Volume 1 has been rewritten! Click here for the updated version of this chapter!
(Note: chapter titles may not the same between versions)
At some point Erin slept. At some point Erin woke up. These were minor details. What mattered was the sound.
She tried hard to ignore it. But it kept going and going, waking her up from her peaceful oblivion.
After a while, the knocking was too hard to ignore. Erin opened her eyes and sat up. It was far too bright in the world. And noisy.
Someone was knocking at the door. Erin thought about going back to sleep, but the knocking hadn’t ceased for the last few minutes. So she reluctantly got up and opened the door.
“What do you want?”
Pisces the friendly mage gave her a brilliant smile.
“Greetings Good Mistress. I was wondering if I could impose upon you—”
Erin shut the door. After a few seconds she opened it.
“Less words. Get to the point.”
“Um. Very well. Are you open today?”
Erin looked around.
“You. This establishment.”
Pisces blinked a few times. He spoke very carefully.
“Is this place open? Do you provide sustenan—food? I pay, I eat?”
Erin glared at him.
“It’s early. Yes, I guess I am open. Come in.”
She stomped inside. After a moment Pisces followed.
“I would like to peruse your menu if I m—”
Erin tossed a plate on the table and left. She came back with four blue fruits and tossed them on the table too. Pisces stared at the fruit and opened his mouth. He looked at Erin’s expression and amended whatever he was going to say.
“If I might trouble you for a knife and fork—”
She slapped them down on the table and walked away. She would have liked to go back to sleep, but the sounds of Pisces shifting and the clink of silverware on pottery was too distracting. Instead, she got her own blue fruit and started a fire to warm up her pasta. She munched on the sweet fruit in dour silence.
Outside, it began to rain.
Rain. Rain fell down from the heavens like hail. Well, actually it fell like rain, but these were bigger drops that fell a lot faster and harder than normal. The hammering of rain against the rooftop was nearly deafening.
Nearly. Behind her Pisces set down his knife and fork and sighed loudly. Erin wished he wasn’t here. It wasn’t that she disliked company; she was starved for it. She just wished her company wasn’t him.
“That’s a lot of rain.”
She was talking to herself, but he seemed to take it as an invitation to speak.
“It happens quite often. A natural weather phenomenon, you know.”
Erin turned and glared at Pisces. He raised both eyebrows and held up his cup.
“Another drink if you would. My cup has run dry.”
“Where did you find—stay out of my kitchen.”
“I would be only too happy to. But I fear I was quite parched and if you would be so good…?”
Erin’s eye twitched. But she went and got a cup for herself as well. She didn’t pour his drink, but rather set the pitcher of juice on the other end of the table so he had to reach for it.
“Does it rain like this a lot?”
“Seldom. It’s a seasonal weather pattern. Actually, this is an aberration. Normally it rains for far longer, but someone’s been messing around with the weather. So we’ll have a brief storm, that’s all.”
She glanced at him.
“Messing with the weather? How?”
He smirked at her. She noted with displeasure that he was already on his second cup of blue juice.
“With magic, how else? Some shortsighted fool must have cast a localized weather control spell. Impressive I suppose, but clumsy in execution.”
Erin looked outside.
“Seems impressive to me. I mean, it’s raining hard. Wouldn’t you have to be a pretty powerful sorcerer to do that?”
“The term is mage, Good Mistress.”
“The name is Erin, idiot.”
“Aha. Accept my apologies. But if you are referring to one of my exalted brethren, mage is the best term to use.”
Erin stared at him. He didn’t appear abashed in any way.
“You don’t have wizards or sorcerers or…warlocks? Witches? You’re all just mages?”
“Rather, shall we say that those are titles for mages who meet certain requirements? A wizard is an arcane researcher and true student of the arcane arts. Such individuals are similar to myself, but prefer to study the mainstream branches of magic. Sorcerers on the other hand are quite simplistic and refer to those who educate themselves and have little formal education. Warlocks obtain their powers from other sources such as summoning, while witches practice alchemy along with specialized schools of magic. Thus, mage remains the generally accepted title to refer to all those who practice magic…”
He trailed off. Erin was staring at him.
