9.67 (Pt. 1) – The Wandering Inn

9.67 (Pt. 1)

[This chapter has been split into two parts for easier readability. Given the length, I caution you to pace yourself reading. However, I understand wanting to read through, so I have elected to post both parts at once. For your reference, this is 47,000 words long.]

(Given the length of this chapter, I will skip an update on Tuesday. The next chapter will be out on Saturday, December 2nd.)





Tonight, he really did feel like he understood the fragile nature of communication and knowledge. He had taken it for granted, just like his world.

Rémi Canada stood in his dark newspaper company, surrounded by scrying orbs that all showed the same thing: nothing.

Or if they had something, it was a broadcaster in Terandria apologizing for the delays.

—Esteemed [Lords] and [Ladies] of the broadcast…

His title was ‘Esquire Vinovam’, not his actual rank or class. Terandria was a funny place. The man put on a nobleman’s air and always opened with that. [Lords] and [Ladies]. A way to show due deference to the nobility who watched as well as make commonfolk feel important.

Rémi had talked with him twice, and the man had been actually very cordial. Everything about him was an act. Esquire was a knightly term; it had nothing to do with nobility, but he was a common man and needed some pretense.

Right now, his normal composure from months on the job was breaking.

That is—Your Majesties of Terandria.

Rémi read [Message] scrolls, writing fast. In another part of the small publishing house, his [Editor] and [Printers]—a crew of six who put out the Chandrar International—were trying to get information. The man’s lips moved as he spoke, pale-faced.

All of Terandria had to be watching.

We deeply apologize for the delay regarding the coverage of the warfront. We expect to have scrying spells on the battle in the next day or two at the latest. The—the issue is Wistram. It appears the Academy of Mages has suffered an attack. And accordingly—

“…Every news broadcast that piggybacked off their network is down. All of them.”

The world was in an information blackout. Rémi likewise. Mage’s Guilds—down. News networks scrambling. Now, ironically, everyone was turning to the few pillars of old news.

[Spies]. [Informants]. And Rémi himself.

They wanted to know what was going on, and he was reporting the facts, but he didn’t know what to say.

A dead god is attacking one of my people, a young woman from Earth, Erin Solstice.

Can’t publish that. The truth was unethical. What a strange thought. Rémi tried to focus.

Wistram attacked. Liscor embattled. Terandrian fleet’s fate unknown.

That was how you did it. Big, bold letters. As many reports as he could verify by the time the sun rose. He was waiting on the Mage’s Guild representative in the local city, a statement from Wistram…but Rémi was working on another piece.

Erin Solstice is Dead. No…he tried again, writing it down. The [Printers] were using a primitive press, but they could still churn out countless copies when they made the wooden letters move.

The [Innkeeper] of Liscor is Dead. He stared at the title.

The Wandering Inn, Destroyed. He paused.

Someone had to tell them. She had warned him not to say anything about the ‘six’. He didn’t understand what was going on. Rémi wished he’d had time to interview Erin just so he could know what to say and not say.

Journalism was something you were taught, good ethics and practices. Your pillars. He was doing biased reporting. Somehow, Rémi felt like he was in the middle of a war. He was assured the ‘enemy’ were terrible people. He…believed it from his experiences. But people had to know.

He tried to write a set of headlines.

Winter Solstice Survived.

The Innkeeper of Liscor, Murdered.

Those would do. Rémi drafted a brief summary for both articles. Mention Khelt, unification of major powers of Izril…as-yet-unnamed enemy of Erin Solstice…

He was so busy working that at first he didn’t notice the sound of shuffling in the building. It was a converted old warehouse, and the main floor held the printing press the Mad Ones—insane inventors—had whipped up based on rudimentary sketches. Sometimes it tried to take fingers off.

“Escorital? Is the [Mage] ready?”

Rémi finally noticed the shuffling and called out. He lifted a magic lantern higher and peered around the building.

—His skin tingled for some reason. It was the instincts that sometimes misfired at night. That made you think something was moving slowly around your house or peeking at you as you lay in bed.

Only this time, in this world, Rémi had learned to trust them. And they were a hundred times worse than a false premonition.

Someone bumped into the printing press, and he heard a loud clatter of wood that made him jump. No one in the printing team would make that mistake; it was huge. He slowly lifted his lantern, then belatedly put a hand over it.

The main office would be glowing, a dead giveaway he was inside. Rémi—suddenly—looked around and realized he was alone. Tonight.

On the Winter Solstice. He hadn’t realized it; he’d been with the printing press, crew, and yes, they had guards after some attacks from unhappy kingdoms like Nerrhavia’s Fallen.

They were all out, tonight, escorting his team. Rémi—


He almost said ‘Hello?’, then began sliding towards the only door that led outside. Rémi hesitated as he felt around his side for a belt dagger urgently. Where was his backup wand?

He had Skills that protected him normally. [Impartial Observer] was one of them. Normally, Rémi talked his way out of danger, even when the [Soldiers] were hostile. But whatever was moving around in the darkness…

Rémi’s hand rattled the lock just as he heard a shuffle from the door to the office. He froze as he fumbled for a key. The office’s door—

Wasn’t locked.

It came through the door in a lunge. Rémi saw rotten flesh, maggot-filled, and eyes jerked upwards in death. Rotten stitch-flesh clung to the corpse, the zombie, as it burst into his office.


The young man screamed. He leapt back as it surged at him. He dropped the key, and the zombie ran at the door—slammed into it as Rémi ran back, past his writing desk. The zombie turned and charged forwards.

He had no idea they ran—Rémi saw this one charge forward like a bull, slam into a bunch of cabinets as he scrambled around the table again.

“Help! Help! Undead!

Rémi shouted even as he sprinted for the door the zombie had come through. The thing followed him, crawling over the table and landing on the floor where it crawled until it got up. Too fast. Rémi dodged into the main room, lantern swinging wildly.

The vast printing press was sitting silent, but a figure appeared along the far wall of the former warehouse as Rémi dashed forwards. He shouted.

“Escorital? Get help! The z—”

The Stitch-man who’d taken the fancy name with his new position as [Editor]—stood there. Rémi shouted as he ran—then tripped. Stumbled. Slowed.

Escorital was swaying, his neck tilted far to one side. Bite marks had torn a chunk out of his neck. And three more swaying figures were blocking the door. Rémi heard scuffling behind him and turned.

The zombie was stumbling towards him, claws outstretched. The [Journalist] backed up, swinging his lantern right and left.

This was a bad dream. He had his knife out and thrust it into the face as the first zombie lunged again. The impact wrenched it out of his hands. He saw the knife, not a real weapon, buried between the zombie’s eyes.

It didn’t even flinch. The others were moving now, running towards him, and Rémi looked around—and ran for the only thing he could think of.

The printing press. He swung himself up onto the press bed, where you would hammer down the wood blocks, then avoided the crushing arms and primitive belt as the zombies came after him. Something tore at one leg, and he screamed, but then he heard a slip and felt the entire press lurch.

It came down with a sickening thud as it crunched something beneath it. The idiotic zombies were crawling on it, and Rémi kicked and saw another arm go down and swat a swaying corpse like a fly.

Thank you, Mad Ones. Thank god for bad safety regulations—


The word hovered in his mind, and he remembered that woman. That…Rémi saw a hand rise from the top of the press, and Escorital was climbing up.


He knew it was insane, but his friend looked like himself still. But the swaying figure clawed at Rémi, and then the two were struggling on the top of the press. Its head was trying to bite at Rémi, but it was broken, so the clawed hands were the worst. They cut and grappled with Rémi with insane strength as he stumbled. With all his might, Rémi swiveled—pushed—

The corpse fell, toppling off the high press and onto the ground with a thud. Rémi slipped and went with him, crashing downwards. He landed bad, one arm twisting beneath him. Pain and terror got him up.

The office. Rémi just ran. At least one of the zombies left the press and followed. Now, though, Rémi could hear voices.

“—attack? Rémi! Rémi!”

Help! Undead! Help!

The [Journalist] screamed. He threw himself into his office, slammed the door shut, locked it, and then threw a chair behind it. Instantly, something hit it hard enough to make the thin wood crack.

“Key. Key.”

The storehouse had no windows to jump out of. Rémi had dropped his key—he hunted around the floor, without his lantern, searching for the piece of metal. The door was breaking inwards, and he heard screams, now. But the living made him hopeful. The city wasn’t too far off; there would be Watch here in a second. A damn army. Rémi could run. He fit the key in the lock as something shoved the chairs away.

Rémi unlocked the back door, heaved, and realized the deadbolt was in the way. His fingers were moving in slow motion as he lifted it, tearing the door open at last. He stumbled forwards in relief—and halted when he saw the glowing green eyes.

A zombie had been standing against the door, pressed against it. It practically fell inwards as the [Journalist] screamed.


Then it grabbed him. A mouth filled with rotten teeth tore at Rémi’s cheek, and then—a second body leapt onto him and he was screaming and the smell of rot and death was everywhere. Rémi swore he could hear her laughing.

Kasigna had promised revenge the day he refused to take her hand.




It was a long night, and the scrying spell was dead. Gnolls sat in their tents, and the ones who’d volunteered to mount an expedition to the Crossroads were standing silent, uncertain of whether to act.

Garsine Wallbreaker, Gamur the Axe, Wer the Wanderer, and Gadiekh the World-Pact Adventurer had mustered from their tribes. Convening two Named-ranks was not easy. And their counterparts were equally deserving of the title.

Berr the Berserker and his best fighters; even Shaman Theikha. An argument had raged the last three days as they waited for the Horns. Losing this many Gnolls would cripple the tribes. But they also had to know what had happened to the Horns.

Rose and Inkar had been most afraid for Liscor, tonight. The Horns had been one worry; when the scrying orbs went dead, they had feared the worst.

The Meeting of Tribes was cold and, worse, icy as a layer of crust developed on the snow from snow melting, freezing, and melting again. It made travel hard.

The camps of huts with smoke rising into the night sky provided clear sight-lines across the entire Great Plains. Thus—they saw the undead coming.

The first howl made all the Named-rank adventurers turn. A Steelfur [Sentry] was calling an alarm in the direction of the battlefield where so many had died.

Undead! Thousands of corpses!

Rose was terrified. She had no idea what was going on as Gnolls raced away from Wer and the howling began. Children and noncombatants fled to the center of the Meeting of Tribes as Theikha’s voice boomed.

Block the camp! No entry points!

Ghouls were racing over the ground ahead of running zombies, and there were larger undead too. Rose was screaming as Adetr howled.

“Steelfur, stay back!”

They had lost the blessing of Iratz’s Skill. Feshi was snarling as she spoke.

“Gamur, those are Draugr. Take them out. Garsine—charge. Delay them!”

Without a word, the Gnolls went running. Rose looked around.

“Inkar, let’s get to safety. Inkar?

She was panicked, afraid, and knew Erin had warned her, but she had not expected this. Fear was in Rose’s heart, but she had survived terrible battles, albeit as a spectator. Yet Inkar…Inkar was cowering, hands over her head. White as a sheet.

“She’s coming for me.”


Tkrn tore into the tent where the two young women had been watching the battle for Liscor. Inkar’s eyes roamed the night, and Tkrn and Rose dragged her towards the Earth Tent, where Gnolls were streaming into to hide.

We can repel them. Keep an eye on our flank! Someone tell Az’muzarre to put their Roc into the air and drop into combat! Now!

Feshi was counting the undead. Enough to murder any one of the lesser tribes; the proximity to that battlefield had allowed too many to rise. But she had multiple Great Tribes present, and Theikha had already turned the ground into a swamp, sinking over a thousand of the undead up to their necks as the ground re-solidified.

Yet. Feshi wondered as Rose ran past her. The [Chieftain] looked at Inkar’s face and then snapped her head around.

How many Earthers were under attack by the undead tonight? The answer was—

Every single one. Every single one that the Goddess of Death had met the last Winter Solstice.

All of them.




The Brothers of Serendipitous Meetings and the Earthtenders in Oteslia had been warring that night. A raid on the central headquarters that Wilovan and Ratici had set up.

The Hangmen of Loeri had descended on the fighting as well, to arrest both sides, and the brawl had been bloody. Rickel had been trying to hide, then ran for it.

They wanted him dead. Ratici and Wilovan too, but he was dragging his still-healing leg. The young man was waiting for an opening. When it came…

A dead Earthtender Drake got up. One of his buddies exclaimed in relief—a second before the Draugr ripped his head off. The dead Drake’s body bulged and visibly grew in mass, and the headless corpse collapsed—then the skeleton crawled out of the skin, tearing out of the flesh and bones, and scuttled, red with gore, towards the living.

“Fuck, fuck, fuck—you have got to be kidding me.”

Rickel ran. Wilovan and Ratici took one look at the undead and ordered an evacuation. Hangmen, Earthtenders—they looked around as more dead began to rise.

“What is that? What is—

A living Earthtender was shooting bolts of magic through the skeleton crawler’s bones as it leapt on him, ripping into him. And the Draugr was turning, its eyes finding Rickel—he was screaming as it ran. Wilovan slammed into it, club smashing into dead flesh.

It was a bad dream. It wasn’t fair.

It was a bad dream, and he couldn’t wake up.




Not all of them were unready. A [Singer] saw the first undead rising from the walls of a city that shone with a thousand candlelights.

Menorome, the City of Repose, capital of Noelictus, had not seen an undead attack in thousands of years.

Tonight—they began ringing the Graveward bells, and Cara saw something unbury itself—then spread wings. Another just appeared out of the thick mist that had sprung up around Menorome.

“You fecking bitch. You really want me dead, don’t you?”

She was ready. She had known, just like Erin Solstice, that it would be a bad night. Like the [Innkeeper]—Cara knew this dead goddess held a grudge.

It was mutual. The first undead…it wasn’t a Dragon; it had too much fur instead of scales. It swung down, some bat-thing from nightmares, screaming and shattering glass. The [Singer] saw a wave of undead getting up and charging after it. And a big thing that cleared the nearby trees of a forest.

For three seconds, Menorome lurched in horror as citizens heard the toning Gravewards ring. Then—the flickering lights of the city were illuminated by more flames.

“That one.”

A woman with a hat pointed, and crossbows fired. The Hunters of Noelictus launched one flaming volley at the first flying bat-horror, and it turned into a blazing fireball. The Guildmaster of the Hunter’s Guild of Noelictus—undead hunters—turned her burning gaze across the field.

“Put the undead to rest.”

[Undead Hunters] had the walls. They lifted axes and fired crossbows into the first wave of undead. Even the dead looked up as Cara opened her mouth.

Where are you, you graverobbing bitch? Come on, you cowards! Come on!

Her voice rose until it was a scream of anger, loss, and fury. A [Banshee’s Voice] ripped up the ground as she aimed a cone of sound at the undead. But they kept running, and Cara saw no Three-in-One. Just her malice everywhere.




It was…everywhere.

Fetohep of Khelt heard the reports from the scrying orb. Most of the news networks were down, but his sources were sending terse messages.

Nombernaught has been attacked by undead whales.

Rhir is facing an onslaught of the dead from the sea. The Blighted Kingdom claims a million zombies—reports of activity on Demon side.

Fissival under siege. 

Each spot was one Fetohep knew to contain Earthers. Menorome as well. He could only guess at places where there was no city. How many, he wondered. How many children might awake to hear the mindless undead at their door?

Khelt was quiet. So, yet, was Reim. However, Fetohep knew that Trey and Teresa Atwood were with the King of Destruction, as well as the other ‘liberated’ Earthers.

A half dozen were in Flos’ care, more with the Quarass. Fetohep trusted each ruler would keep them safe. Yet…no undead were rising in Khelt of all places.

The King of Khelt did not wonder why. He sat on his throne, wearing his ceremonial robes of royal purple writ with the names of all those he had known, his citizens upon his death-day. An empty goblet of the drink of the dead sat on his armrest.

His palace was empty.

No servants of Khelt were there to wait on him tonight. He had dismissed the [Mages] who had accompanied him at the start of the battle. Pewerthe, like his people, did not sleep an uneasy night in the capital city of Koirezune.

The city was, in fact, empty. Only the infestations of bugs and rats had not fled. More fools, they. Everyone down to the last pet had been evacuated to the surrounding cities, even temporary camps for this night.

An unprecedented action for unprecedented times. Fetohep was one of two beings in the entire city with a soul.

Even the undead had been sequestered to tombs, which were sealed. So Fetohep waited. He sat with objects scattered around on the floor of his throne room.

