9.62 – The Wandering Inn


A [Witch of Second Chances] sat in her inn, and the night had settled early. It was barely 7, and the skies were dark; the Floodplains were draped in a cloth made of blackness.

But fires lifted the darkness up, countless watchfires trying to defy the oppressive gloom and the shadows of the High Passes, like slumbering giants.

“It’s so oppressive. How do you sleep with them looming over you like that?”

Lieutenant Caoraz was getting his first view of the High Passes, and funnily enough, the orange-scaled Drake was having, uh…mountain-phobia.

Not acrophobia, which was the fear of heights, but the fear of their presence. To him, they seemed like they could collapse and turn everything into rubble, bury the Floodplains whole. Or perhaps he was thinking of Kaligma and wondering—

Were Giants buried among the bones of the earth? 

These were the kind of salient, helpful thoughts that awaiting the Solstice brought you. And it made Caoraz stand out, because most people were stuck on the levelling announcement.

“This is [Agent] Virrt. Checking in. No, she’s not admitted to it yet. No…no, she’s played a few chess games. Levelled someone. Nothing fantastical yet. Update in thirty.”

In fact, at a table just across from Caoraz, a Gnoll wearing some nondescript clothing raised a speaking stone to his mouth. Caoraz twisted around, breaking off from staring into that dark night.

…Did he just hear…?

Yes, [Agent]. The Gnoll took a sip of some ‘Blackfur’ ale and frowned. Then he raised a hand.

“Excuse me. Another toasted sandwich? And what’s this ale? It’s good. Hits like the upside of a hammer, though.”

He stopped a passing server, a Goblin. Caoraz leaned back as Peggy halted with a grin. Goblins. His glower got him a wink from her, but the Gnoll treated it as if this were normal.

“You want another one? We’re out of grilled cheese. You want, um…fancy cuban panini? Very tasty for gold. Or we have lots of falafel.”

Were those Goblin words she was speaking? The names of the dishes made no sense to Caoraz—but his stomach rumbled a bit, and the Gnoll frowned.

“I have no idea what either of those are.”

Here was one thing about The Wandering Inn that was new. At this moment, as the [Innkeeper] looked over, she could get up and explain—in a very Erin-esque way—what a falafel was.

But here was the question: did Erin know what a falafel, which originated from Arab countries in the Middle East—a place on Earth she had never been—was?

When she said it was ‘made of chickpeas’ or ‘fava beans’—was she going to have to then explain what a chickpea was to Drakes, who didn’t grow the stuff? And if she made a reference to a movie while saying ‘fava beans’, it was not only silly, but possibly stupid.

Yet this was how The Wandering Inn had run…until now. For while it might not be the powers of math—a Gnoll adjusted his sunglasses as he turned his head from the bar. And Peggy fished around in her belt pouch and produced—

Tada! Here, you take. But don’t steal or we have Shriekblade break your legs.”

She handed a beautiful, hand-illustrated menu to the Gnoll, who promised instantly that he would not steal…what was this? The Gnoll peered at it and went ‘oh!’.

“Oho. Can I take copies?”

“Mm…you can buy.”

“How much?”

“Eight gold coins.”

Caoraz nearly spat out his drink again. Peggy beamed at the Gnoll, who was fishing around in his belt pouch for coins! Then she saw the Gnoll with sunglasses waving at her and mouthing.

“No, wait. Twenty-one. Gold.”


Now Caoraz and Erin Solstice were recoiling in horror, and the nearby diners were scrambling to check the prices of their own entrées. But the Gnoll calmly inspected the odd menu, then began placing coins down.

“This has to be new.”

“Yep. Is very nice. You want to look? Is free to look. No taking though, or we hit you.”

The Goblin encouraged other patrons to look as she headed off to refill the Gnoll’s mug, and despite his hatred for Goblins—Caoraz had to stand.

It called to him, as a Drake. Something worth twenty-one gold coins had to be…he headed over and peered over the Gnoll’s shoulder as the [Agent] spoke into a stone.

“Agent Virrt. Update to interested parties—I’ve just laid hands on a very interesting menu. The price is very high, but it’s filled with interesting details. I can send it over to any bidders, but the going price is ten gold coins per copy.”

He paused, listened to something, and Caoraz saw a speaking stone embedded in a piercing around one of his ears. The Gnoll responded.

“You can try, sir, but I’m one of the few spies who can even get into The Wandering Inn. Contents look like…descriptions of food products. Rather helpful, too.”

And there it was. Yelroan’s newest invention was an accomplishment of writing things down. It was the deeds of someone who knew you had to explain things—so why do it twice when you could do it once, hire a bunch of [Scribes] to make copies, then sell it to all your spies and hand it out to patrons?


Menu Item Explanations! 

No stealing or we hit you! :) 


Blackfur Ale – This is a special ale only sold at The Wandering Inn and Liscor, invented by [Innkeeper] Timbor Parithad at The Drunken Gnoll! It uses a special blend of spiced ale made by Silverfang Gnolls with a ‘furry’ head for the ale, hence the name.

Don’t worry, it’s just twice—or maybe three times—stronger than your regular ale, but you sober fast! It hits you hard thanks to Rxlvn, an Antinium drink. Only a drop per ale, but it has a weird combination. This drink has been approved by Rufelt of Pallass as safe to consume. It does make you pee a lot, though.


There were more, too. Caoraz read another neat section with a hand-drawn image of a round…meatball? No, wait, there was a cross-section too, and it was green inside? Someone had paid for color and there were images of some weird, round beans.


Falafel – This is a round snack food that’s healthy and best had hot! It’s made with chickpeas, a kind of legume, as well as a nice blend of spices and a hit of pepper! This dish has no meat inside it, and a patty of chickpeas and spices is fried in hot oil.

Ask the [Chef] to put them in a sandwich, on a brunch board, or just by themself with some of our sauces! We can also give you some for the road! If you’d like to buy a recipe book, ask any server.


Incredible. It was a simple solution to a problem Erin didn’t know she had. She whistled as she stood behind the [Agent], who was looking around.

“Excuse me. I need to find an information broker…”

He stood up with the menu, hesitated, eyed Erin nervously—then sidled over eight steps and sat down at a table.

Fierre val Lischelle-Drakle was already sitting there.

“We’re going to need a [Mage] who can either send a Mage Picture or hand-scribe and illustrate the menu. I suggest the latter because the former devalues the product. Three gold cut per sending?”

“I’ve got fourteen already, so I’m up ahead.”

Fierre! What are you doing?

The Vampire looked up as the Gnoll jumped, and Yelroan frowned from the bar. Both Yelroan and Fierre glared at Erin.

“Business. Do you mind?”

“Oh, sorry.”

Erin backed off a few steps—then came storming back into the conversation five seconds later.

“Wait! You’re stealing my stuff!”

“Miss Erin. Is it stealing if they’re paying for it? Agent Virrt has been specially vetted to enter the inn, and he isn’t causing trouble.”

Yelroan smoothly intercepted Erin. He took her aside as Fierre apologized to Virrt and bought him a falafel bowl; Palt was already trotting over to make some money in an easy side-job. The Gnoll spoke as Caoraz listened on in disbelief, much like Erin herself.

“But he just stole our menu—”

“Miss Erin, everyone steals. But he bought it at twenty-one gold pieces. Mind you, he’s already made it up with how many he sells it to. But it’s putting gold in his pockets, which means he’s less inclined to cause trouble or let rival [Spies] snoop around the inn. Agent Virrt is one of the better ones, and he keeps the others away. And Miss Fierre is also getting paid.”

“At three gold a message?”

“Well, I suspect she’ll only skim one off the top. One goes to the [Mage], or perhaps she’ll take that out of Virrt’s cut. Either way, one gold coin goes back to us since she’s the only authorized broker allowed to work in the inn aside from Miss Bezale and Miss Montressa.”

Erin’s mouth was doing a goldfish. Caoraz was wondering who this Gnoll with the sunglasses was and whether or not he wanted a job in Pallass’ 8th Army.

There was a delight to seeing someone who knew what they were doing. Before Erin could protest, Yelroan tapped the side of his nose.

“Also, Agent Virrt is dutifully copying over this ‘hot’ information to his clients. But this is just a primer manual on what we sell. I have no doubt that in a few days, all the people trying to recreate a falafel will demand he acquire the recipe. Which is when we launch the recipe books.”

“Wait, we’re doing that?”

Peggy waved something, and Yelroan motioned her to put it away. It was already pre-made! Now, Erin was trying to find a hole in Yelroan’s logic.

“But we learned that from Imani. Aha! So what about her—”

“She’s already selling them at Barehoof Kitchen, and we paid her to help make them.”

Erin turned to stare at Virrt, hoping he hadn’t heard that. But the Gnoll barely glanced up, and why would he? Yelroan explained.

“Virrt isn’t interested in telling anyone, Miss Solstice. Otherwise, he’d miss the sale of the primer books and the recipe books.”

The [Agent] glanced up.

“Exactly. That’s bad business.”

“I feel like I’m running a mafia. A food mafia.”

Erin was entirely unsettled by how smoothly this was all going. But Yelroan just flicked some dust out of his fur, looking pleased.

“It was all just to save you from having to explain food menu items. And it pads the budget nicely. Especially for your projects that we’re sinking gold into without a return at the moment, like Mister Rhaldon’s new room.”

Erin’s ears perked up, and she stared at the Gnoll. He winked; this wasn’t high math, but it was a practical and fun thing he was doing for The Wandering Inn. It made him feel useful. A Plains Gnoll had to put food on the table before he could cogitate on all the Earth-math he got. Erin glanced around and lowered her voice.

“Say, is it done?”

There was Lieutenant Caoraz, and he noticed Yelroan pointing down one hallway and Erin Solstice glancing around at her inn full of guests, soldiers from afar. Her eyes twinkled, and after a second, she put a pipe in her mouth.

Despite the oddities of the day, the weird announcement about chess—the stress—there was something about this that was The Wandering Inn at its finest. And so the [Innkeeper] puffed on her pipe, and he expected to find she had a tobacco or dreamleaf smoking habit.

But then the [Innkeeper] blew a big, green, glowing bubble of magic out the pipe, and Caoraz’s mouth opened. 

Was nothing she did normal? A dozen patrons turned, and instantly, one of them asked where they could buy that pipe. But Caoraz just stared—and he was relieved when he turned his head and saw a blue-scaled Drake, Olesm, sitting there with a scarred Minotaur with one arm.

“Did you know she could do that?”

Olesm’s mouth was slightly open, and he was staring at Erin. Calruz just grunted.

“That’s not even worth blinking over.”




In The Wandering Inn, there was a room. It had a door.

The door had a sign plate in copper. It read ‘Rhaldon’s Room. Leased.’

The door was actually one of the private dining rooms that Erin had sacrificed; it wasn’t the largest of spaces. Compared to Stitchworks, it was downright humble at a third of Octavia’s shop size.

However, Antinium had hauled out all the furniture and replaced it with solid counters, securing them to the very floor and bracing everything. Then they’d gone over the entire place with something Xif had gifted Rhaldon: a varnish that was fireproof.

A single rack for ingredients, tons of cupboards built into said counters, and the Antinium had tried to install a window that led into Erin’s inn—then had to replace the wall.

The window didn’t work. And there had been issues…hence Rhaldon coming back and demanding everything be braced. But the room was done, and occasionally, a new guest to The Wandering Inn would wander down the hall, see the door, and try the handle.

Snoops, curious and bored people, and Lady Bethal—who was all of the above—had all tried the door’s handle more than once. Even tried picking the lock.

When Erin Solstice found the [Lady] unabashedly swinging the door open with Chevalier Thomast and several of her Petal Knights, the [Lady] smiled—and stopped.

“Oh my.”

“Hey! Don’t mess with my room! It’s leased!”

Erin ran over, shaking a fist, but Bethal couldn’t harass Rhaldon or see what was inside the room to begin with. Mostly because there was no room behind the locked door.

There was nothing at all. And that ‘nothing’ included even a wall. There was just a blank void, not even black, but empty, and Lady Bethal instantly tried to touch it.

Thomast and all the [Knights] grabbed her. But she wouldn’t have lost the hand even if she touched it; it would have felt like glass but even smoother, without heat, substance, or anything else.

“What is this?”

“[Lease Room].”

Erin said that like it explained everything. Lady Bethal peered at Erin and then at the room. Erin pointed out the window of her inn.

