Here is plan. I want to put in at least 6 hours today and get at least to 1.15 by the end of this cycle. Rewrites are inherently hard-mode. And this coming section is gonna be tough. Erin’s isn’t as weak or doesn’t feel like it needs more than sectional patching, but it does improve things.
And the more she goes into Liscor, the more POV’s and scenery will really benefit the story. We may not get to Ryoka but I predict at least a few chapters will need some good writing. Let’s see how far we get.
At some point, Erin slept. At some point, Erin woke up. These were minor details. What mattered was the sound.
She tried hard to ignore it. But it kept going and going, waking her up from her peaceful oblivion.
After a while, the knocking was too much to ignore. Erin opened her eyes and sat up. It was far too bright in the world. And noisy.
Someone was knocking at the front door. The locked front door. Erin thought about going back to sleep, but the knocking hadn’t ceased for the last few minutes. It was the kind of knocking that said the person on the other side knew there was someone to bother, and they would develop the cadence and volume to be annoying if they did this for an hour straight. So, at last, Erin reluctantly got up and opened the door.
She greeted the knocker with the world’s hugest scowl, like she would her mother waking her up early after a late-night study session.
“What do you want?”
Pisces the friendly mage gave her a brilliant smile.
“Greetings, Good Mistress. I was wondering if I could impose upon you—”
Erin shut the door. After a few seconds, she opened it.
“Fewer words. Get to the point.”
The [Necromancer] looked haughty–but then caught himself as an audible little growl escaped his stomach. He coughed delicately into one sleeve.
“Um. Very well. Are you open today?”
The [Innkeeper] actually turned around blankly.
“You. This establishment.”
Pisces blinked a few times. He spoke very carefully, pointing at the ground and enunciating each word clearly.
“Is this place open? Do you provide sustenan—food? I pay, I eat?”
Erin finally caught on and glared blearily at him. She thrust the door open further.
“It’s early. Yes, I guess I am open. Come in.”
She stomped inside. After a moment, Pisces followed.
“I would like to peruse your menu if I m—”
Erin’s glower cut him off. She came back with four blue fruits and tossed them on the table too. Pisces stared at the fruit and opened his mouth. He looked at Erin’s expression and amended whatever he was going to say.
“If I might trouble you for a knife and fork—”
She slapped them down on the table and walked away.
“And a plate?”
Erin’s service came with a huge frown. But he did get the plate. She would have liked to go back to sleep, but the sounds of Pisces shifting and the clink of silverware on pottery was too distracting. Instead, she got her own blue fruit and started a fire to warm up her pasta. She munched on the sweet fruit in dour silence.
Outside, it began to rain.
Rain. Rain fell down from the heavens like hail. Well, actually it fell like rain, but these were bigger drops that fell a lot faster and harder than normal. The hammering of rain against the rooftop was nearly deafening.
Nearly. Behind her, Pisces set down his knife and fork and sighed loudly. Erin wished he weren’t here. It wasn’t that she disliked company; she was starved for it. She just wished her company wasn’t him.
“That’s a lot of rain.”
She was talking to herself, but he seemed to take it as an invitation to speak.
“It happens quite often. A natural weather phenomenon, you know.”
Erin turned and glared at Pisces. He raised both eyebrows and held up his cup.
“Another drink if you would. My cup has run dry.”
“Where did you find—stay out of my kitchen.”
“I would be only too happy to. But I fear I was quite parched, and if you would be so good…?”
Erin’s eye twitched. But she went and got a cup for herself as well. She didn’t pour his drink, but rather set the pitcher of juice on the other end of the table so he had to reach for it. She glanced out the window and saw, well, nothing.
Even the darn mountains had been obscured by the kind of rainfall that made you hope your gutters were clear back home. Erin could barely see ten feet into the downpour. She shivered; that kind of onslaught was one thing in her home or indoors, but this inn felt a bit too–fragile. Pisces, for himself, seemed quite glad he was here, not anywhere else. Erin turned to him and gestured outside.
“Does it rain like this a lot?”
He took his time replying, and when he did, his voice was distinctly self-satisfied, lecturing. Almost like a pompous college professor–not that Erin had ever gone to any classes, just been accepted.
“Seldom. It is a seasonal weather pattern to rain like this in the spring. Fall downpours like these are an aberration. Normally, I would not hazard a guess at how long the rain would fall, but someone has been interfering with the weather. So we’ll have a brief storm, that’s all. Hardly anything as memorable as magical rain.”
That statement was loaded. Erin took the bait because she had to.
“Interfering with the weather? How? And what do you mean–magical rain? Like what?”
He smirked at her. She noted with displeasure that he was already on his second cup of blue juice.
“With magic, how else? Some shortsighted fool must have cast a localized weather control spell. Impressive, I suppose, but clumsy in execution. As for magical rain–have you never observed glowing rain in any color? Magical typhoons? Ah…raining toads?”
Erin glanced back at the furious downpour–it did indeed seem to be lessening already.
“Raining toads? Doesn’t that only happen when a tornado picks them up?”
Pisces hesitated. Erin turned back just in time to see his look of surprise covered by an attempt at banal amusement. He made a show of taking a sip from his cup.
“Ahem. Of course, that is how the phenomenon actually occurs. But the impetus is largely magical…I see you know your way around some natural events. This particular storm will not be raining any creatures, however. It truly was someone simply sending unwanted rain our way. It may be a scandal, although given how the Drake cities squabble–I detected it from the south. Perhaps as far as Pallass.”
Erin had no idea what Pallass was, but other cities of Drakes? She leaned too-casually on the table, now giving Pisces her full attention.
“Wow, that’s far, right? Wouldn’t you have to be a pretty powerful sorcerer to do that?”
“The term is mage, Good Mistress.”
“The name is Erin, idiot.”
He smirked, already cocky again.
“Aha. Accept my apologies. But if you are referring to one of my exalted brethren, mage is the best term to use.”
Erin stared at him. He didn’t appear abashed in any way.
“You don’t have wizards or sorcerers or…warlocks? Witches? You’re all just mages?”
Pisces flicked his fingers haughtily, then decided to wipe them on his robes instead.
“I did not say specialization is absent from the magical world. Rather, shall we say that those are titles for mages who meet certain requirements? A [Wizard] is an arcane researcher and true student of the arcane arts. Such individuals are similar to myself, but prefer to study the mainstream branches of magic. [Sorcerers], on the other hand, are quite simplistic and refer to those who educate themselves and have little formal education. [Warlocks] obtain their powers from other sources such as summoning, while [Witches] practice alchemy along with specialized schools of magic. Their…very peculiar magic, which is so rooted in folklore. Nevertheless, [Mage] remains the generally accepted title to refer to all those who practice magic as a catchall moniker…”
He trailed off. Erin was staring at him. Pisces gave her a confident smirk. She raised her eyebrows.
“Okay. So you’re saying [Mage] means anyone who uses magic in general. Next time, just say that.”
His face visibly fell. Pisces moodily stabbed at a piece of blue fruit.
“You asked. I was merely fulfilling my role as a guest.”
“Good. For you. So what, a—mage did this?”
“Yes. And it’s not as if this is a particularly difficult task. I realize it may look so to the uninitiated, but a spell like this could easily be cast by a level 30 [Mage]. Less, I suppose, if the individual were specialized.”
“As I said, not that impressive. Many mages could cast a spell like this.”
Pisces paused. He chewed slowly, looking past Erin.
“My specialization lies in other areas.”
“Like dead bodies.”
The young man’s jaw tensed ever-so-slightly. Erin saw his thin frame–and he was thin and hungry, judging by how fast he’d eaten her blue fruits–shift in his chair. Pisces glanced at the door and avoided Erin’s gaze and drained his cup.
“Merely another branch of magic, good mistress Erin. I note you don’t have the same aversion as a less-informed fool. Let me assure you–”
Erin stared at him. She opened her mouth, but then the door slammed open. Both Erin and Pisces turned as a wet, dark figure sauntered into the inn and threw his arms wide.
“Good morning everyone! Weird Ant behind me, friendly Human, and—oh.”
Relc strode into the inn, beaming, then visibly did a double-take when he saw Pisces. The [Necromancer] jerked in his seat, then froze. Klbkch closed the door and bowed slightly at Erin.
“Please pardon our intrusion. Is this establishment open for business?”
“What? Oh. Yeah.”
Erin scrambled for words. Relc was still staring at Pisces, who studiously ignored him as he refilled his cup. She smiled at Relc, glancing at Pisces.
“Hey, you two! Klb–Klbk? It’s been a while. I guess. But come in. Or come in more. Have a seat. Want something to eat?”
“If you would be so kind. Thank you, Miss Erin. It is Klbkch, but you may refer to me as Senior Guardsman if that is simpler.”
Klbkch wiped his feet and stepped over to a table. Relc was still staring. He frowned at Pisces then jabbed a claw his way before eying Erin suspiciously.
“You multiplied. Can Humans do that?”
“What? Oh no, that’s just Pisces. He’s annoying, so ignore him.”
Erin waved Relc over to a seat as she went to the kitchen for plates. Relc kept staring until Klbkch kicked him and motioned him to a seat.
“I believe staring is considered rude in most cultures. Sit down and cease your rudeness.”
Relc glared and sat, rubbing his leg. Klbkch turned and nodded to Pisces.
“Please excuse my companion’s lack of tact.”
Pisces waved his fork airily, but Erin, poking her head out of the kitchen, realized the young man was no longer smiling. He had pushed his chair back from the table, and he kept glancing her way. It didn’t stop his mouth from running, though.
“I paid no attention. The plebian masses are a burden to be endured; I bear no ill will to the misinformed or ignorant for their rudeness.”
Klbkch and Relc exchanged a glance.
“Indeed. It has been nice to make your acquaintance.”
“Humans. They’re so—”
Erin reemerged from the kitchen, trying to hold a pot of hot noodles and several plates with only two hands. She interrupted the two.
“Do you guys want pasta or blue fruit?”
Relc broke off, coughing.
“Ah. Eh. Um, what I meant was—”
Klbkch raised one hand politely as he kicked Relc subtly again.
“I would be delighted to try the blue fruit. I believe my tongue-tied partner would like some as well.”
“Right. Food. I’ll have some.”
Pisces waved his fork again.
“And me. A second plate and a refill of my drink, if you would.”
Erin scowled again and jabbed a thumb over her shoulder.
“You want pasta? It’s in the kitchen. Get it yourself.”
Pisces’ outraged sniff at the discrepancy in service was ignored. Turning her back on him, Erin smiled at Relc and Klbkch.
“So, um, hi again. It’s been a while. Klb…Klbkch and…?”
Klbkch nodded while Relc looked expectant.
Klbkch murmured softly. Erin beamed desperately.
“Relc! Right, right.”
“What? How come you remembered this idiot’s name and not mine?”
Relc looked aggrieved. Erin blushed.
The Drake leaned over the table, frowning. He looked bigger today, or perhaps it was being able to contrast him with Pisces. Relc was over six feet tall without the long neck spines that ran from the back of his head like a thin mohawk. He was also, Erin realized, wearing all-leather armor, and today, he’d leaned his spear against the table.
He even had a shortsword at his side and a dagger and a belt with two glowing bottles and a few pouches.
Belt pouches seemed like a style in this world, because Pisces had them–and so did Klbkch. Although–Erin noticed now–the Antinium had two swords sheathed at his waist. And two daggers.
Wow, they were armed. Was this the level of police in this world? Then again–if that was the case, Erin supposed they were just regularly armed. But it might be why Pisces kept glancing at them. He had no weapons, she noted, just a stick at his side.
Wait, was that a wand? Erin turned and stared at it, but Relc tapped the table, interrupting her train of thought.
“Aren’t I the better looking one here? What gives?”
Erin turned and gave him an embarrassed smile.
“Sorry. It’s just—uh, you know. I’ve got a bad memory.”
“…No. Sorry. It’s just been a busy two days.”
He looked deflated. Erin tried to cheer him up.
“Relc! I’ve got the name, now. And I’ve got more pasta. Well, it’s old pasta, but it still tastes good! And more blue juice. And blue fruit! It’s, uh, not poisonous if you only eat the outer bit.”
Relc perked up instantly. Erin went to fetch the pasta and placed two steaming plates in front of the two.
Klbkch nodded at Erin, and both began eating. Around mouthfuls, Relc eyed Erin and then Pisces.
“So, how’re you doing? Level up again?”
“Actually, I did. Right after you two left.”
“Ooh, congratulations! Did you get a new skill?”
“[Basic Crafting]. It helped me make a basket out of grass.”
He chuckled knowingly.
“That’s quite useful! Most craftsman and artisan classes get that early on. I guess innkeepers are sorta like that, right? Got to take care of the inn, repair windows, fix tables, and all that.”
“I guess. I haven’t ever tried that, and besides, I don’t have a hammer. Actually, I’ve never swung a hammer in my life.”
“Well, you’ve got the skill for it, so it’ll be a breeze. And you can buy a hammer no problem. Just head down to the city, and you can get a good one for only a silver coin or two. Tell you what, if you’re ever in the area I’ll help you get one at a discount.”
“Really? That’s really generous. Thank you.”
Erin smiled hesitatingly at Relc, who grinned back at her as he slurped down a noodle. Klbkch set down his fork and nodded at his companion.
“Not entirely. I do believe my companion would earn a small fee for directing any business to his associates.”
Relc glared at Klbkch. He tried to kick him, but the Antinium had scooted his chair back too far. They were both sitting fairly wide of the table, Erin realized. Oddly so.
“Shut up. Do you have to ruin everything I say?”
“I am merely pointing out the truth.”
Erin had to smile as the two began bickering. However, she was the only one amused. Across the inn, Pisces drained his mug and plonked it down on the table.
“If we’re done with the lovely chatting, my glass is empty. Isn’t attending to one’s customers part of my service?”
Erin glared. Relc glared too. Klbkch—well, she still couldn’t read the ant man’s expression, but he definitely gave off a silent air of disapproval.
“Nice customer you’ve got here.”
“Yeah. Hey—shut up!”
Pisces raised his brows.
“How discourteous. I believe I shall bring my business elsewhere next time.”
“I don’t want it anyways. Besides, you tried to rob me last time. You’re here on sufferance and because I feel bad for you.”
He sighed and rolled his eyes heavenward. Erin sniffed and debated whether she should refill his glass anyways, but felt a sharp poke in her side. She screamed and jumped.
“Don’t—don’t do that!”
Erin rubbed at where Relc’s claw had poked her. He looked startled at her reaction and actually apologetic.
“Sorry. Again. But…you said rob? As in, that guy over there tried to rob you?”
Relc’s voice was a low hissing whisper as he glanced over at Pisces. He needn’t have bothered, though. Pisces was still engrossed in his cup. Erin grinned maliciously and whispered back.
“Yeah. Last night I was visited by a scary monster. But when I hit it with a pa—pot, it turned out just to be him. So I got him to pay up for scaring me and the food.”
“Shut up! You’re lucky I didn’t just toss you in the stream and let the fish eat you!”
Klbkch and Relc exchanged a glance. Relc gave the Antinium a slow nod, and Klbkch returned it. Relc turned a goggle-eyed gaze back to Erin.
“And…you let him come back for breakfast?”
“Well, it’s not like he’s dangerous. Just annoying.”
“And you didn’t think to report him to anyone?”
Erin stared blankly at Relc. He stared at her. Klbkch finished his plate of noodles and set down his fork. Then he stared at Erin too. She looked at the [Guardsmen] and slapped her forehead.
“Oh. Oh. I forgot. And besides, you weren’t here yesterday.”
“Very true. Our absence was most lamentable. But allow us to perform our duty now. Incidentally, Mistress Solstice, the pasta was delicious.”
“Yeah, it’s great! Hold on.”
Relc grabbed the fork and started shoveling the pasta in his mouth. He was able to cram nearly half the plate down his throat in one huge gulp and munched down the rest in seconds. Erin stared with fascinated horror and a tiny bit of envy as he gobbled.
That done, Relc exchanged a glance with Klbkch. Then he turned to Pisces.
Pisces looked up with a scowl. He glared at Relc and made an irritable harrumph.
“Do you want something? I don’t do magic upon request. If you seek a certain spell, I would be happy to discuss my remunerations…later.”
Relc grinned in his seat. He shifted, exposing one huge bicep, as he moved his right arm towards his spear. Erin felt a prickle run down her spine. Wait. What was…was what she thought about to happen? No way. No–
“How about you do the magic spell where you turn into a monster? I’d love to see that. Or better yet, do you have a spell to get out of trouble? Because you’re going to need one now.”
Pisces’ face went blank. His eyes flicked to Erin and then back to Relc and Klbkch. Erin saw his jaw tense, and then he smiled at her. A glassy, empty smile. She felt a pang in her chest, and she didn’t know why. Only that the slightly supercilious look in his gaze had turned to something blankly hostile. No…resigned? As if he had expected…
The young man made a show of standing up, dusting off his robes.
“Ah. I see the good [Innkeeper] holds a grudge. Well, I’m not sure what she told you two, but I assure you, I have compensated her more than adequately for my…mistake. It’s nothing two soldiers need concern themselves with.”
“Oh, but it is, it is! And you’re wrong, by the way.”
Relc exchanged a glance with Klbkch. He grinned. Or rather, his mouth opened and he showed Pisces his teeth.
“We’re no soldiers. We’re [Guardsmen]. And we’ve been looking for the bastard who’s been robbing homes with illusion spells.”
For a second, Pisces was very still. Then, with a surprising burst of speed, he sprinted for the door. Erin saw his legs move–then he flickered forwards.
It was like he teleported! One second he was there, the next, five feet away, lunging for the doorknob! But he stumbled, nearly falling over himself, arms flailing. He would have still gotten out except for how fast the two [Guards] reacted.
Relc kicked himself back from the table as his right arm snatched the spear. That was why he was sitting so far back–he whirled the spear up and threw it in one motion. Erin was only aware of a blur of movement and the whoosh of air past her face. She screamed, and his spear blew past her ear, but it didn’t strike Pisces. The spear flew between his legs as he tried to grab the doorknob and tripped him up. He sprawled to the ground as Relc pushed his chair back.
Klbkch was already on his feet. Like Relc, he’d given himself plenty of space. He didn’t draw his swords, just strode over to Pisces and put one arm in a lock while the other held his head down.
“Do not move. You are under arrest for intimidation and attempted theft. Remain still. Any sudden moves will result in bodily harm.”
With one arm, Klbkch dragged Pisces up. The mage didn’t struggle as Klbkch deposited him back in his chair. Relc grinned at Erin as he picked up his spear. Pisces was panting, looking from Klbkch to Relc with clear unease.
“Good throw, huh?”
She tried to answer and croaked.
Relc’s eyes widened slightly.
“Oops. Sorry, did I scare you? I forgot normal people aren’t used to that. Don’t worry—I never miss when I throw.”
Erin kept looking at Pisces. His eyes darted around the room, but Klbkch was standing right over him. She nodded slowly–what were they going to do with…?
“I’m sure. I’m sure. And I’m not scared. Just—surprised.”
Relc patted Erin gently on the back. She nearly fell out of her chair but caught herself on the table. He didn’t notice. Relc sauntered over to Pisces and grinned down at him.
“Gotcha. Try to run from me, did you? No one ever gets away.”
He looked over at his companion.
