Glossary

This is a glossary for all the people and places up to Volume 5. It contains spoilers about everything that has occurred to this point. You have been warned.

A
B
C
D
E
F
G
H
I
J
K
L
M
N
O
P
Q
R
S
T
U
V
W
X
Y
Z

 

A

Acid Flies – Small flying black insects with green abdomens that are filled with flesh-eating acid. They explode when swatted. Also apparently very tasty if you like insects.

Adventurer – The ubiquitous monster-slaying, dungeon-delving, ale-drinking heroes who fulfill requests for gold. They’ll kill your monsters, clean out lairs, but they won’t iron your sheets. They come in Bronze-rank, Silver-rank, and Gold-rank classifications. There are also Named Adventurers, who are famous throughout the world.

Adventurer’s Guild – An organization that oversees adventurers. Adventurer’s Guilds are standard across the world but each one varies in terms of competency, size, and so forth. This is the place where adventurers hang out and collect their rewards. Adventurer’s Guilds provide a number of services, not least of which is classifying adventurers into rankings so people can judge them harshly.

Agnes – A Human [Innkeeper] who runs the Frenzied Hare in Celum. Used to be friends with Erin until a nasty incident involving her [Barmaids] drove them apart. Her husband is sick and can’t work, which means Agnes has to run the inn with her hired help. She sucks at cooking.

Aiko Nonomura – A Japanese girl from the other world! She was part of Gravetender’s Fist along with a number of otherworlders, but subsequently joined the Red Cross Company. She is not much of a warrior, but is able to draw quite well since she aspired to be an artist back in her world. Artist, not mangaka. Although she draws manga quite well too. She’s multi-talented!

American Group – A term used to refer to the summoned Humans in the Blighted Kingdom. Comprised solely of young men and women from America, this group was the most numerous gathering of people from Earth until they were slaughtered in their first foray against the Demons.

Initially regarded as a colossal waste of resources, they were shuffled off the front lines to a village on the outskirts of the Blighted Kingdom. However, when it became apparent that the summoned Humans could level extraordinarily quickly they were recalled to the capital for a second chance. Following Tom’s successful defense of the castle, their fortunes have risen although their fate has yet to be decided…

Amerys – A Human Archmage of Wistram and one of the King of Destruction’s Seven. Amerys, known ironically as the Calm Flower of the Battlefield is a lightning mage capable of shooting lightning, flying, and generally doing all the other things you wouldn’t want an enemy [Mage] doing. She is loyal to her King, but currently still residing in Wistram for reasons unknown. She also had an odd buddy-buddy relationship with Mars, who is the only person who can survive being zapped by Amerys. She shoots lightning when drunk.

Anand – One of the Individual Workers of the Free Antinium. Anand was once a simple Worker until he met Erin and was introduced to the joys of chess. Now he is a capable and adaptive [Tactician] that works to defend his Hive. His strategies are often free-form and aggressive, which puts him ahead of his fellow [Tactician], Belgrade. Anand enjoys playing chess, eating, playing chess, and occasionally staring at the night sky and contemplating the meaning of his short life.

Angler Ghouls – Seriously bad news. You see a glowing swimming dead body coming at you a thousand feet under the sea? You’re in the wrong neighborhood.

Anith – A Jackal Beastkin and the leader of the Silver-rank team Vuliel Drae. He’s a fairly low-level [Mage] with some decent combat spells but is well aware that he and his team are barely better than Bronze-rank fodder. Despite that, his team has had some amazing success over the last few days and Anith hopes it will continue. He’s an optimist.

Antinium – The Black Tide. The invaders from Rhir. These strange ant-people invaded Izril years ago and fought in two bloody wars known as the First and Second Antinium Wars. They live in Hives underground and mainly come in two varieties, Workers and Soldiers. More specialized versions are known to exist, but they vary from Hive to Hive. Each Hive has its Queen and own personality, but the Antinium are united in one goal: to return home.

Ashfire Bees – Big, flying bees as large as your hands or larger if you have small hands. They have massive stingers, are practically immune to fire, and will kill you in an instant if you approach their Hive. They can even kill things immune to their stingers by lifting them up and dropping them. And their honey is delicious. Oh, so delicious.

Assassin’s Guild – An organization similar to the Adventurer’s Guild, the Assassin’s Guilds across the world are more shadowy and less common. There is an active guild in the northern region of Izril, but their contracts are usually expensive and reserved only for those with the coin and influence to contact the guild.

The members of an Assassin’s Guild are dangerous killers, but even they have targets they hesitate to go after. Magnolia Reinhart used to be a preferred client and one of the few individuals that they refused to take bounties on, but much has changed…

Az’kerash – The Necromancer of Izril. The famed ‘Slayer of Kerash’ as his name implies, the Necromancer haunted Terandria for over a hundred years before invading Izril. He was supposedly slain during the Second Antinium Wars, but he survived his death and is gathering his forces in a hidden castle to the west of the Blood Fields in southern Liscor. He has an army of powerful undead and five—no, four powerful unique undead, his Chosen.

The Necromancer is cunning, powerful, and will do whatever it takes to achieve his goals. He also has an apprentice in the form of the Goblin Lord, who he has taught necromancy and gives orders to. Az’kerash is a foe feared by his enemies, or rather, his enemies who know he’s alive. He’s also kind of a jerk.

 

B

Badarrow – One of the Redfang Goblins, Badarrow recently became a Hobgoblin after fighting in Esthelm and surviving the battle there. He is an expert [Archer] and extremely picky about the quality of his arrows. Taciturn and grumpy, Badarrow is nevertheless one of the leaders of his group although he often lets Headscratcher take charge. He dreams about obtaining an enchanted quiver of arrows someday. He really likes arrows.

Bagrhavens – It is said that some monsters were born of other species that engaged in dark, profane acts. These monsters sprung from the first of their kind, those who had broken all laws and depraved themselves to the point where they were no longer people. Bagrhavens are one such foe, and take the form of half-woman half-crow creatures that hunt in the night. Hideously fast and agile, they can leap on their foes and tear them to bits. They nest in the darkness.

Baleros – One of the five continents of this world, Baleros is known for its jungles, its insects, and the mercenary companies which fight in countless conflicts across the continent. There are few standing armies—rather, each ‘company’ is a small power unto itself and fights for the highest bidder or forms alliances to control land and resources. In Baleros, the Four Great Companies are considered to be the largest powers and each controls enough land and resources to be considered a nation unto themselves.

Baleros is rich with resources, blood-soaked with the small wars constantly being fought and yet for all the small conflicts it contains, it has suffered far fewer continental wars or terrible disasters compared to the other four continents over the centuries.

Banshees – Screaming ghostly ladies. They scream, you die. It’s a very simple concept.

Basilisks – Staring lizards. Basilisks can petrify their enemies with their glares, but the petrification can be resisted or reversed if it is not completed. They are dangerous if met when unprepared. Basilisk meat is also very succulent.

Batman – The Dark Knight. Also, what Ryoka used to call herself when she was a kid. She would hang upside down on balconies and scare her parents in the middle of the night.

Bea – One of the Chosen of Az’kerash. Bea is an undead woman, and can be mistaken for a zombie as her body is rotten and plague-stricken. However, while a zombie will continue to decompose, Bea’s body was made this way by design. A single touch from any part of her body is enough to convey numerous deadly poisons and infectious diseases which a conventional healing potion cannot cure.

Bea was closely attached to Oom, the only one of the Chosen who was similarly untouchable, until his death. Now she is alone and only her master can touch her without danger.

Beastkin – A type of species found mostly on Baleros and Chandrar, Beastkin does not refer to one specific people but a set of tribes known collectively as Beastkin. Each tribe takes traits from a specific animal, such as Cat Beastkin or Rabbit Beastkin. Scattered and relatively sparse, the Beastkin are a rare species but generally acclimate to any lands they find themselves in. They also tend to have interesting relationships with animals given their heritage. A Rabbit Beastkin is wary of cats for instance, and will generally save innocent bunnies by beating up any predators on the prowl.

Beatrice – A Dullahan [Runeshaper] and former friend of Pisces and Ceria. Beatrice was an older student in Wistram Academy when the two [Mages] first joined the academy. She was romantically involved with Calvaron, a Centaur, and their love would have been considered highly unacceptable if either one returned to Baleros. Beatrice grew distant from Pisces upon learning of his affinity for [Necromancy] and she cut all ties with both him and Ceria when his disastrous unleashing of undead led to Calvaron’s death.

Bekia – A Gnoll [Maid] in service to Magnolia Reinhart. Perhaps one might think it is silly to have a Gnoll as a housekeeper given their penchant to shed fur and the rarity of Gnolls in the service workforce. However, Gnoll [Maids] are excellent at sniffing out rot, pests, and intruders. She also cooks meat dishes wonderfully. And she does shed, but Humans smell so no one’s perfect.

Belgrade – One of the two Antinium [Tacticians] in Liscor’s Hive. Belgrade is a careful chess-player and [Strategist] and fond of static defensive maneuvers. That usually puts him at a disadvantage with Anand, his fellow [Tactician] and Belgrade often compares himself negatively to Anand. However, he has recently leaned several skills which allows him to create traps and fortifications, making his defensive abilities that much stronger. Belgrade loves pondering over games of chess and is one of Erin’s most avid students as he will listen to her lectures on chess games for hours where no one else will.

Beniar – Formerly the Silver-rank team leader of the Windfrozen Riders, Beniar is now a [Captain] and a [Cataphract] serving in the Unseen Empire. Initially brash and dismissive of Laken Godart, he has found a worthy leader in the [Emperor] and leads the small unit of cavalry in Laken’s army against his foes. He is something of a hothead and still has an inflated sense of his own worth, but he truly believes in Laken’s abilities and has found a home to defend and fight for. That is worth far more than any adventurer’s gold to him.

Bethal Walchaís – A high-level [Lady] and personal friend of Magnolia Reinhart, Lady Bethal is far, far more impulsive and hotheaded than Beniar could ever be. Prone to flights of passion, she leads her personal order known as the Knights of the Petal or Rose Knights against monsters or enemies of the land. Bethal is besmitten with her husband, Sir Thomast, and is the last of her line, her family having perished fighting during the Second Antinium Wars.

Headstrong, passionate, and a little bit insane, Lady Bethal has more admirers than enemies and her influence is great. She is also an excellent dancer both on the ballroom and in less formal settings.

Bird – One of the Individual Workers of the Free Antinium. Bird is a [Hunter], a predator of all things flying. He likes bows. He likes birds. He likes shooting birds, which may be contradictory to some, but makes sense to Bird. He is currently acting as a guard for Erin’s inn and enjoys sitting in the watch tower on top of the inn and shooting birds. He is very happy in life as Erin will occasionally come up to feed him hot food or give him a drink. Bird would be happy just to be able to shoot birds. He likes birds.

BlackMage – A [Mage] and [Engineer], BlackMage is a Human from Earth who is currently residing in Wistram. He initiated a group chat with a large group of people who owned iPhones with a fusion of magic and technology. However, his attempts to connect with other Humans from his world have been stymied by other parties hunting for people from his world and the dangers posed therein. He has agreed to make Wistram a rallying point for Humans from his world and is attempting to make that goal a reality. He is fan of 8-Bit Theater, the web comic, hence his username.

Blighted Kingdom – The sole Human kingdom on Rhir. The Blighted Kingdom, ruled by the Blighted King, is a nation constantly at war with the so-called ‘Demons’ of Rhir. Currently, the Blighted Kingdom is protected by four massive walls that prevent the incursion of monsters and enemies armies. A fifth wall is in construction and has been for over a decade, but the battles with the Demon King’s armies have seen a stalemate across the continent.

Blighted Queen – One of the rulers of the Blighted Kingdom, the Blighted Queen is a former [Warrior] who became the third wife of the Blighted King. Though she is a [Queen], her abilities as a ruler are practically non-existent and it is thought that if the Blighted King should die, his mantle will be taken up by one of his surviving daughters. The Blighted Queen is a powerful combatant and uses a mace with deadly effect.

Blood Fields – A strange area of land to the south of Liscor. The Blood Fields have traditionally been a place for Drake and Human armies to do battle rather than commit to an all-out war. As such, the constant bloodshed has given rise to a unique flora which is crimson like the blood that is spilled upon the ground. In winter, the Blood Fields are mostly passive, but their true nature emerges in the spring or when many bodies pass through the area…

Bog Wraiths – There exist many types of wraiths in the world. Some live in bogs.

Bone Giants – Big skeletons. Big skeletons. Used as siege weapons by the Necromancer during the Second Antinium War. Ironically, they’re not nearly as heavy as regular giants since they’re bone, so they pose a weaker threat. However they were used to great effect when backed up by a Necromancer that could keep repairing them and armed with mounted ballistae.

Bone Horrors – An advanced form of undead. Bone Horrors have no set shape, and are created out of whatever bones are available to form horrific, if sometimes clumsy, nightmares. They are extremely difficult to kill but lack the special abilities of most other undead. Pisces has created his own unique variants of these undead which are superior in combat ability and look scarier too.

Brunkr – A Gnoll [Warrior] with dreams of becoming a [Knight], Brunkr was sent to Liscor to assist and guard his aunt. He was one of the best warriors of the Silverfang Tribe and was killed by Venitra in Liscor. He briefly taught Lyonette the basics of swordsmanship and had developed the beginnings of a relationship with the princess and Mrsha when he was murdered.

Bugear – One of the Redfang Warriors, Bugear was known for the persistent infections of mites and other crawling insects in his ears. He was noted as both despising and tolerating the insects because while they stung and burrowed into his ears they were a portable food source as well. He perished outside of Liscor fighting Eater Goats with neither insects in his ears or fear in his heart.

Byres – A noble house in Izril, the offspring of the Byres house are often [Merchants] or [Warriors] despite their aristocratic lineage. They are considered a minor power and their wealth rises and falls with the demand for silver, which they export and temper their weapons with. The Byres family used to be known for their crusades against monsters, most notably the vampire threat that used to plague Izril and the world. With the destruction of vampires, their wealth and standing has been reduced, but they are still considered an honorable family with a proud ancestry.

 

C

Calac Crusand – The son of Venith and Maresar Crusand, Calac was born after the King of Destruction entered his slumber. He has a mixed view of his father’s king due to this, but is determined to prove himself to his father. Taught to be honorable by his father and ruthlessly efficient by his mother, Calac is a young, passionate man who could use less parental influence and an opportunity to be his own person. He’s a decent warrior but as in all things falls short when compared to either of his parents.

Calanfer – One of the numerous Terandrian kingdoms of royalty, Calanfer is ruled by House Marquin, to which Lyonette is heir, if distantly. The kingdom of Calanfer does not lack for [Princesses] and [Princes], but is not notably powerful militarily or economically. Their main capital are their royal heirs who can make political marriages and thus safeguard the kingdom through diplomacy.

Calectus – A high-level Selphid [Honor Guard], Calectus was assigned to protect Geneva Scala from harm. He is a very formidable fighter and a trusted voice in the Selphid community, which often asks difficult missions of him. Calectus admires Geneva’s work and ethos, but finds her personal morality often at odds with his mission of keeping her safe.

Calruz – A Minotaur [Fighter] and the former leader of the Horns of Hammerad. Calruz was or is a hotheaded, impulsive and occasionally arrogant Minotaur, but one that cared deeply for his team’s welfare and did not hesitate to lead them into battle. He was interested in Ryoka romantically, taught Erin the Skill [Minotaur Punch], and was presumed dead in the disastrous expedition into Liscor’s crypt. It was assumed by all that he had died when confronting Skinner, but it is now speculated that he is alive in Liscor’s dungeon. Whether he is alive or not, his body has yet to be found.

Calvaron – A Centaur [Mage] and Wistram student, Calvaron was a known broker of secrets, the unofficial currency of the academy. He made friends with Ceria and Pisces during their first year and helped both students in various ways during their time at the academy. He was romantically involved with Beatrice, but was slain when the undead Pisces unleashed in Wistram’s crypts attacked the academy.

Cameral – A Dullahan [Strategist] and one of Niers’ advanced students, Cameral is a solid and competent tactician and has learned from Niers for over four years now. Though he lacks noticeable weaknesses he often lacks the raw creativity that Niers seeks to instill in his students. His greatest achievement in life was beating the Titan in a game of Go, a feat which has earned him the respect and envy of his fellow students.

Camouflaged Scorpions – Don’t step on them. But then, since you can’t see them how would you know they’re there? A mystery for the ages. Until they sting you and you die.

Carn Wolves – A species of wolf native to the area around the High Passes in Izril, Carn Wolves are three times larger than normal wolves and are highly dangerous. They have rust-red pelts and hunt in packs. Some Goblin tribes have learned to domesticate and ride these wolves, and the Carn Wolves occupy a high niche in most ecological food webs. Though they are dangerous in the open, they are easy targets for [Archers] and spellcasters at higher elevations and thus not considered a Gold-rank threat.

Cecille Reinhart – One of the [Ladies] of the Reinhart family, Cecille is an arrogant, haughty noblewoman convinced of her own importance due to the status of her birth. She dislikes Magnolia intensely, but lets her manage the Reinhart family affairs as Cecille has no patience for such matters herself. She enjoys lavish affairs, mistreats her servants, and greatly resents the spending limit Magnolia has imposed on her family.

Celestial Trackers – A former Silver-rank teams contracted by Laken Godart to protect him and the village of Riverfarm. The Celestial Trackers were formerly led by Odveig until it was revealed she was a spy for Magnolia Reinhart. Now the remnants of their group have become part of the Unseen Empire’s standing army. The Celestial Trackers were a group of [Hunters] and [Scouts] who specialized in tracking down monsters and prey and fighting them in their habitats.

Celum – A small Human city close to Liscor, Celum is considered a developing city that has yet to develop as much as the northern Human cities on Izril. Despite that it is fairly prosperous and has recently been connected to Liscor by means of a magical doorway in Erin Solstice’s inn. Additionally, the city has undergone something of a renaissance as a troupe of [Actors] has begun performing nightly in the city, attracting tourists and coin from other nearby cities.

Centaurs – A species indigenous to Baleros, Centaurs are prideful and dislike any affront to their dignity, much like Minotaurs. Unlike Minotaurs however, Centaurs are less focused on honor and their warriors often mount rapid sneak attacks, employing the trademark speed and marksmanship of their kind. They deeply resent being compared to horses, which they regard as incomplete rejects to their perfected forms, but they like sugar lumps, carrots, and having their backs scratched.

Ceria Springwalker – A half-Elf [Cryomancer] and the leader of the Horns of Hammerad, Ceria Springwalker was once a student of Wistram until she was expelled from the academy due to her association with Pisces. However, she was still named a mage of Wistram and bears the title proudly, if sometimes with regret. Her right hand is nothing but bone as she sacrificed her hand to save some of her friends during the expedition into Liscor’s crypt. Having lost her original team, Ceria is determined to keep her new team safe—and to rescue her friend and former captain Calruz if at all possible.

Chandrar – One of the five continents, Chandrar is a hot arid desert with an abundance of sand and a deficit of nice, cuddly things. The nations that rule this land are less prosperous than the rest of the world but make up for their difficult home with unwavering spirit. Chandrarian law is simple and direct. Offenders and war enemies are either slaughtered or made into slaves. Where other nations export goods or culture or resources, Chandrar exports people.

Charles de Trevalier – A rich and arrogant young man and a student of Wistram, Charles de Trevalier is well-connected due to his family’s wealth and influence. He has his own circle of allies and is an enemy of all non-Humans. He hates both Ceria and Pisces and has conspired against them numerous times, going as far as to throw a spellbook meant for Ceria into the sea. He lusts after female non-Humans, but does not consider them in any way equal to Humans, an attitude that has earned him many enemies and some friends in the academy.

Chole – An otherworlder summoned by the Blighted Kingdom. Chloe is a [Nurse] due to her studying to become a medical practitioner in college before she was taken. However, her knowledge of medicine is extremely limited and she is mostly only able to apply healing potions to her injured friends.

Chosen – A group of unique undead created by Az’kerash to serve him in all things. The Chosen are highly intelligent and capable of autonomous thought. Each one is a powerful creation designed to fulfill some role. They currently number four: Bea, Venitra, Ijvani, and Kerash. Their fifth member, Oom, was slain by Zel Shivertail and the group is led by Kerash who was appointed by Az’kerash to succeed Venitra after her failures at Liscor.

Circle of Thorns – A group set against Magnolia Reinhart. They have sent [Assassins] against her, employed the Assassin’s Guild to strike at Magnolia and her allies. But who they are and what they want is a mystery. They’re probably not nice people. Just a guess.

Cirille Bitterclaw – An Oldblood Drake [Commander] stationed in Baleros. Cirille is a decent commander whose unit is stationed in the city’s capital. She rarely sees action as her soldiers are used to keep order, patrol, and escort dignitaries around the city. However, she firmly believes that stronger support of the Blighted Kingdom is needed as she has seen the danger the Demons pose. Like many Drakes sent abroad, Cirille has a more open mind to cooperation with other races, a position that is contrary to the opinions of most Drakes living in Izril.

Cognita – A Truestone Golem and the leader of the Golems of Wistram, Cognita was created by Archmage Zelkyr to defend and manage the academy from all threats. Including that of mages. Cognita restricts access to the higher floors with three guardian Golems, forcing mages to challenge her to ascend. No mage has ever survived their challenge.

Cognita is seem as indispensable around Wistram but she is not liked. Her feelings on her continued service to Wistram is unknown. Cognita is intelligent and resembles a huge, perfectly sculpted woman. She can punch through stone walls with ease.

Corusdeer – A magical deer that thrives in snowy climates, Corusdeer are able to ignite their horns until they are hot enough to vaporize bone. These deer are hunted due to the alchemical properties of their horns, but pose a very great danger in herds. They are considered even more dangerous in the summer months, when their horns can start huge wildfires during dry seasons.

Crawlers – Known as Armored Crawlers, these things resemble the upper torso of a Human, minus the head and blow up to gigantic sizes. They have dark green hides that have been fused together with metallic bodies. Crawlers are mindlessly aggressive and thought to be the failed creation of a mage that spread centuries ago. It is unknown how or if they reproduce and no one wants to find out.

Crelers – Possibly the most disgusting and dangerous thing you will ever see. Crelers are considered a worldwide threat and their nests are destroyed whenever possible. They go through many stages of evolution, first hatching from eggs that can survive for years or decades in any number of hostile environments.

‘Baby’ Crelers have two forms, a gelatinous form where their internal organs are kept on the outside of their body and thus vulnerable and an attack form where they turn themselves inside out and become whirling masses of pinchers, legs, teeth, and so on.

Crelers past that stage become progressively harder to kill, and junior Crelers are already considered a challenge for even a Silver-rank team. Adults are considered a Gold-rank threat at least, and Crelers that have lived for over a decade are threats that may prompt the evacuation of entire towns and cities. And they never stop growing…

Crypt Lords – A type of undead formed out of an amalgamation of rotting corpses. Crypt Lords are huge, hulking monstrosities that have black ‘blood’ in their bodies, a highly poisonous substance they are capable of spitting at will. They are intelligent to a certain extent and can lead other undead. However, an individual Crypt Lord is only ranked as a Silver-rank threat. They are strong and tough, but alone they are manageable. It’s when they form undead hordes with hundreds or thousands of zombies that they become truly dangerous.

Curulac – A former Goblin King, Curulac of a Hundred Days terrorized the continent of Terandria for a hundred and two days in actuality. He destroyed countless kingdoms and ended many royal lineages himself, slaughtering Humans by the thousands. Terandria still reviles his name and hunts down Goblins actively in case one of his kind should ever appear again.

Cynthia – A Human from Earth, Cynthia was one of the Humans summoned to the Blighted Kingdom. She still believes that help will one day arrive for her and clings to the belief that the US Government is looking for her and actively researching a way to bring her back from this world. She has a deep fear of clowns due to Tom’s insanity but was actually the person to help him make his costume when they first entered this world. Cynthia is afraid, homesick, and desperate to be free of this terrible world where death and horrors are all too common…

 

D

Daly – A young man from Australia, Daly appeared in Baleros with a group of international students that had been travelling through an airport. He is a [Rogue] and [Axe Warrior] who served in Gravetender’s Fist until joining the United Nations Company. He is a strong warrior and fights in the combat division of his company. Daly has adapted quickly to this new world, and he and his friends from Australia are ranked on par with experienced mercenaries from other companies.

Dasha – A half-Dwarf adventurer, Dasha is a Silver-rank [Axe Fighter] and part of Vuliel Drae. Though she has never visited the home of the Dwarfs in Terandria she has adopted the culture of what she perceives to be her people. Intolerant about any remarks about her height, she enjoys hitting things, drinking, and staring at butterflies.

Dawil Ironbreaker – A Gold-rank adventurer, Dawil is a Dwarven [Warrior] and a member of the Silver Swords. He is a powerful fighter and exceptionally strong and tough, often wading into combat and trusting to his full-body armor to keep him safe. Though often plays up his Dwarven heritage, Dawil has never picked up a hammer except to bash monsters over the heads and actually enjoyed refined culture, like wine, viewing paintings, and pulling pranks on arrogant half-Elves.

Death Wailers – Evil fungi that scream like mandrakes when animals or people wander near. Unlike mandrakes, death wailers have no magical ability and simply scream with such volume that they will rupture the eardrums of those affected and cause internal damage. They grow on the corpses of the fallen, and as such can spread very quickly by destroying the local wildlife.

Demons – A term broadly applied to the non-Human mutants living on Rhir. Demons are beings affected by Rhir’s persistent corruption and manifest a variety of features from horns to extra eyes and so on. The Demon have their own kingdom that is at war with the Blighted Kingdom, although little is known about their culture or hierarchy. The Demon empire is commanded by the Demon King, and while they are capable of leveling and a great deal of military intelligence, they are not formally recognized as a people by most nations in the world.

Dragons – Ostensibly flying lizards with magic. Dragons are mighty creatures that are more myth than reality in the world’s eyes. Capable of flight and boasting incredibly tough bodies, the most ancient of Dragons can even cast magic despite their race being incapable of leveling and obtaining classes. Dragons are prideful, greedy, and mostly extinct…

Drakes – The descendants of Dragons. Drakes are a bipedal species quite similar to Lizardfolk, although they deeply resent the comparisons. Their species has many qualities of Dragons including their arrogance, avarice, and prickly personalities. Drakes live in the southern half of Izril in city-states with high walls. They often war amongst each other and only ever unite when their species as a whole is threatened.

There exist unique throwback examples of Drakes with special abilities, known as Oldblood Drakes, but the majority of the species lacks the qualities of their distant ancestors. Another grave insult for Drakes is to call them ‘Humans with tails and scales’, which will inevitably provoke a fight.

Drassi – A very talkative Drake who works as a [Barmaid] in Erin’s inn. Drassi chatters like other people breathe, but she is responsible and hardworking…even if she won’t shut up. She knows Erin through Selys and decided to work in Erin’s inn because she thought it would provide her with an unparalleled amount of gossip. She has yet to be proven wrong.

Drath Archipelago – A fractured series of islands near the edge of the world. The Drath people are an exotic group of foreigners with odd ways that are rarely seen. They live in their small islands, keeping to themselves, occasionally clashing with the Minotaurs or other sea travelers. The Drath people have learned to fear the edge of the world beyond which the earth and ocean ends. Not just because the world ends. The Drath fear what might come from beyond the edge of the world and hunt among the lands of the living.

Draugr – A type of powerful undead not commonly seen in the world, Draugr are exceptionally strong and tough, standing out from their lesser zombie kin. They can run and often appear where the undead are plentiful. They are ranked as a Gold-rank threat due to the danger of a Silver-rank team handling them, but the average Gold-rank adventurer is generally able to deal with most Draug one-on-one.

Dresh Horses – The reason why you look horses in the mouth. If you see something looking back…run.

Drevish – Known as the Architect, Drevish was a Human man once famed for being one of the King of Destruction’s Seven. A genius [Architect] capable of building incredible structures ranging from walls to citadels to entire settlements, Drevish was the oldest of the Seven. Irascible, cranky, and dismissive of military matters, Drevish lived to create wonders where none existed. His severed head was sent to Flos shortly after he awoke from his slumber as a declaration of war from the Emperor of Sands.

Dropclaw Bats – A predatory type of bat that enjoys living in caves and dropping on their prey. They have very sharp and large claws that allow them a single, deadly strike.

Drowned People  – Often referred to as Drowned Men, Drowned Women, Drowned Gnolls, and so on, the Drowned People of the sea are not technically a species as they are in fact other species altered by contact with aquatic monsters. A Drowned Man might start life out as a normal Human man until he accidentally or intentionally bonds with a sea creature, such as a squid. Thereafter his body will change to take on the qualities of the monster or animal, allowing most Drowned People to breathe underwater and live far more ably in the sea.

Drowned People rarely live lives on land due to the difficulty of such an existence and the alienation they feel, but rare exceptions do forsake the sea, though it will call them to the end of their days.

Dryads – Leafy trees that occasionally get up and walk about. Dryads are trees with extraordinarily high magical ability that have gained sentience. They are feared by [Woodcutters] because sometimes when cutting a tree, the tree will hit back.

Dullahans – A race of armored beings native to Baleros. Dullahans may look like normal people in many respects, but their bodies are unique in that their ‘skin’ is in fact the armor they wear, and their heads are detachable from their torsos. Dullahans are bound by a complex hierarchy and judge each other by the quality of their armor and other social values. They can upgrade their bodies from simple wooden armor to become massive behemoths clad entirely in steel.

Durene – A half-Troll [Paladin] and the lover of Laken Godart. Durene was originally a [Farmer] ostracized by the rest of her village until she encountered Laken wandering in a forest outside her cottage. The two quickly became a couple and Durene was the first person to join the Unseen Empire. Originally timid and indecisive, Durene’s confidence has grown with her prowess in battle. Now she is willing to fight to defend her home and the [Emperor] she loves.

Dwarfhalls Rest – A mountain to the northeast of Invrisil. Dwarfhalls Rest used to be a Dwarven settlement in millennia past, but it was long abandoned and has been claimed by Goblins in the past few decades. It is a defensible stronghold and has many tunnels that allow defenders to ambush would-be attackers.

Dwarves – Short people that live on Terandria. They have journeyed and settled on other continents, but they mainly keep to one continent.

 

E

Eater Goats   Hungry, hungry goats capable of eating almost anything. Also willing to eat almost anything. Eater Goats are considered a Gold-rank threat because these packs of goats hunt in relentless packs. Difficult to kill because of their incredible tenacity, Eater Goats will bite even if only their decapitated head remains. Their jaws can tear through steel and they are smart enough to even bypass tall walls with their incredible agility. Perhaps not deadly to most adventurers individually, Eater Goats instill fear in other monsters as they swarm over anything they consider food, which sometimes includes each other.

Eater of Spears – One of the Goblin Lord’s lieutenants. Eater of Spears is a towering, muscular Hob who earned his name from his practically impervious body. He can survive a lance to the chest from a charging [Knight] though he was unable to stop Zel Shivertail during battle. Eater of Spears is silent, strong, and can talk though he usually chooses not to.

Edward – Edward or ‘Eddy’ is an otherworld Human summoned to the Blighted Kingdom. Hailing from America, he is the most knowledgeable member of the American Group on all kinds of games, whether it be board games or video games. He is a self-styled gamer and aims to be a [Spellsword], assuming the class exists. For now he is a Level 5 [Warrior] and a Level 7 [Mage] due to his fear of actually participating in combat.

Elia Arcsinger – A Named Adventurer, this half-Elf [Archer] is renowned across the world for a single feat: slaying Velan the Kind. Her arrow was the one that pierced the Goblin King’s skull and made her world-famous. She has a unique Skill known as the [Line-Ender Shot], which is feared for its incredible power. Elia generally resides on Terandria where she is constantly hailed as a hero, but she occasionally travels to combat the Goblin threat, which many see as her mandate in life…

Eliasor Melissar – A young [Lady] of twelve years of age, Eliasor’s mother, [Lady] Patricia Melissar was recently killed by an [Assassin] during a reception at her family’s estate. As her father is previously deceased, Eliasor now rules over the entire Melissar house, a daunting task made even more stressful given the fear of a second [Assassin] targeting her life. She is currently protected and assisted by a group of Magnolia’s servants, and is considered under the Reinhart family protection, although that is little reassurance to Eliasor as her mother was one of Magnolia Reinhart’s closest friends and allies.

Elves – A long-extinct race, Elves are no longer seen in this world and all traces of their existence have been erased save for their bloodlines which exist in the form of half-Elves. Though the Elven civilization is erased, their blood strikes true even diluted across countless generations. However, the half-Elf race is a far cry from what Elves were. The fair folk were rumored to be spellcasters beyond compare, warriors made peerless by hundreds of years of training, and close to immortal as any species has ever come. Why they disappeared is unknown, or forgotten, and there are perhaps only a few artifacts shaped by them left in this world. Whether such artifacts have been found or are hidden away in some ancient tomb is also a matter for speculation.

Embrim Thrus – Known as the Plague Locust, Embrim is a Human man and one of the three members of the Tripartite Law company of Baleros. He is exceptionally gifted at necromancy spells and spells that revolve around sickness and plague. Despite his aptitudes, he resists being called a [Necromancer] and instead styles himself as a formidable variant of the [Battle Mage] class. Since he does not in fact summon the undead, his opponents are hard pressed to argue the point. And opening their mouths when Embrim is raining poison from the skies is usually a bad idea anyways.

Emily – A high-level [Hydromancer] and one of the otherworld Humans summoned to the Blighted Kingdom, Emily is the second-highest leveled person in the American Group. She has passed Level 30 in the [Mage] class despite being in this world for only a few months and leads her group with Richard. She is considered an idol and leader because of her good looks and capability for taking charge, although she does not get along with Tom. As far as he’s concerned, the feeling is mutual.

Emperor of Sands – An [Emperor] of Chandrar, the Emperor of Sands rules the largest nation on the continent as of today. They first rose to power in the years after the King of Destruction entered his slumber. The Emperor of Sands is a Stitch Person, but has no one true gender or even personality. They change bodies like clothes, each one having its own strengths and weaknesses, desires and interests. But the core of the Emperor of Sands remains. They rule their empire and expand, through diplomacy and trade and war and conquest. They see the King of Destruction as their natural enemy, as only one ruler can claim Chandrar as their own.

Erille – The [Princess] Erille is the younger daughter of the Blighted King. She and her sister are the only surviving members of the royal family aside from the Blighted King and Queen—their siblings have perished due to assassination or in battle over the years. Erille is a shy girl whose only true friend was the [Fool]—until his betrayal and death. She was fascinated with Tom since he shared many attributes with the [Fool] and had begun to trust him after he saved her life. But then Tom killed the [Fool], a man who was more father to her than her father herself.

Erin Solstice – Possibly the heroine of the tale. Erin Solstice is an [Innkeeper], a master-class chess player and a fan of strategy board games from Earth. She first wandered in to this world on her way to the bathroom and has been stuck ever since. Sometimes silly, sometimes serious, Erin took the abandoned inn she found just outside of Liscor and turned it into a prosperous place of business. Until her skeleton blew it up. Now she resides in an even better inn closer to Liscor and has countless friends and a few enemies. Erin’s only goal is to keep her friends safe and her inn running, in the short term, and possibly find her way back home in the long term. She goes from day to day in her inn, cooking food, talking with guests, and changing the world.

Esthelm – A city just to the north of Liscor, Esthelm was a fairly average Human city until it was attacked by the Goblin Lord’s armies and much of its population slain. Devastated, Esthelm’s remaining populace turned to anarchy until the combination of the undead and Goblins forced them to band together or die. Lead by Ylawes of the Silver Swords, the city beat back the monsters and undead and reclaimed their pride. The city is now recovering and has survived the Goblin Lord’s passing. Determined not to fall once more, Esthelm is fiercely recovering. It still remembered a young woman who was part monster who fought to save them, and the strange Goblins who gave up their lives as well so Esthelm would survive.

 

F

Face-Eater Moths – A lot more dangerous than they sound, and they sound quite bad. They will eat your face off, no questions asked. Adventurers dread finding nests of them in caves or underground locations. Because, y’know, they’ll eat your face.

Falene Skystrall – A high-level half-Elf [Battlemage] and the sole female member of the Silver Swords. Falene Skystrall is a Wistram Graduate and quite adept at magic. She is something of a stereotype of the half-Elven race which is by design; Falene believes she should set an example and represent her species by acting as the wise mentor and the aloof voice of reason in most situations. She often argues with Dawil, who regards her acting as just that: an act. Though Falene knows several Tier 4 spells and even a Tier 5 spell, she is fond of rapid casting of low-Tier spells in quick succession, overwhelming her foes with sheer variety and firepower.

Fals – A Runner often seen in Celum and the cities nearby, Fals is the highest-level Human [Runner] in the area and a City Runner greatly respected among the local Runner’s Guilds. He is nowhere near the level of a Courier, but he is quite quick and able to defend himself or escape from monsters or brigands on the roads. He had a one-sided crush on Ryoka at one point and is the target of affection by quite a few other Runners, including Garia Strongarm.

Feor – The oldest living Archmage of Wistram, Feor is a half-Elven [Mage] of great renown among his people and…less renown elsewhere. Within Wistram he is a huge political force, often leading Wistram’s mages in making decisions with his considerable influence and power. He is a powerful mage although he has not in fact obtained the [Archmage] class—he represents the pinnacle of what mages in Wistram can achieve without entering the higher floors.

Feor is determined to increase his magical power, but not by risking his life in what he thinks of as a suicide attempt. Consequently his gaze has strayed out of Wistram to new and powerful magics across the world. He has heard of a legendary Antinium capable of casting unique spells at will and deeply desires to meet her, despite the inherent dangers of such an encounter.

First Landing – The captital of the Human cities in northern Izril, First Landing is so named because it was the first city built by the Five Families when they first invaded or as they would put it, ‘colonized’ Izril thousands of years ago. First Landing is a trading capital of the world, home to thousands of influential people and countless more plebeians. It’s defenses have been strengthened significantly after the Second Antinium Wars, to the point where it is considered on par with a Walled City. By Humans. Drakes just laugh at the comparison.

Fischer Cows – A rare breed of cow that produces magical milk. Fischer Cows are expensive and hard to raise due to the increased difficulties of feeding and housing such creatures. Nevertheless, a [Farmer] or [Herder] who manages to keep just one such cow producing milk will earn a huge profit selling his milk to [Alchemists], [Nobles], and [Chefs], all of whom desire the milk for their oiwn purposes.

Five Families – Veltras, Reinhart, El, Terland, and Wellfar. These were the five original noble families that left the continent of Terandria to settle in Izril. The Five Families invaded the home of the Drakes and the Gnolls with powerful artifacts, laying siege to Walled Cities and destroying them in a lengthy war that divided the continent in two. The Humans took the northern half and the Drakes and Gnolls were forced into the southern.

The Five Families have waned in strength from their days of glory and many of their ancestral artifacts have been lost, but they are still famed throughout the Human lands as influential figures. Each family is led by a scion who commands their fortunes. The two best known scions are Tyrion Veltras and Magnolia Reinhart, both of whom are considered some of the most important Humans on the continent and perhaps the world.

Flesh Worms – See ‘Skinner’ for a unique variant of the species. Flesh Worms are huge, deadly worm-like creatures with two tendrils that they can use to literally grab the flesh off their victims. A mature Flesh Worm can easily rip the skin right off a Human and uses the dead skin to coat itself, forming a layer of protective ‘armor’. Flesh Worms are intelligent, strong, and tough, and are considered a foe worthy of a Gold-rank team.

Flooded Waters Tribe – A small tribe based around Liscor now led by Rags. The Flooded Waters Tribe used to be a weak group of Goblins led by a single Hob, barely surviving by preying on passing travelers and other monsters. Now they are a massive tribe formed of Goblins from countless other tribes.

Led by their extremely intelligent Chieftain, the Flooded Waters tribe is most notable for its large number of crossbows and stone crossbows and it’s Infantry, who wield twenty foot long pikes, capable of impaling their enemy at range. This tribe is notable in that it does not actively raid or destroy Human settlements, preferring instead to waylay caravans and travelers on the road and steal their goods while leaving the Humans (usually) alive.

Floodplains – An area around Liscor filled with many hills and valleys. The Floodplains are significant because of their name, and host to a number of dangerous creatures year-round, including but not limited to Hollowstone Deciever or ‘Rock Crabs’, Shield Spiders, Goblins, Corusdeer, and possibly Dragons.

Flos Reimarch – The King of Destruction. Flos Reimarch once conquered all of Chandrar and was poised to conquer the rest of the world when he suddenly abandoned his empire, letting it collapse into ruin. This marked the end of the era and was known as the King of Destruction’s slumber. For decades Flos has sat in his decaying shell of a kingdom, until he was spurred to reignite his dreams once more after learning of the existence of Earth and other worlds.

Passionate and imposing, Flos is the highest-leveled [King] in the world and beloved by his people. Countless years after his slumber he still has many powerful vassals at his command, scattered across the world though they might be. His return has sent fear into the hearts of other nations, and though his kingdom is diminished, it is considered a world-wide threat by some. The King of Destruction was attended by seven legendary vassals in the past, known simply as the Seven, but only three of his vassals have rejoined him now. One is absent, and three are dead.

Foliana – Known to most as Three-Color Stalker, Foliana is a Squirrel Beastkin and the nominal leader of the Forgotten Wing Company, one of the Four Great Companies of Baleros. She genenerally leaves most of the work up to Niers, though. Extremely deadly and nearly impossible to detect, Foliana gained a fearsome reputation from her habit of sneaking into enemy camps and slaying commanders and other high-level officers by herself. She is one of the highest-level [Rogues] in the world and enjoys muffins.

Fool – Known simply as the Fool, this [Fool] was a fixture in the Blighted King’s court in Baleros. An extremely high-level representative of his class, the Fool faithfully entertained the guests of the Blighted King for many years. However, when he discovered the cost of summoning the ‘heroes’ from Earth to Rhir—a cost the Blighted King paid in the unborn lives of his subjects—he rebelled, forming a secret pact with the Demons to abduct the princesses and invade the capital. He failed, in no small part due to the actions of Tom whom he had befriended only days earlier.

The Fool, generally regarded as a useful irritant, displayed the true abilities of his class in his last moments, catching and juggling lightning and making a mockery of the elite warriors of the Blighted King. He died as he had lived, laughing at the failures of Humanity.

Forgotten Wing Company – One of the Four Companies of Baleros. This company is made up of all species and is led by Foliana, known as Three-Color Stalker, and Niers, known as the Titan of Baleros. It surprises many to learn that Niers is in fact the second-in-command, while their leader is in fact the reclusive and very strange Foliana. However, the arrangement seems to have worked; the Forgotten Wing Company became one of the four greatest companies of Baleros from nothing. It is now feared for its devastating ability to strike at the worst moment for others thanks to its leader and strong assortment of experienced [Strategists] it employs.

Fortress Beavers – Extremely big beavers who can build literal fortresses out of wood. They can block rivers, cut off entire roads…look, the name really says it all.

Fraerlings – The small folk of Baleros. And they are very small. Usually not more than a foot high, Fraerlings are reclusive and keep to themselves in tiny hidden villages, rightly fearing larger animals, monsters, and people. They have a high degree of civilization and technology, but only ever go into the cities to trade, and even then, rarely. There is only one Fraerling of note who has strayed from his home to become a figure of world renown, and that is Niers Astoragon, the Titan.

Frenzied Hare – An inn run by Miss Agnes and her husband. The Frenzied Hare is less-frequented inn in Celum due to its poor cooking and mediocre beds. It used to get more business when Mister Agnes was the [Innkeeper]. However, his prolonged sickness has forced Miss Agnes to take over and the inn has suffered as a result. The Frenzied Hare enjoyed a great boom of prosperity for a few weeks when Erin Solstice took over, but has since lost its popularity with Erin’s absence and subsequent feud with Miss Agnes.

Frost Faeries – Mischievous tiny flying immortals that hail from another world. The Frost Faeries appear every winter to spread snow and chaos and greatly enjoy tricking mortals and playing pranks on them. They defend themselves with snow and ice if attacked but never kill—they are bound by the laws of their King, which prohibit interference with this world. Mind you, the Frost Faeries have a loose relationship with rules in general, but even they have their own truths.

Invisible to all but people from Earth due to their glamour, Frost Faeries are treated as a natural phenomenon by most. Which is good because the fae are pranksters and troublemakers at heart. Like the legends, the fae lose their powers around cold iron, love gifts of sugary foods and flattery, and strike dubious bargains. The Frost Faeries do not lie however, merely twist the truth. And they hate half-Elves for reasons unknown.

 

G

Galuc – One of the Centenium, Galuc the Builder perished along with many Antinium in their ill-fated voyage across the sea from Rhir. A powerful figure, his presence lives on in the forms of the Soldiers and Workers, all of whom were modeled after his body. While Soldiers are physical giants, they are still mere reflections of Galuc, who was as large as any half-Giant and famed for his ability to build and—a rarity even among the Centenium—a sense of humor.

Gamel – Once a villager, now a [Knight] and personal attendant to Emperor Laken. Gamel was nothing more than a young man living in Riverfarm with distant dreams and no concrete aspirations—until the day the avalanche struck his home. It was Emperor Laken who saved Gamel’s friends, family and his love, and it was to him that Gamel pledged his loyalty. Though he is inexperienced as a warrior, he was given the [Knight] class by his [Emperor] and has shown nothing but loyalty to Laken. He was mortally wounded in a battle against Goblin raiders, but Laken saved his life, further proof of the bond that connects ruler and subject.

Gamel also has a young woman who is the center of his affections, but he has yet to take their relationship any further. Strident he may be in defending his ruler, but he still struggles with love.

Garen Redfang – The former Chieftain of the Redfang Tribe as well as a former Gold-rank adventurer and member of the Halfseekers, Garen Redfang is a hero among Goblins. To those who knew him, he is a traitor. Years ago, Garen disguised himself and wandered from Human city to Human city, passing as a traveler until he found a group of like-minded souls named the Halfseekers. He quickly became part of their team and the Halfseekers became a group known throughout Izril—until he betrayed his comrades and slew half of them before fleeing into the wilderness. The exact reasons why he did so are unknown, but Garen soon created one of the most powerful tribes and occupied the High Passes.

Garen has since lost control of his tribe and much of his influence, but he remains an exceptionally dangerous foe. He wields ‘Redfang’, a crimson blade that gave him his infamous name and his skills are considered on par with any Gold-rank adventurer in the world. Garen is a decisive war leader, a deadly fighter, but a poor Chieftain. In combat he excels. But when it comes to inspiring people or managing things like supplies, Garen is actually less useful than the average Hob.

Gargoyles – Nasty stone beasts that frequent mountainous areas such as the High Passes. Gargoyles are considered a Gold-rank threat due to their proclivity to pose as pieces of the landscape until their prey wanders by. Although not nearly as dangerous as many Gold-rank monsters, their tough skin, ability to ‘spit’ stone shrapnel and their tendency to hunt in packs makes them too much of a threat for Silver-rank teams to handle. Their innards are fragile however, and if you can break their stone skin, Gargoyles fall quickly.

Garia Strongheart – A Human [Runner] who usually delivers around Celum, Garia Strongheart is exceptionally strong due to growing up as a farmer, but meek and mild most of the time. Suffering from self-esteem issues due to her larger build, Garia sees herself as a subpar Runner, for all that she can carry more than most other Runners. One of Ryoka’s few friends, Garia has an unrequited crush on Fals and often envies Ryoka’s natural talents. She recently began practicing martial arts at Ryoka’s insistence, although Garia usually settles any fight with a single punch. She once knocked out a bull with a punch. She’s embarrassed about that fact, actually.

Garry – One of the Individual Workers of the Free Antinium. Garry was one of the original Workers that learned to play chess at Erin’s inn. Despite becoming an Individual, he is the least well-known of the five surviving Workers, owing to his duties. As a [Cook], Garry spends his time almost exclusively cooking for the Queen of the Free Antinium, satisfying her cravings for actual food instead of the Antinium’s horrible nutrient paste.

Garry likes cooking and enjoys his job, although he dreams of cooking with Erin, rather than producing endless appetizers for his Queen. But he never complains. And he sometimes makes snacks to take to his Worker friends when he gets off duty.

Garudas – A race of bird-people that inhabit Chandrar. Garuda are one of the few sentient species that can fly, and their bodies are relatively frail compared to most species as a result. Hollow-boned and swift, Garuda tribes are somewhat reminiscent of Gnolls. Although in their case, the Garuda vigilantly patrol the arid deserts and fight bloody wars over the limited water supplies. To an unprepared army, Garuda attacks are hard to repel, as the feathery warriors will simply drop rocks from above, loose arrows and magic out of range, and retreat before they can be counterattacked. Prideful and fierce, Garuda make few friends, but those they do accept are comrades for life.

Garusa Weatherfur – A Gnoll [General] from Pallass, Garusa Weatherfur was one of the foremost generals in southern Izril. An aggressive attacker, she was briefly mentored by Zel Shivertail and was one of two generals sent to suppress the Goblin Lord. During their campaign, she and Thrissiam Blackwing engaged in a brief romantic relationship before fighting the Goblin Lord in a pitched battle that saw Garusa in a position to take his head.

However, the intervention of Az’kerash turned victory into defeat and Garusa was slain and reanimated into a Draug. She was then put to rest by Thrissiam Blackwing. Her death sent a ripple of shock through the Gnoll community, who regarded her as one of their heroes. Garusa was one of the few Gnolls to reach such a high position of command in a Drake society, and her loss is still mourned by many tribes.

Gazers – The strange seers of Baleros. Gazers are a relatively unknown species, as they keep to themselves and rarely stray out of their jungle home. Nevertheless, their ability to cast magical spells and cause effects with their multiple eyes is so powerful that one of the Four Great Companies—the Eyes of Baleros—is led by Gazers. Still, it is rare to see Gazers even in Wistram. They practice magic differently from most [Mages] and they have…problems dealing with other races. And each other.

Gazi Pathseeker – A half-Gaze, one of Flos’ Seven, and perhaps the most famous representative of her kind. Despite her Human heritage, Gazi has most traits of her Gazer ancestry; she has a single large eye and four smaller eyes, all of which are capable of seeing through walls, flesh, and rotating in every direction. Her main eye is so powerful that Gazi can charm and paralyze her enemies, and such is her visual ability that she can deflect arrows and dodge almost any attack. It was that ability which earned her the title of Gazi the Omniscient.

Feared for her ability to hunt down enemy [Scouts] and [Spies], Gazi remained fiercely loyal to her King after he entered his slumber and wandered the world to find something that would wake him. She attempted to kidnap Erin and Ryoka until being blinded by Erin, and has since returned to Flos’ side. Gazi still hasn’t forgotten the eye-poking incident. But she is patient. She was once a slave.

Geneva Scala – A Human from Earth, Geneva Scala was a medical student when she was transported to Baleros. First signing up as a [Doctor] as part of a mercenary company, Geneva quickly felt a calling to bring her knowledge of medicine to a world sorely in need of it. Her understanding of surgery and anatomy combined with this world’s healing potions allowed her to save countless lives on the battlefield.

However, war has no respect for Geneva’s dedication to save lives and her neutrality as a doctor caused the war to spill into her camp more than once. Paralyzed after one such attack, Geneva’s body was taken over by the Selphid, Okasha, who now lives symbiotically with her. After escaping another bloody battlefield, Geneva has become part of the United Nations company and leads the Red Cross division, attempting to continue saving lives as best she can.

Geram Redfist – A former [Brawler] of some renown, ‘Redfist’ Geram found himself offered a position as Captain of the Guard by Lady Rie Valerund. Bemused, he accepted and has become Lady Rie’s right-hand man. Loyal, good in a fight, and full of street smarts, Geram is a dedicated servant of his [Lady]. He does not know what to make of [Emperor] Laken, whose service he has also entered, but he is willing to accept a man who saved his life.

Gerial – A Silver-rank adventurer and former member of the Horns of Hammerad. Gerial was a solid second-in-command to Calruz and a competent adventurer until the ill-fated encounter with Skinner in Liscor’s crypt. He perished trying to buy time for his team to run. All of his dreams and hopes died with him, but his past lives on. It may one day catch up to those that survived…

Gershal – A low-level [Lieutenant] hailing from the city of Vaunt, Gershal is no legendary leader. His home city manufactures cheese and while it is very good cheese, neither its small army nor its officers are outstanding in any way. Nevertheless, Gershal is a solid leader who fought well in the battle against the Goblin Lord outside of Invrisil. He stood with Zel Shivertail in the hour of the [General]’s death and the Tidebreaker’s passing has motivated Gershal to become a better leader himself. Whether that is an idle promise or not remains to be seen.

Ghosts – Scary. Ghosts don’t resemble floating bed sheets so much as wailing, twisted pieces of spectral memory that lash out at the living. Ghosts represent fragments of the people they were and can take on terrible forms. They are also impossible to kill without magic, and so become the bane of warriors everywhere. Considered a high-rank undead threat, Ghosts are an elite type of monster that come in many sub varieties, like wraiths, night stalkers, and so on.

Ghouls – An advanced zombie in many respects. Ghouls are tougher, faster, and smarter than zombies, which doesn’t really say much when you get down to it. A Silver-rank threat, a Ghoul is a tough fight for a [Warrior] at low-levels, but can be easily baited into traps or defeated when attacked by multiple combatants. Ghouls are only really deadly to experienced fighters when they launch sneak attacks, which is, unfortunately, what they love to do.

Giant Moles – You laugh, but when a giant mole the size of a house decides to eat you, who’ll be laughing then? The mole, that’s who.

Gnolls – Furry hyena-like people who live in tribes in the southern half of Izril. Gnolls are nomadic, tribal people who value self-sufficiency and teamwork. They have keen noses and are excellent hunters, trappers, and if need be, fighters. Some Gnolls live in Drake cities, but the Gnoll and Drake species have a troubled history, and sometimes clash—when they’re not fighting Humans, that is.

Gnomes – An ancient race, only spoken about in myth and legend. Who the Gnomes were, what they did, and why they vanished is all unknown. The one thing that is known is that they once reached the moon. Seriously. A Dragon said it, so it must be true. Ahem.

Goblins – A species of people defined as monster by most of the known world. Goblins are a tribal, nomadic species that often steals or ambushes travelers to survive. Considered unintelligent and a minor threat most of the time, Goblins become far more dangerous when led by a Chieftain, or worse, a Goblin Lord or King. In such times nations or even the world must unite to put down the Goblin menace, but such is the prolific nature of Goblins that they are never eradicated for good. No one ever asks the Goblins what they think of their lot in life. No one has ever cared until now.

Goblin Chieftain – A Goblin leader who has taken command of a tribe of Goblins, whether by force, cunning, charisma, or other factors known only to Goblins. Chieftains are generally the highest-level Goblin in their tribe and their tribes can range from a few dozen Goblins to a massive tribe thousands strong. A Goblin Chieftain is a dangerous threat, and some famous Chieftains have even been classified as Gold-rank threats.

For all that, a Chieftain is only a stepping stone to greater things. A particularly powerful Chieftain may one day become a Goblin Lord, and talented Chieftains are often hunted down to prevent just such an event occurring.

Goblin Lord – If only one out of ten thousand Goblins had the potential to become a Chieftain, one in a million, or one in tens of millions of Goblins could ever rise to become a Lord. Not much is known about the criteria that allows ordinary Chieftains to become Goblin Lords, but every Goblin Lord has demonstrated overwhelming ability in one field or another.

Goblin Lords suited to battle are terrifying opponents on par with a Named Adventurer and can command massive armies over a hundred thousand strong. Their existence is exceedingly rare, and the only time multiple Goblin Lords have ever been sighted is when a Goblin King emerges. In any other time, a Goblin Lord will instantly be hunted down by every civilization to prevent just such a nightmare from becoming reality.

Goblin King – The pinnacle of Goblinkind. A Goblin King emerges every few centuries at most. They are bringers of calamity and wage war on nations, endings the lines of kings and wreaking havoc. They are considered a worldwide threat and the last two Goblin Kings, Curulac of a Hundred Days, and Velan the Kind, both decimated the continents they appeared in. Goblin Kings lead millions of armies with their Goblin Lords acting as lieutenants. They are incredibly difficult to kill, cunning, and full of wrath.

No one knows what makes a Goblin King, but sheer talent and unique ability that no other Goblin can match is undoubtedly one of the criteria. Goblin Kings bring destruction. For their kind as well as the world.

Golems – A type of constructed being made by [Mages]. Golems are generally huge, thoughtless creations designed for labor or war. Tough to kill and without a will of their own, most Golems are rare. However, a few rare variants do exist, and some even have the ability to think. Whether or not that equates to free will is unknown, and no one is about to make more thinking Golems to try and find out.

Gravetender’s Fist – An undead suppression company specializing in removing corpses from the battlefield. Gravetender’s fist, like other suppression companies, made their wage by going from battlefield to battlefield at night and putting down undead and collecting the bodies of the fallen to be burned. This small company was dissolved after a disastrous battle between the Razorshard Armor company and the Roving Arrow company embroiled it in the conflict. Since then, the surviving members including the Humans from Earth have created a new company known as the United Nations company.

Great Companies – Baleros has no armies. Or rather, its nations seldom bother with  armies of their own and prefer to hire mercenary companies to keep the peace, do battle, and suppress monsters. Of the thousands of companies on Baleros, large and small, there have always been the Four Great Companies. The current leaders of Baleros who are practically nations unto themselves are the Forgotten Wing Company, The Iron Vanguard, Maelstrom’s Howling, and the Eyes of Baleros.

The Iron Vanguard is primarily made up of Dullahans while Maelstrom’s Howling is almost exclusively comprised of Centaurs. The Eyes of Baleros are considered to be a Gazer-led company although they recruit from multiple races.

Grev – A street urchin of Celum, Grev is a Human child whose only family in the world is a Drake by the name of Jasi. Born to Human parents after his older sister was adopted, Grev lost his family early on in life and his sister took the burden of raising him far too early. Consequently, Grev is a product of the streets and used to steal and work with the criminal element of Celum before an encounter with Erin Solstice. Now, he is a member of the Players of Celum, a troupe of new [Actors] which he and Jasi are part of. Grev now employs his time assisting with the theatre by producing supplies, props, and so on. All legally, of course.

Greydath – One of the Goblin Lords who fought with Velan the Kind. Greydath of Blades was perhaps the strongest Goblin Lord living in terms of sheer martial might. He may well be the strongest Goblin in the world now, as all the Goblin Lords were thought to have perished after Velan’s death. Masquerading as an old, senile Goblin in Tremborag’s mountain, Greydath followed Rags’ tribe for reasons known only to him. He has lived for a long time—long enough to have a white beard—and he once was a mentor to Pyrite when the young Goblin was growing up. Greydath is unmatched with the old greatsword he wields. Or at least, he hasn’t found anyone capable of killing him yet.

Griffins – Giant eagle-lions with attitudes. Griffons hunt in packs and are considered a serious threat in northern Izril and Terandria. Ironically, these savage hunters are not common in the southern half of Izril at all—they have a territorial relationship with Wyverns and have pushed into their habitat after crossing the sea from Terandria. That’s right. They’re invasive giant eagle-lions. The worst kind.

Griffon Hunt – A Gold-rank team of adventurers. Griffon Hunt is a famed team known for their history of hunting the deadly Griffins of northern Izril. Its original members have mostly left, but two of the founders, Halrac Everam and Ulrien Sparson, stayed with the group and recruited two [Mages] to fill out their ranks.

Joined by Revi, a [Summoner], and Typhenous, an experienced [Mage], they successfully continued their group’s legacy before venturing to Liscor in hopes of being the first to explore Liscor’s new dungeon. It was there that the team met Erin Solstice and, after a murder involving the Named Adventurer known as Regrika Blackpaw, they confronted her. However, the Gnoll was too powerful and slew Ulrien before fleeing.

Devastated by their leader’s loss, Griffon Hunt came close to falling apart as the three remaining adventurers dealt with the loss in their own way. Though Revi and Typhenous are new to the team, they are loyal members of their group and refuse to leave Halrac to himself. However much the [Scout] wishes they would.

Grunter – A Redfang Warrior and Hob, Grunter led his small band of warriors until he perished at Esthelm. Quiet, defined by his burps, Grunter was a solid, steadfast Hob who spoke little and cared more than he let on. He fought and died with only one word on his lips. Redfang. Redfang, his pride, his hope, and glory.

 

H

Half-Elves – A race of people with a number of reclusive settlements in Terandria, half-Elves are a rare sight throughout the world. Hated for the sins of the past, the half-Elves of today are insular and largely trust only their own kind. Half-Elves are known to be gifted in magic, a remnant from their true Elven ancestry. No matter who bears a child, they will always be born half-Elf. This trait has allowed the race of half-Elves to survive throughout the millennia, but they are currently a small population and only a few of their most adventurous children travel abroad.

Halfseekers – A Gold-rank team referred to as the ‘Half Freaks’ by their enemies. The Halfseekers are a well-known group known throughout Izril for accepting half-species and people ostracized for being different. They are a happy-go-lucky group that helps those in need—or were, until the betrayal of one of their members, Garen Redfang. This large group of adventurers was reduced to three: Jelaqua, Moore, and Seborn, and are now trying to rebuild and claim a share of Liscor’s treasure.

The Halfseekers currently reside in Erin’s inn and take a laid back approach to life in general. Each one of them has sworn to kill Garen Redfang if they ever meet him again.

Halrac Everam – Known as Halrac the Grim, this Human [Scout] is a Gold-rank adventurer and member of Griffon Hunt. A former [Soldier], Halrac’s skills and reputation is such that he’s considered close to becoming a Named Adventurer. However, this [Scout] does not seek fame—he hates being around most people and prefers the company of his friends.

He has one less friend now, having lost his comrade Ulrien in a recent encounter with Regrika Blackpaw. Halrac is currently driven by anger and frustration and has been entering Liscor’s dungeon alone, venting his grief by taking on hordes of monsters by himself.

Harpies – Probably extinct, but then again you never know your luck!

Hawk – A Rabbit Beastkin [Courier] who lives in Liscor, Hawk is known throughout the city. Adopted by Drakes, the Rabbit-man is obsessed with finding scaly love as members of his own species live only in a few regions in Baleros. He has yet to find any female Drake willing to put up with his vegetarian diet though, and the Courier runs alone. Speaking of running, he’s quite good at that. Hawk is extremely quick and a dangerous person to try to mug—he is very good at foot-to-face combat and can easily dispatch or outrun almost any foe he meets while delivering parcels across the continent.

Headscratcher – One of the Redfang Warriors, Headscratcher is a Hobgoblin warrior adept at fighting who leads the four remaining members of his group. Initially viewing Humans solely as an enemy, it was Headscratcher who became closest to the young [Florist] in Esthelm and it was he who mourned her death most of all. Heartbroken by the loss of his friends and the young woman, he is determined to keep his four remaining comrades alive—even if it means his death.

Hedault – A Human [Enchanter] based in Invrisil, Hedault is widely considered to be the best [Enchanter] in the city. He is adept at identifying and repairing artifacts that adventurers bring him and his services are widely sought-after.

