3.33

Erin Solstice had returned. That phrase meant little to most people living in or around Liscor. The vast majority of Drakes, Gnolls, and newly arrived Humans did not know this young woman. They would not have cared about her returning if they did.

But it was curious that in a city that housed over ten thousand souls above ground and almost the same number underneath how many people did know of Erin Solstice. And yet, that knowledge wasn’t consistent among species. Few Drakes knew. And of those that did, only a handful were friends with Erin.

More of the Gnolls knew of the girl, if only by name. But most had never met her. They simply understood of her existence in the larger framework of ambitions, triumphs, and failures that was part of their tribe’s struggle to justify their place in the city. The Silverfang Gnolls heard the howl,  but they let their leader decide what would happen next. She was still the one in charge, even if much of her authority had been lost.

And the Humans? It could be said that of all the adventurers, the ones that mattered knew Erin. Two Gold-rank teams heard the news. One group was merely interested and wondered if their place in the inn would be compromised. But the others were surprised to see one of their members, Halrac, smile.

Less than a hundred people above ground knew Erin’s face. But below the earth, the Antinium knew her name. Even if they had never seen her before, every Worker, and now every Soldier knew her. Because she was significant. She had spoken to the Queen. She had made some Individual, and she was known to the Hive’s Revalantor. She was special.

But Zel Shivertail knew none of that. All he had were his eyes, the few things he had heard about Erin, and the things he had seen. The things that she had left behind. His understanding of her was formed by absence, by seeing what she had not done and the people who knew her.

So he stopped in the center of the inn, the Wandering Inn, and saw Erin Solstice return. He heard her laughing, and then her exclamation as Lyon rushed at her.

“Whoa! Hey, Lyon! Lyonette? It’s good to see you but—are you crying?”

“You’re back!”

“I am, I am. But could you let me go? And Mrsha—”

The innkeeper was caught between the young Gnoll with white fur who was climbing all over her, and the young woman who was almost beside herself with emotion. Fear, relief, surprise—

More people crowded the doorway. A half-Elf helped pry the Gnoll off of Erin while Lyonette let go and sheepishly stepped back.

“I’m sorry. It’s just—you’re back!”

“Yeah, I am. Thanks, Ceria. And—wow, who’s this?”

The girl came further into the inn and saw Zel. She looked at Lyon and the girl hurriedly explained.

“That’s one of my—your guests! He’s staying here.”

“Guests? I have guests? You mean people are sleeping upstairs? Who?”

“Not right now—there’s actually two groups of adventurers sleeping upstairs at the moment. Every room is full—”

“What? You mean there’s no space for us?”

A male voice shouted from outside the inn, sounding outraged. The speaker stomped into the room, a Human young man in dirty robes.

“Calm down Pisces. There might be space—we could sleep in the common room. And even if there’s not, there’s plenty of room in the city. Probably.”

A female Human, a warrior by the looks of her, wearing light leather armor walked in after that. Zel noted her gear—worn material, but ill-fitting on her. Probably a new purchase. And the young man and half-Elf’s robes marked them as mages. Adventurers?

Then someone else followed the group into the inn. An ant-like creature with an armored blackish-brown carapace and three arms. Zel’s claws clenched together before he made himself loosen his grip.

Antinium. The thing made Zel want to leave, or start a fight. But he held himself back. Why was one here?

“Pardon me Captain, Erin, but Termin is asking where his horses can be rested. Is there a stable nearby?”

“A stable? Why would I have that?”

“Most inns have a stables, Erin.”

“Really? Oh yeah! Um. No, I don’t have one Ksmvr. I guess Termin’s going to have to put his horses in the city. Sorry!”

“I will convey that to him with tact.”

The Antinium walked back out. Zel couldn’t believe what he’d heard. That Antinium had a name? And it was—an adventurer?

Nothing made sense. But now the young woman was approaching him with a smile. Zel took a few steps and met her in the center of the room.

“Good evening, Miss. My apologies, I don’t believe we’ve met. My name is Zel Shivertail.”

Erin stared up at the tall Drake, blinking a few times at him.

“Whoa. You’re tall. Um. Hi. I’m Erin Solstice. I sort of own this inn, but I’ve been gone…wait, did you say Shivertail? Are you related to Selys?”

Zel’s nonexistent eyebrows rose.

“You know my niece?”

“Yeah, she’s one of my friends! That’s so weird!”

Erin stared round-eyed at Zel for a moment, and then came back to the topic at hand. She coughed a bit nervously. Zel realized he was looming a bit and tried not to. This young woman seemed, well, a lot like what he’d expected.

That was unfortunate.

“Well, I’ve been gone for a little bit. There was an uh, accident, but I’m back now! I hope Lyon—I mean, Lyonette’s been treating you well? Getting you food and cleaning the inn and stuff?”

It was a question, not a statement, and Zel noticed that too. He made himself smile at Lyon as the girl looked nervously at Erin.

“I couldn’t have asked for better hospitality while I’ve stayed here. Your employee has done an excellent job, Miss Solstice.”

“Call me Erin! And that’s great! Good job, Lyon. Let me just look around…um, make yourself at home, Zel! Ceria, Pisces, I guess put your stuff over there—I just want to check…”

She passed by Zel and he saw her enter the kitchen. Lyon followed after her, looking suddenly very anxious. Mrsha ran after both Human girls and Zel heard Erin exclaiming as he eyed the adventurers. They seemed to be discussing this new revelation near the doorway—the Human [Mage] was giving Zel the fisheye, although the Drake [General] doubted any Human would recognize him without an army at his back.

“Hey, nothing’s broken! And the inn isn’t burned down! Everything’s alright! Good job, Lyonette!”

Zel’s eyes narrowed fractionally. He glanced towards the kitchen and saw Erin come out of it. Lyon looked relieved. The girl was chattering to Erin as the young woman poked around the rest of her inn.

“I tried to keep everything like it was, but I had to put the blankets and…stuff on the ground somewhere else. I’ve been purchasing food, but I tried not to spend too much coin! Um, I kept it—”

“Yeah, cool. Did you make food? By yourself?”

“I did. It’s not very good…”

“See, I tried to teach you! Did anyone get sick? And wait—”

Erin stopped and stared at one part of the room. She hurried over and then exclaimed in horror.

“Hey! What happened to my flowers?

She rushed over to the boxes of dirt standing at the windowsills. Zel saw Lyon grew pale. The girl hurried after Erin, wringing her hands as she tried to explain.

“I forgot. I’m so sorry. I just didn’t think of them until recently. But when I did I tried to water them, and some have started to sprout. But I found out something about the flowers. You see, when you were gone I was looking for food for the Antinium and—”

Erin interrupted the other girl brusquely. She  fussed over the small yellow flowers, not looking directly at the girl. She was clearly upset, but she only bit her lip as she turned to face Lyonette.

“It’s okay, Lyon. I guess…you know what? It’s my fault. I shouldn’t have gone. I can save some of them, I think. And I mean, I shouldn’t have expected you to…well, it’s too bad. That’s all.”

There was a tone of condescension in Erin’s voice that irked Zel. She was treating Lyon as if the girl were completely incompetent. Zel remembered Lyon saying she had been a fool before, but that was not her now. And Erin didn’t see that.

“I’m really, really sorry. But I managed to use some of the dead flowers! I have more honey—I can show you!”

Lyon wanted to get Erin to follow her back into the kitchen, but the girl had turned back to the flowers.

“Honey? I’ll go see in a moment. Why don’t you uh, well, why don’t you help out, Lyon? You can get some water or something. I’ll make dinner in a bit, and then I’ll talk to all these guests…you’ve been feeding them and making beds and stuff, right?”

“But I—”

Erin turned back to face Lyon, frowning now. She took a deep breath as Lyon went still, looking uncertain.

“Look, Lyon, I’m really glad you’re not being a jerk anymore, but let me finish with this, okay? I can see…whatever it is you’ve done in a bit.”

With that, Erin went back to her flowers, checking each one for damage. Lyonette stepped back and Mrsha ran around her legs. She opened her mouth, and closed it before looking at her feet.

