9.66 – The Wandering Inn


“When I was newly born, with my first breath, I sentenced my mother to death. For she had been the Goddess of Death, and to create new life was anathema. They called my home Theiygiles. My pantheon ruled across lands far stranger than these; I remember floating isles upon the deepest of seas. If mortals dove bravely down beyond depths that would crush their flesh and bones, they would find my home. For we walked with mortals. That was the nature of Gods. Your world is so very different.”

“I see.”

At the dawn of the Winter Solstice, two beings spoke. Both were dead, for only the dead knew what Kasigna planned.

She had not spent the Solstice idle. Yet when the day came, she simply stood in the lands of the dead, Kasignel, and talked a while. The only other person who could hear her, the only person truly welcome, was Drevish.

Even Cauwine was a supplicant to beg her mother’s favor. The other dead gods? If they had been so foolish as to come here in her ancient throne of power—

She, Kasigna, would eat them.

That, too, was the way of her pantheon. Drevish’s voice was soft as he listened to Kasigna. He was working. If he could have sweat, then the ghost’s brow would be dripping. This entire place was…rippling.

Slowly, he was moving the very firmament of reality, adjusting the foundation of this place. Such tricks he had not dreamed of, even as the greatest [Architect] of his time. Yet Kasigna had taught him how it might be done. However, even she had been unable to effect changes so great.

Today—he had the power to do it. The full authority of death herself flowed through him, and he began changing the rules themselves.

Skills off. Magic off. Classes removed.

In this place, Kasigna’s will trumped even Emerrhain’s tricks. On the Solstice, she could manipulate the fate of every ghost taken to her lands. Not every ghost. There were rules; some went to Hellste, or the other land Drevish had only heard of, Diotria.

Kasigna detested both. This, he well understood. For she had—rules. She was telling him her story.

“I was called barbarous by other gods of distant realms.”

“Other gods. So your…pantheon was not the only one?”

A pause.

“It was the only one within our reality. Yet sometimes, realities meet. It is not lightly done, even for we, to cross the boundaries that divide…you have no notion of it. This entire world and the very stars are within one existence. We have the power to cross to places where the very laws of being change. These children come from another place, where magic is just a word.”


Perhaps his answer displeased her. He had learned when she was angry, vengeful, spiteful, she took on the aspect of the crone. In the rare, rare moments of amusement or excitement, she was the maiden. The mother was the imperious judge, the arbiter, the cold decision-maker at times. And, if she had such qualities left, moments when she would show love.

The Goddess of Death waited for another comment, then went on. She spoke of her fellow gods, of strange vistas that had amused her. Of growing and learning the ways of her pantheon. To eat another god’s flesh was godliness. To make such terrible war as to cause even the stones to cry out for lament was only natural. She had driven her foes to despair. Cursed mortals and deities alike. Crushed every immortal who had challenged her.

She had not always won, of course. Her pantheon had lost a war of gods. And the winners had stripped her world of treasures like locusts descending upon a field. But there was a point to this story, Drevish thought.

They were waiting. Waiting in Kasignel as time ticked onwards.

He could tell it was flowing. Dawn was breaking, that eclipse rising in the living lands. Yet Kasigna just stood here, telling stories. And he realized—she was passing time.


Even gods waited. Two reasons had Kasigna: she spoke, letting her first new servant work. Firstly, because each second the Solstice continued, she gained in power.

These were auspicious times. It was unto a withered flower taking in sunlight for the first time; until now, she and the other five dead gods hadn’t even been able to absorb all the power so frail had they been. Right now? She was gathering herself, reknitting her essence.

If you could see her—if you could understand what she was—it might look like that. Yet the flower had not even been able to collect sunlight. To even get to this point, understand what Kasigna was:

A wasted body, what was unto gods, their skeletons and bones and muscles ruined and rotted. To replace her being, Kasigna had used souls like her very flesh. She was, then, a flower of mortal souls, which desperately consumed the light of the Solstice so that it might grow a true body at last.

Of course, that was reductive. She had no bones in the same way as mortals; part of what she was was simply…ideas. What defined a soul became her weft; concepts made up the warp of the fabric that was her being.

Even Cauwine could not gather a tenth as much authority as Kasigna. The Goddess of Death had the advantage that she had a place. 

Second—she was unquestionably foremost of the six at this point. At the end, she had consumed as many souls as the other five put together.

So she was waiting.

Waiting…to see if Tamaroth, Norechl, Laedonius Deviy—if he even lived—or Emerrhain managed to escape the traps that had snared them.

Because if they did?

She would eat them. Slaughter them and use their bones to build Kasignel anew.

This was the oldest of games.

The greatest of games.

She did not need competitors on her board. Only her daughter she tolerated. And she explained that to Drevish too, that he might understand whom he served. That was one thing she craved, the [Architect] realized.


“You may think me hypocritical, that I one day bore a daughter of my own.”

“…The thought had crossed my mind.”

The old [Architect] stood upon the edge of dry sands, his hands outstretched over the void, encapsulating a new world with only will. The dust of creation itself swirled around his clothing, the travelling gear of a man who had built wonders with his will and his mind.

He looked unto godliness himself, and in some worlds, he might have one day become one of the mortals elevated to the divine. Kasigna approved; nothing less would rebuild her realm.

Kasignel was to be her greatest refuge, weapon, and aid. She had hatched a plan, after all; she was not blind to her ‘enemies’. That obnoxious [Innkeeper], the other dead gods, the last tricks of Gnomes…

Kasigna shuddered. Even now, she could not deny sensing the presence of one of the Faerie King’s champions. Even she could not deny that infamous host had wet their blades in the blood of the divine. But she was very good at this game, though she could not remember being set back this far.

She touched a hand to her head and scowled darkly. She could not sense if Zineryr and his kin had left more traps behind. His soul was in her, but it refused to let her pry it apart and take its secrets. She could unmake it—but she would not. Soon, she would have her answers. So she went on, continuing to retell her story.

“Once. There was only one time I was laid nearly as low as this. Even the defeat of other deities was not so humbling, Architect. My home, Theiygiles, was eventually lost. It was not our battles, nor other gods that did it. This, you may well understand. What came for us comes for many realities. It is the spawn that wriggles between sanity, the old things born of the void and madness. They prey upon reality and gods like scavengers at their meanest, taking only the weakest. But then they fall upon even the mightiest strongholds in a wave. Summoning their profane names and aspects. That is how my world fell.”

Drevish imagined Crelers and shuddered—but it was Seamwalkers she meant. The rot between worlds. They had infested this world, though Kasigna described them as unto gnats compared to the real things.

“What happened then?”

Kasigna sat, her face still dark with rage and loss.

“It was the fate of many of the ones who came here. Laedonius Deviy. Pah. He came from multiple realms that fell to eldritch foes. He survived until he met a great gathering of us.”

“You as well?”

Kasigna’s head rose, and the malice she projected made even Drevish hesitate. She liked him. That was apparent, but he was well aware her fury could pique for the wrong question. In silence, Kasigna stared for a long time, an hour, before she spoke.

“Me, Architect? Not me. I did not ‘flee’ my broken realm. I stayed and fought as my pantheon died, screaming or trying to run. I devoured their bodies. Then I hunted down every one of my foes and destroyed them utterly.”

Her face twisted as she recalled a struggle of eternities. She hunched low—then the Crone became the Mother, armed for war, then the Maiden, each one pitiless, standing taller now, remembering days as glorious as they were terrible.

“They ate away my home. I consumed every mortal soul and the bodies of my kindred gods. They cast me down. How many times? A million? A million million? Yet they could not defeat me, Architect. I refused to die and killed their servants, then each one of them until they were fleeing, trying to open gates I sealed.”

“So nothing can kill you?”

Kasigna’s smile was mirthless, and the Maiden rested on the staff she carried a second, then became the Crone once more. But for a second, youth looked Drevish in the eyes with Erin Solstice’s face.

“Of course it can be done. The mortals of this world accomplished what worlds could not. Yet I always return. Should striving with Death be any less bitter?”

He had no reply, and Kasigna went on.

“An age of hunting and revenge for my deceased homeland. Only then did I rest and behold the shattered realms that had been mine. Naught remained from our struggle. That was when I left.”


She truly had come like the oldest of stories. An ancient goddess, even by the standards of her kin. To…here?

Now, Drevish wanted to know. For this dead goddess, the Three-in-One, did have all the answers. If she deigned to give them. She had told him the secret behind Goblin Kings by accident, not even seeing it as a great tale. The knowledge still burned Drevish.

How much time did we waste, the King of Destruction, we Seven, trying to conquer a world? There were greater foes, greater journeys all this time. If only we had known.

Kasigna spoke, husky of voice now, as if wishing to have an ambrosia to sip. She was, Drevish understood, still suffering. She was quite literally dead, and each moment had to be agony. But spite kept her alive. He feared what would happen soon.

“It was invitation. I say it grudgingly, but only to speak truth. I was invited as I wandered the cosmos beyond; other gods came from distant lands. Not just outcasts or wanderers. Some abandoned their realms for what they saw in this. Hah! Entire pantheons left or brought their followers here. This was to become a project beyond us all. With power no one realm could possess, we would forge a great world whose mortals would be able to challenge the champions of other realms. The architect who planned it all, who hatched the idea and laid down so much of the work was called…Isthekenous.”

The greatest architect of them all. The founder of everything, perhaps, in idea. Drevish shuddered.

“To stop worlds from being unmade?”

Kasigna sneered at him.

“Fool. Had this project been realized, the rot between worlds would not have been a threat. This land was meant to be truly glorious. Yet from the moment I stepped here, before I bore Cauwine—ah. It took so long as we argued. Mortal lifetimes passed in moments, and the adherents of some pantheons reproduced, flourished, then passed to nothingness before we came to a modicum of a consensus.”

That—at least—made sense to Drevish.

“Group projects should be eradicated by fire.”

Kasigna said nothing to such an urbane comment, but he had the distinct impression she agreed. She spoke as she prepared for her first strike. Tamaroth and Norechl were the ones she focused on.

They were flying through the void, and the two ghosts that had bested them would not be a match today—but if they tried to return to the world, she would have them.

What would they do? Challenge her? Try to escape? She waited like a stalking beast patiently watching a trap she’d set. Her daughter was here and there, flitting around and using her power lightly. Kasigna watched with disapproval, but her vision was clouded.

Her opponents were tugging at fate’s strings, and they were muddled. This world…the problem was that it had been given authority beyond her. The mortals tapped into power that other worlds would call the impossible. The arbiter had gone astray, and it had the strength to subdue even gods.

Fate itself could be a weapon for mortals. Luck—a Skill. They took it for granted. Kasigna muttered softly.

“Too many hands worked in the creation of this world. It was unpolished. Generic in places in its inception. This was just meant to be a…trial. It worked too well; they all wished to begin at once rather than let more ambitious ideas take root. In those days, even the Faerie King was our friend and ally, a valuable voice I respected. Then came the war that sundered everything. And before levels existed, before this world truly ‘began’, the Elves died. We were destroyed, and the few survivors hid our bones. I was less than a thought, waiting and striving to live over the tens of thousands of years until now. That is the truth of this world, Drevish.”

The Architect was creating a great courtyard of ancient stone and structures foreign even to his aesthetics. The very land of Kasigna’s home; the place all ghosts would first come. It was dwarfed by an ancient stand of stone, so vast even Giants would stare up in awe. When she chose to, Kasigna would loom above her entire realm.

He said nothing at first. Then—

“So you plan to revive yourself. Today?”

She stirred, and a maiden smiled at him, then a mother, then an old woman.

“I am death. There is yet more power here. First ‘Hellste’, that wretched place they made because they thought they needed it and refused to give me control over. Then. Diotria. That foolish ‘Goddess of the Afterlife’s’ creation.”

Her eyes narrowed with spite, and Kasigna’s shadow grew across the world.

“Then the land known as Rhir. It is normally locked to even we; one of my kin, a half-child, sleeps there. One with flesh. A demigod. Last of all and most worthless—Erin Solstice. She will die as my name is heralded once more.”

The fact that she included the [Innkeeper] on that list—Drevish kept working tirelessly, in control of every flagstone and geometry he placed. It was intensive work, and even if he only finished this courtyard, she would be happy.

She did like him. This level of creation and control would have taxed Kasigna’s attention, hence his presence. Yet…Drevish spoke after a long moment.

“Why Erin Solstice? Why one girl? I can tell you she isn’t even close to my level when I died, not yet. She’s no [King]. Even among the living, there are worse foes. If any of them had a chance against you.”

Kasigna didn’t seem displeased by the careful questioning.

“This is true. Yet she offended me. So she dies. I am not some pragmatic god like Tamaroth, who hides his fangs, or a schemer like Emerrhain, Architect. My foes, no matter how great or how few, do not wait for my vengeance.”

He supposed this, too, was unto godliness. But the Architect…

…he did not stop working. He did not stop his labors which strained his very soul. His lips moved slowly, and he spoke as if pondering something.

“I should feel upset or object. I do not, Kasigna. I have known loyalty and admiration so great it is a kind of blinding. I acknowledge it in death. I knew love and respect for a man I would have set upon a throne made of the world. This…is not that.”

Even that loyalty would have ended if he had seen his king, the King of Destruction, commit a heinous act. He would have voiced his complaints or objections loudly, and he had done so a thousand thousand times.

But this? He knew he should object, should ask her to stay her hand. Should shout at her. Drevish had been a fiery man. He had looked the Emperor of Sands in the eye when asked to forswear the King of Destruction and spat at his feet before the blade fell. But the ghost…kept working.


Kasigna mused over the word as she sat there, resting before her labors. She almost sounded amused.

“This is not loyalty, Architect. This is obedience. You are dead. You are mine.”

“Oh. I see.”

She nodded, and Drevish kept working. So that was it. There was nothing more to say. This was what gods were.




So the Winter Solstice passed. Minute by minute, hour by hour. Each moment, Kasigna drew in as much strength as she could hold. Each second advantaged her more. She was waiting. Waiting…

Until she sensed Tamaroth and Norechl flee and hissed. She reached a hand up—but they had timed it too well. She did not have the time to pursue, and they had made a truly mad gambit.

They opened a door? To where? Fools!”

They might be dead, torn to shreds by another pantheon or…she worried more about what might follow if the door wasn’t sealed. Kasigna rose, putting them out of her mind.


Now…she lifted her hand, and her very being split. This was one of the powers that defined her. Three-in-One was not just a title.

It was an act.

It was time. The Winter Solstice was waning.

So she reached out and—stopped—time. How she wished she could savor the expressions on the faces of her foes. They thought they understood how to best her. Thought that a day was something you could outlast.

She had done this dance a million million times. She knew countless tricks. Kasigna halted the passage of time with great effort.

It was not easy, even for her at the zenith of all her hoarded power. She did not stop all time. Just a part of it. She halted the passage of seasons, the movement of stars and sun, synced to the moons and the nature of days.

She left the other aspects of time unchanged; even if she wanted to, she doubted she had the strength to hold all of time still for more than a moment.

What annoyed Kasigna was her weakness. This singular act exhausted her greatly. Even now, she was weaker than she had been after any other defeat in her memory.

In the lands of the dead, before taking the last ghosts, she had not even had the power to unmake everything until the end. The more strength each dead god gained, the more of their true natures revealed themselves.

Even Cauwine, the famous warrior, was doubtless far weaker. Limited by her power. Kasigna was panting after her first great act, but she was now holding time still. The irony was not lost on her; she would have to hurry to finish all her great works today.

Three Kasignas split from the first, walking out of her until the original had vanished. A simple trick at the core of her nature; possible now that she had the strength.

Careful. Kasigna was no miserly counter to ration her power; she was unused to it. But even she had calculated that waiting until the end of the Solstice, and thus its zenith, preserved her power and more than made up for stopping time.

She still needed more. Far, far more if she wanted an actual body or wished to empower her servants or…wrest control back from the arbiter of Isthekenous’ system.

Ghosts were not ‘power’ in the same way as food was to mortals. Their souls were reknitting part of Kasigna’s being, but it was not so reductive as that.

Power was places. Power was worshippers. Power was an idea, belief. A name. She had multiple schemes. So, she knew that her one mortal servant, her first one, would sense time had stopped and enact her first stage of the plan.

Eldavin served two gods. In time, he would learn which one to heed.

She had no need to appear before him. Indeed—Kasigna did not bother with an appearance against the least of her foes.

Erin Solstice could wait. In a moment, three Kasignas strode through the world. Two breached gates in the lands of the dead and tore through to other dimensions. Even Kasigna had a hard time ‘seeing’ through the many dimensions in this world. Breaching to the regular mortal plane was hard.

Seeing into the layers of reality over every continent in some way, like the Crossroads of Izril or Baleros’ own mess or another continent’s other aspects—difficult, tedious. Even Wistram was partially veiled to Kasigna, and that was doubtless why Emerrhain had skulked around there so long, ferreting out its secrets.

Worst of all, there were protections mortals could make against even divine intervention, whether they knew it or not. More unwitting consequences of Isthekenous’ system that they would have surely removed…well, maybe. It was useful to have a mortal who could escape even the eyes of gods.

Today, at least, she knew how to breach two such barriers and did. Kasigna was after the source of enough authority to take the board in one move.

So she divided herself and appeared in three places, each of which would win her the war before it even began.







Only one realm was truly and fully ‘mortal’. Kasigna opened her eyes and breathed air, though her body was fake. She stood in the darkness upon the waters, appearing midway across the continent, between the Blighted Kingdom and the Demon’s lands.

Even she hesitated, once. Two other Kasignas beheld lands unkept by gods.

One of the Kasignas grimaced in distaste and spoke: “Kneel, for you know me.”

Another stared across the foreign lands, taking in how they had changed, and said: “Strange.”

The last of them took a step onto Rhir.




“Earthquake. The entire continent is shaking!

Nereshal burst into the war room seconds behind the Blighted Queen. The Blighted King had already appeared and sat heavily in the chair as the room was secured, panting heavily. Lord Hayvon appeared at a dead run with more [Generals] and officers. Othius sat as the others spoke, clutching at his chest.

Heart fluttering.

“The Deaths?”

“They never hit their own lands. We can see the mountains shaking on their side. It’s even worse where they are. The origin is—”

The root of Rhir’s corruption!

Othius spat. He didn’t have to guess. The place monsters spawned from, the lands of the Antinium where even Demons feared to go—

“Monarch’s Pass. Redouble our eyes and active sensor spells on it. If anything comes out of there—we must know.”

Lord Hayvon was ready. Grim and watchful as the Blighted Queen demanded her warriors approach the earthquake’s center to investigate.

What now? I am not prepared. The Earthers are not ready!

The Blighted King hoped whatever it was tore the Demons apart. Yet the quaking just got worse and worse. Most places in the Blighted Kingdom were quake-proof, but he did not know what was going on. That—he feared.




The Demons were experiencing far worse quakes. It was coming from underground, exceptionally near to their feet.

[Land of Paradise]!

A single half-Elf calmed eight miles of land with a spell, but the rest of the world kept shaking. The Demons were evacuating the cities and settlements nearest to the quakes.

[My People, Take Wing]!

Demons began flying as Serinpotva joined Silvenia, and the two Deaths led more Demons away from the places where shaking was caving in the earth itself.

It’s coming from the heart of the Antinium Hives! Is it a monster or something else?

Czautha’qshe had the last of the Giants ready—but even they couldn’t hold a continent together. At least, not for long.

It took too long for the Djinni to find an answer. She dove into the bedrock, towards where she knew the Antinium guarded their Hives.

Normally, the Bard, Mirrex, was always there, even if the Demons appeared unannounced, the only guard they needed. Instead of him—Czautha saw a single worker-form Antinium.

It spoke with the voice of one of their War Queens.

“Final stand. Preparing for a final stand. The foe is waking up.

It repeated the warning as the Djinni stared through the tunnels. She swore she heard music and wondered if it was Mirrex. She hesitated, about to go and see what the foe was with her own eyes—but her very essence, magic itself, was pulling at her. Telling her to flee. So she rose like a comet and called a warning to the other Deaths.

They might have to evacuate Rhir. Only Silvenia was laughing, and she called out as she readied her spells.

And here I thought nothing would happen! I thought it was all that inn! To the end of Rhir!”

Then—the trembling abruptly ceased, and the Death of Magic whirled, ready for anything. But what came next was a silence that was too long. For what was happening, though even the Deaths and Blighted Kingdom did not know, was—





Two Kasignas found themselves in the midst of negotiations. The third saw only endless war, heard only oaths of vengeance.

One Kasigna found herself—disconcerted. Diotria was not what she imagined it to be. Nor what the goddess herself had planned.

The other Kasigna who spoke in good faith was the most confident. For she knew who lay here, or so she thought. Her offer was simple.

“Do not rise for battle, if you even could. Which of the younger ones are you? Come. Take my hand, and let us forge a pact together. I shall lend you the strength to wake fully.”

She whispered into the dreams of the slumbering half-deity. Flesh was power. The quakes that had begun, and the animosity and fear, befit Kasigna; of course this one would fear destruction from a potential rival.

However, they were reasonable beings. Most of them, even Kasigna, could form an alliance. Thus they began to negotiate. It was—difficult—communicating in Rhir.

Everything from the people to the land itself was corrupted, even their levels and classes. Tinged by the body of a deity such that Kasigna had little authority here, and her words were spoken as of one talking from one end of a long tunnel. And her counterpart was sleeping, muddled.

Kasigna did not approach further than the shore, despite the challenges. She patiently spoke. Listened.

Two other Kasignas were encountering—difficulties—of their own.




The one in Hellste paused as she began to battle for dominion of this place. She snarled as she felt pain and wondered if she had underestimated the challenge of subduing this realm. Anger. Fury. Disdain. All of it was broken up by confusion. She stared at something apart from Hellste itself.

“What is…that? Bug men?”

It looked like a new realm growing in the middle of…




Another was growing increasingly wary. She demanded answers, but the new guardians of Diotria…were old and new.

Most belonged here, but they did not recognize or know her. The new guardian…was dangerous. There was something of the divine about him. She realized he had been harboring souls and snarled. Worse—that fool, Emerrhain, had disrupted things here too!

Negotiations began to break down.




In Rhir, the aspect of Kasigna made an ultimatum. She slashed a hand as a single tremor in the earth heralded anger, even indignation.

“No. Serve me.

She would not treat a half-divine child as an equal. Nor split her power. That, at least, even Drevish could have told Kasigna was her flaw:

She was no charismatic leader, nor did she compromise. She gave nothing. Acceded to no one. Kasigna had assumed the other, slumbering god was desperate.

The Goddess of Death had forgotten they were all prideful.

The negotiations failed. 

The trembling halted abruptly. Kasigna drove her staff into the ground and hissed.

Then die dreaming, you worthless wretch!

She poured an ounce of her power into the ground to turn dreams into true death. A blow that killed everything between her and the insolent worm who writhed once and fell silent, unable to even wake.

—The counterblow was swift. Kasigna tried to stride out of Rhir only to realize the very air had locked her in. The land kept this aspect of her, and she hissed and tried to wade into the surf.

The first Elder Creler unburied itself out of a piece of Rhir both Demons and the Blighted Kingdom had missed. It screamed as its lesser kin swarmed towards Kasigna, a single order in its mind. The Goddess of Death looked up, and the ravening mind of Crelers tasted fear.

—Even so. The effort took time and displeased her. By the time the corpses were staining the waters, even their unborn eggs blackened with death, the Goddess of Death was furious.

