10.08 (Pt. 1) – The Wandering Inn

10.08 (Pt. 1)

On the road to Elvallian, a trade road that passed along the great jungle of Baleros, beneath huge cliff faces, and all the way from beaches on each side of the continent, there was a city. If you took the road from Talenqual past Yoill, you’d get to the city of Ramok.

It was an older city made in the eras of Naga greatness. That meant it was stone, not wood, and the walls were actual walls. Twelve feet of stone. Just enough to make any attacker regret their life choices.

The city itself was actually not one that Lizardfolk loved; the walls and stone buildings within didn’t encourage rampant growth. This was a city meant to remain, not twist and evolve with rapid surges of Lizardfolk migration.

A city for Nagas.

Recently, in its long history, it had been held by the Forgotten Wing company for nearly eleven years before the Jungle Tails company had seized it during their rapid advances on Forgotten Wing territory. They had claimed and reinforced the city with sizable garrisons, and until now, Forgotten Wing had not marched on the city.

It would have been a messy effort to try, even with siege weapons; conscious of War Walkers and the propensity of enemies to flood a gap, Lizardfolk walls were thicker than normal. Sometimes they left gaps in the middle of the walls and filled them with cheaper mud or dirt, but the result was that no War Walker could just burst through a wall and press an advantage.

Thus, Ramok had been one of the foremost cities for Jungle Tails to fight from, literally bordering other Forgotten Wing-held cities.

It hadn’t affected commerce and civilian life as much as you’d think. Oh, [Traders] and [Merchants] made note of the new leaders and took care not to visibly support one side—or if they did, to avoid the other.

But civilians in Baleros were protected by the accords of war; they could travel, and short of a battle happening near them, which company ruled their city could be seen as a matter of politics. So long as you didn’t care about the [Soldiers] who had fought and died to lose or claim this place, of course.

This all held true of Ramok except on one occasion. Then—the Lizardfolk citizens who liked to carve graffiti or art on the walls of Ramok, that city littered with images of Naga, Lizardfolk, Baleros, and sometimes genitalia—

Then they looked up, and a great cry arose, and they fled or hid in their homes. Horns blew, and Naga by the hundreds ordered Lizardfolk to the walls, where they whirled slings and lifted bows and stared at the army come to claim this city.

Huge siege ladders, battering rams, their wet leather exteriors soaked to resist flaming arrows, and Selphids. Marching by the thousand. Led by Vanguard Captain Hoisq—under the command of General Gloriam himself.

One of the legendary Selphids of Baleros serving the Forgotten Wing. The Naga occupying the city were surprised by this attack and ordered their reinforcements to get here on the double. They thought this was a protracted siege…until they realized the Selphids weren’t content to wait for even the encirclement of Ramok.

The first wave advanced as stones and arrows and crossbow bolts rained down around them, fearless of the weapons. Only exploding [Fireballs] made them flinch; Lizardfolk ran frantically to throw down siege ladders; even the Naga looked wary of going hand-to-hand with a Rampaging Selphid.

If the Selphids closed, they had the advantage, especially with the lack of healing potions.

Still. For every Selphid who made it to the base of the walls, three were struck by a projectile or forced to wait in dangerous lines to ascend. Taking the ramparts might take an hour even with every [Soldier] hitting the walls.

Vanguard Captain Hoisq was waiting for a gate to fall as Lizardfolk hammered a battering ram to pieces with spells. Two more were rolling forwards, and Hoisq stood there, grim and armored. He had all his personal gear on; they hadn’t asked him to return his blades or enchanted armor.

He’d need them. He’d seen Gorgons readying themselves—they wouldn’t be on the walls, but in the streets where they could fight with enough room for their huge forms. The Selphids around Hoisq were grim, and it was all Selphids pushing into the city.

“This is our last battle with Forgotten Wing. Make it count, brothers and sisters! Take the walls now! I want them down in twenty minutes!




Siege ladders slammed against the battlements as the Selphids carrying them raised the rickety, light frames of wood higher. Lizardfolk rushed to the first ones going up on the eastern flank; the encirclement of the city was underway, and the Lizardfolk were shouting, ready to hurl the ladders down and stab any Selphids coming up.

They had the high ground, and any Selphid climbing would be exposed to killing blows from above. Nevertheless, ladders were as quintessential to the mind in siege battles as battering rams.

Experienced commanders knew how hellish ladder battles were; you used them to overrun smaller garrisons who couldn’t defend all of their walls. Ramok could. And even if you had the numbers…Hoisq had seen Reim defeat an entire army of Nerrhavia’s Fallen at their walls.

The first Lizardfolk running to knock down the ladders didn’t see any Selphids climbing, and the leader of a squad went to shove the ladder backwards. Only as he neared did he realize the ladder was a bit…off.

No Selphid was climbing it. They were milling around below. And the ground was…


[Earthen Rampart]. A slope of earth slowly lifted the first Selphids upwards, and the Lizardfolk [Captain] blanched.

“It’s a feint! They’re going up ramps! Dispel! Dispel!

A Lamia holding a staff cast [Soil to Mud], and one of the ramparts collapsed. Selphids struggled out of a pool of mud, but dozens of ramps were rising.

Get ready to stab them! Hold the gap here and here—fire all the arrows you’ve got, and don’t stop those slings!

The Lizardfolk squad leader screamed. He was bracing a group of twenty-four Lizardfolk for the Selphid charge when he remembered the siege ladders. The Lizardman looked sideways and blinked.

No one was using the ladders. So why bring…? He saw something glint on the top of a ladder, then saw a small knob on the top. Several knobs; orbs of wood, really. Or rather, something glasslike painted brown. A red, cherry glow was revealing something inside—

Run! It’s a—




The first explosion made Hoisq smile grimly. The siege ladders were bait. Some exploded; others cast a powerful light or sonic spell to hinder the defenders. Some were just ordinary ladders so hastily thrown together that they probably couldn’t support anyone’s weight.

The Titan knew how to siege a city. Despite the best efforts of the defenders, the Selphids began to charge up the ramps onto the walls. But they didn’t overwhelm the Lizardfolk; they were still charging into lines of Lizardfolk troops and—worse—magic.

“[Wall of Blades]—back! Back!

A group of Selphids heading up a ramp had a second’s warning before a line of razors appeared, phantasmal, black blades of magic cutting and hacking. One of the Selphids made it through the wall as the others threw themselves back, and a dozen spears impaled the [Soldier].

Hoisq stopped smiling. The wall spell forced the Selphids back, leaving them exposed as Lizardfolk pelted them with arrows. But only for a few moments.

“[Shieldguard]. Forwards.

The slower-moving infantry had arrived. A pair of Selphids stormed up the ramp, carrying giant tower-shields. They faced the storm of blades, ignoring the arrows pinging off their shields, and then advanced into the spell, angling their shields sideways as they made contact with it.

The magic flexed, the blades scraping against two enchanted shields, and the Selphids heaved and tore the spell apart, the blades dissolving into shimmering air. The Lamia spellcaster defending this section of the wall only had time for a look of dismay before the two shield-carrying Selphids rammed forwards. When they slammed into the Lizardfolk, it became a contest of strength, and Lizardfolk began falling off the ramparts as the Selphids advanced.

Faster! Faster!

Hoisq encouraged the others as he held a shield over his own head. The battering ram was almost at the gates, and he saw it pulling back, readying itself for the first concussive impact. They had no time to do this slowly; reinforcements would arrive at Ramok too fast for a protracted siege.

The only thing that would make the city of Ramok less than a gauntlet of hellish battles would be overrunning the Lizardfolk so fast they couldn’t retrench. Hoisq watched the walls as General Gloriam, observing with non-Selphid forces from afar, calmly gave fire support.

Ramok was no famous city. No Drake city or one built with ancient stone or Mithril or some such. It was just a city. With twelve-foot-high walls.

Dead gods, but even a foot of height mattered. Selphids stormed upwards, and bodies fell, Lizardfolk, Selphid—until Hoisq saw wounded Selphids changing bodies mid-combat. The walls swarmed with activity, but he didn’t see a break after five minutes. So the Vanguard Captain gritted his teeth.

“Blood and sweat it is, then. Roll up the 2nd Selphid Vanguards on the east flank. Get those gates down. Now. We’ll need multiple breaches before we can pierce the city’s headquarters.”




The siege of Ramok had an audience of people watching the fighting. Lizardfolk, watching from a hill, some concerned for their home’s fate.

Others—ghoulish observers watching the war like they were an aspiring Sir Relz or Noass, commentating on it, even holding up scrying mirrors to show people.

—But there were no actual news teams here. Ramok’s fate didn’t ‘matter’. It was Baleros, so it doubly didn’t matter; even the King of Destruction taking most cities was a five-second highlight these days.

New, lemon-zest cookies from a Terandrian bakery? That was what the people needed to hear about. At least, according to a lot of news crews.

War was depressing. Disturbing for a lot of the audience. Why cover it egregiously? Ramok didn’t matter until it did.

Even for a band of Earthers and Fraerlings, riding fast on the road north to Elvallian, Ramok didn’t matter. They had more important questions to answer, like what would happen if you fell off a horse while you had a [Haste] spell and [Fast Travel] Skill on you?

Death, possibly. Or, more saliently—here was your real question that mattered today.

…Could monkeys cry?




Erin Solstice saw the world blurring with each step the horses took. She didn’t know horse speeds, but if you assumed a normal horse could canter at a good pace—not gallop, you weren’t in a race—then you doubled it with [Haste], you went faster.

[Fast Travel] from point to point worked even better when you had an established road, and horses loved the smooth roads worn flat by constant travel. Of course, it wasn’t a straight line, but how fast were you going at that speed?

Fast enough that falling meant something really terrible happened to you. Let alone hitting someone else. So normally, even if you had all those buffs on you, a horse couldn’t get up to proper speed.

…Unless there was a literal column of [Soldiers] forcing foot traffic to either side, giving you a straight shot down the road. Then you felt like a celebrity or, alternatively, the guest of one of the Great Companies of Baleros.

[Soldiers] standing at parade-readiness kept raising their weapons as the Bushrangers, Erin Solstice, and a full complement of [Riders] sped by. Regular people pointed and stared and often shouted at Erin if they recognized her, but the Human passed by so quickly their voices were lost.

They’d reach Elvallian tonight at this rate. It wasn’t like the city was that remote, and a day of good travel with General Diomedes had set a good way already. However, today was a lot less comfortable.

Pghau! Fuck! God damnit!”

That was the sound of Aldenon, one of the Earthers, getting hit in the face by a bug at speed. Not only did it splatter the bug across his face, but it hurt. He might have actually fallen off the horse, but the [Scout Lieutenant] who’d been assigned to guide them north checked on Aldenon.

Plus, the lieutenant had [Stay in Your Saddle], which meant even when Aldenon reeled, he didn’t fall off the horse’s back.

Your friend’s bleeding a bit, Captain Daly. Nothing serious.

Can we slow down a second?

The speaking stones were the only way of hearing anything at the speeds they were moving. The [Scout Lieutenant] checked the road as he sped up.

Give us six minutes and we can stop at General Gloriam’s position. He wants to meet Innkeeper Solstice, and we need to link with his forces for fresh mounts.

That would be a relief. Erin had encountered a mosquito and a large fly at speed, and while neither had broken skin—she definitely still had some on her face.

It turned out moving at incredible speed wasn’t fun, which was why people like Tyrion Veltras wore armor and why Ryoka Griffin flew high when she could.

The second day of travel was going well, besides that. Daly Sullivan lowered his speaking stone and decided a full helmet wouldn’t be that bad. If you enchanted it with a fresh air supply and did something about the atrocious vision with Fraerling magic…well, that was going into magical armor territory.

Here he was operating like a guerilla while Flynn got to fly around in fucking super armor. Even the Fraerlings thought that was impressive stuff.

I wonder if he’s had to kill anyone with those flame spells. Roasting someone alive…that’s not easy.

Sometimes, Daly hated being the person who knew what it was like to actually fight for his life. He doubted he’d ever watch a movie the same way. Hearing people talk about how brave they’d be or how they could kill a monster if they had an enchanted crossbow…

He looked ahead at Erin Solstice. She hadn’t said who her mysterious visitor was last night or what they’d agreed upon. She just rode, ignoring the bugs slapping against her clothing, having bid farewell to General Diomedes this morning.

She’s a bit off, isn’t she? Privately, Daly thought General Diomedes, the colorful Cyclops—one of the last of his kind, certainly, what he claimed to be one of the last ‘civil’ Cyclopses who’d had an education—had been a bit let down by Erin.

Oh, she’d thanked him profusely, and they’d left an impression on each other, but for an [Innkeeper] of wonders and so much chaos, he’d really just met her, had a decent chat, and seen her on her way.

You could argue that was the best case scenario with Erin, but she reminded Daly of a shot arrow. Passing by other people on her mission, too fast to leave an impression. Perhaps that was for the best, but those other people included him.

They had a chance to talk when they finally slowed down, and a suffering Aldenon could finally apply water to a bunch of goo plastering his face and mouth.

Erin got off her horse somewhat unsteadily and tried not to massage her thighs too visibly.

“I hate riding.”

“Gets to you, doesn’t it? We have to ride around, but I forgot you might not know how. Chafing?”

Erin, wincing, took a few steps as the horses were led aside; Daly saw an entire army in the distance surrounding a city with smoke and distant, familiar sounds rising from the walls. The hairs on the back of his neck rose. Siri stopped petting her horse, and her head snapped up.

“Is that General Gloriam and his army? They’re sieging a city.”

She turned to the [Scout Lieutenant], and the Lizardman brushed at his neck-frills as he turned his horse. He had green scales that flared to red along his limbs.

“Ramok. I just take you where I’m ordered, Adventurer, Miss Solstice. Don’t worry; if General Gloriam’s present, it’s safe as a bunch of eggs guarded by a Gorgon. You can even see his aura from here, can’t you?”

