1.06 – The Wandering Inn


A giant insect stood in the doorway. It had large, black, bulbous eyes like a bug, no pupils, just tiny facets reflecting the light, a dark brown chitinous body, almost black, and a pair of swords at its sides. A giant shell like a beetle or turtle’s covered its back, and the entire effect made the bug-man look slightly hunched.

It had four arms, each one covered in chitin but shaped almost like a Human’s, complete with fingers, and two long mandibles coming out of its mouth, shaped like pincers. A pair of waving antennae were attached to the thing’s head. No hair, no nose, no…clothing, really. Just a loincloth and a belt and a pair of swords sheathed at its side? 

There was something shiny and metal pinned to its chest, but she was mostly just staring at the ant-person in front of her.

Erin stared at the ant-creature, lost for words. Then it opened its mouth and began to speak again.

“Good evening, Miss Human. I was wondering if my colleague and I could take up a moment of your time—”

Erin shut the door. Then she bolted it. Where did she put the kitchen knife?

“You idiot. I told you this is why I should have opened the door.”

A second, louder, muffled voice came through the door. A second bug-person? This one had a slight rasp to it, sibilant. Erin heard the two talking as she looked around. Weapon. She needed—

The Goblins’ knives were on the table. She grabbed both and tried to think. Knife. Chair? There were lots of chairs.

“Maybe it was a bad time?”

Or windows. Erin looked around. Plenty of windows. She’d jump out one if she needed to.

“Move over. Let me show you how it’s done.”

Someone knocked on the door again. Erin froze, and then went back. Very slowly, she opened the door.

A giant lizard—no, a miniature Dragon that looked sort of like a Human stared down at Erin. He had to be at least six-and-a-half feet tall. 

He was huge, muscular, with scars parting the rippling scales instead of flesh. His head was shaped like a lizard’s—or a Dragon’s. No nose, again, but a snout and slitted pupils, not round. His scales were light green, and he had sharp, sharp claws on each hand. Yet he also had a very humanoid body—except for his feet, which were taloned like a dinosaur or lizard’s. Or a Dragon’s, again. He even had a long tail, which dragged on the ground behind him, and neck-spines sticking out the back of his head!

When he smiled, she saw his teeth. Pointed and sharp. Oh, and he had a forked tongue. The Dragon-man raised one claw and opened his mouth wider in a grin.

“Hello, Miss. Sorry if we—”

Erin shut the door, bolted it, and dragged a table in front of it. She could feel her heart pounding out of her chest as she pushed another table in the way. Knives were no good. He was huge! She’d have to jump out a window after all. She heard the first person, the bug-guy—he sounded like a guy—speaking drily.

“Good job not scaring her.”

“Shut up. This is your fault. I told you I should go first. I’m not a horrific Ant.”

“Yes, but I have my badge on. You have not brought yours. Again. For the eighth day in a row. Therefore, I was the most logical choice to—”

Were they talking? Erin listened hard. Her hands were shaking so hard she couldn’t hold anything. She heard them trying the door and finding it locked.

“Now what? I do not believe breaking and entering would be appropriate at this moment.”

“What, are you crazy? Let me talk. That was just a misunderstanding caused by seeing your face. I’ll straighten all this out.”

One voice was higher than the other and had a strange clicking quality about it. Erin guessed that was the insect’s. The other, the lizardman, pronounced his words with elongated s’s. And they were both speaking in English.

“Hello? Miss? We’re not dangerous.”

One of them was knocking on the door. Erin tried not to hyperventilate. Her eyes darted to the window. But she had to ask.

“…Are you a Dragon?”

She heard a surprised laugh from outside the door.

“Am I a Dragon? Aha. Haha. Well, that’s just—oh, Ancestors bite me. I mean, do I look like one? I’m not even Oldblood, but maybe I do. Klb, buddy, what do you think?”

“You are blushing.”

“Be quiet. I’m in a good mood now.”

The lizardman raised his voice again.

“Excuse me? I’m not a Dragon, Miss Human. I’m just an incredible Drake in service to the City Watch. Me and my idiot partner were on patrol when we noticed the smoke. May we come in? I promise we won’t bite.”

“Or inflict other forms of bodily or mental harm upon you.”

Shut up. Are you trying to scare her?”

Erin debated. Somewhere in her mind, she was trying to decide whether she should be laughing or panicking. And if she were going to laugh, would it be funny laughter or hysterics?

