9.69 H (Pt. 1) – The Wandering Inn

9.69 H (Pt. 1)

(I am taking a break to get ready for the final chapter of the Solstice. I will begin working on the 14th, but I may give myself until the 19th of December to make sure the chapter is as good as it can be.)



In the days leading up to the Solstice.

During the Solstice itself.

And even afterwards.

They were not there.

The Horns of Hammerad were missing. Trapped in the Crossroads of Izril, haunted by a strange being calling itself—Bograms.

Erin Solstice sailed a ship north towards Wistram in the company of the Lucifen and Ulvama on board The Naga’s Den—

But where were the Horns of Hammerad?




Seven days ago.


The first thing they did was link arms. Then Colth suggested that was stupid and recommended rope.

The ‘day’ in the Crossroads of Izril had no true sunlight, just a pale awakening of the gel-covered and too-flat landscape. There was no sun nor sky, however grey and cloudy, to make Yvlon Byres feel like she’d woken up.

Not that she’d slept. If she looked back, she could still see Ceria’s ice-fortress mixed with the bones Pisces had sacrificed—burning. Ceria shaded her eyes as she stared backwards.

“Looks like the red guys won.”

“Either that or someone’s set fire to the entire spot.”

Yvlon grunted. Colth copied her as he tugged them forwards with the rope, scouting ahead with Ksmvr…for about fifteen feet. A rope was secured around Colth’s waist, the same as Ksmvr, Pisces, Ceria, and Yvlon. Colth snapped back.

“Or that’s all an illusion, and the base camp isn’t even in that direction.”

Pisces closed his mouth, clearly about to say the same thing. Yvlon gritted her teeth on a snappy retort. They were all tired.

An entire night of surviving waves of Bloodfields monsters, purple and red—things, and realizing they had to run or die had left the Horns exhausted on multiple levels. After a few more minutes of trudging, Ceria called out.

“Equipment check. Anyone got a healing potion left? I’ve got two.”


“I as well, Captain Ceria.”

“Shut up, both of you. Information helps Bograms.”

Colth snapped at Ksmvr and Pisces, who looked hurt. Yvlon checked her belt on reflex, and her fingers touched…nothing. Just a loop in her belt.

What a terrifying feeling it was to finally have it happen to them.

No more healing potions.

No more second chances, and they were as good as a second chance. Yvlon had seen men and women with cut throats or badly broken bones get up and keep fighting with a potion to stabilize them. What had Erin been talking about?

Blood…transferring. Yvlon wished the Horns had taken a lot of that donated blood now. Did it keep? How would they patch up a big wound? Sew it up?


Pisces was clearly thinking along the same lines and vouched his opinions, Colth’s disapproval or not.

“I regret we didn’t look into that [Doctor]’s techniques more. Then again, with bone-related injuries, I am an unparalleled specialist. Flesh wounds…I believe Erin said that you tend to sew anything up. With needle and thread. And add blood to replenish the lost amounts via tubing? I paid attention when she was setting up her ‘blood bank’, but I gathered the blood isn’t transportable. It spoils.”

“Blood goes off? That’s crazy. No, wait. It makes sense. If flesh spoils, so can blood. At least we haven’t been that stupid.”

Ceria shook her head. Ksmvr raised a hand.

“The Antinium have no flesh to stitch, so I believe this is a largely ineffective move with me. Happily, I report that I do have some of our regenerative gel, and my wounds are self-clotting if they are not too large. Please lop off any damaged limbs and apply gel.”

“Excellent, Ksmvr. Yours is a very adaptive species.”

Pisces sidled over to give Ksmvr a disheveled high-five. They were all sort of swaying and clearly not doing well, but everyone knew they had to make tracks lest those monsters catch up.

Bograms was hunting them. It might be luring more monsters to their position as they spoke.

Indeed, one of their number was so focused on leading the way that he only barked responses now and then—but the huge scowl on Colth’s face also said he wasn’t keen on discussion at the moment. He had a stick and was leaving a furrow in the ground. He looked up as Ceria called out.

“Colth, you’re our generalist. How many needle-related classes do you have?”

The [Supporter] stopped, turned, and barked a reply.

“Everything we say and hear could be Bograms. The only thing we can trust is this.”

He yanked the rope hard, and all the Horns felt it. Colth punctuated his second remark with another yank.

“So you know, Pisces just gave away that he can heal bones. Guess who’s the highest-priority target now? Now Bograms knows who has a potion, and the longer you idiots speak, the more insights he gets onto how to mimic and manipulate us. Ceria, you know I only boost existing Skills. I can’t just copy every Skill I want. Come on. Let’s keep moving. We need to find a defensible spot to shelter in.”

He yanked twice on the rope. Hard. Yvlon stared at Colth’s back.

Wait, but didn’t Colth have the ability to use countless Skills? She’d always assumed his class let him copy most low-level ones. She opened her mouth to say so…then caught on.

“Colth, don’t go too fast. My wrist hurts. I think I’ve injured a leg too.”

Ceria yanked hard on the rope—twice. Pisces hesitated.

“And I need to use the restroom. A tricky endeavor given the connections.”

He pulled—once. Everyone waited for the second pull, and Colth scowled.

“Well, dig a hole, and we’ll look the other way. There’s no privacy while we’re connected.”

“Can’t I step aside and—”

Are you stupid, Pisces? That’s how you get got.”

Ceria twirled her fingers, producing some frost.

“How about a privacy shelter? I could use ice…”

Colth gave her a narked look.

“Your mana’s low, isn’t it? And it’s not replenishing?”


Single pull. Which meant, according to the simple technique they’d worked out, that Ceria was speaking the truth. Ceria sighed, and Pisces trotted off as they turned their backs. Yvlon felt the rope moving a bit, then…silence.

She stood there, trying to think of something intelligent to do or say, as Ksmvr hummed. Focus on the facts. Breathe in, out.

Don’t get mad. No, wait. Harness your anger. That was the way of Berr.

He sadly hadn’t given Yvlon a crash course in intelligent fighting. The [Berserker]’s approach to fighting enemies was to hit them and, if that didn’t work, hit them somewhere else—harder. Yvlon wondered how he would have done with this enemy.

Master Berr, the Horns and I are trapped in the Crossroads of Izril. We are facing a superior monster or something that can cast illusion magic so powerful even Ceria’s circlet can’t defeat it. We have no idea where it is, what it wants—aside from us dead—and without Wer, we can only escape the Crossroads of Izril by a ‘gate’…which we have no information about.

That summed up how Yvlon saw the situation. She waited for the imaginary Berr’s words of wisdom. Her mind came up with…

If he has to watch us, if you run around in a circle punching everything, you might just hit him. Unless he’s intangible or something.

That was Berr-level thinking. Yvlon exhaled. After another minute of blearily wondering where they’d camp, she brought it up.

“I need to pass out. We have to sleep somewhere.”

She pulled the rope once, and Ceria lost her balance. The half-Elf caught herself.

“Is it worth spending mana on?”

“Probably not. Let’s just dig up some dirt and take a nap in a ditch. Lowers our visibility, no mana for anything to track—not that it’ll help if Bograms pulls a monster on top of us. Let’s get a few more miles out, then—Pisces, are you done yet?”

Colth snapped, pulling once on the rope. Yvlon heard nothing. After a moment, Ksmvr spoke.

“Colth, why did you click your tongue just then?”

A moment of silence. Colth, Yvlon, and Ceria felt a pull on the rope.

“…I’ve been clicking my tongue every sentence, Ksmvr.”

Pull on the rope.

“I did not hear that when you were talking up till now.”

Another pull…and dead silence from Colth. Then the [Supporter] cursed.

“I didn’t tell Pisces anything. He said he needed to relieve himself. What did he…hear…”

They all turned around fast.

Pisces was gone.




It took them twenty minutes to find Pisces again. They only found Pisces when Yvlon had the smart idea to take Honored Imaginary Berr’s suggestion.

She didn’t quite run around punching the air, but she used her arms like she had when she’d been dying of sickness. Her bare metal arms, silvery and polished, elongated and became thin rods of metal that moved outwards in geometric shapes.

They had to do that or they grew too ‘heavy’ to lift, or too ‘weak’. Yvlon couldn’t describe it, only that she’d figured out some shapes were inherently fragile, and losing half the metal of her arms if they snapped off not only hurt, but dangerously depleted her body’s metal reserves. She could always ‘re-absorb’ the living metal, but…

The rods of metal traced themselves around the four Horns, poking into them with struts of silversteel as they grunted.

“Ow. That is my head, Yvlon. Thank you.”

“If you spot anything else, kill it, Yvlon.”

“Is that a piece of metal in your pocket, Yv, or are you happy t—ow, ow, ow. Stop!

Ksmvr, Colth, and Ceria were all right there. Yvlon ‘felt’ them using her arms like a primitive, metal net. She stopped jabbing Ceria in the head, and then the pieces of elongating metal—she could only cover fifteen feet at max with this web, and it took all her concentration—ran into someone else who jumped and screamed.

Pisces had been standing less than eight feet away from the Horns the entire time they’d been searching for him and trying to dispel Bograms’ magic. He hadn’t found the rope he’d disconnected—on Colth’s say-so—but he’d been wise enough to stay put.

His Skeleton Champions had been roaming around, but by bad luck or Bograms, hadn’t managed to find the Horns either.

Twenty minutes, and it had almost been a disaster. When they re-linked up and they were sure as they could be that it was really Pisces standing there, Colth spoke.

“Okay. I was being cute with the tongue clicking thing, and you all caught onto the rope trick. Turns out Bograms isn’t as stupid as his Reinhart-damned name. He still got us, and Pisces would be wandering around completely lost if he hadn’t stayed put.”

Pisces looked pale and shaken, or at least, Yvlon thought he did. Ceria came to a quick decision.

“Okay, everyone. Re-link arms. Colth, get us a campsite. We have to be far enough away from the base, right?”

They drew closer and linked arms. When they were touching each other, each one could signal the others they were speaking by tapping a finger or boot for every word they spoke.

Colth did every syllable, which let Yvlon know he was actually speaking…or Bograms was very good. However, Colth had a suspicion, and Yvlon believed he was right—and that he was Colth—when he spoke.

“Okay, here’s what we know. One. Bograms is following us, and he wants to break us up. Standard tactics. I can’t tell if he wants us dead or if he’s having fun. Probably both. Two. For all he’s able to fool all of us, including all my anti-illusion and trickery Skills—he’s got limits. I don’t think he’s around us right now.”

“How do you sustain that argument, possible Bograms-Colth?”

Ksmvr was curious as they sat down, trying to rest. Yvlon was yawning and saw Ceria copying her. Colth tapped his fingers rapidly on her metal shoulder.

“Well, I hope to hells I am being heard because if we can’t communicate even now, and he has no weaknesses, we are completely dead. But if he were perfect, he would have escaped with Wer. Why did Wer leave a message? Why did we notice the camp was fake when he was ‘attacking’ us? Why did we find Pisces instead of Pisces chasing after a fake ‘us’ and getting lost?”

A thoughtful silence ensued, and Ceria snapped her fingers.

“Circlet says—well, I think—he’s got limits on how many illusions there can be at once.”


This made sense, and Yvlon also hoped Colth was really Colth. The Horns had observed the mistakes the illusionary foe made, slip-ups that were inevitable when you were rewriting reality. The lack of the ground shaking when Bograms the giant moved. Inability to fake mana signatures or touch…

Even so, what an obnoxious enemy. Pisces was clearly of the same mind and scowled.

“We are in dire straits if we cannot return to Wer’s location, though, everyone. Oops. I forgot to tap. Er—the-Crossroads-are-dangerous-and-there-is-no-way-out.”

Colth impatiently took over.

“And even if we do want a way out via those gates in Erin’s quest description, we don’t know where they are. Bograms will follow us—he might want us to find one so he can slip out unless he’s trapped. Regardless, he’ll make our lives hell getting anywhere and could walk us straight into the Bloodfields. Anyone fancy fighting a Watchertree that’s invisible?”

All the Horns shuddered. Colth paused as Yvlon searched for a good answer. Did they go back for the Gnolls? Then he hit them with the second bad thing.

“Here’s number two: we’re not going in a straight line.”

“…fuuuuuck. How do you know?”

Ceria exhaled after a long moment. Colth grimly pointed with one finger back the way they’d come.

“While we were trusting the rope? I was using a stick and dragging it behind me.”

Everyone turned. Yvlon could just make out the furrow.

“Why’s it off, Colth?”

“Because I was dragging it at an angle, not straight. It should have looked wrong, like diagonal slashes every fifteen steps. Every time I turned around? Straight line. Bograms didn’t notice what I was doing. But it means I can’t trust we’re not going in circles or anything.”

So they had no ability to tell where they were going and, if Bograms was messing with them, an inability to trust anything they didn’t touch.

They did have a few advantages, though. One of them was the varied classes the Horns had. After a moment, Pisces grunted.

“Can Bograms fool the undead? If my Skeleton Champions were to lead the way or convey us via the ice sled…”

Ceria frowned, glancing at Colth.

“That’s mana intensive. We’ve got more mana potions than healing, but it’s a finite amount, and we’re far from a resupply.”

Pisces hazarded a guess.

“Worth spending, though?”

“It may be more optimal than walking with linked arms. Is the rope harness a satisfactory safeguard, Comrade Colth?”

The Named-rank was their second big advantage. He had more years adventuring than everyone except maybe Ceria and certainly more time fighting higher-level monsters. He chewed his lip, then nodded.

“Skeletons have it. Point one in a straight line and tell it to ‘go’, and we can at least go a linear direction each day. Keeping it oriented will be tough…we can’t trust our eyes. Undead can be fooled by illusions, though.”

“Damn. Does anyone know what Bograms is? Any ideas? I’m drawing a blank. He didn’t sound like a [Mage]—but what kind of foe is he? And how the heck do we confirm we’re on the same page? I know I might be speaking to Bograms right now, but seriously—any ideas, guys?”

Ceria was royally peeved and agitated—she was glancing sidelong at the others, and Yvlon knew Ceria had to be wondering if any of this was genuine conversation—or a trick. Colth was taking this on faith, however.

“I think we’ve got a reprieve, Ceria. My suspicion is…he might be going to draw a group of monsters right on top of us.”

Everyone fell silent. Yvlon felt an itch rolling up her spine. She forced herself to untense; her arms morphing into blades would not be pleasant for her friends.

“…Why do you say that, Colth?”

“Well, we just said we wanted to sleep. What would you do to piss us off? If he really has to be in one spot to use his illusions—”

…Then he wasn’t here and they were able to confer, with the downside being Bograms was setting up a trap or drawing attackers to them.

“A most engaging first adventure. Would it be perspicacious to mention that ‘Bograms’, our foe, tickles my knowledge of monsters? I cannot but think I’ve heard the name before…”

Pisces looked as worried as everyone else. Now that he said it…Yvlon herself thought the name was familiar. Not Bograms, but…

Colth spoke seriously.

“You’re thinking ‘Bogleraums’. No, Bograms isn’t one of them. It’s all a trick. He said his name on the off-chance we’d recognize it and get even more freaked out. I do know the legend amongst adventurers of the nightmare monsters.”

“Oh, you do? Phew. I wasn’t going to say, because each person who knows about them empowers the bastards, right?”

Ceria wiped at her brow. Yvlon relaxed…until Colth kept speaking.

“No, it was a valid concern, Ceria. The problem for Bograms is that I’ve met someone who’s tangled with a Bogleraum. I’ve never had to fight one myself—he’s not one of them. And now you all know they’re real, so there are four more potential victims. Bastard’s got us every way from sundown.”

Dead silence. After a few seconds, Ksmvr chirped up.

“I am really disliking our latest adventure, team. I wish to express this in a non-confrontational manner.”

Ceria’s voice was exceptionally dry.

“Duly noted, Ksmvr. I agree.”

“Thank you for respecting my opinion, Captain Ceria. Now what?”

Pisces spoke.

“I’ll spread the six Skeleton Champions I have in a net. Do we rest or prepare for an attack, Colth?”

“…I bet we’re going to be attacked. Ceria, want to plant a beacon or piece of ice magic in the ground? That way you can tell if we’re circling this spot. We need a way to alert everyone. Bells on string.”

Yvlon snorted.

“Who carries bells on string, Colth?”


Ksmvr waved his hand.

“Also me, Yvlon. I am always prepared. We did that once, remember? I have carried bells on a string for a hundred and twenty-two days since it was last needed, and I am glad I was ready for this moment.”

The Horns looked at each other, then prepared for an attack.

They were attacked thirty-six minutes later.




The enemies turned out to be more of those damned red things with fiery claws, whatever they were. Yvlon got a good look at them—after they’d been slaughtered and the Horns were making tracks from the campsite.

She wasn’t sure what they were. They might be fleshy? They weren’t insectile, but they had crawled along the ground, two dozen of them.

Invisible. They’d been invisible and swarmed two Skeleton Champions before the Horns had figured out they were there and attacked.

Another healing potion down. Not for Yvlon—she’d rushed in, used her barrier-ring, and killed most of them, but a few had escaped. One had evaded Pisces trying to fan the area with a flame spell and bit his leg hard enough to bruise him badly under his new Stalker armor.

Ksmvr had gotten rushed by one, but he had just jumped and nearly taken everyone off their feet via the connected ropes. Colth had evaded his, but Ceria had been chewed—badly.

“Argh. Argh…use the entire potion.”

Her skin was black and charred from the bites on her legs, flesh steaming and blistered where it wasn’t as badly damaged. Pisces grimly applied his last potion and used two drops on his bruises.

“Bograms! Face me! I demand combat!”

Ksmvr was angrily stomping around, swinging his sword through the air, and Colth snapped at him.

“Ksmvr, stop that or you’ll hit one of us! Don’t assume we’re where you think we are! He’s definitely messing with us, or he can’t manipulate multiple elements of the illusion at once.”

Ceria sighed as she looked at Colth.

“I dunno. That was a good trick. What now? You’re our veteran in combating intelligent enemies, Colth.”

“Move. Reset defenses. Wait.”

It took them three more hours to realize something else—Bograms was either tired, plotting something else somewhere else, or had used up its powers for the day.

No more attacks came, and the Horns fell asleep. They would have taken shifts, but as Ceria pointed out—when facing an illusionist, what was the point?

That was day one of being lost in the Crossroads of Izril.

It only got more unpleasant from there.




“I’ve been having weird dreams. Has anyone else?”

Yvlon brought the topic up on the second day after seven hours of having their senses messed with.

Bograms was definitely back. The giant didn’t reappear, nor did hordes of monsters. Either it was having trouble pulling the right ones or something else, because it tried—once with another horde of red things, then with a bunch of insects from the Bloodfields.

Both times, they were invisible, but Ceria iced both squads of monsters before they even reached the Horns.

The [Cryomancer] was angry. She had begun using her aura—seriously using it in lieu of her spells. She had detected warm spots and pulled the heat out of the monsters. Insects and the red things were both weak to cold; what had gotten close had been killed fast, albeit with some nasty bites until the Horns found what was biting them.

Instead of that, Bograms decided that they should be treated to the most horrific screams, smells of flatulence, sewer waste, rot, and foulness that the Horns had ever experienced. Everyone but Ksmvr and Colth gagged, and Pisces had to stop and throw up twice.

“I have no nose. Beaten yet again, Bograms!”

Ksmvr shook his fist up at the sky. Colth was just grimly walking forwards, two wax nose plugs keeping him from the worst of it.

At least they could talk. Sometimes, one of the Horns would say something offensive or completely unlike them, like Pisces suggesting they should eat some of the corpses of the insects or red things for sustenance.

Bograms really didn’t understand the Horns; Ceria and Ksmvr had looked up from trying to roast a Bloodfields insect. No one was stupid enough to eat the red things.

However, Yvlon guessed Bograms wanted to listen in on them talking; knowledge was power.

“What kind of dreams, possible Yvlon?”

That was the running joke in the Horns. Yvlon irritably scratched at a bite she’d taken on her side. Why did an insect as large as her hand also need to have that itching quality of mosquitos from its bites? Maybe she was allergic.

“Well, possible Ceria, I was dreaming of the inn. At least, I thought it was the inn. I thought I saw Halrac, Jelaqua, Chaldion—all the regulars walking towards a glowing door leading to Erin’s garden. Only it was more…spectacular. Shiny. Like…when you wax a piece of armor, you know?”

The Horns and Bograms listened dubiously to Yvlon’s recounting of her dream. She was not a good describer of things. However, the dream had been vivid enough for Yvlon to remember it. It had been…

Like the wings of a great bird, opening and forming the outline of a door. Yvlon, dreaming, had halted as she saw Griffon Hunt, the Halfseekers, and a great host of half-real people camping on a hollow field—hollow, for something stirred far below, and the ground turned to black water if she dared to fall through the earth.

Yet the door was safety. She knew that garden, where an [Innkeeper] lay sleeping within. Yvlon strode towards it, but the glimpse of The Wandering Inn suddenly was filled with shadows.

Dark clouds, black fog that enveloped her, and Yvlon stumbled around in circles, calling out, but all she saw was blackness—and smelled bread?

“I woke up hungry. Remember Erin’s Shadowloaf? It smelled like that.”

They stared at her blankly as Yvlon recounted her dream. Ceria slowly reached for her side.

“Let’s break out them sausages and the bread. It’s a bit stale, actually, so now’s a good time to finish it off.”

They were having lunch when Pisces raised a sandwich to his face and realized there were invisible spiders all over him. Bograms had walked them straight into a den of the little fuzzy spiders for lunch.




It seemed to grow tired of the illusions trick after that. Then it started making them misjudge where the hell they were.

It was clear the Horns were heading…north, unless Bograms was consistently messing with their heads. The looming mountains of the High Passes, or whatever this version of it was, had led to rockier terrain, lumps of stone half-covered by the gel and what wasn’t covered in gel mossy or with other fungi on it.

It meant the Horns had to climb up and down over pieces of stone sometimes, or just experienced a natural change in elevations. They quickly learned to use their swords or even poles of wood as a guide.

You took for granted the power of your eyes to adjust your feet’s momentum. But after taking a step and expecting solid ground only to drop three feet—Colth swore a blue streak as they had to actually use some healing potion on rolled ankles.

Day three was unpleasant not for monster attacks, but for that kind of thing. Miss a stone and step on it so hard you felt it even with your boots. Fail to see a rock and smack it with your shin. Misjudge a drop and hit the ground—hard.

Yvlon, in her armor, was lucky. Ceria, Pisces, and Colth got the worst of it. Ksmvr’s Ring of Jumping and his sturdier carapace meant he suffered little, which she was glad of.

“We must be…three days from the Solstice. I think. Since we’re laying it bare, we do need to get back to Erin in time. What’s the plan, guys?”

No one mentioned the idea of finding a gateway out loud, or The Wandering Inn or anything Bograms could use directly against them, but Pisces responded to Ceria with his eyes closed as they took a break on some rocks.

“I, personally, would relish a soak in the public baths. Followed by anything Calescent has newly made, a glass of blue fruit juice—”

Ceria threw a rock at him.

“I meant the Solstice.”

