Erin woke up. Generally, this was an ordeal. Today, however, it was fairly easy. Because the real ordeal would come later.
Such as right after breakfast. Erin stared glumly at the three shriveled blue fruits on her plate. She bit the first experimentally and chewed. And chewed. And chewed.
It was incredibly difficult to chew the fruits. The skins on these ones were so tough to bite into, it did remind Erin of eating rubber. Not that she’d ever done that since she was a baby.
Plus, they’d lost their delicious juices and tasted—well, flat. There was no sweetness left in them, and they were quite, quite unappetizing when you put all these qualities together. But Erin ate them, mainly because she had nothing left to eat.
“I’m in trouble. Yup, yup. It’s amazing these things lose so much taste after only a few days.”
It wasn’t that she was out of blue fruits. There were plenty—well, some—still ready to be harvested from the orchard. But they, like all food, were in limited supply. Besides, the issue wasn’t that. It was her guests.
“Who’d want to eat blue fruits all day? Raise your hand if that sounds like fun.”
Erin didn’t raise her hand. Granted, they were tasty and made a good fruit drink, but when you got down to it, they were still just fruits.
“And I want food. Real food. Not fruit. I want bread! I want pasta! I want pizza and soda and salad and ice cream—actually, forget the ice cream. I need meat. Or fish that doesn’t bite back! I want sushi, cheeseburgers and fries, toast, waffles…cereal…”
Erin pressed her hands to her rumbling stomach and tried not to cry.
“Even instant ramen would be nice. Is that too much to ask?”
It was. She knew that. But just thinking about the food made her tear up a bit. She could handle Goblins. She could deal with rude [Necromancers] and fight off evil rock crabs. She could even handle giant fish that tried to nibble on her when she took a bath. But she wanted food.
“Plus, I need to feed my guests.”
Erin nodded. The math was simple. No food equaled no guests equaled no money equaled starvation. But the little flaw in the equation was that in order to get the food, she’d need to spend the money. And she had no way of doing that.
“Unless I go to the city.”
Now, that was a thought. She wasn’t sure if that was a good thought, but it was the only option she had available. The city. Erin went to the window. Relc had shown her where it was…
Erin stared at the small buildings in the distance. It looked far. But then, everything looked far around here. And the city would have things. Like food. And clothing. And toothbrushes. And plates and things for her guests? It looked a lot farther than twenty minutes away, though. Erin imagined the journey wasn’t without risks, but if Relc and Klbkch did it…she weighed her options.
“It’s far. But I have to go. Maybe? Yes…no. No? Yes. I need food. And I need to feed my guests. It’s my duty as an innkeeper.”
She paused and thought about that last statement. Erin collapsed into a chair and cradled her head in her hands.
“Am I an innkeeper? Is that what this world is doing to me?”
Maybe. It was probably the [Innkeeper] class. However, it was the only class she had. Erin just hoped she didn’t change to meet the class.
“I’ll grow a huge beer belly and start hauling around kegs of ale. That’s what innkeepers do, right?”
She didn’t actually know. It wasn’t as if she’d ever paid that much attention to medieval history, at least the parts that were actually history.
“They never mentioned innkeepers in the legend of King Arthur. Or did they?”
There was no Google to help her, so Erin abandoned that train of thought. Really, she was distracting herself. She knew what she had to do today.
“To go to the city or not, that is the question. Actually, there’s no question. I need to go to the city. I need to go…shopping.”
She hated shopping in general. This? This would be crucial shopping, because unless she got enough flour, eggs, and so on to sell to her guests—she wouldn’t be able to make more money. Which she needed to buy more things. Essentially, she had a job, and while she could live off blue fruits for a time without money—she couldn’t do that forever. Her teeth certainly couldn’t.
Still. Erin really, really didn’t want to go. She liked people, she really did. But she had a negative reaction to leaving her safe inn and travelling to a far-off city probably full of giant lizards and insects that walked on two feet.
Glumly, she stared at the three blue fruit cores on her plate. She walked outside and threw them as far as she could. The juices left her hands feeling unpleasantly sticky, but there wasn’t much she could do about it.
“Guess I’ve gotta go to the stream. Who knew washing your hands was so much work?”
Erin grumbled as she wiped her hand on her jeans. Then she paused. And looked down.
Her jeans were blue. The blue fruit juice was blue. But against all odds, the blue stain still showed up quite visibly on her clothing. Or rather, the blue fruit stains. And they weren’t just on her pants.
Erin’s shirt was a nice, commercial t-shirt with a lovely company logo on the front and back. Really, she wasn’t that attached to it, but it was perfect to wear when she was just staying at home. It wasn’t her choice of clothing.