Scrolls. They were burnt or disintegrated. The old magics and vellum wasted away to nothingness. He had used them, fired spells across the world with such fury he knew he had wasted tens of thousands of Draugr. Killed countless of the other undead. None of the Hag Queens.

That was the last thing he had seen of the battle. He knew it raged, but Fetohep sat without watching it. He knew his attention would soon be elsewhere, and besides…the King of Khelt’s eyes glowed dimly upon his throne.

The detritus in his throne room was all that remained. His eyes lingered on each scroll, capped with burnt gold metal or fragments of gem dust. Normally, he would have them swept out…he should have someone sort them for valuable metals. They were surely worth something.

But the scrolls. Ah. The scrolls. Fetohep wished he could close his eyes. He looked down and saw Khelt’s authority lying in the dust.

Every last scroll in his vaults capable of reaching across continents was now gone. All he had left were two scrolls. Two, reserved for the likes of the Creler Wars. Fetohep of Khelt had spent the weapons hoarded by his predecessors, an arsenal of war.

Glorious Khelt was now de-fanged. Its enemies abroad no longer had to fear their interference.

I spent it well. The King of Khelt had regret, but not for how he used it. Only fears of the future. He might rebuild his arsenal, loot or purchase more scrolls and magic, even have them created in time. There were still other scrolls for close-range battles. Even so.

Another golden link fell from the throne of Khelt into the rusty waters of dead Laws. Another crack in the ancient order. 

Fetohep felt it. Yet he did not bathe himself in recriminations nor bend over the scrying orb waiting to see if Erin Solstice lived or died.

He sat on his throne as a woman walked across distant sands. She paused a second on the borders of Khelt. An old woman wearing a nondescript, grey hood. A traveller, perhaps.

In a million stories she would be so. The withered crone begging for mercy or kindness or a favor. She would answer scorn with scorn, generosity with generosity. She never forgot a grudge nor failed to reward those she favored.

She stopped a second on Khelt’s borders, not for fear, but to inspect the lands critically. To weigh up this paradise against the places she had known—it was not that she found Khelt wanting.

She found every land wanting. But even the Crone could admire what was good of it.

Then Kasigna took a step onto Khelt’s lands, and Fetohep’s eyes—flickered.

Like a burning candle before a breeze.

He made no move as one step carried the Goddess of Death into the center of Koirezune. Fetohep sensed her move in a single moment, not like teleportation but walking as if distance had no meaning to her. One step from the border into his city.

A third step into his palace. Then she walked through the corridors of legacies, past the statues of its rulers, profaning Khelt with her discourteous presence. The palace trembled in silent fury, but the ruler of it all sat there. Waiting.

Each step left a trail of her very being in Khelt, and Fetohep had to acknowledge that he felt empowered, energy coursing through him, closer to—life—for lack of a better word, but as the dead felt it.

Energized. Yet, he noted, her presence faded quickly. If there were any hope tonight, it was that singular fact. Kasigna’s presence waned slightly, as if the reflection of her being were a shadow exposed to light.

Even so—

When she appeared, she was more and less than he imagined from every tale and description of her he had heard. From Erin Solstice, he imagined a petty woman, squabbling, scheming for souls, her nature closer to a predator; dangerous by what she was more than what she did.

Unto a Giantess made into Human form, like a dangerous Named-rank adventurer who had forgotten conscience.

From Khelta, Fetohep had envisioned her closer to some unknowable force that deigned to look like a person. An old being plotting, yet crippled and mortally wounded. Unto a Seamwalker and their like, only more advanced.

The truth before his eyes alarmed the King of Khelt as at last he understood the nature of gods. For she did not look like a simple, wretched Crone-goddess nor some horror pretending to the nature of deities.

He beheld Kasigna as who she longed to return to. Fetohep saw in her the true nature of the Goddess of Death. And the first thing he saw was that she was not Human.

A Drake, grey of scales, eyes alight, form hunched, hobbled into his throne room. Then a Dullahan carrying her head in a shawl as she walked with a staff. Next, he saw a Stitch-woman, threads fading, but ancient cloth held together with brilliant pieces of pale string.

Crone each time, but her species changed. Perhaps it was because he was dead and beheld her nature, but he did not see a Human. That was what Erin Solstice saw.

Fetohep beheld age incarnate. An idea that crossed species. Whoever you were, whatever you belonged to—that was what made up Kasigna. She was part of you. That figure on your shoulder, whether you loved her or hated her.

Death. The very idea of her.

Her authority he felt, too. In every particle of his being, the undead king knew that she had sovereignty over his very nature. She came to a halt, stick tapping the floor, and the two said nothing for a moment.

Three Kasignas walked the world tonight. One deigned visit here. Another offered the masters of death a bargain. Her minions rampaged the world, attacking her foes.

If there was any weakness that could be said of Kasigna on tonight of all nights, it was that she knew the mortals poorly. She expected them to understand her nature or that her power would tempt even the most arrogant.

She had been too long gone to realize how this world had changed and truly forgotten her kind. Fetohep was ready.

[Open the Vaults].

With a single thought, he quietly armed the right Relics and artifacts. Most were not intended for this purpose, but he had carefully considered how to align them right. Magical reactions were unpredictable until they reached a critical mass. Then they tended to do the same thing.

It was not his first intention: it was his last. Whether the Goddess of Death realized it, he did not know. She looked displeased, for that was her very nature at this moment.

“You do not greet me, King of Undeath.”

Indeed not. Fetohep, who ruled upon ceremony and gave every ruler their due, sat upon his throne, resting his chin upon one weary fist. The King of Khelt did not even correct his posture, merely spoke.

“The Ruler of Khelt does not rise for you. Name yourself, intruder.”

Kasigna’s eyes narrowed, and once more, Fetohep felt the urge to rise and prostrate himself. He…refused. His withered skin shifted, and his bones hummed as the magic animating him fluxed.

He would rather vanish than stand. So—his eyes flickered, but the moment passed. Then, Kasigna spoke, calmer now. As if acknowledging the slight, recording it for all of forever, but allowing him a second chance.

“I am Kasigna. Goddess of Death. You know me.”

It was not a question. Fetohep allowed the slightest of nods.

“I know you. You have sullied Khelt’s lands, slain my great predecessors, and attacked a citizen of Khelt, Erin Solstice. Name me one reason I should not destroy you this instant.”

The Goddess of Death was scrutinizing him, eyes holding a rage to make Vizir Hecrelunn look like a yapping dog by comparison. Yet…he thought they were approving. As if she almost liked his responses, his poise, his insolence.

Yes, this was how a ruler of death should be. Of course…one lesser to her.

“You cannot.”

That was also true. Fetohep’s head dipped fractionally once more. They did the courtesy of the truth in this moment. Kasigna went on.

“I have no time, this long Solstice, for games. I walk your lands with a single offer I make to countless beings, Ruler of Death. Serve me. Thus, I shall give you strength beyond each of your predecessors and safeguard this land. Worship me. It is my only requirement, and your kingdom shall endure till the end of time and beyond.”

It was a ridiculous statement, and Fetohep had uttered similar ones, been made the offer from even Flos Reimarch. What terrified him was that he believed her.

Part of him knew there was merit to her offer. Khelt…Khelt was weakening each passing day. His own authority over his undead, the lost souls, made him feel like a ghost himself upon the throne.

Last year, he would have hesitated. This year, the King of Khelt only paused a moment to fully consider her offer. Then he spoke, motionless.

“Eternal Khelt shall never join forces with its enemies. You would have done better to ask Khelta herself, Goddess of Death. I am her successor. Her will immortal. We shall never make peace with you.”

There was no eloquence to his reply, nor even the ceremony of refusal. There was nothing to say. Kasigna’s exhalation was soft and somehow, he thought, tired. Even for a god.

“I have heard this refrain countless times tonight. Have mortals truly forgotten my gifts and wrath? No matter how long, I thought some part of them would know. Yet you speak as if I am any foe.”

She seemed confused. Disappointed. Her eyes found Fetohep, and he realized, to his uncertainty, that she liked him. Something in his nature and what Khelt was she admired.

One of the few nations that embraced death. Of course Kasigna had a fondness for this place. Yet the Three-in-One was, in her way, as certain as he.

“I caution you, Ruler of Death. For I respect this kingdom, despite the way its rulers opposed me, I offer you a second chance. Serve me. I will not demand your fealty nor your armies march at my name. Simply carve my name and likeness in a single statue before your palace, and I will let you stay in this world unblemished by my wrath, and my favor shall fall upon this land if mortals or the dead but reach out.”

This time, Fetohep hesitated. He was ashamed, but he did.

One statue? She asked no fealty nor worship, only a statue? He knew what was coming and the cost of refusal. He saw it happening. The King of Khelt paused one moment, and his robes whispered around him as he looked down and read the golden names that etched themselves on the lining of his clothes.

Each person he had sworn to safeguard…and they made new robes, writing their names that he might wear their memories. He thought of Pewerthe, children unborn, his citizens and duties.

“…Would you spare Erin Solstice?”

The King of Khelt wavered upon his throne. His voice rasped, and Kasigna’s eyes narrowed.

“Not she. She is mine. I shall grant you even the children of Earth, as many as you collect, to live free of my kin. No more.”

“I have sworn to protect Erin Solstice.”

Fetohep relaxed slightly, relieved. That made it easier. Yet Kasigna lifted one finger.

“One woman, Ruler of Death. Your kingdom for one woman. Be careful how you answer me. A third time, I give you a chance. No more.”

For a final time, Fetohep hesitated. He knew how he should answer, as ruler. Yet Khelta had stood by Erin Solstice at the last. His beloved Queen Xierca was now gone. Had this one slain her, or another?

It was wrong to put the rulers of Khelt above its people. That was not the way he had lived for six hundred years.

…Yet to ignore them was to ignore Khelt’s golden heart. Erin Solstice was one woman, it was true. Still, Fetohep looked up, slowly and sadly, and at last shook his head.

“Khelt lies eternal, Kasigna, Goddess of Death. We have done whatever is necessary to endure. Yet, and yet, throughout our existence, though Khelt was prepared to crawl through carrion, though it may yet beg and crumble—this glorious land should never be petty or small. I say to you: no. Begone.

A third time he rebuked her, and for a while, Kasigna said nothing. She almost looked pleased. Bitterly pleased, like the Crone who was spurned by the ill-fated hero, but enjoyed the refusal. This was how it should be. My enemies should be no less haughty.

Fetohep waited, calm now, as Kasigna slowly pulled a hood over her features, her eyes sinking into her flesh until she seemed older than creation. Something so lined by age that time itself knew she stood in its shadow, waiting for forever to die.

“So be it. A broken puppet shall serve if this prideful vessel does not. I admire you, Fetohep of Khelt. Rarely do the vessels of death have the will to oppose me. But you do not know me. Now—serve.

She lifted her hand, crooked a finger, and Fetohep’s golden eyes winked out. The ruler of Khelt jerked upon his throne and began to stand.

Mistress of Death. Goddess of all his kind. Fetohep was still an undead. Revenant or not, his soul was drowned out, a single candle in a dark sea he had never dreamed of.


He began to stand from his throne, safeguards and will forgotten. One of two beings in Koirezune. The other watched and took aim.




Alked Fellbow was the only mortal in the city. He had remained upon orders of the King of Khelt himself, though he would have preferred to be anywhere but here.

Many rulers had the Named-rank Adventurer met. Even Queen Yisame and, before her, the previous rulers of Nerrhavia’s Fallen.

He had known loyalty, of a kind. Never respect. Never true desire for service. A strange thing, he had thought.

This ruler, he would follow. So it was bitter, twice bitter, that he stood in the tower slowly drawing the arrow back.

The Bow of Heavens’ Arc, gifted to him by Fetohep himself, was shining in his grip. He had a single arrow nocked. It could destroy the entire throne room in a moment, yet Fetohep and Alked were sure that woman would not die from it.

…The King of Khelt would. The arrow pulled back as the figure on the throne rose. Alked’s arms never wavered, but his heart did. Fetohep had planned out this moment meticulously with full awareness of what might happen.

He had entrusted Alked with the final mission. The Named-rank waited, hoping the undead king had the will…but he saw Fetohep’s blank sockets.

The flames had gone out. Alked drew the bow fully, a whisper on his lips. He saw the figure take a step from the dais, bending its knees. Then…he saw a flicker of gold and froze.




Fetohep was drowning. His will being overridden, unable to break through the dark ocean. He had lost, utterly, in a moment; he saw his puppet bending to swear and knew Alked would set him free.

Be it so shameful, he was ready to protect Khelt by vanishing, though he grieved for Pewerthe. But he could not fight Kasigna’s will alone.

The body began to kneel, and a golden light stopped it. It twined around his arms and legs. Encircling his neck, pulling him back.

Chains of gold. Even Kasigna seemed surprised. They rose from the throne of Khelt, pulling the puppet back, diving into that black ocean for Fetohep’s soul.


Even the Three-in-One bent forwards to inspect the golden light as Alked hesitated. Fetohep’s body froze, then drew back. A light flickered in those sockets—and Fetohep’s hand rose as another link of something encircled it.

Not chains, he realized. It was…fabric. Cloth. Golden thread, woven together. Made of names.

His robes were shining. The names of Khelt’s citizens, past and present, were running like a river, twining around him. Keeping him from kneeling. The King of Khelt gently held the thread connecting him to his throne—and clung to it.

The golden flames in his eyes grew brighter, filled with the color of Khelt’s will itself. Slowly, his soul re-emerged from the sea of Kasigna’s will, suspended on a delicate web of connections. Living and dead. Souls devoured, it mattered not.

Fetohep’s head rose, his body arched—and for a moment, he felt alive. Slowly, he took one step backwards, then another. He lowered himself on the throne, and the threads locked him into place.

“Never, death.”

The eternal King of Khelt spoke, and even the Goddess of Death was left speechless for a second. She had forgotten how mortals could surprise her.

Even she loved him, a second, as a Named-rank Adventurer lowered his bow and bowed. Fetohep silently raised his hand, and the vaults of Khelt’s weapons glowed. She might still destroy him, but she would never have his service.

“This I name my second defeat of the Solstice.”

Kasigna spoke softly. Her eyes fixed on Fetohep.

“The will of Goblins and the dead surprises even me. So be it. I do not envy you, King of Khelt. My enemies have been legion, and betimes I have walked the realms, and no foe of mine remained. Yet remember this: they have ever found life more intolerable than death.”

Fetohep replied slowly, still enmeshed in light.

“I have found every second of it delightful, dead goddess.”

She gave him the bleakest of smiles.

“The greatest of my foes suffer life. Regret it as long as you exist, oh stubborn King of Khelt.”

She lifted her hand and stepped back. Fetohep rose, reaching for a halberd he pulled out of thin air—but the Goddess of Death was gone as his blade cut the place her head had been. He swung around, looking for her, but she had vanished.

Victory? Defeat?

His lungs moved for the first time in centuries as Fetohep took an unconscious breath. He stood, shaking, shaking with triumph he had not looked for. And a terrible regret.

It was done. Slowly, he walked back to his throne and rested a hand on it. He had done what Khelt itself willed, and he would not regret that.

“—These coming days, I may become the most wretched of Khelt’s rulers and wish for oblivion. So be it. I was endlessly proud of this moment. Let me not forget.”

The King of Khelt slowly knelt after all to the throne itself and no other. To Khelt, in mourning, as Kasigna vanished in her second great defeat of the Winter Solstice.

Her vengeance was simple and swift. Fetohep sensed them moving. Slowly at first, then shaking themselves away with inviolate will. The first vengeance of Kasigna was this:

The Jaws of Zeikhal awoke. A dead Giantess’ corpse stirred from her slumber on the edges of A’ctelios Salash.

A green light entered the sockets of the one buried on Medain and the Claiven Earth’s border. Another stirred on the edge of Khelt’s lands. More turned from their sentry positions around the Carven City.

“Prepare for war.”

That was all Fetohep said as the Jaws of Zeikhal and the dead Ash Giantess began to rampage. One tore across the land of half-Elves and Medain, tearing his authority and promises to shreds.

Another rampaged into Khelt, shattering the peace that had lasted generations. Two more Jaws and the dead Giantess began their return to Khelt as the Arrows of Razzimir and Khelt’s defenses began to set the paradise alight with battle.

The last of the Jaws of Zeikhal went for the fortress where the King of Destruction stood.