At first, Daly didn’t get what he meant. The distant city and figures fighting along the walls dominated his view, but he realized the Forgotten Wing army sieging the city had an odd formation.

There were [Soldiers] encircling the city, pressing a very aggressive siege, but the majority of the army was actually sitting in a giant circle near the eastern gate. Which was just bad strategy, really. Ranks of [Archers] and [Mages] were supporting the infantry, but that meant only one side of the city had actual support.

Stupid…until Daly saw someone hurling a [Fireball] from Ramok’s walls at an enticing cluster of [Archers]. As he watched, wincing, the [Fireball] shot towards the unprotected group…and exploded in the air.

Not from any interception fire or a spell. It burst on a huge, bright nimbus of air surrounding the entire army. When Daly squinted and rubbed his eyes, he swore.

That’s a fucking aura?”

General Gloriam’s aura was so massive it enveloped his forces, who were camped watching the fighting while providing ranged support. The Lizardfolk were predominantly fighting the [Soldiers] trying to overrun the walls; every arrow and spell they fired at Gloriam’s forces just bounced off that barrier in the air.

When the Earthers, Erin, and Fraerlings got closer, they felt more of the aura. It was as if every eye were drawn to a Selphid standing on a chariot, arms folded, as if, from afar, someone were holding up a magnifying glass.

When he turned his head, Daly could see the Selphid’s face; he had the visage of a commanding Dullahan, but his pale skin and the orange lines gave him away as a Selphid. Gloriam’s eyes caught Daly, and the Bushranger froze, but even from a thousand feet away, everyone saw Gloriam smile as if he were right in front of them.

That was presence. And that was General Gloriam the Invincible, another of Forgotten Wing’s foremost leaders.

“Aw, hell. He’s looking at us, Daly. My skin is tingling.

Tobi whispered, and Daly muttered back.

“Yeah? Well, look good. Remember your Ken-training. Come on! Erin’s not even fazed!”

Indeed, the [Innkeeper] was striding towards Gloriam and his army as a detachment rode towards her. She was smiling as if meeting him were fun, not piss-terrifying. A Human on horseback called out, waving a hand, and Daly was surprised to see a fellow Human in command.

“Good morning, Erin Solstice! And to the Bushrangers and Tallguard of Paeth! I am Strategist Mella in service to General Gloriam! He regrets not riding out to meet you in person, but he decided to speed up the siege of Ramok. I trust General Diomedes left you in good health?”

Cotm and one of the Forgotten Wing people met Mella and confirmed all was well, and Daly raised a hand and tried his most iconic greeting.

“Wotcha, Strategist Mella. We’re the Bushrangers, and I’m Captain Daly Sullivan. Pleased to be here!”

He gave her a wink and a grin, and the [Strategist] cocked her head, and her eyes lit up.

“Hm. Not Izril or Baleros. I’m from Izril; what a fascinating group! Hello, Captain Daly, Miss Solstice.”

She dismounted quickly, and Daly got a glare from some of his team like Tofte, who thought he should be more discreet with his Earther-slang.

However, being charming was one of the things that helped the Bushrangers get around Baleros, and most people didn’t pick up on the greetings as that unusual, just interesting.

Strategists. Marian, Umina, Kissilt, and Cameral had all been that sharp. He shook hands with Mella as Erin glanced at Gloriam.

“Sieging a city sounds casual.”

“You get used to it around General Gloriam. I’m sorry; I’m Mella Hausteil. I used to live far up north in the House Terland lands. It’s a delight to meet someone else from Izril!”

Erin’s eyes lit up, and Daly had to think to even remember that was one of the Five Families. But Erin knew of them.

“Really? I’ve never met anyone from House Terland’s holdings before. Oh, Lord Xitegen and his people, but never someone who lived there. Are you a noblewoman or…? Where are you from?”

Mella laughed in delight.

“Oh, no. Nothing like a noblewoman. My parents were talented [Golem Artificers]; that’s a prestigious job there. I’m from near Cooiland itself.”

Erin’s face screwed up.

“…The Terland’s biggest province?”

“You have it! I’ve been meaning to go back home for nearly a decade now, but the Titan got his hooks in me after the academy, and now I’m a career [Strategist] in the Forgotten Wing. I was a student at his academy—”

The [Innkeeper] gave Mella a dry smile. Daly shook hands with Mella—she had a firm grip—as Siri and a few others gathered up. Mella indicated the waiting Gloriam, and they walked towards him on foot.

“Ah, that explains everything. What’s it like in the Terland lands?”

Mella was eying the Bushrangers’ gear.

“Very…managed. I used to say ‘civilized’ because no one else had Golems to work fields or even sweep streets, but managed is the best word. Golems do a lot of work, and the Terlands are fairly good at being stewards. There are a lot of rules for Golems, and people, but it’s all in contrast. I used to think the House of El were beggars, and the worst thought in the world was being in service to a Reinhart. In hindsight, I suppose it’s just Golem-centric. Nothing like what I see of Liscor on the news. Captain Sullivan! Drath?”

“What? Uh. No.”

Mella snapped her fingers in clear disappointment.

“Damn. Samal? I only ask because General Gloriam’s offered a reward if I can figure out where you’re from. He knows, but everyone below the top brass is guessing, and Gloriam loves to tease us.”

He knows? Daly raised his brows, then realized how patently unfair it was to make this a test. Erin’s face was straight as Dawson snorted; Mella focused on him.

“And you’re Adventurer Dawson! A full [Roughshod Mercenary], or do I not have the class right? You and Centaurs have that class in common.”

“What? How do you—?”

Daly saw Dawson jump, and Mella offered him a hand and a charming smile.

“I have to do my research. I would love to chat if we have time! Gloriam might make me take you north to Elvallian; it’s not like I’m needed here with him handling the siege.”

She sighed, and Daly saw Siri nudge Dawson, but he was already shaking her hand.

Well, they’re ferreting us for information. I guess it’s safer than some since Niers already knows we’re from Earth. 

Then again, that was no excuse to be sloppy. Mella chatted with Erin on the few minutes’ walk to Gloriam.

“You’re one of the most famous Humans I could name right now, Miss Erin. I shouldn’t ask, but…do you think the Antinium would consider moving to Baleros? At least a few of them? The Forgotten Wing might host them, if only to learn.”

“The Antinium? They might, though they hate water. Are you that keen on learning about the Black Tide?”

Mella nodded.

“Oh, of course. A new species, and one overlooked by the world? You have stirred up debates among the [Strategists] and officers I know about your stance on Goblins, Miss Erin. If I had met any, I might have tried communication first—a word of warning, Gloriam doesn’t remember Velan fondly. He survived a battle with the Goblin King before Velan left Baleros.”

Daly whistled, and Erin frowned.

“…You’ll meet Goblins sooner or later. I hope you try to communicate, at least, Mella.”

That seemed mild, given her reputation, but Strategist Mella simply sighed.

“Maybe on Izril that would be true, but Goblins in Baleros are rarer than you think, Miss Solstice. I don’t want to disturb you, but the Goblin King arising from Baleros means that Goblins are killed on sight. Aside from a single tribe that the Professor brought, I can’t name the last time I heard of a Goblin tribe out of the past tense. [Mercenaries] will hunt most down for the bounty on their ears.”

Daly didn’t like hearing that, and Erin’s brows darkened, but before she could ask for more details or mention the two Goblins they’d met as a contradiction to Mella’s claims, every head was drawn to the [General] himself.

“Innkeeper Erin. We meet at last.”

General Gloriam was, like many Selphids, not embodied in any one single body, but his personality. If he could wear any form, what you got to know a Selphid by was their nature, which could be influenced by the form they wore.

And what General Gloriam was defined by seemed to be…

He had chosen an older Dullahan’s form on purpose and either dyed the hair or the Dullahan had been naturally gray. Gloriam stood very straight and didn’t actually move that much. He preferred to emote with perfect posture and actually had a somewhat stilted motion as he rested his hands on the lip of the chariot.

—But his tone suggested that the world’s events and Erin’s life had been building till this very moment. Gloriam stared down at Erin, weighing her up, not with disappointment but with an analysis that found her wanting.

His glance at Daly actually left the Bushrangers’ Captain stumbling, as if he’d been flicked. Aura. The Dullahan felt as big as General Diomedes in his way.

“General Gloriam? A pleasure to meet you.”

Erin smiled. The [General] did not.

“We’ll see if it justified the effort on Niers’ part. For a woman whose very life is sought after by Othius the Fourth and Erribathe, you have no people around you. Guards? Surely. But not people. I wish you had brought them; a leader is defined by their subordinates. Ser Solstice, at the very least, you will introduce to me in time.”

“—Thank you for your warm welcome.”

The [Innkeeper] went on after a beat, and Gloriam stared at her. He did not give Daly or Cotm or Resk an opening to introduce themselves.

Could you use aura in a conversation? It felt like someone was literally blocking Daly from speaking, and the Bushranger worked his jaw—until he saw Mella grimacing at him and shaking her head. So this was apparently normal.

Gloriam went on, eyes looking Erin up and down.

“I met King Raoverles near the end of his life. The Blighted Kings are sometimes fortunate enough to be long-lived, though their family lines die off quickly. He had more of a penchant for soft power; Othius sees a foe in Greydath. Why not? That Goblin Lord has murdered more adventurers and leaders of this world than most Demons.”

He met the last Blighted King? Daly stared until he recalled that Selphids were another long-lived species, even if it was highly variable with their Wasting disease. So it seemed like Forgotten Wing had used even older legends than it, to get to where it was.

Erin Solstice peered at Gloriam, who was dominating the conversation and clearly expecting a response. What did you say to someone who had met two Blighted Kings? Well—

“I’ll pass on any refreshments, General. Thank you for offering them, but I believe I’m expected in Elvallian. I just learned one of my friends is there. Ryoka Griffin. May I introduce you to the Bushrangers and Tallguard of Paeth?”

Gloriam’s eyes narrowed a fraction as Erin gestured sideways. He didn’t look away from her, but barked.

“Your aura is pathetic for someone alleged to have one. If it’s left behind with your inn, you had better reclaim it.”

“General Diomedes sends his regards.”

The two locked gazes. Even Gloriam’s command staff looked slightly impressed at Erin’s refusal to dance with the Selphid. After a second, Gloriam grunted.


Erin blinked, raised an eyebrow.

“Don’t you have a battle to begin?”

Gloriam’s bark had sent a [Tactician] running with a chessboard on a stand. He gestured to his chariot, and it was clear he was inviting Erin to stand and play with him.

“Beating you in a game of chess would be worth it to hold over the Titan. I hear the levelling issue with [Strategists] has been partially resolved. Come, let’s clash in your setting since it would appear I have no chance of you entering my domain.”

He beckoned, and Erin stood there and raised her brows. Her reply came after a moment of hesitation.

“…If you like, I’ll lose to you on purpose, General Gloriam. Otherwise, I assumed a famous [General] would know better than to take a battle he’s already lost.”

Ooh. Siri smiled and turned away to hide it, and the Selphid’s underlings looked to him. Mella had a look of delight on her face, and General Gloriam eyed Erin.

“Does the [Innkeeper] of The Wandering Inn have the ability to predict every battle she can win or lose? That’s arrogance in any setting.”

Erin’s eyes glinted.

“I don’t recall you at my chess tournament.”

Oh snap. Daly suppressed a chortle, and after a moment, General Gloriam motioned the chess board aside. He gave Erin a thin-lipped smile.

“Barely passing for someone of your level. Join me; the chariot is warded. Even my aura cannot protect us during a battle fully. I won’t explain to the Titan or Foliana why you were sniped under my aegis.”

Erin climbed up into the chariot as Daly exhaled, and Gloriam glanced down at him.

“United Nations company?”

“Er—yes, sir.”

Gloriam’s eyes fixed on Daly with the knowledge of Earth shining in his eyes. He nodded.

“Intriguing. I’ll wait for that war. My greatest battles are not all behind me.”

Ah. Wonderful. Daly exhaled as the eyes left him. Another war maniac.




General Gloriam was, for all his haughtiness and poise, not without some graces. The Bushrangers and Fraerlings were provided with food, and Gloriam did let one of their number join him: Alchimagus Resk.

He bowed to Resk stiffly, and Erin had the chance to ask about the battle. Gloriam brushed it off.

“This one will be done within two days at maximum. We’re besieging Ramok, and once we take the walls, my forces will move in and occupy it. They’ll be impossible to dislodge; I will strike from Ramok and push Jungle Tails south. They’ve gained too much ground that the Titan ceded with his little jaunt to your continent. Diomedes and I won’t take more than a month to grind them back into the jungles, though rooting them out entirely might prove impossible.”

Erin eyed the Selphids on the attack and the unique formation of troops.

“Is there a reason your aura isn’t covering the Selphids? Are those all Selphids?”

Gloriam gave Erin a nod.

“My people, yes. This group is separate from the forces I will command. I would cover them, but it’s more practical to hang back. My aura loses effectiveness the closer I get.”

“Bloody battle. Don’t you have siege weapons?”

Resk muttered in dismay, staring at bodies falling from the walls. Selphids had taken several breaches, and the Lizardfolk were retreating into the city, but the sounds of fighting were intensifying. Gloriam shrugged.

“Not enough to cover an entire continent, Alchimagus. If I were in command of one of my principal armies, I would have a catapult group. This force is acceptable.”

Erin glanced at Mella and the general’s underlings.

“Ah, so these aren’t your best people? Isn’t a [General] defined by his underlings?”

Gloriam’s eyes glinted, and he shot back without a pause.

“Mine are capable of performing their tasks even at range. Moreover, I have outlived many of my best followers. Strategist Mella, like many of my current staff, is being trained up.”

“I see. So this is just another day to you, then.”

Erin’s eyes went back to the Selphids fighting. It was obvious, even to the Bushrangers and Tallguard, that this was not a normal battle. How much Erin could tell of the strategy was unclear, but the Selphids were pouring over the walls and now through two breached gates, shouting and urging each other on.