Hedault is impatient and often highly critical of most enchantments for their uniformity and lack of originality. He does not suffer fools or backchat, but got along surprisingly well with Ryoka Griffin. She convinced him to buy a magical wand from her in exchange for a large number of magical artifacts and an outstanding favor to the Horns of Hammerad. Hedault still has the wand, and it has enhanced his magical prowess greatly although he has not revealed to anyone that it is in his possession—or how he got it.

Hethon Veltras – The older son of Lord Tyrion Veltras. Hethon is more timid than his brother, Sammial, and rarely speaks up. He does not know what to say to his father, who he rarely sees, and he is unsure if he will ever become a [Lord] worthy of ruling the Veltras family.

High Passes – A deadly mountain range that separates the continent of Izril in half. The High Passes are incredibly tall mountains, the peaks of which have never been climbed. Deadly monsters make the High Passes their home and as such, travel over the mountains is practically impossible.

Only two passes exist through this mountain range—one of which is filled with monsters and never used. The other is a safe route that passes by a Drake city, Liscor. The High Passes have never been conquered, never been explored. At least, that’s what people say. There are those who have ventured into this deadly place, and those who make it their home…

Hollowstone Deceiver – See Rock Crab.

Horns of Hammerad – A Silver-rank team of adventurers. Formerly led by Calruz and known as an aggressive company of competent adventurers, the Horns of Hammerad suffered near-complete destruction when they attempted to explore Liscor’s crypts with a group of other Silver-rank teams.

In the aftermath of their defeat only one member, Ceria Springwalker, was thought to be alive. She reformed the group and recruited three other aspiring adventurers to join her. Yvlon Byres, an injured [Warrior] and formed leader of the Silver Swords, Ksmvr, an exiled Antinium Prognugator, and Pisces, a [Necromancer] expelled from Wistram. This new team managed to work together despite the many different personalities and made headlines when they found treasure in the Ruins of Albez, earning the Horns of Hammerad many powerful artifacts.

This newly-equipped team is now substantially more powerful than it was before and could be considered a pseudo Gold-rank team. However, they are still inexperienced and new, and thus unproven. The Horns of Hammerad are now currently seeking to enter Liscor’s dungeon, having been informed that their former leader, Calruz, may yet be alive…

 

I

Ijvani – One of Az’kerash’s Chosen, Ijvani is a black skeleton mage. Her bones are coated with metal and she is highly resistant to harm. As the sole dedicated spellcaster of Az’kerash’s creations, Ijvani considers herself more intelligent than her kin. She proclaims herself the ‘greatest skeleton in the world’ and is confident in her own abilities to the point of arrogance, a trait that stems from her trust and faith in her master/creator, Az’kerash. That faith has been shaken after the battle with Zel Shivertail and a wounded Ijvani now slowly makes her way back to her master’s castle.

Illphres – A high-level ice-mage, this Human woman was counted as one of the most experienced and influential mages in Wistram under her demise. Illphres, like the other mages she associated with had reached the highest peak of potential in Wistram, just under that of the Archmages. Unlike the Archmages however, Illphres was determined to ascend to the higher levels of Wistram and pass Cognita’s deadly test. She and several other mages decided to challenge the Golems.

They failed.

Until her death, Illphres had taught Ceria Springwalker magic, reluctantly taking the young half-Elf and then slowly growing to enjoy Ceria’s presence. Illphres left her student with a magical tome after her death, but the spellbook never reached Ceria and was instead hurled into the sea by Charles de Trevalier. Illphres’ command of ice magic was so advanced that she could build a fortress out of ice and cut entire ships in half with her ice magic, as well as ‘skate’ across the sea.

Ilvriss – A Drake Lord of the Wall. Ilvriss is arrogant, rude to non-Drakes, picky, and often temperamental. However, he is also brave, a caring leader (of other Drakes), and heartbroken. In a battle between an army led by Zel Shivertail and forces under his command Ilvriss lost his second-in-commend, Lieutenant Periss. Unbeknownst to the world, the two had been secret lovers and her mysterious death caused Ilvriss to journey north, following the one Human who could tell him how Periss had died: Ryoka Griffin.

Having become embroiled in Liscor’s politics, Ilvriss eventually learned it was Az’kerash, the Necromancer himself who had killed his love. However, vengeance became the last issue on Ilvriss’ mind with the death of Zel Shivertail and his only goal for the moment is to return to his home city of Salazsar and gather his allies close.

Far from home, Ilvriss’ personality has changed and he has grudgingly begun to respect non-Drakes, or one of them at least. Nevertheless, he is still prideful as ever and is currently embroiled in a political battle with Pallass to return home.

Imani – A young woman from Earth, nationality unknown. Imani has dark skin and had the misfortune of being teleported into a Creler nest with a group of people. She was the only survivor. Shell-shocked by her first entry into this world, Imani was last seen in the presence of other Humans from Earth in Magnolia Reinhart’s mansion. Where she is now is unknown.

Insill – A Drake [Rogue] with black scales and a member of Vuliel Drae. Insill is a Liscorian native and a Silver-rank adventurer with very little experience compared to seasoned adventurers like Ceria or Yvlon. Nevertheless he is quite capable at detecting most traps and has entered Liscor’s dungeon with his team in hopes of finding treasure. Somewhat naïve, Insill’s group was only saved by a masked swordswoman they encountered in the dungeon. The Drake has subsequently fallen in love with this stranger and dreams of meeting her again.

Invrisil – The City of Adventurers. Invrisil is a massive Human city sitting squarely in the center of the northern half of Izril. It is a prosperous city with an exceptionally strong economy due to the presence of many adventuring groups that keep the surrounding area safe. Although the city is technically part of Magnolia Reinhart’s domain it is nominally ruled by a [Mayor] and elects its own officials. The city is always filled with new ideas, technologies and people, and is considered to be one of the major cities on the continent.

Ishkr – A Gnoll [Waiter] employed at The Wandering Inn. Ishkr is a city-born Gnoll who came to Liscor with the Silverfang Tribe two decades ago. Hardworking and preferring silence, Ishkr does not observe as many Gnollish customs as the rest of his people. He enjoys working for Erin as she gives him quiet jobs he can perform by himself, and he is a competent helper as well. He enjoys steady jobs, good pay, and Erin’s cooking. He also has a secret.

Isles of Minos – An archipelago removed from the five main continents, the Isles of Minos are home to the sole Minotaur population in the world. The Minotaurs guard their isle jealously and allow only small embassies to visit their port-Capital, so not much is known about the Isles. Warships crewed by Minotaurs regularly patrol their waters, threatening death to any pirates or travelers who do not follow strict rules when sailing through the area.

Isodore – The older daughter of the Blighted King of Rhir. Isodore is around seventeen years of age and is considered next in line for the throne despite her low level and youth. As such she is constantly under a great deal of scrutiny and danger as she is one of two children to survive the assassination attempts over the years against her. Concerned with her younger sister’s safety and wary of Tom and the otherworlders summoned to defend Rhir, Isodore has learned to watch and listen rather than speak.

Isolationists – A political faction within Wistram. The Isolationists believe that Wistram should cease accepting new students from abroad and close their doors to all but the most determined of mages. Isolationists prioritize the study of magic and disdain involving the Academy with politics. They are a small faction and often clash with the more mainline political groups. Several of their number including Illphres challenged the Golems recently and were wiped out, weakening the group’s influence in the academy.

Issrysil – The Drake name for the continent of Izril, seldom used since no one but Drakes can pronounce it properly. See Izril.

Ivolethe – A Frost Faerie considered old even by her kin, Ivolethe was the only member of her kind to befriend Ryoka. Unlike the rest of her impetuous sisters, Ivolethe saw something in Ryoka that attracted the two together. She went as far as to call Ryoka her friend and bent the unwritten rules of the fae in many places for Ryoka. She attempted to teach the young woman magic and often hung about Ryoka, lending her sharp tongue to many situations.

Ivolethe delighted in stories and art from Ryoka’s world, as such creativity was the only new thing the immortal considered worthy of humanity as a species. Ivolethe perished when she directly broke the rules of the Faerie King by freezing Venitra as she was about to kill Ryoka. For her crimes her body was shattered. And that, apparently, means the death of the fae.

 

J

Jasi – A young female Drake, Jasi lived in Celum all her life as a [Washer], barely tolerated for being a Drake and earning just enough to survive. Struggling to keep her young brother Grev out of trouble and making a living, Jasi met Erin when the [Innkeeper] was pursuing Grev for leading her into a mugging. Initially she was offered a job as a [Barmaid] in the Frenzied Hare, but when Erin perceived the distaste Miss Agnes had for the young Drake she taught Jasi and Wesle how to act on stage.

At first reluctant, Jasi found herself bitten by the acting bug and has become a celebrity in Celum and the local cities. She is now a successful actor in the Players of Celum, a troupe where she stars in most productions as the leading lady Drake. She is eternally grateful to Erin, not least because she will never have to rub her scales off washing clothes. She still has scars on her hands from those days, a reminder of who she used to be.

Jelaqua Ivirith – A Gold-rank adventurer and the leader of the Halfseekers, Jelaqua is a famous Selphid who originally hails from Baleros. She formed the Halfseekers, a group of powerful half-breeds to champion the cause of anyone cast out from society for being different. They were a famous group that even had a Goblin among their ranks until they were betrayed. Garen Redfang slew his companions and escaped with a key they had recovered from a dungeon.

Now Jelaqua seeks to rebuild her shattered party of which only three members remain and slay Garen. Affable, fun-loving and deadly with a flail, Jelaqua’s body was recently injured in battle and she now seeks to replace it before it rots to piece, which is generally considered objectionable by most species.

Jelov – An old [Carver] and a subject of the Unseen Empire. Jelov used to be a villager of Windrest until the village was forced to flee to Riverfarm due to Goblin attacks. Fearful of being cast out due to his advanced age, Jelov was gratified to learn that Laken Godart had need of his talents. Initially carving large totem-markers to expand the boundaries of the Unseen Empire, Jelov has now created a huge variety of totems and smaller version that he sells to the subjects of the Unseen Empire as good luck charms. He is an affable old man in love with his craft, but don’t sit too close to him. He spits.

Joseph – A Human from Earth, Joseph found himself in Izril and was quickly found by Magnolia Reinhart along with other Humans. A rather sporty young man from Spain, Joseph was taken with the idea of a magical world, underestimating the very real dangers of such a place, much to Magnolia’s disgust. He was summarily given a sword and an escort and told to slay monsters as a Bronze-rank adventurer, and his current location and status is unknown.

 

K

Keith – One of the Otherworlders from Earth summoned to Baleros. Keith was a Freshman with a Major in Civil Engineering before he was summoned. He gained a few levels in [Blacksmith], but found that the gap between his theoretical knowledge and the practical applications in this world were too hard to bridge. Like many of his friends, Keith has lost his [Hero] class, but he still tries to contribute to the group with his architectural knowledge.

Keith arguably has more knowledge of metallurgy, physics, and construction than most [Builders] in this world—he just needs the time and funding to prove himself. He hopes that his return to Rhir’s capital will give him that opportunity to forge something truly unique, like armor made out of a titanium alloy.

Kenjiro Murata – A young man from Japan, Kenjiro or Ken found himself transported to Baleros with a large group of international students from around the world. Struggling with the language barrier and the reality of his new situation, Kenjiro stuck together with the only other Japanese student who had come with him, a childhood friend named Aiko. He enlisted in the Gravetender’s Fist Company with a large group of other students and found himself thrust into a dangerous battlefield within his first week.

Ken learned to fight and forged friendships with another marooned soul, Luan, but found that he preferred communication to war. He was instrumental in saving lives when the fighting between two mercenary companies began to violate the terms of war and targeting neutral groups. He escaped with his friends and the [Doctor], Geneva Scala and formed the United Nations company.

Now Ken serves as a [Diplomat], using his understanding of different races and cultures to protect and gather those stranded from his world into a company that can protect them all.

Kent Scott – A mysterious stranger who participated in a magical group chat. Kent Scott used an assumed name—likely the owner of the original iPhone—to talk with the others and ask for their names. This ploy allowed the mysterious Kent Scott to locate at least some of the stranded Otherworlders via scrying, but what he did with the information and his true motives are as of yet, unknown.

Kerash – One of Az’kerash’s Chosen. Kerash is a powerful Gnoll Draugr, the reanimated corpse of a long-dead Gnoll Chieftain who was rumored to have been as close to a [King] as the Gnoll species ever had. He was famous…a century ago. However, he was slain at the prime of his life by Az’kerash, an act of terror so famous that it gave the Necromancer his name—Az’kerash, or ‘Slayer of Kerash’. The Gnoll people have never forgotten this injustice, but they are unaware of Kerash’s new purpose: serving his master.

Kerash is currently foremost of Az’kerash’ chosen, following Venitra’s disgrace. He is a capable warrior and extremely difficult to kill owing to his superior physical body and undead endurance, but lacks the special qualities of his fellow Chosen.

Kingslayer Spiders – There are Shield Spiders. Blade Spiders. Swarm Spiders. And so on. Any good insect population inevitably has a lot of variants, and the spider population is nasty. In this case, the Kingslayer Spiders earned their name by killing a [King] as he was hunting. So yeah. That’s them.

Klbkch – One of the few remaining Centenium. The Slayer. Former Prognugator of the Free Antinium and now the Revalantor of said Hive. Also, Senior Guardsman of Liscor. Klbkch has lived a life longer than almost any living being in the world. Many lives, in fact. He has been reincarnated to serve his Hive in many forms, dating back to his original creation in the ancient Antinium Hives built in Rhir by the First Queen.

He is old. And over the centuries, he has lost much of his strength. In ages past, Klbkch was an assassin and sword master without equal. Now he only has his experience to dwell upon; he lost his original form long ago and was reincarnated into a Worker’s body when he came to Izril. Since then he has obtained a slightly more agile form, but he is a shell of his former self. Despite this, Klbkch has only one task in mind: rebuilding the Antinium to send a force back across the seas to Rhir. He is driven by that goal and his service to his Queen.

While Klbkch will do anything for his Hive, he has nevertheless found some satisfaction in being a humble [Guardsman] in Liscor. Ironically, his first friends may have been in Relc and the Drakes and Gnolls who grew to accept him here, and he has become a regular at Erin’s inn and a respected face around the city. However, Klbkch’s goal has been and always will be the same. After meeting one of his fellow Centenium, Xrn, the Slayer has decided to return to Rhir—with or without the Grand Queen’s permission.

The task of building a force that could fight its way into and out of Rhir is enormous, but Klbkch has never shirked his duties. He is dedicated, ancient, and ruthless when needs be. He also enjoys eating acid flies at Erin’s inn.

Knights of the Petal – Also known as the ‘Rose Knights’, these pink-armored elites serve Lady Bethal Walchaís and are a feared fighting force in Izril. Only numbering around eighty or so in total, the Knights of the Petal make up for their small numbers by boasting exceptionally high-quality magical artifacts and armor. They can virtually ignore most mundane weaponry and their enchanted arms are capable of besting most foes within a few strikes.

Disciplined, loyal, and probably a little crazy, the Rose Knights are Bethal’s symbol of authority and one of the reasons why she is considered a powerful [Lady] of the realm.

Krakens – Ship destroyers. They can grow to insane sizes, reaching miles in length. Unlike the predators of the land, the sea is deeper and vaster, and as such, Krakens are only one of the monsters that haunt the deeps. With that said, they are greatly feared for good reason. They also taste good when barbecued and dipped in a spicy sauce.

Krshia Silverfang – A Gnoll [Shopkeeper] in Liscor. Krshia was the first Gnoll to ever make Erin’s acquaintance and her fortunes have fallen and begun to rise since meeting Erin. Originally a prosperous shopkeeper, Krshia had led a good portion of the Silverfang Tribe to Liscor years ago, in order to earn money and bring a grand gift back to the meeting of the tribes. However, when Lyonette destroyed a stockpile of magical spellbooks with an accidental spell, Krshia lost not only her business but years of work from all the Gnolls in Liscor.

Subsequently, Krshia found herself struggling to rebuild her fortunes. With Ryoka’s help she has acquired an even greater treasure than before—a magical spellbook containing thousands of spells. For this, Krshia has declared herself and her tribe in Ryoka and Erin’s debt. She is now fighting to reclaim her spot as one of Liscor’s best businesspeople and preparing for her return to her tribe—in triumph, not shame.

Krsysl Wordsmith – A Drake [Writer], most famous for his twin historical accounts of the First and Second Antinium Wars. Krsysl initially won praise for his account of the First Antinium War, which was commissioned by Magnolia Reinhart to highlight the dangers of the Antinium. However, his second historical narrative lacked the impartiality of the first and glorified the Drake side of the war while diminishing the efforts of every other species.

Lambasted for his lack of integrity as a [Writer], Krsysl found himself ostracized from the writing world by most of the world. Defiant and unapologetic to the last, this Drake writer has not written since, and while he has some enduring popularity among his people, he has faded into obscurity in the world’s eyes.

Ksmvr – The former Prognugator of Liscor’s Hive. Ksmvr was created by the Queen of the Free Antinium in secret, so that if Klbkch were ever incapacitated he could manage the Hive. That day came sooner than he had anticipated, and Ksmvr found himself thrust into a leadership role without training. It has to be said that he failed miserably at his job.

Cast out for his failures, with one of his four arms severed, Ksmvr fell into despair before he became an adventurer and one of the Horns of Hammerad with Erin’s help. Now Ksmvr regards his three companions, Pisces, Ceria, and Yvlon, as the only important people in his world. He would readily sacrifice his life for them, a sentiment which causes his teammates distress.

Often socially inept, Ksmvr eagerly learns all the correct and incorrect lessons he can by observing his teammates. He regards Pisces as a mentor, Ceria as an infallible leader, and Yvlon as something akin to a big sister, although Ksmvr has no concept of a sister, or a family.

 

L

Laken Godart – The [Emperor] of the Unseen Empire, Protector of Durene’s Cottage, and your friendly neighborhood blind guy. Laken was teleported into this world right outside Durene’s cottage months ago and quickly became friends with Durene, without whom he might have quickly perished.

After gaining his [Emperor] class, Laken quickly developed a supernatural ‘Emperor sense’ which allowed him to detect everything in the property he owned, effectively giving him sight so long as he remained within his empire. Subsequently, he expanded his area of control from a single cottage to an entire village when Laken saved Riverfarm’s population from an avalanche that had just struck the village, burying its inhabitants.

Hailed as a savior and accepted as their [Emperor], Laken went on to protect the village from Goblin attacks and bought both food and protection in the form of two Silver-rank adventuring teams for the village.Since then, Laken’s control has only continued to expand as villages and towns and cities have pledged themselves to his new empire in exchange for protection. He now commands a small army and finds himself grappling with the burden of authority.

Amiable, patient, and thoughtful, Laken Godart is not a classical [Emperor] by any means. He is romantically involved with Durene, a half-Troll girl, and advised by a former [Farmer] and a [Witch]. He is a strange traveler, but he has made a home. And he is an [Emperor]. The first Izril has seen in millennia.

Larr – A Gnoll [Archer] and a member of Vuliel Drae. Larr is a Gnoll from Liscor. He joined Vuliel Drae because he was acquainted with Insill and he wanted to become a Gold-rank adventurer. And that’s about it. Like the Gnoll himself, Larr’s history is short, taciturn, and straight-to-the-point. If the Gnoll has any interesting qualities, it’s the adventurers he hangs out with in his team. Oh, and his unrequited love. But that’s not something Larr ever talks about.

Libertarian – A faction of [Mages] within Wistram. Libertarians believe in the supremacy of mages, as do most of Wistram’s factions, but they claim that Wistram should use its considerable influence and power to take a greater role in politics. The Libertarian faction usually pushes for Wistram to actively support mage-friendly nations and condemn or blacklist those that might prove to be enemies of the academy. A powerful faction, the majority of the Liberarian faction are Humans that hail from Terandria. Among their number are Charles de Trevalier and Rievan Forstrom.

Liches – Not the awesome, regenerating, nigh-immortal monsters you’re thinking of. Liches in this world are simply another form of undead, skeletal spellcasters who were once [Mages] in life. They’re still considered very deadly despite that, owing to their ability to rain death upon their enemy without regard for their safety. A Human [Mage] could be felled by an inopportune arrow; Liches must be destroyed completely or they will return. Not a fun threat, although most Liches are considered a Silver-rank threat owing to their frailty in physical combat. Assuming you can get that close, of course.

Liscor – The gate city of the High Passes, the guardian into Drake lands! No one actually calls Liscor that. This Drake and Gnoll inhabited city is notable in that it rests in the middle of one of two passages through the High Passes, a gigantic mountain range, that link north and south Izril. As the other passage is considered too deadly for any crossing, Liscor effectively controls the flow of traffic between north and south. Of which there is very little.

In truth, Liscor is more of a buffer in case of a Human attack than anything else. Considered impregnable owing to the unique geography surrounding the city and the powerful walls and its strong standing army, Liscor is exceptionally hard to take by siege and if an army does not conquer its walls within a short span of time, countless armies will rush to defend Liscor from any attacking force. Liscor’s presence has thwarted many attackers over the years, from Antinium to Human armies to the Necromancer itself.

The city is currently home to a good population of Gnolls as well as the Drakes who run the city, as well as the only Antinium Hive ever to be based in a Drake city at all. This unique relationship came about when the Antinium saved Liscor from the Necromancer’s armies and a peace treaty was forged at Liscor. The residents of Liscor are still somewhat uneasy about the Antinium, but are far more tolerant of them than any other Drakes in the world. Liscor is also now receiving an influx of Human visitors, mostly adventurers who seek to conquer the newly-discovered dungeon now threatening the city.

There are a few settlements outside of Liscor. Farming villages mainly, but a new inn has sprung up just a few minutes’ walk from the walls. It is run by a strange Human girl who has become the subject of much rumor and debate in Liscor as of late…

Liscorian Army – One of Izril’s more iconic mercenary armies, Liscor’s standing army is considered a formidable, if numerically small, force. Numbering only a few thousand in number, they prefer quality over quantity and hire themselves out to other Drake cities as a mobile fighting force. Liscor’s army has declined in stature since it was led by the iconic General Sserys, and it has become estranged from Liscor’s general citizens over sharp divisions about the presence of the Antinium Hive within Liscor. Nevertheless, Liscor’s army does regard the city as home, and returns to the city every few years…usually leaving after causing a good deal of havoc. It’s a strained relationship.

Lism – A grumpy, speciesist Drake [Shopkeeper] who runs a store in Liscor. He was one of the first Drake that Erin ever met and swindled Erin on her first day in Liscor. Ironically, it was also he who introduced Olesm to Erin when the young woman demanded her money back and won it in a game of chess. Lism is Olesm’s uncle and is fond of his nephew—although he still regards non-Drakes as inferior. He has a rivalry with Krshia. Until recently, the Gnoll has outperformed his shop daily in sales.

Lizardfolk – Not to be confused with Drakes. Lizardfolk are native to Baleros and stand have a rivalry with the fiery Drakes of Izril. A one-sided rivalry, actually. Drakes despise the social, inquisitive and usually cheerful nature of Lizardfolk, who value change and social interaction over personal wealth and power.

Lizardfolk aren’t even a single race; the majority of Lizardfolk are bipedal and take on the appearance of walking lizards with neck frills. However, their species has the potential to evolve or change shape—for instance, Lizardfolk may turn into Nagas by fulfilling an unknown criteria, or other, more exotic shapes. They regard these select subspecies as leaders of their kind, and thus live in a class-based society in their jungle homes. They don’t mind being called Drakes, but rather enjoy how angry Drakes get at being called Lizardfolk.

Luan Khumalo – An Otherworlder hailing from South Africa, Luan is perhaps the most athletically fit Human to come from earth. A paddler whose abilities are on an Olympic level, Luan is as fast on water as he is on land. First appearing in Baleros with Ken and Aiko, Luan found himself swept into conflict where blood and violence overwhelmed any attempt at mercy and compassion. He quickly became friends with Ken and helped save his friend’s life and eventually form the United Nations company. Married and a soon-to-be father, Luan’s only relief from worrying about his family is protecting his friends and finding a way home.

Lyonette du Marquin – A [Princess] from a Terandrian Kingdom, Lyonette du Marquin first came to Liscor as a thief, far from home and lacking the desire to work or interact with the ‘savage’ other species and ‘peasant’ commoners she found herself surrounded with. Sentenced to die in the cold, she was saved by Erin and given a job as a [Barmaid] in The Wandering Inn. Lyonette has come a long way from the tantrum-throwing girl she was in the past.

Now a competent [Barmaid] and intelligent young woman, she regards the inn as a home more than her distant kingdom, and has become a mother to Mrsha and a friend to Erin. Lyonette has a pet Ashfire Bee that she raised herself and has learned to even raid the deadly beehives and steal honey. Resourceful and keen to learn and level up, the Lyonette of today would scarcely be recognized as the Lyonette of the past. She attributes much of her change to Erin, and has sworn to repay that debt one day, in any way she can.

 

M

Mad Ones – A group of eccentric [Engineers], [Alchemists], and other creative classes based in Baleros. The Mad Ones were affiliated with the King of Destruction during his reign, as he was the only one willing to tolerate and fund their dangerous and often insane experiments. Considered a Gold-rank and occasionally Named Adventurer rank threat due to their experiments, the Mad Ones nevertheless produce the occasional useful invention. They are also left alone by and large, because sending an army to destroy or detain them would probably result in an explosion. That is to say, more explosions than normal.

Magnolia Reinhart – Known to some as The Deadly Flower Blooming in the North, Magnolia Reinhart is scion to the Reinhart family, and one of the most deadly women in the world. Rich, cunning, influential, and addicted to sugar, Magnolia Reinhart has all the wealth of her family and countless secrets and artifacts to draw upon. She helped drive back the Antinium in the First Antinium War, was part of the coalition that slew the Goblin King, and has continued expanding her influence since then.

Magnolia Reinhart has met both Erin Solstice and Ryoka Griffin and is aware of Otherworlder Humans entering her world. She claims she is opposed to the spread of new technology and determined to safeguard her home by defeating the Antinium once and for all, but few who know Magnolia trust her entirely. Those who don’t know her trust her not at all.

Magnolia Reinhart is powerful, but she has many enemies including the mysterious Circle of Thorns. On the other hand, Magnolia has a small army of servants, ties to the Assassin’s Guild, and a pink carriage which runs over bandits. Her enemies had better sleep with both eyes open.

Magnus Corpsus – A small cabal of [Necromancers] based in Izril. They have a small army of undead and mainly raid graveyards and commit minor crimes from their hidden base. They’re small fry.

Manticores – Half lion, half scorpion, half…thing with wings. Look, manticores are monsters, okay? They’ll sting you with your tail or bite you or hit you with a wing. Just stay away.

Maran – A [Barmaid] who works at the Frenzied Hare. She was briefly employed, then fired by Erin. She holds a grudge. So does Erin.

Maresar Crusand – An expert archer and the wife of Venith Crusland, Maresar was a [Bandit Lord] before she found love—ironically in the very man who’d set out to hunt her down. But that was years ago and it’s not an interesting story. Maresar pledged loyalty to the King of Destruction and survived to see his empire collapse. Staying with her husband, Maresar had one son and when Flos awoke from his slumber she returned to his side despite her husband’s resentment.

A strong warrior, Maresar’s true strength lies in her underhanded tricks. A bandit is always a bandit, after all. And she was a pretty good bandit.

Marian – A Centaur [Strategist] and one of Niers’ advanced students, Marian is a daring leader who fights in her people’s preferred style with rapid attacks and mobile armies. She is a good [Strategist] who could lead many of Baleros’ companies, but she has much to learn to obtain the Titan’s final approval. Marian is too set in her style, and it is the opinion of Niers Astoragon that predictability breeds weakness. Thus, Marian finds herself struggling as her teacher assigns her work that involves static defenses or slow-moving units. She has a rivalry with Venaz and is Umina’s good friend, although Marian privately fears that Umina is more talented than she.

Mars – A Human [Vanguard] and one of the King of Destruction’s Seven. Not much is known about Mars the Illusionist, save that she is Flos’ mightiest vassal in single combat and his champion. During his conquests, Mars would challenge the enemy army’s champion to a duel and after slaying her opponent, would charge into the army’s ranks. Her armor is practically indestructible and Mars is a veteran of many wars. She is known as the Illusionist because she always uses enchanted artifacts to appear as a beautiful woman, concealing her true appearance.

If Mars has a weakness, it is her inferiority complex. She does not believe she deserves to stand by her king without the mask of magic, the sole chink in her impenetrable armor.

Metalbite Slimes – A variety of slime made of liquid metal. Metalbite slimes are a terror for armored adventurers as they will attempt to consume armor and those wearing said armor. Hard to kill owing to their unique bodies, Metalbite slimes are nevertheless an easy target for magics which affect their mobility. Ice magic is extremely effective as a competent mage can freeze a Metalbite Slime solid.

Mihaela Godfrey – Mother of Valceif Godfrey, Mihaela is a famed Courier who lives in north Izril in semi-retirement. She was famed for being the only Courier who was able to escape the Antinium armies during the First Antinium Wars and participated in the Second Antinium Wars by outrunning enemy armies and scouts alike to relay information for Izril’s defenders. She recently learned of her son’s death. And of who is to blame for his death.

Minotaurs – A proud race of bull-people. Only don’t call them that. Minotaurs are honorable, touchy, and quick to anger. They enjoy the challenge of battle and very few become [Mages]. It is a sign of prestige in Minotaur culture to be a warrior—other classes are looked down upon. Minotaurs reside on the Isles of Minos, an archipelago that few visit. Minotaurs keep to themselves by and large, though some younger members of their species will travel abroad in search of fame and glory.

Minotaurs are known for being warlike, and have fought in several recent wars against other continents. However, each time they have been repulsed and Minotaurs have their own problems on their isles. They face an eternal foe with which they ceaselessly do battle. And when the Minotaurs fail to contain their foe, the world suffers…

Montressa du Valeross – Known as ‘Mons’ to her friends, Montressa is the daughter of a minor noble family of Terandria. She was a student at the same time as Pisces and Ceria and though she was a year younger, she quickly became part of their circle of friends. A bright student, Montressa was one of the few students who stuck by Pisces after his [Necromancer] class was revealed. However, following Pisces and Ceria’s expulsion from Wistram, she has fallen out of touch with both students.

Moore – A half-Giant [Green Mage] and a member of the Halfseekers. Despite being called half-Giant, Moore is in fact closer to quarter giant due to his mixed heritage. Nevertheless, he is a giant to all who meet him and the intimidation of his massive size is only tempered by his gentle nature.

Moore is a friend to most and his magic is suited to defense and aiding his companions. He is a danger in battle though, as this [Mage] is only too happy to break skulls with his quarterstaff rather than waste time casting spells. Moore is often asked why he became an adventurer given his kind nature. His response is that he has no problem killing monsters or his enemies. And it is perhaps telling that Moore has very few enemies in the world.

Mossbears – A slightly magical subspecies of bears known for their green fur, which is often covered in lichen. Mothbears are larger than the average black or brown bear, and some can even exceed polar bears in size. Voracious eaters, Mossbears sustain their massive bodies by eating magical lichens and plants, which they have learned to identify over countless years of evolution. They are generally peaceful unless disturbed. Or hungry.

Mothbears – Not to be confused with Mossbears. Mothbears are not, in fact, a subspecies of bears but an unholy fusion of moth and bear. Unable to fully fly, these gigantic monsters can still jump on their prey. Large, ferocious and attracted to bright lights, Mothbears are a dangerous threat for Bronze-rank adventurers, but considered to be a threat Silver-rank adventurers are generally capable of handling.

Mountain City Tribe – A tribe of Goblins living in Dwarfhalls Rest, a mountain located in the northern section of Izril. The Mountain City Tribe is notable for their vast numbers and extraordinarily high population of Hobs. This is due to a societal system implemented by their Chieftain, Tremborag. He styles himself the Great Chieftain of the mountain and appoints sub-lieutenants who have their own factions.

The Mountain City Tribe often raids nearby villages and cities but has kept such activities to occasional attacks to avoid attention. This has changed with the schism caused by the arrival of Rags and Garen Redfang, which saw a number of Goblins leave the Mountain City Tribe to join Rags’ tribe while Garen Redfang remained in the mountain. He is now second only to Tremborag, and the two Goblins have ramped up their attacks on Human lands in preparation for the upcoming conflict with the Goblin Lord.

Mrsha – The [Last Survivor] of the Stone Spears tribe, Mrsha is a young Gnoll cub incapable of speech. Mute since birth, she witnessed her entire tribe being slain by the Goblin Lord’s army. Saved only through the intervention of Ryoka Griffin and the fae, Mrsha’s fur was forever changed by her trauma and she now has pure white fur. This is regarded as an unlucky symbol by most Gnolls and those who are born or gain such fur are known as Doombringers, cursed ones who bring death upon all who associate with them.

Mrsha currently resides in Erin’s inn under the care of Erin and Lyonette. Though she has lost much, she lives happily most days and treats Lyonette like a mother and sometimes older sister. She’s also stopped stealing bras, although sometimes she steals food from Erin’s kitchen instead.

 

N

Nagas – A specific evolution of Lizardfolk. Nagas are one of the forms that Lizardfolk may turn into once they have fulfilled unknown criteria. Nagas are imposing half-serpent half-humanoids being who possess a superior level of strength and agility from their common kin. They are considered seductive as well, and are generally one of the more well-known types of Lizardfolk evolutions seen across Baleros.

Nalthaliarstrelous – The personal gardener of Magnolia Reinhart. Nathalistrelous is a [Druid] and considered to be one of the more dangerous servants in Magnolia’s employ. He resents taking orders even from Magnolia and his garden on her estate is fully overgrown and in places, dangerous. Why Nalthalistrelous consented to become Magnolia’s personal gardener is unknown. He resents personal contact, questions about personal life, and people stepping on grass.

Nekhret – A famous Archmage of Wistram, long deceased. Nekhret was a famous magic user who obtained the actual class of [Archmage], unlike her successors in recent years. She was known to be a powerful necromancer and her remains were interred in Wistram’s crypts after her death, an unusual choice for Archmages, who usually preferred to be buried elsewhere, or left no remains to be buried at all.

Nekhret’s tomb was left untouched for centuries until Pisces disturbed it and claimed her bones, unleashing a powerful spell of revenge upon the academy. He still possesses Nekhret’s bones, and used four of them in the creation of Toren, giving the skeleton far greater capabilities than her common kin.

Nereshal – A [Chronomancer] or time mage, Nereshal uses a branch of magic widely considered to be impossible or impractical to use by most of the world. As the steward of the Blighted King’s palace in Rhir and one of the personal confidants of the king, Nereshal possesses a wide range of power, both magical and social. He is capable of freezing his enemies in place, enhancing the speed of archers and arrows alike, but devotes most of his powers to extending the Blighted King’s life far beyond normal. It is rumored that Nereshal does the same for himself, and it is unknown how old he actually is. Nereshal has served the Blighted King for decades and if his magic continues to work, may serve him for many more decades still.

Nesor – A young, timid young man in the employment of Lady Rie Valerund. Nesor is a failed student of Wistram who left the academy after failing to meet their requirements. He is still capable of casting a number of spells, but his magical aptitude, like his confidence, is lacking. He is loyal to Lady Rie for giving him a place to work, and does his best, although his best is sometimes not enough.

Niers Astoragon – The Titan of Baleros and possibly the highest-level [Strategist] in the world. Niers Astoragon is a Fraerling, as tall as a cup of water, and in his late years. He was a successful adventurer before he became the second-in-command of the Forgotten Wing company. It was due to his efforts as well as Foliana’s that his company rose to become one of the Four Great Companies in his lifetime.

Niers is a strategic genius feared for his ability to play mind games with his foes and turn unwinnable battles into victories. He is also credited with inventing chess, and is an avid fan of the game. Recently, he has begun playing a mysterious opponent via magical chessboard, and speculation is rife who his opponent could be. Niers Astoragon knows his opponent is in Liscor but has not inquired further out of a desire to keep himself in suspense. Few things interest the Titan these days, but his new opponent and the new ideas and developments sweeping across the world have begun to rouse his interest.

Noears – One of the Goblins in the Flooded Waters Tribe, Noears is a [Mage], an unusual class for a Goblin to acquire. Extremely intelligent, Noears originally lived in Tremborag’s mountain where he masqueraded as a brain-dead idiot to avoid being drawn into the political struggles there. Having thrown his lot in with Rags when she fled the mountain, Noears is now a prominent figure in the Flooded Waters tribe and lends his lightning-based magic to his new tribe whenever necessary.

Numbtongue – One of the Redfang Warriors, Numbtongue is a Hobgoblin known for his ability to speak the common tongue. However, that knowledge does not mean he wishes to speak—after an unfortunate incident in his youth, Numbtongue is surly, preferring to keep his voice to himself unless needed. Like his fellows he is one of the survivors of the group sent to assassinate Erin Solstice. Now, living in her inn, Numbtongue is fascinated by songs and the spoken word. He can even read, although he keeps what he reads to himself. He understands more than he lets on, and he reveals very little of the true scope of his understanding.

 

O

Ocre – A small city neighboring the larger city of Remendia, Ocre is one of the cities just north of the High Passes. Not considered important in any respect, Ocre is best known for its proximity to the Ruins of Albez. The city is generally quiet as only a few adventurers go into the well-explored ruins hoping for a lucky break. However, the recent success of the Horns of Hammerad has sparked renewed interest in the ruins and Ocre has seem a small boom of visitors as a result. The Horns of Hammerad are local heroes in the city, due to their success in the dungeon.

Octavia – A Stitch-Girl [Alchemist] living in Celum. Octavia is a fast-talking, potion-slinging saleswoman whose only desire in life is to earn more money by selling her customers something. Anything. A small-time [Alchemist] in Celum, her fortunes have turned since meeting Erin. After a rocky start where Erin’s antics nearly destroyed Octavia’s kitchen multiple times, Octavia became Erin’s friend, and has even allowed Erin to install her magical portal to Liscor in her shop.

She now sells a variety of unique potions thanks to Ryoka’s help, and offers the world’s first version of matches, which has earned her a tidy profit. Octavia is hoping to expand her store soon, and she has a feeling that a certain [Innkeeper] might help her rise to even greater heights in the future.

Ogres – Even uglier than Trolls, if you can believe it. Ogres don’t get along with Trolls because they keep getting confused for each other. And while they are alike, Ogres are bigger and stronger than most Trolls, but lack the defensive toughness embodied in Troll skin. There are many exceptions among subspecies, but a general rule of thumb is that Ogres are stronger and Trolls are tougher and Ogres are really ugly. They smell, too.

Okasha – A Selphid [Rogue] that was saved by Geneva during battle. Okasha was a mercenary soldier who found herself saved by Geneva’s quick thinking. She repaid her savior by becoming a [Nurse] and aide to Geneva until the [Doctor] was hurt in an attack. Okasha entered Geneva’s body both to save her life and to help move her new host’s body. Without her, Geneva would be paralyzed owing to her spinal cord being irrevocably damaged.

However, Okasha’s actions are highly taboo among Selphid culture and throughout the rest of the world so she keeps her presence hidden. She is able to share her skills with Geneva and does whatever it takes to keep Geneva alive. Okasha believes Geneva might be the savior of the Selphid race, which is in peril for reasons yet unknown.

Oldblood Drakes – A subspecies or rather, genetic anomaly among Drakes. Those possessing the old blood manifest the traits of their ancestors, the Dragons. This can be anything from vestigial wings to the ability to breathe magical fire or fly. The intensity of such abilities varies, but those marked as Oldblood are honored in Drake society and often promoted more quickly than other Drakes. Occasionally the manifestation of their ancestry can be a negative thing indeed, and some Oldblood Drakes are born with deformities or worse. See Scorchlings for more detail.

Olesm Swifttail – The highest-level [Tactician] currently residing in Liscor, Olesm is no battlefield [Strategist] but a growing, if talented, young Drake with a passion for chess. First having met Erin after being completed defeated in a chess game, Olesm soon grew to be Erin’s friend. He admires the [Innkeeper] greatly and even loves her romantically—a feeling he has never expressed and which has never been returned.

Olesm has recently been involved with Ceria Springfield with whom he shared a one-night stand and is the subject of affection for many Drakes in Liscor, including Watch Captain Zevara. At the moment he is attempting to improve his strategic skills and runs a ‘chess magazine’ of sorts which has attracted attention from Niers Astoragon himself and earned him a small amount of fame. Olesm often considers himself a minor character in someone else’s story and largely unimportant. He may or may not be correct.

Oom – One of Az’kerash’s Chosen, deceased. Oom was an acid slime created by the Necromancer for one task: to assassinate high-level [Warriors] such as Zel Shivertail by immobilizing them in his body. Preferring to wear a trench coat and hat to conceal his true nature, Oom was a silent member of Az’kerash’s minions. The only creation that was not truly undead, Oom had only one friend in his short life, Bea. He was deployed to the battlefield to slay Zel Shivertail, but was killed by the Drake [General] instead.

Orthenon – Known as the Left Hand of the King of Destruction, Orthenon is Flos’ [Steward] and one of his most trusted vassals. Not one of the King’s Seven, Orthenon managed Flos’ kingdom as the King of Destruction rode to war and is considered on par with, if not more capable than many [Kings] in the world in terms of his ability to manage a nation.

Adept at combat owing to his [Blademaster] class, Orthenon is no stranger to the battlefield when necessary. He is steadfast, intelligent, and physically formidable, a perfect supporter of his [King]. Orthenon is a [Steward]. He is also a [Blademaster] and he was once a [Traitor] until Flos removed the class. But his sins have not been forgotten by those who cast him out…

Osthia Blackwing – An Oldblood Drake [Captain], Osthia Blackwing served under her uncle’s command in a battle against the Goblin Lord’s army until she was defeated and taken captive. Now she is the Goblin Lord’s prisoner and his source for information about the world and his master, Az’kerash. Osthia fiercely hates the Goblin Lord, but she hates the Necromancer more for slaying both Garusa Weatherfur and her uncle, Thrissiam Blackwing.

Osthia is a rare type of Oldblood who comes from a famous Drake family in Pallass. She is able to both fly and spit acid, and has risen rapidly in the ranks as a result of her abilities and her skill in battle. She is presumed dead by all who knew her, but she is still alive. Some days she wishes she wasn’t.

Othius the Fourth – Most commonly known as the Blighted King, Othius is the ruler of the Blighted Kingdom, a nation locked in eternal struggle with Demons and the monster hordes of Rhir. A powerful [King] and one of the most famous rulers in the world Othius’ true age is unknown, and he has ruled his kingdom for decades, all while battling the Demon King’s armies. He is a defensively-oriented [King] and his Skills allow his soldiers to survive their deadly encounters with their enemy. It is hoped by many that Othius will continue to live for many more decades, as his kingdom and his Skills are seen as the only thing that holds back the Demon King’s armies from swallowing Rhir whole.

 

P

Pallass – One of the six Walled Cities of the Drakes. Pallass is known as the City of Invention due to its large population of [Blacksmiths], [Alchemists], and other craft-related artisans. The northern-most Walled City, it has a strong military force to back up its technological achievements and is considered a stable force in the region.

Pallass is ruled by the Assembly of Crafts, a group of Senators elected by democratic vote from among the best and wealthiest of Pallass’ citizenry. Pallass’ citizens are also sort of somewhat dismissive of ‘uneducated’ or technologically inferior cities, leading to bad relationships with numerous Drake cities.

Parasol Stroll – A mercenary company who once followed the King of Destruction. Parasol Stroll is iconic for the enchanted parasols that each [Mage] carries. These lightweight parasols can deflect arrows, cast spells, and provide welcome shade from Chandrar’s hot sun. Magic can be stylish as well as pratical.

Pawn – One of the five surviving original Workers to become Individual, Pawn leads a special unit of Soldiers and Workers in the Hive of the Free Antinium. He was the first Worker to ever talk to Erin and named himself after she helped him discover his soul. Pawn learned of religion from Erin and has since become determined to make a heaven for the Antinium who die, even if no god or higher power watches over his people.

He is an [Acolyte], an Antinium who prays to no one deity but to Antinium and the hope of salvation. Pawn has seen countless friends die, and his only hope is that their sacrifices were not meaningless and that a better place awaits them in the heaven he will try to build.

Peclir Im – A Human. The [Chamberlain] of the Forgotten Wing Company. He has a very prestigious position, but it is rare to find someone who can keep up with the whims of Niers Astoragon and Foliana. Peclir has served for four years. His predecessors all quit due to reasons of insanity. Let’s hope he has a longer tenure.

Pekona – A silent [Sword Dancer] from overseas. Pekona is a resident of the Drath Archipelago, a strange place from which she has brought little save for the katana she wields. She does not speak much about her home. She does not speak much, in fact. She joined Vuliel Drae for reasons no one knows save for Anith, their leader. She’s a good fighter. Everything else is pretty much a mystery. Or she’s just a grump. It’s probably both.

Periss – The former second-in-command to Wall Lord Ilvriss and his secret lover. Periss died at the hand of the Necromancer’s minions while pursuing Ryoka Griffin. Her death still haunts Ilvriss and has been the motivation behind all of his recent actions. Periss fell in love with Ilvriss quite by accident. They grew fonder of each other after she saved his life on the battlefield, and they continued their romance in private due to their relationship as commander and subordinate. Some nights Ilvriss still recalls his last order to Perris and wonders if she resented him for it at the end.

Persua – A sallow-faced girl, according to Ryoka. In fact, Persua’s face is attractive, if slightly pinched. That is probably the best that most people would say of her. Persua is manipulative, spiteful, and dangerous. She has threatened to murder Ryoka Griffin and was responsible for shattering the girl’s legs and trying to kill her at least once.

Persua is Ryoka’s enemy and hates her with a passion. The feeling is mutual. Recently, Persua qualified to become a Courier and has gone north, seeking greater fame and attention. If there’s not much positive about her here, well, that’s because no one’s heard her side of the story. And maybe that’s a good thing.

Peslas – A Drake [Innkeeper] in Liscor who runs the Tailless Thief. He is a big Drake and boasts the most prosperous inn…in Liscor’s walls. He is over Level 30 in the [Innkeeper] class and quite rich. He enjoys socializing with friends and often gives away free drinks, which doesn’t really matter too much because his inn is the most expensive bar none in the city. According to Erin, he’s sort of a jerk.

Pisces – A Human [Necromancer] and former student of Wistram. Pisces considers himself a genius, an expert with a rapier, and the one clear-headed thinker in a world full of idiots. The idiots for the most part, hate his guts. But beneath the layers of arrogance and cynicism lies a young man who was at one point a friend to Ceria, and a talented young mage. But he has ever been a [Necromancer] and the world will judge him on that alone.

Expelled from Wistram for his misdeeds, Pisces is wanted in many places for extortion, intimidation, theft—but never murder. He is by his own admission a graverobber and does not hesitate to pursue his interests of creating undead. And yet, he has been a hero as well. Of late Pisces has joined the Horns of Hammerad and contributed to their success in substantial ways.

Now he stands on the edge, teetering between the odd friendships he has forged with his companions and people like Erin and his distrust of the world. Whether he will be a better man for it or return to his own ways is a question for the future. All that is certain is that Pisces will probably have something sarcastic to say about it.

Pivr – The Revalantor of the Flying Antinium. Pivr is arrogant, convinced of his Hive and his Queen’s greatness, and he has wings. He is obnoxious company, especially to Xrn. Despite this, Pivr has empathy for his fellow Antinium and changed somewhat after visiting the Free Antinium in Liscor. Whether that really matters remains to be seen.

Poisonbite – A Goblin raid leader who used to be part of Tremborag’s tribe. She abandoned her former Chieftain to follow Rags and is now an officer in the Flooded Waters tribe. Poisonbite got her nickname from the two poisoned daggers she coats in a self-made poison before battle.

Prickly and devoted to proving that female Goblins can be better warriors than male ones, Poisonbite enjoys having a female Chieftain. She’s thought of taking the spot herself, but she’s acknowledged that Rags is far smarter than she is and is content to be second-in-command. Just as soon as she can figure out a way to be better than Pyrite. And Redscar. And maybe Noears. She thinks Noears is cute because of the missing ears. But she’d never tell him that.

Prost Surehand – Formerly a [Farmer], now a [Steward] serving Emperor Laken Godart, Prost first knew Laken as a stranger sharing an inappropriate relationship with the village pariah, Durene. Initially friendly, then hostile, Prost later became a devoted follower of Laken after his village was buried in an avalanche and Laken came to the rescue.

Now a competent [Steward], Prost regards Laken as a true leader and savior to his village. Though he knows little about being a [Steward] his class and his experience dealing with others has led him rise to the occasion. He is married and has several young children who are all alive thanks to Laken.

Purple Smile – An Antinium [Sergeant] of the Free Antinium, Purple Smile has a purple…smile painted over his mandibles and face. It’s very creepy. Easygoing and carefree, a rarity among Antinium, much less Soldiers, Purple Smile is a counterpoint to Yellow Splatters. A deadly fighter when he needs to be, Purple Smile usually takes the easiest route available, making him an excellent leader and a great relaxer. He still looks creepy, though.

Pyrite – The former Chieftain of the Goldstone Tribe, Pyrite is a placid Hob whose intelligence is belied by his looks. Always eating something and always thinking, Pyrite is Rags’ second-in-command. He is a strong fighter and often makes up for his Chieftain’s inexperience with his own. Pyrite enjoys mining at his leisure and has actually learned how to find gemstones with uncanny accuracy. He generally gives the precious gemstones and gold away since it’s just useless rock, after all.

 

Q

Quallet Marshhand – An experienced Human [Mercenary Captain], Quallet led a specialized company across Baleros offering a unique battlefield service: putting down the undead corpses that would spawn nightly from the dead soldiers on the battlefield. His company, Gravetender’s Fist was small if well-respected and generally comprised of a few veteran soldiers and many raw recruits.

During a battle between the Razorshard Armor and Roving Arrow companies, Gravetender’s fist found itself targeted as both sides began to break the rules of engagement and target third parties. Quallet escaped by banding together with the Red Cross company and other neutral parties, and has since joined the United Nations company as an experienced leader.

Queen of the Free Antinium – One of the six remaining Antinium Queens of Izril. The Queen of the Free Antinium has no name and is defined by her Hive. Unlike the other Antinium Queens, the Queen of the Free Antinium chose to pursue a stronger relationship with the Drakes and Gnolls of Liscor rather than specialize her Hive. As such her Hive contains only Soldiers and Workers and she is shunned by the other Queens for her radical stance.

The Queen of the Free Antinium is possessive of Klbkch, whom she regards as a true hero of the Antinium and her companion. She has begun experiments to create more Queens in secret, defying the will of the Grand Queen, whom she has lost faith in.

Queravia – One of the King of Destruction’s Seven, Queravia was a famed Stich-Woman and perhaps the greatest [Strategist] in the world—until her death. A gambler, Queravia’s strategies played with luck and she was dubbed the Gambler of Fates for her ability to turn unwinnable battles into complete victories. She led an invasion force into Baleros and successfully destroyed countless Balerosian companies until she met her match when Niers Astoragon led a massive coalition army against her and ended her life. She was romantically involved with Flos, and it is speculated that her death along with another of his Seven was the impetus for the King of Destruction’s slumber.

Quexa – A Lizardgirl from Baleros, Quexa was a low-level [Sorcerer] and new recruit to Gravetender’s Fist when the company began its ill-fated contract. Initially fascinated with the otherworlder Humans, Quexa fought with her company to defend itself when both companies began attacking their camp. She lost the lower half of her left leg in the fighting, but found support in Daly, who took it upon himself to help her in the day and weeks that followed. She is now a member of the United Nations company and romantically involved with a certain Australian man. Daly, in case you weren’t sure.

 

R

Rabbiteater – One of the Redfang Warriors. Rabbiteater’s first memory was of starving after being abandoned by his parents. Or perhaps his parents were killed. He never saw them again so he will never know. He learned to catch rabbits with unparalleled skill and thus obtained his name. Swift, deadly, and always a bit puckish, Rabbiteater lacks the unique qualities of his surviving comrades. He is not as good at fighting as Shorthilt, an archer like Badarrow, as gifted at words as Numbtongue, or as strong as Headscratcher. But he’s also not a jerk. And that matters because the other four Goblins can really get on each other’s nerves sometimes.

Rags – The Chieftain of the Flooded Waters tribe. Rags was once a small Goblin. She watched her family being slaughted by Relc. She was accepted into Erin’s inn. She was taught there. She learned kindness from Erin. She learned magic from Pisces. She left, and became Chieftain of her tribe. She faced down Garen Redfang. Her tribe grew larger. She entered Tremborag’s mountain after fleeing the Goblin Lord. She left there too, and her tribe grew larger.

Now she leads an army of powerful Goblins, hundreds of Hobs, and has survived many battles against the Humans that try to kill her people. And Rags only is still four years old. She is, quite simply, a genius and considered attractive by Goblin standards. She is a deadly shot with the dwarf-made crossbow she wields, knows a few spells, and is extremely good at strategy. She has a lot resting on her small shoulders.

Sometimes Rags dreams of going back to the inn and laying all her burdens aside. But she is far from home. And yet it is to home she will return. One day.

Raskghar – The ancient, primitive offshoots of the Gnoll species. Raskghar were Gnolls who dwelled deep in the underground and forsook their ability to level and gain classes for brutal strength and cunning. Bestial and drawn to savagery, Raskghar regain their intelligence only once every month when the moon shines brightest. That’s right. They’re reverse werewolves. And they live in Liscor’s dungeon. They can smell their ancient enemies, the Gnolls, above. And they howl in the darkness, waiting for the war to resume.

Razorbeaks – Also known as Dino Birds to Erin. Razorbeaks are pterodactyl-like birds that live in Izril. They have very sharp teeth and hunt smaller birds, rodents, and when they fly in number, sheep, goats, cows, and people. They are cowardly alone and dangerous together. Their eggs don’t taste half bad either.

Razorshard Armor Company – A Dullahan-led group that participated in a particularly nasty battle with the Roving Arrow company. The fighting abandoned all the rules of engagement normally honored in Baleros and both sides began targeting neutral parties. It is not known what the fate of the Razorshard Armor Company was, but the disgrace of their actions will certainly follow them. The Razorshard Armor Company is considered powerful due to the presence of several Dullahan [Juggernauts]—massive Dullahan giants capable of smashing enemy lines apart on their own.

Redfang Tribe – A famous tribe in Izril, the Redfang Tribe is considered dangerous to even a Gold-rank team and they are classified as so dangerous that multiple teams must attempt to subjugate them. The Redfang Tribe lives in the High Passes. Led by Garen Redfang, they boast the highest individual might of any Goblin Warriors although their tribe is somewhat small. Their Chieftain specializes in only one thing: combat, and as such the tribe is actually quite poor and has gone hungry in the past due to Garen’s lopsided skill set. Currently, the Redfang tribe follows Rags while only a core has stayed with their former Chieftain.

Redscar – The second-in-command of the Redfang tribe. Redscar is a normal Goblin rather than a Hob, perhaps due to his fondness for the Carn Wolf he rides. He is a deadly warrior second only to Garen himself and leads the Redfangs after abandoning his former leader to follow Rags. Redscar’s defining feature is the scar on his face. It’s not actually that red, but the nickname was too good to pass up. Redscar likes male Goblins. Female ones are fine too, of course. But still.

Regis Reinhart – An ancient ghost that haunts…guards…oversees the Reinhart family vault. Regis is bound by powerful spells to oversee the Reinhart collection of artifacts and is able to distribute them as he sees fit. He only allows those who have contributed something of worth to withdraw an item, although he will make an exception in times of great need.

This guardianship of the family treasure is one of the reasons the Reinharts have been unable to squander their wealth in previous generations and Regis intends to keep it that way. He still maintains an active presence in the real world through intermediaries and spies and sometimes even influences events. He has nothing but contempt for most of his living family, except for Magnolia whom he regards as one of the great Reinharts of history. He’s a doting grandparent too, although he usually doesn’t show it.

Regrika Blackpaw – The fake Named Adventurer alias used by Venitra when in disguise. Regrika Blackpaw was considered a hero of the Gnolls and greatly respected in Izril until she was exposed for murdering both Brunkr and Ulrien. Now she is a wanted criminal although no one has seen a trace of her since she disappeared. The Gnolls are especially keen to find their traitorous own and have put an internal bounty within the tribes on her. Alive.

Reim – The kingdom ruled by Flos, the King of Destruction. Reim was, at one point, an empire that stretched across nearly all of Chandrar. But when the King of Destruction fell into his slumber the empire collapsed and Reim became a tiny nation that crumbled away over the years as their [King] slumbered. Devastated by the passage of years and their absent monarch, Reim struggled to stay alive, waiting for the day Flos would return. Now the King of Destruction has returned, Reim has come to life and it returns to its former glory with each passing day.

Reinharts – One of the Five Families of Izril. The Reinharts are known as a group of plotters, schemers, rogues, and traitorous bastards with machinations and fingers in every underhanded plot in Izril—but those are just things people say about them. In truth, the Reinharts are, like all the Five Families, rich and powerful. It is true that more than a few of their heirs take to plots, poison, and intrigue than most, but they are hardly alone in that regard. They may be the best at what they do, though. Currently, the family is led by Magnolia Reinhart who does everything while the rest of the family lives in their ancestral estate, throwing lavish balls, parties, and living a hedonistic lifestyle free of worry. They do it with style, too.

Relc Grasstongue – A former [Sergeant] and a [Guardsman] of Liscor, Relc is quite possibly the strongest [Guardsman] in the world. A powerful spear fighter on par with a Gold-rank adventurer, Relc disguises his fearsome battle prowess with an authentic layer of laziness and sometimes, stupidity. As an actual member of the City Watch he doesn’t deserve his Senior Guardsman rank, but he is tolerated because when a monster pops out of the sewers or the bar fight gets bloody, there’s no one you’ll want backing you up. Assuming he didn’t stand the bar fight, that is.

Remendia – A large city north of Liscor. It is situated near a smaller city, Ocre. And both cities are located near the Ruins of Albez. And that’s about it. Remendia, like Ocre, has little to distinguish it from other cities. No one’s ever destroyed it. No giants have ever smashed a building in. There’s not even been a widespread mass summoning of horrific monsters from the deep! And that’s the way Remendia likes it. Boring.

Ressa – The [Head Maid] in Magnolia Reinhart’s employ. That’s what she says, anyways. If she was the kind of person who answered stupid questions. Ressa has been by Magnolia’s side for as long as anyone can remember. She is dedicated, efficient, and expects nothing less out of the many servants she commands. She also has an enchanted poison dagger, three magic rings and—oops. I’ve said too much. She may be a ninja maid. That’s all I’m saying.

Revenants – A rare form of undead that appears when the actual soul of a person possesses an undead, rather than the crude intelligence most undead share. Revenants can think and possess some of the thoughts, skills, and memories of when they were alive, but such beings are inevitably twisted by death into insanity or a lust for vengeance. Extremely dangerous, even [Necromancers] hesitate to create such beings as Revenants are exceptionally hard to control.

Revi – A bad-tempered [Summoner] and Gold-rank adventurer. Revi is a new member of Griffon Hunt and joined the group to earn money and become famous. At least she’s honest about it. She has a sharp tongue and short temper and that drives many people away from her, but Revi has a heart of…well, a heart made of cloth. But it’s stitched together quite nicely! She’s a Stitch-Woman and she’ll hold together her team despite having lost Ulrien, their leader. Even if she has to drag the others kicking and screaming to do it.

Revivalist – A faction in Wistram dedicated to improving the lot of [Mages]. Which is what all the factions say. The Revivalists choose to pursue this goal by advocating for opening Wistram’s doors to all members of the public and doing away with the selectivity and need for expensive tuition fees. They dream of an era of magic where Wistram’s mages flow forth into the world. They clash sharply with elitist factions like the Isolationists.

Reynold Ferusdam – A [Combat Butler] in service to Magnolia Reinhart. You will see Reynold when you see Magnolia’s coach. He alone can properly pilot the pink, speeding deathtrap that Magnolia uses for transportation and he’s skilled enough with a sword to defend it too if need be. Reynold gets to see a lot of strange people in his job ferrying Magnolia or his guest about. He never complains though. He does his job well and efficiently and his worst nightmare is cleaning the stains off the carriage. You wouldn’t believe how many bandits he runs over in a week.

Rhir – The smallest of the five continents by far, Rhir has only one kingdom. The last bastion against the Demons and monsters that flow forth from deep within the continent. The Blighted Kingdom has held its ground for millennia, sometimes falling back, sometimes pushing back the monsters and Demon King’s forces. Little is known about the origin of the horrific, mutated monsters that will routinely attack the Blighted Kingdom, but little needs to be known in truth.

Only a few facts matter in Rhir. The Blighted Kingdom stands. The Demons must be held back. If the Blighted Kingdom calls, the nations of the world must answer or be drowned by the nightmares of Rhir. So long as the Blighted King rules from his lonely throne, the world is safe to squabble amongst itself. For now.

Richard Davenport – A Texan from Earth and a [Knight], Richard is the leader of the group of Americans who found themselves transported to Rhir. He never volunteered for the job, but as one of the few people who survived the first deadly encounters with monsters and kept leveling up, he is now a powerful [Knight] who often carries his friends on his back.

Responsible and caring, Richard is nevertheless quite aware how little influence he has on his fate in Rhir. A [Knight] he may be, but one [Knight] matters little to the Blighted King. On the other hand, his best friend, Tom, has attracted the attention of the kingdom. If Richard could convince Tom to assume a greater responsibility he and the others might have a chance of figuring out what is going on in this strange world he’s arrived in.

Rie Valerund – A minor [Lady] of Izril who was rescued from Goblin attack by Laken Godart. She has since pledged herself to his cause and employs her talents in building his kingdom. Lady Rie is hardly a powerful lady whether in level or influence and her family’s power has waned since the Second Antinium War where all of its members save for her were slain. Nevertheless, she has quite a few connections and she is currently employing all of them to be a useful supporter of Laken, in whom she sees quite a lot of potential for her own fortunes to rise.

Rievan Forstrom – A [Mage] of Wistram and a teacher, Rievan is a member of the Libertarian faction. He does not like Ceria. He does not like half-Elves, in fact. Beyond that there’s little else to say. He is not the main character of this story, in case you were wondering.

Riverfarm – A small village sheltered by a mountain and a river to the west of Invrisil, in the middle of northern Izril. Riverfarm was an ordinary village, poor and unremarkable save for the presence of a half-Troll outcast living away from the village. However, recent months has seen Riverfarm change completely. First visited by a strange Human from another world and then struck by an avalanche that buried most of the villagers alive, Riverfarm was saved by Laken Godart and claimed as his. Now it is the beginning of an empire as other villages, towns, and cities turn to Riverfarm as a beacon of safety and guidance in these dark times. Riverfarm is the start, but what fruits will grow from this village remain to be seen.

Rock Crabs – Also known as Hollowstone Deceivers, this breed of crab is a gigantic predator native to the area around Liscor. Hiding in massive stone shells, Rock Crabs wait patiently for their prey to pass by them before grabbing their victims and messily disemboweling them with a gigantic claw. Rock Crabs are a substantial threat because their shells are so tough, and even if you can get underneath their shells they remain quite deadly. They are afraid of poison, however, and flee if they sense any kind of dangerous substance in the air or on their shells. They have poor immune systems. Ever seen a crab with a cold?

