2.22

Selys sat in her guild and desperately scribbled in the guestbook she’d borrowed from Erin. She had so many new adventurers flooding in to the guild recently, she thought she’d never get all the entries done and organized.

That was the thing not many people realized about adventuring. Sure, being able to hack apart a five-eyed slug that spat flaming acid was important, but did anyone think about who had to assess the bloody pieces and make sure it was actually an acid-spitting slug and not one that spat some kind of liquid flame? The bounties on those two varieties were different, and the paperwork that had to be done to make sure adventurers got paid on time was horrendous.

Even worse was the scheduling. Sure, you had a room full of warriors, but who did you send where? Obviously, sending a melee-group against a Rock Crab meant you’d end up with a bunch of red smears unless the adventurers were very high level, but then, who would you send? Mages needed backup, but independent adventurers didn’t work well together, and teams always had an agenda.

It was a tricky thing, running a guild like this. Selys was one of the older receptionists here, and certainly one of the most experienced, which meant that she often had to shoulder a lot of the responsibility. Her grandmother was Guildmaster, but up until now there hadn’t been much of a Guild to run, and so no one was ready for the tide of adventurers that had flooded into the city.

Selys scribbled another entry into her guestbook. At this rate, she’d never get it done. With one earhole she tried to listen to the person talking to her.

“Hmm? What’s that Messy? Another fight?”

Messyl, or Messy as he was known by everyone, made a face and raised his voice above the hubbub of the adventurers. He wasn’t an adventurer—he was just an apprentice [Carpenter], and a rather dreadful one at that. But he was a childhood friend, and so Selys reluctantly looked up as he spoke.

“I said, it’s the Gnolls! They left the city and went out, a whole lot of them! Some had weapons, and they were going towards that inn of yours.”

Selys dropped her quill.

“What? No. Why would they do that?”

Messy rolled his eyes expressively. He had slightly bulbous eyes, even more unusual on a Drake than a Human. His red-scaled tail thrashed with excitement as he spoke.

“The thief, why else? That new group of Gnoll warriors was not happy when they heard what she’d done. I heard they were howling all last night, and now—”

Selys had no time for the whys and wherefores of Gnoll politics. She stood up from her stool.

“If they’re going after the thief, Erin’s going to do something. I have to stop them!”

Messy eyed Selys dubiously.

“I don’t think you’re going to be able to talk down the Gnolls. They seem really angry. How did you not realize this was happening?”

“I’ve been here all day! I didn’t hear anything!”

Selys tried to think. Her tail lashed her stool as she looked around desperately.

“Krshia. Krshia can’t have been okay with this. I need to see her.”

It was abandoning her job, but Selys didn’t care. She stood up, and looked around the room. Could she leave this lot unattended and not come back to a smoldering ruin?

There were the usual assortment of Drakes and Gnolls in the building, but they were now joined by a sizable group of humans and some…not-humans. Selys’ eyes lingered on a group of three sitting in the back. They were one of the three Gold-rank teams who’d entered the city, and she had no idea what to do with them.

But then she spotted three adventurers who stood out from the rest. Mainly because they were all watching her.

Three Gnolls were staring directly at her, even as the other adventurers chatted and drank at their tables. Selys’ eyes darted towards the door, but one of the Gnolls was standing right next to it.

Selys gulped. It took no mean feat of the imagination to guess why they were here. Gnolls never did anything halfway, and if Krshia didn’t know some of them were going to kill the thief, they wouldn’t want anyone telling her. And while Selys knew there were other Drakes and even Humans in the room, she was just a receptionist. She didn’t think they’d stand up for her if some Gnolls decided to block her way. And if they did…

Selys was no fighter, even if she had the [Warrior] class now. She imagined what would happen if she tried to push her way past, and decided a full-scale fight inside the Guild was not something she wanted to be involved in.

But Krshia had to be told. Selys eyed the Gnolls again, and had an idea. The Drake’s tail twitched a few times, and then she slowly looked at the Drake in front of her.

“Messy? I’m going to check on our supplies in the back. Will you cover for me?”

The Drake gaped at Selys.

“What? I’m not a [Receptionist], Selys! What should I do?”

“It doesn’t matter. Just sit here and answer questions, okay?”

Selys slipped out from behind the counter and shoved her friend into the seat. He looked around helplessly as Selys eyed the Gnolls. They were waiting for her to make a break for it, she knew. She didn’t keep them waiting long. Selys ran—just not in the direction they were expecting.

The Gnolls blinked as Selys darted up the stairs. Two of the Gnolls rushed up after her. The other adventurers looked around, confused, and one of the not-quite Humans stood up.

“That was interesting. Should we have a look?”

“I don’t see why not.”

That came from a big…man sitting on the ground. He stood up as his two companions did likewise.

“An inn outside the city. Hm. It rings a bell. Isn’t that where the half-Elf is staying?”

“Coincidence? She might not be mixed up in it.”

“From all I’ve heard of Ceria Springwalker, she probably is. Let’s go, you two. We can at least see what all the fuss is.”

The big half-man walked towards the door, and everyone in his way made themselves scarce. Everyone but the Gnoll at the door, that was. The Gnoll looked up and hesitated, but he had orders.

Casually, the Gnoll stuck a furred arm to block the three adventurer’s passage. The Gnoll smiled up at the one in front.

“You do not want to leave, no?”

“I rather think we do. Could I persuade you to stand aside?”

“No, no. I have heard what you said and it would not be wise, no?”

The big ‘man’ chuckled.

“Wisdom has seldom been our asset. But I can see you won’t be budge. So…”

Delicately, the adventurer reached out. He flicked the Gnoll on the forehead lightly, and the Gnoll blinked and folded up as his eyes rolled back in his head.

The half-human looked around at the other two half-humans and smiled ruefully.

“Well. It looks like this might be very interesting after all. Shall we go?”

 

—-

 

Erin hated fighting. She hated when it happened, she hated that she could die, she hated the necessity of it, and the fact that she was actually good at fighting. At least, that was what Calruz had told her.

But in this world it was fight or flight or let a girl die, so Erin chose to fight. She just wished it was easier.

“[Power Strike]!”

She felt her knee connect hard with something, and then the Gnoll charging her grunted in pain. That was the second one she’d hit in the groin, but the problem was that this one wasn’t a guy. And for some reason, while Erin had hit the Gnoll hard, she hadn’t hit the Gnoll a quarter as hard as the skill should have allowed her to do.

The female Gnoll raised a paw and Erin ducked as it whished over her head. She punched the Gnoll twice in the stomach, shouting all the while.

“[Power Strike]! [Power Strike]! Why isn’t this—[Power Strike]!”

The Gnoll grunted and stepped back as Erin hit her. She was big, but Erin had been taught how to hit hard and she had [Lesser Strength]. The Gnoll swiped at Erin again, but she was clearly no warrior. In fact, she was short for a Gnoll, and Erin had the sneaking suspicion she was a teenager.

That made Erin feel guilty as she slugged the Gnoll as hard as she could in the stomach. The female Gnoll gasped and bent over, clutching her stomach, and Erin hit her on the cheek. The Gnoll fell down, and Erin stumbled away, gasping.

One down, a pack to go. The others weren’t going for Erin, though. They were trying to force their way in through the front door, and one had already begun smashing at the door.

“What’s happening? Who’s out there?”

Erin’s heart sank as she heard Lyon’s voice. The girl had no idea what was happening, and she was demanding answers in a high-pitched, frightened voice.

“I order you to tell me what is going on! Who’s out there?”

A snarl was her answer as one of the Gnolls smashed into the door with all his weight. Lyon shrieked and Erin dashed towards the Gnolls.

“Hide!”

Erin shouted at Lyon as she rammed into the first Gnoll from behind. He spun as she punched at him, but Erin twisted her head and hit him just under his ribcage.

[Power Strike]!

But again, Erin’s fist only struck the Gnoll with bruising strength, not the incredibly heavy blow that she’d used on Brunkr. Erin stared at her fist as she darted backwards, making the Gnoll run after her.

“Why isn’t it working!?”

“Hrr. Can’t do it more than once.”

Erin turned. Brunkr was back on his feet. He was wincing and bending over at the waist, but he was also very, very angry. He seized Erin’s fist as she punched at him and twisted.

“Aagh!”

Erin had to move or have her arm wrenched out of her socket. She bent sideways as Brunkr growled at her and the other Gnolls began ramming the door. Lyon’s screaming was the backdrop to Brunkr’s growling voice.

