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A note from pirateaba

(Volume 1 of The Wandering Inn is now on sale as an e-book on Amazon! Please read this short message about the book!)

(Volume 1 of The Wandering Inn is now on sale as an e-book on Amazon! Please read this short message about the book!)

They were coming. They were already here. The Face-Eater Moths flew and crawled across the Floodplains of Liscor, chittering. There were so many that Erin couldn’t see the sky. Already they were crawling over her windows, their legs scraping the glass. She saw one moth press its body against her window and backed away.

Erin!

A hand yanked her into the middle of the common room. Erin whirled. Ceria’s face was pale and she was holding her wand in her other hand. She shouted over the terrible rustling of thousands of bodies.

“Get into the door! To Celum! We’ll fight them here!”

“What? No!”

Erin shook her head. The half-Elf stared at her incredulously.

“Erin, there are thousands—

“Tens of thousands. Moore, block that window!”

Jelaqua snapped as Moore heaved a table up and rammed it against the window. Erin stared around the room. The adventurers were all boarding up windows or preparing for combat. They looked grim as they checked their gear. She saw the Halfseekers downing potions, the Silver Swords pointing out a crack in the window and arguing—the other Horns of Hammerad were upstairs with the Redfang Goblins, trying to seal off the windows there.

Glass windows. For once Erin regretted the beautiful, expensive, fragile glasswork. She saw a Face-Eater Moth clawing at the window and then saw Ylawes striding towards her.

“Miss Solstice.”

His voice was clipped and he was holding his shield and sword as he stared around the inn. The common room had returned back to its normal size and it felt cramped, as though they were in a tiny box. Erin could hear movement all around them, things battering at the wall.

“I advise you to leave through the door to Celum. We’ll cover you and try to slaughter the moths, but we’ll have to fall back as soon as this inn starts going down.”

“It’s not going down. And I’m not leaving.”

Erin snapped at the [Knight] as he tried to escort her to the doors. He and Ceria both looked at her.

“Excuse me? Did you see the size of those five moths, Erin? One of them could flatten your inn just by landing on it!”

“Not my inn. I have a Skill.”

The young woman folded her arms. She could feel her inn groaning under the weight of so many bodies, but amazingly they had yet to break a window despite the pounding impacts that now came from every side. Moths were hurling themselves at the windows. Ylawes stared at her.

“You’re sure your inn will survive? That changes things.”

“It’ll hold! Moore couldn’t break my walls. My windows though—”

There was a crack as something massive struck a window near the kitchen. Erin saw every head turn. Ylawes stared at her and then looked around.

“In that case we have an opportunity. We can hold this ground; use it to shield our backs.”

“Shield our—what are you talking about?”

More voices. Erin saw Yvlon. She’d come down the stairs. Pisces and Ksmvr were behind her.

“We boarded up as many windows as we could and closed the doors. Hopefully that buys us time. But how long are we planning to hold out here?”

Yvlon pointed back upstairs. Pisces looked around. The [Necromancer]’s gaze was sharp as he eyed the Silver Swords. Falene and Dawil were standing by the doors, the half-Elf holding a staff and the Dwarf a hammer in both hands. He nodded to them.

“The most expedient solution would be to retreat into Celum. But that isn’t your brother’s intention, Yvlon. He intends to take the fight to the Face-Eater Moths.”

“Exactly.”

Ylawes had produced a helmet from somewhere. It was a classic knight’s helm with a visor. He put it over his head, his voice muffled as he spoke.

“We’re going out there. The moths are already breaking the windows and trying to get in—we’ll distract them. Yv, you and your team hold this inn. If Miss Solstice is right we can rely on it to shield our backs and rest if needed. But we won’t win this battle sitting and holding out.”

Win? Ylawes, there are thousands of—”

“I know.

His voice made Yvlon go quiet. Ylawes looked around and Erin saw him open his visor to look at his younger sister.

“Yv, this is our duty. My team’s duty. We’re Gold-rank adventurers and Liscor is under siege. We need to take down those giant moths. Liscor only has a limited window before the city is overrun and we are bound to fight.”

“Sounds about right.”

Jelaqua strode over. The Selphid wasn’t smiling and her hands gripped the two-handed flail tightly. She nodded to Ylawes as the Gold-rank adventurer turned.

“You’re thinking the same thing, Ylawes? Head out and smash those bugs?”

“We’re going to aim for one of the five giant moths. You?”

Erin and the Horns of Hammerad stared open-mouthed as Jelaqua grinned with bloodless lips.

“Nothing so grand. Moore’s magic can’t hit aerial targets and Seborn and I aren’t cut out for it either. We’ll just mow down as many moths as we can. You want to coordinate?”

“No. We’ll just foul each other. Let’s stick within range of the inn, though. We’ll take the front.”

“Fine. We’ll try to hold that ground too.”

Jelaqua nodded. She struck Ylawes’ shoulder with a gauntleted fist as he nodded to her. Yvlon was still staring.

“Are you insane? You’ll be torn apart if you go out there! Ylawes—”

“Don’t argue with your brother!”

To everyone’s surprise, Jelaqua snapped at Yvlon. She looked around. The Selphid’s eyes flashed as she nodded to the door.

“This is a Gold-rank adventurer’s responsibility. It’s not the same as being Silver-rank. When you reach our level you swear an oath to fight. We don’t run, not when a city’s at stake.”

“Exactly. Liscor won’t survive that onslaught for long. Their magic barrier is already weakening.”

Ylawes’ words were punctuated by a thump in the distance. Erin’s eyes widened.

“What was that?

Attack magic. Came from Liscor.

Seborn announced from his position by the doors. Erin heard a thunderous roar and the chittering of the moths stopped for a second as a tremendous thwoom of noise made the windows of her inn shake. She looked around wildly as the press of bodies let up on the outside for a second. She ran to look out a window, ignoring Ceria’s warning.

Moths were flying about in confusion. Erin could see the magical barrier around Liscor flickering and then a flash of orange and red blinded her. The giant moth flew back, keening, as hundreds of its smaller kin fell burning from the air.

“Good use of fire magic. But it won’t last. They only have a limited number of enchantments on their wall.”

Falene announced as she stared out the windows. Indeed, the moths were already attacking the barrier again. They hurled themselves at the blue shield surrounding Liscor and Erin could see it flickering with each impact. Two of the colossal Face-Eater Moths landed on the barrier and she saw it go out for an entire second.

“Dead gods. Are you really going to fight that?”

Ceria’s voice was soft. Ylawes nodded. He looked at her and the other Horns of Hammerad.

“Hold the inn. Don’t let the moths in. If you can’t, pull back into Celum and don’t open that door for any reason. We’ll survive.”

“Ylawes—”

The [Knight] turned and looked at his sister. Erin couldn’t see his face through his visor, but she thought he was smiling.

“I’ll see you soon, Yv.”

There was a crash from upstairs and the sound of splintering glass. Pisces cursed and he and Ksmvr rushed up the stairs. Erin looked around. Where were the Redfang Goblins? Ylawes looked up and nodded to his team.

“Ready?”

“A moment. The mana here is strong. I’m trying to harness it.”

Falene closed her eyes. Erin gasped in surprise.

“Oh! My inn’s got lots of magic! Can you use it?”

“Of course.”

The half-Elf opened her eyes and regarded Erin severely. She shifted her gaze to Ceria.

“Ceria Springwalker, you are a mage of Wistram. I trust you to hold this ground until we return.”

“I’ll—do my best.”

Ceria looked pale. Erin stared at her and then at Falene. The half-Elf was beginning to glow. Dawil grumbled and moved backwards as Falene’s body sparked, jolts of electricity arcing from her body to the ground and tables.

“Hot! Watch it, Elf!”

She made no reply. Across from her, Erin saw Moore raising his staff. Jelaqua’s voice was calm.

“We’re going in, boys. Slaughter tactics. No need for speed or maneuverability out there. Moore, can you cast your armor spell on all of us?”

“Yes.”

The half-Giant’s voice boomed. His eyes flashed green as he brought the staff down. There was a rumble and Erin saw vines covered in huge thorns worm out from beneath her floorboards. They covered his arms, his legs—she saw the same was happening to Jelaqua and Seborn!

“Dead gods.”

Ceria breathed the words. She was staring at Falene. Now the half-Elf was surrounded by a crackling aura of lightning. It was contained—Erin saw the bolts of electricity trying to earth themselves on Dawil and her tables and Falene drawing them back around her. The half-Elf’s voice echoed as her eyes flashed.

Magic is limited only by the quality of the mage, Ceria. This inn is a place of power. As am I.

She turned. Her body shone with lightning. Dawil grumbled.

“And I’m a place of metal. Keep your [Lightning Shroud] spell under control until we’re clear of the inn, Elf!”

“Ready?”

Ylawes strode towards the door. His armor shone as Falene and Dawil took up places behind him. Erin heard more crashes above and shouts. She looked up. Were the moths getting in above already?

“We’re ready.”

Jelaqua’s voice came from a shape cloaked in vines. Erin stared. The Selphid was covered in green armor, her body engulfed in razor-sharp thorns and twisted vine. Only her eyes were visible and then, only just. Seborn looked equally fearful, but Moore—

Two giant eyes stared at her out of a mass of barbed plant matter. The half-Giant turned and Erin, Ceria, and Yvlon backed up a step. A towering creature rose, a hand covered in razor-sharp blades gripped a staff. Ylawes glanced at the Halfseekers.

“On my count, then.”

He put his hand on the door as Dawil knocked aside a barrel that had been pushed in the way. The barrel fell and broke, spilling alcohol across the ground.

“Oops.”

The Dwarf’s voice was loud. Erin heard the chittering, the rustling, saw something smash through the window across the room. It began thumping against the table blocking the way. Ylawes didn’t look around. He waited three seconds and then lifted his shield. He shouted as Ceria and Yvlon ran to attack the moth coming through the window.

Silver Swords! Let’s go!

He threw open the doors. Erin gasped as she saw moths swarming around the entrance. A giant Face-Eater Moth taller than the door itself reared up, its razor-sharp mouth opening. Ylawes raised his shield and it flashed white. He roared as he charged.

“[Shield of Valor]!”

A bulwark of silver light formed around his shield. Ylawes rushed forwards and the moths found themselves swept up, pressed helplessly against the shield as he rammed them together. Hot on his heels was Dawil. The Dwarf roared as he smashed a moth flat and swung his hammer into another with a crunch.

“Come on you flying sacks of crap! I haven’t got all day!”

Behind him strode Falene. Erin heard her speaking as she raised her staff. Spells erupted from the tip of her stave too fast for thought.

“[Blue Lightning], [Flash Fireball], [Water Arrows], [Sand Spray], [Aerial Burst]—”

The lightning around her flashed and Erin heard hundreds of moths shriek as the electricity blasted in every direction. As they tumbled from the sky Jelaqua led Moore and Seborn out, screaming a warcry. The Selphid plunged into the ranks of moths, her flail knocking them aside, creating a space as she whirled through the first rank of moths around the inn. Seborn was already stabbing with his enchanted daggers as Moore smashed moths with his hands and staff.

