1.32 R – The Wandering Inn

1.32 R

Ow.

Fuck.

Ow. Ow. Ow. Ow. Ouch. Ow.

It hurts worse than that. It hurts…more than anything I’ve ever felt. Like someone’s tearing off my leg, like I want to remove it myself or scream. The cute words—they’re there so I don’t scream. I didn’t know it could hurt so much.

I’ve broken bones—this—this is worse.

This is why painkillers were invented. 

Damn it. Stop moving. Every time I shift, every time I breathe, it gets worse. I—I try to raise the shaking book with my hands.

Flip the page. I fumble with it, but I’m sweating, sweating and I can ask for a refill to my tankard.

I don’t want to refill it. I don’t want to contemplate using the bathroom. I can’t—can’t bear to move. If I was in my room, I’d pee in a container. Normally, I’d rather die than—

The pain. Nothing else in this world matters, not dignity. It’s gone. My leg is—

It’s hot. Why can’t people invent air conditioning in this stupid world already? The common room of an inn is not the best place to read in peace. But it beats sitting in my room and listening to drunk people banging down the hall or having sex.

This is why I hate people. That one thought lingers in my mind. Hate and hate—and Persua—and—I’ll kill her. 

I’ll never walk again.

Okay. Focus. That’s just—you don’t know that. 

Ignore them. What does it say? The letters are swimming, so I have to read each word out through the agony. Focus on that instead of anything else.

‘…The incursion of the Antinium hives into the southern region of the continent led to the bloody year-long war known as the Antinium Wars, or more specifically, the First Antinium War, in which hundreds of thousands of Antinium soldiers established huge colonies across the western coast where it bordered the High Passes, razing cities and forcing Gnoll tribes to retreat into the lower plains regions.

Initially, the southern Drake cities and allied confederacies were slow to react to the Antinium sweeping through the plateaus and rugged mountainous regions of the continent, underestimating the dangers of an entrenched Antinium hive and the true numbers of the Antinium concealed beneath the earth. It was only after five cities were lost that—’

GYAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH! My foot! Someone yanks a chair into my foot, notices me, and walks off with a muttered apology. I nearly scream at them. If I had the ability, I would stab them to death.

Why, why, why did the stupid chair have to be right there? The pain!

Crap. Did I bust open the injury? Let me see.

It’s hard to scoot back from my table to peer underneath it, but I can see the heavy white gauze. It’s bloody, but no more than it was last time I checked. Wonderful.

And it still hurts. I’ve broken bones before, but it never felt anything like this. But considering this injury—

Yeah.

Fuck.

One of the barmaids is looking at me. I stare right back at her, and she turns away. I’m really not in the mood for attention. And thinking about the pain only makes me want to scream out loud. Half from the pain, half from searing rage. So. Back to the book.

Okay. Ignore the pain. What was that about Antinium? Are they still around? I flip through the pages.

Confederacy of states…hasty alliance…skip all that. Ah.

‘The tide of the war only changed after the discovery of the Antinium’s fatal weakness. Using their newfound tactics, the Southern Alliance used long-range mage spells to assault Antinium hives and deter attacking forces.

One of the Hives was destroyed entirely before a temporary truce was formed between the Antinium Queens and the leaders of the city states. This peace was tenuous however and lasted for only ten years when the Antinium attacked again, leading to the Second Antinium War…’

Weakness. They had a weakness? Must have missed that bit.

Let’s see. Where would that be? And why haven’t I seen these ant-people around? Well, they’re pariahs or outcasts to most societies, so I guess that’s why. But do they have any useful features or are they just bug-people?

Oh, here’s the weakness.

I pause with my finger on the passage as I hear a cheerful voice calling my name above the hubbub of the inn. Oh. Oh no. Not her again.

 

——

 

Ryoka Griffin was sitting in the middle of an inn. It was not an extraordinary inn—just one of the many inns located in the Human city of Celum.

She was reading and scowling. Because she was talented, she could do both at the same time. She was also sitting by herself, occasionally eating from a cold plate left in front of her.

“Hey there, Ryoka!”

A cheerful voice drowned out the ambient noise of conversation and drew every gaze. Ryoka looked up from her book and spotted the girl making her way towards her. Her expression didn’t change, but her eye twitched once.

“Hey, Ryoka, how are you doing?”

“I’m fine, Garia.”