“Leased room. If you wanna see what it’s like, go ask that guy. But he says it’s not as fun as it looks.”

Lady Bethal stared out the window at a single wagon slowly going up and down the snow-covered hills. Two annoyed ponies were pulling a huge, box-like wagon, like one of those rolling trader’s wagons, the kind you could live in.

A primitive trailer design, heavier than most [Wagon Drivers] would use, and roofed with a chimney sticking out the top. A pair of men were riding on the front, and every now and then, one would go inside and come out and confer and stop the wagon. Lady Bethal was out the door in a shot—but she came back inside quick to get Lyonette, Pryde, and a coat.




Rhaldon’s new wagon had problems.

Problem one: it was heavier, since it needed to at least have a ‘doorway’ design. He could see making it half the size and just having a literal doorframe without anything else, but Termin pointed out the problems.

“Lad, it’d work, but it’d look mighty stupid. And people would notice if you open a door and vanish inside without any space. That attracts curious folk. And curious folk have sneaky fingers or get nasty.”

“Well, the wagon’s too big as it is. Look at poor Erma and Fox!”

Neither pony liked the box-like wagon and preferred the open-air ones that just needed a canvas for securing.

The problem with having a giant square or rectangular wagon was that the center of mass was off; a flatter wagon was far more stable, whereas this? This one could overbalance or roll.

“Needs more weight. Maybe making it wider’d do. It’s a shame we couldn’t just have a regular wagon and put the door in the middle of it, lying face-down. I did that with Miss Erin’s door, and it was a treat! You could hop into it—‘course, then you were falling into her inn and gravity went sideways, which did your stomach a turn, but it was convenient. This vardo wagon’s a piece of crap. We should have bought a nicer one or had it custom-made.”

Rhaldon nodded as he imagined it.

If you had a magic door, everything would be easier. A magic door? He could use it like a portal, literally lie it flat and fall into another room.

Or—make it super cunning! A door that held all of his stuff! Then he wouldn’t even need much of a wagon, right?

But he didn’t have a magic door. What he had was a [Leased Room]. And that was different.

This is the least cool magic room I have ever seen.

A little Gnoll girl solemnly held up a notecard, and both [Drivers] glared at her. Termin flapped his hat at Mrsha, who’d begged, begged to be here to see Rhaldon’s new room in action!

“‘Least you’re not living in it, Miss Mrsha! Why don’t you feed Erma and Fox, like Miss Nanette there?”

The little witch was patting both ponies, and Mrsha glowered.

I have to go back to Magnolia’s stinky mansion tonight! I was promised fun! You are wasting my limited hours of fun!

Termin stared at her notecard. Only a child could complain of ‘having to go back to Magnolia Reinhart’s mansion’. He didn’t dignify that with a response.

“The room’s no good either. If we put the door down—hells. That’d be something, eh, lad?”

“I can see it working, Termin. We’d have to completely redesign, though, and then it’d be more like a…a well? Completely vertical. I think it still works. The thing is—the rest of the wagon’s empty. What if we put the doorway in the back of the wagon—so I could use it like an actual wagon for my goods? But there’s a door in the back…”

Termin’s eyes lit up.

And then no one knows you’ve got a room—in a room! Plus, it means we can alter the wagon a bit. Brilliant!”

Their entire conversation was fascinating to Nanette, who eagerly hopped up onto the wagon.

“Can we move the doorframe in?”

“We’ll need to pry them screwy-things Mister Kevin gave us out. Where’s that twisting thing he gave us?”

“The screwdriver, Termin.”

The older [Driver] grunted.

“Right. That. I don’t trust them things. Nothing as good as a nail. You sure you want to use them?”

Rhaldon smiled and ducked his head. For all Termin loved new things—screws he drew a line at. He understood how they worked, but he thought a wagon made with them was far inferior to one made with nails.

Mind you, they were apparently really difficult for a [Smith] to make, so Kevin had cautioned Rhaldon that replacing them on the road would be hard—but they were securing the door to Rhaldon’s room, and they made it easy to unscrew them and move the frame around.

“Excuse me! Excuse me! I hear something delightfully funny is going on, and I insist on being part of it!”

And here came Lady Bethal. At least it wasn’t a full gaggle of people, but Termin and Rhaldon instantly got down to bow as Pryde, Grimalkin, Lyonette, and even Colfa and Himilt came over to stare at the new wagon.

“I’m sorry, Rhaldon, but Lady Bethal was dying to see the wagon—and so was I. How are the tests going?”

“Oh, a few problems, Miss Lyonette. This one’s wont to roll over, but if you ladies were wishing to see it, I won’t deny it’s funny as heck.”

Termin’s bad mood instantly became obsequious to the [Ladies]. Lyonette gave him an apologetic look as Bethal introduced herself.

“You must be Termin the Omnipresent! I just adore your name—I had no idea [Wagon Drivers] had such funny titles! And you’re Mister Rhaldon? I am Lady Bethal Walchaís, and I shan’t hesitate to call on either of you! Are you from Baleros or Chandrar?”

She gave Rhaldon’s black skin an interested look, which made him hesitate uncomfortably. Bethal had an innocent way about her, but the question was loaded.

“Rhaldon’s a friend of Erin’s, Lady Bethal.”

Lyonette interjected quickly, and Bethal’s gaze flicked to Lyonette sharply.

“Oh, one of Magnolia’s mysterious children? Someone explain it to me—later. Right now, door!”

That was interesting in itself. Bethal didn’t know about Rhaldon’s nature? Pryde herself folded her arms and gave both Lyonette and Rhaldon a sharp look, which in turn made Grimalkin blink. He shot Lyonette a wordless look as the [Princess] raised her brows.

The Vampires were just there. Drinking it in.

Mrsha and Nanette were bouncing to see the leased room again, and Rhaldon found his wagon taken over—not that he minded too much. It was more than he expected, and still, not perfect, and the horrible cold and darkness honestly made him want to do this in the morning.

Everyone else had insisted they take the wagon out for a spin; Rhaldon was more interested in introducing himself to Himilt and Colfa.

Erin had not told him who they were, but one look at Colfa’s red eyes and a pointed tooth when she talked with the [Ladies] despite her attempts to hide it, or just Himilt’s oddly stylish look despite being in simple farmer’s clothes and Rhaldon was wondering if The Wandering Inn sold garlic dishes.

Holy shit, they’re so cool, though. And the two farmers were practical in a way the [Ladies] were not. Colfa offered Rhaldon a flask.

“Something hot?”

She’d filled it with hot milk, heaped up with some cinnamon! No, wait—she also had some steaming falafels, the snack of the night. Rhaldon and Termin poured themselves cups instantly, and Mrsha and Nanette both held the hot, steaming drinks before biting into the slightly spicy snacks.

And there went farmers over [Ladies], because the entire group came over to beg for snacks too as the wind blew snow at them. Lady Bethal had inspected the outside of the wagon, and it really did look like one of the wagons Rhaldon associated with Earth— old-fashioned, the paint flaking off, but with a shuttered window—no glass—that you could live in or work out of.

Not a [Wagon Driver]’s wagon, built for economy and hauling size, hence Rhaldon and Termin’s large distaste.

The addition was the doorframe they’d just unscrewed and which they had carefully left standing; if it dropped, they would have a big problem, despite Rhaldon’s room not having anything in it but counters yet.

That meant that Bethal could see that the vardo wagon had nothing inside of it; it was a giant box, and it made her slightly disappointed.

“I don’t understand. Where is this room that was leased?”

“Right here, Miss.”

Warmed up again, Termin stumped over and touched the doorframe, and Bethal’s eyes gleamed.

“Wait, is it like Miss Erin’s door? Another magic door?”

“It seems to be her signature ability. Not every [Leased Room] works like this, or so I understand.”

Grimalkin murmured. Termin and Rhaldon were about to wrestle it to the back of the wagon as Termin tried to explain Erin’s new Skill as they understood it.

“It’s the darndest thing—forgive me, Miss—Lady Walchaís. I’m not one to know how to speak proper and such.”

“No, do go on.”

“Well, the thing is it is and isn’t like Miss Erin’s magic door. It only works to Rhaldon’s room; nothing else. No one can get in from the inn-side neither, even Miss Solstice with her garden. She reckons if she cancels her Skill, it’d get messy, and no one wants to try that. The thing is…the room’s not perfect, and we broke near half poor Rhaldon’s glassware on the first attempt.”

“Dear me, how?”

Termin was nodding at the doorframe, which the two men were carefully moving around.

“Turns out it’s a room in the door more’n a magic door to a room. If that makes sense. I’m not sure how to explain it.”

Lady Bethal was trying to understand with a quizzical look on her face as she sipped from the cup. Nanette took over eagerly.

“I know how to say it, Master Termin! The problem, Lady Bethal, is that Erin gave Rhaldon a room—but the room is in the door the two are holding! So it’s affected by gravity!”

Grimalkin’s head snapped up with sudden, deep interest. Himilt scratched his head, then Colfa whispered into his ear; she got it. He looked very interested, and Bethal turned her head to Pryde.

The easiest way would be to show her. So Rhaldon nudged Termin.

“Let’s set it on an angle. Right here…”

They adjusted the door so it had the slightest tilt to it. Then Rhaldon fished out a key, unlocked the door—and opened it.

“Step on through, Lady Walchaís. We’ll hold the door. Don’t worry, it’s safe.”

Unless we drop the door. But Lady Bethal was already in the wagon, ignoring her [Knights], and she blinked—then gasped.

Oh my word! Thomast! Thomast, look at this! The entire room—it’s tilted!

Thomast climbed into the wagon and blinked.

The room that Erin had given Rhaldon really was smaller than he wanted, but any bigger and she claimed she ‘couldn’t’ give it to him. Yet. Even so, it was a free room, and even as a miniature of Octavia’s shop, it was wonderful.

It more than doubled the small vardo wagon’s interior, and it was far warmer; it was still technically in Erin’s inn, so it was warm, and Rhaldon wouldn’t have to worry about heat or cold—so long as The Wandering Inn wasn’t on fire.

However, the room was leased, so even if Erin installed a window into the room or tried to connect it to her inn, Rhaldon couldn’t hop out of the room into her inn. Nor would her [Garden of Sanctuary] work; all she and he would see was an uncanny, black void.

It had limits—but it was still functionally a—a—

“A closed dimensional space. Huh. This is magic on the level of a modern Archmage. [Innkeepers] get powerful.”

Grimalkin was deeply impressed. But Bethal was delighted by the problem Rhaldon and Termin had noticed.

“It slants! Oh—oh—move the door?”

Lady Bethal hurried out when neither Rhaldon nor Termin obliged her. She pulled, and the entire room tilted further as the doorframe shifted several degrees down. The [Lady] did a happy dance of delight and amazement. Then she stepped in and began sliding.

Gravity’s gone sideways! Thomast! This is so funny!

She was laughing, but the [Chevalier] glanced at Rhaldon.

“I imagine this isn’t as pleasant for an [Alchemist].”

“No, it’s not.”

Rhaldon’s sour look was because—before they’d known how the door worked—he’d begun putting some of his alchemy stuff in the room. Then someone had knocked the door over.

“If you ever roll the wagon, you’ll lose anything not bolted down, lad. I really think we need to figure out how to make sure that don’t happen—and even inclines’ll shift everything around. Fine if you’ve got grain or whatnot, but them alchemy stuff goes boom.

Termin was rightfully worried about how Rhaldon’s new room would work. Rhaldon sighed.

“It makes things—harder. But I can always avoid steep inclines, and there has to be a way to make a primitive gyroscope or something to keep it stable?”

“I dunno about that fancy talk, lad. But it’s not the perfect room. If we laid it flat—”

Then Rhaldon would be descending into a room, but he imagined it’d still slide around. He didn’t want to live his life like that, anyways.

There were heavy benefits. Lady Bethal was sliding around and insisting they ‘shake the door’ with her in it, and her [Knights] were adamantly refusing as Mrsha rolled into the room and slid into Bethal, giggling.

Children and [Ladies] could have fun, but Himilt raised his brows.

“Twice the space is still twice the space. What if you put any alchemy sets in the wagon and used the room as a glorified holding spot?”

Termin winked.

“Ah, but then them [Thieves] would go after Rhaldon’s wagon. The thing is—Miss Erin’s room has a lotta benefits. We asked some of those sneak-spies to poke around, and few of them could tell if there was something valuable in the leased room. Plus! It’s part of Miss Erin’s inn.”


