[Innkeeper Level 12!]
Someday, Erin was going to hear that annoying message in her head and jump off a cliff. But at least she’d gotten eight solid hours of sleep afterwards.
Blearily, Erin got up and wondered if she leveled because of the skeleton. Something to do with the skeleton? Did [Innkeepers] level up from getting bodyguards? Or…bouncers?
“Can skeletons bounce? Figuratively or literally?”
Erin blinked around at the room for several minutes. It was too early to think about complex things. She wanted a few things in no short order. Bathroom, food, and…that was about it.
The bathroom issue was hard. There were no real toilets in her inn. Erin had no idea why, but some shattered pottery upstairs and a terrible staining around the general area in each room made her think chamber pots had been in style here.
Erin wasn’t about to use a chamber pot. So she had gotten into the practice of digging (and then covering with bits of sawdust and dirt) a latrine around the back of her inn. It was messy, disgusting—and she really wasn’t happy about squatting in the open.
Something had to be done. That was what Erin decided as she finished her mercifully quick business and grabbed the roll of toilet paper. At least this world had something like toilet paper, if not as fluffy and easy on the skin. But the bathroom issue was bad. Someday, someone was going to walk up, and then Erin would die of shame or possibly stab them to death.
Once the bathroom issue was finished with, Erin could then wash her hands with what water she still had in one of her buckets and get breakfast. She was running low on water, too. That meant another trip to the stream, possibly combined with dodging flying fish if they were in a bitey mood today.
At this point, the thought of ducking a several-hundred pound monster full of teeth barely even bothered Erin. It was just another chore. She mechanically opened the shelves in her kitchen, wishing again she had the preservation runes. But they were expensive, and she ‘only’ had just under ten gold pieces.
Not a bad amount of money to have, really. Most families might have that much stored if they were lucky, according to Selys. If a week’s pay could be a single gold piece for some—well, it turned out fighting monsters was very profitable. If exceptionally dangerous. Erin supposed that checked out. Regardless, it was a good amount for food—a low amount for anything magical. She wondered how much it cost to build an outhouse.
Another thing to worry about later. She’d put it on her list.
Erin turned, jar of milk in one hand, and nearly tripped over her sleeping area. She grabbed a counter to steady herself and added moving her sleeping area to the list. She really, really didn’t want to trip someday and splash boiling water all over herself.
But it was such a nice sleeping area. And it would be so much…some work to move it. Plus, there were all the handy knives and weapons close-by if trouble came calling again.
She had a lovely little blanket and pillows she’d used to make a semi-permanent bedspread in a corner of the kitchen. True, it would have been nice to have a mattress, but Erin had been counting her coins until recently. Now that she could spring for one, Erin dreamed of a queen-sized bed with silk sheets. She’d never tried silk sheets, but maybe Krshia had them…? Probably not.
Still half-asleep, Erin walked around her kitchen, assembling a breakfast of sorts. There was actually a quite acceptable cereal that went well with the rich cow’s milk Erin bought. Sprinkle a little sugar in there and it would be delicious.
Since sugar was too expensive for that, Erin instead sliced up some blue fruit into the bowl. That was nearly as good.
Food, done. Erin walked out into the common room and set her bowl on the table. She pulled a chair out—and then noticed something was standing behind her. Slowly, she looked around.
Two glowing, blue flames in empty eye-sockets illuminated a fleshless head. Erin stared into the back of the skull and yellow teeth magically fixed into a permanent, deathly smile. A skeleton grinned at her, inches away from Erin’s face.
Erin screamed even as she punched. The skeleton caught a fist to the head and staggered backwards. It fell down. Erin clutched at her fist.
“Ow! Ow, ow—go over there!”
Obediently, the skeleton got up and walked over to the corner. It watched as Erin waved her hand around and cursed for a while. When she was done, Erin marched up and poked the skeleton in the ribs.
“Hey! I thought I told you to stay upstairs!”
It shook its head. Erin blinked and then got mad. She poked at the skeleton again, and her finger went straight into the rib cage. Shuddering, Erin pulled her finger back.
“I distinctly remember telling you to clean the rooms upstairs.”
The skeleton nodded. Erin glared.
“Well? Why are you down here?”
It stared at her. Erin supposed it was just as well the skeleton hadn’t responded. She glared at the staircase.
“Okay, wise guy. Let’s see just what happened while I was asleep.”
She stomped up the stairs, the skeleton following her close behind. Erin walked into one of the dirty rooms—
Something had changed. It was like one of those spot the difference games in newspapers, except that the difference here was everything. Erin blinked around at the spotless room and wondered if she was hallucinating. If she was, she preferred not to wake up.
Slowly, she stared at the walls, the floors, and the windows. All were spotless. All were clean. She could even see the original color of the floorboards. Instead of their dirty grey-brown, they’d transformed into a lustrous golden brown that was actually pleasing to look at.
“Okay. Okay, that’s, um—”
Erin turned and blinked at the skeleton.
“Did you do all the rooms like this?”
It nodded. The skeleton walked over to a corner of the room and picked something up. It brought a bucket over to Erin and a scrap. She squinted at it. It looked—it looked like a piece of a dustrag. A tiny piece.
“Where’s the rest of it gone, then?”
The skeleton shrugged. Erin wondered where the rest of the dirt and grime had gone. There was a sludgy substance in the bucket, but it looked like the skeleton had just tossed the grime out the window for the most part. Erin could get behind that cleaning style.
And each room was spotless. Well, there were some spots. Despite the skeleton’s best efforts, it still couldn’t clean away mildew. Some of the rotted boards still needed replacing, but Erin had [Basic Crafting] and a hammer. She was a god of minor repairs.
