She wished she had an iPod. That’s what Erin thought when she woke up in her small bed on the second floor of Miss Agnes’ inn. It was probably because she’d made the mistake of thinking about home yesterday.
Ryoka had her iPhone. She’d kept it even though she’d gone to a whole new world. Whereas Erin hadn’t. True, she didn’t usually bring her phone on bathroom breaks, but if she ever got back she’d take one everywhere she went. And she’d bring an emergency backpack of everything—
If she ever went back. Erin slapped her head.
Nothing good happened when she thought about home. The only thing that ever happened was—well, weeping and moping and crippling desperation. That’s why Erin had stopped thinking about it on purpose, starting all those days ago when she’d cried herself to sleep in a broken inn in the middle of nowhere.
She was here, and she had to survive. Erin got up and dressed herself blearily. She couldn’t smile—she felt weighed down by heavy thoughts. And she felt even more tired when she remembered her new employee.
“What do I do? What did you do, stupid Erin?”
She gently thumped her head against a wall. Someone grunted in the next room and Erin winced.
There was no going back. She could only do what was right. And what was right was—
Erin came down the stairs with a determined smile on her face. She’d find something Jasi could do. She’d help her succeed as a [Barmaid]—or do something else. Because even if Erin couldn’t help everyone, she would never leave the Drake and her brother alone. If she did, she wouldn’t be Erin Solstice.
And yet—not everyone was like her. That was why Erin’s smiled twisted the instant she walked down into the common room of the inn and saw what was happening.
“Oh, Erin, my dear!”
Miss Agnes looked up from the table where she was sitting with Jasi. Across the room, Erin saw Safry cleaning the tables before the day started and the one or two early guests waiting for breakfast. Erin looked around the room as she descended the steps. Grev was nowhere to be seen.
“Miss Agnes. And Jasi. What’s happening? And where’s Grev?”
Jasi gave Erin a warm, but—uncomfortable—smile. She was sitting somewhat tensely in front of Miss Agnes, and Erin could tell the other [Innkeeper] was—
“What’s all this?”
Miss Agnes didn’t seem to notice the edge in Erin’s tone. She smiled at Erin, beamed, rather, like she always did.
“Well, I was just having a chat with Jasi about her future.”
“Her future? What do you mean, Miss Agnes?”
“Oh, I was thinking about it all night. And I had a chat with Jerom—you did a wonderful thing, helping Jasi and Grev. But although I’m sure she’d be a wonderful [Barmaid], I thought we could explore all her options. After all, Jasi’s so young—I wouldn’t want her to level up in a class that didn’t fit her perfectly, would I?”
For two seconds, because she’d had a bad time waking up and because she’d been hanging out with Ryoka too long, Erin thought about punching Miss Agnes in the face. But she suppressed that instinct at once.
“I see. You want to help Jasi find a job. Another job.”
“Well, I was just thinking how nice it would be if she could find a class she really liked. Being a [Barmaid] isn’t for everyone, and if we can find something that suits her better…”
Miss Agnes met Erin’s eyes innocently. But the message was clear. And it was infuriating to Erin.
Jasi hadn’t even been here one whole day, and Miss Agnes had decided that her inn was not for the Drake. And better yet—she’d talked it over with Mister Jerom, her husband, had she? Erin had visited the sick [Innkeeper] and she knew any conversation Agnes had with him was completely one-sided. She probably just chattered on to him as he groaned in bed and coughed up phlegm.
“So you’ve been helping Jasi since you woke up? That was kind of you.”
“Well, I had time. And I was waiting for you to be up so we could start with breakfast—you really have a talent for cooking, my dear!”
“You mean a Skill. Where’s Grev?”
Normally Erin met most things with a good attitude. But this morning she wasn’t in the mood for niceness. Agnes blinked at her.
“Oh. I sent him outside to play. I’m sure he’ll be back when he’s hungry. Young boys always live by their stomachs.”
And how would Miss Agnes know that? She’d never had a kid. Of course, Erin hadn’t ever had one either, but there was just something about the other innkeeper that was rubbing Erin the wrong way today.
It was just that she’d decided to kick Jasi out. The Drake clearly understood what the [Innkeeper]’s intentions were, no matter how much she smiled, and she looked justifiably upset. Erin glanced across the room and saw Safry glance at her and then quickly away. Safry knew what was going on. Did Maran? Had this been agreed on by all three women or just Agnes?
Who knew? Erin could only move forwards, and so she smiled at Agnes and Jasi.
“Well, I’d love to help with that.”
Miss Agnes coughed delicately and Erin frowned.
“It can wait. Or better yet, this can wait.”
“Oh, it’s no trouble my dear. I’m perfectly willing to help young Jasi out while you cook.”
Erin gritted her teeth. There was an…air about Agnes. It was almost written on her face ‘let’s help the children find what they’re good at so I won’t have to deal with them!’ It made her upset, and even angrier that Agnes was deliberately sending Erin into the kitchen to cook.
She wanted to object. Erin opened her mouth, but the problem was—Agnes was right. Erin needed to make breakfast for the hungry masses who’d soon be coming here for her good cooking. And yet—she didn’t want to leave Jasi alone with Agnes.
But was it really a problem? Erin thought about that for a moment. It wasn’t as if Agnes was kicking Jasi out this moment. She was going to work with Jasi—even if it was selfish. Would it be that bad to let her help?
Well…yes and no. Agnes would certainly help because it meant Jasi and Grev would be out of her hair. But she’d probably not look for the best class to suit them—she’d probably compromise instantly and choose whatever they were good at without exploring all the options.
But she would help. It just meant Erin would have to make sure Agnes didn’t rush things along. And it meant that Miss Agnes wasn’t the person Erin had thought she was.
She was just a woman. Good to her friends and family, but no better than that. It wasn’t a crushing realization, but it just made Erin’s heart hurt a bit.
She let none of that show on her face as she smiled at Agnes.
“Good idea. I’ll make breakfast, and then come back and help Jasi. I hope you’re hungry.”
“Oh? Are you planning on making something special today?”
Agnes smiled at Erin. Erin smiled back.
“Mm. I think I’ll make some crepes and French toast. And bacon.”
Miss Agnes hesitated. Erin had chosen one of the most popular breakfasts for today—mainly because it was a new form of cooking. It certainly brought in customers, but it was a very work-intensive meal for the staff to serve, as customers would regularly order second or even third helpings.
“Oh. Well, Maran isn’t here today—”
“No problem! You and Jasi can help if Safry needs it. That’s why she’s here, isn’t it?”
Erin walked into the kitchen. There she deliberately cooked the best crepes she could and made sure the sizzle and smell of cooking bacon would wake up even the most reluctant sleeper. She derived no small amount of pleasure from making Agnes’ inn the most profitable and busy building in the city that morning, and felt not a bit bad as Agnes, Safry, and Jasi hurried to fill orders.
It was all about food. Food was one of the things that was popular in any world. Erin reflected on that as she flipped a crepe into the air and onto a plate. She put it aside to cool, and then changed her mind and speared a piece of it with a fork and popped it into her mouth, ignoring the heat. Breakfast for Erin was usually in the middle of her cooking process.
“Five more crepes, Miss Erin!”
Safry poked her head into the kitchen, looking distressed. Erin could hear the voices in the common room, lots of them.
She poured and flipped, barely paying attention to what she was doing. Crepes. Now, weren’t crepes interesting?
The people of this world knew about pancakes, but crepes were new to them. But why did they pull in huge crowds even a week after Erin had introduced them to Celum? The answer was simple: they were new.
Yes, crepes had all the ingredients of a pancake except for baking powder. But it was what you did with the crepes—folding them and pouring syrup over them, or filling them with whipped cream or other savory and sweet things that made them so special. In that way, an old thing seemed practically brand new, and people flocked to the Frenzied Hare to try this wonderful food Erin made.
