9.70 (Pt. 2) – The Wandering Inn

9.70 (Pt. 2)

“I never knew Aldrail was like that.”

The passing of Plainsblood and Captain Aldrail shook Admiral Maxy a different way. The half-Elf kept her eyes fixed on the ship behind her.

She didn’t want to say it, but part of her thought less of him. That Gnoll had it all in his paws, and that was what he did with it?

His choice. She just didn’t understand it. By the looks of things, all of Plainsblood were leaving. Maxy didn’t get it.

Her crew had spilled blood. They’d stolen fate. Maxy herself had gutted five nobles. And she was still right here. So were almost all of her crew. And did you know why?

Every single Bloodtear Pirate and member of Admiral Seagrass’ crew, and the man himself, had one of those destiny Skills. He must have been visited by the ghost as well.

It still favored her and the higher-level ones, but it was why even the lowest-level Newblood was willing to charge into hellfire. Yet Maxy knew that smiling warrior had not offered her the same Skill as Aldrail.

Not by half. Maxy still wanted to sail after that woman into the great distance. The deck had shook where she walked out of the fog. Like the avatar of battle and the madness the Bloodtear Pirates loved had descended to offer them something.

Potential. The potential, she’d claimed, to shatter every old safeguard and rule. Maxy saw it.

“Admiral. Admiral. I did it.”

Someone had taken a nap. Maxy turned, and one of her crew arose. A Human man scrambling up, hair matted with blood, earrings fresh-looted. His eyes opened wide, and she saw his smile.

“Which Skill was yours?”

For an answer, her crewmate began laughing. Then—when he stood up, something appeared around him, and Maxy raised her brows.

Plate armor. It looked ceremonial and definitely didn’t belong to him. It had the crest of…she thought it was Pheislant?

“Admiral. You’re looking at a [Knight]. Right and proper. I took it! Look at me!

Other members of the crew gathered around as Maxy slapped his shoulder, and the man crowed. He strutted around, and she guessed which Skill he had.

[Seize the Throne: Class by Blood].

“Are you looking to jump off, Arnjef? We could get you to Plainsblood if you want to swim.”

Maxy called out, pursuing a hunch, as she pointed back at the Gnoll ship still untethering from the doomed Taligrit ship. She saw her crewmember turn and hesitate one second as heads came up. But then he grinned and shook his head.

“Now? Admiral. I could still trade up to [Lord].”

“Better not shank a [Lady] then, or I’ll give you a dress and take you out to dinner when the battle’s over.”

The half-Elf replied, fast as a whip, and her crew howled with laughter. She walked down the deck and looked them over. Maybe it was Rosech. He chose people like him. Tulm’s daughter. Aldrail. Idealists who believed in one vision of Bloodtear.

Her people were like Captain Jiupe, Captain Ereiyne the Shipbreaker, or the half-Shark Dovom from the doomed Third Fleet.

Their Skills weren’t there for some highfalutin concept like destiny. Maxy didn’t trust that, even the Skill if she’d received it. The nobles’ destiny was to end up right here, spitted on her sword. What kind of a destiny was that? Even if it was more…abstract, like with Aldrail claiming the right to be born with a silver spoon in his mouth…

No. Her crew had different Skills.

One woman had been hiding away treasures in a chest of holding below decks. Every time she went out and killed someone, anyone, she had more gold and precious jewels, family heirlooms, even artifacts, than she could count.

Looted differently from her victims. Maxy’d had to make a ruling to prevent the crew from fighting over it. You see, it wasn’t from the pockets of some noble or a [Knight].

It was from their vaults. Or homes. There was a [Looter] Skill to end all Skills. Each dead soul plucked a treasure from a bloodline itself. Shame they hadn’t met some of the Five Families, eh?

[Fortune Bleeds].

Others? Maxy knew, after today, they’d be all over her crew. She had an escape plan. Bloodtear might end, but her ship wouldn’t. Some of her crew would leave. Many would have targets on them, but not all. She paused and kicked a Drake preening and muttering in front of a mirror.

“Oi. What’s your name again?”

She knew her command crew by heart, but this Drake’s identity suddenly escaped her. Maxy was ready to stab him in a second; infiltration wasn’t impossible. But the Drake held up his claws as he saw the warning light in her eyes.

“Peace. Peace, Admiral. It’s my new Skill!”

She didn’t whip out a wand and put a hole in his head. Maxy crossed her arms as some of her people followed her.

“Name it.”

“Aw, Admiral—”

“Name it or I’ll get suspicious.”

The Drake hesitated, then gulped. He held up one clawed hand.

“Okay, okay! But not the name, alright? I’ve got to keep it private. After all…[I Left My Name Behind]. Reckon you can call me ‘Rob’ until I leave.”

‘Rob’ grinned with all his teeth, and Maxy stared at him, then threw back her head and laughed.

Rob? That’s the Skill you wanted?”

“Hey. I’m a pragmatist, Maxy. They can hunt me down. It’ll be hard now I’m…well, you don’t even remember what I did, eh?”

That was true, and Maxy kept laughing as her internal sense of danger peaked. She pretended to wave it off and muttered to one of her lieutenants.

“Keep an eye on him. He mighta been my [First Mate] for all I know, or a real bastard.”

She got an affirmative and strode on. Even so, suspicious new identity or not—this was real Bloodtear. Let Rosech claim a new destiny for his son. Maxy lifted her blade and admired her reflection in it.

What did a half-Elf want? She looked herself in the eyes, and she’d had a bit of grey in her hair, which told you how old she was. Old enough to remember Zelkyr kicking around, not that she’d been more than a sprout. Face full of pockmarks from sickness and injuries at sea.

No. For Maxy, she saw a younger half-Elf and grinned. She wanted just two things.

[Siphon Luck]. [Siphon Time].

Her sword raised high into the sky. All a [Pirate] wanted. How much she got, she didn’t know, but you had to be lucky enough to have been born into a noble house, right? She wasn’t about to go after the [Prince] or those damn Golaen giants unless they were weak.

A perfect [Pirate] balanced on the prow of her ship and pointed ahead. Her crew roared and began singing as they aimed into that storm.

“Let’s take their lives, boys and girls. Call out the loveliest ships and let the Newbloods screen us this time. Pull Zoler back. I need my insurance against Tulm in one piece.”

The storm washed over Maxy, and you know what?

She couldn’t stop smiling.




Roshal found Erin Solstice in the storm. How? They must have had a way to track The Naga’s Den.

Slaver-ships sailed with ribbed sails flexing in the wind. Cracking whips forcing oars to pull faster. Teams of [Slaves] led by an armored [Slaver] were being armed with chains and nets.

Or just blades. Crossbows and bows.

Take her alive.

Take her dead.

She would not escape either way. The Masters of Roshal had agreed on that. The ships cut through wave after wave, some smashing headlong into the spraying surf. [Slaves] went overboard, even [Slavers], and no one turned back.

Everything had a value in Roshal, and the greatest quarry was ahead of them. Each ship pushed hard, whips rising and falling and Skills speaking themselves until figures slumped over from heart attacks to catch The Naga’s Den.

The chase still took hours, even when the other vessel was in sight and large in the waters ahead. Minutes would go past filled only with the roar of the weather—then there would be screams, shouts, as the ship exchanged magical fire or arrows landed around the pursuing vessels. Counterattacks, cries to reload, maneuvering as the two ships moved like ungainly beasts in the surf—a swift repositioning of Skills or magic—

Then more waiting. Until the moment the ships unleashed on each other again or one drew close enough to board the other. Then the violence had no end until the two vessels separated and one fell away or sank into the waves.

More shapes in the darkness, more minutes passing by until the next enemy drew out of the storm. That was how they fought, at sea.

That beautiful ship of Emir Yazdil’s was fast—and somewhere, a crew had appeared to give the vessel more speed. It was firing off deck-spells now, making the approach hard. Like smaller fish led by a few sharks of similar size, Roshal closed in on The Naga’s Den, clashing, pulling back—spurred on by the demands of their own lieges.

One ship finally saw the dark hull of The Naga’s Den and the smoke burning off the decks despite the sleeting rain and signaled their approach.

“Kill the rudder.”

The [Captain of Warrants] steered the ship closer herself, sweating as she glared at the [Clandestine Fleshraider] giving the orders. She dared not object, and her ship drew closer—until an explosion made her flinch.

“Was that a [Fireball]?”

Another one blew up, but she didn’t see it. [Invisible Fireballs]?

“Keep going or I’ll put you in a collar myself. All three ships—all ahead, now! Charge!

The damn idiot treated this like some kind of land battle. Charge? The [Captain] drove her ship ahead as two more ships moved out of the waves. At least they gave the [Mages] more targets.

She’s already locked in combat with two more ships! Now’s the time! [Slaves]—freedom to the first one to put a collar on Erin Solstice’s neck!

One of the [Slavemasters] ready to board the ship screamed, and the deck moved with desperation and excitement. The [Captain] turned her head right and left, trying to anticipate more spells, but flashes from both sides of The Naga’s Den proved she was fighting against multiple ships.

Five ships on the [Innkeeper], and Roshal was having trouble bringing her in. Was she that good at fighting? What the hell were those glowing figures? Wait—the [Captain]’s eyes darted sideways.

More reinforcements. A sixth ship came barreling out of the surf, and the [Captain] relaxed a hair—then tensed up.

Ship to port! That’s not one of ours! It’s a Drowned Ship!

A glowing shield proved that. It was fast—and the [Raider] whirled uneasily.

“It’s barely sixty-man. Ignore it.”

“It’s turning towards us—”

The three ships of Roshal advancing on The Naga’s Den from the rear saw that Drowned Ship curving, moving at a perpendicular angle across from them. Any doubts the [Captain of Warrants] had about whether it was friendly or not were dispelled.

Destroy that ship!

No one needed second orders. A prow-mounted harpoon exploded, and someone fired a [Lightning Bolt] spell from a second ship. The shield around the Drowned Ship wavered—then popped like a bubble as a shower of arrows hit it. Instantly, the Drowned Ship tried to juke and evade more fire.

“That’s no warship. What are they playing at?”

It was still drawing closer. And the [Captain] realized while the small crew were rushing around, trying to take cover—there were six figures on the railings that drew the eye. They weren’t moving.

Her eyes narrowed. She saw, through the flashes of lightning and the rain washing across the narrowing gap, obscuring and revealing the world in slow washes of color—a familiar set of faces.

At least for some. Her hands went slack on the wheel a second.

Isn’t that the [Necromancer]? The Antinium—

Then her eyes fell on a smiling face, and she recognized a Named-rank adventurer; her heart leapt as she saw a species she’d never laid eyes on before: a half-Goat.

I want her.

It was one team of adventurers. No question why they were here, but her crew—the [Captain] turned to grin at the [Raider].

“More spoils, eh?”

She didn’t get a response. The [Fleshraider] was staring at one of the Horns of Hammerad—and his face had gone white.

“That’s Colthei the Demon. The Naga’s killer. I thought he was—”

Then the [Captain] swung her eyes back to the Drowned Ship and realized they were getting closer. She snapped.

Get ready! Capture them! Kill ‘em if you have to. There’s only six of them!




“Three ships. Six of us. Two for each.”

Ksmvr doubted Captain Ceria’s math. Each ship of Roshal had to have at least a hundred fighting soldiers on it. They weren’t full warships, but—

“Don’t be stupid, Ceria.”

Yvlon snapped at the half-Elf. Ceria Springwalker adjusted her circlet and glanced at Yvlon.

“Right. Sorry. Pisces. Colth. Take that one on the left. Yvlon, Ksmvr, make sure Vofea doesn’t get in over her head. Take the one down the middle. I’ll take the far right.”

The [Armsmistress] gave Ceria a nod.

“Thank you.”

The Drowned Captain’s head was swiveling between the Horns as the ship rocked from explosions battering the hull. Colth and Pisces were silent. Every tendon on Colth’s neck was standing out, and Ksmvr saw Pisces’ eyes were locked on the crew of one of the ships. Ksmvr could see collars and chains on some.

“That ship’s got a net specialist. Watch it, Captain. No Djinni, though.”

Colth turned to Ceria as he studied ‘her’ ship. The half-Elf nodded, adjusted the circlet on her head, and hooked one leg over the side of the ship.

“I’m going.”

Vofea was staring at Ceria and the ships ahead of her. Faerie or not, she seemed to have a grasp of numbers and how the math wasn’t adding up.

“Wh—is this normal, Ksmvr?”

“No. Act like you know what you’re doing. Rookie. We’re going to save Erin Solstice. No one dies. No one dies.

Ksmvr could see the condition of the other Horns, one by one, as he cycled through them. Most were in good shape. They were all tired from their trip through the Crossroads. Pisces was breathing too hard. Yvlon was in the peak of health, and—and they looked at him, and Pisces smiled. Ceria turned to face them as the waters roared below the ship.

“No one dies. That’s an order. Don’t go charging into danger, Yvlon. Colth, Pisces, do something smart. Ksmvr, you can’t swim. Stop him from jumping and stay with Ksmvr, Vofea. Link up and then get to The Naga’s Den. Three ships. I’ll keep mine busy long as I can.”

The [Captain] opened his mouth, but there was no time.

The half-Elf leapt off the railing as a bolt of lightning flashed across the bow of the ship. Ksmvr cried out.


He saw her plunge towards the dark waters, and the [Captain] shouted.

Landfolk overboard! Throw a line!

He swung the ship wide so he didn’t drag her under. A Drowned [Sailor] grabbed a line of rope, strode to the railing—and stopped. Then Ksmvr saw a story he knew.

Once upon a time, in these very waters, there had been an [Ice Mage]. A master of Wistram.

Illphres. Ksmvr knew the story by heart.

A tale from Ceria’s Wistram days. Two young [Mages]. A silly half-Elf, a shy young man with a rapier.

Ceria Springwalker was standing on a floating patch of ice. An iceberg…no. An iceberg was different. This was one of the waves—just frozen. Pale ice glinting, droplets clattering to the ground as she slipped—windmilled her arms—then swore and looked up.

“Dead gods. It does work. Here I go.”

Then, before Ksmvr’s astonished eyes, Ceria pushed herself off the ground and began skating forwards. The ice crept over the water ahead of her and cracked ominously—she threw out her arms, and ice flashed across the water.

Ice magic. The [Cryomancer] was unsteady, slipping—then she looked up and caught Pisces’ eyes. The [Necromancer] looked down at her, wide-eyed, and for a second, Ceria beamed up at him with tears in her eyes.

“Wish me luck.”

Without a word, the [Necromancer] lifted his rapier, and a bell flashed. The half-Elf looked at him, then began skating across the ice. Faster, now, surefooted. She opened her arms, leapt over a breaking wave, and landed, the water freezing a second before her feet hit it.

Faster and faster, like Ksmvr had only seen once before. Not the clumsier Ceria, but a half-Elf, skating on one foot, arms spread and laughing crazily.

[Mischief Skill: Wings Upon Ice]. A [Prankster]—no.

Her circlet was glowing and her eyes were shining as she shot across the ocean towards a ship that spotted her and pulled away, surprised.

Illphres’ disciple. An old story.

Then—Ksmvr felt someone shove him, and he went sprawling a second before a rain of arrows hit the deck. Vofea picked him up, and Yvlon pulled an arrow out of the railing in front of her as Colth and Pisces got up. The Satyr grinned as Yvlon nodded at her with a faint smile.

“Saw it coming. What about us?”

The [Armsmistress] pointed.

“Middle ship. Colth, Pisces—”

Take us close enough to board those bastards on the port side, Captain!

Now, Colth was shouting, and Ksmvr saw six Skeleton Champions adjusting their skulls and watching the other oncoming ship. Pisces looked at Ksmvr, and the Antinium’s head turned towards The Naga’s Den.

They put Erin in a collar. Just like Pisces.

He was terribly afraid. He did not want his team to die. Across the waters, he saw the trail of ice Ceria had left breaking apart. Yet he saw her skating across the water, dodging a bolt of lightning, and a lance of ice hit the ship ahead of her.

“She’s doing better than I thought. [Cryomancers] and water. Ksmvr. Got any [Teammate] words?”

Colth was looking at him, and Ksmvr glanced once more to the ship, at his friends—and put his fear of death behind him. He stood, swaying, as Yvlon tensed, and he saw a ship angling away from theirs. They were drawing close, and the Horns took cover as arrows and spells rattled off the hull of the Drowned Ship, and the [Captain] shouted in pain.

Ksmvr’s voice was loud in his ears, a shout drowning out his fears.

Let those who hold chains beware. Yvlon, with me. [Coordinated Action: Safe Boarding]! Vofea, hit them from afar!”

Three Horns burst from cover as the two ships neared each other. No gangplank; Ksmvr saw an eight foot gap and leapt into the rain, heart beating out of his chest.

I have a Ring of Waterbreathing. 

I can’t swim.

He didn’t activate his cloak; he needed to distract the [Slavers]. Vofea rose, and Ksmvr saw her posing in a flash of light, whirling a new weapon.

She had a sling of all things. A giant damn sling, and she cracked a stone across the deck and hit someone. Ksmvr fell like a comet towards the decks and saw enemies everywhere.

This is insane—

[Silver Whirlwind]. Descent of the Waterfall.

His swords blocked two arrows and a spell and cut through a [Slavemaster]’s helmet on the way down. Oh, it wasn’t enchanted—

Ksmvr’s sword slashed through a second head, halted when he saw a collared [Slave], and he heard a thump—then, amidst the roar of the storm, a splash.

Yvlon had tripped. It had saved her from jumping into a hail of bolts, but—Ksmvr whirled his blade and slapped a [Slave]’s head, slashed across a third chest, and heard Colth shouting.

“Ksmvr! Turn us around! Turn—”

No. Ksmvr was alone on the decks. He screeched as he saw the [Captain] whirl to him, face pale. [Slavers] and [Slaves]. The Antinium crossed his blades. He strode forward, and the [Captain] pointed at him.

“[Get off My Ship].”


Something picked Ksmvr up and hurled him off the ship. Then he was flailing, trying to stop—

The water was dark and deep.





His friend and teammate vanished into the water, and Pisces couldn’t see where he was after a moment. He could—could he float?

Take us around!

The Drowned Captain whirled the ship again as more arrows sang over the side of the vessel. Pisces was half over the railing when Colth seized him.

Let the Drowned Folk grab him! [Captain]! Get Ksmvr—now! Pisces, we have to storm that third ship or they’ll kill us!”

The third ship was coming, but Ksmvr—Pisces saw a floundering figure in the water for a second, then he vanished, and Pisces couldn’t even see ripples. Yvlon was struggling towards her ship. But Ksmvr was—

Vofea whirled another stone out of the sling she had made out of some cloth and stared at the Drowned Captain incredulously. She pointed, her finger moving left from where Pisces was standing at.

“He’s right there, idjit! Can’t you see him, you half-wit?”

The [Captain] bawled back, outraged. His eyes flashed over the water and then up to the Satyr incredulously.

“What? Who can see a thing in this storm? Someone has to dive in and get—”

Then he saw Vofea pointing unerringly at—the Satyr looked at Pisces, and the [Necromancer] snapped.

Get Ksmvr! Grab Yvlon and take that ship on!”

“Got it!”

She tucked the sling into her side, took two running steps down the side of the ship—then leapt over the railings. Pisces saw the Satyr vanish into the water and cursed.

“That wasn’t—”

He turned to Colth, but the [Supporter] pointed ahead, and the [Necromancer] heard his raised voice.

“Trust your team, Pisces. We’re taking that ship. Let’s go.”

The highest-level member of the Horns and their third Level 40+ member turned, and the last ship was coming straight at them. The [Captain] was swearing as his ship, Worldrider, shook.

“There’s too many!”

“Turn this ship and I will shoot you.”

Colth had a crossbow aimed at the Drowned Man’s face. Pisces saw a line of warriors ready to jump as the two ships neared. Colth looked at Pisces, and the Skeleton Champions stirred as the crew of Worldrider braced for impact and boarding.

“Just like that inn. Ready?”

The [Necromancer] nodded. Then, as the two ships collided, he put his faith in his team. When he stood, the [Necromancer of Reclaimed Grandeur] turned.

A figure in white robes in the middle of red rains. A line of skeletons, glowing flames in eye sockets. A laugh like a Demon from a smiling man with twin blades. The [Necromancer] saluted them. Not the [Slavers]—the ones in chains.

The [Slavers] of Roshal knew those two. But the [Slavers] did not know them.

The Slavers of Roshal poured onto the Drowned Ship, attacking the Drowned Folk, who fought desperately, outnumbered, as Colth the Supporter leapt forwards with the Skeleton Champions.

A roaring [Slave] with a greatclub smashed forwards, knocking a [Sailor] off their feet. Muscle and brawn, six foot six—a Minotaur-sized man struck forwards. He hammered the club into a Skeleton Champion—and the undead skidded backwards across the deck.

Caught itself.

Advanced with a lunge that buried the tip of its shortsword into the chest of the half-naked [Slave]. A [Slaver] bashed it with a mace, and the skeleton’s head didn’t cave in. It twisted, slammed a shield into the face of the [Slave], and drew the sword across the [Slaver]’s neck.

A spray of blood; the skeleton flicked its sword up, deflecting a thrust from a screaming [Slave] with a simple spear, and then rammed into the bigger [Slave].

Grunting, the man tried to shove it back, but the deck was slippery, and it was—strong. He saw two burning green flames and a strength he had never felt in an undead.

Six Skeleton Champions fought, ignoring blows that would have killed the living as the attack on the Drowned Ship’s decks halted. Not just from them; the Drowned Folk turned the deck slippery as butter, and the [Captain] tilted his ship, sending the intruders sprawling.

But the [Supporter] was the one who leapt on the first [Slavers], blades carving, stabbing through an eye socket, wrenching a sword through a guard and slashing.

The Ultimate Supporter, Colthei. His hand flickered, and he shot a crossbow bolt, which blew a cluster of people to bits. He caught a [Slave]’s blade.


Kicked the screaming figure into the waves. His sword thrust through a [Slavemaster]’s heart—




Second wave! Advance!

The two ships were locked together, and the boarding ramps slammed down as the [Slaver Captain] saw the damn undead fighting—he’d never seen skeletons fight like that. They were advancing, one of them with a duelist’s sword elegantly riposting a clumsy attack and running the assailant through.

They fought like Silver-rank adventurers. And they had no fear nor flesh to bleed. The [Slaver Captain] was so busy pointing at Colth and demanding his crew keep him off the ship that he forgot to check for the [Necromancer].

Wait, where was he? The [Captain] realized the scrum on the Drowned Ship…he tried to pick out a white robe. Where—?

Watch out, Master!

A [Loyal Slave] shrieked, and he saw rain bouncing off an invisible shape coming up the gangplank just in time. The [Captain] recoiled, and a [Shatterbolt] struck one of his bodyguards and snapped every bone in the Stitch-man’s cloth face.

“Take him alive!”

The [Captain] backpedaled, drawing his own saber as the [Necromancer] appeared and lunged. Up his blade came in a piercing blow that the [Captain] deflected.

[Swordmaster’s Denial]! [Corkscrew Stab]!”

The [Necromancer] hadn’t expected that. Pisces Jealnet saw a twisting stab coming at him. Just like the King of Duels himself! The [Captain] had paid a small fortune to buy the Skill from Lailight Scintillation—

The [Necromancer] backstepped as the Skill flashed towards him. He adjusted his distance, then a glowing tail materialized out of his robes in a moment. It shivered across the deck, and his rapier flicked the Skill aside with a snap in the air.

The [Captain] stumbled. Wide-eyed, he tried to get his guard back, forgetting his limited sword training as he searched for another Skill—

[Sword Art: Joveln’s Parry]. Pisces whirled, and the [Captain]’s head came clean off his body as Pisces’ rapier extended, a tip of bone cleaving the neck from the rain-soaked doublet. The [Captain]’s guards stared as the head fell to the decks.



The [Necromancer] spoke as he fired an arrow of light into the back of one of the warriors pivoting belatedly to face him. And the [Captain]’s swaying corpse began swinging its sword around blindly. Dead bodies on the Drowned Ship jerked and began to stand.

That was what Colth had been waiting for. The Ultimate Supporter had been fighting with the Skeleton Champions, and as zombies and Ghouls rose, he slammed his swords together with a ringing sound.

“All forces! [Reckless Charge]! You—[Elusive Footwork]. Kill those archers! [Mark Target]!

The undead surged up the ranks as some of the Drowned Sailors almost followed Colth before catching themselves. The [Supporter]’s eyes gleamed like a [Tactician]’s, and he designated a Skeleton Champion with a greatsword.

It hurtled up the ramps as Colth followed it into the fray, but the swords clanging off its armor and the massed bodies failed to stop the champion, who shoved and shouldered aside bodies and passed the frontlines.

Heading straight for the [Archers]. Colth hurtled onto the decks and saw Pisces [Flash Stepping] backwards, fighting a cluster of attackers. The undead kept rising. Colth was laughing, and—as the ship became a melee, he opened his mouth and howled.

[Intimidating Bellow].

Half the warriors turned to him instinctively, and Colth drove forwards. Dead rising.

Roshal always thought they were so clever. As the [Necromancer] pivoted away from his attackers, one threw out a hand.

“[Leash the Slave]!”

A collar of black metal shot out and caught him by the neck. The young man fought wildly as they tried to pull him over, and a laughing [Slaver] pulled, the collar sapping Pisces’ magic and Skills.

Colth thrust the broken Brand of Roshal into the [Slaver]’s face and pressed until he felt flesh bubbling, and the hand let go of the collar. Then Colth saw Pisces stumble, and it vanished as the [Slaver] dropped.

Never again. The two were back to back, and the fools of Roshal had made a mistake, because Pisces’ sword slashed like Colth’s blades, now propelled by a hatred and wrath that Roshal could never match. Colth severed the chains of a woman and saw her turn the spear she held and run it through her captor’s guts.

We will always have allies. You have none. 