“Good kick. Now it is my turn, no? My Aunt may want you alive, but that does not mean unharmed, no?”

Well, that was a relief. She wasn’t going to die, but she was going to be horribly beaten up. Erin gulped and then tried to kick Brunkr in the nuts again. He caught her leg, and now Erin was hopping on one foot while she was all twisted up.

“First we will teach you a lesson, no? Then we will deal with the thief.”

“No.”

Brunkr turned. A shimmering ray of frost passed by his ear and struck a Gnoll in the back. The Gnoll howled in pain and confusion as ice spread across his back and he collapsed.

“Put her down and tell your friends to move away from the inn.”

“Ceria!”

Erin stared down the hill at the two mages and Brunkr snarled. Ceria was standing next to Pisces, her skeletal hand raised and pointing at Brunkr’s chest. Pisces stood next to her. He was holding a hamburger and trying to cram the rest of it into his mouth.

“This does not concern you, mages. Leave.”

Pisces looked like he was considering it, but Ceria just narrowed her eyes.

“Put Erin down. You’re not committing murder while I’m around.”

Brunkr’s scowled darkly down at the half-Elf. He nodded towards the door as he held Erin’s arm and leg.

“She is deserving of death.”

“That’s not for you to decide.”

“We will not be stopped.”

So saying, Brunkr lifted Erin above his head and then hurled her at the two mages. Erin felt the world whirling around her as she flew through the air.

Hooooooooly—

Erin crashed into Ceria and Pisces and scrambled to pick herself up. She couldn’t. She was completely winded and could only writhe on the ground in pain. Pisces was groaning, but Ceria raised her skeletal hand and shouted.

“[Snowy Blast]!”

Lying on the ground, Erin heard a whumph and the sound of something heavy hitting the ground. She looked up just in time to see the half-Elf blast another Gnoll off his feet with a massive burst of snow.

Brunkr snarled and descended the hill towards Ceria. She raised a finger and pointed.

“[Ray of Frost].”

A thin beam of shimmering light extended from her skeletal finger and struck Brunkr’s shield as he raised it just in time. The ice that formed around the shield and the intense cold made the Gnoll snarl in pain, but he kept coming.

“Pisces.”

“I’m up. Agh. Springwalker, do something about the ground, would you? They might not be warriors, but there are a lot of them.”

Pisces pushed himself up and rubbed at his head. He raised one hand and flicked an orb of fire at Brunkr as the Gnoll tried to advance. The Gnoll started dodging, but Pisces twisted his hand and the ball of fire flew around the shield and struck the Gnoll’s chest.

Erin heard a howl of pain and smelled burning fur, but then she saw a Gnoll had managed to bow the door of her inn inwards a bit. She didn’t know how she got up and ran the distance so fast, but then she was on his back, punching and hitting him wildly.

Fighting. Dodge, punch, kick. It was like Erin was learning to fight from Calruz again, only this time she was surrounded. And getting hurt. The Gnolls weren’t a friendly Minotaur or even Toren. They weren’t carrying weapons, but they were getting sick of pulling their punches.

Erin was in the thick of the fighting, punching, ducking, and getting hit. Erin reeled back as furred paw smacked the stars into her vision and swung a few times at the Gnoll in front of her. There were so many. And they were angry!

Brunkr was at the door, trying to break it down. But even his strength was having trouble with Antinium construction. The wood was splintering, but the Gnoll in front of Erin was too quick for her to tag, and he kept hitting her.

Erin stumbled and tasted blood in her mouth as the Gnoll struck her again. She felt flashes of darkness around her vision and saw a fist coming in low and fast.

But instead of flesh, the Gnoll’s fist met a shield made of bronze, and as the Gnoll recoiled in pain, a sword lanced out and caught him in the gut.

Toren twisted his sword and the Gnoll stepped backwards, gasping in pain. Erin stared stupidly as he skeleton shoved the Gnoll backwards and the larger Gnoll fell on his back. Toren wrenched the sword free and raised it high.

No!

Brunkr had seen the skeleton and now he turned from his opponents. He dropped the battered Pisces.

Toren was wearing armor. And he had a helmet! That was armor, but…Erin’s head was spinning. Why was Toren here? No—why was he wearing armor? And was he…bigger?

But the skeleton had dropped the shield in one hand and was holding his battered sword in a two-handed grip. He raised it above the Gnoll who was futilely shielding his face with his hands and Erin realized was going to kill the Gnoll who’d attacked her.

“Toren! Stop!

Erin shouted desperately, trying to will oxygen into her depleted lungs. She reached out for Toren as Brunkr charged at him.

The skeleton hesitated. He looked down at the fallen Gnoll, and then started to lower his sword. He turned towards Erin and an arrow pierced the back of his helmet and shattered his skull.

Fragments of something red sprayed out of the skeleton’s eye sockets and mouth like blood. Erin screamed as Toren collapsed to the ground.

Brunkr lowered his sword in confusion, and the other Gnolls looked around. Erin turned, and the Gnoll in front of her took that opportunity to seize her arm. He was about to slam her into the ground when an arrow struck him in the knee and sent him sprawling to the ground.

The Gnolls blinked as arrows suddenly began to take them down from afar. Erin gasped in relief and Brunkr hesitated, and that was when all four members of the Gold-rank team Griffon Hunt charged into the fight.

 

—-

 

Halrac drew an arrow out of the quiver at his side and loosed it in one movement. His second arrow struck a Gnoll in the legs and the huge beast went down, roaring as he or she did.

The [Scout] could never tell the furry people apart, but it didn’t really matter. Either gender was dangerous, so Halrac loosed three more arrows at Gnolls, striking them in their midsections and legs to hobble them.

They weren’t lethal shots, and he wasn’t using arrows with points. He had a special type of arrow he used when fighting people, and the blunt arrows might caught serious damage or break bones, but they wouldn’t kill with healing potions being so plentiful.

“Someone get the girl!”

He shouted the words as his three comrades spread out around him. Ulrien charged towards the Human girl they’d seen being attacked while Revi and Typhenous took spots next to Ulrien. It was their classic formation, and Halrac knew what they were doing almost before they spoke.

“Give me a minute and I’ll cover this area with webs.”

Typhenous raised his wand and began pointing it around the hilltop. The old mage watched several Gnolls turn towards him without a hint of concern. Halrac kept firing into the scrum around the human girl, covering her and the door. He could hear another girl screaming inside. They’d have to get to the inn, protect both girls somehow.

But instead of taking advantage of their surprise attack to run, the girl was backing up towards her door. And she was fighting!

The girl punched a tall Gnoll repeatedly in the chest as he swung at her, dodging back as he swiped at her. Halrac cursed as he shot at a huge Gnoll carrying a shield and sword. This Gnoll was clearly a warrior class of some kind; he was blocking every shot as he advanced on the girl.

“What in the name of monsters is she—Revi!”

“I see it. Calm down.”

Revi was pulling scraps of fabric out of her pouches. She tossed three into the air, and shimmering figures appeared.

“Warriors! Guard us and protect that girl!”

Three armed warriors—two male and one female—appeared out of the air and met the Gnolls who’d been charging at the three adventurers. They swung into the Gnolls and smashed into them hard. Even the weakest of Revi’s phantoms was close to a Silver-rank adventurer in strength; far more than a match for untrained fighters.

But there were a lot of angry Gnolls and Griffon Hunt wasn’t about to start killing civilians. Halrac shifted his gaze as he drew another arrow and eyed the two mages fighting the Gnolls separately from them.

Another Gold-rank team…? No, they were using low-level spells. One was throwing small orbs of flame at Gnolls to keep them away while the other one had frozen the ground around them, making footing unstable while she blasted Gnolls with huge showers of snow that knocked them flat.

Then Halrac’s eyes widened and he nudged Revi. The [Summoner] lowered the wand she was using to fire magical bolts of energy and gasped.

“Gods. It’s getting up. Ulrien!

“I see it.”

The warrior had halted his charge towards the girl. He instead ran towards the skeleton Halrac had shot through the skull and thought he’d killed again. The shattered bone around the skeleton’s head was reforming, and it was pushing itself onto its feet, shaking it’s head in a very human way.

Ulrien didn’t give it the chance to recover. He raised his great sword up and slashed horizontally as the skeleton turned. The big man’s blade wasn’t sharp, but the force behind his swing nearly sheared through the armor anyways.

The skeleton crumbled to the ground again, spineless, as Ulrien placed his boot on the broken armor and wrenched his sword free. He raised the sword to crush the skeleton completely, and Halrac prayed it would destroy the wretched thing once and for all.

