The inn was too small. That was all Erin could think. She felt—tired. Not necessarily calm. Not that much better either, really. She was just out of tears. Too drained to keep crying.
But maybe a bit better. Seeing Numbtongue in Liscor had hurt with a sharp pain that had been worse than all the days of being alone with her thoughts and guilt. Worse, and still better. He had reminded her of what was important. Not what others thought, but of her friends.
Pawn. The Soldiers had stood aside to let Erin pass. They knew her. And they knew Pawn. She was glad of that. Part of Erin had been guilty, for leaving him and wallowing in her own grief. But he had not been alone.
Hundreds of Workers and Soldiers, sitting around him. A quiet room with colorful symbols speaking from every wall. There was something eternal there, even more than Erin’s [Immortal Moment]. Religion—no. A sense of weight, of peace. Regret and sadness too, but there had been relief as well. From Pawn and the others.
They would not be forgotten when they were gone. And that simple fact had been enough to drive Erin to tears. But they had not been the same kind.
Now she sat in the little room that was hers but really Lyonette and Mrsha’s old room, staring up at the ceiling. It felt closer. The inn felt smaller, and not just because the third floor was missing. It was too cramped or she was too large, as if she’d tasted the faerie flowers again. Her inn, the place where she’d been so happy to live for months, was far too small.
She couldn’t stay here. Not when every memory she had was of the Goblins eating in her inn for that one night, of Headscratcher sitting at her table, Shorthilt polishing his sword. And of Rags, of all the Goblins who’d passed through her doors.
No killing Goblins. Just thinking that hurt. Erin hated herself. She was disgusted, guilty and heartbroken. But those were just words. Erin had none to describe how she truly felt.
Too small. She had to do something. Erin lay on her back as below her, people walked in and out of her inn. She didn’t need to hear them. She didn’t need to even close her eyes. She could feel them. And she knew Numbtongue was out there, on the little hill with the graves, digging another one. That wasn’t something she just knew; Ceria stopped by to tell her that.
“Uh—we’ve got to keep fighting. But we’ll make sure Numbtongue’s alright. We’ve already told the other adventurers—they knew already, but we made sure—there’s this giant we have to take care of tonight. So…”
Erin didn’t look at her. After a while Ceria left. Erin wished, vaguely, that she’d said something. She wasn’t being a good friend. But she couldn’t be.
Ceria hadn’t been there. She hadn’t fought. Halrac had shot arrows from the walls, or so Erin had heard. Typhenous threw a few spells. Falene had apparently broadcast everything.
So what? They hadn’t been there. They hadn’t laid down their lives for a city they didn’t even live in. Part of Erin hated everyone and everything. But that wasn’t really it either.
She was so young. Even though she was twenty, and she’d be twenty one soon. She was so young. Erin had asked the Goblins to fight for her. Die for her. And they had. She hadn’t thought of the costs. She hadn’t had any other idea than to wave a stupid flag.
She was young. And stupid. And she couldn’t do anything now. Be anything. If she were older, more mature—
Erin whispered to herself, feeling her sore eyes wanting to close. But she kept them open, staring at the ceiling. Ryoka felt mature to her. She was always thinking of consequences. She’d warned Erin about Toren, about what would happen if people brought technology from her world. But even Ryoka was only a year older.
How did adults, real adults handle things like this? How did they live with the pain tearing them up? Erin still remembered the first Goblin she’d killed. She still remembered when Klbkch had died. And she had lived through the death of the Horns of Hammerad, Ulrien, Brunkr, the Goblins…it was so much. So many names and faces. How did people live like this?
She was so young. And weak. And she couldn’t be. Not anymore. Erin slowly sat up and buried her face in her lap. She had to be…not stronger, but older. She could never, ever let this happen again.
Slowly, Erin thought about her inn. How small it felt. How fragile. Her walls could cave in, despite her Skills. Her inn wasn’t large enough to contain even one tribe of Goblins. And it was so poor. So defenseless. It couldn’t even save Noears on the roof.
“Never again. Ever.”
And when Erin said that, she thought of her inn. Not just as a building, but those in it. And she thought of two faces. Lyonette and Mrsha. They were part of the inn. If there were anyone Erin would trust more than anything, it would be them.
Ceria and the Horns? …No. Not them, or the Halfseekers or Griffon Hunt either. Definitely not the Silver Swords or any of the other teams. It wasn’t that Erin thought she couldn’t trust Ceria, or Halrac with her life. But this was more than that.
In Erin’s head she narrowed her focus down, separating friends from that thing that made them something more in her mind. Drassi? Ishkr? No. Olesm, no. And perhaps never again. Relc—no. Klbkch? He had died for her. But no.
Who else? Only a few more names sprung to mind. No, three. Numbtongue. He was the last one. Yes, a thousand times over. But who else? Krshia? No. Selys?
Ryoka, maybe. But she wasn’t here. And—no, not her either. That left only two.
Of the Antinium, it was Pawn and Bird whom Erin thought of. Pawn? She wanted to say yes. But she remembered him, surrounded by his people. And she thought the answer was no. He had made his own place. So…Bird?
He was a child. And before she had met him, he had nowhere else to go. Bird had always been different. He had fought for her inn, tried to rescue Mrsha. More than that, around her, he was silly and absentminded and—
Yes. Him. That made four. Four in the entire world. Even Erin’s closest friends didn’t qualify, but those four—
Erin looked up. She wiped her eyes and checked her arm. Her skin was dry. She’d stopped crying. She would again, Erin had no doubt. There was an ocean of tears in her that would never run dry. But there was something she had to do. What she should have done ages ago. A week and a day ago. Erin stood up and went to find them.
Lyonette stared at her hands in the kitchen. She was making dinner. Or rather, she was going to cook up some supplementary dishes to go with the pantry’s supplies. Erin’s prefabricated meals had nearly run out, but Lyonette had learned to mix Erin’s cooking and hers. So she’d take a dish of meatloaf, boil some fresh pasta and sauce with it, and thus create an acceptable dinner.
The quality wasn’t really that important. Her guests cared about quantity over quality now. The two adventuring teams would come back late in the night, starving and smelling of sweat and corpses and eat whatever she put in front of them while washing it all down with alcohol. That wasn’t the problem.
The problem—if it really was a problem—was Lyonette’s hands. They’d been hurting, and she’d only now stopped to look at them.
They were cracked. That was all. Red and cracked, the skin open, exposing painful red flesh that hurt every time Lyonette touched something with them. A healing potion would sort it out. But Lyonette had stopped in cleaning the kitchen to stare at them.
No one had told her that too much soapy water led to the skin drying out, especially in the winter. It wasn’t something she’d ever had to worry about at home. Back home, she’d had hand creams and ointments from the kingdom’s [Court Alchemist], and her family had imported other luxuries for her and the other members of her family to use. Perfumes, oils, tonics, and so on for the ladies. And while the men didn’t use such frivolities, they had the best healing potions, experts to take care of their horses and gear and wait on them hand and foot.
Now, Lyonette was cleaning the underside of the stone oven, her hands bleeding a bit. A bit dirty, certainly sweaty. And she’d caught herself doing it, so she’d stopped and sat on the floor.
She looked down at her chapped hands, at the red skin. It hurt. Lyonette touched one of the cracks to make sure and winced a tiny bit. It was nothing to what she’d been through. Starvation, Toren, Raskghar—all the fear and pain was nothing to this. But this hurt in a different way.
Look. Look at yourself. Lyonette found a clean plate and tried to find her reflection in it. She only saw a distorted image. What did her hair look like? She wore it high up, in a bun so it wouldn’t get in the way. Was her face dirty? How did it look?
“It doesn’t matter.”
Lyonette told herself that. But it did. Pawn had reminded her she was a [Princess]. She had clung to the class, for all she’d denied it. She was a [Princess]. Of course it mattered.
She had loved having servants. She enjoyed hand creams and not having to clean outhouses or be on her feet all the time. Who wouldn’t? She missed those things, only, she’d not thought of them for a while. She’d had to survive. And then—she’d had Mrsha to take care of. It was easy to live for someone else. But she still missed it.