She couldn’t decide. So instead—

“Um. Give me a moment. I’ll open this door.”

“Thank you very much.”

Erin dragged the tables out of the way and hesitantly unlatched the door. She opened it and stared at the insect and giant lizard again. The insect just stared at her. The lizard, on the other hand, opened his mouth and curved his lips upward. It might have been a smile.


Erin’s hand tensed on the door. The lizard guy put his hand on the door and stopped her from closing it. She tried, but suddenly the door was locked into place. He gently opened it and gave her a lazy salute with his other clawed hand.

“Sorry, sorry, Miss. We’re not here to hurt you, I promise.”

Erin hoped that was the case. She couldn’t budge the door an inch. But this wasn’t the time for flight, right? She took a different tack.

“W-want something to eat?”

The lizardman blinked.

“Um, sure.”

“Okay. That’s great.”

Erin opened the door slowly. The lizardman smiled and carefully stepped inside. The giant insect walked in too and gave her a polite nod.

“Good evening.”


The two stared around the empty inn. Erin pointed to the table while keeping her eye on them the entire time.

“Food’s over there.”

“Ooh! Pasta! This is good stuff!”

The lizardman—Drake—rubbed his hands together. The noise the scales made sounded like sandpaper. He went to sit at the table, but the insect guy paused.

“I would gladly partake of nourishment if offered. However, we would not wish to deprive you of your meal.”

“What? No. I’ve got lots of pasta.”

Erin pointed vaguely back to the kitchen.

“Let me just get a plate and…forks. Do you, uh, want a drink? I’ve got water.”

The two strangers exchanged a glance. The Drake raised one claw.

“I’ll have a glass if that’s alright.”

The ant man instantly copied him with a nod.

“I will accept the pasta and water as well. But may I inquire if you have any more meat-based dishes? Corusdeer, perhaps?”

What was a…? Erin shook her head.

“…No. No I do not.”

“A pity.”

Erin went to get the plates. She heard the two sitting and chatting idly while she went to the kitchen. There she took a moment to sit on the ground and slap herself a few times. Then she got the plates. An idea occurred to her as she was filling the cups with water, and she poked her head out.

“Here. Uh, I’ve got juice as well. Want a glass?”

The Drake blinked as she offered him a cup. He stared at the liquid inside and eyed his companion.

“Oh, thank you. It’s…blue.”

“Yeah. I made it myself. It tastes good, really.”

A moment’s hesitation and the giant lizard-man accepted it with a shrug.

“Well, I’ll gladly accept. Klbkch, you want any?”

He turned to his companion, and the other figure declined.

“I will pass for the moment. We should get down to business rather than partake of food.”

“In a moment. Let’s eat first. This looks good!”

Erin stared. Here was an opportunity. She had two creatures who could not only speak English for some reason, but were also not inclined to kill her and were eating her food. There were so many questions she could ask about herself, about where she was, about everything really.

It might be her questions would decide her ultimate fate. Probably not, but they were certainly important. But before Erin could ask any of the questions, including how a ‘Drake’ and giant ant learned to use a knife and fork, she had to ask again.

“…Are you sure you’re not a Dragon?”




“…So someone on the walls spotted the smoke and called it in. Since it didn’t seem like a grassfire and since we knew this place was abandoned years ago, the Captain decided to send someone to check it out.”

“To put it succinctly: we saw the fire and decided to investigate.”

The giant lizard turned and glared at his ant man companion.

“That’s what I said.”

The ant fellow replied stoically; his voice never seemed to change, unlike the boisterous lizard guy. He was—precise.

“You said it poorly. I am merely rephrasing your words for the benefit of all.”

“See, this. This is why no one else is willing to be your partner. Along with you being, y’know, you.

“Your hurtful remarks are unnecessary. Besides which, I believe we are getting off track. We are in the presence of a member of the general public, remember.”

“Oh. Right. Sorry.”

The lizardman cleared his throat. It sounded weird to Erin; much deeper and bassier than normal. She was transfixed, as much by the surreality of having them eating with her as the fact that the ant man had excellent table manners and his companion did not—and the way they just—talked, bantered, even. It was beyond weird.

Actually, everything was weird to Erin at the moment. Not least were the two creatures sitting across from her.

Well, maybe ‘creatures’ was unfair. They were probably people. They acted like people. But they looked—

Erin stared at the lizardman’s arms. They were huge. She’d seen bodybuilders on magazine covers and terrible gym commercials, but this guy was bigger than 90% of the male population. The Human male population. And he was green. And he had scales.

