She had to get ready. Erin Solstice woke up on the eleventh day with that thought echoing in her mind. She didn’t know how she knew, or why, but she knew she had to get ready. They were coming. Whoever they were. So Erin opened her eyes, half-sat up—
And decided she could use a few more minutes of sleep.
By the time Erin got up for the second time, it was mid-morning, uncharacteristically late. The [Innkeeper] pulled herself upright in time to see Lyonette carefully pulling out a plate of pre-made pasta covered with bolognese out of a cupboard. Since that was completely natural, Erin ignored it at once and focused on the young woman. Lyonette jumped, and then turned guiltily.
“Morning, Erin. Sorry, did I wake you?”
“No. I was getting up.”
Erin yawned and stretched. She felt awful. Tired, lethargic, and sore. As if she’d spent a day lifting rocks and then having said rocks dropped on her back. She wondered why—usually she was able to get up no matter the early hour. Her [Lesser Endurance] Skill meant that she could keep ticking on less sleep. But not today. Erin remembered the events of last night and unconsciously ran her tongue across her teeth. She frowned as her tongue encountered nothing but smooth enamel.
“How’re the teeth?”
Lyonette put the room-temperature pasta next to the stove’s lit fire to warm it up. Erin shrugged and her belly rumbled.
“Good. They feel different. I think so, but then again it could be in my mind. They feel like they should be different, you know?”
“I’d imagine so. Pisces used bear teeth, didn’t he?”
“Do they taste or seem…?”
“Not bearish to me. But I keep feeling like they should be. I’m just amazed he fixed them, really.”
She ran her tongue over the caps Pisces had made to fix three of her partially broken teeth and winced. Her tongue was sore from doing that a hundred plus times. But the teeth were good.
“He should be a dentist.”
“Someone who fixes teeth.”
Erin rummaged around in her nest that occupied one side of the kitchen. She saw Lyonette taking some utensils out of a drawer and opened a cupboard by her side. It contained Erin’s clothes. The [Princess] kept her back turned as Erin quickly changed clothes under her blankets. Too late, Erin remembered she should have asked if anyone was working this morning.
“Is, uh, Ishkr—”
Erin breathed a sigh of relief. Now that she had more than just a few employees, the kitchen was filled with at least one person more often than not. And there had been a few incidents. Erin began stuffing her bedding into another cupboard as Lyonette checked the pasta’s temperature. She shook her head and then looked at Erin.
“You should really stay in a room, you know. There are some rooms available, even if the Hobgoblins come back. And Mrsha and I could share the room if you wanted to. There’s plenty of space. Mrsha does steal your blankets, though.”
“I should. I know.”
Erin made a face. She’d had the same conversation with Lyonette. It was just that—she sighed as she hunted around for her toothbrush. Which cupboard was that? Oh, right. It was the drawer. Erin pulled it out and grabbed the jar of toothpaste Octavia had made up.
“It’s just that I have so much to do, you know? And changing rooms is more work than I want to do.”
“Says the [Innkeeper] who just lost some of her teeth confronting a Goblin Chieftain and got twenty thousand Cave Goblins to run off.”
Erin grimaced as she applied some toothpaste to her toothbrush. It was a very astringent substance that Octavia sold, but it did make Erin’s teeth feel clean.
“They were supposed to go south. I have no idea what happened. Or if they’re coming back.”
Lyonette glanced out of the kitchen and Erin knew she was looking towards the magic door. Her face wasn’t apprehensive, but there was a note of tension in her voice.
“Do you think the Goblins would come here? I mean, if they’re still hostile.”
“If they do, we’re running into Liscor. The door’s set up. But Numbtongue and the others—they’re not back. And Jelaqua said they did something. The old Chieftain ran off. Garen. If they come back—we’ll see.”
Lyonette nodded. The two waited while Erin scrubbed at her teeth, then decided she had to spit and wash her mouth. She got up as Lyonette took the plate of hot pasta away from the fire. The smell made Erin’s stomach grumble. But…pasta? She pointed at the spaghetti, which had been seasoned with sauce, sliced sausage, and just a little bit of spicy peppers.
“Whof fhat for?”
She tried not to spit all over the plate. Lyonette stared at Erin’s mouth and the toothbrush sticking out.
“Dawil ordered it.”
“Fo? Fhe Filver Fwords fhare here?”
Lyonette opened her mouth and then gave up. Erin walked outside into the common room and thus began her day.
A number of voices greeted Erin as she walked towards the door of her inn. The [Innkeeper] stopped and the people waiting for her saw her turn towards them. A bit of toothpaste was dribbling down her mouth. Despite the myriad and pressing issues that demanded her attention, all those present agreed that she should attend to business first. So Erin stumbled out of her inn and went to the outhouse.
There were three, now. And each one was set far enough apart so as not to carry smells or worse, sounds to the other stall. Unless someone was having a really bad day. That was an important design decision, which had required the outhouses to be moved when Erin had first discovered the issue. The third stall was huge, big enough to accommodate Moore. It was also the nicest, so Erin sat in that after knocking to make sure no one was inside.
“Toilet bowl, toilet bowl. This is…nicer than a toilet bowl, actually.”
Erin sat on the polished hardwood, having spat and washed out her mouth already. Her feet were a bit wet from the walk to the outhouse, but the grass had only been dewy, as opposed to rain-slicked and muddy. The rain had stopped. Now, the air was humid, muggy, and foggy. Erin liked it not one bit; nor did she like the way a lot of the hills had turned to mostly mud and water gathered in the valleys. But it still beat buckets of rain dumping from the sky.
That was why the outhouse had a roof. And it was better than a bathroom, at least in some senses. The wood was just as smooth as porcelain, but it didn’t get as chilly. As for the…other concerns, Erin did have a type of toilet paper at her disposal. The main issue was flushing, or lack of it.
If plumbing had been invented, it was too costly and too unknown in Liscor for Erin to obtain. So the outhouse was an outhouse, which meant that it accumulated rather than moved waste. Erin had originally solved the issue of acquisition by making Toren pour acid into the pit below the outhouse, handily vaporizing the problem. But since he was gone, she’d had to resort to other measures. She still used acid, though.
Octavia had a wonderful mixture that dissolved undesirable objects slowly. It was enough to keep the outhouses from needing to be emptied, and a lot of fresh-smelling herbs did the rest of the job. Erin looked at the bundle of herbs that Lyonette had placed just the other day. Not having to tend to the outhouse herself was another perk of being the boss.
Now, what did the evolving and dynamic nature of Erin’s restroom facilities have to do with today or recent events? Nothing. But Erin sat on the toilet for a good while. She had a feeling she was going to be busy if the faces that had been waiting for her were any indication. And she wanted to delay work as long as possible. She managed to hold out five minutes before she decided to go back. After all, she was mostly responsible and over half the people waiting on her were her friends.
And they were coming. Erin’s head turned north. She stared at the place where the mountain ranges parted to let travellers come through the pass. It was slightly obscured by a tall hill, but she saw no signs of movement. Yet. She shook her head and walked back to her inn.
The first person to hurry up to Erin was Olesm. She smiled at him, and her face fell as she looked at Zevara. Erin threw a mock salute as she walked over to their table. The Drake Watch Captain eyed her.
“Hey, Zevara. Olesm. What’s up?”
“Where are the Goblins now? What do you know about their status? Will they attack the city? I’ve heard the report from the Gold-rank teams. Ignoring the fact that they were carrying one of your magical doorways north for now, explain to me how twenty thousand Cave Goblins and this new tribe aren’t a threat?”
Erin blinked at Zevara. Not even a hello. The Watch Captain looked anxious, if her swishing tail was anything to go by. Erin sat down and waved at Drassi.
“Hey Drassi, can I have some of our scrambled eggs?”
She waited until she got a wave and a smile from Drassi. Then she looked at Zevara.
“I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know, and I think they’re not a threat. Jelaqua said the old Chieftain ran away.”
“Garen Redfang. A traitorous former Gold-rank adventurer who slaughtered four of his former teammates. And nearly did for the other three. How is his absence supposed to reassure me?”
“Well, he’s not leading his tribe. Ooh, thanks Drassi.”
Erin picked up a fork. Zevara eyed her as if she’d gladly grab the fork and poke it into Erin’s eye.
“His tribe is still there. Or we assume so. They’re dangerous.”
“Yeah, but Headscratcher and the others are with them. They’re nice.”
The two Drakes exchanged a look as Erin began eating breakfast. Olesm coughed.
“So you’re saying we should hope that they move on, Erin?”
Erin looked up. The Drakes stared at her, one with wrath, the other appalled. The [Innkeeper] shrugged.
“Look, what other choice is there? What do you expect me to do about it? Open the door to the Goblin cave and solve everything myself?”
Zevara and Olesm didn’t meet Erin’s eyes, which told her that was exactly what they’d hoped she’d do. The young woman scowled.
“Tempting as that is, I don’t know those particular Goblins. And I don’t want to get my brains punched out again. Did you hear that I lost some teeth? Do they look weird to you?”
She showed them her teeth. Zevara sighed.
“They’re fine. Hearing about that was the only amusing news I’ve gotten all day. It was about time someone kicked your teeth in, with how many fights you seem to escape unscathed.”
“I let other people hit things for me. And I’m good at ducking.”
Erin scowled. But Zevara was right. She hadn’t processed her one-sided punching bag experience, but the memory of trying to fight that muscular Goblin guy stuck with her. She rubbed at her mouth. It had been terrifying, trying to get past all the Goblins with only the five Redfangs shielding her.
But it had to be done. Jelaqua and the Halfseekers had been in danger. But she’d nearly died herself. If it happened again—could she risk her life like that? Was it smart? Was she an idiot? Erin sighed. She barely noticed Zevara getting up.
“If the Goblins come back to the city, Miss Solstice—”
“I’ll try and talk to them. But I don’t know what’s going on. I’m not opening that door to their cave until I know. Sorry.”
Zevara nodded. She strode off as Olesm sighed.
“I should get going too. I’d stay and talk, but—we’re at full alert. It’s nice seeing you, uh, Erin.”
He stood up awkwardly. Erin blinked up at him.
“Hey Olesm. How’re the defenses going?”
The Drake [Strategist] hesitated. He averted his gaze.
“I can’t say. Military secrets, Erin. We’re…doing good. We got reinforcements from Pallass and we’ve found homes for them. And uh, we’re meeting with Klbkch, checking the walls—it will be fine.”
The tone in his voice and his posture—not to mention his curled up tail—told Erin that was a dead lie. She stared at him and nodded.
“Okay, I won’t keep you.”
Olesm turned to go. Erin raised her voice.
He looked back at her. Erin smiled with more upbeat emotion than she actually felt.
“We’re uh, cool with the me punching you and you throwing me in jail, right?”
For a second Olesm stared, and then he grinned.
“We are. If you’re okay with it?”
“I liked prison food. And it’s a nice place when you get to know your cellmates.”
He grinned. Erin kept her smile until Olesm had hurried to the magic door and left. Then she sighed. She turned her head.
Someone else was already coming up to her. Dawil. The Dwarf slid into the vacant seat. He had a half-finished plate of pasta with him and was slurping down some noodles. The sauce got into his beard—well, part of his beard.
A good bit of hair was burnt off of Dawil’s face. His eyebrows, part of the hair on his head—and a lot of his beard. The sight of his chin and face was terribly disconcerting. Erin stared at Dawil, and then averted her gaze. The Dwarf sighed.
“Go on, look. And have a laugh, why don’t you. That bastard Pisces was laughing all day about it and the damned half-Elf—mine, not Ceria—wouldn’t leave me alone.”
“Are you okay? Does it hurt?”
Dawil shrugged. He scratched at his missing spots, where thick stubble was already growing. His voice held a note of complaint. Well, more like a symphony of complaints.
“It’s cold. But the healing potion did the burns right. I drank a hair-growing tonic, but it’ll be a week before my beard’s halfway decent. It’s not a problem compared to the shite we’re in, but it’s embarrassing more than anything else. But I didn’t come here to talk about hair to you, girl. We’re all in trouble, so I need to speak on behalf of the adventurers in Liscor. This is good pasta, by the way. Needs more meat, though.”
“I can have Lyonette cut up a steak if you want. Or some pork? A sausage?”
“Next time, maybe.”
Dawil slurped down more noodles as Erin finished her eggs. He wiped his mouth with a napkin—Erin used the back of her hand. The Dwarf was actually quite fastidious as he cleaned his beard. He even had his own utensils he packed into a small case—silver and gold filigree forks were a new concept to Erin. The Dwarf leaned back in his chair and looked up at Erin.
“Now, let me be blunt since no one’s said it. And you were in jail. We’re leaving Liscor. The Silver Swords, the Halfseekers, Griffon Hunt—and your Horns too, I imagine. Us and a good number of other Gold-rank teams, though I can’t speak for all in Pallass.”
“Okay. I heard about that from Lyonette. The Halfseekers were taking a door north, right?”
