It had been a long time since Olesm had sat in his office without being afraid or stressed out. A long time, and yet a short one. In his head, Olesm knew that it hadn’t been that long. A bit over a week at most since the Raskghar had begun attacking in force. But oh, it had felt like months of his life.
And yet, today he was calm, if a bit nervous. It wasn’t anything too serious—although, then again, yes it was and Olesm dreaded it—but he’d put enough days between him and the nights of fear to feel better.
No, it was more than that. He’d faced the Raskghar in the darkness, seen them broken. He’d helped burn their camps and rescued the Gnolls and Ceria with his own claws. Olesm paused as he lifted a wet quill above his parchment.
He’d fought in the dungeon, with Wall Lord Ilvriss and the Watch. He’d slain a Raskghar—the beast had been wounded by a [Fireball], but Olesm had been the one to charge it and cut it down as it flayed open his other arm. He winced and rubbed at his left arm, remembering. They’d won that battle, though. And afterwards he’d seen the sun.
The clear sky above his head, warm air in his face. Olesm jostled Drassi, trying to speak into the voice-amplifying gem as he watched the baseball players running after the ball. He was annoyed, excited—and happy.
It had been several days since that moment. But still Olesm thought back to it. Especially whenever he glanced out the window. Liscor was wet and rainy, as usual. But that didn’t bother Olesm. As soon as he was off duty he’d head to Erin’s inn.
Or…or he could stop by the barracks. Watch Captain—that was to say, Zevara—had asked if he’d like to have a drink together when they were off duty. They could surely do that and he did owe her at least a few drinks for all the hard work they’d done. They could do that. At Erin’s inn.
“All right…nearly done…there! Signed, Olesm Swifttail. Date is…uh…well, I can always fill that in before filing it. Where’s my wax and seal?”
Olesm hunted around in his desk and then found the wax. He gloomily heated up some sealing wax while he got his stone stamp ready. He hated this part, mainly because he was no good at it. The wax always got everywhere on his desk.
But it was important. Sealing wax on a document prevented it from being tampered with magically. So Olesm tried to carefully dribble some wax on a corner of his report and stamp it without making too much of a mess.
In the same building, a few rooms away, Wall Lord Ilvriss was hard at work as well. He was working in the room usually reserved for Liscor’s Council to meet in. However, it was now effectively his office and war room. As the largest room in the building that was Liscor’s city hall it was spacious and could easily seat a dozen Drakes. However, this room was currently filled to overflowing.
With treasure. Magical artifacts lay on cushions, or were piled neatly awaiting inspection. Some bore little scraps of parchment that were attached to them, while artifacts yet to be inspected were clearly marked with red discs warning against casually touching them.
Ilvriss sat at the meeting table, a large, single-bladed axe lying in front of him. On Ilvriss’ left was a pile of clean parchment and quill and inkpot. On his right sat several bulging hemp bags, some of which were open. Bright gold pieces could be seen inside them. Ilvriss paid the gold no mind. It was his, after all. He just had it next to him to set the mood. Being surrounded by priceless treasures made him feel like he was back in Salazsar, in his home.
At the moment, Ilvriss was carefully inspecting the axe. It was a beautiful piece, with an engraved metal handle and axe head, the metal seemingly golden. Seemingly, because the axe was not nearly that heavy. It was clearly meant for two hands, but Ilvriss could lift it with one and feel the power and balanced weight favoring the axe head. He murmured as he ran his claws along the metal.
“Not too heavy. Good speed for blocking. Yes, and the metal’s clearly got some gold in the alloy. To help with holding the enchantment? The blade on the axe head…”
He peered at the sharpened edge of the axe. It was a bright green material and Ilvriss’ first instinct was to call it stone, rather than metal. He touched it carefully and nodded. He was right. The axe head was jade of all things. Which made sense if—
He lifted the axe and gripped it tightly with both hands. Ilvriss uttered no words and performed no visible action, but the axe head began to glow. A magical light shone from the jade edge and suddenly it projected a huge, glowing magical blade, easily as long as the axe itself. Ilvriss blinked, and swung the axe through the air. The magical edge hummed as it cut the air.
“Fascinating. An enlargement spell and projection spell combined into one. Definitely a [Warrior]’s weapon. Not ah, useful in any confined space, but a proper [Axe Master] could cut through a horde with this. But why jade? The cost to enchant it and keep it from breaking seems ludicrously high.”
Ilvriss deactivated the enchantment and put the axe back on the table. He scooted his chair in, frowning. Maybe it was so someone could activate the enchantment by will alone? Jade was particularly sensitive to inputs like that. He looked around on the table and picked something up.
A monocle. Or rather, a magnifying lens. This one was bulky and hardly the sort of thing Ilvriss would wear in any kind of social setting. But it did have several lenses that could amplify his vision dramatically, or allow him to see magic. Ilvriss absently adjusted the lenses until the one he wanted allowed him to peer at the axe head. He was jotting down a few notes on his parchment when he heard a tap at the door.
Ilvriss looked up. He saw two of his staff open the door. The Drakes who were both his subordinates in battle or assisted him with paperwork—or just guarded his tail—screened all of Ilvriss’ visitors. They had orders not to let anyone disturb him, but there was a short list of exceptions. One of them poked his head nervously into the room.
“Wall Lord Ilvriss, might I intrude on you?”
“Ah, Swifttail. Come in. How can I help you?”
The older Drake smiled slightly and nodded. Olesm shuffled into the room, clutching a sheaf of reports. He coughed politely.
“I won’t take up your time, sir. I was just hoping I could borrow your personal [Mage], Miss Laskaillia, to send the contents of these reports to the other cities. I’ve finished my account of Liscor’s victory over the Raskghar. I wouldn’t ask normally, but the Mage’s Guild is currently overworked and I’ve been told to submit my reports soonest.”
“I see. I have no objection. May I read the summary myself?”
Olesm approached and handed Ilvriss a long sheaf of parchment. Ilvriss covered a sigh as he stretched the parchment out and weighed it down with his inkpot. No paper. He supposed it was a waste of resources, but in Salazsar, all the city’s documents were transcribed on paper. It was clearer and it didn’t roll so. But Liscor probably couldn’t afford that—no, it didn’t have the trade routes to import paper in the first place. He scanned the report quickly, nodding a few times. Then paused.
“Quite an interesting account here, Swifttail.”
The [Strategist] ducked his head.
“I uh, wrote the events as I perceived them, Wall Lord Ilvriss. I know it will be somewhat controversial, but—”
“No, no. It is accurate. However…”
Ilvriss drummed his claws on the table. Then he shrugged. He handed the report back to Olesm.
“I cannot pretend the other cities will like it. But the truth is the truth. If they object, tell them I vouch for the contents of the report. Not that they should question a [Strategist] to begin with.”
He looked pointedly at Olesm. The Drake colored with pride.
“Thank you, sir.”
He bowed slightly and left the room. Ilvriss turned back to the weapon in front of him, smiling slightly. Young Olesm really was amusing. To think he’d been a [Tactician] when Ilvriss first entered the city! And he didn’t even seem boastful about his accomplishments. There was talent, right there. Talent and humility, both of which were in short supply.
The Wall Lord bent over the axe again. He began scribbling notes on the parchment, talking to himself absently. Ilvriss was no [Enchanter], but he was a [Lord] who specialized in economy as well as war. He had a number of Skills that made him possibly the best appraiser in Liscor for this sort of thing.
“Let’s see. This axe belonged to…the Minotaur. Of course. I’d rate it very strongly. It doesn’t have a dramatic enchantment on it of course, but every indication is that it will perform well against mid-range artifacts. I’d like to test the axe head—I can’t help but feel as though the jade edge is meant to sunder some kind of material or magic barrier. If that’s the case, I would price it at…hm…”
Ilvriss’ tail curled up absently as he worked. The magical artifacts lay around him, waiting for his inspection. He had plenty of gold too, ready to be divided amongst the adventurers. Ilvriss had promised them a small fortune and he was not one to break his word.
The artifacts would be divided up, as would the gold. But Ilvriss had a small claim as well. And he intended to walk away with at least one new artifact for his selection. He smiled as he jotted down a few notes and then set the axe aside. If there was one thing he loved, it was inspecting expensive objects.
Ilvriss hummed absently as he worked, so unconsciously that he didn’t notice it. His adjutants waiting outside didn’t hear him, so the humming was really heard by no one. But it was significant. Ilvriss’ penchant to hum as he went about an enjoyable task was a small quirk known only to him and a few of his closest friends.
Periss had known that. But Ilvriss hadn’t hummed since her death. He hadn’t smiled much since her death. But for the first time in months, Ilvriss sat by himself and hummed an aimless little tune. He was not smiling; he was hard at work. But he was happy.
Olesm sat in a side room, fidgeting nervously. He wasn’t doing anything at the moment, just waiting for his report to be sent. Ilvriss’ personal [Mage], an older Drake named Laskaillia, was sending the contents of his report via [Message] spell to a number of Drake cities. She was in the room next to his—[Mages] enjoyed privacy when casting the spell, and they needed to concentrate.
The [Strategist] looked around aimlessly as he sat and waited for the report to be sent. He had no doubt he needed to wait to answer questions. So while he waited he thought about Ilvriss’ retinue.
Of course, the Wall Lord had a number of decently high-level Drakes in his personal employ. Officers who could lead, bodyguards, and a [Mage] of course. All that made sense. Laskaillia was a retainer of the Gemscale family, or so Olesm gathered.
Was it important that she was female? Olesm knew it was statistically more common for [Mages] of the opposite gender to be employed by the nobility. Why? Something to do with not being threatened by someone of the opposite gender capable of casting magic? Or was it just a social thing?
Maybe it was just coincidence in this case. Ilvriss wasn’t married and Laskaillia was old enough to be his senior by at least ten years. She was probably his minder or something. Strange that an elderly Drake woman could be walking around battlefields, but then, Olesm knew she could probably melt his face off. He wondered if it was possible to survive your face melting. Maybe if—
The door opened. Laskaillia appeared, her grey-blue scales flickering a bit in the light coming through the rain-spattered windows. Olesm stood at once.
“A message for you. They want a correspondence set up. Pass me [Messages] and I will send them and note their replies here.”
Laskaillia had a floating quill and piece of paper by her side. Olesm nodded.
“At once. I’m terribly sorry to trouble you…”
“Just be quick. They’re impatient.”
The old Drake cut Olesm off. She gestured and the bit of paper floated into Olesm’s claws. He sighed as he read it.
Pallass’ [Strategist] receives Liscor’s report. Liscor, say again. Is this a joke? Please confirm existence of ‘Redfang Goblins’ as real Bronze-rank adventuring team. Also confirm presence of ‘Goblin friendlies’ in assault on Raskghar?
Predictable. Olesm sighed and frantically wrote on a piece of parchment. He’d written the account of the battle as truthfully as he could. That meant he’d written of the Redfang Goblin’s aid and the way Pebblesnatch and the Cave Goblins had helped locate and then set a trap for the Raskghar. It all made sense—if you knew what was going on in Liscor.
The other Walled Cities and Drake settlements had no idea of Erin’s inn, though. All they knew was that Liscor had defeated the Raskghar menace. And now with Olesm’s report, they were going to ask a lot of questions.