He glanced her way. His eyes were like a snake’s. Or a lizard’s. She looked away hastily and glanced at the ant man. At least, she thought he was an ant.

While he wasn’t that much smaller than the average guy, the insect guy looked tiny next to his partner. But of the two, he was definitely higher on the weirdness scale. Mainly because he was a giant insect. He had antennae.


Erin jumped.

“Me? Hi, yes, me.”

The lizardman gulped down some of the blue juice.

“Sorry, but can we ask you a few questions about where you’re from? It’s pretty odd to find a Human out here, let alone in an abandoned place like this. Not that we mean to pry, it’s just that it’s kind of our job to ask these questions.”

“What? Oh, it’s no problem. Ask away.”

The insect guy leaned forwards.

“Well, to begin with, may we inquire where you come from?”

“I’m from Michigan.”

The two exchanged a glance while Erin mentally slapped herself.

“Michigan? I’m not familiar with that city. Or is it a nation…? Is that north of here? Over the mountains, maybe? On this continent?”

“Uh. No. It’s a bit further than that.”

“Oh, so are you…lost? Or travelling maybe?”

Erin shook her head.

“No, actually I got lost and—this is stupid. Why am I making excuses?”

Again, the glances were exchanged. The Drake coughed into one claw. The ant man began making notes on a pad.

“Um, I don’t know?”

Erin sighed and spread her hands on the table.

“Look. It’s complicated, and I can’t really explain. But would you believe…magic? Like a crazy, crazy, uh, teleportation spell?”

To her surprise, the two took that at face value. The Drake looked at his companion and raised both brows, but not in disbelief.

“Oh, a [Teleportation] spell? Was it a misfire or did someone target you? That’s a Mage’s Guild issue.”

“Not if they did not cause it. Intriguing. Was it a magical duel, perhaps? Some high-level spellcasting?”

The terms were flying over Erin’s head, but she did her best to describe what happened.

“Um. I didn’t see anything when it happened. I just sort of turned the corner and—look, the point is I suddenly appeared around here. And then…Dragon.

“I told you. It’s flattering, but I’m not a Drag—oh.”

The ant man leaned forward.

“Do you mean to say you found a Dragon? Somewhere around this area? And you—survived the encounter. Unharmed?”

His voice was patently incredulous. Erin blinked.

“Is, uh, that a bad thing? I mean, it’s a Dragon yeah, but isn’t he…?”

Both she and the ant man looked at the lizardman.

“Look. It’s getting sort of embarrassing. I’m not a Dragon. I’m a Drake. And yeah, we’re distantly related cousins, but Dragons are…there’s no way. That would be huge. You said you saw one? You sure it wasn’t a Wyvern? It was probably a Wyvern.”

Erin vaguely knew that word, but she shook her head adamantly.

“It breathed at me. Fire. And then I was chased by little green men.”

“Goblins. And by the way, some Wyverns breathe fire too.”

“So they are Goblins. But—well, hold on—then I found a giant dino-bird—”

“A what?”

“A big…big leathery thing. With wings.”

“Oh, right. Those annoying things. What’re they called, Klbkch?”

The insect person looked up from his plate and replied calmly. He had a notepad open next to his meal and was taking notes. Was he writing with a…quill? And inkpot? Erin was fascinated.

“Razorbeaks. Go on, Miss.”

There wasn’t much else to say. Erin tried to summarize the rest of it.

“Well, after I got the eggs, there was a crab rock, I mean, a rock crab, and then I found blue fruits before that and…I met you two. A not-dragon and an insect. Who don’t want to eat me? Or is that after the meal?”

The lizard guy looked shocked and offended.

“Of course we wouldn’t eat you! That’s barbaric, and besides, it’s illegal. I mean, okay, sure, it happens sometimes in distant villages, but we wouldn’t do that. Right, Klbkch?”

The lizard man turned to his friend.

“Indeed. We would not violate our duty as guardsmen.”

“Your duty? You’re…guardsmen? And you…you’re K—kbch?”

The insect man raised one hand instantly and bowed slightly in his seat. 

“Our pardons. We have not introduced ourselves. Allow me to correct this mistake. I am Klbkch, Senior Guardsman in the employ of the City of Liscor. This is my partner, also a Senior Guardsman.”

He nudged the Drake, and the other one looked up from sucking down a huge mouthful of noodles.


The lizardman raised his glass.