The girl’s hands tightened together painfully. She was a [Princess]. What was she doing here? For a moment, Lyonette blinked back tears. She wanted to go home. But there was Mrsha, and Erin and—
She looked down at her hands. She had run away to be important. To level up and feel like she had a purpose. Well, she’d found it. All the adventure she ever wanted, and a purpose greater than herself. In fact, Lyonette had thrown away part of herself, the spoiled part, trod it into the mud and snow to become the Lyonette who could help the people she cared about. But that part of her was still there. And she felt it.
She wanted to be a [Princess] again. She was no [Barmaid]. Lyonette bowed her head. And then she heard Erin calling her name. She looked up and remembered her vow. Slowly, Lyonette stood. She had been a poor [Princess]. And now she was a [Princess] without a castle, living in poverty with cracked hands. But despite her failings, even when she was still in Terandria, spoiled, with barely any levels, Lyonette had still had one thing that made her royalty.
Pride. And she would not forsake her oaths. So Lyonette stood and walked out to speak with the only girl in the world she would work for.
Mrsha was sad.
That was all.
She was sad for Goblins. Not the same Goblins who killed her tribe, but Goblins. They had been kind. They had saved her and the others. And they had died for her. For Erin and Liscor. She didn’t have to understand more than that.
So the Gnoll cub curled up. She was sad, but she couldn’t keep crying. She was just sad. And she wished she were bigger. She wished she were as big as Brunkr, as wise as Krshia. As smart as Selys. As kind as Erin. As…just like Lyonette.
But she was small. And she couldn’t make Erin feel better. She couldn’t help Lyonette that much. So Mrsha curled up and felt terribly, terribly sad. Erin was sad. Lyonette was tired. She was sad. Numbtongue was the last one.
Mrsha wanted them to smile again. She dreamed there was a spell in Krshia’s book that could do that. So Mrsha had read it and read it until her nose started to bleed and Krshia slammed the book. She wanted to help. But Krshia had said it was too much for a child.
So she was sad. Until she saw Erin come down the stairs and call her name. Then Mrsha looked up. And hoped, with all the hope in her heart that something good would happen.
That was all.
And Numbtongue stopped crying after a few minutes. It was, after all, a waste of water. He looked back at the thing he was resting against. Headscratcher’s grave. Guiltily, Numbtongue sat up. But if anyone would have lent him a shoulder—or a gravestone, it would have been Headscratcher.
What would he have said if he could see Numbtongue? Laugh and make a joke? Tease him?
No—Headscratcher would not. Neither would Shorthilt. Numbtongue looked at the second grave, marked by stone. Someone had laid a broken sword across the top. They should have buried him with the sword. Numbtongue scooped up some of the packed earth with the blade and corrected the mistake.
Much better. He lay there, wondering what came next. All he wanted to do was lie down and close his eyes forever.
They were dead. Rabbiteater and Badarrow were gone. Numbtongue hadn’t seen them with the others in his dream. That meant they were alive. Maybe even Rags was. Maybe there were other Goblins still alive.
But the rest were gone. And he was alone. What did that make him? What could he do? Go after them? Try and find them? They were long gone, and Numbtongue had no idea where to start.
Would he stay here? Live in Erin’s inn after all that had passed? That felt just as hopeless to Numbtongue. He didn’t belong here, did he? Liscor had shown him that. Drakes and Gnolls who hated him. Adventurers with sacks of Goblin ears. Humans had killed Goblins. Liscor had stopped them from entering. They were still monsters.
And if he stayed he’d bring more trouble to Erin. That was another fact that inserted itself in Numbtongue’s mind, a neat and tidy shiv to the heart. He could not stay. He did not belong. The Redfangs had always been guests at her inn. She had treated them well. But their time had come. What could one Hobgoblin [Bard] offer Erin? Almost nothing.
He had to go. Numbtongue felt it, and felt the claws digging into his heart drag him down further. He didn’t want to. He loved the inn. But there just wasn’t enough reason to stay. Not enough to make him think he was worth anything to Erin, to justify all she’d done for him and the others.
It never occurred to Numbtongue to count the battle. He just lay on the grass and soil of the graves, listening to the adventurers fighting the undead in the distance. They were going after Eater of Spears—pulling back when they found his body was like iron and they were attracting every zombie in the area. They weren’t using big spells or fighting hard. Even they were tired of killing.
What could he do? He was a [Bard], a class that no Goblin had ever had. A…useless class in some ways. Numbtongue could call down lightning, but his Skills, his class was designed to make music. To tell stories. To perform. What good was that to a tribe of Goblins? Very little. It wasn’t as if they were Humans.
He was useless. If he’d been stronger, the Humans would have made sure he was dead. Numbtongue thought that, determined to feel as worthless as possible. Then he remembered the class he’d gained.
[Miner]. And in his head, a door opened. And he had a thought which was not his own.
Magic gemstones give magical abilities. Could a warrior use that in combat to gain an edge? Is there an easier way to use them than eat them? Could you be a [Mage] without spells?
Numbtongue felt at the broken teeth in his mouth. He remembered the gemstones, and felt the rough sack at his side. And then he remembered killing the Ghoul with the sword. He had done all that. But it had not been Numbtongue who had provided the ability to do either. They had been memories, from a dead Goblin.
Pyrite. And at that thought, Numbtongue had another memory, that of holding a flaming battleaxe and staring up at the sky while Humans died around him.
Smiling and walking with Eater of Spears, eying his belt and thinking of Reiss, calculating a throw.
Digging up grubs in the dirt, grunting with satisfaction at the wriggling things and sharing them out to the Goblin children who came begging, more pleased to share than to eat his snack.
Mining in the mountain, in the depths of silence, hunting for gemstones for his tribe, seeing a glitter—and then a hiss—
Screams in Tremborag’s mountain. A little Goblin peeking around a corner and seeing—
Numbtongue sat up. He clutched at his head. But the images didn’t stop. Memories hit him again and again, little electric shocks running through his head, making everything flash white.
It didn’t hurt. Not like physical pain. But each memory took Numbtongue out of his head, made him think and feel exactly like Pyrite had. It wasn’t his entire life. It was—snippets. Fragments, really. Accidental more than anything. The core of what Pyrite had given him were two things.
Knowledge of the gemstones, the class he had obtained a day before his death, and over a decade of mining techniques and insight. And—
Sword techniques. How to swing with the weight of the axe perfectly balanced. Reading an opponent’s body. Lessons from Greydath. Fist fighting against other Hobs. Taking down adventurers with ambushes and traps. Battling Crelers in the heart of the mountains, blood running down his thigh. Breaking a [Mage]’s neck as she screamed at him, a wand raised to burn—
Numbtongue cried out. There was so much of Pyrite’s thoughts and emotions in him. Too much. How had Pyrite done it?
Numbtongue knew that too. They had both been dying. Both clinging to life and sharing that dream, that moment as the other Goblins had passed on. After all, Goblins could remember other Goblin’s lives. Where was the line at which the living became memory, trapped in the consciousness of all Goblins?
They had been at that threshold. And Pyrite had known he would die. So he had given Numbtongue the only gift he could.
It was something Pyrite had guessed could happen. After all, if you could remember a scene from the past, why not a sword technique? Why not a spell? That was the kind of thing the Goldstone Chieftain had thought on during dark nights, or while mining for gems and minerals. Why not? And a counterpoint—if you could, why hadn’t other Goblins done it? Maybe they had. Maybe it was something they’d forgotten, or that no one had ever tried.
He’d never gotten a chance to test that theory until his last moments. As Pyrite would have said—‘not dead, so couldn’t try’. And given that only Chieftains were able to access far-back memories, it hadn’t been exactly easy to hang around one willing to bite the dust for an experiment. So Pyrite had done it to Numbtongue without knowing if it would work.
And it had. He’d sent more than just Skills. Knowledge he deemed important. Secrets, like the two keys, one of which Garen had. Memory of Tremborag’s form. Conversations with Greydath. Names and places. Important events.