The door!

Ylawes roared and Erin ran for the door. A moth the size of a large dog flapped towards Erin. She saw its ‘mouth’ opening and shutting as it flew towards her face. Instinctively Erin raised the frying pan.

“Get lost!”

She smacked it and the moth fell down. Erin slammed the door on it and struggled to drag the half-drained barrel in front of the door. She heard more cries as the adventurers began fighting outside the inn and more sounds. The moths were attacking in full force now.

“The windows! Yvlon, take that side!”

Ceria shouted as more moths began bursting through the windows. The one on the far wall had been decapitated by Yvlon’s sword—Erin saw its torso hanging obscenely out of the wall, dripping onto the floorboards. Ceria pointed as more dark shapes squirmed in the window behind it.

“[Ice Spikes]!”

She fired with her wand and skeletal hand. Erin heard shrieks as the forms fell back. Yvlon ran to the other side and lopped off a moth’s leg that had penetrated a glass window.

“Erin! Get to Celum, damn it!”

“No!”

Erin shouted back. She ran into the kitchen and dragged out the crate of rattling potions. She heaved it onto a table, taking care not to break the bottles within. These weren’t the potions Octavia had broken by accident the other day. She’d bought these over a month ago. Healing potions, alchemist’s fire, mana potions—she shouted at Ceria.

“Potions are here! Get them!”

“Potions? Good!”

Ceria turned and cursed as another moth tried to crawl through the broken window. A shimmering wall of ice pinned the insect against the window and then sheared it in two as it blocked the window off again. Ceria pointed and another wall of ice blocked off another broken window. The moths began hammering on the ice again. There were so many!

“I’m going to see what’s happening above!”

Erin ran for the stairs. She could hear more fighting above. She took the stairs two at a time and saw chaos on the second floor.

“Comrade Pisces, the moths are coming through your room!”

“I see them!”

Pisces and Ksmvr were holding the second floor, trying to cover the eight rooms, each of which had moths crawling through the broken windows. They were not alone, though. Erin gaped as three giant bear skeletons tore into the moths above, biting and tearing at the insects. She froze as Pisces impaled a moth on his rapier. The [Necromancer] turned to her, his face alight with battle fury.

“Erin! Get below! We’ll hold the moths off as long as we can! The Goblins are doing the same one floor up!”

“They are?”

“Yes! Bird is wounded!”

Ksmvr shouted as she cut at a moth with three arms. Erin paled.

Bird!

She ran for the third floor, ignoring Pisces’ shouts for her to come back. She’d forgotten about Bird! Was he—

Moths covered the third floor. Erin froze in the hallway. Moths. They were pouring in from the staircase leading up to Bird’s watch tower, filling the corridor. The only thing stopping them was a line of five green warriors. The Redfang Warriors were snarling, cutting moths down as they swarmed through the opening. Behind them an Antinium lay on the ground, bleeding green from dozens of wounds.

“Miss Erin. I regret to inform you that I have failed my duties.”

Bird looked up weakly. His body looked like it had been sliced by thousands of razors. His bow was broken and Erin could see his internal organs pulsating from a place on his side where his exoskeleton was just gone. She reached for the potion at her belt and fumbled with it.

“Bird—hold on!”

One of the Hobs turned. Badarrow’s blinked as he saw Erin and he shouted something guttural at her, pointing at the stairs leading down. He was standing behind a pile of moths. The Hobs had already killed so many that they were forming a barricade in the hallway. Erin saw Headscratcher cutting at two moths, roaring, as they tried to fly in the tight space.

Badarrow loosed an arrow and saw Erin struggling with the potion bottle. He ran over, grabbed the bottle and unceremoniously smashed it against Bird’s chest. The bottle broke as the healing liquid splattered over the Antinium’s wounds.

“Ow.”

Bird’s wounds began to close as Erin dragged him back from the fighting. She saw Shorthilt and Rabbiteater both cutting down moths coming from the doors. The Redfang Warriors fell back a step as more Face-Eater Moths crawled over their companions. And more were coming down the stairs each second.

“Many! Many!

Numbtongue was shouting in frustration as he kicked a cat-sized moth and speared another with his sword. He howled in agony as the small moth he’d kicked latched onto his arm. As he tore it off and stomped on it Erin saw a circular chunk of flesh had been torn off his arm.

“The door! The door to the watch tower! Can you close it?”

She shouted as she pointed to the stairs the moths were streaming down. Bird shook his head as he rose unsteadily. He pulled a dagger from his belt and stabbed a moth crawling among the dead bodies towards Badarrow.

“They broke the door. And my tower! And my bow!

He rose and Badarrow grunted. Bird looked around and walked into his room, past Shorthilt. The Goblin shouted something at him and charged in after the Antinium. Erin shouted for Bird and the Antinium reappeared a moment later with his old crude bow in his arms.

“I have a spare. Miss Erin, you are in grave danger! Please go below!”

“What about you? Come on, get downstairs!”

“No.”

Badarrow growled at her. He shot another moth at point-blank range as Bird took a position beside him. Bird nodded.

“We will hold this spot until we must fall back.”

The other Hobs growled agreement. Numbtongue stumbled back, cursing, as more moths forced him to pull back from the doorway he was holding. Instantly Headscratcher, Shorthilt, and Rabbiteater took a few steps back and formed another line a few feet further back down the hallway. Numbtongue turned to Erin.

“Need potions! Got more?”

“Yeah, lots! Hold on!”

Erin ran down the stairs. Pisces and Ksmvr were fighting in the hallways now, battling back-to-back. Erin froze as she saw deformed skeletons, huge shambling horrors smashing moths.

“Wha—Pisces, are these all yours?”

“I am a [Necromancer]!”

He looked irate as he stabbed a moth behind one of his Bone Horrors. Erin saw Ksmvr pushing a moth into a room and nearly slipped on the blood.

“Hold on, I’m getting potions for you all! I—gah!”

A moth that had been stabbed through the chest fluttered up. Erin reacted instinctively.

“[Minotaur Punch]”!

She caught it on the abdomen and felt her fist go through the moth. Erin screamed in horror as the moth squirmed on her arm. Ksmvr tore it off and threw it to the ground. Erin stared at the gore on her arm and didn’t throw up. That was a challenge. She ran downstairs, her stomach roiling and saw the situation on the ground floor had gotten worse.

“There’s too many!”

Yvlon and Ceria were fighting a hard battle. Despite Ceria’s ice magic the moths were flooding through the windows and unlike the second and third floors, there were no hallways or doors to block them coming in. Yvlon whirled and cut a moth down as Erin ran for her crate of potions. Ceria was screaming obscenities as she shot moths with her [Ice Spike] spell.

“Hold on, just hold on!

Erin ran back up the stairs, dumping some potions on the ground and then hurled the crate at the Redfang Goblins. Headscratcher grabbed one bottle instantly. Somehow the Goblin recognized the potion and hurled it across the corridor. Erin, knowing what the potion did too, threw herself to the ground.

She heard a roar and felt the wave of heat blast her. When Erin got up, the third floor was a mass of flame as the moths burned. The corpses that the Goblins had stacked up became flaming barricades and the assault slowed. And yet, still the moths came, screaming as they burned, smothering the flames with their bodies. The Goblins took the brief interlude to snatch more potions out of the crate, eying them and snapping at each other as they braced themselves for the next wave of scorched insects.

Hey! One of you come with me!”

Erin screamed at them. The Goblins turned. Headscratcher shouted what sounded like an order in their crackling tongue—Shorthilt raced after Erin as she ran back downstairs. She slipped on the blood coating the stairwell and crashed onto the ground. Erin scrambled up, feeling a searing pain in her elbow and side.

“Are you good?”

What?

Pisces screamed back. Erin shouted.

“Can you hold?”

“Wha—yes! For a while!”

His Bone Horrors had pushed into each of the rooms. Erin could see them smashing and cutting the moths apart. She nodded and ran downstairs.

“Ceria! Yvlon!”

The half-Elf and woman looked up as Shorthilt raced downstairs. The Hob charged towards a moth that had come through a window and cut. He slashed the moth in two and then raced across the inn to cut another moth to ribbons.

“Thanks! How are the others doing?”

Ceria shouted at Erin.

“Good! Bad! I don’t know, there are way too many!”

“My brother’s outside in all of this!”

Yvlon screamed at the other two. Erin nodded. She had no idea if the Silver Swords or the Halfseekers were even alive, but she had to trust they were. She looked around. Her inn was filled with shouts, thumping, screeching insects. She had to do something! But what?

Fight? Erin realized she was holding her frying pan and hurled it at a moth that had burst through a window behind Ceria. It clonked the moth and it was stunned long enough for the half-Elf to turn and blast it with shards of ice. Erin backed up towards her kitchen as Ceria yelled at her to keep back. No, fighting was out. She was no [Warrior]. Then what?

It was a flash of inspiration. The door! Yes, why hadn’t she—Erin ran for the door and yanked it open.

“Erin!”

Octavia nearly cut her with the kitchen knife she was holding. She was standing in front of the door with Drassi right behind her. Erin saw the [Alchemist]’s eyes widen as she took in the chaos behind her.

“Erin, get through quickly!”

“No! Octavia, I need potions! And the Watch! Where’s Celum’s Watch?”

“Watch? Lyonette ran to get them! Erin, how many are—”

Thousands! Liscor’s under siege and we’re barely holding! I need all the potions you’ve got, understand? Healing potions, mana, explosive—put them in crates and wait for me to open the door, understand?”

“What? But—”

Octavia hesitated for only a second. Then she nodded.

“I can do that! Give me five, no, two—”

She looked around desperately.

“I’ll open the door soon! Get the Watch to come! Tell them we need as many [Guardsmen] as they can spare!”

Erin shouted at the [Alchemist]. Drassi looked confused.

“Erin, what are—”

Pallass!

Erin slammed the door. She ran into the kitchen, hearing Ceria cursing and Shorthilt shouting a warning behind her. Mana stone, mana stone! Where was—

There! The bright yellow mana stone gleamed at her in the bowl next to the door. Erin grabbed it and rushed back out. She slapped it on the door and opened it.

Pallass! An entire Walled City lay in front of her, the sky blue, the streets filled with people going about their business. For a second Erin just stared. Then she waved her arms and screamed.

“Hey! Help! Help!

Heads turned in surprise. Erin shouted as Drakes stared at her. They just stared at her as she shouted and waved at them.

“Come here! It’s an emergency! Come here!

They just stared at her! At last a few Drakes walked over, looking confused. One of them, a Drake with dark purple scales looked amused.

“Human, what’s this about? What—”

He caught sight of the fighting behind Erin and recoiled.

“Ancestors, what’s going on?”

“Liscor is under attack! There’s monsters everywhere! Get the City Watch! Tell them we need reinforcements, now!

“Liscor, under attack?”

More Drakes came over. They stared over Erin’s shoulder, alarmed, but not afraid. The Drake eyed Erin’s inn through the door.