The conversation that went on between Olesm and the other Drake cities was a simple dialogue. Written down it was fairly simple to understand, but that wouldn’t capture the way Olesm had to write down his replies, pass them to Laskaillia, wait for them to be sent and a reply to be transcribed, and then read and reply all over again. The process was agonizingly slow, but again, it looked a lot simpler written down.
Pallass, this is Liscor’s [Strategist]. We confirm reports. Goblins were present during attack on Raskghar and Goblin team has been confirmed by Liscor’s adventuring guild. Said Goblins participated in location and assault on Raskghar camp as well as rescue of Gnoll citizens.
Pallass. Liscor, repeat again?
Zeres has received Liscor’s report. Confirmation of Goblin friendlies and adventuring team. What the hell is up with your city, Liscor?
Oteslia’s strategists are sending. Zeres, please conform to sending protocol. Liscor, elaborate on presence of Goblins in dungeon. How were they tamed?
Liscor. The Goblins were successfully convinced to abandon Raskghar masters due to presence of auxiliary Human A, noted in the report. Her possession of Artifact A—also noted—facilitated the defeat of the Raskghar in no small part.
Zeres. That’s the crazy innkeeper, isn’t it? The one in the moving pictures?
Pallass. Liscor, please send further details regarding spoils of war taken from Raskghar camps.
Liscor politely declines as the details of the dungeon operation are classified at the order of Wall Lord Ilvriss of Salazsar.
Zeres. Oteslia, please conform to sending protocol.
Pallass requires report as a matter of security due to Liscor connection. The Assembly of Crafts will send formal request to Liscor’s Council momentarily. Stand by to receive.
Fissival. Pallass has no claim on the treasure. Stop being greedy little hatchlings.
Zeres. Fissival, please conform to sending protocol.
Manus is sending. Other cities, please refrain from petty disputes. Liscor, please confirm dungeon status. Reports indicate inner city. Confirm?
Liscor confirms. Dungeon is still classified as ‘active’ and ‘hostile’. Gold-rank danger rating remains unchanged despite reduction of Raskghar threat. Preliminary reports—see summary of Adventurer B’s attached interview—reports ‘infested’ monsters possibly derived from ancient Drakes, as well as at least one more boss-class guardian monster and possibility of major unique enemy known as ‘Mother of Graves’, classification pending. Further details will be reported as they occur.
Oteslia. Ancestors. Does Liscor have enough adventurers to deal with dungeon? More should be sent north at once.
Zeres. Oteslia, please conform to sending protocol.
Pallass. Claim to portion of Liscor’s treasure being sent. Liscor, please note involvement of Pallass’ adventuring population in aid of Liscor. Pallass will require report within the next hour, subject to immediate action by Pallass.
Salazsar objects to Pallass’ claim.
Oteslia objects to Pallass’ claim.
Fissival objects to Pallass’ claim.
Manus requests list of artifacts recovered—possibility of trade for artifacts with goods or coin?
Zeres thinks Pallass is a bunch of greedy cowards. But we’ll also trade for artifacts received.
Liscor. Wall Lord Ilvriss has sealed the contents of acquired artifacts. They’ll be distributed among contributing adventurers and factions. It’s out of my claws.
Pallass. Stand by for response.
Salazsar. Leave Liscor’s [Strategist] alone. Congratulations, by the way, Liscor.
Liscor. Thank you!
Oteslia congratulates Liscor.
Zeres. Please conform to sending protocol. No personal asides, Oteslia, Salazsar.
Oteslia. Damnit, Zeres, stop being petty. Is that you, Kissi?
Teibault. Liscor, can you send a more detailed analysis of Raskghar with adventurer analysis?
Liscor will comply as soon as possible. Estimated one day delay due to adventurer fatigue.
Pallass. Lesser cities will refrain from sending [Message] spells into this discussion. Liscor’s situation is priority, not for casual interruption.
Teibault. Go eat your tail, Pallass. We have a right to ask questions.
Zeres supports Teibault. Who’s the idiot sending from Pallass?
Pallass to Zeres. Please lodge formal inquiry and complaint into Zeres [Strategist]’s conduct.
Zeres. Go boil yourself.
Ssilvem. Sorry, can we get a resend of our report? Our [Mage] forgot to write down the report. What’s this about Goblins?
Olesm groaned and covered his face as he scribbled down a request for Laskaillia to resend the report to Ssilvem. He looked at the paper and shook his head. It was a mess, and in that sense, typical of most joint conversations between the cities. Olesm sighed as the cities started bickering with each other. Laskaillia’s brows twitched as she stopped writing and looked at him.
“It’s all chaos. They’re just insulting each other now. Should we send any more [Messages]?”
“No, I think the report’s out there. They can make what they want of it. If they hail you, please tell them I’m off duty. Or dead. Thank you so much, Miss Laskaillia.”
She smiled and glanced at something behind Olesm. The [Strategist] sighed and put away his reports for filing. No doubt he’d have to answer more questions, but there was no sense waiting now. He turned—and nearly had a heart attack. Wing Commander Embria was standing right behind him, peering at the conversation between the cities.
He hadn’t noticed her behind him at all! She’d appeared in silence—despite the armor she wore! The Wing Commander noticed Olesm jump and coughed. She stepped back quickly.
“Apologies, Strategist Olesm. I didn’t mean to startle you.”
“Uh—that’s quite alright, Wing Commander.”
“Embria, please. You’ve sent the report to the other cities I see. May I have a copy to send to our High Command?”
“Oh—of course! I’m so sorry. I’ll transcribe one right away!”
Olesm flushed as he stood. He kept forgetting that he should send copies to Liscor’s army! It wasn’t something he normally did—usually Liscor would send a batch of all the news to the army in one lump every month, but with Embria here…
The Wing Commander smiled at Olesm. She was around his height, and around his age too, come to that. But where Olesm was thin if fairly fit, Embria was athletic and strong. Her bright red scales were striking and Olesm had to keep from admiring them.
“Don’t worry about copying the report. If I could prevail on your [Mage] to send it via [Message] spell?”
“Yes, at once. Who’s the [Strategist] in charge of the army again? Uh—Zweiltan?”
Olesm sighed with relief and wrote down a note, indicating how Laskaillia could contact him. The [Mage] nodded and lifted a claw to her temple. Olesm and Embria stood around awkwardly. He coughed.
“So…how are your men after the battle, Wing Commander Embria? And uh, how are you doing? I heard you took an injury during the fight.”
Embria smiled at Olesm.
“Barely a scratch. I got cut here—right above the shoulder. But there’s not even a scar as you can tell. I lost two [Soldiers], but the boys are taking it well. As for High Command, I just reported my version of events to them.”
“Ah. And their response?”
The Wing Commander hesitated. She took a seat and Olesm did too.
“Mixed. But generally positive. They objected to some aspects of the operation, but they’re glad that Liscor is safe and that 4th Company participated in the battle. They send their congratulations to you as well, Olesm. For making [Strategist].”
“Thank you. I uh, appreciate it.”
The two Drakes sat in silence until Laskaillia looked up.
“I’ve sent the report and it has been received. Will that be all?”
Olesm started. He nodded as he stood.
“Yes, thank you so much. I should be going. I have to file these and uh, then I’m off duty.”
He swept up the reports. Embria cleared her throat. She didn’t quite look at Olesm when he glanced at her.
“Hey Olesm…I quite admired your conduct in the battle. You were a good fighter. Do you want to get a drink later? Because uh—I’m pretty thirsty and you’re a fine glass of water.”
She pointed with both fingers at Olesm and gave him an uneasy smile. Olesm stared at Embria with his mouth open. He only managed to close it when he heard Laskaillia snort. He looked over and saw she was trying not to guffaw.
“I uh—I—well, that’s very kind of you, Embria. But I uh, have an appointment with Watch Captain Zevara and I’d hate to keep her—”
Embria’s red cheeks flamed brighter. She waved a claw hurriedly.
“Of course. Forget I said anything.”
“Right. Well, I’ll be going. I’ll uh, see you around. And we could have a drink. At another time.”
“Sounds good. Um. Thanks.”
Olesm edged out of the room as fast as he could. Embria kept smiling until she heard him rapidly moving away and then she buried her face in her claws.
“Damn it, Dad! Why do I ever listen to your advice?”
She sat like that for a moment. Then Laskaillia, forgotten, spoke up.
“That young Olesm is quite an attractive Drake. Not that I think he’ll be falling for your lines anytime soon, Miss Wing Commander.”
Embria started. She looked up at Laskaillia and flushed even further. She stood up hastily and made to exit.
“Thank you for your help, Magus Laskaillia. I must be going. To work.”
She was nearly out the door when Laskaillia called after her.
“You flirt as well as your father, my dear. I think he tried a line like that on me, once. Of course, whether it worked or not is another matter entirely…”
All the color drained from Embria’s face. She stared at Laskaillia, who gave her a serpentine smile, turned to the door, staggered, and then rushed out to get herself as drunk as possible.
Laskaillia cackled to herself as she sat back in her chair. Relc had never flirted with her, but she knew the Gecko of Liscor by reputation. She cleaned her claws, smiling to herself. Laskaillia had only a few vices in life at her age, but one of them was tormenting the youth. And as insults went, that one had been a good one.
Silly things. Happy things. It was because the Raskghar were gone that they could happen and be laughed at. The City Hall in Liscor felt lighter to the young woman who slipped inside. She watched Olesm practically run out of the doors and Embria depart as well. Neither Drake noticed her in their embarrassment which was unusual—or not, given that she was hiding behind a door jam and peeking out. She had a feeling she wasn’t supposed to be here.
Still, the few Drakes at work in the building didn’t slow her and the two Drakes standing next to the door didn’t stop her from entering. Wall Lord Ilvriss looked up from the enchanted bow made of some kind of ivory and sighed loudly as Erin Solstice entered the room.
“You are aware, Human, that Liscor’s city hall is off limits to members of the general public? And I am a Wall Lord. How did you get in here?”
“They let me in. I told them I wanted to speak with you. And I bribed them with cookies. Sorry about that.”
Erin smiled unapologetically. As she shut the door, Ilvriss caught both of his guards eating cookies. They looked guilty as he narrowed his eyes at them. Erin shut the door and then stared around.
“Wow. There’s an entire armory in here. Hey, is that—”
“Don’t touch that.”
Erin snatched her hand back before she could touch a suit of armor that looked as though it was made of blue metal and bronze. She stared at Ilvriss. He sighed and took his eyeglass off.
“What do you want, Solstice?”
“Nothing…I was just checking on you. And Olesm. It’s been a while. You’re good, right?”
Ilvriss sat back in his chair and folded his arms. Erin gave him a big smile. She reached for a bag at her side.
“Is it sugary?”
“Then my answer is no. Why are you here?”
“Can’t I be here to give everyone good cheer?”
Ilvriss slowly raised one of his brows. He had no eyebrows, but the effect was largely the same. Erin put her hands behind her back and studied the room, taking in the parchment, Ilvriss, and the gold sitting in the bags next to him.
“You’re busy, I get that. I bet you have a lot of paperwork and I’m sorry for bothering you. But…I dunno, it feels like we should all be giving thanks for defeating the Raskghar, don’t you think. And I dunno, celebrating the teamwork? The joint effort? Goodwill towards Humans and Drakes? And Goblins?”
The Wall Lord waited. Erin indicated the gold in the bags meaningfully.