She looked hurt. And that was what made Zel act. He walked over, wondering if he’d regret this when he got kicked out. But he had to say it. Erin was too busy fussing over her flowers, so Zel tapped her politely on the shoulder with one claw.

“Excuse me, Miss.”

 

—-

 

Erin felt the tap on her shoulders and turned. Her heart jumped a bit in her chest as she saw the huge Drake, Zel Shivertail, Selys’ uncle, staring down at her. It wasn’t that he was a Drake, or really big that bothered her. It was more the expression of displeasure on his face.

“Excuse me, Miss.”

“Um. Hi. Can I help you?”

He was slightly scary. Maybe it was the scars, the places where his scales didn’t join together quite naturally, or Zel’s huge, muscular body. He wasn’t quite as…thick as Relc, but he was clearly a warrior as well. His green scales were tinted a bit grey, but what really distinguished him was his aura. In that, he had one.

He seemed like a rock. Or maybe it was a pillar? He projected something solid that made him hard to ignore, or forget. He wasn’t the kind of person you’d want angry with you.

But he was angry or upset with Erin, for some reason. She tried to smile at him, but he wasn’t smiling back.

“Is…something wrong?”

He was probably upset, even though he’d said those nice things about Lyon. Erin worried the girl had made a ton of mistakes while she’d been gone. True, the inn was in one piece and everything looked good, except for the flowers, but Lyonette had to have screwed up something. Had she borrowed money to keep the inn supplied? And why wasn’t Mrsha with Selys? Erin had countless questions she wanted to ask the girl in private. She had no idea why Lyonette had been silly enough to take in guests when she couldn’t cook or…or Erin wasn’t here.

“How should I put this?”

Zel stared down at her, frowning at Erin as she shifted uncomfortably. She saw Ceria looking up from her side of the room with a frown, but Erin waved a hand at her friend.

“What’s the matter? If it’s something Lyon did—I can fix it!”

“That is precisely my problem, Miss. I would ask you to please stop dismissing Miss Lyonette so casually. You do not understand what she has done, and you are acting quite rude to her.”

Across the room, the Horns of Hammerad went silent. Erin froze.

“No I’m not.”

“Yes, you are.”

The Drake’s eyes bored into Erin’s.

“I realize it isn’t my place to lecture you, but I cannot sit still and say nothing here. It is my understanding that you own this inn, isn’t it?”

“Um, yes—”

“In that case, why did you leave this young woman alone, without any guidance? You have been absent from your inn for weeks. While you have been gone, this young lady has had to do everything without you, and with barely more than a handful of coins. If she had not been so resourceful, she might have starved or been hurt. I trust you know she was banned from the city?”

“I—I do, but—”

There was no getting a word in edgewise, Zel rolled on, staring hard at Erin as he continued speaking.

“Lyonette took matters into her own hands. Yes, she made mistakes, but you owe her respect, not condescension. She took care of your inn in your absence. She obtained food, even stole honey from Ashfire bees. She looked after this young Gnoll—and she even rescued her when Mrsha was in trouble. She offered me a place to stay and she has kept this inn in business. I don’t suggest she has taken your place, but she deserves your respect and acknowledgment.”

When he was done, no one could speak. Erin’s gaze had gone past Zel’s—she couldn’t meet his eyes. She looked over, and saw Lyonette standing to one side, and lower down, Mrsha staring reproachfully up at Erin.

Lyonette’s face was beet red and she was avoiding looking at Zel or Erin. For her part, Erin felt her cheeks igniting. Because, although it stung and she felt a bit angry at being lectured, she knew Zel was right.

He was like a grampa, although he wasn’t as old as one. But he was like a grampa in the sense that he was reassuring, oldish, and calm—until he got mad. Then it was like Erin was a kid again, being scolded by an adult. Because she’d made a mistake and she had to be told off.

But what did she say now? The uncomfortable moment dragged on, no one speaking. Zel had folded his arms, and Erin felt like she had to speak.

But what could she say? Now that she thought about it—now that the exhilaration and relief at returning had worn off and she was thinking, she could really see that this inn was fine. Great. Extraordinary, even.

The tables were clean. The floor was clean. There was a fire in the fireplace. The dishes in the kitchen had all been washed, and the pantry and larder were full. In fact, everything was more organized than Erin had left it. Lyon had no Skills, in cleaning, but she’d kept the inn clean, and found guests. And one of them had just told Erin off because she was treating Lyon like a nuisance.

Erin’s face felt way too hot. She looked at Lyon, and saw the girl glancing away. Embarrassed. They were both embarrassed.

“You’re totally right.”

Erin said that at last. She looked at Zel, and then at Lyonette.

“I’m sorry, Lyonette. I guess I thought—”

“No, no. It’s my fault. I was horrible before you left. I didn’t—you have every right to think I’d have messed things up.”

The girl interrupted hastily. She seemed so different, almost like another person. Erin had a hard time believing it. She hadn’t believed it before, which is why she hadn’t noticed. But Lyon wasn’t haughty, she wasn’t rude. She was thinner, and she looked tired, but happier than Erin had ever seen her.

And Mrsha was sitting by Lyon, clearly attached to her. Erin took a deep breath.

“I’m still sorry. You did a great job. Mister Zel here is right. I shouldn’t judge. And I’m sorry for leaving. I didn’t want to, but…you did a great job, and I’m glad you kept the inn—and Mrsha safe. Thank you. Thank you so much.”

She trailed off. Lyon looked close to tears and Erin felt a bit emotional herself. She spread her arms.

“Hug?”

Lyonette hesitated, then hugged Erin. The two girls laughed a bit, and Zel turned his head, scratching at one scaled cheek. Across the inn, Erin thought she heard Pisces make a comment, but that was followed by a yelp as Ceria kicked him.

Mrsha ruined the moment by leaping from a table and onto the two girls. She made small sounds as Erin and Lyonette yelped and laughed. The Gnoll seemed wound up by Erin’s return, and she couldn’t stop sniffing at Erin, licking her, and running about.

“Okay Mrsha, I’m sorry. I’m sorry I left you too—how have you been?”

The young Gnoll stared up at Erin. She opened her mouth, paused, and then touched Erin’s leg with one paw. Erin bent down, and the Gnoll nuzzled her face. She was no dog, and there was something deep in her eyes that told Erin she understood.

“Sorry.”

Erin cuddled Mrsha, and then stood up. Zel was watching her.

“Thanks for saying that.”

He smiled, showing a few teeth.

“If you kicked me out for saying that, I wouldn’t be surprised. It wasn’t my place, but I had to say something.”

“No, it’s—”

Erin cleared her throat, embarrassed. She had to get the conversation away from this. She looked back and saw Ksmvr helping Yvlon carry the door in. Lyonette and Zel turned to stare as the door came through the doorway.

“Is that…a door?”

Erin laughed. She smiled at Lyonette and Zel.

“I’ve got some crazy stuff to show you all. Come on, Lyon. We can help everyone get the stuff off the wagon—there’s not much—and you can tell me all about what happened while you were away.”

“And the door?”

“It’s so cool!”

Lyonette caught Zel’s eye as Erin eagerly went over to the door and the adventurers. He was staring at the door and giving her a quizzical look. She shrugged, helplessly. That was Erin. But Lyonette had to smile too. She felt that same sense of strangeness around the other girl. Strangeness, yes, but also excitement, adventure, new thoughts and energy. If she had just one word for it, it would be—

Change.

 

—-

 

It was by coincidence that the Halfseekers met Griffon Hunt on the way back towards the inn. It wasn’t dinner time yet, but the Halfseekers were done with their efforts surrounding the dungeon today. Griffon Hunt on the other hand had returned early, due to Halrac hearing the news about Erin.

The two groups of adventurers nodded to each other when they met, but they were hardly inclined to strike up a conversation. They were allies for the purposes of taking the dungeon on and associates in the same line of work, but still strangers for the most part.

“I hear there’s a new innkeeper. Or rather, the old one’s come back.”

“So it seems.”

Revi nodded somewhat coldly to Jelaqua. The Selphid smiled and the Stitch-girl turned to Halrac.