Colfa and Himilt looked blank, but Lyonette was smiling, and Grimalkin exhaled.

“Ah. That’s a tangible benefit.”

Meaning that Rhaldon had a room that had both [Field of Preservation] and [Compartments of Holding]. He had been so flabbergasted when Erin brought up the other Skill—as if she had forgotten it mattered.

Rhaldon had, potentially, one of the most spacious wagons in all of Izril, and he and Termin had realized he could take over huge, bulk-delivery jobs.

Then again, the [Drivers] who ran those circuits might actually try to murder him if he muscled in on their turf. But Rhaldon was excited.

“Except for the door tilting, it’s a wonderful thing. I reckon the first thing is upgrading the wagon itself; we bought this one cheap, but it needs better everything. The one thing that can’t change, though, is the door. Has to be exactly that size. Otherwise the lad was thinking he’d make a door two feet high and crawl through it! Sneaky, sneaky.”

Termin was beaming at Rhaldon, who blushed at the approving look he got from Nanette, Grimalkin, and some of the [Knights]. Colfa was whispering to Himilt.

“What I don’t understand is how it all works. If Miss Erin has given Rhaldon a room—I suppose it’s as if the door is the room, so when he tilts it, the entire room tilts. But it doesn’t tilt in her inn…very odd. It’s a shame he can’t use it to his advantage.”

“How so?”

Himilt was still wrapping his head around the way the room worked, and Bethal was now sliding the door around; she wanted to turn it upside down, and Rhaldon was afraid the secured counters would break loose if she did.

“Well, it’s a magic room, dear. Rhaldon can have one that’s upside-down. Nevermind if it’s practical for making alchemy; he can make gravity move however he wants. It sounds fascinating to me.

Rhaldon’s head slowly rose, and the chemist blinked.

Wait a second, that was right. He could have a sideways room or one where gravity was tilted. Even one where gravity was inverse of when you walked through it!

There weren’t many alchemical things he could think of where that helped, but physics-wise? That was fascinating objectively!

Would there be a benefit if I built the room upside down and just kept the door like that? I’d be shifting gravities each time, but the benefit would be if I hopped out of the door, I’d go flying the other way, right?

He was trying to imagine it. He’d be tossing something with the force of gravity down—then it’d reverse coming out—

You had to be able to do something wild with that. Could you make a…Nanette piped up eagerly.

“What if you just put it on the roof, Mister Termin, Mister Rhaldon? Then it has a secret second floor! It might still move, but there’s another option, right?”

The two [Drivers] looked at each other, struck by the idea. Suddenly, Rhaldon decided he wasn’t ready to commit to the wagon just yet.

“I think I’d better get back to the inn and figure out how the room should work, Termin. Let’s drive back to the inn.”

Termin sneezed into his gloves.

“Works for me, lad. It’s too cold out; we’ll noodle on it tomorrow. Miss Solstice just wanted Rhaldon to have his wagon before the Winter Solstice…and to be on the road, by the sounds of it.”

He glanced at Rhaldon, and the young man felt a squeeze at his chest, but he nodded. He got back into the wagon, and nothing would do but Lady Bethal and some volunteers ride in the leased room until they got back to the inn.

The vardo wagon went down the hill. Up a hill. Down a hill; the Floodplain’s unique geography really was a perfect test of how things worked.

They were heading up one more hill when Lady Bethal got out and puked.




Leasing rooms and feeding [Soldiers]. Erin Solstice’s inn still had events of the moment, even as the Solstice closed in.

But the [Witch of Second Chances] was at work. She had not gone out to see the wagon Rhaldon was working with; she’d already got her fill of gravity shenanigans, and she couldn’t get into fun in the same way.

But that did not mean she could not have…moments.

Erin Solstice had a policy, and it was generally this, even if it was unspoken: she did not pull out all the stakes right away.

You might meet her during a party or while she was doing something crazy—to you—but she didn’t light a Minotaur’s Punch and hand it to you first thing. She underutilized her Skills, criminally so to some of her friends.

What that meant was that she always had a trick up her sleeve. Of course, Erin’s first trick was the power of all [Innkeepers]. She could listen to people.

“Why are you here? You stupid?”

“Yes. I agree with this rude comment. Why are you here?”

“I don’t know. I thought it was the right thing to do. I fear…I fear I’ve made a mistake, but I couldn’t not come. I’m afraid it will be like last time, though. I’ll be useless. But I owe them a debt. Not just this inn; you two. And Lady Reinhart. And Zel Shivertail.”

A Human man sat with a Goblin and an Antinium. The Goblin and the Antinium were bullying the man.

To be precise, the first speaker was a Goblin. Redscar himself, who had come over to talk to someone he actually recognized; a rarity among Humans. The second was an Antinium that Erin knew: Embraim of the Knights of Solstice.

Right now, they were trying to bully the Human man, and it was working. They were trying to get him to leave, which was an odd strategy. But Gershal of Vaunt…really shouldn’t have been here.

Vaunt. Cheese-loving Vaunt had shown up. Two hundred [Soldiers]; they hadn’t been ordered to by a noble. They’d demanded to come here, snuck out of their city and come to answer Erin Solstice’s call.

But oh—the Goblin and Antinium looked at each other and then at Gershal. He was not Garen Redfang’s successor, who bore enchanted blades and who had danced with Zeladona herself and won her approval and Skill.

Nor was he an Antinium [Crusader] who had taken the very power of glorious fire into himself and become the first [Knight] of his kind, member of a new order of Izril.

Gershal had a magic sword he’d gotten from the <Heroic Quest>. He was a good [Lieutenant], and Vaunt’s [Soldiers] had fought the Gargoyles and Eater Goats. But he should not be there.

“You should go. Your soldiers…Thunderfur and I could eat all of them. You is not very useful.”

“Yeah. Bullying.”

Redscar poked Gershal, and Embraim copied him after a second. The Lieutenant protested.

“But if this moment matters—”

“You won’t. You’ll die. Go away.”

Redscar’s look was not joking. He was trying to chase Gershal off for good reasons, but the cheese-folk of Vaunt seemed to be surprisingly stubborn. And brave. And open-minded, if he was speaking to both Goblin and Antinium. Gershal’s hands tightened on the table.

“I can’t. Vaunt’s let down the north once before. We were right there when Zel Shivertail died. We went to Invrisil, you know?”

“You fought the Goblin Lord?”

Redscar was impressed. He hadn’t known that. A few members of House Veltras’ soldiers twitched. Lady Buscrei had been eying the Goblins, but she glanced away as Gershal spoke. And his gaze did sweep the room, and many people didn’t meet his dark expression.

“Yes. We were there when half our reinforcements didn’t show up. I thought about leaving or falling back to the city—but then the Tidebreaker showed. And I thought…he strode into camp. Just one Drake, and I thought ‘we could win’. I’d never met him, only heard of him before, and I didn’t think much of Drakes. But I swear, but for that last attack—we had them. I’m sorry if that Goblin Lord was your friend.”

“Nah. I hated him.”

Gershal’s hand clenched over his mug of Blackfur Ale.

“Good. I still remember it. We had them—then that dome of bones appeared, and I knew he was dying, but we couldn’t even get close. And when it opened and we saw him—I was one of the highest-leveled officers on that field. I shouldn’t have been. But I let him down, and a legend died right there.”

Gershal raised his voice, and he took a long drink and sat there. Embraim and Redscar exchanged a glance, and Erin Solstice sensed a lull in the conversations. So that was why…Gershal spoke.

“I couldn’t do that again. When I heard it was Liscor, I thought—that’s fitting. He liked Liscor, didn’t he?”

Redscar shrugged, but someone answered for the Goblin in a faraway tone.

“Yeah. If you had to name a city other than his home…he liked Liscor. He and Sserys were best buddies. I remember that. But he wouldn’t tell you to be here.”

Relc Grasstongue was sitting at another table. He lifted a cup, and his good mood had turned into pained reserve, that kind of look that burned in the pink flames of Embraim’s fire. Glory as it recalled did not always burn like wonder. Sometimes it hurt. But you had to remember.

Gershal nodded to him and saluted.

“Gershal of Vaunt.”

“Relc of Liscor. Former [Soldier] in the army. The one Sserys used to lead.”

You served under General Sserys? Wait—I know you. Liscor’s [Spearmaster]? Are you the Gecko?”

Lieutenant Caoraz had been hovering around the inn, drawn unwillingly into it, Goblins or not. But he was impressed when he heard that from Relc. Relc glared at him.

“That’s a stupid title! But that’s me. Retired. Senior Guardsman, now. Who’re you?”

“Pallass’ 8th, [Lineholders].”

“Oh, the Hellholders? Damn. Chaldion knows how to pick ‘em. Your lot went up against an Adult Creler, didn’t you?”

Caoraz’s face didn’t change, but Erin’s head turned towards him, and her eyes lit up.

“We’ve fought one, yes. That’s probably why we were called in.”

Relc eyed the [Lieutenant] as Redscar grinned; Caoraz ignored him, pretending he wasn’t there.

“Were you part of the 8th when that happened?”

“I was there, yes.”

Caoraz smacked a napkin roll out of the air and stared at Redscar. The Goblin had tossed it. The Drake’s claw reached for his sword—Relc spoke cheerfully.

“Leave it.”

“You don’t see a problem here, Guardsman Relc? Everyone from the Grand Strategist down to the [Generals]—even the Humans have lost their senses in this inn.”

Caoraz snapped back. There was a ‘hear, hear’ in the background. Erin chucked a falafel at Xitegen, and one of his Golems slapped it down. Relc took his time answering.

“I fought in the Antinium Wars and against the Goblin King, so if the next thing you were gonna say was about that, just know I’ll throw a table at you, buddy. That’s those Goblins. This [Lieutenant] from cheese-town—”

“It’s cheese city.”

“—cheese city, sorry. He fought the Goblin Lord. Different Goblins.”

“Yah. I hate all of them. Ptuy. Stupid Goblins.”

Redscar grinned and pretended to spit on the ground. Caoraz stared at him.


The leader of the Redfangs grinned and produced a toothpick. He was sitting with Thunderfur napping on the ground. The Carn Wolf had to remain still in the inn, and it was scaring the hell out of everyone but Buscrei, who wanted to pet the gigantic doggy. It had sniffed Nerry, and she had kicked Thunderfur in the nose, so it was sulking. Redscar dropped a falafel on the ground, and Thunderfur nibbled on it. Then he grinned wider at Caoraz.

“Nah. I lied. Goblin Lord sucked. Goblin King sounded like fun. Wish I’d met him.”

Well, that didn’t do much for interspecies relations. But it was honest, give Redscar that. Caoraz actually seemed to respect that.

“I wish I’d been there when he got killed.”

He stared at Redscar, and the Goblin thought about the reply.

“I wish Elia Arcsinger didn’t suck so much. Halrac the Grim better.”

Yeah! Grim, Grim, Grim!”

Several Goblins instantly cheered. Gothica, Flooded Waters Goblins, Peggy—until Lyonette glared at her staff—

A lot of Humans were glaring, and Halrac was trying to vanish—which was hard because Typhenous had created a giant floating arrow made out of magic.

In the end, though, it still went back to Gershal of Vaunt. He drained his mug.

“I asked, and everyone from Vaunt is a volunteer. You may call us the City of Fabulous Cheeses—”

No one called Vaunt that. Gershal’s head turned, and he looked determined and nervous as he wiped at his mustache.

“—But once we put our minds to something, we stay. Don’t call it a debt of honor; I doubt the Tidebreaker even remembered my name. I just hope I make that difference.”

He looked around, a single man in the presence of famous heroes and stories. Chaldion at his table, Tyrion Veltras—even Relc and Redscar had their own stories people knew.

No one told stories about Gershal of Vaunt. The battlefield had never revolved around him nor stopped when he drew his blade.

In these coming days, if there was a trial—Gershal would be up first. He was not the final guard, like the Knights of Solstice. And he probably knew all that, and he was still here.

That was why Perorn Fleethoof wanted him. He wouldn’t run.

He looked like he was glowing to Erin. He looked like someone she wanted to know and protect and watch him continue to astound both himself and her city.

She had seen a lot of people like that, even the surly Caoraz. Old faces—and new.

Like the Minotaur who was trying to avoid attracting her attention. She was surprised Olesm had gotten him into the inn, even though Erin had told him to bring Calruz.