“Ah. Well, we get there in time, make a gallant appearance no doubt.”

“Oh yes, the five of us are going to swing a battle with multiple armies.”

Colth rolled his eyes. Pisces sniffed as his head rose.

“Need I recount to you the battle of Pomle, Colth? There were at least…four armies present, and our very presence shaped the battlefield.”

“I watched that one, Pisces. Was that you or the Scourgeriders of Emrist? You took out, what, three dozen chariots max? One carpet blew a hole straight through Nerrhavia Fallen’s ranks.”

Ksmvr patted Pisces on the head, then turned to Colth.

“We must still be there for Miss Erin, Colth.”

He sighed, but didn’t disagree.

“Larra’d kill me if I let Erin off and die. So the plan is to head to the inn once we get out of here?”


Yvlon nodded with Pisces and Ceria. Ksmvr said—


Everyone stopped, and Ceria threw a rock at the air.

“Bograms said it. That one isn’t even clever.”

Everyone turned to Ksmvr to hear what he’d really said. But the Antinium just smiled.

“I said no. We are going to escape. Then we will bring the Gnolls with us. Then get to the Solstice.”

Yvlon Byres smiled as she sat up, and Pisces sniffed and sat back, hiding his own pleased look as Ceria laughed. Colth indulgently began speculating who they should pick—Berr, Garsine, Gamur…Gire?

Bograms decided it was time for the Horns to go by deafening them all with a shriek that lasted for two hours.




Sleep was a precarious thing in the Crossroads. Bograms seemed to need sleep too, but he’d come by and disrupt their slumber with fake-out attacks or ear-splitting dins. It left the Horns discombobulated, tired, and grumpy the next day, and they were marching hard.

The pace—as well as other hitherto unknown factors of the Crossroads—was wearing on them. But Yvlon remembered each day via the dreams.

On the first day, she dreamed of The Wandering Inn as they left the Great Plains region and headed north.

On the second day, as they traversed through the area around the City of Crossroads, she had almost no sleep thanks to Bograms’ night shrieking.

On the third day, in the rocky landscape rising upwards, she had a dream about the Horns.




She knew she was dreaming.

The [Dreamer] had a…sense this time. She felt like she was at the boundary of something but pressed against it because she recognized someone she knew, and then she was in the dream and forgot as she watched.

It was a dream with Ksmvr in it. He was in a great gallery with a huge cape and pantaloons on, huge and puffy and striped, and had a silly maroon cap and a huge badge on it.

Baron of the Trees.

He waddled around importantly, giving servants orders, and Yvlon was tickled to realize he had a giant mansion with huge, indoor trees in it, and his ‘servants’ were all put-upon Mrshas. That part was the dream.

However, the dream changed by her presence. Yvlon was not…Yvlon. She drifted through the dream, an observer watching. She felt like if she pushed more, she could do—something?

She didn’t want to. That would be rude. She just watched, a guilty voyeur when she realized it was private. But Ksmvr didn’t dream of his future fame.

He dreamed of what he always dreamed of it seemed: the Horns of Hammerad.

Every room in his mansion was dedicated to one of them. There was a room filled with snow of different colors, a room of edible bugs, a [Necromancer]’s dream of different skeletons poised in various shapes for Pisces, and a huge library of books all about Yvlon Byres’ family.

The Extraordinarily Dry History of House Veltras

24,444 Uses for Silver in Cooking.

Knightly Ways to Sniff.

The dream-Yvlon was amused to see what Ksmvr came up with. But the main room Ksmvr came to was a gigantic hallway that stretched into the distance—it was a dream—and a bunch of canvases.

Baron Ksmvr stopped and began painting on each one. He drew fast, creating scenes from their history—albeit exaggerated.

One was of them defeating the Fire Elemental in the Ruins of Albez. Yvlon was hitting it with a door as Pisces and Ceria descended into the pit, grabbing treasures, as Ksmvr occupied a tiny part of the background.

Another was of the Village of the Dead raid; Ceria swatting monsters left and right as Pisces held up a Skeleton Lord by the throat, and Yvlon sauntering towards Tolveilouka—Ksmvr was hitting a single zombie with a club in the foreground along with Elia Arcsinger.

Is this how he sees us? Ksmvr painted on and on. And the dream-Yvlon saw a commonality between all their paintings.

In each one, Ksmvr was small and diminutive, the slapstick comedy to a legendary battle. Like Yvlon single-handedly smashing her sword into the Adult Creler’s skull while he ran after her with her missing arm.

She grew upset realizing that, but Ksmvr’s paintings began to change suddenly after the Village of the Dead one.

Suddenly, he was dancing with Domehead, properly sized, with a stupid-looking Spitty, Nsiia, and Femithain all doing his funny little dance. Or he was watching Nsiia ride down on some [Bandits] as he lay like some [Martyr] with Spitty drooling into a cup he was reaching for as he baked in the sun.

Silly, still, but Ksmvr was real-sized. Yvlon began smiling again, and the paintings kept going in the way of dreams, faster and faster, as Ksmvr retold what he thought of Pisces’ own adventures, Yvlon throwing [Gladiators] around like toys, Ceria outwitting the Siren—

Glorious tales until they were all riding a chariot around Pomle, and it was the brightest and most beautiful painting of all.

This was good.

Yvlon smiled again until she saw Ksmvr pause. After that painting, he began to draw another one of them all in the inn, smiling and celebrating. Colth was there too, and Ksmvr drew him like a friend, seamlessly integrating him into the paintings.

Colth was not the problem. Ksmvr dipped his brush into a bucket of paint—he didn’t seem to know palettes existed, and in the way of dreams, Yvlon hadn’t paid attention to what he was painting with before—and stared at his new color.

His brush was red, suddenly. Then the Antinium looked up, and he was painting their first fight in the Crossroads of Izril. There was a desperation to everyone’s faces. Blood running down Yvlon’s forehead—and Ksmvr was trying to look for different colors.

Yvlon was the observer, so she didn’t feel the Antinium’s panic as he checked the jars of paint—but she saw it. Ksmvr looked around, but now all he had was crimson red and black.

He began drawing a new painting. The Solstice. And Tolveilouka.

He was working on multiple pieces, now, each of the future. The Revenant. The Solstice with the unknown enemy of Erin.

A new adventure. The Horns were all there, and he was the right size, but there was a grim, black tone to the paintings now. Ksmvr tried to draw them bright and glorious, but the red pooled around his team like ichor.

“…How many more?”

Yvlon saw him looking back to those brighter days when they were in the City of Ropes or hanging out in The Wandering Inn. Then ahead, and the canvases were shrouded in black, and they had no end. The Antinium lifted a bloody brush and slowly began to draw the outline of a grave. He slowly began to write a name, hand shaking as he tried to force his brush away.

Someday. Yes. Someday…the Antinium stared at the painting as dream-Yvlon reached for his shoulder. Both staring at that name.

Then, of course—they woke.


[Dreamer Level 4!]

[Skill – Dream Walk obtained!]




Ksmvr did not enjoy the Crossroads of Izril. He did not enjoy this adventure.

They should have stayed in the Great Plains. The Gnolls were good people. He liked them. Why had they gone into the Crossroads of Izril?

Oh yes. Because they’d been first. Because being first was a virtue for reasons he did not understand. Because, he supposed, they were adventurers.

Ksmvr would never admit it to anyone, but he was not sure he enjoyed adventuring any longer. He had. Of course he had.

It had been—everything. He had been nothing, and then they had done amazing things, and he had realized he had to do everything for his team. And they gave him so much and never asked for anything from him. Well, not much. He had been happy, and they had done the right thing each time.

The Crelers. The Village of the Dead. He would have gone back each time and only said to do it better.

But now…did they have to go to the Crossroads? Couldn’t they have waited? How many more times would they do this?

Risk their lives so his team would get gold and glory and artifacts? Ksmvr needed none of the first two. Couldn’t they…retire?

They never would. Ksmvr knew that. Captain Ceria was over twice as old as even Colth, and she never would. Colth was a good person and respected Ksmvr—not everyone who was non-Antinium did, not many. He might be a good junior member of the Horns.

However, they were all crazy. Yvlon, Pisces. Ksmvr was okay with crazy. Everyone went a little insane in the Free Hive. But he did not want them to die.

He was the weakest member of the team right now. On the fourth day, he didn’t feel determined. He just felt like he was itchy all over from bites, tired, hungry—even the food was bad.


“Dead gods damn it, I think our [Supplier] sold us crap.”

Ceria held up their meat rations, and everyone groaned. Ksmvr instantly raised his fist to the air.


It was the eternal refrain, and this time, they actually heard his booming laugh around them, mocking. However, he had no real presence in the world they’d seen aside from his illusions, so Colth bent over an entire ham they’d taken with them.

It had only been three days, but it was green and nasty. Ksmvr reckoned he could still eat it, but Ceria just tossed it with disgust. Colth swore.

“Damn. I’m gonna kick his ass. I thought he was genuine. Let’s check what else is bad.”

They rifled through their packs, and Yvlon sniffed one egg, cracked it, and then hurled the rest of the carefully-packaged eggs as far as she could.

“Guys, our perishables are going bad.”

That was no good news from a glum Ceria; all the longer-lasting goods were fine. Butter, stale bread, even some of the dried greens led to a breakfast of fat pancakes.

Ksmvr ate five, each one the size of his plate. He was very hungry from this adventure, and even Pisces, the least hungry of the lot, consumed three. But the lack of meats meant that Ceria rapidly adjusted what they’d eat.

“I reckon it’s an advanced rotting effect. Might be the Bloodfields. Might be the atmosphere. Let’s consume anything that isn’t good for ages.”

Yvlon sighed hugely.


The glum Horns kept heading north. They had to reach the Bloodfields, but they were now passing along the ruins of the City of Shields according to Wer. And the gel flatlands became rockier—then steep cliffs and valleys with tunnels, collapsed dirt, and debris.

Lots of tunnels. Ksmvr didn’t like them one bit. He only took solace in Yvlon hugging him now and then.

“Once we finish this, let’s have a rest at The Wandering Inn, okay, Ksmvr?”

She smiled at him, and it made him feel better. If Ksmvr had a favorite among the Horns—and he did not—it was her. Even more than Pisces and Ceria.

“Yes, Yvlon. I believe I would like a rest for a bit. If The Wandering Inn is still standing.”

“If not, we can move to The Adventurer’s Haven. The New Lands await!”

Ksmvr heard Colth call out merrily before asking how many times Erin’s inn had been destroyed. Everyone began reminiscing, and Ksmvr drooped as he wondered…

How long until the next moment they all nearly died? How long until…

He no longer wanted it. That made Ksmvr scared, no matter how many times Yvlon hugged him. If he wasn’t an adventurer, was he fit to be one of the Horns?




They made blistering progress. By the end of the fourth day, they were camping in the mountains, and Bograms’ pestering had become, if not tolerable, something to endure. Yvlon rolled up in her sleeping bag, pulled her pillow out from under her head, and passed out despite the sound of Pisces flatulating for six minutes straight.

She’d wake up if monsters came, but they seemed to be staying away. A trick, no doubt. But—

She had two dreams that night. The first was barely moments.

Yvlon pressed her hands against a new ‘bubble’ and hesitated before intruding. However, the night was dark, and she felt…uneasy…unless she returned to ‘her’ dream. She still couldn’t find The Wandering Inn and gave up wandering the dark clouds, and so she slipped into a new dream.

This dream was Ceria’s. Only, it wasn’t really a dream. Ceria Springwalker was sitting in a classroom staring at a far wall. A blackboard with complicated spell diagrams was flashing ideas in front of her, and she was muttering.

“Okay. [Lion’s Strength] and [Bear’s Strength] are different spells. Uh…give me [Lion’s Strength] because it’s more adaptive even if it’s slightly weaker. [Speed]. [Burst of Speed]. [Frostbolt Swarm]…”

Was she…studying? Ceria was dreaming, but she seemed like she was working hard. She was dutifully making notes on a spellbook and sighing.

“How do I get them out of here? Even with the mana well…Bograms was there. I swear I noticed his heat signature before he erased it. [Floor of Frost]? Yeah. Okay, memorize—”

Then Yvlon felt something shove her—hard, and realized something was actually pushing her out of Ceria’s dream. The half-Elf’s head snapped around, and she turned.

“Bograms? No, wait—”

Bone-white ivory looped around Yvlon and dragged her out of the dream. The [Dreamer] fought the bindings, but her metal arms had no power here. She saw something flash around the dream of her friend. A delicate barrier of power. Like a crystal ball. The damn circlet—

It flicked Yvlon out of Ceria’s dream and into another one. When she landed in the next dream, someone jumped.


“Pisces! It’s a dream. I’m sorry…”

Yvlon got up as Pisces jumped. But he was dreaming, and she was not. So the dreaming Pisces just took her at her word.

“You, too? Et tu? I suppose I deserve it. You were right.”


Yvlon blinked at him, but Pisces just turned to her. She lifted a hand—and realized she was holding a tomato. Yvlon stared at it and then saw a tomato hit Pisces in the head.

She didn’t throw it. Instead, she realized Mrsha was pelting Pisces with tomatoes, and Erin was throwing blue fruits. Lyonette, Numbtongue—all the people that Pisces and Yvlon knew, friends and enemies, were pelting Pisces with objects. Some of them distinctly unkind. Erin shouted as she tossed more objects—now, acid jars.

You don’t know Latin! You’re pretentious!

You owe me five silver!

That was Octavia.

“Your hair looks stupid!”

Revi. They sounded like things the people had actually said. Yvlon didn’t get it. She tried to shield Pisces, but the projectiles passed through her. Did he really think this was how people regarded him?

Even Yvlon would have said that was Pisces projecting. However…Pisces was just staring at something in front of him. Yvlon turned, and her understanding of the dream—shifted.

The voices grew louder. Yvlon stared up and up—and now Mrsha was hurling dead Gnoll heads at him, sobbing, and Lyonette was tossing cutlery and screaming.

How long until it’s Calanfer’s turn? Apprentice of death! You’ll be just like him!

Your class killed my tribe!

I am the doom of Izril!

Tolveilouka’s voice boomed down from above. Pisces stared up, face bleak, and Yvlon followed his gaze and saw…


She had never known what Perril Chandler looked like. The Archmage of Death was, in Pisces’ mind, a composite of the few portraits of him that remained, a distinguished duelist-mage resting one hand upon a rapier of bone as he held a black book open, smiling.

The Putrid One, that half-Elf sitting with a twisted smile as his rotted minion rose behind him, a pile of corpses at his feet.

The Goblin Lord, Reiss, his armies killing Gnolls and Zel Shivertail, walking towards him grim-faced.

Even Ama stealing bodies from graveyards with her coven. Pisces had met more [Necromancers] still, and Yvlon saw them robbing people with an army of corpses, squabbling in their hideouts, and the image of an angry man holding a rapier to a terrified couple’s throats—

“Who’s that, Pisces?”

“Feren. Another old friend. They’re all like that.”

The chanting grew louder. Now, Yvlon turned, and Erin looked distinctly unlike herself, features twisted, taller, and the crowd hurled more and more dangerous objects. Pisces stared at yet another figure as the [Necromancers] loomed tall.

There was Skinner.

Yvlon flinched, and her dream-self trembled. The world warped as she saw the crimson eyes. Pisces stared at it, Facestealer, and even Stalker and the shadowy image of the Mother of Graves.

Then at a glowing, purple-eyed skeleton with blood on its hands. Grinning and grinning, and a sneering [Necromancer] with a rapier standing over the corpse of a Centaur and [Mages] of Wistram.

Pisces stared at himself. So did Yvlon, and she thought that the Pisces of his dreams had never been. As arrogant and haughty as Pisces had been—he had never been so callous or uncaring as he pretended to be.

But his image of the would-be Pisces was of a monster. A sneering [Necromancer] to join all of them.

“Is there not one?”

Pisces walked down the line. Slowly. Searching, and Yvlon saw a single statue in the far back of someone she had never met but Pisces had talked of.

Gewilena. She stood painting an undead that gave Yvlon shivers; an unnatural piece of abstract art, but only she was not covered in blood or filth and not sneering. Her…statue? Yes, statue or representation was filled with soft light, and Pisces kept trying to spot her in the back.

But everywhere he turned was Az’kerash, black-eyed now, with white pupils staring out as he stood on a mountain of corpses. Tolveilouka laughing as he ripped Yvlon’s arm off—the image of her, rather.

Then Yvlon understood. Pisces kept searching, pushing them aside, now, turning his head back to his friends. He caught Yvlon’s eyes.

“How long until I become one of them? Until you see me for who I really am?”

“You won’t be one of them, Pisces. Come on—”

Yvlon tried to take his arm, but the [Necromancer] was mumbling.

“It’s only a matter of time. Not one. Not one—

“What about Ama? She’s a [Knight] now. You’re not—stop beating yourself up—Pisces! You’re better than they are!”

Pisces Jealnet had been sinking into a black pit, staring at his hands running with corpse-water and drenched in foul deeds. Yvlon tried to haul him up and snapped that last line in desperation. She saw him freeze—look up—and someone reached down into the pit.

Because you’re a better person than they are.

Yvlon realized she’d echoed something. Maybe she’d accelerated the dream or—she saw Erin Solstice reaching down, and then someone else, behind her, bent and offered a hand.

“The class itself means nothing. What we do is our own virtue or failings. Even death shall serve life. Or am I so poor as the rest?”

Fetohep of Khelt offered Pisces the other hand, and the [Necromancer] reached for the hands, desperately, as he drowned in those waters. Yvlon felt it coming this time and tried to shove him, but once more—

They woke up.

She was getting sick of that.


[Dreamer Level 5!]




The fifth day saw them reaching an inflection point in their progress. By now, the Horns were sure that Bograms had allowed their progress this far north on purpose.

He wanted them to enter one of the caves.

By contrast, the Horns, experienced adventurers, wanted nothing to do with suspicious caves in the ruins of the City of Shields and wished to head north along the mountain range towards where they suspected the Bloodfields’ origin was.

There had to be a gate there, surely. They were running out of time on multiple levels.

Pisces was tired and bleary in the morning, and Yvlon told them she’d had another dream—involving him. Pisces didn’t remember it. Yvlon did and seemed to be trying to be nice by offering the last of their syrup to him.

It mattered little. Pisces was, privately, simply angry with himself and slightly let down by Colth’s and his failure to outwit Bograms.

For such a famous Named-rank, Colth couldn’t handle this monster better than Facestealer—in fairness, both times he was arguably up against something beyond a Named-rank threat, but even so.

He was doing his best. Colth had developed a means to ‘move’ via a bunch of throwing daggers and ice magic and necromancy.

The way it worked was Pisces and Ceria would attach a piece of ice or bone to a dagger that Colth tossed—or simply rocks with twine around them.

That way, they could plot their course based on where the rocks were; if they strayed too far, it became clear that they thought they were going the right way, but Bograms was tricking them.

The problem was that Bograms could ‘fake’ some of the stones…so Colth had had Ceria and Pisces memorize a mathematical formula by which either one would know which throwing rock should have which one’s mana attached.

In other words, the first stone might be ‘Pisces and Ceria’s mana’, but the third stone was only Pisces’ death magic. So if Ceria counted the third stone as real…

They were complicated methods that forced the Horns to stop and qualify which stone was which and forced Colth to memorize where he’d tossed which stone—and even if they realized Bograms was messing with them, it didn’t point to the right way, only interference.

Colth had tried subtle clues in the landscape, charms, secretly etching a direction down before they slept, firing an arrow and tracking where it landed—

It all worked until Bograms noticed their deception and just curved the world so that slowly, over the course of minutes, the Horns would walk just slightly right of a straight line and turn the way he wanted anyways.

“If you can’t kill the source of the problem, it continues. We’re heading in a circle again. This bastard really wants us to enter the tunnels. Full stop.

Colth snapped after three hours of walking in a circle on the fifth day. It seemed they’d come to some place Bograms knew, but the Ultimate Supporter wasn’t having it.

He was noticeably tetchy. Well, all the Horns weren’t exactly sunshine and rainbows after five days of this hellish experience, but Colth seemed madder than Yvlon.

“Should we try the speed escape? I think we lost Bograms when we were on the chariot.”

Ceria was angling for just outspeeding Bograms on the theory they could outrun him. Colth snapped back.

“It won’t even roll here. And second—you said your [Dangersense] was acting up. Well, mine is too. There’s something in this area that Bograms wants to kill us with. Notice how even he hasn’t pulled any monsters? Idea’s stupid. We don’t attract trouble. Let’s figure out a way to constantly push forwards, okay? Do me a favor and think before you speak, though.”

He folded his arms, scowling. Ceria glared, but she just adjusted her circlet. Yvlon raised a fist, but she opened her hands when Pisces glanced at her.

“Kidding. I’m calm. See?”

Ksmvr, Pisces, and Ceria exchanged a dubious look. Yvlon hadn’t exploded over the five days they’d been haunted by Bograms, but Pisces was ready to chew through rocks. He hoped Berr’s training was solid.

Colth tried a dozen tactics across that many classes to get them north. Compass attuned to a piece of ice magic—Bograms just made it vanish, and when Colth tried to follow it with his fingers, Ceria realized Bograms had faked a dozen signals all pointing the wrong way.

Constantly trying to descend? Bograms turned the entire landscape into a vision of the Great Plains until the Horns gave up; they were making no progress.

[Cartographer] using [Sense Elevation] worked. Colth began leading them down from the mouth of one of the caves.

So Bograms called a horde of Watchertrees down on them.




“Nine! There are fucking nine—get on top of a rock!”

Colth’s shout saved them from immediate impaling. The Watchertrees were stabbing into the stony earth, and Pisces scrambled onto a stone while one of his Skeleton Champions exploded as a pale red root stabbed upwards from the ground. A second tremor was followed by a crack as the Watchertree hit the stone hard enough to break pieces of it—but not destroy it.

“Dead gods, how did he even get them here?”

Pisces had sworn he’d seen dozens of animals, all too vibrant and real, bounding around, bleating, before the Watchertrees found them. Bograms had really outdone himself this time. He’d mimicked the blood, the animals’ bodies so much that the Watchertrees followed him—

Up, into the cave or we all die!

Ceria screamed at him. Pisces saw her face distort—and then the real Ceria was firing shards of ice at the first Watchertree.

Hold. The. Ground! No one charge! One of you idiots runs and you’ll drag us all to our deaths with the rope! We run and he’ll pull us into the cave!”

Colth spat furiously. Pisces agreed. He aimed a wand at the first Watchertree and hesitated.

[Deathbolt] didn’t really work well on flora. Both he and Ceria were running on dregs, and while Ksmvr and Colth had ranged weapons, Yvlon was—

Her metal arm elongated into a spike that struck the root of a Watchertree bursting up near her. Yvlon held the root in place, then hacked into it, spurting red bloodsap everywhere with her other arm.

Yvlon was doing just fine. But Pisces took one look at the distant Watchertrees and decided his best spells, animating undead, and [Deathbolt] were not useful here.

Time for a lateral move. Ceria shouted.

“I’m hitting the one in the back!”

Pisces hollered.


