The day after a big party was silence. The Wandering Inn, like the flames that had roared in the fireplaces, was burnt out. All the energy was expended.
Even in the [Innkeeper] herself, who defined the inn. Erin Solstice had woken up on the floor. She’d migrated into a bed—mainly by rolling sideways until she rolled into the Garden of Sanctuary and back into her room.
There was something to be said for magic. But even that little amount of motion had made Erin want to die. Her head…
Ached. Hangovers weren’t just pain, pain. They were exhaustion, a slowed mind. And pain. But something glorious had happened.
[Twofold Rest]. Thanks to that, Erin would recover. She just needed sleep. But a full night’s sleep would come to her, even after so much drinking. And that was magic. Not just sleeping twice as quick. Getting twice as much sleep for the same time spent.
Indeed, the morning belonged to few people. It took incredible fiber to get out of bed—or—alternatively, to push yourself off the floor and wonder where the hell you were.
More than one person was on the floor. And those patrons woke up and disappeared through the magic door quickest; a floor was still not exactly a comfy place. Erin’s Skill had only gotten them up faster, and able to get to a proper bed.
Those who had found more salubrious rest largely stayed asleep. Lyonette lay in her bed sheets, refusing to wake up no matter how many times Mrsha shook her. Palt, Montressa, and Beza, who all had claimed rooms, were dead. And they might actually die if someone smacked a pot against the wall.
They’d get better. Still, two of the people who’d claimed a bed in the newly-finished rooms walked out with the morning. They, like Erin, were unrepentant morning people, who had abandoned sleeping in. Beyond salvation.
Chaldion, [Grand Strategist] of Pallass, and Grimalkin the Sinew Magus nodded to each other as they walked out of their rooms. They weren’t staying here. But rather than go through the Pallassian checkpoint, they had claimed a room. The [Grand Strategist] massaged his back as he slowly walked downstairs. Grimalkin followed him, carefully stepping over a blue Drake who’d passed out in the hallway, having failed to secure a valuable room.
“I feel rather rested after a night in that upstairs bed. When I should be hung over. You, Magus Grimalkin?”
The Drake [Mage] paused. He surveyed the common room. It was mostly clear; he saw Jeiss stumbling into a wall and then out the double doors. There was really only one stubborn sleeper that the sunlight pouring through the windows had not woken.
Saliss was thankfully lying on his front. Grimalkin shook his head and Chaldion closed his one good eye. He walked past the recumbent Drake, rubbing his back. The [Sinew Magus] stretched and frowned.
“I was not hung over, Chaldion. My digestion took care of the alcohol before I slept. I have a surplus of energy at the moment. She has a sleeping Skill.”
The two Drakes exchanged a look. Chaldion checked the position of the sun and cursed.
“Nearly time for work. Well, that’s a discovery. Along with the fire, which we knew about. And the flowers, which I heard about but didn’t give credence. A sleeping Skill? Not the most powerful one. It just means she’s…at that level.”
“You have a number?”
The [Sinew Magus] glanced over. Chaldion raised his brows.
“No. I meant…that level where you travel, say, from Pallass north. And you plan to stop at Liscor no matter how you go. Because The Wandering Inn is there.”
“Ah. Well. I suppose it is a…force. Although I maintain she could do a lot more with her resources.”
Grimalkin folded his arms. He was rather grumpy. Or perhaps he got nervous seeing magic he didn’t understand. Or he simply didn’t like the idea of a young Human woman in her twenties reaching…that level. Chaldion just shrugged. He sat in a chair for a second, feeling his body ache.
After a moment, the [Sinew Magus] seemed to feel the need to clarify his statement. He watched a little white Gnoll scamper down the steps and stare about the trashed inn. Grimalkin looked over, and pointed.
A certain part of Saliss’ body obligingly blurred—or perhaps the air around it did.
“Hey. I was on my front.”
Saliss spoke into the floorboards. Grimalkin jumped. Chaldion sighed, ignoring Saliss.