This odd truce that saw Xitegen in the same place as Goblins—even if the two were giving each other death-glares—extended to Calruz. Although, there was a Cave Goblin sneaking up on him with a knife.





Rags gave the order, and one of her lieutenants stood up with a groan and growl to halt a knifing incident. But the [Innkeeper] was faster.

“Uh uh. Not in my inn.”

Erin Solstice opened a door behind one of the Cave Goblins and grabbed their arm. The Cave Goblin spun—and nearly slashed her. But a scowling Hob appeared.


Badarrow chopped the young Goblin’s head with his hand so hard their eyes crossed a second. So Erin punched him in the side.


“Ow. What?”

He rubbed at his side and sidled away, glaring. Erin pointed at the Cave Goblin.

“Don’t hit them! No one hits Goblins in my inn!”

Badarrow pointed at his side in outrage.

“But you hit me!”

“That’s because you can take it. I mean, no hitting small Goblins. Oh, hey. Calruz.”

The Minotaur had twisted in his chair. He and Erin stared at each other as Badarrow grabbed the Cave Goblin before they could charge him.

“Erin. I’m causing problems. I should go.”

The Minotaur stood. Erin folded her arms.

“You always cause problems. I told Olesm to get you because I wanted to see you. You and this inn have a history. You belong here. At least for a few days.”

The [Honorbound Prisoner] hesitated. He looked around, and many citizens of Liscor wouldn’t look at him. It could not be pleasant, but many things were surely not for him. He slowly relaxed and sat down.

“I am surprised there hasn’t been violence before now.”

What about me? Badarrow pointed at his side in outrage. Erin and Calruz ignored him as the Minotaur went on.

“So many different sides. Old enemies—this isn’t just species who have warred with each other. You have literal enemies sitting too close together, Erin.”

It was a warning. He was looking pointedly at Wall Lord Aldonss and Lord Tyrion. The two men hadn’t been trying to lock gazes or been staring each other down, but every time their gazes did meet, it was like an invisible bolt of lightning meeting a shield in the inn.

Really. Peggy had dropped two trays; she’d sensed the auras meeting, and the tables between the two had cleared. And Redscar didn’t have aura powers, but his stare would make the House Veltras guards stir every time he glanced over.

Erin imagined her inn would be a powderkeg—save for the looming threat of Kasigna. It was an actual tactic she’d used more than once: if there was a bigger enemy to unite against, it kept things down.

But in this case? She shrugged and put her pipe back in her mouth. Then scowled at it.

“I’m addicted to this stupid thing. Hey, Calruz, look at my new pipe. Palt gave it to me, that jerk.”

“Centaur gave you a pipe and he’s the jerk? Weird logic, but okay. I forgot how silly the inn is.”

Badarrow scratched at his head. Erin paused, then glared at him as Calruz smiled. Olesm was covering his mouth.

“Badarrow—I love you. And Olesm, I haven’t seen you in ages. But why you gotta do that to me?”

“What? He gave you a pipe. Why is that bad?”

Erin pointed at Palt, who was trying to talk to Perorn Fleethoof and get her autograph. He froze as heads turned to him.

“Palt sells drugs.”

Every Drake officer turned, and their bright-eyed stares made the Centaur sweat. Erin clarified.



Half of them stopped glaring. The other half kept glaring. Erin tried to explain as Badarrow raised his eyes.

“He gave me the pipe because he’s trying to legitimize his stuff! He sells tobacco, Dreamleaf—he loves smoking.”

“Okay. And what did he do that was bad?”

Badarrow waited. Erin hesitated.

“No, Badarrow. That was the bad part. He’s trying to get me into his ways.”

“By giving you a pipe. Is a nice pipe.”

“No, no. Listen. It’s the smoking and Dreamleaf that’s bad.”

“Why bad?”

“Smoking is bad for your lungs. And drugs? Drugs are bad, m’kay?”

She remembered saying that very line and grinned, looking around for support. Kevin raised two middle fingers. Badarrow opened his mouth a second. He hesitated.

“…What about Faerie Flowers? You give them to everyone.”

Someone started laughing. Saliss of Lights had been sitting, looking stressed, but he started laughing in anticipation already. Erin began to sweat.

“That’s different.”

“No it’s not. Mrsha said you gave her a Faerie Flower drink. Wait…drugs…isn’t alcohol drug?”

“No, listen, Badarrow. It’s been a long time since you’ve been gone. Where is this coming from? Dreamleaf. Tobacco. It’s not good stuff.”

“Neither one is illegal in the House of Minos. Even Drake cities regulate Dreamleaf rather than outright ban it. Is this your personal preference, Erin?”

Olesm spoke up, and Erin jumped.

A stab from behind! Olesm, that’s the first thing you say to me?”

The Commander of Liscor’s 2nd Army raised a cup.

“Sorry, Erin. But I just never understood. I think you just don’t like smoking, but it’s unfair to claim you have the moral high ground. You don’t. If you don’t like it, that’s fine, but you’re fighting uphill. Word to the wise.”

“Yeah. I’m not in your inn any more. That Centaur can sell me Dreamleaf all day.”

Badarrow poked Erin back. She stared around.

“How—how dare you. Why are you all changing?

Badarrow was talking, now, when he used to be monosyllabic! And Olesm would never argue with her like that! He didn’t even look embarrassed as he met her gaze! Erin looked at Calruz for help.

“Everyone changes, Erin. Would you mind giving us a Solstice moment, though? We have a bunch of new soldiers, and a lot of them want to see what we keep talking about.”

“Yah, hurry up.”

Badarrow poked Erin one too many times as Calruz indicated the Liscorian army soldiers sitting with him. Erin’s eyes narrowed.

A door opened under Badarrow, and he cursed. He almost dodged—but the door just flickered as he hopped left. Then he was falling—and landed on the floor across the room, next to Snapjaw. She helped him up, kissed him on the cheek, and waved at Erin.

“I am leaving now. But I’m remembering this. And you? You’re next.

The [Innkeeper] gave Calruz a huge smile as she pointed at him—then she walked back the way she’d come. The Minotaur saw Olesm and the other soldiers look at him. He grunted and reached for his drink.

“Send my remains to the House of Minos.”




“You know, I don’t see eye-to-eye with Erin Solstice on much, but I quite liked her take there.”

Lord Xitegen Terland remarked to some of the people around him as Erin retreated from the table with Calruz. He was ever a [Lord] who spoke his mind and gave credit where credit was due.

Tyrion Veltras was also nodding. The straitlaced Lord of House Veltras and Xitegen Terland were on Erin’s side with her anti-drug policy.

Someone else having a hard time keeping a straight face was Ryoka Griffin. She wondered how Erin would feel if she realized that she was only in bed with the most obnoxiously law-abiding of Drakes and Humans.

“Yeah. Drugs. I can’t abide by them. We should outlaw alcohol as well.”

Tyrion Veltras hesitated as Ryoka spoke. A part of his developing mind suggested that this was perhaps—possibly—sarcasm.

Unfortunately, Lord Xitegen was a man who could detect sarcasm and roll with it.

“Absolutely. I’ve petitioned for us to try banning alcohols in House Terland, but even my peers won’t hear of it.”

This man said that while sipping wine. Which he calmly kept drinking as Ryoka, Tyrion, and many affronted nobles looked at him.

“What? I can admit it’s a fine indulgence. But it’s not necessary for survival. If banned, follow suit. But a ban makes it a rule to abide by. And if it turned out an area with it banned was more productive and healthy, then the rule makes sense.”

Ryoka was about to draw breath and point out that prohibition caused more problems than it started, but someone beat her to it.

“Lord Xitegen. You are the most cynically pragmatic peer I know. You would make a fine Reinhart.”

The [Lord] stopped and grimaced as if he had found the vintage he was sipping suddenly displeasing.

“Lady Reinhart, is that a denigration of your house or myself?”

Lady Magnolia Reinhart had arrived so stealthily it caught them off-guard. But that was because she was in disguise; she didn’t have a pink dress on, but a wool cloak and puffy jacket underneath. Even [Ladies] got cold.

After Magnolia removed her cloak, she revealed the iconic pink dress, a jacket, and removed her proverbial glasses.

Then again, her servants were also in disguise; they had cloth masks over their faces, and more than one had bundled up. A few wore the [Maid] and [Butler] uniforms despite the intense chill, which was a commitment to style at the expense of personal body warmth.

However, Lady Magnolia Reinhart threw off her jacket, and Reynold caught it. She sat down as Ressa inserted a chair, and her smile had teeth.

“Lord Xitegen, I don’t care for at least two of those things. But it astonishes me that you’d think a prohibition on alcohol would work, even if it were the entire north—or even the entire continent! Banning something so popular leads to a rise in creative ways of undermining the law. Which I do not encourage when I wish to be respected.”

You had to dance fast to keep up with Magnolia. Xitegen’s face didn’t change as one of House Terland’s officers, Controller Lectara, caught up with what Magnolia had said.

“So you’re not one to prohibit people from doing something that harms them? Would we be having the same conversation if this was Selphid Dust?”

Magnolia sighed and rolled her eyes as Ishkr appeared.

“Tea, Mister Ishkr. The good kind I know you get from Witch Eloise. And pour some Ashfire honey in there. A dollop for me.”

The Gnoll bowed, vanished. And then Magnolia replied to Lectara.

“To your question, Controller Lectara. In this odd hypothetical where everyone was snorting Selphid Dust and murdering each other with our teeth we ripped from our gums—I rather imagine Selphid Dust would ban itself. I do not make a habit of prescribing laws to influence behavior. I would rather do it in reverse.”

“Oh, how elegantly I’ve been turned on my head. The wine is suddenly off.”

Lord Xitegen poured himself a larger cup, rolling his eyes. Magnolia Reinhart snorted.

“You would have had everyone at least considering your idea if you hadn’t touched a drop for the last three years, Xitegen. Don’t blame me for failing to lay the groundwork.”

“One can espouse an idea or hold true to their values while compromising for a moment.”

Can one? I never thought you’d sit under the same roof as a Goblin. But before you toss your glass at me, I think the situation warrants it. I just wonder why the [Innkeeper] has gotten you to say the same thing I’ve shouted in your ear the last two decades.”

Lord Xitegen paused, and Tyrion Veltras finally broke into the conversation.

“Magnolia. Good evening to you.”

It was such a non-sequitur he felt he needed to say that Xitegen and Magnolia broke off their staring contest and turned to him. Tyrion Veltras sat back, visibly pleased with himself, and Magnolia exhaled.

“What do you see in him?”

She spoke to Ryoka, and the Wind Runner turned red. Xitegen shook his head. Magnolia sat back as more nobles appeared.

“Magnolia! You’ve been away too long! Have you seen this hilarious moving room that Erin Solstice has made?”

“Bethal, how do you keep so entertained?”

“Magnolia, how do you not?

The [Lady] of House Walchaís was beaming, and Magnolia looked mildly envious and exasperated with her friend. Lady Pryde cleared her throat.

“Magnolia, who’re your companions? And who’s the gentlemen giving Lord Xitegen the evil eye?”

She turned, and Magnolia waved idly without turning her head.

“That would be Demsleth, an old friend, and Taletevirion, another ‘friend’. Do note the quote marks. He probably overheard the prohibition idea.”

The Unicorn was having a glass of Rxlvn and staring Xitegen down. The [Lord] raised his brows. Then he eyed Magnolia and her servants.

“You haven’t been here. I would have imagined you would be about, even if battles are not your area.”

“I have been thoroughly occupied, Xitegen. A little snafu—I’ve been observing the ramifications of something rather interesting that’s happened. Oh, thank you for the tea.”

Ishkr handed over a cup of tea that was a quarter honey, the rest tea. He stared at Magnolia as she drank it. She winked at him. But then someone sneezed and apologized.

“Deeply sorry, Lady Reinhart.”

Reynold sneezed into the cloth mask he wore over his face and stepped back. Magnolia sighed.

“Not at all. Ressa, with me. Everyone else, mingle.”

The servants stepped back, and Ryoka eyed Reynold. Was he sick? It wasn’t like the man to sneeze or look unprofessional, but he seemed actually somewhat miserable as he bowed, retreated, and because she was curious and sensed something was up, Ryoka excused herself from the table as Xitegen began to speak.