By now, Erin knew other inns and restaurants across the city were copying her recipe. It was human nature—and Drake and Gnoll nature as well. In time, she knew crepes would lose their hold over the stomachs of people and they’d just become one more item in a menu. But right now they were hot.
“Literally. Safry! Crepes are done!”
Because they were new. Erin let Safry take the plates as she placed some bacon on a plate next to eggs. People liked new things. Like her hamburgers. When they first came to Liscor, it was like they were the greatest food in the world. Because no one had tried them before. As soon as everyone started copying her recipe, hamburgers became, well, hamburgers. Some people loved them and they were tasty, but no one was lining up for them.
But new food was fun. That was the point. New things were fun. Erin remembered the impromptu concert she’d held outside her inn and smiled. Music from her world was so new and amazing to the citizens of Liscor she’d pulled in the gold coins with a rake.
Because it was new. Because it wasn’t stale and mundane and boring. That was the key. Erin still remembered her despondency from yesterday—in truth, it was still bugging her a bit, although the Jasi and Grev situation had distracted her. Music and food were two things people in this world could appreciate, same as in Erin’s. But—
It wasn’t enough. It still wasn’t enough. Erin could see someone like Agnes listening to the latest hot song of the year being played on the lute—or delighting over some new recipe and selling it at her inn. But was that all she’d ever do? Just stuff her face and listen to a new tune now and then?
No. That was so boring it hurt. There had to be more to life! People weren’t machines—Erin refused to believe that leveling up like machines every day and working without any fun was how this world should be.
That was why when she walked back out of the kitchen and saw that the inn had mostly cleared, Erin was determined to find Jasi a job that wouldn’t crush the Drake’s soul. She’d already accepted that Jasi wouldn’t be a [Barmaid]—at least not at Agnes’ inn. If the woman didn’t want her here, then that was that.
But Erin could always bring Jasi to Liscor. It wasn’t the best option, but Erin kept it as a reserve idea. She walked over to the exhausted Agnes, who’d taken a seat at the table to rest her legs, and smiled brightly.
“Alright! Breakfast’s done. Let’s find Jasi a cool class.”
Agnes only smiled weakly at Erin.
“Oh. Very good, dear.”
How did one find a class? It was such an odd question to Erin—was it like getting a job in her world, or did someone just decide to become a [Thief] and start stealing things?
As it turned out, people in this world decided on classes in a very sensible manner. Once Miss Agnes had recovered, Erin found herself sitting at the table with her and Jasi as the older woman quizzed the Drake on her likes and dislikes.
“Do you sew? I should say—have you tried needlework? What about cooking? I hear your kind has a variety of…interesting treats.”
Likes, dislikes, and most importantly natural talent or aptitude went into choosing a class. Which made sense. No one wanted to be stuck with a class they were bad at, or one they hated. Jasi had taken the [Washer] class out of desperation, so Agnes and Erin’s job was to find something she’d like and be good at, and hopefully, earn enough to support herself and Grev with.
The problem was, Jasi didn’t seem to have any outstanding talents.
“I poke my scales more often than the cloth with needles. I would have sewn if I could—mending clothes earns a bit more coin than washing. But I couldn’t do it. The same goes for cooking—I can make a few things, but kneading dough is hard with claws.”
“Ooh. Yeah. That wouldn’t be so easy.”
Miss Agnes frowned slightly in vexation at Jasi, and partly at Erin. She was clearly irritable from having to play [Barmaid] so early.
“Have you ever thought about a combat class, dear? I know that’s a long shot, but…”
“I hate fighting.”
Jasi shook her head immediately, shuddering at the thought. Agnes nodded.
“Well, those classes are out, then.”
The older woman sighed. Jasi looked anxiously at her and Erin.
“I really don’t mind trying to learn to sew or cook. Or—I thought I could even learn a class like [Butcher] or [Receptionist]. I’m not picky. I’d try anything if I had the chance.”
“That’s the spirit!”
Agnes immediately brightened up at Jasi’s words.
“We could try you out in all of those professions. I have friends in various classes—it wouldn’t be too hard to talk them into giving you an apprenticeship. Why, in a day or two you’d probably find something you really shine at.”
Jasi nodded obediently, looking grateful for the opportunity, but Erin frowned.
“Willing doesn’t mean she likes it, Miss Agnes. Jasi should find a job—a class that suits her.”
“Yes, well, we don’t all know what we’ll be good at.”
Agnes smiled blandly at Erin. There was definitely a current of tension running between the two [Innkeepers] now, or so Erin felt. No—she wasn’t imagining it. She was annoyed at Agnes, and the same held true of the other woman. They were clashing over the issue of Jasi, and it was making Erin uncharacteristically upset.
“I think a few days of feeling things out would do young Jasi some good, Erin.”
“It helped me. I didn’t know I’d be an [Innkeeper] when I was young. But when I met Jerom, well, things have a way of working themselves out. We don’t all get to choose what class we level in, now do we? You told me you earned your [Innkeeper] class by accident as well. Maybe Jasi will find her class as she tries things out.”
Erin narrowed her eyes. Being an [Innkeeper] certainly hadn’t been her choice, but she’d been forced into it out of the need to survive, and because she’d liked it.
“I don’t know. I think we should consider more classes. There are tons more than just…those ones you mentioned.”
Miss Agnes lost her smile. She sounded exasperated as she spread her hands out on the table.
“The girl—the Drake—doesn’t have any particular skills, Erin. Why not let her work a few odd jobs? She seemed to be doing well for herself as a [Washer] before you came along.”
Jasi shrunk back in her seat, but Erin didn’t bat an eye at the criticism.
“If you mean she was alive, yeah, she was. But I had to buy a healing potion for her hands. That’s not doing okay, Miss Agnes.”
The woman wavered. She glanced around the mostly empty room and realized their argument had attracted a few casual eyes. Safry immediately turned and started bussing a few more tables. Miss Agnes eyed the new customers and changed the subject.
“We’ve got more customers, I see.”
“So we do.”
Erin folded her arms. Miss Agnes waffled on, glancing meaningfully at Erin.
“Late morning breakfasters, I’ll warrant. There’s always one or two…a good [Innkeeper] prepares for them, but I suppose it was quite a crowd that came in this morning. But here we are, and I know they’re hungry. It would be a shame to turn them away, don’t you think?”
A scowl was the only reply she got. Erin sat in her chair, unwilling to move. She glanced at the customers, and then smiled.
“Why don’t you cook for them?”
“But I—well, I don’t have any Skills in cooking like you do, Erin dear.”
“But this is your inn. And I’m tired. So—you cook. Or you could turn them away. But I think I’m going to help Jasi some more.”
So saying, Erin turned her back on Agnes and looked at Jasi. After a few seconds she heard Agnes walk briskly away.
“Safry! Ask our customers what they’d like to eat.”
Erin smiled at Jasi, who looked somewhat pale.
“I don’t want to be a bother, Miss Erin, I really don’t. I’d be more than happy to apprentice at any job for a while. If I got a few levels—why, I’d probably be able to make do from there.”
The young woman sitting across from her smiled and shook her head slowly.
“That’s true. But I want to find something that you like to do, not something that you have to do. Agnes is wrong. You should try and find something you want to do.”
“Thank you, Miss Erin.”
For the first time this morning, Erin gave her a genuine smile.
“Call me Erin. Just Erin. Now, have you ever tried running around? I have a friend who does that all the time, and she says the pay is good…”
An hour later, Erin had to admit that perhaps Jasi didn’t have any particular class that seemed to suit her. At least, not one that could be easily discerned. She and Jasi had gone through a huge list of classes, hindered by Miss Agnes’ occasional comment, but Jasi either hadn’t tried the class before or didn’t feel inclined to try it.