They stared at each other for a few more seconds. At last, Erin gave in.
“Can I have some money?”
“Is that all you came here for?”
“Yes! No! Okay, yes. I really could use some gold.”
Ilvriss glanced at Erin as he leaned back in his chair. His tail curled around his chair leg.
“Is your inn doing that poorly? I was under the impression that your plays had resumed and that Liscor’s citizenry were frequenting your inn quite often. The Hubris of the Raskghar is the name of the play, is it not?”
“What? Oh, that. Yeah, we’re filling the inn each night! I’m making tons of coin! Uh…but I could use more? I did help with the Raskghar, remember?”
“I recall. Why is the need for coin so pressing?”
Erin scuffed at the carpet with one foot.
“Well…I’ve got expenses. The Goblins, you know? They’re sort of an additional expense. I’ve been trying to feed them at least one meal per day, but uh, buying that much food is expensive. I can handle it! But I heard you were giving out money so…”
“The lottery and division of the coin and artifacts will happen later.”
The young Human woman stared at Ilvriss. She looked around the room and seemed to be deciding whether to leave or not. Ilvriss stared at her and then leaned forwards.
“The Goblins are still connected to your inn via that magical door, are they not?”
“Something will have to be done about them soon. You are aware of that, aren’t you?”
The Wall Lord narrowed his eyes.
“Liscor cannot have a few hundred Goblins nesting close to the city. It is a security risk and it will kill trade. The Goblin Lord may be on the run, but until the Humans destroy his army, the Goblins are a legitimate threat.”
Erin sighed. She took a seat across from Ilvriss without being asked.
“I know that. But these Goblins helped us. They saved the Gnolls. Without them everyone would be dead. You remember that, right?”
“I haven’t forgotten. But that changes none of the facts. The…Hobs under your command were one thing. But three hundred Goblins—how many of them are in that cave, incidentally?”
“You have no idea? Surely you’ve counted.”
“Well, there are a lot of them, but I didn’t sit and count them one by one. Why would anyone do that? There’s Goblins. Y’know?”
Erin gave Ilvriss a round-eyed stare. Normally that would be enough to make Ilvriss snort and dismiss her. However, this time it didn’t work. The Wall Lord glanced suspiciously at Erin, drumming his claws on the table.
“And you have no idea what their plans are either, I suspect.”
“Nope. I just feed them. That’s my job. Hey, did you know they really like fish?”
The Drake looked up suspiciously at Erin. She smiled at him.
“Fish with sauce. Have you tried my fish flakes? They’re a big hit. Takes a lot of oil and eggs and flour, though. Oh, and sauce. Which is why I came here. For the money.”
“I had gathered.”
Erin had an amazing talent to distract from the conversation at hand. It was incredible, really. And aggravating. Ilvriss pinched the scales around his temples with one claw. He would have dearly loved to see what would happen if he let Erin sit in on one of Salazsar’s meetings between the Wall Lords and Ladies. Then again…
He closed his eyes for a second. Erin took that moment to breathe a sigh of relief. Her diversionary tactics had worked. She sat up and gave Ilvriss a broad smile as he looked up.
“They will have to be dealt with. I am not ungrateful. But Goblins are monsters.”
He looked seriously at Erin. And her smile faded. She sat up in her chair and then put one elbow on the table. She leaned forwards, losing her smile for a second.
“Not all of them. You and I know that. It’s just how they’re seen. But the five Hobs at my inn—Pebblesnatch—they went into the dungeon and saved lives. They owed us nothing. They could have run. But they didn’t. They risked their lives and no one’s given them more than passing thanks. Don’t forget that.”
Startled, the Wall Lord met Erin’s eyes. She didn’t use her aura, but for a second, just a second he felt the intensity in her stare. Then Erin sat back and the mood lightened as if nothing had happened. After a second, Ilvriss spoke.
“I do not forget. And while it is not expedient for Liscor to acknowledge the Goblins, I honor my vows. I had intended to send this to you, but since you insist on interrupting me—here.”
He reached for the bags of coin at his side. He inspected the gold, and then pushed two of the bags across the table. Erin wavered.
“Your share of the bounty. One thousand two hundred and eleven gold coins. A small sum, but it was decided that would be the reward for the use of your magic door. And payment for stamina potions and food provided afterwards. I’ll require the bags of holding back, by the way.”
“Buh—all this is mine?”
Erin’s eyes went round with genuine shock this time as she stared at the two bags heaped with gold coins. They were lesser bags of holding so they had a larger depth than their size indicated. Erin poured several gold coins into the table. Ilvriss nodded. Then he looked up at the ceiling and sighed.
“Young Olesm and Watch Captain Zevara have done many calculations. I oversaw them and agree with the distribution of wealth. Many of the Gold-rank teams are eligible for one of the magical artifacts—perhaps even two. The other teams may combine claims or accept a monetary payout. However, there is an aberration.”
“The…Redfang Goblin team saved quite a large portion of Gnolls. Each one earns them a reward of two thousand gold coins. They saved thirty three before the final raid on the dungeon.”
“Thirty three. Then that means—”
Erin’s eyes went wide in genuine shock this time. Ilvriss nodded. He stood up.
“Normally I would award the coin in full. Or rather, issue a letter of credit if possible since providing all that coin up front would be tedious. However, that will not occur. Because the Goblins are not an adventuring team.”
The young woman froze as she placed gold coins back in her bag.
“What do you mean? They’re totally adventurers! Selys did the paperwork and everything!”
Ilvriss nodded. He took a deep breath and looked at the table.
“They are. But as a new team their paperwork was being processed during the dungeon attacks. And—sadly—it will appear that they were not registered until several days after the Raskghar were defeated. Thus, invalidating their claim for the gold.”
Ilvriss said the last of that in a rush. He waited, staring at his claws for a second, and then looked up. He saw Erin’s open mouth slowly close. The young woman stood up slowly. Her face was pale.
“That’s a lie.”
“It is not.”
Erin leaned over the table, putting both hands on the glossy wooden surface.
“That’s a lie. Selys filed the paperwork! Is this—is this some kind of joke?”
The Drake met her eyes. Erin stared at him, disbelieving, and then slowly looked around the room.
“Paperwork? That shouldn’t matter. This is—you don’t want to pay the Goblins, do you? They saved thirty three Gnolls! You’d have to give them sixty six thousand gold coins and you don’t want to! Well—okay, I understand that! But give them something—”
“As a matter of fact, I will be paying the full amount I promised to the pool the adventurers and Liscor may claim from. Money is not an issue.”
Ilvriss’ voice was steely. Erin stared at him.
“Then why—is it because they’re Goblins? Is that it?”
The Wall Lord nodded slightly.
“It would be politically disastrous for a Lord of the Wall to pay Goblins any kind of sum. Moreover, if their contributions were recognized, the other adventurers would surely riot. The Goblins have the greatest claim to the treasure and gold of any group. Thus…well, it is a regrettable accident, but their status as a Bronze-rank team will be certified by Liscor’s guild on the morrow.”
For a few seconds Erin couldn’t do anything but stare at Ilvriss. Her vision went red. She clenched her hands into fists.
“That’s so—I can’t believe—how could you? How dare you? They saved the Gnolls! They helped fight the Raskghar! They nearly died!”
Ilvriss looked at her calmly. Erin was at a loss for words. She struck the table, and then tried to flip it, but it was a huge table and she couldn’t budge it. Erin stormed around it.
“This isn’t right! This isn’t fair! You can’t just take away everything they deserve!”
The Drake didn’t flinch back as Erin shouted in his face. He folded his claws together.
“It’s done, Solstice. The decision was not mine alone. Liscor’s Council voted on the measure. And Olesm and Watch Captain Zevara helped…clarify the issue legally.”
Erin stared at Ilvriss. She stepped back and looked around. Then she stormed over to the two bags of gold. Ilvriss saw her lift it up and braced himself. Erin hefted the bag of gold, and then hesitated. She stared at it.
“A thousand gold pieces. That’s a lot of money. Yeah. But it’s nothing compared to what they deserve. And this—”
She glanced up at Ilvriss, her eyes narrowed.
“My door helped a lot, but I bet it’s not worth a thousand gold. Is it? Is this your way of giving me money for the Goblins? A thousand pieces instead of sixty thousand? Is this right?”
He didn’t answer her. Ilvriss’ tail was curled up. Erin lifted the bag as if to throw it and then slowly lowered it.
“I’ll take the money. But this isn’t right. And you know it! I thought you were—I thought you were better than this! More honorable!”
Ilvriss looked steadily at Erin. She turned angrily and stomped to the door, the bags of money in her hand. Ilvriss raised his voice.
Erin whirled, face ready. She was ready to pop. But she paused as Ilvriss reached down and pulled something up.
The golden axe with the green edge. Ilvriss put it on the table and pushed it towards her. Erin stared at the axe.
“What’s that for?”
Ilvriss gave Erin a blank look to match her own.
“That’s an axe.”
She opened her mouth, and then glared and hefted the bag of gold like a shot put. Ilvriss sighed.
“It’s a potent magical artifact recovered from the Minotaur. Calruz, I believe his name is. Unfortunately…I seem to have misplaced it.”
Erin stared at the axe and then at Ilvriss. Slowly, she lowered the bag. Her arm was getting tired anyways.
“Really? That’s awfully careless of you.”
Ilvriss bristled a bit.
“Well, I wasn’t the one to lose it. I was inventorying the artifacts recovered and found a discrepancy. And, naturally, I searched quite diligently for the artifact, but it was nowhere to be found. I naturally suspected a [Thief], but what high-level rogue would stop at stealing only one magical artifact? Perhaps it was lost in the recovery process from Liscor. It may well have sunk into the lake, or remained in the Raskghar camp by accident.”
He stared pointedly at the axe. So did Erin.
“That would suck.”
“Indeed. Unfortunately, the weapon was marked as lost. Not to be found again. And the record of it was—erased.”
Ilvriss carefully picked up a piece of parchment. As Erin watched, he tore it up. She stared at the axe.
“So this axe—”
“What axe? No weapon that has a magic jade edge which can enlarge itself into an enchanted blade was ever recovered from the dungeon. The records show that quite explicitly. This? This is a paperweight. And I don’t have time for distractions. I have artifacts to sort out. Human, your kind often deals in trash. Take this out for me as you go, will you? Toss it away somewhere. Or give it to the Goblins. They enjoy trash, or so I’ve heard.”
Ilvriss pushed the axe across the table to Erin. She stared at it. Then, slowly, she picked it up.
The Drake coughed.
“You can put it in the bag of holding. Which I’ll need back, as I said.”
“Aw, I can’t have it?”
Erin opened the bag and clumsily tried to put the axe in. To her surprise, the haft of the axe sank into the bag until only the head was visible. She popped it into the bag and stared at the plain leather sack.
“That’s a cool magic trick.”
“Indeed. Now, as to the Goblins. It’s regrettable, but they’ll have no compensation. As is only right. I will brook no objections, Human.”
Ilvriss folded his arms. Erin started, and then stared at him. She looked at the bag of holding and then Ilvriss. He waited for her to do…something. But Erin just stared. She grew still and Ilvriss began to feel uncomfortable as she looked him up and down.
At last, Erin made a sound like a laugh. She shook her head.
