10.12 H (Pt. 2) – The Wandering Inn

10.12 H (Pt. 2)

The first thing the Horns did was make sure Ceria was actually okay. They hustled her off, trying to get anything out of her.

“Are you hurt? Ceria? Ceria!

Yvlon shook her so hard that Ceria’s head rattled until Pisces and Colth stopped Yvlon. Amerys floated after them with more of a scientific interest in Ceria’s affliction. Pisces might have begun to panic save for two factors.

Colth, who instantly ruled out using a potion on Ceria, and the [Healer] who came running. Colth was talking urgently.

“If she needs expert help, I can raise a call, but it’s super risky, Yvlon, Pisces. We’d have to take her away from here and ditch observation, but—what about The Last Light? I’ve seen magical backlash from artifacts. Let me get a [Message] to Larracel. She might know what to do.”

However, the [Healer] forestalled that. She was, of all things, a Drake. She had pale, white scales with several pronounced war-scars, and she was tall and strong—strong enough to shove people aside.

“None of that. [Battlefield Triage]. Out, out of the way! You as well, Named-rank. I have [Potions of Tales]—and I have more than just healing potions. If you think you can do better or help, by all means.”

Colth leapt back respectfully and instantly bowed.

“I’m a [Supporter], Miss—”

“Lady Possive. Good with a needle and thread, are you? I might have you help with the Stitch-folk [Prisoners] under my care. Little call for this. Has His Majesty broken another relic? Lady Amerys?”

“Intelligence-boosting circlet. Might have been cursed. He snapped it while she was linked. Hello, Possive. I completely forgot to say hello.”

The Drake rolled her eyes and exhaled. A plume of ice came from her mouth, and Pisces realized she was an Oldblood Drake. She had no wings, and she was around Amerys’ age.

“Typical. Well, the good news is she’s not going to get worse. And the better news is that I’ve seen mind-boosting artifacts break in battle. Did she start bleeding out the nose or ears when it happened?”


“Then she’s less likely to have been permanently damaged. If there were red or worse coming out her nostrils, I’d be asking if we had Potions of Regeneration. It looks to be a minor backlash, actually. Where’s the Relic? Is it actually destroyed?”

Amerys pointed, and Possive glanced down at it. The Archmage drawled.

“I don’t think His Majesty fully broke it.”

“Explains why she’s not that badly off. She’ll recover in two days. Sooner, probably. My [Gaze of Transparency] sees nothing bleeding in her head. If it’s mental damage, it could take longer, but that’s out of my purview. Wonderful arms, by the way, whomever you are.”

The Drake pointed at Yvlon, and the [Armsmistress] stared at her. Now here was someone new and off-putting. Pisces cleared his throat.

“Thank you, Miss—are you sure? She’s a dear friend to us.”

The Drake just snorted another plume of frost.

“Boy. I just triaged this entire area. My Skill would tell me if she were in need of my help. She’s not. She’s below the idiot who just cut their hand open over yonder. And as I said, I’ve seen this done. Someone splits a crown that makes a [King] smart as a snake, and he sits in his own stool for a week before snapping out of it. Happened twice on campaign in the old days.”

Amerys nodded happily, and the Horns realized this was another veteran of the King of Destruction’s wars. Relieved now that Ceria was going to recover, Pisces focused on the Drake.

“Are you Izrilian?”

“That’s right. I was one of the Drakes who was sent to ‘crush’ the King of Destruction and ‘restore order’ to Chandrar back when he was first here. About six disasters later, I wound up being recruited to his cause. Lady Possive, formerly of Fissival. How’s old Izril doing?”

Pisces’ jaw dropped. He shook her clawed hand, and the Drake favored him with a friendly smile. They spoke, briefly, as Amerys went off to tell Flos that Ceria would be alright.

She looked rather pitiful, sitting and holding her circlet together, and Possive did help them move Ceria to a tent. Pisces tried to get something out of Ceria, but the Drake advised him not to.

“She’s processing what just happened. Imagine you’re running a hundred feet a second and someone reaches out an arm and stops you dead in your tracks? Typical of His Majesty. Anyways, there’s a door from Pallass to Liscor? Incredible. I’ve never been to Liscor; it was still thought of as a bunch of rubes with an annoyingly good mercenary army when I left. All those Antinium didn’t exactly make me pine for home.”

“What did you do for the last twenty years?”

Possive snorted with amusement.

“I found work. I headed east; started a family. Had one annoying divorce. Ran into a [Pirate] group who thought a poor [Healer] couldn’t fight. Almost married their [Captain]. Then I was the chief healer for the capital city of Coslere—that’s a small nation on the coast—when I heard the call. It took me a while to get back.”

She said all of that, and Yvlon’s brows rose incredulously.

“Just like that? After so long?”

The Drake gave Yvlon a smile full of teeth.

“That’s loyalty for you. I wanted to see if he still deserved it. I haven’t been that disappointed so far. I’d love to chat, but I have some prisoners of Nerrhavia’s Fallen who need looking after. The important Silks get ransomed right back. Excuse me.”

Then she was gone. First that [Drummer], now her. Pisces wondered how many other people had stories like that.

“She had to be over Level 40.”

“At least.”

Colth agreed. He’d tried to see Possive’s potions and ask for tips, but she’d been too busy. The Horns looked at each other, and Yvlon blew out her cheeks. She was still angry—but she had a conflicted look on her face.

“Well—he just did the impossible. Snapped her circlet. I have a mind to—”

“Best not. If Ceria’s okay, let it drop, Yvlon.”

Colth cautioned her, and the [Armsmistress] frowned darkly, but Pisces agreed. In part. He felt as disturbed as Yvlon, and they all regarded Ceria.


She gave them a pleading look, and Yvlon folded her arms. Pisces stared at the circlet, and he wondered if you thanked Flos or punched him.

Well, he knew which one would lose him an arm. Even so…for a second, the Horns stood there until someone poked their head into the tent.

“Is the half-Elf good? Come along, the King of Destruction still wants to talk with the rest of you!”

Jelaim, the leader of the Serpent Hunters, grinned at the lot of them. The adventurers exchanged a glance, and after making sure Ceria had something to drink and eat, they reluctantly headed back out into the camp.




To say that took Ceria out of the night’s festivities was an understatement. To say it ended the party was to lie outright.

The King of Destruction was in a fine mood even afterwards, and he dragged Pisces, Yvlon, and Colth around. He even talked about his desire to have the Mad Ones repatriated to him.

“Chemath Marble? I can’t see what the fuss is. Drevish would be breathing down my neck, but he is dead—I want my insane experts. Especially with everything Trey and Teresa tell me about…well, let’s not speak of it here.”

He gave the three a knowing look and gestured around the camp.

“I have a mind to make one more request of you, but should you head to Nerrhavia’s Fallen, I will consider it a boon if you could escort them safely to me. Your reward shall be…hm. Perhaps hiring Rasea Zecrew to ferry you to Baleros and then the [Innkeeper] and yourselves back to Izril?”

“Do you want to get them killed, Your Majesty?”

Mars put in, highly amused. Flos waved a hand at her.

“Shh. I’m trying to think! That’s the problem with adventurers. You can’t reward them without having more Relics lying around. And I, ah, may owe you one already. Is Ceria still doing well?”

“Staring at her circlet while eating Yellats, Your Majesty.”

“Good enough. Consider it, Horns. Or do you have something you desire of me?”

Flos gave them a hopeful look as, behind him, people continued to crack the comet. Pisces had, with permission, wandered over with several of his Skeleton Champions, but none of the undead had reacted one whit to the comet, even by night.

Another failure. Flos was glancing at the undead with clear interest, and he had already asked Colth to go a round with some of his vassals in the Serpent Hunters. He’d asked Yvlon too.

She had refused. She still wasn’t sure if she was grateful or enraged at the King of Destruction.

Colth had developed that cunning look in his eyes. Pisces didn’t know if that was a good thing, given how Ceria’s last attempt had just gone. But he leaned over and whispered.

“Your Majesty. There is one thing we might accept if we extracted the Mad Ones—”

“Colth. Colth—I think we’ve had enough of that, don’t you?”

Pisces tried to forestall his friend, but the King of Destruction was like a dog who’d sighted a bone.

“No, no. Tell me.”

Pisces hesitated and paled, but Colth wasn’t looking at Flos…he was staring at Trey for some reason. The young man who’d insulted the King of Destruction to his face. His eyes slid to Pisces—and the [Necromancer] spoke softly in the face of Flos Reimarch’s stare.

“It’s a sensitive subject, Your Majesty. If I may confide in private? I have a—situation you may be able to resolve.”

Flos’ eyebrows rose, but he retired to his war tent in good humor.

“So? What is it? Trouble with Raelt? If it’s Fetohep, he’ll scarcely listen. Though he won’t hold a grudge about the fighting in New Jecrass; frankly, I’m surprised Jaganismet got through to you at all, mighty though he is. Normally, even he would be halted.”

“No, Your Majesty. I…I don’t suppose you know how I ended up in Chandrar?”

Pisces was awkward, embarrassed, and nervous at once, and Yvlon grabbed his arm. He looked at her gratefully, and she gave him a jerk of the head. I can—?

He shook his head. Some of the King’s Seven were here, but most had gone off to party. Even Orthenon was checking on Ceria again. But Gazi had entered the war tent, and so had Amerys.

As if they knew something. Trey Atwood was not present. Flos raised his brows, taking Pisces’ nerves seriously.

“Something more serious, then.”

He sat forwards, pressing his fingers together.

“…I know there are ways to mitigate it. But it must be her will, and if the Arbiter Queen is with child—”

Pisces’ cheeks bulged, and even Colth stared. Flos gave them a blank look.

“No? Ceria told me they were privately dueling—hah!”

He sat back, laughing to himself ruefully, and Pisces spoke.

“I was a [Slave] of Roshal, Your Majesty. Unfairly enslaved. I have the scars to prove it.”

He caught the King of Destruction mid-laugh, like a sucker punch. The King of Destruction was still laughing when Pisces raised his robes and showed him the raised flesh of the brand on his chest.

It was the most daring Yvlon had ever seen of Pisces. Why? She looked around—then saw Gazi’s eyes on Pisces’ chest. Amerys had raised her brows, not exactly shocked, but surprised. Gazi…

Gazi saw everything. Pisces met Gazi’s eyes defiantly and seemed unsure of why she closed all five eyes briefly and tilted her head towards him. His glare became uncertain. And for a second, Gazi touched her neck.

Colth’s eyes shone like cold gemstones as the King of Destruction stopped laughing and stared. For a moment, Yvlon thought Pisces, Colth, and Gazi shared an unspoken sentiment.

Then she turned her attention to the King of Destruction and saw he had frozen on his throne. He sat there, lounging to one side, unevenly, but still with more decorum in him than she had seen in High King Perric. Face troubled. Brow dark.


He began and looked at Pisces. Then stopped.

“Even during Sand at Sea?

“Yes, Your Majesty.”

“You did not tell Fetohep?”

“I—did not feel able to, at the time. Your Majesty.”

The King of Destruction gazed down at Pisces. His lips moved.

“Did you kill—? No. Tell me the full story. Orthen—Gazi. Seal the tent. Bring wine, water. Chairs. What will you have? Sit, Pisces Jealnet.”

Then he listened. Yvlon had heard Pisces’ tale many times—she stood outside the tent for a while, went for a walk, checked on Ceria.

She would have fought an Adult Creler if one emerged from the ground, barehanded. But she ran from Pisces’ retelling. When she returned, Pisces was at the end of it, and the King of Destruction sat on his throne.

Good humor gone. His face was dark, troubled. Anger boiled off of him, so palpable that the cup sitting on his armrest was actually doing the same. Yet it was not wholly righteous anger. He seemed to smoke, silently, before turning his gaze upon Pisces with a heat that made the [Necromancer] flinch.

“Milord, he is telling the truth.”

Gazi began, but Flos cut her off.

“I have no doubt, Gazi. No, be silent, Amerys. I have no doubt—just tell me one thing, Pisces Jealnet. I do not begrudge you…but he put you up to this, didn’t he?


The King of Destruction’s eyes blazed, and he spat.


Pisces exchanged confused looks with Colth and Yvlon and shook his head. That caught Flos off-guard. He looked incredulously at Gazi, who gave him a shake of the head as well. Then he began to bluster for the first time.

“Ah. Well—in that case—I thought of something else, Pisces. Forgive me. That changes nothing, of course. Enslaved. For the crime of trespassing? What charge could…no. There is no charge. This was an injustice, and an Emir Riqre?”

He stood, pacing back and forth.

“And you are sure he is dead?”

He swung around, and Pisces nodded hesitantly.

“I trust he is.”

The King of Destruction did not ask to see Pisces’ scar again, but his eyes flicked to Pisces’ robes and then away. He strode to one end of the tent and stared down at a map. Eyes going to one corner of Chandrar. Then up to Pisces.

“Some men should die for their crimes. Roshal would answer for this in blood if you were my subject. They still might, if this were cried loud. I did not mention it, but I knew they had a claim on you, Pisces. Though I thought it scarcely surprising if you did slay the Naga’s servant at sea. What was he doing there, anyways?”

“Kidnapping Erin Solstice? Killing Earthers?”

Colth put in, voice calm and too bland. Flos’ head rose.


His head spun, and Amerys cocked her head.

“Strange. We had no word of that.

That shocked Yvlon. Lyonette had given Ceria an account of the battle, and if that was so, the Five Families should have been screaming this attack on their own, if nothing else, across the world. Had Roshal done something?

The King of Destruction could hardly get more unhappy, but he threw himself into his throne. He seemed—unwilling to say something. Twice he opened his mouth, looked at Amerys for some reason, then away.

Strangely, Gazi wasn’t looking in her king’s direction. There was a tension in the air, in Amerys’ half-smile that wasn’t really a smile, the King of Destruction’s fuming—the Horns merely stood there.

“It was a crime done by [Slavers] of Roshal, and that is without question. This Igheriz, Riqre, the others—I would put a bounty on their heads if they lived. That they are dead makes justice difficult. The Arbiter Queen would be better for this kind of thing. I can only state my outrage and grief that you suffered it, Pisces. Both as a [King] and as someone who thought of you as a brief companion.”

That was what Flos Reimarch said at last, meeting Pisces’ eyes. The [Necromancer] nodded, and Colth spoke.

“No one will hold Roshal to account for it, Your Majesty. Even Jecaina found herself unable to oppose the [Slavers].”

“…They are useful. The wealth of Chandrar escapes many nations. Jaganismet is not the only one. Even the Quarass battles the need for coins more than most foes, for all her wisdom. And I have been told to—I shall discuss the matter with the next representative of Roshal I encounter. More than that, I cannot promise. It will not be a pleasant discussion.”

For all his eyes flashed, and for all he sounded genuine, and she was sure he would keep his word—Flos reminded Yvlon, then, of Perric. Just for a moment. He sat there, clearly unhappy with his own words, and Pisces bowed his head.

“Thank you, Your Majesty. That is all I ask.”

“Yes. Think nothing of it for it is…”

The King of Destruction folded his arms. He glowered into the distance. Turned his head; both of his vassals looked the other way, and the silence loomed larger. At last, Flos Reimarch growled into the silence.

“Well then, kneel. That will be the end of it, and I will hear nothing from you two.”

Kneel? Yvlon glanced at Colth, who blinked suddenly, but Flos had directed the second part of his words at Amerys and Gazi. The first part—

Pisces stared at the King of Destruction.


Flos sat back on his throne heavily. He beckoned.

“It has been a long time since I’ve done this—but I was taught. The right of [Kings]. Or the rite of [Kings]. Araxia and all [Punners] should be punished. And hers do sting.

That made no sense to the Horns, but Pisces was exchanging a glance of disbelief with Colth. Yet Gazi’s eyes had refocused on them and were glowing bright.

“You mean—Your Majesty intends to offer us the boon for rescuing the Mad Ones? In—advance?”

Colth began carefully, and Yvlon stared at him. Hadn’t the other rulers refused or insisted on…?