It looked grim. Gloriam saw Erin’s eyes following a group of Selphids pressed into a knot as one of their charges up an earthen ramp failed. The [Soldiers] were attacked from all sides until another group could break through the encirclement to rescue them.

“I wondered how you’d take to Baleros, Erin Solstice. I warn you: this is no place for bleeding hearts. Drake cities and Izril’s north fight genteel wars. Baleros has two Lizardfolk for every Human or Drake of Izril. If I were you, I’d meet with the Titan and go back to the continent where I belonged.”

The [Innkeeper] glanced at Gloriam, and he was unmoved by the edge of her gaze or her tone. But he did listen.

“I met Diomedes yesterday. Are you one of Baleros’ greatest [Generals], Gloriam?”

“Many have said it. Historically, perhaps not. In this day and age? Yes. I have locked horns with every commander you could name as foe and friend, including the Titan.”

The Selphid folded his arms, and Erin gave him a longer look.

“Then I’ll take your advice under consideration. But I’ll hear out the greatest authority on war first, not his underling.”

Gloriam’s eyes narrowed. This time, his aura tossed Erin off his chariot.

“I say! [Featherfall]! Oh shit, she’s too—”

Resk tried his best, but Erin was too big. She sort of slowed—twisted—hit the ground—and Gloriam stared down at Erin. She sat up slowly, and he spoke down to her.

“You may think you have entered the territory Niers, Foliana, Diomedes, and myself belong to. Taking one step into our domain means nothing. [Innkeepers] level faster than [Generals]. You look as weak as an ant to me. I listened to your interview. The words had substance. If you cannot back them up, it would have been better to leave them unsaid.”

Erin panted as she sat up with a wince.

“[Innkeeper]…is somewhat weak at fighting. But catch me in my inn and we’ll have a real showdown, Gloriam.”

“A strong woman in one spot does not scare me. Take a [Warrior] class and come back after you do.”

“I’ll think about it. Do you act like this with everyone?”

The Selphid [General] raised his brows.

“I don’t usually humor them this long, but yes.”

“No wonder you’re so isolated.”

Gloriam and Erin were still going at it. The Selphid [General] looked like he was getting genuinely annoyed, but that might have been Resk sniggering in the background. The Fraerling innocently put his hands behind his back as Gloriam spoke.

“I can see this meeting would have been better served in a diplomatic function. The battle is clearly distressing you. I will have Mella escort you on your way. Give the Titan my regards.”

Erin had gone back to watching the battle for Ramok. She half-turned as Gloriam beckoned, and Mella broke off from talking with the Bushrangers.

“One question, General Gloriam?”


Erin pointed at the Selphids fighting along Ramok’s walls, and her brows drew together.

“I thought Niers was better at strategy than this. Or does he enjoy tossing his [Soldiers] into the fire?”

She indicated the struggling Selphids and Gloriam’s mostly inactive army aside from the ranged support, and the Selphid [General] paused. He exhaled, and his brows furrowed as he opened his mouth, then discarded what he was about to say.

“Figure it out yourself, Miss Solstice. The Titan’s paramour should be able to do that. Mella. Ready yourself. Oh, and fetch some clothes for our [Innkeeper] or Niers will shout at me, doubtless.”

Erin had dirt on her from the toss. Gloriam turned away from Erin, and she was dismissed. He only recalled something as she was walking away, still eying the battle, and called it after her.

“Ah, that is right. Mella has found one of your associates, and I believe they might reach us before you leave. Tarry until they arrive.”

Erin half-turned, and then Gloriam did look around and crook a finger at the [Strategist].

“I will meet him as well. Of the two, he might be the more fascinating guest.”

“Yes, General.”

Then—as Ramok continued to echo with dying Selphids and Lizardfolk, Erin’s eyes were drawn again to the walls. Until the question was posed to her and to the Bushrangers, who stirred as one of Erin Solstice’s associates was brought forwards:

Can a monkey weep?




It was a strange question that Daly Sullivan had never had to ask before. Could a monkey, or another subspecies under the mammalian umbrella…weep?

“Ape, Daly. That’s an ape. Technically. I think.”

The Bushrangers were arguing as a figure slowly walked across the ground, dismounting from a chariot. Not a horse; he might not have been able to ride a horse properly. Certainly, the other animals, used to Lizardfolk, Human, and various riders, were more skittish around him.

“You sure?”

Tofte hesitated and peered at the figure slowly walking across the ground. His back was hunched; he had orange fur and grey-black, leathery skin around his face and hands. But the rest of him was shaggy; he was short, not least because of his hunched posture, probably only five feet tall at most. But his arms were long, and his feet were closer to second hands themselves.

Erek was actually a fairly large Orangutan and might have been eighty kilograms; he walked slowly, shuffling, as Strategist Mella walked with him, looking fascinated but somber.

Thus, the question.

Could a monkey—no, an ape—weep?

The answer, when Daly thought about it, was obviously…yes? He’d had a dog, and if you went to dogs—then they could cry and definitely howl. But Daly realized he’d never actually seen his dog cry for anything.

In fact, in Earth’s species, Humans were the one creature who actually produced tears when they wept. So if you wanted to get technical, other primates, and other species in general, did not actually have the ability to cry.

…But if you were going to go by liquid extruding from your eyes, then you had to say that crocodiles could weep. They could produce tears as well—hence the term ‘crocodile tears’. Of all the species in the world, Daly wouldn’t have put crocodiles on his list of cryers.

But weep? He’d seen his beloved dog wailing when he got his paw jammed in a door. Weep…primates like apes or monkeys were as close to Human as you got. Even if there weren’t tears, could they mourn?

It was not a question Daly had ever asked in the twenty years of his life. Today, he looked at Erek, and the Orangutan looked—lost.

Seve-Alrelious, the Hundredfriends Courier, was dead. The famous Sea Courier, who had voyaged to countless nations and forged ties with the people he had helped across the world, had perished.

Seve, who had bested a Hag Queen at the battle for Liscor, destroyed Crelers at sea, had killed Bloodtear Pirates, and gone up against Rosech. He had almost won—but even the flesh of Tombhome hadn’t saved him from being beheaded.

He was a single casualty among many. Arguably…one of the ones the world knew better than even Knight Embraim or Halrac the Grim.

Daly had met Seve. He had also met Erek, the ooking, funny Orangutan, one of the more memorable of the magical animals bound to Seve’s body in the form of tattoos.

It surprised Daly that Erek was alive, but he’d forgotten the animals were real; it was just that, with Seve, they couldn’t die and their ‘bodies’ were temporary. If wounded, they’d just go back into stasis on Seve’s body, passengers on his great journey.

With the Hundredfriends Courier’s death, they had been released. And some of them, a handful, were with Erek.

Not the Nelgaunt or many of the various species. They had already begun to fracture, no longer able to even exist in the same place as each other. Only Seve had allowed them to co-exist.


Erek was holding a limp form in his arms. As the Orangutan walked, he gently carried a small, badly-scarred dog in his arms. A puppy unable to walk; Dawson made a sound.

“Fuck. What happened to that poor bugger?”

Nothing recent. Daly looked at Strategist Mella, and she hesitated, then hurried over to him.

“Are those Seve’s friends? Did someone attack them?”

“No. Not the Bloodtear Pirates. Or anyone afterwards. We found Erek on the Nelgaunt. He left Calanfer’s ship with a bunch of animals and it put them ashore at a harbor. I think the dog’s one of the Hundredfriends Courier’s…friends. He appeared like that.”

Daly stared at the dog. He heard, now, a labored panting. Why would Seve have an animal in such bad condition? It looked like the poor puppy had survived something. A fire, or maybe a monster attack?

Then Daly heard Siri mutter something.

“They were immortal when he was alive.”

Ah. Suddenly, it made sense. Daly heard Dawson swearing under his breath, and the bigger man turned away. That was Seve’s power. So long as they had a bond, so long as they existed as ink on his body, his friends feared neither death nor hunger nor pain.

They could go with Seve, passengers and companions on a great adventure. Now?

Erek shuffled forwards, step after step, gently cradling his friend, as a pair of cats, one of whom had come from Liscor, followed him. Three birds, one a parrot, another a huge albatross, and the third a tiny, bright, little Creona Flashbird, flew from the air and landed on a tent. A final creature, a giant centipede of all things, crawled after Erek, making the hairs raise on Daly’s neck.

The Orangutan’s eyes were huge and brown. They did not glisten; again, Orangutans could only shed liquid to clear dust or lubricate dry eyes.

He had no tears, but, as Erin Solstice turned, Erek’s voice could be heard.

Ook. Oook.

It was the quintessential sound they made. A strange hooting coming from his chest. But it was pained and low—a voice breaking. He stopped as Erin Solstice started towards him, and Erek raised his head. He began to lift a hand as he gently cradled his companion in one arm—then it faltered. He covered his face with one hand for a second, shielding his eyes—then waved weakly at Erin.

Tried to lift his lips in a smile, but the smile never came. That—those gestures, Daly understood.

“Bloody hell, man.”

Tobi managed as the Bushrangers, Tallguard, and Erin met one of her lost companions. The [Innkeeper] was silent. Her eyes had lit up when she saw Erek, but now, she advanced slowly as Mella gave introductions.

“We found him at the harbor. A lot of his animal friends were actually adopted or—Erek didn’t want to go to the jungle. He was looking for you, I think, Erin. But two of his companions passed away, and, ah…we did all we could. They were gravely sick.”

She gestured. The Fraerlings had recoiled from the two cats, but neither one seemed inclined to go hunting for the smallfolk.

The puppy made a whining sound as Erek walked forwards, and Dawson had to step away.

“I can’t do this. Let’s go join the fighting over there, okay?”

He pointed at Ramok, and Siri patted him on the shoulder. Some of the others, like Aldenon, were more struck by Erek.

“Wow. I didn’t know Orangutans could cry like that. I mean, I knew they were smart, but—”

The Earther began, and Erin moved. She had been regarding Erek and the little dog with a blank face. Now, she turned her head and snapped her fingers.


Aldenon stared at Erin blankly. She met his eyes and pointed at him.

“Add that to a list of the stupidest things you’ve ever said in your life.”

Then she turned and walked forwards to Erek. The Orangutan’s head was bowed, but it rose, laboriously now, to look at Erin. The [Innkeeper] slowed as the dog regarded her with one good eye. Now, she saw the reason for his panting: he had only one working lung. Terrible burns had consumed the left half of his body, and the dog was laboring for breath.

“Hello, Erek. You made it. Who’s your friend?”


Erek indicated the puppy, and a little tail tried to wag. Erin reached down to pat his head and hesitated. Erek gently rubbed a finger along the fur on the dog’s head, and she copied him.

Daly almost didn’t have the nerve to follow her, but he joined Erin and nodded to Erek.

“Uh. Hey. I’m Daly. We’ve met, Erek. At Talenqual?”

He wasn’t sure, but the Orangutan turned that terribly bleak expression to him and nodded. As if to say ‘of course’. He was looking Erin up and down, and the [Innkeeper] gazed down at the puppy with a bleak expression.

“How many didn’t make it?”

Erek held up four fingers, and Erin began to speak—then he shook his hand. Held up three fingers.


Nod. Erin’s own head dipped.

“I’m sorry.”

Erek didn’t dignify that with a comment. He turned to the Bushrangers, and Daly tried to speak. But the damn dog—Erek scratched the head as the dog tried to whimper-yip at them.

“Oh, come on. Even if it is a giant ball of teeth and fur—has no one helped the creature?”

Someone’s voice broke. One of the Fraerlings standing on Siri’s shoulder jumped onto Daly’s arm, and Alchimagus Resk looked down at the dog with a piteous expression on his face.

He gazed around, and Strategist Mella coughed.

“We did try when we found Erek’s friends; we even called for healing potions and [Healers], sir. But the animals were either wounded or sick from some diseases. Most passed right away. We could do a magical prosthesis, maybe, but the dog’s got damaged lungs. Both of them. There’s not much you can do. A Jar of Air, maybe, but it’s a dog, and…”

Resk looked at the [Strategist] incredulously.

“Nothing else? Haven’t you tried any fleshshaping magic? Or—or at least you could try—[Bountiful Air]? Something for the lungs? Even [Lion’s Strength].”

“On a dog? How many times would you have to recast that per day?”

The [Strategist]’s stare made Resk almost yank his beard off. But he turned to Erek, whose head had snapped to him.

“Put the little fellow somewhere, would you? So long as it won’t hurt him…I can cast those two spells, at least. That’s what you do with lung damage. It sounds like he’s in pain. [Numb Pain]. There.

He put a hand on the dog’s side, and instantly, the little dog stopped wincing. The reason they might not have applied that spell became obvious, though; it began to wiggle, and Erek had to ook insistently until the dog lay still. He looked around for a spot, and Strategist Mella pointed.

“I have a tent, er—Alchimagus. You can use that.”

She was so fascinated she followed the Orangutan, Resk, and Cotm, who had Paeth on the line as they followed Erek inside. When the Orangutan came out, he looked moderately more hopeful.

That still meant his entire face was sagging, and he sat down, cross-legged, in front of Erin. The [Innkeeper] had been looking at the battle for Ramok. Now, she turned back to Erek.

“I am sorry. I was looking for you. And Ryoka and everyone who came with me.”


Erek pointed at himself, then spread his hands. Erin paused…

“I haven’t found anyone else. But Ryoka’s at Elvallian. I’m heading there now. The Titan—Niers—wants to meet me.”

He nodded. Erin paused again, looking more awkward than Daly could remember seeing her. But she was carrying on a conversation with the Orangutan as if he were, well, a person.

“I’d like you to come with me. Unless you have somewhere else to be?”

Erek jerked a thumb at the two cats and indicated the birds. He made flapping motions, then pointed at the giant centipede. Then he shook his head.

The centipede seemed to have come to a decision. It had entered the tent, provoking a shout of horror from Resk, but whatever it had seen or sensed, it was apparently satisfied. It came out of the tent, circled Erek twice, and when he lowered a hand, it nipped at his fingers. Once—then began to scuttle away.