“And this blue juice tastes good!”

“Indeed. And I must apologize again, but our true intent in coming here was to ascertain the danger posed here.”

Erin looked around.

“From what? Me?”

The Drake shrugged, picking at his teeth with a claw and glancing around.

“Not you, specifically. Really, it could be anything. We thought it might be a random fire or a few Goblins. If there were some stupid kids, on the other hand, we’d be dragging them back right now since it’s dangerous to stay here. Bandits on the other hand…”

Erin met his gaze in alarm. He had very yellow eyes with black pupils.

“Danger? Why danger? Is there something wrong with me staying here?”

“Well, there’s nothing wrong with you staying here. Aside from dying, that is.”


Relc kicked Klbkch under the table. Erin noticed the motion and the slight impact.

“It’s just a possibility. This, uh, place is sort of bad. For your health.”

Erin looked blank. Klbkch cut in.

“The plague. This location was once a small community until everyone here died. Horribly. Admittedly, this was a decade ago, but it was evacuated and has been condemned since then.”

Erin put her head in her hands.

“So am I going to die by puking out my guts or something?”

“Actually, the plague symptoms manifested themselves as—”

Relc kicked Klbkch again.

“Why don’t you shut up and let me talk? Look, Miss Human. You’re probably not sick if you’re still walking around.”

“And not oozing.”

Shut up. Ahem. We were just sent here to make sure no Goblins or nasty creatures started living here. We’ve got no problem with Humans. Well, at least the non-violent kind.”

“Indeed. There is no law against occupying this area.”

They both stared at her. Erin felt compelled to speak.

“Good. Thanks?”



“…Want another plate of pasta?”

The Drake had eaten most of his, and he looked fairly satisfied if how much he’d put away was anything to go by. He brightened up, and the Klbkch-person raised his hand politely as well.

“Oh, sure.”

“I will have another as well.”

Erin ladled noodles onto each plate. The diners were silent for a moment as each slurped down their noodles, or in the case of Klbkch, did something complex with his mouth-hole. Erin didn’t look closer.

After a while, Relc put down his fork.

“This really is quite good. How’d you make this all the way out here?”

“Oh, I found some flour and butter and stuff in one of the cupboards. It had a runey…thing on the shelves.”

“That would be a preservation spell. It is quite common among higher-class establishments.”

“But you cooked it, then? Do you have levels in a [Chef] class, then?”

Erin stared at Relc.

“Levels? Oh. No. I’ve got levels in, uh, [Innkeeper].”

He blinked at her, but idly, as if they were just making passing conversation and this wasn’t amazing.

“Oh, I see, I see. That’s convenient. Did you earn them here?”

“Uh, yeah. Every time I fell asleep I kept leveling. I’m, uh, level 4.”

“Not bad! Especially if you just got here a few days ago. Did the notification wake you up right as you were falling asleep? I hate that.”

“It did.”

“It’s very annoying.”

“Yeah. It is.”

The two looked at each other as Klbkch continued to eat in silence. Erin coughed into one hand and decided now was the time.

“So. Leveling. Classes.”

Relc blinked, then tapped at his chest with a grin.

“What about it? Oh, are you wondering about mine? I’m a [Spearmaster]. This idiot’s a [Swordslayer]. We both have levels in [Guardsman] as well, but not nearly as much as our primary classes. Pretty cool, huh?”

He grinned and was clearly waiting for some reaction. Erin hesitated.

“Right, right. Um, good to know.”

She smiled uncertainly, and he deflated a bit.

“Uh—thanks. [Spearmaster]. Me. Him—[Swordslayer]. No, it’s cool. We’re [Guards]. Yeah.”

Relc coughed a few times into his claw and glanced at her.

“And you’re an [Innkeeper], right? Got any other classes?”

“Um, no. No.”

Another quick glance. Klbkch and Relc hesitated, and the Drake shrugged.

“So four levels in…? That’s too bad. But you’re young; leveling takes time after all.”

“Okay. Right. Um. Let’s pretend I have no idea what leveling or classes are. I’m, uh, from really far away, and we have different…traditions.”

Relc and Klbkch exchanged a glance.

“…You mean you don’t level in this Michigan place?”

“Oh no, no. We level, it’s just, uh, different from you guys. And I never paid much attention in school and all that…”

This time, the look she got was ranging beyond skeptical into incredulous. Relc sat back with a frown and popped another sliver of sausage into his mouth.

“They have to teach Humans how to level? Weird.

