9.56 – The Wandering Inn


(Trigger Warning: See the link here for details.)


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After Christmas, there were six days until the Solstice.

Whether you were counting on that exact date or not, there was an anticipation to this long winter born partially out of the silence. The holiday was one of the highlights of the last two months. The great wars had ended or died down. Many people were in transit to the New Lands of Izril.

It felt, perhaps, like things were waiting before they picked up again. But in truth, the momentous events were just of a different kind. The world had been shaken; it took a while for people to pick up the pieces, get a view of the new landscape, and plot a course forwards.

The waters were in turmoil, and Krakens were stirring in the depths. Only massive fleets and Sea Couriers were risking the waters.

Why, the landfolk barely realized how disconcerting the seas were. So long as they got their damned sugar and goods moved from one continent to the other mostly on time, they gave not a copper coin to the doings of the water.

There was some irony to the fact that they hadn’t felt a pinch in the winter beyond the huge demand for goods. But as one man understood it, the fault lay in one ‘admiral’.

Admiral Seagrass and his famous [Storm Sailor] armada had continued to cut across the sea. He hadn’t trusted to a single vessel; they ran in entire fleets, expensive, but bulk deliveries. One man, the damned self-made king of sea shipping lanes, had kept the intercontinental trading economies going.

There was a temptation to take him out of the equation and watch each nation scramble and be forced to trade with the smaller, individual captains, or just so that his fleets didn’t scourge every non-allied ship from the waters.

[Storm Sailors] knew no mercy to Drowned Folk or [Pirates]. This might be the moment…but famous [Pirates] had tried to kill him time and again. The man had the luck of the sea on his side.

And besides, there were other considerations right now.

A cautious ship rose from the sea outside of a glowing city floating above a self-made reef. Nombernaught, one of the famous Drowned Folk cities, the underwater havens that few landfolk had ever heard of, was the first major city of the New Lands.

The landfolk didn’t talk of it like that, obviously. They spoke of the half-Elves or their own colonies, carefully pretending that the Drowned Folk hadn’t beaten them to the New Lands by months. Even now, Nombernaught wasn’t home to any embassies, and other nations were not acknowledging its sovereignty. Well, there were no maps, but the Drowned Folk noticed.

Shadeward Doroumata, one of the city’s defining leaders, had counseled silence. Let the landfolk ignore them. They would come calling soon.

The New Lands were not going to be an easy place to colonize. As proof of that, the Drowned Ship, Coluskmere, was laden so heavy it had taken nearly a day to rise. Their [Drowned Captain], old ‘Dauntless Deriad’ himself, had been sweating the entire voyage over running into some sea monster, and as they rose, he finally allowed himself to adjust a hat that covered the kelp-like hair and stone-side of his face.

Stone. Or perhaps shell? No one could really tell with Deriad. What was clear was that it wasn’t really a ‘face’ at all, more like a sculpted mass of stone. His days of fighting with sword in hand on the decks were long past him, and he was in his sixties, grey of hair and slow to dash across the decks. If he was wounded in battle, he’d have a different shape to his face as soon as his body was ‘repaired’.

He was a strange fellow, Deriad. To landfolk, he was as horrifying as any Drowned People; but even the Drowned Folk thought he was a strange one.

It was the kind of his ocean’s gift. You had about three kinds of Drowned Folk. The typical fish or crustacean fusions. Then there were the really weird magical fish or the fusions of sea and land that didn’t…work quite right or as intended. Most jellyfish fell into that middle category of being a bit weird. No Drowned Folk were alike, after all. Two crab-type Drowned Folk, a common transformation, could still vary greatly.

But the last group was just foreign in biology. Technically, Omusc, the Siren of Savere’s lieutenant that had overseen the loading of stone onto the Coluskmere in Chandrar, was of the last type. She had a shellfish body, so her ‘face’ was covered by wood, and her real form was the mushy interior.

Deriad, likewise, had a body of sculpted stone. There was a hole right where his eye should be, a big one larger than his fist. Sometimes, his real body would poke out of it, and an eye would stare around.

Well, something like an eye. More like a giant eyestalk. He was some kind of part-snail creature, exact species unknown, which inhabited the half of his body that was stone. That gave him a very slow gait since his Human half was forced to drag along his heavy body.

“Two tons of Chandrarian stone. Enough Yellats to make them come out of my ears, and enough seed for them to feed half of Nombernaught. As much damn Sage’s Grass as we can fit without attracting something like a Reefeye—at least that will go well—and too much twine, ore, and other cheap goods to make more than a hundred gold’s profit. Given how long this took, we’ll be eating light, Captain.”

The first mate, Sobriet, unlike on some more combat-ready ships, was a [Quartermaster of Trade], and his face was fully dour. He was half porpoise and looked snub-nosed, but he was a great swimmer, and his only unique ability was the power to spit water out of a hole in his right cheek if he so pleased. He was as mundane as Deriad was not.

“It’s for Nombernaught. The Shadeward herself asked it, and their Luminary likewise. How many times have we sheltered in her aegis?”

Deriad got no response, and his eyes locked on the city. He knew he’d probably barely break even, if that, with all these cheap goods, especially since he was selling them to the city direct, but he didn’t care.

Drowned Folk on land. It was a dream of long ago, and while he didn’t say it, he’d have run this delivery at cost. He couldn’t do it often, but he’d braved the deeps just to get this to them.

“At least they’re grateful. Some Drake cities caught word we had goods aplenty and offered us markups on them. What they claimed were markups. We could turn a higher profit by putting into Zeres.”

Sobriet spat over the side of the ship, and Deriad exhaled.

“We’re not trading with Drakes.”

“Of course not. But they’ve been complaining all month.”

“Do they know why?”

“Doesn’t seem like they have any thought to it.”

Deriad sighed. That made sense. He’d hoped, you know. Really hoped that when Nombernaught came out of the seas, he’d see that Wistram News Network cover it nonstop, hear about nations asking for a berth in Nombernaught. Such free spaces were highly valued, but they would get one as a sign of respect! He had hoped he would once again hear the old tales of [Knights] coming to get a Shadeward’s blessing or carry a Luminary’s light across the seas.

Yet he had heard nothing afterwards. In fact, the opposite. It was enough to make him tired enough to sink below the sea and never bother with the topside again—but Nombernaught balanced that. The sight of it.

“They need this stone. Likewise, the twine and such. No one’s found any ore yet, and the soil’s harsh.”

“Saltlogged from millenia undersea. Never mind the Gnolls raising it—apparently all the vegetation’s odd, and Yellats are the only thing even beginning to sprout. Mining’s bad—not that we really know it. I know, I know. Plus, the local monsters are tough.”

Deriad turned to his second, curious since Sobriet kept up with all the gossip. Deriad wanted to hear it in person, and he’d have the excuse of catching up to sit in a quiet bar with perhaps the Luminary or City’s Captain and have them tell him. They’d owe him no less.

But he was too tempted, so he demanded the first tidbits.

“Are they still locked down from exploring far?”

“Yup. Most of the rotten fish are apparently eaten by now, what hasn’t frozen over, but Sword Crabs are holding a goodly portion of the southeastern coast. Our own Gold-rank teams retreated from trying to clear a nest in shambles.”

Deriad and a few of the sailors in earshot shuddered.

“We’ll not sail around that coast, then, for twenty miles. Make it thirty. I saw Nombernaught declare that entire region dangerous. Now I know why.”

What a pity. Some sea life—most of it—had died when the New Lands surfaced, but some aspects were, unfortunately, able to survive on land. Sword Crabs were…probably what Wyverns were to landfolk, or something. Not as big by far, but that kind of threat. And an entire colony?

What landfolk didn’t seem to realize was that life below the sea had many differences from the surface; you had the shields that protected each city, Shadewards and Luminaries, who occupied the roles of light and dark, protector and explorer, but a lot of things were the same.

They had adventurers. Drowned Folk, considered pirates above, had their own laws and treaties. They had cities, gardens…and by and large, anything below the sea had a counterpart on land. Why, the magical shields that protected the underwater cities and ships were like the Walled Cities and their magical protections or…the Lantern Lands of Chandrar!

In the same vein, what you had to understand was that Dauntless Deriad was a well-respected hauler, a man who was functionally just a [Trader], if more respected than a low-level [Trader] would be. He wasn’t someone who did fancy items like a [Merchant]. Maybe a [Trader]-City Runner combination?

He didn’t raid ships. If he saw another [Captain] while sailing on the water rather than below it, he’d be cautious and just trade greetings or, if he thought it was safe, slow and jaw for a bit or have a drink. The notion of attacking another ship was something he’d put any member of his crew ashore at the next dock for saying.

He was a respected fellow. But as he began to head towards Nombernaught’s port, a cry went across his deck, and his skin prickled as his ship ran into someone who was the opposite of Deriad.

Undersea Crews! Ship to the side!

“She’s rising! I see her lanterns! To port, to port! It’s—The Passing Shadow!

A lurch in his stomach. Deriad swung to the side and almost shouted for them to drop cargo and dive. Then he caught himself.

“We’re in Nombernaught’s aegis! Steady on! The truce of Nombernaught’s with us!”

Even so—the deck was a-flurry, and their [Defence Sailors] were white-knuckled as they came out of their berths and stared across the waters as a far larger ship began to rise.

The lanterns were on; that’s why the crew had spotted them. If this were an attack, they’d be dark in the waters until they appeared. Deriad heard that the Undersea Crew would even turn their bubble shields off to lay in wait, dangerous as that was. As the ship rose, water belching from the decks, he saw hundreds of [Drowned Pirates] aboard and saw how many ship-weapons it carried.

The Passing Shadow. One of the most famous [Pirates] at sea. Captained by none other than…

“The Shadow’s hailing to come aboard! Captain Therrium himself!”

Therrium Sailwinds. A [Captain] who’d sent more ships down to the seafloor than Deriad had crewed on in his life. Deriad hesitated one long moment.

“Heave to and lower the gangplank.”


Sobriet was unnerved. But his [Captain] snapped at him.

“Peace of Nombernaught. They haven’t been raiding the last two months. Swords sheathed.”

There was no way the man would attack, not with the Shadeward within spitting distance. Rather, Deriad wondered what the hell he wanted. Then again, he reflected as he saw a figure in faded noble clothing striding across his deck, trailing water, his eel body flashing with jolts of electricity—

Deriad would have avoided him in Nombernaught like a plague. If Therrium was even welcome in a number of establishments, it wasn’t like he could throw his weight around in a Drowned City. He was a [Pirate], and even among the Drowned Folk, it meant he had both respect and fear on his side. Unlike above, the Undersea Crews might raid their own people, but they were all Drowned Folk. Even they would go clear a Creler nest if they found it. And in this case…




Captain Therrium Sailwinds walked onto the decks of Coluskmere and saw the fear in the eyes of the sailors who stood behind their [Captain], who was waiting to greet them.

It was harder to read on their non-fish faces. But their sea-sides were more expressive. There was more water coating the face of a half-fish Drowned Woman, a nervous clicking coming from another’s claws. Eyes swung to him, and he saw more than one glance at Nombernaught or put their hand on a sword.

But none were stupid enough to draw a blade. Not with the blowfish [Sniper] behind him and his personal crew, who had clashed with the sea’s best. One of his lieutenants, Cazcall, had ash-dark skin, and his squid half was just as black. He was a [Ravager Rogue], a stealthy killer. Another had armored scales and long whisker-fins. He was half fighting fish and had bought scale mail to add to the effect and painted it as vividly orange as his fish-half.

“Giyed. Take your hands off your damn swords before I lop them off.”

Reluctantly, the Drowned Man did just that. He was a [Deckbreaker Vanguard]; first on an enemy’s ship, and he had the scars to prove it.

Doubtless, he was tense, but Cazcall would be the one in actual danger soon enough, and he was as calm as could be. Or looked it.

“Captain Therrium. Welcome aboard Coluskmere. I’d offer you a drink, but not in sight of Nombernaught, I think. In the city. To what do I owe the pleasure?”

At least Deriad treated him like a fellow captain, not a simple thug. He had more spine than his crew, and Therrium nodded. They both had the echoing tones that came from different lungs adapted to fit the water; one in every five Drowned Folk tended to have that voice. Of his sons, only Seborn had inherited that trait.

“Captain Deriad. By the oaths of the sea, I come aboard as a friend. I’m bound for distant harbors by midday; I wanted a word, if I might, about your voyage. And to extend you an invitation to join us.”

Deriad looked wary as his second exhaled in relief. Oaths of the sea weren’t invoked lightly. You could be a pariah, but that was almost a death sentence in the sea, if no Drowned City or ship would trade with you. You’d be committed to only staying at landfolk harbors if you were a complete renegade.

“We have a delivery to make. An invitation? I’m afraid I have a commitment to run my ship back to Chandrar after this.”

Deriad instantly refused, looking slightly concerned. As if Therrium was going to strongarm him into smuggling goods. He must not have heard.

All the better. He deserved a chance to be there, along with everyone else. Therrium rubbed at his Human shoulder with one eel ‘hand’. It still hurt from the Shadeward’s displeasure. One of her daughters had hit him with a tendril of darkness…well, it hadn’t been him she’d been aiming at. The Undersea Captain she’d slapped was still out of it.