Colth and Ksmvr obligingly shifted their fire, and Pisces saw Ceria rise—and begin drawing a symbol in the air. He’d never seen her doing that before. Her eyes glowed, and he saw frost cover the rearmost Watchertree as Pisces took careful aim.

Concentrate. Concentrate…he flicked his wrist, and the [Shatterbolt] spell hit the Watchertree, and it convulsed and sagged.

Unfortunately, it was so tough that while dozens of cracks opened up and oozed red sap, the tree didn’t fall. Which was where Pisces lifted his rapier, let mana pool down one edge, and then flicked his sword.

[A-Arc of Midnight]!

Colth looked up as Pisces slashed, and a black arc of magic shot across the ground. The scything blade was slightly off, but it hit the Watchertree two to the right of Pisces’ target and gouged out a large sliver of the tree’s mass. Ksmvr raised his crossbow overhead, clacking his mandibles.

“Good shot, Pisces!”

Pisces sat down hard, hoping his stone perch wouldn’t give way. Out of mana—again! He reached for one of his remaining mana potions—then swore.

“Colth! I’m out of mana potions! Give me yours!”

Colth turned, threw—and the mana potion landed twenty feet wide of Pisces.

Bograms! Colth flicked his hand.

“[Retry Mistake]. You fucking—that’s the last one! Make it count!”

The bottle flew back into his hand, and he tossed it at Pisces. The [Necromancer] caught it and chugged. He began slashing again, and two more [Arcs of Midnight] cut the Watchertrees deep. The other two missed.

“Maybe aim a bit better, Pisces?”

“It’s not easy, and I don’t have practice!”

“Well, why don’t you practice your ancestors damned spells before a life-or-death engagement—”

Colth and Pisces were screaming at each other when Ceria’s eyes flashed and she sat down, gasping.

Got one!

They all looked up, and Pisces saw one of the Watchertrees was frozen dead solid. It was covered in a thin layer of ice, and the other trees seemed to sway back from it.

“[Curse of the Frozen Flesh]. Guess who’s got terrible magic resistance?”

“Got mana for another?”

“Yep. Just give me one second—”




The Watchertrees retreated after Ceria froze the second, and Pisces, Colth, and Ksmvr managed to actually chop down one with repeated attacks from afar.

Three dead trees seemed to convince the Watchertrees that this rocky terrain was no fit hunting ground. They shambled off as the Horns collapsed in place.

They were utterly drained from that battle, and Colth didn’t beat around the bush.

“Okay. Nap time. Bograms really wants us up and into the cave.”

He pointed up the mountainside, and Pisces saw the mouth of a huge tunnel gaping out at them. There actually seemed to be cut stone, but it was mostly buried by the same reddish rock and debris and ash from the City of Shields’ ruins.

Even the gel coating seemed like it had been erased here—not that Pisces saw more than the occasional shoot of some struggling plants. The [Necromancer] lay there a second.

“If…only…we were able to risk a dash after the Watchertrees. They must be going in the direction of the Bloodfields.”

“Can’t. Nine of them took all our energy. If we want to survive a trek through all of them, we need a strategy. Even Deniusth wouldn’t be that stupid. Get some rest.”

Colth rolled up in his sleeping bag, and Pisces sat back, stung by the short response. Ceria opened one eye grumpily.

“Who made you Captain? Well, he’s right. With our luck, Bograms will turn the entire Bloodfields invisible. I need…to rest. Not that I’ll get any mana back.”

“Post a guard?”

Yvlon yawned as she tugged out her favorite pillow. Ceria shook her head.

“What’s the point? You know that—that asshole…give me four hours.”

The Horns passed out as Ksmvr stopped chewing on some rations and began to sleep sitting upright. Pisces was panting, and he wished he could wash himself—even for him, he felt filthy.


He muttered, grateful for the cleaning spell, then lay on his back. Pisces stared up at the sky.

Colth is doing his best, but he parlays best off other people with high-level classes. Of them all—Ceria isn’t Level 40, but her circlet let her kill two Watchertrees. If she had the ability to replenish mana, she might be able to handle Bograms with her frost magic.

Yvlon is the highest-level, but she’s a melee class. Not much for Colth to synergize with when it comes to countering Bograms. Ksmvr is young and lower-level, though his Sword School has a lot of promise.

The person who has the best chance of countering Bograms is…me. I have a magic school famous for its utility. I have the potential. But…

He lay there, more and more certain he wouldn’t hear the words when he slept. He had the same problem as Erin in the end. Pisces closed his eyes, sure he would dream once again of being one of them. Another Az’kerash. Another man who became a dark nightmare.

The Level 39 [Deathbane Necromancer] closed his eyes. For his team, he would set forth and fight and do what he could.

But he feared what he would become.




By now, Yvlon Byres was getting a handle on her dreams, and she was trying to use it offensively. The pillow seemed to help. Maybe it was a good-luck charm?

She was calm and under no illusions about their circumstances. Whatever was in that cave—Yvlon hoped she’d wake up if something in it threatened the team. The stress of trying to navigate the Crossroads blind—literally with Bograms around—and the feeling they were about to run into something that would well and truly mulch everyone was leaving everyone tense.

But Yvlon was calm.

Definitely. She was an oasis of calm, and all that rage was being stored in the Byres vault for later.

When it mattered, she would rage.

The dreams felt, to Yvlon, like one of her greatest assets, and she wished she was Level 20. Maybe if she could reach that level, she could…hop into Bograms’ dream?

She did look, but wherever it was, it wasn’t anywhere she could ‘find’. Yvlon suspected, in the way of dreams, her team’s were more accessible to her by proximity or familiarity.

And the goblin pillow meant it was easier to find, well…The Wandering Inn.

Maybe it was because that was where Yvlon wanted to be. Maybe it was because it was a day before the Solstice…two? Maybe it was because of all the damn fog.

The Wandering Inn vanished, and the sea of souls became a cloud of darkness that no one could find their way through. Yvlon Byres walked around aimlessly, passing by an old woman who gave her a strange look, a grinning warrior who waved at her—flashes of quasi-encounters in the dream-state. Everything was fluid on the outskirts of the protective…barrier?

A cloud of obfuscation. Yvlon felt her way through the clouds, turning right, left…then to her astonishment, she stumbled into the inn.


Yvlon Byres opened her eyes and saw the door again. Two glorious wings framing a door—only it was locked, and there was a window that showed Erin Solstice snoozing in her [Garden of Sanctuary].

“Erin? Hey, Erin! It’s me! We need help!”

Yvlon was here! In fact, she saw multiple people half-present. A snoozing Chaldion, Relc, Valeterisa—Yvlon was upstairs, trying to open doors and banging on the borders of their dreams.

But she couldn’t get in. Each time, this new door to the [Garden of Sanctuary] would block her, revealing those within snoozing, guarded by…

Well, damn it.

“I’m a friend of Erin Solstice! Let me in! Let me—

Yvlon was rapidly pulling a Noass as she hammered on the door, but this one didn’t open to her. Instead, she saw the keyhole flashing and glumly realized that in dreams, she needed more than just friendship.

Even so, the fact that she’d gotten to The Wandering Inn with the Shadowloaf’s protection outside was astonishing to multiple people. Yvlon was downstairs, trying to find anything real in the dream-version of the inn to leave a message with.

She had the idea Erin might be able to send help via the Bloodfields, risky as that was. But Yvlon turned and stepped into the kitchen as nine figures walked into the inn and sat down.

One of them was wearing a full set of armor and was silent—the other eight looked completely different. One of them Yvlon recognized purely because of the voice.


“They lurk the edges of the Floodplains. However, even the three-in-one cannot appear within the borders so easily.”

“Aye, well, she could, Shaestrel.”


Shaestrel? Yvlon poked her head out of the kitchen as she saw a half-beast, half-woman sitting in a courtly dress, adorned in spring, talking to a smaller fae, who had dragonfly wings, black eyes, and pale blue skin.

The Spring Faerie was clearly more important than the winter one; she seemed to be realer, too, and the silent warrior turned their head to Yvlon and nodded as the other faeries clamored. Shaestrel was frowning.


“Aye, she could. But she’d be blind, better to us. She’s arrogant, but no fool, that one. If one stepped into this fog, the other two’s aspects would be blind as well. Nae, we won’t discount it, but better Theillige waits to see what she of Last Stands does. I don’t trust—gyaaaaah!


She jumped, leaping out of her seat when she saw Yvlon. Theillige was pointing, and the [Armsmistress] waved weakly.

“Is this a dream?”

The faeries leapt up with cries of excitement—and alarm. One flew to the windows, and another—who looked like a furry…goat woman? She had horns and fur, but was nothing like a Gnoll—pointed at Yvlon.


“How are you here? The bread Erin baked should be—”


Shaestrel was incredulous. She glanced out the window, and Yvlon spoke.

“Someone tell Erin we need help! We’re lost in the Crossroads of Izril! There might be a door in the Bloodfields, but we’re being attacked by a master illusionist—a monster called Bograms! Not a Bogleraum!”


“Hah, knew it. ‘Tis always something. But their thread of fate really does always link back with Erin Solstice.”


One of the fae commented as Yvlon tried to get out as many details as possible. Yvlon hoped the faeries were listening. They were notoriously unpredictable.


“Nae, nae—how did you get here? You may be one who’s learned to walk dreams. But even the nosy [Witches] cannot get in! The one called Eloise’s tried all month. How did you get here?


Shaestrel was shaken. Theillige seemed impressed. They were giving Yvlon a slow nod, and the [Armsmistress] blinked and pointed to the black shadows.

“Oh, that? I’ve been trying for four days.”


“Yeah, well Kasignot and Cauwhiner have tried for a month! How’d you do it?”


One of the faeries demanded, hopping over to Yvlon. She was another…pixie? Shorter, insectile, like a child with black, Antinium-like eyes and wings. Yvlon gave the fae a blank look and tapped her nose.

“Smell. I realized it smells like Erin’s Shadowloaf bread, so I just followed the scent—what?”

The faeries, all nine of them, started laughing. Shaestrel started guffawing and had to hold onto a table to keep steady.


Smell! Smell, she says! Of course! And those idiots are all but rotten still! They wouldn’t know how to tell ambrosia apart from a Minotaur’s fart! Well, she’s probably a friend of Erin Solstice, which is why. But smell.


Yvlon was glad her predicament was getting some amusement out of someone, but she spoke hurriedly.

“Can Erin send help? I know the Solstice is happening—tomorrow? Two days? We need help. We’ll be there, I promise.”

All the faeries stopped laughing and looked up abruptly. Shaestrel stared at Yvlon hard, and her mirth turned to sudden, intense concentration.


“Another piece. This one…what say ye, Theillige?”


The figure slowly looked Yvlon up and down and nodded. Shaestrel stared ahead at something, lips moving. Then she looked at Yvlon.


“Is your will to help, Yvlon Byres?”


“Erin? Yes, of course. We’re just lost…”


“So is everyone. So will we be. As blind as you in two days. But perhaps—”


Shaestrel stared ahead, then looked around.


“Have I sent Vofea off yet?”


What a strange question. The faeries looked at each other, almost as surprised as Yvlon, but then one raised her hand.


“Not I.”


The Satyr stood up, and Shaestrel glanced at her, then at Yvlon. Shaestrel exhaled slowly.


“Then it may be. Help shall not come as you expect, Yvlon Byres, but it will come. You will have to survive as best you can. No miracles but the ones you make. Listen. You’re in a far-off land. Everything is twisting, and fate itself becomes impossible for even gods to see soon…”


She was speaking rapidly. Yvlon stared at her and the one called ‘Vofea’.

“What’s going on, Shaestrel? Can I help? Are you sending…”

The Spring Faerie pointed her finger at Yvlon, speaking more and more urgently.


Nothing is ever certain. Look out for Vofea, and trust her if she makes it. But remember first, the second time you wake! Duck—


She shouted as Yvlon felt a ringing in her ears—




You bastard! Get them!

Ceria Springwalker was on her feet, and ice covered the ground. Yvlon tore her cheek up from her pillow and saw Colth slashing at the air. She leapt up, charged—and Ceria howled.

He’s got my circlet!

Pandemonium. Pisces, Ksmvr, Yvlon, and Colth were slashing at the air. Yvlon saw a circlet and heard a howl of triumph from Colth.

“I think I’ve got—”

The scream was filled with rage and followed by pure blackness. Yvlon stumbled around, pulling on the rope, and nearly slammed into one of Ksmvr’s swords. When it was done—reality returned, and the Horns looked around in the night.

Colth bent over a splatter of red on the ground, a look of satisfaction in his eyes.

“Got them. Ceria, he was after your circlet?”

“He took it!”

The half-Elf was panting. But she too had a look of immense satisfaction. Her hair was disheveled, and she stared around but clearly couldn’t find wherever Bograms was.

“Ah. Did I just hear Bograms isn’t an idea or disembodied voice, but a real presence?”

Pisces was exceptionally unnerved, but Ceria didn’t answer him. She was looking into the distance.

“I have a position…no, damn. He just snapped it.”

A thunderous oath shook the mountain range, and Ceria sighed. Yvlon whirled to her.

“Your circlet?”

For answer, Ceria reached up, and the real circlet glimmered on her brow. Colth began chuckling darkly, and Pisces, Yvlon, and Ksmvr realized what had happened.

Bograms had snuck up in the night, clearly intending to steal Ceria’s relic—and failed. You couldn’t steal Ceria’s circlet that easily. Colth spoke as he checked the blood.

“…Looks normal. It’s not a different color. Bograms might actually be humanoid. He certainly wasn’t fast enough. I was dead asleep, and I still tagged him twice. Shame I didn’t poison my blades but no wonder he’s not brave enough to sneak up on us, invisible or not. I hope I cut him deep—but I think it was shallow.”

He bared his teeth, and the Horns looked around. Bograms was gone again, and Yvlon’s rushing blood cooled as they debated if this changed anything. Colth tried a few tricks with Bograms’ blood, including scooping up some for later—but he was no [Hexer] or expert in blood magic, and he couldn’t use [Track Quarry]—so they lay back down with one eye open.

Of course, Yvlon fell asleep before she remembered to mention…Vofea…




This time, she didn’t locate The Wandering Inn. Instead, she was sucked into a roiling dream coming from nearby.

Colth’s dream was a nightmare, and sometimes nightmares grabbed you. 

Yvlon fell into a black room at the bottom of a pit filled with water. It sloshed up to her knees as she stood, and she looked around and saw Colth.

He was standing there staring at a door as he leaned over a simple chess board filled with pieces on the table. It was a magic door similar to Erin’s own [Door of Portals], but this one was more like an allegory.

When Colth stared through it, he saw the Haven. Larracel, Barnethei, what Yvlon took to be his friends, Mihaela, Deniusth, Eldertuin, and more waving at him. Colth took a step towards the door—then looked down at the board.

“…sacrifice a piece.”

There were five pieces on the board. Himself, Yvlon, Ksmvr, Ceria, and Pisces. They were facing a mysterious wisp in the form of a piece larger than all of them. Yvlon bent down and saw it wasn’t actually a chessboard, but something like it with tiles and figurines…even a map of the local area.

A game board, and they were facing Bograms. It was written right on his little pedestal.

“Keep them safe. But who’s trustworthy?”

Colth didn’t notice the real Yvlon. He lifted each piece, and Ceria was wearing her circlet, and Ksmvr had a thread linking him back to the looming figurine of the Antinium. Pisces was tainted by undeath, and Yvlon wore a calculating smile. On half their faces. The other half looked more noble, happier: a mischievous half-Elf, a cheerful Antinium, an oddly noble Pisces wearing rags and broken shackles, and Yvlon, one arm raised in victory.

Is this how you see us, Colth? Yvlon didn’t know if it was fair or disturbing. Colth picked his own piece up and moved it forwards on the board. Yvlon peered at that and got a shock.

Half of Colth was the grinning Ultimate Supporter. The Named-rank adventurer known across the north. Divorced three times…Yvlon tried to recall the other rumors about him. One of the most famous adventurers for his age—

The other half of Colth’s face had his devilish smile. A horn poked out of his head, and he wore the fragments of his smiling self, a mask. Yvlon shuddered and looked at Colth in sudden suspicion until she noticed one thing.

There were broken pieces of metal on his neck, wrist, and ankle. The same as Pisces. A broken collar…

Colth looked up, and the image of The Adventurer’s Haven called to him. Even Yvlon wanted to enter it rather than stay in this cold bucket. In fact, the water was rising now, to crotch height, and yet Colth didn’t move. He just stared into the door. Stared and stared—

For one second, it flickered. Yvlon Byres saw The Adventurer’s Haven vanish and another place appear. She saw a blank room, a chair, padded, but with manacles that would lock someone into it, and a tray of potions and vials next to the chair on a stand. Slithering into the room came a snake…

The Adventurer’s Haven returned, and everyone waved, but Colth bared his teeth at the door. Nightmare. Now Yvlon saw how it worked. The water was chest-high and rising, but Colth just stood there, playing against Bograms, as the waters rose up to his neck. Then his chin. Then he looked up and whispered at the ceiling.

“I’m still in the Wishing Well.”

“What’s that?”

Yvlon was treading water, immune to the rules of the dream that Colth was bound by. She saw the Ultimate Supporter’s head twist around suddenly, and then he stared at her—

“You’re in my dream!”

Colth shouted. His face contorted into an expression of rage, and Yvlon cried out as a light shone down. She stared up as a smiling face pointed down, and a beam of light blasted into the well, salvation—

But then the nightmare ended with a headbutt from the real Colth.




“Colth! Stop it! Get off. Get off of—”

Ceria Springwalker woke up groggy, thinking it was Bograms again. She aimed her wand around, ready to fire the last of her mana, and saw it wasn’t Bograms.

Colth and Yvlon were brawling. Well, he was punching her, and she was trying not to swing back but grab him. Ceria shouted as she leapt up.

“Stop it! Stop, you two! It’s a trick! Bograms—”

Or was he creating this illusion? It was that hesitation that messed with the other Horns as they tumbled out of their bedrolls. After they saw Yvlon’s head jerk backwards from an uppercut and the [Armsmistress] snarl, they decided it was no dream.

Stay out of my dreams.

Colth was struggling and gave Yvlon a kick as Pisces, Ksmvr, and Ceria dragged him off her. Yvlon snapped back.

“I didn’t mean to! Colth, it was an accident—”

Stay out of my damn dreams or I will stab you in your sleep.

The [Supporter] was normally cheerful, sometimes acerbic to people he knew, but Ceria had never seen him so angry, even when fighting Facestealer. He almost went for Yvlon again, but the [Armsmistress] took a step back. She was shaking in anger too.

“Yvlon. Be calm. Please?”

Ksmvr was tense, but Yvlon took a breath. She had a bloody mouth, and she inhaled, exhaled—

“I’m calm. I’m calm—

Yvlon was definitely not calm, but the Horns were sleep-befuddled, at the end of their ropes, and—Ceria hated to say it—losing.

Bograms may have lost five days in a row and failed to take her circlet, but they were running out of food, and the heart of the Bloodfields lay between them and safety if they even dared to activate this ‘gate’—if they dared to unleash Bograms on the world.

This was a war of attrition, and she was letting her team down. No—she was the odd one out. Even Colth was gelling better than Ceria.

The circlet was making her too different. She was operating on a different level than the others. She should have just gone and studied a year and mastered all the spells she needed. The circlet let her link-cast solo, gave her the intelligence and foresight she needed—but it wasn’t working with how the Horns operated.

I’ll get them killed if we continue like this. I have to think smarter. I have to use better magic. I have to…

“Colth, chill. I’ll freeze you and Yvlon if either of you swing. Let’s resolve this—now.”


Colth spat at her, but he didn’t move as Yvlon lowered her arms, which had been shielding her face. Ceria nodded at Yvlon.

“[Dreamer] class?”

The [Armsmistress] nodded, panting.

“Yes. I was sucked into Colth’s dream. It was an accident.”

“Don’t do it again. Next time—”

Yvlon’s voice rose in exasperation.

“It was an accident, Colth.”

“Don’t. Do. It. Again.”

Colth didn’t look ready to be reasonable. He looked closer to snapping than anything Ceria had seen, and so the half-Elf signaled Yvlon with her raised brows. She was relieved Yvlon understood her—one trick from Bograms might have started a fight. Where was he? Hiding? Pulling a real monster on them?

He hadn’t pulled anything more dangerous than Watchertrees and that first wave of monsters. Given he had a body, maybe he was in danger from other predators. Could they use that against him?

“I’m sorry, Colth. But listen—I was dreaming, and I got to The Wandering Inn! It was this dream-thing, and there was fog—but I think I made contact with the Winter Sprites.”

Even Colth blinked at that. Ceria’s heart leapt.

“What? Really? Are reinforcements coming?”

Yvlon hesitated.

“—One person, I think. Vofea?”

Everyone stared at her. Ceria began scratching at her head, her newest tic.

“Okay, I’m going to ignore that because it sounds insane. If you got there once, let’s put you to sleep—I’ll cast [Sleep]. Unless you have more mana, Pisces? And how about this? You get them to send, I dunno, an army to burn through the Bloodfields and find the gate if there is one. Tell them to get Valeterisa, uh…Ilvriss, and Chaldion on the job. Halrac and Jelaqua to reinforce. Got it?”

Colth was still shaking, and Yvlon was hesitating. Ceria was in planning mode and clapping her hands together. They had to move fast. No telling if Bograms was listening in, but this was their way out.

“Yvlon? Come on—”

Ceria was pointing towards their bedrolls, and Pisces touched Colth’s arm—received a punch so fast to his ribs that he doubled over. Ksmvr lifted a hand to slap Colth’s arm, and Ceria began to snap.

Then she saw Yvlon’s head duck down and saw something strike her head. Or rather, the impact on her hair and helmet she’d slept in.

The enchanted metal deformed slightly, and Ceria’s eyes opened. Something picked up Yvlon, and the Horns whirled.


Colth leapt, tearing for his blades, and something hit him out of the air. Ceria pointed her wand, and a single [Ice Spike] struck—

Something was dragging Yvlon through the air! She was unconscious, and Pisces and Ceria were out of mana.


Ksmvr leapt after Yvlon, but Bograms shifted Yvlon to block Ksmvr’s swords, and he landed hard. Bograms was howling as he ran up the mountain.

“Curse you. Curseyoucurseyoucurseyoucurseyou—

Ceria ran after Bograms, abandoning the camp, going for her daggers as Colth surged after him. Yvlon was high off the ground—he was big. Pisces stumbled, unable to even cast [Flash Step], and Ksmvr slashed from the side—his swords bit something, and a blow flipped him off his feet. He landed, dazed, and Bograms was climbing higher.

All the Horns slammed into a rock face rather than the terrain they were expecting. Even now, his illusions—

“Get him!”

The rope connecting Yvlon to them tripped Bograms up. It actually pulled the Horns up, and Bograms cursed—Ceria was halfway up, scrabbling up by touch, when he snapped the rope.


He was at the mouth of the cave when Ksmvr landed. The Antinium slashed, his swords a blur of silver, and Ceria saw blood flying through the air as he stabbed repeatedly.