Toren!

A voice made Halrac glance away from his friend. Someone was running at Ulrien. It was the girl. As the man turned, the girl ducked under his guard and delivered a right hook that made him stumble. Protected as he was by various enchantments, Ulrien wasn’t hurt so much as shocked. He raised a hand, and the skeleton took that moment to stab at his legs.

Halrac gaped, but his hands moved faster than his incredulous brain. He’d lined up another non-lethal shot to take the girl down when he spotted something flying his way.

The [Scout] ducked, and the tendril-thin beam of magic just missed his head. He saw the half-Elf pointing at him, and suddenly realized the other mage’s arc of fire had just expanded towards him, Revi and Typhenous.

Halrac blinked as both mages and the innkeeper started fighting them instead. He gaped as a stone cracked into his shoulder and then the girl began punching at Ulrien.

“Dead gods! What are they doing?

Halrac had to take cover as Typhenous and Revi began erecting magical shields. His shoulder was on fire, despite the leather armor that had protected him from the girl’s throw. He glanced at Revi as everyone, Gnolls, half-Elf, and Humans, suddenly decided they wanted to team up on them.

“There’s more coming from the city. You kill that skeleton—I’ll hold them off.”

“Wait. Typhenous. Don’t—”

Halrac didn’t have time to caution the mage. Revi and Typhenous turned and began casting spells at another foe. Halrac cursed as he saw Ulrien was now trying to ward off the crazed girl and fight the Gnoll with the sword and shield at the same time. This was going from bad to worse.

And the skeleton was still moving. Somehow, even the damage Ulrien had done to it was being repaired, but slowly. Was it running out of mana? Halrac  didn’t know, but he drew a special arrow out of his quiver anyways. This one would burn even the damn thing’s bones.

Halrac drew the arrow, sighted down the shaft, and then there was fire.

 

—-

 

Zevara hated Humans. Not just because they looked like pink, shaved pigs and they smelled horrible, but because they caused trouble.

True, Drakes and Gnolls caused trouble too, and Zevara was certain it was a Gnoll problem she was walking into right now, but she was also certain it was Humans who’d made the problem even worse.

One Human, in particular. And since Zevara had seen exactly what happened around Erin Solstice, she’d brought her best reinforcements.

“Relc, I want you to get in there and start cracking heads. Don’t use your spear unless you have to.”

The large Drake grinned at Zevara.

“No problem, Captain!”

“Klbkch. I might need Soldiers if the Gnolls start rioting.”

“We will monitor the situation.”

Klbkch and Relc weren’t the only pair of Senior Guardsmen in the city, but between the two, they represented the Watch’s greatest fighting strength. The Antinium nodded at Zevara as she led them and a group of Guardsmen up the hill towards the inn.

“I have heard another group of Gold-rank adventurers have joined the battle. How shall we engage?”

“Let Relc handle them. I’ll try to talk them down.”

“Why’re they here anyways? Did Erin bother them too?”

Zevara snarled and hastened her step. She didn’t want these adventurers in her city, but she had no desire to tangle with a Gold-rank team.

“Who cares why they’re fighting? They’re adventurers. They swarm to brawls like acid flies! Now—”

Her [Dangersense] that had been ringing in the back of her head went off loudly and Zevara ducked as a jet of something sticky flew right at her. It smacked into two Drakes and they cried out as the ball of webbing unfolded and snared them in place.

“Spread out! Relc!”

He was already gone. Zevara saw him sprinting towards a huge adventurer holding a great sword and a Gnoll—one of the ones who’d just entered the city—holding a shield and sword.

Zevara was more concerned about the mages, though. She recognized Ceria and Pisces—they were exchanging spells with two mages and an archer as Gnolls charged both. One lifted up Pisces and threw the screaming mage down the hill and knocked Ceria flat with one paw as she watched.

The Gold-rank adventurers were having a better time of it. Three shimmering warriors defended the group, and Zevara recognized them as summoned beings, brought forth by a [Summoner]. They were battering the Gnolls down with ruthless efficiency. One of the mages was firing bolts of magic that was blasting people off their feet, and the other was engulfing group after group in sticky webs.

That was the group Zevara needed to stop. She strode towards them, shouting.

“This is the Watch! Put down your weapons and stop fighting at once!”

None of the fighters around the inn heard her. Zevara didn’t have [Loud Voice] as a skill, and at times like this she really regretted its absence.

But her voice did attract the attention of the Gold-rank adventurers and one of the ghostly phantasms that was standing next to them. The tanned warrior turned and charged towards them. Zevara reached for her sword, but a brown blur appeared in front of her and met the phantasm in a clash of sparks.

“Klbkch!”

He fell back as the ghostly warrior swung a huge axe at him, forcing the Antinium back. Zevara ducked as one of the adventurers raised a wand and engulfed three of her Guardsman and an equal amount of Gnolls in a sticky web.

Zevara pointed her sword at the mage who’d cast the spell. She shouted at him as she advanced.

Enough! Stop this at once! Put down your wand and—”

She got no further. A magical missile flew towards her and Zevara blocked it with her sword. The force of the impact jarred the blade out of her hand and sent the Watch Captain stumbling back. She looked up and saw another mage, a female with stitches around her neck and arms, pointing a wand at her.

That was it. Zevara hissed. She took a deep breath and spat fire at the adventurers. One of them shouted in panic, but the old man with a wand raised his and shouted.

“[Barrier of Air]!”

The flames spread out and vanished as they hit a wall of swirling wind. Zevara watched the flames dissipate, and cursed inwardly. She took a deep breath, and breathed a stronger jet of flame.

Again, the flames dissipated, but the mage had to throw up both hands to maintain the spell. Zevara gasped for air. The world darkened and turned grey as it always did after she used her birthright, and she tried to inhale. But she had to keep breathing fire. She breathed again, and the mages began firing at her. Her guardsmen returned fire with spell and arrow, and Zevara’s only conscious thought was that it was lucky Olesm wasn’t here. That way he wouldn’t see her kill that damn Human.

—-

Far below the surface, Olesm paused as Pawn and Bird both looked up towards the surface. He hesitated, a bishop in his claws.

“Something wrong?”

Both Antinium looked at him silently, and then shook their heads.

“No.”

“Nothing.”

“Oh. Well then.”

Olesm moved a piece and frowned as Bird and Pawn studied the board. He glanced over at the other Workers and the silently watching Ksmvr.

“…Does anyone have anything to drink down here?”

 

—-

 

Ulrien, Captain of Griffon Hunt and Gold-rank adventurer, was having trouble. He was fighting two enemies at once, which wouldn’t normally be a problem, but he couldn’t kill either. One, a Gnoll with a sword and shield, was pressuring him fairly hard. He was better than a Silver-rank adventurer, but his equipment wasn’t magical, and so Urien could block his strikes with his enchanted great sword and push him back with his superior strength.

But the other was a human girl who Urien had thought he was going to save, and she was troublesome. She kept kicking him in his unprotected back, and punching him in the side, shouting all the while. It didn’t hurt much—despite Urien’s lack of armor, he had several enchanted rings that took the force of the impacts, but it was throwing him off.

“We are not your ene—”

Urien grunted as the girl slammed into his side, and the Gnoll rushed forwards and bashed him with his shield. The big man growled and lashed out, knocking the Gnoll back. He swung at the girl—

And someone caught his fist.

Urien’s entire body lurched as all his momentum suddenly stopped against whatever had grabbed him. He looked over and saw a grinning Drake, just as big as he was.

“Hey. Nice sword.”

Relc raised a fist and punched Ulrien, sending the adventurer stumbling backwards as Erin gaped. But not for long; she heard a growl and saw Brunkr coming at her. Erin ducked and hammered at the Gnoll’s ribs, but then Brunkr caught her with a fist that made her wake up on the ground a second later.

“You might be a pretty tough guy, but I—”

The Drake ducked just in time as Ulrien punched back. Relc jumped back and then his spear was stabbing at Ulrien, butt-first so the adventurer staggered back as Relc bludgeoned him.

“Hey! Drop your weapon or I’ll have to hurt you, got it?”

Relc shouted, but Ulrien wasn’t about to surrender. He kept swinging his great sword, cutting the air with devastatingly powerful cuts that made Relc leap back. The Drake laughed as he hammered Ulrien’s chest with his spear.

“You’ll have to be quicker than that! You—ulp!”

An arrow flew at his face. Relc grabbed it out of the air, but that left him open. Ulrien slashed upwards with his sword and Relc raised his spear to block.