“May we talk in your cabin, Deriad? The talk is a bit sensitive. Cazcall, tell them the rest. And break out a drink while you’re at it.”

“Aye, Captain.”

That sometimes broke the ice. Therrium didn’t expect the crews to be friendly by the time he left, but Deriad nodded. His ‘real’ self poked one eye out from the hole in his head and peered at Therrium, and the other [Captain] resisted the urge to shudder.

Yes, Drowned Folk could unsettle each other. In this case, the eel part of Therrium objected to the slug side of Deriad. Maybe one was a parasite to the other or Deriad was inedible or something. Therrium also just had a thing about rocks with holes in them. He always got this vague sense of a trap and hated sponges for that reason.




“—over fifty ships including the Illuminary are already in position. It’ll be done fast, and if no news network picks it up, we’ll broadcast it.”

“This has the Shadeward’s consent?”

Deriad looked uneasy and astonished as Therrium told him what was happening. It was one of two major sea events the [Captain] knew of. The other…well, he’d moved faster.

“It doesn’t have her refusing to allow it.”

Therrium said that as diplomatically as possible. Doroumata was not happy, and her displeasure was a dangerous thing. She functionally ruled one-third of Nombernaught; the Luminary ruled another third, and the last third was the City Captain. That was a [Captain] who paid the city back by acting as the leader for defense, and many civic duties, for months or even years at a time depending on how well they did and how much they wanted to do.

Therrium had been one for two months in the Drowned City of Llelk about six years back.

He’d hated it. You had to squash squabbling dock fights, oversee goods coming in, even fight monsters and all for virtually no pay, at least compared to how much he could make.

“This is my action. Mine alone, and no ship directly associated with Nombernaught’s part of this. But every Drowned Ship, including yours, has a right to be there. Shellbazaar will be taking part.”

“Even Shellbazaar?

The famous Courier-ship that sold goods and had their beloved giant lobster, Renny, was famously neutral and friendly to all. No Undersea Crew would dream of attacking it. That seemed to sway Deriad. He chewed on his Human lip.

“…How long do I have if I unload fast and catch up?”

“Midday. Half past. If you go…it’s here where the muster is, and keep low the way there.”

“That’s fast for Coluskmere. I’ll try to make it.”

It was a mild surprise to hear Deriad leap on the opportunity; that was just the pretext, but many, many [Captains] had agreed to put aside differences and join this. It was something that had even gotten damn Rasea on board.

They were all sons and daughters of the sea. Therrium saw in Deriad a kind of older him. Only by a decade, really. Yet even Deriad looked younger.

“On my head be it.”

Therrium said it again. It’d make short work of Doroumata’s plans to be that friendly new capital trading city in the New Lands. She wanted to hold open her hand to all. But someone had to be that shark in the waters, and if it was him…

“It’ll draw the ire of them on us. The Landfolk.”

“All we have is their contempt. You know, virtually none of them have even given us a word? The ones who’ve said the most are that [Innkeeper], the Titan, the Quarass…a few other nations who know the score like Desonis, but even Pheislant’s quiet.”

Deriad was nodding already before Therrium finished speaking.

“I know. Sea slugs, let’s not fight, Captain Therrium. I know. We’ll be there. Was there anything else I could help you with?”

Captain Therrium’s mind was elsewhere for a second. He was thinking of his son, the one who’d run off swearing he’d have revenge, and wondering if Seborn was responsible for Erin Solstice reaching out to Nombernaught with more than just contempt or idle amusement.

If only Liscor were at sea. The friendship of Drowned Folk was a mighty thing. If only one nation were fully in need of them and had something to give. Then they might not have…no.

They’d always have come to this. He adjusted his clothing, modeled after old Terandrian fashion, aged to look old and worn, a style of the sea that was very fashionable. Either that or Rasea’s swashbuckler look, but that had too much leg for his tastes.

“Yes, actually. I was hoping you’d come from north, around where the Terandrians…no, the Baleros-Chandrar corridor would do, or anywhere more central than Izril and Chandrar’s connection.”

“It’s safest with the House of Minos about. I’ve not sailed those other routes since the seas changed. Why?”

Therrium grimaced.

“Something odd’s been called by some of the cities. Most are lying so dark they don’t even dare send [Messages]. Shadeward Doroumata and Luminary Hisark themselves will want a word. It’s hard to pinpoint underwater, but there’s no doubting it. At least one Kraken’s awake down there.”

“Dead gods.”

That made Deriad go fully pale. Therrium nodded somberly. A Kraken awake would have every ship above and below sea fleeing its passage. Normally, they hibernated for centuries at a time.

“How big…?”

“It’s an armada eater if the listening spells are right. It might be Old Hungry himself.”

That was the biggest of all Krakens, the one that someone had sicced on the Antinium. Therrium waved it off.

“If you don’t know, I’ll keep asking. I have my eye on that region with all those ships abroad. Terandria might be able to fight a Kraken off…the Iron Vanguard’s got one of their Krakenbane Destroyers in the water.”

Now there would be a fight he’d pay money to see. Forget the King of Destruction versus the House of Minos. Iron Vanguard, Terandria, and throw in Seagrass himself against Old Hungry. But it was far and he had a job to do, so Therrium nodded.

“I’ll sail in five. See you there. The gathering’s already begun; we were waiting on an enchantment from the Shadeward’s daughters themselves.”

Deriad whistled, and Therrium reflected that the [Mages] of Wistram truly hadn’t known who walked among them. The fact that Doroumata’s daughters could cast magic approximating her own great powers?

She was unto an Archmage of the sea, and his plan would only work without hitches with her daughters’ amulets. He also neglected to mention that several of his ships had been at the gathering point for the last two days. They were running silent rather than draw attention with [Message] spells, but he was certain they’d get the job done—or he’d be feeding them off a plank to Reefeyes. He was turning when the other [Captain] spoke up.

“Wait. Let’s have a toast before we go.”

Deriad offered him a drink, and Therrium took it with gratification. It had been a long time since he’d had one at sea with an upstanding [Captain]…but the times were changing. Krakens awake, new lands rising.

His blood fizzed and hummed as he strode back and gave orders to weigh anchors. Time, now, to do the unpleasant part. The seas needed a bastard like him.

Dead gods. He wished he wasn’t looking forwards to it. But he hadn’t slept well for nearly a month. He wouldn’t sleep well, not until he could get that sight out of his mind of the three hanging bodies at port.

“Nevermore for this new age.”

Captain Therrium walked onto his ship, and it sank below the waves. He stood there as dark waters hid the rising sun from him, half his body wet and glistening, his right eye sparking with lightning in the gloom. And he wondered—if a Kraken was awake, why had no ships gone down yet? They woke, feasted, reproduced, and slept with nary much else.

What could be keeping one up if not for that?




The sky was said to be three times that of Earth’s own dimensions. That would make it, improbably, as many as 30,000 kilometers high, as an incredulous Earther who didn’t subscribe to the imperial system had once calculated.

That would throw off all kinds of constants like…atmospheric pressure…but the scale of this world was undeniable, even if the exact measurements were imprecise.

In the same way, the seas were a lot deeper than Earth’s. And even the best technology of Earth had yet to reliably map the deepest parts of one world.

In the sepulchral depths, Krakens and their ilk slept. Unlike Dragons, enough Krakens had outlived the fall of Giants to be considered an extant species. Of course, even they had waned; they had learned not to challenge the last Treants, who wandered their lonely roads below the sea.

Old Hungry, for instance, was dead. The Drowned Folk didn’t know that. They had assumed he was sleeping, and his body was still down there.

By now, it had fed generations of fish. He lay amid the shattered wrecks of ships, killed by something—somethings that had torn into him, burst so many hearts that even his gargantuan form had perished from the damage.

The sea had lost one of its legends. Smaller Krakens did exist; some would attack coastlines. They had been fought off at great cost by famous heroes.

The last three Kraken attacks had taken place on Rhir, Terandria, and Izril.

Ser Gorethem Krakenblood had been one of the pivotal heroes to drive off one attack. The Blighted Kingdom had repulsed another and actually killed their Kraken. The third had just lost a single ‘arm’ to a bunch of Goblins, no less. The eater had become the eaten.

Being a Kraken wasn’t easy.

Okay, being a Kraken was fairly easy once you got big enough to take down ships with a single tendril. The oldest of Krakens had battled Dragonlords and had memories that dated back to the dawn of many things. Some had even learned to speak in tones that shifted the sea. Any being that could live millenia invariably tended to learn.

But young ones? They were the kind that fought with giant squids—another relative—had to risk fighting whale pods, which could kill a Kraken, and ate to grow. They were still an apex predator, though. More cunning than most fish, inventive.

One of them was awake, not digesting, and it was crawling across the sea floor. The water rang as it struck and slashed with the beaks on its tentacle-arms biting, the blood of other sea life in the water.

It had multiple brains, so even as two tendrils struck in the water with deafening thunderclaps of sound, others were scooping up fish killed simply by the soundwaves, and another was snaring several dolphins fleeing the battle.

However, the sound underwater was more than just the unearthly ringing of clashing, the grind of tectonic forces. It was true that sound was more muddled with water as a medium instead of air, but whales could sing in it.

Right now, every whale in ten miles was fleeing in silence, but if you could sing underwater—what were these tones?

They sounded, perhaps, like the deepest pipe organs in the world. If such an instrument even existed. Each word made the waters rumble, and they were words. The saying of it could take minutes, and the young Kraken paused a second.

It stopped as its quarry picked itself up slowly in the water. Its quarry was odd. Small. Tiny—big for its kind, but hardly a filling meal. Yet, as the Kraken observed with its own kind of intelligence, a small meal like this might feed it for a thousand years.

Well, it had gone after this strange morsel for that—and also because it had been disturbed by its presence. What a strange being. This crawling…woman. Her black hair spread out in the water around her like an urchin.

Or a spider.

Her hat was askew. She slowly righted it and kept speaking. Her eyes were orange.

She was Belavierr, the Witch of Webs.

And she was not having a good month. Her task was long and difficult—and this Kraken had been hunting her for the last week. She spoke again.

“—————. ——. ———! —— ——…”

The Kraken listened as she spoke, lungs filled with water, mouth moving like a black opening in the water. It drifted closer as she talked to it—

A single tentacle poked Belavierr with great precision, as the Kraken did when spearing a whale to eat. But rather than go through her, it just sent the [Witch] crashing into the seabed in a plume of silt.

Hm. Tough good. The Kraken began slapping the ground where the [Witch] lay, like a seal beat a fish with its tail to soften it up. After ten minutes, it stopped and stared at the ground.

The [Witch] was gone. The Kraken began tearing up the earth, and Belavierr hissed underwater.

She was, right now, crawling through the ground, trying to escape the Kraken. But it dug so fast it yanked her out, held her up, and tried to squeeze.

“Thing. Ask your elders what I am saying. I am not—”

A huge beak closed over her head, and the Kraken tried to swallow her. Belavierr kept talking.

“—a battle is pointless to both of—”

The Kraken spat her out and began slamming her into the ground again, headfirst. Belavierr made an incoherent noise of anger. Her hands rose, and black tendrils of her own shot out, binding the arm, wrenching it away from her as she got free. She pointed.

“[Greater Deathbolt]. I am no thing’s food.

The blast of death magic shot straight through the tentacle, and it listed in the water as the Kraken jerked back. Dead! Its entire arm went still as the blood vessels ruptured, the internal brain fell silent. Belavierr began walking, underwater, but able to maintain her own gravity, back towards her task.

Then she sensed the Kraken’s body warming—looked back—and the tentacle began to jerk as it came back alive.

Regeneration. Dead tissue it might be, but the flesh was there, and the Kraken reactivated its dead limb without even losing it. It was definitely an adult, a hungry male. Perhaps a father? Krakens laid egg clutches and, unlike some species, actually reared young Krakens for a while.

“Enough. I—”

Belavierr raised her hands for a bigger spell this time, but it was hard. She wasn’t fond of water. She was fighting out of her element, and a lot of her power was aimed at keeping herself alive. She had a great task, she had been injured slightly in the last battle, but mostly—

Krakens were really annoying to kill. Worse? This one was learning. It recoiled and dodged the huge boil of water that killed everything, flash-frying all the sea life around it, and Belavierr hissed. She pivoted—and this time, the tentacle punched straight through her magical spell.

Krakens, as highly magical creatures, could learn to dispel magic. That was how they’d fought Dragons on equal ground. This one was learning.

You are making a grave enemy, Kraken. I will remember this. Just like Mrsha du Marquin. Just like Maviola El, Cara O’Sullivan, and my many enemies. Be w—

This time, the Kraken sprayed her with its stomach acids, and Belavierr stopped talking because she refused to get it in her mouth. She walked out of the cloud of acid, and the Kraken punched her into an undersea cliff.

She was so angry, now, she said a bad word. Then she added the Kraken to her list. Damn the [Witches], binding her to a task. Damn Mrsha. And most of all—

There were wisps in the world. Ghosts. A thousand thousand deals to be made with desperate people and she was stuck here—when she could sense seith to be gathered and knew the Crossroads of Izril. She had quests she could fulfill, vengeance to take, a daughter to reclaim.

And she was stuck here. So.

Damn these gods, too. They had nibbled on her when she slept. Stolen her power to resurrect themselves. She’d have vengeance on them too.

But first—

The Kraken.