Curse you—you thing! Curse you, bug-thing!

Bograms howled, a sob in his voice. He must have backed away and dropped Yvlon, because she fell. Ceria scrambled up as Pisces got to the top just after Colth.

“Outside, now!

He roared at Ksmvr, but Ksmvr was feeling at Yvlon’s head.

“Her skull is not dented. Let’s—”

They were grabbing Yvlon when a gleeful voice spoke. Bograms—and Ceria saw into the cave at last. Only, she realized it wasn’t a cave.

That caved in archway meant this was more than a mere hole in the mountain. The ground was still broken, but now it was stone, and Ceria saw they were past the archway, and there, set into the wall of the cavern around crumbled stone, was an ancient plaque.

It read, in a language she could not read but distinctly knew…


Welcome to the Training Grounds of the City of Shields.


Drakeish. Their distinct written language. Ceria backed up one step, mouth moving too slow to keep up with her mind.

“Oh shit. Run—

Bograms’ voice boomed gleefully behind them from the mouth of the cave.

Please. Start the trial.

And then the light of a magical spell illuminated Ceria, a complex teleportation spell. She shouted as it grabbed each member of the Horns.

Colth, shoving at Pisces, the [Necromancer] trying to destroy the spell, Ceria, shouting a warning, Ksmvr, holding onto Yvlon, and the [Armsmistress], head lolling.

Then they vanished, and Bograms chuckled and danced and then stalked into the place only he knew. Now they died. His massive feet trod slowly forward, almost reverentially, as he stared at the distant wonder of the lost City of Shields.

A maze, walls twenty feet high, crackling with flashing magic that raced around the border, a glowing jewel of power floating high above encased in arcane force. Broken walls, shattered statues and traps, and patrolling beings of light broken by time and force—

One of the traps guttered out, jetting sparks of light that burned through the air and landed in huge pits of stone that turned molten from the heat of the magic. Bograms tip-toed towards the labyrinth and went hunting.




Defeated. Scattered into a trap.

The Horns vanished in a haze of light, each one trapped in a bubble of space and time that flung them across the strange maze. When they appeared, each one found themselves on a circular dais on the ground, marked by runes that still glowed with light.

There was a plaque as well, but someone had smashed the one next to Colth.

Colth. Colthei. World’s greatest [Supporter]. The Ultimate Supporter. The Cheerful Lad—that was an older nickname from the days when he’d been a Silver-rank adventurer in the company of new legends.

Virtually nothing of that younger man remained. A decade and change had passed since then, and—as Colth turned and saw three walls around him, old sandstone in look, giving way to reveal a crystalline structure underneath thrumming with pale yellow light and inhaled the musty, dust-laden odors of the labyrinth, opening his mouth to call out—

He still felt like a novice adventurer sometimes.


Colth cut himself off mid-bellow. Idiot. He backed up to one wall, setting himself in the corner with his two shortswords drawn. They were called ‘Felblades’, a weaker version of the famous Baneblades that cleaved through almost anything.

Bograms could be right on top of me in a second. If he teleports in—Colth knew Bograms had a form. Therefore, any subtle clues, even the faintest shift in the air, were a sign to attack.

Nothing happened. Colth listened. He knew the other Horns were in this labyrinth. Establish the facts. Larracel had been the greatest adventurer of her time—a [Wizard] extraordinaire who took a factual, logical approach to adventuring compared to Deniusth half-assing it.

Colth Facts:


1. Bograms is a real person. He has to be eight feet tall, and I swear he was half as wide. Ogre?*

2. Yvlon’s out. Her helmet’s dented, but Ksmvr didn’t feel a contusion on her skull. She might just be passed out.*

3. We are in some kind of labyrinthine maze. City of Shields? In the midst of a trial.*

4. The other Horns are scattered in position. Different start positions.*

5. Yvlon mentioned a ‘Vofea’. Assuming that wasn’t an illusion.*


*If any of this is real.


The facts all had an asterisk on them. And it was why Colth was sweating despite the faint chill in the air, why he would rather it were Facestealer again or an Adult Creler.

Those foes were easy. They killed you, and you died.

This one…Colth found himself panting for air. He steadied himself with a [Diver] Skill.

[Controlled Breaths]. A Skill most people thought you wouldn’t need. Why bother to regulate your breathing?

Well…it was very situationally useful. If, say, you had a limited oxygen supply with a Bottle of Air and were diving for treasures off the coast, it was invaluable.

Or you were hyperventilating.

Focus. Bograms was now hunting them. Why? He had clearly lured them here, done everything he could, up to exposing his true form and taking wounds, to get the Horns into this base.

Why not kill them earlier and have done with it?

Logic dictated a few answers. Colth was good at reading people. He suspected Bograms was, above all things, both sadistic and a coward.

The way he’d unveiled himself by using the myth of Bogleraums and his appearance as that twisted, giant Drake had meant to scare the Horns, and he’d gotten angry when they’d failed to play his game. The fact that he had the physical strength to knock out Yvlon meant he could have ambushed them from the start.

However, intelligence and cowardice had led him to observe the Horns and bait them into a trap. Ksmvr tagging Bograms and Colth doing the same meant he wasn’t much cough in a straight fight.

If we could nail down his position, we’d need a minute to dice the bastard unless he’s got a new trick. 

If this is real. 

I’m still in the Wishing Well. I’m going to wake up in the chair again.


Colth had bitten through one lip. He wiped sweat from his brows. This wasn’t another illusion. Even Yazdil couldn’t simulate half a decade of lived experiences.

Unless all of that was just a fake memory.

He was not…doing…well. Colth should have told the Horns from the start. But he was the Named-rank here. They were plucky, tough, and yes, surprising rookies, but he was the one who should be looking out for them.

He should have told them that of all monsters and types of enemies—illusion magic was the thing he wanted to fight the least.

There was only one thing for an adventurer to do in this situation. Colth forced himself out of the corner. Assume the labyrinth has traps, yes. Assume that bastard is going to kill Yvlon first, if he can, and pick the Horns off one by one.

Even now, he was still in the Haven’s shadow.

“This one’s for you, Larra. [Replicate Advanced Skill: Foolhardy Taunt].”

Colth inhaled. Then he shouted, and the word cracked around the maze, bouncing off walls.


He was sure the monster heard that. A taunt-Skill meant that Bograms would have to focus on him. That bought Yvlon time.

Good. I can fight him without worrying about hitting one of the Horns. Colth slipped a throwing dagger out of one sleeve and began priming his weapons. Poison time. He’d start tossing them the moment he thought he was being ensorcelled.

Colth began to inspect his surroundings and bent down to gather pebbles. He flicked a few at the wall to memorize how they sounded and how far away the wall was. He was under no illusions. This was Bograms’ home turf. If he thought this was his shot at the Horns…it was going to get bad.

Colth’s hand was shaking already. He began to prowl forwards, finally moving into the labyrinth proper. He was clearly at some start point, probably the deepest point in the maze. A three-walled corridor led to a left-angled corner in an ‘L’ shape.

Beware of traps. Beware of monsters. Beware of invisible—I hate illusions.

Colth got five steps before he sensed magic activating. Wonderful. He sprang back, checking the dais, but nothing appeared behind him. He sensed a presence ahead, and something appeared.

It was, to Colth’s lightning-quick reactions, a shimmering light-construct, bog-standard for many old types of magic. The outline of a Drake, albeit without detail, much like the one they’d seen at the City of Crossroads.

It was bright yellow with both hands clasped behind its back as Colth pointed a sword at it. The figure was smiling. It said:


Then the world exploded.




Yvlon Byres was dreaming.

It was a bad dream. She was half-conscious, aware of something picking her up, hearing the shouts and her teammates—but she was falling.

She was out of it, so the spinning Yvlon was trying to wake up as she heard the confusion, but she couldn’t ‘see’ anything—her eyes were closed, and even the voices and her mind were distorted.

Then something glowed, and she felt silence. Silence—and the Horns were gone. They occupied the land of the waking. Yvlon, in dreams, was somewhere…else.

A vast land stretched out around her, like the Crossroads, but represented in some way her mind understood as a dream. She saw familiar purple and red warring…a stain of the Bloodfields, and looked around.

The Wandering Inn? She was flickering, probably waking up, so she doubted she could get far. But of all the confusing things in this dream-land, other dreams she could intrude upon, representations that crossed between waking and this dream-state—a single figure caught Yvlon’s eye.

I’m coming! I’m almost there!

A bright figure called out, and Yvlon saw that horned head again. Two bright eyes. A smile Yvlon recognized.

A Satyr waved at her as Yvlon reached out. Vofea had a very familiar expression on her face. Yvlon had seen it in a mirror sometimes, or on Ceria’s or Pisces’ or even Ksmvr’s and Colth’s faces.

Here came someone else ready to die. Yvlon reached out—

Then began to wake up.




Five Horns. One Bograms. A maze.

All but one encountered the first obstacle of the maze moments after surveilling their surroundings. Yvlon pushed herself up, looked around, and took two unsteady steps forwards.

Colth advanced after challenging Bograms.

Pisces took off running, shouting for Yvlon.

Ceria checked her circlet, swore for a full minute, and, after reviewing her mana reserves, took one step forwards—

And the glowing Drake appeared.

He smiled—at least, what they could see of his face. It was a generic, nondescript Drake devoid of features, a construct of light magic.

He said: “Welcome.”

Then the world exploded.

Pisces went deaf. The burst of sound and air literally knocked him off his feet. The projection fizzled, stretching wide and distorting in a flash, and Pisces completely missed the rest—he hit the ground hard, ears ringing, and lay there a second before rolling, aiming his rapier at—

He caught a glimpse of the strange light-Drake’s mouth moving, saw it bow and vanish. Pisces said something…

“—? —!”

He was deaf. It took several minutes for the ringing to die out. Only then did Pisces look around again.

Blind, deaf, and completely idiotic. They’d let Bograms trap them here! What was that Drake? An attack?

“No. Where’s Yvlon? [Detect Life]!”

Pisces cast a spell and instantly regretted it. His mana reserves were almost tapped, despite his rest, and the spell, slight as it was, instantly gave him a headache.

Also, it did absolutely nothing. He stared around, squinting at the walls of the maze…then down at his hands. They shimmered green in his enhanced vision.

But he saw nothing in the maze.

Spell-blocking walls. Wonderful. Pisces’ sense of alarm ratcheted up higher. He surveyed the walls and looked about. Broken rubble, a mostly destroyed plaque except for the first few sentences…teleportation rune…

He was in a maze. A genuine magical maze, the likes of which you’d hear of in stories! Pisces knew there was a cleared maze of this kind in Medain and one of Kaaz’s lesser dungeons—they were museums now, tributes to the adventurers who had cleared them.

We are in a completely unknown maze, likely eroded by time, which Bograms is hunting us in. 

Incredible. If it weren’t for the horrific danger, Pisces would be delighted. As it was, he turned his head around, still half-dazzled by the light and soundburst. Then he stared at the plaque, and his eyes widened.

“Dead gods.”




The plaque read:


—ear Newcomer.

Welcome to the Trial of Shields. —st step to—induction of our ranks.

—all out—[Mazekeeper] if any event occurs.

—Command words: ‘help’, ‘assistance’, ‘emergency’—be provided.

Best of luck. Fortitude shall endure all trials.


Ceria had no idea what it said. The plaque was badly damaged, and she knew two things.

One: the script was Drakeish or something. It reminded her of the older script she’d seen in Skinner’s crypt.

Two: she really, really wished she had enough mana to cast [Translate]. Or that she knew how to read the Drake script in general. Ceria wavered for a second, but if it was self-defense or reading what looked like an introduction to this stupid maze…

“Damn species with their damn written languages. Everyone can just speak one.

Ceria cursed as she rubbed at her ringing ears. That artificial Drake had spoken a word and blasted her hearing away. The sudden teleportation and Bograms’ attack hadn’t helped either.

The circlet gave her focus. It enhanced her intelligence, gave her magic a boost, was literally a mana well, and, she suspected, boosted her very spellcasting.

She was definitely relying on it now, but Ceria thought the core of her was still…Ceria. Which was arguably not for the better.

I don’t even know if I’d manage to cast [Translation] without fifteen minutes to re-figure it out from my spellbook. I’ve left too many spells lapsed. I didn’t refresh all the non-essential ones because it’s a pain to re-memorize each one.

It was like memorizing a mathematical formula or complex nursery rhymes. You generally had a limit to how many you could ‘store’ in your mind at any time. Some spells you got via levelling and could always cast, but without regular practice you could forget spells you learned.

I’ll make a list of a hundred and memorize them with the circlet from now on. Ceria gloomily poked the plaque, looked around, and walked forwards.

In hindsight, she realized she’d been slacking on a lot after running into Bograms. Ceria was good at using ice magic. She was sort of a specialist there, so it made sense. [Ice Spike] and [Ice Lance] solved a lot of problems, and her utility spells, [Ice Floor] and [Ice Wall], could literally build most constructions.

But a four-spell [Mage] had flaws. Like when you entered a mana-free zone and became dead weight for your team. Or when you were virtually out of mana, separated from your team, and Bograms was about to smash your head in.

Ceria improvised. She had been re-learning some spells, and she evaluated her mana pool. She was out of mana. But the circlet had deep pools and could shift its mana supply.

It was hard to explain. Most [Mages] were a well of magic, but it generally had their flavor. Ceria’s mana was frost magic. Obviously. The circlet was like an adaptive well. It could become death mana for necromancy and allow her to cast linked spells. Or a more universal well. It was about efficiency. Ceria had about three spells’ worth of mana left. She decided she needed to use two.

“[Gazelle’s Dexterity]. [Speed].”

If you were a [Mage] running out of mana…you had better get ready to fight or run like spit. If Bograms found her, Ceria wouldn’t get much chance to defend herself, so she sped up her reflexes.

Two minutes on [Speed]. Six on [Gazelle’s Dexterity]. Time to get exploring.

Greater intelligence didn’t mean Ceria could do a [Rogue]’s job. So she relied on her adventuring knowhow and her tools. Her bag of holding might be out of useful potions, but it had all a smart adventurer needed.

Like a long stick. Ceria had one she’d been using to hike with, and she pulled it out and advanced, swishing the stick in front of her like Laken’s cane. With her other hand, she pulled out her wand.

She survived the first corner, which led right. Excellent! Ceria came across a corridor that was blasted into pieces. A jet of burning flames sprayed into the air with such intensity it radiated heat down the entire hallway—some red mushrooms were growing on the far end, the only thing that could survive the intense heat. A broken wall exposed a glass conduit, and Ceria felt a haze of magic in the air.

“Ah. Shit.”

Presumably, this was a trap. Ceria saw holes in the wall and assumed it was some kind of…flaming magic trap. All fine and dandy, right? There were holes in the ground that spat lower-intensity flames out in a pretty pattern. If you were fast, you could probably do a complex dance and nimbly head through the trap.

…One of the flame spells was completely broken and shooting a blue-white-red flame straight into the air, barring her path. Ceria took three steps forwards, and her body instantly heated up.

If she had ice magic…Ceria glanced at the broken wall. That was very promising. It looked like this maze was old and decrepit. Therefore, she could leap through the wall and get deeper into the maze or closer to an exit. Right? Perfect!


It had already been going off, of course. But the faint ringing turned up a magnitude as Ceria walked forwards to the wall. She froze—backed up—and put her back to the wall. Then leapt away from that wall as it flashed.

“Dead gods! Tree rot and—”

The flash of magic came from above. Ceria saw something hanging high up in the air, obscured by some darkening effect, flash. A jewel of some kind above the maze pulsed—and magic ran through the wall Ceria had been leaning against.

So much power that it made Valeterisa look like a Level 5 [Novice Spellcaster]. It flickered through the wall, curving right, running around the corridor Ceria was in, and she sensed the magic running through the entire maze via each wall.

So that’s how this maze still has p—

Then Ceria saw the magic reach the broken section of the wall. The mana that had been transported via the glass conduits touched the air and became…

Well, it looked like a roaring wall of yellow light. A torrent of particles. It blasted the air around the gap, and most of the magic refocused like iron filings following a magnetic stone, funneling into the conduit, and kept racing around the maze.

The rest of it entered the atmosphere, and the flame-trap exploded with fire. Ceria recoiled and raced around the corridor, swearing.

“Dead gods!”

Her entire face was baked. The flame spell, already hot, had overloaded, and her skin was in agony. That was sheer, raw mana surging in such force it had a physical presence in the world.

She had no doubt that if she’d been in the path of it, it would have probably blown her to pieces. Ceria poked her head around the corridor, and the racing power was gone. But then she stared up into the gloom overhead.

“Great. So that thing pulses and charges the dungeon. But every time it does…the gap in the wall becomes instant-death. Also…”

She stepped forwards and poked the broken section of the wall with a stick. Ceria felt nothing but air. She shuffled forwards a few steps, eyes on the sky…poke…poke…

The inviting hole in the wall looked only about five feet across. Easy to just jump through in a second’s time, right? Especially since the gem wasn’t flashing. Ceria moved forwards, stepping into the gap. Poke, poke…


Her stick hit something hard, and Ceria recoiled. The ‘empty’ air in front of her wasn’t so empty. She tapped at the ground and felt rough stone. Ceria traced the wall right—it wasn’t smooth at all. It was—


Ceria leapt back from the gap in the walls and took cover just in time. Power once again blasted through the empty gap in the walls, and her hair stood on end. She peeked around the corner and then exhaled.

“Hey, Bograms. Your illusion is shit.”

She heard a loud, braying laugh. Down the corridor, a familiar giant Drake poked his head out past the flame trap. The one-eyed cyclops Drake leered at her.

“Give me the circlet and I’ll let you go free, you wretched half-Elf.”

“Free to walk into that inviting gap in the wall and get fried? I don’t think so.”

Ceria ignored the illusion of Bograms and tapped the wall. She thought so.

The wall’s got to be at least ten feet thick. Twenty feet high—and the gap isn’t where it looks like. If she had rushed forwards trying to jump through the gap in the wall, she might have gotten fried.

She couldn’t spot the opening as it was. Worse…Ceria’s heart sank.

“Is this an emplaced illusion? Oh, come on. Have you been setting illusion traps here for years?

Her worst suspicions began to ring true. Bograms started laughing as he moved around the corridor, ignoring the broken flame trap and crawling towards her. Ceria’s skin crawled.

So this was why he wanted them here. Not only was he in the maze—he’d set up permanent illusions. This nice hole in the wall? Just waiting for her to leap through. That flame trap? Might be distorted.

And yet…she backed up slowly from the hole in the wall, one eye on Bograms’ outline crawling towards her. Ceria put her back to the wall again, breathing in hard. Her [Speed] spell was fading.


A shout—the crawling Drake jerked. Ceria recognized Colth’s voice and saw Bograms’ illusion twist. She lifted her wand and shouted as she aimed it just right of the hole in the wall.

“[Ice Lance]!”

Her spell struck Bograms—at least part of him. She heard a shriek of surprise, felt the impact as her ice spell shattered on the wall and sprayed her with shrapnel, then the sounds of heavy footfalls.

“That’s right! Eat shit!”

Ceria ducked back as Bograms howled.

I’ll kill you and eat your face, half-Elf!

He was backing up, she was sure. But if Colth was taunting him or something—the monster was fighting it. He snarled—and she heard his voice from ahead of her now. Ceria grinned. She lifted her wand and, to Bograms’ surprise and horror—began spellcasting.

[Ice Spike]!

Ceria began blasting the air with [Ice Spikes] as they ‘vanished’ into the wall. She heard screams as they passed through the illusion and hit Bograms. He rapidly retreated, and Ceria panted, grinning.

Come back! I was just getting warmed up!

The [Prankster] shouted. She heard the faintest sound of cursing, running—and guessed that Bograms really was running from her. She waited, then ducked behind the wall and slid down.

Juicing flowers, that was close. Ceria was totally out of mana now. If Bograms had come for her…

“Good thing he’s dumb as Mrsha.”

She’d bluffed him out. The moment Ceria had seen Bograms crawling at her through the flame spell she’d suspected he was coming at her from the side. There was the faintest breeze blowing through the actual hole in the wall, and so she’d taken a lucky shot.

As to how she’d had the mana to even pretend she still had some power left…Ceria put one hand on the wall and grimaced.


There was no mana she could pull out of the wall like she’d hoped. With a sigh, Ceria glanced up, and the jewel floating overhead pulsed obligingly.

Looked like it did that every minute. The mana rushed through the maze—and once again blasted out of that hole in the wall. Ceria drew in as much as possible.

Bograms had made a mistake. The Crossroads of Izril was mana-empty…but this maze was not. Each time the jewel pulsed, Ceria could draw in some mana, especially via her circlet.

Not much…she guessed it was enough for one [Ice Spike] spell each minute. But she’d take it. Ceria felt her [Speed] spell wear off and canceled [Gazelle’s Dexterity].

“Okay. Here we go. Magic time.”

She waited seven minutes, tense as could be, waving the stick in the air in front of her as she returned to her starting position. She’d probably have died if Bograms had rushed her…but Colth seemed to have baited him away.

Seven minutes later, Ceria emerged from her position and cast a spell two times.

“[Ice Wall]. [Ice Wall] with super cold ice—aaaah!”

She ran for it. Her walls of ice did two things. Firstly, one blocked the hole in the wall she’d discovered so Bograms couldn’t sneak up on her. Secondly, Ceria blocked the flaming jet spell in front of her. She raced forwards as the flames bored a hole in her ice wall.

Ceria threw herself forwards, hit the ground and rolled and came up, feeling blisters of heat on her back. She swore, hopped forwards while still dancing in pain—and saw a new corridor filled with an odd, checkerboard design of tiles that was definitely a trap.

However…there was another hairline crack in the wall, and as Ceria used her slightly burnt stick, she found the entire corridor was free of illusions. Even the tiles seemed to be accurate—she poked them all, and all the white tiles did nothing, but they were the fewest and far between, and she noted they stopped halfway down the corridor.


Green, Red, Blue, Yellow, White…Ceria stared blankly at the tiles and noted a path through the corridor. There were little tiles on the walls, and she rolled her eyes.

“So the pattern changes, and if you don’t hop to the right ones, you get fried. Who made this?”

The important thing was that the corridor was real. And…Ceria poked one tile and jumped as a Tier 1 [Shock] spell blasted upwards.

“It’s not even that painful. I could probably roll down the corridor and survive.”

…She wasn’t going to do that. She might survive, but she’d be a mass of injuries. Even so, it told her something.

Whatever way out of the maze there was—this was the right passage. If she’d gone through the hole in the wall, she’d probably be running into Bograms’ illusions. Whereas going through this flame trap—the path of most resistance—meant she wouldn’t run into his tricks.

Ceria waited for another charge of the dungeon to fill her circlet a bit, then, sighing, began hopping from tile to tile. Once she was halfway down the hallway, she cast [Icy Floor] behind her and ahead and waited.

Her aura of cold could let her see if Bograms walked on the ice floor. Ceria waited three minutes, shuffling on a safe tile, then advanced. She dispelled the [Icy Floor] ahead of her…reached the end of the corridor, and turned.

