The inn was dark when the traveler first arrived. No – to begin with, she wasn’t really a traveler. She was a Runner, which was completely different.
And she wasn’t lost. Neither had she decided to visit the inn out of a need for sleep or food or even a burning desire to use the outhouse.
She just needed a place to think.
Ryoka cautiously pushed open the wooden door and paused a moment to let her eyes adjust. The inn was dark. The common room was almost as dark as the shadowed grasslands outside, illuminated only by the lone candle on one of the tables.
It flickered, and made the shadows dance as the door’s opening disturbed the solitary flame. Ryoka looked around. There was definitely an ambiance to the room which she was determined to ignore. Just because something looked creepy did not mean it was.
Ryoka called cautiously as she stepped into the inn. She was already regretting coming back. She hadn’t intended to stay at this place – The Wandering Inn. In fact, she’d fully committed herself to running through the night rather than have to deal with annoying innkeepers who made comments about her bare feet.
Not fifteen minutes ago Ryoka had been despairing, exhausted, and full of anger and hatred towards nothing and everything. She wouldn’t have set foot in this inn even if it were the Taj Mahal.
Well, maybe if it were the Taj Mahal. But this run-down inn was no superstar hotel, and Ryoka had been ready to leave it behind and run on.
That was fifteen minutes ago.
A lot can happen in fifteen minutes. Ryoka glanced down at the iPhone in her hands and turned the screen off before she tucked it in her pocket. It wouldn’t do to scare the innkeeper with her phone.
If there was an innkeeper. The candle indicated life, but Ryoka didn’t see or hear anyone stirring even after she’d called.
Well. To enter or leave? Ryoka hated this kind of dilemma. She hated dealing with people, come to that. But she really, really needed a place to sit and process all of what had happened. And she was tired. They were all dead. She could run, but she couldn’t outrun what had happened.
So she stepped into the inn, calling out again.
“Is anyone there?”
It was the kind of generic question that deserved instant death if she were exploring an abandoned house or looking for monsters. Since she was looking for an innkeeper, it was probably fine.
There was still no answer. Ryoka frowned. Was the innkeeper out? It could be possible, but she’d expect a barmaid or someone to stay in the inn. At the very least, they’d lock the doors.
A dark suspicion crossed Ryoka’s mind and she stopped, looking around the empty room. An empty inn might mean something had emptied it, and recently. Had a monster crept in here? This place was near Liscor, and Liscor had recently been attacked. If a straggler had made its way in here…
She had no weapons. Well, nothing that was better than her hands and feet. But she did have magic. One spell, to be exact.
Ryoka felt something go out of her as a shimmering orb of white light floated up from one of her hands. It cast the room into sudden, sharp relief as the shadows fled.
She looked around, searching for movement or shapes behind tables or chairs. There was nothing.
The room was empty. Ryoka’s eyes travelled to the staircase, and then the door behind the bar. She clenched one hand.
She’d never killed anything. Never—except maybe a Goblin. But something had attacked Liscor in the four days she’d been away. Something.
The undead. Ryoka imagined shambling zombies groaning and munching on brains, but that didn’t match with the devastation she’d seen walking into the city of Drakes and Gnolls. Entire buildings had been torn apart and the injuries she’d seen on those who hadn’t received healing were—
A sound made Ryoka freeze in place. Something.
A low—grunting sound. A rasping rumble. Ryoka’s heart beat faster. It was coming from the kitchen.
She crouched low and moved silently towards the open doorway. She stopped, her ear to one wall, heart pounding. Something was in there. Something big, by the sound of it. But it was also asleep.
Ryoka covered the ball of light with one hand, thinking. Step around the corner, take a look at what it was, and step away. If it came after her she could be out the door in seconds.
Her hand tightened into a fist. Immediately Ryoka relaxed, keeping her hands loose and ready to punch. She counted to three in her head. Then she swiftly stepped into the kitchen, hands raised.
The room was dark. A thousand things leapt out at Ryoka at once. Cupboards, knives, silver wear, pottery stacked up, a bucket of water, an empty fireplace, and—
A girl sleeping on the ground.
Ryoka stopped. A girl lay sprawled on the kitchen floor, tangled in a pile of sheets and a bedroll. She was snoring quite loudly, oblivious to Ryoka’s presence. She opened her mouth and grunted or perhaps burped. It didn’t sound appropriate to her size.
Ryoka lowered her fists. She stared at the sleeping girl for a few seconds. She slapped herself hard on the forehead.