A place where Pyrite had buried some adventurer’s gear he thought was cursed.
Two caves, both of which had been collapsed to contain the Crelers from getting out.
An untapped vein in a hill on top of a surprisingly deep rocky cave network, possibly the remnant of a mountain.
A terrible suspicion of Greydath’s past.
The secret location of a dungeon, lost to all but Goblins, remembered by Pyrite, too dangerous to enter.
Thoughts. Ideas. Plans. Suppositions. Pyrite had thought deeply. And now some of those thoughts, some of his conclusions, some of what was Pyrite was in Numbtongue. And it was terrifying.
Here, he had said. Take it with you. Because Pyrite had known one thing. Numbtongue froze as he felt Pyrite’s last thoughts, still neat and orderly, fall into his head. A Goblin should know how to fight. But there was another thing Humans valued. It was of no use to Pyrite—it had been a skill, a talent honed to make the Goblin children in his tribe laugh at shiny baubles. But Humans loved gems.
Numbtongue opened the sack. He saw gold, and gems. Only a few, since Pyrite had given them away to whomever he pleased. But he knew where to get more. More, if it mattered.
Maybe it would. Numbtongue had already given away the Raskghar’s fortune to the adventurers. He didn’t need the money. How would he ever spend it? But maybe Erin did.
Numbtongue got up slowly. The Hobgoblin looked at the graves, and then at the inn. He hefted the little bag. He would give Erin the last gift he could. Pyrite’s will. And then he would leave. And find a place to go. And he would never, ever bring trouble to her doorstep again.
It was the only thing he could do.
The four of them gathered in Erin’s common room. Two had been called. Lyonette and Mrsha were helping Erin set up for the adventurer’s dinner later tonight. Numbtongue had come back of his own volition, and Erin had been waiting for him.
She went over to him and hugged him. The Hobgoblin let it happen unlike before where he had frozen and even tried to pull away. He looked so tired. He raised something—a dingy looking bag made of hemp to offer Erin, but she didn’t let him offer it.
“Wait. Just take a seat. Do you want anything to drink? To eat?”
He hesitated and shook his head. Erin got him something anyways. Numbtongue stared down at the meatloaf and pasta. He didn’t feel hungry, but his stomach grumbled. So he began eating a bit.
“Mrsha? Lyonette? Don’t worry about setting up. Take a seat here. You want anything?”
“We already ate.”
Lyonette sat at the same table as Numbtongue. Mrsha crawled up into a seat between her and Numbtongue and looked up at the Hobgoblin. He looked down at her. The two were quiet as Erin took a chair. They sat, looking at each other. Mrsha and Erin, Lyonette and Numbtongue. Then all towards Erin.
“I…I wanted to say thank you. First off. Thank you, Numbtongue. For—and to you, Lyonette. And Mrsha. You kept the inn running while I was…”
Erin began haltingly, uncertainly. She didn’t know how to begin. Lyonette just nodded. Mrsha put her chin on the table as Apista flew over, drowsy, and landed on her head. Erin almost thought of smiling at that. Then she looked at Numbtongue.
“I—don’t know what you’re planning, Numbtongue. And I’d understand if you never wanted to see me or anyone from Liscor again. But please, listen.”
The Hobgoblin raised his head, a strange look in his eyes. Erin went on, looking from face to face. Big brown eyes from Mrsha, Lyonette’s bright blue ones, the crimson eyes of Numbtongue’s people.
“There’s…something I haven’t told you. Told anyone, really. Aside from Krshia, and Ryoka. But Ryoka doesn’t count because it’s a secret we share. It’s how I came here, really. To this inn. To Liscor. It’s—how can I say this?”
“Should you say it?”
Lyonette broke in. She glanced sideways at Numbtongue and Mrsha. Her eyes were serious as she looked at Erin. Surprised, but only just, Erin blinked at her.
“What do you mean, Lyonette?”
“Erin, if you have a secret, it’s best never said. Not out loud, ever. Someone might be listening. And even if they aren’t, minds can be read. Tongues can be loosened. If you have a secret—it might be best not to say.”
The [Barmaid] looked grave. Erin hesitated. Lyonette knew. That much was clear. Numbtongue looked confused, and concerned. He opened his mouth and spoke, to her surprise.
“If it is a bad secret—don’t tell me. Don’t tell us. We—I do not need to know. I will not put you or here in danger anymore.”
He stood up. Lyonette looked at him and then pushed her chair back, startling Mrsha. Erin blinked at them.
“No. Sit down. Please.”
The two paused. Erin looked at them and then at Lyonette.
“You need to hear this. I’m tired of keeping it a secret. And even if it is a big secret, even if it’s the biggest secret in the world, you three need to hear it. And only you three.”
Numbtongue blinked. He hesitated, and sat. Lyonette looked at Erin.
“Just us? What about Pawn? Or Selys?”
“Not Pawn or Selys. Maybe I’ll tell them, maybe not. But you three—and Bird when he’s better—have to know right away.”
Lyonette looked confused. Erin took a deep breath. Couldn’t they see it? No, she barely had.
“Because—you’re part of this inn. You three. And Bird. More than the adventurers, more than Selys or Krshia—you three belong here. Mrsha, Lyonette, Numbtongue—you’ve all lived here. All three of you. I couldn’t imagine the inn without you.”
Slowly, Erin stood up. She looked at them. A furry white child, balancing an Ashfire Bee on her head. A girl far from home, her hands cracked, her bright red hair tied back. A Goblin, bearing faded war paint on his body and a hundred scars seen and unseen.
“We’ve been through so much. You’ve all lost so much. But you were here. You were here and this inn is as much mine as yours.”
Face to face. Erin felt her eyes welling up. But she didn’t hold the tears back. Her voice rose, filling the inn from corner to corner.
“You’re more than guests. More than friends. You’re family.”
Family. The word echoed through the inn. And the world echoed with it. The [Princess] sat, stunned in her chair. The Goblin’s eyes went wide. And the little Gnoll looked up and closed her eyes, suddenly at peace.
Lyonette didn’t know if she whispered it, or Numbtongue. Erin looked at them.
“To me, yes. There’s nothing else you could be. You belong here. Maybe you have homes—”
She looked at Lyonette, then to Numbtongue.
“—or people waiting for you. Maybe you’ll go away someday.”
Mrsha looked up at her. Apista fanned her wings, oblivious. Erin looked at them.
“But you’ll always be welcome here. Forever. No matter what happens. Wherever I go, whomever I become—I’ll always welcome you. That’s what family means. More than friends. This is your home. If you want it to be.”
Erin looked from face to face. She was afraid. And the fear made her shake. She saw Lyonette sit back, face pale. Numbtongue hadn’t moved. And Mrsha? She looked up at Erin. And then she reached up and opened her arms. Erin bent down and felt two arms hug her with all the strength in that little body. She looked up, and felt Lyonette reach out and embrace the two.
Numbtongue was the last to stand. He looked at Erin, and he was shaking a bit.
He broke off. She could hear what came next. I’m a Goblin. I’m a monster. I don’t belong. I’ll—
She reached out and pulled him into the embrace. Numbtongue felt her arm on his, her soft skin, warm. And he reached out, shaking, and wished. And as his arm gently encircled her and Lyonette and Mrsha, his wish came true.
It was forever and a bit that they stood there together. Four souls, in an empty room. But they filled it. And though the night was dark, the past dark. And the pain and grief still caught at them, they stood. Holding each other up, perhaps.
Family. It was a strange word. Some might have said it couldn’t ever apply to them. That they were too different. Too alien, too strange. That there were too many secrets and differences to ever bring them together. But that wasn’t what made a family. It was just being willing to try.
And when they let go, the four saw something different. They looked at each other, and there was nothing magic in what they saw. They were still strangers, still apart. But something else connected them nonetheless, as fragile as a dream, and as strong as a wish.
