“Are we going the right way? I think we’re lost.”
“Mm. Patience. This is the right direction.”
“Are you sure, Krshia? I think we’re lost. All this grass looks the same to me.”
“There is no road, Selys. We must trust we go the right way, yes? And my memory is not so poor.”
“But it’s dark.”
“If the shopkeeper lady says it’s the right place, we’re going the right way. Anyways, Klb and I have been here countless times. This is the right direction. …Right?”
“I believe so. Please take care not to fall.”
“Oh. Um, thank you.”
“I do not believe we have been formally introduced. I am Klbkch of the Free Antinium. I understand you are a friend of Erin Solstice?”
“Me? Yes! I’m Selys. I’m a receptionist at the Adventurer’s Guild. I’m very pleased to meet you.”
“Allow me to introduce my colleagues. This is Relc, who I believe you two are familiar with. Watch Captain Zevara is also joining us for the night.”
“Selys. Krshia. Good evening.”
“Hm. It is good to see you are well.”
“Oh, hello Captain Zevara.”
“And these are two other Antinium from my hive. Pawn, and Ksmvr.”
“I am Ksmvr. Allow me to apologize for recent—”
“…So um, Z. Why are you here? When Klb told me you were coming, I thought he was yanking my tail.”
“I wanted to see the human who killed that freak. Besides, you’ve talked about that damn inn so much I might as well see it.”
“Well, that’s…great! You’ll love it. Erin is great for a human. You’ll see.”
“You called her a useless sack of meat after—”
“Ahahahahaha! You must have heard me wrong. I never said anything like that. Erin is a great human. She called me a dragon, you know.”
“Humans can’t tell a lizard apart from a salamander. Don’t let it get to your head.”
“…Hey Klb. Are we there yet?”
“There is the inn in the distance. We are moving in the right direction.”
“Oh good! Erin’s still awake. Maybe she has guests already?”
“That mage said he would be joining us. I can’t say I’m pleased with that, but if he’s here—”
“It could be the mage. Or um…well, you know what I said about not killing any Goblins around here, Zevara? Um—”
“Please tell me the Goblins aren’t invited.”
“Well, while we’re on the subject, how do you feel about skeletons…?”
“Oh my god.”
It was perhaps the sixth time Erin had said it. She was still staring at Ryoka in some state of shock. Ryoka was staring back, but her mind was racing.
Erin was from her world. Of course. All the little pieces of her story made sense, especially the way she used catchphrases and expressions from their world. How had she not noticed? She was too tired. But this was a crucial moment. Why had Ryoka suddenly met Erin right after the call? Was it coincidence or something else? Was two people appearing so near to each other geographically simple luck or something else?
“I can’t believe it.”
Ryoka lifted her iPhone. Erin’s eyes followed it as if mesmerized, then snapped back to Ryoka’s face. Her state of shock was starting to annoy the older girl.
“Are you real? I mean, you—you’re from my world, right? This isn’t a joke, is it?”
And how would it be a joke? Ryoka bit back the sarcasm and answered politely as possible.
“I’m from Ohio. My name is Ryoka Griffin. I came here in the year 2016, around October.”
“Oh my god.”
Seven times. Ryoka tried not to let her impatience show.
“I know this is incredible, but please focus. How long have you been here? Do you know how you got here? Are you—”
“Oh my god, you’re real. You’re real!”
Ryoka tried not to make a face. Erin was freaking out.
“Look, I just had a call—it was a message that—”
She got no further. Erin lunged across the table. Ryoka’s fists raised instinctively, but the other girl just threw her arms around her.
“What? Um. What are you—?”
“I’m not alone? I’m not alone! You’re here and—oh my god. You’re here!”
“I am. Why are you…? I mean, yes. You’re not alone.”
Ryoka felt the other girl squeezing her hard. She was having trouble breathing. Erin was stronger than she looked.
“Look, you don’t have to—please—are you—?”
Erin’s muffled noises turned into dampness on Ryoka’s shirt. She was…crying?
Ryoka froze up. She didn’t know what to do. She patted Erin gently on the shoulder. Once. Twice.