A waste of energy and time.

And the other two aspects were now fighting as well.

Both of them. Neither Hellste nor Diotria acknowledged their new mistress. Kasigna’s third aspect made her way from Rhir towards her next objective: vengeance. She was too busy about her plots to notice a single presence slip across Rhir as she and the sleeping god fought. Kasigna had might and death and the power to walk the realms.

Cauwine had a warrior’s grace. Subtlety.




“It sleeps, you know. She and my mother struck each other blows; you may have an easier time of it. Though this battle is lost as you stand.”

Mirrex plucked his strange harp, set with a thousand unique threads, and it should have killed her. The Bard saw the woman grimace.

“You fight better than the ‘Slayer’, strange musician.”

Muster for battle. The Antinium were redeploying as this stranger appeared in their Hives. She seemed—cautious. Speaking quickly.

“You are no Demon. You are a second one.”

Despair was not something Mirrex often acknowledged, but the concept of a second—and third by implication—made him understand that the Antinium had no more time to buy.

If they fought. He ordered the War Queens to stand down. They could not take more losses. Not after the last Solstice. This one was just quakes so far—but his music hadn’t even harmed the stranger.

“I am Cauwine. I have not long before I am noticed; I offer you a deal, Antinium of Rhir. My mother had interest only in the one you face. I crave better. A people. You are the first of them I would pick.”


One of the other Centenium rumbled. Even Mirrex, sharing his understanding of the other species, was having trouble parsing the statement. Cauwine tilted her head.

“I wish your people to…how shall I say it without violating the last trick of Gnomes and Elves? Not serve me, not exactly. Respect me. Love me if you will. Fear or even scorn me if you wilt it. Worship me. It all becomes the same either way. I am Cauwine.”

She said it again, and this time, Mirrex understood.

Words. Purge the name from memory. Lock the Unitasis Network locally—now.

The Queens instantly cut themselves off and began excising the name from their memory. Mirrex’s observation proved his hypothesis. Cauwine grimaced.

“You see? Ah, you are clever. This is why I want your service. With me at your side, you could kill this foe.”

One foe for another. The thought from the other Antinium was a consensus. Mirrex replied in a soft voice.

“Your offer has little merit. This ‘worship’ is not something the Antinium do.”

Cauwine clapped her hands impatiently together; she bore no blade.

“Come, seek sense, Antinium! This foe you cannot slay, not with weapons that have no concept or true magic to them! She—your creator—clearly made you such that you could never truly kill her. I am in awe of your battle prowess to stand your ground thus far. I am not here for your destruction. We are not alike. Argh, I have inherited my mother’s weaknesses in many ways. Speech be one of them. I have no time to explain—”

She was being noticed. The tremors that Mirrex equated with the creation of monsters or apocalyptic events had begun again. Cauwine shifted.

“Call for me. It need only be one group of you. I shall prove my intentions.”

I volunteer—

One of the Shaper Queens fell silent, ready to sacrifice her Hive. Mirrex just stood there. Considering it all. The Bard of the Antinium spoke.

“We will consider your offer. However, you err, stranger.”


Cauwine grew frustrated as the trembling increased. She took a step backwards, clearly ready to flee. Mirrex answered with a smile in his mind as a song ran through the Antinium’s hearts.

“Your words reveal you crossed blades with Klbkchhezeim. If he sees you as our enemy—so do we. The promise will be kept.


The Goddess of Last Stands stood there a second, face contorted with emotion Mirrex saved for later processing. Then she stepped back with a rueful smile.

“Remember my promise. I am not the goddess of one people. And you are not the only ones I have my eye upon.”

Then she leapt, the earth heaved, and Mirrex turned, redirecting once again, and reflected that he had more to speak to the ‘Demons’ about.

Much more. If only they had Queens to spare, or Centenium. But they had lost three entire Hives last Solstice in a moment, and the rate of attrition and creation…

Hurry, Klbkch. That was all Mirrex tried to think at him, a world away.





Setbacks she was used to. Kasigna was displeased as one aspect of hers left Rhir and returned to the deadlands. But that was why her plans around the Winter Solstice were multifaceted.

Even if all else fell through, she had confidence she would exit this day victorious.

As she retreated from Rhir—for now—two of her aspects did battle in the other dead realms.

It was proving more difficult than she anticipated. Unlike Kasignel, there were not six dead gods and a legion of even lesser, fragmented gods to slowly build up strength over the course of all of existence.

True, she had more power, but she was encountering each realm at the zenith of their might—and at least one had been ready for her.

The battling was taking a toll on her aspects. So Kasigna devoted her third aspect to what was necessary.

Bare minutes had passed since she had stopped the Solstice from ending. Now, Kasigna paused a moment to experience pleasure. The crone gained little from this—but she would enjoy it.

She took form in the Floodplains of Izril at the base of the great mountains that resembled the teeth of a beast from her home. 

For a second, Kasigna simply stood there. To her eyes, the inn was wrapped in shadows conjured by the [Innkeeper]’s obnoxious tricks. She felt a fell breeze on the wind and the chill of old enemies. A green spark; the eyes of one of the ladies of the fae, trying to match her gambit for gambit.

And the [Innkeeper], who had waited anxiously so long and who thought she had her chance.

Kasigna, the Goddess of Death, looked down upon them all. She stood as horns blared and the eyes of mortals swung towards her. Then she lifted a staff into the air and thrust it down, bleeding some of her power into the world.

Thus she spoke:


The ground began to shake. Kasigna leaned heavily on her staff a moment, teeth gritted, for the effort tired her more than she would have liked. There were few dead bodies here—at least, few she controlled.

So she conjured these minions from the sheer aether. A waste of power—perhaps. But it should be done thusly. Then she laughed as she straightened, and her eyes flashed as she pointed. What did she call the first time?

Something she had heard the mortals whisper, as if it were the limit of her power. To begin with—

A hulking undead figure, eight feet fall, head too small for the corded muscles bulging across its grey body, tore out of the earth. Even rot could not touch it easily; the Draugr roared with mindless fury as it pulled itself up—

It was but one. Hands broke the earth, and ten thousand Draugr emerged from the soil, pulling themselves out of stone, dirt, snow, and ice as if it were water. Their eyes glowed in the darkness as clouds shrouded the moon and stars.

There Kasigna stood, beholding the smallest army she had ever raised. But then—she cast her eyes dismissively over the [Soldiers] and mortals beyond.

One finger rose, and she pointed it at the inn. She gave the undead but one order:

“Kill the [Innkeeper].”

Then Kasigna turned and vanished as a wave of Draugr charged down the slopes, howling without end, for they had no need of lungs. Bodies moving despite arrows falling towards them or steel that might pierce their chest or magic burn them, for they had no need for hearts or blood.

Nothing to fear. Nothing to slow them down.




The Three-in-One didn’t even bother watching. That was ultimately how much the [Innkeeper] deserved. Fear, death, and contempt.

Kasigna had greater deeds to perform.

Two aspects warred.

One returned to Kasignel and took a seat. Kasigna sat above her small lands of the dead, watching as Drevish worked. He had finished the courtyard, and now her plan—finally—came to fruition.

It was not the mortals at the Floodplains who appeared first in the lands of the dead. The first ghost who stood before Kasigna looked around slowly as he rose, and for a second—he was headless.

Then Tesy and Bviora looked up with that terrible calm that came upon ghosts as they understood it was over. Yet they had questions, for this place was new-made, and one asked in a strained, small voice:

“Where are we? Where is this?”

Because they were the first, though more were appearing each moment, Kasigna spoke. It was not she, the bitter crone, who said it. Nor the maiden who came in joy and newness.

It was the mother. Now she was remembering who she was, and she smiled at them. Not with the pure kindness of some, but a kind of strictness. Yet there was love.

They were hers.

“This is my realm. I am Kasigna, your god. Here you will rest for eternity until I offer you redemption or rebirth. There shall be no torment. Nor reward, save that which you bring. This is the end of all things. When my world is finished, you shall walk it as equals, from kings to beggars, monsters and heroes alike.”

As it was, as it should be. That perfect justice Zineryr had once praised her for. The mother looked down upon her children and sighed once. Then she added what she needed, her only requirement.

“Here you shall speak my name and worship me.”

Be it gratitude or resentment. Hatred, disdain, love, or joy. The first of the ghosts knelt silently, and Kasigna drew from them. It was a half-power, for they were dead, but Kasignel became the first drops of a fountain from which no other of her kin could sip.


She waited there, drawing in strength once more, then walked down and became small as they were. A mother offered the white-scaled Drake an arm, and he stared at it before taking it.

“I have so many regrets.”

The woman looked at him without sympathy or judgment. Only a kind of curiosity to hear it all.

“Tell me.”

So the first ghost walked with the Goddess of Death as she opened her gates and let them all in. Then they were walking out of her shadow, all the ghosts she had taken, speaking her name and filling the land as Drevish worked to expand it for the countless billions. In time, she would know them all.

But Kasigna was waiting. Waiting for Erin Solstice.




The first wave of undead appeared miles distant at the very edge of the Floodplains. It wasn’t even that many. But the scream that went up from the eagled-eyed made the blood of mortals crawl.

Draugr! Thousands of Draugr!

No undead force like this had been seen on Izril in living memory. Even the Necromancer, Az’kerash, hadn’t animated so many in an instant.

Ten thousand Draugr.

It was supposed to be a joke. Niers Astoragon had meant it as a joke.

They were sprinting down from the mountainside faster than most people could run. Tireless, massive; the ‘shortest’ of them were six feet tall. They ran like Olympic sprinters. They struck with enough strength to break walls.

Gold-rank threats, each one. Horror transfixed some [Soldiers] as their laughter, impatience, skepticism gave way to a reality as unbelievable as the day.

The commanders were already speaking. Perorn Fleethoof’s voice snapped across her linked forces.

“Enchanted arrows—I want an acid shower. Arm the jars, we’re going in for a harassing movement, then prep lances. They’ll smash through the defenses on the way to the inn.”

She switched to the general channel as her officers gave orders and the Centaurs geared up.

“Perorn to all. Draugr won’t fall or even feel mundane projectiles. Concentrate y—”

Too late. She’d known this was going to be a clusterfuck of competing tactics and styles. While the Centaur appraised, she heard Chaldion redirecting his forces into appropriate line-holding tactics. House Veltras was maneuvering, signaling they were going to try and cripple the Draugr by taking out their legs until they heard Perorn’s warning.

Xitegen just shouted as he lifted one hand.

“[Covering Fire]!”

The [Lord] had one move, and he used it without hesitation. Perorn didn’t know where his artillery Golems were—until she saw, via her [Darkvision] spell, streaks of arrows rising from Liscor.

He must have them in the center of the city. That idiot—

The Golems and Xitegen’s Skill allowed for pinpoint volleys of arrows. More than even a battalion of archers could put forth. Golems ‘spat’ arrows out of their bodies in showers, reloading dozens in moments and pumping them up into the air via magic.

It still took minutes for them to travel the distance. Perorn was snapping at Xitegen before they even landed.

Hold your fire or concentrate it! You won’t even get through their skulls without a Skill!”

The [Lord] of House Terland had not fought many Draugr in his life. He was staring across the distance from the Humans’ position. Even Xitegen Terland, who had survived the Goblin King’s army—

Even he didn’t like what he saw.

Hundreds of arrows rained down across the charging Draugr. They were spreading out, forming a giant wedge, the first rank aiming straight for Erin Solstice’s inn. They surged up and down hills, still roaring when the arrows began showering them.

The lead Draugr was hit—it must have been four dozen times as it kept running, volley after volley slamming into it.

It barely rocked; Xitegen could see the flesh rippling as arrowtips penetrated the grey flesh—barely—and then snapped from the impact. He saw the other Draugr keep running through the first volley, then the second—

A lucky arrow hit one Draugr straight in the eye and gouged the entire eye out. The undead didn’t so much as flinch. It just kept running.

“Focus on the lead Draugr, and let’s see how hard it is to kill! With me—[Long-ranged Fire]!”

Lady Buscrei took lead after seeing Xitegen’s Skill fail. She was one of the few archers with the confidence to aim at such distances, still in the miles. Her two sons and the Marshrangers joined a cluster of the best [Archers], and they began loosing arrows.

Xitegen had heard a skilled bowman could put six or more arrows into the air in a minute without Skills. He guessed each [Archer] only put three up; they chose their shots carefully, not using rapid-fire Skills—for now.

A hail of arrows began hitting the lead Draugr, and this time, the hulking undead did slow. Six arrows made it jerk mid-step, and Buscrei landed all three shots on its forehead—until she cursed.

“Skull’s harder than steel! Hit it—”

“[Beacon Arrow] placed. Someone hit the Draugr already!”

Her eldest son, [Lord] Reneil, had the right idea. Jericha whistled.

“[Flame Arrows]! [Mage] corps, you have clearance for Tier 3 magic!”

The longest-range spells began firing. Now, arrows and magic were blasting the undead. Lower-tier spells, true, but Xitegen saw flaming arrows scorching the Draugr’s skin black, and he was trying to count.

…seventy-one, seventy-two, seventy-three…

One Draugr was engulfed in a firestorm of arrows and magic, and now its skin was being burnt away down to bone. It vanished in a cloud of smoke, and the other Draugr stormed over it as it fell. Xitegen exhaled.

Seventy-five seconds to take one down at maximum range. Buscrei lowered her bow a second, and Tyrion spoke.

“Drakes are preparing for volleys at their maximum range when the Draugr come in. Hold fire; Fleethoof is going to sweep them from the side with acid attacks—”

Dead fucking gods!

Buscrei interrupted him, and Xitegen raised a spyglass and swiveled it—then stopped.

The Draugr was getting back up. Its face had been mangled before it had been attacked, its nose rotted away to reveal the cavity, but it had been mostly preserved by the sheer muscles and unnatural strength of its creation.

Right now, its skin had been burned away, revealing the bones of the jaw, blackened with soot, and gigantic ribs as thick as an ox’s. It looked like a burnt porcupine, but it started to run again.

Is that how strong a Draugr is? Dead gods, I should pay adventurers more.

Xitegen felt his skin crawling. The Draugr was running with a weird gait; it must have been damaged, but it was still coming straight for the inn in a beel—

Xitegen heard a whumph from behind him a good eight seconds before he saw the ballista bolt hit the Draugr just below the neck.

The behemoth went crashing back, and Xitegen trained his spyglass, cursing because the impact had thrown the body out of sight behind the lip of the hill it had been charging over. He heard a cheerful voice in his ear. Cheerful, but intense.

“This is Bird. I saw its head fly. That kills it. Reloading.”

A pause, then Perorn’s terse voice.

“My Skill confirms a clean kill. Draugr down. Aim for the center of the Draugr, not stragglers or wounded, Bird. Sortieing.”

“Yes, sir!”

One down, nine thousand nine hundred and ninety-nine to go. But now that they saw the Draugr could be downed, the lower-level [Soldiers] stirred.

“They’ll be in range soon! Trebuchets—now! We haven’t even hit them yet. Let’s give them an Oswen welcome, boys and girls! Enchanted arrows!”

Lady Buscrei knew how to raise morale. Xitegen spoke out of the corner of his mouth.

“Primera. Load enchanted volley Spiderwalk. Let’s see if that slows them. Hold for my command.”

He watched as a blur raced across the battlefield. Here came Fleethoof and her lot. They raced ahead, circling around the Draugr, and he saw the Centaurs lobbing something from slings as they shot arrows.

Acid jars. Steam began rising from the Draugr they hit—but the damn undead still kept running. They might melt by the time they got to the front lines, though, but Perorn’s exploratory attack revealed something else. She commented with an audible grunt.

“They didn’t even turn. Lord Tyrion, suggesting a lance charge!”


The second mobile force, House Veltras’ [Riders], shot across the Floodplains. The Drakes were preparing for a firestorm, but Tyrion’s own wedge of [Riders] shot ahead—then circled wide of the Draugr charge.

Nothing. Xitegen narrowed his eyes and saw Tyrion’s forces almost hesitate. Any other force in the world would see those [Riders] with lances raised and know they were about to be flank-charged.

The Draugr didn’t even blink—even when Tyrion’s riders smashed into them from the side.




It felt like he was hitting a rock. No—a pile of dirt with a lance. 

The impact of ramming into a Draugr was hard. It wasn’t armor. It was flesh and bone, and Tyrion slammed back in his saddle as he rammed the lance tip straight through the ribs, normally a killing strike that destroyed the heart.

The Draugr lost a step, swung at him with a roar, and Tyrion whirled his horse. He heard screams and shouts and saw the charge slow—and a [Rider] who had gone in too deep recoiled as a Draugr snapped the lance in its belly, pulled—

“Let go of the lance!”

It was too late. The figure went forwards, flailing with a sword, and the Draugr swung a fist. Tyrion saw the helmet and face beneath it crumple up. When the Draugr turned and kept running, half the head remained.

The first blood of House Veltras’ own was on the Floodplains—and Tyrion saw a horse screaming, one leg snapped from the impact. He looked around, and barely two Draugr were down, both still moving. The [Riders] were trying to stab them to death, but Tyrion lifted his lance.

“Reform! Vanguard, on me! Break away!

The other [Riders] swung away as Tyrion winnowed their ranks down to a bare sixty. Only the highest-levelled ones remained, and he saw Perorn matching him on the other side. They were both trying to slow the Draugr—Tyrion saw her holding back as a few Centaurs charged in but ran into the same problem.

The Draugr were too tough. Even when hit perfectly like he had—he hadn’t done anything to it. Tyrion spoke crisply.

“Head strikes. Flanks only. Do not allow yourself to enter into retaliation range.”

He heard a chorus of grunts and turned his horse again. This time, his eyes narrowed as he entered a focus. He was riding down a hill, peeling across the right flank of the Draugr, singling out one lagging behind the others. The Draugr didn’t even look at him.

They’re after the inn. It only turned its head when he was within a dozen feet. And then—Tyrion saw the head moving and shifted his lance.

It still felt like he hit a solid rock. Tyrion’s horse staggered, kept going—and he glanced behind him.

There was a hole in the Draugr’s head. His blow had snapped the body back and gouged out most of its face; the blow had gotten down to the brain, but it stood there, jerking. Tried to step forwards—

An arrow hit it in the gore-filled gap and exploded. The body fell limply, and Tyrion raised his lance. That had to be Buscrei.

The rest of his best [Lancers] were taking the same risky maneuvers, and Draugr were falling from the left and right as the two forces harassed them. Tyrion saw one Draugr slowing, covered in steaming liquid and melting as acid wore it down to the bones. Too many more advancing, but he counted how many his charges were taking.

Twelve on the first pass. Twenty-one—fifteen—and each time, the [Riders] had to slow, check their mounts, discard broken lances and reform and catch up with the Draugr for another charge—each time, Draugr fell to House Veltras’ lances, proof of their skill at arms.

Still, Tyrion wished he didn’t understand how few that really was. He was watching the Draugr advance into the Drakes’ line of fire and heard a snap.

Trebuchets firing, Lord Tyrion.

“Break away.”

He pulled his riders back, signaling the lower-level ones to rejoin him. When the Draugr hit the lines…that was when he’d go for a rear charge. That was when he needed to start using his best Skills. He was sure everyone was also calculating the best moment to use their capstones.

Never had Tyrion been so grateful to see the lines of Drakes and their damned spear formations on the hill in the distance. They were cheering, invoking their cities, and magefire and the trebuchets were landing with commendable accuracy.

That Antinium, Bird, was firing his ballista, and Tyrion thought they had a good chance to keep the Draugr from the inn itself. Then he narrowed his eyes.

He’d forgotten all about the [Innkeeper] herself. But as the battle for the Winter Solstice began, Erin Solstice opened a door.




They were coming. Draugr. Erin Solstice’s heart was in her mouth. Her lungs were gasping for air.

She was here.

Kasigna. She could appear anywhere. This was it.

The Solstice was happening.

Time to die—


In her inn, the Knights of Solstice were preparing for the worst. Erin could hear Ulvama shouting spells, and the Draugr were being harassed by Tyrion and Perorn until they fell back.

Chaldion was giving orders through his speaking stone, his voice terse and calm. Niers—she could hear him too, adding occasional comments, but Erin didn’t hear any of it.

She was staring at the sky. Kasigna had vanished. Was she here? Was this it? Ten thousand Draugr? Erin screamed up as she opened a door outside her inn.

The Key of Reprieve was in her hands, and the dark night and cold snows blew into her garden. She had thrown open the door that protected her.

Erin saw the huge channel of dirt, the final killing field that the Free Antinium had dug, giving the undead a clean run up to her inn. They were all headed towards her. Still so far away they were barely noticeable blips being lit up by the magic. In the sky, Archmage Valeterisa was hurling spells down and taking notes.

Bird’s ballista thumped—and Erin swallowed. She shouted.

“You coward! Come on, Three-in-One. Come on, Kasigna! I’ve been waiting for you!”

No more games. No more stupid pranks. This was it, and Erin knew she was watching. This was all she’d brought?

Send it all. She must think this was all it would take. The [Innkeeper] swallowed again, then raised the door as high as it would go in the air. She was standing level with Bird’s tower, and heads were turning, staring at the [Innkeeper] shrouded in the glowing door, her garden behind her.

I’ve been preparing for this day. You think this is enough? Every ghost in creation could survive this. Come on!

Erin! Take cover, damn it!

Niers roared at her, but he didn’t know what she had planned. She had told no one except Ulvama and Ishkr for practice. Erin took another breath—then felt something filling her from inside. She blinked, and there was light.

[Boon of the Princess].

Just as promised, Lyonette du Marquin used her Skill, and Erin’s eyes widened as the Skill activated. She heard a voice whispering in her ears.

[Temporary Skill – Inn: Expanded Boundaries obtained!]

Perfect. As if the voice had known exactly what Erin needed. The [Innkeeper] began laughing. Then she realized she was covered in motes of golden light. She wondered how it looked—Pawn was staring up at her with hands clasped. But Erin couldn’t take a second away.

Her turn, now. She paused, looking across them all. Rags’ head as the Goblin swung to her, Ryoka Griffin, flying overhead, as Relc lifted a spear near Liscor’s walls. Friends in her inn like Halrac, Jelaqua Ivirith raising her flail.

“I’m sorry.”

Erin whispered to them all. Then she spoke as she stared at the Draugr coming down at her.

“[Boon of the Guest: Teriarch].”

Her inn rattled as Erin felt something go out of her. She did not have the right—yet she gritted her teeth. Teriarch, whom Ryoka said was the champion of flames, forgotten hero—

Survivor. Erin Solstice whispered a name.


Then she stopped thinking of him. Put him outside her heart a second because she could do no more.

Now she was ready.

The door rose higher and shot forwards fifty feet, expanding in the air. Now it was large enough to drive Termin and Rhaldon’s wagon through. It appeared over the heads of Liscor’s 2nd Army, and Calruz stared up. He saw a young woman covered in golden lights pointing her hand.

She was holding a winged key in her hand. The Minotaur began to smile.


The second door opened. The Minotaur blinked as the [Innkeeper] unveiled her second trick.

She had two doors. And the second door emitted a hail of rain onto the [Soldiers] below them. The first door—Calruz’s eyes narrowed.

“That’s not her [Garden of Sanctuary].”

He knew Erin’s garden by heart. Even if it was a copy of all the others—the one she was standing in had…warm sands. Empty villas. Dreams of a fun beach day.