“If you’re going to complain about Celum—”

“Xitegen, I was going to offer you my mansion. But if you keep annoying me, I shall offer it to Bethal or Pryde. And believe me, you do not want to compete with them over a city.”

Ryoka sort of wanted to watch the nobles snipe at each other, and Tyrion looked like he wished he could excuse himself, but Ryoka was more interested in the servants.

Each one had a cloth mask on. Either they’d been cleaning dust or they were sick—and Ryoka somehow doubted both. She recognized some servants standing around in a trio.

Bekia, Reynold, and an unknown [Butler]…who turned out to be not so unknown when Ryoka got a look at his miserable face and recognized him.

Theofore the [Assassin] had found new employment! Yet it seemed all of them were suffering or something because Reynold was lowering his mask, then raising it with a wince.

“Smells like weird spices. Something cooked in oil?”

“Falafels. Those round things everyone’s eating for some reason.”

“The outhouses aren’t half as bad as the sewers. Smells acrid?”

“Acid. Erin uses it to clean her outhouses. You get used to it.”

Bekia was talking to them, and Theofore muttered.

“You’re lucky it’s only smell. My life is ruined.”

“Oh, come now. There has to be something beneficial about it.”

“No, there isn’t.”

What were they on about? Then Ryoka saw Reynold sniff and realized he was talking about smell! Was he—smelling the outhouse outside the inn? And Bekia was covering her mouth—but the real clue that this was a new Skill of Magnolia’s—[Employees: Species Perks]—

Was the tail.

Theofore had a Drake tail. Ryoka hadn’t realized it until she saw him from the side. It trailed on the ground, it was black, and everyone who noticed it was staring.

“What the f—”

“Ah, Miss Ryoka. I was hoping to get your help. Lady Reinhart has given us the day off, but we do need an introduction.”

Reynold bowed. Ryoka kept staring at the tail.

“What’s going on?”

“[Employees: Species Perks]. Lady Reinhart’s new Skill.”

Her new—she leveled up? And now you smell like a Gnoll, and you have a tail like a Drake, and you—”

Bekia sighed, then removed her mask, exhaled—and a plume of frost shot out and froze the air. Ryoka Griffin’s mouth opened.


Wait…Dragonbreath and Reynold grudgingly sighed, removed his mask, and there was a flash of light.

“It seems like Dragonbreath or a tail is the most common. Scales might be unpleasant, frankly. Miss Ressa is the only ‘lucky’ one. She has wings.”

Ryoka’s eyes began to pop. Wait. Wait.

“You have super smell and wings? But that’s Gnoll, Drake—”

She stared at Bekia, and the Gnoll harrumphed.

A pepperous picadillo pipes panickingly…fast. Vintage Veltras vibe vying victorious. Apparently, a ‘Human’ talent is the ability to speak in incredible tongue-twisters. I’ve also stopped saying ‘yes’. I can turn it off, but it’s not that useful.”

Her accent changed, and the Gnollish growl became a strong English accent—then she changed dialects until she was speaking like someone from Oswen!

“Or I can sound more roundabout like this. I suppose it works.”

“My ears are good.”

That was all Theofore said. Ryoka was staring from face to face.

Three new abilities? Magnolia had Drakes, Humans, and Gnolls under her employ. If all three got a power…

“Does that mean having a new species would give you…?”

“Lady Reinhart may make Chieftain Rags an offer, but if you would be so good, we would like to consult with the Antinium as well. It is very…sensitive, but I understand she will be approaching Pallassians too.”

Ryoka’s mouth opened as she realized Magnolia’s Skill really was more powerful with her level. Insane! So this was the power of someone over Level 50? Ryoka was reasonably sure Magnolia was, if Tyrion had been the same. Then Ryoka eyed Ressa and realized the [Maid] still had a cloak on.

Ressa turned and glared, but Magnolia’s eye twitched at Ryoka in a wink. No wonder she’d been busy the last few days! Even so, Reynold sighed.

“It has been—a process adjusting to the powers. Which was why we were so glad to let the children roam free in the inn. Most of our abilities are under control, but Bekia’s breath and a few other ones are unpredictable. But we were held up all evening with Lady Reinhart’s attempts to…add to the situation.”

“I have. A tail. It’s useless. Someone’s just going to lop it off.”

Theofore felt like he had been cursed and wondered if Mrsha the Doombearer could actually help him with his run of bad luck. Menolit was staring at him, open-mouthed, and Ryoka was just looking at the servants.

“What else kept you, Reynold?”

The [Butler]’s face was colorful in a way he knew only Ryoka would appreciate. He leaned over as he indicated the rather grumpy duo of old men. Demsleth and Taletevirion, who were not hanging around Magnolia.

“Lady Reinhart spent six hours attempting to have them put on a uniform. Whether or not it would have worked, it seems they needed to play the part, not just look it. Sadly—the employment negotiations failed.”




Magnolia Reinhart’s appearance in the inn did not go unnoticed by Erin, but she was too busy focusing on her current project to talk. Anyways.

The regulars and returning guests of her inn were too tough! Erin Solstice stomped back the way she’d come until she came to a table. The people were talking there—until they looked up at her.

“Er—Innkeeper Solstice. Can I help you?”

Lieutenant Gershal half-rose. Caoraz looked wary, but the [Innkeeper] was giving them an owl of a stare. She tilted her head.

And she was looking at Gershal.

“I overheard you guys talking. You’re Gershal, right? The guy who fought with the Horns. You took my quest. And you fought with the Tidebreaker. Zel. He was a guest of this inn, you know.”

“I—didn’t know that. I hope I wasn’t being facetious, Miss Solstice. I wanted to thank you for the warm greeting and your hospitality.”

Gershal stood, nervously, and bowed. But the [Innkeeper] didn’t seem angry. She looked intense, but she was just staring. Eyes open too-wide, the hazel gaze intent on Gershal. She had that hat of fire, but it wasn’t visible—yet.

“They’re right, you know. This isn’t going to be a simple battle. You heard what I said. You really shouldn’t be here. You don’t know me.”

Gershal hesitated as Erin spoke to him. She paused a second.

“But—if you’re staying, I’m grateful. We don’t know each other; I wish we did. You sound like a fun guy to get to know.”

What could you say to that? Gershal blushed a bit.

“Vaunt’s very popular despite our small nature as a city, Miss. Here—I’d like to give you a gift from my city.”

He produced a wrapped wheel of cheese and handed it to Erin. She blinked—Redscar handed her a knife, and she took a sliver.

“Whoa, this is nice! It’s sweet.”

“It’s a specialty camembert. Sophia’s Kiss. Sophia was a cow.”

This man went around handing cheese out to people he met and he wondered why he was popular? It turned out this wasn’t just a case of Gershal being equipped with random pieces of cheese, either.

“Every time we go out of our city, we all get at least five pieces of our cheeses. It’s good marketing to give them out. I took five times as many myself. Vaunt can’t pay for the fanciest artifacts, but there’s a funny story about our troops running out of supplies during a winter and surviving on cheeses.”

“Dead gods. What are you, some kind of [Lieutenant of the Brie Line]?”

Caoraz couldn’t resist. It wasn’t even a funny joke. And he instantly tensed up as Relc snorted, and Gershal turned red.


Erin glared at him and slapped Gershal on the shoulder.

“Be more respectful. This is a [Lieutenant of Cheddar].”

“No. I believe he will soon become a [Mozzarella Major].”

Embraim said that straight-faced, and Relc began guffawing. Redscar closed his eyes and got up to leave. And the [Innkeeper] was laughing as Gershal groaned.

“Cheese puns. Everyone tries them, and no one knows more than five cheeses outside of Vaunt. If you’re going to say [Gouda General], I’ve heard it.”

Erin Solstice had to laugh at this, along with everyone else. She was smiling at Gershal of Vaunt, and then she said something else that was unexpected.

“I have a funny request. I think I do remember you—did you get a magic sword from the <Heroic Quest>? Are you still using it? Can I see it?”

Gershal of Vaunt obligingly showed her his sword, which was his biggest gain from the battle against the Gargoyles. It was a gravity-magic blade that activated a twisting, signature magical effect. Erin felt it, impressed.

“Ooh. That’s so cool. I give out these <Quests>, but I get nothing.”

“I could wish I had it a while back. It’s not the best blade, but it’s quite the treasure. My own commander wanted to take it from me, but I hung onto it.”

Erin Solstice lifted the blade up; it was light, but she imagined swinging it would be hard. She wasn’t a swordswoman or a warrior. But she noticed how people stared at her.

Oh. They were remembering Zeladona. Erin gave them a guilty smile, and Theofore flinched. But she was not Zeladona.

Even so, she realized that some of them might look at her, like Relc, and see someone else. Sserys’ ghost. Erin Solstice looked down and wondered if someone else saw Zel Shivertail in this inn.

Wall Lord Ilvriss was staring up at the frozen memory, though he had held his tongue, his eyes lost in regrets and respect he had only truly found after it was too late. But he half-rose as Erin looked at him. She spoke to them all.

“Zel was a guest here. I didn’t appreciate him the way I should have, Gershal. I wish I could tell you where he sat, but I think most of the tables and chairs got smashed. Heck, we rebuilt the inn at least once since he was here. But he was here, and I remember him.”

Her eyes flashed, and in her gaze her friends saw the [Garden of Sanctuary]. That hilltop of statues. Was that where she was going to take the [Lieutenant of Cheese]?

“I was honored to have met him. He should not have passed there, Miss Solstice.”

That was all Gershal said, and many Drakes looked at him angrily, as if prepared to shout that it was not their fault. The Humans rustled, and Controller Lectara opened her mouth as if to say that they should have waited for reinforcements.

But neither group spoke. Erin Solstice’s eyes glowed as her head swung around, and they fell silent.

“There’s somewhere I should take you. A memorial for the Tidebreaker. But before that, I have something to give to you, Gershal of Vaunt. I think it will work. Come with me, would you?”

Erin put the sword on her shoulder and nearly stabbed Ishkr. Then she turned. Caoraz ducked, and Erin strode down the inn. Gershal got to his feet as Redscar cackled and jumped off his chair.

“Wait, my sword—”

Gershal followed Erin, wondering what she was going to do—and half the inn followed. There came Major Khorpe, Perorn, Agent Virrt, Calruz, Olesm, and the [Soldiers]. Magnolia Reinhart got to her feet and winked as Lord Xitegen looked incredulous.

“You can’t be serious, Magnolia.”

“Lord Xitegen. Does she surprise you? Don’t treat her like one of us playing at party favors and little tricks. She is Larracel the Haven’s peer.”

When she said it like that, more than one person decided to follow Erin. And the [Innkeeper] marched into her [World’s Eye Theater].

Not the [Garden of Sanctuary]. The dome was glowing, and Hethon, Sammial, Ekirra, Visma, and Kenva all tried to hide behind Mrsha and Nanette.

“—my favorite monster I’ve ever killed? I guess that would have to be—oh, oops.

King Itreimedes of Avel tried to hide behind his throne as Erin Solstice stopped. She eyed the King of Bows, who had apparently been so bored he and the kids had been swapping stories. She raised her brows.

“They’ll call you back, Your Majesty.”

“Oh, that’s quite alright. They were just telling me how that Flying Gnoll’s contraption worked—”

The King of Bows vanished on the crystal dome as Erin sighed. Then the glass overhead began to flicker.

Gershal of Vaunt had heard the [World’s Eye Theatre] had a lot more powers, but Erin hadn’t used it for more than a glorified [Scrying] orb. Now—he looked up and realized it really could show anything.

Not just parts of the world. Not just send Erin Solstice’s image almost anywhere she wanted.

It also had the power to show her memories.

The [Innkeeper]’s head rose, but it seemed like she didn’t need to see the image of a bemused, giant Drake watching a smaller Gnoll eating pancakes at a table. But then her eyes sharpened, as if the theatre revealed things even she had forgotten.

Zel Shivertail appeared as Erin had seen him, a memory glowing above, and Lieutenant Caoraz halted at the entrance of the theatre, as if afraid to step forwards.

Calruz shouldered past him, and Olesm stopped only a second, then leaned on the balcony. Ilvriss looked up, and Erin Solstice stood there, a sword on her shoulder.


Selys Shivertail wasn’t sure she’d needed to see this tonight. Why couldn’t Erin just play a few games of chess and lift a glass up? But perhaps she wasn’t sure that was enough, today.