“Are those…moths? What’s happening, Human?”

“There’s an attack on Liscor! Get help!

Erin screamed at him. She would have run through to yell at them, but she knew her door only had enough power to let her enter and exit. And she needed an army! The Drakes around the door looked unconvinced.

“This doesn’t look like an attack on Liscor. How do we know you’re telling the truth?”

“Do you see the giant face-eating moths behind me?

“Yeah, but that could be just your inn.”

For a second Erin just stared at the purple-scaled Drake. She raised one fist and punched him through the doorway. Then she seized the entire door itself and began dragging it across the common room.

“Erin? What are you doing?”

Yvlon caught sight of Erin as she sliced another moth in half. Her face was covered in sweat and her armor was already streaked with the yellowish blood of Face-Eater Moths. Erin didn’t answer. The door was heavy, but she was fueled by desperation. She reached her own door to the inn and yanked it open.

Erin! Are you crazy? Come back!

Ceria screamed at her back. Erin saw a sky filled with motion, thousands of crawling shapes. She heard a roar and saw Moore swinging his staff. The half-Giant was covered in his armor of thorns and the moths were literally cutting themselves to pieces as they swarmed him. The Silver Swords and Halfseekers were fighting outside the inn as the moths flew overhead, landing on Erin’s inn.

Falene was blasting insects out of the sky and she had created a space around her, a bubble that slowed the moths as they flew towards her. Ylawes and Dawil were keeping her safe, battling a moth twice as tall as Moore. Erin didn’t hesitate. Though her every instinct screamed to get back indoors she heaved the doorway out and pushed it against a wall. Moths came flying towards her. Erin scrambled back as a shape blurred past her. Seborn stabbed the moths with his daggers, twisting the blades as the moths screamed. The Drowned Man turned to Erin, his eyes flashing behind his armor of thorns.

Get back inside!

“Wait!”

Erin shouted at him. Seborn couldn’t reply as he turned, cursing, to fight the moths converging on her. Erin set the door against the wall and then yanked it open. Again, Pallass appeared in front of her. This time the purple Drake was standing in front of a crowd of Drakes, talking with an officer of the Watch.

“—Just here, [Guardsman]. I was telling you, she was screaming about moths and Liscor being under attack. Then she punched me! Typical human—”

He broke off and turned. The [Guardsman] turned. The crowd went still. They stared as Erin finally looked around and took in the scene outside for the first time.

It looked like a vision of hell. The sky was filled with thousands of dark shapes. They were swarming over the walls, held back by frantic warriors on the walls. Lightning and fire crackled from Liscor’s battlements, blasting moths apart and arrows felled more, but there were a hundred for every one that fell.

And in the distance five giant moths loomed over it all, giant behemoths that blocked the light. Two were on Liscor’s walls, biting at the [Guardsmen] there. Another was flying across the Floodplains, hunting a scuttling Rock Crab. Two more were coming this way, flapping their wings.

Erin saw the Silver Swords struggling to contain their small bubble of space, the Halfseekers cutting down the moths coming towards her inn. She heard Liscor’s horns blowing, heard the chittering laughter of the bugs. It was a roar that filled the air. They flew towards her, so many that it seemed like they would drown her inn with the sheer weight of bodies.

For five seconds she stared and the people of Pallass stared with her. Then Erin heard a Drake woman scream.

What are they?

“Monster attack! Monster attack!

“Summon the Watch! Call the army!”

Liscor is under attack! Raise the alarm! Dead gods, raise the alarm!

They fled as the lone [Guardsman] backed up, holding his spear and shaking. Erin stumbled back as Seborn, Jelaqua, and Moore closed on her position. The moths had seen the light of another city and were flooding towards it.

“Erin!”

Jelaqua shouted, her armor covered in gore. Erin pointed at the door.

“Keep the moths away! Reinforcements are coming!”

The Selphid stared at her and then the door. Understanding flashed in her eyes as Erin pointed to Pallass. Erin slammed the door and ripped the mana stone off. This time she opened the door to Celum. Octavia was piling potions into crates. Erin began yanking them through as Drassi pushed them towards her. She shouted at Ceria, Yvlon, and Shorthilt as she dragged the potions into the inn. She shouted at Pisces and Ksmvr as they came down the stairs with the Redfang Goblins, retreating into the common room.

“Hold on! Just hold on! Help is coming!”

She prayed that was true. The Face-Eater Moths were everywhere. How was Liscor still standing? Could they hold on? They had to have help!

Before it was too late.

—-

The [Message] spell that was sent out from Liscor was short and simple. It was marked with the highest-priority reserved only for emergency messages as per Drake protocols. It read as follows:

Emergency. Liscor is in immediate danger of falling to monster attack. Repeat, Liscor is in danger of falling to overwhelming monster attack from dungeon. Face-Eater Moths have attacked the city in tens of thousands. Five colossal moths sighted.

That was it. There was no request for reinforcements, no plea for tactical advice or support. If it came it would be too late. If help came within the day it would be too late, let alone in weeks. There was no force that could reach Liscor from any of the Walled Cities to which the [Message] spell was sent in time. It was just a warning.

The reaction of the other Drakes cities was immediate. A group [Message] call was set up within minutes, using established emergency protocol. The messages from one Walled City to another were transmitted to all parties and read off as each city’s leaders debated on the content. Initially only the six Walled Cities took part in the call, but such was the extraordinary nature of the event taking place that soon other parties across the world were sending [Message] spells, demanding answers.

Indeed, Magnolia Reinhart’s assembly of [Lords] and [Ladies] and a military camp in Lord Tyrion’s command tent were also aware of the situation. They clustered around the uncomfortable mages relaying the [Message] spells, listening intently. This was raw news as it was happening for anyone with the informants and a [Mage] capable of ‘listening in’ on the situation in Liscor, and the discussion of the Walled Cities.

Fissival is present. What is Liscor’s situation? They have not responded to any [Message] spells.

Oteslia. The city is under siege from monsters. Does any city have more details?

Manus. No.

Zeres, likewise.

Salazsar can confirm. Our Lord of the Wall reports exceptionally dangerous monsters. Swarm of Face-Eater Moths with individuals exceeding the forty feet in height.

Oteslia. Surely an exaggeration? How were such moths not spotted?

Salazsar. Our Wall Lord reports it crawled out of Liscor’s dungeon.

Manus. Can your Wall Lord confirm danger of threat?

Salazsar. Unknown. Our Wall Lord is currently engaged in combat.

Silence then, as every Walled City waited for details. Magnolia Reinhart sat in her chair lightly, listening to the [Mage] as the older man sweated and waited for more [Message] spells to be sent to him. Across from her, a [Lord] muttered under his breath.

“Goblin Lords and monster swarms from a dungeon? This is the last thing we need.”

Minutes passed, and then—

Pallass. Can confirm monster attack. Visual confirmation.

Oteslia. How?

Zeres. Is it possible to share visual input via spell?

Pallass. Standby.

Salazsar. We have visual input as well. Scrying orb. However, our [Mages] are unable to transmit imagery.

Manus. What does Salazsar see?

Salazsar. Overwhelming numbers. Our [Strategists] predict one-in-three odds of Liscor being overwhelmed in the next thirty minutes.

Fissival. To Pallass, request nature of visual confirmation.

Pallass. Visual confirmation is…visible. We have a [Mage] capable of [Scrying] at the location of a portal to Liscor.

Oteslia. Please confirm, Pallass. ‘Portal?’

Manus. Keep up with current events, Oteslia. Pallass, can you send visuals via [Scrying]?

Pallass. Standby.

This is Wistram. If Pallass has a [Mage] capable of casting [Scrying] we will amplify the spell to all interested parties. Our mages are ready to link at a moment’s notice.

There was a ripple of shock throughout Lord Tyrion’s command tent. He raised a hand and spoke drily.

“Of course Wistram would be spying.”

There was a nervous chuckle around the tent as the [Lords] and [Ladies] and lesser officers stared intently at the young woman, the [Mage] in charge of relaying what was happening. She gulped, but began to speak again, repeating the conversation after the moment of hesitation by all six Walled Cities.

Zeres. Wistram is not invited to this conversation. Remove yourself at once.

Fissival. Wistram was invited by our request for magical consultancy.

Zeres. The mages are not authorized.

Oteslia. If Wistram can send [Scrying] spell, do so at once.

Fissival. To a vote. All in favor? Fissival votes yes to Wistram magical aid.

Oteslia agrees with Wistram’s request.

Zeres reluctantly acknowledges.

Salazsar permits. Act quickly.

Pallass will comply. Standby.

Wistram awaits. Our circle is linked and led by two of our Archmages. We will send a magical projection to all individuals with appropriate receptive capacity.

Niers Astoragon instantly sat up. He turned to Peclir Im who was listening quietly behind Foliana and several of the Forgotten Wing company’s officers and [Strategists].

“Get a scrying orb at once.”

“Or a mirror. Hand mirror. I have one in my room.”

“Too small. And yours is weak, only capable of lesser scrying. I want an orb.”

Peclir dashed out of the room and several of Niers’ students looked at the [Grandmaster Strategist]. Niers frowned as he peered at the magical slate upon which the [Message] spells were appearing. Foliana munched on a carrot muffin as she sat next to him.

“Looks like a lot of people are listening.”

“Of course. I wouldn’t be surprised if this conversation was appearing across the world. Liscor falling at this moment to a monster attack from a dungeon? If Wistram really does send the projection, I wouldn’t be surprised if the King of Destruction himself watches. Assuming he has a scrying device.”

There was a ripple around the room. Niers flicked his eyes across the slate. A single message had appeared. And then another. Foliana offered Niers a crumb.

“Muffin?”

He ignored it. Every eye was on the slate.

Oteslia. Pallass, your status?

Pallass. Standby.

—-

Hold the line!

Watch Captain Zevara was fighting on the walls. She screamed at her [Guardsmen] as they fought the moths crawling over the walls and flying overhead. Arrows were being loosed overhead and the few [Mages] in the Watch were blasting the larger targets, but there were just too many moths. As Zevara turned her attention back to the space in front of her she saw a cloud of moths come up and the [Guardsmen] with shields and spears crying out in dismay.

“Duck!”

She shouted and the Drakes and Gnolls flattened themselves as Zevara inhaled deeply. She exhaled a huge gout of flame. The moths fell as the fiery cloud engulfed them. Zevara gasped for air, feeling her lungs strain to absorb enough oxygen. She’d always had trouble breathing—it was worst when she inhaled too much smoke. Now she coughed and tried to inhale.

More moths fluttered up at their position. Zevara spat fire again, feeling the world go dark around her. She gasped, and felt a hand steady her.

“Careful!”

Olesm had a scroll in one hand. He unrolled it as Zevara straightened and aimed with his claws. A shower of spectral arrows materialized overhead and cut down a swath of Face-Eater Moths attacking the wall fifty feet down. Zevara nodded.

“Good job! Ration those enchantments though! We only have so many left!”

