, here and here—just split a big fish up lengthwise. Then you can take it in whatever shape you need. Are you making a stew?”

“I’m supposed to—make it with this.”

Pryde handed Colfa a frying pan. The woman gave it a long look.

“Searing it up, it is. It won’t taste good, even if you’re hungry, but the fat…”

She scraped some up, tossed it into the pan as she lit a fire, and got the cast iron up to a screaming heat as she introduced herself.

“I am Colfa, a humble farmer from Reizmelt. One of the val Lischelles.”

Both Pryde and Bethal actually knew her and came alive with interest. Bethal snapped her fingers.

“Of course! I knew I knew that name! No wonder you can find a goat in a blizzard! My, and you’re starting a farm in Liscor? Is it that appealing?”

Colfa paused a second before replying.

“Our old home…just wasn’t livable anymore. Plus, my daughter works around here, and we thought to keep an eye on her. We’re setting down roots here. We barely got the farm up and a single harvest in, but Liscor is quite friendly. And the winter has opportunities. We’ve been helping set up more buildings for our neighbors. Oh, and we have an entire field of onions that someone’s been stealing from.”

Pryde and Bethal both inhaled and avoided Lyonette’s stare. Local foraging, huh? But Colfa just tossed some of the fish on the pan, and it began hissing with a satisfying sound.

“I wanted to introduce myself properly to The Wandering Inn, Miss Lyonette.”

She knew Lyonette? Of course she did. Now, Colfa’s amazingly ruby-red eyes glittered, and she gave Lyonette a very slow, dignified nod, and her accent changed a bit.

“I haf—been hesitant as my family has not given you the proper greetings befitting such friendship to Serafierre. But on behalf of the Lischelle-Drakle family, you have my undying gratitude and, potentially, friendship. But ve shall see and make no promises yet.”

“Absolutely, Lady—I mean, Miss—Colfa. And may I say you’re quite generous?”

“You may, with my gratitude for ze kind words.”

Colfa looked even more self-important and smug as Bethal chimed in.

“Oh yes, it’s a wonderfully kind thing to help Pryde cook.”

“I should do it myself. At least part of it. Is it—cooked?”

Colfa handed Pryde some tongs and ran commentary on how to get a good sear going, maybe even score the meat. But she looked disapproving about Pryde insisting she wanted to go back to camp.

“It’s no fit weather for mere mortals, Lady Pryde. The chill is deathly. And if you will take some of my advice, at least garnish this. Fish, without even salt, is tasteless.”

At this, the [Lady] did give an arch smile.

“I do have that. [Produce of the Land]!”

She raised her hand…and huge, fat, slightly pink crystals of salt fell into her palm. Pryde showed it to Bethal and Lyonette, who oohed. Even Colfa looked faintly astonished. Bethal confided in the two.

“Salt is one of Ulta’s big exports. All I’d get is a horse.”

“Yes. And if I toss in…”

“Be generous. Let’s see how it tastes.”

One chunk of smoking Flatfish was liberally salted with the pink Ulta salt and transferred to a plate as the [Knights] looked up. All four women gathered around, and Lyonette bet that Colfa was as hungry as she was. Bethal looked ravenous, and Pryde cut it up into four pieces, and everyone got a fork.

“This is a group effort. I’ll take the rest to the Sinew Magus after cooking it up. I suppose we were matched at seven days after all, Bethal. You always were too tough for your own good. Starving a day?”

“Oh, please, Pryde. You won this one fair and square. But I hope the Sinew Magus appreciates this hard work!”

Colfa didn’t really know Grimalkin, but she offered them a crimson smile; her lips were the only colorful thing about her.

“I am delighted to make your acquaintances, ladies, [Princess]. Even into my humble abode.”

“Oh, Miss Colfa, you are too kind! Why, we would be lost without you and hacking up that wretched fish in the snow. I offer you The Wandering Inn’s own humble hospitality—your family is endlessly generous!”