The entire upper floor was suddenly, miraculously habitable. Erin wandered around each room in a daze. She returned to the first room and wondered if the floors were softer here than in the kitchen. Well, the skeleton had done a good job after all. Erin wasn’t sure what to make of that. But the rooms were clean.
Then she had a thought. Erin looked up.
“Hey! You missed the ceiling!”
The skeleton stared at her and then up at the still dirty ceiling. Erin scowled at it.
“I said clean everything. The floor, the walls, windows…and the ceiling. I said that, right?”
The skeleton shook its head. Erin scowled at it.
“Well, I thought it. And you should have done it anyways!”
There was no way to tell if the skeleton was angry, sad, or…skeletons didn’t have emotions, right? But the flames in the skeleton’s eyes dimmed for a second as Erin glared at it.
She felt bad. Not because she cared much about the skeleton’s feelings, but because Erin could at least tell when she was being a jerk. She relented.
“Okay. You did a good job.”
The skeleton seemed to brighten at that. It followed Erin downstairs. She sat down with a sigh at her breakfast and then paused. The skeleton was standing right next to her. She pointed.
“Go over there.”
It walked over to one corner. Erin eyed the skeleton and spoke again.
It did. At last, Erin was able to enjoy her meal without twin glowing eyes watching her every bite.
Breakfast came and went, fairly quickly too. Erin was hungry, but she wasn’t savoring her meal like she normally did. Instead, she was thinking. When she was done, she pushed her bowl back and stared with narrowed eyes at the skeleton. Well. What was the saying about lemons and life? If life gives you lemons…burn down the lemon factory? Something like that.
Anyways, it was time to get to work. Erin cleared her throat.
Instantly, the skeleton turned around. She shook her head.
“Get the bucket and follow me, okay?”
She got up and walked into the kitchen as the skeleton immediately ran upstairs. Erin was rich enough now to have more than one bucket, and so both she and the skeleton were equipped as they left the inn and walked to the stream.
It was a quiet walk. Erin told the skeleton to follow her further back, and she tried to ignore it mostly as she strolled along. Maybe she could have talked to it, but—no. The day Erin started holding conversations with skeletons was the day she finally snapped.
They got to the stream. Erin told the skeleton to thoroughly wash its bucket out first before they filled both up with water. It was just as well she had a bucket for drinking water and a bucket for washing water anyways. She’d deliberately marked both buckets with some paint to avoid drinking…whatever was still clinging to the bucket the skeleton was lifting.
“Okay, let’s go.”
Erin reached for her bucket, but the skeleton got there first. It seized first the handle of its own bucket and then hers and tried to lift both. It strained and pulled, but it could barely move either full bucket more than an inch. Erin shook her head.
“See, that’s just sad.”
The skeleton clattered its teeth together. Erin shuddered. She grabbed her bucket and lifted it up. It was heavy, but she was stronger than the skeleton.
“Don’t do that. Take one bucket and follow me.”
Awkwardly, the skeleton hefted one of the full buckets of water and staggered after Erin. She walked quickly, trying to balance speed with avoiding losing too much water over the sides.
She was used to the trek from the stream to the inn, but her arm still vaguely ached by the time she got back. But ever since she’d acquired the [Lesser Strength] Skill, the trip had become far less painful. And this time, she didn’t even have to make two round trips.
“Okay! Water’s done. Now, let’s get some food.”
Erin left the two buckets inside the inn, grabbed a basket, and walked off. The skeleton followed her obediently as the two walked across the rolling grassy landscape. They walked for about six minutes before Erin threw her arm out and stopped the skeleton in its tracks. It stared at her, confused.
“Watch it. Rock Crab.”
She pointed. The skeleton looked and saw, about two hundred meters away, a large boulder slowly moving across the landscape. Underneath the large shell of rock, the skeleton could see massive legs slowly propelling the boulder around.
When the skeleton realized what the Rock Crab really was, it immediately raised its fists and tried to charge the slow-moving monster. Erin had to grab the skeleton by one bony arm.
“Hold it! What are you doing?”
The skeleton fought to run at the crab. Erin ordered it to stay still.
“Don’t try to fight that thing! It’ll eat you. Or—snap you in two like a bunch of twigs.”
Reluctantly, the skeleton subsided. It stared hard at the Rock Crab, which ignored both Erin and the skeleton as it wandered off. When it had disappeared over a hill, Erin let the skeleton go.
“Don’t be stupid. Come on and follow me.”
The skeleton walked after Erin. Eventually, they came to the blue fruit orchard. Erin showed the skeleton how to gather fruits.
“See the basket? Fill the basket.”
So saying, Erin handed the skeleton her basket and sat down. Instantly, the skeleton began running around the orchard, gathering up fallen fruit and kicking trees to make the fruit fall. Erin sat under a tree and took a quick nap.
Having a skeleton was quite useful. In a few minutes, the skeleton had filled Erin’s basket to overflowing. It carefully walked back to Erin, trying not to spill the ripe fruits.
Erin didn’t react as the skeleton approached. She was sleeping. The skeleton hesitated and then placed the basket at her feet. It stood and waited, but she slept on. She was truly asleep.
The skeleton hesitated. It seemed to be thinking. At last, it turned and began scanning the landscape around Erin. Was it checking for threats? Erin couldn’t tell.
One of her eyelids had been cracked open ever so slightly as the skeleton approached. Now that it was looking the other way, Erin sighed inaudibly and sat up. Well, at least the skeleton wasn’t going to try killing her in her sleep. She’d had a terrible night last night worrying the same thing. But Pisces seemed to have done an okay job on the skeleton. Still, she’d keep an eye on it.
