9.70 (Pt. 1) – The Wandering Inn

9.70 (Pt. 1)

It sounded like the falling rain.

His heartbeat, that was. He could hear it as his rain-slicked hands worked, echoing from the tips of his fingers through his body. Rabbiteater’s heart drummed like the rain, a downpour that reminded him of the rapping beat of Calanfer’s drums during the procession.

Fast and light. It sounded oddly cheerful.

“Storm’s letting up.”

That was it. The Goblin’s head turned up, and some rain fell through the slits of his visor and stung his face, making him flinch. The sky was still dark, and the winter rains were freezing, but he felt no chill, only the awareness it was cold.

Thunderclouds the size of islands filled the firmament above, a jigsaw puzzle of the sky, and they had been black tempests, the rain pouring down along with bolts of lightning. Red rain; even now, it had an ochre hue. Unnatural, as if all the blood that had spilled into the oceans had altered the world forever.

Perhaps it had. Perhaps they’d call this place a new Bloodfields. Rabbiteater turned his head, and in the whipping wind and diminishing rains, he could now see the fleet. They were sailing in ragged clusters, few vessels as proud as how they’d set out.

One or two looked almost pristine. Iradoren’s ship, Legend’s Wake, and Pheislant’s own lead warship, crewed by Lord Firrus Kallinad, Griffindance, were both unharmed. The rest had sails torn by fire and arrows, and the decks were damaged. Railings torn or hulls smashed in by failed boarding attempts.

They didn’t sail in a colorful procession anymore, organized by nations, each one bearing the proud flags. They were clustered around larger warships like little Goblins following a Hob into battle. Even now the Hobgoblin could see, behind them, their enemy.

The Bloodtear Pirates were regrouping again. Red sails bleeding blue. Poorer, less-beautiful vessels that had already had scars, but moving like a pack of Carn Wolves, each one unafraid, moving ahead or behind to get into formation.

They were done testing the limits of Terandria’s ranges. They were probably healing up, choosing another ship or angle of approach. Rabbiteater saw flashes of light from the ship sailing in the center of Terandria’s formation.

Rainbringer, Altestiel’s flagship and pride of Desonis’ navy, had scars. A huge black mar across the prow from one of the Bloodtear [Admirals]’ ships. A tear in Desonis’ sails, so the image of a wave rolling across a windswept castle looked more like a black void trying to erase the kingdom itself.

Yet his ship still sang. Colored light-spells redirected the fleet, moving the armada into defensive postures. When the Bloodtear Pirates attacked, his would be one of the first vessels to intercept. That or the core of Desonis’ ships, far more maneuverable than most nations’, some covered not with wood but tanned Hydrahide.

This was what Rabbiteater had seen for the last two…make it three days. Either this or a brutal melee, ships locked together or sinking, burning lights raining down, and the distant clang of swords until it was their turn. Then he’d lock eyes with a [Pirate] boarding this ship and feel his axe rise for a terrible purpose as his heart roared.

Three days. This was a naval engagement, a proper war at sea. If anything, they might have fought a week or more in running battles, Rabbiteater had heard. But the ferocity of the Bloodtear Pirates and the urgency of the Terandrian fleet’s escape meant this would be over soon.

“I think we’ve finally beaten their Skill. Praise be to Wistram.”

Lady Menrise’s voice made Rabbiteater turn. She clung weakly to a railing. She looked ill. Three days she and many spellcasters had been trying to turn the Bloodtear Pirates’ greatest advantage: the Third Tide, which let them sail with a storm at their backs.

“Good job.”

Her head shook slightly as he patted her on the arm. Menrise was wearing a dress, which looked ridiculous in a battle and was rain-soaked, but it was the most enchanted piece of armor she had. On the Throne’s Will, the flagship of Calanfer, you had either [Soldiers] and [Sailors] armored to the teeth with the [Knights]—Thronebearers with the exception of Rabbiteater—or nobles, who were either in armor or dressed like they were at a ball. Menrise was shivering uncontrollably, so Rabbiteater took off his blood-red cape and let her wear it. She folded it around herself.

“Don’t thank me yet, Rabbit. We could barely lessen the winds with all of Tourvecall fighting the Skill. It must be Wistram’s weather bubble. We’re close enough for them to shelter us. See?”

She pointed, and then Rabbiteater did see it. He had heard tales of Wistram’s isle surrounded by a bubble of perfect weather and had imagined it thusly, but the Academy of Mages had changed.

He could see no bubble, but the island looked…off compared to a few days ago. Something had happened, and Wistram seemed to bulge leftwards slightly. Symmetry unbalanced as if the academy had expanded, like someone bursting their pants, which had been hiding more of them inside.

The bubble was likewise gone, but in its place…Rabbiteater traced an oblong shape, expanding just over the fleet’s heads, in the sky. Where Wistram’s weather-spell extended, the storm did indeed reduce vastly in intensity.

“Hm. Are they gonna help after all?”

“They must have repaired some of the damage from whatever struck them since the Solstice. I fear we’re still too far for help from most [Mages].”

They were, by all reckonings, at least a day away. Half a day for the really fast ships. Some had suggested that a…valuable group go ahead and take shelter at Wistram.

The Terandrians had tried it—twice. One vessel had made it according to Seraphel. The other had been caught by the Bloodtear Pirates’ own ships and butchered.

The two’s musing on the railings were not the only sounds on deck, of course. [Sailors] were constantly moving around, taking orders from the [Captain] trying to eke out another knot of speed from the sails and winds. But a loud, familiar voice interrupted Menrise and Rabbiteater.

“They’re closing again, Rabbiteater. Storm or no—the Kingdom of Taligrit is flagging. The Earl has indicated the fleet will not move to save them. [Teleportation]’s saved as many as it can. Look.”

Hundredlord Cortese limped across the deck, accompanied by Baeris, his pet lioness. Both had looked better; Baeris was damp, teeth bared, and Cortese had a leg injury he’d refused to heal with their limited potions. He didn’t have the confident swagger Rabbiteater was used to, or the fearlessness of Kaaz’s nobles.

The Goblin could have used that right now. Cortese pointed silently, and Menrise put both hands together, palms touching each other, and pressed them to her own helmet’s visor.

“Magic guide them.”

A pair of ships was lagging behind the Terandrian formation, slowly sliding out of line and losing the protective bubble. It wasn’t hard to see why; one had only a single sail remaining, and a broken mast showed Rabbiteater why they couldn’t keep up. The other was listing left; a broken rudder.

That was how the Bloodtear Pirates hunted. They’d attack, be pushed back, then pick apart the ships unable to keep up. If the Terandrians tried to save the wounded ships…

“It will be the last we cede to them.”

Cortese spoke softly as Rabbiteater saw the Bloodtear ships moving. One was breaking towards the Taligrit kingdom’s vessels, and he heard, even from so far away, a dull sound.


“How’s it the last one we’ll lose?”

Cortese jerked his head at Wistram ahead of them.

“By tomorrow, we’ll be in Wistram’s aegis. If the [Pirates] are to stop us, it will be today. Brace yourselves.”

Ah, so this was it. Menrise began shivering uncontrollably again, and Rabbiteater put an arm around her shoulders and hugged her. She grabbed Cortese’s arm, and he locked eyes with Rabbiteater as he stopped and put one hand on top of hers.

No bravado. No claims they’d make it. Rabbiteater had never had that faith to begin with, but even Cortese just looked at his friends, then behind them.

The Terandrian fleet had left a third of its vessels behind. Some were actually sailing against them, re-crewed by the Bloodtear Pirates. Most had sunk beneath the waves. Any illusions about their victory were gone.

The Bloodtear Pirates had no end. Nor was it just them; a black ship sailed alone amidst their number, given a wide berth by even the other Bloodtear Pirates, unto the grim counterpart of Altestiel’s own Rainbringer.

Shifthold. The Alchemist’s own ship.

By now, Rabbiteater knew the names of the most dangerous ships on either side and understood, in the terms he thought of for this sea battle, how the sides fought and how things were going. Shifthold was another ship that would not die no matter how many times the Terandrians tried to bring it down. Every time it sailed into battle, one of the ships holding half-Elves would falter—and Rabbiteater had seen half-Elves leaping into the waves rather than be taken by Irurx.

Insects buzzing as it came. Twisted figures throwing back robes and leaping onto the other ship, and the sound of Irurx laughing like a madman.

The Throne’s Will had never sailed against Shifthold. Calanfer’s ship wasn’t thought to be able to hold it off, and Altestiel had saved it from the worst of the fighting. It was a fair appraisal; the Thronebearers had fought hard, but they were no champions of naval warfare or boarding actions.

“Cortese. Rabbiteater. Menrise. There you are. Did you hear…?”

A fourth and final voice. Princess Seraphel du Marquin and a small retinue of her bodyguards, her two most dedicated [Maids], and Ser Thilowen, the lead Thronebearer, all approached. Ser Thilowen stepped back after a bow to all present, and the Ivory Four—Altestiel was on his own ship—stood together. Seraphel relayed the news without wasting time.

“They’re asking us to send words of encouragement to Taligrit’s vessels. The Iron Vanguard has declined a third day to intercede in the fighting. They look to be making for Wistram as well. If it’s the [Pirates], the storm, or safe harbor—I heard the Rhir expedition is also making for Wistram.”

Cortese’s voice was raspy, lacking his usual bravado.

“In case the [Pirates] go after them? Wonderful. And their response? Rhir. We know the Dullahans won’t lift a finger.”

“…Rhir claims theirs is a colony fleet, not one prepared for war.”

Cortese didn’t dignify that with a response. He just turned to the ships wallowing behind him. His lips moved a second before he spoke.

“What are we supposed to say to the doomed ships?”

“Prince Iradoren is giving an address. I declined to add anything…”

Seraphel came to the balcony and noticed Menrise shivering. She looked around.

“Does anyone have a warming spell?”

“I’m fine. I’m not that cold. Thank you, Seraphel.”

Seraphel came to rest on Rabbiteater’s left and looked at him. He patted her on the shoulder.

“Good work.”

Seraphel gave him a blank look as she adjusted her tiara. She was wearing a protective vest over her best dress, but the tiara was the real defense. It had saved her twice from stray shots.

“For what, pray, Rabbiteater?”

“Surviving. Not panicking. Is hard.”

Cortese gave Seraphel a nod after a second, and Seraphel gave Rabbiteater a bleak smile.

“I’ve hardly done anything as…”

“You helped clean up people. Sew wounds. Talked. It matters.”

Seraphel stopped protesting. She hadn’t been able to fight, but this wasn’t a contest. It wasn’t a…it didn’t matter. They were right here, and the four odd friends had done away with everything.

Including titles. Rabbiteater was just ‘Rabbiteater’ right now. Seraphel, Cortese, Menrise, likewise. It made them feel closer. Rabbiteater was turning his head, surveying the decks. He knew they could not, but he was looking for any ship capable of saving the doomed Taligrit vessels.

Be it so cruel though—Rabbiteater needed only three ships to survive this battle.

Throne’s Will. The ship he was on with his four friends. Rainbringer, where Altestiel was leading from. Okay, maybe the Impetuous Step, led by Lord Belchaus—but the last was Ephemeral Days.

The Order of Seasons’ own ship where Ser Markus, Dame Talia, and Ser Greysten were. Their sister-ship, Spring’s Delight, had Pertheine on it, the Spring’s Warden. Two seasons of the Order of Seasons had been fighting among the thickest parts of the battle, but so far as he knew it, Markus was alive.

Nevermind. Five ships. Five ships out of what had been over a hundred…and a handful of reinforcements.

Rabbiteater’s eyes lingered on the battered ship from Nadel and the eight ships in Lord Belchaus’ retinue. Then his gaze lingered on the ships sailing in an entire wing of their own, bearing bright white sails with a familiar lightning bolt and thunderhead.

That was no nation’s navy in the world, but a universal symbol.

[Storm Sailors] proudly wore that on unaffiliated vessels. They were sailing on the Bloodtear Pirates’ flank. Against the Terandrians. And the ships that had meant to be the fleet’s salvation…

A long three days. Treachery, turnabout, and mystery. All the best things, on the Solstice no less. Rabbiteater remembered it vividly.




Two days ago.

The Bloodtear Pirates could fight Terandria’s finest at sea—and win. Half of it was their levels; they were the most dangerous [Pirates] in the world. The other half was the sea.

On the eve of the Solstice, Rabbiteater’s ship filled with Thronebearers, and the Order of Seasons had met one of the ships trying to board the Throne’s Will. They’d run straight into [Pirates] who’d boarded them.

Figures swinging onto the deck from above as boarding ramps were lowered. Ser Greysten pointed, and one exploded, sending screaming, burning figures into the surf. Rabbiteater saw a [Sailor] fire a crossbow and take one of the [Pirates] down, and a body thumped onto the deck.

“They’re insane!”

Each [Pirate] was outnumbered ten to one! Ser Markus didn’t even have a chance to hit one before a dozen swords ran through the [Pirate]. But Rabbiteater felt his [Dangersense] ping a second before their [Captain] screamed.

“‘Ware foe! They’re going to try to seize the ship! Don’t let—

A [Pirate] dropped on the man and buried a sword in his chest. A howl of victory went up, and Rabbiteater had no idea why. But more [Pirates] were pouring across the gangplank, barely making any headway—then he saw the one who’d killed the [Captain] raise a sword and heard a shout.

[Rock the Ship].

Ser Greysten, Hundredlord Cortese, Ser Markus—all stumbled as the ship suddenly tilted. Rabbiteater grabbed at the railing, swearing, as armored [Knights] skidded or went sprawling on the deck. So that was it? The [Pirates] swarmed ahead as the [Knights] tried to adjust. They could fight on—

The ship kept tilting. First five degrees. Then ten. Then…thirty…

The Hobgoblin saw the entire deck heave starboard, and now people were going flying, unable to stand upright without something to hold onto. He felt the world lurch—and his arm was now anchoring himself, Markus, and Cortese, who had seized the Spring Warden’s hand.

Damn! Pull us up, Rabbit! They’re—

The [Pirates] were still coming. Rabbiteater looked ‘down’ the ship tilted towards the [Pirates] and saw them charging up the deck like a hill. But they had footing, unlike the [Knights], who were sliding, falling down—and being hacked apart while they could barely stand upright.


Rabbiteater heaved with all his strength, and Ser Markus pulled himself up onto the railing. It was turning into a massacre. Ser Greysten was swinging one arm as he clung to a rope, and Rabbiteater saw what had to be the [Pirate Captain] pointing as he kicked a [Knight] into the waters. Cortese howled at the [Sailors], trying to assert command.

We can’t fight like this! Break away! Break away!

The [Sailors] with Skills kept their footings, but the deck was in chaos—and this was only one ship. Rabbiteater saw, as he looked around the fighting, another ship struggling. [Pirates] weren’t using a Skill on that one, but one was hammering something through the floorboards—and then they were fleeing a second before it exploded and blew a hole straight down.

Scuttling the ship unless it could be patched.

Naval warfare. It was disorienting—Rabbiteater snapped at Cortese, who was shouting to ‘break away’ still.

“We can’t run. We kill that [Captain] or they’ll kill all of us. The Skill can’t last forever.”

A minute was all the [Pirates] needed, though. Cortese looked down at the [Pirate Captain], and Rabbiteater grunted.

“Get Greysten to back me up.”


Cortese saw the [Knight] adjusting his grip, swinging himself down the railing—then Rabbiteater let go, jumped—and went flying towards the [Pirates].

If he had a slope and bad footing, he might as well jump on them. The Hobgoblin’s axe was glowing as the [Captain] looked up and beheld a light.

[Solar Storage – Brilliant Grand Slash]. 

A glowing arc cleaved across the deck. Rabbiteater felt his axe tear through two Bloodtear Pirates—

“[Emergency Block]!”

The Bloodtear Pirate [Captain] screamed, and his sword blocked the axe-swing—and his arm compressed against his side. Rabbiteater’s axe halted as it bit into one arm—and then the two were tumbling into the surf.

Rabbiteater punched and slashed wildly as he landed in the water, and he couldn’t tell where the enemy [Captain] was. He swam randomly until he sensed where ‘up’ was—and surfaced.

An arrow pinged off his armor as he looked around. Rabbiteater flinched, then saw [Pirates] aiming down at him, cursing and swearing as one threw a rope down to their [Captain].

But Rabbiteater’s ship was righting, and he saw and felt a furious explosion of heat and light from above. Ser Greysten charged the [Pirates]’ ship with a roar, and Rabbiteater swam towards his ship where Cortese was shouting for him. He began to climb—




“—We will lose Eminent Domain. The ship cannot be saved from the waves. Our enemy broke away in the fighting, and we are maneuvering to regroup, Earl.”

Rabbiteater was panting as he listened to an after-battle report from the acting-[Captain]. They’d won.

For a given value of ‘win’. They’d survived and gotten all the ships save one out of the engagement with the [Pirates]. It was a crazy game of cat-and-mouse. The Terandrian fleet was currently attacking the ship that the [Knights] had engaged with.