The day was quiet after the Christmas parties.

Well, in some places. In The Wandering Inn, in Liscor, Mrsha was doing backflips off the inn’s roof with her new cape, and Bird was running around his ballista as Zevara welcomed Watch Captain, nay, Watch Commander Venim to the job with a huge smile on her face and pointed the ballista out to him.

So it wasn’t really quiet, but news-wise, it was right up until the moment it wasn’t. At just past midday, Zeres’ Admiralty received a notification via [Message] spell.

“Looks like our sensor spells have caught some Drowned Ships moving through the sea. More than one or two. We’re dispatching a small force to investigate.”

Admiral Asale was speaking with the Admiral of the Sea, Admiral Irevescale. All of the Admiralty in current Zeres were male. That wasn’t custom, but the Serpentine Matriarch had clashed with some of the older Admiralty upon taking the not-throne.

Asale, as everyone knew, was a Rulebreaker, a levelless member of the Admiralty who had risen to his position by competence. He was technically the Admiral of Supply—but when he spoke, they listened.

“The last thing we need is a war at sea with the Drowned Folk. I strongly suggest every [Captain] be made aware of that fact. And if circumstances dictate a boarding action, bloodshed should be viewed as a disastrous outcome.”

His polite voice seemed to hint with a giant magical sign that if any boarding action took place, everyone involved was an idiot.

As it happened, Admiral Irevescale might not have been the highest-levelled Drake in the world, but he was no idiot.

“I am personally speaking to the [Commodore] at this moment, Asale. No accidents. But there’s at least seven all headed to a spot just past our detection web. We suspect [Pirates].”

“Drowned Ships often move together, Irevescale. Piracy is the default term for any Drowned Ship. Have you tried asking Nombernaught what they’re doing?”

There was a long pause from the other end. Asale started tapping his claws on his desk loudly.


“…No. As a city, we have not officially—”

“I suggest they might know about it, our official diplomatic stance aside. Just a thought?”

Asale reached for a bottle of headache pills. There was some wonderful new medicine coming out of Oteslia, and while this was expensive as all hells because of the flower they used…he took one pill. He told himself, for the umpteenth time, that the Serpentine Matriarch’s will aside and how she had removed the former Admiral of Seas for arguing with her—Irevescale wasn’t an idiot.

Sharkcaptain Femar wasn’t an…idiocy, was, when you got down to it, a mindset. You could be stupid, but you could also think critically, challenge assumptions. It didn’t have to be this way.

So why was it this way? Why did he feel like, sometimes, if he quit—Zeres would be better for it? Was he holding it together, or was he holding together a bad system and was the blowback of it falling apart worth the cost?

Or would we just put it together worse than before? He had that view on Drake cities as a whole. Some were amazingly successful. Some sucked. That was normal for many cities in the world; you got a variance.

But why did it have to feel like a gamble? Were there systems of governance so poor that everything rested upon a Council not being corrupt or a certain level of competence in officials? If so…it called into question how well Drake society functioned. But since that was treasonous talk, Asale only brought it up every other month when the Admiralty met.

What was the Serpentine Matriarch going to do, fire him? He’d just accept Manus’, Chaldion’s, or someone else’s offer. Maybe Asale was feeling the need for innovation with the New Lands occurring. Yes, Zeres was making a play for it with every other Walled City. But was that enough?

Admiral Asale was a competent fellow. But he wasn’t a perfect one. He wasn’t a genius, and he would readily admit that, without Skills, every other [Admiral] and a lot of the lower-ranking [Commodores] and so on could hand him his tail on a platter in a naval battle.

He was also not a grand strategist. He was a quartermaster, a supply expert, and so while that report about the Drowned Ships came in early in the morning, it was only around midday when the Drake forces were nearing the interception point that he dug out a map to check the spot and got a nasty surprise.

Drowned Ships moved fast, but these ones had clearly been gathering for a while; the sea was vast. Zeres was in a position to intercept because it regularly patrolled Izril’s south and had forces all over, the New Lands being an exception.

But Asale had missed one key thing. Which was to ask where, exactly, the Drowned Ships were gathering. His eye fell on the map, and he stared at the nearest Drake city to it.

“…No. That’s not a coincidence. Admiral Asale, patch me through to the Admiralty now. Code 7. Someone ask the City of Covieke whether they’ve seen any Drowned Ships.”

He was sweating as he leapt up from his chair, and the city’s name stood out to him. When Irevescale asked what he’d thought of, Asale demanded to know the city again.

Does no one remember it? That’s the city where they hung three Drowned Sailors last month!”

“That’s occurred before, Asale.”

Not since Nombernaught surfaced, you idiot! It’s too late.”

Asale didn’t have to get confirmation to know.

Covieke. A city with a harbor, a small one on the southwestern side of the continent with a large industry in pearl harvesting and…he sat there as his scrying orb lit up.

“Admiral Asale? It’s on Wistram News Network.”

“I see.”

Then he watched. Calmly, with dread making his tail writhe, but there was nothing to say. They were too late. They had been too late a month ago. When the Admiralty started calling in, what did they want him to do? Hold their tails and tuck them in and tell them it was going to be okay? He had told them they would regret this. You couldn’t start listening now.




The city of Covieke was annoyed, as it often was, by Zeres’ hegemonic control of the waters. The City of Waves often ordered other cities on the coastline around, and such was their navy’s dominance and control that it was hard to disagree.

The [Harbormaster] reported absolutely nothing from the watch towers as Covieke’s Watch Captain, Zoreik, left his Watch Barracks with his own spyglass to take a look outside.

“There’s been no Drowned Ships all month, Watch Captain. The Council would probably spit at them anyways; it’s been miserable for trade. Even Rennerot’s had more ships in than we have.”

“No Drowned Ships? That’s funny. And how would we tell if we’re staring at them from above the waves?”

The Drake’s voice was sarcastic; you didn’t see Drowned Ships unless the lighting was just right and they were close to the surface. He was four streets down from the docks, but the city sloped downwards until it reached the water. It did have a huge harbor mouth and gates—just like the rest of the city, so it was perfectly shut in case of war or monsters.

But that just meant he had a perfect view of the winter skies and cold waters when the first ship breached the waters and rose into the light.

Water sloughed off the sides of a Drowned Ship as it came to the surface. It looked filthy and dark, and seaweed clung to the hull and railings—for a second, it seemed as though a shipwreck had surfaced.

Zoreik halted mid-step and raised his spyglass. But he didn’t need to train his gaze on the ship. Because after a second?

It began to glow. And there was only one ship he knew that did that. Against all hope, he trained his spyglass on the sail, searching for the ship’s emblem. But he knew the instant he saw it—and the [Harbormaster] began to ring an alarm—which ship it was.

The Illuminary. Of the few crews that might have the power to sack an entire harbor by themselves—

Close the gates! Sound the alarm and tell Zeres the Illuminary has just risen!

Now, Zoreik was grateful for the forces coming to Covieke. He just wished it were a fleet! Still—his mind was racing as people looked up as an alarm began to blare and cleared the streets.

Even if the Illuminary tried to break through the gates, it’d take time. They might do it! They had siege weapons. But if they docked, they’d be surrounded. That might be a nightmare if they were trapped in the city—he’d have to put up barricades and actually hope their [Captain] got away. What if they raced their ship onto land?

As the Watch Captain was trying to figure out a plan of defense, two things happened.

“Watch Captain! We’re on television! Pallass’ Sir Relz is covering us! Are we doing something? The Council wants to—”

More ships rising!

Zoreik heard the confused comment then a shout that made his heart sink. He looked up, and this time, the spyglass just dropped from his claws. The glass front of it smashed on the ground, and one of his subordinates cried out as they tried to grab it.

But then they looked up and froze. Five more ships, each a different class, a trading ship, Coluskmere, the Courier-ship Shellbazaar, both of which had docked here, a galleon, Obsubec, and two others all rose.

“What’s going on? That’s Shellbazaar!

Renny the giant lobster was shaking water off its shell. Normally, he was a sight to delight even the Drakes, but the ships were arrayed in an odd formation. They were facing Covieke, presenting their broadsides to the city. Holding anchor as water fell from their hulls.

Zoreik said nothing. Now, the Council and [Harbormaster] were shouting at him, and Zeres was on the line, demanding he respond as the gates closed. He should. But the Drake’s eyes were on the water. He was staring at the five ships…they were on the far left side, port of the harbor. Why there? The Drake fleet was approaching them, no less than nine ships, one of which was a warship bearing down and preparing for a fight.




[Pirates], weigh anchors and prepare to be boarded! Any movement will be taken as a threat and dealt with accordingly!

You had to hand it to the [Commodore] leading this fleet: he was no coward. He knew the Illuminary was there, and he had signaled to his fleet to spread out and prepare for fratricide. If needed, he would have them use their mounted siege weapons to tear any boarded ship apart to kill Rasea Zecrew and her forces.

He’d studied Ailendamus’ masterful takedown of Wellfar in the last major naval sea battle, and if the expert boarding [Pirates] thought that would work here, they weren’t prepared for Drake resolve. All they had to do was hold them off with Covieke’s harbor defenses, and Zeres’ fleets would be inbound.

“Sir. That’s Shellbazaar out there. That’s a Courier ship! I don’t think this is a [Pirate] raid.”

“Five Drowned Ships just surface off Covieke’s bow? Are you an idiot?”

The Drake stared at one of his ship-tacticians incredulously. She was one of those chess-playing idiots who’d been fans of the Titan. Now who was levelling, hm? Chess was worthless.

“Signal them again! If they’re all innocent, we’ll treat them gently. I already have the Admiralty screaming at me.”

The [Commodore] growled and tensed. He was watching the Illuminary so hard he tuned almost everything else out. He could see Rasea Zecrew from here thanks to his eye Skills. Her glowing eye, her crew, were all standing…looking the other way.

Towards Covieke. They didn’t even pay the Drake ships a second glance. That annoyed him so much he began to shout again when a [Mage] screamed.

Commodore! There’s more in the water! And they’re rising!”

He had finally detected them, and the [Commodore]’s blood ran cold.

“A trap! All about and—

Then he choked on his words. The scrying orb was lit up with Sir Relz’s puzzled face, and the [Commentator] developed that look of horror that ran across so many faces.

Because it was not one ship, or two, or even five that began to rise. As ever, Rasea Zecrew was impatient, and the ships near her had surfaced with her.

But the rest had waited for his signal.

The first ship that breached the waters was in the center. It was four ships, actually. The Passing Shadow rose first, the crow’s nest shedding water, as the three other ships under Therrium’s command surfaced with it.

The Passing Shadow! Call for reinforcemen—”

Then the other ships began to rise. Dozens. The Zeresian fleet stopped advancing and turned, dead in the water. Dozens of ships were surfacing in a great semicircle, surrounding Covieke. Traders. Pirates. Neutral ships like Shellbazaar. All with one obvious similarity.

The [Captains] were Drowned Folk. The crews were too, and they were lining the railings.

But it was Captain Therrium Sailwinds in the center of that semicircle. His ships shed water silently, like black tears into the ocean, as he stood at the prow.

Not a single Drowned Person said a word. Even Rasea was uncharacteristically silent. She was staring at the Drake city.

Then they knew. Transfixed, Sir Relz was saying something on the scrying orb as more and more people began to tune in. The day after Christmas. Why?

Well. Because even Captain Therrium had wanted to let Nombernaught celebrate the holiday. The day after was fine.




We have the lead. No ship is to move or open fire without my orders! All of you with me—you know my orders. I will have any man or woman who disobeys keelhauled. We do this as planned.”

Rasea had gone up early. Frankly, he was grateful that was all. But Therrium was striding down the deck, roaring at his grim crew. They worked fast, arming the ship-weapons as his tiny fleet of four began to move. The Drake city was blaring alarms, and he could see their wall spells arming.

They were probably trying to negotiate or just counting. Over fifty ships; an armada that would make Zeres’ finest navy hesitate. Many were innocent ships, it was true. But several famous Undersea Crews were here.

That combination of pirate and regular Drowned Folk mattered. This next part mattered just as much.

Therrium turned to his lieutenant, Cazcall. Giyed was also there, fourteen of Therrium’s finest [Sailors] behind him.

Each one over Level 20. They were armed to the teeth, but all standing to one side. Therrium nodded as they began climbing into the vessel hanging from the ropes off his port side.

“Cazcall. Ready?”

“Ready, Captain.”

“Go once you get my signal. Abyssal Pull is ready to cover you with Serpent Maw. The sea’s honor is on your people. No matter what happens—”

“We’ll get it done, Captain.”

Therrium locked gazes with the [Ravager Rogue] and nodded. Then he spun and lifted his Human, gloved hand.

All ships! Open fire!




“What’s happening? Numbtongue?”

Erin Solstice had been dancing in the garden with Ulvama when Apista buzzed around them, and she came out running to find the Hobgoblin sitting in the [World’s Eye Theatre].

Oddly—Mrsha wasn’t there. Nor were any children. In fact, Ser Sest was guarding the door, and Numbtongue nodded at Erin. He was staring up with his crimson gaze narrowed.

“Don’t let Mrsha use the door. It’s Drowned Folk. They’re attacking.”

Erin felt the mood in her theatre was a stark contrast to normal. She looked up and saw a city under siege. Four warships were trading broadsides with the wall-defenses—and winning. She gulped.