Slow. Slow as molasses, but she covered her rear with [Ice Wall] as her mana recharged. Then advanced with another [Ice Wall] walling off the next corridor. Ceria took one look at a busted-up alcove and shook her head.

“Some kind of trap? Or testing ground?”

It looked actually like the alcove had been home to a bunch of mirrors—or one huge one. She stared blankly at the words overhead and the giant mirror. A way for the creators to spy on her? A…portal? It was set into an alcove flanked by reliefs of Oldblood Drakes—statues that were purely statues. There had been something set into the alcove’s walls—Ceria saw a tiny fragment of something glittering.

Gemstones. Someone had already looted this place. Probably Bograms. Bastard. Ceria kept moving.

She paused—tested each wall and the ground with her stick, froze the alcove after three more minutes of letting her mana recharge, and decided this corridor was safe too. Slowly, Ceria passed that corridor and the next.

An hour later, she had passed six corridors and three traps. Ceria was walling off a ‘T’ intersection and heading left when it occurred to her she was going at a snail’s pace. She had no idea how big this maze was. If she didn’t find her team—Bograms might have the time to just pick her off at the end.

Ceria hesitated…but her circlet was screaming at her. Or was her mind?

Don’t get yourself killed. Caution! Caution over being an idiot!

It was the most un-Ceria thing she had done. Ceria Springwalker knew the traps she’d run across—with the exception of the broken wall and the busted flame trap—were not lethal.

I could just trust the [Ice Wall] has my back and move faster. Colth has got Bograms—

She hesitated. Find Yvlon. Find Ksmvr. Find Colth! They weren’t [Mages]. Pisces would survive best in this maze if he figured out the absorbing mana trick. But if she rushed—

Ceria’s pace was a slow, glacial crawl. Each corridor took eight minutes to clear. Then ten. Then…she slowed further.

I’ll advance faster once my circlet recharges. Do things at full mana or not at all.

Her pale winter eyes glowed as she sat down, crossing her legs to meditate and draw more mana from the air. Slow. Calm. Deliberate.

She was…afraid of Bograms. The half-Elf realized it after another twenty minutes of sitting. Then her eyes widened.

“I’m not afraid.”

She pulled the circlet off and looked at it slowly.

You are.




Ksmvr realized there were fake walls and that Bograms had rigged up his illusions in the maze after clearing eighteen corridors in the first fifteen minutes.

He suspected the monster was hunting him and had his swords at the ready. Ksmvr was using the time-honored techniques of great adventurers before him to advance:

He had a long stick and poked at things before stepping on them.

Having four arms was very handy. Ksmvr knew it was very dangerous to move so fast, and the first trap had nearly gotten him. A spinning blade had popped out of the ground and nearly taken his legs out.

In theory, Ksmvr assumed it might not have been lethal; there was a very strange and frayed padded cover on one end of it that looked…soft. But someone had taken the spinning trap and, ah, sharpened it.

Attached a bunch of claws and made the non-lethal trap decidedly more dangerous. Ksmvr presumed Bograms.

He’d jumped it. Then he’d elected to cheat and jump over one of the walls. Ksmvr had noticed the flashing magic running through the dungeon, but he could jump a wall with his Ring of Jumping when it wasn’t active.

“Very strange. I wonder if this maze was meant for those with bad legs.”

Ksmvr hopped corridor after corridor, alert for any enemies or Bograms’ magic. He definitely saw it everywhere, but when he noticed it was a trapped corridor…he just hopped over the maze wall.

He didn’t call for his team, but he moved fast. This maze was gigantic, but Ksmvr thought he saw a far wall on one end and decided he could beeline for the edge of the maze and get his bearings. Maybe Yvlon hadn’t been teleported—at the very least, surveilling the maze from afar would allow him to search in a more coordinated pattern if he didn’t hear or see one of his teammates.

His aerial view just showed him countless corridors and that odd, floating jewel. As it looked to be at least two hundred feet overhead and encased in a magical barrier…Ksmvr decided not to head towards it. Though that might be the center of the maze.


Ksmvr jumped another wall and landed, ready for anything. Magic flashed around the dungeon, and the [Brave Skirmisher] readied his swords. This corridor looked like it had been lost to time; the ground had a light layer of dust, and the walls looked cracked.

After some testing, Ksmvr realized it wasn’t a Bograms-illusion. He supposed this part of the dungeon was dead.

“Unless that is what Bograms wants me to think. Hiyah!”

Ksmvr slashed at the air on a hunch—

…no, wait, nothing was there.

The Antinium scratched at his head with his remaining hands and then looked around. No Bograms. No traps.

“…Is this an easy maze? Hello?”

The Antinium had no idea what was going on. Absently, he swished his fancy new cloak around him as he turned. Stalker’s hide cloak, the only full piece of armor that the famous [Tanner], Shedrkh, had made for Ksmvr.

Colth had some pieces, and Pisces and Yvlon had gotten the protective leather, but Ksmvr’s cloak was the most powerful piece of gear among the Horns.

Obviously, he had activated the effect the moment he had appeared in the maze. It only occurred to Ksmvr then…that perhaps Bograms couldn’t see him.

The same went for the maze. Ksmvr rapidly neared the exit of the maze as his cloak’s effect deactivated. He went for another hop—

“Uh oh.”




The first idea Yvlon Byres had upon waking was to go over a wall rather than advance down the corridors.

Happily, in her spot, the walls had caved in a bit revealing some weird glass tubing running with what she assumed was magicore or something…magical. It pulsed every minute, and Yvlon kept well away from it; it made the metal in her arms tingle.

But the rubble was enough for her to actually climb up it partially—it still left a good eleven feet up to the lip of the wall, but that’s what magical arms were for.

Yvlon’s arms stretched, grasped one edge of the wall, and she pulled herself up. The [Armsmistress] grunted as she pulled herself up the wall. She’d have to be fast before that pulse-thing touched her; she didn’t like it. But a high vantage point was the basic—

A wall of light appeared and knocked Yvlon’s hands off the wall the moment her head cleared the top. She fell backwards.


Wham. Yvlon landed on her back. She groaned, sat up—and saw a barrier in the air.

“No cheating?”

It seemed so. Worse—that damn glowing Drake appeared.


That was all Yvlon heard before a thunderclap of sound blasted her in the ears again. Swearing, and deaf and blind again, she staggered to a wall and waited for the effect to stop. She heard another thunderclap in the distance.

“Ksmvr? Colth? Pisces? Ceria?”

It was way too far for her to pinpoint. When her vision cleared, Yvlon grimly looked up at the walls.

“No going over, then. Great.”

That left the maze itself. Yvlon stomped forwards, then realized this was definitely a trap dungeon. She had no companions, and she had no trap skills.

What would a smart adventurer do in this circumstance? Yvlon thought about it. She morphed one of her arms into a long stick and, sighing, poked the ground as she advanced. The first hallway was slanted upwards, and Yvlon was halfway up when she heard a soft click.

She looked down as the floor tiles depressed. Then up. An object rolled out of the far wall.

“Oh come on.”

It might have been something else—before Bograms turned it into a boulder covered with actual spikes. It rolled down slowly at first, then with alarming speed as Yvlon looked back the way she’d come, at the accelerating orb of death—she put her arms in front of her, concentrated—

A lattice of metal covered the corridor in front of her. Yvlon ducked down low. She braced—and the boulder smashed into the metal shield she’d made.

The impact knocked Yvlon off her feet, and the sound of metal meeting metal crashed through the hallway. The boulder bounced back up the incline, began to roll again—and Yvlon rammed into it. A spike ground into her armor, and she halted it, growling.

Slowly, she rotated with the sphere, grinding her back into the wall as she pivoted around it, using the barest amount of room to get behind it—then let it go. It kept rolling and vanished as it reached the far wall. Teleported back to its starting point.

Panting, Yvlon Byres caught herself. She leaned against the wall and realized, in hindsight, that if she’d used her arms to make a kind of ramp, she could have let the thing fly overhead.

…Or maybe it would have rolled on top of her. Her arms felt a bit damaged from the impact, but the metal reformed as Yvlon trudged up the corridor. She made it eighteen more steps before she heard another click.

This time, the [Armsmistress] punched the boulder as it rolled down on her. It ran over Yvlon as she shouted expletives.

She survived.




The traps were a mix of completely harmless and utterly deadly. There weren’t even traps down every corridor. Some were defunct, but the maze had a lot of stylistic flourishes.

Like, for instance, a grand panorama of Izril with Walled Cities dotting the map, carved to intricate detail, and walls upon walls of text that Colth thought were recounting their founding.

He ran through the room. If he had time, he’d come back. If not for Bograms, Colth would be recording everything or prying up ancient gold worked into the tiles, each one seemingly hand-crafted, the design baked into the ceramics he stomped over worth a fortune in art alone.

He couldn’t stop. The traps and Bograms took priority. The first one that Colth found that was obviously deadly was…a light wall.

Those normally weren’t dangerous. This one was a revolving set of light walls, a maze within a maze, that you dodged through, possibly to test your ability to navigate corridors like these.

The problem was that the spell was completely busted, and the [Light Wall] spell changed and altered. So at any moment, a [Light Wall] might appear diagonally—straight through you.

And that had the power to slice someone in half. How did Colth know this?

He found the severed half of a skeleton.


Adventurer? The body was looted regardless, and Colth had a suspicion he knew who had done it.

Bograms. He knew the dead Drake had been severed in two; the bones were in two piles, and he found a severed spine. But he noted huge, flat marks on the bones.

“Bograms ate them. Or something big did.”

His ears were still ringing from the damn Drake apparition. Colth regarded the [Light Wall] maze with narrowed eyes. He did not use a stick to confirm what he was seeing was reality—he flicked pebbles, counting where he heard a ping of them meeting a [Light Wall] barrier or landing.

Bograms’ illusion was messing with where the [Light Walls] were. Wonderful. However, Colth made a rough map of where he’d heard the stones land, worked out the timing…and went for it.

[Long Step], [Fast Roll], [Rollspring]—he moved forwards, ducked into a tight roll where a light wall opened up horizontally, sprang out of the roll into a leap—kicked off a wall, landed—

[Redirect Momentum]—Colth spun, ran forwards, leapt, and heard a faint sizzling sound as his boots hit a [Light Wall]—and reached the end of the broken maze.

Of all the Horns, Colth was probably the most adapted for this kind of challenge. He could borrow the Skills of countless classes—that was Colth.

Jack of all trades, master of none. Even his friends hadn’t ever gotten why [Supporter] was such a good class. They were—all of them—centerpieces, heroes.

No one was more defensive than Eldertuin. Deniusth was the flawless musician-duelist. Larracel, for all she was retired, had been a magician supreme.

Power, Colth reasoned, could also be in whomever was a multiplier. Everyone talked about famous heroes who slew a Dragon—but who made the Greater Flame Resistance potion?

Few people had ever seen the value in taking a gamble with your entire class or understood the personality that you needed to have to be willing to play second-fiddle with your very existence.

One person—had seen the value in Colth.

He wished Yazdil hadn’t.

Despite the clear dangers Bograms posed, Colth advanced fast and quickly, clearing a corridor every minute or less. But he was waiting…waiting for the moment he knew was coming.

When Bograms found him, it got bad.

The traps were dangerous, but they were still just…traps. Gold-rankers would know how to avoid most basic traps. Colth had just spotted a glowing Drake patrolling the dungeon when it vanished…and he saw an empty wall. He walked backwards until he found a real wall and sighed.

“There you are.”

He was sweating. Colth debated closing his eyes to avoid disorientation, but he wasn’t confident enough to advance purely blind. But then…did it matter? Bograms made the corridor appear to be a blank wall. Colth advanced into it, one hand on the real wall to his left.

It changed to a crawling mass of spiders running up his arms. Colth didn’t react. Someone shrieked in his ear.

Here! Here!

He ignored it. Colth waited, swords drawn, and then activated his helmet.


Stalker’s armor let him vanish, and he swore he heard a grunt of surprise. But his real target—the Drake sentinel—actually walked into him. Colth felt the hardlight touch him, and he burst into a flurry of slashes.

He killed the patrolling being and kept moving forwards, invisible now, hoping he bumped into Bograms. The invisible monster did not like Colth vanishing and cursed at him.

Scum. Scum of Terandria. Rot your bones!

Scum of Terandria? Odd. Colth was Izrilian. But Terandria had been the Human continent for ages. Did Bograms pre-date the Five Families?

Stalker’s Helm didn’t last more than five minutes; Ksmvr’s cloak lasted a full fifteen. When Colth reappeared, Bograms instantly filled the air with crawling insects—then the next corridor with slaughtered corpses, children, screaming people hacked to bits in gorey detail.

Colth’s face never changed. He just walked forwards, waiting for Bograms to attack. When the idiotic monster hurled a rock at him, Colth dodged, threw a dagger in the direction he’d sensed the attack come from, and heard a curse.

“Is that really the best Bograms can do? Bogleraum are properly terrifying. No wonder you call yourself ‘Bograms’. You’re not a tenth as scary as the real thing.”


A roaring voice around him. Colth bared his teeth. Good, so long as Bograms was on him…the monster began flashing more horrific imagery at Colth, but the Ultimate Supporter didn’t so much as twitch.

“Really? Dead children? More spiders? You’re pathetic. No wonder you hide away rather than fight like a man.”

Colth was saving his Skills rather than using a taunt, but he sensed Bograms getting angrier. If the thing came for him—Colth was sure he could stab it somewhere vital.

He was clearing a corridor that was suspiciously clear of traps when Bograms figured out Colth’s weakness. He changed the corridor not to a horrific sight of terrible—and fake—illusions, but to a repeat of the first place Colth had appeared.

The dais and the broken plaque—and the hallway that turned left.

Colth—twitched. It was an involuntary reflex and he covered it fast, but Bograms saw it.

The monster did not laugh.

It did not make another sound. But instead, it fixed the first hallway in place. Colth advanced swiftly, boots crunching over glass—turned left—

And he was back where he started. The [Supporter]’s heart began to beat faster.

He knew he was advancing—but Bograms just made each corridor the same this time. Every time Colth turned, left, right, no matter which way he faced—it was the same corridor.

As if he was waking up and—

Colth began to sweat. He threw a dagger in a direction he thought was towards Bograms.

“Is that all? Come and fight me, you dickless coward! I’ve seen real monsters die. You can’t even kill a single person from behind!”

He shouted, but he heard no laugh, no answer to his provocations. Now, Colth felt sweat staining his clothing. He slashed around him and hit a wall.

Come out and face me! Come out—”

Colth felt the click too late and threw himself backwards—something struck his breast, above the leather, and he staggered.

Arrow trap?

He dodged, swinging wildly, and when he rose—the blank corridor and dais was before him. He was back in the same spot. The same—

Colth began to run. He slammed into a wall, dragged himself down it—another arrow hit him in the side. The whites of his eyes were showing, now, and he slashed at the air, snarling.

I’m in the Wishing Well—

Then Bograms hit him into a wall so hard Colth felt one of his ribs crack. He stabbed back and heard a scream—

Bograms fled. Colth slashed at the air wildly. He backed up into a corner—and the hallway was the same. He gasped for air, inhaling, exhaling—

The hallway was the same. Always the same. No matter how far Colth went—and he couldn’t tell if he was going back the way he’d come now, where he was—

It never changed.




Ksmvr’s Cloak of Stalking—that was what he was going to call it—had prevented the maze and Bograms from noticing him.

When it ran out, he had the most unpleasant encounter with the Drake saying ‘Welcome’ then blasting him with light and sound.

After he’d slammed into a wall in the air preventing him from continuing to bypass the maze.


Ksmvr lay on his back shell for a second. When he sat up, he decided his cloak was the biggest advantage he had. With it, he could ‘skip’ crucial sections of the dungeon.

“I believe it takes thirty minutes to recharge because it is a superior artifact. Practically a relic.”

It didn’t even need mana to recharge, so Ksmvr reasoned it might be better to advance on foot—carefully—and save the cloak for when he needed to bypass a dangerous trap.

Not knowing where he was, he glanced down the corridor. Three exits. One on the far side, one behind him, and one halfway down.

Behind him…led to a broken room that looked sort of like a chessboard with suspicious statues holding swords and weapons. Ksmvr bet he’d have to fight something there. No thank you.

Down the corridor were two other exits. Ksmvr advanced with his trusty stick, but found no traps. He reached the middle corridor, spun—


A rocky cavern opened up in front of him. Ksmvr advanced a few steps, spun—and saw a broken archway, words in the Drakeish script, and two huge statues of a Drake with a shield, one broken at the waist, the other intact, guarding the massive wall that stretched down to his left and right.

He’d reached the entrance. Ksmvr was so astounded he immediately poked everything around him to make sure this was not some kind of obvious trap. But—he’d done it.

“My wall leaping abilities worked! Given that I was not at the center of the maze…let’s see. Nineteen walls…so there are at least thirty-eight walls in the maze. Given where I began, I estimate the total count to be far higher.”

There might be as many as a hundred walls from one end of the dungeon to another. Which meant how many corridors?

What a massive labyrinth. Ksmvr scratched his head again. And he’d just…hopped out of it.

“Now it is time to find the Horns. But first!”

He hurried away from the maze on a hunch. The cavern sloped upwards, narrowing—though he thought some of this was due to the seismic shifts over time. He could see an entire portion of the cavern was broken inwards, and part of the maze was destroyed on the eastern side from where he stood. Even from a limited vantage point, Ksmvr saw numerous walls destroyed…and there was that floating crystal up there.

“Power source. No visible signs of magic…”

It was a big maze. Ksmvr would have to figure out how to signal his team if he didn’t find—

Sure enough, when he reached the mouth of the tunnel, Ksmvr saw a very familiar plaque that Ceria had found. He read it briefly and grunted.


Then he studied the ground where his team had been. No traces of them.

“Then we are all inside unless one of them has escaped. But the most logical thing to do is…”

Ksmvr exited the tunnel, looked down the slope, and then leapfrogged down. He knew time was of the essence, but it had occurred to him that any Horns of Hammerad who’d escaped the maze in the time he’d been in there would have reached the camp.

The camp was empty. However, all their sleeping bags and limited provisions were scattered around. It looked like a scavenger had already torn up some of the food supplies…Ksmvr began stuffing everything into a bag of holding, cursing. He had to get back up there, but food would be essential if they spent more days in the Crossroads of Izril!

Someone had opened up the provisions bag! Ksmvr saw wax paper and some moldy breadsticks, then heard a faint grmching sound.

Something was eating just ahead of him. Ksmvr froze and drew his sword silently. He crept up around a rock and found—

A furry, not-a-Gnoll person was gulping down slightly moldy cheese and stuffing her cheeks with food. She had green eyes, goat’s horns…she looked like a goat-Beastkin, but oddly—humanoid.

If that made sense. Beastkin were largely humanoid, but this wasn’t the same. She was…

A Satyr.

Vofea of the fae froze as Ksmvr raised his swords and hesitated. The two stared at each other, and Ksmvr recoiled.

“A trick?”

He poised for combat. Vofea sprang to her feet, held out a hand—and began choking on her food.

“Hkgh. Kgh!”

Ksmvr stared at her. Was this a Bograms trick? How was someone here in the Crossroads of Izril? Then again, could she be an indigenous—

He realized she was actually choking and hesitated—then walked over and slapped her on the back. Vofea coughed, spat out a mouthful of half-chewed food, and gasped.

‘Tisn’t how I wanted to die! Ah, there. It was strange to have lungs after so long—and food to eat, even shite as this! Yer Ksmvr!”


The Antinium stared at the faerie, recognizing the familiar way of talking—but she lacked the same odd difference of Winter Faerie tones. Even so—the accent and the grin looked familiar.

“I have arrived! Vofea, to tell the Horns of Hammerad their fate! And you are…Ksmvr! Ksmvr of Chandrar! Well met!”

She coughed, beamed at him, and struck a pose, one hoof forwards, head held high, arms spread wide like a performer. Ksmvr said…


Of all the things he’d expected, a random faerie Satyr was not one. However, Vofea glanced at Ksmvr, then around the camp.

“Aye, it’s a mess like Shaestrel said it would be. Alright, listen! I have come to join you, Horns of Hammerad! I bring proof. See?”

She held up a piece of paper that was badly crumpled and shook it at Ksmvr. He hadn’t lowered his sword, but one of his hands took…an Adventurer’s Guild registration certificate. Signed by Tekshia Shivertail no less.

For the Horns of Hammerad? Ksmvr stared at Vofea’s name. Her place of origin. Her age. At Vofea. She was still speaking.

Your destiny is not at Liscor! If you escape this moment of fate, yours is to head west! West until you reach the edge of this place. Understand? There you shall find a way out—and it is the only place you can go to help Erin Solstice, for the danger is dark.”

“Huh? Erin? West?

Vofea pointed to the side, rolling her eyes.

“Yes, west. Erin Solstice lies at sea. Or rather, if she survives the Solstice, she will. Shaestrel has foreseen it. You have…three days.”

Ksmvr stared at the Satyr. She looked at him earnestly.

“Head west, Antinium. No matter how many remain. If Erin Solstice lives, she will be at sea likeliest. Beyond that, even the sight of the fae falters. If you have the will t—argh!

Ksmvr hit her on the head with the flat of his sword. She staggered, and he felt it in his sword.

“You are real. Am I real?”

He slapped himself in the face, and it hurt a bit. This was reality. The Satyr grabbed her head.

“You bastard! That hurt! Ha. Hahahaha. It hurts for once! I’m no longer in the guise of a mere frost sprite! And it all feels so much…more real now. I feel the ground, I taste this terrible muck—and those damn things of blood hurt! ‘Twas worth it. So tell them Vofea sent you if you save the day, eh?”

She puffed out her chest. Ksmvr finally got over his shock and noticed something at last. Vofea was…hurt.

Her hooves looked scratched up, and there was crimson around the fur on her ankles. She was sweat-soaked, panting, and—Ksmvr noticed—kept grinning and looking around.

“How did you get here? I am Ksmvr, yes. And you are Vofea, who Yvlon mentioned? Tell me something only a faerie would know…what is Erin Solstice’s greatest gift from you?”

Ksmvr decided to roll with what was going on. Vofea tilted her head.

“Ach, so it’s a riddle? Hmm. The greatest gift…if ye mean the flowers, they weren’t a gift. She was supposed to be tricked! The entire court was laughing at the idiots who got tricked by her! But they became a weapon for the Faerie King, so perhaps he intended it that way all along? Or he made it seem like he did. He’s cunning like that.”

She looked proud and amused and then just…melancholically happy by turns. Ksmvr digested her statement and lowered his blades.

“I believe you are real.”

“Did you think I wasn’t? Did that idiot woman not remember her dream?”

Vofea recoiled. Ksmvr’s head hurt, and he looked around, picked up the bag of provisions, then stepped back to the camp and began tossing everything into his bag of holding.

“No, we are under attack by a foe called Bograms who makes illusions out of everything. I thought you were one—but this is more like Erin Solstice madness.”

Which he was used to. It made him feel slightly reassured, but this was crazy, even by Erin standards. Vofea strode over to Ksmvr.

