After a few minutes the traveler stood up. She blinked around the room and wondered who she was, why she was here and—
Blink. Blink. She’d lost her train of thought. At least she remembered her name. Sort of. Was it a bad thing that she was so tired she was having trouble remembering who she was?
Erin. Erin Solstice.
It was impossible to forget a name like that, no matter how hard she tried. She had two first names, and both of them could have belonged to a girl or a boy. Actually, Erin sounded much more like a boy’s name in her opinion. But it was hers, and at this moment it’s about all she had.
Hm. Inventory check. Still sitting in her chair, Erin felt at her pockets. She had…two empty pockets. Wonderful. Erin had hoped she’d brought her smartphone with her, but she was without even that basic necessity.
Most travelers begin their journeys well-prepared. Ordinarily, if Erin had known she would have ended up in this place she would have brought along with her a backpack crammed full of essentials. But she hadn’t planned on this adventure. She hadn’t even known it was about to happen.
How does one travel to another world? Magic is probably one answer, or maybe an intricate device of scientific achievement. Perhaps a summoning portal, or a mystic ritual summoning a hero from another world. All these are valid options and yet…
“I just wanted to go to the bathroom.”
She hadn’t even opened the wrong door, or stepped through a wardrobe or anything. Yet at some point she must have turned the wrong way, because instead of the wonderful sight of white porcelain and water she ended up looking down the snout of a—
Erin’s eyes opened and she sat up in her chair, heart pounding at the memory. This was impossible. She was going insane. No, she’d already gone insane and this empty inn was her mental depiction of the padded room they’d tossed her in. It was as plausible an answer as anything else.
Speaking of which, the inn. Erin looked around. What a strange place. She’d never been in a building made almost exclusively out of wood. Wooden walls, wooden beams in the ceiling, wood floor…was she in some kind of medieval world?
The haunting emptiness of the inn struck her hard the more she looked around. At first she’d just been pathetically grateful to find some kind of shelter in the wilderness. The instant she’d seen the building across the grassy plains she’d ran for it full-speed. But now having found it, Erin was not at ease.
It was so empty. So dusty too. Although the inn’s main room was large and spacious she still felt crowded. Maybe it was all the empty tables and chairs. And the long counter at the end of the inn definitely felt like it should have a bartender behind it, serving a lovely cold drink of—
Erin sighed and slapped herself lightly on the head. Now she was thirsty. And hungry. Time to think of something else.
“Well, at least I should clean this place up, right?”
There wasn’t much confidence in her words though. To begin with, why bother cleaning up a place that’s not yours? Back home, Erin never bothered to clean up her room most days.
But still, the sheer amount of dust on every surface was almost suffocating. Erin never considered herself an OCD type personality or particularly fond of cleanliness. Even so, she felt it was probably better not to raise a small dust cloud every time she sat down.
“—Besides, this is a good place to rest. If no one’s here, then I might be able to…”
To do what? Hide here? Live here? Where is here exactly and what’s going on?
Erin tried not to panic as uncertainty gripped at her heart. She could not panic, not now. It wasn’t that she wasn’t terrified out of her mind, but rather, her instincts were telling her that panic was not an option. No one was around to help her, she was lost by herself—panic was a luxury she couldn’t afford.
So Erin fell back on one certainty. If a room is dirty, its common sense to clean it up, right? So her first movement in this inn and indeed her first conscious decision in the world she had come to was simple:
Find a dustrag.
Certainly, it wasn’t the most inspired action ever, but Erin had an entire plan based around that simple action. First she’d find a dustrag, and then she’d look for a bucket. But even if she didn’t find a bucket she could probably just go outside and wet the rag in the rain. After that she could clear off a few tables and maybe then she’d come across a mop…
The first place Erin looked was behind the bar. It was a promising place to start, but she found only more dust and cobwebs there.
Next, she checked the door behind the bar and found it opened up into the kitchen. In there she found several old, rusty pans and pots and even the desired bucket, but no cloth of any kind. Some of the cupboards had dark shapes neatly piled together—Erin had no desire to find out what they were, and they were not rag-shaped. So she moved on.
Feeling increasingly desperate, Erin grabbed the bucket and towed it outside into the blowing rain and wind. She set it upright to collect water and returned to the common room. Well, that only left the upstairs.
…It was a very dark stairwell that looked down on Erin as she put her first foot on the stairs. Due to the size of the ground floor, the second floor was quite high up and so the staircase loomed like the bones of some kind of dark monster. At least, that’s how it looked in the darkness.
Cautiously, Erin ascended the staircase. It seemed as though every second stair creaked or groaned loudly as she placed her weight upon it, and the sounds echoed in the dark inn. To Erin, it felt like she was stepping on landmines – each time she heard a loud creak her heart sped up and caught in her throat.
“Come on. Come on. You can do this.”
Erin whispered to herself, keeping her voice low so as not to—to wake up anything that might be up there. At that thought her heart skipped another beat and she paused halfway up the stairwell, shaking slightly.
This is stupid. There’s nothing up there. Nothing!
Oh yeah? There could be anything up there. Like more of those goblin things or—or a dragon!
What? How would a dragon fit up there?
What about the dragon in the cave? It was real. It was totally real! I nearly died!
At that Erin shuddered and her racing thoughts froze in place at the memory.
Dragon. There was no other word for what she’d seen. A monster right out of fairy tales, and when she’d seen it—
Her fingers touched the burns on her arms and she winced. The pain was all too real. And after that she’d ran and ran and the small green men had chased her.
Goblins, not aliens that is. Actually, aliens probably would have been better. Aliens don’t try to stab you with knives.
“Or maybe they do.”