What were they getting themselves into? Was it too much?

It doesn’t matter. Don’t object. She looked at the King of Destruction, and he scowled.

“As prepayment? A boon for a boon? Do I look so miserly?

He saw Yvlon open her mouth and snapped.

Do not answer that. Kindly. An injustice has been done before my eyes. No, I do not demand it in exchange for anything. Approach me and kneel, Pisces Jealnet. I do not need your sworn service as a citizen or anything else. I am King of Reim. King of Destruction. Once, King of Chandrar!”

His eyes had grown brighter in the gloom, and then he seemed as large as Pisces and Colth had said Jaganismet looked, a towering, brooding man contained by mere flesh.

“I decree it unjust. If Roshal deigns to argue this—they may speak to me.




Pisces Jealnet had been here before. Kneeling before a throne this time, a hand placed on his shoulder rather than a sword. Twice, actually, once with Jecaina, once with Raelt.

The Quarass had not even tried. Whether or not she was capable…it was not a thing of strength. Jaganismet with all his might could have strained a thousand times, and Pisces doubted it would have worked without the understanding.

Dark waters rose around him, this time so real they clung to his robes. He looked down, and rusted chains were around his wrists, his neck. He couldn’t breathe—he was drowning, and the gates of a harbor opened.

Lailight Scintillation.

He would never be free. The [Slave] felt the weight of his class burning him now, like the scar on his chest. He was half-naked as the chains slowly clinked, pulling him link by link into that harbor. The city shone bright.

But in the depths of that city was a well. Jars. Pisces tried to pull away, but the class was in his very nature. Crimson like Cawe’s blood. Corrupting him—like barbs and hooks under his flesh.

He sank into an ocean made of tears, drowning out cries of pain, and there was no rainbow shooting across the sky, a true comet of hope.

But there was a [King].

Pisces’ head broke the waves as a hand hauled him up, and Flos Reimarch stood, a perfect image of him, beard blowing as he looked into the sea with distaste, then at Pisces’ chains. He reached down, and the ancient rust cracked and broke into the sea.

I can do nothing about your scar. But even they have knelt to me.

He pointed, and Pisces saw the gates of Roshal’s harbor begin to shake as they had when Raelt had tried to release him.

The authority of Roshal rose above the two: five great spires of power rising over the two of them.

Ancient chains of rusted blood rising from a deep harbor. Twining once more towards Pisces. Dragging him down. Anchoring him to some submerged path he feared. A road he had never chosen, never wanted. Connected by each link of suffering and agony—the weight of ages daring anyone to violate their will.

—a length of rusted metal. A glittering, golden chain. A Naga’s tail—

The King of Destruction reached out and slapped the will of Roshal like a man slapping a camel who had gotten too lippy with him.

The harbor rocked. The twisted gates rang, and the five spires shook with the invisible force of the blow. Pisces jolted forwards as the chains pulled—and the King of Destruction grabbed the chains.

“Will you hold onto him? Without recourse? Without justice? If so, you and I truly are at odds. Pull, Naga. I am already angry with you. Pull, strangers. Keep holding onto him. Or I shall claim this man and all connected to him. Like so—”

Then he began to heave, and Pisces felt the chain binding him pull the other way. Ancient metal rose from the sea and split a hundred thousand times, a million times, linked to countless other fates in the city. And the King of Destruction began to pull them out of Lailight Scintillation.

Just for a second. A single link moved back, and the King of Destruction grunted. His strength, the strength of a man who had conquered all of Chandrar, was near-effortless in breaking Ceria’s circlet. Pisces now saw the King of Destruction grit his teeth. He pulled—and the five towers pulled back.

The movement away from the harbor halted. Then the King of Destruction was locked in a strange tug-of-war with five figures. Five…forces built up by countless lesser towers, daring them to oppose him.

The world heaved. Pisces felt pulled in twain, but he could sense the towers shaking. 

What did they see behind Flos? Pisces turned his head and stared at the King of Destruction’s authority. Four towers above his city of Reim; three broken. A kingdom of rubble and yet-enduring majesty.

Then—one of Roshal’s towers cracked, and the chain holding onto Pisces broke. Someone refused to strive. A second one cracked instantly, then a third after a long delay. Two more held on, bitterly, but Pisces thought he saw the Naga let go first.

Then it was just one left, and Flos stared at a distant tower of Roshal’s might.

“Who are you now? You’re the oldest of the lot and the most prideful, even more than the Naga. Well. You seem weak to me, for someone with the ego of a single nation. Hmph.

He heaved—and the last tower almost shattered, and something snapped. Pisces felt the world jerk—and for a moment, he was falling. Shouting in terror, rushing towards the sea—

A hand caught his. The King of Destruction pulled him up, and his face was calmer now. Triumphant. Regretful. Guilty, all in one.


That was all he said. Pisces’ grip tightened onto that hand, and for a second, trapped in that world of authority and rules—he whispered something.

“What about the others?”

The King of Destruction’s look of triumph faltered. Pisces stared down into the dark sea. He looked up—but the King of Destruction merely pulled. And then—Pisces was floating, dreaming, in a void between the moments his eyes opened in the real world and this one vanished. And he heard a voice.


[Slave class removed!]

[<Slave> Skills removed.]


Thank you, Pisces thought. Thank you. At last…he wondered then and did not remember the thought when he woke. But he did wonder why that voice sounded almost as guilty as the King of Destruction.

However it was done, Pisces was glad of it. When he opened his eyes and found the King of Destruction calling for wine and out of this stuffy tent, he breathed out in relief. Colth grabbed his shoulder and hugged him, and Yvlon asked if Flos had succeeded.

Gazi nodded to Pisces, and he looked at her and realized who she had been.

He thought he would smile, then, or laugh. But he didn’t.

He was relieved. It was as if a great weight had been lifted from his shoulders. Even hours afterwards, at night, Pisces felt lighter. Free.

The scar on his chest remained, and he knew Roshal would not give up so easily. But his class was gone.

He owed the King of Destruction that. And it was enough to make Pisces balance the books with Flos destroying Ceria’s circlet; it mattered that greatly to him. But he sat by himself on a bench and couldn’t place what was wrong with him, why he didn’t leap for joy.

Then he realized what was wrong.

“The others. What about the others?”

The same words he’d said to Flos. The feeling in Pisces’ bones in this moment wasn’t just relief, joy at finally being rid of his class. But a desire so hot as to be burning to find Eloque, Droppe, and the others and give them the same freedom.

It wasn’t right. So long as they were out there, in danger—

Colth understood. The [Supporter] was all smiles, though, and he brought Pisces a mug of spiced ale.

“Take what you can get as a victory, Necrolad. Take it. Now you get me—for all he’s a Relic-breaking piece of Creler crap, he did this, didn’t he?”

“Yeah. Thank you, Colth.”

Pisces took a huge gulp of his drink, and the boot that kicked him in the stomach nearly made him spray it all out. He recoiled—until he saw Gazi, standing there, mug in hand.

“My liege is still my [King]. Mind your tongue, Pisces, Colthei.”

Her voice was level, and from the way Colth was swearing, he’d gotten a similar kick. Pisces almost snapped back something, but Gazi’s heart didn’t seem to be in her boots right now.

“They will follow you.”

“Thank you for the advice, Named-rank Gazi the Omniscient. I would have never guessed. Do you have more tips for a rookie like me?”

Colth eyed her balefully, and she favored him with a stare. Pisces had almost forgotten that Gazi was a Named-rank adventurer. But all the [Necromancer] said was—

“You too?”

“I was a child when he freed me. As he had every right to do. It was far easier, and he did it on impulse, as he always does. It does not change my loyalty to him, only my perception of certain things. Mind your tongues.”

Still, she raised the mug once before sipping at it. Pisces began to understand something of the politics in the King of Destruction’s court. It was not an actual court, but this was clearly a division between her and the other Seven.

“Anyone else on that side of sides, Lady Pathseeker? No. Rather, can we do anything to help?”

Colthei grinned, and she gave him a glower with two eyes. Some of the tips of his hair turned to stone, and he swore and brushed at them.

“Little you can or should do, Colthei. Giving my lord a chance to do this is enough. As for harassment—far braver servants than I have no fear, it seems.”

Gazi took another sip from her drink, and Colth and Pisces turned their heads to see the King of Destruction. He was striding away from, of all people, a platinum-green-haired young woman and that [Mage] Pisces had seen earlier.

Trey Atwood and Elena Othonos pursued Flos until Zamea of the Nomads of the Sky literally cut them off with a huge foot. From the way the King of Destruction gave Trey a baleful look, it was clear this wasn’t their first argument.

“The bravery of that lad. I’d be careful of doing that.”

Colth murmured, and Gazi replied with another, rarely genuine smile.

“He’s special.”

When she noticed the two looking at her and Trey thoughtfully, her face became her usual scowl. But then the King of Destruction headed their way.

“Enough! Enough, I say. Pisces, do me a single favor for the night’s entertainment! Just one! Maybe five! I want to see how I fare against these undead of yours! I need to practice real combat, not debate sophistry!”

Pisces looked up and groaned. He didn’t mind it, he really didn’t. And again, it was a small price to pay, and he didn’t care how it was done—this was a great day for him, at least—

But he really hoped he’d have a single Skeleton Champion after all this was said and done.




Skeleton Champions. Superior undead. A pair of them would have made the old Horns of Hammerad sweat if they had appeared in a dungeon somewhere. Add in a Lich, a Skeleton Mage? Then you had an offensive lineup that probably exceeded any ordinary Silver-rank team.

They weren’t…stronger than Calruz had been at Silver-rank. But they were tough, fast, and could use weapons well. Even Gold-rankers didn’t like to run into them.

Praise the Skeleton Champion. Admire them, just as you admired any [Necromancer] capable of raising more than one.

There were four of them. One had a greatsword, which it brandished one-handed; another had a rapier as it balanced on the balls of its feet, swaying back and forth. A third had a bow and backup shortsword; the final one whirled two blades around in a dance of death.

The King of Destruction met the first Skeleton Champion’s blow with his sword, and he sheared through the blade and skeleton so fast he called a time-out.

“Hold on! I need a worse blade! Time out!”

Pisces was having a drink. His third, rather. He wasn’t really that sad—but there was something inherently depressing about watching the King of Destruction slap a Skeleton Champion’s head off after disarming it with a longsword.

He was having fun. And he was one of Reim’s greatest warriors, even if he admitted he wasn’t nearly as adept as his Seven. Even when two came at him from both sides, the cheering soldiers and their [King] treated it like sport.

“I haven’t used two blades in a while. Hah—hah—damn, it’s always harder than it looks!”

Rapier on one side, dual blades on the other, and the King of Destruction was holding both off. He made a show of flailing his blades around, but the whirring sound they made as they cut the air and the way he deflected one of the skeleton’s blades so hard it jarred out of its grip told Pisces how this was going to go.

“They really are better than normal. See? That one feints—hah!

The one with the rapier went in for a lunge and got a kick that sent it crashing backwards into a pile of bones. It actually began to reanimate, and Flos grinned.

“These are sturdier than most I’ve met. Are they made of something interesting, Pisces?”

“Gargoyle bones.”

The gloomy [Necromancer] reached for a fourth cup, but Mars slapped him on the back so hard it went all over his robes.

“Not bad! Your Majesty, do all four at once before you break the lot! Shame we can’t give him more bones from the battle, but they’re all Stitch-folk bodies. Mostly.”

“Four it is!”

Pisces did half-twist around to watch this next part. Yvlon had come out of a tent, and she saw the Skeleton Champions line up. Could undead look nervous? Colth was cheering on the King of Destruction.

That damn [Supporter] was using [Sycophant] Skills. He was doing his Colth thing—blending in, acting drunk and cheery. Pisces sighed as Yvlon walked over.

“Ceria’s alright. I think. She’s up to words. She was cursing the King of Destruction for a good ten minutes.”

“That’s good—”

The two broke off because it was instructive to watch Flos of Reim fight. He took his longsword and a shield, set himself as the four Skeleton Champions swung around him—and took them to pieces.

His style of fighting was to use his overwhelming strength. If you made the mistake of getting into the range of his shield, it would block you—then cave in your entire torso when he rammed it into you. If you tried to attack, he’d parry your arm off your body.

And Raelt fought him?

Pisces needed to rewatch that entire battle again. To their credit, the Skeleton Champions lasted longer than he thought!

Twenty seconds.

Flos whirled his sword through one’s neck, forcing another to dodge back. He was laughing.

“They’re almost as good at Khelt’s undead! Those bastards can do backflips. Hah! It got me!”

A roar of surprise arose, and Pisces’ head jerked up. Flos turned, and Pisces saw him hold up his arm. There was the tiniest of cuts on his clothing. The skeleton with the bow had given the one with two swords an opening by firing at Flos; he’d dodged point-blank, and Orthenon had caught the arrow before it had hit a bystander.

The King of Destruction casually tossed the shield he was carrying through the archer, then gripped his longsword two-handed.

“I never had many combat Skills. Alas—how does it go? Reduced to Ribbons!

His sword blurred in a zig-zag cut, and Pisces winced as he saw his final Skeleton Champion fragment in a way he was pretty sure he couldn’t repair. It wasn’t a Skill—Flos shook his head and planted his sword in the ground.

“Damn. It looks far better as an actual Skill, you know. If only I had a dozen—but they’re hard to learn!”

He turned to the Horns, and even Yvlon looked slightly aghast. She muttered to Pisces.

“If he had Sword Arts, he’d be nigh unstoppable. With that strength, it’s cheating.”

Flos accepted some water, laughing, in great humor. He strode over.

“It’s like the Sand Golem miniatures Trey made all over again! You and he make life so much more interesting, pestilential as Trey can be, Pisces. I can never fight with my full strength against anyone but my Seven, and then I can never touch them!”

“That’s because if you touch us, you can break even our bones. Well, Orthenon’s at least, Your Majesty.”

Mars drawled, and Flos laughed. Then he beckoned.

“Colth! You promised us a bout! Hey, clear off the bones and let our [Necromancer] reclaim his minions. Ah. You can fix them, can’t you?”

Pisces estimated he had about two and a half skeletons’ worth left. He trudged over to the pile of bones, but the [Soldiers] were even helping pick them up and offering him drinks and food for letting their [King] have his fun.

At least they were jocular. Pisces raised the bones into the air, recreating two Skeleton Champions. He swore one of the skulls was glowering at him as green light flickered back into the sockets.

Yvlon had already refused to fight, but Colth was squaring off against one of Flos’ veterans. Strangely, he was barehanded, and then Colth said something astonishing.

“Your Majesty. In honor of our meeting, I feel I should share my new Skill, won from a <Mythical Quest>, no less! It might not be a Level 50 Skill, but it could possibly entertain even you.”

There was a roar of surprise, and Flos turned, eyes lighting up.

A <Mythical Quest>? I’ve been toying with issuing one for months, but I can’t find anything I want done! What was the deed?”

Slaying Iert underwater without coming back up to breathe. Colth demurred, avoiding answering directly.

Pisces’ mouth opened as the bones rose around him. Colth had been practicing with it for a month! He had kept it secret—he never revealed his tricks.

Then, Pisces saw him take a stance unlike the two he’d been practicing, and he realized what the trick was. The [Soldier] across from Colth had put up a guard with two leather gloves studded with mithril—he was some kind of [Fistfighter].

In response, Colth set his stance low, as if he were huge, and made two gigantic fists. He spoke.

[Imitation of Might: Mighty Jaganismet]!

Flos’ shout was as loud as the others around him, and Yvlon blinked. But Pisces whispered back to her as Colth seemed to grow half a foot.

“It’s not going to fully work. Watch—”

Colth looked bigger, and the [Soldier] skipped back as Colth executed a full punch and kick, like the [King] of Heroph. However—when he turned to the King of Destruction, he gave him a rueful shrug.

“It doesn’t work unless I get the exact motions and fighting style down, Your Majesty. It’s more like [Lesser Strength].”