It was huge, and it made a beeline away from the camp, past [Soldiers], towards the forest in the distance. Erek waved a hand once, but the centipede didn’t even look back. If it could even see him…the parrot flew over the centipede.

“Goodbye! Awk! Goodbye forever!”

“It’s a fucking centipede. Don’t do this to me.”

Dawson hadn’t been okay since the dog, and even the centipede made him brush at his eyes. Daly couldn’t take his eyes away from Erek. The Orangutan’s head had risen to follow the centipede, and his waving hand had lowered. Now, he sat, and a cat hopped into his lap, and he gently scratched it behind the ears.

When he looked up, it seemed as if a terrible weight had been lifted from his shoulders slightly by Resk’s help and another friend going.

It seemed as though he had lost something forever. No—he had already lost that.

The rest of the pieces were finally falling away. But then the Orangutan stood tall, chest thrust out, and met Erin’s eyes with a terrible dignity.

A monolith of grief. Eyes looking Erin up and down. A long arm pointed at her, and she dipped her head.

“Yes. For me.”

Erek nodded. Then he turned to the side, and Daly saw he had a bandolier of sorts. It had a single potion on it, a bag of holding—

A longsword strapped to Erek’s back. The Orangutan fished in the bag of holding and fed one of the cats some dried meat. Then he offered some seeds to the parrot.

“Sad. Very sad. Seve dead. I’m Rommo!”

The parrot landed on Erek’s shoulder. He had brilliant yellow plumage and let the Bushrangers pet him on the head. When Erin tried, he gave her a nasty peck to her fingers.

“Bitch! You bitch!”

Erin yanked her hand back, and Erek half-grinned at that, showing his teeth. The [Innkeeper] exhaled as General Gloriam, who’d gone back to the battle, called out.

“Mella. If the Orangutan is grieving, I will pass on the introductions. At Innkeeper Solstice’s convenience, she may leave.”

…And that was that. It seemed like the second leader of the Forgotten Wing had more important things to do than meet Erin, and the [Innkeeper] looked at Erek again.

“Come with me, Erek. At the very least, we can find a place for your friends.”

“Not in Elvallian. The Titan won’t like cats.”

Cotm spoke hastily. One of the cats meowed at him, and he hissed back. But Erek just nodded. His eyes hadn’t left Erin since he had spotted her, and he stood still, inspecting her.

Judging her, perhaps.

He unsettled Daly; it was like having a wild animal pull up a seat next to you at a bar. In the end, there was still some aspect about Erek that felt like having a creature in your presence. Or maybe that was just Daly’s biases.

For the Orangutan clearly understood everything Erin said. And she…she stood there and looked burdened for the first time since Daly had met her. Erin’s eyes turned back to Ramok.

To the Selphids. They had taken the walls, and Erin glanced at Mella as the [Strategist] emerged from her tent.

“I think that dog might make it. Your Alchimagus wants us to take it back to Paeth. I’ll arrange that—we won’t be more than ten minutes until we’re off to Elvallian, unless you have anything you need to do, Miss Solstice? Bathroom? Refreshments? We’ll have to get your companions a wagon…”

“How’s the battle for Ramok going, Mella?”

The [Strategist] grimaced and glanced at the city as she put a hand to a glowing earring. She tilted her head, listening, and shook her head.

“They’re stalled out in the streets just past the walls. It’s a butcher’s yard, but Hoisq and his people can pay the bill. Don’t worry; Gloriam is continuing to provide covering fire.”

Indeed, his army was moving forwards to continue bombarding the city, but not a single [Soldier] was moving to reinforce the Selphids. Erin stared at the city as Erek gave her a sideways glance.

“I see.”




Erek the Orangutan could not speak. Even when he lightened up a bit with the Bushrangers, he couldn’t do it.

“Siri. Si-ri.”


He did his best, but his lips just didn’t move right, or maybe it was his vocal cords? Erek could show an amazing amount of rather white teeth. And he didn’t smell as bad as you thought.

Even dogs had an intrinsic…animal odor to them. But Erek smelled a bit like sweat, the foreign scent of another species, and shampoo. He was munching on a ration bar as the Bushrangers stood around him.

Fascinated and, since they knew him, not as cautious, but uncertain how much of what they said he was getting. Because that couldn’t be all of it, could it?

“We’re, uh, with Erin. So are the Tallguard. Fraerlings.”

Yup, yup. Erek approximated their height with his hand. Siri was most interested in Erek.

“Have you met Fraerlings before?”

Erek shook his head instantly. Then shrugged. He held up a finger.


“You mean the Titan?”

Nod. Erek was checking out the army now Resk had assured him that his friend was actually going to be fine. He jerked a thumb at Gloriam, then waved his hand in the air.

“That’s General Gloriam.”

I know. The Orangutan gave Daly a patient look. He waved his arm wider, then slapped his chest.

“Oh? His aura? Yep. That’s his aura.”

This time, Erek actually poked Daly in the chest. He covered his brow with one hand, then sighed. He tried again. He indicated the aura—then jerked his thumb at Ramok. Gave a shrug and held his hands up, palms facing the sky.

“Why…aura…Ramok? Why isn’t the aura covering Ramok?”

Nod, nod. Daly stared as Siri explained something about what they understood was going on. A thought occurred to Daly as he stared at Erek.

“Hey, Dawson. Get something to write with, would you?”

Daly remembered meeting Mrsha, who couldn’t speak. What if they got something for Erek? It was a far-fetched idea, but…maybe he could draw? Erek glanced at Daly as Dawson got some paper and a piece of charcoal out. When given to the Orangutan, Erek scribbled, using one hand to write. He looked fairly awkward with his gangly limbs, and Daly realized even writing wasn’t necessarily something Erek was built for in the same way as Humans.

Erek passed a note back as Siri looked around.

“Erin ready yet?”

“She said she had to take a shit.”

“Well, gee, thanks. Don’t announce it for everyone, Dawson.”

“Hey, I’m just repeating what she said. Fuck, today’s weird. That Gloriam guy’s a pissant, but he seems tough. You think Forgotten Wing is making an example of those poor Selphids?”

“I heard from Mella that they’re trying to quit. So they got given this assignment.”

Dawson whistled as the note came back to Daly.

“Damn. And they didn’t just say no?”

Tofte pulled a face.

“Maybe they couldn’t.”

Daly took the note, and the writing was atrocious, probably because of the paper and charcoal. He grimaced as Erek handed the charcoal back as well.


I can’t write.


“Damn. Worth a shot—”

Daly hesitated, and Kami nearly spat out her drink as she read over his shoulder. Everyone stared at Erek, and he winked as he slung himself onto his feet. But he was walking on his hands and feet, loping forwards and staring around. Erek sniffed the air, and his eyes narrowed. Tobi stared at Erek’s note.

“Holy fuck, Daly! He can write! Did he always know how to do that? I thought he was just Seve’s buddy!”

“He’s way smarter than a regular Orangutan. Maybe it’s a Skill? But Seve’s dead.”

Kami stared at Erek’s back. Siri frowned at her.

“Maybe he’s just smart. Regular monkeys can use tools. Plus, this is a magical world. If he has a bit of magic in him…why not?”

“Yeah, well, that’d make him a person. Which is weird. I mean, don’t people eat monkeys?”

“They eat octopi too, and octopi are smart.”

“Not that smart.”

“They can open jars. Babies can’t open jars.”

“So? Octopuses taste good. Don’t start, Kami—

The Bushrangers were arguing about the relative intelligence of animals. And one of said animals was currently knuckling his way across the ground. Daly broke off from the Bushrangers.

“Hey. Hey! Erek! Get back here!”

The Bushrangers snapped around as Daly shouted, but Erek was heading away from General Gloriam’s camp, out of the protective aura, towards the only other interesting thing about.


Gloriam had advanced very close to the walls, but his aura was literally like a shield, and no one was attacking his forces anyways. But leave the golden haze of his power and—Erek was angled towards the southern gates. Daly began to run after him to stop him when he saw something else that made him curse.

“Oh shit. What’s she doing?”

Siri looked up and dropped her snack bar. Dawson heaved up incredulously.


The [Innkeeper] was striding, no, jogging towards the walls of Ramok. She must have given Mella the slip, and they were close enough that she could be mistaken for another [Soldier]. But Erek had noticed her moving, and the Bushrangers turned and began running.

“Erin? Erin!

At the first shout, she broke into a run. The [Innkeeper] headed straight for the gates, broken ajar with a flaming alchemical substance still burning on the ground around a destroyed battering ram.

And she had a crossbow and wand in her hands. She half-turned as Daly pounded towards her.

“Stay there!”

He faltered a step, and Erin Solstice locked her attention on the city beyond. Selphids were still climbing ramps, though most had already pushed into the city proper. There was screaming from beyond the walls. Explosions.

A battle for a city. As someone who’d fought in Talenqual just this year, Daly knew how hellish it would be. His blood ran cold at the thought of entering the fight.

Erin was someone who’d seen more combat than he, to hear the stories. What was she doing? The [Innkeeper] was against one of the broken pieces of the gate, out of sight from anyone on the other side. She peeked—took a step around the broken gates—and someone stopped her.


Behind her, some [Soldiers] had noticed the Bushrangers running and had begun shouting. Strategist Mella looked around from tending to the horses.

Where the hell were the other minders? The Fraerlings had been gathered around Resk and had let their guards down. And the [Stalkers]?

Siri’s head twisted, and she saw something and stared—Daly saw a Lizardwoman, arms folded, vanishing into the air—but no one was stopping Erin. Gloriam had lost interest in her.

That was until Erek grabbed Erin. For an Orangutan, he moved fast. And he did not do something like grab her arm, in a very Human way, and remonstrate with her at the gates.

He grabbed her head. A long arm reached up, seized Erin’s head, and leathery fingers pulled Erin’s head down.

“Argh. Erek. Stop.

The Orangutan made Daly slow as Erin struggled in his grip. But Erek’s eyes were very serious. He was staring at Erin and turning her head left and right. He met her eyes as, wincing, she raised her crossbow and wand.

But she didn’t aim them at him. The Orangutan shook his head. She nodded.


No. His grip tightened, and Erin gritted her teeth.

“Let go. Don’t come with me.”

No. The Orangutan regarded Erin, then dragged her backwards a step. He raised his other hand and broke a piece of the sooty door that had been Ramok’s gates. Then he traced something in the ground.

Daly had just caught up, and panting, he stared at Erin. Erek drew on the ground with a jagged piece of wood. He tossed it aside, looked at Erin, and his eyes met hers.




The [Innkeeper] stopped trying to pull free from his grip. The Orangutan was still, but there was a deadly quality to his form. The feeling before explosive violence. Daly half-raised his crossbow, and Siri grabbed his arm.

Erin did not miss the danger. She spoke in clipped tones as, behind them, Daly saw out of the corner of his eye—

Gloriam turning his head.

Erin and Erek ignored the [General]. The [Innkeeper] was panting. The air was hot, and not just from the smoldering flames. The city beyond was embattled. Blood was on the ground. Daly could see dead Selphids and Lizardfolk. Not as many as he thought there should be; Selphids had reused the bodies to keep advancing.

This is crazy. She’s crazy. He knew that, but this wasn’t even a big battle. However, Erin’s voice was low, intense.

“They’re getting slaughtered trying to take this city. Niers has sent them to their deaths because they’re trying to quit. They’ll lose most of their forces trying to take this city.”

So? Erek pulled back his lips, revealing his teeth. Erin winced.

“Let me go. You don’t have to follow me. Daly, stay back. You too, Cotm.”

Erin, you are to get back from the gates now or—

Cotm’s shouting through the speaking stone belied his ability to stop her; he was a Fraerling. Crossing the same ground the Bushrangers could run across was harder for him. However, Erek just shook his head.

He pointed at Erin angrily, now. Why you? Why? Why?

His eyes were blazing. Erin’s neck was straining now, but she didn’t look afraid. Just intent. She met his eyes, and her voice was hoarse.

“I have great sympathy for those fighting overwhelming odds. I’m going. No one else has to die.”

She turned, and a voice snapped through the speaking stone. Daly could see him looking at her now, and a leaden weight seemed to push him down.

General Gloriam.

“Erin Solstice, whatever you are planning on doing, desist. The force beyond the walls has chosen their fate. They are doomed to victory or defeat. Your presence is completely irrelevant.”

Mella was racing towards them with her people. Erin lifted a ringed hand to her mouth.

“They’re only your doomed soldiers, Gloriam. I’ve never met them.”

Then she turned back to the ape.

“Let me go.”

Erek pointed down at that word written in the ground. One last time. He gazed at Erin hard, as if trying to understand this woman. And there was a real hatred in his eyes. A good, burning hatred that could only come out of someone who had loved and respected her.

Betrayal. Grief. Incomprehension. The Orangutan was still weeping for Seve. He met Erin’s eyes, and she gave him only one word in reply. Her lips drew back, and she showed him all her teeth and spoke one word as if it were all she needed:


The ape stared at Erin, and his orange-furred hand hesitated. He studied her, looking her up and down—and then, suddenly, let go. He scratched his head with two fingers as he stared at Erin. But whatever he understood, or didn’t understand, he let go without a word.

Daly tried to grab Erin instead, but she was too fast. She stepped around the door as she spoke.

“Stay back.”

Daly lunged, but an arm halted him so effortlessly it was unnerving. Erek shoved Daly back a step, and his other arm reached up and drew the longsword from his sheath. Then he took a breath.


Erin Solstice turned her head, and her eyes glinted. She stood at the gates of the city, and Gloriam’s voice thundered around them. The Bushrangers hesitated, and Daly’s mouth went dry. Then Erin Solstice strode into the city next to Erek.

That—incidentally—was worthy of the news.




“She’s doing what?

Laken Godart was but one of the many people who heard the news. He couldn’t see, so the image of Erin Solstice heading into the gates of a city at war was something that had to be described to him.