She had no idea what to say. Erin was weeping into her shirt, and the feeling wasn’t pleasant. Ryoka knew she should say something reassuring, but she’d never done this before.
She wasn’t alone. That was what Erin wanted to hear, right? Ryoka could tell her that. She was one of many. She was—Ryoka could tell her that she wasn’t alone. That would cheer her up. If she met with the others—
The others. Ryoka froze, forgetting everything else in a moment of cold realization. Others. There weren’t just a few. Or even sixteen. She’d completely glossed over that fact in the light of all that had happened. Sleep deprivation, the excitement of the call and meeting Erin—
She’d stopped thinking. But now her slow-moving brain had fitted the pieces together. Statistics. It all boiled down to percentages. There weren’t just sixteen people in this world. There weren’t even just a hundred. There were many more.
How many people had working iPhones at the time of the call? How many had their iPhones when they arrived? What percentage of people have iPhones to begin with?
And of that number, how many people died or weren’t able to answer the call? How many ignored it out of fear or caution?
How many people were in this world?
Hundreds? Thousands? Tens of thousands? Ryoka felt something twist in her stomach.
Humans band together. They make laws. They go to war. Perhaps other species didn’t do that. But humans did. And peace for humans is only an interlude till the next war.
In Ryoka’s mind, she imagined Celum. A city caught between the renaissance and the medieval age. They didn’t have technology, those people. They didn’t have anything valuable by her world’s standards. Just gold, jewelry.
In Ryoka’s mind, Celum burned. Fighter jets screamed down through the sky, strafing cities and dropping bombs in the streets while tanks rolled across open plains, firing at armies that had never known gunpowder. Scientists in hazmat suits walked around next to surveyors and prospectors identifying oil wells while magic and nonhumans were dissected and studied – made fact.
A colony world. Imperialism. Mandate of Heaven. White man’s burden.
In the time it took Erin to hug and release Ryoka, a world burned down behind her eyes. It was an easy equation to solve. One person was an accident, a fluke. Two people was unusual. But more? More was an open gateway. And no door opened in only one direction.
Erin wiped her nose on her sleeve as she let Ryoka go. She was snotty in a literal sense and her eyes were puffy, but she was smiling. Ryoka felt like someone had grabbed a piece of ice and stuck it in her gut.
“This is just so—so wonderful! I can’t believe it. You’re here. You’re from home.”
“It is amazing.”
Ryoka chose her words carefully as she brushed at her wet shirt. Her hand hit a damp, sticky spot and she immediately stopped.
“Um, Erin, right? Why don’t we sit and talk.”
Erin snuffled, sniffled, and nodded. She scooted back to the table while Ryoka tried to collect her thoughts. People. Talking. This wasn’t her forte, but she thought she had a handle on what was happening. First things first.
“I know this is a lot to take in, but let’s both try to calm down. I’m from Earth, and so are you. And I’ve just learned that other people are here too, scattered around the world.”
Erin’s eyes widened.
“We’re not alone? You mean—”
“Yes. And there’s a lot to talk about, but let’s just start with the basics. When did you get here? How did you arrive? What was the last date in our world that you remember? If we start with that, maybe—”
Ryoka broke off suddenly. Erin looked up as someone knocked on the door.
“Are you expecting guests?”
Erin blinked. The Asian girl had pushed back her chair and was suddenly tensed, like a wild animal. She shrugged.
“Not really, but maybe they’re just late.”
She raised her voice.
The door opened. Ryoka stared and took a step back as a giant, brownish-black insect walked into the inn. She looked at Erin, but the other girl was smiling. Ryoka’s mouth fell open slightly in surprise.
“Klbkch! Hey! Come on in!”
Ryoka stared as the Antinium nodded to Erin. Then she stared harder as a giant lizard man walked into the room, followed by what looked like a slightly less-hairy Wookie and another lizard. And then the insect talked.
“Good evening Miss Solstice. I hope we are not intruding?”
“What? No. I um—no. Wow. I didn’t expect so many guests so late.”
Ryoka stared at Erin. The other girl was smiling.
“I hope we are not intruding, but our affairs in the city took a long time to conclude.”
“Oh, Krshia, Selys! And Relc and Klbkch—is that—Pawn? Ksmvr?”