Lyonette tried to flatter her, and the woman turned faintly red with pleasure. Then everyone took a big bite of the Flatfish and chewed thoughtfully.

Ser Sest watched Lyonette chew on the hot piece of fish. Then chew…and chew…and glance at Bethal, who was eying Colfa and Pryde. Pryde swallowed first, and Colfa coughed as she got her bite down.

Silence for a bit. Everyone stared at the rest of the fish on the cutting board.




When Ser Kerrig finally found the [Chevalier], Thomast, the man was not alone. A [Knight of the Petal] was standing guard, but he was hardly needed for Bethal’s husband.

Thomast was fairly mobile even in the snow, and so was the huge Drake, whose arms were folded as the two stared at the grove of trees.

Tall and thin with long, super-sturdy limbs. This was the blue fruit orchard, natural trees so tough they could endure Liscor’s flooding each year without being uprooted.

Both stared at the trees solemnly. They stared at the bare branches, and at last, one spoke.

“It occurred to me halfway here that it was winter. But I wasn’t sure about the germination of some fruits, so I thought it was worth a look. How have you been scavenging, Ser Thomast?”

“I have…three onions I found. I think I’ve been looting someone’s fields.”


Grimalkin of Pallass was a bit awkward, but he had noticed Thomast and Bethal, and Lady Pryde Ulta seemed to know them. He coughed into one fist.

“I understand we’re in a competition to see who can outlast the other. Tell me…if I may be direct, what is the reason you and your wife wished to take on Liscor Hunted? Prestige?”

Thomast shrugged as he felt at his frozen mustache.

“I think Bethal fancied it would lead to intimate moments. And yes, the prestige of it. And you?”

Grimalkin shivered in the cold. Despite his muscles—it was cold, wet, and he hadn’t eaten much of anything for a while. He’d found edible roots and been reminded that ‘edible’ was a broad term.

“I…wished to understand the nutritional challenges of a gathering society or one facing the prospect of acquiring food in a winter situation. How to adjust a diet for this kind of cold and challenge. To my surprise, Lady Pryde Ulta offered to join me. I think she was worried our partnership might fall apart, but she has not complained long.”

“I see.”

Thomast half-glanced at Grimalkin. The two men stood there in the snow, staring at the empty blue fruit trees. After a while, someone’s stomach rumbled, and the other’s joined it.

“Your wife seems to have a grudge against Lady Pryde.”

“Friendly rivalry. They care for each other, but then one gets on the other’s nerves.”

Grimalkin grunted.


More silence. They looked around at the snowbound landscape, and at length, Grimalkin muttered.

“If I remove the ‘no magic’ conditions I imposed, I could detect a Corusdeer Herd if one was around. Failing that, rabbits. Hardly nutritious.”

“Running down a Corusdeer isn’t that difficult. Carrying one back and skinning it in this cold?”

Both men considered doing that. At length—Thomast turned to Grimalkin.

“Sinew Magus. Is that how I should address you?”

“Magus or simply ‘Grimalkin’ will do.”

“Thank you. Magus—are you enjoying this?”

Grimalkin shivered.

“No. Not at all. Are you and your lady wife?”

“She would rather die than lose to Pryde. Beyond that? I think we would have left days ago if not for the competition.”

“I as well.”

Both turned to stare back the way they’d come and imagined another night of this. It was to both’s intense relief that the waving, pink [Knight] caught them.

Sirs! Your wife—

“Is Bethal alright?”

Thomast strode over to Ser Kerrig. The [Knight] was cold, having run all over the Floodplains, and he nodded.

“Yes! In fact, sir, she wishes to tell you that she and Lady Pryde—and a Miss Lyonette—are awaiting you at The Wandering Inn. There is apparently a ‘beach’ they intend to visit.”

Grimalkin and Thomast stood there in the snow and looked at each other. Then Grimalkin exhaled, and Thomast smiled.

“Excellent. Take us to the inn, then, Ser Kerrig.”