“Whoa. Is that a catapult on one?”

“Yes. There aren’t many at sea.”

That voice came from the one person with an understanding of what was going on. Well, the most understanding.

Wailant was here; there were a lot of people still around the inn, including Rafaema, who was staring up wordlessly with Demsleth.

One look—and the Dragon turned away, and Erin felt a chill on her arms. She knew that lead ship.

“Seborn. Is that—?”

“My father’s ship. That city can’t stop him. He might be able to break its defenses himself. But look. They’re not hitting the walls.”

Seborn never blinked as he pointed it out to Erin. She saw he was right. The Drowned ships were aiming low. They were cracking the gates and hitting the towers, breaking the magical enchantments, but the Drakes fleeing the sections of their damaged harbor walls weren’t taking arrow fire. In fact, it was all long-ranged spells.

The Drowned Ships had their famous bubble-shields and looked barely hurt; they were overlapping shields, absorbing lightning bolts and other spells coming their way. Erin saw one fire back, and a burning mass of tar clung to the gates. As more spells rained down, the iron turned hot and began to melt…

“That’s the city that killed those Drowned Folks. This is revenge. Can we…Seborn, could you ask—”

Before she even had a thought out, the [Rogue] responded. Calmly.


He wasn’t even looking at her. Just watching. And then Erin sensed it, too, and fell silent. She gazed up and noticed what had made Numbtongue ban the children from entering. The lack of what should have been dozens, hundreds of deaths.

In fact…the Hobgoblin’s eyes narrowed.

“They’re not going in. Look.”

None of Therrium’s warships were heading into the harbor mouth. Now, the Drakes were down to bows and [Mages], but they were still firing desperately, trying to prevent an advance.

But it didn’t come. At least, not from The Passing Shadow.

A single ship, a boarding craft of some kind, a skimmer that was different from the longboats that Minotaurs used, but similar in nature, dropped into the waters. It had barely two dozen Drowned Folk in it, and it began to speed at the harbor.

Whoever was in it juked to avoid a [Fireball], but there had to be magic in it because the ship ignored the arrows falling on it, and Erin saw two dangerous-looking Drowned Folk at the front.

“That one’s Cazcall. He taught me how to fight. The other one’s…Giyed. Together, they could mince a regular ship.”

“I’ve heard of Giyed.”

That was all Wailant said. The [Pirate] was leaning forwards, one leg jittering, the rest of him still. Erin looked at Seborn. He glanced up once, as if searching for something. But when he saw nothing, he looked almost relieved. Now—they were all watching, and Erin saw that boarding craft pass through the harbor.

“Numbtongue! I told Dalimont to hide all the scrying things. Mrsha is kicking up a fuss. What—what’s going on? I thought they were sacking the city.”

Lyonette arrived, breathless, and the Hobgoblin looked at her. She was confused, but he wasn’t.

“They’re not going to do that.”

“No? Then—what?”

The [Princess] looked up, and Erin thought she knew. She turned to Seborn.

“Those aren’t all [Pirates], are they, Seborn?”

His eyes flashed as he looked at her. Yes. You get it.

“Those are all kinds of Drowned Folk. More than half aren’t Undersea Crews.”

“I see. Lyonette. Make sure Mrsha doesn’t find a scrying orb. Nanette too.”

That was all Erin said. Then she just watched as the scrying spell aboard one of the Drowned Ships began to focus on the harbor.




Therrium could only watch from aboard his ship, a spyglass on the progress of Cazcall and the others. They would be outnumbered a hundred to one as they entered, but the Drakes had to know the warships were out there.

More importantly—Cazcall and Giyed were two of his best. Bloodtear Pirates, Rasea, the Siren—every single ship at sea who fought and shed blood, from Seagrass’ sailors to the Dullahans, would know and respect them as dangerous.

But their task was even harder today. As far as he could tell, they had abandoned their craft. Twenty were at the mercy of being shot to death in the harbor.

Drakes armed with bows were firing down from the docks at the [Pirates]. Their aim was as sloppy as their formations; they weren’t used to fighting in their city. Normally, they’d have held the walls. Their city’s magical spells weren’t bad, but—

Incoming [Valmira’s Comet].

The Passing Shadow took a hit from a Tier 4 spell, and the barrier spells on the ship flickered. Instantly, their sister ship, Maelstrom’s Kiss, interposed itself between the Shadow and the city’s spells.

“Covering. Shields at half.”

“Two minutes, Kiss. Swinging us around; I see the Abyssal Pull and Serpent’s Maw rising!”

The helmsman’s voice was steady as he took the Shadow about, and Therrium left the defensive action to him. His other two ships were waiting in the wings, trading shots while they covered each other. Yet Therrium wasn’t focused on his fleet fighting at range.

He was busy watching two more shadows begin to rise out of the waters close to the harbor.

To the Drakes, the sight of two Drowned Ships lurking practically on their doorstep must have been a terrible shock. In truth, it was no pleasant trick to get ships that close. Not only did you turn off their bubble shields, a Drowned Crew would literally swim out and push the ships into a hiding place hopefully out of sight from above and camouflaged with dirt. They’d sit underwater, eating and waiting, sometimes days, before springing an ambush.

Therrium’s crews moved fast. They were on the shattered harbor gates in seconds and knocking any Drakes not already fled into the water. Then they set up and began firing down on the Drakes, who scattered in the harbor.

“Paralysis darts. Cazcall is off the ship, Captain. I see wall spells going up and blocking off reinforcements.”


[Wall of Stone] scrolls cost the damn earth, but he’d bought enough to give the [Pirates] charging up the street a clear run. Even as Therrium watched, an entire squad was walled in on four sides by the temporary walls of stone and forced to climb through a window of a house to continue trying to defend the city.

And meanwhile…

“They’re storming up the streets. Looks like the paralysis poison is working.”

Drakes so much as winged by the blowdarts were keeling over, and Therrium had filled both ships with his best sharpshooters.

“Good. Is the broadcast catching this?”

“Yes, Captain.”

It was important. No, it was vital that this happen right. He had promised Captain Deriad and all the others. Doroumata hadn’t stopped him because of his oath. On his head be it.

“Not one, Cazcall. Not one.”

He thought the [Rogue] was doing it. They were getting flickers from Covieke now; panicked Drakes screaming at Sir Relz, and the scrying spell caught the trail that the Drowned Pirates were leaving in their wake. Explosions overhead.

“Keep firing warning shots overhead. Looks like they’re mostly surrendered.”

The scrying orb was showing wounded Drakes, many fallen over—paralyzed by the venom of his best [Sniper]. She had to work hard to make something that didn’t kill you, even accidentally. But Sir Relz was asking incredulously:

No dead yet? None? Are you being serious, Miss…

Therrium nodded in satisfaction, and his crew murmured. That probably meant their comrades hadn’t been killed either. Therrium had demanded volunteers and they’d come, with the understanding that if they were killed—they would not be avenged.

Even with everything, it was impossible for his [Pirates] to get out unscathed. They had three healing potions apiece, another fortune, but the main thing was…Therrium saw a Drake wing one of his [Pirates] with a thrown javelin. The spearhead flashed through the air, aimed at a Drowned Man’s head—

—And shadows engulfed it. The javelin fell as the [Pirate] whirled, and Therrium counted.

“One. How good are the Lesser Shadeward amulets?”

“Two or three hits, sir. Proper skills would blow them to pieces. Cazcall is taking down their Watch Captain—now. Looks like there’s not many high-levels.”

“Good. Now. Do it, Cazcall!”

Now, he was waiting, the knot in his stomach growing by the second. This was getting damn close for a no-name Drake city. In hindsight, he should have bought an entire cargo’s worth of sleeping dust from Irurx and hit the city with it. This sent a message. He hoped at least one Drake would understand it.

But Therrium had prepared for interception; Zeres’ fleet had backed off. They were all waiting and watching as Cazcall fought his way to one spot in town, Giyed having split off to secure what they needed. Once he had one, Therrium imagined the fighting would stop.

“Looks like they have hostages.”

Quietly, he trained his eye on a plaza he could just see from the ship. They were barely specks, now, even with sight spells. But he saw the [Pirates] approaching a stand of wood. A gallows.




Watch Captain Zoreik finally understood, now, when one of the Drowned Folk finally let him stand. He was on his knees, and his claws were still shaking from the brief duel he’d had with the [Rogue].

There had never been a chance. The veterans of the sea had come in like a storm, and most of the Watch at the harbor and the militia were cowering at the explosions overhead. If the warships had truly opened fire, half the city would be rubble.

But they hadn’t. And when they took the hood off his face, he just exhaled.


It made sense when he stopped thinking of them as [Pirates] or this being a raid. When he ascribed…the laws of Covieke to the sea. Or thought how they’d think of it.

Zoreik hadn’t believed it when he’d heard no one had been killed yet. When he looked around, he saw a Drowned Woman holding her guts into her abdomen as one poured a potion sparingly over the wound.

“Cazcall, they’re rallying down the streets. I see them. If they get their nerves—”

“We won’t be long. Prepare to make for the ship. Captain Therrium will get us out. Are you ready?”


That came from the half-fish man with the swords. Zoreik heard a scream, and two figures were pushed forwards, and someone pointed a spear at him.

“On your feet, Watch Captain.”

“So it’s me.”

The [Rogue], Cazcall, turned as the Drakes in the plaza kept back. One of the [Pirates] had two crossbows in hand and was firing bolts covered in that paralyzing venom at anyone who came at them. But the main reason no one had attacked was—

We’re the Council! We’re the Council—don’t attack!

One of the two other Drakes was screaming the wrong thing. Well, he thought it was the right thing. He thought he was a hostage. Zoreik recognized Councilmember Isger and the [Harbormaster], who also had a seat on the council.

They’d done their homework. Zoreik thought about protesting and saying he hadn’t done anything. He tried out the words.

“—I was following orders. From the Council. I objected. I felt like I was losing my class, you know. I haven’t levelled since.”

None of the Drowned Pirates spoke. Isger was staring up at the gallows, and the one called Cazcall turned. He said nothing.

“Wait. What are you—help. Help!”

Isger began screaming as he saw where they were taking him. The [Harbormaster] began fighting, and the Drowned [Pirate] had to strike him until his head was lolling.

“Now. Up.”

“Don’t do this. Attack! Save—


Zoreik raised his voice, and the Watch heard him. The army…he felt his arms shaking. But he was saying this next part…not because he was that noble. He just thought it was the kind of thing you were supposed to say.

“If they attack and it turns into a battle, they’ll level this entire city. Hold.”

If he thought they had a chance of getting to him…he was just staring at Cazcall, and he felt that even if every Drake in the city poured over the [Pirates]—that [Rogue] would be faster.

He even got a nod from the half-squid man. Cazcall was Human, so was Giyed. But there were some of the Drowned Folk who were half-Drake. One was even a half-Elf mixed with a fish of some kind.

“At least one of them is brave. Will you walk, Drake?”

“I don’t want to.”

But they were pushing him forwards. Looking to the docks. Cazcall asked just one question, as Zoreik passed him by.

“If you knew, why did you let them do it?”

“I don’t remember. I think I just didn’t feel like it was possible. No—”

Now, he was staring at that noose of rope hanging in the air. They put a cloth hood over his head. Beside him, he heard screaming. And from all around. Belatedly, as if the people hadn’t realized what was going on.

“—I think I didn’t care enough. I’m sorry.”

Gently, the [Pirate], Cazcall, draped the noose around his neck and secured it. He stepped back, and Zoreik heard a murmur, screams, and Cazcall’s voice.

“Fair enough. I forgive you.”

Zoreik’s heart leapt, and he opened his mouth to ask—

—Then he heard the loudest sound in the world, and for a second, he was falling. Then he was caught.




The darkest of deeds were hidden by the ocean. To the consternation of many people in the world, this day, three Drakes died.

Many were not ready to hear it—but it was only three. If that made sense. Captain Therrium could have killed thousands. He had a reputation as a [Pirate] without mercy. He had enacted a very complex attack to send a message.

An eye for an eye. Whether it was escalation or not—he had done what he thought mattered for his people. Drowned Folk were no longer the troublemakers you could hang without a second’s thought.

However. Few among the Drowned Folk would have called Therrium a hero for that. A dark deed following an unforgivable action lifted no one up.

He had known that from the start. Therrium Sailwinds was prepared to do what he thought he must. That he did it in service to his people instead of self-interest?

That was the concerning part.

However. There were worse creatures in the sea than he, by far. And what all the wise Drakes remembered was that blood for blood could get far worse than this.


Some enemies you didn’t want to make. Some were silly, at times. Ineffectual, blustering gasbags who could only threaten and plot in the confines of their head. Others were able to enact their vengeance with a match and a bit of tinder. Or waited for decades to twist the knife in your back when you had fallen down.

No matter how long it took. That was why, at the bottom of the sea, a [Witch] slowly crawled out of a huge sea cavern in the rocks, hat bedraggled, swimming awkwardly through the dark water. She looked slightly worn out, but satisfied, if grim.

“I have always been bad at fighting. The rhythm of swords, the singing of spells to kill has never been my forte. Once again, I remember it.”

She sat on a rock, as if defeated, as a presence pulled itself through the ocean. This time—the adult Kraken hesitated as it drew closer.