Garia Strongheart slid into an empty chair at the table and smiled cheerfully at Ryoka. Her cheerfulness was not reciprocated. Ryoka just glanced up at Garia and went back to reading.

Undeterred, Garia flagged down a barmaid and requested one of the local drinks, a strong, semi-alcoholic beverage that was cool and flavorful at the same time. In Ryoka’s opinion, it was a shame that the flavor in question was beer.

“So, how are you doing? Is your leg feeling any better?”

Ryoka glanced up and glared.

“Guess.”

Garia’s smile faltered.

“Did you—did you go to see the [Healer] I told you about? She’s a good one. Works with us Runners all the time.”

“Couldn’t help. The bone’s too badly broken.”

“Oh. I’m sorry.”

“Not your fault.”

Ryoka had a talent for shutting down conversations. Garia stared at her and tried to surreptitiously glance at her bandaged leg. She winced and covered her wince by changing the subject.

“Is that a book?”

Ryoka glanced up from her book. She eyed Garia. Her tone was beyond brusque and was past unfriendly. More into the point where a single word was akin to someone slamming a door into your face.

“…Yes.”

Yet Garia persisted. She smiled hugely, and Ryoka Griffin didn’t seem to notice how Garia peeked at the red bandages and the…

…leg…

Under the table. Garia’s smile blanched and grew wider. Determinedly. She tried to keep her voice upbeat, but Ryoka was close to snarling.

“What’s it about?”

“History.”

“You mean, world history like you were asking me about the other day? Sorry I didn’t know more.”

Ryoka shook her head. She was sweating and clenching her teeth.

“The history of the cities.”

“Oh. Is it, um, interesting?”

“Not really.”

It was fascinating. Ryoka was no history buff, but it was amazing what being transported to another world did for her interest in mundane things like economics and politics.

“I’m not a big reader. My dad and mother are, but I can only read when I go home. Books’re too expensive otherwise.”

“You can read?”

Garia blushed, but she nodded, a bit proudly.

“I was taught, and I know more than basic words. Fals can read too, and he owns a few books.”

Ryoka raised her eyebrows.

“Good for him.”

Again, Garia was forced to continue a mostly one-sided conversation.

“Where’d you get the book?”

“I bought it in the market. Didn’t cost much.”

“Really? I thought most books were several gold coins—at least.”

“Some sell for silver. Either way, it’s fine.”

Ryoka scowled as she chomped on another slice of ham. The lack of any library in this city meant she had to buy any books she wanted to read, and some were annoyingly expensive. But she wasn’t about to get into a discussion of economics with Garia and fuel the conversation.

The problem was, Garia was more than capable of finding topics of interest by herself. The other girl stared at the pile of books on the table.

“Are you going to read all of these, then?”

“I already read ‘em.”

“What, all of them?”

“Not like I have anything else to do.”

Ryoka deliberately turned a page.

 

——

 

I really wish she’d go away. Or do I? At least she’s keeping drunk guys from hitting on me.

I hate this. I hate her, I hate this inn, and I hate this entire world. If I could burn it down to the ground, I’d—

Probably not. At least, she’s not the one I hate. So maybe destroy all the world except for a few people.

But the pain. And boredom, let’s not forget. It’s a sad day when Garia’s daily visit is the most interesting thing that happens to me.

It’s been three days since my ‘accident’. Another few days and I might seriously snap. Like my leg—

Damn it all. If I could kill every damned Street Runner in the world, I would in an instant. Even if I had to stare into their eyes as I choked them to death. I will have vengeance, I swear it.

But until then, how the hell do I heal my leg? How, how, how? If it’s really beyond most normal magics—

Ask Garia? She might know of a better way, even if her first idea failed. Worth a shot, and I hope I have enough money for whatever I need. Crap, she’s been talking, and I have no idea what she said. Better wing it.

Huh. That’s a crowd coming in right now. Hope they don’t want to share the table. They look familiar, though.

Who’s that? Another Runn—

Her.

Kill her. Stab her. Break her bones. Don’t do it. Do it. Hurt her. Smash her stupid face in. Kill. Killkillkillkillkillkillkillkillkillkillkillkillkillkillkillkillkillkillkillkillkill—

 

——

 

Garia realized Ryoka hadn’t heard her question the third time she repeated it. The other young woman had frozen in place, staring at something over Garia’s shoulder. Garia turned, looked, and knew there was about to be trouble.