The remaining Petal Knight almost wept himself, and everyone turned as Kerrig pointed.

“Absolutely, Ser Thomast! It’s just…”

His pointing finger wavered left, then right, and then he realized they were at the bottom of one of the valleys. Kerrig turned around and realized…the snow and hills and valleys meant everything was obscured after a thousand paces.

They had no idea where the heck they were. Grimalkin muttered as Thomast sighed.

“I could jump up and cast [Seeker Flares]. Or a long-range [Detect Life] spell…”

“The mountains are there. If we triangulate and assume that we’re at one end of the valley, we can get to the middle and work our way around—”

Thomast was eying the High Passes for reference.




Four miserable men in the snow, two wearing bright pink armor, one the hugest Drake ever seen, the last a Silver-bell duelist.

The Vampire named Himilt, leaning on a walking stick, couldn’t wait to tell his wife about who the onion-thieves turned out to be. But he did clear his throat loudly.

“Excuse me.”

All of them jumped, especially Thomast and Grimalkin, who stared at him with actual shock because they hadn’t noticed his approach. Himilt pointed a gloved hand the way he’d come.

“Are you looking for the city or the inn? It’s that way.”




Thomast and Grimalkin chatted with the friendly [Farmer] who had found them. Himilt was reserved, but Thomast apologized profusely for the onion-theft, and Grimalkin owned that he, too, had found the onions in the snow.

“It was a late harvest. I am just surprised anyone would try to camp…in tents. Bamer found them on a walk, and you must have left. We’ve been searching for a goat and people dying in the cold this last day.”

“I apologize, sir. It was irresponsible of us to worry the locals. I will bring it up with Menolit—and apologize to all parties, including your wife and Lady Pryde. This was not a pleasant experience, or even a very formative one. I fear I’ve offended her.”

Grimalkin exhaled, considering the mood of his most charitable donor and ally, unlikely as she was, in the north.

“I am sure she’ll forgive you.”

“Perhaps. She’s far more charitable than the rumors of her indicated. Which is another failing of mine to give any credence to mere gossip. She’s been a guest of mine for two weeks, and I just worry that I’ve been a poor host.”

Thomast raised his brows, and Himilt turned his head as they bushwhacked through the snow back to the inn. The [Chevalier] considered his words, then went for it, like a daring sword piercing through snow.

“…I personally know Lady Pryde. I think it’s been at least a decade since she and I first met. She bestows her affections on few people, but she was taken with your ideas, Magus. She mentioned you to us when you first published your essays on the body.”

“Really? That’s flattering. She was one of the few people who engaged with my ideas at all before their widespread success.”

Grimalkin smiled, actually touched. Thomast nodded a few times. He waited a second.

“How is your relationship with Pryde, if I may ask?”

“Very respectful. Though again, I fear I’m being a poor host. I should just—abandon my work to give her the full Pallassian experience. She hasn’t said when she’ll leave, but she wanted to observe what I did in my element.”

Thomast muttered to himself.

“I see.”


Himilt shook his head. And here he thought Vampires were hard-headed. Thomast, though, just waited a beat.

“I think Pryde quite likes you, Magus Grimalkin.”

The Sinew Magus had been leading the way through the snow with his strength. He slowed, then turned as The Wandering Inn came into view.

“Lady Pryde Ulta? Myself?”

Thomast gave him an encouraging smile. Himilt eyed the Drake’s blank expression. Then—Grimalkin chuckled. He shook his head, his smile turning rueful as he folded his arms.

“That’s quite kind of you to say. But she is a [Lady] of the north, and I am a Drake soldier—at least partially—of a Walled City. I can’t imagine an odder match.”

“Stranger things have been known to happen.”

Himilt couldn’t level up, but he too went for the [Wingman] class. So this was how the [Lord of Love and Wine] counterlevelled. He was needed across Izril it seemed.