“Klbkch, got anything to tie him up with?”
Klbkch shook his head.
“Alas, I did not anticipate an arrest, and my gear is signed out at the barracks. I am without manacles or spell-bind rope. We shall have to be attentive with its lack. Unless Mistress Solstice has anything to bind him with?”
Klbkch looked at Erin. She spread her hands. So there was a prison? In the city she’d never been to?
“Uh, no. No, sorry.”
“A pity. But we shall do without.”
“Indeed you will. This is an affront!”
Pisces tried to push Klbkch away. His face was pale and sweaty, but he still maintained his haughty tone, if slightly strained.
“I am completely innocent—utterly so. These baseless accusations are false and—”
“You are lying.”
Klbkch said it flatly and without a hint of doubt.
“[Detect Guilt] is a basic Skill most [Guardsmen] learn. I can sense your guilt, which is enough for me to justify this arrest.”
“Plus, we already know all about you and your crimes.”
Relc folded his arms and grinned even wider. His teeth were yellow, and very, very sharp.
“We’ve been looking for you, Mister Mage. Or should I say, the scary creature that threatens travelers and people living by themselves? You’ve been stealing food and money for nearly a month. There’s even a bounty on your head, which I’d love to collect.”
Erin stared at Pisces, who’d turned a paler shade of white, but Relc wasn’t done.
“Okay. Here’s what I’m thinking. Me and my friend here will drag you out back, beat you with sticks or rocks for a while, and then drag you back to the city for a reward. Then we’ll give half to our lovely innkeeper here. Sound good?”
Pisces’ smile was strained by now, and he shifted, but Klbkch was leaning on his shoulder, pressing him down in his seat.
“Actually, I would prefer—”
Relc cracked his knuckles. Erin, who had been staring in fascination and horror, raised a hand.
“Um. Isn’t that wrong?”
“Wrong? Why would it be wrong?”
Erin searched for words as Relc stared at her blankly.
“Aren’t there rules? Like, rules against police—guardsmen hurting people once they’re caught? Like…like no beating someone once they’re on the ground?”
Relc stared at her. He turned to Klbkch.
“Do we have rules like that?”
“I believe it is a Human standard.”
“Oh, good. I got worried there for a second.”
“Yes, we wouldn’t want to ruin the enjoyment of mindless thugs like yourself.”
Pisces sneered at Relc. He seemed incapable of keeping his mouth shut even when it was for his own good. Relc made a fist, and he flinched.
“Hold on, hold on. We don’t need to beat up Pisces. Like I said, he only tried to rob me. And I already hit him with a pan. What’s this about beating him up?”
Erin grabbed Relc’s arm. It was instinctive, but once she touched his scales, she nearly jumped away. His skin or, rather, scales, were surprisingly cool and easy to grip. But it felt so alien to Erin that she was quite unnerved. It made everything seem frighteningly real.
Relc glanced at Erin and peeled her off gently. He was so strong that he broke her grip effortlessly with just two of his fingers.
“Don’t worry, miss. We’ll do the punching outside where you don’t have to see.”
“Or—or you could not. Isn’t that what nice guardsmen do? You could just arrest him and skip the punching, right?”
The Drake nodded with a blank, uncomprehending, cheerful look on his face.
“Yeah, but he called me a common thug. I want to punch him for that.”
“Well—he’s a jerk. But I mean, you’re a guardsman. Insults like that are ten a penny.”
“Ten a what?”
“I believe she is saying insults to our position are quite common.”
Klbkch clarified. He looked at Erin, who shrugged awkwardly and gave him a sheepish smile.
Relc seemed slightly hurt. He looked at Erin with his eyes narrowed slightly. But rather than angry, that somehow made his face look sad.
“No one insults me regularly. Except Watch Captain Z and Klb, come to think of it. People like me. Everyone likes us. We’ve got a special job.”
“But one you sign up for, right? I mean, sure it’s a great job, but—it’s just a job, right?”
Erin faltered. Relc was staring at her in disbelief. His tone rose in indignation.
“It’s not just a job. It’s a highly prestigious job! Not just anyone can be part of the city guard, let alone a Senior Guard.”
“Really? I thought you just…signed up.”
Relc scoffed. He turned to Klbkch.
“Signed up? Can you believe this? Humans.”
Klbkch was unimpressed. He carefully munched piece after piece of blue fruit.
“Perhaps if you explained our function more properly there would be no need for outrage. Clearly, the nature of guardspeople differs culturally. I thought Humans did it quite similarly in the north, but…elaborate, Relc.”
“Right, well. It’s still not—okay.”
Erin crossed her arms. Pisces sneered and took another swallow of juice from the table. He began mumbling to himself, but Erin, Relc, and Klbkch ignored him.
Relc sighed. He scratched the spines at the top of his head.
“Look, I’m not sure what Humans do, but in our city, the city watch isn’t like mercenaries or personal bodyguards. We don’t just sign up. We have to be voted in.”
“Really. See, we’ve gotta get at least fifty ordinary citizens to vouch for us before we’re sworn in. And to become Senior Guardsmen like us, you’ve got to get at least four hundred. Impressive, right?”
Relc grinned and pulled something out of the belt at his waist. He showed Erin a crimson badge edged with gold and striped twice with purple. It was shiny. It had the logo of a city, well, a stylized city, over…Erin squinted. Was that water? Little wavy lines. It was quite beautiful, and she had to guess it was costly.
“Nice. So that’s your official badge?”
The Drake polished it on his front as he placed it in his belt pouch.
“Yeah. We’ve got to keep it on us at all times. Some guys wear it on their chests, but it can get ripped off. Besides…”
He tapped his scaly arm.
“Doesn’t stick so well on scales. Anyways, we’ve gotta pay a fine if we lose it, so why risk it, right? I only need it when I want to prove who I am or pull rank, anyways.”
“Fascinating. But it’s still the elevated status of a common enforcer when all is said and done, isn’t it?”
Pisces sneered at Relc. He seemed full of confidence all of a sudden. Relc glared, making another fist the size of a brick.
“You’re still under arrest. I can hit you. It’s only because I’m being considerate of Miss Solstice here that I don’t. But I will. If you don’t shut up.”
Eyebrows raised, Pisces drew a finger across his lips.
“Pardon me. I would not dare to interrupt such august personages such as yourself. Please, proceed.”
Erin sighed, and Klbkch made a sound that sounded quite similar. Relc, on the other hand, just scratched his head.
“Right. Good. Anyways, we’re the ones with weapons, and you’re just a mage. Not a high-level one either or you’d be teleporting away.”
“Or destroyed us in a number of ways. The lack of lightning falling from the sky or [Fireballs] confirms this.”
Erin edged behind a table, suddenly quite nervous. Her wooden table and the wooden inn.
“You sure about that? Really sure, I mean?”
Relc grinned at her. It was a grin with entirely too many teeth.
“Don’t worry, Miss. He’s no threat or we’d have taken him out when we first realized who he was. He looked more dangerous than he turned out to be. You see, both of us can tell if we’re in danger or the enemy is strong. This idiot couldn’t even use [Flash Step] properly!”
The [Necromancer] turned beet red, but Erin was fascinated.
“You can do that? Like–sensing each other’s power levels? Really? How?”
The Drake’s mouth opened, and he eyed Klbkch, who scratched at his antennae. However, Pisces interrupted with a huge sneer of his own.
“A keen observer would observe his opponent’s weaknesses and strengths and make assumptions based on their actions and ability. These two, on the other hand, are just using a skill.”
Relc eyed him. So did Klbkch, but it was more subtle. The Drake shrugged, unperturbed.
“Well, he’s right. We do have Skills. They’re part of our classes, although in my case I’ve got [Dangersense]. But I’m also a former soldier. And Klb? He’s the Slayer. We can tell you’re not hot stuff, Human.”
Slayer? Erin glanced at Klbkch, and the Antinium’s mandibles lowered and came together as he stared at Relc. The Drake lifted a claw, wincing apologetically? What did that mean? He hurried on; if anyone reacted, it was Pisces, who turned dead white as he stared up at Klbkch.
“My scales aren’t itching, so your Human friend here isn’t that good at magic. They always itch when I’m in danger. That’s not a Skill, either. But your friend can’t even trigger my [Dangersense]. Not even a little ring.”
Erin held up her hands, hesitating between Pisces and Klbkch. Slayer. Did that mean he slew…?
“He’s not my friend.”
“But he’s Human.”
The Drake said that like it meant everything. Erin struggled for a response. Meanwhile, Pisces’ sneer deepened and he curled his lip, oblivious to the danger.
“Spoken like a truly ignorant fool. What would you know of magical mastery? My powers may not lie in mere confrontation, but I assure you, I have more power in my fingernails than you have in your entire, brutish body.”
Relc surged to his feet.
“Okay, that’s it. Close your eyes, Miss—”
For one moment, Erin wasn’t sure if she wanted to get between Relc and Pisces or duck out of the way. Klbkch made the decision for her. He let go of Pisces, grabbed Relc, and pulled him back. Not easily; but there was more strength in those wiry ant arms than Erin would have guessed.
“Relax. I would prefer not to damage this establishment. Nor would the owner or even you, I suspect.”
Relc hesitated. He looked at Erin, who decided to add her support of denial.
“Yeah, let’s calm down before someone gets hurt. Like me.”
Erin grabbed the jug of blue juice and began filling cups. Relc accepted a glass, drained it, and then sipped at the refill.
Erin went to fill Pisces’ glass, but he shielded it with one hand.
“No—no need, good Mistress Solstice. I am quite satisfied at the moment.”
Relc was still glaring daggers at Pisces.
“Peh. You should drink. It’ll be the last tasty thing you eat in a long time. Actually, what am I saying? This stuff’s way too good for you. Just remember what you’re missing when we lock you away.”
“If you can.”
Erin eyed Pisces. He was still sneering, and she wasn’t sure why. If she was any guess, Relc was two seconds away from turning his face into raw beef.
Relc scowled. He closed his hand, and Erin watched his entire arm ripple. She’d seen ripped guys before, of course, which wasn’t that impressive, but this—
“Last I checked, you were within arm’s reach. That means your fancy spells aren’t going to do a thing before I hit you hard enough to make your brains pop out. Trust me. I’ve done it before.”
Again, Pisces didn’t seem affected by Relc’s threat.
“I am a powerful mage far beyond your capabilities. Even if your paltry skills cannot detect my capabilities, you would do well to be wary of my hidden capabilities.”
Klbkch moved his head slightly. His expression didn’t change, but then, there wasn’t much to change. He lowered one of his four hands to his side, and Erin saw the hand rest casually on the pommel of his dagger. More sweat beaded on Erin’s lower back.
Pisces drew himself up in his chair slightly.
“I have studied countless schools of magic. You see before you a practitioner of the elements, a weaver of illusions, a refined chanter, a master of alchemy, pyromancy, aeromancy, geomancy—”
Erin helpfully chimed in. Pisces choked on his next words. He glared at her. She shrugged.
“What? You told me yesterday. Oh, and were you the one who stole the skeleton upstairs? I just realized that was probably you.”
Pisces lost his sneer and now looked uneasy. Relc, on the other hand, grinned again.
“Well, well. Theft of a corpse and reanimation, no doubt. That’s another big mark on the list of charges. But necromancy, well, that also means we don’t have to bring you back alive anymore.”
Erin opened her mouth, and Relc waved a hand. He looked exasperated as he glanced her way.
“Yes, yes. But we’ll just hit you and drag you back so Miss Erin doesn’t see anything nasty. But you’re in serious trouble now, Mister [Necromancer].”
Pisces sat back in his chair. He was still pale, but he looked far more confident than he had any right to be.
“Regardless if you know my identity or not, I still believe you will find capturing me no easy task.”
Relc blinked. He scratched the spines on his head and then shook his head gently.
“Humans. You’re so arrogant and crazy. It’s almost funny. If you’re so full of powerful magic, dodge this.”
He swung his spear forward, the butt of the spear first. Erin shouted and tried to grab the spear, too slowly. But where the spear should have cracked Pisces over the head, Relc’s swing met nothing but air. Pisces was suddenly gone.
Relc blinked. Erin gaped. Klbkch instantly swung his swords in an arc, slashing the air around the chair. But he touched nothing.
Relc swiped the air where Pisces had been with his spear and growled deep in his throat. Erin stared.
“He’s not invisible? He did that once.”
Relc shook his head angrily. “No. I’d be able to sense if he were in a few feet of me. No, this was an illusion spell. A damn clever one, too. He pretended he was here and walked off while we were busy chatting. Klb, when you let go of him! I didn’t even see the chair move–damn, the chair’s an illusion too!”
He kicked a foot, and Erin gasped as the chair vanished and reappeared, further back. Klbkch looked to the door.
“I am unsure of when he left. He may have escaped only a few minutes ago. We may still catch him if we hurry.”
Relc cursed and swung his spear angrily. It made a terrific whooshing sound as it cut the air. Erin held her breath, afraid he’d let go and accidently cut her.
Klbkch turned and bowed his head to her.
“Thank you for informing us of his class, Mistress Erin. Although he posed no threat to either Relc nor I, he is far more dangerous than we had believed. I did not notice the illusion spell. I have grown inattentive, lax. Relc as well, but this is a critical failing on my part.”
The Drake glared as Erin hesitated, looking at where Pisces had been sitting.
“Really? I thought—he didn’t seem dangerous. I mean, I hit him with a pot and that knocked him out.”
“Oh, he’s probably as dangerous as a frog in a fight. That’s not the problem.”
Relc shook his head.
“We thought he was just an illusionist. That’s annoying, but really all he can do is scare folks into giving him things. But a necromancer’s worse. Far worse. We could let him go if he was just a normal mage, but we’ve got to find him now, and he knows it.”
Relc muttered to himself. He was still looking around, and his tongue was flicking out of his mouth, as if tasting the air. It was the first time he’d really reminded Erin of a lizard from her world.
“A rogue [Necromancer] on the loose does nasty things. Even a low-level one can bring down villages if you give him enough dead bodies, and they level fast when that happens. Damn, I’m not going to be the one who let the next Az’kerash get away, Klb. We’re gonna have to hunt this guy down. If we can’t catch him today, I’ll have the Captain send out multiple patrols once we get back to the city. Erin, we have to go, but I think you’re safe if that guy didn’t do anything last time.”
Erin nodded. Then she hesitated.
“So. Does…that mean you’ll be back soon?”
“Less than an hour, but we won’t be able to stay. Sorry. I’ll try to get the patrol out faster, but you know how it is. We’ve got to shift around guardsmen on patrol, set trackers, get armed up, etcetera.”
“Oh. Okay. But, uh, does that mean—how long does it take to get back?”
“We should be able to cover the distance in approximately ten minutes if we run.”
Relc nodded in agreement.
“So we’ve gotta go. Why? Are you worried he’ll attack you?”
“No, not that. It’s just—the city.”
“The city? What about it?”
“Um, where is it?”
Relc and Klbkch stared at her silently and then exchanged a glance.
“…You mean, you don’t know?”
“No. Should I? It’s not like there’s a sign or anything around here.”
Relc looked amused.
“Don’t be snippy. But it’s easy to spot. Look, you can even see it out the window here.”
He walked over to a window and pointed. Erin squinted out it.
“…Is it that black spot there?”
“Well, yeah. Isn’t it obvious?”
“No, it’s really not. It could be a rock.”
“It’s not a rock. Why are you having a hard time believing me? Can’t you see the buildings?”
“No, I can’t.”
“I do not believe she can, in point of fact.”
Relc and Erin turned to look at Klbkch. He studied her and then brought his face close to hers. Erin flinched as he did.
“Do not be alarmed. I mean you no harm.”
“Sorry—sorry. It’s just the pincers. And the eyes. It’s just—sorry.”
“Don’t mind Klbkch. He’s ugly even for an ant. But you really can’t see the city from here?”
Klbkch nodded. He seemed focused on Erin’s own eyes.
“I believe Humans have more limited eyesight than you or I.”
“What? That’s stupid.”
Relc huffed to himself. He pointed out the window at the black dot.
“Look, the city’s that way. It’s only a twenty minute walk, and there aren’t many monsters along the way. Besides, once you get within a few miles, the area is regularly patrolled, so you won’t have any problems. And if those idiots at the gate stop you–which they won’t–just tell them you know me.”
“Or me. However, you should encounter no problems. Only those with past records of crime are unwelcome in Liscor.”
“And speaking of which…we’ve gotta go. It’s my day off, but we’ll report that annoying human maggot-mage back at the barracks. If we move fast, we might get him before he runs too far.”
Relc was on his feet. He moved so quickly that Erin was left gaping. One second he was sitting down, the next he was at the door.
“Hey Klbkch, coming?”
And then Klbkch was there too. If Erin hadn’t seen the black blur that swept past her and felt the rush of air, she would have sworn he’d teleported.
“Indeed. It is unfortunate we must leave so soon. Our apologies, Mistress Solstice.”
Klbkch nodded to her. Relc waved and was out the door in a flash. Erin was left sitting with a table full of dirty plates and a state of mild shock.
She had just picked up the first plate when the door slammed back open. She jumped, but Relc waved at her.
“Oh, sorry we forgot to pay. We’re in a hurry so—put it on our tab!”
The door closed. Erin stared at it hopefully, but it didn’t open again.
It took me about…1 hour to do 1 chapter. You’d think it’d be faster, especially with how short they are. But I’m re-reading most lines, adding in new scenes or just clarifying dialogue…
It’s also mentally draining. Still hoping to get to 1.15, but if this is how long a chapter with minimal edits takes, what about rewrites? Even so, I don’t like skipping even ‘okay’ sections because I can add dialogue tags, and a bit more quality. Time and energy and quality is what we’re balancing here.
Erin stood in front of the cupboard and sighed. Loudly.
Erin paused and thought about that word.
“Males. They eat and eat and eat. And then I have to clean up the dishes. Typical.”
True, she was an [Innkeeper]. Or at least, she kept an inn relatively clean. But that didn’t make her feel better.
“Pantry? Pantry is empty. Food? Food is gone. And money—”
She glanced at the pile of coins on the kitchen counter. Gold and silver and…Erin dunked a plate in a bucket of water, the lye soap in her other hand. She used the dustrag wipe at the plate, but then realized she needed a second bucket to clean everything off.
She decided she’d soap-wash the dishes, then she had to get another bucket from the stream…but her reward was the lovely coins. And less food. Was this how it worked? Assuming she had more money coming in than she spent–but how did she spend it? That seemed to be the critical missing link in the way this business was working so far.
“Money is shiny. But, uh, inedible. And it’s good to have money, but starvation is an issue.”
Erin stared at the empty pantry. She had a tiny scraping of butter left, a scrunched up bag of flour…starvation was a major issue.
“Aren’t there some more blue fruits around here? Here? No…here? Yep. Nice and wrinkled. Lovely.”
She could always get more blue fruits, of course. But there was a limit on how many those trees had left. And there was also a limit to how many Erin was willing to keep hauling back.
“And I’m out of ingredients.”
The flour was almost gone. The butter was all but gone. The salt—okay, there was some salt left and some sugar too. But they were running low in their bags, and with the lovely preservation-spell-thing gone, they’d probably turn rotten sometime soon.
“So I’m in trouble.”
“So it would appear.”
The second, droll voice was right in her ear. Erin was sure her heart stopped for a good few seconds. She turned around and looked at Pisces.