Erin Solstice stood in the Garden of Wistram as her second door opened to the tree of lightning and Garden of Storms. She took a breath, then pointed a hand.

“Firestorm. FIRESTORM.

In the air above her head, the beach garden, able to move sand and water around and generate magical effects—a training room, really—grew hot. Smoke swirled in the air above her head, and Erin Solstice looked up as Archmage Valeterisa turned.

“Oh my—”

The [Mage] flinched as the first bloom of fire arched out of Erin’s door and into the sky. Bevussa, flying past the inn, did a double-take as an arc of flames burst through the skies, hurtling out like the shot of a cannon, tracing a curve through the skies.

Dead gods, what the hell is that?

Someone screamed into the speaking stone as a wave of fire hit the ground over two miles short of the Draugr. Erin cursed—she angled the door upwards and snapped.

More speed!

Fire blasted out of the door as she shielded her face and leapt out of the garden—when she appeared in the rain-soaked garden, she saw more flames bathing the Floodplains as every [Soldier] below them ducked out of the way or looked up in horror and awe.

This time—her aim caught the Draugr charge mid-run and began blasting them with flames. They kept running, ignoring the baking heat, but their flesh warmed and began to sizzle. Then smoke.

Erin cooked the front rank, turning the snow to mud, then drying it and catching the grass on fire. Then she took aim.

She had two doors. The Garden of Storms was blasting rain; she forced it to stop. Then she felt all the hair on her head rising. She cast one look behind her, and there it was.

The crystal tree filled with lightning was glowing bright. It hadn’t fired a bolt of lightning all day, and it was ‘filled’ with power. Erin told it that it was time. She pointed her finger, stepped out of the way of the door just in time, and aimed for the flaming Draugr.

“Lightning bolt.”

A real bolt of lightning flashed out the door and hit the target so fast Erin only felt the passage, saw the flash, and heard the thunder afterwards. It blew a dozen Draugr off their feet, and Erin staggered.

She was so close she felt it run by her. But this was her garden—and she had practice from hitting Tolveilouka.

Flame and lightning. Erin took aim with ears ringing and told the garden to loose without speaking this time.

Two more bolts of lightning blew the lead Draugr into the air, and Erin glanced at the tree. It couldn’t do that forever—but it was still glowing like crazy. She realized the flames had started hitting the ground behind the Draugr and knew she had to re-angle the door.

Only then did she hear the voices chattering in her ear.

Erin Solstice! Stop shooting cat-damned flames, and start throwing chunks of stone, you idiot! We can’t see through the fire, and they’re about to get into range of arrows!

Niers Astoragon roared in her ear, and Erin blinked. She hadn’t even thought about—

On it!

She leapt into her other garden and frantically conjured a boulder of earth. Then launched it, and Niers instantly corrected her.

“Wait for my signal! Stockpile and shoot when you hear it! Chaldion—go!


Now, the Drakes’ crossbows and regular bows could fire. Chaldion sent the first hail straight at the Draugr’s legs. And Erin was controlling her garden, sweating, listening as Niers gave rapid orders, reincorporating her into the battle.

An [Innkeeper] with a garden full of wonders. Not so helpless after all. Even Lord Xitegen glanced back at Erin; she pointed her finger, and lightning flashed and melted a Draugr.




“Why didn’t she do that to anyone else earlier?”

Lady Bethal’s hands were over her mouth with genuine astonishment. This was the silly [Innkeeper]? Could Larracel the Haven do this?

“We’re lucky.”

“Why, Thomast?”

The [Chevalier] was waiting for the Draugr to reach them. And they would—even with Erin’s lightning vaporizing each Draugr she hit. There were so many of them…but the man looked up at Erin standing in her door in the sky, and smiled faintly.

“She didn’t think we were worth killing. Our peers should be so relieved she has no enemies here she wants dead more than whomever that Kaligma person is.”

Lady Bethal glanced at Lord Xitegen.

“For now. They were lucky indeed.”

Thomast smiled at the expression on Lord Xitegen’s face.

“Yes, he was.”




The [Innkeeper]’s attack was not the only surprise as the Draugr neared the actual front lines. Despite all the attacks, probably only a tenth of them were down. Which, put another way—

A thousand Draugr had just been annihilated.

It meant something to Keldrass, a Gold-rank Adventurer, who knew how insane that was. If you put together every single adventurer who had ever gone into Liscor’s dungeon, including the Named-ranks—they wouldn’t be able to do half as much.

She’s a Named-rank, now. She’s—”

“Yes, she is. Shut up, Ramiss.”

Keldrass barked at one of his teammates. The Oldblood Drakes were watching as Manus, Pallass, and Salazsar unloaded on the Draugr. By now, the closer proximity meant the arrows were felling them—but even so!

“The Draugr are going to hit the front like a wave! Those [Soldiers] are dead!”

“Then get ready to breathe. Ready?”

The Flamewardens were former [Soldiers], and right now, they felt like they were in a war. They were on the left flank, not part of the front lines. They had a role that was unique to Drakes.

Dragonbreath support. Keldrass was breathing in and out, expanding his lungs. It took training to do this—and there were never enough damn Oldbloods.

“Take out…at least fifty…or we’ll have to turn in our badges.”

Fifty. He doubted his team could burn down five, but they had to do something. He had six Oldbloods including himself, all but one of whom breathed fire. Keldrass knew there were about a hundred more Oldbloods with him, and they were all syncing for a mass breath-attack.

Never had Keldrass felt so useless. He was wearing the Heartflame Breastplate, but it was dead. No fire; Selys had told him it had gone out with the wisp attack.

When the moment comes, I’ll hold the line. I’ll hold it or I’m a coward forever. I’m wearing a Relic—don’t run. Don’t run—

Only a fool denied being terrified. Keldrass inhaled, exhaled as General Shirka gave him a slow count.

Five, four, three! Two—

The Drakes exhaled a long-range plume of flames, windbreath, even lightning and showers of acid that joined together to form a unified stream of glowing light.

It licked over the Draugr, and Keldrass gasped for air after eight seconds of breath; most of the other Oldbloods had only managed four seconds at most. He looked up…and the wave of Draugr hadn’t even slowed.

“[Tacticians] count six down. Prepare for a breath in thirty seconds!”

Shirka’s voice was deceptively calm. Keldrass saw steam rising from ruined flesh. Any other foe and they would have baked the frontline. Other armies feared charging into Dragonbreath. But this one—

“Hotter this time! Put your tails into it!”

Keldrass gasped, hearing coughing; the power of Oldbloods left them panting, leaving many with lung problems they had to overcome. Keldrass inhaled as Shirka counted down.

Please, Ancestors. Give me a sign.

Someone shouldered one of his Flamewardens aside, and he nearly swung on the idiot fouling the firing line. One glare from a cerulean eye made him hesitate as a Drake with scales red as fire itself took position next to him.

“You’re wearing the Heartflame Breastplate. And you’re not using it?”

“What—who’re you?”

Keldrass saw the glare as the older Drake looked at him—and hesitated.

“It’s not for me to teach—if your people were just a bit more curious—damn the Nagas with it. You idiot, the Heartflame Breastplate is out!

A claw seized Keldrass’ neck as if he were a little Drake, and the Gold-rank Captain nearly swung on the stranger again, but the voice was urgent.

Light it back up!

“How? There’s no passphrase—”

Passphrase? You idiot, it’s a set designed for your people. It was made for Drakes like you! Drakes who breathe fire or those without! Light it up!

Keldrass saw his team whirl to him, and the old Drake stared into his eyes. Keldrass hesitated—then for the first time, exhaled his own Dragonbreath over his armor.

This time—it lit up orange. The flame of Keldrass’ own breath ignited it as if it were made of oil.

Every Drake whirled to stare at the armor. Suddenly, Keldrass felt not only warm, but his lungs stopped burning. He inhaled and swore he saw the snow move in front of him. He took in a deeper breath than he had ever imagined could fill him, and Shirka shouted.

The Heartflame—ten seconds!”

“Now breathe like your life depends on it, and tell them it was you, not me. Come on, youngster.”

The red-scaled Drake took a breath with Keldrass, and this time, Keldrass did see the snow moving, tumbling towards the two. On a hunch, the rest of the Flamewardens moved aside, and Keldrass heard a voice.

We are preparing to breathe on our side. In five.

He almost lost focus. Was that Magnolia Reinhart’s voice? Cool as a cucumber. Then Keldrass focused on the Draugr, exhaled—

And for the first time in his life, he saw Dragonfire.

The real thing burst from the maw of the red Drake standing next to him. It was golden and washed over the Draugr, who threw up their arms, halted, and vanished. It mixed with the roaring flames from Keldrass’ own throat, which expanded into a roaring cyclone of flames that made even Erin Solstice’s firestorm seem like warm embers for a second.

Flames engulfed the left wing of the Draugr—and they vanished. Hundreds just—disappeared—and the others came out of the flames still burning, melting as they fell.

Dragonbreath. It made all the Drakes turn—even General Shirka choked.


Keldrass couldn’t speak for several seconds. He just inhaled and exhaled, and the armor kept burning. He turned to ask the other Drake who—

He was gone. As Keldrass’ head rose, he saw a second volley of Dragonbreath go out. On the right side.


Ramiss stared right, and a flash of light narrowed to a beam that baked one Draugr’s flesh. It was followed by a cyclone of ice; Frostbreath and Windbreath improperly mixed. It still blew a Draugr off its feet, and then Keldrass swore he saw pitch-black shadows trying to engulf one Draugr that tore out of it.

That’s Shadowbreath. No Drake in Pallass has been born with that for over five hundred years. Everyone said the bloodline is practically extinct. How…?

Then Keldrass saw who was breathing, and his mouth opened wide.

Three hundred [Maids] and [Butlers] were exhaling in a double-line, positioned so they didn’t inadvertently hit each other. They had no technique. They had no stamina or practice or control or even understanding of the synergies. But three hundred—

Only a Walled City could field that many! Magnolia Reinhart’s servants only managed one weaker volley at close-range, but it took down Draugr.

Keldrass’ head followed the mix of every Dragonbreath imaginable, then he felt his head rise.

I have enough breath for at least one more attempt. He began inhaling as the Draugr closed with the front lines. There were still so many, but the Drakes were screaming now, and Keldrass felt it.

Terror enough to piss himself and run but every bit of his determination keeping him here. A flame like the one roaring across his armor in his chest. Wonder and rage against the dark night.

This was being alive. A great adventure. Then he exhaled—and flames erased all his fears. Keldrass breathed until the first Draugr hit the Drakes. Then came the shouting of voices, the sound of blades meeting flesh, the frenzied screams of the undead, and the will forged in battle.




Archmage Eldavin watched the battle as long as he dared. He didn’t want to do what came next, but he had orders.

What he saw was what the world saw.

On a five minute delay, granted. It wasn’t like they were idiots. Especially Drassi. She had set up this broadcast on her Channel 2 without saying a word. If no one else knew to watch—she would.

But Eldavin knew that Nerrhavia Fallen’s Wonders was also broadcasting this battle on request of Fetohep of Khelt. Doubtless, the undead king was watching.

Five minute delay—and the recorders were probably on Liscor’s walls. So they might not have a great view of Erin Solstice’s trick or what had to be Teriarch’s own breath attack.

Eldavin saw it all from closer, of course. His own personal scrying spells revealed the Draugr. Ten thousand in a moment.

No ordinary [Necromancer]…he was trying to guess from his memories what level you’d put Kasigna at for doing that.

Level 80 at least. Possibly even Level 90 if it was purely spontaneous. You could ‘prep’ a field, but if that had been truly one gesture…

And she’d stopped time, so the numbers fell off. Dead gods didn’t need levels. Right now, he was watching ahead of the broadcast as the Draugr met the first line of Drakes.

It was horrific, no matter how many had been wiped out. They were streaking towards the inn, and the Drakes were in the way. Practically ignoring the other groups moving to flank—but someone had to slow the Draugr down.

That group was a ‘Lieutenant Caoraz’, who’d been ordered to the front by Chaldion himself. Eldavin watched the name of the Drake hovering as Caoraz snapped orders—then braced. And the Draugr were running on either side at Drakes and Humans—

They were Draugr. Eldavin knew, intellectually, what was going to happen, but for the half-Elf, it was literally his first time seeing this.

A Draugr charged onto a pike, which impaled it in the stomach—and kept going. The pikes, anchored into the ground, slammed back as more Draugr impaled themselves on House Veltras’ pikes—and kept going.

The unlucky [Pikemen] saw the first Draugr keep running, literally charging down the line of the pike; it had missed bones and torn open the organs.

Killing blow, or at least a deterrent even to monsters. The Draugr just ran down the length of the pike, swung a fist, and—

Eldavin turned his head away as the [Mages] worked overtime behind him. If he was responsible for the broadcast, he’d have told them to censor the gore. It wouldn’t matter in a moment, but his eyes darted back.

The lucky [Pikemen] hit bone, and the men and women fought the Draugr who tried to smash the sturdy pikes, fighting forwards while the infantry tried—and failed—to keep them back. The Draugr who’d massacred the pikemen was smashing around with its fists, both fast as a Ghoul and strong enough to send a grown man flying.

The Drake side had more spears than pikes, shorter, and had fared just as brutally. But Eldavin saw something strange.

“Cascading spear lines! Now!

Lieutenant Caoraz was still bracing, but the left flank, hit first, was doing something strange. It was no Skill—the Drakes with spears were fighting the impaled Draugr, who were steadily pressing forward with sheer strength—until a second wave of spears charged them.

Drakes ran past their comrades, ramming spears into the Draugr, adding a second layer of spears pressing at the undead. Then a third rank gathered.

They were executing spear-charges within their own formation. That was the famous Drake spearwall for you.

The charge slowed along the left flank, and Eldavin saw Drakes falling on the Draugr from behind—but the undead began fighting on both sides. They were still trying to advance with single-minded idiocy, heedless of losses.

But the center of the wedge was smashing straight towards Erin’s inn. One group of Drakes had to stop the full weight of them.

Eldavin stared at Drakes holding huge shields instead of spears. Pure defense—his eyes narrowed.

Those weren’t tower shields. He’d glanced over them, but these were not one-person shields. They were so large six Drakes were braced behind them, and there were two more ranks leaning into them with all their might.

No less than eighteen Drakes per shield—when the Draugr charged them, the [Lieutenant] and every Drake tensed.

One of the Draugr slammed shoulder-first into the shield, and for the first time this battle, Eldavin saw one bounce and recoil. It dented the hard metal over wood, but the entire structure was more like a movable palisade with armor than a shield. The braced Drakes moved, some falling, but then they were picking themselves up, shoving the Draugr back—pinning them as their comrades attacked the Draugr clawing at the walls.

“Wyvern-class shields.”

Eldavin spoke from memory. The kind of thing Earth had no need for, really; tactics and training you used when you fought monsters who’d ram into you like that.

Still the Draugr kept coming, now trying to climb the trench and spread out, while the armies encircled them. It seemed like they really only had one thought: reach the inn. Only when they were attacked or couldn’t run directly forwards did they try to move right or left.

Now, souls were going to Kasigna, and the fighting was at its zenith. Eldavin glanced left at the ‘official’ broadcast.

They’re about to hit—is that Dragonbreath!? Dead gods, look! The Heartflame Breastplate—”

Drassi was screaming as she ran coverage. Noass and Sir Relz were doing likewise in their studio, and perhaps every news network in the world save Terandria’s was covering this. Only the fate of the Terandrian Fleet was even close to this level of importance, and only for one continent.


Eldavin whispered. He did not want to do this. For multiple reasons.

He didn’t hate Erin Solstice.

Ryoka Griffin—he touched his throat, but he didn’t regard them fully as enemies. He had every reason to hate the Antinium; he knew what they’d done. Goblin Kings, Az’kerash—

But he had made a deal, and he wanted to live. This was non-negotiable.

He’d also been warned it might be dangerous. But the Archmage of Memory stood in Wistram itself, and he’d told everyone to be alert. Erin Solstice had sent some message asking for mutual support on the Winter Solstice…a warning…he had ignored it.

They were on opposite sides. Time now—the Archmage walked to the spot he had prepared, turned, and noticed the [Mages] running the broadcast look up.

“Archmage? The battle—”

“I am aware. There is a more pressing need for this. Redirect all incoming communications and stall. This…may not take long. Activate…”

Eldavin tapped his foot on the sigil, and the gigantic rune lit up. He saw Drassi’s broadcast, the one showing the Wonders of Nerrhavia’s Fallen, the Terandrian broadcast, even the ones on Rhir, Drath, Baleros, Chandrar—

Every single television network went blank. Not just Wistram’s. They were made by lesser [Mages]. Of course he could take them over. Eldavin didn’t like overplaying his hand. But again—he took a breath.


Every scrying orb tuned to a broadcast in the world went black. To the outrage of people watching, to their bewilderment—the Archmage of Memory lifted his eyes.

“I apologize for the interruption. However, I have a critical announcement to make.”

He studied the pair of names he had written and underlined. This, he had been told, was going to be a masterstroke of some kind. He vaguely understood it.

“I am here today to tell you about the—existence—of two individuals. For context, they are not beings of levels nor mortal. They are not immortal either, but something beyond. Their nature is ‘divine’, a concept few will know—”

He’d had to write this himself, and it had been hard to even formulate. There were forces at work against this. Even Eldavin could barely think the word ‘god’, but the more people became aware of the truth, the weaker the effect, or so the two had posited.

“Archmage! What’s going on?”

The [Mages] were shouting at him, receiving, no doubt, thousands of complaints and questions. Eldavin knew this broadcast was on a minute’s delay, just in case. They were probably all staring at the black screen. He didn’t have to do much more. Then he’d have to answer questions, but by then…he cleared his throat.

“They have names, and if you speak them, they may hear you. For they are g—”

He tried again as the word lodged in his throat.

“G—they are the powers that be, the ones who created and founded this world, even the system of Levels. Worship—they answer wishes but are beyond Djinni. All-powerful…”

He was laboring to speak and actually forcing the words out with magic as something tried to hold his throat. Eldavin saw the black orbs flicker and his face appear. Good! He just had to say it. So he forced all his will and the divine aid they had given him into speech.

Their names are Kasigna and Cauwine. They are your gods.


He felt like he had burst a dam in his head. The effect stopped. Eldavin sagged and hoped the backlash on hearing the truth would not hurt the people of the world too greatly. Especially children. He staggered, catching himself on the wall as he stumbled out of frame. Let it be. He turned to watch the orb now play out his broadcast.


One of the [Mages] was rubbing their ears as if they were ringing. Another was clutching at her head. Eldavin inhaled. His lungs felt like they had blood in them.

“Not long now…”

He wondered if Kasigna would accept a bid for mercy on others’ behalfs. Eldavin saw himself begin to speak.

I am here today to tell you about the—existence—of two individuals…

Eldavin watched as his own face stared at him, solemn, the mismatched eyes gleaming. He straightened, coughing—and then blinked.

The Eldavin in the picture being broadcast around the world had…stopped. Then—fuzzed. Then it vanished, and Eldavin sensed something, someones, breaking his magical connection. He swore.

“Someone is interfering with the spell!”

Who had that level of magical acumen? No—this was more like a massive, brute-force attack. Countless [Mages], and it didn’t take long to figure out from where. They were broadcasting like a beacon, not even trying to hide from him. Of all people—


Eldavin’s voice cracked. Yes! They were intercepting his spell and trying to destroy it—but he was the superior [Mage], so they had just tried to literally overwhelm the spell and block it from reaching anyone else.

He began snapping links of mana at once and pushing his recording through. The other [Mages] tried to help him as Eldavin snarled at them.

“Activate the bubble spell and cut off their influence! Get me Viltach, Blackwood, or Feor!”

“How—what about the Terandrian Fleet? The other Archmages are defending the—”

Eldavin cursed. His image was frozen, mouth open, and he was wrestling with hundreds of [Mages] now, even if they were weak, pooling their powers together.

Roshal. They must know what he was trying to do. Now, Eldavin was fighting them for superiority as the rest of the world stared at the unflattering image of Grand Magus Eldavin gaping like a fish.

The fate of so much rested on Roshal of all groups. Eldavin ruthlessly began tearing spells apart. He was not going to lose here. With apologies—

It was not really about Erin Solstice at all. Kasigna wasn’t even paying attention to the [Innkeeper]. That was the only reason the girl was even alive.




They keep coming!

Ser Normen was listening to the fighting outside. He had a view from the windows, but the Knights of Solstice were standing just inside The Wandering Inn. Draugr were swarming up the killzone, and they’d just reached Liscor’s 2nd Army.

But they did indeed keep coming. They were being hacked apart from behind; the wave of ten thousand had been reduced and hit Drake lines, Human lines; the majority had gone down the center trench.

On the left side, Chaldion’s forces had benefited from the Dragonbreath attack and were using their spear-tactics to stonewall the Draugr while Manus went hunting. Aldonss and Spearmaster Lulv were leading bloody attacks from the Draugr’s rear.

Any normal foe wouldn’t let themselves get boxed in, but these ones were literally focused on Erin. The right had been in danger of getting overrun—until Tyrion Veltras fell upon the Draugr in the rear.

It was called a windmill formation. [Lancers] were moving in a gigantic spiral with multiple wings, like the windmill itself, charging into the Draugr’s rear, then peeling away.

Unlike a normal lance charge, the [Lancers] only struck the outermost Draugr from the rear, then peeled away, letting another rider ride in with their lance and hammer the foe. It was the best tactic against a foe like the Draugr, who didn’t counterattack, and Tyrion was grinding the Draugr against foes stronger, tougher, and even taller than they were:


Controller Lectara and Terland’s Golems had met the Draugr in a fight. Normen had never seen someone pilot a Golem before, but he understood Lectara’s title now.

Controller. She was literally standing in a Golem who moved around her, swinging massive blade-hands and shooting magic whenever she activated its powers. Steel Golems were blocking the Draugr, rocking with each punch, but the Humans were holding the undead back well with the attack.

—But down the center, the majority of the Draugr just pushed, and the Humans and Drakes and Antinium could either give way or literally be compressed into paste.

We can’t hold them all!

Olesm’s voice was crisp; it wasn’t as if the soldiers were forming a pure line in the trench. There was room to maneuver; thus Draugr would charge past the first rank Caoraz was holding, run into the second rank, and some would get to the third, fourth—

It let the defenders take the Draugr down, take them a few at a time, but it meant there was a risk they’d break through the final rank. Normen looked down the hill and replied.

“I see them. Knights of Solstice? Ready.”

He heard a voice from behind him as Ama swallowed and adjusted her helmet. Vess was wiping his claws on his front; Normen looked to his right, and Jewel was there.

All of them.

Embraim, lighting his sword. Ama and Vess, looking sick and afraid. Jewel, breathing hard as she produced a jar of acid and Normen dipped his mace into it. Halrac Everam, bow in hand, firing arrows down already as the invisible bow caught some falling snow.

And the [Squires]. There was City Runner Herove, who’d volunteered because he was destined. And…the nervous Rivel.

No Lehra. No Ylawes. But even Durene was here, fist-bumping Antherr, whose green flames were a mirror of Normen’s own.

He watched the Draugr meeting Liscor’s army, the final line between him and the inn. Normen was waiting, kneeling, leaning on his mace, saving all his energy for the fighting. Draugr…thousands practically climbing over each other to get to the inn.

But the Antinium and Goblins refused to give ground.