Yet Grimalkin was an intelligent Drake. He noted both Thomast’s and Himilt’s expressions. He could add two and two together, even if sometimes he got ‘time travel’ instead of ‘interdimensional travel’.

So why…? He gave them a slow shake of the head.

“Gentlemen. I understand how it may look from a purely aerial view, but I am not—my appearance is only conventionally attractive to Selphids. I am the Sinew Magus of Pallass, and I am well aware of the facts. It would not do to accuse a [Lady] of, what?”

He snapped his claws.

“Gold digging? It doesn’t even apply since House Ulta is far richer than I could hope to be. Let’s say no more of it.”

Thomast slowly nodded, and they headed towards the inn. He rubbed at his frozen skin and decided he needed food first—then he’d report to Bethal and let her scream about it.

Poor Pryde. But it also told him something about the Sinew Magus that perhaps no one, not even Erin Solstice, had yet observed.

Strange. Ego on one side, if fragile, and a lack of it.




Erin Solstice could only shake her head when she heard the story of the frozen [Ladies] and [Princess].

“Lyonette, when I said, ‘go find something to do’, I didn’t mean that. Miss Colfa! Thank you for saving them. I didn’t see you in the beach! Wanna come in? Food and drinks are on me!”

The Vampire woman bowed.

“We didn’t want to impose on Serafierre’s domain, Miss Erin.”

“Nonsense. Her friends are my friends. I mean—welcome to the inn. You have permission to enter.”

Colfa tilted her head, a bit confused by the wording, but Erin was motioning them in. She opened the door, and the Vampires walked into—

It’s sunlight!

Rivel, Fierre’s brother, shot out of the bright garden like a bullet, and Erin slapped her forehead. Oh no! But then Colfa shaded her face, and to her bemusement…

“It’s magical light. Isn’t it?”

It didn’t bother her. When the Lischelle-Drakle family realized that—they were in the beach like a shot.

“Get Octavia’s sunscreen! Huh. I guess that even if it’s tanning light…it’s not the same as sunlight. Better keep them away from my garden, though.”

Magic law was weird, but fun. And the sight of the Vampires walking around the beach—not to mention Lyonette hanging out with the two [Ladies]—was good.

In fact, the cold, hungry winter meant that Pryde and Bethal were on the beach like a shot, and Lyonette herself had fully gotten back on board with the beach. When Thomast and Grimalkin appeared, they just stared at the bright, warm land beyond and turned to Erin.

“Hey. I heard you nerds were sitting in the cold. Get in my beach.”

She gave them finger-guns with a grin. Erin stared at both’s faces, one blankly polite, the other resigned with exasperation. She gave up.

“Come on in!”




There was only one hiccup with the new guests to the beach, and that was when a Liscorian Gnoll objected to Colfa and Himilt.

“Hey! Wait! They’re sick! Don’t let the sickies in! Remember Yellow Rivers?”

He pointed at Colfa’s rash and Himilt’s unusual swollen neck. Lyonette turned, and Erin was on him.

“They’re not sick with anything contagious. Hey, who are you? I don’t know you. Are you one of my guests? Because you don’t look it.”

“Hold on, I know Ekirra—”

Really? Well, you’re off the welcome list. Because Ekirra’s ‘friends’ are all short like him. Bouncers! Bounce this guy out!”

Erin waved a hand, and Alcaz and Peggy appeared. The Gnoll was ejected, and Lyonette went over to apologize to Colfa.

“Not at all, Miss Lyonette. We have long been—sick, but it isn’t pestilential.”

“No, that was inexcusable. And you are all welcome guests here! And tonight! And tomorrow! I shan’t hear a word against it, Miss Colfa. Or you, Lady Bethal, Lady Pryde. If nothing else, I can offer you rooms.”

Bethal clapped her hands in delight as she gazed around, starry-eyed.

“I’ll take them! One room, and this lovely beach shall be my home! Thomast! This is far better than what I dragged us into! Why didn’t you stop me?”

“I never try to stop you when I know there’s no use, my love.”