The loud crack of flesh on flesh made the girl on the ground sit bolt upright. Ryoka leapt back as the other girl looked around wildly.
“I’m up! Knight to F3!”
She tried to stand up, tangled in her sheets and tumbled over. She rolled upright. That’s when she saw Ryoka.
For a moment the other girl gaped, and then she struggled to get up. Ryoka debated for an instant helping, and then let the other girl get up on her own.
When she was upright, Ryoka found herself looking at a girl close to her own age. She was shorter—shorter than Ryoka who was tall—and she had fair skin, hazel eyes and only the slightest orange tint to her light brown hair.
She blinked at Ryoka. Ryoka stared back. The girl opened her mouth, looked around, and then smiled weakly.
She’d just put her head down for a minute. And then—well, she’d woken up and decided that it would be a better five minutes if she were in bed, so to speak. So Erin had wandered over to her bedroll in the kitchen. It wasn’t as if anyone had visited the inn today and Klbkch and the others were busy. She’d sent Toren out to harvest blue fruits, collect water, and generally stay out of her hair, so what was the harm in taking a thirty minute nap?
But somehow, Erin’s small one hour nap had ended up with her waking in near dusk with a terribly foggy head, stiff joints and a girl standing over her.
Erin stared. She had a guest. A tall guest. A female guest.
The person who’d woken her up was tall. She had dark hair, brown eyes—she looked Asian. But she was also tall, which was unusual. And she had a floating magic orb of light on one hand but Erin could only handle so much excitement at one time.
She had a terrible, terrible urge to say ‘konnichiwa’ to the girl, but fought it off with difficulty. Her second impulse was to say ‘ni hao’ or maybe ‘anyoung haseyo’, but she was pretty sure she’d mess up the pronunciation of all three greetings.
Erin could say hello in most languages, although that was pretty much the extent of her linguistic skill. She could say ‘checkmate’ and ‘check’ in almost every language, though. It came from many games against foreign players online and in person. She also knew a lot of bad words as a result, although she had no real idea what they meant. Usually she just knew enough to duck before the table got flipped.
But there was something incredibly Asian about the tall girl’s features, and it was even more pronounced by the fact that hers was the first non-European, non-furred or non-scaled face Erin had seen in this world.
Speaking foreign languages to people hadn’t worked out well with Ceria, so it probably wouldn’t work here. Erin waved weakly at the other girl as she stepped back.
Was that a hello or just a grunt? The other girl stared around the dark kitchen as Erin scrambled for more words beyond ‘leave me alone I’m trying to sleep’. Right. She was awake and she had…a customer.
Erin had been a waitress for all of two weeks back when she’d had a part time job for the summer. That was about all of her job experience aside from working in chess tournaments as a referee. And that wasn’t work that was…chess.
But she had a definite feeling that falling asleep on the job wasn’t acceptable behavior. Even if she did own the inn.
She tried again, and the other girl stared at her. Erin put her best smile on her face and waved at her guest.
“Sorry about that. Um. I was asleep. Can I help you?”
“Is this an inn?”
“What? Oh. Yes! Yes, this is an inn!”
Erin waved around the room airily, trying to gloss over the fact that half the inn was still damaged from the battle with the undead two days ago. The other girl stared at Erin.
“And you’re…the innkeeper?”
The innkeeper smiled nervously.
“Yes? I mean, yes. Can I—do you want something to eat? A place to sleep?”
“Something to eat.”
“Sure, sure! This way.”
Erin led the other girl back into the inn’s main room. The girl took a seat while Erin stood and fidgeted. After a moment the girl looked up.
“Do you have a menu?”
Erin blinked at the tall girl a few times. Then she panicked again. Menu. Right. She’d never really finished—
“Um, it’s right there.”
She pointed and winced as her guest looked at the menu with all three items.
Pasta w/sausage and onions – 3 cp. per plate.
Blue juice – 2 cp. per glass.
Acid flies – 1 s. per plate
“They’re um, real flies. I drained the acid from them, but uh—”
“What’s blue juice?”
“It’s very sweet! It’s like orange—I mean, it’s like an orange except more blueberry. Sweeter. It’s a nice drink!”
Erin wondered whether she should mention there was more food she’d learned to cook. She could make soup! Random soup was what she called it, because she mainly just tossed ingredients in a pot and trusted to her [Basic Cooking] skill. It usually came up edible.
“I can uh, I can make bacon and eggs. Or—or ham. We’ve got ham and salad if you want it—”
“Pasta is fine. I’ll have that and a cup of blue…juice.”