…Which was good, because Erin would have cried if she’d inflicted the same damage on a t-shirt she really liked. She gazed down at the blue stains covering her shirt. She poked at the rips and cuts on the sleeves and the burn marks on one side. She lifted the shirt, sniffed once, and gagged.
For the first time, Erin felt at her hair. She raised a hand and smelled her breath. She thought about the last time she’d brushed her teeth. Then she tried to shut down her mind.
“Well, that settles that. I’m off to the city.”
Erin walked through the grass. She wished there was a nice road to follow, but for some reason, no one bothered to pave a road through the empty wilderness. Come to that, she wondered again why anyone would build an inn in the middle of nowhere.
Maybe there used to be more people in the area. Or maybe there was just an idiot who thought he was breaking into an untapped market. Either way, Erin was grateful for the inn.
“But why does it have to be so far away from anything?”
Erin walked down the slope. At least there was that. The inn was located on an incline. Not a steep hill, but a really long slope that gradually went down the more she walked. It was nice, until Erin looked back and realized she’d be climbing up all that way again soon.
“Wow. That’s a big hill.”
She stared for a while and kept walking. Relc and Klbkch had called the journey to the city a walk of about twenty minutes.
“They lied to me.”
Or maybe they just walked really fast. Erin could actually see the city Klbkch had called Liscor in the distance. It was still small, but given how close it seemed now compared to before and multiplying her velocity by her legs and given energy divided by her willingness to keep walking…
“Thirty minutes. No; probably an hour. Yeah, that sounds about right.”
Erin sighed. But exercise was good for her, right? It built character. Or something.
“So, what do I need?”
She took a quick inventory check. Her coins were securely packed into the bottom of one pocket. They were heavy. She had her clothes on, which was important, and she looked like…well, like a homeless person. But she had money. So what should she buy with it?
“Um. Clothing. Right. And soap. And a toothbrush, if they have toothbrushes. And toothpaste…which they probably don’t have. But something. And I need food obviously, more soap, towels, laundry deter—more soap, and a comb.”
Erin walked a few more feet.
“And a sword. I need a sword. And a shield? And armor? And, uh, anti-Goblin spray? Oh, and books! Tons of books. Maps, history books…can I read any of that? Well, Relc and Klbkch speak English. So that’s weird too. And I need bandages, a sewing needle, someone to teach me how to sew…”
Erin felt at her pocket. The coins jingled. She wished there were more to jingle.
“And I need to rob a bank.”
Okay. Erin retraced her thoughts.
She counted off on her fingers.
“Clothing. Food. Toothbrush. Toothpaste. And a lamp.”
She snapped her fingers.
“Right. A lamp! And a sword.”
She felt at her pocket again and heard less of a jingle, more a few bits of metal rubbing together.
“…Just the lamp.”
“Flat grass, flat grass, all I see is flat grass.”
Erin sang as she walked. She wasn’t sure if there was a tune, but at least the singing kept her company.
“Horses eat grass, but I’ll pass, so I’ll go to the city fast. Or I’ll die of starvation! And once I’m there, I’ll eat ten pears and—hey, is that a Goblin?”
Erin turned her head suddenly, and the small head ducked down. She squinted. Yes, that was definitely a Goblin. It was hiding up on a small hill to her left, but she knew it was still there. Watching her.
Well. She was being followed. Erin wasn’t sure what to make of that. She looked around, and two more heads disappeared as their owners dove for cover. They didn’t look like they were trying to ambush her, just follow her.
Erin bent down and searched the grass. Eventually, she found what she was looking for. She waited until one of the Goblins decided she’d forgotten about them and poked his head up again. Then she turned and shouted.
Erin hurled the rock. It missed the Goblin’s head. And the hill. But the green figure took the hint and disappeared in an instant. Erin sighed to herself.
“Great. They’re like cockroaches. Evil, giant, green cockroaches. With teeth. And sharp knives. And red eyes.”
She wondered what she should do. Then she thought about what she could actually do.
Erin kept walking.
The city kept getting larger the further she walked. She felt at some point it should stop getting bigger, but soon the buildings loomed in her vision. They were no skyscrapers, but they were taller than she felt medieval buildings should be. But the city was still far away. So she walked.
And she was being watched. Multiple pairs of eyes stared at the young woman as she walked through the grass. They watched her for signs of weakness, for things that could be exploited. She was watched. Occasionally, she turned around and threw a stone.
When Erin got to the city gates, she stared up for a while.
“That’s a big wall.”
It was a big understatement. The wall was high. And that was high even by wall standards. It was nearly forty feet tall, which Erin had no way of knowing was perfectly normal for a curtain wall. She had no way of knowing it was forty feet tall either. She just thought it was big.
