Once upon a time there was a [Princess]. She was bad at being a princess. She never leveled, and she ran away from home, no doubt causing a lot of trouble because of that. She ran in a childish fit of anger, and ended up on another continent, where she caused more trouble because she was petty and small-minded and useless. Then she died.
That was how the story should have gone. Every day Lyonette du Marquin knew she should have died a long time ago, cold, alone, lying in the snow. She knew that, and so she tried to be grateful for the second—no, probably eighth—chance she’d been given.
It wasn’t hard to be grateful. Because Lyonette had everything she’d wanted. In some senses, she’d found exactly what she’d come to Izril to find.
She had a job, something to do that mattered. She had a duty, to protect Mrsha, to take care of the inn. And what was more, she had what she’d wanted for so long.
Levels. Classes. Skills. For the first time since she was seven years old, Lyon was actually leveling again. Not just gaining a level every few years. She was gaining levels rapidly. Not as a [Princess], true, but as a far humbler class. A [Barmaid]. Perhaps it was below her station, but Lyonette didn’t care. Because she had Skills!
[Charming Smile]. [Lesser Strength]. These were her two latest Skills, obtained as she’d reached Level 11 in the [Barmaid] class. They made her happy and slightly ashamed. Happy because they were Skills, and ashamed because the part of Lyonette that still thought of herself as royalty knew these Skills weren’t what she should be hoping for.
A [Princess] should not have a Skill that let her lift heavy objects, Lyonette knew. True, a Skill like [Charming Smile] was a very Princess-like Skill, although a [Princess] should not smile so openly for no reason. But these weren’t grand Skills, the kind that could aid her nation or inspire her people. They were just…Skills.
And yet, her entire life, all eighteen years she’d lived, Lyonette had only had one small Skill from her [Princess] class. Just one Skill while everyone else learned more Skills and leveled. This was better, truly.
Lyonette was grateful for it. She was a Level 11 [Barmaid], a Level 4 [Beast Tamer], a Level 6 [Carer], a Level 2 [Tactician], and…a Level 5 [Princess]. She knew she had far too many classes, that she should only have one.
She didn’t care. Lyonette was more grateful to Erin Solstice, the [Innkeeper] and owner of the Wandering Inn, than she could say. Erin was almost always cheerful, always helpful, brave, and kind. If she had one flaw, it was that she was also impulsive.
And that sometimes made trouble for Lyonette. Sudden party? Lyonette would be rushing around to fill orders by herself and washing dishes all next morning. Erin’s selling magical food to adventurers? Time to buy another five kegs of alcohol! Where did all the food go? Erin cooked it all? Back to the city.
Lyonette usually didn’t begrudge these decisions. However, this time she wished, just a tiny bit, that Erin had consulted her.
The younger girl stared at Erin’s beaming face and then her eyes slid sideways. It was just past dawn, and it was a bit too early for thinking. Cleaning and hauling water, that was okay. But this?
“You hired…all of them?”
“Yup! This is Safry and Maran, Selys’s friend Drassi, and a Gnoll that Krshia introduced me to—he’s Ishkr. They’re all going to be helping you out! Isn’t it great?”
Lyonette stared as the two young women Erin had pointed out, the yellow-scaled Drake, and a Gnoll with red-brown fur waved or nodded to her. She blinked a few more times and then turned her head.
Ryoka Griffin, the strange Runner with exotic features was eying the new staff with as much skepticism as Lyon felt. Mrsha was sitting on top of Ryoka’s shoulders, detracting from the girl’s poise as she chewed on a cracker and showered Ryoka with crumbs. Lyonette looked back at Erin and smiled weakly.
“Yes. Great, Erin!”
Erin never talked to her about her plans. One day she announced she’d be hiring the Antinium to add a third floor to the inn and that the Antinium named Bird would be living here from now on as a guard, the next…this.
In fairness, Lyonette had really respected hiring Bird. She’d never felt safe without someone who could fight. But these new people…Lyonette didn’t know anything about them. Erin clearly thought they were competent, but it was also clear after a few moments that there would be trouble.
“Alright, I’ll start cooking breakfast, lunch and dinner. You all can uh, well, clean up. And I need some water. Lyonette, can you show everyone how things work? Thanks!”
And like that, Lyonette found herself dealing with another one of Erin’s new ideas. The [Princess] turned [Barmaid] took a deep breath and then smiled at the people Erin had hired. They were all staring at each other with a bit of wariness, but maybe this wouldn’t be so bad!
“Hello everyone. I’m Lyonette. I’m a Level 11 [Barmaid], and I’m very happy to be working with you.”
The woman called Safry smiled at Lyonette. She would have said something else, but Drassi spoke up. And kept speaking.
“Are you the [Thief] that got kicked out of the city? I was going to watch, but I was working and Selys said it wasn’t that exciting. And that’s the scary Gnoll kid right? Hi! I’m Drassi, a Level 8 [Barmaid]. Well, I was also working as a [Receptionist], but I like waiting tables more since you have to sit in one place as a [Receptionist].”
Lyonette blinked as a wall of words hit her ears. It was rather like listening to Octavia deliver one of her sales pitches, only Drassi was just talking. Chattering, rather.
The Drake cut off as the Gnoll, Ishkr, cleared his throat. He looked around.
“Hrr. I am a Level 16 [Waiter], yes? Honored Krshia recommended that I work here.”
That was it. Drassi opened her mouth, but it was Maran, the other Human woman who spoke up.
“Really? In that case, Safry and I are the highest-leveled workers here.”
Everyone stared at them. Ryoka and Mrsha had already gone off to play ‘don’t crawl on my head’. Safry smiled as Maran pointed at her friend.
“Safry’s a Level 21 [Barmaid] and I’m a Level 22 [Barmaid]. We’ll look after things and teach you all how things work. Lyonette, Erin said we’re cleaning, right? Where are the supplies? And what’s this about water?”
Lyonette stared at Maran. Wait, what had she said? They’d teach her? But—
That should have been the first clue. But then Lyonette heard Zel coming down the stairs, so she just grabbed a few of the dust rags, a bucket of soapy water and showed the others which tables were clean before hurrying out the door. Yes, looking back on it that was the start.
The start of a few truly miserable days for Lyonette du Marquin.
Two Human [Barmaids], a Drake [Maid], and a Gnoll. It sounded like a recipe for disaster.
And it was. Upon getting back, puffing and panting with more water, the first thing Lyonette saw was chaos. Maran and Safry were serving food to the bemused Gold-rank adventurers who’d come down, Zel was waiting patiently for his food while Drassi cleaned and talked his earholes off, and Ishkr was waiting for instructions, standing at attention by the kitchen. Mrsha was sniffing at him as he tried to shoo her away. And Erin was shouting that she needed more pots to hold all the food she was going to make ahead of time! Lyonette nearly screamed.