“If I had a knife in my hand, I’d stab you.”
He smirked at her. It seemed to be his default mode of face. He stood up from where he had been crouching, invisible or concealed, in the corner of the kitchen.
“Ah, but what good innkeeper would deprive herself of such a magnificent guest?”
Erin reached for a knife. Pisces lifted his hands instantly.
“Please, please good mistress, let’s not be hasty!”
He took a few hasty steps back. Erin glared at him, but only let her hand rest on the counter. Pisces looked dusty. And dirty. And sweaty.
“Where did you come from? I didn’t hear you come in through the door.”
The sneer was cut with genuine nervousness, but Pisces gestured upstairs smugly.
“I was, in fact, upstairs the entire time. Under a bed. It was the simplest solution given the intelligence of those two brutish guardsmen.”
Erin blinked. He had dust-bunnies all over his hair and robes, which, granted, didn’t actually make him that much dirtier. She glanced towards the common room and nodded.
“Good job, I guess. But they’re still going to find you. You’re a criminal, and you’ve got nowhere to hide.”
He raised a hand before Erin could say anything.
“Please, hear me out. Rest assured, I bear you no ill will for reporting my actions to the guard. I fully appreciate the severity of my crimes, however—”
“You want something. What? To stay here? No. Nope. No way in hell.”
Pisces lifted his hands and put on what she supposed was his best smile. It made him no less desperate, but he spoke quickly and eloquently. A scholar? He didn’t sound like a petty thief.
“I assure you I would be a quite convivial guest. And I wouldn’t ask for much. In fact, you may be interested to know I am proficient in multiple schools of spellcasting. While necromancy is a—passion of mine, I have extensively studied the elementalist, alchemical, and enchanting schools of magic. My level is over twenty in the general [Mage] class. Even amongst my fellow students, you would be hard-pressed to find a spellcaster as widely capable as I am. I can aid in a number of functions that would improve your inn. And I have money.”
Erin raised two eyebrows. One just wasn’t enough.
“And you’re telling me all this…why?”
He licked his lips.
“In point of fact, I was wondering if I might persuade you to shelter and provide me with my basic necessities while in this moment of dire need. I can provide you with adequate recompense, I assure you—”
Erin snorted rudely.
“Right, for how long? Days? Weeks? Months? And I get to feed you, make sure no one finds you, and clean up after you? Again: no. I’m barely getting enough food for myself as it is.”
“Would you turn away an innocent—”
Erin’s finger nearly jabbed him in the chest as he stepped back. The young woman raised her voice as Pisces retreated out of the kitchen.
“Innocent? You? You’re nothing more than a thug with a magic wand. Remember how we met? You tried to scare me into giving you food. And now you want protection because you’re getting your just desserts? No. No, when I see Relc again, you’d better be long gone from here. And if you don’t leave now, I’ll kick you out myself.”
Erin finished her tirade and folded her arms under her breasts. But while Pisces had turned white as a sheet, he didn’t look ashamed or afraid so much as…
He whispered a spell. Erin felt the air grow colder around her and suddenly saw shadows twisting around Pisces’ hands. The darkness was gathering around him like a cloak. It was the same spell as before, or close enough.
Pisces took a step towards her.
“I am a man in desperate straits. You would do well not to underestimate what I am capable of.”
Erin’s heart was racing. She took two steps back, and he followed.
“Antagonizing one of my power is unwise. If you have any sense, you will accede to my request. Or know the consequences.”
Her mouth was dry, but she knew it was just an illusion. So Erin forced herself to reply with more bravado than she felt.
“So, what? If I don’t decide to help you, will you hurt me? Bash my brains in? Or will you just rip my clothes off and try to rape me?”
He looked shocked.
“Of course I wouldn’t do that. I’m no barbarian—”
Erin’s hand moved in a flash. Pisces looked down and gulped. A knife was poking into his stomach.
Her heart was racing. She could taste bile in her mouth. But her hand was very, very still. She wasn’t sure of much in her life right now. Magic and monsters made her head spin. Yet some things were the same. And she had no intention of being the victim here, especially where no one could hear her scream.
Her knife had a gratifying effect on her mage guest. He licked his lips and raised his hands, turning a shade paler than normal.
“Now, now. Let’s not be hasty, good mistress. I was merely saying—”
“Move and I will stab you.”
It was no threat. It was a promise. And, to his credit, Pisces was intelligent enough to take it seriously.
“—Allow me to apologize. But if I might say a few words—”
Erin advanced. Pisces had to step backwards or be knifed in slow motion. She forced him back into the common room and towards the door.
“Please, please reconsider.”
“No. Why should I?”
Pisces stopped at the door. Erin jabbed at him with the knife, but he refused to move back any further. He raised his hands higher and spoke with increasing speed and desperation.
“If I am caught, they will take me to the city. And there I will be judged and killed. This is a certainty, Mistress Erin.”
Erin eyed him uncertainly. Pisces was licking his lips, and he looked genuinely afraid. But she couldn’t quite trust him after his threats. Posturing aside–there was the way he was looking at her, too. He didn’t really trust her, did he? Oh, no. And she didn’t trust him. But the part about being executed? Erin frowned hard.
“Relc never said—”
“He didn’t want to tell you the truth! But he and I both know what happens to [Necromancers]. We—any mage possessing even a single level in the class—are all killed on sight in this part of the world! There’s no mercy for my kind here. The legacy of the Necromancer of Terandria, Az’kerash, lingers. Especially here, where his armies once sieged Liscor.”
“Well—well too bad.”
Erin’s mouth was on autopilot. Pisces tried to step around her back into the kitchen, but she blocked him, forcing him to the door.
“Even if you’re in danger, I’m in danger if I hide you. I’m not doing that. Run away. Just run away now.”
“They will have patrols out around the city. They will scour the grasslands for me. Please, if you were to hide me, I would be sure to survive.”
Erin pointed towards the door with one hand. He wavered, but made one last entreaty.
“Please, I beg of you. Just one night. Just give me sanctuary, and I swear I will be gone upon the morrow. It is my death without your aid. Would you kill me? I ask you as a fellow human. Please.”
The knife in her hands wavered. Pisces seized the moment. He stepped forwards, hands outstretched beseechingly.
“Please, spare my life. If you have any pity in your soul—”
Pounding footsteps. Both humans turned and looked at the door. Pisces turned white, and Erin heard a roaring, familiar voice.
It was quick. One second Erin was pointing her finger at the door and glaring at Pisces. The next, something kicked the door open, blew past her, and he was gone. Two figures crashed into a table and chairs. Erin’s mouth dropped open.
“There you are!”
The larger shape uttered a triumphant laugh as he swung Pisces around and slammed him into the floorboards. It was Relc. He came through the door and took Pisces down in a tackling charge faster than anyone Erin had ever seen. Pisces didn’t even make a sound until he hit the ground–and then it was the sound of someone losing all the air in his body and perhaps having his lungs and ribs compressed.
Klbkch appeared at her side. Erin jumped, but the ant man placed a steadying…hand on her shoulder.
“Please forgive my rudeness. Are you well? We doubled back and lingered, knowing the criminal may have only pretended to flee the area. Are you hurt or in need of assistance?”
Erin stared at him.
“Are you—what’s—I’m good. Good.”
“That is well. Then, please stand clear. We will be going about our business, and I would not wish you hurt.”
That said, Klbkch gently guided Erin to one side. To her astonishment, the fight between Relc and Pisces wasn’t over. The two were rolling around, knocking over tables and chairs as the Drake attempted to smash the Human into anything he could while the Human tried to avoid that fate.
Relc roared from the ground.
“Klb! Get over here and help! This guy’s slipperier than he looks!”
Klb nodded to Erin and dashed into the fight. She watched in stupefaction as the two tried to hold Pisces down. Oddly, it wasn’t that easy. Despite the size advantage and muscle advantage, Pisces was still managing to fend off both. Erin wondered how, until she saw he had something in his hands.
The wand. It was jetting electricity, as if it were an electric wire. Electricity, flames, which Relc jerked back from. He swung a fist, and Pisces vanished again. This time, he slammed so hard into a table Erin winced as he tried to get up.
Pisces scrambled to his feet and leapt for the door, but Klbkch caught him by the foot and attempted to tie his hands together with a piece of leather cord. Pisces shouted…something, and the leather burst into flames. Relc leapt on him and then blinked.
“[Barrier of Air]!”
Pisces waved his wand, and the Drake smashed into a shimmering whirlwind of air, bounced off, and landed on the ground. He ducked under the shimmering…spell? Erin was transfixed, but then Klbkch took Pisces down with a leg-sweep. He didn’t reach for his swords–he dodged a shard of stone that pierced the air next to his head, pinned Pisces’ hand–and then made a clicking sound of exasperation as Relc knocked both him and Pisces over in a low charge.
Pisces got back up, slashed the air with his wand, and both Klbkch and Relc ducked a glowing blade, throwing themselves flat as Pisces backpedaled.
It was a fast and dirty fight that had one or all three of the fighters rolling on the ground at all times. But Erin had only half an eye for that. The other eye was watching all of the furniture in her inn get smashed as they fought.
“Stop moving! Hey!”
“Desist your actions or—”
Pisces’ fingers sparked. A small explosion of lightning blasted Klbkch into a wall as Relc ducked. Erin ducked too. From behind her table, she could see Klbkch twitching and making a distressed buzzing sound. Then the Antinium drew his swords. Relc roared.
The dull thud of something hitting something echoed throughout the inn. But it was punctuated by another crackle of electricity and Relc shouting in pain.
Erin turned away from the brawl and ran into the kitchen. She emerged with the pot just in time to see Relc blasted off his feet, this time by what looked like an explosion of air.
Pisces backed away from the Drake, panting heavily. His face was bruised and he was bleeding from the nose and mouth, but his fingers still crackled with energy. He turned to run, but stopped.
Klbkch was on his feet. The ant man was standing in front of the door, swords drawn. He held two, one in each arm, while his other two held small daggers. Erin saw Pisces gulp. She agreed. Klbkch looked like a wall of blades. The two [Guardsmen] had gone after Pisces unarmed while he had his wand. Now that Klbkch had drawn his blades, Erin felt like the odds were completely reversed.
“I—I seek no quarrel with you. I am a student of Wistram Academy and a practicing mage. You detain me at your peril.”
Pisces pointed a trembling finger at Klbkch. It sparked with green energy that crackled around his fingertip, but it was suddenly a lot less impressive compared to Klbkch’s armory.
“Regardless of your affiliation to any academy, you are still under arrest. Please surrender now or I will be forced to employ lethal force.”
“Is useless. Surrender.”
Erin jumped. She saw Relc getting to his feet. The Drake’s eyes were narrowed, and in his hands was a spear. It wasn’t long, but it did look extremely sharp. And the way he held it, Erin instinctively knew he was ready to use it to kill.
Pisces took one look at the spear and immediately raised his hands.
“I—I give up.”
Relc spat. His leather chest armor was singed in multiple places, but the scales underneath only looked soot-blackened, not damaged. However–his eyes were narrowed, and Erin could tell how furious he was. The Drake’s claws tightened on the spear.
“Not likely. I’m gutting you like a fish right here.”
Erin stared at Relc in horror. But there was no joking in his eyes. He was practically quivering with rage, but the arms that held his spear were completely still and tensed.
“Gutting? Hey, that’s—”
“Don’t be hasty!”
Pisces backed away from Relc, talking fast.
“I assure you, my life is worth far more than you would ever get for me dead. This can all be solved amicably. I will fully cooperate—”
Relc stepped forwards, and Pisces pressed his two fingers together. A strong breeze flew through the inn, and a flickering barrier of wind appeared in front of Relc.
“I will cease all magic and go with you quietly if you assure my life. I meant no harm to you or your companion. But we are at an impasse until you do.”
Relc’s eyes narrowed.
“By that? You think a piddly little [Air Barrier] spell is going to stop me?”
The big Drake’s body tensed. He crouched slightly and then dashed into the wind wall. Relc’s massive body smashed into the semi-transparent barrier of wind. He sunk into the barrier, and then the winds pushed back.
Even from this distance, Erin felt the tremendous force in the spell and saw chairs and tables being blown away from the force. For a moment, she thought he was going to be blown away. But his claws dug into the ground and the wind howled—
The whirling winds blew apart with a small clap of air that sent the nearest chairs flying. Pisces staggered back, face grey with shock. Erin stared.
Relc, on the other hand, just twirled his spear in his hand. He spat contemptuously on the floor.
“That’s what I think of your spells. I’m a former soldier of the 4th Wing of the Liscorian Army. I’ve killed more [Mages] than you have levels. Now, are you going to die quiet or will I have to pay for painting the walls red with your blood?”
Pisces stepped back, tripped over a fallen chair, and fell on his back. He raised his hands and cried out in a shrill voice.
“I can be ransomed. Quite highly! My school will pay ten—thirty gold coins in whichever denomination you like for my return.”
Relc raised the spear.
“Still don’t care. I don’t need money if I can get rid of a stinking fleshbag like you.”
Erin raised her voice in horror.
“What? No! No killing! Do you hear me?”
But no one was listening. Klbkch was closing in, swords and daggers at the ready. Relc raised his spear higher.
“Last words, mage?”
She couldn’t believe what was happening. The friendly Relc was lowering his spear, a dozen paces away from the backpedaling Pisces. But he could close that gap in less than a second. His eyes–
He was going to kill Pisces. And Klbkch wasn’t going to stop him. Erin’s head swung to the Antinium, and Klbkch stood by the door, impassive. She couldn’t read his face, and in that second, he looked like a true insect. Pisces was white with fear. Erin was in denial until she saw the Drake’s eyes. Even then…she saw Pisces hit a table. He looked at Relc and grew calm for a second.
That bitter, blank look returned to his face. He bared his teeth and lifted the wand like a dagger. It glowed, but with no real hope. Just like his eyes. But he drew himself up, a pale, thin young man, and shouted, eyes bulging, his voice hoarse and–Erin’s head swung to him as he shouted.
“I have only ever done what I loved. Slay me as well, you thoughtless fools. Just like all of my kind. One day–one of us will follow Az’kerash.”
Erin’s skin crawled. Klbkch looked up sharply, but Relc just grinned with all his teeth. His tongue flickered around them, like blood.
“Nice last words. But remember–your Necromancer died here. Miles from this very spot. The Tidebreaker was his end.”
Pisces’ look of defiance flickered. He lifted his wand.
The Drake lowered his spear and ducked, sweeping low as Pisces took one step forwards, a word, a name on his lips.
Erin slammed the pot on the table top as hard as she could. Relc, Klbkch, and Pisces paused as one to stare at her. Relc froze in his killing charge as Erin pointed one shaking finger at them.
“No fighting. Not here. And no killing!”
Relc blinked. He lowered his spear a fraction. Erin pointed to it.
“Stop that! Put the weapons away and get out.”
“I don’t care! You don’t kill people just because they practice stupid magic! And you don’t kill people just because you don’t like them! And you don’t kill people because killing people is wrong!”
Relc pointed down at Pisces angrily. He didn’t lower his spear, but Pisces had stopped mid-cast of whatever spell he had in mind.
“He’s a criminal.”
“No, he’s an idiot. But he didn’t do anything wrong enough to die for. All he did was try to scare me.”
“He hit me with lightning!”
The Drake gestured at the burns on his chest. Erin pointed to Pisces’ bleeding nose and bruised cheek.
“You punched his brains out! That’s not enough to kill him over!”
The Drake lowered his spear. He turned to Klbkch in disbelief, then back to Erin.
“I can’t believe this. Are you defending him? Because he’s Human? Or do you not want the blood in here? In that case, I’ll take him out back and—”
Erin shouted at Relc. She waved the pot around dangerously.
“Are you stupid? I don’t want anyone killing anyone! You can’t do it! I forbid it! It’s wrong! It’s illegal.”
“In point of fact, my comrade’s actions are not—”
Erin whirled and pointed at Klbkch. The Antinium actually backed up a step as she glared between the two [Guards].
“I don’t care! No killing, do you hear me?”
Relc hissed angrily.
“Then I’ll arrest him, and he’ll be executed tomorrow. Happy?”
Pisces turned pale again. Erin’s mouth replied before her brain caught up.
“I withdraw my testimony.”
Erin lifted her hands.
“I withdraw it. All of it. I was never attacked yesterday. This mage-guy never visited the inn, and I never saw him until today. So there’s no reason for you to arrest him.”
“You can’t do that!”
Relc turned and looked at Klbkch.
The ant man nodded reluctantly.
“She is correct. Without her testimony, we cannot submit a report regarding his attempted thefts.”
Relc faltered. He looked uncertainly at Pisces and then remembered.
“But he’s still a [Necromancer]! That’s a crime no matter what he does! And he attacked us!”
Erin crossed her arms.
“Prove. It. Can you? Is there a way to check his, uh, class?”
Relc gritted his teeth.
“…No. Not without an artifact. Klb, you got an [Appraisal] scroll?”
“Then go. Now.”
Relc gaped at Erin. It was surprisingly frightening. Erin could look right down his throat. He had a lot of teeth.
“Are you serious? One word to our Watch Captain and she’ll send a patrol back to capture this idiot! And if we don’t arrest him, you have a [Necromancer] running around! You want us to let him go knowing his class?”
Erin glared at him. Relc lowered his spear, grabbed at the spines on his head, and hissed.
“I could still arrest him for attacking me. Yeah. I’ll just do that. Who cares about testimony or whatever?”
He took a threatening step towards Pisces, and Erin’s mouth once again beat anything else.
“You do that–and I’ll tell all the people who vouched for you that Senior Guardsman Relc arrested someone after a fight he started. You have no proof, no testimony, and I’m pretty sure if you arrest him, that’s illegal. There are laws, and you have to follow them. If this isn’t the first time you’ve done something like this, you could get a permanent citation on your record.”
Erin was just making things up now. She had no idea what kind of legal system Relc had to work under, but she was taking a guess based on their limited conversations. And it worked. Relc hesitated.
“No, I can’t.”
“Yes, you can. You have no cause whatsoever to arrest Pisces.”
The Drake’s arms were bunched up. He turned, furiously, and called in backup.
“Klb–help me out here!”
Erin’s heart sank as Klbkch sheathed his daggers. But only so he could pull out something from his belt. A handbook. How had he fit it on his belt?
Wherever he’d gotten it from, the Antinium read carefully.
“I believe Senior Guardsman Relc does have just cause, Miss Erin Solstice. It is true that his personal sworn testimony would be called into question if you were to speak against him. [Detect Truth] spells would settle that matter, but Relc’s history of inappropriate conduct on and off-duty do not help his case.”
The Antinium raised one finger.
“However. As Senior Guardsman Klbkch, I will vouch for my partner to take this Human into custody for unlawful practices which include extortion, theft, and intimidation, which we have every right to suspect, with or without your testimony.”
He closed the book, and Relc waited, clearly unsure if that meant he had won. Erin’s heart sank. She looked at Klbkch and then at Pisces. And then around her inn. How could she save him? For once, she didn’t want the [Guardsmen] to be…
Here? Erin’s eyes lit up, and she stopped Klbkch, who was stepping towards Pisces to effect the arrest, with a shaking finger. Literally–she shook it in his face as the surprised Antinium halted.
“Oh no. Absolutely not. You’re all wrong, Klbkch.”