Erin slowly sat, and the others did likewise. Mrsha in Lyonette’s lap, Numbtongue looking around and gently pinching himself. And she smiled.
“I’m Erin Solstice. I come from another world. We call it Earth. I have a home there. Parents. I had another life there until I came here. By accident. Maybe by a spell. My world is nothing like this one. It’s beautiful and stupid and different. It’s home. And I want to go back one day.”
The others looked at her. Numbtongue’s eyes widened. He struggled to comprehend what Erin said. Mrsha looked up, blinking in confusion. And Lyonette sighed. She squeezed Mrsha gently.
“There’s something I haven’t told you either. I’m a [Princess].”
She looked at Erin and Numbtongue. Erin just nodded, though her heart jumped. Mrsha froze up and stared up at Lyonette. The girl looked down at her and smiled. Numbtongue’s face didn’t change much. Slowly, he reached for his side and put something on the table. The little sack.
“I…had a dream. A Goblin gave me his memories. I know things from his life. How to fight. And how to mine. These.”
He opened the sack and spilled the gemstones and small nuggets of gold onto the table. Erin’s breath caught. Lyonette stared at Numbtongue. The Hobgoblin looked at them.
“His name was Pyrite. And I miss my brothers.”
His eyes filled up. That was all he said. Mrsha looked up at Lyonette like a stranger. But only for a second. Then she squirmed and reached with a paw for something hidden in her fur. Lyonette blinked as Mrsha pulled out the concealed wand.
“Mrsha? What are—”
The Gnoll waved the wand over the table. Apista, who’d been napping, took wing in alarm as grass suddenly bloomed under her. She buzzed up into the air in alarm as Mrsha conjured magic grass from the wooden tabletop. Erin and Lyonette stared at the sudden bloom. Mrsha waved her wand at them.
That was all Lyonette said. Then she looked down at Mrsha. The Gnoll stared anxiously up at her. Lyonette bent down and nuzzled Mrsha.
“You beautiful little [Mage].”
And that was close enough. Erin laughed. Mrsha smiled. And Numbtongue sat back. He closed his eyes and his lips twitched. Then he cracked one eye open.
“What’s a [Princess]?”
A [Bard] was more than just a [Singer]. They were different than a [Troubadour], who sang of entertainments and ballads of love. Bards fought if they needed to, but they weren’t [Soldiers] like [Drummers] were, or [Horncallers]. A Goblin who took up an instrument was unlikely to be a [Bard]. Because in the end, a [Bard] told stories as they sang. They told stories, and legends. Of heroes.
Numbtongue knew of no Goblin heroes of old. Goblins didn’t believe in heroes the same way as other races did. But he believed each of his companions had died a legend. And he had lived a tale no Goblin could ever dream of. A myth of an [Innkeeper] who would shelter a group of Hobgoblins. A tale of a monster girl worth dying for.
And now he heard another story just as strange. Just as great and terrible and fantastic, a tale of heroes and another world. Only, this one was real. And he would never tell it.
Erin Solstice sat at the table and talked. Her audience of three listened, sometimes asking questions or telling their own stories. But if theirs were mortal tales—a girl who ran away from home, even if that home was a castle, a Goblin who was given a gift, a Gnoll who had lost her tribe—hers was a tale magical even by the standard of this world.
“It’s so different. Some days I can’t even count how many things are just—different. There are no monsters. No other races but Humans. The ground’s paved. Not with cobblestones. There’s…our cities are huge, but we don’t have many walls. Our buildings are taller than castles. Hundreds of feet high. Skyscrapers.”
Things like that. Erin even had words that Numbtongue didn’t know. But words that spoke for themselves. Skyscraper. Airplanes. Cars. Motorbike. Internet. Computer. That, more than anything convinced him she was telling the truth. After all, you could make up a world easily enough. But the language? Erin spoke it as naturally as she talked. She had been there. All these things had been common to her.
But to Numbtongue? He tried to imagine an internet, a magical web through the world—only, it wasn’t magical. Someone had built it out of electricity and software and…steel? Magic was a dream in Erin’s world.
“We have gas. Which is really bad and smells! Plus it explodes. But it powers things. You have it in this world. It’s uh, a type of oil. We burn it and make things move. With motors. Like this. See? Vroom.”
Erin was also bad at describing things. She tried to show them what a car was, sketching it on paper. But the thing made no sense. It had wheels and a body, but Numbtongue and Lyonette saw nothing that would make it move besides magic. And Erin couldn’t tell them what an engine was, only that it was a thing that ate gasoline and moved.
So a magic that wasn’t magic. The magic of…electricity. Of steel and invention. That called to Numbtongue. With it, the Humans of Earth, of Erin’s world had done wondrous things.
“We can fly through the air without magic. In planes—big metal uh, ships made of steel. We’ve gone to the moon. I mean, not me—but we’ve gone around our world. It’s smaller than this one. And it’s just us on it. There aren’t Gnolls. No Drakes or monsters. No half-Elves, or Dwarves…they’re just stories.”
Erin shook her head. She grew silent for a second as Numbtongue wondered if Goblins had once existed and been killed. Then she told him where they existed. In people’s heads. In stories.
“We have books filled with Goblins and other creatures. Movies—they’re like plays, but—um…books, movies, songs, all with different species and places. But we call that fantasy. They never existed in our world. We made them up.”
And even in books, Goblins were terrible, evil things. Numbtongue accepted that as soon as he heard it. After all, Humans had written the books. But there had never been Dragons in Erin’s world. Never even monsters to begin with. Just nightmares and dreams of humanity, turned into legends.
“It sounds so lonely.”
Lyonette whispered as she held Mrsha. She looked at Erin. The [Innkeeper] smiled, a touch sadly.
“How can it be lonely if you never know what you missed? We’re just Humans, and we’re different enough to bother each other. We have wars. Terrible ones.”
“Worse than here?”
Numbtongue couldn’t believe that. But he did when Erin looked up and nodded. Because she had fought with him.
“Worse. I’m sorry, but worse. If a hundred thousand—no. We made weapons that could kill a million people in a moment. And when I hear the news every morning—there are more of us. So we got better at killing each other.”
That was when she told them about firearms. Of tanks and machine guns and rockets. Lyonette wanted Mrsha not to hear, then. But the Gnoll refused to go. She listened, her mind imagining the terrible devices spitting fire and metal more easily than Numbtongue or Lyonette. But they all understood it.
“A weapon that can kill from a thousand paces away. Without magic. That goes through armor, that doesn’t miss.”
“And fires a hundred rounds a minute.”
That kind of devastation was nearly impossible for anyone to imagine. Numbtongue grew still trying to picture it on the battlefield. How would you fight an army of Humans armed with that? Magic armor from head to toe? [Mages] would die before they could cast a spell. With it you could rule the world. And Humans ruled Erin’s world.
But if that was darkness, there was hope. Lyonette sat up when she heard Erin talking about the differences in her world. Lights that required no fuel! That ran on electricity rather than magic. Cooling boxes—refrigerators, and ovens that needed no spark. Even mundane things for Erin were otherworldly here.
“How does it work again, Erin?”
“It’s a faucet. I just turn the handle and…water comes out.”
“From where? The ground?”
“No, you see, there are pipes in my house. And the water’s always there. It’s being pumped—”
“No, it connects to this big…water plant? And it’s not just my house. Every house in a…city is connected. There’s pipes in each house that run into the street, underground. Together.”
“Every house? Filled with pipes?”
Connecting to a plant that could produce and pump that much water? Lyonette couldn’t imagine it. The amount of steel you’d need! The craft! What [Blacksmith] could manage it?
None at all. Erin had to explain the factories of steel next. And the idea made the [Princess] of Terandria sit up. She envisioned the lines where things were assembled and compared it to her world. And she believed because her world was suddenly lacking.
Erin had come from a time where technology had surpassed Lyonette’s home by far. Where Humans had no classes or Skills—another impossible idea—and been forced to rely on technique and device to bridge the gap. And thanks to that, they had surpassed even the [Archmages] of old. Surpassed, and yet healing potions didn’t exist. They couldn’t call down lightning. But they could reattach an arm. Cure plagues. Fly around the world in a day. Walk on the moon.