It was useful, but she still didn’t quite trust it.
Erin clapped her hands together. The skeleton whirled around and then relaxed when it saw only Erin.
“Okay, good job. Show me the fruits—actually, I’m gonna teach you how to sort them. Then we’ll go back to the inn.”
Erin showed the skeleton where to place the basket of blue fruits and then stretched.
“Alright. Chores are mostly done. Now what?”
The skeleton stared at Erin. It certainly wasn’t going to come up with ideas on its own.
“I could go to the city.”
Erin mused, eying the skeleton. She really didn’t want to leave it alone just yet, but there was a lot more to do in Liscor than here. She was wondering if she could give the skeleton a simple task—like gathering Acid Flies from the traps—when she heard the door open.
She and the skeleton looked around. Erin saw Pawn and two Workers step through the doorway. She smiled and waved at them. The skeleton had a different reaction. It opened its jaw, and the twin flames in its skull flared.
The skeleton charged Pawn and the two Antinium with a wordless, rattling whisper-shout. It was a sound that sounded like someone sighing, only far louder.
Pawn and the two Workers froze, uncertain. They backed into one another, but they were too big to slip out the door. The skeleton leapt at them—
Erin’s fist caught the skeleton in the head and knocked the skull clean off the rest of the body. Pawn and the Workers stopped. The skeleton flailed around wildly. Then it stopped. Erin stared at it and groaned.
Oh no, she’d just broken the only magical tool she had! Again! She was about to curse when she saw the skeleton hadn’t collapsed like she thought it would. The body was still flailing its arms, and Erin saw it twisting about. Searching for…the skull?
Its head had rolled beneath a table. The skeleton’s body seemed to know where it was. Erin watched as it blundered over to its head, knocking over chairs and running into tables.
The skeleton picked up its head and placed it back on its neck. The lights reappeared in its eyes, and it stared at Erin.
Erin didn’t know why she was talking to the skeleton like it was a dog. She pointed at it.
“You do not attack them. Got it?”
The skeleton hesitated and then nodded. The light in its eyes dimmed. Erin stared at it another second and then turned to Pawn.
“Sorry about that. I’ve got, uh, a skeleton problem.”
Pawn inclined his head.
“I bear no offense, Erin. And I thank you for protecting us.”
The two Workers bowed their heads as well. Erin waved her hands.
“No, it’s my fault. I just got this skeleton-thing, and I—sorry. Um, come on in.”
Awkwardly, she stood aside to let Pawn and the other Workers file into the inn. They glanced at the skeleton, who was still watching them. Erin stalked over and poked at the skeleton until it moved away.
“Right, how can I help you guys?”
“We have come to play chess if you are willing, Erin Solstice. We would also purchase flies for consumption.”
“Sure. No problem!”
Erin moved towards the kitchen and stopped. She pointed at the skeleton.
“Stay. There. Don’t do anything.”
When she returned with a heaping bowl of dead flies and blue juice, the Antinium had already chosen a table and set up a game of chess. Erin sat with them and began playing Pawn. It was a quick game as he’d tried a new move, which failed spectacularly. But Erin helped show him a better way to attack the enemy with the knight piece and let the other two Workers challenge her one by one.
As she played, she talked with Pawn.
“What’s happening with the Antinium? Are you guys bothered by all the Humans in the city as well?”
Pawn shook his head, watching as Erin started collecting the Worker’s pieces one by one.
“We work. We live. We die. All is unchanged among the Workers, Erin Solstice. But we hear of—things. Something happens below.”
“Below? You mean where the Queen lives?”
Pawn hesitated. The two Workers looked up at him and then down at the board.
“Yes. Our Queen moves. She is doing—something. We do not know what it is, but we sense it. And there is another Prognugator.”
Erin’s hand froze over a piece. Then she moved it.
“Really? Another one? This Prog—this guy, he’s taken over Klbkch’s old job?”
“Yes. He guards the Hive and watches. But no Worker has seen him yet. He walks above.”
“Right. Um. Right.”
Distracted, Erin lost a knight before she got back on track. She quickly crushed both Workers and then sighed.
“Okay. Good game, guys. You’re getting better.”
“We level quickly. It is rare for Workers to level. We owe you a debt, Erin Solstice.”
“Really? I didn’t do much.”
“You teach. You help. You care. We know, and we learn from you how to be Human.”
Erin grinned mirthlessly.
“Being Human isn’t that great. But I’m glad I can help a bit.”
She suddenly had a thought. She glanced sideways at Pawn.
“And maybe you could help me? I’d like to hire you and the other Workers—if you’ve got time. I know this is your break day, but—”
Pawn shook his head.
“We would be happy to assist. What do you desire?”
Pawn tilted its head.
“I mean an outhouse.”
Erin tried to explain. She pointed outside.
“Right now I, uh—I have to dig a hole. Which isn’t fun. I don’t know if the Antinium have to go to the bathroom, but us Humans like a nice toilet seat.”
“…Never mind. How do Antinium, uh, excrete? Do you have anything like a bathroom?”
“We have designated areas where waste is accumulated. We recycle such products within the Hive.”
“Ah. Um. Humans don’t do that. Ever. And I’d really like a bathroom. Nothing fancy.”
Pawn and the two Workers nodded.
“We are familiar with the construction of such facilities. It would be a simple task to construct one for you. I am a [Carpenter]. Level 1.”
She recalled him saying that. But hadn’t he told her he was Level 1 a while back? He hadn’t levelled up since? Erin had passed her first level on, like, the second day of the job. Antinium really didn’t level. Erin blinked and then smiled.
“Oh. That’s—great. I’ve got some wood around back and nails and stuff. I can get more if you need it. Do you, um, need anything special?”