The [Emperor] wasn’t the only person to speak those words, however.




Lyonette came storming out of the [Garden of Sanctuary], demanding answers.




The Titan had been writing a few lines and revising them with a dictionary he’d written himself open before him.

He had been going over a little speech for her over a late breakfast as Ryoka Griffin and both Genevas, rare additions to the usual gathering, glared at him. Foliana had been eating Ryoka’s favorite food: a jumbo hamburger with extra pickles. She’d been realizing that it was not the Wind Runner’s favorite dish.

When Gloriam sent Niers an alert, everyone but Foliana leapt to their feet. Niers swore.

What are the minders doing?


Foliana saw the Titan whirl.

They should have grabbed her. Are you insane?

“Mm. Is she?”

He didn’t bother answering. Cursing, Niers began to yell orders at Gloriam, who snapped back at him. Ryoka just grabbed the scrying orb.

Erin could not be doing this. However, her gaze reflected the same thing being picked up on scrying orbs around the world.




“She’s doing what?

Paxere had been in the middle of half-celebrating, half-recounting her deal with Erin Solstice to the older Lucifen, including Vultapheles. They had been marginally complimentary, which was as good as showering her in champagne, and everyone had been keen to see if she could manifest her powers.

“—Well, we’re now in danger of losing our second contract. Wonderful.”

Vultapheles’ brows darkened, and Paxere spun to the scrying orb. She felt Erin’s connection with her even as she saw the [Innkeeper] entering the city.

Paxere hadn’t even noticed. And that wasn’t due to ignorance—she could feel Erin’s tension, stress, focus—and yes, anger. But it hadn’t changed markedly since they had struck a deal. Sorrow had oozed into the mix along with a fragment of hope, but nothing…

“We will not interfere.”

One of the other Lucifen said instantly, and all nodded. Vultapheles glanced at Paxere.

“There is only one stakeholder here. And even if Paxere were willing to risk exposure, she is not ready for open combat. She must master her Warform, if she can even attain it. What is that [Innkeeper] thinking? You didn’t give her a weapon, did you, Paxere?”

Every eye became suspicious, but Paxere protested.

“No! The deal was completely straightforwards, as I stated! She has a piece of me. Her gear is made by Fraerlings, but—”

“Perhaps she levelled? A new class? Or she’s just foolhardy.”

One of the Lucifen who had gone with Visophecin to war at sea was nursing injuries still. A baleful, red-eyed stare caught Erin Solstice running through the city.

—The [Innkeeper] had cleared the gates. She was running, moving from the gates to the wall of a house half-collapsed. Stepping over bodies. Keeping her eyes lifted, peeking around the corner before sprinting forwards. She was advancing cautiously, and no wonder: arrows were beginning to land around her now, forcing a group of Humans back as they tried to chase her.

She had armor on and doubtless had magical protections, but Paxere’s stomach twisted. If Erin got killed now, what about their pact? No—what happened to the piece of Paxere in Erin? Their souls were to revert in case of death, but Lucifen were different from mortals.

What was she thinking? Then, as the Lucifen watched, Vultapheles narrowed his eyes and asked the real question.

“…Is that an orange monkey?”




The moment they entered the city, Ramok changed.

It ceased to be a city under siege, turning into a warzone. The air was stinging with smoke. The ground around the gates was stone, and pieces had been blown out of it, creating treacherous footing.

A Selphid was trying to crawl forwards; it had to be a Selphid. Only a Selphid could have lost half of their torso and still be moving. Blank eyes stared up at Daly as, panting, heart beating out of his chest, stood with his crossbow drawn, back to a wall.

“Erin! Get back here!”

Even the shouting was drowned out by the thrum—reverberations from explosions in the distance—and the shouting and clash of metal on metal ahead. But the [Innkeeper] kept moving.

She wasn’t running—she was darting from cover to cover, head low, peeking, never in the same direction. Erek was doing the same. He had the longsword that glinted with lightning in one grip and an intent look in his eyes.

“—ahead. I see them. Selphids are pinned down on this street. They have Lizardfolk on the roofs. It’s a killing field, even with the greatshields.

Erin was speaking into her ring. Someone had cut Gloriam out of the channel; they needed to hear each other. Daly began to run forwards. If they dragged her back and she fought—

A shower of arrows splintered off the ground. His blood froze, and Dawson dragged Daly back.

“They know we’re here, Daly! What’s the plan?”

Dawson was looking for targets, but there were none visible. There was a cracking sound and a curse; Erin had just ducked as a crossbow bolt splintered right above her head. If it had gone down half a foot—

Her voice was disturbingly calm.

“Bushrangers, if you want to do anything, give me some covering fire. It looks like the entire city rises until you get to the center. I’m guessing the Selphids are advancing from all sides, which means they’re being attacked constantly. You hear that, Gloriam? Erek—that roof, there. There’s a Naga with a bow.”


“On three.”


Daly called out, and he didn’t even see her look back. The Orangutan tensed as Erin crouched—

The two exploded out of cover, and the Orangutan went straight up in an incredible jump. They had been sheltering behind a collapsed section of a building, but now, the ape grabbed a ledge seven feet above and swung himself up. He pivoted, and his other hand grabbed the lip of a roof. Rather than climb up it, he began to shimmy along the wall, fast.

He swung, and Daly saw that there were lines of laundry, even colorful pieces of fabric, strung from house to house. All of it soot-stained or bloodied; simple dressing for this battle.

Except that the ape seized one line, heaved, and went flying through the air. He landed on the side of a building as if it were sticky, then launched himself out of sight.

“Dead gods! He is a monkey!”

Another quote Aldenon would later add to his list of lines. Erek’s maneuvering was like the Tallguard’s: it ignored the ground and was unpredictable, like someone used to a forest. He was fast and moved with a keen understanding that staying in any one place would get him killed.

The sight of an Orangutan might have given the enemy cause to doubt their eyes. Erin was simpler; she burst from cover in a sprint. Daly saw her round the corner and shouted. He was terrified. He had a flashback to Fezimet. An understanding of what he was doing when he burst from cover, but he still said it.

Bushrangers! Tallguard! Take that building and that one! Cover Erin!

Then they were all running.




The [Innkeeper] fired a burning ray from her wand across the city, and a group of Lizardfolk [Archers] flinched. They were hunkered down with short bows on the roofs of houses, flanking one of the main streets.

Nearly three hundred Selphids were pinned down in the street, hiding behind buildings or hunkering down, immobile, bearing huge metal shields that were closer to moving barricades than anything else. Those had enabled their advance—but it had stalled out as crossfire began picking them off.

An arrow landed next to some Selphids shielding their faces with smaller shields and exploded; they rocked back, and a group of Lizardfolk with spears charged around the barricades, hurling themselves into close-quarters combat.

Kill them! Where is Captain Hoisq?

A Selphid grabbed a screaming Lizardfolk by the head and snapped their neck with a terrible crunch of bones. If they were facing a killing field, the Nagas also weren’t shy about sending the Lizardfolk to take horrific damage to kill the Selphids.

The worst part was the Nagas themselves. They fought like the commanders they were, screening their advances with Lizardfolk. A Gorgon would rear up, sink venomous fangs into a Selphid—a Lamia would cast a bolt of lightning and then slither away—

The Forgotten Wing Company’s [Soldiers] knew how to kill them. The Lizardfolk charge was routed as Selphids leaned around the buildings and picked them off, and the ones behind the tower shields fought, but the skirmish let one of the Naga archers loose another exploding arrow at a group of Selphids.

The screaming, burning Selphids tried to find other bodies to evacuate into, and the [Lieutenant] who’d broken the first Lizardfolk’s neck staggered back, a shortsword buried in her stomach. It cut her real body, but she ruthlessly excised the damaged part and checked her corpse.

Intact. She wished it had been an excuse to fall back.

Captain Hoisq has taken the western quarter! He’s pushing forward and calling for all forces to continue to advance!

“Advance? How?

There were bodies and hastily-made palisades in front of them, some on fire. They’d have to abandon the tower shields to get through, and the Lizardfolk were ready to cut them down.

More shouts, and all the Selphids ducked.


The arrows went wide this time. The Selphid [Lieutenant] evacuated her bowels in her body as a rain of arrows passed overhead. What were they aiming at? More reinforcements?

She turned her head, expecting to see more stragglers, about to order them to turn and find another route into the city—when she saw a Human throw herself behind a collapsed battering ram.

A Human? The [Lieutenant] hesitated.

“Vossk, did you see that? That can’t be Gloriam’s troops. The bastard’s left us out to dry.”

One of the other [Vanguards] panted. Vossk glanced at the walls, and another shout went up.

Volley! Push! Push!

None of the Selphids moved, even as the air darkened and arrows rained down—from past the walls. Gloriam had unleashed a volley of arrows and even spells like [Magical Arrow], but he had no real targets. Still, it kept the [Archers]’ heads down and gave the Selphids a moment to charge.

No one did. Vossk raised her head and peeked past the sh—

An arrow blew the top of her head off, exposing her body’s brains. Vossk jerked her head back, panting.

That Naga’s got a bead on us in the tower. There’s another on that roof!”

The second Naga had a cloth awning over their head, and it must have been enchanted or a Skill had been used on it because no arrows had torn a hole through it yet. Their command squads were responsible for a third of the Selphid casualties on the street.


A shout came from behind. One of the [Sergeants] was roaring at her, but Vossk didn’t move. Her squad had fought for the last hour and a half into the city. She’d watched her commanding [Major] get bitten and die, flailing, from Gorgon venom. One of her [Captains] had been sliced apart by a Lamia [Rogue] right before Vossk had impaled the Lamia.

Damn the Titan! Damn the Minds, and damn all this!

At this moment, Vossk wasn’t thinking about loyalty to species or a Great Company. None of the Minds were on this street getting picked off or being told to run into a crossbow bolt to the face.

Who is that?

Someone was shouting, and Vossk broke off whispering pleas for this to be a dream and for someone else to reinforce her to see the Human behind her moving.

It was a Human! She stood up and fired something from one hand. Then she began running. A beam of orange light flared from her wand, and Vossk’s eyes widened.

That was a powerful spell! She swore she felt the passage of it overhead; something hot and burning. Both shots probably went wide, but a distant boom of sound made Vossk sure that it had been an enchanted bolt. The Human strode forwards, and her crossbow visibly reloaded for her—she put her back to the wall of a house, and fired again.

That’s officer-grade equipment. Who the hell was she? Strategist Mella? She kept moving. In fact, that was the only thing keeping her alive. A second after she sprinted from her building, an arrow exploded and kicked her in the back. The Human stumbled; Vossk checked her Skills, swore—

“[Take Cover], you idiot!”

The Human leapt forwards, and something shattered on the cobblestones next to her. Vossk saw her peeking around the cover, and she heard a distant voice.

—up! Get up! They have you pinned!

We know. None of the Selphids moved. Vossk’s eyes swiveled to a group of Selphids crouched down, using a bunch of barrels as further cover instead of lifting the bows they were carrying. Then she heard a command crackling through the speaking stone.

This is General Gloriam. To all Selphids—priority orders! If you spot a Human, your priority is to keep them alive!

Orders? Now? Vossk would have shouted an oath back, but then she saw the Human emerging from cover again. Wait—

Erin Solstice emerged from cover, and her wand flared bright. A [Molten Ray] burst across the streets, melting the stones around one of the Lizardfolk positions; this time, she swept it, and a Lizardfolk clipped by the ray shrieked as it swept over them. Erin pointed, and the beam didn’t end; she fired her crossbow as she ran forwards.

The beam of light winked out and then burned out of the wand again. Once. Twice. Three times!

She was burning through the wand’s charges! Vossk saw the young woman’s teeth were bared. Erin kept shooting the wand until even the Naga [Sniper] had stopped firing. There was a shriek—and then a crash of stones. Vossk peeked up and saw a half-melted tower falling, molten stone dripping from one side as it collapsed—

“Dead gods!”

The Human woman finally reached the rearmost Selphid lines. She bellowed now, loud enough for them to hear.

Get up! Lizardfolk are massing down the street! I saw them shifting position—if they flank you, you’re dead!”

That was true. Vossk’s paralyzed mind told her that if the Lizardfolk flanked them, the Selphids would really be caught by crossfire. But she didn’t move.

On your feet!

The Human was bellowing, and now someone shouted in Vossk’s ear.

“That’s—the [Innkeeper]! Erin Solstice! The one Diomedes went to pick up!”

No. Vossk stared back at the woman. Her brown hair was untidy, and she had armor on…Humans looked the same. But it could be? She was grabbing a Selphid’s arm. Someone else cowering, who’d seen their friends dying around them.

Probably some poor [Soldier] who’d followed the order to resign en masse. Then been told they had to pay their way out with a bloodbath. Sieges did not go like this normally. Vossk had survived four, and they were slower, more deliberate—both sides tried to save as many lives as possible.

This was wiping out high-level forces on both Forgotten Wing’s and Jungle Tails’ sides! Only, the Titan knew his Selphids were quitting.

Again, the Human pulled at the Selphid’s arm, and the Selphid, wearing a reclaimed Naga’s body, shoved at Erin, lashing out with his claws. The [Innkeeper] stumbled as more arrows began raining down around them. Then she raised a fist and punched the Naga across the jaw.

Stand. Up! Your brothers and sisters are dying while you cower here! Fight or leave them to die!

Something about how she said that struck Vossk in the chest. Where was [Vanguard Captain] Hoisq? He was the highest-level Selphid in the attack. They said he was still pressing in. But she was no Hoisq—

Erin Solstice yanked the Selphid up. She handed them a wand. Her wand.

“Cover me.”

The Selphids at the rear looked at the [Innkeeper]. She slapped another crossbow bolt into her weapon.

She had to be mad! The Lizardfolk could see only one person moving down the street. Vossk croaked.