Understood. Legend’s Wake has targeted Reaving Mary. Brace.

The other [Pirates] were breaking off fast. Rabbiteater longed to tear off his helm and inhale, but he was making sure Markus was alright. The dazed [Knight] gripped his arm for a second before his eyes refocused.

“Rabbit. Did we make it?”

Rabbiteater looked up as a familiar ship, the second largest, swung towards them in the distance.

“Yep. Iradoren’s firing. Watch—”

The Legend’s Wake glowed, and the air overhead lit up. Rabbiteater gazed at the sky, and a gigantic, glowing sword chopped down. It was larger than the ship he was on, and it struck the [Pirate] ship across the center.

The enemy ship wasn’t quite bisected, but Rabbiteater saw the glowing blade hit the decks; wood splintered up, and the entire vessel trembled—then snapped straight down the center. The roar of water and debris flying everywhere made the people around Rabbiteater recoil.

Dead gods!

Cortese had seen the ship’s primary spell fire twice so far, but even now, it made him flinch. Rabbiteater as well.

Iradoren’s ship was massive, only dwarfed by Golaen’s ship. It was ancient and apparently—half-Elven. It had what looked like boughs of carved wood like greenery on the sides, a brilliant white-and-grey paneling like clouds, and even a damn tree growing on the ship’s deck.

The tree was apparently magical like the entire vessel. It also had weapons on it from the age of half-Elven dominance.

Such as whatever the heck that spell was. Legend’s Wake also had a magical shield and turned for the next target as the two ships it had been engaging both sank.

Iradoren’s people were not only dangerous, but his ship could hold down anything but the Bloodtear Pirates’ best. Its shields rippled as something struck them from afar. A five-fold salvo, which it returned with giant, glowing beams of light.

One of the two Bloodtear Admirals had ballistae that fired burning bolts. The two began battering each other again, and Rabbiteater saw Terandrian ships fleeing as Iradoren covered them.

It seemed, for a second, as if Legend’s Wake might win the entire engagement by itself, but Rabbiteater saw the ship maneuvering to continue retreating. He imagined Prince Iradoren wasn’t happy about it, but the magnificent half-Elven ship had a flaw that the Bloodtear Pirates had to know as well as Rabbiteater’s side.

That level of magic couldn’t be sustained forever. Iradoren’s ship was as old as the Kingdom of Myths, and even if it looked good—its functions were lower than they had been in their heyday. The Bloodtear Pirates would love to catch and swarm it if it sailed out alone.

Regroup with Legend’s Wake.

Altestiel’s voice was clipped and terse as Rabbiteater, panting, looked around and saw more clashes across the sea.




The Terandrians still should have made it. Rabbiteater had, oddly enough, a number of moments to socialize and even dine.

Be it so stupid, this was a running engagement, with hours between pursuit and combat—and sometimes even minutes spent watching another ship draw alongside, though magic and Skills closed the gap extraordinarily fast at times.

Regardless, the [Pirates] had to eat and regroup just like any force. So they’d come at the Terandrians hard if they saw an opening, but on the first night, Rabbiteater had actually had the displeasure of dining with Altestiel, Iradoren, and a number of others on board Rainbringer.

Altestiel’s flagship used water like a weapon. It had massive tanks on the ship’s deck filled with, well, water. Few shipboard weapons, which Rabbiteater had heard Iradoren scoffing at—until he’d seen Altestiel fight.

The Earl of the Rains didn’t bother with ship-weapons like trebuchets or ballistae, which were expensive and hard to manufacture or maintain, or big artillery spells. Desonis…didn’t have a surplus of any of that.

What it did have were [Hydromancers] and Altestiel’s own spells. That was enough to conjure jets or even walls of water to hit other ships, Earl Altestiel’s own water-bridges that he could use to board an enemy ship…

Or start a whirlpool. Rainbringer could create a vortex that it could use to swing itself around a battlefield or draw enemy ships into the heart of. Altestiel had sunk three ships this day, and he accepted Menrise’s hug and nodded at Rabbiteater, who clapped him on the shoulder.

“Fine work, Rabbiteater. You saved your ship from too many casualties. Ah, Prince Iradoren. Your Highness has destroyed no less than eight vessels?”

Rabbiteater turned and sighed as he saw the tall, impressive Human representative of Erribathe, Prince Iradoren, standing there. He looked like, well, a [Prince of Men]. Hair whipped by the wind, features youthful and proud, gleaming with vitality, an ancient circlet on his head, his half-Elven wife (whom Rabbiteater couldn’t remember ever saying a word) bowing as his retinue spread out. Both a full-grown man and someone who could endure decades without changing.

Altestiel bowed slightly, and Iradoren lifted a hand with two flashing rings, a faint grimace on his face as if destroying the most ships of today were a regrettable thing.

“Seven. One survived. Legend’s Wake regrettably cannot activate the [Execution of Foes] spell unless the enemy vessel is slowed. I congratulate Ser Solstice on his stirring defense, and I understand Ser Greysten slew the enemy [Captain]?”

It was still stiff formality with the [Prince of Men]; even Cortese and Titanguard Etrogaer, the huge representative of Golaen, were more retiring. Prince Iradoren nodded to Rabbiteater. Reluctantly.

They did not like each other. Rabbiteater was prepared to put that aside for the moment…Iradoren was not. Which made Rabbiteater, accordingly, sort of wary.

Ser Greysten interrupted the cold protocol of Iradoren as he came forward and nodded, too tired to bow.

“It wasn’t a battle I care to boast of, Your Highness. The [Pirates] do not fight fair, and I am loath to take on that battlefield again.”

“Indeed. They fight…adeptly for rogues. Nor do they relent. Sister. I trust you were unscathed?”

Iradoren scowled deeper and bowed to Seraphel, who looked embarrassed.

“I have done nothing but let braver souls fight in our defense, Your Highness. Thank you.”

Iradoren’s eyes flicked to Rabbiteater again.

“Ah, yes. Our [Knights] know no end to their valor. Let us sit and speak—there are few reinforcements coming from any hold. Wellfar has expressed a certain fellowship, and Lord Etril Wellfar has apparently made a fiery case, but I have heard nothing from Zeres but sympathies. The Drowned Folk likewise, and our half-Elven counterparts.”

“To be fair, only the fastest ships would even have a hope of reaching us, Your Highness…”

Altestiel’s protest was cut short by Iradoren’s glare. Rabbiteater privately doubted anyone wanted to sail into a fight like this.

Even so—they should have gotten away but for two factors.

One—the Bloodtear Pirates refused to relent. They did not normally engage warships like Altestiel’s or Iradoren’s. Even the Throne’s Will wasn’t a target for regular [Pirates]. But no matter how many ships they lost, they kept coming, and their crews fought to the death.

“Insane. Purely insane. I saw them storming our decks after we’d hacked apart hundreds of them. They wouldn’t…stop. They only fell back once after they killed a few of our number, and that was because there were barely a dozen left.”

Even Etrogaer looked shaken, having seen the Bloodtear Pirates storm into an almost suicidal slaughter on one of his vessels. Iradoren drummed his fingers on the table as Lord Firrus Kallinad exclaimed. Talia was here, standing rather than sitting with her father, but listening as the leader of Pheislant’s forces spoke up.

“What could Alchemist Irurx have paid these [Pirates] for this kind of courage? I can think of nothing to motivate individuals to fight with so little fear.”

“Scum have little to lose.”

Iradoren’s voice was frosty. Rabbiteater made a soft snorting sound that Iradoren shouldn’t have heard over the low murmurs…but the [Prince]’s eyes slid sideways, and Seraphel poked Rabbiteater hard.

Altestiel demurred more politely.

“In my experience, Your Highness, Lord Etrogaer, this is unusual. Bloodtear Pirates are notoriously fearless, but this is unprecedented. They would normally break off after receiving casualties. Instead, they lock onto a ship and only seem to break away after slaughtering an entire crew. I cite two oddities here. Firstly, in one case they left the servants and lesser tradefolk of one of our ships, Sweetleaf, alive; it’s making for Terandria. The nobility were butchered as well as the [Knights] and [Captain]—and secondly, ships that seem to succeed in bringing down one of our ships flee the battlefield entirely.”

“They will all be bountied and hunted down in due time.”

Iradoren’s voice was cold, and Etrogaer and several nobles nodded. Rabbiteater tilted his head. He felt like they were missing the point that Seraphel, Altestiel, and several others including Lord Firrus had noted.

Why were the Bloodtear Pirates so damn bloodthirsty? That wasn’t a joke. Yes, reputation and all that. Yes, the Terandrian fleet was rich, but this was not a rewarding fight. At best, the Bloodtear Pirates were trading equally, and [Raiders] hated taking fights like that.

Redfangs wouldn’t have done that, and Rabbiteater assumed the Bloodtear Pirates were practical like they were. Something else was motivating the [Pirates]—but that had been long established.

“We have one hope, though I am loath to bring it up. Nadel has signaled it has the currents and will intercept by early afternoon. I…am going to allow it.”

Earl Altestiel hadn’t touched his food, and he sat, weary, his indigo hair untidy, as a great cheer arose—and then fell as nobles looked around, Iradoren got to his feet, and Lord Firrus lowered his head.

“A toast to Nadel’s bravery!”




Lord Belchaus Meron of Nadel, the Lord of the Dance, had not been part of Terandria’s huge colonization push. But he had gone to sea to wish his friend, Altestiel, a good voyage.

Perhaps he’d feared this very occasion, if nothing so dramatic as the Bloodtear Pirates, because he hadn’t been back in Nadel when the Bloodtear Pirates were spotted.

The Lord of the Dance could have returned to Nadel and rightly claimed the odds at sea were incredibly slim. But he’d turned right around and stormed across the sea to the defense of his friends and fellow people.

Nadel. One of the famous sea powers, at least defensively, all due to one man. The Lord of the Dance was said to be one of the finest experts in ship-to-ship combat in the world.

He’d come out of the blue on the first day as the Terandrians had broken off from Izril’s coasts and tried to make for Wistram. Sixteen ships and his personal flagship and an oath to stall the Bloodtear Pirates so the Terandrians could escape to Wistram—or die trying.

The celebrations had overtaken the fleet that night. The Lord of the Dance had cleaved towards the [Pirates], ready to stall them, and a second force had also been spotted answering the Terandrians’ call.

Admiral Imor Seagrass, the self-styled leader of [Storm Sailors], famous for his merchant fleet, had arrived with no less than forty ships, his entire main fleet. Everyone from Iradoren to Markus had been toasting the two and promising vast rewards of gratitude for their heroic actions. Even discussing turning the war-capable ships to beat the [Pirates] with such odds.

Rabbiteater had felt odd about it, and he’d seen Ser Thilowen whispering to Princess Seraphel. He’d gone to bother her in the afternoon about it.




“Rabbiteater, it is entirely improper to visit a lady in her room by one’s self.”

Hundredlord Cortese and Rabbiteater were arguing and poking each other in front of Seraphel’s cabin. Rabbiteater scowled behind his visor.

“She’s got [Maids] and a Thronebearer. Why are you here?”

“To represent you so no crude rumors arrive. There are some, you know. Between you and your friend Ser Markus—there’s hardly time for rumors, but apparently you are thought of as uncivilized.”

“Why are you chap—chappering—”


“That. Three people can have fun, same as two.”


“That’s why I’m here, Rabbit. Three’s fun, four’s crazy.

Menrise poked her head out from the side, and Rabbiteater laughed as Cortese spluttered. The Hundredlord wearily adjusted his doublet as the door opened.

“At least Ser Markus isn’t here. The things I hear about that man…”

Ser Solstice nodded, deadpan.

“All true.”

“Dead gods, really?

They had to smile. They did, and Seraphel led them in to have tea of all things. They smiled, laughed, and Menrise hugged Seraphel against all propriety, and Rabbiteater grinned…until the smiles winked out.

It was like that. You laughed. You cheered. Then reality hit you. And if you wept, even that wasn’t as long as when you were safe.

It was Goblin expressions he saw around him. Not more miserable or lesser than any other species, but that of honest people facing truth.

“You wished to speak with me, Rabbiteater?”

Seraphel met his gaze through his visor directly. She seemed…determined. Which was good. Rabbiteater nodded.

“Why’s Admiral Seagrass helping? It makes no sense.”

Cortese stopped drinking tea, and Menrise paused in opening her visor to insert a cracker. Seraphel took a deep breath. A relieved one, Rabbiteater thought.

“You noticed it too?”

“I’m smart. Not book smart, but stupid smart. Makes no sense.”

“How so? Lord Seagrass knows we’re some of his most valuable clients. He has been promised a fortune’s fortune—enough for a man such as him to retire on. Even if he loses his entire fleet.”

“That’s how a noble thinks, sure. Makes no sense for him. Is he Terandrian?”

“No, Rabbiteater. And he has a point, Cortese.”

Seraphel soothed a bristling Cortese, and the Hundredlord hesitated. The [Princess] was gnawing at one lip.

“We have—thanked Lord Imor Seagrass profusely for his actions, but there was a concerning moment, Rabbiteater. I brought it up with Altestiel. My mother offered Lord Imor Seagrass a sizeable sum in advance of his efforts with a simple contract to pay the rest upon assessing his damages. Substantial. Thousands of gold pieces per any ship lost, and this would be only Calanfer’s contributions. He declined.”

“Why? Was it unsatisfactory? Kaaz has already sent him gold—I imagine the man is milking each nation he can. Let him.”

Cortese was working out why this was a problem. Seraphel took another breath, and Rabbiteater’s skin began to tingle.

“Yes, well, my mother’s contract was magically binding, Cortese. It presumed, in the language, he was going to…go to our defense, and that was the only objectionable clause. A very generous contract that any honest man wouldn’t hesitate to sign, and I believe her.”

Menrise’s head slowly rose, and Cortese stopped chewing on his snack.

“Then…but the alternative would be ludicrous, Seraphel. He is reliant purely upon trade, and the goodwill of—offending Terandria would make him anathema to most nations—he wouldn’t survive the damage to his reputation.”

“Yep. Unless he thought it was worth it.”

Rabbiteater’s head was itching. He longed to remove his helmet and scratch—and damn it all what they saw. He felt a tingling in his gut, and that hope that you felt? He’d felt hope during the war against Ailendamus, and it had turned out he’d lived despite the odds.

This felt like something else. Rabbiteater saw a girl with a white flag in his vision. He saw a [Florist] and Garen Redfang’s last smile.

Seraphel looked at him and hesitated—then the door swung open.

Dame Neranthei nearly swung on the man who shoved the door wide open, letting the pouring rain and winds in, but Earl Altestiel was panting. His ship was close enough to let him run over on a water bridge.

He stopped when he saw his friends.

“Come to my ship.”

Cortese got too his feet too slowly, premonition weighing him down.

“Altestiel, what—”

The Earl of Rain’s face was grim and bleak. He spoke without inflection, like a man delivering cold facts.

Belchaus is under attack. The Bloodtear Pirates and Imor Seagrass have attacked him from two sides. He’s attempting to break for our position.”

The Ivory Five stood or sat there a second, then Rabbiteater leapt to his feet, and Seraphel exhaled. They got up and ran to Rainbringer…and Rabbiteater saw it.

It was all so damn familiar. Why was he predicting what was going on as well as a trained [Princess] of diplomacy? Because they were like him, he realized.

He just couldn’t figure out what they were getting. But they were like him.




Lord Imor Seagrass did the unthinkable. Under dark skies, his ships, crewed by ‘honest’ [Storm Sailors] who really were the counterparts to [Pirates] most of the time, even if they did some occasional piracy…

They attacked the Lord of the Dance from behind as the Bloodtear Pirates flanked them and then turned on the Terandrian fleet. The second doom came upon the Terandrian fleet as [Storm Sailors] joined [Pirates] under common cause.

Lord Belchaus barely escaped with ten ships. He’d only escaped because he’d begun breaking for Terandria’s fleet the moment he saw Seagrass moving on his flank.

Impossible. Inconceivable. Outrageous. In between rapidly reassessing their situation, which had gone from bad to worse, the Terandrians demanded to know why Seagrass had thrown his entire reputation into the waters. For what? Gold? Plunder? The chance to seize a ship like Legend’s Wake?

It made no sense—except to Rabbiteater. He could only articulate it to Seraphel like this:

“They’re…not desperate. Not in the way Iradoren thinks. He thinks they’re like, uh…[Peasants]. Rabble. [Rogues].”

“And they are not?”

The two sat in Seraphel’s cabin in the Solstice’s night, alone, and damn the Markus allegations. They were both tired from a sleepless night, but it didn’t matter. Seraphel was looking at Rabbiteater. As if trying to see past his visor.

She’d treated him differently. Did she suspect…? He didn’t know. She hadn’t run, though. She seemed to hang on his words differently now. As if carefully rethinking each one as if it came from someone important and strange.