“I don’t know if that was nice or not. I think you’re a good person, Ilvriss, somewhere in there. But there’s still being fair and—well, bending the rules to do the right thing. There’s a difference.”
She looked at Ilvriss. He felt a spark of anger in his chest, surprising him.
“I do what I have to do for my people. Law and custom can’t be so easily ignored, Human.”
“No. I guess they can’t. But this? I don’t know if this is fair or just trying to make you feel better about doing wrong things. It’s not right. I know that. And I think you do too.”
Erin turned away. Ilvriss half-rose, stung. Then, slowly, he sat. He watched Erin walk over to the door. She paused there and looked back.
“Still. I guess you did do something. So—here.”
She turned and reached for a small sack at her side. She pulled something out of it and tossed it at Ilvriss. He caught the object reflexively. He stared down at it as Erin pulled the door open.
“Bye, Wall Lord Ilvriss.”
Erin smiled at Ilvriss. Then she closed the door. The Drake stared down at what was in his claw. A round, sweet-smelling disc of hardened dough winked up at him. It was a little cookie, burnt slightly around one edge. Ilvriss gazed at it. Then he looked at the open door. Erin was gone.
For a while, Ilvriss sat in his chair. He looked around at the room, full of treasures, and at the place where the bags of gold had sat. Then he looked at the cookie. He slowly bit into it.
“Bleh. Too sugary.”
Ilvriss put the cookie aside. He stared up at the ceiling, and his tail uncurled a bit. He didn’t feel good. But he didn’t feel terrible. He felt—
One of the guards poked his head into the room. Ilvriss glanced up.
The Drake ducked his head.
“Apologies, sir. She did attempt to bribe us with those uh—”
“Cookies. I am aware. You did well pretending to be bribed. Keep letting her in.”
Ilvriss nodded to the Drake. The guards looked relieved and closed the door. Ilvriss sat back in his chair. What Erin had said repeated in his head.
“Not fair. But what should I do? The rules are there for a reason. Someday they’ll change. But today and tomorrow—”
He shook himself. Ilvriss leaned forwards again and pulled the parchment over to him. He went back to the bow, muttering.
“Someday, surely. But for now, fair must be just that. Just a small thing. Just…”
His eyes wandered back to the cookie. It wasn’t what he wanted. And it wasn’t that important, obviously. It was a snack. But he didn’t have to have it. And someone had given it to him. A moment of kindness. Ilvriss closed his eyes. He thought of Periss. What would she have done? The same as him, probably. No, she’d have kicked Erin out. But maybe—
The rain pattered down softly. Ilvriss forgot the magical items in front of him. He leaned back, the cookie in his claws. He didn’t like cookies. But Periss loved sweet things.
Ilvriss didn’t hum. He wasn’t happily humming anymore. The room was silent as he sat by himself. But the silence was good. And after a while, Ilvriss moved. The quiet of the room was broken by a single sound.
Crunch. Ilvriss chewed and swallowed. After a moment, he spoke to himself.
“You know, this might be quite passable with a bit of milk.”
Erin Solstice walked out of Liscor’s City Hall and looked back at it. She stared at the rainy façade, and then at the two bulging bags at her side. She patted them gingerly and then looked around.
She felt…odd. Not good. Not happy—not after hearing what Liscor had decided to do. But not entirely bad either. She should have expected that would happen, honestly. But she hadn’t predicted Ilvriss being—well, not a jerk. Erin started walking as the rain soaked the cloak on her back.
The sky was grey. The rain fell down. All these things were negative. But Liscor felt better. Truly, it did. Despite the rain, Drakes and Gnolls walked the street. And though they looked up and grumbled at the sky, they sometimes smiled.
The nightmare was over. The Raskghar were defeated. The exhilaration and palpable relief was gone from the city, the celebrations had passed Erin by. So what was left wasn’t joy and it wasn’t fear. It was…
Melancholy, perhaps. Not everyone smiled. Because Liscor had not survived without wounds. Drakes had died. Gnolls had been sacrificed. The Watch and Embria’s soldiers had died during the battle, as had Antinium. Adventurers had fallen.
There was grief there. Grief, relief…Erin walked down the streets, looking from face to face. And the Drakes and Gnolls looked back at her. So much had happened. So much death and violence. So much sadness.
But there had been happy moments too. Erin closed her eyes as she walked. What could you say after all of it? The bags of money weighed down her sides. But that was just gold. She thought of Mrsha, of Ceria. Of the Goblins. Things had changed. Was it better now? Surely it must be. The Raskghar had been defeated. The Goblins saved. There were scars, and yet—
“Excuse me? Miss?”
Erin turned her head. She stopped as pair of Gnolls came up to her. They were both female, both young. Teens, in fact. They were taller than Erin, but they looked far too young compared to Krshia and far too old compared to Mrsha. Erin smiled. She’d never seen Gnoll teenagers before. The two looked down at Erin. One had dark black fur, the other greyish.
“Hi there. Can I help you?”
The two teens sniffed Erin. The black-furred one looked uncertain, but then her friend spoke up.
“You’re…Erin Solstice, yes? The [Innkeeper]?”
The two exchanged a look.
“Good. We wanted to thank you. Humans shake hands, don’t they? Here.”
The two held out their hands. Erin stared at them and then awkwardly took both hands at once. The Gnolls shook her hands.
“I’m flattered. But why are you thanking me?”
The two looked surprised. The black-furred one shook herself slightly, spraying Erin with a few drops.
“Because you saved our friends! You helped defeat the Raskghar! We heard all about it. We—all the Gnolls—owe you a debt.”
Her friend nodded. Erin turned red as she realized why they were looking at her so intently.
“Hold on, I didn’t do much! I just helped.”
“But you came up with the plan, yes?”
“No, well, yeah, but—I didn’t do much fighting!”
“But you did convince the Goblins to betray the Raskghar, right? We heard all about that.”
The two Gnolls nodded. Erin stammered.
“I didn’t know Humans were that smart.”
“I didn’t know they were that brave. I heard you were just a troublemaker who kept dangerous monsters at her inn. People called you ‘that crazy Human’.”
“They did? I mean—who did?”
The two Gnolls looked at each other.
“Um…people. The point is, we’re really grateful. One of our friends was one of the people you saved. So, thank you. Really.”
“Yes, really. We work at a [Butcher]’s. It isn’t fun.”
The black-furred Gnoll nodded in agreement with her friend.
“Not at all. But come by and we’ll give you good meat. Cheap! Our boss wants to meet you too. He’s our father.”
“Yeah. Come by. Thank you again. Do we shake hands when we leave?”
The two Gnolls chatted with Erin a bit longer and then left. She waved at them, bemused and then looked around. Some of the other Drakes and Gnolls had paused to stare at Erin. A few waved. Some pointed. Erin blushed.
This wasn’t the first time she’d been stopped on the street. Somehow, she’d become a minor celebrity in Liscor. Or rather, she suspected Drassi had something to do with it. It wasn’t the first time Erin had been involved in something big, but this was the first time people came up and thanked her for doing something. She kept telling them she hadn’t done much, but—
It was embarrassing. But it felt good. Erin walked through the street, keeping her hood raised. She was still stopped twice more, once by a Gnoll, and then by a Drake. Trying to keep hidden was no good when you had neither fur nor scales and no tail. You tended to stand out.
Erin arrived at her destination as she talked with the Drake, a [Tailor] who walked along with her to Market Street. She was talking with him as she stopped to wait in front of a stand with a few customers.
“It was really the Goblins. Really.”
“But the adventurers did all the work. The Goblins helped the Raskghar.”
The Drake frowned impatiently. Erin nodded.
“Yeah, but the Goblins helped find the Raskghar camp. And they saved a lot of the Gnolls.”
“But the Goblins are monsters.”
The Drake pointed that out as if he was saying the sky was raining. It was a fact. Erin paused.
“Maybe. But they’re not all bad.”
“What about the Goblin Lord? You do realize that the last Antinium War featured the Goblin King? He nearly destroyed the continent!”
The Drake looked expectantly at Erin. She nodded.
“That’s true. And there are bad Goblins out there. I’m just saying that there are good Goblins too, you know?”
The Drake savored the words as if they were new. He shook his head.
“If you say so, then I guess I’ll believe it. Look, I really just wanted to shake your hand. I knew one of the [Guardsmen] who got killed and—I’m glad you helped kill those Raskghar bastards. Your inn’s pretty popular, you know.”
“Well yeah. It’s like this attraction. Everyone knows about the crazy Hum—I mean, The Wandering Inn. Yeah. Ahem.”
He coughed as Erin gave him a flat look. The [Tailor] looked around.
“I’ll have to visit it sometime. Goblins or…well, I’ll visit. Thanks.”
He waved at Erin and trotted off. Bemused, she turned back to the stall. The customers in front of her had done their business. A female Gnoll leaned over the counter and grinned at Erin.
“It seems you’re quite well liked, yes, Erin?”
Erin made a face at Krshia. The Gnoll laughed and beckoned her closer so Erin could step beneath the stall’s awning.
“People keep coming up to thank me! Or tell me how they know about my inn. I think it’s my new uh, trait. I really do, Krshia.”
“Hrm. [Local Landmark]. I have heard that buildings can acquire such traits—or titles, yes? But it is the first time I have known someone with such a thing. Gnolls do not have many structures, so it is rare for us, yes?”
Krshia tidied up her counter, wiping away water with a cloth. Erin nodded.
“It’s so weird. But good! I really think I’m making a name for myself. And—well, guess what Krshia? I went to see Ilvriss and you’ll never believe what happened!”
“He gave you money, yes?”
“Well—okay, you might believe it. But listen—”
She began to tell Krshia what had happened in a hushed voice. Erin grew more indignant as she relayed the conversation about the Goblins. Krshia nodded as she wiped her counter and then wrung her cloth out. When Erin had finished she snorted, and then began to laugh.
“And you insulted him? A Wall Lord? You told him he was not fair? To his face?”
Erin watched as Krshia threw back her head to guffaw. She scowled at the Gnoll.
“Well, he wasn’t being fair! The Goblins deserve more than a crummy axe!”
Krshia shook her head.
“Erin. You are an amusing friend to have, yes? But also, I think, somewhat foolish.”
She flicked Erin’s hair with a claw. The Human bristled.
“Hey! What is that supposed to mean?”
Krshia fixed Erin with one large brown eye.
“Wall Lord Ilvriss, he told you why he did what he did, yes? The Goblins cannot be paid. For a Wall Lord of Salazsar to do the paying? It would be embarrassing! It would admit that monsters did more work than any adventurer.”
“But that’s true!”
The [Shopkeeper] shrugged.
“True or not, I would not pay the Goblins a single coin. He is right, yes? It may not be fair, but he did give you an axe. A magical weapon of great power, is it not?”
“Yes, but—it’s still not fair. The Goblins probably deserve two artifacts! Or three!”
Krshia nodded reasonably.
“And if they had them, the other adventurers would riot. Is that better?”
“But? Will you say that they should not be upset, so it should be done anyways? Goblins would get nothing if it were not for you, I think. That they were given anything—a magical weapon no less is incredible.”
“Yeah. But it’s still not fair.”
Krshia shook her head.
“Fair? Fair is never something that happens. Erin Solstice, you complain of the Goblins being rewarded. Will you complain that they were not given a parade? Or praised by all? Look at things less from how they should be and look at them how they are. Is this not better?”