Backwards and forwards. That was Erin’s world. Mrsha listened, and she imagined riding in a car, going faster than a horse and feeling the wind on her fur. She imagined the food Erin talked about—and then realized that was what Erin had made. Pizza, popcorn, but more—dishes from her world, brûlées, quiches, tacos and casseroles. And she believed because she had tasted something new and delightful each time.
There was more to say. And Erin had not even touched the beginning when the adventurers came through the door, tired and then guilty when they saw Numbtongue. But the Goblin barely looked at them. They went upstairs to Erin’s room and kept talking after the adventurers had been pacified with drinks and food.
“I wish I could show you. There’s so much. In fact, the only way I survived was to take the things I remember about home. Like the plays. Hamburgers. It’s all from there. I took it. Stole it, really.”
“Can you make any of the things you talked about? Engines? Cars? Computers? …Guns?”
“No. And I wouldn’t make some of them if I could.”
Erin shook her head, troubled. She looked at her lap, where Mrsha was sitting, nodding off a bit and looked up.
“But I’m not the only one. Ryoka is from Earth, too.”
That surprised neither Lyonette, who had spoken with Ryoka and seen her iPhone, nor Numbtongue, who didn’t know Ryoka to begin with. He was beyond surprising, anyways. But he understood what Erin was saying.
“You don’t know how you came here?”
“No. I was going to the bathroom. Then I turned the corner and—bam. Dragon! He breathed fire at me!”
Erin waved her hands indignantly. Numbtongue and Lyonette looked at each other. Erin knew Ryoka was from her world. And there were others. She had heard about Ryoka’s phone call, and there were the ones Magnolia had found. They were in danger if people knew who they were. In danger for the secrets they carried.
“I don’t know what the right thing to do is. Ryoka thinks we should hide who we are. This BlackMage guy wants us to gather in Wistram. And someone’s hunting us.”
“What do you want to do?”
Erin gave them a tired smile.
“Me? I hardly think of it most days. Weird, huh? I barely remember home unless I see something. Or I try and think about it. Really, I just want to go home. My parents are…I’m sure they’re worried.”
Her eyes filled with tears and she hugged Mrsha. The Gnoll hugged her back.
“I wish I could make something from home, though. A car. Or—or something. Something that would help. I don’t know if I agree with Ryoka anymore. It might change the world, but this world needs to be changed. So does mine. But I can’t remember anything. I was—just a chess player. I played chess. That’s all.”
Helplessly, Erin looked at them. She was just an ordinary girl. And they looked at her and saw the lie in every interaction they had ever had with her.
“What does all this mean?”
Lyonette wondered as she took Mrsha from Erin. The Gnoll was flopping over, trying to stay awake, but fighting the helpless battle. Jerking, waking up, and then fading off every few minutes. Erin smiled.
“Nothing? It doesn’t change what happened. It doesn’t change anything I can do. If I could have, I would. But you know. And if there’s something I can give you—or if Ryoka can—we will.”
She looked at Numbtongue, and then at Mrsha.
“I want to teach you some of the things I know. It’s not much. But maybe it can help you. Even our math is ahead of yours. Things like—oh, the stars.”
Numbtongue looked out a window. The stars? They were just stars. But Erin pointed at them and gave them meaning. She told him what they were. And how they functioned. She pointed at the earth and told him why gravity was, why rain fell. And Numbtongue listened. It was a tale of everything.
“Stay here. You can stay here forever. You and Mrsha. And Lyonette—”
Erin looked at the young woman. The [Princess] dressed as a [Barmaid]. Lyonette looked up. Mrsha had fallen asleep. She cradled Mrsha and spoke softly.
“I am Lyonette du Marquin, a [Princess]. Sixth in line to the Eternal Throne of Calanfer, which isn’t actually eternal. We date about six thousand years back.”
“That’s a long time. Longer than uh…Christianity.”
Lyonette just shrugged.
“It’s my home. But I left it because I didn’t matter there. I did nothing. I came here and found a purpose.”
She looked down at Mrsha. Then she sighed.
“I’m royalty. That’s all.”
The two girls looked at Numbtongue. He shrugged. He had a dead Goblin’s memories in his head. Next.
“Well, you’re family.”
The word made a shock race up Numbtongue’s back. In her sleep, Mrsha smiled. Erin looked at Lyonette. Then she started to giggle.
“Sorry. It’s cheesy, I know. I feel like a mobster. You’re family. Capeesh? Wait, do they say that? Am I being racist?”
Lyonette smiled. Erin looked from her to Numbtongue.
“I mean it. Don’t go. We need you. I need you.”
No one had ever said that to him. Numbtongue wiped his eyes and wished they could have all heard that. He looked at Erin, and what could he say? She scooted over and hugged him. And he hugged her back.
“What happens next?”
Lyonette looked at Erin, thinking of all the things Erin had said and yet to say. Numbtongue held still, wondering what he could do for his home. And Erin looked at them and was still sad. Her inn was still small. But it was filled, and that stemmed the bleeding in her heart.
“What you always do after stuff like this, I guess. Everything.”
Everything. The next day, Erin woke up early. She went downstairs, made breakfast, and greeted Lyonette and Mrsha as they came down the stairs. She didn’t bother trying to smile. But she did smile a bit when she saw Mrsha scarfing down her eggs and Lyonette teasing her that she never ate Lyonette’s cooking as greedily.
“So, about my bedroom.”
Lyonette looked up sharply. She pointed towards the kitchen with a spoon and Apista landed on it.
“You’re not sleeping in there anymore, Erin. I was sick of tripping over your bed every time I walked in there. You can have our old room. Mrsha and I moved in across from you, anyways.”
“No, that’s fine. Numbtongue can have the room next to mine as well. I just thought I’d make it official.”
With a piece of wood, some paint and a brush, and nails. Also a hammer, although Yvlon caught them doing it and offered to use the pommel of her sword. Erin declined. She found a hammer and tapped the sign into place over her door first.
The little plaque hung over her door. Erin went to Mrsha and Lyonette’s room next. Mrsha insisted her name be above Lyonette’s, and the [Princess] tickled her until Mrsha agreed to have it on the same level.
Numbtongue emerged to the sound of his nameplate being put on his door. He stared at it for a long time and touched it until he got paint on his fingers. Then he insisted on retouching the paint himself.
Pisces came out of his room to howl about the hammering. Jelaqua stomped on the floorboards from the second floor and screamed at him for screaming. Erin offered them both eggs and they got up.
“We’re going to leave soon. Halrac’s team is going as well.”
Jelaqua spoke conversationally over breakfast. She elbowed Pisces and the [Mage] swallowed his mouthful of eggs hard. He glared at the Selphid but didn’t try elbowing back. Erin looked at them.
“You’re going north?”
“You know how it is. Another adventure. All our treasure to spend. We have to get it changed into gold first, and get those damned cursed necklaces offloaded—but yeah. I think we’re bound for Invrisil.”
“Oh. Okay. I’ll miss you.”
The Selphid shot Erin an awkward, pleased grin.
“Well, don’t go saying goodbye just yet. We thought we’d do it the Erin way.”
Erin looked blank. Then her eyes widened.
“We’ll take a door, head north, pop back for lunch, our beds, and maybe some work in the area. It’ll be slow, but we’re guaranteed a nice place, right? And if we had a door in Invrisil, well, we could use it now and then to pop back and say hi to our third favorite [Innkeeper], right?”
“Peslas will like that, I’m sure.”
Jelaqua laughed. Erin smiled wanly. But it was a smile. The Selphid quieted down as Moore and Seborn came down the stairs.
“We’ll go further north still. But we’ll be closer by if there’s that door. And…you’d have a way to the City of Adventurers. True, it wouldn’t work that often, but there’s so much in the north. I’d love to show you around.”
Erin tried to imagine it. She couldn’t, but that just made the thought more enticing.
“I’d like that.”