“Is she really that important? Why are we returning now? Don’t tell me you like this Erin Solstice.”

Halrac looked irritable.

“No. I just want to see.”

“Fine, so long as we don’t have to pay more.”

Revi threw up her hands and walked back to talk with Typhenous and Ulrien. Jelaqua turned to the two members of her group.

“Hm. This Erin Solstice. Do we know her?”

“She’s the one who had that skeleton, remember? The one who punched that Gnoll warrior?”

Moore smiled a bit, and Jelaqua’s eyes widened in recollection.

“The one with the skeleton, right? Well, if she’ll tolerate us I’m fine with the undead wandering around. I really hope she doesn’t kick us out.”

Hm. You did make her faint by opening your chest up, Jelaqua.

“Damn. Was that her? Sorry, Moore, but you might not be able to get as comfy here as you hoped.”

“I’m sure she won’t be so prejudiced. Have faith.”

The adventurers reached the top of the hill, the Halfseekers arguing about what might change, Revi complaining and Ulrien and Typhenous listening. Halrac ignored the discussion and paused in front of the door. He pushed it open, and blinked.

“Hey there! Halrac!

A young woman turned in the middle of the room, and a trio of struggling adventurers stopped wrestling with the thick wooden door to turn and look at the newcomers. Erin half-ran across the room and beamed at Halrac.

You’re staying at my inn? Lyonette, you didn’t say Halrac was the one staying here!”

“You said you wanted it to be a surprise!”

Lyonette hurried over, smiling at Halrac and the other adventurers. They paused.

“Miss Solstice? We haven’t formally met. My name is Ulrien. I lead the team of Griffon Hunt.”

“Oh! Pleased to meet you!”

Erin started shaking hands. Revi came forwards, and Typhenous. Halrac grunted.

“My team. We’re staying at your inn.”

“I know, and that’s great. Come on in—sorry, I was in the doorway, wasn’t I? Come on in! There’s no food yet, but…oh! Are you the other Gold-rank team?”

Somewhat apprehensively, the Halfseekers stepped forwards. Erin was busy staring at Moore and Seborn, both of whom were used to the scrutiny, but the real test was Jelaqua. Erin smiled at the woman and then blinked and frowned as she saw the other woman’s deathly pale face.

“Hi, I’m Erin. Haven’t we met?”

“I believe so. My name is Jelaqua Ivirith. I lead the Halfseekers, who you see before you.”

Erin’s eyes narrowed.

“Wait a second…you’re that chest-bursting lady! The Selfad, right?”

Jelaqua nodded, not bothering to hold her breath because she didn’t need to breathe that much unless she was talking. But she was nervous, until Erin stuck her hand out, beaming.

“Good to meet you!”

Bemusedly, Jelaqua blinked at Erin’s proffered hand. She hesitated; touching a dead body’s hand was not fun for any species. But there was no way to say that in a moment, so she gingerly shook Erin’s hand. The girl shivered, but not in disgust.

“Whoa. That’s cold. Oh wait, your body is dead, right? That’s so…well, weird, but I guess Humans are weird too, right? Sorry, am I being rude? Wait, was what I said racist? Sorry!”

She smiled at Jelaqua, and then turned to Seborn and Moore.

“And you’re a half-Giant? And a…Drowned Man? Are there Drowned Women, too? Come on in! Lyonette says she makes a ton of food for you, Mister Moore. I’ll see if I can buy bigger plates. And bigger knives and forks, too! Oh, and do you need a bigger bed? I can probably get one made…”

The Halfseekers blinked as Erin talked them into the inn, showing not a hint of fear, suspicion, or even awkwardness around them. She just seemed curious and excited by the adventurers.

“Oh! And here’s my friends. That’s Ceria, Pisces, over there is Yvlon, and that’s Ksmvr…they’re the Horns of Hammerad, an adventuring team like the rest of you!”

Both Gold-rank teams turned to look at the others. The Horns of Hammerad froze, suddenly thrust into the spotlight as they fussed with the wooden door. Ceria turned red as she realized Erin was putting them on the same rank as Gold-rank adventurers, and Yvlon looked like she wanted to swallow her tongue. Only Pisces and Ksmvr seemed at ease—Pisces staring back at the other adventurers appraisingly, and Ksmvr nodding politely.

“You’re an adventuring team now? And you’ve reformed your old party, is that it?”

Jelaqua went over to Ceria, smiling as she greeted the half-Elf. Ceria nodded somewhat warily.

“That’s right. We’re a Silver-rank team. We uh, escorted Erin back to Liscor.”

“From where?”

Halrac frowned at Erin. It was Pisces who answered.

“Celum.”

“How’d you get all the way there?”

Erin debated telling Halrac, but decided to wait until she had more time.

“It’s a long story. But I’m back, and so…these are my friends. They’re going to be staying here.”

“Where? All the rooms are full.”

Revi pointed that out, glancing idly at the other adventurers. She didn’t say anything else, but the implication was clear. The rooms were full, and she wasn’t sharing with anyone. In terms of pecking order, she and the other Gold-rank adventurers far outranked a new team of Silver-rank adventurers.

Erin frowned, vexed. Already problems were popping up! She knew Lyonette had done well to get the other adventurers to stay here, but where were her friends supposed to sleep?

“I guess you guys can sleep in the common room, maybe. I mean, it’s not very private…”

Pisces looked very unhappy at the idea, and Ceria and Yvlon nodded slowly. Lyonette bit her tongue, then spoke up.

“What about the basement?”

“Basement?”

The young woman nodded, blushing as Erin stared blankly at her.

“You do have one.”

“I have a basement?”

Erin thought about this. She vaguely remembered…hadn’t the Antinium built it? She followed Lyon over to the room and blinked as the girl pulled up the trap door. Erin walked down the steps and shouted in surprise.

“I have a basement!”

She came back upstairs, shaking her head in wonder.

“The things you learn…hey Ceria, do you think you guys could sleep in a basement?”

Ceria glanced at the others and nodded.

“Probably.”

“What? It will be cold down there! And what about privacy? I object!”

Pisces complained as he stomped over to stare at the basement in disgust.

“No problem. We can totally make this work. All I need are some blankets, a mattress, curtains—I bet we could even buy some bed stands in Liscor!”

“Or we could sleep in the Frenzied Hare. Isn’t that a far simpler solution?”

Pisces sniffed as all eyes turned to him. He gestured at the door.

“The Frenzied Hare—or a more reputable inn, perhaps? It would be far more effective than sharing elbow room down there.”

“I’m afraid you won’t find many rooms, even if you do know the owner of this inn.”

Typhenous called out to the others. He gestured towards the city through one of the windows.

“There’s far too many people here. Every building, loft, and apartment in the city is getting more crowded by the minute.”

Erin laughed, making the old mage frown.

“The Frenzied Hare isn’t here! It’s in Celum!”

Everyone stared at her. Revi spoke slowly.

“Are you planning on heading north right away, then? Because if you’re going a hundred miles to sleep at a different inn…”

The other adventurers chuckled, but Erin’s eyes just sparkled. She turned to the Horns of Hammerad.

“We’ve gotta show them. Come on Pisces, is the door ready?”

He sniffed.

“The door hasn’t stopped being ready. It’s merely placement I was concerned with—”

Erin brushed past him and ran over to the door, which had been leaned against one wall. She beckoned Lyonette, Mrsha, and Zel over. The Drake stopped playing ‘catch the claw’ with Mrsha and walked over to stare at the door.

“What is it, Erin?”

The adventurers sitting or standing at the room stared in bemusement at the plain wooden door—all that is, except for Typhenous and Moore. Revi was openly yawning until Typhenous nudged her and pointed. Then she sat up straight in her chair.

The rest of the Gold-rank teams picked up on the cue, and stared harder at the door. Erin stood in front of it like a circus conductor about to unveil the biggest trick of the night.

“Alright, brace yourselves, everyone. A little bit ago, Ceria, Pisces, Yvlon, Ksmvr—they’re the Horns of Hammerad—they went into Albez with this map thing. And they found this. Well, they didn’t find this, but—”

Erin broke off as she realized she was losing her audience. She shook her head.