Ruins of Albez – An area of rubble and buried passageways that is all that remains of a city. Located near Remendia and Ocre just north of the High Passes, Albez is known as a dangerous spot for adventurers that often offers little in the way of reward. Long ago picked clean by treasure hunters, Albez was thought to be an unprofitable, dangerous place to venture. Until, that was, a team of four Silver-rank adventurers returned from the dungeon with treasure. Now Albez is again a target for the hopeful. But whether it has any more secrets lost to time is anyone’s guess.

Runners – A term broadly used for messengers who deliver letters, secrets, and packages  in exchange for coin. Runners come in three varieties—Street Runners who move within a city and rarely venture beyond the walls, City Runners who deliver from city to city, and Couriers who may make journeys across the sea or through the most dangerous locations.

Runners are paid depending on the difficulty of their errand and the most famous of Runners can become as rich and famous as any adventurer. Indeed, the skillset needed to be a Runner often mirrors that of an adventurer, as bandits, monsters, and sometimes assassins will waylay Runners carrying the most valuable of cargo. Still, for most Runners their code is simple: deliver the package. Get paid. Don’t die.

Ryoka Griffin – A young woman from Earth. Ryoka Griffin is best described like a cat. Like a cat, she is opinionated. Like a cat, she likes to run around. Like a cat, she knows how to fight. But like a cat, she would most like for everyone to leave her alone. Having come to this strange world by accident, Ryoka Griffin made her living as a City Runner, surviving on her own until fate sent her to meet Erin Solstice. From there, Ryoka began to grow more involved in Erin’s tale, making friends with a Frost Faerie named Ivolethe, rescuing a young Gnoll cub named Mrsha, and attracting the attention of powerful and dangerous individuals.

After being targeted by the Necromancer, Ryoka lost her friend Ivolethe in a desperate battle with the undead servants sent after her. Heartbroken, she left Liscor, running north. She has not been seen since. No one knows where she has gone. Or if she will come back.

 

S

Sacra – You may know her as Odveig. You may know her as someone else. On the surface she is a [Maid] working in Magnolia Reinhart’s employ. But put on a Ring of Illusions and she could be a [Butcher] working down the street, an old man begging next door, a Silver-rank adventurer laughing while hunting monsters. Sacra is a spy. And she’s a good one. If Magnolia Reinhart wants to investigate something, she’ll send Sacra. And you’ll never know it. Sacra is the 007 of the medieval world. And she can also make some great tea.

Safry – A [Barmaid] employed at the Frenzied Hare. She was briefly employed, and then fired by Erin Solstice after meeting and becoming friends with the [Innkeeper]. They’re not friends any longer.

Salazsar – One of the Walled Cities of Izril. Salazsar is known for its gemstones, of which it has several profitable mines. It is in fact built on a gigantic vein which has yielded precious gemstones and ores for thousands of years. Some cities have all the luck.

Salvia – Bold, brash, and daring, Salvia is the relaxed [Captain] of Nonelmar, a city close to Vaunt. She has an amiable relationship with Gershal and is his opposite in many ways. Her unit of [Riders] is fairly strong and well-trained and Salvia herself is a good leader, if low-leveled compared to officers on the front lines. She’s obsessed with cheese from Vaunt.

Scorchling – A rare case of Dragon ancestry manifesting itself in Drake children in negative ways. Scorchlings are burnt the instant they are born and their scales burn away as long as they live. These offspring usually have short lives as Drakes consider them to be cursed by their blood rather than most Oldblood Drakes. Nevertheless, some do live to maturity and lead solitary, difficult lives as outcasts among their own people.

Sea Serpents – Giant water snakes. Their scales are tough as steel, and larger examples can wrap themselves around a warship and crack it like an egg. They are particularly nasty in clutches where they can attack by the dozens. They’re like…snakes. In the water. Look, that’s all you need to know. Oh, and some of them can do nasty things like spit venom. Or shoot lightning. Like snakes.

Seborn – A Drowned Man whose body is half-crab. Or half-lobster. Erin’s never managed to muster the courage to ask which it is. Seborn is a Gold-rank [Rogue] and a member of the Halfseekers. Drowned People rarely go ashore but Seborn abandoned the sea to become an adventurer on land with his companions. He lost over half his team when Garen Redfang betrayed them and has since journeyed with Jelaqua and Moore. He has sworn to kill Garen before doing anything else and while he has other commitments that weigh on him, vengeance comes first. Seborn does not forgive or forget. Aside from Garen, he’s pretty relaxed, though.

Selphids – A race of…parasites? Wait, are they parasites? Let’s see. They invade the bodies of the dead and use them as hosts. They can also do that to the living although that is considered taboo. They were once a world-spanning civilization that ruled other races by fear and terror until they were overthrown. Now the Selphids are a small species, distrusted and loathed in many places. That might make them parasites or it might not, but either way, Selphids can switch bodies at will and their lives are only threatened if their true selves—a squishy blob that is very vulnerable outside a body—are damaged.

Selphids are capable of performing superhuman feats (or superdrake feats, superdullahan feats, etc.) by pushing their bodies past their physical limits. Still, they try and take good care of their host forms most of the time. Freshly dead bodies ain’t cheap.

Selys Shivertail – A [Receptionist] in the Adventurer’s Guild in Liscor, Selys was the first Drake to get to know Erin. Social, friendly, and opinionated, Selys is a good friend who puts up with Erin’s antics and often interjects a bit of sanity and her world’s perspective to help out her Human friend. She enjoys free time, shopping, and generally anything that doesn’t include work. She has a love-hate relationship with her grandmother, Tekshia Shivertail, who is also the Guildmistress of the Adventurer’s Guild. Yes, it’s nepotism. So what? Drakes are okay with nepotism.

The Seven – A term used to refer to the King’s Seven, or the seven foremost vassals of Flos, the King of Destruction. The Seven were unmatched in their field and served their King until he fell into his slumber . Of the Seven, three are known to be dead. One of them, Drevish, was slain by the Emperor of Sands and the other two perished before Flos went into his slumber. The remaining four are Mars the Illusionist, Takhatres the Lord of the Skies, Gazi the Omniscient, and Amerys the Calm Flower of the Battlefield. Currently all but one has returned to Flos. Amerys has not left Wistram for reasons known only to her.

Shield Spiders – Armored spiders native to Izril. Shield Spiders’ carapaces are prized as an alternative form of armor by [Blacksmiths]. Good luck getting it off the spiders though; Shield Spiders live in nests underground and swarm over anything that walks over the pit traps they love to create. They’re dangerous in numbers, but you can stomp one to death if you’re angry enough. Ask Erin.

Shorthilt – A Redfang Warrior. Shorthilt is known for his love of sharp things. He can sharpen anything. Sticks, knives, swords…he takes good care of his weapons and is obsessed with finding better equipment. The other Goblins laugh at him for his attention to his blade, but do they laugh when he cuts straight through an opponent’s shield? Well, yes. If it’s funny.

Silverfang Tribe – A tribe of Gnolls known for being rich. Literally, it’s in their name. In truth, the Silverfangs are more of a mercantile tribe who prosper by trading goods. They are quite large and quite influential and have sent a number of their people to Liscor. Lead by Krshia Silverfang who is sister to the tribe’s current Chieftain, the Silverfangs have prospered in Liscor over the last decade. They do not have silver teeth, contrary to their name.

Silver Spears – A Silver-rank team that was led by Yvlon Byres before it was destroyed during the disastrous expedition into Liscor’s crypt. Slain at the hands of Skinner, the team was totally wiped out save for their Captain, Yvlon. The Silver Spears were a team dedicated to fighting evil and taking up causes, again until their destruction. And they weren’t a copy of a certain other team. No, not at all.

Silver Swords – The original, Gold-rank team dedicated to fighting evil monsters! Accept no substitutes. The Silver Swords are known for taking up missions of mercy and just causes even if there is no reward to be had. A righteous team, they are famous in northern Izril as a powerful group despite being comprised only of three members. The Silver Swords are courageous heroes to many. To the rest, they’re a bit, well, a bit pretentious. But don’t say that to their faces. They can be touchy.

Skeletons – What you find when you peel away the fleshy bits. Some of them get up and walk about if you don’t watch out. At least they’re fragile. Sort of.

Skinner – A monsterous guardian of Liscor’s crypts. Skinner was an ancient Flesh Worm armored in thousands of layers of skin torn from his prey. He commanded an undead horde and slew the Silver-rank teams that ventured into his lair before assaulting Liscor with the undead army. Skinner’s attack was only halted at great cost by the Antinium, the valient efforts of Liscor’s defenders, and a chance encounter with a certain [Innkeeper].

Unlike most Flesh Worms, Skinner benefitted from an incredible armor of dead skin, so much that he appeared to be a different creature entirely until the armor was destroyed. He also possessed two dangerous artifacts, twin gems capable of casting the [Terror] spell. With these abilities Skinner truly fit his role as a lesser guardian of Liscor’s dungeon.

Slimes – Weird blog-things. They roll about, eating stuff. Slimes come in all forms. Water slimes, mud slimes, poo slimes…yeah. Destroy the core inside of them and they die. But uh, maybe wash your hands afterwards. Also, there is no such thing as a Healing Potion slime. Absolutely not. That would be silly.

Snapjaw – One of the Goblin Lord’s lieutenants. Snapjaw is a formidable Goblin with metallic teeth and an oversized head. A [Biter] who kept gaining levels, her bite can now tear through steel. She’s ravenous, deadly, and likes chewing on rocks. She has no end of male and female Goblins in love with her.

Sserys – A famous Drake [General] who helped pushed back the Antinium during the First Antinium War. Sserys was slain in a final attack on the Hive of the Grand Queen of the Antinium. Not much is known about his final hours, but Sserys is remembered as one of the greatest Drake heroes to have ever lived. The [General] in command of Liscor’s army and their icon, Sserys coined the iconic Drake phrase: ‘Drakes do not run’. At the end, he stayed true to his word.

Stitchworks – Octavia’s shop in Celum. Once a small place often subjected to noise, smell, and occasionally sight complaints by the City Watch, it is now a prosperous business, having many unique items on sale including matches, stink potions, smoke bags, and pepper potions. It still smells weird inside, though.

Stone Spears Tribe – A tribe of Gnolls that lived adjacent to the High Passes in southern Izril. They were wiped out after the Goblin Lord assaulted their tribe, slaying all but a young Gnoll named Mrsha. Despite the best efforts of two Drake armies, the Goblin Lord slew the Stone Spears tribe to their last as both warriors and noncombatants alike died that one might live. That is what Ryoka and Mrsha believe. However, there may be other survivors…

String People – A people make of cloth and string, native to Chandrar. String People are very unique in that their body parts are detailed pieces of cloth. Once attached, these body parts become real flesh and blood. Stitch People can feel like us, smell like us, bleed like us…but if they think it’s a bother, they can remove their body parts until later use. That makes them formidable foes, although their species is deathly afraid of fire, which can mean a swift end. Stitch People’s bodies vary depending on the quality and craftsmanship of the cloth from which their parts are made. Poor-quality cloth means rough skin or deadened reflexes. On the other side of things, exceptional goods like silk can produce otherworldly results.

 

T

Tailless Thief – The most expensive in in Liscor. Probably one of the best too, but it only caters to Drakes. The owner’s a bit of a jerk. But the food is…well, it’s good if you like Drake cooking. And the liquor’s good, but good luck getting anything not made by a Drake. Again, they sort of have a theme going on.

Takhatres – The Lord of the Skies and one of the King of Destruction’s Seven. Takhatres is the fastest being on all of Chandrar. He is a Garuda, one of the flying people of the sands and his tribe is one of the largest. As a warrior, Takhatres is deadly to inexperienced or low-level foes. He wears practically no armor and his only weapons are enchanted daggers, but combined with his extreme speed he can slaughter a group of soldiers in minutes. He is loyal to his King, dedicated, and sort of single-minded. Like a bird.

Tallis – Known as Tallis the Stormbreaker, this Goblin Lord was a [Shaman] who followed Velan the Kind to Izril. Slain in the Second Antinium Wars, he was considered equal to or superior to an Archmage of Wistram. His magic was such that he could literally split the skies and drag an army into the air.

Tamaroth – Has a beard.

Tekshia Shivertail – The Guildmistress of the Adventurer’s Guild of Liscor. In her youth, Tekshia was a famed Gold-rank adventurer known for her prowess with the spear. She has long since retired and was responsible for raising her granddaughter after both of Selys’ parents died during the attack on Liscor by the Necromancer. No-nonsense, Tekshia does not suffer fools. Or most other people.

Tenbault – A certain city in Izril. It is noted because it is home to a famous [Healer] who is so high-level that thousands of people flock to the city and camp there for months or even years hoping she will tend to their needs.

Terandria – The continent of Humans. And half-Elves. And yeah, Dwarves too. But mainly Humans! Terandria is a continent of kingdoms and boasts the oldest lineages, the most ancient of kingdoms…and the most politics too. It is considered to be the most peaceful of the five continents although wars, monsters, and other disasters can strike it just as any other place. But due to the overwhelming majority of Humans, the only wars that take place are between nations rather than species. Again, there are half-Elves and Dwarves, but they keep to their own small settlements. The Humans occupy Terandria now. And they will not relinquish it.

Teresa Atwood – Everyone calls her Teres. She is the twin sister of Trey and hails from England. More forthright and bolder than her brother, Teres is used to taking charge. Since coming to this new world she has followed the King of Destruction, slowly growing to admire parts of his reign. Teres is talented with a sword and has been taking lessons from Orthenon whom she admires. At the same time, a rift has opened up between her and Trey, one which troubles Teres differently. She sometimes feels as though she is a leaf caught up by Flos’ passing. It is an exhilarating, terrifying feeling. And despite it all, she wants to see where she will go next.

Teriarch A Dragon.

Termin – A [Wagon Driver]. He drives wagons. He knows Erin and the Horns of Hammarad. You will never see him again. Ever. I’m sure of that.

Tersk – The Prognugator of the Armored Antinium. Tersk was a simple Prognugator, believing in the supremacy of his position, his Hive, and his Queen. Then he journeyed to visit the Free Antinium and his thinking…changed. He returned to his Hive thoughtful, wondering what might be. He wishes to see Pawn, to see the Free Antinium again. But they are far from each other. And Tersk has his own duties. Someday though, he knows they will meet again.

Tessia – Gamel’s girlfriend. When the avalanche struck her village she was buried in the snow until Laken pulled her out. She will never forget that moment and works hard in Laken’s new empire.

The Krythien Sect – A small band of [Necromancers] and [Bandits] that Pisces had a brief relationship with in the past. Small-time thugs and mages controlling the undead. They probably won’t ever be mentioned again, so you should forget all about them.

Theofore – A luckless [Assassin] in Magnolia Reinhart’s employ. First forced to spy on Ryoka Griffin, Theofore was then caught in a war between Magnolia Reinhart and the Assassin’s Guild. Nearly killed by his own, he is now living in Magnolia Reinhart’s mansion and sent on increasingly difficult tasks. So far he’s survived, but it has to be said, he is starting to resent that fact.

The Putrid One – A mysterious Necromancer mentioned in old histories. He was the Necromancer before the Necromancer, if that makes sense. Look, the point is he was bad news. No guesses why. His name was well-deserved. Ew.

The Wandering Inn – An inn set just outside of Liscor. It sits on a hill, and it is run by an [Innkeeper] who hails from another world. Go up to the door. Knock on it. Wait and soon you may be greeted by a smiling face. Or by a fireball. An Antinium? A grinning skeleton. The inn might be under siege, or there may be a party going on. So visit it if you dare. Knock. And then think about ducking.

Thomas – Tom to his friends. Poor Tom has a voice in his head. He’s not sure if it wants him dead. It laughs and laughs and makes him dread. Poor little [Clown] with hands all red. You shouldn’t have stayed. You should have fled.

Thomast Veniral – Husband to Lady Bethal. [Chevalier]. Expert duelist. Okay dancer. Thomast is a silent man. His wife’s fiery temper and energy is a contrast to his stoic nature. People may wonder why he married her. But it would take a man like Thomast to compliment Bethal. One only wonders what he gets out of the relationship. Probably…an interesting life.

Thriss – A [Sergeant] enlisted in the 4th Battalion of the Raverian Fighter’s Company. Thriss first hired Geneva Scala while on recruitment for his company. A good fighter, he served his company faithfully until he attacked Geneva, believing she had conspired with the enemy to attack his camp. He paralyzed Geneva before being slain by Okasha. One wonders if anyone now remembers his name.

Thrissiam Blackwing – A [General] of Pallas sent to suppress the Goblin Lord, Thrissiam Blackwing was considered a strong defensive commander and was paired with Garusa Weatherfur in subjugating the Goblin Lord. Both [Generals] cornered the Goblin Lord after days of bloody fighting (finding battlefield romance in each other) before the Necromancer intervened. Thrissiam fell after slaying the undead Draug that Garusa had become and sent his niece for help. When he finally perished, he did not leave enough of himself behind to be reanimated.

Timbor Parithad – This [Innkeeper] dude in Celum. Has a red beard. Runs a decent inn. Erin doesn’t like him.

Timor du Havrington – A prime example of inbreeding between the nobility in Terandria. Timor is not an inspiring [Lord], but he does have the class. He is a [Mage] in Wistram and a personal enemy of Ceria and Pisces’, owing to his dislike of half-Elves. Arrogant, rich, and prone to holding grudges, it was Timor who purchased Pisces’ rapier after it was sold to allow Pisces to stay another year in Wistram. He now wears it proudly, though he has no right to either the silver bell or the blade.

Tkrn – A low-level [Guardsman] in Liscor. He is a member of the Silverfang tribe and as such, Krshia often gives him orders to pursue while he goes about his job. It’s not that he minds that much, but he sometimes wishes he didn’t have her constantly telling him what to do. Zevara gives him enough work as it is.

Toren – Once he was a skeleton. Then he became Toren. Something…happened in Toren’s creation that was unlike any other undead. He gained sentience. Created by Pisces as both an experiment and as a guard and servant for Erin’s inn, Toren quickly became more than a mindless undead. He gained feeling. He gained personality. And when he finally had enough of obeying orders he rebelled, abandoning Erin and becoming a murderous threat to anything living.

And yet, Toren thinks. He grows. From being a skeleton barely about to take one of Erin’s punches he is now a [Skeleton Knight] prowling in the dungeon of Liscor. Unknown to all, he has adopted a guise as a masked adventurer. He has…thoughts in his head. Some days he regrets leaving Erin. Some days he wishes she were still alive. Some days she wishes Erin were alive. Toren doesn’t know what he is. What she is. He only knows he is becoming something else. Something unique.

Traders of Roshal – Slavers. The Traders of Roshal are based in Chandrar. They have their own city. Roshal. This much was probably obvious. They are quite similar to Wistram in terms of power and influence, although they are considered far more distasteful to associate with than the mages due to what they trade in. Nevertheless, Roshal is a neutral party which brokers and oversees almost all slaves the world over. Few people cross them. The Traders have their own ways of settling things and they have dark secrets.

Tremborag – The Great Chieftain of the Mountain City tribe. Tremborag is a huge, fat, fat Goblin Chieftain who commands a huge tribe unlike any other. He promotes infighting among his lieutenants, and has adopted the worst of Human customs for his own. Formidable despite his size, Tremborag is able to transform his fat into muscle and destroy even Gold-rank adventurers by himself. Whether or not he is truly a Great Chieftain, he is powerful. He refused to march with the last Goblin King, Velan the Kind. And he refuses to bow to the new Goblin Lord. Or anyone else.

Trey Atwood – A young man from England and Teresa’s twin brother, Trey is less forward than his sister. Inclined to less sporty outlooks, Trey often lets his sister take charge and she sometimes does it even when he doesn’t want her to. He is a personal aide, or servant, or captive of Flos’ and was responsible for waking the King of Destruction with tales of Earth and lands unknown to Flos. Trey has a complicated relationship with Flos, having seen both the King’s strongest sides, his weaknesses, and his faults.

Since Trey learned of Flos’ acceptance of slavery his relationship with both Flos and his sister has been strained. Oddly, this has also led to a burgeoning friendship with Gazi who has taken it upon herself to teach Trey both magic and combat. Trey wishes she wouldn’t. Gazi is a painful teacher to have.

Tripartite Law – A three-mage mercenary company in Baleros. Tripartite Law is known for its rapid, aerial assaults as all three of its mages are capable of flight spells. Deadly, feared and hated for their area-wide attacks, Tripartite Law briefly encountered Geneva Scala and the people from Earth in a series of bloody battles. The [Mages] escaped unscathed. Those they encountered did not.

Typhenous – A [Mage] and Gold-rank adventurer, Typhenous joined the team of Griffon Hunt several years ago and has journeyed with them ever since. One of the oldest adventurers around, Typhenous’ grasp of magic is wide, if sometimes shallow. He has never attended Wistram and as such, lacks the raw firepower of some [Mages], but he uses his spells and his cunning to aid his group and himself where he can. He’s a sneaky old man, in short.

Tyrion Veltras A Human [Lord] of Izril. Tyrion Veltras is a powerful warrior, a commanding leader, and a jerk. He is scion to one of the Five Families of Izril, and as such, is considered exceptionally influential, perhaps second only to Magnolia Reinhart. He detests intrigue, plotting, and underhanded tricks of any kind and as such is one of Magnolia’s fiercest enemies. This rivalry stems back from when he and Magnolia were children. They have a history.

 

U

Ulia Ovena – An [Innkeeper] in Celum, Ulina is one of the highest-level [Innkeepers] in the city. She is extremely charming due to the Skills she uses to make her visitors feel welcome, and she works with other innkeepers in the city to earn a profit rather than compete. She is at odds with Erin Solstice over her hiring of two [Barmaids] from Celum, but too scared of Erin to confront her face-to-face a second time.

Ullim – The majordomo of the Veltras estate, Ullim’s family have served the Veltras’ for generations. Ullim’s burden is considerable under the current family scion, Tyrion Veltras as he is forced to manage both household and Tyrion’s two young sons in the [Lord]’s absence. While Tyrion is on campaign his household waits. Ullim would judge Tyrion more harshly, but the lord Veltras lost his wife less than a year ago and knows only war. His two sons grow up in his absence and Ullim strives to provide them with everything but what he can’t give them: their missing father’s presence.

Ulrien Sparson – The former leader of Griffon Hunt, Ulrien was a powerful Gold-rank [Warrior] who used a greatsword. He was a close friend of Halrac’s and the two of them were the original members of Griffon Hunt when the team hunted Griffins. A former [Soldier] and a silent and good soul, he was one of the adventurers who confronted Regrika Blackpaw at The Wandering Inn over the murder of Brunkr. He was slain by Regrika and his death has shattered his team.

Ulvama – A Hobgoblin [Shaman] of Tremborag’s Mountain City Tribe, Ulvama rose to her post by using her body and her abilities to gain influence in her tribe. She is a powerful spellcaster due to the size of Tremborag’s tribe and advises Tremborag on occasion. However, as Tremborag himself thinks of females as lesser to males in many respects, Ulvama lacks the influence of the other male Hob leaders and constantly plots to gain more authority among the tribe.

Ulva Terland – A scion of the Terland family, Ulva Terland and Petra Terland were the favored scions of their house. However, Petra Turland’s death during the second Antinium Wars shattered her twin sister and Ulva has let the Terland family fall into disrepair. For all of that, she is still a member of the Five Families and her influence is great.

Umbral – One of the survivors of Esthelm, Umbral has taken on a leadership role within the shattered city. Having first encountered Erin on her way to Liscor and then when she returned on a mission of mercy, Umbral is deeply grateful to both the Drakes and the Antinium for their support. The Humans who are his people on the other hand Umbral treats with more reserve, remembering how they failed to come to Esthelm’s aid until an [Innkeeper] and a Drake [General] plucked at their consciences.

Umina – A Lizardfolk [Strategist] and one of Niers’ advanced students, Umina is a creative spellcaster and tactician who often earns her teacher’s praise for her unique strategies. Despite this, she is insecure about her abilities and often defers to her classmates’ opinions. She admires Marian’s confidence and dreams of changing her form—perhaps into a Naga so she would be able to rapidly race across the ground like her Centaur friend.

Undead – A catchall phrase for the monsters that arise when bodies are left unburied en masse or in the presence of magic. Undead come in many forms and are considered a plague on the living by most nations in the world. Bodies are often buried in coffins or cremated for this reason; those disposed of without precautions can rise once more, and no one enjoys seeing their undead aunt lurching down the road late at night.

Unicorns – They exist. And they’re sort of jerks.

Urksh – The Gnoll [Chieftain] of the Stone Spears, Urksh saved Ryoka Griffin’s life after she was nearly frozen to death by the Frost Faeries. He was a capable leader who looked after the mute Mrsha until his death—he and his tribe stuck a bargain for her life in the face of death. The Stone Spears died, but a child was saved on that snowy night. One was better than none, or so Urksh hoped as he passed away.

 

V

Valceif Godfrey – A deceased Courier, Valceif Godfrey first met Ryoka when delivering a package to Erin on the way to Liscor. He was considered a very able Courier and could run at speeds no normal Runner could match. He was slain by a group of [Bandits] after being struck with a [Sleep] spell, due to having lent his protective charm to Ryoka. His death weighs on Ryoka’s conscience and she has informed his family that she is to blame for his death.

Vampires – Bloodsucking mosquitos, Vampires were once a threat that plagued Izril and the world until they were hunted to extinction. They now sparkle…in hell.

Velan – Known as Velan the Kind, most recent of the Goblin Kings and a pivotal figure in the Second Antinium Wars. Velan was known as a peaceful Goblin Lord who resided on Baleros and managed to even form a number of peace treaties with other races. His tribe traded with other nations and grew without incident until Velan became the Goblin King. For reasons unknown he broke all of his peace treaties, massacred his way across the seas and to Izril where he waged war on every side until he was slain at last by a coalition army formed by countless nations from across the world. He should have dodged.

Venaz – A Minotaur [Strategist] and one of Niers’ advanced students, Venaz is competitive and abrasive, often attempting to outdo his fellow students. He is considered a prodigy among his kind and outdid every one of his rivals in the Isles of Minos to be selected to come to Baleros to learn from the Titan himself. Despite this, Venaz often fails to understand some of Niers’ lessons, particularly the ones about subtlety. He conflates strategy with war—and little else. Thus he is always annoyed and upset to find another student has outdone him with lateral thinking, a concept with which he struggles.

Venith Crusand – A [Lord] and vassal of the King of Destruction, Venith accepted the truce of other nations after Flos entered his slumber and managed his lands for years after his [King] abandoned his dreams of conquest. Initially furious at Flos, Venith has rejoined his ruler and is now a steadfast vassal once more. A warrior who favors a sword and shield, Venith is an extremely capable defensive fighter though he is far from the level of the King’s Seven.

Venitra – One of Az’kerash’s Chosen, Venitra is a towering woman made entirely of bone. Created in the image of a female knight, her body is practically invulnerable to conventional attacks and she possesses a number of magical abilities innate to her creation. However, Venitra is also the youngest of the Chosen and is impulsive and thoughtless, lacking the control of the elder of the Chosen. She was once Az’kerash’s most favored creation until her failure at Liscor. Now she strives for her master’s favor once more, fearing that he will discard her as a useless creation.

Viceria Strongheart – A [Farmer] and [Green Mage], Viceria married Wailant Strongheart after being rescued by him decades ago. She happily abandoned her life as a mage of Wistram and settled down to a peaceful farming life. She is able to magically enhance the crops on her farm to grow faster and produce more plentiful harvests. Viceria does keep in touch with Wistram from time to time, and has a small amount of influence she occasionally uses. Once a mage of Wistram, always a mage of Wistram.

Village of the Dead – A unique landmark in the northern section of Izril, the Village of the Dead is a destroyed village where the souls of the undead constantly spawn and respawn, unable to be killed or commanded, even by [Necromancers]. It is thought that this is the result of some terrible spell or artifact, but no one has ever managed to uncover the secrets of the village. The undead rise moments after falling and while the threat is beyond that of even Gold-rank teams, it is contained as the spell has a small radius around the village. Thus, the Village of the Dead remains. Waiting.

Vincent – One of the summoned heroes of Baleros, Vincent is a [Thief] and a Human from Earth. A reluctant warrior who cannot throw himself into combat without reservation, Vincent obtained his class by accident when he was wandering around the Blighted King’s palace and picking up items that didn’t belong to him. Now he employs his skills to help his friends from his world sneak up on monsters and ‘acquire’ items they might need.

Vuliel Drae – A Silver-rank team currently based in Liscor. Vuliel Drae is attempting to explore Liscor’s dungeon. They have had extraordinary success once already, having recovered a Gold-rank weapon after venturing into the dungeon. This success was due in large part to a ‘mysterious swordswoman’ who guided them through the dungeon and saved them from a number of deadly traps. Vuliel Drae is not a particularly powerful Silver-rank team and their best attribute is their blind luck, of which they have a lot.

 

W

Wailant Strongheart – A Human [Farmer] and Garia Strongheart’s father. He was once a successful [Pirate] and retains his fighting ability and powerful build, but he lives happily on a farm with his wife, having given up the dangers of the sea for farming. He is strong enough to defend his farm by himself and often worries about his daughter, who he considers strong but untrained. He has a soft spot for the rabbits that eat his crops and sometimes feeds them on the sly. Until his wife finds out. He has mixed feelings about rabbit stew for this reason, which is a common dish in the Strongheart household.

Wais Rabbits – A magical breed of rabbit known for its ability to cast spells and teleport. Wais Rabbits are generally peaceful, but they remain one of the more dangerous rabbits to hunt, given their ability to fight back. Foxes, wolves, hawks, and other animals have learned to avoid attacking this breed of rabbit.

Wales – A Human city in Izril, it has no relationship to the country of Wales from Erin’s world. It is located two hours away from Celum and is relatively boring, except for one amusing event involving a runaway herd of pigs that will not be recounted here.

Walled Cities – Six Walled Cities exist on the southern half of Liscor, remnants of an age when Drakes and Dragons coexisted. These massive cities boast walls of at least three hundred feet in height and are nearly impervious to siege. They are the most prosperous and influential of the Drake Cities, and each is known for a different quality which defines it, whether economically, militarily, or culturally.

Welca Vis – A Human [Knight] and a member of the Knights of the Petal, Lady Bethal’s personal elite fighting force. She is one of the youngest members of her order and hails from a noble family. However, her inexperience combined with her tendency to lose her cool in combat marks her as the youngest and possibly weakest of the Rose Knights, much to her displeasure.

Welsca Crimsonscale – Drake. One of Ilvriss’ aides, she was most notably thrown across a bathhouse by Ryoka, face-first into a pool of hot water. She has never gone back to the bathhouse due to the embarrassment.

Wernel Reinhart – One of the Reinhart family, he has an incestuous relationship with his half-sister, Damia Reinhart. Ew.

Wesle – A Human [Actor] and former [Guardsman], he found the stage calling him when Erin introduced it in Celum. Now he stars in theatrical productions alongside his co-star, Jasi. He has a fuzzy lip that does not merit the dignity of being called a mustache.

White Leeches – Even worse than black leeches.

Wights – An advanced form of undead, their touch is paralysis. These undead lack the raw physical ability of Ghouls and are more easily dispatched. Unfortunately, Wights make up for that issue with increased intelligence and often hide before ambushing their prey. They are considered a goldmine by [Alchemists] specializing in poisons.

Wil – A Human [Strategist] and one of Niers Astoragon’s students. He has a pen pal in Zeres, and he often corresponds with his friend, passing on lessons from Niers or trading rumors and gossip. Both he and his pen pal trade information in the hopes of furthering their respective ambitions, playing games of politics as well as strategy.

Wiskeria – A Human [Witch] and a low-level [General] recently appointed by Laken to lead his armies. She is an intelligent young woman who wears spectacles and was once a member of the Celestial Trackers until her group’s leader, Odveig, revealed herself as a spy of Lady Magnolia Reinhart. Now she is a citizen of the Unseen Empire and looks forward to a personal home that Laken has promised her, complete with her own garden of fungi and other alchemical ingredients.

Wistram Academy – The home of [Mages], Wistram sits on an isle in the middle of the ocean, protected by magics that create a bubble of calm around the citadel. The academy is vast, owing to the dimensional magics enchanting the structure and Wistram is known to produce spellcasters of unrivalled ability. However, the upper floors of Wistram are sealed due to the last will of Archmage Zelkyr and while the isle is maintained by the Golems who serve the [Mages], they also keep the mages of Wistram from reaching the higher levels of the academy unless they pass a trial by combat. No mage has ever managed to do so, or at least, done so and returned.

Wraiths – Like ghosts, but usually deformed and bestial. These spirits have forgotten much of whom they were in life and are summoned by [Necromancers] or magical phenomena to haunt the living. Nearly impossible to kill without magic, they attack from blind spots with chilling weapons or claws.

Wrymvr – Known as Wrymvr the Deathless, he is one of the Centenium. Not much is known about him, but his body is extremely tough and he is far larger than most Antinium. He can also fly, spit acid, and sing. He rarely sings.

Wurms – Not to be confused with worms. These ones are a lot bigger, a lot tougher, and bite. They live in squirming cells a few feet underground. Think about that the next time you lie on the grass.

Wuvren – A Human [Lady] of Izril, one of Magnolia’s personal friends and a member of her circle of noble allies. She dislikes her name, which her parents decided on when they were told by a [Soothsayer] that she would be a boy. She dislikes all kinds of fortune tellers as a result.

Wyverns – A nasty, predatory monster that hunts in Southern Izril. These distant relatives of Dragons are far less intelligent and smaller than their kin, but still pose a dangerous threat. They dive out of clouds and land on their prey and can carry off entire cows or people to devour in their nests.

 

X

Xalandrass – A Naga [Merchant] who specializes in selling arms and artifacts to companies on the battlefield in Baleros. He takes no sides in general, seeking the highest-profit margin by aiding anyone with enough coin, but has been shaken by recent events. After losing much of his merchandise he has decided to take up conventional trading across the continent, which, it has to be said, isn’t much safer than sitting on a warzone. Especially during trade wars, which are actual wars.

Xrn – The Small Queen of the Antinium. One of the original Centenium, she is perhaps the only Antinium magic-user in existence. Her body is azure and her eyes change color with her emotions, a byproduct of her creation and magical ability. She is able to create spells at will based on magics she already knows, and is extremely powerful. She has recently discovered the joys of gluten and eats too much bread with cheese.

 

Y

Yellow Shamblers – Often incorrectly assumed to be zombies. These are in fact a type of parasitic plant that has possessed a corpse or still-living body by invading its nervous system. They aren’t that dangerous unless the spores infect you, as the plants have a poor grasp of most of their host’s bodies and stumble or crawl towards their prey, giving them their name.

Yellow Splatters – The first Antinium [Sergeant] of the Free Antinium. He is a strong fighter but an inexperienced leader and often despairs at the deaths of his fellow Soldiers. He has a fondness for small spiders after being read a certain book by a certain [Innkeeper]. Large spiders he crushes with his foot.

Yerranola – A Selphid and one of Niers’ students, she tries to find the freshest bodies of Lizardfolk she can to inhabit, believing their corpses boost her mental capacities. This is in spite of her habit of eating the brains of each corpse she inhabits.

Ylawes Byres – The elder brother of Yvlon Byres, a male [Knight] and the leader of the Silver Swords. He is a powerful Gold-rank warrior and widely respected in the north as a hero of the people. Often pointed out as an almost stereotypical example of a knight in shining armor, he champions the innocent. Sometimes whether they like it or not.

Yvlon Byres – The former leader of the Silver Swords, this Human [Wounded Warrior] lost her entire party in the disastrous expedition into Liscor’s crypt-dungeon. She joined the Horns of Hammerad and was later wounded when fighting against a fire elemental. Part of her armor was fused with her arms, making her bones brittle. Nevertheless, she continues to adventure with her companions, having found a team with them. She is something of an older sister to Ksmvr, a unique experience for Yvlon, who is the second-youngest in her family, and to Ksmvr, who has never had family.

 

Z

Zalthia Werskiv – Human. Known as the Firebringer, she is a member of the Tripartite Law company, a three-person mercenary company in Baleros. She is exceptionally good at flying, casting fire spells, and not talking.

Zanthia – A Human [Lady] of Izril, one of Magnolia’s personal friends and a member of her circle of noble allies. She’s tough, old, and once spanked a young Lord Tyrion Veltras for being a noisy upstart. Neither one has forgetten the incident.

Zara Walker – An otherworlder Human, her alias is strider_479. She is a [Ranger] and hails from Australia. While she dislikes living in the wild, she survived a nasty encounter with several varieties of poisonous insects on her first adventure, mainly because she didn’t sit on their nest like the rest of her party.

Zel Shivertail – The famous hero of the First and Second Antinium Wars, known as the Tidebreaker. The highest-level Drake [General] in the world. He enjoys pancakes and relaxing when he’s not fighting. Recently slain by Az’kerash, his death was attributed to the Goblin Lord, Reiss.

Zelkyr – A Drake Archmage of Wistram who lived around 200 years ago. He is considered deceased, although his Golem creations still protect the academy in his death. He was a famous mage in life, and even damaged one of the Walled Cities of his homeland. It is a little known fact that this was not due to a dispute with the city itself, but rather the byproduct of a drunken bet.

Zevara – The Watch Captain of Izril. She is in charge of security and often finds herself vexed by Erin Solstice’s accidental troublemaking. She has a crush on Olesm and can breathe fire, although the effort taxes her greatly. She enjoys staring at cats, although she is highly allergic to them.

Zombies – Slow, strong, and generally rotting, they’re considered a Bronze-rank threat and a naturally-occurring nuisance. They rise from untended graveyards and in places of death. They’re not that dangerous unless they run. Or explode. Or carry the plague. Or there are thousands of them. Also, they smell bad.

 


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5.29

It was passing strange. A curious phenomenon. An odd thing. Headscratcher couldn’t describe it. He had been a warrior for six years, a Goblin’s lifetime. He had fought monsters far more terrible with his tribe, survived adventurer attacks and climbed the treacherous High Passes all his life. He had faced down great challenges with his tribe, following the back of his hero.

Garen Redfang, a Goblin hero. And all his life Headscratcher thought he had known what strength was. He had leveled. He had become an elite among the strongest tribe of Goblins. Or so he had believed. But only now, over a hundred miles from his home, cut off from all but four of his fellow warriors, having lost his brothers in arms did he feel as though he was changing.

Growing stronger. Headscratcher looked down at his hands. Large hands with jagged fingernails. Clean fingernails, though. Erin insisted he wash his hands before every meal. Absently he chewed at them. Yes, it was strange.

This inn was a soft place. Full of too much food, too much niceness and…and safety. It was not a place Headscratcher would train a warrior in. And yet, and yet—he felt stronger. Stronger than he had ever been in his life. For the first time in the seven years he had been alive, Headscratcher’s belly no longer rumbled when he slept. He, a Hob, was full and didn’t have to worry about what tonight’s meal would be or how much of it there would be.

And he had leveled. So had Badarrow, Numbtongue, Shorthilt, and Rabbiteater. They had leveled defending the inn, surviving all these cold months away from their tribe. They had become Hobs. And now, in this soft inn, Headscratcher felt something in him hovering on the brink of change.

It felt like a gap in his chest. A wide, vast, mysterious feeling waiting to be set free. And his head! Sometimes it felt like Erin had cut the top off and exposed a new world to Headscratcher. A wonderful, strange, frightening, cruel, joyous world. Headscratcher stared at his hands and wondered what he would become. He was not afraid. He wanted to be more. To be like his hero. He wanted to protect his tribe, this inn—

And his friends. Headscratcher looked up. Badarrow was lounging against a window, fiddling with his shortbow. It was small in his claws. Too small for the Hob he’d become. Next to him a box of bright yellow flowers bloomed. The [Archer] Goblin pretended to be staring out into the rain, but Headscratcher was sure that Badarrow was smelling and looking at the flowers.

The rasp of a stone moving down a blade’s edge made Headscratcher turn his attention to the Hob sitting across from him. Shorthilt was sharpening his blade, carefully maintaining the edge. He was engrossed in his work. It seemed as though he could sit there and maintain his weapon forever. It wasn’t in preparation for battle. It was just something the Goblin enjoyed doing in quiet.

Peaceful. That was a word Headscratcher had not known before coming here. He looked to his left, at Rabbiteater. The Hob wasn’t doing anything. He was sleeping at his table. Just sleeping. But he looked so content with that. Sleep was a luxury to Goblins. Rabbiteater’s ears twitched slightly as he dreamed without fear.

Tok. Tok.

Headscratcher heard a slight sound and looked up. He didn’t see Numbtongue, but the sound he heard, the sound of a claw striking the chords of a guitar, was impossible to miss. He stared towards the door leading to Erin’s basement and knew what the other Hob was doing.

He’d stolen the guitar Erin had bought. Again. No one had noticed but Headscratcher’s stomach still knotted up with worry thinking about it. But the sound that came from the basement weren’t just the random sounds of someone that didn’t know what they were doing. The rhythm of Numbtongue’s claw striking the chords was replaced by a note.

The Hob played a note, a single soft sound that only the Goblin’s sharp ears could hear. It wasn’t anything like the music they’d heard once, the beautiful sounds. But each night, whenever he could, Numbtongue would hide in the basement and play notes, laboriously learning each hold on the guitar to make different sounds. Recreating from memory what he’d heard.

Not a [Warrior]’s task. Not something that was useful. But something that was good. Headscratcher closed his eyes as he heard another soft sound. And his heart—he knew it would be soon. He would level. And what would he become then? When he dreamed of battle, he only felt rage. All-consuming. He would throw himself into battle before another of his comrades died. In battle he was fire. But here—

It was peaceful. Just for a moment. Then Headscratcher’s ears twitched again and he listened to the two Humans talking. They sat at table. How curious they were too. He had been sent to kill Erin Solstice, but now he guarded her inn. He had thought of leaving a hundred times. And he would. But for now he rested under her roof. Until they returned back to the dungeon. Until they risked their lives for more treasure. Headscratcher thought of the strange white cloth, the bell, the necklace, and his claws twitched reflexively. Soon. But just for a moment longer he listened to Numbtongue play. He could die later. For now, he wanted to live.

 

—-

 

“There it goes again! See?”

At their table, Lyonette and Erin watched Mrsha’s ears twitch. The Gnoll was closing her eyes as she let both young women comb her fur with brushes. But every now and then her little ears would twitch as she heard something. The other two couldn’t hear a thing, but watching Mrsha react was as amusing as anything else. And it was a distraction.

Erin was worried. She tried not to be restless. Everyone else was lounging around. The Goblins looked content, she was distracting Mrsha by brushing her, and Lyonette was doing the same. Apista waggled her antennae as she ate her honey in a bowl. Everything was quiet as the rain poured down outside.

But Erin couldn’t hold still. She felt worried. The adventurers were in the dungeon. Six teams in all. She hadn’t heard anything from them. It had been an hour—no problem! They could be down there for hours. But she felt worried. Why couldn’t she keep tabs on their progress? Why, yes, why did she have to sit here and worry?

“I should get an artifact.”

“Excuse me?”

Lyonette looked up. Erin gestured distractedly.

“An artifact. You know, like a book that can receive [Message] spells? Or a monitor. A big board on the wall where I can see any [Messages] people send me. Or what about a scrying orb? Would those work in the dungeon? Something so I know what’s happening at all times.”

Mrsha stirred a bit. Lyonette stroked her head.

“Erin, something like that would cost a fortune.”

“So I’ll have to earn a fortune. I could do it! We’ve got a good amount of gold saved up from the plays!”

“Which we had to spend to buy new chairs and tables. And dishes. And cutlery. Never mind that Wall Lord Ilvriss paid a fine. You have employees now, food expenses…and you paid for all those glass windows. We’re not earning that much money. And if the Drakes boycott us—”

“Yeah. I know.”

Erin sighed, feeling her stomach clench unpleasantly. She frowned.

“I don’t get why they’re doing it. Of all the things to get mad about! I’ve done way worse things! I think.”

“But the play had a Drake marrying a Human.”

“So? I have Hobgoblins living under my roof.”

“I’m sure they’re not happy about that. But the play—look Erin, Drakes and Humans sometimes get along, but marrying each other? There’s a reason why most Human cities don’t have any Drakes in them and vice versa. Even Liscor, a border city, has a lot of Drakes who hate Humans.”

“But they have Drakes who like Humans.”

“Yes, Erin. But think of it like this. Liscor is next to Human lands. They’re liberal compared to most Drake settlements.”

“…Ah.”

“And marriage really gets people upset. Back at home there was a couple I heard about. A young [Lady] who married a half-Elf. A mob nearly tore both of them apart before they fled. The parents of the [Lady] disowned her and hired assassins to kill her.”

Erin looked appalled.

“Their own daughter?”

Lyonette nodded.

“Better to kill their daughter than let them marry the enemy. This could be a real problem.”

“I’m not going to ask the Players to change Jasi out for someone else! That’s not right!”

“Well…”

Erin heard the meaningful tone in Lyonette’s voice. It said that Erin was making a mistake. The [Innkeeper] crossed her arms and had another thought.

“I just hope those Drakes don’t come back for more trouble tonight! If they do I’m gonna get Headscratcher and the other Hobgoblins big clubs to keep order!”

The Goblins looked up. Lyonette winced.

“Can’t you stop them from fighting without needing force?”

“You mean with threats? That’s what the clubs are for.”

“No, I mean, with your Skill! You have [Inn’s Aura], don’t you? Why didn’t you calm everyone down with that?”

“I tried!”

Erin protested indignantly. She paused and frowned.

“I tried. I mean, I think I tried. I’m pretty sure it didn’t work because of Ilvriss. And because everyone was so mad.”

“Oh. I guess your aura couldn’t handle the crowd. Or Wall Lord Ilvriss cancelled it with his own.”

“Wait a moment. He can do that?

Erin sat up. Lyonette nodded. She scratched behind Mrsha’s ears as the Gnoll listened drowsily to the adults talking.

“[Lords] can do that. They have aura Skills, just like anyone else. It’s more impressive you can do anything against him.”

“I remember him trying to pressure me once. Crap. I mean—”

The young woman bit her tongue as Lyonette pointed at Mrsha. She adjusted her vocabulary.

“You know about auras, Lyonette?”

“Maybe. I do have…expertise in the matter.”

“Uh huh.”

The two shared a meaningful look. Erin knew that Lyonette knew that she knew that Lyonette knew that Erin knew…something. About her being a [Princess]. She put her hands on the table, grateful for something to occupy her nervous thoughts.

“Okay, lay it on me. Anything I should know about my Skill? I can’t believe none of these things come with an instruction manual.”

“It would be nice. Sometimes a Skill or class has a secret to it that only a few people know. Auras are rare among most classes, so you don’t hear of them much. Noble classes, leaders, sometimes [Mages]…it’s rare even for them. I can’t remember hearing of an [Innkeeper] with an aura, but it is confined to your inn so it makes sense. Although that’s odd too.”

“What is?”

People have auras, Erin. Inns, objects, generally don’t. Actually, everyone probably has an aura of some kind. But a Skill lets you manipulate it. Still, anyone can learn to resist most aura effects.”

“Right, right. I think I get it from watching Ilvriss. Or Zel, maybe.”

Lyonette looked sadly down at Mrsha who’d stopped smiling.

“Yes. Zel did have an aura, I think. He might not have been trained, but it would have made him look more…impressive. You can imagine it. A shining [General] leading an army.”

“What about a [King]?”

“They could have auras they make other people kneel to them. See them as shining figures. Or make them afraid. I hear that some royalty have auras so powerful that people kneel before them as they pass.”

“Wow. Could I do any of that?”

Lyonette laughed. Erin looked hurt.

“Hey! I have a Skill!”

“Yes, but you don’t know how to use it, Erin. An aura expert can make their aura visible or even use it as a shield for their body. You can terrify people with it when you’re mad. But you don’t practice.”

“Well, I can practice now. Let me try!”

“If you want. But auras aren’t something you can master overnight.”

“I bet I could stop a fight if Ilvriss wasn’t here.”

The [Princess] shook her head.

“Erin, auras work on the unprepared. I don’t have a Skill, but I doubt you could get yours to work on me. Not if I tried to resist it. Maybe you’d have been able to a few days ago. Now? No.”

There was a newfound confidence in her eyes as she looked up. She wasn’t insulting Erin—rather, she was explaining. Erin smiled.

“But I could practice, right?”

“You could. And I could teach you how to use your Skill on purpose rather than unconsciously.”

Lyonette smiled. She patted Mrsha on the head and stood. The Gnoll looked up curiously. Erin smiled and noticed Headscratcher poking Rabbiteater awake. They had an audience.

“Okay, what do I do first?”

“Get mad.”

“Mad?”

Mrsha reached up and Lyonette scooped her up into her arms. The Gnoll snuggled against her chest as Erin frowned. Lyonette nodded.

“Get angry. Use your emotions. Concentrate—an aura is something you focus like any part of your mind. Focus on what you want to do. Pressure me with your will.”

Erin tried. She reached into the core of her being, searching for…something. The force? A magic power inside her? She gritted her teeth.

“Okay, here goes. I’m getting mad! I’m pumped! I’m focusing my energy!”

“You don’t…have to say it out loud.”

“It helps! Okay! Here goes! Mad, mad—table flip! Getting really angry! I’m awakening my warrior instincts! You can’t stop me! This is not my final form! Graaah!

Erin raised her arms and shouted, trying to push against Lyonette. The [Princess] and Mrsha stared at her wide-eyed as Erin shouted. In the silence, Erin lowered her raised arms.

“I feel silly.”

“I can’t imagine why.”

The sweet reply made Erin blush. Lyonette sighed as Mrsha smiled, looking not the least bit discomforted.

“Erin, you know how to use your aura. You’ve done it before. Don’t make a show. Just…project your authority. Remember when you used it?”

Erin thought back to when she’d been sitting across from the [Innkeepers] from Celum. Or when she’d yelled at Sacra and Maran. She paused.

“Oh.”

This time, Headscratcher and the Goblins didn’t see Erin move. She didn’t make any flashy gestures or say anything. Her brows simply furrowed and when she raised her head, her gaze was—

Something changed in the inn. Headscratcher heard the sound of Numbtongue playing softly below stop. Mrsha looked up. Badarrow looked up and uttered a Goblin curse. Suddenly, the air felt heavy. Headscratcher got up and staggered. He tried to take a step and felt slower, as though something was weighing him down. The other Redfang Warriors exchanged glances.

Erin glanced at them. Her gaze wasn’t angry, but it was focused like the edge of Shorthilt’s sword. She looked intense. She watched the Goblins get up, feeling at their bodies.

“Can you move?”

They could. The Redfang Warriors tried running, vaulting over tables, punching each other. All of these actions were possible and it wasn’t as if they were slowed, but everything took more energy. Headscratcher couldn’t put all of his strength into his hands. He glanced at Erin, impressed. Fighting in her inn would be dangerous! And then he saw Lyonette.

The [Barmaid]—or rather, former [Barmaid]—was standing in front of Erin, looking a bit pained. In her arms Mrsha was squirming uncomfortably and whining. Lyonette took a deep breath and closed her eyes. She did nothing visible either, but when she opened her eyes they had that same, focused look. And something changed.

Headscratcher could see her body relax as the invisible pressure dissipated around her and the Gnoll. But only around them. Amazed, he tried to copy her, but he had no idea what she’d done. Erin glanced at Lyonette and smiled.

“Cool. Okay, I’ll be Ilvriss and you be me. Do you want to put Mrsha down?”

“She’ll be fine.”

Lyonette’s held Mrsha confidently. Erin nodded and frowned harder. Headscratcher felt the weight on his shoulders increase. He sensed something in the air around Erin, a localized disturbance as her aura grew stronger. It concentrated on Lyonette. But the [Barmaid] didn’t move. She met Erin’s eyes and stood tall. Erin stared at her and Headscratcher felt the aura in the inn, her will pushing at Lyonette. But the young woman refused to give in.

The two locked gazes and something clashed in the air between them. The Redfang Warriors watched, holding their breaths as the silent battle went on for seconds, and then minutes. The pressure Erin was exuding was powerful. But it seemed that whatever she tried, she was unable to pressure Lyonette like the others. The young woman stood before Erin, not backing down. And at last Erin had to admit defeat.

“You’re good! Whew!”

The intensity in the air vanished and the sense of conflict evaporated as she sat at a table. Lyonette sat with her and Mrsha hopped out of her arms. The two young women shared a glance. They’d fought, not physically but in another sense. Erin got up and fetched cups for the two of them. She offered Lyonette some wine and the [Princess] accepted. Erin poured her a glass and Lyonette raised it. They touched glasses and smiled.

“Thanks.”

“The experience helped me too. I’ve never done that against anyone before. Not successfully, anyways.”

Lyonette sipped from her cup and shooed a curious Mrsha and Apista away. Erin nodded. She was about to ask Lyonette for more tips—could she use her aura to turn her hair golden and make it stand up, for instance? And then the door to Liscor burst open.

Erin!

Drassi stood in the doorway, breathless, panting. She was covered in rain—she wasn’t wearing her cloak! Erin turned and her sense of calm vanished.

“What?”

“Griffon Hunt and the Halfseekers have found a Shield Spider nest in the dungeon! There are tens of thousands—hundreds of thousands! They’re attacking!”

“Oh no. No, not again!”

Lyonette gasped in horror. She rose as Erin leapt to her feet. The Redfang Goblins instantly rose.

“Are they hurt? Are they retreating?”

“I don’t know. That was the first [Message] that came through. I ran to get you—the guild sent a Street Runner to summon Watch Captain Zevara and Olesm!”

Erin strode towards Drassi and hesitated. She turned.

“Shield Spiders. A nest. You mean like the Face-Eater Moths?”

“Yes! What do we do? Are we going to be under attack again?”

Lyonette had grabbed Mrsha. She looked frightened. Erin felt terrified. But beneath her sudden panic, a cooler part of her took charge. She glanced out her windows, looked through the door to Liscor at the rainy streets and shook her head.

“No. This won’t be the same. Lyonette?”

“Yes?”

“Get to Bird. Tell him what’s going on. Then open the door to Celum. Warn Octavia, tell Wesle and send a Street Runner to let Celum’s Council know what’s going on. And then get back here.”

“Should we leave Mrsha in Octavia’s shop?”

Erin didn’t have to think.

“No. She’ll be okay here. But warn everyone just in case. Tell Pallass too. Headscratcher—”

She whirled. The Redfang Goblins had grabbed the weapons they’d stolen from the Raskghar. Shorthilt had his sharpened blade at the ready. Erin nodded.

“Stay here. I’ll come back if there’s more trouble or we need you. For now, secure the inn with Bird. Got that?”

They nodded. Rabbiteater rushed down the basement stairs to grab Numbtongue. Erin turned towards Lyonette.

“It’ll be fine this time.”

“You’re sure?”

“Pretty sure. I’ll go to the Mage’s Guild. You let everyone know, but don’t start evacuating. The threat’s not to us. It’s to the adventurers.”

So saying, Erin looked at Drassi. The Drake didn’t need an invitation. She turned and pelted through the streets, Erin following at a run. The Drake ran as fast as she could, but she didn’t exactly have Ryoka’s training. And she kept babbling worriedly.

“Oh Ancestors, what are we doing to do, Erin? It’ll be the Face-Eater Moths all over again! Do you think Pallass will send reinforcements? What about Celum? Why are there so many monsters?”

“We’ll be fine, Drassi!”

Erin had to slow or wipe out on the slippery cobblestones. She slowed to a jog as Drassi ran just in front of her. The Drake wailed.

“How do you know?”

“Because we’ve done this before.”

Erin answered with confidence. She felt it. There was a certainty now in her chest. Drassi stared at her side-long as they ran.

“Really? That’s it?”

“Yes. We’ve survived one disaster. And we have experience.”

Experience. That was the key. Erin had survived Skinner. She’d survived fighting Regrika, Gazi, the moths, and Goblins. Each time she’d learned something more. She was no [Tactician], but she’d fortified her inn. Bought healing potions and other alchemical weapons. She pointed up.

“It’s raining. Liscor is flooded. The Shield Spiders have only one way into the city and that’s over a bridge that can be cut. They’ll never reach the inn or Liscor’s walls. Maybe they can build webs and float? Either way, it won’t be the same as last time. The adventurers in the dungeon though are in danger. How long has it been since they reported the attack?”

Drassi gasped for air as she slowed further.

“Six—eight minutes? I ran here the instant I heard the [Message] come in! Like you told me!”

Erin nodded. She’d offered Drassi the chance to sit in the Mage’s Guild and gossip all day long in case an adventurer sent a [Message] in. She ran towards the Mage’s Guild and saw Drakes running through the street towards the Guild as well. Zevara, Olesm, Ilvriss—Erin let them go in first.

It wasn’t the same. Liscor couldn’t fall to the same disaster twice. Each time something bad happened, each time there was an attack, they grew. Erin grew. That was the point of leveling. And this time, Erin swore, she’d do all she could to bring back her friends safely. But that was only assuming they were still alive. She raced into the Mage’s Guild, while rain poured down from above. And below there were spiders.

 

—-

 

“Fall back! Fall back!

Halrac shouted the order as Shield Spiders poured out of the massive shaft that had been converted into their nest. The mile-deep vertical drop was filled with their nests and the spiders, sensing light and life above, swarmed upwards in an unending torrent, intent on consuming all that lay above.

It was a trap. Halrac cursed and loosed two arrows that exploded, sending the first wave of spiders fleeing in burning agony. But more came after. He nearly ran into Jelaqua as she charged forwards.

“Back! We need to form a barrier!”

He roared at her. Jelaqua hesitated, but then raced backwards as Moore and Typhenous reversed direction. Revi sprinted past them, screaming and swearing and Seborn flickered into view, a moving shadow.

“There’s hundreds of thousands!”

“Dead gods!”

“Typhenous, Moore , put up a barrier! Buy us a minute. Revi—”

“Give me time!”

The [Summoner] was already raising the instruments of her trade. Pieces of fallen monsters encased in amber and more precious, ornate talismans manufactured from fallen Stitch-People. Ghostly warriors appeared behind her as Revi summoned them one by one. But the Shield Spiders were already pouring up the corridor full of destroyed statues. Halrac loosed another arrow, watching the explosion barely faze the spider horde.

“Typhenous?”

The [Scout] glanced over his shoulder. Typhenous’ face was concentrated. The spiders were closing. Ten feet, five feet—Jelaqua whirled her flail and Seborn braced. Then the [Mage] pointed his stave. A loud booming voice spoke at the same time he did.

“[Barrier of Thorns]!”

“[Flame Wall]!”

Moore and Typhenous cast the spells almost at the same time. A wall of thorns erupted from the ground as the first Shield Spiders scuttled forwards. The dense brambles engulfed the first group of spiders, making the second wave crash into the branches. Surprised, the spider tried to climb for a second—before a burning wall of flames burst into life. It ignited the thorns, the spider, and made the living ones screech. Halrac heard and saw the spiders crash against Moore’s barrier, but it held.

Three living Shield Spiders had been quick enough to escape being caught in the wall of thorns. They were all about the size of sheep, huge, horribly large spiders with armored carapaces and terribly sharp pinchers. One reared up to bite. A pair of glowing daggers sliced its head off. The other two dashed forwards and Halrac’s arrow went straight through the first at close range. A pair of spiked flail heads crushed the other in a single blow. The spiders twitched and fell still.

“We have a minute at best before the barrier fails.”

None of the Gold-rank adventurers wasted time exclaiming. Moore peered at his flaming wall of thorns, glancing back at Typhenous.

“Good spell. I thought you were doing webs?”

“Not against spiders.”

Typhenous grinned. Halrac stared past the flaming barrier. The Spiders were attacking it despite the intense flames. He looked around. At times like this, everything slowed. The idle banter, the sound of the spiders cracking the sturdy brambles, the feel of the bow in his hand—all of it crystallized. He looked around and saw the other Gold-rank adventurers were in the same state of mind. They didn’t speak normally, but in a rush that merged together, somehow making sense.

“We saw hundreds of thousands—”

“Big nest?”

“Illusory barrier. Lost my Corusdeer—”

Send a [Message] spell to Liscor warning them.

“Already on it. Plan of attack?”

“Has to be me. My armor—”

“Containment’s key. Can you hold if they rush you? If they knock you off—”

“I’ll cover her with arrows if larger ones appear. We need to narrow the corridor. Killing field.”

Push them back to the pit. What about creating barriers? More walls of fire?

“Do that. Revi, your summons will screen Jelaqua.”

“How do we want to do this? Push with warriors? I can use my trump spell—”

“Hold it, Typhenous. Don’t exhaust yourself. Smaller spells until we push them into the pit. Moore—”

“My staff will do the work.”

“Leave the big ones to me. Seborn, guard Jelaqua.”

Got it.

“Alright. Go!

The conference had taken about thirty seconds. The Shield Spiders were already breaking down the flaming barrier when it vanished. A huge spider nearly as wide as the corridor reared up, surprised. Halrac aimed and loosed. The Phoenixflame Arrow he’d chosen was expensive. The flaming head penetrated the Shield Spider’s body and then the enchantment activated. Like a phoenix, the arrow exploded into flames bursting the spider’s body like a bubble of soap. The adventurers charged with a roar as the Shield Spiders rushed forwards.

Here we go!

Jelaqua was first into the waves of Shield Spiders. Her body was wreathed in flame, her flail swinging. The spiders were all around her, but the Selphid’s flail tore through them, smashing spiders, spinning, hitting and striking in every direction countless times per second. The Heartflame Armor burned as the Shield Spiders tried to bite Jelaqua. But their mandibles and legs glanced harmlessly off of her fiery body. Not off of an object, but deflected by the magical flames themselves. Jelaqua spun, her flail bashing a spider’s head, tearing another one’s eyes away. Strike, strike, strike, strike, strike—

“Contain them!”

The corridor was wide. Too wide for Jelaqua to hold it alone. Her flail couldn’t even stop all of the ones trying to push past her. But the adventurers were equal to that. Another barrier of thorns burst out of the walls beside Jelaqua, halving the corridor’s width. Moore grunted as he swept his staff like a broom, sending a wave of spiders flying back over Jelaqua’s head. Typhenous set both barriers alight and then there was a choke point. And behind Jelaqua, Seborn and Revi held the line.

“Go! Kill the damn spiders!”

Revi shouted at her summoned Stitch-Warriors as she shot glowing missiles of light from her wand. Her spells were weak—they sent a few Shield Spiders reeling backwards as the magical arrows cracked their armor or burnt their eyes away, but their armored carapaces usually deflected her spells. The summoned warriors were a different matter, however.

Eight glowing figures formed a line of steel and magic behind Jelaqua, cutting off both ends of the flaming barrier Moore and Typhenous had set up. They did not flinch from the flames and moved in tandem. They cut, sliced, kicked, and stabbed every Shield Spider that got past Jelaqua, moving tirelessly, holding the line.

And behind them, a shadow flickered between the gaps, slicing any Shield Spider that managed to pass the summoned warriors. Seborn had neither Jelaqua’s reach nor spells, but his blades were sharp enough to slice a Shield Spider in two and he attacked from the shadows, always catching the spiders by surprise.