Erin smiled. The other girl did not return the smile.
“I’ll um, I’ll get it.”
She had plenty of blue juice but not a lot of cups. Erin had tossed most of her cups and heavy objects at the undead. She finally found a good one and washed it out before filling it with juice.
The girl was still sitting at the table. She glanced up at Erin but said not a word as Erin put cup and silverware in front of her. Erin tried another smile, but the other girl’s face could have been carved from ice. She decided to go for broke and introduced herself.
“I’m Erin, by the way. Erin Solstice.”
Erin waited, but the other girl’s name did not seem to be forthcoming. She stared down at the table, not even touching her drink. The other girl stared at the wood grain, but she seemed to be a thousand miles away.
She was very quiet. Erin hoped that wasn’t because she was planning to murder her with one of the forks.
The world is shit. All things and everything in it are utter crap. But of course crap’s not a good enough word, is it? Death and despair rule everything. That’s how it’s always been and that’s how it will be.
Some days are like this. I’ve felt it before. Black depression. Anger. It’s easy to say the words, but to live it?
Every time I forget. Every time. I forget how twisted this damned world is and I relax. And then it gets me. It would be easier if I didn’t hope. If I just—
“Um. Is the juice okay? I have water if you want it. Boiled.”
I look up. The girl’s hovering over me again. Erin? She’s annoying. It would be easy to just toss the juice in her face and kick her until she stops talking.
A thin red line. I think that’s the only thing that separates me from madness some days. And some day, perhaps, it will disappear and I’ll lose it. It’s already broken once. I hurt my friends. And now they’re dead.
Not my fault. Of course. They went into the ruins. It was their fault, and guilt is only part of the grieving process. I know that. I probably couldn’t have done anything. They were dead days before I was even close to Liscor. It’s just that it hurts. More than anything I’ve felt in years.
Wish I’d been with them.
I look up. Oh. Right. She asked me a question about my drink.
“It’s fine. Thank you.”
It’s not the innkeeper I’m mad at. I just can’t deal with her or anyone at the moment. How could I? The Horns of Hammerad. Gerial. Ceria. Calruz. Sostrom.
They’re all dead. I never even got to say goodbye.
Mercifully, the innkeeper retreats. She’s odd. A young girl out far from the city like this? Well, not too far but still. How does she survive? Do I even care?
I’m trying to think of something, anything, but the faces of the dead keep haunting me. I try not to let them, but I can’t help but wonder and regret. If I’d been with them, would I have spotted a trap? Would I have been able to run for help? If I’d been there, if I hadn’t run off. If I hadn’t been such a stupid idiot and picked a fight…
Without thinking I take a gulp from the cup in front of me and nearly choke. Sweet! It’s sweet and pulpy, and tastes—
It actually tastes good. Not like the alcoholic crap I have to drink in each tavern. It tastes like orange juice mixed with a blueberry shake mixed with high fructose corn syrup. All the good things that I love to hate.
It tastes a bit like home.
Just a bit. But I take another gulp and the sweetness is good. It’s not like the ice cream I had with Magnolia. It’s just plain old juice, and it’s good to have.
I nearly jump out of my skin. That girl is pretty damn silent. But—what the hell?
“Sure. How much for a pitcher?”
She blinks at me. Does she not even price her drinks? Well damn.
I open my runner’s pack and fish around. I’ve still got several gold coins and when I hold one up her eyes go wide.
“Just take whatever I eat out of that. I’ll have a pitcher of blue juice.”
“Blue juice? Pitcher? Coming right up.”
Hah. That did it. Money walks and talks and solves every problem. Even annoying innkeepers. Well, she might try to gouge me but what the hell. I don’t need money. What good would it do me?
The blue juice arrives in a satisfyingly full ceramic pitcher. Enough to drown me or have me peeing all night, but you know what? I don’t care. I fill up my cup and drink while the innkeeper girl goes off to do something which involves a lot of banging about and quiet swearing in the kitchen.
I rub at my face. A sweet drink. It shouldn’t help, but it does. Immensely. I’ve been living off of water and dry rations for the last…it must be eight days. Not exactly fun, but I’ve had worse.
But this makes things a little better. A little. And it restarts my brain a bit, takes me off the spiral of guilt. The Horns of Hammerad can wait. It hurts, but they’re gone. However terrible it might be, there’s something that takes priority even over that.