“How is Miss Solstice not efficient?”
Grimalkin scratched at his chin. He had a few dead scales and pulled out a little mirror so he could take care of what was to Drakes much like stubble.
“There are better inns, with more Skills aimed at utility. Sleep, food, and even qualities like curing illnesses faster, or allowing a horse to travel three times as far after a night. The [Law of the Inn] means even I can’t cast an offensive spell in The Adventurer’s Haven. The greatest inn in the north of Izril.”
The [Grand Strategist] sighed. [Mages]. Even the best of them had to be contrarians. He stood up, leaning on his cane. That helped; he felt a jolt of stability run through him and his body ease as the magical cane supported his weight.
“Yes, well, those inns are better at being their sort of inn. Let’s go. I have to inform the [Generals] of the 1st and 4th armies that they’ll be forming experimental regiments based on a certain someone’s training plans.”
Grimalkin bowed slightly. The [Grand Strategist] heard a gurgle and paused. Yes, they’d missed breakfast.
“Oh—get me a pizza, while you’re at it. It might soothe some of those hard-helmets’ complaints. Make that four. And a cake.”
He gestured at the kitchen. Grimalkin nodded and obligingly walked into the kitchen. He searched the shelves, pulling out dishes. The Magus and Chaldion had no compunctions about doing so, even without the staff. They were pragmatists.
“I’m compelled to call this food trash. Trash food. Without proper nutrition. No, wait. Junk food? Where did I hear…? Hm. I’ll take six steaks, then. I’ll admit the preservation effect is impressive. Hm. This much salad. Feh, I’ll take the bowl. Are these bullhen eggs? Excellent. And I’ll leave the payment…here.”
Grimalkin dug in his pouch as he loaded food into a bag of holding. He only noticed the Hobgoblin frozen with a mound of fries dipped in melted cheese as he turned to go. Grimalkin stared at Numbtongue, and at Mrsha, who was dragging out some of Erin’s special sausage lasagna. They stared at him.
“Good morning to you both.”
The Drake nodded stiffly and walked out of the kitchen. Chaldion was waiting. The old Drake nodded, and they walked towards the double doors and out into the trap hallway.
“Lovely design, this.”
“I’d punch through a wall rather than go through here. It’s too obviously a trap.”
“Must you criticize everything, Grimalkin?”
The two walked over to the door. There was a little queue. Chaldion noted a few groups of Humans walking through to Esthelm. He stroked his chin.
“Interesting. How many workers do you think will begin commuting from, say, Esthelm to Liscor on a daily basis? How many will rely on this magic door and her inn?”
The [Sinew Magus] paused. He looked askance at Chaldion and sighed, gustily.
“She’s going to be a Pallass-level nuisance, now, isn’t she? As bad as having a second Saliss in Liscor.”
“You must be joking, Magus. Compared to that feckless…? Do you recall when he started a war between the [Alchemists] in Pallass and it spread to all six Walled Cities? She’s at a quarter-Saliss, no more.”
That was fair. The real Saliss slowly inch-wormed on his front into the kitchen. Mrsha looked down at him and helpfully fetched a plate for a slice of lasagna. Numbtongue stared at the naked Drake and kept eating his fries.
The two Drakes were nearing the front of the line. Grimalkin tapped his lips thoughtfully with one claw as he gave Chaldion a quick glance.
“I assume we’re both going to the meeting with Pallass’ command?”
“I will walk with you if you don’t mind. Incidentally, Grand Strategist, since we are going to this meeting, could I convince you to order some of 1st Army’s elite units to partake in my training experiment? I’d like a wider sample of soldiers…”
Chaldion scowled. He sighed as the door opened to Pallass.
The [Grand Strategist] made the [Guards] shut up fast. He walked through and glared at Grimalkin, massaging his back with one claw.