She waited as Erin bit her lip and mulled this over.
“A little better. Yeah, I guess that’s true. But it could be better.”
She looked down at the bags of money and felt Krshia flick her hair again. The Gnoll sniffed dismissively.
“But, but, but. You Humans are full of buts and ifs. Look at what you have. Gold. And treasure. Look around. People come to you and thank you. They listen to you when you say ‘Goblins are good’! We are grateful. You be too.”
She looked at Erin seriously. The young woman wavered, and then realized she was complaining a lot.
“You think I’m being grouchy, don’t you? Or silly.”
“Mm. Perhaps just a bit. But I understand you. And if you understand me—it is better. Erin. Is today not better than before?”
Erin looked at Krshia. The [Shopkeeper] spread her arms wide. Her stall was smaller than before. It was wet. But…Erin smiled.
“It is. You’re right, Krshia.”
The Gnoll smiled approvingly. And she and Erin stood together in the rain and the issue of the Goblins passed from Erin’s mind. She stood and chatted with Krshia as they had done once. Just as before. Everything was the same and different. Krshia smiled as she and Erin leaned on the counter.
“How is Mrsha?”
“Better. She doesn’t have nightmares every night. Lyonette’s giving her a tiny bit of faerie flower nectar with her before-bed milk.”
“Mm. That is good. I know Erill and the others have suffered. Perhaps I could buy some of their nectar for them? Do you have enough to sell?”
“Oh! That’s a great idea! I’ve got enough. I used to have only a few flowers, but they’ve really been growing of late. I can get a small bottle together—you don’t need more than a drop, really. No charge for the others.”
“You are kind. But I think I will pay you a bit so I might charge others. Not the ones who were rescued, but it would be nice to sell. How is the inn?”
“Busy. We’re putting on The Hubris of the Raskghar every night, and I think we’ll do The Glass Menagerie next. I’m uh, running out of plays to give the actors.”
“Mm. Well, I suppose they must make up more stories, then. Is that not how it goes?”
“Yeah, but there are classics.”
“I see. And the Goblins? They do not cause trouble? You feed them?”
“Pretty much. The Redfangs are in charge and the Cave Goblins…they’re doing Goblin things. I check in on them, but I’m really busy so I haven’t seen much. The Redfangs are teaching them a bunch of stuff. Like how to fish. Speaking of which, I want to buy a lot of food from you. To feed them. I mean, they can feed themselves, but they really love salt and oil. And since I have all of this…can you get me a boat of food? I could get some from Celum, but—”
Krshia practically pulled Erin into her stall. The [Shopkeeper] shook her head rapidly.
“Celum? Why bother? We have enough food here, yes? And I can have as many boats visit your inn as needed. How much food did you say you wanted? I can have it within the hour. Meats, grains, drink, whatever is needed.”
“Oh. Well, in that case…”
Erin started placing gold coins on the table as she told Krshia what she wanted. The Gnoll’s tail wagged as she counted the shiny gold pieces. She promised Erin she’d have the goods as soon as could be and waved Erin way.
The young woman smiled as she walked down the street, her bag a bit lighter. She walked back towards the western gate where a little door had been placed incongruously against the far wall. A pair of Drakes and three Gnolls and a Human adventurer were waiting outside it. Erin sidled over and waited in line.
After a few minutes, the door opened and Drassi waved the waiting guests through. Erin smiled as Drassi grinned at her and stepped into her inn. The air was warm and the inn was cozy despite the common room being three times as large as it should be. People sat at the tables, eating and chatting. A little white Gnoll sat with a [Princess] at a table as a bee flew around their heads. Groups of adventurers looked up and a half-Elf waved at Erin. The young woman walked into her inn, smiling.
She was home.
Ceria stared at the pile of gold on one of Erin’s tables. She looked up at Pisces. The [Necromancer]’s eyes were raised as he levitated coins into a small tower. He inspected the magical axe lying on the table, and then glanced to his left. Jelaqua touched the axe head and whistled.
“That’s enchanted alright. I can feel it in my claws. Look—you can feel the hum.”
Halrac touched the axe’s edge with one finger as well. He glanced at Revi who snorted. The Stitch-Girl poked the axe with a finger.
“Warriors. There’s better ways of testing the magic than how it feels. Typhenous, tell them.”
The [Mage] looked up. He’d been muttering spells.
“I can’t tell how powerful it is, but it’s certainly worthy of Gold-rank.”
Ceria muttered. She stared at the axe, remembering Calruz swinging it and cutting down infested. She reached for the handle and hesitated. She looked up at Erin.
“And he gave you that?”
“Yup. In exchange for not paying the Goblins.”
The adventurers looked at each other. They were crowded around in one of Erin’s rooms. On the third floor, in fact. Erin had decided against showing what she’d gotten from Ilvriss to everyone. He did have a point. So she’d called the adventurers up. The Halfseekers, Horns of Hammerad, and Griffon Hunt were the only teams she really trusted with this kind of information. The Silver Swords…well, they weren’t in the inn so it was a moot point anyways. Erin glanced around.
The room was packed with all the adventurers plus Lyonette and Mrsha. Moore had to sit outside, but he was glancing in. Mrsha peered over the table at the enchanted axe. She reached out with one paw and hesitated.
“No touching, Mrsha. It’s very sharp.”
Lyonette gently scolded Mrsha. She was mildly overprotective of the Gnoll now, but Mrsha bore with it well. She picked up a gold coin instead.
“A thousand gold. That’s…a lot.”
“For an [Innkeeper] of Erin’s level? It’s not unheard of. I’ll wager that the Level 30 Drake in Liscor—Peslas, I believe—has at least that much on hand at any given time.”
“You think so, Pisces?”
“It’s not that large a sum. Consider how much Miss Solstice would usually pay just to renovate her inn without the Antinium assisting her. And given her contributions—I’d say it is less than she deserves.”
“Well, she only gets credit for her door, not the plan.”
Jelaqua remarked reasonably as she walked a gold coin over her claws. Seborn nodded. He was leaning against one window, letting everyone else crowd around the axe.
“It’s as good as they’ll give her. I’m surprised they gave the Goblins anything. This isn’t worth sixty six thousand gold coins, but they were never going to get that.”
Erin made a face. Seborn shrugged.
“That’s politics. They wouldn’t get anything in the north either. Besides, they probably got lucky getting one artifact guaranteed. Splitting the treasure never goes fairly no matter how it’s done. Believe me. I knew [Pirates].”
Jelaqua rolled her eyes as Erin turned and gave Seborn a deeply interested look.
“Everyone knows that, Seborn. Don’t bore us with another story. Hey, Erin. Did Ilvriss tell you who’s getting what?”
All the adventurers looked sharply at Erin. She hesitated.
“Well, he said they’d decide in a few days. But nothing’s settled, I think.”
Halrac cursed. Lyonette glared at him. The [Scout] looked away.
“We haven’t settled anything. Every team wants the best artifacts. I want that bow—”
“And we want the staff! Come on, Halrac. I could use that wind-blasting staff. Or one of the wands!”
Revi folded her arms. Jelaqua threw up her arms.
“And I want the armor! But Keldrass is going for the same thing! It’s a mess. We might only get a bucketful of gold and that would really suck.”
“What’s wrong with gold? You’ll probably get thousands.”
Erin looked at the others, mildly confused. Yvlon shook her head. She addressed both Erin and Ksmvr, who’d raised his hands, probably with the same question.
“The thing is, Erin, artifacts go up in value. Gold doesn’t. Plus, an artifact is hard to acquire since there’s limited numbers of them, especially good ones. Frankly, paying twice of what an artifact’s worth on the market is a better idea than just having the gold.”
“Especially Gold-rank items or better. Do you know how rare it is to find a piece of armor that blocks spells like that thing the Raskghar was wearing? It’s nearly as good as the Heartflame Breastplate—okay, it’s not, but we’ll own it and that’s what counts.”
Jelaqua grumbled as she kicked about the room. Erin nodded understandingly.
All the adventurers gave Erin glares that were only half mocking. Erin had seen them arguing with the other teams over drinks, trying to reach a deal for the last few nights. She could only shrug and gather up the gold coins.
“Lyonette, we’ve got money. But I’m going to feed the Goblins and give them what they want with some of it, okay? The rest we’ll have to hide. We should get a safe or something.”
“Hide it in Bird’s room. Maybe in his bed since he never uses it.”
“Ooh, good idea.”
“I don’t suppose you’d let us make an offer for that axe, would you?”
Revi looked pained as Erin shifted the axe aside. She gestured towards her belt.
“I don’t know about the other teams, but my summoned warriors could do with magical gear. And that axe is a Gold-rank weapon…”
Erin shook her head.
“Sorry. This is going to the Goblins. They earned it and they can decide what to do with it. Speaking of which…Pebblesnatch?”
She raised her voice. The other adventurers turned to the door. They heard some shuffling and then Moore’s voice.
“Oops. Excuse me.”
The half-Giant moved out of the way. A little Goblin appeared in the doorway. Pebblesnatch’s belly was round and she was gnawing on some cheese. She was the only Goblin present in Erin’s inn. The Hobs were in their cave, managing the other Cave Goblins. But Pebblesnatch had refused to go with them and for good reason. She was eating nonstop in Erin’s inn, so much so that Erin was afraid she’d injure her stomach or something.
But the Goblin seemed to be able to eat without issue. She could certainly afford to put on some pounds. Erin saw Pebblesnatch pause as she stared at the room full of adventurers and then glance with interest at the axe. Erin smiled encouragingly at her.
“Hey Pebblesnatch. Can you go downstairs and tell the Hobs I want to speak with them? It’s nothing important, but I’d like all five of them to see this.”
The little Goblin nodded. She tucked the cheese under one arm and walked downstairs. Jelaqua shook her head.
“I swear, that Goblin’s eaten twice her body weight in the last few days. I envy that. Are you going to make her an employee, Erin? What about the Hobs? All those Goblins have to go somewhere. Are they going back into the dungeon or what?”
Everyone looked at Erin. She hesitated.
She’d lied to Ilvriss. She did know how many Goblins were in the cave. The answer was a lot. And the Redfang Warriors were training them. They’d already started teaching the Cave Goblins how to fight like they did. As for plans—Erin had none.
She knew that the Goblins were a problem for Liscor, but she didn’t know what was going to happen. They could go back into the dungeon, but it was so dangerous. Then again, if they stayed above, they’d quickly become a problem as soon as the rains stopped and people started travelling to Liscor. She wondered if the Redfangs had a plan.
If they did, Erin hadn’t discussed it with them yet. She shook her head at Jelaqua.
“Nothing yet. But they’re not causing trouble for now. They just fish and cook all the time. And poke Shield Spiders.”
“You should seal that nest. One of the larger spiders breaks through the wall and there will be a problem.”
Halrac grumbled. Erin nodded.
“I’ll tell the Hobs that. Speaking of which…”
She turned expectantly to the door. There was a pause, and then someone shuffled into view. Pawn scratched his antennae as everyone stared at him. He froze.
“Oh. Hello. I was looking for Bird.”
“Hi Pawn. Look at what I got paid!”
Erin smiled at Pawn, despite him not being five Hobs. The Antinium peered into the room and nodded.
“That is a lot of gold. I am appropriately envious and happy for you, Miss Erin.”