But what was unusual about this particular wall, and what Erin did notice, was the way the gate was constructed. It was no iron grating of a portcullis with handy holes to shoot and poke at enemies, but two solid metal doors. Erin wondered why, as the gates looked solid and hard to budge. They were, and for a reason. But she didn’t find out that reason until much later.
Erin approached the gate. There wasn’t really anyone else going through at the moment, so she felt very alone and small as she walked up to them. She stopped when she saw the guard.
He was big. He was armored. He was also a Drake, and he had yellow scales rather than green ones. Pale yellow, so Erin was reminded of popcorn. He also had a curved sword, and so it was with trepidation that she approached.
The Drake flicked his eyes down towards Erin and then resumed looking off into the distance. He was holding a spear at his side and a metal buckler on his left arm. Since he wasn’t using either to bash her to death, Erin considered this to be a good first start.
“Um. Nice weather, isn’t it?”
Again, the guard glanced at her. Again, he didn’t respond.
“…Right. It’s just that I’m new here. And I’m Human. Nice to meet you. My name is Erin. I, uh, know another guy who works with you. Relc? And Klb…Klb…the insect guy? So yeah. They know me. I’m no threat. And, uh, I saw some Goblins running around a while back. They’re not here right now, but I felt you should know.”
The Drake sighed audibly. And loudly.
“Go on in, Human. Anyone can enter the city. The gates close at sundown.”
“Right. Thanks. Uh, have a nice day!”
Erin smiled. He didn’t smile back.
“I’ll just be going. Now.”
She walked past the guard. As she walked through the iron gates, she heard him mutter under his breath.
Erin’s smile froze a bit on her face but she kept walking as if she’d heard nothing. Everyone was grumpy when they had to stand and deal with obnoxious tourists. And besides, he was just a guard. She walked through the imposing gates into the city. And then she had to stop.
Because she had entered Liscor. A city of Drakes and the Antinium and even more species she had not yet met, but saw walking and milling about. At least three she could see, all mingling and going about their lives. And now entering—
The Drake at the eastern gates was still yawning when the young woman hesitated, then walked forwards into the city of Liscor.
There were barely any more [Guards] on his section of the wall either; visitors came from the north or, in the winter, the south far more often. Even the western approaches had a few farms, but the only people coming in or out were [Traders] or [Hunters].
One had stopped three-dozen paces past the gates. Erin Solstice stopped dead in her tracks because there…
Was a hyena.
No, a dog-person.
No, a hyena-dog-person. Her first instinct was to stop, because she was reminded of a werewolf, a rabid animal—but way bigger than even the largest wolves from her world. It was crouched over half a deer carcass, red with blood, and Erin looked back for the Drake with yellow scales—
Until she heard the voice.
“—by the tribes and fur knots. All the lice in Izril! All the lice in Izril and—and Raskghar on these stupid paving stones!”
It was a male voice, growling and angry. Then, Erin saw how the person had clearly tripped. The blood from the carcass was due to it tumbling out of someone’s grip. They were getting up, and when she caught sight of their face…Erin’s fears about an animal were unfounded.
The furry person had dark brown eyes, with faint pupils almost lost in the deep chestnut color. Their entire body was covered from head to toe in a similar chestnut fur that rippled with every movement. Erin could tell because the figure had on only a kind of hide leggings, and nothing but a weird kind of armband on their right arm.
She realized that was one of those things an archer had—an armguard. It went with the recurve bow on their back and quiver at their side. As they straightened, hefting the deer onto their back, Erin realized a few more things.
They had features like a hyena, not a dog. There was something…more poofy about their ears, and their face was more angular than most dogs’. A humanoid element that made them look even more expressive than a dog’s face.
Second? This—this person was six-foot-seven. They towered over Erin, and they had the muscles to match if they were carrying half a deer.
Come to that—Erin stared at the deer, because she knew deer from her home state of Michigan. This was a big one, possibly a buck? But the antlers were…glowing. They were an oaken brown at coronet, but turned cherry red at the tips, and the entire antler had a faint bright glow to it.
The hyena-person noticed Erin at last as they stood with a groan. They did a visible double-take, then glanced guiltily at the blood on the street.
“Apologies, Miss. Was I in your way?”
It was hard to imagine that—the street was a good two-dozen paces on each side, and there wasn’t anyone else in this particular spot. There was no sidewalk, but the paving stones were mostly flat…except in one spot where some shift had made one jut up treacherously.
Erin backed up instantly, waving her hands.
“Oh, no! I’m, um—sorry I didn’t help? Sorry you fell?”