“[Light] spells.”

Halrac grunted as he shot an arrow past Jelaqua, catching a Shield Spider as tall as she was and piercing its small brain. Typhenous threw a ball of light up, illuminating the dark corridor. Halrac nodded. He didn’t need the light, but the warriors did. Now the Gold-rank adventurers could see each of their foes. They moved forwards, Jelaqua the tip of their spear. And the Shield Spiders began to be pushed back.

They filled the corridor. Thousands of them, trying to scuttle on top of each other, small ones, large ones—the offspring of centuries of breeding in the darkness. They could overwhelm a city. The giant ones in the pit might be able to cut a tower in two in a single bite. But the Gold-rank adventurers took not one step back.

No one had said retreat. No one had suggested it. The corridor was right next to the nest, but it was the perfect place to hold. And they were adventurers. They might not have faced this threat before, but they were equal to it.

“I’m wading through spiders here! We need to push!

Jelaqua shouted as she moved forwards. Her flail was striking hard and fast, but the spiders were literally flooding the corridor. Piling up on each other. Soon they’d be too thick to crush and if that happened she would be born down. Her armor might allow her to survive that, but the other adventurers wouldn’t.

“Typhenous!”

“My trump card?”

The white-haired mage turned to Halrac, his staff aglow with magic. Halrac shook his head.

“Fireballs first! Give me five! I’ll hit them with burst arrows!”

Typhenous nodded. He raised his staff and Halrac selected a Lightningstrike Arrow from his quiver. He aimed, waited. A [Fireball] flashed from the tip of Typhenous’ staff. Revi covered her eyes and Jelaqua turned, sensing the movement. The fireball struck the mass of spiders in front of her.

Halrac felt the kick in his chest. He heard a roar, saw pieces of Shield Spiders fountain upwards in flame and smoke. He aimed past the explosion and loosed. His arrow sped past Jelaqua and hit another clump of spiders.

Lightning boomed. Revi, Moore, Seborn, all couldn’t hear it. The ringing in their ears remained at the same pitch. But they saw the spiders blast apart. Jelaqua had been hit by the blast too. She staggered, shook her head, and shouted though no one could hear her.

“Dead gods that’s loud!

Neither the flames nor electricity had touched her through the enchantment. She saw another fireball flash towards her and flinched reflexively. But as it landed among another group of Shield Spiders she felt only the slightest nudge that knocked her back a step. Another arrow blew the Shield Spiders to bits.

“Forwards! Forwards!

Jelaqua turned her head. She couldn’t hear Halrac but she could see him pointing. She grinned and charged.

The Shield Spiders were limitless. They were ravenous. But they were not fearless. Nor were they stupid. As three more fireballs and arrows blew the oncoming horde to bits, the Shield Spiders retreated. The noise, the heat, the death was too much. And the flaming Selphid that charged them was invincible! They retreated back into the pit. And the adventurers pressed forwards.

“Revi, Seborn—kill the ones at our backs!”

“Dead gods, this is disgusting!”

The Stitch-Girl hung back, blasting the Shield Spiders that had survived the blasts with her wand as her summons covered the Gold-rank adventurer’s backs. Halrac, Typhenous, and Moore pushed forwards. Halrac kicked a Shield Spider aside as he ran towards Jelaqua. She was knocking Shield Spiders off the ledge, her flail moving.

“Jelaqua! Jelaqua!

The Selphid spun as the other approached. She raised one hand to her ear.

“What? I’m deaf! I think the blasts damaged my ears!”

Halrac cursed as he realized the problem. The other Gold-rank adventurers had paused to pour healing potion down their ears which had helped them regain their hearing. But Jelaqua’s body was dead.

“Stand back!”

He motioned and Jelaqua sprang back. Halrac stepped away as her flaming armor nearly struck him. Jelaqua shouted.

“I can repair the eardrums! But I need a minute!”

“Okay!”

What?

Halrac turned his back on her. The Shield Spiders were swarming back down the tunnel but he could see giant ones crawling up from below. The mother spiders weren’t as afraid of fire and they were coming up, squashing their offspring. He didn’t know if they could widen the dungeon corridor with brute strength. And he didn’t intend to find out.

“We’ve got them pushed back. Typhenous, Moore. I’ll shoot down any spider coming up. Give me your best spells. Typhenous, use your trump card.”

The old [Mage] grinned as Halrac began shooting spiders down from the ledge. He raised his staff and the crystal on top began to glow brightly. He looked up at Moore.

“Do you have a Tier 5 spell, Moore?”

“No. I can use [Thorn Spray] to clear out the spiders.”

“Do that, then. Halrac could use the help. I will prepare my opus.”

The half-Giant nodded. He pointed his staff down and a rain of wooden thorns as large as Typhenous’ hand shot downwards like hail. They perforated the first rank of spiders that swarmed up the ledge. The second shower was equally devastating.

Typhenous ignored the violence below. He raised his staff which shone even brighter. The Spiders rushed upwards and a giant one three times as large as Moore approached, ignoring the thorns and Halrac’s arrows alike. It did not seem to realize the danger.

Typhenous’ eyes began to glow as the magic energy in him reached a critical point. He pointed his staff down and a gentle smile crossed his face. The grandfatherly mage stared down at the spiders and whispered the name of his spell.

“[Valmira’s Comet Storm].”

In the dark shaft, there was light. Not the faint glow of a [Light] spell, but true light. Searing. Intense. The Shield Spiders far below looked up as something fell from above. Something bright which burned and hurled the first giant spider downwards. Vaporizing, crushing. It fell, a bright nova which burned through the darkness.

A comet. It struck one of the giant spiders, crushing its front two legs. The giant behemoth tried to hold onto the wall but the impact and flash of magic knocked it off. It fell, taking thousands of the smaller spiders with it. The crunch as it landed on the floor was like thunder; the spiders around it swarmed the giant, devouring it, ignoring the twitching legs. The rest of the spiders still headed up. They did not realize what was happening. But then the second comet fell.

Jelaqua was still. Motionless. She looked like she’d passed out on her feet, but that wasn’t true. It was just that her body, her real body was in the head of her vessel, busily trying to repair the shattered eardrums. It wasn’t easy. True, she had a lot of material to work with since the body was fresh, but repairs weren’t something she liked to rush. Still, hearing was important so as soon as she thought she’d restored most of her hearing she reconnected herself to her body’s nerves.

Just in time to see the flash and hear the explosion. Jelaqua raised her flail instinctively and saw that it was damaged. The spiked heads of her two-handed flail were horribly dented and the chain linking them to her handle looked like it was fatigued. It would break. Swearing, she tossed it aside and reached into her bag of holding.

“I need a damn enchanted flail! At least I have spares.”

She pulled out another one and strode forwards. Moore, Halrac, and Typhenous were standing at the edge of the pit. But none of them were moving. Jelaqua reached forwards and realized she was still on fire. She quietly hissed and the flames on her armor went out.

“What’s going—”

She stopped as she saw a comet fall. The burning, blazing ball of light was magic, blue and green and red and purple surrounding a white core. It had weight, though. It fell and blew apart a group of Shield Spiders retreating down the cavern. Typhenous’ eyes blazed as he conjured another comet and hurled it down. This time it struck one of the mother spiders. Jelaqua saw the mother’s face vanish and the dead spider fell, curling up reflexively before it struck the ground.

“Dead gods.”

The Selphid whispered as Typhenous continued to call comet after comet out of the air. The attacks were slow, but where they struck, the Shield Spiders just…vanished. Halrac nodded. He reached for a stamina potion and drank half roughly before handing it to Jelaqua. She accepted it and drank. The [Scout] watched her hurl the bottle into the pit.

“That’s his trump card. We used to use it against Griffon flights when outnumbered.”

“It’s Tier 5?”

“Tier 5. His best spell. One of the reasons why Ulrien and I wanted to hire him so badly. As Tier 5 spells go, it’s apparently one of the better ones in the world.”

“I’d believe that. Tier 5. Moore doesn’t know a single one. Where’d he get the spellbook that taught him that?”

The next flash illuminated Halrac’s face. He glanced at Typhenous—the [Mage] didn’t hear him or Jelaqua. His eyes were glowing with magic as he shaped each comet.

“He never said.”

“Could have used that on the moths.”

Jelaqua leaned against the wall. Halrac shook his head.

“No. They’d swarm him because of the light. He has to form each comet close to him. And they could probably dodge some of the attacks. They’re slow.”

“Moths like light. But I get your point. How do you get it to work on Griffons, then?”

“Trade secret.”

Jelaqua left it at that. She felt the adrenaline running through her host body and adjusted the glands to stop it. The battle was over. She began checking the Drake body she was inhabiting for stress fractures, damaged muscles, and so on. Moore signed heavily and leaned on his staff. Sweat and spider blood covered his face.

“How long will Typhenous’ spell last, Halrac?”

“A few more shots. He might be able to cast a few spells after that.”

Halrac watched Typhenous, keeping an eye on the pit. After a while Revi and Seborn came over.

“He’s doing the spell? We got them?”

We’ve cleaned up the Shield Spiders here. A few small ones might have escaped.

Halrac nodded. Typhenous gasped as the last comet flew downwards. He sagged and both Halrac and Revi caught him.

“Easy, Typhenous.”

Revi offered him two potions, a stamina potion and a mana potion. Typhenous reached for the mana potion first. His hands shook a bit with fatigue. All the Gold-rank adventurers congratulated him. Jelaqua slapped Typhenous on the back.

“For an old guy you’ve got spirit! Wish we could contribute like that!”

“Your armor really let us cut those damn spiders off. As for the threat—”

Halrac glanced into the pit. Typhenous’ comets had wrought havoc among the spiders. But there were far, far too many hiding below for his comfort. He grimaced.

“We’ve pushed them back. I doubt they’ll make an attempt for the top for a while. But there’s no way we’ll be able to descend without clearing them out.”

“Not a task I’d relish performing alone.”

Typhenous grimaced as he took a swig from the healing potion. Seborn nodded as he gazed down.

Clearing them out will be a difficult task. We could try poison. But the important part is making sure the spiders don’t escape up here. We’ll have to seal the entrance.

“That’s our job. Moore can shift dirt and we can use the caved in part of the dungeon. Excavate some stone, steal it up.”

Jelaqua flexed her arms, and the other Gold-rank adventurers nodded. Typhenous took a few deep breaths.

“All worthy tasks. Still, we do have a captive audience. I feel as though I could hurl a few more fireballs down there.”

“Don’t tax yourself. Depleting a monster nest isn’t an overnight job. And now that we know there’s one shaft like this…I’d bet that if we tried another route into the dungeon we’d run into another shaft. The one the Face-Eater Moths came from, perhaps.”

Revi made a disgusted face.

“You think that’s the way the dungeon is set up? Horde style?”

“It makes sense. How else do you explain two mutually antagonistic monster populations thriving down here? They have to be separated from each other. Not to mention fed somehow.”

Halrac looked at the others and got reluctant nods. Jelaqua’s tail twisted through the Shield Spider blood and remains.

“Wonderful. But hey, we did it! Not much to salvage here with all the bits, but—”

She turned and gave the others a wide, toothy Drake grin. Revi’s scowl turned into a reluctant smile, and even Halrac had to nod.

“We did do it. The Adventurer’s Guild owes us a bounty, I think.”

“Our first mass-slaying bounty for clearing the dungeon. Think they even know what that is?”

“We’ll explain it to them repeatedly.”

The others laughed at Revi’s comment. All the tension they’d been feeling drained and they took another look into the pit. Revi stared dreamily at the huge Shield Spiders clustered at the bottom out of range of any further comets.

“Look at those huge spiders. If we could poison one and somehow get to it with the body intact—Typhenous, I could summon one of them! The mana cost would be insane, but just think of it! Halrac, Typhenous, do you think…?”

“Anything for you, my dear.”

Typhenous stroked his beard. He tapped his staff and a fireball appeared.

“But let’s save collecting monsters until we’ve thinned the nest a bit more, shall we? Not that it appears we need to do more work. There’s far fewer of them left than I thought—my comets must have been aimed well!”

Moore looked up.

“I’m receiving multiple [Message] spells from the Mage’s Guild in Liscor. They want to know how many spiders are down there. They’re threatening to cut the bridge if we don’t respond.”

“Hah. They’re probably panicking. Let them know it’s alright, Moore. I don’t fancy swimming back to Liscor.”

Jelaqua was inspecting her damaged flail to see if it was worth hauling back to be reforged. Halrac was still staring into the dark pit. His eyes narrowed.

“Hold on. Someone pass me a torch.”

“Here.”

Seborn pulled a torch out of his bag of holding and Halrac lit it on the fireball Typhenous had conjured. He hurled the torch down into the pit. The flame became a speck that none of the other adventurers could see as it landed among the spiders. But Halrac’s eyes picked out something and he cursed.

“Moore! Send a [Message]!”

The half-Giant had a finger to his temple. He looked up sharply.

“To the Mage’s Guild?”

“To the Silver-rank team if you know their [Mage]! If not, have the Mage’s Guild relay it! And tell the Silver Swords the same thing! We didn’t kill nearly as many Shield Spiders as we thought. They fled. Into the dungeon!”

“Aw, heck.”

Jelaqua grimaced. The other Gold-rank adventurers looked at each other and shook their heads. They’d stirred the nest and subdued it, but the cost was agitating the Shield Spiders. They’d fled Typhenous’ comets and now they were flooding into the dungeon. They might run into other monsters and traps and that would be good. But there were adventurers down there. Halrac looked at the others. True to his nickname, his face was grim and resigned.

“Warn them. That’s all we can do. They’ll have to handle it. We need to seal this entrance off. Let’s get to work.”

The Gold-rank teams nodded. They allowed themselves a moment longer to enjoy their victory, and then they got to work. They could hear the spiders moving far below, a vast rustling sound as the ones capable of squeezing into the tunnels drained out of their nest and into the dungeon.

 

—-

 

The mood in the Mage’s Guild of Liscor was tense. Erin stood behind a gaggle of Drakes besieging the front desk. The nervous [Mage] on duty was not ready to have Watch Captain Zevara, Olesm, and Ilvriss demanding answers of him from all sides. Especially when he didn’t have any to give.

“I’ve cast the spell eighteen times, Wall Lord, Watch Captain! The mages must be busy!”

“Request another status update.”

Ilvriss glared at the shrinking Drake.

“Wall Lord, I did—”

“They can at least spare the energy to tell us whether they’re retreating or whether the spiders are moving out of the dungeon!”

“Wall Lord, I cannot force the [Mages] to respond. I only know what they’ve said.”

The Wall Lord stared at the [Mage] and then turned.

“Very well. Watch Captain, what is Liscor’s status?”

“Prepared, Wall Lord. I have already given orders to my men on the walls and I’ve concentrated everyone on the north and eastern walls. We’re ready to cut the water bridges the instant we see Shield Spiders.”

Zevara didn’t blink. She folded her arms and Ilvriss backed down slightly. From her position at the back, Erin thought she could feel him pull back his aura. Yes, now that Lyonette had mentioned it she thought she could feel the Wall Lord trying to use it to take command! But Zevara was equal to the pressure because she didn’t blink.

“I have command of the walls and Olesm assures me an assault on Liscor will fail, even if twice as many Shield Spiders crawl out of the dungeon than the moths. There is too much water. And Shield Spiders don’t swim.”

“Then we must simply worry about what will happen when the rain stops.”

Zevara nodded slightly. Olesm looked between the two and coughed nervously.

“I think the Gold-rank teams can hold them off. It’s rare that lower-level monsters can overwhelm a good team and there are two currently fighting.”

“Understrength teams. Both have lost members. Although I agree with Shivertail’s appraisal. But they have not responded. Mage, tell them that I am requesting a report—”

Erin heard pounding footsteps and turned. She saw the Mage’s Guild doors flung open. Embria and two of her [Captains] strode into the room. The Wing Commander looked furious.

“Why was my command not informed about an attack on Liscor?”

The other Drakes stared at her. Erin saw Zevara turn her head. Olesm closed his eyes. She audibly heard Zevara whisper.

“Festering scale sores, I forgot.”

Embria advanced and the Drakes in front of her cleared out of the way. She nodded curtly at Ilvriss, and then Zevara. But it was Olesm she looked at.

“What is the situation, [Strategist]?”

Olesm straightened and saluted. His tail wagged nervously although it wasn’t visible by anyone but Erin and Drassi who were watching from the side.

“Two Gold-rank teams report a massive infestation of Shield Spiders in the dungeon, Wing Commander! They claim they’ve discovered an artificial nest containing hundreds of thousands of them! Large Shield Spider mothers similar to the Face-Eater Moth colony that assaulted Liscor. They speculate that the dungeon is a horde-style vengeance dungeon!”

“Horde style? Vengeance dungeon? I’m unfamiliar with these terms.”

Embria glanced uncertainly at her [Captains]. Olesm bobbed his head.

“These are adventurer terms, Wing Commander. It refers to a dungeon constructed solely to eradicate trespassers and damage intruders, rather than test them or safeguard treasures. It is considered the most malignant dungeon type. Horde style dungeons rely on massive monster nests rather than advanced traps or other features, although they may have multiple forms of protection.”

“I see. In that case I will instruct my men to deploy to the walls in case the spiders breach the dungeon.”

Embria raised a claw and Zevara spoke up.

“Not necessary, Wing Commander. I already have my people on the walls. I would appreciate your soldiers holding back until called for.”

Embria paused. She locked gazes with Zevara.

“My [Soldiers] would bolster your Watch, Captain Zevara.”

“I have no doubt, Wing Commander Embria. But this is my city.”

Zevara held her gaze until Embria nodded reluctantly. Erin whistled under her breath. She felt bad for the Watch Captain; Zevara had to deal with both Ilvriss and Embria all the time. She thought Embria was about to ask another question when the forgotten [Mage] gasped. Instantly all eyes turned back to him.

“They’ve done it! Moore of the Halfseekers reports that the Shield Spiders failed to push back their teams! They halted the advance and greatly damaged the nest with a Tier 5 spell! They’ve taken no casualties and are preparing to seal the nest until they can return to it!”

A sigh rose around the Mage’s Guild. Erin felt the tension in her chest ease and saw Drassi’s eyes sparkling. The news would spread around the city the instant the Drake left the Guild. Ilvriss nodded.

“Adequate. Ask them for an estimate of the spiders and—”

“Wait.”

The [Mage] interrupted the Wall Lord. Her eyes flicked rapidly as she held one purple-scaled claw to her brow. Then her eyes widened.

“We have an immediate request! Someone send a [Message] spell to Gemhammer’s [Mage] or The Pride of Kelia’s [Shaman]! The Shield Spiders are retreating into the dungeon and it is Halrac the Grim’s assessment that the other teams may come under threat!”

Some of the other [Mages] on duty immediately raised claws to their temples. Ilvriss looked around, frowning.

“A threat to the other teams? But not to Liscor?”

“Doubtful. The only other entrance we know of is through the underwater rift. We’re still safe.”

“What about Liscor’s Hive?”

“What about it?”

Olesm cringed as the others stared at him.

“Well, they did suffer an attack when the Face-Eater Moths attacked Liscor. It may be that their Hive will be assaulted again.”

Ilvriss dismissed this with a flick of his claws.

“A few Shield Spiders burrowing through the walls of their Hive isn’t a threat worth informing the Antinium over. Let them be.”

“Yes, Wall Lord.”

“As for the other teams—well, their survival is to be hoped for. But it seems this crisis has passed.”

“It does. For us. I’ll request a meeting with both Gold-rank teams when they return.”

Watch Captain Zevara adjusted her belt, looking visibly more relaxed. Erin watched both her and Ilvriss leave the Mage’s Guild. She didn’t feel any less tense. And when a [Mage] looked up and gasped, it was Erin who pushed her way through the crowd.

“The Pride of Kelia’s [Shaman] has replied! They have received the warning but cannot currently retreat! They are under attack!”

“From spiders?”

Everyone’s mind leapt to the same conclusion. But the Drake was shaking his head.

“No. A smaller group of monsters—”

Where? And what monsters?”

Erin interrupted the gaggle of Drakes. The [Mage] looked irritated but he replied.

“Not Shield Spiders—no. They’ve been engaged with a band of Raskghar for the last hour! Apparently they’ve been fighting just below the rift. They do not intend to retreat, but they claim the enemy has magical armaments. I’m awaiting another update.”

“The Raskghar have magical weapons? That makes them a lot more dangerous. They’re intelligent, and I have every reason to believe they’ve been hunting adventurers. Guildmistress Tekshia should be warned about this threat.”

Olesm muttered to himself as he scribbled on a piece of parchment. The other Drakes weren’t really listening. The threat to the adventuring teams was a low priority and most of the crowd had dissipated to relax now the crisis was over. Embria stormed out of the Mage’s Guild growling about being kept out of the loop. Olesm’s mind was still racing, though.

“I wonder if the Silver-rank teams can handle them. And why weren’t the Silver Swords and the Horns of Hammerad warned? Wait—they didn’t go into either entrance. Do you think they’d be willing to comment on these new developments for me, Erin?”

The Drake waited for a response, but none came. After a moment he looked up.

“Erin?”

She was already gone.

 

—-

 

“Captain! Liscor says there’s a Shield Spider nest being stirred up somewhere in the dungeon!”

What? Who the fuck cares about a nest! Tell them we’re a little busy over here!”

An arrow flew over Earlia’s head, nearly grazing her helmet. She ducked and shouted at her group’s [Gem Mage]. The man was hiding behind a shield and wasting his time on [Message] spells. She pointed.

“Stop chatting with the Drakes and cast some magic!

She saw the man in front of the mage holding the shield stagger. Nothing had struck his shield. Nothing visible at any rate. But Earlia knew from the burning pain in her shoulder that the invisible arrows the Raskghar with the bow were firing were powerful indeed. Another arrow struck the shield bearer in front of her from the side and she saw an arrow sprout from his leg. He screamed and nearly dropped his shield.

“Don’t you dare lower that shield! Shield your faces!”

Earlia screamed at her team, grabbing another healing potion. She yanked the arrow out of Timgal’s leg and heard him scream. Ruthlessly, Earlia poured the healing potion onto his leg. The potion was a good one—it would neutralize the poison as well as heal the wound.

“Not barbed. Thank the cities.”

“Do not falter! Take cover if you are wounded! Focus on the one with the enchanted bow!”

Nailren bellowed as he tossed another explosive vial of alchemist’s oil at the Raskghar. The flames made them howl in fear and panic and pull back despite the urging of their leaders. Earlia spotted the huge Gnoll in armor waving a maul and pointed at him. Then she saw a flash. The slim [Swordswoman] who’d joined the fight raced into a pack of Raskghar. She heard them howl in pain and saw them fleeing. Earlia grunted.

“Who the hell is that?”

“Whomever it is, they have a death wish. There are too many Raskghar out there!”

The Gnoll Captain followed the masked woman as she dodged and wove among the Raskghar. His prediction of death didn’t come true; the mysterious fighter was adept at striking the Raskghar and fleeing or dodging backwards before they could follow.

With her skirmishing in the shadows they could divide the enemy’s attention. Nailren shot another arrow at a Raskghar threatening to club down the strange ally from behind and then spun as he heard a roar. He growled and Earlia pointed. The armored Gnoll was charging!

“He’s coming! Ready the ropes!”

The huge Raskghar bounded forwards, the magical armor he was wearing shining as the Gnolls tried to hit his unguarded face. But the Raskghar was clever enough to shield his face with a gauntleted hand. With the other he charged the Humans with shields. He would have shattered them with his maul, but Earlia raced forwards with three of her companions. They tossed something at the Raskghar.

Rope. Just plain, sturdy rope. But it was attached to grappling hooks or looped. The Raskghar grunted in surprise as the adventurers split up. They ran past him, the ropes dragging around the giant beast. Too late he realized what they were doing. Entangling him! Trying to tie him up!

The Raskghar immediately swung his maul, forcing one of the adventurers with rope to roll away. But then Earlia was charging him.

“Let’s see you dodge this!”

She swung her warhammer with a roar. If she’d still been able to use her [Hammer Blow] Skill, she would have. The Raskghar blocked the blow with an arm and howled. Earlia felt the impact run all the way back down her warhammer. It hadn’t broken the armor but it had to have hurt to block. Tearing at the ropes, the Raskghar swung at her.

“Hold him steady!”

Earlia wanted to swing again, but the Raskghar tore free of the other two adventurers and stumbled backwards. The other axe and club-wielding Raskghar who’d come forwards with him fell back and the Gnolls who’d showered them with arrows before meeting them in a brutal melee fell back.

“Anyone wounded?”

“Cuska lost her thumb! The Raskghar bit it off!”

Nailren saw one of the Gnolls howling over a bloody appendage. He snarled and raised his bow. One of the Raskghar fell as it retreated. Nailren would have shot again, but his instincts made him duck behind the shield one of Gemhammer’s [Warriors] was holding. The invisible arrow glanced off the shield.

“Stalemate. Everyone, heal any injuries! Captain Earlia, we must break this situation before reinforcements arrive!”

“You’re reading my mind!”

Earlia took cover and downed a stamina potion, feeling the rush of energy fill her limbs. She glanced over the shield she was hiding behind. They’d been fighting for over an hour here, right at the entrance to the dungeon. It had mostly been an archer’s duel with a few bloody skirmishes. And so far it felt like they were winning.

“Miss Swordswoman! Over here!”

In the sudden lull, Earlia took the opportunity to shout at the woman who’d appeared in the middle of the fighting. The slim figure turned, her sword wet with blood. She tilted her head slightly as Earlia waved to her frantically. She strode towards them, ignoring the arrows flying past her.

“Dead gods, you must be insane! Are you Gold-rank? What’s your team? How long have you been down here?”

Earlia grabbed for the stranger, dragging her behind the wall of adventurers. She received a shock—the stranger was light as a feather! The masked adventurer didn’t respond. She nodded at Earlia, pointed at the Raskghar, and made a slicing motion across her neck. Earlia stared. Then she laughed.

“Works for us! Stick with our groups. We’re making a push!”

The woman nodded. Earlia looked around. They had the upper hand now.

The Raskghar were numerous. Strong. But they lacked magic. With two exceptions they were simply strong [Warriors] and both Silver-rank teams had the Skills and magical gear to even the odds. The real trouble was the Raskghar wearing armor who was difficult to kill and the one with the invisible arrows and enchanted bow. But so far Earlia’s team had beaten them back.

The one in armor feared to approach again lest he be caught by Gemhammer’s rope tricks. And the Raskghar archers were losing the duel of arrows for all they outnumbered The Pride of Kelia. Their stone arrows and cruder bows were no match for Gnollish recurves and composites. And the Gnolls could heal anything but a mortal wound with potions.

But the longer the fight wore on, the more the Silver-rank teams would be at a disadvantage. The only thing that gave them the edge were the healing potions. And Erin’s Scale Soup, which had allowed them to survive the Raskghar’s primitive arrows. Earlia looked at Nailren and got a nod. She tapped the man in front of her and he moved forwards. She shouted as Gemhammer pushed towards the Raskghar clustered down the tunnel in front of them.

“Advance! We need that armor or that bow! Don’t let them escape!”

Boldness. The Raskghar expected them to hold in face of their numbers. But the Silver-rank adventurers wanted that armor and that bow. Earlia led the charge and heard the Raskghar howling as they fell back. She saw the one in armor point and then smaller shapes with glowing red eyes filled the space between them. Earlia cursed.

“They’re sending the Goblins forward!”

The small Cave Goblins were fast, far weaker than the Raskghar, but deadly in numbers. Earlia swung her warhammer and felt the tip crunch into a Goblin’s head. She halted as her team began to cut into the Goblin’s ranks.

“Damn, there are a lot of them!”

“Watch for arrows!”

The masked adventurer danced past Earlia, her blade cutting through the air. She beheaded a Goblin, turned, slashed another one across the chest, and speared a third through the neck. She was quick! Earlia was a master of brutal, powerful blows. This stranger used light, swift cuts and relied only on her grace to survive. The two women cut a path through the terrified Goblins. Until Earlia heard a warning call from behind.

Captain! The Raskghar are retreating!”

“What!?”

It was true. The Raskghar had taken the opportunity given to them by the Cave Goblins to move back. She saw them turn and run as the Cave Goblins broke, fleeing before the adventurers and leaving scores of their dead behind.

“Why would they do that?”

It wasn’t like they were losing that badly. The not-Gnolls were bloodthirsty as any monsters Earlia had ever seen. Mystified, she looked at Nailren. The Silver-rank Gnoll Captain frowned.

“I hear howls of retreat. Of…of danger? I cannot tell. The Raskghar do not sound as we do. But they are retreating.”

“From us? You’re pulling my leg.”

“I am not, no. There is something else at work here.”

Earlia frowned. Her instincts were singing that this wasn’t good, but she wasn’t sure why. She looked back at her team and then at the bodies.

“I’m of the mind to pursue, but I don’t want to run into a trap. There’s a bounty on Raskghar. Let’s collect some heads first. Unless you object?”

“Not at all.”

Nailren grinned savagely. Earlia turned.

“Alright, set a guard and let’s get to collecting bounties!”

She saw the other adventurers in her team groan. They didn’t enjoy the gruesome task of hacking monsters apart to collect trophies they could turn into the Adventurer Guilds. The Gnolls just set to work with grim purpose, finishing off any monsters that moved.

“Miss Adventurer, care to join us? We’d be honored to share the bounty.”

The masked woman hadn’t moved since the Goblins and Raskghar had fled. She was staring into the dungeon. She jumped—literally jumped—when Earlia addressed her. She spun, warily. Earlia paused and gave her a friendly smile.

“How long have you been down here, Miss? We heard rumors there was someone in the dungeon. Are you part of the guild? We’re Gemhammer. That group of Gnolls is The Pride of Kelia.”

The adventurer tilted her head left to right, staring at Earlia. She didn’t respond. Her mask had neither breathing holes nor a place for her mouth. It looked crude, patchwork. But something shone in the eye sockets. A purple glow. An enchantment? Earlia hesitated. She felt…afraid. Just as quickly, the light vanished and Earlia’s nervousness vanished.

Had that been an enchantment? A Skill? Earlia bit her lip. Good form was to introduce oneself, but you got all kinds of strange adventurers in the higher ranks. In the lower ones too, but they tended to die off quick. She’d heard of Named Adventurers that acted like this. Could this woman be that good? No, she was probably Silver or Gold-rank. If she had survived down here, Gold-rank for certain.

“Will you join us? We’re collecting bounties.”

Again, the masked woman didn’t respond. Earlia wondered if she even understood. The Captain of Gemhammer knelt by a Goblin body and the masked woman knelt with her.

“Are you hurt? Do you need a potion?”

No response. Then the woman slowly shook her head. Earlia nodded encouragingly. She could work with this! She tried to chat as she got to the dirty work in front of her.

“I hate this part of the job. Collecting heads. Ears. At least they let us do ears for the Goblins. It’s not worth hauling around a bunch of heads—unless you have a bag of holding. And I don’t have the coin to buy one for my team yet. You know?”

The masked woman shook her head again. Earlia laughed.

“Close enough!”

Back to work. Earlia grunted as she knelt by a Goblin and fished a dagger out. Goblin ears weren’t worth much, but every bit counted when you were saving. She began to saw, cursing at the blood when she heard something. Earlia looked up.

“What’s that sound?”

She listened as the other adventurers looked up. Nailren, who’d already been frowning, shook his head.

“Not just sound. It’s a vibration. Something—”

Someone grabbed Earlia’s wrist. She shouted in alarm. The Goblin wasn’t dead! Earlia raised the dagger but the Goblin wasn’t trying to attack her. Its lips were moving. It gurgled a sound at her. Earlia paused.

“What?”

The Goblin repeated the word. It was in its tongue. Earlia shook her head.

“What’s that? Mercy? Sorry. I’ll make this quick.”

The Goblin twitched. It said another word. This one sounded like common. Earlia frowned.

“What was that? Say it again.”

“Wave.”

She looked up. Nailren was standing over her. He looked at the Goblin. Earlia felt a jolt of surprise as she realized it had died as she’d looked away. The Gnoll frowned as he bent over it.

“It said ‘wave’.”

“Wave?”

Someone laughed. But Earlia frowned. Wave? That was a strange word, especially for a Goblin to use. Especially one in a cave. It couldn’t have seen the ocean. The ocean was hundreds of miles from Liscor and the Floodplains had no tidal action, for all it was underwater. So how—

The masked woman had readied her sword when the Goblin moved. She had frozen when it spoke, but all of Earlia’s attention had been on the strange word the Goblin was repeating. But as Earlia spoke the word she reacted. She backed away from the Goblins and waved her hands. The other adventurers stared at her.

“What is it? What’s wrong?”

The masked woman was suddenly panicked. She waved her hands, pointed up at the ceiling, and then pointed frantically with her arms down a tunnel. Earlia tried to make sense of it.

“Wait! Slow down. What do you want us to do? Follow you? It’s too dangerous!”

The masked woman stared at her. She looked over her shoulder, at the Goblins, and then ran. She waved her arms frantically as she sprinted down a tunnel. All without a sound. Earlia ran after her.

Wait! Don’t go! What do you—

Too late. The masked woman vanished into the darkness. Earlia stopped, bewildered. What was that about? She turned to look back at the other adventurers. They were just as confused. But now they were afraid. The masked woman knew something they didn’t. Earlia saw one of the Gnolls glance up and perk his ears up. He glanced at his Captain and murmured softly.

“Nailren. The rumbling. It is growing louder.”

One of the Gnolls called out uneasily. Earlia looked up. The distant rumbling was growing louder. And she could feel it now, too. In her bones. A distant vibration. She felt uneasy and shifted. This was like an earthquake underground. She saw the rest of Gemhammer reacting the same way.

“You think this is why the Raskghar cleared out?”

“It must be. But what does the wave mean?”

Nailren looked around. He sniffed the air and then turned. The rumbling sound kept growing louder and louder. Earlia gestured.

“Team, form up. Whatever’s coming, I want to be ready.”

The adventures abandoned collecting trophies. They formed a wall in three directions, their back to the rift leading up. Earlia stared into the darkness. Now the rumbling was a physical sound. She felt her heart pounding. What was this? What was—

Nailren saw it first. He sucked in his breath and made a very un-warrior like whimpering sound. Earlia turned to him.

“What is it?”

“Spiders.”

He whispered the word. Earlia stared at him. She turned to the [Gem Mage] who’d received the [Message] and then to Nailren, uncomprehending.

“Spid—”

Then she saw it. In the distance, the black dungeon corridor suddenly turned into a rushing torrent of motion. A huge Shield Spider charged out of the darkness, pushing—being pushed by—a wall of spiders. They surged forwards, climbing on top of each other, scuttling forwards, crushing, devouring, burying everything in their way.

A wave.

The Silver-rank teams stared in horror for one second. Then Earlia moved.

Up, up! Climb for your lives!”

The adventurers ran for the rift. But the wave was closing and they didn’t have time to scale the rocky walls! The spiders were closing on them. A hundred feet, fifty feet—

 

—-

 

“You are terrible at this. I’m trying to be nice, but I can’t explain it any other way.”

Ceria glared at the Silver Swords. She was this close to firing an [Ice Spike] at Ylawes. She pointed angrily at the dented and battered suit of armor lying on the ground. Half of the visor was melted off and a huge gaping hole had been torn into its chest. The enchanted suit of armor was dead. Inanimate, rather. And the Silver Swords had done the killing.

Ceria was furious. She stood around the downed suit of armor, shaking with frustration as Yvlon backed her up. The Silver Swords stood on the other side while Pisces and Ksmvr hung back. Pisces was interpreting the tense scene for Ksmvr, who, as usual, was at a loss. She raged at the Silver Swords, trying not to shout in the confined dungeon.

“I thought you were going to help us! Instead, your team is a liability!”

“Watch your mouth.”

Falene frowned at Ceria. The older half-Elf looked peeved; her ears were twitching angrily. Ceria didn’t care.

“Watch my mouth? I’m speaking the truth!”

“Miss Springwalker, we are a Gold-rank team and we’ve been together for eight years. I would appreciate a bit of civility. We are not amateurs.”

It was hard to tell who was more annoyed, Ylawes, Ceria, or Falene. The [Knight] looked angrily at his sister.

“Yvlon, your Captain believes we are inept. Please talk some sense into her.”

Yvlon folded her arms and sighed.

“I agree with Ceria.”

The Silver Swords stared at her. Ceria grabbed at her hair. She stood in the dungeon’s corridors, not five turns from where they’d begun. They had made almost no progress in an hour. For one reason.

“See? We’re trying to tell you the truth!”

“Sister, your tone is beyond insolent. I do not wish to be lectured by—”

Falene’s sharp voice was cut off by a rumble from Dawil. He raised his hammer and banged it on the ground loudly.

“Oh shut up, you stinking half-Elf. Not you. Our half-Elf. Although both of you smell.”

Both half-Elves glared at the Dwarf. Dawil affected not to notice. He looked at Ceria.

“Go on.”

Ceria took a deep breath and tried to be diplomatic. She failed.

“Okay, listen. Your team is Gold-rank. You’re good at fighting monsters. No one’s denying that. Dead gods, you might even be better than Griffon Hunt or the Halfseekers in a straight up fight.”

“Hah. I like how this is starting.”

Dawil grinned. Ylawes and Falene just kept frowning. Ceria sighed.

“But. You’re not a good team for a dungeon. You might be the worst team I’ve ever seen for dungeon diving, and that includes Bronze-rank teams!”

The Silver Swords gave each other incredulous looks. Ylawes coughed into his gauntleted hand.

“You’re exaggerating, surely.”

“Am I?”

Ceria pointed at Ylawes with a trembling finger.

“Every time you see a monster, you attack it! Or challenge it to a duel! In a dungeon filled with traps! You think the best way to get rid of traps is to walk onto them and hope you survive it!”

The [Knight] blushed a bit. Ceria pointed at Falene next.

“As for you—you think that [Detect Magic] is all you need to check for spells! And you won’t shut up when we’re supposed to be quiet! And you always have a snide comment! Even Pisces shuts up sometimes!”

“Why thank you, Ceria.”

Falene sniffed.

“I resent the comparison.”

Ceria nearly screamed.

“That’s what I’m talking about! As for you—”

She pointed at Dawil. The Dwarf blinked at her accusatory finger.

“Why does an [Axe Champion] have a hammer instead of an axe!?

A moment of silence followed Ceria’s last shout. She colored as she realized she didn’t really have anything bad to say about Dawil. But it had been bugging her. Dawil chewed on his beard for a moment and then fished at his belt.

“I’ve got an axe. Here.”

He raised an ornate throwing axe. Ceria stared at it. Dawil tossed it up and down casually and shrugged.

“I got my class because I won a throwing competition. Drunk. Got crowned as champion and got the class. I don’t like axes as much as hammers. I’ve got one good throwing Skill. That satisfy you, Miss Nosy half-Elf?”

“Yes.”

Ceria rubbed at her head. Dawil nodded.

“Then I think it’s time we headed back.”

Ylawes and Falene looked at him in shock. Ylawes protested.

“You can’t be serious, Dawil! You agree with her?”

The Dwarf nodded calmly. He looked at the other adventurers and rumbled.

“She has a point. Lots of good points, actually. We’ve never cleared a dungeon anywhere near as dangerous as this before.”

“We made good progress. We killed the suit of armor. And the Face-Eater Moth we found. And the pack of ghouls.”

“And nearly walked over an exploding rune trap. And the other one that took out half of my skeletons.”

Pisces sniffed. Ylawes paused, glanced at him, and then away. Dawil nodded.

“Face it, Ylawes. The only thing that kept us from walking on traps were all the [Necromancer]’s little toys that did it for us. None of us have trap finding Skills. More importantly, we don’t do well as a team.”

He glanced meaningfully at Ceria and she nodded reluctantly. It was true. Neither team got along well. They stepped on each other’s toes, argued…and she could tell that Ylawes was willing to admit that, if nothing else. The [Knight] looked frustrated. Dawil stroked his beard and then grinned before bringing up a final point.

“Plus, two half-Elves is worse than one. Stands to reason we’re not getting anything done. We barely functioned as a team with one pointy-earred git holding down the team. With two…let’s call it a day, lad. We can work out a way to solve things over a hot meal.”

He gestured back the way he’d come. This time Falene was the only one who glared. Ceria just laughed. Dawil shot her a sideways grin and Ylawes nodded, resigned.

“If that is how it must be, I suppose we have little choice. I had intended to make great progress, but—”

He broke off, shaking his head. In silence, the two teams trooped back down the corridor, passing by the patrol of enchanted armor they’d destroyed. Dawil paused to kick at one of the helmets.

“Not bad steel here. We could use a bag of holding. Claim the bounties on the moth and ghouls too. Worth a bit of coin.”

“Yeah. There’s that at least. You can have the bounty on the armor and moth. We’ll take the ghouls since Pisces snapped all their necks.”

Ylawes frowned.

“We should split it equally. We are a team, if in name alone.”

The headache that Ceria thought was fading sprang back into her head. She glared at Ylawes.

“Yes, but we didn’t do anything for the armor.”

“But as a team—”

Yvlon groaned and Pisces rubbed at his eyes tiredly as the two began arguing again. Ksmvr, watching the discussion and the way Falene slid herself into the conversation, tilted his head. His antennae twitched a few times and he turned. He clicked his mandibles a few times and raised his voice.

“Ah. I believe we are in danger.”

All the other adventures spun. They readied their weapons but heard nothing. Saw nothing in the darkness. Ceria looked at Ksmvr.

“You’re sure?”

“I detect vibrations down this tunnel. Something is approaching.”

Ksmvr paused.

Many somethings. At speed.”

Soon, the other adventurers heard it. Ceria swallowed as she felt the vibration in the stone walls.

“Tree crap. We should retreat for the entrance.”

“And be cornered? Whatever it is moves fast. We should hold our ground. See what we’re facing.”

Again, Ceria felt a severe disconnect as Ylawes planted his feet on the ground and raised his shield. Dawil raised his hammer, grunting.

“I’m with you there, lad. I don’t fancy being the last one in a race for the exit.”

“You may retreat behind us. We will wait here.”

Falene glanced at Ceria. The younger half-Elf glared back at her. She looked at Pisces, Yvlon, and Ksmvr.

“Let’s see what it is. Pisces, can you send a skeleton forwards?”

“On it.”

The [Necromancer] pointed and the remaining pair of skeletons rushed into the darkness. They were unarmed, but the Raskghar made for imposing skeletons nevertheless. Ksmvr raised his shortbow and Yvlon raised her shield, taking the other half of the corridor. Ceria and Pisces lined up. She saw his eyes flickering as his skeletons rushed forwards and then he groaned.

“Spiders.”

“Spiders? You mean, the ones Halrac and the others warned us about?”

Ceria breathed a sigh of relief. She’d been concerned when they’d received the message about Shield Spiders, but if the Silver Swords were good at anything, it was a standup fight. But Pisces’ pale face made her think twice.

“It’s not one or two Shield Spiders. It’s a—a wall of them. They are coming down the passage. Tens of thousands. I recommend we flee. Now.

“A wall?”

The other stared at Pisces. He took a step back and pointed.

“Did you hear me? I said, run.

“From Shield Spiders? Even in number, they’re not a threat.”

Ylawes looked dismissive. Pisces colored, and then shouted.

“And if there are enough to bury you alive, you incompetent fool? I said there is a wall of them coming! Enough spiders to flood this tunnel from bottom to ceiling!”

He pointed up to the twelve-foot high ceiling above. Ylawes stared up.

“Ah.”

“That’s a lot of spiders. How fast’re they coming?”

Dawil looked ahead uneasily. The rumbling sound was getting louder fast. Pisces turned.

Quickly.

He began to run. The other adventurers looked at the fleeing [Necromancer] and then sprinted after him. Ceria felt the rumbling behind her enter her bones. She chanced a look over her shoulder. The light from her [Light] spell didn’t reach far back, but if she stared far into the distance she could see a lot of rapidly moving shapes…

“[Light].”

Falene flung an orb backwards as she ran. The glowing yellow ball of light illuminated the corridor, passed the broken pieces of armor and then—

Oh dead gods, run!

Ceria saw the spiders. They crawled over each other, a torrent, a sea of skittering legs, staring eyes. Small ones crawled forwards, crushed by larger members. And behind them pushed a massive spider as large as the corridor. It was rushing forwards like a bull. Ceria imagined tripping, being covered by the tiny spiders as they bit her before the larger one simply crushed her with its weight. They were so many. They could bury her alive just with their numbers. There was nowhere safe. Like Pisces said, they went from floor to ceiling.

And they were fast. Ceria picked up the pace and passed by Ylawes and Dawil and Yvlon. Falene was lagging at the rear while Ksmvr and Pisces and Ceria took the front. But only Pisces was outdistancing the Shield Spiders with his [Flash Step]. The rest were falling behind.

“We’ll never make it!”

Falene shouted at the others. They were four corridors away from the burial chamber, but it was too far. She spun, her robes flashing with magical symbols and planted her staff.

“We need not flee. I will use a barrier spell!”

“Falene!”

Instantly, the other two Silver Swords halted and ran back towards her. For an agonizing moment Ceria turned and saw Yvlon staring back at her brother. Then she halted.

“Pisces! Ksmvr!”

The two turned. Ksmvr immediately ran back, but Ceria saw Pisces hesitate. He looked back at the spiders, and at her and she met his eyes. Pisces whirled—and ran back.

“A spell?”

“Yes. Do not interrupt me. I will cast a barrier across the tunnel. It will hold the spiders.”

Falene was sweating as she raised her staff. She glanced over her shoulder at Pisces and Ceria.

“I would…appreciate any assistance you could give me.”

That was almost a plea coming from her. Ceria bit her lip. She wasn’t an expert with Tier 4 or Tier 5 spells at her disposal! She had one good spell, though. Ceria concentrated, drawing her wand and pointing it at the ground in front of her.

“[Ice Wall]!”

A wall of shimmering ice grew out of the ground. It stretched towards the ceiling, thin as a roll of parchment at first, then thickening as Ceria poured her magic into the spell. She saw Pisces raise his hands and point. A whirling mass of air formed in front of her wall, and then bones began to rise behind it, forming a crisscross pattern.

“[Wind Shield]. [Bone Wall]. This isn’t going to work.”

“Don’t tell me that now!”

Ceria poured her magic into the spell. Pisces bit his lip as the temporary bones he’d summoned out of the ground thickened. The ice and bones mixed into a solid mass. Ceria eyed it hopefully as the wave of spiders approached.

“It can hold! It’ll be four feet thick! Six!”

“That’s not enough. Falene’s spell will not hold either. The spiders are moving too fast and they are too heavy.

Pisces snapped back at Ceria. She saw the fear in his eyes and wavered. Falene cast a glance over her shoulders. It was full of pride, of scorn, and, Ceria’s heart lurched, beneath it all, uncertainty.

“I am a Gold-rank [Mage]. My [Force Barrier] spell will hold. I will pour all of my mana into it.”

She pointed. Behind the ice and bone, the air twisted as a barrier appeared. [Force Wall], a Tier 4  spell. Ceria stared at it hopefully. Pisces took one look and shook his head.

“Keep running. We have bought ourselves seconds at the price of minutes! We could attempt to go down that passageway there—find an escape.”

He urged the others down the corridor. There was a split ahead, a T-junction. Ceria gritted her teeth.

“We can’t go down that corridor! We’ll run right into a trap!”

“Then run back to the entrance! Hurry!”

“I am pouring my mana into the barrier. It will hold.”

Falene spoke in a half-trace. She refused to budge. Pisces swore and turned.

“Die if you wish! The rest of you, follow me!”

He turned and ran. Ceria hesitated for only a moment. But Pisces was right. And if there was any expert on spells she trusted—no, she trusted his cowardly instincts more.

“Go!”

Ksmvr and Yvlon dashed after Pisces. Ceria saw Ylawes and Dawil exchange glances. Dawil grunted.

“You keep doing your spell, Falene. Don’t mind us.”

He grabbed Falene’s arms and Ylawes grabbed her legs. The half-Elf barely reacted as they ran, Dawil carrying her over his head and Ylawes supporting her legs. The half-Elf spoke slowly. She was putting all she had into the spell.

“It will hold. Do not run. We will be safe. We will—”

The adventurers slowed as they passed the T-intersection. To the left, Ceria saw the dungeon stretching beyond. Unknown. She chanced a look, but it was too dangerous. She halted as she saw Pisces had stopped. Ksmvr was rummaging around in his pack.

“I will endeavor to help as best I can.”

“Too late.”

The [Necromancer] stared back to the triple-layered barrier. Ceria turned and looked too as Ylawes, Dawil, and Falene skidded to a stop. She knew they should keep running. But she couldn’t help it.

The mass of Shield Spiders came down the tunnel like a breaking wave. The spiders were insane with fear and anger. They didn’t care that there was a wall in the way. They smelled living things. And they were moving too fast. They hit Pisces’ spinning barrier of air, hit the wall of ice and bone, and hit Falene’s [Force Barrier] spell with a collision that made the ground shake.

Ceria felt her magic shatter as the wall broke. She cried out—from shock more than anything else. But she had only cast the spell. She hadn’t tied herself to it. Ahead of her she saw Falene’s eyes go wide. The half-Elf convulsed as bone and ice splintered down the corridor. Ceria saw spider chitin flying like shrapnel, saw a confusing mess of body parts and then saw the spiders.

They were still moving. Thousands had been crushed by the impact, but the giant spider behind them was intact. And as more poured forwards, they regained their momentum. The spider wave began charging again. Straight at the adventurers.

“Falene? Falene!

Ylawes was shaking Falene. The half-Elf was bleeding profusely from both nostrils and she’d bitten through her lip. Dawil cursed and fumbled for a health potion.

“She’s suffering backlash! We need to—”

“Drop her and get ready! They’re coming!”

Yvlon snapped at the two males. The Silver Swords turned. The giant Shield Spider pushed its smaller brethren as they charged. Down the corridor. There was only the corridor to the left now. But even if they ran, they wouldn’t make it. Ceria raised a trembling hand. She could cast a spell. An overcharged [Ice Spear] like last time. But even if she did—

“Everyone, it’s been an honor.”

Yvlon raised her shield. Her sword was steady as she eyed the oncoming spiders from beneath her helmet. Ksmvr was still fumbling in his pack, as if they had anything that would stop that many spiders. A [Fireball] wouldn’t do it. Five fireballs—they should have been shooting them from the start, not blocking!

Another error. If she’d been thinking she would have come up with it. Ceria closed her eyes. She looked at Pisces. He was standing still, his eyes on the spiders. He hadn’t drawn his rapier. It wouldn’t do much good anyways.

“You can still run.”

She looked at him. Pisces met her gaze. He had [Flash Step]. He could outdistance the spiders. Leave them behind. He glanced over his shoulder, back at her.

“That is true.”

He didn’t move. The spiders rolled towards them, and Ceria raised her skeletal hand. How had it gone? Maybe if she put everything she had into it. Maybe—

“Ah. I have found it. It is true that it is always in the last place I look.”

Ksmvr lifted something triumphantly. Ceria looked at him and wanted to laugh.

“Oh Ksmvr—”

He had a small, leather ball in his hands. A toy. It looked like one of Mrsha’s toys. Pisces’ eyes widened while Ceria turned away. At least Ksmvr tried. She saw the Antinium stride forwards.

“Allow me to help!”

“Ksmvr come back! Come—”

Yvlon shouted at him. Ksmvr was approaching the spider horde without fear. The Antinium tossed the little ball. Ceria watched it fly. Not towards the spiders. Left. Down the corridor. She heard it land softly, somehow, between the roar of the oncoming spiders. And then she heard the most terrifying, startling, horrendous shrieking sound she’d ever heard in her life. It was terrible, louder than the spiders, a sound designed to cause physical pain upon hearing!

And she had heard it once before. Ceria clapped her hands to her ears and saw Ksmvr run backwards, waving his three hands delightedly. The effect on the Shield Spiders was immediate. They stopped, slowed, rearing up, some rolling over, agonizing as the piercing sound reached them. It was coming from the little leather ball. The enchanted leather ball. The very one Ryoka had brought back from Invrisil.

An adventurer’s trick for luring monsters. The shrieking little ball rolled down the corridor. Instantly, the Shield Spiders turned to chase it. Ceria watched, mouth agape, as the living flood of spiders turned left and abandoned their pursuit of her team. Only a handful of spiders continued onwards, to be crushed by Dawil’s hammer and cut by Yvlon and Ylawes’ swords. The rest of the spiders chased the little ball as it shrieked and rolled forwards rapidly.

And then? And then the sound was muffled. The rumbling continued. But the spiders couldn’t turn back on their momentum. They flooded past the stunned adventurers, heading down the corridor into the distance. And then the rumbling was faint. And then it was distant.

And then there was silence. Ceria stood in the darkness, her heart pounding, drenched in sweat. She only closed her mouth when a tiny spider crawled into it. She spat and then looked at Ksmvr. He stood proudly in front of his team, in front of the Silver Swords and the comatose Falene. He looked hopefully at Ceria.

“Did I help adequately, Captain Ceria?”

 

—-

 

Earlia climbed up, hearing the roar of the wave of Shield Spiders behind her. She knew they were too slow. The spiders would climb up the walls! If they could reach the water they might be safe. But her team was tired, burdened by their armor. The Pride of Kelia might make it. Some. But the rest would die.

She didn’t weep. She didn’t give up. Earlia reached for another rocky handhold and screamed for her team to move faster, damn them. She saw something flash past her face and thought the first spider was coming. She reached for her dagger and saw something long. And light. And sturdy.

A rope. Water showered down onto Earlia as the rope dropped through the enchanted barrier above. She looked up. A rope had fallen. No, three. No, eight. The adventurers stared.

“Someone’s dropped ropes! What in the—”

Up!

Earlia let go of the cliff and grabbed the rope. She began to climb feverishly. The others didn’t wait to ask about the ropes either. They climbed. Just in time. The Shield Spiders swarmed up the rocky walls as the adventurers climbed up. They swarmed up the ropes. Earlia saw Timgal screaming, felt the water break over her head, reached back, and pulled him up. The Shield Spiders let go as they entered the water. The adventurers felt the ropes pull and they were moving up.

The way to the surface was so long! Earlia gagged for breath. She saw Timgal’s eyes rolling up and put a hand over his mouth and nose. She felt the blackness close in and then her head broke the surface. She felt rain pounding her, felt the rope dragging her up further still, heard screams and sobs and felt the first breath of air enter her lungs. She sobbed for air and then looked around.

A smiling young woman stood on a large boat crewed by Goblins. They heaved and grunted, pulling the other adventurers on board, hurling one of the dead Shield Spiders still biting Nailren back into the water. Erin grinned at Earlia’s stupefied face.

“Hello there! The Wandering Inn provides you with a Hobgoblin escort to and from the dungeon plus emergency rescue! And we have a boat. Three, actually. Want a lift?”

Earlia looked at her. She could have kissed the young [Innkeeper]. Or wept for gratitude. She settled for passing out.

 

—-

 

One last thing. Dawil was surprised after the stunned relief had ended that the Horns of Hammerad insisted on continuing exploring the dungeon. Or rather, he was only surprised until they explained to him and Ylawes their reasoning.

“We have a once-in-a-lifetime shot at this. The Shield Spiders did us a service. We can follow their trail.”

“You must be joking. This is a joke, isn’t it? One of the ones I never understand?”

Ylawes looked from Ceria to Pisces to Yvlon. But they were all serious. Yvlon explained to him as they tended to the unconscious Falene.

“This isn’t like rushing into danger, brother. The Shield Spiders aren’t a threat.”

“How is that the case?”

“They cannot move backwards. At least, a horde of that size cannot. Their momentum would not allow it.”

Pisces pointed the way the spiders had left. Crushed spiders, dead ones or confused stragglers from the pack littered the corridor. But it was true. The spiders had not returned. The [Necromancer] smiled smugly.

“You see, they are able to hunt with this impressive technique, but it has significant weaknesses. Unless they are able to loop backwards—which I doubt given the structure of the dungeon—they will continue forwards. And everywhere they pass will be much safer for us to travel than say, an unknown space.”

“Why?”

Dawil understood this one. Ylawes was a bit slow on the uptake when it didn’t come to being a heroic [Knight] or hitting monsters.

“Ah, because the nasty little things have sprung all the traps, haven’t they? And chewed up anything they find.”

“Exactly. We would have free reign to explore as it were. And following the Shield Spiders is a simple task at the moment. They have left an obvious trail for us to follow.”

Pisces smiled and rubbed his hands together. Ylawes looked at Falene with concern.

“I understand. But Falene is injured. I feel that I should retreat—as you suggested earlier.”

“She’s not in any danger. She just overtaxed herself. Let’s go just a few corridors and see what we find. Alright?”

The Horns urged Ylawes and he couldn’t easily protest. Dawil stared at the Silver-rank adventurers with a frown. They were a bit too eager to explore after they’d almost died. Still, he chalked it up to youthful enthusiasm and followed them.

The tunnels the Shield Spiders had gone down were uneventful. They’d triggered all the traps, and the adventurers noted the effects and locations of each by the corpses left behind. They quickly copied down the branching passageways, and then, as they reached the third intersection since following the spiders, Dawil saw another suspicious thing. He saw Ceria glance at Ksmvr and him nod ever so slightly down another passage.

“Why don’t we head this way?”

“But the spiders went that way.”

By this point Falene had woken up and was well enough to retort, although in a simple-minded fashion. Ceria grimaced.

“I think I heard something. Alright?”

The Silver Swords exchanged a glance. Dawil glanced up at Ylawes and coughed. When the [Knight] glanced at him, Dawil made a covert gesture that looked like he was stroking his beard. Ylawes nodded.

“If you think it is safe.”

“Yeah.”

The Silver Swords followed the Horns of Hammerad down the corridor and came to a surprise. A gap in the sturdy dungeon walls. They stared at the gap. It lead into the earth. Ceria’s eyes widened.

“What’s this?”

Dawil glanced at Pisces who looked suitably impressed. Ksmvr he couldn’t read, but Yvlon was a terrible actor. The Horns insisted on exploring the tunnel of course, and the Silver Swords weren’t about to object. They followed it, passing down a corridor filled with…

“Pit trap. Boulder trap. Ooh. This will collapse the tunnel on us if triggered remotely.”

Ksmvr walked forwards, taking point. The Silver Swords edged by all the deadly traps built into the dirt tunnel. It was not part of the dungeon. Nor had it been built by the original architects. Dawil was a poor Dwarf when it came to traditional things like building and smithing, but he was sure of that. His eyes locked on Ksmvr’s back and narrowed. He followed the Antinium until the corridor widened. Ksmvr stepped out into a wide space, already raising his hands. Dawil followed, swore, and tried to back up.

Too late. Ylawes bumped into him. The [Knight]’s eyes adjusted to the dim light and he reached for his shield and then froze. Falene looked around.

“Oh my.”

They were standing in a large room. A chamber from which three separate tunnels entered. It was not a dead end though. A single tunnel led through this spot. But to get to that tunnel…Dawil stared at the barricades of stone and dirt. He stared at the dead monsters, piled up. The Shield Spiders riddled with arrows. Crude arrows, but hundreds could be fired at once. He stared up at the silent Workers standing in alcoves.

“One, two, three…twenty…”

They were lined up on three sides, facing inwards so whomever was funneled into this spot would be assailed on all three sides by arrows. Behind the stone barricades, giant Antinium Soldiers waited, ready to engage anyone who made it that far. And behind them…

An Antinium sat at a table. He was not a Soldier. Nor was he armed. He had what looked like a book in one hand and he had been reading. Dawil stared at the Worker as he slowly got up. The Worker opened his mandibles a few times as he stared at the Horns of Hammerad, all of whom had shocked faces and had raised their hands, and then at the silent Silver Swords.

 

—-

 

Belgrade slowly closed the book he was reading and stared at the intruders. Not monsters. Intruders. Adventurers. From the dungeon. He stared at Ksmvr. He stared at the Silver Swords. He looked around at the very conspicuous Antinium fortifications. He looked around. Anand was off-duty. Klbkch was above, dealing with a potential crisis. Belgrade couldn’t exactly gulp, but he could click his mandibles. Which he did.

“Oh dear. This could be problematic.”

 

—-

 

“The Antinium have a route into the dungeon. An entrance underground.”

Ilvriss stared hard at Pisces. The [Mage] shifted in his chair and smiled.

“So it would seem. A quite efficient kill-zone. I observed a score of traps. And I believe it is three entrances into the dungeon if the tunnels were any indication.”

He watched Ilvriss exchange a swift glance with Zevara and Embria. The Watch Captain and Wing Commander had joined this little interrogation session in the Watch barracks. Well, interrogation was a strong word.

If Pisces had any thoughts on the issue of betrayal, it was his fascination with what the word constituted. Betrayal. What was the line past which no sins could be forgiven? Was selling secrets that much of a trespass? Surely, putting personal gain above the needs of the group was objectionable, but that was what every individual did. What was the difference between selling a small secret and a large one?

After a while, Watch Captain Zevara spoke.

“We were aware that the Antinium had suffered an attack from Face-Eater Moths during the assault on Liscor. But we assumed they had burrowed through the earth.”

“And your assumption was clearly wrong. The Antinium have ever had a way into the dungeon. Longer, perhaps, than the entrance has existed aboveground.”

Pisces smiled. He put his fingertips together as the Drakes exchanged another look full of meaning and worry. How he did enjoy moments like these. He could practically see the thoughts playing out among them and he couldn’t help but nudge them along to some inevitable conclusions.

“Of course, the Antinium have a vested interest in securing their Hive. It would be unthinkable to imagine they were not aware of such a large underground structure, is it not?”

“So they knew. They knew and unleashed the dungeon on the city.”

Pisces rolled his eyes as the red-scaled Drake made a fist out of her claws.

“No. Wing Commander Embria, I believe it is quite the opposite.”

“Explain.”

Ilvriss fixed Pisces with a stare meant to frighten. The [Necromancer] gave the Drake his smuggest smile in return, noting the way Ilvriss looked disgusted.

“It is quite a simple conclusion, Wall Lord. The Antinium never tried to disclose information of the dungeon, did they? In fact, it was only after the dungeon was ‘discovered’ that they offered their services. Always to help. And they came to the defense of the city quite readily.”

“Their aid could have been seen as slow during the Face-Eater Moth attack.”

“Only because their Hive was actively under siege! No, Wall Lord. I believe the Antinium were entirely helpful in their assistance to Liscor. After all, without Gold-rank adventurers and Liscor’s support, they would never be able to claim the dungeon’s riches for themselves.”

The Drakes sat up as Pisces dropped the obvious clue into their laps. Ilvriss leaned forwards.

“The dungeons’ riches? We haven’t found more than a few magical items in there.”

“And yet, the Antinium seem to regard the dungeon as important. Why else would they leave open a pathway from the dungeon into their Hive? An open wound by which monsters might pour in? And fortifications? Antinium do not build defenses. Yet this kill box they have constructed seems purpose-built to last for years if necessary. And while it is a splendid defense, it would also serve another purpose.”

“As a staging ground for an assault on the dungeon.”