“Correct. They were trying to get to Celum so we had a route out, since those Drakes confiscated the mana stone. It would have worked too, but for those Goblins. Now we’re caught between a hammer and an anvil, because there’s a tribe of Goblins north of us that can kick the crap out of six Gold-rank teams without breaking a sweat.”
Dawil scowled. He drummed his fingers on the table, reached for his pasta, and then swatted a white paw aside.
“Not today, you thieving little mole rat!”
Mrsha scampered as Dawil roared under the table. His roar sent her flying and the Dwarf looked quite pleased with himself as he turned back to Erin.
“Fun little brat. Where was I? Oh yeah, we can’t go north anymore. Which is a problem because going south takes us longer to get to civilization. And it takes us past the Blood Fields and it is active in the spring. But there’s no choice, so we’re headed south. With another magic door anchor thing.”
“Oh. Do you need to get a mana stone?”
Erin looked at the door. Dawil waved a hand and coughed, looking embarrassed.
“Thing is…we’ve already got one. It’s the orange stone, see? Already in the bowl. I’ve been getting your [Barmaid] to check it every half-hour. The Flamewardens are lugging the door south and they’ll trade off soon. We would have told you, but we decided they needed to go right this morning.”
“I see. So what’s the problem?”
It all sounded good to Erin. Well, not the Gold-rank teams fleeing Liscor, but if it was that or fight and maybe die, what choice was there? She hadn’t decided what to do either. She could take refuge in the city easily enough, but…the scope of both threats just hadn’t really sunk in for Erin. Having a second escape route would be good, though. Dawil shrugged uncomfortably.
“Nothing. In theory. But we wanted to let you know seeing as you had the door. However, if that fire breathing Watch Captain asks…don’t tell her we’re planning to leave. She’d try and stop us and we’re not willing to die here.”
He waited, perhaps expecting Erin to object. She just doodled on her plate with a finger. Then Erin looked up.
“Do you think Liscor will fall?”
“Honestly, lass? Can I call you lass? Sorry. I’m thirty eight, and Humans feel so young to me. You’ve barely lived through any of the big wars, have you?”
“None of Izril’s. A few started where I came from. Not sure if they really ended.”
Dawil raised an eyebrow and Erin kept her poker face up. She wasn’t sure what he knew, but Dawil was someone she trusted. More than Pisces or Olesm, about something like this, even. He struck her as honorable, more so than Falene or Ylawes in his own way. The Dwarf shrugged.
“Right. Well, it’s a bad scene. I’ve never been sitting in a besieged city, but I’ve seen the aftermath and heard the stories. Flying limbs, people getting slaughtered, and so forth. War is messy. And adventurers get killed in wars. We’re big targets because we can do a lot of damage, but we hunt monsters, not armies. Get it?”
“…Maybe? Could you explain that?”
The Dwarf nodded. He looked around and waved a hand.
Drassi passed by their table. Dawil blinked as an ale appeared in front of him. The Drake winked at Erin and passed her a cup of milk. Erin stared.
“Wait, how did you know—”
“[Server’s Prescience]! I got a Skill the other day! Isn’t it cool?”
Erin stared down at her drink.
“Hah! Now there’s a Skill worth having! Almost as good as the battlefield edition.”
Dawil drained a quarter of his mug, wiped his mouth, and then sighed.
“Okay. Wars. It’s an easy concept. I think you’ll get it better than the lad—I mean, my team captain. He’s a bit thick between the ears when it comes to things like this. Not exactly a tactical mind, if you know what I’m saying. Neither is the half-Elf, for all she’s Wistram. ‘Swhy I have to come up with the plans.”
He tapped the side of his head. Erin grinned, tickled.
“How else do you think we survived this long? Someone’s got to be the voice of reason and it’s not those two. Anyways…”
He heaved a sigh.
“Wars. One last time. Adventurers have armor, or we hit fast enough so we’re not in danger. Say we’re hunting a Chimera. Or some other monster. We can take them on—hell, we can take on a nest. A small Goblin tribe? Doable. But in large numbers, armor fails. Take my armor for instance. It’s steel, Dwarf-forged and strong. I can fight in it and guard my face. But in yesterday’s scrap? There are too many arrows flying and damn Goblins with fire paste in jars. And in a war—”
“You can’t defend yourself from all sides.”
“Exactly. We’re too fragile. Knew you’d get it. I know there’s a bunch of Gold-ranks with Tyrion Veltras’ army. But I’ll bet my beard—what’s left of it—that they’re under contract to only fight if he needs something taken and stay well clear of the main battle. Besides, it’s bad to get wrapped up in politics. Ylawes’ father is marching with the Humans…look, the point is that we don’t want to die. We think Liscor will fall. So when the army arrives, we’ll be going. And if you want, we’ll escort you to Pallass. You and anyone you care to bring.”
Dawil eyed Erin over the top of his mug. She hesitated. Rather than address his statement directly, she twiddled her thumbs.
“When will you be going?”
“On the day we see the army roll in. Or sooner. But we’ll carry the door as far as we can before then. We’ll still be at least a day or two out from the nearest city, but—ah, lass. When we go, it will be quick. Make up your mind before then.”
Dawil and Erin sat together in silence. Erin stared at the table. For some reason, Dawil’s words put the urgency of Liscor’s siege closer to home than anything else. She looked at him.
“If you thought there was a chance—there are the Antinium. And the Drakes are sending an army. Is there any way…?”
The Dwarf’s eyes were brown, deep and soft as earthy loam, and sad. He shook his head.
“There may be an army of Antinium. And the Drakes may get here in time to break the siege. The Humans may be stumped or they may win. But the cost will be blood, Erin. We won’t pay the price.”
“Okay. Thank you for telling me.”
Erin sat at the table, feeling tired and helpless. Dawil nodded. He got up, walked over, and patted Erin on the shoulder.
“I’ll be here all day. The other teams will. We’re watching your door—and the inn—so don’t worry about someone making off with the door like last time. If you have any questions, ask.”
He wandered off to his table. Erin looked around and saw Bevussa sitting at a table, along with Nailren and a few Gnolls, and Falene. They were talking to each other, relaxing. And watching her. They turned as Dawil wandered over to them. Erin heard his voice clearly as she turned back to her drink.
“You lot are about as inconspicuous as a bunch of farting Dragons! She’s not stopping us, so settle down. And you can stop listening in, you pointy-eared git! I know you’re casting a listening spell when you get that constipated look on your face.”
The young woman leaned on her arms. She stared at the empty chair ahead of her as a third body slid into the seat. This time it was Mrsha. The little Gnoll stared up at Erin, wagging her tail.
“Hey Mrsha. How are you doing?”
The Gnoll raised a paw with the thumb up. Erin smiled at her.
“That’s good. Hey, do you want to play catch?”
The Gnoll cub smiled. Erin slid out of her seat as Mrsha ran to get her ball. She raced over and tossed it at Erin. The young woman caught it, tossed it back, and the two moved down the long common room. Erin’s [Grand Theatre] Skill was in effect, but there weren’t nearly enough people to fill the vast space. Mrsha and Erin cleared some tables and chairs and began to play catch. Just for a while.
Ceria came over after a few minutes. She watched as Mrsha scampered after a ball and Erin turned to her. The half-Elf had her hands in her pockets. She watched as Mrsha threw the ball back, clumsily. She raised a finger and the ball swung towards Erin. The [Innkeeper] caught it and threw it back.
“Hey Ceria. What’s up?”
The half-Elf looked unhappy.
“It’s uh, about the door. I’ve been talking with the others.”
“Are you? We don’t want to leave without you, but—what are you going to do, Erin?”
Erin turned. The two stared at each other, Ceria unhappy, and Erin uncertain. They looked at each other until Mrsha’s ball bounced off the side of Erin’s head.
So it went. Ceria wasn’t the last person to talk to Erin either. After the young woman had talked to her, there came Pisces, to offer unsolicited advice which Erin listened to. Krshia, to play with Mrsha, talk about Erin’s door, and about commitments and not to ask Erin so loudly that it hurt. Selys stopped in to check with Erin how she was doing and stare at the door for a second. A few Drakes and Gnolls came by to inquire about her door.
Her door, and the Goblins. And what Erin thought. The trouble was, Erin wasn’t thinking. She was deliberately not thinking of what was coming. Because if she did, she’d have to make a choice. Stay or go. Risk dying or leave. Which was better. Which was right? Erin didn’t know. But she kept looking north. She was talking with Jelaqua at midday when it happened.
“How’s the body?”
The Selphid was sitting at a table. By this point the inn was getting more business, and Ishkr and two more Gnolls had come by to help work the tables. They stared at Jelaqua and kept clear of her. Because the Selphid was wearing the Raskghar’s body.
It was disturbing to Erin. The Raskghar looked bestial, compared to the Gnolls. It had a more hunched posture, a bigger body, and thicker fur. But the main change was the eyes. The Raskghar had been savage with a spark of intelligence. Now, there was a sharp intelligence looking out of the dead pupils. Somehow, that was even more uncanny. Jelaqua raised a paw and scratched at her neck.
“Fine. It’s a good body, actually.”
“Oh yeah. Lots of muscle fiber, great condition—a few pests, but they were mostly dead and I got rid of the rest. My main complaint is that this body’s a bit too bulky for my tastes, but hell, the nose works wonders. The only thing is that I can’t go in Liscor without causing a panic. I nearly got stabbed by a Gnoll [Guardsman]—and that was just at the gate.”
“You are wearing a Raskghar’s body.”
“Yup. But there’s a shortage of other bodies, so what can you do?”
Jelaqua spread her paws in a Human shrug. Erin stared at her and the Selphid grinned weakly, another very disturbing sight.
“Sorry. I’m a bit mixed up after yesterday. I…took a few hits to my body.”
“No, I mean my real body.”
“Oh. Is it bad? Did you heal up?”
“It’s not quite that simple. But yeah, I’m doing okay. I think. Look, about last night. You really can’t tell anyone—anything. Not that it happened, okay?”
The Selphid eyed Erin and nodded.
“It’s just really important, okay, Erin? Really important.”
“I got it. Lips sealed. About nothing.”
The Gold-rank adventurer nodded, but she was clearly still uneasy. She scratched at her neck again. Erin wondered if one of the pests had been fleas. She saw Mrsha staring at Jelaqua as she slunk around Lyonette, who was giving Jelaqua much the same look.
“Jelaqua. I wonder if it would be a good idea for you to say hi to Ishkr and Mrsha. Maybe that would make them feel better. Or would it make them feel worse?”
The Selphid grimaced.
“It can’t hurt. Showing them it’s me rather than my body usually helps. I had the same problem with bodies I got from executed criminals. I’ll have a word later.”
“Thanks. Uh—how’s Moore and Seborn?”
The Raskghar’s expression softened in a way that was true to Jelaqua. She looked towards the stairs.
“Resting. Moore’s too weak to get out of bed—or eat anything other than liquids. Thanks for all the soup.”
“No problem. What about Seborn?”
“He’s better. He just lost blood. But he’s not talking to me. I think he’s angry about what happened.”
Jelaqua shook her head.
“At himself. For letting Garen get away. He was right in front of us. But we choked up. And he spared us.”
Erin stared at Jelaqua.
“And how do you feel?”
The Selphid smiled with the Raskghar’s mouth.
“Me? It’s over and done with. Garen lost his tribe. They told him to his face he was a traitor and he ran off. I’m alive, and so is Moore and Seborn. And we know a bit more of—of what happened that day. It’s all we can ask for, Erin.”
She kept smiling as Erin studied her. She was lying. But she did it with a smile, and Erin felt like pushing Jelaqua would be the worst of ideas. So she let it drop.
“You just let me know if you need anything, alright?”
“Sure thing. I’ll just have a few drinks, reassure the Gnolls, and check on the others.”
Jelaqua smiled. Erin smiled too, and tried to ignore the sense of roiling emotions she was getting from the Selphid. If anyone was close to exploding…she made a note to keep Jelaqua away from Relc if he stopped by. Or Pisces. Or Revi. Erin stood up to accompany Jelaqua in case any of the Gnolls freaked out—or she did—
And then it happened. Erin’s head turned to the right. She stared straight towards the north wall and she felt a tingle go down her spine. They were coming. And they were coming here. It wasn’t a bad sense, not like it had been whenever her [Dangersense] went off. No, it was more like a certainty at the back of her mind. They were coming, and they were tired and hungry and desperate.
Erin hadn’t known who they were in the morning, but now she was certain. And as they came across the Floodplains and Liscor sounded the alarm, Erin stood on the ruined roof of her inn where Bird’s watchtower had been and saw them pour across the muddy hills and valleys like a green wave.
At first it was the Cave Goblins and Redfangs. The mounted warriors rode ahead of the Cave Goblins, a small army of elite warriors followed by the hordes of grey-green Goblins. That was enough to get Olesm’s heart pounding. But when he saw the second Goblin force emerging from the pass leading north, his heart began trying to dig its way out of his chest.
“It’s the Goblin Lord’s army!”
“It can’t be! They’re too early! They’re too early!”