“You.”

Ryoka shoved her chair back and swung up onto her good leg. Good being—operative. Her face blanched, and Garia saw her skin go dead white, but Ryoka pressed past the pain. 

Persua smirked at her. She was, as always, flanked by her friends. Toriska and Claudeil. Claudeil glanced at Ryoka’s legs and then away, but Toriska just glared at Garia. Persua? She laughed at Ryoka in delight and then pretended to be surprised.

“Oh, Ryoka? I didn’t see you there. Fancy meeting you in this inn. How are you doing?”

It was hard getting her other leg out from under the table. But when she did, Ryoka stood up on her good leg and lunged for Persua faster than anyone would have guessed. She never made it, though.

Garia grabbed Ryoka by the shoulder and gently pulled her back. Despite Ryoka’s attempts to shake her off, she refused to let go and dragged Ryoka back from the smirking Persua and her gaggle of Street Runners. Toriska produced her knife, and Persua danced behind Claudeil.

Ah! You’re rabid, Ryoka! Did you see that? She attacked me for no reason!”

“Ryoka, stop.”

Garia was pulling Ryoka back, and she was strong, but Ryoka was straining with all her might to get at Persua, fists raised. The other Runners wanted it; Claudeil had his own fists raised, and he was eying Ryoka’s immobilized leg. Persua whispered in his ear, and Garia pulled Ryoka back. The young woman snarled at her.

“Let go, Garia.”

“No, calm down, Ryoka. If you start a fight, you’ll be the one in trouble.”

The expression on Ryoka’s face suggested she was fine with that, but Garia could count. There were at least eight Street Runners behind Persua plus her two friends, and they looked ready to cause trouble. One-handed, she pulled Ryoka back and made her sit back down.

That should have been hard to do, even to an injured Ryoka, but Garia was stronger than she looked. And she looked like a farm girl capable of lifting bales of hay with one hand.

As she pinned Ryoka to her chair, Garia moved so she was between her friend and Persua. She sat down—and gripped the underside of the table so hard her hands went white.

“Why don’t we all settle down? Persua, you and your friends can go have a drink somewhere else, okay?”

It was a surprise for Garia to say anything to Persua. Toriska’s eyebrows rose.

“I don’t recall telling you to say anything, Garia. Look at her, Persua.”

Persua gave Garia a mocking glance. Then she spread her hands innocently and ratcheted up her pitch another octave in innocent protest.

“I don’t understand what you mean, Garia. I’m just saying hi to Ryoka, who’s had a little accident. Can’t you understand that? Or are things going too fast for you to keep up with?”

Now it was Garia’s turn to flush, but she didn’t rise to the bait.

“You’ve had your fun, but I think you should leave, Persua.”

Persua gave Garia and Ryoka a sickly sweet fake smile.

“But as a fellow City Runner, I want to let Ryoka know how terribly sorry I am that she got in the way of that runaway cart. If only she’d listened to her fellow runners. We were all trying to warn her, you know. But that’s Ryoka for you. She just doesn’t listen now, does she?”

Garia could feel Ryoka’s shoulder trembling under her hand. It was getting harder to hold her down, and that was before Persua ‘accidentally’ mentioned how horrible it had been that no one was able to help Ryoka until she dragged herself to the nearest guardhouse for help. Her other hand gripped the table as the [Innkeeper] glanced up—Claudeil was eying Ryoka’s legs.

Ryoka was staring at a knife on her plate. It was quite sharp—but Toriska was glancing at the other Street Runners sidling around the table, and her foot was dancing. Ready to give a little kick—

She started forwards, and a sound made her freeze and jump back.

Crack.

Everyone looked down. Garia blinked—and a part of the stout wooden table she was holding came away in one hand. Even Ryoka blinked down. The wood was half a foot thick…Claudeil hesitated, and Toriska skipped back a step.

Garia’s fist was clenched, and she was breathing hard. She was, in fact—angry. 

As angry as Fals had been. But Fals wasn’t here, and it was just slowpoke Garia, the [Farmer]’s girl. The one who…lifted huge packs of ore and ran for miles.

The other Street Runners hesitated, but there were eleven, counting Persua, Toriska, and Claudeil. Ryoka’s leg was broken. 