“Someone stop—”

The Human burst from cover. Her crossbow snapped—something blasted through one leg, and her leg went out from under her. She fell, sprawling, and then pushed with her good leg. An arrow blew a chunk out of the street. Someone grabbed her and yanked her forwards. And all that Erin Solstice shouted as she put a healing potion in her mouth and cracked it with her teeth was—

Get up!




She was insane. The Bushrangers saw and heard Erin advancing ahead of them. They had to support her. They weren’t a close-combat group, so they took the roofs. Daly pounded through an empty Lizardfolk house, knocking aside a cradle, passing into a bedroom before finding the stairs. It was narrow, cramped; when he got to the roof, he saw a low ledge of stone.

Get to cover and get me eyes on—

An arrow punched through his shoulder as Daly was three steps from the roof. It took him off his feet, and Dawson howled.

Daly! [Moment of Strength]!”

He grabbed Daly, and hurled Daly forwards. The young man fell onto the roof, shouting agony—his shoulder!

But the throw had saved his life. Most of his body was hidden. He heard shouts, screams.

They’re shooting at us! Keep your head down!

Kami. Tobi slid forwards, face white with terror, as Dawson hunkered in the stairwell with Tofte.

Fuck! They’re all over the place!”

He raised his crossbow, fired wildly, and bent to reload. Daly was panting as Tobi tried to empty the potion into the hole in his shoulder.

“Fuck, it’s not healing properly, Daly!”

“Must—be—enchanted. Bushrangers. We’ve got snipers!

Siri’s voice came through the speaking stone, calm.

“I saw multiple. One’s in a tower—nope. Erin just took it out. I think they survived, though.”

She what? The Bushrangers heard shouting, and the pain in Daly’s shoulder receded enough for him to fish out his hand crossbow. He checked it with his left hand, cursing; he couldn’t aim with it well! The sight was bloody, and he scrubbed at it.

“We need to cover her!”

Tobi poked his head up and nearly lost it. Something hit his helmet as it rose, and he sprawled, eyes unfocusing—then jerked.

If not for the Fraerling-enchanted armor—Daly heard more voices speaking rapidly.

“This is Tallguard Cotm. Tallguard, with the Bushrangers! Resk, hold back! I am going to advance on some of the [Archers] with a squad. They have the center of the city, and they are shooting everything down on sight.”

“Daly. Erin’s in trouble. I think she just got shot.”

“Is she—?”

Daly turned his head and saw a second roof where Aldenon, Siri, and two other Bushrangers were lying. From his angle, he could see them, but if one so much as raised their heads, they were a target. No arrows were landing around them, but every instinct in Daly’s body said…

I’m going to try to take out that [Sniper].

“Siri! Don’t fucking do it!”

Dawson shouted. But their [Sniper] was checking her crossbow. Daly tightened the grip on his hand-crossbow. He tried to wiggle into a position to raise his head, but he was watching her—

Siri had gotten into a position to raise her crossbow in one motion. She had a good idea of at least one target; she spoke, her voice coming through his speaking stone.

“[Pinpoint Shot]. [Wind Resistance: Projectile]. [The Sniper’s Second].

Then her head rose with her crossbow. And for her—time stopped. For one second—

Siri’s head slammed back down as Aldenon yanked her down. But her crossbow twanged—as an arrow blew a chunk out of the roof. That was a regular arrow—a high-level [Archer] had fired it.


Siri was panting as she spoke.

“[Kill Confirmed]. Bushrangers! Reposition! Dawson, get down there with your squad and reposition on another street! Don’t fire—tell us if they’re still looking our way. Resk! Illusion spells.”


Daly croaked. His head hurt, and Tobi cursed as he checked on Daly.

“I think the arrow that got Daly was poisoned! Someone get a Tallguard here!”

The Bushrangers began to exchange fire with the Lizardfolk. Daly’s teeth were chattering. But where was—?




The Human was still alive. A command squad of [Archers] led by an [Overwatch Sniper], one of three in the district, was tasked with killing the Selphids. They’d broken their morale and had been picking them off—but the Human was a problem.

“Overwatch 1. Overwatch 3. Come in.”

The Naga holding a feathered bow, dipping an arrow in a bowl of poison, tried again, but heard nothing from the other two. She stared at the tower still glowing red from the wand’s spell. Damn. Just her?

She drew an arrow, looking for the Human, but only saw a flicker of a shadow from behind the building the Selphids had dragged her behind. The Naga narrowed her eyes.

“Give me a [Distant Mirror] spell right there.”

One of her [Mages] cast the spell, and she saw a young woman, one leg healed but a hole in her leather greaves, shouting at some Selphids. Huh. Healing potions and good armor?

Didn’t matter. The Naga was aiming carefully, trying to figure out how to use [Ricochet Arrow] to tag the Human. Around her, Lizardfolk were loosing more arrows into the air, more to keep the Selphids frightened than anything. But one shouted.

“Naga! Something’s coming over the roofs!”

The Naga spun. She saw it too. A flicker of something…orange? It ducked behind the lip of a roof, and her scales crawled.

What in temples was that? 

“Something climbing?”

It was way too mobile. She swore she saw a shadow flitting near her, barely two roofs away. The Naga craned her neck—then saw something leap forwards, using a length of rope he’d secured to launch himself across the gap between roofs. She raised her bow, but he flew through a window too fast for her.

—An Orangutan?

What? The Naga instantly assumed it was hostile.

“[Precision Overwatch]. [Speed Arrow]. [Eighty-pound Draw]—[Arrows of Steel]! Keep me covered!

The Lizardfolk around her grabbed arrows and fired them frantically as the Naga scanned the area right in front of her. The Orangutan was in that building there. Even if he came out the ground floor, the moment he peeked his head out, he was dead.




Erek knew that he had only one life now. When Seve had been alive, it was easier. So long as Seve lived—he was invincible.

Now, any moment could be his last. But the [Innkeeper] knew that too. There was a resolve in her eyes. Some things were worth dying for.

This? Erek didn’t know this city. He didn’t know these Selphids. But salvation?

He understood that, and the word meant something specific to him. Could she be thinking of the same thing as him? Impossible. And yet—either way—she’d convinced him.

Ook. Ook.

The Orangutan whispered as he held his longsword, fingers on the lip of a window. He was swinging himself back and forth, building up speed.

See you in a second, Seve. Maybe—

Courage wasn’t necessary when you were an immortal piece of tattooed ink on the Hundredfriends Courier’s body. Courage, though, came when you knew Seve. Erek bared his teeth and launched himself out of cover.




She saw fingers. The Naga’s attention was focused on a window on the right side of the house. If she was right, it was bait; he would come out the front window nearest her. That would give him a clear shot at the building she was in; if he came up the ground floor, that might be a problem. But he’d never make it out the window.

She had her arrow centered on the window facing her. The Naga saw the fingers twitching and pulled back slightly—


The shout hadn’t even left a Lizardfolk’s mouth when the Naga twisted.

[Automatic Dodge]! She whirled—and the bolt blew a piece of her cheek away, leaving a groove down her face. Even with the dodge—she saw a head dip and snarled.

The same [Sniper] who’d killed her comrade! Wait—

The Naga whirled and saw the ape. She raised her bow, but her overwatch Skill was broken. And she was wrong; Erek had come through the window she’d been aiming at. But she had underestimated how far the ape could get with a single swing. He didn’t land on the street—

He’d tossed himself onto the roof. The Naga recoiled as the Orangutan landed and swung his sword.

He slashed across her chest, cleaved through one of the Lizardfolk; a jolt made the Naga flinch. She tried to raise her bow, arms jerking as her heart palpated and her body screamed.

“Kill it! Kill—

The sword came back, slashing through her bow, and the bow snapped in her face. The Naga flinched, then opened her fanged mouth and came forwards in a bite. She raised clawed hands and tackled the Orangutan as Lizardfolk shrieked around her. Her teeth bit into fur and flesh, and she realized she had made her final mistake. Too close for a sword to be much good—

His fingers were digging into her neck, and he was strong. The Naga began to flail as Erek twisted her neck around—

Then the last thing she heard was a crack.




The hail of arrows had slowed, but the deaths of some of the [Snipers] hadn’t stopped Jungle Tails. They had the streets—

And the [Innkeeper] had the Selphids’ attention. They were peeking out of cover, loosing arrows, but she was telling them in no uncertain terms to charge.

There was a hole in her leg, but she spat fragments of glass from her mouth.

Follow me.

She advanced out of cover, firing her crossbow. A Lizardfolk [Archer] screamed and fell from their perch as an Orangutan swung a Naga’s dead body around, clearing a rooftop.

Vossk was laughing, a touch hysterical. The [Innkeeper] slammed into the metal shield where the front line had stopped.

“What are you doing?

“What are you doing?”

“Saving as many of you as I can. Get up, all of you. Someone has to draw Jungle Tails’ attention. This battle only ends when we overwhelm them.”

And you want to be the first one to charge? Vossk had a sense of the enemy massing down the street. Covering fire or not, one of the Gorgons was hissing, a shriek of rage, as Lizardfolk formed a mass.

“You’re mad. I don’t care if you’re some famous Human from Izril—you’re going to die out there.”

But she was half-getting up, finding her sword, and Vossk saw other Selphids readying themselves. This Human—Erin Solstice—had come all this way to the front for them. Better than Gloriam or the Titan in this moment.

It would be a disservice to let Hoisq down.

In response, the young woman looked down at Vossk and held out a hand. She dragged Vossk up.

“We all die sooner or later. Someone has to go. It might as well be us. Now, on three. Selphids! One! Two—

It felt like Vossk was waiting to see, out of the corner of her eye, the young woman move first. But the moment Erin had committed, Vossk was first from behind the shields. Another Selphid began Rampaging and lifted up the huge slab of iron; she saw more bodies sprinting out from behind cover.

An arrow caught Vossk in the neck on her third step.

Idiots. You can’t kill a Selphid like that. The [Lieutenant] jerked, almost fell, and saw the Gorgon recoil. It pointed, mouth open, and Erin Solstice shot the Gorgon in the chest with a bolt.

It rocked back; the bolt lodged in the mithril armor of the Gorgon’s breastplate, and then Vossk saw the first Lizardfolk running at them, spears lowered. Vossk leapt, her jump carrying over the spear tips, and she saw their eyes roll up to her, wide and terrified.

It was easier when you were going to die, not in cover. And the [Innkeeper] was right there—she had a crossbow in one hand and was reloading it, firing it at the Lizardfolk, drawing a backup wand from a hidden holster on her back, mouth open in a shout.

A spear stabbed into her armor, and a charge of Lizardfolk knocked her over. They were swinging shortswords everywhere, cutting into Vossk’s body, and she saw the [Innkeeper] go down, wand firing a green blast of energy.

Then? As Selphids fought hand-to-hand with Lizardfolk—

Then there was fire.




Pain. Fear. Rage. All of it Paxere felt, hand on her heart. She saw Erin Solstice go down. Felt the emotions swirling inside her.

Pain. Terror, yes. Adrenaline. Unbearable emotions!

She felt them so intensely! Paxere knew these emotions, but they were like a waterfall compared to the Lucifen’s thimble of feelings that she had thought Agelum and mortals over exaggerated when they spoke of them.

Now, she felt the terror building to a peak. Along with the anger. The fury that had been overwhelming from the moment Paxere had taken the deal, an endless well of it, boiled over. It became the source of everything. Her terror, her determination, her pain—all of it fueled that one emotion.

Until it had no more outlet but one. Paxere saw in the scrying spell a press of Lizardfolk bodies.

—Flailing bodies trying to back away—

Then flame.

A knot of Lizardfolk fell back, shrieking, as orange-red fire sent several flying. It roared up, a sudden gout of hellfire, and the Selphids flinched back as someone fought to their feet, knocking one of the Lizardfolk flying.

A hand rose; a crossbow fired point-blank and went through two enemy [Soldiers]. The Lucifen were frozen, staring at the scrying orb. Then—as the Gorgon officer recoiled, he parried a burst of green magic with crossed blades. He lunged, mouth open—and Erin Solstice kneed him in the jaw, snapping it closed. When the Gorgon backed up, she pivoted and kicked him.

A foot smashed into his armor and sent the Gorgon, hundreds of pounds of him, slamming back into his Lizardfolk. He jerked upright, staring at her—and Paxere made a small sound.

Erin Solstice looked different. Vultapheles whispered.

“A Human can have a Warform?”

She had changed. For one thing—the foot that had just left an imprint on the Gorgon’s armor with the force of impact was not a foot.

It was a hoof. Erin Solstice lowered it and blinked down at her body. Then she raised her wand. Her eyes lit up, and a pair of huge, curling horns on her head—black, like her hair—made the Lizardfolk waver.


The [Innkeeper]’s legs had shifted, resembling an animal’s hind legs. They were covered with a thin, black fur, and she had goat’s hooves. Sprouting from her head were two curled ram’s horns, and her hair had changed as well.

She now had long tresses of hair, curled; a veritable mane hanging around her neck. But the most notable thing about her were the slitted eyes. They glowed with a bright, hazel light.

Oh—and she had pointed teeth. When she smiled, the Lizardfolk stared at a creature they had never seen before. Even the Gorgon slithered back a step before pointing at her and roaring.

Every Lucifen in the room had turned to Paxere. One of the youngest of the Lucifen was staring at Erin. She had black fur! She resembled some of the Warforms the other Lucifen had activated during the battle at sea—but each one was different.

“She—she just activated a Warform! Can she do that?”

Shierxun needlessly restated the obvious. Oelvix was more put together.

“She clearly can—it must be what she demanded from Paxere. How strong is it?”

“It is a Warform.”

Vultapheles was trying to sound dry and all-knowing, but the Lucifen was smoothing his pant legs, and his eyes wouldn’t leave Erin. He licked his lips.

“What is her Authority? Does she have one, if she has a Warform?”

Every eye turned to Paxere again, and now, the Lucifen could feel it burning through Erin. She murmured.