“Okay. I didn’t need to know all that.”
“You asked. I was merely fulfilling my role as a guest.”
“Good. For you. So what, a—mage did this?”
“Yes. And it’s not as if this is a particularly difficult task. I realize it may look so to the uninitiated, but a spell like this could easily be cast by a level 30 mage. Less I suppose, if the individual were specialized.”
“As I said, not that impressive. Many mages could cast a spell like this.”
“My specialization lies in other areas.”
“Like dead bodies.”
He avoided her gaze and drained his cup.
“Merely another branch of magic, good mistress Erin.”
Erin stared at him. She opened her mouth, but then the door slammed. Both Erin and Pisces turned as a wet, dark figure sauntered into the inn and threw his arms wide.
“Good morning cold folk, warm-blooded Human and—oh.”
Relc paused and stared at Pisces. Klbkch closed the door and bowed slightly at Erin.
“Please pardon our intrusion. Is this establishment open for business?”
“What? Oh. Yeah.”
Erin scrambled for words. Relc was still staring at Pisces who studiously ignored him as he refilled his cup.
“It’s been a while. I guess. But come in. Or come in more. Have a seat. Want something to eat?”
“If you would be so kind.”
Klbkch wiped his feet and stepped over to a table. Relc was still staring.
“You multiplied. Can Humans do that?”
“What? Oh no, that’s just Pisces. He’s annoying so ignore him.”
Erin waved Relc over to a seat as she went to the kitchen for plates.
Relc kept staring until Klbkch kicked him and motioned him to a seat.
“I believe staring is considered rude in most cultures. Sit down and cease your rudeness.”
Relc glared and sat. Klbkch turned and nodded to Pisces.
“Please excuse my companion’s rudeness.”
Pisces waved his fork airily.
“I paid no attention. The plebian masses are a burden to be endured; I bear no ill will to the misinformed or ignorant for their rudeness.”
Klbkch and Relc exchanged a glance.
“Indeed. It’s been nice to make your acquaintance.”
“Humans. They’re so—”
“Do you guys want pasta or blue fruit?”
Erin reemerged from the kitchen, trying to hold a pot of hot noodles and several plates with only two hands.
“Ah. Eh. Um, what I meant was—”
“I would be delighted to try the blue fruit. I believe my tongue-tied partner would like some as well.”
“Right. Food. I’ll have some.”
“And me. A second plate and a refill of my drink, if you would.”
Pisces waved his fork. Erin glared again.
“You want pasta? It’s in the kitchen. Get it yourself.”
Turning her back on him, Erin smiled at Relc and Klbkch.
“So um, hi again. It’s been a while. Klbkch and…?”
Klbkch nodded while Relc looked expectant.
Klbkch murmured softly.
“Relc! Right, right.”
“What? How come you remembered this idiot’s name and not mine?”
Relc looked aggrieved. Erin blushed.
“Aren’t I the better looking one here? What gives?”
“Sorry. It’s just—uh, you know. I’ve got a bad memory.”
“…No. Sorry. It’s just been a busy two days.”
He looked deflated. Erin tried to cheer him up.
“I’ve got more pasta. Well, it’s old pasta but it still tastes good! And more blue juice. And blue fruit! It’s uh, not poisonous if you only eat the outer bit.”
Relc perked up instantly. Erin went to fetch the pasta and placed two steaming plates in front of the two.
Klbkch nodded at Erin and both began eating. Around mouthfuls, Relc eyed Erin and then Pisces.
“So, how’re you doing? Level up again?”
“Actually, I did. Right after you two left.”
“Ooh, congratulations! Did you get a new skill?”
“[Basic Crafting]. It helped me make a basket out of grass.”
“That’s quite useful! Most craftsman and artisan classes get that early on. I guess innkeepers are sorta like that, right? Got to take care of the inn, repair windows, fix tables, and all that.”