Rafaema was in her Drake form, but her lightning breath was that of a Dragon. She had the strength of one and cut halfway through a Draugr as Manus engaged hard on the left side. Chaldion had left them largely alone. Pallass was in strategic command, but Manus was hunting.

“Four o’clock.”

A voice spoke in her ear, a growl, and Rafaema pivoted. She saw what had to be eighty Draugr on the charge. She hesitated, inhaling for a breath attack, and someone spoke in her ear.

“[Raise the Wall]. Lulv’s Fangs, pincer.”

A wall of stone rose, and the Drakes on it braced easily. The Draugr slammed into the walls, began to climb, but the Drakes just kicked them down from the smooth wall and severed fingers. Gnolls were rushing into the side in a flanking charge led by Spearmaster Lulv.

He grunted as he stabbed—and a trailing cascade of arcing bolts of lightning illuminated the entire group of Draugr.

“Getting used to this spear. Countercharge—”

“I see it. [Postern Door].”

The Draugr saw the Gnolls with spears and hurled themselves at the easier foe to reach. Lulv planted his spear like a pike, and one of his commanders called out.

“[Impaler’s Formation]. Brace—”

Gnolls grunted as the Draugr slammed into their spears. The Gnolls were in danger of the undead reaching them, but they were already moving to fall back as Lulv jabbed in a flurry, putting holes in a Draugr’s knees, and pulling them back. He glanced up, and Rafaema charged out of a hole that had opened in Aldonss’ wall.

She fell on the Draugr from the side, swinging her sword hard. It glanced off bones, but she knocked one Draugr off its feet as a [Soldier] grunted, flicked something into the Draugr—

The Tripvine Bag stymied them as they tried to attack Rafaema’s group, only to realize the [Archers] had a bead on them from the walls, and then Lulv was counterattacking.

Eighty Draugr went down fast. Rafaema was panting, on an adrenaline high, but Lulv just snorted, and Aldonss was speaking.

“Reposition. Pallass’ 4th Army is getting chewed. 3 o’clock.”

Manus switched targets like a Golem, and Rafaema hesitated a beat. Between Lulv and Aldonss, she saw how well they were doing, but she had to interrupt.

“What about Liscor’s army? The Goblins?”

She knew, knew Aldonss and Lulv would hang out parts of the army to dry. They’d go to Tyrion Veltras’ aid before the Antinium or Goblins. She was about to snap at Lulv to peel off with her when she heard a displeased grunt from the Wall Lord.

“They’re holding well.”

Rafaema narrowed her eyes. She sprang into the air as Lulv growled at her not to expose herself, Draugr or not. But then the Lightning Dragon saw Aldonss wasn’t lying. The same Draugr that could survive multiple sword slashes from a Dragon’s strength—she saw a warrior of the Antinium raise a sword and hack straight through one of the Draugr’s bodies.




[Weapon of Faith].

The glowing blade looked like the blue of a summer’s sky. The [Templar], Crusader 341, was as surprised as the other Antinium. But he finished the swing and brought up a shield just in time as a Draugr punched him.

The steel buckler was not as powerful as his blade. The fist bent the metal, and another blow took the Templar across the face.

—Lost a mandible. The Draugr’s mouth was bared in a bellow that hadn’t ended for the last three minutes. An onslaught of sound and fluids—but when it looked in the [Templar]’s eyes and beheld that strange blue light, even the undead hesitated.

The blade pierced its chest, and Crusader 341 swore he heard the Draugr shriek. The bellow changed to a sound, still deep and unnatural, but a sound like pain—

Then the Draugr evaporated. [Crusaders] saw the other Draugr assailing their position—visibly hesitate.

They were having to crawl up compacted earth, throw themselves at the entrenched Antinium of Liscor’s army and the Free Hive. But it seemed to the [Crusaders] that suddenly the Draugr were less numerous around them. Did even they fear that light?

If so, it explained why the Free Antinium, many of them fighting bare-handed, seemed to be getting the least battered by the fighting. Yellow Splatters had thrown a Draugr off its feet and was punching it, a match for a single Draugr’s strength.

Yet the Free Antinium who leapt at the larger Draugr and had their chitin torn open bled green like everyone else…except that Purple Smiles placed a palm on the Draugr’s chest, shoved, and sent the undead flying off the rampart it had climbed, landing a good fifteen feet away.

Levels and faith. A [Priest] knelt by Pink Stripes, who was staring at his chest, torn open, and placed a hand on the wound. Pawn whispered a prayer.

Not yet.

—Pink Stripes jerked, and Pawn helped him up. The green blood was still there, but the wound had closed.

Pawn. Fall back! The Painted Antinium are out of line!”

Olesm snapped in his ear, and the [Priest] saw more undead swarming past the Painted Antinium, who had actually met their charge. He lifted his censer as more Draugr charged him.

Pink Stripes and Purple Smile tackled that one. But another tore past Pawn, going for the inn. Pawn saw its eyes locked on the inn, and the [Priest] grabbed its arm.

“No. [Heal Major Wounds].

The Draugr whirled, arm raised like a bludgeon, then lit up as its flesh twisted. The undead’s rotted corpse flickered, and for a second, Pawn saw pink flesh, and the Draugr shrieked as it remembered a life—then the healed flesh vaporized.

The Draugr collapsed, smoking, and Pawn saw more Draugr milling against a line of Free Antinium in one of the choke points. They were indeed too far forwards.

Painted Antinium, fall back. [Holy Hammer].

The Painted Antinium heard him, looked up, and the Draugr struggling with the front rank gazed up as a carpenter’s hammer, large enough for a Giant to use it, swung down and crushed everything in its path.

Draugr, the choke point—only the Painted Antinium were scrambling back as Olesm swore.

Pawn! You just destroyed the—repair teams, shore up that spot now! Don’t use your best Skills yet!”

“Olesm. I have no cooldown to my Miracles. We are falling back.”

Pawn returned calmly, and his eyes shone as the Painted Antinium retreated three dozen paces, grudgingly setting themselves into position. Above them, Rags’ Goblins covered their retreat.

Crack. Crack. Crack!

The sound of the Thunderbows firing was accompanied by massive crossbow bolts punching Draugr in the chests, making even them stumble. When one of the larger ones fired, Pawn saw a Draugr drop, headless. Then Bird loosed his ballista, and Pawn smiled.

The Draugr would not get to the inn. Not this wave.




They were all here, all doing their part. Whether they were on the field or not…even if he was guilty, he had never been a good warrior. Dead gods, he’d never even been a warrior.

Yelroan was not at The Wandering Inn. He…was guilty of it. Guilty, the [Mathematician] suspected, as anyone else who was not there.

Even Ishkr had left, despite going back and forth on it. He might have been the one non-combatant in the entire inn who had almost stayed. His sister hadn’t seen why it was even a question, though Yelroan had a perfect picture of how the [Head Server] could be handing out potions, refilling ammunition or acid jars, or just—being there.

In the end, Ishkr had been ordered to go, thus neither Gnoll was at The Wandering Inn. Both were in Liscor.

He felt guilty, but Erin and Lyonette had told him to go, and when he’d asked, Normen had confirmed it.

If the undead hit the inn, he was dead weight or, worse, a liability. It was why Krshia Silverfang, Selys, Liska, and so many more were not in the inn, but the guilt…he remembered it from the Meeting of Tribes.

Still, the [Mathematician] was not idle. How could he be? A lot of people were just watching the skies light up, watching scrying orbs or asking for updates from Street Runners.

Yelroan had been going to do that, but he’d found a better place.

He did not know how the battle was going as the first wave of undead crashed down on the inn. First wave…he was making notes of casualties and any details he thought would help. Trying to keep track of the inn’s guests. It was macabre, making a list of the living and the dead.

What else should he do?

The battle was one long, endless night, and Yelroan could not have told you how long it lasted; he set up a manual timecounter to track the minutes then hours, but stopped after one hour and fourteen minutes had passed. He became too busy to pay attention.

At first, they didn’t come into the city. Liscor occupied the far western flank, letting the Drake forces use the walls as a shield, but it meant Liscor’s northern and then eastern gates came under attack.

Yelroan was nowhere near the walls when they began to evacuate more parts of the city. Or when the second wave attacked.

Second wave. Dead gods.

At this point, Ishkr was about to run to The Wandering Inn, or rather, teleport in and see if they needed him with a resupply—but again. He didn’t go because they were needed.

Wounded! Move aside! We need [Healers]!

Yelroan looked up when the first Drakes began coming through via the south gate, the safest part of the battlefield. Then Humans.

They were covered in blood, and some had bled out on the trip here. He saw gnawed-off limbs, bleeding sores, wounds from weapons and claws—there were [Healers] on the battlefield, but they were being swamped.

The ones in the city were equally unprepared for it.

“They’re out of potions. Someone—do something.”

“Th-thread and needles. Just like the Last Light showed. They’re bleeding so badly—

The reserves in Liscor were as young as eleven, some of them. Actual [Seamstresses] or [Tailor Apprentices] called on to sew up the wounded.

Yelroan didn’t use thread or needle, either. He just began giving orders when he realized no one else would.

“Everyone not triaging, I need blood types—put those infusions in the arm once you have the blood type right. Not right away!

Ishkr caught a Drake by the arm, and they looked at him as if he were insane. But the Gnoll was standing outside the one building where it mattered. Where he made a difference.

Liscor’s blood bank. First in the world.

Everyone had forgotten about it. Oh, it ran, and apparently it got donations, and it had a lot of preserved blood thanks to spells, but no one, even Chaldion of Pallass, had really focused on it.

Yelroan did. He had heard out Erin’s explanation about how vital blood transfusions were. Counted how many potions he thought the average [Soldier] would have access to—if any.

The staff was not prepared for this. I should have run them through drills. At least—Yelroan had convinced Selys and Krshia and a number of people of Liscor to give him volunteers and space.

“Move that one to the far wall. In ordered groups, not anywhere.”

He snapped at the [Soldiers], and Ishkr had to remind some of the staff how testing for blood types worked; you mixed blood together. The problem was, there were multiple, multiple blood types per species. So you had to know which species could transfuse blood safely with one another as well as narrow down a blood type per species.

Yelroan could handle it. But each second he had to wait for a blood vial to show clotting or a clean transfusion—[Soldiers] were dying.

They don’t die. They wouldn’t die—

Some of them were raving about the horrors they’d faced. If Yelroan looked outside, he could still see the Floodplains lighting up with battle. But the [Mathematician]’s desperate war was in one building, in this one place, with blood and numbers, and he hoped Erin would be proud of it.

Even so, hundreds, thousands might have died as the blood bank overflowed and Yelroan had to demand other buildings be cleared and tarps laid out in the street and they ran out of vials to measure with. Until help came from an unexpected source.

“Yelroan. You asked for us?”

Four people, ostensibly Humans, two female, two male, stopped at the edge of the street. Their eyes were dilated, and at least one wanted to fight—but her parents and old Bamer kept Fierre back.

“I did. I need—help.”

Yelroan had blood on his paws, and they were shaking. He looked up, and the Vampires, the Lischelle-Drakle family, hesitated.

It was a sacred trust they had placed in Erin. She had told no one, but her staff noticed, and Yelroan wasn’t asking them to unveil themselves. Colfa nodded first.

“Do we match it up?”

“If you can. Can you tell if the two fit? Donor and…?”

Yelroan was trying to explain at lightspeed, but to his relief, Colfa stared at a bleeding man and then grabbed one of the jars.

“This one. Try…”

When blood ran down the primitive tube into the arm, the pale cheeks flushed almost before Yelroan’s eyes. That was all the proof he needed—Himilt bent over another [Soldier], and Fierre grabbed as many blood bags as she could and put them on each [Soldier]’s chest for someone to transfuse.

“There are a few more people we can call. But—”

Old Bamer was hesitating as he eyed the staff, who didn’t ask questions, so focused were they on the patients. Ishkr, fast as ever, came to an idea.

“Here. Take this.”

He handed the oldest Vampire one of the staff’s uniforms and grabbed more for the other Vampires. Then the two Gnolls were moving faster, and Yelroan endured that night with blood on his paws—until he heard a cry from the northern gates. Until he looked up and wondered if anyone was alive.

The first wave was quiet. By the time the Lischelle-Drakle family was there, he thought another hour had passed. And the dead?

They kept coming.




Kasigna paid little attention to Erin Solstice at first. Her two aspects were continuing battle in the other two realms, and she only returned to her observation of the mortal planes when she felt Eldavin calling upon her for aid.

Then she looked once more and saw to her displeasure—her Draugr were barely a tenth of their number!

Somehow, though they were pressing closer to the inn, they had been hacked down, stalemated, or simply destroyed. She saw them tearing forwards mindlessly and tsked.

A mighty general she was not. Six had made it to the very hill, but it offended her to see only six.

Even so, she had felt a number of dead coming from this place. She paused a moment, eyes narrowed, watching the mortals heave against their foes. Perhaps enough would reach the inn?

Then she noticed Eldavin struggling to speak her name and fighting with the [Mages] to reassert control of his broadcast.

This was the true blow. If Erin Solstice thought these undead were the battle—it would be nothing if Eldavin did as he must. He was reestablishing his connection, and Kasigna vowed that Roshal would be the first example made after Erin Solstice.

At last, the broadcast restarted, and even Kasigna, who had waited tens of thousands of years for a chance at resurrection, was impatient as she watched Eldavin’s image appear in countless places.


I am here today to tell you about the—existence—of two individuals. For context, they are not beings of levels nor mortal. They are not immortal either…

Roshal tried everything and realized he had actually simply cloned his spell. They overloaded one circle and tried to reach the other. Too late.

Kasigna waited for her name and nature to take root in minds. Even if they did not believe, knowing her name would empower her and her daughter. She reached out, waiting—

…And swore, in the lands of the dead, that she heard laughter.

The Goddess of Death felt little fear in her existence. She acknowledged few mortals or even other deities. But that laughter haunted her. It was loud, for it should be heard, and liltingly sad, like a benediction, like grief—and like a terrible joke.

At first, she thought it was her imagination, for it unnerved her. Then she realized how it could be.

Kasigna stood over all the ghosts who milled about her growing, new realm and found the three at last.

Just three. But she had called them here too, hadn’t she? Even now—somehow—

Zineryr’s smile unnerved her.

The Gnomes were laughing. Kasigna bent over them and saw tears on one face, a laughter without words and another’s head was thrown back, and on Zineryr’s lips, that same sad smile at the end of everything.

“What do you plot?”

She had control over them. They could no more oppose her than any other ghost. Even if, somehow, they kept their secrets…she was tempted to unmake them and simply pry the answers from them, but she valued them too much. Which they surely knew, the clever Laughing Folk. Even now, the Gnomes paused a moment, as if weighing their answer. But Zineryr did give it.

“Nothing new.”

Kasigna’s head rose, and she sensed a trap too late.




Eldavin stood on an open outdoor balcony where he’d drawn his second spell circle, annoyed but victorious. His projection was finally getting to the important part, and Roshal had no way to stop him.

No one did. Oh, there were spellcasters trying, whether they knew what was happening or just wanted to see the battles. Eldavin expected to hear from Kasigna any moment now, and when she spoke, he was ready.

“Kasigna, I would like to plead for—”


One word, and Eldavin’s paranoia, his instincts from memories of being a Dragon, and the warnings the two had given him crystalized into one action. He leapt away from the spell circle, rolled—

…but something beyond. Their nature is…

Nothing happened. Eldavin was in a crouch as the image of him went on, wand aimed around, but the bubble of magic shielding Wistram from the storm of the Bloodtear Pirates in the far distance left everything tranquil.

Temperate, even. There was no hint of snow or winter, just a pleasant, even balmy, day. No clouds, just the stars, unmoving with the frozen Winter Solstice, and the moons.

Blue and green, not like Earth’s off-yellow at all. Beautiful, round, full moons; it was the Solstice after all. Eldavin was looking around him for a traitor in Wistram’s ranks. Feor? It was probably Feor. Or perhaps…

His head rose slowly, and his eye caught something staring at him.

Full moons? Yes, one was blue, a soft gentle glow deeper than the sea, the other green, pale and mysterious and exciting. Like his eyes; even the copy of a Dragon remembered loving them because they were mismatched, like his own gaze.

Full moons signaled power for Raskghar and other species. They were the foundation of some classes, magic—and the Solstice always had two full moons throughout until they would wane and wax like normal.

They had been full. A second ago. But Eldavin looked up, and his skin crawled. Because when the Archmage of Memory raised his head to the very heavens themselves, he heard the laughter of the Gnomes. Bitter, perhaps, laughing for some things should be mocked, for dignity was an illusion, for the world could be a jest—and for the cycle of things.

High in the sky, the two moons shone down on Wistram, Eldavin, and Kasigna’s plans.

Then…the green one winked at him. Eldavin stared as the green glow narrowed and then reopened, like an eye. He stared up—and the moons were normal, serene, beautiful—

He backed up a step. Then another. The Eldavin on the orb was raising his eyes when his image froze—

A single object fell towards the world, shattering Wistram’s bubble, striking the balcony of the Isle of Mages and hitting the spell circle spot on. Just…perfectly, really. Then it tore through the balcony and ripped through every containment and dimensional spell in a moment right in front of Eldavin’s horrified eyes.

Wistram warped—then expanded. Mages were thrown flying as rooms uncompressed; the academy, part of it, entered realspace and tripled in size, growing ungainly, spreading out across Wistram’s western side as the dimensional magics tore. Eldavin felt the entire academy start ringing with alarms.

This…was a disaster beyond anything Wistram had faced since before the Creler Wars. But Eldavin still had his backup spell trying to tell everyone Kasigna and Cauwine’s names.

As a figure caught itself on the balcony and came to rest, bare feet touching the stones, a sling whirling with a stone marked with the old words of magic on it—the Archmage of Memory had cause to regret his preparations.

Gnomes, why do you laugh? Was it just Gnomes? Or was it Elves, too? Elves didn’t laugh so well. But they did prepare. They gave a memory—a soul, really—a weapon and asked them to stand watch until forever reset itself.

He was—smiling. And short. He would have been the second shortest species in this entire world, and had been among the smallest when his race had still existed. Yet he was still larger than a Gnome, and stockier too. Half as high as a man, and thus—Halfling. You see?

A rosy-cheeked warrior wearing armor and whirling a sling, one of the most archaic weapons. He had a shortsword in hand, which to him was a full blade, and the Archmage of Memory stared, and his eyes filled with tears.

Then he tried to cast a spell to finish the recording—escape—and the sling snapped. Eldavin aimed his wand, searching for words to query the stranger, the guardian summoned by the magic, or do battle.

Then he realized he had no arm. The simulacrum granted life stared at the hole that had blown apart his very being. The stone kept going, shattering stone and magic and entire hallways as [Mages] screamed—and then whirled back into the sling.

The Halfling took aim again. He whirled the sling—snapped it and punched a hole straight through the Archmage of Memory’s heart. Then stopped, as if wondering why the man still fled.

A slight frown to replace that smile, and the guardian checked the sky, as if telling the time. It looked around, inspected the broken spell circle, the shaking Isle of Mages, and sighed wistfully as if wishing for another second. It caught the stone—looked up—

And vanished. The moons shone serenely on the world below, letting the world continue to exist.

Kasigna realized she had failed. Then she gripped her staff hard as Gnomes laughed softly, and she checked on her wounded servant.

The Goddess of Death stepped into the Floodplains once more. This time, she addressed the mortals with her offer.




“Reform the lines. House Veltras, your pikes are inadequate against Draugr charges. I am repositioning our spearlines. I want your pikes here, here, here, and here.”

Chaldion was giving orders even as the last Draugr died. A mistake would be to keep trying to destroy them with all forces present and not bracing for the next attack. The interior forces were taking them down, but the Grand Strategist was already moving the army around.

No one objected, even the Humans. They had divided among the left and right flanks due to their animosity—now, Chaldion saw both species rushing about. It still meant the north congregated on the eastern side, but they were shoring up weaknesses.

“Marshrangers will be roving. Comments?”


There were things the south needed that the Humans did well—Chaldion hoped his underlings and Shirka and Duln were taking notes. Elements like Lady Buscrei’s independent Marshrangers provided a flexible, dangerous counter to many problems as opposed to Drake rigidity. Those Golems…

We lost ours, damn it.

Strange how you thought of the future and past when you should focus on the battle. This wasn’t just senility; even now, even as a [Strategist], you did have to just wait.

Not for long. The Grand Strategist was looking towards The Wandering Inn. The Draugr hadn’t even made it to the inn’s door. He didn’t like how they’d been able to push in and was drawing the formations closer to prevent a similar push, but Erin Solstice was safe.

In her gardens, even if the doors were open. She was…waiting. Standing there.

That alone told him the foe would be back. When she returned—he almost didn’t notice her at first.

She appeared in the same spot as last time, but so distant she was but a speck. Yet just like last time, his head began to turn. His body, something subconscious, knew her before his conscious mind did.

Just like last time, it was as if the world zoomed in on her face, such that even a whisper from that woman was like she was standing right before him. Enormity, that was it.

She filled the world.

First, Kasigna had come as the figure who delivered that wave of Draugr in a moment; contemptuous, a single word and gesture enough to express her disdain.

Now—she came differently. For it was no crone that Chaldion saw, a withered Human with lines and haggard, drooping flesh, that he found repulsive and alien to his understanding of age.

It was a woman. Her hair might begin to grey, but she still had color in auburn locks. Her shoulders were held high, and she seemed, to Chaldion, to be utterly familiar, though he had never met her in his life.

Ah, there you are. 

He realized she had always been there. With every assassination attempt, every slip upon the stairs, every sword cutting towards his heart in battle. No matter how inconsequential or grand—she was there.

Watching his final moments. Waiting for him to fall in glory or defeat, clawing for breath or exiting gracefully. Then…he would look up and take her hand.

_______ of Death.

Thus she stood there surveying the battlefield. Chaldion heard a sound.


Then silence. Even Lord Xitegen seemed to understand that wasn’t going to work. Chaldion tried to inspect his foe, but then he realized something.

Only half of his vision actually saw her. He knew she was there; even a blind man like Laken Godart was turning her way. Yet one eye saw nothing.

[Appraisal]. Failure.

[True Seeing]. Failure.

[Eye of Mana]. Failure.

The blue gemstone in his eye socket was the most powerful eye he had for sight alone. It detected no mana about her, not even death magic. She had no levels or classes, or if she did…she was invisible.

She was not there, and yet, he felt like a piece of this world had clicked back into place. As if she had been missing so long.

___ess of Death. 

The knowledge of what she was was pressing on his mind. He knew it, but part of him was resisting it. Memetic threat—

The mortal armies had gone silent, the last Draugr crawling forwards as they were finally put to rest, but no one said a word as Kasigna stood there surveying it all. She didn’t look as vengeful as her previous incarnation. She seemed imperious. Like some cold judge.

Yet not without emotion. It glittered in her eyes. A proud self-possession. Even sympathy. Sympathy without empathy. The two were so simple, but empathy meant feeling what the other felt. Sympathy was an attempt to understand.

She was as alien as a Selphid was to a Gnoll. More. So she gazed down, weighing. Admitting, perhaps, that her minions had been insufficient. Then her eyes roamed upwards towards the clouds, which parted a second, as if in deference to her, and Chaldion looked up at the moons.

Regretfully, a second. The Goddess of Death stared up at the sky without a word—until the line of light shot from the inn and touched her.

A bolt of lightning. The thunderclap was quiet, somehow, yet it illuminated Kasigna, and the white shawl around her shoulders rustled.