Persua stared at the table, then her features twisted into a snarl, and she nudged Toriska. The other City Runner skipped forwards as Garia tensed, and Ryoka’s hand closed around the knife—

But then the door opened again, and a hush fell over the room. Where the Street Runners had entered into the noise and chaos of the inn, the next group that entered brought silence with them.

Casual inn-goers of the variety of merchants, farmers, shopkeepers, and so on scrambled out of the way as a huge figure strode into the room. [Tavern Toughs] looked up—and sat back. 

A seven-foot figure loomed over their tables. When he took a step, the liquid in a cheap cup moved. With his horns, he was even taller, and he was already larger than every other man in the room—before his plate armor. And if that was not already enough, the Minotaur had a huge steel battleaxe strapped onto his back.

He was followed by seven other figures, each one armed far beyond regular citizens. They carried swords, a longbow, a staff with a glittering crystal top—the only thing that didn’t make the [Innkeeper] scream for the Watch was the fact that they were clearly adventurers. Instead, he brought out a huge keg of ale with a big smile and told the [Cook] to put on a roast.

Adventurers meant money.

The Horns of Hammerad looked around and spotted Ryoka and Garia on the other side of the inn. Their leader immediately made a beeline for the two, walking in an open space of his own. No one wanted to get in the way of the Minotaur’s path.

His face was like a bull’s, furred but humanoid enough to show his surprise, gratification—then mounting displeasure. His horns, similarly, rose high above his head and had twin caps of gold, stylized with a hammer and two gates open over waves. If you could see the miniature engravings, they read ‘Hammerad, Beriad, House of Minos.’

He was focused on Ryoka Griffin. Persua was still mocking Ryoka and Garia, oblivious to the newcomers in the inn. The Street Runners behind her were nervously eying the approaching adventurers, but they didn’t move from their spot.

“Going to take a swing, Ryoka? Go ahead. Toriska—Toriska.

Persua hissed at her frozen friend, then she realized she was standing in shadow. She turned—and screamed.

Monster!

Calruz stared down at her as Claudeil and Toriska backed away from the giant. Minotaurs were a rare sight, and most of them had never seen one before. Calruz glanced at Persua, then jerked a thumb.

“You. Runners. Your presence is clearly not wanted or needed. Leave.”

The Street Runners exchanged one glance and then shifted out of the way. Calruz snorted in contempt and brushed by them.

Persua made a disgusted face and pinched at her nose as he passed by. But when one of the female mages glared at her, she shrank back as well. Garia saw a woman with strange, exotic features—pointed ears—and realized she was staring at a half-Elf! 

There was an unspoken difference in power between the Runners and the Adventurers. The Street Runners stared at Persua, but she took one look at the Horns of Hammerad and backed away.

“Strange friends you have, Ryoka.”

She called out as she backed away. Persua stepped back—and tripped as the half-Elf accidentally locked feet with hers. Claudeil caught her, and Persua turned white.

You—

“Leave it, Persua. They’re Silver-ranks. Come on.”

Without a word, Persua hurried away. One of the men right behind Calruz, with a mustache, gave the sniggering half-Elf an exasperated glare, but the others looked either approving or didn’t care. And then?

They sat down. Suddenly, half a dozen adventurers were at Ryoka’s table, carefully avoiding her feet, gathering around. They were all wearing armor or robes of high-quality cloth. The warriors standing behind Calruz wore shining chainmail, and the mages carried glowing staves and a wand that gave off ethereal fiery sparks.

That last bit was especially concerning to the innkeeper, who nervously eyed the wand, but he didn’t make any vocal objections. The tall, mustached Human warrior standing next to Calruz nodded at Ryoka and gave her a friendly smile.

“Ryoka Griffin? We’re part of the adventuring party the Horns of Hammerad. You bailed us out of a tough situation last week. Do you mind if we sit?”

Ryoka stared up at the adventuring party. She didn’t appear overly impressed. But then, her face was still sweating with pain.

“Looks like you already are. Glad you made it. What—what do you want? Sit down already; you’re blocking my light.”

The vice-captain blinked. He looked uncertain, but the Minotaur laughed.

“Hah! Spirited! It is good to see that in a Human at last!”

He stuck out a massive, gauntleted hand.

“I am Calruz of the Beriad. We have met before. I lead the Horns of Hammerad, an adventuring party in these parts. I am in your debt, Ryoka Griffin.”