“I’m hitting every big target I can see!”

Olesm reached for another command scroll for Liscor’s defenses. Zevara, her head clearing, saw a group of [Guardsmen] cry out down the wall and scatter as a huge moth landed at their position. It wasn’t one of the five giant moths, but it was still large as a house and simply ignored the jabbing spears and arrows the Watch sent into it.

“Olesm! That moth!”

“I see it!”

The Drake [Tactician] fumbled with the scroll, trying to open it. He had it open and ready to cast when he froze. Zevara was about to shout at him to cast the spell already when she saw what he’d spotted. A Drake in full magic armor was racing up the steps, shouting, cutting down moths and heading straight for the huge moth on the walls. Zevara could hear Ilvriss’ voice clear as day.

“Drakes of Liscor, rally to me!”

He used a Skill. He must have, because Zevara stood straighter and sensed the Drakes and Gnolls around her standing tall, catching a second wind.

“Don’t let these vermin scale the walls! Push them back!

Ilvriss charged down the wall, shouting as he and his escort flooded into the breach. His enchanted sword flashed twice and the giant moth staggered back, keening in pain. Zevara saw his blade stab into the moth again and again, carving through it easily as he and his small group of followers retook the spot.

“Good! Now all we need is ten more of him!”

Zevara shouted at Olesm. The Drake grinned and aimed his scroll at a giant moth climbing up the walls. A jet of flame shot downwards and Zevara saw the moth fly off the wall and flap wildly in agony.

“I’ll try to bring that one down!”

“There are four! Two are here—where are the other three?”

“One’s flying north! The other two are at Erin’s inn!”

What?

“The inn! It’s still standing! The moths are being held off there!”

Zevara turned, incredulous. She hadn’t thought of Erin’s inn, except to wonder if the young woman had fled or been killed. Her tail twitched as she saw the flash of swords and color of magic. The inn was ablaze with motion, covered by moths, but still it stood! And shining out of a door set against the front wall was another city. Zevara’s heart skipped a beat as she realized what Erin was doing.

“Ancestors, of course. Pallass!”

—-

Zeres. Pallass, what is taking so long?

Pallass. Standby.

A pause, as around the world the wealthy and powerful leaned forwards, some actually leaning on the unlucky [Mages] who had to relay what was happening. In Terandria, a group of nobility sat around, eating snacks and laughing lightly.

“What fun!”

“This is far more entertaining than anything I could have hoped for today.”

“I say, let’s have a bet on whether Liscor falls. Any takers, say, a hundred gold pieces?”

“Make it two hundred and I’ll take that offer.”

“Four hundred on the city standing but being gutted.”

“Ah, wonderful! Let’s see if these Drakes manage to get something for us to look at, shall we?”

Pallass. We have visual. Stand by for Wistram to relay!

Oteslia. At last!

The image swam into place slowly, a blurry scene coming slowly into view. Flos, the King of Destruction, leaned over the tiny marble-sized scrying orb and looked at Gazi.

“Are you sure this is the only orb we have, Gazi?”

She looked apologetic.

“My lord, that is my personal orb. I thought we had a larger version in our posession.”

Orthenon rubbed at his face, shaking his head.

“We did—until we were forced to sell them for food two winters back.”

“No matter. Is this from the perspective of the [Mage] in Pallass? A wonder that Wistram can transmit it to so many locations. Now, what have we here?”

Flos leaned forwards, as did the rest of the people in the room. Trey stared in wonder at the magical portal set into the wall, at the crowd of Drake civilians clustered around the door. There was even sound! The [Mage] was standing next to a Drake [Guardswoman] as she argued with an important-looking officer in yellow armor. It was probably not a conversation that Pallass meant for the world to hear.

“Hurry up! We need reinforcements now!

Erin stood in her doorway, shouting at Pallass and unknowingly, the world as the battle raged behind her. Moths were falling from the sky, blasted by Falene’s lightning and a shower of thorns Moore sent upwards like a flight of arrows. The Drakes in front of the door stared at her, but Erin’s words were meant for Watch Captain Venim as he stood with a company of Drakes in armor. They hadn’t entered the door although they’d been standing there for the last ten minutes.

“Watch Captain? Our [Mages] have the doorway open and ready to go! Give the order and I’ll take my men through.”

The Drake was a [Captain], nearly hopping with impatience as she eyed the battle in Liscor. But Watch Captain Venim just shook his head.

“I do not have permission to send your troops in, [Captain].”

The Drake turned her incredulous gaze on him. She kept her voice low so the anxious crowd of Pallass’ civilians couldn’t hear, but she was standing right next to the Drake [Mage] who was mightily concentrating, his face beaded with sweat as he stared at the portal.

“And why not? Liscor is under attack! Those flying moths will overwhelm the walls within the hour if we don’t clear them away! Ancestors, my company might not be enough! We need to push as many soldiers through as that doorway allows and do it now!

Venim closed his eyes.

“The Assembly of Crafts is debating. We do not have authorization to support. Prepare to close the door if the inn is overrun.”

The Drake inhaled sharply.

“Watch Captain? You can’t be serious—”

“You have your orders, [Captain]! So do I! We wait until the Assembly responds, is that clear?”

Venim snapped at her. He broke off as the Drakes looked at him. One of the civilians stared at the soldiers and then at the battle.

“Why aren’t we sending our army in?”

There was a murmur from the crowd. Many Drakes had left the streets rather than look at the hordes of monsters, but the stronger-willed civilians were present. Indeed, several richly-dressed Drakes were inspecting the carnage with a great deal of interest.

“It’s Liscor. It’s not our city.”

One of the Drakes spoke up hesitantly. A Drake with a monocle in front turned, looking offended.

“Excuse me? Liscor is a strategic asset. If they fall, the Humans might easily sweep through or claim Liscor as its own. Not to mention that this dungeon threatens us all. If monsters occupy the area around Liscor or if that dungeon has more swarms of this magnitude—”

“Hey! Where’s the army?

Erin shouted through the doorway. The Drakes turned back to her. Erin ducked as a moth came for her and the crowd screamed. Quick as lightning, a Drake [Archer] standing in Pallass shot an arrow straight through the doorway. The moth fell, and Erin got back to her feet. She was shouting through to the other side now.

“I don’t know! I said I don’t know, Jelaqua! They’re just standing there! Can you hold—aah! Run away!”

She fled as another house-sized moth landed with a thud that made the crowd draw back. The Drake [Soldiers] in Pallass rushed forwards, but before the moth could approach the doorway, a Selphid charged into it. Jelaqua cursed as she hit the moth’s face body, legs, and wings, her flail smashing the insect back.

“Good job that Selphid!”

The Drake with the monocle applauded as the rest of the Drakes in the crowd looked at him. He nodded to the other Drake on his left.

“I say, did the Human call her Jelaqua? That must be Jelaqua Ivirith, a Gold-rank adventurer! She leads the Halfseekers.”

“Splendid flail work!”

The other Drake agreed. They inspected the battle, unaware or simply uncaring of the looks they were getting. The other anxious Drakes stared at them, and then one with purple scales and black eye spoke up.

“Well go on, what about the Halfseekers?”

The Drake with the monocle and his buddy looked surprised.

“Well if you must know, the Halfseekers are a group of three Gold-rank adventurers. They used to be a group of eight and quite well-respected, on the verge of Named Adventurer status as a group. However, they’re solidly Gold-rank now. Their team isn’t specialized for this kind of fighting. Oh—see the half-Giant? That would be Moore, a specialist in earth magic. He’s using…my word, is that a mass-variant of the [Armor of Thorns] spell?”

“It must be. It takes quite a lot of mana to use that spell—I wonder if he’s exhausted himself already? But the defensive benefits are considerable.”

“Naturally, naturally. Oh look, Noass! Do you see that?”

“I do indeed, Sir Relz. That flash of movement, there? That would be Seborn, their Drowned Man and [Rogue]. He’s a Crab-type Drowned Man and very adept at close-quarters combat. Not ideal for the number of flying moths, but he’s keeping mobile with his team, shielding this inn.”

“Shame that none of the Halfseekers can take the fight to the giant moths. Look, one’s assailing the walls. I can’t think that it will be repelled with just the forces th—”

“Ancestors!”

A cry broke through the commentary. Across the world people leaned forwards, trying to get a better look as the Drake [Mage] was buffeted by the crowd. They saw him pushing forwards, staring through the portal at a flash of light. One of the five giant moths was on the wall, climbing over, but a flash of light tore a part of its face away and then another.

“Look! On the walls! Someone’s shooting at it!”

“Who?”

The two Drake commentators, Sir Relz and Noass, pushed forwards as the crowd and the world held its breath.

—-

The gargantuan Face-Eater Moth had nearly climbed over the walls and was threatening to enter the city where it would cause havoc unchecked. The City Watch was trying to hold it back but the massive moth simply ate the defending Drakes and Gnolls or speared them with its massive legs. It was just crawling over the battlements when an arrow sprouted between its head and exploded into a shower of spikes that tore part of its face away. The Face-Eater Moth reeled back, keening, and heads swiveled for the unknown shooter.

He was coming up the stairs. Halrac raised his bow and loosed another arrow. It streaked towards the giant Face-Eater Moth and exploded into a cloud of green dust. Poison. The moth shook its wings as Halrac shot a second arrow which froze a portion of its left wings. It dropped, and Halrac shifted his aim and shot a moth the size of a wagon instead. The fireball that engulfed the winged creature consumed it almost entirely.

“Griffon Hunt!”

A cry went up as Halrac shot again and again, his enchanted arrows finding their mark each time. The [Guardsman] rallied behind Halrac and pushed the moths back to the wall. Halrac advanced and behind him came Typhenous and Revi. The Stitch Woman shouted in fury.

Come forth, spirits! Drive back these monsters!

She pointed and the City Watch saw a wave of ghostly warriors and archers charge up the stairs behind her. Spectral warriors flooded the battlements, fighting the Face-Eater Moths. Revi pointed and a flaming Corusdeer galloped past her while two bright eagles made of light harassed moths flying overhead.

“Typhenous, we could use a shield!”

Revi shouted at the old man behind her. Typhenous raised his staff.

“[Wall of the Winds]!”

A howling gale sprung up along their section of the wall, hurling the moths climbing or flying there away. Typhenous raised his voice as the [Guardsmen] cheered.

“Keep shooting! The wall works one way!”

Halrac grunted as he loosed an arrow. It passed straight through the wall of swirling winds and exploded in the face of the Face-Eater Moth as it tried to fly back up. Outraged, injured, the moth flew backwards.

“Keep me covered. I’m bringing that thing down.”

He spoke curtly to Revi. She paused in exhorting her summoned minions.

“You think you can?”

Halrac glared at the giant moth as it circled, flying overhead to bypass the windy barrier Typhenous had conjured. He pulled five glowing, cherry-red arrows from his quiver.

“Let’s find out.”

He drew and loosed and the explosion consumed the moth. It fell amid the cheering.

—-

Pallass confirms one of five giant Face-Eater Moths is down!