“No. Ancestors, and I must meet with the [Engineers] on their Dragonthrower Project later today…would you mind summoning me a sedan chair? I ache a bit after such a long night, rest aside. No flying sedan, either.”
“I could carry you—”
The two left, and went about their day in Pallass. Chaldion had important work to do. He was an important Drake. The top brass in Pallass, not to mention the Dragonthrower project. He could take time off since he was in charge of…himself, but without him who would do anything right?
The Walled Cities had their projects. Grand schemes, meant to improve the city or create something for the future. Sometimes they were small in scope, other times large, momentous, or secretive like the new army being formed in Salazsar.
Each to their specialty, like the plans for the largest, most powerful fusion of magic and engineering in the form of a trebuchet that would be mounted in Pallass and have a range of sixteen…miles. With mundane munitions.
The Dragonthrower Project. It had been dreamed of for decades by the latest generations of Pallass’ [Engineers] and it had finally been approved for funding. Last week, actually. For no particular reason at all.
But those were other stories and for now, the inn was at rest. The two Drakes left. And that meant aside from the people passed out upstairs, the inn was quiet again.
“This is delicious.”
Saliss mumbled as he ate his food off the floor of the kitchen. Mrsha nearly tried copying his eating-without-hands technique, but even she thought it was a bit silly. She glanced sideways and saw another awake person in an inn full of silent sleepyheads.
Numbtongue. The Hobgoblin had been drinking a lot with the Stronghearts, so he hadn’t imbibed as much this night. Neither had some of the others, like Mrsha, and Bird.
“I am Bird. Hello.”
The Antinium walked into the kitchen out of the Garden of Sanctuary. Saliss glanced up.
He went back to eating. Bird stared at the [Alchemist] and then glanced around.
“Ooh. There is fish in this cupboard. Fishy. Fins look like wings.”
“Good morning, Numbtongue.”
The two greeted each other. Numbtongue ate the last of his fries. Then, he unslung the guitar he always carried about and began playing as the four wakeful souls sat in the kitchen. Saliss, licking his plate with a long tongue, glanced up.
The Hobgoblin was playing. Music. A catchy little tune, improvised from Erin’s world. Of course, Erin could only hum; she didn’t have an iPhone or other electronic device, which she often moaned about. But that just meant Numbtongue had his own style.
And he had taught himself to play well, with the same level of obsession that Erin had with chess. The guitar in the [Bard]’s hands sounded like a cross between the acoustic guitar it was and something…electric.
Numbtongue glanced down at Saliss. He knew who the Named Adventurer was. Saliss even felt vaguely like danger, if Numbtongue hadn’t seen him on the walls of Pallass. But as Erin had observed, Saliss had a similar vibe to her. The Drake smiled.
“I’ve never seen a Goblin playing on a guitar.”
“Not while you killed them?”
The Hobgoblin politely inquired. Saliss paused.
“Not really. Funny how that happens. In fairness, I don’t see many Drakes or Gnolls playing guitar when I find their bodies after a Goblin raid.”
The [Bard] considered this. He shrugged.
He kept playing. This was something Numbtongue could do. Not Pyrite, not the shade of Reiss. And the music was wonderful in the silent morning.
Mrsha swayed from side to side as she licked sauce off her fur. Bird began doing the same as he ate his fish. And the Hobgoblin began to play.
He’d worked hard on a few songs with Erin, in between improving his own, of course. But the young woman had begged Numbtongue for a few songs. And with much hard work, he’d come up with a few covers that sounded like…home. To Erin.
The Hobgoblin began to play a classic song. Don’t Stop Believin’, by Journey. And yes—it was a classic song, or if you wanted to go the other way, something as overplayed as the songs about letting go that the [Actors] put on in their Frozen play.
You could have too much of a good thing. But people sometimes forgot that a popular song, a classic, was that for a reason.
Saliss opened his eyes. He sat up, and Mrsha began to wave her paws in the air as she swayed. She liked the song. Especially the electric guitar riff.