The thick shaft of wood splintered and broke as the blade swept right through it. Relc cursed and leapt backwards as Ulrien continued his cut and swung at the Drake’s ribs with the flat of his blade.

The Drake stared at his broken spear in his claws. His eyes narrowed. Relc raised the broken shaft of his spear and stabbed at Ulrien repeatedly, forcing the big man to defend himself.

It was a bad matchup. Ulrien’s teeth gritted as he swing faster, but he couldn’t catch the Drake, even as big as he was. And he was wary of actually hitting the Drake for fear he would kill him—

Relc had no such compunctions. As Urien guarded against one of his thrusts, Relc took a step back and twisted. Swung by the momentum of his body, Relc’s tail slapped Ulrien in the face right before he roundhouse-kicked the man off his feet.

The Drake laughed and kicked the great sword out of Ulrien’s hands. He raised his broken spear into the air, crowing with delight.

“Hah! Who’s n—”

Relc twisted as another blunt arrow flew towards his face. Halrac lowered his bow and pulled another arrow out. The arrowhead looked like ice, and it was glowing with blue light.

“Oh?”

 

—-

 

Halrac aimed down his arrow straight at the Drake’s torso. He was sure the Drake would survive the shot; the way he’d just outfought Ulrien proved it. The damn Drake could dodge his arrows, but this was magical; it would explode as soon as it got within range of the Drake, dodging or not.

The Drake was watching him, spreading his arms out and shouting something. Halrac ignored the taunting and pulled the arrow as far back as he could. Time to use an activated skill. He spoke as his fingers loosened on the arrow.

“[Pinpoint Sh—]”

Something kicked his bow out of line. Halrac cursed, turned with the arrow still nocked, and froze.

“Alright. That’s enough out of you, Halrac. Unless you really want to get us in trouble with the city?”

A pale woman was standing right next to Halrac, staring down at him. He looked up at her, and recognized her instantly. From the deathly whiteness of her skin to the black chainmail she wore, and her perfectly black eyes, there could be only one person she could be, at least on this continent.

“Jelaqua Ivirith.”

The female adventurer held the three-headed flail at her side as she stood casually next to Halrac. She hadn’t raised it, but he’d stopped moving.

“Halrac. Good to see you again.”

“What in the hells are you doing?”

“Stopping you. I should be asking what you’re doing, fighting the Watch and civilians like this.”

Halrac’s eyes flicked towards the large Drake.

“That’s a guardsman?

“Liscor’s best. He’s moderately famous in the south part of the continent.”

The Drake was staring at Jelaqua, and he’d stopped smiling. She winked at him, and he made a face.

“Let’s all calm down, hm?”

Halrac wasn’t sure he wanted to obey her, but he was within her range. He looked over and saw Jelaqua’s other two companions had joined the fight as well.

A massive man, eight or perhaps even nine feet tall stood in front of Typhenous. The old mage hesitated as the giant man smiled down at him. This new adventurer was wearing patched clothing, but held in his hands a massive staff crowned by an orb that shimmered with light. He nodded politely at Typhenous.

The older mage’s lips curled. He stared up at the small giant, his own wand shimmering with magic.

“Moore.”

“Lower your wand, Typhenous. I don’t want any trouble.”

“You can’t stop me. You’re not half the mage I am.”

Moore sighed hugely, and rubbed at his chin with fingers the size of plump sausages.

“I shouldn’t like to argue that point, but I will stop you if need be.”

He and Typhenous stared at each other, and then Typhenous lifted his wand and pointed it at the other adventurer.

“[Eltraz’s Bin—]”

The giant man didn’t raise his staff. Instead he stepped forwards and kicked Typhenous before the mage could utter his spell. The old man choked and fell down.

Moore sighed and stood over the mage. He planted one finger on the man’s back as he struggled to rise.

“All’s fine over here, Jelaqua.”

Jelaqua nodded as Halrac gritted his teeth. Revi had paused, and he could see her hesitating. Two of her warrior constructs were down, bleeding wisps of magic as she faced off against the angry Drake breathing fire, but she had one hand in her pouch. Halrac shook his head at her slightly. Now was not the time to waste magic or her constructs.

“Wise man. Now, let’s hope your leader is just as sensible.”

Halrac saw Jelaqua pointing, and realized the last member of her group had appeared. A tall, gaunt man covered in what looked like a…a shell across half his body was standing next to Ulrien, holding a dagger in one hand. His other hand, or rather, entire arm was segmented with dark fungus and what looked like a crustacean’s pincer instead of a hand.

“Ulrien.”

“Seborn.”

“I hope you’re not going to fight anymore. It seems pointless, given the circumstances.”

Ulrien glanced at Relc and shrugged slightly.

“Depends. But we won’t fight with your lot unless we’ve got a reason.”

“Fair enough. I doubt our Captain wants any more strife than necessary.”

The two…men…nodded at each other. Ulrien glanced around and raised his great sword slightly as Relc glared at both adventurers.

“You wanna fight? Huh?”

The person known as Seborn shifted slightly. He held his dagger backwards as he turned sideways towards Relc instead of Ulric. Both adventurers eyed the Drake, as Relc glared at both. They were at a standoff, right up until Erin crashed into the center of the trio, swinging at Brunkr as the Gnoll punched back.

 

—-

 

“You will regret this!”

Brunkr roared at Erin as she ducked another huge swing from him. He wasn’t quick, but he was so strong and tough! She’d been punching him as hard as she could, but he just kept on coming!

“You’re not going to hurt her! Stop! Go away!”

She lashed out and caught Brunkr with a good kick to the legs, but he just growled and came on. She ran backwards, ducking and dodging away from him.

Erin was vaguely aware that something was going on. She didn’t see any more Gnolls at the door of her inn, and she thought there were more people, but all of her attention was on Brunkr. His face was twisted into a snarl as he came after her.

“You punch like a weakling, no? Who taught you how to fight?”

“A Minotaur! And he was the best fighter in the world!”

Erin shouted as she planted a punch straight on Brunkr’s jaw. He swept his arm at her and backhanded her so hard Erin thought some of her teeth came loose. She staggered.

“Weak. The Minotaur taught you poorly.”

“He did not!”

Her head was spinning, but she couldn’t fall down. She gritted her teeth and ran at Brunkr, ignoring the punch that made the entire world freeze for a second.

“He taught me! Me! Punch! He taught me to punch!”

She was right in front of Brunkr. Erin planted her feet and began hammering him in the chest, screaming. She was out of everything. She didn’t even know what she was saying; all she could do or think was punch.

“Minotaur! Punch! Punch! Minotaur…[Minotaur Punch]!

Something clicked in Erin’s head. She felt something change, and then felt her fist meet Brunk’s stomach. But instead of harmlessly bouncing off his furred body, this time her fist hit the Gnoll and sent him reeling back.

Brunkr coughed, and Erin stared at her fist. He clutched at his stomach, but then roared and raised a fist. Erin raised hers faster.

“[Minotaur Punch]!”

Unlike [Power Strike], this skill worked twice in a row. Erin hit Brunkr so hard even she felt it, and he doubled over and puked up food and blood. Erin staggered back. Her arm felt wobbly, but she stood her ground even so.

Something was happening around her. Erin saw Relc—wait, Relc?—spinning past her, dueling two adventuerers at once. One had…fungi on his face and a crab claw on one hand?

What was going on? Erin looked around, bewildered, and saw the man with the bow who’d shot Toren rolling away from a woman with a flail of all things. And Toren was on his feet and fighting Gnolls at the door to the inn, Lyon was screaming, Ceria was pinned by Zevara and—

What was happening? Erin staggered. The world was still spinning, but her blood was still boiling. Her friends were fighting with strangers, and the Gnolls were still trying to get towards the inn. Erin felt sick. She wanted to throw up, but more than that she wanted everyone to stop fighting.

That urge grew in Erin’s chest, until it felt like a living thin wanting to get free. And Erin felt like she could almost feel that desire in the air around her. It was like heat; and it was all around her inn. She opened her mouth, and screamed.

 

Everybody stop!

 

—-

 

The blast of sound made Halrac jerk and nearly caught one of Jelaqua’s wicked flails to a shoulder as he rolled away from her. He raised his bow, but then felt his arms grow heavy.

The air changed as the innkeeper shouted. Halrac’s body suddenly grew incredibly heavy—he could still move, but it was like something huge was pressing down on him from above.