With a small laugh, Erin gazed upwards. It was dark on the second floor of the inn. Long shadows made the chipped and faded wood ominous. She knew there was probably nothing up there. If there was, wouldn’t it have tried to eat her already?
But this was a different kind of fear that held her heart. It was the fear of children, the fear of the dark and the unknown. So Erin hesitated. But she knew she had to climb.
After a minute she began talking to herself quietly.
“Dustrag. Dustrag, dustrag, dustrag…”
Erin muttered the word like a mantra. Somehow the thought that she absolutely needed to find one gave her the strength to continue climbing the stairs.
One step. That was the hardest. Then two steps. Erin’s heart jumped as the stairs creaked underneath her, but nothing terrible happened. So she kept climbing.
However, if the sketchy staircase was the first hurdle of the mind, the empty corridor full of shadows and darkness was an entirely new level of intimidation.
It was so dark. Even when her eyes adjusted, Erin could barely see five feet in front of her. But having come this far, she was committed. So she kept going with her heart pounding out of her chest.
“Dustrag, dustrag, dustrag, dustrag, dustrag, dustrag, dustrag, dustrag, dustrag, dustrag, dustrag…”
The first room she came to was very, very dark. Erin crept inside and froze as she heard a sound. Was that…rustling?
No. No, it was just her imagination. She could hear the storm passing outside with the rain making a racket on the roof overhead. The wind was blowing against the inn, that was all. It was probably just a leaf—
That was definitely a sound. Erin’s heart was playing the drums in her chest. There was something in the room with her, and she really hoped for once that it was just a rat. Something—it sounded almost leathery, like two wings unfurling…
In the distance thunder rolled and a gust of wind blew hard against the inn. Something pale and white unfurled itself in the darkness and flew at Erin. She screamed, flailed wildly at the thing and crashed to the ground with it in her arms.
For a minute all was confusion and noise. Erin fought wildly against the monster attacking her as rain started pelting her face and it wrapped itself around her arms and head. She eventually threw it off her and scrambled to her feet to find the terrifying creature was—
For a few seconds Erin just stared at the faded fabric in her hands in complete shock. Once her heart had decided to stop running a marathon she exhaled.
She picked up the pale bit of fabric and studied it. Well, it was a curtain. That was about the extent of her detective skills. It was a white curtain—or at least it had been white a long time ago. Mildew and dirt had turned it grey, but at least it was fabric.
Erin’s heart was still racing far too fast. She looked around. The room was still very dark, and the wind coming in from outside was making the windows shudder in a very eerie manner.
Erin closed the window. That stopped the noise, at least. But it was still way too dark to make many details out. Now, she could keep exploring the second floor. Or, having found a dustrag she could go back down to the bottom floor. The comforting, familiar, dusty ground floor.
The room was very dark. Erin took another look around and quickly went back downstairs. She tossed the curtain on one of the tables next to the bucket she’d found and looked around.
“Let’s see. Where should I start, then?”
Really, the better question was where not to start. Aside from the walls, everything was covered by a thick layer of dust. In the end, Erin started with the table she’d sat at.
The wet curtain-rag raised a cloud of dust into the air, making Erin stumble away, coughing and hacking. She waited until the dust had settled to and tried a different approach.
Carefully, with exquisite care and attention to detail, Erin shoved the dust off the side of the table and onto the floor. After that she went back over the rough surface with another pass of her cloth until the table was clean. Then she cleaned her rag in the bucket with some water and went on to the next table.
After a while, the water in the bucket began to turn grey with all the dust. Erin opened the door of the inn, tossed the water out and sat back in one of the chairs until the bucket had filled up again. Then she started cleaning once more.
There was a rhythm to it. In no time at all Erin had cleaned the tables, so she decided to clean all the chairs as well. And once she’d finished with that, it only made sense to clean the bar top as well.
The long counter was made of some kind of high-quality wood. Erin admired the way the faint light from outside made the rich wood glow after removing the dust. The bar was long enough to accommodate at least twenty people at a time…or fifteen if they weren’t picky about elbow room.
That done, Erin cleaned the barkeep’s shelf below the bar and the other surfaces in the common room. When she was finished, the inn seemed far warmer than it had before, as the newly-clean surfaces reflected the fading light from outside.
Everything was clean. Except for the floor.
She’d been shoveling dust onto the floor to clean everything else up, so now huge piles of wet dust clumped together everywhere. Erin eyed them, thought about cleaning them up for a half a second and decided her work was done.
“This is why brooms were invented.”
Erin sighed and tossed the dustrag into the bucket. She wiped at her forehead and found she was covered with a layer of sweat. And—was it nightfall already?
Yes, sometime in her cleaning efforts the rain had ceased and the visible light had decreased until the inn was a mass of shadows. Now everywhere was spooky.
—But at least the ground floor was reassuring. She’d cleaned it, and so it was hers in a way. That made it safe. At least, she really hoped that was the case.
Erin sat back down in a chair and found she was exhausted. She leaned back against the table and sighed. If ever she needed proof that she was terrible in a survival situation, this would be it. Here she was, lost in a terrifying world without a clue where she was and what was her first move? Clean the room.
“At least Mom would be happy.”
Erin laughed to herself. She closed her eyes, overcome by exhaustion. Time to rest. Maybe tomorrow everything would be better. Maybe this was all just a dream. Probably not, but…
Her eyes lowered. Her breathing grew slower. Erin just had enough consciousness for one last thought.
“Now I’m really, really hungry.”
[Innkeeper Class Obtained!]
[Innkeeper Level 1!]
[Skill – Basic Cleaning obtained!]
[Skill – Basic Cooking obtained!]
“…What was that?”