Jaganismet’s strength itself! Now there’s a Skill worthy of a <Quest>! Let’s see it done!”

Flos pounded a table, and Colth and the other [Soldier] squared off. Pisces missed the fighting in full as people rushed to look, but he was almost done repairing his remaining Skeleton Champions when he heard the shouting.

“Colth lost?”

Yvlon had stood on her metal foot, which had elongated to make her a foot taller. She nodded as she stepped down.

“He lost the effect when he stopped fighting in whatever style that was. I think he held back after that. The other [Soldier] was very fast, though.”

Even Colth couldn’t beat an expert in their own setting. But the King of Destruction himself was in the ring next, standing next to Colth.

Incredible. It’s a pale imitation of Jaganismet, but what a Skill for a [Supporter]! I think I see the problem—Jaganismet’s more canny a fighter than that. Hey, Mars! Show Colth how he fights. I think he’d stand like this—I used to wrestle him, you know.”

Then Pisces saw Colth grinning and copying the King of Destruction and other old [Soldiers] who were giving him tips on how to mimic Jaganismet. Pisces snapped his fingers.

“Of course. Clever Colth.”

If he mastered Jaganismet, that would make three people he could imitate, even if he had only achieved one form so far. The real [Imitation of Might] Skill was a lot more dangerous than this half-baked display. Yvlon glanced at Pisces, and he wondered if she could guess who the other two were.

“I need to keep training.”

That was all the [Armsmistress] said with a slight smile. Pisces grimaced as he pointed to his Skeleton Champions.

“And it would appear that I require more innovation with my undead. At least, at the level we’re approaching.”

“Is six your limit of Skeleton Champions?”

“I rather think I could do twelve, but it would be more tiring.”

“Maybe you should favor quality over quantity?”

“I can’t do more than one Skeleton Lord—I would do another warbear or some such, but they’re less adaptable in a fight.”

“What about something original?”

Art takes time! Do you know how difficult it is to create something with functioning joints and skeletal structure?”

The two were bickering, and Yvlon smiled as Pisces hunted around in the sandy ground for any remaining fragments of ivory.

Strangely, he felt like he was missing a piece. But a shard of bone wasn’t going to exactly rebuild his undead stockpile.

There go my Gargoyle bones. I hope I can find something with actual skeletal structure around here. Friendly though he is, I doubt the King of Reim will let me use his people’s bones.

Pisces’ foot unearthed something in the sand, and he paused.

“Hm? What’s this?”

Pisces found a broken piece of one of the skeletons’ skulls that Flos had kicked into the ground. He bent down, and Yvlon blinked.

“Huh. Looks like a fragment of that meteorite—wait a second.”

She and Pisces stared down as he pulled more of the skull out of the ground. Yvlon’s first thought had been that Pisces had found a piece of the comet. But no—

It was just bone. But not regular bone. Pisces’ heart began to beat faster as he looked down and saw a different substance than all the materials he had ever seen before.

What he saw was a glimmering, bright white piece of ivory along the cracked jaw, clearly different from the rest of the skull. That had not been there before.

“Stellar Ivory?”

The exclamation drew Flos’ attention, and he broke away from Colth’s lessons to see what was going on.

“What’s this now?”

The rest of the skull fell away as Pisces found himself holding about a third of a jawbone; pristine, moon-pale material that made his [Necromancer] senses tingle. It was, without a doubt, exactly what he had wanted.

And yet, where had it come from? Flos peered at the bone with great interest, asking what it was, and Pisces’ eyes slid to the skull—then to Flos—and his eyes widened.

Wait a second—

This was the skeleton that had nicked the King of Destruction! At least, the skull had belonged to it! He waved the bone at Flos.

“It’s—this is something I’ve been trying to make for ages, Your Majesty. Stellar Ivory. Did you do something to the skeletons?”

“Not really. I tried a Skill on that one, but it certainly didn’t activate.”

Yvlon’s head was swinging between Pisces and Flos, and she rubbed at her forehead. Pisces was trying to give Flos a garbled explanation of what he thought the material and requirements were, and Amerys had floated over to listen. Then Yvlon’s eyes widened, and she pounded a fist into her hand.

“Oh, dead gods. It’s a pun. It’s a steel-kissing pun, Pisces!”

He turned to look at her, and it clicked in his head. Flos blinked at the piece of bone—then he threw his head back and began to laugh. Amerys rolled her eyes up in her head, and Pisces saw it.

Stellar Ivory. Stellar as in the sky—especially the stars—and the other meaning. Outstanding achievement.

“Nicking the King of Destruction under starlight. Outstanding ivory made by using undead to their full potential. Small wonder I’ve never heard of it. Indeed, what [Necromancer] would favor that kind of quality over quantity?”

Amerys’ voice was droll. But Flos’ eyes lit up as he stared at the piece of Stellar Ivory.

“So they have to do well at night? Pisces, Yvlon, Colth—you are a balm for my weary soul. Mars!

The Illusionist sighed as she looked up, and Flos beckoned her.

“I need you to lose to a skeleton.”




Mars lay on the ground, dead, as a Skeleton Champion stomped energetically on her head. She stared at Pisces with a half-grin, and he swore the Skeleton Champion was sweating as much as he was.

“Alright, I don’t think it’s working.”

Flos conceded after twenty minutes of testing. Mars sat up, easily dislodging the Skeleton Champion.

“We could have it cut me, but I’d have to take my armor off, Your Majesty. And I’m sure the undead would swoon before my beauty before it hurt me.”

She blew a kiss at the Skeleton Champion, and its head pinged back slightly. However, it had no more Stellar Ivory than before, and several disappointed warriors of Reim were proof that making more was harder than it looked.

Pisces inspected the tiniest fragment of Stellar Ivory on the tip of a finger; one of his Skeleton Champions had won a bout against a [Soldier] in an honest duel. It had gotten about a fingernail’s worth of Stellar Ivory; the other matches had been rigged and resulted in nothing. Mars summarized the problem well.

“Hm. You can’t cheat and let them win. Nor are they able to put up a real fight. ‘Slike most of the ones I’ve seen in crypts.”

She meant against herself or the other Seven. Pisces turned to Mars, remembering she too had a reputation as a conqueror of dungeons.

“You’ve fought undead before I take it, Lady Mars?”

She chortled and crushed his head against her chest in a hug. She seemed to find it amusing to do on anyone who turned red. He knew she was wearing armor under the illusion, but true to Colth’s words, she just seemed like a tall, blonde-haired woman in ordinary clothing.

“Sure. Skeleton Captains. Skeleton Knights. Skeleton Mages, Skeleton Lancers—the really dangerous ones are Skeleton Generals. I had to smash through a thousand to get at one of them, once. Skeleton Lords are actually easier; they come to you, and they all think they’re the best. I’ve run into nastier ones too, but I never knew their names. Wish I’d been at your Village of the Dead. Now that looked like a fun fight.”

This was a high-level discussion. Pisces gulped as a hither-to aloof member of the Seven appeared. Takhatres, Lord of the Skies.

“You get rare ones that are either naturally formed or really old in the Zeikhal. When Flos was asleep, my tribe and I ran into some damn annoying ones made out of metal. Took days to break apart; they barely moved when we grabbed sledgehammers.”

“Really? What did they look like?”

“Hm. Like Garuda bones, which I suppose is unusual to you.”

“Really. But then they’d be hollow—and they were still that strong?”

That was how Pisces ended up sitting under the night sky, watching people continue to break open the comet with hammers, the glow of magical gemstones and firelight playing off the camp—having a drink with Mars, Colth, and Takhatres. Flos had gone off to take his turn mining the comet, and the aloof Garuda spoke slightly condescendingly to Pisces while Mars traded jabs with him.

A strange night. A pleasant one? After a while, Pisces felt a hill sit down next to him and looked up.

Zamea of the Nomads of the Sky sat down. Tallest of the half-Giants. She had scars longer than he was tall, and she, like the others, seemed like a warrior of fables.

A half-Giant with a class. Pisces swallowed hard as she smiled down at him. Her teeth were in very good condition. Pisces wondered if anyone made a toothbrush her size.

“Look at the King of Destruction’s newest obsession! He takes to promising littlefolk well. Savor the moment, adventurers, for it’s not likely to come again.”

…She had no idea what their names were. But Colth instantly got up and bowed, and Mars introduced them. Zamea chuckled.

“If you had the bones, I’d ask to spar with that Bone Behemoth, Adventurer Pisces. Though it might be too small for me.”

Pisces realized that was actually true; even if he raised it, Zamea would still have a height advantage.

Dead gods, I need to learn to raise Skeleton Giants. Or is that too cliché? I wonder what Az’kerash would say about this group.

He almost missed being contacted by the Necromancer.

Despite their superiority, it seemed Zamea and Takhatres had deigned to at least acknowledge Pisces for Flos’ interest in the Horns. However, Pisces saw more half-Giants carefully wading into the camp, warning the smaller people to get out of their way.

Six sat down around him, cross-legged, and suddenly he was staring up at gigantic faces. Zamea had a single cup in hand.

“Rarely we drink, even on the King of Destruction’s hospitality. ‘Tisn’t like we need the same sustenance as you folk. I can quench my thirst and still be fine a week later. True, it’s a lot of water—do you know why we greet you?”

Pisces…had a sudden thought. He looked from face to face, and Zamea answered her own question.

“I have heard tell that one of our own, a child lost to us when we left Izril, has breathed his last. You knew him.”


He would have been tiny compared to his brothers and sisters here. And yet—there were some half-Giants who were merely ‘taller than Jaganismet’ instead of living hills. Zamea’s eyes grew softer.

“Indeed. Though I know not who coined the term, I have heard him called ‘the last Giant of Izril’. Fitting and tragic; it is likely true. You are the only person we have met who knew him. Will you drink with us and tell his tale? That is how Nomads of the Sky grieve.”

Pisces swallowed hard. He rose to his feet and spread his hands.

“I was not there at his end, Lady Zamea. I was…elsewhere.”

The half-Giantess nodded slowly. She had necklaces of metal, giant links of gold hanging around her neck. He had heard half-Giants used to carry jewels and treasures like that; they’d tear off a link as payment. She peered down at him.

“Then—have you witnessed any of his triumphs? A moment of great victory—or defeat?”

Garen Redfang’s death? The Halfseekers at the Meeting of Tribes? Moore in the Village of the Dead? The moment he fought the Raskghar?

Pisces could do that. He looked around for Ceria or Yvlon, but both were absent. So Pisces accepted a mug that Takhatres had appeared with and raised it.

“I will do my best.”

Then he spoke to the last of the half-Giants of a kindly [Green Mage] who had too much heart for his profession. Of a team filled with people like him and a great, gentle warrior who could be terrifying in fury, but who really just wanted to let a little Gnoll girl climb around his shoulders and sleep in a bed big enough for him.

Pisces spoke until tears came to his eyes and fell from above. Rain in dry Chandrar.

A strange, long night indeed. Filled with relief from his burdens, revelations, sundered Relics, and stories.

That was, Pisces supposed—exactly in keeping with the King of Destruction.




Yvlon Byres was angry at the King of Destruction. Just a bit. She was always a bit angry at something or someone, usually herself. But Berr had taught her to master that anger.

Part of that mastery was the ability to not do something she didn’t want to. Flos would have liked to see her fight and show off her metal body. It gave her satisfaction that he did not, and he was too good of a host to push the issue.

Colth and Pisces seemed to be enjoying themselves, if the sight of Pisces surrounded by half-Giants and Colth trying another drum-dance was anything to go by. Yvlon just went to check on Ceria.


“Are you sure you don’t need something?”

Ceria was still slightly cross-eyed as she sat, fiddling with the circlet. She stared up vaguely at Yvlon in the tents they been given and, after clear effort, spoke.

Ths…fming King…muh mind opened up. I see inside it.”


Ceria nodded a few times.

“Gonna eat his pants. Flos.”

“Don’t do that. Get some sleep.”

Yvlon patted Ceria on the head, feeling oddly protective of her friend, as if Ceria had reverted into the Silver-rank adventurer she’d been. Hopefully this would be for the best.

Yvlon pulled out her favorite pillow, went into her tent, and fell asleep, ignoring the noise outside. She could do that fairly easily, and it was all thanks to her new class.





One, two, three, four—

First Colth, now Pisces. Colth had a new Skill that seemed very powerful, and he was Level 49; on the cusp of whatever Erin had become. Pisces had just uncovered Stellar Ivory, and he was, well, Pisces. He already had a secondary [Fencer] class that could supplement his abilities.

She had to keep up. Yvlon knew that Ceria felt bad about being the ‘weakest’ of the Horns in Chandrar, but that wouldn’t last long in Yvlon’s opinion. In the same vein, Yvlon knew Ksmvr would continue improving. He was a genius as much as Pisces. Ceria was also gifted; she had [Cryomancer] and [Trickster] as classes.

Yvlon was the one who might be stagnating. If she couldn’t perfectly upgrade [Silversteel Armsmistress]—she was Level 44 after all had been said and done, and that was slow given all her adventures—she had to level up her other class.

[Dreamer]. Yvlon did another press up, and a hundred Mrshas hurled notes down around her.

Stupid! I can do more pushups than you!

Forsooth, I am Mrsha! Give me an egg!

I am going to do something adorable and stupid now.

Some of them hopped off her back and ran around in circles for reasons Yvlon couldn’t explain. Probably her weakness as a [Dreamer].

One thousand pushups, one thousand sit ups, and I’ll run for ten miles. If she had time, she might do some stretches. Normally, that was all the time Yvlon had in a single night’s sleep. She was conscious time was passing.

“Two hundred and twenty-three. Two hundred and twenty-four…”

Above her, the Mrshas had been joined by a flight of Apista bees. Sometimes her mind did things like that—the Apistas flew into the distance and vanished as Yvlon carefully restored all hundred Mrshas to their place. Lashed them to her back like a stack of furry pillows with some rope.

She was a Level 9 [Dreamer]. If this class did have any value, she needed to at least hit Level 20 soon. But it hadn’t levelled since the Crossroads…

Maybe I need more Mrshas? Yvlon’s dream arms trembled as a hundred and forty Mrshas sat on her back. There was a finite limit to her strength! Several hopped off and ran into the distance. Cursing, Yvlon wondered if there was a better unit of measurement.

What about Nanettes? She’s got to be a bit heavier and more well-behaved.

A Nanette landed on top of all the Mrshas and proclaimed loudly.

“I am a witch, even if I am not a [Witch]! I’m also quite cute, I believe.”

Yvlon felt this was a good approximation of Nanette. Wait, did she have pigtail braids or not?

With a sigh, Yvlon got up and stared at Nanette. She had to get the features right or the Nanettes would be incorporeal and weightless. The rest of the Mrshas ran off, scribbling nonsense. Nanette beamed at Yvlon.

“My mother is dead.”

“That’s depressing. She doesn’t always say that. What about Ksmvr?”

An Antinium in a bright red coat, with a fake wig of white hair and a gigantic grey mustache, appeared.

“Behold! I am Ksmvr, [Baron of the Trees]!”

Yvlon rubbed at her face.

“I need to focus.”

Nanette curtseyed to the [Baron of the Trees], who grandly raised a walking stick.

“Ah, Nanette. I must knight you.”

“Then I will become a [Knight]-[Witch].”

Dozens of Mrshas ran over and began tossing flower petals into the air, because they were Ksmvr’s loyal subjects—

Yvlon shook her head.

“Argh. It’s happening again!”

Every time she lost focus, silly things like this occurred. She banished the dream-Ksmvr and Nanette and tried to concentrate.

Something was different about the dream this time. Normally, Yvlon felt somewhat isolated, though she could ‘sense’ other dreams in the realm beyond her own. She never peeked at other people after her initial entry into her teammates’ memories. Mostly because it was rude, she felt. But as Ksmvr sat on a throne of Mrshas and ordered trees planted, Yvlon looked around.

“…What is that?

She shaded her eyes, and the flat, plain landscape of her dream-world revealed something at the edges of the cosmos where oblivion seeped in, colorless. Yvlon stared at a bright, glowing world beyond her own.