Then Selys looked down as Erin Solstice slowly walked down the aisle of seats and realized what was different about the [Innkeeper]. It wasn’t the [Innkeeper]; it was the [Witch].

Her hat wasn’t blazing, but it didn’t have to every single time. Erin Solstice shook her head a second.

“No. That’s not the right memory. I wasn’t there when he died. And it doesn’t work with your memories. But perhaps…”

The image changed. Then—Zel Shivertail was standing at the door to The Wandering Inn, lifting a claw in farewell. The image halted, and he paused, half-turning.


The land became grey and distant, and a Drake was reaching for a woman that stood there, engulfed in flame. Caoraz’s eyes went round.

Who was that woman? She unsettled him, and the world looked half-real. Zel looked different. Young—

The image vanished, and the picture of him at the door to the inn reappeared. Erin Solstice shook her head.

Not her. No more power for her.

She looked up, and the people staring up realized something was wrong. The image wasn’t perfectly clear. It looked…fuzzy, and the details were only on Zel, really. There was a table in the corner, but it wasn’t sharp.

As if Erin Solstice didn’t remember everything perfectly. Her [Perfect Recall] Skill; it only worked on the arts.

But it’d do, and she remembered this. Well enough. Erin was staring up, and Gershal of Vaunt took a seat.

“That’s him. Why…why are you showing the Tidebreaker to me, Miss Solstice? I did not know him that well. He left an impact, I like to say. But I’m not anything like an heir to his will.”

Her head turned slightly, and then Erin Solstice lifted the sword from her shoulder. She studied the magic blade, holding it up and keeping her fingers away from the edge.

A beautiful, magical sword with a twisted hilt. Erin doubted that even if she could cast magic, even if it was her class, if she could make anything better than this.

Hedault had praised the kind of magic that the system rewarded via the <Quests>; even if it wasn’t as good as he could do, it was often unique.

The [Lieutenant] had a magic sword for this coming battle. But a magic sword wasn’t enough to make a [Hero].

Erin didn’t want a [Hero]. Heroes had tragic lives and died. She looked back and saw no hero.

Just a brave man.

So she spoke.

“Gershal of Vaunt. My class is [Magical Innkeeper]. And I do the magic part; that’s this.”

She waggled her fingers in the middle of her [World’s Eye Theatre]. But then she looked up.

“I’m also something else. I am the [Witch of Second Chances]. And I offer many people second chances in different ways.”

Erin glanced at Calruz, Embraim, and even Rags. They nodded at her, smiled, raised their brows.

“Y-yes, Miss Solstice? What’s my second chance? To protect someone again? I will try.”

Now, Gershal was getting scared. He was waiting for her to post a <Mythical>, no, a <Legendary Quest>. And some of Erin’s guests were expecting that with bated breath.




Badarrow was standing on one side with Calescent and Redscar. The Goblin muttered as he watched Erin staring up at the image of Zel, then talking to the [Lieutenant].

“I missed this. But didn’t. She makes your heart hurt. How do you do it, Calescent?”

Redscar agreed. He didn’t know how anyone could stay at the inn.

“Too much crying, probably. Numbtongue is the only one who can stay.”

The [Chef] eyed both tough Hobgoblins and snorted.

“Stupid. She’s just an onion. Tears happen.”




Erin Solstice looked up and concentrated. She hadn’t tried this out, and she didn’t know what the consequences would be.

It was the only thing she could think of. She was no [Enchanter].

But she was a [Witch].

She lifted Gershal’s sword with one hand and reached up with the other as if trying to reach up into that vast ceiling of glass and into the memory. But she couldn’t go back. What she could do was remember him.

Already, the details of how Zel Shivertail had looked were not perfect. But the memory was bright. The Drake’s green scales flashed as they turned to steel armor, and his eyes were faintly yellow.

His memory lingered on in many people. She could give people the [Boon of the Guest]. But only one person at a time, and only if she thought they were worthy.

Erin could see his statue, but the Drake who had been called the Tidebreaker, the General of Izril, was still gone. So this?

This was just a memory. But she looked at Gershal, a man that she thought Zel would have approved of being here, and Erin’s fingers felt wet. The theatre trembled, wavered, and the air felt odd, as if it didn’t know if this was allowed.

But she was doing it. So Erin pulled, and something ran down onto her hand. It looked like droplets of…


They dropped out of the air, as if condensing from that vivid memory. Gently, Erin collected them in her hand. A drop of green. A flash of off-white from a smile. A mote of yellow and steel. She heard someone gasp—

“Erin. You can’t!”

Nanette shouted, but Erin just smiled.

“It’s a memory, Nanette. I don’t remember Relc’s spear either. Memories change. All I have to do is re-remember it. But this?”

She lifted something in her hand. It looked like the colors she had given to Pawn. The paint of her home—but this was different. Erin Solstice slowly ran her hand across the sword of Gershal of Vaunt.

The colors she had drained from her memory flashed, and the sword rose once more. The blade had been pale silver. Now?

It was a shade of silver-green, and the handle was a pale yellowish-white, brighter than gold by far, and when she lowered it, she knew it was different.

Erin was afraid to look up, but when she did—she exhaled.

He was still there. The colors were still there. It wasn’t the same as Ekirra’s ball. She had been far, far more careful this time. But even so…she lifted the sword up, and it was definitely different.

“What did you do?

Grimalkin of Pallass was staring down at Erin and then up at the memory. Erin looked at him.

“Not magic like the kind you know. Gershal of Vaunt. Take this sword. And this time. Don’t you dare die or fail again.”

She turned and let the sword rest in her hands. Erin Solstice felt a bit silly as she held it out to him, but he looked at her wide-eyed and then around.

Gershal hesitated—then reached out and took the hilt of the sword. He lifted it up, flinching, and stared at it. Then Erin Solstice exhaled and felt something leave her.

It hurt. It was a loss—but the blade shone with colors no one had ever dreamed of. Not Hedault, not Valeterisa—and Erin whispered.

“This is the last thing I can do.”

Second chances. She looked around, and now Caoraz was giving her the look of a first-timer.

Olesm clapped him on the shoulder, and Calruz slapped him on the back, and the Drake nearly went over the row of seats.




“Who does she think she is? Supreme executive power comes from a mandate from the masses, not some farcical aquatic ceremony!”

Kevin slammed a fist on the table and got a lot of laughter even if people didn’t get the reference at all. This was joined in an instant by Keldrass.

“That’s right! Democracy! De-mo-cra-cy!


One of Manus’ [Soldiers] instantly booed the Pallassians, and that got a huge laugh. You had to have a laugh after Erin did something like that.

“Yeah! Some watery tart distributing swords is no basis for a system of government!”

That came from another Earther; Troydel shouted as he leapt to his feet with a grin. Rhaldon stared at Troydel, and several of the cheering people stopped abruptly.

“Too far, dude.”

Troydel sat down as Kevin gave him a stare. Well, it was also in how you delivered it.

Erin Solstice herself slapped Troydel on the shoulder as she walked out of her magic door.

“I’m not just handing out magic swords! I’m re-enchanting—I’m not just handing—you know what? No magic sword for you.”

“Aw, come on. You don’t even know what you did, Erin.”

Gershal was, at this very moment, gingerly trying out his sword with Redscar, Embraim, and a bunch of people. It was cold as heck, but they wanted to know what it did—but no one wanted to lock swords with Gershal until they were certain the spirit of Zel wouldn’t come out and kill them.

“That’s right. An instruction manual with your magic powers would be handy, Miss. Or you could do that for my army. A thousand soldiers, at least. It’s a cute trick, though.”

That urbane comment came from General Edellein Blackwing, one of three Pallassian [Generals] present. There were so many people that it wasn’t surprising to see 4th Army’s Edellein here.

Not that he was to take part in the battle. General Shirka was the leader that Chaldion had picked for the defensive action.

She and General Duln of 1st Army were the ones with any real stake in the battle. But all three [Generals] were here as a sign of solidarity. And probably to stake Pallass’ claim in this battle to outsiders like Wall Lords Aldonss and Ilvriss.

The other Walled Cities could have sent more; Salazsar was second most-represented, especially with Major Khorpe. Of course, there were two days till the Solstice, and Drakes could move fast.

But despite Perorn’s comments, even Fleethoof herself didn’t think Luciva was going to come down with a wing of Wyverns.

She could have used that. Liscor’s 1st Army itself was absent, and the Centaur thought that Embria and the other two companies were a paltry replacement.

Not everyone was Erin Solstice’s friend. But the [Innkeeper] was still breaking her rules. The Solstice was coming. Nothing might remain afterwards. So she slapped Troydel on the shoulder again and turned to General Edellein.

“I don’t have a thousand swords, pal. And if I did, I wouldn’t give them to you. I never have enough to give to people who come and help me. I never have. Friendship is sometimes people giving things they know they’ll never get back.”

“Very anti-Drake, then.”

The Drake [General] sniffed, not impressed with Erin. She stared at him. He was deadpan. Even other Drakes were eying him incredulously. Erin spoke slowly.

“Seems like it. I might even ask for the colors back, afterwards. It depends on whether you’re worthy of them. These? These are just loaners. They’re not even mine to give away, you know. But then again—you have to give things back.”

Edellein had no idea what she was talking about. The Drake raised his brows as Erin walked across her inn. Olesm noticed something as Erin clomped over the floor.

She was wearing boots, even indoors. Oh, and they were trailing snow melting fast. Which was hardly unique; Silverstache was happily cleaning up all the mud that was being tracked in as Ishkr chased after him with a broom and dustpan.

But Erin hadn’t been outside.

She did know what she was doing. The [Innkeeper] halted in front of a table, and Edellein thought that if she slapped his shoulder, she’d regret it; he had armor on. But Erin just reached out—and the [Garden of Sanctuary] was open.

“And just so you know—I’m not some watery tart. And this isn’t a sword. It’s a halberd, idiot.

Erin Solstice yanked something out of the air, and cold air blew into the inn and made the fireplaces gutter. Everyone was already staring at her, but they saw, in the moment her door opened, a room filled with snow.

Something like an altar—no—it wasn’t an altar to a person. It looked like that at first, but it was just a stand, and the figure on top of it was actually a mannequin that should have been covered in armor.

The snow-laced room was a kind of prayer to war itself, and the [Innkeeper]’s hand closed on the haft of a curious blade that stood taller than her. She pulled it out, grimacing as snow fell and the rust-colored blade found the light.

It looked plain and red—until she shifted it, and the metal began to gleam with layers of inner light without end. Then they realized it was polished, unrusted, and that the metal was that color from the start.

The Adamantium glowed with a shine that no one except Pelt had seen in an age.

The Dwarf had been throwing falafels at his apprentice for trying to get him to eat healthy. But his head turned as if he smelled or sensed the metal first. His face paled, and Edellein’s mouth opened—he leaned back and fell out of his chair.

Then he reached up with a trembling claw.

And the innkeepery tart turned—and held the halberd out to the person sitting to his left.

General Duln, the only Dullahan officer in the room, had gone still, feeding himself a bite of dinner. His mouth was open; his head was off his body, revealing a glowing orange hole where his neck had been. He scrambled for his head and put it on his shoulders, then looked at Erin.

Chaldion might have stopped breathing. Khorpe was laughing and clapping again, and the [Innkeeper] smiled.

“I don’t know many Dullahans. You’re not worthy of this. But someone should take it.”

She tried to lift it up and hold it sideways, but it was too heavy for her to do one-handed. She nearly dropped it—and Duln caught it with his hands. The moment he touched the blade, he swore he felt a shock run through his entire body.


Erin recoiled as if kicked, and she saw the Dullahan’s armor light up. Runes of magic were tracing themselves down his arms and legs, and that definitely hadn’t happened when she had held it.

“Species-specific weapons. Mwah. That’s so Drakeish everyone stole the idea from us.”

Saliss caught Erin and blew a kiss with one claw. But he was grinning, and Erin Solstice caught her breath. She pointed down at General Edellein, who was on his back and staring up at her.

“And you’re definitely not worthy, pal. Okay.”

Then the [Witch of Second Chances] turned. And her smile took in the entire inn.

“I’ve got a long two days and all of tonight. Who’s next?”

She threw back her head, and The Wandering Inn resounded with voices.




Erin was cackling. She stood in her inn, not handing out relics like someone handing out candy. Rather, she handed the idea of them out. The actual article? Very, very few blades.