After half a day of work, Lyonette realized that things weren’t as bad as she’d thought, and they were worse than she could have imagined.
The inn was busy from dawn till dusk now, mainly due to Erin’s advertising her magical cooking to the adventurers in Liscor. You could stop by for a quick bite before going out hunting monsters or braving the dungeon, and you’d have an enchantment that would last for hours, at a fraction of a cost of a normal potion!
This amazing opportunity meant that Erin’s inn always had a steady flow of visitors, mainly adventurers looking for one type of magical food or another. Everyone was busy, and Erin had set up the schedules so that not all of the staff would work at the same time. Sometimes, like around dinner, all four of the new workers might be helping at once, but usually Lyonette would be working with two or three of the others at most.
That gave her time to relax and play with Mrsha, in theory. But Erin hadn’t accounted for the need to teach the new workers everything, and since she was busy ‘hanging out’ with Ryoka, an expression that meant going shopping, chatting, and generally enjoying herself in Celum and Liscor, the duties once again fell to Lyonette.
It gave her the opportunity to learn about the others. And what Lyonette learned was that she didn’t actually mind some of them. They had their negative qualities, true, but also good ones.
Drassi, for instance. She talked. No, she gossiped, no, she conversed with anyone and everyone nearby. She could chat about Drake politics and switch over to a serious discussion about the latest Human fashions in a second. But while that could be annoying, she was always chattering away while she cleaned a table, or served food. She didn’t linger.
That couldn’t be said for Maran and Safry. They worked, talked, and when they were done serving, they sat around and talked with the inn’s guests. At first Lyonette thought they were just taking a short break, but it became apparent that when there was no more food or drink to be served, the two [Barmaids] would just sit down and relax, rather than clean tables, wash dishes, or get more water or firewood from outside.
“We can do that later. After the inn closes. Relax!”
“The inn doesn’t close until Erin sleeps, and that’s after midnight!”
Lyon argued with Maran as the other woman sat with a drink. Maran looked slightly off put, and then shrugged.
“We’ll do it when more dishes pile up. There’s barely more than a few cups and plates.”
Lyonette tried to think of how to insist without forcing the issue, but Ishkr beat her to a reply.
“I will do it, yes? I have time.”
He headed into the kitchen, rolling the sleeves of the uniform he was wearing up. Maran gave Lyon a smile as if to say, ‘you see, there’s no problem.’ By her side, Safry watched Ishkr go in and leaned towards the other two Humans and whispered conspiratorially.
“I hope he doesn’t get fur all over the dishes. How does a Gnoll wash plates anyways? With his tongue?”
Maran giggled, but Lyon gave Safry a look that wiped the smile off the other woman’s face.
“With his paws, I imagine.”
That was the issue. Not Ishkr. The Gnoll had been hesitant at first, but when he was told what to do, he did it without complaints. He wasn’t talkative, but he seemed to enjoy idle work, the kind he could get engrossed in without talking to anyone for good periods of time. Better yet, he didn’t have a problem with Mrsha’s white fur.
“I was born and raised in Liscor, yes? I do not know many of my tribe’s superstitions. Honored Krshia says the child is alright, so I will not mind.”
That put him in Lyon’s good books. No, Ishkr and Drassi weren’t the problems. The problem pair were Maran and Safry, by a long shot.
It wasn’t that they didn’t work as hard. Well, it was partly that. But Lyonette just didn’t like them as much. For a while, the girl had wondered if she felt threatened, but she realized it was because of how Maran and Safry seemed to regard Lyonette’s advice as suggestions and thought of themselves in charge.
Even when they didn’t have a clue of what to do. In the mid-lunch rush as adventurers came to eat magical food, normal food, or just drink, Lyonette saw Safry delivering one of Erin’s Corusdeer scrambles to a waiting Drake. She called out, but Safry didn’t pay attention until she was on her way back to the kitchen.
“What’s the problem Lyonette? I served him his food.”
“No, no! That’s the wrong Drake! He’s eating the wrong food!”
Lyonette hurried over to the Drake. When she came back, after apologizing profusely, Safry made a face.
“How can you tell the difference? That looks like the same Drake to me!”
“He’s not! Look at his scales!”
“They’re green. All of those Drakes have green scales too!”
How could they not tell? Lyonette looked at the green-scaled Drakes that Safry had pointed out as proof, and saw an elderly Drake male with patches of grey scales, a Drake warrior with a speckled pattern across his far lighter green scales, and a Drake with darker green scales and some distinctively long spines along the back of his head. When she pointed this all out to Safry, the woman just looked confused.
“Where are you seeing all that? They still look sort of the same. Okay, the old guy I can see, but Drakes aren’t distinctive like us Humans.”
Lyonette bit her lip. She’d heard Drakes and Gnolls say the exact same thing. And to be fair, most of the people on this continent had light skin, whereas Drakes and Gnolls had all kinds of variation among their fur.
“How about this. Next time, why don’t you ask if this is his order? If you know his name, you can check to make sure. It’ll just take a second and I’m sure they wouldn’t mind—”
Safry’s eyebrows crossed, and she raised a hand to cut Lyonette off.
“Look Lyon, I appreciate the advice, but Maran and I know what to do. You just point out the right Drakes and Gnolls and we’ll do our job.”
Lyonette stared at Safry, but the woman turned away too quickly for her to respond.
That was the first big issue Lyon had. The second came when she noticed they were running low on water. They were always running low on water to cook with, boil for drinking, wash with, use for cleaning, and so on.
“Maran, can you go get some more water?”
Lyon was busy serving a group of Gnolls that the two Human [Barmaids] couldn’t tell apart. Maran stared at Lyon, then her eyes flicked to the Gnoll [Server].
“Why not Ishkr? He’s free, and he’s stronger than me.”
Lyonette paused feeling angry. It was true Ishkr was free for the moment, he had just worked his entire shift and Safry and Maran had just had lunch! Moreover, why was Maran’s first response to ask someone else to do the work?
“Ishkr needs to have his lunch break. You just finished yours.”
“But we still have some water left.”
“Some, but we’ll be out soon!”
The Gnolls sitting at the table eyed Lyonette as she went over to argue with Maran. They flicked their eyes at Ishkr, who made some motion behind Lyon’s back she couldn’t see. Maran clearly didn’t want to go.
“It’s cold out there. This isn’t a [Barmaid]’s job, you know.”
