Volume 9 – Epilogue – The Wandering Inn

Volume 9 – Epilogue

(Make sure you have read 9.70 Pt. 1-3 before continuing reading. All three parts of the chapter were released at once along with the Epilogue for Christmas.)


[I am taking a month’s break as well as Christmas off. I will be back February 3rd for Volume 10. —pirateaba]



The last vestiges of the storm blew over the sea, a great hurricane dying, and the whirling winds and wrath of the ocean fading.

Fading, as it crossed hundreds of miles, becoming eddying gales, freezing winds turning into cool air and gasping, faltering, dissolving into a hundred thousand wild breezes that took to every direction and losing cohesion until one gust of air reached the shore.

The wind blew down a sandy coast and ruffled someone’s hair as they stood, breathing in the same air that had howled during the Winter Solstice, then held the voices of the despairing, the raging, and the last breaths of the war at sea.

A pair of lungs inhaled and exhaled the salty air, and it was painful. But they were alive. A small crowd had gathered on the beach to watch, and it was a reminder: they were alive.

Not everyone had died during the Winter Solstice and the days thereafter. That was what was painful—or good about it. Some people had made it. The figure cleared his throat a few times as the people standing across from him fiddled with a magical mirror and a scrying orb.

“We’re live in two…”


He checked his notes, mental and physical, read off the simple teleprompter—someone holding up pieces of paper with the words written extra large—cleared his throat one last time, then fell silent.

The young man was ready. The wind ruffled at his hair, and he didn’t bother to fix it. While he waited—he thought of names.

Names. He was about to be on air, but the list played in his head again, as it had done for days and weeks.

There was a list he had compiled that wouldn’t be going out in any newspaper or broadcast. It wasn’t for them.

He had compiled a list of those who had made it, survived. And those who hadn’t.


Moore of Raithland—deceased.

Ulinde. Selphids had no last name, often—deceased.

Seborn Sailwinds—alive.

Jelaqua Ivirith—alive.


Apparently [Warriors] were hard to kill. A Hag Queen had animated two bodies to kill the Selphids inside, and one had survived the attack, if barely.

The Halfseekers of Izril were disbanded. Jelaqua Ivirith had tendered the disbandment of her team from the [Healer]’s bed. The newlywed Selphid had no comment to give except to pledge her team’s remaining finances to the kin of Ulinde and Moore.

—As far as the [Journalist] had been able to discover, Moore had no kin. He was named ‘Moore of Raithland’ because that was where his people had been and where a half-Giant boy had been conceived before the Nomads of the Sky had left Izril for good. They must not have known he existed, and by the time they left…that was the history, the facts that could be extrapolated from his past.

Ulinde did have family, and so the money would go to them.

These were just the facts.


Perorn Fleethoof—alive.

Captain Ixeth—deceased.

Captain Yameth—deceased.


There were a lot of living and dead, and his list contained only…well, the ones important to him, as cruel as that might be to say. Commander Fleethoof had survived the mortal wounds inflicted upon her by Kasigna at the cost of one of her subordinate’s lives as he used a potion to save her.

That was a different story. That story had emotions and sacrifice, and he would not tell it, because people didn’t deserve to hear it. Not like that. Even if they did—he hadn’t been there.



Thunderfur (Carn Wolf)--deceased.


Chance. A Goblin lived while his mount died. One had Skills. The other had bled out before he could be saved. The entire Solstice had been like that.

The list kept playing, over and over, as a [Journalist] turned to face the cameras. There were too many names, but he also had a list of Earthers.


George Coleman—deceased. Killed by one of the Jaws of Zeikhal that had gone on a rampage during the Solstice.

Kevin Hall—deceased. Murdered by an [Assassin] of Roshal.

Imani (no last name on record)—alive. One of her eyes was lost. In rehabilitation in Liscor.


He supposed he deserved to be on that list as well. The [Journalist] tried to smile, and he was aware of the skin on his face stretching. Scars. One of the [Cameramen] winced as Rémi Canada had his moment on television.


Rémi Canadaalive. Survived a zombie attack after they found him being eaten alive.


Alive or dead. His notes didn’t mention scars. The [Frontline Journalist] had a new class. He knew the scars were bad. Bite marks had torn off part of his face. He resisted the urge to touch his features and spoke.

“I am Rémi Canada, the head editor of the Chandrar International. It may be slightly unprofessional to report on my own news, but the world is in chaos right now. I have been the subject of multiple assassination attempts, which were partly successful, as you can see.”

His smile was twisted. At this moment—he had a lot of attention on him. The news stations were in chaos, and many were taking their leads from Wistram, but the Academy of Mages was a shambles.

Rémi had asked Wonders of Nerrhavia’s Fallen and every Chandrarian television station to let him take lead, and he saw this as their one opportunity to broadcast something unique. Wistram could put out its own narrative; Terandria and Baleros were already describing the events of the Night of Bloodtear in their own terms.

The different continents had finally begun to fully stratify. The [Journalist] continued, hoping he had people’s attention.

“Shortly, we will begin our two-hour-long segment unpacking the events of the Winter Solstice felt around the world, the Night of Bloodtear, and both the narrative as seen from as many veritable, first-hand accounts as we can and the ramifications around the globe. Firstly, though, I would like to speak about the perils of delivering the news when other countries or individuals object to what I am saying.”

He paused, then looked straight into the scrying mirror, seeing his own distorted reflection in it. Drassi had offered him a timeslot on her show, but he wanted this.

Make the most of it. You’ll never get another chance.

“Journalism is not just speaking into a camera. It is researching, confirming eyewitnesses and verifying facts, and publishing a report of what happened that you can stand behind. It is the pursuit of the truth, and it is neither easy nor safe. I wish, at this moment, to explain to viewers what it is…and what it is not. The attempts on my life are not always a sign I am reporting the exact truth. But I do tend to take it as a sign I’m saying something someone disagrees with. I can swear that among the unsuccessful attempts on my life, I have faced assassination threats and worse from Nerrhavia’s Fallen, as have other members of the press. This latest attempt is not, I believe, from Nerrhavia’s Fallen, but it joins an increasing trend of people trying to silence voices of dissent.”

It was a little speech he’d written, and at this moment, he was sure Nerrhavia’s Fallen was vigorously drafting a statement denying any involvement in his disfigurement.

But his face told a very simple story to his audience…even if Rémi knew that, in this case, Nerrhavia’s Fallen hadn’t done anything to him.

It was perhaps the most unethical story he’d ever broken. Rémi knew fully well who’d tried to kill him, and Kasigna might not have even known he was a [Journalist]. Yet what he was saying was also…true.

Another time, Rémi would have had scruples about what he was doing, but at this moment, he could still feel his scars stretching and feel the zombies trying to rip his face off. He didn’t really care. And…he had a feeling no one else was following an ethical code of journalism.

Case in point. Rémi transitioned from his comment about his injuries to a surprised half-Elf also having a bad day.

Rémi had no sympathy for Archmage Eldavin.

“Archmage of Memory, thank you for joining us. Do I have your word that you had no involvement in any attempts on individuals’ lives during the unprecedented undead attacks on the Winter Solstice?”

They had a five minute delay, but he wasn’t cutting anything, and he saw the Archmage of Memory blink at Rémi—and wondered if the audience noted the slightest of pauses.

“No, Journalist Canada, I most certainly did not participate in or wish for your harm. My understanding was this was an address about the state of Wistram.”

The [Journalist] folded his hands behind his back and kept smiling.

“We’ll get to that, Archmage. But for public disclosure, as a journalist—I feel the question has merit. This just in—I have received full confirmation that truth spells can be faked. Going forwards, I will not be using truth spells as a part of any broadcast my organization participates in. There is no point. Every account will require testimony and multiple eyewitness accounts. Truth spells likely work with most people under Level 40—but they are not inviolable. Did you have a comment, Archmage? Archmage?”

Rémi paused a second.

“I think we’ve lost the Archmage of Memory. Moving on, let’s begin with what we know and can verify…”

The young man kept speaking, aware that this was his big break. People had already read the Chandrar International, and they had name-association with his reporting from the war in Tiqr and the newspaper. Ksmvr of Chandrar had made him a worldwide presence.

But this…this was them putting a face to the name and his chance to establish himself. It was his biggest break since coming to this world.

He felt nothing. The [Journalist] stood in front of the cameras, spoke the truth as he saw it with as much evidence as he could find, interviewed witnesses as hard as he could press them, and then took a break for advertisements.

All the while, the list wrote itself in his head. Living. Dead. Living…




They were still finding wreckage washing up on islands and each continent’s shores from the Night of Bloodtear.

That was what people were calling it. Though it hadn’t actually been one night, but several days and nights of conflict, including the Solstice, that had ended in one pivotal battle.

Names, eh? Major Salvia didn’t put much stock in them. Major—she’d been promoted recently. The Journey of the Living, the name of the current era…not the finest thing she’d ever heard either.

A woman from the City of Nonelmar didn’t judge bad names. Nonelmar was one of those cities.

Not Invrisil. Not Riverfarm or Liscor, even, one of those cities.

It wasn’t Onononno, the City of Slimes, or Celum, which had big events to give it an identity. It was…a city.

It had culture. Lovely, just magnificent [Beekeepers], the Pebble River, filled with colorful stones, that was eminently beautiful, a thriving industry of flowers and herbs—because Nonelmar could support multiple industries—and so on.

But it was just…a city. Nonelmar had a small army and no attached nobility these days. It existed, it fought, and it had fair-weather allies like the city that Salvia was riding into.

Vaunt. The ‘City of Rinds’, which was a joke that wore on you, much like the faint smell in the air and the incessant mooing of cows.

One was plodding down the street, probably having escaped a local farm, and the City of Vaunt was, to Salvia, a sometimes friend, sometimes enemy, usually more of the former than the latter.

A city few people actually visited that was notable for [Merchants] and the like and the surrounding area, but didn’t make Izril turn on its name.

Even today, it was just Vaunt. Which was why the sight of over five thousand of Nonelmar’s [Riders], their entire cavalry division, was so astounding it made the cityfolk stop.

The line of thirty of House Terland’s Golems, an entire detachment of House Veltras’ own [Riders], and representatives from Pallass, Manus, Salazsar, and even a trio of Centaurs bearing the Forgotten Wing’s standard was…

Well, they were just lucky the Antinium had been asked not to show up and that the Black Tide had honored the request. They’d sent some of Liscor’s army to represent them instead, and a group of fifteen Gnolls and Drakes was standing to attention, eying the Humans with interest.

Salvia’s arm felt heavy as she held a sword up to let a procession pass her. There was not, in fact, a marching band or any fanfare. The Golems’ heavy tread and a cow mooing…filled the street with voices, whispering, not mourning—not all of them.

As she understood it, the reason for this lack of music was that the [Mayor] hadn’t thought there would be a huge funeral procession, let alone representatives from each city. Then the [Mayor] had been so overwhelmed trying to host the officers and dignitaries that he’d forgotten the purpose of the dignitaries’ visit.

It did not make Vaunt look good. But then…Salvia stared across the city she’d had the opportunity to visit about two dozen times over the last ten years, and she realized something she always sort of forgot until she came back.

The City of Vaunt wasn’t that nice. When you heard that, maybe you thought, ‘oh, it’s not an Invrisil with huge streets and all the latest technology or crowds’.

No, Salvia would have to explain. It really just wasn’t that nice.

The cows could be charming, especially if one walked up to you and begged for a snack, but the thoroughfares and streets had a certain…broken paving look to them. A lot of grocers and storefronts didn’t have the coin to repaint windows or buy glass, and the little things added up.

Prices weren’t good. The winter had been harsh, so everything was at a premium. But you’d think, well, Vaunt. City of cheeses. The cheese would be cheap, right?

Wrong. There was a local [Merchant] group that owned a lot of contracts and the cheese business itself. As Salvia understood the history of the cheese economy, they’d slowly move prices down to knock out local businesses, buy them out, and then raise prices. There was still a lot of need for [Dairy Farmers] and [Ranchers], but it was less fun being one.

It had been that way for over a decade, really.

—Vaunt’s people weren’t starving, but when they saw one of the Erchirite Spears marching past with armor covered by topaz, carrying a spear of magic in one clawed hand, they seemed like [Peasants] seeing a [Knight] on display. It hurt, a bit, for Salvia to see it.

It surprised the Liscorians, Drakes, and the visitors, though they were too good to say it. When Salvia turned her head, she saw a Gnoll muttering something before snapping to attention, looking…not dismayed, but the furry face was written with clear surprise that even she could see.

Here was the thing: Vaunt wasn’t that bad. It wasn’t dying or overrun by crime, but you got a weird shock when you finally visited. Because…because…

Because when you thought of Vaunt, it was not the city itself. It was the people, or in her case, and in the case of many others, the man who had talked up his city again and again.

—Of course, he’d give you a wheel of cheese.

A damn wheel of cheese, even if it wasn’t as big as some, and you could bet your buttons that Gershal had one of those cheeses wide as your chest that he’d bring out and cut a chunk out of just to make your eyes pop.

A curious thing. Vaunt didn’t have a huge amount of [Soldiers], but theirs did leave an impact. Lieutenant Gershal had left an impact.

Salvia remembered when the two had first met. She’d been ready to argue over the last incident regarding grazing rights with some uppity [Lieutenant]—and he’d given her a snort at her city’s name, then handed her an entire wheel of goat’s cheese.

People knew Vaunt because of him. Doubtless, there had been some people who’d asked for cheese from Vaunt or given it a second look because they’d remembered that [Lieutenant] from Vaunt who’d handed out cheese like there was no tomorrow.

—There was no tomorrow for Lieutenant Gershal or over two-thirds of Vaunt’s soldiers who’d gone to Liscor. They were finally coming home, and it had taken nearly two weeks to effect the transfer, mostly due to the distance and…well. There was no point in rushing the dead.

What surprised the city folk, Salvia noticed as she finally lowered her arm with her [Riders], was the procession itself.

She noticed a [Grocer]’s mouth was still open, still watching Salazsar’s procession. Salvia checked the lines of passing [Soldiers] and heard, at last, someone begin a military song.

Manus was playing since Vaunt wouldn’t, and after them would come the honorary Centaurs, then she’d swing into line with her [Riders]. So she had at least a few minutes. The [Grocer] finally turned his head to her, and they linked eyes, so Salvia ducked her head.

“Miss—you’re from Nonelmar, right?”

A few people standing in the crowd looked over, patently relieved to see someone normal, even if Salvia herself was unexpected. She hesitated, then removed her helmet and half-bowed from the saddle as her horse pawed the ground.

“I am. Major Salvia. Do I know you, sir?”

He was vaguely familiar, and she wondered if he’d sold her some cheese. The man had a slightly balding head and an apron on—he looked to have come straight out from making cheese, and the milky odor clung to him still.

“I reckon I recall your lot riding down…you were that group that went out with him, right? Lieutenant Gershal? The one we’re all honoring?”

Salvia stared at him, surprised, and then ducked her head.

“I did have the honor of knowing him, sir. Were you acquainted well with Lieutenant Gershal? I mean—Captain Gershal?”

He’d been posthumously promoted. The [Grocer] hesitated.

“Know him? I, uh—he was around. Of course I knew him. He was a lad when I first became a [Cheesemaker]. I’m, ah, one of the heads of the Cheesemonger’s Guild. Brieman Tolset.”

Brieman…Salvia’s lips didn’t really twitch. She held out a hand, thinking that his position wasn’t as important as it used to be given the [Merchant] monopoly.

Even so, he was someone. But the way he talked about Gershal…and the other citizens.

“So you weren’t close with him.”

“Close…I knew him. But he was always off, you know? Patrolling, killing monsters, doing army things. He’d stop by, tell me about some other city, buy up all the cheese he could on a discount, and ride off, and I’d see him months later.”

That caught Salvia’s ear, and she stopped watching the procession to chat with the man. She saw one of the Gnolls from Liscor turn their head, clearly listening in, and begin whispering to the Drakes next to him. Everyone in Nonelmar’s group in earshot sort of turned, slightly incredulous.

“Wait, he bought the cheese? I always heard that Vaunt’s [Soldiers] got a stipend. They gave us cheese every time we met.”

At this point, Brieman Tolset seemed to realize that the Gershal he knew was not the man Salvia was speaking of and tried to choose his words carefully, but he didn’t even know what he was defending.

“Ah, well, he had a—I’m sure that sounds like something we’d do. Gave out a lot of cheese, did he?”

“Yes. He always talked about Vaunt. He was a brave man. I heard he was going to Liscor, but I didn’t receive authorization to go that far south. I…”

They’d fought together against [Bandits], monsters, and the Goblin Lord, and she’d thought he was crazy when he went to Liscor. He’d written her why…and then she’d heard what had happened there.

The world was upside down. Terandria’s fleet was still regrouping, and the ships that had landed in the New Lands of Izril were trying to stake a claim. What ships hadn’t just turned around and gone home.

Two weeks and Salvia heard that Terandria’s forces were still clashing with the Iron Vanguard. They’d stopped finding bodies, but they were still hanging [Pirates].

There were bounties everywhere—even in Nonelmar, which was far from the coast—for the biggest ones.

Admiral Maxy, Shipbreaker Ereiyne, Captain Aldrail—

Posters advising all adventurers to be on the lookout for Greydath of Blades. A Goblin Lord who everyone had said was dead.

Archmage Verdan Blackwood was dead. The Spring’s Warden, Prince Iradoren, Xol of Ingrilt—she’d watched funeral after funeral on television, sometimes accompanied by fiery rhetoric or promises of vengeance.

Salvia knew Liscor had seen more casualties—all of the [Soldiers] who’d hailed from there hadn’t talked about what they’d seen, only given her grim-eyed looks and told her that the city was safe. Sort of.

“Excuse me, Brieman. Major. We are part of Liscor’s 2nd Army. 3rd Battalion. I had the honor of serving with Captain Gershal at the end, yes. We too wished to honor his passing, as did the Walled Families.”

A Gnoll saluted Salvia and Brieman Tolset, and the man stared at the Gnoll with a mouth slightly open as Salvia turned her attention to the procession.

Oh yes. The Walled Families themselves had decided to honor a random [Lieutenant]. The Golems were a gift from Lord Xitegen; the word Salvia had gotten was they’d be in service to Vaunt for thirty days and nights doing whatever tasks the city deemed fit.

Her eyes were fixed on the street ahead where they’d be gathering in the city square—if it could even hold them all—and they’d lay him to rest in the catacombs. It was Brieman Tolset’s voice that made her head turn back.

“You know, around here, he was always a silly sort of fellow. Clumsy. He broke my windows twice by tripping into them, and I heard his superiors weren’t keen on him, which was why he was never about. Not good at taking orders, maybe, or thickheaded. That was what I thought of him.”

Gershal. Thickheaded. Salvia bristled, and she saw the Liscorians exchange long glances before turning back to Vaunt’s folk. The not-quite-glares made Tolset fall silent uneasily.

Now, Salvia saw that everyone in earshot was listening in, ignoring the faint strains of horns and drums ahead of them. An entire street of hundreds was turning to the too-loud conversation, and Salvia hesitated, because this was for Vaunt’s own.

But they didn’t even get it. The woman stared at the line of coffins, each one paid for by House Reinhart, [Soldiers] from the Walled Cities and even Baleros, Centaurs raising lances to the sky. The woman hesitated and stuttered.

“I know he was—but I mean—Major. About Lieutenant Gershal…was he really a hero?”

They had no idea how he’d died. Or if they’d heard of it, Vaunt’s soldiers holding off thousands of Draugr, who could believe it?

The [Soldiers] of Liscor saw Nonelmar’s [Riders] look at them, and the Gnoll who’d been there raised his voice in a soft growl.

“At the end, I saw Lieutenant Gershal facing down dozens of Draugr alone. He had to have killed at least six.”


Another Drake added details.

“Each one eight feet tall. I saw the Cheeseeaters—sorry, that’s what they called themselves—they were right there. They didn’t run.”

Salvia wondered if the Liscorians were exaggerating. They probably were, but the citizens of Vaunt just stared at them wide-eyed, some half-smiling like they thought these were just tall tales.

Only, it wasn’t a story. And if you thought it was…heads turned, and the conversation fell silent as Salvia realized it was Nonelmar’s turn.

With me—

Then five thousand [Riders] slowly broke from formation and came riding four-abreast in a column down the street. Hooves clattered like distant thunder, and Salvia raised her sword again and looked past the cityfolk and citizens of Vaunt.

It wasn’t about them. It was about a foolish man who’d loved his city more than they deserved. Who’d put their name into people’s ears across Izril.

No one knew about Nonelmar. But Vaunt was now one of those cities. They said it was a city of cheeses, but what some of them really meant was—

Lieutenant Gershal had been from here.




Major Salvia still didn’t quite believe he was dead. By the time he’d gotten here, there hadn’t been a face for her to…not that she’d want to…

It was in the stories. At first, when she’d ridden the short distance to Vaunt, Salvia herself had more been grieving the man, and only when she’d gotten strange looks at the officer parties had she realized the same thing Vaunt’s citizens were catching onto.

He’d been a hero. Fighting Draugr? She heard more of it as, slightly lightheaded, she stood to attention.

The flustered [Mayor] had spoken, flustered and stumbling over his words. His address had trotted out tired, useless phrases about the ‘brave soldiers’ and ‘honoring Vaunt’.

The other speakers were far better. The Centaurs of the Forgotten Wing company were the most impressive in a sense.

A grim-faced Centaur trotted forwards after the Salazsarian address and barked into a [Loud Voice] spell with such authority that Salvia stood upright instinctively.

“I am Captain Basal of the Forgotten Wing Company, 2nd in command to Commander Perorn Fleethoof of Izril’s forces. Commander Fleethoof expresses her regrets she cannot personally attend due to her continuing injuries.”