Thomast was smiling as he took his shirt off, and Dame Ushar, who had not moved markedly, sighed happily. Ser Sest, though, just gave Thomast a look of such feeling that Lyonette threw a clump of sand at him.

“Is that Lord Sammial and Lord Hethon running around over there?”

Pryde stared about, but even she had changed into a yellow bikini outfit that was cut from the same shiny cloth. She and Bethal looked at each other, then at Lyonette.

“Well, this is far better than the snow. Princess Lyonette—no, I shall call you Lyonette, and you can call me Bethal. You’re far more fun than Magnolia let on!”

“Why, thank you. I admit, I didn’t see how valuable the beach was until I froze a bit. That’s been a turning point for me—twice. I just didn’t have much to do in the inn—I’ve been working mostly and taking care of Mrsha over there.”

Bethal and Pryde—and even Colfa—listened to Lyonette describing her work, and Bethal gave Pryde the fish-eye until Pryde nodded. Colfa asked Lyonette about raising Mrsha as a Gnoll child, and Bethal whispered to Pryde while Lyonette was distracted.

“Dead gods. Magnolia made her out to be a spoiled brat. Not some working mother without a life!

“Hm. We should introduce her around. It’s not like everyone doesn’t know her.”

“Pryde, that is the best idea you’ve had all day.”

“I know. Let’s do that. But later—”




“Miss Lyonette, you must join us for this beach, and I shall hear only ‘yes’! This is magnificent—Pryde, what are you doing?”

The [Lady] stood in front of a ten foot tall wave along with Relc, Ekirra, and several brave idiots. It crashed over her, and she turned as she refused to be moved. Her feet had sunk into the sand.

[Pride is Weight].

“Having fun. What are you doing?”

Bethal tugged a blindfold up slightly, covering her husband’s eyes.

“It’s this novel idea! There’s a melon—he’s got a sword, and he’ll try to hit it blind! How many people die during this game, Miss Solstice?”

“None! It’s supposed to be a wooden sword and a watermelon! But hey, this is fun. Everyone back up!

The two [Ladies] jumped into the beach experience so fast Lyonette was jealous. But to her amazement—Pryde dragged her into the water, insisting on meeting Mrsha, and Bethal was up to a scheme of her own.

“Welca, no objections! You can go on break after you get me a [Mage] from Invrisil. Hurry it up! Left, Thomast! Left—hit the melon!”

Both [Ladies] were having fun at the beach! Lyonette was all too grateful for the heat after so much cold, but she hesitated because the reason she had initially left reappeared as an objection.

“Pryde, Bethal—what about our appearances? We’re out here. It’s immodest, don’t you think?”

They were both wearing the skimpy clothing Lyonette objected to so much. Pryde turned her head, raising her brows with clear skepticism, and Bethal looked askance at Lyonette.

“My dear. Has Zanthia been talking to you? Some prudes from…you are Calanferian, but surely Queen Ielane knows the value of showing skin?”

“Not the monarchy! Or even a [Lady]—don’t you feel stared at?”

Lyonette turned and glowered, and several beach-goers—and Liska—looked away, pretending not to have been staring. Bethal laughed loudly.

“Lyonette, that’s called ‘being attractive’, and I take it as a compliment. Now, if someone stared too much, I’d have Thomast kill them. But there’s something to being comfortable in your skin. I am very comfortable.”

“Too much.”

Pryde agreed, but she turned to face Lyonette, and she smirked as she flexed in the surf. A real Grimalkin flex; Grev turned from playing beach volleyball, and his eyes popped as he saw muscles appear on the [Lady of Pride]’s form, concealed by her Skill. Pryde nodded at him as Grev stared until the volleyball hit him in the back of the head.

“That’s a proper reaction. I did not pump metal for months to hide it away. You take care of your hair and skin. That’s a proper manicure. Did you do it yourself?”

Lyonette jumped and almost hid her fingernails, which she had been taking more care of, since she had more time and a bit of spending money.