The call. What in the name of non-existent deities far and wide was that? I—
Everything has changed. I feel it. This world is different now, and the stakes have suddenly gotten a lot higher than my single life. Someone has walked into the small sandcastle of my understanding of the world and given it a damn good kick.
There are more people than just me in this world. From my world, I mean. There are more interdimensional travelers, more people from Earth*.
*Assuming people don’t call this place from Earth, obviously. Stop belaboring the point. I know what I mean.
That chat. A—a messenger chat with magic? How is that possible?
Magic. Duh. Focus! Think. Try to think of what happened.
Well, it’s a good thing I used to read Youtube comments or I wouldn’t have been able to transform myself into an egotistical thirteen year-old with delusions of grammar. [batman] was a good foil, but I probably gave myself away there at the end. No matter; it had to be done.
First things first. In that conversation, a few important elements stood out. And above all the rest?
Kent Scott. Whoever that person was, he wasn’t from our world. He was…fishing for information. First and last names. No one else seemed to get that, but thanks to Teriarch I know that he was trying to use a [Scrying] spell.
And he got three names. Or was it two? In any case, that’s really bad. Can he teleport right over there? Is that even a spell? But if he knows the names, there’s nowhere in the world those people can hide, right?
Who is he? He was using Kent Scott as his name, which means he either tortured or killed the real Kent Scott. But how much does he know in that case? Enough to be hunting the rest of us down? Could he have figured out our locations from the magical chat? And if so—
“Oh hey, just wanted to let you know the pasta will be done in around ten minutes.”
The innkeeper pops her head out of the kitchen. Damn it. Who cares? But my stomach rumbles. Traitorous body. I nod at her. She’s exactly the kind of person I don’t really like hanging around. Just a bit too friendly and bubbly and clearly not that focused.
Okay, okay. What was I thinking about? Kent Scott. One part of the puzzle. What else? Oh yeah. Summoned heroes? People with a [Hero] class which hasn’t been heard of in centuries? That’s odd. Could we all have been summoned as a—a byproduct of that spell? Accidental side effects?
If so, it would explain why I appeared out of nowhere like that. But that guy was a Level 26 [Knight]. Is that fast leveling? It seems so, considering Calruz was only around Level 22. So one guy who’s been here for a month or two already leveled past a Minotaur who’s been fighting all his life?
Damn. Is that cheating or what? But how—
“Do you want meat and onions on your pasta? Or something else? I’ll change the recipe if you want.”
Who cares what—just answer her.
“That’s fine. Thank you.”
I am trying to think. Ignore the stupid innkeeper. Think. There’s also the fact that most of the people in the chat were American, but people from all over the world were taken. One Australian, one person from England.
But they all spoke English. Does that mean only English-speaking nations were affected? Or—or does it mean only Americans were affected? If this was a spell, did it only hit a certain radius? If I could call the chat back on my iPhone I’d know more, but going only off of memory—
“Oops. Forgot to put the spoon out.”
Spoon? SPOON? Who the fuck eats pasta with a spoon? Italian cuisine survived for hundreds of years without a damn spoon.
…Calm down. She’s just trying to be helpful. I’m probably just making her nervous. I should smile.
My lips twitch. No go. Okay, okay. Just—what does it all mean? Here I am, with the first sign of how I got here but already there’s a serious threat. I have to anticipate what’s coming next. Do I warn someone? Who? Magnolia might be just as bad. But Wistram—that’s where [BlackMage] is. I think that’s the isle of mages. Could they help? Will he call again, or would he consider that to be too risky?
And—oh my god she’s coming back.
The blank look Erin got when entered the common room was somehow worse than the stare of the Antinium. They at least had the excuse of being bugs. Her guest was just…creepy. And silent.
When she told the girl she was making a fire, she just got what sounded like a sigh. The tall girl went back to staring at the table and drinking blue juice and Erin put a log in the fireplace and tried to make it light.
Erin got the fire going after two attempts, all the while trying to ignore the eyes on the back of her head. It was an uncomfortable, prickly sensation, being watched.
The other girl looked down when Erin turned around. But she had been watching, Erin was sure. She was just so silent. And unfriendly. Would it kill her to talk a bit?
Well, who said a guest had to be nice? If she didn’t want to talk, Erin could just serve her food and wait for her to leave.
But there was something that drew her to the other girl. She was a guest. The first human guest—well, the first human guest she’d had that wasn’t a group of adventurers or Pisces. And Erin was a bit lonely. She hadn’t talked to a human, another human, for a long while.