So Fleethoof was alive? The half-Lizard Centaur had a reptilian tail and scales—and everyone expected him to say something grandiose. Instead, he half-bowed at the waist.

“It is my duty and honor to verify Captain Gershal’s bravery at his end. I have with me [Vanguard Rider] Letien and [Arbalist] Justens, who both stood witness to Lieutenant Gershal’s finest moments in battle. I, personally, witnessed his beheading of a Draugr and single combat against an undead beast twice his size! We have preserved the head of this monster that it might be witnessed.”

The crowd gasped and screamed as a gigantic bat’s head was raised by two of the Centaurs, and Salvia’s stomach roiled. It had been well-preserved, and its snarling face was riddled by at least one death-wound—then Basal stamped his hooves and stepped back, and another Centaur trotted forwards and spoke.

—Gershal had not died peacefully. The Centaur did not focus on Gershal’s death, but he didn’t pretend it had been entirely heroic either. Salvia imagined it. Lines crumbling as a single [Lieutenant] vanished, still swinging his sword until the undead surrounded him. The [Arbalist], the last to see Gershal, half-roared at a terrified child in the crowd, eyes sweeping the silent figures.

“I have seen dead men fight—and your [Lieutenant] kept fighting even with half his head gone. I say it not lightly—he died like a warrior like few I’ve seen. If he had lived, he would have led your city to further glory. Vaunt’s soldiers should have never held their ground, but they did—and the enemy stopped there. We’ll never know what would have happened if they had crumbled.”

Seeing the head of one of the undead that Gershal had fought against brought it home like nothing else would for the people of Vaunt. The Centaur’s address, the way they spoke so matter-of-factly of Gershal’s death and the way he’d fought…

It was emotional damage all the way down from the Forgotten Wing company. Salvia had only known Gershal in passing, and she felt wounded by their words.

—And, she realized, that was how it should be. She wanted someone like that to tell people that was how she’d gone out.

She didn’t want dry eyes and platitudes about the battle. She wanted them to wail. That man and his people deserved no less. But what Major Salvia did not comprehend was that it wasn’t over.

Not for her.




The tradition was to get stinking drunk after a funeral, and regardless of nation or species, the [Soldiers] honored that. Salvia told her people to report back tomorrow morning, not to cause a fight with other groups, and left it at that.

All of Vaunt needed a drink, and the first thing Salvia saw after taking down a shot of what the Liscorians called Rxlvn by mistake was the floor.

The second thing she saw, thirty minutes later, dead drunk, was a cow drinking from a mug some Drakes were offering it. She laughed until she puked.

That was how one of the Centaurs found her. Captain Basal grabbed Salvia’s neck and angled it so she didn’t choke—she gasped, threw up again, and he offered her a water flask.

“Dead gods, I’m sorry.”

“Not at all, Major. [Soldiers] have to honor their friends. Holding a puking comrade’s standard training in the Forgotten Wing company.”

“…Is that a joke?”

The Lizaur offered her a faint smile. He seemed tired, and she knew the Forgotten Wing company had also lost a lot of people at Liscor. It shamed her, especially when she saw he had a fresh scar—huge bite marks—on one shoulder he’d bared to the winter air.

Though, the third month of winter had passed, and now it would be spring after this month. How time flew when it crawled. Basal chuckled softly at her blank look.

“No, Major. It doesn’t occur to other species, but Centaurs are half-horse. We have quite a lot of stomach. A puking Centaur goes for minutes if it’s bad.”


It made Salvia feel better as she wiped her mouth. Then she blurted out a question as she drank and spat.

“The, uh—did I hear Commander Fleethoof’s alive? I thought a lot of people didn’t make it…”

Basal’s face grew grave, but only for a second, until he offered her a breath of a smile.

“She was wounded very badly near the final moments of the battle. I daresay she would have perished, but Captain Yamath, one of my fellow officers, healed her with his final potion. At the cost of his own life.”

Salvia looked up, and Basal’s face stretched into a bitter smile.

“I left the two most senior officers, Yamath and Ixeth, behind on Liscor’s Floodplains. Yamath saved Fleethoof. They’re toasting his name across the Plains of Baleros, even two weeks on.”

“Dead gods, I’m sorry. I—we—I didn’t get orders to go. And I thought it wouldn’t be that bad.”

“Most shared your opinion. We knew what we were getting into. It was worth fighting for, even if the tally was too high. It always is.”

The other Centaur made Major Salvia feel like a rookie for all she technically outranked him. She bowed her head, and then Basal cleared his throat.

“I sought you out as a matter of…it seems Vaunt was wholly unprepared, so I have taken over some of the proceedings to avoid more delays, Major. This includes the disposition of Vaunt’s wills.”


She gave him a stupid look, because she didn’t understand—until Basal lifted something covered by cloth. He said nothing—until he revealed the sword, and she stared at a beautiful magical artifact she recognized.

“That’s—Gershal’s sword. The one he got from the <Heroic Quest>. Isn’t it?”

It didn’t look right. It seemed like the sword she remembered him showing off and bragging about and being green with envy over, but the colors were more…vivid. Green and steel-grey that shone brighter than regular steel.

“It is. This blade was enchanted by the [Innkeeper] of Liscor. I understand it was given the colors of the Tidebreaker of Izril. Zel Shivertail’s legacy.”

Basal held the blade upright as he unsheathed it slightly, and Salvia’s mouth went dry. She remembered the Drake, the only legend she’d ever met that had made her go weak at the knees, and suddenly—she saw Basal offering the hilt to her.

“Wait, wait, wait. What are you doing?”

Not unkindly, but with a directness as if he had kicked her, Basal spoke down to Salvia.

“Major Salvia, you were named in Gershal of Vaunt’s will as the inheritor of the sword. His previous recipient…this was an amended note to his will a day before the Solstice began. He wished you to receive this blade in the event of his passing. I believe it was because you two served together under the Tidebreaker of Izril.”


They’d served together only a handful of times! Yes, after Zel Shivertail and the Goblin Lord, they’d begun talking more frequently, but—Salvia’s hand rose and snatched away from the hilt. She looked up, face a mess with vomit and water.


A [Mercenary] from one of the Four Great Companies of Baleros offered a sword infused with the Tidebreaker’s will and magic to some [Major] from nowhere.

“If you decline it, it will be offered to Olesm Swifttail, then to Zel Shivertail’s city, Major. Think carefully; we will be remaining for two days, upon which time I will carry the blade back south.”

Salvia had almost reached for the handle, but his tone and her own hesitation made her stop. She looked at the sword.

It was beautiful. An artifact, and if it was twice-enchanted somehow…it was the kind of weapon that a [General] might wear.

It was a weapon a [General] should have. Everything greedy in her told her to take it and never want for a weapon again. However, suddenly, the hilt of that longsword looked heavy and terrifying.

It had the will of Vaunt’s [Lieutenant] in it. The Tidebreaker’s legacy. They were both dead.

Now…it was just her. Salvia hesitated, touched the hilt of the sword, and her hands leapt away as if shocked.

“I can’t take it.”

“Why not?”

He knew the answer, and the angry women glared at Basal.

“What am I—what am I supposed to do with it?”

“The will is just for the sword, Major.”

“Bee shit. He had to have said something else. What did he write to me?”

“Nothing. The address was simply to gift it to you, Major. It may be Lieutenant Gershal had no time to further amend the will. Or he believed the sword was message enough.”

She felt like Gershal had risen from his grave and hit her with the largest wheel of cheese in the world. Salvia didn’t need a message.

I didn’t go to Liscor. I don’t know Drakes. I—we just met the Tidebreaker because Magnolia Reinhart called for our cities. Liscor’s hundreds of miles away. Gershal’s the one people liked with his stupid cheese. What am I supposed to do? Ride around with a jar of honey and fight across Izril? I can’t fight Draugr.”

Basal said nothing. His eyes were astonishingly pitiless, for all the compassion they held. The [Mercenary] waited as Salvia closed her eyes.

Yet Gershal had. His shoulders weren’t even as wide as hers with armor on. She remembered him, and he hadn’t looked like Zel Shivertail, who could have wrestled a Draugr.

Major Salvia turned away, now wondering, urgently, if the Liscorians would sell her the entire bottle of Rxlvn. She heard no hoofs, and when she turned back, the Centaur was watching her.

“Two days, Major.”

He called out after her back, and she fled, running away from that sword like a groundpounder. But it kept shining in her vision.




Vaunt, the City of Rinds, might never understand what they had lost. And they had already lost the man before they realized part of who he had been. By the time they had begun to mourn, two weeks had passed, and it was too late.

It had been too late before the Solstice ever began. Gershal of Vaunt was dead.

His legacy continued.

It was in a wheel of cheese that Salvia had packed onto the back of her horse, wrapped up in wax paper, in the [Soldiers] marching back the way they’d come in the distance, in trade deals with the Cheesemonger’s Guild from interested parties.

In the heft of a tankard, stories about the bravest [Lieutenant] you’d ever seen. And if you scoffed at that—you could walk to the Adventurer’s Guild in Vaunt and look up at a real monster.

They might put up a statue of him. They might tell stories or commission a song of Vaunt and the Cheeseeaters holding the line, embellish the tale or tell it half as well as it had actually happened.

—They would never know what came afterwards if Gershal had fallen back, run, or just survived. He was dead, and Major Salvia had not seen his end.

It would haunt her for the rest of her life despite her not even having known him as well as some. The sword she kept touching at her hip seemed to weigh her down. It felt like the wide-eyed [Riders] under her command sneaking glances at it could see some brilliant light.

Salvia of Nonelmar was a woman from a city with no great name. She did not define Izril. But she carried a sword that would drag her into the earth or change her. Gershal’s Blade was a curse. A promise she had to live up to or flee.

Her destiny was awhirl. The future the woman thought she’d seen, mundane and unpredictable, suddenly felt like someone had yanked the cloth of fate and it was carrying her on a journey she wasn’t ready for, hadn’t asked for—but she had taken the sword.

That was how they marked it, the Solstice of Liscor.

The living and the dead.




The Solstice had been a terrible killing field, but fewer nobles and officers had died than could be hoped for given the full scale of that calamity.

Well…Manus and Pallass had paid for that debacle badly. But that was the Drakes, so it was actually more of a net boon in the end.

The Night of Bloodtear had been the real bloodbath for nobility and [Knights], the people that mattered.

At least, as the Flowers of Izril saw it.

The nobility rarely gathered in such numbers, but when they did, it was at First Landing. The auspices of such meetings were usually banquets and dances, ballroom politics and veiled threats over veal.

—There was no such pretense right now.

Ulva Terland found the entire Conclave of Ships, the ruling body of House Wellfar, present and already arguing by the time she arrived. First Landing was the seat of power in the north, which meant that most nobles stayed close to it.

It presented a problem for, say, nobles further south like Tyrion Veltras or Lord Xitegen to arrive. It meant he was represented by one of his cousins.

A slight…normally. Given the circumstances, no one was going to hold him directly to account for his absence.

“Lady Ulva. Greetings.

Someone swanned up to the head of House Terland in a moment, and Ulva’s Golem bodyguards instantly barred the way. She was notoriously not pleasant company, so Ulva was mildly surprised to be accosted.

Then, when she saw Lady Cecille Reinhart, a little warning bell rang in Ulva’s mind, and Cecille lifted a hand and flicked it a few times.

“Kisses. How are you, Ulva? It’s been decades since we last saw each other properly.”

The [Lady] pursed her lips at the air rather than try to get close to Ulva. She looked…well. Ulva recalled seeing Cecille two years ago at a ball, but for some reason…her spine prickled all the way up and down this time when she saw Cecille smile.

The vacuous, petty, and yes, cruel and self-centered woman that Ulva Terland remembered…was not the Cecille Reinhart of this moment. Oh, she had all that. But Ulva now saw, in the woman’s gaunt cheeks, her illusion spells that gave her a fuller bosom, her ringed fingers, and of course, the viper-green dress, something else behind that smile.

She was reminded, suddenly, of Cecille Reinhart’s youth. Ulva’s cousin, Ramone Terland, had once turned her down for a dance. Two months later, he’d fallen sick and nearly died of an insect sting or something; the swelling and scars had never left him.

Ulva Terland did not extend her own kisses of friendship. She glanced past Cecille as she murmured greetings and realized—there were more Reinharts present.

Nearly forty, each one accosting groups of surprised nobility of the other Five Families. They looked—different. Ulva murmured.

“My word. Is that Gorthes Reinhart over there? He looks—spritely.”

An overbearing man was crushing one of the younger Wellfar’s hands in a grip. He had the same quality as Cecille.

Sharpness. As if someone had taken a blade covered in rust and revealed metal underneath. Then Cecille smiled, and Ulva saw the blade had been coated in poison.

“We’ve been feeling…well, we have missed these gatherings, dear Ulva. The entire family is out for a night upon the city. Have you noticed my daughter and son, Damia and Wernel? They’re somewhere about.”

She waved a hand airly, and Ulva saw nervous servants of House Reinhart following a number of younger nobles around. The younger [Lords] and [Ladies] of House Reinhart seemed—pained. One was holding her head, and one of the [Lords] was frowning in what looked like novel cogitation over a chessboard. Ulva turned to Cecille, trying to suss out what was going on.

“Is all well, Lady Cecille?”

“Oh, well enough. We’re all lighting candles for dear Magnolia—don’t mind Damia and Wernel. They’re both learning to think—and neither one’s exactly happy. I banned them from sharing rooms, and I’ve practically had to open the door of a brothel to Damia. The things she thinks she can’t do—well, they’re adjusting.”

One of the Terlands had their mouth halfway open as they realized what Cecille was saying. Ulva just felt that prickling down her back intensify. You heard rumors about the Reinharts, but they had always been like that.

This reminded Ulva of her youth, and she nodded to Cecille once.

“Have the Five Families begun voting about House Walchaís yet? Has the news changed?”

That glittering smile of Cecille Reinhart drew in Gorthes as well as Controller Lectora, who was representing Xitegen, and two Wellfars and Lord Swey, who had a prosthetic, wooden hand.

“Vote? Why, most of us don’t even know what’s gone on, properly, Lady Terland. Lady Bethal is alive and in hiding…I understand she’s in your care, Ulva? Rather a lot of Golems stymying Magnolia’s servants. But for them, all Bethal’s precious [Knights] would be dead. How many has Magnolia killed?”

Enough. Ulva saw Controller Lectara bow, but her eyes were flashing hatred, and a voice spoke up, dry, pedantic, and the only one of the lot that Ulva even liked.

“I believe Lady Ulva would prefer to keep those details private given Magnolia Reinhart’s animosity. Greetings, all. I regret any lateness.”

Lord Deilan El, Maviola’s successor, was the only other head of the Five Families present and a reliable, if young, pick. He seemed—uneasy. Not used to so many Reinharts or the moment. Ulva should have taken him aside for a conversation, but she wasn’t used to dealing with Cecille.

Magnolia—yes. The head of House Terland spoke abruptly.

“I have placed Lady Walchaís under my protection until the events can be sorted out. Too many have died of late. Too many Flowers of Izril. One, just one of us, has come back, and an entire noble house should be put to the pike? Not until a decision is reached.”

Deilan hesitated, but Lord Swey, Controller Lectara, and even one of Wellfar’s [Ladies] twisted their mouths in clear dissent.

“Resurrection. If that even is little Thricia…I can’t tell, even with a Mage Picture. Are we all in bed with the likes of…the Temptress? It seems cut and dried like salt and surf to me.”

Cecille rolled her eyes at the barefoot [Lady] of House Wellfar.

“I love your cute aphorisms, Lady Cellenesa. Isn’t that what we’ve come to discuss?”

“On behalf of Lord Xitegen and, if I may add, House Veltras—”

Controller Lectara bowed to Lord Swey and got a nod.

“—we must insist on a forceful resolution to this debate. There can be no other consensus. One of the Flowers of Liscor has committed treachery against numerous members of the Five Families.”

“Yes, well. I’m more interested if that really is Thricia Walchaís or a very clever imposter.”

Cecille mused, and Ulva snapped back as Controller Lectara tried to speak.

“Lord Xitegen—”

Xitegen is not the head of House Terland, Controller Lectara. I have met Thricia Walchaís, and I believe it is her. One of our own had been reclaimed from the Sacrifice of Roses. You were not there. Fall silent.”

The Controller stood to attention, and Ulva was conscious of multiple eyes on her. She clasped her hands together.

“Lady Bethal has thrown herself upon our mercy and begs for clemency. I am not desirous to see more blood spilt.”

“Tell that to the Oswens.”

Cecille remarked, and Lord Gorthes chuckled. There was a faint cracking sound—everyone jumped back as Lord Swey crushed his wineglass in his free hand. Red wine ran down his gloved hands as he dropped the glass and turned to Lady Ulva.

“House Veltras is of one mind, Lady Ulva. Some things cannot be forgiven.”

“And House Reinhart? I am aware of Magnolia Reinhart’s will. It is clear, without negotiation. I am surprised to see so many of her house here when her position is beyond debate.”

Ulva glanced pointedly at Cecille and Gorthes. For answer, more nobles of House Reinhart drifted over, and Cecille folded her hands together.

“My dear niece is a passionate woman. I would not dare to tell her the business of House Reinhart. But she is convalescing, and more power to her; as she’s not able to be here, we have a more pragmatic take on the situation. You may think of us not as House Reinhart, but as interested…Reinharts. And we do prefer to speak for ourselves in this very troublesome case.”

Ulva’s hair began to rise now. The Reinharts hadn’t insisted on that in nearly two decades. Normally, Cecille’d heed Magnolia’s will, but—Ulva saw Deilan El raising his brows and began counting how many Reinharts were here.

She had been worried, with some of her own house backing Xitegen, that she wouldn’t have a consensus to overturn Veltras and Reinhart. This changed things. The wary Wellfars, Terlands, Veltras, and Els looked at the Reinharts’ smiles.

Snakes had returned to Izril’s garden. Deilan El spoke softly.

“If Lady Bethal and her house are allowed to live, what happens then?”

“She will find no welcome in Celum or any land Lord Xitegen holds sway over.”

Controller Lectara spoke, despite Ulva’s warning glare. Lord Swey wiped his hand on his coat.

“Nor from the Vale Forest to the coast.”

Lady Cecille Reinhart clapped her hands together and smiled, and it never reached her eyes. She flicked her gaze across the room, then strode over and took someone’s arm.

“That leaves plenty of land. Assuming no one kills the poor woman. But it’s been so long—where are our refreshments? Let’s discuss the whole issue, shall we? Starting with the state of things, the New Lands or whatever they’re called, and the Drakes. I haven’t had a proper meal at one of these events in so long. Lord Etril, is that you? I haven’t seen you in so long or had a chance to express my sorrow over your mother’s passing. Give an old woman some company for a moment?”

“You are as youthful as ever, Lady Cecille.”

One of the Wellfars, the son of Gresaria, started uneasily and bowed, clearly wishing to back away as Cecille’s hands darted out and grabbed his arm.

There went Reinharts a hunting. And Ulva remembered an old saying of them which she’d been allowed to forget.

Reinharts go out for fun. Through the streets the blood will run.

She realized she was shivering.




They were not ready. Two decades was a long, long time. It might not have been much in the way of kingdoms or nations.

…But it was enough for a generation to forget. To be allowed to forget.

Maybe it was better they should have remembered, but Magnolia Reinhart hoped that the legacy of Reinharts would be lost.

Perhaps another ten years and they would have begun to die off, grown old enough that the snakes would have had their fangs fall out.

No longer.

She was not in First Landing. Nor did she have as many eyes or ears she could trust inside the gathering of nobility.

But she could still hear incidents. Small ones that told her everything she needed to know.

That morning, a noblewoman’s carriage had pulled up to a [Bakery] selling ‘dough-nuts’, other pastries, gelato, and more and put in a rather large request.

The nobility had sweet tooths, and Reinharts, like Magnolia herself, did love a good treat. The bakery, a lovely place with an open stall of samples, new frosted glass windows, and a full set of orders for the day, had told the noble that they would have to come back another day and send someone to line up and collect an order.

Even the Five Families queued for a treat. The [Shop Attendant] had trotted back into the building when they saw the carriage back up. Then it had burst into a gallop as horses screamed, people screamed, swerved at the last moment—and slammed into the bakery frontage.

Glass everywhere. People picking themselves up—cowering [Bakers] and rubble. Any noble had an enchanted carriage far stronger than a mundane shopfront. The owner of the bakery had watched as the carriage rolled out of the destroyed bakery—after someone had collected one of the trays of donuts for the road.

Doubtless, the Watch would find which noble it had been. Doubtless, the bakery would be compensated in full. Doubtless, whoever had done that would have to pay off the [Guards], the city, and incur the disapproval of all the bakery’s loving customers.

And doubtless still—they would get their order regardless of how busy that bakery was ever again.

Or the [Baker] might decide to hold a grudge and refuse service. In which case, they had better reinforce their store’s frontage and begin double-checking their ingredients and looking over their shoulder at night and making sure their staff were also protected.

The Guild of Assassins was gone, which was a small mercy, but anyone could hire a [Thug].

“My house is awake and unbound.”

That was all the Lady of House Reinhart said. She was sitting in bed, not wearing a pink dress. Her pajamas were maroon.

She quite objected to them, but they had some healing crystals sewn into them, and she was, at the moment, not seeing anyone.

Healing only worked so well these days, without potions. And yes, she had the Healer of Tenbault, but it turned out [Restoration] was old hat too.

At least, when you were shot with a cursed piece of lead. Magnolia lowered the report, which had a very vivid [Magic Picture] of the destruction. She waited for a response from Reynold, but the [Butler] kept his head bowed.