“I guess. I haven’t ever tried that and besides, I don’t have a hammer. Actually, I’ve never swung a hammer in my life.”
“Well, you’ve got the skill for it, so it’ll be a breeze. And you can buy a hammer no problem. Just head down to the city and you can get a good one for only a silver coin or two. Tell you what, if you’re ever in the area I’ll help you get one at a discount.”
“Really? That’s really generous. Thank you.”
Erin smiled hesitatingly at Relc who grinned back at her as he slurped down a noodle. Klbkch set down his fork and nodded at his companion.
“Not entirely. I do believe my companion would earn a small fee for directing any business to his associates.”
Relc glared at Klbkch.
“Shut up. Do you have to ruin everything I say?”
“I am merely pointing out the truth.”
Erin had to smile as the two began bickering. However, she was the only one amused. Across the inn Pisces drained his mug and plonked it down on the table.
“If we’re done with the lovely chatting, my glass is empty. Isn’t attending to one’s customers part of my service?”
Erin glared. Relc glared too. Klbkch—well, she still couldn’t read the ant man’s expression, but he definitely gave off a silent air of disapproval.
“Nice customer you’ve got here.”
“Yeah. Hey—shut up!”
Pisces raised his brows.
“How discourteous. I believe I shall bring my business elsewhere next time.”
“I don’t want it anyways. Besides, you tried to rob me last time. You’re here on sufferance, and because I feel bad for you.”
He sighed and rolled his eyes heavenward. Erin sniffed and debated whether she should refill his glass anyways, but felt a sharp poke at her side. She screamed and jumped.
“Don’t—don’t do that!”
Erin rubbed at where Relc’s claw had poked her.
“Sorry. Again. But…you said rob? As in, that guy over there tried to rob you?”
Relc’s voice was a low hissing whisper as he glanced over as Pisces. He needn’t have bothered, though. Pisces was still engrossed in his cup. Erin grinned maliciously and whispered back.
“Yeah. Last night I was visited by a scary monster. But when I hit it with a pa—pot, it turned out just to be him. So I got him to pay up for scaring me and the food.”
“Shut up! You’re lucky I didn’t just toss you in the stream and let the fish eat you!”
“And…you let him come back for breakfast?”
“Well, it’s not like he’s dangerous. Just annoying.”
“And you didn’t think to report him to anyone?”
Erin stared blankly at Relc. He stared at her. Klbkch finished his plate of noodles and set down his fork. Then he stared at Erin too.
“Oh. Oh. I forgot. And besides, you weren’t here yesterday.”
“Very true. Our absence was most lamentable. But allow us to perform our duty now. Incidentally Mistress Solstice, the pasta was delicious.”
“Yeah, it’s great! Hold on.”
Relc grabbed the fork and started shoveling the pasta in his mouth. He was able to cram nearly half the plate down his throat in one huge gulp, and munched down the rest in seconds. Erin stared with fascinated horror and a tiny bit of envy as he gobbled.
That done, Relc exchanged a glance with Klbkch. Then he turned to Pisces.
Pisces looked up with a scowl. He glared at Relc and made an irritable harrumph.
“Do you want something? I don’t do magic upon request. If you seek a certain spell, I would be happy to discuss my remunerations…later.”
Relc grinned in his seat.
“How about you do the magic spell where you turn into a monster? I’d love to see that. Or better yet, do you have a spell to get out of trouble? Because you’re going to need one now.”
Pisces’s face went blank. His eyes flicked to Erin, and then back to Relc and Klbkch.
“Ah. I see the good innkeeper holds a grudge. Well, I’m not sure what she told you two, but I assure you, I have compensated her more than adequately for my…mistake. It’s nothing two soldiers need concern themselves with.”
“Oh, but it is, it is! And you’re wrong, by the way.”
Relc exchanged a glance with Klbkch. He grinned. Or rather, his mouth opened and she showed Pisces his teeth.
“We’re no soldiers. We’re guardsmen.”
For a second Pisces was very still. Then with a surprising burst of speed he leapt out of his chair and ran for the door.