Olesm screamed at Embria, who had raised the alarm the instant she’d spotted the second Goblin force. It was vast; it dwarfed the Cave Goblin force by a good margin. Olesm tried to count how many Goblins were present. Forty thousand? Fifty? Sixty? It was too small to be the Goblin Lord’s army—not unless they’d taken massive casualties since they’d last been spotted. And yet, it was far too large to be just any random tribe. He watched as they spread across the Floodplains.
“What am I seeing, Olesm?”
Zevara stood on the walls minutes later, breathing hard and looking at the approaching Goblins. Olesm’s heart was trying to escape via his mouth at this point, but he kept his voice as level as possible as he replied. He wished it didn’t wobble so, though. Everyone was listening.
“In a word, Watch Captain? Dissidents. Or rebels. That’s probably a better word for it?”
Both Embria and Zevara looked at him. Ilvriss, who’d just made it to the walls—since a Wall Lord didn’t run unless the city was under attack—stared sharply at Olesm.
“That’s right. Dissidents. Reports from Esthelm claimed the Goblin Lord’s army was moving past them. They were erroneous, but it does match another piece of information we received from an informant in the Human army. They reported a battle between the Goblins—apparently some kind of inter-tribal dispute. The Goblin Lord absorbed a good deal of the defeated tribe, but the rest of them fled and managed to get ahead of the Humans. They’re coming through Liscor because they have nowhere else to go.”
“Caught between an axe and the headman’s block, huh?”
Embria narrowed her eyes. Olesm nodded.
“But still dangerous. They’re not allied with the Cave Goblins or the tribe that fought the adventurers yesterday. See how they’re running ahead of this tribe? They may be at odds.”
“So will we see a battle between them? Or will they move past our walls?”
Zevara glanced sharply at Olesm. He peered at the Goblins, twisting the Ring of Sight on his claws, picking out Goblins and staring at them.
“I don’t know, Watch Captain. The Goblins look exhausted. Half are falling down the hills. They may just stay here until the Human army arrives.”
“In which case they’re another variable that might go against us. Can we get rid of them?”
Zevara frowned, folding her arms and eying the Goblins.
“With what? A few well-placed spells from the wall? If that lot wants, it could shower us with arrows. I’d say avoid conflict.”
“How do we get rid of them, then?”
“We wait. They may just camp here for a day or two and then keep moving.”
Embria shifted from foot to foot. She eyed the Goblins. They were still approaching Liscor.
“If that’s the case, why aren’t they keeping clear of Liscor? They know this is a Drake city. Aren’t they wary of us?”
“They outnumber the Watch many times over.”
“Still. They keep coming. Should we be ready for an attack?”
The Drakes looked at each other. Ilvriss stared at the Goblins, and then shook his head.
“No. I think they’re coming for a different reason.”
He stared down from the walls, at a much closer landmark. Zevara closed her eyes as she followed his gaze.
“Her. It’s always her, isn’t it?”
Olesm shook his head. He murmured as he watched the Goblins draw closer. Yes, they were moving to one spot.
“Not always. But when it comes to Goblins, I think she’s…special.”
The other three looked at him. Embria folded her arms, exasperated.
“Then what do we do? What can we do?”
She was impatient. But Olesm just stared onwards. He shrugged, feeling tired. Drakes were a people of law and action. Discipline. But it occurred to him that they weren’t good at being helpless. He looked at Embria and said the one word that she didn’t want to hear.
The Flooded Waters tribe walked across the muddy hills. They fell down valleys, crawled up the hills, and some lay where they had fallen, too tired to move. They were…fading. Faded, rather.
At the end of their tether. And afraid. They had seen the Redfangs and the foreign, strange Goblin tribe moving ahead of them and they didn’t know what to expect. They were worried too, because the Redfangs were headed in the same direction they were. The Flooded Waters tribe didn’t quite know why, but they sensed their destinations were the same.
It wasn’t that Redscar was leading them that way on purpose, or that he’d said anything like it. But like the other Goblins, Redscar was moving towards the city. Or—to something just ahead of it. Despite the danger of the city, despite their exhaustion, the tribe kept moving. It was just a bit further ahead. They could feel it.
It was a strange sensation. Something none of them had quite felt before. A feeling—like they had felt from Chieftains and Reiss, but different at the same time. Alien. But entirely pleasant. It was a feeling that ahead of them lay safety. It was a beacon in their heads. Ahead of them was a friend.
But what a thought! Friend? Safety? Those were completely foreign concepts to Goblins. And yet, the feeling was a certainty. So the Goblins kept moving. It wasn’t just that instinct in their head that propelled them forwards either. Something else kept them going.
It was a rumor. Something their Chieftain had said. A memory, or perhaps a promise: a vision of an inn on a hill. A name.
Erin Solstice. And as they kept going, the distant building on the hill became a symbol to them. A symbol that Goblins had never associated with a building before. But it was a familiar concept to other races.
After all, it was an inn. A gathering place for the weary, for travellers, for the hungry or tired. Only, to Goblins an inn was death—or a place to target unwary victims. Not a place for their kind. And yet, this inn was different.
Still, they hesitated when they saw the Redfangs had gathered around the hill. They were a stone’s throw away from the city and the walls were ablaze with torches. Redscar drew up, patting his weary Carn Wolf. He eyed the Redfangs, and the strange grey Goblins. They stared at him. He couldn’t see Garen among them and he sensed something had changed, though he didn’t know what. Then he saw the Redfangs move.
To the left, and to the right. Goblins shifted out of the way, opening a path for him. Redscar narrowed his eyes. He looked at Poisonbite and Noears, both trudging wearily after him. The Goblins looked up at him and both looked as tired as he felt. Redscar hesitated and looked behind him.
A sea of Goblins stretched behind him, slowly moving forwards. They were all flowing to this spot. Redscar hesitated. But they had come so far. What was the point of turning back now? He dismounted from Thunderfur and patted the Carn Wolf.
He looked at Poisonbite and Noears. The two looked at him and Redscar pointed.
“I go. If don’t come back…”
He trailed off. If he didn’t come back, what then? The two waited, but Redscar had nothing else to say. He turned and began trudging up the hill. The Redfangs stared at him. So did the strange grey Goblins. Redscar kept his vision ahead as he walked up the hill. He knew the rest of his tribe—of Rags’ tribe—was gathering behind him, watching him progress.
Redscar’s legs burned. He was so tired. He’d let other Goblins ride Thunderfur until now. He tried not to fall as he climbed the muddy slope, avoiding the water pooling in the valley next to him. He could see shapes moving in the water. Fish? He was hungry. Hungry, but so tired he could sleep right then and there.
Something moved behind him. Redscar turned, and saw Thunderfur padding up the hill. The Carn Wolf growled softly. Redscar looked at him. He’d told Thunderfur to stay. But the Carn Wolf was good at ignoring commands Redscar didn’t mean. The Goblin smiled and together, the two kept walking.
Up the hill, onto wet grass that hadn’t been killed by the flooding waters. Redscar saw the inn rise above him. Tall. Wide. The windows were open and the shutters—shutters on the outside?—were thrown open. Yellow light spilled from within. The Goblin hesitated, then.
It was an inn. It was just like the ones he’d seen in other cities. A Human building, or a Drake’s. Not meant for Goblins. And yet, the door called to him. Redscar trudged over to it, heart pounding.
He was afraid. Afraid in a way that had nothing to do with fear of battle. He had come so far. He had lost his Chieftain, failed her. The tribe had been broken. And this—this was just an inn. Redscar bowed his head. What could an inn do for his tribe? He almost turned away, and Thunderfur nudged him. The Carn Wolf could smell something inside it wanted. It whined pleadingly and Redscar looked back.
He still might have turned back. He still would have walked away, rather than be disappointed. It was just an inn. But as the setting sun shone down on the inn, Redscar saw something. He stared, and his eyes narrowed as he tried to make sense of what he saw. It took him a while, because he was a poor reader. But then he blinked. And laughed.
The Goblins of the Flooded Waters tribe saw Redscar laugh. They saw him step back, and wave, urging them forwards.
Poisonbite and Noears were first up the hill. They staggered up the slope, wondering what Redscar had seen. They too hesitated as they saw the inn, a symbol of civilization, a place they could never enter. Perhaps at this point they might have wavered. But then they saw it too.
It was the sign that hung proudly on the door. Right in front, hanging on a nail freshly hammered into the wood. The lettering had been enlarged and underlined by a steady hand, and the sign hung at head height for the shorter Goblins. It was a simple message, but it changed everything. Noears read the name of the inn and the sign out loud for the others.
The Wandering Inn.
That was the name of the inn. And on the door, the sign.
No killing Goblins.
And so they entered the inn.
Redscar, Poisonbite, and Noears stepped into the inn. They felt warm air rush over their faces and hesitated. The scent of cooked food hung in the air and the inn was bright. Their eyes were first drawn to the warm bright fireplace, then the candles lighting up the tables, freshly placed, only beginning to drip with wax. They stared at the rug placed just in front of the door. Noears shuffled his feet. Redscar tried to block Thunderfur from poking his head through the door.
The three Goblins plus one Carn Wolf kept still, looking about the inn. Their eyes picked out only tables and chairs at first. And then—movement. They froze as they saw one table was occupied.
A group of six Goblins, five Hobs and one smaller Goblin, sat at a table. They had mugs and plates with food on them. Poisonbite gaped, but Redscar’s eyes narrowed.
There was no mistaking the war paint on their bodies. The Redfangs turned to look at him, and Redscar tensed. He recognized one of them. The other five were hauntingly familiar in some way, but the regular-sized Goblin who tensed was one of Redscar’s old comrades.
Spiderslicer began to stand up at his table, but one of the Hobs grabbed him and forced him down. The smaller Goblin glared up at the Hob, but he kept sitting. The Hob offered him something. A bit of meat on a stick? Redscar’s stomach rumbled and Thunderfur sniffed. The sound seemed to draw attention to them, because at that moment, someone exited a door across from them.
A young woman walked out of the inn’s kitchen. She was holding a pot with a wooden spoon’s handle sticking out of it, and something was steaming and giving off a very inviting smell. All three Goblin’s stomachs rumbled. But it was the Human they looked at. She stopped and blinked as she saw them standing there.
“Well hello there. I wondered when someone else would stop by. One second, please!”
The Flooded Waters tribe Goblins stared as the young woman flashed them a smile and then went over to the table. She put the pot down in front of the Hobs and Spiderslicer, all of whom sat up. Spiderslicer kept trying to glare at Redscar, but his attention was drawn to the pot. The young woman’s voice was audible quite clearly in the very large—and very empty—common room.
“Soup du jour. That’s French, by the way. It means ‘soup of the day’, which in this case is borscht. That’s egg, sausage, bacon, butter…it’s sour and I’ve got some bread warming by the stove, so don’t eat it right off. And it’s hot, so be careful, got it? Badarrow, I’m trusting you to serve.”
She handed the bowls to Badarrow, who grumbled and took the stack and began serving soup in the bowls. Noears’ stomach rumbled plaintively. The young woman turned towards them. She walked over as Poisonbite backed up, hands on the hilts of her daggers. Redscar put a hand out, warning her to keep her blades sheathed. Thunderfur sniffed and made a low rumbling sound. The young woman stopped. She eyed the huge Carn Wolf, who was as tall as she was.
“Is that wolf trained? If it’s going to pee in my inn, it has to stay outside.”
She looked at Thunderfur and then at Redscar. The Goblin stared at her. The young woman put her hands on her hips after she got no response. Her mouth twitched, then she frowned.
Thunderfur didn’t care for her tone. He growled and the young woman’s eyes flicked towards him.
For a second the three Goblins felt the air grow heavy around them. But the [Innkeeper]’s attention hadn’t been focused on them. Thunderfur whined, then sat down. It stared at the young woman and its head lowered submissively. The young woman smiled and then looked at Redscar, who was open-mouthed.
“I guess that’s a good start. Hey, why are you all standing around? Here, take a seat. Do you have a preference?”
She indicated the tables. The Goblins stared at her, and then edged forwards. They sat at a table, staring at the other Goblins, and at the young woman. She nodded, pleased.
“Alright. Now, can I get you anything? We’ve got soup de jour. Or du jour, whatever the right one is—hot bread, pasta, steaks, and I’ve got specialty treats like pizza, hamburger, and even a cake. Tons of food—but no menu. Just tell me if you want a meat dish or what sounds good. I’ve also got a lot of drinks. We have wines, water, milk, honey milk, a dark lager, this orange beer I haven’t tried yet, Flamebreath Whiskey—very hot stuff, so watch out—apple juice, soft and hard cider…”
She rattled off a list of drinks as the Goblins stared up at her. The [Innkeeper] paused.
“…but if you’re not certain, we can start you with some soup and milk. And bread. With butter, obviously. How about that?”
It was a dream. The three felt certain they were in a shared dream, or in some other reality where up was sideways and nothing was real. They nodded silently. Thunderfur whuffed, and the young woman eyed him.
“And I’ll get you some raw meat for your doggy.”