Ryoka blinked in the face of this direct approach. She paused and then reluctantly nodded, shaking Calruz’s hand. She tried to smile—but her leg shifted, and her lips turned into a scowl of pain and suppressed agony.

“Fine. Go ahead.”

Immediately, the Horns of Hammerad pulled up chairs and another table to sit next to Ryoka and Garia. Calruz had to sit perched in his chair, which creaked ominously beneath him, but seemed happy enough.

Once all the adventurers were seated, a barmaid approached, and they ordered drinks and food. Ryoka wasn’t hungry and she had leftovers of her last meal, and Garia, awestruck by the company, was too shy to eat.

In between the barmaids bustling around and delivering drinks and food, the vice-captain leaned forwards and addressed Ryoka.

“We owe you a debt of gratitude for that delivery you did for us a week ago. Without it, we’d all have been killed by that damned Lich. Thanks to you, though, we managed to kill it and recover a lot of magical artifacts. Ceria’s got a new set of mage robes she owes all to you.”

One of the female mages nodded and gestured at her clothing. She was wearing a dark blue set of robes embroidered with glowing golden sigils around the hem and edges of the rich cloth.

“I bought this with a bunch of the gold we got. The Lich was mostly carrying magical reagents in a bag of holding, by the by. If it was artifacts, we’d have fought over a staff. Unfortunately, it was just rare alchemical ingredients. Some [Alchemist] in Pallass snapped it up, so I got some fancy robes I’d been eying. And they’re pristine, so watch the drink, Calruz.

It seemed foolish to bring such expensive clothing into an inn, but Ryoka noticed that when Calruz accidentally splattered the dress while reaching for a tankard, the liquid simply ran down the cloth and onto the ground. She was immediately impressed and wondered how much the magical cloth cost.

Garia looked around the table, wide-eyed.

“I just heard that Ryoka was doing a delivery to the Ruins. Was it that helpful?”

One of the warriors snorted.

“Delivery? Hah! She charged right past the Lich that had us pinned down and dropped the potions off right in the center of the battlefield! He was casting fireballs and lightning around her, but she even drew his fire as she left—gave us a chance to regroup!”

Ryoka shifted uncomfortably as Garia gaped at her. The problem with being in an inn was that other people were listening. Already, she could tell patrons at the other tables were listening in on their conversation. She shrugged.

“Just doing my job.”

“Your job? No other Runner would have pulled off a feat like that. You saved our lives. I thought we were responsible for you getting hurt at first—but it took us a while to track you down.”

She was having a hard time meeting the earnest vice-captain’s eyes. Ryoka shrugged and picked at her ham as he continued.

“Without the potions, the best we could have hoped for would be a retreat where we didn’t lose too many of our party. In the worst-case scenario, we’d have lost over half of our group, and that’s if the Lich didn’t follow us.”

Calruz nodded.

“Instead, we managed to break that damn skeleton’s head in. The treasure we recovered more than made up for the expedition. And while the rest of our group is still healing from the battle, we’re here to repay the debt we owe.”

Ryoka raised her eyebrows. Minotaurs. Honor? They didn’t seem to go together, but either Calruz was an exception or Minotaurs had quite a strong sense of right and wrong.

The vice-captain cleared his throat awkwardly.

“We expected to meet you again since we heard you were a popular Runner around here. But when we heard about your injury, we decided to drop by.”

Garia looked surprised. It was a long way from the Ruins of Albez to Celum for someone who wasn’t a Runner.

“You came all the way here just to do that?”

Calruz nodded impatiently.

“Of course. What does distance matter? But let us introduce ourselves properly. Ceria, introduce yourself.

He poked the female mage at his side, and she jumped and glared at the Minotaur. The mage nodded to Ryoka and Garia. She was wearing a hood indoors, which was presumably bad manners, but as she removed it, they realized why and Ryoka got her first clear look at her.

Her ears were slightly pointed, and although she appeared Human, this mage seemed subtly different from her companions. Ryoka noticed her skin was—rather than being paler, appeared subtly more vibrant. It was as if her body were simply realer and more vivid than the rest of the world. It was a slight thing but grew more noticeable the longer Ryoka stared.

Her eyes tracked down to the young woman’s face. Again, her features were beautiful, but not simply aesthetically. They possessed another dimension she couldn’t explain that added to the exotic nature of the mage’s face. Ryoka saw that her eyes were pale yellow but made no comment.