Half a day of fighting and it couldn’t kill her. After a week of off-and-on hunting, it occurred to the Kraken’s dim mind that perhaps this prey wasn’t worth the effort. Yet, like a frustrated person who had put too much energy into a project to back down and admit defeat, it enclosed her with its tendrils.

She had put up a fight for a while, then run away—fled. For one to kill the other, it wouldn’t be a swift battle but death by a thousand cuts. Even so, she was clearly out of her element. So why—

Why did the Kraken feel uneasy?

Belavierr was smacking her lips, her watery voice carrying far. Whether the Kraken understood or not was unclear; she was using a translation spell, but she spoke half to it, half to herself.

“Fighting is a silly task. Even my dear friend, Nerrhavia, fell for it. She refused to run. I will always run first. I will grub in the dirt to live. I have hidden among the carrion and begged for my life. You are too difficult to kill, thing. It isn’t worth it.”

The Kraken was moving around her. Slowly, towards the entrance in the rocks. It was a rather cunningly-disguised hole for all its size. A huge cavern…Krakens didn’t sweat. Nor did it understand fear in the same way most creatures did. It had never met a match, even Crelers. Only bigger Krakens gave it pause.

Something was terribly wrong. It squirmed half its body into the caverns with sudden, terrible urgency. And the [Witch] was just…smiling.

“You are so much easier than a girl, thing. There are no laws down here. No need to pretend. I warned you.

Its nest. The Kraken was half-submerged in the nest. How did she know? This thing—its tentacles reached deep into the caverns, where layers of protective bile should have made walls to keep pests out. They were still there. The probing tentacles relaxed—then urgently smashed through the walls harder than steel.

Something was—it quested around the nursery, and then the Kraken began screaming. And the [Witch]? The [Witch] was laughing, now, as it dragged her up. She opened her mouth, hugely, and showed it her teeth as her puppet laughed.

The ocean was churning, the Kraken was screaming, and Belavierr’s eyes were delighted.

“I found your nest. I ate your children alive, Kraken. And now? Now you will begin suffering.

Her puppet fell to pieces as the Kraken smashed it to death, and she kept laughing. A [Witch]’s cackle that echoed in the deeps. Giggling, guffawing with such merriment, as if she had forgotten how enjoyable it was to laugh so. The Kraken crushed her puppet to pieces—then it began to flee. Flee, without understanding why. But the [Witch] was following it.

That was the difference between the two.

Viciousness. A predator’s merciless drive.


Evil. As some called it.




The day after Christmas was a bleak one. As if someone had felt the need to counterbalance all the goodwill with a reminder of all the ills in the world.

More than one nation was revisiting its policy on Drowned Folk, or just outsiders, today. Not that what they’d seen would ever happen to them or that it was right. But as Councilmember Lism pointed out…

“We may not be expecting a surplus of Drowned Folk, but we are neighboring at least one major city. Who knows? Maybe they’ll enjoy our rainy season. Plus, knowing that [Innkeeper], I wouldn’t put it past her to bring an actual ocean here by sinking the High Passes or something. At least one city should show the world how things are done. Properly!”

No one really was in the mood to laugh at the joke, if it even was a joke. Lism didn’t seem like he was joking either. He cast a glance down the Council’s seats.

“Anything to add, Silverfang?”

“That’s Councilwoman Krshia, Lism. And…hrr. I swore Erin had invited some Drowned Folk to the city. I am sure Watch Captain, excuse me, Watch Commander Venim and Watch Captain Zevara could post some laws clearly outlining the city’s rules? So all can know things are fair, yes?”

She was looking at the two Drakes standing together, and Watch Commander Venim had a put-upon look, as if he hadn’t known what he was getting himself into.

Actually, most of Liscor’s Council looked eager to prove a point that their city was going to do things right. Jeiss was nodding authoritatively.

“That’s right. What if we even publicized some of the sentences? So people could see we’re impartial? No?”

“That’s a bit…maybe not there, Jeiss.”

Alonna demurred, and Raekea nodded.

“But something, yes? At the very least, to prove we don’t execute people here like that!”

Another big nod, and they turned to Zevara before remembering Venim was in charge. It was just…Venim cleared his throat.

“Councilmembers, may I speak?”

“Absolutely Watch…Commander. Dead gods, we have a Watch Commander now. You’re in charge, and Watch Captain Zevara is just here to get you situated in the role. Not that we’re replacing her! If anything, this is just to allow her to focus on her duties…and so on and so forth. What were you saying? Does Pallass have anything you think would help here?”

Lism looked a bit smug as he fumbled his way into a semi-polite smile at Venim. The Watch Commander hesitated.

“Pallass has had its own troubles with Dullahans and Garuda.”

“Ah, then we’ll learn from the City of Invention’s mistakes, eh?”

Lism’s chuckle was a bit too self-congratulatory. Krshia’s stare, along with Elirr’s and Raekea’s, maybe reminded him how he had treated Erin, and he coughed.

“Well, we are doing better now…

Venim took a breath. He’d hoped for an easy start, but in truth, the attraction of being a Watch Commander in a city, even one far smaller than Pallass, had made him leap at the job. He’d known it would be hard, and it looked like hard mode started on day two.

“Yes…in principle. I think recodifying the laws would help. Because if I had to mention our—uh—interspecies reputation, I have to point out—and this is purely from reading our records!—”

He gave Zevara a nod, and her face grew palpably uneasy as Lism paused, a nut raised between two claws to pop onto his tongue. Venim went on.

“—There is an uneven record in our treatment of northern adventurers after the Liscor crypt incident. And the Minotaur’s delayed sentencing. The House of Minos is very…neutral, but I suggest that if we were going to start somewhere in regards to making sure our laws are evenly enforced?”

Lism hesitated.

“W-well, obviously that was the past.”

“This year, Councilmember? It’s not so simple as enforcing the law equally. Under Covieke’s laws, they were well within their rights to execute those Drowned Folk. What will we do in the likely scenario a Silverfang Gnoll commits a crime—and with respect, Councilmember Krshia, the Silverfang tribe asks for them to be remanded to their [Chieftain] or [Shamans] for punishment?”

Everyone looked at Krshia, and the Gnoll hesitated.

“We would turn them over, I hope? It is not as if they would be leniently let go, yes?”

She looked around and realized no one was coming with her on this assumption. She sat back as Venim took a breath.

“Shall I show you Pallass’ protocols, Council? You may wish to settle in. The Watch has a series of protocols, and extradition to other cities and diplomatic immunities are going to be the least of what we have to concern ourselves with.”

Diplomatic immunities? For who? Not even the Council should get those!”

Lism hammered a fist down, and Venim gave him a weary look of someone looking at a novice.

“Then how do you propose we address Lord Tyrion Veltras’ and Erin Solstice’s presences, Councilmember? If you want to ‘deal with each situation as it comes up’—the Watch is going to have a lot of exceptions. Otherwise, we need rules.”

The Council sat there in silence as Venim waited. After a moment, Elirr cleared his throat.

“I believe we should send for lunch and make sure we have at least four hours?”

He looked at Venim and sighed.


So that was the problem with a growing city. All the fun of being a Council of Liscor turned into the weary resignation that they had a six hour meeting to start with. They thought they’d known the pains of bureaucracy before. Venim smiled despite himself.

Misery did like company.




How many Drowned Folk did you know? Really, when you got down to it, they were a race that didn’t intersect with many places that were landlocked.

Erin Solstice knew just one Drowned Person.

“Nuh. I know two!”

“Erin, ghosts don’t count.”

Lyonette and Erin were arguing after the scrying orb’s events had gone down. No one but Mrsha wanted lunch, and so Erin had delayed it a good hour until actual hunger had made her break out light snacks. Erin folded her arms.

“I wasn’t counting ghost Drowned Folk. If I was, I’d be counting like…thousands.”

“Name the other Drowned Folk.”

Erin’s lips moved.


The [Princess] frowned hugely.

“I don’t know who that is.”

“He’s the spy! Plus, if you want to talk about Drowned Folk I’ve met, that’s like, dozens. In fact—hey, Nollesc! You want lunch? Calescent! Get one of those super club sandwiches out of the pantry! Free lunch for my guy!”

Erin turned, and a figure jumped in the corner of the inn as several [Spies] looked up and ducked. Erin let them in sometimes—mostly because it was cold out and they were actually well-paying customers.

The half-Clam Nollesc was suddenly the recipient of a quadruple-layer club sandwich held together with a huge toothpick. The top layer was a pesto sauce followed by a brie cheese, a salami section, a crunchy Yellat bottom—and Calescent had toasted the bread very lightly.

It was a monstrosity of a sandwich that only [Farmers] or people ready to work a big day ordered, and Lyonette had grave reservations about its existence. Mrsha was drooling over it, and Erin’s generosity to the Drowned Man was…

“Erin. What are you doing?”

“Nollesc, how’s things? Can I get you a drink on the house?”

“Er—no thank you, Miss Solstice. This is generous enough. Just water—”


Lyonette pulled Erin away from the flustered [Spy], and Erin looked annoyed.

“Lyonette, what’s wrong?”

Erin, you can’t just be nice to Nollesc because Drowned People are being persecuted! That’s ridiculous! It’s—

Lyonette’s voice was a tad bit too loud, and everyone looked to Nollesc, who had frozen with the sandwich raised to his mouth. He was clearly hungry but now seemed to wonder if the sandwich was going to be revoked.

Was Lyonette going to snatch it from him on the basis you couldn’t be nice to a Drowned Person after his people had been lynched in another Drake city? Erin folded her arms as she stared at Lyonette.

“I might not be correct, but you’re not more right than I’m wrong, Lyonette.”

“That—isn’t something to be proud of!”

“Oh, and are you gonna take away his sandwich? Look at me, I’m Lyonette! I don’t believe in being nice to people.

“At least I don’t think all Dwarves know each other!”

The two began bickering loudly in the middle of the inn as Mrsha ran around them, upset because they were upset. Then she did a flying kick into both’s shins on the basis it would make them stop fighting.

Mrsha, as usual, was right but also wrong. Meanwhile, Nollesc was faintly relieved to be ignored. Well, at least by Erin.

The truth was that even if it was clumsy—he wasn’t going to turn down the sandwich. Yes, there was a vibe of ‘let’s be nice to Drowned People. How many do I know?’ today.

Well, half that. The other half was Drakes coming up to discuss whether or not Therrium’s attack had been justified, as if each Drowned Person could account for the actions of another member of their species.

No wonder Seborn had disappeared. Nollesc, though, as a [Spy], had a different sort of community here, and someone murmured from a table next to his.

“Nasty business at Covieke. Happens sometimes if you’re the wrong species in a Drake city. North too, but it’s different. I reckon you’ll be getting more work.”

“I doubt any of my clients are going to send me work on the basis of me being a Drowned Person.”

Even Nollesc thought that sounded stupid. Then again, his recording of Lyonette and Lady Bethal fighting a fish had made him huge profits, and levels, but the other [Infiltrator] just grinned.

“Who said anything about our clients opening their pockets? I meant—everyone is going to need an agent in Nombernaught, and all of us are going to stick out like sore thumbs.”

Nollesc blinked and realized he was right. Nombernaught had reappeared in the zeitgeist once again, and it was getting harder to ignore. He chewed on his sandwich, then grimaced and spat something out from under his tongue.


Everyone, including Lyonette and Erin, stared as Nollesc spat the tiniest pearl into his plate. He sighed.

“Sorry. I get those under my tongue.”

He looked around, flushed with embarrassment, and Visma, who had been trying to eat one of the super club sandwiches, gave him an admiring look as she shared her plate with Ekirra.

I want to do that!

At any rate, after his sandwich, Nollesc awkwardly excused himself because Erin hadn’t forgotten about him and wanted to ask about being a Drowned Person. Which was fair…but he felt guilty and frankly, he still had a job to do.

The irony of the other spies thinking he’d have a lot of work was because they were ignorant. A Drowned Person spying on a city like Nombernaught was…not really a thing Nollesc could imagine doing.

There were mixed loyalties, Undersea Crew pirates and good, upstanding people. Even farmers who raised kelp or seaweed; all kinds of jobs, just like above the sea.

But Nombernaught was one of the cities. Endangering the last bastions of their people was like a Drake sabotaging a Walled City…no, wait, some of them would do that.

All the Drowned Cities were a kind of neutral ground. If you were plotting against a city, you were against the people. Not the city. The Shadeward, Luminary, and Captain might change, but the city had to remain intact.

Plus, and this might be actual species-loyalty, Nollesc did have a lot of pride about Nombernaught surfacing. He had never been; he had been a harbor-kid and only gone to sea later and found he was a better land-spy than a true sailor.

But even he wanted to be part of something. Which was why one of his many clients was Shadeward Doroumata, or someone else in Nombernaught who paid pretty well.

Accordingly, after some great thought, Nollesc decided he should send his newest prize to Nombernaught first. For a few reasons.

Firstly, he himself wagered that a bit of pride in who he was wasn’t a bad thing today. Had he relished those Drakes dying? No, of course not. But when he’d seen those ships rising in unison—yes, he’d felt that. It wasn’t something he wanted to tell the landfolk.