“Ah, a cunning foe be it?”

“Yes. Yvlon was knocked out.”

“Did she duck like Shaestrel told her to?”


Ksmvr’s head snapped up, and he almost drew his swords on Vofea, but she knew Shaestrel, and as far as he recalled, no one had ever mentioned Ryoka’s companion. Ksmvr stared at Vofea silently, and she smiled and explained.

“We are the fae. We see destiny and future—though my power’s largely gone, and Shaestrel knew how to play the game of fates. As I am, I was sent here to deliver a message and join you on your quest.”

“To rescue Erin Solstice.”

“West. Are ye sure you remember?”

“West. Gate. Erin is at sea. Three days time.”

Ksmvr had an excellent memory. Vofea was still not convinced.

“Aye, but maybe I’d better try and survive long enough to tell someone else. Ah, well. Bograms is it? Not the direst of names. Sounds like one of the old trolls of yore. Still—fine enough.”

Something about how she was talking was putting Ksmvr off. He bent down and spoke.

“Help me get the rest of this into my bag of holding. Then we must go up and rescue my team from the maze. Do you have any powers?”

“Eh…a few.”

Vofea clumsily broke down a tent and shoved it at Ksmvr. She scratched her head, and he noticed her wince as she brushed her cut feet.

“You are injured.”

“Ah, but I knew I wouldn’t die—probably—and so I ran through that wretched place of blood! I found the gate, leapt through—”

There’s a gate in the Bloodfields?

Ksmvr whirled, and Vofea waved her hands urgently. She had fingers like a Human’s, albeit covered in fur.

“No, no! Don’t go there! I told you—”

“Yes, Erin is west. But if we could resupply or get help—”

“There’s a lot of them monsters between here and there. On both sides. I only slipped through the gate with the last of my power. I doubt you’d do as well.”

Damn. Ksmvr began packing faster. He snapped.

“Then what powers do you have?”

“Eh…I, uh, probably have a bit of magic left, but in this body, I don’t have the guise of a sprite. I used to be able to call avalanches and snow—”


“—But I can’t do that any more. A Satyr you see, a Satyr you get!”

Vofea puffed out her chest again, and Ksmvr turned.

“What powers does a Satyr have?”

Vofea hesitated.

“We were known to be great partiers and singers! I sing a wild tune and dance a fair jig—and I run faster than most!”

“…Magic powers?”

“Ah, well, if you want magic—

Ksmvr’s stare made Vofea fidget and hesitate. Now Ksmvr realized what he found so off about her. She looked—nervous.

“—Not much. I don’t know the tongue of wilds, though I can probably speak to some animals. But you won’t have me growing forests where none are about. I have a few tricks from the older court, but we all took the small bodies of the Winter Sprites as you call them.”

“Took small bodies…this way. They’re in the cave. Do you know where they are?”

“Nope! That is, I can faintly see the thread Shaestrel pointed out to me. I followed it.”

“You mean destiny.”

They climbed up the hill, and Vofea nodded.

“Aye, it’s not a given, but it’s a great talent among the court. No one can predict what’ll happen in about three days, but Shaestrel’s dancing against the three-in-one herself.”

“Can you predict the future?”

“Nope. I can see this one…faintly, but I wasn’t sure I’d even make it to you! Nothing’s certain. And I’m not a member of the court! Shaestrel is, and Theillige’s the Wild Hunt itself, but the others are all lesser fae. Volunteers, you see.”

“So you all looked like the Winter Sprites. But your true forms are…”

Ksmvr was rapidly piecing together what was going on. Vofea gestured at herself.

“I’m a Satyr. Theillige—they’re the loudmouth of the lot—they’re actually a warrior of the Wild Hunt. A great warrior of ice and snow! But we tricked them, you see? The dead—oops. I hope they’re not listening.”

Instantly, Vofea grew hunted and looked around warily. Ksmvr stared at her.

“How big a secret was—”

“Shh! Shh! Theillige’s not unveiled themself yet. I think. Though even the dead gods can’t see into this realm easily. This entire world’s multiple dimensions folded in ridiculously. The work of the divine. Pah.

She spat. Ksmvr hopped up to the mouth of the cave, and Vofea made nearly as good progress. She slipped on the last jump though, and her face contorted.

Argh! Pain!

She hopped and clutched at her ankle, and Ksmvr’s heart, which had leapt out of his mandibles, was now somewhere in his boots. He spoke his supposition out loud.

“So if I understand things right—each Winter Sprite is disguised and has the powers of…Winter Sprites. At least two are unveiling their true forms. However, that means you only have the powers of a Satyr. Which means you are how strong?”


That was about all the answer he needed. Vofea limped after Ksmvr, speaking urgently.

“Don’t worry! Don’t worry—I came, I’ve delivered my message, and it was all I set out to do. Vofea, member of the Horns of Hammerad, has done her job! I carried the ring!”

She puffed out her chest, and Ksmvr got even more annoyed.

“You are not a member of the Horns.”

“I am too. I had the contract.”

Ksmvr still had it. He glared at her as he pulled it out.

“You cannot join a team just by writing in your name.”

“Can too. Tear it up if you want. It’s filed.

She looked so smug Ksmvr almost did, but Vofea glanced at him and patted him on the shoulder.

“Don’t worry. I won’t get in your way, Ksmvr of Chandrar. Just…let me be part of your team, eh? Let’s rescue them. When we face this Bograms, it’ll be a fine death.”

Ksmvr began to nod grudgingly and then hesitated.

“…Wait, for you?”

Then he saw Vofea give him a huge smile. She took a bow, and her bad hoof wobbled, but she raised her chin.

“Aye. I came here to die and do what we must. Theillige is resolved, and so are the others. Wherever it matters—”

She turned, and he saw her looking around, not with intention or as if Bograms were behind them, but with a kind of prideful wariness. Fear. Melancholy. Determination.

As if she expected it any moment. Her hooves were bloody, and she looked up at Ksmvr, smiling as she rubbed at her bad one.

“Just remember I was here. The Satyrs came back, eh?”

Ksmvr stared at Vofea in complete astonishment.




Pisces Jealnet realized after the first two harrowing traps that Bograms wasn’t attacking him specifically. Clearly, Bograms was in this maze, so Pisces’ guard was up, but after escaping the first two corridors unscathed, the [Necromancer] thought he had some advantages.

Because this maze…was not meant to be a killer maze in its inception.

The first two traps? Bograms had absolutely altered. The first one was just…evil.

It was a balance-test where you crossed over a pit. Pisces thought you were supposed to be teleported to safety or something, but damage or Bograms had interfered with the spell. So instead of gently landing on the ground, the skeleton he’d had jump into the pit had hit the ground so hard it had mostly turned to powder.

That…did not make walking the treacherous, narrow beam easier. So Pisces had done the logical thing and made a bone bridge and walked over that.

The second altered trap was a beam that shot out from a pillar and a staring Human face contorted in rage. It would swivel, shoot—and again, Pisces thought it was supposed to just teleport you back to the start.

Instead, it blew out the insides of anything it hit. And again, Pisces had the advantage. This time—he stood outside the radius of the trap, skin prickling because the dangerous spell unnerved him—but he inhaled, exhaled—

And pulled death magic out of all the dead bodies of Bograms’ victims.

A [Necromancer] gained magic in many ways. In this maze, as Ceria had learned, magic had a presence, so Pisces stopped as he regarded piles of bones and inhaled.

[Ashen Mana Well]. [Drain Death Mana].

“Very well. Let’s proceed.”

The [Invisibility] spell might have been overkill, but it worked. The statue didn’t seem to lock onto Pisces, but just in case, he sent two skeletons marching down the other side while he dashed down the left side of the trap. After that, it was smoother sailing.


Pisces breathed as he peeked down a series of rooms and corridors. After the first two traps, Bograms’ tricks had faded in number, and Pisces supposed the monster was used to picking off its victims before they escaped far enough.

He thought he’d heard Colth challenging the monster and hoped he’d run into his teammates. Pisces was hurrying—but he couldn’t help but stare around in awe.

This was a maze—clearly massive in scope, and all the traps were akin to a training gauntlet, like the ones they had in Wistram!

This latest corridor had a bunch of patrolling Drakes, who were all light-constructs. They would march down the corridors, heads on a swivel, stop, and then patrol left or right. It was clearly designed to test whether or not you were nimble enough to slip past them.

“I must be in a [Rogue]’s gauntlet. The traps seem to escalate in difficulty.”

Pisces had a choice at an intersection. Either bypass the Drake guards or…he looked down the other way.

Hop from platform to platform above what he hoped were illusory spikes—knowing Bograms, he’d put real ones in—while little holes in the wall probably spat darts at you.

Pisces took the illusory Drakes. He slowly advanced out of cover, rapier drawn, and one of the light-constructs saw him.

Instantly, it opened its mouth and began blaring an alarm. Pisces tensed—and all the Drakes rushed at him, lifting spears. He stepped back—and two Skeleton Champions moved out of hiding.

There were nine light-Drakes, two Skeletal Champions in armor, and Pisces. He was prepared to flee, but found the Drakes were nimble and adept at jabbing with the spear, but no geniuses of combat.

They struck the skeletons hard and fast, but the Skeletal Champions gave as good as they got, even outnumbered. One cleaved through a Drake’s head, and the light-construct vanished.

“En garde!”

Pisces stabbed through one Drake, parried another jabbing a spear at him, and saw one whirl its spear—then jab hard and fast at him. Pisces barely parried the strike, and the spear kept jabbing. It struck his armor as he risked the blow to counter through the Drake’s chest. Pisces did, after all, have Stalker’s armor on.

He froze as the blow hit him simultaneously with the killing strike. Pisces backed up, clutching his chest—and the two Skeleton Champions froze as he lifted a hand. The Drakes made of light kept attacking—but Pisces lifted a finger and absorbed the death mana, and the skeletal constructs vanished.

He stood there as the remaining five light constructs surrounded him. Pisces lifted his rapier—and one jabbed. He took the blow on his chest, then another on his shoulder. Pisces stared.

They didn’t hurt at all.

Okay, the spears were real enough, and he imagined if he was armorless it’d be enough to bruise, but in his armor, it barely even tickled. He wasn’t even sure the tips were sharp.

Jab. Jab. They were fast, adaptive—one swayed back as Pisces slashed at it with his rapier—and another did that spearwhirl trick, probably emulating a Skill. But they didn’t even go for the head.

After three more seconds of jabbing, the Drakes froze. Pisces stared at them—then a flash of light appeared. He groaned.

“Oh no.”


The Drake that appeared blasted Pisces with noise and sound again as he stuck his fingers in his ears just in time. But Pisces opened his eyes and saw mouth was still moving. The Drake stood there, not vanishing, and Pisces’ eyes narrowed.

Just as he’d thought. The maze wasn’t meant to kill him! At least, not until malfunctions and Bograms had ruined it. He removed one finger from his ear and gingerly spoke, ready to cover his ears again.


He read the Drake’s lips as, once again, the construct malfunctioned. It seemed like every time it tried to speak, it blasted you with light and sound. A glitch. A literal assault on you that left anyone open to Bograms or the traps. But what it said was:

“Applicant, you have failed your section of the trial. You may continue, but your performance will be noted. Would you like to withdraw?”

Pisces’ eyes grew round. Withdraw? As in teleport out? He hesitated.

“Where would I withdraw to?”

The construct flickered. Then smiled.

Withdrawing applicants will appear at the gates of the Trial of Shields. Would you like to leave, applicant?

At the gates? Pisces didn’t trust any teleportation spell this old.


Would you like to try again at a different location?

And face a Bograms trap? Pisces responded hastily. His ears were ringing; conversation was well and truly impossible unless you could read lips—even when he closed his eyes to avoid the flash of light, his ringing ears couldn’t make out any words.


Very well then, applicant. The gauntlet will resume in five seconds.

The Drake bowed—and vanished. Pisces stared at it. Then he stared at the Drakes who were frozen. Then he drew his rapier and stabbed five times.

There was a plaque on the wall. Pisces had spotted several, including the one in the room he’d first appeared, but this one was more legible than the rest. It read.


Trial of the [Rogue] — Room #4b. The Sentries.


It was in Drakeish. An old script that Pisces found flowery, equivalent to cursive. But unlike Ceria or Yvlon—Ksmvr might be able to—he could read Drakeish. So to him it said:


Trial of the [Rogue] — Room #4B. The Sentries.


“Dead gods.”

Pisces stared around the maze and realized he must be in some training grounds of the lost City of Shields.


It made his heart pound despite the dangers. This was a training ground? Then again, who wouldn’t benefit from a place like this? You could fight ‘enemies’, train your balance, learn to navigate inhospitable terrain—

It was an adventurer’s playground. But for Bograms and the dangers of the maze—and whatever monsters or other hazards might have cropped up—Pisces could imagine even little Mrsha would love running around the place.

In fact, the only thing preventing him from taking his time was the danger to his friends. Pisces strode onwards, heart beating fast in his chest. Yet, with each step, he couldn’t help it.

This was so…incredible.

Not every room was meant to be a trap. Why, after the balance beam, Pisces passed through a gigantic corridor where he presumed water would pour down, creating an artificial waterfall that led into a huge pit below.

He was busy looking for monsters—and he thought he heard something below, but even the black stream of filthy water couldn’t hide the Drakes saluting him as he passed on the other side. They stared at him, each bearing an iconic weapon of some kind, and Pisces wished he could read the murals caked in filth.

Leaders of the City of Shields or their [Heroes] of old, he had no doubt. All of it hurt and astounded Pisces’ heart.

He loved history and stories, and to be in the heart of a lost place like this was, in its way, even better than a legendary dungeon. Consider it! This wasn’t intended to be a harrowing place. The City of Shields must have run countless young Drakes through here, and the Trial of the [Rogue] indicated that they had even trained specific classes.

That Drake that appears and deafens us isn’t trying to harm us. Like everything else in this maze, it’s a damaged spell. 

If anything, Pisces was amazed the mana coming from that jewel above was still powering this place. It had to be immensely strong!

Knowing now that the traps weren’t actually meant to be lethal, Pisces adopted a new, very fast method to clearing corridors. He didn’t check for the trap’s solution. He checked for whether Bograms had messed with a trap by sending a skeleton forwards to see what happened.

If it seemed innocuous—Pisces just strode forwards. One time, a saw blade jumped out and ran into the [Necromancer]’s chest.

Ow. Ow. Ow. Ow—

“Applicant. You have failed the—”

It wasn’t even sharp. Swearing, Pisces ran onwards. He was moving through corridors at a lightning pace for one main reason: he could generally tell which was a Bograms trap and which was harmless.

The Bograms traps all had corpses around them. Pisces had no end of death mana or sacrificial skeletons to hurl at the really dangerous traps. They were almost all skeletons, he noted. Long dead.

Most of them Drakes. Had Bograms preyed on survivors? Or were some of these from malfunctioning traps, like a broken trap probably meant to mildly electrify some water? It was blasting a corridor with lightning every second, and Pisces took the other route.

I have to find Yvlon or someone. Pisces ran faster, letting the skeletons charge ahead of him. The bones of ancient Drakes, possibly the City of Shields’ own people, raced ahead, pointing out a clear path he took, following the skeletons not destroyed.

If he took the bones back with him, he’d have samples of ancient Drakes. Was that worth anything to the Walled Cities? Dead gods, Pisces had seen magicore flowing through the conduits in the walls. It was probably pure stuff. It’d be worth a fortune!

If they survived—Pisces’ pace slowed. He looked around at the maze and suddenly felt ashamed despite the urgency of his mission.

Here he was in a monument to the past and his first instinct was to loot it. That was an adventurer for you. He was using the bones of ancient people like sacrificial dummies.

A [Necromancer]. Pisces took a deep, shuddering breath.

I will not be Az’kerash. For my team—

He kept running. He’d do anything he needed. But how long until he became…until his eyes turned black and he developed that stare that lacked for humanity?


He should animate every dead body he came across. Amass a horde and just—throw it at Bograms. Even that monster couldn’t face thousands of corpses. But that kind of undead horde wouldn’t be under Pisces’ control. They might kill his teammates.

The undead were not safe.

Pisces had always known that. For all he wanted validation and respect—Toren had nearly murdered Erin. Undead without control longed only to slay the living.

Why can’t I meet one good [Necromancer]?

Even Ama had been a thief. Gewilena and Feren had been rogues stealing from graveyards. They hadn’t deserved being burned alive. No one deserved that, but they hadn’t been saints.

Just—decent people.

Pisces knew he shouldn’t think of that, not now. He skidded around another corridor, ignoring faux-flames as the trap actually sprayed him with cooling mists to put out the fire.

I will be that [Necromancer]. I animated Ivery with that intent.

I left them in Chandrar. Bearig and Eloque and Rophir and Merr…

Dead gods, he wished he didn’t feel so guilty all the time.

Panting, Pisces clutched at his side. He must have been running for the last forty minutes, clearing corridors…he had lost count after fifty turns. How many damn rooms were there? He’d long passed the Trial of the [Rogue]. The rooms seemed to merge into different sections. Where was he now?

Panting, Pisces stumbled forwards into a larger room. He turned, warily, and saw a skeleton roaming around looking for something deadly. But he didn’t see anything other than…

“A bench?”

Yes, just a few benches and a patch of land in the center filled with mushrooms and a smell of decay. It clung to everything, but Pisces imagined there had been something else growing in the center of this room. His head rose…and he saw the statue.

A Drake with a shield. A funny thing. They weren’t proper crescent shields like the [Knights] of Terandria favored. These looked different. The one this Drake held was a fascinating shape of hexagons stitched together to form an oval. Pisces wondered if it was viable on its own or magical—the Drake held it over head with one arm, shielding his head. Pisces walked forwards slowly.

The plaque was, again, in Drakeish. It read:


—ieldbearer of 4th Starfall. —oudly honored to carry one of the Wards of Lesegoth.

In—Walled Cities by the grace of our Ancestors.

—Dragon and Drake. Bearing the pride of our names.


Pisces translated slowly.


—ieldbearer of 4th Starfall. —oudly honored to carry one of the Wards of Lesegoth. 

In—Walled Cities by the grace of our Ancestors. 

—Dragon and Drake. Bearing the pride of our names.


He stared up at the statue after he was done, trying to digest it. 4th Starfall. Was that a time period? An event? The Drake looked proud, even as worn as the statue was, and Pisces saw, worn by time, the faint outline of an emblem on his armor in a kind of sash.

Medals? No. Badges. Pisces’ eyes traced them, moving down the Drake’s side, and recognized one of them. Wait a second…that one! There!

It was a crest of a set of scales with a gear on one side, the other a cauldron of alchemy of some kind. Stylized, yes, but unmistakable.

The City of Pallass. This Drake bore their symbol on his chest. Pisces’ head craned back, and he wished he knew [Magic Picture]. Because he wanted to take an image of this—and show Grimalkin, Chaldion, and everyone else.


For a second, Pisces was a boy again, reading tales in one of Ailendamus’ libraries about legends of old, before he was bitter about everything. Or a young [Mage] setting foot in Wistram and looking up and seeing Cognita Truestone herself.

He felt like an adventurer. He had always loved history like this.

If only this were all adventuring was. Pisces tried to hold it back. He turned to go, sensing his skeletons had run into an obstacle—one had been destroyed just ahead of him. Yet he had to turn back and nod at the statue.

Pisces’ eyes stung. He wiped at them and resolved, if nothing else, if time permitted, to come back and take a sketch or rubbing of the badges, or at the very least to tell Satar Silverfang what he had seen.

Pisces sniffed, with actual need for it, and spun on his heel, taking a deep shuddering breath of emotion. Naturally and of course—that was when he spotted Ceria Springwalker leaning on a wall with one of his skeleton’s heads in her hands. She was covering her mouth and trying not to laugh, but when he spotted her, she let out a huge, long snigger.

“I knew it. Do you want to break off a toe of the statue as a souvenir?”

For a second, Pisces debated tossing a stone at Ceria, then he strode forwards and hugged her. The half-Elf blinked, patted him on the shoulder, and grinned.

“I’m glad you made it. Found the others?”

“Not yet.”

The two looked at each other, then Pisces pulled the circlet off Ceria’s head, and she slapped him on the arm.

“Okay, you’re real.”


Pisces was just explaining to Ceria what he’d learned about the Maze of Shields—or Trial of Shields—and she was telling him about her encounter with Bograms when they ran into the next trick of the deadly illusionist.

“Three of my skeletons just vanished.”

Pisces turned his head as he pointed back the way he’d come. The skeletons running around this maze had continued exploring…and three had rapidly vanished in quick succession.

“Bograms? No…”

Ceria raised her hands warily, and Pisces tensed. Then he heard faint, rhythmic footfalls and saw the glow of a light-construct before it appeared.

“Oh, one of the sentries. I’ve got—”

Ceria snap-fired an [Ice Spike] before she even finished talking. Pisces had never seen one outside its room. He relaxed—until he saw the Drake, holding a single sword, parry Ceria’s [Ice Spike] and send it ricocheting to the side.


Both [Mages] looked at each other. Pisces pointed a finger, and a gout of flames burst out.

“It shouldn’t hurt u—”

The construct vaulted over the flames and slashed where Pisces’ head had been. He dodged, and the blade nearly took his throat out. The construct landed, and Pisces shouted.

“Stop! Stop! We—”

He expected the overseer Drake to appear and ask him if he wanted to quit, but then he saw, to his dismay, that this construct was visibly corrupted. It was flickering, as if damaged, and it spun the blade in one hand as it stabbed—

Pisces barely deflected it. He backed up, and Ceria fired an [Ice Lance] point blank. It took the construct off its feet, and Pisces exhaled.

“Ceria, thank—”

The construct skidded across the break room as the spear of ice slammed it into one wall, and the ice exploded. Then it stood up and offered them a salute. Pisces and Ceria stared at it. Part of the construct had been damaged, but it was rapidly regenerating.

“Oh hells, that’s pretty tough. Let’s blow it to pieces, and if it doesn’t die, I’ll freeze it. I can cast [Lion’s Strength] on you.”

“Really? I’ll distract it, then.”

Pisces lifted his rapier, and Ceria raised a hand. They prepared for a fight—and then Pisces heard drumming steps. He turned his head slowly as the first construct finished saluting him—and swallowed hard.

A squad of eleven Drakes, all armed with a single sword, entered the room and saluted. Ceria tapped Pisces gently on the shoulder with one hand.


The two of them were running like spit as the Drakes charged after them.




The maze was vast and deep. And though the traps were not all deadly—some were enough to kill, and no one could easily escape. The rogue light-constructs could murder anything. They were immortal; the dungeon just remade them, and Bograms had broken the room they were in, so they roamed and attacked everything at once.

It had been hard. Very hard to make sure what they ‘saw’ was just close enough to reality to let them attack, but alter their sense of depth just a fraction. That way, the blades that were programmed to stop before they drew blood…became fatal.

There were monsters in the maze as well that were fairly deadly. But Bograms was the last killer. With his magic, any victim Bograms haunted died inevitably.

Though this one died hard.