“We are Antinium. Building is in our nature.”
Sometimes, it was really hard to keep the conversation flowing with Pawn. Erin cleared her throat awkwardly.
“And how much will I owe you?”
“We would not wish to charge you for this service.”
Again, Erin wasn’t sure what to say to that. She thought for a moment.
“Tell you what—I’ll feed you and your friends for the rest of the week if you build it for me, no charge.”
Since there were four days left in the week, Erin thought this was a fair offer. Pawn apparently did too, because he nodded.
“It is agreed. We will begin at once.”
As one, the three Antinium stood up. They marched over to the door. Erin got up and then remembered. She turned her head and saw the skeleton still standing where she had left it.
“As for you—”
Erin glared at the skeleton. It didn’t quite flinch back from her.
“Do not attack my guests, got it? Not unless they’re attacking me or doing something dangerous. Otherwise, I’ll have the Workers toss you in the outhouse and bury you. Got it?”
The skeleton meekly nodded. Erin turned away.
“Okay, let’s get to work. Try not to get in the way.”
No matter how many times Erin saw it, she was always impressed by how efficient the Antinium were at…well…anything really. As soon as she’d chosen a good spot for the outhouse—just a little ways away from the inn where untoward smells wouldn’t be blown towards her—they immediately began excavating dirt and laying the groundwork for the outhouse.
Fortunately, Erin still had quite a bit of spare wood left over. And Pawn knew a good place to buy quality wood, so she gave them some money and let them go at it. She might have had a [Basic Crafting] as a Skill, but that didn’t mean she was good at constructing things. An outhouse was a bit beyond her capabilities.
And apparently, the Antinium didn’t need Skills, at least not for something like this. They were just good at building things, and their bodies were naturally suited for tasks like digging and machining. Four arms were better than two.
The outhouse was a simple affair, at least by modern toilet standards. A solid wood building stood upright, shielding its sole occupant from weather and prying eyes while a small pit caught whatever fell down through the toilet hole. It was functional, sturdy, and that was all Erin needed at the moment.
It took them all day, but Erin supposed Workers didn’t need to be fast. Then again, was building an outhouse from scratch really hard? Pawn and the Workers kept talking about a foundation whenever she brought them Acid Flies for a snack.
The skeleton scurried around, pushing dirt out of the way for the Antinium, refilling Erin’s water buckets, and checking her Acid Fly traps. She had to explain to it how to do everything the first time, which was a major pain, but once she had, the skeleton remembered how to do it.
Erin had to admit—grudgingly—that the skeleton was quite useful. It was efficient, in that it didn’t stop to take breaks or complain like a certain Human. Thanks to it, her inn was fully ready when the sun started lowering in the sky and the evening rush began.
Today, Rags and eight Goblins visited Erin’s inn. Then Pisces came by, full of his self-importance, the Antinium walked in and announced they were done with the outhouse, and Gazi appeared out of nowhere.
It was a record-breaking crowd that sat in The Wandering Inn. They barely occupied more than a fifth of the common room, although you wouldn’t know it, spread apart as they were.
Well, it was only to be expected really. The Goblins might not be too afraid of Erin, but Pisces was just another Human to them, and Gazi was bad news walking. They stayed away from her and the skeleton. Erin thought they’d all run when the skeleton opened the door for them, but Rags had kept them from fleeing into the hills.
The Goblins’ reaction had been the normal one. Pisces obviously hadn’t batted an eyelid at the walking skeleton, and the Antinium just treated the skeleton with a certain wariness. When Gazi had seen the skeleton, she’d just blinked her massive eye and frowned for a bit without comment. Now she kept staring from the skeleton to Pisces as she ate, but she didn’t directly engage the [Necromancer] in conversation.
So all of Erin’s guests sat more or less in their own bubble. The Antinium played more chess, Pisces scarfed down food, Gazi watched, the Goblins ate and chattered amongst themselves, and none of them talked with each other.
But they all spoke to Erin. Or at least—the Goblins grunted at her, and Rags nodded or shook her head when Erin talked. But everyone else talked to her.
“I noticed your new building. I take it is meant to act as a bathroom?”
Erin grinned at Gazi. She pointed at Pawn and the other Workers.
“Yeah. They just put it up today. Isn’t it great? Now I don’t have to keep squatting in the grass. Ahem.”
Gazi smiled as Erin coughed and blushed a bit.
“It is useful. Although I would warn you that maintaining such a spot can be difficult. You did well to build it away from water and your inn. I’ve seen many killed over fouling water, accidentally or not.”
Erin blinked a few times before nodding. Pisces seemed to be developing a third ear in his corner, but Erin just gestured to the Antinium.
“Pawn told me about all the problems an outhouse causes. They smell. And they attract flies. But I think I can solve that problem with the world’s greatest cleaning fluid.”
Gazi raised her single eyebrow, smiling slightly.
“And what would that be?”
“Acid. I have more than I can use, and it eats through anything that’s not stone or metal or glass really fast. I toss a bit of that in there every morning and voilà! Problem solved!”
Gazi blinked again. From his table, Pisces looked up and shook his head.
“Once again, your fascination with such a dangerous substance is alarming at best, Miss Solstice. I trust you at least have a few healing potions prepared for the day when you drop the acid on your person?”
Erin glared at him.
“I’m not going to be the one carrying jars of acid around. Too dangerous. I’ll make that guy do it instead.”
Erin pointed at the skeleton, who had just returned with another basket of blue fruit. She gestured to the kitchen, and it speedily walked inside.
Pisces stared at the skeleton incredulously.
“Are you—making it gather fruits? And you want to make it clean your outhouse? You do realize it is here for your protection, do you not?”