Zeres. We have eyes. We saw.

Oteslia. What’s this about Pallass not sending reinforcements to Liscor? Explain yourself!

Pallass. Standby.

Zevara’s claws tore the parchment slightly as she stared up from the hastily scribbled [Messages] and at the smoking corpse of the giant Face-Eater Moth that had fallen onto half the wall. The ink was still wet and the Street Runner was already dashing off the wall to safety.

“The Walled Cities know about this? And they’re watching? How in the name of—the inn!”

“Are they sending reinforcements?”

Olesm called hopefully as he surveyed the wall. He pointed.

Fall back! [Rapid Retreat]!”

A group of [Guardsmen] fled at speed as a group of moths swarmed over their location. Zevara shook her head, looking at the rest of the messages.

“No! Damn Pallass! They’re still holding back!”

She stared around the city. The walls were holding, but the moths had just flown over the walls in many spots. Now the fighting was in the streets of the city as moths attacked homes, buildings, and [Guardsmen] indiscriminately.

“Report! How bad is it in the city?”

She snapped at a second Street Runner as he dashed up the stairs. The young Gnoll panted and wheezed as he spoke.

“Gnolls are on the rooftops, shooting down moths entering the city! Miss Krshia has anyone with a bow in the center, but she says they can’t do more than protect their area.”

“The Gnolls? That’s excellent!”

Zevara stared at the small shapes on the rooftops below. The Gnolls were shooting down moths as they came. She spotted more flashes of movement in the streets.

“Are those adventurers?”

—-

“Go, go, go! Get out there and fight!”

Selys was distributing potions, shouting at adventurers, and herding civilians into the back rooms. The Adventurer’s Guild had turned into chaos as the Drake [Receptionist] tried to force the lower-ranked adventurers to leave the building. They didn’t want to go.

“I said get out there! The city is under attack! You’re adventurers, this is your job!”

“But there are so many! We don’t get paid for—”

“You don’t get to live if they slaughter us all! Move!”

Selys shouted at a young man with a sword. She had a bow by the doorway. She snatched it up as she heard heavy wing beats. A group of moths landed in the street and the adventurers flinched. Some rushed out, but before they could fight the small swarm a shape flashed by them and kicked the first moth so hard its head collapsed. Hawk the Courier spun and kicked rapidly, smashing the fragile moths’ bodies. He spun, ready for more, and spotted the staring adventurers and Selys.

“Hawk!”

Selys shoved the Bronze-rank adventurers into the street. She pointed.

“Guard that street! Just take down any moth you see! Go!”

She turned to the Rabbit Beastkin. Hawk was panting, but unharmed. He wiped moth fluids and body parts from his foot as she approached him.

“Stamina potion?”

“Thanks. I’ve got better ones. Ancestors, this is the second time I’ve had to defend Liscor in months! First the undead, now this!”

Hawk looked around. He straightened as more moths flew down through the air. Two fell to arrows, but the rest landed on roofs, eliciting screams from the people within. Hawk leapt up and Selys saw him kick off a wall and onto the roof where he began smashing the moths. She looked around frantically. Liscor was still fighting, still surviving, but there were more moths coming every minute and no end to them in sight. She shouted the question that was on everyone’s tongue.

Where are the Antinium?

—-

“Flood the tunnels! Workers with bows, fire into the kill zone! Collapse tunnel G-43E! Activate the traps in cluster JF-42!”

Belgrade was at the center of chaos as Workers and Soldiers streamed around him. Anand could barely see for all the bodies, but the sight of the Face-Eater Moths flooding the tunnels was enough to chill the Antinium to the core. If not for the kill-zone he and Belgrade had created, they would have overrun a good deal of the Hive. As it was, over sixty percent of the Hive was currently fighting and the rest was on reserve.

“Take down that giant moth! [Combined Arms]!”

He pointed, and a group of Soldiers charged forwards, their fists swinging as one. The giant moth reeled back as Soldiers and Workers swarmed onto it. The giant room that was the end of the kill zone was filled with moths and Anand saw Antinium fighting and dying, desperately trying to keep the moths from entering the rest of the Hive. The Face-Eater Moths were numerous and strong. They tore Soldiers apart, trampling them. One giant moth rushed forwards and stopped as it impaled itself on two silvery swords.

“Advance.”

Klbkch’s voice was met with a wave of Soldiers who pressed the moths back. The Revalantor fought, his blades flashing in the gloom as the Antinium held the line. In a lull he ran back to Belgrade and Anand as the two struggled to keep ahead of the moths as they dug through the earth and tried to enter the Hive via other sections.

“Belgrade, abandon your command of the lower-eastern section. The Queen has assumed command of the Workers and Soldiers there.”

“She has? That is a relief!”

Belgrade sagged. He turned his attention to another area as Anand paused to stare at Klbkch. The Revalantor had fought for six hours straight already without pause.

“Revalantor Klbkch—”

“Speak quickly.”

Anand nodded.

“We have received another urgent request for aid from Liscor. It seems the Face-Eater Moths have declined in ferocity after the slaying of their eighth mother-type leader. Should I take some Soldiers and reinforce…?”

“No. We have allocated all we can. The Hive must stand. Tell Liscor that reinforcements are on the way.”

Anand nodded. Reinforcements were on the way. And as the battle dragged into its seventh hour in the Hive, the Antinium appeared aboveground.

—-

“The Antinium! The Antinium are coming!”

“At last! What took them so long?”

Zevara’s head turned in relief. She expected to see a wave of black bodies flooding out of the tunnels. What she saw instead surprised her. She saw color.

“What? Are those—?”

The Painted Soldiers charged onto the streets. Zevara saw a Worker with a censer point and then two Antinium, one a giant with yellow splatters, the second painted with a ghoulish purple smile lead two groups into the city. They began smashing into the moths on the ground. As she watched the Soldiers charged a wagon-sized moth, bearing it to the ground and stomping it to death. More flooded up the walls and began hurling themselves at the moths there.

“Watch Captain! The team of Griffon Hunt says their [Scout] is out of enchanted arrows!”

“What? Damn! Give him every one we’ve got and get more [Guardsmen] to reinforce his position! Another one of those giant moths is coming! Let the Antinium hold the wall!”

Zevara saw [Guardsmen] race to where another giant moth had landed. The Antinium were now on the walls, ruthlessly crushing moths, fighting with reckless disregard for their safety. She saw one Soldier with bright blue circles on his body jump off the wall and onto a wagon-sized moth climbing up. Both Antinium and moth fell and landed with a crunch below. The Drake winced as she saw the yellow-striped Antinium leader pull another Soldier back from doing the same.

“Push them back! The Antinium are here—push the moths back!”

She shouted at her [Guardsmen], feeling a surge of hope for the first time. Zevara turned as Olesm downed the second giant moth with a flash of lighting. She heard a cheer as the moth fell and the Soldiers in the streets covered it, tearing it apart piece by piece. Three left! They could do this! Three left!

—-

“Another excellent lightning strike by that [Tactician] on the walls! Good shot, I say!”

“Are those Antinium reinforcing Liscor? Of course, this is the only Drake city with a Hive. Why weren’t they deployed earlier?”

“That’s unknown, but they seem to be pushing the moths back quite quickly where they are! Hold on—do you see what I’m seeing, Noass? Those Antinium have paint on their carapaces! Is this some kind of new Antinium variant?”

The two Drakes who were commentating in the crowd probably had no idea their words were being broadcast to countless other people across the world. However, their words were highly significant to the many people watching. In Baleros, Niers Astoragon leaned over.

“My eyes aren’t what they used to be. Umina, do you see what those Drakes are talking about?”

The Lizardgirl stared hard at the image in the orb.

“I think so. The Antinium have…well, they have something on their bodies.”

“Color? Paint? But they appear to be the standard Soldier types. Is this a trick or does it have more meaning?”

Niers leaned back in his seat, thinking hard. Foliana munched on her muffin.

“Mm. Looks good. Think Liscor can win it?”

Every head turned to Niers. The tiny Fraerling smiled, knowing his reputation could rest on a correct answer.

“I wouldn’t place all my coin on them just yet, Foliana. They’re putting up a good fight, but the adventurers around this…inn are tiring. They’re—wait, it’s that Human girl.”

He sat up as the young woman appeared in the doorway again. She waved at the crowd.

“You lot coming through yet!?”

The Pallassian soldiers shifted uncomfortably. The young woman glared at them, and Niers laughed as he saw her raise one expressive finger.

“Fine! Stay that way! You guys are all assholes, you know that? You and your stupid Walled City!”

Then she slammed the door shut. Niers blinked as the Drakes cried out and the portal vanished.

Salazsar. What is going on, Pallass?

Pallass. Standby. Human interference.

Zeres. Stop saying ‘standby!’ Recover the image!

Pallass. Standby.

It took five gut-wrenching minutes for the image to reappear. Magnolia saw Erin arguing with another Human in armor as the portal reopened. She leaned forwards.

“What has that young woman done now?

“Look, guard the inn! Inside! Just hold on—they’re coming through the third floor and my guys are tired! Take over and don’t let them come down the stairs!”

The Human in armor nodded and Magnolia saw a group of [Guardsman] rush into the inn. Their arrival had surprised the Drakes in Pallass.

“Is that the insignia of Celum’s City Watch?”

“You’d know more than I, Noass. What are they doing in Liscor?”

“Using a magic door.”

Magnolia muttered to herself, ignoring the intrigued looks the others in the room were giving her. Ressa frowned as she stared at the adventurers fighting the moths. Magnolia glanced up at her.

“Ressa, it looks like Liscor will survive. Unless you disagree? The Antinium are there, there are Gold-rank adventurers on the wall, and two of those horrid moths are down. All good, or do you disagree?”

The maid shook her head.

“The moths are still numerous. And there is a problem.”

“Which is?”

“The adventurers who have been attracting a lot of the attention.”

Ressa pointed at the Halfseekers and the Silver Swords. Magnolia peered at them.

“What’s wrong?”

The maid’s face was grim.

“They’re getting tired.”

—-

It happened in an instant. One second Jelaqua was there, twirling her flail, the next, the giant moth descended. The Selphid tried to move but her leg slipped in the muck and blood. Erin saw legs snatch her up and heard Jelaqua’s shout.

“Let go of me, let go!

“Jelaqua!”

Moore roared as he ran to grab her. He was too slow. The moth flew up and Jelaqua’s voice grew fainter. There was a shout and then Erin saw something falling. She saw Jelaqua’s pale face, her arms flailing—

And then the Selphid hit the ground. Her body thumped on the ground and bounced. She didn’t move.

“Jelaqua?”

Moths covered her. Erin shouted in horror and tried to run forwards. Seborn was already there, cutting, dicing. Moore thrust aside moths and scooped Jelaqua up. Part of her face was missing—the moths had torn her body to shreds in those brief moments. Her mouth was moving but the rest of her body was limp, twisted.