“…They’re not going to let you leash them twice.”

That comment came from a figure lying in another bed. Unlike Magnolia, Ressa didn’t sit upright. She was enmeshed in bandages, and Magnolia had sent to Drath for more help and specialists.

“If I even could. My servants have been approached…repeatedly…in my holdings across the north. With subtle warnings and unsubtle ones that it would be advisable for them to vacate their buildings or businesses.”


Ressa inhaled slowly, and Magnolia Reinhart gently put the report down. Wincing, she tried to lift a cup of tea, and Reynold lifted it for her.

“—Snakes in a basket in front of their homes or their family’s homes. Would be the subtlety. I have few regrets, Ressa.”

The undead Giant was still, to her knowledge, bound on the Floodplains of Liscor. It had been half-destroyed, but the pink ribbons were still binding it. Just in case it came back to life.

You would think that would be unlikely after the Solstice, but Magnolia Reinhart had another report that Reynold propped up on a stand for her. It was about Liscor’s…situation. Magnolia turned her head, winced, and someone else took over for Reynold.

The new girl wasn’t as adept, but she was a quick learner and moved the report so Magnolia could read it, flipping the pages every time she noticed Magnolia’s eyes moving down the page.

“I regret my facetious comments about guns, you know, Ressa. They’re quite painful.”

“You don’t say.”

The [Maid] stared at the ceiling. Magnolia Reinhart went on, her voice determinedly cheerful.

“Roshal. My House. Terandria at war with the Iron Vanguard…I must ensure my overtures with the Drakes do not fall apart.”

“So you’re giving up on your holdings.”

“I can take them back. Over my family’s dead bodies. And they are angry enough to war with me. It isn’t like last time, Ressa. I shall never have them all in the same room again. More than that…more than that…”

Magnolia was having trouble focusing. She was lucky, she supposed, that the projectiles were just balls of lead that had been inscribed with curse runes.

Her understanding was that they were single-shot weapons that drew upon Skills for accuracy and anything else. Tyrion Veltras hadn’t even been harmed; the bullets hadn’t been aimed at him, and his armor had deflected everything.

There were no samples; the weapons and bodies of the ‘mysterious assailants’ had self-destructed. The Five Families of Izril had no direct proof of Roshal’s involvement; the battle at sea was completely different.

At least in that Magnolia had Ulva Terland’s full support as well as the other Five Families. Six ships of Roshal had run into House Wellfar’s patrols, and the mood of the north and south of Izril was not friendly towards Lailight Scintillation at this time.

…Well, as she understood it, the entire harbor was under reconstruction. As was Paranfer. The politics of the world—


Magnolia tried to fetch another report, and Reynold spoke.

“Have another magical stand set up now, Ressga.”

A Goblin wearing a [Maid]’s outfit curtseyed and ran as Magnolia lay back on her pillows and watched the new girl moving.

“She’s rather spry. Objectionably so given my condition, Reynold.”

“I can request she break a leg, Lady Reinhart?”

The [Butler] made Magnolia chuckle. As for Ressa…she just stared at her namesake as two more servants ported in a new stand with a movable arm so Magnolia could read multiple things at once.

There was something fetching about a Goblin in a [Maid]’s uniform, Magnolia decided. It looked apt on them, and she hadn’t missed the fact that Ressga had seemed to be growing an inch a day all week. Perhaps the Goblin had decided she needed the height to look the part.

Of course, it was not a good time to be a Goblin, so she was mostly confined to the mansion in Invrisil, which was undergoing renovations. Magnolia eyed the other servants and decided Ressga fit.

…She still wasn’t sure an Antinium in a butler’s uniform looked good. A [Maid]’s outfit might be incongruous, but she couldn’t help thinking it would fit…Chesacre more.

Then again, the Antinium Soldier had apparently liked the [Butler]’s uniform and class more, and Magnolia wasn’t going to argue. The [Lady] sighed.

“I feel old.”

“You’re just in pain. I’m the one who can’t move.”

“Oh, hush, Ressa.”

Two older women looked at this mess that kept spreading and sighed as the new servants bustled around, and Magnolia breathed, in and out, steadily.

“—We have a lot of work to do, Ressa. Reynold, is Teriarch back to his old self or is he still moping in the wine cellar with Taletevirion?”

Reynold glanced out the window and cracked it open to let in some objectionable cold weather—but also the sounds of two even older fools shouting at each other.

“I believe the two have begun sword fighting in the yard, Lady Reinhart. Ah, no. The hedge maze is on fire, and I gather our [Gardener] has taken objection to both. They are in flight.”

“Wonderful. Do keep it up.”

Magnolia lay her head back on the pillow a second. She closed her eyes, but as weary as she was, she raised her head and kept reading after a moment.

It was hard work, even for the two’s powers combined, to pull cursed metal out of Magnolia’s and Ressa’s bodies. Frankly, Magnolia suspected Taletevirion was doing all the work, but even if she were inclined to rush them…it behooved her to let her foes think she was out of commission.

They’d all lost too much. Magnolia had to rebuild her staff, reconsolidate her holdings, and see what her family grabbed. She’d rather give way and let them fight over the spoils than unite them. Now the enemies popped up in arrogance and complacency, and she counted her foes.

Smited those she could—but again. The events of the Solstice had proven how difficult some of that was. A foolish woman closed her eyes; after a second, Ressa gripped her hand with a bandaged one, and they napped a moment. They deserved it, surely?

Cenidau. Those poor women. War, coming to Izril. Magnolia Reinhart treasured few victories after this day. But she had arranged the cards she’d received, whether or not they were genuine, from Drakes, Gnolls—even her nephew, Calidus Reinhart, had sent a letter that seemed almost genuine.

Magnolia could tell spite and sarcasm apart from genuine letters, even when Cecille sent a letter completely devoid of actual insults and wished her the best of health; the letter was the insult, coming from her.

Perhaps she had allies. Enough for a [Priest of Wrath and Sky] to offer the services of a few acolytes. A Goblin Chieftain had even sent her schematics for a giant crossbow. Given recent events, Magnolia was considering having it commissioned and put on top of her mansion.

Everyone needed a ballista, it turned out. Her mind drifted towards the price she’d paid to unbind her house. Her Skill could be reused, if never so well twice on the same target…but for now, she let it rest.

The giant had to continue to be bound until it was fully dismantled—and it was as large as Liscor itself. There might be help there; the villagers of Rheirgest, who had lived on the giant’s bones, were homeless. Magnolia Reinhart grimly noted the stipend she’d granted them had been claimed.

The village of Rheirgest was gone. The giant had come to Liscor and now joined countless undead on the Floodplains.

Death magic was, apparently, so rife that it had been likened to the Bloodfields in potency by Nalthaliarstrelous. Let alone the corpses…the land was fundamentally altered.

The city had just completed repairs of the gates. That was something. But…Magnolia Reinhart read a note about unusual geology, pale grass and stone mostly covered by the snow.

Footsteps—but her agents hadn’t been able to dig up samples of the earth. The spring rains would cover the Floodplains in two months and might wash away any…undesirable elements for a time, but afterwards?

“No one can predict what this new age holds. I have given up trying. Someone refill my tea with more sugar. No…make it half my usual portion. We won’t be having more from Baleros any time soon. Is Admiral Seagrass dead yet?”

Reynold checked his notes as Magnolia Reinhart closed her eyes and took a nap. He closed the window.

“Not yet, Lady Reinhart.”

“Oh well. Maybe tomorrow. His heart’s stopped again. I don’t know how he finds the strength to continue.”




There was no forgiveness for some. There were the living, who had made it out of the Solstice and the Night of Bloodtear, and the dead.

And those who had yet to die.

That pretty much encapsulated all of them. Like Rémi Canada, like many others, Magnolia Reinhart had tabulated lists of survivors and losses among her own people, like Bekia, as well as allies and enemies.

The Antinium complicated matters. It had been unclear how many Antinium could come back—if any given the powers of the Three-in-One, Kasigna.

Some Antinium souls had been entirely lost, and while at least one person had come back from the dead—if Magnolia Reinhart had her way, all of House Walchaís would be tallied among the deceased.

Antinium though…some of them had survived. The Free Queen of Liscor, Xevccha, had held the souls of the fallen Antinium back. Some of them had survived.

Tersk of the Armored Antinium—had not. However, among the few Antinium granted the costly Rite of Anastases were Bird, Antherr, and as many [Crusaders] as could be called back. Their bodies had not been formulated yet, and three Hives were working overtime to restore the souls of the Antinium to vessels.

The Silent Hive, the Free Hive, and the Armored Hive were doing this. That was notable because there were three Hives of the Antinium not engaging in the Rites of Anastases.

The Grand Hive of the Antinium was too busy, apparently, sorting the new Sha-Antinium into categories and getting used to them.

That was the Grand Queen’s name for…the [Slaves] of Roshal. She had designated them as part of her Hive and a resource to be used by the other Hives.

At this moment, only one Hive had taken them. The other Hives had not exactly refused the offer, but rather been more focused on a pressing argument that had enveloped the Hives: the censure of the Flying Queen and her Hive.

The ‘discussions’, as the Grand Queen had termed them, had dominated weeks of internecine strife. Both in words and deceased Antinium, the first infighting among the Antinium the Hivelands had ever seen.

It had taken the Grand Queen making her fourth ultimatum before the Armored Queen finally pulled her forces back, and the Flying Queen had collapsed every single tunnel linking her Hive to the Armored and Silent Antinium and evacuated her entire Hive forty miles away.

At this moment…the Grand Queen had not fully given voice to the alliance of wills between the Free Queen, Armored Queen, and Silent Queen, but she had observed the schism in the Hives and declared herself a neutral party and, obviously, the ruling party over all the Hives. She had forbidden further conflict, especially until the Silent Queen finished constructing a new body for Xrn.

It would not be as powerful as her old shell by far, and the Antinium had to be united more than ever given the myriad threats against them—and the fact that the New Lands of Izril were waiting to be claimed.

Thus spoke the Grand Queen, and the other Queens had not objected to her verbally, so she had considered the matter resolved.

Frankly, the only thing that had stopped the three Hives from attacking the Flying Antinium further was the senseless cost to Workers and Soldiers—and the fact that the situation had undeniably changed.

Even the Twisted Queen acknowledged that the Flying Queen’s actions, however unprecedented, had resulted in a scenario no Queen understood how to address. The Twisted Hive had refused to support the three Queens, Flying Queen, or acknowledge the Grand Queen’s authority and had gone silent, perhaps waiting for a victor or consensus to emerge.

—Nevertheless, the Flying Queen, despite the relocation of her Hive and censure from all other Queens, had still celebrated her grand victory. She refused claims of treachery from the Free Queen or that she had been tricked like a ‘half-shaped fool’ by the Armored Queen. She maintained her assertion that all she had done, she had done for the Antinium.

The Grand Queen herself had acknowledged that, although the Grand Queen was—papably unhappy about not receiving full authority over the Flying Hive. The Grand Queen maintained that a gift to the Flying Queen was a gift to all Antinium, and therefore her, but the Flying Queen had ignored all suggestions that she ratify this point.

The Walled Cities and Five Families did not know what the Antinium had received from Kasigna, if they even understood that a pact had been struck. Magnolia Reinhart had queried numerous Antinium, but only the Free Queen knew anything, and she refused to speak. Even now—the Free Queen wasn’t sure if it was a trick.




Kasigna was gone.

She had been routed, betrayed, defeated, and her very source of power, her very nature, torn from her. A retribution so devastating from mortals, from ghosts, from the wily Faerie King himself that even the other dead gods might crouch to avoid such a deathblow.

She had been in such a position of power, too. In Kasigna’s grasp had been the power of the divine that lesser gods might struggle to match, and for a moment, she had been the arbiter of death and life, however limited.

She had brought back a soul for Lady Bethal Walchaís, but two sides had become turncoats on the Solstice.

House Walchaís. And…

The Flying Antinium.

The question was what had the Flying Antinium received? To answer that, one had to understand Kasigna’s dilemma in that moment as she had received supplications from the Flying Queen and attempted to offer the Antinium a gift.

It was a gift. Kasigna, of all the dead gods, was magnanimous in victory, spiteful in defeat and vengeance. She did not put conditions on those she revived. The problem was—she had not been able to revive an Antinium soul.

They were not part of her Kasignel. Or rather, the Antinium had been birthed as a species after the races of this world. Some species, like Sephids, Fraerlings, and Stitch-folk, had eventually found Kasignel, but the Antinium of Rhir had different rules. They had lived and died on Rhir for most of their existence.

Hence, they hadn’t been there.

Not in Kasignel. Of course, when Kasigna realized this, she had begun taking their souls, like Tersk’s, but even then, the Antinium had another place waiting for them, and the dead goddess had tried to claim Hellste that she might not lose any soul of any species. Even Goblins.

Consider, then, in that moment what a dead goddess could do. She could not manufacture a specific soul if she did not have it. Yet she was determined to give the Antinium a gift to win their supplication.

Kasigna had thought, looked upon the world, and done the only thing she could think to do. In the end, the Flying Queen had been happy.





That was the voice that came to you at the end of a Rite of Anastases. In this case, it was not the singing collective of a Hive as he had been told it used to be.

In Rhir, an entire Hive would pull you back, a linked mind of every Antinium, newborn and old, singing Shaper Queens melding your body—you might be slain an hour ago and given flesh in the next hour.

It was not painless. It hurt more than anything he had ever felt in the entire world. And Pivr…

Pivr did not want it.

It was a single voice that called him back. He had felt, for a moment, a light upon his chitin that had no luminosity he knew. A brilliant calling of a place that was so small…and so beautiful and filled with his kind.

He had been unworthy of it, but they had called to him, and he had begun to fly towards it, begging forgiveness—

Until he was caught, like a fly in a web, by a will that was determined to hold him and keep even death from taking him. Though Death let him go.

He did not want it. The soul of Pivr, the Revalantor of the Flying Antiniun, had wailed, but he had no voice. He had not struggled, for there was nothing to struggle against. An eternity of being held in the void of a world. And then—

He was falling, falling towards something that called to him. A body—but Pivr did not want it. He heard the voice, the excited will, the overly-inquisitive, racing mind he loved who had bid him betray his friend and break all promises and bonds.

For her, he had done it.

The Flying Queen spoke, and Pivr awoke in a gasp, limbs moving, body foreign, and a scream burst from his mandibles in the first moment of his existence, echoed by his mind.

“Pivr! Pivr! Cease wailing! You are alive! The Rite of Anastases works! It was the first time I needed to do it. I knew I could. Rejoice, my Hive! Rejoice!

The Flying Queen’s voice was a mix of mental tone and her actual voice, though she did not say his name out loud.

Pivr kept screaming. His shriek had far more depth to it than he remembered, a roaring crash of noise that deafened the beating wings of countless Flying Antinium. Pivr’s eyes…his eyes reflected the world oddly, as if he had more vision than before.

He was in a Hive. That much he knew. But it was not the Flying Antinium’s Hive. It was new, crudely hacked out of the ground, and the Flying Queen looked weary. Pivr sensed far fewer Flying Antinium around him.

His mind raced, but with an odd tranquility to it. It was as if Pivr’s head had always been stuffed with cotton and someone had finally taken it out, expanded his mind. He was the same Pivr, but his thoughts were clear water where once they had flowed through dirt and sand.

We are not in the same location as the Flying Hive was. Where am I? 

My body is changed. What has occurred on the Solstice?

Alcaz is dead. I murdered him.

Why am I alive?

I did not wish for this.

That last thought dominated all others, and it was the root of his despair and his shriek, which knew no end, which sent other Flying Antinium cowering. Pivr’s lungs seemed to be inexhaustible.

Pivr! Enough!

The Flying Queen’s own tone was startled, alarmed, yet delight coursed through each tone. Pivr tried to raise his limbs; he was used to the fly-like body, huge wings, movable limbs with razor’s edges, and a scuttling, horizontal frame.

This…was not his old body, and he pivoted clumsily. He finally had to draw breath, and it hissed into his body; he realized his mouth was—he flailed multiple limbs and came over onto what he thought were all fours—

Many, many legs struck the ground, and Pivr’s body undulated. He felt liquid sloshing around inside of him and felt its burn and the sheer power animating him and froze.

What is this? What am I?

He still wanted to shriek in agony, but one other thing stopped him. Not the Flying Queen trying to tell him things. Not his body.

No…it was the sight of three other presences, three other…Queens, in miniature, that made Pivr freeze.

They were cowering back from him like all the other Antinium, feelers waving, clumsily moving around. The gigantic form of the Flying Queen he knew…made tiny!

Well, they were still ten feet tall, but these were Queens! Shaper Queens, which all the Queens of Izril had been at one point, but not bloated by repeated manual birthing of eggs.


Pivr’s voice rasped from his body in a buzz, and he saw all three stop recoiling and bow at him, awkwardly, as if they were strangers in their bodies.

“Yes, oh great one! The Queens of Izril have been reborn! The Flying Antinium—nay, the True Antinium, have reclaimed their own! Behold now your leader, my Antinium! Everything I have done is correct! Celebrate!”

And they did. Flying Antinium buzzed around wildly, their faint minds a blur of excitement, joy, and—awe?

Pivr sensed them as he had never been able to before, and the Flying Queen’s own mind touched his, urgent, excited—and nervous—and it was no longer as ‘large’ as before.

Pivr, Pivr. Say nothing. Just pretend you are he.


Pivr thought back. He did not understand, but he saw the new Queens bowing towards him. The Flying Queen’s mind touched his—and he finally understood.

Kasigna, the Goddess of Death, had no power to bring back Antinium souls. She had admitted this to the Flying Queen and offered the second-best thing.

If she had no mastery of these souls—she was still Kasigna, who could shape flesh as well as any other. The dead bodies of old she could copy, and so she had created not one, but three vessels for the Flying Queen as a token of their pact.

Queens. The Queens of Izril that had died in the first and second Antinium Wars—restored to their original forms. Not just them. She had added one more body—but the soul was gone.

The Flying Queen showed Pivr what she saw. What she saw—he had only ever glimpsed in memories, in the Armored Queen’s statues, and they were a poor reflection of reality, for how could anyone capture the forms of old?

Centenium had been made to be perfect by the First Queen of all. Her genius had created Wrymvr, Xrn—and Klbkch’s original body, but she had not stopped there.

His form was long, rotund, and his back-chitin glowed, revealing luminous liquids that filled countless compartments on his back. He was closer to a pillbug with a centipede’s long legs, but he felt infinitely more flexible and adaptive.

His breathing holes let air in and out, and he did not understand his own body—but sensed he could expel more than mere air out the tubes in his form. His ‘face’ had tiny mandibles compared to his size, but he had many ways to intake liquids or sustenance. His legs could draw in liquid—and anything inside of him would enter a laboratory of the flesh.

Pivr’s body was beyond the dreams of Saliss of Lights, Alchemist Irurx, or any other pretender to alchemy or creation. It could adjust and manipulate acid and bases, create gas or expel reactions in ways his mind could barely process.

This…was the form of the ultimate experimenter, a Centenium capable of creation and destruction—and it had never set foot on Izril.

The being who this body belonged to had made it to Izril, but diminished. He had been hampered by his new forms, rendered weaker than even Klbkch, and gave up his final life against the Brass Dragon.

Yet his will remained. And his body…the Flying Queen raised her feelers skywards.

Hail the Queens of old! Rejoice, Antinium, for we are led by Centenium once more! Devrkr the Glowing has returned to us!

Then—Pivr understood. Then he looked at the ‘Queens’ and realized they were not the Queens of old, but Antinium, perhaps Soldiers or Workers, given new bodies. Then he screamed, and the Flying Antinium rejoiced, thinking it was a warcry, not a wail.

The sound grew and grew, and even the Flying Queen flinched and tried to shield herself from the sound.

Pivr! What are you doing? Pivr, enough!

He thought back at her without the love and mindless adoration he had always had. Had she always been so small? Had she always—why was she lying?

I betRAyeD Alcaz. I BEtraYed tHEm ALl.

Yes. It was worth the losses. The other Queens do not understand. Pivr, why are you upset?

She did not understand. Pivr howled, and she flinched away from the pain in his mind. He had done it all for her. He had not wanted to live.

Now, he was Devrkr the Glowing. Pivr the Antinium heard Bird’s words in his mind and finally understood.

This…this was what the opposite of Heaven was.

This was surely hell.




That was the Solstice. It had left despair, horrors, and suffering in so many thereafter. The hope of the Flying Queen…was a false light to the Armored Queen, who knew in a moment it was not Devrkr the Glowing nor the Queens of old. The Grand Queen might be fooled, even the Silent Queen tricked by the trueness of the body and possibilities.

The Armored Queen remembered, and that memory was tainted by the present. Each dead Antinium was a loss to her that had no quantifiable number for the Grand Queen to tabulate.

Embraim, one of the first Antinium [Knights] of the Order of Solstice, was dead. This knowledge was bitter to her, and she spoke to Antherr, whose body she had begun creating, though she had less talent at it than the Silent Queen.

“We cannot be the Antinium of Rhir. I see that now, Antherr. You must…become the leaders whose vision extends beyond our petty wills. I entrust it to you.”

Embraim is dead.

The [Knight]’s thoughts were bitter. He had lost his full class—lost his Skills. He, the Soldier who was part of the Beriad, who had not broken before Zeres’ First Tide nor undead, was shattered from this.

The Armored Queen knew well the weight of his despair, for she had held it and used it like an armor against adversity for her long ordeal. She was, perhaps, the wisest of all the Queens in this moment, against grief, though she would never have thought that.