She did not recoil as the ground around her tore apart, nor react how anything real would. But Chaldion saw her grimace.

She can be hurt. Though he realized—she grimaced as if a bug had bit her. Then her eyes rose, and he saw it once more.

Malevolence, now. The moment of tranquility, grief, introspection, analysis, became rage once more.

The old crone stood there, leaning on her staff, bitter, furious, and when she spoke, it was to them all.

“I am your ___.”

The word censored itself. The moons shone down above her, and Chaldion thought he saw two cones of light illuminating Kasigna. Like a warning. Even the dead goddess paused and stared up balefully. Her voice rasped.

“That mortal girl is mine. You, who stand here. Know your death as she warns you. I am your ___. _______ me.”

What was she saying? No one from Chaldion to Halrac to Lady Bethal to the [Soldiers] could make it out. Yet now, Chaldion saw movement in the audience.

The Goblins were beginning to shake. Their eyes were fixed on Kasigna, and whether they could articulate it or not—her gaze swung across them dismissively. Rags was having to pull back Redscar, and Thunderfur had a hold of his arm.

It was all part of something larger. Chaldion was trying to fit it together with the things only he knew. Piece together a great truth, but there was no time. For Kasigna held out a hand.

“If you understand it not, then hear this: join me. Serve me. I offer you no salvation. I demand no cause save my existence. I am Kasigna. For the first mortals to serve, I shall make them my new heralds of my return.”

She was actually trying to suborn them. Yet even here, Chaldion felt like he was reading a book with half the words removed.

Why would anyone simply follow her? Why did she act as if they would? What…was…she?

Perhaps even Kasigna realized her words were incomprehensible. So she spoke onwards.

“I am death itself. Every spirit who passes through my graven halls is mine. For you who take my hand, know that I offer the rarest of my gifts. Reincarna—”

This time, the bolt of lightning died after it barely left the inn, just splintered into nothingness. It was the third Erin had shot; Chaldion hadn’t even noticed the second. The Goddess of Death wished to speak and refused to let anything gainsay her. But the [Witch of Second Chances] was equal to that.

Even Kasigna’s speech that filled the ears suddenly became less all-consuming. For what jarred Chaldion’s mind, made him cover his earholes and turn, was the laughter.

Erin Solstice was laughing. No, cackling like she was possessed. She stood in her garden, and her laughter was high and wild, like a shriek, then low and insane. A bottle fell from her hands.

Cackle Brew.

She laughed at the goddess like only few mortals could. With insanity, and Kasigna’s eyes darkened, and she stopped speaking.


The Three-in-One did not vie with Erin to be heard. Thusly, the mortal armies woke up, as if breaking free from an enchantment. More than one head nodded at Erin; several pointed hats raised softly among the forces of Riverfarm.

“I see the target. Anyone want me to take a shot? I doubt I can do much if a damn lightning bolt failed.”

Lady Buscrei murmured into the speaking stone. A voice—Lulv—growled back.

“Where’s our irregular?”

He meant the warrior of winter. Now, the armies were bristling once more, preparing to attack.

Kasigna was displeased. Her face contorted into a snarling grimace, her nose furrowing as her face seemed to sink into itself. Becoming more and more the vengeful crone—until she stopped.

Until she went cold and quiet. The mother returned, the impassive judge, locking eyes with the [Innkeeper] laughing hysterically, cackling in her face. Chaldion had a thought.

The more dangerous of the two is that one. The Goddess of Death gazed across the Floodplains and slowly raised her staff, as if carrying a great burden.

“I name you, Erin Solstice. Suffer, as all my foes do. You are worthy of my contempt. Now: die. Witness, mortals, my ire.

No more speeches. The staff rose, and Chaldion’s sense of danger peaked. At least one arrow sped through the dark night, but the goddess paid no heed to them. She lifted what seemed to be the sky itself over her head—then struck the ground.

Once more, the dead arose.

A snarling Draugr unburied itself again, and Chaldion’s scales prickled. There were no dead bodies over there. We swept the area! Was she creating these Draugr?

He saw, via his gemstone eye, more bodies pulling themselves out of the ground. But they were all…Draugr?

For some reason, that actually surprised him and let him down. Was this woman who claimed to be death herself so limited? Just Draugr? It felt ridiculous to th—


The Grand Strategist of Pallass fell silent. His lungs halted a second, and his heart spasmed in his chest. He fell back a bit, stumbling into his map of the battlefield. It was magical and could accurately show the actual positions of troops. Right now, most of the map was blue and green, indicating allies and their own forces.

But while it could not ‘see’ Kasigna, it had noted the Draugr as distinct red blobs. Now—as a [Tactician] reached out to steady Chaldion, the Drake looked down and saw the map slowly changing.

Red was appearing all over the base of the High Passes. The [Tactician] did not have Chaldion’s magical eyes. She looked up, and Chaldion’s lips moved.

“Capstones. They’re—”

He looked across the Floodplains as the defiant cheering and shouting of the defenders stopped. This time—the hills themselves seemed to move.

“Dead gods and Ancestors.”

Who said that? One of the officers? Chaldion looked up and saw the smile on Kasigna’s lips. The mother pointed.

The exact same undead, each one Draugr. The exact same gesture. But this time—

A hundred thousand Draugr pulled themselves out of the earth, more than every [Soldier] around The Wandering Inn. Kasigna’s lips twisted with contempt as she looked at the [Innkeeper].

A great howling wind became a screaming face, a storm of faces that blew across the Floodplains. The stone died and turned to pale crystal around her as Kasigna drew more fully on her power and Kasignel. A hundred thousand Draugr—her hand flickered for a second, though, and she stared at withered skin that rotted away to bone—glared—and it became ancient flesh again.

Kasigna paused a moment, leaning on her staff, and the dying stone stopped changing color, the wind ceased screaming. Yet the hundred thousand Draugr—raised their heads, glowing eyes beholding the living.

Then she pointed, and they charged. Kasigna gave a different order.

“Slaughter everything.”

Once more, she vanished.




It was overwhelming. The roar of the Draugr began shaking the Floodplains themselves. They almost outnumbered the living!

Draugr. Morale began breaking the instant their numbers were visible.

“We must flee the field. Lord Veltras, give the signal to retreat. Lord Veltras? Please—”

One of the Human officers lost his nerve. Tyrion Veltras was just trying to take in how many were coming. He had mustered armies like this before only once. Against the Goblin King, and never led one of this scope.

This army could wipe out every force I have been part of—the field is lost.

He knew it, but he did not respond right away. He could not. They had to fight. The Draugr would overrun Liscor and destroy every city if they went north or south—the dead that would rise in their wake would create a horde to end all of Izril.

“Summon the Five Families! Tell them to rally at Invrisil!”

He whirled and shouted at Jericha. She looked at him with wide eyes, scrambling for a scroll. Tyrion Veltras turned, barking into the speaking stone.

“Hold your ground! Riders, with me! We sortie!”

“Primera, load the Golemslayer volley. On my mark.”

Lord Xitegen’s voice was also deceptively calm. There was a babble of Drake voices requesting withdrawal as well, but Tyrion was busy trying to keep his people from fleeing.

They might have in another moment. He saw [Soldiers] looking back towards the inn where the magic door was, or just south, away from this enormity of death. Then he heard a voice.

No retreat. We are the guardians of the Walled Cities. Now. I am Chaldion of Pallass. Using my capstone Skill.”

Lord Xitegen glanced up as he looked around. He bared his teeth as Tyrion plotted a course, trying to find a place for his riders where they wouldn’t be encircled and murdered in a moment. The Draugr were spreading out; this time, they would fight back. Xitegen spoke out of the corner of his mouth.

“Who has the best Skill here? Lord Veltras?”

Tyrion shook his head as he swung his horse around. Xitegen glanced over, grunted.

“You, then. Grand Strategist, I will support you.”


Tyrion Veltras wished he had his own Skills and levels. He was racing ahead and knew his people might well die because they thought they were following the older Tyrion with more levels. This younger man felt uncertain, afraid. At least he had the courage to ride.

House Veltras was shouting his name as he passed. Magnolia Reinhart lifted her hand and met his eyes, and they were of one mind. Desinee El, Lady Pryde, Lord Xitegen—united in purpose.

For once, even their counterparts to the south were alike in horror. So. For the first time in his life, Tyrion Veltras lifted his lance in a salute as he saw, in the distance, Chaldion’s command tent light up. And he beheld the sight his father had told him of once in stories.

The Grand Strategist of Pallass was floating into the air. He was distant, but Tyrion’s sharp eyes picked him out perfectly in the night.

The old Drake had stepped out of his tent and into the snow. Throwing back his fur-lined hood. His grey scales and watery eye had beheld the army against him. Pale yellow eyes narrowed—and then his feet had left the ground.

He floated upwards off the ground as the terrified Drakes and Humans turned towards him. A world away, the King of Khelt stood, but even he waited.

Unicorn and Dragon, Winter Fae and Immortal Tyrant. Necromancers and a putrid minion, all paused a moment as the most dangerous mortal on the field flew higher. Levitating as his voice crackled and then boomed in the air.

I am the Grand Strategist of the Drakes. Vanish, each one of you who would desecrate my cities.”

Chaldion’s eyes were both glowing. He lifted a claw with the same effort Kasigna had lifted her staff, and Tyrion saw the dark night horizon behind Chaldion alight as a distant beacon of light arose incredibly far away. But he still saw it. There was nowhere on Izril safe. The mindless Draugr charged forwards in a wave as Chaldion spoke.

“[By My Unquestioned Authority, Fire Support: The City of Magic, Fissival].”

Tyrion Veltras rode as the Humans around him craned their heads. Across Izril—Fissival’s wall spells began to fire. The City of Magic roared as ancient dynamos of magicore spun to life, and the towers and walls thundered. The magic vanished into the air—and reappeared as Chaldion pointed his finger.

[Valmira’s Comet Storm]. Waves of meteors began pounding the base of the High Passes, and Chaldion drew a finger across the landscape like an artist moving a brush. A line of fire a mile long burned to life, an inferno that charred Draugr caught in the middle. Chaldion pointed, and a vortex opened, sucking Draugr into it.

He was counting, moving spells through the air that only he knew. A flaming phoenix made of magic landed, tearing at Draugr that swarmed it. A pillar of light shot down and vaporized dozens of Draugr who ran into the burning light.

Not enough. But Chaldion left holes in the enemy formations. One volley from the City of Magic—he felt the fury of Fissival in his veins. Chaldion pointed across the front rank of Drakes.

“[Diamond Body].”

Their armor and flesh turned harder than imagination. Chaldion held the rest of the enchantments in his hand. But the Draugr were still coming. Thus—he heard a voice and began to laugh.

This Skill would take weeks to recharge. Long had he sought a way to use it twice. He could have taken parts of the north with it. No [Teacher], [Mentor], or lesser class could reactivate this Skill.

All along…he heard a voice ringing in his ears. And he saw a [Lord] throwing back his coat. Brushing at the snow. Standing amidst Golems and Humans like the boy who had seen the Goblin King’s armies surrounding his keep.

Lord Xitegen.

[Again, and Again, and Ever Again].

Chaldion of Pallass was laughing like a child playing with toys. Giggling maniacally. He pointed with sheer delight. That war monster from a different generation and age.

“[Fire Support: The City of War, Manus].”

Now, die. Even the Draugr looked up and beheld their doom. A crimson sky before the first volcanic rain of magma poured down upon them.




Capstones. Chaldion of Pallass was turning the edges of the Floodplains into a rain of fire. He was not the only one.

“[Open the Vaults].”

King Fetohep of Khelt unrolled a scroll from Khelt’s inner sanctums. Magic older than he was flashed out of existence as it was read.

Somewhere in his throne room, his [Mages] were begging him to stop. They were screaming he was warping both the throne room and the air between him and Liscor with the force of the spells he was calling down. The Walled Cities thought they were under attack.

He counted it all, even now. The northern farmsteads were few, but had been growing in number. Yet the evacuated people—

Had no homes. A Draugr smashed through a load-bearing beam, collapsing a farmhouse on the ones behind it. Slate shingles splintered as more bodies tore through stucco and bricks, sending debris flying like confetti with what little wood there was—

Before the spells fell. 

Fetohep saw the air ignite into a rose of shimmering violet as blue flames turned the wood to embers, then sent a spiraling cloud of debris up in a mushroom cloud. What remained of the Draugr was just ash.

A sword dropped through a barn, a glowing razor in the night, and Fetohep wondered if any animals were alive. He aimed another spell that screamed down, an open mouth dragging flailing bodies into the sky where blades minced flesh that rained down upon a hill now, the very foundations spiraling up into the sky.

The wrath of Fissival was comets that punched into the frozen earth and sent fountains of dirt flying up. They blew apart an empty grazing paddock, exploding links of a costly iron fence, and a single teardrop of light fell through yet another home and gently illuminated it from inside, like a child’s toy model, before the building imploded.

I shall repay each and every one if Liscor remains. So Fetohep swore. If he had to destroy every building save for The Wandering Inn on the Floodplains of Liscor?

The King of Khelt did not care. He was trying to crush that army before it reached the living. A tornado howled across the Draugr’s ranks, smashing them against the ground or tossing them through the air like toys. But too many got up even after suffering terrible, terrible damage.

They had to die. Fetohep’s eyes were burning gold. He could hear Erin Solstice speaking slowly, far as he was away from the fighting. A single brave [Spy] who thought he owed Erin Solstice a favor was Fetohep’s eyes and ears.

…if they break through, let them get to me…

She was almost lost in the rush of voices announcing their attacks and strategies. Fetohep spoke, though he knew she could not hear him.





“Time. Do you see the magnitude of the threat now, Necromancer?”

Even at the direst moment, Nerrhavia still spoke like a woman taunting, with arrogance that she had been and would always be right. She was waiting for him to teleport her to Liscor.

The Necromancer said nothing. Just looked at the Draugr. He could not control them. He wasn’t even sure if they were Draugr of the like he knew.

Az’kerash looked up slowly.

“You will have fifteen minutes before the loop teleports you back from wherever you are. So long as you are not anchored or in the [Garden of Sanctuary].”

“Ample time. Await my signal.”

She was giving him orders, and for once, the Necromancer didn’t care. So this is one of my new foes.

He turned his head. Four figures were fidgeting, staring at him. He named them.

“Ijvani. Oom. Venitra. Devail. Conceal your presence and strike behind their lines. If you are detected, pretend to be an undead and flee.”

Yes, Master.

Ijvani answered for the others. Az’kerash walked between his Chosen, inspecting each one. Was this right? Bea was clinging to Oom.

“Master, I should go with Oom—”

“No. You are not capable of fighting this battle. Oom is.”

The Slime-man trembled, but Az’kerash had selected his four most ready Chosen. Toren was staring at the scrying orb, and Az’kerash met Nerrhavia’s eyes.

“Trigger the spell yourself. I will join the battle momentarily.”

She rolled her eyes, but then gave him a nod. They regarded each other as figures watched.

“Your Majesty, Great Necromancer. We stand ready to do battle as well.”

A voice unfamiliar to Az’kerash spoke, and he felt the memory of hair rising as he met a ghost’s eyes. Well, a ghost in a body. Nerrhavia flicked her fingers.

“Did I give you leave to speak? Be silent. Gnats have no place in this war. You know your role.”

What that was, exactly, Az’kerash didn’t know. Even the Immortal Tyrant was judging her entry. She was waiting for the Draugr to arrive.

Az’kerash took a position in his own spell circle. He was ready. He had sworn to do battle, and he would. But he was…

Golden flames were licking across the battlefield as the Oldbloods breathed. That had to be Teriarch. The Unicorn was doubtless there, too, but less showy.

Az’kerash was waiting for one thing, one person, though. He could not send his own armies against the Draugr, even if he had that many corpses present. He would have to improvise. Though a [Necromancer] was the greatest foe of undead, even if he could not control Kasigna’s minions.

But he was watching for someone else. Nerrhavia had warned him he might have to take on a singular foe, and Az’kerash needed to know.

Where was that half-Elf that called himself Tolveilouka? 




It was already chaos as the Draugr crossed the Floodplains. So many spells were raining down on them of a magnitude few had ever witnessed. Olesm heard shouts of awe and terror around him.

It’s a rain of burning glass—is Khelt using every scroll they have in their vaults?!”

A gigantic Sand Worm, summoned, was bleeding and screaming on the field. No, not summoned—a real Sand Worm.

“That’s a living monster. And that—those are Manticores!”

Fifty of them were tearing forwards, glowing collars on their necks, but the beasts were real. Olesm was watching the onslaught with awe. They were Chandrarian creatures; he had no idea Khelt had living war monsters.

However, who else had that wealth? The Drake watched as more Draugr broke through the onslaughts, but unlike last time, the hundred thousand undead were being torn apart by the higher-level Skills.

A volley of exploding arrows from Xitegen’s Golems blew apart hundreds. They could do this! They could do this. 

What Olesm didn’t realize was that this time, the battle was different. Magnolia Reinhart was watching Tyrion’s charge and speaking to the other nobles. The [Generals] were readying their Skills—the Dullahan ranks under Duln’s command had grown to twice their height and were set, literal half-Giants forming a vanguard on his side.

But Olesm was still shivering, shivering without stopping as he touched a wristband in his pouch, an emergency weapon he might have to use. Kaalblade at his side.

He sensed it. 

Kasigna was watching.




She refused to show them weakness, so she hid in her lands after summoning the second wave of undead. It—taxed her.

Greatly. Kasigna was no general of armies to give specific orders and fortify and advance. This was how she did battle, but she realized she had erred.

Summoning the dead from the very memory of them or her inviolate will was the act of a god. Yet it took more strength than she wished.

Easier. It would be easier if there were dead bodies to use. But there were so few—instead, she had created each Draugr out of nothingness.


Her plans were going astray. First the negotiations in Rhir. Now Eldavin. Kasigna’s three aspects were all—struggling in one way or another. She refocused on her two disparate selves, who were her and not completely her while they were apart.

Even a god could struggle. Hellste should have been a place for the wretchedly foul. It should have been tamed, still devoid of levels and classes. Yet—

Kasigna walked out of that land, hissing. The crone was injured—even as she retreated, she pulled her arm free as a hand gripped it.

It refused to vanish.

A soul, a mere soul, was defying her, refusing to acknowledge her authority as so few could. So had Laedonius Deviy fallen—Kasigna hissed.

“Begone, you mistaken child! Wretched traitors.

She tore her arm free with effort, and the snarling crimson eyes refused to vanish. The hand of a Goblin King tore at her again—and Kasigna snapped the boundary between realms closed.

She had forgotten…no. She had not known the rage of Goblin Kings. Kasigna’s eyes rose, and in that moment, she beheld them.

Every Goblin King, staring at her. 

Not so easy to take Hellste. She had expected a land of filth such that the ghosts confined there deserved only oblivion rather than her mercy, though she would grant it to all. Instead, she had found—Goblins.

All of them.

“They were the youngest children. Now they challenge the shadow of the divine.

Defeat. At least, an unwillingness to return without the fullness of her might. Two aspects of Kasigna pondered entering Diotria’s lost realm. Yet there, too, she was struggling for a different reason. It might have been easier to take since even fewer souls inhabited that realm meant for only the beloved who were worthy. She had never liked the concept, but her belief in the afterlife had been a point of dissent with other, ‘newer’ gods.

Many of them still had bodies. Diotria was meant to be a place of joy and purpose. But that fool, Emerrhain, had hurt her inadvertently. Hellste was without Skills and levels.

Diotria had been given them anew. The consequences she already saw.

The Three-in-One was beyond fury at this point. Defeat, setback—she counted each being who had defied or insulted her and swore vengeance. That was the crone.

The Crone had the malice and rage to survive even the final defeat, to skulk around consuming tiny souls and scrabble for scraps like a beggar. But she was one of three.

Even if she was the face so many knew Kasigna by, the Gnomes and oldest of all knew her other aspects.

The Mother was the one who presided over the afterlife. She was both loving and impartial. Whatever Kasigna’s vengeances, however the Crone raged—whenever her foes lay dead and came into her grasp, the Mother let her grudges lie.

Even for Erin Solstice. Death, as Zineryr had always loved it, was neither punishment nor reward for any rules. Kasigna, the Mother, promised the oldest and most timeless of all things: an end. No more, no less.

Yet Zineryr had warned Erin of one thing. She would likely face the Crone and perhaps the Mother, who would raise armies and scheme great and dire gambits. Yet Kasigna was no general. Nor even a great warrior as gods went.

She was the oldest of all. Death herself, and in that way, her very nature placed her as the most dangerous to mortals. Still, Zineryr had warned Erin. Beware.

Do not beware the Crone’s petty spite.

Do not beware the Mother’s impartial wrath.

Fear the Maiden.

Youngest of all. The Maiden was the face Kasigna wore least. She was the contradiction in the nature of Kasigna herself; a Goddess of Death who symbolized youth and life. She was change. She was reflection.

“When I was newborn, my face was that of a crone. I sentenced my own mother wearing her visage. I knew not how to change. First I was one. Then I became three, and the youngest is the one that has never been and can be. Maiden. I crave you now.”

Kasigna stood in the lands of the dead, and one of her faces was the Crone, seething with rage in Diotria and demanding fealty as she tore souls apart.

The second was the Mother, grimacing, having failed to take Hellste, coldly analyzing the odds and judging her next action.

…The Maiden looked like Erin Solstice. A different Erin, one who wore no hat and who would take each and every soul gently and weep for them. The final guest house at the end of everything.

You see, they did understand each other. This final Kasigna understood love and fear. This one could weep and had learned to care for her subjects as the other two had failed to do. This one—was the one mortals craved and worshiped.

Most importantly, this Kasigna could see defeat. She looked ahead, behind, and at what had passed and saw the fingers of Shaestrel dancing upon the board. This Kasigna did not sneer at her foes, but sat a moment.


“Ah. I see it.”

The Three-in-One regarded the battlefield below. Saw Draugr vanishing—even as they ran like a stampede of the end times towards the mortals. But how brightly mortality shone before the dark candle.




House Veltras!

Lord Tyrion was charging. Perorn Fleethoof was on the ground, and a wave of Draugr were following her Centaurs, who kept up a hail of fire.

Now the Draugr were attacking everything they could find—but even so, they were still mindless. Perorn was luring a wing of them away, galloping just out of reach.

Straight into a side-charge from Tyrion’s lancers. Strategy was still wildly in favor of the living. But the Draugr—

Tyrion’s teeth were clenched behind his helmet. But he did not ride alone. A hand was on his shoulder.

He looked back and saw Jericha behind him, sword in hand. Yet it was not she who he felt.

Magnolia Reinhart. She was standing amidst her servants, that woman he had grown up knowing. Clashed with. Admired grudgingly at times. Hated at others.

She had threatened to kill his sons.

She and Salva had fought so bitterly they had nearly driven the two Families to war.

Yet she had also been there as a Goblin King died.

His father had ridden by her side on these fields.

They were allies and enemies. Wary friends. The best of foes. The same could be said of all the other Five Families. In the end…

They stood together in dark times. Tyrion met Magnolia’s eyes as, ahead, the charging Draugr sensed the oncoming Humans and tried to pivot.

Just for this night, Magnolia nodded once, and Tyrion dipped his head. They put aside every grudge and disagreement. And the [Lady]’s aura met the [Lord]’s.