Broken. Moore ran for the inn and Erin shouted for Celum’s [Guardsmen] to cover them. They obligingly filled the air with arrows, but it wasn’t enough. The giant moth circled and this time struck Moore. He screamed as a leg went through his stomach and the broken armor of thorns on his body. Seborn cursed. This time the moth landed, mouth open wide to eat the half-Giant whole.

“Silver Swords, on me! [Knight’s Challenge]!”

A voice shouted. The gigantic moth turned as Ylawes struck his shield and it rang like a gong. It and the other moths converged on the silver [Knight], buying time for Erin to run out with the Horns of Hammerad and the Redfang Goblins and drag Moore and Jelaqua inside. The moth charged Ylawes and struck his raised shield. Though Ylawes was guarding, the impact sent him staggering backwards. He raised his shield again and blocked a leg as sharp as a needle before it could strike his chest.

“Dawil! Take out its legs!”

“On it!”

The Dwarf ran around the giant moth. He swung his hammer.

“[Thunder Blow]!”

The impact snapped the giant moth’s leg in half. The insect jerked as Ylawes sliced at its head, and it tried to bite again. The Dwarf ran around as Falene raised her staff.

“[Grand Fireball].”

An explosion cooked the insect’s abdomen and it shrieked. It turned, and the half-Elf ran swiftly backwards. Ylawes struck his shield again and the moth turned. Before Dawil could cripple its other leg it grabbed the [Knight] and took off.

“No!”

Erin heard Yvlon shout. The young woman raced forwards as the giant Face-Eater Moth flew higher. Ylawes was a speck overhead. She could see him cutting at the moth, into its belly as it tried to bite him. Falene raised her staff.

“[Blue Lightning].”

The bolt hit the moth in the wing and tore a hole open. It flinched, but kept flying. Dawil knocked a moth aside, panting, his beard covered in gore.

“Think our boy can do it, Falene?”

“Never say ‘our boy’ and my name in the same sentence again, Dawil. And I think he’s done it.”

Erin stared up at Ylawes high overhead. She couldn’t hear what he said, but she saw his sword tear a hole in the giant moth’s abdomen. It screamed and fell and he fell with it.

“He’s gonna splat! Someone do something!”

Erin shouted in horror as Ylawes fell. Falene sighed.

“I am. Don’t block my aim. Wait…wait…[Featherfall].”

She pointed and Ylawes’s body slowed twenty feet from the ground. He landed with a grimace, his armor covered in gore. Dawil ran forwards and buried his hammer in the insect’s head, splitting its brains open and putting an end to its convulsions. Ylawes raised his sword and Erin heard the cheering.

It came from Pallass. She turned back to the door, annoyed and angry.

“Those jerks! They haven’t done a thing, just watched!”

“Don’t need to! There’s only two of them moths left and we’re thinning out the rest of the buggers at last!”

Dawil marched over to the others, panting, his face red with exhaustion. He grabbed for a stamina potion at his belt and downed it.

“Damn things aren’t working anymore. Hey, one of you mind killing the next giant moth?”

He looked around and realized he wasn’t the only one swaying on his feet. Falene leaned over her staff, her elegant face marred by her sheer exhaustion and Ylawes stumbled, barely able to stand.

“We’ve got to rest. Stamina potions aren’t enough.”

“Okay! Rest! The inn’s secure—I’ve got guys from Celum holding it!”

Erin pointed to her inn. It was scarred from the outside, every window broken, and Bird’s beloved watch tower had been smashed, but it still stood. The Silver Swords stumbled inside and paused.

“Huh.”

Dawil stared around Erin’s common room. It had been enlarged again, and over thirty members of Celum’s Watch stood behind the windows with crates of potions at their feet. The bodies of Face-Eater Moths littered the floor and Erin had used the extra ‘stage’ part of her inn to clear the bodies and broken furniture away. It looked awful, but the Silver Swords just collapsed on the ground, ignoring the blood that was on their floor and armor.

“How’s Jelaqua? Is she?”

Injured.

Seborn looked up as he crouched next to his teammates. Jelaqua wasn’t moving, but her eyes and mouth twitched. The Drowned Man grimaced as he poured a healing potion into her mouth.

Her body’s broken from the fall and her real form took damage from it too. I’m trying to get a healing potion into her, but there’s no saving her body. She can’t move it or do more than speak.

“What about Moore?”

Healing. He took a bad injury but he’ll be fine with rest.

The half-Giant’s eyes were closed and his head was covered in sweat, but the [Guardsmen] from Celum had covered him with Erin’s blankets from the kitchen and his wound had closed thanks to the healing potions. Erin looked around.

“Ceria, Pisces, Yvlon, Ksmvr, you all okay?”

“We’re good.”

The Horns of Hammerad looked up. They were exhausted too, but the arrival of Celum’s Watch had kept the pressure off them. Likewise, the Redfang Goblins were sitting together, sharpening their blades, keeping a wary eye on the open doorway. They were being given a wide berth by Celum’s [Guardsman], but after seeing the hundreds of moths the Redfang Warriors had slaughtered to keep Erin’s inn from being overrun, it was hard to call the Goblins anything but an ally.

Especially now. Erin peered out of her inn at Liscor’s walls, still filled with fighting.

“You think we’ll be okay if we rest? All but two of the huge moths are dead and there aren’t as many of the other ones. I think we’ve won. Right?”

A grunt answered her from inside. Dawil, on his feet and still pale with exhaustion, looked troubled.

“Battle’s not over until we take out the last two. And there’s enough moths to cause trouble. Hey—watch it!”

He pulled Erin back as the [Guardsmen] in her inn loosed another flight of arrows. The moths approaching her inn fell, pin cushioned, and the ones who got to the walls died to a mixture of spears, swords, and axes. Celum’s Watch might not be as well-trained or as numerous as Liscor’s, but with Erin’s inn they could easily hold the moths off. Erin nodded as she spotted some of them downing Octavia’s potions.

“Okay, two big ones, but once we get rested we can take them down, right?”

“Right. Liscor’s walls might recharge enough to blast the suckers. Or maybe they can shoot them down. Was that Halrac the Grim I saw on the walls? He took out one of those things himself!”

Dawil nodded approvingly. Erin did too.

“Yeah, that’s right! I think we can do it!”

She broke off as she heard voices. Erin peeked around the door and saw the Drakes from Pallass standing in front of the door. They were still doing their commentary, by the looks of it.

“—seems like Liscor’s managed to repel the worst of the assault, Noass.”

“That’s right, Sir Relz. The swarm seems to have been broken and the last two Face-Eater Moth mothers are circling around in disarray.”

“That’s indeed so, Noass. Did I hear you right? You called them ‘mothers’?”

“Apparently those exceptionally large ones are brood mothers that lay thousands—tens of thousands—of eggs, Sir Relz. It’s a disgusting process.”

“Quite, quite. But they definitely have morale and it is failing. See how they’re circling around just out of bow shot of Liscor? Not a smart move, but then, when have monsters ever thought tactically?”

“Indeed, indeed—oh look, it’s the Human who owns this inn.”

Erin peered through her magic doorway at the crowd standing in Pallass’ street. She eyed Watch Captain Venim who wouldn’t meet her eyes and then the two rich-looking Drakes standing in front.

“Excuse me, some of us are fighting for our lives here.

“And some of us are watching the show, Miss Human. You seem to have things well in claw anyways. Do you think some of the adventurers who just fought out there would mind coming to the door so we could congratulate them? The Silver Swords did an excellent job, as did the Halfseekers. Taking down a Face-Eater Moth in the sky like that, my word, what a show!”

Sir Relz, the snobby-looking Drake applauded lightly and the crowd murmured agreement. Erin glared at him.

“They’re all tired from nearly dying. And stop telling us it’s nearly over! We get to say that! You get to watch! Besides, those moths aren’t just flying around in a panic!”

“Oh really? Flying in a circle seems to be rather unintelligent to me, wouldn’t you agree, Sir Relz?”

The Drake called Noass smirked. Erin stared at him.

“You’re stupid. And that’s not a random spot. That’s the spot where the Face-Eater Moths crawled up from to begin with!”

Sir Relz, who’d been smiling condescendingly and sipping from a goblet of wine, paused. He stared at Erin.

“It is?”

“Yup.”

Erin glared around. She eyed a Drake in fancy robes who was staring hard at her and the battle outside.

“And what are you looking at?”

She waved at him but he didn’t respond. He looked like he was concentrating hard. Sir Relz on the other hand looked more and more concerned.

“Miss Human.”

“Yeah?”

“When you say the moths crawled ‘up’ out of the ground, do you mean to say you didn’t see the entire swarm fly in? They appeared out of the dungeon, correct?”

“Yup. Five of the nasty ones. Came right out with a shower of water. Like a geyser. Why?”

“Well…how do you know their entire population consisted of only five moths?”

Erin stared at the Drake. Sir Relz stared back. Erin closed her eyes and then someone screamed. She looked over her shoulder as a Drake pointed and groaned.

“You have got to be kidding me.”

Another Face-Eater Moth mother crawled out of the hole in the ground. She spread her wings and her brood flew into the air, fresh thousands flying upwards. Erin stared. Then she saw another Face-Eater Moth mother crawl out of the hole. And then another. And another.

Six giant moths flew through the air, chittering, their voices making the wax in Erin’s ears vibrate. She stared at them as the crowd in Pallass went silent and the defenders of Liscor’s walls froze. Her voice was very audible in the silence.

“Oh, we are so dead.”

—-

Zeres here. The situation looks unwinnable. Our [Strategists] predict destruction of the city unless the Antinium are capable of fielding an army large enough to repel the moths.

Pallass. Our [Generals] concur. We are prepared to send a company of [Soldiers] into Liscor to evacuate and hold the walls until the citizens can flee into Celum.

Oteslia. Only now are you sending your forces in? Too little, too late!

Salazsar. Liscor must not be abandoned at any cost. Surely Pallass can send in multiple companies.

Pallass. There is no known limit to the population of moths. We recommend evacuation.

Fissival. Are there any reinforcements that may be called in via Celum? Can Wistram assist?

Wistram. We are unable to send reinforcements. If Liscor could hold out for a day we would be able to teleport a single Archmage to the battlefield.

Manus. Untenable. We may only watch and see what transpires. Let us hope for a miracle.

Silence. The world waited as the Face-Eater Moths flew in a gathering swarm, chittering, angrier and angrier. They seemed equally focused on Erin’s inn as the city—waves of them were already hammering the inn, driven back only by arrows and the exhausted [Mages]. Erin sat in her inn, staring at the six giant shapes.

“We can’t beat them. I mean. I thought we could. We got three! Three! But now there are six. It’s not fair. How big is the dungeon, anyways? Why are they all out here? Why…?”

“Fair’s never a word you should use in adventuring, lass.”

Dawil stood with his hammer in his hands, staring at the swarm. He sighed.

“It was a good fight. Other side cheated, but then, don’t we all? We’ll have to hold this spot. Don’t know what’ll happen if the big ‘uns come for your inn. Your walls might not hold, but we have to stop them long enough to get all those people in Liscor through the door.”