Klbkch agreed, although he gave Erin a look of what might have even been sympathy.

“That is unusual. I was under the impression levels worked uniformly across all species. However, I too understand the issues of communicating leveling and the system of classes. Even so, it is odd to think there is a nation that does not teach it in some way. Unless you are referring to a cultural difference in classes?”

Erin had no idea what that meant. She spread her hands on the table, looking from face to face.

“Yes. No. Maybe? Look, I level. You level. We level. Everyone levels, right? We all can level up in, uh, classes and gain skills. How am I doing so far?”

Relc nodded amiably. He was slurping down noodles with his long tongue. Erin was fascinated, although she wasn’t sure if he was being disgusting or not.

“That’s pretty much how it works. What were you confused about?”

“Um. I gained levels just from cleaning an inn. And I wasn’t an [Innkeeper] before this. So why…?”

Relc waved a claw airily.

“Oh, that. New classes without an apprenticeship, you mean? Simple. You must have satisfied the requirements for the class, that’s all. I know it’s sort of weird gaining a new class suddenly, but it happens. I knew a guy who gained four levels in [Farmer] just because he kept growing carrots in pots next to his window. Not [Gardener], [Farmer]. I guess it was because he grew lots of carrots. Leveling is weird that way.”

“So…okay, let me think.”

Erin had to massage her head while the two guardsmen looked at her in concern. Well, she assumed they were looks of concern.

“This is a world. Everyone levels in it. Humans, lizard people, talking insects, cats, dogs, Goblins…”

“Hey, what did you just call—”

Klbkch leaned forward, cutting Relc off.

“Actually, I would like to correct you on that point. While the thinking races may level, animals and even creatures such as Dragons are not capable of leveling. Which is common knowledge.”

They were giving her very, very strange looks. Erin hesitated, but she was already in too deep, so she decided she had to gain as much information as possible.

“What, really? How about Goblins?”

“They can level. Now, about what you just said. I’m not a lizard—

“Indeed. It is part of our shared past. Once, of course, all races fought with tooth and claw and magic, but then they divided. Those who decided to forsake their natures and pursue a different truth received the gift of leveling, while those creatures who stayed true to their nature kept the might of their natures instead. According to historical records, at least. It is the subject of some studies, but that is the consensus.”

“Really? So that means—”


Relc’s fist smashed into the table. Every plate on the table jumped into the air, and Erin nearly fell out of her chair. She looked at Relc. He was scowling, but when he glanced at her pale face, he stopped and looked guilty.

“Um. Sorry about that. Really. But, uh, can we talk about that name?”


“Yeah. You, um, called me a lizard person, right?”

“Is that wrong?”

“…Yes. Yes, it is. I’m a Drake, not one of the Lizardfolk. There’s a big difference.”

“Sorry. Sorry about that.”

“Uh, don’t apologize. Look, maybe I overreacted a bit. I’m not, uh, mad…”

Klbkch kicked Relc under the table.

“I believe it was my turn to do that. Apologize to the Human for your rudeness.”

“…Yeah, sorry.”

Relc bowed his head down low, until the neck spines along the back of his head were pointing at the ceiling. Erin waved her hands urgently.

“Oh no, no. Please don’t do that. I didn’t know it was so rude. If I’d have known, I’d have never—there’s a big difference between lizard people and Drakes, right?”

Klbkch raised one finger politely.

“Only a few differences, but the animosity between their cultures is—”

Erin saw Relc go for a huge kick, but Klbkch swung his legs up, and Relc glared at him until he was quiet. The Drake turned back to Erin huffily, and she realized this was an important issue to him.

Shut up. I’m still sorry. But yeah, there’s a big difference. I mean, sure, Humans say we look similar, but we’re totally different. They have those neck frills, and they’re way too colorful. We build cities out of proper stone, but the Lizardfolk live near water and can breathe underwater too, some of them. They have Naga and, like, jungles in Baleros. Whereas we Drakes like drier climates. We enjoy warm sun, open spaces…”

“Nice rocks to laze about upon while we should be performing our duties.”

“You’re just an overgrown ant. You be quiet. Anyways, we’re special. Those guys are just amphibians that learned to walk on two legs. We’re related to Dragons. We’ve got special powers.”

“Like what?”

“We can breathe fire. Some of us can, at least.”

Relc sat back and folded his arms with a triumphant grin. Erin and Klbkch stared at him in silence.

“What? It’s a great power!”

“I am sure it is.”