Doggy. Redscar opened his mouth, but the young woman was already moving into the kitchen. The three Goblins stared as they heard her clatter about in there, and then looked at the Redfangs. The Hobs were eating already, and chattering to Spiderslicer, gesturing around the room. Redscar leaned over to Noears and Poisonbite. The three looked at each other, lost for words. Then Redscar poked Noears. The Goblin yelped as Redscar’s claw poked his side. Redscar pinched himself and found that it hurt.
“Hey, is your dog okay with raw meat? They can eat that, right? Or is cooked meat worse? Tell you what—we’ll give him this steak for starters, okay?”
The Goblins started. The Human was back! And she had a steak. Thunderfur got up and Redscar grabbed his fur to keep him still. The Carn Wolf wagged his tail as the young woman approached. She eyed its open jaws and large, large teeth.
“Oh my what large teeth you have, doggy. Sit.”
Thunderfur sat. The young woman offered him a steak and Thunderfur drooled onto Redscar’s hand.
“Here. You can give it to him. I don’t have a plate that’s not pottery, so he’ll have to eat it off the floor. Don’t worry, it’s so clean you could eat your dinner off it. The tables too.”
Redscar blinked at the cooked steak and took hold of it with one hand. It was warm. And it smelled so good he wanted to bite it himself. But since the young woman was already coming back with another pot and bowls, he offered it to Thunderfur. The Carn Wolf practically tore the meat from his master’s hands and began to scarf it down.
“How do you feed those things without running out of food? Never mind. Here’s the borscht! And bread.”
A bowl appeared in front of each of the Goblins. And the young woman began ladling hot soup into each bowl. She put a loaf of bread on the table, and some soft butter and a blunt knife. The Goblins stared at the bread, round-eyed. The young woman smiled as she filled Noears’ bowl and stood back. There was silence. The Goblins didn’t move.
They knew how this worked. Now was the time when they would reach for bowls and find they were lying in a ditch, half-starved and delirious. It had happened before. This wasn’t happening. This was a happy dream and so they didn’t move, trying to prolong the moment. They waited for ten seconds, and then twenty as Thunderfur savaged the steak and Redscar felt his stomach begin to try and stage a takeover from his belly. It was a dream. Right up until the young woman coughed.
“It’s getting cold.”
They looked at her. She smiled at them.
“Are you worried about the cost? No charge. It’s on the house tonight.”
She gave them a broad grin, and her eyes twinkled. The Goblins looked at each other. Then, slowly, Noears reached for the bread. It was pre-sliced into generous portions and puffy. It smelled fresh, not like the bread they found in adventurer’s rations, or the stale stuff they sometimes looted. It was soft. And Noears’ claws trembled as he brought it to his mouth and bit.
He chewed, slowly. Poisonbite and Redscar watched him. Noears’ eyes rolled up in his head and they thought he was having a seizure. But no—he was just chewing. And chewing. And then he bit and chewed again. Every line in his body told them he was enjoying himself.
That settled it. Redscar picked up another piece of bread and discovered something else. It was warm. The bread squished in his claw and, trembling, he brought it to his mouth. He opened his mouth, bit, and the world changed. He began to chew the bread, slowly, and then with increasing speed as his salivary glands, already prepped, began working overtime.
He had never tasted fresh bread before. Poisonbite looked at Redscar’s face, and then at Noears, and then took things a step further. Awkwardly, she spread some of the butter on the bread and began to eat it. And the wonders continued.
The young woman watched the Goblins eating the bread. They finished one piece, and reached for another. She smiled.
“I make good bread, huh? Try it with the soup, though.”
They jumped and looked at her. She indicated the bowls and then they realized that yes, they had soup! They tried that.
Sour. Warm! Complex flavors! None of them bad! Redscar had never tasted the like, even when he’d eaten horse stew or Eater Goats. This wasn’t just meat and water with a few extras thrown in. Even Rags’ filling soup wasn’t half as good. This was—this was cuisine. He began to eat, and only remembered to dip his bread and try that when he saw Noears doing it. Another taste. Another experience!
Thunderfur watched his master eating, trying to scarf the food and make it last forever at the same time. He whined, licking his chops, and the young woman found another steak for him to gobble. The Goblins ate, chewing their way through one bowl, before halting for a moment. Their stomachs felt full given how much they normally ate, but they wanted more. And there was a pot. The young woman waited.
They looked at her. She indicated the pot. The Goblins peered into it, and then at her. The [Innkeeper] nodded.
“We don’t do table serving here. Sorry. You’ll have to fill your bowls yourself. We do refill mugs. Want more milk?”
She indicated the mugs of yet-untouched white stuff, which none of the Goblins had quite been certain of. Redscar sipped from the strange substance and his jaw dropped. He saw the young woman’s eyes twinkle again, and her lips twitch. This time, Redscar recognized it. She was suppressing a smile.
“Well? Any good? I’ve got more, you know. If your friends can behave, there’s enough for a crowd. Not all of them by far, but my inn’s open for business.”
She glanced towards the door. The Flooded Waters Goblins stared at her, and then realized she was talking about the others. The others. They stared at the full pot, realizing they’d been stuffing themselves while the rest of their tribe was waiting outside. Redscar got up slowly. He looked at Spiderslicer, and understood in a flash that the other Redfang leader had been invited for the same reason. He looked at the young woman. She folded her arms, regarding him.
“Are you the Chieftain? My name is Erin. Erin Solstice. I run this inn and I’m happy to feed you all. If you’re not here to cause trouble. I’m assured by my regulars—”
She nodded to the five Hobs, one of whom waved a hand. Poisonbite looked stunned.
“—that you’re actually good folk. But I had to be sure. How about it? No trouble? Food? Do we have a deal?”
She looked down at Redscar. Not by much; Redscar was tall for an ordinary Goblin and she wasn’t the tallest Human in the world. He hesitated. Erin Solstice. She was nothing like he imagined or what Rags had said. But—her casual tone, as if she was speaking to another Human. The hint of a smile on her face, the twinkle in her eye that said she was laughing inside. And the sign. He looked at Noears and Poisonbite. And he dared to believe this was reality.
“Yes. Thank you.”
Erin jumped. She actually jumped. She stared at Redscar as he took a step back. Her eyes widened.
“You can talk? Wait, you can speak English?”
English? The Goblins didn’t know about that. But Redscar nodded.
Noears raised a hand. Poisonbite nodded. Erin blinked.
“Wait—but I thought only Numbtongue—wow. Okay. Uh—hi. Pleased to meet you. I’m Erin. You knew that.”
She held out a hand. Redscar stared at it. He slowly took it and Erin squeezed his hand. He squeezed back gingerly.
“Redscar? Hey, that’s like Redfang, isn’t it? Are you one of them? Wait—Numbtongue explained it to me. I’m going to get your name mixed up, aren’t I? Sorry in advance! And you are?”
Erin turned to Noears. The [Mage] blinked up at her, unusually shy.
“I am Noears.”
The young woman stared at the ragged flesh around both earholes.
“Noears? Well that’s—uh—well, that’s very accurate. Literal names, Goblins. Yep. And who’s your female friend?”
The female Goblin bared her teeth challengingly at Erin. The young woman smiled.
“Poisonbite? Are your bites poisonous? Hah! I kid.”
Her smile made Poisonbite narrow her eyes. The Goblin reached for her sheathes and Redscar and Noears tensed.
She drew her blades. Erin took a step back as Redscar grabbed Poisonbite’s arms. The [Innkeeper] eyed the coated daggers and Poisonbite.
“I see. Well, keep your daggers sheathed, Poisonbite. And no fighting in my inn. No fighting, no attacking anyone else, no bad names, and no wolves peeing or doing the other thing in my inn. None of you do that either, got it? I have outhouses. If we can agree on that—you can stay at my inn.”
The three Goblins looked at each other. They looked at Erin. They had a thousand questions, a thousand things to say. And perhaps she saw it, because she just smiled. They had come a long way. A long way, and despaired. The journey had ground them down. But at last, at long last, it felt like they had arrived somewhere.
A little inn on a hill. Redscar took Erin’s hand again and Poisonbite stowed her daggers. The young woman smiled as Noears went to the door and began to shout.
“One last thing. The Redfangs want to come through, so you’ll be sharing the inn with them. Like I said: no fighting. And you may have a few more guests.”
Redscar blinked, but nodded. Erin watched him, and then nodded too. She walked over to the far wall and Redscar saw another door, set against the wall. He frowned. Wait, but there hadn’t been another door on the outside of the inn. So what—
Erin opened the door. Redscar saw another place appear in the doorway. A city, with the sun setting behind it. He stared. The sun was at the wrong angle! He stared out of the window in the inn. And then he saw them.
A half-Elf. Humans. Drakes. A huge furry monster—and Gnolls. A small white one that hid behind a bird-woman with blue feathers. They stared at the Goblins, at Thunderfur. And at Erin Solstice. She smiled and raised her voice, beckoning them in.
“Hey, everyone! You can come back through! But only if you’re cool with Goblins.”
The people standing in the city—in Liscor—hesitated. Some of them turned away. Others backed up. But then a young woman came through. She tied her hair back, and turned to the white Gnoll.
“You stay here, Mrsha. You can stay at Krshia’s place. Drassi, Ishkr? Let’s get to work.”
She walked through the doorway. A Gnoll, several Gnolls, and a few Drakes joined her. Some of them stared at the Goblins and one of the Gnolls sniffed, but the Drake just walked into the kitchen. And then a half-Elf followed them. And a young man in robes who sniffed the air much like Thunderfur.
“I trust you have suitable victuals for tonight, Erin? May I inquire as to tonight’s course?”
Erin rolled her eyes.
“Soup, Pisces. Don’t worry, I’ve got enough even with the Goblins. Although you’re paying. Krshia! I’m going to need as much food as I can get on short notice.”
“You’ll never feed them all.”
A haughty, dark-skinned [Mage] walked past the Human called Pisces. She had stitching running around her neck and arms. Erin nodded.
“Of course not. But I think they can feed themselves. At least, I hope so. There’s fish in the Floodplains—Relc told me you can just fish them out. But I’ll feed who I can. Who else is coming through?”
And they came. One after another. Adventurers, civilians, Drakes and Gnolls and Humans. They came into the inn, staring at the Goblins who began trickling through the doors. Some were uncomfortable. Others calm but wary. A few were openly at ease and they were the oddest of all.
But they came, and the Goblins from both the Redfang and Flooded Waters tribe who entered fell under the same aegis as the people from Liscor. They were enemies, possibly mortal ones. But in the inn, on this night, and with her there, there was peace. And so the night continued as Redscar sat and more food appeared. The strangest night he had ever lived through.
“Well, that’s that.”
Olesm stared at the door as the Horns of Hammerad walked through, and then the Silver Swords, following Lyonette and Drassi and the others. Mrsha circled Krshia, looking unhappy as the Gnoll shook her head, looking appalled and delighted by the amount of food Erin wanted. Olesm turned to the others gathered in front of the magic doorway. Bevussa looked appalled.
“So Erin’s just going to feed the Goblins? There are tens of thousands outside!”
The [Strategist] grinned weakly. He looked at the door and spotted Embria and Zevara staring at it. He tried to move towards the door and failed.
“That’s Erin for you. And we can go through, if we’re willing to dine in company, it sounds like fun. Anyone going?”
“Are you serious? They’re Goblins.”
Keldrass spat a few wisps of flame. He stared at the door, fists clenched. He looked around.
“We’re about to be under siege from the Goblin Lord and the Humans and she’s letting them in! We just fought with Goblins! Killed them!”
“Did you expect anything else from her, Keldrass? And yeah, we killed them. They tore us up. If they’re not holding a grudge, I won’t. Not against them, at any rate.”
Jelaqua rolled her eyes. She looked at the half-Giant clutching his side.
“Moore, you want to go through? We can stay somewhere else or go to our rooms if—”
“I’m going through.”
The half-Giant shook his head and walked through the door. Keldrass made a sound of fury.
“This is an outrage. If we weren’t—”
He broke off, eying Olesm. The [Strategist] looked suspiciously at Keldrass and the Drake cleared his throat.
“—That is, I refuse to enter that inn. And Erin Solstice is courting arrest or worse by letting the Goblins into her establishment, even if it is outside of Liscor’s jurisdiction! The doorway is connected to the city!”
“True. We need to close it off once everyone’s through. But it’s not that big of a risk.”
Olesm nodded to Zevara, Embria, and the small army of soldiers and guardsmen gathered around the doorway. The odds of the Goblins forcing their way into the city was remote at this moment. Keldrass growled and Embria frowned.
“Still, isn’t this a good chance to…?”
She subtly indicated the door with a nod of her head. Olesm’s stomach twisted up. Zevara frowned.
“You think all of the Goblin’s leaders are in one spot?”
“Maybe. Watch Captain, this is an opportunity. If you want to risk it…”
The two Drakes looked at each other. Zevara gritted her teeth.
“Maybe we should check first. Send reconnaissance. Olesm, you’re on good terms with Erin. Go through, check the Goblins.”
“I can’t, Watch Captain.”
Olesm shuffled his feet miserably. Zevara looked at him and her brows snapped together.