“Erin told you you’d be working here, right? This is what we do.”
“I want to talk to Erin about this. This isn’t what I was hired for.”
Lyonette’s patience was at an end. She felt like she was dealing with a child, not an adult.
“You can do it when she comes back. Just go now, please. And take two buckets!”
She thrust another one into the affronted woman’s hand and practically pushed her out the door. Lyonette got back to serving, apologizing to the Gnolls. She waited for Maran to come back. And waited. And waited…
Maran returned after twenty minutes, twice as long as it should have taken, just when Lyonette was about to go look for her. She was irate at having to have carried the buckets up the hill in the snow. And they weren’t fully filled!
Lyonette bit back her words when she saw Maran’s face and instead thanked her. Twelve minutes later, she wished she could have taken back the thanks when Safry began to complain about Mrsha.
“Hey, can you do something about her?”
She was pointing at Mrsha as the Gnoll tried to sneak up on the group of Gnolls. They were letting her do it, and one would turn to stare at her when Mrsha got ready to pounce on a tail. Thereafter Mrsha would run about excitedly. Lyonette saw nothing but pure fun in Mrsha’s game, but Safry was clearly displeased at having to watch to avoid Mrsha being underfoot.
“The kid’s cute, but we’re trying to work. Can’t you make her go upstairs or play outside?”
“Just ask her to move. It’s no problem.”
“She’s in the way every two seconds. Why not let her run outside if she’s so excited?”
Lyonette stared at Safry.
“There are monsters outside. She’s not causing that much trouble and she needs the room.”
Maran spoke up as she swabbed a table. She made a face as she held up a rag full of white hairs.
“She’s getting fur all over the tables and chairs we already cleaned.”
“So? Just clean them again? It’s only a few wipes of the rag.”
The two [Barmaids] looked at each other, clearly displeased. Lyonette had to turn away so they wouldn’t see the look on her face.
Small things. Small things that would go away. That was what she told herself, but then Bird came by and things got…awkward.
He wanted a drink, and he had some birds for Erin. Simple, right? Only Maran and Safry left him sitting until Drassi got a drink, and although Maran had a pitcher of refills, she kept seeming to miss Bird.
“Just fill his cup! What’s the problem?”
“He’s—don’t you think it’s weird? He’s one of them! One of the Antinium!”
It was only then that Lyon realized how clearly uncomfortable Maran and Safry were around Bird. They walked wide of the Antinium, not going near him if they could serve other customers. Drassi and Ishkr were far more relaxed around the Antinium, having seen them before, but Safry and Maran weren’t happy with him around.
“That Antinium in the Horns of Hammerad was one thing, but is he going to be here all the time? He just stares and talks about birds!”
Lyonette crossed her arms as Maran complained.
“Erin’s going to hire him permanently. He’ll stay here all the time as a guard.”
The woman looked dismayed. Safry shook her head.
“Maybe he’ll stay upstairs where we don’t see him. I’d hate to turn around and just see him there. Staring.”
Not once had Lyonette ever felt uncomfortable from Bird’s stare. He was just curious, and she never felt uneasy around him. She opened her mouth, and turned away.
When Erin came back, a few hours before dinner, Lyon had never been more relieved. She would have loved to chat with Erin, but dinner had to be made ready, and Erin was far too busy laughing with Maran and Safry for Lyon to pull her aside to talk about…Maran and Safry.
Indeed, while Erin was around, things suddenly began to work smooth as butter. Neither Maran nor Safry had a problem with the Gold-rank teams, the Horns of Hammerad and Zel in the crowd, mainly because everyone was distinctively, and largely, Human. Lyon rushed about until Erin pulled her aside. She was sitting with Ryoka, eating rather than cooking or serving for once and looking pleased as a cat about it.
“Isn’t this cool, Lyonette? I can take a break!”
Lyonette bit back the words she wanted to say. Erin smiled up at her.
“So how was everyone? Did Drassi talk a lot? Selys says she does that, but she swears Drassi’s a hard worker. Oh, and did Ishkr do okay with Mrsha? I was worried about that but he seems cool!”
“They both did great, Erin.”
“Awesome! So there were no problems?”
Safry and Maran were walking around, serving the tables and talking with the adventurers. Too near. And it was only day one, right? Lyonette felt she couldn’t say anything. So in the end she didn’t. She only mentioned Maran’s reluctance to get water.
Erin groaned aloud when Lyon brought that up, but she was already nodding cheerfully when Lyon was finished explaining.
“Oh, the water? I guess I didn’t mention that to them. I’ll talk with Safry and Maran about it, okay?”
And that was that. Erin had a word and then came back to assure Lyon that water wouldn’t be a problem. Lyon tried to take Erin at her word, but she really couldn’t. She just felt like something was wrong.
Then in the middle of the night, Lyonette woke up and realized what was wrong. Safry and Maran thought they were in charge. Because they were higher level. But Lyon was. Right? She’d been working here longer, so she should know what to do. Right?
But it occurred to her as Mrsha rolled over and Ryoka snored loudly from her corner of the room that Erin had never mentioned who was in charge while she was gone. Maybe Erin hadn’t thought about it. But it mattered. It mattered…quite a lot.
The second day was no better than the first. It started out promising, with Safry and Maran turning up exactly when they were supposed to and cleaning last night’s dishes and the room cheerfully while talking with Erin.
The trouble started the moment Erin left to hang out with Ryoka in Celum. Lyonette missed her chance to ask Erin who’d be in charge while she left. She felt awkward just bringing it up—it felt as though Lyon was trying to get Erin to give her more authority, when it was really an important matter.
Either way, it meant there was no leader, and so the duo of Safry and Maran butted heads with Lyon over countless issues as the day wore on. It began with tips, and came to a head with buckets of water.
This time Erin had left the inn before breakfast had ended. She’d already cooked up days of food in advance, a handy suggestion of Ryoka’s that was convenient all around. But it meant that the Gold-rank adventurers and the Horns of Hammerad were eating at the same time as Zel. And wouldn’t you know it, but Safry and Maran seemed to serve food first to the Gold-rank adventurers and leave Zel for last.
“Hey, you’re not serving Zel first. Bring the sausages to his table—he’s been waiting the longest!”
Lyonette caught Safry’s arm as she went out holding a steaming plate of reheated sausage. The [Barmaid] frowned at Lyon.
“Why? He’ll get some in a minute. But the Gold-rank adventurers are sitting over there, Lyonette!”
Safry rolled her eyes.
“So, they might tip us!”
Lyonette paused. She looked accusingly at Safry.
“I thought you told Erin you didn’t get any tips!”