The fact that she had any was insane. But the sight of the young woman looming over nervous, hardened [Soldiers] with a teasing smile and mischief in her eyes was helping some people come to a belated realization.

“She’s a witch. I knew it. She’s a witch!

Sammial Veltras seemed to have missed every single memo about Erin’s other class. Probably because he thought reading was something other people did. However, the boy said it in a way that made sense.

“I think you are correct, Sammial. That is a [Witch]. Indeed. Hither-to, I wouldn’t have believed it.”

Tyrion Veltras nodded slowly. House Veltras’ soldiers looked at each other as the two [Lords] confirmed the obvious. It was amazing to see that even they had the same feeling Ryoka Griffin did about their [Lords].

But that was sort of why you liked them. Magnolia Reinhart rolled her eyes, but even she was smiling.

“At least we won’t have an issue from Veltras. Terland I shall keep an eye on and slap if they get unruly.”

She murmured to Ryoka. The Wind Runner hesitated.

“What does that mean?”

Magnolia Reinhart tapped under one eye slowly, and Ryoka saw her mildly exasperated look. So the Wind Runner turned her head, shut up—and her understanding of the north pointed out the answer.


House Veltras wasn’t recoiling from Erin wholesale. In fact, the soldiers were nervously approaching Erin with a lot of Drakes and people whose desire to possibly get a Relic of old exceeded their dislike of her, her class, Goblins, or Antinium.

Which you could argue was pragmatic—but here was the thing. That was more than the Terlands were doing.

Controller Lectara had taken a step back when she realized Erin’s nature. [Witch]? She seemed more scared of Erin than before.

And that had to be due to each house’s attitude. House Veltras was, at its core, still a lot of smaller groups of people living pretty close to nature. [Druids] were respected in House Veltras, and they had that rural connection.

House Terland had Golems; Ryoka had heard their cities were highly developed, and they entrusted all their work to Golems if they could. Not exactly witch-friendly.

Even if they didn’t fear Erin, like Lord Xitegen, they weren’t at home with her. Point for House Veltras, then. The Wind Runner admired her friend for a second.

Then she pushed herself to her feet. For she’d done a lot of sitting around, and she felt bad—because she had to contribute something too. The problem was that this wasn’t a place that needed deliveries or someone running around.

In fact, there were too many damn Couriers around. Seve-Alrelious was enjoying the moment. He seemed to have decided The Wandering Inn was a place worth defending. Compared to Ryoka, it was a reminder that a real Courier was a force.

Yes, she could fly and use the wind.

He? He had magical animals who’d come out and kick the shit out of anything he didn’t like and had the power of A’ctelios Salash running through his veins. Maybe the flesh was greener on the other side, but Ryoka felt like she didn’t match up to him at the moment.

And the gap just widened. For Erin Solstice turned, pointed, and everyone crowding around her ducked.

Ryoka sensed the lightning in the air and slapped a spoon out of Hethon’s hand. It went flying across the table as he yelped, looked at her, hurt—and a bit of static sparked.

Ressa caught the spoon in midair, grimacing, and Ryoka saw sparks run around the inn as a door opened. She sensed a storm. Lightning…and a Goblin sat up at her table. Rags checked her shortsword as the blade gleamed—and Erin Solstice’s cackling was drowned out by thunder.

The lightning tree room. Even the Goblin Chieftain looked surprised. And mildly upset. Was Erin giving out the treasured blades she hadn’t wanted to touch?

Only to the worthy or those who might be worthy, surely. And who was worthy of that? Wall Lord Aldonss glanced up as Manus’ crowd susurrated, and Rafaema fanned her wings excitedly. Erin was pointing at them!

No…Rafaema realized Erin wasn’t pointing at her. Nor at Aldonss. She traced Erin’s finger, turned her head, and her mouth fell open.

“You. The two of you, I suppose, but you. You’ll do.”


Someone pointed at themself and stood, half-smiling until they realized it wasn’t even them. Erin Solstice stared past the speaker, and her actual target looked around and then pointed at his chest. Me? He looked delighted, confused, and then—when he swung himself onto his feet and stared at her, she had him.


“A monkey?

Lulv roared, and Erek stopped loping forwards and gave the Gnoll a push. Lulv went skidding across the ground as Erek’s pure, Orangutan strength reminded the Humans in the room that they had developed intelligence—but they weren’t going to win an arm-pulling-off competition with their ancestors.

“Erek? Are you sure, Erin? He’s not even outside all the time.”

“Then take this, Hundredfriend Courier. And find out where the blade came from. Then come home and tell me all about your adventures!”

Come home. Seve was left breathless—until a smile eclipsed his surprise. Then he bowed, and Ryoka thought—well.

So that was how she charmed people so damn fast.

Erin Solstice lifted a sword up high; it was a longsword, the hilt blackened with soot by a million lightning strikes. The blade itself looked worn and ancient, as if the rain had eroded even magic. It was still weeping rain, and Ryoka felt like it carried a storm with it. Her eyes found a streak of faded blue running down the center of the blade, like a bolt of lightning.

Slowly, Erek lifted his hands, and the [Innkeeper] placed the sword gently onto his palms. The Orangutan hesitated—and the [Innkeeper] smiled.

“Are you going to be worthy of it?”

Ook. Ok? Oook.”

“Good. Do your best.”

A. Monkey.

The outrage of the others was rising—except when Erek extended his long, long arm and lifted the longsword in a way that suggested he not only knew how to use it, but any attempts to take the blade from him would be a mistake.

“How did she know Erek knew how to use a sword?”

Even Seve-Alrelious was surprised. Everyone else turned to him, and Erin winked. Perorn Fleethoof was eying Erin, and the [Strategist] looked surprised, but not astonished. As if she were getting a sense of Erin.

“Interesting. So she’s not like even Foliana. Even Niers wouldn’t think to do that. He’d hire an ape-tribe in a second. But give one a magic sword?”

Erin was whirling, now, and her eyes were roaming the crowd. She paused, and her expression twisted like she’d just taken a bite of something nasty. But she looked around at the Antinium, Goblins, and Ryoka just bet she had gifts for all of them.

Yet Erin knew her audience. So, though it made her look like she wanted to spit, she was playing a careful game. She turned back to that garden of rains.

“I have only a few more blades from this one. There’s one I can’t even reach without getting hurt.”

“I thought you owned the garden, Erin? Even you’d get hurt?”

“Yeah. Well. That one won’t stop shooting lightning everywhere. See?”

Erin pointed, and Ryoka edged around and saw a tree made of—glass? Then she saw what looked like one of the crystalline branches high up was glowing with sparking arcs of electricity—

A spear was embedded in the tree. Erin Solstice exhaled. Then her head turned.

“A spear for a [Spearmaster]. Hey, you. Yes, you. Want it? Do you think you’re worthy? Do you think I’ll let you have it?”

Her head slowly twisted around, and she gave a stare like a lighthouse to the person who looked incredulous despite himself. Ryoka saw Relc half-rise, then hold still as Erin’s eye twitched. And he groaned and turned as Spearmaster Lulv growled.


His teeth bared as an uproar began—starting with Mrsha and rising through the room. But Erin Solstice just beckoned.

“Convince me.”

“Lulv—that might beat any spear we have in our armories. Dead gods, it might be better than your old one. Aldonss, sit down. Lulv, with me.”

Rafaema was rising. She stood, and Ryoka saw it.

Erin didn’t like Manus, but even Magnolia was giving Erin a look like an underwhelming pupil had just aced a test. The [Lady] was exhaling.

“Ressa, pinch me. Am I seeing this right? Subtlety? From Erin Solstice?”

Ressa obligingly slapped the back of Magnolia’s neck. The [Lady] glowered. And Ryoka was trying to piece together everything Erin had done.

Let’s see. She gave a Relic-class item to Duln, which pissed the hell out of Manus and the other Walled Cities. But they were only pissed off at her—now she’s offering Lulv a weapon. But wait a second, didn’t he lose his spear to the Antinium? Infinitypear. She was worried he was going to kill them to get it back.

If Erin gave Lulv a new spear, would he forswear vengeance? She was looking pointedly at Relc, and there was Embria here—Lulv was hesitating, probably in genuine fear for the first time. For the one thing Spearmaster Lulv was bad at was…diplomacy.

And Erin had something he wanted at last. Her smile was not very nice.

But it was even more than that. Who loved magic items? Everyone here. And Erin had just given magic items to a Dullahan, an Orangutan, and now was considering it for a Gnoll.

The north was getting unhappy. A lot of the supercilious officers were realizing that they were somehow lower on Erin’s list of friends than a bunch of Drakes. They were trying to figure out how to rectify the issue.

Still, Ryoka felt like Erin had missed a point, which was that if she was rewarding friends—ah, she was thinking too fast for once. Because Erin turned and winked.

“And before you protest—I already gave Ilvriss his sword.”

The Salazsarians twisted around—and the Wall Lord was sitting there, legs crossed, sipping from a cup of coffee. He put a hand on the hilt of his sword, lifted his cup, and gave Erin a smile.


It was the same trick Erin had pulled, only with more finesse. Magnolia Reinhart was beaming. She wasn’t idle either; she had just finished writing something down, and she passed the note to Ressa, who flicked it left.

Lower-level or not, Tyrion Veltras caught the note before it hit him in the face. He read it and stared at the note. Then he stood for a quick word with Buscrei and Xitegen, who both looked at Magnolia before reluctantly leaning over. And everyone on the north’s side had noticed that.

Ryoka Griffin realized she was too busy admiring it all. She did a quick dance on the spot, looking around. Where was her target? In a moment like this, she could contribute! She hurried off to help—she was searching the crowd.

Was he using the bathroom? She jogged out into the hallway, past Liska, who poked her head out of the portal room.

“Is something cool happening?”


“Aw. Damn. Is it edible?”


“Oh, okay then.”

Ryoka strode outside. She looked around for Demsleth and saw the outhouses had a queue. A grumpy old man was standing in line, muttering about the frailties of bladders.


Someone grabbed Ryoka before she could shout at him. A hand pulled at Ryoka—and she threw a punch. She hit something soft, fuzzy, and as she turned her head—a figure in a cloak smiled at her.

Or his mouth opened and the googly eyes of the giant sock puppet moved a bit. Ryoka stared.

Well, this was just as good.

“Well, well, well. Seems someone’s been busy. Your friend, I mean. She looks halfway competent. You, on the other hand, haven’t been doing much. Find any Dryad seeds yet?”

Rhissy sneered down at Ryoka, and she swallowed.

“As a matter of fact—”

“Don’t answer that. I want the genuine article, not status updates. The Winter Solstice, eh? I caught most of what she said; for a high-level Skill, the [World’s Eye Theatre] isn’t hard to listen in on.”

The Wyrm seemed self-satisfied as ever. Ryoka adjusted like the speed of light.

“Well—I’m sure Erin was letting you listen in. Not that you’re going to help, so why bother? Listen, if you’re going to gloat, tonight’s not a good time, okay? I’m busy. Can we talk after the Solstice if I’m alive? I need to ask someone for help.”

Rhissy’s eyes couldn’t exactly narrow since he was a giant sock puppet—but Ryoka was pretty sure the Wyrm’s eyes were narrowing in Ailendamus.

“And who do you think could help you in this moment?”

“Oh, I don’t know. Demsleth.

“Demsleth? Who’s D—that bastard.

Rhisveri spotted Demsleth standing in line and recognized Teriarch in a moment. His voice rose in outrage.

“He’s just wandering around? That fat—I thought he had subtlety!”

Ryoka flipped up her hair and tried to look dismissive.

“So says the giant sock puppet. Listen. I need actual, substantive help right now. So can we do this later? There’s also this Unicorn—I need heavy hitters, not children’s show toys.”

She turned and strode towards Demsleth. Hoping like hell she knew—yep. A sock puppet bit her shoulder with its fuzzy mouth and dragged her back.

“Shut. Up. You ingrate. Ask him for—you think that greedy hoarder will give you anything? You think that [Innkeeper] can give out more than a few decent items? Hah! I guess I’ll teleport all this Truegold weaponry into the sea, then. No scales off my back.”

Ryoka froze in genuine astonishment for a second—but that was because it worked either way.


“Oh, got your attention now, have I?”

The sock puppet grinned at her in a not-really-menacing way. He leaned forwards.