“Thanks. Hey, do you think the Antinium will get paid a lot? You guys did fight with everyone else. Are you trying to get an artifact or gold?”
Pawn paused. He closed his mandibles and lowered them in a frown.
“Paid. Ah, you mean the distribution of wealth. I do not believe the Antinium were offered anything for our assistance in the battle.”
“What? Why not?”
Erin stared at Pawn. The Worker raised all four arms.
“I believe Wall Lord Ilvriss objected to it. As did Liscor’s Council. And Wing Commander Embria. It does not matter.”
“But that’s not—”
Erin bit back an echo of what she’d said to Ilvriss. Pawn cocked his head to one side.
“It truly does not matter, Erin. The Antinium fulfilled our contract with Liscor. And we obtained what we wanted anyways.”
Pawn turned to look at Pisces. He hesitated.
“Um…oh my. Look at the rain. I should see Bird.”
He edged back and out of the room. Erin stared at the space where he had been, mystified. She looked back at Pisces.
“What did they get?”
The [Necromancer] tapped his lips thoughtfully, studiously ignoring the glances his teammates and the other adventurers gave him. He glanced towards the doorway as he heard some rapid footsteps.
This time the Redfang Warriors appeared as one, led by Pebblesnatch. The Cave Goblin pointed them into the room and the Hobs warily entered. They stared at the gold coins for all of a millisecond and then fixed their gazes on the axe. Shorthilt whistled. Headscratcher nodded at Jelaqua. The Selphid grinned as Halrac stepped away from the Hobs and the others edged back to give them room.
Headscratcher looked disappointed. Numbtongue rolled his eyes. He looked questioningly at Erin. She took a deep breath.
“Hey guys, I’ve got some good news. And bad news. You see…I went to see Ilvriss and…well, he’s not going to pay you for saving the Gnolls. I mean, not with everything you should get.”
The Hobs stared at Erin. They looked at each other. Badarrow scratched his head. Rabbiteater frowned. Numbtongue looked at Erin.
The [Innkeeper] blinked.
“Your…gold. For saving the Gnolls? Two thousand gold pieces? It’s a lot of money. And you’re not getting it.”
The Hobgoblins stared at each other. They shrugged. Numbtongue turned to Erin.
He looked around and noticed everyone was giving him puzzled looks. Erin wavered.
“Aren’t you upset? I mean, that’s a lot of money! And you’re not getting any of it! Isn’t that unfair?”
Numbtongue nodded obligingly. Erin gazed at him. And then she understood something about Goblins. They really didn’t care. Not about money. And not about things being unfair. Because, to a Goblin, everything was usually unfair.
“Well, I got paid some. And I think it’s only right that some of it’s yours.”
The Hobs stared at gold coins on the table. They looked at Erin and back at the coins. It was as if she’d offered them dirt. Badarrow picked up one coin, weighed it on a finger, and shrugged. He flicked it into the air and let it bounce off the table. Erin stared at him and then at the Redfangs who clearly didn’t care. She tried another tack.
“I can buy you food with it. Or weapons.”
Instantly, all the Hobs looked up with interest. They stared at the coins and at Erin as if only putting together what the money meant for the first time. Headscratcher cleared his throat.
He spoke awkwardly and with difficulty. Erin nodded.
“More swords! If you need them. Or other things.”
The Redfangs looked at each other. They immediately huddled together. Shorthilt looked up.
“Mace? Dagger? Chainmail? Shield?”
Rabbiteater smacked his lips together appreciatively. But Shorthilt smacked him on the back of the head. He elbowed the others until they nodded impatiently. Then the Hob stepped forwards. He stood in front of Erin like a statesman giving a speech. He looked at Erin and spoke slowly and carefully.
“Helmets. Coif. Vambraces. Oil. Whetstone. Spear. Glaive. Zweihander. Scimitar. Bardiche. Buckler. Pauldrons…”
It was like he’d memorized a dictionary of words that only pertained to weapons and armor. Erin stared at Shorthilt began listing off an armory’s worth of items. She eventually cut him off.
“You want all that?”
The Hob nodded eagerly. The other Redfang Warriors nodded with varying degrees of enthusiasm. Rabbiteater grumbled and made it clear that he wanted some food. But Shorthilt was adamant. Erin wavered.
“Well, I can get you some of that. Some. But the money will also go to food. For the Goblins?”
The Hobs nodded at that. They looked satisfied, punching each other on the shoulder good-naturedly. In fact, they looked quite happy. Erin stared at them, mystified, and then pointed to the axe.
“Ilvriss also gave you that. There’s only one, but it’s all he’s willing to give you. So…”
The Hobs froze. They stared at the enchanted axe. They looked at Erin. Numbtongue inhaled sharply.
Erin nodded. The Hobs stared at each other. Then as one they leapt for the axe.
Erin jumped back. The adventurers backed up as the five Goblins all tried to grab the axe. They fell, punching and kicking each other for it. Erin shouted and waved her arms for them to stop, but the Hobs didn’t listen. The first to emerge from the pile was Headscratcher. He pried Shorthilt’s hands off the axe and lifted it over his head, crowing.
The Hobs all stared at him. Shorthilt groaned and smacked his forehead on the floor. Glumly, the other four got up and scuffed at the ground with their feet. Erin stared.
“Wait, that was it?”
Headscratcher nodded. He swung the axe carefully as the other Hobs glared at him. Apparently, they’d decided who would get the axe with the simplest of trials. Ceria looked at her team.
“Wanna try that for our next artifact?”
Yvlon laughed. Pisces just sniffed. The Hobs clustered around Headscratcher, disappointment forgotten as he let them try the axe. He looked at Erin and she was surprised to see a bit of moisture in his eyes. Headscratcher nearly teared up. He kept elbowing Numbtongue until the Goblin translated.
“Very good. Very good. He says thank you.”
Erin raised her hands.
“I didn’t do much. Look, Headscratcher, aw, don’t cry. I’m glad you like it. But it’s not what you deserve. You should get two more artifacts. OR gold!”
The Hobs stared at the pile of gold dismissively. They shook their heads. Numbtongue looked confused. He looked at Erin.
“Why so important? For buying?”
Revi raised her eyebrows. Jelaqua laughed. Erin nodded.
“It’s important! Very important. If you had more, you could buy…tons of good stuff! All of the others want it.”
The Hobs looked at the adventurers. They nodded. Halrac looked stonily past the Goblins. Jelaqua scratched her neck and sighed.
“Yeah, it’s important. We might not get anything good. And—hell, it is a bit depressing.”
Lyonette held Mrsha up. The Gnoll sniffed Jelaqua as the Selphid shrugged.
“It’s nothing. Okay—look. It’s just that we might not get any artifacts. Or if we do, we get one. And it’s…well, it’s hard after fighting in the dungeon for so long, you know? After so much…”
She glanced at Griffon Hunt and away. The other adventurers nodded. Jelaqua spread her arms out.
“Sorry. I know I’m griping. But the other teams will get a share of the loot and that’s fair. But we—well, we were here first, you know? And we’re not getting much.”
Seborn nodded. Typhenous leaned on his staff.
“We have to agree. It is disappointing. Fair, but disappointing. I have no doubt we can negotiate for one artifact, but it might not be what we wish. As for the monetary costs…well, we’ll most likely have to forgo all the gold for a chance at one artifact.”
“Oh. I’m sorry.”
Erin felt bad as she thought about that. It was true. The Halfseekers and Griffon Hunt had sacrificed a lot. They’d lost Ulrien. And now they had to gamble on whether they’d get anything worthwhile.
The Hobs stared thoughtfully at the adventurers. Then they looked at the gold. Badarrow picked up the gold piece again and looked at it. Then he bit it. He frowned at the faint teeth marks in the gold piece and showed it to Rabbiteater. The other Hob bit the coin as well and licked it thoughtfully. He showed it to Headscratcher who nodded, and true to his name, scratched his head.
“This is good?”
“Yup. This is what adventurers look for. This and gems and magical artifacts. And uh…”
Erin looked at the others. Jelaqua shrugged.
“Artwork. Vases, tapestries, old documents, books, magical and nonmagical. Gilding on the walls…”
“Old maps can be worth a fortune. As well as correspondence. You can make a fortune on the right letters.”
“I heard someone sold a love letter from an old [Archmage] of Wistram to a Chandrarian [Queen] for ten thousand gold pieces. It was worth more than the gemstones they found!”
The Hobs stared at her. Then they looked at each other. Headscratcher wandered over to the table. He picked up the empty bag of holding and peered into it. He dropped a coin inside and watched as it vanished. Then he tossed it to Numbtongue. The Hob grunted as he inserted his entire arm into the bag. He waved it at Erin.
“This thing. Can we take it?”
“Oh, no. Sorry. I have to give it back.”
The Hob nodded.
“We’ll give back. But borrow for little while?”
“Well, sure. Why not? Do you need both?”
The Hobs conferred. They nodded. Numbtongue turned to the others.
“We go. Come back later. You wait.”
He waved vaguely at the room then walked out the door. The adventurers watched as the Hobs followed him. Ceria frowned.
“Does he mean wait here?”
“Bugger that. As Dawil would say. Come on, if they’re coming back I need a drink to wash the poverty off my tongue. Look, let’s all sit down and figure out who gets what once and for all.”
“I want that bow. You’re not talking me out of it, Revi.”
Halrac walked past her. Erin looked at Lyonette who shrugged and stared at the gold coins.
“They took the bags. We’ll have to haul this up by hand.”
“Ooh. Yeah. Well, maybe let’s leave it until they come back.”
The group went downstairs. Erin smiled as she walked into her common room. It was bustling, but for once she didn’t have much to do. Gnolls and Drakes circulated the tables, led by Ishkr and Drassi. They served food and drink and Erin could sit with Lyonette, Mrsha, and the adventurers as they argued.
Erin poured herself a cup of juice and sat with the others. She tried defusing the arguments that began to spring up. She was glad none of the other teams were here. They were probably cooling off. Last night had seen Keldrass and Jelaqua nearly come to blows. Even good-natured adventurers like Bevussa and Dawil had gotten annoyed by the arguing.
“All this over artifacts. I’m glad I don’t have a horse in this race.”
Lyonette nodded absently. She was bouncing Mrsha up and down as the Gnoll hugged her. The two looked happy, content just to sit around.
“I think it’s the bad weather that makes them angrier. This would probably go a lot more civilly if we had them sit in the sun.”
She glanced at Erin, and the young woman remembered that Lyonette was a [Princess]. She probably knew about negotiations.
“Why not? We can always rig up a door to the field. And Krshia said she wants to bring some Gnolls through. Let’s do that if things go south.”
“Or if you see any other teams walk in.”
The two nodded at each other. Erin turned her attention back to the arguing adventurers. She was just trying to explain to Ksmvr why challenging other teams to duels over the artifacts wasn’t a good idea—and the other adventurers were floating it as a legitimate option—when the door opened.
“The Hobgoblins are back! No one panic!”
Drassi shouted as the Redfang Warriors appeared again. They’d been gone for a good two hours, much to Erin’s surprise. They also looked slightly dirty and sweaty. Headscratcher waved to Erin and pointed upstairs. She rose.
“I think he wants us to go upstairs. Hey you guys, can you come too?”
“Fine! It beats arguing about dividing loot!”