The person gave her a blank look—then bared all their teeth. Erin froze up, and the figure looked confused. They closed their mouth and curved their lips up.
“Er…apologies, Miss Human. We don’t see many of your kind around here, yes? A [Trader], a traveller? No need to apologize. [Broader Shoulders] means only I can carry a deer back! Half of one, at any rate. If only I had a bag of holding large enough for an entire deer, eh? I wouldn’t make a Human help me lift one of these!”
They laughed and patted an odd bag next to their belt. Erin’s smile grew more desperate.
The person stared at Erin with a quizzical look. A bit of blood dripped onto their shoulder, distracting them, and they cursed again.
“Tribes and tribulations. Excuse me, Miss. Watch the blood. If that [Guardsman] asks…pretend you never saw me. I’ve got to get this to the [Butchers] before the Acid Flies are all over.”
This was so fascinating, but the figure was already striding off, and Erin, dumbfounded, had to catch her breath a second. And by that point, she realized that this was a city of more than just ant people and Drakes.
Erin walked down the first street, and then she began seeing crowds. In fact…that furry fellow was one of thousands. Hundreds she could see in any given moment, which made her assume this city was home to at least tens of thousands.
Drakes, Relc called his people. Not lizards—Drakes. They had scales of every color, almost always one color with perhaps some speckling of other scales at most, like freckles. But most had only one dominant scale color.
Green or blue were the majority, but Erin saw a Drake with orange scales talking to another who was laughing and…gossiping? That was what it looked like as she held a claw in front of her mouth, whispering loudly to a group seated at a table. She had bright yellow scales and…a kind of tavern girl’s outfit on.
A medieval dress. But, done in a modern style if that made sense. With cleaner and far higher-quality fabric than Erin would have expected of the actual medieval ages. Like someone in a renaissance fair, actually. But…
The more Erin looked at the various types of clothing, she realized it wasn’t a one-to-one comparison with her world. The dyes were less vibrant and the lack of machine-printing meant that there were no logos, but a lot of fine embroidery. She saw a sigil of a city in the form of a badge on a passing Drake’s uniform and could tell it was an emblem because of the delicate gold thread surrounding the city with a sword and axe hovering over it.
On another hyena woman’s shirt was a silver fang embroidered in thread. And the lack of dyes also resulted in a more natural feel to the attire around her. Instead of neon-green, the brightest colors were a fine red shirt on one of the furred men, or plain white cotton on a very light dress under a thin, pale-blue outer layer.
The people here wore clothing bright and colorful enough that, at a glance, you might not realize how different it was. Erin’s t-shirt and jeans were still odd, but not uniquely so. If anything, it was being a Human that made her stand out.
Because these people were people, even if they weren’t Human. They were walking to work, talking, avoiding the fellow with the half a deer carcass on their shoulder—Drakes and the furry people.
No Humans. And no ant-people that Erin could see on this crowded street. The Drakes seemed to be the majority, but there was a strong minority of the…what?
Erin had no idea what to call them, but they were a tall lot, weren’t they? The Drakes varied in height roughly around Human standards, but the furry folk seemed to be taller on average. Bigger, too. There were male and female ones—Erin could tell despite the fur. And the female ones tended to have breastbands at the minimum.
A lot of the furry folk wore light clothing. Literally just a kilt or a kind of exceptionally loose pair of pants. A…toga? An actual toga, yes! It must have been hot, despite the cool weather, for anyone with that much fur.
By contrast, the Drakes also had togas and fairly loose clothing, but some were dressed head-to-toe. Like the Drake with bright yellow scales whispering to some people at—an outdoor café?
She had a platter of drinks and some bowls on the tray, but she’d stopped to whisper to a gaggle of other Drakes.
“—broke up again. Hawk can’t keep a girlfriend for more than a month, Courier and gold or not. It’s his obsession with vegetables.”
“You sure it’s not him being…him, Drassi?”
“Oh, hush. He’s fine. He’s more Drake than you are. I’m just saying—”
The barmaid, or whomever she was, jumped guiltily as an angry Drake with black scales—aside from some grey-white ones around his head—came out, his voice raised. He had a smock, and he looked managerial. In fact, Erin realized she was witnessing a common sight from her world.
“Drassi! This is the eleventh time this week! I’ve told you again and again, stop gossiping. I don’t care what your class is—enough. You’re friendly, but you’re also fired.”
“What? But I can work harder! Come on, Mister Drells…”
The Drake protested as her friends coughed and tried not to be there. Erin’s eyes boggled at the sight of someone losing gainful employment before her eyes—and if that didn’t make this a city like home, she didn’t know what did.