Pisces cleared his throat.
“We may be doing the same thing.”
Ceria and Jelaqua looked at him. The half-Elf swallowed.
“I never said anything about it.”
“No, but I would imagine the conversation need not actually occur in order for rational minds to come to the same conclusion. There is a finite amount of work to be had around Liscor. Thus—”
Erin jabbed him in the side. Pisces yelped. He glared at Erin and sighed.
“My point is that we will eventually need more work. So a door to Invrisil would benefit us as well.”
Ceria played with her napkin, which she’d yet to use in lieu of her arm.
“I—yes, you’re right, Pisces.”
“Kick him for me, Jelaqua? Thanks. We should keep going. We have to. But—maybe not yet? I want to stay around Liscor. We can probably earn enough putting down the undead, or go through to Celum for some jobs. But I want to stay.”
“Until the trial? With your friend?”
Jelaqua fixed a sympathetic eye on Ceria. The half-Elf nodded.
“That’s fair. We’ll be taking the door north for weeks to get to Invrisil, so there’s no rush. You can come out along the way. Hell, we’ll make it a party on the road. And Erin can come with us! It beats staring at Moore’s back all day and losing a fortune in dice to Seborn.”
Erin smiled. The idea was tempting. But north? She thought of the Human army and her enthusiasm faded a tiny bit. Still, she nodded.
“My door’s open to you all. Both doors.”
“Now, if only there was a way to make that damn thing change from spot to spot without having to fumble with mana stones.”
Jelaqua grumbled into her plate. Ceria sighed and Pisces began explaining for the umpteenth time why that was impossible. Lyonette, who’d heard the conversation, paused and went over to the door after serving Moore a heaping platter. She checked the bowl.
There were three mana stones in it. A green one, a blue one, for Liscor and Celum respectively, and a red stone. The yellow stone for Pallass was gone.
“What’s the red one?”
“Oh. That was the Goblin’s cave. I—the door doesn’t work anymore for some reason. It might have fallen over or been broken.”
Erin looked up. Lyonette studied the mana stone, but she didn’t get rid of it. Instead, she narrowed her eyes and looked at the door.
She got out some spare wood, the nails and hammer that Erin had yet to put away, and opened the door to Celum to get some quick-drying glue from Octavia. She began working with Mrsha watching her as Erin greeted the others.
“Think the Silver Swords will go north too?”
“To another adventure, definitely. My brother’s done what he came here to do. Which was protect me.”
Yvlon nodded, in better spirits than before. She looked…calmer as she rubbed at one of her arms.
“Talk about overprotective.”
Seborn muttered. Yvlon nodded.
“A bit. But he did do all of this for us. And he didn’t even get any treasure.”
“Which he won’t. Unless you want to give up your share?”
Pisces looked at Yvlon. She eyed him. Ksmvr happily kicked Pisces under the table without being asked.
“He’s rich enough. But I think I will stop by my home if we ever go north. Of course, you’ll all have to come with me. We’ve got decent vineyards. But that’s the only thing I want.”
“And I would like to be an asset to the team.”
Ksmvr chimed in. Pisces rubbed at his leg.
“Commendable. I suppose I’m with you all, as painful as the experience may be.”
“Well, for as long as I have you, I’ll enjoy it. You can all stay here. So long as you keep paying me.”
Erin looked at Moore, and the half-Giant smiled. He tipped a mug up and drank from it.
“You’re too kind, Miss Solstice. But we had one more thing to say, didn’t we, Jelaqua?”
He reached out and nudged Jelaqua with a finger, despite sitting at a different table. The Selphid grimaced. She hesitated, and looked at Seborn.
“You do it.”
“Aw, damn it, Seborn…okay.”
Jelaqua signed and looked at Numbtongue. The Hobgoblin was eating at a table by himself, but not too far away from the others. He kept staring through the window at the sun and mouthing silently to himself, lost in thought.
He looked up. Jelaqua smiled at him, awkwardly. At some point, Erin realized she’d swapped her Raskghar body for a Human one, one of the casualties of Liscor’s battle. Probably so Mrsha would stop being scared.
“I don’t know how to say this. So I guess this is how. Uh—if you’re not planning on doing anything, we’d like to invite you to our team.”
Ceria slipped with her fork and stabbed the table. Pisces and Yvlon looked up. Ksmvr kept eating because he could listen and eat at the same time. Erin turned her head sharply.
Seborn and Moore were quiet. They sat behind Jelaqua. She nodded.
“We’re down—well, we used to have a lot more in our group. One of our members was Garen. You know why he left. But we talked—for a long time, really. And you Redfangs were adventurers. You just didn’t get paid or recognized. I’m not saying it would be easier with us. In fact, we tend to attract trouble. But if you wanted to continue being an adventurer…we have a spot open for a [Bard].”
Ceria held her breath. A Gold-rank team was asking a Goblin to join them? But Numbtongue had been part of Garen’s tribe. And she had seen him fight. The Hobgoblin looked at Jelaqua. He hesitated.
And then he shook his head.
Moore let out a soft sigh. Jelaqua nodded hurriedly.
“No problem. I just thought I’d offer. It’s totally fine if—”
“I am an adventurer.”
“Right, right. That’s what I said. I just—damn it, I wasn’t implying—”
Jelaqua flushed orange. Numbtongue shook his head again.
“I wasn’t mad. You’re right. Your offer is generous. I would have said yes. But I belong here.”
He looked at Erin. And the [Innkeeper] smiled. Every head turned to her. And Ceria was relieved to see both her and Numbtongue smile. Jelaqua grinned as well, in relief.
“That’s good. Whew, I thought I’d stepped in it this time. Shame, though. We could use a proper [Mage].”
Moore flicked her on the back of the head as she went to take a drink. Pisces gave the half-Giant an appreciative nod. Everyone laughed. Jelaqua accepted a cloth napkin from Mrsha. And Lyonette looked up.
“I’m done! I knew it was possible.”
Erin turned. The [Princess] straightened and showed everyone something. It was a crude wheel, just a thin circle of wood, really, able to rotate on a central axis. Half of it rose above the doorframe. The part touching the door had something embedded in it.
The mana stone. Lyonette carefully turned the wheel so the glowing blue stone was touching the magic door. She opened the door, and Octavia’s shop appeared. The [Alchemist] looked up.
“Hey! If it isn’t my favorite—”
Lyonette closed the door. She turned the wheel so the green stone appeared, and the streets of Liscor appeared. A passing Drake looked up. Lyonette shut the door, turned the wheel until no mana stone was connected with the door, and opened it. A solid wooden wall lay beyond. She turned and gave Pisces a long look. The [Necromancer]’s mouth was open.
“You did it!”
Jelaqua exclaimed. She stood up to take a look. So did Erin.
“I was tired of messing with that bowl. It keeps getting knocked over and I have to fumble with the mana stones—this is simpler. If you spin the wheel, you can open the door. Once Jelaqua’s team has their mana stone, I can add it. We might need multiple wheels or something, but I can work out a better system.”
“It’s still not automatic, but it’s a lot more convenient. Now all I need is to put this thing on legs.”
Erin smiled as she inspected the crude wheel. Jelaqua chortled.
“And Typhenous, Falene, and Pisces said it couldn’t be done! What do you think of this, smart guy?”
She laughed at Pisces. The [Necromancer] sniffed.
“It appears to be a non-magical solution to a highly magical equation. Which doesn’t fix the issue of automatically switching connections or the door’s mana constraints. Am I supposed to be impressed by a bit of wood?”
Moore reached over and prodded Pisces.
“Be polite. It’s quite ingenious.”
“I’ll tell Drassi and Ishkr to check both connections while they’re working. They’ve been complaining about the hassle, but if they do it once every thirty minutes…”
Lyonette was talking to Erin. She glanced at the door.
“I’ll go and tell them to come in tonight. Unless the inn’s still closed?”
She looked at Erin. So did everyone else. They held their breaths. Erin looked around. She paused, then nodded slowly.
“No, I think that’s a good idea. Tell them. The Wandering Inn is open again.”