Erin caught sight of Zevara and her eyes widened.
“Wow. Um. Are you all here for food?”
“If you are able to host us, it would be most welcome. I regret to say that more guests are with us, however.”
Klbkch nodded to Relc and the others. The door opened wider to admit more bodies.
“And it appears other guests have arrived with us.”
A throng of short creatures entered the room, and this time Ryoka took a step back. She stared at the squat, green, crimson-eyed little demons and looked at Erin. The girl didn’t even appear fazed.
Then a mage stepped into the room. Well, he was obviously a mage by the long robes he wore, but the effect was muted by the grass stains and other marks on the once-white cloth. Ryoka recognized Pisces in an instant and slowly sat down in the chair. Her head was spinning.
When Erin saw Pisces and Rags her jaw dropped. She counted silently as her guests awkwardly stood at the entrance. Some were looking at Erin, but most were staring at each other.
Zevara was eying the Goblins with unconcealed malice and the Goblins were busy edging away from everyone but Erin. The three Antinium looked around silently while Selys stared in horrified fascination at the Antinium, the Goblins, and at Ryoka. Krshia sniffed the air while Relc patted his stomach and Pisces stared around with a half-sneer on his face.
Erin’s head was reeling. She was surprised, caught off-guard, and she had no idea where Toren was. But she was an [Innkeeper]. She might be busy, but she had guests. She rose to the occasion.
“I’ve got pasta!”
Hell is something you create. Ryoka was a firm believer in not believing in religions, but the idea of hell had always been intriguing to her. Obviously a place of brimstone and pitchforks was ridiculous, but the idea of suffering, of damnation was interesting. How could hell be one thing? How could it be a constant, when it should be the representation of misery and suffering for each individual?
Damnation shouldn’t be something you went to. It should be a place you create for yourself out of your own guilt and fear. People create their own hells and sit in them. Ryoka was sure she had read a quote like that somewhere.
Right now, Ryoka was sitting in her own personal, localized hell. She was still in The Wandering Inn, but now it was full of people. Talking, noisy people who kept introducing themselves to her. And unlike every other party she’d been to, every other soiree and social gathering, here she couldn’t run away.
Ryoka sat at a table and stared around the common room of the inn. Suddenly it was bustling. From the quiet, dark room she’d found only an hour or two ago, it had been transformed into a raucous place full of light and noise.
At least half of the raucousness came from a large Drake sitting in the center of the room next to one of the Antinium. He was called Relc, and he’d greeted Ryoka by spraying her with a mouthful of blue juice and shouting ‘It’s you! The Runner human!’
It was a good thing Runners carried a spare change of clothes. At least the Drake’s companion had been polite enough. He was an Antinium. So were the other two black bugs sitting in the room. They’d made Ryoka’s skin crawl when she’d first realized what they were, but now she was just confused.
One of them, an Antinium with only two arms and one leg—was playing chess with one of the Goblins. Pawn and Rags. Ryoka kept feeling at her forehead with the back of her hand to make sure she wasn’t fevered.
And there were more. Erin was buzzing around the room, filling drinks, serving plates of pasta up, but somehow she found time to talk with Ryoka as well. She’d brought another Drake over to Ryoka’s table in the corner of the room. Erin beamed as she introduced her friend.
“Hey Ryoka, this is Selys! Selys, meet Ryoka. She’s a Runner.”
The female Drake – Ryoka was fairly certain she was female – opened her mouth and revealed a row of very sharp teeth.
“Oh, a City Runner? We haven’t had one of those around in a while! How are you?”
Ryoka took Selys’s hand, shook it once, and then quickly let go. It took her all of her self-control not to wipe her hand at the touch of smooth scales.
Erin didn’t seem to notice Ryoka’s discomfort. She turned to Selys, beaming.
“Hey Selys, you won’t believe this. I just talked to Ryoka and guess what? It turns out that—ow!”
Ryoka kicked Erin. She didn’t even try to conceal it. Every head turned towards their table and the room went silent for a second.
Across the room Ksmvr reached for a sword at his side. Ryoka’s spine crawled, but the other Antinium—Klbkch?—instantly smacked Ksmvr’s shoulder and he stopped.