Every eye swung back to the scrying orb. Erin was stepping forwards with the Selphid charge, stumbling a bit, clearly getting used to this new form. But she was smiling. And now—the Gorgon looked truly worried.

He had better be. Paxere was staring at Erin. She had better not die.




The [Innkeeper] felt stronger than ever before. Not impossibly strong; when she lowered her head and charged, she felt the impact as she knocked Lizardfolk aside. A sword glanced off her horns, and the Gorgon slammed into her.

Her hand came up, and she fired a crossbow point-blank into a mouth, blowing a hole through the other side. He kept slashing at her, and Erin backed up as Vossk launched herself at the Gorgon from the side, slashing into his armor.

In reply, the officer twisted, and his tail enlarged, throwing everyone—ally, foe—aside. Erin crashed into one of the metal shields hard enough to dent it. When she got up, she barely felt bruised.

“Ha. Hahaha.

He tried to slither at her, but the Gorgon jerked as an Orangutan leapt down at him with a sword filled with lightning. The Gorgon parried Erek’s blade and got a full charge of electricity for free. Erek dodged back, hooting, as a sword scored across his chest.

Erin shoulder-slammed the Gorgon, and he bit at her. In reply, she raised the crossbow and began slamming it into his face; it was unloaded. The Gorgon reeled back, dazed, then headbutted the crossbow into Erin’s face. She gritted her teeth; the crossbow snapped as she cracked it across his face, and it exploded.

Then she raised the wand and fired three [Spectral Orbs] point-blank. The green blobs detonated, sending the Gorgon onto his back. When he tried to get up, Vossk drove a sword straight down through the Gorgon’s face.

“What—what is that?

Vossk turned to Erin Solstice as the [Innkeeper] got up. For answer, the [Innkeeper] only pulled a second crossbow, a bigger one, from her bag of holding and stowed the almost-spent wand. She was not invincible in whatever form this was.

My Level 50 Skill. Follow me!”




The Lizardfolk were in full retreat after seeing the Gorgon die. But the Selphids who’d begun cheering when they saw Vossk finish off the Gorgon spotted Erin Solstice and felt it.

Momentum was on their side. More than that? Look at her. She might die in the next second.

But dead gods, Erin Solstice didn’t look like it. She pointed, and then the entire company of Selphids was pushing into the city. An Orangutan, the strangest [Innkeeper] in the world. Jungle Tails saw them overrunning the street as the Selphid [Vanguards] kept advancing.

They tried to shift and counter both pushes. Then the northern gates reported that the Forgotten Wing’s [General] was coming.

General Gloriam stood in his chariot, irate. His entire army had reformed and were pushing into the city. His aura had also changed.

“That woman. With me! [Arrogant Charge]. [Aura: Battering Ram].

His chariot shot forwards. It didn’t even touch the gates on the north wall; something punched through the gates of Ramok, as well as the walls, leaving a huge hole behind him. The Selphid kept charging  as Lizardfolk and Nagas saw a battering ram smashing forwards. [Soldiers] poured through the breach, now vulnerable to incoming fire. Taking casualties—but the [General] had orders.

Don’t let that [Innkeeper] die. When he saw her fighting down one street, General Gloriam almost didn’t recognize her until he saw her face. But he had to admit—

“That’s a bit more like what I was expecting.”




[Vanguard Captain] Hoisq had been fighting for two hours since the gates had gone down, and the stamina potions were failing. He’d switched bodies twice and killed three Nagas.

When he’d heard the cheering and shouting, he’d feared it was Jungle Tails gaining ground or reinforcements. As far as he’d understood from his vantage, pushing further and further into the city, the other Selphid groups had been stalemated. He’d expected to have to claim the enemy command himself.

What he did not expect was to hear the southern front had gotten to the heart of the city. Or that General Gloriam had just smashed through the northern defenses.

It was still a bitter battle for the heart of the city—for thirteen minutes. Selphids went down, killing Nagas who shrieked and fought with fang and claw till the end. But the final push ended how he knew it would.

Surrender! We surrender!

The Lizardfolk had finally had enough. Covered in gore, seeing enemies coming from multiple angles, and unnerved, they began to throw down their weapons. Several Nagas screamed at them to keep fighting, trying to retreat, but one went down with a crossbow bolt in the head, and even the Nagas’ will began to break.

“We have the city! Announce they’re surrendering!

Hoisq howled into a speaking stone. The rest of the city had to know or the fighting would continue. He lowered a mace, potion-sick, covered in blood, wondering how many of his kin had died.

We’re quits, the Titan and I. What a harsh payment. Hoisq stood there, panting, as more Lizardfolk tossed down their blades and crowded together, begging for mercy.

Gloriam might have us execute the lot. Hoisq didn’t care; he just wanted an end to the fighting. He only looked up when he heard cheering.

Cheering in this bloody offensive? It could only come from people cheering Gloriam’s charge—not likely given how late it had come—or whatever had happened on the south front.

Hoisq was prepared to see a Selphid who’d turned the tides. What he was not prepared for was…

Erin Solstice.

The [Vanguard Captain] came to a halt as he sought out the source of the cheering. Then he saw her and actually rubbed one eyeball, but just got blood all over it.

Horns? The woman’s face was similar, but she had black, curled hair. Hooves! And—well, this part sort of fit with his understanding of her.

She was dancing.

Sort of. It wasn’t a dance like you saw on the floor of a bar or even one you’d see on a stage. But it was a dance.

It had a deliberate, ceremonial quality. She was stomping her hooves, shaking out her hair, and raising a fist as she traced a pattern across the ground. Step. Stomp—step—

Selphids were cheering her, and there was an Orangutan wearily leaning on a sword and watching Erin with a look of confusion. Hoisq was a hundred times more confused, and gratified.

Vanguard Captain! You made it!

That was Strategist Mella. She was riding through the city, and Hoisq half-turned his head to her.

“Strategist. Am I poisoned?”

He felt like he was or he’d been knocked out in the earlier part of the battle and this was all some…dream. More pleasant than reality, perhaps, but—the [Strategist] tilted her head and spoke.

“One second. You seem fine to my [Monitor Vitals] Skill. Tallguard Captain Cotm, are we at your position?”

In response, a tiny figure flitted out from a window, and Mella blinked, then held out an arm so Cotm and a dozen Tallguard could land on her shoulder. Hoisq rubbed at his face. He stared at the Tallguard. At a very angry General Gloriam.

Then he went to greet the [Innkeeper]. The Titan’s secret chess partner and his romantic interest?

That made the most sense of anything.




“Captain Hoisq. Lieutenant Vossk, I congratulate you on your victory. Erin Solstice, I retract my statement about bleeding hearts. I replace it with a claim to your idiocy.”

General Gloriam was not pleased in the aftermath of the battle, even if it was a far more merciful victory than the Selphids could have hoped for. The Bushrangers and Fraerling Tallguard wiping out some of the archers harassing the Selphids had done their part, as had the Orangutan and Erin Solstice unnerving Jungle Tails.

But the main thrust had come from General Gloriam entering the city, and his army had bled for it.

A fraction of what the Selphids had paid, but that had not been the plan.

Erin Solstice refused to back down. She tossed her hair, but her mysterious transformation had worn off. The horns had vanished; her hooves had changed to bare feet, and someone was finding the boots she’d lost.

She looked exhausted, which checked out for such a dramatic ability. But her voice was steady as she nodded to Hoisq, who gave her a bow of the head.

“As you said, Gloriam. I’m from Izril. The Titan might be content to let the Selphids die here. I am not.”

“They are leaving the Forgotten Wing company.”

“So? I’m not the Forgotten Wing company. I am the [Innkeeper] of The Wandering Inn. The Iron Vanguard, Howling Maelstrom? The Bodies of Fellden—I have no enemies among them. Terandrian nations and the Blighted Kingdom, perhaps. But they chose me.”

Erin Solstice faced Gloriam down, and the Selphid’s lips twisted.

“You have one in Jungle Tails, now.”

He indicated lines of kneeling Lizardfolk outside of Ramok as weary [Soldiers] tended to their wounds, hauled bodies out—two hours later and it was still cleanup.

“Perhaps. But I like to think I helped save lives here.”

“The battle would have been won with or without your influence.”

Gloriam snapped at Erin, and she shot back.

“I didn’t speak about the battle, General. I spoke about the people. You have your concerns, I have mine.”

The Selphid couldn’t say anything to that. If he was someone whose class was concerned with the outcome of wars, Erin Solstice had left her mark on who her class cared about.

Vanguard Captain Hoisq couldn’t take his eyes off Erin. And when the [General] had stormed off, he took a knee before her.

“Innkeeper Solstice. Don’t mind what Gloriam said. But for you, hundreds, maybe thousands more of my kindred might have died.”

The [Innkeeper] caught her breath, then offered Hoisq a hand and a crooked smile.

“Don’t you oversell what I did. I knew Gloriam would try to keep me alive. But I’m glad it mattered. So you’re Captain Hoisq. You’re a terror yourself. I heard you killed six Nagas in one battle.”

Hoisq shrugged. He was weary and made little of himself despite the fact that he had literally waded through the enemy to get forwards until even the Lizardfolk refused to get near him.

“It comes with the job. Not that we’re serving Forgotten Wing anymore. We are, in a way, traitors to the Great Company. This was our battle to settle debts.”

“Fucking strange that you have to throw yourself into a grinder like this to not be called traitors.

Daly Sullivan called out. He looked shaky, even after being healed, but he came forwards to give Hoisq a left-handed shake of the hand.

“What do you call it when your vanguard fighting force up and leaves, Captain? Let’s be realistic: if we went to join Jungle Tails, the Titan should have had us imprisoned or executed. It’s bitter, but it’s real politics. I doubt anyone can just ‘quit the army’ at our level.”

“Fair enough. You’re alright. And you—you’re fucking crazy.”

Daly turned to Erin, and the [Innkeeper] saw him eye her up and down.

“What kind of Level 50 Skill lets you turn into a fucking…what would you even call that? Anyone?”

The Bushrangers were staring at Erin with as much awe as everyone else. Arguably—more.

“Cambion Demon?”

“You fucking D&D nerd, Aldenon. No, she’s a goat…monster…”

“Goat monster. Real imaginative, Kami.”

Siri raised her hand.


Everyone stared at Erin, and the [Innkeeper] smiled.

“I paid a lot for my ability. Let’s leave it at that. I didn’t know what it’d look like until then—let’s focus on getting out of here. If Gloriam doesn’t want to kill us, the Titan’s not going to be happy.”

Right. Him. It began to dawn on the Bushrangers that they had just interfered with the Forgotten Wing company’s leadership in a battle. Not the best impression?

Well, Erin was the one who’d take the brunt of the blame. And as if she understood that fact, she didn’t seem done pissing off the Forgotten Wing’s leaders.

Because the first thing she did was turn to Hoisq.

“What’re the odds Gloriam is going to have the prisoners executed?”


The Bushrangers stirred uneasily. The Lizardfolk were moaning and begging for mercy, but the Selphids whom they’d been clashing against were grim-faced.

“He can’t exactly let the officers run off. He could ransom them—but Jungle Tails is an enemy to the death. No, the officers are definitely dead. All the Naga.”

“But the Lizardfolk are just [Soldiers]. How many are being coerced into doing this?”

Hoisq paused, giving Erin an odd look.

“…It’s not exactly being forced. They like following Nagas, most of ‘em. Being a [Soldier] pays better than most jobs. If you’re asking how many are following Jungle Tails because of the Fraerling stuff or just to kill Forgotten Wing? Probably not many.”

Erin nodded, cupping her chin with her fingers.

“That’s what I thought. How dangerous are a bunch of [Soldiers]? No, wait. I have a better idea. Gloriam!

There were around eighteen thousand surrendered Lizardfolk; Jungle Tails had fled when the city was lost in full, and the butcher’s bill had added up. Still. A vast number.




General Gloriam was debating waiting for the scrying spells to stop focusing on Erin or having them manually severed before performing the grisly task, unless Niers wanted them ransomed, which was impractical. Maybe Jungle Tails would offer a last-minute gift of gold.

Either way, he was not amused when the [Innkeeper] strode towards him with a demand.


“Let them go. Have them swear on a truth stone not to enlist in Jungle Tails. Swear it in blood.”

“Even if they’re honest now, that has no backing. We have no one who can enforce a mass blood contract.”

“Well, killing them all while scrying spells and public attention is on this battle will enrage every Lizardfolk in Baleros.”

Only to your precious sensibilities. They knew what they were doing when they enlisted!”

The [General]’s aura made Erin wince, but she refused to back down. She was smiling, as if his very ire made her happy.

“Maybe they did. People can be idiots. Let them go. Or I’ll complain to Niers.”

“You think that will…”

Gloriam paused, because the odds were it might actually work. Especially given that the [Scrying] spells were focused on Ramok and this was a bad look. Erin Solstice didn’t even bother rubbing in her probable victory to Gloriam’s face.

Annoyingly, engagingly, she was striding down the lines of the Lizardfolk, speaking to the ones pleading for mercy. When they saw the [Innkeeper], the Lizardfolk might or might not have known who she was; she was a public figure, but she was still Izrilian.

However, they definitely knew of her now, and so did all the Selphids. Vossk was following Erin around like a lost puppy, and Gloriam took small pleasure in that.

The Selphid was angry, but his body was unable to show it; he had a helper-Selphid who performed facial animations and took over, but it was slower, more awkward. They’d had to change out of Gloriam’s iconic Centaur form because the Wasting had devoured too much of his body.

General, do you want me to scowl at her or do something?

No. Pet the dog.


After a whispered exchange, Gloriam scratched a panting puppy sitting on his chariot’s front behind the ears. The injured puppy that Erek had brought was breathing properly, and Gloriam liked its spirit.

Spirit was good. Whatever Erin Solstice was—Gloriam didn’t like it. The Lizardfolk were looking to her, and he had no doubt it would be Erin Solstice who let them all go.