Relc’s arm moved. Erin was only aware of a blur of movement and then his arm shot forward. She screamed and his spear blew past her ear, but the spear didn’t strike Pisces. It flew between his legs as he tried to run and tripped him up. He sprawled to the ground as Relc pushed his chair back. Klbkch was already on his feet.
“Do not move. You are under arrest for intimidation and attempted theft. Remain still. Any sudden moves will result in bodily harm.”
With one arm Klbkch dragged Pisces up. The mage didn’t struggle as Klbkch deposited him back in his chair. Relc smiled at Erin.
“Good throw, huh?”
She tried to answer and croaked.
Relc’s eyes widened slightly.
“Oops. Sorry, did I scare you? I forgot normal people aren’t used to that. Don’t worry—I never miss when I throw.”
“I’m sure. I’m sure. And I’m not scared. Just—surprised.”
Relc patted Erin gently on the back. She nearly fell out of her chair but caught herself on the table. He didn’t notice. Relc sauntered over to Pisces and grinned down at him.
“Gotcha. Try to run from me, did you? No one ever gets away.”
He looked over at his companion.
“Klbkch, got anything to tie him up with?”
Klbkch shook his head.
“I am without manacles or spell-bind rope. We shall have to be attentive with its lack. Unless Mistress Solstice has anything to bind him with?”
Klbkch looked at Erin.
“Uh, no. No, sorry.”
“A pity. But we shall do without.”
“Indeed you will. This is an affront!”
Pisces tried to push Klbkch away. His face was pale and sweaty, but he still maintained his haughty tone, if slightly strained.
“I am completely innocent – utterly so. These baseless accusations are false and—”
“You are lying.”
Klbkch said it flatly, and without a hint of doubt.
“[Detect Guilt] is a basic skill all guardsmen learn at level 15. I can sense your guilt, which is enough for me to justify this arrest.”
“Plus, we already know all about you and your crime.”
Relc folded his arms and grinned even wider. His teeth were yellow, and very, very sharp.
“We’ve been looking for you, Mister Mage. Or should I say, the scary creature that threatens travelers and people living by themselves? You’ve been stealing food and money for nearly a month. There’s even a bounty on your head, which I’d love to collect.”
Erin stared at Pisces who’d turned a paler shade of white. But Relc wasn’t done.
“Okay. Here’s what I’m thinking. Me and my friend here will drag you out back, beat you with sticks or rocks for a while, and then drag you back to the city for a reward. Then we’ll give half to our lovely innkeeper here. Sound good?”
“Actually, I would prefer—”
Relc cracked his knuckles. Erin, who had been staring in fascination, raised a hand.
“Um. Isn’t that wrong?”
“Wrong? Why would it be wrong?”
Erin searched for words as Relc stared at her blankly.
“Aren’t there rules? Like, rules against police—guardsmen hurting people once they’re caught? Like…like no beating someone once they’re on the ground?”
Relc stared at her. He turned to Klbkch.
“Do we have rules like that?”
“I believe it is a Human standard.”
“Oh, good. I got worried there for a second.”
“Yes, we wouldn’t want to ruin the enjoyment of mindless thugs like yourself.
Pisces sneered at Relc. He seemed incapable of keeping his mouth shut even when it was for his own good. Relc made a fist and he flinched.
“Hold on, hold on.”
Erin grabbed Relc’s arm. It was instinctive, but once she touched his scales she nearly jumped away. His skin, or rather, scales, were surprisingly cool and easy to grip. But it felt so alien to Erin that she was quite unnerved. It made everything seem frighteningly real.
Relc glanced at Erin and peeled her off gently. He was so strong that he broke her grip effortlessly with just two of his fingers.
“Don’t worry, miss. We’ll do the punching outside where you don’t have to see.”
“Or—or you could not. Isn’t that what nice guardsmen do? You could just arrest him and skip the punching, right?”
“Yeah, but he called me a common thug. I want to punch him for that.”
“Well—he’s a jerk. But I mean, you’re a guardsman. Insults like that are ten a penny.”
“Ten a what?”