The Humans of the North were some of the finest masters of it in the world. Tyrion Veltras’ aura, when he rarely manifested it, was stubborn will. Like a weathered shield that deflected anything it ran up against. Unyielding and deep as the Vale Forest.

Magnolia’s aura was pink. It was a deft hand, as fast as her carriage, as incisive as a blade in the dark. Adaptive. One of Izril’s own experts rarely displayed her powers.

—The two melded, and Tyrion Veltras swung his lance down. His company of [Riders] jolted a second—then they were engulfed in falling roses that swirled around them like a second armor. They did not obscure the vision, and the roaring Draugr halted—

Huge briar brambles had engulfed their feet. The monsters staggered—and Tyrion Veltras’ lance took the first one through the head. House Veltras struck the Draugr; the roaring undead swung back, but they met gently falling pink flower petals harder than steel, which protected horse and rider alike.

Tyrion sensed Magnolia Reinhart release her aura as he circled for another charge. Now, she and Lord Xitegen exchanged a nod. Tyrion swore he saw the [Lord] laugh ruefully—then they pointed.

Sheer spite and pride. The Draugr continuing to advance never saw the gigantic hand, a copy of Lord Xitegen’s, before it smashed a dozen flat. It swept another group aside, tossing them like toys.

Then the Draugr were on the front lines of Drakes and Humans, and another [Lady] blew a kiss at the undead. A kiss like a razor, and a smile that promised she would hunt them down and kill them herself if she must.

Lady Bethal Walchaís. Her aura exploded over the ranks of Drakes and Humans, shields covered in thorns. When the Draugr hit them, the aura-projections tore flesh and ripped the Draugr apart. They kept going—

Lady Pryde’s Humans met the Draugr in an earthshaking collision. The Draugr slammed into shields and bodies and broke bones—but the Humans didn’t move.

[Pride is Weight]. The Draugr began fighting as her lines barely buckled. Massive undead heaved against smaller men and women who shoved them back, the gigantic Draugr uncomprehending as to why they were equally matched.

Egos like a storm, for once united in purpose, the Flowers of Izril refused to waver.




“This is what Isthekenous dreamed of. Mortals to fight the armies of legend.”

There was a kind of satisfaction even as she beheld the mortals refusing to buckle. Yet everything Kasigna was was still the Maiden.

Erin Solstice would yet die. But the Draugr would never kill her.

The two aspects of Kasigna walked into the void. Now, the Maiden understood what must be done. Power, yes, it would take precious power and attention to do this. But the Gnomes’ chosen champion had indeed prepared for this day.

The area around Liscor and the Floodplains resembled a dark fog to Kasigna, the likes of which she had rarely seen, for even she could not…draw her power directly through it. The annoying trick of the [Innkeeper] mattered little, though. She had bought herself a mere handful of miles as a remove.

This time, Kasigna stopped on the side of a mountain. She used her power—sparingly—for she already had a body.

It had been so long since she tasted the air. She had almost lungs, almost the memory of flesh. Her presence withered the grass around her, killed the soil, and left the ground ashen, pale. Where she walked, her footprints became a spreading stain that transformed the rock forever, and the air that blew past her became the fell winds of another realm.

‘Twas not even close to how she would alter the world in fullness, but she raised one hand a second, capturing the wind on her fingers, and the mountains trembled and fell silent, fearing her gaze. Thus, the Goddess of Death relished one moment, two, before she spoke.


The ground quaked. The earth heaved, and she saw houses and people scream. They fled, and a great form they had made their homes out of began to rise. It would take time—but Kasigna looked down at the village of Rheirgest as a giant began to move.

She turned and, in a moment, appeared in the peaks of the High Passes. Kasigna approached a great tomb of ice ever-frozen this high up.

“Once more, rise.

The ice began to crack. The monsters and peoples of this desolate part of the mountain range feared little, but they cowered as Kasigna pointed down towards the lands that lay below the clouds.

Where she stepped, Kasigna left faint footprints in the earth and stone—yet they faded, inch by inch, as she passed. The Goddess of Death drew deep, breathing more deeply. Not for the strain of it reflected in her body.

Air. She was trying to taste…

Last of all, she reappeared on the battlefield and saw the Draugr, greatly battered, beginning to swarm across the Floodplains. Some had already met mortals, but they were directionless. Mindless.

So it had been said thrice: she was no general. Kasigna lifted her hand. This time, the Maiden closed her eyes and called not the simple things this world knew. She delved into her memory.

“A final time I say to you. Arise. Show them my nature.”

Now dead began to rise of a kind no mortal in this world had ever seen.




“…What is that?”

Olesm’s Ring of Sight let him see everything. His claws were shaking as he gripped his Kaalblade. The Draugr hadn’t even gotten past the first lines yet, but they kept coming. Now, the Antinium were bracing—but before they had even been fully hit, that woman had reappeared.

She was summoning more undead. Yet these—Olesm had no idea what these were.

Something crawled out of the ground, hundreds of feet long. It looked like a centipede, only it was made of bone—the ribcage of a snake? It was massive, tall as a house, and each end of its ribs dripped some glowing liquid that splashed to the ground. Olesm saw the droplets squirming and realized—the undead was birthing more horrors. The thing crawled down the slopes, twining past a hundred strange—

They looked like Facestealer. They had no heads. They were humanoid, but uncannily not that tall. Maybe only five feet—but headless, a dome of bone stopping with two slits for eyes at the top. Or nostrils? Whatever they had been in life, their bone-bodies stumbled forwards.

But their arms! Their arms were like the trunks of elephants that Olesm had seen in magic pictures. Black openings seemed to draw in the light.

Just ahead of Kasigna, great undead beetles with skull-faces, undead insects wearing crowns of bone, unburied themselves and fanned rotted wings. They flew past dead corpses sloughing layers of flesh off their body; strange zombies who shed flesh constantly—and regenerated more as Olesm watched.

“Now see my wrath. I shall offer mortality one more chance to serve. But first: my armies require command.”

Kasigna seemed to pause a moment, the young woman resting upon her staff. Olesm hoped that was it—but the worst was yet to come. The girl who wore Erin’s face seemed to him to look like Maviola as well.

And a younger Drake girl he’d had a crush on in Manus. She looked like every moment of youth he recalled. Her eyes lifted, and she looked nostalgic. He wanted to take her by the shoulders and kiss her and spend eternity young.

The [Strategos] refused. He shouted for the horror of it, demanding to be alive and in terror, and the defiance was a wail.

A ululation, a lament. Liscor’s army took it up, and the pained scream for the fallen, for defiance, hardened the nerves of those around them. Even the undead raised their heads and focused on Olesm’s army, as if taking note.

[War Cry: Eleleu].

Kasigna herself paused and looked at him approvingly, as if this were fit and meet to the moment. Then she closed her eyes and spoke:


…When I was young

Eight swore a pact to me

Under blackest sun.

Now, once more

Arise with claw and grudge

Hag Queens of Aklat Vunn.”


The dead came back to life. No undead rose or crawled out of Kasigna’s memory. Olesm knew it. There was something different to the way they appeared. Images, ghostly bodies, souls slowly taking shape, then being given flesh by the power of the goddess.

Each one had mottled skin, foul and riddled with warts or gashes. The scepters and regalia they wore were filthy, deliberately mocking. Each one was tall as Tremborag, and they spoke, voices ringing out.

Hail Kasigna.

Hail Death.

Hail the Three-in-One.

Hail the end of days.

They knelt to her, then rose, more dead sprouting from the ground as they began casting magic. Then, and only then, did Kasigna look weary. She hunched, the Maiden vanishing into the Crone, who whispered.

“Kill the [Innkeeper] above all. Beware the fae, my old servants. Now—”

Her voice rasped with weariness as a figure stepped out from behind a piece of stone. Kasigna had appeared three times in the same spot. Even a fool could tell where she might reappear. The half-Elf might be a fool, but he was a brave one.

And he had a Dragonslayer’s sword.

Tolveilouka leapt on Kasigna from behind as one of the Hag Queens screeched a warning. The Three-in-One vanished as the undead champion slashed through where her head had been. He whirled—and she picked him up by the throat.

Kasigna inspected the half-Elf. She spoke, idly, as he struggled.

“I shall offer those kith and kin to my nature the first of my boons.”

She vanished—with Tolveilouka. Her new undead raced down to join the others surging towards the inn, but this time in ranks, directed by the eight Hag Queens, who uttered oaths in languages not of this world as they began to work their magic.

They had to die. So, more than one legend made their move at last, finally seeing the scope of their enemy. The time was now.

To arms! For the Innkeeper of Liscor! Fight to the last!

A shouting [Duelist] was racing into battle, sword drawn, with four children following him. Magic glittered at his fingertips, and Ijvani, Oom, Venitra, and Devail were staring up at the undead. Their kin—but Ijvani and Venitra were quailing, unable to believe their eyes.

A foe greater than their master? They looked to Az’kerash for guidance as his eyes glittered with a memory of who he had been. The man took another step forwards—

Vanished into the air with a cry of surprise.

Then the undead and the eight Hag Queens descended upon Liscor.




He didn’t know what was going on. But that was fine. A [Lieutenant] like him didn’t have to understand anything.

Gershal of Vaunt just had to hold the line. He was standing with Vaunt’s soldiers a rank deep on the eastern flank of the battle, and when he looked up, his heart quailed.

The men and women were whispering pleas to the Five Families. Pleas, grasping each other for support—they didn’t know how to pray.

The Antinium had taught him how, and Gershal felt the words coming to his lips, as if they had always been here.

“Please, someone. Anyone—”

He knew from the chatter on his speaking stone that there were heroes in the fighting. He’d seen Magnolia Reinhart wielding her aura like a blade, and those horrific Hag-things were already under attack.

They’re casting spells! They’re—

A scream from a Drake voice. Gershal turned his head and saw [Soldiers] of Manus hit by a spell.

A Drake dropped his spear, clawing at his skin as huge boils erupted under his scales. He was spewing blood, and the entire company around him were screaming, using potions that only stopped the curse magic a second before one’s face melted off their body. The soldiers of Vaunt made no sound.

They would have run, but there was a wall of other troops behind Gershal—and the nobles’ Skills. A tiny bit of courage, enough to avoid his flight.

Or they were keeping them in place.

Did it matter? All of Gershal’s brave words—he looked at the sword he held in a shaking grip. A voice was speaking through the stone, and it gave him some nerve. He clung to it.

“This is Laken Godart. Leave the Hag at the back to my [Witches].”


Though Gershal could not see it, he knew even [Witches] were doing battle. There was a magical war in the skies…

The skies! Up, up!

Gershal took cover, thinking it meant arrows—until he raised his head and he saw them.

Screaming, half-skeleton, half-wisp things with huge scythes were flying down. Gershal stared until he realized they were bypassing the front and coming right at his people.

Brace! Br—

He ducked a scythe just in time. The woman next to him wasn’t so quick. Gershal got up.

“Aten? At—”

The top of her head was missing. The soldier fell as Gershal stared at her—and a second pass of the reaping wraiths flew down. This time, he flung up his sword, slashing—

The blow rang down his entire arm and sent him stumbling, but the specter twisted—and Vaunt’s soldiers began to stab and slash at it.

Their blades went right through it. It arose—whirled the scythe—and Gershal saw limbs flying like pieces of grain being threshed. Bloody [Soldiers] tried to clamp spurting arteries, shrieking as the specter advanced. Gershal raised his sword.

“Hold the—”

The scythe didn’t slash like any weapon he knew. It hooked out as he dodged right, then tried to pull and bisect him from behind. He frantically blocked it, turning, and saw a dagger appear in the wraith’s other hand. Gershal was blocking the scythe, and the thing was strong! He—

An arrow exploded the thing’s face off in a flash of light, and the scythe dropped. Gershal whirled, and a voice crackled in his ear.

Spectral undead! Truegold blades to the front! Spells first!

Lady Buscrei had loosed that very shot. Gershal backed away as he looked around.

“Potions. Get the wounded…”

Lieutenant, you are about to meet the enemy in forty seconds! Head up!

Niers Astoragon snapped in his ear. Gershal whirled and saw the Draugr charging. [Soldiers] grabbed at the wounded, some of whom were staring at severed limbs or trying in vain to reattach them. One went scrabbling in the muck and blood, and Gershal almost kicked the man—until he saw the frantic soldier picking up the tip of the burnt Truegold arrow.

If they came back, only Gershal’s sword and the arrow had a chance.


That was all the man said through pale lips. This time—he saw a dozen men and women turn and run. They froze as a voice spoke coldly in his ear.

“[Replenish Morale].”

For a second, the Titan’s Skill gave Gershal the nerve to think they could hold. He got to his feet, realizing he’d been hiding behind one of the palisades meant to stay the Draugr charge.

For Vaunt!

The [Soldiers] rushed back into line. Gershal faced down the Draugr and stared up as the first one came at him. Then—eighteen struck Vaunt’s lines.

They just—plowed through the soldiers to either side of Gershal. Shields and spears just splintered off their bodies. They ran into the [Soldiers], compressing them against each other and then swung their fists, smashing bones flat. Punching until limbs deformed and organs ruptured.

Gershal met one Draugr, who swung a fist, which he ducked. He slashed along its chest, scoring a light wound, saw an arm raise, and lifted his sword to block one-handed.


The blow shook the entire world. Then Gershal was staring at the Draugr recoiling, and instinct let him jab and reposition. Again, the monster swung, and again, Gershal blocked—

He barely felt the sword move. The blade enchanted by Erin Solstice held, as if it had all the weight behind it of a shield. The Tidebreaker himself.

Gershal forced the Draugr back a step, and arrows struck it in the face, a repeating salvo—but it kept moving until Gershal leapt.

[Piercing Leap]! His thrust carried the blade through the thing’s neck. Even then, it kept swinging—until he tore sideways and its head was flopping. He didn’t behead it—a [Halberdier] finished the job.

We can do this! Reform! Ref—

Gershal felt his breath giving way to excitement. He’d killed one! He’d—

He turned, and Vaunt was a dozen paces behind him, the other Draugr rampaging through their ranks. One picked up a soldier and plucked off his head. Gershal began running as he heard shouts.

“Reinforcements are on the way! 4th Company, strike them—”

Gershal slashed at a Draugr’s legs, hacking at it until it fell to one knee. But even then it kept crawling, dragging people down and tearing them apart as Gershal hacked at the back of its head. It ignored him and killed five more [Soldiers] until it was dead.

Then came the next undead, a tip-toeing thing twice as tall as he was with a gigantic wicker basket on its back. It was snatching dead soldiers up and putting them in the basket, which shook until the body parts came out as lurching horrors. Gershal stared at it until he charged, screaming.

It was smiling at him.




The first ten thousand Draugr had been terrifying. A hundred thousand was the kind of thing you saw when you shat your pants and woke up in the middle of the night from a nightmare.

Entirely new undead? 

What scared Relc Grasstongue was that he had no idea how they fought. He understood Draugr. The terror of not wanting to die—he could do that.

“Steady. No one rush in, got it? Get ready to fall back.”

They looked at him like he was a coward. Relc didn’t have time to clarify.

“Get ready to fall back—”

Liscor’s Watch was on the furthest western wing of the field. Relc should have been with Liscor’s army, but he wasn’t a [Soldier]. Zevara had told the Watch to hold the walls and guard Liscor, but Relc was part of a small team Chaldion used to shore up holes.

He’d killed three Draugr. Dead gods, they went down hard. The [Spearmaster] was sweating. He wondered if Tekshia or Lulv would do better. Probably Lulv. He was used to taking apart formations. Relc was used to foes that died when you stabbed them in the throat.

A headhunter specialist—wasn’t right for this battle. Tekshia was a former adventurer, but even a Gold-rank wasn’t stupid enough to solo a Draugr if they could help it. One of the [Guards] shouted.

They’re coming!

Relc bellowed desperately.

Don’t charge—damn it!”

It was the headless things with elephant trunks that they met. All bone—the Draugr were everywhere, but two of the bone-trunkers came out of the battlefield. Did they have a name? Relc didn’t know, but he grabbed at one of the Watch.

The new [Guards] lost their head in a battle. Some new Drake went swinging in with a Truegold sword, then recoiled from one of the trunk-arms swinging. It came at the Drake like a whip, but the [Guard] screamed.

“[Emergency Dodge]!”

He slashed at the trunk arm and scored a piece of bone off it as the other [Guards] loosed arrows at the Draugr, knowing better than to shoot bone. Another Human stabbed with a long spear and tore a piece off the trunk-undead’s weird, domed ‘head’. They were distinctly softer than Relc expected.

“Got ‘em! Come on—”

Relc was advancing slowly as the Watch began to charge. He shouted.

Back up! Back it up now!

[Squad: Unity’s Coordination]. Almost all of the [Guards] listened and sprang back, but the idiots in front—the [Spearmaster] saw the trunks open and stabbed.

His spear knocked one of the trunks down just in time. He’d suspected they would do something, but three pointed at the first two [Guards] exposed. Relc heard a strange, sucking sound—and his ears popped.

Whatever suction effect the two undead produced, it ripped the scales right off the first Drake. The second Human staggered as Relc saw blood and—armor and flesh and blood siphon into the trunks. Then he saw something really horrific.



The Human had collapsed. The Drake was just dead, his Truegold blade had snapped to pieces, and the trunk-undead vacuumed even Truegold up like it was nothing. But the [Guard] was screaming…half screaming.

The other voice was from the screaming man who looked like his body—half dragged out by the pull of the undead. Relc stared as the [Guard]’s ghost flailed, and his body jerked.

Then he stabbed so fast his spear made pinging sounds as the trunk-undead tried to raise their arms again.

Don’t let them aim at you! Surround ‘em! Someone help Lesner!”

His spear put holes in the first trunker’s head, but something was wrong. Relc realized he didn’t see any of the damage the [Guards] had done. The bone chip on its head…

Great. It heals, we die. And—he saw the trunk rise.


Everyone threw themselves out of the way. The vacuum actually pulled so damn hard that forty feet away, a group of [Archers] screamed and stumbled.

Vacuum goes through armor. Relc kept stabbing until he saw the bones break apart, and his first quarry stumbled.

Something red inside its body winked at him, semi-gaseous. Instantly, Relc stopped breathing.

[Triple Thrust]!

He punched three holes in the thing’s body, sprang back, and started shouting.

Fall back! Fall back and run, damn it! It’s not dead!

Eighty percent of the upper torso was gone, and he saw red mist in the trunk-thing’s body—but it wasn’t dead. It was raising the trunk again, and Relc sprinted away and felt that suction rip some dead scales off his face. Only when he was dozens of feet away did he dare breathe.

“Sergeant Relc to the Watch! Those trunk-undead don’t die even when you put a hole in their bodies! They’re filled with gas on the inside or something. They suck your soul or something straight out of you—keep anyone in armor away!”

“This is Watch Commander Venim. Relaying…they’re coming straight for the gates. They might be able to rip the steel apart, enchantments or no. Can you stop them?”

Relc raised his head, and his squad looked up. Nine of the things, including the two damaged ones, were heading for the gates with a mass of Draugr. Relc exhaled.

“I’ll try.”

One of the new [Guards] who’d volunteered for the fighting was shaking. She looked at the trunker-undead and at her comrades.


Senior Guardsman Relc, [Trusted Sergeant of the Watch], gave her a huge grin and a thumbs-up. He hefted his enchanted spear across his back, and she didn’t miss the look of fear in his eyes. But when he grinned—she realized why everyone knew his name.

“Just keep those Draugr off me for one minute. Got it? Run to the south gate if things get hairy. That’s an order. On three. One, two…”

Then he was running, outstripping the rest of his squad, and Relc saw the trunker-undead turn from him as they lifted their limbs towards the gates. He wished Klbkch were here.

Maybe it was just as well it was him. Figure out an officer’s enchantments. Find out how their Skills worked. Kill them.

The Gecko sped up, ducking low, as the trunker-undead turned. Draugr ran at him, but he couldn’t think how many there were. Hundreds, damn it.

[Lightning Sprint].

He swerved as they pointed and tore the ground up, ripping even the Draugr apart, but missed him. Relc lifted his spear.

[Pierce Thrust]! [Spear Flurry]!

Nine of them. He tagged each one once, a blow somewhere around their head or midsections. They didn’t even stagger. One raised a trunk, and Relc bared his teeth as he inhaled and held his breath.

Gas center—

His fist punched through the thing’s face, and he felt something burning his scales. But then Relc reached down and found something that hurt like hell when he ripped it out and crushed it.

A heart?

The scream that followed Relc destroying the thing’s core made the entire trunk-thing’s body shake. The bones began to rattle, and the red light of its gaseous center flashed. It shook, wailing, for a good fifteen seconds—then exploded.

The Gecko didn’t watch the first one die. He kept punching and ripped two more hearts out before he felt his lungs filling.

Three—now he had a good idea where the hearts were. Relc lifted his spear.

[Spear Dance: The Fish Leap—]

His right arm was still burning with whatever was in their center. He lost a neck spine as his spear shifted, and the tip impaled the heart in an arc.

The Watch was throwing down arrows, and Relc saw one of the trunkers vanish in an explosion. That was teamwork. He got two more. Had to breathe—

Ahh. His lungs immediately started searing, and the Gecko choked. How many more?

…One? I can do one.

[Continuous Spear Thrusts]. It must have moved the heart, but Relc just put holes in it as it ripped scales off his arms and tore apart his armor. He felt something in him move, and his entire existence seemed to want to flow into the void of its arm.

Spear versus vortex. Relc felt his soul leaving his chest—he saw a faint piece of light in one of the holes of the trunk-thing’s body and stabbed straight through it.

There. The Gecko breathed, and a Draugr tackled him. Relc hit the ground breathless, swung a fist into a face and mashed a nose in, but the Draugr just opened its mouth and bit him. Relc had to hold the jaws away from his throat as he desperately tried to toss the enormous undead off him, but it was too heavy. And another was climbing over him—too heavy to shift.

I hate war. The Drake saw another Draugr lifting up two arms to smash his head in as he stared upwards.

Got your buddies, though. Relc waited for Klbkch to do something, then remembered his partner was on vacation. He looked up and saw something falling towards him like a comet.




Archmage Valeterisa had lost track of Relc when the battle started. Wall Lord Ilvriss had called on her to support Salazsar’s side of the battle. His Gem Regiments were doing well and had vaporized most of the new undead before they got close.

However, the strange undead and their effects were wreaking havoc. A report had just gone through her ears. Someone had figured out the ones with elephant trunks had some kind of suction effect. They were tearing up the fortifications and had been declared a priority target.

Where is Relc? 

Part of Valeterisa’s mind had been told to find him. She was falling through the skies, an entire wing of specters behind her.

One of her thought processes panicked. The rest noted how they flew. Valeterisa increased speed. Light spells?

[Ray of Dawn]. [Hundredfold Arrows of Light]!

She began splintering them apart with rays of light, and smaller arrows sprayed out, hitting any of the specters getting close. Valeterisa chewed apart the formation following her and noted one of the Hag Queens pointing. The specters broke off, and the Hag Queen produced a needle, gestured up at Valeterisa, and jabbed the needle straight through her hand.


Nothing happened. Valeterisa observed three of her anti-curse wards had just been breached. She redoubled the layers as the Hag Queen glared up. Valeterisa pointed.

[Valmira’s Comet]. [Frostbite Wave].

Two spells hit the Hag Queen, but one arm protected the Hag Queen from losing no more than all the flesh on her forearm, down to her bones. The frost crept over her and stopped as her skin regenerated. She replied with an oath, and strange, biting heads appeared, shooting at Valeterisa.