Pisces flung a hand wide, and an arc of magic beheaded a dozen [Slavers]. Colth had his back. The [Supporter] smiled like a Demon. He locked eyes with a [Slaver] and saw the fear in those eyes before he gouged one out.




Ceria didn’t see Yvlon and Ksmvr on the second ship. Had something gone wrong? 

She didn’t know. She could barely devote the brainpower to it. She was gliding along the waves, hopping over the crests, ducking low—arrows and spells hit the water around her, even at max speed.

How did Illphres do this? She remembered the [Cryomancer] sawing an entire ship in half. She wasn’t Level 40 yet—but she had the circlet.

“[Ice Lance]! [Ice Lance]! [Frost Arrows]! [Frost Bloom]!”

Two shuddering impacts sent the ship veering away from her, and arrows and an explosion of ice made the defenders take cover. Ceria skimmed alongside the ship, hearing shrieks as her ice spell froze skin solid.

Sorry, [Slaves]. She couldn’t tell who was who in this rain. No time for mercy. Ceria did a flying leap like a professional ice skater over a wave, laughing—

A bolt of lightning blew her into the water. The crew aboard the slaver-ship cheered—until a half-Elf pulled herself out of the water and resumed skating, no longer parallel but circling the enemy ship, dodging erratically.

Move faster, you idiot! Fight like an adventurer, not a Wistram [Mage]!

Ceria’s ears were ringing, and her skin was scorched. The only thing that had saved her was an [Ice Armor] spell; she thought pieces of the ice were buried in her flesh from the force of the impact.

Had she cast it or the circlet?

We’re both dead if you don’t help out. Ceria stared at the ship. Think—think—

She froze a wave and slid under it as pieces of it blew apart. Use cover. The rolling waves were perfect, but she was burning ice magic, and she didn’t have a single-target Tier 5 offensive spell like Illphres. Ships.

Ceria peeked up, and her eyes narrowed. She drew on her [Aura of Rime] and focused.

The enemy ship was circling her, trying to get a good line of sight, but the helm began moving sluggishly as the [Cryomancer] moved out of range of it. The [Helmsman] didn’t understand why—until someone shouted in horror.

The rudder was frozen up! Now, the half-Elf was moving out of the way of the broadsides from the hull spells, and she was casting no more [Ice Lances]. A shower of [Frost Arrows] hit some of the [Archers] trying to tag her—but her real magic was concentrated on the ship’s hull. The horrified [Captain] looked over and shrieked.

Flame spells! Chip it away! Get rid of—

Ice was growing all over the portside bow.




“[Ice Wall]. [Ice Wall]. Come on—

Everything in cryomancy was just ice and shape. Ceria was panting as a layer of ice grew on the ship’s left side and thickened. Come on!

Frantic figures were fighting the ice, but the [Slavers] were fighting an [Ice Mage] with a magic relic in the middle of a storm at sea. The ice kept growing, and Ceria screamed.

Come on, capsize! Roll, you stupid tub of wood!

The ice grew heavier and heavier, and Skills or not—there was only so much weight a ship could take before the structure itself broke under the strain. Ceria saw the ship listing. Then—it happened.

The hull along the port side didn’t pull the ship over. Rather—it just snapped off. Wood went tearing away, weighed down by the sheets of ice, and Ceria saw water rushing into the ship. The vessel began to wallow—then sink.

“Good enough.”

Then Ceria was spinning away, searching for Yvlon, Ksmvr, and Vofea’s target—she saw a ship with death magic covering it and began skating towards them.




“Harbors offer me safety and hull hold beneath my feet—”

A prayer from trembling lips. The [Captain] of the only ship not under attack lowered a spyglass as she saw one of her sister ships sinking. That [Ice Mage]—

“Take us away from the half-Elf!”

The [Fleshraider] had seen it too. The [Captain] pulled away, but she pointed out the obvious.

The Pretty Collar is under siege. Do we help them?”

Undead were fighting across the decks! It was a horde! The [Fleshraider] stared at the ship, and the [Captain] realized he feared Colth the Supporter.

“—The Naga’s Den is our target. Take us ahead—unless anyone’s seen the Antinium?”

“Drowned, likely. I saw that goat-woman in the water. The Drowned Ship’s swinging around—”

“That. Take the Drowned Ship.”

The [Slaver] focused on the ship, and the [Captain] hesitated.

“They’re from Nombernaught. Are you sure? The Drowned Folk—”

“They attacked us. Get ready to board!

Orders were orders. The [Captain] didn’t relish trading anywhere around Izril after this, but she was swinging the ship around on an intercept course and hoping The Pretty Collar fought off the other Horns.

They were too damn high-level. What was that, Level 40? Level 30s didn’t fight like that. The [Captain] knew it would avail them little. Roshal would never let anyone win.

They’ll scuttle The Pretty Collar before those fools take it. That was doctrine. She cast her eyes over the decks of The Pretty Collar and thought the other ship was already low to the water.

Her ship was ringing with [Slavers]’ voices. Clanging metal as [Slavers] banged weapons against shields and raised excited shouts.

The crack of whips. Distantly, the dull thumping and fantastical sound of magic itself. A howling storm—and the creak of metal as a single silver hand crushed the metal railing slightly.

The [Captain]’s head turned as a figure pulled themself onto the deck. Yvlon Byres was drenched, dripping, and panting.

She didn’t swim well anymore. She wasn’t a bad swimmer and had learned to swim even with armor on—but her arms were too heavy.


She looked around and saw no one from her team. The nearest people to Yvlon were a row of people in chains, hauling on some oars. Oars of all things. They were huge, and for a ship this size…

She saw eyes fix on her, but the oars dipped down and came up ceaselessly. A whip was cracking, and blood was running from one open cheek.

The [Slaver] holding the whip turned their head and saw Yvlon Byres. The [Armsmistress] breathed in and out and saw a cloth face of silk change from impatience and anger to slack stupefaction.

Then a horror. Yvlon saw a finger point at her and a mouth choke on words. She pointed a finger back. Hers extended, and she felt the tip of her finger puncture flesh and bone—then soft tissue again.

Pssk. Such a soft sound. Yvlon saw the [Slaver] sag, and the tip of her finger exited their skull. For a second, he hung there, then began to slide off the razor of metal. Yvlon’s finger withdrew, and she saw two brown eyes staring up at her. A disheveled head of hair. A glowing collar.

Faces behind the first [Slave]. The oars slowing. A sound from the main deck where a [Captain] stood behind a wheel. Lots of people with blades.

Yvlon Byres slowly nodded to the [Slave] whose eyes she’d met. Then she stood.

“[Aspect of Iron]. [Armform: Razorkind].”

She drew a sword. Her right foot shifted from mimicking a boot and became clawed toes that dug into the slick boards of the ship for purchase.

The deck had noticed her now. The Silver Killer of Chandrar looked around. She was calm. Someone shot an arrow at her, and it bounced off her armor. Tactics.

She charged.




Get her off my ship! Get off my ship! [Get Off My—]

It didn’t work twice. The woman was too damn heavy—and when the Skill picked her up, she dug one arm into the ship, and it turned into spikes, anchoring her until she fell back to the ground and kept running.

Arms turning into spikes. She brought her fist down and caved in a head.

“The [Slaves]! Send the [Slaves] forwards and surround her! Chain spells! Chain spells, fools! She’s just a [Warrior]!

The [Fleshraider] knew what to do. The [Armsmistress] hesitated as a wave of screaming [Slaves] ran at her, collars burning. But she just covered her face and bulled forwards, ignoring the blades that snapped on her metal skin.

That has to be a Skill. It’ll run out—the woman was dangerous, and she punched through another [Slaver]’s chest in an explosion of red—but the flinching [Captain] was surrounded by protection. The ship was full of warriors. Any second now, the Silver Killer’s Skill would run out and they’d have her.

The Silver Killer looked around as blows rained down on her. One tore open the metal on her cheek, proving she could be wounded, and red leaked over iron. She whirled—and then charged down the steps into the bowels of the ship.

After her! After her!

The [Fleshraider] screamed, and the Slavers of Roshal poured after the woman, and the shouting muffled as they headed belowdecks. The [Captain] demanded answers from her speaking stone, but she only heard a frenzy of voices.

Box her in! C-collar—

Stop her! Stop her! [Forwards, Slaves]—keep from—”

Get back! Get—

Then the [Captain] heard a shriek, a scream that rose higher and higher until it grew so high-pitched she snatched the speaking stone and threw it onto the deck.

The shrieking continued and then stopped—then there was a sound. It sounded like something hitting a piece of flesh with a mallet. A whimper—

More screaming—

The [Captain] smashed the speaking stone with her boot after a minute. She ordered more [Warriors] below as her ship swung around, no longer chasing the Drowned Ship. She looked around. For help. The Naga’s Den was too far away, and she couldn’t tell if the other two ships had taken it yet. And The Pretty Collar was—


The [Captain] stared at the ship. She could see fighting on the deck, but several figures were leaping into the surf. Two ships of Roshal. Maybe not warships, but two ships were down from a single adventuring team.

“Do we pick up survivors, Master?”

One of her [Slaves] asked, and the [Captain] licked her lips. The adventurers were still on the ship.

“Find out whether they’ve captured the Silver K—Yvlon Byres yet. Someone get me a new speaking stone and signal our allies!”

Her eyes were locked on the doomed ship, watching it go under. Adventurers or no, they’d be helpless in the waters without a vessel. The Drowned Ship was turning, and now the [Captain] decided they should die after all. She was aiming at them a second time when something…wrong happened.

The doomed vessel had been well and truly scuttled. The fighting had torn holes in the sails, and Roshal had blown multiple holes in the hull to deny it from the Horns of Hammerad. It was almost completely under, and the deck was covered with water, when the downwards momentum halted.

—Then it began to rise upwards.

The [Captain]’s eyes refocused on the ship. She saw it shiver—the broken hull began re-knitting, and green magic flashed across the bow.

“Fables of Chandrar. What is…what is that?

The ship rose from the surf. Not repaired—the wood that patched the holes was leaking badly, and in places, the patching wasn’t even complete. But green magic licked around the openings, and the hull was…glowing…

Then the [Captain] saw undead moving across the deck. Undead—and the sail full of holes turned, and she realized what it was.

An undead ship turned towards her, and she swung around, terror vanishing any ideas of fighting. They had to get out of here.

In her panic, the [Captain of Warrants] had forgotten all about Yvlon Byres for a second. She had heard nothing below for a few minutes and assumed she’d been captured and they were dragging her above or having some fun. But in the silence on deck as people saw the undead ship—the [Captain] heard the faintest sound from below.

It was a muffled, tiny, screaming sound. The [Captain]’s skin froze over. Was she still down there? Fighting? There were narrow corridors, and if sh—

Silversteel spikes erupted out of the floorboards from below, piercing the deck just below the [Captain]’s feet. The woman screamed and danced away from the spikes, which withdrew back down below the deck. They had been the woman’s metal arms—covered in blood—

“Get down there and bring her down!

The [Captain] screamed at the rest of the warriors on deck. The [Fleshraider] was gone—but the other [Slavers] looked at her and didn’t move.

They hesitated. Some pushed [Slaves] down, but the white-faced [Slaves] themselves froze. The [Captain] shouted again.

Kill her! Go down and—

A squad headed below, and everyone waited. There were muffled sounds, drowned out by the roaring storm again. The [Captain] listened, but then there was si—


The faintest reverberation. Silence. She was white knuckling the ship’s wheel, so much so that she didn’t even pay attention to her course. When she saw the Drowned Ship coming her way and the Antinium—




This time, Ksmvr just shot the [Captain]. His [Aggregate Volley] tore up the ship’s wheel, and he regretted that. They had promised to commandeer a ship rather than put the Drowned Folk in danger.

“Vofea, stay here! I am going to back up Yvlon!”

“I’ll come—”

Ksmvr pointed, and she began whirling her sling as he timed his jump and leapt aboard the other ship. This time, he didn’t miss or face instant ejection.

Crew, get ready to board!

The Drowned Captain was prepared to back him up. The smaller crew raised their blades as they grabbed gangplanks—but the deck didn’t have much resistance on it. As the Drowned Captain prepared to charge himself, Ksmvr heard screams.

From belowdecks? He turned, ready for—

A [Slaver] burst from below, running—until a thrown spear pinned them onto the deck like a shrieking insect. The [Slaver] fell over, and a bunch of freed [Slaves] surged out of the belowdecks, hacking at their retreating captors. Their slave collars, cheaper than Erin’s or Pisces’, were broken.


Ksmvr charged towards the stairs, but he slowed, and the Drowned Folk halted. The remaining [Slavers] on deck were backing away as a figure emerged from the depths of the ship.

Yvlon Byres stepped onto the deck, and water washed some of her skin clean. She wiped at her head, but that just smeared more red everywhere. She had…flesh…on her arms.

The woman was panting, faint wounds on her arms and legs, even the silvermetal. But when she saw Ksmvr, she burst into a relieved smile. Yvlon took a step, kicked something wet off her foot, and looked around for something else to kill.

One of the [Slavers] leapt over the side of the ship, and Ksmvr stared at the Silver Killer of Chandrar as the Drowned Captain blanched. Yvlon Byres exhaled.

“Where’s Colth and Pisces? Ceria? I freed all the [Slaves] belowdecks.”

“The [Slavers]?”

“I got most of them. Whew. You alright, Ksmvr?”

Why was he looking at her like—Yvlon glanced down and realized she had changed colors. She was mostly red, despite the rain pelting her. The water ran over the deck, and Yvlon glanced up and then back downstairs. She gave her beloved Antinium teammate a sheepish smile.

“I lost my temper there for a second.”




Three ships had gone silent. One more had broken away from The Naga’s Den, claiming it was crewed by summoned spirits that had butchered their fighters.

Unacceptable. The Naga would have them all skinned or collared. Or both.

The Raven Key was heading across the waves with Mercy’s Gift when they spotted one of the lost ships.

“…That’s not the Drowned Ship we saw heading away. She looks damaged. Are those holes in her side? It’s glowing—”

Then they saw them.

The Horns of Hammerad.

Ceria Springwalker was surrounded by ice, sitting on a frozen throne as she took a rest on the deck. Undead were lined up—hundreds of them. As well as—freed [Slaves].

The two Roshal ships swung about, outraged but unnerved. An Antinium was already taking shots at them with a crossbow, and someone was throwing rocks from a sling. A woman with metal arms and the famous [Necromancer] were standing silent on the side by the railing.

Watching them.

“It’s just one Gold-rank team…”

Someone said that and didn’t finish the sentence. The sixth member of the Horns of Hammerad, Colthei, stood by his team. The storm was growing worse. Great waves of red were rising and falling, like they were all drawn towards the heart of the storm.

The Naga’s Den and a distant figure that drew the eyes of all the Horns of Hammerad.

Then they looked ahead as the Slavers of Roshal stared down the undead. The crazy eyes of Chandrar’s Silver Killer. Glittering blades. The stare of the fae, and a sword whose bell made nary a sound. A smile from a half-Elf, whose circlet whispered to her ears alone.

And Colthei? Colthei raised his voice and called out to them. His voice was pitched high and rang so loudly that even the meanest [Slaver] heard it over the thunder of wave and surf. His voice was, at first, proud and noble, and his address was enunciated.

Unto a [Caller] or a [Herald], for the [Supporter] had many talents.

This day, we commend the souls of the fallen to the Hundred Heroes of Terandria! Let all those of valor who perish not be forgotten but laid to rest before their own as champions, regardless of nation or heritage! We are the Horns of Hammerad, and we give battle to you, the Slavers of Roshal, in the name of Erin Solstice and freedom. Come before us with honor and the will to arms, ye champions of Lailight Scintillation, what scant of it you possess. All chains will be broken. The seas shall be your grave. You will be hunted down like you deserve until the last [Slaver] is scoured from the world’s face. Death. Flee, craven dogs. Till we rip out your insides and let you choke on your own bile and blood. Die screaming. Death, death, death—”

His voice kept growing louder until weaker-willed [Slavers] clapped their hands to their ears, removing their helmets to shield themselves from the voice, cowering in terror.

[Doomsayer]. The [Supporter] kept screaming as the two ships tried to pull away. But the Horns of Hammerad were coming at them—and even the distant [Innkeeper] looked back and felt it.




“The Horns of Hammerad? Why—why now? Go away. Please.”

The [Innkeeper] saw them coming, and her eyes opened wide. She tried to turn away, but the wheel was in her hands, and it slowly turned back ahead.

What did you see? 

A [Pirate] ship hunting the waters for Ser Solstice and the Calanferians was closing on Throne’s Will when they saw an unfamiliar ship break through the waters. At first, they stared—then laughed.

Damned if they were by every nation—there were few destinies they wanted among Roshal. But there was never a bad day to kill [Slavers].

Let’s have some sport before we move onto the main course, boys! Looks like she’s under-crewed!

Captain Jiupe of Blood-By-Tide was pointing her arm and one of her jellyfish stingers ahead as her crew cheered. They had plundered fate itself and were hungry for more. Why stop at one destiny when you could have more?

The Drowned Woman stopped when she realized the ship was famous.

“Dead gods, Cap’n. That’s The Naga’s Den. We don’t want to piss off the Naga himself, even now.”

A nervous crewmember spoke up, but the [Captain] narrowed her eyes.

“Shut up. That…there should be Djinni on his ship and hundreds of deckhands. What’s he doing in the storm? Hunting for [Slaves] from either side? Wait—who’s that? Is that—who I think it is?”

Every eye pointed to a single figure on deck, and someone trained a spyglass on the figure.

“Can’t be.”

“It is.”

“There’s a destiny. Captain—you think—?”

All about. After that ship. Now!

Suddenly, Jiupe was excited again. She didn’t know how or why, but she doubted the Naga would turn his ship over to just anyone. But she’d spotted noblefolk on the deck; someone was searching for info, but the person who’d caught Jiupe’s eye was proper famous.

And she had a destiny…Jiupe looked again, and there was no mistake.

“Erin Solstice. Someone tell Maxy. No, wait. Tell her after we’re on our way.”

Maxy herself might come calling for this. And Jiupe…licked her lips. It was the [Innkeeper] who seemed to attract chaos. Dubious fate, but she’d come back from the dead, they said. She was a [Queen], a friend to multiple species, courted by a Wall Lord—

If even half the things they said of her were true, it was a fate Jiupe herself wanted. There she was, in the storm. The Drowned Captain began to smile, a predator’s grin…when she noticed something was off.

It was the [Innkeeper]. She had all the signs. Not just her face, but she was in the company of a Hobgoblin—and she had a damn aura that felt like an inn at sea. Jiupe’s own aura was strong enough to feel Erin’s. The [Innkeeper]’s presence was huge, covering her entire ship.

But mostly—it was the hat. A flaming hat on her head, proper style even for a [Pirate]. Though now Jiupe looked again, she wondered if all her informants and news sources were pulling her leg.

“Strange. ‘S it supposed to be…pink?”

She’d always imagined the hat to be more like a multicolored flame, something artful or maybe a rainbow of colors. This—this was a bright pink flame. And it was spiky.

No, wait. Jiupe magnified the spyglass and realized what was off.

That’s not her hat. That’s her hair. Her hair was on fire. It was blazing, a hairstyle of its own, rising from the [Innkeeper]’s head, and her face was grim and bloody.

Her eyes were staring ahead through the storm—until they turned—and met Jiupe’s through the spyglass.

The [Captain] dropped the spyglass as if it were suddenly burning. She cursed as it rolled down the deck.

“Captain, looks like there’s some kind of summoned crew on deck. And an informant just whistled—that [Innkeeper] escaped Roshal! They’ve been after her, and there’s a bounty for her alive or dead!”

One of her crew reported excitedly. Rosiere, one of Jiupe’s [Pirates], licked his lips as the Drowned Man continued.

“We think those’re Ailendamus’ nobles on board. Important ones. You think we can take them? The Naga’s Den is a famous ship, but it’s got practically no crew.”

Jiupe half nodded, but her eyes were locked on the ship, and now it was turning—she broke out of her reverie. There were eyes on her.

“She’s seen us. Get ready.”

“She’s seen…?”

Rosiere looked up, and The Naga’s Den came about. Erin Solstice was aiming the ship at them. Now, Blood-By-Tide was moving, aiming to come about parallel to the other ship. The Naga’s Den was taller than their ship by a good ten feet, and Jiupe saw her [Navigator] swinging the wheel left—then right.

Captain, she’s coming straight at us.

“Well, lose her!”

I’m trying, but she’s got Skills and—

The other ship kept coming at them.

Turn us now!

Suddenly, Jiupe had a premonition, and she saw her helmsman hesitate. She grabbed the wheel, and her ship turned.

[Rapid Turn], [Crosswinds Blow]—is their helm mad? The Naga’s Den’s no rammer!”

It was a fancy ship, for all it was one of Roshal’s slaver ships. It had no armored prow—Blood-By-Tide did, and Jiupe wouldn’t risk a collision with a ship of that size. But the [Innkeeper]…Jiupe turned, and now the other ship was trailing them.

“She’s insane all right. Take us parallel. Hoi there! Parlay! Stow your blades a sec, boys. I want to know what’s going on here.”

Someone raised a white flag as Jiupe began shouting. The Bloodtear Pirates were sensing something was off.

“There’s ships following hers in the storm, Captain. Roshal’s. But they look—wrong. That one’s glowing, and I swear I see undead on one. And them nobles make my [Dangersense] go off.”

“I know. Shut it, Rosiere.”

Jiupe whispered as her [First Mate] strode towards her. The Naga’s Den kept sailing ahead, and Blood-By-Tide came alongside as the [Innkeeper] came into view.

Her face was pale. Her eyes were staring wide, and she had the look of women Jiupe had known. Women stabbed and determined to continue onwards. A dead woman’s eyes who’d drag you down to the depths.


It was the first and only time Jiupe had used the expression. She didn’t know what to say. Her crew laughed, thinking she was joking, but the [Innkeeper] just glanced down at them as she moved her wheel, eyes locked on something in the storm.

Even the Bloodtear Pirates could barely see much beyond the flashes of light from ship-to-ship combat. Jiupe was relying on other ships and her hunting Skills to sense foes in the water. But Erin Solstice…

“You’re the Bloodtear Pirates.”

Jiupe swept Erin a theatrical bow, taking off her hat.

“None other. And you’re Erin Solstice, the [Magical Innkeeper] herself. I’m Captain Jiupe of Blood-By-Tide. Any other moment, I’d invite you aboard and treat you to a drink, Miss. In a spot of trouble with Roshal, is we?”

She smiled with both her teeth and her Drowned half, jellyfish tendrils waving. Erin met her eyes, regarding her fish-face, and her expression didn’t change.

I suppose if she’s smiling at Antinium and Goblins, she won’t blink at me. Something—put Jiupe’s hackles on edge. So she continued after a moment’s silence.

“We’re going hunting in this storm. Begging your pardon, Miss Solstice, but you’re a tempting target. What’s, ah, a bunch of Ailendamus’ nobles and an [Innkeeper] doing in a storm like this?”

Her crew were listening, sizing up their opponent, weighing how to get up the other ship fast. Some of them could jump and hit the deck, but Rosiere was eying the crew of…summoned people?

They didn’t look like regular summons. There was something too animated about the crew standing at the railing. And one of the men…

“Captain. Captain. That’s Admiral Dakelos. The one from Ailendamus.”

Who? Jiupe was about to hiss back as she waited for Erin’s reply when she recognized that name. Dakelos? The fellow who’d killed half a dozen Wellfar ships in boarding actions?

That…might complicate things. Jiupe was rapidly losing her appetite for a hunt. She did not like those strange nobles. They gave her bad vibes, like the Ice Squirrel or a foe she couldn’t take the measure of.

But the [Innkeeper]. Erin Solstice looked down at Jiupe. Erin Solstice’s tone was flat. Flat like the voice that whispered in Jiupe’s head. Flat like dead water.

“I know what you’re doing. You’re after the Terandrians. One of my people is aboard the ships being attacked. Ser Solstice.”

Jiupe licked her lips and put a grin on her face.

“Ah. The Goblin Slayer and Lightherald fellow himself. Shame. That [Princess] is one of the biggest targets. Well, she’s the cursed one, so I suppose no one’s that hungry for her.”

I am. Jiupe kept her voice light and conversational, but those eyes made Jiupe’s own vision itch. And Erin hadn’t blinked yet. Her hair was still on fire.

Didn’t it hurt? The pink flames called to Jiupe. They were beautiful and terrible. Like tears at sea and regrets—and glory. Two things so close they were almost the same.

It hurt her eyes. Jiupe had to shield her face, and she snarled.

“Well so’s you know—our [Admirals] themselves might take a swing at your beloved [Knight]. I’m not attacking you because Roshal’s no friend of mine. That could change in a second. ‘Specially if I let the fleet know where you are.”

Nods and grins from the other [Pirates]. If this quarry was dangerous, they’d just call in another ship hungry for destiny. The noblefolk shifted, but Erin Solstice’s eyes only brightened at that last bit, and not for the reason Jiupe thought.

“Do you have communication with your fleet?”


“Good. Then tell them to leave the Throne’s Will and Rabbiteater alone. Earl Altestiel’s ship as well. Call it a favor or name your price. Do it now.”

Jiupe stared up at Erin—then she laughed. It was an incredulous, hoarse, angry laugh, and it grew louder as she realized the [Innkeeper] wasn’t kidding. Jiupe slowly reached up, and poison began to seep from her tendrils and into her mouth. She spat it onto the deck, and it hissed.

“Well, I liked you more as a story. I don’t think you understand what’s going on. Maybe Roshal addled your head, but do you see this storm, Miss Solstice? This is the final battle of the Bloodtear Pirates. Every ship present is bound for new destiny or death. Do you think we’d heed you on our best day? Or do you think you scare the Bloodtear Pirates?”

Her hand crept towards her sword hilt. Now, Blood-By-Tide was edging towards The Naga’s Den’s port, but both ships were going flat out, wind in their sails.

Storm at our backs. Blood in the water. Blood in the sky.