“Sing! Yay! Sing, Numbtongue!”
Bird clapped all four hands. The Hobgoblin grinned.
“Don’t want to.”
He was more of a player, than a singer. Bird and Mrsha stared at him, disappointed. Then Bird stood up.
“I will, then. Mrsha! We must play!”
After all, the song had been written for more than one person. And if there was no piano—well, both of the other two knew the song. Mrsha began smacking on some overturned pots. And Bird, the [Bird Hunter], was also a [Singer]. Saliss looked up as the music began to fill the kitchen.
In time, the four migrated to the common room. The kitchen was nice, but the impromptu band was getting excited. And the [Grand Theatre] was just that.
It had a stage. Numbtongue stood in the center, playing his solo cover. Bird and Mrsha set up a pot-drum set. With little ladles and spoons.
“Let me play too!”
Saliss was excited. He was clapping to the beat as Numbtongue switched into another song that would be easier for his drummer and singer. He looked at Saliss, quizzically.
“You can play? Guitar?”
Numbtongue had more than one guitar. Erin had bought him another, although he preferred his worn-down guitar. But Saliss’ eyes lit up as he saw the other guitar.
“Give me a shot.”
The Hobgoblin [Bard] hesitated. Of course, Saliss was necessary to the band, and Mrsha and Bird were nodding. You needed a bassist. Still—
“But you can play?”
The [Alchemist] grinned. He pulled out a vial. There was a little marking on it. Numbtongue saw a colorful note of music. The Drake winked at him as he opened it and downed half.
“I can do anything…if I drink this potion. Now, give that to me. Good thing it’s a string instrument. I don’t have one for trumpets. Not many [Bards] or whatnot use them. Not a solo thing.”
He took the instrument. And then—began to copy Numbtongue. Not improvise, but he began to play the same background beat. The Hobgoblin stared. Mrsha’s jaw dropped. Bird just nodded.
“Do you have a flying potion?”
“I wish. I have one that makes you float, and another for weight and stuff, but no flight.”
“Oh. How sad.”
The Hobgoblin stared at Saliss, almost outraged. The [Alchemist] winked. Then he turned.
“Hey, Octavia! You want to get in on this?”
The Stitch-Woman stared at the band on the stage. She was hung over, but the [Alchemist] had a number of hangover cures. They made you pee like nothing else, so she’d been visiting the outhouse. She paused.
The Drake winked at Numbtongue as he showed the vial to Octavia.
“Careful. I can’t make more of them. Not my focus. Acquiring the vital essence of talent is something other [Alchemists] specialize in. With Skills, usually. Or I dunno, dunk someone in a solution and let it take some of their skill.”
“And you can play? Play this.”
Numbtongue demanded urgently. Saliss copied his bass line. He nodded as Bird and Mrsha began laying down the beat on their pots. The Worker began to test his voice.
“Me, mi, me, mi.”
“Talent Potions are rare. But Blademaster Draughts exist. I’ve heard the best [Alchemists] can brew Luck Potions. Or [Witches], who can make you literally drink…life. [Witches] are really scary. I hear stories about them.”
He paused and looked around meaningfully. All five stared into the empty fireplace. Saliss’ eyes still gleamed with the memory of last night.
“Strange how an [Innkeeper] has that rare power. Well, Xif and I both got some of that fire. She gives it away, you know. For free or too cheap.”
He looked at Octavia, and then back at Numbtongue. The Hobgoblin paused.
“That’s why she’s better.”
He stared challengingly at Saliss. And again, the Named Adventurer just smiled.
“I know. That’s why you give back, even if you’re not asked.”
The Goblin stared. And Saliss casually took his place on the stage.
“We doing this? Octavia, get up here! You have to play! Is there another guitar? Anything with strings works with this potion.”
“What? Me? Are we giving back?”
Octavia stared as she drank from the talent potion. Saliss grinned.
“What? Nah, this is just fun. Here, drink up. Ready?”