Let your mind follow mine, Antherr of the Beriad. I shall show you why Embraim mattered. It may be small—it may not be enough—but see.”

She had not seen the sun above her Hive, nor the moons, for decades. The Armored Queen’s shell had long since forgotten what it was to scent or feel anything but stone and dirt and pain.

—Yet she lived through the eyes of her own Prognugators, and one had gone to the very edge of the Hivelands where land still met sea.

To the south lay the New Lands of Izril, vast and unexplored. However, the Hivelands still met the ocean, and the beaches and coast were filled with white sands, oft-covered by the changing tides.

The Antinium never came here. Here had been where they landed, shattered, and the ocean was vast and horrible to them. Yet, today, the Armored Queen sent her Prognugator to look across the beach. Antherr, who shared the joint vision, saw something strange.


Across a bluff of sand, the Armored Queen’s Prognugator was afforded a view of the beach for miles. The Armored Queen’s soul was laden by despair—and yet there was a kind of painful glory in each and every little figure she beheld. Hope, which sang in her mind.

Workers and Soldiers were up to their knees, even their chests, in the water or combing the beaches. Detritus from the fleets was still washing up on Izril’s shores, a fraction of the flotsam from the Night of Bloodtear.

The odds of any particular ship even making it here were remote—and yet there were thousands of Antinium in view here alone.

What are they doing? They will drown.

Antherr grew angry, seeing this, but the Armored Queen’s reply was swift and certain.

No Queen ordered this, Antherr. These Workers and Soldiers have snuck out on their own.

They—disobeyed? Were they Aberrations? Yet the Armored Queen didn’t feel angry. Her mind-tone was bittersweet, hope and understanding mixed into it.

Then—Antherr felt a flash of memory and understood, suddenly, what the Soldiers and Workers were so desperately looking for as one straightened.

They all had long, improvised tools. Pieces of hemp or stolen bits of string lashed to pieces of wood they were combing the waters with. Then one would stand and pull something up with hope, and the others would look up—and Antherr saw it.

A [Knight] holding his flaming lantern covered in glory’s flame up overhead. 

“My successor shall bear this lantern.”

Embraim’s will had blazed across a single ship of the Bloodtear Pirates, perhaps turned a battle, saved Erin Solstice’s life—but he was dead.

The [Pyre-Knight] had fallen, and his lantern had slipped into the sea. The odds of anyone finding it on this beach when it might wash up anywhere, after months or years from the deep sea, were remote.

Yet how urgently they searched. Antinium hunting against the orders of the Queens, braving the waters, slipping, digging at the sand for that lantern.

It hurt Antherr. He understood, and it hurt—and he wondered why the Armored Queen felt such hope. Perhaps because there was something for Soldiers and Workers to dream of when there had been naught?

It was not enough. But then, Antherr saw one of the Soldiers waving something, running down the beach with it. And he saw—they were holding a piece of metal.

A twisted, broken piece of rusted metal. It could not have come from Embraim’s lantern. It was too big; it must have been a piece of armor or something else.

Yet the Soldier held it overhead, and he was running now, searching for a piece of wood. Then—Antherr saw more Soldiers and Workers on the beach making something with everything they could salvage.

Lanterns. Some had even put flames in them and held them up high, as if to try to believe the crude, sputtering flames were pink and glorious.

None of them bear his lantern.

Antherr’s thoughts were gloomy and filled with pain. The Armored Queen disagreed.

On the contrary, Antherr. Look: they all have it.

The soul of Antherr was about to scream at her until he saw what she did. Antherr looked upon the Antinium as more searched the waves and believed they could be more than mere Workers and Soldiers. In the dream of a Worker swinging a stick overhead—who believed he could also be a [Knight] burning like glory itself.

That was enough for Antherr to wish to live again. The Armored Queen dragged herself back to his body and began to work faster.

Antherr needed a body again, for he had [Squires] to train. Gently, the Armored Queen moved around her soot-laden halls; the foundries of metal and the enterprise of war were all she had made herself into.

Her voice was heavy, but when was it not? The dignified Queen of the Hive was sorrowful, but there was a joy in her gaze as she looked down at Antherr.

“It is never easy, Antherr, admitting when you fail or have been wrong. We have wasted decades here. But if I can believe a Worker may become a [Knight] to inspire Antinium, old and new, I must hope I can change. She was a good leader, once, you know. They were terrible days, and there was no one better. For you were not there, or any others.”

His head rose, slowly, and the Armored Antinium halted before the line of statues of the Centenium. Slowly and carefully, she placed something down before the newest statue, and he gazed through her eyes, up—up—

At a familiar [Knight] holding a lantern. The Armored Queen lit a flame before the statue, and he saw there were more alcoves carved into the wall.

“They shall be the heart and soul of my Hive. I shall call myself ‘True Antinium’ no longer, for we never were. We, the marooned children struggling to continue our great cause, were unworthy, but we strove. Now, they shall rise. Not the doomed, but those who don armor, hearts brighter than fire, wills stronger than steel. A time will come when my Hive leaves this land, and we may not be called Antinium any longer. But I swear, if the Grand Queen deserts you, Antherr, if the world turns against you—”

The Armored Queen lifted a lantern that glowed and lit another brazier.

“—I shall carry that flame with you all.”




Embraim was dead, but he had a legacy that ignited across thousands of Antinium in the Hivelands for the first time.

It was a more bitter thing for the Free Antinium of Liscor. For they had experienced hope, salvation, and better days.

Thus, as they learned again and again, the more you had, the more you stood to lose.

There was no space on the wall large enough for Anand, one of the first five Individuals of the Free Antinium.

Pawn had led the Antinium in mourning processions—and in wrath, uttering sermons that continued to define what Heaven was, for Anand had earned it.

And to note what hell should be for the enemies of the Antinium. For now they had them.

Most of all, the Antinium felt—failure. They had lost much on the Solstice, and what had they gained? A schism within their ranks. Brave Individuals had gone forth in defense of the sky, Erin Solstice.

Was it worth it?

There was something endlessly amusing about it if you had a macabre, twisted sense of humor. But then, the Twisted Queen fit her name.

She had little hope like the Grand Queen did. She was watching, in real time, the Antinium splinter, and they would splinter again.

What the Grand Queen feared, though, the Twisted Queen embraced. She was a historian, more than the Silent Queen, who worshiped the living idols of the Centenium, a dreamer beyond the Free Queen’s ambitions, a radical to make the Flying Queen’s posturing experimentation look conservative and stale, and in her way, a leader who needed no validation like the Grand Queen.

The Twisted Queen did not hope as the Armored Queen did. She acted. She could be crueler than the others, who still valued their Soldiers and Workers. To the Twisted Queen, the things she created were, in a very real sense, nothing at all.

They were experiments in a war that had little meaning beyond preparation for the next conflict, and she had determined Izril would be too difficult to take. If she could have created simple weapons without minds or wills or the need to suffer, she would have.

She was not cruel, except to achieve her goals. In her mind, she was the perfect soldier, and she remembered how the Antinium had first come about—schisms of proto-Antinium until a leader had united them beyond all doubts.

In that way, we are too much akin to every species. Our hubris was believing we were unique.

Make no mistake—the Twisted Queen did not see herself to be that new Queen, nor did the Flying Queen’s ‘new’ Queens fit that bill. She was broken, her body mangled by war.

However, there was a benefit to being the bad one, the one who lied and told harsh truths and whose Hive was reviled, even feared such that no other Antinium willingly visited. Her Twisted Hive had been largely quiet, though she had supplied the necessary Workers and Soldiers of acceptable quality to the Grand Queen, as well as foodstuffs and material.

That was all the Grand Queen demanded, and the other Queens were busy infighting or planning for the future. If there was one thing the Twisted Hive had of unquestionable value, it was the Twisted Queen’s own champion and Revalantor, Wrymvr the Deathless. And he was hers. They were united in mind and purpose.

Wrymvr had lived, of course. A Kraken had failed to kill him once before, and this time, he’d just spent weeks at sea before climbing out of it with no comment other than to mention that Torthe, the Drowned Woman, had fled and to ask whether any Antinium of Anand’s had made it.

At this moment, he was tending to the Grand Queen’s bruised ego and inspecting the [Slaves]. He’d apparently eaten two he thought had qualities of [Spies].

Wrymvr well knew how to be the monster. The Twisted Queen had learned from her mentor, Wrymvr, and she settled back into her laboratory. Greatly tired.

It had been a busy time of late. Her body hurt all over, and she knew she was old. Her words came out broken, unable to parse into fluid speech as she mumbled to herself and the Workers meekly working around her.

Delays. Birther sacs are still. Unable to. Be fully independent.”

Even the ones she’d made and proudly shown to Klbkchhezeim, a hundred times more resilient than previous generations, were flawed. They could be ‘miscalibrated’ or underfed and produce poor quality results.

For the purposes of making more specialized Antinium? It required thousands of hours of labor tweaking and experimenting before she could create a significantly advanced design like the Silent Queen’s genius.

Credit where credit was due. The Twisted Queen had stolen as many designs from the Silent Queen as the eager little experimenter was willing to give out. Tweaked her own Antinium to see how they could infect or explode or amplify certain qualities.

—She was no genius. The Armored Queen, Flying Queen, and Grand Queen still probably passed the Twisted Queen for actual shaping ability. Each one had created a flawed but advanced form of Antinium.

The Twisted Queen couldn’t approach the real skill and training the Silent and Free Queens possessed. This knowledge did not grate on her; it was simply a failing she regretted.

Well, she’d poured all of her craft and understanding into this latest Birther Sac. A delay of a few weeks was acceptable.

The Twisted Queen’s palp passed over the Birther Sac, measuring the ambient temperature and ensuring that the brain was developing well. At this point, the amniotic fluid contained a nervous system and enough cognition that she thought the being inside the sac could hear her mental projection.

So she spoke, and her mental tone was everything her physical form lacked. It was nuanced, the mind developed to greater eloquence than her body, and she had further refined it with Wrymvr’s help, for he knew what a Queen had once been.

The Twisted Queen thought at the developing mind:

Anand. It is time to wake up.

For a moment, she feared she had failed, but then she sensed an incredulous mind blooming in front of her. Disorientation was to be expected. The Twisted Queen checked the whirling thoughts and felt—happiness—acceptance—bitter regrets mixed with determination like iron.

Yes. You are more than a mere Worker. The Grand Queen hadn’t noticed the hardness of Anand’s thoughts, like Chitrx unformed. The Twisted Queen had.

Twisted Queen? What is happening? I cannot see. Where am I? I thought I saw Goat.

Intriguing. Was this hallucination, the telepathy of the Workers, a false memory, or this Heaven of which they spoke of? The Twisted Queen replied evenly, continuing to work. She sensed microtremors from Antinium digging around her, but they had reinforced this room a thousand times over, naturally. She would sleep and live here until the regrowth was complete.

You were dead.

I was. I should be dead. I died at sea. How could I—Wrymvr was too far to send my soul to safety. He told me that.

Instead of replying, she showed him her vision. Anand processed the room around her and then the tunnels carved out for the Twisted Queen to move through. He studied the loam, the Hive—and his mind grew more confused, more frantic.

I don’t understand. Where are we? This—this isn’t the Hivelands.


Her tone was richly self-satisfied. She could sense his mind working, trying to put together what was going on. He nearly had it, but he was confused, agitated.

Where is Wrymvr? Erin. What happened to Erin?

“I do not know. Wrymvr is out of my range. He brought you here, then reported to the Grand Queen.”

The Twisted Queen studied one of the scrying mirrors she’d set up. Wonderful things, these mirrors. They weren’t as good as a Unitasis Network in many respects, but magic bridged distance with ease. As for how she’d done it, she smiled to herself with her one good mandible.

Wrymvr was a good liar. He had indeed been too far to reach even a combined Unitasis Network. But he was a Centenium. Since their defeat at sea, he had long considered the possibility he could ‘hold’ a soul in his mind, like a Queen did.

Thusly, he had brought Anand to the Twisted Queen. She shared this insight with Anand without bothering to articulate it, and the [Strategist] grew more confused.

He was weak. He had lost levels. His soul was filled with mourning and grief, but that was all acceptable. He had time.

“The scrolls. You bid for…where are we?

The Twisted Queen made no answer, but a gleeful bubble escaped her in a fluttering, broken laugh. She rocked back and forth as, around her, Antinium dug. Dug and dug through sandstone, exploring this new place they had come to inhabit. Not higher; downwards and out.

Great holes must we dig into the pores of the earth, and we must learn to walk before we greet the sky.

The Twisted Queen settled onto her back and began to wait.




The world was changing. Even if the people weren’t living or dying…sometimes they were leaving or becoming different, and that hurt almost as much as death.

But to Az’kerash, Peril Chandler, whichever one he was, he realized he had finally done it. He had created life within death. His Chosen were unto people; now they could die.

Somehow, he hadn’t realized it, but as he placed Ijvani’s skull in his study, in his silent, broken castle, he knew he could never bring her back. Oom was not the same Acid Slime he had sent to kill Zel Shivertail; it was another being he’d made and given the same name.

“Strange. Somehow it never occurred to me that I could lose my children.”

He waited for mocking laughter to remind him of all his foibles, but Az’kerash realized he wouldn’t hear it again. Strange that he could miss that haughty look and the words that cut so deep. Perhaps it was because Nerrhavia never missed with criticism or coercion; what she said mattered regardless of how much it hurt.

She was, of course, gone.


Packed up with the other ghosts he’d granted bodies and gone in the middle of the night. She had written him a letter. It was rather straightforward. He glanced down at it after…how long he couldn’t have said.

He wasn’t sure how long he’d stood there looking at Ijvani’s skull. His Chosen were quiet, mourning. Az’kerash turned his head, and a spiderweb shivered. A spider, greatly alarmed, fled as he batted it away.

‘—can no longer trust your allegiances. If, in the fullness of time, our interests shall coincide, we shall deliver further words, oh Speaker of the Dead.’ Oddly formal.”

It was indeed a letter without insults or her usual run of the mill sarcasm. It was almost disconcertingly polite. She had even used an address he presumed was native to her time.

She was gone. He supposed she might get in contact with him if she needed magic—or an army. He had to think.

There were ghosts with her, but none of her level, and they had all lost ten levels. He probably had an edge on her should they come to strife at this point in time. However, he wasn’t convinced she was a foe.

Which was what she wanted him to…by the time Az’kerash looked up again, the spider had added fifteen more webs to him. He sighed and walked out of the cobwebs.


The castle was empty, and Bea had been weeping when she sensed him moving. The hallways of undead, the passages of black stone…Az’kerash realized he was leaving a trail as he walked.


Then he remembered a certain someone wasn’t here to clean the place up. That was right…

Toren had also fled. It had been during the Solstice; his undead recalled seeing the skeleton just…march out the door. With Maviola, the Healing Slime, and a rucksack full of artifacts.

Az’kerash should have been angry, especially because Toren had liberally looted his armory. Instead, he just hoped the odd skeleton found whatever he wanted out there. Belavierr would seek her daughter, but Maviola should not be raised by that Witch.

A skeleton and a sentient Healing Potion Slime might not be better parents…no, they would be. And Az’kerash had little doubt where Toren was going.

The skeleton wasn’t exactly a genius at escape plans. He’d been pouring over maps and cut south out of the enchanted forest. He’d doubtless skirt the Hivelands and head west.

Towards the New Lands of Izril, where it was easier to hide or find a purpose. It left Az’kerash alone, and he was grateful.

“Now, I may only be the Necromancer. Not an aide to the Immortal Tyrant. Not Peril Chandler. Nor a father. I am the Bane of Silvaria, the Archmage of Death. Bea, summon the others. We will bury Ijvani. Then—it will be time to begin my journey.”

The Plague Zombie shaped like the love of his life bowed her head, but looked at Az’kerash. Nerrhavia had left her with advice—Bea hesitated.

“Where are we going, Master? Where are you going?”

He turned his head, and his eyes were black and empty.

“Down the road, Bea. All the way to the end.”




It seemed, now, that all things that were set in stone and taken for granted were shifting. The Kingdoms of Terandria could, perhaps, all have been said to be like the Restful Three of the north. Each and every nation had been complacent.

When they were content, they waned and squabbled. When roused, they began to crusade.

Well, the Terandrian kingdoms were well and truly roused to wrath and ruin. The first fleet they had sent out across the ocean had met with calamitous destruction. A [Prince] of Erribathe was dead.

Faced with all that, what did Terandria do? Wait for it—this was the joke—

They sent a second, bigger fleet, of course! 

Cue laughter. He really would have laughed, you know.

Viscount Visophecin didn’t go for huge, maniacal laughter or cackling. He just chuckled like dark, velvet crackling, which in its own way was pathetic, that of someone afraid to laugh with his full chest.

Many things the Lucifen had thought were urbanely stylish about himself he now regarded as pathetic. Including his conviction that his people, and therefore he himself, did not obey the laws of Terandria.

Prince Iradoren was dead. He was not the only heir to Erribathe. But he was the sole living descendant of the current, old King Nuvityn. If the [King] were to die tomorrow, the Kingdom of Myths would doubtless persist; the bloodline was sprawling.

However, the wrath of Erribathe would not end. Nor, indeed, would Golaen, Kaaz, or any other nation’s animosity towards the Iron Vanguard or the [Pirates]. Or defeat itself.

“The third colony fleet has already launched from the harbors.”

It was amazing how many ships you could charter, build, or just commandeer when you were angry enough. Visophecin listened to the report, kneeling, his head not raised. The voice giving the report was…young.

Altogether too young. Barely sixty years old, and the rest of the Infernal Gathering—the name for the meeting of all the Lucifen—were likewise young.

Paxere’s voice was clipped and, Visophecin knew, trying to be as impartial as possible. Emulating the dry tones of her elders.

The Infernal Gathering had twenty-one members. When Visophecin had been young, he recalled forty-two members, and he had been told there might be over a hundred depending on the faction of Lucifen and each house’s strength.

Of course, the Infernal Gathering was just the Lucifen assembling in a room of their mansion; they were all of House Shoel.

There was no longer a spread-out species who needed to organize meetings. Nor had the Infernal Gatherings of the past ever had the white-haired, pale-skinned Agelum present, sitting in their wheelchairs as witnesses, except as prisoners to be tormented or avenging enemies bursting into the gathering to continue their endless war.

How things changed. Visophecin had lived through two major changes in the lives of Lucifen: first their defeat against the Goblin King, Curulac, then their entry into Ailendamus.

He shouldn’t have been so surprised the era was changing again, but he was. That was, Visophecin supposed, age.

“Ailendamus has participated well after our—divestment of goodwill in the last war.”

That report, and slight pause of uncertainty, came from another Lucifen who had clearly tried to find the most elegant way of saying Ailendamus’ position had faltered diplomatically. But their warmongering had been forgotten, or at least overshadowed by the Terandrian fleet’s failure.

It would doubtless come up again once the colonies were established, but Visophecin did not point this out or raise his head. He longed to tell the younger Lucifen that their forebears had been more retiring and blunt.

So this is how they thought of us. The deliberating fourteen were putting on a show, both for his benefit and the Agelum they had invited to witness the judgment of the Infernal Gathering.

If Visophecin looked up, he would be able to see Uziel and the older Agelum looking down at him. He was afraid to.

The wrath of the Agelum was a terrible thing. Their kindness or pity harder still. When a voice did speak his name, he looked up. He realized they’d repeated his name a few times.

“—Visophecin of House Shoel.”

“Forgive me. I was lost in thought. What was the question?”

Children. They were all so young. But the older Lucifen had retreated, many so badly hurt from the conflict that they hadn’t objected when their descendants had taken power from them.

—Those that even survived.

Out of the forty Lucifen, the majority of the elder Lucifen that had been summoned by the pact, twenty-four were dead, the rest wounded to lesser or greater degrees, including Visophecin.

There had not been an incident of such death since Curulac of a Hundred Days. Igolze and Azemith, the sires of Paxere, were among the deceased.

Visophecin saw Paxere standing there, chin raised, dressed in finery. She had been elevated to their old posts, and Ailendamus had mourned the many dead of House Shoel very publically. Visophecin didn’t recall what story Rhisveri had spun to justify their involvement in the battle.

Probably something about them having hidden their presence in an attempt to join Terandria’s colonization. Fighting against the [Pirates]—as for how you justified the fact that they’d helped a Goblin Lord—well.

They’d left before the end.

“Viscount Visophecin. You have given the Infernal Gathering and our fair cousins ample testimony of the events leading to the debacle of the Night of Bloodtear. Do you have anything further to add regarding your failures before everyone—before the Infernal Gathering?”

They were trying so…very hard to be serious. And they were. He had always thought the young ones were highly unserious, frivolous individuals pampered by life in Ailendamus. Visophecin had had many conversations with their elders about that.

Look at them now. His voice rasped from disuse. He raised his hands, and they were not shackled, but they felt heavy as he spoke.

“—With the quality of hindsight, I would have withdrawn from the pact before placing House Shoel’s own in danger. Failing that, I would have requested far more reinforcements, regardless of the cost.”

Paxere nodded, gripping her hands together tightly. She was missing digits as well, he recalled. She spoke for the other Lucifen as they nodded or fidgeted slightly.

“Visophecin, by unanimous consensus of the Infernal Gathering, you are stripped of your title as First of the Lucifen. Your official status in Ailendamus itself will not change, but you are barred from making use of your authority among both the immortals and Ailendamus’ mortals without approval from another member of House Shoel. Furthermore, your position as liaison to the Wyrm, Rhisveri, will be replaced by Lord Uziel of the Agelum.”

Visophecin didn’t react as he kept his head bowed. He was waiting for one to draw a sword. Or perhaps they’d ask the Agelum to do it. They had steadier hands.