“It doesn’t have enough power for that.”

“It must. Or—could we hide them somewhere else? The dungeon? The Antinium Hive?”

Erin didn’t know. She stared up, helpless. Pallass’ [Soldiers] were going to come through any minute, but she’d heard them talking. They were going to evacuate people, not fight. The moths blotted out the sky, flying higher, laughing at her. She looked up and knew despair. The Gold-rank adventurers couldn’t beat them. Who could?

“Erin.”

A voice spoke softly in her ear. Erin and Dawil turned and saw Pisces. His robes were white and pristine, enchanted against bloodstains and dirt, but his face was sweaty, grimy, and he had a gash down one arm. He looked up at the swarm of insects, and shook his head.

“A calamity if ever I saw one. A truly terrible threat to any city. And yet—I think I have been too arrogant.”

“Pisces. What are you talking about?”

Erin stared dully at the [Mage] as he spoke. Pisces seemed tired, but almost relaxed as he stared up at the swarm.

“I call others fools. I judge harshly—out of pride and vanity it is true, but also a sense of my own self-worth, my own recognition of my talents. But I must admit—I am as idiotic as the next self-satisfied peon at times. We are all fools, and it is wrong of me to judge based on a moment’s failing. But perhaps it is only the truly intelligent that see the truth? Ah, hubris.”

“Pisces, this really isn’t—”

Erin broke off. She had a feeling. A small certainty, a spark of inspiration in her gut. It had nothing to do with her knowledge of magic, of battlefields, or monsters. It had everything to do with how she knew people. She stared at Pisces.

Look at him. Look at his face, his posture, the way he seems to be holding back a smile. Look at his eyes, alive with hope.

Hope.

He knew something. Erin rose slowly.

“Pisces.”

He turned to her, his gray-green eyes dancing.

“I have a plan.”

“You do?”

Dawil stared at him. Pisces nodded.

“It may work. It may drive them off or at the very least, cripple the moths.”

He gestured to the swarm flying higher. More were breaking off, coming for the inn and the city now. She could see the City Watch retreating, pulling back from the walls.

“Pisces, are you sure?”

He looked at her.

“Trust me, Erin.”

She stared at him. Pisces, the unkempt, rude jerk. Pisces, the [Necromancer] who’d tried to rob her ages ago. Pisces, the genius who had been outcast from Wistram. Pisces, who had made Toren.

“What do you need?”

“This space. Your inn has mana—I need as much of it as I can gather. I need Falene’s help, and perhaps Moore’s and Ceria’s as well. But most of all I need to be outside. And the moths will certainly come for me.”

“You need us to cover you. Buy you time.”

Erin looked at Pisces. He nodded. His eyes were on her face, searching, asking for a chance. She stared at him. Then she nodded.

“Let’s do this.”

—-

“And another wave is coming in—looks like five hundred by my count Noass!”

“Five hundred! They need to be downed with arrows—looks like Celum’s [Guardsmen] are taking out some and—Ancestors, look at that bolt of lightning from Liscor’s walls! Looks like that [Tactician] up there had enough mana for one more spell! Good shot too!”

“And here they come. The Silver Swords and Seborn of the Halfseekers are on the front line of course, chopping them down, but there’s only so many blades to go around! Hobs on the right—strange how they’re here but let’s not question it at the moment—oh! And an excellent [Ice Wall] spell from the half-Elf!”

“Indeed Sir Relz! This team of adventurers is quite good—not Gold-rank yet, but they’re a name to watch. Anyone have the name of their team? I think—yes, I think this is the ill-fated Horns of Hammerad, of course known for their defeat in Liscor’s dungeon and then subsequent revival and miraculous find at the Ruins of Albez! This is of course a team that mostly focuses in the north of Izril, but they seem to have come south at just the right time—or is it the wrong time?”

“We’ll know soon. Another wave coming up on the left—”

Erin threw a knife and saw a single moth falter. The Drake [Soldiers] from Pallass raised their shields and one of their [Captains] spat lightning as the moths flew at them. They fended off the assault, to cheers from the Pallassian citizens behind them.

It was so strange. So surreal. It felt like the end of a football game. American football. The crowd was cheering, the players—moths, were trying to score a touchdown—Erin felt sick and tired, but she couldn’t rest. The moths flew overhead, chittering, trying to kill them. But they just had to keep the goal safe. Touchdown line. Whatever.

Pisces stood in a circle with Falene, his arms raised, his eyes closed. She and Moore stood with him, arguing. Well, Moore was sitting—the half-Giant’s face was screwed up with pain as he clung to his staff.

“You don’t know how to perform linked spell casting? What kind of an amateur mage are you? You said you graduated from Wistram!”

Sweat streamed down Pisces’ face as he stared up. He still found the energy to glare at her.

“I did graduate. That was not a subject I studied.”

“It is a basic theory that was taught to all third-year students when I—”

“Shut up or I’ll hit both of you.”

Moore interrupted them both. The half-Giant’s normally kind face was strained with pain and exhaustion. Pisces and Falene glanced at him and fell silent. Erin thought they were only arguing to keep from feeling the strain. The three [Mages] were literally glowing with magic. They were channeling it through Pisces as he did…something. Erin wasn’t sure what, only that it was his plan. Ceria would have joined in, but she was essential to keeping the moths away from the [Mages]. She raised another ice wall as more moths flew and scuttled towards them.

“You’re sure you know what you’re doing?”

“No! Shut up! You’re worse than Ceria ever could be!”

Pisces snapped at Falene, a vein throbbing on his forehead. He stared up again.

“I read this in a spellbook and I haven’t had a chance to try it out! Actually, I read about a completely different spell, but the theory should be the same. It only takes a little bit of energy if done correctly—”

“Hurry up, then!”

Pisces gritted his teeth. He looked up.

—-

“You know, we might not make it. Funny, did you ever think of that?”

Revi gasped for air as she sat on the ground behind the battlements. Her face was white, and she was shuddering. She was using too much mana, Typhenous knew. But her summoned warriors were the only thing holding the wall. The Watch had pulled back, but the moths kept coming and they had to stop them or be completely surrounded. He offered Revi another mana potion but she shook her head. She’d had too many already—she’d thrown up and started coughing up blood. Any more might kill her.

“I always wondered where I’d die. Today might be it. A shame—moths aren’t exactly a glorious death.”

Typhenous straightened. His barrier of winds had grown to encompass the area around them. It was taking all of his mana and he was feeling faint himself. He saw Halrac grimly loosing arrows into the swarm. The man’s fingers were bleeding. Funny, Typhenous could feel nothing but affection for him in this moment.

Revi saw the look. She bared her teeth.

“Good old Halrac. Hey—make sure he doesn’t die before we do.”

“Perish the thought. Oh, look. That Drake is still fighting.”

Typhenous pointed and nearly fell over. Across from them Relc spun and slashed in a sea of dead moths. Some of the Drakes and Gnolls in the City Watch had fallen from exhaustion, but Relc kept fighting, snarling at the moths as more landed around him.

Heroes. They held the wall. Tekshia Shivertail with a barbed spear, Krshia and the Gnolls, grimly fighting with Liscor’s civilians to let the [Guardsmen] rest—and the Antinium. The Painted Soldiers fought on, despite the green blood that oozed from innumerable wounds on their bodies.

Typhenous smiled to himself. Now he regretted his choice of words. There was nowhere he’d rather be in this moment. He stood, proud of the people he was fighting besides and held the barrier of winds for another moment. It was a race. Would his heart stop or would his magic give out first?

“Typhenous. I just wanted to say—”

Revi’s eyelids were fluttering. If she didn’t release her spirits now—Typhenous thought about knocking her out with his staff. But if he did, would they die? He stared up.

Up. There was something going on. Typhenous was no Wistram mage but he could feel it. He stared around, perplexed by the powerful mana he could sense. Where…? Ah, Erin’s inn. Of course. It was a font of magic—no wonder the [Mages] there could keep fighting after so long. But what were they…?

“Typhenous? I lost my magic.”

Revi looked up. The spirits had vanished. Typhenous realized that his control of the barrier had slipped away too. The moths flew closer. Two of the giant ones landed on the wall.

“Two! Alright! Come on then! I guess I get to kill twice as many giant moths today!”

Relc roared as he ran towards the moths. Typhenous barely heard. He stared towards Pisces, Moore, and Falene, and then looked up again.

“Of course! It’s so obvious! Of course!

“Ty—what?”

Revi looked at him. The old [Mage] grinned at her wildly. He pointed.

“He’s doing it! Young Pisces! Can’t you feel it?”

“No, you know I can’t sense mana like you c—”

Revi paused and looked up. Overhead, the clouds were dark and grey. They’d always been dark and grey. It was the rainy season. But unlike the last day and a half, the clouds were darker now. Stormier. The sky was filled with water after all. It just needed a push. Revi blinked.

And a drop of water fell from above. The Stitch-Woman blinked as it landed on her forehead. Typhenous stared. Another drop fell and struck him on the side of his cheek. He looked up.

It began to rain. First droplets, and then a flurry, then a squall. Then the clouds opened up. The rain fell harder than Typhenous could ever remember seeing, a deafening roar that struck the wet earth, washed the blood from Liscor’s walls—

And hit the moths. The Face-Eater Moths keened as they fell to the ground, unable to fly. The giant moths fell out of the sky as if struck by an invisible hand and they began crawling desperately back towards the rift in the ground. Six fled, slipping on the ground, joined by their brood that drowned as the lakes in the valleys grew and marched. They climbed down into the rift, slipping on the water, fleeing the storms.

Six fled. Soldiers from Pallass flooded across the landscape, easily dispatching the fleeing moths. They downed one moth with lightning, two with alchemist’s potions, and one with arrows and spears. Two escaped. The rest of the moths disappeared into the rift as Pallass celebrated and the viewers around the world did likewise.

—-

“We’re alive.”

Zevara stood on the walls, unable to lift her sword, barely able to believe it. Her entire body ached. She swayed. The rain fell down, cool and soothing on her scales. Slowly, Zevara looked around.

Olesm sat on the ground, exhausted from directing the battle. He sat on a dead moth—the battlements were covered with them. The Floodplains were filled with dead or dying moths, come to that. Zevara could already see Rock Crabs and Shield Spiders coming out to eat the corpses and soon more scavengers would arise. The corpses would rot—

A problem for later. She stood on the walls, staring at the wounded, the people of Liscor, and the adventurers. A soft footstep made her turn. Tekshia Shivertail stood, leaning on her barbed spear. The elderly Drake looked more alive than Zevara despite her age. She spoke calmly as the storm raged on.

“By the authority of my position as the Adventurer Guild’s [Guildmistress], I, Tekshia Shivertail, declare that Liscor’s Dungeon is Gold-rank. Let no adventurer of lesser standing challenge it. Come, Drakes and Humans and Gnolls of legend. Come challenge this dungeon. Come, for foes and treasure await.”