“I do not believe I am.”
Erin’s shaking intensified, from nerves as much as faux-fury.
“Oh yeah? Oh yeah? Well, this is outside your jurisdiction! You said it yourself–you don’t patrol my inn! Therefore, it is my inn, and I deny your city’s authority here!”
Klbkch’s mandibles opened and stayed there. Relc swung his head to Pisces and Erin.
“Wait–what did she just say?”
Erin froze, but Klbkch clacked his mandibles after a second. He stared at Erin for a long moment, then at Pisces, then slowly sheathed his swords.
“…I believe I am incorrect. Relc, the Watch has no authority here. This is an independant inn, and the [Innkeeper] is allowed to deny our authority here.”
“What? Then let’s arrest her too!”
Relc protested, and Erin’s heart sank, but Klbkch stared at Erin for a long moment and then backed up.
“That would be inadvisable, Relc. We are off-duty, and Miss Solstice has stated her case. Executing a [Mage] of Wistram might also affect the academy’s relationship with our city. Which the Council and Watch Captain would not be happy about.”
Relc spluttered. He looked from Pisces to Relc to Erin, and his scales grew darker. Was he…blushing with fury? Relc lowered his spear, made an inarticulate noise of fury, then pointed at Pisces.
“You take one step in the city and I’ll—I’ll—you take one step in there and I’ll do something about it. If I so much as see you on my patrol–”
Pisces was panting, looking at Erin with disbelief. He lowered his wand, slowly, and spoke.
“I assure you, you will never see—”
Relc’s eye twitched.
Pisces wisely shut up. The Drake looked at Erin, then whirled around. He stomped towards the door.
Relc kicked the door as he left. Erin winced as she heard the wood crack. Then he was gone.
Klbkch walked past Erin and nodded to her politely.
“Do not mind him. You are within your rights to enforce law within this establishment as you choose. I apologize for the mess on both our behalves.”
He left. Erin stood around the room, looking at the broken chairs, overturned tables, and general wooden carnage. Behind her, Pisces got to his feet. He was still shaking and sweatily pale.
“I don’t know how I can thank you, good m—Ms. Erin. Please, accept my humblest—”
Erin tapped him on the head with the pot. Hard.
Pisces stared at her in disbelief. Erin raised the pot higher.
He stumbled out. Erin kept staring at the mess in the room. It had to be said. Definitely.
Author’s Notes: Rules lawyering. Erin. It makes more sense and Pisces’ ‘last’ words help, I think. He really was going to die. Mind you, Klbkch decided to just call things off anyways.
Interlude — The Great Ritual
It took her a long time to clean up all the broken wood. It was just as well she needed fuel for the fire in the kitchen, but it was still a pain to pick up all the splinters. Especially when one got stuck in her hand. But she’d done it, and now it was late.
The night was cool. Erin Solstice was tired, still shaky from the adrenaline and panic in her veins, but she was oddly–satisfied.
Despite the crack in her front door, she carefully locked it with the big, iron key she found. Despite the angry Relc and the damaged inn, her only reward from the huge fight–she was satisfied.
Because the young man wasn’t dead. She had put herself on the line to save him. It was a curious thing. The little Goblin who had watched the fight was fascinated. And so, in his way, was the [Necromancer] himself.
He sat in his cave, still replaying what he had thought his last moments would be. He didn’t know that Drake, but he had been a…dangerous quantity unknown in the regular run-of-the-mill [Guardsmen], who were inept as could be.
As for the Slayer of the Antinium? Pisces shuddered. His hands trembled so badly that he could barely move the needle across the piece of bone he was carving. So he stopped and thought.
She’d saved his life. And kicked him out of her inn, but she had also fed him. Despite extorting a high price after…he had attempted to rob her. She was unlike anyone he had met. He owed her a debt, perhaps. But the real question he asked himself was where she had come from. Why didn’t she know what a [Mage] was compared to a [Sorcerer]?
Why was she here, alone?
It was a question Erin Solstice herself had asked many times, but she had no way to know for certain. Magic, chance? She didn’t ponder it long. She was dozing.
It had been a rough day, and Erin was lying in the kitchen with some blankets piled up. She was beginning to dream about disappearing skeletons and obnoxious mages. About Dragons breathing fire and Goblins and giant lizardmen eating pasta.
She slept, but countless miles away, something else was happening. Something that made her dreams skip and scatter and even made the young [Necromancer] sneeze a few times and rub at his nose absently.
Something was happening.
It was night here as well. Despite it being across the entire world, continents away. The deepest blackness of night, so late dawn was only an idea yet.
However, many remained awake. They had not slept, in fact, for days, not truly, just traded on and off shifts. Laboring to finish a project decades in the making.
Some stood out of pride and dedication alone. Their eyes had begun to sink into hollow sockets.
Men and women. Humans and…people with pointed ears. Feathery people, even a woman clad all in armor, her disembodied head floating next to her body. They all shared the same purpose, the same ideal.
The same kingdom. Now, they took their spots in the glowing diagram, and it covered the floor, so vast that the audience, standing well away from the lines of power, had to crane their necks as they waited for the final piece of this–hope.
This ritual. They were far too deep underground to see the sky, but two moons, one pale green and the other light blue, hung fully in the sky. That was necessary too.
There was so much magic in the air that it was beginning to distort the world visually. It was necessary; and it might not be enough, even with this.
The man in the center of it all continued to chant, as he had for hours, now. His voice was wavering, hoarse and cracked from the strain of talking so long. He wore the robes of a [High Mage], and he was festooned with artifacts. Each word was being checked by terrified apprentices and [Scholars].
Indeed, even the leader of this odd congregation was following the magical incantation, though he was no [Mage]. None of them were basic ‘[Mages]’. Not here. Not this kingdom of blight and glorious despair.
The leader was a man, a [King]. He looked younger from a distance. Barely seventy years old. Barely…and far younger than those with pointed ears. Until you stared into his eyes and saw true age looking back. Age and despair and defiance and–in this moment–hope.
The Blighted King stood, despite the late hour, with a giant of a woman by his side. A warrior with a scar down her cheek and a hand on the throwing axe at her side. She was wary, despite being clad in armor, of a trick, of failure–the Blighted Queen could do nothing but watch.
The same for the nobility, their guards, and even the lesser [Mages]. Only one person could follow what was happening fully, and it was the man who stood on the Blighted King’s right side.
He looked–thirty? Thirty and sixty. Young and old. Time was odd about him, and his hand curled over the grip of a staff as well as the floating spellbook from which he was reading. He was the most tense of anyone here. If anyone would stop this at its zenith and bear the consequences, or avert calamity–it would be him.
But everything was going well. Impossibly well, in fact. One of the participants was looking around. Whispering to the others. There was so much power here. More than they had brought. Then she fell silent, tongue-tied.
A [Lord] drew his sword and watched the light bend. The [Soldiers] moved uneasily, because they had no idea what was happening. The congregation, the ritual itself, all focused on a point in the air. A split in…
Everything? The [Mage] in the center of it all wept, his eyes beginning to bleed. He was so exhausted.
But his task was nearly done. The spell was completing.
It was not a clap of thunder. It was not the boom of space-time being rent. Rather, it was a whisper. Something grew thin. A veil tore ever-so-slightly. The light changed, drew inwards just for an imperceptible second, the wind blew in this deep cavern impossibly–and then they were there.
Young men and women. They appeared mid-motion, some sitting, some lying down. Some walked out of the air, looked up from their smartphones in bewilderment. Bewilderment–then shock, panic. Fear or disbelief.
“Where am I?”
They shouted in alarm as a sigh ran through the waiting people. The [King] was on his knees, and his Queen was helping him up. The [Mage] beside the Blighted King had his staff raised, but his eyes were filled with disbelief.
Panic and chaos below as people rushed around, but every eye was on the Humans. They were so young. So few for the cost paid. And they had no idea what was going on.
Some of the summoned Humans were crying out in fear. Others tried to run in their panic but found their legs wouldn’t cooperate with them. A few stared around the room, noting the magic runes by their feet, the robed men and mages clustered together, and the watching aristocracy.
Uncertainty hung in the air, from those waiting for this moment to those called forth. But it was the [Mage] who spoke. He stumbled up from the dying ritual, and his voice filled the echoing chamber.
A wheeze. A pained laugh. The relieved hysteria of hope. The [Mage] raised his arms, robes falling about him, and fell to his knees. His face, stained with bloody tears and watery ones, raised to the heavens as he cried out.
“The Great [Heroes] of Prophecy are here! We are saved!”
It was one voice at first–then the others took it up. [Mages], [Soldiers], onlookers cheering in relief as the group of Humans drew together in fear. Some of those watching simply collapsed in…hope?
But others watched with calculating, appraising glances. The [King] rose, beckoning, and the young people waited. There was nowhere to run–but they weren’t in danger. Yet. They were confused. Lost. Far from home.
And they were not the only ones.
The night was old, and dawn was only an hour away. The countryside, here, was full of chirping crickets, owls, the sounds of insects buzzing, and so on. Or at least, on a normal night it would be. Right now, all was silent. Unnaturally silent.
An old man stood outside his home, sword drawn. The night was dark, and by all rights, he should have been in his home enjoying his dinner. But he heard something outside and had gone to investigate. This far out in the countryside, he couldn’t rely on militia patrols to keep him safe.
If it were a monster, he would run, naturally. On the other hand, a lone Goblin or a [Sneak Thief] trying to steal from him would meet his sword. He had been a [Swordsman], and he was more than strong enough to defend himself. Still, he was no fool. If it were [Bandits] en-masse or worse, he’d report to the Adventurer’s Guild.
He had to know. His grip was sweaty on the leather-wrapped pommel. Something was out there. The man hesitated–then shouted into the night.
He almost hoped there would be no reply. The night was too still, though. And then–somehow, they were there.
They hadn’t been a second ago. They were no [Rogues] or invisible folk. But one second he sensed nothing and the next they were standing out of sight. The [Swordsman]’s hand was tight on his sword, and he backed up towards his house. Until he saw them.
Slowly, they approached. Hands raised, as pale with fear as he was.
Children. That’s the first thing the old man thought. Children.
But then, he was old. Not all were that young. They were younger men and women. But children–because of how they looked. Lost, afraid. More afraid of him and the darkness than he was of them.
Humans? He hesitated, then put down his sword. If this were a trick–he called out, hoping they were no monsters or [Bandits]. The terror on their faces was too good to be an act. He hoped.
“Oh, are you young’uns lost? Come in, come in. The weather’s far too terrible to be out at a time like this.”
His sword sheathed, he opened the door to his home, letting light spill out invitingly. But none of the children moved. They just…stared at him. That was when the old man’s hair began to prickle a second time.
Something else was wrong. Their clothes were strange. He had never seen such–odd attire. Even in the darkness, he could tell there was something different about the fabric, the colors.
Nobility? Now he regretted sheathing his sword. But they were Human, and if this were a trap…
The terror on their faces. Was a large city burning? Hair was rising all over his arms and along his back. Had Invrisil fallen or…?
At last, one of them broke the silence. A young man pointed a trembling finger, and the old man nearly drew his sword again. Because the finger was pointing at him. But–rather than anything behind him, a warning–the finger just pointed at his side. The young man gulped and then finally asked–
“Dude. Is that a sword?”
And a few, a few simply wandered in carelessly.
A young woman paused mid-step. Her raven hair was matted with sweat and bound in a ponytail. She was barefoot, blasting music from the earphones and iPhone in her hand. Mid-run–she stopped slowly as she passed through a doorway.
And realized–abruptly–this wasn’t home. Or the track. Or her world at all. She came to a stop in a room full of people chatting or standing around, who turned to goggle at her. Swords, daggers on their hips, strange clothing–even a magic orb on a counter.
One of the [Receptionists] raised her brows as the odd woman came running in. She called out slowly. The young woman had to take her earbuds out of her ears and her thundering heartbeat had to slow before she finally heard the question.
“Hello? Miss? Are you here to join the Runner’s Guild?”
Two twins were walking down the street, laughing and arguing together. They turned the corner and walked out of London and into a throne room.
The paving stones turned into cracked marble. The overcast sky into a room a hundred feet tall and a night sky shimmering with every colorful star in a desert landscape. And a street of people into…
The boy tossed his smartphone up as his sister scolded him in case he dropped–
His hand froze. He fumbled–missed–and the smartphone clattered to the ground, the only sound in this frozen, slumbering tomb.
For a man. A living man, hair bedraggled, thin, practically a statue on the tiny chair before the throne. He sat there, staring at nothing and no one. Until that sound woke him.
Slowly, the man looked up. His eyes alighted on the two, boy and girl, as they froze, in outlandish dress, a light coming from the smartphone. His blank look turned into a frown, and the twins stared back, terrified, confused–no idea where they were.
A second. As two pale green eyes fix on them. Before a man in faded, noble clothing burst into the throne room, spear leveled, ready to run them through, and dozens of [Soldiers] came screaming to the defense of that slumbering ruler and the throne.
They had a second to scream before the man sitting in that chair stood. He stood, breathed in, and uttered the first order in two decades.
Not just one. Or two. Or even dozens. They were coming. From every background, every place.
A girl was laughing as she was being dragged from her cell. Laughing with defiance–until she tripped. She went sprawling, landing on something soft, and waited for them to drag her up.
Then she realized there was a different kind of light on her. She looked up and saw an adventurer staring down at her. He moved an iron-covered hand and extended it.
A woman leaned over the counter in the Adventurer’s Guild and blinked down as the man helped the young woman to her feet. They stared at her bright orange jumpsuit. Asked questions, but she couldn’t stop laughing, then.
Because there was no one holding onto her. Her wardens were gone.
She was free.
She took a step off the street and into a tomb. She fell, screaming, into the darkness, the light from her phone the only thing in the darkness.
An intruder in a sacred place. The guardian awoke from his long vigil and heard the first voice in an age. Like a song.
He–didn’t know where he was. The young man knew every inch of this street. Or he should. But no matter how hard he tried, his cane couldn’t find anything familiar. Just…dirt. Dirt? How had he gotten here? Had he gone to the park instead?
If he could have looked around, he would have known everything was changed. He already knew–but not how much. His eyes opened and shut as he turned, slowly–
But he was blind. So he called out in the forest, hoping someone would hear him.
“Hello? Can someone help me?”
And after a moment–someone heard him.
More and more, flickering into place. Each one different, each in a different place.
Rain fell upon the world. Just for a moment. A passing shower of souls. But where they landed, ripples spread across hither-to calm waters.
Not legends of Earth. Nor did they have any special powers save for those which all Humans had. But they were living. They were here.
The world was beginning to shift.
The night was late, and Erin Solstice was asleep. She rested her head on the cold floor of her kitchen, on an inn sitting in a plain full of quiet grass. Around her was silence. In her dreams, she drooled a bit and mumbled about pasta.
She was lonely. But she was no longer alone.
Author’s Note: Updating it for third-person rather than first-person tense. Adding in more clues…Demons were supposed to be a widespread threat in the earlier drafts. I forgot Ryoka ran into them. Added in Kevin because Kevin. Frankly, the [Murderer] doesn’t fit.
I added a bunch of references which would date everyone to the first wave. I’m not opposed–just tired. I’m not sure how quality this rewrite is, but going for it.
Erin woke up. Generally, this was an ordeal. Today, however, it was fairly easy. Because the real ordeal would come later.
Such as right after breakfast. Erin stared glumly at the three shriveled blue fruits on her plate. She bit the first experimentally and chewed. And chewed. And chewed.
It was incredibly difficult to chew the fruits. The skins on these ones were so tough to bite into, it did remind Erin of eating rubber. Not that she’d ever done that since she was a baby.
Plus, they’d lost their delicious juices and tasted—well, flat. There was no sweetness left in them, and they were quite, quite unappetizing when you put all these qualities together. But Erin ate them, mainly because she had nothing left to eat.
“I’m in trouble. Yup, yup. It’s amazing these things lose so much taste after only a few days.”
It wasn’t that she was out of blue fruits. There were plenty—well, some—still ready to be harvested from the orchard. But they, like all food, were in limited supply. Besides, the issue wasn’t that. It was her guests.
“Who’d want to eat blue fruits all day? Raise your hand if that sounds like fun.”
Erin didn’t raise her hand. Granted, they were tasty and made a good fruit drink, but when you got down to it, they were still just fruits.
“And I want food. Real food. Not fruit. I want bread! I want pasta! I want pizza and soda and salad and ice cream—actually, forget the ice cream. I need meat. Or fish that doesn’t bite back! I want sushi, cheeseburgers and fries, toast, waffles…cereal…”
Erin pressed her hands to her rumbling stomach and tried not to cry.
“Even instant ramen would be nice. Is that too much to ask?”
It was. She knew that. But just thinking about the food made her tear up a bit. She could handle Goblins. She could deal with rude Necromancers and fight off evil rock-crabs. She could even handle giant fish that tried to nibble on her when she took a bath. But she wanted food.
“Plus, I need to feed my guests.”
Erin nodded. The math was simple. No food equaled no guests equaled no money equaled starvation. But the little flaw in the equation was that in order to get the food, she’d need to spend the money. And she had no way of doing that.
“Unless I go to the city.”
Now, that was a thought. She wasn’t sure if that was a good thought, but it was the only option she had available. The city. Erin went to the window. Relc had shown her where it was…
Erin stared at the small buildings in the distance. It looked far. But then, everything looked far around here. And the city would have things. Like food. And clothing. And toothbrushes. And plates and things for her guests? It looked a lot farther than twenty minutes away, though. Erin imagined the journey wasn’t without risks, but if Relc and Klbkch did it…she weighed her potions.
“It’s far. But I have to go. Maybe? Yes…no. No? Yes. I need food. And I need to feed my guests. It’s my duty as an innkeeper.”
She paused and thought about that last statement. Erin collapsed into a chair and cradled her head in her hands.
“Am I an innkeeper? Is that what this world is doing to me?”
Maybe. It was probably the [Innkeeper] class. However, it was the only class she had. Erin just hoped she didn’t change to meet the class.
“I’ll grow a huge beer belly and start hauling around kegs of ale. That’s what innkeepers do, right?”
She didn’t actually know. It wasn’t as if she’d ever paid that much attention to medieval history, at least the parts that were actually history.
“They never mentioned innkeepers in the legend of King Arthur. Or did they?”
There was no Google to help her, so Erin abandoned that train of thought. Really, she was distracting herself. She knew what she had to do today.
“To go to the city or not, that is the question. Actually, there’s no question. I need to go to the city. I need to go…shopping.”
She hated shopping in general. This? This would be crucial shopping, because unless she got enough flour, eggs, and so on to sell to her guests–she wouldn’t be able to make more money. Which she needed to buy more things. Essentially, she had a job, and while she could live off blue fruits for a time without money–she couldn’t do that forever. Her teeth certainly couldn’t.
Still. Erin really, really didn’t want to go. She liked people, she really did. But she had a negative reaction to leaving her safe inn and travelling to a far off city probably full of giant lizards and insects that walked on two feet.
Glumly, she stared at the three blue fruit cores on her plate. She walked outside and threw them as far as she could. The juices left her hands feeling unpleasantly sticky, but there wasn’t much she could do about it.
“Guess I’ve gotta go to the stream. Who knew washing your hands was so much work?”
Erin grumbled as she wiped her hand on her jeans. Then she paused. And looked down.