She’s doing this on purpose. Gloriam hoped Niers could see it. Because by the time he got a confirmation from Foliana to let the prisoners go—

Gloriam saw real trouble.

It wasn’t just the Bushrangers, who’d just entered the fray for Erin, even if none had died. Or the Tallguard who’d fought Tallfolk for her. Even Captain Hoisq hesitated before bowing to Erin—but he did bow and step away for his exodus of the Forgotten Wing company with the majority of Selphids.

Lieutenant Vossk did not. Nearly a hundred Selphids, most from the street that Erin had motivated, were standing around awkwardly as Strategist Mella gave them incredulous stares and had to recalculate how to move them. Not by horse; they’d have to catch up.

Her people. Her company? Gloriam gritted his teeth as he fed the puppy some minced veal. They’d volunteered to follow the [Innkeeper]. And she had accepted. The Lizardfolk were running off, and Gloriam’s one consolation was that the Nagas wouldn’t be going anywhere.

“That is not the [Innkeeper] I expected.”

The Selphid [General] acknowledged after a moment. He hoped Niers saw it too. Then Gloriam took a final look at Erin Solstice.

Unpredictable. Certainly uncontrollable. Sympathetic beyond what Baleros allowed of the people who moved and shook it. Not naïve, but certainly…he saw her shaking a Lizardman’s hand as he disbelievingly stared at Gloriam.

“Go. And think about whether or not it’s worth it. We might not get second chances.”

The [Innkeeper] pointed, and the Lizardman began to trot off, staring over his shoulder. Erin met Gloriam’s eyes, and he finished his analysis.

Certainly kind. In her way. I can see why Niers is smitten.”

General Gloriam exhaled, and he shook his head.

“Let’s hope this goes better than ‘Lady B’. He should have just followed through when he learned it was Lord Belchaus.”

And perhaps, he added silently, perhaps she can help Geneva Scala achieve her goals. That was the only reason Gloriam was still here. Why obey the fallible Minds when the Last Light was here? He turned away from Erin Solstice. Not sure if he was disgusted or unnerved by the truth behind the woman he’d heard about.

Not like he expected.




Blood still clung to his fur, his arms and chest, to the weary Selphids, and to this city. It would linger, Erek knew, for months. Not just the scent of iron, but the smell of fear and urine and the odors that came from the gore of battle and death.

Seve had used to think that you couldn’t smell death. That was because his nose was bad. All the flesh of his city had never made him as much of an animal as his friends. A greater beast, perhaps, but it was not the same.

Erek ran a cloth down his longsword, hoping it wouldn’t shock him as he cleaned blood off the polished, ancient metal. He held it up; the Bushrangers stared at the odd sight, and some of the [Soldiers] laughed to see an Orangutan posing with a magical blade.

No one who had seen Erek swing the sword laughed.

Blood. The blade stank of lightning and charred flesh. Erek had killed fourteen people that he was sure of. He had risked his life; he had a huge gash on his chest that had been healed, poultices on other scratches, and an arrow wound.

He was tired. Alive. Erek wondered why.

Why in general.

Why he had followed Erin Solstice.

Why she had gone.

Even now, he wasn’t sure. Her answer at the gates had been so mysterious—if it was what he thought she meant, it was confusing. No one knew what the [Innkeeper] could do, so Erek had followed her to what might have been his death because Seve had already done it.

But he wanted answers.

Erek’s mind wasn’t organized the same as other people’s. Erek didn’t have the same propensity to think in words or organized thoughts. His understanding of the world could move in words, but that was a very people-thing. He thought in colors, places, and ideas. So while his thoughts could be abstract and complex, the ideas were more—


Holding a head as it closed its eyes, rain pelting his fur. Howling to the sky with Seve’s friends, a shriek of a hundred tongues never to be heard again.

Holding a skull in his hands, fury beating at his chest. Younger, fists striking him in the ribs as two ape tribes fought for nothing. Older, holding Erin Solstice’s skull in his hand, the same pounding on his chest, in anger.

A word whispered. The rasp of her voice. A great gathering of apes, heads bowed, hooting, trying to understand each other. A shattered tower falling, barely fifty feet high—

Salvation. A word whispered.

Seve’s empty eyes.


That was how Erek thought. That defined him as he stopped in front of a tent that night. Gloriam hadn’t escorted Erin and the company northwards; he had too much to do at Ramok, including preparing to fight another army.

Thus, Strategist Mella and a sizeable escort of [Soldiers]—and the Selphids—had continued towards Elvallian. They had pitched camp since the battle had taken far too much time.

No one stopped him on the way to her tent. Erek knew they were there, but he couldn’t see them; Tallguard and the Forgotten Wing’s agents made his hair stand on end.

He knuckled forwards, an Orangutan with a bandolier of items, but still a monkey, unclothed. An animal to laugh at—until he grabbed an arm and bared his teeth.

Erek only slowed at the door to the tent once when he realized that the person he had to speak to—who had promised him answers—was already busy.

He knew this not because he could hear what was going on inside the tent—it was magically sealed—but from the presence of two Lizardfolk [Guards] standing at the entrance.

They had ornamental-looking spears and shortswords and seemed very nervous; possibly because a bunch of real [Guards] had let them stand outside the tent. Erek sniffed at one as the Lizardfolk stared at him.

“Hey, isn’t that the Orangutan who was the Hundredfriends Courier’s companion?”

“Yeah. Uh—hey, shoo! You want the [Innkeeper]? She’s busy.”

The two [Guards] conferred as Erek approached. When he didn’t slow, one lowered a spear to block his path. Not pointed at Erek; the Orangutan slowed and gently moved the spear down.

Wh—hey, he’s strong! You can’t come in. Shoo! Hey, help me with—

The other Lizardman tried to grab the spear and push Erek out of the way; instead, both went skidding to one side.

“Hey! The boss is inside! [Lizal Noble] Loiqe’s—”

No one else stopped Erek. In fact, a Fraerling appeared at the top of the tent to scowl down at the two Lizardfolk. Tallguard Cotm snapped.

“Erin asked for Erek to meet her. Your [Noble] barged in and demanded an audience. Then begged. Let Erek in; she can decide who she wants to talk to.”

Hey! You can’t—he’s too strong! Stop—

Erek shoved aside the Lizardfolk and entered the tent. The moment he did, he felt his ears pop and rubbed at them. Then he heard two voices and saw a Lizardman on hands and knees, groveling before Erin Solstice, who stood, reassembling a crossbow with her back to him.

Another moment in Erek’s long memory to commit. Smell; blood and sweat from her. Armor still stained from battle. Exultation and impatience on her features, her eyes lighting up as she turned and saw him.

A Lizardman in finery and too much perfume. Tears running down his face. Voice trembling.

Erin Solstice nodded to Erek. He stared at her.

“Your time’s up, Noble Loiqe. My guest has arrived.”

“Lady Solstice—”

Erin Solstice clicked part of the crossbow into place, and Erek saw she was rebuilding it, cleaning cloth and oil making sure each part was working. She walked around the Lizardman, and he reached for her legs.

Erin Solstice, you are the only person who can speak to him! I have begged everyone I thought I could trust—he wouldn’t even let me near his students. Strategist Perorn, Three-Color Stalker herself—General Diomedes and General Gloriam!”

She stopped, grimaced, and indicated Loiqe with a jerk of the head.

“Sorry, Erek. People are asking me for favors and thinking I can help them. Can you wait?”


He could wait a few more minutes after the long month. Erek knuckled over to some containers of liquid, sniffed a few, and poured himself a cup of wine out of one pitcher. He took a seat at one of the chairs in the opulent tent and stared at the Lizardman begging Erin. Loiqe didn’t seem as comfortable with the audience—but he kept going after a second.

“Ask any Lizardfolk to confirm my story, Miss Solstice. It happened—”

“Yes, I get it, Noble Loiqe. Your son and daughter. Abducted. The Titan didn’t do that.”

Abducted? Erek’s ears perked up. The Lizardman looked older than Erin. Forties, maybe. Erek didn’t judge furless age well. Not too old, but his voice was desperate, and he looked aged with concern. He had two guards; not a full company.

“He has them, Lady Solstice. I thought he’d give them back, release them after—after—he hasn’t. It’s been eight years.

“Eight years. And how many children?”


“Oelnnox. I don’t know that place. It’s not on any map I can find.”

Erek’s head perked up. He thought he knew that name for some reason, but he couldn’t remember why. Erin was studying a map, half-distracted, glancing at Erek, but Loiqe tried to rise.

“I can show you…it doesn’t matter if you go there. He’s got a small army around it. It’s half-buried. Please, Miss Solstice. Just—ask him to let the children go.

The Titan had children? Erek tilted his head, and an uneasy chill ran up his fur. The Lizardman [Noble] sounded truly desperate. Erin’s impatient gaze found his face and softened a second—then hardened.

“I won’t promise you anything. I’ll look into your claims, Loiqe. If they’re true…I’ll establish that first.”

She promised nothing more. Erek thought this sounded bad—but from the sounds of it, Loiqe had been pleading his case for a long time. He stumbled upright; Erek had to help him up, and the Lizardman stared at Erek.

He didn’t say ‘thank you’ to Erek, but he did to Erin.

“Please. I am at your disposal. Anything I can offer. Anything we can offer. Any questions—”

“Yes. Yes, farewell.”

The Lizardman headed for the door, stopping a few times as if trying to think of anything to say. But Erin just went back to reassembling the crossbow. When the tent flaps closed, Erek made an inquisitive sound.


She looked up at him, and a smile graced her face. A smile. He had none.

She wouldn’t like it when he smiled. Not right now. But Erin’s voice was softer, gentler, and more friendly.

“…Sounds like a mess. Or a trap. Unfortunately, Mella told me this Lizardman has spoken to Gloriam and not been thrown out on his head.”

“Ook. Ook.

Erek lowered his hand, and Erin shrugged.

“Are you talking about the children he mentioned?”


“The Lizardman said his were kidnapped, and he tracked them down—only for the Titan to rescue them first. But they were never released. They’re at some gigantic building in the jungle. I don’t know. I can ask Niers if it’s true. It’s not like he’s the first person to come asking for a favor with the Forgotten Wing company. He’s just the most persistent. And interesting.”

She checked the reassembled crossbow, watched as it automatically reloaded for her, and looked at Erek. He stood there, inspecting her.

Why did she smile at him? Seve was dead. Erin’s eyes flickered. She saw Erek’s flat line of an expression. His eyes.

Orangutan and [Innkeeper] regarded each other. At last, Erin dipped her head.

“Can I get you anything to eat or drink? More than wine?”


She went to find some food for him, and Erek stood there before flopping back into a chair. Erin brought some gift baskets over, and both inspected the contents. Erek took some dried fruits and ate some, listless.

He stared at Erin and folded his arms to make his position clear. He wanted answers. She seemed—happy he was here.

“Thank you for giving me the time to explain myself. I wanted to find you, Erek. You and everyone else. I’m…sorry Seve’s dead. I truly am.”


He saw Erin stand up, pace a few steps, and turn.

“I want—I need you to come with me, Erek. We can find a place for your other friends. Bring them with us to Elvallian. But you…will you come with me and guard me? You might die. There’s good odds I will. No. You’ll come with me, won’t you?”

After all this? Erek stared at Erin. He looked down, and his greatest friend, the man who had given him hope, shown him a wide, vast world, the best person Erek had ever met—

His head lay on the deck, rain pelting it as he whispered his regrets.

The ape raised his eyes, and Erin Solstice’s own eyes were bright. There was a moment when Erek considered plucking one eye out of her head, like a grape. But that word stopped him.


He stared at her, and she saw his rage. But her smile never faded.

“Give me five minutes, Erek. Then you can make any decision you want.”


He raised one eyebrow. She was so confident. Erin stepped back, tilted her head upwards, and closed her eyes. When she opened them, her voice was low.

“You know, I really am sorry. He was one of the best in the world. Now, listen: you have every reason to hate and despise me. I am going to convince you to die for me. As so many have for The Wandering Inn. And…”

Her eyes flickered and grew sad.

“Before. And after, too. We are all soldiers in a great war, Erek. A skirmish like this morning isn’t even worth talking about. I need you.”

Convince him? The Orangutan was meaningfully silent. He knew her reputation. He had seen it in action. Seve had gone to sea and died for her, and he might have gone a second time, even if he had known how it would end.

But Erek was not Seve. He cracked a walnut in one hand and picked out the nut, waiting as Erin drew her breath to speak.

This had better be good.




Five minutes later, Erek shook Erin’s hand. He looked her up and down, then patted her on the shoulder.


Time to die for her. Erek scratched his head as he stared at Erin, mystified, gratified, humbled, and…grieving over Seve. But he understood.

“You’ll do it?”

He nodded, dignified, weary, but no longer bitterly angry. Just…tired. Almost as tired as she was. It was inconceivable, Erek had thought, that she could convince him with only a few words to like her again.

Let alone respect and admire her. But there she stood. He saw her, and Erek dipped his head. Erin hugged him awkwardly. Then let go.

“Thank you.”


He patted her on the head and wearily sat back into a chair. They had more to discuss. Erin sat down, and Erek suddenly had more questions for the future. More concerns. He was still mourning Seve. But now, he had someone to help protect as well as all of Seve’s other friends.

Oh, heavy fate.

Oh, great destiny.

Erek hoped he was strong enough for it. He would try to be.

And then—after the two sat, and spoke, after night had fallen and Ramok with it, and her deeds echoed once more. At last, finally—

Erin Solstice went to Elvallian.





Author’s Note:

This is the first part of the chapter that I split up for readability. Please continue onto the second part. The problem with long chapters is that they can be too long; this is a good breakpoint for future readers, and everyone can experience the next part without waiting.

I mean, aside from the fact that I had to take an extra update off to finish this one. But I hope you find the next part as satisfying as this one. Did you? I hope so.



Foliana by BoboPlushie, commissioned by ActionKermit!

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Bobo_Snofo

Ko-Fi: https://ko-fi.com/boboplushie


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