“The Jaws of Zeikhal are attacking? Has Fetohep lost his mind?”

Flos Reimarch heard the urgent warnings that came moments too late for the other nations as he spun from watching the quiet night.

He had been monitoring the events worldwide—but his people had been unmolested by any activity, to his vague disappointment.

—Until he saw something on the horizon moving his way, like the legends of the city-destroyers. The newly-taken fortress of Nerrhavia’s Fallen began to shake as a Jaw of Zeikhal moved through the sands.


The King of Destruction felt his blood beginning to race as his Seven announced they were abandoning their fronts, rallying to the fortress. But he was tracking the movement of that thing, and it wasn’t headed straight for him. Not at first.

Your Majesty! It’s not Fetohep! He says they’ve gone rogue—it’s the one Erin warned us about!”

Trey burst onto the battlements as Flos Reimarch stood there. The King of Destruction’s lips were moving.

“Takhatres. Orthenon. Amerys. Do not rally here. Intercept at Reim’s capital. Now. It will strike the fortress, but stop it from crossing the Thamas River. Amerys, fly.

What is it, Your Majesty?

“—It’s not going after me.

Teresa scrambled onto the battlements, and Flos Reimarch looked at her. The Jaw of Zeikhal was racing too fast. He closed his eyes.

Run, Takhatres!

The Lord of the Skies was dozens of miles away. With a sick feeling, Flos stared into the distance, following the trajectory of the Jaws.

“George was headed back to the capital.”

The boy was sick of bloodshed after seeing a real war. The King of Destruction gripped the battlement’s ancient stone. In the silence, the masonry began to crumble to dust under his hands. He watched as the Jaw of Zeikhal paused a moment.

Then it turned towards him, and the King of Destruction swore vengeance.




Defeat after defeat. Setback after setback.

Kasigna quietly returned to the lands of the dead, wearily resting a second. For she was indeed tired. It was not unknown to her, this feeling of refusal.

That was, in its way, classic to her. Many times had the Goddess of Death been the most hated, feared, and every hand set against her. She had been driven back, defeated by consortiums of her foes.

What they forgot was that she played the game of gods, the slow and brutal board of fate. She accepted the losses, though they stung.

Slowly, she cleared the board of pieces.

—He screamed, still shielding his face and cowering as he appeared in her lands. One Earther. Joining seven more who stood, weeping or lost.

Cowering as they saw her. But the Mother simply nodded to them as George silently joined the ranks of the dead. They looked at her and spoke her name.


Worship. Be it hatred or adoration, it was the same. The ghosts growing in number looked around and finally beheld the place that Drevish was creating piece by piece.

The place was known as the Hall of Judgement, made of pale, ancient stone in a heptagon set betwixt the center of a palace cut in the likeness of Kasigna’s first home. Here, ghosts appeared before a great lectern set high above them where their accomplishments and failures, sins and regrets, would be read.

A single book would be writ with each detail, then they would be given leave to wander the halls of this palace and out into a wasteland of thought and existence.

Dry, featureless ground where nothing existed to break the monotony. A desert of the soul where some would stand and wait, letting their griefs and regrets pour out into the void. If they so chose, they could walk back into the palace, which was now resembling the one Kasigna so desired: a tomb itself, a coffin whose black entrance welcomed her kin should they stand in her realm.

Without beauty, but not without grandness; she had told Drevish to make her palace as grim as she was. Yet the rooms would have looking glasses and books, every one ever written, and mirrors that the dead who so craved might stare at the world that was until they were satisfied.

The wasteland and palace would be filled so it would be seven hundred and seventy-seven floors in size, enough to hold the ghosts that would surely cling to their past mortalities.

But the wasteland would consume far, far more. All who wandered out into it would walk for eternities, then stop and be driven into madness by their own guilts if they were allowed. With naught to reflect on but their deeds.

Let them empty their souls there. For she was not unkind; if they had but the will or walked for the time required, they would find fertile ground beyond. Already, the first souls had begun to venture out that far, and she would allow them to remake their homes and memories, unto a museum of souls, and even let them bicker and reshape their own stories until they were satisfied.

Some parts of Kasignel would be given to ghosts to remake; the rest would be the labor of centuries for Drevish, for she had given him the plans to remake her first home’s finest wonders and most wretched lands. The sea that flowed to the underworld of her homeland would one day float above this place and the black sun hold sway over the deserts of one of the continents lost.

In time, she would even remake this world in its entirety as one small place for ghosts to wander, yet her vision extended until the limits of Kasignel, for the ghosts who walked furthest would carry them to the final spot.

A great river that would allow them to step into its waters and be reborn. All of this was unto a test; Kasigna expected that when finished, souls might linger for millions of years until they were ready and finally found that river. If they so chose, they would find oblivion as well, an exit from this eternal cycle.

This she offered. This was her at her grandest, the Crone’s pettiness put aside. Many had said her afterlife was empty of either true punishment or reward, or judgment. Yet her world still had purpose and heart to it.

As yet, only the first floors of the palace and wasteland were made, and Drevish had labored well to do this much. He had some of her power, and Kasigna wearily watched more souls flowing into her dead lands.


Victory. Her third defeat was most bitter of all. It was not in Diotria, though her eyes did roam the two realms.

She saw in Hellste an army of Goblin souls led by their Kings. Male and female, each filled with the rage of remembrance and knowledge.

Hellste had been meant to be a punishment; other gods had made it in their pitiful ways. It had been designed for souls to wallow in their filth and create such horrors that fools might summon them as weapons.

[Warlocks] possessed by the likes of Emir Riqre. He was crawling forwards, both embodying nightmares and haunted by them. A giggling soul clung to by hundreds of vengeful horrors he had created, still gnawing at him. Bloated like some Giant in the horrors of his existence.

In Hellste, souls could be reshaped, and the very land was drawn from the nightmares of gods. The flaming pits of hellfire and damnation were but one image reflected there; some parts of Hellste were just…dark.

So black even a Goddess could not stare into their hearts. And in that darkness let horrors and sins be committed.

She thought it foul, a cruel suffering of arbitrary judgment. ‘Sinners’ went here, and the rules had been writ such that every Goblin was sinner. Her afterlife had no distinction, hence her disdain for a place of punishment, Hellste, and a place of reward, for those who earned the favor of gods or became ‘heroes’ and ‘champions’, Diotria.

Long had she argued when the other two realms were made. And it was to her satisfaction—even though Hellste was closed, guarded by the souls of Goblins—that these lands had changed beyond their creators’ whims.

The Emir was reaching for Kasigna. He crawled forwards with countless wretched ghosts babbling for her to take them, to empower them once more. Offering service, trying to pray. He would have liked it in the original version of Hellste, Kasigna suspected.

He tried to twist that land to match his will, made alliances and plots just like he had in life…but he could not. The land was designed for countless beings to reshape it slowly, in theory, to allow more depravities to exist. To let them fight for domination and, perhaps, begin foul assaults on other realms and even the living realm itself.

—However. The designers had not realized that for every being worthy of a class filled with sin, every truly depraved individual who came here, scheming and filled with enough bile to taint everything—there were a thousand Goblins. Ten thousand Goblins. A hundred thousand Goblins.

It was bright. Goblins sat and waited as a channel of Riqre and his like swam, trying to taunt or manipulate the Goblins who largely ignored them. Someone had cast a light into the pitch blackness, and there was nowhere to hide or indulge in their dark desires.

It was not wholly happy, perhaps, for many souls found the company of Goblins abhorrent, and the Goblins did not care for the company. But it was hardly the hell of torment that Kasigna had expected.

The caretakers, who should have had authority here, even in death, were sulking or looking pleased. The very beings who derived power from Hellste, Lucifen, had largely joined the new owners of this realm. Yet so few had even made it here. They had truly forgotten even who they were and where their authority sprang from.

That was not what drew her gaze. She wanted Hellste, wanted to drive all the souls into her fold, but it was unassailable…for now. At her strength, she could take it, and the grim Goblin Kings knew their victory might be short-lived. The wrath of their souls could not hold her back any more than the last Dragons, Elves, and other immortals had.

What drew Kasigna’s eye was a realm within a realm. She stared longingly at the place that other souls, Goblins knocking on the boundaries, could not enter.

Mine. Oh, mine. They were building it themselves, the few of them there were. So few compared to Goblins. And they were clumsy, their materials gifted to them from a small faith.

They were constructing it wrong. Let her take their hands and show them a true afterlife. Kasigna wanted the Heaven of the Antinium as much as she desired Hellste’s souls.




Diotria was stranger still. Kasigna’s aspect that battled there fought figures with shining wings whose voices scored the world and bore blazing blades that were designed to hurt her.

Guardians who had forgotten or never known who they were meant to serve. Diotria was a contrast to Hellste; a civilization instead of an afterlife.

She saw, at the borders of the realm, a great city rising and a light that even she found odd. They had reshaped this afterlife more than Hellste!

Worse, the foolish Diotrichne…had been murdered before she finished this afterlife. The rules had been wrongly set. That damned Goddess of the Afterlife—Kasigna was eating souls, but more were flooding towards her, armed with actual blades and using Skills, albeit without much grace, compared to the living mortals.

She locked eyes with the being who had claimed dominion over this realm and snarled as a blow tore even her flesh. This looked nothing like a place of holiness and goodness, though. It looked…simply like another world.

Smaller, though. Diotrichne had always thought small.

War across multiple realms. Winning, losing, she was still Goddess of Death. She summoned three souls to her as Kasigna pointed down at the battlefield of the Floodplains.

“My minions die. So too do mortals. I am defeated at many turns. My servant, Eldavin, foiled by yet another of your schemes. I applaud you, the foes who have laid gods low.”

“It was done long ago. Not by we. That is the spite of Elves.”

Zineryr and two other Gnomes stood in front of Kasigna as she held them on one hand as long as infinity. He wore the suit that he had first breached space in, and another had a tinkerer’s vest; she had made strange contraptions out of metal that flew and spat smoke. The third? The third chose to remember an apron smudged with little handprints and grime.

A caretaker of children.

All three dared to meet her eyes, though they knew her. Kasigna remembered the day Zineryr had breached the stars themselves and his cry of disappointment as he confirmed they were fake. It still stung, his critique of the gods.

That was not my design. I did not labor over that aspect. Zineryr folded his hands behind his back as he looked down sadly.

“This was not our scheme.”

“That is your champion.”

One of the Gnomes scratched his beard and raised a hand politely.

“Yes, well, she has free will. Advice, we grant you, but we didn’t tell her to do any of this. We gave her notes. None of this was our scheme. In hindsight, expecting our safeguards against your return not to exist was your mistake.”

“Don’t be rude. They’re not good at thinking ahead, some of them.”

The Tinkerer, whose name Kasigna recalled as Beitrne, smirked, and the other two Gnomes laughed in her face. The Goddess of Death had never liked most of the Gnomes.

Zineryr…didn’t mock her in the same way. He just tugged at his beard softly.

“Want to hear a joke?”


Kasigna was tired. She held the three souls of Gnomes in her palm and spoke gently.

“I wished it otherwise. Even if you claim it not, you three are the tricksters to fool even the God of Tricks.”

They nodded, accepting this praise. Kasigna looked at Zineryr.

“I suffer no more of it. My realm should be that which accepts even other gods. In time, all peoples will come to these lands, and it shall grow and shelter them all and offer them the choice. It shall be the perfect afterlife which promises nothing and judges not.”

“Yes. It would be beautiful.”

Zineryr answered as the other two shook their heads. Kasigna closed her eyes.

“You should but see it. Yet I fear you. I offer you this one compliment as so few have ever received. And my greatest apologies. Come. Take my hand.”

If they could, she was sure at least two would have continued to defy her. They would have danced against the dead gods and made war once more, but they were hers. This was her realm, and they could not refuse her.

So in theory, they could do nothing. Still she feared them. The Gnomes looked at each other, and then, slowly, the caretaker lifted his hand.

“Defiance to the last. Even as I admire the beauty of what you intended—you did it cruelly. All this time and I regret nothing.”

He took her hand as he looked her in the eyes, and a tear fell from the Goddess of Death’s ancient face. She did not consume his soul and make it a part of her. Not this time. She did not banish his existence that he might be remade as she willed it.

Kasigna unmade the first Gnome entirely. Surely, the other dead gods had done likewise, but she had tried to keep them. That they terrified her even now…

Her third defeat was most bitter. The second Gnome, Beitrne, walked forwards, skipping with a laugh.

“You won’t know how many more tricks we left behind. If at all. I spit in your face, Kasigna.”

She did, and the Goddess of Death felt a small hand touch hers. The memory of spit dripped from her face with a second tear.

“I am sorry, Zineryr.”

The soul she so liked, whom she felt she had failed, so rarely of any souls, walked forwards, hands in his pockets.

“I knew this would happen. For I thought of how you would act. Do you believe me when I say I did nothing for this day but hoped the girl I met would rise? That people would be as I have always expected them to be: unpredictable?”

“Yes. From you, I believe it.”

She answered him honestly as the third and final tear dripped from her face. Zineryr offered her a hand with a sigh. He stared into Kasigna’s, the Goddess of Death’s, face.

“And still you walk the same path?”

She said nothing. The Gnome looked her in the eye as he took her hand, and there was no laughter nor joke nor anything else at the end of it. He vanished. As he surely knew, that hurt the most of all.

In the silence, Kasigna finished weeping and lowered her gaze to the realms below. Defeat after defeat after defeat. That was the nature of death.

In the Floodplains, mortals were dying.




Saliss of Lights stood on the highest point he could find and then leapt into the air from Bird’s tower. There, he hovered.

A Potion of Levitation was possible, but expensive. So instead he used a Potion of Superior Freefall and a simple Potion of Jumping.

The effect was the same. If he needed to redirect in the air, he had an enhanced Jar of Winds he had custom-built for maneuverability. He’d fought and won against Garuda in the skies.

He was Saliss of Lights. Somewhere, his grandfather was calling down the wrath of the Walled Cities. It looked impressive, but Saliss knew it wasn’t enough.

Gently, he uncorked one vial and took aim. Not at the hordes of undead coming his way. That was banal; Khelt was raining meteors down with the Walled Cities. Saliss could destroy armies, but he didn’t compete.

“[Accelerated Throw]. [Remote Countdown]…thirty-two seconds. [Controlled Release: Horizontal Spray].”

He tossed a small vial, activating Skills. Many of the [Alchemist]’s Skills were throwing-related, which people thought was stupid. They didn’t get that half of fighting was just where something landed.

The vial flew through the air slowly, but picking up speed with each passing second until it would be exponentially quicker. Saliss had calculated it based on seeing Draugr charging towards some of Manus’ [Soldiers]. The brave idiots hadn’t gotten any powerful Skills or auras.

So they’d have to make do with him. He was lobbing more potions down, using the same Skills to influence when they landed—but he watched as his first vial accelerated out of the corner of his eye.

Thirty-two seconds later, it exploded roughly over the heads of the Drakes, who flinched—then saw a mist of green liquid falling on them down their lines. It engulfed them just in time.

The Draugr hit the Drakes as the Potion of Barkskin activated. It didn’t save all of them as screaming Draugr smashed faces through helmets, regardless of the effect, but it did something.

Not going to be enough. Potion of Speed. Saliss fast-threw the next one and hit the back ranks to avoid empowering the Draugr. He didn’t have as many of those potions, let alone ones with enough concentration to empower a group. Octavia couldn’t make them yet, but he saw Drakes accelerate and start carving into the Draugr.

Good. Saliss’ instincts told him something was coming. He looked up, and his tail triggered the Jar of Winds it was curled around.

Most Drakes never practiced with their tails. Saliss blew himself out of the way of a specter with a scythe going for him and lobbed potions.

Lightning—half effect. Flames full effect or eighty percent. Acid no effect. Cold no effect. Light…a concentrated beam of light magicore tore the thing apart, and Saliss decided that was a weak spot.

“Saliss, Manus High Command. Light spells on specters. Lightning half effect. Flames good. Acid and cold worthless.”

Acknowledged! Our [Archers]—”

“I see them.”

Saliss threw six Tripvine Bags empowered with as many of Oteslia’s powerful regrowth reagents as he could add. Vines over a foot wide snared a Draugr group that had been leaping at a bunch of [Archers].

Teleported in. Those damn Hag-things. 

Each one was taller than Moore. He guessed they were around fourteen feet high, with massive, wart-covered hands and their skin tones were green, black, grey–one was even a dark blue, but none were healthy colors. They all looked sickly ill, like they had the plague. But what Saliss noticed was that they were, none of them, really humanoid.

Their bodies were too squat and hunched. They stood on two legs, but they looked more like toads, with vast heads and a lack of a neck. They had huge, flat teeth and insects buzzed around them. Saliss tore his eyes away as he maneuvered but he had to note one thing—none of the ‘insects’ resembled anything that he was familiar with. His keen eyes found a five-winged insect whose fifth wing was more like a sail, a drooping worm wriggling out of the Hag’s pores with a huge eye that lacked a pupil—

Not of this world. Saliss saw one Hag bring her staff down—a huge, twisted piece of wood that looked like it had once been exceptionally fine. But whatever relief and delicate etching it had once bore was rotten. The Hag was naked except for the grime and she smashed down a Draugr in one move, then ripped out the undead’s back as it squirmed under one foot and chewed, grinning hugely.

As monstrous generals went, they were beyond an Ogre Chieftain or any other semi-intelligent monster clan he’d ever met. And he knew from the mana swirling around them they were all spellcasters. Teleportation was the first spell they had begun to cast en-masse.

At least their aim was bad. They got the undead mostly in the right spots—but in random pockets. It had to be Erin’s bread. Saliss would have laughed if he weren’t plotting how to murder the Hags.

The [Alchemist] swung his attention to them. There were eight, and each one was big as a house.

Open sores, some kind of strange flies around them, and he swore he saw fumes from their breaths. They were naked, and he saw one was oozing liquid from a breast, but their anatomy actually struck him as closer to toads.

They were foul to common sensibilities, he suspected. Yet each one had a crown of what looked like bone and a scepter or wand…one of the scepters had a rotting eye that was swiveling as it cast spells for the Hag Queen.

Champions of some other species. He debated striking at them, but they were too bunched up right now. Too dangerous.

Saliss saw one of the Human wings buckling and activated the Jar of Winds again. He dove, and this time, he did twist and drop Potions of Blast over the undead trying to break through. He tried not to hit the [Soldiers] but saw them rock as the fiery blasts knocked them down.

Still—it got most of the undead. Saliss swung left, now, as he saw one of the Hag Queens staring his way. Invisibility Potion. If she noticed him, he could report they could see invisibility.

He continued throwing potions, hitting Antinium, Drakes, and Humans alike with friendly showers of alchemy. This…was not the Saliss of Lights that many expected. It was the one they needed.

His training let him pick out sectors of struggling soldiers and augment them. Each potion he threw was like a Skill. In fact—it was exactly like a [Strategist], albeit one who could fight as well as command.

The Grand Strategist’s heir. A Drake who could lead armies. Saliss closed his eyes a second.

“Only for you, Erin.”

When he opened his eyes, he looked down and watched more [Soldiers] die.




Now they had no more time to play around. Perorn saw Vaunt was being torn apart by undead attacks. A single [Lieutenant] was holding the line, and reinforcements were streaming in, but his section of the battlefield was bulging in her bird’s eye mental view.

If the undead burst through before lines reformed—they would begin overrunning formations. Her job was to halt that.

“We’re hitting Vaunt’s area. With me.

Three thousand Centaurs stormed down across the battlefield. Perorn saw strange, ghostly centipede things scuttling at her in a wave spawned from one of those huge horrors.

Great. Ghost Crelers. She saw it was already under attack from magical spells and knew better than to engage. But they’d be caught—Perorn snapped into her stone.

Enchantment! Now!

“I hear you. Now

An azure Antinium swept past them overhead. Xrn’s staff pointed down, and the glowing magic burning out of her head turned to wisp-light. The Centenium, the Small Queen, spoke.

“[Mass Enchantment: Haste].”

Perorn’s teeth bared as the Centaurs flickered and magic ran around them. There wasn’t a single [Mage] of this caliber in all of the Forgotten Wing. But Xrn had agreed to research this spell.

—Looks like she only managed six hundred.

“Break! Enchanted on me.”

The Centaurs broke away as six hundred Centaurs sped up behind the [Strategist] renowned for her speed attacks. The fastest damn species in the entire world on the ground under [Haste] spells with her Skills.

Time stopped for Perorn’s Centaurs as they accelerated, leaving the wave of spectral crawlers behind. They slashed past a rank of weird creatures wearing bandages, blades cleaving through heads. Perorn shot an arrow and noticed a Centaur drop dead in the strange, surreal world of speed.

She didn’t speak, but hand-signed.

No blades! The Centaur had dropped dead without a word the moment he cleaved a head from the shoulders. These…bandage-people were cursed! The Centaurs switched to arrows, shot flames into the backs of the mummies—swung right.

That one. 

An absurdly tall creature with a wicker basket on its back had been creating more undead. It had been striding away from Vaunt’s position. It was barely moving as Perorn galloped at it, unsheathing a sword.

She cut only half through its right leg, but the Centaurs breaking left and right around her finished cleaving through. The sack-carrying undead was going down as they rammed blades through it, then charged the Draugr milling around Vaunt.

“[Memo: Niers]. Clear Vaunt down the center!

If Perorn spoke, no one would hear her, accelerated as her voice was. But the magic carried her will to the Titan as the Centaurs struck down the rear of the Draugr lines. She was rearing, kicking at skulls with her hooves, but enhanced with speed or not—the Draugr were turning. They struck slowly, but each blow could still shatter limbs. The Centaurs had driven into the center of the Draugr, and they were at risk of being chewed apart from both sides.

However, Perorn was cutting forwards, and her officer, Basal, was breaking the lines with his greatsword. They went through the Draugr formation straight into Vaunt’s lines.

It would have been disastrous, but Perorn saw the [Soldiers] milling about jerk and leap to the sides, clearing a path. Perorn and her forces streamed through the gap, which snapped shut as Niers’ Skill reformed the lines.

Breakthrough charge successful. Repositioning. She curved her people again, counting down the six minute enchantment window Xrn had confirmed with her. Then she saw the inn was under siege.




They’re teleporting! To the inn! To the inn!

Olesm didn’t realize the Hag Queens were able to teleport forces until he saw them appearing behind his army. He whirled and saw different undead storming The Wandering Inn this time.

Carrion-beetles, huge and disgorging smaller ones, that had those weird tiny skulls on their insectile bodies. They were all grinning as they tore up the hill at the nine [Knights]. Whispering, he thought, in a language he didn’t know.

The Order of Solstice charged.




They swarmed up his armor, but they had no pincers, these beetles with heads. Normen instead heard the whispers that came from their strange skull-faces. The whispers built up on his armor, and it started to vibrate. He realized the danger as his skin began to tear beneath the metal.

—The flames on his armor saved him. The fire of honor burned the skull-beetles, but the larger ones had more tricks than just voices. They beset him, slashing with huge, bladed forelimbs. Ramming Ama into a wall and trying to grind her to paste.

Normen slammed into the one trying to kill her, mace swinging again and again, but the bone of its face was like rock. He uttered a sound.

“[Gravesummon Skeleton Retainer]! [Arcsinger’s Downfall: Wallbreaker Hammer].

A skeleton leapt out of the void, landing on the beetle’s back and stabbing into it from above, disgorging white pus. Was the beetle alive? It groaned—as Normen’s mace glowed.

He swung the mace with a fraction of the strength of Elia Arcsinger’s final arrow, and the beetle jumped from the blow. It rocked backwards and overbalanced onto its back. The soft underbelly was visible, and Ama screamed.

Sillias! [Razorfangs]!

Her cat leapt onto the stomach and began tearing the thing open. More pus and half-grown skull beetles spewed out.

Neither Normen nor Ama celebrated—more beetles raced over them, and this time, Normen felt their teeth biting at his armor, tearing it—he stomped and kicked and didn’t see the second beetle charging until Vess screamed.


The impact drove Normen into one of the walls of the inn, and he lay there as massive molars tried to gnaw through his armor. Numbtongue was fighting in the hallway. They were getting in.

For Liscor’s Army! 3rd Battalion. Charge!

Hands finally tore the beetle away. Normen saw a halberd enter its side as it turned, shrieking, and Antinium poured over it, punching, slashing, and he heard crossbows firing.

Antinium! Some of them had noticed the fighting.

An Antinium officer held out a hand as he fired his crossbow, and Normen gasped.

“Thank you—”

For a second, he thought it was the [Crusaders], and they were Antinium in armor, but he noticed his mistake. These were…Armored Antinium.

Tersk’s 3rd Battalion were swarming the hill, fighting the insects. But dead gods—there were so many. The Hag Queens had teleported over a hundred massive beetles and their spawn around the inn.

Normen felt like a bug himself, running forwards, swarming the gigantic beetles, who died hard. Antinium tore them off their feet, ripped limbs off—but the skull-beetles chewed apart the smaller Antinium or just covered them with waves of tiny ones.

Insects fighting insects. A cruel thought, an unworthy thought, but that was how it felt. He finally tore out of the belly of one of them that had tried to swallow him, covered in filth, unwilling to speak as he wiped at whatever foul intestines were coating him. It was still squirming.

The beetle attack was finally routed as Perorn hit them from the side; he saw flames coming down from Erin’s inn, blasting the ones scuttling away from the battle. Normen didn’t know how long he’d fought to keep them from the inn.

“Did they get inside?”

That was what he managed to say at last, and Vess hurled water on his face, trying to scrub whatever it was off Normen’s armor.

“Not many. The Hags…”

Someone had to kill them. Normen longed to sally out, for never had he seen something he thought had to die like the Hag Queens. He was looking for them when he stopped.

The Armored Antinium of 3rd Battalion had saved the inn. They should have been heading back to Liscor’s forces, but they had gone still. Once more—Normen saw a silent gathering and realized something was wrong.

He pushed forwards, desperately, and saw a single Antinium lying propped against a dead skull-beetle whose jaws were still clamped shut on his lower half. Someone had wrenched his helmet off, but something was wrong. Tersk’s antennae were waving feebly.

Ksch. Have held. I cannot hear you, Armored Queen. Tell Dek—ksch—Dekass. He is in charge.”

Tersk was lying there, green blood covering his armor. He was searching the sky for something as Normen halted. But Antinium couldn’t die.

Wouldn’t he come back? Yet the Prognugator was whispering.

I cannot hear you. My Queen? Who is that? Not my Queen…stay away. Stay—

He was trying to hold something at bay. The Armored Antinium pouring potions on his lower half—Normen grabbed one from uncorking the precious potion. Tersk looked at him.


Then he went limp, curled up as if something had touched him and taken him in a second. Normen heard a sound and his head turned to the Antinium who had begun shuddering around him. One spoke in an unsteady voice.

“He is gone. The Armored Queen does not have him. Woe. Woe.

The Armored Antinium were turning their armored heads wildly, as if something they hadn’t expected had occurred. They were trembling, and Normen spoke.

“Stay with me. Reform—”

He gazed around and realized Dekass wasn’t here. Olesm’s army was engaging—the Armored Antinium stood there. Shuddering.

Even Antinium were—dying—




I do not have him. I do not have him. What happened? Free Queen.

The Armored Queen was shouting. The Free Queen felt it too.

“Something took him. That being. She is taking their souls.”

The Free Queen of the Antinium was reaching out for Tersk, but something had snatched him away. Not like another Queen saving him. She had never—never seen that before. Her feelers were grasping at the air.


The Armored Queen began keening. The Free Queen could feel her, now. A female presence, like a hand carelessly grabbing the souls.

All of them. Those things, her Hag Queens—they were sending more and more Antinium to their deaths.




Curse magics. The mortal world had not seen spellcasters like the Hag Queens of Aklat Vunn before. One pointed, and the blood leaking from [Soldiers]’ wounds accelerated. The cackling Hag Queen danced as [Soldiers] began to bleed out, even from minor wounds.

Another was casting spells that rained down insects on the enemy; they were malevolent. Hateful.

Beautiful faces. Rot your faces. Eat your eyes! The Mother of Hags will take your flesh!”

They seemed to hate ‘beauty’ the most. One of them had noticed some of the [Ladies] and was spitting curses.

Old beings from another world. Brought forth by Kasigna’s will from a time when her nature had been even less forgiving and kind than now.

They had to die. One was snarling as Magnolia Reinhart fiddled with her hands. The Hag Queen pointed at the [Maids] and [Butlers] now splintering, moving to defend weaker points in the formations. She opened her mouth…and hesitated.

The foul Hag Queen of Aklat Vunn had lived another lifetime where she had reveled in rejection of beauty. In curses and hatred until she swore loyalty to a new goddess. She and her seven kin had been blessed to be reborn time and time again as Kasigna’s champions.

Now, her bulging eyes crossed as Magnolia Reinhart aimed a finger at her chest. A red line of light traced its way across the battlefield, across miles and space and time. It was running through the Hag Queen’s chest, and there was a strange whining sound in the air.

Wormringed w—

The Hag Queen got no further before Magnolia Reinhart’s ring fired. The other Hag Queens turned as a line of air ignited at the speed of sound.

One of the eight Hag Queens stared down at her chest where melted flesh and bone formed a gigantic hole. She tried to raise her staff, her lips still uttering a curse. Then a prayer to Kasigna.

Her body slumped over as the first of the eight died. The others ducked back away from Magnolia Reinhart as the [Lady] lowered her finger.

They were not invincible. But they were fearless of death. Wary of failing Kasigna, but the other seven just redoubled their efforts as they retaliated and Magnolia Reinhart retreated out of sight.

One of them had a doll and was snapping its head methodically. Back and forth, back and forth, eyes locked on a line of people from Riverfarm.

Goblins, Humans—their necks were twisting as the Hag Queen simply murdered them as fast as she could jerk the puppet around. She only stopped when she felt someone hexing her. The Hag Queen’s head rose in outrage.

Someone dared to speak the words of curses to those who had sacrificed thousands upon profane altars for their power? Who dared? Who—

She spotted them in a moment, following the magic.


A coven of eight stood together. The most senior [Witches] were all bearing elements of their craft.

Eloise, Hedag, Mavika, Oliyaya, Agratha, Wiskeria, and two more senior [Witches]—one of them was calmly breaking bones across her knee.

Trying to snap the Hag’s own bones. The Hag Queen grinned. She yanked on the doll’s leg and snapped one of the [Witch]’s arms.

They were pathetic. They had nothing of her to use against her, and they needed it. Whereas she had magic of a different world that obeyed no restrictions. She jerked the head—and Mavika’s neck snapped around.


Witch Alevica screamed as she saw Mavika’s head twist. But then she saw Mavika blink and her neck move back around. Like an owl—for a second, her face bore the owl’s feathers and beady eyes.

The [Witches] had tricks. The Hag Queen hesitated and cast aside the doll like a toy as another Hag Queen joined her, lifting a spellbook of ancient, mottled skin. Now two began battling the coven of eight.

Curses meeting and mixing in the air. Eloise poured her cup, and a wave of water knocked one Hag Queen down, making the champion of Kasigna rise with expletives as she lost concentration. Hedag grunted as she swung her axe through an incoming curse that split and cursed the ground, whose surface bubbled with warts of filth, endlessly.

Law. Wiskeria’s magic clashed against the Hag Queens, who laughed as Traffy’s light found them—and failed to do a thing.

They were the law of their lands. This was unto righteousness in their domains. Wiskeria lowered the little Law Elemental. Shrugged as the bright red light of Traffy became uncertain.

Turn off the law, now.

The little street-light’s eyes flickered as she whispered at it. Then its green light flickered and turned black. One of the Hag Queens, casting bones down, hesitated mid-speech as the bones flew through the air and then began to rise.

Gravity stopped functioning, and she snarled as her ritual began unmaking itself. But the two Hag Queens were still experts. Wiskeria stymied them only a second. Then Agratha groaned.

“I think we’re outmatched.”

Yes. We are.

Oliyaya, the most haglike of the eight [Witches], was leading the hexing war. She drew on the nature of [Witches] as the spiteful crones, and she feared these Hag Queens were living embodiments of the craft she used.

They were older. Stronger. Their craft…one of them produced a dagger. Instead of setting up a ritual the [Witches] could easily disrupt, she turned, drove it into the back of the second Hag Queen, and began etching a ritual into her sister’s flesh as the other Hag Queen covered her. Eloise murmured to the others.

“Draw deep. She’s coming to kill us.”

The [Witches] began working their magic faster. Mavika’s crows were circling the air, but the other Hag Queen was sending up strange dragonfly minions to do battle with them.

Death and death as the [Witches]’ fingers twined with thread and craft and the Hag Queens muttered profane oaths.




One of the Hag Queens was acting as a [General] and sent the most fearsome undead straight at the Humans. No artifice; just brutality.

A rampaging mammoth’s bones were flanked by an actual formation of dead soldiers. They weren’t Human nor any species that the Humans knew. They were some kind of aquatic creature, thin-headed like a salmon, but with whip-like bodies.

Dead; their blades were equally odd, wavy and short, perhaps meant for fighting in some sea environment.

But they had formations, and they ran fast.

“Some of them are eleven feet tall. Half-Giant charge. Ready—”

Lord Xitegen was panting.

He was soaked in sweat, and the stink of death was all around him. Lady Bethal, Lady Pryde, Lady Desinee, Lord Alman, nobles high and low stood in ranks around him. They did something strange as the undead approached.

Lord Xitegen stopped commanding his Golems to attack. He adjusted his formalwear clothing, the black, maestro-like outfit. He pulled out a scented handkerchief, mopped at his face.


Lady Desinee beckoned, and Lord Xitegen leaned over. She sprayed some perfume on his cheeks, and he nodded.

Lord Tyrion was dismounting as Lady Bethal opened a little hand-mirror and inspected herself. She used some of the powder to darken her cheeks, bit her lips for color.

The nobles of the north were—primping themselves. There was no other word for it! Even Lord Tyrion accepted a comb from Lord Sanito and dragged it through his hair.

As the undead charged their position, the nobles strode forwards. Lord Xitegen tugged the butt flaps trailing behind him straight, then slapped his rear briskly. The Hag Queen’s eyes bulged as the Flowers of Izril looked their finest.

They lined up, sneering at the undead as their retainers looked at them with a strange confidence. The Hag Queen had never seen a foe so offensive to her.

The charging mammoth lowered its tusks, and the strange aquatic undead screamed—Lord Xitegen checked his watch as Lady Bethal covered her nose with a handkerchief. Even Lord Tyrion managed a sneer—

The braced undead slammed into something a dozen feet in front of the tensed Humans. The mammoth’s tusks splintered into the air from the weight of its charge. It rammed forwards, and its bones shattered as the undead pulverized itself against—what?

[Combined Skill: Barrier of Ego].

The same technique four rulers of Chandrar had materialized at sea against Rasea Zecrew activated, and the nobles rocked slightly. Then the Humans charged.

Now! [A Fine Copy]!”

Lady Desinee looked up, lifted her hand, and grabbed something from the air. She thrust it at the head of her bodyguard.

“It will last thirty minutes. Go!

The other nobles stared, and Lord Tyrion jerked; a pink light shot from the copy of Ryoka Griffin’s Faeblade, and the [Mercenary] grinned as he took it.

House of El!

He swung the blade once, testing it, then plunged forwards as the reeling undead tried to reform. Lady Desinee caught Tyrion’s and Bethal’s eyes as she shrugged and stepped back behind Lord Xitegen.

“What? We still can’t figure out how to take it apart, you know.”




The actions of the north were as nonsensical to the Hag Queens as they were to the Drakes. But they worked.

Drakes were executing their own tactics on their side of the battlefield. A rank of weary Pallassian [Soldiers] who’d just been chewed to pieces fell backwards as Grimalkin pointed.

“Someone must take out the rest of those Hags—wait. One just vanished.”

His eyes narrowed. He swore he saw a teleportation rune around one—that left six alive. But General Duln, the defense expert, was calm.

“Focus, Sinew Magus. We cannot lose you.”

Grimalkin gritted his teeth. He had a job—he turned and spoke.

“[Mass Sleep]!”

The rank of Drakes had already been lying down. It was another kind of insanity—born of understanding how leveling worked. They accepted the spell and passed out.

A slow count to fifteen—and another Drake began kicking them up. More than one looked—different as they rose.

Grimalkin saw a [Warrior] lifting her head. The weary, wide-eyed Drake had looked terrified a minute ago, and she still looked shocked. But when he gazed at the sword she held, he realized she must have been one of the groups that had survived a specter raid.

“[Ghostbane Warrior]. Reorganize the ranks.”

Duln snapped at one of his officers. Grimalkin saw the [Soldiers] who’d changed classes or hit a capstone being interrogated at speed, reorganized by value.

A calm logic to it, but the nonsense of reorganizing like this in the battlefield—the Humans didn’t do this the same way. It was working, but those Hags…

The battle was not going well. Grimalkin heard a voice from General Shirka as the Hag Queen assaults were stymied. The thing he had feared hearing most.

Duln, my forces have used up their reserve of healing potions.

It was a statement Grimalkin had heard seldom from Pallass, the City of Inventions. They had the most [Alchemists] of any Walled City. But this battle…Duln paused.


Not ‘fall back’. Not ‘sending you resupplies’. They were out. Then—Drakes began to die.

It happened as Grimalkin threw [Siege Fireball] after [Siege Fireball], a simple spell with priority for the largest foes. He saw a Drake go down, choking as a skeleton thrust a piece of a sword into his neck.

He was bleeding out, and his friend reached for a potion. Even that dire wound could be healed with a low-level…

There was no potion. The Drake looked around, screamed for help, then belatedly, clumsily, put her clawed hand on the other Drake’s throat. Grimalkin realized—she didn’t know how to stop the bleeding.

Then the [Soldier] was dead. Grimalkin heard screams begin echoing through his speaking stones.

Out of potions! Requesting permission to retr—

“[Healer]! We need [Healers]!

They had [Battlefield Healers], but the frantic Drakes were swamped, using needles and thread to close massive wounds.

“We need exponentially more. We’re losing [Soldiers] faster than…”

General Duln looked around and saw the stalemate, perhaps even rally, suddenly turn into terrible losses for the Humans. Potions could heal even a Draugr’s blow so long as it wasn’t fatal.

They were out of potions. 

“House Sanito’s running! Niers, anyone, restore their morale!

Perorn warned the officers, and Grimalkin turned his head to see an entire section of the Humans turn and flee. The lines thinned…held…Grimalkin saw one man raising a sword.




He was no longer terrified. Gershal of Vaunt knew it was stupid, but he was furious.

How dare they? How dare they slaughter so many of his friends and allies? That woman—these undead—

“Hold, damn you! Hold, you cowards! Are you going to abandon Izril twice?”

He was screaming at House Sanito as blood ran down one arm. He had no more potions, and Vaunt’s [Soldiers] had been looting their own for just one more. They looked at Gershal as he planted his blade in the ground.

“Vaunt stands! Stay with me for the Tidebreaker of Izril! I would rather die than be a coward!”

He didn’t know how many heard him or realize how some [Soldiers] halted—and many more ran on, even his own. Nor did the [Lieutenant] count the odds, only turn as the first of the strange undead with trunk-like arms shuffled forwards.

Without potions, without caution, he stood in the way of the undead. At last—at last.

The last impediment to his levelling like the times of old was gone. The Grand Design of Isthekenous began assigning levels like those days of myth and legend.

Praying they lived.




Only one mortal man laughed as hell drew around him. The fury of the [Lieutenant] of Vaunt, the grim determination of the Sinew Magus who charged into battle to relieve the beleaguered Humans—these were brave and good people. They had no more potions. Each person who fell died there or was dragged towards Liscor or operated on in the darkness with needle and thread, and they would not rise again.

That was why Seve-Alrelious laughed. He alone had nothing to fear from a lack of potions. He looked at the horrors of that dead goddess, and his blood boiled.

Courier, come back! Come—

Seve had advanced far past House Sanito’s lines. He chopped through one of the Draugr, who smashed its broken bones in one fist into Seve’s face.

But the Hundredfriend Courier refused to die. His skin healed; the static in his head as the shards of bone hit his brain faded when Erek chopped the Draugr’s head off.


Get back! The Orangutan was panting. Yet he held the longsword Erin Solstice had given him like a bladesman, his long arms throwing off an opponent. The skeleton warrior feinted—Erek blocked with one glowing arm and beheaded his foe. Then he pointed the blade and flashed—

The roar of a lightning bolt at close-quarters made even Seve flinch. But the Courier saw one of his friends, a cat he had met at Elirr’s shop, leap onto a Draugr’s head and vanish, yowling, as the undead bit her in half.

His friends wouldn’t die that easily. Seve was fighting forwards, heedless of the warnings.

Hag Queen! Face me!

One was breaking for Erin’s inn. She actually slowed as she saw the Courier challenging her. She pointed, and Seve’s face bubbled, and he screamed as hives burst from his body. Something squirmed in his flesh. Wasps? The insects burst from his skin—then began to die, stillborn.

The Hag noticed Seve was still coming at her when he grabbed one of the undead generals that allowed the others to regenerate and began stabbing with a dagger.

Foul smelling wretch.

She bit his arm off—then her cheeks bulged, and she spat. The Hag Queen had a blade that she dug frantically in her mouth. She spat blood and flesh onto the ground as Seve staggered back.

The Hag Queen backed away and pointed, and undead swarmed Seve as he tried to reach her. His arm was already regrowing.

I’m so hungry. 

Seve had to stop and tear into the precious flesh of Tombhome. He was going through his entire stock so fast—

I’ll need to return home after this. He didn’t care. This battle mattered. Erin Solstice living mattered.

Face me, Hag Queen!

Some things even the Hag Queens of Kasigna refused to face. Seve tried to reach the Hag Queen, but he was engulfed by the undead, who tore at him as his tattoos burned. Erek cleaved through Draugr after Draugr, hooting and screaming in rage.

Seve was turning his head right and left. Champions. If that dead goddess had them—so did Erin Solstice. He turned his head, snarling.

“Where’s the fae warrior?”

A blizzard was freezing an entire flank of undead trying to encircle the inn from the south. Seve grunted, then spat. He saw a green shape fly down and lifted his sword a second.


Courier! They will kill Bird if you don’t stop that one!


Seve saw a rippling shape moving through the undead and narrowed his eyes. There was nothing there, but the size of it.

Invisible, giant something.

“We’re on it. By Tombhome, I swear it dies.”

Shaestrel took wing again, this time looking for a Drake. Seve had seen Grimalkin, Griffon Hunt, the Halfseekers, Gershal of Vaunt—

If only those Horns of Hammerad were here. Where the fuck was Khorpe? Someone had to kill that Hag—




Erin Solstice had been throwing magic from her [Gardens of Sanctuary] the entire battle. She paused only once—after how long she couldn’t say—as the potions ran out.

She stopped aiming her door at clusters of dead, turned her head, and threw up. Vomit poured out of her mouth and nose, and she puked until she was coughing, turned her head, and kept fighting.

They were dying.

The Knights of Solstice charged a third time as one of the six Hag Queens led a charge personally at the Armored Antinium and Order of Solstice. Her staff batted Jewel aside and sent her crashing to the ground—she grabbed Normen’s mace, covered in acid, and extinguished the flames as she belched poison over them.

She nearly took the inn; she was hammering a fist through the door when [Maids] leapt on her from behind.

Ressa herself drove the Blade of Grasses into the Hag Queen’s back, slashing as Erin tried to hit the undead joining the monstrous being. An [Assassin] leapt out of the second-floor window.

Tessa. The two began slashing as the Hag Queen shrieked, but she was immune to poison, and her flesh was regenerating with a spell she cast on herself, fast as they could cut. The Named-rank adventurer was shrieking like her name; a second figure appeared in the window.

“Oh dead gods, dead gods—”

Theofore was shooting a wand and crossbow at the flying undead, massive dragonfly-things that Ryoka was trying to cut down. He winged one going after her and barely saw another buzzing at him.

His foot slipped as he tried to duck back into the inn—the [Assassin] cried out and fell as the dragonfly-thing landed and opened a huge mouth. It bit—and Theofore dangled a foot out of reach.

He wasn’t falling? The [Assassin] looked up, and his tail was curled around a lantern just inside the inn. He pulled himself back as Erin pointed, and a bolt of lightning blew the dragonfly apart at point-blank range.

He was laughing in giddy relief—until he saw the Hag Queen punch Tessa into a wall and point at Ressa. The world warped, and Ressa leapt back with a scream. The Hag Queen ripped the door open and lowered a glowing stave, aiming straight for the Hobgoblin and interior of the inn.


Erin screamed. The [Bard]—Pyrite—looked up and tried to dive with a grunt.

Bekia, the Gnoll [Maid], seized the arm and lifted it with a roar. The spell shattered against the inn. Erin’s entire inn shook, and she sensed spiderweb cracks running through the entire front façade. But it missed Numbtongue, and Erin began repairing the damage.


The Hag Queen tore the snarling Bekia off her. She threw the Gnoll to the ground and drove her staff down. Erin heard Bekia’s howl go silent, and the Hag Queen lifted her staff from the hole in the [Maid]’s torso. She grinned—looked up—

A bolt of lightning hit the Hag Queen in the face, and half of it melted. But unlike the one who had been caught off-guard—the Hag Queen’s face healed through it again. She was laughing, holding her belly, until a blur landed on her.

Ressa and Tessa crossed paths—then blurred. Criss-crossing blades stabbing and stabbing until pieces of the Hag Queen were flying left and right. Still trying to regenerate until her very bones were being torn apart. A crawling corpse that Bird shot twice with his ballista, then was covered with acid.

Only then did she die. And Erin Solstice stared down at the Knights of Solstice.


That was all she could say. Enough—then she heard a warning and turned her head.





Magnolia Reinhart’s mansion was under attack. The [Lady] received the notification from her servants as they warred with—undead.

Kevin, Joseph, Imani. None of the three Earthers had ever met Kasigna. But the Goddess of Death had no end to her spite.

The Steel Golems had taken down scores of them, but they were clinging to the mansion, fighting the painted animals emerging to defend it.

Magnolia Reinhart had defenses, powerful ones. There were just—too many undead. The lightning cloud had vaporized them for the last half-hour, and it was out of electricity. Worse, the principal defense, the servants, were all near Liscor.

Ser Sest was humming as he stood on the second floor. The main hall was being overrun, but the servants were trying to punch a hole towards one of the carriages. They fought well, he had to admit.

Mrsha! Mrsha!

Lyonette was screaming. Mrsha was separated from her; it wasn’t Mrsha’s fault. A Draugr had gone through a window as they were running.

Sest stood with Lyonette, Dame Ushar on the left, watching the hallway behind them, Ser Dalimont in front.

“They’re fine, Your Highness.”

Sest had to shout. He was humming to keep himself calm. Lyonette grabbed him.

Find them! Forget about me. Where—

“I saw the lad vanish. Hethon Veltras grabbed the girls and boys—he ran into a forest in the air.”

They stared at him as if he were purely insane, but Sest had seen it. The children had been screaming as the Draugr turned to face Nanette—the [Sariantfriend] had been casting spells, and Nerry, the little lamb, had been blasting the thing with wands somehow—and a hand had pulled Hethon Veltras into a wall.

Only, it wasn’t a wall, but a forest path. Sest had been trying to get them when Hethon grabbed the children and ran.

Good lad. Must have been some secret House Veltras Skill. Lyonette turned to Sest, and he gave her a big smile. Kevin, Imani, and Joseph were behind her, and Sest supposed whatever trick that had been hadn’t included adults.

Fair enough. Thank Queen Marquin for sensible, decent people, whomever they were.

All the Thronebearers had to do was get to the coach. There were, oh, thirty undead between them and the stairs, and Magnolia’s people were fighting with Druid Nalthaliarstrelous in the courtyard.

If they didn’t make it to the carriage, the undead flooding the second floor would kill them all. Simple logic. Ushar snapped.

“Get Her Highness and the Earthers to the carriage at all costs. Thronebearers—”

Lyonette had a sword, and she’d even used some magic and gotten an undead or two. But she had no armor, and frankly, Ser Sest was better with a blade than she was. How he wished they’d kept Shriekblade, eh?

Or even Ser Lormel. The three Thronebearers were outnumbered thirty to one. Now—Ser Sest stopped humming.

“We’ll make it. The Fool, the Blade, and the Bodyguard. Dalimont, you’re the Blade. Ushar—keep her safe.”

The two Thronebearers looked at Sest, and the [Knight] smiled as Lyonette turned. Even she didn’t get the reference.

“Sest? Sest!

Thronebearer doctrine was simple when it came to fighting. They knew they were bad at warfare. Ever since Marquin the Radiant, they had been ridiculed as being dress-knights, fancy [Knights], and it was true.