“Yeah. That sounds amazing. Really…really cool!”

Relc nudged Klbkch with a triumphant smile of approval.

“See? She gets it. Told you it was cool.”

“Yeah, it’s awesome.”

“I feel I must mention that you, personally, cannot breathe fire, Relc.”

“Shut up, Klbkch!”

Relc looked annoyed and embarrassed at the same time.

“Only a few Drakes can do it, okay? Not breathing fire is perfectly normal. And some of us can, so there.”

He looked at Erin anxiously.

“We’re still cool, right?”

Erin grinned and gave him a thumbs up. Then she winced in regret. She’d used her bad hand. The Drake focused on the bloody bandages with a trained eye and suddenly frowned and leaned forwards.

“Ooh, nasty. What happened there? Looks like a bad cut. Were those Goblins?”

“What, this? It’s nothing, it—”

Klbkch stood up suddenly. Erin flinched, but he raised two of his spindly arms.

“Please, I mean no harm. But your hand. May I see it?”

Erin hesitated. Then she slowly extended her hand. On the outside, her bandage was grey and red with congealed blood. Some dripped to the floor. Relc winced, but Klbkch studied the injury carefully without touching it. Then he looked up.

“Again, apologies. But could I trouble you to remove the bandage?”

Erin hesitated. But then she slowly unwrapped her hand. And flinched. The pain that had been slumbering in her hand suddenly flared, and something dripped to the floor.

It was yellowish-white pus. It dripped from her wound. And the wound itself was different. Instead of the thin red line, it had changed. Parts of the injury were darker red and—Erin looked away.

Relc hissed softly. However, Klbkch made no sound. He inspected her wound for a few seconds, his antennae moving slowly, and then looked at her.

“Yeah. Um, yeah.”

Erin tried to breathe. Her hand was suddenly burning.

“It—sorry, it’s a mess. I cut my hand, and I guess it just got infected, but—”

“It is not an infection.”


“It is poison. Of a sort.”

“You sure? It doesn’t feel like—”

“There is a fish in the rivers near here. It secretes a mucus that damages the area it touches. Such as in this case. I have seen several similar afflictions as a guardsman.”

“You have? I mean, it’s not an infection?”

Erin was trembling. The insect man held her gently.

“Please, do not be alarmed. This is treatable. Allow me.”

He reached down. Erin looked and saw him pull something out of a belt pouch at his waist. She blinked as he held up a bottle full of a shimmering, emerald-green liquid.

“This is a low-grade healing potion. If you pour it over your injury, it should heal your affliction.”

Relc opened his mouth, but the bug man turned his head, and the Drake hesitated.

“Yep. Good thing it’s meant to treat light infections too. Klb, are you going to…?”

Klbkch didn’t respond. Gently, he uncorked the bottle and held it out to Erin. She accepted it gingerly, but hesitated.

“This is—I mean, is it safe? For Humans?”

Klbkch and Relc both nodded. Relc was eying his partner, but the ant man was intent.

“Please, believe me. It will heal you.”

Erin stared into his eyes. They were compound eyes, large ones. Brown and fractal. Like an ant’s. And they were creepy as hell, but Erin decided she could still trust them.

She gripped the potion tightly in her right hand and poured it slowly over the open wound on her left hand. She gasped in shock. Klbkch instantly checked her hand.

“Are you alright?”

“It—it doesn’t hurt!”

Relc snorted gently. It sounded like a leaf blower starting up.

“Of course not. Why would anyone make a healing potion that hurts when you use it? But look at that!”

He pointed. Erin’s eyes went down to the cut in her hand. It was closing up with amazing speed. The flesh was joining together, and in an instant, the entire cut vanished. She gaped.

Klbkch plucked the half-empty bottle from her hands before she dropped it. She was too busy poking at her hand to realize, but when he’d stoppered the bottle, she turned and gave him a huge hug.

“Thank you—ow!”

“Apologies. It is unwise to hug those with exoskeletons. Please, are you hurt?”

Erin stood back and rubbed at where his pointy bits had poked her.

“No, no I’m not. And how can I—I can’t thank you enough. That—that was a healing potion, right? How can I repay you for—”

She cast around for something to give him, but Klbkch held up one of his…hands.

“Please, it was nothing. That was merely a low-grade healing potion of no great worth. Let us call it payment for the meal. Unless, of course, you object?”

Erin looked around, flustered, and shook her head rapidly.