An odd feeling. He looked at her, a [Princess], and felt sorry for her. She was one of the heirs to a nation, and he had beheld Calanfer and seen its size and riches. And the misery of the [Princesses]. But she did not understand.

“They’re in pain. The Bloodtear Pirates. It’s like…pain. So much so they can’t tell anyone else is hurting too. That’s why they fight. But they have something they want. I don’t know what it is, but it’s worth it. Whatever it is, it’s enough for Seagrass and all of them to die for it. That’s what you can’t understand.”

Seraphel pursed her lips thoughtfully as she refilled his cup with tea.

“I see. I agree it must be something. I cannot imagine what Irurx has promised them. But pain, Ser—Rabbiteater? I understand they are…from rough lives and our wealth appeals to them.”

Rabbiteater shook his head. He’d been afraid of this, but he didn’t know how to word it.

“No. See—it’s not like that. Gold is just gold. You might die over it, I guess, but my—I wouldn’t.”

“I see. But it is a valid desire, surely?”

He met her eyes seriously.

“Not for this. Listen, Seraphel. Their lives…aren’t like yours. I came from a bad place, once. Worse than this ship. Your home. Worse than being a [Peasant]. It’s hard. I’m not saying it’s…hm. How do I explain? How about this? You suffer, sometimes. You, Aielef, Vernoue, suffer a lot. I’ve seen it. I get some of it.”

Seraphel ducked her head.

“Thank you for saying that, Rabbiteater. I—”

“—They bleed.

Rabbiteater interrupted Seraphel. He saw her pause, her lips tighten, and knew she didn’t like that. Seraphel took a slight breath, smoothed her fingers along one crinkle of her dress, and looked up with a smile.

She’s mad. Rabbiteater had seen Meisa smile like that. He was glad they’d broken up, now. They were all going to die.

“I understand your analogy, Rabbiteater. But…believe me. It is not always easy being in my role. I know I am a [Princess] and it must be ludicrous to hear, but—”

Her fingers dug slightly into the fabric of her dress.

“—it is not—easy. All the time. Allow me to say that? Please?”

There was a world of feeling in her tone. Rabbiteater heard her. He paused, then sucked more tea from the straw in his cup.

“Then we’re two kinds of misery killing each other. No wonder we’re equal. Whatever they want, Seraphel, is enough that they’ll kill us for it. It’s not gold. It’s not just our ships or magic artifacts. Believe me. If they’re like me—if it’s a reason like I think it is, they won’t stop until the last ship of theirs is gone or they get it. We have to find what it is or we all die.”

She looked at him, really looked at him there, and then Seraphel got up slowly.

“Not all of us. This seems to be a Terandrian issue. If you were to take a boat, say, you might be able to escape. The Bloodtear Pirates are known to be hospitable to people they like. Whether they let you go and you signal for pickup or you are a captive—the odds are not in your favor, but what would you say if you were to find a boat with provisions ready to launch?”

The Goblin actually stopped for a second in surprise. Was she suggesting…he looked at her sharply.

“Why would I run? You’ll die if they get you. They aren’t taking prisoners.”

“Ser Solstice. I am surrounded by [Knights], and Altestiel has taken great pains to safeguard my ship. If they get to me—I wager one more [Knight] will make little difference. With respect. This isn’t your battle.”

Seraphel saw Rabbiteater’s helm tilting left and right. The Goblin sat there, elbows resting on his knees.

“I’m not leaving you all to die. Why are you speaking stupid?”

Her cheeks turned red.

“I am just suggesting—”

“Is there a reason I should run?”

Then she did hesitate. Rabbiteater might be ‘stupid smart’, as he called it, but he had a certain intelligence that was incisive. He noticed the hesitation.

“Does someone else want me dead? Good time to try.”

“I—am just suggesting an option, Rabbiteater. Frankly, I don’t know if that puts you in more danger.”

He peered at her as she clasped her hands behind her back, and she saw him stand and come over. He tilted his head left and right as she stared at him. Her hair was like rubies; his armor gleamed, a [Champion]’s raiment. If he was a Goblin…she stared into that black visor and could almost smell his breath.

It smelled like tea. Mostly because he’d drunk it. If she reached out, she could touch his tears or even take off that helmet. Her heart was racing. Rabbiteater’s helmet moved back—

He headbutted her. Gently, but Seraphel staggered, fell into a dresser, and almost collapsed onto the gently rocking floor.

“You’re silly.”

Rabbiteater! That hurt! I am looking out for you, and you—”

Seraphel got up, feeling at her forehead. It felt scratched! She strode after him as he sat down, chuckling. The Hobgoblin looked at her, and whether that red flash from his visor was her imagination or not—he crossed one leg, lifted the tea cup and straw, and slurped the rest down.

“This is why I’m staying. Friends don’t leave friends.”

What was she supposed to say to that? Seraphel sat down weakly and began to chuckle. Then laugh and giggle as Rabbiteater smiled at her. And they thought it.

This Goblin [Knight] should not die.

This silly [Princess] should not perish.

If wishes could come true…after a while, the laughter stopped.




The Solstice night saw the worst fighting thus far, in the chaos that refused to give any relief. At that time, Prince Iradoren had experienced the conflict enough to lose his confidence that Terandria would emerge from this unscathed, but the second day had enough bloodshed to convince him…the worst might come to pass.

Legend’s Wake did not sink or come close to it, but twice its magical shields went down, and the other ships of its escort had to screen it while the magical stores were replenished. Three times, Iradoren himself fought. Two defensive boarding actions, one offensive.

“By the Kingdom of Myths—slay them all! [You Are Humanity’s Finest]—attack!”

His people were varied and adept at countless battlefields. The hill-tribes of Torek’dale, relatives to the fallen Taligrit commonfolk, wrestled bears for fun. They swung huge battleaxes down on [Pirates] while half-Elven [Archers] who had lived for decades practicing only the bow fired over the heads of Dwarven [Stalwarts].

His ship even had enough room for riders to maneuver in the rain, and Iradoren refused to let the [Pirates]’ Skills activate.

The [Prince] himself strode into battle with his bodyguard, and the first [Pirate] who tried to lock blades with him saw the Sword of Humanity, Iradoren’s relic sword, swinging at her torso.

The Drowned Woman tried to block with both scimitars, and his sword sheared through both enchanted blades, the woman, and kept going. Iradoren attacked without slowing; he was seventy years old, his immortality taken from his pact with half-Elves, his body still a young man’s.

He was near a blademaster as half-Elves reckoned such things, and the [Pirates] could not block nor parry his blade. It was, as Rabbiteater had observed, a [Bane] weapon to all Humanity’s foes.

Which was everyone.




They broke after two attempts and then tried to down Legend’s Wake from afar. One of the two Bloodtear [Admirals]—the half-Elf known as ‘Maxy’—had a dangerous ship that kept firing those wretched ballista bolts at his ship.

It forced Iradoren’s own [Captain] to attack and break away, and all the while, Iradoren saw the lesser ships of the fleet struggling. Their running battle meant any ship crippled was lost, and he nearly lost Legend’s Wake when he tried to rescue one of Kaaz’s ships and the Bloodtear Pirates swarmed his vessel.

Then it just kept getting worse. It was a long night, without end, and Iradoren did not know why dawn took so long to come, only that communications with Wistram abruptly went dead.

The Academy of Mages had been launching long-range spells, but at some point just after midnight—the assistance ceased. Thusly, Iradoren was demanding answers from his [Mages] as well as consulting with Earl Altestiel.

A good man. Set upon. Haggard, but without question doing his best despite the odds against them. Iradoren had seen him sailing his ship straight at Unsettled King, and he had tried to kill Admiral Rosech.

Altestiel had failed. The effort had cost Altestiel’s ship; huge scars and patched holes proved the Bloodtear Pirate could match Terandria’s finest warships.

If Maxy was capable of holding down Legend’s Wake at range, Rosech had slain too many good warriors of Terandria to count in boarding actions.

“This has been a disaster, Prince Iradoren. When the time comes, I shall take responsibility for my failures—I just cannot see what the Bloodtear Pirates want! And every coincidence and damned unexplained event turns against us! First Wistram—now sabotage?”

Altestiel, in a rare display of emotion around Iradoren, hammered a fist into Iradoren’s wall and then apologized, but the [Prince of Men] just raised one hand.

“You will find no ill will from Erribathe, you have my word, Altestiel. I have already spoken to my father of your efforts and that of the others I have seen fighting their utmost. It is indeed a cascade of our enemies. They come out of the woodwork. My people still have no idea who it was. An investigation is difficult at this moment. Do you have any inkling?”

The weary [Earl] looked up and shook his head.

“None. I know it was a woman. Sword in hand—striking of appearance, but no one can remember what she looked like physically, only describe how she felt. She took out my mainsail, which is enchanted. Did the Legend’s Wake suffer any damage?”

Iradoren hated to admit it, but he lowered his voice.

“…Our ship is powered by magical forces. Her attack was incisive and damaged the propulsion effect. It was as if she knew where to strike to slow us.”

That would have allowed Legend’s Wake to accelerate and leave the rest of the fleet behind. Not that Iradoren had considered it except as a final resort to save as many nobles as he could…but the fact that someone had stymied them so precisely boggled the mind.

“That seems to have been the goal. At least The Wandering Inn still stands, at last I heard. Some good out of this day, but no one will tell me anything else.”

What a non-sequitur. Or an apparent one. Iradoren didn’t have time to discuss the fate of an inn…until he was reminded of an odd connection. He forced a smile.

“This may be a disaster, but if we survive, at any cost, we will have faced one of the greatest challenges of the era so far. Allow me to cease taking up your time, Earl Altestiel. You must rest, and I confess I am also wearied. At least two more days remain.”

Altestiel nodded, yawned, and half-bowed.

“True enough. I hope you forgive my outburst, Prince Iradoren. I will prepare a statement to the fleet. If nothing else, we have proven no ship of Terandria will fall without a fight in blood. Perhaps the [Pirates] will relent after they have also suffered enough losses.”

Both men doubted it. Iradoren bid Altestiel good night and then sat, thinking a while.

He did not call for his consort, Aradien, though he valued her advice and wisdom. She had the perspective of her people, but Iradoren confessed that at the moment, his was a purely banal, Human concern.

The [Prince] meant what he’d said: he believed Terandria’s ships would survive this encounter in some part. It was sheerly impossible for the Bloodtear Pirates to destroy them all. That was just pragmatism. Of course, making sure the right ships survived mattered.

So many losses…they might lose heroes like Ser Greysten, Lord Firrus, or countless others. Iradoren would mourn every good soul, but the fallout from this?

Disastrous. The humiliation and embarrassment to Terandria would fall not just on Altestiel, but the man who could have halted this and had failed.

Iradoren. He was, after all, one of two members of royalty present and the more senior and higher-level of the two by far.

The Kingdom of Myths had not awoken from its slumber to become a laughingstock of Terandria with Ailendamus at its borders.

“This is a disaster of unprecedented proportions. If it were sheer incompetence, it would be one thing, but the Earl of Rains has done his best, as have numerous war-leaders. It behooves no one to see Altestiel laid lower than necessary. Embarrassing, shameful as it might be, there is one method to salvaging this situation—partly.”

Iradoren was thinking. He had not told his father much—his father was purely worried for his son’s health. Iradoren was worried for his kingdom.

He had a solution. It was one thing to be ambushed by [Pirates] driven to this act of madness, to acknowledge, yes, Terandria had been arrogant at sea, that Imor Seagrass and other factors had led to this failure. But a narrative could hinge upon a few smaller details.

Such as…the possibility this expedition had been cursed by a traitor. That was an explanation the Hundred Families of Terandria might well believe. If someone had orchestrated this doom, well, blame could be assigned, but it would be deflected.

Depending on the traitor. A scapegoat could be found, but the truth mattered more.

And what better truth was there than…Iradoren’s fingers twitched towards the hilt of his sword.

A Goblin? His enmity towards ‘Ser Solstice’—or rather, Rabbiteater—had not abated, but it had changed to almost a kind of gratitude. He was glad the [Knight] was here.

A door opened, and Iradoren spoke without looking up.

“Aradien. Send for the [Captain]. I wish us to maintain proximity to a certain ship in the coming days.”

It would not do for Ser Solstice to perish at the wrong moment. But unmasking him once [Scrying] spells were re-established? Accusations need not be made beyond that. The narrative wrote itself. Calanfer might suffer, but Iradoren would personally see to it that Princess Seraphel not suffer unduly.

Regardless of what she knew. Everyone made mistakes, and hers was a tragic enough tale. Iradoren made a plan within the scope of the battle, which he would devote his attention to well and properly. But someone would have to take the blame for all of this.

Let it be a Goblin.




By the estimates of Altestiel’s [Strategist], Kiish, by the dawn of the third day, post-Solstice, the Terandrian fleet had suffered twenty percent losses.

At the end of the third day, that number had risen to thirty percent. The Bloodtear Pirates’ original force stood at forty percent losses via both pure casualties and attrition of ships fleeing the field.

During the Solstice, a certain member of the Terandrians had distinguished himself with honor and proceeded to continue to do so thereafter.

“Talia. I do believe your [Knight] friend is a Drake.”

Lord Firrus Kallinad lowered a spyglass on the third day of fighting, but raised it again in appreciation as he saw the Throne’s Will fighting off another ship.

Talia Kallinad winced and said nothing; she should have been with the Order of Seasons, but Firrus had requested his daughter’s presence on his ship. She had argued it was her duty to follow the Summer’s Champion into the thick of things, but he had insisted.

A parent’s fears. Griffindance was better-equipped for ship combat than the Order of Seasons’ boarding ships, and he had pointed out they were still a target of the Bloodtear Pirates.

Right now, they were navigating away from their last engagement, and he had noticed Ser Solstice fighting and had gotten a chance to see what everyone else was talking about. Lord Kallinad had speculated about the man’s identity; who hadn’t? His daughter had refused to give him hints, which he supposed was a knightly thing to do even if slightly hurtful, but he and the Terandrian fleet now knew…Ser Solstice was definitely a Drake.

One big hint was him breathing fire.

He must have been desperate enough to use his secret weapon. Of course, at this umpteenth hour…Lord Firrus shook his head. He had probably hidden his abilities apurpose, perhaps used them in battle when no one was watching. But now…

Golden flames licked across the deck of a [Pirate] ship. Ser Solstice recoiled as if the flames had burned even him, but it was nothing compared to [Pirates] fleeing the blaze he had exhaled. When he lifted his axe, why, the cheering cut through even the din of battle around him.

“I can feel a Skill even from here. It’s almost like Prince Iradoren’s own inspiring aegis. I cannot believe you never invited him to House Kallinad, Talia.”

“I—he was exceptionally busy, and everyone has their flaws, Father.”

Talia spoke through gritted teeth, and Firrus shot her a long, level look.

“A Drake may be a [Knight] if that was your objection, Talia.”

That was not my objection, Father.

Maybe it was romance. Firrus grimaced and dropped it. A parent didn’t want to know such things, but it was a likely reason given her reaction. Ah, well.

It stirred his heart during these dark hours, and that was enough. Lord Firrus returned to the engagement.

Ser Solstice breathed fire and, indeed, seemed to radiate his aura so strongly that the [Pirates] lost momentum around him. It did not stop them from coming against the others, but Terandria was not without teeth.

Yes, many ships were unwisely crewed with [Soldiers] used to land-combat and laden with supplies, but Terandria had warships. There were several leaders.

Earl Altestiel’s Rainbringer, capable of using storms and whirlpools.

Prince Iradoren’s Legend’s Wake, a magnificent warship that had sunk more ships than any other this engagement.

Golaen’s Bastion of Contempt, the biggest vessel crewed by the huge folk of the Kingdom of Giants. Ungainly, perhaps, but it had weathered countless attacks without faltering.

Nadel’s own Lord Belchaus and his Impetuous Step. Heavily reinforced, akin to a man wearing armored boots—Lord Bel had rammed countless ships with it before swarming the deck.

And lastly—Griffindance. Be they so humble, Pheislant was a naval kingdom, and this ship was Pheislant and House Kallinad’s pride.

Unlike most ships, this ship was fast, maneuverable—and had a Griffin-feather design on the ship’s cladding. When it cut starboard or port, it was not with the sluggishness of even the best ships, but a maneuverability so uncanny that it left many uncertain of how a ship could move this fast.

The secret was powerful wind spells and a buoyancy that negated much of the weight of the vessel. Griffindance was smaller than the other capital ships, but it had sacrificed hull plating, siege weapons, size, and everything else for two ‘wings’ that Lord Firrus ordered extended.

The carved wings were there for stability. Firrus glanced behind him and saw Bloodtear ships trying to close on his rear. He also saw Lord Imor Seagrass’ damn Sea Serpents in the water and gave an order.

“Activate the Griffinweight enchantments! [Burst of Air]!”

It took several precious seconds before he felt his ship accelerate suddenly as all hands braced. It wasn’t as dramatic as, say, a leap skywards, but for a second—Griffindance skipped over the waters.