They were better bodyguards. The best. They had learned their doctrines from the real job of a [Knight]: keep their charges safe.

The Fool, the Blade, and the Bodyguard was a Thronebearer tactic. At least three per [Princess] or ward. You split roles. One always guarded the target. But the enemy had to die. So the Blade killed. But unlike a fair fight, the Blade went from the side, cut the enemy down from behind. Took advantage of the hardest and easiest role.

The Fool. Sest began to run down the stairs. The Fool didn’t require an arm like steel or the swordsmanship he lacked. The Fool was easy.

All you had to do—was throw yourself at the enemy. Block them. He didn’t even raise his sword, just shoulder-charged the first Draugr, and the first blow caved in his helmet and blinded his right side. But he knew where they were.

A grinning [Knight] tangled with a snapping undead that tore into his armor as Ser Dalimont fell on them. Real swordsmanship, cleaving into the Draugr’s side, and Dame Ushar was running with Lyonette and the three Earthers.

Sest was grinning as he saw Lyonette staring at him. Perfect job. Can you see me now, Lormel? Perf—

Something tore a hole in his neck, and he was floating, now. But he lunged and grabbed the Draugr as it whirled, and there you were. Fool. What a p—

Sest was laughing as he appeared in the lands of the dead. Lifting a hand up with a smile. That celebrating [Knight].





A Hag Queen appeared high above the Floodplains, whirling her staff and snarling. A teleportation rune faded around her as it sent her far away from the battlefield. It had been drawn so fast, too!

“Who dares. Who—”

She looked up as her foe landed. A Brass Dragon, teeth bared. He exhaled, and flames ran over her, sending the Hag Queen flailing and shrieking—until Teriarch, circling, saw her grin.

She pointed, and he realized she was fireproof. Then she tripled in size and seized his neck—only for him to cast a spell and blink out of her grip and land on top of her. The Brass Dragon tore into the Hag, ripping pieces of her body off as they fought.

She grew and grew—until she realized his scales were harder than any metal she knew. Until she realized he was ripping into her heart—then the Hag Queen tried to curse him with a thousand spells until her body jerked and fell. Teriarch arose from her rapidly rotting corpse, spitting and gagging—then looked up.

A mountain shook as a Giant crawled down towards him. Wearily, the Dragonlord of Flames spread his wings and flew.




The fighting was getting worse. Even immortals were bleeding. Even they could die.

The first blow that Rhisveri took tore open his side. Not the side of the man, ‘Duke Rhisveri’, but actual scales on his real body.

Somehow, Zeladona of Blades cut his very nature, even from within the world of the frozen [Greater Teleport]. She blocked a spell from Visophecin—and when she locked blades with Czautha, the splinters of their clash sent showers of force through this realm.

They should not fight here! Rhisveri knew it even as he tried to kill the Cauwine-Zeladona being. She was laughing, enjoying herself. The only person who seemed calm, even displeased, was Silvenia.

The Death of Magic was bleeding. All of them were. Even Cauwine had taken a blow that had turned her hand withered; she fought with the other one, and Visophecin had delivered a joint slash to her stomach with Czautha that was showing her insides.

She wasn’t healing; whether she could not or regarded this as some fight to the death was unclear. But the Death of Magic had taken a sword-thrust through the neck.

Like her other wounds, she had sealed then ignored it. Her voice rasped as she spoke, and Czautha retreated as Zeladona slashed a hand through the Djinni’s magical being. It would have delimbed any other being, but for Czautha, she just regrew her arm.

Immortals died hard. But Silvenia was disappointed.

“Is that it? You’re no match for the four of us, whoever you are. The [Blademistress] would be an equal match for me alone.

“Hah! Prove it with more than words, woman—”

Zeladona whirled with a look of delight on her face. She lunged, and her slash split the entire dimension in half. Silvenia cast a spell Rhisveri had never seen before.

It looked like…teardrops that turned to diamonds that became a cyclone. Zeladona tried to slash them apart as Silvenia moved her hands—twisted space and sent the attack away from herself. The [Blademistress of Ancients] cut in a flurry—

The storm of tears passed Zeladona and blew outwards, magnifying in size as they vanished in the realm of the [Greater Teleport]. The [Blademistress] had a hole in one leg, then two more in her stomach and another that tore the right side of her face and let her jaw hang loose.

Zeladona looked delighted. She lifted her sword as Silvenia stepped back and Rhisveri and Czautha circled her. Then—frustrated. As if she realized she was indeed going to lose.

It was Rhisveri who screamed.

Stop! Stop fighting! You fools—

Silvenia nodded at him, a grimace on her face, as Visophecin and Czautha hesitated. The avatar of Zeladona didn’t know or didn’t care if she knew, but Rhisveri’s shriek was too late.

The battle in the realm of the [Greater Teleport] was entering realspace.




Erin Solstice took a second to breathe. Just breathe. More undead were coming. They were always coming. Now it was a rolling mass of them, a literal ball of undead tangled up in each other that broke apart, then reformed like some strange piece of magnetic sand. It had rolled away from the front and was passing the flanks, coming up at the inn from the side.

The Knights of Solstice were preparing to charge again.

Who was going to die this time? Erin stared at the undead—then someone screamed in her ear.

Beware! Giant! Rheirgest’s Giant is—

She had a speaking stone tuned to the battle, and the frantic scream was relayed to her. Erin’s blood chilled as Niers acknowledged it.

Chaldion, I have marked the Hag. Execute Contingency One.

—it’s almost time. Almost time, yes.

The Grand Strategist sounded disoriented. Somewhere across the Floodplains, Erin saw another Hag Queen fighting from the rear turn sharply as Drakes appeared out of hiding.

The other Hags were not dying easy. The two fighting the [Witches]…Erin closed her eyes as she sensed the magic moving. Then—another shout.

Erin Solstice! This is Dragonspeaker Luciva. What are the Horns of Hammerad doing?

Her eyes snapped open, and her heart lurched. Erin searched the battlefield.

“This is Erin. What about the Horns? They’re not here!”

She knew they weren’t. Rafaema, Ryoka—she’d lost track of the Halfseekers and some of her friends, but she saw many of them. But the Horns weren’t here. She’d know.

I know they are not. They are in the Crossroads of Izril. We see them—

Erin stared at the speaking stone. See them? What did that mean?

It means they’re safe, that’s what. Her mind whispered at her, and she tuned Luciva out. Erin had no time to explain. The sphere of undead was coming…

Then she heard a scream from Lady Buscrei.

Oswen! Oswen is—

What? Erin looked around, fearing the [Lady] was dying. But that wasn’t it. She heard a rumble, felt the wrongness in the air—looked up—

And saw a hole appear in one of the mountains overhead. Erin stared up as the mountain vanished—then a shockwave blew the air and sent the entire Floodplains shaking. She swore she saw the piece blasted out of the High Passes falling—saw the top of the mountain begin to collapse—

Something round had hit it. A spell cast in the [Greater Teleport] spell—twisting back into realspace. Another blow had carved across Izril and hit Oswen—




Rhisveri saw the attacks burning across Izril. He saw the tip of the mountain vanish. Saw the sword slice across part of Izril and obliterate—

A falling piece of magic searched for an outlet in this world of the [Greater Teleport]—found something to latch onto.

A Mage’s Guild exploded as a fragment of the clash between Zeladona and Czautha emerged into realspace.

They’re dying as we fight. The Wyrm looked up, and Cauwine stepped back, wearing Zeladona’s face. Yet even now, the [Blademistress]’ lust for battle infected the dead goddess.

“You can actually challenge me. I have not enjoyed myself since I died. Come. Come…

The Death of Magic and Death of Chains exchanged a silent glance. Czautha was hesitating, realizing what Rhisveri meant, but Silvenia spoke.

“She won’t give us a chance to leave. She’ll cut me if I open a door.”

The half-Elf spoke almost lazily to no one in particular while drawing a sigil in the air as quick as the passing moments. Zeladona was giggling as she used her sword like a crutch, digging into the floor of this dimension to steady her bad leg.

She was going to slash upwards and tear a void like a [Swordswoman] flicking dirt at her foes. It was impossible, of course, but Zeladona’s level transcended what should be possible with a sword, and she didn’t care about anything but victory.

Their battle was destroying chunks of Izril, their destination. Oswen—Rhisveri saw a blade striking across the Vale Forest where it met rivers and became a marsh.

Citizens of House Veltras. Children. He saw the smile on Zeladona’s face and the way Silvenia looked everywhere but at him.

“Cover me.”

The Wyrm rasped to Visophecin. The Lucifen glanced up sharply. Czautha nodded almost imperceptibly from the other side, but Cauwine-Zeladona just smirked. She broke off from her stance as Silvenia twisted, pulling together a grand spell. Tier 7? Tier 8—?

Zeladona cut sidelong through Silvenia’s spell as Rhisveri tensed, and the Djinni and Lucifen attacked in tandem. Cauwine charged past both spells, and the two had to cancel their magic. She bisected Silvenia, and Rhisveri made a sound as he lunged—

Silvenia floated past Zeladona as the [Blademistress] cut her head off, then bisected all the pieces and turned. Rhisveri barely escaped a beheading as the [Blademistress] flicked her blade at him amidst all her cuts. Yet the goddess-aspect of Zeladona looked miffed as the Death of Magic reformed. Silvenia bared her teeth.

“In realspace, I would have already destroyed you.”

“Interesting. I haven’t had a challenge cutting anything since my last Dragon.

There was no opening for Rhisveri to find. He bared his teeth desperately. They were all holding back, but Zeladona wasn’t.




“We have to end this Solstice. Someone must destroy that woman, Kaligma, or end whatever effect is prolonging the Solstice. That is the most logical way to survive.”

Of all men, Tyrion Veltras came to a conclusion in the midst of the battle. He was numb and in disbelief.

Oswen? Gone?

He lowered his lance, gore-spattered and aching from repeated charges, as someone landed.

“They’re everywhere. I can’t—”

Ryoka Griffin was dead white, exhausted from using the wind to avoid the specters. Half-frozen too. Tyrion glanced around.

“Jericha. Signal Lord Pellmia and every member of House Veltras not engaged in battle. Tell them to contact their [Mages], The Blighted Kingdom, Wistram, anyone. [Chronomancers]. We will sally forth and attempt to attack her directly the next time she appears, whatever the risk.”

He didn’t know magic, but he was clear on this: neither Humans nor Drakes could long endure more of this.

Jericha raised a hand to her temples, but Ryoka gasped.

“It won’t…do any good. They can’t stop her magically. I don’t even think she’s casting a spell, Tyrion, Jericha.”

Tyrion glanced at her.

“We assail Kaligma directly, then.”

The brief conference was taking place wide of the undead assault on Liscor and The Wandering Inn. They were completely ignoring the western Floodplains; Tyrion had almost expected them to go for Esthelm, but the undead were focused completely on Erin Solstice and her allies. The hills the Antinium had not terraformed were still covered by snow—and Tyrion saw a pair of bootprints in the snow.

No one he could see—

He drew his sword as he dropped his lance, but a Drake stepped back and appeared.

“No good either.”

Major Khorpe appeared as Tyrion halted his stab. Jericha nearly shot him with her wand. Ryoka looked up.


“You can’t kill her. I’m positive. You can’t even hurt her. She’s…invincible. She’s Death. I see it now. I can’t figure out how to even harm her. Silly me.”

He had a crossbow loosely in hand that was making Tyrion’s [Dangersense] explode. The bolt was…Relic-class?

“We have to do something. Okay, maybe if someone can cast a time spell? And hurting her—what stops death? Life?”

Ryoka was trying to speculate desperately, and Tyrion glanced at Khorpe, then frowned around the Floodplains.

“What are you doing here? Did you teleport after us?”

“No. Why?”

Khorpe was staring at the snow, silently, and Tyrion narrowed his eyes.

“…There’s a [Portal] over there. Reinforcements?”

Everyone turned and stared at a hazy door he saw in the air. Ryoka stared at Jericha, who cast a spell, shook her head.

“There is nothing there, Lord Tyrion.”

“I see it. It feels…”

All the hairs on Tyrion’s arms were rising oddly, but Buscrei’s scream was in his ears. He couldn’t think. Someone had to do something.

Then Tyrion felt a fell wind on his shoulder, and all four mortals and House Veltras’ vanguard turned. Once more, Tyrion raised his sword and lowered it.


The warrior of the Wild Hunt strode out of the air, the sounds of battle and screaming behind them. Tyrion caught a glimpse of a frozen bat twice as large as he was—

However the fae moved, the warrior was here in an instant. Ryoka bowed, and Khorpe backed up a step.

“Can’t kill this one either.”

He muttered under his breath. Theillige’s helm swung silently to the [Major], then raised a finger. They weren’t alone. Tyrion saw someone stagger after Theillige, clutching at a bloody arm.

“Can’t…keep…are we resting? Running?”

A silver-haired half-Elf looked hopeful as he came to a halt, panting. He was the swordsman who’d charged the Draugr!


“Oh. Horseshoes. It’s you. Send me back.”

The silver-haired man actually backed up a step, but Theillige’s helm swung to Tyrion. Never had the Lord of House Veltras met someone more recalcitrant than he, but he felt a kind of kinship with the silent warrior. As if he understood without words a simple idea.

This matters.

The warrior would not abandon the battlefield a second without tactical reason. Tyrion nodded.

“What would you have us do?”

A finger pointed, and Tyrion’s head turned. He narrowed his eyes and nodded. Ryoka’s head turned desperately.

“What—I don’t see anything.”

Yet Theillige was now pointing at the same door Tyrion saw. When they pointed—everyone believed.

Taletevirion swore as the Winter Fae drew their sword and pointed it back towards the battlefield. They had to keep fighting. Tyrion nodded.

“How many?”

The helmet turned to Ryoka, Taletevirion, and Tyrion. Two of them swallowed hard, but the finger crooked, and someone sighed.

“I dislike being ordered, warrior. Though I shall consider your service if you offer it.”

Someone else walked out of the snow, looking piqued. She narrowed her eyes.

“It seems at least one person can sense something amiss—so this is why the spell went astray. Your Winter Sprites, I suppose? Every piece in place? Very well, I shall conduct the board.”

The woman gave Tyrion a thin-lipped smile, and he instantly grew wary of her. She reminded him of Magnolia Reinhart. Ryoka stared at the woman, whose plucked eyebrows rose.

“Not a useful set, but you have some promise. Whatever you see, Lord Tyrion Veltras, is a product of a Skill you possess. [Give It To Me].”

She closed her hand, and Tyrion jerked as the door vanished. Nerrhavia inspected her hand and pursed her lips.

“Ah. [Greater Resistance: Chronos]? How…rare. You may have it back after the battle is done.”


Khorpe hid behind Taletevirion as Jericha aimed a wand at the stranger, who ignored her.

“Girl, aim that wand at me again and lose it. I see. That door…is in the middle of a time-stop. Interesting. You three. Consider yourselves temporary champions in my name. Perform well and I may keep you.”

Her eyes flashed. Tyrion still had no idea who she was, but he jerked and stared down as his armor hissed—then turned jet black. He raised his ancestral longsword and shield and saw, to his horror, his sword had developed a curve upwards along the blade—albeit one that made it lighter and more adaptive a hair—and there were spikes on his shield’s edges! Actually, it felt more like horn than metal!

Ryoka yelped as her wingsuit turned black and the enchanted fabric turned glossy—and armored plates of modern ceramics and kevlar stitched across her chest. Her Faeblade turned into a black handle contouring to a Human’s hand and ignited into a searing white-black blade.

Taletevirion stared at his longsword dripping with venom, and Nerrhavia laughed.

“Through the door, now. I grant you your Skill back, threefold.”

Theillige nodded as Ryoka, Tyrion, and Taletevirion stared at Nerrhavia. Then Tyrion narrowed his eyes. He thought he saw something through that door—

The Winter Fae watched as the [Lord] turned to Jericha.

“You have command. We will be back as soon as we can.”

The three went for the door, and Nerrhavia watched as they passed through—vanished—she turned to the Winter Fae, frowning.

“It must be a [Greater Teleport] spell. Whoever is in there might well destroy half of Izril. Can they stop it?”

The warrior only shrugged. Nerrhavia pursed her lips, displeased, and stared towards The Wandering Inn.

“I dislike walking. Fail me and you shall regret it.”

She vanished with that threat as Jericha looked at the place Nerrhavia had been, the door she still couldn’t see—and Theillige’s sword as it swung down at neck-level.