A snarling Colth was backed into a corner and had struck Bograms—twice—with a throwing dagger each time Bograms tossed a stone at him. Bograms was angry.

Bograms was hurt.

Bograms wanted to call for help, but it was shameful. Damn Terandrians. Damn them. He would eat first the most dangerous one, Colth, then take the circlet off the half-Elf. She’d run into the Drakes, magic or not.

He didn’t know where the bug-man had gone. Bograms didn’t like that.

Bograms. Bograms.

He’d forgotten his own name. Bograms he’d called himself to scare them when he came here, long, long ago. Bograms he became.

The Horns of Hammerad would die here, then he’d take the circlet and his magic would be powerful. But they were dangerous. Best to let the traps work. He peeked at Colth; if the adventurer held still, those patrolling Drakes would find him, and he’d not fight well, blindly seeing the same thing.

Bograms was hungry. He licked his lips, tempted to toss something else, but the strange man dodged well, and the daggers hurt. Poison, Bograms thought. If he hadn’t lived so long and they hadn’t…changed him so much, the poison might have done something to him.

Pain. Oh, Bograms hated them.

Terandrians. The one called Colth wasn’t moving, and he was hurt, at least. Bograms was just about to signal one of the sword-Drakes or find a monster to lure Colth’s way when he heard footfalls and cursed.

It was her! The woman whose head he’d wanted to smash in because she was as dangerous as the smiling man or the half-Elf with the circlet.

Yvlon Byres.




Yvlon was panting and injured from escaping several Bograms-traps, but she had an easier time of it after the first half-hour. She couldn’t tell which traps were deadly and which were…not very deadly.

The traps seemed to be getting harder. That boulder for a warmup hadn’t been easy—but even the non-lethal traps were getting complex. She had run into some kind of room where you stood on a platform and stone pellets shot out from every angle, and you just had to outwait the barrage until the platform stopped moving around. Yvlon had just used her arms to form a protective barrier around herself, but several pieces of stone had still tagged her, armor or not.

But she was calm.

She was worried about her team. Bograms would pay—but Yvlon Byres was clearheaded. Definitely. She was striding along a corridor and swore as an arrow shot out and ricocheted off her armor.

A real damn arrow. Yvlon advanced, covering her face. Ping! Ping! The impacts sounded off her armor, and her under armor absorbed the blows. That didn’t hurt—

The throwing dagger that hit her shoulder hard enough to make her stagger and gouged a chunk out of her arm did hurt, metal arms or not. Yvlon spun, raising her arm to block—

A statue spitting darts? It was in one corner of the hallway. Yvlon covered her face and charged as it spat another dart at her.

She actually recoiled from the impact. Damn, it threw those hard! Her arm was dented as she aborted the charge, turned to retreat, and eyed the wound.

Can’t go back. Maybe I should use my arm and stab it from afar? Yvlon peeke—

The new dart hit her in the helmet so hard it jolted her entire head and left her dizzy. Yvlon stumbled back around the corner of the wall and sat down hard. She tasted blood and realized her helmet had cut into her mouth.

Okay, it has amazing aim. Yvlon inhaled. Exhaled. She was calm.

She was going to smash that statue to bits. She grimly debated using her capstone Skill—but then remembered her ring of barriers. Perfect. She twisted it—took a breath—then leapt into the corridor.

Three darts struck her in an instant, and Yvlon flinched as they bounced off the magical shield with a strange tanging noise. Three at once? But she was charging, not wanting to waste the magic ring. One fist raised for a punch—

She punched through the statue’s face and saw it vanish and reappear to her right after a second. Yvlon blinked.

Bograms illus—

Then something slashed across her barrier spell. It flickered. Yvlon’s eyes went round.

That was a sword. 


Her hand went out and tried to block the blade stabbing into her. A sword slashed across her metal arm, deep enough to draw blood, as another stabbed through her enchanted armor towards her stomach. Yvlon gasped, and the sword halted on Stalker’s armor.

She swore the tip of it was tickling her stomach—but she’d halted Colth’s hand just in time. Stalker’s armor had halted the sword, but it was twisting—twisting—until Yvlon’s grip tightened.

Colth! It’s me!

She could hear nothing. See nothing but the grimacing gargoyle-face of a statue—but the arm she held was entirely familiar. And the sword had halted.

Surely he could feel her arm? Yvlon’s arm was dripping blood, but she closed the metal. Felt forwards. Bograms had to be close. She found a patch of hair with her restored sense of touch. Felt a f—

The handle of one of Colth’s swords hit Yvlon in the face so hard she saw stars. Her poor helmet, already mangled from Bograms’ blow, decided to pop off her head and take some flesh with it. It was too badly mangled to use. Yvlon tossed it, reeled—then grabbed for the arm again.

She got a punch instead.

Colth! It’s me!

She hammered one hand down, not in a pure punch, but trying to make sense to him. It. Is. Me!

Yvlon struck him across the back several times, and the blade withdrew. There! He knew it was—

A pair of hands shoved her into the wall hard. Yvlon recoiled, and her head slammed into the stone. That did hurt. She backed up a step.

“Colth. That is you, right?”

No response. Bograms. He must have found Colth or…could he remotely cast illusions on her? Hiding the traps was one thing, but this illusion was adapting to her, so it suggested Bograms was right on top of her. Yvlon didn’t know. She had to assume he was about. She reached forwards, felt a leather b—

Colth punched her hand down instantly. Yvlon recoiled.

“Okay. Okay. Colth—”

She noticed something on her fingertips. Bograms made it vanish after a second when he noticed her staring, but Yvlon still felt it.

Blood. Red, staining her metal fingers. Not hers. Colth was wounded.

Yvlon didn’t move as she inhaled and exhaled. Blood was rushing through her ears, and she knew Colth was right in front of her. Bograms was nearby—which left them where?

We have to move. And stick together.

The rope was gone, and Yvlon didn’t have any more in her bag of holding…she wished she was as prepared as Ksmvr and decided to ask to carry his burdens later. At least the useful tools.

However, there was a simpler method which they’d used. Link arms and go. Colth had to be thinking the same thing. Yvlon gingerly reached forwards.

“Colth? We need to join up—”

The statue she’d been staring at flickered. It vanished, and Colth was crouched in front of her, panting, clutching at his chest, a wild look in his eyes. He looked terrified, but a snarl was on his face. Yvlon blinked. He was crouched in the corner of the hallway. She started for him.

“There you are. Colth—”

Wait a second. Yvlon paused, hand outstretched to Colth, then ducked with the reflexes only Berr’s training had given her.

The image of Colth in the corner vanished, and Yvlon felt something pass over her head, brushing at the top of her hair. An invisible, huge fist pounded the wall where her head had been.

Bograms screamed as Yvlon whirled and her arm exploded into spikes, impaling the air in front of her. Red blood spattered down as Bograms backed away. He had been standing right behind her—

He retreated backwards—Yvlon heard the footsteps, but the corridor was blank. Yvlon felt hot blood on her arms and slammed back against the wall. Then where was Colth?

The answer came from a ringing impact on her armor from the side a second later. She turned—lunged—and slammed into Colth. Invisible, still.

He’d moved sideways out of the corner of the hallway. Colth had hit Yvlon twice, once in the jaw, once in the side, then began to shove her off him as she grabbed at him frantically.

First, Bograms tries to get us to kill each other! Then he nearly got me—again! And she still couldn’t see her friend! Yvlon wrestled with Colth, refusing to let him get away again.

“Colth! Don’t—”

If she let go of him, they might not find each other, and without the ability to see or hear, Bograms could manipulate them into hitting each other or pick one of them off. Yvlon seized one arm as the punches landed, hard and sharp.

He had to know it was her. What was wrong with him?

An image of the fake Colth’s appearance flashed into her mind. Yvlon hesitated. The [Armsmistress] suspected Bograms wasn’t the most imaginative person if he didn’t have to be.

Was that how Colth looked right now? If Bograms had been after him…it had been about an hour since Yvlon woke up by her count.

He might be at the end of his rope. They both lacked healing potions and—the punching ceased a moment, and Yvlon exhaled.

“Okay. Let’s go together.”

She pulled, gently, deciding the way she had come was the best. She had Colth by what she thought was an elbow and gingerly dragged him back the way she’d come—till he halted and nearly yanked her off her feet.

Colth pulled the other way, and Yvlon growled.


He reappeared, and the two looked at each other. Colth was dirty, covered in dust, and bleeding from two cracks in his lips. His armor looked battered, and he was indeed wild-eyed and desperate. Yvlon stared at him as he clearly recognized her.

Colth punched Yvlon in the chest in a heartbeat, and her fist connected with his shoulder. They paused as they raised their free hands.

Not Bograms? It felt like they’d hit each other. Was this a trick?

Where was Bograms?




Pain! Pain! Bograms fled, dropping the illusion. Colth was hurt, and the two were near Bograms’ deadlier traps. They’d die. But he paused.

Better to let them kill themselves than get close. He bled. Bograms whispered. He didn’t want to do it, but…

“Treachery. Terandrians. Mahadak. Asgrel! To me! To me!”

He whispered, and his voice boomed as he cast a spell. He heard a faint response and whimpered. They would not be happy, but he needed help. Bograms turned back to Colth and Yvlon.

Yes…they were hitting each other. The one called Colth was snarling and spitting, and the woman of half-metal was angry too, he could see. Bograms slunk backwards, deciding to arm the traps rather than get close to them again. They’d die very soon.

He watched as they drew closer to another mangled trap that spat real flames, not the child’s flames the City of Lesegoth—damn them—had put in place.




Yvlon Byres was c—

Stop pulling me.

“Let go. We’ll use a rope.”

“That’s what Bograms wants.”

“Let. Go.”

Colth punctuated each word with a blow to Yvlon’s arms. He was tough. She’d heard rumors that he had once been part of a group of fistfighters on the cusp of Named-rank—until the team was wiped out—but his punches actually deformed her metal arms.

That…hurt by the way. Yvlon refused to let go.

“Colth, I don’t know what Bograms did, but it’s me. You know it’s me.”

“I can’t trust a word you’re saying, you idiot. You can’t trust my words. But I suppose you’re a Byres. Dumb as a rock with a sword through the brain.”

He hissed at her, and Yvlon took a deep breath. In. Out. Bottle the rage for when it mattered.

“I think he’s gone. When I was in the City of Ropes, I fell in the sewers and got sick.”

Colth fell silent. Yvlon prompted him with a nudge.

“What did—”

“Rock barbeque. Let’s go. Let go of me.”

He shoved at her. She stepped back, and her arm elongated slightly, letting him back away but keeping them linked. It probably looked mildly horrific to see a body part do that—but Yvlon just felt like her arm was thinning.

“How’s this?”

Colth nearly yanked her off her feet. He was still breathing hard. Yvlon stumbled after him; they were not in sync. Maybe the rope was a good idea? She bet Bograms would try to cut it, though.

“What did he do to…”

“What. Do. You. Think?

Illusions. Sneak attacks. Probably disguising himself as the other Horns—though Colth had been on the defensive when Yvlon had found him. She was surprised he’d survived that long.

That was a Named-rank for you, but Colth was not doing well.


“Shut up. The traps will kill you if Bograms doesn’t. If this is real.

That last part was a mumble. Yvlon glanced at Colth, and she remembered her dream with him. That door that became a chair and room.

I’m still in the Wishing Well.

She didn’t know what that meant, not exactly, but something clicked in Yvlon’s head. She patted him on the arm with her unlinked hand.

“I’m real, Colth. This isn’t the Wishing W—”

He knocked her hand away, blank-faced.

“Don’t talk to me about what you don’t know.”

Yvlon was losing her patience—but she was still doing her best at staying calm. 

“Hey. We’re teammates. If I don’t know, doesn’t that prove I’m r—”

He spun and jabbed her in the chest so hard she felt it.

“If you are real, you sound exactly like a thousand other idiots in a fake reality so well done. Only Yvlon Byres could be this stupid, so I almost believe it. I. Don’t. Trust. You. Any of this.”

He looked around, then at her.

“He could be faking even touch. Ever heard of memory manipulation magic? Skills? It could all be a dream, so shut up and think for once.”

Berr the Berserker had adages about how to use anger. It was a weapon, so treat it like one. Save it for when it mattered. Anger mattered for a [Warrior]; let [Monks] get rid of it. We’re not rich enough to toss away anything. Be calm and deliberate, but if some scale-faced idiot is taunting you, you’re still supposed to punch them.

“—Tell me what’s wrong. I can’t help if I don’t know what’s wrong.”

“Just keep moving. I’m tired of this game.”

“It’s not a g—”

This time, he hit her in the side. It didn’t harm her armor, but she did feel it, and Yvlon’s temper rose. Colth dragged her forwards, and they halted when they sensed a change in the air.

“Oh great. It’s getting warmer, but I only see the corrid—”

“Fire trap. Made invisible. Shut up. If you get it, I’ve already figured it out.”

Yvlon turned her head to stare at Colth. She took a deep breath.

“You want to see if that’s all a dream or whatever you think it is?”

He began to elbow her—then seemed to realize she wasn’t going to feel it. So Colth stomped on her boots. They were tough leather, but not that tough. Yvlon gritted her teeth.

“Colth—we are a team. I know you survived and—and distracted Bograms. But you have to trust me.”

He stared up at her, empty-eyed, expression purely hostile. Then he laughed. A short bark of a laugh. Like…a wounded dog, maybe. A snarl on his features as he retorted.

“Trust you? I don’t trust Larracel. Why would I trust you?

Yvlon Byres stared blankly at Colth. Colth, who the Horns had teamed up with to fight Facestealer even if they hadn’t done the job. Who’d come with them all this way, joking, being the older, annoying adventurer, yes, but slowly bonding with them—

Who’d gone off with Pisces and apparently wiped out an entire [Slaver] caravan. Who Pisces trusted. Who might be in league with Demons, and who Yvlon had agreed—was part of the team.

“That’s very hurtful, Colth. How can I earn your trust?”

Yvlon asked—calmly. Colth stared up at her.

“Guess you can’t. Naga. Bograms. Yvlon. It doesn’t matter. None of you win, because it doesn’t matter if I dream or wake. I don’t need to trust you. I am the only real thing in a world of sand. The only truth that exists is something no one can dream of.

Yvlon Byres nodded slowly. If you never knew if the illusion would end…all you could trust was what you felt.

There was probably some advanced cognitive test based on philosophy or Colth’s own ability with chess or whatnot that would inevitably lead him to realize whether or not this was a simulation or reality. Since Yvlon lacked for the time or patience, she nodded.

“I get it.”

She raised her free fist and clocked Colth in the face.


He felt that. Colth instantly checked her into the wall and struck her in the chin. She headbutted him—he rammed his head into her jaw, and she bit her tongue hard. He snarled.

“I thought you were trying to team u—”

She punched him in the side, dragged him forwards—and felt the roaring heat ahead of her. Colth seized her hair.

“You’ll kill us both, you stupid, Byres-brained—”

Yvlon reshaped her arm from a stick to a regular hand. Then she reached for her belt, grabbed an empty water flask, and threw it through the flames. Colth and Yvlon looked up and saw the leather flash through the air, searing with heat and charring black—but landing on the other side of the hallway. Then it vanished. Colth snarled.

“Bograms is—”

“Yeah. We’ll live. [Aspect of Iron].

Yvlon Byres’ skin turned dark and grey. Even her hair became stiff and metallic. Her very eyes—swivelled to Colth, and he stared at her.

“[Heat Resist—]”

She charged through the wall of flames without a sound as Colth’s armor and her body was blasted by fire. Her body turned to metal with her new class—but yes, by the way.

It hurt.

Yvlon kept running until she plowed head-first into a wall. Also painful. She recoiled, looked left, and Colth snarled as he threw a dagger ahead of her and heard a faint, fleshy impact. He grabbed her cheek, yanked back—

Yvlon halted, and he shoulder-rammed into her, so hard her feet left the ground. Yvlon struck a wall hard—a second before a claw scratched across her chestplate.

Something was there! Instantly, Yvlon threw a punch and connected with a hard and fleshy…skin? The invisible monster hit her, and she recognized the heat as talons raked over her armor.

Great! A red thing! Colth was hammering at it too—the two swiveled, hammering on it—Yvlon ate a blow as Colth missed and hit her in the chestplate. She threw a haymaker, and he twisted out of the way before it collided with his head.

Where was it? Where was—

Yvlon knew she weighed more than before with her metal arms, and she was wearing plate armor. Neither she nor Colth could see a thing down the blank corridor. Bograms was laughing at them. They were blind to traps and monsters.

Nevertheless, Colth tensed, heaved as he spun Yvlon, and—[Aspect of Iron] and all—hit the invisible enemy with Yvlon like she was a giant ball of metal.

Now Yvlon was right on top of her foe. She punched until she connected with something underneath her—and her metal arm buried into a body she knew wasn’t Colth and exploded into spikes. Then another claw raked over her metal face, and she realized there were two monsters. But Colth didn’t know.

Yvlon got up and swung Colth at the next monster. He made a grunting sound as whatever it was recoiled with an alien rasping noise. It could have been another illusion. Yvlon trusted her fists as she stomped something under her feet, smashing her leather boots into what she hoped was its skull.

Then she began punching the second monster and felt Colth doing the same. He must have drawn a sword, because when she tore open the monster’s skin, hand met his blade, buried deep in hot flesh. They kept punching and stabbing until something fell over, and they kicked it aside. Were there more? Was Bogr—

Colth looked up and saw a grinning Bograms raising its hands over its head to smash him down. He began to thrust a sword forwards—and halted. Instead, he bull-rushed forward, and Yvlon followed him. They passed through the fake Bograms, and Yvlon twisted, elbowed him, swung him right—

Colth didn’t know what it was. He didn’t care. He started slashing and only yanked Yvlon right when he sensed a fourth monster. Yvlon ignored the horde of angry monsters that Bograms conjured behind them, screaming their heads off.

She only paid attention to his arm and Colth. Both adventurers turned, and Yvlon’s hand became a spiked mace. Colth stabbed in a blur—




Bograms couldn’t understand. What was going on? They were—surviving!

Six monsters and a trap of spinning razors were in the corridor. Yvlon and Colth charged into it as they killed a fourth monster. The trap came up, bone teeth whirring—and snapped on her armor. The Named-rank adventurer felt it and swung himself upwards—kicked off a wall, and took them out of danger.

Yvlon ran them forwards until they crashed into another monster—Bograms saw a tangle of limbs, a silvermetal arm punching, a stabbing sword—

They hit each other again. Yvlon’s [Aspect of Iron] wore off, but now they were running. Next came a series of lances that Bograms had altered to stab hard enough to ram through metal.

To them, it looked like a pond of water with a faintly off-color. They would stop and—

They charged into the hallway of stakes. Somehow, Colth sensed the new traps. The [Supporter] swept Yvlon’s leg, and they both fell down. He kicked away from a spike that shot up, and Yvlon’s arms exploded into probing metal spikes.

Yvlon and Colth got back to their feet and paused, panting, as Bograms tried to keep up. Now they’d slow down and he’d get ahead of—

The stupid [Armsmistress] nearly walked into a spike trap until Colth punched her in the side. She stopped, and he dragged her backwards. She dragged him forwards. He punched her, and she headbutted him in the face. Colth stopped a second as Bograms saw Yvlon draw a blade. Colth heard the rasp and faced Yvlon the right way—

Bograms leapt back just in time. He had been about to get in front of Yvlon—

“[Sword Art: Arc of the Moon]!”

“[Copy Skill].”

Two swords cleaved down the hallway, splintering the spike traps, cracking the old enchanted stone, activating the traps they didn’t destroy—Bograms shrank back and saw the two adventurers lower their swords and charge.

Yvlon charged forwards first. One of the surviving lance-stakes that shot out of the wall and struck her arm. It failed to do more than dent the metal flesh. She took a step forward and Colth dragged her back from walking head-first into another hole in the wall, this one positioned at head-height to kill both of them.

He punched her, and she yanked him out of the way of the trap that had hit her as both recoiled. Colth growled, grabbed her head, dragged, pushed down—

He dragged her under the trap in their way, and they rounded the corner of the next hallway.

They were still blinded by Bograms’ illusions, so they slammed into one of the other denizens of the Crossroads. The furious monster in scarlet was flaming hot, and Bograms made it look like the ant-man, Ksmvr—

The two punched Ksmvr in the stomach and groin almost gently, realized it wasn’t him, and shoulder-charged the monster into a wall hard enough to nearly cut it in two. After five seconds of furious stabbing, kicking, and punching, the two backed up, and Yvlon turned the wrong way—Colth punched her arm and she swiveled, grunting.

They ran forwards, and Bograms was running to keep up, now.

They weren’t stopping. They weren’t—

Colth sensed a gap in the wall and shoved Yvlon off her feet before they hit the deadly wave of energy. Her free metal arm was probing outwards, and the two slammed straight into a light-sentry as it struck them—Colth buried his sword in its chest, and they ran in a straight line until they slammed into a wall. Then they were past Bograms, and he was trying to make the dungeon disap—

Yvlon Byres saw a [Light Wall] spell appear, blocking her way around a delicate trap involving rusted lockpicks and a series of locks on the wall. She slammed into it—splintered the spell as her arm punched through—and Colth was right next to her. They turned and kept sprinting as Bograms ran after them. And his illusions were no longer keeping up with their pace.

And they were still—hitting each other. So why did it look like both were grinning?

Possibly, Bograms realized—because it was too stupid for either he or the ‘Naga’ to come up with.




Pisces didn’t understand Ceria anymore. They had come to an understanding. Then Chandrar—then she was the one wearing a magic—definitely cursed—circlet and playing pranks.

They hadn’t talked about it. To be fair, he hadn’t shared the full depth of how he’d suffered with Riqre and the other [Slavers]. He didn’t know if he could, even with Erin.

He just wished—

“[Lion’s Strength]! [Floor of Mud]!”

The spell empowered him as the light-projections skidded on the floor of mud. Pisces locked blades with one of the illusory Drakes and shoved. It went flying into the air; it was light as a feather, but the Drake did a backflip and landed on its feet.

Great. They were like Silver-bell duelists, and one had taken a slash from Pisces across the face. Its head wavered, and it froze—then slowly reformed. Ceria shouted.

Run! I don’t have the mana for this! I’m going to do something unpredictable!”


Pisces backed up as another Skeleton Champion locked blades with the light-Drakes, who hacked it down. He was grateful for the armor Colth had bought them; the skeleton endured blow after blow as it hacked at the twelve Drakes with swords. Ceria pointed as they backed up.

“[Rampant Magic]! Run!

Pisces twisted and saw the floor of mud rippling. That was her new [Prankster] Skill? He backed up, and the mud bubbled up—and burst. Each bubble exploded into a shower of glittering lights that the light-constructs avoided. The glittering magic was violet, and when it clung to one of the light-constructs…

It did absolutely nothing. Both [Mages] ran faster. Pisces was gasping for air.

“We have to stop them! They’re immortal if they have enough magic, and this maze is filled with magic.”

“Well, I can’t freeze them! You saw that last one! It walked out of the [Ice Wall] spell.”