“I believe she is saying insults to our position are quite common.”
Klbkch explained. He looked at Erin who shrugged awkwardly and gave him a sheepish smile.
Relc looked slightly hurt. He looked at Erin with his eyes narrowed slightly. But rather than look angry, that somehow made his face look sad.
“People like us. Everyone likes us. We’ve got a special job.”
“But one you sign up for, right? I mean, sure it’s a great job, but—it’s just a job, right?”
Erin faltered. Relc was staring at her in disbelief.
“It’s not just a job. It’s a highly prestigious job! Not just anyone can be part of the city guard, let alone a Senior Guard.”
“Really? I thought you just…signed up.”
Relc scoffed. He turned to Klbkch.
“Signed up? Can you believe this? Humans.”
Klbkch was unimpressed. He carefully munched piece after piece of blue fruit.
“Perhaps if you explained our function more properly there would be no need for outrage. Clearly, the nature of guardspeople differs culturally.”
“Right, well. It’s still not—okay.”
Erin crossed her arms. Pisces sneered and took another swallow of juice. He began mumbling to himself, but Erin, Relc, and Klbkch ignored him.
Relc sighed. He scratched the spines at the top of his head.
“Look, I’m not sure what Humans do, but in our city, the city watch isn’t like mercenaries or personal bodyguards. We don’t just sign up. We have to be voted in.”
“Really. See, we’ve gotta get at least fifty ordinary citizens to vouch for us before we’re sworn in. And to become Senior Guardsmen like us, you’ve got to get at least four hundred. Impressive, right?”
Relc grinned and pulled something out of the belt at his waist. He showed Erin a crimson badge edged with gold and striped twice with purple. It was shiny.
“Nice. So that’s your official badge?”
“Yeah. We’ve got to keep it on us at all times. Some guys wear it on their chests but it can get ripped off. Besides…”
He tapped his bare chest.
“Doesn’t stick so well on scales. Anyways, we’ve gotta pay a fine if we lose it so why risk it, right? I only need it when I want to prove who I am or pull rank, anyways.”
“Fascinating. But it’s still the elevated status of a common enforcer when all is said and done, isn’t it?”
Pisces sneered at Relc. He seemed full of confidence all of a sudden.
“You’re still under arrest. I can hit you. It’s only because I’m being considerate of Miss Solstice here that I don’t. But I will. If you don’t shut up.”
Eyebrows raised, Pisces drew a finger across his lips.
“Pardon me. I would not dare to interrupt such august personages such as yourself. Please, proceed.”
Erin sighed and Klbkch made a sound that sounded quite similar. Relc on the other hand just scratched his head.
“Right. Good. Anyways, we’re the ones with weapons and you’re just a mage. Not a high-level one either, or you’d be teleporting away.”
“Or destroyed us in a number of ways. The lack of lightning falling from the sky or fireballs confirms this.”
Erin edged behind a table.
“You sure about that? Really sure, I mean?”
Relc grinned at her. It was grin with entirely too many teeth.
“Don’t worry, Miss. He’s no threat or we’d have taken him out when we first realized who he was. Both of us can tell if we’re in danger or the enemy is strong.”
Pisces sneered around his cup.
“A keen observer would observe his opponent’s weaknesses and strengths and make assumptions based on their actions and ability. These two on the other hand are just using a skill.”
Relc eyed him. So did Klbkch, but it was more subtle.
“Well, he’s right. We do have skills, both of us. They’re part of our classes, although in my case I’ve got [Dangersense] and Klbkch learned [Appraise Foe]. My scales aren’t itching, so your Human friend here isn’t that good at magic.”
“He’s not my friend.”
“But he’s Human.”
Erin struggled for words. Meanwhile Pisces’s sneer deepened and he curled his lip, oblivious to the danger.
“Spoken like a truly ignorant fool. What would you know of magical mastery? My powers may not lie in mere confrontation, but I assure you, I have more power in my fingernails than you have in your entire, brutish, body.”
Relc surged to his feet.