Revi threw up her hands and stalked upstairs. Jelaqua and Seborn joined her, both looking upset while Moore tried to calm them down. Typhenous, Halrac, Yvlon, and Ksmvr followed them. Erin stared at their backs.
“They’re really upset.”
“It’s hard to negotiate. I don’t think we’ve got much of a claim, but even we’re tearing our hair out over what we want.”
Ceria paused, looking sympathetically at the Gold-rank adventurers. Pisces nodded, stroking his chin thoughtfully.
“This process does seem designed to involve the most amount of strife possible. The lottery is designed such that everyone may have a claim regardless of how small, which will create a great deal of uncertainty, even for a team with a larger claim like the Halfseekers or Griffon Hunt. Everyone may obtain what they want—but the odds are that at least one party will exit quite unhappy. As one might expect of the Drakeish way of dividing spoils.”
Ceria paused as she began to climb the stairs.
“So what you really mean is, it’s a mess, Pisces.”
“Just say that next time.”
He sniffed. Erin grinned and followed them up the stairs. She found the Hobs had placed both bags of holding on the table. They also had two large, bulging sacks next to the table. Erin stared at them. She didn’t know where the rough hide bags had come from, but they looked positively filthy. She glanced at the adventurers who were looking annoyed.
“Um, Numbtongue, what’s this? What are the other two bags for?”
“Stuff. For adventurers. Bags of holding too small. Here.”
Numbtongue handed one of the bags of holding to Erin. She stared at it and then gingerly opened the bag. She peered inside.
She looked up from the bag and put it on the table quite calmly. The other adventurers stared at Erin as she went over to the window.
“’Scuse me, Seborn. Hey Moore, come in and shut the door, will you?”
The half-Giant obliged her. Revi complained as he squeezed himself into the room. Erin was fumbling with the window.
“Come on! It’ll be cramped in here, no offense Moore. And what are you doing, Erin—”
She yelped as Erin opened the window. Rain blew in. Mrsha raced out of the way as a shower blasted Erin and Seborn and Ceria, who were closest to the window. Ceria ran for cover and the other adventurers edged back.
“What the hell, Erin!”
“Just one second. I have something in my eyes.”
Erin let the rain blow into her face. Then she shut the window. She looked around as water dripped from her face. The others stared at her. Then Erin walked over to the bag of holding. She opened it again. She glanced into it.
She looked up at Numbtongue. The Hob was staring at her, mainly because of the water dripping from Erin’s body. She blinked some out of her eyes.
“Hey Numbtongue, is this real?”
“Where’d you get it?”
“A room below. Cave Goblins showed us where it was. Big collection spot.”
“Oh. So the Raskghar had a spot where they put all this stuff?”
Jelaqua frowned. She tried to see the bag but Erin was blocking it. Numbtongue nodded.
“Separate room. Too hard to carry everywhere.”
“Right, right. That makes sense. You wouldn’t bring this around. Huh. So…huh. Wow.”
The other adventures looked at each other. Now they sensed what Erin was feeling. Pisces stood up straighter. Moore leaned over. Ceria stood on her tiptoes.
“What’s in the bag, Erin?”
The [Innkeeper] started. She looked around at the curious faces. She looked at the bag—and then turned it over and emptied it onto the table.
Ceria Springwalker had heard many sounds in her life. Insects crawling all over each other, the quiet of the forests, the sound of trees rustling. Her friends screaming as they died. Raskghar howling. The voice of her master as she bade Ceria goodbye. The sound of laughter. A song in an inn.
Happy sounds, sad sounds. Moments that Ceria would never be able to unhear, both joyous and terrible. But the sound she heard now was glorious. It was a high, lofty sound that indicated the shifting of fates, but an earthly sound. A familiar sound.
It was the chink, the cling and high pitched ringing sound of metal on metal. The half-Elf saw coins pour out of Erin’s bag of holding, in an unending stream. Coins, some golden, others faded. Many covered in filth or lichen. But the gold, oh, the gold shone through. Not just gold too. There was silver and bronze and other colors of metal, bright and seductive.
And that was only the coins. Other things tumbled from the sack. Bright gemstones, goblets made of gold, figurines of Drakes, some cracked and damaged. Necklaces of fine silver string with pearls, large rings with embedded gemstones, a scepter made of brass but inset with a ring of diamonds around the top—
The treasure poured from the bag of holding and onto the table. The gold and jewels and other riches rolled off the table and clattered onto the floor. The adventurers shouted and stared. Mrsha blocked a rolling emerald the size of her paw with her leg. Erin held the bag up as the treasures poured forth. At last, the flow stopped. She stared down at the table heaped with treasures and looked around. Riches lay on the ground, rolling to a stop. She looked around, shaking slightly. Everyone else stared at her with bug eyes.
All except for the Goblins. They grumbled as they kicked aside the gold and jewels. Rabbiteater stepped on a sharp little Drake statuette made of bright silver and rubies and cursed. He kicked it aside. Numbtongue complained to Erin.
“This is hard to pick up! We’re not doing it this time.”
She turned to stare at him.
“This was in the dungeon?”
“In a special room. Raskghar told Cave Goblins to put it there. They collect lots of it from other rooms in the dungeon. For some reason.”
He shrugged and kicked a pile of gold apart. Erin stared at the coins. Some of them were filthy, probably from sitting in the dungeon for so long. Other coins were bloodstained. Mrsha wrinkled her nose as she sniffed a goblet with a bit of blood on one side.
“And you have another bag of holding filled with this? And—”
She looked at the other two sacks. Rabbiteater nodded. He flexed his arms to show Erin how hard it had been to carry the non-magical bags.
“Heavy. Glittery stuff heavy.”
“I’d imagine so. This isn’t just gold coins like we use. Some of this—some of this is pure gold.”
Revi’s hands trembled as she picked up a coin. She scored the soft gold with a knife, peeling up a sliver of gold. She showed it to Halrac. The [Scout]’s eyes were wide as he held it up.
“Oh dead gods. Someone tell me I’m not dreaming.”
Jelaqua looked at the treasure on the floor, blinking. She looked around. The other adventurers looked too stunned for words. She stared at the jewels lying at her feet.
“This can’t be real. Pinch me, someone.”
Moore did, pinching Jelaqua’s arm. The Selphid paused.
“I didn’t feel that.”
“You’re a Selphid. Of course you didn’t.”
Seborn stepped forwards. He bent and picked up a pair of tongs, which were made of silver and ivory. He opened and closed them.
“This is a treasure haul. I’ve seen something like this only once. And that was—storms and salt. This is what the Raskghar had?”
“Of course. Of course they had it. We just didn’t notice it because we attacked their camp.”
Ceria felt lightheaded. She spoke, feeling something like mirth bubbling up inside them. She looked at the others, a crazy smile tugging at her face.
“We were so busy attacking the camp that we never thought to—and Calruz never said—”
Yvlon shook her head.
“He probably didn’t know. The Raskghar might have kept it hidden. And the Goblins…”
She glanced at the Hobs, who were scratching themselves and looking pleased at the reaction they’d elicited.
“…they don’t care about treasure.”
“We care about artifacts. Not shiny things. They’re too shiny. Too heavy. Not useful. Good for adventurer traps, maybe.”
Numbtongue corrected Yvlon. The woman nodded and then stared at the treasure. Ksmvr glanced around.
“Am I to take it that this is all treasure for us?”
“No, it’s the Goblin’s—”
Erin turned to the Redfangs. They shook their heads.
“Not for us. You take.”
Headscratcher pointed at Erin. She opened her mouth to protest. Pisces cut her off.
“It’s no good to them, Erin. But in our hands, it can be, ah, delicately spent. I think this is a gift.”
The Hobs nodded. Numbtongue pointed at the adventuring teams, who stared at him, faces all as pale as Jelaqua’s.
“For fighting in the dungeon. For killing Raskghar. You did it. We don’t need it. So it’s yours. You have it. An adventurer’s treasure.”
The other three teams looked at Numbtongue, shocked. Typhenous was bending down, touching the treasure. He looked up. Revi had a circlet in her hands.
“For us? Just for us? You’re serious?”
Numbtongue nodded. Jelaqua shook her head.
“We should share it. This is—we should tell the others.”
The others looked at her. Yvlon half-nodded. Pisces frowned. No one else nodded. Revi looked at Jelaqua.
“I have an alternative idea: no. This is ours. There’s no way I’ll split this. Can I change your mind?”
The Selphid hesitated. She looked back at Revi and then nodded.
“Yeah. That was a terrible idea. Thanks for talking me out of it.”
The others went back to staring at the treasure. Erin felt a bit lightheaded. She looked at the other bags.
“So that’s all the treasure?”
The Hobs nodded. Numbtongue kicked one bag.
“All of it. There was a big pile in the room. No artifacts. Raskghar used those. We took all of it. You take it from us. Only your teams.”
He looked at the others. Revi was nodding repeatedly, as was Typhenous and Pisces. Halrac frowned.
“Why our teams?”
He looked directly at Badarrow as he said it. The [Sniper] glanced at him and grinned.
“Helped Goblins. Sometimes.”
That shut Halrac up. Erin looked at the treasure and then at Headscratcher.
“They did do a lot. But—why not the Silver Swords? They fought too.”
Numbtongue looked at his companions. He shrugged.
“We don’t like them.”
After that came more standing around. The Hobs took a seat as the adventurers picked up the relics and gold pieces and tried to pile them on the table. They were almost afraid to open the other bags. Ceria kept pinching herself and Moore had to sit and breathe slowly with Mrsha in his arms. They were shocked more than exhilarated.
For the first ten minutes. And then a craze seemed to sweep over them. Jelaqua opened the second bag of holding, dumped it onto the ground, and began sorting the coins and jewels and other objects apart. Typhenous knelt with her, muttering about the cuts of gems and weight. Pisces began arguing with Seborn about the price of gold. Yvlon and Halrac tried to appraise the statues and so on and Ksmvr dutifully began adding it all up. In minutes, all the adventurers were on their knees, counting.
“We need parchment! Something to write this down!”
Pisces feverishly sorted through the gemstones, his face flushed. Ceria nodded.
“Put—put all the gems on the bed! We’ll count the coins and shove them into this corner—”
The Hobs watched as the adventurers scrambled to sort the treasure. It was getting hot in the room so Rabbiteater opened a door. Immediately he was nearly tackled by Seborn and Typhenous.
“Don’t open the door!”
Instantly, the ecstatic mood changed to paranoia. Moore was instantly assigned to watch the door and Lyonette and Erin were sent downstairs to get parchment and a quill and ink and to come right back upstairs. Under no circumstances was anyone allowed on the same floor. Typhenous and Pisces began frantically casting ward spells.
“We’ll need to store all this before we can deposit it! The Merchant’s Guild can hold it—but we’ll need to watch it day and night. If a [Thief] were to get wind of what we have—”
Revi was summoning her Stitch-Warriors to help sort the treasure. Halrac nodded.
“We can’t just deposit it in any guild, though. We need the best deal. I know someone in Invrisil who can change all the gemstones.”
“Right—there’s overheads we need to watch out for. The exchange rate on sapphires isn’t so good, but if we bank it and wait—”
“How do we split it? Thirds to each of us? What about Erin?”
Ceria knelt amid a pile of treasure. She looked up at Erin. The young woman backed up as the adventurers stared feverishly at her.