“I had help—”

“My dear. You spent time on yourself. Don’t think of it as showing too much, and by all means, cover up if you have to. But think of it as showing off.

And that perspective made Lyonette’s attitude change. The two [Ladies] helped, but Lyonette realized not a lot of the glances were, as she thought, judging. If anyone even cared, like the kids, who didn’t—she saw Bethal turn and beam.

“There’s too much to have fun with to worry about skin showing. Thomast! The melon!

She was clapping her hands, and Lyonette lost track of her as they entered the water, then began swimming around, and she found it wasn’t hard, especially when she realized Pryde swam worse than her.

But the [Lady] was trying, and when Mrsha laughed her ass off, the [Lady] used her Skill.

[Pride is Weight].

She walked on the bottom of the water after the terrified girl, like some ultra-heavy Golem. Then Pryde followed her out of the water like some unstoppable pursuer from the depths. And Lyonette betrayed Mrsha by giving her to the Drowned Lady, whereupon Pryde tossed a screaming Mrsha into the water.

“No one mocks m—”

A jet of water hit Pryde in the face. Mrsha lowered her wand as the [Lady]’s eyes narrowed. She fled as Pryde began to stride after her—and then Nanette splashed her.

Run for it, Mrsha!

Lyonette and Pryde chased after the girls and ran straight into a water-fight that turned into a real war when several [Mages] began casting water spells. Erin eventually had to build a literal sand-wall to protect the other beachgoers from the water war. Especially since some dirty fighters contending for love, honor, and valor on the beach, like Typhenous, were willing to both cast [Water Jet] and nail Mrsha in the face with a mudball.




Bethal found Pryde and Lyonette as they were drying off with a huge smile, and she brought something new to the beach. A panting, wide-eyed [Mage] had run all the way from Invrisil’s Mage’s Guild.

“Alright, where’s that cute little girl? Thomast, get over here—and Lyonette, you too! Pryde, you’ll get yours.”

The half-threat made the [Lady] look up from applying the suntan lotion to her skin. Tan, not block, as she liked Erin’s look.

“What’s that? Oh—another good idea.”

Isn’t it? I’ll want at least three dozen copies, and I am paying for as many spell casts as Lyonette and Pryde want, alright?”

“Yes, Lady Walchaís! I’m ready whenever.”

The [Mage] stepped back and, to Lyonette’s bemusement, held up two ‘L’-shapes with her fingers to form a rectangle in the air. She stared as Bethal called over Thomast, who, bare-chested, stood next to her as she adjusted the towel around her. They stood with their backs to the beach, and Bethal pursed her lips.

“Lyonette, you hold Mrsha here…stop squirming, Mrsha, isn’t it? Stare at the [Mage]…”

What are you doing? Why am I being taken from fun? You’re not my mom! Mother, do something about this rapscallious woman!

Mrsha complained, and Lyonette stared at the [Mage]—and the woman spoke.

“[Magic Picture]!”

“Get our best look!”

Lyonette gasped—then tried to keep her face serene and composed. A picture? Mrsha eyed her and tickled her, and the [Princess] started laughing.

“No, Mrsha, stop! Lady Bethal—”

“No, this is perfect! This is what you should do, Lyonette. Pictures! It costs a bit, but they’re for memories. Memories of all the wonderful moments.”

Bethal’s eyes shone, and Lyonette realized—that had never occurred to her. Pictures? Suddenly—she had to have them all. She turned, and Lady Pryde was listening to a little speech by one of the Wishdrinks hosts.

“Pryde, you’re next! It shall be the two of us facing a wave down or something action-packed. I cannot wait to show this to all the [Ladies]. I’ll hire a Courier. While they freeze their bunions off, they’ll receive a picture of us here.

Pryde smiled evilly as she turned and nodded. Then she pointed.

“And you will all join me for these late-night activities. I hear there are ‘fireworks’, or light spells, and games at night.”