“Sure, sure. But it’s more useful helping out around the inn.”
Pisces scowled at Erin as she swept around with a refill of blue juice.
“That is a warrior skeleton, designed for combat.”
She glared back and filled his glass up with water.
“It’s weaker than I am! I punched it this morning, and its head came clean off!”
Pisces turned red and gave Erin what she recognized as his prelude-to-sulking expression.
“My creation is a work of art, but it must grow to its full potential first. It is not meant to be used for menial labor.”
Erin rolled her eyes.
“Menial labor is about all it’s good for. If I sent it out to try and kill one of those Rock Crabs, it’d get squashed in a heartbeat. You’re a hotshot [Necromancer], aren’t you? Can’t you raise a Level 15 skeleton or something?”
Pisces shook his head.
“I could certainly create a stronger undead—but not a higher level one. Do you—do you not understand the significance of this skeleton?”
“No. Is it that special?”
He blinked at her.
“Ah. Well, it is.”
Gazi spoke up. Her eye strayed towards the skeleton, which paused as it brought bowls of Acid Flies out for the Antinium. She murmured into her drink.
“A Level 1 [Skeleton Warrior].”
Pisces nodded. Gazi blinked at him and tipped her cup in some sort of acknowledgement. Erin didn’t get it, but Pisces appeared incredibly smug and self-satisfied all of a sudden. Right up until he saw Gazi staring at him. Then he went white.
Yet all Gazi Pathseeker did was lift a cup to her lips. She addressed Pisces and Erin at the same time.
“I would not mention that fact ever again were I you two. Either of you. Even that Drake would behead the [Necromancer] for this.”
“And you won’t? I thought you were a famous adventurer…”
Gazi’s smile was pointed, and her large eye flickered to Pisces, who looked ready to run. Yet she just shook her head slightly, sending her braided hair swaying.
“I do not care. If anything…it may suit me very well. Nor am I of this continent or Terandria. Mine is a different land, and I have known [Necromancers] and their kind. An accomplishment is an accomplishment.”
This time, Erin had to ask. She leaned over the table.
“You said you saw people stabbed over fouling water? So your place is like—desert-y?”
Pisces snorted, and Gazi gave Erin a frown as if trying to tell if Erin was making fun of her.
“Chandrar is not entirely desert, but my adopted homeland borders a vast desert, yes. Hence my familiarity with what this young [Necromancer] has done. But even Khelt’s King would call it extraordinary. If he did not behead that one for the deed.”
Pisces looked uncertain whether or not he should be sick or pleased, and Erin decided she should drop the topic.
“Fine. It’s great. But I still wish it was stronger.”
She grumbled her way around the room, topping off glasses with her pitcher. Pisces looked relaxed enough to focus on his meal. Only after a good few minutes had passed and he was engrossed in wolfing down pasta did Gazi stop Erin again. She murmured to her as Erin passed by her table, and Erin saw her twisting a brooch that had been hidden in her armor.
The air dulled or felt heavy, and Erin felt a strange hush in the air. Pisces didn’t seem to notice, though Rags frowned at Erin and picked at one ear with a claw. Gazi spoke louder, then, gesturing to her meal, though her words didn’t match her actions.
“So, how did you meet that young man? Where does he hail from?”
Erin glanced at Pisces. He was smiling at his skeleton as it moved about the room.
“Oh, he’s just this weird guy I met a while ago. He’s—well, I guess he’s a good mage. Does necromancy stuff, but the skeleton is the first undead thing I’ve ever seen him do. He also does other spells. Why?”
Gazi stared at Pisces, and then her eye moved away as he looked towards her. She nodded imperceptibly at him as she let Erin fill her glass.
Gazi nodded. After a moment, Erin shrugged and walked away. Really, what were you supposed to say to that?
About an hour had passed, and Erin was continuing to innkeep while her patrons ate, chatted, and, occasionally, used the new outhouse. Gazi didn’t do much from her seat, but her main eye kept following Pisces, the skeleton, and Erin.
Then, as the sun began to touch the mountains and the light truly began to fade from the sky, Gazi’s main eye swiveled towards one window. She tapped her lips and then smiled again.
Erin noticed the half-Gazer getting up and leaving coins on the table. Gazi nodded to her as Erin bustled over.
“Pardon me, Erin, but I must attend to some business. I will return shortly.”
“Oh, sure. Have fun?”
Gazi smiled and left quickly. Erin shrugged and went back to serving. About ten minutes later, she heard someone knocking at the door.
The door opened. Erin turned with a smile.
The male, Human adventurer who opened the door smiled broadly at her.
“Thank you. Me and my friends were looking for a place to stay and—”
He caught sight of Rags and the Goblins first. The adventurer swore and grabbed at this sword.
Erin’s stomach lurched. The adventurer fell back, and his two companions—two other burly adventurers in armor—immediately seized their weapons. Rags and her crew looked up, suddenly tense. Pawn and the Workers froze in their game. Pisces was already gone.
“No, no, wait! Don’t do anything!”
Dropping her pitcher of juice on a table, Erin ran forwards, putting herself between the adventurers and the Goblins.
“They’re friendly! Don’t attack!”
The first adventurer stared at her. He was wearing a metal helmet that made his head look vaguely pot-shaped.
“What are you, crazy? They’re Goblins!”
His two friends shifted behind him. One exclaimed as he caught sight of Pawn and the Workers.
“It’s the bugs! And—a skeleton?”
The first adventurer was white in the face, whether with rage or fear it was hard to tell. He glared at Erin, hand tight on his sword hilt.
“What’s going on here?”
“Look, everyone chill! Calm down! These Goblins are peaceful. Didn’t you read the sign—?”