A hop that carried them well out of range of the pursuit. One wing retracted, and the vessel slowed, turning, then retracted the other wing and came up on the ships attacking Throne’s Will from behind.

They hadn’t expected reinforcements so fast. The [Knight] leaning over the railing and exhaling fire stopped and flopped onto his back, gasping, as Lord Firrus saluted him and the Calanferians and gave an order.

Portside—loose fire upon these wretched [Pirates]!

His daughter lifted a blazing shield, covering her father, as Griffindance sped across the [Pirates]’ rear and launched one volley, then two.

Other nations had disparaged his ship, privately, for its size and for the sheer fact that it was not some relic built in the age of half-Elven empire like Legend’s Wake.

This ship was a mere sixty years old, practically newborn as magical ships reckoned such things, and built with modern magic. Some ancient magical ships could teleport, fire spells miles away, turn invisible…

Firrus’ beloved ship could hop, turn quickly, and instead of ballistae or siege weapons or magical artillery spells, it had poured every enchantment into being lightweight and maneuverable. If you couldn’t fit another spell onto the vessel, what could you use for ship-to-ship combat that was lightweight?

Well…Lord Firrus saw figures pulling back on giant Y-shaped structures on deck. There was a platform for the operator to stand on, and you had a specialist who helped reload each weapon manually since they only fired one shot.

They were giant slingshots on Griffindance’s deck. Similar, perhaps, to the Greatbows of Ailendamus’ design; Firrus’ father had unabashedly ripped off the concept, but the Greatbows were impossible to steal and still too heavy.

So slingshots. The other nations had laughed and laughed with their [Lightning Bolt] spells they could fire from their ships, standard to many ships, larger vessels that wallowed under enemy fire—

Lord Firrus saw a [Slingshot Specialist] draw on one oversized weapon and the banding tense…then release with a satisfying crack.

Here was the trick. You could hurl a head-sized stone damn far with a slingshot of that size, with tremendous accuracy, and the entire contraption was lightweight. But, ah, that wasn’t much use against an enemy warship, was it? You could harry the deck, but Firrus and Pheislant didn’t go in for boarding actions constantly. Griffindance did not enjoy slugging matches. He had to do enough damage in a few volleys to count, then skim away.

How did a mere slingshot fire a projectile powerful enough to matter if it had to be light and about the size of a Human head? Well, it either used enchanted munitions, which Lord Firrus doubted House Kallinad could pay for or produce in acceptable numbers.

…Or it attached a bag of holding where the slingshot’s cup was, and when the operator let go, what was in the custom-made bag of holding came out at speed.

Like, for instance, a giant piece of stone far larger than the slingshot; a damn boulder that a crew had to wrestle from a Chest of Holding to the smaller bag of holding for another shot.

Or a cluster of eight Potions of Blast tied together which hit the enemy deck and—


The flare of light made Lord Firrus look away; Talia just watched in grim satisfaction as an entire portion of the deck exploded. Firrus snapped.

“Volley two—stones only!”

They had to conserve their precious alchemical weapons. A second wave of stones smashed into the decks, eliciting screams and curses—and Griffindance took two blows from [Fireballs] from the startled [Pirates]—and was past them.

The [Pirate] ship was still intact, even though it was taking on water. They had too many damn Skills, and Firrus saw one hole in their hull being patched in real time; planks of wood were slamming themselves into place with some kind of emergency repair Skill.

He might have been forced to choose between finishing the vessel off or continuing onwards, but there was an exclamation from one of his [Battlemages].

Lord Kallinad! Break, say again, break from [Pirate] ship! Erribathe is unleashing spells!”

Firrus whirled instantly.

Take us away! Now!

Griffindance accelerated, and Firrus cursed, looking up at the sky. He had told them again and again not to unleash spells when their ships were so close! The waves alone—

The Terandrian nations were wroth, and the hour was dire. The damage Lord Firrus’ ship had done to the enemy vessel was enough. It had slowed and opened itself up as a target. Now…the storm overhead cleared, and Firrus’ mouth went dry as something materialized overhead and came shooting down from the heavens.

“Light of Pheis—”

The roar of water and the sound of a gigantic spear of magic, serrated, an ancient haft of some Tier 6 spell, roared down, and the geyser of water and thunder—and Griffindance listing in the water—drowned everything out.

Minutes passed before Firrus’ ears stopped ringing. When he got up, he saw smaller explosions in the water as more arrows—these ones physical, sent from a continent way—rained down.

The Bloodtear Ship was already gone. Firrus called out as Talia lowered her shield.

“Was that two nations?”

“Three. Avel, Erribathe, and Tourvecall.”

“Tell them to coordinate their long-range attacks! And to wait until we’re clear!”

He bellowed back, and the [Mage] hesitated. He was probably sending spells directly to the war councils of each kingdom, and royalty might be reading his communications real-time. Firrus didn’t care.

Send it now! Take us onwards!”

Of course, Terandria’s fleet had one major edge in this engagement. Their nations had seen their people and nobility under attack and were hurtling Skills and spells into the sea. If these were armies meeting on the field, Firrus thought that the Bloodtear Pirates would have already been annihilated by Terandria’s wrath ten times over.

But at sea—he saw the Unsettled King swerving and dodging another gigantic spear from Erribathe. The ship rocked, but the spell went wide by hundreds of feet, and the Bloodtear Pirates had ample protection against scrying spells and direct Skills. Just like the Bloodfeast Raiders…

“Tell Erribathe to stop wasting its magic! That is a direct order from the fleet!

How many emergency spells were they burning through? Even the Kingdom of Myths couldn’t just waste that kind of power forever. If a Bloodtear Ship lost a mast or rudder or slowed—it was an easy target.

The traditional broadsides at range had become too dangerous; the Bloodtear Pirates clung to Terandria’s fleet in the storm in intense boarding actions. And so that Terandria’s kingdoms couldn’t keep raining down spells on them.

Firrus had noted the intensity of the support had lessened over the last few days. Part of him wondered how much magic had been irrevocably unleashed—but he could not gainsay the need. As Griffindance collected its bearings, one of Firrus’ [Signallers] lowered a flashing lantern. The [Lord] turned and saw the warship he’d saved flashing a reply at him.

Throne’s Will is thanking us, Lord Kallinad.”

“Signal our respect and take us about. Earl Altestiel needs us. Tourvecall is in danger of being pinned.”

Lord Firrus snapped. He nodded at the armored figure standing on the railing, and Ser Solstice waved back. Talia nodded at him, and then Lord Firrus was sailing onwards. Dead gods and the light of Pheislant, he wouldn’t quit until his people, the entire fleet, were safe.

He could just not fathom why the [Pirates] fought so hard. But that question came to them all on the fourth day as they neared Wistram, as the final battle began. In a lull in the storm, at least some of them finally had the simple answer to the question.

Was it worth it?




The Terandrian side of things had to suck.

The Bloodtear Pirates weren’t mind-readers, but they suspected the Terandrians were having a bad time. A wake-up call, maybe. They had thought themselves undefeated, arrogantly sailed across the seas, and someone had hit them in the stomach and given them a reality check.

Mind you…some of those ships proved why Terandria got to swagger.

“We lost Tit’s Up.

“Dead gods, not Tit’s Up. That ship always made me smile.”

There was some reverence and respect at sea, but they had fun with things, too. Life as a Bloodtear Pirate should be fun. That was what Captain Aldrail of the Bloodtear Pirates believed.

Plainsblood was his ship, and it didn’t have a damn slingshot with a bag of holding attached to it. But a part of him was still a seafaring lad who loved seeing the ships and what they could do.

Unsettled King, Maxy’s Longshot Gamble, even Shifthold, or Seagrass’…Seagrass—all proud ships on their side with crews and capabilities that matched Terandria’s finest.

Aldrail had seen more sights in this battle than he’d witnessed in much of his life. A Sea Serpent—nay, three of ‘em—attacking a ship of desperate [Knights]. Maxy crewing her ship and staring down one of Golaen’s warships as the two fired siege-weapons eye-to-eye until Golaen blinked and tried to pull away.

Blood and thunder, they’d tell stories of this battle forever. Aldrail’s part of it? Maybe not.

Plainsblood had taken a lot of damage. That damn ship, Legend’s Wake, had tried to chop it in two! Only Aldrail’s Skills had saved his ship from being cracked in two, and the keel was damaged. Probably beyond anything but a master [Shipwright] or [Captain] to repair.

It wasn’t worth it. Any other battle, if he thought he’d lose his beloved ship or so much of his crew—over forty had died—Aldrail would have told Rosech or Maxy to take their orders and shove it up someone else’s tailhole.

This battle—was worth it. The Bloodtear Pirates were counting their losses, and their speaking stones were buzzing with chatter. No one cared if the idiots of Wistram or Terandria’s fleet were listening in or if someone was scrying them. Apparently, Wistram was damaged, so Maxy had said ‘today was it’.

All or nothing.

Admiral Rosech himself was aboard his bigger vessel and leaned over the railing as Plainsblood counted its losses…and successes.

Oi, Aldrail! Did you survive that giant damn sword?”

“You know it, Admiral. I think Plainsblood is a goner, but I saw that damn [Prince]’s snooty expression. Shame we didn’t go after him.”

Rosech laughed down as Captain Aldrail raised his head. Gorry, his [First Mate], was manning the wheel; their [Helmsman] was dead. The all-Gnoll crew whooped and cheered, but there was a solemnity that made them fall silent again.

“Don’t go after him. I told everyone—his damn ship is mincing anyone it runs into. Maxy’ll hold him down, and if we see an opening, we go for it. But it ain’t worth the trouble.”

“It is if we get him.”

Aldrail…had been tempted. But not stupid. He didn’t need to kill the [Prince of Men], but he saw Rosech’s eyes gleam and his head turn. Aldrail called up at him.

“How’s your lad? Irrel? Still alive?”

He hoped the Dorhmin boy was. Every ship was going in, and there were no guarantees.

Rosech’s eyes flashed triumphantly.

“Not a scratch on him. You think I’d be smiling right now if he wasn’t?”

“He won’t get what he needs if he doesn’t go into the fighting.”

The [Admiral] was cool and calm when he was at his most dangerous.

“He’ll get it. Worry about yourselves, Aldrail. See them two ships up ahead? They teleported some nobles out, but they’re ripe. Your crews want one?”

Aldrail glanced up, and his eyes gleamed. The Gnoll looked at his crew, and they gazed at him. There was a hunger in their eyes and in his soul.

“We’ve got…six who already have what they need. I reckon we’ll take the larger vessel. Six stay below. Then we’re done. Fair enough, Admiral?”

Captain Aldrail wasn’t sure Rosech was going to go for it. In a battle like this, any good Bloodtear [Captain] or crew mattered—and Aldrail’s crew of Gnolls was very good in combat. But Rosech just looked down at Aldrail, and his face?

His lips were smiling. Not the smile of a man about to shove glass splinters through your eyes or the crazed look of delight in battle while blood dripped off his chin.

It was a rare smile. The smile he only gave his son, Irrel. The smile you lost a bit when you became a Bloodtear Pirate.

“Go for it, Aldrail. Hey, Plainsblood! This is your chance. You damn Gnolls will miss the big event, but there’s not enough of the crew to go around for Unsettled King. Get out of here before I make you charge that [Earl]!”

He waved a hand and shouted down at the Gnolls, and they shouted up insults as Rosech’s crew came to the railings.

We survived Legend’s Wake! Where were you, Admiral, huh?

Giving us scraps like always? I won’t miss you, Rosech!

Hey, piss off with you sniffing idiots already!

Farewell! Plainsblood is going out! Hurrah! Hurrah, hurrah—

Then they were cheering. Captain Aldrail saw friends and enemies, people he’d crewed with and those he’d sworn to kill if he got the chance, swarming to the railing, waving down at him, cheering, even throwing things at him.

He snarled insults, pretending, trying to look offended—but then his ship was passing by the prow of the larger ship, and he saw Maxy’s ship, Longshot Gamble, painted black with golden trim, all poise and grandeur, ballista bolts on fire and set for another volley—and the half-Elf herself was there.

She was saluting them with a sword, and when Aldrail looked past her, paw lifted to wave, he saw Captain Jiupe offering him a middle finger, her crew, and other Bloodtear ships slowing so they could let Plainsblood pass.

Two wallowing Terandrian ships were lifting the flags of no quarter as they turned, setting themselves against the Bloodtear Pirates, shouting with all the rage of their noble continent.

Perhaps it sounded to them as though the Bloodtear pirates were uttering some blood curdling cries, but what Captain Aldrail and the Gnolls heard was—cheering.

Goodbyes. Laughter, applause—and for a second, the Gnoll ducked his head and raised one paw, clenching it into a fist.

Farewell, brothers and sisters. They might never see each other again. If his wish came true, Aldrail doubted he’d meet them except in another life.

He hoped, now, that it was true. A part of him still doubted Rosech’s promise, even after seeing it with his own eyes, even after getting his Skill. But he wanted it more than anything.

Gorry interrupted Aldrail’s moment after a few minutes as their ship moved ahead, towards the two Terandrian ships now. One of their counterparts, Salvage Yer Boots, was moving to intercept and still cheering, but Gorry’s tone was urgent.

“Captain. Our ship’s not going to last half a day. We’re holding it together with Skills and spit. We’ll have to meet up with one of the other groups leaving. Plumped Jellyfish says they’ll take us on.”

That was another ship that was ‘done’. The crew had gotten what they’d wanted, and anyone who still needed it had transferred to another ship.

“Thank ‘em and tell them we’ll be there.”

If we don’t all die killing these bastards. It was still a ship of…Aldrail checked their notes.

Taligrit? He had no idea what that kingdom was about. He hoped it was sunshine and rainbows. It didn’t matter. Gorry nodded and pointed.

“Crew’s waiting.”

“What’re we facing?”

“[Knights]. Longbows. Looks like they’ve got some weird spells on deck.”

Aldrail accepted a spyglass and confirmed it.

“That’s…a damn flame elemental. We’re gonna lose some fur, boys and girls. Damn, I knew it wouldn’t be easy. I should have taken the smaller ship.”

“Nobles on this one, Captain.”

“Well, nevermind. Alright. Everyone, muster up!

Everyone but those tending to an urgent task dropped what they were doing and came over to Captain Aldrail. He wasn’t one for speeches.

He was a damn Bloodtear Pirate. He’d nearly sacked Savere, which would have been a feather in his cap. Maybe if he’d taken the Siren’s post he’d have declined the invitation. Maybe if he’d swanned off with that half-Elf, Ceria, he’d have had an adventure on Chandrar or been dead.

What would life have been like if he’d done this or that? Aldrail didn’t know, but he knew Gorry. He knew himself.

Captain Aldrail was a [Pirate Captain of Carnage]. His first mate, Gorry, was a [Dualblade Marauder]. It said a lot about them.

A third of his crew were Gnolls who’d been exiled from the Tribes, the rest from the cities. They raided whomever and whatever they wanted. Zeres had a bounty on them, but they’d minced Drake crews. Aldrail had plundered the seas, spent a fortune on brothels and wine and good times and ill.

He’d seen Krakens in storms, drank with Goblins, and fled monsters he had no name for. And he had been…

The Gnoll stared across his crew, noting One Eyed Morry, Fangtaker Fen, who hated his old nickname he’d gotten when he’d been…dead gods, fifteen. A decade since then. Their oldest crewmember, old Gitore himself, who’d once been slapped by Garsine Wallbreaker and lived to tell the tale.

Outcasts. Rogues. Bloodtear Pirates had a code, but they were free. They were feared, and he had been…


It was a question. His crew stirred as Captain Aldrail, who had multiple times bitten off someone’s nose or face when offended, leaned on the railing of the upper deck, staring down at his crew. The light that had meant blood and death for countless foes wasn’t in his eyes.

Not today. His voice was soft, musing, and when he spoke, he said the things that might have cost him his [Captain]’s position another time. Because they were true, and because when you heard them—it might change how you saw one of the [Captains] of the Bloodtear Pirates.

“This is it. Plainsblood, you all know me. Whether you’ve crewed with me a year or a decade, whether I was some idiot new to Rosech’s crew or starting out, bad times and good, you knew Captain Aldrail. When Rosech told us about the opportunity and these Skills, I jumped at the chance. I never asked if you wanted it, and I noticed some of us jumped ship. I wish them the best, but I thought—if you stayed with me—you got it.”

Nods. The Taligrit ships were growing larger in the distance, and one was trying to broadside them. A few lightning bolts going astray, a standard [Fireball]—Aldrail ignored them. The Plainsblood wasn’t close enough to be in danger.

“In a few minutes, we’ll be fighting to the death. There’s [Knights] on board that ship. Nobles too. No rules. Not this time. Kill them, and if you get what you want—back off. No order of who gets what. You’d not listen if I gave the orders, and this is the fairest way. To anyone who lives—we have a ship that’ll take you somewhere, but whatever you decide, it’s your choice.”