A hundred thousand times larger than her dream. It shone like a prismatic marble. Then—Yvlon heard a voice, which sounded bewildered, amused, and utterly astonished.

“Sands of Zeikhal, what are all these little Gnoll girls doing in my dream?”

Her reality flexed. Yvlon felt something pressing in on her dream and tried to stop it, but a force burst through into her dream in a second. She stared as the white world of her dream popped—and suddenly she was standing in a vast, endless desert, and the hot sand blew over her face.

And standing on a hill, sword in hand, holding a Mrsha up as he faced down a legion of undead skeletons, was the King of Destruction.

Flos Reimarch. He turned—stared at Yvlon—and her mouth opened.

“Your Majesty?”

Skeleton Champions filled the sands. Hundreds were lying broken at the King of Destruction’s feet, but they were arranged in legion-strength beyond him. They had banners—Khelt’s, Yvlon realized—and a rain of arrows shot down.

She threw up her arms and felt a shock of phantom-pain in her arm, dream-pain, and dove to avoid more arrows. Her arms morphed to become shields, and Flos turned as a Skeleton Champion rode up the hill, armed with a lance, riding a steed exhaling ghostly fumes from its skull.

Hi, I’m Mrsha!

One of the Mrshas proclaimed, ignorant of the danger. Flos peered at the Mrsha, at Yvlon—then he laughed and dropped his sword and clapped his hands.


The Skeleton Champion vanished. The fake Mrsha vanished. The entire dreamscape rippled—and when Yvlon looked up, the arrow in her arm was gone. Then Flos was just standing in the sand, eying her with the most interest yet.

“Yvlon Byres. It is you, not someone else pretending to be you, isn’t it? Of all the people I thought would share my old class—I never thought it would be you.

He sounded astonished, but he wasn’t any more so than Yvlon herself. She stood, then bowed hurriedly.

“Your Majesty. What is—I apologize for intruding.”

She had no idea what was going on. Flos Reimarch just snorted.

“I drew you into my dream. Well, I kept seeing those things calling themselves ‘Mrshas’. That is that white Gnoll girl, isn’t it? They were interrupting my training.”


Flos gestured, and a rank of Skeleton Champions rose from the ground. Yvlon reflexively raised her fists, but they didn’t move, and Flos pointed at them.

“Trying to figure out how to improve myself. I admit, it’s just fun to fight them as well. If I’m truly bored, some nights I create entire armies to go to war against. I suppose that’s my idea of a good dream. What do you do? Replaying memories works too, but I grow too self-conscious. And dreaming of beautiful women—hah! As I told Trey, even that can get old.”

He laughed self-consciously and stroked his beard. He looked—younger, Yvlon realized. Thirty-some years old. So full of vitality and somehow in even more pristine shape than before. He wore armor that glowed, tracing a strange pattern across his chest; it was rust-red, Adamantium, and the sword at his side had a hilt that looked like it was fashioned of scales.

So this was how he remembered himself. Flos saw Yvlon’s disbelieving look.

“No armies? I grant you, they’re tricky. I’ve had decades of practice, and I was Level 36 when it got eaten by my [King] class. Your dream-self is very good, by the way. It’s practically as if you strolled out of the camp party.”

“I—I—thank you?”

The King of Destruction seemed quite pleased by the company for all Yvlon was aghast. He raised a hand, and a table and chairs appeared.

“Let’s have a seat, then. It’s rare for [Dreamers] to meet. I’ve met six people in my entire life, including you, with the class or ability. When did you get your class?”

“A few months ago, after a fever—wait, what happened?”

Yvlon was sitting, cup of tea in hand, sipping from it with the taste of honey and black tea in her mouth. Flos had a cup in hand, but didn’t seem fazed.

“Dream skipping. That’s what I call it. We flit from idea to idea. Months ago? Then you’re new to this. May I see your dream? I have so many—my castle, places I’ve fought, my ideal castle as a boy—don’t look at it—

Places flickered around them. A gigantic palace’s throne room, a battlefield still strewn with bodies—a gigantic, half-crystal palace with huge statues of noble-looking warriors and gigantic swords hung on walls—

The last one was the most fake of all. And yet it was vivid and bright—Yvlon’s mouth dropped open as Flos continued.

“Argh, you never quite forget if you’re a [Dreamer]. I particularly like this one. I used to think Qualvekkaras, the Kingdom of Winds, would look like this. Dreams seldom can be outdone by reality.”

Then they were standing on a mountain, on walkways made of clouds, inconceivably high up. Below them, grand palaces filled with flying Garuda sat on the sides of the mountain, and great cyclones of air whirled up Garuda who danced about them in patterns.

Yvlon’s mouth was open the entire time. Flos had a thousand settings, complete with people, smells, even sensation. He turned to Yvlon expectantly, eyes shining with the pleasure of meeting someone with his abilities.

“And you?”

Slowly, the dreamscape changed. Flos Reimarch looked around, and the world turned white. White sky. White floor…he looked around. Peered under the table.


A Mrsha fell out of the sky and landed on the ground. She almost blended in with the landscape. After a second, a single house appeared; Yvlon’s dream-home. The King of Destruction looked at Yvlon.

His mouth opened.

For a while, neither of them said anything. Then Flos Reimarch coughed.

“—Do you know how dreaming works?”


“I see.”




Flos floated in the air over a city Yvlon had never seen. He flew down, racing a peregrine falcon, landed in a street of people, each one with a defined face who turned to him. Yvlon followed, and the King of Destruction turned to her.

“I do not forget faces. To me, they’re the easiest. Architecture is harder. Landscapes not as difficult—I can never remember furniture.”

When he pointed it out, she realized sometimes the chairs had no textures, but the King of Destruction remembered or could fantasize the rest. He strode through the crowd, and it became a melee where soldiers fought, shedding blood and screaming in the press of bodies.

“This is my dream. It can be most of anything I want. If you cannot picture it, then it will be half-formed, but within this place, you and I are safe. If we were at odds, it might be dangerous indeed. Stray beyond the confines of your dream and you fall prey to other dreamers.”

“There are hostile people with classes like ours out there?”

How many [Dreamers] were there? Flos shook his head instantly.

“Very few. I mean—anyone who has a dream has their own rules. If they have a nightmare, one might pursue you. Fighting a nightmare in another person’s dream can leave you with real scars. See?”

He pulled his beard aside and showed her a scar below his jaw running down his neck. Flos grinned.

“I earned that one as a boy. Interfering with someone else’s dreams can be risky for you and them. And there are…other things out past the realm of dreams. I don’t stray. It’s one thing to be in someone else’s dream. Far another to find somewhere that no one dreams of. Perhaps…such places dream of themselves? Neither your strength nor magic will avail you there.”

Yvlon nodded, and the King of Destruction sat in the air like Amerys.

“In truth, at some point I stopped being a [Dreamer] in the way I used to be. I became the King of Destruction, and my dream became a reality. I suppose that’s why I’m far weaker. I only returned to my dream during my slumber. Then I sat in memory and what-if for…well, you know how long.”

Yvlon’s eyes opened wide.

“Wait, you were in here the entire time?”

The King of Destruction looked around, a sad smile upon his face.

“Where else would I be? Do you think I just sat around and stared at nothing—I suppose that was how it looked to Orthenon. I praise him for keeping me alive, though I stayed healthy. [Superior Physique] was one of the gifts I gained as a [King], so it was impossible for me to go to seed, merely starve. It’s also why I struggle these days. There’s little point to training, and yet I am not strong enough to fight alongside my Seven. But enough about me. Why do you dream?”

He turned to Yvlon, and she had no good answer.

“I…I just wanted to think about the future, I suppose. I never had. I just kept running and running, and when I was sick, I wondered what the point was. Who I’d be.”

She flushed, and her dream-cottage appeared, the one thing she had ever made. Flos Reimarch stared at a rose in a jar of water and smiled.

“It is a small dream. But that’s how they start. It’s a good class; I don’t know if it can help an adventurer, but I hope you take some of the lessons I shared with you to heart.”

He’d given Yvlon advice, in the manner of [Dreamers], demonstrating ideas, things he’d learned, and imparting some wisdom to her.

Such as the fact that doing a million pushups in a dream wouldn’t help her or build any muscles. She needed to exercise her mind—to imagine. To, well, dream of new things. That was the only way she’d level.

“Thank you, Your Majesty. I appreciate you taking your time to instruct me, and I apologize for intruding.”

Yvlon bowed again, but Flos clapped her on the shoulder.

“Nonsense! We have time, us [Dreamers]. To meet someone else with my class is a delight. And remember—”

His eyes twinkled as Yvlon felt herself vanishing and knew day was coming.

“A [Dreamer] became a King of Chandrar. I wonder what you’ll be.”




There was a kind of existential dread to Flos Reimarch: even in dreams, he wouldn’t leave you alone.

Well, that was just Yvlon, and she didn’t reveal her encounter to her teammates. Not that they were up in the morning; both had killer hangovers.

It turned out that after the night of partying, the King of Destruction’s camp…was still pretty festival-like.

He didn’t stop after a single night. True, the goods on display were reduced, but you could still find plenty to do. Apparently, the King of Destruction would move between these festivities to battle, sometimes with no breaks in between.

However, even the constitution of Reim’s [Soldiers] couldn’t keep up with too much alcohol, so Yvlon, who’d had a good night’s sleep, had the camp mostly to herself. She checked on Ceria, of course, and found the half-Elf in her tent staring at a scrying orb someone had put in front of her.


Ceria was watching Wistram News Network, Channel 1. She looked slightly better than yesterday, but was still largely monosyllabic.

—And now sports. The Flood Crabs have scored another victory today, putting them in place to win the first Izrilian Cup. Of course, the Pallassian Innovators have yet to face off against them, and our team is looking mighty strong to start off the coming new year. We’ll go to our ground correspondent, Noass, for a piece on it in five. In the New Lands…

Yvlon wasn’t sure if she should turn the scrying orb off for the sake of Ceria’s mind. She decided Sir Relz’s commentary couldn’t do that much damage.

The [Armsmistress] was wandering the camp with the rest of the people who’d drunken lightly when she heard a faint ringing sound. Intrigued, she headed to the place where the comet was still being broken open and saw an entire team of [Smiths] and [Mages] hard at work trying to process the ores.

In fact, some of them were already hawking their wares, for goods this time, or taking commissions from [Soldiers] of Reim. Yvlon couldn’t imagine what magical armaments might come out of this windfall for the King of Destruction.

Someone called out to Yvlon as she was walking past an open-air forge. A woman was gloomily hammering on a piece of glowing crystal material. When she saw a likely mark, she called out.

“You there! Foreign warrior! Yes, you! Do you need a good piece of armor?”

Yvlon had been given a set of better plate armor from the King of Destruction’s spoils, but she was keenly aware that the first time she ran up against even a Juvenile Creler it would develop holes. Yvlon stopped and trotted over and saw a young Human woman with dark skin and braids was waving at her.

She had a rather fierce expression behind the veil she wore, at odds with her smithing clothes, and she was working at an anvil and what seemed to be a portable furnace of some kind. What stood out to Yvlon was that the veil was pale white—that was usually reserved for funerals, an ill-omened color.

It was soot-stained, and the young woman wore plain clothing under her apron, at odds with the magnificent hammer she carried. She had a determined, worn expression that called to Yvlon. The adventurer approached.

“I’m not sure I have time for a commission; apologies. Yvlon Byres, Gold-rank adventurer.”

“Ah, the King’s guests.”

The [Smith] recognized Yvlon in a moment and stared at her arms in clear fascination. But then she jerked her head up and hurriedly made a gesture as she put the crystal aside to cool.

“Nawalishifra of Clan—Nawal. Just Nawal. Do you want to buy a shield? They are pathetic, ill-done works. I will sell them to you for a song, Adventurer Byres.”

That was…not how Yvlon would do a sales pitch. She saw a bunch of shields sitting on a rack. They didn’t look that bad. Yvlon picked one up, and if she were a Silver-rank, she thought she’d have been happy with each one.

“Nice material. What is this?”

“Steel-capped buckler with a Corusdeer leather frame and Carn Wolf fur. You like it?”

“It’s quite nice.”

Yvlon didn’t need a shield given how she fought these days; she barely used a sword. But Colth had said he wanted a buckler if she could find it.

“How much?”

“A copper coin.”

Yvlon hesitated, hand in her money pouch. The [Smith] glanced at her.

“Too much? I can give you that one as well for a coin.”

“Er. No. Is this some kind of joke I don’t understand? I don’t have much of a sense of humor.”

Nawalishifra smiled bitterly.

“None to you, foreigner. I sell these shields at a pittance. The King of Destruction pays for materials; these came from Izril. That shield there? Take it if you need one for adventuring. Mithril buckler. Unadorned, unengraved.”

Yvlon’s head turned, and her jaw dropped. It was indeed ‘simple’, but it was a buckler of pure mithril with a single handle on the inside.

“How much?”

“One silver.”

This time, Yvlon slapped down the coin and picked up the buckler, trying to see what kind of trick it was. It felt strong, and when she tried to flex it…Nawal watched with a slight smile.

“I forged it last night out of the metal of the comet. It will serve for a time.”

“I—are you certain? This is worth far more. You could sell it for thousands of gold pieces! There’s not even a maker’s stamp!”

Yvlon normally expected to see some mark indicating which smith had made the piece. Pelt had one, but this was unadorned. And it was incredible!

Even if it wasn’t more than mithril, it could definitely be enchanted! It seemed exceptionally high-quality, but Nawal just spat into the sand and shook her head.

“If you use it, it would be a shame to append this [Smith]’s worthless name to it. As it is, my name would sully any creation. It is a shield of mithril. No more. When I make one worthy of my name—Nawal—I will think of a crest.”

There was, simultaneously, so much pride and so much regret in her words that Yvlon had to engage. She turned back as Nawal swept the coin up.

“Are you one of the King of Destruction’s smiths?”

Again, it seemed like there was a bigger story here, and Nawal pulled over the piece of crystal again and began heating it up. It was the Dragonsblood stuff that Yvlon had seen.

“Yes and no. I smith for King Reimarch. Most shields will go to his followers, so it costs me naught. Say, what do you think I could make of this crystal? Dragonsblood has little flex in it, and it will break…”

“I’d rather have a sword, if I’m honest. A G—a friend of mine has one made out of that stuff, and it cuts through everything.”

Nawal’s eyes lit up, and she stopped heating the crystal again. She had called out to Yvlon for the sale and chatted, it seemed, out of obligation, but that drew her interest.

“Someone’s the talent to forge Dragonsblood in whatever wasteland of wet-soiled shi—wherever you hail from?”

“Yes. What about turning it into a sword?”

For a second, Nawal looked regretful, but she instantly shook her head.

“I cannot. Shields are my trade. Shields and armor. Damn…armor.

She spat, and Yvlon saw she had a rack of leather armor that looked less well-made than the metal by far.

“So you’re an armorer?”

“In training.”

By the sounds of it, Nawal hated her profession, but she swept a hand over her display, showing Yvlon the fruits of her labor.

“I must learn all the trades. Leatherworking, laminate plating, stitching—it requires an entire clan’s worth of people to do, but Master Daiton—the King of Destruction’s [Smith] in Reim—has been allowing me to take lessons from other [Armorers].”

“Do you enjoy it?”


Nawal scowled harder. If Yvlon wasn’t wrong, she was a superlative smith; from the way she was treating the crystal chunk, it was clear she thought she could make something out of it, and only Pelt had been able to do that. However—why was she—?

Nawal saw Yvlon’s curious gaze and sighed. She came away from the forge and leaned over the counter wearily.

“Since you bought a shield from me, I should tell you the story entire. It is no secret and the least of which I deserve. I was a [Smith] of Clan Tannousin. No longer. I have lost my name; my clan is known far and wide as oathbreakers and failures, and I labor only by the grace of His Majesty to redeem myself for my failures. I have sworn not to smith a single blade until I find what I search for.”