“That was an order, Olesm. I know you have personal feelings, but—”
“It’s not that, Zevara. I can’t go through that door. Can you?”
The Watch Captain stared at Olesm. Then she stared at the doorway. Olesm heard Embria snort.
“What are you talking about? Of course we…”
She trailed off. The crowd gathered around the door looked at each other. They began to realize what Olesm had picked up on. Zevara stared at her feet.
“I can’t walk towards the door.”
Olesm confirmed it. None of the [Soldiers] or [Guards] or adventurers like Keldrass could enter the inn. There were a few exceptions. Bevussa walked forwards, frowning.
“I’m fine. Look, see?”
She walked through the door, walked back, and then opened and closed the door a few times. Pisces appeared in the doorframe after the third time.
“You’re letting the cool air in. Please refrain from doing that.”
He shut the door. The others stared at the shut door. Aside from Bevussa, Mrsha, and Krshia, none of the others could open it. The real question they began debating was why.
“It has to be her aura skill. Erin told me she had one. And she’s using it now, I think. The door’s her property and you heard what she said. Only Goblins and people who can be civil to Goblins are allowed inside.”
Miserably, Olesm stared at the door. He bet they could overcome the effects, but it would be detrimental to anyone going through. They’d have to fight just to stay in the inn. Embria scowled.
“Only Goblins? That’s racist.”
“Speciesist, you mean.”
“It’s ridiculous! She’s using an aura skill against us? And it’s not—I’m a Wing Commander—I can’t be held back by this!”
She took a step forwards and stopped. Olesm tried to do the same and barely got his foot to move towards the door.
It wasn’t so much of a physical barrier as Olesm strongly not wanting to put his hand on the door handle and swing it open. It wasn’t that he couldn’t—he just didn’t want to. And because that was the case, there was no fighting the emotion unless Olesm concentrated on why he didn’t want to go in. And even then, it was like fighting to keep his eyes open when he was exhausted; if he wavered once, he stepped backwards.
“That is a powerful amount of concentration. Impressive for an [Innkeeper]. No, it would be impressive for a [Lord] below Level 30.”
A quiet voice made Olesm turn. Ilvriss was studying the inn. The [Strategist] looked at him.
“Can you enter the inn, Wall Lord Ilvriss?”
Ilvriss looked affronted.
“I can enter the inn. If I choose to. And I could repel the effects of her aura around me. The question is whether or not it is tactically viable.”
He strode forwards and opened the door, unimpeded by whatever was happening. He took one look inside the inn and shut the door.
The others waited as Ilvriss stood there, pondering for a second. Then the Wall Lord shook his head.
“Leave them. There’s no point to interference. If the Goblins leave tomorrow morning all will be satisfactory.”
“And if they don’t, Wall Lord?”
Embria looked angry as she walked forwards, clearly determined to prove a point. She opened the door with effort and stared inside, narrow-eyed. Ilvriss’ voice grew cold.
“My understanding is that Goblins elect new Chieftains if the old ones fall, Wing Commander. Moreover, fighting with Miss Solstice’s aura impeding most of us would be dangerous. If the Goblins are here tomorrow—then we take steps. But as Strategist Olesm has said—what real choice do we have? Let us trust to Erin Solstice’s unique brand of…”
He trailed off. There was no word for it. Ilvriss turned. Zevara stared at the doorway, and then turned.
“Get someone with a scroll of [Fireball] and put up some temporary barricades. Just in case. If a Goblin comes through, blast the door and seal it. Otherwise…leave them.”
She strode off. So did Embria, swearing a blue streak much like her father. Olesm watched them go. He stared back at the inn and tried to walk towards the door. But he couldn’t. Shamefaced, he turned away. The inn blazed as he climbed the walls and sat there, staring down at them. Below, the army of Goblins was mingling, campfires going up.
Tomorrow they would be an issue. But tonight was for them. They sat around her inn, eating, mingling, flowing in and out of the building. The one place in the world they knew they would be safe. For one night.
At first she asked no questions. She just marshaled her staff. Gnolls, Drakes, a young Human girl like herself. She sent them in and out of the kitchen as bodies filled chairs, serving drinks, bringing out food. Then she addressed the larger problem.
“There’s a lotta Goblins out there. Redfang—I mean, Redscar. Do your people have enough food for them? What about you, Spiderbite?”
Numbtongue corrected Erin. The two Redfangs exchanged a look, which turned into a staring contest. Redscar put his hand on the hilt of his sword and answered slowly.
“Have food. Supplies. But hungry. Use more.”
He didn’t know how much food Erin’s inn held, but even if it was packed from floor to rafters, it wouldn’t be enough. Erin nodded.
The Goblin kept glaring at Redscar. By now Redscar had heard the news. Garen was gone. He’d been overthrown by the strange five Hobs. He couldn’t help but think he knew them. But that didn’t matter to Spiderslicer. His grudge against Redscar was personal. The Goblin grunted.
Erin stepped between the two. She looked at both, and then at one of the Hobs.
“If there’s not enough food, then we’ll just have to make more. Rabbiteater!”
Redscar jumped. Rabbiteater? He stared as one of the Hobs stood up. But Rabbiteater was a small Goblin! And this Hob who stood up looked—impressive. He had a cloak made of liquid and his armor looked pristine. He looked like…well, an adventurer. He had been filling a goblet from his cloak, and the liquid looked like blood. Or wine. He walked over as Erin waved at him.
“Rabbiteater, get Pebblesnatch and your people to grab all the fish they can out of the water. Watch out for Rock Crabs—tell them to make a fillet. Something simple. As for here, I’ve got a lot of food. The Goblins can come in and out.”
She directed Rabbiteater and the Hob nodded and walked out of the inn. Redscar stared at his back and then looked at the other. No. It couldn’t be. But then—he stared at their war paint, remembering the group of warriors that Garen had sent out of the tribe. His eyes widened.
One of the Hobs looked up. He stared at Redscar, and then got up slowly.
The two met. Erin came back from a quick conference with Pebblesnatch and her fancy chef’s hat to see Redscar surrounded by the other Redfangs, sans Spiderslicer, laughing in delight. She watched as the former Redfang second-in-command reunited with his old subordinates.
It was a lot of backslapping and quick Goblin chatter that Erin couldn’t follow, but the body language was good. The five clearly knew Redscar and held him in some esteem. For his part, the smaller Goblin looked surprised and then happy to see them. What she couldn’t understand was his relationship with the scowling Goblin called Spiderslicer. They were both Redfangs, but there was some serious beef between them. Numbtongue had to explain it in the end.
“Redfangs. We are all Redfangs. Redscar’s warriors and Spiderslicer’s. But our tribe split. They left with Rags. And they went with Garen, our old Chieftain.”
“Wow. They went with Rags over that Garen guy? And wait—that means those two are enemies?”
Numbtongue shook his head. Spiderslicer was walking towards Redscar, hand on the hilt of his sword.
“No. Yes. Not enemies. Redfangs are always Redfangs. Now we are all on the same side. We all…left Garen.”
“So what’s the problem?”
“Spiderslicer was the third-best fighter in all of the Redfang tribe.”
“And Redscar is second-best in all of Redfang tribe. Or was until he left.”
“Oh. Now I get it.”
Erin wanted to roll her eyes as Spiderslicer snapped something and the other Redfangs fell silent. The Goblins who’d entered Erin’s inn grew quiet as the two Goblins stared each other down. Redscar put a hand on his sword’s hilt and Erin felt motivated to interject.
“Hey! I said no fighting!”
The two Goblins looked at her. Redscar looked at Spiderslicer, who growled something. The two looked at each other in tense silence, and then Redscar jerked his head. They began walking for the door.
“Wait, where are you going?”
Redscar paused to look at Erin.
“No fighting. In inn. So going out.”
Erin’s mouth opened, but Numbtongue grabbed her and whispered urgently to her.
“Will fight anyways. Has to fight. Redfangs have to know who is best.”
“Yeah, but they’ll kill each other!”
“No. They won’t use their own swords. Spiderslicer broke his falchion and Redscar has an enchanted blade. It won’t be fair, so they’ll use other weapons.”
“Well that’s a relief—”
“They’ll use ordinary swords instead.”
The fight went down on a hill close to Erin’s inn. She stood outside the inn with a crowd of adventurers. And Goblins. They stood there, eating and watching as the two Goblins stood in a circle of Redfang warriors. The two were using steel blades, shortswords of identical length. Unenchanted, as Numbtongue had said. But they were sharp and metal.
“They’re going to kill each other.”
Erin put her hands on her head. Earlia, who was snacking on some french fries, shook her head.
“Nah, not if they have healing potions. Sparring can be lethal, but it’s not bad if there’s potions nearby. The real injuries happen when you sever a limb or poke out an eye. Or crush bones. But experts can usually avoid that. Hey, anyone care for a bet?”
Heads turned. Pisces drifted over.
“I could back a few wagers. What’re the odds?”
“Redscar will win. Second-best.”
Headscratcher folded his arms. Shorthilt shook his head dismissively.
“Not certain. Redscar is best on Thunderfur. Riding. But Spiderslicer fights best on ground.”
“Spiderslicer doesn’t have falchion.”
Rabbiteater pointed that fact out. The other Redfangs nodded. Revi, staring down at the commotion, looked around.
“The one with the spider name looks good to me. Put two gold pieces on him, Pisces.”
“Oh come now, Revi. Surely you can stand a larger bet. Fifty gold on the spider fellow, young Pisces. How much will that earn me?”
Typhenous chuckled. Pisces looked up as the other adventurers whistled.
“I’ll give you even odds on both sides for the moment. Any takers?”
A clamor of voices arose and Pisces began to take money or vocal bets from other sides. Erin looked disgusted as some of the Goblins began to offer Pisces bits of food as well, or coins of their own. Then she saw a dour looking face appear at Pisces’ back. Erin drifted closer just in time to hear Halrac speak to Pisces.
“Two hundred gold on the one with the scar.”
Pisces paused. He glanced at Halrac, and immediately adjusted the odds to favor Redscar. Erin slapped her forehead. The [Scout] met her eyes and shrugged.
The fight went down independent of the betting around The Wandering Inn. Spiderslicer and Redscar advanced slowly. They didn’t touch weapons or nod to each other. They just waited a beat, and then tried to stab each other to death. Or at least, that was what Erin made of it. She couldn’t watch the entire thing; every time they leaned back and avoided a close cut or worse, cut each other, she had to cover her eyes. They were indeed careful—but only to avoid killing each other. Blood soon ran in the mud and Erin heard the shouts from outside.
It was over in minutes, which was a surprise to everyone who’d expected a quick match. Both Goblins trooped into the inn, having healed their wounds. Spiderslicer followed Redscar into the inn and sat at the same table as the scarred Goblin. He seemed…calmer now. Erin eyed both Goblins but couldn’t tell who’d won at a glance.
She walked over to a table of adventurers. And Headscratcher and Shorthilt. Halrac was drinking and counting the coins that Pisces had sullenly paid out—the [Necromancer] had taken a loss thanks to the big bet—and the others were animatedly discussing the fight. Bevussa looked up.
“Those Goblins are good!”
“Beyond good, I’d say. They actually look like they know swordsmanship. They’re better than almost all the Silver-rank adventurers I see practicing. Some of the Gold-rank ones, too.”
Earlia grumbled into her mug. She looked disgruntled, almost uneasy. Pisces nodded, sniffing knowledgably.
“Their form is impeccable. The one called Redscar is clearly better than Spiderslicer, but both had superior posture, timing, and a modicum of grace. It was certainly a battle worth watching.”
“Don’t underestimate them.”
Halrac admonished the other adventurers. Typhenous, who was sadly drinking from his mug, looked up at Halrac.
“You’re keen-eyed, Halrac. Share your insights with us. How would you rate them on a purely technical level against someone of say, Ylawes’ caliber?”
He glanced slyly at the [Knight], who was sitting stiffly at a table and looking at the Goblins around him. Yvlon was sitting across from her brother, clearly displeased. But the two were talking. Halrac eyed Ylawes. He grunted.
“Oh come on, Halrac.”
“I don’t gossip about my peers. Especially if what I say will get back to them and ruffle feathers.”
“Hold on, you don’t mean—”
The adventurers and Goblins sat forwards at the table. Halrac folded his arms. Erin rolled her eyes. She passed by their table and circulated the room.
A dozen conversations were happening in different spots at once. Erin saw Noears sitting at another table near the magic door, clearly studying it, Hobgoblins bickering over food with smaller Goblins—and adventurers, cautiously eating and watching them. But she wasn’t interested in them. She found one Goblin sitting with a group of female Goblins—at least, they all looked female to Erin.
Poisonbite looked up suspiciously as Erin grabbed a chair and scooted over. The young woman stared up at a large Hob with a helmet still on her head. The Hob stared down at Erin. She smiled.
Then Erin looked at Poisonbite. The small Goblin stared up at her.
“I’m told you know Rags.”
All the female Goblins stared hard at Erin. She raised her hands.
“Hey, I’m not trying to start anything. But I knew her. Before she became your Chieftain. I think. She used to stay at this inn. She was…a friend.”