“Ow, why’d you—”
Erin glanced at Ryoka’s face and back to Selys. She smiled again, although this time it was somewhat forced.
“Well, um. Ryoka, this is Selys. Selys, Ryoka.”
The Drake smiled at Ryoka again, and backed up a little bit. Her tail was twisting around, Ryoka noticed.
“It was…nice to meet you, Miss Ryoka.”
The two retreated. Selys pulled Erin aside.
Erin made a face as she rubbed at her shin. That kick had hurt.
“I don’t know. She was really nice earlier. Sorry about that. Why’s that Zevara person here, by the way?”
“She wanted to see you. I think it was because you killed that skin monster.”
“Me? I didn’t. That was the Goblins.”
Selys rolled her eyes.
“They just finished it off is what Klbkch says. Erin! The entire city’s talking about you!”
“Oh yes. If it weren’t so crazy over there, I’m sure plenty of people would be coming over to look at you.”
Erin wasn’t sure if that was a good thing or a bad thing.
“…How are things? I heard a lot of people died.”
Selys paused. She looked down.
“A lot of people did. Not as many as there could have been, thanks to the Watch and the Antinium but—it’s not the worst disaster we’ve been through. And we’re rebuilding. Stronger with each dead scale, you know?”
“You fought didn’t you? You have to tell me about it!”
“Only if you tell me your side. But guess what? I leveled up! And I gained a new class!”
“Yep! You’re looking at a Level 4 [Warrior] now!”
Selys puffed out her chest with pride as Erin made appropriate sounds of awe.
“It seems like half the city leveled or gained a new class. That’s war for you. No bad without some good. Anyways, Krshia and I wanted to celebrate and we knew you were alone out here.”
“Well, I have Toren.”
“He doesn’t count. We wanted to come alone, but then Relc decided to come with that Klbkch and Zevara told us she was coming and…”
At this point Ryoka stopped listening to the whispered conversation. She was putting together the pieces, but sleeplessness on top of sudden social interaction after a long day of running was not helping. The only upside was that she was rapidly running out of ways to be surprised. When Ryoka met Pisces, the [Necromancer] who’d fixed her leg and who was apparently teacher to one of the Goblins, she took it in stride.
At some point a skeleton walked into the inn with a huge basket of blue fruits and a bucket of water in each hand. He paused as Zevara and Klbkch unsheathed their swords.
Erin ran forwards between Toren and the others. Klbkch was already sheathing his sword, but Zevara took several minutes of explaining before she rammed her blade back in its sheath.
Ryoka remained perfectly still as Erin introduced Toren to her. She looked into his deathly gaze and the twin blue flames burning in his eyes and did not shake the proffered bony hand. He disappeared into the kitchen and reappeared with a plate and drink which he served to Ryoka.
Undead service workers. Ryoka instantly saw how useful it could be. It was a great idea in theory, but seeing it in practice was—unnerving. She kept glancing at his bones, wondering how they were even staying upright without muscles and skin. Were there magical, invisible threads animating him somehow?
She ate more food, drank more blue juice. Ryoka’s head was spinning as she asked herself a thousand questions at once. When the Gnoll named Krshia introduced herself Ryoka tried to be polite as possible.
She’d seen other species, of course, but they’d always been monsters. Perhaps she’d seen one or two of these…Gnolls in the cities, but never in person. And here were three—four new races if you counted the Goblins, sitting in the inn, talking, acting like people.
At some point the smallest Goblin hopped up on the seat opposite Ryoka and slapped a chess board in front of her. Ryoka thought she looked familiar, but then the Goblin moved a chess piece and stared at her. Erin wandered by, offering chess tips and then the game and everything else blended into the nightmare.
Ryoka looked like she was having a great time. Erin could tell. She was staring around the inn, chatting to Pawn and playing chess with Rags while other Goblins sat around her and Toren kept filling her cup. She seemed distracted, but then, the inn was more animated than Erin had ever seen it.
“Captain Zevara, another plate of pasta? Or a drink?”
The tall, surly-looking Drake glanced up and waved her hand at Erin.
“I am fine. You are…Erin Solstice, aren’t you? We’ve met.”