Numbtongue paused. But he had a bass line. A drummer. A singer. And what did you need beyond that? Reluctantly, he nodded.
Bird took the center of the stage, next to Numbtongue. The [Bard] kicked it up a notch. Mrsha began hammering the beat in the background. And they began to play.
At first, the music was quiet. But the band didn’t believe in quiet music. As Numbtongue launched into the first pop and rock songs, his guitar began to pick up in volume.
Not only that. Saliss began to sing along as he picked up the words. And he and Octavia could play the bass that Numbtongue taught them. Mrsha began hammering on the drums.
At some point, Bird began singing as loudly as he could. Numbtongue was playing hard on the guitar. And the music went through the inn.
Another fact about the [Grand Theatre]. The room had great acoustics. Erin Solstice woke up in her room and wondered what that sound was coming from below her. She heard the rest of the sleepers on the second floor waking up in confusion.
“What’s that? Where am I?”
Olesm was lying on the floor. He raised his head as Erin stepped out of her room. She nearly went for the garden, but the sound was coming from downstairs. Erin stepped down the stairs as Lyonette came out—all three [Mages] had just hit themselves with [Deafness] spells and rolled over.
“What on earth…?”
In the early morning, The Wandering Band played. Mrsha, the heart and soul of the band, who’d obviously dragged them all together, wailed on the drums, keeping mostly to the beat.
Numbtongue and Bird were singing in the front, backed by singers and bassists, Octavia and Saliss. And it was the Hobgoblin who hit a solo riff as Erin stared.
Electricity flashed from his claws and the guitar strings. Mrsha’s fur stood up on her body, and the guitar screamed, like no instrument in this world ever had before. Saliss grinned as he played the bass.
“Yeah! This is music! Have you heard the Queen of Pop?”
The impromptu concert was shaking the dishes on the tables. Erin put her hands to her head.
She still had a hangover, by the way. She stared at the Hobgoblin as he spotted her. He grinned. And Erin, loving, caring, seeing her family having fun with some cool people…shouted.
“In the Garden! Not here!”
The music came to a halt. The band stared at the angry mom. Erin was in no mood for it.
“Wow. What a jerk.”
Saliss sniffed. Erin turned bloodshot eyes on him. Then she stomped upstairs and went back to sleep.
This was the band of legends. And even if they had to play in the garden, it was alright. They had instruments, space, a potion of talent—
And the music. Heck, with four people who could sing, they could even play Bohemian Rhapsody.
If Erin had taught Numbtongue that. She had not. But the band played in the Garden, and when the rest of the inn was on their feet, they found the band was still playing.
In the rain. Or rather, watching it come down. It was drizzling outside. And the rain poured down through the opening in the dome. The band stood next to the downpour, as it wet the hilltop with the Sage’s Grass.
“Huh. They’re good.”
Erin stared as she sipped from a cup of hangover tea. And indeed, a crowd had come down to watch the after-show performance.
The extra bit. Beza, Montressa, and Palt. Lyonette, Olesm. And Wailant and Viceria, who’d been too soused to even get to their home. And they watched him.
“Damn, but that Hobgoblin can play. What’s with the lightning?”
Wailant was enjoying the music. Numbtongue was in rare form. And the [Lightning Chords] were sending jolts of lightning all over the place.
A…lot of jolts. Erin felt something stirring in the inn. She stared.
The [Bard] was playing faster, in a solo. And Erin felt a charge in the air. She stared up at the sky, looked at the lightning filling the air. She had never seen Numbtongue conjure so many bolts of electricity. But then she sensed something building—
“He’s not going to—”
Lyonette murmured. Saliss looked up as the skies sparked.
And he moved as a bolt of lightning shot down through the opening in the Garden of Sanctuary’s dome. The Named Adventurer dropped his guitar, reached into his bag of holding, and drew a bottle in a moment.