Her jeans were blue. The blue fruit juice was blue. But against all odds, the blue stain still showed up quite visibly on her clothing. Or rather, the blue fruit stains. And they weren’t just on her pants.
Erin’s shirt was a nice, commercial t-shirt with a lovely company logo on the front and back. Really, she wasn’t that attached to it, but it was perfect to wear when she was just staying at home. It wasn’t her choice of clothing.
…Which was good, because Erin would have cried if she’d inflicted the same damage on a t-shirt she really liked. She gazed down at the blue stains covering her shirt. She poked at the rips and cuts on the sleeves and the burn marks on one side. She lifted the shirt, sniffed once, and gagged.
For the first time, Erin felt at her hair. She raised a hand and smelled her breath. She thought about the last time she’d brushed her teeth. Then she tried to shut down her mind.
“Well, that settles that. I’m off to the city.”
Erin walked through the grass. She wished there was a nice road to follow, but for some reason, no one bothered to pave a road through the empty wilderness. Come to that, she wondered again why anyone would build an inn in the middle of nowhere.
Maybe there used to be more people in the area. Or maybe there was just an idiot who thought he was breaking into an untapped market. Either way, Erin was grateful for the inn.
“But why does it have to be so far away from anything?”
Erin walked down the slope. At least there was that. The inn was located on an incline. Not a steep hill, but a really long slope that gradually went down the more she walked. It was nice, until Erin looked back and realized she’d be climbing up all that way again soon.
“Wow. That’s a big hill.”
She stared for a while and kept walking. Relc and Klbkch had called the journey to the city a walk of about twenty minutes.
“They lied to me.”
Or maybe they just walked really fast. Erin could actually see the city Klbkch had called Liscor in the distance. It was still small, but given how close it seemed now compared to before and multiplying her velocity by her legs and given energy divided by her willingness to keep walking…
“Thirty minutes. No; probably an hour. Yeah, that sounds about right.”
Erin sighed. But exercise was good for her, right? It built character. Or something.
“So, what do I need?”
She took a quick inventory check. Her coins were securely packed into the bottom of one pocket. They were heavy. She had her clothes on, which was important, and she looked like…well, like a homeless person. But she had money. So what should she buy with it?
“Um. Clothing. Right. And soap. And a toothbrush, if they have toothbrushes. And toothpaste…which they probably don’t have. But something. And I need food obviously, soap, towels, laundry deter—more soap, and a comb.”
Erin walked a few more feet.
“And a sword. I need a sword. And a shield? And armor? And, uh, anti-Goblin spray? Oh, and books! Tons of books. Maps, history books…can I read any of that? Well, Relc and Klbkch speak English. So that’s weird too. And I need bandages, a sewing needle, someone to teach me how to sew…”
Erin felt at her pocket. The coins jingled. She wished there were more to jingle.
“And I need to rob a bank.”
Okay. Erin retraced her thoughts.
She counted off on her fingers.
“Clothing. Food. Toothbrush. Soap. And a lamp.”
She snapped her fingers.
“Right. A lamp! And a sword.”
She felt at her pocket again and heard less of a jingle, more a few bits of metal rubbing together.
“…Just the lamp.”
“Flat grass, flat grass, all I see is flat grass.”
Erin sang as she walked. She wasn’t sure if there was a tune, but at least the singing kept her company.
“Horses eat grass, but I’ll pass, so I’ll go to the city fast. Or I’ll die of starvation! And once I’m there, I’ll eat ten pears and—hey, is that a Goblin?”
Erin turned her head suddenly, and the small head ducked down. She squinted. Yes, that was definitely a Goblin. It was hiding up on a small hill to her left, but she knew it was still there. Watching her.
Well. She was being followed. Erin wasn’t sure what to make of that. She looked around, and two more heads disappeared as their owners dove for cover. They didn’t look like they were trying to ambush her, just follow her.
Erin bent down and searched the grass. Eventually, she found what she was looking for. She waited until one of the Goblins decided she’d forgotten about them and poked his head up again. Then she turned and shouted.
Erin hurled the rock. It missed the Goblin’s head. And the hill. But the green midget took the hint and disappeared in an instant. Erin sighed to herself.
“Great. They’re like cockroaches. Evil, giant, green cockroaches. With teeth. And sharp knives. And red eyes.”
She wondered what she should do. Then she thought about what she could actually do.
Erin kept walking.
The city kept getting larger the further she walked. She felt at some point it should stop getting bigger, but soon the buildings loomed in her vision. They were no skyscrapers, but they were taller than she felt medieval buildings should be. But the city was still far away. So she walked.
And she was being watched. Multiple pairs of eyes stared at the young woman as she walked through the grass. They watched her for signs of weakness, for things that could be exploited. She was watched. Occasionally, she turned around and threw a stone.
When Erin got to the city gates, she stared up for a while.
“That’s a big wall.”
It was a big understatement. The wall was high. And that was high even by wall standards. It was nearly forty feet tall, which Erin had no way of knowing was perfectly normal for a wall. She had no way of knowing it was forty feet tall either. She just thought it was big.
But what was unusual about this particular wall, and what Erin did notice, was the way the gate was constructed. It was no iron grating of a portcullis with handy holes to shoot and poke at enemies, but two solid metal doors. Erin wondered why, as the gates looked solid and hard to budge. They were, and for a reason. But she didn’t find out that reason until much later.
Erin approached the gate. There wasn’t really anyone else going through at the moment, so she felt very alone and small as she walked up to them. She stopped when she saw the guard.
He was big. He was armored. He was also a Drake, and he had yellow scales rather than green ones. Pale yellow, so Erin was reminded of popcorn. He also had a curved sword, and so it was with trepidation that she approached.
The Drake flicked his eyes down towards Erin and then resumed looking off into the distance. He was holding a spear at his side and a metal buckler on his left arm. Since he wasn’t using either to bash her to death, Erin considered this to be a good first start.
“Um. Nice weather, isn’t it?”
Again, the guard glanced at her. Again, he didn’t respond.
“…Right. It’s just that I’m new here. And I’m Human. Nice to meet you. My name is Erin. I, uh, know another guy who works with you. Relc? And Klb…Klb…the insect guy? So yeah. They know me. I’m no threat. And, uh, I saw some Goblins running around a while back. They’re not here right now, but I felt you should know.”
The Drake sighed audibly. And loudly.
“Go on in, Human. Anyone can enter the city. The gates close at sundown.”
“Right. Thanks. Uh, have a nice day!”
Erin smiled. He didn’t smile back.
“I’ll just be going. Now.”
She walked past the guard. As she walked through the iron gates, she heard him mutter under his breath.
Erin’s smile froze a bit on her face but she kept walking as if she’d heard nothing. Everyone was grumpy when they had to stand and deal with obnoxious tourists. And besides, he was just a guard. She walked through the imposing gates into the city. And then she had to stop.
Because she had entered Liscor. A city of the fiery Drakes, built with the help of the industrious Antinium. Home to the prideful Gnolls and the occasional Beastkin, not to be confused with one another. Visited by many races, home to countless more. And now entering—
The Drake at the eastern gates was still yawning when the young woman hesitated, then walked forwards into the city of Liscor.
There were barely any more [Guards] on his section of the wall either; visitors came from the north or, in the winter, the south far more often. Even the western approaches had a few farms, but the only people coming in or out were [Traders] or [Hunters].
One had stopped three-dozen paces past the gates. Erin Solstice stopped dead in her tracks because there…
Was a hyena.
No, a dog-person.
No, a hyena-dog-person. Her first instinct was to stop, because she was reminded of a werewolf, a rabid animal–but way bigger than even the largest wolves from her world. It was crouched over half a deer carcass, red with blood, and Erin looked back for the Drake with yellow scales–
Until she heard the voice.
“–by the tribes and fur knots. All the lice in Izril! All the lice in Izril and–and Raksghar on these stupid paving stones!”
It was a male voice, growling and angry. Then, Erin saw how the person had clearly tripped. And the blood and deer carcass were, in fact, the product of them having fallen over. They were getting up, and when she caught sight of their face…Erin’s fears about an animal were unfounded.
The furry person had dark brown eyes with faint pupils almost lost in the deep chestnut colour. Their entire body was covered from head to toe in a similar, chestnut fur that rippled with every movement. Erin could tell because the figure had on only a kind of hide leggings; nothing but a weird kind of armguard on their right arm.
She realized that was one of those things an archer had–an armguard. It went with the recurve bow on their back and quiver at their side. As they straightened, hefting the deer onto their back, Erin realized a few more things.
They had features like a hyena, not a dog. There was something…more poofy about their ears, and their face was more angular than a lot of dogs’, which had grown rounded. Forget pugs; there was no resemblance at all.
Second? This–this native to Izril was six-foot-seven. They towered over Erin, and they had the muscles to match if they were carrying half a deer.
Come to that–Erin stared at the deer, because she knew deer from her home state of Michigan. This was a big one, possibly a buck? But the antlers were…glowing. They were an oaken brown at coronet, but turned cherry red at the tips, and the entire antler had a faint bright glow to it.
The hyena-person noticed Erin at last as they stood with a groan. They did a visible double-take, then glanced guiltily at the blood on the street.
“Apologies, Miss. Was I in your way?”
It was hard to imagine that–the street was a good two-dozen paces on each side, and there wasn’t anyone else in this particular spot. There was no sidewalk, but the paving stones were mostly flat…except in one spot where some shift had made one jut up treacherously.
Erin backed up instantly, waving her hands.
“Oh, no! I’m, um–sorry I didn’t help? Sorry you fell?”
The person gave her a blank look–then bared all their teeth. Erin froze up, and the figure looked confused. They closed their mouth and curved their lips up.
“Er…apologies, Miss Human. We don’t see many of your kind around here, yes? A [Trader], a traveller? No need to apologize. [Broader Shoulders] means only I can carry a deer back! Half of one, at any rate. If only I had a bag of holding large enough for an entire deer, eh? I wouldn’t make a Human help me lift one of these!”
They laughed and patted an odd bag next to their belt. Erin’s smile grew more desperate.
The person stared at Erin with a quizzical look. A bit of blood dripped onto their shoulder, distracting them, and they cursed again.
“Tribes and tribulations. Excuse me, Miss. Watch the blood. If that [Guardsman] asks…pretend you never saw me. I’ve got to get this to the [Butchers] before the Acid Flies are all over.”
This was so fascinating, but the figure was already striding off, and Erin, dumbfounded, had to catch her breath a second. And by that point, she realized that this was a city of more than just ant-people and Drakes.
In fact…that furry fellow was one of thousands. Erin walked down the first street, and then she began seeing crowds.
Drakes, Relc called his people. Not lizards–Drakes. They had scales of every color, almost always one color with perhaps some speckling of other scales at most, like freckles.
But most had one scale color. Green or blue predominated, but Erin saw a Drake with orange scales talking to another who was laughing and…gossiping? That was what it looked like as she held a claw in front of her mouth, whispering loudly to a group seated at a table. She had bright yellow scales and…a kind of tavern girl’s outfit on.
But a medieval one. But a modern one. But…
It wasn’t like the fashion Erin was used to from her world, which had all the dyes and machine-printing you could want. She saw absolutely no logos, but a lot of fine embroidery. Instead of a logo, she saw a sigil of a city, or a flower embroidered in thread. Instead of neon-green, the brightest colors were a fine red shirt on a Gnoll or plain white cotton on a very light dress under a thin, pale-blue outer layer.
The people here wore clothing bright and colorful enough that, at a glance, you might not realize how different it was. Erin’s t-shirt and jeans were still odd, but not uniquely so. If anything, it was being a Human that made her stand out.
Because these people were people. They were walking to work, talking, avoiding the fellow with the half a deer carcass on their shoulder–Drakes and the furry people.
No Humans. And no ant-people that Erin could see on this crowded street. The Drakes seemed to be the majority, but there was a strong minority of the…what?
Erin had no idea what to call them, but they were a tall lot, weren’t they? The Drakes varied in height roughly around Human standards, but the furry folk seemed to be taller on average. Bigger, too. Their male and female ones–Erin could tell despite the fur. And the female ones tended to have breastbands at the minimum.
A lot of the furry-folk wore light clothing. Literally just a kilt or a kind of exceptionally loose pair of pants. A…toga? An actual toga, yes! It must have been hot, despite the cool weather, for anyone with that much fur.
By contrast, the Drakes also had togas and fairly loose clothing, but some were dressed head-to-toe. Like the Drake with dusky yellow scales whispering to some people at–an outdoor cafe?
She had a platter of drinks and some bowls on the tray, but she’d stopped to whisper to a gaggle of other Drakes.
“–broke up again. Hawk can’t land a girlfriend for more than a month, Courier and gold or not. It’s his obsession with vegetables.”
“You sure it’s not him being…him, Drassi?”
“Oh, hush. He’s fine. He’s more Drake than you are. I’m just saying–”
The barmaid or whomever she was jumped guiltily as an angry Drake with black scales–aside from some grey-white ones around his head–came out, his voice raised. He had a smock, and he looked managerial. In fact, Erin realized she was witnessing a common sight.
“Drassi! This is the eleventh time this week! I’ve told you again and again, stop gossiping. I don’t care what your class is–enough. You’re friendly, but you’re also fired.”
“What? But I can work harder! Come on, Mister Drells…”
The Drake protested as her friends coughed and tried not to be there. Erin’s eyes boggled at the sight of someone losing gainful employment before her eyes–and if that didn’t make this a city like home, she didn’t know what did.
The city. Now that she was done staring at the people, Erin realized this city was…well, stone. Streets? Stone. Walls? Stone. It reminded her of one of those European cities, the older ones. A lot of the buildings were wooden, and most had at least two stories. There was even a sidewalk, but no cars, obviously. Nor were there any traffic lights or modern electronics in sight.
Erin saw wood shutters thrown open, a few people on outdoor balconies watering pots of flowers–someone hanging clothes up to dry–but thankfully no privy pots being thrown into the streets.
In fact, she realized that the street not only had a sidewalk, but very familiar openings into…a sewer? The street looked fairly clean, and Erin was so busy staring that she didn’t hear the angry person shouting at her until she looked up and saw a wagon rolling for her.
“Get out of the way, you idiot!”
Erin ran for the side with a squeak of alarm. The driver on the wagon, another Drake, slowed the pair of ponies that stared at Erin almost as accusatorially as the…female Drake? She actually stopped her vehicle.
“Are you blind? Stay on the sidewalk! I nearly ran you over!”
Erin called back as people turned to stare at her. The fired [Barmaid] perked up the instant she saw Erin.
“A Human? We haven’t seen one of them…I wonder if another trade caravan’s getting here?”
The [Driver] paid no attention. She pointed at the huge wagon, and Erin realized those were the vehicles of choice. From footcarts to gigantic wagons larger than cars, loaded with goods.
“Sorry? Sorry? When this wheel runs over your foot, no healing potion in the world is going to get it back. Do you think I want that on my conscience?”
“S-sorry. I just didn’t see–”
The Drake glowered, but she flapped the reins, moving onwards.
“I don’t have time for this. I’ve got a delivery to run. Sidewalk! Use it!”
She was running afoul of everyone. Subdued, Erin scurried to the side of the street–and got into trouble again. Because she wanted to stop and stare, and this was a crowded city. Hundreds of people were all about, and they didn’t much like someone who stopped still. Or Humans in general, it seemed.
Erin had come to a halt in front of a large building with writing on top. A lovely, wide sign…that she couldn’t read.
The language was different here. Exactly like the other words on the sign. It said, um…well, she had no idea, but there were two words and what looked like an apostrophe. But the real clue was what looked like a crystal ball and a magic wand with glowy bits. Some kind of symbol. Magic? Then Erin got in trouble again with the locals.
“Excuse me, Miss. Are you waiting in line for…?”
“One side, Human! Stop blocking the way!”
She jumped out of the way, and some impatient citizens strode into the building, which was getting good traffic in and out. Erin looked around. Every head turned to stare at her, and she heard that refrain again.
“Excuse me–um–what’s this building? I can’t read…”
Erin looked from person to person, and one stopped to talk to her. That friendly yellow-scaled Drake had been drooping along, head hung low after being fired. She perked up.
“What, the Mage’s Guild? You can’t read, Miss Human? Right, you don’t read Drake script. Are you looking for the Mage’s Guild? Runner’s Guild? Adventurer’s Guild? An inn to stay in? Stables? The Watch, maybe? I’m Drassi.”
The words broke over Erin like a rushing wave. The young woman lifted her hands.
“No! I mean, I’m just looking around. Nice to meet…I’m just looking for a–a store!”
The Drake gave her a bright smile. With too many teeth. She bared all her needle-sharp teeth, and Erin gulped.
“What kind of store?”
“Uh–I–just looking, thanks!”
Erin fled, feeling embarrassed and awkward. The Drake scratched at her neck spines as Erin hurried off.
If she kept moving, she could be part of the crowd. After a while, Erin was less flustered. She walked down the street and became, well, part of the city’s traffic. That allowed her to observe.
This city was huge! At least, she thought so. There were so many people she wondered how many lived here. Tens of thousands? Hundreds, probably. And all packed into the walls, not spread out.
Hence, there were no real suburbs, just residential streets with four stories of buildings next to or above shops. Erin saw the fellow who’d killed that odd deer again, depositing his kill with the [Butcher]’s. He was getting a hard time.
“You just gave me a damned Corusdeer in two halves.”
The man had his arms folded as the Drake harangued him.
“It’s in two halves. You didn’t skin it first? You’ve ruined the hide–and there’s dirt on this part! Did you drag it back?”
The other figure growled.
“I dropped it once, okay? It’s not bad, no! And as for cutting it in half–I thought I saw a Shield Spider nest near me. They would have been over the kill–and me–in minutes. The hide’s fine. You can make boots out of the halves. How much for it all?”
A butcher’s. Or was it a [Butcher]? Erin saw more of that oddly cursive writing on storefronts, helpful sign posts…she guessed that this city would be easy to navigate.
If she could read. Oddly, everyone spoke the same. The furry fellow had a bit of a rolling ‘r’ to his voice and a growling tone, just like the Drakes’ elongated their ‘s’ and ‘l’ sounds, but they were speaking perfect English.
As for the butcher’s shop, what made Erin stare was the glass window. It had glass! It was the first glass she’d seen, and it astonished her because she hadn’t expected it!
But glass was visible in a few buildings, and the more she looked, the more she noticed it. It wasn’t ubiquitous, but it was a window here, a pair of spectacles there–
And then she wandered into an open plaza, and her mouth dropped. There were benches, even a park with trees and a playground over there! In this city! In fact, rising at one end of this plaza was a distinctly governmental building. It had large pillars, an open frontage that had less traffic, but a very familiar looking sigil. The same one on Relc’s badge.
“That must be city hall or something. And that was the Mage’s Guild…do they teach magic there? Wow. Wow. And I just need to find…a shop.”
She was still overwhelmed, but Erin could catch her breath in the plaza with no one growling at her to keep moving. She took one breath, then another, then tried not to hyperventilate.
“Okay. Okay. I was lost before. I can do this.”
She had, in fact, been lost in a big city before. The key was noting where the foot-traffic was going. Erin guessed that led to places people shopped or did…things at. She kept monologuing; a lot of people were standing around or watching the children play. Again, Erin saw no little ant-people like Klbkch.