Jelaqua paused as she raised her flail, and stared over at the inn. Both adventuerers saw the entire hilltop had stopped, caught by the same oppressive weight that had struck them.

“Some kind of Skill. Feels like an aura effect.”

“I can still move.”

The dark-eyed adventurer eyed Halrac, annoyed.

“This isn’t your fight, Halrac. Your team is only going to cause trouble for us all.”

Halrac hesitated.

“But the Gnolls—”

“Use your eyes. This has gotten too big. Stop fighting and let’s talk.

Jelaqua glared at him as she lowered her flail. Halrac had his fingers on an arrow in his quiver, but he hesitated. He could see she was watching him. Slowly, he lowered his bow.

“Revi—Typhenous—”

Halrac turned and looked around. Typhenous was still on the ground, and Revi was very still. He saw she was standing with both arms raised, not moving an inch. That was probably to avoid the two sword blades from cutting into her neck as an Antinium warrior held them to Revi’s throat.

“I would suggest no one move. This battle is now over.”

Klbkch’s voice was loud and carrying, and unlike Erin’s it generated a silence all of its own. Across the hill, Gnolls stopped fighting and guardsmen lowered their weapons. Revi’s magical constructs were frozen in place, and Relc paused as both Ulrien and Seborn halted.

Zevara got up out of the grass, and Klbkch lowered one of his swords, keeping the other level with Revi’s throat. Halrac could see the drops of sweat as they rolled down her face.

The Antinium looked around calmly, nodding to the girl.

“Miss Solstice. Good day. I regret this state of affairs. I will do my best to resolve it with the assistance of my colleagues in the Watch.”

Everyone stared. Klbkch slowly lowered his other sword, and Revi felt at her uncut throat. She raised one trembling finger and pointed slowly at the Antinium.

“You—you’re in the Watch?”

Klbkch nodded. He looked at her with his expressionless, insect face and Halrac shuddered with fear and disgust.

“I am. My name is Klbkch and I am a Senior Guardsman in the City Watch of Liscor.”

He looked around at the others on the hill.

“And it is my duty to inform you that you are all under arrest.”

 

—-

 

Erin had never been arrested back in her world. She was…had been…a normal person who didn’t do anything crazy like start massive brawls. She’d certainly never done drugs, and if she had tried alcohol, it had been in chess clubs late at night where the police seldom go unless someone starts flipping boards.

But now she was under arrest, only…not?

“I believe this incident was not entirely your fault, but considering the damage done and violence, it is my assessment that your inn should be placed under guard temporarily.”

That was Klbkch’s explanation, which essentially just meant a bunch of scary Drakes with swords and bows were standing around her inn looking threateningly while Zevara shouted at people. The Drake had taken her turn with Erin, even though Erin had explained what had happened.

“I don’t care why you decided to pick a fight with half the Gnolls in the city! But thanks to you and that damned thief, I’ve got over thirty wounded civilians and guardsmen here!”

“It wasn’t my fault! They were going to kill her!”

“We have every right! She has done much damage to our clan!”

Brunkr shouted angrily at Erin as he clenched his fists on the other side of Zevara. He was being held by two Gnolls, both of which were as battered and bloody as he was. Relc raised his fist threateningly, but the Gnoll didn’t seem the least bit intimidated. He snarled at Erin and the guardsmen, causing several of them to raise their weapons.

“We demand justice!

“Justice has been done! You Gnolls are in defiance of the law! And you!”

Zevara spun and jabbed a finger at the sullen adventurers sitting together.

“Why did you decide to join in the fighting?”

One of the adventurers, a man wearing dark leather and holding a bow, raised his head and glared at the Drake. He pointed at Erin.

“We thought that the Gnolls were attacking the girl. And we’d just seen a skeleton come back to life after we destroyed it once. We were concerned it was Revenant of some kind, and we were tracking it.”

Zevara turned and stared hard at Toren. The skeleton was still wearing his armor, although it had been horribly mangled by the great sword that had cut straight through the middle of it. He stared at Zevara and she turned away in disgust.

“Ancestors save me from idiotic Humans—and you? What’s your excuse?”

She pointed at the three adventurers who’d helped end the fighting. Erin stared at the pale woman with totally black eyes before she shifted to the half-crab-fungi man and the giant with the staff. The female adventurer inclined her head towards Zevara.

“Watch Captain. We heard about the fighting and were spectating until we saw Griffon Hunt entering the fray. We decided to help stop the fighting.”

Zevara shot Jelaqua an icy look, but apparently she didn’t have much to say about that. Instead, it was Brunkr who lurched forwards, forcing the two Gnolls holding him to strain hard to keep him back.

“We demand vengeance! We will have the thief’s heart, Watch or not! You cannot stop us!”

The Captain of the Watch turned on Brunkr with fury in her eyes.

“If you try to attack someone again, I will arrest you and every Gnoll who joins you!”

The Gnoll snarled at Zevara.

“Try it. If anything happens to me, the Silverfang tribe will go to war against this city! We will not be stopped!

“Oh really? This is something that I wish to hear. It is news to me. How is it that we will be defying the law in Liscor, hmm?”

Brunkr paused. Erin saw his angry expression suddenly shift, and his ears suddenly flattened down hard. He turned, face apprehensive.

Krshia stood behind Brunkr, arms folded, face like iron. Selys peeked her head around the Gnoll and on her other side, Erin saw a woman dressed in armor.

Yvlon nodded at Erin and smiled. She was wearing the silver armor Erin had spotted in her room. She was also looking a lot healthier—her face was nearly healed, and she looked completely steady on her feet.

Brunkr shrank as Krshia walked forwards until their faces were inches apart. He was taller than his Aunt, but he cowered in front of her. He raised placating hands.

“Aunt—”

She seized him by one ear, and Brunkr yelped like a dog as Krshia began to twist.

“Brunkr. My eyes and ears and nose must be deceiving me, no? Or else why am I seeing many Gnolls here, when they should be in the city? That should not be, no? Because I distinctly remember giving orders not to go after the thief, no? Or is my word no longer good enough for you? Do you want to become Chieftain already, hm? Is that what you are thinking?”

He whined and started to protest, but Krshia bent down and whispered something in his ear. Erin didn’t hear, but it made Brunk go wide-eyed and silent. Krshia dragged him off and suddenly—

It was over.

 

—-

 

“I can’t believe it. That…thing is yours? And you let it wander around unchecked?”

Erin wanted to back away from the angry female mage named Revi. She was already regretting offering a free meal to everyone who’d been fighting. The Gnolls had all left for the city with Krshia, but she had a room full of guardsmen and, unfortunately, irate adventurers.

“Toren? Well…Pisces made him, and he’s helpful. I guess he goes off sometimes, but he doesn’t hurt anyone, right? I mean, you said he was just fighting a…Snow Golem? That’s not bad, is it?”

Another adventurer leaned forwards. He was…Halrac? The [Scout]  guy. He looked angry and annoyed, but Erin hadn’t seen his expression change the entire time he’d been here.

“Frankly, Miss Solstice, any undead is potentially dangerous, and this one killed a construct we sent after it. Your servant is far more intelligent than normal undead, which should be impossible if he’s not a Revenant.”

“Well…that’s good, right?”

Erin saw the other adventurers of Griffon Hunt exchange a glance. Ulrien, the big guy who looked like some kind of bodybuilder cleared his throat and shook his head.

“You said one of your customers animated him? Which one?”

“Pisces. Oh—he’s upstairs. Sleeping. I can introduce him to you later, if you like.”

Erin pointed upstairs. Pisces was sleeping, and for once she hadn’t begrudged him the bed. He’d had a horribly swollen face after the battle, and Brunkr and the other Gnolls had battered him repeatedly. Erin knew she owed him a favor, although she hated to think of how many free meals that would mean.

“I don’t think it would help.”

Ulrien looked troubled as he shook his head. The last adventurers, an old man named Typhenous, lowered his mug long enough to stare hard at Erin.

“We don’t mean to accuse you, Miss Solstice. But undead are dangerous, and this one has several unique abilities we’ve never seen a skeleton exhibiting. I would be cautious, if I were you.”

Erin glanced over at Toren. He was circulating the room, refilling mugs held out by wary guardsmen as efficiently as ever. She didn’t get the problem. If anything, it was Lyon who Erin felt like worrying about.

The girl was unusually subdued after the fight, almost worryingly so. She was actually obeying orders albeit ineffectively. Erin winced as she saw the girl nearly trip and splash some soup all over a guardsman’s back.