So she stood up, walked over, and took a seat. The other girl glanced up. It was a flat look, but Erin ignored it.
“So. How’re you?”
Glance up, glance down. After a moment, the girl looked up again.
“You know, we never got to really chat. My name is Erin. What’s yours?”
This time the other girl had to answer or—or Erin would leave her alone, she guessed. But although her guest made a face, she eventually answered.
“…Ryoka. I’m a Runner.”
Erin seized on that sentence gratefully.
“Oh! A Runner! I get most of my food and stuff delivered by a Runner. He comes every day from the city. That’s like your job, right?”
Ryoka’s left eye twitched.
“No. That’s a Street Runner.”
“I’m a City Runner.”
Erin didn’t know what to say to that. She was vaguely aware there was a difference from what Krshia had told her but no more than that. And the conversation’s flow was ebbing.
“That’s cool. So I guess you travel around a lot?”
Erin grinned weakly. Perhaps it was time to cut her losses and get the pasta. But she had to make one last attempt.
“You know, when I saw the glowing light orb I thought you were an adventurer of some kind.”
“I’m not. I just know magic.”
“Oh, okay. I, uh, I knew some adventurers, too.”
The other girl’s tone was subzero. And not just frosty, more like Antarctic.
“Yeah, but they died. A few days ago, actually.”
Erin swallowed the lump in her throat. She didn’t see how the other girl looked up at that.
“Who did you know?”
“Oh, just a group of them. They were nice people, but they got killed when—”
Erin looked up. Ryoka’s eyes were fixed on her, intent. For the first time, Erin thought the other girl was looking at her, really looking at her.
“The Horns of Hammerad.”
I don’t believe in destiny. Or if I did, I’d spend all of my time rebelling against it. And I don’t believe in talking to people either, as a rule.
“So I called him bull guy after that. Bull guy, Mr. Cow, Captain Udders…although I don’t think he really got that last one.”
“You didn’t do that.”
The girl sitting across from me, Erin Solstice, smiles and laughs.
“Okay, I didn’t call him all those names. Just bull guy. But it made him really mad. You could practically see the steam coming out of his ears!”
I shouldn’t, but I laugh. Calruz is dead, and it’s wrong to make fun of him. But this—
This is about what he was. What he did. And Erin telling me the stories is somehow special. Precious.
A lot can happen in fifteen minutes. You can find you have more in common with someone than you think, for instance. Fifteen minutes. Enough time to eat three plates of pasta, drink blue juice, chat…
And learn that the Horns of Hammerad stayed in this inn the night before they died. Enough time to hear their last moments from the innkeeper who’d served them meals.
I’m glad I came here. I’m glad I changed my mind and decided to stay. Because against my expectations, I’m feeling better. A belly full of hot food does that, and the conversation—
Well, it’s actually fun.
“You really called him that? Bull guy?”
“Yes! What, don’t you believe me? Ceria started calling him that too until he threw his drink at her.”
I laugh again. I can’t help it. I’ve been listening to tales of the Horns of Hammerad, but somehow Erin also managed to get the story of how I met them out of me. It’s so odd. But I want to talk about them.
“So you met them while you were delivering healing potions, right? That sounds pretty dangerous.”
It was, incredibly. Dodging spells from a Lich is probably one of the dumbest things I’ve ever done, and there’s a long list. I shrug.
“It was risky, but it’s part of the job.”
“None of the Runners around here do stuff like that. They just deliver stuff in the city and to my inn. But I guess that’s a City Runner for you, huh?”
I want to keep talking about the Horns of Hammerad. But Erin’s leaning over the table, eyes alight with curiosity.
“What’s it like, being a Runner? Do you get sore feet from running around all the time? And how much does it pay? Do you see a lot of interesting stuff?”
Well, here’s the part I don’t like about talking to people. I open my mouth to give her a bland response. What should I say? Running is hard, but fun? It can be rewarding, but you just have to put the hours in? Some bland, useless reply like that so I can change the subject back to the others.
But I stop. I hesitate. Do I have to say that? It’s a stupid line that won’t mean anything. I hate that kind of conversation. So why should I say it?
Running. Is it fun? Sometimes. Running is fun, but being a Runner isn’t. The petty rivalries, my shattered leg, and the way Runners seem to be more cowardly than adventurers—it’s hard to just gloss over that.
So why not tell her? What was it Louis C.K. said in one of his monologues? Screw the ordinary conversation, the meaningless chatter. Let’s just have a real talk.