Some jobs the Drake could tell weren’t for her. [Farmer], [Soldier], [Thief]…those were easy. Others might have been likely, but they were impossible to tell, like [Guardswoman]. How would you even tell? Jasi had never lifted a sword before. And she hadn’t had a chance to try out any of the other professions in the city.
She’d been poor all her life. And that, Erin was quickly discovering, was a limiting factor.
Despondently, Erin slumped over at her table, staring at Jasi’s helpless expression. The inn was mostly empty. Agnes’ cooking had a way of driving away even fairly hungry patrons, and besides, it was that time of day when inns didn’t really matter, in between breakfast and lunch. If people wanted a snack they’d find a stall outside. And few people were drinking this early in the day.
Erin could use a drink. She hadn’t known how hard this would be. Well, she had—but knowing wasn’t the same as experiencing it. She felt like she was hitting her head against an invisible brick wall, but she had no idea how to stop running into it.
“I dunno. I guess we could do the internship-apprentice thing, but that’s so slow. Are you sure you don’t want to try being an [Alchemist]? I could go bother Octavia right now if you want.”
“That’s one thing I am sure about, Miss. [Alchemists] are far too strange for me. I don’t want to melt my tail off or—or grow mushrooms out of my eyes.”
Jasi shuddered at the thought. Erin sighed and then cast her eyes around the inn.
“What do you think, Wesle? Would Jasi be a good [Guardswoman]?”
Wesle looked up guiltily as he tucked into a crepe Erin had made. He straightened up in his chair, glancing at the door.
“I ah, don’t know, Erin. Guarding isn’t as hard here as it is in a Drake city, it’s true, but we do require all our recruits to be able to use a sword. Plus, there’s always a bit of fighting when we have to quiet drunks. If Miss Jasi was assigned to gatekeeping duty I could see her doing well—but even then, she’d have to help fight whenever a monster attacked.”
Erin nodded gloomily.
“Thought so. How’s the crepe?”
“Oh, wonderful, Miss Erin.”
Wesle blushed a bit.
“I’m very grateful. But ah, I am on duty. I’d better just eat this quickly and go.”
“Mm. Thanks for bringing Grev here.”
Erin turned her head and regarded the nervous young boy sitting at a table with a crepe of his own. Wesle had brought Grev into the Frenzied Hare about an hour after breakfast had ended. Now the [Guardsman] looked over at Grev sternly, giving him a hard look.
“I hardly believed him when he said he lived here, Miss Erin. But he kept insisting that you’d given him and his…sister a place here.”
“Well, he was telling the truth. Which is sorta rare for him, I guess.”
Grev hunched over in his seat. He’d been caught by Wesle for lingering a bit too near a shopkeeper’s outdoor stall. Now he sat with the disapproving eyes of Jasi, Erin, and Wesle on him, clearly wishing he could be anywhere else.
“I’m so sorry about that, sir.”
Jasi was as apologetic as she’d been with Erin, and clearly unable to do anything to stop Grev. She was a big sister, not a mother, and she was even more nervous now that Grev had clearly not learned his lesson from yesterday.
Wesle nodded to her, trying to look dignified and failing to with bits of crepe on his weak mustache.
“I’ll overlook this today, but you should know your brother is on the thinnest of ice, Miss Jasi. If he keeps sneaking off again—”
Safry was passing by Erin with a used plate and utensils. Erin snatched the plate out of her hands and hurled one of the utensils in one motion. The spoon passed by Grev’s nose and bounced off one wall. He shouted in surprise and alarm, freezing as he tried to edge towards the door.
Erin’s glare magically sent Grev’s bottom back in the chair. He trembled as she waved the fork at him.
“You’ve caused enough trouble for your sister. Try and run off and I’ll throw the plate at you next time. And if that doesn’t work, I’ll take this fork and shove it—”
Erin paused. She glanced at Safry and Miss Agnes, both of whom were watching her with gaping mouths.
Wesle coughed delicately.
“Was that [Unerring Throw], Miss Erin? It’s rare to see an [Innkeeper] with a combat Skill like that.”
Erin just shrugged. She had a lot of odd Skills, or so she’d gathered. Probably because she’d actually had to fight for her life. They weren’t that useful in day-to-day life, but they were certainly handy when she wanted to terrorize young boys.
“Where were we? Oh yeah. Jasi’s class. Um…”
Erin sighed. Then she looked at Grev. He stared at her, white-faced.
“What about him? Can’t Grev get a class instead of running around and stealing things?”
Agnes snorted. She’d kept out of the discussion, but she eyed Grev skeptically now.
“The boy’s at the right age to be apprenticed to someone. But with his past misdeeds—I doubt anyone would want to take a risk on him. I’d advise Miss Jasi to say her goodbyes while she can—if the young thief hasn’t changed his ways after so many warnings, he won’t now.”
Jasi’s scales turned pale and Grev looked palely down at his empty plate. Erin glared at Miss Agnes.
“Don’t you have anything you can do, Miss Agnes?”
“Not at the moment, Miss Erin. I have no customers, as you may have noticed.”
“Then why don’t you leave your inn to me for a while?”
The woman paused.
“I said, why don’t you leave? I’m perfectly capable of managing it, and I think you could use a break.”
“But I—this is my inn.”
Erin raised an eyebrow. She was royally annoyed with Miss Agnes’ attitude. How could she be so uncaring? So Erin took a page out of Ryoka’s book of meanness.
“It’s your inn, but I’m a better [Innkeeper]. You can take a break and leave things to me. You and Safry, for that matter.”
Both women gaped at Erin. But the young woman just flapped her hands at them.
Miss Agnes was staring hard at Erin, but she was the lower-level [Innkeeper], and Erin had stared down far more frightening things than a middle-aged woman with empathy issues. In the end, Miss Agnes haughtily adjusted her dress, not meeting Erin’s stare.
“I—suppose I could use some time to relax. Very well. Safry, you have the day off.”
“Yes, Miss Agnes.”
“I believe I’ll…go shopping. I’m sure Jerom would love a new decoration. Yes, I’ll do that. Thank you, Miss Erin.”
She walked out of the inn. Safry hesitated, and then followed her as Erin stared at her.
Erin stuck out her tongue after Miss Agnes and Safry had left. She felt bad but not-bad at the same time. It was the first time she’d ever been so mean to them, but—they’d been real jerks!
She turned and saw Wesle staring at her with a piece of crepe dangling from a fork. Jasi and Grev were also giving her fish-eyes.
“What? They were being rude.”
Jasi gulped. She looked at the door Miss Agnes hadn’t even bothered to fully close and shook her head, her scales pale around her face. She looked at Erin, mystified and gratified and upset.
“You’re being so kind to us, Mis—Erin. Too kind. I don’t know why you’re going so far for people like Grev and me.”
“It’s because I can.”
The smile Erin gave her was just that. A smile. But it made the Drake cry, and prompted Wesle to offer her a handkerchief. Grev sat in his chair, looking upset and confused, but soon enough Erin had another crepe in front of everyone, and a slightly alcoholic drink for the adults and milk for Grev. She sat down and took a deep breath.
“Okay, let’s try again. Properly this time. Jasi needs a new job. Not necessarily a class. Grev needs to stop stealing, and Wesle probably needs to get back to work, but he’s helping us. How can we make things right?”
The best idea they’d had was for Erin to sponsor Jasi as an apprentice at a bunch of different jobs. Erin put her head in her hands and groaned.
“I wish Ryoka were here.”
“She’d know what to do. She’s got lots of ideas.”