“I’ll keep an eye on him. But um, thanks for helping me, I guess. I would have been in trouble if you hadn’t helped clear out the Gnolls.”

Halrac waved a hand and grunted while the other adventurers made similar noises and faces to match. Revi glared across the room at Relc. The Drake was laughing loudly at his own table with Klbkch, happily downing all the precious alcohol Erin had just bought in the city.

“Just be careful, and keep that thing on a tighter leash.”

Erin nodded, and backed away from the table. She was so busy backing up she ran into something huge and solid behind her. She turned, and jumped.

“My apologies, Miss Erin.”

Erin looked up, and up into a huge face staring apologetically down at her. She’d seen the giant man before of course, but she’d been a bit busy with everything that had happened. Now, though, Erin could fully realize what she was seeing.

“…Hodor?”

Moore’s fare wrinkled up with confusion, but he smiled and stuck out a massive hand anyways.

“It’s Moore, ma’am. I’m very grateful you’ve provided me with such a fine meal, although I must insist I pay.”

“What? Oh, no, I wouldn’t dream of it. You’re very welcome to eat here, especially with how much help you’ve been! Lots! Huge amounts!”

Erin babbled as she gently shook his hands—or rather, a few fingers of his hand. Moore smiled, and gestured towards the door. Erin realized he was trying to get out and hurriedly stepped aside.

“Thank you. I believe I’ve had a bit too much to drink. I suppose it’s too much to hope that you have a giant-sized outhouse to match your hospitality?”

“What? Oh, no. Oh, I don’t. I’m so sorry!”

Moore shook his head and smiled at Erin.

“Please, please. I’m quite used to standing out. I’ll simply find a quiet spot to ah, relieve myself. It’s no worry.”

He stepped out of the inn, bending to avoid smacking his head on the doorframe. Erin heard laughter, and turned to see the other two adventuerers sitting at a table.

“I do believe you’ve embarrassed Moore. He’s not used to someone being so concerned for him.”

Erin walked over and saw Ceria was sitting with Jelaqua and the odd man named Seborn. Her eyes drifted down towards the claw on his hand and the odd puffed up skin—or was it mold?—covering half of his body. She jerked her eyes away as he looked at her and smiled at the other two.

“Oh, I’m sorry. It’s just that he’s…I mean, I’ve never seen anyone like him. Is he a, uh, a giant?”

“Quarter-giant, or eighth-giant, actually. He’s not sure, but don’t worry about it. He’s used to the stares, and so are we.”

Jelaqua stood and held out a hand towards Erin. Erin took it and found the other woman’s skin was clammy and cold to the touch. She blinked, but Ceria learned forwards and explained.

“Ah, Erin. These adventurers are all part-human, like me.”

“Really? I mean…oh. That’s cool? I mean, not cool exactly, but it’s nice? Not that being Human is cool or nice or not being Human is bad, but—um. Sorry. Thanks for helping, and uh, nice to meet you?”

Erin blushed as she stumbled over her words. She had no idea what to say, but apparently that was the right thing. Jelaqua blinked, and then burst out laughing. Even Seborn smiled, or at least, half of his face did.

“We’re delighted to meet someone as open-minded as you, Miss Solstice. We would have helped anyways, but I must confess, we had a reason for helping.”

Jelaqua nodded towards Ceria, and the half-Elf blinked in surprise. Seborn nodded.

It was good we found you here. We have an offer to extend to you, Springwalker.

He had a curiously resonant voice, as if he was speaking from inside some kind of room. Ceria blinked at the two adventuerers in surprise.

“Me? I’m surprised you know of me.”

Jelaqua laughed.

“Well, we keep tabs on people like you. But where are my manners?”

She extended a hand towards Ceria, and the half-Elf gingerly took it. She apparently knew that Jelaqua’s skin was different from normal, because she didn’t react as the two briskly shook hands.

“Ceria Springwalker, my name is Jelaqua Ivirith. I’m leader of the Halfseekers or, as you might have heard of us, the Half Freaks.”

Her lips twisted sardonically as the adventurers continued.

“We’re a Gold-rank team, but we’ve lost a few members recently, and we came here looking to explore this new dungeon, but also to scout for someone to join us. And after seeing you fight, we think you might fit well with us.”

Ceria gasped in surprise and half-rose out of her seat. Erin stared at the two adventurers in surprise. Gold-rank? That was…really important, wasn’t it? Ceria looked from Jelaqua to Seborn in stunned astonishment.

“What? Me? But I’m only a Silver-rank adventurer! And I just lost my entire party. I barely have any magical artifacts on me what could I—?”

“Please, Ceria, calm down.”

Jelaqua smiled at Ceria as she put a hand on the half-Elf’s shoulder.

“We may be a Gold-rank team, but that doesn’t mean we have to hire only Gold-rank adventurers. Besides, it’s worth finding someone competent even if we have to level them up and give them a few magical items to get them started. Most importantly, you’re a half-Elf, like us. We need people we can work with, not people afraid of non-Humans.”

“It’s just so sudden. I don’t know—I’m honored of course, but—”

Ceria stammered, and Jelaqua shook her head.

“Take your time. We just wanted to mention that. It’s part of the reason we came out here and were able to help.”

Seborn nodded.

Half-species are rare enough that we knew your name. So when we heard of the dungeon, it was easy enough to make the decision to journey here.

“I will certainly think about it, thank you. It’s just that I have other people I’m considering forming a party with—”

Ceria glanced down a few tables. Yvlon was eating with Selys in a corner of the room. Jelaqua shrugged.

“Take your time. We’re waiting to unearth the entrance to the dungeon, so there’s plenty of time for you to think. And we’ll talk later – this is just so you know.”

Ceria nodded slowly. She looked overwhelmed. Erin could bear it no more. She raised her voice nervously and all three demi-humans looked at her.

“Um. Uh, is it rude if I ask what species you all are? I don’t want to be rude but—”

“It’s no problem. Most people don’t ask or they know.”

Jelaqua smiled as she pointed at Moore who’d just returned, ducking his head as he reentered the inn.

“Moore is part-Giant as you know. He’s our [Mage]. Our only spell caster, unless Ceria joins us. Next we have Seborn, our [Rogue]. He’s a Drowned Man.”

Seborn nodded.

I’ve been like this ever since I was a young man.

“Uh, Drowned…?”

The half-man nodded. He turned slightly and raised his crab arm so Erin could get a good look at him. He did look disturbingly like some kind of fungi was growing on him, but now that Erin looked closer, she could see where dark red carapace was had mixed with the puffed skin.

“It’s the name of our people—of everyone who’s suffered this fate. There’s a creature that lives in the sea that latches onto your body and melds with it. It can take your mind over unchecked, but even if you kill it, it will still change you forever. Half of me is monster, but it doesn’t affect me in any way save for my appearance.”

“Oh. I’m…I’m sorry?”

Seborn smiled at Erin, and shrugged.

“No need to be sorry, is there? I’ve gotten used to it.”

“And I’m a Selphid.”

Jelaqua said that as if the name itself should be explanatory. Erin frowned, and Ceria spoke up.

“Erin doesn’t know many other races. Ah, Erin, a Selphid is…well, you could call them parasites if you were rude, but they’re more like…”

“Parasites is a good word. We’re thieves, only we steal bodies instead of anything else. It’s troublesome, but it’s the only way we can live.”

The woman smiled at Erin, who had no idea what any of them were talking about.

“You mean you’re a ghost?”

Again, the adventurers laughed. Jelaqua shook her head.

“Haven’t you heard of the body snatchers of Baleros? No? We’re a species that find dead bodies and inhabit them, sort of like what happened to Seborn. Only, I can move between bodies and…well, I suppose it’s easiest to show you.”

Jelaqua stood up and pushed her chair back. She walked over to Erin, and then pulled her chainmail off. Erin blinked, but then Jelaqua had begun pulling her shirt off. And then her bra.

“What are you—hey!”

Erin turned away, and made shooing motions at the other guardsmen.

“No one look! No staring!”

She paused when she realized no one was. The guardsmen were staring hard the other way, and the members Griffon Hunt were staring at their food grimly. Across the room Relc shouted.

“Aw. The freak’s going to do that disgusting thing!”

Erin turned to glare at him, but Jelaqua chuckled. Erin found herself looking at a very pale—nearly albino in fact—set of breasts. Jelaqua tapped her chest and smiled at Erin.

“Watch. Don’t be alarmed, now. It’s just that Selphids are—”

Her chest opened up. Erin saw the skin part as something inside pushed the skin and bones away like wrapping paper. The inside of Jelaqua wasn’t red—no, it was nearly as white as the rest of her. Her skin was bloodless, as were her organs. Probably because Jelaqua’s body wasn’t living.