“What do I do if I get super-lost? Remember that street name. Squiggly line…got it. And if I can’t remember it or find my way back? Amsterdam, chess tournament. Start crying and ask where mom is. No, wait, I’m older now. Uh–uh–”
She heard a loud snorting sound from the side. Erin turned, and three dozen paces away, another furry person covered their mouth. They were laughing–at her.
“Sorry! We overheard, yes?”
They were a duo, male and female, watching a little boy run around on all fours. He was either naked or clothing didn’t matter with all his fur on. Erin turned beet red as she realized the parents had…heard her? She hurried off towards the most crowded street. Just try to blend in.
…After five minutes of walking, Erin realized she was lost again. She stared hopefully at another building with one of those broad frontages. Then she looked around. She peeked through a window and saw someone, another Drake, idly sitting at a wooden counter, head propped on one chin. Erin took a deep breath.
Then she went inside.
“Uh, is this a store?”
Every head in the Adventurer’s Guild in Liscor turned at the voice. Grizzled Drake warriors sporting scars from their heads to their tails, inhumanly tall Gnolls, most carrying bows, and several people who looked like mages, wearing robes or carrying staves, appraised the speaker who had just walked into the building.
A small human. Possibly female. She stopped uncertainly the moment she noticed all the armor.
Unlike outside, the people in this building were no civilians. Civilians didn’t clank when they moved or sat down. These people, adventurers, wore armor, even in the morning, and they carried no daggers or shortswords, but had battleaxes strapped to their backs, longbows resting against the walls.
The figures at tables or clustered around a billboard appraised Erin for one heart-stopping second, then their eyes shifted away in disinterest. After a few seconds, Erin’s heart started beating again. She decided that this was definitely not the shop she was looking for. She almost turned and ran again when a voice rang out.
“Ah, hello? We can help you over here.”
A voice called to Erin across the low murmuring. She saw a green-scaled Drake, her scales as fair as light grass under sunlight, waving at her from behind a counter. It was the same bored Drake from earlier.
She was much smaller and had thinner limbs than Relc. Erin guessed she was female on the basis of her voice. The dress was also a big clue; light blue and watery, two straps along her shoulders providing support.
Hesitantly, Erin made her way over to the counter. The female receptionist gave her a close-lipped smile, the first Erin had seen so far. She scrutinized Erin up and down and then launched into a rehearsed, if tired, spiel.
“Good day, Miss. How can we help you today? Do you have a bounty or request to post? Or are you registering?”
“Registering? Quest? Oh no, I’m not here for…uh, anything. I just thought this might be a store, so I…”
“Oh, I see! No worries, Miss Human. You’re just in the wrong spot, but I can give you directions if you’d like.”
The receptionist smiled again. And because she didn’t seem hostile or annoyed, this time Erin smiled back.
“Oops sorry. Uh, where am I?”
The Drake chuckled as if it weren’t obvious.
“This is the Adventurer’s Guild. That lot didn’t tip you off?”
She nodded to the armed people lounging around. Erin blinked and her eyes went wide.
“The Adventurer’s Guild?”
“Didn’t they have one back in your city?”
The Drake raised her brows in frank disbelief. Erin stared around the room with renewed interest. Now that she wasn’t being pierced by a thousand glares, she could take in the building properly. It was a large place, and at first, Erin thought she’d walked into an inn. Or a bar. But now that she knew what she was looking at, the receptionist behind the counter made a lot of sense.
“N–I mean, I’ve never been in one before.”
She wondered if that was a stupid thing to say, but the Drake just flashed her another big smile, reassuring.
“That’s quite alright. Not everyone needs to use an Adventurer’s Guild. Most never will, hopefully. If you’ve never needed any services, let me give you the basic explanation. Here you can let the Guild know about dangerous monsters in your area, post quests and offer rewards, or if you’re an adventurer yourself, you can go look at assignments or receive your reward.”
The receptionist pointed to a large wooden board nailed up against one wall. It had quite a lot of parchment stuck to the wood, and several large and burly adventurers were gathered around it, talking amongst themselves.
Erin studied the adventurers. They were all wearing armor, although the quality and amount varied from person to person. Most of the Drakes seemed content to wear only armguards or the occasional helmet without much chest armor, but several of the large hairy dog-hyena-people were wearing chainmail, and in one case, real plate armor.
That wasn’t all, of course. Some adventurers weren’t wearing any armor at all, or weapons. Erin spotted several Drakes wearing light robes and carrying staves or daggers at their belts. One even looked like they were wearing an armor made out of some dark, glossy material. It didn’t look comfortable, but they definitely looked ready for a fight. Erin whispered as she saw one of the Drakes flick a claw and produce a few sparks, to the amusement of her companions.
“Real mages. That is so cool.”
“…Miss? Excuse me, Miss?”
Erin looked around. She realized the receptionist had been trying to get her attention for some time now.
“Oh, I’m really sorry. What was that you were saying?”
“Are you a traveler, Miss? Or maybe…an adventurer? Are you here to register?”
The look the she-Drake gave her said this wasn’t much of a possibility. But she was very friendly, and Erin tried to explain.
“Oh no. I’m, uh, an innkeeper. I guess. Or maybe a wanderer? Actually, I’m just new around here.”
The receptionist looked interested. She sat up a bit and added a different emphasis to the class than Erin had.
“An [Innkeeper], is it? Are you opening up a business here? Humans almost never move to Liscor. I’m Selys, by the way. I should have said so from the start. My apologies.”
Selys offered Erin a hand. It was such a Human gesture Erin had to smile as she shook her hand. It felt weird touching the cool scales, but not unpleasant. She was almost worried about the claws, but she didn’t even feel a prick as Selys returned the smile, again, without teeth.
“I’m Erin. Erin Solstice. And no, I’m not, uh, innkeeping here. There’s a building outside the city where I live. I guess. I just came here, because I needed to go shopping. Badly.”
She indicated her ripped and stained clothing. Selys eyed that with a slow nod.
“Well, I can’t leave the desk, but I can give you some directions. No wonder you were lost–you can’t read any of the signs, can you? Your people normally stick to the north; Esthelm’s as far as most get. What brings you out so far? Oh, and what are you looking for?”
“Um. A teleportation spell got me here? And I need food. Flour, oil, butter, salt…that kind of thing. And I need clothing. Lots of clothing. And toothpaste!”
Selys gave Erin a longer look, as if trying to see whether Erin was joking or not. She replied after a moment.
“Well, if it’s food and general supplies you’re looking for, try the market two streets down from here. To get to it, just take a left as you walk out of here and then turn right, and you’ll be there in no time. They’d also have some clothes there, but I’m not sure if they have any made for Humans. What kind of teleportation spell did that? You mean, people teleportation? Gone wrong? That would be a huge scandal.”
“Oh, that’s great. Thank you so much. I don’t know if it was an accident or me–maybe teleportation! Two streets down and left and right…?”
Erin had already forgotten the directions. Selys repeated them, then mouthed what Erin had said. ‘Maybe teleportation’?
Erin was too flustered to notice. She could memorize most of what she needed pretty easily, but when she was nervous, things slipped. She wished she had her smartphone or Google Maps. A map would be useless since she never learned how to read them.
“I’m also looking for a place to get some other supplies. I don’t suppose you know where—”
A large, hairy hand grabbed Erin by the shoulder and pulled her around.
Erin was looking at a wall of brown hair. She was sure that wasn’t there a minute ago. She looked up.
A hyena’s face stared down at her. Or rather, a hyena’s face on a humanoid body covered in fur. It was one of the adventurers in the guild and it—he didn’t look happy.
But he wasn’t saying anything. Rather, he was looming. Erin could tell it was looming by the way he stood and the way she felt like an ant. She didn’t know why he was angry at her. Maybe he just wanted to pick on someone. She opened her mouth and tried diplomacy.
“Um. Hi. Are you—are you a wolf-person?”
It was definitely the wrong thing to say. The pissed-off look on the hairy hyena-guy’s face only got worse. He growled at her in a rumbling voice that sounded like…well, what Erin imagined a dog would sound like if it could talk.
“Do I look like a Wolf Beastkin?”
Erin backed up a step and found the counter was right behind her. She looked over her shoulder and saw Selys gazing at her worriedly, but the receptionist didn’t come to her aid.
The not-werewolf leaned over and growled in her face.
“I’m a Gnoll.”
His breath was terrible. Erin felt weak at the knees just smelling it.
“Right. I’m very sorry about that. Um. Can I help you?”
“You’re in my way. This is for adventurers.”
“Right. Sorry. Sorry about that.”
Erin stepped to one side so he could get to Selys. He didn’t move forward, though. Instead he just glared some more.
“Is—is there something else you want?”
The Gnoll twisted his neck and cracked it. It sounded like firecrackers going off and scared the hell out of Erin.
“I don’t like Humans. They smell.”
Erin stepped away again, but the angry Gnoll just followed her. She knew she was being watched by the other adventurers in the room now. But like Selys, they seemed content to watch the human-bullying without making a move.
“R-really? I can’t smell anything.”
“That’s because Humans can’t smell anything.”
The comment came from behind Erin, but she was too scared to turn around. It had the same growling quality to the voice though, so she was sure it was another Gnoll.
“Right. Well. I’m sorry about that.”
Erin tried to sidestep the Gnoll, but he blocked her way.
“I don’t want Humans in here. You don’t belong.”
“Hold on, now. She’s just lost.”
At last, Selys came to Erin’s aid. The female Drake leaned over the counter and called out to the Gnoll. Now, Erin realized he had a bag of dripping something. There was a long, bug-like leg sticking out of it, he was covered in green blood–and some red—and he looked tired and angry.
“If you’ve got a bounty–Shield Spiders–I’ll process it now. But this Human was just asking directions. You can’t just kick someone out who—”
He looked at her and snarled. Selys flinched and shut up.
Across the room, Erin saw the Drakes in the room stir. One of them hissed softly.
The Gnoll glared at the Drakes, and they glared right back. One of his hands twitched towards the sword at his side, but he didn’t make any move to grab it. Still, the tension was so thick that Erin was sure if a Gnoll or Drake moved the room would explode.
Erin was wondering whether she should run when the Gnoll broke off the staring contest and swung around to her.
“You. You’re stinking up this place with dirt and filth. I can smell the things you’ve rolled in. You haven’t washed in–dead gods. I’m covered in Shield Spider guts and you smell worse! Take a bath before you come back here.”
He jabbed at Erin’s stained shirt with one pointed claw. She jumped back nervously from the long, filthy nails.
“Oh. Yeah. Um, I’m really sorry about that. It’s just that I’ve been sort of fending for myself, and I didn’t have a change of clothes so—”
The Gnoll leaned forward. Erin could see the individual whiskers protruding out of his snout. She could smell his rancid breath. But she was mainly focused on his jagged teeth.
Erin hesitated. She cast one glance towards Selys, but the receptionist wouldn’t meet her eyes.
The Gnoll growled, and Erin backed up. He herded her towards the door, and once she was out, he slammed it shut behind her. The last thing she saw was Selys waving at her guiltily.
That was the first building Erin was kicked out of in her visit to the city. It wasn’t her last. Not by a long shot.
Erin walked through the city, feeling the unwelcome sun warming the back of her neck. She was hot, sweaty, and tired. But most of all, she was anxious. It was a terrible, biting pain in her stomach that refused to leave her no matter how much she tried to relax. Because she couldn’t.
She was lost. Not just geographically, but in every sense. Right now, she was making her way to the market Selys had told her about. And she was lost.
She didn’t belong to this city. The people had been a mix of unfriendly or–well, not all of them had been bad like Selys and that first Drake, but Erin was the outsider, and it wasn’t a pleasant feeling. She tried to take her mind off things by admiring the city.
It really was like an older city. True, there was a lot more roundness in the architecture of the buildings–a lot of gently sloping roofs and open rooftops rather than the angular buildings Erin was used to. It was the people that really got to her.
They weren’t human. No matter how long Erin stayed in the city and walked its streets, she couldn’t get over that. Every face she saw in the crowd was inhuman, and the majority of them were Drakes. There was the occasional Gnoll or other furry face in the lot, but they were mostly reptilian.
All kinds of reptilian, too. Long snouts, delicate spines on the neck, elongated neck, big eyes, slitted eyes, stub snouts. They all had very large teeth, though. Only rarely did Erin glimpse a walking ant-man–or ant-woman, she couldn’t tell–walking by.
Klbkch’s people were few and far between. Erin saw them scurrying along, sometimes in groups, other times by themselves, mostly with tools in hand, heads down, clearly on a mission. People avoided them almost as much as her, but it really said something that a Human was the person people stared at, even more than insect-folk. It was also adding to Erin’s anxiety.
She wished they’d stop looking at her. That was the one thing that made walking through this city so hard. While she was staring at the exotic sites and people, they were staring right back. And it seemed that they didn’t like what they saw.
Erin tried to walk quickly down the street. That way she’d avoid offending anyone else. She didn’t have a good record at the moment.
“Kicked out of three shops. And two homes.”
To be fair, some of them looked like shops. Why no one put up any signs so people could tell the difference was beyond Erin.
“Well, there are signs. I just can’t read them.”
It was a funny thing. Erin could speak the exact same language as Relc and Klbkch, but for some reason, she couldn’t read anything they wrote. It was probably because…of magic.
“Magic. Either that or they’re all bilingual. Or trilingual. Or something.”
A Drake walking the opposite way down the street gave her an odd look. Erin shut up. Her habit of talking to herself was making her weirder than normal.
Still, that alone didn’t explain why it seemed like the entire city hated her. True, she kept walking into places and asking where she was, but that was…okay, that was really annoying. But she was just as unfavorably received on the street, it seemed.
“Move it, Human.”
“Out of the way, smooth skin.”
“Watch it, fleshbag.”
Actually, no one had ever said that last one to her. Or the second one, either. Or the first in point of fact. They didn’t say anything at all, really. Almost all of the Drakes stared at her, while the Gnolls and other furry people walked as far away from her as possible. But they all watched her constantly.
Some glanced out of the corner of their eyes. Others were less discreet and openly stared at her. Erin saw a few small Drake-children pointing at her and felt out of place. In a sea of scales and fur, she was the only Human. She felt so alone it hurt.
Erin turned right and found herself on another kind of street. This one was wider, had cobblestone paving, and a lot of wooden stalls. It was a market.
Erin sighed with relief and walked forward. She’d finally reached her destination, and it had only taken her…an hour. Possibly two.
And better luck, Erin seemed to be in the section selling food. Tons of shopkeepers stood or sat in their shaded stalls displaying bins full of food. Here was a Drake selling weird blue-leaved plants that looked like oversized white carrots…or dead maggots. There was another Drake cutting meat for a waiting customer as flies buzzed around his stall. And there was—
Erin passed by a larger stall than most, tended to by a tall Gnoll, although they were all tall in her eyes. This one seemed to be selling a lot of stuff, and not just food. Erin was tempted to stop and browse, but the Gnoll shopkeeper complicated things. She was dithering when the Gnoll spotted her and roared out above the general hubbub.
“You, Human! If you’re looking for a bargain, shop here!”
Erin’s heart jumped. Gnolls were, like Relc, loud. And her voice had put every eye back on Erin.
Yet, the Gnoll woman had bared all her teeth then caught herself, closed her mouth in a tight-lipped smile, and beckoned Erin over. She wore a kind of animal hide sarong, albeit lined with some soft cloth on the inside, a breastband of the same material, and little else. Mostly because her shop had a thin canopy that still meant she got the most of the sun, standing or sitting in it all day.
Her fur was spotted with jet black dots, but the rest of it was russet brown, and, Erin thought, neatly combed or maintained. She was at least six feet something, and her smile was direct, even if her eyes were slightly calculating. But she did smile without a hint of anger or annoyance, and she’d called to Erin. So the young woman hesitated and then walked over to the stall.
As she approached, the Gnoll’s nose wrinkled and she waved a paw in front of her face. Erin’s heart sank, but the Gnoll made no comment.
“Well, what are you seeking?”
The Gnoll looked intently at Erin. She looked angry, or maybe Gnolls always sounded brisk and impatient.
“Oh, um. I’m just looking.”
“Can I get you anything? What are you looking for?”
“I’m–I’ll just look around if that’s okay.”
“I…could help you find what you want. Krshia’s Silverfang Goods. Do you have anything you want or–?”
It was entirely reasonable, but Erin began sweating at once. She backed away a step.
“No, I’ll just wander around and–look. Thank you.”
Erin edged back from the Gnoll’s shop. She really didn’t want to be chased out of the market yet.
“Hrmf. Suit yourself.”
The Gnoll looked away. She was definitely annoyed now, even if she hadn’t been before. Erin backed away and looked towards the next stall.
This one looked equally promising. And better yet, it was tended to by a Drake. Which wasn’t that much better, true, but at least he wasn’t wrinkling his nose. Maybe because he wasn’t looking at her.
Erin approached the stall carefully and gazed at the many items on display. Let’s see. There were lots of bags piled up neatly, and in front of them there were little bins of their contents on display. That was good since Erin couldn’t read any of the words on the store signs.
But there! She saw flour, salt, and even sugar on display along with other dried goods. The Drake was selling dried sausages that hung from hooks at the top of his little shop, dried onions and garlic in baskets, and a number of dried roots and spices in one corner of the shop.
“Hi. Is this a food shop?”
The Drake looked over at her.
“What does it look like, Human?”
Erin winced internally at the tone of his voice. But he wasn’t wrinkling his nose still or glaring. He just looked annoyed.
“Oh, I’m looking for food. Lots of it.”
She heard a very loud and angry snort come from the Gnoll shopkeeper. She winced, externally this time.
“What you see is what I have.”
The Drake indicated his goods with a wave of one claw. That sounded like an invitation to Erin, so she stepped inside the stall and peered around. Flour was what she was most interested in. With that and a bit of oil, salt, etc., she could make bread, pasta, and other filling things. It was the best place to start. She bent down to examine the flour—
“No touching the food with your filthy hands unless you’re buying!”
The Drake’s voice made Erin jump away. She caught herself before she fell backwards. He was glaring at her.
“Don’t touch. You’ll stink it up with your Human smell.”
Erin backed away from the goods on display, hands raised. She guessed she really did smell.
The shopkeeper directed his full and unhappy attention towards her.
“What do you want? Name it and I’ll fetch it for you.”
“Um. I’m looking for a few things, actually. Uh, do you have any butter?”
“It’s right there on the sign.”
The Drake tapped the little piece of paper pinned to the stall. Erin looked at it desperately, but just saw squiggles and lines in all the wrong places.
“Uh. I can’t read that. Sorry.”
He hissed softly in annoyance. Erin winced again.
“But I’d like some. Butter, that is.”
He slowly and grudgingly turned and pulled out a small pot with a small cork for a lid.
Erin wasn’t sure if she should ask to see how much butter was inside. She wanted to hold the little pot too, but the shopkeeper’s expression also vetoed that idea.
“And, uh, I’d like some oil too. Do you have another jar…?”
The Drake sighed loudly in annoyance.
“I don’t have all day to play fetch for you, Human. Just tell me what you want to buy first.”
He wasn’t throwing things or chasing her away, so that was as good as it was going to get, Erin guessed. She took a deep breath and rattled off whatever she could remember she needed.
“I’m looking for some flour, salt, butter, oil, and sugar. Oh! And yeast. I’ll need yeast too. If you have it.”