The city. Now that she was done staring at the people, Erin realized this city was…well, stone. Streets? Stone. Walls? Stone. Not concrete or asphalt, but cobblestones stuck together with some version of cement. Not incorporating any faux-stone cladding. Actual, legitimately hewn stone that sometimes bore chisel marks.
It reminded her of one of those European cities, the older ones. A lot of the buildings were wooden, and most had at least two stories. There was even a sidewalk, but no cars, obviously. Nor were there any traffic lights or modern electronics in sight.
Erin saw wood shutters thrown open, a few people on outdoor balconies watering pots of flowers, and someone hanging clothes up to dry—but thankfully no privy pots being thrown into the streets.
In fact, she realized that the street not only had a sidewalk, but very familiar openings into…a sewer? The street looked fairly clean, and Erin was so busy staring that she didn’t hear the angry person shouting at her until she looked up and saw a wagon rolling towards her.
“Get out of the way, you idiot!”
Erin ran for the side with a squeak of alarm. The driver on the wagon, another Drake, slowed the pair of ponies that stared at Erin almost accusatorially as the Drake—female?—managed to stop her vehicle.
“Are you blind? Stay on the sidewalk! I nearly ran you over!”
Erin called back as people turned to stare at her. The fired [Barmaid] perked up the instant she saw Erin.
“A Human? We haven’t seen one of them in…I wonder if another trade caravan’s getting here?”
The [Driver] paid no attention. She pointed at the huge wagon, and Erin realized those were the vehicles of choice. From footcarts to gigantic wagons larger than cars, loaded with goods.
“Sorry? Sorry? When this wheel runs over your foot, no healing potion in the world is going to get it back. Do you think I want that on my conscience?”
“S-sorry. I just didn’t see—”
The Drake glowered, but she flapped the reins, moving onwards.
“I don’t have time for this. I’ve got a delivery to run. Sidewalk! Use it!”
Erin was running afoul of everyone. Subdued, Erin scurried to the side of the street—and got into trouble again. Because she wanted to stop and stare, and this was a crowded city. Hundreds of people were all about, and they didn’t much like someone who stood still. Or Humans in general, it seemed.
Erin had come to a halt in front of a large building with writing on top. A lovely, wide sign…that she couldn’t read.
The language was different here. Exactly like the other words on the sign. It said, um…well, she had no idea, but there were two words and what looked like an apostrophe. But the real clue was what looked like a crystal ball and a magic wand with glowy bits. Some kind of symbol. Magic? Then Erin got in trouble again with the locals.
“Excuse me, Miss. Are you waiting in line for…?”
“One side, Human! Stop blocking the way!”
She jumped out of the way, and some impatient citizens strode into the building, which was getting good traffic in and out. Erin looked around. Every head turned to stare at her, and she heard that refrain again.
“Excuse me—um—what’s this building? I can’t read…”
Erin looked from person to person, and one stopped to talk to her. That friendly yellow-scaled Drake had been drooping along, head hung low after being fired. But this novelty made her smile come back with an eager vengeance.
“What, the Mage’s Guild? You can’t read, Miss Human? Right, you don’t read Drake script. Are you looking for the Mage’s Guild? Runner’s Guild? Adventurer’s Guild? An inn to stay in? Stables? The Watch, maybe? I’m Drassi.”
The words broke over Erin like a rushing wave. The young woman lifted her hands.
“No! I mean, I’m just looking around. Nice to meet…I’m just looking for a—a store!”
The Drake gave her a bright smile. With too many teeth. She bared all her needle-sharp teeth, and Erin gulped.
“What kind of store?”
“Uh—I—just looking, thanks!”
Erin fled, feeling embarrassed and awkward. The Drake scratched at her neck spines as Erin hurried off.
If she kept moving, she could be part of the crowd. After a while, Erin was less flustered. She walked down the street and became, well, part of the city’s traffic. That allowed her to observe.
This city is huge! At least, she thought so. There were so many people she wondered how many lived here. Tens of thousands? Hundreds, probably. And all packed into the walls, not spread out.
Hence, there were no real suburbs, just residential streets with four stories of buildings next to or above shops. Erin saw the fellow who’d killed that odd deer again, depositing his kill with the [Butcher]. He was having a hard time.
“You just gave me a damned Corusdeer. Half of one.”
The man had his arms folded as the Drake harangued him.
“Where’s the other half? You didn’t skin it first? You’ve ruined the hide—and there’s dirt on this part! Did you drag it back?”
The other figure growled.
“I dropped it once, okay? It’s not bad, no! And as for cutting it in half—I thought I saw a Shield Spider nest near me. They would have been over the kill—and me—in minutes. The hide’s fine. You can make boots out of what’s here. How much for it all?”