Pisces signed internally with relief as Embria sat forwards. She pointed to the rough sketch of the tunnel he’d provided and looked at Ilvriss and Zevara with concern in her eyes.

“Wall Lord, Watch Captain. If this Human is correct, the Antinium could flood the dungeon with their numbers at any time.”

“Why? For treasure?”

“Perhaps. Or perhaps they want to claim it? They could double, triple their Hive without us knowing it if they sealed off the entrance. But the idea of treasure—I’ve spoken with Olesm. He claims that even the worst of dungeons hide some kind of treasure.”

All eyes turned back to Pisces. He nodded, still smiling.

“A dungeon is a receptacle for the past, in the end. Even vengeance dungeons are made to hold a nation’s greatest treasures. And one of this magnitude, well. I imagine the greatest treasure recovered from Albez would not compare with what this dungeon might hold. Of course, that is speculation.”

The three Drakes looked at each other. Ilvriss was the first to speak.

“What do the Antinium know that we don’t?”

“Anything. It could be anything.”

Watch Captain Zevara cursed. She stood up and began to pace.

“I could speak with Klbkch. He’s open about his Hive. What he doesn’t tell me reveals more than…”

“Don’t play our hand too early. This requires more thought. High Command should know.”

“As should the Walled Cities. If the Antinium are poised to uncover a grand treasure…Ancestors, how far does this stretch? Was the entire purpose of putting a Hive in Liscor because they knew the dungeon was here?”

Both Drakes looked at Ilvriss and their scales turned grey with shock. Pisces tried not to laugh as the Drakes began panicking. So simple. But he sat up and adopted his most avaricious face as Ilvriss turned to him.

“This information is…helpful. Thank you, Human. We will compensate you. But this stays secret. I will know if you speak of it to anyone. Understand?”

He tried to glare at Pisces while pressuring him with his aura. The [Necromancer] pretended to be suitably cowed and accepted the bag of gold from Ilvriss, peering greedily into it before being dismissed. He left the Watch barracks under an [Invisibility] spell, letting the Drakes continue arguing. Oh, to be a spider on the wall…but they were too alert. Better not to risk it.

Pisces strolled back towards The Wandering Inn, counting the gold and smiling to himself despite the pouring rain. He picked up his pace slightly; he had excused himself from the party at the inn and he was already gone far too long.

All six teams were celebrating surviving the dungeon. None had come out with great treasures, but there were bounties to be claimed and they might level. More importantly, they had lived. They were drinking, toasting each other, and talking about how they’d each survived. It was a jovial mood. For a second Pisces felt a pang that he couldn’t honestly celebrate with the others.

And then he stopped. Someone was leaning against the wall in an alleyway close to where the magic door to Erin’s inn was. Pisces turned, sighed, and stepped into the alley. He reappeared and heard a gasp.

“It is easier if we are not both seen missing from the party.”

The other figure paused.

“I had to know. How did it go?”

Pisces smiled with genuine satisfaction.

“Extremely well. They all paid close attention to the prompts I gave them. They are doubly suspicious of  the Antinium motives. I believe some urgent communications are going out to the Walled Cities now. Which is why I shall be sending [Message] spells with my valuable information as soon as I have the opportunity. Is that to your satisfaction?”

He waited as Ceria brushed water out of her eyes. The half-Elf glanced at Pisces and nodded.

“It is. Are you planning on selling the secret of the Antinium entrances to all the Walled Cities?”

“The Walled Cities—all except Oteslia perhaps since they seldom spend money on purchasing secrets. And the information will be public knowledge among those privy to it soon enough. But yes, the Walled Cities and a select list of nobles in northern Izril.”

Ceria eyed Pisces.

“You have a list? Really?”

“Springwalker, I bought a list of those who might in turn purchase secrets from me. Secrets are valuable wherever one travels and there are those who pay well for any advantage over their competitors. By this time tomorrow everyone will know that the Antinium want something out of Liscor’s dungeon.”

“Yeah. Treasure maybe. Or strategic advantage.”

Ceria shivered in the rain. Pisces nodded.

“I suspect more adventurers will flood into Liscor soon. Far more. And if the Walled Cities do not immediately fund an expedition, well, I would be stunned.”

“Which means there’ll be a lot of competition. A lot more bodies entering the dungeon. The other teams would kill us if they knew we were doing this.”

“Or at the very least, not sharing the profits.”

Pisces hefted the bag of gold. He offered it to Ceria. She swore.

“He gave you that much for talking?”

“He assumed I was going behind all of your backs, so yes. A Wall Lord knows to be generous especially to backstabbing Humans.”

Pisces watched Ceria half-open the bag, and then close it. His old friend closed her eyes, looking pained.

“I know how much trouble this is going to cause. I know. And the other teams deserve to have the first shot at the dungeon. But—”

She looked helplessly at Pisces.

“Do you think they’d understand?”

“We do.”

Yvlon and Ksmvr stepped out of the shadows. Pisces sighed.

“You do know that a sheet over one’s head is not a disguise, Ksmvr?”

“It is not a disguise. I am keeping the rain off of myself and Yvlon.”

“Ah. Carry on.”

The two other Horns of Hammerad joined Pisces and Ceria. Yvlon wiped water out of her hair. Pisces resolved to use a flame spell to dry their clothes before returning to the party. And come up with a suitably unbelievable excuse that hinted at something innocuous. One of them had to be professional about all of this.

“We all talked it over, Ceria. We all agreed. We can’t search that dungeon alone. We’re not qualified. If there is any chance at someone finding Calruz—”

“It’s with everyone fighting to be first into that dungeon. I know. I came up with the idea with what Ksmvr told me.”

Ceria leaned against the wall. She looked at Ksmvr.

“You’re alright with all this, Ksmvr?”

“Yes, for the eighteenth time, Captain Ceria. I am not betraying my Hive.”

Ksmvr stood proudly. He’d acted his part out well. The Shield Spiders had not been part of it, nor had the Silver Swords’ incompetence, but all had worked out in the end. He nodded at his team.

“The knowledge of the dungeon’s entrances will not inconvenience my Hive. I am sure of that.”

Pisces was not, but he watched Ceria pat Ksmvr on the shoulder and the Antinium stand taller without comment. He looked at his team. Fellow conspirators all. He would never have expected this kind of plan from them, but they were always surprising him. Pisces smiled.

“Well, it seems you’ve finally begun taking advantage of my varied and extraordinary skill set, Springwalker, Miss Byres. I hope you will at least enjoy the next phase.”

“Next phase? I thought the next part was that we didn’t talk about this ever again.”

Yvlon eyed Pisces with deep distrust. He sighed.

“Of course, that is part of our design. But we are allowed a bit of enjoyment. Please consider how amusing it will be.”

“What will be?”

The [Necromancer] smiled.

“Why, everything that follows of course.”

He smiled. Above the dungeon adventurers celebrated and grand plots were spun, the outcomes of which only he could guess at. And below the dungeon waited. It had failed to claim the adventurers who had begun to wake it. But there was always more dungeon. And there was always next time.

 


Previous Chapter Next Chapter

5.28

Erin stood in her wrecked inn and looked around. Broken chairs, upended tables, spilled drinks and food marked what had been a very nice setup. She stared aimlessly at a chair lying on the ground with only one remaining leg and then spotted an unconscious Drake lying behind it. She stared around at the comatose bodies, the broken wood, and shook her head.

She knew it was traditional. In stories, that was. She knew it was normal for drunk people to be violent. Sometimes. But, and here was the thing…not everyone who drank got violent. In fact, the aggressive drunks quickly learned that there were some fights you shouldn’t pick. Especially in an inn with Hobgoblin bouncers. And in a world where healing potions cured all wounds but didn’t regrow teeth…being a jerk was a dangerous proposition.

“But here we are.”

Erin kicked at a mug and watched it skitter across the floor. Someone groaned. Erin ignored the sound. Right, so bar fights were traditional. And this wasn’t even the worst aftermath Erin had had to clean up. Just this month the inn had been full of dead moths for crying out loud! Alcohol stains were a lot more pleasant to wipe away than moth blood.

Still, she didn’t have to like it. And she really didn’t. Erin wondered how much it would cost to replace all her tables and chairs again. She mentally added up the damages of broken plates, mugs, bent silverware, and so on until someone interrupted her train of thought.

“So who won?”

“Huh?”

She looked back over her shoulder. Relc was clumsily scribbling on a piece of parchment as he stood amidst the debris. Relc and five other [Guardsmen]—and three [Guardswomen]—had come after the fight had ended. They were now tossing people through the door to Liscor where the rain would wake up the unhappy unconscious Drakes, or forcing their Human counterparts to wait until the door could take them to Celum.

Almost all of the injured guests were Human or Drake and it was telling that Relc was one of only three Drakes that Zevara had sent to clean things up. The Gnolls had stayed out of the fighting by and large and had left peacefully once the fight had ended.

“Well?”

Relc clumsily dipped his quill in the inkpot he held in one huge clawed fist as he stared at Erin. She stared back.

“Who won?”

“Yeah. There’s gotta be a winner in a fight like this, right? I’m so annoyed I missed it!”

The Drake looked around enviously, noting how many unconscious bodies were still there. Erin’s inn had been able to hold several dozen people comfortably within its walls before she obtained the [Grand Theatre] Skill and the room had been packed when the fight broke out. In fact, some people still hadn’t quite realized it was over. Relc spotted a Drake getting to his feet. The drunk Drake looked around, spotted a Human, and lurched towards Erin. Relc turned, punched the Drake off his feet and grinned in satisfaction before turning back to Erin.

“Come on, Erin. Don’t leave me hanging. This is for the report!”

“Well…”

Erin had to think back on the night’s events. Her gaze slid sideways towards the door as it opened. Oh. Griffon Hunt was leaving. They didn’t have a scratch on them. Whereas the Halfseekers had retired to their room with bruises, and both Gemhammer and the Horns of Hammerad had stumbled away looking for healing potions after they’d been woken up.

“I guess if you had to say anyone won, it was Wall Lord Ilvriss and his lot.”

“Really?”

Erin nodded.

“He was the one who started the fight. And he kept it going. He took out Headscratcher, Badarrow, Pisces, Ylawes…all with his bare hands!”

“Claws.”

“Yeah. But he didn’t use his claws. I knew he was good because he was a Wall Lord and all, but he was good. The adventurers aren’t good with fighting with their hands. And all his cronies beat down anyone who attacked him. But still; he was knocking everyone around while I tried to get people to safety.”

What a mess that had been. Erin vaguely recalled punching Ilvriss in the stomach before Ceria and Yvlon had charged him to rescue her. Then it had been trying to restore order with her friends and employees while the main fighting burnt itself out. Erin scowled.

“We did a good job, but even four Hobgoblins had trouble keeping everything contained! In the end everything stopped once eighty percent of the people were knocked out.”

“Yeah, that generally happens in a fight. But what about the Wall Lord guy? I can’t imagine he’d stop fighting just because everyone else was down. I’d have tried to take out everyone standing and then run for it before the Watch showed up.”

Erin glanced sideways at Relc.

“Aren’t you…”

He stared at her expectantly. She decided not to ask and continued.

“Well, he was winning right up until he wasn’t. Mrsha was running around and she nearly got hurt. So then Moore got mad. He grabbed a table and started hitting people with it! Gently. I think Ilvriss tried to stop him—Moore picked him up and threw him across the room. That’s the wall he hit.”

Erin pointed at one of her walls. Relc peered at it. There wasn’t any visible damage thanks to another of Erin’s Skills, but there was a suspicious stain halfway up the wall, as if someone had thrown up a bit when they’d been hurled full-force into the wall. He grinned.

“Awesome.”

The young woman glared at him. Relc raised his claws innocently.

“What? It is! That is one of the coolest bar fights I’ve heard of in a while! And it started because they didn’t like your play?”

“Yup. They didn’t like it. Not one bit.”

Erin sighed. This entire affair had begun over Juliet and Romeo, a slightly updated take on the Shakespearian classic. Unfortunately, one of the updates had been casting a Drake as Juliet and a Human as Romeo. Both Wesle and Jasi had managed to escape the bar fight without many injuries, but the Players of Celum were understandably upset. Erin looked helplessly at Relc.

“Tell me I’m not going to have to replace all of my broken stuff? Please?”

“Nah, you’re cool.”

Relc finished scribbling on the piece of parchment, blew on it, and then tucked it into his leather armor. He waved a claw around carelessly as more people started waking up. It was just past dawn.

“Standard procedure is for us to compensate you for all your broken stuff. Fine the perpetrators all something or toss them in jail if they can’t pay. But since Wall Lord Ilvriss started the fight, we’ll probably just charge him.”

“Just like that?”

“He’s rich. And it’s easier that way.”

Relc shrugged nonchalantly. He spotted Ilvriss getting up—the Wall Lord had used a healing potion and so he looked furious but no worse for the wear. The Drake was having the rest of his retainers pick up the unconscious ones or kick the rest awake as Relc called out to him.

“Hey Wall Lord! We’ll tally the damages and send you a bill for it later, okay?”

Ilvriss looked up. He glared at Erin and shouted back, making most of the unconscious patrons groan and wake up.

“Do what you want! As for, you, Human—”

He jabbed a claw at Erin.

“That play is a disgrace! I demand it be changed!”

“No! Go away, you jerk!”

Erin shook a fist angrily at Ilvriss. She pointed back to her trashed stage.

“That was an innocent love story! What’s wrong with a Human loving a Drake?”

Ilvriss didn’t even deign to respond. His tail curled in contempt as he turned away.

“No self-respecting Drake in Liscor will visit your inn until that bile is taken off the stage! Out of my way!”

He stormed through the door to Liscor, glaring death at Numbtongue who was watching him and the other Drakes. The Hob had a table leg gripped in one hand. Erin shouted at Ilvriss’ back as he walked out into the night and rain.

“Yeah, go ahead and boycott my inn! It won’t be the first time!”

She turned back towards Relc and tried to shrug dismissively.

“He’ll come back after a week or something. No big deal.”

Relc looked skeptical as he glanced around the inn.

“I dunno about that. Drakes like Ilvriss get really touchy about stuff like that play. More than even getting insulted. You might lose a lot of Drake customers. Some Gnolls maybe.”

“So? I can manage. I’ve been a pariah before.”

Erin sighed. She felt tired, cranky, and she wanted to sleep. She gave Relc a pleading look.

“Look, is there anything else?”

He grinned.

“Nope! Looks open and shut to me. We’ll toss the rest of our people out and you can let the poor Humans go to Celum. Oh, and Erin?”

She turned, already heading over to Headscratcher so he could help expedite the cleanup process. She looked at him expectantly and Relc smiled again.

“Next time you put on that play, mind inviting me first? I’d love to bring a few of my buddies. Uh, but don’t tell Embria.”

Erin gave him a blank look. Then she turned and walked away. As she passed by an unconscious Human she kicked him in the side. Sort of gently.

 

—-

 

The next day Griffon Hunt and the Pride of Kelia returned to The Wandering Inn for a standing breakfast. There were some tables, but since Mrsha and Lyonette occupied one with the Halfseekers, the Goblins had the second, and there weren’t enough chairs for the third, they elected to stand.

“We should have eaten somewhere else.”

Revi grumbled until Typhenous cast a spell that created a rotating disc of shimmering air for the others to put their bowls and cups onto. The Gold-rank adventurers ate in silence, eying the Pride of Kelia as the nine Gnolls munched on fatty bacon and sniffed the air.

“Still planning on entering the dungeon?”

Nailren looked up and grinned toothily at Revi, ignoring her acerbic tone of voice.

“A bar fight will not stop our team, Miss Revi. We await Gemhammer’s decision, but we will enter the dungeon today regardless of whether we will be joined. We invite you as well, if you wish it.”

“Bah.”

Revi turned away and scowled at Halrac. He shook his head and Nailren nodded. The adventurers looked up and saw Erin hurry over with a plate of hot bacon.

“Sorry! Ow! Sorry! This is hot off the stove! Don’t grab for it, Mrsha! Anyone want seconds?”

Hands were raised across the inn. Erin came over to Griffon Hunt and placed a rasher of bacon on Halrac’s plate. The [Scout] grunted his thanks.

“So…I hear that Gemhammer’s resting up, but they’ll be coming to the inn around lunch and then going to the dungeon after they eat my horrible magic food. What are you guys doing?”

The [Innkeeper] slid into the conversation with all the grace of a bloated wyvern. Typhenous smiled and accepted a single slice of greasy bacon to go with his bread as he replied.

“Ah, thank you Miss Solstice. I believe we will continue our job. That is, untrapping the dungeon’s main entrance with the Halfseekers. If they’re recovered?”

He glanced at the three non-Humans. Jelaqua waved a claw, grinning.

“We’re good! Moore’s the only one who got hurt and that was only after the Drakes rushed him. I’d be more worried about the Silver Swords!”

“My brother’s fine.”

Yvlon spoke quietly from her seat. She kept adjusting the gauntlets on her arms, tapping at them and grimacing. By her side, Ceria was sharpening her dagger on a whetstone while Ksmvr ate. Pisces was reading from a spellbook. They looked like normal on the surface, but the [Necromancer]’s leg was jiggling and Ksmvr was gobbling his food a bit too fast.

“We’re planning on entering the dungeon too. Today, I mean.”

Ceria met Nailren’s eyes. The Gnoll nodded at her.

“Interesting. We would welcome a joint expedition. Unless you plan on entering through the trapped area?”

Griffon Hunt and the Halfseekers frowned, but Ceria shook her head. She cast her head sideways and glanced at Pisces who stopped reading.

“We shall be using a different entrance.”

“A what?

All the adventurers stared at Pisces. He sniffed smugly, clearly enjoying the situation. Revi leaned over and hissed at Halrac as Erin hurried into the kitchen, muttering about buying chairs in bulk from Celum.

Another way in? How in the name of quilting did someone find—you don’t think they’ve got a leg up on us, do you?”

Halrac shook his head, his eyes flicking from Pisces’ face to Ceria’s nervous motions.

“If they have another entrance it doesn’t matter. We’re all entering the dungeon from different areas and no one knows where our objective is. They’ll be uncertain of their backs and that’s more dangerous than our route.”

“But we’re still untrapping—”

Revi broke off as the door opened. Watch Captain Zevara strode in—not from the magic door, but from the regular entrance that now led across the water. She shook water off her boots onto the rug as Erin poked her head out of the kitchen.

“Uh oh. Here comes trouble.”

“Not yet, Human.”

Zevara looked tired but resigned as she met Erin in the inn, looking around. The first thing she handed Erin was a bag of coins—payment for her broken furniture. Erin’s eyes went round.

“Wow, you’re sure? But I’m not a part of Liscor! Am I?”

The Watch Captain shrugged.

“You are not. But the fight was started by citizens of the city and Wall Lord Ilvriss. And Drake law is clear—we compensate business owners for damage.”

Erin eyed the Watch Captain.

“What about Krshia?”

The Drake looked blank.

“What about her? We compensated her for her shop and goods. As much as we could after appraising the magical items the thief—er, Miss Lyonette’s seized possessions. We don’t pay out of the city’s funds.”

“But what about the—”

Erin hesitated. She bit her tongue as Zevara peered at her suspiciously.

“Well, thanks! I guess Ilvriss has a lot of money.”

“He is a Wall Lord. What about Miss Krshia?”

“Nothing! So, why are you here, Watch Captain? Just to give me money?”

The Drake grunted, folding her arms and peering at Erin. After a while she gave up and shrugged.

“No, I am also investigating the cause of last night’s disturbance. This play. I’ve received a petition with a thousand signatures on it already. Can you arrange a viewing for me? Or recreate the offending scene?”

Erin sucked in her lips.

“Maybe. Let me see if I can find Wesle. If not…well, I’m no [Actor] but I could give it a shot.”

As it happened, Erin was able to send Lyonette into the city and locate Wesle within ten minutes thanks to Mrsha’s nose. By the time breakfast was over and the Halfseekers were conferring with Griffon Hunt, they saw Zevara watching Erin and Wesle acting out the controversial scene in question. The Watch Captain watched as Erin waved down at Wesle with a handkerchief and shook her head. Then the [Innkeeper] and [Actor] turned anxiously to Zevara. She looked at both of them and sighed.

“It’s not offensive.”

Both Humans sighed in relief. Watch Captain Zevara swished her tail as she studied Erin.

“This was played by a Drake, wasn’t it? Not offensive. Or rather, it’s not something I’d arrest anyone over. You can continue putting the play on. Just don’t expect many Drake visitors. Particularly the male ones. And consider staying out of the city for a day or two. There’s an uproar about the content of the play already.”

“Those jerks!”

Erin scowled, but Zevara had already turned her attention to the two Gold-rank teams. The Halfseekers were getting ready to go and Griffon Hunt was already at the door. The Watch Captain stared at the fiery golden breastplate Jelaqua was carefully putting on.

“So Miss Selys really did lease the Heartflame Breastplate.”

“That’s right.”

Jelaqua turned, her pale body illuminated by the magical glow of the artifact. Every head in the room turned towards her. Zevara stared and then coughed.

“I’m told your group is entering the dungeon today? As is a pair of Silver-rank teams and the Horns of Hammerad?”

She stared at the other adventurers who looked wary. Jelaqua nodded carefully.

“That’s right. Do you have a problem with that?”

Zevara hesitated before grimacing and shaking her head.

“I’ve consulted with the Adventurer’s Guild and Guildmistress Tekshia has declined to intervene. I will do the same on a few conditions.”

She turned her head and stared around the room, finding each team leader’s eyes, save for the absent Silver Swords and Gemhammer.

“I don’t care if you lot live or die down in the dungeon. That’s not my role. But the defense of the city is my role, and that means that if you wake up anything in the dungeon, I will hold you accountable for whatever comes out. This is classified information, but a Silver-rank team was responsible for the attack on Liscor.”

Zevara waited for a response, but even the Pride of Kelia didn’t react. Revi rolled her eyes.

“We know. We told you.”

The Watch Captain silenced her with a withering look. She turned up her glare a few notches.

“You have a responsibility as adventurers. I want a [Message] spell sent to the local Mage’s Guild the instant you find anything…extremely dangerous. Something that could threaten Liscor. I don’t care about treasure or adventuring secrets—if there’s something down there like the moths I expect to hear about it.”

She stared around and then grudgingly nodded.

“Please.”

With that, she turned and strode out of the room. Erin looked around as Wesle walked back through the door to Celum. She smiled anxiously.

“So that was nice. You’re all going in then, huh?”

“We’re going right now. Good luck to you.”

Halrac nodded at the other adventurers. The Pride of Kelia came over to shake his hand. Typhenous touched staffs with a Gnoll wearing beads and feathers. A [Shaman]? The Halfseekers did likewise and Jelaqua grabbed Ceria’s hand.

“You stay behind the Silver Swords. They’re good. I’ve seen them in action. It’s never wrong to retreat.”

Ceria nodded, trying not to let her hands shake. To everyone’s surprise, Revi hugged the half-Elf fiercely and then did the same to Nailren.

“Don’t you dare die, you idiotic rookies. I hate having to learn new names.”

She left them at that. Griffon Hunt lined up next to the door to Liscor and the Halfseekers stepped over to join them. Moore looked at the small doorway with dismay and ducked his head.

“Everyone set?”

Halrac glanced over. The others nodded. Erin cleared her throat as she set the door to Liscor.

“I’m going with you.”

The room went silent. Ksmvr choked on his bacon and Ceria nearly fell out of her chair. Erin looked around.

“Just to the entrance. I want to see. I’ll be back to see off the others.”

“Oh come on.”

Revi grumbled, but Halrac studied Erin’s face. She met his eyes and he nodded briefly.

“Come, then.”

Then he opened the door and stepped out into the rain.

 

—-

 

The rain fell over Liscor. Unending. A torrent. It seemed some days as though it would never stop. But it would. It had been part of Liscor’s history since the city had been founded. And though the residents quickly grew accustomed to the gray skies, the never-ending background roar, the flooded waters, they never quite forgot the memory of clear skies. Of the sun.

And they were on the streets. Moving from building to building in clumps, or just giving up and letting the rain soak them. The Drakes and Gnolls of Liscor walked in a miserable fugue until they saw the fire.

It walked down the street. A burning, catching the eye. Light. Heat. A Drake walked forwards, her breastplate gleaming as her body burned. The Heartflame Breastplate shone as the Selphid walked down the street. But she was not alone.

A half-Giant walked by her side, his back stooped, a giant staff in his hands. He towered above the tallest Gnolls, made the fiercest warriors think twice about their strength. And in his shadow a Drowned Man dressed in black flickered between shadows. His hands never left the enchanted daggers at his side. One Human hand, one crustacean claw.

Next to them walked a man with a scowl on his face. An unfriendly Human, but one that attracted as many looks as the Heartflame Breastplate. Because his face was a hero’s. His bow did not shine but the arrows stowed in his quiver were magical. He walked silent through the rain. By his side strode a Stitch-Girl, tugging at the strings holding together her body. Next to her strode an old Human, white bearded, his eyes shining with magic.

Six adventurers. They walked out of a door at the western gates, headed straight through the center of the city without pause. The streets cleared before them. It wasn’t a conscious thing. It was simply instinct. The citizens of Liscor watched the Gold-rank adventurers pass and felt the rain intensify as they passed. And they felt a chill. Of excitement? Or fear? It was impossible to say, but the passing of the adventurers struck a chord in those who saw them.

And behind them tripped a young woman, almost unnoticed by the crowds. She followed the adventurers to the northern gates—to the battlements and down a ladder, actually. There was another rope bridge leading north across the waters. The young woman stepped cautiously onto the bridge, watching her feet sink into the waters. Then she looked out at the distant plume of earth visible amid the flooded plains. She followed the adventurers as they headed across the bridge, looking around carefully for dangerous maritime life.

“Whoop, whoop. Whoa.”

Erin unsteadily walked across the bridge as it shifted slightly underwater. The footing was surprisingly firm given the downpour, but the dark skies and the way the bridge would sometimes move underfoot was unnerving. After a while, Revi glanced behind her and muttered to her companions.

“Why do we have to put up with her?”

The Halfseekers ignored her. So did Revi’s team at first. Her complaining was something they had gotten used to. But Halrac turned his head back to answer as they drew closer to the mound of earth guarded by a platoon of [Guardsmen] from Liscor.

“Because she’s helped us before. And because she sells us magical food cheap.”

“Ah. Right.”

Revi grimaced and tugged at her tongue as if she wanted to pull it out. Erin wondered if she actually could. Stitch-People did weird things. The Scale Soup she’d served the adventurers was certainly effective—according to Moore it was like a lesser [Barkskin] spell. But it was also about as appealing as eating a bunch of fish scales mixed with glue, which, it had to be said, were major components of the actual soup. Now her stitch-flesh was tough enough to withstand cuts from an unenchanted dagger. But it was still unpleasant.

“So that’s the entrance to the dungeon?”

Erin called out as she followed Griffon Hunt. Ramparts made out of dirt and stone had been constructed at the end of the water bridge. And in behind them, a large gaping tunnel lead down into the earth. Drakes and Gnolls stood on the battlements, staring into the depths or peeking back at the approaching adventurers.

“That’s right. The Antinium dug up the ground around the entrance. It hasn’t begun to leak yet.”

Jelaqua called over her shoulder. Erin stared at the drenched fortifications ahead. She remembered the entrance sitting out in the open, surrounded by adventurers and [Merchants] eager to explore it.

Now the dungeon was a small dirt fort surrounded by water, abandoned by all but a few groups of adventurers. There was no sense of curiosity or excitement surrounding it anymore. It sat wetly in the pouring rain, the dark opening waiting. In that, Erin thought she liked the dungeon more now. It looked like what it was. A trap.

“Well, here we are. I don’t think you want to come further. You can go back now.”

Revi looked pointedly at Erin as the others began climbing the ramp leading up to the dungeon. The [Innkeeper] looked at the Stitch-Girl.

“You be careful, okay? If you’re in trouble send a [Message].”

“As if you could do anything about it.”

The [Summoner]’s harsh words were betrayed by the way she let Erin hug her. She patted Erin awkwardly on the shoulder and headed into the dungeon.

“Better not hug me. I’m on fire.”

Jelaqua grinned at Erin. She nodded and the girl tried to smile. Moore was next. Erin grabbed his hand. Typhenous let Erin hug him and Halrac merely nodded. Erin looked around and frowned.

“Seborn?”

Here.

She jumped. The Drowned Man stood behind Erin. The Human half of his face looked unreadable as ever. Erin looked at Seborn and tried to smile.

“So you’re going in. Are you nervous?”

We’ve done this dozens of times before. Don’t worry about us.

“So I should worry about the others? Will they be okay?”

Seborn paused as he checked his daggers. The others were talking with the [Guardsmen] on the ramparts.

No one’s ever not nervous. But I think we’re determined to make progress today.

“Because of what the others said?”

The Drowned Man half-smiled. It was a strange look, watching half his face twist while the other half remained still.

Let’s just say that they reminded us we’re not alone. It’s not pleasant, being called a coward.

“They didn’t say—”

They didn’t need to. And they’re right, in a way.

“Really?”

Erin had never heard Seborn talk this much. It was a sign of nerves. The Drowned Man nodded as he drew an enchanted dagger that sent a fiery spark into the waters.

We could be more aggressive. It’s true. What the Pride of Kelia and Gemhammer are doing is dangerous. Exceptionally so. But it’s not more than what we did when we were Silver-rank.”

“You did stuff like that?”

An obvious question. But Erin just wanted to let Seborn talk. He nodded.

“Silver-rank teams risk their lives to reach the level of Gold-rank adventurers. We’re more cautious with our lives because we have that much more to lose. It is cowardly, but it’s why we get to keep on living. Sometimes though, we have to remember to be bold. That’s what makes us Gold-rank. Not cowardice.

“And Named Adventures? What makes them?”

Seborn paused. He looked at Erin and his gaze was…sad.

They’re the ones who never stopped diving into the abyss. Some of them are heroes. Most are just insane.

He turned.

Thank you for coming. I think the others appreciate it more than they’ll say. We’ve done this dozens of times, but adventurers are superstitious too.

“Hey.”

Erin stopped him as Seborn went for the entrance. He turned and she held out a hand.

“Come back safe.”

He blinked at her. He shifted his dagger but she waggled her hand. Slowly, the Drowned Man held out his claw hand. With exquisite care he closed the crab-like hand over Erin’s. She shook it, feeling the cold, hard shell under her skin. Seborn looked at her and then smiled.

We truly were thankful to meet you. Keep a table open. I still like seafood, you know.

Then he turned and walked up the ramp. Erin watched him go. The first group entered the dungeon. The second departed at lunch.

 

—-

 

“We’re good. Thanks, Miss Solstice.”

“You’re sure?”

“We’ve got boats. We’ve got rocks to sink with—hell, we could probably do it with what we’re carrying. If we get chewed up on the way down that’s that. But we bought a potion of water breathing and we’ll share it between us so we can get back up if we miss our target.”

“Indeed. Thank you for the soup.”

“I dunno if you should thank me. It’s awful, I know.”

“I’ve never found a potion that tasted great.”

Earlia smiled as she balanced in the rocking boat. Her team was already sitting and there were two more boats. Both were crewed by Drakes hired from Liscor. They were going to head straight for the rift.

“Like Zevara said, send a [Message] if you’re in trouble. You can use that spell, right?”

“Our [Gem Mage] can. Not sure about the Pride’s [Shaman] but we’ll stick together. This is just testing the waters. Maybe more if we get rolling. Alright, we’ve got to go before the boats fill up.”

Earlia nodded to Erin and headed to her boat. Nailren smiled at her.

“Do not be so anxious. Not for our sakes. We are acquaintances, yes? You barely know us.”

“I want to get to know you more. Come back, okay?”

“If we can, we will.”

The Gnoll’s eyes were calm but he gripped Erin’s hand tighter than he had before as he stepped towards the boats. She saw them cast off into the waters.

There were no waves. Only the churning rain. So the boats moved fairly quickly despite the load as the Drake [Rowers] carried the adventurers across the Floodplains. They attracted less attention. They did not shine. But a good number of Liscor’s population were on the walls. They cast fishing lines into the water or sat on the battlements as a social thing beneath temporary canopies. They watched the adventurers head to the rift in silence.

Silence and trepidation. The two teams looked so few in number and the waters swallowed their vessels the further away they got. They floated out further on the waters, where things lurked in the depths. The sky, the mountains around Liscor were tall. But how far down did the waters go? Uncertainty filled the hearts of many. But there were still some, children and adults both who stared at the Silver-rank teams with admiration as well as fear.

They dropped into the water as Erin watched. First one, and then in groups of three. Vanishing below without a trace. The boat Drakes watched the ripples fade and then rowed away. They would come back if the adventurers sent a request via spell. If they were contacted.

And then there was nothing. Erin went back into her inn and felt trepidation. She looked at the last group, at Ksmvr helping check Yvlon’s armor, at Pisces trying to fight Mrsha for her wand and then giving up despite Ceria’s scolding, at Ylawes rubbing his head and Dawil joking with Falene and her not joking back.

“Are you sure?”

“It’s time.”

Ceria hugged Erin, and then Lyonette, and then Mrsha. The Gnoll clung to her, not wanting to let go. She howled as the Horns of Hammerad walked outside. Not to go to Liscor, but to a pair of waiting boats. These ones had no Drakes attached—they’d been leased for the day. Yvlon was next. She held Erin’s hands, smiling.

“We’ll make it. This time is different.”

“I know. I know.”

Erin squeezed gently, trying not to look at Yvlon’s arms. Beneath their gauntlets they looked normal. But metal had become part of her flesh. And that had been in Albez. What would happen…?

“I will defend my team with my life. But I will not die and abandon them.”

Ksmvr nodded at Erin. She hugged him.

“That’s good. Just be careful, okay?”

“Caution is not always a valid strategy.”

She laughed. Next came Ylawes, Dawil, Falene. She didn’t know them as well so they didn’t try to hug her or shake her hand. But they smiled at her.

“We’ll take care of them, Miss Solstice.”

For once Falene’s touch of superiority was comforting. Erin looked at Ylawes.

“Be a good brother, okay?”

“I will try.”

He saluted her. Dawil thrust him aside.

I’ll take a hug, thanks. It’s nice to be shorter! Humans are at a comfortable level for my head!”

He laughed raucously as Ylawes covered his face and Falene looked disgusted. Dawil’s head was at breast-height. The Dwarf meant it as a joke, but Erin hugged him fiercely anyways.

“You silly Dwarf! Come back and I’ll give you another hug.”

“Ah, lass. I’ve no intention of biting it in this dungeon. Dwarves prefer to die in stone. Which this dungeon has, mind you. But there’s too much water for my tastes. Keep a keg ready when we get back!”

And that was that. The Silver Swords walked out. Pisces was the last one. He stood, looking paler than usual. He smiled at Erin.

“Well Miss Solstice? Will you wish me well?”

“Of course I will.”

Erin hugged him. Pisces looked surprised.

“It feels like we met long ago. But it was not too long that I was threatening you for food, wasn’t it?”

“It does feel like that! And I don’t know why I’m making such a big deal of all this! Just come back, okay?”

Erin sniffed into Pisces’ robes. The [Necromancer] squeezed her ever so hesitantly and then stepped back.

“That you care matters. And this is the first time we are entering the dungeon. I…I will promise you this. It will not be the last.”

He turned and then hesitated. Pisces seemed to fight with himself for a moment and then turned back.

“We will be well.”

He left with that. No smug comments, no arrogance. Erin knew he really was worried. She sniffed as the Horns cast off with the Silver Swords following.

No one watched them go. A few people saw them head out but when they headed away from the dungeon’s rift, they assumed the adventurers weren’t bound for the dungeon. There were more boats cautiously fishing with nets and hooks in the water. The two teams passed all of them by. They headed north, past the city and then towards a hill partially submerged in rain. The adventurers disappeared into the crypt, a spot almost forgotten. The horrors of Skinner were long vanquished. What reason had they to be there? Only Erin knew. She watched as they went. Then she turned.

Lyonette was holding Mrsha as the Gnoll sniffed. Drassi was staring out into the rain anxiously. Behind them, the five Redfang Goblins looked restless. They straightened as Erin looked at them.

“Do you want to go in there too?”

They didn’t respond. But Headscratcher met Erin’s eyes for a second and then looked away. She nodded.

“Wait.”

That was all they could do. So Erin sat at her table. Then she got up and pointed.

“I’m going out. Lyonette, wait there. I’ll be back. I need to set something up. Drassi, how would you like to be paid to sit and talk with people for an entire day?”

“Ooh, what did you have in mind?”

Erin opened the door to Liscor. She stepped out into the rain and strode through the streets. She was waiting. And in the dungeon three teams stepped into the darkness. And the darkness was waiting.

 

—-

 

Three groups entered the dungeon. The first halted at a door tagged with glowing chalk. They formed up, Seborn and Halrac in front. The Drowned Man had a dagger in his hands. Halrac had an arrow glowing with frost drawn.

“Let’s begin.”

Behind the two trap experts stood Typhenous and Jelaqua. Revi and Moore brought up the rear. Seborn held up a hand as he inspected the door. They’d come through this door countless times but he still checked it. Not just for traps; for signs someone had opened it.

Hay’s still there.

He plucked a piece of straw out of the doorjamb. Halrac nodded. He held up three fingers and counted down. Seborn waited and then yanked the door open. Both adventurers looked into the room. Halrac trained his bow on the first thing he saw until he recognized it.

“Metal pillar. We’ve been here.”

He nodded at a mark made on the far wall. Seborn squinted at it.

Recheck.

“Of course.”

Both [Scout] and [Rogue] used their Skills to check the room for changes. But there was no discernible difference so Halrac motioned.

“The pillar’s a blade trap. Stay to the edges. We disarmed it without you but you never know.”

Seborn nodded and Jelaqua relayed the quiet words to Moore and Revi.

We can get Moore to hit it on the way back out if we have time.

“Does that…help?”

He might be able to grow plants over the thing if he can make a gap. Or just break the mechanisms.

The adventurers made their way through the room. Again, Halrac and Seborn checked the door. This time they didn’t speak as they made their way to the next corridor. The first room was done. The next one would be random as well. Such was the nature of this dungeon; each room was selected from a group of trapped rooms and so the layout was different every time. It was meant to frustrate anyone trying to enter the dungeon safely.

However, there was a flaw to that kind of dungeon making. With time and patience, a good team could neutralize every trapped room and proceed freely regardless of which room they got. The next room was similarly neutralized; Seborn recognized the narrow corridor.

Pit trap. Metalbite Slimes. We took out the pressure plate.

“Understood.”

The two moved ahead. They spoke little, but their conversation alone hinted at the good relationship they had. They proceeded through the fourth room and fifth, each time running into a cleared trap.

“This is a record for us. You?”

We made it this far before. Took out a trap that tried to boil us alive.

“You mean burn.”

Nope. Doubt we’ll get lucky again.

The [Rogue] pushed open the door and nodded.

“Thought not. Look at that.”

This room was almost insultingly safe looking. A bed had been placed in the center of the room, a lovely-looking king-sized bed. It looked enchanted, which was probably the reason it had held up so long. Halrac grunted.

“They’re not even trying. What is—”

A hand blocked his view. Instantly Halrac jerked back. Seborn averted his gaze.

Some kind of spell on the bedposts.

“Clever.”

Halrac had barely looked at the bed but he felt something sting his sensitive eyes. He drew back and Seborn shielded him from the doorway.

“Everything alright?”

Jelaqua looked at the two. Halrac relayed news of what lay ahead. Typhenous stroked his beard.

“Rune trap magic, most likely. I can try to dispel it—”

“Don’t bother. It’s not the only trap. They want us to try and get close to the bed. I’m sure it’ll do something. Turn out to be an illusionary golem or something. We’ll take it out from afar.”

“Ah. Let me know if you need a spell.”

Halrac looked back at Seborn. The Drowned Man was fishing at his belt.

“We could use a [Sticky Webs] spell. Or do you think it’s too risky?”

I was going to try activating the spell by hitting the post with something cutting. See what we’re up against. We can always block off the doorway.

“You’ve got something that will work? I could shoot it.”

“Too risky. Might activate and damage your eyes. I’ll hit it blind. I’ve got these bags of flour from that [Alchemist]. I’ll fill the room and make a—”

“Dust explosion. I know.”

Halrac nodded. He was familiar with the idea. Back in his village he’d once seen a mill go up due to that very thing. It had been their only mill, in fact. They never built another one. Lost in thought, he waited, averting his eyes from the room beyond. There must have been a compulsion spell mixed in there too because he wanted to walk in there and lie on the bed. He did not.

Seborn busied himself, preparing the bags of densely packed powder. After a while Halrac spoke absently.

“It’s called straw, actually. Hay is feed. Dried grass, legumes. Straw is dead stalks.”

The Drowned Man looked up briefly.

Really? I didn’t know that. We don’t get much straw at sea. What’s the difference between a hay bale and a straw one?

“You don’t feed straw to animals.”

Halrac said nothing more. He waited as Seborn tossed the bags of flour over his shoulder. They fountained up, filling the room with fine particles. Typhenous sneezed as everyone moved back. Then Seborn pulled out a tightly stoppered flask.

Ready?

The [Scout] nodded. He braced himself as Seborn lobbed the vial into the room. Then he slammed the door shut. Everyone waited. They heard a sound of something breaking, then a thump. Halrac waited behind the door calmly. The magical doorway held, but when he opened the door the room was in flames. There was something thrashing around in the center. Halrac took one look.

“Mimic. Looks like the wards are covered or obscured.”

“Let me cast a spell first.”

Typhenous stepped forwards. Halrac waited until the mage threw long ropes of sticky webs into the fire and then nodded at Seborn. He stepped out, aimed at the mimic and began loosing arrows. Typhenous threw a ball that ate part of the elongated mimic away and made it scream.

So far, so good.

 

—-

 

“Watch it!”

One of the adventurers from Gemhammer snapped a warning. The Gnoll from the Pride of Kelia froze. The Human pointed.

“Loose stone. Take another handhold.”

The Gnoll nodded. The descent continued as the adventurers shook water that fell to the dungeon floor below. They weren’t far up, only fifteen feet or so from the place where water met dungeon. But a fall from that height was still dangerous.

“Good catch.”

Nailren was descending with Earlia. The Gnolls were less burdened and moved faster, but Gemhammer was moving well too. Earlia slowly climbed downwards, grunting, taking care not to let the water slip her up.

“Let us go first. We’ve got shields and your people can get up and down faster.”

The Gnoll grunted in agreement. He growled softly and the Gnolls below him paused to let the Humans go past. Curiously, Nailren stared at the Humans. Gemhammer chose their grips carefully. They were not good climbers compared to the Gnolls, but they seemed oddly certain.

“Strange.”

“Not strange. They have Skills related to mining. We were all once [Miners] before we found out we could kill monsters with hammers and pickaxes.”

Earlia was about ten feet from the ground, next to an overhang that would expose her to the rest of the dungeon. She looked up. Nailren nodded and sniffed. He growled and made a gesture with his paws. He showed Earlia two fingers, then three.

“Shit.”

She didn’t say anything more. She looked at the other adventurers that had paused with her at the overhang. Then she nodded. Earlia grabbed the next handhold and moved down. She slipped, cursed, and then dropped.

“Shields up!”

She screamed an order as the rest of Gemhammer dropped. The adventurers swore as they landed but three grabbed heavy shields and pulled them up. Just in time. Crude arrows shattered on the shields and one struck one of the adventurers in the arm. She cried out but the chainmail had absorbed the blow.

“Attack! Drop and take cover behind the Humans!”

Nailren roared as the rest of the Pride of Kelia scrambled down the cliff. He dropped, ignoring the pain of landing and rolled behind an adventurer with a shield. He saw Earlia dive as she tried to bring her shield up. Arrows were flying everywhere. One missed her head.

“Loose!”

There were shapes in the darkness. Snarling. The Raskghar loosed arrows, unpleasantly surprised that they had been anticipated again. They attacked quietly, sniffing. The Gnolls growled as they smelled an ancient scent. They drew their bows and began to loose arrows, eliciting quiet howls.

“Gemhammer!”

Earlia kept her voice to a low snap. She grabbed her shield and raised it, hunkering behind it. The Humans formed a wall of their bodies and shields for the Gnolls.

“Hold the line! When the warriors come up, I want Timgal, Fea, and Blaik on me! The rest keep your shields up!”

The Gnolls kept loosing arrows and the Raskghar moved back. One began to beat the walls in a quick rhythm with a stone mace. The sound echoed down the corridor.

“Calling for reinforcements.”

Nairlen’s voice was tight as he aimed and loosed. He snarled as his [Double Shot] made a Raskghar fall with two arrows in his chest. Earlia snarled herself.

“It was an ambush! Just like the [Innkeeper] said! Hold tight! We’re getting through this!”

The adventurers and Raskghar fought, the sounds echoing but not too far. Both sides kept quiet for fear of what they might attract. But they were already being watched. And as more shapes moved out of the darkness, the adventurers realized there were a lot of Raskghar. And then the brutal ancient cousins of Gnolls moved in for the attack.

 

—–
“So this is the secret entrance you were talking about.”

Falene shook her head as she stared down the dark shaft of stone leading down that Pisces and Olesm had found. She peered into the darkness and looked back.

“I assume you checked for traps?”

“We did. Conduct your own investigation if you are so concerned.”

Pisces snapped back. He stepped to the edge as Falene whispered a spell. Behind him Ceria looked on with Ylawes.

“Incredible. A third entrance to the dungeon and this one connects to the crypts. One wonders how extensive this dungeon is.”

Ylawes stared into the pit, looking troubled. Dawil was more practical. He grunted as he squatted down over the edge, not bothered by the drop.

“That’s far down. What’s the plan for getting down there? Jump and [Featherfall]? Or rope?”

“It’s dangerous to leave an exit for monsters to get out of.”

“More dangerous than cutting off our escape route?”

Ceria countered, looking at Ylawes. He shrugged.

“I’d be more comfortable letting Falene toss a rope back up when we need to go. She can do it with [Telekinesis].”

“What if she’s dead? Or hurt?”

The [Knight] paused.

“She won’t be.”

Ceria exchanged a glance with Yvlon. The female warrior looked troubled.

“And if she is?”

Ylawes frowned, but in the end agreed to put down a rope for a quick exit. He waited until Ksmvr had declared it secure with Dawil’s approval before nodding.

“You take that rope down. We’ll go in first.”

“What?”

“I insist. We’re a Gold-rank team and prepared to deal with whatever is down there.”

“There should be just bones. Isn’t that right, Pisces?”

The [Necromancer] sniffed.

“There are bones. It is a burial chamber for the Raskghar. I scouted it with a Shield Spider before and one is down there now.”

Everyone stared at him. Pisces raised his eyebrows.

“Oh, come now. Did you expect us to enter a dungeon without proper scouting?”

He looked pointedly at the Silver Swords. Falene narrowed her eyes slightly. Ylawes looked put out.

“So you intend to scout with…undead?”

“Far better than living beings. Unless one of you has a class specializing in trap detection? How were you planning on exploring the dungeon?”

Falene raised her eyebrows.

“I am quite capable of detecting magic.”

“And floor traps?”

Pisces didn’t wait for a response. He looked at Ceria and Yvlon.

“Once we arrive below I intend to reanimate at least eight of the skeletons. They will form an advance guard and scout ahead. I can also fashion a Bone Horror.”

“One of those things?”

Ylawes looked appalled. Ceria just exchanged a glance with Yvlon. The blonde woman nodded. Her mouth compressed to a tight line but she did nod.

“Do it, Pisces.”

The [Necromancer] smiled briefly and began climbing down the rope. Caught off-guard, the Silver Swords watched him climb down and then saw Ksmvr hurry after him. Ylawes gripped his sword hilt, frustrated.

“Incredible. Are you actually serious about this, Yvlon?”

“You knew he was a [Necromancer], Ylawes. What’s the point in having a teammate with that ability if we don’t use it to survive? His undead have saved our lives more than once.”

“Still.”

The Horns of Hammerad descended one at a time while the Silver Swords took a more direct method. They jumped and slowly floated down. Ceria rolled her eyes as Falene drifted past her, Dawil grumbling about his stomach. When they were in the burial chamber they saw Pisces had already gotten to work. Six Raskghar were standing and two more were striding out of the entrance.

“Feh.”

Dawil wrinkled his nose but Pisces ignored him. He pointed.

“There is a trap ahead. It destroyed my Shield Spider the first time. I suggest we proceed carefully down the corridor checking for traps. There may be more that are only attuned to the living.”

“Indeed. I will inspect the trap, then.”

Falene strode forwards but Pisces held an arm out. Affronted, she stared at him. He looked pointedly at Ylawes.

“Should not a warrior go first? In case of ambush? Perhaps Sir Ylawes and Dawil?”

Ceria nodded in agreement. Ylawes looked irate at being ordered, but he stepped forwards with Dawil. He held his shield up as the Dwarf gripped his hammer.

“Alright! Let’s explore this damn dungeon already!”

Dawil’s voice boomed down the corridor. Ceria nearly bit her tongue.

“Shut up! Do you want to attract attention?”

“What? Oh. Sorry.”

The Dwarf mitigated his voice a bit. Ylawes strode forwards, his eyes searching every direction. Ceria stared as Falene followed after them. Pisces blew out his cheeks and Yvlon paused as Ksmvr brought up the rear.

“Hey Ceria. You don’t think—”

“I think so. Rot, rot, rot. How did we not think of this?”

“They never said!”

“Said what?”

Ksmvr was watching the rear as he had volunteered to do. He glanced at Ceria and Yvlon as they conferred. Pisces was watching the two with a frown on his face. The Antinium glanced at his teammates and shook his head. He had a bow in his hand and the enchanted dagger in the other.

“I never understand what is going on.”

 

—-

 

Earlia didn’t know when she began shouting. She flung a bag filled with spreading vines ahead and watched the Tripvine Bag engulf a charging Raskghar. The huge not-Gnoll tripped as it tried to leap at her with club in hand. The club was crude stone and wood, but the monster was huge! A head taller than a Gnoll and a third again as wide! Its head was too small, and its claws could lay open her skin as it thrashed wildly.

No time to hesitate. No time to be afraid. Earlia charged with a shout.

“Cover me!”

She rushed the Raskghar. It was fighting to get free. It struggled up as she raised the warhammer and saw the metal head falling. It raised an arm. Too slow. Too late. The blow cracked the arm and the thing howled.

Again! Earlia’s arms strained as she lifted the warhammer. She brought it down hard. This time the blow cracked the Raskghar’s head. It made a horrible gurgling sound and slumped. The Tripvines continued to spread as Earlia staggered back. Something hit her chest—an arrow, breaking on her chainmail.

“Captain!”

A hand yanked her backwards. Earlia fell back behind the group of her people holding shields. She felt at her chest. The chainmail had held. If it had been a better bow, or if the arrow tips had been made of anything but crude stone—

“More coming!”

The Raskghar were assaulting their position. The Pride of Kelia and Gemhammer were entrenched, exchanging shots while the [Warriors] held their ground. But they were outnumbered and frankly, outmatched. The Raskghar were terrifyingly huge and strong. Earlia wasn’t sure if she’d have been able to beat the one in front of her in a fair fight. But there was still a way to victory.

“Hit them with a Pepperspray Potion!”

She roared at one of her teammates. The man fumbled for a potion and the charging forms visibly hesitated. They retreated, howling, as the man lifted the potion. Earlia grinned savagely.

Yes, that was it! The Raskghar didn’t have potions or alchemical equipment. And they didn’t have levels. One of the Gnolls behind her snatched at the air. Nailren lifted the arrow he’d caught and put it to his bowstring and sent it back into the darkness. There was another howl.

“How’re we doing?”

Earlia shouted at him. Nailren’s ears switched as he sniffed the air.

“Many are here! Many more—coming! They are howling for support!”

“Damn! They really want us dead!”

The Human woman cursed, glancing around. They knew they’d be walking into an ambush, but the innkeeper, Erin, had told her that the Goblins had fought off only a handful of Raskghar. Had they lied? Or had the monsters doubled their watch?

“Captain! More coming from the left!”

A wail came from Fea. The girl was the youngest and her finger trembled as she pointed around her shield. Earlia saw a group of eight Raskghar approaching.

“Dead gods. Get me another Tripvine bag! Or one of our explosives! Hurry!”

She saw the adventurers fumbling as the Gnolls began showering the Raskghar with arrows. But the huge hulking creatures were tough! They charged, howling, impervious to arrows. Earlia shouted and Gemhammer rushed forwards. Their warriors met the Raskghar in a melee of blows.

“[Hammer Blow]!”

Earlia used her Skill too early to crush a Rasgkhar’s guard and break the screaming monster’s ribs. The Raskghar were everywhere, hurling Blaik to the ground, fighting with the Gnolls who’d drawn their own weapons. And there was another group coming back on the right! Earlia’s heart beat faster and faster as she swung, keeping the Raskghar off Blaik. Too many!

Then she saw a flicker. Something raced out of the shadows and stabbed through a Raskghar about to leap at her. A masked woman pirouetted and slashed another Raskghar across the back. Earlia gaped.

“Who the hell are you?

She received no answer. The adventurers closed ranks as the Raskghar howled. Several seemed to recognize the masked woman and beat more frantically on the walls. Gemhammer launched a desperate counterattack with the Pride of Kelia as the masked swordswoman cut and danced gracefully through the battle. She was good! But the fight wasn’t over yet. More were coming.

A lot more. Earlia knew they could beat them if the Raskghar bunched up. They had potions! Alchemy weapons! Spells! She was about to shout at the [Gem Mage] in their company to break a topaz and blast the Raskghar when she saw something move in the darkness.

“What is—”

Something moved. A giant Raskghar roared as he charged forwards. He was wearing armor. Not crude hide armor, not corroded metal or bone. Real armor. It shone and Earlia knew it was enchanted. And then she saw the Raskghar with the bow. He raised it but she couldn’t see an arrow. He made a gesture as if loosing something and she didn’t see the arrow. But something struck her in the chest. It went right through her chainmail. She staggered and saw nothing. And she fell as more Raskghar charged. And behind them were Goblins.

Lots of Goblins.

 

—-

 

“Room eight. Think it’ll be another trap?”

Unless we have to go through all of them, there has to be an end to it. We know there are monsters, even if we’ve only seen the ones in traps.

“Right. Get ready.”

This time Halrac and Seborn stood well back from the door. Their clothing was ruffled. The last trap had been activated, but the razorblades of wind had nearly cut both men. They were on guard as they swung the door open to reveal—

“A path down.”

Halrac stared at the ramp heading down into the darkness. His internal sense of danger that was separate from his [Dangersense] immediately rang an alarm. Behind hm Jelaqua slowly breathed out.

“Looks like it’s my turn. Change formations. Unless you think it’s a trap?”

I’ve got nothing. Halrac?

“No. How do you want to do this?”

Jelaqua pursed her lips. She stared down into the darkness. Halrac’s eyes could see further but even his sight had a limit. There was a larger room below. This might be another trapped room, but his instincts told him they were in another part of the dungeon. They’d done it. The seven layers of randomly generated rooms at an end. Which meant that anything could be beyond.

“Let me and Seborn do it. I’ve got the armor and Seborn’s quick.”

Halrac wanted to argue but he didn’t. That made sense. You sent a [Warrior] forwards when you thought you might run into monsters, with a [Rogue] or [Scout] or [Treasure Hunter] or whatever you had following close behind. He elected to move back to the rear of the group since his bow was useful at all ranges. Moore stayed with him as Revi and Typhenous took the middle.

That was the other thing. You watched the rear as well. Halrac had the group pause at this new juncture to go over tactics.

“First sign of major trouble and we retreat to the doorway. Delaying spells?”

“[Sticky Webs] for me and Revi uses her Face-Eater Moth or Corusdeer summons. Moore, do you have a barrier spell?”

“I could grow vines similar to a Tripvine Bag. It isn’t the most useful spell, though.”

“Huh. You don’t have another one?”

Moore shook his head.

“Not my specialty. Typhenous?”

“I know [Force Barrier]. Should I use it?”

“That spell is horrible. Barrier spells aren’t good at sealing off large spots. Not if something’s coming at us fast! Just web and let Moore use [Thorn Spray] or something.”

Revi objected and the other adventurers nodded. Halrac checked his belongings. He had his own prepared weapons and potions. He nodded at Jelaqua and Seborn.

“Then we leave it to you.”

“Right. Let’s go. Seborn, tell me if I’m tripping on anything.”

Jelaqua stepped forwards, Seborn right behind her. She did not stride forwards but rather walked cautiously, at a slow pace so Seborn could check for traps. If he so much as spoke or tapped her she immediately froze. Halrac was reassured to see that—it was a sign of Jelaqua’s seniority. She did not rush forwards in a panic, and neither was she afraid to press on. The group moved down slowly into the room when they saw—

“Statues.”

Revi breathed the word as the adventurers stopped. They’d come to a large, winding corridor full of stone statues. Between them were scattered pedestals with gleaming necklaces. Only there were a few odd discrepancies. Halrac saw three instantly.

“Hold.”

The adventurers paused as he pointed out what he’d seen in the murk.

“Some of the pedestals are missing the necklaces.”

“You’re right. Hey, has someone come down here before? Or is that part of the trap? We’re assuming those statues are going to come to life, right?”

“Without a doubt.”

Typhenous peered over his staff at the pedestals. It did indeed seem like someone had been here before. Halrac confirmed this by pointing out the other two things he’d seen.

“Look there. The wall is caved in. It’s been resealed with rocks and dirt. But there was someone here. And I think I know how. Goblins.”

He pointed to a small pile of bones next to one of the statues. It was hard to see, but he thought the statue’s fingers still had blood on the tips. Jelaqua muttered an oath.

“Great. Goblins. Well, we knew they were down there. Wonder if they took all the loot.”

“If they did the statues scared them off. I’m sure some of them are enchanted to attack if we get close.”

“What’s the plan then? Hit one and draw back? I can try to bash them up but my flail is not enchanted and they could be pretty hard.”

“They don’t look like good Golems. Why don’t we change up our formation? How about—”

The corridor full of stone statues was still as the adventurers conferred. The deadly stone golems frozen in place did not move. They awaited their victims. When something finally triggered the spell to activate them, the stone statues moved at once. They surged to deadly attention—

“Hiyah!

Jelaqua’s flail smashed the first one in the face, cracking the crude stone and sending fractures down the body. She immediately whirled and struck another of the statues that had come to life. The humanoid things reached for her but she was already moving back. Her flail whirled, striking repeatedly as a flaming, spectral Corusdeer slammed into another statue.

“[Sticky Webs]. Ah, what a lovely spell.”

More of the Golems found themselves caught in a barrier as Typhenous poured on the webbing. Behind him Halrac calmly shot one statue with an arrow using his [Piercing Shot] Skill and watched it crumble. He waited as the other adventurers fought. Behind Jelaqua, Seborn flicked out of shadows, cutting at the golems and chipping away their bodies and jumping away. The adventurers weren’t doing much damage and the Golems were pushing out of the web. One punched Jelaqua in the chest and his fist cracked. The Selphid grinned.

“I didn’t feel that! This armor is good! Hey Moore, your turn.”

The stone statue raised another fist and a giant hand engulfed its arm. Moore lifted the statue up with a groan and hurled it into its fellows. The adventurers heard a crack and then the half-Giant waded forwards. He brought his quarterstaff down like an avalanche on a statue’s head, swung a vine and thorn-covered fist into a second, and backed up by Jelaqua and Revi’s Corusdeer, began smashing the rest.

It was a brisk fight. It might have been a bad one but for Moore. The stone statues were relentless, but the half-Giant had the strength to break each one to pieces while the others covered him. By the time the last statue lay in pieces on the ground, Moore was sweating, and dusty. Jelaqua offered him two stamina potions which the half-Giant gulped down.

“Amazing work, Moore.”

“That was impressive.”

Typhenous blinked around at the statues. Moore had crushed the one nearest him by swinging the thing into the dungeons’ wall repeatedly until it broke. Typhenous looked back at Halrac.

“Well, it seems these traps are getting simpler. Or am I simply becoming more naïve in my old age?”

Halrac shook his head.

“As traps went that wasn’t bad. It would have been a bad fight if we’d picked it alone. Only Revi’s summons and your spells would have done any work.”

“And I suspect most adventurers armed with a warhammer aren’t as adept at fighting eight stone golems at once. Ah, yes. I see your point. But we have emerged victorious and to the victors go the spoils. I don’t suppose there’s even a chance these ones are safe, are they?”

“Don’t touch them.”

Typhenous nodded. The remaining pedestals did indeed hold wonderfully beautiful necklaces and jewelry, but all six Gold-rank adventurers would have rather gone back and fought twice as many stone golems as touch them. They were too inviting.

“I’m positive they’re cursed. How do you want to transport them? Should we?”

Typhenous peered at a necklace set with a huge diamond and tsked unhappily. Halrac reached for his belt.

“I’ve an empty bag of holding. Push it in here. Unless Revi can use her summons?”

“Stuff that idea! I don’t want to lose one to a cursed artifact!”

In the end, Halrac nudged each cursed ornament into his bag of holding, after Typhenous and Moore had decided  they weren’t going to explode on being handled, of course. The adventurers took a rest in the destroyed corridor and nodded to each other then. Jelaqua grinned.

“Now isn’t this a welcome surprise? Actual progress! And look at that entrance! I wonder if we could excavate it, maybe find a real shortcut into the dungeon? Because we know exactly where we are now. What do you think?”

“Maybe don’t give monsters an alternate route in.”

“True. In that case we need to shore up the wall. Damn. That’s a lot of work. A project for today, you think? We’ve already explored two more sets of rooms which I’m sure will be full with traps the next go around. And we have treasure! If we can get it disenchanted those jewels and the gold will go for something.”

“True.”

Both teams knew they’d done a good day’s work. They’d earned money—deferred, true, but a good amount with the cursed loot which might not be cursed if they were extremely lucky—and gotten to a new part of the dungeon. A wise team would do just what Jelaqua had said and resume untrapping the dungeon before proceeding. However…

It was Seborn who gave voice to their thoughts. The [Rogue] lifted a flask of water and drained half of it.

Let’s go a bit farther. See what else we can find. We’re all in good shape.

The other adventurers looked at each other. No one said it. But they were all thinking of what Seborn had told Erin. The other Silver-rank teams. The unspoken accusation.

Cowards. The Halfseekers looked at each other. Griffon Hunt turned to Halrac. He nodded.

“Another room.”

The adventurers got up and headed down the corridor in higher spirits. They came to an opening to their left, inside of which was a huge, circular room. It was vast, a half-dome with an extraordinarily flat floor. While the walls and ceiling of the domed room looked weathered by time, the floor was perfect.

Too perfect. And while there was a door on the far side, the adventurers weren’t about to try crossing the floor to get to it.

“This is clearly a product of bad dungeon making. Look at the walls and ceiling! They might have fooled adventurers centuries ago, but whoever enchanted the floor didn’t think to account for the decay of stone and moss and lichen and so forth.”

Typhenous shook his head sadly as he peered at the floor. Halrac nodded. He stared at the door on the far side.

“What kind of trap are we looking at here, Seborn? Classic pit trap?”

Something to do with the floor. Want to see what happens?