“Okay, that’s it. Close your eyes Miss—”
For one moment Erin wasn’t sure if she wanted to get between Relc and Pisces or duck out of the way. Klbkch made the decision for her. He grabbed Relc and pulled him back. Not easily; but there was more strength in those wiry ant arms that Erin would have guessed.
“Relax. I would prefer not to damage this establishment. Nor would the owner, or even you, I suspect.”
Relc hesitated. He looked at Erin, who decided to add her support of denial.
“Yeah, let’s calm down before someone gets hurt. Like me.”
Erin grabbed the jug of blue juice and began filling cups. Relc accepted a glass, drained it, and then sipped at the refill.
Erin went to fill his glass but Pisces shielded it with one hand.
“No—no need, good Mistress Solstice. I am quite satisfied at the moment.”
Relc was still glaring daggers at Pisces.
“Peh. You should drink. It’ll be the last tasty thing you eat in a long time. Actually, what am I saying? This stuff’s way too good for you. Just remember what you’re missing when we lock you away.”
“If you can.”
Erin eyed Pisces. He was still sneering, and she wasn’t sure why. If she was any guess Relc was two seconds away from turning his face into raw beef.
Relc scowled. He closed his hand and Erin watched his entire arm ripple. She’d seen ripped guys before of course which wasn’t that impressive, but this—
“Last I checked, you were within arm’s reach. That means your fancy spells aren’t going to do a thing before I hit you hard enough to make your brains pop out. Trust me. I’ve done it before.”
Again, Pisces didn’t seem affected by Relc’s threat.
“I am a powerful mage far beyond your capabilities. Even if your paltry skills cannot detect my capabilities, you would do well to be wary of my hidden capabilities.”
Klbkch moved his head slightly. His expression didn’t change, but then, there wasn’t much to change.
Pisces drew himself up in his chair slightly.
“I have studied countless schools of magic. You see before you a practitioner of the elements, a weaver of illusions, a refined chanter, a master of alchemy, pyromancy, aeromancy, geomancy—”
Erin helpfully chimed in. Pisces choked on his next words. He glared at her. She shrugged.
“What? You told me yesterday. Oh, and were you the one who stole the skeleton upstairs? I just realized that was probably you.”
Pisces lost his sneer and now looked uneasy. Relc on the other hand grinned again.
“Well, well. Theft of a corpse and reanimation, no doubt. That’s another big mark on the list of charges. But necromancy, well, that also means we don’t have to bring you back alive anymore.”
Erin opened her mouth and Relc waved a hand.
“Yes, yes. But we’ll just hit you and drag you back so Miss Erin doesn’t see anything nasty. But you’re in serious trouble now, Mister Necromancer.”
Pisces sat back in his chair. He was still pale, but he looked far more confident than he had any right to be.
“Regardless if you know my identity or not, I still believe you will find capturing me no easy task.”
Relc blinked. He scratched the spines on his head and then shook his head gently.
“Humans. You’re so arrogant and crazy. It’s almost funny. If you’re so full of powerful magic, dodge this.”
He swung his spear forward, the butt of the spear first. But where the spear should have cracked Pisces over the head, Relc’s swing met nothing but air. Pisces was suddenly gone.
Relc blinked. Erin gaped. Klbkch instantly swung his swords in an arc, slashing the air around the chair. But he touched nothing.
Relc swiped the air where Pisces had been with his spear and growled deep in his throat. Erin stared.
“He’s not invisible? He did that once.”
Relc shook his head angrily. “No. I’d be able to sense if he were in a few feet of me. No, this was an illusion spell. A damn clever one, too. He pretended he was here and walked off while we were busy chatting.”
Klbkch looked to the door.
“I am unsure of when he left. He may have escaped only a few minutes ago. We may still catch him if we hurry.”
Relc cursed and swung his spear angrily. It made a terrific whooshing sound as it cut the air. Erin held her breath, afraid he’d let go and accidently cut her.
Klbkch turned and bowed his head to her.
“Thank you for informing us of his class, Mistress Erin. Although he posed no threat to either Relc nor I, he is far more dangerous than we had believed.”