A low sigh ran around the room. Lyonette smiled, set the door for Liscor, and opened it. Erin saw daylight flood into the inn. She heard Ceria laugh at Pisces and his loud sniff. Jelaqua began talking with Seborn about how to transport the door north, by wagon or on foot, and Moore argued for getting another team to do it so he wouldn’t have to walk.
The day was bright and sunny. And Erin stared into it and knew that she couldn’t do it. Her inn was just too small.
Krshia looked up, surprised. Erin nodded. She leaned on Krshia’s stall. Her smile of the morning was gone, but she wasn’t crying. That didn’t stop the Drakes around her from giving her the fish-eye and a wide berth. There was still some damage on Market Street. Apparently the city had been in turmoil for hours after they’d gone. Erin wasn’t sorry.
“I can’t stay in the inn. Not now. I just can’t. I don’t know what I’ll do, Krshia.”
“Hrm. Why worry?”
The [Shopkeeper]’s prosaic remark made Erin look up at her. Krshia smiled and pushed Erin with one paw.
“Off. I need my display to go here. How much is a good price for Miss Octavia’s potions?”
“Fourteen silver for a healing potion?”
Krshia laughed. Then she realized Erin was serious. She shook her head and wrote on the chalk board. Erin studied it. Eleven silver and four copper for a healing potion, one of Octavia’s cheapest.
“I was close.”
The Gnoll just snorted.
“Healing potions are expensive. Even these. You think anyone can afford them? A family buys one for a year. And I intend to have their business. Adventurers, now…ah, Miss Tassai. I have that custom-ordered ointment from the [Alchemist]. As you requested.”
She shooed Erin out of the way. The young woman came back after the Drake had done her shopping.
“Why wouldn’t I worry? I have to run my inn.”
“Because it’s my inn?”
“Is that not what you pay Drassi and Ishkr for? And Lyonette? Do you think Peslas spends his time working all day? Do you think you need to, especially with your ability to preserve food.”
Erin opened and closed her mouth. Krshia looked at her.
“Do not stay if it hurts. Go. Run about in the fields. Play baseball—and invite me when you do! Go, drink. Find an attractive young person to have sex with. Or old person. Or buy one of my—”
A flash of teeth.
“Very well. But do not stay if it taxes, Erin. Go. Leave the inn to one you trust. Lyonette managed in your absence. Go, and return when you are able. But do not force yourself, yes?”
It was simple wisdom. But it had Erin blinking nonetheless. Go?
She didn’t want to go north. She didn’t want to talk to other humans. Not right now. Erin thought of Ryoka—Krshia was shaking her head.
“North. I understand the adventurers would want to go north, but it is hardly the only direction, yes? Why not go south? I will be heading that way in time. It would be a boon to have your magic door take me closer to my destination. There will be a connection to Pallass soon, yes?”
“Better to know than to guess. I would like to know. Because the grand meeting of tribes is soon upon us, Erin Solstice. And I must be there. And when I go…I may ask Mrsha to come with me.”
Erin looked up sharply.
“Mm. She may be important. And the fate of the Stone Spears tribe must be discussed, if nothing else.”
Krshia deftly organized her rack of magical potions, looking as calm as could be. Erin suspected she was avoiding explaining herself. Because she knew Mrsha had magic powers? She narrowed her eyes, but said nothing.
“Lyonette would never let Mrsha out of her sight. I wouldn’t want that either.”
“Then do not. Come south. Run across the Gnoll plains. I would be happy to be your guide.”
Krshia looked up. Erin blinked.
“It is not as if Humans are barred from Gnoll lands, yes? Your kind seldom makes the trip. As for the grand meeting—you could be on the outside. So yes, I say come. Come, Erin Solstice. Explore my home.”
Krshia swept an arm out. She pointed south. Erin turned her head. And she had a thought.
“Excuse me, Wall Lord.”
“Let her in.”
Ilvriss didn’t look up. He’d heard Erin arguing with his door guards. He sighed, closed the reports, and looked up as Erin walked into his office. She was holding a guitar. He eyed it.
“Your new help is a jerk.”
Erin announced to him. She wasn’t smiling. But she had that look in her eye that Ilvriss was almost relieved to see. A challenging look. One he was sure would mean a headache for him.
“Captain—er, Major Scaleshield is diligent in guarding me. As she should be. What do you want, Miss Solstice?”
“Are you going to send someone to Pallass? Because I want to reopen my door there.”
Surprising. Ilvriss coughed and made a little note to schedule Hawk’s services today.
“I had every intention. However, your inn was closed until today.”
“Yes. It was.”
The two stared at each other. Ilvriss tapped his claws on the table.
“I will pay for the delivery of course. And I intend to use your door as soon as I can get those egg-brained idiots in Pallass to let me through. Was there something else you wanted, Miss Solstice?”
“Yes. I want a favor.”
The Wall Lord concealed a moment of surprise. His mind raced ahead of the conversation and found…nothing. He had no way of predicting what she was going to ask for.
“A favor? And I assume you intend to pay back said favor? How would you recompense a Lord of the Wall?”
“I’d say it’s a favor I’m already owed. Or rather, the Goblins are. You owe them. Liscor does too.”
Erin stared hard at Ilvriss. He shifted in his seat.
“I…will acknowledge there is some debt. But if you wish to force the Hobgoblin’s entry into the city, that is a matter for Watch Captain Zevara. Even I cannot force her—”
“I’m going to her after you. But you owe the Goblins. And this is part of what you owe. Here. Sign this.”
Erin unfurled a piece of parchment. She slapped it onto the desk in front of Ilvriss. He blinked at it and read the scrawled handwriting quickly. He looked up after a minute.
“You’ve misspelled ‘therefore’.”
“What? No I didn’t.”
Erin scowled down at the scroll. She jabbed a finger.
“It’s spelled right!”
“Then your handwriting is extraordinarily messy. And this parchment is disgusting. I’d rather write on a living goat. Excuse me.”
Ilvriss brushed the scroll off his table. Erin grabbed for it and glared. But Ilvriss had already selected a piece of extraordinarily white paper. He eyed it, and then sighed.
“There’s no helping it. If one is to do this properly…”
He put the blank paper back and opened a drawer at his desk. This time he pulled out a different piece of paper, embossed with Salazsar’s personal watermark. Erin blinked at the delicate border on the paper.
“Spelled to avoid tearing or stains. Don’t try and rip it, however. The enchantment isn’t that strong.”
Ilvriss admonished Erin as he wrote on the paper with a steady hand. She blinked as she saw what he was writing. Ilvriss scrawled his name at the bottom of the parchment.
“Hey! I signed that first.”
“And I am a Lord of the Wall. My signature takes priority. Here. I assume Watch Captain Zevara will be forced to sign this next?”
He handed the paper to Erin. She blinked at it.
“You signed it.”
“A debt is a debt. And a true Drake pays their debts.”
Ilvriss wondered how much chaos that little piece of paper would bring. He looked at Erin as she blinked at the paper and then, without asking, borrowed his quill to sign it.
“You intend to bring him with you?”
“To Pallass? Yeah. And—and maybe elsewhere. Why? Is it a problem? I’ll have this.”
“That’s hardly enough. But there are ways. To tweak Pallass’ tail, I will intercede myself.”
Ilvriss gave Erin a ghost of a smile. He looked at her.
“But you intend to travel.”
“Yes. I can’t stay at my inn. I’m gonna leave. For a little bit. Go north or south. I haven’t…haven’t decided yet.”
She looked haunted for a moment. Ilvriss understood that feeling entirely. He cleared his throat.
“In that case, let me make you a proposal, Erin Solstice. I understand your magic door has limited reach. It could transport you to Pallass, but no further.”
“But it is hardly as if other means of transport don’t exist. The roads of our continent are well-patrolled. The main ones, at least. So if you leave Liscor, don’t stop at Pallass.”
She blinked at him.