The third adventurer, a huge man who dwarfed the other two, turned red in the face. He growled at Rags and her Goblins, all of whom were standing, weapons raised.
“Shut up! Those creatures aren’t peaceful. They’re monsters! I’ve lost good friends to them!”
He went for his axe. Erin grabbed his hand.
“No, wait—let me—”
The burly adventurer growled and threw Erin off him. He shoved her back, and Erin crashed into a table. She blinked stupidly up at the ceiling as the world spun for a moment. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw a flash of movement.
The adventurers were moving towards the Goblins, weapons raised, when the skeleton leapt over a table, charged the first adventurer, and smashed into him. The undead skeleton was unarmed, but it just raised one bony fist and sunk it straight into the helmeted adventurer’s head.
The metal faceguard caught the skeleton, but it couldn’t protect the man from being bowled over as the skeleton rushed him. The undead kicked, and the sword flew out of the man’s hands. He cursed as the two other adventurers spread out. One of his friends pulled out his sword, but suddenly Rags and the other Goblins covered him.
The big adventurer roared and raised his axe, but Erin tackled him. She tried to pull his arm down, but he was like a piece of granite. He punched her in the side, and Erin fell off him. That hurt. Not as much as being stabbed, but she couldn’t breathe. He snarled at her, and then Pawn was in front of him. The Antinium swung two fists on his left side, and the adventurer stumbled backwards.
The adventurer on the floor cursed and swung at the skeleton, trying to get to his feet. The skeleton leaned back as the adventurer swung wildly. When it punched the man in the side of the head, he didn’t shift much. But the skeleton punched and punched and punched—
The helmeted adventurer caught the skeleton’s foot as it swung at his head. He growled and heaved upwards, and the skeleton toppled over. Then he reached for his sword.
His hand had just closed over the hilt when Erin walked over and kicked him in the side of the head. Down he went again, considerably harder than when the skeleton had hit him.
She looked around. The second man was fighting with the Goblins, slashing at them while they danced around the chairs and tables. He didn’t have any room to swing, but they had a lot more freedom. They lunged at him, cutting his legs, battering him with clubs, throwing plates at his face—
A Worker crashed into a table next to Erin. It lay on its back, stunned, before it got up. She looked over. The big adventurer was fighting all three Antinium at once as they surrounded him.
He swung at Pawn, but Pawn caught both fists and then hit back with two more. The big adventurer blinked and then shoved the Antinium back. Pawn went flying, but two more Workers closed in. He battered at them, but the Antinium were far tougher than they were strong.
It was all a mess. Erin didn’t know what to do, but when one of the adventurers grabbed Rags and threw her to the ground, she moved. He stomped on her stomach once as the Goblin cried out in agony. Erin raised her fist, and then the skeleton smashed the adventurer in the back of the head with a chair.
Down he went. Now only the biggest adventurer was left, but he was somehow managing to take on all comers by himself. He hit one of the Workers in the chest so hard the Antinium’s carapace cracked and then punched the skeleton into the ground before kicking the undead in the chest. Two ribs shattered as the Goblins swarmed around the man.
Erin hesitated and then ran inside the kitchen. She came out with a heavy object in her hands, just in time to see the skeleton crashing into another table, the axe buried in its chest.
The biggest adventurer kicked a Goblin several feet, backhanded Pawn, and snarled. He turned, and the flying frying pan cracked him straight in the forehead. Erin felt like she’d wrenched her shoulder with that throw, but her Skill had placed the pan right where she wanted it to go.
The fight was over. Erin still had to call the skeleton back and stop Rags and her Goblins from knifing the downed adventurers. The skeleton was trying to stomp on the helmeted man while Pawn and the other two Workers picked each other up and assessed their injuries.
Erin stared around the inn. She looked at her skeleton, with the axe hanging out of its shattered rib cage, the injured Goblins, the downed adventurer trio, Pawn and his injured workers, and then at her common room. Half the tables and chairs were splintered beyond repair, and all of her food and dishes had been strewn about the room.
She felt like crying. But the first adventurer was starting to wake up. Erin stared at the groaning men on the floor and pointed at the skeleton.
It hesitated and then marched into the kitchen. Erin looked around. She walked over and picked up the frying pan.
The cold splash of water woke up all three men in one go. They spluttered into wakefulness, gasping, only to realize they weren’t drowning. Instead, they were on the floor of an inn.
The three adventurers stared up into the face of justice. In this case, it was the back of a cast iron frying pan. Erin stood over them, flanked by a group of Goblins on her left and a Skeleton and three of the horrific ant-monsters known as Antinium on her right.
“You wrecked my inn.”
Erin stared down at the three men. She was trembling. Half with nerves, but the other half was sheer rage.
The helmeted adventurer hesitated. He struggled to get to his feet, feeling for his sword. He saw it in the skeleton’s hands. He pointed a trembling finger at the skeleton, backing away as his two friends got to their feet.
“What kind of inn is this? It’s full of monsters!”
“They’re not monsters! These Goblins are my guests, and no one hurts them here! Didn’t you read the sign?”
The biggest adventurer lumbered to his feet. His fists were clenched, and he was red down to his neck. Rags and the other Goblins retreated from him, but Erin saw Rags pulling out a jar full of green liquid. She shook her head at the Goblin.
“You’re crazy! You—you freak! You’re feedin’ these freaks that kill Humans! And you’re feedin’ bugs and an undead monster! We oughta burn this place down and turn you in to the City Watch!”
“Burn down my inn? I don’t think so.”
Erin gripped the handle of the frying pan tighter. The Antinium loomed behind her, and the two smaller adventurers stepped back.