Late night tag! Erin’s going to make a huge whirlpool! Mother, let’s do it!

“Well—why not?”

Bethal was laughing at the thought.

“Very well, Pryde, and we have to do some scheming for your war. No objections—you need my help, because this time, you’re up against a foe worse than Lord Stoneface Veltras himself. We’ll have to send for Pellmia! Later, later. And you won’t get me for the entire night on the beach. I’m going to need some time alone later.”

Her eyes twinkled, and Lyonette found herself giggling, and Pryde grumbled in her ear.

“She’s always like this. Say…do you know if the Magus has a favorite food?”

And there it was. Lyonette finally had all the fun she had been missing. All she needed was the right crew.

Vampires, [Ladies], and even [Knights] allowed to have fun.

…Bethal and Thomast were the first to get kicked out of the beach that night. Not because Erin Solstice noticed. She was trying not to notice everything in the beach-Garden and eventually just turned off her perception of the entire space, as Laken had long-since learned to do.

Rather, it was when the other couples began to file noise complaints that Erin Solstice had to take action.




Oh, and one last thing. That night, a single [Spy] who had been sad about their permanent surveillance of The Wandering Inn—in the freezing cold because it was impossible to get inside—sent a rather lengthy report to several clients.

Optional intelligence. Would you care to purchase a magical recording? A [Princess] and a [Lady] Versus a Fish? What in the name of…”

Niers Astoragon hesitated and wondered if he was being extorted, but it wasn’t ‘intelligence’ proper. He sent a few gold over and then received an entire magical [Scrying] spell that his [Diviner] had to grumpily copy over.

The effort and expense turned into a projection on a scrying orb that Niers watched as he yawned and attended a very late-night planning session with some of the Fraerlings on the campaign. Commander Rozcal snorted his drink out his nose, and Niers stopped laughing long enough to wheeze.

“Someone…someone get Foliana and tell her it’s urgent. I need fifteen copies. Send one to Calanfer! Please!”




King Fetohep of Khelt rubbed at his brows, but the laughter of his subjects was a good thing, so he murmured to the side.

“It seems I have another form of entertainment. Put a bounty out for any other such…tidbits. And broadcast this clandestinely for my people to see. Perhaps…obscure their faces?”

He looked at the image and snorted.



[Worldly Princess Level 29!]

[Skill – Traveller’s Advancing Techniques obtained!]

[Skill Change – Basic Cooking → Seafood Cooking obtained!]

[Skill – Seafood Cooking Obtained!]


[Conditions Met: Clandestine Spy → Spy of the Captured Moment class!]

[Spy of the Captured Moment Level 30!]

[Bound Spell – Scrying obtained!]

[Skill – Record Spell obtained!]

[Skill – Deepened Magical Crystals obtained!]

[Skill – Lesser Frost Resistance obtained!]






Author’s Note: Another chapter bites the dust. I passed 10k words, but I had fun while writing this. If you did too, then this chapter was meant for you.

Hopefully you are not all dreaming of the beach like I now am. I should really stop writing chapters like these. But then again, wanting to do something is a good impetus.

Short chapter let me focus on less-ambitious targets. Well. Short…I’m just doing what I want.

I never got the watermelon splitting thing, though. My food after a beach was a local Thai restaurant and I still remember having the soup and food there. Or those fruits with ice cream in them.

Have a good one, and remember: seafood is just bugs. Crabs are spiders. Shrimp are bugs. Don’t eat bugs.



Stream Art by the Talented Artsynada! ‘The Secret Despair of Lady Pryde’ and ‘Pride and Grimalkin’. I came up with the titles.

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/illudanajohns/

Ko-fi: https://ko-fi.com/illudanajohns


Ishkr, Bad Mrsha, and GasterPisces by Fiore!

Twitter: https://twitter.com/atlasphenomenon

Ko-fi: https://ko-fi.com/fiorepandaphen


Nutball and Cringe by Tatolord!


Lesson and Redscar by kiffaB!



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