“Never mind. But they got this magical door. Look what it can do!”

She flung the door open, and spread her arms wide.

“It’s a portal door!”

There was no wall, behind the door. There should have been, but instead the amazed room of people stared straight into a second room, one filled with racks full of glowing potion bottles, workbenches with powdered ingredients and empty class containers—

And sitting at one table, humming a song under her breath and putting a label on one bottle, a young woman with dark skin. She looked up, frowning at the sound of the door hitting the wall in Erin’s inn.

Octavia froze, potion bottle in hand as she saw the room full of people all staring at her. She stared at the beaming Erin, at the open-mouthed Jelaqua, at Moore, blinking down at her, and then yelped as a white shape bounded towards her.

“Mrsha, no!”

Lyonette grabbed for the Gnoll. She caught Mrsha a second before the young Gnoll could cause havoc in Octavia’s shop. The Stitch-girl slid off her seat.

“What in the name of exploding cauliflower is this, Erin?”

“Octavia! I’m back in my inn!”

The room—both rooms—erupted into sound as everyone began talking.

“Extraordinary! I can’t believe it!”

“A magical door?”

“In Celum?

Everyone started clustering around the door. Erin stepped through and beamed at the others as Pisces tried to explain.

“Isn’t it so cool? I can go all the way to Celum just like that! And if I step back—”

She walked back through and spread her arms.

“I’m in Liscor!”

She hopped through again. Ceria frowned and opened her mouth.

“Hey Erin, that’s not the best—”

“In Celum! In Liscor!”

Erin jumped back and forth in rapid succession. Pisces turned and snapped.

“Don’t do that! You’ll exhaust the mana supply!”

“What? Oh—”

Erin half-turned to look back as Pisces as she jumped through the door again—

And the portal closed. One second the other room was there, full of noise, people—Erin could even smell them from Octavia’s shop—and then she was staring at a blank wall. Erin paused and then slowly poked the stone behind the door. Hopefully, she closed the door and opened it again.

Nothing happened. Sitting at her counter, Octavia smacked her forehead and groaned.

“You idiot.

 

—-

 

In the minutes after the door’s mana supply ran off, there was a lot of shouting. But adventurers being used to sudden changes, no one panicked too much. Except for Mrsha. Lyonette had to lift the howling Gnoll away from the door, and reassure her all was well.

Zel sat with her at a table as Lyonette coaxed Mrsha into sitting with her. The other adventurers were still standing around the door, although now an effort was going on to bring Erin back.

“Erin’s just gone for a little bit, okay Mrsha? It’s all okay. It was just an accident—no one’s hurt!”

“That was startling, though.”

Zel remarked as he stared back at the door. He eyed it, and the adventurers who were beginning to split off, leaving only the five mages to talk about what should be done. Lyonette thought his eyes lingered for a long time on Ksmvr.

“It’s a magical door. It must be incredibly powerful if it can teleport someone so far.”

“Yes. It’s an artifact worth—I can’t imagine. But it clearly has its limits, as your boss seems to have discovered.”

He did not look impressed. Zel turned to Lyonette.

“She has a very scattered personality.”

“It was an accident. She was—um.”

Lyonette stared at the door as the mages began to argue loudly. She saw Pisces standing protectively over the door as he and Typhenous began raising their voices.

“And what, pray tell, do you have to object to in the way I altered the enchantment? You will note I barely altered the matrix—”

“By creating a portal? That’s the element of the trap, don’t you see?”

Typhenous looked irritable as he poked the door with one finger, glaring at Pisces.

“It was clearly meant to open and reveal another room—thereby teleporting the incautious to another place entirely. But such a spell isn’t meant to safeguard the user! If it had closed on that young woman’s hand or leg she might have lost it entirely!”

Pisces turned red and Ceria interjected quickly.

“It was a mistake, but the key now is fixing it. If we work together we can probably—”

“We? Let Typhenous fix it. He’s the highest-level out of all of us.”

Revi interrupted, folding her arms. Lyonette winced as Mrsha turned to look. She knew conflict when she saw it, and this was the kind of battle she was used to back home. Not physical, but social, a battle of willpower and hierarchy.

“Oh, is that so? And I take it you are an expert in enchanting magic?”

Pisces drew himself up as Ceria let out a hiss of exasperation. Typhenous stared back archly.

“Not a master, but I am well-versed in it from years of practice and time spent in dungeons. I was educated in the college of magic in the capital city of Pheron for twelve years. And you are…?”

“Pisces. I, and Ceria here, are graduates of Wistram.”

Revi and Typhenous blinked. Revi looked frankly incredulous—Typhenous muttered what looked like a spell under his breath.

“You two?”

“Correct.”

Pisces stared unflinchingly back while Ceria mumbled something in agreement. Typhenous nodded slightly to Revi, and her demeanor changed.

“Well…we might not be Wistram mages, but I was tutored by an expert. We’ve got the experience here—we’ll alter the enchantment on the door before we draw the girl back.”

Pisces’ eyes flashed.

“I am fully capable of doing any needed configuration myself. Your assistance would be useful—”

“It needn’t be a competition.”

The deep voice came from Moore, making all the other mages pause. He had been quiet, but now he looked disapprovingly around at the other four mages.

“We are all experts in some way, aren’t we? I have never been to Wistram, although I have dreamed about studying there. But since none of us specialize in enchantments, let us pool our knowledge.”

“It’s not a question of pooling, Moore.”

Typhenous looked unhappy as he glared at Pisces.

“AS I was saying, the enchantments need reworking. If you look at how much magical energy this door drained from just a few moments of being active—”

“My spells did nothing to inhibit the costs! Ceria, back me up here.”

“Let’s all calm down and—”

Across the room, Ulrien and Halrac sat together with Jelaqua and Seborn. They were used to mages, and as such, gave them room. Jelaqua stared at Ceria and Pisces, looking thoughtful.

“Wistram mages?”

Seborn nodded.

It seems as though they are. Typhenous was surprised. I wonder why?

Ulrien spoke quietly.

“Probaly because he didn’t believe it. I’ve heard Wistram mages are a cut above most other mages, even at lower levels.”

“Well, we knew Springwalker was good. Her team might be important to watch. More importantly, where the hells did they find that door? I heard them mention Albez, but I heard that ruin was tapped out decades ago!”

Why not ask?

Lyonette saw the Gold-rank adventurers get up and begin talking with Yvlon, who looked overwhelmed to be speaking with so many higher-ranking adventurers. She turned to Zel.

“It looks like there’s a lot of competition.”

The Drake nodded.

“Adventurers work together, but they also compete for the same things. These groups seem pretty mellow, actually. I’ve seen things get ugly fast, although it might come to that if the mages don’t cooperate.”

“I’ll do something about that.”

Determinedly, Lyon stood up, letting Mrsha hop off her lap. Erin might be back, but Lyon could still be useful. The Gnoll followed her into the kitchen and in a few moments, came out chewing something in her mouth.

Lyon came out a few moments after that, holding a platter with cut cheese, some sliced bread, and sausage all sliced up. She approached the angry mages, holding the smorgasbord out in case someone cast a spell. They ignored her until she raised her voice tentatively.

“Excuse me. Would anyone like something to eat? Or drink?”

The bickering mages looked up. Like magic—a different kind of magic than was being argued over here—they stopped fighting as all fives mages eagerly grabbed the snacks off of the plate. Moore, who hadn’t really been that confrontational to begin with, smiled gratefully as Lyonette handed him a block of cheese she’d sliced into two parts and half a sausage on a plate of his own.

“Hm. Oh, thank you, my dear.”

Typhenous smiled at Lyonette, and Ceria and Pisces remembered they hadn’t eaten since breakfast as they shoved food into their mouths. Lyonette hurried back into the kitchen, and in a few minutes everyone was sipping from mugs and speaking far more calmly to each other.

“Yes, I see. I suppose we can simply concentrate our mana together to reactivate the doorway until a better solution can be found.”

Typhenous brushed some crumbs off his beard and nodded at Pisces. The young man inclined his head as well.

“How would you like to focus it? Neither Ceria or I have a focusing agent—”

“My staff would work well. Allow me.”

Moore gently raised his staff and touched the door as he put his plate on one table. Typhenous nodded. He reached out and grasped Moore’s other hand. Revi stood by Typhenous’ side; she linked hands with him.

“A good old fashioned link-up, is it? I haven’t done one of these in ages. Do they do these in Wistram?”

“Not much. They have fancy crystals that let mages link up at a distance. I once saw a mage eating in the banquet hall while he helped power a spell two floors up.”

Revi snorted as Pisces took her hand. Ceria offered her skeletal hand to Pisces, he took it, giving her a bemused look. She shrugged.

“Better conductivity.”

“Just so long as you don’t expect the rest of us to do a blood link.”

“Hah!”

The other adventurers, Lyon, Zel, and Mrsha all watched as the mages grew silent. Lyonette had to pick up Mrsha to keep her from wandering over; she had a feeling serious magic was being done.

If it was though, it only took moments and, disappointingly, had no colorful effects or sounds to accompany it. The mages let go and Moore carefully pulled the door open.

“I’m telling you, you’re not going to get it open even if you pour a thousand mana potions on it. Put that down!”

“How do you know? It might work. Let me try one!”

Octavia’s shop appeared in the doorway again, as if nothing had happened. Erin and Octavia were caught in the center of the shop, fighting over a green bottle. They paused and turned to the door.

“Oh hey, the door works.”

“You did it!”

Erin leapt through the door and beamed at the mages. They stepped back, looking slightly weary.

Revi flicked a bit of sweat off her forehead.

“That thing’s a mana sponge. No wonder it can’t run for more than a minute at best.”

“Thanks, guys!”

Erin beamed at the others, and then pointed at the door.

“Will this thing last for a while?”

“Longer than last time, if you don’t exhaust it by moving back and forth again.”

Pisces sat back into a chair and reached for another piece of cheese. Typhenous nodded.

“You have a wonderfully powerful artifact here, Miss Solstice. I would love to talk to you about it—and with you adventurers, if you have the chance. Perhaps over dinner?”

“Dinner! That’s right!”

Erin turned to the window in horror as she realized how late it was getting. She called out to Lyonette as the girl hurried over.

“Lyon, we’ve got to start making food! Tons of it!”

“I’ve got a bunch of it in the pantries, but there’s more in the basement. Should I…?”

“Great! Bring up whatever you need—I’ll start cooking! I’ve got [Advanced Cooking]!”

That made all the adventurers in the room, and Zel sit up. Mrsha’s ears perked and the young Gnoll crept towards the kitchen to wait.

“Aw, you’re making food? Close the door before I smell it!”

Octavia groused to Erin as the girl began listing food for the appreciative crowd and accepting suggestions for what she should cook. Erin turned and smiled at Octavia.

“Why don’t you join us?”

“Join you?”

“Why not? Come on, lock up your shop and have a meal! You can talk to these guys while you wait—did you know everyone here’s an adventurer? Well, besides Zel and Mrsha and Lyonette—but these guys are Gold-rank adventurers?”

Gold-rank adventurers?

Octavia didn’t exactly teleport, but she was through the portal door in a flash. She offered a brown bottle filled with liquid that looked like it had tiny glowing fragments swirling around inside of it to Revi.

“Mana potion?”

“What? No, I don’t need—”

Revi tried to decline, but Octavia pushed the bottle into her hands.

“Free of charge. Complimentary. In fact, let me throw a stamina potion in as well. Have you tried my wares? Octavia’s the name. Please consider using my products if you’re ever in the area. I’d be happy to custom-brew anything you happen to need. In fact, I have a new line of defensive potions and items you might be interested in. Are any of you [Rogues]? I have this wonderful Smoke Sack—that’s what I’m calling it—that has incredible potency for the price. Let me just find you a sample…”

She began her sales pitch and Erin laughed as she walked into the kitchen. The night had gotten off to a bumpy start, but now? Now she felt like everything was beginning to be right.

More than right, in fact. Perfect. Lyonette was in the kitchen, already spreading out food on the countertops. She turned to Erin, looking pleading.

“Can I help? Or at least watch? I’ve got the [Basic Cooking] skill now, actually. I’m still no good, but—”

Erin smiled at the other girl and put a hand on her arm. She grinned, and after a moment Lyonette smiled back. In her corner, Mrsha smiled too, and stared at the food as she waited for the right moment to pounce.

Erin grabbed a knife. She had a feeling she’d need to make a ton of food tonight.

“Let’s get cooking.”

 

—-

 

Klbkch walked up towards the inn on the hill outside the Liscor, ignoring the cold snow that crunched around his uncovered feet. The Antinium didn’t have much use for clothes, but they were aware of their bodies’ inability to regulate extreme temperatures. Thus, Klbkch kept moving and only stopped in front of the door.

He hesitated. It would be good to see Erin again. But there was so much to talk about! What should he say?

Greetings first. Klbkch knocked and then wondered if he should have brought a gift. Wasn’t that customary after a long time?

Too late now. The Antinium waited, hearts pounding a bit faster. He had so much that needed to be said, but perhaps it was Ryoka he should talk to? And yet, Erin was vital in so many ways…

After a moment, Klbkch realized no one had come to answer the door. He listened, and realized there was noise coming from inside. A lot of it.

Cautiously, Klbkch opened the door. A wave of sound, heat, and movement nearly overwhelmed his senses.

The inn was packed! Or at least, it was fuller than he had ever seen it. Klbkch walked into the room and saw Lyonette going from table to table with plates, carrying mugs, and Mrsha skulking between table legs, searching for scraps and occasionally stealing some from plates.

The room was filled with people Klbkch knew, and many people he didn’t. Griffon Hunt, the Halfseekers, and the Horns of Hammerad were occupying one section of the room, talking, arguing, laughing loudly. Across from them, a group of Humans and one Drake were eating, laughing and occasionally getting up to make some kind of speech. Klbkch was sure he’d never seen them in Liscor. Why was there a child with them? He was sitting with the female Drake.

And then—there was Selys, Krshia, a dark-skinned young woman he didn’t know and…Pawn? The Antinium looked up and paused when he saw Klbkch. He was sitting with the Gnoll and Drake—and Ksmvr, of all beings. Klbkch knew he shouldn’t have been surprised to see Ksmvr, but he hadn’t expected the two Antinium to be sitting together.

Ksmvr froze when he saw Klbkch, but Klbkch ignored him. He saw Zel Shivertail, making his way over to the table with the adventurers. The Drake froze when he saw Klbkch, and then kept walking, stiffly.

So many people. But where was Erin? Klbkch looked around and then saw her. She was coming out of the kitchen. He made towards her instantly.

“Erin.”

“Klbkch!”

She greeted him the instant she saw him. Erin beamed and hugged Klbkch—he hugged her back, gingerly.

“How have you been? No, wait—it’s good to see you! Do you want something to eat? Let me find you a place to sit!”

“Actually, Erin. I was hoping to converse with you about—”

“Sure, sure! But later, okay? I’ve got to keep serving—”

“Hey Erin!”

Some raised his voice. Klbkch saw a man get to his feet unsteadily. He waved in Erin’s direction.

“You have to give—show us again how to do the chant! The one with the [Witches]! We can’t decide how it should be performed.”

“Oh, that one? Just a second!”

Erin called out and smiled at Klbkch, looking distracted.

“That’s from Macbeth. It’s a play. Oh, wait, you don’t know what a play is. I’ll explain it in a bit—just wait and I’ll get Lyonette to bring you some fried bee!”

She ran off before Klbkch could say another word. Forlornly, the Antinium stood in place, staring around the room.

“Hey, Klb. Over here.”

Someone addressed him by name. Klbkch turned, and saw Relc sitting by himself at a table. The Drake grunted as Klbkch sat down. He had a huge bowl of corned beef in front of him, and three tankards. He drank from the fourth as Klbkch stared at him.

“Noisy, isn’t it?”

“It is unusual. I did not expect to see you here.”

“Why? Because I’m a Goblin-hating jerk?”

“Yes. Did Erin react negatively towards your presence?”

“I think she was too busy to get mad.”

The Drake stared moodily at his food.

“She said hi. And she didn’t kick me out. I guess that’s good, right?”

Klbkch nodded. There was so much sound here! He was used to noisy taverns and inns—it was practically their only state of being. But not here. This was different. And he wasn’t sure he liked it.

“Bee? Someone wanted—oh, hello Klbkch!”

Lyonette bustled over, a bee on a plate. She handed it to Klbkch and turned back to the kitchen. The Antinium stared at the bee, and realized he was hungry. As he ate, he spoke to Relc.

“You seem morose. Why? You being allowed to stay here seems to be a positive thing.”

“Yeah, I guess.”

Relc picked at his food. Klbkch crunched one of the bee’s legs in his mandibles, savoring the honey and butter coated onto the insect.

“It’s just…I feel like we’re not her guests, anymore, y’know? I mean, we’re guests here and we pay and get fed—and this is good grub, but we’re not her guests anymore. We’re just guests.”

“I see.”

Klbkch looked around the room. He looked at countless faces, all of whom knew Erin by name, and felt a sense of isolation in his chest.

“I feel the same way.”

“See? It’s not just me!”

Relc drained his mug. He waved for Lyonette to bring him another—and had to keep on waving because Lyonette was busy.

“I guess we didn’t know what we had. But remember when Erin was just by herself? We could come in at any time and she’d be sitting with us…”

“It was pleasant.”

Klbkch nodded as he tore pieces off of his bee. Relc smiled.

“Hah. Remember the pasta?”

“I do.”

“And now—well, now I can look over and see old man Zel sitting right there. Zel Shivertail. The Tidebreaker himself. Eating in this inn. It’s crazy.”

Klbkch nodded silently. He knew that Relc knew of his past history. Klbkch was as famous as Zel. More famous. At least among his own kind. But the extent of that fame was diluted among other races. Relc had only known him as Klbkch the Slayer at first. It was not the same.

“And over there—two teams of Gold-rank adventurers. Gold-rank. You barely see them in the best inns in big cities, and there are two staying here. I could take any one of them on by myself, of course—”

“Of course. Understand I merely say this to act as a friend, not because I believe your combat skills are that advanced.”

“—Shut up, Klb. But I mean, look at them.”

Relc lapsed into silence. Then he dug into his bowl with a spoon and munched down some beef. He wiped at his mouth, looking dispirited.

“Reminds me of when I was back in the army. It reminds me…nah, never mind. I just sorta feel like I’m out of shape, y’know?”

Klbkch nodded.

“I understand your sentiments.”

I don’t. But I feel out of place and very worthless.”

The two looked over as Olesm collapsed into a seat next to them. The smaller Drake looked despondent as his light blue trail curled up around his chair leg. He slumped forwards onto the table, holding a nearly-empty mug in one claw. Olesm stared at the two guardsmen.

“Mind if I sit here?”

“Go ahead.”

“You appear to be sitting already.”

“Thanks.”

The Drake sighed, long and loud. Relc poked him with a claw.

“What’s eating you?”

“I wanted to talk to Erin, but she’s busy. And there are so many people here—I feel like I’m not important anymore. I mean, to her. Not that I thought I was—I just want to talk to her, okay?”

“Join the club.”

“Indeed.”

The three sat in silence. The food was good, the company was acceptable, but Erin wasn’t here. Or rather, she was close, but too busy.

After a while, Klbkch spoke.

“It is unseemly to sit and be depressed because of Erin’s good fortune. I believe we should mingle and enjoy ourselves. We will be able to converse with her in time.”

“Mingle? And do what?”

Relc looked annoyed. Klbkch stood up.

“Let us find out.”

Relc exchanged glances with Olesm, but then they stood and entered the party. And it was a party.

“Look at this door! Look at this door!

Five minutes later, Relc was drunk, laughing, and having the time of his life. He was throwing pieces of bread through the door—which had been laid flat on the ground—into Octavia’s shop, trying to land it in Wesle’s mouth. Thus, he was actually tossing the bits of bread down onto the door’s entrance, whereupon they flew out of the doors sideways, aiming for Wesle as he lay on the floor in front of the enchanted door.

The physics involved created a far trickier game than normal, and the others crowded around the door were laughing.

“Stop getting making a mess in my shop!”

Octavia was shouting at Relc, but he didn’t seem to notice.

“You play so well! Have you been practicing?”

Olesm was dueling Pawn in one corner, and Typhenous, Ulrien and several other people were busy learning the game or playing it as well. Klbkch, standing to one side and eating his sixth bee, saw Erin move over to the game as if attracted by a magnet.

“Hey, I didn’t know you wanted to learn how to play, Lyonette!”

The girl blushed as she carefully placed pieces on the board. Her opponent, Krshia, was thinking hard as she scratched Mrsha by the ears. The Gnoll sat next to her, nibbling on some cheese, her belly round and full.

“Why don’t I teach you all how to play Go sometime? It’d be great!”

Erin was talking to Olesm and Pawn as Klbkch came over. Olesm looked confused.

“Go?”

“It’s a board game! Even more complex than chess! And it’s simple to make—well, sort of simple! I bet we could get a [Carpenter] to fix up a board for us in less than an hour!”

Erin shouted as she tried to explain the game. Olesm and Pawn crowded around Erin, and Klbkch couldn’t help but draw closer to listen too. Erin tried to share the general details of the game, but it was impossible to share everything in the noisy room.

“Later! We can do it later! I know how to play Shogi too…but I can’t remember what all the kanji on the pieces looks like so it’d be weird. But right now—does anyone want to play a game?”

“Me! Oh, me!”

Olesm practically begged Erin for the first game, and Pawn the second. Klbkch found himself playing Erin—but at the same time as she took on Typhenous and Olesm again.

And then—the party kept going. Some people had to sleep earlier, like Mrsha who was carried upstairs by Krshia, and others, like Jasi, left with her younger brother Grev because it was late. But no matter how many people left, Klbkch found that Erin was always talking to someone.

It was true, what Relc had said. Erin was no longer just his friend. Klbkch found that knowledge slightly painful.

He ran into Zel just once. The Drake had avoided him and all the other Antiniium, choosing to hang out with the Humans, or other drakes in the room. But they bumped into each other while going to the bar for another drink.

“Zel Shivertail. Please excuse me.”

The Drake [General] stared at Klbkch with open hostility.

“Why do you know a Human [Innkeeper], Slayer?”

“I could ask you the same question. Coincidence, perhaps?”

“She seems like a decent enough Human, as they go. Foolish, young…but we were all young once. At least, I was. What I don’t understand is why she’d ever befriend the Antinium.”

Klbkch shifted. He was armed with his swords of course, but he had no desire to fight here. Especially because he would die in an instant. Well, it wasn’t the death that bothered him, but the time it would take to revive.

“I do not wish to engage in hostilities here.”

“I won’t break the truce. But I don’t have to pretend to like you.”

Zel turned and walked away. Klbkch let him go. After a while, the Revalantor walked out of the inn, leaving some coins behind on a table for Erin. He stood outside on the snowy hilltop and decided to wait.

 

—-

 

Lyonette had never been busier, and in a way, never been happier than tonight. She was running about, serving tables, acting like a common peasant in short. But this peasant was leveling. And this peasant was liked.

By Drakes. By Gnolls. By the Antinium, even. Some part of Lyon still thought of Drakes as warmongering monsters, and Gnolls as overgrown dogs. But it was a part of her that Lyon knew was stupid. When she had been starving, a Drake, Olesm, had brought her food. And she loved Mrsha.

And she also loved this inn. There was electricity in the air that night, a charged room that kept everyone up long, long into the night. In fact, it was closer to morning when the last people staggered out and the adventurers went upstairs—or down into the basement—to sleep.

Lyonette found herself dozing at one of the tables, trying to pile dishes while her eyelids drooped. Erin yawned as she made her way over.

“You sleep. I sleep. Tomorrow we’ll…”

The sentence never finished. Erin just sort of wandered off.

“Here.”

Someone took the plates away. Lyonette looked up and saw Zel smiling at her.

“You’re awake?”

She said it stupidly. Zel grinned.

“What can I say? I like parties, and I’m used to staying up days without sleep.”

“Oh.”

Lyonette turned and looked upstairs. It seemed like a long way to go. Zel chuckled.

“Need a tail? Or—claw? What is it you Humans say, a hand?”

“Something like that.”

The girl grinned at Zel as she saw, out of the corner of her eye, Erin wandering into the kitchen. The Drake frowned as he looked in that direction.

“Is she going to sleep there?”

“She used to.”

Sure enough, the two heard a thump and then faint snoring as Erin immediately fell asleep. Zel shook his head and Lyon grinned.

“She’s a good…good…”

“So you say.”

He started helping Lyonette towards the stairs. But she paused as she put her foot on the first step.

“Something’s happening. Something is…weird…”

Zel paused. Then he frowned.

“Yes. I can feel it too.”

He turned. Lyonette shivered, and looked towards the fire. But it was still hot—and she realized she wasn’t shivering in cold, but rather trembling. The room was shaking.

“What…?”

“Earthquake?”

Zel looked around, ushering Lyonette towards a table. She stumbled towards it, but then realized something was wrong.

“No—look!”

She cried out as she pointed towards the walls. Zel turned and swore. The walls were trembling as well, and—glowing.

“What in the name of the Ancestors is happening?

Lyonette held onto a table as she heard voices from above. People were waking back up, and stumbling around. She turned, and tried to run for the stairs.

Mrsha!

The light grew stronger. Lyonette cried out in fear, and then, suddenly, everything stopped. It was as if the world had been pushing, shaking as it moved towards something. But now the world had reached its conclusion. The inn returned to normal. The walls grew dark and still.

But it was not the same inn of a moment ago. Lyonette’s legs shook as she steadied herself on the staircase railing for support. She stood up, and stared around the room. Zel stared back.

“What—what happened? I feel…”

Something was different. It was in the air, in the walls, even in the ground. The atmosphere in the inn suddenly felt charged to Lyonette. Zel just stared at her, uncomprehending.

“Why did the shaking stop?”

“I don’t know. But can’t you feel that?”

He shook his head.

“Feel what?”

Lyonette stared at him. He couldn’t feel it, but she could. Untrained as she was, she could feel it in every particle she breathed, every step she took as she walked across the floor of the inn. She raised her hand and concentrated.

“[Light].”

An orb of light drifted upwards from her hand. It glowed deep blue, and then shifted to a murky green; the color of the ocean depths that she had seen only once before. It was just an orb of light—

But it was far larger than it should be. As the ball of light flew upwards, it expanded, turning into a sphere, a tiny blue planet of its own. And more orbs of light rose upwards as well, from the ground, the tables, hovering in the air, a constellation of slowly shifting lights.

“What is it?”

Zel stared wide-eyed at the lights. He looked back at Lyonette, but she was pale-faced too. She had never cast a spell like this before. This—was closer to [Illumination], a spell far beyond her. But all she had cast was [Light].

“What is it? How is this happening?”

“I don’t know. But I can feel it. It’s…everywhere.”

“What is?”

Lyonette held one of the softly glowing orbs out. It turned pure white, and she breathed the words.

Magic.

 

—-

 

And she woke up, in the moments before the sun rose. Erin sat up as Lyonette and Zel stood in the common room. She stared at the glowing lights floating in her inn, and heard the words, the words that thundered in her mind.

 

[Innkeeper Level 30!]

[Conditions Met: Innkeeper → Magical Innkeeper Class!]

[Skill – Inn: Magical Grounds obtained!]

[Skill – Inn: Field of Preservation obtained!]

 

“Wow.”

 


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64 thoughts on “3.33

  1. Some days I write when I’m sick. Others when I’m angry, sad, depressed…

    Today I wrote when I was tired. My sleep schedule is beyond messed up. I don’t really care since I don’t have that many commitments that are time-sensitive, but I worry about how the quality of my writing is affected by such things.

    Especially when I try to write good chapters, which is always. But this one…is special. Magical, you could say.

    It’s been a long time coming, but we all knew Level 30 was going to be surprising, or really disappointing. I hope this is the former. More will be revealed later though; for now let us all go to sleep. Not me, though; I’m not tired yet.

    I really have to work on my sleeping habits…

    Thanks for reading!

    • I love your work so much! I so wish we could get the next chapter early! Impossible I know, but I really want to see what this means!

    • The wait was definitely worth it. I was a little worried after the last chapter that this one may be a different character, but I was happy upon reading the first words. That said, the beginning was a little slow, I was kinda disappointed in how Erin treated Lyon as well. but my biggest sadness is Klbkch feeling less important. I hope Erin is able to make time for him. Now the ending was great as well, I wonder what it means. My first thought is that with Magical grounds her door will get enough mana to run more often. I am also interested to know what the Field of Preservation is, like people inside get healed or nothing goes bad like food and her flowers wont die. I guess till Saturday

    • Magical Innkeeper Erin! Champion of the tired, defender of the hungry. In the name of hospitality she will guest you and punish rudeness.

    • Have you ever read Ilona Andrews Innkeeper series? I hope you give it a try. I would love if Erin became something like Dina Demille.

    • Complimentary is the correct word in this case, since it means “free of charge,” whereas complementary means “combining in such a way as to enhance or emphasize the qualities of each other or another.”

    • “Lyonette took matters into her own hands. Yes, she made mistakes, but you owe her respect, not condensation.

      Does she deserve to be dripped on by water that collects on a cold surface I believe you meant condescension.

    • This isn’t a typo per se, but it’s inconsistent from the established style.

      [Conditions Met: Innkeeper → Magical Innkeeper Class!]

      Is Erin’s class now [Magical Inkeeper Class!] with the “Class” and exclamation point, or is it a placeholder that was to be replaced with an actual name?

    • Not a typo, more of a nitpick:

      “An orb of light drifted upwards from her hand. It glowed deep blue, and then shifted to a murky green; the color of the ocean depths that she had seen only once before. It was just an orb of light—

      But it was far larger than it should be. As the ball of light flew upwards, it expanded, turning into a sphere, a tiny blue planet of its own.”

      you say that the orb shifted to green, but then you call it a *blue* planet

    • “The Silverfang Gnolls heard the [howl, but] they let their leader decide what would happen next.”
      “[She fussed] over the small yellow flowers, not looking directly at the girl.”
      “Lyon had no Skills[,] in cleaning, but she’d kept the inn clean, and found guests.”
      Extra spaces, and extra comma.

      “Guests? I have guests? You mean people are sleeping upstairs? Who?”
      “Not right now—there’s actually two groups of adventurers sleeping upstairs at the moment. Every room is full—”
      There are some contradictions here, I think. I could be forgetting something from before about guests/price but am pointing this out just in case.

      “racks full of glowing potion bottles, workbenches with powdered ingredients and empty class containers—”
      [class] -> [glass]

      “[AS] I was saying, the enchantments need reworking. If you look at how much magical energy this door drained from just a few moments of being active—”
      Maybe it’s supposed to be [As], but all-caps for is seems appropriate for the conversation’s tone too.

      “Probaly because he didn’t believe it.”
      [Probaly] -> [Probably]

      “That made all the adventurers in the room, and [Zel] sit up.”
      [Zel] -> [Zel,]

      “The Antinium waited, hearts pounding a bit faster.”
      [hearts] -> [heart]?

    • “It’s not a question of pooling, Moore.”

      Typhenous looked unhappy as he glared at [Pisces}.

      -I believe he glares at [Moore].

    • I have arrived!

      …and am too tired to look for typos right now. Plus it’s been a week, so they’ve probably all been found already.

      Such is life.

  2. So I recommend this story to a friend, gave her the doctor story to read first, and ended up getting sucked in again and rereading it myself!

    • Doctor story, hmm..
      I don’t know if I would suggest to start with it, as it has a complete different tone than the ones with Erin.
      This might give your friend a different impression how the story is going to be like. I think I would have recommended to start with 1.07, Erin’s first interaction with other characters. It’s hilarious, with Relc getting all smug about having been mistaken for a Dragon, his anger for Erin thinking Drakes and Lizards are the same, the last scene showing Relc and Klb casually thinking how nice it was to not having been forced to kill the friendly lady they just met.
      If one doesn’t like that chapter I think it’s safe to say that the story isn’t really for you.

  3. Since the [Magical Innkeeper] class isn’t colored, I wonder what requirements it actually had. I’m assuming that class advancements like that have a list of requirements, and as long as a certain number of them are met, the change will happen.

    But the question is did Erin’s unique skill (s) act as an acceptable substitute for different ones? Or was it solely off different things, like [Inn’s Aura] plus owning 3 highly magical objects?

    As an aside, have you considered a one-time character sheet up chapter for the POV characters? Its getting pretty hard to keep track of what everyone has, primarily Erin and Rags. By having it as a one-off, you don’t have to worry about spoilers or constantly maintaining it every week.

  4. Good chapter.

    “electricity in the air” / “charged room” – I don’t actually know where this saying comes from, but I
    feel like Lyon shouldn’t know the saying / the saying shouldn’t exist in this world. After all, the word itself was invented during the run-up to the industrial revolution.

    Their only exposure to electricity and charge is thunder, maybe spells, and maybe electric monsters. But would they know that thunder = electricity and charge, and would that be enough to construct that idiom?

    • This would be true for a commoner, but I could understand a princess being aware of how electric charge works from wizards using lightning bolts and whatnot. There could be spells specifically named after electricity in the air or charging a room.

      Energy in the air would make sense

  5. Downright starting to get a real fantasy tavern. now all she needs to do is ask the antinium to build a series of extra rooms in the basement and expand the basement to have a proper stage. and it can even have an offshoot hall running to the dungeon. with the new skills all the way to the entrance of the dungeon should receive the effects. would have an interesting appeal given the “rooms that keep changing in the dungeon.”

  6. Amazing. Eager for more, but please, don’t burn yourself out. If you don’t post again before Christmas, we’ll understand. That being said, i hope the next chapter will feature Ryoko.

  7. Aaand I’ve caught up after waiting for Wistram Days to conclude in its entirety. I thought the side story series was okay – not as good as some other side stories in that it didn’t keep me on the edge of my seat, but the ending and Cognita were easily my favorite part. I think the weakest part was Ceria’s estrangement with Pisces. It wasn’t fleshed out with context, since it seemed hypocritical to ostracize Pisces for his magical interests when she’s been a similar victim of discrimination all her life. I know, I know – stigma, rotting eyeballs, people are stupid and Ceria’s no different, bla bla – it’s just my dumb weakness for wholesome sane resolutions to break the cycle. Another minor consistency thing: it’s mentioned Az’kerash terrorized two continents for hundreds of years but he’s only recently turned 200 (and how did no one respond to his reign of terror for hundreds of years?).

    New chapters! Erin chapters always bring the feels. Usually warm and fuzzy feels, but that Klbkch and Relc bit was bittersweet and nostalgic. I loved the writing in these chapters. The excitement of Erin’s return is so contagious.

    Hope your sleep schedule gets better! I’ve found it really helpful to give it the jet lag treatment when your schedule’s messed up. Fix your circadian rhythms by waking at dawn even if you’re tired and getting plenty of sunlight during the day, eating breakfast ASAP and having meals at the regular intervals, setting up timed naps if you’re tired during the day because poor napping habits just leave you woozy (sleep.org says 90 minutes is ideal).

  8. With a portal installed and the [Magical Grounds] able to charge it the inn finally matches its namesake. It only took five thousand pages to give us a true Wandering Inn.

  9. “I’m in Liscor!, I’m in Celum!, Liscor!, Celum!”
    Now you’re thinking with Portals. ^_~

    Dimensional beer pong go!

    Felt for Klbkch and Relc sitting on the sidelines of the party.
    Erin got popular, and now they have to share.
    Reminds me when my best friend got a girlfriend.

    Level 30 Magical Innkeeper; it finally happened.
    Can’t wait to find out what it means.

    Thanks so much for writing this story. ❤
    Infinitely creative.

    The only other innkeeper story that comes close is Innkeeper Chronicles by Ilona Andrews, and I burned through that in 3 days.

    • Check out The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss. Not exactly an innkeeper series, but the MC is an innkeeper… among other things. Also, BEWARE! Book 3 is in writing limbo, with no release on sight.

  10. I am glad we got a little bit more of Relc. He was almost completely forgotten ever since the 1st Volume ended.
    On another note, I like that pirate showed how the Side characters are affected by Erin’s growth and sadly realize the downsides that come with it. Earlier, Erin had enough time to talk with Relc and Klb for a whole chapter. Now, they might not even get the time to exhance pleasantries.
    I honestely felt sad for them, which is certainly a plus for the writing.

  11. I am… unspeakably grateful that Lyon and Erin’s drama was resolved as easily and happily as it was. Ever since last chapter, I’ve been dreading the worst-case scenario outcomes of that. I deal very poorly with Awkward Drama, so this resolution is an immense relief.

  12. Loved the chapter, but was kind of disappointed in how Erin treated Lyon. Also, does anyone else feel like Erin started off with 10 common sense marbles and now she has 4? She just seems…more like an idiot than she did In the beginning of the story. A lot of Erin’s actions that fall in the “little common-sense” category are forgiveable and understandable, but they’re adding up. Ex: They literally discussed how the portal would run out of Mana if used it a lot, and then she goes and does just that.

    Idk, I still love the story and will continue to read it. That last part where she levelled up was great! Just some of Erin’s choices are starting to irk me a lot more than they used to and become immersion breaking.

    • I think Erin’s a bit manic right now. She’s overcommitting herself in any number of ways trying to stave off boredom, immersing herself in work and plays and friends to avoid being bored. And part of that mania involves her being … a bit overenthusiastic in seeking out fun.

  13. Can’t use magic -> Has magical inn
    Nice Upgrade!
    Erin asking the antinium for another building expansion soon? Relc doing something besides standing on Liscor’s wall? Kblkch trying to get his levels back? Ryoka gifts the tome to the gnolls? What will happen next in the dungeon?

    aaaaaaa
    there’s so much stuff that can happen now

  14. You know I’ve wanted to comment over 100 times before. But this chapter, the one before too, the emotion, the REALITY of the characters, the twists and the immersion, the fucking epicness.

    Know I mean this with all of my heart. I have read many many series and books. Easily over 250. And yet this, this is my undisputed favourite. You have taken a frankly – very ordinary, borderline boring premise – and turned it into a goddamned masterpiece.

    Thank you. With all of my heart. I may never comment but do not forget, you will always have a fan in me.

  15. …. Oh. I think I’m beginning to understand why the title is The Wandering Inn.

    Erin has a magical inn now. And a portal door. And I don’t know how that’s going to mix, but I’m guess the inn is going to start to travel. Maybe just by moving the door from city to city, maybe by actually moving, but … damn. Well worth the wait.

  16. I have a theory on the ending of the series, or at least a major plot point. The Inn itself is going to become a sort of portal between Earth and the current world. Hence the name The Wandering Inn. It’s going to wander from Earth to whatever the magical world is named.

  17. Excellent chapter and now we can see a true wandering inn. Marvelous! It does seem like Erin has become more childish and stupid lately but hat could be just the excitement she is experiencing. The author might be having trouble getting into Erins head after such a long absence as well but I’m going to go with excitement for now.

  18. Now that the Wandering Inn is a magical Inn, is it going to become Howl’s moving castle style and actually move around? Because that’d be awesome haha. Also I felt for Klb and Relc. I really wish they got more screen time. I think them and Pisces were like the first three characters ever introduced but only Pisces has had consistent development. Klb of course had his moment in the first novel but I’m really wondering what’s going to happen with Relc. I’m actually dying to know because the hints are there, retirement from the army, having a daughter and potentially a dead wife and of course his hatred for Goblins. But I guess I’m also being a bit unfair since there’s just so much. Anyway I’m really hyped the Magical Inn class and can’t wait to see what happens with it!

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