Secondly, Drowned Folk did have advantages over landfolk. They might be worse miners, woodworkers—at least outside of shipbuilding since they had limited access to wood—farmers, have cramped cities, and couldn’t form huge groups like land cities. And there were [Pirates] in Drowned Folk tradition, and their divergence in natures sometimes led to conflicts or inner prejudices of their own.

And it was dark in the sea, underwater, and it could drive you mad. And Drowned Folk were sort of reclusive to begin with. And…

There were good sides to them. One of which was that because they were so used to needing to repair limited resources, Drowned Folk had a reverence for books that inflated their value.

After all, on land they were semi-expensive, but at sea? Few books were enchanted to be waterproof, and so a library was a prestigious thing indeed. Nombernaught had one, and due to their need to preserve what texts they had, Drowned Folk actually had a far more advanced method of repairing books.

[Kelpic Regrowth]—wherein you sacrificed kelp to repair a book—or [Limited Recreation] were both spells that exceeded [Repair] in scope. Nollesc wondered if Shadeward Doroumata herself was the one who’d sent the communique he checked this morning.


To: Agent Nollesc, Liscor. [Capture Spy]. We have received confirmation Courier is on the way with package, and the contents are likely to be eligible for full repair. Sincerest compliments and a ‘Merry Christmas’ to you. Please note your bonus held in trust with ‘Bloody Secrets’ pending withdrawal. Extreme congratulations and further bounty to be paid out after analysis of final value.


Nollesc’s heart leapt, and the toothy young woman gave him a smile as she handed him a card.

“This is how much you’re owed. I can write you a note for the Merchant’s Guild or do it in other amounts. You made someone in Nombernaught very happy. And here I thought that emergency Courier delivery wasn’t worth the coin.”

“I wasn’t sure either. Is this—right?”


Fierre gave Nollesc a straight-faced look until she coughed idly.

“Just out of curiosity—what did you send?”

“Oh…just some light reading.”

Nollesc couldn’t help but smile. Fierre gave him a suspicious look, and he sat back in his chair, trying not to think he was the best [Spy] who had ever spied in The Wandering Inn.

A lot of the hotshots and high-level ones had run straight into Shriekblade or the Thronebearers and been defeated and given up. The ones who relied on Skills to just out-sneak Erin got a rude awakening.

But the ones who learned to play the game? He wondered how guilty he should feel.

Then again! Erin Solstice had clearly, clearly not realized what she’d done.

A chance conversation. She had been talking about her beach-garden and the things she’d thrown out on the grounds they’d been useless. Including a spellbook. It was moldy and so badly broken even [Repair] was no good.

However…Nollesc had feared someone else would catch on the moment he’d heard that. Even so, he’d taken the risk, but the question was—where was it?

Erin had said ‘thrown out’, but you had to consider the psychology of an [Innkeeper]. Dumping grounds for trash did exist in some cities, but in Liscor? Most trash got burned, and he imagined she’d toss it in a fireplace. But where did you put the ashes from the outhouse? Or if it didn’t burn properly, where did the waste go?

It had taken him five hours of puzzling and checking Celum, Liscor, and Invrisil’s patches of garbage and even asking if Erin used a haulaway service from the Runner’s Guild or the like to figure it out. On Christmas, no less.

Well, it wasn’t like anyone had a present for him. Erin had let him join the party with some of the spies, and Bloody Secrets had a jar filled with candies outside her office. Everyone else had been going to have a whip round to have a communal drink until the [Innkeeper] opened her doors. Little things.

Then he had grimly come to a conclusion and had several crises of faith. But in the middle of the night, with noseplugs and a [Light] spell and shovel and net…he’d gone to the one place he was pretty sure Erin would toss all her trash.

His fears were mostly unfounded because the acid jars Erin tossed in her outhouses cleared up almost everything. And sure enough, rooting around in the bottom of the second toilet had found…

He had earned it was Nollesc’s point. Could he have remanded it to Erin’s care? Possibly, possibly, but he had to make a living. He’d put it down as owing her a favor if he ever got the chance to repay her for it. And the club sandwich. For now, Nollesc basked in his glory, and he decided the first thing he was going to do was buy a new outfit and boots.

Mrsha had been sniffing him and giving him dubious looks the entire time he’d been in the common room. Nollesc was still guilty, slightly, about the book.

But what he failed to understand was that Erin would not only have considered it a Christmas present if, at the time, she had remembered Christmas was happening, but she also wouldn’t begrudge him saving an object she herself had tossed down the toilet.

What Nollesc also failed to grasp was that there was no way, even in the night, Erin Solstice would not sense someone at the bottom of one of her outhouses and make sure someone hadn’t fallen in. As far as the [Innkeeper] was concerned, he’d earned it. And like hell Erin wanted it back after where it had been. She wasn’t getting magical pinkeye.




The topic of proper justice, law, revenge, and speciesism was a common one around the world that day. People talked about things they’d seen or were uncertain of. Most were fairly shaken, but one group watched the end of Therrium’s statement, as the ships sank into the waves, and then burst into a happy chatter.

“I’m not sure how I would have redressed that situation, but that was old-fashioned. A classic.”

Hardly appropriate. It’s just setting the stage for further bloodshed.”

“As opposed to what, hmm? You’re so conciliatory, Azemith. This isn’t one kingdom. This is an entire species of very outcome-oriented Drakes who just saw a clear line of cause-and-effect. Name me one thing you could do better.”

A haughty Lucifen stopped chewing on popcorn and grinned as Azemith sipped from a bloody drink.

“Reparations. Punitive beyond measure—”

Reparations. And how would you have made that city pay for it? This was a pragmatic move. Frankly, I would have doubled the headcount—”

“Your understanding of how to end a cycle of violence is pathetic, Oelvix. No wonder you’re only tasked with fiscal crimes. Are we eating anyone for lunch? I have an appetite after that.”

Lucifen. They were sitting in one of the rooms allotted to the judges of House Shoel in the royal capital, chatting up a storm. They had been watching with a number of nobles, but quickly retired to privacy.

Mostly because their mood was a stark contrast to how most people reacted to seeing those events. Paxere, Azemith, and Igolze, a unit of three as Azemith and Igolze were longstanding partners and had borne her—what others called a ‘family’—were all present.

So were a number of older Lucifen, and Paxere was on her best behavior. She had been allowed to visit the palace as a sign of trust in her continued maturity and possibly because she’d had a finger blown off during the battles against Eldavin.

It was an experience. For one thing, she had met any number of the nobility or promising young people that Ailendamus scooped up for training, and it was fascinating meeting non-Lucifen. She realized she came across as slightly arrogant and had tried to be more charming, but all her practiced smiles and so on only worked on some.

Perceptive people could tell she was faking laughter and grew distant. It was harder than it looked to be a sociable member of court. Not that Paxere would ever admit Azemith was correct.

She was so hungry she was snacking on the popcorn stuff too. The older Lucifen were all too eager to present their ideas on how to diffuse the situation, but largely, they seemed to have enjoyed Therrium’s show.

A lot of the judges of House Shoel had a very hellfire-and-brimstone approach to anyone who stepped over the line in a big way. And in fairness, most of House Shoel’s judgements were for serious crimes, not light punishments the local Watch, a [Knight], or noble could handle.

Still, maybe Ryoka had a point that they weren’t the best judges? It certainly bothered Igolze and Azemith, but they were considered exceptionally progressive and liberal members of House Shoel for trying to adopt Ryoka’s provisions wholesale.

There were a number of the old guard, like Oelvix, who were still annoyed Visophecin had banned stonings and the like, which they claimed let family members exact vengeance.

House Shoel, the Agelum and Lucifen on Ailendamus’ shoulders, were responsible in part for the fate of the Kingdom of Glass and Glory. It was their duty to do this right; there might never be another chance.

Paxere had heard it described in many ways, but she liked Igolze’s summation best: they were the caretakers of their fair cousins, the Agelum. Their days of warring had ended. The Lucifen had won, and in victory, found the sympathy to take care of their counterparts in their twilight.

No more Agelum would be born. Paxere had often wondered what a playmate of the Agelum would be like. She had grown up wishing to see it, even though she knew why they had decided their suffering should end with those still alive.

Hearing stories of Lord Uziel and Visophecin fighting as a younger Lucifen and Agelum was a treat in and of itself. Seeing Visophecin playing up his charming role as the polite, perfect member of the court was good practice. Yet Paxere thought of the one Human who had truly seen behind Shoel’s mask, and she had to admit…

“Paxere? Why don’t you deliberate upon the Drowned Folk’s actions? How would you address that scenario, assuming three Drowned Folk had already been executed by Covieke?”

That came from Lucifen Degelen. He was barely older than Paxere, but allowed to act as a judge, and he was clearly trying to make her look incompetent. If she parroted Azemith and Igolze’s opinions, she had no understanding of her own. If she said something naïvely stupid or just retread the debate…

Rather than play his game, Paxere did the smarter thing, in her opinion, and changed the subject.

“Maybe Ryoka was right.”


All the older Lucifen looked idly amused, and Igolze shot Paxere a warning look, but the younger Lucifen’s smile was cool.

“She did mention that our lack of empathy towards those we judge affected our impartiality. I saw…who is Lord Regalius’ wife? Lady Yietha. She needed to lie down after that broadcast. I always took it as a turn of phrase.”

And yet, to Paxere’s astonishment, the woman had looked so faint she had needed to actually steady herself. She wasn’t the only person who reacted to the sight of the distant hanged bodies so dramatically.

To Paxere, there was—nothing. No sense of nausea, no unease, nor even that much of a feeling of loss. She wondered if the Watch Captain had deserved that, or the [Harbormaster], but if people who deserved their fate met it—the most she would ever say was that an execution was a bit messy or took too long or was too loud.

That was what Lucifen were. And that understanding? It illuminated something in Paxere’s mind that got her an approving nod, even from Azemith.

“Fairly stated. A sound conclusion.”

The approval came from behind the Lucifen, and even they hadn’t noticed Viscount Visophecin stealthily opening a gate behind them. He stepped forwards, a half-smile on his face, and Paxere nodded at him, concealing her delight.

“I suggest a baseline of these mortal judges would be a good way to verify the pure logic of our judgements, Viscount.”

“Which echoes your forebears’ points. You parrot their opinions well, after all.”

Oelvix grumbled as Azemith and Igolze gave him a sinister look; Lucifen infighting could get incredibly nasty. However, Visophecin just adjusted his suit.

“I happen to agree the mortal judges are an enterprise worth undertaking, to prove our superiority if nothing else. If you are unnerved by the notion of your work standing the judgment of mortals, Oelvix, I suggest you perform some introspection as to why. Paxere, I trust you will be a satisfactory intermediary with that viewpoint to our associates here. Gilaw and Menorkel need someone to accompany them, and if Rhisveri accepts, I will vouch you as a candidate. Everyone more senior is occupied.”

“Not a bad suggestion. And how is our dear leader?”

“Restless for a reason I cannot quite place.”

Paxere could have cheered she was so elated. And just like that—the sour look from Degelen and the envy of the other younger Lucifen was all the sweeter. That meant she’d be in the palace! True, she had to look after a moody Royal Griffin and the last of the Titans, but Paxere reckoned it was a small price to pay for autonomy.




Ailendamus was—rebuilding in the wake of their war with the Dawn Concordat. It was still going on, of course, but the winter had slowed the war, and the Kingdom of Glass and Glory was taking stock of what they’d lost, making sure their defeats would never happen the same way again.

At least, the mortals were doing that in their ever-optimistic ways. The immortals were more shaken.

They were aware they had been involved in a greater conflict than they knew, one which had already claimed the lives of their greatest mortal warrior, Dioname, and Fithea, one of their eldest and most powerful members.

Many were advocating for a complete defensive rebuild of Ailendamus until they knew what was going on. Visophecin, surprisingly, was one of the loud and powerful voices that claimed rather than defend, they had to understand the problem and get ahead of it.

He would have preferred a huge expedition to the New Lands, and damn the consequences politically. He would have preferred to be in Izril, at a certain inn, probably trading toothy smiles with the Vampires and wondering who the hell they were.

In short, he missed Ryoka Griffin and found that he quite liked having mortals who knew who he was. Dame Eclizza, General Dioname—there were so few worthy of trust. He might have swayed his peers or coerced the others into supporting him, but there was a huge lump holding down the other side of the argument.

Rhisveri, the Wyrm, was no longer sitting in his quarters, refusing to talk to anyone. But he was adamant that Ryoka had to fulfill the ‘impossible’ quest placed upon her before Ailendamus would move.

Visophecin was almost certain that Rhisveri regretted making the incredibly stupid demand to begin with. The problem was—a Wyrm would never admit he was wrong.

You would have Visophecin putting on a [Jester]’s outfit and telling jokes before Rhisveri would apologize. The appearance of Teriarch had not helped either.

Worse and worse…Rhisveri was monitoring Visophecin, so the Lucifen couldn’t just gate to Izril—it was too far for him, and he wasn’t like the Lucifen of old with their grand powers. He was the only Lucifen to be able to access their famed ‘warform’, and he was still limited.

Nevertheless, something had changed this day, and Visophecin’s fairly good mood after watching that entertaining event at sea became slightly wary confusion as he met with Rhisveri for his regular meeting.

“…Krakens in the deep. Multiple fleets at sea. Yes, yes. We don’t have ships there, so let them meet and kill each other. That’s the best solution for us. What about toilets?”