The Archmage of Izril shot each one down with a [Light Arrow] as she curved away from the Hag Queen. She determined the Hag Queen was too difficult to destroy.


“Archmage, get clear of the Hags! We cannot support you—”


She noticed someone drawing a bead on her. Archers, simple skeletons, albeit with green, flaming arrows. Anti-magic?

Valeterisa popped out of existence and reappeared as a volley of arrows missed. Strange. She was not used to the battlefield. She did not usually fight, but just like the Meeting of Tribes—she was not dead or injured yet.

She had assumed she might be. Battles were highly unwise—

Flicker. A specter dropped down towards her, shedding its invisibility as another curved up. No time to dodge vertically or horizontally—Valeterisa twisted and activated a spell.

[Localize Spell]. [Enhanced Spell: Mage Armor].

Light magic deflected the scythe, and the frozen blade shattered as Valeterisa zipped over the first one. It had been a split-second guess that determined light magic would deflect their blades as well as wound them.

“Undesignated specter-class undead capable of invisibility. Beware of ambush. Returning to western flank.”

Valeterisa breathed into the speaking stone, realizing her heart rate was elevated and she was out of breath. Yet—a thought occurred to her.

I may be talented at battle. Either that or luck. I must confirm with Relc, later.

Where was he?

The Archmage of Izril was calm. Terrified, but her [Parallel Thoughts] were working as intended. She was circling back towards Ilvriss’ group, where the Wall Lord was throwing all the magic he had into a lightshow like the festivals of Fissival.

Then—Valeterisa saw Relc. He was on the ground by Liscor’s walls. She saw him charging the trunk undead.

But that is exceptionally dangerous. She turned.

“Archmage. We need you—Archmage?”

Valeterisa ignored Ilvriss. She was diving now, redirecting more mana into her [Flight] spell, heedless of the cost—

She saw the first Draugr tackle Relc and opened her mouth as another leapt on him. One was raising its hands.

What spell? What spell? Can’t hit Relc. Resistant to harm—

The Archmage of Izril dove as Relc Grasstongue looked up. He saw her point a finger, and the Draugr brought its arms down.

It missed.

The Draugr’s swing hit only air. It stared down at Relc—then struggled, swinging its arms and legs. But it was floating. Valeterisa pointed, and the Draugr flew.


The two Draugr on Relc left the ground as she hurled them straight off the Drake. He got up, scrambling for his spear.

“Valeterisa! Watch out!”

She spun as the Draugr group charged towards them. The Archmage of Izril whispered a spell.

“[Valeterisa’s Imperfect Comet].”

Relc’s spear was raised and whirling, but he saw the first Draugr jerk. It glowed with a faint blue nimbus of light—then something flung it into the air. Like a package meant for delivery. Only, there wasn’t any safeguard spell preventing gravity or the pressure of the air from tearing at its flesh.

The Archmage of Izril pointed, and Draugr began launching into the air like blue rockets. The Watch skidded to a stop as Relc stared at the sky.

She was tossing Draugr into the night sky, at the High Passes. He stared up as the first Draugr finally stopped flying up and began to curve down, down…

One of the Hag Queens looked over her shoulder as a Draugr crashed to earth far behind her lines. Then she saw more landing around her.

Valeterisa staggered after throwing her hundred and thirty-first Draugr. She took a step, wondered why she wasn’t flying, and fell forwards. Relc caught her. Ilvriss was shouting through the speaking stone.

Is the Archmage down?

“Mana’s out. We’re pulling into Liscor. Cover us!”

The gates were rising, and Relc carried Valeterisa into the city. He turned his head once and snarled as he saw the undead pushing.

Don’t die, Erin. Then the Gecko was running. He looked back one last time as the gates slammed shut and saw the undead were at the inn.




The Knights of Solstice met the enemy at last. The flying undead were in the skies; they were spreading out, actually using formations and trying to flank towards the inn via the other sides.

Only the Free Antinium’s fortifications kept the undead from completely attempting to encircle the defenders; instead, mindless Draugr threw themselves at the walls of stone and dirt, trying to climb up while the stranger undead used them as shields and attacked.

There were zombies and Ghouls, now, rising from the sheer death magic in the air. But Normen’s eyes weren’t on the undead approaching from the air. The specters were coming straight for the inn, scythes bloody. But he saw…

“Liscor. They’re attacking Liscor.”

Jewel tore her vision away from the undead. She had a Truegold blade, and Halrac had downed three so far, but Normen was staring at Draugr attacking the gates. Trying to climb the walls.

At least one of the Hag Queens was leading the attack. He longed to go after one. They had to die—

Normen, they’re coming!

“Knights of Solstice—”

There were screams coming from below. Another bolt of lightning roared, but Erin couldn’t fire without fear of hitting her own friends. So…Normen put his helmet on. His skin was still burned, and he still felt like he was just a lad with a hat.

But the Grandmaster of the Order of Solstice had never felt like he was more right in being somewhere. Green flames roared from his armor as the other Knights of Solstice got to their feet.

“I’ll go with you.”

A voice called from behind Normen, and he turned. There was Numbtongue, waiting in the hallway.

Just like last time. Behind him were a few more people. Peggy, some of the inn’s staff.

“No. After us comes you.”

The Hobgoblin [Bard] hesitated—then nodded. He unslung his guitar and began to play. Normen knew it was the ballad of the Horns of Hammerad. He felt his hand grow stronger and gripped the mace covered in acid.

“Knights of Solstice. Ready.

Vess was trying to light his flames, but there was no mercy. Not here. Halrac’s arrows glowing with blue flame had weight—but the Draugr had nothing left to lose.

Two flames roared the brightest at the head of the Order of Solstice, and the other [Knights] stood behind the bearers.

Embraim, glowing with pink flames. A torch of light that drew Rivel’s eyes and shone brightest in this dark night. It was mixing…with the green fire coming off Normen and Antherr. Green fire that captured the heart as well as the eye. It felt like every straining breath in Normen’s lungs. It was not easy—but it was his.

The two flames comingled and formed an olive-colored flame, at first gentle, then bright beyond belief. The flames grew brighter as the [Innkeeper] looked down at a flame even she had never seen before.

The fire looked like determination. Like unyielding will. The Knights were waiting, and the undead coming up the hill—

Normen tore his gaze away and swung his eyes upwards. He met crimson pupils, an ivory face, a ragged cloak, and two long spindly arms of bone holding a scythe that shimmered with red blood and black metal.

The [Knights] charged, fighting in the inn’s shadow. Vess and Halrac shot from the windows while the other [Knights] tried to keep the specters from entering the inn.

They can’t get through the walls! Block the door! Block th—

Normen’s mace hurt them. The acid did not. He struck one specter again and again, but his blows seemed only half-there. Even so, the green fire and Demas Metal finally shattered one’s skull—Normen felt a cold sting in his side. His flesh froze, and he slashed the knife down with his shield.

But for his armor, the blade would have fully run him through. Normen struck another specter until Jewel stabbed it through the side and it exploded. It left some strange residue on her sword and the ground—the whirling specters flew around the [Knights] until a strange whistle filled the air.

Normen saw one of the Hag Queens crook a finger and call off the ghostly assault. The specters fled, two more vanishing as Vess and Halrac took more shots at their backs.

“Anyone hurt?”

“My side—I need a drop of healing potion.”

Normen drank sparingly and felt the wound knitting—but the deathly chill left him feeling weaker. Jewel inspected the armor as Ama tried to mend Sillias, who had been cut up by the scythes.

“We should patch that. Embraim, are you alright?”

The [Pyre-Knight of Glory] had kept the specters back with his flaming abilities, literally blowing flame from the lantern he carried. The pink glow of glory had not faded from him, but he was kneeling. Normen turned, and the Antinium raised his head.

He slowly slid open the visor of a figure in armor. Normen saw a single figure lying on the ground, and all the Knights of Solstice stopped. Embraim stood and spoke quietly.

“Squire Herove is dead.”

The City Runner seemed surprised; a hole from the tip of a scythe had gone straight through his chest. It was the first time he’d fought with them. [Squire], not [Knight].

He’d been so confident he would become a [Knight]. Normen knelt there until someone spoke.

“Move his body to the side.”

Normen’s head rose—and Halrac glared at him. Then the Gold-rank adventurer stared down the hill.

“Move it. Take it into the inn if you remove his head. He might rise. They’re coming for another push.

The Knights of Solstice began moving. Normen picked up Herove by the legs, and Rivel held the man’s arms. A corpse—the Vampire looked at Normen, and the Grandmaster of the Order of Solstice gently laid down the first Knight of Solstice to fall.

Then Normen wondered who was next.




“Poor damn bastards. It’s always like this. It’s always like this.”

It was always soldiers, mortals, the poorest, commonfolk that died in droves. In every war, but especially when immortals fought.

They were starting to die. The first wave of the Draugr had been nasty, but the mortals had taken it well. Even the second wave, horrific as it was, had been mitigated by everyone using their best Skills.

Now? Now they were dying.

Taletevirion was holding a longsword, Human in form, just…watching. It would get worse. He saw a chanting coven of [Witches] blocking curses from one of the Hags, the Archmage of Izril in the skies fleeing flying undead—

Even that brave idiot of a girl. Ryoka Griffin.

A single pink blade roaring with flames immolated what looked like a flying undead bird of some kind. Burnt it inside out.

“Nice sword.”

She was dodging through the air, protected by the wind. Taletevirion watched her, hoping nothing killed her—until someone touched his elbow.

Where was Teriarch? Where were the other dangerous people he’d been promised would help? In moments like these, Taletevirion didn’t know. He just knew he had a blade, his horn, his shaking body—and that he could run or fight.

He wanted to, but the figure who had been standing there this entire battle finally moved, and Theillige looked at Taletevirion.

Just looked. The warrior had sought the Unicorn out, as if certain only one person deserved their company. The Unicorn didn’t want it.


The finger pointed as the Winter Fae lifted a sword and buckler. They pointed straight into the center of the horde, still running at the front lines.

“You have to be joking.”

The Wild Hunt’s warrior might have laughed, if they ever made a sound. They looked at the Unicorn. Just waited, and still, Taletevirion was sure, if he ran, there would be no judgement. Not from this one.

That made it harder. So the Unicorn began to walk as they leapt softly from the dirt walls protecting the inn. Past the [Soldiers] who were braced. Then trotted, jogged, then ran.


That was all the Unicorn whispered. He had sworn never again. Never again until he saw something new. Did this count? It didn’t matter.

It was all old again, and then he was galloping, no matter which form, holding a blade aloft, hearing the final charge of his people again and again, and the old cry was on his tongue.

Forests awake and witness me. We return home.

The first Draugr were packed together like a wall. Theillige’s first blow was precise, a calm cut towards the arm that wrenched free of the others and swung clumsily. With enough strength to wound either immortal, but the sword severed the arm, and the buckler clipped the Draugr’s head as the Wild Hunt warrior leapt.

Blademaster of winter. The Draugr’s head kept trying to turn as frost covered it; the frozen body crashed to the ground two dozen paces later. In that time, Theillige’s sword severed one head from its shoulders, took a leg off, and stabbed through the dead flesh of a heart. The shield blocked and deflected flailing limbs, and the hoarfrost covered each undead the Winter Fae touched.

Freezing them to ice.

Taletevirion was less artful. He leapt, curving his body, and cut across a dozen heads with one stroke. They were all of a level; Draugr fell, and he landed.

Walk like a cat, feet and back arched—

The cut took a Draugr apart diagonally. The Unicorn took another step and lunged, like a heron diving after its prey. He kicked off the Draugr he had put a hole through, sword scything like a mantis.

He and Theillige found each other in the press of bodies falling apart, ice covering the ground, the wind of a distant forest on Taletevirion’s heels. Now—faster. They moved faster, cutting forwards.

The Hag Queens noticed them and ordered their deaths, chanting foul incantations—but Taletevirion’s horn flashed as the Unicorn resumed his true shape, and the Winter Fae simply grabbed the air.

One of the Hags trying to lay a curse around the Winter Fae jerked; the warrior twisted, and the fingers on the great Hag snapped, and the thing shrieked. Onwards.

Taletevirion did not intend to die just yet. But, the Unicorn thought.

The poor mortals. 

They had not forever to live and learn to fight like this. Death came too quick.




There were skeletons and regular undead on the field. Only, they weren’t right. They were dead, summoned by the Hag Queens, who were necromancers.

But they obeyed a different realm’s rules.

The Goblins realized the danger when one of them slashed the head off a skeleton, turned to the next foe, and the skeleton kept stabbing.

“Dead don’t die! Chieftain!”

Rags spun. She watched as frantic Goblins beat the skeleton down into pieces…and the pieces reassembled and got right back up.

Different rules.


Her [Shaman] covered the skeleton in mud and flash-baked it. Even then, the bones kept trying to move and break free. Rags’ tribe was one of the last lines of defense around the inn on the western side, behind the inn, actually. They’d been given an elevated vantage point because of their Thunderbows.

Only Redscar’s Redfangs had been sortieing. The undead had reached them at last, though, and no wonder.

The Thunderbows roared, and Rags saw weird, shambling undead covered in moss, unrecognizable due to their advanced decay—but definitely not humanoid; they had four legs, but looked like spiders more than Centaurs—stalked forwards.

Bones and flesh regenerating. 

Kill and burn.

Rags snapped, and the Goblins tried just that. One of her Hobs tossed oil on a zombie she hacked down and thrust a flaming sword into the zombie’s body. It immolated…and the Hob backed away as the undead kept coming.

“Hags. Want me to kill one, Chieftain?”

Redscar came to an instantaneous conclusion, and Rags bared her teeth. She fired her black crossbow and watched as it knocked an undead down the ramparts the Goblins were holding—and the undead climbed back up.

“Not yet.”

Her eyes roamed the battlefield, tracing mana, and Rags stopped fighting. She was defending Bird’s ballista, which was thumping behind her. Bird had given up trying to hit the Hags; he’d nailed one, and she’d just slowly pulled herself out of the ballista bolt nailing her to the ground. He was focused on the giant vampire bat-monsters.

One passed overhead, shrieking, and every Goblin caught within its scream covered their ears. Half began stabbing each other until Rags howled.


The [Great Chieftain] exerted her aura, and the confusion effect from the giant bat-thing stopped. Rags aimed a finger at it, and it dodged the [Fast Fireball] with an elegant twist for something that large.

—Bird’s ballista bolt went straight through its head, and the Antinium waved at Rags. She ignored him. She could not waste time.

Hold! Hold!

Calescent was swinging a cleaver around him as he refused to back up, despite the bunched up undead. Poisonbite’s entire wing was faltering; the Goblins who used poison were matched completely wrong against these undead.

A skeleton knight or something knocked the other undead aside. This one was like a centipede; its spine let it reach seven feet in height, and its arms also resembled a centipede’s—albeit bone. Yet the blade it swung was all too familiar in nature.

Calescent blocked with one arm as the blade bit and stopped at his bone. He grunted as the skeleton warrior ripped the blade free.

The [Chef] wished they had eyes—instead, he chopped the head off the skeleton knight and made to kick it down the hill. Too late he realized it wouldn’t stop the second swing—

The chopping sword slashed at the [Cook]’s head as Calescent’s eyes widened. It cut deep…halted as the air turned thick, practically black. The skeleton tried to pull its arm back, but the aura of darkness was like jello.

Calescent kicked the undead off the hill and panted as he splashed a tiny bit of potion on the deep cut in his arm. Now he saw more skeleton archers aiming at him, but the arrows once again slowed in the air.

“Feh. Didn’t do it for you, dumbass.”

The tiny Cave Goblin blew some hair out of her eyes and flipped off the undead. Gothica and her aura of darkness shielded Calescent. He had a moment’s temptation to kick her off the hill, but the [Goth] was doing her best.

A quartet of [Goths] were shielding Goblins around them with their negative auras. Gothica hit one of the skeletons with her parasol filled with razors, then grinned at Calescent.

He shoved her.

Watch out!

A green, flaming arrow tore through the Aura of Darkness and struck him in the arm. He ripped it out, snarling.

[Accident: Flameproof]!

He’d seen those flames do worse, and the [Chef] and [Goth] nodded at each other shakily as more undead came up the hill. They just wouldn’t die—

“Take cover! Wyvern run!”

The Goblins looked up as three Frost Wyverns crossed the air and exhaled. The frost was so chilling that Calescent wished he were on fire for a second—he saw the Frost Wyverns do a snap-roll away as the undead froze for a second.

He saluted the Goblins, and Fightipilota, Snapjaw, and a third Goblin [Wyvern Rider] nodded at him before flying away, more flying undead following. Calescent saw the undead start to break out of the ice—but before they could move, someone shouted.

Cover ears! Bad bad bell!

Gothica and Calescent instantly slammed hands over their ears as a single Goblin rose to his feet. Badarrow fired the Bell of Pain down, and the ding it made hurt Calescent, ears covered or not. He snarled—and saw every frozen undead shatter.

“Take that!”

Goblins began cheering as ice splintered to the ground…then their voices went silent. Calescent saw the first piece of ice slowly rise upwards and try to reform the skeleton knight that had attacked him.


Gothica muttered. Calescent felt the earth rumble…then the ground opened, and a mouth swallowed all the undead trying to reform. He blinked—and a voice snapped.

“That’s how you do it, idiots!

Calescent grinned as a [Shaman] lifted her staff.

Ulvama. Undead were clawing through the earth, but she bought them time as she pointed at Rags and screamed.

Find the locus, stupid! Locus!

Calescent had no idea what that meant, but the [Shaman of the Old Ways] did. And so did the [Great Chieftain]. Rags’ eyes narrowed as she finished surveying the battlefield.

The [Steelflame Strategist] nodded. She’d finally traced the mana flows back to what she had been convinced was there. Maybe the Hags could permanently resurrect the undead, but Rags had doubted it. She pointed, and a single innocuous zombie tried to hide behind some Draugr.

Rags spoke.

“That one’s the general. Kill it, Redscar. [Mark Target].”

Redscar grinned as the undead shimmered. It seemed to realize it was caught—and slowly stood straighter. A nine-foot-tall champion with ancient, blackened plate metal drew a sword as a bodyguard closed around it.

The Hobgoblin began to ride down on it, his Redfang elites whooping, but the undead general jerked.

It raised a huge shield, and Bird’s ballista bolt drove it backwards a dozen paces, dirt showering behind it. Yet the undead general just rocked. It had a toad’s rotted face, a bulging stomach covered by plate mail, and it began to spit something back at Bird.

Badarrow shot it through one eye, and it staggered; Ulvama pointed, and the undead general looked up and dived.

A single flaming meteor knocked the undead around it down, but missed the undead’s leader. It rolled nimbly to its feet, and Redscar pointed at it.


The general parried one of Rags’ [Fireballs]. It pivoted and spun out of the way of a dozen Thunderbows firing.

Theillige stepped out of the ranks of the undead and beheaded the general. The head froze as the torso turned to ice. The Wild Hunt’s warrior smashed a buckler through the body, and the general and every undead around it dropped without a sound. The rest of the undead stopped regenerating.

Redscar glowered, but the Winter Fae was cutting through the battlefield again. Rags grunted.

“More coming. Getting overrun.”

They didn’t even have time to breathe. The Goblins saw another legion of the undead coming, and this time, there were two generals, one holding a bow, the other bearing a trident of all things.

“That one’s mine.”

Redscar snapped. Rags nodded and turned her head.

“Kill the other, Badarrow.”

Her lieutenants moved as Rags’ head turned. They were holding—for now. But with each second…her eyes fixed on The Wandering Inn. Then Liscor.




Segros’ Swords are gone! Repeat, gone! We need reinforcements—

Manus was beginning to bleed. Rafaema heard the first report of serious casualties as the undead attacked. She turned her head.

“The entire unit’s gone? How—”

Her answer revealed itself as she saw the spectral centipede-things. They had been attacking a group of Manus’ Drakes—but now they weren’t scuttling half-ghost things.

They were bigger.

In fact, they looked semi-Humanoid now. She realized they were the ghost-versions of some of the skeletons she had been putting down. They were on two feet now, twisting, long and spindly bodies writhing as their bone-chitin ribs twitched, a literal body of blades.

But for Crelers, she hadn’t seen something so unsettling. Wall Lord Aldonss was speaking quickly.

“Truegold unit, flank them. Rafaema, do not engage. They’re growing with each [Soldier] they kill.”

“We do not have enough Truegold blades!”

That was how one of the elite units had gone down; the things were ignoring even enchanted weapons. Lulv’s spear made one flinch, but his was the only one. The first centipede-thing jumped at one of the Gnolls and wrapped itself around the screaming [Soldier], and those limbs and bones dug into the Gnoll…

It was growing. Evolving further, and Rafaema saw flesh covering two huge, bulging eyes of its ‘head’. She exhaled, and lightning blasted that one to pieces; there was no saving the [Soldier] cut to shreds.

“Don’t retreat. Truegold blades, with me.

“Pull Rafaema back now. I am entering the field—”

Aldonss snapped at Lulv. Rafaema looked around and realized she was hearing more casualty reports coming in. General Duln was the only [General] not engaged in fighting, now. He was keeping Chaldion safe.

We are being overrun. Rafaema caught Lulv’s eyes and saw him hesitate. No one could kill these things but her, him, or Truegold—

“C-charge! For the City of War!

When she charged into battle, she saw a Drake [Soldier] leap in the way of one of the centipede-ghosts as they threw themselves at her. She cut through one, exhaled again—saw them leap on Drakes, ignoring the Truegold murdering them, tearing them apart.

“Stop. Stop—

A Lightning Dragon emerged as Rafaema shrieked. She tore right and left as the warriors around her died, bit apart by the ghostly centipedes—

Overrun. Overrunning—there were hundreds of the little ones. Rafaema heard thunder, and Wall Lord Aldonss mounted a charge. The centipede-monsters were all over her, tearing at her more fragile wings, but they couldn’t kill her easily. Her soldiers, though—

Rafaema howled until something ripped one of the centipede-ghosts apart. She saw a strange being pull, rip the ghost-chitin apart, and another hacked through some of the ghosts. A third cried out in pain as they tried to eat her—but the glowing being fought on. Rafaema cried out.


Yes, Djinni. Three of them—the magical warriors fought without words or direction as Rafaema, Lulv, and Aldonss finally cleared the wave. By the time the last ghost-horrors were dead, one of the Djinni was fading away, even their magic torn to pieces. Rafaema gazed at them.

So even Djinni would die here. She did not know how long they could continue. As this Solstice wore on—her gaze rose as Kasigna reappeared once more. And then Rafaema tasted a new kind of despair.




The Draugr were attacking Liscor, too. Most of the Hag Queens ignored the city, but one noticed the Golems and spells coming from the walls.

So undead began swarming towards Liscor’s walls, pounding on the gates. And there was a terrible irony to it all:

Erin Solstice’s inn was safer than Liscor. Armies had formed around her inn. Antinium had set the ground, and immortals and the highest-level warriors were all protecting her.

Liscor had so few.

The first Draugr punched through the gates that had held the floodwaters at bay for decades. Even the Necromancer had not taken the gates so quickly. But this one was wearing armor and had a sword that carved the steel like it was paper.

It didn’t get far at first. A wave of flames engulfed it as Watch Captain Zevara and Watch Commander Venim ordered more [Guards] into the battle. The Antinium, Drakes, and Humans on the walls were fighting.