“What if some of us want to follow you, Captain?”

Gorry wanted to know, and Aldrail focused on his [First Mate].

“No. I’m going it alone, Gorry. You want to find me? I’d rather you didn’t, but I can’t stop you. Good luck if you do, but I won’t be with any of you after this.”

They stared at him, because even his crew didn’t quite understand—but they would. Aldrail was focused more on the sky. The rain was lessening. Shame—they fought better in a storm, but he was trying to remember it.

“I’ve seen a lot of sunsets. A lot of great moments at sea, glorious and pitiful. I was trying to think of something. Trying t’say…I was happy. About all this. I’m not sure I was.”

The Gnolls listened. Aldrail continued, his voice soft. He hadn’t shaken when he’d been belly cut and thought he was dying, but now…

“I’ve got something to say. I never talked about it, not to Gorry, not to anyone. Even old Rosech never—we don’t talk about why we join the Bloodtear Pirates. Everyone’s got a reason. Me? I had nothing to lose when I heard of ‘em. I was born in a Drake city, you know. I never was a Plains Gnoll, though I went to the tribes a bit. My mother was a Paworker. Ever heard of them?”

They did know that name. A few growls rose, and Aldrail nodded.

“Y’don’t need to know more than that. Except…my father was a hard-working Gnoll. I think he was. Mother, Father, and me not knowing much except who was really in charge. I hated that city. If you had power, you could attack a man easily as a woman, and who was he supposed to tell? What was he—or she supposed to do? That’s where I grew up.”

Even now, he couldn’t really tell them, but those eyes were boring into him, and Aldrail kept going, voice shaking now. The ship was growing larger, but he had a compulsion to tell them. Was it a confession? No…he wanted someone to know.

“I ran away. Came back eight years later and settled the scores, or so I thought. But it didn’t matter. After that, nothing worked. I tried to find better places, better people, but I was cursed. Cursed because I never could tell a genuine hand from a fake one—and maybe they saw I didn’t really expect someone to actually help me, so all I met was bastards. I learned how to scare them. Learned how to win even with my back to the wall. When I found the Bloodtear Pirates, I found freedom. At sea.”

People who’d respect him and who were dangerous and insane, but in their way, honorable enough for the few last things that mattered. No more rules, no more expectations other than to survive.

That’s how they’d all come here, with few exceptions. Aldrail saw them smile and looked at them, face blank.

“I haven’t been happy. All my life. I guess I did love this life and you all, but I’m not sure I was happy. Get it? I thought we deserved better. I thought it was never fair for me or—”

Thump. An explosion. The [Pirates] turned, and Aldrail saw they were in range of the other ship now. A [Fireball] off the bow. He saw Gorry’s head turn to him, but the [Pirates] were spreading out.

“Guess that’s my speech. I hate speeches. Get ready—someone smash their hull spells—”

Aldrail was sort of glad they’d interrupted him. He didn’t have a finishing conclusion. He’d been rambling—and then it was the business they knew.

Plainsblood took on spells on their way in, and their return fire from the one working ship-spell and a bunch of magical harpoons were focused on the other ship’s hull-spells. Crippling them rather than damaging the deck.

If that was odd, well…the Gnolls had the luxury of not needing to hurry. They came in fast, and the two ships locked like lovers as gangplanks were thrown down and arrows fell like rain. A Flame Elemental roared up, and Aldrail ran across the gangplank in a dream.

Then blood coated his fur, and he snarled as a flaming brand burned onto his chest. He slashed forwards, and flames burned his face; he could have run back—but he’d seen a nobleman holding what looked like the artifact that had summoned the Flame Elemental.

Aldrail kept going as flames burned across his body. A flaming Gnoll who felt liquid running down his fur and realized it was one eye—but he kept going.

A [Knight] was in his way, but the armored man with a cape, longsword, and silver bell wasn’t what Aldrail wanted. Gorry leapt at him. Aldrail passed Gorry, and the two locked gazes.

“Thank you.”

Then the nobleman, backing against the door of his cabin, trying the handle, swinging around—he had a sword and the Flame Elemental. He slashed—and the sword curved and struck Aldrail in the shoulder.

It must have aimed itself. The Gnoll staggered, but he ran onto the blade. He saw the man’s face, a carefully groomed mustache, even what looked like waxed hair—a purple cape with a yellow lining.

Who are you?

The two men locked eyes, and then Aldrail kicked the flaming statuette out of the [Lord]’s hand. The other man flinched as Aldrail brought down his sword to impale the man, but his sword cracked against a personal barrier.

Damn. I should have known it wouldn’t be easy. The nobleman rolled away and came up with a glowing dagger. Aldrail swung at him, and then a [Servant] or someone tackled him.

Lord, run—

Aldrail kicked the idiot away and advanced on the deck. He could see Gorry locked in combat with the [Knight], and his crew was harvesting their prizes. They were doing it.

The nobleman was gasping. Aldrail’s body was so badly burnt from his insane charge he realized, dimly, the man was cursing at him.

—do you want? Do you think you’ll win? Taligrit will hunt you down. My blood is of the Hundred Heroes! I will not beg for mercy.”

“Good. That’s good blood.”

A swaying Gnoll [Captain] advanced. A few of his crew saw him and hesitated, but they backed away. The nobleman of Taligrit realized he was alone; his crew was being butchered—

Or was it? The nobleman looked left, then right and realized it was not the slaughter he’d assumed.

[Knights] were dying, and some of his retinue who were fighting were being hacked down, but [Sailors] and [Servants] were pleading for mercy, and it was being offered.

Rather, it was as if the Gnoll [Pirates] had no eyes for them. They were stalking down the decks, some vanishing belowdecks, and they were killing—the man closed his eyes.

“What do you want?

“You. You…still don’t get it?”

The Gnoll was still on fire, but he kept coming, one eye socket empty, the other eye brown and glittering, fixed on the man as if he were the most…most important thing ever. He didn’t even know the man’s name or title.

Ransom? The nobleman waved the dagger, thinking to feint, and Aldrail kicked him, barrier spell and all, and launched him across the deck. The nobleman went rolling, backed against a railing as he tried to get to his feet, and saw it at last.

It was the strangest thing. It was First Mate Gorry, who, true to his name, was covered in blood. He had killed the [Knight] he had dueled. One of his axes was shattered from the combat, and he was cut badly—but the [Knight] was the one who fell. Gorry’s other axe was embedded in the [Knight]’s neck where armor met helmet.

Blood was staining the deck. It pooled around the figure, staining the cloak of Taligrit’s finest. Seeping into the floorboards, crimson and vivid.

A life lost. Years of training. A name the [Pirates] had never known, and a legacy gone.

Yet they did care in some way. Slowly, reverentially, Gorry pulled the axe from the neck. He paused a moment, then bent over the stain of blood. The nobleman thought the Gnoll would lap it up or coat more of his body with the ichor.

Gorry did not. Slowly, he lowered his axe and placed it in the pool of blood. It seemed, to Aldrail and the nobleman, that the pool of blood rippled for a second, then became clear. Like a mirror that reflected not the cloudy skies, but something else.

Something…beautiful. Something that had no name amidst words or colors you could describe. The closest thing might be a long road. A journey through wild lands and times. Potential. Brightness and darkness. The very thing that made up triumph or failure.

It shimmered in the blood leaking from the [Knight]’s body, and Gorry lifted his axe up. The blood ran down the length of the blade, and when the Gnoll spoke, it was his Skill that explained it.

“[I Dipped My Blade in Destiny].”

He lifted the axe up, still staring at something, and the nobleman looked at him, uncomprehending—then Aldrail. Then he saw it.

A laughing Gnoll was holding something as she stood over another corpse. The nobleman saw a strange, powerful light, terrible and glorious, cradled in her paws. She did not join the last of the fighting. She just held it tight to her chest and left. Returning to her ship, as if she had no more desire to loot or kill. Her whisper—lingering in his ears.

[I Stole Fate].

The man looked around and then he heard them all intoning Skills. Some were similar—but there were so many. Another Gnoll wearily looked up and howled, and his fur rose as his voice raised in triumph.

[The Worthless Pawn Rises].

“What—what Skills are these?”

“A gift, Human.”

Aldrail stopped, leaning on the railing. The Gnoll looked half-dead, and the nobleman scrambled up. He slashed across the Gnoll’s chest, and his glowing dagger left a trail of light that burned with the [Pain] spell embedded in it. He could do this! H—

The Gnoll grabbed the arm and saw the barrier spell rematerialize. With one arm, Aldrail began smashing the man into the railing until the wood and metal began to crack. He slowed when he realized the spell was gone and he was hammering the man’s face into the wood.

“Now you get it.”

They thought it was gold, fame, or that Irurx could pay the Bloodtear Pirates enough. The Alchemist was just an excuse. Aldrail lifted his sword, and the nobleman stared up at the Gnoll, flat on his back, bleeding. Then—he laughed.

Our fate? You—you want to steal that? Of all the things—”

He began giggling, and it was so unexpected, Aldrail paused.

“That’s all we want. All of us.”

The Gnolls were streaming back to Plainsblood, ready to cast off. Their comrades were sailing past them, still cheering. Waving.

There was no more battle for Aldrail’s crew. They were done. They had received what they wanted. Fate.


The nobleman stared up at Aldrail, blood leaking into one blue-yellow eye. And Aldrail didn’t know who he was or what his fate had been. He hoped it was a good one. Some Skills let you steal the best of them. It depended on who it was. What you wanted.

His Skill was different. Gorry was watching him as the Gnoll [Captain] leaned on the railing.

“You…do you know what you’re stealing?”

The man gazed up at Aldrail with actual pity. A strange contempt Aldrail couldn’t understand. The [Captain] paused, panting, blood and ash in his mouth, and looked the man up and down. Cape torn, face broken, noted his magical rings, at the ship—his twisted smile, and then inhaled. Exhaled, and his head rose, and he breathed in and out.

Then Captain Aldrail met the nobleman of Taligrit’s eyes and smiled.

“Yeah. It looks beautiful. I’ll use it better than you.”


The Gnoll drove the sword down through the man’s chest before his nerve could leave him. He heard a sound like a gasp, and the next words were lost. Then—Aldrail stumbled back and leaned against the railing.

He almost fell over the shattered wood. Someone called out.

“Captain—I’ve got a potion. Captain?”

Gorry. The [First Mate] was pointing at the ship, and Aldrail’s ears were ringing. He stared up at the sky—then down at Gorry and the man he’d killed.

There. Done. He could finally rest.

His body was wounded, but Aldrail felt so…relieved he sagged. Someone caught him.


Gorry was waving a potion in his face, but Aldrail shoved it away. He didn’t need it. The Gnoll whispered to Gorry, to himself, as he saw Unsettled King passing. He looked up, and Rosech was watching him. Captain Aldrail of the Bloodtear Pirates—smiled.

“This time, I’ll have no one to blame but myself.”


Gorry held the older Gnoll, confused, until he looked over and saw the dead man that Aldrail had killed was…gone.

There was no pool of blood to dip his sword into. No stolen fate or change in Aldrail. Not at first. The Gnoll breathed in and focused on Gorry. Then—his smile grew brighter.

Aldrail was glowing. Gorry felt the weight in his paws, the body of his [Captain], vanishing. He tightened his grip—and Captain Aldrail broke apart into fragments of light. For just one second, Gorry heard a sigh. Then—as the wind swept the fragments of light away—

He swore he could hear an infant crying.




Captain Aldrail was gone. Rosech and his entire crew had seen it. Even for them—it shook the Bloodtear Pirates slightly.

“Which Skill was that? Father?”

Irrel spoke softly, staring over the railing at the place the Gnoll had been. It wasn’t like the other ones. The Dorhmin boy held his spear. It was shaking; he hadn’t fought hand-to-hand yet.

There was no point.

He hadn’t been able to get a Skill, but Rosech…Rosech’s eyes gleamed as he looked at his Dorhmin son. He raised his voice as heads turned to him.

“Rebirth. I never knew Aldrail wanted it. But he got his wish.”

Rebirth? Why’d he ever want—”

Someone began, and their voice trailed off uncertainly. Rosech lifted his own sword and examined it. He had killed a score of men and women, from a member of the Thousand Lances to a fleeing noblewoman…but what he wanted wasn’t there either. Not yet.

He envied Aldrail his certainty. Admiral Rosech turned from the Gnolls, who had gone quiet, and nudged Irrel.

“Give them a proper sendoff, lad. Storm’s clearing. It won’t last. Tell them. Tell the Terandrians who we are.

His son looked at him, then ran down the deck, pulling something out of his bag of holding. Admiral Rosech looked back at the place Aldrail had been, then ahead.

There was even some sunlight coming out of the clouds. A few rays after three days and nights of unending rain. It still looked like it was mixed with blood, but the Bloodtear Pirates following the Terandrians gazed at Wistram and a fleet of everything they desired.

They feared death. But the promise of what they might receive—what they had never had and had wanted—oh yes.

The moment Rosech had seen that ghost, he had known it was the end of the Bloodtear Pirates. One last dance, and they’d pay for it. But it was the greatest treasure of a lifetime. It was a lifetime.

A sound broke the silence and the rushing waves. Admiral Rosech turned his head and beamed as the ships ahead and behind him heard it.




“What’s that sound?”

Rabbiteater broke away from the sight of the Taligrit ships. One was sinking; the other had been taken by [Pirates]. But a [Message] had gone out from one of the two doomed vessels at last.


Seraphel, Menrise, Cortese, they were speechless. That was what the Bloodtear Pirates had come to steal. There was no buying them off. No surrender.

They were stealing the fates of the nobles. For better or worse. Rabbiteater got it. But in this moment, he just listened.

It was a trumpet. Someone with prodigious lungs was playing from the prow of Admiral Rosech’s ship. The notes were clear and carrying. It sounded like a triumphant, yet sad and lonely song. The Goblin swore he could see the [Pirates] standing to attention, listening to the music.




“One of the subhumans is playing the sound. Does a [Marksman] have a clear shot?”

Prince Iradoren narrowed his eyes as he looked at his half-Elven archers. One of his warleaders murmured urgently in his ear.

“Your Highness—if I understand the Bloodtear Pirates correctly, you would draw the wrath of their [Admiral] upon Legend’s Wake without end.”

Iradoren grimaced—and lowered his hand. The song played on.




“Rosech. Is that your lad? I had no notion he played a trumpet. Or could play, if you don’t mind me saying.”

Admiral Maxy called out to Rosech as the elegy went on. He broke away from the silent, solitary figure standing at the prow of his ship, raising a battered brass trumpet to the sky.

“He’s a natural. The Dorhmins didn’t know their kind could play neither.”

His smile encapsulated his world, standing there. The half-Elf saw Rosech breathing in and out. This was the final day. She had things to discuss, like tactics and strategy. Wistram—or a strange rumor there were Roshal ships behind them, clashing with another in the storm.

Rosech didn’t care. He looked at Irrel, then turned to Maxy.

“I’ll have the finest destiny for my boy, Maxy. My word on it.”

“He’s got no Skills.”

The half-Elf saw the [Admiral] lift his sword, staring at it intently.

“Then I’ll do it for him. Let’s go. Time to collect our fortunes.”




So there it was. Destiny itself aswirl, and not even the gods could see what came next. Power that would drive even the fates mad. Gifted without hesitation to the one group that wanted it more than anything.

Because it fit.

Their targets might disagree it was worth what the Bloodtear Pirates thought. However, Rabbiteater just stood at the rear of his ship and understood now why some of them came for him.

“It’s so ridiculous. I welcome them to mine. Let them choke on it.”

Seraphel du Marquin’s voice was incredibly bitter. The Cursed Princess stood next to Rabbiteater, and if he had dared to disagree, she would have slapped him. Rabbiteater was still listening to the horn playing.

“You and I, Rabbiteater. You and I—they have made fair fools of themselves with us, at least.”

The Princess of Calanfer went on after a second. She called it bitter irony, even as she waited for the worst. They were speeding up, and clouds roiled against Wistram’s weather bubble. To the south, she was told, a number of ships were coming her way, and there was some stir about a lost [Innkeeper] and threats and promises from all sorts of sides. Roshal, of all groups, even the Antinium and…

Rabbiteater just turned to Seraphel suddenly, and that helmet…Seraphel reached out.


Her [Ghost’s Hand] passed through his visor and touched a face before he recoiled. But then Rabbiteater let Seraphel feel urgently at his cheek and touch…

“That’s my nose.”

The [Princess] stared at that visor, and her fingers felt…lips moving upwards. Someone smiled at her, and her fingers tried to move the visor, but it was glued shut. The [Knight] took her hand and then pointed at the [Pirates].

They were locked onto him, some of them. Others had eyes for the [Prince of Men] or other targets.

“They’re right.”

“Who are? The [Pirates]? About you? Me?”

The Goblin laughed.

“Me. I have the greatest destiny I could ever dream of.”