Wesle looked confused. He was sitting at the table with Erin and Jasi while Grev practiced the art of trying not to puke. Erin’s solution to his restlessness had been to feed him to the point of bursting. Now he was sitting at his table, unable to even finish his last bite of hash browns drizzled with cheese.
Jasi was staring at the half-empty mug in her hands. She’d been growing more and more quietly depressed throughout the discussion. Now she looked up, confused.
“A City Runner. She’s my friend.”
“And how could she help? I’ve seen Miss Ryoka come into the city quite often, but I don’t see how she’d help here. She seemed rather—quiet every time I tried to talk to her.”
Erin shook her head at Wesle.
“I know she’s a jerk sometimes. But she’s smart. And she studied a lot of weird stuff in school. Did you know she told me that we could probably build a greenhouse right next to my inn? She said we don’t even need any glass to make it, which is really weird, right? I was going to ask Klbkch about it, but then I ended up here.”
Almost none of what Erin had said made sense to either Wesle or Jasi. They just blinked at her, confused. She sighed.
“Never mind. Are there any classes we haven’t considered?”
Jasi looked gloomy.
“I really do appreciate you helping, I do. But I don’t think I have any special talents. I’d be happy with a steady job, I really would.”
“Yeah, but that’s so…”
The [Innkeeper]’s voice trailed off helplessly in the face of Jasi’s resignation. They’d tossed out every class they could think of, but none had seemed right for Jasi. But there were plenty of ‘possible’ options and ‘okay’ options. But nothing felt right.
In truth, it was Erin who was truly dissatisfied with Jasi and Grev’s opportunities. [Seamstress]? [Barber]? [Cook]? [Blacksmith]? All these jobs sounded…boring. Erin knew they were all important jobs that someone had to do, but if she had a choice, those would be far from her first ones.
At least [Runner] sounded marginally interesting. But—hadn’t Ryoka told Erin how much it sucked to be a Street Runner? And Erin was sure the other girl had complained at length about running countless miles to deliver some useless item for only a few silver coins. Unless you were a Courier, being a Runner sounded sort of boring too.
There it was again. Boring. Erin kept thinking the word. She sighed loudly again.
“I just don’t—I know we could find you a decent job, Jasi. But that’s not what you should want, y’know?”
Jasi exchanged a glance with Wesle.
“I don’t know, Miss Erin. What do you mean?”
Erin didn’t really know herself. She tried to explain as she slumped lower in her seat.
“It’s just…we’re talking about your future here. And you’re happy to get an okay job, I get that. But—don’t you want to be rich or famous? Don’t you have anything you want to do, anything special?”
She looked hopefully at Jasi, but just got a confused shake of the head in return.
“All I’ve ever wanted was to keep myself fed and clothed, Miss Erin. That’s all.”
The Drake had no idea how depressed that made Erin. How could she not want to do something special? But Jasi had been poor. Her dreams were real and urgent.
“You never wanted to be famous? Or live an exciting life?”
When she’d been younger, Erin had dreamed of being a astronaut. Then, when she’d been slightly older she’d wanted to be a legendary chess player, someone who could beat even a computer in chess. And then…she’d wanted to be a chess commentator, someone with a huge following or even a YouTube channel. Her dreams weren’t huge, true—most people didn’t even know chess commentary was an actual job. But they were big to Erin.
Jasi didn’t even have her own hopes and dreams. Erin looked at Grev.
“Don’t you want to be someone special?”
The young boy looked confused and slightly scared as Erin pointed at him. She nodded.
“Yeah, you. If you could have any class—do anything—what would you do?”
“I’d—I’d be a famous adventurer! A Gold-rank—no, a Named Adventurer! And I’d have a flaming sword and slay Dragons.”
Grev’s face immediately lit up, but Jasi only shook her head, looking upset.
“Please, Miss Erin. Don’t encourage Grev.”
Erin glared at Jasi, making the Drake shrink back.
“Dreams are good! Important! If you could do anything, what would you do, Jasi?”
The Drake hesitated, and bit at her lip. Reluctantly, she replied.
“I suppose if I could I’d like to learn a craft and start a small business for myself—but even that’s a far-off dream, Miss Erin.”
She didn’t quite deserve the dead gaze Erin gave her. Jasi just shrugged helplessly.
“It’s all I can think of. If I could have anything—I guess I’d wish to be rich? Rich enough that I never have to work?”
“Really? That’s boring too!”
Erin threw her hands up helplessly. Why were Jasi’s ambitions so small? Why was she so upset? But it was just—
Boring. The same word again.
The man jumped.
“What’s your dream?”
He hesitated and turned slightly red. But the look in Erin’s eyes didn’t give him any wiggle room. Clearing his throat several times, Wesle blushingly replied.
“I wanted to be an adventurer too. But—”
His hand fell back on his sword hilt helplessly. Wesle squeezed his eyes for a second.
“—But I’m afraid I can’t be one. I’m not a born fighter like they are, Miss Erin. I can handle myself, but I’m not brave enough to go searching for evil to fight.”
Wesle closed his eyes. He stared past Erin, at something in the distance. His voice softened, and his hand clenched around the mug on this table.
“If I could, I should have liked to have been a [Knight]. I would have loved to fight monsters and defend people by slaying creatures. And—yes, wielding a flaming sword. Or one that can cut through steel, at least.”
His eyes refocused, and he coughed, turning beet-red. He looked afraid, as if he was sure the others in the room would laugh at him. But no one did.
Instead, his words made Jasi take a breath. She stared out the window, hesitating, and then spoke.
“If I could? If I had nothing to worry about? Maybe, maybe I’d travel to Liscor. To other cities. I’d like to know what Drakes—my people are like. I’d like to see what lies beyond Celum’s walls.”
She’d never left the city? But there were people like that too. Even back home, Erin remembered people, old people, who’d never even left their home state. They’d never flown on a plane or bothered to drive more than a hundred miles from where they were born and would die. She’d never understood that, but then, Erin had travelled to other continents to play chess in tournaments when she was young.
Some days, it felt like Erin really was in a different world. Only, she was walking among aliens that wore human faces. She met people with small dreams, who were as small as insects. Sometimes. But then Erin looked deep into their souls and saw something familiar. Something she’d seen in a mirror when she was young.
The man and Drake sitting at her table were very different, but they had the same look in their eyes. It wasn’t what Erin saw in Agnes’ pitying gaze, or Safry’s shrug. There was still something in Wesle’s expression, and Jasi’s eyes when she stared at the window. They had a spark there, of something real and alive. But it was fading, and Erin saw it flickering in Jasi’s resigned smile and the way Wesle shook his head when he talked about his past dreams.
They had hopes. They had ambitions. But it was buried so deep that they’d nearly forgotten about them. Erin touched her aching chest. And yet, what could you do? Octavia’s words echoed in her mind. If you weren’t willing to risk everything, what could you do?
Being an adventurer was a calling for the few, the insane and the brave and the desperate. But what else could people do if they didn’t want to work their entire lives? Octavia was right. There was no other way to live. Either you took a risk and died or became famous or—you worked hard and kept your head down.
“It’s not right.”
That was all Erin said. She sat at the table and clenched her hands. This wasn’t right. This was how the world was—how this world was. And she knew it was probably how the world had been, back in her world for thousands of years. But—
It wasn’t right. There was more to life. She knew that. She lived, she had lived in a world where anyone could be anything. That was what she’d been taught as a child. And maybe it wasn’t totally true, but it was that idea which people associated with her home country, with being an American. It was about equality, but it was also about hope.
Hope, and the faith that you could realize your dreams.
Erin looked up. Jasi and Wesle were looking at her. So was Grev.
“You’ve been very quiet. Are you alright?”
“I am. It’s just—your world—your city—sort of sucks, guys.”
To Erin’s surprise, both Jasi and Wesle immediately frowned at her comment.
“I don’t know if that’s true.”