The Halfseekers enjoyed setting off traps. Griffon Hunt did not, but Halrac respected the idea. A trap could be deadly, but not knowing what it did could be just as deadly. He nodded.

“Everyone stands up the corridor. We trigger it and get ready to run. Agreed?”

Let’s do it.

Seborn waited until the others pulled back, and then found a good chunk of the stone statues. He lifted it, nodded at Halrac, and hurled the stone into the center of the room. It bounced off the suspicious floor and tumbled a bit. Halrac watched it with narrowed eyes.

“No good. Looks like the trigger’s something else. Revi?”

“I don’t want to lose a summon!”

“You only lose your ancestral spirits permanently. What about the Corusdeer?”

“I won’t be able to call on it for a week if the spirit is destroyed!”

“Good enough. Summon it.”

Revi cursed but did as Halrac asked. The [Scout] leaned back as the flaming spirit cantered down the hallway. Seborn, to whom fire and dryness were doubly unwelcome, moved further back. The Corusdeer walked slowly into the center of the dome as Revi crouched by them, controlling it and frowning. The summoned creature pawed at the ground and nudged the stone.

“Nothing. Do you think it’s a trap that reacts to living things?”

“Could be. Or it could be that the trap’s activated by the door. Can you—?”

“Got it.”

The Corusdeer walked over to the door. It lowered its head and butted the door a few times. Halrac waited, his breath held in his chest. The Corusdeer awkwardly scraped its antlers against the door, and then Revi made it bow its head. The handle was a lever and the tall deer’s horns pushed against it gently. Halrac heard a click—

And the floor disappeared. Halrac jerked back as the Corusdeer plummeted, its fiery body falling into the depths. That wasn’t surprising. He’d expected something like that. What was surprising, what made Halrac shiver and Seborn curse and Revi panic was what they saw below.

The half-dome was a huge room. Large enough to hold Erin’s entire [Grand Theatre] and then some. It was also a pit trap. And it went down a long way. But that wasn’t dangerous. Not to a good Gold-rank team or even a decent Silver-rank one. And the dungeon architects had to know that. So they had put something else in there. Something that looked up and sensed the prey above them as the Corusdeer fell into their nest.

Halrac had the best vision. He was standing closest to the newly revealed pit. And the Corusdeer was still falling. He saw it fall down, down, and down past huge webs, past gigantic scuttling shapes that turned and looked up. Halrac stared down a mile of darkness as the Corusdeer fell past a Shield Spider the size of a house, past a giant spider twice as large as Erin’s inn, past thousands, tens of thousands of smaller Shield Spiders, down, until it landed on a web. Instantly, hundreds of smaller shapes smothered the blazing deer, tore it apart. Halrac stared at the spiders as they all looked up. Straight at him. And then they began to scuttle upwards in a silent rush.

“It’s a lair!

Revi screamed. Seborn tossed a bottle down and Halrac saw the explosion kick off a dozen spiders from the walls. There were several thousand for everyone that fell. He had an arrow in his hands. He was loosing it before he could think. He shouted desperately.

“It’s a lair! A monster lair! It’s part of the damn dungeon!”

“What? What?

Jelaqua charged down the corridor with Typhenous and Moore. Halrac was too busy loosing arrows and retreating to explain. But it was all clear. The huge, spiraling pit. The traps which were easy—a bit too easy. And the monsters who’d been given time, thousands of years in fact, to reproduce. To grow to unnatural sizes.

The Shield Spiders were here. The Face-Eater Moths had probably been in another trap like this one. And now they were coming out. Halrac’s arrow took the first giant spider that crawled out of the pit and sent it falling back down. A horde followed. And after that came tens of thousands more.

 


Previous Chapter Next Chapter

5.27

There were about two hundred varieties of fish in the waters outside of her inn. Erin had been told at least a quarter of them were objectionable in some way, so she stared hard at the dead Quillfish’s insides.

“It doesn’t look poisonous. And my [Dangersense] isn’t going off. My [Advanced Cooking] says I can cook it—what do you think, Mrsha?”

She held up the Gnoll and let Mrsha eagerly sniff the fish, which had been carefully descaled and dequilled by Erin. She’d been wearing gloves. Now the fish was in fillet form. Mrsha sniffed it a few seconds longer and then gave Erin the nod.

Having passed three of her tests, Erin decided the Quillfish was safe to eat. So she cut the fillet into smaller pieces and found a lemon. She squeezed it, rubbed it into the fillet, and then found flour and put a pan on the stove. The fire was already going and Erin had put enough fuel in the stove to last her a while.

“Pass me an egg, Mrsha?”

Erin mixed the flour up with a bit of dried breadcrumbs and a tiny bit of powdery cheese. Then she pressed the fillets into the mixture. She took the egg Mrsha handed her, cracked it into a bowl, added some water, and then dipped the fillet in the egg before returning it to the flour. Soon she had a coating on each fillet and her pan was hot.

“Oil—thanks, Mrsha. Stay back from the pan, you might get hit by oil spatters!”

The [Innkeeper] ushered Mrsha back as the Gnoll greedily watched her place the first fillet on the pan. The fish pieces browned quickly and soon Erin had many little fried pieces of fish. They were mostly circular and looked sort of like potato chips. They were meant to be bite-sized and the result pleased Erin. She absently smacked Mrsha’s paw as the Gnoll reached for one.

“Not yet. It needs the finishing touch.”

So saying, Erin reached for a dark brown bottle of sauce filled with little seeds and dried spices. Erin tasted a bit. Her eyebrows shot up in approval.

“Mm. Gnolls make good sauces. This one’s spicy. Want some, Mrsha?”

She fed the Gnoll a spoonful of the spicy fish sauce, watching Mrsha lick her chops and then poured it over the fish pieces. Lightly—she could always add more. Erin thought for a moment and then found her mayonnaise. The condiment was hard to make, but she felt it had a place here.

“Chives? Where are…oh, there they are.”

Erin found a bunch of fresh chives sitting out in the open, ignoring all health codes or refrigeration standards. She checked them carefully before she began chopping them up.

“It’s not that they get bad, but now some of my veggies start growing! And bugs still love eating them. You tell me if you see any of them crawling in here, okay, Mrsha?”

The Gnoll nodded and snatched her paw back from the fish flakes as Erin turned her head. She watched as Erin mixed the chives into the yellow mayonnaise, her tail beating impatiently. When Erin added the bowl of chived mayonnaise to her plate Mrsha gave her a look that said quite clearly that she would die without food in the next moment.

“Fine. Here. You may have one piece.”

Erin let Mrsha carefully select the biggest flake and dip it in the mayonnaise. The two sauces mixed as Mrsha chewed the flake carefully. The Gnoll closed her eyes as she chewed and Erin waited. Mrsha’s tail started beating faster and a smile appeared on her face. Erin smiled too.

“That’s a good endorsement.”

With that, she took the food out of the kitchen and into the common room. Mrsha jumped off the kitchen counter to follow her.

“Experimental fish flakes are ready! Anyone want a bite? On the house!”

She approached two of her early-morning guests. They were sitting apart from each other, but both looked up at Erin’s voice. Selys, tail swishing idly, and Ylawes, sitting with perfect posture in his seat.

“What’s that, Miss Solstice?”

“Breaded fish…flakes. Fresh from outside! They look like flakes. It’s a snack. Or dinner if I find a bigger fish to cut up. Want a try?”

Erin offered the plate to him. Ylawes hesitated and she wondered if breaded fish were not a thing he’d ever tried before. But Selys clearly had and Mrsha’s leaping up on the table to peer greedily at the platter convinced him. He took a piece and bit into it. Erin watched him chew and swallow before the [Knight] smiled at her.

“Ah. That is delicious. May I?”

“Sure. Selys, you want in on this?”

“Sure. Hey Mrsha, do you want to eat with me?”

Selys smiled at Mrsha as the Gnoll realized she’d get a helping too. They began eating at Ylawes’ table. The [Knight] glanced sideways at Selys and then helped himself to another fish flake.

“Did you say this was freshly caught?”

“Yup. Bird shot it this morning. He says there aren’t enough birds so he practices on the fish when he’s bored.”

“He can’t swim. How did he fetch them?”

“Oh, I had one of the Goblins go pick it up. Actually, this fish isn’t the one I got. A bunch of Quillfish were nibbling at the one Bird shot so Headscratcher grabbed them all. With his bare hands.”

“Ah, the Goblins.”

Ylawes paused in eating. He looked around, but the Goblins weren’t here. Neither were most of Erin’s guests. It was a bit too early for that; both he and Selys had arrived at the early morning shift, before Erin’s usual crowd showed up. The Goblins were, in fact, busy sparring outside of Erin’s inn. If she listened she could sometimes hear a thud when one of them hit each other particularly hard.

As for her adventurers, neither the Halfseekers nor the Horns of Hammerad liked getting up early. Back when Griffon Hunt had been around they would come down early, but the other teams liked sleeping in.

You got to know your guests. Erin knew she had about thirty minutes before the adventurers would come down so she settled down at the table. She bit into her fish flake and smiled as the hot oil and spices made her mouth water.

“Yum. Spicy, though. Hey, try dipping it in the mayonnaise, Selys.”

“Mm. This is good too. But I like spices.”

“Drakes love spices. But I’ve gotta think about my Gnoll and Human customers. You want a drink, Ylawes?”

The armored man had gotten a hot pepper seed and was flushing slightly. He nodded.

“I would be grateful.”

Erin found a tankard and filled it with milk behind the bar. She passed it to him and Ylawes drank quickly. Selys looked around.

“No Lyonette today? Is she still having…issues?”

Erin smiled.

“The opposite, actually. She’s doing well. I sent her into Liscor to do shopping while we wait to test her Skill again.”

“Oh? She got a new Skill?”

“Yeah. Would you believe it? She leveled again. She won’t tell me what level she is now, but get this—she got a rare Skill! [Flawless Attempt]!”

Ylawes looked up with interest as he dipped a fish flake in mayonnaise. Mrsha looked up as well, her mouth stuffed. Selys frowned.

“That is rare. I’ve never heard of that variation before. I’ve heard of the flawless line of Skills of course—[Flawless Strike], [Flawless Dodge], uh—”

“[Flawless Defence]. That’s a [Knight] or [Warrior]’s Skill.”

Selys nodded gratefully at Ylawes.

“Exactly. They’re good Skills. You can perform a perfect attack once every few hours. But attempt? What does that do?”

“We’re not sure. Lyonette says it’s not like the others. She can’t do things perfectly, but she does it…to the best of her abilities? She made Mrsha an omelette with it this morning.”

Both Drake and Human immediately glanced sideways at Mrsha. She looked up, her face smeared with sauce. Erin handed her a napkin which Mrsha ignored. The Gnoll started licking her fur instead.

“Doesn’t sound too impressive.”

“You’d think so, but this was a great omelette. One of the best! It wasn’t perfect, but it was close! I think that’s what the Skill does. Anything Lyonette can do she does at her best. But we have to wait for it to recharge or something.”

“Right. You can’t use active Skills right away. There’s always a cool down. But that’s a nice Skill.”

Erin grinned.

“Isn’t it? We’ve been brainstorming how to use it best. The thing is, Lyonette doesn’t need to use it for most things. I can cook and I have [Advanced Cooking] so there’s really no point in her using it there. I was sort of hoping she’d use it to play chess with me.”

“Of course, you would.”

Selys rolled her eyes. Ylawes chewed his actual breakfast, a half-finished omelette and took another sip from his cup. Erin shrugged.

“What? She said it would be interesting and my magic chessboard’s been inactive recently. Besides, new opponents are always fun. I hardly get to play as much with all the plays going on every day.”

“I heard about that. A bunch of Drakes I know are talking about visiting tonight. Something about you putting on a new play?”

“Right. We put on the Triumph of Liscor and Othello, but now the Players of Celum want to really draw in an audience so they’re going to put on Juliet and Romeo for our audience tonight. I think it’ll be a hit!”

“I haven’t seen that one. I think. I saw the one with the angry Human who kills his [King].”

Hamlet. Or maybe you’re thinking of Macbeth? There’s a lot of killing of [Kings] in Shakespeare’s stuff.”

“Well, I’ll watch the one tonight if I have time. But I’m really here just to talk to your Goblins. It’s my day off but Grandmother insisted so here I am.”

Selys twitched her tail as she reached for a fish flake and discovered only crumbs. Ylawes brushed at his clean-shaven face with his handkerchief and glanced at Erin.

“Have they been causing trouble? Your ah, security?”

Erin glanced at him.

“Not a problem. Why?”

The [Knight] glanced at Mrsha and then cleared his throat.

“No reason in particular. Forgive me, Miss Solstice. As an adventurer I worry. Hobgoblins are a far cry from regular Goblins, and ordinary Goblins are dangerous enough. I can’t help but feel as though the ones in your inn are similar to a group I met in Esthelm. Those were dangerous fighters. Although, they were honorable in their own way.”

He broke off, musing to himself. Erin paused as Selys rubbed Mrsha’s tummy. The Gnoll was happily stuffed and content to let the Drake comb through her fur with one claw.

“Well, you can listen to Selys lecture them about becoming adventurers.”

Ylawes nearly spat his drink out.

Becoming—are you serious?”

“Mhm. Selys got her grandmother to approve the paperwork. They’ll be a Bronze-rank team. They won’t go into Liscor obviously, but this way they can earn money killing monsters.”

The [Knight] stared at Erin, aghast. He shifted his gaze to Selys and the Drake gave him a nod and a rueful grin.

“You are serious. Silver and steel. Miss Solstice, I must protest. Goblins are not—

“Adventurer material? Funny, I bet people say the same thing about Antinium. And guess who’s on your sister’s team?”

Erin sat back at the table as Ylawes frowned. She glanced at her stairs. Yvlon was probably still upstairs. She always came down with her hair combed and her armor on. That was dedication.

“You’re here to see Yvlon, right?”

Ylawes frowned, caught off-guard by the change in conversation. He hesitated and then nodded.

“I’d like to talk with her, yes. I can’t help but feel she’s been avoiding me of late.”

“Gee, I wonder why.”

Erin rolled her eyes. Ylawes frowned.

Is she?”

For a second Erin wished she had a mug to polish. That was a very [Innkeepery] thing to do, she felt. She shrugged as she poked Mrsha’s stomach and made the Gnoll giggle silently.

“She’s your sister. You tell me.”

“Would that I could. But I’ve never been able to understand my sister’s mind. I would be grateful if you could advise me.”

Erin paused, frowning.

“I’m just an [Innkeeper]. I shouldn’t have to tell you. Although I could give you psychiatric help. The doctor is in!”

She grinned, struck by a nostalgic thought. Ylawes just looked blank.

“Pysc—what?”

“Advice. For five copper coins.”

Erin didn’t really expect Ylawes to bite. She was just teasing him and indulging herself. But when the [Knight] reached for his belt pouch and produced the coins, Erin had to find a mug to shake them in. Selys and Ylawes watched, although the Drake knew enough to know Erin was just being weird.

“Alright, I’ve had enough fun. You want advice, Ylawes? When your sister comes down the stairs, don’t ask her to come back to your home or tell her your family misses her. In fact, don’t tell her what to do. Just say hi and have a nice chat.”

“I wasn’t going to—”

Ylawes broke off, and Erin nodded knowingly.

“See? That’s honesty. Which is good! You were going to ask her if she wanted to return home, weren’t you? She’d hate that. That’s why she doesn’t want to talk to you. That, and she resents you being here.”

“She resents me being here? Why?”

This time both Selys and Erin sighed as one. Mrsha copied them happily. Ylawes looked at them, confused. Erin looked at him, exasperated and amused.

“Why do you think? You’re her big older brother, coming to tell her what to do and ‘protect’ her when she’s a grown woman! Plus, you’re the thing she wants to be. A [Knight], a Gold-rank adventurer…all the things she failed to become. I just bet she always got compared to you growing up, didn’t she?”

“She did. I never gave it any thought. But how could you know that?

Ylawes looked stunned, which greatly pleased Erin. She gave him her most mysterious smile.

“Let’s just say I had a feeling. Do you trust me now?”

The [Knight] had to nod. Selys gave Erin an admiring look.

“You’re pretty good at this advice thing, Erin. Is it because of your class? Or a Skill?”

“Nah. I mean, maybe it is but this kind of story was really common back in my—uh country. In any…country, I bet. But you’re right, I am good at this! Hey, maybe I should open up a side business!”

“Before you do that—”

Ylawes coughed and all three females turned their gaze back to him. Mrsha, Selys, and Erin—three races, alike in their exasperation for a brother’s lack of understanding. Well, maybe not Mrsha. She was just pretending. But she was having fun, which was the key. Ylawes stroked his chin, frowning.

“You say Yvlon’s trying to get out of my…shadow. But then why did she agree to let me help her explore the dungeon? And why hasn’t her team entered the dungeon yet? I know they’re prepared. But every time I ask Miss Springwalker I get only evasive answers. That was why I came to talk to them today, actually.”

Erin’s smiled faded a bit. She took a deep breath.

“Hoo boy. Um…that’s a different reason altogether.”

“Would you explain it? My teammates are growing tired of waiting. As am I.”

Again Ylawes reached for his belt pouch but Erin stopped him. She chewed her lip and threw a quick glance up the stairs. No one was coming down yet.

“Alright, but this is secret.”

“You want me to leave?”

“Not that secret, Selys. It’s just—okay, here’s why. Ylawes, I know Calruz might be alive in the dungeon. Even though the odds are like a thousand to one.”

“Quite. The idea of someone surviving down there is remote. But there is a possibility, which makes it imperative to act now. I cannot understand why the Horns hesitate.”

Erin toyed with the empty platter.

“Maybe because of the past. If I told you that Ceria casts [Silence] on her and Yvlon’s room every night, would you understand?”

“Not in the slightest. Why would that be all important?”

Ylawes looked mystified. Erin sighed. Again she looked towards the empty stairs and then lowered her voice.

“It’s because Ceria wakes up screaming every other night. And Yvlon too. Pisces tells me they did it while they were exploring Albez, too.”

“Screaming? Why—”

“Because of the dungeons, Ylawes.”

The [Knight] paused. His furrowed brows unknit and he sat back. He closed his eyes.

“Of course.”

Selys looked at the two Humans and then stroked Mrsha’s head. She shook her own sadly.

“Nightmares about the crypt?”

Erin nodded.

“They still remember it. Obviously. Both of them lost their entire team—Yvlon was in charge. And they fought Skinner and Ceria was trapped for days inside a coffin with nothing to eat. I think Olesm has nightmares too, but he doesn’t talk about them.”

“I can’t imagine he wouldn’t. Even the best adventures have to deal with trauma. We’re told to prescribe sleeping potions and get them to good [Healers], but most never go.”

Selys looked sadly at her claws. Lines appeared around Ylawes’ eyes as he grimaced.

“I should have recalled. Yvlon didn’t talk long about it, but of course—of course she remembers. And fears going into the dungeon again.”

He shook his head bitterly.

“If that’s the case, I should go in with my team and tell her—“

No.

Erin cut him off forcefully. Ylawes stared at her. She frowned, vexed.

“Haven’t you been listening? The worst thing you could do is bring that up. Leave them be, Ylawes. Let them enter the dungeon when they’re ready. It won’t be long.”

“But if they fear it—”

“Ceria won’t abandon Calruz. She’s going to enter the dungeon.”

“And if she waits longer?”

Erin shrugged.

“Then the Halfseekers or Griffon Hunt will get in there. They’ve been untrapping the dungeon’s entrance for nearly a month now. Either way, someone will find Calruz if he’s alive. But telling them not to enter, telling them you’ll handle it? Don’t do that. How would you react if someone said that to you?”

Ylawes was silent. Caught, perhaps, with the novel idea of introspection. At last he raised his head.

“I see. Thank you for your advice, Miss Solstice. The best course would be to handle matters…differently.”

She eyed him.

“Planning on entering the dungeon without telling Yvlon?”

The golden-haired adventurer jumped. Erin sighed again. He really was easy to read. Like an open book with big letters and pictures.

“I won’t stop you. If Calruz is alive, someone has to save him. Just promise me—”

She broke off as she heard a creak from the stairs. Everyone looked up as Ksmvr marched down the stairs.

“We are arriving at breakfast approximately two minutes later than average, Captain Ceria.”

“Thanks, Ksmvr.”

A dark brown Antinium descended the stairs, followed by a bleary half-Elf, a yawning [Necromancer], and a woman with gold hair and bright metal armor. Behind them, Moore edged down behind the pale-scaled Jelaqua and Seborn appeared at the foot of the stairs, scratching at the crustacean half of his face with his claw. The Horns of Hammerad were up, as were the Halfseekers. Jelaqua sniffed the air happily and wagged her tail.

“Hey, what’s that smell? Isn’t it great to have a working nose? Well, nose holes. Hey, if it isn’t Ylawes.”

“Brother.”

Yvlon nodded cautiously at Ylawes. Erin shot him a quick glance, but the [Knight] only smiled.

“Good morning, Yv. I was just stopping for the morning. Erin treated me to her latest creation. I won’t be stopping long.”

A look of relief flashed by Yvlon’s face and Erin mentally raised Ylawes’ subtlety score a few points in her mind. She hurried towards the kitchen as the adventurers took seats nearby and saw the door open. Lyonette stumbled into the inn, drenched. Mrsha ran over to her and Erin saw a bee take wing. The young woman was holding several bulky bags filled with food and supplies.

“Lyonette! Good timing! Need a towel?”

The [Barmaid] already had one, courtesy of the towel rack and Mrsha. She wiped her face, smiling happily. And then the front door opened and the Redfang Goblins, wet, sweaty and bruised, trooped in. They paused when they saw the crowd. Erin made a face. Her inn had a habit of getting busy real fast. She counted heads.

“Alright, who wants fish flakes and who wants omelette? Hands?”

Everyone looked at her. They exchanged glances. Jelaqua leaned forwards, excitedly.

“What’s a fish flake?”

 

—-

 

The rest of the Silver Swords and Griffon Hunt appeared for breakfast not ten minutes later. They trooped into the inn. Neither team of Gold-rank adventurers was wet—the three [Mages], Revi, Typhenous, and Falene had seen to that. They were just in time to try Erin’s new fish flake snack and get some regular food of their own. The inn was noisy with conversation  as the adventurers began a strategy meeting for the umpteenth time. Selys listened with one earhole as she sat in front of the Redfang Goblins.

“So. I’m uh, a [Receptionist] for the Adventurer’s Guild in Liscor. Erin asked me to talk to you. Well, my grandmother did. She’s the [Guildmistress] and we—we need to make a few things clear.”

She was trying not to babble. But Selys had somehow forgotten how scary five Hobs could be, especially when they were sitting right in front of her. She wished Erin was here. Or Mrsha. But Erin was busy cooking and the traitorous Gnoll had left to go play tag with Apista, which mainly involved her leaping from table to table as the bee flew away. Selys cleared her throat again.

“Erin proposed this, not me. But I agreed to it. The thing is, you’re Goblins.”

The Goblins stared at Selys. They exchanged glances as if this was news. Selys went on.

“And you’re…good fighters. In fact, you went into the dungeon. And came back with treasure. That’s phenomenal. Really. So—and Erin proposed this—we thought you’d be able to earn the city money. And yourselves money. Fighting monsters. As adventurers. We’re going to make you a Bronze-rank team.”

The Redfang Warriors’ jaws dropped. Selys, who had been nervously expecting their reaction, blinked in gratified surprise. The Hobgoblins stared at her and one of them—Numbtongue?—croaked.

“Us? Adventurers?”

“That’s right. We’ll grant you the rank and let you turn in bounties. Uh, by proxy. But you’ll be paid for certified monster kills and turning in useful parts—you could even do a request. If anyone agrees to work with you, that is.”

The Redfang Goblins exchanged glances. They looked dumbstruck. Adventurers. It seemed to matter greatly to them for reasons Selys didn’t understand.

“Does this sound like something you’d want?”

Instantly all five Goblins nodded energetically. Erin, who’d been hurrying to their table with a plate of fish flakes, beamed.

“Did they say yes? Selys, you should have waited! Congrats, guys! I thought it would be a cool thing to do!”

The Goblins stared at her, and then at Selys. The Drake nodded, feeling less nervous than before.

“It is good, Erin. They’ll be able to earn money and they’ll be sanctioned—even if I doubt Watch Captain Zevara would ever open the gates for them. But they can still earn money. They just have to know the rules. There are things adventures have to do. For instance, there is a yearly fee as well as an entrance fee which Erin paid on your behalf—”

The Goblins shifted their attention to Erin. She smiled at them as she sat. The Goblins looked back at the [Receptionist] sitting across from her. Adventurers? Like Garen Redfang? They were agog. They listened with rapt attention as Selys went over their obligations, many of which Erin had never known about.

Adventurers were bound by more than just a varied interest in treasure. There were many small rules that varied between Adventurer’s Guilds, but a few common ones united adventurers universally. They were subject to the Guild’s authority and while that usually depended on the [Guildmaster] for enforcement, it also depended on the city they worked from.

“In times of crisis any city with an Adventurer’s Guild can demand for you to aid in its defense. You can refuse, but you stand to lose your rank and even be expelled from the Guild, especially if your reasons for refusing are bad. Generally if the request is reasonable and you don’t believe you’ll be in mortal peril, you’re required to lend your assistance. And the city is also required to compensate you for your time and effort.”

“Like with the moths, right?”

“That’s a good example, Erin. Also, a city collects a fee on any artifacts recovered within its jurisdiction. As does the Adventurer’s Guild. I think that’s why Grandmother agreed to making you adventurers, really. Next time you recover treasure or anything from the dungeon, you’ll have to pay a small tax on that to the guild.”

The Goblins exchanged a glance. One of them looked worriedly towards a table. There were three mages sitting around it. Typhenous, Pisces, and Falene. All three were inspecting the artifacts the Redfang Warriors had recovered.

A white bundle of cloth. A bell made of two types of metal. And a necklace with a glowing symbol etched on the black stone. All three mages were taking extreme care not to touch any of the artifacts directly and that went double for the bell. Selys noticed their anxious looks.

“Don’t worry. Those don’t count. But if you get items next time—did I mention you could earn money through bounties?”

The glowing red eyes swung back towards her. Selys nodded carefully.

“There’s bounties on all kinds of monsters. Sometimes because they’re a nuisance—you can earn money by turning in dead Quillfish, although it’s not much.”

“Just give them to me and I’ll make food. That’s more profitable.”

“Right. But there’s stuff that’s worth a lot more! Shield Spider shells for instance. An unbroken shell is worth a lot so the Guild will pay you for any you recover. You can earn money from killing the new Raskghar—the city’s put a bounty on them—killing Lurkersnatch Fish, turning in enchanted armor which is good for melting down, and so on. There’s all kinds of stuff you can earn money from collecting! Even low-level monsters can be worth a lot. There are slime cores, Dropbat teeth, Corusdeer horns—”

“Goblin’s ears.”

Numbtongue spoke softly. Selys gulped. Erin sat up.

“That’s right. Only no one’s attacking you. It would be a crime to attack another Bronze-rank team. Isn’t that right, Selys?”

The Drake nodded.

“They would have to identify themselves. But yes, it is illegal to attack an adventurer. So…”

She looked at the Hobgoblins. They stared at each other and made a few gestures she could’t explain. Then they stood up. Selys scooted her chair back as the Hobgoblins looked at her. Headscratcher spoke.

“We do it. We be adven—”

He stumbled over the word. He was a lot less fluent than Numbtongue.

Adventurers.

The word was almost reverential. Selys nodded and saw some heads staring her way. Revi shook her head slowly.

“So much for standards.”

Erin glared at her. The Stitch-Woman didn’t so much as blink. The Redfang Goblins stared at her, and then seemed to put her out of their minds. They looked at each other and patted each other on the shoulders. Then their heads turned as Pisces pushed his chair back from the table. He looked around importantly.

“I am positive that the necklace is cursed.”

All the side conversations in the inn went quiet. Ceria looked up as she chewed on her second plate of fish flakes, extra spicy.

“You sure, Pisces?”

“Positive. The enchantment is simply too suspicious. The intent of casting, the gripping spell that would keep it from being removed—I can categorically state that it is cursed.”

“What an astute observation. Which I had made ten minutes ago.”

Falene smiled cattily at Pisces. He flushed and narrowed his eyes.

“You brought up the speculation. I am making a definitive statement.”

“I note the difference. The real question is, are the other two cursed? Or do they exude harmful effects?”

“That is uncertain. And I am getting a headache trying to puzzle it out. Neither artifact is straightforward—the cloth is certainly not spelled as a simple protective garb, if it is clothing at all.”

Typhenous rubbed at his eyes, frowning into his white beard. Pisces looked around, annoyed.

“Well, we have identified one of the possible dangers. It is entirely likely the other two are beneficial—the dungeon makers would have had to hide their treasures somewhere.”

“Assuming they didn’t make everything cursed.”

Revi muttered under her breath. Jelaqua nodded.

“Identifying the scary artifacts is good, kids, but even if you’re fairly certain the other ones aren’t trapped, who’s going to test them out? Any volunteers? I can replace my body and I wouldn’t do it if you paid me. This needs a real [Enchanter].”

All eyes swung towards the Redfang Goblins. They stared at the artifacts. Rabbiteater picked at his nose. Instantly, all eyes swung away in disgust. Erin sighed. It looked like there would be more trouble still. She wondered if she should see about making food in preparation for tonight—there would be a crowd from Liscor for the play! Then she glanced over her shoulder and swore.

“Damnit—Lyonette! When did we last check the door?”

“Oh no!”

Lyonette rushed over to the magic doorway. She checked it—the bright green mana stone told her it was attuned to Celum. The [Builders] still hadn’t finished the bridge to Liscor so the only means of getting to the city was via the doorway. But that meant that if they didn’t check it, no one could get through via Celum or Liscor.

Normally they had Ishkr or Drassi or one of the new helpers change the door every ten minutes. It was a royal pain, but they’d gotten a system working. Unfortunately the help only arrived at lunchtime and until then Erin and Lyonette had left people hanging. Lyonette fumbled with the little bowl beside the door.

“We’re late for our daily check in with Pallass!”

“Don’t worry. Venim just gives us a list of people going through and it’s normally no one. He’ll just be mad is all, but I bet a [Guardsman] will have it if we ask—”

Erin broke off as Lyonette put the yellow mana stone on the door and opened it. She heard the voices.

“—do you think we must wait? Should we perhaps keep one of us here while the others—”

The door opened, bringing in sunshine, a cool breeze without a trace of rain, and an open street. Erin saw through the doorway to Pallass a group of furry people, armed with bows and light leather and hide armor, clustered in front of the doorway. They looked up and gaped as the door opened.”

“By the tribes!”

“At last!”

One of them exclaimed. They stepped forwards as Lyonette backed up. Erin stared as the Gnolls clustered in front of the doorway.

“Oh wow.”

“Greetings! Are you in charge of the doorway? We are requesting entrance to Liscor. We have paid for transport, yes? The [Mage] will—what is the phrase? Supply the door with mana?”

A Gnoll with light grey fur called cautiously to Lyonette. She looked at Erin for instructions. Erin hesitated.

“Uh—sure! Come on in! Yeah! Just…step through!”

Cautiously, the Gnolls did. They came through in single-file, looking around, sniffing the air. Not just one or two of them. Not just three or four. Nine armed Gnolls came through, their pelts in every color from the light grey of their leader to a Gnoll with russet red fur and dark black stripes across his chest and ears. They all had bows of differing style—Erin identified some as composite bows from her crash-course in bows from Krshia, while other Gnolls had different versions. They also carried shortswords, clubs, and in one case, a nasty looking barbed spear. When all the Gnolls were through Erin saw a Drake [Mage] step back.

“Everyone through?”

“Yes. Thank you.”

The Drake nodded abruptly and walked away. Lyonette hesitated by the door and then closed it. Erin stared at the Gnolls.

“Uh.”

They regarded her with curious brown eyes. Even the shortest of them was taller than Erin by a good bit. They were lean and muscled and as they looked at the other silent adventurers, Erin got a definite sense that they weren’t here for a social visit. She knew from the way they stayed together, even the way they deferred to the grey Gnoll. These were adventurers.

And they clearly recognized the others. Some of the nine Gnolls pointed surreptitiously at Halrac and another looked straight at Ylawes.

“That is him, yes? The one who fell?”

The other adventurers exchanged glances as the Gnolls looked around as if they were spectators at some kind of show. Erin still had a lot of questions, but she put on her best smile.

“Hi there!”

All the Gnolls immediately looked at her. Erin waved at Lyonette covertly and the young woman started.

“Sorry about the delay. Really sorry. We were a bit busy and uh, forgot to check the door. Welcome to my inn! My name is Erin Solstice. I’m the [Innkeeper]. Can I get you something to drink? Something to eat? Where are you all from? You’re adventurers, aren’t you?”

The Gnoll in charge blinked down at Erin. He looked younger than some of his companions, but Erin guessed he was around her age. Younger? He bared his teeth and then seemed to realize that wasn’t socially polite in Human culture. He changed his smile to a more restrained, toothless one.

“Greetings, Miss Solstice. I am Nailren of the Fletchsing Tribe. We are adventurers. I am leader of my team—The Pride of Kelia. We thank you for  your hospitality and allowing us use of your door.”

“Oh! It’s no problem. Sorry again for waiting. Wow, you’re a Gnollish adventurer team? I’ve never met an all-Gnoll team before!”

Nailren grinned proudly.

“No? Ah, it is not common in Liscor I suppose. But Gnoll adventurers are a common sight further south. We came north to tackle Liscor’s dungeon. We would be grateful to speak of it to you, yes? And to reach Liscor. We understand this inn is not part of the city and it is raining. Is there a route or boat we may hire?”

“Boat? We have something better! A magic door! But hold on—before you go to the Adventurer’s Guild why not stay for breakfast? Er—brunch?”

Erin tried to usher the Gnolls to a seat. They looked at Nailren and one of them, a female Gnoll with yellowish fur and a feather behind one ear, muttered.

“Look at the teams, Nailren! And this inn was the one in the moving pictures, yes?”

“Yes. That is, we would be honored to stay. Please, may we put our gear somewhere for a moment? We are armed for travel. I would not want to offend.”

“Oh no, I’m not offended! Please put them anywhere! Uh—how about that wall? Don’t mind the bee. That’s Apista. Lyonette, let’s get some drinks for our guests! Everyone else, move back!”

Shooing the other adventurers back, Erin scrambled to get food and drinks ready. Gnolls! They sat after putting their gear away. The other adventurers hadn’t yet spoken but as Erin and Lyonette rushed into the kitchen Jelaqua moved forwards.

“Adventurers from the south? Good to meet you. My name’s Jelaqua Ivirith! I lead the Halfseekers—don’t mind the smell. It’s a new dead body I’m using.”

She grinned at them, showing her teeth. One of the Gnolls sniffed her and audibly murmured.

“Selphid.”

Nailren didn’t miss a beat. He stood up and shook Jelaqua’s clawed hand, baring his teeth in a welcoming Gnoll smile.

“I am honored to meet a Gold-rank adventurer! And one of recent fame! May I ask who else is gathered here?”

The Gnolls in his team murmured agreement, looking at the other teams appreciatively. The  adventurers preened a bit at that and began coming forwards to introduce themselves. As the ice broke, the mood instantly warmed and Erin saw them standing around the table, asking exactly how far the Gnolls had travelled, what their team specialized in, and so on. She saw Mrsha pad forwards, her tail wagging as she stood up on two legs to see the new Gnoll team.

For a second the Gnolls didn’t see her, but one sniffed and looked down. His gaze focused on Mrsha and his eyes widened. The Gnoll leapt up from the table with a shout.

“White fur!”

The other Gnolls looked around. They stood up instantly, staring at Mrsha. She fell onto all fours and her ears and tail went down. Instantly she ran backwards and hid behind Moore. Erin stopped, hands filled with her plate full of fish flakes. Nailren was growling at the Gnoll who’d shouted.

“Hush, Bekr! It is a child!”

“But the fur—”

Nailren turned, saw Erin staring and reached back to cuff his teammate on the shoulder.

“Shush!”

“That’s Mrsha.”

Erin put the plate carefully on the table. She saw some of the Gnolls sniff as the scent of the hot fish flakes reached their noses, but they didn’t take their eyes off of Mrsha. Erin folded her arms.

“She’s a survivor of the Stone Spears tribe. They were attacked by the Goblin Lord. She lives here. Is that a problem?”

“No.”

Nailren replied instantly and authoritatively, although some of his teammates seemed less than sure. He glanced around, growled quietly, and they all sat down. Nailren lowered his head to Erin.

“My deepest apologies Miss Solstice. We are not as…traditional as our tribes. We do not bear hostility or fear towards those with white fur, but it is a surprise.”

“I understand. But Mrsha is friendly. Isn’t that right, Mrsha?”

Erin tried to coax Mrsha out from behind Moore’s back, but the Gnoll child was scared now and refused to budge. Nailren looked at his companions and then growled something softly. Erin had no idea what he said, but he seemed to repeat himself after a second.

Another Gnoll, the female with the feather and yellow fur, echoed the growl and Mrsha slowly came out from behind Moore. She approached slowly as everyone watched and her tail wagged a bit. She stood up and waved a paw at them. Nailren looked confused. He glanced at Erin and she realized the second miscommunication.

“Mrsha can’t speak.”

“Ah.”

That second piece of information did its round across the Gnoll faces. Nailren looked at his companions and shook his head.

“Forgiveness. Again. We are glad to see a Gnoll child, especially after travelling the Drake cities. Please ignore our rudeness.”

He glanced at the others and then quite obviously changed the subject.

“Is this Deki paste that I smell? On fried fish it seems? But what is the yellow-white things? And why do the fishes smell of flour and bread?”

Erin smiled, relieved, as Lyonette gathered Mrsha into her arms and Moore sat back so the Gnoll could watch with him.

“These are fish flakes! Here—try some.”

Crisis averted, the Gnolls sat and the other adventurers found themselves hungry for a snack after breakfast. Erin rushed back into the kitchen and paused.

“Oh damn, I forgot. Lyonette? Check if anyone’s in Celum. Octavia might be starving to death. Again!”

The [Barmaid] put down Mrsha and stood up. Eager to help, Mrsha raced to the door and removed the yellow stone herself. As the others watched she put another mana stone on the door and swung it open. Instantly, Erin heard another voice, a woman’s, speaking loudly and with great irritation.

“For the last time Miss [Alchemist], we are not buying one of your potions. We already bought something out of courtesy. No, we don’t need another healing potion. Or a stamina potion. Or a mana potion. We have plenty! Please take that bottle away before I shove it up—”

There were more people standing in Octavia’s shop. A woman was arguing with the Stitch-Girl, poking her finger at Octavia who was giving her a desperate smile and holding a glowing yellow potion. The adventurer was flanked by five teammates, all Human, and as they turned they stared.

“Dead gods!”

One of them exclaimed. Erin saw the woman arguing with Octavia shift and the weapon on her back, a sledgehammer of all things, caught the light. Her companions were decked out with other fighting gear including ropes slung across shoulders, crossbows, swords, and even a net! They were adventurers too. And they stared into Erin’s inn.

“It really is a magic doorway! Look at that, Earlia!”

“I see that! Hallo there! Is this inn open?”

Earlia, the woman with the sledgehammer, called at Mrsha, who was the one she could see. Mrsha immediately ran for it and hid behind Moore again. Erin hurried into view.

“Hello! Hello! We’re in! Come on through! Anyone want food? I’m Erin!”

The adventurers stared at her and then Earlia grinned.

“Alright then! Pile on through you lot!”

They hurried into the inn with a bit too much eagerness. Erin saw Octavia sigh and peered at her suspiciously. The [Alchemist] waved and then the door closed. Suddenly the inn was full of people! Erin saw the adventurers gaping at the huge space behind her and was acutely grateful for her [Grand Theatre] Skill.

“Sit anywhere you like! Put your stuff anywhere you like! Hi, I’m Erin. This is my inn. I’m terribly sorry for the delay—you’re the second band of adventurers who’ve come through this morning! These are all other adventurers—want food?”

“Dead gods, what a lot of teams! Is this some kind of inn that caters to adventurers?”

Earlia stared around at the other teams. She shifted her warhammer and then caught sight of one of the Redfang Goblins standing at the back of the inn. She immediately changed grips.

“Hobs!”

Her teammates instantly grabbed for their weapons. Erin waved her hands frantically.

“Wait, wait, wait!

She needn’t have shouted. As soon as Earlia had exclaimed she was shouting at her teammates.

“Hold! Hold, damn it all! They’re not attacking!”

She’d made the obvious conclusion that if the Hobs were in the inn with the adventurers, they couldn’t exactly be rogue monsters. Still, half of her teammates refused to put down their weapons. Erin saw some of the Gnolls shifting uneasily too. She waved her hands for everyone’s attention.

“Excuse me! We have an important rule in this inn! Please read that!”

She pointed to the sign she’d put on the wall right by the doorway. The adventurers read it.

“No killing Goblins?”

They exchanged incredulous looks, but Earlia nodded as if she’d expected it. She whistled softly as she glanced at Erin and then looked around the giant common room.

“So the rumors are true after all.”

“Rumors?”

The adventuress nodded. She stowed her warhammer against a wall and held out a hand. Erin shook it, feeling her rough calluses. Earlia gave her a cocksure grin.

“Sorry about that, Miss. Yes, the rumors! I didn’t believe it myself—though we’d have to travel for another four days to get to Liscor! But we heard all manner of talk the closer we got to Celum. People say there’s a crazy inn just outside of Liscor with Hobgoblin security and a magic doorway. They say the inn’s guarded by Hobs and Hollowstone Deceivers, and that the innkeeper can melt folks with her eyes!”

“They do?”

Erin was flattered. Earlia laughed.

“Not just that! We heard for a fact that the inn’s got more than a few tricks up its sleeve. This place fought off hundreds of moths during the Face-Eater Moth attack on Liscor! It’s famous! Uh, what’s the name of it?”

“The Wandering Inn!”

She didn’t know whether to be indignant or happy. Erin propped her hands on her hips.

“And I’m Erin! Erin Solstice! I told you that. Do people talk about me?”

Rumors had already spread about the attack on Liscor? That made sense—Wistram had broadcast the images of the battle across the world. But to Erin’s great disappointment Earlia bit her lip.

“Uh—no. We heard there’s a crazy Human living here—that you?”

“That’s me! They don’t even mention my name? What about me during the battle? What about the city?”

The adventurers were seated now and Lyonette was running from the kitchen to the common room. They were out of fish flakes so she brought out Erin’s other snacky foods. Earlia grabbed some bread and soft cheese and bit into it as she spoke, talking around her mouthful.

“Not much, honestly! Everyone’s talking about the battle for Liscor, but only how intense it was. We heard all about it as we were headed this way. Second-hand. Apparently there are recordings, but no one had a scrying orb to show us so we got it out of a [Mage] who’d seen most of it.”

“Recordings of the battle?”

Erin saw a stir among the adventurers. It was Nailren who nodded and replied.

“Pallass is selling the recollection. It is an expensive thing. A playback of events. Apparently Wistram has created many minor magical artifacts that replay the battle in its entirety. They call them…what was the word? Movies, yes? We paid to see the battle. The price was dear, but worthwhile, yes?”

Movies?

Erin’s jaw dropped. Pisces glanced at her face and his eyes narrowed. The other team of Humans looked envious.

“You saw it? I heard it was a hell of a fight! Of course, some adventurers lived it. Real badasses helped hold the line I heard! Took down a moth as tall as the walls of the city themselves!”

At her words some of the aforementioned badass adventurers turned red. Earlia glanced at them. Her eyes widened.

“Five Houses! Look you lot!”

She pointed straight at Moore. The half-Giant blinked. Earlia’s jaw dropped. Her eyes found Seborn and then, swung to Jelaqua as she identified the Selphid. She got to her feet in amazement.

“You must be the Halfseekers! And are you the Silver Swords?”

She’d spotted Ylawes, Falene, and Dawil as well. The adventurers nodded or bowed or in Moore’s case, waved a gigantic hand. Earlia’s team exclaimed and all stood up. They wanted to shake hands but a loud sound interrupted them.

“There’s another famous team here as well, you know.”

Revi and Typhenous looked disgruntled at not being identified. The Stitch-Woman folded her arms and Earlia’s team of Humans exchanged looks. The young woman stared at Revi and Typhenous and then looked at Halrac. His answering scowl made her eyes flicker.

“Halrac the Grim? Griffon Hunt?”

They nodded and Earlia’s team was star struck all over again. One of them exclaimed as they turned to shake hands.

“I heard you were a team of four!”

“We were.”

And like that, the good mood in the inn went out. Erin looked at Halrac sadly and guiltily and then clapped her hands. Everyone turned towards her.

“Alright, let’s get this sorted so I’m not confused! We have Goblins! Yes! We have Mrsha! Wave, Mrsha. She’s cute. I’m Erin! This is Lyonette! And we have six adventuring teams in here so far! Griffon Hunt! The Halfseekers! The Silver Swords! The Horns of Hammerad! The Pride of Kelia and…

Erin looked expectantly at Earlia. The adventurer stood up.

“Sorry you all! Should have done that sooner. We’re Gemhammer! A Silver-rank team from the north! The name’s Earlia—I’m the Captain.”

“And we are a Silver-rank team from the south. I failed to mention that. I am Nailren, leader of my team.”

Nailren spoke, bowing slightly. The new adventurers looked around, surprised.

Three Gold-rank teams here? That’s a sight you wouldn’t see that often in Invrisil! Sorry we didn’t recognize you. It’s just that the Halfseekers are a lot more noticeable.”

Earlia turned towards Griffon Hunt, all of whom shrugged moodily. Nailren looked at the other teams and bowed slightly to Jelaqua.

“The Halfseekers are known in the south of Izril as well. We were impressed by the battling of all three of your teams. Truly courageous. Sir Halrac’s defeat of the giant moth by himself was astounding, as was the Silver Sword’s prowess. But the Horns of Hammerad also astounded, truly.”

At that, Earlia glanced towards the Horns, who were sitting back, slightly overshadowed by their illustrious colleagues. She offered them an apologetic smile.

“Horns of Hammerad? I’m afraid we haven’t even heard of your team. We’re from far up north, past Invrisil. We’ve been on the road for the last month, ever since we heard about the dungeon!”

“They were part of the fighting against the moths. One of them actually cast the weather spell that ended the battle.”

“You did? Incredible! We heard about that? Are you a [Weather Mage]?”

Earlia looked at Pisces, and then Ceria. Both demurred and then Earlia spotted Ksmvr.

“An Antinium?

“I am Ksmvr. Hello.”

Erin looked around desperately. There was no end to the explanations! She looked at Lyonette and pointed.

“Break out the whiskey, Lyonette. I think we need a few drinks so everyone can get to know one another.”

That idea was received well by all parties, except by the newcomers, strangely enough. Earlia raised a hand.

“Oh, not for us. We can’t drink now.”

“Neither we.”

Nailren nodded. He was looking out the window at the pouring rain and sniffing. He coughed politely and looked to Erin.

“As much as we would delight in talking, we cannot drink or eat overlong. We are bound for the dungeon as quickly as possible. And we would greatly appreciate directions.”

“Same here.”

Earlia nodded and shifted her grip on her warhammer. The other adventurers stared at them. Revi was the first to speak up.

“Are you serious?”

 

—-

 

“A Gold-rank dungeon. When was the last time one of those has been discovered? A century ago? Two?”

Earlia shook her head wonderingly. She hadn’t heard the latest news about the dungeon, that Tekshia had proclaimed it suitable for teams of Gold-rank or higher. Neither had The Pride of Kelia. They sat at their tables as Ylawes, Jelaqua, and Revi delivered the bad news in turns. Earlia shook her head.

“I can see why, though. Isn’t the dungeon underwater at the moment? It’d be a hell of a thing for a Bronze-rank team to enter. And the moths that came out—that’s Gold-rank for sure.”

“Exactly. So sorry that the Adventurer’s Guild hasn’t spread the word. But that’s the way it is. You can probably find some work dealing with the fish or something, but I’m afraid you’ve come all this way for nothing.”

Revi gave both teams a sweet, fake smile of regret. Earlia eyed her and looked at Nailren. The Silver-rank Gnoll Captain was looking at his team. He bowed his head, his ears twitching slightly.

“A danger indeed. We have heard rumors about the dungeon. Treasure obtained, monster hordes…it is a threat worthy of the rank.”

“Yeah.”

Earlia sighed. Then she slapped her knees and stood up.

“Alright, let’s go in. Nailren, want to cooperate until we get into the dungeon? Word is it’s a labyrinth so we can split up easily.”

The Gnoll grinned as he stood with his team.

“You read my mind, yes? We can at least hire a boat together. Shall we?”

They strode for the doors. The Gold-rank teams scrambled to stop them.

“Wait, wait! Didn’t you hear? This is a Gold-rank dungeon!”

Revi looked outraged. Earlia stared at her and then frowned.

“So?”

So? So it’s dangerous you moronic—”

Revi was muffled by Ylawes as he moved to block her. The [Knight] smiled apologetically.

“I’m sorry Miss Earlia, but the dungeon is truly dangerous. A Silver-rank team should not enter it. Even we Gold-rank teams hesitate to venture further in unwary. The Halfseekers have been cooperating with Griffon Hunt to enter via one entrance for two months and they have still encountered many, many setbacks. It would not be right for us to let another team enter when so many have perished or unleashed horrors by mistake.”

Earlia heard Ylawes out, nodding and looking concerned. Then she shrugged.

“Thanks, but we didn’t come this way to turn back now. Gold-rank or not, we’re entering this dungeon.”

She tried to brush past Ylawes. He moved to block her. Earlia frowned and put a hand on her warhammer’s hilt.

“Hey. Stop joking around here.”

“We’re not.”

Jelaqua answered for the others. She folded her arms, her tail curling up around one leg.

“I know you came all this way, but you kids are in over your heads. We can’t let you enter the dungeon. And the Adventurer’s Guild and the city will back us.”

“Really?”

The Human and Gnoll adventurers looked at each other. Earlia stood straighter to confer with Nailren.

“Might be best to head in right now if the Adventurer’s Guild and the city’s going to cause a fuss.”

“Are you insane?

Revi burst out. Earlia gave her an impatient look.

“Maybe? Move aside, Gold-ranks. We’re going in. My team and I did not ride for a month straight just to turn back now.”

“What about caution for your lives?”

Ylawes folded his arms. Earlia snorted.

“Caution is for Gold-rank teams, old man. We’ll never succeed if we hide and run from every challenge. Or have you forgotten what makes us adventurers?”

She jabbed a thumb at her chest.

“We know the dungeon’s above our pay grade. But that doesn’t mean we can’t handle it with luck and Skill. We’ll go in, get our measure of the place, and go out. We might get killed, we might not. But if we don’t try, who’ll conquer it? You lot? No thanks. There’s treasure down there and we mean to have it.”

“Exactly. We have come for the dungeon. It is wrong of you to try and stop us. If it is death we seek, let us find it and fight it with tooth and claw.”

Nailren growled and his team growled with him. The Gold-rank adventurers looked at each other uncertainly. Earlia tried to step around Ylawes and this time ran straight into Dawil.

“Hold on, Human. You may not know this, but the last group of adventurers set off the attack on Liscor.”

The others looked at him askance, but Dawil went on, never taking his eyes off of Earlia.

“They had no idea what they were doing, bumbling about. How’ll you lot account for the dead if you screw up?”

He looked up challengingly at Earlia and Erin held her breath. But the young woman didn’t so much as blink. She bent down and grinned toothily at Dawil.

“We’ll figure that out when it happens, Dwarf. But if we were good at planning ahead we wouldn’t be adventurers.”

Her team laughed at that, and cheered, lifting their weapons. Earlia looked around and raised her voice.

“We’re going in. Danger or not. We’re adventurers. Not Gold-rank. Not yet. And we’re not running from a challenge.”

Nailren nodded. His ears slowly flattened and he drew his bow.

“It is perhaps best we met you so we could say it to your faces first, no? We will not abide by your rules. We will enter ourselves. And if you would stop us, then try.

The Silver-rank adventurers raised their weapons. The Gold-rank ones, the ones blocking the way, put a hand on theirs but looked uneasy about a fight. Earlia looked around and called out.

“You! Horns of Hammerad! Are you with us?”

The Horns of Hammerad jumped. Ceria looked at the Humans and Gnolls.

“Who? Us?”

“That’s right! We’re going in. Are you being held back by these Gold-rank teams too? Join us! We could fight down there together or join forces for reconnaissance!”

Ceria looked uncertainly at her team. Erin saw her hesitate, bite a lip. The [Innkeeper] watched as Ceria looked at the two Silver-rank teams, shining with confidence and bravado and hesitated. Ceria’s heart pounded. Her hands, flesh and skeletal, shook. Her mouth went dry.

Terror. Skinner dragged himself down the hallways, the armor of flesh on his body gaping at her. The undead charged forwards as Skinner’s red eyes shone at her. Ceria saw Gerial stride forwards, saw the hand descend. Calruz’s scream etched itself in her ears. The coffin’s stone lid was hard as she pressed her hands against it, trying not to scream.

“I—”

“We’re not letting you through. Any of you.”

Ylawes drew his sword and grabbed his shield. Earlia unslung her warhammer. The adventurers in the inn braced. Erin saw Moore glance at Jelaqua who nodded slightly and Falene stand up, grasping her staff. She saw Revi raise a wand and be yanked backwards by Halrac who said something to Typhenous. But all of that was a blur because Erin was running forwards. She leapt in front of Ylawes and Earlia.

Stop!

Her shout echoed in the inn and the pressure that went with it stayed all hands. Every eye fixed on Erin as she stood in front of the adventures. She turned around slowly and the pressure that had gripped everyone but Mrsha, Lyonette, and Apista faded.

“Wait one second. Put away your weapons. Listen.

She looked at Earlia and Nailren. The two adventurer Captains stared at her with wide eyes. Erin took a deep breath.

“Look. You’ve just got here so let me lay this on you. Liscor is flooded. To get anywhere you need my magic door or a boat. And there are two entrances to the dungeon. One through the main entrance which is aboveground. But there’s tons of magical traps. It’s not been cleared yet. The other way’s through the underwater rift, which is what you’re suggesting. You’d need a boat to get out there, and you’d need to hold your breath just to sink all the way down. There are evil fish in the water. And if you get into the dungeon itself, the odds are you will be ambushed in the first five seconds.”

Earlia glanced at her team. She shook her head impatiently.

“Thanks Miss Innkeeper, but you can’t—”

Wait.

Erin’s command halted Earlia’s tongue. The [Innkeeper] took a deep breath and went on.

“The ambushers are Raskghar, the distant ancestors of Gnolls. They’re big, really strong, but can’t level. They can see in the dark and use poison-tipped arrows to shoot you from afar when you enter. That’s how a lot of teams have gotten killed or maybe captured.”

Nailren snarled softly.

“We know the Raskghar. It is one of the reasons why we came. To do battle against our ancient, traitorous brethren. They do not scare us.”

“Yeah? Well, watch out for them when you enter. Get a shield. And maybe try my patented, special magic food. Lyonette?”

Erin turned. Lyonette nearly tripped as she ran forwards with a bowl of what looked like blackened rocks mixed with limes. Erin offered it to Earlia and Nailren, who sniffed it dubiously.

“Free sample. Try it. It tastes awful.”

“Why would we want to try that?”

“Because it makes you stronger? Or how about my scale soup? I have another one that makes you warm even if you’re naked in the snow. I have magic food. It won’t last forever, but it’ll even the odds.”

Earlia hesitated and looked at Nailren. She lowered her warhammer a bit.

“That’s…useful. Are you telling us you’ll sell us the food?”

“And I’ll get you a boat and escort. I know where the dungeon is.”

What? Erin, you can’t be serious!”

Jelaqua was outraged. The Selphid strode forwards.

“You’re planning on letting this lot enter?”

“Absolutely. And I’m going to need a copy of that map. Which I will buy from you and which other people can buy from me. If you need potions, Octavia can get you extras. And I’d get more because Raskghar are the least of your worries down there! There’s Flesh Worms, undead, giant metal armor dudes, this thing that collects heads—Selys will write up a list.”

“I will?”

Erin ignored Selys. She locked gazes with Earlia and Nailren, looking from face to face.

“It’ll all be here tomorrow. Information, transport, everything. You can find an inn in Liscor or Celum. I’ll keep my door open. Find an inn, get settled, and if you need to, talk with the Adventurer’s Guild. But regardless, come back here and I’ll help you get into the dungeon.”

“Erin!”

She spun and glared at Jelaqua.

What?

Jelaqua looked furious. She pointed at the Silver-ranked adventurers.

“You’re going to get those kids killed! This is insane, even for you. If you let them go in—”

“If I don’t they’ll find another way. Or are you planning on beating them up and locking them up?”

Erin challenged the Selphid. Jelaqua opened her mouth furiously and tried to come up with a response.

“We—”

She hesitated and looked at Ylawes and Halrac uncertainly. The [Knight] was scrubbing a hand through his hair, looking frustrated. Halrac folded his arms.

“Erin’s right.”

“Halrac! You too?”

The [Scout] nodded. Erin gave him a grateful look. She turned and faced the others.

“You can’t stop Silver-ranked teams from going in. That’s what being an adventurer is all about, right? However, I can help. This inn will be more than a place for people to rest. If adventurers are going into the dungeon, I’ll try and make sure they come back out.”

“You are insane.”

Revi poked a finger at Erin. She glared back.

“Oh yeah? You do something then! Go ahead and stop them. I’ll try and stitch you back together once the fight is over, but no promises! I’m bad with needles.”

The Stitch-Girl looked around helplessly, mouth open in outrage. But Erin knew she was right. Both The Pride of Kelia and Gemhammer were ready to fight. And they were right, in a way. Erin didn’t quite look at the Horns of Hammerad.

“Playing it safe is all very well, but if they want to enter the dungeon responsibly, that’s their call. All I can do is help. That’s why I’m an [Innkeeper], not an adventurer. With that said—”

She swung back to both teams and looked at them.

“Tomorrow. You don’t rush this. You get some sleep, figure out where you’re sleeping, and come back when you’re ready. You can try going now but I guarantee you that my magic stuff and maps and so on will help. Got it?”

Earlia and Nailren looked at her. It was the Human who lowered her sledgehammer first.

“You’re as crazy as they say. I like you! We’ll do it your way, Miss Erin. You wouldn’t happen to have any rooms for us, would you?”

Erin gave her a wide, relieved smile.

“Sorry. My Hobgoblins took all but two. I have a basement open if you can’t find any inns in Liscor, though. But I’m sure Celum has space.”

 

—-

 

Later, Erin found herself carefully writing on a piece of parchment with a quill and ink. It wasn’t easy. She had cramped handwriting and she had trouble getting it to look good, since it was meant to be read from afar. At last she gave up, had a smart idea, and went to get Lyonette.

“Why don’t you do it with your [Flawless Attempt]?”

That made everything incredibly easy. Erin watched with envy as Lyonette wrote huge words on the parchment, even managing to add a rough sketch in charcoal. When it was done, Erin plastered the parchment to the wall of her inn by the magic doorway. She paused.

“We might need a bulletin board. This works for now, though.”

Lyonette went to stand by her. She looked up and read the words she’d so carefully inscripted on the parchment.

 

Wanted. Information on the sightings of the Minotaur known as Calruz. He has one arm, possibly wields a battleaxe and is bad-tempered sometimes. Credible information provided under [Detect Truth] spell will be rewarded with 50 gold coins.

 

“Do you think it’ll work?”

“If adventurers are going down into the dungeon? Why not? This way they’ll all keep an eye out, even if they’re not actively looking. And I’m going to make sure they all come through my inn before they enter.”

Erin folded her arms and frowned with determination. Her ears still rang from her shouting match with Revi. But she knew she was right. The dungeon was a threat. It had to be entered. And adventurers would keep going in. And if they were going to go in, they might as well go in prepared.

The Gold-rank teams were smart. They were cautious. They planned ahead. But they were also sort of elitist. They wanted to keep the map, the information about the dungeon, and the right to enter to themselves. Erin understood that, but she knew it wasn’t practical. And if something wasn’t practical, what was the point? She nodded at Lyonette.

“Think the bridge is ready?”

“I think so. The Gnoll in charge told me it was nearly done.”

“Good! Then let’s check it out.”

Erin left the inn and stepped out into the rain. Still raining? Yup. Her cozy, well-lit inn was at odds with the downpour outside. Erin thought she might get more business if she let people from Liscor go to Celum or Pallass for a holiday in the sun. She stared down her hill to where the water met the land.

There was a bridge there. It was simple, made of wooden planks tied onto rope with two rope handrails. The bridge sat on the water and it stretched to a tall pole jutting out of the water. A hill, or the top of one. The [Builders] had anchored the bridge there and stretched it to another hill. Thus, the bridge zigzagged from the top of hill to hill until it reached the city.

“Weird. But they said it’s good, right?”

“It should be.”

Lyonette watched as Erin walked down the hill, slipping a bit with all the wetness, and reached the bridge. As Erin stepped onto the first plank she saw it sink into the water. Instantly, cold water filled the bottom of her indoor slippers.

“Gah! Cold!”

Still, Erin didn’t pull back. She took another step, further onto the bridge, letting it hold her weight. The bridge sunk a tiny bit as she stepped onto the wooden boards, but it was remarkably stable. Erin wiggled her toes and smiled.

“It’s so cool! It’s underwater but not! This is great!”

“It’s also dangerous.”

Lyonette observed as she stared across the bridge as it networked from hill to hill and then finally reached Liscor’s walls. From there one had to climb a ladder up to the battlements. She frowned at the rain-thrashed waters.

“Anything could still pop out. If you’re an Antinium or unprepared for a fight, it could be risky. I won’t let Mrsha go on the bridge and I think I’d prefer to use the magic door too.”

Erin nodded.

“Definitely. But this is a way for other people to get here. Look! I think we already have visitors!”

She pointed. In the distance, Drakes were headed across the bridge. Drakes and Gnolls and a few Humans. Lots of them. Dozens already and Erin suspected there would be more to come. Behind her, she could hear the inn humming with life. The Players of Celum had already set up and they were getting ready for The Triumph of Liscor performed by their second-string cast, before they put on Juliet and Romeo for the first time in her inn for Liscor’s crowd.

“Lyonette, I feel like we’re actually successful, don’t you?”

“If your inn becomes a hub for adventurers on top of a place where plays happen every night, I don’t see how it wouldn’t be.”

Lyonette smiled at Erin. The [Innkeeper] grinned back. She looked speculatively back at the inn and shivered as the rain drenched her.

“Think it’ll work?”

“What, the plan with the adventurers?”

“No. Yes. I mean, the plan to get them to overcome their fear.”

There was a reason Ylawes had stopped objecting. Erin sighed as she looked back up to the inn. Lyonette shook her head.

“I don’t know, Erin. They’ve been through so much. Do they have to do it? Wouldn’t it be kinder to let them—”

“What? Stay here? Keep talking about doing it and never go in? Calruz might be alive, Lyonette. If this is anything like a story—he is. It might be dangerous. They might die.”

Erin gulped as her throat suddenly closed. The thought of her friends dying made her want to cry. But she didn’t. She wiped rain out of her eyes instead and took a deep breath.