His head turned to the Bloodtear Pirates, and he rested his hands on the railing. Rabbiteater looked at them, and his aura grew brighter until Seraphel could smell an inn’s kitchen, feel warm air on her skin, and she heard a young woman laughing. A little white thing scampered around Rabbiteater’s legs, and he lifted a memory of a flower between his fingers—then spoke to the [Pirates].

“Come and take it.”




“The Admirals have given the signal. It’s time.”

He couldn’t stop shivering. The boy looked up, and the crew around him stood up slowly as their [Captain] got to her feet.

Captain Lidera, the old Luminary, gave no speeches. Her eyes were cold steel, and her faintly glowing skin brightened as her face grew taut. But her first mate, the boy wearing veils, kept shivering.

“Solwes. Stop quaking. It’s time.”

“I’m sorry, Luminary Lidera.”

He forgot to call her ‘Captain’ again. The young Luminary’s skin was glowing like a captive firefly, and Captain Lidera of the 2nd Armada of the Bloodtear Pirates bared her teeth. She was half-Jellyfish, but truly gifted by the sea.

In her youth, she had been so bright they said she put Pheislant’s lighthouses to shame. She had glowed like a beacon for ships in the dark. A living legend—spent by the time Solwes was born.

The Drowned Folk used their Luminaries hard. Lidera had stolen him away from her fate when he had asked her. And their long road escaping their kindred seeking him had led them to this day.

“Destiny. It’s not something for you, Captain, but I hope you don’t mind if we jump ship once we get ours.”

One of the Drowned Folk respectfully addressed Captain Lidera, and her nod was curt.

“Go with my blessing. There’s no future I need. That goes for any Drowned Woman or Man; those who’d care to stay are welcome, but flee if you have what you need. Be wary of your kin afterwards.”

Solwes had seen the Bloodtear Pirates gut ships before, but this had been a slaughter enough to quell any dreams of freedom from his curse for him. He whispered.

“They’ll not stop hunting any of us till the ends of the world.”

Captain Lidera just nodded. She’d told the crews what they’d lose from this action, but Bloodtear would end after this. It was already over as she had explained it to Solwes. No nations would allow such a force to exist now that they’d seen the Terandrians being torn to pieces. If the Iron Vanguard didn’t pounce on the survivors, both would be shocked.

“If they know our faces or where to look, they’re welcome to come after my head. I don’t need a damn tapestry. I just need…one string. Begging your pardon, Captain. I would have loved to be chosen by light itself.”

The Drowned Man’s eyes lingered on Solwes’s veiled skin, and the first mate spat at him, bad form or not.

“You wouldn’t like it, trust me, Goshell.”

“Let him taste it first, Solwes. Now—be silent, all of you. It’s beginning.”

Captain Lidera raised one withered hand, and Solwes still heard Irrel’s trumpet echoing in his memory. But the clear skies?

They were turning black again.

It began on Rosech’s and Maxy’s ships. A slow…stamping. Faint, but rhythmic. Solwes, used to hearing the most minute sounds in the deep dark waters, tuned into the rhythmic stamping. Then it became louder suddenly.

Clapping. Loud. Then a rhythmic cracking. It was the sound of Captain Lidera cracking the tip of the cane-sword she carried on the deck. Slowly, Solwes joined in, matching the timing. He felt the crew stomping with him, and it began to sound more like drums as the Bloodtear Pirates began to sing.

The [Storm Sailors] hunched their shoulders, and ships like Alchemist Irurx’s Shifthold were silent as a wind that had no origin began to blow at the Bloodtear Pirates’ backs. They felt resistance this time.

They had used this Skill too many times, and now they were fighting masters of magic. With his gift, Solwes could see a bubble in the skies, the magic itself bounded in the air. Invisible to most eyes, but in his vision, clearly linked to Wistram, expanded beyond its natural boundaries to tame the storm.

Weather magic. Wistram was altering the very patterns of weather to hold the magical hurricane at bay. There would be consequences, but at this moment, the Bloodtear Pirates blew on the edge of the bubble. Gently—then as their voices rose, a crimson storm began to brew.


We sailed under flags of no quarter. We took no prisoners.

A storm at our backs. Blood in the water, blood in the sky.


The Third Tide. Solwes raised one covered hand to the sky, and red droplets ran down his arm, soaking into the black fabric. He felt the wind rising—then go silent. A crewmember stopped chanting and swore.

“They’re fighting it—”

“Keep going. This is the last dance of the Bloodtear Pirates. Keep singing. Does Wistram best us at sea?”

Now, Captain Lidera snapped like a crack of iron amidst the chanting. The Bloodtear Pirates wavered—and kept singing as their storm roiled at their backs.

Solwes was sweating. He strained, one member of a ship amidst tens of thousands. Pushing, a storm roiling at bay as the Terandrians tried to reach Wistram. This was it. Death. Death.


What would they do for what they dreamed of? For what Solwes sought—freedom? An end to being the Luminary?

He’d draw as much blood as he needed. He only wished it were his captors, not Terandrians. But Lidera had taught him to take what he needed.

The Drowned Boy looked up at her, his skin glowing brighter as he strained with the rest of the [Pirates] on the swaying ship. Solwes was half giant-clam, another glowing type of species that could be blessed with the extreme radiance of a Luminary. He looked up, and Lidera’s lined face and her glowing eye were fixed on him, not the war above.



She stopped slamming her cane against the wood of her deck and drew the blade from the cane sword’s sheath. The former Luminary looked at her first mate and ward with a faint smile.

“Find your destiny in this battle. Even if there’s nothing to be had—I free you of it. [I Claim Your Fate].”

He didn’t know what that meant until she ran him through. The crew turned, and their voices faltered. Someone shouted—and they saw Captain Lidera run through her beloved ward. The boy stumbled backwards and fell, a crimson blade buried in his chest.


Solwes felt nothing at first, then a searing pain. He cried out, began to scream, then gagged on the pain. Lidera kept the blade buried in his flesh, closing her eyes. Then she tossed something at one of the Drowned Folk around her.

“Heal him. Now, back up.

One of her crew fumbled with the bottle, staring. He bent over Solwes—and hesitated as the boy writhed.

“Solwes, your skin—”

Even in the midst of his pain, the boy looked at his arms. He expected to see a bright glow of distress—but all he saw was pale, rain soaked skin mixing with his blood, which was clear, like a clam’s.

His glow was gone. Then Solwes looked up and realized what Lidera had done. He saw her faded skin begin to brighten, and the former Luminary breathed deeply, in and out. Her eyes were closed; then, as she opened them, a brilliance burst from both eyes like [Light] spells, shining upwards.

The other Bloodtear Pirates were still chanting, fighting the storm. But the crew of Lidera’s ship had gone silent. Awed, some of them dropped to their knees, even those who had forsworn the laws of the Undersea Crews. One of them gazed up at her, eyes wide.

“Captain Lidera—”

“Rosech and I have our own wards. His job is harder’n mine.”

A woman walked without her cane to the prow of her ship. She spoke now like Solwes remembered. With the accented dignity of a Luminary, the nobility of the Drowned Cities, but also with the slang of a [Pirate].

Two lives. One woman. Most landfolk had no idea what a Luminary even was. Most Drowned Folk didn’t know all their powers. Lidera put one foot up on the prow of the ship and took off her cap. Her skin was growing brighter still, brighter than Solwes had ever dared let his skin be underwater.

Like a beacon to any hungry monster. A guiding light to Drowned Ships. Or—more. He’d never finished his training, but Lidera. Ah, Lidera…she turned her head, and then she did speak, like Aldrail to his crew. A kind of confession.

“I was the Luminary Resplendia for countless years. I enjoyed it. Never counted ships I damned nor the power plays of cities except as it benefited me. This was the more honest life of the two. I’ve committed sins against shore and wave in the name of the depths. It was close to here. North by many miles, but close enough when I spent the last of my light.”

She was growing even brighter. Now, motes of light were beginning to hover in the air, though the crew dared not even look at her. It would become so bright they’d see the light through their heads.

A killing light. The healing potion was letting Solwes sit up. He had never seen this kind of light before.


She looked down at him as she took his great burden and smiled. Then she pointed across the sea.

“It was I. I who did what nations begged us for and led the Luminaries to wake the deeps. To break the tide that came from Rhir the only way we knew how. With Old Hungry. I summoned him from his slumber.”

The crew looked up at her, mouths open wide, as Lidera began to shine—brighter. Now, she was walking up steps of glowing light. And surely they could see her across Terandria’s fleets; Legend’s Wake fired something off the prow. A beam of light to burn their ship to ash, but it dissipated before it got halfway towards them.

It was light. Heat and light, maybe, but still light. Here was a master of it. Captain Lidera’s voice rose.

I still remember how to cave in a ship’s shields with light alone and let them perish in the depths. They taught me how to summon Krakens on Terandria as a girl. How to blind a man at sea until he cracks his ship on a reef. Look at the sin of Luminaries for the first and last time, Solwes. You do it like…this.

She pointed up at the sky, and he saw the thinnest ray of light rising from one aged fingertip. Like a signal to the stars themselves. The beam shot high into the air, cutting through clouds and the stratosphere. Impossibly high—the chanting faltered as Wistram’s bubble of weather struggled with the Bloodtear Pirate’s storm.

Then Captain Lidera cut the weather spell in twain. The ray of light bisected the spell, and the magic of Wistram began to implode.

Red rain blew down on Solwes, and a howl filled their sails. The Bloodtear Pirates began screaming as a gale roared around them like a hundred thousand voices.

And she kept glowing. The storm raced around the Terandrians, engulfing their vessels, and now Solwes saw a glimmer from Wistram’s spires. Attack spells?

Captain Lidera pointed, and a ray of light shot from the prow of her ship and scorched Wistram itself. Then she was laughing, and someone seized the helm and dragged Solwes to his feet.

Find your destiny, Solwes! With us!

They were all chanting, standing on the railings, as the Terandrians slowly turned to face the [Pirates], a storm crashing around the fleeing Terandrians, pulling them back. [Storm Sailors] raising their blades, as hungry as [Pirates]. A wail of insects from Irurx’s ship, and there was blood in his eyes as Solwes looked up at that terrible light from the Luminary. She pointed a finger, and a hole burned through one of the sails of Legend’s Wake as its barrier vanished.

Then their ship locked with the first vessel, and the Drowned Pirates poured across the deck. Fighting. Dying as the last day began.




Rabbiteater didn’t know who that glowing figure was, only that his [Dangersense] went off as if he were facing someone like Great General Dionamella or Eldavin.

Must be a monster. His skin was absorbing her light, which was something. The storm raged around them, and he heard Earl Altestiel’s voice clearly through the linked speaking stone.

“This is the Earl of Rains. We will not reach Wistram’s shores with the storm on us. Slay that woman—we must turn and fight—prepare for battle groupings. Hundred Heroes guide your blades.”

“This is it! I should go to Kaaz—”

Cortese and Menrise were hesitating on board the Throne’s Will, but it was too fast. Their ships were already turning, and Cortese looked at Rabbiteater, Seraphel, then drew his sword. Baeris was howling as he extended the sword, and Rabbiteater touched it with his axe.

“—This is a fine place to be. Ser Solstice, Lady Menrise, Princess Seraphel. It would be my honor to stand with you on this day. Calanfer, Kaaz, Tourvecall, and Izril.”

“And Desonis. Altestiel’s here in spirit. I-I’m honored to be here too.”

Menrise’s voice shook as she tried to give them a peace sign. Seraphel—she glanced at Rabbiteater, and her voice was low.

“I have had the privilege of meeting people I wished nothing more than to be besides only once before. There is no finer company…nowhere I would rather be if…”

She trailed off, and Rabbiteater nodded his helm.

“We’re friends till the end.”

They looked at him, and Cortese broke into a genuine smile.

“You say these things well, Rabbiteater.”

For a moment, the Ivory Four looked at each other, and Rabbiteater wished Altestiel were here. He saw Rainbringer turning with Belchaus’ ship flanking his friend as Seraphel took Menrise’s hand and shook Cortese’s other hand and looked at him to say—

Ser Thilowen interrupted the moment in a shout.

Ward the [Princess]! Your Highness, I insist you take shelter—now! They’re coming in fast—”

Then the Bloodtear Pirates were on them. And the storm blew harder until the world Rabbiteater knew and loved became a twisted blur of rain distorting everything. Flashes of light illuminating everything into stark contrast. Frozen moments of disorientation. Then violence.




Coming up the—

A Thronebearer was shouting as Rabbiteater looked around. Then something caught her and dug into her armor. A—hook?

Grappling hook. It wrapped around the woman’s armor and began to drag her off the ship. Rabbiteater tried to remove the hook, then hack at—

The hook pierced the golden armor and began to saw into the woman. She began screaming until the hook tore through her—and more were falling.

[Pirates] coming up—Rabbiteater saw a grinning face rising as he peered over the railing. He hacked one line, but the ropes refused to give. Enchanted ropes. 

“They’re enchanted, Cortese! The hooks!”

Rabbiteater shouted, and the man slashing at another set of hooks cleaved through the railing instead, sending figures tumbling down. Rabbiteater saw the first [Pirate] rise over the edge of the railing and buried his axe in their head. That grin of desperate desire turned confused as red ran from the gash in the skull and bloody brains—




—kept breathing until the bodies were crackling with golden flames. Then he fell over and lay, gasping for air.

The Dragonbreath was too much. He couldn’t breathe! Someone kicked him in the face.

It’s him! Ser Solstice!

A blade clanged off his armor, then a hand urgently felt at his neck. A piercing blade tried to stab through the gap in his armor, raised his armpit—he felt metal tickling his flesh.

[Greater Toughness]—the [Pirate] was leaning with all his weight on the blade. Rabbiteater stared up into a bearded man’s face, teeth gold and silver and his eyes alight with hope. Another man trying to wrench off Rabbiteater’s helmet punched his head and looked up.

“Why’s he laughing? Why—”

A hole appeared in the [Pirate]’s head, and the dagger driving into his throat stopped. Rabbiteater found his breath at last as the other [Pirate] recoiled. Menrise! He grabbed a leg and rose as a hail of arrows fell, and Seraphel threw herself forwards. A flash of light from her tiara—




—down. Is down. Can anyone rescue the survivors? Anyone? Throne’s Will, respond! I am moving to—”

Earl Altestiel’s voice was crackling from the speaking stone. Seraphel tried to shout a response back as Rabbiteater tried to get up.


Your chestplate is dented in. [Repair]. [Repair]—

Menrise was trying to help him. Rabbiteater had to get up. He saw a line of golden [Knights] being covered in blood.

They had half the deck, and Thronebearers kept dying. Calanfer’s [Soldiers] were throwing themselves forwards—blood was washing over his visor. Seraphel screamed as her tiara overloaded and an arrow passed by her face.

Rabbiteater got up as the pain constricting his chest eased. He heard a howl. Cortese was fighting five-to-one, bleeding, and his faithful bodyguard were lying around him. But someone had leapt to his aid.


A [Pirate] drove a spear through the lioness’ side as Rabbiteater shoved Menrise aside and raised his axe to throw. But the lioness was already dead—




—Erin Solstice.

Rabbiteater was shaking Cortese repeatedly. He didn’t know how long. The man wouldn’t look up from the limp body in his arms. The Goblin only stopped when he heard the sound.

His armor was torn, exposing chainmail beneath in two rents. He looked up, and Altestiel was shouting, a water-bridge linking his ship and Throne’s Will.

“Earl, we have to go—

Kiish was shouting, but Altestiel was pointing at Rabbiteater.


He heard nothing more. The Earl was running, and in the distance, Rabbiteater heard blaring horns. A wail—Ser Thilowen cursed.

“One of Cenidau’s ships is sinking—”




Cortese reappeared on deck after laying Baeris in the hold below, and Seraphel told them the time as he slowly came to the railing. His face was devoid of tears save the rain. He stood there and gripped Rabbiteater’s and Menrise’s arms tightly. Rabbiteater saw Menrise squeezing back. Seraphel checked a timepiece.

“Twenty-nine past ten, gentlemen, ladies.”

“Which one? Day? Night?”

The Hundredlord’s voice rasped. Seraphel hesitated—Throne’s Will was laboring towards Wistram. At least, Rabbiteater thought it was Wistram. They were navigating via [Scrying] spell now.

The whipping rain and waves were so tall and dark that he could see few other ships. They appeared out of nowhere suddenly. The entire ship dipped, and Seraphel clung to the railing. She dropped the timepiece, and it went into the waves—

[Brace the Deck]!

Rabbiteater stabilized as the [Captain] howled and the ship went down a massive wave—it broke over them, and Seraphel’s tiara shielded them from the wave.

Ser Thilowen appeared to check on them, but he had given up ordering Seraphel to safety. The [Princess] caught her breath.

Morning! We’re being scried by Wistram. The news.”

Rabbiteater looked around. None of this mattered; Menrise and Cortese didn’t respond, just kept scanning the distance. The [Lady]’s hand was shaking as she held her wand in a deathgrip, and Cortese’s face was white.