The big adventurer shouted at Erin. His spit practically covered the skeleton interposing itself between Erin and him.
“This ain’t over! We’re gonna round up all the adventurers in the city and come back here. Then we’ll see if you want to protect these freaks!”
“I don’t believe that will happen.”
Someone tapped the big adventurer on the shoulder. He whirled around, threw a fist, and nearly screamed as a grip like steel crushed his wrist.
Gazi the Omniscient stared at the adventurer she had caught like an entomologist studying an insect caught in their backyard. Without much interest, she flicked the man’s hand away. When she turned to look at Erin, she smiled slightly.
“Erin Solstice. You are full of surprises.”
The two adventurers behind the big man reacted to the half-Gazer’s name—and her eye—but the bigger man was still caught up in his rage.
“If yer gonna protect this monster-loving b—”
Gazi didn’t move. She didn’t move, but her eye twitched. Its yellow pupil seemed to widen and glow for a moment, and Erin felt a flash of unease. Gazi was suddenly terrifying for no real reason. And she wasn’t even looking at Erin. The effect on the adventurers—particularly the big man—was immediate. They shuddered, paled, and backed away from her.
“No one will attack this inn. Or I will find you and you will suffer. And you will all leave now.”
Helmet adventurer shuddered. His eyes flicked to his sword, still in the skeleton’s hand.
Gazi’s eye swiveled, and her large yellow pupil fixed on the adventurer’s face, and the words stopped.
“In the name of Reim—begone.”
The adventurer stared for one second into Gazi’s large eye. Then he ran. He didn’t say a word, and his friends ran after him, legs and arms pumping. Erin watched them race down the hill so fast one tripped and went flying, but they got up and kept running even after slamming into the ground. Gazi just turned to Erin and smiled with her lips closed as if nothing had happened.
“I am glad that you are unharmed.”
Erin blinked at Gazi stupidly and then realized she was still holding her frying pan. Lamely, she put it on a table.
“Um, thanks. Really. You saved us there.”
Gazi flicked her hand dismissively.
“I merely prevented them from causing more trouble. But you would have handled them most admirably had I not been here.”
Her smaller eyes moved around the room.
“Still, I see that they have caused much damage. I apologize. I should have forced them to repay you for the damages.”
“Oh, it’s nothing—”
Erin broke off. Rags limped over to her, clutching at her stomach and poked her in the side. The Goblin offered Erin a bag of coins.
Rags shrugged at Erin and then winced. She clutched at her stomach where the adventurer had stomped on her. Erin immediately forgot about the money. She bent down, staring anxiously at the Goblin.
“Are you okay? I have some healing potions I could split—”
Rags shook her head. Clutching at her ribs, she pulled something out of her pouch. A healing potion. The Goblin pulled the stopper out and drank a mouthful of the purple, brackish liquid.
Erin was sure the Goblin didn’t own any healing potions. She was also sure that it wasn’t her healing potion or Gazi’s. She looked at the other Goblins and saw they were doing the same with a few healing potions as well. She knew exactly where they’d come from.
The adventurers had come here with belt pouches and carry bags along with their armor and weapons. And while they’d left with their armor, it seemed someone had cut away their belts and bags of healing potions while they’d been downed. The Goblins were already fighting over the spoils.
Erin had a feeling that she was going to get the blame for most—all of that. But right now, looking at the injured people in her inn, she didn’t really care.
She righted a table and made Pawn and the injured Workers sit down. Erin found some bandages in her packs, helped pull the axe out of the skeleton’s rib cage, and let Pisces get to work on the skeleton. It seemed he had been invisible during the entire confrontation.
She was so busy attending her friends—saying thank you and feeding them a second dinner—that she never noticed that Gazi had left the inn.
Gazi the Omniscient travelled back to Liscor, the ground blurring beneath her feet. She had no further business at The Wandering Inn at the moment. Erin Solstice was too busy attending to her wounded patrons for conversation, and Gazi had seen all she needed.
More importantly, she had found one. At last, she had found one. And not just one.
She smiled to herself. She’d searched far and wide for individuals worthy of waking up her lord and liege. For years. And she had despaired. But now she had found one. Not just one; two.
“A mysterious child with a unique Skill, and a [Necromancer] who can create new undead.”
Erin Solstice. She was unlike any Human Gazi had met before, save one. She had met only one other being who could unify so many races outside of her own. And that she had stepped in to protect them against her own kind only made her rarer in Gazi’s opinion.
But there was more to her than even that. Erin’s origins, her ways of thinking, and yes, even the [Immortal Moment] Skill Gazi had never seen on an individual before were all unique. She was worthy. The mage was also worthy, but in a different way. He was simply a genius.
“But she is different.”
Gazi frowned, letting her single eyelid droop over her central eye. Yes, Erin Solstice was different. She passed through the city gates, nodding at the guard who stared at her and slowed to walk idly through the streets.
Erin Solstice. She was the one, and if Gazi had to choose, it would be her. But it was better not to choose. Better to wait and lay plans. Gazi could act now of course, but if she wanted to do this properly, it would take time.
Time and patience were both things Gazi did not have, but she did not want to ruin things now, right when she had found not one, but two worthy beings. She yearned to begin, but patience—patience was a virtue she had learned to practice.
Yes, perhaps it was better to wait. She had come far over the course of thousands of miles and countless years. Her King still slept; he would wait a while longer to be woken. Those she brought must be truly worthy of his attention. Yet she had a good feeling this time.
At the very least, Fetohep of Khelt alone would pay a king’s ransom for Pisces—a [King]’s ransom a hundred times over. Whether he made the boy rich or had him executed—that alone might be enough to wake her King. Perhaps. Perhaps…though Fetohep had every reason not to want her King to wake.