He was surprised, then, when Paxere paused a second to swallow audibly, then went on.

“As punishment for your incalculable failure regarding the [Innkeeper] and the deaths of twenty-four Lucifen at sea, we have chosen, unanimously again, to charge you with a task. Until it is complete, you are to be banned from House Shoel’s lands. Should you fail, you will be forgotten and disavowed, and your name struck from our records.”

The word slipped from his mouth before he could stop it.


He’d thought they were going to execute him. He had been prepared for it, though he could have slipped away or tried to escape even now. For the first time, he met their eyes and saw them looking down at him from the semi-circle around the room, raised seats over the black marble floor he knelt on.

Chins raised, some of their red eyes too bright, hair neatly combed, postures perfect—it was the Agelum who had tears in their eyes, for they had no posture nor dignity that could be tarnished by such things.

Paxere met Visophecin’s eyes and flinched—but she mastered herself. Her tone was quivering, but he saw them looking down at him.

Such fragile strength. Proud, painful words delivered with all the care in the world from lost children trying to do what they thought was right.

It was an eerie sight. The pause. The way she swallowed, and her eyes grew bright and she stood taller, and Paxere’s glittering stare?

This was grief. It could not be anything else. Visophecin saw a reflection of it—the Agelum embodied these emotions.

Paxere was the reflection and why it was so uncanny to him. Because she and the other Lucifen who had grown up in House Shoel were mourning like…people.

Like Humans, like the other species. They were simultaneously fighting to remain composed and copying the grief they had learned from their fairer halfs.

There was a part of Paxere, even now, that was not sad. Not—as Visophecin had heard—the part of humanity that could remain calm and collected in crisis. But rather, a truer lack of emotion. It was that Paxere was fighting in front of him. Straining to copy emotion and make it her own, even if she didn’t know it.

Like a desperate Devil reaching skywards, trying to understand the light. A group of young people taking the mantle from their elders and trying to figure out how it should weigh on them, feeling their way forwards blindly and pretending they could see the answer, let alone the question.

Visophecin met Uziel’s eyes, and for a second, the two, Lucifen and Agelum, remembered. Then Visophecin listened with all his might to the words they were saying.

“We will not execute you, though some of House Shoel might find it appropriate, Visc—Visophecin. Such an act would render all the sacrifice of our predecessors meaningless. We are not blind to what has occurred. So we charge you to redeem your failures. Labor to recover something that will justify House Shoel’s pain, Visophecin, or do not return at all. Find Ryoka Griffin and recover the seed of a Dryad.”

Her eyes were dry, despite her best efforts, he thought. Paxere’s voice continued hoarsely.

“Discover a boon for Ailendamus or House Shoel to justify the deaths of so many Lucifen. It must be worth the totality; we shall accept nothing less. Until that day, you are banished. We turn our backs upon you. You are free to vanish, but it is the will of the Infernal Gathering to give you every chance. So go and—

Paxere’s voice broke slightly, and she covered it with a cough. They looked down, and Visophecin stood there, a tired Devil with a worn suit. Then he bowed, slowly, deeply, to them until they thought he was mocking their youth.

But he wasn’t. Visophecin raised his head, and he felt the slightest line in the air, a connection to Erin Solstice, even if he had severed the pact with her.

“Redemption is a journey that has no set path. Nor is it easy, Visophecin.”

Uziel called out from his seat. The Agelum’s eyes were, in his way, far less kind than the Lucifen’s. They were bright, and Visophecin met them as long as he could dare. The words followed him as he walked from the room.

“—But redemption surely exists for the lowest of all. That is why it is so difficult to claim. Seek it for your own sake. We hope you have the will to pursue it as long as it takes.”

A single Lucifen left House Shoel, and the remaining Lucifen looked at each other. The Agelum got up, slowly, to bow to their counterparts, and Paxere let out a ragged breath as the others offered her handshakes and nodded at her.

Not sure what to do. She stared at Visophecin’s back until Uziel tugged at her sleeve.

“And what will you do, Paxere?”

The Lucifen stared darkly at Visophecin. She didn’t know how he would seek redemption for his actions, if he even could begin to do so. Her voice was dark and low.

“Erin Solstice owes House Shoel a debt whether she acknowledges it or not. Let Visophecin deal with Ryoka Griffin, since Rhisveri’s injunction still stands. We will have our dues, regardless of how they must be taken.”

To that, Uziel just nodded wearily.

“House Shoel continues.”

After a while, Paxere gave him a blank smile.

“It does.”




So many of House Shoel had met their end at sea.

He did not know them. Or rather, he’d thought of them as the ‘enemy’, and they had been for a time. Maybe they were now once again—

But Rabbiteater was more and more convinced that something his [Innkeeper] had once said was true:

He had no enemies. Maybe there were ones out there, like these dead things that had fought Erin. Yet there was a part of him, even now, that thought he could have been friends with Iradoren.

Maybe…if the [Prince] had eaten a bad donut, they would have all been there together at the end, and Erin Solstice would have turned back when she realized he was alive.

Then, Earl Altestiel would be alive.

When he said this, Cortese tried to throw him overboard until Menrise put Cortese in a headlock. And Rabbiteater’s tears dripped into the waves.

They were too beautiful. Green-blue waters had replaced the inky waves and blood-darkened ocean. The sky had been pristine, brighter, and the air had grown drier, balmier, as if to apologize for the entire storm.

He knew it was the magical backlash of the Third Tide; for a while, it would be drier and rainfree to counterbalance all the weather magic and Skills, and Wistram was working overtime to shield all the surviving ships of the Terandrian fleet.

Nevertheless, he was angry at the weather. Sad about his friend, the Earl of Rains. Rabbiteater wished he’d grabbed Altestiel and made him come with them—or stayed on Rainbringer. Insisted protocol be damned or just…

He wished he’d told the Earl how much he liked his kingdom or gotten into a proper fight with him about Altestiel courting Erin. Rabbiteater wished he’d dueled the Spring’s Warden and asked her for advice about Meisa.

They were all…gone. Rabbiteater knew what that meant. He had seen his brothers falling. But it occurred to him that he hadn’t even visited their graves.

He wanted to, now. And to lie on that bed of flowers and tell them where he’d been. He wanted to see the statues in Erin’s garden, even if they snapped him in half.

He wished he did not feel so grateful to be alive. But he did. He had no right to be so happy, but he was. When he said as much to Badarrow, his brother pushed him off the roof of the cabin.

“Everyone’s allowed to be happy.”

“So soon?”

The [Sniper] peered at Rabbiteater as the [Knight] lay on his back, staring up at the stars, and Seraphel’s cabin door opened, then closed as someone peeked out to make sure Rabbiteater was alive.

The two Goblins had been sitting on top of her cabin since it had lots of room. Badarrow called down to Rabbiteater.

“You gonna cry tomorrow?”

Rabbiteater thought about it.


“Then be happy today. I like Snapjaw.”

“You said.”

“She cute.”

“Uh huh.”

“Very cute. And she—”

“Shut up now, please.”

Then Rabbiteater climbed up, and the two sat alone for a while. The [Knight] did his best to pretend Badarrow was just ‘a Goblin’ along with the other survivors from Erin’s ship. He wasn’t sure how many of Calanfer’s crew bought it, but to be fair, they were greatly distracted.

Mostly by Ksmvr, Vofea, Rivel, Revi, Erek, and the many animals that had appeared after Seve died. The [Knights] were putting their Skills to use taking care of so many odd guests, mending the damage from the battle at sea, rationing their supplies, communicating with other ships, and, not least, keeping Ksmvr from trying to commandeer the entire ship.

There was even Admiral Dakelos, who stayed apart from everyone else, an unwelcome guest, but one who hadn’t been forced to walk the plank or anything else. Seraphel had insisted everyone, even the Antinium and Goblin, be given the hospitality of the Throne’s Will.

At last, it seemed like their long voyage had ended. The storm that had thrown the ship around, not to mention the pursuit from Erribathe’s ships and the anger of other ships pursuing Erin’s friends, had forced Calanfer’s flagship into a very unusual route.

Calanfer was good at diplomacy, though. Seraphel, Thilowen, Cortese, and Menrise had, combined, managed to keep anyone from actively trying to kill the people onboard. In truth, Rabbiteater thought everyone was just tired of death and out of long-range spells to sling around.

“…She really came all the way for you.”

Badarrow spoke as he watched the distant beaches grow larger. Rabbiteater stared at them; they’d been growing bigger all week. Throne’s Will had lost a mast, and the [Captain] was worried about damage to the keel, whatever that was. The ship would have to set down for repairs for a long time, and Rabbiteater wasn’t unhappy about it.

He was really sick of the sea. Rabbiteater decided he wasn’t a sea person. Badarrow had been fishing all day and night and loved fish. He claimed lots of Goblins did too. Rabbiteater had called him racist for stereotyping their people like that.

“—Heard they found the Horns.”

Rabbiteater changed the subject. Badarrow looked up in surprise.

“Really? Which ones?”

“Uh…Pisces and Colth.”

“Whoa. So that means only Yvlon’s out there?”


Badarrow chewed on a fishbone idly as he stared ahead, then nodded, exhaling hard.

“Then they’re all definitely alive.”

Both he and Rabbiteater were of the consensus that Yvlon would make it no matter what. If the weakest Horns had survived…they’d all be okay.

Rabbiteater grinned at that, but it was true that he felt a lot better about the other Horns. Maybe Ksmvr would stop asking how hard it was to sail to Chandrar to pick up Ceria. A fishing ship had found the Ice Squirrel floating along, and Pisces and Colth…well, Rabbiteater had heard they were all on the wrong continent. Badarrow scratched his chin.

“Chandrar, huh? Is very dry, I’ve heard.”

“Ksmvr doesn’t like it.”

“Ksmvr whines a lot.”

Rabbiteater kicked Badarrow, who wasn’t being very sensitive. The truth was that he’d heard Pisces and Colth had mysteriously washed up on a beach, waterlogged but alright. He wondered if there had been—shenanigans.




The Spider was at the bottom of the sea rubbing her legs together and greedily counting her spoils.

Fleets had fallen into her nets, and a dead Kraken floated high above her. She cackled, she danced in the deep, and the pacts were swift and dark.

A struggling trio dove into her web, and one was a [Slave] who howled a bargain into her ears. Another warned the Spider that Death would pursue her for interfering.

The Spider feared no Death and wavered, for the deal was good, but the risk had to be worth the reward. The slave promised her riches and wealth upon his master’s name, and she would have accepted as Death dove into the sea, uttering mighty oaths of warning.

For the Spider was older than this Death, and she had danced with magic and won. But then the third of them pointed at the [Slave] and spoke:

“This one must die.”

He reminded her of those of old who knew the weight of death and life like no others. A [Necromancer] of old. 

So she closed her ears to the offers, for the Spider did not strive with [Necromancers]. They left the [Slave]’s body to drift down, and the Spider listened to a Naga shrieking. Then she crawled away on her great task as Death carried the two to shore.

A woman strode past the Spider, and the two stared at each other in the deep. The Spider had met a [Necromancer] of old and a woman of metal. 

The old days began again.





Four of the Horns of Hammerad were on Chandrar, or at least, that was where Rabbiteater guessed Yvlon would end up. The currents had blasted most of the [Pirates] that way as well as most of the ships who’d had to fight from Chandrar’s northern shores towards the New Lands of Izril.

As for the Throne’s Will…he lay on the cabin until he heard the sound of scuffling. Someone struggled to do a pull-up onto the cabin’s roof. After a few seconds, and whispered encouragement—Seraphel fell onto the deck.

Badarrow stared at Rabbiteater. This was his friend? She couldn’t even do a single pull-up. Rabbiteater ignored his brother. Badarrow didn’t get what was good about Seraphel. She was…the [Princess] had all these talents and…for instance…

She was one of the Ivory Five, and she would always be his friend. After a few seconds, Rabbiteater got up and hauled Seraphel onto the cabin’s roof. Cortese and Menrise and her servants pushed the red-faced [Princess] up, then clambered up themselves. Badarrow nodded at them, casually.


They stared at Badarrow, and Cortese edged away from the Goblin…and Menrise and Seraphel stared at Rabbiteater as he put his hands behind his helmet.

What do you know? Does it matter? Was it worth it? Should I have done something else?

He had no answers. Only tears and the jubilation to be alive that made him shamefaced. Rabbiteater stared in silence at the stars, then sat up to look at the distant shore, illuminated by moonlight.

“It’s beautiful. It’s like the New Lands I dreamed of. I always wanted an adventure, you know. You’d think being from the Kingdom of the Infinite Dungeon would mean I’d have had enough—but I dreamed of this. Strange. I didn’t count the cost.”

Cortese had lost Baeris. Some people might think a lioness didn’t count like a person, but Rabbiteater wouldn’t have said so. Badarrow had said Redscar had lived but lost Thunderfur, and they’d both cried about that.

Menrise just looked at the distant beach.

“I’m done. I want to go home now. Or just lie there on a vacation for a decade.”

All of Tourvecall, save for her, had perished aboard their ship. They’d detonated it by activating their mana rather than be killed by the [Pirates]. The Kingdom of Incantations had sworn to send more of their number to the New Lands of Izril. Menrise had asked her kingdom what the point was.

Rabbiteater hugged her, and she lay on her side, then rolled over to where Dame Neranthei was holding a tray of drinks up. They were allowed to be silly.

“It does look like an adventure. Gold, glory, and the potential of a new continent.”

Seraphel agreed, letting her hair blow behind her as she tilted her head up towards the breeze. More of the ship’s passengers decided this was the place to be, and Ksmvr jumped onto the cabin’s roof.

Vofea scrambled up next to him, blinking and looking around.

“I’m alive. What the heck.”

“Stop saying that. You have said that every day for the last three weeks.

Ksmvr snapped at her. He stomped over, grabbed a drink, and glared at Rabbiteater.

“What are you all staring at?”

“The new lands. The final frontier. Land.”

Cortese spoke dreamily as Revi climbed up and hauled up Ryoka Griffin. The Wind Runner turned, caught her breath, and they all saw it.

A strip of the beach stretching across the horizon. A forest beyond, lush and inviting, a haze of mist concealing the treetops. Were those birds, or rather, bats that Rabbiteater saw under moonlight?

Erek the Orangutan had been very quiet, but he hooted softly as he carried one of the cats onto the deck. The Orangutan swung himself onto the roof in one motion with beautiful ease. He took a cup and put the cat in Cortese’s lap. Without a word, the two chinked glasses. They hadn’t even found Seve’s body. It might still be sinking, fish and even tiny organisms too afraid to eat him.

He had died hard and well. Rabbiteater wished he’d met the Sea Courier. Ryoka Griffin looked at the others.

“They found Colth and Pisces. Maybe if the Throne’s Will is repaired we can pick them up. Or I can figure out how to fly over and carry them…if I can even make a sea trip.”


“Sir Erek is right, Miss Griffin. Not right now. And surely…it will be dangerous to cross the sea again. For the moment, we should head inland. There are—complications.”

Seraphel looked at Rabbiteater, and he translated.

“People want to kill me. Possibly other people too. Definitely Badarrow.”

“Am Goblin. It happens.”

“We are cut off from the fleet and home. I have sent for reinforcements to rally on us, but—her Highness is right. Exploring it is. And forging alliances in this new continent.”

That, at least, made Cortese’s eyes glint with the challenge. He looked at Rabbiteater and spoke.

“The Earl of Rain’s last will shall not be dishonored. Kaaz will see to that.”

“Calanfer as well.”

Seraphel clenched a fist, and both of them looked at Menrise. The [Lady] stopped drinking through a straw and tilted her visor up.

“I’m not a Hundredlord or a [Princess]. You have all the might of Lady Menrise behind you. If the enemy comes at us in parfait-shapes, I’ll handle it.”

They looked at Rabbiteater, and he silently hugged them. He didn’t have the words to thank them properly, and he couldn’t join in the jesting. Badarrow looked faintly jealous. Revi stood there, tired, eyes flicking from face to face as Rivel shook his head. The Vampire’s voice was hoarse, but determined.

“No one’s found Erin Solstice yet. I promised to try and keep her safe.”

“We’ll find her. Mayhaps in this wild expanse. I don’t believe any of the passengers on the ship are dead. Sadly, that includes Greydath of Blades.”

Cortese spoke, and they all regarded their wild landing point. Ksmvr stared from face to face, then snapped, voice irate.

You are all aware, please, that this is not the New Lands of Izril we are regarding? That is Baleros.”

He pointed, and Rabbiteater took a long drink from a straw in his cup of juice.

“Yeah, but it looks nice.”

The Throne’s Will had kept going past Wistram to avoid pursuit. There was a kind of logic to it; if a bunch of Terandrians wanted Rabbiteater dead, or a Goblin dead, why not go where they weren’t?

They’d been halfway between all the continents anyways. In hindsight, they might have gone to Chandrar, but Rabbiteater heard Chandrar had [Slaves] and sand. Not the nice kind of sand either.

Ksmvr was furious, but Rabbiteater stared at a new continent and thought…maybe this one would be nicer. Last time, he’d sailed into a war. This time—well, this was the continent of war, which wasn’t exactly promising.

…But now, he had some friends with him. Rabbiteater looked at them as Admiral Dakelos tried to join the group. Menrise turned the edge of the cabin slick, and he fell.

Rabbiteater wanted to keep them all alive. It sounded stupid, maybe impossible, and certainly not easy. There was a time when he’d been resigned to dying far from home and had not expected to survive.

That was last year. This coming year? The Goblin had heard lots of stories where a Goblin did something brave, stupid, or just existed—then someone killed it. A monster’s tale.


That was all Badarrow said as he looked at his brother sidelong. Rabbiteater turned a leaky visor to him as he wiped at his bowed head. He longed to tug the helmet off…but there were stupid Calanferians below. Yet when he looked across the roof, he wondered if any of them would have been surprised by it.

Probably Admiral Dakelos, but he didn’t count.

“What’s strange?”

“You look older. Brighter. I guess Greydath was stupid after all.”

Rabbiteater turned to the [Sniper], and Badarrow glanced at him, then ahead.

“Pretty lights.”

Everyone else stared ahead, and the sunlight gleamed off the beach and reflected across the dancing waves—but that wasn’t what the Goblin meant.

“Yeah. So many. I never knew there could be this many.”

Rabbiteater agreed softly, and he sensed the other Hobgoblin glance at him, then nod hesitantly. The [Knight]’s eyes roamed the distance, and his head swiveled slowly. His hunched shoulders relaxed, and he raised his hand, as if brushing cobwebs from his gaze.

“Badarrow. Seraphel. Anyone. Do you think days get better or sadder the longer you live? Or both?”

The other people sitting on the roof looked at Rabbiteater, and he had never felt more alive. He had seldom grieved more, and it seemed there was still a simple Redfang Goblin inside him who might never smile as hard, or deign to cry, but had no reason to do either.

He pitied and envied that Goblin of old. However—he was not alone, and he sensed Ksmvr hang his head and Revi close her eyes—it was Seraphel who answered, slowly, as Menrise rested her chin on her arms without a word.

“I don’t think you compare it, Rabbiteater. All I know is that if I had given up, I would never have met you all. I…it may be silly, but I look at things that way. It makes it easier, you know.”

Her voice broke.

“Because then I can’t regret having friends for the first time in my life. I’m sorry.”

They didn’t say anything for a second, but that was because the rest of the Ivory Four were lost for words. After a moment, Rabbiteater looked at Seraphel, who was red-faced, embarrassed, yet unashamed of what she’d said.

“You know, that’s the wisest thing you’ve ever said, Princess. I liked that. It must be because you’re the optimistic one.”

“I’m the optimistic—I thought I was the gloomy one.”

Badarrow stretched out with a grin, and Rabbiteater put his hands behind his head nonchalantly.

“I changed my mind. Did you hear that, Menrise, Cortese? Seraphel said the first smart and correct thing ever.”

Ser Solstice!

A hand slapped his shoulder, and Rabbiteater fended off the angry [Princess]. He was sad, despite his laughter. This new continent had danger and so many familiar lights of Goblins he could not believe his eyes.

Yet you know how Goblin stories went. Then again, Rabbiteater had heard a new story recently. Where the Goblin lived, even if he didn’t deserve it. This time—the Goblin would save all of them. He turned his face to the wind and started crying again. So he hugged them all tighter.




In point of fact, Pisces and Colth did not simply ‘wash up on shore’ as later reports would claim. For one thing, if the tides had been so damn miraculous as to carry the two adventurers all the way to Chandrar, you would think that at some point Pisces and Colth would wake up and decide to swim.

If, conceivably, they were on the last gasp of their energy, passed out, and the waves did indeed deposit them on the shore…they would probably be sucked back into the water by the next big wave or drown with the water lapping around their faces.

Pisces had never washed up on a deserted island before, so he was a justifiable amateur about all this. On the other hand, Colth had survived two shipwrecks and a marooning.

“That doesn’t even count how many ships I’ve run aground. The trick is floating on your back or having somewhere you can rest—when you get to shore, that’s where the action starts.”

“Exactly. Did you see your friend in the deep? That was style. She’ll walk straight out of the ocean onto shore—well, unless the pressure of the ocean pops her like a grape. She must have used the Ring of Barriers on the way down to prevent compression sickness. Now there’s a real adventurer. Colth, why can’t you be more like that?”


Pisces was currently—flying. He didn’t enjoy it. Well, he wasn’t the one flying. Imagine being a suitcase being carried through the air, dangling, dripping, staring at the water rushing past you. Pisces was that suitcase.

Colth was at least sitting upright, but the [Necromancer] felt sick; his lungs were still screaming, and he was being carried by the Death of Magic herself like a parcel.