“Typical. You go for the top half because the antlers are worth money to the [Alchemists]. Nevermind the intestines being good for sausage or all the organs like the liver and—stop growling at me. I know, Shield Spiders. Damn it. Alright…let me check the quality of the meat. Give me a few minutes. And get a bucket of water and wash yourself off. You’re going to attract Acid Flies.”
A butcher’s. Or was it a [Butcher]? Erin saw more of that oddly cursive writing on storefronts, helpful sign posts…she guessed that this city would be easy to navigate. If she could read.
Oddly, everyone spoke the same. The furry fellow had a bit of a rolling ‘r’ to his voice and a growling tone, just like the Drakes elongated their ‘s’ and ‘l’ sounds, but they were speaking perfect English.
As for the butcher’s shop, what made Erin stare was the glass window. It had glass! It was the first glass she’d seen, and it astonished her because she hadn’t expected to see any in what she took to be a medieval world before they had access to the stuff in bulk. Wait, didn’t churches back then have glass? The point was she didn’t expect to see it in widespread use.
But glass was visible in a few buildings, and the more she looked, the more she noticed it. It wasn’t ubiquitous, but it was a window here, a pair of spectacles there—and one huge building with tons of people entering and exiting had a wand and a crystal ball icon over the front.
And then she wandered into an open plaza, and her mouth dropped. There were benches, even a park with trees and a playground over there! In this city! In fact, rising at one end of this plaza was a distinctly governmental building. It had large pillars, an open frontage that had less traffic, but a very familiar-looking sigil. The same one on Relc’s badge.
“That must be city hall or something. And the place with the wand—was that a magic shop…do they teach magic there? Do they sell wands? Wow. Wow. And I just need to find…a regular people shop.”
She was still overwhelmed, but Erin could catch her breath in the plaza with no one growling at her to keep moving. She took one breath, then another, then tried not to hyperventilate.
“Okay. Okay. I was lost before. I can do this.”
She had, in fact, been lost in a big city before. The key was noting where the foot-traffic was going. Erin guessed that led to places people shopped or did…things at. She kept monologuing; a lot of people were standing around or watching the children play. Again, Erin saw no little ant-people like Klbkch.
“What do I do if I get super-lost? Remember that street name. Squiggly line…got it. And if I can’t remember it or find my way back? Amsterdam, chess tournament. Start crying and ask where mom is…No, wait, I’m older now. Uh—uh—”
She heard a loud snorting sound from the side. Erin turned, and three dozen paces away, another furry person covered their mouth. They were laughing—at her.
“Sorry! We overheard, yes?”
They were a duo, male and female, watching a little boy run around on all fours. He was either naked or clothing didn’t matter with all his fur on. Erin turned beet red as she realized the parents had…heard her? She hurried off towards the most crowded street. Just try to blend in.
…After five minutes of walking, Erin realized she was lost again. She stared hopefully at another building with one of those broad frontages. Then she looked around. She peeked through a window and saw someone, another Drake, idly sitting at a wooden counter, head propped on one chin. Erin took a deep breath.
Then she went inside.
“Uh, is this a store?”
Every head in the Adventurer’s Guild in Liscor turned at the voice. Grizzled Drake warriors sporting scars from their heads to their tails, inhumanly tall furry people, most carrying bows, and several people who looked like mages, wearing robes or carrying staves, appraised the speaker who had just walked into the building.
A small Human. Possibly female. She stopped uncertainly the moment she noticed all the armor.
Unlike outside, the people in this building were not civilians. Civilians didn’t clank when they moved or sat down. These people, adventurers, wore armor, even in the morning, and they carried no daggers or shortswords, but had battleaxes strapped to their backs, longbows resting against the walls.
The figures at tables or clustered around a billboard appraised Erin for one heart-stopping second, then their eyes shifted away in disinterest. After a few seconds, Erin’s heart started beating again. She decided that this was definitely not the shop she was looking for. She almost turned and ran again when a voice rang out.
“Ah, hello? We can help you over here.”
A voice called to Erin across the low murmuring. She saw a green-scaled Drake, her scales as fair as light grass under sunlight, waving at her from behind a counter. She looked faintly bored, but peered at Erin with less instant hostility than most people in this foreign city.
She was much smaller and had thinner limbs than Relc. Erin guessed she was female on the basis of her voice. The dress was also a big clue: light blue and flowed like running water, two straps along her shoulders providing support.
Hesitantly, Erin made her way over to the counter. The female receptionist gave her a close-lipped smile. She scrutinized Erin up and down and then launched into a rehearsed, if tired, spiel.