Yvlon would have let her avoid the tale, but it seemed like Nawalishifra was the kind of person to tell you her failings outright if she believed she had any. It was an incredible tale, and by the end of it, Yvlon and Nawal were eating sun-baked Yellats drizzled with oil and a bit of honey at her shop.

“That’s incredible. I can’t believe you forged a sword out of blood.”

“It was ill-done. From start to finish. I should have been executed for my failures. Instead? I must redeem myself and my clan’s honor, impossible though it is. So—a fairer punishment. Don’t mourn for me, Adventurer of Izril. I have friends who check on me more often than they should.”

Nawal’s mouth twisted for some reason, and she glanced at the tents around the King of Destruction. Yvlon felt bad for Nawal and impulsively tried to pat her on the shoulder. Nawal dodged.

“Eh—sorry. Don’t touch me with those arms.”

“They’re not dangerous.”

Yvlon assured her, and Nawal edged back.

Sure they aren’t. They’re just moving silversteel. And you’re the one they call the Silver Killer of Nerrhavia’s Fallen. Your entire team’s famous. The trickster Ice Squirrel who fooled the Siren of Savere, the Bane of Roshal who’s liberated ten thousand slaves and killed just as many [Slavers], Ksmvr of Chandrar, and the Silver Killer, who tore out ten throats with her bare teeth.”

“I did not.”

Yvlon was amused and horrified by her reputation. Nawal eyed Yvlon’s mouth uneasily.

“Of course you didn’t. Your arms have blood etched into the steel. No offense; I’m a smith, formerly of Clan Tannousin, and it’s my job to know metal. That hand could turn into a ball of spikes in a moment, couldn’t it?”

Reluctantly, Yvlon showed Nawal her abilities, and the [Smith] picked up a shield with a huge smile.

“Worthy guests of the King of Destruction! I’m honored to sell you one of my worthless shields.”

Don’t shake my hand. Yvlon gave Nawal a rueful bow instead.

“At least my arms are worthy of a Smith of Clan—Tannousin?—of her recognition.”

The [Smith] gave Yvlon a beaming smile and nodded back.

“I never said that. It’s a shit metal. If I were to make arms out of anything, it wouldn’t be that. Good day to you.”

Yvlon’s smile winked out. Nawal innocently picked up her hammer as Yvlon Byres took a calm, measured breath.

“I think silver and steel are wonderful metals. I’m from House Byres. Izril.”

“Oh. Silver mines. Well met! Your armaments aren’t worth wiping my ass with.”

Yvlon twitched.




Someone found Nawal and Yvlon in the middle of an argument just past morning. It was a really stupid argument—Yvlon was wincing as she put her hand on an anvil and Nawal—smacked it with a hammer.

“See? It’s bad metal.”

It’s my arm.

“Well, get a better one. Because if I can do this—

Nawal brought her hammer down, and Yvlon’s fist deformed into a pancake, for all she tried to make it tougher. Nawal pointedly watched Yvlon’s hand reform.

“—then the King of Destruction’s got better arms, and his are flesh and blood.”

“I didn’t exactly have a choice on which metal I got! Silver’s a pure metal!”

“Psh. For what? It’s not like it kills many monsters, and steel? Even Truegold is stronger!”

“Take back what you said about my House and my arms.”

Yvlon wasn’t attacking—but she did bar Nawal’s way with an arm. In response, the [Smith] tapped Yvlon’s arm with a hammer. Both of them stared at the right-angle bend. Nawal backed away.

“I may be a disgraced failure of a [Smith], but I won’t take back my words! Everyone knows the vaunted Byres warriors of old were quantity over quality! They armed tens of thousands with their blades because the metal was so cheap.

House Byres has a long and storied history of achievement in smithing, warfare, and mercantile ventures! We had a Dragon!

Yvlon was chasing Nawal around the forge, and the [Smith] was speaking faster.

“The Silver Dragon Knight? I heard he was naught but another monster to Chandrar. Stop it. Don’t touch me or I’ll forge your hands together.”

Try it.

They were about to throw hands—or at least, one of them was—when someone cleared her throat. Yvlon turned, and Nawal stopped smacking her arm on her anvil. Instantly, Nawal turned red, jerked her veil up, and bowed.

“Lady Othonos!”

Yvlon saw a familiar young woman with her iconic hair and a slightly tanned face raise a hand in greeting. Elena was applying sunscreen to her face, but her eyes were fixed on Yvlon.

“Excuse me, Nawal. Can I interrupt? I was hoping to speak to Yvlon—Adventurer Byres. Do you have a moment?”

Yvlon caught herself, realizing that she had been chasing Nawal around and that the other people in the camp were watching with great amusement. She flushed, shot Nawal another glance—the [Smith] blew at her from under her veil—then put on a professional smile.

“Yes, how can I help you? Miss Othonos?”

“Elena. Elena Othonos. I’m—a guest of the King of Destruction. Do you have time for a quick word?”

Yvlon had thought they’d be getting on the road today, if Ceria was in any good condition. Flos had made his offer, and it seemed like the best idea was to head south with the carriage—a new carriage, rather—to Nerrhavia’s Fallen.

She needed a planning session with the Horns where they could sit, not be heading to or in the company of a foreign monarch, and just talk things out. She nodded at Elena.

“I can spare the morning. My teammates are either resting or asleep still, I think. What’s…this about?”

She eyed Elena. Yvlon hadn’t seen her with the Quarass, but like Trey and Teresa, there was a quality she had learned to notice around…well, what she suspected to be Elena’s true nature.

A kind of stare the Earthers had, sometimes wondering, sometimes nostalgic or just incredulous. A difference in vocabulary and expressions. A sense, like Nawal had of Yvlon, of being an outsider. But not just to this continent.

This world.

Elena was giving Yvlon a very careful look, and she glanced around.

“Do you have a tent? I can go to mine…”

“Of course.”

Yvlon had been shocked, but in hindsight, of course the King of Destruction knew about Earth. It probably had huge ramifications for world events. But she was just an adventurer, far from home. What could she do? What did Elena want of her, actually?




The two were on their way back to their tents, and Yvlon was glad to see the other Horns were awake.

A bleary Pisces was resting at a table and eating breakfast with Ceria sitting on the ground, still watching the scrying orb. Colth was drinking a hangover cure, and he eyed Elena—and the shield Yvlon tossed him.

“I needed this for my new Skill! Who’s our guest?”

“Elena. She wants a private word. Pisces, good morning. How are you?”

“Life is an endless wheel of suffering.”

The [Necromancer] was holding his head. Elena hid a smile as Pisces’ head jerked up, and his cheeks turned red. Yvlon nudged Ceria.

“This is Ceria, our Captain. She’s, uh…recovering.”

“I saw. That’s Flos for you. The King of Destruction, I mean. He does whatever he wants, and changing his mind is incredibly hard. Is she going to be okay?”

Elena was definitely…no one normal talked about Flos Reimarch that way. Colth gave Yvlon a significant look as he handed his hangover tonic to Pisces, and the [Necromancer] gulped it down. Yvlon jerked her head at her tent.

“I think so. Ceria, up.”

She tried to coax Ceria up, but the half-Elf just sat there, and Pisces glanced at her.

“What if we spared Ceria for a while, Yvlon?”

That might be for the best. The half-Elf was drooling slightly as she looked at the scrying orb, and Yvlon winced. The other three were heading to the tent when Ceria, eyes watching the low-intelligence news broadcast of the scrying orb, began to make an odd sound.

“Uh? Whuh. Whuuuuh…

Yvlon turned back. Ceria’s stupor was fading. That faintly stunned expression she had worn all of yesterday and last night was turning into something else.

A faint…expression of concern. Then outrage. She gestured, but her mouth didn’t form the words quite right—she made a hooting noise of outrage, like Erek, and Yvlon exchanged a glance with Colth and Pisces.

“Something on the news, Ceria? Is it Erin?”

She hurried over, and Ceria held the scrying orb up urgently. Several people looked around; it wasn’t like Ceria was the only person who watched the morning news. And what was being broadcast on Wistram News Network was something very interesting. Something…pertinent.

Yvlon stared as Colth, Pisces, and Elena gathered around. Then her eyes opened wide.

“What. Him?




High King Perric of Medain smiled into the camera as Sir Relz finished his introductions.

Yes, Perric.

Perric! High King of Medain. The one, the only. Accept no substitutes! He lounged in his chair in some kind of open topiary in his palace with a commanding view of his city behind him. A harborfront; it showcased his rich nation, and he was adorned in the finest of clothing for his interview.

Regal clothing emblazoned with the crest of Medain—his sword and shield displayed prominently at his sides, reminding everyone he was a canny warrior. His magical artifacts, jeweled rings on his fingers, an amulet around his neck.

…No crown.

His hair was splendidly combed, as if to give the impression his very hair was said crown, but his bare head was—notable. Perric seemed conscious of this fact, and he kept shifting, as if to slightly keep his head out of the center of the frame.

“Thank you for having me, Sir Relz.”

“Not at all, Your Majesty. It’s quite—quite an honor to have this interview. Ah. Um. Well, shall we get to it?”

Sir Relz had met royalty before, even if Drassi had the record for most royals in the news room, a fact that annoyed him. Normally, he was quite ingratiating with them, but he was a bit nervous today.

He shuffled his notes ostentatiously, trying to figure out how to lead into the news story that had been why they accepted the interview. Namely…he stared at High King Perric’s hair and wondered if the man was mad.

Relz based this on two factors. One—if he had lost his crown, the Drake would not consider advertising that fact to be healthy for his continued authority.

Two—Perric looked slightly unhinged today. There were little clues. The too-wide smile, the way he sounded overly jovial. And lastly, and this was a tiny clue—

He had about fifty partridges perched around him. There were bowls of seeds attracting them, and they were on his shoulders, legs, the table, the topiary sculptures…

The audience might not have been sold on some random [King]. But the sight of one covered by partridges without a crown? Now that was what you came to Channel 1 for.

“Proceed, Sir Relz. Don’t mind the birds. They’re merely—illustrative.”

High King Perric purred. He beamed. He had always wanted to be on the news, and circumstances hadn’t let him hog the lime-light. His one claim to fame had been being called a ‘rat-king’ by Drassi.

Well, they’d see who was laughing after this. Sir Relz swallowed.

“So—Your Majesty. I suppose there’s no way of broaching the subject delicately.”

Broach away, my man—

“Er. Yes. The rumor—and this was unverified until now—is that, ah, the High King of Medain had lost his crown. In a rather regrettable accident with the King of Destruction and some rogue adventurers. Now, I hate to name names, and Wistram News Network is a stickler for journalistic integrity, no matter what our detractors in the Chandrar International say—”

He was getting rather heated and distracted, and his producer signaled him off-screen to cut that out. But Sir Relz had to ask—

“I suppose the rumors are true? A—an artifact—a Relic, really, if you consider the national importance—stolen from Medain?”

Disastrous for High King Perric’s image. Rulers had been deposed for lesser embarrassments, and this was his crown. Give him credit; he hadn’t tried to make a fake, and he was taking the interview. Or was that just idiocy?

What was unnerving Relz and the viewers was that Perric just kept on smiling. He was nodding his head, and he broke in with an energetic, even eager, voice.

“That’s right, Sir Relz. My crown, the High Crown of Medain, is indeed gone. Purloined, I think I saw in the newspaper! I simply wished to give an interview on the topic. After all, the facts are the facts, and it’s highly entertaining.”

“Ye-es. Indeed. Can I—would you like to confirm who stole your crown?”

High King Perric beamed into the camera.

“Why, of course. It was Ceria Springwalker and Yvlon Byres of the Horns of Hammerad.”

Sir Relz had been taking a breath mint. He paused in chewing, and the studio fell silent. After a moment, a thirty-second delay of dead silence—Drassi’s voice audibly echoed from her connected studio.





This wasn’t good. Yvlon was not meeting Pisces’ or Colth’s gazes. Ceria was trying to shuffle behind the [Armsmistress]. Everyone in the world had just heard that. Including—

“I think I hear the King of Destruction laughing over there.”

Pisces weakly pointed towards a huge, guffawing voice in the distance. He couldn’t take his eyes away from the scrying orb, though.

High King Perric was beaming into the camera. And his eyebrows were doing something weird. He was raising one, then the other. As if they were bouncing higher across his brows.

I think he’s lost it.

That came from Colth. Yvlon had to agree. Was Perric having a meltdown? Sir Relz was trying to clarify.

“The Horns of Hammerad. Quite a notable team, if still technically Gold-rank. I suppose this means war. Aha. One can’t, uh, allow that kind of thing.”

“Oh, why not?”

The Drake was having trouble. He stopped again and cleared his throat.

“Well—it’s not the thing a ruler can let them get away with, is it? Then again, I suppose you’re the High King.”

“Indeed I am. Indeed I am, Sir Relz. And I say—why would I hold a grudge?”

Perric had a cup of coffee, and he raised it to his lips despite the fact that there was a good chance one of the partridges had pooped in it. A few fluttered off his shoulders and cape as he beamed at the camera.

“So you’re not putting a bounty on your lost crown?”

“Not at all.”

This was television. Everyone was staring at Ceria in the camp. Was this her new Skill’s doing? Could it actually addle Perric’s mind? Everyone had assumed [It’s a Joke, Not a Crime] let Ceria avoid criminal charges for her pranks. If this was her ability—Pisces was going to start putting on makeup and juggling pies or something.

“Well, Your Majesty, it sounds quite lenient of you, if you don’t mind me saying.”

High King Perric looked astonished as he patted his mouth with a napkin.

“Lenient? If this were anyone else, I assure you, they would already be dead, Sir Relz. Even if Mars the Illusionist were to steal my crown—that would be an act of war, King of Reim or not.”

“Wh—really. But for these two adventurers—I suppose the High King really does love adventurers that much? Then you’re expecting to have it back any day now. There’s japes, but this goes too far, Your Majesty!”

Sir Relz tried a grin as he leaned over the table, but Perric’s eyes twinkled. He beamed. He laughed—then he spread his arms, and the partridges began to fly up.

“Sir Relz, I understand your confusion at last! Allow me to illustrate my point. Yes, that Ceria is something of a scamp. And Yvlon, the Silver Killer—a forthright woman. True, they have my crown, a Relic of Medain. But why should I be put out? If you love someone—”

He stood, and the birds, alarmed, all took wing in a panic.

“—Then you let them go.”

Birds flew around the High King of Medain, shedding feathers. Sir Relz recoiled in his seat and stared at Perric.

“I don’t follow.”

The High King tapped the side of his nose with a winning smile.

“Why would I begrudge Ceria taking my circlet, Sir Relz? If it were anyone else, I would be incandescent with fury! Never allow it! But for my beloved consort, nay, a [Queen] of Medain in her own right should we go through with the wedding—it only fits. Yvlon too.”

At this point, someone began choking. It was Pisces. Yvlon’s face had gone slack. So had Sir Relz’s.


It was Perric’s moment. He turned, looking astonished and amused.

“So you really didn’t know. This is where the confusion is coming from! How amusing! You thought—no wonder I have been besieged by questions! I am so glad I took this interview. Of course. They are both very near and dear to my heart, and when Ceria begged for it as a little favor—she does love headwear.”

“They—they’re both your wives? Both?

Sir Relz was frantically sorting through his notes. Perric winked at him.

“It’s called a harem, Sir Relz. I understand it might offend your Izrilian sensibilities—indeed. They were both inducted into the ranks of my concubines. You would probably call it a de facto marriage—I say. Someone bring over the contracts.”


That didn’t come from the scrying orb. Yvlon Byres was staring at the orb. Pisces and Colth backed away from her, and Ceria was half-grinning. But her skeleton hand was frosting over.

Both women looked at each other. And now they saw it.

High King Perric’s blue eyes were beaming into the scrying orb, and Sir Relz had not put a [Detect Truth] spell on this call; you couldn’t insult royalty like that. One of his [Ministers] hurried into frame amazingly quickly with a scroll, and Perric showed Relz a magical-looking contract.