“Well, obviously not from normal folk. But Gold-rank adventurers throw their money around like water, especially for good service! If you smile the right way at some of the men, they’ll give you a gold coin just for serving their table!”
She moved away from Lyonette and to her outrage, served Griffon Hunt first. And indeed, both Safry and Maran flirted with Halrac, Ulrien, and Typhenous, who might have been twice as old as they were! Lyonette nearly swallowed her tongue when she saw that, but according to Safry and Maran, that too was customary.
“You don’t understand how being a [Barmaid] works, Lyonette. You need to pay attention to the most important customer.”
Safry’s arch tone made Lyon want to kick her. She pointed towards Zel, who was eating sausage with Mrsha, oblivious to the drama.
“Oh yeah? Well he’s a Drake [General]. Why don’t you shake your hips for him?”
Both Safry and Maran’s jaws dropped. They exchanged a speculative glance, and then Maran shook her head.
“Eh, I don’t want to flirt with him. What if he took it seriously?”
Safry nodded. Lyon ground her teeth together. It wasn’t the idea of Zel and Maran together that was upsetting her—that was pretty much impossible—it was how Maran had phrased her words.
“What’s wrong with him? What if one of Griffon Hunt took things seriously?”
“Well, that’s different. Obviously.”
Maran looked surprised Lyon had to ask.
“Ulrien and Halrac are fine, and so is the old [Mage], I guess.”
Safry made a face, but nodded reluctantly. Maran cast her eyes over to the other adventurers in the room and shook her head.
“But the half-Giant’s obviously no good, and neither is the fish man. Ugh. No way. And the others are all female…at least there’s that handsome [Mage] sitting with the Horns of Hammerad.”
She pointed to Pisces appreciatively. Lyon stared at Maran, and her dislike of her and Safry grew four times larger in that moment. She smiled bitterly at both of them.
“Who? Pisces? Go ahead if you want. He’s a [Necromancer], you know.”
She left the two horrified women and stomped away.
Midway through the day, Lyonette paused to check how much water they had left. There was a good amount, but a fit of pique made her go and ask Maran to get more water. She expected the other woman to resist, but she wasn’t expecting an outright refusal. But that was what she got.
“There is no way I’m going out there. Neither is Safry.”
Maran’s face was set.
“There are fish with teeth in the water. That’s what Erin said! And Rock Crabs? Shield Spiders? I’m not doing it.”
Lyonette stared at her, and realized Maran hadn’t been told of Liscor’s natural hazards before now. Drassi and Ishkr accepted the slight danger as a matter of course, but Maran’s face was white at just the thought of running into one of the monsters.
“Look, Maran, it will be fine. Just take a seed core and—”
It was customary now for Lyonette to use some of the wizened, dried-up seed cores that Erin had stored from the blue fruits just in case a Rock Crab showed up. She’d scared one away twice by now, and knew they weren’t a threat if you had your eyes halfway open. But Maran was insistent.
“I’ll get some water from Celum instead.”
“What, from a well there? Fine. But if you’re going—”
“No! I’ll do it like civilized folk do and have it delivered! You can pay to have water barrels sent to your inn or home each day. It’s just a few silver coins—a few more for a fast delivery, but it’s safe.”
Silver coins for water? Lyonette gaped at Maran and then shook her head.
“You can’t do that. Just go and get some water!”
“I won’t. If you need them, get it yourself or get the other two to do it. But Safry and I won’t get water from now on. You can melt snow in the buckets if you want.”
That was it. Lyonette crossed her arms, too frustrated to let this go. She glared at Maran, who was staring hard at Lyon, mouth a firm line.
“We need water, and Erin told you this was part of her job. No one else is getting water, so until you go—”
“I’ll just pay for some water to be delivered here! Erin’s got enough money.”
Maran went over to the bar’s counter and to Lyonette’s horror, opened the lid of the money jar where Erin collected the day’s earnings. She went to stop Maran, but Safry got in her way.
“Erin’s not going to pay for barrels of water when she can just get it from the stream.”
“Well that’s too bad, because I’m not going to get some and risk my life.”
Maran marched over to the door leading to Celum. Before Lyon could stop her, she’d disappeared through with a handful of coins from Erin’s money jar. She came back thirty minutes later, and Lyonette watched six huge barrels of water come through the doorway with butterflies of panic and anger fluttering about in her stomach. She took a deep, shuddering breath, and walked right past Maran’s smug face.
Lyonette was furious Maran had wasted Erin’s money. But deep down she was also pleased. It meant that there would be trouble, and that both [Barmaids] would get what was coming to them. At least, Lyonette hoped that was the case.
“Hey Lyon. Get Mrsha off the table!”
Safry was trying to clear the plates off of one and Mrsha was happily trying to steal scraps. She flicked her hands at Mrsha, trying to shoo her off, but Mrsha just saw that as an invitation to play. Lyonette hurried over and pulled Mrsha away. Safry glared, and Lyonette glared back.
The other woman broke the stare-off by glancing towards the door.
“By the way, one of the Antinium things was here earlier. Not the Bird one…this one called himself Pawn or something.”
Lyonette dropped Mrsha in her excitement. Pawn was alive! Erin had been so worried.
“Where is he?”
“I don’t know. He was looking for Erin, so I told him to come back later because Erin’s not here. We’re busy cleaning up breakfast, so—”
Lyonette clutched at her hair. She screamed at Safry, right in the woman’s surprised face. How could she turn away Pawn, just because she was afraid of the Antinium? He was a guest, and she—
“We always let the Antinium in! Always! Is he still nearby? How far did he go?”
She rushed out the door before the woman could respond.
Death. Pawn had known it would come to that. He’d known it, but not really known. There had been some stupid, foolish part of him that had imagined fighting with his Soldiers, triumphing over the monsters and not losing a single one.
What a fool he had been. The Antinium dragged himself away from Erin’s inn. She wasn’t there. And he was empty.
His Soldiers had died. Twenty five of them. But far more had died that weren’t his. He’d heard Belgrade give the report to Klbkch. Over two hundred Workers and about half the number of Soldiers had perished while they’d been fighting. Two hundred.
These weren’t devastating numbers. The Hive had suffered worse, and always come back. New Workers and Soldiers were always being created. That also meant each day they were also dying. If not by the hundreds, at least a dozen.
Each day. Each day, a dozen Soldiers like the ones who lived on the walls of the barracks in paint died. Each day. Pawn could barely fathom that. No—it was because he couldn’t imagine such a thing that he was still able to function at all.
