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Chapter 1

Starfish Island grew out of the brine like an enormous, tree-encrusted barnacle. Ocean wind whickered though the sea caves and into the caverns which riddled the island. Stunted pines clung to rocky cliffs, too stubborn to give up. The tectonic processes which precipitated the island’s formation were long since dormant—even geology had forgotten Starfish Island.

The island’s singular location and natural deep water harbor, a sunken caldera cradled in stony arms, had once made it an ideal base for deep sea fishing fleets and resupplying ocean trade vessels. And it was far enough from the mainland to be a haven for other less savory types of shipping as well.

For nearly a century Starfish Island had been home to a thriving port and the town of Albatross Bay had prospered. But time moved on.

The letter fell into the empty metal bin with a rattle. And waited.

Sometime later, a key turned in the elderly lock which secured the post from unauthorized tampering or removal outside the purview of the postal authorities. A calloused hand grabbed the letter, and the two others that had joined it overnight, and stuffed them into an oilskin pouch.

The letter was on its way.

“Connor does not sell dish soap!”

Connor the [Barbarian] crossed his arms over his glistening chest and glared at Lexie. She’d worked with Connor enough to know: one, he never ever wore a shirt and two, he was always glistening with oil. She was pretty sure it was a [Barbarian] class skill thing.

And three, he was Difficult.

Lexie rubbed her forehead. The headache was starting like an icepick between her eyes. “Connor, this is a great spot! With great placement! It’s perfect for you, the product is targeted to your primary demographic.”

“Connor sells beer! Connor sells power tools! Connor sells aftershave named like weapons! Connor sells manly things! Not dish soap! Dish soap is woman stuff!”

To punctuate this point, Connor spat on the carpet.

Lexie decided to ignore it. It wasn’t her carpet, and anyway, worse fluids had almost certainly been spilled on it. Marketing was a sordid business.

She gritted her teeth and tried to keep her tone upbeat. “Look, the reason they want Connor the [Barbarian] is to show how strong their soap is.”

“Get some woman [Barbarian] then!”

Deep breath. Lexie counted to three. The [Junior Publicity Assistant] class should really give some kind of [Inner Calm] skill. But if it did, she hadn’t unlocked it yet.

“They don’t want just any old [Barbarian], they want Connor the [Barbarian].” When all else failed, appeal to the ego.

It also happened to be one hundred percent true. And the reason it was true was that while, to almost everyone, Connor was a washed-up has-been B-rank tank who’d only ever been medium famous at best, an adventurer who, if they remembered him at all, people would say “I wonder what ever happened to that guy?” and then immediately forget him again, he was popular in a specific demographic.

A demographic which appreciated his chiseled jaw, his naturally oily pectorals, and his flowing golden locks. A demographic which bought a lot of…

”… Dish soap!” Connor looked like he was about to spit again.

And they’d come full circle.

Lexie couldn’t spend all afternoon arguing with Connor about this. She had three more former adventurers to wrangle into pitching products they thought they were beneath them.

“Connor does sell dish soap if he wants to get paid.” Lexie activated [Talent Tamer], which she hated using, and thrust the balled up floral apron she held at Connor. “So if you want that gold, you’re going to tie this around your waist, you’re going to go in front of that camera, you’re going to toss your silken locks and flex your greasy pects, and you’re going to smile while you do it because Magi-clean Dish Soap is the only company willing to pay you to shill for them!”

With a wounded look, the big [Barbarian] took the flowery apron and tied it around his washboard abs. Why did he have to look like that? Lexie didn’t even like Connor, but now she felt bad for him, and mean for saying those things. Even if they were true, the skill made them hit harder than they would have otherwise.

She hated her job.

Show no weakness. Lexie kept her face a mask of unsympathetic annoyance until Connor was on stage.

Seeing him in front of the camera, no one would believe the vicious go round it had taken to get him out there. Connor was all smiles, and yep, there was the flip where he tossed his glorious mane of hair back.

Lexie left him to it. Now that he was in front of the camera, it would be someone else’s problem to get him off stage.

The letter passed from oilskin pouch to wire bin. From there it was shuffled and sorted and batched through the inefficient machinery of the postal service until it was dropped, finally, into a heavy canvas sack. The letter bumped along in the sack, the load of letters growing fewer and fewer, until finally a new hand, less calloused than the first, grasped it.

The letter slid through a narrow slit into another metal box, smaller than the first. It rested on end, sandwiched between the cheap envelope of an electric bill and the folded neon colored flyer for a new kebab takeaway. And it waited.

Lexie turned the key in her mailbox and grabbed the handful of post. She trudged up the three flights of stairs to her shoebox apartment and dropped the mail on the counter in her tiny kitchenette and went to take a warm, soothing shower.

After Connor, she’d dealt with a cut-rate [Cutpurse] who sniffed constantly. He’d sulked and complained the home security alarm he was supposed to hawk was an inferior product and never would have stopped him. Then there was a mediocre [Sorceress] whose main claim to fame was a wardrobe malfunction during a live dungeon run special a decade back, and a [Druid] with an otter animal companion who was the only pleasant person Lexie had worked with all day. The otter, not the druid.

In her pajamas, hair drying in a towel, Lexie went to the kitchen to make herself a cup of tea. While she waited for the water to boil, she picked up the mail. The flyer went immediately into the bin. She didn’t need another takeaway in her rotation.

The utility bill she clipped to the fridge unopened.

That left the letter.

Lexie paused at the fancy envelope. The name of a law firm was embossed in the upper corner, and the flap was sealed with stamped wax. Hopefully it wasn’t a law suit. She tore the end open and withdrew the paper within.

Dear Ms. Archer,

Let me begin with expressing my regrets for the passing of your great aunt Martha Archer.

I am contacting you with regard to the provisions of her last will and testament. As I’m sure you’re aware by now, your late great aunt’s assets were given over to a trust to be dispersed amongst several charitable institutions. However, as you have not contacted my offices, I believe you may be unaware that your great aunt left a codicil to her will, in which she bequeathed to you her property in Albatross Bay.

Included in the codicil are instructions that the estate cover any taxes or legal fees incurred in transferring the cabin and associated land to you. As such, I have taken the liberty of drawing up the necessary documents and I am able to complete the process immediately upon your signature.

Please respond at your earliest convenience. Again, my deepest condolences on your loss.


Nathan Barlow, Esq., [Barrister] and [Solicitor], Albatross Bay

Lexie stared at the paper in front of her, trying to make sense of it. Her great aunt Martha Archer had been a famous [Mystery Writer] and her death two weeks prior had been in the news. Could it be a scam of some kind? It wouldn’t be that hard to find out who her family members were. But like the letter mentioned, her estate had gone to trust for charity. That had been in the news too.

And the letter didn’t seem to be asking for anything. She picked up the envelope and flipped it over, examining the seal again. Then the letter. The return address was in the header, along with a telephone number.

She sat down with her tea to think. It was too late to call, there wouldn’t be anyone in the office. And tomorrow was Saturday.

The letter had arrived at just the moment Lexie needed it. But then, Aunt Martha always had a knack for turning up when Lexie needed her most.

She started packing.