“But that’s what makes them adventurers.

 

—-

 

The Drake stood on the balcony, dressed in rich, elegant clothing fit for a noblewoman. She looked down and spoke, her chin raised, her manner refined.

“If they do see thee they will murder thee.”

Below her, concealed in the bushes, a Human man looked up. His clothes were no less fine, but the colors muted. He had snuck here uninvited and his life was in as much jeopardy as she said. But he responded with brash confidence.

“Alack, there lies more peril in thine eye than twenty of their swords. Look thou but sweet, and I am proof against their enmity.”

His words made the Drake smile unwillingly. She opened a fan to conceal her expression and replied. Pisces didn’t have to hear her to know what she’d said. He’d watched Juliet and Romeo performed countless times in Celum. Wesle and Jasi had refined their craft since then, and they embodied the [Lord] and [Lady] they were supposed to be.

“A fine performance, wouldn’t you say?”

He glanced sideways at the others sitting at his table. Ceria looked up moodily from her beef casserole. She hadn’t set into it yet, which was uncharacteristic of the half-Elf; by her side, Yvlon’s plate was equally untouched. Ksmvr was shoveling down his food like there was no tomorrow.

“What? The play? There’s certainly enough people for it.”

She glanced around the room. Erin’s [Grand Theatre] Skill afforded her a room three times as big as a normal inn, already large. It was nearly packed by Drakes, Gnolls, and Humans. Celum’s theater-loving crowd had filled some seats, but Liscor’s citizenry had finally heard of the wonders of the stage and they had come to see what all the fuss was about. So far, they hadn’t been disappointed.

“A standing ovation for The Triumph of Liscor. Subpar writing, an unctuous display of patriotism—from Humans to Drakes, I note—only redeemed by the star of the cast. Me. What would be the appropriate response to a true work of art? Wild orgies in the streets?”

Yvlon snorted and then glared. Pisces smiled, pleased at himself. Ceria grinned unwillingly and then looked morose again. Ksmvr looked up.

“What are—”

“Later, Ksmvr.”

The Horns of Hammerad sat as they looked around the room. The Wandering Inn had risen fast, hadn’t it? From an empty house it was now a full one, and populated by movers and shakers and dancers as it were. Wall Lord Ilvriss was there, sitting with a group of Drakes. So were three Gold-rank teams, and now, three Silver-rank ones as well. The Pride of Kelia and Gemhammer had come back to eat and see the play and they were entranced. Ceria couldn’t take her eyes off them for different reasons. She played with her fork, spreading her cheese around the plate listlessly.

“Do you think they’re right, Pisces?”

He looked at her, distracted by the play.

“Hm? Ah, well, they are certainly forthright.”

“Confident to the point of suicide, perhaps.”

Yvlon frowned, looking at the Human team. She touched her arm unconsciously and Ceria glanced at her.

“Yeah. Yeah. The Gold-rankers certainly seem to think so. It’s just that they’re…well, they’re our level, aren’t they? Silver-rank. And they’re good too, according to what Selys managed to dig up on them.”

“Good isn’t enough for this dungeon.”

The armored [Wounded Warrior] spoke through tight lips. Ceria hesitated.

“Maybe. But they’re still willing to risk it. And here we are. We haven’t gone into the dungeon. It’s been a long time since Pisces told us that Calruz might be alive. So are we—I mean, am I—a coward?”

She choked on the words. Pisces looked up. Ksmvr stopped noshing and Yvlon turned.

“Ceria—”

“I’m the team leader. I was part of Calruz’ team! He was my leader. I should be telling us to go in now, but every time I want to, I freeze up. I know we have to move. I know, but—”

Ceria gestured at her hands. Pisces saw her skeletal hand, holding her fork. It was shaking so badly she could barely hold on. She tried to hold her hand with her other one, but they were both shaking. Ceria shook her head, tears springing to her eyes.

“I’m a coward! I shouldn’t be Captain. But I—I know what’s down there. I know. Things like Skinner. Maybe worse. I’m afraid, but I can’t back down! And you all need a leader! I shouldn’t be a Captain. I—”

“It’s my fault too.”

Yvlon grabbed Ceria’s arm. The half-Elf looked at her. Yvlon looked pained.

“I’m afraid too. I haven’t said anything. I agreed with you—because I lost too much too. I should have asked if we wanted to go in, really wanted to risk our lives. But I was afraid of looking cowardly. I was afraid of disappointing my brother. It’s not just you, Ceria. It’s…I’m scared.”

“I know. It’s not fair to ask you to go in. Not for Calruz. Not when we could die. When it’s so likely.”

Ceria looked at Yvlon, then at Pisces. He met her gaze and then fiddled with his utensils. Ksmvr looked around.

“But you are our Captain, Captain Springwalker. How else should we move, if not by your will?”

“Oh, Ksmvr. I can’t ask you to die for me. And this—I’m not worthy to do it.”

The half-Elf closed her eyes. She sat still as the play went on in the background. Pisces was still for a while, his eyes flicking to the play behind Ceria, and then he sighed.

“And yet, we follow you.”

Ceria looked up. Pisces pushed his plate back and looked at her, looked at Yvlon.

“You are afraid. You fear for our lives, rightly so. You have declined to enter the dungeon. Of course I was aware of this.”

“I was not.”

Ksmvr raised a hand. Everyone looked at him. Pisces cleared his throat.

“Friend Ksmvr. Now you are aware. By her own admission, Ceria calls herself a coward. Unfit for duty. Does that change your opinion of her? Of your position in the group?”

The Antinium cocked his head, thinking. He shook it.

“Never. If Captain Ceria and Yvlon fear to enter, command me. I will go in alone and find this Minotaur. I am part of the team. If my Captain fears, I will be fearless. If there is death, I will fight it.”

He looked around proudly and saw the pain in Ceria and Yvlon’s eyes. Ksmvr hesitated.

“What? You gave me purpose. You gave me a place. How could I offer you anything less?”

“Ksmvr.”

Ceria closed her eyes and Yvlon reached out to grab his hand. Pisces sniffed.

“Well spoken. For my part, I do not intend to die. But neither do I intend to leave this group. I have waited. The other teams prepare. Ceria, Yvlon. If you fear to enter the dungeon, say so. I will not think twice at walking away. But if you do not—”

Pisces’ eyes glittered.

“Then say so and we will follow you into that hell.”

“Even if we die?”

The [Necromancer]’s eyes shone in the dim lighting.

“I do not plan on dying. If you intend to order us to our deaths then by all means step down. But tell me there is a chance of victory and I will seize it. Point us to glory, Ceria. Did we not enter Albez ourselves? Are we adventurers or cowards? If we are the latter, why have we risked our lives and fought together? If we are the former, why are you afraid?

A shock ran through the other three adventurers. The Horns of Hammerad looked up. Ceria felt strength return to her shaking hands. She made a fist and looked Pisces in the eye. There was a shining light there, a burning passion. She had seen it once before, in a younger man’s eyes. She felt her limbs stop shaking. She opened her mouth and heard a voice from the stage.

“If that thy bent of love be honourable, thy purpose marriage, send me word tomorrow.”

Jasi bent to stage-whisper to Wesle. The Drake gave the Human a smile full of young, reckless love. Ceria heard a sigh from the Humans and nothing from the Drakes. And then a voice.

“A Drake marrying a Human? Outrageous!”

A shout broke through the sacred silence of the play. Wall Lord Ilvriss leapt to his feet, bursting with outrage. He tried to rush the stage. Two Hobgoblins ran to stop him.

“This play is a disgrace!”

“Disgusting!”

The Drakes in the audience were getting to their feet. Their beatific smiles were replaced by pure hostility as they hurled drinks and food at the shocked actors. The Humans in the crowd were stunned—until that shock turned to anger.

“What’s wrong with that? Let the girl marry him!”

“It’s not like we like your scaly faces either! Get lost you tailed freaks!”

The audience turned on each other. Shouting about the sanctity of Drake species turned into threats. The Drakes and Humans shook fists and claws and thrashed tails, and then began to hurl things at each other. From their seat the Horns of Hammerad didn’t see who threw the first punch, but as soon as it started a brawl broke out.

Drakes leapt onto tables and kicked Humans to the ground while Humans grabbed chairs, mugs, anything they could get their hands on. The five Hobgoblins began hitting Humans and Drakes alike but the angry mob was too far gone and they turned on the Goblins as well.

“Dead gods.”

Ceria was shocked by the sudden turn of events. She saw Erin trying to restore order—right until someone hurled their plate of spaghetti in her face. On the stage the Players of Celum defended themselves as Drakes rushed at them. Ceria got to her feet and saw the adventurers in the room get mixed up in the fighting too.

Jelaqua was already defending herself from angry Drakes who were using this moment to object in no uncertain terms to her using a Drake’s body. Moore was a target purely based on his size. Ylawes had gotten into a brawl by trying to break it up. Griffon Hunt was standing against the walls as was The Pride of Kelia, but Gemhammer was already on their feet. Earlia punched a Drake, laughing as her friends upended their table for cover from the flying projectiles.

“Whoa. This inn is great!”

The Horns tended to disagree. They were sitting at a far wall, but the fighting was spreading fast. Yvlon spotted Ishkr pulling Drassi back to the kitchen while he tried to shield himself with a platter.

“What a mess!”

There were multiple sides. Drakes, Humans, the Gnolls who seemed keen to either escape or fight indiscriminately, and Erin’s faction. They were badly outnumbered, however. Yvlon saw Headscratcher vault over a table and kick Ilvriss in the chest. The Wall Lord roared, punched the Hobgoblin, and then was struck on the back of the head by an angry [Actor].

Ilvriss turned, decked the Human with a single blow and then grabbed a chair. Headscratcher was borne to the ground by a trio of Humans, but they all staggered as a piece of firewood cracked into their backs. Erin lowered her hands and strode forwards. The Horns could hear her shouting angrily.

“I just bought those. Can I go for one month without my inn being wrecked? One month?

The Hobgoblins rushed to protect her as Erin expertly poked a man in the eyes and kneed him in the groin. [Bar Fighting] at its best. Ceria shook her head.

“We’ve got to get in there.”

“You’re sure?”

Yvlon and Pisces looked at her. Ceria hesitated. She looked at the other two. She wasn’t talking just about the fight. She smiled ruefully.

“Yeah. I’m sure. Glory? Wealth? Power? I want all those things. I’ll be honest. This thing scares the crap out of me. We lost once. But we have a friend who might be in there. This is about more than pride, more than fear. This is personal. Let’s go kick some teeth in.”

Ceria shook as she spoke. But she was right. She looked at her friends helplessly. She was afraid—until she saw their faces. Pisces smiled and Yvlon grinned ruefully. They nodded and Ceria felt warm inside. Ksmvr stood straight and nodded.

“Well said! I will be the first to fight!”

“Wait, what? Ksmvr! I was talking about—”

The Antinium didn’t hear her. He charged into the melee, received a [Minotaur Punch] from Erin and spun once before a pair of burly Drakes smashed him to the ground.

“Cat guts! I’m going to get him!”

“Get Lyonette too!”

Ceria saw a frightened Gnoll running through the feet, being pursued by Lyonette. A Drake woman tried to attack the [Barmaid] and received a flawless counter in return. Lyonette ran after Mrsha as Apista flew overhead, bravely stinging everything and anyone she could find. Yvlon nodded.

“I’ll get Ksmvr! You get Mrsha and the others!”

“Got it!”

No one had drawn blades yet although there were a lot of pieces of wood and jagged glass being waved around. Ceria knew that bearing steel would make the brawl a lot deadlier. Still, that didn’t mean she was going in weaponless. She made a club of ice with one hand and charged with Yvlon with a shout.

Pisces stayed back. He ducked a thrown tankard and observed the chaos at his table. He sighed. Good art had been ruined once more. Well, it was to be expected. He watched his teammates enter the fighting and rolled his eyes. But he couldn’t help but contain a smile. He muttered to himself, so softly no one else would hear.

“It’s about time.”

Then he grinned, disappeared with an [Invisibility] spell, and entered the fray. Twelve seconds later Ilvriss kicked him over a table. The Wall Lord shifted one of the rings on his clawed hand and grunted.

“Damn [Mages].”

He turned and Erin punched him in the stomach.

 


Previous Chapter Next Chapter

5.26 L

In the depths of the Hive, Pawn heard her approach. Her footsteps were soft and she walked slowly. He didn’t move.

Pawn was curled up into a ball as if he were sleeping. Only, he wasn’t. He was just like this now. The curl wasn’t just physical, it was in his heart.

He’d hurt Lyonette. Made her angry at him. She probably never wanted to see him again. He’d made her cry. Again.

He’d just been trying to help. What had he done wrong? He just wanted to give her back her class. She was a [Princess]. Had been a [Princess]. Why didn’t she want her class back? Why, why, why—

And now Erin was here. Pawn listened as she walked towards him. Close now. He shivered but didn’t move. He didn’t want her here. She might be able to move him.

He wanted her here. Pawn felt his thoughts jumbling in his head. He told himself not to move. Not moving was easy. No matter what she did he wouldn’t move. He stubbornly thought that as Erin paused.

What was she doing? He could feel her eyes on him. He could even hear her breathing quietly, the only sound in the deserted barracks. Pawn tensed as she walked—

Around him? Erin didn’t immediately approach. She walked around Pawn in a slow circle. Inspecting him. He didn’t raise his head. He was curled up. He wouldn’t move. Pawn anticipated Erin speaking so much that when she finally did say something, it was a shock.

“Hey Pawn.”

That voice. Pawn shivered but refused to uncurl. That voice haunted him. It was unforgettable. He remembered her. She had asked him that fateful question. She had given him purpose, given him identity. No, not given—she had helped him find it.

What about just you? What’s your name?

A kind face, staring into his. A soft hand, placing chess pieces. Tears flowing as she placed chess pieces. A song. From such memories had she defined Pawn’s world. He could picture her perfectly in his head, bending over him. Erin spoke softly.

“Pawn?”

He wouldn’t move. Pawn stayed put. If he did that long enough, Erin would go away. Even she would go. And then he would be alone until he died. That was okay. He felt Erin shuffle closer. Her voice was very soft.

“Hey. Hey Pawn.”

Still, the Worker didn’t move. Erin was right by his earhole now. He felt her breath on his carapace. Pawn held himself still with all of his strength. Don’t move. No matter what she said. No matter if she touched him. Don’t move an inch. He heard Erin softly draw in breath. And then—

“Get up!

Pawn jerked. He couldn’t help it. Erin’s voice blasted through his body like a physical thing. The entire barracks rang with sound. Pawn half-uncurled and looked up.

Erin stared back at him. There she was, Human, smiling slightly, her hair tied back today. It was longer than it had been when she first met him. But everything else was the same. Pawn met her eyes for one heart-stopping second. Then he tried to curl back up.

“Oh no you don’t.”

Erin instantly grabbed him. But for all her strength, Pawn was an Antinium, a Worker. He could curl up and hug himself so tightly even a Soldier couldn’t pull him apart without breaking his body first. Erin grunted as he curled up, her hands slipping futilely on his body. Pawn curled up into a ball again and Erin had to step back. He couldn’t tell what she was doing, but he heard her muttering to herself. Then Erin seemed to come up with an idea?

“Oh yeah, what about this?”

She pushed Pawn over. Curled up as he was, he just fell onto his side. Then Erin pushed him again. Pawn felt himself rolling across the ground! His back shell made it easy for him to turn over again and again. Erin rolled him like a ball.

“Feel like getting up? Huh?”

Pawn didn’t respond, though he felt dizzy. After a few seconds Erin gave up.

“How about this?”

She sat on him. Pawn didn’t do anything. Erin tried to tickle him. Pawn had no nerves on most parts of his body. Exasperated, Erin eventually tried poking Pawn in the side but he refused to move. She couldn’t make him. He felt a certain satisfaction in that.

Six minutes after entering the barracks, Erin gave up. She sat down in front of Pawn and sighed.

“Alright, that’s enough playing around. Pawn, it’s time to get up.”

The Worker didn’t move. But he did feel…hurt. Annoyed, perhaps. Playing around? He wasn’t playing. He wasn’t having fun. What was Erin going to do? She couldn’t make him move. She squatted by him and spoke directly to Pawn.

“Pawn, you have to move.”

He refused to. Erin breathed out slowly.

“How long are you planning on curling up like this? Until you get hungry? You haven’t eaten in a day! Until you die? Are you planning on dying and making everyone sad?”

That was exactly what he was planning. Only, hearing it from Erin made Pawn realize that she would be sad if he died. And that—hurt. It made him feel guilty. He wavered. Erin went on.

“Anand is worried about you. So is Bird. He wanted to give you an egg. Belgrade is worried, and I’m sure Garry would be if I ever saw him. Klbkch is being sort of a jerk, but he’s worried too. And all of your Soldiers and Workers are very worried. Are you going to ignore all of them?”

No. Yes. Pawn tried to think. He didn’t want to uncurl. But he didn’t want to make them all sad. If they’d just leave him alone for a few days. A week! Then he might be able to uncurl. But if they were sad—Pawn wavered.

He wanted to uncurl, but he was afraid to. He’d made so many mistakes. It was so easy just to hide here. Erin studied pawn for a second and then she sighed again.

“Pawn, I love you like the son I don’t plan on having, but you can’t just sit here. People need you. All the Soldiers and Workers in your unit have stopped eating.”

She didn’t see Pawn move. The Worker stayed folded up, all four arms wrapped around himself. But then the Worker spoke.

“They have?”

His voice was muffled, quiet. Sad. But it was a voice. Erin nodded.

“All of them. It’s a hunger strike. They refuse to eat, refuse to take orders—it’s so bad that Klbkch immediately came to me. He’s sure and I’m sure that so long as you don’t move, your people will starve themselves to death. Understand?”

Pawn did. And that cut deepest of all. The Painted Soldiers were starving themselves? Yellow Splatters was? Purple Smile? Now he knew he had to move, had to uncurl. But he couldn’t. He was afraid. He spoke to Erin in a small voice.

“Must I?”

Erin paused. She sat cross-legged in front of him. Thoughtfully, she sat with her hands resting on the packed earth floor.

“Honestly? No. You could sit here forever. It’s your choice, Pawn. But some of your people haven’t eaten in a long time. Every second you stay like that, they won’t eat. They won’t move. I know you’re too kind to let that happen.”

She was right. She was always right. Pawn tried to hold himself still. But something inside him responded to Erin’s words. Slowly, one bit at a time, Pawn raised his head. His arms unfolded. He looked up and saw Erin smiling at him.

“There’s that handsome face. Mandibles. Whatever. Good job, Pawn.”

She reached out and slowly patted him on the shoulder. Pawn stared at her. He whispered.

“I am lost, Erin. I don’t know what to do.”

“I know. It must have been bad if you curled up like that. I should have gone after you instead of letting you leave. Want to talk about it?”

Silently, the Worker nodded. He hugged his knees as he sat with Erin. She waited for him to speak. It was so…reassuring to look at her. After a while, Pawn felt like the words were ready to come out.

“I hurt Lyonette.”

“Yep.”

“…Is she alright now?”

Erin shrugged.

“I gave her the day off. She went to Celum for a while with Mrsha. Today she was good. Upset, but she wanted to do her job. And I think she’s not angry at you. Much. But she is still upset about what you said.”

“That is good. Good. Not what I said. But good that she is better. I didn’t mean to—it was not my intention. Does she know that?”

Pawn looked down. He felt very small. Erin watched him for a while.

“I didn’t ask. I’m sure she understands you wanted to help. But that’s the problem, isn’t it? You tried to help her and she didn’t want it.”

Pawn nodded mechanically. He looked up at Erin, hesitated.

“Do you know what we were talking about?”

“I heard the shouted bits. And I got the rest from context.”

Erin smiled slightly. She looked pensive for a moment and then glanced at Pawn.

“I know she’s a [Princess]. That’s what it was all about, right? Did something happen to her class?”

“Yes. She lost it. I was trying to help her get it back. I didn’t think it was right that she lost it. But when I tried to pray—I—”

Pawn broke off, shaking his head.

“She lost it? Really? She didn’t tell me that!”

Both of Erin’s brows shot up. Pawn looked at her, surprised.

“You did not know? She didn’t tell you?”

The young woman shook her head.

“She told me she lost something. Not what. And I know she was a princess, but I don’t know if she ever told me herself. Ryoka definitely told me…um, I forget.”

Frowning, Erin tilted her head. After a while she gave up and shrugged.

“It doesn’t matter, I guess. Lyonette didn’t need to tell me anything. She told you, though. And you were worried, weren’t you? You tried to help her get it back.”

“Yes. And now she hates me. Because I did not respect her wishes.”

The Worker grabbed his knees and rocked back and forth. Erin watched him, concerned. She stopped Pawn with one hand and patted his knee gently.

“Hmm. I don’t know if she hates you. I think you went too far.”

Pawn looked at her, feeling a shred of hope.

“Really?”

Erin nodded.

“I know you don’t understand being social, Pawn. Lyonette understands that too. I think she feels bad about shouting at you. But—how can I explain this? You did do something bad. Just a tiny bit.”

She paused, biting her lip softly and trying to find the best words. Pawn waited. He ached. At last, Erin went on.

“We want to be talked to. We want to be cared about. But sometimes we also need to be alone. Some days we don’t want to talk to our friends. And that’s especially true of when we need to be alone.”

“But she was sad. I tried to help.”

Again, Erin nodded.

“And that was great. Really. Sometimes when you’re sad, you need to hug someone. But sometimes, some people just want to be alone. And that’s fine too. I think Lyonette liked you coming the first time. But after that? After you kept trying to check up on her? And change her? Pray for her to make her get her class back? That was too much.”

“But her class—”

“She lost it. It’s gone, Pawn. If she wanted to get it back, I think she would have asked. But she didn’t ask, did she?”

Pawn didn’t answer. Erin scooted a bit closer. Her hand was warm on his knee.

“Sometimes you can’t solve other people’s problems even if you want to. Sometimes people have to go through their struggles alone.”

A sad look stole over Erin’s face for a moment. Pawn looked up at her and opened his mandibles hesitantly.

“But why?”

“Why? Because you can’t solve everything for other people.”

“Why not?”

“Because you can’t, Pawn. It just isn’t possible. It’s their problem, not yours.”

Part of Pawn rebelled at what Erin said. He looked at her angrily.

“But that is not right! If someone is hurting, surely they must be helped. Is not leaving them alone worse? It is not right!”

Erin nodded.

“It’s not good, I agree. But you can’t make someone happy. And trying to force your help on someone makes it worse, Pawn.”

“But—”

This was not what he had wanted to hear. Pawn opened and closed his mandibles, softly clicking, trying to say something in response. But he couldn’t. Erin was right. He had gone too far. And he had made Lyonette angry. It was just that he still wanted to help. Erin stared at him, waiting. At last, Pawn asked another question.

“What is a ‘ball’?”

“What?”

Erin blinked. Pawn hunched his shoulders sulkily.

“I want to know. Lyonette told me about it. A ball is for dancing? [Princesses] do it?”

“Um—well, not just them, but yeah. Balls are for dancing. People dress up and dance in a big open room. It’s a fancy thing.”

“Have you ever done it?”

“Nope. Why, did Lyonette miss dancing?”

“A bit. She said she is not a [Princess] here. She has nothing of her old life. But she was a [Princess]. I thought I could give it back. I thought—”

Erin cut Pawn off gently.

“You can’t make her. You can talk to her. I think she’d be happy to talk to you. But not if you’re trying to get her to do something. If you go back tomorrow and say sorry, I think she’ll forgive you. But you can’t keep…its not good to dwell on her problems. She’ll be fine. Okay, Pawn?”

Pawn looked at the ground. He opened and closed his mandibles softly. Erin waited.

“Pawn?”

“Okay.”

He said it in a small voice. Not because he agreed. Just to make Erin stop asking. He knew she was trying to help. He knew she was probably right.

He’d tried to help Lyonette. Too much. That was what she was telling him. But part of Pawn, a small part, rebelled against what Erin was saying.  It wasn’t that. It wasn’t just losing her class. He thought there had to be something more. He’d wanted to—

Pawn didn’t know. He didn’t feel better. He’d hoped that was what Erin could do. Make him feel better. Make everything alright. But she hadn’t. She’d only made him feel—guilty. Awake again. Conscious of his duties, of the people who were hurting.

His Soldiers. His Workers. His…people. Pawn felt a terrible weight settle on his shoulders.

“I have made everyone upset. I do not know if I can be forgiven.”

Erin’s smile lit up part of  Pawn’s heart.

“Of course you can be, silly. Everyone’s upset, but they’re worried. Even mean old Klbkch.”

Pawn nodded a few times. He looked up, hesitantly.

“Will you come with me?”

“Of course.”

Erin watched Pawn slowly stand up. She smiled and hugged him. He let her. She smelled like a bit of rain, fried food, her inn—and humanity. As she let him go she smiled again.

How wonderful. How beautiful. Pawn followed her as she led him out of the barracks. He felt quiet inside. The grief was still there, but subdued for a moment. The guilt and pain—he could live with. She had helped.

But she was wrong. Pawn felt that too. Erin was wonderful, kind. She made him feel better. But for the first time, Pawn thought she didn’t quite understand what he was feeling. There had to be something else.

But what?

 

—-

 

Pawn sat in the barracks. He was not curled up anymore. Neither was he alone. The Painted Soldiers stood around him, or sat. The Workers did likewise, hidden behind their giant kin. They were silent, but it was not the silence of before.

Klbkch was gone. Erin had helped there greatly. She’d taken him away before he could discipline Pawn. As for Anand, he had gone back to let Belgrade and Garry know everything was well. That left Pawn with his Soldiers and Workers.

Slowly, Pawn raised a piece of dried meat to his mandibles. He tore off a piece and chewed. The Painted Soldiers and Workers watched. They slowly ate as well.

Food. It was so good and yet it didn’t fill Pawn up with delight as it used to. It was just good. His body wanted it more than Pawn’s mind. But he ate steadily, knowing the others were doing likewise. They savored their meals—it was a rare treat. A break to their day-long fast. A breakfast. Was what why it was called that?

Pawn looked around. Yellow Splatters and Purple Smile sat with him. Pawn looked at them. The two [Sergeants] watched him as they chewed. There was no judgment in them. Just expectancy. After a while, Pawn looked down at his hands.

“I’m sorry.”

The Antinium stirred. Pawn looked around.

“I am so very sorry. I did not mean to worry anyone. I did not mean to leave you alone. But I—I was distracted. I should not have been.”

They waited, watching him. Pawn looked from face to face. Yes, he had abandoned them. His gaze strayed to the pile of things he’d bought, useless and untouched. Of course they’d been hurt. What were objects? Meaningless. Pawn lowered his head.

“I should not have. But I was busy. I was trying to—it was because of Lyonette. Not because of her, but because I wanted to help her. Because she is my friend. And I wanted to make her feel better. Because I have no other friends.”

The Soldiers and Workers stared at him. Pawn turned the piece of dried meat over in his hands. He didn’t know what he was doing, but he knew he owed the others an explanation. So he began to talk. It hurt for the first few seconds. And then it felt like the words were leaking out of him, exiting the wound inside of his chest.

“I have learned much of this world. Much, and yet there is still more. Always more. I know of buying and selling, of combat, of laws and food and many things. But I had no friends. Not until Lyonette.”

Pawn looked around.

“Erin is not my friend. She cannot be. She is not Anand’s friend, or mine, or Belgrade’s or Bird’s or Garry’s. Or any of the others who died. She helped make us Individual. But she is not our friend. She is to we Workers what the sun is to grass. She made us who we are. She is more than a Human, more than an [Innkeeper]. More than…how can I put it?”

The Worker looked around blankly, seeing the uncomprehending looks in the eyes of the others. How could he explain what Erin was in a way they would understand? Pawn stared up at the dark ceiling overhead and then had it.

“She is the sky.”

The Painted Soldiers shifted. They looked up and then down at Pawn. Yellow Splatters nodded. The sky. Pawn nodded as well. They could understand that.

“So she is not a friend. She must be more. And I have no friends within the Hive. Workers, Individuals such as Anand and Belgrade, Soldiers…we cannot be called friends. We find friends. But we have ever been family.”

Another pause. Pawn’s word echoed in the barracks. Family. It was a foreign word, but perhaps the closest thing to what they were. Pawn went on after a while.

“So I had no friends. None. Erin’s friends were not mine. They were kind, but I did not know them. I only knew her. And you. If there was any…friend I had in this world, it would be her. Surely.”

Lyonette. Pawn looked up.

“She was there when Erin was gone. She had food. She helped me learn to lead the Soldiers. She talked to me when I was alone. She is my friend. The only one I have.”

Pawn told the others about how they had met. He told them about Lyonette, ushering him in to the abandoned inn, giving him honey, food for the other Soldiers. The Antinium listened, hungrily devouring the story while they ate. And Pawn felt better too.

It felt good to speak. It felt good to be honest and open about his problems. But Pawn also felt terrible. Here he was talking about his problems when he’d neglected his duties. When he’d abandoned the others who followed him! Klbkch was right. He was a disgrace.

“I should not have abandoned you. But I wanted to help her. She was a [Princess]. She lost something important, I think. She was crying. I wanted to help. But Erin told me I cannot help.”

Bitterly, Pawn looked down at his hands. He couldn’t help her. Erin had told him that. She had been clear. But he wanted to help. The Painted Soldiers looked at each other, and then at their [Sergeants]. Yellow Splatters looked at Purple Smile. The other Soldier scratched his head with one hand. And then he shrugged.

What could they say? What could they do? Pawn knew his struggle was as alien to the Antinium as laughter. Or tears. And he knew now, he realized that his understanding of Lyonette had been flawed too.

He knew nothing of her past. Nothing about her, except that she was kind now and had once been a thief. He didn’t know what she had been before she came to Liscor. What had she been [Princess] of? Didn’t princesses have kingdoms? Where was her home? Why had she left?

“What can I do? How can I apologize? But I know nothing of her. I still want to help, but should I just do nothing?”

Pawn didn’t know. He wanted to still do something. But he had no idea. The other Antinium looked at each other. They did not speak. But they shared opinion, thought, desire, putting their minds to the problem like a single entity. And it was Purple Smile who had an idea.

He tapped Pawn on the shoulder. Pawn looked up. The Soldier gestured with all four hands. He pointed up, and then two of his four arms rose. He made little spades out of his hands and put them behind his head. Then, with his other two hands he placed them flat on an invisible surface in the air. He opened his mandibles and raised them in a smile.

Pawn stared at him. He stared at the hands behind the Soldier’s head. The flat hands on…what? A counter? He stared at the hands behind the head again. They almost looked like ears. Wait. Pawn opened his mandibles in surprise.

“Her? You think I should talk to her?

Purple Smile nodded. Pawn stared at him. Then he got up. Purple Smile pointed and Pawn nodded. The Soldier led the way out of the barracks and Pawn followed him. The other Antinium milled about. They did not follow; they didn’t have permission to leave the Hive. And it was raining. But they waited. They didn’t play games. They sat or stood and looked towards the entrance of the barracks.

It was the same as before, only not. This time they were waiting and it felt better than when Pawn had not been paying attention. Because now they were paying attention to him. There was an expectancy in the air. Anticipation. The Antinium had never felt it. For once, they were waiting to see what happened next.

 

—-

 

She was at work in the rain when the two Antinium approached. Well, not in the rain. The stall’s slanted roof gave protection, but the blowing winds occasionally showered her with droplets. It was not fun, standing out in the open street. But business was business and it wasn’t like she had a shop.

Sometimes Krshia regretted that. How hard would it have been to buy a shop? She could have saved up and bought a nice little place to do business. But then she would be behind a closed door. She wouldn’t be out in the street where she could call to passersby, gossip, establish a network of clients that was based as much in trust of her good name as it was friendship.

That was how Krshia had earned money these last ten years. By being out in the open, dealing and selling in goods with people. It wasn’t just inventory or quality. Shopkeepers like Lism would never understand that.

Still, it was miserable being out in the rain. Krshia hunched her shoulders. She couldn’t put anything out on display, either. The few people who hurried down the street would either stop at her stall or didn’t have time to chat. They just bought what they needed and ran back indoors. Krshia hated the rain. But she still felt like she might hate having a shop more. Gnolls were outdoor people.

It was a slow day. Despite herself, Krshia kept glancing at the sky, wondering if it was time to pack up. Maybe she could rent a space for the next few weeks until it was clear? Or why not erect a covering over the entire street? Yes, why not? You could build a roof from house to house, a temporary one. Then all the shoppers would be more inclined to stay and talk. You could have the outdoor vendors sell all their food here, make a sanctuary from the rain!

“Doable, yes? But who would do it? I? It would be a hassle, and coin. Why not have the city do it? Only, they would not, no. This is what the Merchant’s Guild should do, yes? Only, they are not as interested in street vendors’ woes. Despite the fact that we are many. This is a Drake city and Drakes rule. But Gnolls have our own groups. Why not? I could petition myself, yes? And if I did it right—”

Her musing was cut off as she spotted a pair of shapes headed towards her through the rain. Krshia didn’t need a Skill to know she had customers. She straightened up and put a smile on her face. A smile which instantly turned into a puzzled frown as she sniffed and noticed exactly what was coming towards her.

“Antinium? In the rain? I thought Klbkch was the only one who left his Hive. Who—ah, Pawn.”

She saw the smaller Worker walk into view. Rain was pouring off of Pawn’s body. It was soaking the Soldier who stood next to him. Krshia eyed the purple paint and nodded.

“Purple Smile and Pawn, yes? Greetings! It is rare to see you above. Have you a need?”

“Hello Miss Krshia.”

Pawn waved at the Gnoll [Shopkeeper] and was rewarded with a toothy grin. He glanced at Purple Smile. The Soldier waved as well.

“I did not know that you knew Purple Smile, Miss Krshia.”

“Hmm. He used to pass by my shop with his patrol. And buy small things for his Soldiers and Workers. Food. I grew to remember him. And you I have not seen for a long time. Are you well, Pawn? Do you need more paint? Food? Supplies, perhaps?”

Krshia grew hopeful as she motioned the two Antinium closer so they could stand under the eaves of her shop. The Antinium were infrequent customers, but by the tribes they were good ones! They bought in bulk and didn’t haggle over prices. And they did all the picking up and delivering themselves. She was disappointed when Pawn shook his head.

“No, I—I do not have business for you, Miss Krshia. Revalantor Klbkch has removed my budget temporarily.”

“That is terrible news! What is the cause of your misfortune?”

Pawn looked down at the street as water ran across the flagstones.

“I neglected my duties. I have made many people upset. Revalantor Klbkch, Miss Erin, my fellow Antinium, and…Lyonette.”

Krshia frowned. Trouble among the Antinium? What could Pawn have done? She shifted, eying Pawn. She had not ever truly talked to any of the new Antinium, but she knew Pawn and he seemed earnest. Simple in a good way.

“That is bad news, yes? But I do not see why you come to my shop. What is my role to play here?”

Pawn shrugged. He glanced at Purple Smile, who had folded all four arms and was looking around, not paying much attention to the conversation.

“Purple Smile thinks you might be able to help. Miss Erin has already talked to me, but you are trusted.”

“Me? Why?”

Krshia blinked in surprise. Her ears twitched in embarrassment. And pleasure. She had no idea she was trusted among the Antinium. Pawn looked at Purple Smile and the Soldier made a few cursory gestures. He made a walking gesture with two hands, put two hands alongside his head as if he were staring, and opened his mandibles and closed them a few times. It was incomprehensible to Krshia, and Gnolls were good at reading body language. But Pawn clearly understood something because he turned back to her and bobbed his head slightly.

“Purple Smile says that when the Antinium go above, you do not look away or say…things. And when we buy food, yours is always good and not rotten. You are fair and, he thinks, wise. Sometimes you chat with him and he thinks you give good advice.”

There was no way to see Krshia blush, especially in the rain with the fur covering her face, but her tail did wag a bit. The Soldier had noticed all that? She remembered calling out to him and chatting while she helped him purchase food for his patrol, but the fact that he had remembered her was interesting! Strange, too. The Antinium were changing. Krshia cleared her throat and nodded at Purple Smile.

“I am grateful for this, yes? I do not consider myself wise, but if you have a problem, I would hear it. Come, step closer—it is raining too much to hear. Tell me what ails you, Pawn. And—yes, have a snack. I have a bit of cheese if you would like to eat it.”

Of course, the Antinium accepted. Krshia ushered them further into her stall as she found a hunk of cheese leftover from lunch. It was small divided up three ways, but it was tasty and offering food was ritual. Krshia offered Pawn her stool and the Antinium sat awkwardly while she and Purple Smile stood. The story that came out of his mandibles was hard to follow at first, but as Krshia listened and the rain thundered down over her roof, she saw everything clearly.

“…And so Miss Erin told me to leave Lyonette alone. And apologize. I am very sorry. And very guilty.”

Pawn finished his story, looking down at his hands. He had not finished his cheese. Krshia saw him pick at it distractedly. She shook her head, amazed by his story.

“And so that is where the matter rests, yes?”

“Yes. I came to you afterwards. I have not met Lyonette since. There is much I should do in the Hive, but—I do not know what to say. I cannot focus on my work when I have hurt her. I am guilty. I wish I could help. I want to help still. But that is wrong. Do you know what I should do?”

Pawn looked up at the Gnoll woman. Krshia shook her head. She felt something bubbling up inside of her. Oh, what a story! That Antinium could be like this? She felt younger, and remembered her tribe. The Silverfang Tribe—ah, if only her sister, the chieftain, could hear this! It was too much. Krshia had to do it. She threw back her head and began to laugh.

“Miss Krshia?”

The two Antinium in her stall jerked with surprise as Krshia chortled and then roared with laughter. She nearly doubled over as Pawn stood in front of her stall. He looked hurt, insofar as she could read Antinium expressions. Krshia tried to control herself, but it was nearly a minute before she could stop laughing.

“Apologies. I am sorry, Pawn. Truly. But your story was amusing to me, yes? Ah, it is good.”

“Is it? I do not think laughter is an appropriate reaction, Miss Krshia.”

Pawn stood up, his antennae vibrating with hurt. He wanted to go, but Krshia waved him back.

“No, no! I am sorry, yes? But Pawn, your problem is amusing. I cannot help but laugh. And I do have good advice to give you, I think. Better advice than Erin’s.”

“That is surely not possible.”

Reluctantly, Pawn turned back to face Krshia. He looked indignant, more indignant at Krshia calling Erin’s advice bad, in fact. He stared challengingly at Krshia as the Gnoll wiped water off her wet fur. She resisted the urge to shake herself; it was a faux pas even among other Gnolls.

“I do not mean to insult Miss Solstice, Pawn. She gave you good advice, yes? The best she could give. But I think she was wrong. Erin is smart, but she is young. Why not let me give you advice as I see it?”

Pawn tilted his head questioningly.

“What do you mean? Is there something you think I should do that could be different?”

“Oh, everything. Everything!”

Krshia chortled again. She wondered why Erin had not seen it? No—perhaps it was a thing of youth. She leaned forwards and smiled at Pawn. So small! She looked at Purple Smile and saw his mandibles rise slightly. She grinned back and leaned forwards to whisper to Pawn.

“There is a better way to resolve this. The best way, I think! It may go wrong, but such things happen. And if you listen to me…you say Lyonette spoke of balls, yes? Because she is a [Princess]?”

Pawn started.

“I never said—that is a secret!”

“Hmm. Yes. One I know. Do not look shocked! Gnolls hear much. And that is part of my plan. Why don’t you do this?”

The Gnoll spoke and Pawn listened. After a few seconds he began to object.

“That is exactly what Miss Erin said not to do!”

“But it is what I am saying to do. And who is more right? I think I am. But listen and then decide. The first thing you should do after that is…”

The rain fell and Krshia grinned. She was suddenly in a better mood. Today had been exceedingly dull. And wet. And miserable. But this made everything worth it.

 

—-

 

Lyonette was miserable. She mopped a table, cleaning the surface and watching her dull reflection stare back. She didn’t need to keep polishing, really. The new [Barmaids] and [Waiters] were doing great work and it was a slow day anyways. The Players of Celum weren’t in yet and it was raining still, so only a few Gnolls and Drakes had braved the weather to come in. There were more Humans in the inn right now, honestly. And they were being well-tended to by Drassi. So Lyonette had little to do but clean. Still, she felt awful and she needed to talk.

“I shouldn’t have yelled at him. Not at Pawn. He didn’t know what he was doing. I should have just told him to stop!”

She glanced up and reached for a bucket. She dipped the dust rag into it and squeezed. The soapy water wet the cloth and she industriously polished the table again. Erin insisted on using soap with everything. It was important, she said. Lyonette stared at the wet table as she drew the cloth around in wide circles.

“It’s just that it’s my life. I snapped when I heard he was trying to change me. He didn’t ask—he was doing what he thought was right, but I’ve made my peace with it! You know?”

There was no response. Lyonette frowned.

“I liked him coming over, I really did. But he showed up every morning! When I was feeding Mrsha breakfast! And he was just so insistent! If he would have just come later we could have talked. We’re friends, after all! I think. Anyways, why am I feeling guilty? He should apologize. Even if he is sitting and doing nothing. Do you think Erin really helped him? She says he’s okay now, but is he really?”

No one answered. Irritated, Lyonette glanced up.

“Are you even listening?”

“Mhm.”

Sitting across the table, the young man with brown, disheveled hair looked up briefly. Pisces delicately flipped onto the next page of the spellbook. Lyonette glared at him.

“I said, are you listening? Pisces? Hello?”

The [Necromancer] sighed. He looked up from the charred spellbook recovered from the Ruins of Albez and gave Lyonette a bright, completely fake smile.

“Indubitably. How could I not be? Please go on with your riveting dilemma.”

Lyonette debated flicking her wet rag at him. Pisces was not the person she would have chosen to talk to, but he was the only one who was here. She began rubbing at a piece of crusted something on the table.

“Well? What do you think?”

“About what, pray?”

Pisces ducked as Lyonette flicked her rag at him. The water splashed the cover of his spellbook. He looked up reprovingly.

“I am a paying guest.”

“So? I have a problem and you’re not listening!”

Lyonette snapped. Pisces rolled his eyes and closed his book.

“I have been listening. I simply fail to see what your issue is. You had an altercation with Pawn. And now you feel guilty for wounding his feelings, despite the fact that it was he who was causing you inconvenience. Have I appropriately distilled the essence of your agony?”

The [Barmaid] opened her mouth. She hesitated.

“Well—yes. But it’s not that simple.”

“Isn’t it?”

Pisces carefully cleaned one fingernail, flicking the dirt onto the table and ignoring Lyonette’s glares as he spoke.

“Pawn came to you every day, facilitating often meaningless conversation which you enjoyed despite the inconvenience of it at times. His fault was in attempting to help you against your will.”

“Yes!”

“And you wish to repair your relationship with him now.”

“That’s exactly right.”

Lyonette felt relieved. She leaned over the table.

“So what do you think I should do? Go visit him? Wait for him to talk to me? What should I say?”

The [Mage] raised his eyebrows and swept a lock of hair out of his face. Pisces sniffed and smiled superiorly.

I believe that you are rather missing the point.”

“What? How?”

Pisces gave Lyonette an enigmatic smile.

“Consider the events as an impartial observer. I regard your squabble with Pawn as indicative not of his social failings, but another, larger issue at stake. One which you should be aware of.”

“Which is?”

The [Necromancer] rolled his eyes to the ceiling innocently.

“I would hardly like to say. I do wonder if Erin noticed, though. I doubt it.”

“Noticed what?

Pisces only gave Lyonette a smug smile. She resisted the urge to throw the bucket at him. This was why people didn’t like Pisces. She was about to demand answers on pain of pain when she saw the door to Liscor open.

“Welcome! How can I—”

She broke off the instant she saw the Antinium in the doorway. Her first instinct was to think it was Pawn. But it wasn’t. The Antinium was too large. It was a Soldier, one with a purple smile painted across his face.

“Purple Smile?”

Lyonette hurried towards him. Her next thought was that he was leading a patrol and coming here for food, but he was alone. She had never seen a Soldier by himself! She stared at Purple Smile as he looked quizzically at a little towel rack that Erin had installed by the door. He wiped his feet on the rug and waved at Lyonette.

“Hello! Can I help you?”

Purple Smile nodded. He raised all four arms and pointed. At Lyonette. She blinked.

“Me?”

The Soldier nodded. Two of his arms shifted and pointed through the open doorway, into the streets of Liscor. Lyonette stared at him.

“Go into Liscor? Why? What do you need?”

Purple Smile didn’t respond. Of course, he couldn’t. He just pointed at Lyonette’s chest and then gestured with his other hand, beckoning. The third and fourth hands mimed walking.

It really was amazing how he could convey what he wanted with just his hands. Pisces stared in interest as Lyonette looked around.

“I could come but I have work—Erin’s in Liscor, though—what’s this about? Is it something to do with Pawn?”

Purple Smile raised all four hands and shrugged. Lyonette stared at him. She wavered, and then ran over to Drassi.

“Hey Drassi, I need to go out. The Antinium want me. Let Erin know when she gets back?”

“She won’t be back from her outing with Selys for a while. Do you want me to get someone to tell her?”

Drassi looked concerned as she peeked over Lyonette’s shoulder at Purple Smile. Lyonette shook her head.

“No, just let her know. And look after Mrsha?”

The Gnoll was in her room, reading a picture book that Erin had bought for her. It was expensive because of all the illustrated drawings, but the Gnoll had been delighted and engrossed by it. Drassi nodded.

“I can do that. Are you sure, though?”

“I think this has something to do with Pawn. I’m going.”

Lyonette hurried to grab a cloak. She nodded to Purple Smile.

“Are you taking me to Pawn?”

Again, the Soldier shrugged. He held open the door as Lyonette followed him out, and then stepped into the rainy street. Their departure went largely unnoticed in the quiet inn, but Pisces, sitting at his table, had seen everything. He smiled and flicked something under the table. A small, undead Shield Spider scuttled across the inn, unnoticed. It shot out of the door before Purple Smile could close it.

“Lead on.”

Outside, Lyonette followed Purple Smile through the rain. Neither one noticed their little follower. The tiny Shield Spider scurried after Lyonette, moving fast to avoid the water that threatened to sweep it into a sewer drain.

Sitting in the inn, Pisces sat back and closed his eyes. He could sense the Shield Spider moving, just as he could sense his rat-hunter Bone Horrors scouring Liscor’s sewers. He took direct control of the Shield Spider, letting it scurry in the shadows as it followed Lyonette and Purple Smile. They were headed straight for the entrance to Liscor’s Hive. Pisces smiled wider as he heard Lyonette asking Purple Smile anxiously about Pawn. He murmured to himself as he tapped his lips with one finger.

“Well now, this should be interesting.”

 

—-

 

Lyonette strode through dark, claustrophobic dirt hallways. She walked through crowds of Antinium who paused to stare at her. She felt like an intruder. Because she was. No Human had ever been in an Antinium Hive—well entered and survived, that was. This was foreign ground. Alien. But she followed Purple Smile as he led her down into the darkness because she was worried.

About Pawn. Something must have happened if Purple Smile had come for her. Lyonette couldn’t imagine what. Was Pawn hurt? Had Erin not helped him? Or—

Lyonette turned another bend in the dimly lit corridors. There was virtually no light in the Hive. No torches, lanterns or any fire. The only illumination came from some kind of strange glowing mold that the Antinium seemed to cultivate along the walls. It gave off a soft orange radiance, but the darkness was everywhere. Lyonette shivered. She tried not to give into her nerves as Purple Smile led her down a corridor. Then she saw light. She stepped into a brighter hallway, and then saw an opening. She turned and saw the chamber.

It had been a barracks. It probably still was, as the rows of alcoves against the far wall were clearly meant for Soldiers to sleep in. But instead of the cramped, tight chambers where Antinium slept next to each other, someone had hollowed out this room.

And decorated it. On the far wall, in between the sleeping spots meant for Soldiers were painted symbols.

A cup of brown and silver. A paw print in white. A picture of a bee on a plate, clumsily drawn. A smiley face.

Clumsy pieces of art. But all the more precious because they stood out on the plain earthen walls. Lyonette recognized them. They were the same symbols that adorned the Painted Soldiers. But each one was—she covered her mouth.

“I haven’t seen them. Any of them.”

Purple Smile gazed at the painted symbols. Each one was different. Unique. And Lyonette knew, knew that she hadn’t seen any of the Soldiers to whom they belonged. She understood then. That the wall was more than art. It was a memorial to the fallen.

For a second that drew her attention. Then Lyonette stepped further into the barracks and had a shock. She’d thought that it was empty. But the light that burned from two lanterns had only concealed the room’s visitors in the shadows. They stood in rows along the far walls, silent, dark silhouettes.

Antinium. Workers and Soldiers alike, standing to attention. They stared at Lyonette as she stepped into the room. The breath caught in her chest. She was afraid. But she forced the fear down. Hadn’t she seen them eating? Hadn’t she known them? The silence was unnerving, but these were people. She knew that. So she took another step into the room.

And then she saw him. He was standing in between the two lanterns that he had hung from poles planted on the floor. He stood awkwardly in the center of the room. Pawn. Lyonette stared at him. The Worker was looking at her as Purple Smile took a position next to the doorway, next to Yellow Splatters.

“Pawn? What is all this?”

“Thank you for coming here, Lyonette.”

The Worker bowed awkwardly to her. He was standing very straight and the other Antinium were focused as much on him as on her. Lyonette felt her heart pounding, but she didn’t know why. Pawn opened and closed his mandibles a few times.

“I regret calling you here without letting you know why. This is highly unusual. I did not ask Revalantor Klbkch for permission, but I think it had to be done. I hope you will not be angry. I wanted to apologize.”

“Oh. I’m…sorry too. I shouldn’t have yelled at you.”

Lyonette felt awkward. And terrible. And confused. Was that why Pawn had called her here? Surely not. The Worker was fidgeting. And as Lyonette moved closer, she saw there was something behind him.

“What is that, Pawn?”

He ducked his head and Lyonette caught a flash of something bright. Yellow? The Worker cleared his throat a few times.

“I wanted this to be a surprise. It is an apology and—I hope you will like it.”

He stepped to one side. Lyonette’s eyes widened. She opened her mouth.

“What is—no!

Pawn had moved to reveal a…stand. A piece of wood, shaped to hold something. A dress stand. Meant to hold a dress. And it held one, a long gown of yellow. It was not elegant. It was not rich, or made of silk. But it was a dress. And it was beautiful in its own way. A dress for someone to wear. And Lyoentte understood.

A ball is a formal occasion. It’s where we dress up in fancy clothing and dance in a big open space. Lyonette remembered telling Pawn that. She looked around and saw the newly excavated barracks, the waiting Antinium, the dress. She stared at Pawn as he waited, practically shaking with nerves. And she tried. She truly did. But the hurt in her chest rose and came out.

“Lyonette, I—”

“How could you? How could you?

Pawn broke off as Lyonette strode towards him. The [Barmaid]’s hands balled into fists as she glared at Pawn. He was a Worker and thus shorter, but she was short too and so they were on a level. She stared at him.

“I told you last time that I didn’t want your help! I told you and you do this?

She threw an arm out, indicating the dress, the waiting chamber. This was his idea? He hadn’t listened to her at all!

“I—wait. This isn’t—”

Pawn’s stammered, but Lyonette was too angry to care. Incensed, she shouted in Pawn’s face.

“Why won’t you just let me forget? Why can’t you let me be? Why can’t you just listen to me? Why do you have to do this? How could you? How could—”

She felt tears springing to her eyes again. Lyonette turned away. She felt betrayed! Let down. She saw Pawn look down at his feet. The other Antinium were silent as Lyonette covered her face, trying not to cry.

“I’m sorry.”

Pawn whispered the words. Lyonette didn’t turn back towards him. She spoke, her voice thick with sadness.

“Just let me be. Just drop it. Why can’t you do that? I asked you. I told you—”

The Worker bowed his head behind her.

“I know. I know. I understand it is your wish. I understand that it is not right for me to do this. Erin told me.”

“Then why—”

“It’s just that I can’t.”

Pawn interrupted Lyonette. She turned back to him. The Worker stood, awkward, defiant, speaking softly as the other Antinium looked on.

“Why not?”

The Worker stared at the [Barmaid].

“Because you looked so unhappy that day. It can’t be better to lose your class. You were a [Princess]. It mattered to you. You still aren’t over it.”

“But I am. I am, Pawn. It’s fine this way. Fine.”

Lyonette whispered through bloodless lips. She didn’t know if she believed the words coming out of her mouth. And Pawn—he looked her in the eye and shook his head.

“No. I do not think you are. I do not think it is better. Because doing all of this is easier than seeing you cry. Because it matters to me.”

“But it’s my life. You can’t just interfere with it!”

“Can’t I?”

Pawn tilted his head. Lyonette opened her mouth and he rushed on.

“Erin told me it was not right for me to interfere with other people all the time. I understood that. I know it is wrong. Socially. But I had to try. I had to do it for you.”

“Why, Pawn?”

The Worker was silent.

“Because if it were Erin, it would not matter as much, I think.”

“What?”

Pawn shrugged.

“That is what I feel. If Erin was grieving, I would give her space. As I would for others. If it were Relc who was crying I would be concerned. But I would let him be himself. If it were Mrsha who wept I would help and give her space when needed. If it were anyone else…I could do that. But not you. You are my friend. I cannot leave you alone. Not when you are hurting. Not when you are wrong. I am sorry.”

Lyonette was speechless for a moment. She tried to summon the words, to protest what Pawn was saying.

“Pawn, I know you think you know what’s right. But what if you don’t? I’m happy as a [Barmaid]. I still have that. I don’t need my [Princess] class anymore. I’m just a [Barmaid] now.”

No.

This time the word was authoritative. Pawn looked up. He stared at Lyonette, and there was something fierce in his gaze. Defiant.

“I am an [Acolyte], Lyonette. I pray. I have faith. I believe. I believe in things that may not exist, may never exist. I believe in heaven for the Antinium. I believe in redemption, in the salvation of souls. I believe there is a place after death for my people, that we might make it ourselves. I believe in gods. I believe in gods. But when you tell me you are a simple [Barmaid], I cannot believe in that.”

His voice rang in the chamber. Lyonette was speechless. She tried to form an argument, but Pawn’s voice was too loud. He spoke to her and her alone.

“You are a [Princess]. You showed me how to lead. You wept for your class when you left it. You have not been happy since you lost your class. I see it. I am your friend and I see your grief. You must have it back. It may not be my place to interfere, but it would be just as wrong for me not to. And if you tell me again not to interfere, to go, I will. But I have to tell you directly. Lyonette, I think you are wrong. And I want to help you. Please. Let me.”

Pawn held out his hands. Lyonette stared at them. She looked up at him and didn’t know what to say.

“You really believe I need my class back?”

“I do.”

Pawn took a shuddering breath, and then another. He looked around, helplessly.

“I am sorry. Again. I did this wrong. I should not have said all that so…suddenly. I should have done it after.”

“After?”

Pawn nodded. He scuffed a toe on the floor.

“After the dancing. You see, this ball is to restore your class. Well, not just for that. It is really for something else. Miss Krshia told me it would be most suitable.”

Lyonette started in surprise.

“Krshia did?”

How had the Gnoll thought that any of this was a good idea? Pawn nodded energetically.

“She told me to come here and tell you how I felt. I did that. Only—she said you might be angry, but I should tell you how I felt even if you shouted. She said you would understand.”

“Understand? Understand wh—”

Lyonette stared around at the ball. She stared at the newly-excavated barracks, the dress, at Pawn, helplessly insisting on helping her, and then thought about Krshia. Her eyes widened.

“Oh.”

And suddenly it all made sense. Lyonette blinked. She looked around and stumbled slightly. Her entire world shifted. And suddenly she looked at Pawn and saw something else.

Pawn. A Worker. He had come to the inn every day after learning she was sad. He had tried to cheer her up, tried in his way to make her happy. And when she had shouted at him he had curled up, refused to talk to anyone. And now, even after knowing she didn’t want help, he had tried to cheer her up. Yes, the ball was for her class. But it was also something Lyonette had said she liked. And that meant…

The Worker was babbling on nervously as Lyonette stared at him, stunned.

“Miss Krshia says that Erin got it wrong. I do not think Erin was wrong, but Miss Krshia told me to do this. She told me to tell you how I feel. About you as my friend.”

“Did she?”

Pawn nodded.

“So I did. I am sorry if it makes you angry, but I had to say it.”

He paused.

“It is strange, though.”

“Oh? How so?”

The Worker hesitated and scratched at his head.

“She asked me if I liked you, Miss Krshia, I mean. I said yes. She kept asking how much. And I told her. I like Erin. I owe her my identity and my life and more than I can give. But for some reason I like you more.”

Lyonette opened her mouth and her head went white. Pawn went on, oblivious.

“Erin is very kind. So are you. But I miss talking with you. I miss the days when you and I talked and you gave me advice. When I looked at you crying, I hurt.  I still hurt when you are angry because of me. But when I don’t see you I feel bad. When I think of you I am confused. But all of that feels good, too. Is it not strange?”

He looked at Lyonette. She shut her mouth, opened it again, and had to turn away.

“Oh no. No, no…is that what all of this was? Really?”

“What?”

Lyonette looked at Pawn. Despairingly. About to laugh. She covered her face. Her cheeks felt hot. How had she not seen it? She spoke, her voice muffled by her hands.

“You like me.”

“I do.”

“You…like me.”

“That is what I said.”

“No, Pawn. You like me. Not as a friend. You like me as…in a different way.”

“Which way is that?”

Romantically!

Lyonette burst out. Pawn opened his mandibles wide. Around the room, the watching Antinium froze in shock.

“I do?”

“Yes! Maybe!”

Lyonette was blushing. She looked at Pawn and turned beet red. Of course that was what it was! It wasn’t just concern. He liked her more than Erin? More than Erin? Lyonette didn’t know what to say. Pawn didn’t either. He looked around, confused.

“No one told me. How do you know?”

“I just do! It’s obvious! Krshia must have known. She must have—why didn’t anyone tell me? Why didn’t—”

I believe that you are rather missing the point.

Pisces’ words echoed in Lyonette’s head. She froze. He had noticed. But what he had noticed was different from Krshia. She thought back to what she’d done. Yell at Pawn. Feel guilty for hurting him. When he’d gone to talk to Erin before, she’d been hurt. She’d missed—

“Oh no.”

“What?”

Pawn was vibrating with nerves. But Lyonette was stock-still. She looked at him. She looked at the dress. She wanted to laugh and cry, and felt more afraid than when she’d faced down the swarm of Ashfire Bees. She looked at Pawn and they stood there in silence for a long time. At last, at long last, Lyonette croaked.

“You made this ball for me.”

“Yes. So you could dance and be happy. I bought this dress, too. Miss Krshia helped me pick it out.”

Lyonette looked at the dress. She looked at Pawn. And she giggled as she realized something.

“Wait, dance? By myself?”

“Um. Yes?”

The young woman shook her head.

“You know, a ball isn’t really meant for one person to dance alone, Pawn.”

“It isn’t?”

The Antinium was devastated. He looked around wildly.

“I can fix this! I will get Miss Erin! Or Miss Krshia! Just wait—”

He wanted to run off but Lyonette grabbed his hand. It was so sudden that both [Barmaid] and Worker froze. Then Lyonette spoke.

“Erin isn’t who I want to dance with, Pawn. Neither is Krshia. A ball needs two. So does a waltz. Why don’t I dance with you?”

“Oh.”

Pawn turned to Lyonette. He stared at her hand. She held out her other one.

“Take my hand, Pawn.”

“Your hand?”

He hesitated. Lyonette held it out. Pawn took it. She felt his strange, cool, smooth fingers take hers. The shock of contact made her jump and Pawn’s antennae waved wildly.

“Is this—is this how it works? I have seen Erin dancing.”

“She does it a bit differently. A ball is formal. You have to hold your partner. Here, let me show you.”

Lyonette held her hands up with Pawn. She didn’t know what she was doing. She felt flushed, dizzy. Pisces couldn’t be—Krshia was just—she looked at Pawn. He stared back. Lyonette’s head went empty and she let years of training take over.

“Like this. Raise your arms. Stand closer—and step. When I step forwards, you step back. When you step forwards—yes. Keep your feet together. Like this. See? One, and two, and one, and two—”

“Oh. How fascinating. Is this dancing in a ball?”

“A bit. But you don’t just step back and forth. You turn—yes, like this! And there’s more moves. And there would be music.”

“Music? Oh no. I can get some—”

“No. We can dance without it. If you want to.”

“I think I do.”

Pawn held Lyoentte’s hand as she showed him the moves of the dance. He remembered them all well. She had to adjust for his different body, his less graceful steps. But as they stepped together, Lyonette stopped feeling silly and remembered. Yes, this was what it felt like? She turned and suddenly the barracks opened up in front of her. It was truly large. She spun with Pawn and though there was no music, suddenly she felt caught up.

“What a strange activity. How pleasing. I am glad you did not grow angry. And I am sorry again for upsetting you.”

The Worker babbled as he waltzed with Lyonette. She wanted to laugh again and suppressed the urge. They danced past the dress stand, ignoring the yellow dress. It wasn’t needed.

“I want to say sorry too, Pawn. I didn’t notice how you felt.”

“No. I did not either. Are you sure I like you? Romantically? I thought that was a thing only Drakes, Humans, and Gnolls did.”

“I’m pretty sure. The signs are all there.”

“Oh.”

Pawn thought about this as they spun. Lyonette showed him how to spin with her. She felt too close to him. She hadn’t been this close to anyone but Mrsha. But she didn’t pull away.

“Should I do something about it? I understand that romantic interests lead to death and fighting.”

“Who told you that?”

“Revalantor Klbkch. He says that a third of the disputes he must settle are based in romantic conflict. Will I start attacking you? I could not bear to do that.”

“No, Pawn. That’s not—do you understand what I’ve been telling you?”

“…Maybe?”

“You like me. You like me romantically. Pawn, that means you might love me.”

“Love?”

The Worker slowed as Lyonette walked across the floor with him. He copied her flawlessly, absently. It was as if the dance came to him as naturally as breathing. Of course, it was just following orders. It was effortless for him and Lyonette found herself moving into more advanced positions absently.

“I do not understand love. Is it like liking?”

“Yes. Sort of.”

“And I love you?”

“I don’t know.”

“Is it inconvenient for you? I would hate for that to be so.”

“No. It’s not. It’s…flattering, really. Mostly. Sometimes it can be awful if someone likes you and you don’t like them back. But not always. And I—I think I like you too, Pawn. Maybe.”

“I see.”

The Worker just stared at Lyonette. She turned beet red.

“Well?”

“That makes me happy. Am I supposed to have another reaction?”

“No! Yes! Aren’t you embarrassed?”

Abruptly, Lyonette stopped the waltz. Pawn stopped too. He let go of her hands and took a step back.

“I’m sorry. I don’t know. This is all so surprising. I only know that I like dancing with you.”

“No, don’t be—”

Lyonette was embarrassed again. She looked at Pawn.

“Pawn, this is a mess. I thought you were obsessed with my class. With helping me.”

“I am.”

“But you like me, don’t you see?”

“That is why I want to help you.”