Erin blinked at Zevara and then remembered.
“Oh. We have. After Klbkch—um, how are you?”
Zevara ignored the question as she glanced around the inn.
“I came here because I wanted to see this place for myself. I thought Relc was exaggerating as usual. For once he might have been telling the truth. Although he never mentioned you serving Goblins. Or the skeleton.”
Erin glanced at Relc. The Drake avoided her gaze as Klbkch stared from the Drake to her.
“He hasn’t been around as recently. Um. I hope you like it here?”
“I didn’t come here for pleasure.”
Zevara met Erin’s gaze.
“These Goblins you’re sheltering, and the undead. They are an issue I intend to address, along with the death of the…thing that attacked my city.”
“Zevara. Perhaps now is not the time?”
Klbkch stared at Zevara until she nodded reluctantly. He looked at Erin.
“These are matters of business. But in truth I and the others are here to celebrate the survival of the city. On that note, would you allow me to address the room?”
“What? Oh, sure, go ahead.”
Erin stood back. Klbkch nodded and stood up. She wondered how he would attract everyone’s attention with all the hubbub, but Klbkch simply raised his mug and waited. It took several minutes, but a tall, silent Antinium standing with one mug raised had a calming effect. Klbkch waited until everyone was silent and then spoke.
“To all present, allow me to say a few words. These last few days have been marked by one of the most deadly assaults on Liscor in the last decade. Errors were made on the part of the Antinium and the Watch and for that I must apologize. Needless deaths were caused, but the city and its people remain safe now. The creature which attacked Liscor is dead and as some may have noticed, I have returned to life. It is not in the nature of the Antinium to celebrate, but I adhere to other species’ customs and invite you all to celebrate these events.”
No one spoke. Erin wasn’t sure if she should clap. Klbkch nodded and went on as Ksmvr produced a bottle from somewhere and handed it to him.
“I believe it is customary to make a toast on occasions such as this. For this occasion, my Hive has manufactured its own drink. Allow me to present you with rxlvn, an alcohol we intend to sell.”
He presented a clear, glass bottle filled with some kind of black, foaming liquid to the room.
“Allow me to offer you a drink that we might toast our survival, wellbeing, and the future.”
No one moved. Relc stared at the bottle.
“Klb, that looks like dirt water. Can we even drink that?”
The Antinium nodded.
“It is quite safe, I can assure you. It has been extensively tested on Antinium and while the drink is strong, it is consumable by all present.”
He looked at Erin and she looked at Toren.
“Do we have um, any shot glasses? Anything small?”
They did, in fact. They were more like finger bowls and Erin wasn’t sure what was supposed to go in them. But they made good impromptu shot glasses, and soon each was filled with the fizzing, dark liquid.
Everyone but the Antinium stared into their bowl apprehensively as Klbkch lifted his.
“To life, triumph over the undead, and this inn.”
He drank, tossing the black liquid down calmly. So did Pawn and Ksmvr. No one else did. Krshia was sniffing at the drink suspiciously and Relc tasted the drink with the tip of his tongue.
“It is quite palatable.”
Erin gulped. She saw Ryoka standing away from the group, frowning down into her drink. Well, it wasn’t as if she had to drink the entire thing. She sipped at the drink. Her eyes widened.
“It’s good. Hey, this tastes good everyone!”
They all looked at her. Erin downed the drink and smiled. That seemed to reassure the others. Rags and the Goblins drank their portions down and looked around for more. Krshia tossed hers down and growled happily and Relc and Zevara did the same. Selys and Ryoka drank only a small bit, and Pisces only sipped a few drops.
“Hey it ain’t bad. Good job Klb.”
Relc laughed at his friend as he tossed the shot glass on the table. The others made similar noises of agreement. Krshia inclined her head at the Antinium.
“Perhaps I could find a market for your drink. It is agreeably strong. Gnolls, they would like this I think, yes?”
Klbkch nodded. He was smiling, or doing that raised-mandibles thing.
“It is rather potent in its current form. I regret that this is only a trial run, and the formula is not perfected yet. Perhaps we should have mitigated the effects of the drink with more paralytic agent.”
Everyone stared at him. Erin opened her mouth.
“Um. The what?”