“Come to Salazsar. Come to the Walled Cities. Go to Pallass first so your expectations are suitably low, but visit them all. The north will wait. Visit my home, Miss Solstice. You will be welcome to visit my estates. That is an invitation I offer to very few.”
She looked at him. Blinking a few times in surprise. It was a refreshing change. Ilvriss nodded to her. Now, while she was off-balance. He handed her the signed bit of paper.
She looked at it. Then she took it. For a moment her hands touched his claws. She inspected Ilvriss, with a curious look. Then she smiled. Just for a moment.
She turned and walked out of his temporary office. The Drake watched her go, arguing with Osthia on the way out. He tapped a claw and muttered.
“That’s Wall Lord to you, you impudent [Innkeeper].”
Then he sat back and smiled.
Lyonette held the piece of paper in front of her. She stared at it for a long time. It was a simple message. But it was written on costly paper that bore Salazsar’s seal. The writing was, in fact, written as precisely as any [Scribe] could do it. But a Wall Lord had done the writing.
And yet, the message was nonsensical. Insane. But—Lyonette read it again. Erin wiped sweat from her forehead. She glanced across the inn, at a Goblin sitting on the stage, tuning a guitar. Lyonette looked up at Numbtongue. She looked around at the busy inn, full of familiar faces. Waiting to talk to Erin. Perhaps to apologize. Or just to be here again. And then she looked down at the piece of paper.
The bearer of this document is a Goblin by the name of Numbtongue. He is a recognized adventurer and is therefore entitled to all the rights of a person regardless of where he goes. And if you have a problem, the following list of people vouch for him and will collectively kick your butt.
Wall Lord Ilvriss of Salazar
Erin Solstice, [Innkeeper]
Watch Captain Zevara of Liscor
[Strategist] Olesm Swifttail of Liscor
Guildmistress Tekshia Shivertail of Liscor
Bevussa Slenderscale, Captain of the Wings of Pallass.
Halrac Everam, Captain of Griffon Hunt
Jelaqua Ivirith, Captain of the Halfseekers
Ceria Springwalker, Captain of the Horns of Hammerad
Krshia Silverfang of Tribe Silverfang
The actual message was short. But the list of signatures was long. And there was plenty of space to add to it. Erin looked at Lyonette.
“No city would accept this, Erin.”
“Well, they’ll accept it when they hear about a Goblin in Pallass. And I’ll send [Messages] ahead. He doesn’t have to come. But if an adventurer meets him, if he wants to go to Liscor—he’ll have this.”
A document proving Numbtongue wasn’t a monster. Part of Lyonette objected to it. So had Erin, but she’d still made it.
“He needs it. It’s not right, but he should have it. And he deserves it.”
“You got them all to sign like that?”
Somehow, Lyonette even imagined it hadn’t been that hard for Erin. The [Innkeeper] had an intensity about her at times that would cow even her father. At times. Other times she was silly and relaxed. Was everyone from her world like that?
No, just her. Lyonette looked up.
“So you’re going to leave the inn? Go travelling?”
“Yeah. I mean, not all the time. But sometimes. I’ll…go to Pallass first. Get Numbtongue through. See what it’s like. But I can’t stay here. I’m sorry.”
Erin blinked. Lyonette looked up.
“It’s a good idea. Leave the inn to me. I’ll manage it while you’re gone.”
“Are you sure?”
Lyonette sat up. She looked Erin in the eye.
“Give me the authority to use the money in the inn and make decisions. I’ll rebuild it. Change some things. If you’re okay with that. All you have to do is cook while you’re here. I’ll run the inn. And earn you money. You go travelling—bring a magic door with you or something. And I’ll take over the inn.”
All of Erin’s objections faded away as she looked at Lyonette. And she remembered Lyonette had run Erin’s inn before. She’d enjoyed it, in fact. She was a [Princess] when all was said and done.
“I suppose you need a promotion.”
“I’ll give myself a raise.”
The two grinned at each other. Lyonette looked around.
“Mrsha can go with you. If it’s safe. And this inn will be here. You’ll come back to it. And—”
And she’d make it bigger. Better. This inn had so much potential. Erin had been content to leave it as it had been, to expand when only necessary. But Lyonette envisioned a different place. A third floor and Bird’s tower was only the start. All she needed was coin, and a chance to try something new. The things from Erin’s world…
For the first time in a while, Lyonette was excited about her job. And she saw that Erin looked happier. As if a weight had been lifted from her shoulders.
“It’s not yet. So don’t start knocking down walls right away! But as soon as Hawk gets to Pallass—there’s all kinds of places I want to go. And I’m going to send the Horns to look for Ryoka.”
“You think they’ll find her.”
“Them. Or Griffon Hunt. Or the Halfseekers. I want to go north, too. North and south and—”
Erin was speaking when a sound came from the stage. Heads turned. Numbtongue’s quiet tuning of the guitar had turned into faint strumming. The Hobgoblin looked up and stared across his audience. He found Erin and Lyonette in the crowd. They turned to face him as Numbtongue played on his new guitar.
Sparks crackled from the strings. For a moment. But only that. Numbtongue had already used his guitar once.
Lightning from the skies, striking a tall Hobgoblin, a mountain lurching across the ground. For a second Eater of Spears was a ball of light. And then he fell, and Numbtongue played his dirge, played and played and heard the music again.
It was back in him. The Hobgoblin played a riff, and the crowd looked up. Then he began to strum a slower beat.
It was no song that Erin had taught him that came from the guitar. It had no notes. It was spontaneous. Meant to go with words. A quiet melody. Numbtongue played it for a minute. Then he looked up and sang. His voice was quiet at first, but it grew louder, echoing.
Adventurers looked up. [Guards] and [Mages]. Drakes and Humans, Gnolls, Garuda and Selphid, half-Giant and Drowned man. A pair of half-Elves glanced up as Numbtongue’s voice rolled through the inn.
This is a Goblin song,
You don’t know it, so don’t bother singing along
From Baleros to Chandrar to Izril, north and south
You’d never believe it if it didn’t come from Goblin mouth.
But it’s true; we sing and laugh and smile and weep
And we’re proud and wise and foolish and meek
So if it’s a Goblin’s ears you seek—
Remember, you call us monsters, but we sing and speak.
We broke the moths of Liscor’s dungeon and held the breach
And we fought the Raskghar in the deeps
We took arms against brother against the Goblin Lord
For an [Innkeeper]’s tears and no reward
And died to Drake spear and Human sword.
We fought for you, we monsters green
We can rhyme (we’re more than we seem!),
So if you seek us in our hidden homes and quiet dens
Come as people, come as friends
Or come as you always have to be our end.
But remember this day; you’ll never forget
You heard a Goblin song
We’re not all dead yet.
That was all. It wasn’t a good song. Or even a great one. Numbtongue had come up with it over a day, mainly by rhyming. But it was his song. His first song. And while it was poor compared to the lyrics that burned in his heart from Erin’s world, it was enough. It brought tears to eyes, it made people doubt reality.
It was enough. Numbtongue rested his claws over the guitar strings, ready to play another song. And sing it too. He didn’t expect the applause.
Erin Solstice clapped her hands, standing up. She wasn’t the only one. Numbtongue looked up. He heard foot stomps, someone banging a mug—and applause. He saw faces looking up at him. And they weren’t angry. Some had tears. Others looked ashamed. And some just looked at him, a Goblin on the stage, without hatred.
He hadn’t expected that. Goblins never did. But Numbtongue accepted it. He enjoyed it. For a second or two, the applause fell like warm rain. Then it was over. But Numbtongue chased it. He began to play. And the music was there. Changed. Forever changed, but it was there. It echoed through the inn. And this time a Goblin’s voice came with it.
A Goblin’s song. As the people listened, it made them sit up. It brought strength to weary limbs. Hope for the future. And the Goblin sang and sang. He was crying, laughing, smiling. For he was experiencing something few Goblins had ever felt. A wish he didn’t even know fulfilled. A sense of peace. Hope.
At long last, he was home.
[Bard Level 27!]
[Skill – Song of Rejuvenation obtained!]