“Oh no, thank you. I mean, this is probably worth—can I get you another plate? Or—or you could come back. I’ll feed you two again if you want—”

“I will accept gladly. But for now I am full, and I believe it is time to be going. We would not wish to intrude upon your hospitality for too long.”

Relc paused as he gulped down more blue fruit juice.

“We wouldn’t?”

His partner turned to face him, looking the same, but he lowered his mandibles and he sounded mildly exasperated.

“We are still on duty, if you recall. The Captain will be expecting a report. If we do return, we will have more time to socialize.”

Relc considered this with a nod for logic. Then he held up a finger.

“Or, and hear me out. Or…we could have more food and stay here longer.”

Klbkch stared at him until the finger lowered by itself.

“I am sure you would prefer that. But we are being paid to work, not to enjoy ourselves. Moreover, you are eating all of this Human’s dinner.”

Relc glanced at the table. He stood up immediately.

“Right. Well, let’s be going. Um, sorry about that, Miss. Here, let me just pay for the food…”

Erin tried to protest, but a scaly hand prized hers open gently and deposited several copper coins and two silver ones into her palm.

“I insist. That blue drink is really good, by the way.”


“Well, we’ll be off then. Good night to you.”

The two left the inn. Erin watched them go. The door closed, and she heard them speaking lightly about reporting back and filing…

Then she heard nothing at all. Erin went to go sit down and ended up sitting on the floor. She stared at the door. She stayed sitting for another hour in complete, stunned, gratified shock.

What just happened?




Relc and Klbkch left the inn. They began walking through the grass under the night sky. It was cool, but both moved quickly. Each one scanned the landscape as they walked and kept their hands on the spear and swords at their sides. They weren’t nervous, just wary. 

However, they were also moving a lot faster than average to get back to the city before complete nightfall; they had to clock out and file that report. This patrol had taken longer than they thought, but they were so busy thinking that it took five minutes before Relc finally broke the silence. He turned to Klbkch and murmured.

“What a lonely girl.”

“Is she female? I could not tell with complete accuracy. She sounded so, but I have met few Humans in social settings.”

Relc nodded wisely and glanced over his shoulder.

“I can. It’s the things on her chest.”

“Mammary glands? Breasts, I think they’re referred to. Or maybe the word is tits.”

Relc hesitated.

“Really? I thought those were birds.”

Klbkch shrugged.

“That is what I heard some small Humans saying once. But she’s female. And young, correct?”

The Drake nodded slowly, frowning back at the old inn.

“Yeah, I’d bet on it. I’m not sure why a Human would be out here anyways, let alone in that place.”

Klbkch shrugged.

“Inquiring into others’ personal affairs is only a matter for the Guards while we’re on duty. Respecting another’s personal space is a principle of social interaction.”

Relc elbowed him, but Klbkch had sidled out of range.

“Shut up. She just seems lonely, that’s all. Why else would a Human female want to hang out with a Drake and an overgrown bug?”

Klbkch was silent for a while.

“Do you believe she is a lawbreaker or fearful for her life?”

Relc shook his head again.

“Even if she was, who’d hide there? You’d have to be mad, or be a [Warrior] or [Survivor] to want to live by yourself. Plus, the plague! Do I look sick? Am I oozing?”

The Drake checked himself with vague paranoia, but Klbkch shook his head.

“It was almost certainly safe as I and Watch Captain Zevara assured you repeatedly, Relc. Besides, that young woman’s presence is proof enough. She would be dead within the day if the disease were still present.”

“Bet she didn’t know. And her expression when we walked in—she’s never seen a Drake or an Ant before in her life. Well, the Ant part makes sense.”

“I would prefer that you call my species by their proper name.”

Relc ignored that. He glanced over his shoulder.

“What do you think? I bet she’s some kind of runaway or a child that got separated from her clan. Do Humans have clans? Or is it all [Lords] and [Ladies]? Maybe she’s not even from this continent.”

He waited for more speculation, but the ant man had turned his head and was refusing to speak. Relc glowered, but then grudgingly snapped.

“Fine. Antinium. Happy?”

Klbkch replied at once, as if nothing had happened.

“Her being a runaway would be most likely. I find it hard to believe any Human would wander so far into the grasslands by accident, and she did not seem to be looking for directions. Her magical teleportation story is also possible, but why would she not have asked to be taken to the Mage’s Guild? It is clearly a cover story.”