Rhisveri was snappish. Visophecin often had to restate things, and the Lucifen sighed loudly.


The Wyrm rolled over and stared at him with one huge eye.

“I don’t know where this conversation is going, and I don’t care to. We have sewers.”

“Bidets are a more optimal form of waste cleaning as I understand it. The notion—”

Rhisveri exhaled a plume of acid into the air, and Visophecin waved it away.

I am not discussing bidets with you. Also, I know where you got that idea! From the Drakes! Which means someone’s been watching a certain Courier, eh?”

He slithered around the Lucifen, and Visophecin cursed and realized he’d made a mistake.

“—Should I not be thinking about civic improvements? You were the one who demanded we update our roads. Bidets, incidentally, are analogous to Earth—we still don’t have any Earthers.”

That distracted Rhisveri, and the Wyrm lay on his two claws grumpily. The Lindwyrm, which was technically his designation, glowered at nothing.

“How do multiple nations have Earthers and we have none? It must be random. A stupid name, anyways. What are we going to do, bring them in and treat them like royalty until one of them kills Uziel or Gadrea? How is she, by the way?”

Visophecin sidestepped the question like someone dodging a Tier 7 trap spell. He still didn’t know how to admit that Gadrea had disappeared and the Agelum had covered it up and refused to say where she was going. He’d been monitoring Roshal ships just in case….well. Just in case. There were a number around Izril.

“I hardly think we would give them the same treatment as Ryoka Griffin. Assuming they are unlike her, why not let Itorin and the Court of Masks ‘discover’ them?”

Aaaah! Aah! Don’t say her name!”

Rhisveri shouted when Visophecin said ‘Ryoka’. At this point, the Lucifen was getting seriously tempted to open a gate and toss Rhisveri into an active volcano. The Wyrm seemed even moodier today, and Visophecin decided to end it there.

“If we’re done, I will see the others before departing. Paxere may be able to keep Menorkel and Gilaw company. How are they handling…”

He didn’t even say Fithea’s name, but Rhisveri suddenly had a thousand-mile stare. After a second, the Wyrm shrugged.

“How should I know? Check on them yourself. One of them’s smashed up my palace though, so if you can handle the bird-brained idiot, be my guest. I’m busy.”

“…Making a new episode of the Windy Girl and Rhissy? How much are you earning in sales of the—puppets?”

Rhisveri’s glare could have melted steel.

“It’s insanely popular. At this rate, I’ll be able to account for it in our gross income between all the industries it promotes! And our latest episode with Fith—about land conservation was a huge hit and—

“I am not disapproving of it. The Agelum send their regards. Lord Uziel was highly complimentary and wished to convey his regards and ideas.”

Rhisveri hesitated. He broke off shouting and coughed.

“Did he? I doubt he has any good ideas. But tell him to send them in. I’ll review them. But only the best ideas.”

Visophecin decided Rhisveri seemed stable enough. He was just heading out when Rhisveri spoke up.

“Visophecin. I suppose the seas are choppy these days, and—is our Runner’s Guild suffering a manpower shortage? You know, other nations recruiting them to go to the New Lands?”

Visophecin turned, consulting his mental notes and wondering if Rhisveri had picked up on some kind of corruption or disaster in Ailendamus’ Runner’s Guilds.

“Not that I know of.”

“I see. I see. Well, you can’t trust mortals to get anywhere fast. Most can barely go a quarter of the continent in a day! And that’s the highest-level Couriers in—no one moves fast anymore.”

So said the Wyrm capable of flying, teleporting, and casting all kinds of magic. Not to mention he was hundreds of feet long. Visophecin sighed, and just because he could, he pulled out a magnificent, black metal watch and admired the way the sun was sinking into nightfall in real time.

“What’s that? A timepiece? It looks more compact than usual. I didn’t know you got trinkets. Something from Christmas?”

Rhisveri noticed the palm-sized watch, and Visophecin pretended it was an accident he’d taken it out.

“This? A minor gift. It cycles the twenty-four hours very well and tunes with this dial here, you see? Thus far, it hasn’t dropped a second.”

“Huh. It has those tiny gear-things from the Dwarves and Drakes.”

“A product of Fissival, actually. Apparently a renowned timepiece maker created it.”

“…What are the numbers? Those aren’t normal numbers nor is that Drathian or—wait, is that the language of magic?”

Rhisveri was fascinated by the little device and made his Human-sized clone appear so he could bend over it. Quite pleased at his reaction, Visophecin flourished it.

“Latin numerals, or so I believe they’re called. Note the small sun changing to night? The entire background changes.”

And a fiery ring appeared around the sun at midnight. He’d laughed when he’d seen that. Rhisveri was muttering.


Visophecin jerked his watch out of the way of the spell, and the Wyrm gave him a sinister smile.

“A gift?”

“I opened it yesterday. The gifts were delivered to House Lucifen a week ago. They arrived rather fast, given the sea lanes.”

Rhisveri’s mouth opened, and the Wyrm stared at Visophecin for a good five seconds before he realized just who had sent it.

She sent—you’re here accepting gifts from a mortal, Visophecin? Shame on you!”

He laughed so hugely that the annoyed Lucifen tucked the pocket watch away. He liked it.

“Uziel and a few Agelum received what I understand to be sweets recipes and copies of the goods. They quite enjoyed them, and I believe Menorkel and Gilaw may be receiving their gifts.”

And rather lengthy letters. He’d sent Paxere to distribute the gifts. Rhisveri, at this point, stiffened.


“Yes. The gifts were delayed a day, and I thought—”

Aha! I knew it!

Like that, Duke Rhisveri went storming out of his abode and through the palace. He homed in on the first Courier he saw, and the nervous woman stopped.

“Duke Rhisveri, isn’t it?”

“Yes, yes. And I accept your apology, Courier. The roads, the winter, etcetera etcetera. Where’s my tip?”

Rhisveri made a show of looking around in his bag of holding before handing the Courier a handful of gold. Then he waited.

“Er—your pardons, Duke, but I don’t have anything for you. Were you expecting a—?”

The disguised Wyrm’s face went blank. And he realized, too late, that a smirking Visophecin was stepping out from behind a curtain. Rhisveri froze up and coughed.

“You—don’t have anything waiting for me? In your Guild? I’m certain there must be.”

The Courier, flustered, pulled open a [Message] scroll and double-checked her bag of holding.

“…No, Your Grace. I—I’ll ask right away. Do you know what you’re waiting for?”

“Er—do that. I imagine it must be filed under a different name. Rhissy! That’s it! Something funny like—and there are accidents at sea. Terrible ones. You can’t account for that sort of thing. Keep the tip. But inform me if—”

Rhisveri was walking backwards so fast he nearly slammed into a servant. Without a word, he began striding back to his rooms. Visophecin strolled along next to him. Rhisveri turned his head and snarled.

“Get lost.”

“I quite enjoyed the holidays. Very good for teaching compassion and incentivising spending among our populace. I think we should ratify it as a holiday.”

“Stop smirking or so help me I’ll teleport you a thousand feet underground. Why did you get—”

Visophecin polished his pocket watch on his jacket and theatrically blew on it before brushing at it again. Rhisveri turned, slapped the pocket watch across the floor, and the glass cracked.

Every person in sight turned, saw Visophecin staring at his pocket watch, and ran for it. The Lucifen slowly, slowly walked over, inspected the watch, and ascertained he could repair it. When he rose, Rhisveri was staring over his shoulder.

“I, uh—you know, I think I should revisit my policy on that damned Thief and our non-interference agreement. Even though I put her to that task.”

The Lucifen swallowed the words he had been about to say, and they went down, burning, into his stomach. He raised his gaze as his eyes smoldered.


The Wyrm fidgeted. Then he burst out.

“Well, obviously, it’s clear she’s told someone about us. I wasn’t allowed to put a [Geas] on her—you think that loudmouth hasn’t informed them? Just the fact that she had that watch commissioned for you is de facto admitting she has an association with us. Which is why I think we need to punish her. You know, the old tar and feathering? I know you banned it, but I think I’ll have her dragged—no, no. She’ll come over here and hop in a vat herself. That’s how we’ll do it.”

He looked rather pleased at the idea. Visophecin, for his part, just folded his arms, and Rhisveri went on, his Human form not quite sweating.

“We can’t trust her, after all. Keep this to yourself, but I always intended on monitoring her. I suppose I’ll let you in on the task if you’re so keen. Let’s call it a temporary investigation to make sure she’s ‘keeping the secret’.”

His snort made it clear how likely he thought that was. Visophecin, for his part, smiled, but only internally.

Well, that was worth the broken pocket watch. He felt now was a good time to pull something out of his pocket.

“You truly do have Ailendamus’ best interests in mind, Rhisveri. I shall conduct a full appraisal of the situation and take any appropriate steps after consulting with you.”

“What? Of course, of course. There’s that damn Dragon around and, apparently, even a Unicorn—plus an Archmage—we’ll have to be stealthy. You mean you haven’t been over there once?”

Visophecin frowned.

“No. And you—”

Of course not! But I would have thought—remarkable restraint, this man. Remarkable…what’s this?”

The Lucifen was holding something in his hand. It was a box, wrapped with a ribbon, and Rhisveri gave it a blank look. He had gotten exactly zero presents yesterday, so it wasn’t exactly a surprise he had no idea what they looked like. Visophecin gave him a huge smile that never reached his eyes. But then again, the eyes were just a laughing devil dancing on the Wyrm’s ego.

“It just occurred to me. These were all remanded into my care, hence my delivery today. Here you are, Rhisveri. Naturally, House Shoel sends its best wishes, but you made your stance on the holiday clear.”

He deposited the box into Rhisveri’s hands as the Duke stood there, open-mouthed, and strolled away. Visophecin gated out as fast as he could the moment he turned the corner, but the Wyrm had already shredded the wrapping paper.


To Duke Rhisveri. From the Windy Girl.


That was all the note said. Inside, Rhisveri found a huge black mass. He slowly lifted the lump of coal out with a shaking hand. And it seemed, to a few servants, including the unlucky Dame Chorisa, who had the pleasure of acting as Visophecin’s and Rhisveri’s personal guard, that he actually looked hurt for a second.

Then he blinked, noticed something under the coal, and lifted something else out. It was a tiny yellow flower that might have been smushed if not for the careful wicker mesh protecting it and the bit of soil it clung to.

A flower. Rhisveri knew, instantly, which one it was. For a second, he wondered if it was something that only looked like the flower that half the world wanted. A marigold. But that would be cruel. And try as she might…he read the note in the package, smeared by coal dust.

Dear Rhisveri…disgusting. Via Courierhope you get this on…dead god, she even writes without conviction.”

But he was reading, and he got to the part of the letter that made him stop and read each line carefully.


…I’m not certain if you want one, but I felt like I should send this. So you know, this is one of a few flowers that Erin’s ever given anyone. I had to beg her for a week, and I hope it reaches you on time. I did send it with a Courier.

I hope you remember Erin sent it and what this means. It comes from the same place as the obols. If anything, it might one day be said to be worth more than any coin of the Faerie King. It’s the gift of tricksters, and I think, of anything, it’s the one thing I can send to plant in Fithea’s groves. I am working on the other part.

Erin Solstice knows what it means, too. I’m not convinced she understood it was a Christmas gift, but here it is. It’s the one thing I know you don’t have. That’s a gift for a greedy worm like you.


He snorted at that. She must have feared someone would read this and chosen her words wisely. Rhisveri almost crumpled the note up. Then he carefully held the flower up.

“Just one? She could have sent dozens. Does that idiot understand how hard it is to germinate flowers?”

He scoffed, but gently held the flower up. Oh. Well. Rhisveri was about to walk off when his eyes caught a note at the bottom of the letter.


I’ve sent the rest of the gifts with Visophecin, and I don’t know if Menorkel or Gilaw want theirs. But if you or he thinks it’s appropriate to give…


The Wyrm stopped. He stared at that last bit. Then, his head slowly rose, and his voice rose in a shout.





So, the day after Christmas continued. Dark deeds. Revenge. Small gifts, cunning spies, and of course, delayed presents.

A world consumed with discussion about Drowned Folk. Yet, interestingly, Captain Therrium didn’t accept any requests for interviews, even from Pallass News Network.

He sat in his cabin, having a light drink, talking with [Captains], the cabin door open so he could gaze out onto his deck while being protected from the chill breeze while sitting with cup in hand. Even Rasea was there, but she was on deck, eying him, as the snow fell.

“Listen to him. He’s got every eye on him, and that showoff is refusing television appearances. Is he trying to look good?”

The Captain of Shellbazaar had no love for Therrium. She had inherited the Courier-class ship and had come because she wanted to make a statement, but she had warned Therrium her ship would dive the moment he reneged on his promise. To make a point.

That he had accomplished his scheme with no more casualties on the Drakes’ end actually annoyed her. It was Rasea Zecrew who looked pensive. The wild [Pirate Captain] was often impulsive, dramatic, and so on, but she was still clever enough to be named as one of the dread pirates of the world with Therrium.

“I listened to him in there. He’s talking like he’s the Reefeye that’ll swim next to the Nelgaunt. One hand’s offering you peace, the other’s ready to stab you if you try and grab.”

“Nombernaught doesn’t need a man like Therrium. He’ll never be Captain of the City.”