What’s the worst that can happen? I lose my friends? I don’t have any. It’s awkward? We’ve already had enough awkwardness to fill two swimming pools.
It’s not me. I don’t chat with people. I don’t talk. But today—
Today is different.
So I begin to speak. Erin blinks as I begin talking about running, frankly, and without sparing the details.
“You had your leg shattered? By a moving—”
She glances down at my leg. You can’t even see the scars. That’s magic for you.
“And you went to the High Passes? Where’s that?”
“It’s the other gateway to the southern part of the continent. Haven’t you heard of it?”
“I uh, don’t know much about the local geography. Or politics. Or…anything.”
Huh. Sounds a bit like me. I keep talking. Somehow, she’s pulling the words out of me.
“You fought a Silver-ranked Adventurer? Barehanded? No way.”
When did I say that? My face is getting hot. She probably thinks I’m bragging but—Erin leans over the table, eyes sparkling.
“That’s so…cool. Tell me another story!”
I blink. She’s so interested. It’s just life to me. And depressing, at that. I remember what happened afterwards, my mistakes. How can I feel proud of that? But then, why not explain that bit?
I try, but Erin shakes her head. Her smile flickers and she looks me dead in the eye.
“That’s not bad. I mean, it’s not good, but I’ve done worse. Way worse. I…got a friend killed.”
For once, I want to know. Erin pauses, and sighs. She grabs the cup she brought and drinks long and deep. Somehow, we’ve run out of blue juice and there’s several empty plates in front of both of us.
“It’s a long story. It starts with—well, I guess it starts with Goblins.”
“Goblins. And there’s acid flies, you know, the one of the menu? And talking bug men and—okay, do you believe in Dragons? Krshia—she’s a Gnoll—she says they don’t exist, but I saw one, I swear.”
Erin begins to talk. It’s a confusing story, but I listen, asking the right questions. Not just the right questions. The questions I want to know, the little details. It’s not a boring conversation. It’s not trite dialogue. It’s real. It’s engaging.
She knew The Horns of Hammerad before they died. She was there. And she’s not just a boring person. She’s someone.
It’s—odd. Her story is bothering me. Erin Solstice. Is she—it’s an odd story. But I’m too tired to think straight. I’ve been running all day and I’m tired. But her story calls to me. There’s something about Erin. I’ll think about it later.
“Have you ever seen a Gnoll? They’re like giant hyenas that get really angry. And they sniff you. A lot. Have you ever heard one of them sneeze? So weird.”
I listen. And I’m smiling. It hurts because I’m out of practice.
But I’m smiling.
I wish I could stay.
“I should go.”
Ryoka said it reluctantly, but it had to be said. Erin glanced up from her table and the pile of dirty dishes and glanced outside. It was night. Midnight or later, and the sky was as close to pitch-black as it ever came.
“What? Why? I can make up a bed for you. I’ve got a bunch of—well, every room upstairs is open. And it wouldn’t cost too much. If you want—”
The other girl said it flatly, and then tried to modulate her tone.
“No. I’m sorry. Thank you, but there’s something I have to do.”
“In the middle of the night?”
“I need to start running. I’ve got something that can’t wait and it’ll take me a day and a half to get where I’m going.”
Erin’s face fell. And she’d been getting on so well with Ryoka, too.
“If you’re sure. But it’s a long road and you look tired. What would one night matter?”
Ryoka wavered, clearly torn. But eventually she shook her head.
“I’ve got to—I need to go back. North. To Celum. There’s someone…someone I have to talk to. Something I have to do, now.”
“If you’re sure…”
“I’m sure. Sorry.”
Erin sighed. But she put a smile back on her face.
“Well, okay. But if you ever want a meal or if you’re in the area—”
Ryoka paused, and then she smiled awkwardly.
“I’ll be back. But I have to go now.”
She pulled something out of her pocket and glanced at it.
“Huh. Good enough for a few hours.”
Erin blinked as two red ear buds appeared and Ryoka popped them into her ears. She raised her voice as Ryoka turned.
“Oh, hey. Is that an iPhone?”
Ryoka flicked through a few screens on her phone and then froze. Erin continued on, oblivious.
“I’m not an iPhone person. I got an Android – well, my parents got it for me. I wouldn’t have minded an iPhone—I just use it to play chess and call friends, mostly. But—”
The other girl was staring at her. Erin broke off awkwardly.
“What? Is it something on my face?”
Then she stopped. Erin’s eyes widened as her ears caught up to what her mouth was saying. She stared at Ryoka.
“Oh my god.”