But where one breach occurred…these undead with their commanders were more inventive than the others. The thumping from the walls sounded like someone had fired the trebuchets at Liscor again until it became clear what was happening.

Draugr were throwing each other at the walls. Literally launching each other at the battlements or over them in a bid to enter the city.

Now, the Free Antinium were boiling out of their Hive to defend the city as more undead literally landed within the city, past the embattled gates and walls. More Antinium were emerging into the fighting.

Silent Antinium, who fell on the undead from behind, slashing with their scythe-blades. Flying Antinium, hopping and gliding into the air and tangling with the specters, who slashed through them.

The civilians could only watch and listen to reports from the walls; everyone had been evacuated from the northern and eastern sections of the city. A full third of the city had been told to leave; Shivertail Plaza had been fortified, and the new district of the city was ironically safer. Hexel’s walls might not have the enchantments yet, but the enemy was not coming from that angle.

Yet, it seemed to anyone with keen eyes that the Watch and Antinium could not hold all the Draugr. There were gaps.

One of the Draugr fought past the [Guards]; it was roaring as it raced towards the still-occupied buildings and streets. Screaming civilians who thought they’d wanted to see the battle were trying to break into shuttered homes or running.

The thing was massive. Seven feet tall, bulkier than any fellow had a right to be.

“A real monster, innit. Is this the sort of thing Crimshaw and the other lads were fighting?”

“Madness, so it is. No bloke in his right mind would take that on.”

The commentary was coming from six men who were watching the Draugr charging, despite the danger. Two were squatting, another had been smoking. They were not part of the Watch. Or the battle.

Credit where it was due: the [Innkeeper] hadn’t asked. Debts had been called and squared. They were quits. The Invrisil lads had made their choice, and see what had happened?

That Brothers of Serendipitous Meetings were in Liscor at all was just business. It was a good place to be. They were putting down roots. Soon, the Watch wouldn’t be so kindly towards them.

“Not a thing for a Brother to fight. Undead. It’s not our job.”

“Too right.”

The others agreed. One fiddled with his cap, then hastily put it back on. They stared at the gigantic mouth of broken teeth roaring as the Draugr slowed.

It must know there were people in the houses. It smashed a hand into a door, and the wood bowed in.

Not a Brother moved. Then one spat.

“There’s little boys n’ girls down this street. Folk pay for protection money.”

“From thieves n’ the lot. Not this.”

“Does it matter?”

Fair point of order. It did not. One of the Brothers tossed off a jacket and adjusted some suspenders. Another put on some brass knuckles. The men tossed down their caps, and one whistled.

The Draugr turned. It noticed the six Brothers. They were not Crimshaw, or Normen, even. The [Innkeeper] of Liscor hadn’t ever met them; only one had ever visited her inn.

They were brawlers. Not a single one had fought a real monster. They’d punched in heads, won fights that had gone to the ground and to the death—but this thing?

It came at them as they spread out. A rushing wall of muscle that ignored the first [Dirty Trip] trying to knock it down. Shards of glass and metal flung at its face struck its eyes, and it didn’t blink.

It didn’t need to see nor—

Three men went flying as one leapt on its neck with a garrote. He got the wire around, and it sliced into the flesh until the thing swung him off, ripping the wire and tearing the Brother’s own flesh.

The Draugr stomped a foot as one of the men rolled away and got [Back on Your Feet] in a second. It ate three punches from spiked knuckles to its ribs, so hard the blows tore away flesh. It didn’t even hesitate—




Flashes. That was what they heard. Screams. Each other’s voices. The knowledge each man was there, tackling the thing by the legs, heaving it off its feet, picking the other fellow up—

Not running.

If a single one of them ran, the others might realize it was lost and take to their heels. They were all waiting for the other fellow to do it first. Flashes, that was the battle.

Draugr on the ground, tearing at one man’s leg as the others tried to stomp and kick its face in. Someone smashing a brick again and again into its mouth until its teeth were half knocked out—and it bit the brick in half.

Punching it from all sides as it held one man up and twisted—the crack—

Beating it with a piece of metal until its neck was sideways. Seeing it still moving—

One of them broke his brass knuckles after eighty punches to the thing’s head. Even then, he kept mashing in the grey flesh and pieces of skull until he was punching brains. It kept jerking until another Brother got up.

“Out of the way—”

He buried two knives in the head and kicked them deep. Only then did it stop moving. Only then did the men still on their feet collapse.

The brawl…no, the battle against the single Draugr had taken twenty-two minutes. Twenty-two minutes for the thing to die. The entire street was ashambles. Two doors broken in from where it had tried to go for other people—flagstones torn up. A metal railing had been ripped out for one of them to use as a club.

One Draugr finally lay dead—no, twitching. The Brother with the brass knuckles staggered over, and another one looked around.

“Hammer. Sledgehammer. One of you…”

He trailed off.

The Brother with the knives had slashed his fingers down to the quick on his own garrote string. He only stared at the dripping blood and his mangled fingers now. The one asking for a sledgehammer had a broken leg. The one with the knuckles had a nose mashed entirely flat.

Three men were lying on the ground. One of them might be alive. The Brother with the broken leg hobbled over to check. Another one had his neck twisted around—the third had been eaten up to the stomach.

They were done. In silence, the men stood there as the Draugr finally stopped twitching as a boot rammed the blades through the remains of its brain.

They had no idea how the battle was going. Their entire world had become this street. By now, anyone alive had fled further into the city.

“Shomot’s dead.”

One of the men spoke curtly, and the other two nodded. One tried to fix his nose.

“Healer. Let’s find…”

They had to carry their friend with a broken leg. They kept staring over their shoulders as they limped down the street, waiting for the Draugr to get back up. As far as they could see—Liscor’s walls were still holding. But there were horns blasting all the way from the east gate. Bad news.

The three men limped down street after street, looking for someone to help them. It occurred to them they might be going the wrong way; the civilians had to have someone who could set a nose and see to the wounds.

Some streets were eerily empty, not touched by the fighting. In a few places, a dead Draugr or the ruins of terrible fighting said it all.

Most of them must still be held at the walls. Yet the battle continued, and the Brothers could only see what their eyes told them.

Hear what desperate [Guards] and the people allied to the armies outside were saying.

One of them found a speaking stone on a dead Gnoll, neck broken, and pocketed it. They listened as they kept searching for anyone.

“—retreating. A second Giant is coming down the High Passes!

“Kill the Hag. Kill the H—”


It was a jumble of voices. The Brothers knew almost none of the people, but the one with the broken nose whispered at the end.

“What’s gone on, do you think?”

“Always a traitor.”

One of the others commented. Whoever was giving orders on the speaking stone was grim, and they thought they actually knew him.

“This is Commander Olesm. We will hold the line till the last, but they will pass us. The inn is in danger. Can anyo—”

Silence. The Brothers looked down, but the speaking stone had gone dead. How had the battle gone? Was anyone winning or losing? 

…It didn’t sound like they were winning. The Brothers walked on, realizing they might not know what happened until the end.

They found some civilians cowering down one street and pointed them towards safety. The poor idiots were all kids; young teens or young adults. Some had swords; they must’ve fancied they could be part of the battle.

“She—she killed a cloud. She killed the sky.”

One of them was babbling. The Brothers tried to make sense of what that meant. Who was ‘she’? But the shell shocked survivors had no answers.

“We’ll find out if anyone’s living tomorrow. Come on.”

By now, they were looting each body they came across. Not for gold or anything but a potion for their friend’s nose. He was having trouble breathing; he might die. A fellow could die of blood running down his throat.

It was urgent, but they finally reached the main thoroughfare leading down to the north gate and stopped.

“Ah. I think we’re losing, boys.”

Dead Flying Antinium littered the ground. The Watch was drawing back, clearly trying to reform lines as undead fought forwards. Most of them were bottlenecked as a second wave of Free Antinium, the Watch, and even civilians threw themselves forwards. The Brothers heard a cry.

The Hag is coming! Stop them! Stop them or all of Liscor is—

Once more, the undead came through the gates. The Brothers, the three men, just watched like spectators at one of those plays. A cruel one. They heard a single cry in the night as something huge pushed through the gates. The men looked up at the Hag Queen of Aklat Vunn. A monster no man should have to face. It didn’t even occur to them they could do a thing as she strode forwards, pushing with no regard to her safety to kill. Then they heard a voice.

“—Halfseekers. Charge!

Four adventurers ran down that street past crumpled Flying Antinium. Like some damn heroes out of a story, one would say later. A giant Raskghar, a Drake—no, a second Selphid with two wands, a Drowned Man, and a half-Giant.

They met the Hag Queen at the gates, and the Brothers backed away. It wasn’t their fight. They wavered as they fell back.

“Can’t garrote that thing—”

“Lost my hat back there.”

They were squaring their shoulders, about to do something stupid, and trying to find the courage. But they were bit players on this dreadful Winter Solstice.

Besides. They saw some undead pass the Watch, smash through a barrier and the Free Antinium—and break for the city center. The Antinium closed the gap; the Watch tried to give chase, but the Hag Queen pointed a finger, and blades cut some brave damn Watchmen to pieces.

Bravest Watch the Brothers had ever seen. Man’s honor on it. But they died, and the undead came on, running now.

Straight for the civilians. The three Brothers halted in the street. They counted.

“Four of ‘em.”

That was all one said. Liscor could fight. Even civvies would fight at the last. There had to be some high-level people in the crowd.

It’d be a slaughter amongst slaughters. But—the man with the broken nose spat blood and just looked ahead.

Four Draugr were running down the street.


Someone began humming. It was an empty tune. Another man felt for a hat he’d lost. They could run, but somehow, each man knew the Draugr’d just tear them to pieces if they took to their heels. Might as well make a good show of it.

“I hope they remember us.”

One of them said it. He meant the cityfolk. Maybe they’d remember it. Put up a little sign. Or raise a glass. That was all you could ask for.

Men with no names anyone cared to remember lined up shoulder to shoulder. They began to walk down the street like this was their city. Like they owed anything to it.

Men. Lads. Boys…slowed as someone extended a piece of wood and blocked them. They halted. One almost tipped their cap.

“Three civilians don’t belong here. Get behind me. I’m an adventurer.”

That was all the old Drake said. She was limping, one leg bandaged up and bloody, and leaning on her spear. The tip was burning, and she stared ahead.

Where she’d come from, they didn’t know. The three Brothers looked at the old [Spearmaster], the Guildmistress of Liscor’s Guild, and one tried to move.

The spear held him in place.

“Keep ‘em here. I’ll handle the rest. You’ll get in my way.”

Tekshia Shivertail looked light as a feather. Young; then one of the Brothers actually did feel liquid running from his eyes. He tried to say a word, but the Draugr was roaring, and the old Drake was whirling her spear and stepping forwards.

“Gold-rank threat. For a Gold-rank adventurer.”

She said it calmly as the Winter Solstice ended. For three men, three Brothers, they didn’t know what happened at the end.

Whether the [Innkeeper] lived or died. Whether the battle was won, all good enemies vanquished, or any justice or goodness was left in the world. When it ended for them, it was on a single street where one placed a hat down and laid an adventurer to rest.

Four dead Draugr. And—

Tekshia Shivertail.




The Winter Solstice and the battle around Erin Solstice’s inn was just beginning and the Hag Queens had just appeared when Rhisveri Zessoprical knew it was time to act.

He had already seen the horror of the Draugr, but this? This was unquestionably the time. The Wyrm had only been wavering between joining the battle or going after that woman.

“We’re going to fight.”

There was no question, no excuse this time. Nor any argument from the one person he had picked to join him.

“No one else?”

Visophecin was adjusting his black suit, as if he were going to a ball. The Wyrm snarled.

“No one. Fithea was the third-strongest of us, and the Agelum can’t fight for more than minutes. Ready?

“Ready. This isn’t our battle.”

“There are a hundred thousand civilians in Liscor. Call it public relations.”

The Wyrm didn’t have time for excuses or justifications. He cast the spell he’d had prepared, and a doorway opened in reality.

[Greater Teleport].

Even for him, it took a lot of power, and he’d calculated their entry near the inn. Rhisveri didn’t slither through; instead, a man cricked his neck, and Duke Rhisveri walked forwards with Visophecin.

“I’ll be weaker like this, but I’ve given him all I can, and I’m linked with mana. Let this body die. Don’t get killed. It’s not like this one’s a simulacrum.”

“Understood. Hag Queens?”

Rhisveri snarled as his Human form adjusted a wand and a sword.

“To start. Let’s go.

The [Greater Teleport] spell was not instantaneous, as few in this world knew. It carried you through another dimension that was tied to the ‘real’ one. Every step you took, well, you didn’t walk. You were transported in minutes at most across continents.

The two immortals stepped into the portal, and the world distorted. Even to their constitutions and senses, it was bewildering, horrific, and nauseating. Neither one spoke a second. Then Visophecin blinked.

“I see something.”

“What? Impossible.”

Nothing was constant in the realm of a [Greater Teleport]. Everything was distorted by the sheer power and distances they were travelling. Nothing should be visible—

Except another person using the spell at the exact same time. Duke Rhisveri’s head snapped up. He raised his wand without a word.

“Aha. Ahahaha. You see, Czautha? I told you we weren’t fashionably late.”

The Death of Magic, Silvenia, and Czautha’qshe, the Death of Chains, were standing in their own realm, moving across the world. They were headed for Liscor.


Visophecin was instantly alarmed. But Rhisveri just stared at the grinning half-Elf and wary Djinni, armed for war. He remembered what Ryoka had told him.

Eclizza was killed by that one. Take the Djinni.”

They are the Deaths of Demons. We cannot even fight here.

Visophecin hissed in his ear. Rhisveri’s snarl grew wider until he felt like this form could spit venom as well. He was shaking. Eclizza! His Pale Serpent of Ailendamus—

I’ve been practicing.

It was the Djinni who spoke as their paths intersected. Silvenia was just smiling, not even lifting a wand, but her eyes were glowing.

“Hold. This is not the place for battle. We are both going to Liscor’s aid.”

“Talking won’t work, Czautha. I’m pretty sure that one’s preparing to strike. Which nation are these two from? I lose track of my enemies.”

Rhisveri was jerking with rage, but he was aiming a killing spell at the Death of Magic’s chest. She has to have magical protections. Can’t use ray spells—have to attack differently here.

The Great Knight of Ailendamus sends her regards.

Visophecin was trying to lower Rhisveri’s arm. Silvenia slowly and ostentatiously drew a wand as Czautha tensed. The two groups drew closer, closer—they were on the exact same path. A killing light was in both Wyrm’s and half-Elf’s eyes.

Then—everything stopped. Rhisveri stumbled. Silvenia spat a spell out her mouth, then froze it in midair as Czautha and Visophecin both aimed at each other, sword and finger—and halted.

The [Greater Teleport] spell came to a dead standstill. The four immortals all turned instantly, and Silvenia spoke.

“Well, that was impossible.”

What did you do?

Rhisveri kept his wand trained on her face, but she was casting a spell, analyzing things. He hesitated—did the same. Not even she should be able to do this.

Four beings, each one ancient of days, living legends and terrors to their foes—if their foes even knew their true natures. Each one bound for Liscor for their own reasons.

A woman walked out of the frozen world, smiling as she lifted a sword. All four looked at her, and Silvenia narrowed her eyes.

“She has no level, no mana, and she’s not alive.”

“Correct. My name is Cauwine. And you are some of the greatest warriors of this world. I have an offer to make you.”

The Goddess of Last Stands laughed as Rhisveri glanced at the two Demons, at Visophecin, who looked unnerved—and then snarled back.

Out of my way. Are you with that other one?”

“Yes. And no. Hear me out first. I have an offer for both your nations, or one alone. I offer you victory in exchange for worship. My mother craves no nations. I? I admire both of yours.”

She had to know her audience. Prideful Wyrm. Lucifen. Deaths and bane of the mortal world.

The half-Elf who would burn cities to cinders, and the Djinni who would never be chained again—

They traded one look, and Silvenia flicked her wand up.

I say let’s kill her. Serinpotva is the one who negotiates, and we left her to guard home. Any objections, Czautha?”

“Be. Careful.”

On Ailendamus’ side, Rhisveri was darting looks of fury at Silvenia, but he was remembering what Erin Solstice had said. One of them? On par with the one called Kasigna?

“Half-Elf. I will refrain from killing you until this one dies for daring to impede me.”


All four aimed at Cauwine, who looked…not miffed. More—delighted. She smiled hugely, revealing a canine, like a child with candy.

“Believe me, warriors of the current age. My help is nothing to be scorned. But proof…you have seen my mother’s power, and hers is the more alluring, I admit. Now though: see what I offer. I will try to kill none of you. But I make no promises. I have few souls to me, and my mother has half of all. But I chose carefully.”

What was she talking about? Silvenia yawned—and a flicker of magic passed across the frozen realm of the [Greater Teleport] spell as she pointed a toe. It struck Cauwine—the being grimaced, and Rhisveri copied how Silvenia had done it.

“Argh, if only you knew how to fight my kind, it would be an amusing fight. But then—I lack my great strength and weapons to suit me. Today, of all days, try this part of me. You should know her well.”

She lifted her sword, and Visophecin and Rhisveri struck as well. But before their spells reached Cauwine in this strange dimension, the woman casually swung her sword and cut both spells in half.

She caught herself, flicked her hair back with one hand, and wore the biggest smile of delight. The same being stood there, Rhisveri thought, but wearing someone else’s face. Like Sophridel.

Only, she became the woman with turquoise hair and a smile like a blade itself. Her eyes were cut geometry, and she held the sword, suddenly, as if nothing else mattered in the world.

“Ah. Now that’s interesting.”

The Death of Magic opened her eyes wide as her smile became a grin. She floated back a step, and Czautha grunted as Visophecin stared a moment, then repositioned. Rhisveri swallowed hard as he recognized the woman.

It could not be.

It shouldn’t be. Erin Solstice had said she was dead.

Yet…and yet…

Zeladona, [Blademistress of the Ancients], saluted the four immortals with a look of sheer, rapturous delight. A smile mixed with Cauwine’s.

Ah. Ahahaha. It was worth dying for this.

She beamed, and Rhisveri snarled—until he realized she’d already cut him. Cut him with a smile and a laugh. Then she attacked, and the four were fighting betwixt time and space.




Plans and schemes. Kasigna was not blind to her daughter stopping the four in that other dimension. But she accepted the gesture of filial piety.

As the battle raged across the Floodplains, Kasigna enacted one more scheme. Always another one. One aspect of hers drew as many souls as she could touch into neutral ground.

Space not yet made into Kasignel. A kind of aether between any realm. It was not easy, nor should it be possible to do to mortals or else she would have simply snatched up the likes of Erin Solstice and had done with it.

Yet these ones…belonged to her in some small way. Their classes, their natures, drew from her. So it was only right that Kasigna called the greatest of [Necromancers] and their get to her.

She captured almost every one. Even ones who were…sleeping.

They rose out of dark waters as this realm took shape, not quite ghosts, not quite living. Souls whose identities were who they were and saw themselves as.

A snarling half-Elf who landed, sword drawn, then took note of his surroundings and set himself warily.

A mortal man dressed in the robes of an Archmage, rapier also drawn, spells tingling upon his fingertips.

A coffin shedding water from a dark sea, which swung open to reveal a sleeping Gnoll, adorned in ancient raiments.

A bewildered Naga—a Gorgon twisting around and then flinching away from the others.

[Necromancers]. All of them. The greatest or the ones she found most pleasing. Not just ones with classes; Kasigna called all beings to her. Az’kerash and Tolveilouka were staring at each other with recognition and disdain, but wary communication—and the lesser [Necromancers] were confused.

The sleeping Gnoll began to wake, as if puzzled. But Kasigna was whispering.

“All but one I wished. The boy is…”

She frowned, as if brushing cobwebs from her face, but found not the one she wanted. Nor did she take Ama; that one was too weak and sworn against her.

Pisces, for better or worse, was in a place less visible to Kasigna.

Everyone else—less so. Kasigna addressed them all, looking down into deep waters as if waiting for one more.

“I am Death. You, who invoke my authority though you knew it not, I offer you my aegis. Take my hand and be counted as the first of my heralds.”

It was a simple offer. She had more to make this day.

As one aspect of Kasigna entreated the masters of death, another stepped slowly across the world and halted on the borders of a land filled with gold and death. Paradise, some called it.

A silent king awaited her on a throne. Kasigna’s feet trod upon Khelt’s sacred sand, and he shivered.

Perhaps no deal would be struck, but she would attempt them all. For those who scorned her, only wrath remained. Kasigna addressed Tolveilouka, Az’kerash, the other necromancers who asked questions and demanded answers…and looked down.

“Yes. Even you. Know me and take my hand, and I shall elevate even you who call yourself…”

Her lips twisted.

“…‘Mother of Graves’.”

Thus, Az’kerash and Tolveilouka looked down as a final form moved in the dark waters, and even the Necromancer of Terandria hesitated. Kasigna just held out her hand.


Impatiently. Did they think she was blind? Did that single fae or Erin Solstice think to outwit her? She could admit the game had setbacks, admit where she erred and was bested.

Yet the Crone had no end of wrath. She pointed down as she raised her staff one more time, though it wearied her. So long as her deadlands remained—her eyes were black pits.

I offer wrath. I offer kindness. Choose! To those who have scorned me, know this: my hand shall find you all!

Then she drove her staff down across the world, and the dead began to rise. Not just in the Floodplains. But wherever she saw those who had refused her hand.

Across the world, Earthers trying to outwait that dark night felt a shiver run down their spines. Then the dead arose, and they beheld Kasigna’s wrath.

All of them.





Author’s Note.

I have spent the last two days revising the chapters 9.66 and 9.67. The word count stands at 37,200 words and 47,400 words, respectively.

I am…tired. Thanksgiving is coming up, which will perhaps interfere with my continuing writing, but I have gone through some of the hardest chapters of the Solstice and spent two days editing.

I could, I am sure, take a week or even month off to edit and let it sit and come back to it, but my confidence is in the reactions of the readers I trust who reacted live or read and gave notes on the Solstice.

At the end of Volume 9, I must remember to add an acknowledgements page to thank them. Someone don’t let me forget.

For now, I am posting on-schedule. I may well split up 9.67 into two parts given the sheer length. It will be different for readers who come after, who can read through all this in one go. There is a reason to read everything in one burst—and a reason to let it sit.

I cannot tell people how to read, but for me, writing it, I am satisfied. My nightmares have ceased, as I said, and that is often a sign I am not happy with what I write, or a headache. I will say nothing about the chapter because, in this moment, the author is just the author and the story is far more than I am.

I will post the next chapter on Saturday. Thank you for reading.



Death of Magic and Bow Before the Queen by Artsynada!

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

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


Liscor, Antinium Friends, Zineyr, and more by Gridcube!


The Wandering Inn as seen by Zevara by Guliver


Inktober Days 1-5 by Enuryn the [Naturalist]!

Portfolio: https://enuryndraws.art/

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

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Enuryn_Nat


The Walls of Liscor by Brack!

DeviantArt: https://www.deviantart.com/shurkin/gallery/

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

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Brack_Giraffe


Monster [Maid] by Enshuu!


Az’kerash and Fetohep and Visophecin by Yura!


Undead by paraffin!


Super Toren by LeChatDemon!

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

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

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


Embraim, Draugr Eater of Spears, and Embraim’s Fire by Lanrae!


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