The Drake didn’t move.
Erin looked around quickly.
“Um. Those sausages. How much do they cost?”
Erin pointed to the sausages hanging from a hook. They looked mouthwateringly plump. She had the idea she could fry some up with the pasta. Just the thought was making her stomach rumble.
The Drake’s eyes flicked over to them.
Erin rummaged in her pocket and pulled out her precious coins. She saw the Drake’s eyes widen just a fraction as she showed him the mix of silver and bronze and three gold coins.
“Well, if I’ve got enough, I’d like to buy a few of those. And some onions.”
There weren’t many vegetables here. Only some garlic and shriveled roots in one bin. But she could always go to the Gnoll and ask—well, maybe not the Gnoll. But there were probably other shops that sold produce.
The Drake eyed the coins in her hand and flicked his eyes up to her. Erin felt like she was being assessed, and she didn’t enjoy the feeling. For all she was a paying customer, he still looked like he was angry at her for some reason.
At last the shopkeeper seemed to come to a decision. He flicked his tongue out of his mouth and glared at her.
“Three gold coins. Eight silver. That will buy you a bag of flour, oil, butter, four sausages, two onions, and a bag of sugar, salt, and yeast.”
Erin hesitated. She eyed the meaningless symbols on the little plaque again. The Gnoll woman to Erin’s left seemed to be having a breathing problem. She was choking on the air. Erin glanced to the side.
“Are—are you sure that’s the price? I mean, it sounds like a lot—”
“Are you calling me a liar?”
The Drake raised his voice angrily. Erin could see other customers and shopkeepers looking around.
“No, no! I was just saying that—”
“Typical Humans. Walking in here, stinking up the market, and insulting any non-Humans you find. You should be grateful the Guard doesn’t run you out of the city! First that damn Necromancer comes here, and now this smelly one that can’t even read.”
The Gnoll woman hissed, but he ignored her. The Drake seemed to be inflating with rage. Erin didn’t know what she’d done to set him off—besides the smell—but she tried to be diplomatic.
“Look, I was just asking about the price.”
“I just gave you my price. Take it or leave it.”
“But can we negotiate? I mean, how about two gold coins? What’s the price of the flour? If I pay you—”
The Drake shopkeeper let out a strangled hissing sound.
“Human, I have a business to run and a store to manage! Either pay me my price or be gone. You won’t find a better offer in this market.”
Looking around, Erin guessed that was true. She was getting unfriendly looks from the other shopkeepers down the street, especially the Gnoll whose wares she’d walked by.
“Okay. I’ll buy it all.”
She placed the gold and silver coins on the counter since he wasn’t holding his hand out. He eyed the coins, sniffed once, and swept them away.
“Here. Your food. Take it.”
The shopkeeper began grabbing items and slamming them down on the counter. He shoved them all together in a huge untidy pile and threw a few dented copper coins down too. Some rolled onto the ground.
Erin hesitated, but the shopkeeper’s scaly back was already expressively turned away. She heard what sounded like hissing laughter and muttered comments from behind her and turned red.
Slowly, Erin bent down and began picking up the fallen copper coins. She tried to avoid looking at anyone or anything.
When she finally stood up, the shopkeeper was looking at her expressionlessly. He flicked one claw towards her.
“If you’re done grubbing in the dirt, I have more customers to serve.”
Erin knew her face was red. Her eyes were burning, but she was determined not to do anything else. She took a deep breath and tried to steady her voice as much as possible. Still, it wobbled a bit as she said one last thing.
“…Can I buy a bag?”
Author’s Notes: So I added to this chapter. Drassi could have been Erin’s first friend. That was Ekirra running in the park but I didn’t feel like we had to mention it.
Lism’s interactions with Erin…I debated adding in her talking to an Antinium early, but we’ll save it for later. You want to have a limited number of things to this chapter. I could tighten up the shop scene, but my priority was making it feel like a city.
Hopefully I did that.
Erin had four silver coins left after buying a large cloth bag and the food. That was just enough for…well, she didn’t know. But it certainly wasn’t enough for a lantern, much less a sword. She doubted it was even enough for her clothes.
She sat in the shade of one of the buildings and stared silently at the four silver shapes in her hand. It wasn’t so bad. She still had some money, and she’d bought enough food for now. It was just…
She’d started out with three gold coins and a full handful of silver and copper ones. And in an instant, they’d been spent. And that wasn’t bad either; she’d bought a lot of food. Stuff like sugar was expensive, right? Especially in a place that wasn’t modern like this. But she couldn’t help but feel it was a mistake.
She hadn’t seen any other shoppers trade gold coins for what they’d bought. Not one and especially not that much for some food. She had a bad feeling in the pit of her stomach. She thought—
No. She knew she’d been ripped off.
And it hurt. It really did. Erin wanted to go back there and punch the Drake shopkeeper in the face, but she had a pretty good idea of what would happen if she did. Plus, he could probably eat her face if she tried.
So. Erin sat and stared at her hand. Four silver coins.
She could still go shopping with that much money. She could find another market, find another shop, and…
And do what? She didn’t know how much money things cost, and she didn’t know how to buy clothes for herself.
Everyone in this city wore clothing, but the definition of that really varied. Some of the male Gnolls wore extremely exposed clothing, sometimes leaving their chests completely bare save for a light cloak, while the female ones usually had more on. Still, even that was varied because it seemed showing skin—or rather, scales, was the fashion around here. Only the Drakes seemed to adhere to a Human-style dress code.
It was one of the hidden truths of the world. Money was useless if you had no idea what to spend it on and everyone ripped you off.
Everything would be so much simpler if she could read. Was that too much to ask?
Erin put her head on her arm and closed her eyes for a moment. Her head jerked up, and she nearly smacked it against the building behind her as she realized something.
She couldn’t read. But she knew people who could.
Relc. Or Klbkch. Either one of them would know all about clothing and money and stuff like that.
Erin stood up. She pocketed her silver coins and wished she’d thought of this before she’d lost all her money. But maybe four silver coins was a lot of money? She’d have to ask. And they’d help her, surely. Because that’s what guardsmen did, right? Just like how police officers were so willing to help anyone who came to them with a problem.
Erin pushed that thought out of her head. Guardsmen were not police officers. They were allowed to kill people without due process, for one thing. And besides, Relc liked her pasta. Now all she had to do was find the guardhouse without being able to read the signs.
She started walking down the street, looking around for anything that screamed of jail cells or law and order. She tried very hard not to think about what she’d do if Relc or Klbkch were both off-duty.
Relc was off-duty. So was Klbkch. But for the moment, Relc was lounging around the mess hall of the guard’s barracks. He was playing a game where he tossed a wickedly sharp dagger up into the air and caught it as it fell back to the floor. Half the time, he caught the dagger. The other half, he missed or knocked the dagger flying. He sat in a widely vacated corner of the room.
Only a few other Drakes were sitting at the long wooden benches, chowing down on hard bread, cheese, and unidentifiable strips of meat. Well, unidentifiable to Humans. It was more gray than red.
One of the guards was talking with his fellows. He stood up and approached Relc cautiously. Unlike Relc, his scales were a very pale blue, and he was smaller if not shorter than the other Drake. He cleared his throat while standing at a respectful distance from Relc’s game.
“Hey Relc. I hear there’s a Human wandering around the city.”
Relc looked up and missed the dagger as it flipped down.
The other guardsman sighed as Relc sucked at the point of red blood oozing from his scales.
“You’ve got no talent for that game. If you didn’t have [Thick Scales], you’d have cut your hand off years ago.”
Relc smiled smugly.
“I don’t just have [Thick Scales]. I’ve got [Iron Scales] too.”
The blue Drake rolled his eyes.
“That explains everything. What kind of level do you have to be to get that, anyways? No one else has it, so it must be high level.”
Relc began trimming his claws with the dagger. Although in his case, he wasn’t making the nails shorter, just sharpening them.
“It was the last skill I got from my [Sergeant] class. I think you get it in [Spearmaster] as well, but I don’t know. Either way, it’s a life-saver.”
“I’ll bet. No wonder you don’t worry about hurting yourself, you smooth-scaled bastard.”
“Now, now. Don’t be jealous.”
Relc swept the nail clippings off the table with one hand.
“Too bad I never got any dagger skills. I can’t understand how this stupid flipping works.”
“Then stop flipping. It’s annoying, and you keep nearly hitting people. Remember poor Tkrn the day he signed up? He still flinches whenever he sees a dagger.”
“No. If Klbkch can do it, so can I. Anything that damn bug can do I can do better. But hey, what’s this about a Human? Is it that female one I was telling you about?”
This time, another green Drake jumped into the conversation.
“Belsc–the guy on western gate duty–he didn’t say much other than that he thought it was a Human female. What was the name of the one you met?”
Relc scratched his head and looked up at the ceiling.
“Um. Sol? Solace? It was something like that. Ervin Solace? Did he mention anything else about her?”
The blue-scaled Drake bared his teeth.
“Yeah. He said she was really annoying. And she talked too much.”
Relc laughed. The other Drake shook his head as a few more [Guards] glanced over.
“Humans. I don’t know why you’re interested in this one. It’s certainly not the smell, to hear Belsc talk.”
“Yeah, you get used to that.”
Relc leaned back in his chair and played with the dagger. He smiled to himself, warming to his theme of stupid Humans. It was a popular topic in Liscor–especially with the annual Bloodfields battle almost upon them. He felt a tiny bit guilty, but he was also still mad about yesterday.
She’d chosen a [Necromancer] over him. Which was just Humans sticking to their own kind, so Relc kept talking as he trimmed at his nails.
“Still, she’s interesting. Erin, or whatever her name is. She makes a mean plate of pasta, let me tell you. And she’s tougher than she looks—I didn’t think any Human could survive out in the Floodplains that long. She’s funny too.”
He grinned as the other guards made disparaging noises. Relc raised his voice.
“Hey, I’m telling the truth here. Little Miss Human isn’t that bad. You should meet her. But let me tell you, she can also be pretty annoying. Remember that Necromancer guy I told you me and Klbkch tracked down? She wouldn’t let us kill him even after he blasted us both with a few spells. Just kept saying that he wasn’t that bad.”
Relc nodded in agreement with the other guard.
“They’re interesting and entertaining, but they don’t have much inside their fleshy heads. I’d never trust a Human to have my back. Drakes stick together and Humans do their thing in the north, am I right?”
Relc looked around for confirmation as the other Drakes laughed with him. He laughed boisterously until he saw the young woman staring at him across the mess hall. His laughter cut off instantly.
The other Drakes looked over in curiosity at the Human female. She wasn’t that special to them; one Human looked much like any other. She was staring at Relc, who looked extremely uncomfortable.
He cleared his throat.
The door closed behind Erin as she walked out.
A nasty silence fell over the mess hall. Relc looked at the others.
“How long was she here?”
The blue Drake shrugged.
“Dunno. She must’ve walked in while you were talking.”
“Oh bite me.”
Relc leapt up from his chair.
“Hey, Miss Human! Wait! I didn’t mean it!”
The other Drakes watched as he dashed out of the room. Then they turned back to their conversation. One of the Gnolls flicked his gaze towards the blue-scaled Drake, who looked slightly smug at how everything had gone down.
“So. When did you spot her?”
“Right at the start. Did you see her expression? Relc’s not gonna have an easy time explaining that.”
“Serves him right. But did you smell her?”
“Yeah. Humans. They don’t wash.”
“I hear they roll around in their own filth.”
“Disgusting. Why’s Relc interested in one anyways?”
“Why do you think?”
“I still don’t get it. There’s no scales, nothing firm to grab. What’s the point?”
“Search me. Maybe it’s just Relc. He’s weird.”
“Anyways, Humans. Haven’t seen one in a long time. Did you see it? So fleshy.”
“Disgusting. Let’s go eat some meat.”
Erin walked out of the city gates and through the grass. She walked as fast as she could, which wasn’t very. The cloth bag she was carrying was more like a satchel, and it was loaded down with a lot of stuff. She was impressed that it could fit the bag of flour and other ingredients she’d bought without the fabric breaking, but it also meant she had to carry all of that on her shoulders.
A bag of flour is quite heavy. But Erin carried it anyways, ignoring the pain in her right shoulder. Her left one was already sore. She’d switch shoulders when the pain became unbearable.
“Hey! Miss Erin! Wait!”
Erin kept walking.
“Oh come on. Please?”
Relc appeared next to her in a blur. He was quick for such a huge guy. Erin turned her head so she didn’t have to look at him directly.
“So, how’s my favorite Human doing? Good? Bad? Um. I, uh, don’t suppose you heard what I was saying. It was just a joke, really. I didn’t mean…”
Keep walking. Erin’s feet were already sore, but she put one foot in front of the other. She had a long way to go to get back to the inn, and the bag she was carrying was heavy.
“Look, I know I was sort of—okay, I was rude, but let’s talk. Hello? Are you listening?”
Erin didn’t look at him or speak. She just kept walking. Put one foot in front of the other. She was so tired and sore she barely felt hungry.
Eventually, he went away. Erin kept walking though. She was trying to make it back to the inn before the sun set. It was going to be a close race.
She was about halfway to her destination when the first stone flew over her head. Erin instinctively ducked and so the next two stones missed her and landed in the grass. She looked around.
At first, she couldn’t spot where the stones were coming from. Two missed her, but the third struck her on the shoulder.
Erin spotted the origin of the stones. It was a Goblin. The small creature was hard to spot in the fading twilight. It was standing on a hill and hurling rocks down at Erin. And it wasn’t alone.
Two more Goblins screeched and threw stones at her from their hilltop, making her flinch away and pull the bag up to shield her head. But then they just pelted her legs. They were bigger than the first one and staring at her burdens.
Her food. They wanted her food, and they’d laid an ambush! Erin tried to shield her head with the bag of flour and got a sharp strike to the chest.
She covered her face with her arms. The stones kept flying. And they hurt. Even at this distance, the rocks cut her arms and bruised her flesh. Already, she felt blood trickling down one arm.
Erin knelt on the ground and shielded her head with her bag. That made her less of a target, but the barrage of stones continued. It wasn’t as if the Goblins could hurt her, not so long as they kept hitting her back, but they just didn’t stop. And if she got up, they’d aim for her head.
What could she do? Erin felt the stinging hail cut into her back. She had to run. At them? Away? They’d steal all her food if she did. But could she attack them? Fight? If she got any closer, the stones could gouge out her eyes, injure her badly. What could she do? What could she—
Something moved past Erin in a blast of air. She flinched and looked around, but it was already gone. Then her eyes travelled to the hill. Someone was rushing at the Goblins, ducking under the stones and deflecting the ones that came close to his head with a fast-moving…spear…?
“Hey! Slither off you little bastards!”
The stones stopped flying abruptly. Erin heard a high-pitched scream and several heavy thwacks. Cautiously, she got up and looked around.
The Goblins were running away in full retreat. Relc stood on the hilltop, spear in hand. He waved at her and leapt down the hill in a few long strides.
“Hello there, Miss Erin. Fancy meeting you here.”
Erin stared up at him. He offered her a toothy grin and a hand up. She stood up by herself and picked up her bag.
Relc cleared his throat expectantly.
“It’s not often I get to rescue a damsel in distress. That’s what they call Human females, right? Damsels? Anyways, I saw you were in trouble, so I immediately rushed to help.”
Erin began walking again. She heard Relc follow after a second’s hesitation.
“Okay, okay. So they weren’t that dangerous. And I was just doing my job; true. But I am sorry. Really. I said too much back there.”
She said nothing. Her vision was blurring over from the cutting pain of the bag’s strap as it carved a groove into her shoulder.
“That looks heavy. Here, let me carry it for you.”
Relc reached for the bag. Erin pulled away.
“No. I’m fine.”
“Oh come on. Don’t be like that. I just—well, it was just me being careless, alright? Let’s talk. Please?”
Erin tried to walk faster, but her legs were already giving up. Relc easily kept pace with her. He was even able to walk backwards faster than her.
“Look. I’m very sorry, Miss Erin. Let me carry your bag. It must be quite heavy, and this way we can talk without one of us falling over.”
Erin grudgingly slowed down. It was a tempting offer. Her legs were screaming to accept Relc’s generous offer and have him carry her as well. Her shoulder was already in another dimension of pain.
She unslung the bag, wincing as blood returned to her arm. Relc lifted the bag with one hand and slung it over his shoulders. Then he kept pace with Erin as if nothing had happened.
Relc scratched the spines on the back of his head, looked down, looked up, and sighed.
“I really didn’t mean it. It’s just—Necromancers, y’know? They’re dangerous. And it’s best to kill them on sight. You ever seen a thousand zombies trying to eat anything in sight? Even if they’re low-level, even if they play nice, I could never trust a Necromancer.”
“Especially not if they’re Human.”
“I didn’t say that.”
“But that’s what you think.”
Relc didn’t have anything to say to that. They both walked on in silence, faster now that the bag wasn’t weighing Erin down.
“So. You bought food, huh? Making lots of pasta tonight?”
“I’m going to sleep.”
“Right, right. But, uh, good to see you made it to the city. So how’d you like it?”
Relc was clearly casting around desperately for subject matters. He peeked into the bag. Erin could practically feel him salivating.
“Sausages. Mm. But hey, why didn’t you buy any clothes? I thought all females loved clothes, Drake or Human.”
Erin’s stomach twisted. She avoided his gaze and mumbled.
“I didn’t have enough money.”
Relc looked at her askance and peered into the bag he was carrying.
“No. I mean, there’s food in here, but that’s only a few silver coins at best. I’m sure you had more than that, right? How much did you spend?”
Erin felt her face heating up. She looked at the ground.
“A few gold coins. Some silver ones and copper ones.”
He stopped. Erin didn’t. She heard him muttering to himself and then swearing. It sounded like swearing. He loped forwards and was next to her in an instant.
“Really? What kind of rotscale sold you—why did you spend that much money?”
She stared at the grass as she trampled it. It was tinted with a lovely deep orange color in the sun’s fading glow.
“I just thought it was the right price, I guess. I didn’t want to argue.”
Relc muttered under his breath and sighed in exasperation.
“Well, I could go back to the market and ask around. But—I don’t suppose you caught the name of the store.”
“I can’t read the language here.”
Relc sighed again. Deeply.
“Right, right. Well, if you remembered his face, I could find who sold you all that, but I doubt anyone’d bear witness against him. And there’s not much for me to go on. I mean, he sold you overpriced goods but it was your fault as well. No offense meant, Miss, but how’d you trade a gold coin for a sack or two of flour?”
Erin couldn’t think of anything to say to that.
They walked on in silence. At last, the inn was in sight. Erin trudged up the last incline, her legs screaming all the way. She paused at the door.
“I can take the bag now.”
“You sure? I can carry it in—”
Erin accepted the bag, and her legs wobbled. She opened the door with one hand.
She wanted to close the door, but Relc held it open effortlessly. He scratched at the back of his neck awkwardly.
“Look, I’m still really sorry about before. I didn’t mean—well, I’m sorry. I’ll make it up to you, I promise.”
Erin looked up at him. She just wanted to close her eyes. But he seemed sincere. So she mustered a bit of sincerity herself.
“Thanks for helping. With the Goblins.”
Relc gave her a wide, toothy grin.