He threw the bottle before the lightning bolt struck. Mrsha saw the glass jar flash through the air. And the bolt of lightning twist. Touch—
The explosion made even Numbtongue pause. The flash and sound made everyone duck. But then—they stared.
A bottle filled with a bright, eye searing light was lying in the grass. The light blazed, and then—suddenly—the glass turned black. Opaque, hiding the bottled lightning.
Saliss snapped his claws. Everyone stared at him. Even Numbtongue. Octavia stared.
The Drake turned. He picked up the bottle and tucked it into his bag of holding. In defiance of physics, the Drake [Alchemist] winked.
“In case you forgot—I’m the best naked, dancing [Alchemist] this world has ever seen. And I really like this inn.”
He nodded to Octavia.
“I’ll teach you to do that when you’re older. But it’s a long way to the true top. For me, too. I still have to figure out how to do that for rainbows.”
He laughed. And turned.
“Sorry, Numbtongue. Just wanted to get some for free. Don’t mind me.”
The Hobgoblin had stopped playing. The Drake Named Adventurer had literally stolen his thunder. And lightning. But now, he glanced around.
The Sage’s Grass glowed red in the meadow. Wailant and Viceria had planted it all. The Hobgoblin walked carefully between the glowing plants. And then, casually, he began to riff on the guitar.
Solo. His claws began to move, playing a slower beat. And then faster. Faster. Erin saw Numbtongue’s fingers began to blur. And she felt it again.
Power. In the inn. It was gathering around the [Bard]. Electricity became his strings, and it began earthing around him.
Above him, the skies turned black. The charge in the air made Mrsha back up. Saliss blinked upwards.
“I only really needed one—”
Another bolt of lightning fell. It hit the ground just outside the inn, scaring the daylights out of a Rock Crab. Then another bolt flashed down. Another. In quick succession.
Erin stared at Numbtongue. He wasn’t supposed to be able to do that! He could only call down one bolt every few minutes if he played constantly! But this—she felt it again.
Then she stared at Numbtongue. And she realized. He was just a conduit. The Goblin stared at her and Saliss. And she realized he’d felt it first, before all the other [Mages]. Before her, even.
Lightning cascaded down, around the inn. An electric, drumming beat. And it came from the guitar. But the power behind it—came from the grass. From the very air.
Magic ran through the inn. The guitar flashed, and the Hobgoblin laughed in the storm. For a minute. The lightning crashed as he finished, and the guitar sang like thunder.
Then Numbtongue lowered the guitar, panting. He looked around. And Erin saw the Sage’s Grass glowing bright.
Montressa stared at Numbtongue. Palt slowly stared about.
“There’s so much ambient mana—dead gods. It could charge the door.”
“Ever seen a Sage’s Grass field, kids? What do you think it did? This charge’ll do more than fill the door, even if that’s most of where it goes. But show em, Viccy!”
Wailant laughed. His wife smiled. She drew her wand and flicked it.
“I’m not good at telekinetic spells. But I can do this.”
She pointed. And Erin saw Mrsha, trying to make a little mudball…float. Bird stared as the Gnoll floated by his head, waving her arms and shouting silently. Mrsha stared. And then she tried to swim in the air. Viceria obligingly floated her through the rain, over the Sage’s Grass.
“Oh…Bird? You could fly. Bird? You could—”
Erin looked at Bird. He was passed out in the grass. Numbtongue stared as Mrsha soared around his head. He could feel the magic draining fast. But it was possible. And it was all around him. He closed his eyes.
He looked around. Saliss paused as he inspected the Sage’s Grass. The other guests, Wailant, Viceria, and Erin and Lyonette stared up at him. Mrsha waved as she floated. The Hobgoblin nodded as he slung the guitar’s carry-strap around his shoulder.
“Door’s done. Good magic.”
Then he went and took a nap while he leveled up. Later that day, Bird flew for fourteen seconds.
[Goblin Soulbard Level 32!]
[Song – Harmony of Mana obtained!]