As Gazi walked through the streets, she noticed she was being followed. She kept her main eye straight ahead, but her lesser eyes could detect movement around her. Gnolls. Two shadowed her at a distance, pretending to be late-night shoppers and pedestrians going home.
No doubt they were courtesy of a certain Gnoll [Shopkeeper]. She had doubtless organized them to tail Gazi, unaware perhaps of the half-Gazer’s ability to see all. Or perhaps she knew and was letting Gazi know she was being watched. Either way, it mattered little. The Gnolls were the least experienced of Gazi’s watchers, but they were hardly the only ones keeping an eye on her.
Pallass had sent their observers…for a time until they realized the cost was too high. They had their own kind of watcher, the Cyclops, though his role and Gazi’s—and their natures—were far different. She had passed through his realm mostly quietly. He knew better than to make unnecessary foes.
But it was the Gnolls’ presence that decided Gazi. Not because they were dangerous, but because it meant there was more to Erin than even her eyes could uncover. She would wait. Wait, and learn more about this strange Human. Perhaps there was another worthy one. Three was better than two.
As Gazi passed by the market street, she noticed a flicker of movement. A small Human grabbed several items from a stall while the shopkeeper was looking the other way. Gazi pretended not to see, but one of her lesser eyes tracked the female Human as she darted away.
The thief ducked out of sight in the alleyway, but Gazi’s eye wasn’t weak enough to be stopped by mere objects like walls at close range. Her large eye moved, and she saw not only the thief’s figure, but her name and nature. Such was the power of Gazi’s eye.
But in this case, Gazi was disappointed. She shook her head.
“Ah. Just a [Princess].”
She turned her eye away. She had no time for Human royalty. Petty lords and princesses of small nations could not arouse her ruler’s interest.
Gazi cast her eye upwards. She saw the changing winds and, miles overhead, saw the cold front sweeping in at speeds even her eye had trouble tracking. Yes, winter was coming. And quickly too. This land had few seasons save for the rainy one, but the fell chill would still freeze the land for a week at least. Time, then, to wait and observe both Humans.
The adventurers had been a stroke of good luck. Their foolishness had given Gazi plenty of insight into Erin’s nature. She would ensure no reprisals came—at least in the form of a mob—but she would continue watching Erin Solstice.
She wanted to know everything about her.
Erin sat in her inn, staring at the recently cleaned room. Half of the tables and chairs were now fireplace fuel, but at least the spilled food and broken dishes had been cleaned up. She’d buy new ones from Krshia tomorrow.
Everyone was gone. They’d limped off or walked back to the city or, in Pisces’ case, done his disappearing act. They were gone, and Erin was left alone.
With the skeleton, of course.
It was fully repaired and sweeping up dust. Erin stared at it as it worked. It paused as it glanced up and saw her staring.
“Yeah. You don’t like it either, huh?”
After a moment, the skeleton got back to work. It stood up, dustpan in hand, and walked outside to dump the dust. Then it came back in and stood to attention, staring at Erin.
She sighed. The skeleton looked at her expectantly.
“Skeletons. You know, I hated biology class in school. The skeleton there creeped me out, and it didn’t move around all the time.”
No response. Well, Erin was getting used to that.
“I don’t like dead things. And I don’t really trust you.”
The light in the skeleton’s eyes dimmed for a second. Erin sighed again.
“But. I guess you’re alright.”
The flickering sparks in the skeleton’s eyes ignited. Erin nodded to herself.
“I’ll keep you after all. You’re useful, and you can fight. Sorta. Just don’t do anything stupid, got it?”
After a beat, the skeleton nodded obediently.
“Cool. Now I guess—I guess you’ll need a name?”
No response. But the skeleton seemed expectant. Erin scratched her head. She really needed to sleep, but this was important.
“What would be a good name for a skeleton? Papyrus…? Nah. You’re not nearly cool enough for that.”
The skeleton didn’t react. Erin tilted her head, thinking hard. She snapped her fingers.
“I guess I’ll just call you Clatter. No—Claptrap! But even you’re not half as annoying as that…thing.”
Erin scratched at her head as she began pacing around the room. The skeleton’s fiery, blue eyes followed her as she began throwing names out at random.
“Mr. Bones? Way too generic. How about Carnage? But that sounds horrible. Silent Steve…? No. Smitty Werbenjagermanjensen? Too long.”
After a while, the skeleton turned around and walked upstairs. It still had the order to clean, and it supposed upstairs counted as ‘the inn’. So the skeleton began cleaning a decade’s worth of accumulated filth from the ceiling as it heard Erin still talking to herself down below.
“How about Napoleon? But you’re not short. Skeletron? But I’d get confused. Paul Hendrickson the Fifth? Whitey? Wait, is that racist?”
The skeleton quite deliberately tuned Erin’s voice out of its head, at least as far as it could ignore the voice of its master. It scrubbed the ceiling with the fragment of the dustrag hard, wishing—as much as it could wish—that it held a weapon instead. Erin had made it leave the sword and axe in the kitchen while it was cleaning.
It had no will. Skeletons weren’t supposed to have free will. But they weren’t supposed to level either, and the [Skeleton Warrior] was now Level 2. It didn’t know how to feel about that. It had one function: to serve. If leveling helped in that capacity, it would level.
It just wished Erin would stop talking.
“Bojangles. Bonerama. Bonehead. Friedman? Spinal Tap. Harambe. Jack? Jack Sparrow? Jack Skellington? Mr. Skeleton? Smiley Face?”
A pause. The skeleton did not sigh in relief.
[Innkeeper Level 13!]
[Skill – Loud Voice obtained!]