The mage stuck out one hand, and Ryoka took it. She wasn’t an Elf. But she wasn’t Human either.

Half-Elf. Her eyes lit up, and she smiled after elbowing Calruz hard.

“Ceria Springwalker. Village of the Spring, from Terandria. A long way from home, and technically, a student of Wistram. Ice-magic specialist and the only common sense in this crazy group.”

“…Ryoka Griffin. City Runner, I guess.”

“I’m Garia Strongheart. From around Celum. Pleased to meet you.”

“Likewise.”

The rest of the company introduced themselves, but Ryoka was still thinking about Ceria. She shook hands mechanically, impassively nodding as the vice-captain expressed his admiration of how she’d saved them. She’d already forgotten his name.

“Enough of this.”

Calruz snapped impatiently as soon as the introductions were done. He pointed down towards Ryoka’s leg as it stuck out awkwardly.

“We didn’t come here to chat. We’re honor-bound to repay our debt, which is why we’re here. And you’re injured. How’d that happen?”

“Got run over by a cart.”

“What?”

The adventurers looked at Ryoka in frank disbelief.

“Getting run over by a cart I’d believe of normal people, but a Runner? I thought you lot were fast on your feet.”

Ryoka shrugged unhelpfully and stared at her plate. Uncertainly, Garia cleared her throat.

“It wasn’t—exactly an accident.”

She turned red as the Horns of Hammerad focused their attention on her. Calruz tapped a finger on the table.

“Explain, please.”

“Well, I don’t know how to say it, but Ryoka sort of broke an unspoken rule in the Runner’s Guild. She did this delivery and made a lot of folks mad—”

“—And they decided to run her over with a cart?”

The vice-captain stared incredulously at Garia.

“Are you serious?”

She felt their stares, like she was mad, and Garia desperately took a longer drink of water.

“It was a wagon, not a cart. Lot heavier. And I didn’t know anything about it! Fals would have stopped it—most of us didn’t know anything until it happened. I found Ryoka at the [Healer]’s…the rest of the Runner’s Guild was horrified. This was the work of Persua’s friends. Not that anyone can prove it. They say it was just an accident and Ryoka tripped.”

Garia jumped as the mug in Calruz’s hand cracked and shattered in his grip. He angrily shoved the glass pieces aside and gritted his teeth.

“What a pathetic, cowardly lot. I’d challenge them all to an honor duel in a moment if I had cause. Didn’t you call for the Watch, at least? That’s how you do it in Izril—what about truth spells?”

Garia just shook her head.

“Persua says it was an accident. She says the Guildmaster investigated it and that’s that.”

That had been part of why Fals and everyone else weren’t doing anything. Ryoka was white with fury.

“She lied.”

“But they were truth spells, Ryoka. We…”

The half-Elf, Ceria, interrupted calmly. She leaned forwards and tapped on the table for Garia’s attention.

“Did you see them administer the truth spells?”

Garia shook her head.

“No—could you fake them?”

I could. With enough help. Sounds like this is politics. Bad politics and a shady Guildmaster.”

“That’s a scurrilous accusation, Ceria. Don’t go throwing that around.”

The vice-captain looked nervous, and Calruz’s face darkened, but Ceria just raised her hands.

“It’s just a theory. But who’re you going to believe? The City Runner who saved our life with a mysterious broken leg or…well, don’t pull out your axe, Calruz. We don’t do honor duels here, and that lot would run to First Landing if you looked at them sideways. It sounds like there’s quite a lot of politics in the Runner’s Guild—and dangerous politics at that if this is what happens to people who disobey.”

The other adventurers murmured and grunted in disgust. 

“Runners.”

“Money grubbing backstabbers.”

“Barely worth the coin we spend to hire them. And for the rates they charge, I could buy a new sword!”

The vice-captain just sighed.

“The Adventurer’s Guild has bad ones too, like former [Bandits]. Hunt, stop spitting on the floor. This Runner’s Guild must be riddled with bad Runners, though. We’ll remember that if we need help.”

Garia looked like she wanted to object to the insults, but she didn’t dare. Ryoka was interested.

“You don’t like Runners?”

One of the warriors shook his head. That one, Hunt, had a scar on his forehead and pursed his lips to spit again—but Calruz glowered at him, and he swallowed before speaking.

“You, we like. And your friend here doesn’t seem bad. But the rest of your lot are worthless pieces of waste as far as we’re concerned.”