She was dead. And it was the writhing mass of creatures inside her, the dark green and yellow things that blinked and squiggled at Erin and waved long, thin tendrils like spaghetti that were living.

Something pulsated, and then Erin saw two lungs inside of Jelaqua’s organs expand, and her mouth opened and spoke.

“See? We live inside dead bodies. We’re parasites, but don’t worry—we don’t inhabit living people as a rule. We take on the attributes of our host, but we can change bodies if one gets damaged. Healing potions don’t work on dead flesh you see, and Erin? Erin?”

“Ah.”

Erin stared down at the chest-bursting…the thing that came out of her body…the tendrils of the flesh-exploding…skin…tearing open…

Her eyelids flickered a few times. Erin smiled at the creatures waving at her inside the dead body’s chest, blinked, and then fainted backwards.

No one caught her.

Jelaqua frowned down at Erin as the vine-like tendrils slowly closed the flesh back together seamlessly. She looked around with her human head at the others and scowled.

“Oh come on. I saw her put a Gnoll’s head through a window, and she went toe-to-toe with a Gold-rank adventurer, but this she faints over?”

Erin didn’t hear her. She lay unconscious on the ground until Klbkch helped Ceria bring her up to a room upstairs and slept for the rest of the day, which passed by with much drama and excitement, but no more chest-bursting or fighting.

It was the first of many eventful days to come.

 

[Skill Change – Power Strike → Minotaur Punch!]

[Skill – Minotaur Punch Obtained!]

 


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78 thoughts on “2.22

  1. ATTENTION: On Sunday and Monday I will be posting last month’s Patreon side stories, 1.00 C and 1.01 C. The prompt for the story chosen was ‘the [Clown]’. And now back to your regularly scheduled comment.

    It’s occurred to me that all I should focus on rather than self-promotion and stuff like that is writing. It’s hard enough right now; I could really use a break to frolic with the bees and ants and horrible larvae in the wonderful summer air outside. Instead I’m writing.

    …This is a positive comment, by the way. I hope the fight scene worked well and the chapter as a whole; I had to cut some explanatory parts out which makes me feel as if this is rather scattershot–it’s always an experiment as I’ve said, but this one was particularly taxing to me. Something about names…I changed one, by the way. Ulric -> Ulrien.

    This is all. Thanks for reading, and hopefully this isn’t the start of a really hot summer. Because…I hate the heat.

    • PS: Who saw this coming? I mean, this is how everyone expected the fight to go, right? I mean, it was OBVIOUS this was the natural progression, wasn’t it?

          • Yeah. I worry Toren will be upset. That was his secret weapon, and without Erin helping him level, he is going to be in more danger. She really needs to learn that he is intelligent soon, or I suspect there’ll be a falling out.

      • Continuity though, in torens chapter there’s a person with a sword on erins side when he arrives. Second you said pices was upstairs asleep then when the adventurer thing comes up he’s a few tables over

      • Hey! I really enjoy your story! In fact, i enjoy it so much i have given up my morning starbucks to get a chapter a week early! But i have no idea how to get the password for it… uhhh…. i guess… let me know? thenks… :3

        • Thanks so much for that, twistedpart! You should be able to see all the posts and passwords on my page, but today’s chapter isn’t done yet. I am writing it as we speak, and you should get an email notification when I make the post as well.

          Non-Patreon readers get the chapter early because I’ve already released it, but Patreon readers get the chapter minutes after I finish it. I’ll be done sometime tonight, hopefully sooner rather than later!

          In the meantime, why not read the clown chapters? They should be buried in the archives under 1.00 C and 1.01 C — send me a message on Patreon if you can’t find them and need the password.

    • This chapter didn’t work​ for me as well as I expected. I hope my criticism doesn’t come across as peevish as I’ve found your previous big battle sequences to be terrific.
      Several thoughts, a great deal of new stuff happened and sometimes​ it resulted in blocks of exposition breaking up the pacing or dropping suspence instead of increasing it, OR jumps in the timeframe of the action that seemed to miss big shifts in the tide of the battle. Case in point, all as I recall, near the start Erin is hanging with her opponent while picses and ceria have shown up and are seemingly handing out serious punishment to the gnolls. But then the next time they are mentioned the mages have appearently been getting beat up for quite a while. Likewise when toren shows up its made very clear that using a sword in a fistfight is not ‘proper’. But in the midsts of the chaos from the adventurers the narrative missed the dramatic opportunity of some of the gnolls drawing steel into the fight and going for blood, only that they were doing so by the end.
      I think that jumping in time so as to miss these ‘beats’ of the action *is* a valid stylistic choice, but the transitions need especially careful attention paid to avoid words and phrases that make the reader go ‘huh?’ such as saying ‘THE gnoll with a sword’ when none of them were armed.
      The end result is that it reads exactly as if various sentences were simply deleted from the text without much care, so instead of tightening the prose it actually takes away from the rhythm of the text. No offense meant as Im sure you sweat over every change, but I would rather read a good draft than a halfway edit and this one felt that way to me.
      I’ll guess that some of the challenge was all the new stuff being introduced on top of the action taking place. I liked the new characters and this was a super-ambitious chapter ; I’m sure you could make it all work in harmony, but it is beyond my skill to say how.

  2. Leave a typo or a Selphid might inhabit your chest!

    (Selphid-free readers: Lightwavers, Sean, Zane, lume, Zira Nei, andrewkrowe, kiki, singlewordedpoem, Pisces, werdout)

    • Zevara’s didn’t have [Loud Voice] as a skill

      -> Zevara (no ‘s)

      Also, possible discrepancy with 2.16:
      “Zevara had [Loud Voice] as a Skill as well, or she had a great set of lungs, but the iPhone combined with Erin’s voice was loud enough to drown the angry Drake Captain out.”

      If she can shout that well in 2.16 why couldn’tshe shout that well here?

      • Magic. No, really. If you know you’ve got to out-shout someone you can get a spell cast, but she didn’t have the time here. Hm. Maybe I should amend that detail though…

    • I cant get mine head around one thing.


      Erin pointed upstairs. Pisces was sleeping, and for once she hadn’t begrudged him the bed.

      Pisces was sitting at a table with some Drakes, gambling, and Yvlon was eating by herself at a table.

      If i read that part right there isnt much time between these two, so how did pisces get there?

        • “Haven’t you heard of the body snatches of Baleros?
          “…body snatches of Baleros” refers to an incident
          If you talk about the alias they are known as, then it should be “body snatcheRs”.
          That’s how I, at least, understand it, could be wrong, though.

    • and the blunt arrows might {cause} serious damage or break bones, but they wouldn’t kill with healing potions being so plentiful.

  3. What’s a guestbook, and where did Erin get one to loan to Selys? I’ve been blowing through the chapters pretty quickly since I found this story, but I don’t recall mention of guestbooks before. Is this just something I’ve missed?

  4. Also, I didn’t expect most of that. I almost forgot about the guard.

    “Erin blinked, but then Jelaqua had begun pulling her shirt off. And then her bra.”

    I think, stylistically, it’s okay, but it should be all one sentence because “And then her bra” is just a fragment with no subject.

    Am I safe from chest busters now?

  5. As always another awesome chapter. Seriously I am constantly impressed by the diversity of your writing.

    I think Jelaqua should also recruit Toren into her team, he is about as half-human as she is so it could still work for the theme.

    It never gets old to see people completely dumbfounded by Erin. I think we all know that if she only had a few pans sitting around that this fight would have ended ever faster 😉

    I really hope some of these adventuring groups stay in the Wandering Inn. Erin must be running rather low on funds at the moment and could really use some steady paying customers.

    I love that Erin was able to upgrade her skill but I am surprised that she did not gain any levels. She successfully defended a guest against completely overwhelming odds. I would assume that would be worth a lot of Innkeeper exp.

    • *employee

      But yeah I kind of agree. I wonder if @pirateaba will draw out the class system more? As a CS guy, I’d love to see the structure and help build the information into neatly sorted trees.

    • Agreed. Who knows what some of the humanoid bones belonged to before Pisces cobbled the lot together…

      It’d be one way to stress-test our Toren — and, maybe help others come to terms with him as his moral compass develops. *shrugs*

  6. Thanks for the great chapter! I love these stories! But now I wait for the great desert that always comes after these meals of a chapter… Your comments!