Her nature was singing in her veins. But Erin Solstice looked down at Captain Jiupe, and her voice…seemed to echo and gave the woman pause.

“I didn’t think that would work. I’m asking you a question, Captain Jiupe. Is there anything I could offer that’d change your mind, or your crew’s or the other ships’? Will you stop?”

Because she said it like that, because something in her gaze said she might understand—Captain Jiupe looked up at Erin with a half-smile and swept a bow.

“Not for you or any [King] or [Queen], woman or beast under sky or wave.”

Her crew grinned at her words, and they were good words. So why did Jiupe feel so unsettled?

She remembered a conversation like this, between that outcast traitor—the Bloodfeast Raiders—and realized this reminded her of that.

Only…it felt like the inverse, this time. There was no hostage. Of course, the Bloodtear Pirates had the Terandrians on the run—but why did the [Innkeeper] look at her like that?

Patiently waiting, voice strained, as if giving Jiupe the moment to say her piece for the look of it. But her eyes—the [Innkeeper] sighed as Jiupe’s confident smile slipped into a snarl. Her voice was muffled by the rain and surf, but she raised it and called out.


That was all she said. Erin Solstice began to turn the wheel, and Jiupe shouted up at her. And she meant what she said next, impulsive though it was.

“You’ll die, [Innkeeper].”

Erin stopped and looked down at Jiupe, and the woman cupped her hands to her mouth.

“I quite like you, though you’re stupid as shit, but you’re brave enough to balance it. I’d rather not stain the waters with your blood. Turn back, for we’ll not spare even you.”

Her crew turned to her, and Rosiere opened his mouth, but Jiupe held Erin’s gaze. The [Innkeeper] paused, resting her hands on the wheel, and the Hobgoblin sighed and shaded her eyes and looked behind her. But the [Innkeeper] just called down to Jiupe, sounding mildly puzzled.

“Why do you all speak like that?”

“Like what?”

Jiupe hesitated and wondered if it was her accent. The [Innkeeper] just shook her head.

“Like…‘only for you, Miss Solstice’. I’ll give you one chance. Think carefully. Speak like monsters and stop trying to be liked.”

The [Captain]’s eyes slowly narrowed. She called up to Erin softly as her crew slowly came to one railing.

“We’re just the unchosen who want to spit in the eyes of fate. We wish to claim destiny that belongs to someone else. You might not understand it, but we’re honester than anyone else.”

“Sure you are.”

The [Innkeeper] spun her wheel, and her ship listed starboard. Jiupe’s eyes popped—then she began to snarl. She whirled.

Take us into them. And signal Maxy.”

Her [Navigator] spun the wheel—then looked up and swore.

She’s coming back at us! Brace!”

Jiupe whirled and saw The Naga’s Den had swung away—but she was coming closer. Closer—and now the [Innkeeper] was looking her right in the eye.

She never intended to parlay. That look in her eyes—no mercy, no regrets.

Jiupe backed away from the railing and snarled. She raised her voice in a roar.

Brace and then carve them down! Kill—

Then the two ships collided.

Blood-By-Tide met The Naga’s Den as the two ships rammed into each other. The Naga’s Den was over four hundred feet long, and Blood-By-Tide was half her size, but still large enough, squatter and reinforced by a Bloodtear Captain’s Skills.

Enchanted wood met alongside the hulls, and at first the magic and slicked wood groaned against each other with a sound to set the teeth on edge. But the rumbling grind that set a horror in a [Sailor]’s soul became louder and louder. Blood-By-Tide was trying to back away as Jiupe howled.

Wood began to scream, and the paint rubbing away turned to the crack of boards. Both ships were caving in, wood snapping like explosions, and splinters of wood and nails spraying into the air with nowhere to go.

The bones of the ship began to meet air as more thunderous booms heralded parts of each ship bowing inwards. Timber pressed up against other wood that compressed—then, with nowhere to go—began to pulverize.

Magic enchantments began to flare, and wild spells began to vent outwards, unleashing their spells or raw magic that met and mingled with the rain as blooms of color, drowning out shouts and screams as the crews of both ships were thrown off their feet.

The [Innkeeper] drew closer to the [Captain], and now the two women were staring at each other, ignoring the wood splintering around them. Jiupe and Erin Solstice didn’t blink.

It was like a bar fight. Blood in her eyes. Someone beating Jiupe across the face as she struck back, again and again, until she punched bones in. Jiupe refused to give an inch. She ground her teeth together—

Then they were underwater, and she was drowning. There wasn’t anyone to punch—there was just the insane pressure of the deeps, and they were sinking. She couldn’t breathe.

The Drowned Woman convulsed, and she saw Erin Solstice doubling over. Blood running from her eyes and ears and nostrils. She couldn’t breathe either—but her eyes were still locked on Jiupe, and her hair was burning pink.

She couldn’t—breathe—her head was exploding. Her ship was howling, and the crew were screaming something. Someone shook Jiupe, again and again—but she was drowning in those eyes.

Splintering wood. A body drawn into that maw of breaking wood and pulped in a bloody spray. Water, entering her hull—and Jiupe jerked away. She gasped for air—and the [Innkeeper]’s aura crushed hers.




“Captain? Captain, they’re boarding—

Rosiere grabbed Captain Jiupe. The woman had fallen over suddenly. Maybe it was the impact? He saw Jiupe stir—and her hand, normally capable of crushing iron, was shaking. Her mouth was open, and her nose was bleeding—she looked dazed.

“Her aura—”

Rosiere stared at Jiupe until he realized what had happened. Had she just lost an aura clash? Jiupe? Why couldn’t she move?

Then Rosiere looked up, and Jiupe heard shouting. The two ships had ceased grinding at each other, and a boarding plank had been dropped.

Ghosts were charging down at them. The Bloodtear Pirates halfway towards the enemy ship froze as they saw dead men and women advancing, firing crossbows and wands.

Take ‘em out! ‘Ware spellcasters!”

Rosiere cut one of Dakelos’ crew in half, grateful they could be hurt with regular weapons, but a black spell burned a hole through one of his crewmates. And the ghosts…there was no destiny to steal from the dead.

The Bloodtear Pirates realized more were coming. And not just ghosts.

Follow the [Innkeeper].

Something leapt down, a Demon from Rhir. A monster tall and wearing a suit of all things, and ghosts were followed by House Shoel. They were all charging down the gangplank, the [Admiral], a Hobgoblin.

Erin Solstice—

Kill the [Admiral]! Kill the—

Rosiere bellowed. It was so simple. He saw the [Innkeeper] surging downwards after the first rank and leapt at her. She sprayed an open jar of green liquid at him and pointed her wand.

He half-dodged the acid, and the bolt struck his sword. It vibrated, and Rosiere screamed as his face burned. He saw Erin Solstice inhale and, for a moment, remembered a stupid rumor about her.

Then she breathed black fire, and the screaming [Pirate] tore at the flames. He raised his sword to cut at her, but that thing—that Demon—no, that Devil seized his arm and tore the sword loose. Then the clawed hand gripped Rosiere’s head and began twisting.

Rosiere refused to die for a while. He saw, as his neck began to crack, refusing to move at first even under the incredible strength, more ghosts pouring down. A woman vaporizing one of his crew.

Why are we losing? Where’s Captain Jiupe? Then, as Rosiere’s skin began to tear and he screamed—he saw Jiupe staggering to her feet.




Captain Jiupe’s first blow was wide and drunken. She couldn’t put any strength in her shaking arms. Her aura was gone—and the [Innkeeper]’s cut drove across her face, releasing poisoned blood.

“You can’t kill us all. Your destiny—”

The woman slurred, reeling backwards as Erin advanced. The [Innkeeper] dodged a slash and a jab from the tendrils and cut Jiupe deep along one arm. Jiupe went for a leg sweep—Erin pointed as her eyes flashed.

“[Apista’s Jetflame].”

Jiupe dodged the roaring flames as they pushed Erin back. The flames burned at Jiupe, but her shaking limbs regained some strength, and she snarled and charged Erin, arms wide and coated in her poisoned blood.

In response, Erin jumped, hovered in the air, and one boot kicked Jiupe in the face. Down both women went, and Jiupe rolled—just in time for Erin to nail the dagger straight through Jiupe’s shoulder, armor and all.

It was sharper than—Jiupe didn’t feel the pain, but she screamed in fury. She was still drowning in the deep, and Erin Solstice’s aura was crushing her. She thrashed with her jellyfish arm, spitting, trying to land a bit of poison on the [Innkeeper] as Erin stood back.

Maxy’ll have your blood. You think you can stop Bloodtear? There’s nothing you can do to stop us, even if you kill a dozen [Captains]!

“I don’t care!”

Erin Solstice screamed at Jiupe. The [Captain] stopped thrashing and looked up at Erin. She tried to stand up—and something shoved Jiupe flat.

She’s supposed to be an [Innkeeper]. She’s got no inn. 

But the woman looked like she was a dead woman walking to her noose. She put a boot on Jiupe’s chest as the [Captain] struggled. Jiupe’s crew was dying. But she saw those hazel eyes burning wide and insane.

“They told me to try and save the world. The ghosts gave me their secrets and hopes, their last will. I have it all here when I deserved to carry none of it.”

Erin struck her chest, and Jiupe stared up at her, bloody mouth open. The [Innkeeper] looked down at the [Captain]. Her chest was heaving, and a Hobgoblin holding a bloody sword stopped when she saw Erin.

“I was so afraid of dying again. There is nothing thereafter but a petty, cruel afterlife and empty oblivion. Or worse.”

Jiupe saw it in her eyes. Madness was in her gaze. Proper Bloodtear madness. The [Innkeeper] clenched a fist to her chest—then she let it go.

“All of it. All of it. I will give it away to watch the life flicker out of your eyes. I’ll give it all away to save just him. We are all damned. There’s no destiny or salvation I care for. There is no tomorrow. Not for us.”

The Drowned Woman stared up as Erin pointed her wand down at her. Her mouth moved soundlessly, bloodlessly as the [Innkeeper] fired the spell three times. Then she bent down to pick up her knife, wiped it twice, and rose. Erin spoke into Jiupe’s emptying eyes.

“Tell Death we will settle it all soon.”

The decks were still full of fighting, but the [Innkeeper] strode back up the gangplank. The Lucifen were surrounding a single pile of ash, an outline of a body. Forty of them staring down—then up at her.

She ignored them all. The Hobgoblin was the only one Erin counted as the [Admiral] pulled his forces back—then her head turned. She stared through the storm and swung the wheel around.

“There you are.”

Blood-By-Tide was sinking into the waters, and Jiupe’s eyes stared up at the rain falling onto her unblinking visage. [Pirates] singing into the storm, then calling a new name into stones. Maxy’s voice, growing louder.

No regrets the [Innkeeper] left in her wake. No mercy. Waters turned crimson and skies black in the day. Each ship she met running bloody.

She fought until she died.




The [Pirates] loved to board ships. If they reached the wheel, rudder, mast, or any other critical part of the ship, you were dead.

Until those moments, Rabbiteater was helpless. He could use a bow as well as most [Archers], but he just stood or sat, hunkering down and conserving his energy for the melee that would decide life or death.

Cortese was more useful, activating his Skills, and Menrise was the one who could conjure shields, attack with spells, or call for support from other ships and the magical kingdoms.

Seraphel was useless at all times. So she watched as a rain of [Light Arrows] covered the ground behind her, wrapping a bandage around one of the [Soldiers] of Calanfer, who was bowing to her as she stemmed the bleeding from an arrow gone through a wrist.

The [Healers] had told her the arrow would cause more bleeding if removed. Arrows of light struck the ships behind Throne’s Will, an unending torrent of glowing stars.

The [Pirates] had no reason to look so magnificent as they sailed straight through the onslaught. Most barely even cared about the damage Calanfer’s magic was causing.

Father must be burning through spell after spell in our vaults. The Kingdoms of Terandria had thrown Skill and spell across the ocean, but so few did anything.

This chase had lasted forty minutes, and the Throne’s Will unleashed another broadside of [Light Orbs]. More glowing lights that the [Pirates] tried to shoot down before they burst and broke holes in the hulls. Like gentle bubbles homing in on their targets.

Menrise’s magic was less beautiful, but more practical. A [Fireball] blew apart in the air before it reached one of the ships closing on her. It wasn’t magic that halted the spell, but the insects.

Shifthold was coming. Two half-Elven ships from Gaiil-Drome were Shifthold’s target. The Alchemist Irurx didn’t even look up; his ship was surrounded by flying beetles, huge, hand-sized with mandibles like razors, that shielded him from arrows and spells alike.

“Throne’s Will. We are fleeing with last wind spells. Conjured current from home. Regrets.

Seraphel saw a series of flashing lights from one of the ship’s starboard lanterns and realized the two half-Elven ships were turning away. Fleeing from Wistram into the storm. They were accelerating.

“Throne’s Will to Distant Canopies. Luck. We will slow the [Alchemist] if possible.

Someone flashed a response over the decks. Seraphel knew this and relayed the messages out loud several minutes before someone told the rest of the crew what was happening.

[Intercept Missive]. [Codebreaker’s Tongue]. Some of her [Princess] Skills that had little use—well, some.

Throne’s Will kept firing light spells from the stern and port sides, but Shifthold was already breaking away from the other [Pirate] vessels. Slowly, but with gaining speed as the [Alchemist] activated his own spells and alchemical means, he accelerated, and the two half-Elven ships broke into the storm.

Some ships were fleeing the main fleet’s combat and just—sailing into the storm. Taking the chance they’d just escape notice and live. Seraphel had seen some get away, to all her understanding, alive. Others? She’d seen Admiral Maxy’s ship chase down one, and the crimson flare across the horizon had revealed Longshot Gamble hours later, returning from a hunt.

Luck. That was all the Calanferian ship could offer. No wishes, no courage or hope. There was none Seraphel saw on the faces around her.

Thronebearers had fought like Kaaz’s lions for days now, and she thought she had misjudged them. They had held the decks against the sea’s worst [Pirates], shoulder-to-shoulder with soldiers and even civilians, until the red washed over their boots with the surf and they fell into the waters.

And still. Here was Seraphel.

After she finished tending to everyone who was resting in the cabin’s interior, Seraphel fiddled with a speaking stone and scroll. She was tending to the [Message] spells herself, and the other ship communications, though both were unreliable.

“Throne’s Will. Seeking your position.

That was coming from…Prince Iradoren’s ship, Legend’s Wake. Seraphel had told the [Captain] not to answer. The [Prince] had his own battles to lead. Seraphel’s back prickled as she wondered why, of all the nations, including his own, he kept asking about them.

She chanced a glance sideways, and a single person was so still, not even watching the fighting, that she wondered if he were taking a nap.

But not even the Goblin [Knight] had the ability to sleep right now. Rather, Rabbiteater was staring at something behind them. Head pointed towards one wall, but she was sure he saw the person he claimed was following them, regardless of storm and [Pirates].

“Is she still there, Rabbiteater?”


His voice was…it was bitter. Bitter, tired, weary of this battle. She had heard him cursing the [Pirates] during the fighting, voice filled with frustration. He saw no meaning in this, even if he somehow understood the Bloodtear Pirates better than she or Cortese or Menrise could.

However, Rabbiteater’s voice was also—relieved? Hopeful? Filled, Seraphel thought, with envy, with something she had known only a few times.

Reassured. Like a girl Seraphel had once been, who believed the Eternal Throne really was a place where nothing bad could happen, where parents could solve the world’s problems and each bad day was something that only got in the way of your happy-ever-after.

And she thought, for the first time in her life—

What a naïve Goblin.

Then a voice made both her and Rabbiteater glance down at the speaking stone again.

—disrupted our [Sphere of the Ideal Climate] spell—will not be able to revive it. Spellcasting will continue to disrupt [Pirates] as best we can. Condolences, Terandrian fleet.

A new voice through the scrying orb. That was Archmage Viltach, his voice ragged, shouting, and a roar of some gigantic, inhuman voice behind him.

Apparently, Wistram was both assessing damages from some kind of attack as well as fighting undead. It meant nothing to Seraphel as Rabbiteater sat there.

“Rhir and the Iron Vanguard. No one’s coming to help from Wistram. Your [Innkeeper] is braver than Archmages and the Blighted Kingdom’s soldiers, it seems, Rabbit.”

The [Princess]’ tone was bitter. The Goblin just nodded his head once.

“Yes. I wish she wasn’t, but she wouldn’t be her without it. Huh.”

He sat there a second, then his head dipped—jerked up—as if he were waking up. Rabbiteater slapped the sides of his head briskly, making a faint metallic noise as some of the Terandrians in Seraphel’s cabin and the [Princess] looked at him.

“What am I doing?”

“Resting. You can’t do much out there, Rabbit.”

Seraphel peeked her head out the window, and a stray boulder hit the seas past the Throne’s Will. The [Pirate] ships weren’t even close enough to do more than exchange long-range fire.

That wasn’t what he meant. Cortese half-carried Menrise in, and the two collapsed, exhausted, as Mariel and the servants attending to Seraphel ran to get them water, a towel—Rabbiteater sat up as Cortese sat down, eyes blank.

“Nah. This pointless war…Ailendamus and the Dawn Concordat were worse. That was just people dying for land. For country. But I liked the silly [Knights]. I left my home because I was sad. And because I thought Talia was hot.”

Some water came back out of Menrise’s own helmet as Seraphel opened her mouth. Cortese focused on Rabbiteater slowly as some of the wounded [Soldiers] pivoted, despite it all.

“Did I hear you correctly? Did you, Rabbiteater, join the war initially because—”

“Yep. It didn’t work out.”

Rabbiteater looked around.

“What? It was a good reason for me. I didn’t stay and fight because of her. I stayed because I liked the Order of Seasons and the people. But it was a stupid war. These [Pirates] have better reasons than the nations. Still bad reasons, but…they’re easier to kill.”

He was getting up, resting one hand against a wall. His visor swung to Seraphel, to Menrise, to Cortese, who looked so worn from the proud [Hundredlord] they had met.

“Now she’s come for me. A reason as stupid as mine. All for one silly…”

He trailed off. Then, Rabbiteater looked straight at the 4th Princess of Calanfer and gestured at the speaking stone she held.

“Seraphel. Can you do me a favor?”

“Yes. Anything.”

She was relieved to have anyone need her help. Rabbiteater turned his head away from what only he could see.

“Get me…in touch with Wistram. And the Iron Vanguard. Every ship close to us.”


“I’m going to try something stupid. If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work.”

The [Princess] heard him inhaling, saw his chest rising and falling now, as if a silent figure who had drenched himself in rain and blood until he couldn’t tell which was which were waking from a slumber. He looked brighter, even, but perhaps that was just her imagination.

Cortese gazed at Rabbiteater with a sudden look of curiosity, and Menrise made a faint, mocking laughing sound. Neither one moved as Seraphel fiddled with the speaking stone, murmured into it, then raised the stone.

“—Throne’s Will. You are addressing Captain Toheart of Paranfer’s Legion. We have our orders. At this time—

—mge Viltach. We cannot provide any more spellcasting support. Feor is coordinating all strikes through Rainbringer at this—

A number of voices were sounding through the stone. Some [Captain] from Rhir, the Archmages of Wistram, and Tulm the Mithril’s brisk voice.

The Iron Vanguard is unwilling to reopen negotiations, Your Highness of Calanfer. Closing the connection—

“You cowards.”

Rabbiteater gripped the stone in one hand and spoke into it. The voices speaking stopped abruptly.

—se me? Who is this?

The distorted voice of Archmage Viltach was affronted. Rabbiteater exhaled.

“Ser Solstice on Throne’s Will. Who’s listening?”


I am Strategist Tulm the Mithril of the Iron Vanguard.

—mage Viltach, speaking for the [Mages] of Wistram.

Captain Toheart of the Rhirian 2nd Fleet—

—earing you, Ser Solstice. Griffindance. Say again? Is this a warning?


Seraphel had tuned him to every ship and [Mage] in range. Including Bloodtear Pirates, she suspected. Maybe that was too many, but the Goblin never hesitated.

“To all ships who can hear me. This is Ser Solstice on Throne’s Will. I’m with the [Princess]. This is an order: stop running and get over here. You Iron Vanguard, you stupid [Mages], and everyone else. Get over here, you cowards. Or, if I survive, I’ll kick all of your heads in.”

The three other members of the Ivory Five, the Calanferians, and everyone else fell silent. A cold voice replied to Rabbiteater.

Your orders are disregarded, Ser Solstice. You have no authority over the Iron Vanguard.

“I have all the authority over you, Tulm the Mithril.”

Rabbiteater pointed a finger at the speaking stone glowing in his palm. Another pause—and the voice replied.

Closing connection.

The Goblin’s reply was to speak louder into the stone.

“—I am ordering you to get over here and fight. Is the Iron Vanguard made up of complete cowards? Ignore the [Strategist]. I want every [Mage] in Wistram here. Swim if you have to. Every ship who can hear me, you’re next. Either stand with us and fight or go join the Bloodtear Pirates like those [Storm Sailor] cowards.”

He didn’t have much vocabulary. He’d used ‘cowards’ four times, but Seraphel couldn’t turn her head away from the Goblin.

“—respect, Ser Solstice—

“Shut up. Send the Golems if the [Mages] aren’t brave enough. Would you just—”

Rabbiteater smashed a fist into the wall in frustration, and his head rose to that distant [Innkeeper]. His voice shook with emotion.

“Would you just prove you deserve this new world you want so much? Every child in Liscor and monster of Izril is braver than you. Keep sailing on. Next time, it’ll be your turn, and no one will come for you. We’re right here. Get over here and help or keep sailing until you fall over the edge of the world. The Blighted Kingdom? Wistram? The Iron Vanguard? Show up, you cowards. Or don’t ever look me in the eye again. Seraphel, turn this off.”

He tossed it at her, and the [Princess] caught the speaking stone. The outraged silence on the other end of the stone…she lifted it to her lips, about to sign off or say something suitable. What came out was—

“This new era does not belong to piss-streaked observers offering condolences. Good day to you.”

Then she turned the speaking stone off, and she saw Rabbiteater nod at her.

“Nice insult.”

Menrise spoke after a moment.

“I liked yours, too. Rabbiteater, you’re properly insane, you know?”

“Maybe. You should meet my friends.”

He walked out into the storm. Now, Seraphel followed, heedless of the rain, but it didn’t touch her dress. Rather—she saw a barrier in the air upon which the storm broke.

A [Knight], a [Champion], walked across the ship, ignoring the storm, the oncoming ships, and the spells landing around him. He was engulfed in an aura.

Two, mixed and mingled so they looked like one.

[Aura of the Hearth]. [Aura of the Brave].

Together, it made the air around him change. Manifesting the vision in his heart. He raised his axe, and the Thronebearers and crew looked at him

If they were watching, perhaps they saw it. Vengeful, hungry [Pirates]. A furious [Prince]. Unsettled, insulted observers.

A figure wearing armor, a cloak of blood pooling around him, holding a golden axe with a jade edge up to the sky. A mysterious man whose face was hidden by a scarred and battered helmet.

The light of an inn played around him in the raging storm. He held his weapon higher, waving it as if beckoning.

Follow me. I have all the authority to command you I need. 

Follow me. You have no excuse not to. 

Seraphel raised her voice as she saw Rabbiteater’s intentions and lifted her arm.

Captain. Stop that ship from advancing.”

The [Captain] who was manning the wheel himself to let his [Navigator] rest looked around, and Rabbiteater’s head turned. Seraphel was pointing at Shifthold and the Alchemist Irurx.

“Your Highness!”

Ser Thilowen had kept them from engaging any dangerous ships or risking Throne’s Will. He began to override her, and Rabbiteater pointed at him.

“Shut. Up.”

The [Knight] began to speak, and it was as if someone came up from behind him as Rabbiteater’s aura bore down on him. A hand upon Thilowen’s shoulder, and he saw a glowing figure smile—and he could not speak.

Rabbiteater’s [Boon of the Guest] was fading, but flames still exited the slits of his visor, and Shifthold seemed to shiver as the Throne’s Will changed course to intercept. The [Knights] and [Soldiers] on the deck looked up as the Goblin Slayer of Izril stood there.

“I feel silly.”

He spoke as Seraphel approached him. The Goblin was looking at his free hand, then across the sea. He didn’t understand why Cortese and Menrise stopped and Seraphel was gazing at him like that.

“Keep doing whatever you’re doing, Rabbiteater.”

That was her advice to him. The Goblin tilted his head towards her, then she knew he smiled behind his helmet. He raised his axe and pointed it at the enemy ship.

On board it, a single figure, Alchemist Irurx, turned his head with a stare of madness at Rabbiteater. No fear, only contempt, as the two ships slowly neared. Thilowen shouted.

“They’re firing alchemical potions! Get Her Highness to cover!

It was just like every other engagement in this long battle. Dame Neranthei lifted a shield, and Thronebearers lined up, waiting as the two ships drew alongside each other. The sneering Irurx pointed at Rabbiteater, and the [Knight] exhaled.

They never understood it. Each and every time—Irurx looked so confident, so sure of himself as he lifted his arms to marshal his crew and use some dread Skill. Then that sneer changed to surprise as his ship rocked, and a shower of exploding arrows rained across his deck. He turned his head—and Seraphel saw a pair of ships circling back.

Throne’s Will, we are joining you.”

A voice—the half-Elves of Gaiil-Drome. Seraphel saw the distant figure of Irurx swirl, a snarl on his lips—then his mad gaze turned back.

Towards that laughing Goblin. Unable to conceive of why things were going wrong. Then—the [Knight] was bracing as he stood there, waving Seraphel to cover and calling her stupid again.

Like he was just one warrior in the battle and not someone who had made the storm swirl around him. He kept looking back, engulfed in the aegis of an inn. Surrounded by a brighter day as he pointed at the [Alchemist] now trying to break away and escape.

The [Princess] swore as she grabbed the [Captain] and ordered him to change headings once they broke away from Shifthold—she looked back at Rabbiteater, then scanned through the storm and began to plot the trajectory of Legend’s Wake. That they might avoid…

—She swore the silly Goblin would make it out of this storm. Elsewise, how would he continue to surprise her? Then her smile faded, and she saw the [Pirates] driving out of the storm at them, like moths drawn to his light.

But he refused to stop glowing.





She took the decks of the second ship like the first. A mindless charge off The Naga’s Den’s decks and into the Bloodtear Pirates savaging another ship. Lucifen. Ghosts.

The Horns of Hammerad saw The Naga’s Den slam into a pair of ships locked in combat, and Pisces saw Erin charge over the decks. Colth’s voice mingled with Vofea’s scream and Ceria’s command.

“Turn! Turn and kill the bastards!

“There are more ships coming—”

I’m on them. Don’t let them flank her damn ship. Horns—charge!”

Ceria leapt into the waters again, and Pisces desperately whirled the undead ship until he was on a collision course with the Bloodtear Pirates. Then he heard Ksmvr shouting.

“Vofea, keep behind me. Keep—”

Death. Pisces sensed it in the air before they even slammed into the other ship. Erin was out there. This new ship—he had no idea who they were.

[Pirates]? They looked—young.




There’s an [Innkeeper] aboard The Naga’s Den, and she’s killed Jiupe. 2nd Armada, look out for it. More ships in the water. Not friendly. ‘Ware your backsides.

Maxy’s voice crackled through a speaking stone held by Zoler, the Dullahan who led the Newblood crew of the [Pirates]. They’d been unable to commit to a full scale assault despite the eagerness of the younger [Pirates]. It was a weird kind of mercy, this time. The older [Pirates] had taken all the risks at the start, and only this final battle had a proper melee developed where it was death or glory, every ship for itself.

Zoler had led her crew against two ships without taking either one; they’d fought across both decks before the ships had separated. Her blood was afire, and she was looking around for the Iron Vanguard.

She’d sworn to Admiral Rosech she’d die before her father, Tulm, attacked. He was probably waiting for afterwards to attack survivors, and she’d sworn to head off his ships. So she was glad enough to be alive.

But what a battle. If she’d seen Prince Iradoren or those half-Giants, Zoler would have gone for them, oaths or not. She was burning up, but when she saw that ship and heard Maxy’s voice, a [Light] spell had gone out in her head.

The Naga’s Den? An [Innkeeper]?

Could it be? No. But then she heard someone screaming about an adventurer group in the storm. It couldn’t be.

The Horns of Hammerad? Her Newblood crew was half Izrilian ‘Vampires’, or whatever they were, but the other half were young [Pirates], and they watched scrying orbs, same as everyone else. Zoler’s favorite team were the crazy Silver-rankers who’d cleared two dungeons and had an Antinium and all sorts at sea.

That’s it! That’s The Naga’s Den! Dead gods, she’s smashing into The Troll Marauders. Captain, should we bail ‘em out?”

At first, Zoler was focused on the huge ship, which came in for an insane ramming impact towards both ships. Whoever was steering it didn’t have a care for the ship!

The battle was getting more chaotic suddenly. The Bloodtear Pirates had been winning, but it wasn’t just this ship that was causing havoc. A bunch of [Captains] had pulled back from the hunt.

—[Dangersense] has gone off. Admiral Maxy, you feel that?

A bunch of [Storm Sailors]’re freaking out. Let’s regroup on me.

Jiupe’s dead? Hold on—what’s that in the sky—

A babble of voices. Zoler was about to shout at them she’d found the [Innkeeper] when her head rose and she saw something high above the storm.

“War Walkers falling down. What’s…that?

Zoler’s crew were focused on the ghosts and strange magic-casters attacking their friends, but their heads rose, and more than one fanged mouth opened as Zoler’s eyes traced something in the sky.

It looked like a great, winged shape in the storm. But that was impossible. Wyvern, probably. Because it looked like—

Golden flames burned down as a Dragon roared across the sky. Zoler shouted and threw her hands up. She saw a line trace itself across the horizon. Flames seared over the tops of the waves and refusing to go out. Then a streak of light strafed past her ship, just missing the Newbloods—and hit a Bloodtear ship in the distance.

Tree rot, what the hell was that? Some kind of Wistram spell?”

Maxy roared as a ship went up as if soaked in oil. Zoler stuttered, at a loss for words for the first time in her life.

“Admiral? Th-that was a Dr-Drag—”

Stories of the horrors of Dullahans, their old enemy, flashed into her mind, and she was a little girl again, her head hiding under the bed at night. Her father’s famous deed—the surprisingly small corpse they’d shown in secret—

All of it dwarfed by a shadow that shot across the storm. Then came a roar that deafened Maxy’s questions.


“Take us about! After it! After—”

One of the Vampires was pointing excitedly, as if he wanted to fly after the Dragon, but it was already gone, leaving a trail of wind through the engagement. But then Zoler saw another bloom of gold.

Something’s in the air. Wistram illusion or real thing—every ship with a reach above a thousand feet on me. I’m going to tickle it. It just flamed my shield-spells. Looks like Terandria just got some backup. Rosech, you hearing this? Rosech, stop hunting for the [Prince] and look up, damn it!

Maxy’s voice was cold. Unfazed. A woman to admire. Zoler tried to wrench her attention ahead. That’s right. Get the [Innkeeper]—and do what?

For one second, the Dullahan wavered, then gave a different order than what Maxy might want.

“Listen up, crew. The [Innkeeper]’s mine. Everyone else—take them out. If she’s really the one, she’s worth more’n just one destiny. Got it?”

Take her alive, if it could be done. That was the Bloodtear’s way, even now. Besides…who wanted an [Innkeeper]’s destiny?

The crew half listened to her, some staring up at the sky—others pointing ahead.

“Captain, we’ve got more ships. Looks like—Roshal? Wait—”

Zoler spun, seeing a new, unfamiliar ship in the waves. Her eyes narrowed.

“It’s glowing. It ain’t the Illuminary. Hold on…is that—”

She must have hit her head and was dreaming all of this. Because it could not be—but she swore her eyes picked out a group of undead skeletons, a young man holding a rapier with white robes, an Antinium, a woman with silver arms, a smiling man—a half-Elf—a…Goat Beastkin?

She didn’t know who two of them were, but four of them made Zoler’s heart suddenly stop in her chest. One of her crewmates swore.

“It’s them after all. Horns of Hammerad. Here? Captain—


Zoler began, then realized she sounded like all their enemies. She hadn’t fully believed it even when she’d heard. But she should have known. The Horns had appeared in damn Chandrar and sailed with Khelt and the King of Destruction and the Hero of Zethe himself! If that was Erin Solstice on the ship, the Horns of Hammerad were right here.

A grin of delight burst across Zoler’s face, and she began to whoop and wave at them—then realized their ship was coming for hers. The Newbloods’ [Captain] hesitated and realized…oh.

“We’re gonna have to kill ‘em, Captain. They’re coming in—get ready, Newbloods!”

“Fuck, fuck, fuck—don’t we owe Erin Solstice a favor?”

One of the Vampires whispered. Zoler glanced at them, then at the Horns. But they’re my…

“G-get ready!”

The Dullahan shouted. There were other Bloodtear ships in the water. If the Horns didn’t smash into her ship, the other ones coming after The Naga’s Den would run into the adventurers in minutes. She pointed her sword and saw the Horns of Hammerad were staring at her.

It really was them. Zoler saw them staring at The Naga’s Den—then a half-Elf swung over the railings. Zoler thought she was going to swim, but Ceria Springwalker hit the water, and the Ice Squirrel began to skate over the waves, freezing them in real time. The [Pirates] tried to fight back, heads turning, ducking as shards of ice struck the ship and crew alike.

Dead gods! Did you see—

“Shoot her! Shoot—”

Their ship rumbled as a spear of ice struck it near the rudder. Zoler stumbled and realized she was smiling in delight. Then she felt eyes on her and looked up.

It’s a damn undead ship. She saw the undead sails at last. Saw a [Necromancer] lock eyes with her and felt a thrill as she saw Pisces raise his rapier—then she gazed past him at Yvlon Byres.

The Silver Killer. And her eyes…Zoler’s smile vanished.

Their ships connected, and the slam of wood on wood knocked everyone around. Zoler was first on her feet.

Up! Up! Get—

She still didn’t know what she was doing until she saw the first Skeleton Champion clear the decks. Then Zoler’s instincts took over. The Dullahan leapt forwards, slashing to take its head off—and it blocked her blade.

The skeleton riposted so fast Zoler barely deflected the slash. Another leapt onto the deck, and a Newblood in a wild charge slashed into it—and it impaled him with a delicate thrust of the rapier.

They were—Zoler parried six fast slashes, swept a leg, stabbed down, and the skeleton caught her sword with one hand before it could fully pierce its skull. It rolled, slashing at her legs, and she jumped, fell, and stumbled to one knee.

Kill them!

Newbloods were charging around her, and one of the Vampires punched the skeleton clean off the ship. The grinning [Pirate] held a hand out to Zoler as she reached for it—

A silver spike of metal went straight through the Vampire’s head, and the girl looked confused. She opened her mouth to scream—and ash began to flake from the wound. Then she crumpled over without a word.

Another spike of metal burst through the air, and Zoler’s duck saved her life. Three more [Pirates] slowed, puzzled, staring at metal running through their limbs; a half-dozen were hanging in the air, impaled.

Then the screaming began. The spikes of metal withdrew, and Zoler saw an arm clinging to the railing of her ship. Then a face followed it up. Blonde hair, covered in blood, bared teeth, blue eyes. A surprisingly calm face that made Zoler’s legs shake.

Yvlon Byres. The Silver Killer pulled herself onto the deck as someone aimed a crossbow at her. It pinged off her helmet.

The second one hit her straight in the forehead, and Zoler made a sound. But Yvlon just recoiled—one of her arms turned into a shield—and she yanked the tip of the crossbow bolt out of her head.

It had barely gone into her skull. Then she lowered her arms, and Zoler shrieked.


An arm like a scythe slashed across the deck at knee-height, and anyone who didn’t jump or dodge—the Silver Killer charged past Zoler and slammed into a young Minotaur, who skidded backwards, roaring.

Their heroes—a Newblood looked up, mouth open, as a figure flew down, a cloak revealing Ksmvr of Chandrar as he shed the invisibility spell at the last moment.

Then a silver blade beheaded the [Pirate], and Zoler lifted her sword.

“Wait. We’re your—fans—”

Her voice was quiet, but the Antinium, Ksmvr, actually heard it. He turned and called to a figure following a wave of skeletons onto the deck.

“Pisces. I believe these are our fans.”

And there he was. Captain Zoler’s blade wavered as she saw a head of dirty brown hair rise. Two grey-green eyes found her face. He raised a rapier, and a bell chimed silently as Zoler stared at it.

—Her head twisted. Pisces’ rapier tore open her cheek and slashed through the air. Zoler made a sound, and the [Necromancer] pointed his off-hand.

“[Deathbolt]. Where’s Yvlon?”

Zoler fell flat on her back, eyes wide, as Ksmvr pointed. Without a word, the [Necromancer] charged as a Satyr whirled a huge sling behind them and loosed it with a crack.

Pisces had heard Ksmvr. But his rapier kept moving. It extended as he lunged again, and a [Pirate] with a half-smile of incredulity grimaced. And the Horns of Hammerad—kept—going—

When Zoler pushed herself to one shaking arm, trying to breathe and keep her heart from stopping, she heard more shouts of dismay. Then she heard two sounds to put terror into her chest.

A-Antinium! Antinium in the skies! And the Dragon—

The Iron Vanguard is attacking! The Iron Vanguard is attacking!

Zoler heard a shriek from above, a sound she had never conceived of, and then the roar of distant spells. Her father had forsaken his promise. Why? Zoler was scrambling for the speaking stone to speak to someone and ask why—

Then the first Kraken tentacle burst from the waters, and she stared up, up, and ever higher as the Kraken rose from the deep. Zoler could swear then that she heard a woman cackling.




At first, Tulm the Mithril denied the truth.

“Erin Solstice? Move a cutter to confirm.”

He had weighed trying to intercept Roshal, but he’d had no idea where The Naga’s Den was, and even the Seer of Steel hadn’t been able to locate them. Her presence here suggested she had escaped Roshal…but of all places to head.

Perhaps they’d pushed her into the storm?

The Iron Vanguard were in the middle of circling Wistram, surrounding the Bloodtear and the Terandrians, when the first oddities began cropping up. Tulm couldn’t see into the storm, and he had hesitated to send even the Krakenbane Destroyer, Sea’s Authority, into it.

The [Pirates] were dangerous, but Tulm would find his daughter if he could justify the boarding action.

Xol of Ingrilt had supported the measure not just for Tulm’s ego, and so the [Strategist] was relieved his counterpart was taking his stance.

The [Dragonslayer Strategist] didn’t know who would come out victorious from the fighting. He suspected both fleets would be irreparably damaged. If the Bloodtear Pirates emerged…he was weighing attacking the ships exiting the fighting and tipping his hand early.

They could do unacceptable damage to his fleet.

“If she is in the midst of the combat—obligation dictates we send a ship to rescue her, Tulm.”

Xol offered as he stomped across the pouring decks. Tulm felt more rain washing down his armor and snapped back.

“Of course. However, Zoler’s oath means the instant I do…”

He was devising a simultaneous strike and about to request the Seer of Steel approve his plans. And if magic or urgency demanded it, he would execute a rescue upon confirmation of Erin Solstice’s whereabouts, response or not. Then, as his lips were moving, it happened.

A burning line of gold shot down from above. Tulm saw it bloom through the storm, and his heart, his very class, suddenly drove everything out of his mind. It was like the ringing of a Dragonward bell. Doom—and hatred.

Every Dullahan who’d seen the line of fire recoiled. Some [Strategists] aboard Tulm’s command began calling for magic detection reports. But while they were going off—Xol froze, and his eyes swung to Tulm.

“Strategist Tulm. Was that—”

Another bloom of gold. Then Tulm heard a boom of sound and saw a shape bursting through the edge of the storm. His voice was lost, then he spoke. He had never failed to keep his head in a war scenario, even as Niers’ student. But—

“Dragon. Tulm to fleet. Dragon sighting. Scatter by Petal of Ponds formation. Signal Invictel now. Identify.”

Frozen, the Dullahans’ entire communication network went dead at his words for…a minute, two minutes, Tulm couldn’t say. His eyes were locked on the sky, but now he felt every line of his body vibrating. His mind was trying to recall the records, but a breathless [Historian] from Invictel clicked onto the speaking stone line.

“—tegist Tulm. Strategist Tulm—distortion magic spells. Can you hear—?”

“Reapply the [Communication] spell. I hear you. Which one is it? [Ship: Dragonfire Ward]. Do we have any Dragonbane weapons out of storage? Bring Sea’s Authority into the center of our formation!”

Tulm was giving rapid orders, trying to picture a way to keep that Dragon from strafing their ships. They were weak once wounded. But his blood began to sing as he heard a grim, even triumphant tone.

“We are certain from the description and speed, Strategist. Identifying Dragon tentatively as—if it is named—Teriarch. Last Dragonlord of Flame.”

Xol of Ingrilt had drawn a sword and shield and had pivoted to face the sky. But his great head lowered, and his eyes went wide as Tulm’s grip tightened on the speaking stone. The [Historian of Foes]’ voice went on. A shaking, fearful, wrathful tone.

Teriarch. Lord of Pyres. Champion of Ashen Wings. Doom of Amerital Goolm. Strategist—”

“I understand. The Iron Vanguard’s fleet will assume a combat formation. Seer of Steel, our fleet is poised to give battle to the Dragon. Do I have permission to sacrifice the colony fleet?”

Silence. Xol lifted his head as War Walkers emerged from their ships. One raised a bow, and the Krakenbane Destroyer began to glow. Tulm heard a massive voice from the speaking stone.


Xol raised his voice in a bellow, and Tulm allowed it. Dullahans began hammering on their breastplates—but then every eye was on the skies. And Tulm was suddenly drawn back to the battle by a voice from his speaking stone. One of the scouting ships.

Strategist. I bear witness to Erin Solstice’s presence.

Tulm began snapping orders.

Protect Erin Solstice. Signal all forces. We will engage the Dragonlord once we draw a lock on—”

Then someone shouted a warning, and Tulm’s head snapped around as he heard more coordinates being shouted.

“Another flying shape approaching!”

It must be slower if they actually spotted it before it passed. Two Dragons? Tulm’s mind began racing as he recalled Niers’ warning he had passed on via Umina. What—

Then he heard a shriek. His blood chilled. His mind went numb a moment, and Dullahans cowered, fearless against their foe of Dragons—but they had never dreamed of this.

A wretched monster of chitin, wings spread, flying, gargantuan and dreadful, mouths open and shrieking, passed overhead. It carried something, and Tulm’s head tracked it as the Dullahan took his head off and raised it.

Then he felt his understanding of the battlefield vanish completely. Tulm raised a stone as the Seer of Steel shouted.


“Identification. Confirm—I have just spotted Wrymvr of the Antinium. Repeat. Wrymvr of the Antinium.

And—Tulm waited for confirmation until he relayed this because he hadn’t believed his eyes.

The Centenium had been carrying…a ship. The Iron Vanguard began moving into the battle as Tulm gave orders.

“Open fire on all Bloodtear Pirates, but do not break formation. Hold on the Dragon until you have explicit orders. Do not engage the Antinium or any irregular ships at this moment.”

The Iron Vanguard began their advance as drums beat, and the [Dragonslayer Strategist] began to activate his Skills reserved only for this foe when he sensed the oceans roiling.

The first Kraken tentacle punched a hole in one of the troop transports off his portside bow, and he heard shrieking. Then he looked down and triggered a third all-fleet order without requiring identification this time.





The Dragon was going to die. He sensed a [Dragonslayer] below, and he knew the Iron Vanguard was here.

But he had come because it mattered. So he flew and breathed fire.

Lines of gold until his lungs felt incapable of another breath. Streaking over the storm, whirling out of cloud cover, and he swore he could sense the very age of the ships below him, old stories not fitting in this new world, just like the Dragon himself.

They had all changed, but there was Erribathe, sailing in confidence, pitting themselves against the greatest of [Pirates]. Hungry souls.

Glowing lights from Wistram.

That girl. Which one? She was heading straight to her death.

The Dancer…

No, Erin Solstice was striking another ship, and Lucifen were dying. They fought so strangely, these Devils of the modern age.

In teams, not alone, surrounded by servants. Supporting each other, dragging one of their wounded number behind glowing ghosts. Teriarch saw them for a second, high above, as his Dragonbreath pierced the Third Tide.

They always loved traps. Tripwires of darkness magic. Explosive runes—master spellcasters. One of them was using a flaming sword quite well. Superior beings, they called themselves.

But it was a few dozen versus…he saw one vanish beneath a tangle of bodies before their comrades blew the scrum apart. Ghosts were locked against [Pirates], and Erin would never turn back.

So they went to her. Allies and enemies, drawn together like moths to a great lantern. Roshal’s ships. [Pirates]. Strange allies.

A half-Elf [Admiral] was cutting the waters, a lantern on her prow shining a spotlight of viridian light straight through the storm. She pointed at the [Innkeeper], and one of the bolts blew a hole in the hull of The Naga’s Den.

So he dove—and saw the ballistae swivel up at him and realized it was a trap.

The Dragon dipped a wing, and pink flames sent him into an aileron roll. He spiraled out of the way of one, two—

The third bolt grazed him, and flaming shrapnel and clinging fire rained down across his brass scales. The flames burnt against his hide, and his reply was a blooming ball of fire that sent [Pirates] scrambling and burned through the shields. Panting, the Dragon winged away fast.

She’d sent flames against him. A mistake. Next time, they’d load something nastier. His head was swivelling as he kept moving. Slow down and they’d catch him.

Something was wrong. He heard a wild screech and realized there was another flier in the air. The Dragon spotted Wrymvr at the same time as the Centenium saw him, and both froze.

What is that?

It looked like some kind of twisted idea of a Dragon. But—Antinium? Teriarch didn’t remember, and he almost blasted it with fire, then saw it spit a glob of acid. Teriarch blinked out of the air, repositioning above the thing, and began to dive like a comet.

—Then he saw the ship the Centenium was dropping towards the battle below and the little insect-men and a Drowned Woman staring up at him in horror, and he understood.

When the Dancer calls for aid—

The Dragon spun out of the way again as Wrymvr and the Antinium ship he had carried from the Hivelands hit the water. The half-Elf [Admiral], Maxy, whirled, and a ballista bolt hit Wrymvr in the side. The Centenium jolted—then buzzed towards her ship.

The screech made even Teriarch’s wings feel faint. He saw the half-Elf retreating as the Antinium boat—barely more than a waterproof tub—spun wildly. Yet they too were following the wounded ship crewed by the [Innkeeper].

Madness. Heroism. The Dragon stabilized his flight, circling the storm, wondering what the most optimal move was. Locate the Goblin? Which…one…was it? He couldn’t tell from above.

Teriarch began to dive towards one and sensed something only he could see from high above.

The sea’s churning. It was impossible for anyone, even a [Scrying] spell gazing down on the storm, to see it. Teriarch, miles up, saw the black waters moving. His pulse quickened, and the ancient Dragonlord’s eyes widened. Something massive was rising—

Then the first tentacle burst from the surf. A tentacle, blowing apart a ship like a toy, reaching ever higher, like the legend it was. Ancient suckers crusted with debris, open mouths and multiple brains—and eyes, oh yes—eyes—

The Kraken beheld Teriarch, and the Dragon spoke.

“Scale rot. What next?

He should have brought the Giant’s sword. The Dragon hesitated—then performed a spiral dive and exhaled as his claws reached out, raking down the tendril.

It turned into a flaming torch as he raked open the tough skin, and the Kraken convulsed, but more tendrils were rising, and it was big. Not the biggest but—

Had it sensed the fighting? The Dragonlord was tiny compared to the Kraken, and he broke away from the waters suddenly rather than continue his dive into the water to the Kraken’s main body. That was how you had to fight them. Bleed them out. Take them down limbs at a time or find a way to hit their submerged form.

He had been about to—this was a young one who’d never fought a Dragon or it would have never exposed itself to the air that long. But the Dragonlord swore he’d heard it.

A [Witch]’s laughter echoing from the deeps.




Oh yes. It was her. She’d done it.

Belavierr stared up at the surface from the depths of the ocean. Her orange eyes glowed with rings of broken immortality. Shattered power and the malevolence of a [Witch] bound by defeat and obligation.

They’d bested her. They’d tricked her, even. Her.

Forced her to uphold old oaths. [Witches] as terrible as she, binding her with word and authority, and they had done it.

How she labored.

How much she’d lost.

Yet she was still Belavierr. Spider! Temptress!

The Kraken was screaming. It had few wounds—well, up till the moment it had surfaced—but it was wild with madness and grief, as it understood these things. Faced with surfacing into this storm with food and things to destroy or facing her, it had taken a simple pact.

It rose into the storm above. Belavierr didn’t know what it was attacking. A fleet, she knew. Multiple fleets near Wistram?

She didn’t care. The Witch of Webs spun in the dark, her dress billowing black, like the ink that even the darkness of the water could not match. Cackling.

So much work to do. The Witch of Webs was hunting for something at the bottom of the sea. She had obligations binding her. She could feel the oaths and the humiliation and shame—but she was laughing. Laughing as ships began sinking.

Who had she doomed? What moment was this? She did not care.

Only and only that they were sinking. Screaming bodies plunged down into the unforgiving waters, devoid of breath. The [Witch] lifted a hand, and her smile captured the flickering lives, the desperation to live of [Pirates] and nobles. Dullahans, Drowned Folk subjected to crushing pressures, Humans—all of them.

The Witch of Webs began to strike deals on her terms as more ships drifted down to the bottom of the sea.




Strategist Anand realized the first moment he saw the Dragon that he was outmatched. The roaring Dragon appeared through the storm, and even Wrymvr screamed.

The Dragon. I am dropping you! Brace!

The Centenium’s telepathic command made Anand, Goat, and the other Free Antinium and the volunteers tense. Wrymvr dove, and the water was coming up hard and fast—

We’re going to split the ship!

Torthe shrieked in his ear, and Anand felt their ship, the Waterproof CXI, plunging towards the surf. He had a cogent thought.

We are all going to die.

Then they hit the water with the most almighty splash in the world, and the entire ship screamed. Antinium ran around frantically as the boat rocked, and Wrymvr took to the air. Something exploded on Wrymvr’s armor, and Anand lifted a hand.

“[Steady the Ship]! Patch the holes!”

There was only one ‘deck’ and a hull that Antinium raced into, ready to bail, but of all things, the impact hadn’t sunk their ship. The Antinium hadn’t figured out mobility, but durability—

“We’re alive? We made it? It actually floats—

They hugged each other. Anand knew their ship floated. Of course it did. They had not made a hundred and ten previous iterations of this ship to know it floated.

But it was never meant to survive a storm like this. Well, it was, but I didn’t think we’d test it out like this!

“Deploy oars. Goat, lead them.”

Row! Row! Row!

The Soldier shakily produced some flags and waved them as Armored Antinium and the Free Antinium began to row in unison. Where? Anywhere.

Waves were rising and falling, and the Waterproof was bobbing up and down like a little toy in the middle of the most horrible storm Anand had ever seen. The water was red, and he saw even Torthe looked terrified.

“We’re in the middle of the Third Tide. Blood and darkness. The Bloodtear Pirates—”

That was who had attacked Wrymvr. When Anand looked up, he saw the Centenium flying after a huge warship retreating from him, flashes of burning light bursting against his chitin.

Unlike normal, there was no faint amusement or idleness in the Centenium’s thoughts. His voice was ‘fainter’ as he concentrated, and Anand heard no other Queens. They were far too far out at sea. He was surprised Wrymvr had made it, but the undying Centenium truly was unique.

Anand. Stay away from this ship. Dangerous. Dragon in the skies. Avoid.

“Wrymvr, do you see Erin?”

Anand screamed at the sky with his voice and his mind. He sensed the Centenium’s irritation/wariness/confusion.

All for her. Wrymvr did not understand why Anand had ordered him, ordered him to take a strike crew to sea. The Antinium in the Hivelands had believed that if Pawn could not protect Erin, they would make no difference, and the Grand Queen’s new…[Slaves] had been unsettling.

Then the Flying Queen’s treachery, at least as far as the Armored Queen had intimated. They had left in the middle of what might have been the first inter-Antinium war since the dawn of their people. Wrymvr had agreed to carry them because he had sensed Anand’s conviction.

Someone had to find Erin. Anand might not be the only one, but—he was her [Strategist]. So the silly Antinium who hated water and was already growing seasick lifted a spyglass and tried to stare around the dark night.

“Give me the wheel! All ahead! The waves’ll batter us dead, but…[Weathersense]. We’re heading to the eye of the storm! Got it?”

Torthe saved them in the first few minutes. Anand had no orientation at sea; there was no maneuverability as the [Strategist] was used to. They couldn’t leave the ship. Down was death, and the waves were like a constant earthquake.

However—his Antinium did know how to fight, and they could row. Torthe spun their stupid ship with the waves, heading towards what she saw as ‘safe harbor’. And Anand’s own [Battlefield Sense] let him work out what was happening.

There were at least three fleets fighting each other. One was relatively intact, advancing into the storm, but two were mixing and mingling in the waters, both half-blind and tearing each other to bits.

There were also a number of irregular ships with no allegiance—Anand knew one had to be Erin. But the wildcard was the flying Dragon—oh, and the Kraken and Wrymvr.

Both flying monsters were attacking from the sky, mostly the Bloodtear Pirates, but everyone was shooting at them. Yet what could not be predicted was the Kraken.

Light of my life!

Torthe shrieked as a wall rose ahead of the Waterproof. It looked like land, a perfectly round cliff wall that appeared out of nowhere, hundreds of feet long, until Anand realized it was a tentacle. It curled inwards, sweeping three ships, two [Pirate], one Terandrian, inwards.

And the Waterproof. Antinium rowed desperately as Anand saw the tentacle curling inwards to collect the vessels and then descend.

The Kraken was so massive that the tentacle pulling the ships down was executing the move slowly, so you had minutes to watch the walls of flesh constrict and scream and scream until you were being pulled down into the water where maws would open and tear you to bits.

Anand was a [Strike Strategist], not a hero. Antinium tried to climb the wall of slippery flesh, and he saw one of the Armored Antinium begin stabbing and stabbing the flesh with a sword. His blade barely dug into the flesh, and when the tentacle shifted slightly, the Antinium went falling into the surf.

[Quick Evaluation]. We are dead.

Anand saw [Pirates] trying to do what they were, hacking at the massive tentacle as if they could cleave through it. All three ships had attack spells, and they were unleashing them on the Kraken, gouging out what was to the Kraken pockmarks of flesh on a massive arm.

They’d never make it. The tentacle curled, and Anand saw the water actually dipping towards a whirlpool. He saw a desperate group of figures fighting like mad as a Terandrian ship, crossed swords and a snarling image of a lion on their flag, tried to escape. The soldiers hacked at their area of the tentacle. All three ships were being drawn closer together, and Anand saw desperate heads turn towards him.

What in the name of the deeps is that?

A [Pirate] shouted as Waterproof rammed into his vessel. Anand stumbled, felt an impact, and saw a nobleman with a rapier and a face covered in blood staring down at Anand. Then the nobleman turned.

Ser Gorethem! Now or never if you please!”

A single huge man was striding down the length of his ship. One side of his armor was torn open, and arrows were pitting his flesh. He looked half-dead—but the sword he carried?

Gorethem Krakenblood, the Lance of Kaazaldrin, finally stopped and found—some spot on the Kraken’s tentacle that Anand realized was just above one of the huge, blinking eyes. A slight bulge to the flesh—the man raised his greatsword high, grimacing in pain, and his voice silenced even the Antinium’s screams and Torthe’s shriek.

“[Sword Art: The Kraken Bleeds].”

When he swung his sword, the shockwave blew Anand off his feet and sent him spinning as the Waterproof rocked. He was terrified he’d go flying into the surf, but he hit one railing of the ship designed to prevent just that and got up. What was happening? The rain was hot and sticky and—

He realized it was purple, gushing down, and looked up.

Kraken blood was raining down from a gigantic wound forty feet tall. A terrific cheer arose—for a moment, then shouts of despair. Ser Gorethem was kneeling, his greatsword smoking from the force of the impact, but the Kraken’s tentacle wasn’t severed.

The damn thing wasn’t even cut halfway through. The entire limb convulsed from the blow, however, and the massive, round eye set into the Kraken’s limb was rolling around in pain. Anand waited for the tentacle to drag them down as the Kraken tried to pull its catch into the water, enraged and in pain.

—Then he realized something weird was happening. The tentacle that had formed a huge spiral around the four ships was slowly uncurling. The rest of the limb was pulling down fast, but, Anand realized—

He’s hit the brain! Or some kind of control muscle. The member of the Thousand Lances knew something about Krakens, and like a severed nerve in a hand, the Kraken was unable to keep contracting its tentacle. Anand looked around, trying to calculate where the uncurling tentacle would—

“Torthe! Steer us there and row! Row!

“What? Are you mad?”

Anand was pointing at a wall of moving flesh, but the [Strategist] seized the wheel, and Goat waved his flags furiously. Row! Row!

The other three vessels saw his ship moving ahead and followed him. Pure herd mentality—but as Anand saw the tentacle sinking, the tip of it passed by, and an opening revealed itself.

The desperate three ships made it out of range of the Kraken’s tentacle before the waters sucked down everything around it. The purple bloodstain vanished in a vortex—along with one of the [Pirate] ships too slow to follow Anand’s vessel.

Dead gods! Dead gods! Dead—

Torthe was screaming, and the Antinium were hugging each other. Anand was dizzy, sick, covered in blood—and he had not a moment to celebrate because a second later he heard a shout.

Kill the bastards and let’s get out of here before the Kraken comes back! Come on, lads, he’s used his best Skill!

The Antinium in their low-to-the-water vessel looked up and saw two ships ram into each other again. Incredibly, the moment they realized they’d been spared oblivion, the Bloodtear Pirates charged the Terandrian vessel. They leapt back on board the deck, and one of them pointed.

“[Covering Fire: Longshot Gamble]! Have another, Ser Knight!

It must have activated some kind of long-range support Skill because a flaming projectile shot out of the air, hit the member of the Thousand Lances, and sent him bouncing across the deck. The nobleman and [Soldiers] rushed forwards, shouting desperately, and Anand even saw giant cats yowling and fighting the [Pirates].

Kaaz! Kaaz and the Thousand Lances! 

For the Hundred Families of—

The Terandrians were losing. The decks were covered in purple blood, and the rain and swaying decks meant that the [Pirates] had the edge on footing, and they seemed faster, stronger, and more used to the sea than this other kingdom.

Of course, if the Terandrians were bad at sea…the Antinium were the furthest out of their element. Their tiny tub could barely hold sixty Antinium, which was all that Wrymvr could even carry. No wonder the [Pirates] ignored them in their frenzy to kill the Kaazians and get out of here.

The Terandrians likewise would have first attacked the Antinium as monsters if they even had a second to breathe.

Which was why the first [Pirate] was really surprised when an Antinium climbed a rope Torthe had secured, tumbled onto the deck, and rocked back and forth before pulling another Antinium up.


The [Pirate] stared at Goat as the Free Antinium rose. Goat had a goat painted on his chest, and he had a sword and shield and armor gifted to him by the Armored Queen on him. The Antinium slid sideways in the rain. He looked like the least dangerous thing in the world, and the [Pirate] began to ignore him.

—Until another Antinium tumbled over the side of the ship and pointed a finger.

“[Steady Ground]. [Combined Arms]—take the flank. [Archers]—fire.

More Antinium climbed over the railing, and a pair of Workers with bows dropped to one knee and fired two arrows that dropped a [Pirate]. The swaying ship stopped rocking for a second, and all the [Pirates] and Terandrians used to the rocking of the ship—stumbled.

Goat did not. He charged forwards, blade swinging in tandem with one of the Armored Antinium, and the [Pirate] deflected a dangerous slash to his belly.

“Antinium? Let’s—”

The Bloodtear Pirates pivoted as Kaaz’s soldiers stared in horror at the bug-men. Both [Pirates] and Terandrians hesitated, but the Antinium were attacking Bloodtear. The Bloodtear crew looked at each other.

Did the Antinium have any destiny worth stealing? Kill them anyways, right? How dangerous could they be? It was just sixty of—

Then the Antinium [Strategist] pointed.

Kaazians, you are under my command. [Evasive Tactics]. There, there—[Armored Advance]. Forwards!”

The Terandrians hesitated—but the [Soldiers] felt a protective Skill envelop them and surged forwards instinctively as the [Pirates] cursed and backed up.

Kill the [Strategist]! Kill the—

The Bloodtear crew knew how to fight. They locked blades, hacking at the fearless Antinium, but the four arms caught the [Pirates] off-guard, and the Antinium fought in a cluster of bodies. One [Pirate] raised a bow, aiming it right, left—

Which one is it?

They all looked the same. A snarling [Mage] drew a bead on the Antinium and produced a glowing [Fireball]—only to look up.

Ser Gorethem charged back into the battle, armor dented, bleeding, but his greatsword made of a Kraken’s tooth rose and fell, and Anand poked his head up and pointed.

“Reform around the [Knight]. You—fall back into line. [Apply Healing Gel]! [Unit: Antinium Nature]!”

Ser Gorethem jerked as a wet, sticky substance covered his wounded arm and torso. He recoiled, tearing at it, then felt the agony of the poison and pain cease. They’d run out of healing potions, but Anand—

Gorethem felt his skin, already enhanced by his Skills, suddenly deaden in sensation. He felt…sturdier, but also, instantly, developed an aversion to the water around him. Yet he felt his bleeding slow and his wounds were healing.

The Antinium was pointing, and Ser Gorethem hesitated, then joined a screened advance as the Antinium and Kaazians pushed forwards. The cursing [Pirates] were retreating towards their ship—and the final blow came when Anand calmly spotted their leader trying to retreat.

“There. [Unit: Acid Jar Blades].”

The [Pirates] ran for it as a dozen wounds began bubbling and eating flesh away. Their [Captain] tried to escape—but a blade ran him through the leg, and the Kaazian nobleman spat as the screaming [Captain] stumbled and tumbled head-first off the ship into the sea.

By Kaaz Dorem Laegriser! Give these rogues no quarter!

The [Pirates] were fleeing, and Anand shouted over the nobleman as Ser Gorethem almost took the ramps.

“No, give them all quarter. Do not pursue!”

The Kaazians slowed, mostly because the Antinium came to a halt. Sure enough, the boarding ramps began falling as the enemy ship broke away and drove into the storm. Then it was just Anand, the bewildered Terandrians, who aimed their swords uncertainly at the Antinium—the nobleman snapped, his voice wary, then his eyes flicking to the [Knight], and his tone growing urgent.

“Antinium. Ser Gorethem, are you alright? Someone find a healing potion—Ser Gorethem!”

The [Knight] of the Thousand Lances was panting for air. He had been wounded in the last six battles, once against Admiral Rosech himself, and their healing potion stores had long since run out.

But he was able to stand, and his other arm, which had been functionally inactive, maimed by injuries, grasped his greatsword. He stared at the strange new additions to the battlefield.

That Dragon in the sky. A full Adult Kraken—now Antinium?

The Antinium’s leader, if you could call any of them distinct, was shorter than some of the big ones…‘Soldier-types’ he thought they were from his understanding of them. It spoke in a clicking, slightly staccato tone.

“Wound assessment. The enemy ship has broken off. Goat, tend to any injured Antinium. Is Torthe alright?”

He turned to a Drowned Woman of all things as one of the huge Soldiers produced a pot of greenish-brown gel. The Kaazians stared. Lord Altivem, the last surviving member of Kaaz’s nobility on board their ship, raised his rapier wearily, his voice hoarse.

“Not one step closer, whoever you are! The Kingdom of the Infinite Dungeon—”

He hesitated. Had just been saved by these Antinium? The Black Tide of Izril? It made no sense, but the Antinium’s next words were extraordinary. Even, Gorethem realized as he panted for air and regarded the bug-people—calculated.

“I am Strategist Anand of the Free Antinium. I request immediate coordination with Earl Altestiel. We have come to aid noble Terandria upon request.”

That pulled Lord Altivem up short, as well as the other Kaazians. Ser Gorethem just thought—

How intelligent.

“Upon request? Are you our reinforce—”

The spluttering [Lord] hesitated as Ser Gorethem held his sword out. The Antinium tensed as the Knight of the Thousand Lances stood straighter. He uttered one question.

Whose request?

Strategist Anand exhaled faintly as he locked gazes with the [Knight] whose own perspicaciousness belied his size. Anand touched his chest simply.

“Our own. We must save a dear friend of ours. We will fight and die for Erin Solstice. Please do not force us to do battle. Earl Altestiel is her friend.”

Antinium in the storm. Lord Altivem’s mouth dropped open, and Ser Gorethem saw the Antinium standing there, huddling in the rain, terrified of each passing wave.

For honor, in strange lands—he thought he saw the Dragon’s mismatched gaze in his memory, looking at him and judging, and he saw the Antinium clasping two hands together that shook as he held a sword in his other hand, and his antennae waved.

Insect men, a Drowned Woman [Pirate] hiding behind them—Ser Gorethem spoke.

“You have not a chance in a thousand of finding someone in the storm with a Kraken awake, let alone safeguarding…her from the Bloodtear Pirates.”

“I know. I must try.”

He heard a smile in the Antinium’s reply.




They just kept coming out of the storm. The Bloodtear Pirates had all heard it now. The [Innkeeper] was in the storm.

With a crew from Ailendamus no less, led by that Admiral Dakelos fellow himself. It sounded like a joke.

The half-Shark Captain Dovom wasn’t sure if the [Innkeeper] was laughing.

He was taking his vessel towards her, ignoring easier targets because it was that famous name. Erin Solstice. He’d heard her called the ‘Goblinfriend’ of Izril.

She had burst out of the waves into the calm eye of the storm and run into the thickest of the fighting. Earl Altestiel’s ship as well as Lord Belchaus’, Griffindance of Lord Firrus, and over sixty other ships were locked in mortal combat.

The Legend’s Wake had been sinking Bloodtear ships like a damn beast of war, but it had peeled off for some reason. Dovom had been weighing hunting it down with the [Pirates] until he’d seen The Naga’s Den.

It was lightly crewed, for all it had ghosts, and wounded badly. He smelled blood in the water, and his appetite towards the Earl of Rains was sated.

The Earl was damn hard to kill. He and the Lord of the Dance had been boarded eight times and fought off each [Pirate] crew—including Rosech’s own.

Unsettled King, crewed by Rosech, was currently burning another vessel, heedless of two entire warships docked with it. Dovom didn’t like Admiral Rosech of 1st Fleet, but he had to admit the man was a devil of battle.

But he was insane, even for him. He’d thrown his crew into the worst of the fighting, screaming about his son and his Skill not working. The half-Shark [Captain] was ready for blood—his shark side was going wild—but he wanted his future after this.

The [Innkeeper]. His ship, styled with gigantic teeth taken from Reefeyes and other sea monsters, crashed towards her and smashed into the larger ship—but he had the Skills, and his personal ship crunched through part of the other ship’s deck.

Some of the broken boards began reknitting as the Drowned Man called for grappling lines, and a bolt of magic shot one of his ballista crews off their feet.

Damn, they’ve got [Mages], and someone’s repairing their ship. Even so, he felt himself going into a wild frenzy as he smelled blood on the decks. Strange blood.

His crew came up over grappling lines, and another team smashed into the hull from the side. Dovom sent Newbloods over the top and heard them being butchered as he went in from the side.

The [Innkeeper]’s lot weren’t expecting an attack from below. Ghostly figures surged down the steps, and Dovom hesitated a second, remembering the ghosts he’d seen at the end of an era. But when one shot him with a crossbow, he went forwards, howling, bit a ghostly head off, and realized they weren’t nearly as dangerous.

Kill the [Admiral]! Don’t stop swarming them! Up! Up, you fucking sea rats!

He emerged onto the deck, huge, bare chest covered in tough sharkhide wet with rain, a bandolier of throwing knives on and his axe in one hand, teeth gnashing.

Someone put a hole in him in a second. He took a step, blinked, and some noblewoman in black finery pointed. A searing lance of pain blew a hole straight through his shoulder.


The crew saw Dovom fall back, but the shark-man just grabbed one of Alchemist Irurx’s potions and slammed it into his shoulder.

I said—[Crew: Bloodthirsty Frenzy]. Kill them!

His crew charged past the ghosts, straight into the lines of the nobles from Ailendamus. Dovom was right amidst them, the largest shark in his pack, roaring with satisfaction. This was Bloodtear! This was—

Some kind of monster with a bald skull for a helmet, black ‘skin’, and a mouth of razors seized him. A sword burnt into Dovom’s flesh, and he howled—hacked back into a suit of all things, and the hand released him. A finger pointed, and this time, Dovom ducked—




Viscount Visophecin was bleeding. Even now, his mind was analytical, but it was beset, the cold fury of a Lucifen tinged with unease.

Too many [Pirates]. Too high-level. Every third one survived even a direct shot from the Lucifen’s killing magic, and the Lucifen were not inexhaustible. They were—


There were just too many [Pirates]. Admiral Dakelos’ crew fought hard, but the [Pirates] ignored the ghosts, going for the Admiral, who stood, sword slashing, heedless of his own life, next to Erin Solstice and the Hobgoblin, Ulvama.

Erin was insane too. Like the Agelum. She was fighting against the [Pirates], knife in hand, shooting her wand at point-blank range, eyes wide and fearless.

How did they not sense their own deaths? The Hobgoblin slashed with a sword, her magical paint flaring and taking a blow cleaving towards her shoulder. The [Innkeeper] raised her hand, and a swarm of magical fish appeared out of the air, biting, tearing—

The [Pirates] threw themselves into it. They knocked Visophecin off his feet, three of them tackling him and stabbing his Warform. He threw one off him, grabbed the other—

“[Hellfire Palm].”

Fire raced into the woman’s face, and cracks appeared before flames burst out of her. Visophecin immolated the third with his flaming sword and stood. Where was that [Capt—

A crossbow bolt shattered on his forehead, and he reeled. The Devil stumbled—flickered—

Visophecin lost control of his warform and knelt, panting. A [Pirate] aimed a crossbow down at him, and the Lucifen pointed up—a hole opened in their throat as Visophecin spoke.

“[Law of the Lucifen: Cease Breathing].”

[Pirates] clutched at their throats around him—and still they fought. One tried to sweep Visophecin’s leg, and Visophecin struck a face, again and again, and felt fragments of bone being hammered into a face and saw that smile full of blood—

Hatred. They didn’t fear him. They hated him. They envied him. They were…


A scream. The Lucifen turned and saw someone backing away as a figure emerged through a wall of fire. The half-Shark [Captain]. Azemith threw up her arms to shield her face as the Viscount raised a finger too slowly.

A blade ran Azemith of the Lucifen through and cut up. Visophecin’s eyes went wide.

Two hundred and ninety-three years. Bitter boredom.

Reluctance to join Ailendamus.

Igolze and Azemith bearing Paxere. Friendship with Uziel and Razia established after sixty years of—

Chuckling over Sariant Lambs and the Agelum’s fondness for them until they grew so numerous—

An open mouth. Red eyes staring at him, hand outstretched.

Gone. Those features of desperation, regret, fear—became fire. Black flames laced with yellow light. Hellfire itself. Azemith’s form burnt into the air—then her body became soot, and the flames burned a hole into the deck as she vanished with the smell of sulfur and a scream in the world.

A Lucifen died. Even the Bloodtear Pirate’s [Captain] looked unnerved. Then he lifted his sword as if admiring what he saw—

Visophecin only felt hands pulling him back when he realized his kin were dragging him away. Someone had opened a gate, and they pulled him away from the Bloodtear Pirates’ crew.

“Viscount, we are dying.”

Someone—Vultapheles—was speaking, face covered in blood. Too dark and grey to be the same as Human blood. They were afraid, yet fear did not master them. It could not for a Lucifen. But it was there, and those eyes held a pain as Visophecin jerked.

“Let go of me.”

The half-Shark [Captain] was heading towards Erin Solstice. Lucifen were falling, and the fourth of his kin perished as a man strode into the [Pirates].

Igolze, Azemith’s partner, pointed a finger around him as he ran into their blades. A spray of acid coated everything around him, and [Pirates] clawed at their faces. He was heading towards the [Captain]—but sagged as Visophecin saw dozens of blades embedded in his arms and legs. Someone fired a crossbow bolt through his neck, and the Lucifen lifted a hand. His eyes rose towards the dark skies as if searching for a light—

Fire consumed his features. His eyes scorched into Visophecin’s vision, and he left no sign of his presence behind but ash.

But Paxere.


Visophecin whispered. He did not understand it after all.


Still they came. The [Innkeeper] saw the half-Shark [Captain] bearing down on her and walked towards him. The [Shaman] slammed a staff on the ground, and Erin Solstice grew half a foot. Then a foot—

A mouth full of teeth in the [Captain]’s grin. She stabbed at him, and her knife, forged by a master of Dwarves, drew his blood, his hide or not. He swung a fist into her mouth and recoiled as pink flames burned up his arm. She spat blood and teeth and carved a line across his face.

Punched him hard enough even he felt it. Dodged a swipe from the sword and threw half a jar of acid in his face—but even the acid refused to kill him. 

A screaming half-Shark man smashing her into one railing. A crossbow bolt striking her in the chest—and it failed to even scratch her clothing. The [Innkeeper] caught it and planted it in his wrist.

He hurled her down the deck, caught himself as Visophecin put a hole in the fin on his back, took cover, and looked up as the [Innkeeper] pushed herself up.

Blood in the water. No regrets, aye.




Captain Dovom didn’t like her eyes. She was supposed to be an [Innkeeper]. She fought like a bastard. She didn’t blink even after he slashed her and broke her teeth.

Like a dog who yapped at you despite you being bigger than it. But this one bit, and—blood was running down his face as he snarled.

Captain! Help—”

“Kill that [Admiral] and the [Mages]!”

He ignored the pleas of a crewmate. They had her! They had her, and he was throwing aside a ghostly [Cook] who punched Dovom hard enough to make him curse—then one of his crew seized him.

“It’s not just the crew! We’re under attack! It’s—”

Another ship? Dovom spun and saw someone charge into his crew from the rear. He was fearless. Prepared for anything—but even Dovom hesitated when he saw the Orangutan.

Erek brought down his sword on a shoulder, and lightning crackled through the air. A young man with tattoos ran past the Orangutan and threw himself onto a blade. The [Pirate] twisted it—but the Courier drove a dagger through the man’s ear and twisted that.

“The Hundredfriends Courier!”

Dovom snarled incredulously—then saw more pink flames. An Antinium was burning. No—a [Knight] was wreathed in flames.

They had come over the side of the ship. A tiny vessel, the Hundredfriend Courier’s own ship, was tethered in the water, and a Nelgaunt, glowing, was smashing into Dovom’s ship.

A flicker above him. Dovom looked up and saw another Courier. His mouth opened a second. He’d always thought she was attractive.

Then Ryoka Griffin pointed her sword, and flames burned from it. She traced a line across the deck, and the flames covered a [Pirate] in front of Dovom and seared straight through them. He saw flesh boil and char in less than a second, and Ryoka Griffin flew past, eyes wide and filled with tears.

He thought she didn’t kill.


Dovom saw the [Innkeeper] rising, but suddenly his confidence was lost. The Hundredfriends Courier would not die. He was a small army as his summoned friends attacked—and behind him was an Antinium [Knight]—and another armored figure, slashing at the [Pirates]. A small force…until a glowing spider the size of a house crawled over the deck.


Revi Cotton had no more tears. She fired her wand as her summoned warriors and the massive Shield Spider attacked. Erin needed an army. She and Seve were that army. And they were ready to die. Someone had to. Halrac was already dead.

The Drowned Captain was falling back, but ready to butcher these newcomers. They kept coming. Adventurers. Damn Antinium!

Then an arrow pierced his cheek, and he gagged on it as it pierced his tongue and it spasmed. The arrow snapped as Dovom howled, but another hit him just below the eye. And another.


A lone [Archer] stood there with the rest of the reinforcements, still aglow from the Archmage of Izril’s last spell that had thrown Seve’s small ship across the ocean. A miracle? His bow sang, and a [Pirate] fell. Then another.

Badarrow kept firing as they shot at him. He didn’t flinch as a spell passed over one ear. Each spell and arrow was one not aimed at the [Innkeeper]. She was right there.

So was his brother. Someone had to come, and he had spoken first.

Badarrow. Revi. Embraim. Rivel. Seve. And Ryoka Griffin. In the end, it had been exactly six people. Five by the Archmage of Izril. The last on a Unicorn’s back.

Plus one last person ready to die if it meant something.

Nerry fired both wands and cut a [Pirate] down from the legs. The razor-sharp arc of magic was as powerful as she’d hoped. The lamb was grinning. Smiling happily for maybe the first time in her life.

Then, and only then, Erin Solstice stopped. Her face was swollen, and she had lost the spell Ulvama had cast. She was bleeding, her eyes wide and, for once, shocked.

“What are you doing?”

“Getting my brother back.”

Badarrow grinned at her. Ryoka Griffin landed on the deck, panting.

“They’re leaving. There are more ships out there. I see Altestiel’s ship—

“Ryoka? Revi?”

The [Summoner] came over, breathing hard, and looked at Erin. Revi’s cheeks were still stained with eyeshadow and tears.

“Someone has to do it. Halrac would want it this way.”

“Go back.”

“Not without you. I believe I saw the Horns of Hammerad. Let us link up; no one will survive without their help. There is a Kraken in the waters, and those ships ahead have even more [Pirates] than this one. Squire Rivel. Make sure the lamb isn’t washed away.”

Embraim. Rivel looked at Erin, a crimson glint through his helmet, and Erin turned to Ryoka, silently, as Seve and Erek strode forwards.

“Why you? You’re not a fighter. Go away. And you—”

“I am a Sea Courier. I have a delivery to make. You, back to your inn. A number of people are counting on me.”


Leave! I don’t want you here! I don’t want you to die!

Erin screamed at them. She thought she was dreaming, but they always showed up. Even when she didn’t ask for them. Somehow. The Horns of Hammerad? The Antinium? Ryoka Griffin was staring down at her Faeblade, and her head jerked up slowly as Nerry slipped towards them. The Wind Runner’s voice rasped.

“If you hadn’t escaped Roshal, I would have killed every single one I could get to. Are you—did they—”

Ulvama grabbed Badarrow in a hug, and he blinked, then gripped her firmly and said something in the Goblin tongue. Erin looked around as a figure rose from a patch of soot.

“The choice is yours. Continue or retreat? Now you have something to lose.”

Viscount Visophecin smiled at Erin with rage and loss. She met his eyes and looked at each one of them. A proud [Knight], a Vampire who had lost his appetite for blood now that he saw it shed. A pair of Couriers, one shaking with fear, the other fearless.

An Orangutan who looked up at her with calm eyes that said he had chosen to be here. A Sariant Lamb grinning like her namesake. A lost Stitch-woman carrying the pride of her team. Devils staring death in the eye.

An [Admiral] who looked at Erin like her future. She met Dalekos’ gaze, then turned to the Hobgoblin seeking his brother and the [Shaman] who looked up and knew what she would choose.

“I’m sorry.”

That was what the [Innkeeper] said. That was why they loved her and hated her for it.





Earl Altestiel thought he was dreaming. He hadn’t been thinking of her, even in the lulls between clashes. He would have liked to say something poetic, afterwards, like he had thought of her or Desonis.

He had just gone blank and then forced himself to focus.

The [Earl of Rains] wished he could have said he wept for his crew. The truth was he was just counting numbers. If there was anyone in his heart—

It was his friends. He had many friends and people he knew. Lord Belchaus, who was splinting one leg, his smile gone, his people cut and bleeding, face as grim as Altestiel had ever seen it.

Many noble comrades, both in spirit and title. But it was that silly Goblin, morose [Princess], arrogant [Lord], and silly [Spell Lady] he hoped would make it.

He had been trying to keep the Throne’s Will away from the fighting. They were being hunted.

Keep the Unsettled King here! Don’t let it go!”

It was following Legend’s Wake into the storm, and despite his best efforts, the giant warship sailed away. Rosech was hunting the [Prince]—which meant he was going to run into Rabbiteater and the Ivory Four.

Prince Iradoren had offered to safeguard Seraphel. Why? The worst of the fighting was here—

Something nagged at Altestiel, but he couldn’t think—his ship was shaking. He gazed upwards, and wondered if he had imagined that Dragon being here. Then he saw the [Pirates] swinging into his ship again.

The 1st Fleet of the Bloodtear Armada was winning. Rosech didn’t even have to lead them.

We have lost this battle, truly.

The Luminary had murdered them all. Wistram couldn’t see a thing with the storm and could provide no magical support. Worse, that Drowned Woman had forced their ships to scatter before her. She was unto an Archmage, and unless they killed her or that Dragon could turn the tides…

He was battling Maxy’s fleet, but Altestiel had a feeling as to why the Iron Vanguard were advancing now. Damn the Dullahans.

Altestiel. I’m going.”

Lord Bel staggered to one foot, and Altestiel saw him favoring one leg.

“Use your Skills.”

“I am my Skills. Nadel, one more dance.”

The Lord of the Dance and his vanguard were staring into the heart of the enemy. [Pirates]—Rosech’s butchers, each one bearing a red armband and fighting harder the more they lost or the more blood they shed.

[Berserkers] or close enough. Altestiel looked around.


“I will join Lord Belchaus, Earl.”

No. Don’t do that. Altestiel raised a hand, and a wave of water surged over the deck. It knocked some of the lower-level [Pirates] flying and gave his people a second’s wind—but the rest just landed on their feet, as if he had showered them with water, and laughed.

The Earl of Rains straightened. If he fell—the ships around him had no chance. The nobility had fled doomed ship after ship, and like a collection of valuables, they had drawn more [Pirates] onto them.

The Order of Seasons’ ships were locked in a deathmatch with two ships to the side. He saw Griffindance, no longer able to maneuver at speed, spitting incredible volleys of fire still.

Lord Firrus and Pheislant. Altestiel looked around for Belchaus, and his friend was striding down the deck to cheers.

The Lord of the Dance is mine!

The [Pirates]. Altestiel went blind as a flash of lightning came down. He looked up for salvation and saw a Dragon bursting through the clouds. For a second—he felt a ray of hope.

Then something struck it out of the skies.




Teriarch saw one of the main engagements of the battle as he escaped the Iron Vanguard and flew into the storm, trying to find Erin Solstice or—someone.

[Pirate] ships overrunning vessels. The Dragon saw a huge swathe of them. He could strafe the entire wing of them in one move. He dipped a wing, trying to catch his breath.

If only he’d had more time to recover. More time—

It mattered not. The Dragonlord came down like a falling star, illuminating the night sky. He flashed through the cumulus clouds, red rain, a beautiful woman blowing a kiss, sitting on a flying carpet—

Teriarch’s eye twitched, went round—

[Arm of the Stone Giant].

Archmage Eldavin hit him with a pillar of stone as he shed his [Invisibility] spell. The Dragon had begun to twist, but the spell still struck him in the chest and launched him out of the sky.

“Greetings, Lord of Flames. My turn to ambush you.”


The Dragonlord of Flames lost all the breath in his lungs, and a crushing blow swatted him out of the sky like the hand of a Stone Giant. His whirling mind was somewhere thousands of feet below as the half-Elf dove towards him, aglow with magic.

Fool! How could Teriarch have forgotten how close to Wistram they were? Yet—but—he sensed his foe was already wounded. Eldavin was whole, body intact, but his mana flow was a mess.

Wounds to his face, heart—any other being would have perished, but he wasn’t really a person. He was a simulacrum, and so long as magic flowed, he lived. Teriarch had made Eldavin too well.

Even so; magic vented itself across Eldavin’s body as he cast more spells, unevenly distributed, flickering through regrowing circuits of power. It had to be agony—yet the Archmage of Memory’s mismatched eyes were upon his foe.

The Dragon. Neither one would be safe while the other lived. They knew it, so the two fought wildly as they fell.

The two hurtled downwards as Teriarch spat flames—Eldavin activated his second spell, and the second [Arm of the Stone Giant] punched up and caught the falling Dragon with a satisfying explosion of sound.

Predictably, he was so heavy he went through the layers of stone, crunching through half the gigantic pillar of stone before he glanced off and down, but that presumably hurt more.

Eldavin followed the Dragon down, pelting him with the only spells he thought would work aside from pure, brute force: frost-type magics designed to sap Teriarch’s inner fire.

“[Bolt of the Ice Witch]. [Frozen Heart]—”

Magical resistance. The two hit the surf, and Eldavin dove into the water, augmented by spells, as the Dragonlord floundered.

Now I’ve got—


Teriarch’s flames ignored the laws of nature and came out in a huge orb like a second, underwater sun, and an explosion of steam blinded Eldavin. Cursing, the Archmage blinked out of existence—spotted Teriarch trying to swim upwards.

[Zone of No Transference]. [Greater Deathbolt]!

Eldavin shot down towards Teriarch, and the Dragon howled. They were ending this—now!

Your people are dying! And this is what you choose to do?

Teriarch’s voice thundered through the water, agonized, as he exhaled more flames then cast a spell Eldavin didn’t recognize. The water constricted, and the Archmage howled—he barely cast a barrier before the pressurized bubble turned him into pulp.

“Kindly die before I rescue the Terandrians, Teriarch. I’m not the only Archmage brave enough to leave Wistram.”

Servant of Kasigna!

“I want to live.”

Then Eldavin raised his hand, and the Dragonlord, snarling and making towards him in the water, saw the half-Elf draw a sword made out of lightning. A weapon from Drath.

It belongs to me as well as you. The Dragon bit, and Eldavin swung the sword into his side—




The thunderclap filled the entire battlefield. It was the largest bolt of lightning so far, and even the Krakenbane Destroyer taking shots at Wrymvr stopped a second.

Anand. Wary. You are heading towards danger.

Wrymvr was in pain, despite his [Greater Lightning Resistance]. He was backing away from the Iron Vanguard, as were the [Pirates]. He heard a distant response and quickened his wings.

Erin is there.

The Centenium had no approximate word for the Antinium phrase it thought. The closest was:

Damn it.

He flew faster.




A ship was bearing down on the Bloodtear Pirates from the side. Lord Firrus Kallinad desperately tried to signal it. He didn’t think it was the Bloodtear Pirates.

Ship! The battle is lost! Earl Altestiel has signaled the retreat! Ship!

He was shouting with a [Loud Voice] spell, but it couldn’t hear him or—his daughter ran across the deck.

“Father! Our [Mage] says that’s—The Naga’s Den! A Roshal ship!”


Lord Firrus stopped, and his first instinct was to fear Roshal had joined this madness. He didn’t think they would come to Terandria’s aid. But then again…

Something was off about the ship. It was taking on water, and it looked like it had been boarded multiple times. The [Pirates] must have attacked it too. But it was coming on, and Lord Kallinad had a thought he couldn’t believe.

Either they were mad—or those [Slavers] were braver than he imagined they could have been.

Then he caught a glimpse of the ship, and his eyes bulged. Ghosts crewed that vessel.

“By the light of Pheislant.”

“Ghosts? Is it like last time? With—”

Talia Kallinad stopped, and her eyes lit up in hope, but then Firrus saw other figures, less spectral and distinctly realer. His jaw dropped.

That’s Ailendamus’ Viscount Visophecin! His eyes picked out the man, unmistakably, by chance aboard the deck. He was standing in a cluster protected by magic, pointing ahead, and the [Lord] saw other strange figures.

An Antinium in armor. A Stitch-woman with a staff?


Firrus drew back a step—then focused. There were only two Goblins. And they were all surrounding a pink glow. A…a woman steering the ship.

He thought he recognized her. But he couldn’t place her until Talia cried out.

“Is that…Rabbiteater’s [Innkeeper]? Erin Solstice? What is she doing here?

It was a question many had asked. Firrus did not ponder it. He just shouted.

The battle is over! The Earl of Rains is lost! Turn around!

They had to regroup with Throne’s Will! He had heard there was help coming. Wistram, and even Rhir had begun to take action. Altestiel was lost, however. Any [Tactician] could see that.

Firrus saw the head turn towards him, and a pair of glowing eyes somehow met his in the storm. She had heard him. The Earl of Rains? The ship kept coming.

Lord Firrus! Give us a new heading!

Someone begged in his ear. House du Havrington, his objectionable fellow nobles from Pheislant, were united in this moment. They were all Terandrians, and Lord Firrus was leading a bulk of them away from the Earl’s last stand with the Lord of the Dance.

What a coward I am. We are. Now, Firrus saw an [Innkeeper] and—and damned Goblins turning.

“—Lord Havrington. I cede my command to Hearthlord Voloke. Griffindance will try to break Rainbringer and Impetuous Step out of combat. Hearthlord, follow Legend’s Wake and link with Throne’s Will. We must break to Wistram.”

They might be leaving a third of their number in the storm, but he could not find them. The Hearthlord of Cenidau, one of the most experienced [Lords] at sea, gave a curt affirmative.

“Luck be with you, Lord Firrus.”

Firrus! You can’t abandon us—

Cowards, the lot of du Havrington. Firrus gave orders for Griffindance to come about.

It was his daughter, of all people, who had the courage to argue with Lord Firrus.

“Father, our sails are damaged, and the wing spells won’t work. If they board us—”

“We still have the firepower to destroy ships, Talia. Are you suggesting we leave Altestiel behind?”

How many people will we sacrifice if we all die, Father?

She spoke sense, and Firrus came out of his desperation, hesitating. But—he had heard the Iron Vanguard were fighting at last. If they had any hope of mounting a counterattack…his eyes lingered on that ship.

“That woman and Ailendamus’ nobility—however they have come here—are going to the [Earl]’s defense. Should we let Goblins be more courageous than we? Prepare for boarding.

His people shouted, a thin cheer, as Firrus stared up at the sky, hoping the Dragon would reappear. The barrel-chested man looked at Talia, and she flinched for reasons he didn’t know; he had meant they were all shamed by Goblins, not just her.

So that is the [Innkeeper] of Liscor. I have heard her called…what was it?

Oh yes.


There had to be eight ships still locked around Earl Altestiel’s and Lord Belchaus’ ships, not counting the ones giving pursuit to the rest of the fleet. Even with his ship and The Naga’s Den…she never hesitated, that woman. Firrus stared sidelong at her and saw an Antinium [Knight], the first of his kind, salute him.

The [Lord] hesitated—then saluted back. He saw two more ships bearing out of the waves and saw one of Kaaz’s own ships—and, of all things, a ship that glowed, filled with holes and undead?

Firrus Kallinad recoiled until he saw another familiar team. The Horns of Hammerad. He hesitated—and gave the order to hold fire. He swore he saw a robed figure on deck reply with the dueling salute of Pheislant.

They were bearing down on the [Pirates], and Lord Kallinad ordered Griffindance to open fire, again and again—until they were locked to the teeth against the [Pirates].




The [Pirates] were filling the water. Ship after ship, locked with the two Terandrian ships like some many-limbed monster. A dead Kraken’s tentacle was actually lying in the water, brain severed or too wounded for the Kraken to pull it back.

The damn thing was still thrashing, but the Iron Vanguard were pouring fire into the sea, and the glowing light burned into the deep, blinding the Kraken.

Luminary. Krakenbane Destroyer.

That was all elsewhere. [Pyre-Knight] Embraim heard Erin screaming.

“The Horns! The Horns—”

So they’d made it too. Good. The [Knight] still felt queasy from being teleported countless times in the night and then hurtled by a spell through the air until Seve sailed them into the storm.

But he felt alive. He stood at the railing of the ship as the Lucifen talked.

“—six to eight. If we count two [Lords]—three with Firrus—and our spells—”

They were counting.

Embraim did not. Counting was hope. He turned to Rivel and saw the Vampire boy—and he was a boy, though he was chronologically older than Embraim by far—shivering.

“I saw Vampires in the crews. Vampires—

“Can you convince them to join us? Stay with Erin, Squire Rivel.”

The Vampire gave the [Pyre-Knight] an incredulous look. He was a poor Squire. But Embraim had been still touched by the fact that Rivel had volunteered to try and save Erin Solstice. He put one hand on the Squire’s shoulder, and rain pelted his armor.

“You are a member of the Order of Solstice. No matter what happens next, or how you were inducted. Fight well, Rivel val Lischelle-Drakle.”

Then his head rose, and Rivel flinched as a tremendous roar of sound greeted his ears. The Lucifen speaking urgently stopped, and Embraim looked over the side of the ship and saw one of the two vessels sinking.

Lord Belchaus’ Impetuous Step had a gigantic hole in the center of it. Embraim was no nautical specialist, but he suspected that was a problem. Something had punched through the enchanted boards at last—and he saw another pillar of stone smash down.

“Ah. [Geomancer].”

The Free Antinium had books about [Geomancers]. Embraim had wondered what one was like. Now he saw another pillar of stone smashing into the ship, and another.

Captain Ereiyne the Shipbreaker, one of the Bloodtear Pirates’ most dangerous [Captains], was casting spells as the Selphid brought down one of the two warships that had dominated this battle. She was attacking Raindancer as well, hammering the hull with stone, but it hadn’t cracked.


No one was doing math anymore. Good. Math annoyed Embraim on a battlefield. The [Crusaders] had never counted the odds in Liscor’s army or when facing the Eater Goats or Gargoyles. Math got in the way of what must be done.

And what must be done was…he observed the Bloodtear Captain with magic was virtually unassailed by the Earl and Lord of the Dance’s forces.

No one could take her ship, defended by her crew, and she had the leisure to continue attacking with her magic-wielding [Pirates] without fear of reprisal. Even Griffindance’s barrage just hit rock-cladding on the Bloodtear ship, and the armor ‘regrew’ second by second. There lay the greatest concentration of the enemy force, and Shipbreaker Ereiyne’s crews were invading The Naga’s Den as well.

What must be done was simple.

Embraim swung his eyes to Erin. Erin, who had freed the Antinium. Who so many had come for.

He did not love her for that. He was not sure he did love her. But her flame, that pink fire burning on her and in his heart, had given him glory.

Embraim did love glory. He raised one hand, and it still burned off him. Brighter than ever. A beautiful color that had lit an Antinium’s dull world and made him stronger than anyone else. Braver than he could imagine.



Embraim turned his head, but he hadn’t heard that with his ears. He realized it was in his head.

Antinium? He had a helmet on and the sound was faint, but his antennae, poking through the holes in the steel helmet, distinctly registered more ‘voices’.


Erin Solstice was turning towards the fighting, heedless of the danger as the Bloodtear Pirates spotted her ship and Griffindance. Ryoka Griffin was whispering what sounded like a prayer to the Faerie King.

Her Sariant Lamb was made of braver stuff than she was. Embraim saluted it and offered it some fire, but the little thing had no lust for glory, just blood. Embraim saw Erin look at him, and her face drained of color.

“Did you say—?”

“This matters, Erin Solstice. We are the Order of Solstice. He is yours. Do not look back now. There is nowhere to go.”

Her eyes were open wounds, and he felt for her. If he had Mercy, Normen’s Honor, Halrac’s blue Sadness, or any other emotion to give her, he would.

Embraim was only glory. He saw her own fire fading, but his would never die.

—They slammed into the ships so hard Embraim stumbled, and he saw the Hundredfriends Courier and his Orangutan swing themselves over the railing first. Then went Revi’s summons, though the [Summoner] stayed with Erin. The Lucifen were shooting spells down, and the Bloodtear Pirates were sending up boarding ramps. A hammer of stone struck the decks as Ryoka Griffin tried to take wing—a scream from above, and she landed, a shard of stone buried deep in her chest.

“Squire Rivel. Tend to her.”

Her flaming sword had a heat even Embraim’s fire lacked, but it was not so beautiful. Embraim peeked over the railing as he counted the ships throwing up gangplanks to him.

We may be dead.

They had crashed into the Bloodtear Pirates—and the battle-hardened figures had come right at them. A Lucifen turned one boarding plank to sand, and Erin set another ablaze with black flames, but there were too many ships.

I suppose math does matter. Embraim saw Rivel grabbing Ryoka and dragging her into cover. She looked stunned, as if she hadn’t expected to have a piece of stone piercing her guts.

No one was invincible. Erin Solstice flinched as another shard of stone blew the top of her left ear away, and Embraim stood. He’d spotted one of the ships closest to him and judged it had the most [Pirates] and that dangerous [Captain] casting spells.

I am Embraim, Knight of Solstice! Cover me!”

He roared as Nerry pulled herself up and shot spells down. The Lucifen stared as Embraim swung himself over onto a ramp the [Pirates] had raised and charged down it.

He slipped and caught himself, sliding into one [Pirate], grabbing at a rung and kicking to avoid falling into the waters. An ignominious death. Someone stabbed him—he knocked them off the boarding plank and into the water as he slid downwards, cursing.

—Hit the deck. Rose as he heard someone screaming and felt frost in the air.

“It’s the fucking Ice Squirrel! Jiupe’s little [Mage] friend! Kill them!”

Embraim was aboard one of the ships. He swung his sword and blew fire without looking—a boot kicked him in the face as someone screamed.

He bit until he sawed through leather and into flesh.

Embraim spat the boot away as he stood, and an entire crew of Bloodtear Pirates stared at him. Shipbreaker Ereiyne had been pointing at another ship on which undead and adventurers were fighting.

“It’s an Antinium. Look at it. It’s a [Knight]-Antinium. Anyone want this one’s destiny?”

Someone laughed. Embraim stood taller as an arrow sprouted from one of the [Pirates]’ eyes, and the others shot arrows back up at Badarrow, but Embraim was surrounded by dozens of foes.

“I am [Pyre-Knight] Embraim of the Order of Solstice. I off—”

Someone threw a dagger through his chestplate. Embraim staggered and felt it pierce through his chitin. He raised the lantern he carried in his fourth hand and blew.

Flames coated the deck, and [Pirates] leapt back, screaming. Embraim had a shield, a sword, a torch burning with his flames, and the pink lantern in hand.

“—I offer you the chance to surrender and retreat once.”

The Bloodtear Pirates had something he liked, for they grinned—not in mockery, but a kind of appreciation of his statement.

Captain Ereiyne did not. The Shipbreaker pointed a wand at Embraim with due wariness as her barrier spells absorbed a stray shot from above. Embraim had no conception of the battlefield. No understanding of who lived and who died.

He was only here.

“Antinium, aren’t you the first [Knight] of your kind? And you’re dying here of all places. What a shit destiny. No one wants that [Innkeeper]’s neither. Nor a Goblin’s. Who’d want that life?”

She motioned, and the [Pirates] spread out. Knight Embraim looked at them and shook his head. They did him the courtesy of listening, so he replied, his voice proud.


The Bloodtear Captain’s eyes narrowed. Even if she stole his class, she would never understand. Embraim touched his chest with the hand carrying the lantern, and the flame glowed brighter. So bright they had to shield their eyes. They lusted after it, though. His was a pure, simple flame.

“Fool. I have chosen my fate each and every time. There was never a more glorious Antinium than I.”

Then he charged as she fired a bolt of stone that pierced his armor. Objectionable. He hoped the Order eventually got better equipment. His flame burned brighter and brighter.




Squire Rivel of the Order of Solstice saw Knight Embraim charge a ship of [Pirates] alone. The Antinium made it two steps before a spike of magic stone pierced through his chest and exited his back.

He kept going.

The first [Pirate] was as dangerous as the [Knight]. Embraim brought down his sword, which was deflected, and swung his shield—but the [Pirate] side-stepped, cleaving off a mandible.

The torch burned the [Pirate] in the face, and the figure rolled, burning. Embraim swung the lantern around to blow flames, and a second spellcaster webbed him.

He had a Skill from Elia Arcsinger’s downfall. A blow to sunder the deck and raise a bonfire, like Normen had gotten. It knocked several figures off their feet—and one of the [Pirates] lunged forward and knocked Embraim off his feet.

On his back-shell, the [Crusader] was vulnerable. The [Knifemaster] stabbed him again and again in the side, neck, chest—green blood on the blade, but the Antinium was tougher, anatomy unknown.

He breathed fire, and the figure rolled away. Embraim got to one knee. A pillar of stone launched him backwards again. Captain Ereiyne.

Shipbreaker. When the Antinium stood, eight projectiles struck him in the chest, then again, and he backed into a railing. The [Pirates] saw him take another step, and this time, their [Captain] put a hole in his heart.

He kept trying to walk forwards—but green blood ran down the decks, and his flames were flickering. The [Knight] gazed upwards, not at Rivel, but at something only he could see. And his voice rose.

Rose, perhaps, as if he knew he was being watched from [Scrying] spells. By Antinium. By his friends. By Erin Solstice.

He raised something, and Captain Ereiyne put a second hole through the side of his head, but he was already…the Antinium’s voice clicked as he shouted above the scream of battle.

“My successor shall bear this lantern.”

Weakly, with a child’s strength, he hurled the lantern into the sea, and it bounced off the side of the ship and tumbled, glowing until it hit the water and the flames went out. Then Embraim collapsed.

One of the [Pirates] peered over the edge of the ship as the Shipbreaker made a comment to her crew and pointed at Erin Solstice’s ship. The Bloodtear Pirates were locked against Admiral Dakelos’ ghostly crew, and Griffindance was being boarded. The Horns were trying to make for Erin, and—and Rivel saw Embraim die.

Then the flames that had covered the Antinium from the moment he realized his class flared into a light brighter than the Vampire had ever seen. A flame to dwarf the sun, and the [Pirates] around him leapt back.

Captain Ereiyne spun and blasted the flames and Embraim’s corpse with a wave of dirt. Yet neither the dirt nor rain did anything to the pink flames that spread across the deck as if it were slicked in oil. A [Pirate]’s foot was caught in the blaze, and the pink fire of glory covered the foot and leg in a flash. The panicked figure shrieked—the flames were turning the deck to ash in seconds.


The [Captain] and her crew leapt for the gangplanks. Captain Ereiyne conjured a ramp of stone and leapt to safety off her ship, but dozens of Bloodtear Pirates went up like matches with each second.

Glory burned, painful against Rivel’s tears, brighter than anything, filled with wrath and sacrifice and a fire that consumed one of the ships and all those trapped aboard.

Then, as the ship drifted away, untethered, still burning and sinking into the waves, the fighting continued.




Anand liked Kaaz’s own. He thought they liked him too and wasn’t sure why.

They had time for a few questions in the minutes while he asked for Altestiel or Erin and their ship cut through the water towards both. Between shouts, spotting Kraken tentacles rising, friendly and enemy ships—what questions might you ask an Antinium?

“What do your people want? Conquest?”

“The Queens may. I am not my people.”

Ser Gorethem stood witness. Lord Altivem, members of the Kingdom of the Infinite Dungeon, [Sailors] and [Soldiers] and lesser [Knights] stood around and asked what some might call silly questions.

So Anand spoke only the best of answers.

“Are you…some would call you monsters. Antinium have done monstrous things and come from Rhir.”

That was not a question. But Anand treated it as such.

“I have never been called a monster to my face.”


“Mm. Yes. Other objectionable terms. ‘Ant’. ‘You’. ‘Worker’. Never ‘monster’. But then, I am only three years old.”

He enjoyed their faces. The Free Antinium explained why they wore colors. Ser Gorethem put only one question to Anand, as if laden by one great burden.

“What would you ask of us, of Kaaz, if you had but one wish for your people?”

Anand smiled at the silly [Knight], who was, like many of his kind, including Ylawes, so serious as if he were the only thing that mattered.

“I would ask you to visit The Wandering Inn, of which I am very fond of patronizing. Be sure to read the signs.”

Ser Gorethem paused and looked at Anand.

“Perhaps I misspoke…Strategist Anand. If you could ask for anything—”

“I heard you. I meant what I said. That’s where I became…me. If I could send the entire world there, I would. It is a good place. Erin Solstice is a good person. I may not know good—but if I do, I learned it from her.”

Then they saw the [Pirates], and Anand’s heart leapt when he saw Erin’s ship—and sank when he sensed how many [Pirates] there were.

Wrymvr, come!

He called on his only ally, for he was a weaker [Strategist] and had not risen yet, as Bird had; Wrymvr flew towards him—and then cursed.

Kyvik. The—”

Anand saw a ship burst out of the waves and heard a buzzing—but it was not Wrymvr’s wings.

Shifthold. It was bearing down on the Terandrian fleet, and that mad [Alchemist]—Anand saw his trajectory. The dread Alchemist Irurx was coming. Worse—he’d brought reinforcements. Anand heard a snarl from the Terandrians and saw one of the greatest traitors sailing with the half-Elf.

Admiral Imor Seagrass, aboard Seagrass, and three ships crewed by [Storm Sailors] in his wake. A mystery. They were bearing down on Altestiel’s ship, Erin, and as they saw Anand—his ship as well.




Kaaz off the port! Slaughter them!

The half-Elf was raving mad. Irurx was upon the hunt, and he had dragged Admiral Seagrass into his wake. He was still trying to kill half-Elves, but the [Alchemist] understood the battle hinged upon the Earl of Rains.

Imor Seagrass understood that very well, which was why he was sailing next to a monster of the seas. But there was bile in the [Storm Admiral]’s throat.

Too much. He’d seen ships go down, decks coated with blood. Dead gods, he’d known the Bloodtear Pirates were butchers; he’d seen their handiwork and fought them off time and again.

But could looted destiny really be worth it? Half a dozen of his ships had broken from the battle, ignoring his orders. His crews had ‘stolen’ destiny too, but they weren’t propelled forwards by the same lust the [Pirates] had.

It was…it was the kind of thing Imor Seagrass had seen growing up as a poor [Deckhand]. A back-alley fight where there would be murder over a single silver coin. The [Pirates] had nothing else but this vision of a future. They were committed; they’d have it or be damned.

So that begged the question: why was he here?

Imor Seagrass was an [Admiral], albeit of no nation. He had a reputable trading business. He had far more to lose than the Bloodtear Pirates. Why had he joined with them?

Part of the reason was destiny. Every few seconds, Imor Seagrass would check his brushed suit, styled as if he were actually a nobleman, and all the primping, paying for expensive fabrics, and learning to style himself—it had always looked fake.

Today? His suit was covered in rain and grime, smeared with blood, and had several cuts. His blood was cold and chilled—yet it was blue ichor that ran through his veins. He still bled red, but Imor Seagrass no longer needed to pretend to be noble.

Nobility stolen. What did it mean? Was he now a nobleman? Did he have a house? Did it matter?

It was all bile on his tongue. This wasn’t worth it. Irurx didn’t even care for destiny; he just wanted more bodies for his ship to experiment on.

“We’re exchanging fire with the Kaazian ship, Admiral! She’s got no teeth! Moving to boarding range.”

“Keep us wide and lay her on her back.”

The Kaazian ship wasn’t a threat. Imor wasn’t boarding ships like the Bloodtear Pirates; his escort turned and began laying a broadside into the single ship, expertly aiming for her masts and rudder.

The [Alchemist] was preparing some witch-brew on his vessel; a cauldron fired a glowing brown projectile into the air, and it hit the sea and began to spread out. The Kaazian ship sailed straight into a trio of [Fireballs] rather than touch whatever it was.

Seagrass’ collar itched. His body was cold. His heart was—fluttering.

Was it that damn woman? Magnolia Reinhart? He had signed a contract with her, but the penalty—he forced a hand over his chest, gritting his teeth.

“Take us—take us towards the Earl of Rains!”

He could be an [Earl] by the time this was over. Was that enough? Imor Seagrass half-turned and saw his crew gazing at him, wide-eyed, confidence shaken.

Allied with [Pirates]. Betrayed Terandrian trust. His entire trading fleet wouldn’t have safe harbor nor cargo after this.

They must think him mad or so desperate that he’d thrown them into the maw of a Kraken for this. Imor gazed into their faces, then ahead.

Deckhand to a [Captain], then a self-styled [Admiral], so rich and powerful that entire nations and powerful people made deals with him. He’d done it. Risen to the top—and then seen that you didn’t go any higher.

You were still a commoner. There were only a few routes higher. Marriage or conquest, like the Titan of Baleros. No noblewoman wanted to marry a [Sailor] little better than a [Pirate]; let alone a [Princess]. He’d asked for a price, thinking to buy his nobility, and they’d named half his fleet and fortune for the honor of it.

Seagrass was tired of it. Tired of having to fight every damn [Pirate] in the world. He didn’t enjoy it like Rasea Zecrew. He wanted a shred of the respect he’d earned for keeping the seas safe. So when he’d heard about Terandria’s predicament, he’d begun sailing south, hinting to every nation that he’d take a title for the risk.

Until they were backed into a corner, the nations, all of them, from glorious Erribathe to Calanfer, had tried to play him like a fiddle. [Duke]? You must be joking, Admiral. A knighthood. Minor, unlanded nobility. Citizenship and a pat on the back. A permanent trade contract.

This was why no one came to their aid. Not damn Wellfar, not the Iron Vanguard—so to Rhir’s hells with them as well. It made it so much easier to accept the other offers.

He had to make sure Terandria was well and truly crippled. There were bounties per ship he sank—and he had over a dozen clients, each with their own standard. Who wanted Terandria crippled?

The better question was—who didn’t? Most of the smart ones didn’t put anything down by name, but they’d paid in full. And they knew how to offer him land and more than mere gold. A retirement.

He wasn’t sure if all six Walled Cities were in on it, but he knew it was more than one. He had sorted through gold coins and noted that they couldn’t find enough minted elsewhere, so it was definitely at least two of the Five Families; the crystal rose, almost relic-class, pinned to one lapel was proof of that. He suspected House Reinhart, though his fluttering heart said it wasn’t Magnolia Reinhart who’d backed him.

“Damn the Kaazian ship down deep. What’s taking you?”

He snapped at one of his [Captains] and got a strange report—there were Antinium on the ship? Seagrass hesitated.

No one wanted them dead. He had a windfall waiting for him if the Erribathe ships died, but Antinium…? His heart lurched again, and Seagrass put a hand to his breast.

How much longer? Retirement. Plunder. It still wasn’t worth this contract—but he had one more thing waiting for him. The man turned and stared towards where he’d marked south at.

Terandria didn’t know him at all. They had a damn [Princess] sailing with them, cursed or not, and Calanfer had smiled politely when he’d even hinted at a chance to court her.

The Empire of Sands had offered him the hand of a [Princess]. New nation or not—he was going to have it. The Terandrians could wonder why he’d betrayed them afterwards. Just one more ship—one more decade of wealth and luxury—

Then, as Imor Seagrass prepared to cut down on the Terandrian fleet, he heard something unearthly in the storm.

A shriek. Yet it wasn’t the sound of Dorhmin war cries nor any beast he had ever seen swimming below his ship. The [Admiral] whirled, eyes on the surf—then realized it was coming from above. He looked up—and a monstrosity with too many mouths, black as a nightmare, dropped towards Irurx and the [Storm Admiral].

Wrymvr the Deathless. Imor threw up his hands, and his crew began to loose arrows and spells upwards. They bounced off that hide, and for a second, Seagrass’ ship listed as the Antinium landed.

Maws of tearing teeth. A [Storm Sailor] dragged up, screaming her heart out until he saw her heart, viscera raining down, and he was screaming as well, dodging a glob of acid—

Then Wrymvr leapt, circling, and even the Alchemist Irurx gazed upwards in awe—and Seagrass thought—reverence. Irurx threw his hands up, and Shifthold began fleeing.

“Admiral! What do we do?”

One of his [Captains] bawled at him, terror breaking through even the bravest resolve. Imor Seagrass looked around, and his nerve broke.

“Break! Break and follow Seagrass! We’re heading south! Chandrar!

All thoughts of attacking the Antinium, let alone continuing this farce, left him. The Storm ships broke away, and Seagrass collapsed onto one railing, then headed for his cabin. He’d lie low. Marry into royalty.

He was a Human, so he couldn’t change his face like Stitch-folk, but anyone could use an illusion spell, and that Empire of the Sands needed a navy…his heart hurt. Imor Seagrass stumbled down the deck, too afraid to lock eyes with the Antinium sailing past him.




Anand had the slight pleasure of watching the ship flinch as Wrymvr the Deathless descended upon Shifthold and Imor Seagrass’ remaining fleet. However, it was bitter in the knowledge that Wrymvr was now locked in battle.

To his gratification, he saw all of the Storm ships beginning to turn; only the [Alchemist] kept fighting, though Wrymvr informed Anand the half-Elf was actually trying to parlay, claiming they were on the same side.

“Chase him out of the battle, Wrymvr. Seagrass as well. Queen for a queen. Suboptimal trade. I am bad at chess after all.”

Ser Gorethem stared at the giant insect locked in combat with the ship as Anand smiled at him. Anand turned away from Admiral Imor Seagrass. He had expected to die, fighting a legend of the sea. But he was almost disappointed to learn the man had no will to fight.

All of this and he didn’t have a reason a hundredth as good as Anand’s? Goat had more will in one antenna than that [Admiral]. Anand forgot about the [Storm Sailors] in the next moment. The running battle had drawn them closer, and a flash of lightning revealed a cluster of ships—and the one he was following, running low to the water, turning and heading straight for the fighting.

The Naga’s Den. Then Gorethem pointed at it, and Anand reckoned they were twenty minutes away. Kaaz’s [Captain] was shouting every Skill and oath to let them catch up, and the Knight of the Thousand Lances looked at Anand.

“Your [Innkeeper]—”

“Yes. Let’s go.”




Kaaz docked on one of the ships besieging the Earl of Rains’ ship. Anand had seen Erin Solstice charging down the ramp; it was a tactical choice.

The [Pirates] had already boarded The Naga’s Den, and so the [Innkeeper] was fighting forwards rather than be trapped, trying to reach Altestiel and Lord Belchaus.

Anand had always known she was good at battle. But she didn’t love it.


There was a joy to it he had never told Erin. The power to fight back. To see his mind triumph over a foe, to see the Kaazian [Soldiers] engage in a charge, slicing forwards then feinting back behind his Free Antinium and the Armored Antinium, who slammed into the [Pirates] and made them buckle as Anand pointed out targets and his [Archers] picked them off.

This was power. This was what he had longed for as a Worker watching Crypt Worms tearing other Antinium apart. This mattered.

He did not love the death. One of the Free Antinium fell, gurgling, as a [Pirate] drove a blade through their throat. A Kaazian [Soldier] vanished with a cluster of others, and a [Soldier] stared at a spike of earth that burst from the ground, painted red.

We. Are. Dying.

But if the battle were a chessboard, a strategy Anand saw from above…he understood that the Antinium were trading deaths well against the [Pirates], who were superior fighters. The Antinium’s attack was surprising the [Pirates]. Giving the other people on his side a reprieve.


It was about value. Anand valued Antinium lives. He valued Erin Solstice above his own. So he shouted.

Forwards! Don’t stop!

He rammed them forwards, running himself and slashing at the first [Pirate] like Ksmvr had taught him, until the Antinium were compressing the [Pirates]. They needed maneuverability. Antinium could fight in a squeeze.

Dead bodies pressed up against the living, being shoved down and trampled, regardless who you were—screams and curses, and he knew they were dying.

Someone stabbed him deeply through the armor the Armored Queen had given him, and it hurt badly—Anand grabbed for his potion, and a [Pirate] tore it out of his grip.

I should have exp—

A blow knocked him flat. Anand felt feet trampling him, heard screams, and activated every Skill he had left, desperate.

He was blind save for the shouting until someone yanked him up, and he realized it was one of his Workers. Archer…A21?

Yes, the very same. One of his handpicked Antinium. The Worker was bleeding from pieces of stone buried in his carapace, and Anand realized they had won. Temporarily—the [Pirates] were backing up, and the Kaazians and Antinium were looking to him for orders.

Got to go after the [Mage] next. Or reach Erin. Stand. Assess. Anand saw the Worker speaking and realized his auditory channels were filled with ringing.

“Say it again?”

Archer A21 spoke.

“Goat’s dead.”

Anand stopped. He looked around but did not see the Soldier who had come with him long ago, or where he’d fallen. Anand saw the remaining Antinium, numbers cut in half, looking at him, and knew his next orders would kill more.

He nodded, briefly, as he saw the battlefield in his mind.

“I’ll see him soon.”




The [Pirates] swarmed the decks. Shipbreaker Ereiyne had repositioned onto another Bloodtear vessel and was exchanging spells with a half-Elf racing over the ice and water.

It was a familiar sight. Not the death or the battle of [Mages].

The sight of an [Ice Mage] running on the water…an old man remembered seeing that, once. A novice practicing the trick in Wistram’s calm harbors.

He wondered if they had known each other. Then he pointed down as his [Levitation] spell carried him through the storm. He was tired, gasping. He couldn’t fly like Eldavin. The Archmage of Memory was…strange. An old [Mage] too perfect for this world.

Archmage Verdan Blackwood was a coward. But he had served in the Iron Vanguard. He wore Dullahan armor, an honor accorded to so few.

He saw the [Innkeeper] that had changed fortunes and the Seer of Steel’s injunction, and Tulm the Mithril’s orders had reached him even as Feor and Viltach and the new ‘Archmage’, Beatrice, had been tracking down the last undead that Erin Solstice’s [Garden of Sanctuary] had delivered, and assessing the damages in Wistram.

So, the Archmage of Dullahans conjured a barrier, sealing off the [Pirates]’ advance, and dove towards Erin Solstice.

When he landed, he sensed that [Geomancer] turn her wrath on him, and he struck the ground with his staff.

“[Zone of Control]!”

Her attempts to cast spells through the earth halted—so she threw a pillar of earth at him. He blocked it in the air, panting, as the [Innkeeper] whirled.

Who are you?

The old, scared Archmage would have swept a bow if he weren’t trying to fight for his life. There were too many [Pirates]. 

“I am Archmage Verdan Blackwood. The Iron Vanguard honors your deeds, Erin Solstice!

He wished she looked at all impressed. She stared at him—then grabbed his arm as he sensed powerful spellcasters—everywhere.

Noblemen and women? They were like [High Mages]—no, some of them had the adeptness of [Grand Mages]! And even their magic—the Bloodtear Pirates cut a spell apart, and Verdan saw the [Innkeeper] dragging at him.

Altestiel’s ahead! Do you see Rabbiteater?


A pair of…Goblins were ranging ahead, one with a bow, the other with a staff casting a very complex piece of magic he realized was intercepting all the arrows in the air with swirls of wind. A [Shaman]? One was swearing.

“I don’t see—there’s a Goblin somewhere here! There! Your [Earl]—”

The [Shaman] pointed as Verdan Blackwood grasped weakly at Erin’s arm. A <Quest>? He wasn’t sure how to ask, but tether himself to her. If they lived—he was trying to tell her he would teleport her to safety and maybe as many as four others?

Then the final person to join the battle revealed himself, and Verdan heard a cry arise, from [Pirates], from Desonis, even from Griffindance, of universal horror and dismay. And his skin chilled, for the [Innkeeper]’s head rose, and her eyes went wide as the two Goblins stopped, one with a sigh, the other with a snarling smile of incredulity.

Goblin Lord!




He had swum after they let him jump off the ship. The other Goblins would have slowed him down, even if they were better than average.

This was not a place for them to die. At first, he’d assumed he was going after Roshal, so he’d told the Goblins to find him one of Roshal’s ships and boarded it.

When he’d finished killing them, he realized they were hunting a Hobgoblin and an [Innkeeper], and Greydath had no idea what was going on.

But Greydath of Blades had been here anyways.

That idiot [Knight]-[Champion] was at sea, and Greydath refused to let promising Goblins die.

He hadn’t expected the Kraken. Or the Dragon. Or the Dullahans.

It occurred to Greydath, the Goblin Lord, that he might actually die when he saw how many Bloodtear Pirates there were and realized Terandria was sailing into the storm. Erribathe…they’d kill him in a heartbeat.

To slay one of their [Princes]—he almost would have tried. But they always had more heirs. Save the Goblin.

Two of the three idiots were surrounded. Greydath had made a choice when he sensed both Badarrow and…the other one. He remembered her. She’d grown stronger since he’d been in Tremborag’s pitiful tribe.

They both had. Greydath of Blades had been anchoring himself onto the side of one of the Bloodtear ships, panting, holding onto the greatsword he’d claimed from the Isle of Goblins.

He was tired. Swimming through the ocean for over a day after his damn ship had capsized—he didn’t know how to steer it alone—and cutting that stupid Kraken made him feel old.

The Goblin Lord began grinning when he sensed a handful of [Pirates], smart, canny, with Skills—tiptoeing over to the edge of the ship.

They’d noticed him hanging here. Scourge of the seas. The most deadly [Pirates] of this era. One pointed a wand over the edge of the ship suddenly and made a sound.

Greydath caught the hand and cheerfully tossed it back up. Then he punched a hand into the ship’s side, lifted the greatsword, and pulled.

An old Goblin with a grey beard, bald and scrawny—but growing taller with each second—landed on the deck, a bright, polished greatsword in one hand. A [Pirate] was holding the stump of a hand, staring, as three more recoiled.

He swung his sword one-handed, and one actually blocked him. His sword hummed through two necks, bent the sword the third held with both hands, carried the figure across the deck, and the [Pirate] slammed into the upper deck with a loud sound.

Greydath hadn’t expected to find decent [Pirates] with a sword so soon after that Minotaur [Prince]. The honor of blademasters would have had a [Knight] wait for the [Pirate] able to block his strike to stand.

The Goblin Lord flicked his greatsword, and the point struck the [Pirate] through the face, embedding itself into the deck. Greydath hopped over, reclaimed his sword, and wondered if he could disguise hims—


They said that after they opened fire on him. The faint flash of light from the corner of his eye was the only warning he had aside from his instincts. Not from the spells, either.

Invisible. Greydath dodged under them and cut something in half. A ray of light? He saw them hesitate and lunged.

His sword hit two barriers, and he carved through their midsections. Then one exploded.

A death spell? Had he hit a spell while casting? A potion?

—His ears hurt. Greydath pulled a piece of metal out of his shoulder, wincing. He had no toughness Skills and had dodged the explosion’s shrapnel—most of it.

They were more dangerous than he cared to admit. He was a Goblin alone, not ambushing some adventurers or a force that had no idea who he was. More [Pirates] spun, and Greydath…retreated belowdecks with another hop.

He had a reason. The reason was the prickling on his back and a charm stone that vibrated. He didn’t carry artifacts. Artifacts made him stand out, and that would make him a suspicious Goblin, not some old one that was harmless and that even other young Goblins ignored.

But he did have to know if they were watching him.

[Scrying] spells. The entire world was probably watching this battle. It made Greydath’s mission far, far harder because he did not want to reveal himself. But there was only so fast he could move if he was one of…Erin Solstice’s friends?

Hadn’t he heard from the Goblins on the island that she was some kind of [Goblinfriend]? They’d gotten it from Anazurhe’s tribe.

Silly notions. Velan had friends. The Titan saw what that earned him.

Bootsteps above. Greydath sensed them coming after him, but they were smart enough not to come downstairs. One conjured a wave of poison.

Lots of spellcasters in this crew. Must be the [Geomancer].

Well, that wasn’t how he thought or worded his thoughts. That was how most Goblins thought and how Greydath had learned to communicate with them. If he had to speak ‘low-Goblin’, the term the Goblin Lords had for the half-speak that tribes barely remembered, that was how he thought and worded his opinions.

Or even more crudely if the tribe barely had any grammar. Greydath’s thoughts, when he was only himself, with no one to act to, even other Goblin Lords, were different. The translation was…it was a translation of a language that flowed and had nuance no species remembered.

An old tongue that he had learned from his mother. The daughter of Curulac. He was Curulac of a Hundred Days’ grandson.

Everyone forgot that Curulac had lived long before those hundred days of destruction. So Greydath’s true thoughts were something more like…

—incantationless magic. Neither superior nor remembered from the old days. Cunning spellcasting of [Pirates] who mastered war magic better than [Mages] of the Halls of Wistram.

Do they know me?

I remember the eyes of [Archmages], and I have cut them down. I am a poem of old.

What pretentiousness did they sing of me?


Greydath’s blade

Cuts cause

Half keenly as his tongue.


Goblins of Terandria had made such foolish poems. Now—focus. Do they remember me?

I see it in the wide, mismatched gaze of a [Pirate] slumping down the stairs. No [Knights] of Terandria are old enough to remember a salute at a crossroads. A Goblin challenging them to a duel. It has been long since I set foot on my homeland’s shores. Now—I leap.

—The water washes down the steps like cold, stinging poison dripping from a jellyfish’s noxious tendrils. My blade sings past the deck once, twice, past what is impermeable. 

I am amidst foes. Statues, like the garden I once set foot in, only these are statues-to-be if anyone loves them. I have cut across battlefields. 

Do you remember me? Terandria surely does. I cleave upwards, through the deck at the [Pirates].

Belly-cut, entrail-less, one falls. Though the eyes above must not glimpse how it was done. They surely fall upon the locus of battle. Ere I rise, I stab twice more, blade slipping between the cracks of the floorboards to kill. 

A Goblin of acquaintance I must pretend to be. A nonce name chosen. Not Greybeard, for my words may be divined; Aknel, perhaps, a Goblin I knew whose name fits if any does for seeming’s sake.

Aknel, passing well with a sword. Died standing in the surf the day we cast a chunk of Terandria’s soil into the waves and made an island of it. [Goblin Knight], for the days when we had them.

Foolish boy. Did you think you were the first? I will see you live and find the one who called for me.

Then Greydath flicked up the stairs, hopping from railing to railing and avoiding the poisoned wave, and appeared on deck as the last [Pirate] collapsed, slain from below by his bladework that ignored the barrier of wood that should have stopped his sword.

He was Greydath. He was now Aknel. 

It was hard to pretend not to swing his sword as if he knew it. Harder still when he saw the Humans dying.

Greydath advanced from the ship he had claimed, onto the Lord of the Dance’s ship where [Pirates] were cutting down the last resistance and turning on Rainbringer. The Goblin strode forwards, swinging his sword into the backs of the [Pirates]—fast. As an expert might, shearing through enchanted cloth and metal and Skills and leaving bloody trails on the decks.

—It was not enough. He had the ken of that, now, in the falling bodies as he beheld the struggling ship, Griffindance, and the [Innkeeper] pinned down with an ‘Archmage’ throwing up a barrier of magic.

They were on the final Terandrian ship, [Pirates] storming over gangplanks and trying to take the center of the ship, which was protected only by a ring of people and Verdan’s magic.

A dome.

It was always a dome or bubble, pulled up by the last vestiges of power, reflecting blades and spells until relief came or the magic fell. By this, he knew Verdan Blackwood was no great Archmage.

There was no art to his magic. Greydath had once seen a flower of magic shielding a [Mage], each petal falling away until he slew her. And he had slain a [Mage] so talented as this.

Greydath eyed the Bloodtear Captain who stood on the furthest vessel from the fighting, launching spells in a [Mage]’s duel while forcing the [Pirates] to keep attacking. It was a battle she’d inevitably win given the numbers on her side, but she might have triumphed by magic alone, regardless.

That [Geomancer] might well call herself an Archmage. Shipbreaker, they said? She knew battle better than the old man. The defenders on-board Rainbringer were failing to push the [Pirates] back as she manipulated the battlefield amidst her attacks.

The Lord of the Dance was the most gifted warrior present save for Greydath, but the very floorboards of the ship buckled and quaked, forcing his people off-guard, and only he could dance upon the ever-changing ground. He was wounded though, and the Shipbreaker fought with the simplest magic, however crude.

An explosion of a stone pillar she conjured, and only a true master could dodge it. The [Lord of the Dance] ceased his jig and fell to one knee, sprawling onto the deck, and the circle of bodies narrowed again.

Almost simultaneously, the lone combatant skating over the seas saw another pillar of stone rising up and juked to avoid—

The half-Elf flinched as it peppered her ice armor, and the agility of a [Prankster] availed her not as the Shipbreaker blocked spell after spell and insulated herself against cold with layers of clever stone, trapping pockets of air between.

Master of earth. Greydath, still trying to sneak forward and break through to Rainbringer and the [Innkeeper], cut swifter. The crowd of [Pirates] had sensed their comrades falling soundlessly and turned, but they were not the ones Greydath cared about.

That [Geomancer] had to die.

He did it fast, without mercy, and swung his sword and cleft the world in twain. So fast and so sudden that he cut across the distance between them, two hundred feet.

A slash through the air; let the watchers think it was chance, an arrow, or just doubt their eyes. It should have bisected her completely. He cut the magic. Cut her and felt it done.

She lived.

Greydath didn’t know how or why at first, only that Captain Ereiyne screamed. A scream of pure terror and pain—and he saw her cut in two—divided and dead—

Then stumbling, uncut, face white as [Pirates] recoiled, and the other [Captains] and crews turned to her—then him.

He knew not how, but the why of it was obvious.