Not at her. Major Khorpe froze as he slunk towards the door, invisible again. But the Winter Fae’s helmet turned slowly to regard the Drake.

Not you.

“Why not?”

The Drake saw frost emerge from the slits of the visor as several members of the Winter Fae alighted in the air around Theillige. They narrowed their eyes at Khorpe, but the Winter Fae was already turning. Inside the door—




Zeladona-Cauwine turned just in time and avoided the lance strike before the [Rider] thundered past her. Rhisveri lowered a sword, panting, and stared.

Lord Tyrion Veltras passed Cauwine in a blur, and a shouting Ryoka—dressed in skin-tight spandex for some reason—slashed at the [Blademistress]. Zeladona blocked, but hissed in surprise as the black Faeblade seared through her sword. She dropped her sword, drew a new one, and smiled.

“I want that sword.”

I want that sword.”

Cauwine and Zeladona reached for it, then blocked a flurry of strikes as Taletevirion, swearing, leapt at her. She was being pressed back—by a levelless thief, an underleveled [Lord], and a Unicorn?

Yes! Because they were moving about twice as fast as Rhisveri, Silvenia, Czautha, and Visophecin. In the midst of a [Greater Teleport] spell?

“They should be exploding. How—”

Czautha was guarding Silvenia, and the Death of Magic narrowed her eyes.

“That’s no spell. Well, well. Looks like they’re timeslipping.”

Ryoka, Taletevirion, and Tyrion were all moving incredibly fast. Not even [Haste] could explain their speed; rather than being sped up, it seemed like they were literally moving at a different rate of time than Cauwine, giving their reactions an edge even the goddess looked annoyed by.

Cauwine didn’t understand; Silvenia did, and so did Tyrion.

[Greater Resistance: Chronos]. That woman had taken his Skill, then reflected it three times onto the three of them when she called them her ‘servants’. It might not have worked in realspace, but in this place where time was literally halted? Tyrion, Ryoka, and Taletevirion were moving forwards, surfing on time’s edge. 

Cauwine dodged a beheading cut from Taletevirion that still opened up her cheek. The goddess narrowed her eyes as she realized what was happening at last.

“Ah. Fae. How annoying.”

Cauwine spun as now it was seven-on-one, and Lord Tyrion’s lance-charge nearly took her head off as Visophecin, Czautha, and Taletevirion all attacked at once. The Goddess of Last Stands narrowed her eyes.

Very well. I’ll bite.

Rhisveri had been looking for his opening, but he hesitated a second too long as he glanced at Ryoka, wondering who had changed her into such stylish armor and how the hell she had gotten into the [Greater Teleport] spell without a [Mage].

Then he saw Cauwine split into two.

“That’s not fair.”

Ryoka Griffin whispered. Silvenia grinned.

“I can do that too.”

However, even the Death of Magic’s smile vanished as the two figures spoke, and Cauwine tilted her head—and Zeladona swung her sword up.

“Oh? Go ahead.”

The Goddess of War taunted the Death of Magic. The [Blademistress] addressed Tyrion.

“What a beautiful day. I taught your ancestors, boy.”

Seven versus two. Ryoka Griffin’s bladework was behind even Rhisveri, but the tech-blade burned, and even Zeladona and Cauwine didn’t seem to know what it did, avoiding her slashes. Only her enhanced speed saved her; both women wanted the sword.

Tyrion, Taletevirion, and even Czautha shielded Ryoka, taking slashes as Silvenia, Visophecin, and Rhisveri covered them.

“[Regeneration]. I cannot cast more spells, and that idiot—”

Silvenia regrew Tyrion’s arm as he reeled, clutching at the stump of his wrist. Rhisveri snarled, almost telling her to not heal him, but then he saw Zeladona’s eyes brighten.

“[Cleave the Mortal W—]”

She tried to bisect all three warriors in a single motion. She was going to destroy—

Cauwine herself blocked Zeladona’s blade.

“Control yourself.”


The [Blademistress] was grinning. Silvenia glanced at Rhisveri, and he spoke.

“Which one?”

The Death of Magic pointed.

“That one. The other’s just a memory.”

Rhisveri tensed as Tyrion, Taletevirion, Visophecin, and Czautha all glanced at the two conferring mages. He’d never make it, yet he had to try. Visophecin spoke.


The Duke charged like an amateur linebacker, a wild shout on his lips. The [Blademistress of Ancients] turned and looked genuinely surprised and disappointed.

She swung three times, blocking a spell from Visophecin, clashing her sword against Czautha’s shield, and the third blow—all at the speed of sound—ran Rhisveri straight through the chest.

He felt it. It wasn’t a simulacrum; he shouldn’t have felt pain, but her sword passed through the world and stabbed Rhisveri through the heart.

A Wyrm shrieked as, in his palace, a sword the size of a Giant’s blade skewered him down the center like a snake upon a dagger.

Yet he was a Wyrm. He had multiple hearts—the Duke Rhisveri tried to stand as Zeladona kicked him off her sword with a laugh. Tyrion and Taletevirion were attacking Cauwine from both sides, but the Goddess of War was looking at Ryoka and her sword, reaching out—

And the mortal Wind Runner did the only thing she always knew how to do. Immortals. Ghosts—she stared Zeladona in the eye and panted a question.

“Who’s stronger? You or Cauwine? You’ll never know again.”

Zeladona’s eye widened—and went wild with excitement.

Cauwine blocked the blade that slashed at her from the side as Rhisveri charged. The Goddess of Youth bared her teeth, unmaking the [Blademistress of Ancients], slashed—gave Ryoka Griffin a rueful smile as Silvenia and Czautha captured the blade with a shining spellsword and the Djinni’s shield.

That gave him his opening at last. Once more, the Wyrm threw his fake body forwards in a howl, in the moment they opened for him. If that half-Elf messed things up—

The Goddess of Battle ran Rhisveri through the chest a second time, and the Wyrm dug his heels into the ground, and his tackle caught the goddess as she began to cut across his body. The look of surprise on Cauwine’s face changed to one of satisfaction as he rammed forwards, screaming.

“You are worthy—”

The Wyrm charged straight at the Death of Magic with the sword in his stomach. Silvenia was already finished drawing a door—they tumbled through it, back into realspace. Rhisveri screamed as he let his clone vanish, and Cauwine ruefully fell into the sea. Visophecin, the Deaths of Demons, both retreated through the [Greater Teleport] spell lest she intercept them again.

A screaming Wyrm writhed across his palace, bleeding, as immortals raced to the sound of his voice. But he was screaming—

The inn. What was happening to—




Rheirgest. Oswen. The Horns.

Buscrei was still wailing, as if mortally wounded, until someone cut the speaking stone. Erin Solstice wished she felt cut. She didn’t know if she were bleeding, only that the world was falling out of her.

The rolling mass of undead was ignoring Saliss as he bombarded it with fire. For every undead he slew, it picked up more.

Once again, the Knights of Solstice were preparing to charge. A fourth time she saw their flames rising. She saw Ama hesitate, saw Normen push at Jewel’s shoulder. Numbtongue was playing a song; a bolt of lightning struck the mass of undead, and nothing happened.

So the [Innkeeper] opened a door on the grass next to her [Knights]. She stood in her garden, ozone burning around her and her throat raw and coated with bile.

“Fall back. Let them reach the inn.”



Embraim lifted his sword, still blazing with pink flame, but even his fire was dying. Erin Solstice looked him in the eyes.

“I’ll need you at the end. Let them reach me.”

The other commanders were telling the knights to ignore her. But the Hag Queens were refusing to die.




Five left, and one had met a challenger. Lady Pryde and House Ulta had advanced. The [Lady]’s warriors were bleeding as she stood in the path of a blow that tore up the earth.

“Is that all you have, monster?”

[Pride is Unbreakable]. She swung a hammer, snapping the Hag Queen’s knee and producing blackened bones. The huge warrior-queen hissed.

Pretty wretch. Thou’rt not invincible. Suffer ye.

She boomed, her lips making the English tongue with effort. Pryde lifted one arm, eyes narrowed, but the Hag Queen’s mouth split, and she thrust a hand forwards. Instead of a blow—she gripped Pryde’s head as the [Lady] swung.


Steam began rising from beneath her palm. Lady Pryde began screaming as the Hag cast a hex point blank.


Grimalkin abandoned his post. He couldn’t see what was happening. He saw the [Lady] recoiling, clawing at her face, and looking up as the Hag Queen lifted a shard of glass. A mirror.

Lady Pryde’s aura winked out as the Hag Queen laughed and cackled, not even bothering to strike her. Undead poured over House Ulta’s troops as the Sinew Magus ran. The Hag Queen turned as she saw the Drake leap.

Show him your face, woman. It shall never be beautiful again. Swear it I, on Kasigna’s name.

She was still laughing as she pointed, and the rolling sphere of the dead reached the inn. Now—Kasigna’s foe died. Yet the Hag Queen narrowed her eyes.

Why was the door open? The [Innkeeper]…wasn’t moving.




Erin’s door was no longer floating in the sky. The [Garden of Sanctuary] shone on the ground as the milling undead broke apart and swarmed at her.

The Order of Solstice had retreated into The Wandering Inn, but the final sanctum, the garden itself, had appeared in the grass, open invitingly for the undead.

An [Innkeeper] waited inside her garden, sick and bleeding, though she had no mortal wound yet. She had no knife. Nor jar of acid nor pan.

“Enter. The door is open.”

She stood there, and even the dead hesitated a second. The first Draugr raced forwards, braced to hit the invisible wall of the [Garden of Sanctuary]—but it found no resistance. It charged, roaring, into the sand of a beautiful beach.

The sand had melted and fused to become glass. The resorts were aflame or embers. Once, this had been a beach.

Erin Solstice stood on the far side of the Garden of Wistram as more howling Draugr followed a tip-toeing monster with a sack, who opened it to reveal a monster from her dreams. The undead ran forwards—and Erin Solstice whispered.


Her arms were leaden. Her friends, her guests…the [Innkeeper] lifted a heavy hand. Let them come. Enough. 

A screaming Draugr just saw the [Innkeeper] standing at the far end of the beach, and he ran, arms flailing. A Human man, bloated until he was pure muscle. Like someone filling a piece of flesh with power. Grimalkin was far stronger.

This was just a toy made by death, but it could kill her in a second. The Draugr didn’t notice anything else until it saw the shadow—and its crazed eyes registered the hand.

Erin slowly closed her hand, and the mass of sand shaped like her arm grabbed the Draugr. The grinning undead with the sack stopped as Erin squeezed. It turned to flee, but more dead were pouring into the beach.

The [Innkeeper] made a fist, and her hand was shaking. She felt weak as a feather, but she drove the fist forwards. The undead thing with the sack trying to get out looked back as six thousand pounds of sand flew at it. The other undead looked up—

She ground the fist of sand against the far wall until the squirming stopped. A Draugr tore out of the pile of sand, and Erin realized some of them were just too tough.

“I was making sandcastles.”

The [Innkeeper] closed her eyes as one of the other Draugr leapt at her, bounding like an animal now, dodging the next hand—climbing—

It realized Erin was rising into the air. The [Innkeeper] stood on a cliff of earth, and now the Draugr was trying to climb straight up. Erin stared down at it as another group of the dead raced through her door.

She pointed, and a torrent of water knocked the Draugr off her platform, sent it spinning head-over-heels against the floor of the Garden of Wistram. A tidal wave hit the far wall, and Erin pointed as the waters receded, revealing the blank floor of white tiles.


Columns of fire burned the garden’s door, incinerating a score of undead. Then—a ghost covered in chains and green fire pushed into the garden.

Erin struck it with a fist of sand that made the entire room quake. Sand actually pushed out of her door until the press of the dead fought back into the Archmage of Wistram’s garden.

But they kept coming.

Thousands of undead were milling around the door, and Erin was moving faster, now. Her door was—flickering.

So was she.

The [Innkeeper] stood in the middle of the Garden of Wistram. Doors opened behind her, disgorging bolts of lightning from the Garden of Storms as she threw up walls of sand. Water poured through the Garden of Wistram and drained into a new door: the Drowned Garden where sharks and fish attacked the flailing undead submerged in water.




She waited for them in the middle of the Iron Vanguard’s Garden of Sanctuary. A snowstorm at her back. A sneering champion of bone, a long-dead warrior of Kasigna, strode towards her.


The [Innkeeper] looked up, and the undead raised his sword a second before a hammer of ice fell and crushed him flat. A bellowing Snow Golem threw itself forwards, crushing the undead pouring forwards.




She came to a halt in the Garden of Pomle. A dome of ancient sandstone shook as a snarling bat-monster, fangs dripping with blood, a primordial vampire, clawed into the room, saw Erin Solstice, and the [Innkeeper] spoke.

“Warriors of Pomle. Repay your favor to me in advance.”

The [Innkeeper] swore she saw the Garuda who stood up slowly and lifted his spear—smile. Xil, the [Peerless Spearmaster], joined the bare-chested warrior that never looked at Erin, the young Stitch-man with gauntlets, and the boy with a staff.

Xil, Collos, Vandum, and Orjin as the owner remembered them spread out, each choosing a foe. Xil dove at the bat, who tried to fly in the sandstone dome. The Garuda severed one wing as more undead raged forwards until they met Pomle’s memories.

They kept coming.




“What is she doing? Get me answers.

Niers Astoragon had no eyes in Erin’s garden. He saw the thousands of undead that had formed that death-orb pouring into Erin’s [Garden of Sanctuary]. Yet she wasn’t dead. He’d know if she were dead, he thought.

Was she killing them all? How? His mind flashed to her gardens. Maybe if she funneled them into the gardens, used them like a weapon—

They were [Gardens of Sanctuary]. What was she doing? 

Killing them all, of course. Piece by piece. The Titan whispered as Chaldion signaled him now—do it now—but he took one second.

“That’s not an inn. That’s a vengeance dungeon.

Then he focused on an army of Drakes in the hills charging wildly at a Hag Queen. She was already tearing apart the Drakes with fountains of blood that cut like razors. Laughing at the ambush—until Niers pointed.

He dragged on the world as his hand slowly picked up a piece on the world’s stage and moved it across two continents.

“[Castling the Pieces].”

The Drake battalion winked out of existence and crossed continents in a second. In the space of a second, each and every one of them was replaced by their counterparts. Niers swore he heard Chaldion’s voice.

Follow the plan…

Of course, the Cyclops had a plan. So did Niers. The laughing Hag stopped and pointed a finger.

False Giant, ye die first.

She aimed a curse at the War Walker who slowly rose, swinging a sword upright. Dullahans, Lizardfolk, Selphids, and Centaurs stumbled a second as the effect of the Skill disoriented them. But a Centauress was already tearing up the hill.

Forgotten Wing Company—charge!

Perorn Fleethoof shouted, and her reinforcements stormed across the ground. The Hag Queen contemptuously pointed at the War Walker, unmoved. Then she pointed again and uttered a profane word of magic.

Someone behind Niers noted down the word, how it was pronounced, and the gesture. The Titan just watched. He saw the Hag Queen stare stupidly at the War Walker, then try another spell. Then another.

[Battlefield: Even Ground]. This far away, he could barely project his capstone Skill across more than a single sliver of the Floodplains. So he used it where it mattered. Perorn galloped parallel to Niers’ Skill, activating her Skills.

That one. THAT ONE.

The Hag Queen backed away, magicless, as Fleethoof rode down on her. She had no final great magic. She went down, breaking bones and swinging her staff like a club, screaming like a tyrant dethroned as blades carved her flesh to pieces and she bled out.

Four. Niers looked away from Perorn at last and counted. Two were battling the [Witches], but one was breaking for Liscor. He looked around for someone to intercept them. But—

The armies were retreating.




“Fall back. Sound the retreat.

It was not Lord Xitegen who said it first. He was glad; Lord Tyrion signaled the retreat the moment he returned to the Floodplains of Izril and saw how the battlefield had changed.

He had vanished, then reappeared, wounded, with Taletevirion and Ryoka Griffin in tow. Yet whatever he had done—he spoke the moment he reappeared and assessed the situation.

We cannot abandon the inn!

Magnolia Reinhart shouted back instantly. She didn’t understand. She didn’t know war—Tyrion snapped back.

“We are out of potions and being overrun. Fall back to the secondary point around The Wandering Inn.

They had to hope Erin Solstice could handle some of the undead. Xitegen saw a thin line reforming as Humans abandoned their posts, collapsing their side of the battlefront in good order. Niers was shouting.