Ryoka felt the top of her mouth go numb. She tried to put down the half-full shot glass but it slipped out of her fingers. She bent to catch it but toppled over.
Klbkch stared at the human girl as she flopped around on the ground, trying ineffectually to push herself up. He glanced around at the other non-Antinium as they began to sway, smile, or regurgitate.
The three Antinium strode back through the plains, towards Liscor. Or rather, the secret entrance just outside of it. There was no need to bother the guards on the gate at this hour.
And the striding aspect was similarly exaggerated, because two the Antinium were slower than the other. Pawn had to be half-carried by Ksmvr, unable to walk as he was.
Klbkch amended his pace to let the other two catch up. He spoke without turning his head and the other two answered without looking. They had no need of visual interaction. Communication between their own kind did not require social niceties as with other races.
“I regard this night as a positive outcome on the whole, even in light of the failure of the rxlvn. I will make our apologies tomorrow to the others.”
Ksmvr and Pawn didn’t nod. They didn’t have to. But Ksmvr did raise his voice. His tone was uncertain as he addressed Klbkch.
“With all due respect, would the drink not be considered a success, Prognugator? It was strong enough to affect even Relc.”
“Drinking is meant to be a social activity. The effects were too strong. Also, refrain from addressing me as Prognugator. I assumed that role out of necessity during the attack on Liscor. However, you will resume that position forthwith.”
Pawn looked at Ksmvr as the Antinium stared at Klbkch’s back.
“Am I then your superior? Your position—”
“I am second only to the Queen. A new position will be created.”
“I see. And the Individual known as Pawn?”
“For now he will remain under my authority, not yours.”
The three walked on. Klbkch voice was cold and impartial as he spoke again.
“In the future, have the brewers reduce both alcohol content and soporific and paralytic agents in the drink. As I understand it, the act of drinking is meant to be pleasurable. Unconsciousness is the end result, not the goal.”
“It will be done.”
“Very well. I will report to the Queen. I will attempt to communicate with Erin Solstice at another time. Ksmvr, return Pawn to the Hive and await instructions in the morning.”
Klbkch strode away before the other two Antinium could respond.
After a while, Pawn spoke.
“Klbkch’s motives are unclear to me. But I suppose this means I will no longer be a worker.”
Ksmvr’s voice was no longer hesitant. He replied impartially to Pawn.
“That is what we were ordered. You will, of course, obey.”
“Of course. I am loyal to the Hive. I have chosen.”
“Yet you have expressed your dissatisfaction with me to Klbkch. I am your Prognugator.”
“That is true. And you cut off my arms and leg.”
“I did what was necessary for the Hive.”
“Yes. You did.”
“You also instigated Workers to leave the Hive against my orders.”
“I suppose I did.”
The two moved on in silence. After a while Ksmvr spoke.
“Your affection for me is not necessary. However, for the good of the Hive we must work together.”
“I serve the Hive. I am loyal to the Queen.”
“But I still hate you.”
“It is suggested by other species that a period of bonding may occur by shared experiences.”
“I suggest this as an attempt to amend the distrust between us.”
“Do you have any suggestions in this regard?”
Pawn was silent. His only leg dragged along the ground. He turned his head slightly to Ksmvr.
“Tell me. Do you know how to play chess?”
The next day, Selys woke up in a room on the second floor of The Wandering Inn, next to a wet, hairy carpet. That carpet turned out to be Krshia, and the two turned out to be sharing the same bed.
Selys stared at Krshia in shock until the Gnoll opened her eyes. Krshia glared at the sun, and then blinked a few times at Selys.
“Good morning, Selys.”
Selys squeaked. She stared in horror at Krshia and then looked down. Their clothes were missing. She thought she saw her dress hanging out the open window. That was important, but her eyes kept getting drawn back to the Gnoll sleeping next to her. Right next to her.
“Um. Uh. Hi Krshia. You wouldn’t happen to know—did we um—did we—?”
Krshia shrugged, and then sniffed hard. She shook her head.
“Hr. Nothing happened.”
Selys almost thought she heard the Gnoll mutter ‘pity’.