How did you defeat a construct made of light? The answer was…you joined the countless corpses that had probably fallen victim to their blades. At least Bograms wasn’t here. Pisces’ mind raced.

“They’re part of the Trial of Shields! They’re not meant to kill us!”

Tell that to them, idiot!

Doubtless, Bograms had altered them. But Pisces twisted and saw one of the light-Drakes drive a sword through the skeleton’s head. His undead went limp—but the artificial Drake was pointing its sword through the skeleton’s head. Then it withdrew the sword with a flourish and bowed.

It clearly thought it hadn’t just killed the skeleton. Clever. Bograms had altered its depth-perception just enough to make the sentries murderous.

Think. Think. Pisces and Ceria couldn’t keep running forever. Ceria was leading them back the way she’d come, but they’d run into a dangerous trap, and then they’d be backed into a corner. They could…lure the Drakes into a trap?

“Is there any [Light Wall] spell or something that could contain—”

Circlet says no!

Pisces snarled at her as he pumped his arms and legs.

Circlet says!? What about Ceria?”

“Ceria’s busy running! Also, I’m pretty sure my circlet is intelligent and scared shitless!”

Pisces actually slowed as Ceria pointed to it on her head. It was bone white, and he suspected it was a kind of bone mixed with magic. The Putrid One’s personal spellcasting aid…

And you’re still wearing it? Take it off!

“Nope! I need its power!”

Are you insane? We don’t need a sixth Horn of Hammerad. Ceria, Pisces, Colth, Yvlon, Ksmvr, and Ceria’s headband?

He shrieked at her. The two were panting for air, and Ceria skidded to a stop, clutching at her side. She was wheezing, and the light-Drakes were running down the long corridor after them. Ceria doubled over as an ice-wall rose to block them…and they phased through it. At least it slowed them. Pisces licked his lips.

Animate my remaining Skeleton Champions? [Deathbolt] does nothing…dark magic. [Arc of Midnight]? My aim is terrible, and I’ll have only one cast. If only I had some darkness magic—

Wait. What about—he narrowed his eyes.


Pisces concentrated. He pointed one finger, and it took six seconds for him to conjure what looked like a ball of light to his fingertips. Ceria blinked and looked up. The ball coalesced…morphed into an arrow slightly smaller than your average [Light Arrow]—and fired.

It shot ahead, and one of the Drake sentries regarded the spell that was not a spell—and swatted it aside. Its sword made a gentle pinging sound.

“Well. That was useless. At least you didn’t break your fingers this time. But the circlet says it won’t do much—”

Shut up about your damn circlet!

Pisces screamed at Ceria. He could cast the spell, but it was about as weak as…a regular [Light Arrow].

“I can move the light around, now, and even make it last a few seconds. I solved the recoil problem.”

“Can I read—let’s go. Here goes all my mana for a minute! [Frostbolt Swarm]!”

Ceria saw the projections coming and raised her wand. She fired a hail of smaller bolts of ice, and the Drake sentries obligingly slowed and began parrying or effortlessly dodging them.

They were amazing duelists. Pisces remembered his father, Padurn Jealnet, doing something like that once as a demonstration of [Duelist] abilities.

He wished he didn’t remember that man. But he was a [Fencer]…not Padurn’s son. Pisces lifted his rapier as Ceria doubled over.

“I’m gonna hurl…”

Pisces’ other hand was glowing as he concentrated. If he just had another second…

He was about to release the spell and drag Ceria away when he saw one of the sentries closest to him slow. Its head turned to Ceria, and it halted a second and put its rapier up. Pisces blinked.

“Ceria! Play dead!”

“What? Oh, tree rot—”

Ceria threw herself down and put her hands and feet up in the air. Pisces nearly kicked her. Was she pretending to be roadkill?

The Drake sentries regarded her, and then one stepped forwards and began to swing its sword down to point at Ceria’s face. The sword nearly sheared through her face—Pisces impaled the sentry and shoved it back as Ceria scrambled up.

That doesn’t work unless we want it to behead us. Nice try.

She backed away, and the two fled again. The sentries strode after them as Pisces’ mind rose. But they had hesitated. One leapt after Pisces and went sprawling.

Ceria glanced back, blinking. Then she saw a line of light in the air that the other Drake sentries ran into. They went sprawling and picked themselves up fast.

“What was that?

“A tripwire…of light!”

Pisces couldn’t believe it had worked, but it was all light magic. He’d just changed the inertia of the spell to nothing and pumped mana into it—

“Can you do a net?”

“Absolutely not.”

Making mobile, flexible magic? Way too difficult. Ceria skidded to a halt, inhaling and exhaling.

“Okay. A light-diffusion spell mixed with ice magic. Maybe that would make a construct they can’t phase through. I think I can do that. Buy me, uh…nine minutes. And shut up about the circlet. This is why I’m wearing it. I can’t mix spells on the fly without it!”

“You’re insane. Skeletons—arise!”

Pisces used his last two Skeleton Champions and pointed them backwards. He was drained of mana, and the two staggered down the corridor as Ceria panted. He had to drag her with him.

“I need it.”

“You’ll become a monster.”

Don’t care. For magic—”

Ceria leaned against a wall and began to retch. Then she swallowed, glanced up as Pisces heard the clash of swords, and he saw her pale-faced, sweaty expression. But her eyes were clear. She was wearing the circlet on purpose. He stared at her, wide-eyed, and she gave him a serious look. Like always.

“I’ll sacrifice what I have to for magic. So long as it’s worth it. How am I supposed to keep you idiots safe?”

Ceria turned her head and spat, and Pisces grabbed her arm. She sounded like—Az’kerash. Had he ever said that?

Those black eyes and white pupils, inhuman. But he sometimes sounded like a man full of regrets. Sometimes like Perril Chandler, the Archmage of Death.

Then Pisces stared into those pits and saw the butcher who had haunted Terandria and realized they were the same.

“I can’t. I can’t sacrifice anything for that.”

It felt like a confession. Pisces saw Eloque and Bearig in front of him. Heard Emir Riqre laughing and felt like he was balancing on the edge of something. He refused to fall.

The half-Elf [Cryomancer] gazed up at Pisces for what felt like an [Immortal Moment]. Her incredulous gaze peered into Pisces’ soul, and whatever she found there—Ceria looked behind her and straightened with a grimace of pain.

“Lucky you.”

The two gazed at each other, and then Pisces reached out. Ceria grasped his hand, and he dragged her onwards.

“Why…is it my turn…to sacrifice anything for magic?”

There was a wheezing quality to her lungs. They had run for thirty minutes straight. Pisces’ own legs were burning, and the light-constructs wouldn’t tire.

They reached a dead end, and Ceria’s lungs whistled as she gasped.

“Oh. Great. Where I started.”

There was a plaque on the walls more complete than the one Pisces had found. He stared at it.


—ear Newcomer.

Welcome to the Trial of Shields. —st step to—induction of our ranks.

—all out—[Mazekeeper] if any event occurs.

—Command words: ‘help’, ‘assistance’, ‘emergency’—be provided.

Best of luck. Fortitude shall endure all trials.


Drakeish. His eyes widened. Wait. Did that say…


—ear Newcomer.

Welcome to the Trial of Shields. —st step to—induction of our ranks. 

—all out—[Mazekeeper] if any event occurs.

—Command words: ‘help’, ‘assistance’, ‘emergency’—be provided.

Best of luck. Fortitude shall endure all trials.


“Ceria! Do you see what it says?”

“I didn’t have the mana or time to cast [Translate].”

You forgot to cast—help! Assistance! Emergency!

Pisces waved his arms frantically as they backed onto the dais, and Ceria clapped her hands over her pointed ears as the first sentry strode around the corner. It raised its sword—

And with a thunderclap, that ‘overseer’ Drake appeared, claws folded behind its back.

“Applicant—require assistance?”

“Yes! Stop the trial! We’re in danger!”

Pisces and Ceria screamed at the projection. The Drake smiled and lifted a clawed hand as the sentries advanced.

“The [Mazekeeper] has been alerted and will be here presently.”

The sentries kept coming. Ceria pointed at them.

“That trap! Stop that trap, dead gods damn it!

The overseer Drake turned. To both [Mages]’ relief, it chose this moment now to stop glitching and blasting them with sound and light. So they got to hear the sentries marching towards them while the light-overseer spoke at a calm, measured pace.

“The Trial of [Duelists]. Room #49. Would you like to surrender and try again at your convenience and reduce the difficulty setting?”

“Yes! Oh hells, it’s going to behead us.”

The first sentry-Drake was advancing, now formally, to perform a gesture where it pointed its sword at Ceria and Pisces, then saluted again, sword whirling in a figure-eight before it held it up to its chest and then extended it. Only, it was going to stab Ceria straight through the face in the ornamental salute.

A salute Pisces had never seen before. It reminded him of that damn [Sword Legend], the Drake who had appeared at the Village of the Dead. He probably knew the meaning of this particular signal. Wait…Pisces blinked as he had an idea.

Ceria was recoiling, skeletal hand raised and shimmering with frost magic. Pisces lifted his sword, and the projection spoke.

“Applicant. Would you like to challenge the Trial of [Duelists]?”


The sentry was aiming at him now, and all twelve were advancing. They were backed into a corner, and Pisces did the only thing he could think to do. He was a [Necromancer]. And a [Fencer].

Both defined him. But what people often forgot about [Necromancers] was that…in the end, they were suckers for history.

Not just the dead.

The Drake sentry froze as Pisces performed a salute with his rapier. He pointed it out, tip first, and let gravity tilt the tip downwards. He performed a three hundred and sixty degree spin and stopped it tip downwards, then slashed the ground.

It was a showy, flashy salute by Pheislant [Duelists] called ‘Drawing the Line’—a simple trick that made the blade rotate around in a whirl that fascinated the ladies—or lads—Pisces had heard the older [Duelists] say.

The Drake sentries stopped—stared at Pisces as Ceria saw their swords freeze in the air—and then they stepped back. The lead one bowed and then performed the same salute it had offered them time and time again.

Then they stepped forwards—and froze as Pisces, hands sweating and clammy, spoke.


This time, he performed the most basic salute you did with a saber—a simple raise and point in the direction of your opponent. And then the referee—in this case, Pisces did it to the Drake overseer thing.

He waited as the light-sentries froze—and the one in front instantly copied the salute. It pointed at Pisces, then stabbed the light-overseer in the face—

Pisces wished the overseer Drake had noticed that the depth perception was off, but it was nowhere near as intelligent as a Sentient-class Golem. However, the moment the sentry was done and bowing, Pisces formed a third salute.

This one wasn’t official, but Ailendamus’ [Duelists] had been new and wanted to make a salute for the Kingdom of Glass and Glory. How it worked was a showy twist of the handle so the blade spun as you tossed it into the air, then you caught it, did a quick cut horizontally, and sheathed it at your side in one smooth motion. The blade made a soft sound as Pisces slid it into his scabbard.

The sentry-Drakes stared at him, and all of them raised their swords without saluting.

“They didn’t like that!”

“Argh! Damn!”

He should have known they wouldn’t respect a newer salute! Pisces had been blanking on all the formal styles, but panic sometimes helped. In his desperation, he reflexively went into another salute, and this time, he had an idea.

How had that [Sword Legend] done it? Pisces had watched the recording of the [Sword Legend] attacking the other adventurers, and even if he hadn’t been there…he held his sword up, and the sentries paused—then Pisces whirled the sword around until its tip was pointing at the ground, clasping both hands on the sword like some [Knight].

The Drake sentries stopped, and once again, the one in the front offered him their formal salute. Ceria started breathing again and whispered sidelong to Pisces.

“Good idea! I think I can pull off at least that one. Give me the rapier, and we’ll stall ‘em out! If we’re lucky, we can run while they’re saluting.”

“Not…yet. I have an idea, actually. Hold on—”

Pisces actually thought he might be able to salute-stall the constructs for hours, but his arm hurt, he was exhausted, and he had a better idea. Slowly, the [Necromancer] looked at the old creations of ancient Drakes.

Then he copied the salute of the City of Shields. Ceria groaned softly as the Drake sentry once again mimicked the gesture with alacrity, and they all stepped forwards. But Pisces’ next words made all the sentries pause.

“I…challenge Lesegoth, the City of Shields, for the proof of a [Duelist]’s merits. Face me in single combat.”

All the sentries stopped moving. The overseer Drake, who had been watching the display of salutes without reacting, turned. That smooth, controlled voice spoke to Pisces. It seemed like it inspected him a second.

“…Stranger. No Duelist of Shields is present at the Trial of Shields. However. You may undertake single combat to prove your merit as an apprentice [Duelist]. Is this your will?”


Say yes! Say yes! Not me.”

Ceria was whispering. Pisces glanced at the sentries, then nodded.


There was a pause as sweat rolled down his back—then he saw the overseer Drake smile. There was no crackle or fizzle in its voice as it spoke—perhaps these words hadn’t been uttered since the City of Shields fell.

“Please follow me to the dueling area.”

The other sentry-Drakes lowered their blades—and then bowed, turned, and marched off. One Drake with a sword remained and marched ahead of the overseer as Pisces and Ceria looked at each other. The two Drakes stopped at one end of the maze hallway, and the overseer turned.

“Applicant. Please follow—”

“Yeah, yeah. We’re coming. Dead gods, Pisces. You’re a genius! Maybe I should give the circlet to you.”

“An intelligent move wouldn’t have me fighting to the death against that thing. It might get better at fighting, and it has no depth perception, remember?”

Pisces swallowed hard. Apprentice-level? He bet that meant Silver-bell level. [Duelists] didn’t have journeymen ranks. There were masters…and everyone else was supposed to be on the path to mastery. That was their entire thing; no one ever learned enough to say they were true masters, even Gold-bell duelists.

How…how good could a light-projection made by one of the legendary Walled Cities be? At any rate, it meant they were safe until they reached the testing room. One duelist vs. Pisces beat twelve immortal sentries vs. the two of them.

Indeed, as Pisces and Ceria slowly began following the overseer and his opponent to the site of their match—with it telling them to follow every few seconds—Ceria began whispering out of the corner of her mouth.

“Okay. I can do [Gazelle’s Dexterity], [Lion’s Strength], and [Speed]. Want some [Ice Armor]?”

“No. And don’t interfere when we duel. I think it might just reactivate the trap.”

“So long as you’re winning—okay. Think we can make a skeleton take the win or fail?”

That wasn’t a bad idea. Pisces hopefully reanimated one of his Skeleton Champions when, twenty minutes later, they reached a large, open room that felt like it was the center of the maze. The overseer Drake turned and spoke politely.

“No assistance is allowed for a [Duelist]’s challenge, Human. Please signal when you are ready to begin. All observers must exit the ring before the duel may proceed.”

Uh oh. It recognized Pisces’ species. Ceria swallowed. In her experience, the more specific a spell got…the more energy the creator had poured into it. Pisces was warming up, looking tired, exhausted from surviving Bograms, and his rapier was old.

Not the one she had once seen him carrying with a Silver-bell. But she believed he’d earned it. 

“Take your time, Pisces. You can do this.”

Pisces nodded. He seemed encouraged, and his movements were sped up by Ceria’s spells. She was about to tell him to have at it—when she saw the overseer Drake inspect Pisces.

“Enchantments: [Lion’s Strength]. [Speed]…basic. [Gazelle’s Dexterity]. Copying.”

The sentry-Drake across from Pisces began to blur as it performed the salute from the City of Shields at an accelerated rate. Ceria ran forwards.

Waitwaitwaitwait! I’m canceling the enchantments!”

“Duelist. Please have all observers vacate the—”

Pisces and Ceria locked eyes as he swallowed. Hard. Pisces stared at a notch on the worn rapier he carried, beaten up from use, and saw his opponent standing there. Waiting.

The overseer Drake stood there watching him. Two glowing eyes of pale yellow light, without detail or mercy, watched him. A legacy of old. The mouth moved and a voice spoke politely, Pisces thought.

“Duelist. Any use of non-spellblade magic will result in your immediate disqualification.”


Pisces felt at his hands. He pulled the [Shatterbolt] ring off, then felt at his bag of holding. He took his robes off and checked his armor.

“Does armor matter?”

The overseer replied softly.


Pisces began to remove the armor too. He looked at Ceria.

“Hold onto my gear?”

He was going to need to be as light as possible for this one. Pisces nervously checked the guard of his rapier. Her eyes were locked on him, but behind her, lined up against each wall, he saw the duelist-Drakes standing with swords raised like ceremonial statues. They must have returned to their start positions. Wonderful.

If he disqualified himself—well, he doubted you got a second chance. Pisces looked at Ceria and managed a smile.

“I guess we’ll find out if I deserved that Silver-bell after all.”

“Duelist. Are you ready to proceed?”

The overseer intoned. Ceria waved a hand at it as she leaned forwards.

“We could stall, Pisces. It probably won’t force you to—”

“Bograms is out there, and Colth lured it, and Yvlon’s hurt. I’m ready. Just give me…”

Pisces inhaled and exhaled. [Fencer]. He was glad he’d taken the class after all. Spellblade magic? Was he a [Necromancer]? Or should he have really just been his father’s son? He stared at the light-construct.

He felt like he was walking in Az’kerash’s footsteps. Surely it would have been…the [Necromancer] put his robe over his smallclothes, adjusting a belt to make sure he wouldn’t trip over his robes when he fought.

Pale white, torn in places, but still magical cloth rustled as he performed a salute. [Necromancer]. Duelist.

He’d always wanted to be a copy of Az’kerash when he was young. Now—Pisces closed his eyes and opened them as he rose out of his bow.

He knew how this destiny ended. If not this? Then what? 

Ceria Springwalker stood there as the overseer asked her to leave the ring. She looked from Pisces to the construct. Pisces stared at her.

“Whenever you’re ready.”

She didn’t move.





Author’s Note:

For readability, this chapter has been split into two parts. I am at the end of my mortal limits. I knew I was taking a break so for some reason I wrote…58,000 words in three days.

However! Before you continue onwards, I have something to feature. Below, I am posting the winners of our Inktober Discord event.

One of our moderators, Aliased, offered <Quests> for various prompts and there are nearly thirty pieces of art who received the bounties—and literal hundreds of pieces of new fanart I will be continuing to feature.

It was all amazing, and I congratulate those who participated and thank them all for adding to the story like this. I will try to feature all the art in time, but here are the winners.

…There was also a NSFW section of the contest I will not be featuring here. Any ‘secret’ quest can be found on the Discord if you really want it…

Enough. The second half awaits. Pace yourselves.



Inktober #29: Basic Quest – Your Favorite Meal
Winner: @moerchen


Inktober #28: Basic Quest – What does this even mean?
Winner: @wingedhatchling


Inktober #27: Basic Quest – Verily Do I Say Unto Thee, Draw My Magnificent Form!
Winner: @ashokthi


Inktober #26: Basic Quest – I’ll Play For My Portrait!
Winner: @Brack


Inktober #25: Secret Rare Quest – Study on Ill Advised Magical Mishaps
Winner: @SchrodingersTroll


Inktober #24: Rare Quest – The Titan’s Search, Swords to Sonnets!
Winner: @Lei Tencie

you place your pieces and I place mine
I’ve never danced a waltz so fine
we set the board in proper lines
and play again one more time

to the center our pieces creep
Knight takes rook, and King retreats,
the distance closes and we meet
heartbeat quickens, reddened cheeks

two more moves and it’s your win
I can see you closing in
goosebumps rising on my skin
I just can’t help but grin

when oh when did the titan fall?
you reached in past my castle walls
to you they must have seemed so small

then it’s checkmate, game’s end,
you claim my king and I can’t defend

I look at the board, no moves left to make
but you miss all the chances you never take

so miss solstice,
would you accompany me on a date?


Inktober #23: Secret Rare Quest – The King of Duels Can Do What With His Sword!
Winner: @Butts


Inktober #22: Rare Quest – A Portrait of a Gnoll!
Winner: @Lei Tencie


Inktober #21: Secret Rare Quest – Please, I’ve Worked So Hard, I Just Want a Break and Some Hot Gnoll Action!
Winner: @Brack


Inktober #20: Rare Quest – Goblins can give quests!
Winner: @Simmon

In shadowed woods where moonlight gleams,
There dwell the goblins, not what they seem.
With skin of green and eyes of red,
They’re often feared, filling men with dread.

But deep within their forest homes,
A different story quietly roams.
Not born of evil, nor monsters vile,
They’re just like us, beneath their guile.

In tribes they gather, a family strong,
With chieftains leading, right from wrong.
Shamans chant with ancient lore,
Guiding them through life’s great chore.

Their size is small, but hearts are vast,
With ingenuity, they’re unsurpassed.
Copying tech with skill untold,
Invention’s secrets, they unfold.

So let us see beyond the fear,
To find the truth of goblins near.
For in their hearts, a tale of grace,
A yearning for acceptance in every place.


Inktober #19: Rare Quest – May the Ink Flow Forever!
Winner: @Paraffin2


Inktober #18: Rare Quest: Seeking Criminal Mugshots!
Winner: @amiel_b


Inktober #17: Secret Heroic Quest – A Decree of Unrivaled Magnificence, Depicted in Artistic Mastery; Rivalry More Like Courtship, Paint the Lover-Boys!
Winner: @Lei Tencie


Inktober #16: Secret Heroic Quest – Saucy Literature to Distract the Thirsty Masses!
Winner: @SchrodingersTroll


Inktober #15: Secret Heroic Quest – Instructional Imagery in Intimate Interspecies Intercourse!
Winner: @Paraffin2


Inktober #14: Secret Heroic Quest – Bare Bears!
Winner: @Artsynada


Inktober #13: Secret Heroic Quest – What the Innkeeper is Refusing to See!
Winner: @_sneakysnack


Inktober #12: Heroic Quest – Tales in an Era of Truth Oft Stranger Than Fiction!
Winnner: @akuna



Inktober #11: Secret Heroic Quest – A Fiery Limerick for the [Bannerlady of Memory’s Flame]
Winner: @Dyskantor [Bawdy Musician]


Inktober #10: Heroic Quest – Fill the Halls With Music!
Winner: @TheBlondeOwl


Inktober #9: Heroic Quest – Liscor Watch Seeks Updated Maps For Patrol!
Winner: @Pontastic


Inktober #8: Heroic Quest – Be Pre-Beared!
Winner: @jawjee


Inktober #7: Heroic Quest – Memories of Fun in the Sun!
Winner: @lechatdemon


Inktober #6: Heroic Quest – Walls That Fell!
Winner: @lechatdemon


Inktober #5: Heroic Quest – Seeking Mage Images of Lesser Known Persons of Note!
Winner: @Lei Tencie


Inktober #4: Heroic Quest – Seeking Mage Images of Monster Sightings Outside of Izril!
Winner: @Pontastic


Inktober #3: Heroic Group Quest – Unlimited Maidworks!
Winner: @Butts


Inktober #2: Secret Mythic Quest – The Depth of Depravity
Winner: @yootie


Inktober #1: Mythic Quest – Show Us the Fruit of Your Greatest Effort!
Winner: @1_autumn_leaf


2nd Place: @HolyArtisan



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