Sollimer escorted us to a wooden pavilion on the side of the lake, where we were supposed to wait until he returned with Elder Hammond. He patted Bohriam sympathetically on the shoulder. “I know it’s been a hard day, but… It’s almost over. I’ll be back soon with Hammond and then we can figure this all out.”

“Thanks, Solly,” Bohriam said through a pained smile. “Sometimes I don’t know what I’d do without you. Best Master I never had.”

“If there’s anything I can do, or get for you… Are you hungry? Thirsty?”

Yes to both,” I said, unable to hide how emphatically thrilled I was by the prospect of filling this famished stomach. Seriously, I hadn’t eaten since this morning on Earth, and I was pretty sure that the single Wild Berry Pop-Tart I had for breakfast hadn’t come with my body when Seriphen remade it on Era. I was quite possibly the emptiest a human could ever be, digestively speaking.

Sollimer looked at me with a sneer. “I don’t know what kind of sick joke you think you’re pulling here, but fuck off. Bohriam’s been through enough already.”

I opened my mouth to respond, but Bohriam interrupted. “A meal for Ash sounds great,” he said, completely disregarding Sollimer’s tone. “As for me… I don’t think I’m hungry right now. I leveled up earlier today.”

Sollimer forced a small smile. “Well hey, there’s some good news.” He patted Bohriam on the shoulder again. “All right. I’ll be back soon.” Then he left at a brisk walking pace.

The nerve of that guy! What the hell was his problem with me? I would have worked myself into more of an outrage at Sollimer’s blatant rudeness, but instead I was more relieved and excited that the Beleric language contained the F-word. Thank god, the people of this planet would be able to understand me when I cursed up a storm! I know it was a silly thing to be happy about, but as a wise asshole once said: “Well hey, there’s some good news.” Gotta take your wins where you can get ‘em.

As we waited for Solly’s return, Bohriam gazed out over the lake, deep in thought. Or maybe not thinking at all—it’s not like I could read his mind. (Although, he did mention telepathy earlier, so maybe reading minds was a thing that was possible within the Seven Sevens System. I’d have to ask later.)

It was getting dark now, but the dearth of sunlight never quite hit the town like I expected. Every few minutes, another light would illuminate on the side of a building, or on the ceiling of the pavilion, or on the ground on the edge of a street. They weren’t electric light bulbs like on Earth—each ‘street lamp’ was an egg-shaped stone that gave off a faint glow somewhere between pink and red.

It didn’t seem like such faint light sources should be able to light up the town so well, but apparently they did. I started thinking magic might be behind it, until… I looked up at the night and saw a sky full of stars and moons. Three moons, each of them about half the size of Earth’s solitary Luna, and spread out over a wider range of sky—and each of them reflecting a good amount of sunlight from the other side of the world.

Okay. So maybe the egg-light phos-lamps were more for decoration than illumination.

“Well if it isn’t Bohriam the Brave, come to regale us with tales of his heroics,” a smarmy voice said.

Three people had walked into the pavilion, all men around Bohriam’s age, and all of them carrying such smug grins that I wanted to punch them in the face on sight. Their leader, the one who had spoken, had a white weasel perched atop his shoulder—and the weasel had a smile that made it look just as pompous as the others. The two lackeys on either side behind him chuckled at his apparent joke.

Bohriam sighed and looked away. “I don’t have time for this tonight, Andreon. I’m waiting for Elder Hammond.”

“Surely my grandfather wouldn’t object to some conversation between friends,” Andreon said. “Trading war stories? How many soldiers did you manage to slay on the battlefield today? Maybe you had a Personal Quest to kill them all yourself.”

The two lackeys broke into full laughter, and I had heard enough. I walked back over from the edge of the pavilion I had wandered off to. “Well if it isn’t Gostrey’s own Malfoy, Crabbe, and Goyle.”

“Ash, don’t,” Bohriam said, alarm creeping into his voice.

The leader of the bully trio gave me a quick top-to-bottom look-over. “And who are you supposed to be? The Stone’s new guardian?”

“Actually he’s mine,” I said. “He saved my life on the battlefield today.” It was technically 100% true; I didn’t need to tell them it didn’t happen during the battle. “If it wasn’t for Boh, the Gray Guard would have killed me just like they killed everyone else on that battlefield.”


“What?” Andreon said.

“You heard me—Bohriam was the only person who was able to escape that battle alive, and he did it while rescuing me from certain death. I don’t know what your beef with him is, but the dude deserves a lot more respect than you’re giving him right now. He’s been through enough already.”

I felt a smug sense of satisfaction at being able to twist Sollimer’s words and use them in my favor (not to mention in Boh’s favor), but a tense silence fell over the entire pavilion, and I got the distinct feeling that I had said the exact worst thing.

Andreon turned away from me. “Bohriam, is this true?”

Still looking away, Bohriam slowly nodded.

Andreon picked Bohriam up by the collar of his armor and ran him into the wall. “My brother was in the Aegis!” Andreon snarled. “You let Jonakan die?!

Oh. Fuck. Well that would certainly qualify as a reason to have a beef with him.

Bohriam said nothing, did nothing, didn’t even struggle against Andreon’s furious grip. “I should kill you right now,” Andreon said. “You’ve been nothing but a useless waste ever since you got your Personal Quest. I should put you out of your misery before you get any more of us killed, you weak, pathetic—”

Andreon was cut off mid-vicious-monologue by a blast of red hot energy hitting him from the side, knocking him and Bohriam both to the ground.

I followed the beam of energy back to its source: an old man standing just outside the pavilion. He was bald with a short white beard, and holding a red staff. The head of the staff was covered in glowing white runes that were already fading into invisibility. Gostrey’s own Gandalf, I presume.

“That’s enough, Andreon,” the man said.

Andreon started pushing himself back to his feet. “Grandfather, I—”

Enough,” he repeated. “Our guest is right. Bohriam has been through enough for today. Do your duty and move on. That’s the Fay family way.”

The white weasel on Andreon’s shoulder leaned into his ear like it was whispering something. “… Yes, sir.” Grimacing, Andreon walked over to me and held out his hand palm-up. He manifested out from his inventory a plate full of food—bread and meat and some vegetables I probably wouldn’t recognize. “Here’s your meal, guest.” He placed the plate on the table next to us and nodded to his two lackeys. “Laster, Grimley, come on. Let’s leave the Stone and his maiden to their business.”

The triumvirate of shitheads left, and not a second too soon. I swear, if I ever had to put up with them again, I would punch Andreon square in the face.

Elder Hammond walked into the pavilion proper and offered Bohriam a hand up. “I’m sorry for my grandson’s behavior. Like most of us, he doesn’t handle grief very well.”

“It’s okay,” Bohriam said. “He… I’m used to it.”

Hammond nodded sadly. He tapped his staff against the ground once and it dematerialized into his inventory. He sat down next to Bohriam, across the table from me, and patted the bench beside him for Bohriam. “I hear we have much to discuss,” Hammond said. Then he looked at me curiously. “And not just about the Aegis.”

Characters: Ash, Bohriam, Sollimer, Andreon, Laster, Grimley, Elder Hammond