“Sealed and witnessed—and filed with the Merchant’s Guild. I know it must not have reached you yet—it was a fast thing.”

“Incredibly fast. Weren’t they in Medain only a week or two—”

“I sweep women off their feet. It’s a hazard of my class. They were vivid nights, I must say. Highly enjoyable—I don’t think I can furnish our viewers with the details, but let’s just say they were unforgettable.

Sir Relz flushed as High King Perric winked like a rogue into the camera. Then the High King grew serious.

“I would have kept them, of course, but adventurers will be adventurers. Hence the birds. You have to let them go free, and they’ll fly back time after time. Yvlon was most distraught, but I said to her, ‘my dear Byres, go, find your teammates, and they’ll all be there at our wedding’.”

“Amazing. And you let them have the crown—”

“I can’t have my darling ladies come to harm, can I, Sir Relz?”

High King Perric wagged a finger at the camera, tsking lightly. He turned, and now Yvlon saw his cocky, beaming smile. She leaned over to Pisces.

“I think we need to go back to Medain.”

“Absolutely not. This is bait.

Colth hissed at Yvlon. Yvlon knew it was bait. She didn’t care. Pisces whispered urgently in her ear.

“You can denounce it, Yvlon. It’s not your name on that contract, and it’s his only move to save face. All he can do is spread rumors—”

The High King was sharing some salacious details that the two were trying to keep Yvlon from hearing, but she did catch the next part.

“—the statue should be up later this week.”


Ceria started. Yvlon’s eyes narrowed dangerously. Sir Relz asked the obvious.

“Er, what statue, High King?”

“Oh, a few to commemorate the Horns of Hammerad. One of Pisces, Ksmvr of Chandrar, Kevin—and a central piece near to my heart to commemorate my relationship with Ceria and Yvlon.”


Pisces and Colth were staring at Yvlon, and she pointed at Ceria. The half-Elf was smiling—right up until High King Perric produced a rolled piece of parchment.

“I suppose there’s nothing but to show you the concept sketch. This will grace the main square.”

Dead gods!

Pisces leapt out of the way as metal spikes erupted all the way down Yvlon’s arms, turning her into a porcupine. Ceria made a sound. Sir Relz took one look at the picture and panicked.

“Oh my. I think—I think we have to—someone get a censor spell on that—in the main square? It’s rather provocative, Your Majesty!”

“Nonsense. It’s highly artistic. Nudity is common in statues—I think it’s inspiring.”

Perric brandished the picture closer, and Yvlon Byres stared at it. It was…well, it was a statue. Of High King Perric. He stood, arm raised, sword pointed to the sky—one of those classic statues you were supposed to have made of you after your death.

You could easily call it tasteless to have that image of yourself in your main square. But you know what was tasteless?

…Yvlon Byres. The artist had done a very good job of capturing her features, even her metal arms and foot. What was slightly unrealistic was the adoring look on her face. And the lack of clothes.

She and Ceria were clinging to each leg, staring up at the High King. Very…passionately. Very nude. Sir Relz was trying to censor the image with a piece of paper, and Perric kept moving it around to show the audience—

“Wow. What a gigantic piece of shit.”

Elena Othonos stared incredulously at the statue. Pisces was narrow-eyed now, not concerned for Yvlon, but ominously silent. Ceria was just staring—Yvlon was breathing heavily, and only Colth looked slightly impressed.

“He might be that, but you have to admit, this was the only way he could save face. It’s sort of commendable. Either we go back and he captures us—or he’ll keep claiming you’re married until he can grab the crown and us.”

Yvlon growled.

“Let him try.”

High King Perric was done. He stepped back and leaned on the balcony, throwing his head back to take in the breeze. And he winked at Yvlon.

You’ll be back. He looked fondly over his shoulder at where the ground was already being prepped for the statue. Then he finished with the final thing.

“Do excuse me, Sir Relz. This has been eminently enjoyable to clear up this little kerfuffle. But the auspices of rulership are unending.”

“Oh, of course. Busy day, Your Majesty?”

“Mm. Just a few executions. I think you can see the [Headsman] waving.”

Executions? Yvlon’s head snapped up, and Sir Relz swallowed.

“Really. Dissent in Medain?”

The High King laughed. He looked into the scrying orb, straight at Yvlon.

“Scurrilous rumors about their [King]. Cowardice in the face of the enemy. That sort of thing. Common citizens and even some of my own soldiers. Can you believe such a thing? But don’t mind me. Yvlon, Ceria. If you’re watching—I’ll see you both later, my loves.”

He blew a kiss, and the image winked out.




“Okay. What next?”

Yvlon led the Horns into her tent, and five minutes later, she was calm. Pisces and Colth eyed her, but the [Armsmistress] gazed around. Elena was staring at her, but Yvlon brushed at her hair as Ceria sat, Perric’s crown in her hand.

“It’s a trap. That’s obvious. We don’t go back. If he sends people after us—he can’t do it openly. Let’s deny it. Drassi has our back.”

Indeed, Drassi had raced onto Channel 1 to try to get High King Perric back on. He had refused, but Relz and Drassi were still arguing on a scrying orb.

—Are you saying we don’t take His Majesty at his word, Drassi?

I want to see the contracts. I know Ceria and Yvlon personally, and they have taste. I cannot believe either one would okay that statue, let alone marry that man. This is a Channel 2 opinion—

You can’t do that. This is Channel 1.

My channel has integrity. Rémi’s right.

How dare you—

The sight of two Drakes fighting on the scrying orb, funny as it was, wasn’t what mattered right now. Colth turned the orb off.

Yvlon turned to Elena calmly.

“I’m sorry, Miss Elena. You wanted to talk to all of us? Please forgive the interruption.”

She was so poised. So calm. So—cool. Elena stared at Yvlon in admiration. The rest of Yvlon’s team, who knew her better, were being very careful. Even Ceria.

“Yuh. Good to meet you.”

“I—thank you. Is this private? With magic and whatnot?”

“Private as you can get.”

Colth assured her, rolling the scrying orb out of the tent in case Wistram had a listening spell on this one. Someone shouted, and there was a scream of someone slipping. Colth winced. But then everyone turned to Elena, and the young woman didn’t know what to say.


She hesitated. She seemed nervous, or perhaps justifiably concerned was a better way to word it. After Trey and everything she had been through…Elena closed her eyes. She didn’t know these people. But she did know someone else, and when she opened her eyes and focused on them, there was a faintly pleading look in her eyes.

As if hoping she wouldn’t be proven wrong again, this time, for trusting someone.

“—Do you know Erin Solstice? Sorry—let me start again. I’m Elena. Elena Othonos. I know you’re regulars at The Wandering Inn. I—I’m one of Erin Solstice’s people. Kevin? Joseph? Imani? Those are their names, right? I’ve never met them, but—”

Pisces’ eyes opened wide. Ceria sat upright with a grunt of satisfaction, and Yvlon blinked. Colth frowned at all of them, and Yvlon turned her head to the other Horns.

“She’s from Earth.”

Elena stopped mid-sentence. Her face paled, then flushed with sudden excitement. Pisces felt a thrill. That was such a Yvlon way of saying it.

“Ώπα! No way. You know.”

The Horns jerked in surprise at the exclamation, but that was nothing to Elena’s astonishment.

The [Beautician] had been prepared for the Horns to have a clue of what she was talking about. She had been ready to talk in circles around the subject, but the Horns had a level of understanding that few people in this world had.

Colth was the one who looked the most confused, but he listened sharply, letting the three original members of the team talk.

“We do. You’re an Earther.”

“That’s the name! Yep. I’m, uh—one of a bunch of Earthers in the King of Destruction’s care. From Wistram.”

“From the breakout? Ylawes was there.”

Yvlon murmured, and Elena blinked.

“Ylawes? That [Knight] guy with the Gimli and female Legolas?”

“…Dawil and Falene?”

“Yes, yes! Do you know them?”

Pisces’ lips were twitching now, and Yvlon pointed a finger at her chest.

“He’s my older brother.”

“No way. And you’re Erin Solstice’s—she’s the one who contacted me. Everyone! Even Flos himself! That’s how I thought you all had to know about—”

Elena gestured with her arms to indicate everyone. Ceria was putting her head in her hands. She pulled out one of the two pieces of her circlet and began to chew on it, as if trying to get smarter.

“Trey. Teresa. Earthers.”

Pisces patted her on the head.

“Yes, very good, Ceria. I put that together already.”

She bit his hand, and the [Necromancer] cursed. Elena’s lips twitched as she looked from face to face. Yvlon was more focused on Elena, and she held out a hand with a smile.

“Any friend of Erin’s is a friend of ours. Don’t worry, we’ll keep your secret safe.”

Elena stared at the metal hand, which she’d just seen turn into a pincushion, but she gingerly accepted and shook it.

“Oh my. Your hand’s warm. That’s incredible! I’m sorry, I know that’s trivial, but this is amazing. You’re all so…I’ve never met adventurers like you, and it’s so incredible. I wish I’d gone to Liscor instead of Wistram for months.”

“So you were captive there for months?”

Pisces turned urgently to Elena, and she made a face.

“Captive is our word. Held for our own good is how the [Mages] put it. Multiple groups helped us escape, including Trey…you know the story, right?”

They all nodded. They had even been there when Amerys and Gazi had met them, sailing on Rasea Zecrew’s ship. Had Elena been on that vessel?

If so, she’d faded into the background, and Pisces felt guilty about that. But they had been sailing into a war. Now, the Horns properly introduced themselves.

“Pisces Jealnet. Ah, [Necromancer].”

“Pleased! Don’t worry, I’m not prejudiced, I think. I was in Noelictus when I came to this world, and I’ve seen undead—anyone who can stop them from munching on people is cool by me. Cara has a thing about [Necromancers], though. She ran into a bad one.”

Pisces stared at Elena. Noelictus? Of all the places—

“Colth Lacment. Your hair is a delight, Miss Elena. Did someone style it?”

The [Ultimate Supporter] held out a hand, and Elena beamed at him.

“I do it myself! I’m a [Beautician]. It’s the only thing I’m good at.”

“I know a Named-rank adventurer who is in need of your expertise with hair dyes, Miss.”

“Is it Deniusth? I looked you up, and his hair is the worst.

Colth laughed in sheer delight, and she turned to Yvlon. The [Armsmistress] smiled.

“Hello, Elena. My name is Yvlon Byres. Some may call me—”

Everyone elbowed her, and Ceria tried her best.

“Me. Ceria. My words aren’t so good…the King of Idiots broke my circlet. I’m gonna freeze his pants.”

“I’d love for you to do it, but Orthenon might kill you. He’s intense. Most of the Seven are. Even Trey and Teres are totally on Flos’ side, although Trey’s alright for hating Roshal.”

Elena grimaced, and Ceria gave her face a quick once-over. She nodded.

“What…do you want? You want us to do something.”

The [Beautician]’s face instantly grew shifty, and she lifted her hands.

“No! Well, maybe, yes. I’m here against my will, but I just was hoping you could get me in contact with Erin. Can she, um, use her magical hologram to talk to me? If I could get in touch with Cara, that’s all I’m asking. Really. Honest.”

The Horns of Hammerad looked at each other, and Colth breathed a sigh of relief.

“Finally, someone with a reasonable request. Thank you.”

He took Elena’s hands and pumped them up and down, and Pisces had to give Elena a rueful smile. But Yvlon just frowned hugely.

“If you’re here against your will, does that mean he’s enslaved you? Flos?”

Pisces froze, and Elena held up her hands and shook them.

“No, nonono—we’re just ‘his subjects’ for now. The Quarass and Fetohep all want to shelter us. It’s not as bad as Wistram; at least I can travel around. Not ideal, but—he’s like an Alexander the Great, that guy. If I can talk some sense into him, it’s okay.”

Elena’s lips were colored slightly metallic, and she had a wry expression. She was indeed an expert in makeup if Pisces was any judge, and she seemed very adult. Composed. More so than Kevin, Joseph, Rose, and the others had been when they came to Erin’s inn.

Here she was, a forced guest of the King of Destruction. She’d sought out the Horns of Hammerad for the smallest of favors…he appreciated that.

It was looking at another kind of Erin Solstice. Different in height, presentation, nature—Elena was a more forthright type of person, but she didn’t have Erin’s nuance; she had a bit more grace or something even Pisces couldn’t articulate. Her eyes held secrets. But Pisces instantly liked her.

How did you survive this far? What level are you?

A mystery. The Horns of Hammerad looked at Elena Othonos, and she ducked her head to them.

“I’m far from home. Well, we all are, but I was used to being in Terandria with Cara. She needed someone to check out Wistram. Now, here I am. Don’t worry. I volunteered for this.”

And Pisces changed his opinion again in a moment. Composed she might be in appearance, but Elena had to be tough.

So here they were, asking Elena how she’d gotten here. Telling her about The Wandering Inn. She sighed when she heard about the Earthers there…and the ones who’d left.

“You were the ones who started the plays? Cara flipped her shit. She loves the stage, and she kept complaining how it ‘should have been her’. Between you and me, she’s a better [Popstar].”

“Is that a new class?”

Colth was taking notes, and Elena winked at him.

“Earth-exclusive, baby. She’s got a bunch of us. I can’t say where, but since you are Erin’s friends, I can say that we really don’t like Ailendamus—and her warning about the six? Completely heard by Cara. Noelictus is pretty safe, but it’s got problems.”

“And you met Their Royal Majesties in Noelictus?”

Pisces was dying to ask more questions about the Kingdom of Shade, one of the few nations he had ever wanted to visit as a haven for undead. Why, he, Feren, Gewilena, and the others had always said they should move there when he was growing up.

Annoyingly, everyone else wanted to talk about the highlights of Elena’s life and the inn. Such as Mrsha the Attention Grabber, Erin’s stance on Goblins, and Elena’s makeup.

“It’s nothing actually revolutionary I can bring over from Earth. I just have a few Skills that take things from my world, and I know the look. I can do permanent dyes as well. If you want, I can style your hair before you go. That’s, uh, about all I can do. Cara had me doing makeup, but I’m not essential.”

The [Beautician] smiled. Soon, the Horns would have to go, and she was pleased to meet them. That was all. Pisces looked at Colth, Yvlon, and Ceria, and he had a thought.

We should stay another day, if only to talk to her and the other Earthers. He met Elena’s eyes, and for a second, he heard that clink of chains that brought a shiver down his spine.

It was not the same, he told himself. The King of Destruction wasn’t giving them a class. But it was another kind of imprisonment.

Would he always see the world in such terms now? Even after being freed? Perhaps the class and Skill he’d been assigned had done something to him, because now Pisces felt a burning outrage at all those…

“If we can do anything for you, Elena, perhaps speak to the King of Destruction?”

Elena flashed him a grateful look, but the Greek girl shook her head.

“It’s fine. I might go reside in Khelt, and the Quarass has made me an offer. She’s—persuasive. None of us chose to come to this world. We’re doing the best we can, even Trey and Teres. That’s the choice you make. You can coast around and die like George—”

Her throat closed up a second, then she swallowed.

“—Or do something. Or try. I tell you what…can I try the High King’s crown on and do a selfie? That would be fun.”

So forlorn was the expression on her face that Pisces couldn’t respond for a while. Ceria peered at Elena’s face and chewed on the circlet, clearly trying to think. Colth just patted Elena on the arm and began to produce something from his pouches. An alchemical concoction, perhaps.

It was Yvlon Byres who stooped over. Elena was tall, but she blinked at Yvlon and smiled uncertainly as the [Silversteel Armsmistress] met her eyes with her blue ones.

“Do you want to find your friend Cara, Elena? Or visit The Wandering Inn?”

She asked Elena directly, and the [Beautician] didn’t hesitate.

“Yes. But like I said. Just get me in touch with Cara and she’ll do the rest.”

Elena had a lot of faith in the Singer of Terandria. Pisces exchanged a glance with Ceria and Colth, but Yvlon Byres just smiled. She stood taller, rolled her shoulders, and nodded.

“I understand.”