Intercept that Hag! She’s making for Liscor!

“We are pinned—”

No one was in range. Xitegen pointed, and a volley of arrows rained down, but the Hag ignored it like rain. She was going after the city. The wall spells were pouring down magic on her, but the [Tactician] in charge was hitting the lesser undead. Every time a spell came for the Hag Queen, an amulet around her neck would flash, and the spell would dissipate.

“Someone defend Liscor.”

Xitegen croaked, but everywhere he saw more dead pouring forwards. Overrun. They were being overrun—




Normen knew why Erin hadn’t done this trick with the undead before. He was standing in the common room of the inn, panting as he tried to get his energy back.

Her gardens weren’t unlimited.

There was a finite amount of dead she could destroy, and right now—she was being overwhelmed. The damn Draugr.

There were just too many. A hundred thousand? A hundred thousand could win this entire battle, and that was without the Hag Queens or other undead. 

They were coming down the hallway, aiming for the inn proper, Erin’s doors admitting them or not. One was smashing at the door to the common room, but the inn’s staff were—holding—

Acid jar!

Peggy fired a crossbow through an arrow-slit, and an Antinium poured a jar of acid through a hole in the ceiling, melting a Draugr. It collapsed into a puddle after thirty seconds of trying to get through the door, and Peggy nailed a skeleton mage in the head.

Where is Chieftain Rags?

She shouted. The last thing she’d seen were the Goblins mowing down undead with Rags’ Thunderbows firing nonstop. But that wasn’t the way of the Redfangs. When the Humans and Drakes buckled—that was when the Flooded Waters tribe would fight and die.

“They are meeting Liscor’s army. The Free Antinium are fighting.”

One of the Workers reported. Peggy thought some of the flashes of light coming from the boarded-up windows looked like Miracles.

Now it’s our turn.

The Hobgoblin’s teeth were bared as Ulvama’s brow streamed with sweat. The [Shaman] was holding something up, staff blazing with light. It was…a bubble swirling with foul liquid pouring over it.

Curse magics. She was warding the entire inn, and Erin, from the Hag Queens’ attacks. She spoke, her voice shaking.

“They’re coming through the doors.”


Peggy dropped her crossbow, and her peg-leg clacked on the floor. More Draugr were slamming into the hidden side-door. Not good. If they got through there…

She drew a sword as she saw Numbtongue waiting at the common room’s door. No…not Numbtongue.

A Goblin Lord glanced at her, and Reiss’ fingers twitched. Undead began dropping in the corridor as he unanimated them. Peggy snarled at him—then saw the Order of Solstice had noticed the danger.

“They coming.”

“I know.”

Ser Normen, Antherr, Embraim, and Jewel were braced for the Draugr smashing on the side door to get in. Peggy stood behind them.

Won’t last long. She wondered—if they destroyed the inn from the inside—if the [Garden of Sanctuary] would cease to exist and Erin would lose her powers.

The Beriad have heard the inn is in danger and are coming.

Antherr hand-signed to Peggy in their shared Mrsha-speak, and she nodded. The pounding stopped a second as Reiss killed the Draugr—but more kept coming.

“Five minutes.”

The wood was cracking. Normen turned to the Order of Solstice. Five minutes? They had no more healing potions. Peggy saw a Draugr punch a fist through the wooden door.

Someone spoke behind her.

“I regret being late. Damned [Necromancers]. I had to ensure mine wasn’t mad. This one is useless. I will stop the Draugr. Capture one for me even if it costs your lives. The fate of the battle rests on it.”

Peggy spun. She knew every single person in the inn right now, and that voice—

“Who you?”

“Who are you? Who art thou for one such as I.”

A voice corrected her. A chin rose, and a hand flicked Peggy’s sword aside so hard it bounced off a wall. Peggy hesitated.

The woman was shorter than people expected. Her skin bore the faintest pattern of black stitches, though she could have asked for any body. Her skin was bronze, a color Peggy rarely saw on Izrilians. And her eyes held no pity at all, just impatience.

The Order of Solstice turned—but the Draugr was breaking through the wood. Normen hesitated, and Nerrhavia snapped.

Capture one now!

Normen’s eyes swung to Peggy. The Hobgoblin hesitated. She thought of Ishkr—looked at Nerrhavia without knowing who she was, and shouted.

“Do it!”

Capture a Draugr. One came charging through the door as it broke so fast that it rammed past the four [Knights] as they tried to slow it and slammed into Peggy. She grunted and would have gone overboard but for the woman.


She put out a palm, and the Draugr halted. But she was no warrior—she backed up as Peggy swung a sword, and it lodged in the Draugr’s leg.

Halt it—

More undead were trying to get into the side stairs, but Inkpaper and smaller Goblins were ramming a table into the way, screaming, as Peggy and the four [Knights] tried to bring the Draugr to a standstill.

[Floor Boss Lev—

—Peggy woke up on the floor, pushed herself out of the way of the foot before the Draugr went down. She saw a door break inwards, saw one of the [Knights] turn.


Antherr Twotwentyonethree Herodotus charged silently into the undead, glowing like a green beacon. A scythe cut into the green flames and slashed into his head. He slowed, but the green flames kept rising. He slumped across the side entrance. Jerking. Falling.


Normen shouted. The Antinium collapsed, and a wall of flames burned across the side entrance. A wall of flames like the Antinium’s honor. Draugr hammered their fists into it and could not break it.

Peggy rose and put all her might into tearing an arm up until she heard it snap. The Draugr kept trying to move as Normen, Jewel, Embraim, and Peggy knelt on it, trying to hold it still.


Nerrhavia barely glanced at the fallen [Knight]. Slowly, and awkwardly, she drew a sword. A simple, steel sword. She must have looted it from the Order of Solstice’s armory.

“Antherr’s dead. The Free Queen is reaching for their souls.”

Embraim spoke quietly. His head rose as Vess skidded around the corner, wands raised.

They’re coming through the front! What’s—

“Shut the child up. Move it to the side. I do not swing swords. Hurry.”

Nerrhavia snapped at the [Knights]. Peggy was gasping, her Hobgoblin strength still not equal to the Draugr’s mindless strength.

“You—crazy? Hurry—

Nerrhavia narrowed her eyes as the Draugr began to pull itself forwards despite the [Knights] and Peggy’s attempts. They were weary, and it—

“Hm. Fate, heed me.”

If ever the Immortal Tyrant had a prayer, it was that. Nerrhavia gripped her sword with all the strength her body possessed—and swung down as the Draugr jerked upright.

It was a weak blow. Her body was strong, but she had seldom used a sword. Even so—the Immortal Tyrant swung with all her might, aiming for the only point she had a chance of even wounding. The Draugr’s neck was taught with sinew, but the sword was sharp.

She bit the sword halfway down the neck, and Peggy saw the Draugr’s eyes dim a second—then it snarled and tried to bite Nerrhavia’s leg. The Immortal Tyrant grimaced. She stepped backwards.

“So be it.”

What was that? Peggy was about to scream and finish the Draugr off when Nerrhavia lifted her hand. The Hobgoblin’s rage, Antherr’s sacrifice—Peggy saw Nerrhavia’s eyes turn black.

Two crimson pupils shone, and a black wall of stone filled Peggy’s vision. A woman sat upon a throne drenched with blood. A laughing voice echoed across the Great Desert. A single thumb angled downwards spelled the crumbling links of countless crowns, and blood drenched Chandrar’s sands and dyed her lips red.

The Immortal Tyrant whispered.

“[Mass Execution: You All Look the Same to Me].”

The Draugr froze—and Normen’s despairing head rose as the massed howl of the Draugr faltered. A single blow tore across tens of thousands of necks, spreading outwards in a flash. Nerrhavia turned her head, and a cry of horror echoed from the four remaining Hag Queens. Fleeing mortals looked up as they saw a single blow strike itself across countless necks.

Even the Goddess of Death glanced up from her musings, and her fingers twitched. Hag Queens tried desperately to re-knit the Draugr’s flesh—but it was done.

“Unto godliness. Remember that, Goblin.”

Nerrhavia cast the sword down and walked past the Draugr without a word.




One blow gave the armies a reprieve as Draugr slowed and desperate [Soldiers] completed the coup de grâce. The Hag Queens pulled the Draugr back, mending the wounds as they desperately preserved their forces.

Liscor was now under siege. And Erin’s [Gardens of Sanctuary]…

—Were filling to the brim. 

First went Pomle’s Garden. It had never been meant for anything like this. The Garden of Wistram was still incinerating countless undead, but even the memory of Collos and his people—

Erin walked back across the Garden of Pomle, staring at the oasis and ground as undead raced after her. Her [Garden of Sanctuary] had—ironically—saved the Draugr inside from Nerrhavia’s blow.

How many could Kasigna raise? When would the Goddess of Death return? This was the greatest of the six by far. She was death; none of them could match her for the sheer power Kasigna had.

Erin met the far wall of the Garden of Pomle, which Collos had changed to look like his dreamland until he made it a reality. She put her back to the wall, and still, she held no weapon.

Only the Key of Reprieve. The winged key of the last Empress of Harpies. Erin looked across the sands as undead thundered towards her.




“—Erin Solstice. What is happening to her?”

“I don’t know.”

Orjin of Pomle finished killing the corpses that had gone after the Earthers of Pomle. The Fury of Winds had severed heads with fast blows from his new wind powers—Vandum had killed the largest of them.

The undead that had spawned from the battlefield where Pomle had so recently triumphed were numerous. But against Pomle, it was only a small battle compared to the war they had won.

A bitter one, even so. Not a single [Martial Artist] had died that Orjin saw, but the dead were a reminder something was happening.

Erin Solstice. Her day of trials…Orjin looked around the sands as Iratze, Raul, and the other Earthers stared around. Iratze was white-faced; so was Raul.

They were camped on the edge of the destroyed Pomle. [Druids] had begun striking their camp when the Solstice occurred; they had given up.

The rot was so deep they wanted to bury the entire oasis. Orjin had been contemplating Pomle’s future.

He thought of Erin Solstice. He had never met her in person. He did not know her well, yet he considered that Pomle owed her a debt.

He owed her a debt.

Erin hadn’t talked about her Winter Solstice. She had talked about his fate, helped in the ways she called small, and maybe they were to her.

She had looked him in the eyes, afterwards, and told him to go back to Pomle. Orjin didn’t know why. Only that the [Innkeeper] had secrets in her heavy gaze.

As the Solstice lasted forever, unchanging, he swore he could hear her voice. The Strongest of Pomle lifted a hand, and Salii fell silent. Vandum raised his head like a hunting wolf.





The undead were running at her, but as they filled the Garden of Pomle, Erin took one step out of that place and into the hallway that led to the Pavilion of Secrets.

The door was yet locked. There was no easy escape from Kasigna, if Erin could even hide there. The Key of Reprieve was in the [Innkeeper]’s hands, and Erin Solstice was sick at heart.


Even the [Garden of Sanctuary] could be broken. The door of Pomle was shuddering, now. The ancient sandstone cracking. Khorpe had said it best…where was he?

Erin didn’t know, but she raised her tear stained cheeks. A Level 40 Skill. Nothing lasted forever. The words Sheta had written lifetimes ago stood out on the wall.


Sanctuary can never shelter enough.


“I understand it now.”

Erin lifted the Key of Reprieve in her hands, and it was so heavy. What was its purpose? To open this door for the worthy? To let her use two doors at once?

Or something else? Slowly, she inserted the key in the shaking door of sandstone. The Garden of Pomle was filled with undead smashing the very walls. The [Magical Innkeeper]’s voice cracked.

I told you, Orjin. Her fingers twisted on the Key of Reprieve as Erin Solstice slowly locked the door forever. The door cracked—for a second, she saw a Draugr’s glowing gaze filled with empty, mindless rage. Then the [Innkeeper] spoke as the [Gardens of Sanctuary] rang as one with the sound of a promise breaking. With the authority she had been entrusted with.

“Sanctuary ends.”

A door vanished. Erin Solstice closed her eyes as the Key of Reprieve shone in the void. And—across the world—

The Strongest of Pomle saw his home flicker.




Pomle’s warriors heard a click like a door shutting forever. They turned, and the oasis of Pomle, blackened, corrupted forever—flickered. Vandum shouted.


“Ready yourselves, warriors of Pomle.”

Orjin strode forwards as the ground to the east of his ruined home shimmered. It was not wide across, this dome of flickering world covered in faint light. He thought he smelled something familiar. Thought he remembered Collos’ presence. So familiar Vandum rubbed at his eyes.


Then stepped forwards as Orjin spoke to the warriors getting to their feet. Salthorn turned to Orjin as the [Fist of the Living World] saw Erin Solstice’s gift. His eyes beheld hundreds of packed-in shapes. He heard snarls and roars—but his eyes were on something behind them.

It wasn’t much. Just a pool of water, really. A few palm trees—

But that was all they had ever needed. He raised his shaking hands, and the land called to him. The earth was crying out. The winds screaming his name. He cried it back.

“Pomle. Warriors, rise. We win back our home tonight.

Then the [Martial Artists] beheld a small army of undead. Draugr lurching around disorientedly. Strange and foul creatures many had never laid eyes on.

Yet—the oasis was there. The waters muddied perhaps, but Pomle’s Garden bloomed before the nation without a home.

Orjin was already running, but Vandum leapt first, hands gripping a Draugr’s face as he swung a knee into it. The [Martial Artists] charged as Orjin saw it so clearly and understood what Erin had meant.

Sanctuary ends. For a second, he thought he saw Collos’ image in a breaking dome of sandstone. The Strongests of Pomle looked at each other—then the dome shattered. And the magic was gone forever.

But the garden remained. Orjin swung a fist, and the oases, both of them, broken and new, trembled.

His home.




A [Garden of Sanctuary] vanished. The place it was meant to embody, be it fake or real—the world shifted and allowed it to exist.

It carried the undead breaking into her inn away with it. A strategist’s genius move.

A move on a board no one could predict.

Erin Solstice was weeping.

Even this place was ending. And it was the first of—her eyes rose. Another garden was dying. Erin Solstice lifted her key—a Drowned Garden under the sea trembled with secrets she had not yet even uncovered.


The door vanished, and somewhere under the sea, undead appeared in the crushing depths, flailing. The [Innkeeper] felt something leaving her.

Two. They were pouring into her other gardens. Wistram’s. The frozen Iron Vanguard’s Garden, set in the walls of Invictel.

Be ready for battle. She had warned Tulm and Wistram. The [Innkeeper] inserted the Key of Reprieve into the next lock. Waiting…waiting…




Dullahans stood in silent ranks outside Invictel along a wall that Tulm had ordered found. It might not be the right one, so the Bastion City had been partly evacuated and multiple platoons stationed around it.

But the spot that the [Strategist] had found was the right one. The air warped—and the Seer of Steel spoke. He lifted his head and placed it upon heavy shoulders. He had wished to see this with his own two eyes for once.


His footsteps shook the snow as a horde of snarling undead looked up. Dullahans silently charged after the leader of the Iron Vanguard as a keep of stone appeared in the shadow of Invictel’s walls.




Erin Solstice slowly opened the door to the Garden of Storms as she stepped back into the Garden of Wistram. She opened her eyes, and lightning rained down around her as the undead formed a chain of bodies trying to climb the pillar of crumbling sand she stood on.

Everything, Kasigna. I will do everything.

The Goddess of Death heard her. Now, Kasigna’s eyes flickered as the Maiden turned her head and felt uncertainty once again.

It sounded like laughter. Yet the Gnomes were well and truly gone, one and all. Kasigna listened to the pained laughter, the hysteria and despair on the edge of madness—falling—like a rain of stars and breaking sanctuaries. A cackle of a witch, an [Innkeeper]. Kasigna realized it at last.

It was you.

Will of the Gnomes. Heir to their ways. Even with the last of them gone…

Then Kasigna knew why Erin Solstice must die.





Authors’ Note:

This is the first of two parts. I haven’t much to say except to show you one piece of art by BoboPlushie that was drawn for me as a Christmas gift—and to say that it took me days to edit and revise, and writing this felt like a storm.

It’s all-consuming, as it should be. The story deserves maximum effort, but I don’t know if I can keep the energy up to finish it well. Hence the delays and time to rest. I believe I did a decent job. But the second part awaits.



Hag Queen by Artsynada!

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

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

Art has mild nudity. Click here.


Solstice by BoboPlushie!

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Bobo_Snofo

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


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