“You are correct in at least one definition of the word. But speculation is pointless in any case. We investigated the smoke, and now we can make our report. She is not breaking the law since the inn was abandoned nearly ten years ago.”

“What about the Dragon? Do you think she made that up?”

Klbkch hesitated and glanced at Relc. His pincers made a clicking sound as they came together in thought.

“She was not lying, at least not intentionally. But it is possible she was mistaken.”

“Yeah. A Dragon? Really?”

Relc laughed, and the Antinium shrugged.

“It seems more likely that she was hallucinating. However…she may have run into a fire-breathing salamander. I cannot imagine she would survive an encounter with a real Dragon. Armies would not.”

“Plus, we’d know if a Dragon lived around here. They’re pretty obvious.”


More silence. At last, Relc summed up the contents of their report.

“So…scared Human female? Not a threat? Probably a traveller? Makes good pasta?”

“That was my assessment.”

“Right, right. Let’s tell the Captain and get some sleep. Or rather, I’ll sleep and you do—whatever Ants do to sleep. Sitting-sleeping or whatever.”

“Agreed. And it is very restful. You should attempt it sometime.”


The two walked in silence for quite some time. The road back to the city was long, and in any case, they were still alert for potential dangers that might be sneaking up on them. Not that either had much to fear from most predators so long as they kept their eyes and earholes open, but you never knew.

After a long time, Klbkch broke the silence.

“So, shall we return tomorrow?”

Relc blinked and looked at his partner in disbelief. Because he had been about to say the exact same thing, and he was sure Klbkch would shoot it down.

“Oh, definitely. Right after work?”

“We may be able to fit checking in there as part of our duties if we convince the Captain it is necessary.”

Relc slapped Klbkch on the back of his shell in delight.

“Klb! That’s so devious! We can waste hours and say it was all an investigation! Now you’re thinking like a Drake!”

“I will endeavor not to in the future.”

“Go roast yourself.”

They walked on for another few minutes until Relc broke the silence again. There was just one last thing he had to bring up. He eyed his partner, looking amused, but Klbkch refused to respond. Relc indicated the empty bottle hanging at Klbkch’s belt.

“So, a lesser healing potion of no worth, huh? You know, I’ve never heard you lie like that.”

The Antinium’s voice was calm as he replied.

“Would you have had me tell her the true value?”

“No, no. It’s for the best. Mind you, I think she figured it out.”


“How are you going to explain that to the Captain, huh? That’s supposed to be special-issue. We won’t even get another shipment of that quality for months, probably! All the way from Pallass once the Blood Fields are frozen.”

The Antinium was unmoved.

“I did not believe a lesser one would be worth the risk. I shall make do with a replacement, and I will deduct the cost from my pay. Besides which, it was used to protect a civilian.”

Relc rolled his eyes.

“You’re a regular do-gooder, huh? Trying to level up your…[Good Person] class? Is that a class?”

“You know fully well that I have no levels in any class of the kind. I was merely being kind.”

“Sure, suuuure you were.”

“I have no sexual attraction towards Humans. Unlike you.”

Me? I don’t like Humans. They’re scaleless, hairy, and they smell funny. I mean, this one’s nice, but I definitely wouldn’t want to see what it looks like under those clothes.”

“Mm. It’s not very interesting. They are very fleshy.”



The two walked on in silence. Eventually, Relc spoke again.

“—It’s not that I’m not interested. I have an open mind! I wouldn’t mind looking. If I was offered. They’ve got nothing on good scales, but I could get over the fleshiness. Maybe.”


“Shut up.”

The two were almost in sight of the walls now, and Relc waved up at the figures watching them. He turned to Klbkch, but the inn wasn’t even visible from here. The Drake smiled, and Klbkch nodded.

“She was quite interesting in any case. It was pleasant talking to her.”

Relc sighed.

“Yeah. Yeah, I’m glad we didn’t have to kill her.”





Erin sat against one wall. She was falling asleep. She wanted to run around screaming about lizardmen—Drakes—walking ants, and a crazy world, but that was passé. Besides, she’d already done that for a few hours anyway.

Her mind was swimming. Her eyes were drooping. Erin was about to fall asleep. But her hand didn’t hurt. So she was smiling.

At last her mind finally blanked. Erin’s breathing deepened, and her eyes closed.


[Innkeeper Level 5!]

[Skill – Basic Crafting obtained!]


Blearily, the young woman stared up into the darkness.

“…Just let me sleep.”

She closed her eyes once more, but she was still smiling as she drifted off.


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