“Good day, Miss. How can we help you today? Do you have a bounty or request to post? Or are you registering?”
“Registering? Quest? Oh no, I’m not here for…uh, anything. I just thought this might be a store, so I…”
“Oh, I see! No worries, Miss Human. You’re just in the wrong spot, but I can give you directions if you’d like.”
The receptionist smiled again. And because she didn’t seem hostile or annoyed, this time Erin smiled back.
“Oops, sorry. Uh, where am I?”
The Drake chuckled as if it weren’t obvious.
“This is the Adventurer’s Guild. That lot didn’t tip you off?”
She nodded to the armed people lounging around. Erin blinked and her eyes went wide.
“The Adventurer’s Guild?”
“Didn’t they have one back in your city?”
The Drake raised her brows in frank disbelief. Erin stared around the room with renewed interest. Now that she wasn’t being pierced by a thousand glares, she could take in the building properly. It was a large place, and, at first, Erin thought she’d walked into an inn. Or a bar. But now that she knew what she was looking at, the receptionist behind the counter made a lot of sense.
“N—I mean, I’ve never been in one before.”
She wondered if that was a stupid thing to say, but the Drake just flashed her another big smile, reassuring.
“That’s quite alright. Not everyone needs to use an Adventurer’s Guild. Most never will, hopefully. If you’ve never needed any services, let me give you the basic explanation. Here you can let the Guild know about dangerous monsters in your area, post quests and offer rewards, or if you’re an adventurer yourself, you can go look at assignments or receive your reward.”
The receptionist pointed to a large wooden board nailed up against one wall. It had quite a lot of parchment stuck to the wood, and several large and burly adventurers were gathered around it, talking amongst themselves.
Erin studied the adventurers. They were all wearing armor, although the quality and amount varied from person to person. Most of the Drakes seemed content to wear only armguards or the occasional helmet without much chest armor, but several of the large hairy dog-hyena-people were wearing chainmail, and in one case, real plate armor.
That wasn’t all, of course. Some adventurers weren’t wearing any armor at all. But they were all armed. Erin spotted several Drakes wearing light robes and carrying staves or daggers at their belts. One even looked like they were wearing armor made out of some dark, glossy material. It didn’t look comfortable, but they definitely looked ready for a fight. Erin whispered as she saw one of the Drakes flick a claw and produce a few sparks, to the amusement of her companions.
“Real mages. That is so cool.”
“…Miss? Excuse me, Miss?”
Erin looked around. She realized the receptionist had been trying to get her attention for some time now.
“Oh, I’m really sorry. What was that you were saying?”
“Are you a traveller, Miss? Or maybe…an adventurer? Are you here to register?”
The look the she-Drake gave her said this wasn’t much of a possibility. But she was very friendly, and Erin tried to explain.
“Oh no. I’m, uh, an innkeeper. I guess. Or maybe a wanderer? Actually, I’m just new around here.”
The receptionist looked interested. She sat up a bit and added a different emphasis to the class than Erin had.
“An [Innkeeper], is it? Are you opening up a business here? Humans almost never move to Liscor. I’m Selys, by the way. I should have said so from the start. My apologies.”
Selys offered Erin a hand. It was such a Human gesture Erin had to smile as she shook her hand. It felt weird touching the cool scales, but not unpleasant. She was almost worried about the claws, but she didn’t even feel a prick as Selys returned the smile, again, without teeth.
“I’m Erin. Erin Solstice. And no, I’m not, uh, innkeeping here. I live outside the city. In an inn a ways away. I guess. I just came here, because I needed to go shopping. Badly.”
She indicated her ripped and stained clothing. Selys eyed that with a slow nod.
“Well, I can’t leave the desk, but I can give you some directions. No wonder you were lost—you can’t read any of the signs, can you? Your people normally stick to the north; Esthelm’s as far as most get. What brings you out so far? Oh, and what are you looking for?”
“Um. A teleportation spell got me here? And I need food. Flour, oil, butter, salt…that kind of thing. And I need clothing. Lots of clothing. And toothpaste!”
Selys gave Erin a longer look, as if trying to see whether Erin was joking or not. She replied after a moment.
“Well, if it’s food and general supplies you’re looking for, try the market two streets down from here. To get to it, just take a left as you walk out of here and then turn right, and you’ll be there in no time. They’d also have some clothes there, but I’m not sure if they have any made for Humans. What kind of teleportation spell did that? You mean, people teleportation? Gone wrong? That would be a huge scandal. Anyways, the market will have everything you need.”
“Oh, that’s great. Thank you so much. About how I got here—I don’t know if it was an accident or me—maybe teleportation! But um. Right now I’m just trying to get by. So the market is two streets down and left and right…?”