“But does it mean you want my [Princess] class back?”

“Of course! It defines you. It is who you are.”

“But can’t I be someone without it? That’s what I want.”

Lyonette spread her hands out helplessly. Pawn waited, trying to comprehend and she spoke.

“For so long I’ve been defined only by my class! Only by being a princess! Now I have a job. I’m leveling in other classes! I think part of me, a large part, wanted to lose my class. So I could be someone else.”

“But why do you have to be? Why can you not be a [Princess] and everything else?”

“I—it’s because it’s so huge. And I don’t want it. All the things I could never live up to, all the duties I’m abandoning by being here—it’s too much. Do you understand?”

“No. Is the dance over?”

Pawn looked at Lyonette. She threw up her hands.

“I don’t know!

In the silence Pawn shuffled his feet.

“I enjoyed dancing with you.”

“So did I. We could try again.”

Lyonette reached for Pawn’s hands, but both Antinium and Human turned as they realized they had company. A Soldier stood next to the two. Lyonette stared up at Yellow Splatters. He wasn’t the only one. Every Soldier and Worker in the barracks had abandoned their posts along the walls. They were nearly lined up in front of Lyonette and Pawn.

“Pawn? What do they want?”

“Oh.”

Pawn sounded disappointed. He looked at Yellow Splatters and turned to Lyonette apologetically.

“I am sorry, Lyonette. They want to dance too.”

“With me?”

“No. With me.”

Lyonette gaped. But the Antinium were looking at Pawn. He hesitated and glanced at Lyonette.

“I—”

Someone brushed past him. Pawn and Lyonette saw Purple Smile interpose himself in between Yellow Splatters and the two. He raised two hands and blocked the [Sergeant]. He held up his other two hands and gave Pawn a thumbs up. The Worker nodded gratefully as the other Antinium were shepherded by Purple Smile into their own pairs.

“It seems Purple Smile will take over teaching.”

“Teaching? But they didn’t do anything but watch. How can—”

Lyonette nearly choked on her tongue. As one, the Workers and Soldiers began waltzing in pairs. At first it was only simple moves. Step forwards, step back. Turn. But then they began moving and performing more complex moves. Lyonette watched in amazement as the Antinium performed a minuet, flawless peel off, and then a promenade down the floor. The bulky Soldiers and Workers moved down the floor, passing by Lyonette and Pawn.

“It is a wonderful thing. This form of dancing. It is relaxing. Elegant. Both Workers and Soldiers can do it together. I think it is what we were looking for.”

Pawn looked back at Lyonette. She stared at him.

“This?”

He nodded.

“The Antinium cannot go outside now. Many of us do not know what to do. We have no purpose outside our function. But this? This is not what we were designed for. This is something special that we can do with each other. It is beautiful and we can make it.”

“That’s true.”

Lyonette remembered balls with gold and magic. She remembered rooms packed with the famous, the powerful. She had seen wonderful dancing, seen the Lord of the Dance himself take to the floor. But this was magical in its own way. The dancing Antinium lit something in her. She looked at Pawn.

He was a Worker. The same as so many others. But different. Oh, so different. Lyonette felt it. Did she like him? Did he really like her? She didn’t know, but something in her prompted to hold out her hands.

“Shall we?”

“I would be delighted.”

The two took hands. They stepped out into the pairs of the Antinium. Alone in a room filled with bodies. Together. Lyonette whirled with Pawn holding her.  In that moment as she danced with him they spoke, honestly, close together.

“I’m not a good [Princess], Pawn. I never was.”

“That does not matter to me. I just wanted you to be happy.”

“And I can’t be without my class?”

“I think you could be. But I think you do not have to lose something to be happy.”

“Nothing stays the same, Pawn. Things change.”

“But nothing ever disappears. The past matters.”

“That’s true. But what would I be?”

She felt Pawn’s other two hands pick her up. Lyonette felt her feet leave the ground as he gently lifted her. She felt breathless. The Antinium were made for such a maneuver.  Pawn stared at her.

“You would be a [Princess] in an inn.”

“That’s not enough. I need something else. A [Princess] must have subjects. She must have a kingdom. I have neither.”

“What about me?”

“What about you?”

“I could be your subject. I think I would be a good one. I follow orders.”

Pawn.

Lyonette grabbed his hands and looked seriously into his eyes.

You have subjects. You can’t abandon them.”

“I know. But I cannot leave you alone either. Is that love?”

“I think so.”

Lyonette closed her eyes. She stepped with Pawn, showing him more forms as they moved on. In silence, they danced. Until Pawn spoke.

“Is that why you gave up your class? Because you left them?”

“Who?”

“Your subjects. Your kingdom.”

“My subjects?”

Lyonette froze. She opened her mouth to protest that they weren’t hers and stopped. Wasn’t she a [Princess]? Weren’t they hers? Even a sixth princess had duties. She hesitated.

“I…I never thought of them.”

“I see.”

Distracted, Lyonette looked away. She bit her lip.

“I might not be able to get my class back, Pawn.”

“I think you will. If you want to.”

“Why are you so certain?

“Because I know you. Because I believe in you. Because you are wonderful.”

Lyonette’s head turned back. Pawn stared at her. She looked into his eyes. The dark, multi-faceted eyes of an Antinium. Eyes without pupils. But not without soul. And when Lyonette looked into them, she saw something that frightened her. Because in Pawn’s gaze there was nothing else in the entire world but her. For a moment she was the center of the universe.

“You really do like me, don’t you?”

“I am afraid I do. Is it bad after all?”

“No. I think it’s nice.”

The two fell silent after that. Lyonette watched the room spin around her. There was no music. She wore only a [Barmaid]’s outfit. Her partner was an Antinium, naked save for a loincloth. But in this moment, it felt like she was dancing back in a ballroom back home. She whirled and Pawn held her hand as she spun. Lyonette felt tears springing to her eyes.

“I’ll try. Okay?”

“Okay.”

“And Pawn?”

“Yes, Lyonette?”

“Thank you.”

“It was my pleasure.”

 

—-

 

She didn’t know how long she danced. Long enough for her feet to tire. Long enough to hurt. But only after they were done. Lyonette curtsied and Pawn imitated her until she told him he should bow. Then Lyonette straightened and looked around.

The Antinium had stopped with them. They looked at Lyonette and Pawn. Some of them still held hands. Lyonette realized she was still holding Pawn’s. She let go and then wished for a second that she hadn’t.

The ball was over. Pawn looked around and noticed Purple Smile standing back. He’d danced less than the others, content to watch. The Soldier was crunching on something. He must have found a bug roaming around, a rare treat.

“Do you feel better now, Lyonette?”

She turned to him and smiled.

“I think I do. But I have to go now, Pawn. I’ll talk to you later.”

“Okay. I enjoyed the dancing.”

Lyonette waited, but Pawn didn’t seem to have anything else to say. She nodded at last and turned away. He watched her go. Lyonette looked at Purple Smile and the Soldier beckoned. Silently, he led her back out of the Hive. Lyonette walked, trying to make sense of her emotions.

She walked out of the Hive. It was already dark. The rain poured down, drenching Lyonette. She didn’t pay it any mind. She walked into the inn.

“Lyonette? Are you okay? Is Pawn okay?”

Erin hovered around Lyonette. The [Barmaid] looked at her.

“Pawn? He’s fine. I think. I—I’m going to sleep early.”

“Okay. Are you sure you’re—”

Lyonette walked up the stairs. She sensed someone following her and saw Mrsha padding along. The Gnoll sniffed her and Apista buzzed around Lyonette. The young woman managed a smile.

“I’m fine. Thank you, Mrsha, Apista. I just had a talk with Pawn. A dance, actually.”

She went into her room. Lyonette sat and saw the rain coming down through the windowpane. She blinked a few times.

“Was that all?”

She patted her breast, felt her face. She didn’t feel so different. She’d danced with Pawn for hours! She’d looked into his eyes. But she had a bad feeling. Well, not a bad one.

It was just that she wasn’t swept away. She wasn’t head-over-heels in love. And that was bad because Lyonette felt she should be. But she didn’t feel the rush of emotions she’d felt with her obsessions in youth. She didn’t feel…besmitten.

And that hurt. Because Lyonette felt she should be. Pawn was so honest, so earnest! So…new. And he was Antinium. She couldn’t answer his feelings honestly.

That was what Lyonette told herself. She kept telling herself that, as Mrsha tried to get her to play and Apista crawled over her head. She wasn’t in love. And that presented a whole new set of problems. For that matter, what about her class? Pawn had reminded her that she had duties. He had told her he believed in her.

But—Lyonette’s mind drifted back to the dance. She closed her eyes and felt herself whirling in the cool, stale air far underground. She didn’t love Pawn. But she remembered him looking at her.

A dress in yellow, a room full of dancing Antinium. Lyonette told herself it wasn’t love. But she couldn’t forget it either. It was something else. And as she sat in her room and Mrsha curled up next to her, Lyonette wondered.

“Will it happen?”

She put her head back on her pillow, willing herself to sleep. It couldn’t happen. It shouldn’t. But part of her hoped. Why had she lost her class to begin with? Because she had no subjects? No kingdom? Hadn’t she just left it behind?

A [Princess] in an inn. Surely there was something else. Surely there was something more. Lyonette’s head felt foggy. She was falling asleep. She tried to imagine it. But all she could see was a Worker’s face as they danced together in the lantern light. It wasn’t love. But if it wasn’t that, what could it be?

 

[Class Conditions: Princess met.]

[Class – Princess restored.]

[Skill – Detect Poison restored.]

[Skill – Royal Tax restored.]

 

[Princess → Worldly Princess Class!]

[Class Consolidation: Warrior removed.]

[Class Consolidation: Barmaid removed.]

[Class Consolidation: Beast Tamer removed.]

[Class Consolidation: Tactician removed.]

[Class Consolidation: Carer removed.]

 

[Worldly Princess Level 11!]

[Skill – Basic Crafting obtained!]

[Skill – Weapon Proficiency: Sword obtained!]

[Skill – Basic Negotiator obtained!]

[Skill – Basic Leadership obtained!]

[Skill – Flawless Attempt obtained!]

 

“Oh!”

In the darkness a young woman sat up. She looked around and touched her face.

“That’s one way of looking at it.”

Then she lay back down. Lyonette felt like she should shout. Or celebrate. But she just felt a bit empty. It was almost like all of what she’d gone through didn’t matter. She frowned up at the ceiling.

“Huh.”

It wasn’t what she expected at all.

 

—-

 

The next day, Lyonette avoided Erin’s questions about what had happened. She fed Mrsha and Apista breakfast, dutifully helped serve the guests, and felt nothing different at all. It was disappointing. Her new Skill, [Flawless Attempt] was in her mind, but Lyonette didn’t feel like using it. She just…waited. She didn’t know for what. Until when, a few hours past morning, the door opened and Pawn poked his head through.

“Am I too early?”

Lyonette turned and blinked at him. And then she did feel something. Lyonette’s face turned bright crimson. Pawn stared at her.

“Lyonette?”

“Come over here.”

She hurried him over to a table before Erin could poke her head out of the kitchen. Lyonette sat at a table with Pawn. He peered at her anxiously.

“Are you okay, Lyonette? I mean—”

He caught himself.

“I should not ask that. Correct?”

“No, I’m well. Better than well, actually. I…got my class back.”

“You did?”

Pawn half-rose out of his seat. Lyonette grabbed him.

“Sit, please.”

He did. Lyonette breathed in and out until she could control herself. Then she looked at Pawn.

“I guess it worked. The ball, I mean.”

“I am relieved. I had hoped that was so, but I was not sure. Are you…happy now?”

“Happy? I don’t know. I think I’m more surprised than anything else. Classes shouldn’t disappear and come back like that. I don’t know why it happened.”

“I don’t know either. But I am glad for you. Truly.”

Pawn fidgeted in his seat. Lyonette looked at him.

“What is it?”

“I was…thinking about yesterday. A lot, actually. I realize now that Miss Krshia may be right. And you too, of course. I may indeed be in love with you.”

“Really?”

“Yes. I realize this may be inconvenient for you. So I will try not to be. In love, that is. I will remove myself and go back to my duties now you are well.”

Pawn awkwardly nodded his head. Lyonette stared at him.

“No.”

“No?”

Why didn’t he get it? Lyonette hesitated, and then reached across the table and grabbed Pawn’s arm.

“Pawn, you don’t give up when you’re in love. Not like that.”

“But it may be inconvenient for you.”

“But I like you, Pawn. As a friend. And if you love me, how could you just give up and not see me?”

The Worker tilted his head.

“Is that not love? Giving up for someone else?”

Lyonette was speechless. She let go of Pawn and sat back. Eventually, she spoke.

“Maybe. But love is more than that. Much more, Pawn.”

“Will you tell me what it is?”

“Love is…coming back every day. To see me. Even if I’m not crying. Even if I have my class back.”

“I see. What else is it?”

“It’s…a lot of things. And I don’t know if I love you! I like you.”

“I see. And I do not know if I love you. The Antinium have never loved, I think. How might we be able to tell the difference between like and love?”

Lyonette stared at Pawn. He looked so matter-of-fact. She laughed, abruptly, and then held out her hand.

“Maybe like this. Take my hand, Pawn.”

“Are we dancing again?”

The Worker took Lyonette’s hand uncertainly. She held it, and then stood up. As Pawn watched she edged around the table to sit by his side. He shifted, looking at her and his hand.

“How strange. What an odd sensation. Is something supposed to happen?”

“Maybe. But holding hands is sort of the point.”

Lyonette gently squeezed Pawn’s hand in hers. His hand was smooth. Foreign. Cool. But there was something familiar about it. She closed her eyes and remembered dancing. And next to her, Pawn shivered.

“When do you let go?”

“When you want to, I suppose. Do you want to?”

“No.”

“Okay then.”

The Human girl looked at Pawn and then looked away. He looked away as well. Both felt awkward. Embarrassed. They sat there like that, looking away. Lyonette felt her cheeks turning red. She couldn’t see Pawn’s face change and was disappointed—until she saw how violently his antennae were twitching. She felt so awkward and yet she didn’t let go of his hand. She didn’t want to.

Pawn stared at Lyonette and looked around. The inn was the same. Lyonette was the same. He was the same. But he couldn’t help but feel different. He looked at their hands, at Lyonette.

“Is love like this all the time, Lyonette?”

“Like what?”

She looked at him, her face flushed. Pawn searched for the words. Then he spoke.

“Something new.”

She paused. And then she smiled.

“Maybe. It might not be love, you know. I’m still not sure myself. But it could be. Would you like to find out?”

Pawn nodded.

“Yes, please.”

They looked at each other and then away. And they didn’t stop holding hands. Lyonette sat in The Wandering Inn. A [Princess] in an inn. And she smiled. The class had nothing to do with her smile. She and Pawn sat there.

Together.

 


Previous Chapter Next Chapter

5.25 L

“And so we pray. Not for a god, not because we are chosen or beloved. We are alone.”

The mass of heads bowed before Pawn. He stood at the small earthen dais at the back of the room. It was nothing more than packed earth. Pawn held a censer in his hands. It was not burning, although a faint cinnamon smell still emanated from it. He had no intention of lighting it; it was just for comfort as he spoke.

“We are alone.”

The words echoed through the chamber over the listening Soldiers and Workers. Painful words. True words. Pawn knew them to be true. He raised his voice.

“However. I believe in heaven. I believe in salvation and the worth of our souls. I believe in you. So if you would, join me and have faith that there is a place for our kind. And if there is none, we shall build it ourselves. Let us pray.”

Pawn lowered his head and put two of his hands together, clasping them as he sensed the other Antinium doing the same. He prayed then, prayed without words. He imagined what heaven might be. He hoped it was real and that his words were not meaningless. For a while he stood thus, and felt better. That was all. He raised his head and spoke softly.

“Amen.”

A susurration ran through the crowd of Antinium as they raised their heads. The faintest of sounds; they did not sigh or speak. The sounds of their hands unclasping, of them standing or adjusting their posture was faint. But there was a change. Pawn nodded.

“Please come forwards and receive your wafers.”

He reached for a basket of round little pieces of flatbread and the Soldiers and Workers fell into line seamlessly. They cupped their hands as Pawn offered them the tiny pieces of bread. It was small enough that the digestion of the Antinium wouldn’t be unduly disturbed by the food. And it was tasty. Pawn offered the wafers to each Antinium in turn until he only had a few wafers in the basket and there were no more Antinium in line.

“Thank you for attending the sermon. You may return to your business.”

The Workers and Soldiers silently savoring the small bits of bread didn’t so much as nod. They instantly broke up. Pawn sighed as he scooped the wafers in the bottom of the basket up.

“Here. For the wounded.”

He offered the wafers to a huge Soldier who approached him. Yellow Splatters took the wafers and nodded. Pawn had to give them away; if he left them alone the Antinium would let them rot rather than eat them without permission. The [Sergeant] stepped towards some of the Painted Soldiers who had been wounded. They looked up and received the wafers silently, regardless if they had prayed or not.

Wafers. They were Pawn’s latest innovation. He’d ordered them ahead of time and petitioned Klbkch to add them to his budget. They weren’t an expense at all, but neither were they strictly necessary. The Revalantor had been confused as to why Pawn needed them and Pawn couldn’t explain properly.

It was a small thing. A nice thing. That was all. It wasn’t an incentive to join his weekly sermon and prayer—which in itself lasted about twenty minutes—but it was nice. Pawn had eventually convinced Klbkch that it was important. He could feed all the Antinium with it; give them a treat between their horrible meals. Even the ones who didn’t pray.

Ah, yes. Pawn raised his head and looked around. Not all the Antinium were eating. Some Workers and Soldiers stood apart from the others, waiting patiently for the others to finish savoring their snack. They had not joined the mass and had declined to receive a wafer, even though Pawn made it clear the wafers were there for everyone regardless of whether they prayed or not.

Not all prayed. What was curious to Pawn, what lifted his spirits was that not all the Antinium who became Individual prayed. He stood in the Soldiers’ barracks that had been converted into the formal meeting place for his unit of Painted Soldiers and now Workers and saw hundreds of Soldiers, and dozens of Workers. Of that number, roughly two thirds had attended his sermon. The rest had not. And, Pawn suspected, never would. They did not believe. And that was fine.

Belgrade would not pray. Anand would, but Pawn wondered if the Worker truly believed. Garry had not ever had time to join one of the masses and as for Bird…no. The Worker had told Pawn that it was more fun to sit in his tower. Even if it was raining. You never knew if a water bird was going to fall out of the sky. That was fine too. Pawn would believe for all of them.

He was two things in this place. An [Acolyte], a believer in something greater than any one Antinium. And a leader of the Painted Soldiers and Workers here. It was the Workers that Pawn turned his mind to now. He stared at the awkward Workers milling about in small clumps of their own, not talking, but rather standing around. Enjoying not working, perhaps.

In the weeks since he had gained his [Benediction of Hope] Skill, Pawn’s congregation had grown. As had the size of his unit of Individual Antinium. It was no longer just the Painted Soldiers but Individual Workers as well. His experiments with the chess boards had created a population of Individual Workers who were not Aberration…but weren’t as distinct as Pawn, Belgrade, or the others.

They could pass the Hive’s tests which other Antinium would fail at. If they were asked what their names were, they would quietly reply they had none. They would not break if confronted with questions about their purpose or identity. They had a spark. But Pawn thought that without Erin, without the time and…affection she had given him, they could not be more.

Workers and Soldiers. Pawn had no idea what to do with so many of them. Klbkch had simple orders: turn them into a fighting force. The Painted Soldiers were already more capable than regular ones and the Workers could use bows and perhaps even swords and shields. Daggers, maces, clubs—he had talked to Pawn about purchasing arms to test this theory. But Pawn knew in his heart that he needed something more. The Workers needed more than chess. The Soldiers needed more than the occasional walk in the sun or bowl of real food.

So what could he bring down into the Hive? What wonders could he carry down from above? How could he show them who they were? Pawn didn’t know, but he knew who did. He turned to the two Soldiers who stood by him. One had returned from attending to the wounded. He was the largest Soldier, distinct because he had an inch or two of height and body mass over the rest. His body was decorated with yellow splatters of paint.

The other Soldier was of equal height with the rest, but his mandibles were painted purple, as was part of his face to give him a strange, purple smile. True to his name, Purple Smile was relaxed, calm, where Yellow Splatters stood to straight attention. Yellow Splatters had been part of the praying Antinium. Purple Smile had not. Pawn addressed both of them.

“I am going to consult with Erin now. Purple Smile, please oversee the chess games. Yellow Splatters, I leave you in charge of training and responding to any emergencies that arise.”

The [Sergeants] both nodded. They turned—Purple smile waved one of his hands at Pawn—and marched towards their designated spot. Yellow Splatters supervised a group of Workers clumsily sparring with wooden swords and Soldiers sparring carefully with one another. Purple Smile wandered over to a group of Soldiers clustered around a chess board on the ground.

The Soldiers could now play with an oversized chess board that Pawn had commissioned for them. It was about six times larger than usual, so the Soldiers could move the pieces about with their clumsy hands. There was only one so far, with two more currently commissioned. Pawn was glad to see that the Soldiers were attentively watching the board as a Worker slowly pushed a piece forwards, trapping the Soldiers’ king.

He saw the Worker pause and the Soldiers stare at the king. The Worker shrank, but the Soldier he had been playing against calmly toppled the king piece. Purple Smile clapped his hands and instantly another Soldier took his place. Pawn shook his head as the Worker hesitantly began to reset his side of the board.

“Awkward.”

That was the only word for it. Awkward. The Workers had no idea how to behave around the Soldiers. They barely knew how to behave with time off with each other. The Soldiers scared them. It wasn’t as if they ever mixed. And the Soldiers themselves seemed to treat the Workers as fragile things to be ignored or carefully avoided. Pawn wanted to bridge the gap between them. They were all Antinium, after all. But he had no idea how.

So he did what he always did. He went to see Erin. It was a flawless plan, except for all the flaws in it. But Pawn did it. He liked seeing Erin. He liked visiting the inn. He had friends there. He hadn’t gone to the inn recently because he had duties in the Hive. And duty mattered. What drove Pawn out of his Hive and onto the rainy streets was duty, not personal pleasure. Okay, and because he liked seeing Erin. And his friends.

 

—-

 

The rain hit Pawn the instant he stepped out of the Hive. He jerked in alarm before remembering that this was what happened above. Pawn looked up at the grey skies. Strange. You could forget it was raining in the Hive. The water that poured down never so much as pooled in the entrance of the Hive; it was carefully diverted by many, many tunnels and runoff vents designed solely to keep the Hive safe. Above, Pawn felt exposed by the water. He scurried down the street, hunching as the wind picked up and more water splashed him in the face.

He didn’t like water. It wasn’t as bad as Belgrade, but every Antinium living in Liscor’s Hive who lived through a rainy season knew of the dangers it presented. A tunnel could burst or collapse and water flood a passageway, drowning any Antinium caught there. The Hive was designed to prevent water from filling it if a single tunnel broke, but that was small comfort to the Workers and Soldiers who would slowly drown, helpless, unable to swim.

Not that Pawn dwelt on such thoughts particularly long. It was just hard to forget when the city was surrounded by water. Pawn wondered when the rains would stop. It would be long, far too long before he was able to patrol with his Soldiers aboveground again. True, the waters would drain, but they would leave far too much mud behind for far too long. He needed a distraction, no, an occupation for his people in the meantime. Erin had to have a good idea.

No one stopped Pawn as he hurried down the street. The Drakes and Gnolls were equally consumed with avoiding getting wet and so Pawn made it to the western gate where Erin’s magical door was without incident. He reached for the door handle, opened it, and saw nothing but a blank wall behind.

“Oh. The door is not active yet.”

Pawn was slightly crestfallen. He waited in the rain, awkwardly hunching his shoulders and wondering when it would open. This was a new problem for the inn and Pawn had understood it could be a big problem, especially if no one opened the door for hours.

Happily, he only had to wait for nine minutes before the door opened. Relieved, Pawn stepped aside as someone walked through. Then he froze as a familiar black-brown Antinium walked though.

“Oh. Pawn.”

“Ksmvr.”

Pawn’s good mood took a slight downturn as he spotted the once-Prognugator of Liscor’s Hive. He stared at Ksmvr who paused in the rainy street. The two Antinium regarded each other. They had a history.

“I wish you a good morning, Pawn.”

“Thank you, Ksmvr. I appreciate you opening the door.”

“I was intending to train with Yvlon at the Adventurer’s Guild.”

“Good. For you.”

Silence. The two Antinium stared at each other. Ksmvr eventually jerked his head towards the gates.

“The issue of the magical door not opening will be solved soon.”

“How?”

“They are building a bridge from Liscor to the inn. Over the water.”

“Over?”

Ksmvr nodded. Pawn’s mandibles opened wide in horror. Over the water? He imagined walking on the bridge, while water was all around him, below him—

“I will never use that bridge.”

“Understandable. I, however, will cross it. To prove I am unafraid of water.”

Ksmvr’s voice shook a bit but he stood straighter, as if to prove himself. Pawn eyed him.

“Do you want to die?”

“No. But I must prove myself to my group.”

“But surely your teammates understand that you are unable to swim.”

The former Prognugator paused.

“That is irrelevant. I must conquer my fears. Any fears.”

Pawn shook his head. This was one of the reasons why he didn’t like Ksmvr. The other Antinium was just—Pawn edged around Ksmvr.

“I wish you luck. Truly. But I will go into the inn now. Is Erin there? I wanted to talk to her.”

The other Antinium nodded vaguely.

“She is. Although she is occupied. Captain Ceria told me to leave her and Lyonette alone.”

Pawn paused.

“Why? Is something wrong?”

“I don’t know. The [Barmaid], Miss Lyonette, is crying. She has not stopped.”

“Lyonette’s crying? Why?”

Suddenly Pawn was in front of Ksmvr. Up until this moment he hadn’t been interested in talking with him—he’d been hoping Ksmvr would step out of the way so Pawn could get inside the inn. But now he was keenly, horribly interested in what the other Antinium was saying. Unfortunately, Ksmvr was the wrong person to talk to.

“I have no idea why she is crying. She is not a member of my team. Therefore I only recorded this information as a pertinent piece of gossip.”

“Pertinent to what?

“I do not know. Would you like me to ask why Lyonette is crying? Would that assist me in social gossip, do you think?”

“I must talk with her. Excuse me.”

Pawn shoved past Ksmvr. The other Antinium called out after Pawn.

“I resent your abrupt departure from the conversation!”

The door slammed shut. Pawn stared around The Wandering Inn, dripping, and looked around. He saw the Halfseekers eating, the Redfang Goblins sitting in a corner, Drassi and a Drake he did not recognize waiting tables—and no Lyonette. Where was she? Normally she’d be here, already hurrying towards him with his favorite drink—warm milk and honey.

“Crying?”

Why was Lyonette sad? Pawn saw Drassi point at him and come over. He stared around, hoping Lyonette would appear from behind a table. Maybe she was in the kitchen? Why was she crying? He’d seen her just the other day! But she’d been busy waiting tables and Pawn hadn’t wanted to distract her.

“Hey Pawn! Can I get you a seat? Are there more Soldiers coming in behind you? Do you want something to eat? To drink? Wow, you’re wet! We need a rug or something here. I should talk to Erin about that. Hey Pawn? Pawn?”

Drassi’s approach to meeting new people was to smother them with words. Pawn glanced at her distractedly.

“Oh. Thank you Drassi, but I am not hungry or thirsty. I came here to see Erin. Or Lyonette. Where is she?”

The female Drake’s face fell slightly.

“Lyonette? Um…she’s in her room. Taking a day off. She wasn’t feeling well. I dunno what was wrong, but Erin says she’s upset and so she won’t be down. But Erin’s in the kitchen. You want me to grab her?”

“Please.”

“Alright. Sure you don’t want a drink?”

“I am sure. Please get Erin for me.”

Pawn sat anxiously at a table, willing Drassi to walk faster as she entered the kitchen. Moments later Erin stepped out, wiping her hands which were covered with flour.

“Pawn! Oh no, I’m so sorry!”

“What?”

His heart beat faster as Erin looked distraught. She sat down as he half-rose and he sat with her.

“I completely forgot about your problem. We had plays all of yesterday and this morning there was this thing with Lyonette—look, I’m really sorry but I can brainstorm with you now if you’d like.”

“Oh.”

Pawn stared at Erin as she gave him a guilty look. The problems with the Workers and Soldiers. He’d forgotten all about that. It was why he was here of course. Pawn shook his head.

“That is unimportant at the moment. I was told by Ksmvr that Lyonette was upset. And Drassi. Is she well? Has something happened?”

“Lyonette? She’s…upstairs. She’s not doing so good. I don’t know why exactly, but I think something happened last night. Or it could be stress. She wouldn’t tell me.”

Erin frowned in worry. Pawn leaned forwards.

“She would not tell you? Why?”

“She didn’t tell me that either. Look, she might just be having a bad day, Pawn. Why? Did you need her?”

“No. I am concerned. May I see her?”

“See her?”

Erin chewed her lip, frowning. She glanced at Pawn.

“Well…I think she’d be happier to be by herself. But you two are friends. We can ask.”

“Please.”

Pawn stood up at once. Erin got to her feet with a sigh. She pointed up the stairs and Pawn led the way. All the while he wondered what was wrong. Why was Lyonette crying? Erin didn’t know. Why didn’t she know? She knew almost everything. Pawn had to ask. Lyonette was his friend. She was more than just a [Barmaid] that fed him and the other Antinium.

She was a [Princess]. Lyonette had told him. It was her secret, one she’d shared with Pawn. Pawn had kept that knowledge tucked in his chest. He didn’t know if she’d told Erin or anyone else. But he valued the trust all the same. He had gotten to know her when Erin was gone from the inn. If there was anything he could do—

“This door.”

Erin came to the first door in the hallway and rapped softly on the door. Pawn listened. He couldn’t hear much from inside, but at Erin’s knock he heard a quiet shuffling. It wasn’t Lyonette who opened the door, but Mrsha. The Gnoll cub stood clumsily on two legs as she pulled the door open.

“Hey Mrsha. Hey Lyonette. Sorry to bug you.”

The [Innkeeper] called cautiously into the room as Pawn tried to look over her shoulder. He couldn’t see past her. Erin stepped into the room as Mrsha stared up at Pawn. He stared back and waved one of his hands at her. The Gnoll didn’t wave back.

“No, don’t get up Lyonette. I didn’t want to bug you but Pawn’s here and he’s worried. You don’t have to—it’s okay? Okay, Pawn? Come on in.”

Hesitantly, Pawn stepped into the room as Mrsha dropped onto all fours and padded back inside. She crept up next to a young woman sitting with a blanket around her shoulders. Lyonette’s eyes were red and she was holding a wet handkerchief. She looked up at Pawn and tried to smile.

“Hi Pawn.”

“Good morning, Lyonette. I am terribly sorry to bother you. I was worried when I heard you were upset.”

“Thank you, Pawn.”

Erin stood up. She looked at Pawn and Lyonette, wavering.

“I have to get back to work. Lyonette, are you okay?”

The younger girl gave Erin a watery smile.

“I’m fine, Erin. Don’t worry about me, please. I know you have a lot to do.”

“Okay. Pawn? If you want to talk I’ll be in the kitchen later.”

Pawn nodded distractedly as Erin left. He kept staring at Lyonette. She was still crying. Tears ran from the sides of her eyes and she kept dabbing at them. Mrsha curled up next to her. Pawn had no idea what to say. At last, he tried to speak.

“I am sorry to bother you, Lyonette. I could come back later if you do not wish to talk.”

“It’s fine, Pawn. I didn’t want to make you worry. I’m just—having a bad day, that’s all.”

“Oh.”

What a wholly unsatisfactory response. Pawn searched for good words and found none. He almost regretted coming upstairs, to be honest. What could he say? He shouldn’t have bothered her. And yet—it was Lyonette. His friend. Was she his friend? He thought she must be.

She had been there when he first started to lead the Soldiers. She had taught him how to act, how to stand tall. She had fed them. And now she was crying and he had no idea why. He hadn’t known. That made Pawn’s chest hurt.

“May I ask why you are upset?”

Lyonette sniffed. She looked away.

“It’s…personal.”

“Oh. I see.”

Crestfallen, the Worker looked down at his feet. He was still wet. He should go. But he didn’t move. After a moment Lyonette looked up at him and sniffed again.

“It’s not that I don’t want to say. It’s just—it shouldn’t matter but it does. I lost it, Pawn.”

“Lost? What?”

“My class.”

Tears trickled down Lyonette’s cheeks. Pawn stared at her. She couldn’t mean her [Barmaid] class. If she was crying, then—

“You lost your [Princess] class?”

Lyonette nodded. Pawn was stunned.

“How?”

The young woman shook her head.

“I must have stopped being a princess. At last. I should have known it would happen. I work at an inn as a [Barmaid]. I’m far from my kingdom. I—I should have known. And it shouldn’t matter.”

She sniffed and Mrsha reached up to pat her leg. Lyonette gently stroked Mrsha’s head. Pawn felt like an outsider. He should not be here. And he had no idea what to say. She had lost her class.

“You should have it back. I will pray for your class to return.”

Lyonette blinked. She stared at Pawn and then laughed. It was a weak sound and there was nothing funny in the way she laughed.

“What? No. Don’t do that. It’s fine, Pawn.”

“But your class—”

Pawn didn’t know what to say. Lyonette was a [Princess]. She was…royalty. As close to his Queen as anything in this world. He knew that was not the same, but it was how he understood her class. It made Lyonette important. How could she not be sad? But Lyonette didn’t seem to see it that way. She cast around.

“You should sit. There’s a chair over there.”

“I will take it. Thank you.”

Awkwardly, Pawn pulled the chair over and sat. He was still higher up than Lyonette and he found himself looking down at her. She sat up and he waited.

“It’s not a big deal, Pawn. I shouldn’t be crying. I shouldn’t. I lost my class because I wasn’t doing [Princess]-like things. That’s all. But I don’t need the class. I was only—only Level 6 anyways.”

“But it was your class.”

“I know. But I haven’t been feeling like a princess in a while. I think I knew it. That’s why I lost my class. And it’s not like I need it.”

“But—”

Pawn didn’t know what to say. He trailed off, staring at Lyonette. Tears flowed down her face and her nose was wet. She wiped it, looking embarrassed and Pawn looked away.

“Surely it was important, though. You are a [Princess]. Were. Was that class not important to you?”

“It was. But I lost it, Pawn.”

Lyonette whispered. She shook her head. Pawn realized he was repeating himself. After a while, he spoke.

“What was it like?”

“What?”

“Living as a princess.”

Lyonette looked up at him. Pawn saw Mrsha raise her head. She smiled sadly.

“What was it like? Being a [Princess] was—well, it was nice at times. I loved the balls and dancing and exciting things that came to court. And travelling wherever I wanted in the kingdom. Having money to buy whatever clothing I wanted. But I wasn’t happy. I never leveled. And when I came here, I gave all that up. So I traded being a [Princess] for actually leveling. That’s why—”

She broke off and sniffed, then blew her nose wetly into the handkerchief. Pawn waited. He was confused.

“Balls? Dancing? Why can you not do any of that here?”

“There aren’t any. No one knows I’m a [Princess].”

“But Mrsha has a ball.”

Pawn pointed at it. Lyonette stared and then laughed abruptly.

“Pawn, that’s not the same! A ball is a formal occasion. It’s where we dress up in fancy clothing and dance in a big open space. It’s not like anything Liscor has. It’s another world. A different world. I left it behind.”

“Which is why you lost your class.”

“Yes. Do you understand?”

He thought he did. It was just that he didn’t understand why Lyonette didn’t want her class back. Pawn mulled it over before he decided he had to ask.

“Why don’t you want it back?”

“Why? Because it’s gone. Because it doesn’t matter.”

“But it was your class. Surely you had Skills—”

“Two. Two, Pawn. And they weren’t that useful. They were—useless. Like my class. It’s gone and I’ll be better. I just need to cry. I don’t know why I’m crying. I should be okay. I just need a day. Then I’ll be better.”

“I see.”

Was that it? Pawn fumbled, searching for something else to say. There had to be something he could say that would make Lyonette feel better. Or—or help her.

“You’re sure you don’t want your class back? I could pray. I could.”

Lyonette laughed weakly.

“I’m sure! Pawn, I appreciate it but all I want is to be alone for a while. I’m glad you came by, I really am. But I just need to be alone.”

“I understand. I will excuse myself. Please forgive me for interrupting you.”

Pawn stood up at once. He felt embarrassed and bad. Lyonette looked up, worried.

“No, I’m not angry! Thank you for coming. It’s just—”

She waved a helpless hand. Pawn nodded.

“I will pray you feel better.”

“Thanks.”

Lyonette smiled at him. Pawn raised his mandibles and turned towards the door. He walked out, feeling helpless. Upset. Lyonette had lost her class. But she didn’t want it back. That seemed wrong.

Downstairs Erin asked if Lyonette was okay. When Pawn told her she wanted to be alone Erin nodded and offered to talk with Pawn about his problems. He declined. He wandered back to the Hive, feeling out of sorts. When he got back he tried to pray. But he couldn’t. Lyonette’s tears kept falling in his mind. She had lost her class. That was terrible. What could he do about it? Pray?

It didn’t feel like enough. And that was strange too. Pawn paced, anxiously. He felt helpless and upset and worried. What could he do? After a while he stopped and clasped his hands in prayer.

 

—-

 

Pawn had gone. Pawn had come back. He had promised to come back with ideas. He had returned with nothing. And now he was pacing. This indicated something was wrong, but neither Yellow Splatters nor Purple Smile knew what the problem was.

Purple Smile and Yellow Splatters were both [Sergeants]. It was a new concept to both Antinium and Yellow Splatters was keenly aware of the cost of failure. He had failed once and his Soldiers had suffered for it. He was anxious not to make another mistake, which was why he listened to everything Pawn said.

Only today, Pawn was saying nothing. Not to him at any rate. He had left the Hive and come back earlier than he had said. Now, rather than tell Yellow Splatters and the others about all the new ideas he had promised he was pacing back and forth. Muttering to himself.

“Surely the class is important. It must be! She was crying. She was upset. But is she better off without it? Surely not. But she says she does not want help.”

Yellow Splatters stared at Pawn as he paced back and forth. Other Antinium were staring too. Pawn’s behavior was not normal and the Workers and Soldiers were all paying attention. Pawn usually went to each of them and talked to them. But today he hadn’t. He hadn’t even noticed the biggest thing ever.

The Soldiers and Workers were still standing around the chessboard. They hadn’t moved since the last game. Ever since Pawn had brought the bigger chessboard the Soldiers had played games against the Workers constantly. They had lost every game. The current tally was four hundred and eighteen wins by the Workers…and now, just now, one win by one of the Soldiers.

That was huge. Yellow Splatters had been waiting for Pawn to come back and see and congratulate the Soldier—a new Painted Soldier named Rabbitears—on the victory. A Soldier had won a game. Won a game of chess!

The losses didn’t matter. But the one win? It changed everything. It meant—it meant Soldiers could be—the possibilities were endless! But Pawn didn’t pay attention to this earth-shattering fact. On any other day he would have been asking questions, perhaps ordering a celebration. Today the [Sergeants] watched as he paced back and forth and muttered.

“What can I do? Can I do anything? No, I should let her grieve. Grieving is a natural thing. Erin told me she will be looked after. But she was crying.”

It occurred to Purple Smile that Pawn would not notice the chess game. He signaled and the Soldiers slowly reset the board. The Soldiers did not feel many emotions. Grief, sadness, happiness…nothing much affected them. But now they felt something like disappointment. Nevertheless, they reset the board and Rabbitears began to play another game with a Worker. Pawn paid no attention.

Yellow Splatters looked sideways at Purple Smile. He pointed with one big hand. Purple Smile shrugged. He had no idea what was happening either. The [Sergeants] watched as Pawn kept pacing. They watched him stop and put his hands together. Was he praying? Why? The Soldiers didn’t know what was wrong, but they didn’t take their eyes off Pawn. They were observing. Listening. Learning.

And Pawn made up his mind. He had to go back tomorrow. To check on Lyonette.

 

—-

 

The next day, Pawn waited at dawn in front of the door to The Wandering Inn. As soon as the sun rose high enough for it to be actually daytime and not night still he opened the door. To his relief, the door was connected to Liscor. Pawn stepped in and immediately saw Lyonette.

“Pawn?”

She was setting food out for the Redfang Goblins. Lyonette turned, surprised to see Pawn so early. He stepped into the inn, conscious of the rain on his carapace.

“I am sorry to come so early. Am I interrupting?”

“No, come in. And please close the door. I keep telling Erin we need a doormat—let me get you a towel.”

Lyonette hurried into the kitchen as the five Hobs sitting at their table gave Pawn the fisheye. He ignored them. As soon as Lyonette returned with a fresh towel, Pawn thanked her. He sat at a table near the fire and spoke.

“Are you well, Lyonette? Are you feeling better? I was worried that you might still be in distress.”

“You were? Well, I’m better. I feel fine now. I’m embarrassed about yesterday.”

“You’re…alright?”

Pawn stared at Lyonette hard. She gave him a cheery smile.

“I am! I think yesterday was just shock.”

“I see.”

Pawn was confused. Lyonette seemed so much better today. It was completely at odds with how she’d seemed yesterday. She hovered around his table, waving at one of the Goblins who was raising a hesitant mug.

“Sorry, Ishkr’s not in yet. We’re training new staff, but I’m the only person for breakfast. Do you mind?”

“Not at all.”

The Antinium watched Lyonette take the mug that one of the Hobgoblins offered her. She refilled it and when she returned he scrutinized her again.

“So you don’t mind losing your class? Truly?”

“Not at all. I’m glad, actually.”

Briskly, Lyonette mopped down the table.

“But you are royalty still, aren’t you?”

The [Barmaid] shrugged.

“You mean my name? Lyonette du Marquin? Forget about it. It’s just Lyonette now. I’m a [Barmaid]. Not a [Princess]. And that’s alright. That’s perfect, really.”

“Really?”

At last Lyonette looked up with a frown.

“Really, Pawn.”

He met her gaze. She looked annoyed now. Pawn hadn’t intended that. He looked away meekly.

“Okay then. I was simply worried.”

Lyonette smiled.

“And I appreciate it. Thank you, again, Pawn. But I really should get back to work. Can I get you anything? Or did you want to talk to Erin again?”

Of course. He had his duties. Pawn shifted in his chair. He should really talk to Erin. But he couldn’t help but feel like his conversation with Lyonette had gone all wrong. She said she was okay. But was she really? He couldn’t imagine it. She was a [Princess]. She had been. She’d taken pride in it. And now it was gone. That couldn’t be okay.

And yet, if she said so, what could he do? Pawn watched Lyonette turn away. He opened his mandibles before he could stop himself.

“Wait. Can we not talk further?”

She turned back, surprised.

“Talk?”

Pawn hesitated. That had slipped out.

“I do not mean to take you from your duties. But it has been a long time since we have chatted together. Too long.”

“It has been a while. We used to talk back when Erin was gone and I was in my inn. Starving.”

A rueful smile stole over Lyonette’s face. She tossed the dust rag onto another table.

“I have missed it. You’re always busy. And I have a moment.”

“Then you do not mind talking with me?”

Hopefully, Pawn looked up at her. Lyonette smiled.

“Whatever gave you that idea? My problems are one thing, but I always have time to talk with you. Is something happening in the Hive? I heard you talking about more Workers joining your group. Is there a problem?”

She took a seat across from Pawn. He sat up a bit straighter.

“Not a problem, but we lack entertainment. You see, I was going to speak with Erin about the issue of—of boredom. Revalantor Klbkch has given us scheduled downtime, but we lack activities to perform in the rain. I was hoping Erin could help. Unless you have some ideas?”

“Well, why not teach them something? Or read them books?”

Pawn nodded. He relaxed a bit as Lyonette sat across from him, smiling. This felt better. She looked like normal.

“I could do that. But I was hoping for activities they could perform when I am not around?”

“Ah, I see the problem. And your people need activities? Well, have you tried giving them normal activities? Like needlework? Or pottery?”

“Needlework? Pottery? As in making trade crafts? The Antinium are not proficient in such areas.”

Lyonette laughed.

“No! For their own enjoyment! What about games? Surely you have something. Like—tag. Even I played that game growing up.”

“Let me write this down.”

Pawn looked around, patting his side. He had forgotten his belt pouch! Lyonette smiled.

“Erin probably has some parchment and a quill. Hold on, let me find it.”

She got up and went into the kitchen. Pawn waited until she came back. Then he gratefully accepted the quill and ink and began scribbling down notes. He was glad she was well. Only—was she? Lyonette smiled and offered him silly suggestions and good ones, laughing as she asked him whether the Antinium might enjoy learning to embroider. But he couldn’t help but think it was partly an illusion. Pawn sat and talked with Lyonette until Ishkr came in with two of his Gnoll friends and the inn began to fill with guests. Then Lyonette had to go.

“Good luck with your Antinium, Pawn. Let me know how it turns out, alright?”

“I will. Thank you, Lyonette.”

Pawn bade her farewell at the door. He hesitated, opening his mandibles. But Lyonette was already busy giving Ishkr orders. He turned away, still feeling like something was wrong. But he couldn’t put his finger on it.

 

—-

 

The next day, Pawn surprised Erin by opening the door right as she was passing by. She jumped.

“Pawn?”

“Hello Erin. I am sorry to come so early. But I was hoping to speak with Lyonette. Is she here?”

Erin blinked at Pawn. It was very early. She rubbed her eyes.

“Lyonette? Yeah, she should be down shortly. Um. Is something the matter, Pawn?”

The Worker paused guiltily.

“The matter? No. I was just…wondering if we could speak more about her proposals.”

“Her what?”

“She gave me some advice as to how I could entertain my Workers and Soldiers yesterday.”

“She did? Good for her! I was going to suggest playing baseball inside the Hive or something stupid like that. Uh, so what did she say?”

“She suggested expanding the barracks to create a communal living space. And introducing a variety of crafts into the Hive. I have done so and wished to appraise her of the progress.”

Erin nodded, smiling and covering a yawn.

“Hey, that’s great Pawn. I’m sure Lyon would love to hear about it. Why don’t you sit and wait for her?”

Pawn nodded obediently. He sat and soon enough Lyonette came downstairs. She was surprised to see him.

“Pawn! You’re back. Again?”

Pawn nodded. He waved at Mrsha who blinked at him and waved back. He nodded to Lyonette.

“I am. I took your advice yesterday.”

“Oh. Good.”

“I wanted to tell you about my results. And perhaps talk more if we had the chance?”

Lyonette glanced at Erin who shrugged.

“Of course I have time. I just need to feed Mrsha. Have you had breakfast yet?”

“No. I would gladly pay for a meal.”

“Hold on, then.”

Lyonette left and came back with some hot eggs which Pawn gladly ate. She ate with Mrsha, awkwardly telling the Gnoll not to gobble her food while she half-watched Pawn. When Mrsha was done Lyonette came to sit with Pawn.

“Okay, tell me about it.”

Pawn nodded and sat up eagerly. He had just finished telling Lyonette about how the Workers were attempting to learn how to crochet when he heard footsteps. He turned around and saw the Horns of Hammerad stumbling downstairs. Lyonette immediately got up.

“It’s already that time? Sorry Pawn, but I have work to do.”

“I understand. I am sorry to have taken your time.”

“No, it’s no problem. I enjoy hearing about the Hive. Really. It’s just…”

Lyonette gestured towards the adventurers. Pisces was yawning and only Ksmvr looked anywhere near awake. They all made a beeline for the nearest table, sitting and staring expectantly at the table in front of them as if willing food to appear. Pawn nodded.

“Please go about your work. I will leave.”

“You could stay. Once I finish I could talk more.”

The young woman’s smile made Pawn glad. He shook his head.

“No, I simply wanted to talk for a while. I have my own duties as well.”

He stood up and looked at Lyonette. He took a short breath and spoke as Lyonette was turning.

“And you are well?”

She froze. Pawn stared at her back.

“You felt better yesterday. Are you feeling as well today?”

Lyonette half-turned and smiled at Pawn.

“I’m fine.”

“Good. Good. In that case I will…”

Pawn backed away. Lyonette nodded.

“Come again, any time!”

She took his plate. Pawn watched her head into the kitchen. She was good. That was excellent. He turned and walked towards the door. He had duties in his Hive now. The fact that Lyonette was well was all he’d come to confirm. He left as Lyonette hurried out of the kitchen with plates and Ceria and Pisces squabbled over who’d get the larger portion. He went back to his Hive and performed his duties distractedly.

The next day he went back. And the day after that. And the day after that.

 

—-

 

Yellow Splatters thought that there was a problem. It was Pawn. He didn’t like to think it, but three days had gone by and it was growing clearer to him that something was amiss.

Pawn. The Worker was present in the barracks every day of course. He ate with the Painted Soldiers and Individual Workers, gave orders, and left each morning for an hour or two before returning. That was all right. What wasn’t all right was what he was doing.

He came back each day with new things. Objects. Leather balls made to be tossed around or chewed on, custom chess sets, knitting needles, yarn…every day he would arrive with more strange paraphernalia, bought with the budget allocated to him by Klbkch. And that was fine too. Normally.  Yellow Splatters understood that new things could be wonderful. Like books. He loved books with bright pictures. But this?

“Have a group of Workers try knitting, Yellow Splatters. It is a useful occupation they may enjoy.”

“I have purchased a set of balls for playful fun. You can toss them and catch them. Like so. If anyone is interested, please, let them try.”

“Here is some clay. I think you can make pottery with it. If any Soldier creates something I will inquire about firing it in a kiln.”

The last time Pawn had come into the Hive, he’d brought a mass of wet clay in a wheelbarrow. Now Purple Smile and Yellow Splatters stared at it. The [Sergeant] poked a hand into the wet clay. It squished.

Pottery? It was a word Yellow Splatters had no notion of. He stared at Pawn as the Worker hurried over to his sleeping spot. Yellow Splatters had many questions. What exactly was he supposed to do. What was a kiln? How did one fire clay? With a crossbow?

He looked at Purple Smile. The other Soldier was not smiling today. Nor had he been for the last few days. He sensed it too. Something was wrong.

It wasn’t the new objects. It wasn’t Pawn buying things. All of that was good, in theory. It was that when Pawn went out and came back with new things for the Antinium to try, when he brought wonderful ideas into the Hive or encouraged the Soldiers and Workers to try this, it was always him telling. Not showing.

He…had not paid attention to the Antinium in the barracks for the last few days. That was what was wrong. Before, Pawn had had few items to share. He had saved up copper coins and petitioned Klbkch repeatedly for even a few books, a can of paint. But always, he had shown the Soldiers exactly what to do, experimented with them. Cared and praised them for their accomplishments and failures. But he was distracted now. He did not care.

And that hurt deeply. Yellow Splatters turned his attention to the chess board that the Soldiers and Workers had played at. It was unused. The Soldiers and Workers stood about or sat, not playing again. The board was where it had been left—checkmated. Rabbitears had won a fourth game. And stopped. Because Pawn had not noticed.

He had not noticed. In any other moment, in any other time, Pawn would have instantly shown this to Klbkch. He would have congratulated Rabbitears, spoken to the others. Told Yellow Splatters…something about what it meant. But he had not noticed and the Soldiers and Workers had noticed that. So now they did nothing. They waited, listlessly, not bothering to touch the interesting things Pawn had brought. They stared at him.

And he did not notice. He sat in his special cubicle, sitting as if he was sleeping. But his four hands were clasped together. Pawn was praying. He had prayed day and night when he was not out. Prayed for hours on end, late into the night, before dawn. And that too was good in theory. Yellow Splatters had seen Pawn praying over the wounded. He had heard Pawn lead them in prayer. It was a wondrous thing. Only now…the [Sergeant] stared at Pawn. The Worker was deep in prayer. It was a good thing. But Yellow Splatters was sure, absolutely sure, that Pawn was not praying for them.

He wondered who Pawn was thinking of. And when Pawn would finally remember his people. Yellow Splatters waited, his chest hurting. Now he was certain. It wasn’t just a problem. Something was terribly, terribly wrong.

 

—-

 

Over the next week, it became customary to see Pawn in the inn before breakfast or in the early morning. He would always come in early unless the door to Liscor was closed. He would greet Erin every morning with a different line.

“Hello, is Lyonette there? I was hoping to get her input on possible embroidery designs.”

“I was passing by the inn and could not help but stop for lunch. Is Lyonette free to talk?”

“I wanted to consult with Ksmvr. Is Lyonette around?”

“It is rainy. I wanted to share that fact with Lyonette.”

The excuses seemed to amuse Erin. She started grinning every time she saw Pawn for reasons unknown to him. Each day he waited for Lyonette, sometimes while eating breakfast or a snack, other times sitting meditatively in silence or whispering a quick prayer. Each time Lyonette greeted him, asked how his Hive was doing and caught up on the latest Antinium gossip, such as it was.

In turn she offered him news about the inn. The Players of Celum were gaining more attention and had nearly finished their run of Othello and The Triumph of Liscor. They were about to switch plays now they had a new audience of Drakes and Gnolls coming in each night. Training the new staff was going well. The adventurers were busy preparing for the dungeon or arguing with each other and fighting over food. And so on. Pawn listened dutifully, nodding along and enjoying the conversation. And each time she finished or had to go back to work he asked her the same question.

“Is everything well?”

The answer was always yes. With a smile or a nod. Pawn accepted that. He came back day after day until the day when Lyonette’s patience finally ran out.

 

—-

 

“Good morning, Lyonette.”

“Oh. Hello, Pawn.”

For once Lyonette didn’t smile when she greeted Pawn. In fact, she hadn’t come over when she’d spotted him sitting by himself at lunch time. She’d kept serving tables though the Worker was sure she’d seen him. But it was a good ten minutes before she walked over.

It was almost as if she’d been avoiding him. But after he had sat and waited patiently, refusing to let Drassi get him a drink or food, Lyonette had walked over. Now she stood, looking somewhat tired as Pawn sat. He waited for her to take a seat. She did not.

“Would you like to sit and talk with me?”

“Not today, Pawn.”

Lyonette glanced tiredly around. So did Pawn. The inn was not busy at this time of day, which pleased him. He would have more time to chat.

“Do you want to tell me about the inn? Or would you like to chat about the Hive first? There are a few interesting developments that may intrigue you.”

He had been buying new objects left and right to put in the Hive. Knitting needles, yarn, little balls to play catching games, and so on. Pawn hadn’t seen the Antinium playing with some of the objects, but he was sure they would begin using them soon. After all, the Soldiers used to not read any of the picture books and now the books were the most sought-after object in the barracks. But to his surprise, Lyonette shook her head.

“Not today, Pawn. I’m a bit—busy. Look, why don’t I get you a drink and we can talk later? Next week, maybe?”

That was strange. Pawn hesitated.

“Of course, if you are busy I will come back another time. Tomorrow, perhaps?”

“Um…sure.”

Lyonette looked distracted. And a bit upset. She kept glancing over her shoulder and looking at Pawn. He nodded.

“I will not take up any of your time. But before you go—”

Lyonette was already turning away. Pawn called after her.

“And you are feeling well?”

She stopped, mid-step. Pawn saw Lyonette’s shoulder’s tense, and then she whirled.

“Why are you asking me that?”

Her voice was loud. Too loud. Pawn saw a few of the Drakes and Gnolls eating lunch look up and heard conversations cease across the inn. Erin poked her head out of the kitchen. Pawn hesitated.

“No reason. I am just interested in your wellbeing.”

“Really?”

Lyonette stared at him. Pawn shuffled his legs and looked away.

“Yes?”

“Then why do I get the feeling that you’re still thinking about my missing class?”

Pawn’s heart skipped a beat. He tried to keep his voice smooth.

“I never mentioned it. I never said a word about it.”

“Yes. And you’re not saying it so loudly that I can hear it! You keep asking if I’m well. You keep coming here, day after day, telling me about the smallest things. I wouldn’t care. I’d enjoy it, but you ask me the same question each time. Why?”

Lyonette advanced on Pawn, angry. He tried to scoot back in his chair but the [Barmaid] stood right in front of him. Now everyone was looking at him. Pawn debated lying. He could say—

Lie? To Lyonette? He caught himself as he was about to utter an untruth. Pawn looked up at Lyonette and unwillingly, he answered her honestly.

“…I have been praying every day that your class will return.”

The shock that ran over Lyonette’s face was like a living thing. It drained the blood from her face, made her eyes go wide, and then, quick as a flash, ignited anger once more. Lyonette stared down at Pawn. Her voice trumbled.

Why?

The Worker shrank. But he replied defiantly.

“I believe you need it back. Your class.”

You think I need it?”

“Yes.”

Pawn saw Lyonette’s mouth open angrily. He rushed forwards before she could speak.

“I think you need it. I think you should have it back. I think you shouldn’t be content not to have it. So I have prayed for it.”

“I told you I was better off without it! What about what I want?”

Incensed, Lyonette put her hands on the table. Pawn leaned back and then stopped. He spoke, his mandibles quivering slightly.

“I think you are wrong.”

For a moment Lyonette gaped at him. Then she glared.

“Stop it. Just stop it! Don’t pray and don’t tell me what I need!”

She stood up and turned away. Pawn scrambled out of his chair.

“Lyonette, please. I am trying to help—”

“Maybe I don’t want your help!”

She whirled and snapped at Pawn. He felt like he’d been struck. Lyonette glared.

“Why does it matter to you? Why do you care? It’s my class! It’s my life! Why does this matter to you?”

“I just want to—”

She spoke over him, her voice growing louder and louder.

“You want? What about what I want? I liked talking to you, I really did! You and I are friends! But this isn’t right! This isn’t fair to me! Don’t pray for me! Don’t try to change me! Don’t try to give me back what I don’t need!”

She stared at Pawn, and to his horror he saw her eyes were shimmering. Lyonette rubbed at them, and her voice caught.

“Please, just leave me alone! Let me move on! Let me—”

She moved as if to walk away and noticed her audience. She had been shouting near the end. Everyone was staring. Erin looked flabbergasted. Lyonette turned red. Her eyes welled up with tears and she turned.

“I—”

She didn’t finish her sentence. Lyonette ran up the stairs. Pawn watched her go. He felt like something had ripped out his chest, spilling his insides across the floor. Slowly, dizzily, he looked around. Pawn stared at the others, stared at Erin, and then slowly walked towards the door. He opened it and turned his head as rain poured through.

“I am sorry. Please tell her I am sorry.”

Then he stumbled out into the rain.

 

—-

 

He had never felt so worthless. He had never felt so small. Pawn sat in the barracks and wished to disappear. He was a failure. He was useless. He sat and he sat and he knew everything was wrong. He wished he was dreaming. He knew he was not. That was worse than a nightmare. If things were a nightmare he could wake up. But he couldn’t. And everything kept getting worse.

Silence. It was horrible. It weighed down the barracks. No one moved. The Soldiers and Workers stood around Pawn as he sat on the floor, curled up into a ball. He didn’t move. He didn’t eat. He didn’t respond when Yellow Splatters approached him, or when Purple Smile poked him. He didn’t move when Anand called his name.

“Pawn. Pawn. What is wrong?”

The Worker didn’t respond. Anand stood over him, anxious.

“Yellow Splatters came to get me. I did not understand why. What is the matter? Are you hurt? Pawn?”

Pawn wished Anand would go away. He didn’t want to talk. He didn’t want to live. He sat still, ignoring Anand’s words until the Worker left. He was the worst. He had made Lyonette cry again.

He had been sure. So sure! He had known that if he prayed hard enough, Lyonette’s class would come back. Then she would be happier. So he had prayed every day. He had gone to see her. But all he had done was anger her. She did not want his help. She did not want to talk to him.

She hated him. Pawn remained still, feeling the hard ground beneath him. He did not respond as Yellow Splatters tried to tug his arms apart. The Soldier was strong but Pawn held on with all his might and there was nothing that the [Sergeant] could do short of breaking Pawn’s arms. Pawn stayed where he was. Until someone kicked him in the side.

“Get up.”

Klbkch’s kick knocked Pawn sideways. The Antinium landed on his left side, but he did not uncurl. Klbkch made a harsh clicking sound and kicked him again.

“I said, get up.

Pawn did not respond. The kick had cracked the carapace on his side but he did not move. Klbkch grabbed him and dragged him up. Pawn didn’t move. He was a ball of misery.

“You have abandoned your duties. Anand tells me you have not moved for over half a day now. Why are the Soldiers and Workers here unattended to?”

No reply. Klbkch uttered another sound that Pawn had never heard an Antinium make. The Soldiers and Workers around him shrank. Then Pawn heard a rasping sound. Klbkch had drawn his swords.

“I see useless goods, bought with the Hive’s money. I see Workers and Soldiers, listless and lifeless. I see you, unmoving. Respond.

Pawn did not reply. He waited as he sensed Klbkch move around him. The Revalantor placed the sharp tip of his sword on the back of Pawn’s neck. The Worker did nothing. Klbkch raised his sword and paused. Yellow Splatters and Purple Smile were staring at him. Their hands were not clenched, but the other Soldiers and Workers were…watching. Klbkch waited. In the silence Pawn felt the cold sting and did nothing.

After a lifetime, a second, Klbkch withdrew the point of his sword. He turned away.

“You are a disgrace.”

He turned and stalked out of the barracks. Pawn did not move. If he felt anything, it was bad that Klbkch had not ended it all then and there. He stayed where he was as time passed on. Despairing. Hating.

There was no point to any of it. He had made a terrible mistake. He would never uncurl. He would sit here and starve, like he had once seen another Worker do. He was not Pawn anymore. He did not want to be Pawn. He just wanted to disappear.

And perhaps he would have. Pawn sat and sat until something changed in the Hive. He felt it. At first, it was distant movement. The stepping of many feet. He did not care. But then he heard a voice. Not the staccato click-speech of the Antinium, but a softer voice. A kind voice. It spoke at a distance, and then Pawn heard words.

“…how long?”

He heard a distant reply, crisp and precise, and then another one, quieter, more subdued. Klbkch and Anand. The voice grew louder.

“Wow. Really? And he’s just…okay, let me see.”

The footsteps approached. Pawn heard more shuffling. Soldiers and Workers standing and sitting around him drew back. He heard the voice clearly now. A kind voice. A loving voice.

“Oh no. I think I see the problem.”

He knew her. He wanted her to go away. But he didn’t move. Pawn shook as the voice, the person approached. He feared her. More than he hated himself. He feared what she might do. What she might say. The young woman knelt next to Pawn as he curled up into a ball. She looked around and sighed.

“What a mess. Okay Klbkch, Anand. Give me some room. I’ll try and sort this out, okay? I should have asked Lyonette what was really wrong earlier. As for Pawn…give me a few minutes.”

He heard an answering voice and then the footsteps retreated. Pawn stayed where he was. He felt the softest of touches on his shoulder and quaked.

“Pawn?”

Here she was. The one who would lay out his sins. The one who could move his heart. His creator in some ways. His savior in others. Terrifying, wonderful, magical, and peaceful. Pawn wished she would leave. He feared what she would do. And part of him, a tiny part of him hoped she could make it all better. Because if there was anyone who could, it was her.

Erin.

 


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