“I heard you have an undead problem. What those idiot Drakes don’t seem to realize, even the Titan and that ‘Cyclops’ himself, hah—is that you’re not fighting run-of-the-mill undead. Trust me. Ailendamus has been fighting real undead in the last few years.”

“Didn’t you have a war with Noelictus that went horribly wrong or something? Uziel ment—”

The sock puppet headbutted Ryoka so hard she sat down in the snow and saw stars.

“Shut. Up. As it so happens, I have a lot of weapons I don’t need at this moment. What with most ghosts being dead or gone. Now, I don’t care to give you even cheap items like that, but I’m convinced this might be an important battle. I’ll put this on your growing tab, got it?”

“Rhisveri, thank you. I—”

The sock puppet was grinning superiorly as Ryoka got up. He jerked his head.

“Twenty miles north, eight west. Buried under a snowdrift. Your bag of holding should fit it. If not, I’m sure a Courier can make a few trips in the snow. Better hurry; a [Thief] might spot it.”

Then he turned and receded into the shadows of the inn. Ryoka Griffin rubbed at her head for a second, then bowed to the place Rhisveri had been. She waited three heartbeats, then lowered her breath and muttered.

“He’s a good guy after all. I guess…even Teriarch can’t beat that. Wow. Amazing.”

She was pretty sure he’d heard that. Then Ryoka went jogging off to get those weapons. But not before she had a quick word with Demsleth.

After all, if Erin knew how to motivate the people with short lives, and understood their hopes and dreams and fears, Ryoka understood the same of immortals.




The [Innkeeper] took a break in the middle of deliberating whether to give Lulv his spear, because she really didn’t have that many magical items to give out.

At least—so she thought. But a wind-frozen Ryoka and a relieved Dragon came to find her in the middle of her beach-garden as she was kicking some sand into the waves.

No freebies—oh, hey guys. I locked the garden to anyone but friends, but wow, people are not shy about using Mrsha or other people as messengers. And Mrsha has no scruples.”

“Well done, Miss Solstice. Well done indeed. You have the air of a [Witch] about you—albeit a tad underdone in your peroration on the matter of the dead gods. One supposes Perorn is a master of that. Aha.”

Teriarch’s puns were so complex that Erin just stared at him as Ryoka groaned. But the Dragon was smiling—a bit too hugely—and Ryoka was giving Erin a significant look.

“I have something for you, Erin. How many relics do you have?”

“Not enough to give out like candy even if I wanted to give them all.”

Ryoka grunted.

“Well, how about Truegold blades? They’re not ‘much better’ than steel, apparently, and I’m told they’re below Mithril in quality—except for the fact that they kill ghosts like no one’s business.”

“I don’t have any of—what the heck.

Ryoka began dumping swords, maces, even giant hammers and shields and pieces of armor onto the beach. Erin’s eyes popped, and Teriarch looked down and sniffed.

“Looks mass-produced. Shaping spells, sharpening, and a bulk enchantment on the lot. Shoddy work, really. He could do better.”


“Don’t ask questions, just start giving them out. You want magic swords? We’ve got them. It’s better if it comes from you. As for Relics—I brought this one because he might be able to help with that.”

Ryoka nudged Teriarch, and the old man swept back his hair and smiled. He seemed taller and grander, and he folded his hands behind his back. Erin gave him a confuzzled look—because even despite knowing him, she did not know Demsleth.

Ryoka had a resigned look much like the one Magnolia had given her—along with a nod—when she had come back in with the Dragon. Demsleth cleared his throat a few times and eyed Erin.

“I may indeed have a little proposal for you. You need high-quality artifacts and relics to arm your guests with. Judiciously! One must work for the favor of a [Witch]…and they are lent, though getting such items back is difficult after the fact. Ahem. I speak from experience there.”

Erin smiled crookedly.

“If they’re alive, I’ll worry about it later.”

The Dragon’s smile turned into a serious look for a second.

“Indeed. Which is why I propose to help you. Not every weapon in your gardens is surely usable, is it?”

Many were not, and Erin nodded.

“Ice, rain, and lightning…a lot of ‘em aren’t good, and most gardens don’t have much. They’re…not supposed to be used, but I have to do something. I’m sorry about it.”

She looked guilty, and Teriarch rested a hand on her shoulder.

“The owners have passed, and I think they would understand the need to protect—if anyone can. I am offering to help supplement your stores. As Ryoka points out, a ‘magic weapon’ can come from your gardens with few questions asked.”

Erin’s head rose, and she gave him a disbelieving look before she remembered—Dragon. Of course he had a hoard! But she’d never heard of a Dragon just giving out magic weapons! She nodded to him, awkwardly grateful.

“Th-thank you, Teriarch. What can you give me? I think weapons are great, but armor’d be even better; there’s not as much armor or shields and stuff.”

Erin was smiling now, with genuine hope and relief, but Ryoka rolled her eyes as Demsleth hesitated. And Erin noticed and shot the Wind Runner a quizzical glance, and Ryoka gave her a warped smile. Demsleth was hesitating, and he cleared his throat a few more times. Then produced some spectacles and put them on his nose.

“Well, let us see, shall we? Obviously I need to inspect anything that can be restored—it may have low value as a ‘weapon of war’, but I happen to have a few means of bringing back even the most destroyed of objects. Did you really burn scraps of a spellbook in a fireplace? Tsk. Tsk. Obviously a completely warped enchantment is no good, but even a ‘destroyed’ artifact with historical merit—I can certainly swap that out for a very strong but, ah, mundane sword in my collection. It’s about significance over sheer power.”

Erin stared at him. She rubbed one ear for a second—then figured out what he was saying.

“Wait. You want to trade me weapons that are as good as the ones—”

“As good as or better. I can be exceedingly generous, especially in light of the occasion.”

The Dragon was trying to look humble, but Ryoka had her face averted, and Erin’s goodwill and surprise at his altruism was turning cynical. Teriarch was doing his best, but…

“This wouldn’t happen to be because you think the swords and such are collector’s items, would it?”

To his credit, he only hesitated one second before looking sternly at her.

“Miss Erin. I simply preserve memories, much like you do. Does it make sense to use up a Relic on its last legs in a battle or for me to offer a replacement that will serve even better?”

He drew himself up, and his image flickered. A Brass Dragon folded his claws together and gave Erin a smile that did not lack shame, but rather had such self-satisfied pomposity that shame ran away.

“At the end of who I am and in my direst hour—I am still who I am. A collector. I find it gives me small joys, much like you play chess. And it does not do to give every soldier a magic sword, does it? That makes them think they are invincible.”

He threw his head back and chuckled like the shift of metal in the stratums of the earth—and Ryoka loved him for that like she loved many immortals, and it was probably how he had charmed Magnolia and so many others.

Not Erin. A Dragon was still looking for trinkets for his hoard, and she beheld him. Erin said nothing. But her mouth was a firm line, and her eyes held a kind of actual disgust that made Ryoka intervene before Teriarch got defensive.

“Why don’t we—take a look around, Erin? I can help sort things and do the trades.”

“Yeah. That might be best. Thanks, Ryoka.”

Erin had never really known Teriarch. She had known Demsleth, seen his grief and connected with him in ways even Ryoka might envy. But she kept staring as the Dragon averted his head. Blushed.

“No respect for my nature. None at all. It reminds me of another young woman who—hmph.”

He turned to Ryoka, who gave him a more understanding smile. Erin waited until Teriarch’s head was turned, then she gave Ryoka a kick. She still agreed, but wow.

It took a certain someone to overlook all the immortal faults and failings. Yet another to think they were positive traits. No wonder Ryoka Griffin did so well.

“All right. Let’s go. Unless—are we keeping you from giving anything to the Goblins, Erin? Antinium? The nobles and Drakes you’re pitting against each other really, really well. You even got Lulv trying to play nice.”

Erin gave Ryoka a weary smile.

“He’s really good at being a stabbing-dude. But he sat down at the board, and now I’m gonna trounce him. Nothing for the Goblins or Antinium, Ryoka. At least not now; I’ll make everyone jealous. This is for the showoffs.”

She got a nod from the Dragon, and then she did feel better about his presence. Even if he was a greedy lizard. Erin stretched and turned.

“Okay, let’s get this over with.”

Teriarch brightened up as Erin opened the door to the hallway with the Key of Reprieve. She led them down past the gardens, pointing out the ones that she knew held something valuable until they came to the end. Then Erin hesitated.

A single door was open; the door was blown away. She paused at the entrance, and Ryoka Griffin shuddered, and Teriarch’s smile turned to concern as they saw the broken door that held the ruined [Garden of Sanctuary] that had belonged to Cormelex of the Lucifen.

“There’s nothing in there that we can use, right, Erin?”

“Could you—excise this room from your gardens? That might be best.”

Teriarch moved as if to shield both young women. But Erin Solstice shook her head and turned away from the room.

“There’s no weapon in there either of you can use. Let’s go.”

She turned her back on the reminder that sanctuary could not protect everyone. And then Erin Solstice opened the first door and let the Courier and Dragon enter, to borrow the might of the past and trade it for lives and hope.

Erin didn’t follow them but stood in that hallway of doors, head bowed, and rested her hand on the door a second. She spoke, then, only to herself and the original owner.

“Forgive me.”

She thought they might understand what she was doing. Hoped they would, if they could have still heard her. Then Erin Solstice wondered whether she would leave something in her own garden. For someone to find someday.

The flowers, at least. For whoever came next—

“You’re welcome to it all. So long as you are worthy.”

It was not for her to decide. Erin stared at her hands, and they were shaking. She felt emptier. Her gardens and inn felt emptier, but in truth…she had just given things away. Changed their owners and forms, but not lost anything. Yet she had—less.

“Almost nothing left, now. Nothing for you to steal, Kasigna. You little thief.”

Erin whispered and knew she was heard. That’s right. She was the opposite of Teriarch, in this at least. She had given it all away, and even if she herself vanished—what was Erin would be out there.

The memory of the Tidebreaker, her flames, her gifts and will—that was how you did it.

When death came for you, it could only take you, not your deeds. So the young woman relaxed a bit and smiled.

“You can’t let me live. I’ll keep doing this. Keep arming them and feeding them and telling them all about you. That’s my gift, and it’s what you’re so bad at. You don’t have anyone on your side who can tell people why you’re supposed to matter. Maybe you did once—”

She thought of Zineryr and sighed.

“…But you lost them. And you can’t have a single voice telling people you’re not actually that mighty, can you? You’d be scarier if you were Crelers. Crelers don’t care what people say, but words hurt you. You all suck.”

Then, Erin was another night closer to the Solstice, and she was using up all her cards. All her tricks. All her Skills.

But she still had a handful of secrets for the final hour. The [Innkeeper]’s eyes gleamed in the void of her garden’s inner doors. She was not yet worthy of the Pavillion of Secrets. However…

When the Goddess of Death came for her, Erin wouldn’t have any more regrets or things she could have done. She swore that at her end, she’d go out with banner in hand. Armed with every blade she could borrow or buy. And if the three-in-one found her, she would go out laughing, smiling, burning and cackling and dancing.





Author’s Note:

Rhaldon’s new room, Magnolia’s maids…and more scenes at the inn. I don’t think this is a huge chapter but hopefully one that still has the theme of The Wandering Inn.

I’m counting the chapters that remain and perhaps I should have organized it so this was the last chapter before the Solstice? Well, perhaps there is a better one.

I am also glad I’m giving myself time and going to break before the Solstice because I fear I might be catching a cold from…people…my bane, and I don’t have all the time at this point, for various reasons, to give to a 100% effort.

Perhaps a disaster will strike as I have to write the Solstice? It would be unfortunate, if appropriate in some ironic way. But I think where I land is that we have to do our best. Until they seal me in a hermetic bubble, and feed me like some kind of Matrix-style prisoner, I’m playing a bit of it by ear.

But I am seeing the progress forwards. Hopefully it’s a gentle ride uphill until we get there. I wonder how it’ll feel for someone catching up and not getting chapters each week? Let me know, and this may be the last Erin-focused chapter for a while. I think she has said all she needs to. Time for the other pieces.

PS: Inktober continues to go strong! I am featuring 6 pieces of art per chapter and it’s all wonderful stuff! We’ll have art for a long time, I think.


Onion Erin by ArtsyNada!

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

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


Food by Moerchen!


Meals by Gridcube!


Erin’s Minotaur Punch by Guliver!


Science Rhaldon by Lanrae!


The Duality of Erin by Lei Tencie!



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