“We’re not all bad.”

Garia protested weakly. The vice-captain and the mages shook their heads.

“You don’t understand, uh, Miss Garia was it? I’m sure you City Runners do a good job for civilians. But adventurers? Most Runners don’t do deliveries to battlefields, and some of the ones that do only deliver after the battle ends. We could be in serious trouble, but your people won’t approach until all the monsters are gone. And even then, we have to pay triple—sometimes five times as much just for deliveries to areas we’ve already cleared.”

Another woman nodded.

“Besides, Runners are only concerned about their pay, not anything else. They won’t stop to help even in emergencies unless we pay them. Even adventurers have more integrity than that.”

The Horns of Hammerad grumbled, but at least their ire wasn’t directed directly towards Garia and Ryoka. Ceria eyed the dispirited Garia and cleared her throat.

“That’s not to say all Runners are bad. I know a lot of you deliver goods quickly and for reasonable rates. It’s just that there are quite a few bad Runners in your Guilds, especially the ones that we have to deal with.”

She nodded at Ryoka.

“Case in point, your leg.”

Calruz snorted angrily as he grabbed another mug from a scared barmaid.

“This is intolerable. A good Runner shouldn’t be crippled. Ceria, Sostrom. Can’t you do something?”

Ceria eyed Ryoka’s leg as the other [Mage] with a long wisp of black hair he kept brushing out of his hair—it ran down to his chin—shook his head. She rolled her eyes.

“What are we, Level 50? Calruz, healing magic is the stuff of [Archmages]. No chance a [Mage] can…hm. Well, it’s not anything ice-magic has anything to do with, so I’m useless, and so is Sostrom.”

The wispy-haired [Mage] raised a hand and looked embarrassed.

“If Ceria says so, I agree. I’m self-taught, and she’s Wistram.

He said it like it mattered, and the half-Elf blushed slightly and raised a hand as if to demure. Then she frowned, thinking, but Calruz turned away and grunted at the rest of the table.

“So? What about a healing potion? How good was that [Healer]? We have [Bone Healers] in the House of Minos well above the grade of local ones. Although even I can set a broken bone.”

The vice-captain rolled his eyes.

“Everything’s better in your home. Go swim to the House of Minos and bring one back, Calruz.”

Now, Ryoka was regretting not remembering his name, because the Minotaur turned red and glared back at his vice-captain. And the Minotaur, who was the size of the largest Humans to ever exist—got a steady glare in return, which had to take some backbone. Two faintly purple eyes glowered at him before everyone turned back to Ryoka. Garia had a question.

Is it just a broken bone?”

Ryoka shook her head and grimaced.

“Bone’s shattered. Splinters are in the flesh.”

All the people sitting at the table—and in earshot of the conversation—winced. Ceria, however, just nodded to herself and put a finger to her lips.

“I thought so. If they were trying to hurt you, they had to injure you badly enough that you wouldn’t be able to recover so easily.”

“Why don’t healing potions work? They fix people with stab wounds up in seconds. Why not bones?”

Ceria shrugged.

“Healing potions just accelerate the body’s natural healing. But this is far too complicated for a potion to fix. Maybe a high-grade one…worth a few hundred or thousand gold pieces. But that’s out of anyone’s pay unless we were Gold-ranks or Miss Ryoka were a Courier. In situations like this, time or magic is the only solution. Either that or a high-level [Healer], and the cost is hundreds of gold too. Let alone getting to one.”

Deathly silence fell over the table. Calruz was grimacing darkly, and the vice-captain reluctantly shook his head at him.

“Too bad.”

Ryoka pushed her chair back and stood up. She paused and winced as her bad foot touched the ground, but then began limping towards the stairwell. Garia, distressed, called out.

“Where are you going, Ryoka?”

The other girl didn’t look around.

“Sleep. I’m tired.”

Instantly, the vice-captain stood up.

“In that case, allow me to help you up the stairs.”

Ryoka eyed the stairwell and looked back at him.

“I’ve got it.”

“I insist. Please, let me—”

“No.”

The vice-captain hesitated. He was looking from the steep stairwell to Ryoka’s splinted and bandaged leg. She set her jaw stubbornly.

“I don’t need help.”

“But—”

“Piss. Off.”