The Goblins kept staring. Poisonbite looked at the others.
‘You knew Chieftain?”
“A little bit. But she never spoke. I don’t think she knew how. And she definitely didn’t have a big tribe. Heck, at first I don’t think she had a tribe. She was just…Rags. How did she end up leading such a huge army?”
Erin’s question provoked a minor furor among the Goblins. Poisonbite hit the table with the butt of her knife and glared.
“Not army. Tribe. Flooded Waters tribe.”
“Sorry. But can you tell me about her? What was she like? How is she doing? Is she…okay? I heard she was missing.”
“Chieftain is alive.”
Poisonbite said it instantly. She glared at Erin as if hinting otherwise was tantamount to treason. She raised her voice.
“Chieftain is smart! Cunning! She rebelled from Tremborag of the Mountain. Fought [Emperor]! Defeated pink-death [Knights]! Spoke to him. Greybeard!”
The other Goblins nodded conspiratorially and stared at Erin. She looked around blankly.
“Rags did all that? Rags?”
“Yes. She is our Chieftain. Worthy. You should know.”
Poisonbite sneered down at Erin. The young woman nodded.
“I should. So tell me.”
The smaller Goblin hesitated. She looked uncertain. Then the Hob with the helmet spoke. She rumbled and Erin jumped.
“First Chieftain was in Flooded Waters tribe. First fight other tribes. Had crossbows. Very smart. Very deadly. Shoot in head very dead.”
The other Goblins nodded. The Hob fell silent, drank from her mug, and folded her arms. She was clearly done. Another Goblin took up the story. She had a very clear tone. Some of the Goblins were clearly very good at English, or rather, the common tongue, and others were not.
“Chieftain fought many tribes. Garen Redfang himself came to fight Chieftain. Fought. Won. Chased Chieftain and fought and fought. But then Chieftain lured into Shield Spider trap. Garen Redfang submit. Then Chieftain fight other tribes! Redfangs and Flooded Waters tribe, too strong! But Goblin Lord coming. So go north. Fight Goldstone Chieftain tribe. Get Pyrite—Goldstone Chieftain.”
The others murmured his name. Erin looked around.
“Who was he?”
The female Goblins stared at Erin. They tried to explain. Erin tried to listen. It was a confusing story, made harder by poor grammar and an unreliable narrative structure. But Erin kept listening. The Goblins argued over the details, threw food at each other, but kept telling the story. And they kept looking at Erin, although the [Innkeeper] didn’t know why. But it was the expression on her face as they told her more of Rags, of her triumphs and failures.
She was smiling.
Noears sat amid some of the [Mages] and adventurers. Or rather, he sat at a table and they sat at their tables near him and stared at him. They couldn’t help it. Ceria wished she’d joined Pisces at his table, even if it meant listening to him sniff. He had a cold. Anything would be better than this.
“So I uh, won my axe during that competition. Dead drunk, you know. Woke up with a splitting headache and the [Axe Champion] class. Never been able to get rid of it, for all I use a hammer. Damn class. I mean, the Skill’s nice, but it’s the wrong specialization. Maybe I should pick up an axe, but it’s just not my thing. So I’m screwed two ways.”
Dawil finished his story as he spoke to Falene, Ylawes, Yvlon, Ceria, and Ksmvr. The other adventurers nodded without much enthusiasm. Only Ksmvr seemed animated.
“That is a very poignant story illuminating the dangers of inebriation, friend Dawil. May I ask what Skills your class gives you? I am attempting to ascertain which class will be of most use to my team.”
“Ah, well, if it’s Skills you want to talk, you’d do worse than following Ylawes’ example. He’s always blocking things with his shield. Or his face. [Knights] are a good class. Better than most [Warrior] classes. Right, lad?”
Dawil raised his voice and slapped Ylawes on the back. The [Knight] lurched and slopped some of his drink on the table. He looked around.
“What? I’m sorry, Dawil. I was distracted.”
Ksmvr nodded knowingly.
“Yes. You were staring hard at the Goblin without ears for quite some time. So was everyone else. May I ask what the issue is? Is he horribly disfigured or is this a mark of some kind of sexual attractiveness I am not aware of?”
The entire table went silent. Noears looked around and the other Goblins at his table—including Badarrow—looked up. They stared at the adventurers and Noears raised his voice.
“Black thing asks about this?”
He tapped his ears. Ksmvr nodded politely as Ceria tried to kick him under the table.
“Ow. Yes, I am Ksmvr. I am an Antinium and a member of the Horns of Hammerad. Ow. Captain Ceria, you are kicking me. May I ask about your missing ears? My companions clearly wish to, but have not broached the subject. I wish to ask so we may continue our discussion unimpeded.”
He stared at Noears. The [Mage] grinned and shot a spark from one finger to the other. Electricity danced along one claw as he stood up. The adventurers looked as he moved over, ushering a Goblin out of his seat. Noears tilted his head to show them the missing ears.
“Ksmvr Antinium wants to know why ears are missing? Other adventurers know. You don’t?”
“I have no idea. Ow.”
Noears grinned. He looked from face to face. Ceria couldn’t meet his eyes. Noears tapped the side of his head again.
“Answer is bounty. Adventurers get paid for Goblin ears. Two copper coins for Goblin ears. Good money, right?”
He grinned at the others. Ylawes stared ahead. Dawil looked into his mug and then drank. He uttered an oath. Ceria closed her eyes, remembering. Yes. It was good money, especially if you were starting out. If you got a request to hunt Goblins—or if you met some on the road, you could earn a few silver pieces easy. A request to subjugate a tribe? You added the ears onto whatever money you made. And you never thought twice about it after the first few times. You never—
None of the other adventurers would say anything. But it was Falene who looked around and felt the need to justify things. She pursed her lips and spoke, avoiding looking at Noears.
“It may be distasteful, but the practice of placing bounties has historically been a key motivator in culling problematic populations. Rural Adventurer’s Guilds lack access to truth spells, so the practice of collecting trophies is necessary, however—”
“Dead gods, Falene!”
Dawil slammed his mug down on the table. Ceria jumped. The Dwarf looked up as Falene fell silent. Her face was slightly paler than usual. Dawil glared at her, and then at Noears.
“Yes. We know. It’s a thing adventurers do, lad. We kill Goblins and Shield Spiders and other monsters and don’t think twice about it. I didn’t until I came here. Then I started imagining every Goblin I ever killed. I’m sorry for it. But sometimes the Goblins were bastards. Other times…”
He looked away, and at a group of Redfang warriors. They were sitting, eating, looking around, in good spirits. Only, now and then, Ceria had caught one of them looking towards the Silver Swords, or Bevussa, or one of the other teams that had fought them. Just for a moment. But Erin’s peace held. Dawil shook his head.
“We fought Goblins on the road not a day ago and they’re sitting here without so much as blaming us. I don’t know what to make of that, but I’d defend myself and my team again. But the ears—I can’t excuse the ears.”
The others fell silent. Ksmvr looked from face to face and then at Noears. The Goblin [Mage] shrugged.
“Adventurers kill. Goblins kill. But next time make sure Goblin is dead. Or Goblins grows up and does this.”
He pointed a finger. A miniature bolt of lightning crackled up past Ksmvr’s antennae. Falene pursed her lips but said nothing. Ylawes looked down at Noears.
“I am sorry for your loss, sir. But enemies are enemies. I am aware that there are good examples of your species—once my team encountered a group of—of noble Goblins in a city besieged by their kind and the undead. But can you speak to the depredations others of your kind cause? What other options is there but to make war against Goblins who kill or steal?”
“Silver and steel, Ylawes!”
Yvlon glared at her brother. He returned her look, sitting stiffly in his chair. Noears cackled.
“No, good point! Good point! Fair is fair. Goblins do wrong, get killed. So. Here.”
He slapped something on the table in front of Ylawes. The [Knight] blinked.
“What is this?”
Two filthy gold coins lay on the table. Noears grinned at him.
“Anyone who wants coins cuts off your ears. Don’t have to die either. Free coin! Fair is fair.”
He cackled and lightning flickered from the tips of his claws. Falene eyed Noears as Ylawes flushed. Yvlon bit her lip and Ceria saw she was trying not to laugh. Ksmvr eyed Ylawes.
“Monetarily, would it make sense to—”
“Shut up, Ksmvr.”
Dawil chortled. The mood at the table relaxed a tiny bit, odd as that seemed. Falene indicated Noears’ claws circumspectly.
“Mister…Noears. Are you a [Aeromancer]?”
Noears stared at the half-Elf. Falene hesitated.
“A [Lightning Mage]?”
The Goblin grinned. He shot more sparks of electricity, blackening the table. A few struck Ylawes’ armor and Yvlon’s gauntlets. Both winced. Dawil, who’d sensibly gone without his armor, swore and threw a piece of bread at Noears anyways.
“Cut that out, you no-eared bastard!”
Ceria sucked in her breath, but the Goblins at Noears’ table including him laughed. It was a genuine laugh, and Noears relented. He nodded at Falene, who’d deflected a few of the sparks meant for her.
“Lightning mage! Yes! Practiced with spells. Can shoot lightning.”
Falene shook her head, looking unhappily surprised.
“Fascinating. It was speculated that a Goblin could learn magic, but one of your level is…unprecedented. However, your control of mana is wildly inefficient. And the spells are twisted.”
“Yep. Look better that way.”
Noears agreed happily. Falene sighed.
“I don’t suppose there are any Goblins with a more complete grasp of magic? General magic? Not just a single school?”
Noears looked blankly at the [Battle Mage]. He scratched at his head.
“What, like stupid magic? Lifting rocks and things?”
Ceria snorted some ale out of her nose. Falene gave her a long look as the younger half-Elf wiped her nose. Ceria ignored her. She hesitated and looked at Noears, then raised her mug.
“Hey. You do lightning magic? I’m an [Ice Mage].”
Noears brightened. He looked inquiringly at Ceria and she raised her hand. The Goblins oohed as Ceria coated her hand and arm in a layer of ice, her new spell. Noears responded by making a little ball of electricity which he shot at Ceria. She deflected it with her ice-covered hand. Falene sighed loudly.
At another table, no laughter of any kind was going on, and the tension was of a different kind. Moore sat gingerly at the table—on the ground since there were no chairs built for his weight. He was surrounded by pillows that supported his back and allowed him to lean back a bit. He was eating gingerly. The other two sitting at his table, Jelaqua and Seborn, ate very little, but they’d been drinking into their cups.
“I can’t believe those Redfangs don’t hold a grudge. We killed a lot of them.”
Jelaqua spoke quietly after a few minutes of silence. Moore looked up.
“I asked Erin about it. She said they’re not happy, but apparently it was because they were fighting under Garen. His problems aren’t the tribe’s problems. So they let it go. They’re quite stoic about some things. It is surprising.”
“I don’t know how they do it.”
Jelaqua stared into her mug. The sight of a huge Raskghar hunched over was eerie, but the other two had learned to look beyond form. Seborn grunted.
“I don’t think they are. I think they just know that there’s nothing to be gained from starting a fight right now.”
He looked at a group of Redfangs. They all turned back in their chairs. Seborn nodded to himself.
“They’ll eat. But they’re memorizing our faces.”
Jelaqua stared at her mostly untouched plate. She pushed it back and looked at the other two. Only now, a few hours into the night, did she finally bring up the topic they’d danced around.
“So. What he said.”
“I don’t believe it. How could Halassia do that? She always believed in the best of us.”
“She was a Drake, Moore.”
“They cast her out of their city. They called her cursed!”
The half-Giant looked distressed as he shifted, trying to sit upright. Jelaqua put a paw on his leg.
“Keep still. Healer’s orders.”
Reluctantly, he did. Seborn stared ahead.
“It doesn’t matter if they hated her. She was a patriot. So was Ukrina in her own way. They loved their cities. And they lived through the Second Antinium War, Moore. They grew up with that devastation. What do you think they would have done if they met Ksmvr? Remember how we never stopped at Liscor when we went from north to south?”
“Yeah. We’d take a ship and do guard duty instead, never mind how boring it was.”
Moore looked down at his bowl. Jelaqua sighed.
“He might have been lying.”
“Do you think he was?”
“What, Garen? No. He’s a terrible liar. He might have exaggerated, or twisted what happened, but I can imagine it.”
The Selphid fell silent. She traced on the table.
“It was Ukrina and Halassia, definitely. They’re Drakes. The Goblin King matters to them. To the others too, but you know Keilam wouldn’t say anything outright. And Thornst was new. He’d be keeping quiet. So it was them.”
“Why did they provoke him? Why not wait? He was offering the information. Why did they push him that far? Surely they did. Or was it him?”
Moore whispered. Seborn shook his head.
“I don’t know. They were right, though.”
The other two looked at him. Moore’s jaw dropped in astonishment.
“How can you say that, Seborn?”
The Drowned Man looked up.
“What? It’s a Goblin King. If I was with them, I would agree. One cannot reappear again.”
“Of course, but that’s not—”
Seborn gritted his teeth.