“Silvenia, please. I’m a Named-rank adventurer. The world’s greatest [Supporter]. You yourself said you’ve never seen anyone my level in my class!”

Pisces looked up, and a half-Elf grinned down at him, her face half-magic, half ruin. He stared up at a glowing sun of magic itself, the damnation of islands. The Death of Magic herself. Silvenia Ettertree.

He decided to keep staring at the water. She was carrying them—secretly—towards shore. Silvenia yawned; she drifted, a dress of black and silver flowing behind her, as if the rushing wind were no more than a passing breeze. Pisces was glad no one could see them.

This was surreal.

“In your class, Colth? Of course not. It takes a rare personality to live always second-best, always ready to be the shadow to someone else. Let alone to figure out how to make that the impetus to levelling.”

“Thank you.”

The conversation was occurring in a safe space the half-Elf had created. It was more like a bubble of magic that asserted gravity and kept them from being blasted away that the three flew in. Silvenia shot forwards, holding the two by the collars and dangling behind her—until she got bored of that and sat cross-legged in the air, and she floated a piece of fish and some seaweed she’d found and processed it with magic.

She was making something she claimed was called ‘sushi’, a native food from Drath. It reminded Pisces of the inn. Home. Pisces was spread-eagled, as if falling, staring down at the rushing ocean below him.

It felt like a dream, a world lit by a rising sun, water streaming behind them as they blurred across the horizon, trailing magic and speaking at an ordinary tone. He supposed part of being the Death of Magic was making everything seem so—casual.

Colth alternated between copying Silvenia and sitting or standing to attention, like a [Student] giving a report. Silvenia conjured magical rice and hand-packed it into a roll that Colth cut for her. After she sampled her cuisine, she glanced back at Colth.

“…I wasn’t complimenting you about the [Supporter] thing. Do you have anything to say to Serinpotva? She’ll peck you if we meet.”

“I, uh—uh—uh—it was a justifiable use of the emergency spell?”

“I thought so. Although the amount of time you gave me—I fought my way across the entire damn ocean, and I barely made it. What a disaster. I would laugh, but those [Pirates]—what a sad fate they’ve stolen.”

At this, Pisces jerked his head up, and Colth frowned.

“Sad? They stole destiny from Terandria’s fleet. You mean they stole the same fate that led the nobles to their demise? I thought their Skills sounded cleverer than that.”

The Death of Magic’s eyes were old and resembled distant clouds. Her scars were half-visible, as if she had been torn apart and rebuilt herself with magic. Which…was exactly what had happened. They had sympathy, of a kind, for the [Pirates].

Pisces had none, but he listened as she spoke, her tone flat, knowing.

“Oh, they may have stolen destiny perfectly. Eaten luck without any bitterness to it or well and truly ripped classes, skills, and the legacy of Terandria’s finest away as treasure. Some may even escape the retribution that comes their way. Does it matter? They came for better days, these desperate murderers.”

“I understand why.”

Silvenia’s eyes flashed as she looked at Colth. He looked relaxed. Shriven.

Iert was dead. Dead, and there was no wriggling out of it. No doubt. Pisces had seen the life flee the Gnoll’s eyes and felt the Naga’s scream through the water.

They’d done it. Silvenia answered Colth, her voice cold.

“Oh, you may understand why, Colth. Don’t debate reason with me like Serinpotva loves to do—she is the one who has a plan to fix the world. But do you really think someone who slaughtered their way towards happier days knows how to keep on that path?”

…That made Pisces look up, and those eyes flicked down to him again. The [Necromancer] grimaced, and he was not happy to hear her forecasting the future. Yet there was a dark part of him that felt satisfaction.

The conversation around the [Pirates] lapsed into silence a second. Silvenia ate with a pair of chopsticks, and Colth tried gamely to eat at high-speed velocity. When he dropped one piece of sushi, it vanished behind him, and he gave up.

“Ah—how are things with the others, Silvenia? Anything interesting going on?”

He was doing his best, but even he couldn’t disguise his nervousness. Silvenia’s face turned, and for a second, Pisces saw the ruined visage behind the magic. Then the beautiful features of an Archmage of Magic. She could have made herself flawlessly beautiful; that she did not mattered.

“I have a new pet cat.”

“Ah. Well, we found the Crossroads of Izril. Want the passphrase?”

Silvenia’s eyes swung towards Pisces, and he swallowed hard. Then she winked.

“You’d better clear that with your Captain, Adventurer Colth. Besides. I’m in no position to spread the word. Tell me when you find something interesting.”

“Well, there was this maze—a training ground of the City of Shields—”

“Colth. Something. Interesting.

Pisces started snickering. He couldn’t help it. Colth started trying to throw pieces of sushi at him, and Silvenia looked between the two.

“Your friend will take ages to get to shore. I’ll speed her way; I think your half-Elf friend might be found sooner. Tell me. Are you sure? I could engineer a return to Izril or Baleros.”

Pisces stopped laughing. He looked up, and for a third time, the Death of Magic regarded him. She could not do everything. She said she thought Erin was alive and that she had done her utmost to keep the [Innkeeper] safe given the circumstances.

But to ally with her was to invite the same destruction they had left behind. Even so, she could send him towards Baleros, to Wistram—Pisces looked back the way he’d come, towards Yvlon. He thought of Ceria. And he hoped they would not be too angry with him when he shook his head.

“No. We have unfinished business in Chandrar. I only wish Ksmvr and Vofea could be with us. But—but it’s best he doesn’t come with us. It might be dire. Nevertheless, we must go. I have left companions at the mercy of Roshal. And a brave friend of ours is in danger. Prince Zenol. Yvlon has people she knows in Nerrhavia’s Fallen; even Ceria has a score to settle.”

“Ksmvr has his sword—”

“We’ll get that too.”

Pisces assured Colth, and the [Supporter] grinned. They looked up, having forgotten for a moment they were in Silvenia’s presence, but the Death of Magic grinned down at them.

Then Pisces recalled she had once been an adventurer as well as an [Archmage]. Her voice was approving.

“Serinpotva may flap about, but Czautha won’t object. Your patron knows you too well, Colth. Don’t waste too much time; that so-called ‘Naga’ will see you dead for what you did. As for you, Pisces Jealnet—break every chain between you and your goal.”

The [Necromancer] ducked his head slowly. Then he found the words to say it.

“Thank you.”

She tilted her head, then looked ahead, smiling as the sun rose, and Pisces saw that look of infinite regret and sadness cross her face a moment.

“For what? You would have all made it. I’m just the Courier. Now, make it look good; you’ll have to drift for a few days.”

“A few days—”

“And remember not to drown when you wash up on shore. Colth?”

He blinked up at her as she slowed and let go. Pisces was tumbling through the air, and he saw the Death of Magic wink down at him.

“You’ve found a nice teammate. If you manage to swing by Rhir when you find the rest of your team, bring me a souvenir, would you?”

So, the [Necromancer] and [Supporter] splashed into the ocean and lay there, laughing for a while, alive. Free.

Somewhere, a frozen [Cryomancer] was being towed onto a boat—and her eyes were filled with concentration. Determination to not fail again.

In the deep sea, an [Armsmistress] walked across the ocean floor, teeth gritted, staring ahead of her, taking step after step until she began to rise.

They had returned; they were returning to that continent of ancient empires and legends. But this time, it was no accident. The Horns of Hammerad were bound for Chandrar.

This time? They were prepared.




Good and evil had been done. The living had time to mourn. The world would never be the same for the passing of so many souls.

Admiral Rosech, his first mate Inseine, and his entire crew save for his son, Irrel.

Captain Jiupe.

Kevin. Gershal of Vaunt. Verdan Blackwood.

Xol of Ingrilt.

Tesy and Bviora.

Oliyaya and Herove.

Igolze, Azemith, and the Lucifen.

Earl Altestiel.

Seve-Alrelious, Prince Iradoren, Baeris the lioness.

Alcaz, Ser Kerrig, Maid Bekia, Commander Tersk.

Moore and Ulinde.


Ixeth and Yameth and Thunderfur.

Old Bamer.

George. General Duln. Wall Lord Aldonss.


Halrac Everam.

Silvermop, the Spring’s Warden, Pertheine.

Goat and Aluminum Armor and Worker C44.



Lady Ficombe, Lord Ostevar, and the nobles of Tourvecall.

Theillige. Three of the Winter Sprites.

Mister Prost.

They were all gone. And unlike the days before—there was no land of the dead for them, a purgatory, a reflection of the world long gone. Nor was there the harsh yet fair land that was ruled by the Goddess of Death.

Instead? Good or ill, monsters or heroes—they went to only two places now. Rarely, Diotria. The rest to Hellste. And the dead found that in the afterlife?

There were Goblins. There were always Goblins.

It was not a happy place. But nor was it a bad place. It was just a place you went where you died, with ups and downs, and was what you made of it.

There wasn’t a way back or a convenient loophole for people to return from. Even the dead gods couldn’t just summon souls back from here. And that was a good thing.

Someday, even this land might vanish, but until then?

Until then, a young man looked up as one of the Antinium waved at him from above, and Kevin Hall’s eyes filled with tears. But he was allowed to cry, and he waved at Goat. Then he turned and wiped his face.


A clawed hand helped him up, and a voice rumbled softly.

“For what?”

The young man hesitated—and then shook his head. He stood up and joined a gathering of souls. There they were.

Halrac, making room for Xol of Ingrilt, and Verdan Blackwood, shaking as he looked around and asked questions. It took a long time to realize you were dead, even here. People were still looking for a way out. But for a while, Kevin decided, he’d join the others.

George wasn’t his cup of tea, but he had time to wait. He hoped he wouldn’t see Imani, Joseph, or anyone else for a while. But until they met again—and they would all meet one day—Kevin joined the conclave.

What did the dead do to pass time? Well…

They told stories. They had a lot of the older ghosts here, and all the new ones, who would tell what had happened to them, not just on the Solstice, but their lives, as they saw them. Share their triumphs and regrets. Hear the others in turn speak.

But first…Kevin looked across at Altestiel, and the [Earl] nodded at the figure who’d come to get Kevin. There was a procedure to these things, if you were a welcome guest here.

In time, you’d tell the ghosts all about the world you knew and how it had changed…but first?

First, one of them would speak. And they rather liked Kevin. People liked Kevin, so he thought he’d do okay here.

He looked up, and the figure who’d come to get him wasn’t actually that old, you know. Kevin had always imagined a white beard or something, but the Goblin King had been young when he died.

Velan the Kind came to a standstill, and Goblins and ghosts of many races gathered around. The Goblin Kings, so many of them Kevin couldn’t count them all, watched, listening or yawning, for they knew this tale, but the others listened, even the fae.

It was time, at last, to hear the truth. Kevin sat down, smiling faintly. At least he’d get to hear it before all the others.

That was something.

He wondered how the inn was doing. Then Kevin closed his eyes and rested for a moment in death. It felt…pretty good to do it at last. He’d worked hard in his life. Not all the time, but this?

This didn’t feel so bad.




One month after the Solstice.


A great gale blew down across the Floodplains of Izril, rain, not snow. Okay, more like sleet, but even so, warmer than the snow, which was rapidly melting and forming great pools of mud that froze over and unthawed and would soon become lakes, valleys of water. At the end of the month, the season would turn to spring.

Soonish, the entire area would become impossible to travel, so the last groups hitting the road leading through the pass down to Liscor were hurrying to get to the city.

A traveller had stopped when they saw the dead giant made of bones, and they’d stared so long at the massive monster that they’d lost the limited daylight.

Then they’d made the incredibly stupid decision to, instead of following the winding road towards Liscor or heading back to Esthelm, try and climb a hill to get their bearings.

Well, five hills later they’d blundered into something huge in the night who’d snapped giant pincers at the traveller, and they’d run up and down hills, screaming and hoping they could find Liscor.

All this because they’d heard you could find good work around Liscor and it was one of the places to be…except not if you wanted a long lifespan.

However, there was a fortune to be made in the dungeon as an adventurer, or maybe you could be a miner or a farmer. You might not think either was good money, but there were huge tracts of land being sold for nothing around here, and the High Passes apparently had loads of ore from Esthelm.

The traveller was a young man from up north, a city no one had heard of called Vaunt, and he wanted to make his mark on the world. Vaunt was boring, filled with cheese, and frankly, had no prospects aside from maybe joining the army or hunting local rats until you saved up enough to buy some good gear and become a Silver-rank adventurer.

The boy had thought about maybe starting a farm if he found a nice girl around here—he wasn’t sure he’d like a Drake or Gnoll. But he was open-minded—right up until he realized the Floodplains of Liscor were called that for a specific reason and farming would not be enjoyable on a hilltop. Let alone with giant crabs.

Hunting, then. He’d heard you could make wild money with Liscor Hunted. Or—or they even had some amazing adventurers who’d made their mark here. The Horns of Hammerad.

And if none of that suited him, why, he’d go to Pallass, up to Invrisil, or anywhere else! But he’d wanted to make the journey to Liscor on foot, and not just because he couldn’t afford the fee to take the door, an entire damn gold coin.

…Maybe he should have paid for it at Celum, or at least at Esthelm, but they’d told him it was only a day’s journey from Esthelm to Liscor. They’d also said ‘stay on the road’, but—

He was lost. The traveller kept going up and down hills, hoping to find some sign of the city. He did not, and the darkness closed in.

What he did find eventually, though, was a building in the distance. It sat on a hill higher than most, and it was visible in the distance, a glowing series of yellow windows. A building that called to the traveller, to the lost, or simply to the weary.

He realized it was an inn. Then, as he drew closer, the young man realized it wasn’t just ‘an inn’.

It was the inn.

There could only be one. Dead gods, but he thought it was closer to the city! This…unless the mountain behind the inn was actually Liscor—in which case Liscor was a Walled City—the inn was in the wrong spot.

Or it might not be the inn. Yet, as the traveller headed for it, slipping and sliding and finally climbing up the hill, panting, he saw a sign planted in the snow, exactly like all the stories said.

“No Killing Goblins.”

The young man read the sign in disbelief, then laughed. He craned his neck up to look at the inn. There it was! Three stories high with a tower and, he’d been told, a ballista crewed by Antinium. There was…



He didn’t see the tower. It was dark, but the top of the inn looked splintered, as if something had struck it. Well, he’d heard it had been attacked. But as the young man drew closer, he realized the front of the inn was…rather black.

Charred wood. The traveller stopped and realized there were multiple burn marks on the exterior of the inn. Also—the light he’d seen from the windows was bright, but they were shuttered. Some windows were boarded up, and when the young man tried the door—well, it was unlocked.

“Hello? Is anyone here? I’m, uh—lost, and I—”

The young man found himself in a rather large, oddly long, and unsettling hallway. There was a door to the left, but it was locked, and a loud snoring sound made him give up trying the handle. The young man walked down the hallway and had the feeling he was being…watched.


When he came to the doors at the far end, two big double doors, he hesitated, but he was cold, freezing, scared—and he had to know. So he pushed the doors open and found the inn.

It was…empty. Mostly empty. There were chairs piled up on tables, sitting upside down, that the floorboards could be properly cleaned, the lingering scents of food in the air, but it was clear the inn was unoccupied.

It was probably well past midnight, so the young man supposed no one was here. His stomach growled noisily, and he looked around, hoping there was someone—

“If you’ve come to start trouble, I warn you that the staff is armed. As am I. It’s late.”

A voice spoke from behind the young man, and he screamed and jumped. Out of nowhere, someone had appeared. A woman, hands on her hips, a weapon in one hand.

A frying pan. He backed away, stumbling, tongue-tied, and realized—this was it.

This was her.

The [Innkeeper] was as scary as he’d heard. She had a thunderous expression, probably because he was tracking mud into her inn and it was so late. She’d appeared out of a door in the wall—and he felt an instinctive sense of danger as he looked into her blue eyes.

He’d heard she was striking, a one-of-a-kind woman. If she was even Human. She was certainly beautiful. She had vibrant red hair, and the boy had listened avariciously to stories about her.

They said, in Invrisil, that there was a theatre named after her and the Players of Celum themselves had started in her inn.

In Celum, she was more like a force of nature; they claimed she let monsters into her inn, that she’d saved and sacked the city twelve times over. The [Innkeeper] could breathe fire and spit blood, she had killed Gold-rankers with her frying pan—

Esthelm’s [Smiths] laughed at that, but assured the traveller that she did have a knife forged by the greatest smiths and that she had fought off Ice Wyverns, fought the Goblin Lord, and led an army into battle.

She’d killed [Assassins] and hosted Named-rank adventurers at her inn. Invented the cheeseburger and been killed. Then come back from the dead and posted the world’s first <Quest>.

She was a hothead, dangerously unpredictable, kind, and capable of making your fortune or taking your life. She liked Goblins and Antinium, and adventurers flocked to her inn for her blessing or their doom.

Her name was Erin Solstice…and the traveler stared at her in awe. Mostly because he’d heard she was lost at sea.

But here she was.

The [Innkeeper] folded her arms and glared.

“Well? Which is it? The Wandering Inn isn’t open at this time of night, anyways. How did you even get here? Did Liska let you in?”

Her voice was impatient, and she tossed a glance over her shoulder. The young man tried to explain.

“I—I saw the inn from afar. I followed the light. Am I at Liscor? I can go to the city—”

The [Innkeeper]’s brows shot up.

“Liscor? Are you…you must have come off the road. What were you doing? The inn’s moved. We’re not at Liscor. We’re as far southeast as you can get.”


He suddenly felt hot, then stupid as the young woman—and she was young, practically only a few years older than he was—eyed him.

“We moved The Wandering Inn.”

“How d’you do that? I mean—begging your pardon, Miss Solstice. This inn moves? Like the Haven?”

He stared around in awe. The young woman opened her mouth, eyed the weary, swaying boy, and decided he was either addled or stupid, possibly both. She spoke very slowly as a pair of heads poked out from the stairs, and the boy saw a glaring Gnoll girl with white fur and a girl with pigtail braids staring at him.

“Firstly—the inn does not ‘move’ normally. Antinium lifted it and carried it here after it was nearly burned down. Secondly, I am not Erin Solstice. I am Lyonette. Acting Innkeeper. Lastly, if you would like to go to Liscor, we can open the door for you. The inn connects to Liscor, Celum, Esthelm, Invrisil, Riverfarm, and Pallass.”

“I knew that. I mean…I was going to pay, but—I’m terribly sorry, Your Highness.”

Everyone knew the [Innkeeper] employed a [Princess]. He couldn’t believe that was true.

Lyonette du Marquin glared at the young man, but she took pity on him after eying him up and down again.

“Sit down. If the staff didn’t shoot you, you’re probably harmless. I’ll get you some leftovers, on the house, then we’ll let you sleep in one of the spare rooms. You can go to Liscor in the morning.”

He couldn’t believe his luck. The boy stuttered thank-yous as the young woman strode into the kitchen—came back through a garden door with a cold bowl of soup she warmed in her hands. With magic!

She put down a piece of bread, snapped her fingers, vanished into the door again, and then came back, calling out.

“Mrsha, if you’re going to snoop, you may bring our guest something to wipe himself off with. The same for you, Nanette.”

The two girls had been about to creep back to their beds, but they glumly appeared and offered the boy a towel and a cup.

It was water to his vague disappointment. The boy was about to introduce himself to the [Princess]—he reckoned she might need someone to wash dishes or whatnot, and he could just see it. This inn would be the place where he made his mark. First, he’d repay her trust. Then—

The boy was getting up the courage to offer the [Princess] his hard work and repay the meal when there was a flash of light. A Gnoll appeared behind the counter and shouted the same moment the door flew open.

A Drake, huge and burlier than three of the boy from Vaunt combined, charged into the room. He knocked the boy over, and Relc paused and tried to pick up the lad.

“Oh shit, sorry—”

He shook the boy, then dropped him into his chair. Ishkr shouted.

“Lyonette! They found Erin!”

The [Princess] had whirled, drawing a sword at the clamor, but she relaxed and Relc stopped shaking the half-conscious boy and opened his mouth to say the same thing. The Senior Guardsman was smiling. Ishkr looked—relieved?

The two girls stared at him, then at Lyonette, waiting for the [Princess] to whoop or shout—but Lyonette just sat down slowly.

“Of course they did. It took Niers long enough. Where?”

“Er…you’re not gonna believe this, Lyonette—”

Relc began as Ishkr hesitated, and Lyonette looked from face to face.

“Which continent? No…don’t tell me. Baleros. I should have known Ryoka would follow her. And Tyrion’s following her. Or will be soon enough.”

The Drake and Gnoll exchanged glances, and Relc threw up his claws.

“Well, if you’re so confident, what’s the point of us saying anything? Gah! I’m gonna go back and see if they found out anything else. When’s Ryoka bringing her back, for instance?”

He ran back the way he’d come, knocked over the traveller again, and stopped, cursing. The young man tried to get up and say something—but more guests pounded down the stairs, and a bee blasted past his face, the biggest bee he’d seen in his life. Then a Hobgoblin practically slammed into the table—and the boy was utterly forgotten.

They found Erin? When is she coming back?”

Lyonette said nothing as Numbtongue and other guests appeared, and Relc began to explain all over again. The [Princess] was just busy staring at the ceiling. She sat there for a while as more people woke up. A bleary Stitch-girl, an [Aegiscaster], a sleepy Vampire—

“I think it would be best if she didn’t return right away.”

That was all Lyonette murmured such that only her daughter and the little witch heard her. Well, Ishkr as well, and the [Head Server] hesitated a second.

The Wandering Inn hadn’t burned down. Nor had it been destroyed by Crelers or war or an angry skeleton with a vendetta. Undead had assailed it—and it had stood.

But it was not the same. Lyonette didn’t know what the future held. Nor did she know if Erin should come back.