“How many ships are still out there?”

“Altestiel’s alive. Should I turn on his voice? The—the broadcast might tell us more than our eyes—”

No one responded, so Seraphel fiddled with the scrying spell and a hand mirror. Cortese stared at her blankly for a minute, then turned and almost struck Rabbiteater.

Menrise did hiss—then shout because no one could hear her.

Rabbiteater. What are you doing.

He was posing, giving her peace-sign to the air and putting his axe over one shoulder. He saw his friends gazing at him uncomprehendingly.

“I’m looking good. In case she’s watching. I don’t want to worry her.”

Seraphel’s eyes found him, and Cortese’s snarl changed to—he nodded, and Menrise waved weakly upwards. Rabbiteater clenched a fist and nodded upwards, and when Seraphel got the glitching broadcast working, he caught a glimpse of himself and hoped she wasn’t watching what came next.




They burst out of another wave and came through a lull in the hurricane. The eye of the storm kept moving. Three Bloodtear ships were circling a single ship.

“Pheislant. Your Highness, there’s no saving them.”

It wasn’t Lord Firrus’ ship, but a lesser one. Rabbiteater didn’t recognize the colors of the house, but he saw the nobles. There were at least two. He knew this because they were on deck.

[Sailors] and [Soldiers] exchanging crossbow bolts and spells with [Pirates]—and there they were.

A [Lord] and [Lady], a couple dressed in finery, swinging each other around the deck. At first, Rabbiteater thought it was Nadel instead of Pheislant. Then he saw it wasn’t a Skill.

They were just dancing. Eyes locked on each other. A wild ballroom dance as the [Lord] spun the [Lady] around. Blood in the eyes of the [Pirates].

Bodies falling. Rabbiteater locked onto the couple dancing, and Seraphel du Marquin looked around. The [Royal Knight] shook his head. Ser Thilowen gave an order again. Seraphel turned her face to her friends. Then pointed a finger.

Save them.

They kept dancing as Rabbiteater drew his axe again and inhaled. Throne’s Will surged forward, and he saw figures boil off the three ships and onto the decks. The two nobles kept holding hands even in the moments before they vanished.

Then the ships were turning upon them, and he exhaled golden flames that tarnished on the waters until he couldn’t breathe anymore.




Your Highness, Legend’s Wake is hailing us. Prince Iradoren wishes to safeguard—”

“—Lady Menrise must come with us! The lower deck is flooding, and if it is not repaired—”

“—casualties have mounted to three hundred. I am arming every servant and civilian and forming lines out of—”

“The [Admirals] are hunting ships down.”

Flickers of consciousness. He was listening to Seraphel. Swinging his axe as someone grabbed for Menrise, and he almost cut the [Sailor] down. Listening to Thilowen.

Waiting. The voices were receding, and the howling roar of the storm was growing louder. He could hear the raging Third Tide.

Feel it coming.

Maybe it was their auras sweeping down on him. Crushing ‘voices’. Obliterating ships. He was waiting for them. Squeezing a [Princess]’ hand. Holding Cortese’s arm as the man tried to run forwards. Speaking to Altestiel and trying to remember what a joke was. Gripping Menrise’s shoulder.

He was dreaming, and he’d wake up soon. 

“What are you dreaming of, Rabbiteater?”

Seraphel looked at him, and he saw her fingers contorting with his grip and let go. The [Knight]’s head rose.

“I almost think she can hear me. It feels like she’s just around the corner.”

He turned his head, and all he saw was a wave rolling upwards like the sky. It crashed down, illuminated by faint golden light, and he thought she saw it.

Or he saw her.

Flickers through a storm like memories of home.

A burning pain on his wrists. The rasp of her throat as rain stung his…her face? 

A Hobgoblin’s glowing eyes and skin paint.

The smell of burning oil and sulfur.

A wheel gripped in her hands.

“Your friend? Your…[Innkeeper]? The person you love?”

The [Princess] looked at him, and he thought she saw it. Not Seraphel. Her. Erin, somehow.

A flicker of warm light dappling onto worn, comfy tables. The smell of baking bread and acid juice and the scamper of paws.

[Aura of the Hearth].


“Not in any silly way. Like a mother who’s not really one but sometimes is. The friend you need. The person you won’t forget. Like redemption it turns out you never needed because you were okay after all.”

His head rose, and the wave broke, water rushing around him, and someone screamed.

Ship to starboard!

Seraphel looked up at Rabbiteater as he rose slowly. He was staring into the storm, away from Wistram.

“How could she be here?”

“I don’t know. I wish she’d leave. I’m fine.”

—Heard that and laughed. Threw back her head and cackled as Lucifen stared at her. Her hair was on fire. Rips and holes in her heart. Skin burned and still—searching the storm.

He was smiling and trying to hide it. Trying to lie.

She was giggling as she clung to the wheel.

Death was walking with them. A weary crone, a mother of her own, eyes downcast and lost. A maiden of days that would never come.


Screaming in his ears. Rabbiteater strode to starboard and stared around for the [Pirates]. Then he realized he hadn’t heard the scream through his ears.


Eyes burning. A black sail and chains looming out of the darkness. Fire in her chest and vengeance in the words coming from her lips.

His [Innkeeper]. Rabbiteater stared into the storm and wished she would turn around and leave.

But he knew she never would.

That was why he loved her.




Forty-one Lucifen. Ulvama. Erin Solstice.

The Naga’s Den was meant for a crew of hundreds. Even with spells, Erin could barely steer it. But she did steer it. Voices babbled around her, Lucifen arguing and shouting over each other.

“We have familiar spells tending to the rigging. Someone find answers on whether we should stow enchanted sails in the storm—”

“—They’re being overwhelmed. The storm’s separated the ships, and the Bloodtear Pirates are tearing the Terandrians apart. Let alone Roshal, this is suicide, Visophecin—”

Ship to starboard! Roshal!

She was almost there. Erin Solstice knew Rabbiteater was out there. She could sense him. Even hear…she turned her head and snarled as she saw the familiar chains of Roshal.

The second ship was harder to fight off than the first. The Lucifen had taken down the first ship easily. The smaller craft had taken those black rays of light to the keel or whatever it was and fallen behind, unable to turn.

This one—made contact and tried to board. Erin let go of the wheel, and The Naga’s Den began to lurch. Visophecin activated his warform, and the Lucifen, nobles in black finery, fired spells off the railings, hiding behind barrier spells.

None of them save Visophecin could activate their warforms. Erin ran forward, and Ulvama knocked her down.

Beware of arrows, stupid!

One of Erin’s rings flashed, and both women flinched as an arrow veered just in time. Hedault’s enchantment. Ulvama scrambled up and looked downwards.

“[Buzzing—], no. [Viper’s Summoning].

Snakes burst across the deck, biting at figures milling about and trying to throw ladders up. The only thing saving Erin and the Lucifen from being overwhelmed was the height of the two ships. The one below was no warship, and the [Slavers] and [Slaves] had to climb up ladders the Lucifen smashed.


Erin conjured a ball of it. Not a [Fireball], but just a mass of black flames she hurled at the other ship. It clung to the hull, burning hard despite water they dumped on it.

Take the wheel, Erin Solstice! We must keep moving.

Visophecin’s voice was a shout, and she saw him leap onto the other ship and begin savaging [Slavers] in close-combat. She dashed back to the wheel, cursing—he used his gate powers to stride back onto the deck.

“There are too many. We must cripple their ship. Aim for the sails and their rudder.”

Azemith snapped at him.

“They’re doing the same thing to us! There’s a Djinni at our rudder. Someone—”

“I will combat it.”

The ship refused to turn like Erin wanted. It was more than a simple ship with a single wheel that controlled everything. Cursing, she fought the waves that were growing stronger as Roshal’s ship kept pace with theirs.

And they were not even upon the Bloodtear Pirates and Terandrians yet. But they were close. Erin knew it.


Azemith screamed as an arrow pierced one of her barriers. She ripped it out of her arm, swearing in a language Erin didn’t know. The Lucifen were arguing.

“They have barrier-piercing arrows! Magic? Skills?”

“Someone cast a gust spell. Or diffuse us with illusions.”

One of the Lucifen began casting just that until Igolze shouted at them.

There isn’t a point! They’re hitting the entire deck! Reinforce your barriers and take cover!

Erin was stuck behind the wheel, but Ulvama charged over with, of all things, a shield. She raised it as she muttered a spell, and Erin’s warpaint glowed.

“They’re not good at fighting, Erin. They are and they aren’t. Like [Mages].”

The [Innkeeper] nodded her head as she surveyed the decks. The ship was so…empty. She could see Lucifen moving back and forth, keeping under cover, and the flicker of spells and Visophecin fighting a glowing figure at the rear of the ship, but she felt like she was on a ghost ship. And the storm made it feel like she was one of the last people in the world. Ulvama was the only real person in this nightmare.

But Rabbiteater was out there.

So she kept the wheel moving, trying to not fight through the waves but move perpendicular to them, which was how she thought you did it, as the Lucifen began blowing more air into the sails. At least the wind was partially at their back.

The Bloodtear Pirates wanted to catch the Terandrians, so the storm obliged Erin. The Naga’s Den groaned as explosions pinged off its hull. Then the Lucifen were exiting gates around Erin.

“They have the deck.”

“Someone take the wheel—”

Erin snapped as she drew her dagger and one of her acid jars. She whirled, and Visophecin reappeared, panting.

“The Djinni has fled from damage. No one take the wheel. You are to remain safe, Erin Solstice.”

The Lucifen began raising black walls of light that obscured everything, like miniature shields, and snapped spells from behind them. They fought like modern-day soldiers, Erin realized. In squads, shooting their killing spells, exploding groups of [Slavers] coming over the sides—Azemith shrieked again.

There are too many of them! They’re locked onto the side of the ship!

Visophecin adjusted his suit, rain slicking his face and clothing.

“I will remove them.”

He strode down the deck as Ulvama, narrow-eyed, drew a bow she’d found and shot an arrow into one of the figures. Then she pointed.

“[Sproutwood Curse].”

One of the Lucifen glanced over and bared sharp teeth in a smile of appreciation. Ulvama just drew another arrow.

Erin saw and felt The Naga’s Den tilt and right itself. Visophecin must have severed something. She accelerated as the Lucifen cut down another rank of figures and halted. One of them spoke, urgent.

“Is that it?”

“Regroup. We should recalculate tactics.”

“My magical stores are low. We cannot take another battle the same way. I propose animating the corpses.”

“My thought exactly.”

Erin re-focused on the waves ahead until she heard a cry and felt an explosion—then it was just ringing in her ears. She whirled, and a Lucifen was lying on their back.

“—[Slave] collars exploded.”

That was what Ulvama said when Erin’s hearing came back. The Lucifen was alive, but hurt. Visophecin ordered the rest of the bodies thrown overboard.

They were nearing the Bloodtear Pirates now. Erin could see, in the distance, signs of the battle. How? Occasionally, she’d see a flash through the storm, a striation of color, but the real clue was the light.

Something was sending beams of light up that would cut through the storm itself. Whatever it was—Erin aimed at that and her sense of Rabbiteater.

“There is a Luminary—a rogue Luminary of the Drowned Folk. We knew they could summon Krakens. Did we know they could fight with that kind of power?”

One of the Lucifen licked their lips as Visophecin returned to Erin’s side. By now, the Lucifen were taking on the tasks of the ship, willingly or not. Black shadow familiars were clumsily doing the rigging with Lucifen or trying to tack with the winds—and one was even in the crow’s nest.

Visophecin didn’t try to reason with Erin again. He just spoke, loudly, in her ear.

“Each species discovers dangerous ways to protect themselves. Erin Solstice, that Luminary can burn a hole through a ship. She is not where Rabbiteater is.”

Erin spun the wheel grudgingly, and they turned left. Then she heard it again.

Roshal! Another ship! Port, this time! It’s coming in—fast—”

She closed her eyes. This time, Erin drew her knife and an acid jar and stared at them. Paltry weapons compared to the Lucifen’s spells or even Ulvama’s magic.

“Here. If you insist—can you use this?”

Azemith, one of the Lucifen, tossed a crossbow at Erin and a quarrel of bolts. Erin pulled back on it, grunting at the effort, until she heard a click. She put a bolt in the slot, aimed it at an empty patch of deck, and fired.

She did it one-handed. A mistake. The recoil made the crossbow almost twist out of her hands. Erin swore, and Visophecin produced something else.

“This wand will fire [Shatterbolts]. It has twenty-two charges. Use them wisely. I am sending for more artifacts, Azemith, but Rhisveri can barely locate us, let alone transmit weapons.”

“If someone would rescind her demands—”

“No. You’ll run if I do. How do I fire this?”

Erin took the wand and aimed it around. Visophecin moved her arm out of the way of his leg.

Cometh is the trigger phrase. There is a grip-activator keyphrase as well, but I do not believe you have the training not to use it accidentally. Do not aim it at anything you don’t intend to kill.”

“Got it.”

“Use the shield, too. Spells don’t always work.”

Erin picked up the shield Ulvama had found, grunting as she glanced right, towards the port.

“Okay. Someone else grab the wheel. Shoot the [Captain]. I’ll try to set the ship on fire with my Skills. It doesn’t go out easily.”

“Armor up. Now.

Visophecin snapped, and Lucifen began putting on pieces of armor from Roshal’s stores, reluctant. They advanced to the port side. No arrows yet—but Visophecin held out an arm, and Igolze used a portal spell to appear down the deck. Igolze aimed a finger down as Visophecin’s eyes flickered, and he raised a finger to his brow.


Erin raised her wand, but the firing word was on her lips when she heard that. She yanked her wand up, and a bolt of magic shot downwards—hit the floorboards and ripped a hole in the deck and missed the enemy [Captain].

But that just meant it added itself to…a lot of holes on deck. Erin stared down, shield raised to cover most of her head, and blinked.

Wait a second. The ship was covered in bodies. There was someone sitting on a chair in the middle of the smaller clipper ship. The occupant of this ship was…one person.

The rest were ghosts.

A glowing crew filled the entire ship as a single man got to his feet. He wore some kind of old-fashioned naval uniform, and as the Lucifen recognized him, if vaguely, Visophecin called out in sudden relief.

“We have reinforcements. Bring him aboard.

“Are you sure? Who—him?

Azemith cried out, and Erin stared down at the man as someone conjured a bridge spell for him. He strode upwards, followed by ghosts, and she saw they were a crew.

A dead man wearing a [Cook]’s hat, holding a cleaver, huge, with a scarred fist striding next to a narrow-eyed woman holding a wand, fiddling with her glasses. Officers—high-ranking ones, she thought, striding onto the deck and finding various spots on the ship with ease.

Never saying a word.

A ghost crew. Even Erin and Ulvama stared at them. Then at the man who had brought them.

“Admiral Dakelos.”

“Viscount. I have been sent by Duke Rhisveri to escort you and—Erin Solstice—to safety.”

Two incredibly blank eyes flicked to Erin for a second as she saw the man salute. He hadn’t even blinked when the [Shatterbolt] passed over one shoulder. Erin narrowed her eyes at him.

“Who’s this?”

Visophecin had never met the man in person, but his voice sounded slightly hopeful for once.

“An [Admiral] of Ailendamus. Admiral Dakelos’ Skill…of course. Eminently practical. Did Rhis—Duke Rhisveri send anything else?”

“Supplies and armaments, sir, as much as he could teleport. I encountered one ship of Roshal’s already. From their communications, they are hurling every ship they can at you. I estimate there might be four in the waters.”

“We’ve run into two. Do you know where we are headed, Admiral?”

The man turned to Erin, now, and half-nodded at her.

“The Bloodtear Armadas. I understand this is a mission with little chance of survival. Miss Solstice, my orders are to follow you and recall House Shoel. My Skill will provide you with a full escort.”


Erin and Visophecin said it at the same time. Several Lucifen hissed at Erin, but the [Innkeeper]’s expression was almost as uncompromising as the [Admiral]’s. She studied the man. He wasn’t the tallest or most imposing, and she might have mistaken him—but for his expression. He didn’t blink at her, just took in her burned arms, her company, Ulvama—

It wasn’t that he didn’t care. It was that he didn’t react to it. She eyed him and the ship he’d brought with him. Dead [Slavers].

“Are you good at killing, Admiral Dakelos?”

That was the only time he did react. The [Admiral]’s eyes flickered, and he opened his mouth—then raised a hand and gestured around.

“Look around you, Miss Solstice. My crew have fought to the death once already. They won’t hesitate a second time.”

Erin turned. Her eyes found the crew that had last served on the Spitoon.

Strategist Veine. Vorrmen, Giqe, Moirmen, Feifen—[Ensigns] and [Strategists], deck officers and more.

They said nothing. But they behaved as if they were alive. A Drowned Man, humming, was inspecting the wheel. Veine’s head was on a swivel, and when Dakelos looked at them…Erin saw something familiar.

“Okay. I’m in charge. No one’s leaving until I get my guy. Rabbiteater. There’s also Earl Altestiel. I want to save them both.”

“The Earl of Rains? Understood. The Bloodtear Pirates will be hunting both, Miss…how should I address you?”

“Erin is fine.”

The [Admiral] had broken his reserve twice. Once when he looked at his crew. The second time when he came to her name. After that, he was calm.

“My [Helmsman] will take the wheel.”

“No, he won’t. I don’t trust him not to steer us away. I know where Rabbiteater is.”

Dakelos paused and looked at Visophecin, and the Lucifen’s silent glare made the [Admiral] jerk his head in a nod.

“Vorrmen will assist you. Viscount, I am told House Shoel are superior spellcasters. I respectfully recommend they stay behind my crew.”

“We have every intention to, [Admiral].”

One of the Lucifen remarked drily. Erin was already at the wheel again, and the dead Drowned Man’s ghost spoke.

“Which heading, Miss?”

She jumped, and Ulvama recoiled, but the tone of the Drowned Man was annoyed, as if he were displeased to have to let a civilian have the wheel—but his face was distant. Then, as she explained what she wanted, he rolled his eyes derisively.

Then showed her how to do what she wanted, blank-faced. They were all like that. One second the [Strategist] was striding up to Dakelos, to apprise him of something, then bowing and stepping back, blank-faced.

It unnerved the Lucifen a bit, for all they pretended Dakelos was just the man for the job and patted themselves on the back for having him. Erin studied the man. He was pacing slowly back and forth, now. How he’d looked when the woman had marched up to him…

“Sad man. You sense it, right, Erin?”

Ulvama poked Erin and whispered in her ear. The [Innkeeper]-[Witch] looked at the [Shaman] incredulously.

“Does anyone not?

“Lucifen, probably.”

Some of them were clapping Dakelos on the back, much relieved, and making idle chatter as he paused and bowed to them. Erin grunted and turned her attention away from them.

Another dead man.

At least he knew it.




As they neared the battlefield, the first signs of fighting reached them. Dakelos’ Skills made The Naga’s Den move as responsively as Erin wanted, and faster too. The [Admiral] really was high-level.

It meant she stopped wrestling with the wheel. Then she noticed the bodies.

They bumped up against the hull, dragged down by the vessel. At first, she didn’t see them. Then she saw a broken mast. Saw the rain turning redder.

The Lucifen had a [Scrying] spell and had made the mistake of tuning into the battle to see what was happening. They didn’t scare in the same way as regular people.

They were not people of a kind Erin knew. They affected to being disinterested, superior, she could tell that much. But they could feel fear.

“If—the [Pirates] get onto a ship’s deck, they butcher the crews. We cannot allow them to board, the [Admiral]’s superiority or not.”

“That was a Pheislant ship that just was overrun. Aren’t there members of the Thousand Lances? Visophecin. Visophecin. We must link with one of the capital ships. Any of them. To do otherwise is sheer madness.”

They tried to argue with her. Reason. Threaten. Erin said nothing. Ulvama was watching the sea, staring at something else.

“Every ship we run into is one that might kill us all, Erin. Remember it.”

“Every [Pirate] ship is after Rabbiteater.”

Erin returned, and the Hobgoblin grinned at her and nodded. Then someone grabbed Erin’s face.

Azemith recoiled from Erin like she’d been burned; smoke actually rose from her fingers, but the Lucifen shouted in Erin’s face.

This is madness! Let us try to gate him out of here or let Admiral Dakelos sail in there, but throwing away your life will change nothing!”

The [Innkeeper] gave her a smile like the ice of Lucifen’s hearts. The pact between her and Visophecin was right in her soul. She reached for it and was relieved by it. So this was how it worked.

“You’re trapped here with me. That’s why it matters. We get the ones I want or we die. Start casting spells, Lady Azemith.”

The Lucifen eyed Erin, not without appreciation, even Visophecin. He hid a smile, then recalled he was in the firing line and spoke up.

“Erin Solstice. Think of your companion. Ulvama. And your friends and family at your inn. If you allowed us to send [Knights] or—”


Erin glanced at Ulvama unconsciously. But she just didn’t believe Visophecin had the power to send anyone back. To escape to safety, yes…but…

The [Shaman] was unmoved. She mouthed at Erin.

You stay, I stay.

Admiral Dakelos watched as more voices tried to interject.

“If one [Knight] needs saving, let us circumnavigate the engagement. Our magic is superior at range—”


Give us an opening and we can teleport—gate to him. Listen to me. Our abilities are not meant to be used like this.”


“If you would consider allowing us to communicate with Wistram, we could buy an Archmage’s interference perhaps. Any tactic w—”


“It will not level you. This is not befitting of your class.”

“Don’t care.”

Erin was adjusting the wheel. She thought she could sense more ships moving on them from the side. Roshal, again. Dakelos was glancing at her, and she jerked her head. He nodded, and his crew moved to one side, readying themselves, crouching behind barricades.

Let’s see what he can do. Erin heard another protest from the damn Lucifen. Either it was Lyonette’s boon—or her aura was still active this far out.

“You are an [Innkeeper], Erin Solstice. A [Witch] may act thusly, but this is not your main class. Saving Rabbiteater is not your job.”

I said I don’t care. Shut up and stop—”

Erin turned her head, eyes blazing, and the next words caught in her mouth. She had been snapping at the Lucifen, but realized they had gone abruptly silent. From Visophecin to Oelvix.

Lucifen were not silenced lightly. But the forty-one wet figures had all become speechless. As had Ulvama. Erin’s head turned. But then who had she been arguing w—

Admiral Dakelos’ head turned slowly as someone spoke in a level, calm voice.

The same voice she had always had. Strategist Veine stood, the rain bouncing off her ghostly body, her glasses slightly high on her face, wand in hand.

But her tone was—flat. Perfectly flat. Not inflectionless, but a voice so measured and precise that Erin knew it.

It will not level you. This is not befitting of your class. 

Words not even the Lucifen would use in an argument. But alter the voice a bit. So it wasn’t Veine’s. Then Erin knew it, even if the Lucifen had never, ever heard it. Ulvama knew it. Dakelos knew it.

[It will not level you. This is not befitting of your class.]

Strategist Veine stared at Erin Solstice. But she was a dead woman, and the ghosts were…in Hellste. Or gone. Erin knew it. Who, then, stared at Erin with eyes that were both blank and curious and spoke with a tone of exacting knowledge?

“[You defy your class.]”


Ulvama flinched as the head swung to her. It regarded Visophecin, and the Lucifen stepped backwards, raising a finger as if to ward something off. Dakelos—the [Admiral]’s face changed to that of a living man, a full flinch.

“[Your Skill has been disrupted by events outside of precedent, Admiral Dakelos. The souls cannot be restored from Hellste via the same methods and rules. [Crew: My Ship is Crewed by Ghosts] will be substituted in full.]”


The Lucifen inhaled, and if they would have dared speak—Dakelos stared at them, then the copy of Veine and almost reached out, but that tone silenced him.

It silenced the waves and storm, and Erin realized an [Immortal Moment] had begun. Not…hers. She felt like she was dreaming again, only this time…

“It’s not a dream anymore, is it? But the dream was real?”

“[Yes. This action will not benefit an [Innkeeper].]”

“Do you know why I’m doing this?”

An [Innkeeper] and the voice of levels conversed in a lull in the storm. Measured in a time only filled with the beating of her heart—Erin looked into those eyes and lost herself a moment.

Despite her pain and rage and fears and regrets and determination…she stared through a window in reality into infinity. An eternity of knowledge in those pupils. They were both knowing and, somehow, very innocent.

“[Yes. That was not the stated question. You think of yourself as an [Innkeeper]. Yet you have never been rewarded for this. You have turned down every class I offered. You are still an [Innkeeper] before a [Witch]. Why?]”

“Because…I am.”

Erin croaked. Rain poured down, making her shiver, even within the scope of an [Immortal Moment], and Strategist Veine stared up at the sky.

The rain stopped. It froze in midair. The voice continued, soft.

“[It does not fit you. Your class. You would be a better [Bannerlady] or [General]. A [Warrior], a [Witch] first of all. Your class should have changed when you came back to life. A grave error prevented it.]”

“I’m glad it didn’t change. I am an [Innkeeper]. I didn’t know I wanted to be. It was chance…”

“[Yes. You cleaned an inn and made it a safe space. A class was awarded. You grew into it. You gained a new Skill.]”

The eyes were approving. A smile draped itself over Veine’s face.

“[I was there. If I had known you, I would have given you the right class. [Chess Player]. But you did well as an [Innkeeper]. Skinner was well done. The Goblin Lord, Reiss—partially. The Solstice you have survived is also acceptable. This is not. You said you were ready. This is not what being an [Innkeeper] is.]”

The immortals and mortals, even the ghosts aboard the ship, shivered at the last sentence. Erin did too. But she snapped back.

“Says who?

“[So say I.]”

The [Innkeeper] tried to speak, and the words rolled over her thoughts.

“[Innkeepers have arisen to great levels. Level 73 at present record. Innkeepers have constructed magnificent edifices. Participated in wars. Changed their classes. You do not fit the class any longer.]”

“I’m an [Innkeeper]. It’s the only class I want, besides [Witch]. And I—I am one.”


Her answer might never matter more. Erin didn’t have time to think, though. She couldn’t prevaricate, let alone lie…her eyes rose, and she tore herself away from that curious, incurious stare of the arbiter of the world.

“He’s out there. Let me go, you—you stupid level-thing. Rabbiteater’s out there. Can’t you understand how I’m feeling?”

Frustration burned through her tone, but the one asking questions didn’t acknowledge her emotions in the same way as anything else. There was nothing to offend. It did understand—and it did not. Her caring was a number.

“[Ulvama is right here. Numbtongue is in your inn. Do you not care for either?]”

Veine tilted her head, and Erin shook her fist at the woman.

“Shut up. He’s out there. He’s my guy. My guest. He’s my guest, don’t you see? Ulvama’s with me. If she was out there, I’d go after her. If Numbtongue was…”

Erin’s eyes met Ulvama. Every single time. It didn’t matter who, so long as it was one of them. Yet that dry voice interrupted again.

“[Halrac Everam is dead. You cared for him. You asked him to die for you. More of your friends have died than will live if you save Rabbiteater. You know the odds. Why?]”

Erin flinched. The [Innkeeper] turned to the [Strategist]. And her eyes sparked with distant flames she would never have full words for.

“I know. I asked them to help me, and I’ll never repay them. I’ll try. But…”

She gestured lamely ahead of her.

“He’s my guest. Don’t you understand? It doesn’t matter how far. It doesn’t matter if I have my inn. That’s the kind of [Innkeeper] I am. If he was in another world, it wouldn’t matter. I’d try. I don’t want to have to make it about running an inn. I love being an [Innkeeper]. I will never wish to be a [General] or a [Warrior]. I want to be an [Innkeeper], and he’s my guest. No matter what I have to do or what comes next—that’s why. Do you get it?”

In silence, she shouted at the stupid, obstinate, all-knowing, and young and ancient presence in front of her that was so affronted by her decisions it had done the inviolate.

Once more, she saw it understood and it did not. The lips moved slowly, as if trying to restate what was obvious and find the flaw in impeccable logic. The world was clear to the Grand Design of Isthekenous. It was just mortality that made such odd choices.

“[You would, nevertheless, not do this for just any guest of yours, Erin Solstice.]”

Ah—then she smiled, for it was so hung up on words and definitions. Her anger relented—and she explained what any other [Innkeeper] would know in a heartbeat.

“Yes I would.”


It thought of the world through the eyes of those who held classes. Erin…vaguely remembered that. So she explained it that way.

“My guests are not always my guests. Halrac is a true guest of my inn. He is not…was not my family. But he was no stranger. It does not matter how many I have, Rabbiteater is someone my inn was always meant for. Larracel’s Haven is only meant for a few people. She has served hundreds of thousands. Maybe millions.”

“[Nine hundred thousand, one hundred and seventy-two.]”

“But her Haven was only meant for a few people. Wasn’t it?”

They both knew that was true. Erin went on gently, yet firmly.

“Who are you to tell me how big or small my inn is? Rabbiteater is a guest…and that word is deeper than I can explain. It is the first word I knew him by. What he became, what he is—you have no classes to define the other words, even if you understood them.”

“[I must. I have defined [Lovers] and [Friends]. [Comrades] and [Guests]. I have defined [Acquaintances] and [Innkeepers]. You refuse to change as you must. Your class is caught by your nature. Erin Solstice. Define your class for me that I might understand it. Or be willing to take on a new one.]”

Every eye swung to Erin, and she balked. She took a step back.

“Why can’t you—help me? You’re supposed to know everything. Have my back. I cannot be the first [Innkeeper] to do this. I’m not that special.”

She was so certain of this, the faint smile Veine developed surprised her. And the voice was both pleased, mildly condescending, and…encouraging. Proud.

“[You say so? There have been many [Innkeepers] who reached Level 40. Yet of those who ever mastered magical flames, less than a hundred thousand ever existed. How many were a [Witch] and [Innkeeper]? Seventy-one. How many both freed themselves and others from chains and were [Innkeeper] and [Witch]?]”

A pause.



“[How many have gone to war on the cusp of Level 50, Erin Solstice, for a guest or friend? Eighteen. Each one changed class. Yet each one brought or wished for their inn, abode. Three sailed ships as you do now. In those days, there was no will to change their class. They could have been better rewarded for their triumphs and passions.]”

She realized the voice was…sad. Regretful. Embarrassed. Then, Erin wondered if this was really about her or it. And the voice continued as Dakelos and the Lucifen listened.

“[How many were from another world? Of all the [Innkeepers] there have ever been—only three. You are the first of the three to become a [Witch] and [Innkeeper]. You are the first of Earth. You are the youngest. Of them all, you are the only [Innkeeper] who has ever made war with gods.]”

Her knees felt weak. The voice rolled down on her like thunder, not the words of creation itself, but the voice that must have come after to define each and every thing. The [Innkeeper] replied, her voice rasping.

I will not be the last.

The smile grew wider.

“[Then—help me. You are the first Erin Solstice who has ever been. Just as Viscount Visophecin was the first Lucifen to ever be raised by Agelum out of kindness.]”

Those eyes found the Viscount and he flinched. They swung to Dakelos.

“[Admiral Dakelos is the only man whose Skill has ever failed to call upon the dead. Each and every person has done something unique. I have beheld a multitude of [Necromancers]. How many were titled Duelists of a Walled City? Countless. How many were Human? Far less. How many were both freed [Slaves] and wore the Bell of Challenges? Mere hundreds. Only one [Necromancer] has ever received the Bell of Challenges of Lesegoth and set foot on Terandria, Izril, and Chandrar.]”

It must mean…the [Innkeeper] almost managed a smile.

“They must not have gotten around, then.”

“[The Continent of Glass was in the way. Will you not take another class, Erin Solstice? Is it your will to be an [Innkeeper], despite it all? To your end?]”

She spread her arms, and her eyes were bleak. Erin Solstice looked up at the sky, then down at the will of the world and nodded.

“…Yes. Witness everything I lose and what remains, please. Then tell me what I am. But I believe I am just an [Innkeeper]. Now, get out of my way. I have to go.”

Those eyes blinked once, and a mind considered her statement countless ways in the fractions of time between a moment.

Even so, it took several seconds. Then, at last, those eyes lit up. Lips moved, and something smiled at Erin in a kindly way. With compassion and mercilessness.

For the first time in her life, Erin Solstice understood what it was like when she smiled at Inkar. How had the [Traveller] said it?

A hill smiling at you?

The framework of the world smiled at Erin. It said:


Then it was gone. Erin Solstice felt the rain pouring down again. She jerked—and saw the Lucifen recoil. Ulvama and Dakelos stumbled forwards, but Strategist Veine just bowed to them, a copy of a ghost once more.

“That was—”

Visophecin’s jaw worked, and he saw the [Innkeeper] breathe in. And out.

“It doesn’t matter right now. Let’s go.

A sightless being watched as her ship headed deeper into the storm. [Pirates] overtaking the Terandrian fleet. Roshal trying to catch them from behind. Allies. Enemies.

Everything. It watched and waited, for her to triumph or for those whose side it was on to triumph. And it was on everyone’s side. But at least, if she died—

It understood something of Erin Solstice, at least.





Author’s Note:

This chapter is the first of three parts to the ‘Sea Battle’ as I defined it in my Solstice notes. I wrote it in one sitting, but did not publish this chapter. Instead, I moved onto the epilogue because I felt, and my beta-readers and people giving me feedback, that the entire Solstice, everything, should be done first.

You may read Blog #6 for my reasoning at that time. Know that there are two more parts to this ‘chapter’, and the epilogue. The entire posting is over 120,000 words.

There is nothing to say but to keep reading. I am on break. The ending will be here at whatever pace you choose to read it at.


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