She stared out across the Floodplains, to where the last giant moth was disappearing into the hole, pursued by Pallassian [Soldiers]. Zevara looked at Tekshia. The elderly Drake smiled at her. Zevara nodded in gratitude and then fainted.

—-

“Excellent work! Did you see that battle! I recognized two of those adventurers. The woman in armor, part of the—what was it? Horns of Hammerad? Yes, that team! And the Silver Swords. Both are Byres children! Dead gods, is that what Yitton Byres lets children do?”

“More like, is that what all of his children do?”

A babble of voices broke out in Lord Tyrion’s command tent. Noble [Lords] talked excitedly, energized by the victorious battle. Tyrion leaned back as the Drake [Mage] in Pallass finally cut the connection.

“I haven’t bought Byres steel in ages. I should place another order—if that’s what their sons and daughters do, I’d hire another team led by one of their family in an instant!”

“Not to mention Griffon Hunt, was it? I know that man, Halrac the Grim. Unfriendly fellow, but did you see him take down that moth?”

“What team had the half-Giant again?”

“Astounding. Absolutely—I shouldn’t think that Liscor’s dungeon would be anything less than a Gold-rank dungeon after this. What treasures must it hold? No, what other threats?”

“Liscor’s survived then. A pity I suppose, but the Drakes do fight like Demons when their tails are pressed against a wall!”

Tyrion looked up at that last comment. He stared at the map of the continent on the table in front of him. The position of the Goblin Lord’s last sighted forces was marked there, as were the locations of a number of other armies, including Liscor’s forces. He nodded to himself.

“A pity indeed.”

—-

“I want reports on all four adventuring teams. The Horns of Hammerad, the Halfseekers, the Silver Swords, and Griffon Hunt. Particularly on that [Mage], the one who cast the weather spell.”

Niers ordered the excited soldiers and students as he and Foliana retired to his quarters. He poured himself a cup of wine, barely able to sit still himself. A dungeon like that, hosting a monster nest of that size! And that was only one monster type in the dungeon, surely. It made him want to go adventuring again. Why, the treasures such a dungeon might hold—

“Interesting battle. Good Liscor’s standing. You’re glad too, right?”

Niers looked up at Foliana as she appeared next to him. He nodded.

“I can only hope that—”

“Your mysterious chess friend is okay? Mm. Think they had something to do with the battle?”

“I have no idea. But I did notice that Drake—Olesm Swifttail? He was commanding Liscor’s defenses. An excellent job for a [Tactician] of his level. I wouldn’t be surprised if he jumps two levels, perhaps three.”

“Mm. Liscor’s a place to watch?”

“Oh, absolutely.”

Niers grinned to himself. Dungeons made heroes. Dungeons could make legends. The Forgotten Wing Company had become famous after they had cleared a dungeon like Liscor’s. It made him remember the past and he glanced at Foliana.

“Think we could clear a dungeon like that?”

Foliana blinked slowly at him.

“Hmm. Want to find out?”

Niers stared at her. He could never tell if she was serious. He smiled.

“Got a plan?”

She paused.

“Nope.”

—-

The magic [Scrying] ended, and with it, the need to continue the link. The mages of Wistram relaxed, rubbing at sore shoulders in exhaustion as they finished the spell. They had sent the image of Liscor’s dramatic battle to the entire world—and reaped the benefits of course.

A scrying orb could be used to see what was going on somewhere else. What the viewers around the world didn’t know was that the mages of Wistram had been watching their reactions and listening to their conversations at the same time.

However, the speculations and intrigue would have to wait. The spell had taken its toll, despite two of the Archmages being present. One of them, a half-Elf with a long white beard, looked up as a [Mage] approached him.

“Archmage Feor, did you recognize that young man who cast the rainfall spell? And the half-Elf who cast the [Ice Wall] spell. You don’t think—”

Feor nodded shortly.

“It seems they are still alive. However, I saw one of our graduates, Falene Skystrall, as well. It may be wise to direct any inquiries through her.”

“Of course, Archmage.”

The old half-Elf waited until the [Mage] had gone, then he stared back at one of the many scrying mirrors placed around the room. One of them had shown a large man with reddish-gold hair. Feor frowned.

“What are you up to, King of Destruction?”

The mirror didn’t answer. Feor frowned. Was it just entertainment for Flos? Or something else? He turned away. Magic and mystery and dungeons. He was getting too old for this. Feor spoke to another [Mage] as he left.

“Investigate that door. Make an offer if the [Innkeeper] is willing to sell it. If not—I may have a task for some of our recent graduates.”

“Yes, Archmage.”

—-

So it went around the world. From Magnolia to Wistram, people speculated and plotted. But in Liscor itself, there were no schemes. Just a bit of peace.

Funny how it all worked out. Erin stood in the rain, letting it clean her off, grateful for its presence. Oh, her inn was getting wet, and there was blood and dead moths all over. And all her furniture was broken, and Jelaqua was paralyzed and Octavia probably had a bill worth thousands of gold pieces. And the dungeon was still a threat, and people had died.

But that was all for later. They’d survived. And funnily enough, it had been Pisces who’d saved them all. He stood by himself, just smiling up at the sky. Pisces, the hero. It didn’t sound so bad when you thought about it.

Time enough to weep for the fallen, to heal, to thank all the people who’d fought and look to the future. For the moment, Erin was just grateful. She stood in the rain until she noticed something crawling near her foot. She looked down.

A small Face-Eater Moth was crawling through the rain, trying valiantly to still walk as the water ran past it, trying to carry it into the growing lakes. It looked up at Erin and fanned its wings weakly. It wasn’t so scary when you made them small. Erin stared at it and bent down.

Face-Eater Moths. The first threat of many, perhaps. They’d nearly won, oh, so nearly. But they’d underestimated Liscor and the weather. Erin peered down at it and nodded.

“Welcome to Liscor.”

She smiled at the moth and it waggled its feelers at her. Erin raised her foot and stomped it into the ground. Then she made a face.

“Ew.”

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A note from pirateaba

A lot to say. To begin with, the e-book is out! You can see the link on the latest chapters, and I’m very grateful to everyone who bought or reviewed the book! I’ll have more to say on it moving forwards–but this is an older chapter and I won’t go into details here. I just edited the comment to say thanks for all the support! Moving on…

However, this chapter. Oh, this chapter. It was long, and it was hard to write. I scrapped my initial plan for the chapter while writing, and came up with a chapter that was better on the whole, or so I felt. Was the Drake commentary silly and strange? Yes. Could I totally see it happening? Again, fiction mirrors reality. Or is it the other way around?

Something else I want to mention is theme. No one died in this chapter–aside from the people who did. Blue Circles the Soldier died, as did many guardsmen some civilians. But none of our main characters died, or side characters. And that’s because The Wandering Inn is NOT Game of Thrones.

It’s not a tragedy where people always have to die in a big battle. A crisis doesn’t end with someone biting the dust because it has to. By the same token, this isn’t Lord of the Rings where only Boromir dies. Some battles are deadlier than others. Some wars, likewise. But sometimes there can be heroes. And today we had heroes and the attention of the world on Erin’s small inn at last. What does it mean going forwards? What are the consequences of this battle?

Find out later. Not next chapter because this is a good place to leave it for now. It’s time to take this story forwards through a new perceptive (or one we’re used to), and I hope you enjoyed this climatic end to the start of Volume 5. Let me know how I did, and look forwards to stuff in the future! That’s pretty much all I can guarantee. Thanks for reading!

PS: Just had a thought. The part with Typhenous and Revi would probably fit great with “Africa” by Toto. I’ll have to remember that for TWI: The Movie.


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pirateaba

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    Thunderchild @Thunderchild ago

    It's quite unique, in how you handled those [Scryer] Mages. They feel like a mixture of double agents (especially near the end there) and radio operators (for quite the obvious reasons).

    Also, quite interesting what a few [Skills] could do. If anything, I'd cede the Wandering Inn's victory to Erin Solstice's [Inn reinforcement] thingy. After all, where else could you get the most tactical advantage other than a heavily-reinfocred inn/fortressand presumably at the peak of a hill, no less! (Okay, they were fighting flying enemies, I know, but any other adversary that doesn't have wings wouldn't have lasted as long.)

    Say what you want, but especially after sending that one-liner at the end there, Erin's decidedly the most badass of badasses out there in whatever excrementhole the world could crap out of its gaping anus. Next in line for the 2nd best badass reward in my opinion is Ryokacuz she held off somewhere around... oh, I don't know? A hundred fucking thousand goblins? And with martial arts! Now that's just badass. (Of course, she had reinforcements and the locally-knowledgeable Gnolls at her side, but stilla goblin wave with nothing but bare hands? Madness, I tell you!)

    ...I may or may not have overused the word 'badass'.

    no168_92 @no168_92 ago

    I guess Erin's speciesism doesn't extend to non-humanoid monsters... why not insist moths are like golins too? not every moth are evil or misunderstood and only want to eat your face off... haha

    i wonder, is there any real sentient non-humanoid monsters/creatures beside dragons.

      Iume @Iume ago

      The antinium are non-humanoid.

      no168_92 @no168_92 ago

      but they are bipedal, with common upright body, near similar face structure albeit totally different... what clasifies as humanoid actually? what about centaur? naga? fishman? but what does Erin use to justify/discriminate these creatures? the ability to talk? but goblins dont talk usually...

      but the real non-humanoid in this story are the selphid actually... haha

      TheMon @TheMon ago

      Have you read Marsha's side story, cuz there seems to be evidence of intelligence in most magically enhanced life forms, like the healing slime.

      ClickPause @ClickPause ago

      It's sapience. If you remember, she even saved a baby Shield Spider until she found out it would attack her unless she used Skills. The reason she didn't insist they were friendly is because they weren't. If they were reasonable, they wouldn't have tried to kill and eat them all. If they stopped attacking, I don't reckon she'd follow them.

Toren2 @Toren2 ago

Pirateaba made a new goodreads page for TWI. If you got a few seconds, give it a rating please.

Agent8606 @Agent8606 ago

The wandering inn will totally become a portal hub in the future

Ghostman @Ghostman ago

VICTORY and wha a victory it was! It seems The Wandering Inn is about to be world famous, both in their fiction world and in ours. There's already 33 reviews on Amazon within a day! WOW!

Keifru @Keifru ago

I love this chapter so much and now that its public I can rave about it to everyone!

Ahhhhhhhhhh!

Yavandir @Yavandir ago

Thanks for the chapter it's awesome.

It's a pity that magic chessboard and Lynn weren't shown on broadcast it would make inn even more famous.

Nova @Nova ago

Thanks for the chapter!

I think it was a great one.

Kanib @Kanib ago

Awesome chapter. So the mages will try to steal the door from Erin, what a bunch of jerks everywere.

CrimsonEclipse18 @CrimsonEclipse18 ago

Thanks for the chapter! Well done as always! The face eater moths may have been vanquished, but the problem is that another entrance to the dungeon has appeared, which is definitely bad. It’s nice too see the fight from the perspective of the other parts of the world and I’m happy that team Liscor managed to survive it without any major casualty.