Ryoka brushed off his hands and began dragging herself up the stairs. She had a method for it; she walked backwards up the stairs so she didn’t have to move her bad leg more than necessary. It was awkward and cumbersome, but the look in her eyes dared anyone to give her a hand.

Crestfallen, the vice-captain returned to the table and sat down. The other warrior patted him on the back. Garia awkwardly apologized.

“Sorry. She’s just—unfriendly.”

“And in a lot of pain. It’s already forgiven.”

The man nodded understandingly, and both he and Garia smiled—until Calruz spoke up.

“I like her.”

Everyone looked at Calruz. The Minotaur was watching Ryoka with approval as she swung herself up the stairs.

“She reminds me of females of my kind. Fiery. The ones who would stab any male that offends. Much better than the simpering Human ones I keep meeting.”

He stood up. The vice-captain eyed him worriedly. Ceria leaned forwards and poked Calruz hard in the back.

“Simpering Human…? You mean our few fans? People who flirt with you? Name me one simpering adventurer. Don’t bother her, Calruz. What are you going to do, seduce her into bed and re-break that leg? She’s not a Minotauress either, and you have all the charm of a rock covered with moss.”

He snorted dismissively.

“Bah. All that’s needed is courage and spirit to win her over.”

He knocked his chair back and walked over to the stairwell. The vice-captain looked like he wanted to say something, but lost the initiative. Calruz called over his shoulder.

“Don’t wait for me. I’ll find you at the Guild later.”

The remaining adventurers watched Calruz ascending the stairs and muttered amongst themselves.

“Should we stop him?”

“If we do, it’ll be a fight. You know what happens when he loses his temper.”

“Another destroyed inn? We’ll lose all the money we just earned!”

The vice-captain’s eyes narrowed. He drained his mug and stood up.

“This is unacceptable. I’m going up there.”

Ceria grabbed him by the shoulder.

“Calm down, Gerial. He’s all about honor. He’ll just annoy her.”

He glared at her.

“You’re letting him go? Are you mad?”

She shook her head.

“Calruz isn’t an idiot. He knows the law. He’ll go if he isn’t wanted, but that’s not what I meant. Ryoka Griffin can take care of herself. Or don’t you remember why we’re here?”

He hesitated, but then everyone downstairs heard Calruz’s unmistakable bass rumble. From downstairs, Garia could hear Ryoka’s annoyed voice. She hadn’t known Ryoka long, but Garia knew her well enough to guess what she was saying.

Garia started biting at her nails as Calruz’s voice rose and he made what sounded like an attempted joke. Ryoka snapped something, but he kept talking.

Uncertainly, Garia stood up. None of the adventurers stopped her as she walked to the stairs and looked up. Both Human and Minotaur were standing outside her room, arguing. Well, Ryoka was arguing while Calruz was…flirting.

Which was a mistake, Garia knew. She heard Ryoka’s voice as she snapped at Calruz.

“Get out.

He said something in reply, and she pushed at him. Since he was wearing armor and outweighed her by at least two hundred pounds, he didn’t move. Calruz captured Ryoka’s hand in his own. Garia saw Ryoka’s eyes narrow.

The patrons of the inn downstairs clearly heard the crack and the bellow of pain from Calruz. From her position by the stairs, Garia saw and heard Ryoka punch the Minotaur in the face and then saw the Calruz’s form overbalance on the top of the stairs. She watched in slow motion as the massive figure of the Minotaur reeled back from the blow. He grabbed at the wall, but the wood splintered as it broke under his weight.

If. If Calruz hadn’t insisted on wearing plate armor. If Ryoka hadn’t hit him quite as hard. If the inn was newer and wasn’t so old. But there were no ifs. Calruz toppled down the stairs in a terrific crash of metal on wood, splintering the stairwell and smashing the floorboards on the ground where he landed.

Everyone stared at the fallen Minotaur as he stared up at the ceiling. Half of the inn’s patrons were already making for the doors, while the other half waited for the ensuing bloodbath.

At the top of the stairs, Ryoka raised her middle finger, flipped the prone Minotaur off, and then limped into her room. The door slammed behind her.

Calruz blinked up as the remaining pieces of the stairwell fell down around him and the innkeeper screamed in horror. He stared bemusedly up at Garia and the rest of his adventuring party. Then he grinned.

“Strong. I like her quite a lot.”

 


Previous Chapter Next Chapter


Subscribe
Notify of
guest
13 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments