At first, the laden cart rumbling through the northern city gates attracted little attention. This late in the day, the traffic going in and out had thinned, but there was nothing odd about two passengers sitting on the back of the cart while a Drake [Farmer] brought his merchandise into market.
The expression on the cart driver’s face and the way the guardsmen at the gate reacted when they inspected the bulky objects strapped under the tarp attracted some attention, however. So perhaps one or two [Merchants] made a note to inquire about any unusual shipments, and the extremely bored people-watchers might have drifted that way. But many things passed through Liscor, sometimes objects considered illegal in Human lands or very illegal in every land. Those were usually confiscated.
A wise [Merchant] with illicit cargo skipped Liscor’s annoying gate checks altogether and just sent someone to buy enough food and supplies to continue south or north. This was an odd route, this bridge between Drake and Human lands.
For one thing, you could only run it during two seasons out of the year: fall and winter. Spring and Summer were far too dangerous because of the Bloodfields.
Liscor was definitely no trading city like Pallass, the closest Walled City, but it occasionally got high-profile [Merchants] making a journey that essentially locked them into one part of the continent for a year. Unless they took a sea route to mitigate the High Passes issues.
“Not a lot of business in Liscor these days, huh? Is this route even worth it?”
A local Drake [Trader] was commenting idly to a Human busily buying up more hay and bundles of food for his pack animals. They’d have to go just past the Bloodfields…which were probably safe…and it would be a while before they’d reach a settlement again.
“The Bloodfields run? It’s not something I’d do often, but I have a bunch of ore from Esthelm and Invrisil’s latest fads. It’ll be gold for copper—if the Bloodfields are quiet. I’m bound straight for either Hectval to unload the ore or, if they don’t want what I’m selling, Pallass’ steelworks.”
“Anyone coming up north?”
Any important [Merchants], the question meant. The Human resisted saying ‘for what?’ He was one of a few Humans who came to Liscor, and they were all traders, travellers, or adventurers.
The city wasn’t exactly fun to be in, and he wanted to be at least cordial with the locals, so he shrugged.
“Not much call for trade overland. The only one I could think who’d even make the journey is…the Silver Trader. I heard she might be heading north, because of her family.”
“Oh? Isn’t she from one of your [Lord]-type families?”
“Mhm. Well, that’s all I need. Can you load them in my wagons?”
“Sure, I’ll call some [Laborers] over. Hey! I need eight…”
The trading area just past the northern gates was fairly busy due to the [Merchant], so the farmer’s odd wagon was unnoticed as yawning Drakes and Gnolls walked over.
The two passengers didn’t attract much attention either, at least to begin with. One of the two was a humanoid figure concealing her face with a casual woolen hood. That was normal, although anyone who actually saw the face hiding underneath the hood had a very definite reaction. But because they had to go through shock, denial, and optionally fear/awe, the wake of her passing attracted little notice. Again, at first.
The Human was another matter. For many of the Drakes who saw her, she was just another annoying Human arriving as part of the massive influx of adventurers, merchants, and all those seeking to profit from the ruins. At best, she was exploitable and had lots of coin; at worst, the Watch would throw her out if she caused trouble as Humans so often did.
Still, some of the Drakes recognized the Human girl and remembered that this was the girl who had beaten Olesm in a game of chess and was rumored to have met the Antinium Queen. Not least, the Antinium bowed to her, which was disturbing. So she attracted the most attention, but only in the form of vague interest at most from Drake observers.
Among the few Gnolls in the crowd, however, Erin’s appearance was entirely noticed and significant. Several immediately began walking away through the crowd to find a certain Gnoll shopkeeper, and the rest followed Erin and the mysterious cart.
The Human [Merchant] brightened at the sight of another Human face—most of his workers and caravaners for this haul were Drakes and Gnolls, going home. He was about to see what this young woman was doing here when he spotted her companion—and froze. Then he noticed the mysterious cart too.
Well, mysterious was the wrong word. For the Gnolls, who could smell better than they saw, the contents of the wagon were deeply disturbing. It was only because the contents were also definitely dead that they were willing to get near to the wagon at all. Even then, several wrinkled their noses at the burned smell.
Crowds had a flow and instinct of their own. Despite themselves, passersby felt drawn into the wake of the crowd as they sensed the flow of pedestrians shifting one way. And as a few people in the crowd shouted out the identity of Erin’s companion, and some children peeked underneath the covered wagon and ran away screaming—
Well, at that point, Erin really wished they would all stop looking at her and Gazi. It wasn’t that she minded the attention…
Actually, she did mind the attention. But more than that, she really needed to pee. But she didn’t want to start squirming in front of the nice people, so she suffered in silence. It really was a long way to the Adventurer’s Guild. And it got longer each time more people joined the crowd. She had a feeling that around 10% of the excitement was due to the dead spider corpses packed in the cart, but the other 90% was definitely Gazi.
When Selys saw Erin walk through the doors of the Adventurer’s Guild she couldn’t help calling out.
“Erin! Thank goodness you’re okay!”
Selys went from behind the counter to go up to Erin, but she quickly retreated as a flood of people poured into the room behind Erin. She stared at the crowd of pedestrians and then at Erin. Her eyes narrowed suspiciously.
“…Erin? What’s going on?”
Erin smiled awkwardly.
“Hi, Selys. Um, I’m here to collect a bounty? That’s how it works, right?”
The Drake stared blankly at Erin until she realized everyone was now looking at her. Then she blushed, or rather, the scales on her face changed color.
“Oh, of course! You can turn in—you have a bounty?”
Selys looked Erin up and down. The Human didn’t appear to be carrying anything in her hands or at her side.
“Is it…Goblin ears?”
“No…I think they’re called Shield Spiders. Is that right?”
Erin looked at a hooded person standing next to her. Selys’ eye was caught by distinctive features of the half-Gazer as she pushed back her hood. In her mind, an alarm bell went off, but it was temporarily silenced by something Erin had said.
“Shield Spiders? Erin, that’s not a good—you’re mistaken. Or is this some kind of joke? You can’t be serious.”
Erin shook her head.
“No, really. There’s a cart of them outside. I didn’t count how many but—”
Erin broke off. Selys was giving her the flat, incredulous look she’d only seen in TV shows before.
“You. Killed them.”
“You. Erin Solstice. Killed Shield Spiders.”
Erin felt like she was in a comedy routine, only it was more awkward than funny. She pointed towards the door.
“Look, they’re right outside. I can go get one if you want.”
Selys’ gaze shifted over Erin’s shoulder. She appealed to the Drakes in the crowd, many of whom were watching the interchange.
Erin sensed multiple heads nodding behind her. One of the Drakes—this one an adventurer by the sword on his waist and chainmail armor—jerked a thumb at the door.
“They’re piled up in a cart. I saw them—over sixteen adults, dead and covered in soot. The Watch is trying to get some Workers to unload them, but there’s a huge crowd in the way, and the Workers don’t want to do it.”
Now that she was listening, Selys could hear the shouting outside. She was still focused on the Erin-factor however, so she kept staring at Erin.
“How? Did an adventurer do it? It can’t have been just you.”
Erin frowned, dignity hurt. Since she agreed with Selys’ incredulousness though, she was only partially indignant.
“I totally did it by myself. I burned their entire nest. With wood. And fire.”
She didn’t know why she felt the need to add that qualifier, but at least it shut Selys up. One of the Drakes—the one with the chainmail—nodded at Erin and flashed her a smile.
“Fine work. I’ve never seen you around the Guild before. Are you one of the Humans from up north?”
“What? No. I’m not an adventurer. I’m an [Innkeeper].”
He stared. Erin was sort of getting used to that. Selys pulled at the frills at the top of her head.
“How did you—you know they swarm over anyone that falls into their nest and tear them apart, right?”
“They did that swarming thing—you know, where all of them climb up at once? Wasn’t fun.”
She stared at Selys. Selys stared back. After a few moments, Selys threw her hands up.
“Okay. Okay, I guess—I’ll have to inspect them. And then we’ll need to weigh the bodies. It’ll take all day probably, but if you sign for them, I’ll have your bounty waiting later.”
She reached under the counter and pulled out a logbook and handed Erin a quill and inkpot. Erin frowned down at the paper and began scribbling.
“Do I have to find a place to get rid of them after you’re done? Because I really don’t want to have to dig a hole, and the nest is far away.”
“No—we’ll definitely take them. Do you even know how valuable Shield Spider bodies are? With the right skills, a [Blacksmith] could create shields, armor…”
“Really? So the bounty—”
“Four pieces of silver on average per Shield Spider slain, but we’ll pay you more for their bodies. Especially for the bodies.”
“I don’t want them. But you might have a tough time getting them down. None of the Workers want to go near them.”
Selys glanced towards the door.
“The Antinium hate spiders. No wonder the Workers are freaking out. I’ll have a few [Porters] do the work instead.”
Selys put her face in her clawed hand for a second before she looked up at her Human friend again.
“Erin, how did you kill a nest of Shield Spiders? Even if you burned them, most adventurers would rather run than pick a fight with a Shield Spider if they’re not Silver-rank or higher.”
“Really? They’re that tough?”
Selys nodded seriously.
“Incredibly. Steel blades can’t even crack their shells.”
Erin blinked. But then she pointed to the adventurer standing next to her.
“Well, she cut one in half.”
Every eye turned towards the Gazer standing next to Erin. Or—as some including Selys recognized—the half-Gazer. A rare species made even rarer by her mixed blood. So rare, in fact, that the odds were if you met one—
Selys’ scales were usually a good indicator of her mood, along with her tail. Erin watched now as Selys’ tail stiffened like a cat’s, and her light green scales paled until they were nearly gray.
“Oh. Excuse me.”
The half-Gazer looked at Selys and gave her a polite smile. Selys was reduced to nervous stammering.
“U-um. You wouldn’t happen to be—I mean, are you…?”
“I am Gazi of Reim.”
Dead silence. If Erin’s comment about taking down a nest of Shield Spiders had inspired quiet hubbub, Gazi’s name brought awestruck silence. Silence—and a kind of fear or intimidation that swept through everyone.
In fact, Erin realized she’d been talking to Selys mostly unmolested because the people who had noticed Gazi had turned into virtual statues. Now—at her voice, someone whispered.
“The King of Destruction’s vassal.”
A shiver ran through the audience. Erin glanced around at the staring crowd. She didn’t get it, but she saw even the biggest, toughest adventurers blanch—and then Gazi smiled, and her face was full of teeth.
Erin really wanted to know what all this meant, but she had a pressing concern…and this seemed like a really good time to take care of it. As Selys began stammering something and the adventurers and civilians around Gazi backed up to give her room, Erin pushed her way through the crowd and into the bathroom.
Curiously, Liscor’s architects didn’t use the stick-man symbols to mark the men’s rooms and the ladies’ rooms apart. Rather, they used tails. A long, straight tail marked the male bathrooms, and a curly tail marked the female bathrooms. It was quite simple when you got used to it. Curly tail, straight tail.
Even so, Erin peeked inside before she entered. She’d had enough of seeing unwanted genitalia, especially since the equipment the Drakes and Gnolls carried around were definitely different than the ones guys in her world had. Not that she was an expert or anything, but—
After a few minutes of relief and ruminating on biological differences, Erin emerged from the restroom. Thank god for plumbing and soap. She saw Gazi was still at the heart of the crowd of people, fending off questions politely. Her large eye didn’t move from the Gnoll speaking earnestly to her, but one of her smaller eyes swiveled Erin’s way the instant the young woman exited the bathroom.
“Now that’s creepy.”
“Don’t be rude!”
Selys hissed at Erin and nearly made the young woman scream. The Drake was heading to the bathroom, probably to relieve tension-induced pressure. She pulled Erin aside, and the two began to whisper furiously in one corner, although only one person in the room was watching them.
“Erin, how do you know her?”
“You’re calling her by her first name?”
“She has a last name?”
“Pathseeker! And it’s Adventurer Pathseeker! That’s how you should be addressing her. Or Gazi of Reim. Or…Gazi the Omniscient! That’s her nickname!”
“That’s confusing. She’s got three different titles? That last one’s sorta cool, I guess.”
Erin was making light of this, but Selys was staring at Gazi in horror, as if afraid the woman would hear them and take offense.
“Erin! She’s a really, really important person! I could lose my job if I make her mad!”
Selys nodded rapidly.
“Gazi the Omniscient. That’s what they call her in other continents. She’s rumored to be over Level 40.”
“Erin! How are you not impressed?”
“Well, isn’t Relc level thirty-something? That’s only a difference of ten levels, right?”
The look Selys gave Erin was a mix of incredulity and pure indignation. Not for the first time, Selys wondered if Erin Solstice wasn’t a bit slow or at least strange. But she’d said she was from…a different country? Either way, she tried to explain the obvious.
“Erin, she’s a famous adventurer! You know; the kind people write down if they make a list of the top one hundred adventurers in the world!”
“Don’t you get it? There might be more powerful adventurers, but few of them have ever visited Liscor. And she knows you. Did she save you from the Shield Spiders?”
“No, she only cut one of them apart. But she lent me money to hire the wagon to bring them into the city.”
“She lent you money!?”
“Yeah, and I’ll pay her back, so stop grabbing my shirt, Selys. Look, she just seemed interested in me, but I don’t know her that well. But why do you think—”
Erin got no further because Selys’ claws dug into her arm. She yelped and tried to pry the Drake’s fingers out of her skin.
“Oh Ancestors! She’s coming this way!”
Like a shark moving through a shoal of fish, Gazi’s presence seemed to literally part the wall of bodies. She approached, smiling at Erin.
“I fear we must part ways for a time, Erin Solstice. I must greet the master of this guild and the local ruling body. But I hope I may visit you at your inn for your promised meal.”
Selys’ goggling expression was slightly hard to ignore, but Erin smiled up at Gazi anyways.
“Sure thing. I’m going back to my inn right away, so you can come over whenever works best.”
Gazi gave her an amused smile that included the petrified Drake at Erin’s side. One of her smaller eyes flipped over, so Erin could only see the light orange-pink of her eyeball.
“That may be slightly difficult at the moment.”
Someone was shouting outside. Or rather, someone was outshouting the shouting already going on outside. It was a familiar voice, too.
“Hey! Clear the way!”
Relc’s voice was irate, and he seemed to be yelling at the adventurers and other people trying to crowd into the Adventurer’s Guild. He was also on the verge of losing his temper, which wasn’t usual, but definitely wasn’t helpful at the moment.
“You lot are causing a disturbance! Clear the street I said! Move it!”
Everyone inside the guild heard a thump and then a shout and a crash. For all Gazi was their main focus, their attention quickly turned to the outside.
“What’s going on? What’s happening?”
Selys beat Erin to the window and nearly tore her hair-spikes out. Erin still wasn’t sure what to call the crest of hardened…scales or hair each Drake had at the top of their heads.
“Oh no. He’s picking a fight with the adventurers! That idiot!”
Erin peered out the window just in time to see an adventurer being lifted off the ground as Relc propped up a guardsman and shoved him into the arms of one of his fellows. It looked like tempers had flared and a guardsman had been knocked down by an adventurer. Possibly it was the other way around, but Erin saw both parties were all-male, so she had a pretty good idea what was going to happen next.
Gazi joined Erin at the window as six of the adventurers squared up and surrounded Relc and the other two guardsmen. Relc glared at them and tightened his fists, but didn’t draw his spear. Gazi stared at him and smiled.
“Ah. A warrior among civilians. A rare sight in peaceful Izril.”
One of the adventurers took a swing at Relc, and he dodged. The Human attacking was nearly as big as the Drake, a muscle-bound giant who looked like the guy who bench-pressed three hundred pounds for fun at the gym.
Erin nudged Gazi in the side. Selys stopped agonizing over the fight long enough to stare at her, but Gazi only looked down. She was wearing armor anyways, so Erin was sure she wasn’t bothering her.
“Hey, you’re supposed to be strong, aren’t you?”
Gazi nodded. She kept her larger eye trained on Relc while two of the smaller ones flicked towards Erin.
“Some have called me so, yes.”
“Why don’t you help him? It’s six against one.”
Erin pointed to the adventurer. He was still missing Relc, but now, another one looked like he was about to sucker-punch the Drake. Relc’s eyes were narrowed, but he seemed to be focused on dodging for the moment.
Gazi smiled down at Erin. She shrugged and indicated the sword at her side. The listeners peered at her, and the half-Gazer’s eye swung around.
“I do not fight with my fists. If I draw my sword—people die. I would prefer not to.”
Again, that shiver, and Erin thought her boast wasn’t much of a boast—but a promise. Gazi nodded at Relc as the big Drake swayed back.
“Besides—he is not the one who needs help.”
Relc had just jumped nimbly back when the big adventurer’s friend moved forwards. He was another Human not nearly as big, but when he swung at Relc’s back he cut the air with his fist.
Still, he was far too slow. Even as his fist flew at Relc’s face, the Drake’s bent sideways and hit the adventurer back with an uppercut. Erin thought she actually saw the man’s feet leave the ground before he crumpled in a heap.
Relc spun around and backhanded the first adventurer, who was still swinging at him. The big guy flipped over and crashed to the ground. Two of his friends came to his aid, but Relc picked one of them up—armor and all—and threw him into the crowd.
Open-mouthed, Erin watched as Relc began thrashing the other adventurers. She looked at Selys. The female Drake was covering her eyes and groaning.
“He always does this. There’s going to be a huge mess because of this, and he’s probably hurt a lot of them badly enough for healing potions!”
Erin blinked and pointed at Relc.
“I thought—he’s just a guardsman, right? How is Relc tossing those adventurer guys like flies?”
Gazi studied Relc thoughtfully.
“He is over Level 30 in the [Spearmaster] class. That would be enough. The highest level among the adventurers is Level 21—the one he has just knocked unconscious. A [Spearmaster] is not an equal to a mere [Warrior], regardless of levels.”
Selys nodded glumly. She tried to explain to Erin in a way the Human would understand.
“If we’re just talking about active members of the city guards—then he’s the strongest on the continent, by far. Perhaps the world.”
Erin blinked at her. Twice.
“The world. As in…all of it?”
“Most people of his level, well, they either become adventurers, personal bodyguards, or soldiers. Being a city guard doesn’t pay much, but Relc likes it. Probably because it’s so easy.”
Erin paused. She didn’t notice Gazi watching her with one of her eyes. The large one. It studied her with its yellow contents, yellow not white—a shadow-black pupil. But the iris shimmered, blue and green, violet and turquoise, a shifting pattern around the black center. It held Selys’ gaze and hypnotized her a moment, before flicking away.
Erin paused and forced herself to go on.
“He was a Senior Guardsman too, wasn’t he? So weren’t Relc and Klb the same level?”
Selys shook her head. She watched glumly as Relc threw an adventurer wearing plate mail into the side of the building and winced as the outside plaster cracked. Gazi’s head turned, and her eyes focused on Erin. All five of them.
“Klbkch was the fourth highest-level guardsman in the city. In terms of strength, though, he was probably second to Relc. He was the Slayer, but during the war—look, Erin, both had more levels in other classes, which is why they’re so tough, understand? But even Klbkch was ten levels behind Relc.”
“Which is a lot, I get it. But how’d Relc get so strong?”
“He was in the army. But he quit to become a guardsman. Thanks to him, we haven’t had to worry about monster attacks for a long while. I’m not sure why Relc quit, though. He was famous as a soldier too.”
Gazi shrugged. Her hand covered the pommel of her sword, and her eyes unfocused for an instant.
“Many have reasons to leave war. I, too, was a soldier once. As I am sure many know. But I left my position to become an adventurer. It is only worth being a soldier if one has a cause to fight for, a leader to follow, and a reason not to die.”
Both Erin and Selys looked up at her. Gazi smiled at them.
“It is hard to understand, I suppose. But I believe your friend Relc enjoys the quieter moments. Anyone can tire of war. Believe me.”
Then, suddenly, she looked sad, and Selys gave Gazi another look of awed ‘I know what this is about, and it’s so amazing’. Erin just glanced out the window.
“Even a street-fight against a dozen guys? Have you done that before?”
“Many times. That is quite restful compared to war.”
The fight was over. Relc planted his foot over a pile of adventurers and raised his fists into the air like a boxer. The cheer he got from the crowd only served to make him preen even more in the spotlight.
Gazi turned away from the window and nodded at Erin.
“Well, I have not lacked for entertainment since travelling to these lands. I will seek lodgings within the city, then. Good day to you, Erin Solstice. We shall meet again.”
Erin raised a skeptical eyebrow.
“Oh? You’re so sure?”
Gazi smiled at her without baring her teeth.
“I foresee it.”
The half-Gazer opened the door and strode out. It was so quick that all the tension she’d brought into the room left it in an instant. Selys breathed out hard as she returned to the counter, leaning on it and panting as if winded.
“I can’t believe that just happened.”
One of the adventurers flexed his hand and looked down at it.
“I shook her hand. And when she looked at me—it was like she knew my thoughts. The King of Destruction’s vassal. Here. No one’s going to believe I met her.”
One of the adventurers agreed. Others nodded their heads as they talked, all in a flurry.
“What an incredible experience.”
“We’re not dead. I mean—the King of Destruction’s asleep. But that was—do you think any of the other Seven are here? The Architect? The Lord of the Skies?”
“No, we’d have heard of it. One is bad enough. Two? I bet the Walled Cities would be escorting them everywhere with an army.”
“I wasn’t too blown away by her. She’s got that ‘mysterious aura’ vibe going on, but it’s all because of her eye, right? I remember seeing this street magician—David Blaine. You ever see—?”
Too late, she remembered her audience. Selys was giving her an incredulous look along with the other adventurers.
Selys shook her head slowly. At this point, she wasn’t even that annoyed, just impressed more than anything.
“You are an amazing Human, Erin. Or an oblivious one. Does nothing faze you?”
“Lots of things.”
Erin propped her hands on her hips.
“Why are you all so impressed to see her anyways? She said she was a wanderer.”
“Yeah, but to see her so far from her home continent—I suppose she really is done with war.”
The other adventurers agreed. They began talking all at once, arguing, debating in a noisy, confused mess.
“I wonder what she’s doing away from…? I mean, Chandrar’s still her continent.”
“I hear she goes through continents looking for challenges. But to come this far—is it because of the new ruins?”
“Perhaps, but how’d she get word of them so soon? Unless—do you think she was heading to the north already? Terandria, overland? Maybe join in a war as a [Mercenary]?”
“Doubtful. Adventurers don’t like wars, even the former soldiers. It’d take something truly great to get her to go back to being a soldier. And hey—where’d the Human go?”
Everyone looked around. The Human, conspicuous because she was a Human, was missing. Selys stared towards the door. It swung closed.
Erin heard Selys call her name, but at that point, she was out the door and had no intention of going back in. She appreciated gossip and learning new things as much as anyone, but this wasn’t the time. She was hungry, tired, and sore. And the last thing she wanted to do was have people ask her more questions and stare at her like…like…
Like a Human.
They were all over the place. Well, not all over, and in fact, there were very few Humans in actuality—perhaps one Human for every four hundred nonhumans, so the odds of seeing any were remote. But to Erin, seeing one Human was enough to make her stop in her tracks.
Two men, a tough-looking adventurer guy in his mid-twenties and a paunchier, richer-dressed merchant, were sitting at an outdoor tavern of some kind, talking to each other. Erin wasn’t sure whether to call it a restaurant. She hesitated and then wandered over, unable to keep away.
“Uh, hi there.”
The adventurer and the [Merchant] looked up. They seemed annoyed to be interrupted, but their expressions cleared as they saw Erin. The man who’d been loading up his wagon smiled genially.
“Oh—hello! Can we help you, miss?”
“I’m sorry to interrupt. It’s just—I haven’t seen any Humans in a while.”
The [Merchant] raised his eyebrows.
“It’s a surprise to see anyone but an adventurer or a fellow [Trader] in Liscor. You’re a native here?”
“Something like that. I thought I was the only Human around here, but suddenly…here you all are.”
“Ah, well, I’m headed past here, south. On business—Merchant Goeln, a pleasure. Goeln’s Caravans. But I had to see these new ruins before I went off.”
The adventurer stood up and held out his hands.
“Cervial Dermondy, adventurer. Captain of the Flawless Flights, a Silver-rank team. I’m a [Ranger] by trade, scouting out these new ruins that were just discovered. Pleased to meet you, Miss…?”
“Erin Solstice, um, [Innkeeper]. Mind…mind if I sit?”
“Oh, of course.”
The merchant moved his chair, and the adventurer pulled one close so Erin could sit down. Before she knew it, the merchant had ordered her a drink and they were talking. At first, Erin was surprised, but she fell into the conversation easily. It was just like talking to someone back from her world.
It was so normal Erin could have wept.
Cervial and Goeln had been talking about their grievances with travelling so far to get to Liscor. It seemed everything from wagons breaking down to people getting lost had plagued their caravan, and they’d also found almost all of the inns in the city crowded to the rafters, much to their displeasure.
“It’s nice to know that there are some Humans living around here. I’ve been dealing with stubborn Gnolls and haughty Drakes all day.”
The [Merchant] smiled at Erin while he made a face at the non-Humans passing by on the street. Erin sipped the lukewarm beverage from her mug and made a polite noise to agree with him. The adventurer nodded, chomping down on a baked potato filled with spices.
“I swear, they’ve raised prices just because they knew we were coming. No love towards us Humans, and the local Watch has been picking fights with the adventurers all week. To make matters worse, it seems there’s a Human [Thief] that came in with one of the caravans.”
Erin hadn’t heard anything about that. But then she’d been—busy the last few days. The merchant shook his head and made a noise of disgust.
“Of course, it could be a local Drake or Gnoll, but of course, we Humans get the blame until the culprit is found. Lousy lizards and their damn suspicions.”
Erin blinked at the merchant, but the adventurer was nodding in agreement. She changed the subject quickly.
“Hey, do you know anything about that new adventurer? Gazi?”
Two blank faces were her answer. Erin tried to elaborate.
“She was getting a lot of attention this morning. She’s, um, she looks sort of Human, but she’s got one big eye in her head and four small ones…”
“A Gazer? Gazi? Do you mean…Gazi the Omniscient?”
The ball dropped, and then the [Merchant] and adventurer were giving Erin a look as if she had just sprouted wings.
“She’s a famous adventurer, but that’s all I know—”
“Gazi the Omniscient is in Liscor? I thought I saw a Gazer, but I didn’t dare believe it was her—dead gods, and I missed her?”
Goeln leapt out of his chair. Cervial’s mouth was open so wide he could have inhaled an Acid Fly. Ten of them.
“Adventurer Gazi? I almost missed—did you call her ‘Gazi’?”
“Put some respect on her name! Adventurer Gazi at least—she’s a Named-rank adventurer!”
Cervial looked so horrified Erin began to get a sense that maybe she had been way too informal with the woman. She gulped.
“I, uh…yeah. She’s here, and I met her on the road. Long story. Is it—is it bad I invited her to my inn?”
The two men were practically about to run off to find Gazi, but they turned back at Erin’s words.
“You have an inn? Here? Really?”
Goeln was incredulous. Erin nodded.
“Yep. Well, it’s small, and I just started—it’s just a few miles outside the city.”
Both men leaned over the table. Goeln gave Erin a smile in return.
“If you’ve got room in your inn, I’d be glad to pay for lodging. It’d be a nice change to see some Human faces rather than all the scales and fur around here. Not to mention the smell! All these non-Humans really don’t know how to wash properly, do they?”
Erin’s smile froze on her face as she stared at the [Merchant]. He hadn’t even tried to lower his voice. She sensed rather than saw the other Drakes sitting at nearby tables slowly glance over at her and the other two Humans. They didn’t seem to notice, nor had Cervial done more than glance at his companion—he hadn’t said a word. Neither had Erin but…
The adventurer coughed into one fist.
“I’d love rooms too; my team’s just here for reconnaissance, but if we come back, a good, friendly inn would be lovely.”
“Oh. Um, well…I’d love to have you over. But, ah—the upper floors are still under repairs, I’m afraid.”
Both looked disappointed.
“What was the problem? If it’s simple repairs, I could introduce you to some skilled craftsmen…”
Erin waved her hands quickly.
“No—no need. I’m working on it. It’s just that we had a very bad incident with disappearing skeletons. And—I should get back there to make sure more aren’t missing.”
Hastily, Erin got up and excused herself. The adventurer and merchant bade her farewell and stared after the young woman as she disappeared into the crowd. When she was gone, they exchanged a look. The [Merchant] took a long draft from the fresh mug the Drake had served him and grimaced. Like everything in the city, he could swear the ale they served him was the lowest gutter-scrapings.
Far below the surface of Liscor, or at least as far as the Antinium were allowed to dig by their contract with the city, the Queen listened to a report. She was not happy.
“Humans in Liscor? They come seeking the ruins, no doubt, to unearth treasures and seek their fortunes. Good. As for Gazi the Omniscient…she is dangerous. But not a threat to the Hives. She may still be a forerunner of what we desire. Post Listeners on her, but do not gainsay her in any way.”
The Antinium addressing her bowed his head crisply. He was perfectly balanced upon one knee as he faced his ruler.
“Yes, my Queen.”
She waved a feeler at him.
“Such matters are inconvenient, especially at a time like this. Deal with the Council until I have finished. I must not be disturbed at any cost. To complete the project so quickly necessitates all of my attention. Is that clear?”
“Entirely, my Queen. I will handle all of your affairs with those not of the Hive.”
“Good. And investigate the Aberration while you are upon the surface. If he is truly Individual, I would speak to him afterwards. If he is not—”
The Antinium touched the blades at his sides. The Soldier Antinium standing guard made no move despite his proximity to their Queen.
“I will dispose of any Aberrations I find, my Queen. Worry not.”
“I will place my trust in you. Go, then, my Prognugator.”
The Antinium bowed and stood. He whirled, and the twin swords at his waist moved smoothly with him as he walked upwards towards the surface. His Queen’s voice rumbled through the cavernous tunnels after him.
“Go. Ensure that Human does not bring about further ruin. Protect the Hive and carry out my will. Go and do this in my name…”
The Queen paused, and then her mandibles clicked softly.