Erin had already forgotten the directions. Selys repeated them, then mouthed what Erin had said. ‘Maybe teleportation’?
Erin was too flustered to notice. She could memorize most of what she needed pretty easily, but when she was nervous, things slipped. She wished she had her smartphone or Google Maps. A map would be useless since she had never learned how to read them.
“I’m also looking for a place to get some other supplies. I don’t suppose you know where—”
A large, hairy hand grabbed Erin by the shoulder and pulled her around.
Erin was looking at a wall of brown hair. She was sure that wasn’t there a minute ago. She looked up.
A hyena’s face stared down at her. Or rather, a hyena’s face on a humanoid body covered in fur. It was one of the adventurers in the guild and it—he—didn’t look happy.
But he wasn’t saying anything. Rather, he was looming. Erin could tell it was looming by the way he stood and the way she felt like an ant. She didn’t know why he was angry at her. Maybe he just wanted to pick on someone. She opened her mouth and tried diplomacy.
“Um. Hi. Are you—are you a wolf-person?”
It was definitely the wrong thing to say. The pissed-off look on the hairy hyena-guy’s face only got worse. He growled at her in a rumbling voice that sounded like…well, what Erin imagined a dog would sound like if it could talk.
“Do I look like a Wolf Beastkin?”
Erin backed up a step and found the counter was right behind her. She looked over her shoulder and saw Selys gazing at her worriedly, but the receptionist didn’t come to her aid.
The not-werewolf leaned over and growled in her face.
“I’m a Gnoll.”
His breath was terrible. Erin felt weak at the knees just smelling it.
“Right. I’m very sorry about that. Um. Can I help you?”
“You’re in my way. This is for adventurers.”
“Right. Sorry. Sorry about that.”
Erin stepped to one side so he could get to Selys. He didn’t move forward, though. Instead he just glared some more. A few more seconds of glaring made Erin stutter.
“Is—is there something else you want?”
The Gnoll twisted his neck and cracked it. It sounded like firecrackers going off and scared the hell out of Erin.
“I don’t like Humans. They smell. You smell like garbage. Like rancid oil and flames and things that turn my stomach. And Goblins and dust and mold.”
Erin stepped away again, but the angry Gnoll just followed her. She knew she was being watched by the other adventurers in the room now. But, like Selys, they seemed content to watch the Human-bullying without making a move.
“R-really? I can’t smell anything.”
“That’s because Humans can’t smell anything.”
The comment came from behind Erin, but she was too scared to turn around. It had the same growling quality to the voice though, so she was sure it was another Gnoll.
“Right. Well. I’m sorry about that.”
Erin tried to sidestep the Gnoll, but he blocked her way.
“I don’t want Humans in here. You don’t belong.”
“Hold on, now. She’s just lost.”
At last, Selys came to Erin’s aid. The female Drake leaned over the counter and called out to the Gnoll. Now, Erin realized he had a bag of dripping something. There was a long, bug-like leg sticking out of it, he was covered in green blood—and some red—and he looked tired and angry.
“If you’ve got a bounty—Shield Spiders—I’ll process it now. But this Human was just asking directions. You can’t just kick someone out who—”
He looked at her and snarled. Selys flinched and shut up.
Across the room, Erin saw the Drakes in the room stir. One of them hissed softly.
The Gnoll glared at the Drakes, and they glared right back. One of his hands twitched towards the sword at his side, but he didn’t make any move to grab it. Still, the tension was so thick that Erin was sure if a Gnoll or Drake moved the room would explode.
Erin was wondering whether she should run when the Gnoll broke off the staring contest and swung around to her.
“You. You’re stinking up this place with dirt and filth. I can smell the things you’ve rolled in. You haven’t washed in—dead gods. I’m covered in Shield Spider guts and you smell worse! Take a bath before you come back here.”
He jabbed at Erin’s stained shirt with one pointed claw. She jumped back nervously from the long, filthy nails.
“Oh. Yeah. Um, I’m really sorry about that. It’s just that I’ve been sort of fending for myself, and I didn’t have a change of clothes so—”
The Gnoll leaned forward. Erin could see the individual whiskers protruding out of his snout. She could smell his rancid breath. But she was mainly focused on his jagged teeth.
Erin hesitated. She cast one glance towards Selys, but the receptionist wouldn’t meet her eyes.
The Gnoll growled, and Erin backed up. He herded her towards the door, and once she was out, he slammed it shut behind her. The last thing she saw was Selys waving at her guiltily.
That was the first building Erin was kicked out of in her visit to the city. It wasn’t her last. Not by a long shot.