“Really? I thought—he didn’t seem dangerous. I mean, I hit him with a pot and that knocked him out.”
“Oh, he’s probably as dangerous as a frog in a fight. That’s not the problem.”
Relc shook his head.
“We thought he was just an illusionist. That’s annoying, but really all he can do is scare folks into giving him things. But a necromancer’s worse. Far worse. We could let him go if he was just a normal mage, but we’ve got to find him now and he knows it.”
Relc muttered to himself. He was still looking around and his tongue was flicking out of his mouth, as if tasting the air. It was the first time he’d really reminded Erin of a lizard from her world.
“A rogue necromancer on the loose does nasty things. Even a low-level one can bring down villages if you give him enough dead bodies, and they level fast when that happens. We’re gonna have to hunt this guy down. If we can’t catch him today, I’ll have the Captain send out multiple patrols once we get back to the city.”
Erin nodded. Then she hesitated.
“So. Does…that mean you’ll be back soon?”
“Less than an hour, but we won’t be able to stay. Sorry. I’ll try to get the patrol out faster, but you know how it is. We’ve got to shift around guardsmen on patrol, set trackers, get armed up, etc.”
“Oh. Okay. But uh, does that mean—how long does it take to get back?”
“We should be able to cover the distance in approximately ten minutes if we run.”
Relc nodded in agreement.
“So we’ve gotta go. Why? Are you worried he’ll attack you?”
“No, not that. It’s just—the city.”
“The city? What about it?”
“Um, where is it?”
Relc and Klbkch stared at her silently and then exchanged a glance.
“…You mean, you don’t know?”
“No. Should I? It’s not like there’s a sign or anything around here.”
Relc looked amused.
“Don’t be snippy. But it’s easy to spot. Look, you can even see it out the window here.”
He walked over to a window and pointed. Erin squinted out it.
“…Is it that black spot there?”
“Well, yeah. Isn’t it obvious?”
“No, it’s really not. It could be a rock.”
“It’s not a rock. Why are you having a hard time believing me? Can’t you see the buildings?”
“No, I can’t.”
“I do not believe she can, in point of fact.”
Relc and Erin turned to look at Klbkch. He studied her and then brought his face close to hers. Erin flinched as his face came close to hers.
“Do not be alarmed. I mean you no harm.”
“Sorry—sorry. It’s just the pinchers. And the eyes. It’s just—sorry.”
“Don’t mind Klbkch. He’s ugly even for an ant. But you really can’t see the city from here?”
Klbkch nodded. He seemed focused on Erin’s own eyes.
“I believe Humans have more limited eyesight than you or I.”
“What? That’s stupid.”
Relc huffed to himself. He pointed out the window at the black dot.
“Look, the city’s that way. It’s only a twenty minute walk and there aren’t many monsters along the way. Besides, once you get within a few miles the area is regularly patrolled so you won’t have any problems. And if those idiots at the gate stop you – which they won’t – just tell them you know me.”
“Or me. However, you should encounter no problems. Only those with past records of crime are unwelcome in Liscor.”
“And speaking of which…we’ve gotta go. It’s my day off, but we’ll report that annoying human maggot-mage back at the barracks. If we move fast, we might get him before he runs too far.”
Relc was on his feet. He moved so quickly that Erin was left gaping. One second he was sitting down, the next he was at the door.
“Hey Klbkch, coming?”
And then Klbkch was there too. If Erin hadn’t seen the black blur that swept past her and felt the rush of air, she would have sworn he’d teleported.
“Indeed. It is unfortunate we must leave so soon. Our apologies, Mistress Solstice.”
Klbkch nodded to her. Relc waved and was out the door in a flash. Erin was left sitting with a table full of dirty plates and a state of mild shock.
She had just picked up the first plate when the door slammed back open. She jumped, but Relc waved at her.
“Oh, sorry we forgot to pay. We’re in a hurry so—put it on our tab!”
The door closed. Erin stared at it hopefully, but it didn’t open again.