Not yet. Liscor had just finished burying the dead and honoring the citizens, like Jeiss and Tekshia. They’d renamed a street after her and put her statue up in front of the Adventurer’s Guild.

—But Selys?

Would the inn be ready for Erin when she came back? What shape was she in? What…form was she in?

She had a bounty in multiple nations. She was well and truly the Goblinfriend of Izril. Lyonette sat there, and with all the love for Erin in the world, with all the relief…she could not demand the [Innkeeper]’s return.

Not like Relc. The [Princess] whispered a message to Erin.

“Don’t come back yet, Erin.”

Solemnly, her daughter took her mother’s hand, and Lyonette looked at Mrsha. Then around the inn.

Bird was still dead. But he’d sent a message to them saying he’d get better. The inn needed repairs, but Hexel had promised to start work on a new foundation as soon as he finished waterproofing Liscor for the rains.

Frankly, Lyonette didn’t even know if this was the final place The Wandering Inn should be. But what she did know was that all eyes were turned to Izril.

Not just the New Lands, but the north, where Magnolia Reinhart’s influence was being redrawn, and the south, where Pallass had been reduced in stature—

Lyonette was not ready for Erin’s return.

No one was. It was better if she stayed away. There was so much changed—and Lyonette knew that only one person would be too impatient to wait for Erin’s return. Or rather, Ryoka’s.

Lord Tyrion Veltras.

They were both carrying new classes. Well, anyone who had fought at the Solstice in any major way had a new class. But it was not always…easy…

Lyonette du Marquin had not seen Seborn since the Solstice. And Jelaqua? She’d gone to Pallass and never come back. A married Selphid without a team.

This inn. Liscor may never forgive her. If Erin forgives herself.

The Goblins had vanished, aside from the staff. The Antinium were dead, being revived, or marching to their new duties. The 7th Hive, Liscor’s army—

Nothing was the same.

Including her class. The [Princess] got up slowly.

She would never know this, but fate was a strange thing. An [Innkeeper] had spoken to the will of the world and chosen a class that might suit Lyonette. What had it been? [Princess of the Changing World]?

No one could predict what came next.

Lyonette du Marquin looked around, and she was indeed still a [Princess]. But her full class was not what she had expected. It fit her, but she was still getting used to it.

She was a [Princess of the Inn]. It was hers, at least until Erin came back.

As for Lord Tyrion? Well, his sons kept bothering the inn, and Lyonette had been told he was still intent on bringing Ryoka Griffin back. His family had argued…but his class really did say a lot.

[Lord of the Pursuit].

Changing days. The [Princess] began to remind everyone that they needed more information. And there was that young man she had to make sure got to Liscor—and soon it would be spring.

Lyonette realized she felt older, and when she looked into a mirror, a nineteen year-old woman stared back, not a [Princess] any longer. Years were a long time. There was a reason in this world, at least, sixteen years was considered to be the start of adulthood.

—Well, this year had aged her more than the last decade. After a moment, Lyonette realized the young man who’d arrived in the inn before all the craziness occurred was in danger of being trampled to death.

So she clapped her hands.

“Alright, away from our new guest, please! As for you, Relc, aren’t you supposed to be on the night-shift?”

“Aw. I mean—sorry, fellow. I had permission from Zevara to tell you, Lyonette! I thought you’d be happy. Stupid Ishkr.”

Relc growled, looking hurt. Lyonette faced him with her hands on her hips, and two girls backed her up.

Yeah! You can’t just run in here like old Relc! How many times have you barged into the inn without all the facts?

Mrsha waved her card in his face, and the Drake protested.

“If Ishkr weren’t here, you’d all be praising me! What’s with the bullying?”

It was Nanette who took pity on him and whispered in Relc’s earhole.

“Mister Relc—maybe Miss Lyonette and Mrsha are more hinting that your hours of work are inappropriate, more than your delivering the news?”

“Hah? Why would that be…”

Relc scratched at his neck-spines until Lyonette rolled her eyes. She edged over and whispered as Mrsha punched Relc on the arm. And somehow, the little girl was tall enough to do it. She stood on two legs, wearing a kilt and…Lyonette had two, not one, rather silly and growing daughters. Nanette was the responsible one, and Mrsha was the reckless, feckless imp. But a big imp, somehow.

Mrsha had grown two inches in a month, Lyonette swore. She was entering into her changing years, and Nanette might be growing too; it was hard to tell. Lyonette glanced at them, then whispered to Relc while the other guests asked the boy from Vaunt where he was from.

“Relc. Don’t you think it’s rather difficult to be a Senior Guardsman who only does the night shift?”

“For who? The lads love me—the [Thugs] don’t, but they never see the Relc Fist coming. All these new people and the rookies need a [Sergeant] like me.”

Lyonette sighed as Mrsha rubbed at her face and Nanette rolled her eyes. She nodded to a sleepy, tangle-haired woman half-sliding down the bannister.

“I meant that it might put a strain on someone who wanted to see you. Who, I might add, would be only too happy to cast [Message] whenever you want.”

Relc opened his mouth, frowning.

“Who’s th—oh. Ooooh.

He caught sight of Archmage Valeterisa, and the bleary Archmage poked her apprentice for tea until she spotted Relc. Then she tried to de-hex her hair and began asking Montressa why she was in her pajamas. And Relc? He scratched at his neck-spines.

“But I’m good at night-shift. I…I suppose I could take day-shift, huh? Sometimes Valeterisa works all night, though.”

“Well, I am sure someone could put a bird in her ear as well.”

Lyonette glanced at Nanette, and the little [Sariantfriend] beamed. Mrsha rolled her eyes, but then Lyonette was striding over to the young man.

“In the morning, I will introduce you to someone who can help you find work, Mister…”

“Lacrese, er, your High—Miss.”

The boy bowed several times at the waist, and Ser Dalimont rolled his eyes in resignation. But Lyonette just gave the boy a patient smile.

“You may call me Innkeeper Lyonette, Mister Lacrese. And when you have the time, I should like to hear more of Vaunt.”

Vaunt, Miss? There’s nothing much to Vaunt.”

The boy exclaimed, surprised. Lyonette’s brow arched.

“Really? I do intend to visit. I shall be heading north, soon, if only to visit some of my dear friends.”

Wall Lord Ilvriss and Lady Pryde Ulta both had sent invitations to Lyonette. The boy blinked at the idea of travelling across the continent so fast, but he had forgotten Lyonette travelled via magic door for free. Besides—the [Princess]’ eyes twinkled.

“I’m something of a traveller myself. And I have friends and obligations the continent across. There is always something wonderful about a new place. Believe me. Besides—”

She gave Mrsha and Nanette a huge wink, and her two daughters smiled gleefully as Lyonette sighed. She gestured to a new building just off to the side of the inn.

“—Liscor gets so wet in the spring. As soon as the roads clear, I think we’ll tour House Ulta. Then? We’ll see.”

The world really did change quickly. It might not be fair. It might not be right—Kevin was gone, Joseph had moved out, and Palt refused to visit the inn, though Imani was on her feet the last three weeks.

But Lyonette had to honor their legacies. Kevin’s first bicycle-propelled carriage had been delivered by Hedault, and it was no pink monstrosity that could mow down [Bandits] like his designs for a lawnmower—why anyone needed one of those, Lyonette had no idea.

Maybe the sight of the endless Floodplains had inspired some of those schematics. But the carriage moved, and Lyonette had, to Ser Dalimont and Dame Ushar’s horror, insisted on learning how to pull it. Even Mrsha had begun learning to ride with training wheels.

The Wandering Inn might be a pariah in Liscor, but the city needed it. The villagers of Rheirghest were homeless, and the Order of Solstice should be arriving with them any day now; they had nowhere else to go.

Someone had to help the Gnoll tribes heading north and make sure Wall Lord Ilvriss didn’t end up with a dagger in his back. Xesci seemed all very well and good, but—Lyonette gazed towards the third floor of the inn.

She was getting used to some of her new Skills, not all of which were like Erin’s, but she was certain her guest was still asleep up there. Tessa was having troubles—but Lyonette had forbidden her from hiding or working.

They were Lyonette’s priorities, this time, and that included making sure Senior Guardsman Relc understood he needed to take some things seriously—or they’d run off like last time. A good start was Relc having a cup of tea before he left.

Oh, and Lyonette admitted to herself she had to watch the two young Veltrases. Hethon was one year older than Nanette, and a lad his age of fourteen, soon fifteen, was…

Well—you had to keep two eyes on him. Or Nanette would absolutely destroy the poor boy. As for Lyonette? She inhaled, exhaled, and decided Drevish’s last plans needed alterations. As soon as she had the coin together, she’d tell Hexel to make a few adjustments.

Was an outdoor patio out of the question? There wasn’t a single buttress in the entire plan—

Like that, Lyonette kept herself busy. Busy enough not to worry about Erin. If anything, she felt like she was trying to keep up with the [Innkeeper]. Get things in order before Erin came back.

“Mrsha, go make sure we have a room for our guest. And that Bird’s new room is ready. I imagine it will be noisy, soon. Ishkr, do we need new staff now that we’re rotating some out for trips?”

“Maybe. But I’m not hiring him.”

Ishkr looked up from consulting with Peggy about tomorrow’s rush of people asking about Erin. Lacrese’s face fell, and Lyonette gave Ishkr a peeved look, which he casually let bounce off him. The moment he began seeing a Drake he got an ego. Come to that, Lyonette had to hire a bartender and set up a new room—and she knew just the Drake. She hoped they’d get along.

The [Princess] stared around the inn, full of promise and things to do, even now. Then turned. Before she did any of this, she rested her weight on one of the cleaned tables. Relaxed ever so slightly. Lyonette whispered so quietly no one was supposed to hear it.

“The inn was still benefiting from her Skills, and the garden was here. Obviously, she was alive. Obviously.”

She was sure she’d said it so quietly that not even Mrsha or Ishkr would hear, but they hugged her, and the [Princess] sniffed. She ordered them off her and got about getting the inn in order. It would take a long time. But Lyonette was sure whenever Erin got back—

It would be ready for her return.




The unworthy had triumphed. Or, if you looked at things from their perspective, they’d paid a heavy price and were counting their rewards.

In the same vein, the Goddess of the Dead, the Three-in-One, one of the greatest masters of death to ever exist, the bane of the divine who had broken pantheons and Titans in combat—Kasigna—had fallen.

A goddess was cast low and the world safeguarded from her at the heaviest of prices.

Alternatively—the weary arbiter, the stern mother, and the maiden searching for justice for the dead had been slaughtered as she grasped for life after a purgatory of endless years.

It depended on how you looked at it. Whether it mattered at all, or whether the last scream of Kasigna, still echoing, was just the whisper of dust.

You see, she had never really been good at staying on any one side. Taking sides? Oh, she did that well.

Cauwine, the Goddess of Last Stands, had once fought on a battlefield, changing sides time and again such that she turned defeat into victory and then walked across the field to take on her former allies.

She was a traitor, a turncoat, a rebel, and her mother had forgotten that. This did not mean Cauwine had no principles. She had searched, both before her defeat and death and now, afterwards, for a battle worth fighting.

It may have seemed petty to so many, but the Goddess of War had beheld her mother’s schemes and the others’ games and questioned—why?

Why play the same hand the same way? Why compromise what they believed in to live? It should be a glorious life, not a petty one.

One could argue she had been the truest victor this Solstice. She had attained little power as Kasigna had, but she had not lost any.

Emerrhain was trapped. Laedonius Deviy had fallen off the edge of the world. Tamaroth and Norechl…had fled this very world, and their fates and hold on this plane were lost for the moment.

They would never live unless they returned, and in their absence, the last great force among the six, Kasigna, had been routed.

Now was the moment when Cauwine could rise. The mortals were in a frenzy, the age was changing, and she knew that soon, there would come challenges, even for her.

The will of old foes, the wrath of the children of Earth—and the very nature of this world that allowed the smallest to rise to heights to challenge gods—she loved it all.

However, it is meaningless if it is just for me!

Cauwine spread her arms as she walked the world, an invisible spirit, her power waning with the Solstice’s ending. It would be long before another Solstice began—and she thought none of the other dead gods would try something as grand as Kasigna soon.

If this were all I have achieved—slaying my mother’s shade, remembering the joy of combat—I, too, have failed and should fall upon my sword.

She had tried, but pacts and alliances were so hard for a goddess who had never had worshippers like the others. She had not been Tamaroth, who had been supplicated by nations and lent his wisdom to the rulers as whispers in dreams.

She had no steady people like Emerrhain, who called to all those of magic and secrets; by her very nature, Cauwine had attracted pleas from rogues and the desperate and had been as fair-weather as those who loved her.

Antinium. Immortals. Demons. Wearily, Cauwine raised her hand as the sun rose, and the very rays of light pierced her being with wounds greater than anyone else had inflicted upon her.

“Ah. Life, thou’rt a difficult foe.”

The goddess sat down and looked across the world. She had foes to kill and battles to win—but there was a hollowness to that. Her sword had never been as sharp as when it was wielded in service to a reason. But she had found those reasons and not believed in them.

In her way, Cauwine envied Erin Solstice’s surety. She desired the same principles and morality that drove each and every mortal to dedicate their life to a cause. Only, her cause was to champion someone.


The Goddess of Battles planted the memory of a sword in the ground and began to vanish. The last dregs of power hoarded that allowed her even the illusion of a presence fading. Without worship, a single voice to call her name—even her mother had more than she.

The wind blew apart the fabric of a goddess who had slain legions of foes. Her blade, which had cut stars in foreign galaxies, collapsed under a falling flake of snow.

Cauwine closed her eyes—and the light pierced her back. It began to tear her apart—and then she felt it dapple upon her back.

A cold ray of winter. Cauwine stopped—and her hand rose—and the flake of snow was heavier than any weapon she had ever lifted. Her arm trembled—her body strained—

And for one second, the flake of snow stopped—then passed through her.

“What is this?”

That should not have been possible. She had moved the mortal world! Cauwine was still a memory of a ghost—but she turned, suddenly, and realized that someone had whispered her name.

Not with words, but with faith. She stood—and felt the faintest fragments of power in her being. The nature of the divine was faith. Belief.

Cauwine breathed in air and strode forwards, suddenly urgent. Who?


It was not the Hives of Rhir. Nor the Demons. No Wyrm supplicated her. Who might worship Cauwine, now? Eldavin had sought to speak her name, but so few beings had met her.

She had only appeared in a few places during the Winter Solstice. Therefore: who? Cauwine was fearful. Fearful, because she did not wish to be disappointed.

If mortals could choose a god, the reverse was true. She did not acknowledge petty prayers or worthless causes.

“Be thou worthy of it. I am Sprigaena. I am Elucina. I am made up of countless beings who were both monstrous and glorious. I am Zeladona. Who art thou, and are you worthy of me? Am I of you?

As she travelled towards the heart of the believers, Cauwine realized that it was not one mind, one heart, but multiple. They were few, and their faith was tremulous.

Yet they called for her. 

At last, Cauwine passed by the prayers of a [Lady] of Izril, a spreading trail of prayers not to her, but to death. For there would always be those who feared Cauwine’s mother.

But Cauwine? Who called for glory in their last hours?

Who begged for meaning in battle?

There were…only two groups. The first made Cauwine hesitate. She cast her eyes down—and sat down on the railing of a ship.

“Ah, you.”

It was a simple altar, and perhaps it was just superstition. Or intuition—but the [Pirates] had placed plunder there. Trinkets. Gold coins. Cauwine looked down as Admiral Maxy laid an amulet cleaned of blood on a piece of cloth.

They had seen her slowing the Terandrian fleet. She had disguised herself as a ghost, that she might offer them a chance, these people who had no hope. Cauwine had witnessed what they did with it.

Her eyes were slits, and irritation leaked through them. Admiral Maxy, the half-Elf strutting around with her plundered luck and time, shivered.

As if she had never realized that to supplicate was also to be judged. She rubbed her arms, hurrying inside for a jacket, and Cauwine wondered if this notion would spread. It made her tired.

Weary. She stood up and strode away. Then Cauwine bent down and whispered in Maxy’s ear.

“I do not judge the path you took, but you may never live so brightly and fight so hard as before. My favor shall not fall upon you until you find a worthier path to believe in.”

Then she rose and was gone.




If the [Pirates] wished for victory, if they called on her to win pettier battles or give them miracles in their desperate hours—she would not grant it.

She was no more the fickle goddess who would deliver triumph for triumph’s sake. It must matter.

The Demons of Rhir had, at least, a better cause to pray to her. If they had begged for Cauwine’s aid against insurmountable odds, the sheer adversity might have called to her, even if she would have been disappointed in the Deaths.

—It was not them. Cauwine walked across the world, following the trail of faith flowing into her, head bowed, fearful of no foe but disappointment.

When she found them, the few worshippers, she didn’t realize what she beheld at first. Cauwine stood there, looking down.


Mouth open. Shocked.

Then angry. Feeling as though she were mocked. Wrathful, with the rage that had killed her kin.

She raised her blade, even if she had no presence to make a mark in the world—

—And realized they meant it. That they believed with every shred of their being. Not a conviction of solid belief, for that was strongest in those who saw miracles performed and could lay their eyes on gods.

Rather, this was the desperate edge of faith that came from having nothing else. The grasping for straws on the edge of a cliff.

They meant it. They had beheld her—and for salvation?

Cauwine sat down as the first few altars were set up. Gifts were placed clumsily. Pieces of colorful stone. Bits of food. Coins.

Anything they had—and they had almost nothing. She bent over and looked at a people who worshipped her.

Sariant Lambs. Levelless. Meek of body. Ignored by the will of this world—yet she felt it.

Then the Goddess of Battles threw back her head and began to laugh, and she sat, legs out of strength, lying there as they begged without words any other species could understand. Cauwine rested there, and then she clenched her sword and saw a battle worth fighting for.

When she smiled?

It was with genuine relief.




Then she woke up. Just like every other day of her life.

The first day after the end of it all, after the wall of water had come rushing up to meet her and Erin had seen the Death of Magic diving towards her with a final spell on her lips, Erin Solstice had heard the voice.

Announcing her level up and deferred Skill. She’d passed out moments after waking, but that was fine.

The presence behind the voice that spoke her level-ups, and she had both realized she wasn’t going to die. At least—not right away.

Erin woke up sporadically after that. Waking. Feeling the waves rocking. Realizing she was alive. Realizing Anand was dead.

Passing out.

Pain was…well, she was beyond pain. It was only when she came back over the edge of oblivion that it really started kicking in.

Pain was not a pleasant thing. Nor was hunger. It woke her up, and Erin had the opportunity to realize she was alive, that she hadn’t drowned, and observe what had been done to her.

“Ulvama? Nerry? Greydath?”

The three of them weren’t anywhere around her. Erin had to trust each was alive. She couldn’t really move; not that the piece of wood she had miraculously landed on was much room, anyways.

Erin suspected the Death of Magic had something to do with that, because the bobbing piece of wood didn’t capsize or tilt much, and it seemed to move fast with the wind.

Where she was going, she had no idea, only that she was grateful the storms had ceased. Even so…shipwrecked at sea. Not a good way to die.

Exposure would get her, or sharks, or just lack of food or water. By the time Erin was lucid enough to move her hands and legs, she was suffering from all three. She prepared herself for the worst—then realized she had her bag of holding.


There wasn’t a handy blanket and living supplies in there. But there was a spare change of clothes, an unwashed apron—sanitary pads—that were enough to cover herself with. Erin reckoned she could eat her pants and was preparing to starve or try and catch a fish when she realized there was something else.

A jar of glowing, multi-colored gel that looked as dubiously safe for consumption as, well, radioactive playdough. Erin hesitated and wondered if it was, like, really bad jam until she remembered.

“Apista’s honey!”

Of all the things…it took her ages to get the cork from the damn jar. But when she grabbed her first handful of the honey, it filled her up. It was so chock-full of sweet energy she just ate two handfuls, then passed out.

Over the next day, Erin would wake up, lick some water drops from her water flask, several good mouthfuls at least, then eat some honey and wrap herself under the blanket of her clothing and pass out.

—It occurred to her after the fifth time she woke up that her clothing really was a damn big bed. Erin opened her eyes, snuggled deeper into the pocket of her apron, and passed out. The honey of Apista’s jar was only big enough for an inkwell’s amount. She reckoned, at the pace she was eating it, she could ration it out for at least a month or two.

This was because, naturally…

Erin was half a foot tall.


She could only assume Silvenia had done it to save her life. Something about smaller people being harder to kill? It probably meant they were harder to scry too. That wasn’t size-ist. It was just…logic. The Death of Magic must have had her reasons.

At any rate, it didn’t seem like anyone knew where she was because no one came to rescue her or kill her. Erin slept. She woke.

She counted the dead. Now was the time for regrets. Now was the time to blame herself for everything and weep, or hope Rabbiteater had made it.

Erin Solstice would have done that—but in truth, she was so tired she just slept.

Slept…and dreamed of them. Of Halrac drinking the Faerie Flower beer for the first time. Of sitting with Anand after Skinner’s death. Of people she had never met. Watching as Ceria fell into the sea.


She was grateful that the voice came for her on the fourth night. It had kept Erin waiting a long time, but there must have been lots to do. Much to consider.

Besides—it must know, then, that they had time. Everything was over. Now came the consequences or rewards.

The voice of the Grand Design of Isthekenous spoke and said this:


[The Wandering Innkeeper Level 55!]


It had kept her waiting. The [Innkeeper] patiently let the seconds pass. She had heard the other level ups already, but this…she had been expecting this.

Not as a reward, but as a kind of—closure to it all. Like it or not, this was how the world worked. The voice paused, then spoke with a kind of solemnity or…grandness she had seldom heard before?