Skills. They endlessly surprised any warrior, and to this one? He saw her lips moving; his ears caught the name of her Skill, and Greydath sighed.

A gift for these [Pirates].

[Stolen Lives].

So then. Greydath resigned himself to it as a [Captain] leapt impossibly high. He saw a [Sword Art] in the air, and for a moment, admired it. A beautiful piercing blow, like the thrust of a lance—and knew it would tear apart the deck upon which he stood.

He admired it for it was stolen from a [Knight]—and gave the one who wielded it no credit at all.

For it was but a copy of true mastery, and Greydath saw it come out of a box, without nuance or intonation. For that sin, he swung his sword.


The Hobgoblin did his best. He hopped forwards, pretended to stumble, and swung his sword in a flashier Skill, cleaving the air—but he didn’t think it worked.

The [Pirates] looked down and flinched as blood spattered across them, and one of their leaders fell, two pieces landing silently to earth. The Shipbreaker pointed at him, and he felt the floorboards twist and hopped out of the way of the first spire of earth with a sigh.

Then they injured him.

He could not help it. He could not dodge everything, nor was his body capable of morphing to avoid a storm of swords or a rain of arrows. He was fast—but they were everywhere.

A singing fire he dove through, an arrow that grazed him—he flicked the poison from entering his veins, and the spray of shrapnel struck his skin and pierced deeply. This was not the offense of underestimating that Antinium who had a gift with the bow.

This was just—numbers. Canny fighters.

He lost his temper. Greydath whispered a Skill, swung his sword, and the [Pirates] around him vanished.

Ninety-four degrees. Twenty-six feet. That was the cut, and it was smooth and polished—blood kept running for a while from the severed bodies, and the mast of a ship collapsed. He tried one last time to pretend it was his great Skill—but it was too late.

The eyes of them fell on him, and he smiled and smiled and knew if they hunted him, he might die and his time would be over. But he was old and tired—and one last time, he wanted them to say his name.

So he leapt. High, higher, swinging his sword and cleaved down. Again, the Shipbreaker lived, but only because her Skill saved her.

He cut the deck she stood on. He cut the ship in twain, and the [Pirates] around her vanished like the dream he sometimes thought this world was. A petty one he wished the Goblin Kings had erased, for he knew the truth of it.

Then they knew him. Then the cry arose, great and terrible, and he sensed himself marked a hundred times over with fear and horror from all his enemies—and it was the world over—by [Pirates], by Terandrian Kingdoms, by distant and near powers. The Blighted Kingdom, Roshal, all those who held up the world in some way and feared when Goblins next would shake it.

He raised his arms and smiled, for he had longed for this, even if he might die. And they said his name.

Greydath of Blades.




He appeared out of the battle like a story, and there were many. Erin saw him raise his hand. She saw the ship list and split and looked around.

They were alike in horror.



Even [Pirates]. That offended her. Even [Pirates]? Yet when she looked at him, even she felt it.

Goblin Lord.

The one thing about Goblins she had never understood. He smiled as he killed, and it was easy. One last curtain for this battlefield. One last tragedy.

“Kill…kill the—that is Greydath of Blades.”

Archmage Verdan whispered. They knew him. Only one Goblin had that strength of arms. What Erin saw was not what they saw.

Somewhere, the Blighted King saw Greydath of Blades, another old foe, and was incontinent. Somewhere, Roshal beheld a monster of his ilk and fell silent in fear.

Erin saw that he had attacked her foes. She saw Ulvama’s look of hope, fear, and Badarrow’s snarling smile as one who saw someone he had anger—and hope towards in this moment.

And she saw Greydath looking towards the two Goblins as if they were the only light in the world he cared about.

Then the nations of the world tried to kill him.

He’d cut a ship in twain. He fought in no way Erin had ever seen, except maybe once, when a strange half-Elf had attacked the Horns of Hammerad, or rather, humiliated them on the way back from Celum to Liscor.

The Goblin Lord cut a hole in the ship to dodge, came out the side of the hull, carved through a section of another ship, and danced off the falling ship and across the air, sword singing a song only he knew. He fought as if the rest of the world were children, who had learned to fight left and right, but never up or down or in any other dimension.

—But he was one Goblin, and Goblin Lords died. 

Get to the ship! Get to the—


Her party was running across the linked ships, and at last, Erin saw Earl Altestiel in the fighting as Greydath took on—everyone. She ran up a gangplank, onto a deck where [Soldiers] of Desonis turned towards her—then lowered their weapons in astonishment.

They were spread out in a ring, having been forced inwards to protect their commanders. The Earl of Rains was shielding a [Lord], Belchaus, and both men looked at her like they’d seen a ghost.

“Come with me. Where’s Rabbiteater?”

Altestiel said nothing. His mouth was open, and his eyes, weary and despairing, lit up just one second at her face. Then he seemed to stare at her like a stranger, and she wondered how she must look.

Kiish answered for him.

T-Throne’s Will. Erin. Is that you?”

Come with me.

Erin reached out to take Altestiel’s hand and dragged him a step. She meant to haul Lord Belchaus up too, but the man couldn’t stand.

“He’s wounded.”

“Someone carry him. Visophecin—

The Lucifen was staring at Greydath with a horror that Erin had never seen before. Horror and hatred. The Lucifen had recoiled from him as one, and when Greydath turned, his eyes flashed with recognition. Visophecin was whispering in Erin’s ear.

“We must leave. Now. That thing will kill us all. Even if there were five of me. He killed my father.”

Erin didn’t know who Visophecin’s father was or when he had died or how old Visophecin really was or whether it had been a battle or…

She wished she didn’t know.

It made him more of a person to her.

Her heart was empty. She pulled.

“Let’s go.

“You’re trying to save Rabbiteater. Ser—”


Altestiel finally figured it out, and only because he knew her. The indigo-haired man, who looked bloody and tired and nothing like the charming man who’d come to meet the Titan’s chess-partner, looked at Erin, and he understood her.

Even Lord Belchaus didn’t. Erin saw Antinium and then a figure break through the panicked [Pirates]. Blood on his robes. Panting.

Of course Pisces Jealnet found her. She met his eyes, and their entire history lay bare between them. Pisces didn’t need a question like Altestiel. He just met her eyes and knew.

You’re here?

Of course.

He took her arm, and she squeezed his tightly. Altestiel breathed out as he recognized Pisces.

“The Throne’s Will. Prince Iradoren is moving to cover—”

His eyes flickered, and a moment of worry appeared.

“—We’re regrouping. I can’t leave. I have to get Rainbringer—if we do not regroup, we’ll lose them all. My command post is here.”

“Then move the ship to Rabbiteater.”

Altestiel blinked. He looked at Lord Belchaus, then Erin, and she saw his mind working.

“No…no. Go after him. I know what to do. Kiish! Sweep the decks! Cover Erin Solstice! She needs a ship—”

The Naga’s Den had survived this far. Erin wondered if they’d have to fight for it, but the [Pirates] were running. They would fight to the death against anyone but Greydath of Blades. He’d killed that one—the Shipbreaker—twice.

He’d made it look easy.

Strategist Kiish proved she was one of Desonis’ finest by not staring at the Goblin Lord and snapping orders to Desonis’ [Soldiers] and Nadel’s forces. Altestiel pointed at Erin.

Get Rabbiteater and run, Erin! Don’t do anything else!

“I’ll be back for you if you don’t leave.”

He grinned, annoyed, rueful, and Erin reached for him again, but Altestiel glanced around and swore.


Something burned down from above, and everyone went blind. Two burning objects fell into the sea, and Erin realized that something had come out of the storm and straight down at them. Ryoka Griffin groaned.

“Oh come on. What was—”

Was that a flaming meteor? Erin looked up, and another spell fell and another, then a ship boomed. Greydath of Blades had cut the first one, and now he spun his sword and redirected a lightning bolt, leaving the curved lightning etched on his vision.


Storm or not.

Battle or not.

Every nation in the world was now trying to kill him. Altestiel shoved Erin. She turned, and the [Pirates] were all fleeing to their ships. The oppressive wave of bodies became clear paths, and a dozen figures headed towards Erin, running from the ships they had been fighting across.

Her friends.

Erin saw Anand, saw Ceria skating towards them, grinning in pure terror, Yvlon shielding a…goat woman…and a small group of wounded Antinium stopping as Anand picked up a lamb, who nearly shot him in the face.

Then it was everyone.

Everyone except her guy.

Anand stared at Ksmvr, who pointed at Badarrow, and the Hobgoblin’s jaw dropped when he saw Yvlon, and the [Armsmistress] blinked at Revi—and they had no time for it, so Erin locked eyes with Anand.

To the ship. Run!

They looked at her and ran. Well, began to run until Visophecin grabbed Erin, threw her through his gate spell, and ushered everyone else onto the ship. The Viscount hissed in her ear.

Twelve Lucifen are dead, and we all will be too if we don’t exit this place.

“I—I have a teleportation spell for up to five people, Miss Solstice. I am Archmage—”

She had almost forgotten the silly old man. Erin stared at Verdan Blackwood, and he shut up. Visophecin met Erin’s gaze.

“That [Admiral]’s hunting Rabbiteater. Altestiel said a [Prince] is guarding him?”

“Prince Iradoren of Erribathe. The [Prince of Men]. If anyone can safeguard Rabbiteater’s ship, it would b—”

Visophecin hesitated just one second.

“—be him.”

His eyes had flickered. Erin had seen Altestiel’s pause and saw Visoophechin try to hide it from her. She saw it. Perfect as day.

Why would a [Prince] go to save Rabbiteater? Perhaps the [Princess].

“We’re going. That [Admiral]. How dangerous is he?”

“Admiral Rosech? Miss—that would be one of the most dangerous [Pirates] in the entire world. He may have his entire fleet with him!”

Verdan Blackwood looked around as if he didn’t know why they were all here. The Horns were hugging Revi. Anand had found an Antinium body and was laying it down. Erin stared at a familiar little sheep—

How many more? Visophecin’s eyes were boring holes into hers. Erin Solstice said two things as an [Admiral] who knew the answer turned to her, hands on the wheel.

“Where to, Miss Solstice?”

“The Throne’s Will. Can you kill him, Visophecin? You? Archmage Blackwood? Ceria? Ulvama? Seve?”

Faces turned. Erin saw the Terandrian fleet, ships in the storm, fighting, trying to regroup and get away, and the Iron Vanguard’s ships, moving through after them. Where was Teriarch? Ryoka was scanning the sky.

More spells raining down. Ceria, Visophecin, Verdan Blackwood, Ulvama—all looked at Ryoka as Seve-Alrelious nodded to Erin grimly, eyes alight with the promise of A’ctelios Salash.

“I’ll try.”

Erin looked around and met two pairs of crimson eyes—and sighed. She saw Ulvama shaking her head. Badarrow’s eyes going round, and Erin Solstice turned.

The Goblin Lord was dancing across the remaining ships, but running out of room—and he could not walk on waves. Maybe he could cut them, but his grin was wild, and he stared up at the sky as they all fled him.

The Goblin Lord opened his arms as if to greet a rain of boiling air, then cut it in twain…but it lashed down with the storm and turned the ship he was on to molten slag. It was sinking, now, and Rainbringer, two Bloodtear ships, and Griffindance were all circling away.

The Pheislant ship was firing at him, and he cut a flaming boulder in two. Greydath looked around, calmly, as if choosing who might die next, and at the sky again.

It was a Goblin’s smile.

In the end, no matter who he was—and she had never met him—it was the same smile she saw on Rags’ face when the Goblin had first learned to try for once. The smile the Redfangs had given her. The smile she had learned, sometimes.

Bared teeth, humor, because he did see it, excitement and joy, for he would find it even as a Goblin. But behind it all—a question.

What’s next? For surely they would try again and again until he was dead.

Greydath spun, his blade raising—and the [Innkeeper] shouted.

It was a silly Skill. No great one. The great skill was [Immortal Moment], which she used, but without the silly Skill, he would never have heard.

[Loud Voice].

Over here!

He heard it. Earl Altestiel heard it. The strange crew around her definitely heard it. The watchers on television…

Saw it.

An [Innkeeper], leaning over the railing as a horrified Archmage tried to grab her, bending over as a Goblin Lord, the Goblin Lord, Greydath of Blades, stared at her.

For once, even he looked shocked. Surprised.


She cared for it not. The [Innkeeper] waved her hand and shouted.

I need your help! Come with me! Take my hand!”

Hands were dragging at her—she threw an elbow. Something was coming down, a glowing pillar of light from above, and Greydath glanced up—and at her.

So surprised that when he smiled next, he looked young. As if he had seen something that he really hadn’t ever seen before. Versions thereof. But never this.

He hesitated one second and looked her in the eye, mouthing, as if to ask…‘are you sure?’

But it was too late for either of them, wasn’t it? The Goblinfriend of Izril gave him a smile he recognized, and he leapt.

Golden light obliterated the place on which he had stood and turned even the ocean to gold. He jumped through the air, impossibly far, and she bent over and over—and he caught her hand.

He was surprisingly light. She jerked—and pulled—and he looked up at her, a Goblin Lord clinging to her ship. Holding her hand.

For the world to see.

Of course, he could have made the jump without her. But he’d wanted to see if she’d really catch him. Erin Solstice pulled Greydath up without a word as Ceria closed her eyes shut, Visophecin backed away, and Verdan Blackwood fell on his backside with a look of horror.

Nerry just laughed and laughed silently, falling over to one side as Erin spoke.

“I need to save a friend of mine. He’s called Rabbiteater. You’re a Goblin Lord, aren’t you?”


Erin met his eyes as Greydath raised his brows. She exhaled and spoke.

“Then help me kill everything between me and him. Please.”

The Goblin Lord slowly straightened, inch by inch, vertebrae by vertebrae, tendons cracking, until the hunched, old, wizened, little man became someone else entirely. When he raised his sword—Erin saw someone who Zeladona had dreamed of meeting all her life.

“Yes,” Greydath said.

Then came the end of everything.




Lord Firrus Kallinad spoke. He said:

Open fire.

His finger pointed straight at Greydath of Blades and The Naga’s Den. He saw Erin Solstice there. He knew, in some part of his mind, that there were other people on that ship. The Horns of Hammerad. Nobles.

He saw Greydath of Blades, enemy of the world.

That was enough.

Antinium. Other Goblins.

Anyone else and he would have stopped and thought twice. Not that one. Not the Goblin who had marched with the Goblin King.

Not him.

How could she do it? Lord Firrus Kallinad asked no questions.

Griffindance loosed the first barrage of missiles. Then flaming explosives. Then—everything they had.

Just everything. The Naga’s Den reeled as explosions tore up and down it, and the [Admiral] took his ship away as Griffindance attacked and attacked—and then spells began raining down from above as well.




Kill the [Innkeeper]. Kill the Goblin Lord! Kill them all!

The Blighted King ordered it, and so Rhir lit up with spells. Nereshal heard orders being sent as a first wave of magic broke down—and Greydath of Blades cut the damn magic in two.

“Your Majesty! There are nobles of Ailendamus, and we do not have unlimited—”

Othius the Fourth seized the [Chronomancer] and shrieked at him.

Kill them both!

A burning [Message] tore the air around the throne room, bypassing barriers as the King of Khelt demanded the Blighted Kingdom cease. Nations were in uproar—and the rest hesitated as they burned through safeguards, checked their dwindling spells of armageddon—and even Othius stopped, hands on Nereshal’s neck.

A wave of magic slammed into the ocean, causing the seas to rise and change into spectacular colors—then geyser up in pure destruction. It did not touch The Naga’s Den, for Greydath of Blades had severed even those spells with ease.

But he could not be everywhere. Nereshal saw, on the ship, the friends of Erin Solstice—the Goblinfriend of Izril, for that was how he now knew her, now and forevermore—had taken cover.

Magical shields from House Shoel. A barrier of ice. Seve-Alrelious pulled a piece of wood buried in his neck out with a grimace—but a master of barriers and wards had saved them all.

Archmage Verdan Blackwood was a defensive expert. His power had protected the deck of the ship, stopped Griffindance’s assault as Dakelos bore them out of range.

He had come to rescue Erin Solstice, not realizing that she was right where she wanted to be. The Archmage could have fled. When he beheld doom falling, he still could have escaped.

He was no hero. No Amerys. But the canny old man had one weakness, or perhaps he clung to it, for all he tried to be a true Mage of Wistram with a heart that lived only for magic and eyes that could sacrifice everything for power.

A master of magic saw a young student come to Wistram and leapt in front of her, trusting to his armor and sorcery. One uncalculated move in a lifetime of deliberation.

Thus, the old man had done exactly what he’d set out to do.

Save Erin Solstice.

Make an impact.

Othius, raving, and Nereshal, heart pounding and suddenly going still, looked up, and the [Chronomancer] closed his eyes a second. When he opened them…he still saw it.

An [Innkeeper], gently holding an old man who had jumped between her and one of Pheislant’s attacks. Armor or not, magic or not—something had burned a hole straight through his chest. She was saying something to the old Archmage of Dullahans. Then she stood up and did not weep, not yet.

But Dullahans wept.




Tulm the Mithril saw Verdan Blackwood die.

He didn’t know why the Archmage of Baleros was there at first. His mind…normally crystal clear, felt sluggish. He must have…heard Tulm giving the order to try and protect Erin.

They were close enough to Wistram. Then had been Greydath, and that [Innkeeper] had—

“Verdan Blackwood is dead.”

Xol of Ingrilt spoke. The War Walker intoned each word slowly, speaking to the fleet. He spoke the obvious, that it might be heard. He spoke the words without inflection, without commentary.

Tulm’s head was sitting on a table, staring at the scrying orb. He raised it now, and in his words were emotion. And inflection.

“This is Strategist Tulm the Mithril to the fleet. All ships in range. Engage the Terandrian fleet. The Archmage of Dullahans will be avenged.”

Later, someone would analyze whether it was an accident. Later, they would accord explanations to why this had happened, perhaps that it might never occur again. Later, they would assign blame and recriminations and mourn.

In this moment, the Dullahans cared not for anything else but retribution.

Verdan Blackwood would be avenged. The first ship nearing one of Terandria’s ships opened up with gouts of [Magma Spray] spells. Tulm saw the Krakenbane Destroyer turn away from searching for Teriarch, and the first spell burst across the night.




Ser Greysten of the Order of Solstice had been moving towards the rendezvous point Prince Iradoren had called when the attack began.

He didn’t know what happened. At first, he thought it was more Bloodtear Pirates, but then he saw ship after ship, ironclads with metal armor attached, and realized who was besieging them.

The Iron Vanguard has joined the Bloodtear Pirates!

Ser Markus shouted, and the Summer’s Champion protested.

“That can’t be! Signal them! Can they have—”

The water exploded around him, and an Autumn Knight tried to raise more barrier spells as Greysten stumbled. He did not understand—but the Iron Vanguard’s ship had begun engaging every Terandrian ship in sight.

Disaster. Then he heard someone screaming for the fleet to kill…Erin Solstice? Oaths of vengeance upon the Dullahans. The Bloodtear Pirates were still out there.





For an entire day and night they had tried to kill her, but the Luminary of the Seas, Captain Lidera of the Bloodtear Pirates, had held the sky at bay.

Her light had erased spells meant to kill her friends and comrades. All the power of a Luminary was coursing through her veins, and she knew, very soon, her body would give in.

It could not be a conduit to this much power without backlash, but she had known that from the start.

This was her defiance, spit in the eye to the Drowned Cities. To the Shadewards and other Luminaries.

They were trying to kill her, too. Tendrils of darkness magic climbed up from the sea, but she burnt through them with contempt. No…her adopted son, Solwes, was what Lidera worried for. She aimed another beam of light down at the real foe, which had been sent up against all the fleets present.

The Kraken.

It was ravening mad and, like the [Pirates]—driven. Krakens were intelligent. Something—someone—had sent this Kraken up to fight until it died.

“The Eater of Threads herself swims below us. You’ll have no more of my kin, [Witch]. Look at me, devourer of the deeps.”

The Luminary shone brighter, and the Kraken, flailing about below her, focused on the painful light above. It had a weakness, and it was that for all its size and many hearts and brains that could endure unimaginable devastation—

The Kraken still needed to see. Lidera’s light blinded each tentacle’s eyes. Light, a weapon without limit, which could not be blocked nor dodged nor parried if it was bright enough.

A tentacle burst from the sea to grab Lidera, and she ignited herself until she was as bright as the sun. The light itself burnt through the flesh; the Kraken’s tentacle barely kept her from blinding her allies.

How I glow.

The Luminary giggled as she pierced the depths, and the Kraken screamed. It would be their end. Both of their ends; she’d seared her very organs. The only things that needed to keep working were her heart and mind.

It would all be over soon.




Behind them, they were all coming. Erin Solstice gently folded Verdan Blackwood’s hands over his chest and looked up.

“You’ve done it now.”

Ceria Springwalker remarked, almost cheerfully. She bent over, looking at Verdan Blackwood, then at Erin.

“He was an Archmage when I was a student. Not a very good one by the old days’ standards, but the Dullahans loved him. They’re like Minotaurs. They have a thing about grudges that makes Drakes look kindly. You can buy Drakes off in time.”

Erin said nothing. After a second, Ceria hugged her.

“We came as fast as we could. Sorry we missed the Solstice.”

“I didn’t want you here. I wanted you to be safe in the Crossroads.”

It made the half-Elf laugh. Then the ship rocked, and Erin saw the Lucifen raising another barrier. Ceria backed up.

“Better help. I’ll tell you why that’s funny another day. We’re your team, Erin. Pisces was going to say it, but I beat him to it.”

She winked, carefree, acting silly as could be—and Erin stood there. A Goblin Lord perched on a higher point of the ship, laughing as he swung his sword. Erek was trying to make Nerry stay put or hand her to Visophecin to take to safety.

Rivel was just leaning on the railing, looking into the waters where Embraim had been.

“Any moment now. It’s all my fault. But I did it because I knew…I knew it might make a difference.”

Erin Solstice stood on the deck, looking around at ships, now fighting each other, splintering. Every group was tearing each other apart. She’d done that.


She did care. But she had still done it. All for one person. All for a Goblin.

One person decided to talk to Erin about it over the roar of it all, despite the fact that any second a spell might land or House Kallinad might hit them with a projectile.

Anand didn’t care. Well, he did care, but he stopped in front of her, and though he was not Pisces, who had known her a bit longer, or Badarrow, who had a stake as personal as Erin’s—more—

He felt he had a small right to this.

“Hello, Erin. Goat is dead.”

She blinked at him, and he knew the feeling of wondering whether his eyes were working. Anand went on, voice level.

“So is Aluminum Armor, who liked the word you taught me, even though we never found it, and was one of the first Armored Antinium to ever become painted. And Worker C44, who decided his name might be better but never came up with it. If you survive…if any of the Antinium survive, they will carry the names to the Free Hive, so do not worry. Rabbiteater is just ahead. I hope we save him.”


He nodded at her, and his voice was not…cheerful. It was direct. It had the makings of cheerful, but he could not hide some tones he had never spoken to her before. He felt it was time.

“I wish to tell you that I know why you came. I am glad you escaped Roshal. They are bad people, and if I live—I will make sure they have no sway anywhere I can. But I will not predict the future. I know Rabbiteater is there. I know…”

He paused.

“I know that if I were there, you would come for me. It still hurts.”

Anand was certain. He was, but he still checked, and he saw her look at him. Wordlessly, and his heart felt better. Even now.

“I wish you hadn’t come.”

“If you go, we will follow. Every single time. Hasn’t Bird told you that? Or did you not believe him because he is Bird?”

The [Strategist] scolded the silly [Innkeeper] and realized too late that the person he had looked up to as knowing everything, being able to do anything…was still just a young woman. He wondered how he’d never noticed and wished, in a way, he never had.

Her eyes were full of guilt, and Anand felt the ship list.

“—I would do it again. I just wish…”

Rabbiteater had every right to be saved, but it came out anyways.

“I should have stayed at the inn.”

Then, perhaps, it would be an Antinium, not a Goblin. Antiniumfriend instead of Goblinfriend…but that didn’t sound as good. A petty little child stood in front of Erin, and she raised her haunted eyes to his.

“Why didn’t you?”

The Worker smiled ruefully and chuckled.

“We had a people to learn to lead.”

Then he saw her look at him as if she had never seen him fully before, and he felt taller. Anand saw her chest rise and fall, and her hair was burnt; the flames were out. She was just the [Innkeeper] now.

To the end.

No more the [Witch] of wonders.

Not the person to unite the north and south of Izril.

No devil-forged woman, reborn ghost.

Just the [Innkeeper] who had been at the start of it all. The greatest and only. She spoke to him softly.

“I love chess, but I’m bad at strategy, Anand. He’s right there in front of me. If it were you, I would go. I don’t know if I would be here for someone else.”

“Thank you.”

They stumbled, and someone cried out as Anand and Erin came back to the world. The [Immortal Moment] vanished for the last time this long day, and Anand felt The Naga’s Den rock. The impact sent him stumbling—and Erin threw her arms around the Worker. She hugged him with all her strength as the deck slid.

“I love you, Anand.”

Then they were tumbling, and the world was ringing. Anand lay on his back-shell, stunned, and saw her bend over him and check him. She whispered in his ears, and it stayed with him as long as his soul remained.

Don’t die.

She rose, and he whispered back. Reaching for her hand.

“I won’t.”

She looked down at him, eyes gleaming, then was running, knife in hand, towards the end of it. Anand?

He was laughing softly as he rose. No one could understand why. The [Strategist] followed Erin, chuckling.

“Bird’s not the only one who can learn to lie.”

They ran into ships on the way to Rabbiteater. [Pirates]. A confused flotilla who opened fire on the Goblinfriend of Izril. Anand kept running, chasing her, as the storm began to clear.





Author’s Note:

The following art is by Miguel. Art has been omitted except for the most fitting, drawn during the writing of the Solstice.


Erin Solstice by Miguel.

Ko-Fi: https://ko-fi.com/cmarguel

Twitter: https://twitter.com/cmarguel



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