  7. Was the chapter Confusing? NO
    Not more then a hectic meele with 3-5 factions should be.
    But a small skirmish to protect a member of her staff and no lvl ups?

    • To be fair Erin didn’t really do that much. She held her own in a fist fight with a gnoll and an adventurer. She didn’t defeat anyone and her only achievement was to stop the fighting long enough for the watch to save the day.

      • Still, we’ve been shown that leveling depends on mentality, and not on actions. Erin gave her all this fight, and then some more. She put her life on the line to protect someone incapable of fighting, and attacked people much stronger than her without giving up.

        Not to mention, her will was so strong that she even learned a skill *while still awake,* something that so far only happens to Toren, who is incapable of sleep.

        I’d expect her to gain some levels in Warrior and maybe the [Indomitable Will] skill

        • She learned and used [power strike] while still awake. She just didn’t know it was called that, but captain udders definitely recognized the skill. .

          It could also be that she gained experience just not enough to go from 25 to 26. The author has stated a few times that, with the exception of the [hero]s, all of the humans from earth gain experience and level at roughly the same rate as everyone else.

          Erin is a much higher level now and a steep leveling curve would be required for this world to work. I mean back in 2.11 rebuilding her entire inn after it randomly exploded only yielded a single level up of 18 to 19. Fighting off a group of gnolls with a bunch of help doesn’t really compare.

  8. I think it’s probably for the better that Toren just lost the fear gem. I think that probably had part in his growing sadism. Blue eyes are better than purple, for sure.
    I’d be happier to have him as Lawful Neutral than Lawful Evil. It makes for a more interesting character at least. though LE is a good foil for Erin…

    [Inn’s aura] at least vaguely explained! Yay! Now she just needs some glowing kosher hot dogs for the peace BBQ!

    So are selphids essentially immortal, then?

    Why not break the halfseekers and reform since they’ve lost people recently? Add Sadlady, Dr. NecroFish, Skelelf, The Innkeep Bard, and Skeletor onto the team and have a ball.

    Note on the battle: I liked it. It seemed disjointed a little in terms of a couple things that didn’t match up with prior lore/plot all too well. Maybe needs some retconning? Outside of that and the chest-burster typos, you write well. I always get to the end of the chapter and wish you had left in more of your details, just coz I’m always hungry for more.

  9. Guessing the inn itself is a source of power like an artifact or a manasource if not just intrinsically a focus/booster for her skills like a wand

  10. Pirateaba, do you think you could draw a picture for The Wandering Inn in a similar style, as the ones from your pirate blog https://pirateaba.wordpress.com/. Having a picture on the wikia site would surely help attracting people.
    Maybe a cute little Innkeepr that punches the head off her almost unhealthily bony barmaid.
    Or, an Innkeeper raising her PAN OF DOOM, as an army of goblins run screaming away.
    OR, perhaps something a little darker, like an undead barmaid throwing it’s subordinate in a nest full of huge spiders watching her slowly being eaten, while one of its eye sockets glows creepily red.

    • Sadly, if I could draw that well, I wouldn’t be writing. I can do Pirate, but not people or faces or much action, really. I’m afraid for any cover art/wiki stuff, I’ll need to hire an artist.

      • I meant in the style of pirate, so like a comic. Nothing you would expect form a professional artist. Just some cute pictures for wandering inn

        • Even then…I can’t do other characters. Believe me, I’ve tried, but a cartoon Erin just isn’t happening. I need at least a week of nonstop practice and study before I’d be able to get to that point, which just isn’t happening anytime soon.

  11. Am I the only one, who thought of Davy Jones’ crew from Pirates of the Caribbean , when Seborn, the Drowned Man, was mentioned

  12. Was going to eat spaghetti today until that lovely Selphid description.

    Chest bursting parasite Zombies, a new level of nightmare fuel.

  13. Looks like all this commotion isn’t going to end anytime soon. When it finally does though, I hope Erin takes a step back and really considers her actions lately, especially concerning Lyon.

    Despite how terrible she is, I still can’t help but feel bad for her. From her perspective, Erin basically kidnapped her, and let alone attempting to get her home, she showed no interest in even attempting to contact her family. Then, under the threat of death, is forcing her into what might as well be slave labor.

    On top of all that, Erin is letting her creepy skeleton borderline torture her, and any complaints are immediately dismissed. How are you even supposed to prove you got shoved into a shield spider’s nest? Or that you’ve been repeatedly prodded with knives, but not quite strong enough to leave marks/drae blood?

    This all while being stranded thousands of miles away from home without any money, surrounded by Gnolls who want nothing more than to rip her to pieces (though that’s entirely her own fault). I’m sure Lyon is an insufferable, spoiled brat even under the best circumstances, but being as scared as she probably is is most likely severely worsening her behavior.

    In Erin’s attempt to be kind, she has made Lyon’s situation significantly worse, and is just a few degrees away from being downright cruel to her.

    • Around 70 more Dollars on patreon, and we reach the 1st major Milestone for pirateaba to become a FULL TIME WRITER, dun dun dun.

      • It’s the difference between a quick, relatively painless death, and needless suffering. Lyon had already accepted her death by then, and now she’s forcibly being physically and emotionally abused by a chimeric skeleton, and its owner barely cares, and even tactically condones it.

        Hopefully with the terror gem gone now, Toren eases up a bit.

        • To be fair, Erin doesn’t really know the full story. If it were me, I’d think Lyon was lyin’ too, given her criminal record and personality.

          Besides, the Wandering Inn is probably one of the best rehab centers on the continent, official or otherwise.

          …which isn’t saying much. Can’t justify the death penalty? Let’s improvise!

  14. (wrote it under reply, accidently.So, here we go again))
    Around 70 more Dollars on patreon, and we reach the 1st major Milestone for pirateaba to become a FULL TIME WRITER, dun dun dun.

  15. Loved the chapter! Admittedly it was a little hard to follow the fight sometimes with all the new characters but it was still really good and satisfying. I hope we get some more info on Erin’s skills, I can’t wait to find out how all her friends react to them. Loved that Andre the Giant, Davy Jones, and Oogie Boogie have joined the cast.

  16. But in this world it was fight or flight or let a girl die, so Erin chose to fight. She just wished it was easier.

    I think this would make more sense if it was,

    But in this world it was fight, or flight and let a girl die, so Erin chose to fight. She just wished it was easier.

      • Once, a Gnoll with a sword and shield, was pressuring him fairly hard.
        One, a Gnoll with a sword and shield, was pressuring him fairly hard.

        I believe that spamming the comments with typos that others have found already may or may not improve the speed at which they get edited out of existence, but it is amusing to do so.

        This is especially so when you do it by accident then decide “To hell with it” and keep doing it.

        • The Drake had taken her turn with Erin, even though Erin had explained what had happened.
          The Drake had taken her turn with Erin, even though Erin had already explained what had happened.

  17. Pirateaba, I once told you that you might want to update the average amount of words you wrote on patreon. Now 6000-8000 seem already inaccurate, as you, recently, started to increase your chapter length once again; 9000-10000-ish would be the the more fitting description, now. Perhaps, to be more accurate you could say: starting from 2.01 G, given that you manged to keep this amount ever since.
    I have to say, though, that i fear the day, when you are going to publish it, and hire a professional editor. I looked at the prices, and saw on few sites, that for 80k words(average novel) it could be 1100-around 2400(prices seem to vary greatly). Vol.1 has approx. 343767 words, making 4726-10313 Dollars.

  18. Wow. Just. Wow.

    This story made my day … and I mean that literally. Goodbye weekend, hello Eternal Bliss. Jeez.

    As you can tell, I am still digesting everything, but this was awesome.

    Kudos
    +1 Reader

  19. Hi, I’m unfamiliar with Patreon, does anyone here know if im able to stop the monthly payment once selected or pay just once or twice instead of every week?
    I’m interested with paying pirateaba (and read those juicy, juicy extra chapters) but I can’t afford paying every month. Thoughts?

    P.D. Sorry for asking about it here, I didn’t really knew where to ask

  20. I used to be an adventurer, until I took a [Minotaur Punch] to the groin…

    Dose that skill on work with punches? Or can you [Minotaur Punch] with a kick like power strike?

  21. When Erin yelled “Everybody Stop” and all the fighters got suppressed somewhat, was that a new skill that she learned? Nothing popped up when she slept?

    • It’s innkeepers aura. She gained it along with wonderous fare. I’d guess that it normally has a calming/welcoming effect and only gets this powerful when she needs to keep the peace.

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