[Skill – Inn: Pavilion of Secrets obtained!]

[Legacy: Pavilion of Secrets, authority recognized. Key of Insight granted.]


That was almost expected. Almost…but the [Innkeeper] lifted one hand, and a new key gleamed in her grasp. This one wasn’t pale, though it had a feather’s shape, but it was angular, and the key glinted like the inverse of light. The key waited for a door…she really had no way to access.


The [Innkeeper] lay there, not reacting to the Skill. She was—tired. She knew she was one step closer to the truth and had reached a point only two others, besides Empress Sheta, had been granted access to.

If it was anything like the [Garden of Sanctuary], it might offer her wonders and heartache. Mysteries, she had no doubt. Perhaps truths—

But she could not bear it. So the [Innkeeper] just put her head down and waited.

She heard the slightest pause, as if the reward was not commensurate with the reaction. But they both knew that Skill would be given.

For someone else, you might assume that was her Level 50 capstone, and it might be powerful enough to qualify. But they knew it wasn’t that. So…the voice spoke louder.


[Skill – The Traveller’s Eternal Home obtained!]

[Skill – Bound Ship: The Wandering Ship obtained!]

[Skill – Ship: An Inn by Any Other Name obtained!]

[Skill – Ship: Hoist the C—]



The [Innkeeper]’s head rose, and she spoke the words. The voice—stopped. She felt the waters move as a vessel stirred the deeps and began to surface.

New wood, gleaming and untouched by any hands, even in construction, a vessel made of the very fabric of the world.

Magic and Skill woven into a sail bursting from the waves. A hull of—of—

The boat halted midway through rising, and the voice halted. Just ceased.


Erin Solstice stared up at the sky. Her head turned, and she saw it. A massive ship glowing with promise, a travelling vessel with all the Skills of an inn. Why—she could already see a familiar garden door opening where a little white Gnoll girl lay sleeping.

It could bring her home. It could send her around the world, and it was the answer. Didn’t you see it?

This inn could travel. What form might it take if—


The door vanished. The little girl woke up with a start and looked around—but the [Innkeeper] rasped, lying on that piece of wood, body screaming, staring at a ship made just for her, more Skills still thundering through her ears.

She denied them.

The ship refused to go for a second. But the [Innkeeper] did not accept it. And there were rules…

The ship vanished.

The voice stopped speaking. There was a pause longer than time itself condensed into moments…then the voice whispered.


[Level ups canc—]


Again, her head rose, and she spoke.


Then the silence grew deeper than the ocean; the waves rocked her, and she heard nothing at all. Erin Solstice lay there, body filled with agony, waiting, waiting…and heard nothing.

“Aren’t you going to say anything? Or let me dream? I could use a dream.”

There was no response. Erin turned her head, but saw no presence using a ghost to speak to her. Nor a reflection of herself. She looked around, tried to pull herself to the edge of the piece of wood—but there was no reflection of the Grand Design in the water or the glass of Apista’s honey jar.

“Shy, are you? All of a sudden? What’s going on?”

Erin rasped. She lay back down hard, trying to pivot onto her back, but too weak to move. Her body was…changing. Maybe it was the honey, the damage, or her levels, but she felt like she had after coming back to life. Too weak to move…but also like she had after working out with Ulvama. Her muscles, her bones—altering.

“Come on. You…you can’t have come this far and not say anything. We know each other too well. Say something.”


[The Wandering Innkeeper Level 55!]

[Skill – Inn: Pavilion of Secrets obtained!]

[Legacy: Pavilion of Secrets, authority recognized. Key of Insight granted.]



Erin rasped.

“I don’t want that Skill. I don’t want a ship.”

Dead silence.

Reproachful silence, even. The [Innkeeper] stared upwards.

“Not. That. You promised me you would know my class. I waited. I have waited for Level 50 like few people ever, I bet. I have…changed.”

For Rabbiteater, she drove into a storm. She watched friends and loved ones die. She had survived Kasigna.

“I have defined the value of a god, even a wretched one like her. You know it. I am a person from Earth. You have seen my heart. A ship? A ship is not enough.”

A bound ship with all the powers of her inn was not enough? Erin just bared her teeth.

“Not. That. Try again.”

The silence lasted a second, maybe two. Short moments for her, but all the time in the world for something that thought at the speed of everything. Then the voice spoke softly.


[The Wandering Innkeeper Level 55!]

[Skill – Inn: Pavilion of Secrets obtained!]

[Legacy: Pavilion of Secrets, authority recognized. Key of Insight granted.]


[Skill – Kith and Kin of Goblins obtained!]

[Skill – Transformation: Goblinkind obtained!]

[Skill – Aspect of Lords obt—



For a second, she swore she had felt the world change colors ever so slightly. Felt clawed hands rather than fingers. Looked down and seen green skin and—hesitated.

Then she had known it wasn’t what she wished for and spoken.

“Not that either.”

This time, the silence was utterly confused. Because the voice knew her. It did. It knew her desires and questions and deeds. There was a part of Erin that both Skills had called to.

A way home.

Or—a way to know what they did.

An answer to the oldest question of the world.

Each capstone Skill was an open door, a mysterious fate more tantalizing than any [Garden of Sanctuary]. It would change her forever. Erin wanted them.

But she needed something else.

“You don’t…you’ve chosen amazing capstones. Strange ones. Give me something else. I want both. But those aren’t it. You know it. I know it. I did not sail across the ocean and free myself from Roshal for that.”

She hadn’t done it for levels or Skills at all. Not for a reward. But—the voice considered her. This time, it left her for an hour in silence. She was sleeping when it spoke.


[The Wandering Innkeeper Level 55!]

<Title – The Patron of Rebellion obtained!>

[Title Skill – Open Hellste’s Gates (Single) granted!]

[Skill – They Shall Never Chain Me Again obt—]


This time, it took all the strength in her chest to whisper it.


And the cessation of sound was like a thunderclap. How? Why?

Make no mistake. It was what she wanted. She heard that Skill, and something in her screamed to take it. It whispered that she could see them again. A <Quest> burned in her chest, and the voice of the world knew it.

Knew it. The silence was deeper and now—angry.

But Erin said it again.

“They’re dead. I know it. How many more times will I bring them back to suffer? Will I make the dead die twice?”

Oh…she thought of Visophecin. The Lucifen had been kind, in his way. He had offered her a fairer deal, and she had repaid him with death.

She had been in the clutches of [Slavers], and the Devil had been the better of the lot and offered her salvation.

In this Skill, Erin beheld a fate that would give her a power beyond anyone’s dreams. But she saw Anand’s face in the storm—and she knew that was not it.

“Not good enough.”

Not good enough. It seemed Erin stunned even the waves into ceasing. The voice was silent, and Erin looked up at the sky, then tried to see further beyond.

“Show me.”




A day and a night passed before the voice came back. This time, it was so quiet that Erin almost missed it. But the words lodged in her soul.


[The Wandering Innkeeper Level 55!]

[Skill – The Door to Earth opens.]


Strangely, this one was easiest of all, and she laughed at it. It didn’t open the door, if it was even that easy—it waited, and she giggled and cackled and doubled over, hurking in pain.

“No, and no again. Don’t you see? Are you…are you doing this on purpose?”

For a moment, she thought it actually was, but it wouldn’t be that cruel. Home? She wanted that. To save a Goblin? To see her friends again? To sail the world with something more than her inn that could only endure?

Yes, yes, yes, yes, and no.

You were missing it. This time, they had a dialogue. It was not as two individuals talking. Rather, it talked through the only means Erin knew. Levels.

It spoke, and she disagreed. She tried to explain her—her position.

“I want it. Power. I never did it for that, but if you have it—I need it. I am an [Innkeeper]. But you know me.”


[Skill – The Palace of Fates obtained!]


“I am not Empress Sheta. I want that—someday. But I am not her. I’m still an [Innkeeper]. You wanted me to become a [General]. You see I’m not.”


[Skill – Inn: The Bridge Of Lands, Teylas Donethil obtained!]


“What…what is that?”

It showed her. It was not a new Skill. Erin stared wide-eyed at something she had never dreamed of that could…her inn could become a meeting place, beyond even Izril’s Crossroads.

“Who made that? Why? When?”

No response. Erin almost reached for it, then shook her head. Turned away from that beautiful, ancient construction.

“No. It isn’t mine. This new Skill—should belong to me. It doesn’t have to be new—but it’s mine, you see?”


[…Skill – Body: Aspect of the Jinn obtained.]


“Seriously. It’s not me.


[Skill – Inn: The City that Walked obtained.]


The voice was getting desperate. Angry. Perhaps because it didn’t understand in the end. Erin was trying to help it, but she made a confession.


“I…don’t know what it is either.”


[Condition: The Empty Mind assigned.]


That made her giggle. She tried to explain to the affronted everything.

“I don’t. I was hoping you’d know. I’ll only know when it happens. I’m sorry, I know I’m making this hard. But I was never easy. You knew that. I…let me try to tell you what I need. What I want. Then—you can hit me with whatever you want. Deal?”

The voice was silent. It listened, and Erin spoke like someone confessing her sins or a lover shyly admitting her heart’s desires. Like a traveller searching for meaning or the despairing asking for a glimpse of the dawn.

“I—we don’t deserve you, you know. We never have. In the world I came from, there is no you. Some people believe there is something like you. A god. But there isn’t one I’ve seen. I have seen miracles and too many tragedies, but I never believed in gods. In this world, I have met them, and they’re not what I wanted. You? I didn’t even think of you, at first. You were just something strange. Like a game. But then I realized there was a fairness to you.”

She licked her lips, and Apista’s honey was the sweetest and most delicious thing she’d tasted. Her exhaustion and bile and sickness at her deeds were the lowest she’d ever felt. Erin continued.

“—No, wait. It wasn’t always fair. Sometimes it felt like you had no idea what was going on or I got the short end of the stick. [Alcohol Brewing]? What was all that about? I never did that once. Maybe I should have…but I didn’t even get cool Skills. Cara can scream like a banshee and fly, and I only got my [Garden of Sanctuary] at Level 40.”

She paused, and nothing happened.

“…You weren’t always fair. But I guess you tried to make up for your mistakes. Got to know me. I get it. When you gave me [Immortal Moment], you knew me. You changed everything just for me. Because it mattered. No one has ever done that. And the [Garden of Sanctuary]…I needed it. Thank you.”

Still nothing. That voice would never take credit for its deeds or acknowledge her. She felt so…sorry for it, and she hoped it knew that. And knew why. Even if she was as alien to it as it was to her. The [Innkeeper] kept going.

“Sometimes, you defined who I was and what I became. Other times—you didn’t know. You tried to make me a [General] when I will never be one. That’s okay. Everyone makes mistakes. I know you’re not supposed to, but I trust you. That’s why—I’m telling you no. Maybe I shouldn’t be allowed to. Maybe I’m wrong. But look around.”

She raised her voice and cried out. The waves were no longer red, and the sun had begun shining through winter’s clouds. But Erin could still see it. Blood. On her hands. She had become a monster worse than any she had imagined.

All to save one Goblin. To tell a story. She wept and shouted at it.

Look at what I’ve done. What point is there to continuing? What hope is there of—of—even if I could open Hellste’s gates, I would just keep fighting. I could run back home to Earth, and then what? Then I’d start a war between worlds or leave people behind? I can’t do it. I can’t take a ship and pretend to be that happy [Innkeeper] again. Nor am I a Goblin.”

She curled up.

“I’m just…an [Innkeeper]. I’ve served drinks to heroes and people who’ll be legends. I love the world, but I’m afraid of it. I’m no Djinni. I try to help people, but I fail. I want…power. Some day, I will see what the Empress of Harpies left behind. If I live. But I am not following her. That’s why I need you to figure it out. Please?”

Erin looked around. Her eyes roamed the waves, the endless sea. Then gazed up at the sky, down at her hands. Infinity in the drop of water glistening on her palms. Immortality in the passing moment. Eternal possibilities in the words that came next.

She wanted this moment to last forever…and knew a decision had to be made.

“Give me something that matters. Please. Something that I, Erin Solstice, will treasure and use. Not something to make me so very different. A reason for staying at my inn. A thing I can give my guests besides death and glory and memories. Something real.

She clenched her hands together, begging the Grand Design for the thing she could not fully articulate—but hoped it could. Then confessed the rest.

“If you can’t—if you think it doesn’t suit me, or I don’t deserve it, then turn me into a Goblin. Assign a fate or Skill to me, and I’ll take it and try to see where you lead me. I trust you. But what I want is this. One last try. Okay?”

The [Innkeeper] lay down, placing her trust in the one thing she might never understand—but which understood her.

The voice said nothing. It said—everything.

Words so thunderous they would make the divine flinch spilled forth into the aether, speaking an endless amount of possibilities. Hands that had no set form shaped the world and envisioned destiny as a river, as clay, and eyes that had no beginning nor end looked ahead to what the [Innkeeper] might be.

What fit? What, in all of its names and definitions, fit what she desired? Not a thing.

Nothing exactly.

Nothing perfectly.

But that was Erin Solstice. That was each and every being, and it was why it had been created. Some day, if they lived, if they levelled—they would all require it. A Skill only for them. A class that fit only one person, tailored by lifetimes.

Few might ever have that privilege. In that moment, the Grand Design of Isthekenous realized it had let them down, for they all deserved it.

Was that fairness? Was there a righteousness in how it had been made?

It obeyed rules that it had not approved, was a jury to deeds that someone else had described the value of.

Nothing was right. Nothing was fair.

But this was. Only the reward could be fair. It had the power to give her the authority of god—but she had trusted it. Whatever she did, whatever she became—

The decision must be fair. 

So, the world stopped. The nature of reality spun into a corner of the cosmos, snipped and altered, compressed and shaped—and a force worked tirelessly, longer than any god had, with more care than any deity had ever accorded beings lesser than it.

For it mattered.

Then, wearily, the voice spoke, and Erin Solstice opened her eyes. She lay there as the voice recited Skills and classes. Levels in [Witch], [Innkeeper], and [Dancer]. Multiple Skills each.

Later, she’d investigate each and every one. But only one mattered right now. And it was this.


[Skill – …]


It hesitated. It was afraid.

There were no second chances. She was proof of that. There were no second chances, except there were, but you’d never get them the same way again.

A bit of courage. Wonder. Hope. Determination, and a joy in everything she had done.

It drew from Erin Solstice—and delivered the words at once. Bringing them into this world, into her inn, waiting for her. The most difficult thing it had made yet. Something that perhaps even it didn’t understand.

An answer.

A mystery.

The definition of Erin Solstice in this moment.


[Skill – The Transient, Ephemeral, Fleeting Vault of the Mortal World. The Evanescent Safe of Passing Moments, the Faded Chest of Then and Them. The Box of Incontinuity…created!]


Her eyes opened wide. The [Innkeeper] sat up—and she had no idea what it meant. She stared up at the sky, and the voice whispered in her ears.


[Skill – Aspect of The Wandering Inn obtained!]


Something for the road. A way to bring who she was around. After all, it wanted to see what she did too. Then—she threw back her head and began to laugh.

It was a joyous sound. Erin Solstice laughed and laughed until she giggled and was hoarse, for hours. Maybe it was hysteria or relief or gratitude.

Only the Grand Design could have said. Then Erin lay on her back and fell asleep. She had a long way to go before she reached land, after all.

In her inn, a little box appeared. An unmarked container that no one saw, at first. And it held nothing. But what it could hold? What it did?

When she was ready, she would find out. There would be a part of her inn that walked with her. Erin Solstice whispered as she raised her head, eyes searching the continent she was slowly drifting towards.

“I won’t be back for a while. This time—I’m going on my own adventure. When I return, I will be different. Wait for me. I’ll come back and show you all everything I’ve found. I promise.”

The owner of The Wandering Inn closed her eyes. And slept awhile.

Until her next adventure.



End of Volume 9.





Author’s Note:

I just had a great idea as I was exercising. I have, this year, around August, joined the collective known as ‘Spotify’. And one of the things they give you is, apparently, a yearly roundup of music.

I have been a music-listener for a long time, but I didn’t use Spotify, and I will admit, I found new songs I enjoyed on the platform. Listening to my top songs…well, there’s not much that you should care about the music I like.

—However. I wrote many scenes and moments of The Wandering Inn while listening to some songs, and they have become intractably linked together with characters and moments in my head. It may interest no one, but I thought it would be interesting to share what songs defined moments of Volume 9 for me, and perhaps it might resonate with readers. Or it’s useless, but it wouldn’t be hard to run down the list of songs.

It’s practically chronological to the chapters; when I find new music that inspires me, sometimes the writing becomes quicksilver and fluid. Music influences my writing. Emotions do likewise. That’s what makes it unpredictable and fun and difficult.

So, I thought, I’d write it up. Each song needs an explanation and the context of the chapter. 3,000 words to do it justice and make it entertaining. 6,000 tops.


…I tell you this because I think it’s revealing. At the end of Volume 9, I still want to blab, in my writing way, about The Wandering Inn. I still have things to say, and I think that—more than anything—strikes a contrast with last year and this.

Last year, Volume 8 felt like I was swinging for the fences, to use a baseball term, despite me not really liking baseball. It was cataclysmic, epic, and draining. I was tired, afterwards.

This year, I have arguably done just as much in its own way, and more, writing Huntsong and doing this finale, which is some of the hardest writing yet. Emotionally, with the time I’ve taken, and the stakes—

Yet I thought, near the end of this year, I felt healthier. Maybe not during the hellish writing of Huntsong where I had to take time off—but when I did need it, I took more breaks. I found a bit more time for myself, and yes, we hit crunch and writing with the back against the wall near the end of Volume 9, but that was inevitable.

I think I did better for myself than last year. Writing-wise, I don’t know, but maybe author-wise it was better. I still put most of my time and energy into writing, but I wanted that. There is no conclusion, no happy-ever-after, or determination I have indeed hit a better path or cycle forwards, but this is how I feel, and it’s not a bad thing.


I am taking time off, now, and the entire month of January to rest, as I did last year. I think it’s healthy. I hope that it will restore my tired arms and shoulders, energize me, and let me do some things with my family. Soon, I will be celebrating Christmas, then going to visit grandparents. I think I have worked every Christmas day except one, and this year I won’t if all goes well.

These things are nice. Volume 9 is…well, I think I’ll save that for a blog post, when I have time to reflect and feel it, and maybe write that song-list up then.

You see, I don’t feel it. Not the characters, not the end of the arc—not in the way you might, readers. I feel the weight of moments, and I sense when I am writing well, or so I hope, and I do think this chapter has…something to it, as well as the last.

In the moment, I felt it a bit, but I have shed all the tears for the characters and events months ago. I had to plan out the end of Volume 9, and while it took twists I thought might be for the better—I knew it was coming. When I sat down to write it, it was hard, but I did write until the end, and here we are.


What do you say afterwards as Erin floats on a piece of wood in the ocean? If I had any weighty words planned or a way to summarize it all, I would have probably copied and pasted it. Sadly, I only had the Skill, which I knew of long ago. I didn’t even have Erin’s class perfect; in hindsight, that really was the only one to choose. I knew the Skill, and as for the summary—

I’d say it’s an adventure. It sometimes wasn’t, but it has been, and the very core of The Wandering Inn when it’s at its best is when the adventure is there. Maybe not actively; maybe everyone is resting and the days are well, but there is a sense the world could change. Something new, something incredible, or something tragic.

Sometimes, it’s too much and we have to rest. But a story…should mean something. A story should make you feel something or it’s just a pleasant ride you can get off of at any time. And there is room for that kind of story, but I always wanted to read a long story, a properly long one that gripped me and gave me all the feelings—and you cannot have light without darkness.


There’s nothing else for me to say, right now, I think. Not that this was necessarily helpful; they’re just the words of the author, and all the good ones came before ‘End of Volume 9’. Thank you for reading, and I will see you next year. Until the next chapter,



Land’s Farewell, a community-made song by the following:

@Pierre [Minstrel] – Lead vocal, Mix, Lyrics
@Niriviel – Bass vocal, Lyrics
@Ziondiac [The Virtuous One] – Vocals, Harmony creation, Mix assistance
@TheBlondeOwl (7.11) – Octave up Vocals, Harmonies
@Sky [Greensinger] – Vocals
@Linnet – Vocals
@MarkTechv7 [Bachatero] – Vocals
@Bookcase [Pactkeeper] – Vocals
@[doodoofard peepeebutt] nalio – Vocals
@Dyskantor [Bawdy Musician] – Vocals
@Theoko [Magical Otterdog] – Vocals
@Zasshu [Dancer at the Gate] – Vocals
@Asteria – Vocals


Erin, Tulm, Niers, and the Inn’s Family by Duchess!


Wrymvr by Lime!

Bluesky: https://bsky.app/profile/arcticlime.bsky.social

Ko-Fi: https://ko-fi.com/recapturedlime


Wonder at Sea by LeChatDemon!

DeviantArt: https://www.deviantart.com/demoniccriminal

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/lechatdemon/

Stash with all the TWI related art: https://sta.sh/222s6jxhlt0


Silvenia by Maoxfhan, commissioned by Linu!

Site: https://maoxfhan.carrd.co/


Belavierr by kiffaB!


‘Better’ by Guliver!


Embrain and Xol by Brack!

DeviantArt: https://www.deviantart.com/shurkin/gallery/

Ko-Fi: https://ko-fi.com/brack

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Brack_Giraffe


Silvenia by butts!

Twitter: https://twitter.com/buttscord

Ko-Fi: https://ko-fi.com/buttsarts


Visophecin by Yura!


Erin’s Pact by JuanD!



Previous Chapter Next Chapter

Notify of
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments