Erin and Ryoka left the room in the Runner’s Guild, a sleepy Mrsha draped in Ryoka’s arms. They left as friends, refreshed, ready to face the world.
Erin sang and danced down the steps, beaming in delight. She flexed her arms while Ryoka shifted the snoozing Mrsha.
“Erin and Ryoka, together again! The invincible duo!”
Ryoka smiled, embarrassed, and then covered it with a scowl.
“Come on, don’t you think we make a good team?”
“I think a good team doesn’t brag about how good they are.”
“But we’re like a duo! You know, Bonnie and Clyde! Jesse and James! Bert and Ernie! Tom and Jerry! Uh…Batman and Robin!”
“Siskel and Ebert! Spongebob and Patrick!”
“Which one are you, then?”
“No…I don’t want to be him.”
“Well I’m sure as hell not Patrick.”
“Okay, maybe that was a bad comparison. But I could be, uh—”
Their banter was interrupted by a [Receptionist] who hurried to them on the stairs with a smile on her face.
“Miss Erin, Miss Ryoka, I hope your discussion was productive?”
“What? Yeah. Oh—right.”
The [Receptionist] was staring meaningfully at Ryoka. She hesitated, cursed internally, and then shifted Mrsha to fish at her belt pouch.
She handed the woman two gold coins. Both Erin and the woman’s eyes bugged out when they saw the glitter. The [Receptionist] gaped at Ryoka, and then hurriedly curtsied to Erin.
“I hope you enjoyed our brief hospitality, Miss Erin. Please, if there’s anything we can do, do not hesitate to ask.”
When the woman had hurried off with the coins Erin grabbed Ryoka.
“What was that?”
“The Guild charges a 5% fee on all deliveries. I’ll do the paperwork later, but right now they think you just gave me a delivery worth forty gold coins.”
“But that’s so much! Ryoka—”
The Runner shook her head. She was in a good mood.
“I’ve got the money, and I think we got what we paid for, right? Private rooms, delivered food, entertainment for Mrsha…and I feel a bit bad for bullying that receptionist.”
“Don’t worry about it. I’m not. Here, hold Mrsha for me, will you?”
Ryoka dumped Mrsha into Erin’s arms. The Gnoll grunted and Erin did too. Ryoka strode over to two Runners who were approaching her.
“Garia, Fals. Thanks for looking out for Mrsha.”
“It was our pleasure, Ryoka. That little furball can run pretty fast! Are you going to teach her how to be a Runner?”
Ryoka smiled at Fals and turned to Garia. The shorter Runner smiled at Ryoka with an awkwardness Ryoka recognized. She’d felt it herself not a few hours ago.
“Sorry for overfeeding her, Ryoka. She’s just so cute…”
“No problem. And I’m sorry I had to cut you off, but Erin and I really needed to reconnect. Uh…how’s it been, Garia?”
“Oh, you know. I’m just running deliveries. I don’t do anything that interesting…”
“Not like a Runner who make it to Invrisil in two days! I heard the rumors Ryoka—don’t tell me it actually happened?”
“Not quite. I hitched a ride, actually…”
Ryoka gave them a cut-down version of the events, minus the assassinations and heard their envious comments about getting to do that many deliveries at once. Then she got to the heart of the matter as she turned to Garia.
“Look, Garia, I’ve really dropped the ball on hanging out with you. You keep offering to do a delivery together and I’m always busy…I’m not a good friend.”
Garia turned bright red and waved her hands hurriedly.
“What? No, I know you’ve got a lot to do. I don’t think—”
“A good Runner makes time for friends, right Fals?”
The young man blinked at Ryoka, and then smiled.
“True enough! Are you planning on doing a delivery with Garia then, Ryoka?”
“Better. I was wondering if that offer to visit her family was still on the table. We could hang out for a day or two.”
Ryoka really had no desire to meet Garia’s family, but she had every desire to be a good friend to Garia, and from the way the girl’s face lit up, that was the right thing to offer.
“Meet my family? Well—of course! They have a farm—we could have you over any time.”
“What about in a day or two? Maybe tomorrow? I’d hate to impose, but I don’t want to get tied up and not come…”
“No, no! They’d love to have you. I’ve told them all about you…”
Garia’s eyes slid sideways to Fals. Ryoka noticed, and turned towards him.
“Why not come with us? I’m sure Garia would love to introduce you as well.”
Fals looked surprised. He glanced at Garia and then met Ryoka’s eyes. She stared at him silently and he hesitated.
“I wouldn’t want to impose…”
“Well, what if I bring a friend? Garia, would you mind if Mrsha joined us? I think she’d love to see a farm.”
“No problem! And I bet she’d love to have fun with everyone…”
Garia was sneaking glances at Fals. Pressured on two fronts, he gave in graciously and smiled at Garia.
“I would be glad to. Just let me know when and we can run there together. Does your family enjoy sweets by any chance? I would love to buy them a jar of Miss Erin’s honey…”
“You don’t need to bring anything! Really!”
Ryoka participated in the conversation for a little bit, set up a tentative date, and then rejoined Erin, who’d persuaded Mrsha to walk on her own four paws. Her real struggle was making four paws turn into two.
“Come on, Mrsha. You can’t always run around on all fours. Krshia doesn’t do it.”
Mrsha gave Erin a glance that said quite clearly that Krshia was a fool who only walked upright to fit in. Erin smiled at Ryoka.
“Ready to go?”
“Yep. I’d say we’re in time for a late lunch if we get back to the inn now.”
“I just ate! Well, I guess I can make something if the adventurers are hanging about…”
Ryoka frowned, perplexed.
“Do they always stick around? I thought they’d have things to do. Like kill monsters or go into the dungeon.”
“Yeah, well, they don’t actually do that so much. Griffon Hunt and the Halfseekers are always talking and making plans…some days they go in and come back really late, covered in all kinds of nasty stuff.”
“Well, hopefully Pisces is still about. I want to talk with him.”
Pisces was indeed still in the inn, drinking and talking with the other Horns of Hammerad. And Griffon Hunt. And the Halfseekers.
None of the adventurers had left the inn, although Zel had. They were all clustered in the center of the room, talking heatedly about some big discovery. Ryoka had to get Ceria to explain it to her while Erin went to make a late lunch.
“Some adventurers went into the dungeon, Ryoka! This team—they’re only Silver-rank. They’re called Vuliel Drae and they went down through that hole Mrsha fell into. Apparently there’s an entirely new section of dungeon down there!”
Ryoka stared at the adventurers as they fussed over a bit of parchment. She walked over, peered over Ceria’s shoulder and was treated to a very rough map.
Or rather, the copy of a map. As it turned out, Halrac had just gone into the city and come back with a map of the dungeon. It had been made by Vuliel Drae, a relatively inexperienced group of adventurers who’d descended into the new hole and come out with a rudimentary sketch of a few passageways, a tale of running into half a dozen traps and monsters within the first hour, and the head of a monster no one could identify.
And an enchanted mace. It had sent ripples through the growing adventuring community within Liscor. Because it was proof the dungeon had treasure.
“Not just any treasure. High quality enchantments.”
Ulrien explained that to Ryoka, although she had a sense he was also telling her for Ksmvr and Pisces’ benefit. The Horns of Hammerad were listening intently to the Gold-rank adventurers talking. Despite Ceria and Yvlon’s experience, they were still juniors watching experts in their field work.
And argue. Seborn was talking about the mace, much to Jelaqua’s clear displeasure.
“It has some kind of auditory enchantment. It shrieks like a Death Wailer when you hit something, and everyone but the wielder is affected. I’d say the effect isn’t just sound-based—there seems to be some kind of immobility effect to it as well. So that’s two benefits. Too bad only one person can use it safely, but the cost—”
“Damn it, those bastards were already getting offers for the mace! It’ll probably sell for thousands of gold pieces!”
Jelaqua burst out and kicked a chair into the air. Lyonette screamed and ducked, but Moore caught the chair out of the air. He stared reproachfully at the Selphid.
Interestingly, Jelaqua blushed. Ryoka wasn’t sure she’d be able to with a dead body. But her cheeks did change color. They turned slightly orange, as if something inside the dead skin was heating up.
Disturbing, to say the least. Ryoka looked away as Jelaqua apologized to Lyonette. Ulrien, the other team leader, was less emotional.
“It was luck. Those adventurers were lucky to survive an encounter with the monster carrying the mace. It’s not like they made it to a vault or raided a monster’s lair.”
Halrac nodded and grunted.
“Word is they would have been completely wiped out if another adventurer hadn’t helped them out.”
“It’s unclear. Some lone adventurer with the ability to resist the mace’s effects. She slew the monster carrying it and got the team through several hallways filled with traps by all accounts. There was no name given—she’s described as a masked swordswoman with incredible talent.”
The other Gold-rank adventurers murmured at this. Typhenous raised his eyes at Revi and Ryoka saw the Stitch-girl shake her head. Jelaqua ground her teeth together.
“A lone swordswoman? Everyone’s getting the jump on us!”
Ulrien frowned at her.
“It’s not who’s fastest, Jelaqua. It’s who’s alive at the end to claim the treasure. You know that. Forget a lucky break; if just one of the dungeon’s treasuries is partially intact, we’ll reap a hundredfold times that amount.”
“I know. I just don’t like someone stealing a march on us.”
Jelaqua groused. She looked towards the kitchen and lowered her voice.
“Plus, you know those idiots wouldn’t have had the courage to descend, much less survive, without Erin’s cooking!”
Ryoka had been told all about the magical effects of Erin’s food. Not only could she make a soup that warmed you up when standing naked in the cold, but she could make one that toughened the skin, and another that made you stronger than you should be.
It was an incredible Skill with several caveats. You couldn’t have more than one effect at once, it wore off in a few hours, the food spoiled quickly, and Erin had to make it. Her or someone else with [Wondrous Fare]. And it was the exact sort of thing an adventurer might want, especially going into a dungeon. However…
“I’m not sure if they’ll conflict with our potions.”
Jelaqua had asked Erin to make her some of the Scale Soup, but she hadn’t had a chance to test it yet. She paced around the room, understandably anxious.
“Wouldn’t that be wonderful? Erin’s magical cooking helps all the low-level adventurers who can’t afford better enchantments, but we…”
Ulrien ignored his counterpart. The Halfseekers seemed used to Jelaqua’s emotions, but Griffon Hunt was methodical. He nodded to the others.
“I want to talk with the leader of Vuliel Drae. See if he can describe these Gnoll-like monsters. I hear they brought back a head.”
“Some of the Gnolls were quite agitated when they saw it. They may know more.”
“I’ll inquire about it.”
Halrac left with Seborn, the two being the most knowledgeable about the monsters. Ulrien and Jelaqua went to track down the leader of the adventurers who’d gone into the dungeon.
“They’re probably at the bottom of a barrel of ale and celebrating. Still, I want to know what it was like in detail.”
That left Typhenous, Revi, and Moore. Ryoka was surprised the [Mages] didn’t have their own duties, but then she saw all of them sitting down and eating Erin’s magical food, with varied degrees of enjoyment.
“See, I can make the Corusdeer Soup into a patty. And the uh, Scale Soup becomes…”
Revi paused as something went crack inside her mouth. She spat out what she’d eaten and stared at a hard fragment in horror.
“Ew! What is that?”
“A uh, Stonelizard scale. But I boiled it!”
“Is that lemon and mint? And…fish?”
“It tastes better than it does as a soup!”
“Gah. That’s hardly an improvement.”
Revi made a face. Moore, chewing down his food, shrugged his huge shoulders.
“You must admit it still tastes a thousand times better than some potions.”
“True. Now, to see how it might conflict with spellcasting and other enchantments.”
Typhenous pushed his plate back and began rummaging at his belt for a potion. Ryoka turned to the Horns of Hammerad, who’d been talking amongst themselves.
“How are you all doing?”
“We’re wondering whether we should be looking into this dungeon too, honestly.”
Ceria confessed to Ryoka as she watched Typhenous carefully imbibing part of a potion and making a disgusted face. She sighed as she scratched at her bone hand. Ryoka looked at her hand and then glanced at her missing fingers.
“It sounds intense down there. I hope you’re thinking it over carefully.”
The half-Elf nodded seriously.
“We learned our lesson once, Yvlon and I. But honestly Ryoka, there’s not much else we can do around here. Monster hunting around Liscor isn’t exactly a lucrative business, especially in the winter. Plus, I’ve seen Rock Crabs and I don’t want to tangle with them, even with our new gear. We could look for work around Celum thanks to the magical door, but…”
She shrugged, making a face.
“We’re talking it over. Which reminds me, we need to pay you…”
“I’d like to say it was between friends, but I wouldn’t say no to gold either. Still, you did get Erin back to Liscor for me…”
“We owed her for that. Come on, if you want one of our artifacts or the gold that [Enchanter] gave you…”
Ryoka was sorely tempted to see what she might ask for, but she had something else on her mind right how. She hesitated.
“I’ll think about it. But could I borrow Pisces? I need his help for some research?”
“Research? Hey Pisces! Get over here! What are you looking into?”
Ceria eyed Ryoka curiously as Pisces walked over, looking disgruntled at being summoned.
“Ah, Miss Ryoka. What may I help you with? Or am I not permitted to know the details of this endeavor either?”
Ceria stamped on Pisces’ foot and he hopped around, shouting while Ryoka explained. The [Necromancer] stopped yelping and his eyes lit up when she mentioned the door.
“Ah, a project to measure the door’s capacity? Well now, that is an interesting subject. May I take it that you intend for me to test the limits of the enchantment?”
“Is there some way to tell how much energy the door consumes? Definitively, I mean.”
“Well, Erin did manage to find the effective limit by jumping through it repeatedly. But I suppose that is not the aim of your inquiry?”
Ryoka gave him a look.
“Jumping through a door isn’t exactly a precise measurement. I’m just asking if there’s a way to calculate exactly how much energy is used per transportation. Is there a limit to weight or mass? How does distance affect the drain? Can you reduce the magic consumed into a figure and derive the maximum travelable distance from that figure?”
Ceria’s eyes went slightly cross-eyed, but Pisces’ eyes lit up. He stared curiously at Ryoka for a second and then smiled.
“Astounding. You seem to have a fascinatingly astute mind for magical theory. Have you some kind of connection with the [Engineer] class, by any chance?”
Ryoka smiled slightly.
“You could say that. Will you help?”
“I have nothing better to do, and the subject interests me as well. Very well.”
Pisces and Ryoka strode over to the door, Mrsha padding over behind them and watching curiously as they bent over the door. The Gnoll stared as Ryoka and Pisces opened the door and started chatting about the effects of the teleportation spell. She got bored and watched Revi poking herself with a dagger. Pisces and Ryoka’s conversation wasn’t exactly riveting.
“I understand that Erin’s new Skill provides the inn with a lot of mana. How fast does it replenish, though?”
“If it works under the principle of a site of high ambient magical power, like a mass graveyard or perhaps Wistram Academy for example, it would be a daily influx of energy with a set upper limit to the environs. However, I believe it is the door’s individual capacity that should be measured.”
“Oh? You’re saying the enchantment can only hold so much mana itself?”
“Naturally. This enchantment is built into the very wood and is of exceptional quality, but the most complex ward or binding has its limit. That is why the best enchantments on weapons, or objects such as this door, have mechanisms that allow them to recharge themselves.”
“So that’s our variable. Right. Well, if we’re testing how many times it can be used, we need to tell how much the maximum is.”
“There are several ways to determine that. But I believe exhausting the supply and deriving the limit from usage would be easiest.”
“Right. But just teleporting to Celum gives us only one variable. I’m suggesting that I teleport from set distances—”
“Naturally, naturally. We must account for the variable of distance as well as mass and weight. You need not lecture me on basic theory…although I am surprised I need not do the same for you, Miss Griffin.”
It was surprising, but Pisces understood the theory of the scientific inquiry, even if he didn’t have the terminology. But he knew the need to account for variables, and how to assign units to calculate the amount of mana used by the door.
In fact, the discussion made part of Ryoka’s mind light up. She hadn’t thought in terms of calculation or figures since coming to this world. And apparently, [Mages] shared at least a few genes with mathematicians, because their conversation attracted Typhenous’ attention.
“Ah, Miss Griffin and young Pisces. May I ask what your fascinating discussion is about?”
The older [Mage] came over and in seconds, was engrossed in the idea of testing the limits of the door’s ability to teleport. Pisces had already created a second ‘anchor’ which could be used to teleport back and forth—it was a mug.
He’d been drinking out of it and it was the closest thing to hand. Ryoka upended it and let a few drops fall onto the floor before she agreed to carry it a mile from the inn. But they still had to find a way to measure how much energy was being used each time she teleported.
“My suggestion would be to use a simple cantrip to do the measuring. You see, it is possible to draw from the door’s capacity. Thus, the change in the size and intensity of a [Light] spell linked to the door’s mana supply would indicate the reserves contained within the enchantment.”
Typhenous stroked his white beard importantly as Ryoka did some warmup stretches for her legs and arms and Pisces squatted by the door. The [Necromancer] smiled.
“Ah. That is interesting. What if I were to use this as a benchmark?”
He raised his hand and his other palm on the door’s surface. Ryoka blinked, and then felt every hair on her head try to stand up. She swore and ducked as a thin column of electricity burst from Pisces’ hand and shot across the room. Yvlon and Lyonette jumped out of the way, the armored woman cursing at Pisces.
“Watch it! I’m wearing metal, you crazed maniac!”
Pisces ignored her. The thin, crackling stream of electricity had formed a straight line that shot out and then began to earth itself on tables a good twelve feet away from where he was standing. Mrsha got close, reached out at the bright crackling busts of energy, thought better of it, and scampered away.
“Pisces! What are you doing?”
Erin shouted at him. The [Necromancer] stopped casting the spell and carefully walked over to where the spell had stopped. He marked the edge of the spot where the electricity had reached and marked the point with a cup. He turned to Typhenous and Ryoka and smiled.
“[Lightning Jolt]. Simple, and relatively costless. I am naturally using the ambient mana to fuel the spell while drawing on minimal reserves of my own.”
Typhenous nodded appreciatively while Ryoka went over to Erin and explained why she shouldn’t hit Pisces with a pan.
“Only naturally. But can you keep your own output steady, young mage?”
Pisces smiled archly at him.
“My control is sublime, Typhenous. I shall cast the spell again once Ryoka has teleported the first time. And if we have a measuring tape, we may derive a very rough estimation of how the range of the spell decreases with each casting…”
“Right. So if we assume that was close to 100%, we’re at…about twelve and a half feet. And if I hop through the door and come back—two teleports…Pisces, will you do that again?”
Pisces obliged. This time everyone watched as the lightning shot out…and stopped a bit before the place where Pisces had marked with his cup.
Ryoka blinked as Pisces placed a spoon on the second spot.
“Oh wow. That doesn’t go down much. We might have to break out a ruler after all.”
“Well, a rough estimate is possible. I conclude that the distance of the first spell was roughly twelve and two thirds feet, Miss Griffin. As for the second measurement, it would be fair to say the spell decreased in length roughly two to three inches. With rough estimation, that would mean the distance of one hundred and fifty two inches decreased by three inches per two jumps, which would mean…”
Ryoka did the math faster than Pisces could.
“You could bring over fifty people to the inn and back before it ran out of juice. But that doesn’t account for how fast the door recharges.”
Pisces stopped. He blinked at Ryoka and cleared his throat. Ryoka saw Ceria sniggering at the [Necromancer] behind his back.
“Ah…yes. That is correct. Well, we shall account for those elements as well. Once the door’s mana is fully depleted, measuring the length of the [Lightning Jolt] spell after a set period of time would allow us to calculate the rate of passive mana absorption.”
From her kitchen, Erin scratched her head. She looked at Ryoka and shrugged her shoulders.
“I don’t get it.”
Ryoka did. It wasn’t difficult math, although all the variables meant they’d need a lot of data to get good results. She saw Lyonette was watching them curiously, as was Mrsha. Yvlon and Ceria on the other hand looked like they weren’t able to follow the conversation at all. Ksmvr seemed to get it, but he was showing solidarity with his other teammates by pretending to be disinterested. And Revi was still poking herself with a dagger.
“Ow! Typhenous, we’re supposed to be testing the food, not checking on the stupid door!”
“Indulge me, please, Revi. I do enjoy this. And I seldom have the opportunity to speak with minds of similar inquiry.”
Typhenous waved at Revi and got a glare in response. From his seat on the floor, Moore got up and stepped carefully over to the mages and Ryoka. He smiled at them.
“I too would like to observe. And may I ask whether you intend to use the door as an involuntary translocation spell or as a portal effect? That may have a bearing on the mana cost.”
Typhenous and Pisces looked appraisingly at Moore. The half-Giant smiled at them. Typhenous cleared his throat.
“I believe young Pisces and I agreed that maintaining the portal effect was most efficacious, with the natural caveat that suddenly running out of mana would not adversely affect someone caught in the middle of transportation—which it does not—holds true.”
The other adventurers rubbed at their ears. Ryoka just rolled her eyes. [Mages] loved their fancy words, as much as any scholar. Mrsha shook her head and padded away and Erin went back into her kitchen, grumbling about an ‘older Pisces’. But Moore just nodded.
“I see. And the reason is?”
Pisces smiled and answered for Typhenous.
“Accidental transportation. If it were immediate, any contact with the door might trigger it, or a method of activation might be needed, all of which is far more complicated. An open portal allows for less disorientation as well.”
“Very true. Ah, I see that Pisces has managed to alter the enchantment. Miss Ryoka, will you be carrying this marker out to distances for us to test with?”
Moore handed the quite ordinary ceramic mug to Ryoka. She nearly dropped it and stared up at the half-Giant. Talk to him like a normal person. She knew that, but she had a horrible, horrible urge to call Moore a different name. She couldn’t help it. If he started waving around a pink umbrella, she’d really be in trouble.
“That’s right Ha—uh, Moore. I’ll run it out one mile to start and we’ll see how much energy that requires.”
“We may have to rely on a more precise spell to measure the energy consumption. I will consult with Moore and Pisces, although I believe a restrained [Flame Jet] spell would be more precise.”
Moore looked concerned.
“The inn is made of wood, Typhenous.”
“True. What would you suggest?”
Moore smiled and tapped the ground lightly with his huge staff. The floorboards suddenly sprouted a line of grass that shot forwards and ended at Ryoka’s foot. She gaped at the grass until it withered and faded, seconds later.
“Simple, accurate, and less dangerous to Miss Erin’s guests and her inn. Wouldn’t you agree?”
Pisces and Typhenous exchanged a glance. Then they stepped aside so Moore could get a better look at the door. They began speaking all at once as Ryoka grabbed the mug and headed towards the door. Pisces stroked his hairless chin in an imitation of Typhenous as he chattered with the others.
“For the purposes of experimentation, we must naturally use the instantaneous teleportation effect…”
“But how to differentiate between the costs for portal-style teleportation and instantaneous?”
“What if we configured the door leading to Celum and measured the difference between the two for the mana cost?”
“Of course. But if we are accounting for the variation in distance, we should also take measurements at different distances than simply one mile. I propose a sample at one mile, five, ten…”
“Only naturally. Has anyone a piece of parchment? I have a sheaf and some ink in my room if necessary.”
Pisces produced a slip of folded parchment. Moore opened his spellbook and took out a magical quill that needed no ink. Typhenous rubbed his hands together.
“Ah, good friends, it is a privilege to be working together with such fine minds. Shall we begin?”
“They’re all nerds.”
Erin peered at the three mages standing around the door with narrowed eyes. Ceria paused as she gulped down the spicy meatballs made in Drake fashion. They were on a skewer, and meat to be dipped in a sauce Mrsha had gotten all over the fur on her face.
“What’s a nerd, Erin?”
“Uh, someone who talks about a lot of complex and weird stuff?”
Erin wavered. She didn’t mean she actually thought Pisces, Typhenous and Moore were lame or deserved to have their pants pulled down or have their heads swirled in a toilet. Not that she’d ever seen that happen in real life. Besides, if anyone tried that to Moore, he’d probably throw them through a wall.
Maybe not. Moore was nice. Ceria just shrugged.
“I’m actually glad Pisces has found other [Mages] he can talk to.”
Erin looked at her half-Elf friend.
“You don’t talk with Pisces about stuff like that?”
“What? Magical theory and numbers that don’t make sense? No way! I can’t follow what they’re doing. Calculating a door’s mana supply from a spell that makes grass? How would that even work?”
Erin vaguely understood what they were doing, because Ryoka had explained it briefly to her and because she’d had to take classes in algebra and so on in high school. But she wasn’t surprised no one else got it. But it was surprising Ceria didn’t know.
“Wait, why don’t you understand? They’re talking about magic, right?”
“A kind of magic, Erin. They’re looking into the enchanting magic, but also spatial magic. Teleportation, you know? I don’t study that, and for good reason.”
Ceria put down her finished skewer of wood and grabbed another off of the plate. Across the table, Yvlon picked hers up and showed Ksmvr how to dip his with etiquette. On another table, Mrsha demonstrated how to eat like a savage. Ceria smiled as Lyonette tried to wipe Mrsha’s face and the Gnoll tried to avoid the clean cloth.
“Magic isn’t like that for me.”
“Really? What’s it like?”
“Magic is like…”
Ceria frowned. She conjured a small orb of water up with a flick of her hand, and as Erin watched, it fragmented into droplets and formed into a tiny replica of Ceria, which waved at Erin. Erin watched, open-mouthed as Ceria flicked the icy figure into the air. It shattered as it reached eye-level, and then landed on the table, a spatter of water droplets. Ceria breathed out and then grinned at Erin’s dumfounded expression.
“Whew, that’s tough. But magic is like that, see? I visualize my spells and put everything together just right. It’s hard to do earth magic and fire magic can get nasty if you don’t understand it right. But ice magic is like sculpting. You harden the ice here, lengthen it here…and you have a spike. It’s all seeing and concentrating, not…numbers.”
“Wait, so magic isn’t math?”
“Of course not!”
Someone interrupted their conversation. Erin looked over and saw Revi chewing on a meatball with a sour expression. The Stitch-girl’s tone was acerbic, but not exactly rude as she spoke to Erin.
“Magic isn’t the same for every mage, Miss Erin. Why would it be? Different schools use magic in different ways. Ceria specializes in destruction magic, in shaping her ice spells. But magic isn’t like that for me. I summon warriors. Magic is all about maintaining a link between myself and my spirits.”
“What’s it like?”
Revi hesitated. She drummed on the table and looked away before she replied.
“It’s rather like keeping a conversation up with all of my familiars. I have to maintain them, make sure there’s nothing wrong with their bindings, and I’m always looking for more. Magic is like collecting, exploring, augmenting what’s there. I slowly improve myself and the spirits I summon, buying new equipment for them, learning new ways to boost them with spells in combat…”
“Magic’s different for everyone it seems.”
Revi and Ceria nodded. Erin sighed. She wanted to learn magic, and knew that she couldn’t. Okay, in theory she could, but she didn’t have the raw talent or capacity Pisces and Ceria did. And…she didn’t really have the time. She had to get more help, like Ryoka said! It was just too bad she couldn’t throw around fireballs for fun now and then.
“Ah, is that food I see? Friends, let us adjourn for a moment.”
The other [Mages] had finally noticed that there was food on the tables. Typhenous, Pisces, and Moore came over to eat, and while they did Erin quizzed them on what magic was like.
Pisces snorted when he heard how Ceria practiced magic.
“Of course an [Elementalist] would think that way.”
Ceria threw a meatball at his head and he caught it in the air and levitated it onto his plate. Typhenous smiled at Erin and lowered his voice conspiratorially.
“Alas, it is the case where Revi and I have disagreed on the fundamentals of magic theory. A [Summoner] is…well, not the same as a general practitioner of the arts.”
“Up yours, Typhenous. Our spells are fine!”
“Yes, well, I’m sure they’re quite functional. For spells that require no adjustment and have little variation no matter how they’re cast.”
Pisces smirked and Typhenous smiled at him. Ceria muttered and flicked her fingers at them, showering the two [Mages] in snow. Typhenous blew it back at her and Revi hurled her plate at the two male [Mages].
There was a definite tension between the female mages and the male ones. Erin edged away. Mrsha and Lyonette stared at her as she joined their table.
“That wasn’t my fault.”
Someone popped into place in front of the door. Erin turned, and saw Ryoka, sweaty, looking about and scowling when she saw the eating mages.
“Hey! I just ran five miles. Get back over and finish testing!”
She snatched a plate full of the skewered meatballs from Moore and began scarfing them down, much like Mrsha. Actually, that was probably where the Gnoll was learning her table manners. Erin resolved to have a word with Ryoka about that.
While her friend was busying appearing and disappearing in the inn and the mages were arguing about the results, Erin had another visitor. It wasn’t Pawn or Bird—Lyonette told Erin they’d gone back to their Hive, much to her disappointment.
Instead, Klbkch came into the inn, looking for Ryoka. He got Erin instead, and didn’t seem put out by the trade.
“Sorry, Ryoka’s busy teleporting. But if you have time, I’d love to talk.”
“I have a reasonable supply of time, Erin. How may I help you?”
“I uh, I want to hire some of your people, Klbkch. And maybe upgrade my inn? Um. I can pay!”
Erin waited, looking hopefully at Klbkch as he sat with a plate of lukewarm meatballs in front of him. The Antinium Revalantor stared at her. He had a long gash down one arm, where the chitin was splintered. Was that new? Why hadn’t he healed it? After a minute Klbkch shook his head slightly, as if coming to.
“Ah. You never cease to surprise me, Erin.”
“Oh? Is that bad?”
“No. Rather…it would be fortuitous if not for the timing. May I ask what reason you have for this course of action?”
That was odd. Erin explained her problem with overwork as Klbkch nodded.
“Naturally this is an issue. So you wish to hire…?”
“Um. Garry? I know you’ve got lots of Workers and Soldiers, but I really need a [Cook]. And I get along so well with Garry and he’s a friend, so…”
Klbkch drummed his fingers on the table, thinking. At last he slowly shook his head.
“I regret that I cannot allow Garry to work at your inn, although I will naturally consult with you about construction costs and options.”
“Aw. Why not?”
The Antinium paused, and for some reason, looked awkward. He clicked his mandibles a few times before replying.
“My Queen…is partial to Garry’s skill at preparing food. I do not believe she would allow him to work elsewhere no matter how much gold was offered.”
“You mean she likes his cooking?”
“Well, I mean, that’s a bummer. But it’s okay. She probably needs to eat a lot because she’s uh, so, so…grand. Big. Huge. Gargantuan. Which is a good thing! Right?”
Klbkch wasn’t as quick to nod as Erin would have thought. He traced on the table with a finger, catching a tiny ant that had somehow wandered into her inn. He stared at it as Erin blinked at it and him. She wondered if he had a connection with—
He squished the ant and then picked up a meatball with the same fingers. Klbkch ate it slowly as he spoke.
“The…Queens of the Antinium are naturally large. However, this is not due to their need to birth eggs. That method is inefficient and was removed from our process long ago. Rather, Queens are normally composed of an extensive matter of brain. Sometimes Queens had bodies that were two thirds thinking matter. However my Queen merely emulates that fashion.”
It took Erin a moment to figure out what he was hinting at.
“You mean she’s…fat?”
Klbkch looked around the room slowly. Ksmvr sunk down low at his table as the Revelator spotted him. Yvlon scowled at Klbkch, but the Antinium just turned back to Erin and lowered his already quiet voice.
“I believe that she is the lightest of all the Queens on Izril by a considerable margin. She was the only Queen able to relocate herself to Liscor to start a new Hive, and as such she is still capable of movement.”
He paused and thought about that statement.
Erin had a horrible urge to start telling ‘yo mamma’ jokes about the Queen of the Free Antinium, but she resisted the impulse with difficulty. It wasn’t nice, although the Queen was a huge jerk. Plus, Erin couldn’t think of any good ones.
So instead she sighed and slumped over on the table.
“Too bad. I was really counting on getting Garry! But if the Queen wants her munchies…aw.”
Klbkch regarded Erin for a moment.
“I regret that I cannot allow you to take Garry. However, I would have to say the same of Anand, Belgrade, and Pawn. They all fulfill important roles within the Hive, now.”
“Yeah. And what would I get them to do? I mean, I could have them help Lyonette, but they’re not [Barmaids]. I’m going to talk with Safry and Maran about that anyways…although I could use some guards.”
Erin nodded, thinking. She hadn’t discussed that with Ryoka, but Selys had always told her she needed help. Of course, she’d gotten Toren after that…Erin pushed away the memory.
“Someone to stay here while I’m out and all the adventurers are away would be good. I don’t like leaving Lyonette and Mrsha by themselves, even if there is a magic door to Octavia’s shop. For that matter, what if trouble comes in through the door?”
“Indeed. That is a quandary. Would you hire an adventurer?”
“Maybe…but they cost a lot! With how much I make, I’d only be able to hire one. And Selys says the job isn’t popular, I mean, a bouncer or a guard has to stand around all day.”
“Indeed. It is an unenviable task in many respects.”
Erin sighed, thinking out loud.
“What I really need is someone who’s patient. Someone I know—only all my adventurer friends like adventure. It’s their thing. But I need a guard, and not Wesle! Someone who never gets bored, who has practically no life…”
Erin chewed at her lip as Klbkch sat silently. She turned to look as Lyonette showed Mrsha how to dip her meatballs in some raw egg and eat it. Erin opened her mouth to ask if that was hygienic, remembered that no one besides Ryoka knew what that word meant, and then stared at the eggs.
The idea hit her in a flash of inspiration. She turned to Klbkch.
“What about Bird?”
“Bird! What if I hired him?”
Klbkch stared at her. He visibly hesitated and glanced towards her window.
“Bird? He is unusual. Do you truly believe he would serve as an adequate guard for your inn?”
“Why not? He likes high places, and he likes sitting in one spot. He told me so. He can sit on top of my inn and shoot birds all day! Hold on—I’ve just had a great thought. Let me show you what I mean!”
Erin rushed into her kitchen and ran back to Klbkch with a piece of parchment and charcoal. She began sketching energetically.
“I told you I wanted to upgrade my inn, right? Well, I want a bigger common room—can you expand it like ten feet? And I want a third floor and longer second floor so I can have a lot more guests. But what if I added something on top of the third floor?”
It took Klbkch several minutes and a few questions before he could identify Erin’s sketch as a blueprint for the inn. What she had envisioned was a third floor for the inn, but her newest addition was a tall tower on top of the inn, a watchtower with no roof that would give anyone an unparalleled view of the landscape, much like the crow’s nest on a ship.
Erin grinned as she pointed to it and showed Klbkch a tiny stick-Antinium with a bow standing on the tower.
“He could sleep on the third floor and go up to the tower to shoot birds and watch out for danger. That’s all Bird does, right? And the tower would be totally cool! Doesn’t it look cool? I’ll call it…the Bird’s Nest.”
She waited. Klbkch stared at her. Erin coughed.
“That was, uh, a joke. You know, because of Bird and his name? And nest? And it’s tall?”
“I am aware. And if Bird agrees, I see no reason to object.”
“You mean you’d do it? You can build my inn?”
Erin sat up excitedly. Klbkch poured over the designs for Erin’s inn and nodded slowly.
“Your proposed designs for your inn seem feasible. However, I will have to charge you for this work, Erin. I am…unable to requisition supplies and aid so readily from my Hive at this time.”
“That’s fine! I wanted to pay you anyways. It wouldn’t be right otherwise.”
Erin smiled brightly at Klbkch.
“How much are we talking about here? I’ve got lots of gold coins.”
“I believe three hundred and twenty eight gold coins would be sufficient for this work.”
Erin paused. She stuck a finger in one ear and wiggled it around. But reality didn’t change, although she did find some earwax.
“Um. That’s…a lot.”
“Yes. Sadly, if we acquire useable wood from the forest of ah, ‘boom trees’, there is the matter of construction, hiring the Antinium, glass for the windows…”
“But three hundred—”
“Part of the cost—six silver coins out of every twenty—is given to Liscor under our treaty with the city. It is a non-negotiable tax.”
“That’s highway robbery!”
“No. That is our agreement. But it drives prices higher, as does a standing law that requires me to charge you for work outside of the city’s limits, as well as the necessity of guarding said Workers while they go about their tasks. To construct a third floor and expand your inn is a difficult task, Erin. Building a new home of quality would normally cost around two hundred gold coins in itself.”
Erin put her head in her hands. She didn’t have that money. She had a lot of money, but that…no. She stared at Klbkch.
“It’s the glass that’s expensive, isn’t it?”
“Each window costs approximately eight gold coins.”
Erin said a bad word. And then told Mrsha it was a bad word. The Gnoll nodded appreciatively as Erin sighed over the cost.
“What’s the problem?”
Someone came over to their table. Ryoka was gulping down water as Lyonette refilled her glass. She heard Erin’s woes out and barely listened to the issue of money before she nodded.
“I’ll pay for it, Erin. Go ahead and get everything built.”
Erin gaped at Ryoka.
“What? But Ryoka, it’s so expensive—”
The Runner shrugged carelessly. She sipped from her glass as Mrsha tried to leap onto her shoulder and failed. The Gnoll splatted onto the ground and went howling over to Lyonette, who scolded her about being reckless before cuddling her.
“I’m good for it. The Horns are paying me a bit more than that for doing the run to Invrisil and back. I’ll take it out of that and I’ll still have over a thousand gold coins to buy magical items with.”
Ryoka flicked some sweat out of her eyes. She looked back at the door, where Pisces was waving her impatiently over.
“Erin, I really don’t care. Klbkch, I’ll give you the coins later, okay?”
She jogged back towards the door and vanished with a pop of dislocated air. Erin turned weakly back to Klbkch.
“I can pay some of it. Really.”
“We will negotiate the division of payment. But I will take Miss Ryoka’s word on credit. Her generosity is worth accepting, Erin.”
“Yeah, but I never give her anything back…”
Erin sighed. She felt guilty, but she wanted a better inn more. She also felt a bit hurt. True, Ryoka had all that money from running dangerously, but she didn’t treat it, like it was, well, important.
Maybe it was because Ryoka used to be really rich? She said her father was some big shot politician guy and her mother also had an important job. Either way, it was done.
“I guess I’ll talk to Bird and see if he wants to be my guard. I think he will. And then I’ll have one guard! Do…do you think one is enough?”
Klbkch pondered the question before nodding.
“Safety is a relative term, but you are able to escape to Liscor and Celum quite quickly. Bird would no doubt be able to fend off any assailant if outnumbered or outmatched.”
“I didn’t mean—”
“It is his duty. If his death meant your survival, it would be a trade both he and I would be willing to make.”
Klbkch stared at Erin and she felt a cold pit open in her stomach. She didn’t reply, and the Antinium seemed to realize he’d made her uncomfortable. He switched subjects quickly.
“If assigning a group of Workers and Soldiers to your inn were permissible, I would do so. However, the contract between Liscor and my Hive—and my Queen’s own thoughts on the subject—do not allow for this course of action. If Bird agrees, I would have no issue allowing him to work at your inn on a semi-permanent basis.”
He paused, looking at Erin. Klbkch clicked his mandibles and make a dry sound, clearing his throat.
“Well. We shall begin construction shortly. However, for the moment there is a…situation in the Hive and all Workers and Soldiers are needed. I shall send a team to begin work, but it may take more time if the need for bodies persists.”
“Oh? Is…something happening in the Hive?”
For some reason, Klbkch glanced at the other adventurers, the mages clustered around the door and Ceria, Yvlon, and Ksmvr talking at a table about their magical artifacts. He shook his head slowly.
“Nothing that need concern you, Erin. It is simply a busy time for us.”
He left quickly after that, heading back to his Hive. A bit unhappy, but more exhausted by all the planning, Erin mechanically got dinner ready. But she realized she didn’t have enough of the weird crunchy vegetable that was called for in her soup.
Yellats. Erin went to Celum rather than Liscor to get them. It was just as quick—quicker, since she didn’t have to go through the snow and she could get them at a shop. Erin made her purchase and headed back towards Octavia’s shop. But she took a detour at the Frenzied Hare.
“Hey Safry! How are you doing?”
The [Barmaid] turned and smiled at Erin as the [Innkeeper] entered the bustling inn. Erin looked around for Miss Agnes, but the woman was nowhere to be seen. That was surprising, given how the inn was fairly full and both Maran and Safry were busy working with another woman Erin didn’t recognize.
“Wow. Busy evening crowd. Where’s Miss Agnes?”
“Oh, she’s out with her husband. Mister Agnes is feeling better, and business is good thanks to you. Miss Agnes hired another [Barmaid] and a [Cook]—she’s not around half as much as she used to be.”
Safry made a face as Maran rushed by with some drinks for a table whose occupants were crying out in thirst. Erin knew the [Barmaid] was taking time to talk to her while the other two covered for her, so she talked fast and didn’t beat about the bush.
“Hey Safry, I’m actually looking for some help. And I think you could give me good advice.”
The young woman—well, relatively young, since she was older than Erin—brushed sweat-dampened hair out of her eyes and smiled at Erin.
“What could I help you with?”
Erin smiled sheepishly. She liked Safry, and Maran. She’d worked with them for a week and they were hard working people. She felt a sort of kindred spirit with them.
“I’m actually sort of overworked right now in my own inn. I’m always cooking, cleaning, and so on. Lyonette helps a lot, but she’s only one person, you know? So I was wondering…do you know any good [Barmaids] I could talk to? I’d like to hire at least two, maybe as many as four. I’m going to go to Liscor and ask Selys and Krshia as well, but I thought you might know of some people I could talk to.”
Safry stared down at Erin, empty tray in hand. She looked around, and then to Erin’s surprise, pulled up a chair in front of her table. She leaned closer to Erin, looking at the [Innkeeper] intently.
“You’re looking for new [Barmaids]?”
There was a curious intensity to her tone. Erin nodded slowly.
“In that case…what about me?”
“Why not hire me?”
Erin stared at Safry. Of all the responses she could have imagined—and she hadn’t imagined any—this wasn’t one of them. But Safry looked serious. And she was already turning, shouting out above the busy noise of the inn.
“Hey Maran! Maran!”
The other [Barmaid] came over, looking footsore and tired.
“Aw, Safry…we have work!”
“Just sit. Listen—Erin’s hiring [Barmaids].”
“What? Do you want to hire me?”
Maran immediately sat down next to Safry, leaving their third co-worker to struggle alone against the hordes. But the two older [Barmaids] were intent on Erin. And Erin couldn’t understand why.
“Why do you want to work at my inn? Maran, Safry—I thought you two liked it here!”
They exchanged glances. To Erin’s bewilderment, they both shook their heads.
“We don’t like it here, Erin. It’s a good job, don’t get me wrong, and I’d work it the rest of my life if I had to. I have to eat after all. But if you’re hiring…I’ve been to your inn before. It’s larger than Agnes’, and you’re easier to work with than she is. And I’d bet you’d pay better than she does, too!”
“You don’t like Miss Agnes?”
Erin had her own private beef with Agnes after Jasi, and just how the woman ran her inn in general, but she hadn’t ever expected the woman’s relationship with her workers to be one of those issues. But to her surprise, Safry and Maran were only too happy to badmouth the woman.
“Miss Agnes? She’s not half as good as you, Erin. She doesn’t run the inn like you can, she can’t cook…on bad days, she’ll scream at you for serving the customer the wrong order she gave you. Or dock your pay for taking a break when it’s not busy.”
“She doesn’t do that. Really?”
“Oh, she’s better when her husband’s well. And Mister Agnes is a steady fellow, but when she’s stressed it gets ugly. And, well, she’s just not sympathetic! I had a terrible cold—couldn’t take or afford a healing potion, you know how it is with sickness—and she told me if I didn’t work I’d be fired, never mind that Maran was down with the same illness! I swear I gave my cold to two dozen folk, but I had to work.”
“She’s tight with her coin, too. We don’t get tips, Erin. I don’t know what world you come from—”
Erin jumped, but it was just an expression. Maran went on tiredly.
“—But folks don’t just leave extra coin for us. We rely on what Miss Agnes pays us, and that’s not much. True, it’s what most [Barmaids] get paid, but you’re a lot more generous than she is. You gave us a handful of coins each time after we’d worked our fingers off serving those crowds after the plays. Agnes would never do that.”
“I had no idea.”
It didn’t seem right to think less of Miss Agnes, not when Erin knew how the woman worked hard and tried to support her sick husband. But when she listened to Maran and Safry, Erin had to believe them. She couldn’t tell if they were lying, but she thought the things they were describing were the kinds of things Agnes might do. Like Ryoka had said, she wasn’t a bad woman.
Just not always a good one. And now Erin was faced with a problem, because she liked Maran and Safry. And she thought they might be a great help to Lyonette. However…
“If I hired you two, what would Miss Agnes do? I couldn’t do that, girls.”
Safry made a face.
“What, Agnes? If you hire us she’ll find two other [Barmaids] like that.”
She snapped her fingers dismissively. Maran nodded.
“A lot of girls have a few levels in the class, and it’s not like we’re rare. Erin, we’re begging you. Hire us!”
“But if Miss Agnes is angry…”
“She’d never scream at you, Erin. She’s afraid of you.”
Both [Barmaids] chorused at the same time. Erin stared at them.
“You’re a Level 20 [Innkeeper] at least, right? Agnes is only Level 18, though she’s been working here for nearly a decade! It’s her husband who has all the cooking Skills. Ever since you came along, her inn’s been making ten times what it normally has!”
Maran chimed in.
“You also have that Skill—you know, where you get really scary? I swear, Miss Agnes nearly wet herself when you lectured her. She won’t kick up a fuss, Erin. Please?”
Erin put her head in her hands. This was too complex! She only wanted advice, but now she had to make a choice. When she looked up, Maran and Safry were still staring at her. Erin took a deep breath. Life was full of hard choices. And knowing what she did, Erin knew her decision already, though it might cause trouble. She looked at Safry.
“Okay, assuming I were to hire you…how much do you get paid now?”
The [Barmaids] smiled.
“What are you offering?”
Erin wavered. She didn’t know what [Barmaids] around here were paid, but she’d done her math, and figured out how much she could afford to pay.
“I was thinking…one silver coin and six copper coins per hour, and more if it’s a busy day? Bonuses if it’s a rush, obviously. Maybe a bit more? I dunno. What do you think?”
There was silence. Maran and Safry looked at each other. And then they looked at Erin. Safry spoke.
“How many [Barmaids] do you need? I have friends. And I could start tomorrow if you want.”
They leaned over the table, ignoring their coworker shouting that she needed help. Erin sat back in her chair and looked at the two [Barmaids]. She gulped.
It was dinner time, or rather, a bit past that when Ryoka finished the testing. She popped back into the air in Erin’s inn, staggered, and clutched at her stomach. The teleportation made her feel as though she’d gone on a roller coaster ride at twice the normal speed. While inhaling paint fumes. Upside down.
“I think…I’m gonna be sick.”
Pisces carefully stepped back as Ryoka covered her mouth. It wouldn’t do to get his new robes dirty. True, he had the magical ones, but these were the unenchanted robes Ceria had gifted to him on Christmas. He would prefer to keep them clean.
Ryoka staggered over to a table and slumped onto it. Typhenous was sitting there, scribbling on a piece of parchment while Moore did math by tracing glowing numbers in the air. The two [Mages] concluded their calculations and looked up. They conferred with Pisces, and then presented their conclusion to Erin as she served everyone dinner.
“You’re telling me you spent all day doing maths?”
Halrac looked outraged, especially since everyone else, including Revi, had been gathering information about the dungeon from the latest reports. But Typhenous refused to be shamed.
“The understanding of this door, my good Halrac, is a boon in itself. And our conclusion is stunning!”
“The door can send someone of Ryoka’s general weight, give or take twenty pounds…”
Pisces flicked his fingers at Moore, and the half-Giant finished with a grin.
“…Five hundred and thirty six miles, given minimal change in altitude or magical ambience. The door would exhaust its magic after such a teleport however, and require roughly eight point two hours to recharge fully.”
The [Mages] sat back as the other occupants of the room went still. Ceria whistled and Jelaqua took a long drink of mulled wine.
“All the way to Invrisil, huh? Even if it’s only once a day…that’s powerful.”
“Invrisil? Hah! Who’d want to go there? It’s full of annoying Humans!”
Heads turned as Relc waved his mug and shouted from his table. By his side, Olesm slouched down as the Humans glared at Relc. Both Drakes had come up from the city, but Relc was in a substantially worse mood than Olesm.
“Got something against Humans, have you?”
Seborn looked at Relc. The Drake nodded. He had a bruise on his arm, his scales faintly discolored. It was the first injury Erin could ever remember seeing Relc having, outside of when he’d fought Gazi.
“Sure do, fish guy! I had to break up four brawls of adventurers today. Four! You Humans cause too much trouble! At least when Drakes fight, they break it up when the Watch comes. But noooo…you Humans always fight back!”
“Probably because they’re not used to [Guardsmen] who are actually competent. Most of the ones in the northern cities are barrel-scrapings, not fit to be Bronze-rank adventurers.”
Revi spoke up from her table, eliciting a glare from Halrac and Ulrien and putting her squarely in the ‘not Human’ camp in the room. Erin watched the arguments with half an eye, although she thought it wouldn’t come to actual violence, especially when Lyonette circulated with another tray of drinks. She was getting good.
“Hey Erin, about what I was going to tell you…”
Olesm caught Erin as she was serving tonight’s dish, a spicy vegetable soup, mixed with some rather wonderful fried dino-bird that Bird had shot the other day. Erin slid into a seat as Olesm talked excitedly.
“I was sending some copies of your chess game around, and I had a lengthy correspondence with a famous [Strategist] from one of the Walled Cities! Well, I say famous…he’s not exactly the most shiny scale around, but he’s well-known and guess what? He wants to come here and play a game of chess with you, Erin! Here!”
“What? No way!”
“Yeah! I told him—well, I told him I’d ask you, but do you think—”
“I’d love to! Anytime! But wait, I barely have time to play…and I haven’t in such a long time! I’m rusty! Quick, let’s play a game.”
Erin and Olesm fussed over a chess board while Ryoka wandered over to a corner of the inn. She’d spotted someone fly in at some point, and sure enough, Ivolethe was eating an egg while perched on Mrsha’s head.
Just an egg. She’d cracked part of the bottom and was sucking the insides out. There was something disgusting about the tiny faerie eating that way, and Ryoka didn’t look too closely as she squatted down. Mrsha immediately moved over to sit next to Ryoka as the girl spoke to Ivolethe.
“Where have you been, then?”
Ivolethe licked some yolk off of her arm and looked archly at Ryoka.
“Away. I do not hover about ye all the time, Ryoka Griffin.”
“Fine, be obstinate. I just wanted to say that Mrsha and I—yes, you, Mrsha—are going to visit a friend in a day or two. She lives on a farm.”
Ryoka waited for Ivolethe to say something biting, but the faerie just paused. Ryoka looked at her.
“You down for a visit, or will you be going somewhere else?”
Ivolethe shook her head.
“I will come. And it is good you will be going away for a day or two. I think it is time I taught you something. The winter will end soon, Ryoka. And when it does, so too shall we part.”
Ryoka hadn’t been thinking about that. Rather deliberately. She stared at Ivolethe.
“You mean you think you can teach me magic? We haven’t gotten around to it. And I didn’t really manage to learn much when you tried before. But you think I can really learn how to run like the wind?”
The faerie was silent as she tossed the empty egg over her shoulder. It flew surprisingly far and high and bounced off of Ksmvr’s head.
“I do not know. But I think…”
Ryoka watched Ivolethe carefully.
The faerie nodded slowly. She smiled wickedly.
“Yes, I think it will be entertaining for me.”
She grinned at Ryoka, and the young woman bared her teeth in reply.
Across the inn, as Ksmvr stared at the eggshell and wondered aloud where it had come from, and then promptly asked Pisces to explain, Erin sat with Olesm and talked about her door.
“It’s so cool! Ryoka says she could take a portal-door-thingy to Invrisil and then I could go there and back any time I wanted! Okay, I could only go like once a day and then come back, but if I bought a mana potion or something…Pisces says he could fuel the door with his own mana to make it charge faster!”
Olesm was sweating over the chess board, tail lashing furiously. Relc looked bored as he watched them play.
“Invrisil. Hah. Why’s everyone want to go there?”
“Well, Ryoka knows some people there and it sounds really cool. It’s one of the biggest cities on the continent!”
“One of the biggest Human cities.”
Relc folded his arms. Erin looked at him as she took one of Olesm’s knights and he covered his face in despair.
“What’s wrong with that? I want to go to a cool city. So what if it’s Human?”
Olesm looked up.
“But you don’t have to. You could go to one of the biggest Human cities on the continent…or a Drake city. You could reach one of the Walled Cities from here, Erin.”
Relc pounded a fist on the table, and then held out for Olesm to gingerly tap.
“Scales over skin! Whoops, sorry, Erin. Why not Drakes? Give us a chance!”
“Really? A Walled City?”
Erin had never gone south from Liscor. Neither had Ryoka. She had no idea what was south of Liscor, what things looked like. Ryoka had said she’d gone to a mountainous place, a forest, the Blood Fields…but never a city.
“The Walled Cities are amazing, Erin. I think you’d love to visit. Why not try and get a teleporting door there? I’m sure a lot of people from Liscor would pay good money to travel back and forth as well.”
Relc was nodding as Olesm spoke. Then he sat up, scratching at the spines on his head.
“Home, huh? That reminds me, what with this dungeon thing…I was thinking about it after that stupid Gazi kicked my tail a while back. But I really need to get my spear back.”
Olesm and Erin looked at Relc. Erin pointed silently to the spear the Drake had leaned against the wall near his table. Relc waved his tail at it dismissively.
“Not that. That’s just an ordinary spear, Erin! I mean my spear, my enchanted spear! I had it back when I was a [Sergeant] in army. But I had to leave it when I left. Stupid rules…but I think I need it to handle all these monsters and stupid Human adventurers.”
He glanced across the room at Ryoka, who was tossing Mrsha up and catching her, much to the Gnoll’s delight. He nodded at her and spoke conspiratorially to Erin.
“Think your runner friend could go to one of the Walled Cities for me, Erin? For maybe, a discount? I need to send a message to the army.”
“They’re fighting around one of the Walled Cities, last I heard. Well, they’re always fighting. I don’t know where they are exactly, but I bet anyone could tell your Runner friend. She looks familiar, by the way. Have I met her before? Ah, well, you Humans…anyways. It would only take like…a week or two? She’d be back in no time, I bet, especially if you give her one of those teleporting things.”
Erin stared at him. Olesm stared at him. Relc looked around innocently.
“One week? Come on. It’s not like it would take months. No? Fine. I guess I’ll go bug Hawk.”
The last visitor to the inn dropped by long after Mrsha had figured out how to throw up in midair and Ryoka had learned why tossing children and engaging in vigorous exercise around dinner time was a bad idea. Bird wandered into the inn and was immediately accosted by Erin.
“Bird! Guard! Bird House! I pay, you shoot! Birds! Bird!”
It took a while for him to understand what Erin was getting at, but when he realized what Erin was suggesting, Bird was ecstatic.
“I am ecstatic. Is that the word?”
“Yes! Oh, Bird, it’ll be great! You can have your own room, you can shoot birds, I can cook birds, Mrsha and Lyonette can be safe and you can stop her from running off without supervision—”
Mrsha, recovered and eating more food, gave Bird a wary look. He gave the Gnoll cub an ever warier look, but nodded at Erin.
“Revalantor Klbkch has informed me of my duties. I would be happy to accept.”
Erin smiled at him.
“That’s great. Everything’s so great! Oh, by the way, is Pawn around? I heard he was trying to talk to me earlier, but I didn’t get a chance to see him. What did he want?”
Bird looked confused. He scratched his head, and then remembered. He replied cheerfully.
“Ah yes. I remember now. Pawn was to be assigned to combat duty with the group of Soldiers under his command today. He wished to speak with Erin and talk with her in case he perished later.”
It was like a spell. Everyone that heard Bird went instantly silent. Only Relc and the Halfseekers across the room hadn’t heard. Relc was laughing loudly at Jelaqua and challenging her to a drinking match when he realized the room had gone still. He turned and looked at Bird as Erin put a hand over her mouth. Bird looked confused as he stared around. He shrugged.
“What? He said it was only a possibility.”