Then she turned on her heel and marched out of the tent. Pisces’ head snapped up, and he felt a familiar sensation run down the back of his neck and tickle his stomach. That feeling he got when something classic to the Horns was about to happen—

Colth, the rookie, missed the signs. He blinked at Yvlon, then strode after her.

“Yvlon. Where are you going? Let’s talk more shop before we leave this spot. We should pull other Earthers into—Yvlon? Where are you going?”

“Uh oh.”

Ceria muttered, but she didn’t stop Yvlon. She just picked up a pitcher of water and drank from it as Pisces strode out of the tent. Elena followed, mystified.




The King of Destruction was in a fine fettle today. He was standing outside his camp, and Pisces had been so preoccupied with the High King’s antics and Elena that he had missed the biggest news so far.

More than the comet.

More than all the Skills.

More than his freedom—the most significant part of real news in Chandrar had just arrived. Pisces stopped, dumbstruck, and stared at a rank of kneeling [Soldiers] wearing dark, green-black armor.

A man with one leg was standing to attention as he introduced six kneeling figures, who rose as the King of Destruction’s voice boomed across the cheering camp.

My vassals, the Rustängmarder, have returned!

Then Pisces felt a chill run down his arms. He stared at the warriors and recognized them. One of the famous legions who fought under Flos Reimarch? Repentant warriors atoning for crimes in battle—famous mercenaries—

A group of a mere hundred had fought for Flos Reimarch. Now, their entire force had arrived. They knelt under the sun as one of them removed a helmet, revealing a half-shaved head and long hair. The woman had pale-brown skin, and Pisces started because one look at her told him she was a [Necromancer].

Or something close. The Rustängmarder were steeped in death magic. If they died, their corpses would continue fighting. The woman made a strange salute to Flos.

“We have returned at last from Baleros, our obligations fulfilled, Your Majesty. Commander Ytol upheld our honor as we fulfilled our pact. The Titan of Baleros is weakened.”

“I knew he held your contract. Take some drinks, Death-General Losve. How weakened do you mean? Purely from your absence?”

The woman had a stern, straight face. The rest of the Seven listened intently, arrayed around the King of Destruction, a meeting for stories, as she spoke in a clear, carrying voice. Yvlon was pushing through the crowd as Pisces tried to hear and get closer.

“In part from our absence. We were a valuable key to his forces; he trapped us well. If we had tried to march to your aid, he would have used our contract-breaking as cause to attack us. The first months, we were dogged by at least two of his [Generals] at any moment.”

“Clever. But you waited out his tricks. He’s at war with the former Great Company, isn’t he?”

General Losve inclined her head with a small smile.

“Among other concerns. I shall brief you fully on Baleros, Your Majesty. At this moment, we continue to disembark from the northeast; we were forced to skirt the Empire of Sands. Clashes at sea have devoured over half a legion.”

Flos growled.

“They’ve been far too quiet. I expected them to come charging at us by now. You’re not the first vassal to report clashing with them. Now you’re here, I intend to take battle to more fronts than just Nerrhavia’s Fallen. Are you ready to assail my foes?”

Another smile, and Pisces swore the others were smiling behind their helmets. The Death-General put her helmet back on.

“We did not have the honor the last time you conquered Chandrar. This time, we shall deliver—”

The King of Destruction was beaming in delight. Even his Seven appeared to be rejoicing; it was hard to tell on Takhatres’ face, but the Garuda seemed to acknowledge the Rustängmarder as worthy allies.

Orthenon was actually favoring the grim soldiers with a smile, and Mars was openly excited. Amerys was aloof, like a woman watching an excited child playing with toy soldiers, but Gazi had her iconic grin on her face. Zamea’s eyes shone as she, Mirin, and Jelaim waited to greet their comrades in arms.

The Earthers stared at a dread legion; Teres was vibrating with excitement. Trey with a kind of weary resignation.

King of Destruction. Let his enemies tremble. His Seven, his [Steward], the [Drummer], Medacium. Minizi. Yvlon Byres—


The Horns of Hammerad were shoving through the crowd, trying to stop a blonde-haired woman pushing towards the front of the crowd. Pisces was trying to whisper-shout; he didn’t want to interrupt the moment, but he couldn’t reach Yvlon. The press of bodies was too strong, and everyone wanted to see their beloved [King]; in desperation, Pisces threw an elbow.

That was a mistake. Instantly, a [Soldier] threw one back, and Pisces realized shoving around a group of veteran [Soldiers] was not for the faint of arms. Even Colth was having trouble shifting people aside.

“Yvlon! Yvlon—”

The problem was that Yvlon Byres had no problem pushing a woman in armor into a group of comrades. She was on a path towards the King of Destruction, and she burst out of the crowd as Death-General Losve was mid-speech.


The leader of the Rustängmarder pivoted, her helmeted face radiating cold outrage. Every head swung to Yvlon, and Pisces tried to sink into the crowd.

Too late. But the King of Destruction was in too good a mood to take offense.

“Ah, Yvlon. Someone, make room for her to stand here! Losve, these are adventurers I found myself taken with. Did you see the morning’s news? High King Perric…I’ve half a mind to have Nawalishifra turn his crown into a shield. But I’d ask permission this time.”

The Death-General nodded stiffly to Yvlon as she bowed apologetically. Her visor swung, and Pisces felt people moving back to give him space. He, Colth, and Ceria all came forwards, and a cold, clipped tone came out of that intimidating helmet.

“[Necromancer]. Greetings.”

Somehow, she recognized it without knowing his name. Pisces half-bowed and saw the six leaders all nod at him. This was uncanny.

Flos being Flos loved it and gestured in fine humor.

“They fought the Bloodtear Pirates at sea. Did you see that?”

“I did witness the affray, yes, Your Majesty. I desired to question the [Innkeeper] of rumor at that event.”

“Really? Well, these are some of her boon companions. You may have your wish. Behold some of my finest warriors, Yvlon. And Elena! Come, come—”

The Rustängmarder were going to murder them. Pisces didn’t know how outraged the soldiers were behind their helmets, but he shuffled together with his team. The King of Destruction seemed to have an odd fondness for Yvlon, though. She’d spoken to him least of all and frankly been somewhat hostile after he broke Ceria’s circlet, but he gave her a broad grin.

“Just as I told you, Yvlon. Dreams cannot match reality at times. I know your team must soon leave, and my favor—”

His eyes flicked to Pisces.

“Well, consider it since I have nothing to give. Unless, perhaps—! What if I had Losve and her Rustängmarder march on Medain? We could give the High King a proper lesson in what his Golden Ranks should look like.”

That made the Rustängmarder react. Losve’s head swung to Flos. Then she made a signal.

“If you will it, Your Majesty—”

Thrum, thrum, thrum—her warriors struck their shoulders with their armored fists, making a dull crashing sound of metal. Pisces swore their visors lit up slightly with green light. The King of Destruction’s smile grew deeper.

Send the Rustängmarder at Medain? It took the Horns a second to realize he was waiting for a response.

“How about it? It seems I owe your captain, Ceria, a favor for my rashness. Amerys talked my ear off about it. Do you have a request for me?”

Every head turned to the Horns. Pisces looked at Colth, who was mouthing ‘murder Perric’. At least he had his priorities straight. Ceria was swaying, still holding the pitcher of water in hand, and Elena was covering her mouth behind them.

She, at least, seemed to understand how dangerous the favor of the King of Destruction was. But Yvlon—ah—Yvlon.

She executed a polite bow with that fake smile on her face. A reasonable woman, Yvlon Byres. Good in manners. But as Pisces had once observed, she executed manners like someone who thought they applied to everyone without exception.

She was, in some ways, the most like Erin Solstice in that when she decided she had something to say, she’d say it. Not that they’d met many rulers before now, but Yvlon had a glint in her eyes. And Pisces saw her head turn, and she looked not at him, oh no.

The [Armsmistress] looked straight at Elena. Then she faced Flos and spoke.

“Elena would like to leave your service, Your Majesty. If we are owed a favor, I request that you allow her to go.”

That was not what the King of Destruction had been expecting to hear. Again, credit to his poise, his face didn’t go blank in shock. He just blinked, then raised his brows.

“Now there’s an unpleasant request. How did this come about? Elena?”

Suddenly, every eye was on the [Beautician]. She gave Pisces an agonized look, then gracefully bowed. The Seven were eying her hard, and Elena’s voice trembled.

“I—just wished to travel. Perhaps go home, Your Majesty.”

“Not just her. The other people from her home may wish to leave. If we have a favor, I request that they be allowed to go on their way.”

Yvlon Byres cut in, and Pisces saw Flos’ eyes flicker to her face, then his smile turned rueful.

Yvlon! Yvlon, are you insane? They’re from Earth, and he knows about them! All of them? Are you mad?

Pisces didn’t have the power to telepathically project his thoughts, but he was trying to gain the Skill in real-time. Flos turned to Losve and nodded at Yvlon.

“This is why I like them. And it is my fault for offering a boon.”

“Audacity has always had its place in your courts, Your Majesty.”

The Death-General offered neutrally. The subtext said that she was going to kneecap Pisces, [Necromancer] or not, the moment Flos was looking the other way. Flos turned back to Yvlon and tugged on his beard.

“Ah, Yvlon. Won’t you ask for something simpler like for Losve to spank High King Perric in full view of his courts? You and I both know I am loath to release Trey and Teres’ companions. If Elena is unhappy, that dratted Quarass or Fetohep may have to gloat over being better hosts than I.”

“Never more than you, Your Majesty!”

Jelaim shouted merrily, and Flos raised a hand at the cheers. He nodded at Yvlon.

“I shall hear her out, and you, at breakfast. If nothing else, I’d like to introduce Pisces to the finest soldiers to use death magic.”

That was a splendid exit for Yvlon to take and very adroitly done. Flos had practically rolled out the carpet for her.

Yvlon stared at the metaphorical carpet. Then she calmly—and metaphorically—began to stab it with a knife.

“I fear I must insist, Your Majesty. Elena is a friend of Erin Solstice’s. Thus, she’s a friend of ours. It would leave a sour taste in my mouth to let her stay imprisoned here.”

The jovial chuckles and listeners suddenly went silent. Slowly, the King’s Seven focused on Yvlon, perhaps for the first time, and Pisces saw the Rustängmarder, as one, slowly raise their heads and turn his way.

Yvlon Byres was worse than ‘Is it War?’ Ksmvr. Vofea had literally led the Horns into a battle at sea against Bloodtear Pirates. Yvlon was worse than both. Colth? Colth worked for Demons.

Yvlon was the absolute—even Ceria only wore Relics of cursedness. Yvlon didn’t even couch her language.

“—I object to ‘imprison’. I’m a forceful host. Not someone keeping prisoners.”

“I didn’t accuse you of making them [Slaves], Your Majesty. I can only say how things look to a foreigner to Chandrar.”

And she was making it worse. This time, Flos’ chuckle felt forced. Trey wore a look of delight on his face. And palpable alarm.

“This is Trey to the Horns of Hammerad. I don’t know what you’re doing, but he’s going to get mad.”

The [Chaos Schemer] put a finger to his temples, and Pisces heard his voice. It didn’t stop Yvlon. Pisces knew he should kick her, apologize on hands and knees, and flee into the distance at full speed.

He didn’t. Instinct told him to apologize and grab Yvlon. He stared at his hands. Amazing. They were only shaking, and he hadn’t become incontinent. Why the hell did he feel proud of Yvlon?

Perhaps because she had said what was in the back of his mind. In the worst way, but everyone had their foibles.

“Yvlon. Are you insisting I release Elena to head off…into the distance? To wander off that way, perhaps?”

Flos sounded slightly amused, but his eyes had taken a serious cast to them. Yvlon retorted.

“I could pay for a horse, Your Majesty.”

Laughter. Flos reached up and knocked a hand down. Orthenon had been about to point a spear at Yvlon. The Seven were getting—Mars still had that smile on her face, but Pisces’ knees were beginning to shake. The air felt oppressive, but the King of Destruction wasn’t mad. 


“And what would you do if I refused, Yvlon?”

“I would insist.”

“Oh. Really. And if I refused?”

There it was. A glint. He might be a sociable [King] who loved audacity and bravery, but he was still King of Reim, once the ruler of all of Chandrar. Yvlon Byres narrowed her eyes, and her hands clenched at her side.

“I may get tetchy.”

That was the final straw. The King of Destruction threw his head back and uttered one bark of a laugh. As he did, his vassals moved.

They had been getting slowly angrier and angrier, if in different ways. Orthenon’s face had become a thundercloud; Mars had never stopped smiling, nor had Gazi, but the half-Gazer’s eyes had locked onto Yvlon, and Takhatres had shifted from one foot to the other, glaring at the Horns. Only Amerys floated above it all, less concerned with the insults.

No sooner did Yvlon finish speaking than two of them moved. Pisces didn’t even see the Lord of the Skies move. He saw Yvlon move—and the Garuda appeared, foot raised.

His kick sent Yvlon flying backwards; Mars was already behind her. She swung a shield into Yvlon’s back, and the crash of metal knocked Yvlon flat into the ground. Yvlon lay there a second, then tried to roll—Mars’ sword pointed down at her.

Flos finished laughing. Pisces jerked; Yvlon was down, and Mars had a foot on her chest. Her armor was badly dented in two spots.

“Mars. I just gifted her that armor.”

The King of Destruction sounded reproving. The world’s greatest [Vanguard] shrugged, face calm, but her eyes were cold.

“A small price for a lesson, Your Majesty. We’ll get her a new one.”


Mars took her foot off Yvlon and stepped back. Metal spikes rose from Yvlon’s arms, pushing her upwards, and her eyes blazed. But she didn’t even make it upright; Takhatres kicked behind her knees, knocking her onto her hands and knees.


Colth started forwards and froze. The King of Destruction’s steward had a spear at his throat, barring his path. The [Ultimate Supporter] grinned nervously and half-raised his hands. His eyes flicked to Pisces.

What did they do?


Ceria just swayed around in place. She took a drink of water as Yvlon tried to get up.

“Don’t get up. His Majesty might like you. But insolence deserves a lesson, and you are surrounded by your betters.”

The Lord of the Skies advised Yvlon, but he didn’t stand on her chest—he stepped back. Mars moved backwards too, and Death-General Losve drew her sword calmly.

They were waiting for her to get up. Colth was frozen, staring at Orthenon, and Ceria was swaying off to the side. Yvlon?

Yvlon was slowly collecting herself. She had blood on her lips; she might have bit her cheek or tongue when she fell. But one look at her eyes and Pisces knew—she’d get back up.

She had charged an Adult Creler with one of her arms as a club. She had to know they wouldn’t take mercy on her. But one look at Elena—the [Beautician] was calling out, horrified.

“Yvlon—don’t—Your Majesty!”

“Don’t harm her badly, Mars.”

The King of Destruction looked somewhat resigned to what was going to happen next. He was shaking his head, but watching Yvlon with a hint of approval in his eyes. As if he respected her level of stupidity.

No one was going to help Yvlon. In fact, Pisces saw the [Soldiers] around them were clearly hoping they could get in on teaching this woman a lesson. He looked at the King of Destruction’s Seven and felt them outlevel him.

Jelaim, Mirin, Zamea—they were probably more than a match for Pisces. It was stupid, all Yvlon’s fault for being hard-headed. The smart thing to do was to let her take some lumps, apologize, and get out of this in one piece.

They could kill the Horns. Pisces turned his head to Elena’s distraught face. She thought this was her fault, not knowing that it was, of course, all Yvlon. For some reason, her eyes widened as she gazed at him. In horror. Disbelief.


Why did she say that to him? Pisces was a sensible person. Oh. Of course.

He stared down at his hand as it grasped the hilt of his rapier and drew the ivory-steel blade. It made a satisfying sound as it left its sheath. The [Necromancer] saw Mars’ head turn incredulously.

She swung faster than he could have dodged—which was why he had already begun leaping back. The [Necromancer]’s feet struck the ground, and he raised a hand.