Workers died. Soldiers died. They died and their bodies were turned to mush that other Antinium ate. Each day. If you dwelt on that, you’d curl up and die, like the Workers who never woke up and were carried away. Or worse—you’d become an Aberration.
That was how they were created, surely. Pawn had come close, once. He felt that had to be why. It was when you couldn’t make sense of it all, when the death and emptiness crushed you down and left not even loyalty, not even the shred of…of anything. That was when it happened.
He wanted to talk to Erin about it. But she wasn’t there. The strange Human who hadn’t met his eyes had said so.
So Pawn would go back. He’d go back and—
Someone called his name. Pawn looked up. He saw a figure running down the hill, waving her arms and shouting at him. Not Erin. But someone nearly as good.
Lyonette. She seized him, hugged him. Pawn stood still in the snow, wordless, as Lyonette sobbed in relief that she’d gotten to him before he’d gone back to his Hive.
“I thought you might be dead! Come on, come back to the inn. I’ll get you food, and your favorite bee, and you can wait for Erin—”
“But the Human female said Erin—”
“You can wait for her! Don’t listen to Safry! Come on!”
In no time, Pawn was sitting in the inn, Mrsha sniffing at his hands, a mug of hot honey milk in his hand, and a plate with a dead bee practically dripping with butter and honey wafting enticingly up at him. The bee was making two of the Human [Barmaids] scream and argue with Lyonette. Pawn listened and thought Lyonette sounded angry, until the door from Celum burst open and Erin and Ryoka rushed through.
Erin’s voice was like the sun. He rose as she ran at him. She threw her arms around Pawn and hugged him tightly. It was like finding his name again. Pawn hugged her back, carefully, and saw another girl he recognized standing behind her. Ryoka Griffin.
When Erin let go, fussing over Pawn, Ryoka approached.
“Pawn, right? I’m Ryoka. We’ve met before, but I haven’t talked with you.”
She held out a hand. Pawn stared at it, and gingerly shook it. Ryoka Griffin was nothing like Erin, but she was reassuring in her own way. She had spoken to Klbkch, Pawn knew, and Erin had always spoken highly of her. She was intriguing to him.
But now Erin was fussing about him, and telling him to tell her everything. Pawn looked at her, and felt the same pain, the helplessness, hurt bubbling up inside him.
“What happened Pawn? Was it bad? Why did Klbkch tell you to fight?”
He couldn’t talk about the Hive. Or how the Antinium were barely holding back the monsters. But the dead. Pawn closed his mandibles and looked down at the cooling bee.
“I let them down. They died to protect me. A quarter. They died, Erin. For me.”
“What? Who died, Pawn? Belgrade? Anand? Who?”
Erin leaned over Pawn, looking anxious, worried. That filled Pawn with something too, something bright, but also painful. He shook his head.
“Not them. My people. They…I put them on the walls.”
Erin and Ryoka exchanged a glance. Pawn knew he wasn’t making sense. He tried to explain as best he could.
“You were fighting? Monsters?”
Ryoka stared intently at Pawn, but he couldn’t answer. He told Erin how he’d drawn the symbols of his dead Soldiers on the walls when he started shaking. He couldn’t help it.
“I am sorry. It is just—”
“Don’t be sorry.”
Erin hugged him tightly, so tight that Pawn felt the shaking stop, as if she’d used a Skill. But her warmth was simple, plain. It was better than magic, more mysterious than a Skill. Erin stood up, looking angry and upset.
“I’m going to talk with Klbkch. I’m going to tell him he can’t make Pawn and his Soldiers do this!”
“Wait a second, Erin—”
Ryoka rose, grabbing at her friend’s arm, but Erin shook her off.
“Don’t argue with me, Ryoka! This is wrong! Pawn, you sit right here. You don’t have to worry about fighting and dying, okay? I’ll take care of it.”
She practically ran out of the door, despite Ryoka’s attempts to stop her. Cursing, the girl returned to her seat and looked at Pawn.
“Damnit, I hope she doesn’t try to storm the Hive.”
“Revalantor Klbkch is most likely on duty as a [Guardsman] in the city at the moment.”
“Oh? Who’s defending the Hive, then? I assume the monsters are still around.”
Pawn froze. Would it be Belgrade? But no—he was resting.
“I—I do not know. Perhaps Xrn?”
But that didn’t feel right. Who led the hive when Klbkch could not, and when Belgrade and Anand were out of commission? It had to be—
The Queen. Did she lead the Hive? She must. She must have ordered the Workers and Soldiers to do battle thousands of times before Belgrade and Anand had taken some of the burden away. She had to send them to their deaths, over and over. How could she? How could she not care? Did she know?
The storm of emotions was hidden behind Pawn’s face. Ryoka stared at him.
“I think Erin will get Klbkch to take your unit off the front lines. Erin’s persuasive like that and Klbkch…will probably listen to her. Even if he wouldn’t listen to anyone else.”
Pawn shook his head.
“I wish she would not do that. Revalantor Klbkch…had his reasons for ordering my unit into combat.”
Good ones too. He was right. Pawn’s group of one hundred Soldiers had suffered least out of the groups assigned to combat, and his had fought in one of the most hotly contested areas. His Soldiers were stronger than normal ones. But they had died.
How could he ever ask the Soldiers to fight again? How could he face them? But Ryoka didn’t seem concerned with that. She was staring at Pawn and clearing her throat. He looked at her. She drummed her fingers on the table for a moment.
“Look…Pawn. I’ve wanted to speak to you for a while now. Since Erin’s gone, now’s the best time. I know you’re upset, but you and I have to speak now about your…beliefs.”
Pawn froze. He looked cautiously at Ryoka.
“What do you mean by that?”
She met his eyes levelly.
“I mean, I heard from Erin about how she told you about Christianity. About…God. And I had a talk with Klbkch and he says you’re a believer. And you have a class. Is that true?”
If she’d talked to Klbkch, then he could speak to her, right? Pawn hesitated, and then nodded. He lowered his voice, without knowing why. It seemed like something Ryoka would want.
“That is correct. I am a Level 6 [Acolyte]. I received the class after I…prayed and was told of religion and heaven by Erin.”
Why did Ryoka freeze up at that? Her eyes flicked to Lyonette, who was arguing with Safry about a plate Mrsha had accidentally knocked over. Then she looked back at Pawn, seemingly worried.
“An [Acolyte]? Damn. Uh, has Klbkch told you why that’s not a good thing?”
Pawn nodded. Klbkch had indicated it was not, in action as well as word. He’d told Pawn not to speak of gods to anyone. After he’d tried to kill Pawn for knowing about gods in the first place.
“He has expressed his desire to keep such knowledge private. I have done so, and only told you of my class outside of my Hive. However, I do not understand the reason for his distrust of gods.”
“Yeah, well, that’s complicated. If he didn’t tell you, I don’t think I should either.”
Ryoka traced patterns on the table, thinking hard. She hesitated, and looked at Pawn again.
“I uh, can’t say why Pawn, but this faith business is trouble. Klbkch, your Revalantor, agrees with me, and so does your Queen, I think. So…why don’t you just stop praying? It…really doesn’t do much good. Or rather, there are other ways you can help your people.”
Pawn stared at Ryoka. He felt shocked, stunned by the words coming out of her mouth.
“Stop…praying? Stop believing?”
She nodded and leaned over the table.
“Look, it’s not something your people need. A god is important, sure…faith, hell it’s meaningful, but the people of this world have gotten along fine without one for this long. Can’t you, I don’t know, just forget about it?”
Just forget about it. Just forget about Heaven. Forget about god. Forget about—
Something blazed in Pawn. He closed his mandibles, leaned away from Ryoka. When he spoke, his grief was forgotten. It had been replaced by the anger of indignation.
Ryoka sighed and scrubbed at her hair.
“Come on. Why do you need to believe? Like I said, it’s really dangerous if it spreads—”
“It is necessary for the Antinium.”
She looked blank.
“Why? Why would believing—”
“You do not know what it means to be Antinium.”
Pawn cut Ryoka off shortly. She did not understand. He tried to tell himself that. And then he realized that was it. She really didn’t understand. Pawn looked at Ryoka, who seemed to be growing more annoyed. She was ignorant.
“Look, I’m trying to be nice, but Klbkch and I agree—”
“What would you give someone with one day to live?”
Pawn stared at Ryoka. She blinked.
“What would you give someone with exactly twenty four hours to live before they died? Someone who knew their death was imminent?”
She stared at him. But unlike Erin, she didn’t question Pawn’s words, but took the query at face value.
“One day? Well, I guess I’d give them what they always dreamed of. Time with their family if they have any, money to do what they wanted…uh, maybe a chance to—”
She broke off.
Pawn shook his head deliberately. She still did not understand. He spoke carefully, choosing each word to make her comprehend.
“You are misunderstanding my question. I said, what would you give someone who had one day to live? Not years. Not decades. One. Day. One day total. Someone who came into existence and will die within hours of waking.”
Ryoka’s eyes widened.
“You mean—a Soldier? A Worker? One of the Antinium?”
The word was bitter on Pawn’s mandibles. He broke off a leg of the dead Ashfire bee, stared at it as he spoke.
“You Humans live for years, do you not? In most cases, you live at least until you are ten, many twice that age. Some live for nearly a century. Other races live longer, others shorter. But the lifespan of an Antinium may be a single day. Or less.”
“You mean they’re born and are fully cognizant the instant they come out?”
Ryoka seemed fascinated, but she was missing the point. Pawn nodded.
“The instant a Soldier emerges, he is expected to fight and serve his Hive. He may be sent into battle minutes after he is born. What can he have in those minutes, if not faith that he is dying for a reason?”
“For his Hive, you mean. For his queen.”
“Yes. But it is not enough. If the Soldier lives, he will fight every day for his Hive. Fight and die, Ryoka Griffin. That is his fate. Fight and die. What can you give him? Money? He has nowhere to spend it. Family? He will never reproduce, and his brethren die with him. An experience? He has never seen the sky.”
The young woman sat across from Pawn, staring at him as if she were looking at something horrible or tragic. Pawn felt something surging in his body, something dark, but also…
“You tell me faith is not needed. I disagree. When Erin told me of God, of Heaven, it was important. It was necessary. Because what else can the Antinium cling to? What can I give the Soldiers who died for me, if not hope of a place to rest? What can I give a Soldier who will die in moments, if not faith? Tell me, Ryoka Griffin. Why is faith meaningless to the Antinium?”
She had no reply. She sat back, looking stunned, and then ashamed. When she did speak, minutes later, it was humbly.
“Yes. You are.”
She nodded as well.
“I didn’t know about how the Antinium lived. I guessed, but…I’m sorry about that. I’d change it if I could, how your people live. And you’re right—religion is important. Especially to your people. I…think I’d forgotten that. If I ever knew. But it doesn’t change the fact that faith is dangerous in this world. Faith in a god is dangerous, Pawn. Can you understand that?”
He reached for his mug and drank slowly.
“I understand that you and Revalantor Klbkch fear Gods. You fear one of them. Are there living Gods in this world, then?”
Ryoka jumped and looked around. Pawn lowered his mug.
“It is not a difficult thing to surmise. But it is curious. I believe in Gods…but you and Revalantor Klbkch know one exists.”
“So you do believe.”
The young woman was intent on Pawn.
“Are you a believer in Christianity, then? Are you…spreading the word of the Bible?”
Pawn paused. He shook his head.
“I believe in Jesus Christ. I believe he was born of the Virgin Mary. I believe he suffered under Pontius Pilate. I believe he was buried. I believe he descended into hell and returned. I believe he is a God. But I believe he is not my God.”
Ryoka’s jaw dropped. She struggled for words.
“How? If you can believe…how?”
“It is simple. He is not my God. He is yours. When God created the earth, he created animals and Humans, the earth, the sky and stars and sea. But he did not create the Antinium, Ryoka Griffin. I know this. Because we created ourselves.”
“Indeed. Your God cannot be ours. No matter how much we wish for it. Thus, I believe. I am an [Acolyte]. I have faith.”
“But how can you be if—”
“I believe in the Antinium. I believe in Heaven. I believe there is an afterlife, that miracles are possible, and I believe in Gods. Just as I believe the Antinium have none.”
Pawn said it simply, and spoke the truth. He believed. He believed the Soldiers who had died would not be swept away into ash and dust. He had to believe in that, because he could not trust a God to do it for him.
“I don’t know what to say.”
Ryoka seemed breathless, caught between laughter and tears, incredulity and wonder. She shook her head, half-smiling.
“If I could bring you back to my world and introduce you to the Pope, or the Dalai Lama, or…or…a Jehovah’s Witness…I can’t do this. I’m not qualified to tell you anything.”
She looked at Pawn, a bit sadly, regretfully.
“I don’t believe, Pawn. I don’t, although I think there is a…a God in this world. But I would refuse to believe in him or her or it. And yet…I can’t tell you you’re wrong. I think you’re right to believe. I’m just worried.”
“Because belief is dangerous.”
Ryoka Griffin sighed. She seemed old, tired. She looked at the ceiling as Mrsha slunk by her feet, chastised by Maran. Ryoka bent down to pet Mrsha, and the Gnoll stared up at her and Pawn. A child. But not a dog.
At last, Ryoka reached a decision. She took a breath and nodded, and then looked at Pawn.
“I think…yeah, I think I should tell you all about it. It’s only right, and it might help. I’ll tell Klbkch the same.”
“Tell me what?”
Ryoka smiled crookedly.
“Religions, Pawn. Not just one. Erin told you about Christianity, right? Well, I’ll fill in any gaps she might have missed and…let’s call it context. I read the Bible back to front. And I know…well, I know a bit about other religions, too. Buddhism, Sikhism, Shinto, Zoroastrianism…not everything, but I can tell you more than Erin did. If you’ll let me, I’d like to tell you about other religions, the good and the bad.”
Pawn looked at her. For the first time that day, his heart lifted. His mandibles parted, and raised in a slight smile.
“If you’re going to be the first religious Antinium…you might as well be the most informed. Sure. Let’s start with Christianity.”
“I know much of what Erin has told me.”
“Yeah, I know. But did you know Christianity is only one interpretation of, well, everything? It’s part of what’s known as the Abrahamic religions—that is to say, Abrahamism. That encompasses all religions who worship the God of Abraham. But there are many religions within that definition, who believe different things. For instance, there are two other major religions—Islam and Judaism—that believe Jesus Christ was not the Son of God.”
Pawn’s mandibles opened wide, the equivalent of Ryoka’s jaw dropping. She nodded, smiling.
“For instance, in the Islamic faith, they use the Quran, another holy book instead of the Bible and believe that Muhammad was the last of God’s prophets. Now, they differ from Christianity on several fundamental issues, but have several similarities, beginning with…”
The skies opened. The snow stopped. The world warmed, and Pawn felt himself standing on the edge of the sky, looking past the horizon at something like stars. It was something vast, something distant—
But all so familiar. He wanted to reach out and touch it. That was how he felt as he listened to Ryoka. She told him about Islam, about Judaism and the difference between Catholics and Protestants, Mormons and Quakers.
And then she told him about what each religion did, how they differed. Erin had told Pawn about people eating Jesus in the form of bread—Ryoka explained the difference between transubstantiation and consubstantiation. But what was far more important than terms was how each religion worked.
“They eat braided bread instead of wafers?”
“Braided bread. Yes. That would be…challah. I think that’s what it’s called.”
Ryoka frowned, nodding to herself.
“It’s more of a food than wafers, you understand. The Jewish people will eat it on special occasions, not just before communion.”
Pawn nodded. Ideas were flashing through his head like the stars in the sky.
“Do you know how to make it?”
Ryoka blinked, astounded. Pawn nodded seriously.
“I should like to try some. And…yes, perhaps I can speak to Lyonette or Erin about obtaining honey. It is not the same as wine, but I believe it may be cheaper and more palatable to the Antinium. A tiny bit of bread will not upset our systems.”
“Wait. You want bread and honey? For a communion?”
The Asian girl was blinking and frowning.
“I thought you didn’t believe in the Bible. Why adopt a religious service like it?”
Pawn looked blankly at Ryoka and shook his head sadly. She was so knowledgeable, but she did not understand.
“Because it is a religious service. Clearly, there is merit in it. So the Antinium must have the same. Not the exact same of course, since we will not worship that God. But it is a good idea.”
Ryoka was doing the open-mouthed thing again. She spoke slowly.
“You’re going to…steal the ideas of Judaism? Wait, not steal, but copy?”
Pawn nodded as if it were the most obvious thing in the world.
“Of course. And I would like to hear of non-Abrahamic religions, please. If Christianity is not the only religion, then I must hear of them all. All Human religions. Because there is so much wonder in the stories Erin told me, of God and his people. Surely there must be similar wonders in every religion. I wish to hear of it all. So I can take what the Antinium can use.”
She blinked at him. And then laughed.
“The Antinium really don’t mind about plagiarism, do they?”
Pawn lifted his mandibles in a smile.
“I do not know what that word means. But we do not shy away from copying what is glorious, what works.”
Ryoka shrugged, cracking her fingers together and making Mrsha jump underneath the table.
“Well then. I’d better get to work.”
In the end, she spoke for two more hours, until Erin got back. By that point Ryoka was drinking honey water for her throat, as hoarse as she was. But Pawn had heard many good things. Chiefly among them were a few ideas.
“A shrine. Shinto. Buddhist prayer beads. And a Catholic…what did you call it?”
“Hey Pawn, I talked to Klbkch!”
Erin looked triumphant, but Pawn and Ryoka didn’t glance twice at her.
“Thank you, Erin Solstice.”
“Yeah, thanks Erin. Wait, why do you want a censer, Pawn?”
Crestfallen, Erin stared at Pawn and edged slowly into the table as they kept talking.
“A censer is a powerful tool, or so it seems to me. It is different from a cross in that it has a physical presence.”
“From the incense.”
“Yes. I would like to have one, possibly on a chain as you described. That would be very convenient.”
“Uh…technically, that’s a thurible. If a censer has chains, it’s called a thurible. Sorry.”
Ryoka looked embarrassed to have contributed the detail, but Pawn nodded his head gravely.
“I will commit that to memory. Do you know how to make one?”
“Make one? Hell, it’s not hard…the trick would be describing it. Look, if you’ve got some parchment and a quill I could—”
“I’ve got one!”
Erin leapt up, surprising Ryoka and Pawn. She ran into the kitchen and came back with the items.
Ryoka carefully sketched out a censer, and Pawn noted the holes on the top and bottom where the burnt incense’s fragrance would drift outwards. Yes, it was just what he’d imagined.
“I would like to have one. If you will assist me with the plans, I believe I will go to a [Blacksmith] and have one commissioned.”
“If you like…”
“Hey! What about me? I could build one for Pawn!”
Erin interrupted the two, beaming. They looked at her incredulously.
“You could do it, Erin?”
Ryoka was skeptical. Erin blew out her cheeks, exasperated.
“I do have [Advanced Crafting], Pawn. I could build parts of my inn myself but…well, that’s a lot of work. The least I can do is help you build a censer.”
“Thurible. This one has chains.”
Ryoka grinned as Pawn corrected Erin. Erin rolled her eyes and then looked at Ryoka.
“So Ryoka…what does a thurible look like?”
To Pawn’s surprise, there were all the parts Erin needed at hand already. The censer was made, according to Ryoka, to allow the incense to burn and waft out of the container. It required holes, in short, which would also make it ‘holey’ according to Erin. That was apparently a joke that neither Ryoka nor Pawn laughed at.
To build the first prototype of a censer, Erin took to colanders which had been used to strain spaghetti, and put them together. She added a basin to catch the incense and ash that would fall from the bottom colander, and added a chain around the top.
“What do you think? Is that it?”
Ryoka eyed the impromptu thurible skeptically. Erin had used string to tie the basin of the colander to the basin, and she’d put a coal and some sticks of ground-up cinnamon into the colander. Now she picked up the entire affair with another bit of string and swung the censer around gently. Smoke began to drift out of the holes on the top and bottom, bringing a sweet smell that Pawn inhaled slowly.
The Runner coughed as Erin wafted the thurible at her. She waved smoke away from her face.
“It’s…sort of like a thurible, Erin. The real thing would be smaller, and less…unwieldy. Are you sure you have…[Advanced Crafting]?”
Erin glared at Ryoka as Pawn inspected the thurible.
“Hey, I don’t have [Advanced Metalworking] or whatever you need. And I don’t know what a thurible looks like!”
“Well, it’s a good start.”
Ryoka eyed the contraption with quite a bit of reserve, but Pawn shook his head as he carefully lifted the thurible up and examined it. He addressed Erin.
“I believe I can commission a smaller version later, and I will return the colander to you at another time. But for now…this is perfect.”
She beamed at him, and then tugged Ryoka away to whisper to her.
“Psst, Ryoka. What’s a colander?”
“A strainer, Erin. You’ve been using it every time to drain pasta.”
“Oh. Why don’t they just call it a strainer?”
Ryoka sighed, and didn’t bother replying.
By this point, the hours had worn on and it was approaching dinner. Pawn sat at his table, feeling better. A thurible. And there were all sorts of things Ryoka had mentioned. This might help—
He paused. It would not help the Soldiers. They would still fight and die. His prayers…could not change fate.
And yet Erin had done just that. They wouldn’t have to fight! There was relief in Pawn’s heart as he considered that, and joy as he thought of sharing the thurible with the Soldiers. The other religious artifacts Ryoka had mentioned would be of interest to them too, surely. Perhaps Pawn could conduct a mass? They could enjoy themselves.
And no one would die.
He barely saw Erin get intercepted on her way to the kitchen, but Pawn’s attention was attracted when Maran, one of the [Barmaids] began pointing out the six water barrels stacked up against the wall. He heard Erin exclaiming over them, and then her cheerful voice.
“Hey, that isn’t a bad idea! It might save some time…sure, why not? We can try it out tomorrow as well. Thanks, Maran!”
She hurried back to Ryoka and Pawn.
“Guess what, guys? Maran had this great idea to buy water barrels from Celum! We can just get them filled up each day and it’ll be a lot easier than going out for water, she says! Isn’t that cool?”
Pawn nodded obediently, having no input on water barrels. But sitting across from him, Ryoka frowned.
“How much would that cost, Erin?”
“Oh…I dunno. Maran didn’t say.”
“It seems like a waste to me.”
“Yeah, but if it saves time—”
Someone hurried across the floor towards them. Lyonette. Pawn sat up upon seeing her. He opened his mandibles to greet Lyonette. He had a lot of affection for all the times she had helped him, but she was focused on Erin.
“Erin, did you tell Maran you’re going to buy more water barrels tomorrow?”
“Yeah, don’t worry about it Lyonette! It’s a great idea, don’t you think? Maran told me she thought it would really help the inn, so I—”
“She didn’t do it to help the inn! She did it because she was too afraid to go outside and haul water!”
The anger and frustration in Lyonette’s voice made Pawn sit up. She was furious, but hissing at Erin while the other workers served the Gold-rank adventurers filing into the inn. Erin froze. Her eyes swiveled to Maran, who was busy flirting with an impassive Ulrien.
“But she said—”
“I asked them to get water from the stream and they both said no. Maran took money from your jar and went to buy six barrels! It must have cost at least twelve silver coins, and we could have gotten fresher water if we’d hauled it ourselves!”
The entire story came out quickly, Erin blinking in shock and Ryoka grimacing. When Lyonette was done and breathing heavily, Erin nodded seriously.
“Okay, that was wrong. Taking money and not listening to you? Yeah, I’ll tell them they can’t do that again, Lyon.”
Decisively, Erin walked past Lyonette. The girl looked relieved, but that relief changed to panic in a moment when Erin spoke.
“Hey Maran, Safry! Lyonette told me that earlier, you two didn’t want to haul water. But you said…”
The two [Barmaids] blinked and came over as Erin began to talk with them, frowning hard. Meanwhile, Lyonette was staring at Erin as the [Innkeeper] pointed back several times to her as she talked to the other [Barmaids].
Lyonette hurried away, taking over serving drinks while Erin scolded Maran and Safry. Ryoka and Pawn looked and saw the two barmaids were glaring daggers at Lyonette as Erin spoke with them. Ryoka covered her face.
“That moron. You don’t dress down workers in public like that. And she told them to their faces that Lyonette was…”
She was grinding her teeth together. Pawn looked at her quizzically.
“I do not understand the full context of what is happening, Ryoka. Is Erin’s hiring new employees objectionable to you?”
“No, but it looks like there’s a problem. It’s a staffing issue and Erin’s making a mistake. At least…she might be. Lyonette could be lying, or exaggerating the problem, or there’s something else at work here.”
Ryoka chewed at her lip distractedly. Pawn listened obediently, since she seemed to know what she was talking about.
“No one’s impartial in a pissing match…and office drama is always ugly, so why not [Barmaid] drama. Damnit.”
She thought for a second and then looked at him.
“Hey Pawn, how much do you trust Lyonette? I mean, how much would you trust what she said? One hundred percent?”
Pawn didn’t have to think to answer.
“She fed my Soldiers and I. She gave us honey, and offered us food when no one else would. She helped paint my Soldiers. She gave them respite and shelter. I do not know Safry and Maran. But I would trust anything Lyonette said.”
Ryoka nodded grimly.
“That’s what I thought. She’s changed. And Maran and Safry, well, they did come from Agnes’ inn…maybe I should do something about this.”
Pawn had no idea what that meant. But he felt relieved and tired. It was over. His Soldiers were safe. He could pray, and know they would be safe. Prayer was good, but knowing was better. He sagged in his seat.
“I am going to sleep.”
Ryoka blinked at him.
But it was too late. Pawn, exhausted by fighting and grief, slowly drifted off into slumber. All would be well. He believed that.
His dreams were still filled with death. The Antinium he held in his arms had no paint on his body.
But he was still dead all the same.