“Oh. Good. I’m um—I’m just—I have to—”
Selys rolled out of bed, fled the inn, and locked herself in her apartment for the rest of the day.
Two hours after Selys fled, Relc found himself lying in the plains, completely naked. He stood up, looked for his clothing, and gave up. The naked Drake strolled through the southern gates of Liscor around the same time the Watch Captain was found passed out in one of the street gutters.
Six hours before Relc caused a disturbance, Pisces woke up with light shining on his face. He waved his hands feebly and then sat up. What he’d thought was the sun turned out to be something else. He stared at the flickering magic and turned pale.
Around an hour after everyone had vacated the inn, Erin slumped at a table, blearily watching Toren as he moved around the room, picking up plates and mugs and bringing them to the kitchen.
“See that? That’s useful. Like a…dishwasher with legs. And a sword.”
She wasn’t drunk. The Antinium’s alcohol had tasted bitterly dark with just a hint of something fruity, but it hadn’t done anything for Erin. It was the [Alcohol Immunity]. She wasn’t drunk.
“If I had ten of him…I’d probably hate it. You know he stands in a corner? Very creepy. Veeeeery creepy.”
She was just tired. Ryoka on the other hand was drunk. But she was still able to stand upright, which was quite impressive. Then again, everyone else had been upright as they staggered out of the inn. Only the Goblins had taken the shot and fallen right down. They were still lying on the floor, insensible. Rags was sprawled face-down on one of the tables, clutching a chess piece in one hand.
Erin wasn’t sure why she was awake. She really wanted to sleep, but Ryoka was still awake. The other girl was clearly trying to keep herself upright and Erin felt it was only courteous to do the same.
Ryoka blinked several times and frowned. She was swaying in her seat. The other girl was muttering, her voice slurred.
“We have to talk. This is—crucial. Something about people? If we’re all here, what does that mean?”
“I don’t know? I didn’t know there were people.”
Ryoka frowned at her, and then nodded with difficulty.
“When you got here. That was important? When you…got here. Something about that.”
She put a hand to her head and frowned hard. Erin shrugged. She was drifting off on a sea of clouds. That’s what the table felt like. She closed her eyes, and then jerked upright. Ryoka nearly fell out of her seat.
Erin decided she had to be the voice of reason.
“It’s too late for this. We should sleep.”
Ryoka thought about this. After a moment she nodded.
“Tomorrow. But we must talk.”
“Yes. But after we sleep.”
The two agreed. They nodded so much they nearly fell asleep.
“Upstairs is a bed. You can have one.”
Erin wandered over to her kitchen. Ryoka frowned at her and then looked at the door.
“You don’t lock the doors?”
Erin didn’t see the point. She wavered. It was such a long way to the doors. But then Toren walked over and bolted it. She smiled. She was saved! She could go to sleep.
Ryoka looked at the doors, squinting. Then she nodded, apparently satisfied. Without another word she stumbled towards the stairs. Erin heard her bumping into things on the way up.
Time for bed. Erin was exhausted. She stumbled towards her bedding, too tired to even think about undressing or brushing her teeth. She rolled into her blankets and stared at the roof.
So tired. So exhausted. So much money made from her guests! But all that was a backdrop to the most important thing. It had lit her up, given her wings as she’d served her guests. It was important, the only thing that mattered.
Erin whispered it up to the ceiling.
“I’m not alone.”
She smiled, and drifted off to sleep with that wonderful feeling still in her chest.
Erin had about half an hour of sleep before the door to her inn exploded inwards. As she ran out of the kitchen she saw Pisces standing in the doorway, hands wreathed in crackling lightning. His face was pale.
Ryoka stood poised on the stairway, ready to leap down on the mage. But she stopped. Something was glowing in the dark inn, and not just the magic coiling around the mage’s hands.
A spark of light flickered and hovered around Pisces’ head. A dancing firefly made of colors and shapes. They spelled out words and meaning Ryoka couldn’t read, but she recognized them. She recognized the spell. She sat down on the stairway, legs suddenly out of energy.
Erin blinked at the burnt wood of her doorway. Oh. She’d locked it. She looked at Pisces and opened her mouth to yell, but hesitated.
The mage’s face was pale as he stared at Erin. He said only two words.