The other [Captain] protested. Rasea just leaned on the railings, looking wistful.

“That’s what he said. He said, ‘the next time I raid a fleet, I’ll be doing it as Therrium Sailwinds’. That poor bastard.”

She looked sad and appeared, now, to be drinking like someone at a funeral. All the other [Captains] eyed Rasea.

“What’s so poor about that?”

“He thinks he can go back to being a [Pirate]. He thinks things will go back to normal. That he can ever be Therrium again, like the old days. The seas are getting lonelier.”

Rasea paused, and a few of them understood what she meant and looked back at the open cabin. But Rasea? She just swung herself up onto the railing and balanced there. Then she lifted her flask up.

Here’s to Captain Therrium! Goodbye! You poor bastard! Hey, crew! Pour a cup to one of the real [Pirates] of the seas!”

She actually grew teary-eyed, and the crew of the Illuminary began drinking and wailing and lamenting. Half the other crews, not one to miss the chance to drink, copied them.

Therrium shouted insults at Rasea from inside his cabin. She turned to wave at him then tripped and fell headfirst into the sea. He thought she was making fun of him. And she was—and wasn’t. More than one of Therrium’s own crew raised a glass as they got what Rasea meant.

A cold wind was blowing, but the drink was like fire down the throat, warming the veins. That was how you knew you were alive. That chill that you could bear. The delightful struggle to survive that you were winning.




One final thing of note occurred that day, though it had zero news coverage. It came to The Wandering Inn as a certain someone was causing trouble.

Not Bird. His ballista adventures were another story entirely and dominated the inn’s attention. Rather, the troublemaker was someone who had also been changed by Christmas:

Kevin Hall.

He remembered it all, and this time, he had sworn he would not forget. He had pinned up reminders in his office, and bedroom, so that he would wake up and see the names of his family, recall the important things.

But right now, he was busy sitting down some people. Mrsha, Visma, Ekirra, even Kenva, along with a lot of Goblins, Antinium, Sammial, Hethon, and whoever else would listen. Mostly young people. He felt like it was important to tell them the truth.

“My older brother’s named John. He’s been locked up—was locked up—for selling weed. In another state. I told him that’s how they get you. And he wasn’t ‘selling’ it—he was giving it to a friend, but that’s how they charged him.”

“Isn’t that Dreamleaf? That’s illegal in Pallass, Mister Kevin.”

Kenva raised her claw, and he wagged his finger at her.

“It’s not harmful! Or addictive, really. If you’re allowed to drink, why not smoke w—Dreamleaf? They locked him up for four years.

“That’s a long time.”

Ekirra piped up, and Kevin pointed at him.

Exactly! It’s wrong. But that’s what the man does to you.”

“Which man?”

Visma frowned, trying to follow this. Mrsha was taking notes. Kevin’s glower intensified.

The man. The Watch! The government! They made a stupid law, and they’ll always get you. Your dad’s the man, Kenva.”

“My dad is great!”

“Maybe. Maybe Zevara is too, but they still have to work for the man.”

“I thought they were the man.”


Kevin was trying to explain the concept to his audience. The Antinium were scratching their heads, and the Goblins were trying to read Mrsha’s notes. He began again.

“The man is…there’s always a man. Even Zevara answers to the man. Sometimes she is the man. And I don’t mean she’s a man, Ekirra. I mean the man. Have you ever been in time out? Has someone scolded you? That’s the man. You fight the man. They’re always going to arrest you, or beat you up, for doing things they think are wrong. But you have to fight the man. Got it?”

The Goblins were liking this narrative. Mrsha was nodding a few times, wondering how you won. Kevin took another puff of Dreamleaf, and someone shouted.

Kevin! What are you teaching them?

Lyonette came running over, and Kevin glared.

“This is important! Don’t you start, Lyonette. Her parents are absolutely part of the problem, guys. Calanfer? Just look at her Thronebearers. They might be nice to you, but how many innocent people do you think they kick with their shiny boots for doing something that Calanfer doesn’t like? There’s blood on that armor.”

He gave Ser Sest such a furious look that the [Knight] hesitated. Lyonette began arguing with Kevin, who, as it turned out, was also remembering a huge anti-authoritarian streak.

“I dunno about all this talk. ‘Swhat we’ve always known. [Lords]. The Watch. Gangs. We’re always on the wrong side of them. What can you do against a high-level group? Nothing. Kevin’s brother got got. That’s what happens in the real world. Keep your head down.”

Grev was acting a bit superior, as always, as he lectured Nanette, Hethon, Sammial, and the older kids. But to his surprise, Kevin rounded on him.

“That’s where you’re wrong, Grev! Sellme had the right idea! He took it too far with the paintings—although the man tried to take him out, which is classic—but your gang has no style.”

“Wh—you think we don’t have flash? I’m a Face, you know!

Grev tried to come back, and Kevin’s eyes narrowed. To Lyonette’s horror, he produced something he’d found in Tesy’s rooms, which were now abandoned.

“Dude. You don’t even tag walls. Ever heard of tagging? Of course not. That’s style.”

The horror of what Kevin was dropping into this world would have alarmed many…if anyone understood. But his audience just listened as Lyonette went running to make sure Bird hadn’t blown a hole in Liscor’s walls as the ballista thumped outside.

“Your Majesty. Would you like me to do something?”

Gamel was listening at a table where Laken Godart was getting a read on the inn. The [Emperor] looked up from exploring a super-club sandwich with his fingers.

“Tagging? I don’t care. I can’t see. This sounds like an Erin problem.”

He smirked to himself as Kevin began explaining to his fascinated audience a new world that Sellme had only just put a foot into. After a second, the [Emperor] took a sip of water.

“Actually, have someone make our symbol. And tell Rie to invest in paint. Pallass and Invrisil are going to be fun in a few months.”

He smirked darkly. They had lovely stone walls, unlike poor Riverfarm and the Unseen Empire, which were less industrialized. But the [Emperor] was also here because he had six days left, including today.

The imminent doom to walls coming upon Pallass should have alarmed someone else perspicacious enough to understand what Kevin was doing. In fact, Chaldion, who was definitely the man in multiple senses, might have actually had General Shirka or someone else go over and demonstrate real institutional violence against Kevin to shut him up.

Goblins, children, gangs, and Antinium were about to learn a dangerous new trick.

As luck would have it, though, the Grand Strategist was distracted. He wasn’t as able to focus on multiple tasks as he used to be, and right now, he had tunnel vision and tunnel hearing.

“Read it again.”

His assistant, a [Strategist], was distracted by Kevin, but Chaldion tapped his claw on the table, and the Gnoll guiltily jumped and read it again.

“It was addressed to you, sir, via The Wandering Inn and Liscor’s Watch, Wall Lord Ilvriss, and…”

“They have copies, yes. Read it again.

The short missive read as the following:


Forces are currently en-route to Liscor. We are on time to arrive and prepare. In cooperation with allies, we would like to formally request chain-of-command clarity.

In addition, we request the Floodplains be prepared for movement and a map of proposed defenses be laid out. Our inclination is for flatter ground; we understand the hills and valleys will make for treacherous terrain.

Snow clearage is also optional but appreciated if possible.


The Gnoll finished reading and looked up.

“…That’s it. There’s no signature, and the sender from the city didn’t list—”

“If I had to ask who sent it, I would fire myself.”

Chaldion snapped. He was playing with one of his rings, and his heart was beating faster.

“Send for [Geomancers]. And I want the snow cleared, so that’s [Hydromancers]. Assign our smartest [Tacticians] to the task, and the first one who thinks they should melt the snow with flame magic? Send them back to the academies.”

Grand Strategist?

He was grinning. Chaldion gave the order as Ser Sest’s head turned almost imperceptibly to listen.

“Tell Duln to order his forces out of the hills. No more subterfuge. I want them deployed and digging in tomorrow. Get me Wall Lord Ilvriss, and we’ll see if the north understands how to work in a military setting.”

They were coming. And unlike the other forces who were being coy or playing it secret…Chaldion could almost hear them moving. It had been a long, long time since he remembered that sound.




It sounded like ringing, not just hoofbeats. The sound of metal striking stone made Perorn Fleethoof smile.

Thousands of Centaurs were cantering down the wide roads that, even in the dead of winter, weren’t slick or crusted with ice. The Drakes’ famous trade-roads allowed travel between the big cities, and right now, the Drakes were staring in alarm.

Centaurs, four abreast, were passing by [Traders] and patrols and pedestrians, who pulled to the side in alarm. But her famous group could easily navigate around that kind of obstruction.

The Forgotten Wing Company was moving so fast that they were alarming every Drake city they passed by, who thought Perorn had been hired for an attack.

She kept an eye on the [Message] spells flooding in, but only gave them reassurances if it looked like they were going to do something stupid. She had a reputation to keep up.

“I love these roads, commander! We could storm across this entire continent in days if it’s all like this! No mud roads, no frozen water where you break a hoof—no bushwacking!”

One of her officers, Basal, shouted as Perorn lifted her hand towards a Drake city in the distance. She tossed her head.

“Smile wider, Basal. Drakes don’t get it unless you show them your teeth. Not that we’re going to socialize. Our party’s full-dress, and we took too long as it is. Everyone enjoying their Christmas presents?”

Her smirk was answered by a chorus of shouts. The ‘presents’ were, in fact, the new horseshoes her entire company had added onto their hooves. Centaurs didn’t like wearing them all the time, and Perorn didn’t usually insist.

But right now, they were heading into what Perorn understood to be a snowy terrain with lots of elevation. Those hills and valleys were nightmares to maneuver around; even with her movement Skills, she had insisted on the horseshoes.

After all, when they got to places where these lovely roads ended—she’d order them to put on the studs, pointed bits of metal that could be screwed into the special-made horseshoes that Centaurs used. That would give the hooves the traction they needed, especially on a slick combat field.

Captain Basal, the Lizaur, grinned and rode ahead to check up the line. Behind Perorn, Lieutenant Tarath raised his voice.

Five days to reach Liscor? You want to kill us, Fleethoof?

“Pick up the pace, Tarath! And give us some music!”

She shouted back without turning her head. Then the Centaurs carrying cooking pots between them added musical instruments. The clatter of their hooves began to sound rhythmic, like drumming.

No Centaur practiced the drums. Not when you had them on your feet. A mournful wail cut the air as a Centaur pulled out a long reed instrument, like a clarinet. Another had finger-cymbals.

The entranced Drakes watched as the Centaurs began to sing, raising their heads skywards. They were much like the Drake armies that marched in military ranks. But the difference was the mercenaries of Baleros didn’t have the same pretense.

To Liscor! To battle! Pick up the pace!

Five days. They had been heading north along the Great Plains for months. Five days to march to Liscor down the trade roads was ludicrously fast. No other group in the world could boast that kind of speed.

The Centaurs began to trot faster as Perorn surged to the head of the vanguard. Now, the music was picking up, and she folded her arms, feeling the world accelerate as she activated more Skills.

Now, she’d meet the woman who had entranced Niers so much and impressed her students. Time to see what this [Innkeeper] was made of. They said, in Baleros, you were judged not by your own deeds or wealth or levels, but by the quality of your enemies.

Perorn Fleethoof couldn’t wait to meet Erin’s.





Author’s Note: A short chapter.


Short. And hopefully more focused than most. I’m focused. I’m keen. I’m really busy, I realized.

I have to edit Gravesong 2 and get it to Yonder this month. There is also Book 12 of The Wandering Inn, going into recording at the start of 2024. But for the purposes of Podium recording it, I have to get the script to them by the New Year. Not normally a problem.

However—I intend to also revise Book 12! If you don’t know, that’s the book with the [Witches] when they first come to Riverfarm, and it’s…rougher. I don’t like how rushed parts of it were, and with all we know of Belavierr, the [Hunters], and the connections with Gravesong, I want to elevate the quality.

So I’m committing to more revisions. That’s two major projects before the year ends! I’ll let you know what kind of breaks I take, but hey—I am willing and able to edit these days, which shows I’ve grown as a writer.

Still, after this year, I want to stop working on projects! At least for a bit! I enjoy writing, but I take on a bunch of work!

For now, I’ll be focused on the next few chapters. The poll looks to be giving me Bird as my mandate for the next chapter, unless the runners up can double their numbers. Hopefully you are enjoying the chapters, and as always, thank for reading.

…Starfield is coming out today. But I doubt it’ll mess with my writing too much, right? Bird chapter can be 600 words long. See you on Saturday!


The Wandering Inn has a new Youtube channel we’ll be uploading videos to! TWI Talks is a discussion by readers about the latest chapters! Here’s 9.55!


I have commissioned butts to make amazing art! Lehra Ruinstrider appears in the latest Fire Emblem gam–wait, that’s just a dream of mine. But it’s so amazing! Here’s Lehra, and Ceria Springwalker!

Twitter: https://twitter.com/buttscord

Ko-Fi: https://ko-fi.com/buttsarts


Guliver has created a comic about Nawal’s forging of the blood blade! Look at it! It’s amazing!


Rasea Zecrew by LeChatDemon!

DeviantArt: https://www.deviantart.com/demoniccriminal

Ko-Fi: https://ko-fi.com/lechatdemon

Stash with all the TWI related art: https://sta.sh/222s6jxhlt0


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