“Garen was in the wrong. He attacked them.”
“But if they were threatening to hurt him—”
“He. Attacked. Them. I remember what I saw. It was murder.”
Jelaqua interrupted him. The Drowned Man sat back, simmering. He sipped from the hard spirits in his mug, then drank down the water in another tankard. Drowned People had to watch out for dehydration on land, and that went double when drinking. Jelaqua waited until both he and Moore had relaxed a bit to go on.
“They should have waited for the rest of us. Regardless of anything else, they should have waited.”
No one had anything to say to that. Moore looked down and put his bowl on the table, no longer hungry. Seborn kept drinking. Jelaqua thought. At last, her lips twitched. The two looked at her, but it wasn’t a happy smile. It was bitter. Jelaqua looked up at the two of them.
“It doesn’t matter what we would have done. But think of it this way, Seborn. Even if we all agreed that the Goblin King’s treasure was too dangerous to give to the Goblins—what is it? Is it just a magic weapon or is it something else? We’d have to find out, and bring Garen with us, probably. Especially if the treasure is something only a Goblin could find.”
“True. So what?”
Jelaqua shook her head.
“We’d have gone to get it and decided afterwards what to do. It would have probably taken multiple Gold-rank teams and maybe even Named Adventurers. The High Passes. Dead gods. But we would have gone looking for it. That’s what Ukrina and Halassia didn’t understand. Either way…”
Moore went pale. Seborn stared at Jelaqua for a long moment. Then he cursed and looked around.
“I need another drink. Drassi!”
He waved a hand. The Drake saw it and nodded. Seborn waited, but instead of his drink, someone else wandered over. All three Halfseekers froze as a Goblin with a scar on his face walked over. He sat at their table without asking and looked at them.
“Redscar. Second to Garen. Second strongest in Redfang tribe.”
It was an introduction, however curt. Redscar eyed the Halfseekers, and Jelaqua knew that he knew how many Goblins from his tribe they’d killed. She eyed the enchanted sword at his side and remembered the flails in her room. Seborn shifted and she knew he was checking the positions of his daggers. Moore reached out.
“Not here to fight.”
Redscar looked at Seborn as he said that. The [Rogue] stopped.
“What do you want?”
The Goblin waited as Drassi came by with another mug and took Seborn’s old one. He looked at the two of them.
“Garen. He talked about old team to me.”
The Halfseekers looked up sharply. Moore tried to sit up again.
“Sometimes. When drank. Very few times.”
“What did he say?”
Jelaqua looked at Redscar. The Goblin shrugged.
“Sometimes said about how strong. Or one of them. Cunning [Rogue]. Strong [Green Mage]. Brave Captain. Drake made of ash who was beautiful. Sometimes curse and throw things. Sometimes old stories.”
He gestured, indicating the others. The Halfseekers were silent. Redscar looked at them.
“Heard from Spiderslicer what did. Traitor. Betray tribe.”
“We were a team. Not a tribe.”
Redscar shrugged as if to say ‘same thing’. He looked at Jelaqua, then Seborn, and then Moore. He hesitated, then came out with it.
“Was he good? Good teammate? Good…adventurer? Before?”
The three looked at him. Jelaqua saw a bit of anxiety in Redscar’s eyes. And it wasn’t about the Goblins they’d killed. It was about something simpler. His question. He was asking—was Garen a good teammate? Had he told the truth? Was anything true?
It would be so easy to crush those fragile hopes. To tell the truth, but in such a way that Garen became a monster completely in the eyes of his tribe. And part of Jelaqua wanted to. She saw Moore hesitate and close his mouth. Seborn was stirring. She met his eyes and said not a word. The Drowned Man opened his mouth. He hesitated, looked at Redscar, and shook his head.
“Was he a good adventurer? He was a terrible one. He betrayed his team. He could barely read. He got us into more trouble than any of our other teammates just by walking around the city.”
Redscar sagged a bit in his chair. Seborn went on, bitterly.
“Adventurers started fights with him, he got arrested, started panics—if he’d started any of it himself we’d have kicked him out from the start. But he never did. And he was strong. Aside from Jelaqua, he was the best in the group. When he found that enchanted blade, he became our front line.”
Jelaqua looked up. She saw Moore’s head raise. Seborn made a disgusted sound.
“Bastard. I nearly lost an arm twice thanks to him and I had a rope around my neck one time. We were nearly lynched.”
He looked at his teammates. Jelaqua slowly smiled. The Selphid looked at Moore, and then at Redscar, who’d glanced back up. She tried to remember, and surprisingly, the memory came into her head without hurting as hard. It still hurt like a needle to the chest, but Jelaqua spoke anyways.
“That’s true. Garen had a knack for trouble. But he was hardly as bad as Ukrina, was he? The number of times she got in trouble for her tail tickling the wrong young woman—remember the time we nearly got killed by that angry [Lord]? Lord Tourants or whatever he was called? Garen wasn’t with us—mainly because we were afraid he would get executed if he wandered around in plain sight.”
“There was a bounty on Goblins, and we couldn’t convince anyone even though Garen was Silver-rank at the time. So he was hiding in the forest with Halassia waiting for us to come back. When he learned we were being held prisoner he attacked the prison with her. People were screaming about a Goblin army when it was him and a few illusion spells.”
The other two snorted. They’d nearly forgotten that detail. Redscar scooted closer, listening as Jelaqua fished for another memory.
“Remember the time he got tricked and paid that [Wagon Driver] in gold instead of silver? He got so mad when he found out he tore up half the city.”
“Or the time when he tried to beat a Minotaur in a fist fight?”
The Halfseekers laughed. They began telling stories. It hurt each time they brought up Garen’s name, much less Halassia, Ukrina, Thornst, or Keilam’s. And it hurt worst of all to remember a happy moment when everything was going well. It hurt because it was a good memory, poisoned by what had happened. It felt to Jelaqua like all their memories had been infected with it.
A slow, bitter poison. It hurt, coming out. But as Jelaqua spoke, the poison did drip away, leaving the wounds clearer at last. Not entirely, but some. Jelaqua paused in the middle of a tale about Garen, a flying boot, and a battle with a Creler nest, and stopped.
“He was our friend. Our comrade in arms. I wish I could have stopped him. He was our friend, but there’s no forgiveness. Some things you forgive. But other things you can’t.”
The other two nodded. Redscar nodded as well. He looked at his arm, where a bit of red paint was beginning to flake away. He picked at it.
“Bad friend. Bad teammate. Bad Chieftain. But good one, sometimes.”
And that was it. The Halfseekers nodded and began telling stories without a second beat. So did Redscar, and some of the other Redfang warriors. Garen had betrayed their trust. He couldn’t be forgiven and that couldn’t be forgotten, no matter how much time passed. Neither the Halfseekers nor his tribe could bury the past.
But they had liked him.
Goblins cycled in and out of the inn. A few, the lucky few, stayed. The Redfang five, Headscratcher and company, Redscar, Spiderslicer, Noears, and Poisonbite. But the others came and went, eating a meal, pausing to listen, to look around, or to point out Erin to each other, to listen to her shout obscenities as she lost a game of chess on her magic chessboard or try to teach someone how to play. They came and went, offering other Goblins a chance to see.
The myth was true. The legend was real. And the inn was safe. For a little bit. The Goblins were relaxed, more at ease than they had been in a long time. But they were still watchful. It was ingrained in the psyche. So they noticed the dark shapes marching out of the darkness and over the hills.
Of course, they’d come under the hills first. Goblins shouted in alarm and backed up. Many didn’t recognize the strangers, but they didn’t need to know the Antinium to be wary. They raced towards the inn as Pawn and a group of Painted Soldiers walked out of the darkness. The [Acolyte] swung a censer and the Painted Soldiers walked ahead of him. But something was strange.
“They are Antinium. Not a threat. They are guests of the inn.”
Numbtongue insisted as Redscar stared down at the Antinium. The Goblin looked extremely doubtful, but he whistled and the Redscar warriors backed up and quieted their growling Carn Wolves. The Goblins drew back, and Erin, who’d come to see, peered down at the Antinium.
“They didn’t come through Liscor. I wonder why?”
“They probably don’t want to walk through the barricades. But there’s still water down there. Aren’t they nervous? They could slip and fall.”
Ceria appeared at Erin’s side. The young woman peered down.
“No, they’ve got a light and Pawn’s taking a good path. But—is that a lantern he’s swinging?”
The half-Elf’s eyes narrowed.
“No. That’s not a lantern. That’s a…what is that? It’s that burning thing you had him make.”
“His censer. It’s glowing.”
Erin breathed softly. The censer was indeed glowing. It was a soft yellow light, and it had seemed exactly like a lantern at first. But the light was too pure and it never wavered. The Antinium shook it and it lit up the area in front of him as he and the Painted Solders—eleven or so—walked towards the inn, past the staring Goblins.
“An enchantment? It has to be an artifact. Did they get it spelled somehow? But who would—no. Wait.”
Ceria’s voice faltered. She stared down at Pawn. Erin heard her gulp.
“Ceria? What is it?”
“There’s no magic. I can’t see it coming from the lantern.”
Erin looked down. The censer was glowing, just like a light spell. Only, it wasn’t like a light spell, was it? The censer was glowing, not an orb of light. And Antinium couldn’t cast magic. At least, Pawn couldn’t. Ceria looked pale.
“How is he doing that? How—”
“I think it’s faith.”
The Goblins looked at Erin. She nodded and stared at Pawn. She could hear it now. A faint click. The Painted Soldiers were marching rhythmically. And every ninth step, their mandibles would click together.
It was a hypnotic, gentle procession up the hill. And the light reminded her of…well, it reminded her of something. Erin stood with her noisy inn behind her and watched Pawn approaching. She whispered.
“Faith made manifest.”
“Then it is not faith, is it?”
Ceria looked suspiciously at Erin. The young woman turned.
“No. I suppose it’s not. In that case, I guess you’d call it…religion.”
The half-Elf opened her mouth to tell Erin the gods were dead. But then she looked down and realized there were no gods there. Just the Antinium. And the censer, humble though it was, small though it was, glowed. Any Tier 0 spell could do the same, and make light just as bright or brighter. But it wasn’t magic. And that made Ceria wonder.
“Attention everyone! These are Antinium! They’re guests! No one scream or stab them! Thank you!”
Erin clapped her hands together. The Goblins looked up, stared at the Antinium, and kept stuffing their faces.
“Thank you, Erin.”
Pawn leaned his censer on a stick against a table as the Soldiers sat in the provided chairs. Erin saw Lyonette coming over with some hot, gluten-free food and smiled.
“It’s great to see you, Pawn.”
“And you, Erin. And you too, Lyonette. I wished to come tonight when I heard what was occurring. Will you please help me feed my Soldiers? I wish to speak with the Goblins.”
The Worker nodded to the Soldiers who were staring at the borscht and then looked around. He spotted the Goblin he was looking for quickly and walked over.
“Numbtongue. I have returned with Purple Smile. Yellow Splatters was forced to remain in the Hive, as it is tactically unsound to bring both [Sergeants] in case we were attacked and killed. Shall we resume our chat?”
Numbtongue grinned. He looked at the curious Soldier who was waving with three of his four hands while one of them grasped a special mug designed for him. Purple Smile raised his mandibles and Numbtongue waved over some of the curious Goblins. The Antinium and Goblins mixed, cautiously at first, and then with ease as they found that they could actually understand each other through sign language as much as words. Erin blinked, mystified.
“I thought they only met once. Since when did they become friends?”
Bevussa shrugged as she passed by Erin.
“A lot goes by that we don’t know about. Do you have any more beer, Erin? We’re all out.”
The Goblins and Antinium sat together. Numbtongue pointed at Pawn’s censer. The Antinium admired the Redfang’s war paint. They were quite similar, for all they were different. And then Erin turned from a conversation and shouted the words that made the entire inn look up.
“Hey you lot! Lyonette tells me you can dance! Is that true?”
Pisces stood by the door with a drink in hand. Wine, unfortified and delicate. Taken from Rabbiteater’s cloak of all places. He supposed the location didn’t matter since the quality of the wine was a fine vintage, but he couldn’t help but feel that it cheapened the entire experience a bit. Well, free wine was free wine. He drank and looked at Ceria, Falene and Typhenous, who’d both gathered around Noears. The Goblin was flicking balls of lightning up which exploded harmlessly. But that wasn’t what had prompted Pisces’ rare outburst of admiration.
It was the floating orbs of multicolored lights that Noears had conjured with a single [Light] spell. Pisces admired the colors—the Goblin had an eye for pleasing aesthetics—and then looked at the other [Mages].
“You can see the spell was clearly boosted by the ambient mana. In fact, all of our magics tonight are. If you see—”
He flicked his fingers and his wine glass turned upside down. But the wine within remained perfectly still, controlled by the telekinesis. Pisces lifted it to his lips and drank, letting gravity take over.
“You see? That would be far more difficult normally, especially as I am not well-versed in telekinetic magic. But the ambient mana in Erin’s inn is charged.”
“It hasn’t been until now. Why is that?”