Why was he smiling? Perhaps it was that look of naked surprise on the King of Destruction’s face. Perhaps it was because, until this very moment, he wasn’t sure if he would do something so monumentally stupid.

You never knew if you were going to do the right thing until you had your chance. Erin Solstice’s voice seemed to echo in his ears. A smart [Necromancer] would do nothing.

But you’re better than they are. Aren’t you?


Bones swirled out of his bag of holding behind him. Pisces lifted a flaming rapier and saw Death-General Losve gazing at him. She lunged—a greatsword piercing the air as his rapier moved.

[Joveln’s Parry]. The gathered audience saw a glowing tail emerge behind Pisces, and his rapier moved the tip of the greatsword. It—probably—hadn’t been intended as a killing thrust. It would have gone an inch into his chest. Parried, it passed by his right shoulder.

I think I just broke my arm. The shock of impact ran through Pisces as the Death-General reset her stance. She pointed the sword at him as bone swirled around him.

Orthenon snarled. He glanced at Pisces—and jerked away as two blades slashed through the spot his arm had been. Colth ate a kick and flipped onto his feet—he whirled the blades up, eyes gleaming.

[Imitation of Might: Iert, The Naga’s Hound].

His teeth grew, and black fur ripped up his arms. His blades lengthened, and Orthenon turned his head back to the [Ultimate Supporter]. He put his other hand on the spear, eyes flashing like death.


Yvlon stared at the [Necromancer], and Pisces was shaking. But he gave her a huge smile.

You didn’t think you were the craziest Horn, did you? 

Pisces was waiting for an attack from one of the King of Destruction’s vassals. They seemed more surprised than anything else. But one of them raised a lazy finger.

“Oh, enough with the posturing.”

Amerys, the Archmage of Lightning, aimed a crackling finger at Pisces, and he froze. The Archmage pointed as Death-General Losve pivoted aside smoothly—

—And Ceria tossed her entire pitcher of water over Amerys. The water clung to the Archmage of Lightning as the electricity fizzled out. It didn’t cling to her skin—rather, it ran down an invisible barrier spell around Amerys.

Just water. Amerys blinked, looked at Ceria—and ice started freezing as the running water hardened and changed states. The half-Elf gave Amerys an unfocused grin.

Got you.

Ceria drew her wand, and she had the Archmage of Lightning covered in water—a [Cryomancer]’s wet dream. Calmly, Amerys wiped some of the water trickling down her barriers away, then drew her wand.

The lightning crackled red as she aimed it at Ceria’s chest.

Yvlon was on one knee, and Mars was staring at Pisces. Straight at him. Pisces heard a familiar ringing sound, and when he looked right, Gazi the Omniscient had drawn her blade.

He had never had a nightmare like this. Nightmares were more survivable. They probably wouldn’t die. But why the hell were they doing this?

Because they’d kicked Yvlon. Because Flos had broken Ceria’s circlet. Because it was something Erin would do.

His pulse was hammering in his chest. Behind him, the bones were coalescing into something. Pisces didn’t know what.

Not a Skeleton Champion. Those were useless. His mind was racing at the speed of light, and Pisces didn’t know what he was doing.

Something else. Something far more powerful. Something that has a chance, even one in a million, of beating them. What?

A single piece of Stellar Ivory floated into the air and hovered behind Pisces. It floated into place, and the lesser bones swirled around it, as if a single true piece had formed the foundation for something—

New. Springing forth from the depths of the [Necromancer]’s mind. Perhaps his very soul.

Pisces didn’t see what was taking form behind him. He only saw the King of Destruction, face amused, surprised, widen his eyes. He looked at Pisces and then at whatever the [Necromancer] was conjuring.

An idea—half formed. The King of Destruction narrowed his eyes. He had his hand raised, forestalling his Seven. They feared nothing Pisces could create; only curiosity stayed their hands. But for a second, the rapidly moving whirlwind of bones and death magic coalesced—collapsing—trying to give form to something Pisces had not fully articulated in his mind.

But he knew what it was, deep down—no. It was as if the materials were too weak to give form to it. Only that piece of shining ivory stayed in place. Tracing the outline of something that…smiled at the King of Destruction. The [King] leaned forwards, a grin of a man who had killed monsters and legends on his face.

Then he jerked. His breath caught—and the Seven froze for one second.

They were waiting to crush the Horns. A contemptuous Orthenon holding his spear, Amerys slowly amping up the power in her wand as Ceria swallowed. Mars, not even bothering to look down at Yvlon as Takhatres and Gazi stared down Pisces.

Then it happened. The [Necromancer] was pointing his sword straight at the King of Destruction. His arm shook; his blade was steady. What was in his eyes? What was rising behind him? He didn’t know, but something hanging from the hilt of his rapier caught the light.

He was afraid. He was terrified. He was outmatched.


The Bell of Challenges rang once. Pisces saw Mars’ head jerk around, and Takhatres halted, mid-kick. The King of Destruction’s eyes went round as he heard the sound for the first time in his life.

All five of Gazi’s eyes met Pisces’. He waited for the agonizing pain as Death-General Losve put a hand to her helmet in confusion, keeping her sword pointing at him. He waited for the bell to ring again as the Horns of Hammerad tensed. Ceria was laughing along with Colth, and Yvlon’s body was beginning to shake with rage.

The King of Destruction laughed in delight. He reached out and grabbed Amerys’ arm. She jerked—Flos wrenched the arm, and a bolt of crimson lightning shot into the skies and exploded.

Stop! Enough! Stand down.”

“Your Majesty—”

“I said enough.

The King of Reim spoke, and his Seven lowered their blades. The Rustängmarder fell to their knees along with the audience—and Flos Reimarch looked at Pisces.

“I’ve come to a decision. Prepare my tent for an audience. Fetch me quill and paper for a letter. The Horns of Hammerad, Trey, Teres, and, eh, Nawalishifra and half the Earthers are to wait upon me. After breakfast.”

He turned his head, and the Horns stared at him. The King of Destruction pointed at Pisces and the bell.

“It was indeed worth meeting you.”

Then he turned away.




The Horns of Hammerad stood there as people stared at them. But no one killed them. Some might want to, but the King of Destruction had spoken.

“Αμάν–oh my–τι είναι αυτό ρε–Γαμώ τη μάνα σου–I don’t have enough oaths.”

Elena was clutching at her chest after that. She was panting as if she’d run a mile. The Horns were visibly shaking. Yvlon Byres was on her feet, wincing, as she felt at her chest.

“That worked out well.”

Pisces, Colth, and Ceria all began kicking and punching her. The [Armsmistress] held up her arms.

“What possessed you all to join in? I was ready to take some lumps to prove a point.”

She looked at their incredulous faces, then shrugged and, wincing, looked around.

“Anyone know where the armorers’ tents are? I think I need new armor already. At least my under-armour is good. I think it saved me from breaking a rib.”

She wandered off. Elena pointed at Yvlon—then looked at Pisces, Colth, and Ceria.

“She is the coolest person—even Cara would call her crazy!”

Her eyes shone with admiration. For once, Yvlon’s teammates didn’t have much to say.

“That’s our Yvlon. Haha. Ha-ha.”

Colth grinned, even his voice weak and faint.

Pisces took three paces and threw up behind a tent.




“You must punish them, Your Majesty. They challenged you to your face.”

“Orthenon, Orthenon, Orthenon, Orthenon—if I keep saying your name, will you leave me alone?”

The King of Destruction was reclining on his throne in good humor. His [Steward] was incandescent. Trey, Teresa, half the Earthers, including Elena, and the Horns of Hammerad were all standing before him in his tent.

Yvlon was still glowering, but she had both Death-General Losve and Mars standing so close to her that she didn’t say a thing. Flos spoke out loud.

“I like them. There’s a line between foolhardy bravery and the true stuff of champions. Don’t you think, Mars?”

The [Vanguard] raised her brows, skeptical.

“They’re nothing near good enough to make me even sweat, Your Majesty.”

He waggled a finger at her.

“Ah, but Mars, that’s the point of the young. Here we have a group of adventurers even more foolhardy than Teresa—and she has been nagging me nonstop about rising into her own right. We have Trey, a pain in my posterior, and Elena, who adds to his arguments, and Earthers yet to make something of themselves. What to do with them?”


Takhatres said that deadpan. Flos Reimarch rolled his eyes.

“No, Takhatres. I think I’d rather do something else. Is Nawalishifra back there?”

“Your Majesty.”

He peered as Nawal bent to one knee, but Flos raised a hand. He studied his Seven, most of them fuming, and nodded to himself.

“They surprised me. You too, Orthenon.”

“Only by virtue of an artifact.”

The [Steward] shot Pisces a death-glare, but Flos glanced at Pisces and at his bag of holding, which held the bones that had collapsed after the tension had been released. Then he studied Ceria, who stuck her tongue out at him, Yvlon’s unflinching glare, and Colth’s fake smile.

The King of Destruction grinned.

“No. I have an eye for people, if nothing else. I’ve decided. Send all of them. Trey, Teresa, Nawalishifra since they seem to be good friends. Elena, every Earther with a mind—I’ll survive without—and the Horns of Hammerad. Send them all to Hraace!

The proclamation provoked a stir within the tent. Mars’ head rose incredulously, and Takhatres cawed in a surprised laugh that became a noise of outrage. Orthenon just exhaled as Gazi stared at Flos; even Amerys sat up in the air.

“Hraace, Your Majesty? The Pedagogia has not declared for you.”

“I know. That was hurtful, but her reasons are her own; she still owes me this. Take one of those magical carriages from Wistram. Two or three, I imagine. And…yes. Gazi, escort the lot. Trey needs someone to safeguard him on his project, and the Horns know you. See if you can’t recruit a nation back to my cause while you’re at it. Coslere? They liked me well enough.”

The half-Gazer started beside the King of Destruction.

Me? Your Majesty?”

She wasn’t sure if she should be dismayed, but Flos just nodded at her.

“Yes. Have the Pedagogia look at you too.”


This time, all the Seven seemed shocked, but the King of Destruction waved a hand.

“Her armor is broken, but do any of you deny she has as good a chance as the rest?”

“None of them have a chance in Rhir’s hells. I went to Hraace, and they turned me down.”

Takhatres snapped back, sounding upset. The Horns and Earthers, even Trey and Teres, were looking at each other in complete ignorance of what was going on. None of them were Chandrarian; only Colth’s eyes had lit up, and he was giving Flos the same look of pure surprise.

Colth—and Elena, whose head had come up at the memory of the Quarass mentioning the same spot. She listened intently as Flos argued with his vassals.

“Takhatres, you are not the right sort. Don’t throw that fruit at me. If a single one of them is even worth a week of their time, it will be a fine outcome. And so you see, Horns of Hammerad, we’ll call that a fine resolution. I think my vassals wouldn’t take kindly to your presence longer, anyways.”

Flos beamed down at the Horns, and Ceria had pulled out a map. She stared around, and Colth pointed. Pisces peered over her shoulder and groaned.

Hraace was to the northeast. Practically on the corner of Chandrar! It was a little nation along a coast with some islands—not where they wanted to be!

“Er. Your Majesty. We are honored by this…decision. But we really have to be going to Nerrhavia’s Fallen or Tiqr—”

Ceria had regained use of her tongue, but Flos just spoke over her, waving a grand hand.

“No, no. You can spare a week or two, surely. It’s a huge honor to get an appraisal out of season, and I insist. Anyone in Chandrar would love my recommendation—I’m fairly certain the Pedagogia will at least give you a chance.”

He sat there, looking so pleased with himself that no one knew what to say. Half the people in the tent were giving the Horns and Earthers glares that seemed envious. It was Teres who raised her head and eyed the Horns. She raised her voice.

“Flos! What has Hraace got to do with anything? You promised me a chance to prove myself!”

The King of Destruction’s smile grew strained. Mars made a slap to the back of the head motion, but Flos gave Teres a puzzled look.

“Hraace is the biggest boon I could grant, Teres. Didn’t you study them? Orthenon? No, wait—you’re not a Chandrarian.”

He sighed and put his head in his hands. The [Steward] gave his ruler a bland look.

“I respect their abilities—”

“Silence, Orthenon. You would ignore them. But surely the Horns understand—”

Flos smiled at them, then took in their blank expressions. Colth nodded, and Flos began to look outraged.

“Oh, come now. It’s Hraace. Don’t they at least tell stories of them? I know Chandrar has a bad reputation, but don’t parents promise their children that if they’re good, they’ll be taken to Hraace? It’s one of the few nations you’d hear about if you spoke of Chandrar! Like Samal or Erribathe in Terandria! Or Salazsarian pork!”

Salazsarian pork…?

Pisces mouthed the words. He stared at Ceria, and she shrugged. Flos looked genuinely upset, and he folded his arms.

“I’m almost of a mind to rescind that. But no—Gazi, educate them, would you, on the road?”

“As Your Majesty wills.”

She looked excited, and when she glanced at the Horns, resigned. Trey and Teres glanced at each other, and Elena peeked at the Horns, seeming excited.

“So…Hraace is a good thing?”

Teres asked suspiciously. The King of Destruction laughed. He sat back on his throne as if she’d told a huge jest and chuckled and chortled until he was out of breath. Then he gave them all a fond glance.

“Hraace is no great nation of war. It has few resources save for its people. It’s very balmy. But it is an honor to go, much less be chosen. I was, when I was a boy. The Pedagogia Araxia and the Mentorship of Hraace were among my first vassals. They helped make me into the King of Destruction. Do you really not know them?”

The name was ringing a bell in Pisces’ mind, and the King of Destruction’s eyes passed over him. Flos Reimarch stood and pointed a finger.

“Pray you are chosen—or rejoice that you are not. They are the finest instructors in weapons, etiquette, statecraft, and strategy the world knows. Take the detour, Horns of Hammerad—to the Heromakers of Hraace.

He winked at them.

“—And if they choose you, you will be among Chandrar’s [Heroes].”





Author’s Note:

I’m back. Here we are—

As I said in the last Author’s Note, which I wrote just five minutes ago, there’s a longer story of my vacation. But it’s not the most entertaining—it’s a vacation story, and I’m at my most uninteresting when I’m not writing. So let’s talk about the things that I do think matter for our relationship where you read what I write.

I think this month was sort of a wash to see if it really affects my writing. I’m still probably in recovery, and the vacation was a bit of work. But I do greatly appreciate having a week to write a chapter.

Now, with that said, splitting each one into parts and writing, uh—54,000 words is still a lot. Mind you, it’s still LOWER than my average, which was at least two chapters of 30,000+ words per week!

Soon, I’ll have the time to experiment with shorter, multiple chapters, and see if I get an energy boost from this lack of writing. Mind you, that means I have to write less…but I feel better after my vacation.

I hate airports. I hate delays. But I found three songs from family and browsing the internet I truly enjoyed and will be on my playlist.

Music makes me want to write amazing things. In order, they’d be:

You’ll Be Back from Hamilton, the only song I really liked in the entire Netflix version. (I only watched half. I’m not really a fan, but that song makes up for all of it.)

2 Days Into College by Aimee Carty. The one good thing to ever come out of Youtube Shorts.

And Little Blue by Jacob Collier. Which my traitorous brother, who doesn’t read my story but has read all of Cradle, swears is a reference to Will Wight’s story.

Ahem. It was a great vacation except for the bugs. But Puerto Rican bugs are somehow smaller than the ones I grew up with. Thanks for the wait, and hope you enjoy this chapter. My brother’s fiancé reads The Wandering Inn. I’m going to their wedding in a few months.

This is all. pirateaba out.



The Horns of Hammerad by katiemaeve!


Girlfriend Material by Stargazing Selphid!

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/megawint/


Amerys by pkay!

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


Tolveilouka by Guliver!


Landsmecht by Jawjee!

Instagram: https://instagram.com/jawjee_draws


Dreamer and Yvlon by BigBallZ!


YellowSplatters by Lime!

Bluesky: https://bsky.app/profile/arcticlime.bsky.social

Ko-fi: https://ko-fi.com/recapturedlime


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