“Yeah. Celum isn’t perfect but—it’s just as good as Liscor.”
“Respectfully, Miss Erin, Celum is quite a good city to live in.”
Erin blinked at the force of their replies. Even Jasi was defending Celum. Why? Wesle’s normally amiable face looked quite upset as he stared challengingly at Erin.
“What makes you feel your home is that much better than Celum?”
“Where I come from—in the place where I used to be, people didn’t have so—so few options.”
Erin tried to explain to the indignant guardsman and Drake.
“We have plenty of options!”
“Indeed. Anyone can make something of themselves in Celum.”
“No—no, you guys don’t get it! Here you can only have boring jobs. Or—or be an adventurer and maybe die. But back home, people could be someone. They could be stars, celebrities!”
The word was completely foreign to the two. Erin nodded energetically, suddenly able to put words to the sense of absence she’d been feeling recently.
“Yeah! Back home—even a girl or guy from a far off village could go to the big city and make their dreams come true. It was hard and risky, but they could take a chance. They could try and fulfill their dreams! If you wanted to, you could go there.”
The word came out of Erin’s childhood.
The word burned in the silence. And suddenly, Erin remembered. She remembered movies and dreams and childhood. Yes, how could she have forgotten? But Wesle and Jasi didn’t get it. They just looked confused.
“What’s that? Some kind of tree?”
How could you explain Hollywood to people who hadn’t even seen a movie? Erin grabbed at words and failed to find anything that would help. Hollywood was—it was movies! It was the silver screen, the place where hopes and stories became reality. Now things were different of course—there was Youtube and the internet. And you heard all kinds of bad things about Hollywood. Sexism, racism, jerkism…
But when Erin had been small, Hollywood had been the place where magic was made in her world. It had been the place where movies came from, a wondrous, far-off land. But how to describe it?
“Broadway! Plays! That’s what it’s like!”
Wesle’s chair scooted back as Erin suddenly shouted. Yes, that was it! She turned excitedly to the scared Drake and human.
“Haven’t you seen a play before? Hollywood is like a play except—better!”
Erin stared hopefully at the other two. They had to have seen a play before. That was—even in this world, they’d be common, right? Right? But her jaw dropped as the two shook their head slowly.
“I’m afraid I’ve never seen one, Miss Solstice.”
“Neither have I.”
The bug-eyed stare Erin was giving them made Jasi and Wesle feel uncomfortable. The guardsman cleared his throat nervously.
“If you mean a tumbling routine—I always catch those every time a festival happens. And of course I like to listen to stories in taverns if there’s a [Storyteller] travelling by.”
“I like to read books. We had one when I was young. It was worn, but—”
Erin put her hands underneath the table and flipped it. It was the only thing that she could do, the only thing that could give vent to her emotions. The mugs, the drinks, plates and silverware all went flying. Jasi screamed and Wesle cried out in shock. As pottery crashed and broke on the floor, there was silence.
And standing, trembling, pointing at them, Erin. She stood on her chair, practically vibrating with passion.
“No! That isn’t a play! Plays are more than stupid tumbling, more than just a book! They’re full of—of romance! Drama! Love! Action! Intrigue and betrayal and hope and—”
Erin waved her hands around wildly while Jasi, Wesle, and Grev all stared at her. Grev was already edging towards the stairs.
“You’re telling me none of you have ever seen a play before?”
Jasi squeaked as Erin rounded on her.
“No—no I haven’t!”
“Never? Why not?”
“There aren’t many people with that sort of class, Miss Erin! I mean, who would take a class like that on a whim? There are [Bards], Miss Erin. And—oh, maybe in large cities there are performances like that, but it’s not a job anyone can just learn.”
“What’s a play?”
Erin looked incredulously at Grev. But the boy had piped up, staring at Erin with curious eyes.
“You don’t know? It’s—it’s people telling a story. They pretend to be characters and they act out something funny or tragic. It’s like a book, but in real life!”
“Huh. Watch people pretend to be people in a story?”
Grev’s little nose wrinkled in disgust.
“Who’d want to see that?”
He flinched when Erin stared at him with wrath in her eyes. Wesle carefully raised a hand.
“I saw a performance like that once.”
He nodded, eyeing the broken plates and spilled drink on the ground.
“It was a wandering group of performers. They were telling everyone how a group of Gold-rank adventurers slew an entire nest of Griffons that had been preying on a town. It was a reenactment, and they had a fake Griffin creature they burned—”
“That’s not it either!”
Erin jumped off the chair and kicked it. She hopped around shouting in agony as Grev hid under the table. Jasi was petrified and Wesle had a hand on his sword as if he feared he’d had to defend himself.
“That’s not it at all!”
When Erin had calmed down a bit, she tried again. She couldn’t believe they didn’t know. She had to tell them. The knowledge was burning a hole in her chest, trying to get out.
“Plays are—more than just reenactments, Wesle. They’re a story, a moment. If they’re boring they’re good—they should make you laugh and cry and believe what you’re seeing is real. Some of the most famous characters in history came from plays!”
Erin didn’t have to think.
“Romeo and Juliet.”
“Who? I mean, what did they do?”
Jasi stared at Erin. Erin stared back. And then the girl leapt onto a table.
“O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo? Who doesn’t know of the star-crossed lovers? Romeo of House Montague and Juliet of House Capulet! They, the two forbidden scions of each house dare the wrath of their families to find romance. Even if it means death, they would be together. At any cost.”
Jasi’s sharp teeth glinted as she gaped up at Erin. Wesle’s lips were parted in surprise. Erin bowed to them, flourishing on the table as if she were on stage.
“Two households, both alike in dignity,
In fair Verona, where we lay our scene,
From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,
Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.”
She stared down at the staring faces, full of anger and emotion.
“That is the story of Romeo and Juliet.”
Only slack faces greeted Erin. She blinked, realized what had happened.
“Whoa. Did I do that?”
How did she do that? As Erin helped right the table and clean up the mess—the others were too shaken to do more than sit—she wondered what had happened.
She was no actor. Erin wasn’t even that good at acting. But in that moment, she’d perfectly recalled the opening lines of Romeo and Juliet, word for word! How? She didn’t have a perfect memory—she’d never even read the play! She’d just seen it performed once!
But wait a minute. Erin frowned as she mopped up the spilled drink and got rid of the broken pottery in a few seconds of brisk cleaning. She had Skills, didn’t she? Not just [Advanced Cleaning].
She was a Level 6 [Singer]. And she had that skill—[Perfect Recall]. It didn’t actually let Erin remember everything, it only worked for songs. Songs…and plays as it turned out. Yes, now that Erin concentrated, she found it was true! She could remember plays, entire passages out of books—anything that Erin considered artistic, really.
“I’ve never heard anything like it.”
That was what Wesle kept repeating when Erin was done with cleaning up her accident. He sat at a table, staring at Erin.
“What strange way of speaking was that? It sounded grand and yet—it rhymed. I’ve never heard anything like it.”
Erin sat at another table, trying to explain. Now she had all the attention on the room on her—not just attention, but fierce interest. It was like the crepes, like the new music all over again. Erin felt it. Here was something new, and it captivated the people of this world.
“That’s a play. Some of them rhyme. It’s called iambic pentameter.”
“And what’s that? Iambic…? Is it a Skill?”
“No, it’s a way of speaking. Anyone can do it. It’s—well, it’s just a style. But it sounds good, doesn’t it?”
Both Jasi and Wesle nodded in agreement. Erin smiled.
“That’s a play. Actually, that’s not even it. What I just said, I’d say to the crowd before the actual play started. To understand a real play—you’d have to see it done with multiple actors on stage.”
“I wish I could see that. It sounds—interesting.”
Erin wished she could see that too. To see a movie, or a play—even one of the classics from her world like The Wizard of Oz would be…
Impossible. She sighed. But then Erin sat up. She stared at the female Drake sitting in front of her, eyes alight with interest, and the human male sitting next to her, fuzzy lipped and full of life.
And Erin had an obvious idea. She smiled widely, and looked at the two while Grev peeked at her from the kitchen.
“Well, why not? Would you two like to put on a play by yourselves?”
The two exchanged a glance. But Erin knew that they would say ‘yes’ before they even nodded.
It was a play. A new thing for this world, or maybe an ordinary thing made new. It was supposed to be grand and special. But—as Erin sat at her table, she realized that recreating a play wasn’t exactly the same as making crepes or playing a song on an iPhone.
What did she have? She had a perfect recall of the play Romeo and Juliet. That was a plus. And she had three willing people who wanted to experience a play. Another big plus. And they even had a place to practice. All of this should theoretically translate into a play.
But they’d hit upon a problem. And it was a rather big one. Wesle sighed as he pointed his sword at Grev from the center of the room. Grev held the scabbard in his hands, pretending it was a sword of his own. Both looked awkward, and were visibly hesitating.
“Don’t hesitate! Just say your lines!”
Erin called out to them from her director’s seat. She’d pushed back all the tables to the walls to give them room to perform in, and she was sitting with Jasi at a table. But the two actors still looked uncomfortable.
“I don’t know if I understand how it should go.”
“I explained it to you. Just give it a shot!”
Erin called out encouragingly to Wesle as he hesitated. He frowned, nodding and mouthing his lines silently. Grev held his scabbard up, doing the same thing.
They were reenacting a fight scene between Romeo and Paris, because Grev had wanted to try acting as well. Of course, Paris wasn’t supposed to be a little boy, but it was as close as Erin could do. And it was a dramatic scene! They were fighting right before Paris was slain and Romeo killed himself. It should have been a powerful moment that needed no direction.
But Erin had begun to realize the error in using Romeo and Juliet as her introduction to plays. It hadn’t seemed like a mistake before, but it was becoming more and more obvious to her as time wore on.
At first glance, Shakespeare made sense. He was a famous guy—his works were classic! And yet—Erin had to admit, the language the famous Bard of Avalon used was…difficult at best.
“Go for it, Grev!”
The boy spoke awkwardly, trying to force the lines of iambic pentameter into natural cadence.
“Condemned villain, I do apprehend thee:
Obey, and go with me; for thou must die.”
He pointed his scabbard at Wesle. The man took a step back and took a deep breath. Wesle cleared his throat and began reciting Romeo’s lines.
“I must indeed, and therefore came I hither.
Good gentle youth, tempt not a desperate man.
Fly hence and leave me. Think upon these gone.
Let them affright thee. I beseech thee, youth—I say, isn’t this rather long?”
Erin groaned and beside her, Jasi covered her face.
“Even if it’s long, say the lines! You’re supposed to!”
“I’m afraid I can’t remember them all!”
Grev sighed and lowered his tired arm as Wesle walked over to consult with Erin. She sighed too. This wasn’t working.
Romeo and Juliet. A timeless play, or so the critics said. Except that time was dragging on here and everyone was clearly growing more and more tired of the play as they fumbled on.
Erin blamed Shakespeare, or more accurately, his dialogue. It was impressive, yes. A woven script filled with a craftsman’s trickery with words. Even more impressive, it was in iambic pentameter, making each meter and verse doubly significant.
And that was the problem. It was dense. Now that Erin was recalling the full script, she realized how complex it was! Soliloquies, monologues, clever asides and tricks of dialogue…not to mention all the side characters!
For an audience who liked wit and humor, for an audience of Shakespeare’s time, it was great stuff, Erin had no doubt. But it wasn’t a story that captivated her heart—or her reluctant actor’s.
“Try again. You’re supposed to be enraged, in the middle of passion!”
“I can barely remember what to say.”
Wesle groaned. He tried again.
“Good gentle youth, tempt not a desperate man!”
Erin shook her head.
“No, no. It’s too awkward. You sound like you’re just reciting the words, not acting.”
Wesle threw up his hands, out of words. He stalked over to Grev and snatched his scabbard back. Erin ruffled her hair.
“Argh. Maybe—let’s try a Romeo and Juliet scene. I went over the play with you guys—you know how important their meeting on the balcony is. Let’s do that.”
Jasi nodded and stood up. Reluctantly, Wesle walked over to the other side of the room, and bowed his head.
He wasn’t liking this. That made Erin concerned. She went over to him.
“Hey. Are you not enjoying it?”
“I—don’t know, Miss Solstice. I don’t.”
Wesle just shrugged, looking both annoyed and disheartened.
“When you spoke the lines of the play I got chills, I truly did. But trying to make it into an actual play, to act it out—it’s a different thing entirely.”
Erin nodded. Her audience had listened to her go quickly through the entire play of Romeo and Juliet, drinking in the story like sponges. They’d even memorized entire lines of the play by rote—something Erin had thought was impossible! Apparently when you didn’t have a computer or iPhone handy, your ability to remember things you’d heard was a lot better.
They’d liked the play. But they didn’t like acting. Or rather, Wesle didn’t. Grev liked the mock swordfight and he’d hit Wesle several times with the scabbard, and Jasi had liked playing Juliet. But it was just play-acting, not the real thing.
Erin thought Wesle was trying for the real thing, but he couldn’t figure it out. She’d tried to show him, but acting wasn’t something he’d ever witnessed. All she could give him was her advice, and she had very little of that.
“Just do your best.”
Wesle clenched his fists as Jasi murmured her lines and practiced looking elegant. She really did seem to love the idea of the role.
“What’s wrong? Is it that you can’t figure out how to move?”
“No, it’s—I know it sounds silly, Erin, but I’m just not Romeo. I can’t be this grand hero in love. I’m just—Wesle. Just a [Guardsman], not a young [Lord].”
Wesle’s shoulders slumped. Erin looked at him, and understood a bit. She touched his shoulder and pulled him around.
“I know you’re not Romeo. But no one’s Romeo when they play him, Wesle. They become him.”
He looked at her, frustrated, helpless.
Erin hesitated. She looked at Jasi, who was watching her anxiously, and at Grev. How could she explain acting to people who lived such small lives? Who didn’t have dreams? Who were beaten down by this stupid world and system they lived under?
Well…how else? Erin suddenly knew what to say. She looked back as Wesle, looked him right in the eyes.
“Haven’t you ever—ever wanted to be someone else? To be someone you’re not?”
Wesle hesitated, opened his mouth. Closed it. Grimaced.
“Then that’s what you do. You don’t want to be someone else. For a little while, but a few moments—you become them. This is you, on stage, living out your dream.”
She pointed at Jasi, pointed at the stage, the empty bit of ground they’d cleared.
“This is your one chance. Forget about me, forget about the people watching you—you’re Romeo right now, a young nobleman who only has eyes for Juliet. You’re not Wesle. Wesle has a fuzzy mustache and he’s just a [Guardsman]. You’re Romeo. And you’re in love.”
Wesle stared at Erin, and she wondered if she’d failed. But then without a word he walked towards Jasi. The Drake was ready, and she called out even as Wesle strode towards her, back straight.
“What man art thou that thus bescreen’d in night so stumblest on my counsel?”
Wesle walked towards Jasi, and then knelt before her. Erin had thought that was appropriate for Romeo. He looked only a bit awkward as he stared up at Jasi imploringly. Still fake. But he was trying.
“By a name I know not how to tell thee who I am—”
Wesle stumbled over his words and bit his tongue. Erin winced. The language was just too hard! She was about to jump in, to tell him it was alright, when she saw something change.
The [Guardsman] kneeling in front of Jasi as the Drake tried to pretend she had a dress suddenly paused. He stopped, hesitated as he thought of his next lines, and then tossed away the script he had memorized. He rose, and took Jasi’s hand in his own. Startled, the Drake looked at him, but Wesle’s face was serious, his eyes intent on hers.
“My name, my very nature, dear [Lady], I hate myself—because it is an enemy to you. Had I my name and race written down, I would tear up like parchment.”
That wasn’t what Romeo was supposed to say! And yet—it was exactly what he was supposed to say! Erin held her breath delighted, as Jasi paused. She was thinking too, and suddenly there was a glint in her eyes. She pulled her hand free, staring haughtily at Wesle.
“You’ve not spoken a hundred words, but I already know that you are no Drake. Art thou not Romeo, a Human?”
He looked ashamed, and retreated a step before he bowed his head.
“I would be neither of those things, fair [Lady], if you dislike them. For you—I would be anything.”
Suddenly, he advanced on her, trying to put an arm around her waist. Jasi pulled back, but then stepped forwards. She grabbed Wesle’s shirt, and he yelped a bit in surprise.
Romeo and Juliet stood together, youthful, full of passion. Juliet, tail thrashing the ground, pulled Romeo closer to her, her eyes alight with passion.
“Tempt not a desperate Drake, Human.”
Erin covered her mouth, whispering the words to herself in shocked glee.
“That’s not in the script!”
But this was more than the script. Erin watched Wesle pull back, full of—of condescending hauteur, but also deep interest. They exchanged more lines, and then Romeo knelt, catching at Juliet’s hand again.
“I fear your hand is too noble for mine to ever touch. But I have two blushing balms to offer you, my lips—to smooth your rough scales with a tender kiss.”
Juliet laughed, pulling back and mocking him with her own words.
“I feel you do your hands too much discredit, sir. For after all, balms touch even [Queens] and [Ladies] – and if two hands should touch, well that too is like a kiss.”
Filled with consternation, Romeo stood up again, gesturing helplessly at Juliet’s face.
“Do not [Queens] and [Ladies] have lips to kiss with?”
“Of course they do. But balm is not meant for lips.”
She laughed at him, but Romeo was too caught up. He approached, and caught hold of her shoulders, speaking urgently.
“Then let us have lips do what hands do! Please, grant me this—answer my request, or let my hope become despair.”
Even as close as they were, Juliet found the wherewithal to turn her head away and up. Her tail twined about a chair leg, gripping it tightly.
“I’m afraid [Ladies] have no hopes to give. Only laws to make.”
“Then do not move as I act out my hope—”
The audience’s jaws dropped as Romeo kissed Juliet once in passion. He whispered the words as she stared at him in shock and something more.
“Now then, the crime of my assaulting a [Lady] rests on your lips, not mine.”
She smiled, tremulously, still holding on to a [Lady]’s dignity even in this moment.
“Oh? My lips bear your crimes now, do they?”
Romeo’s voice was rough.
“Your lips would turn an honest man to crime with their sweetness. Give me my crime back.”
They kissed again. Only this time, Juliet met Romeo halfway. It was a passionate kiss—and frankly, one that Erin thought Grev should not be watching.
On stage, Erin watched as Wesle and Jasi locked lips, and then continued the scene, slightly breathless but still in character. She had no idea if this was an act or if they’d be jumping each other soon.
No—this was part of the act. They were lost in the characters. And even as Erin watched, Romeo and Juliet came to life before her eyes, not Capulet and Montague, but Human and Drake, caught in forbidden interspecies love.
Erin held her breath as the two continued to act. Her eyes were locked on the performance, trying to capture every second of it before it slipped away. This wasn’t an [Immortal Moment]. Time didn’t stop here; because this wasn’t her scene. She was only part of the audience, a witness to the drama.
How could people act like this so naturally? Maybe it was because they had nothing to cling to. There was no ego in the way they held each other, only two lost lovers daring fate to be together.
The two who stood on the small stage in the inn were playing out roles bigger than themselves. For a little while, they were not Wesle the low-level [Guardsman] and Jasi the impoverished Drake working as a [Washer]. They were Romeo and Juliet, and their story was legend.
So Erin sat and watched the play continue. Grev jumped in, all faulty lines and overenthusiastic acting, and she had to fill in multiple roles herself. It was far from a good play, but for those living each scene, it was special in itself. It was new. It was unique. It was…
A bit of culture. A timeless story, travelling from one world to the other. It wasn’t perfect—it wasn’t accurate to the script and it certainly wasn’t in iambic pentameter. But the spirit was there. It was in every line of dialogue, delivered with clumsy passion and all of each actor’s heart.
It was the stage. And it had come to Celum.
Several hours later, Erin realized the play had to be performed. Even after Wesle and Jasi had collapsed tiredly into the chairs—that was just the start.
They needed actors, a set, and audience! When Erin suggested a live performance both man and Drake froze, but they said yes. She had a feeling they would have said yes even if it meant playing all the parts themselves.
But they wouldn’t be alone. Erin was sure of that. Grev had applauded the play—Grev, the boy who could barely sit in one place for long. And the story was compelling; it was a story for this world, especially given the real and pressing animosity between Drakes and Humans.
And it would be told. Erin was certain of that. She would make it happen.
The first thing they needed was a place to practice. And happily, they had the inn. They just needed to make sure they wouldn’t be interrupted, namely by Miss Agnes, who had come back full of affronted pride to help manage the lunch crowd.
“Lunch? Who has time for lunch!?”
Erin closed the door in Agnes’ face, only opening it again when the woman hammered on the door.
“You can’t just close the inn! Think of all the coin we’d lose!”
“Too bad! Today the inn’s closed! You said you had things to do, right? Well—do them!”
“How dare you! This is my inn and I—”
Erin opened the door and grabbed Miss Agnes’ hand. She pulled Agnes nose-to-nose with her. The woman stared into Erin’s intense, almost magic gaze.
“Get lost! We’re making art here!”
She ran. Erin had no time for her. She was too busy coordinating the play with the others.
“Who would want to act? We need male actors and female ones. And costumes! And a set! I mean, we can do without, but it looks better that way.”
“There aren’t any Drakes in the city, are there? We’d need some to play the Capulets…”
“No wait—there is one! The [Baker], Mister Hess who lives on Springbottom street! I could see him—explain—”
“What about other actors?”
Wesle was stroking his mustache furiously, on an adrenaline high from the performance.
“I’ll go to the Watch House. I’m sure there are plenty of men and women who’d love to try this. But how can I explain it to them?”
Erin was practically bouncing with excitement. She’d grabbed her bag of coins and she was excitedly pushing gold ones into Grev’s hands.
“You two can do a scene from the play for them. And tell people we’ll perform it here! Tonight! Admission is free, and they can buy food and drink!”
She gave up on counting coins and dumped a handful of them in to Grev’s hands. The young boy stared at the glittering pile, poleaxed.
“I want costumes, Grev! Clothing for rich people, [Lords] and [Ladies]! And swords!”
“I think I can borrow weapons from the Watch House.”
“Okay, no swords! But get me clothing! And curtains! I want big, red ones! Doesn’t matter if you have to get them to sew it together—it’s going to hang up there and we’ll pull them aside for each scene!”
“What about ah, what did you call them? Props?”
Erin pulled Grev back as he eagerly ran for the door.
“Get me…yeah, get a [Carpenter] and a [Painter] to make some backgrounds! No, wait, I’ll do it! They can draw a city, and a garden and—!”
The girl ran out of the inn. Grev led her to a [Painter]’s store—a man who decorated houses and created art for the nobility. She kicked down the door when he refused to open it. He screamed for the Watch, but they were all busy. Busy auditioning for a play.
And when Erin dragged the poor man to meet the best [Carpenter] in town, news was spreading. How could it not? Here was something interesting, and people were talking about it in the streets. Not too many people of course—word could only spread so fast by word of mouth, and Celum was a big city. There was always something happening.
And yet, the word ‘play’ had a magic of its own. It spread from person to person, from the Watch House to the bakery where the [Baker] suddenly took a day off for some strange reason. It attracted attention—especially when they saw that new, young [Innkeeper] ran into Stitchworks, and dragged the [Alchemist] out, kicking and screaming.
Something was clearly happening. People began asking questions. What was a play? Was it like a street performance? No? Then what was it? How did it go? Would it cost anything? When was it happening?
What would it be like?
That night, a crowd of people gathered in the Frenzied Hare. It wasn’t a huge amount of people—at least, not in terms of the city’s full population. But it packed two thirds of the room until there was only a little bit of space for the two put-upon [Barmaids] and one [Innkeeper] to circulate the room, passing out drinks and food.
Behind the red curtain that had been hastily stitched together, Erin ran over the play with her actors. They were all new, and they’d barely had time to practice more than once or twice. For any other director, this might have been their worst nightmare.
But to Erin, it was just a lovely dream. The people in front of her might still be memorizing their lines, but they had more passion in their toenails than she’d seen from some actors on stage. She gave them what tips she could, and trusted them to do the rest. Even someone who hadn’t acted in more than one or two school plays like Erin could pass along some important advice.
“Always be looking at the audience. Even if you’re facing one another—do it so the audience can see your entire body. Like this.”
She demonstrated, and the gathered cast watched her nervously. Some asked questions, others shook with stage fright. The [Baker] passed out, but by the time the curtains drew back, he was ready to go, if vibrating with fright.
The play began. Erin was in agony as she alternated between cooking—throwing together the most mass-producible meals she could of soups and breads, sending Maran running to buy more food to sell at outrageous prices to her guests—while hurrying back out to watch the magic.
“Two species, both alike in dignity,
In fair Celum, where we lay our scene,
From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,
Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.”
Grev stood in the center of the stage, declaiming to the audience. He was white with fright, but his words made the listeners murmur in interest. Erin bit at her fingernails with glee as the actors came out.
The story of Romeo and Juliet was simple. Complex, and simple. At the heart of it was a love affair. But in the first scenes, the play started with a brawl between the two families, or in this case, the two races. Drakes, or rather, people dressed as Drakes and one actual Drake drew real swords and dueled with angry Humans. Actual blood was spilled, but fortunately, not much.
Erin was too busy shoving hot bowls of soup at Miss Agnes—and spilling some on the woman—to see the fight. But she heard the shout as the fighting ceased.
“Swords! Lay down your unlawful swords!”
The actors paused and reluctantly tossed their blades on the ground. A huge man—the actual Watch Captain of Celum himself strode onto the stage with actual [Guardsman] at his back. He was practically bursting with outrage as he roared at the audience who flinched back from him.
“You men, you beasts! Rebellious subjects, enemies to peace! These brawls by old Capulet, and Montague have thrice disturb’d the quiet of our streets. If ever you disturb our homes again, your lives shall pay the forfeit of the peace! Go now! On pain of death, all men depart!”
The play continued as the lead actor, Romeo, played by Wesle, was introduced. He went to a ball at the house of a famous Drake [Lord] and there laid eyes on the lovely Juliet, played by Jasi for the first time.
Erin watched the audience’s expressions. She’d wondered whether they’d like a Drake and Human romance, but despite being from another world and never having seen a play before, they were Humans. Forbidden love captured their hearts and minds and they fell in love with Juliet the moment she took the stage. They sighed and cheered as Romeo and Juliet hit it off.
But then—from the love scene on the balcony, tragedy! Romeo’s friend Mercutio was slain on stage as the audience cried out in shock and horror. In a rage, Romeo confronted the Drake named Tybalt, sword in hand.
Wesle pointed a sword at the Drake’s, full of fury and rage.
“Turn hellhound, turn!”
Erin had liberally used other famous lines from Shakespeare’s plays to add to the drama. The Drake playing Tybalt sneered at Wesle, raising his own sword with a flourish. Undeterred, Romeo advanced, holding his sword with wrath and rage.
“Damn mercy and peace. Fire-eyed fury be my conduct now! Mercutio’s body is not yet cold—waiting for you or I to give it company in the grave!”
Tybalt sneered at Romeo, lifting his own sword with a dismissive flick of the tail.
“You are no [Duelist], and my own levels number over twenty one. Thou, wretched boy, that didst consort him here shalt with him hence.”
Adapted for this world, and mixed with the language of the Bard himself. Erin watched at the two dueled, and then saw how Juliet found herself trapped in a marriage against her will, while she yearned to be with her true love, Romeo. Her only option was to pretend to die so she could join Romeo in exile.
Thus, Jasi as Juliet implored the dark-skinned girl holding glowing potions to brew her a potion to reunite her with her love. A plea, as it turned out, that Octavia playing Octavia was only too willing to grant.
The Stitch Girl dominated the stage, playing to her audience hard as she mixed harmless liquids together to create a spectacular reaction for the awed crowd. She held the completed glowing red liquid towards Juliet, chattering away.
“A potion to feign death isn’t hard to brew. But this is very costly. Fortunately for you, Octavia’s Stitchworks offers substantial discounts to all customers, and my new line of potions which I’ve marked down nearly 50%—”
“Give me the potion, you heartless [Alchemist]!”
Juliet snatched the bottle away from Octavia, cutting the surprise monologue short. Octavia sniffed, affronted.
“Well excuse me for trying to do business.”
That got a laugh, and then the story continued. At the end, Juliet wept over Romeo’s corpse, too slow, and too late to prevent her love from dying.
As the sounds of her pursuers reached her ears, Juliet stood in despair, holding the dagger in her hands. Erin heard people in the audience shouting at her not to do anything, but it was too late. Oblivious to the crowd, Juliet stared down at the pointed blade.
“Yea, noise? Then I’ll be brief. O happy dagger,
This is thy sheath. There rust and let me die.”
The dagger plunged into her chest, and the red potion Octavia had made spurted forwards. The crowd was on their feet, but the play continued before they could rush the stage.
In the end, after all the lamentation was done, the Watch Captain stood in front of the audience, head bowed, standing in front of the grieving parents of the slain lovers. He spoke to the crowd, his deep voice and sorrowful eyes finding each person in the crowd.
“A glooming peace this morning with it brings;
The sun, for sorrow, will not show his head:
Go hence, to have more talk of these sad things;
Some shall be pardon’d, and some punished:
For never was a story of more woe
Than this of Juliet and her Romeo.”
And after that—there was nothing. Erin had never seen a speechless crowd, but when they regained their voices there was only sound and cheering. The cast had to come out to bow, had to shake hands and even perform some scenes over again, such was the enthusiasm in the room.
Erin missed all of it. Halfway through the play the audience had forgotten to eat, so spellbound they’d been. But with the thrilling conclusion their hunger came back in force. She cooked like there was no tomorrow, even though it was tomorrow by the time she was done.
And when it was over? When the last actor staggered out of the inn and Erin had hugged Jasi and watched Agnes collapse onto a table, the bag of coins she’d earned held blissfully on her chest. When she’d seen Wesle walk away, his step full of confidence and—and hope?
She went back up to her room, walking slowly. Erin’s head was full of cotton; her arms and legs were lead. She lay back in her bed, too tired to undress or clean her teeth. The curtain call was upon her, but she delayed the ending for one moment to stare up at the ceiling.
In the darkness, Erin smiled. She spoke to the night.
“Good. This isn’t boring at all.”
[Innkeeper Level 29!]
[Skill – Crowd Control Obtained!]