Ceria frowned at the glowing light spell. Typhenous cleared his throat.
“I do recall Miss Lyonette mentioning a similar phenomenon. But why would it only occur now after so long? Unless…”
All the [Mages] looked to the magic door. Pisces stroked his chin.
“When was the last time the door wasn’t teleporting someone to Celum every night? Or Pallass? How much mana does it take to send someone a hundred miles in a second?”
“We have been using the door today—”
“Only to go back and forth between Liscor. And the teams taking the door south. But Nailren’s team is only, what, twenty miles south of here? Thirty at most.”
“So the door isn’t consuming as much mana! Of course! Imagine the drain—how much magic is Erin’s inn producing normally, do you think?”
“Enough to make that spell possible.”
Ceria eyed Falene and Moore. The two were sitting together and the half-Elf had conjured a floating procession of plates to move past Moore’s head while he sat back. Thus he could eat without having to sit up and she could keep talking without having to look up at him.
Pisces waved that away.
“That is a spell fueled by Miss Skystrall’s magic. A product of ability. But that [Light] spell was overcharged. I wonder, how much power could you draw without the door present?”
“Wanna try? Blow up rocks?”
Noears grinned and shot a few tiny lightning bolts from his fingers. Pisces sniffed.
“Tempting, but I think that would be considered an act of aggression from Liscor at the moment. But I do wonder if we could—”
He was discussing spells with the others when he heard a sound break through the general hubbub. Goblins turned their heads as a Hobgoblin with a guitar struck a chord. Numbtongue played a riff, and then modulated the tone. Instead of the crackling electric chords, he played something much softer.
Another sound joined him. A Cave Goblin on a pair of improvised drums. A pair of Goblins blew into flutes they’d carved out of wood. A third had a kind of violin. Pisces’ jaw dropped.
Cave Goblins took their places as a young woman waved a stick, mimicking a conductor without in fact lending anything to the performance. Numbtongue ignored her as he plucked at his guitar. The Cave Goblins played. Their instruments were crude. But the sounds they made were pure. After all, they’d listened to Numbtongue and he knew what the other musical instruments should look and sound like, at least in theory.
The sound they made as a whole was discordant at first. The Cave Goblins hadn’t played in symphony and this song was new. But they were Goblins. Cooperation was in their blood, and in time, they had a song going that was…close.
It sounded vaguely like something Pisces would hear in a ballroom in Terandria, albeit with a faster tune, more bass and drums, and a good deal more mistakes. But the resemblance was uncanny. He stared at the Goblins. And then he got the shock of his life.
The Painted Soldiers had turned at the sound of the music. They had stood up as one. Now they stepped into the middle of the common room, which had been cleared of tables and chairs. Pisces watched them a tad bit apprehensively. He wasn’t sure what they’d do. What he was not prepared for was to see two of the Soldiers lock hands and begin to dance.
Not just dance. They began to step in pairs, in a classic ballroom waltz. Across the room, Halrac nearly choked on his drink as the Antinium slowly walked down the long [Grand Theatre], towards the dais at the back of the room. They turned stepped, turned—their steps were perfectly in synch. Memorized, coordinated. As only the Antinium could do.
The Antinium—and a [Princess]. Lyonette spun past the Soldiers, Pawn holding her hand gingerly. Pisces rubbed at his eyes and stared down into his mug as Typhenous went to sit down and landed on the floor. Everyone watched as the song played on and the Antinium danced. For a minute, two, the Antinium moved to the sound of the playing Goblins. And then the music changed.
“Okay, Numbtongue! Hit it! Better When I’m Dancing! This is my song!”
Erin jumped into the middle of the dance floor. The music changed, picking up in tempo. It took a distinctly un-ballroom-like melody. Pisces saw Erin stop, and then began shuffling her feet. She winked.
“I learned this one from Charlie Brown.”
She began to dance, in a way that had nothing to do with memorized steps or patterns. It was individual, cheerful, and completely embarrassing. Pisces saw Revi snort, and the Goblins exchanged glances, unsure if this was comedy or something serious. Erin just laughed. She beckoned.
There was a moment of hesitation, then a Goblin pushed her way through the crowd. Pebblesnatch looked around importantly, then handed her prized chef’s hat off to another Goblin. She began to copy Erin. The young woman laughed. The two began to dance, and then another Goblin came forwards. He struck a pose and that was it.
The dance floor began to fill. The Antinium Soldiers watched, then began to copy Erin. Pisces watched, dribbling wine onto the floor. Ceria laughed and laughed and then grabbed Pisces’ hand.
“Come on! You’ve seen Erin dance, Pisces! And they’re playing all of the songs on Ryoka’s music thing! How did Erin teach Numbtongue that?”
“No, absolutely not—”
Pisces raised his hands. But then Ksmvr was there.
“Comrade Pisces, will you dance with me?”
Ksmvr didn’t seem to understand the traditional gender pairing that went along with such things. Pisces was trying to explain it to him as Typhenous tried to muffle his laughter with his beard. That was when Erin grabbed his hand and towed the old man into the dance.
Bright music. The Goblins standing outside the inn waiting for their turn stared through the windows. They looked at each other, and then shouted for the others to see. And the dancing spread. After all, Goblins were thieves. And stealing music and footwork was considerably more easy than food. All they had to do was watch.
A pair of blonde figures sat at a table as Erin led the Goblins through the evolution of dancing throughout the ages. She had to describe some of it, not being capable of advanced moves like breakdancing, moonwalking, or anything past the electric slide, really. But it was a sight to see Antinium Soldiers doing that.
Yvlon had to wrench her eyes away from the mesmerizing sight. She looked at her brother and blew a bit of hair out of her face. Somehow, Ylawes was capable of ignoring even the most wondrous of sights. He frowned at her as he drank from a small cup, his face slightly flushed from the alcohol.
“It’s dangerous, Yvlon. All the adventuring teams are going south. They intend to go through Drake lands, but we’re Human. If it does come to war, we’d be in danger. I had another idea, though. If we go north, we’d run right into the Goblin Lord’s army.”
“That’s your idea?”
Her sarcastic tone made her brother grimace.
“Just wait, Yv. Yes, the Goblin Lord would be marching towards us, but Lord Veltras is pursuing his army. I doubt he’d let us come to harm. And our father is marching with him.”
Yvlon folded her arms.
“So you want to run to Tyrion Veltras. Just in time to participate in the attack on Liscor?”
“He wouldn’t demand that—”
“No? You’re a Gold-rank team, Ylawes. He’ll conscript you.”
The [Knight] paused.
“Perhaps we could talk him into negotiating instead. Or at the very least, ensure that the battle is merciful to the defeated if—”
“Dead gods, Ylawes! He’s going to sack Liscor with the Goblins! You think he’ll be merciful when—”
Ylawes signaled frantically as the aforementioned Goblins looked around. Yvlon lowered her voice.
“You think this is right? No! He’s going to start a war and we’re on the wrong side. Father was an idiot for supporting him.”
“Don’t talk about our father that way.”
Yvlon’s older brother frowned angrily. Yvlon clenched one fist.
“Shouldn’t I? He’ll be part of the bloodshed, Ylawes.”
That made him hesitate. Ylawes took another drink from his cup.
“He is part of the army. He must cooperate or be seen as dishonorable. You can see the integrity in his decision—”
Yvlon tossed the contents of her mug at Ylawes. He dodged it and an unhappy Goblin shook a fist at both of them. Yvlon snapped.
“You’re unbelievable. Integrity? Father threw out centuries of our family’s friendship with the Reinharts. You want to talk about honor, Ylawes?”
He held still, face red, but looking serious.
“No one is perfect, Yvlon. We try. I have seen a lot which has changed my mind, but the facts cannot themselves change. Liscor will be under siege and I think you and I both know it will fall. Please think on what I’ve said. If not for yourself, then for your team.”
“But he is your team. And if you convinced Erin to go with you—”
“What about Selys? Mrsha? The others? Will you take them all as prisoners, Ylawes?”
The [Knight] shook his head.
“I could order you to go. I am your brother and I outrank you.”
Yvlon raised her middle finger. Ylawes sat up straight with shock.
“Shove this up your ass, Ylawes. I’m not a [Knight] and adventurers don’t follow military command. That’s Drakes you’re thinking of. And I’m not your little sister. I’m a member of the Horns and I refuse to—”
“Alright Gangnam style! Follow me, everyone!”
Yvlon and Ylawes both looked left. They stared as Erin pranced across the room, doing a dance the armored woman could only describe as a horse prancing crossed with a wagon driver flapping his reins. Yvlon stared as Erin crossed the inn, singing a nonsensical song and dancing that ridiculous dance. Ylawes watched with open mouth as Erin showed the other Goblins how to do it.
The entire inn came to a standstill as they watched Erin lead the Goblins, Drassi (and a few of the Antinium) across the floor doing the iconic dance. Dawil laughed so hard that he fell out of his chair and couldn’t stand up for a good three minutes.
“What in the name of silver was…”
Ylawes shook his head, coming out of his trance. He looked at his sister and saw her getting up.
“Yvlon! Where are you going? We haven’t finished this discussion.”
“I’m going to try that dance.”
Ylawes looked aghast. Yvlon smiled.
“Why not? And the answer is no, Ylawes.”
“This isn’t over.”
The [Knight] vowed as he got up. Yvlon stared at him. Then she turned her head.
“You can’t force me to change my mind, Ylawes. I’m with my team.”
She walked off. Ylawes saw her tap Ceria on the shoulder and try to drag the half-Elf onto the dance floor. Embarrassment hated company, but it couldn’t do without. He sat back down.
“I can’t force you to change your mind, but I promised I’d keep you safe.”
The [Knight] muttered to himself. He watched Yvlon and then shook his head. They called this dancing? It was…well, he might have given it a shot. If there weren’t so many witnesses. Or if Dawil wasn’t watching. The Dwarf still hadn’t stopped laughing.
As all things happened, it ended. Goblins fell asleep. In piles. Outside. Adventurers went to their beds. Erin stumbled about, trying not to step on bodies. And the adventurers looked at each other, deep into their cups. Not a little bit drunk, but still high on the remnants of the party.
A party. When all that had happened and was going to happen was in the air, they’d had a party. Ceria rubbed at her head. It was an Erin thing. But somehow, it was fitting. There had been a truce. She went from table to table, trying to find where her teammates had passed out. She found Ksmvr lying under a chair, moaning about water as some dripped from a cup onto his head. She decided he was fine. Then she looked for Yvlon. She found Pisces instead.
The [Necromancer] was sitting at a table, wine cup in hand. He was murmuring to himself. Ceria went to take the cup away. Pisces let her. She lifted him up.
“Come on, Pisces. To your bed. I can’t carry Ksmvr without Yvlon, but you’re light enough.”
“I resent that…Springwalker. I was deep—immersed in my thoughts. Creating art, if you must know. A reflection of this moment. In celebration.”
Pisces’ breath was full of wine. Ceria, none too steady herself, dragged him to the steps, avoiding a sleeping Hob.
“Oh yeah? Tell me another one.”
“If you insist. It is an opus of sorts, however unpolished. Ahem.”
Pisces cleared his throat. Ceria turned to tell him she didn’t want to hear, but it was too late. He began speaking softly. And perhaps it was her inebriation, but the poem was quiet and pleasing to the ear in the silence punctuated by soft footsteps and snores.
“What madness, what fright!
A terrible, glorious sight!
When traitor fled and Goblins rode
And came to rest, here on nowhere’s road
A strange thing happened; an inn they stayed
Where Antinium danced and Goblins played
Oh, how I wish I’d stayed
But too quick the night stole by
Had to bid the day goodbye
On this, a springtime
He broke off, swaying, and Ceria stopped. She looked at him.
“That wasn’t half bad.”
“You think so? Ah, but I knew so.”
Pisces grinned blearily at her. Ceria rolled her eyes.
“Yes, yes. Don’t let it go to your head. Who did you steal that from?”
“As a matter of fact…”
The two went up the stairs, arguing quietly. The last of the Goblins fell asleep now that the noisy Humans were gone. They slept where they’d fallen, full to bursting, filled with alcohol, and, strangest of all, feeling safe.
Safe. What a word. They were camped beneath a Drake city with the Goblin Lord and Humans hot on their heels. But…tonight had been a reprieve. A special moment. For a little bit, for one night in their lives, Goblins had been people and people weren’t any better than Goblins.
It was indeed a miracle. Or perhaps a changing of opinions.
A much quieter Human listened to Ceria and Pisces go upstairs. Erin Solstice looked around at the slumbering Goblins. It would be a problem tomorrow. It might be a problem in two hours, when the sun rose. She didn’t know what to do. Still. It wasn’t as if dancing or drinking could solve the real crisis ahead of her. And yet, she couldn’t regret tonight. It was needed.
One good night. Erin walked into her kitchen. She lay down and sighed. She dreaded tomorrow and hoped it would never come. But she knew it would. But at least tonight, she savored forever and let the night stretch on into one eternal, immortal moment.
[Magical Innkeeper Level 37!]