“I’m uh, good. I got paid. You can have the treasure.”
“You mean it? You can’t change your mind!”
Revi stared at Erin. The [Innkeeper] hesitated, and looked at Lyonette. Mrsha was staring wide-eyed at the treasure.
“I’m…sure. I didn’t fight in the dungeon.”
“Right. Right. That’s true. We can give you a bit. But all of this? This is for us.”
Revi went back to the gold, standing over it almost protectively. Erin looked around. The Hobs were watching with interest. But there was something almost…scary about the way the adventurers were acting. Erin wanted no part of it. The three teams sorted the treasure nonstop for an hour, trying to calculate how much they’d earned. In the end they had a rough count.
“It could be off—the fluctuating market is always an issue. But assuming we could average the prices for each item—”
Pisces scrubbed a hand through his messy hair, ignoring the grime on his hands. Typhenous mumbled as he stared at the parchment with the figures scrawled on it. Ceria bounced on her feet.
“Well? How much? How much?”
Pisces looked up and gulped.
“A hundred and ten thousand gold pieces? Give or take thirty thousand as a margin for error.”
“A hundred and ten—”
“Give or take? How much could we get?”
Jelaqua tried to add it up on shaking fingers.
“Per group? That’s….close to fourty thousand for each team! Thirty five thousand pieces!”
“And that’s assuming we don’t get more for the gems and whatnot. If we get a good price—”
The adventurers went quiet. They looked at each other. Then Revi laughed shakily.
“We’re rich. This is—this is a haul.”
The other adventurers nodded. Ceria sat on the ground as filthy gold coins spilled around her. Ksmvr stared at the treasure.
“So, does this mean our teams have achieved lucrative success, Captain Ceria? Have we struck it rich?”
“Very rich, Ksmvr.”
Ceria nodded at once. But it was Jelaqua who raised a trembling hand.
“Hold on. This is good, but it’s not everything.”
“What do you mean?”
Ceria stared at the Selphid. Jelaqua took a few deep breaths.,
“Okay. It’s great. If it was one team we’d be…well, twenty five thousand is a huge amount any way you cut it. But for a Gold-rank team? It’s good. It’s what we came here for. But if we can get more—”
She looked at Griffon Hunt. Halrac nodded.
“It’s what we came here for.”
“Right. We could do with eighty thousand gold pieces. Now that would be a real haul even for a Gold-rank team.”
Revi muttered to herself. She raised her hands as she got a dozen glares.
“What? This is great, don’t get me wrong! It puts our team back on the map. After what happened—”
She looked at Typhenous and Halrac. The [Scout] nodded. He sat on the bed, then reached down and pulled a topaz away with a grimace.
“After all our setbacks, this will…it’ll fund us for a long time. Get us better equipment if we need it. Help us get more adventurers.”
“Us too. We’ve had a few thousand gold coins in the bank, but nothing we could really rub together. This? This is security.”
Jelaqua stared at the mountain of coin. She looked up sharply.
“And we can use this in the lottery.”
The others looked at her in surprise. Halrac sat up and nodded.
“That’s true. We can cede all the money we’ll get, and ask just for an artifact. And then—”
“—and then we have gold and an artifact. Dead gods. Dead gods.”
Jelaqua rubbed her hands together. Ceria blinked at Halrac.
“You want more? After this?”
She’d hit the limit of all the avarice in her body. But Halrac and the other Gold-ranks clearly hadn’t. The [Veteran Scout] nodded.
“I want that bow. Before, we were trying to get at least a few thousand gold pieces to cover the costs of all we’ve spent. But with this, we can aim just for the artifacts.”
“It’s a miracle. A miracle!”
Revi laughed and lay in a pool of treasure. Seborn had necklaces and bracelets draped over his arms. He grinned, the light of the gems flashing across his body. Erin smiled around, caught up in the genuine excitement this time.
“You did it.”
Yvlon paused. She held a gold coin up and stared at it.
The adventurers quieted. They looked at each other. The Halfseekers, the Horns, and Griffon Hunt. The elation that had filled them drained away for a moment. They remembered.
Ulrien. The original Horns of Hammerad. The Silver Spears. All the others. Ceria stared down at the treasure she held, slightly sick suddenly. It felt like so long. And she’d done it. She held a fortune, the fortune her team had dreamed of. And she felt…a bit empty.
Pisces looked at her.
“Now? I suppose we attempt to arm ourselves better for next time.”
“What next time?”
Revi looked at him, puzzled. Pisces frowned.
“The next foray into the dungeon, of course.”
The question stumped the [Necromancer]. Revi looked around. The Stitch-Girl looked calmer now. She gazed from face to face, ending on Halrac and Typhenous.
“Why do we have to go back into the dungeon? It’s dangerous. It nearly killed us more times than I can count. Besides…we did it. This is what we came here for. Not to conquer the dungeon. For this.”
She gestured at the treasure.
“We did it. A wise adventurer doesn’t keep going in. They take the treasure and go. We did it, everyone. And as for me? I’m done with the dungeon.”
Everyone stared at her in shock. Then Jelaqua stood up.
“So are we. We got our gold. We don’t have to go back in. We’re going to have a holiday. We’re going to—we could go anywhere with this. We don’t have to go back.”
Ceria sat still, trying to imagine that. They could just walk away? But the dungeon—
Would be there. And other teams would try to claim its secrets and treasures. But they didn’t have to deal with it. Ceria looked at the treasure. She tried to imagine what twenty five thousand gold pieces could buy. Could it buy help for an insane Minotaur? A gravestone for the Horns? New robes? Spellbooks? Could it buy—
She looked up and saw Pisces staring at her. Yvlon and Ksmvr stood together, waiting. They were looking at Ceria. So were the Halfseekers. And Griffon Hunt and Erin and Lyonette and Mrsha. Ceria looked around. She stood up. She felt dizzy. Elated. Almost sick. But then she remembered.
A group of adventurers standing around in the inn. Ceria, Sostrom, Gerial, Calruz, Hunt…the Horns. A toast. For honor. Ceria blinked—
And she stood in the room filled with treasure. Different faces gazed at her, worrying, expectant, curious. Ceria looked around. She took a few deep breaths.
“I think—for now—at least until we’re ready—”
They waited for it. Ceria smiled. Her heart was beating fast. The world opened up. The dungeon would stay here, but now—
“We’re done with the dungeon!”
The others burst into wild cheers. Jelaqua hugged Pisces and Revi danced about Moore as the half-Giant high-fived all three of Ksmvr’s hands. Halrac shook Yvlon’s hands as Seborn and Typhenous slapped each other on the back. The adventurers laughed and danced and cried.
“We’re done with the dungeon! Done with the dungeon!”
And the Goblins watched it all, amused and confused and happy. And when Erin had seen enough, she left the room and watched the Hobs file back to their little cave, nudging each other. Satisfied. They’d given away a fortune, but they stood straight. Happy.
That was the thing about Goblins. They cared not for gold, or glory, or gods for that matter. But they cared about what mattered. Warm food, a place to sleep, a shiny axe, and each other. Erin looked back at the room full of celebrating adventurers and at the Goblins. She saw things to love about each side. So she stood on the stairs and called down at the Hobs.
They looked back up at her. Erin smiled and beckoned.
“Come on. You deserve at least one cake for all that.”
They brightened up. It was the best gift Erin could have given them.
Happy days. Presents that mattered more to different people. The Drakes were grateful for peace. The Gnolls rejoiced in victory over their ancient foe. The adventurers looked to the glitter of their wealth. And the Goblins? The Goblins shared three cakes in their cave and were happy. Which group was the most happy?
It was the Goblins. They lay about in a sugar-induced coma, the Cave Goblins experiencing the joy of frosting for the first time in their lives, smacking their lips. For once they weren’t hungry. The Hobs slept on beds imported from Erin’s inn, warm and comfortable. And one more thing happened that night.
A Goblin wearing a cape tossed and turned in his bed. His cape was magical. Sometimes it was water, or mud, or in one bad case, pee. But usually it was blood. He’d finally figured out how to make it stick and the blood cape looked coolest.
Goblins slept around him. They crowded his bed, although none actually intruded on the warm cotton sheets. But they clustered around this Hob more than any other.
Not because he was stronger than the rest like Headscratcher, or an expert shot like Badarrow. He wasn’t nearly as masterful with weapons as Shorthilt and he couldn’t sing or speak like Numbtongue. In fact, the other Hobs would have called Rabbiteater slightly unremarkable. So would he.
But that wasn’t what the Cave Goblins saw. That wasn’t what they remembered. They all remembered a figure standing in the darkness.
A Goblin unsheathed his sword as the Raskghar stirred in their camps. The Cave Goblins looked up and saw a toothy grin, and a Goblin wearing a red cape. Rabbiteater pointed at the Raskghar, his crimson cloak swirling around him. He charged and the Hobs followed, bringing salvation and hope into the darkness of the dungeon.
They had seen him leading the charge. And he was always smiling, always kind. The other Hobs were grumpy or bad tempered, or in Headscratcher’s case, cried too much. But Rabbiteater was nice. And he was learning to cook from Erin. In their minds, he was clearly the leader. More than a leader.
He was a hero. And hundreds…thousands…of Cave Goblins slept that night and believed it. And because they believed, it was true. Only, it was impossible for Rabbiteater to become a [Hero]. He was missing one thing. So he got the closest thing to it.
[Level 20 Warrior!]
[Warrior → Champion class!]
[Skill – Champion’s Gear obtained!]
[Skill – Grand Slash obtained!]
[Skill – Valor of Champions obtained!]
Rabbiteater sat up. He blinked and looked down at his body. He stared at his worn chainmail shirt and slightly dented sword as they began to glow. Rabbiteater saw the chainmail straighten, shed the rust, and take on a smooth, almost silky sheen. He drew his sword and saw it glow as the blade became straight, the edge razor-sharp. He looked around and waved his arms. All the other Goblins were asleep. So Rabbiteater took a deep breath and shouted.
Erin Solstice was sleeping in her bed. In the kitchen. On the floor. She was used to it now and it was comfy. She was sound asleep, but she woke up when she heard the shouting.
It was coming from the magic door. Erin stumbled over to it and saw the red mana stone was glowing. Someone had opened the door from the other side by accident. She stumbled over and heard loud shouts. She cautiously peeked through the door and saw chaos.
The five Redfang Warriors were running about, shouting. The Cave Goblins were just as excited. But—wait. Erin tried to make sense of it all.
Rabbiteater crowed as he ran about, arms raised. His cape fluttered behind him as the Goblins cheered. But the Hobs weren’t happy. They were chasing about the Cave Goblins, shouting. They didn’t use words—well, except for Numbtongue, but Erin got what they were saying.
Why him? The Redfang Warriors were upset. They were happy, well, sort of, but they were indignant. Why Rabbiteater? After all, Headscratcher was stronger. Shorthilt was better with a sword! Badarrow never missed a target! And Numbtongue had a guitar! They argued with the Cave Goblins, slapping their chests and flexing their muscles. But the Cave Goblins stared at Rabbiteater who was posing with the cloak on his back.
Their hero. And as the other four Hobs lay back, crestfallen, Erin smiled. She looked at Rabbiteater, who was smiling ear to pointed ear. She whispered quietly to herself.
“And Hufflepuff takes the lead.”
Then she closed the door and went to sleep.