“It was nothing. They’re no threat to me or anyone with a few levels in any warrior class. But don’t worry about those pests. I said I’d make it up to you, didn’t I? I’ll do something about them.”
Maybe it was an empty promise. But it made Erin smile a tiny bit.
“Thanks. Good night.”
Relc curled his tail up and flicked her a salute with both hand and tail at the same time.
“Until later, Miss Erin.”
Erin watched as he rapidly disappeared into the dark landscape. She vaguely envied the speed and effortless grace with which he moved. Then she closed the door.
There wasn’t much light, so Erin just put the bag in the kitchen and lay down on the floor of the common room.
“I need to buy a pillow. And blankets. When I have the money for it.”
So instead, she just used the cloth bag she’d bought as a pillow. Erin tried to get comfortable on the hardwood floor, but the very nature of it was giving her a…hard time. Besides, her shoulders ached. Her legs still hurt from the long walk. And if it were only that which hurt, she would already be asleep.
But instead Erin lay in the silence, listening to her heart beat. She wanted to say something, to think something better. But there wasn’t anything. So she stared at the hazy shapes in the dark room. It took her a long time before her eyes closed.
[Innkeeper Level 6!]
This time, she said nothing at all. She just cried for a bit before she fell asleep.
The moment she threw the first stone, the littlest Goblin felt bad. Especially when it hit the Human in the face. But she had to, because the two older Goblins made her.
They’d found her sneaking around the inn and had pulled at her ears. Hard. She was wasting time when she should be gathering things, making grass baskets, or doing something for the tribe.
She had screeched and protested, but then they’d all seen the Human coming back to her inn. With food.
The older Goblins, male and female, had debated. They knew that the warriors had lost to her and they had no chance of killing her even with their rusted daggers. But if they threw stones, she’d have to drop the food. Then the little Goblin could run down, grab some, and run off.
The littlest Goblin was so hungry–always hungry–that she did what they told her to. They were tossing stones down at the Human as she shouted at them. Just some food! Just drop the bag! The older Goblins were aiming at her eyes, but the little Goblin pelted the Human’s arms.
Then the scary Drake appeared, and they ran. The littlest Goblin fled, screaming, then hid in the grass and crawled away. Only after an hour did she get up and run back to her cave.
It was a bad day, and she was hungry. And–the littlest Goblin was sniveling already when she got back to their hidden cave–the two older Goblins would tell the Chieftain she had wasted time and that they hadn’t gotten food.
They were always mean to her. Always made her go with them gathering food or sharpening knives…or told her to stop counting birds and help gather food. They poked and prodded and pinched her ears more than most, because they had made her.
Somehow. Just like Goblins were born, the littlest Goblin had a vague idea of how it all worked, but those two were hers. Not that it meant they were nicer; they found her when she sat and tried to think or have fun and dragged her back.
She skulked into the tribe’s cave, wishing she had a Skill to make herself hide. She was waiting for the Chieftain to roar at her or just for a swat. But the tribe was busy eating.
Spiders. Cooked spiders in a big pot with water. It was…not good. Even for them. But it was what they had, and a few eggs made it taste like something. The littlest Goblin actually got a bowl and brightened up.
Maybe she wasn’t in trouble! She was sure she’d get only half her food because she was in so much trouble. She looked around for the two older Goblins and didn’t see them. Maybe they were still after the Human’s food?
She felt a pang in her stomach at the thought of being punished later. So she went back to her collection of sticks and rocks and thought of how much food that big place had to have. A city. The Chieftain sometimes said the other peoples had all kinds of good food, but behind those walls. They couldn’t even raid a caravan; there were too many dangerous Drakes or Gnolls or Humans, with steel armor and magic.
But what if you could get in there? Could you hide and steal some food and live there? Could they have a city like that?
The littlest Goblin was so caught up in the idea that she distracted herself for a long time, wondering what that Human had done to get an entire bag of food. Flour. You could make all kinds of things with it. Thick soup, crunchy bread, or just eat it raw and…
A growl brought the littlest Goblin out of her stupor. She jumped in fright and then saw the huge Chieftain’s face an inch from hers. She tried to run, and he grabbed her by one leg.
The time for punishment had come. The littlest Goblin dangled there as the Chieftain held her. She began to babble excuses–she meant to steal the Human’s food—and saw a quizzical look on his face.
He shook her and gestured eloquently to the two empty pallets of dried grass. Then the littlest Goblin realized…he didn’t know about her sneaking off and wasting time. He wasn’t mad at her for that.
He wanted to know where the other two Goblins were. The littlest Goblin stared at the blank pallets and realized there had been a bit more soup, because they’d never come back with her.
Were they still out there, trying to steal the Human’s food? Maybe sneak in when she was asleep? She babbled an explanation and instantly got a bonk on the head.
Sniveling, she clutched at her head as the Chieftain roared at her. Go find them! And bring back food!
She was afraid of the dark, but more afraid of his wrath. So she wormed her way out of the cave and ran back to the inn. She searched around a few hills, hoping the other two would see her and scold her and she could bring them back to the Chieftain. If they had to steal from the Human…
Then the littlest Goblin smelled something on the air. Something wet, like iron. She froze in place, and a Drake stretched as he stood up.
“Got you bastards. You can’t run from Relc! Damn, I thought there were three of you? Whatever. If Erin doesn’t love this–now I need to find some wood. Damn. I should be having dinner!”
He chortled to himself and whirled a spear up and brought it down in one movement. So gracefully. The littlest Goblin didn’t understand what he was laughing about, but she smelled something familiar in the air. Something like metal. Something like…
She stared down at the two bodies in the grass. The Drake hummed as he drew his sword.
“Two coppers per ears…nah. Stick. Stick. You’ve gotta put them on sticks and–you know what? She can figure out how she wants to mount them.”
He gathered a pair of round objects up as the little Goblin stared down at him from her hiding place. She didn’t move. She didn’t breathe. She just looked at the two little bodies the Drake kicked down the hill. He walked off, humming under his breath in the night.
It was just before dawn when the little Goblin crawled into the tribe’s cave. The sleepy [Warrior] on duty growled at her–then noticed she was still alone. He nearly swatted her, but then smelled her. Then…he backed away and pointed to a slumbering mass.
The Chieftain woke up with a huge growl of anger. He looked at the littlest Goblin, raising a fist–and then looked at her.
She didn’t think she said anything. She just sat there, mumbling down at the ground. And the Chieftain…
The grumpy Chieftain sat there and did not hit her. Though it was surely her fault. He picked up the littlest Goblin, tossed her into her sleeping pallet, and sat there.
Head lowered. Head bowed. The other Goblins in their tribe sat around him or worked mechanically, dully and silently.
But the Chieftain just stared at nothing. Stared at the smoky embers of the fire. Though the smoke stung his eyes–he did not weep. Goblins didn’t weep. Even the littlest Goblin. But the Chieftain stared down at the ground. Then he reached for something.
His axes. He stood slowly and asked one question of his tribe.
Where–was that Human? The littlest Goblin didn’t know if he’d heard her wrong or if he was looking for the Drake. The Chieftain walked out of the cave.
She did not stop him. She just sat there. Wondering why today had been like this.
Author’s Notes: The Goblin scenes may add something. It may be different for readers, but I will at least write the new scenes and decide on the next pass what to keep.
Erin woke up tired and bleary-eyed. She mechanically got up and remembered that she’d forgotten to gather any blue fruits. She looked at the bag full of food she’d dragged all the way to the inn. It was too much work to make pasta or bread. So she ate one of the sausages instead.
It was dried, too salty, and had lots of gristle. Even though Erin was starving, it was not the best thing she’d ever eaten. But she ate it anyways, chewing until she could swallow the greasy meal.
Dully, Erin wondered how long it would take for her teeth to rot or her gums to start bleeding. Not too long now.
It wasn’t a good day. But at least she had food. And if she didn’t have money, at least it was a new day.
With her stomach full, Erin felt a little better. Ready to face the day, at least. She made a mental list of what to do. Gather blue fruit first. Then she’d make some pasta, some bread, and then she’d figure out how to—
Erin jolted upright. Someone was at the door. Was it Pisces? Well, it was just another headache for the day. She’d deal with him and—
It wasn’t Pisces. Erin got up and went over to the door. Whoever was there was seriously excited. Too energetic at this time of day.
Erin yanked open the door.
“Who the hell—oh. It’s you.”
Relc grinned at Erin. He was holding something in one hand and his spear in the other.
“Good morning, Miss Human! It’s me, your favorite Guardsman! And how are you doing this fine morning?”
Erin blinked at him. It was far too early to have to stare at a giant lizard grinning at her with a mouth full of sharp teeth.
“Hello, Miss Erin! I’ve just taken care of your Goblin problem for you! Took all damn night, but that’s how much I wanted to apologize. See?”
Relc raised his spear triumphantly. A bit of it fell to the ground. Erin blinked and stared at it. Red.
She looked up and saw red blood dripping down the spear, running along Relc’s claw and onto the floor of her inn. Relc noticed that and pulled the spear back outside.
“Sorry about that, Miss Erin. You see, I was just disposing of the Goblins. Call it me making up for yesterday. But now that they’re gone, the others should leave you alone, especially once I set these up around the inn. Uh, do you have any sticks? I need some sticks or something.”
Relc lifted the objects in his left hand. Erin looked at them and saw two melons. Green melons? No.
Her eyes went back up to Relc’s grinning face. She stared at his bloody spear. He was talking, but the words were suddenly impossible to make out over the buzzing in Erin’s ears. She looked at his smile. She looked at the spear, still covered in drying red blood.
She looked down and saw the heads.
There were two of them in Relc’s claws. He’d grabbed them by their ears, and the force was already tearing the dead flesh. Each one’s eyes were still open, their lifeless expressions twisted in fear. Blood still dripped from one, down into the eye sockets of another.
Erin’s eyes wandered up and away from the heads. She stared out past Relc’s shoulder. It was a beautiful day outside. The sun was shining. The sky was blue. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky.
She looked down at the heads. They were still there. She looked up at Relc. He was still speaking, but stopped and looked at her in concern. He dropped the heads carelessly to the ground. Erin heard each one thump wetly on the floorboards of the inn.
Relc raised his clawed hand and reached out for her. The same one he’d held the heads with.
Erin threw up. She vomited up the sausages, choked, and threw up some more.
She felt a hand holding her, helping her upright. She pushed away at it, retched.
“——? ——. ————!”
Her head was spinning. Her ears were filled with a piercing, high-pitched sound.
Erin looked around. The heads were still there. She threw up again, but there was nothing left. But still, she threw up bile, and then retched and retched until she couldn’t breathe or think.
At last, Erin stopped. She felt strong hands lifting her up and felt herself being sat in a chair in the inn. Relc’s anxious face peered at her, and she felt his hand on her temple. She stared through him at the heads. They were lying on the floor of the inn. Their eyes were open. Blood had dried on their faces.
Erin took one deep breath. The world spun around her, and she heard nothing. Just static. She felt numb, like she was in surgery. But underneath that numbness was something terrible.
She looked at Relc. The Drake was fussing over her, trying to get her attention. She looked back at the heads. Then she began to scream. He reached for her, with concern in his eyes. A blank look of uncomprehending concern. Then…confusion. Frustration. Outrage.
The Drake looked down at the two heads on the ground and laughed. Through the ringing in her ears, she saw him kick one slightly with a toe, then recoil and clap his hands to his earholes. He stared at her. Then he shouted, threw up his hands, and turned. Came back, pointing a finger, and she–
She kept screaming, like that wordless howl in her ears.
Erin walked outside with the two Goblin heads in her arms. They weren’t cold. They weren’t warm, either. They were just fleshy. Heavy, fleshy. And dead.
She made sure not to drop them as she walked. She didn’t know where she was going, only that she had to find the bodies. She left the inn behind and began walking.
Relc was gone. He’d left sometime earlier.
She didn’t remember anything. Just flashes of her screaming at Relc to get out and hurling things. Screaming, crying, vomiting. And then the heads. Picking them up where they lay.
Erin walked with them in her arms. Everything was going by too quickly. One moment she was inside, the next she was out, looking around for…for…
The dead bodies were lying out in the open. Two corpses lay in a bed of trampled grass at the base of a hill. There was nothing–graceful about it. There was no dignity. Just flies, buzzing already. The Drake hadn’t done anything, just removed their heads and presented them to her like a trophy. Like an apology gift.
Erin stopped. She placed the two heads on the ground and walked over to the bodies. They told a story. She wasn’t good at forensics or anything like that, but she could still read what had happened. The blood was still wet on the ground.
Two died…there. At the top of the hill, running. Relc had probably cut the first one down in an instant. The other had run, but not far. He’d made it only a few steps before a spear had stabbed him from behind. Multiple times.
Erin looked at the bloody holes and felt nothing. No. That wasn’t right. She felt something. She felt so many emotions she couldn’t think. But they were buried deep within her heart. Right now, the numbness made her feel like she was in the middle of a silent world.
She placed the heads down next to the bodies. Which belonged to which? She looked at the cuts around each head. The…the cuts were too similar to match one to a body. She had to roll over the corpses to check the other side.
The sunlight kept their bodies warm. But they were still cold, and Erin’s hands were colder still. She flipped them over carefully and learned something else.
One was male, one was female. It was hard to tell from their faces, but they were distinctly a pair. The same who’d been throwing stones at her? Hadn’t there been three?
She didn’t know. Erin couldn’t think. The coldness grew worse. Erin began to shake. She crawled away to throw up, but found she couldn’t. So she went back and stared at the two bodies.
Their blood had long stopped flowing. But the grass was still red. They smelled, but only of dirt and blood. Not of death and rot. Not yet. But they were rotting. And in the sun, they would start to stink soon.
Erin knew this. She didn’t know it, but she’d read about it. They would rot and attract bugs. They were already.
A green fly landed on one of the bodies. Erin stared at it. An acid fly. It fanned its wings and began to crawl over the male Goblin’s body.
She swatted it. The bug exploded as her hand struck it, and the acid burned her palm. Erin scrubbed her hand in the grass and rubbed dirt on her skin. It was raw and red, but she ignored it as soon as most of the burning had stopped.
She needed to bury the bodies. Or they would rot.
Erin went inside the inn. She came out a few minutes later holding a long wooden spoon. It was probably used for stirring one of the big pots. It would do.
She began digging in the grass where the bodies lay. It was hard work. She had to tear out the grass before she could pry at the soil. And even then, the ground wasn’t easy to break up. But she persisted, and the few clumps of dirt grew as she dug deeper.
Slowly. Like making a sandcastle at the beach. Erin dug down, and the pile of dirt beside her grew. The hole was small, and every time she tried to scoop out more dirt, the walls caved in. But she kept digging. And the pile of dirt grew.
At some point, the wooden spoon broke. Erin used her hands. They began to bleed after a while. She kept digging.
At last, the hole was big enough. Erin picked up the first body and laid it in the grave. It fit. It more than fit. The hole she’d dug was big enough for a human, which meant more than enough to fit both Goblins inside.
They were such small creatures. Erin vaguely wondered if she should dig one more grave.
She looked down at her bloody hands and broken nails. No.
She placed the second body in the grave, next to the first. Then came the heads. She placed each with their body. One, and then two.
As Erin picked up the second head, she heard a sound. She turned around and saw the Goblin standing in the long grass.
The Goblin was small and ragged. It was wearing a grey, stained loincloth and a few rags tied to its chest. It held a small knife. It stared at Erin and the head she held in her hands.
Erin paused. Her head was still filled with static, but her mouth tried to say something. Too late. The Goblin rushed at her, screaming wildly and slashing with the dagger.
Erin stepped back. She held the last Goblin’s head in one hand and waited until the other Goblin was close. She leapt sideways at the last moment, and the small Goblin missed her. It turned, still flailing its weapon.
She slapped the Goblin as hard as she could across the face. Her hand made a krack as she sent the Goblin tumbling to the ground and it lost hold of the dagger it was carrying. It whimpered and fled from Erin, scrabbling after the weapon in the grass.
Erin was still staring at the Goblin as it seized the dagger and spun to face her. It was small. So small. Like a child. This one was a child. But it had murder in its eyes.
Erin’s mind was still hazy. But as the Goblin stared at her in tense silence she realized what she wanted to say. It came to her when she saw the tears running from the Goblin’s red eyes.
“I don’t want to kill you.”
It rushed at her. Erin stepped forward and kicked the Goblin in the stomach. She’d done that to a boy as a child, only now she was kicking a child.
The Goblin vomited, and then curled up into a little ball of pain. It tried to scrabble away from her, but it was in too much pain. Erin stared at the Goblin lying on the ground. She still held the head of the other Goblin in her hands.
The smart thing to do would be to kill it. She’d level up, and then she’d be rid of one less Goblin trying to kill her. If she let it live, it would get reinforcements. She’d never be safe so long as they were around. They were dangerous monsters. They’d kill her in her sleep and eat her or do worse if they could. It was survival of the fittest. She’d pay for letting it live. It was it or her. She had to—
The thoughts ran through Erin’s head as she looked at the twitching Goblin. It was small. She turned and placed the last head with the bodies.
When she turned around, the Goblin was gone.
Erin put the last head in the grave and stared at it. Then she slowly began to fill in the rest of the grave.
It was a long process. Erin packed the dirt in tightly and made a mound of the rest. She pushed on the dirt and made it firm as possible. Then she stared at the uneven pile of upturned soil.
Erin placed her hands together and bowed her head. Then she let her hands fall away. There were no words for her to say. So she patted the last bit of dirt into place, and sat down on the grass.
The sun was shining. The sky was a deep, deep blue. She didn’t cry. She just sat and rocked back and forth as she stared at the grave she’d dug.
Erin didn’t blink.
She looked up when she heard the horn.
It was no echoing bass rumble of a dread army’s herald. And neither was it a clarion call to victory sounded on a dark battlefield. It just sounded like a horn. But it was loud. And it made her look up.
A Goblin stood upon a hill and stared down at her. He was nearly an inch taller than Erin. So he was very big for a Goblin, but small, still. His body was muscled and wide, but taut, as of someone starved for enough food. His head was covered by a rusted helmet, and he wore mismatched bits of metal armor on his body.
Even without being told Erin knew he was the leader of whatever Goblin tribe lived around here. And she also knew he was out for blood.
She got up slowly. It wasn’t that she was terrified; it was that she was still in shock. She backed away slowly as the Goblin Chieftain pulled something from behind his back.
Her thought scrambled together. The inn? Or the city? She could probably outrun him but the other Goblins were sure to be nearby. So where were they?
Erin was so busy looking out for other Goblins sneaking up on her that she only realized that the Chieftain was holding a bow when he fired the first shot.
An arrow struck the grass next to her feet and quivered in the packed soil. Erin turned and ran.
A second arrow missed her as well. So did the third. But the fourth passed through the gap between her pumping arms.
Erin crested a small hill and immediately dove. She hit the grass face-first and slid painfully, but the fifth arrow missed the spot where her back had been. She got to her feet to run again and saw the Goblins.
They stood together, a silent wall of small bodies and red, staring eyes. They were staring at her. Not many all told. Forty? Less? If she had to guess it was a small tribe. Smaller than the one she’d run away from that first day. But they were all armed. She waited for them to charge. She waited to die.
Not one of them moved. They watched her, that was all. They made no sound.
One of them was quivering. It was standing close to Erin and holding a knife. A small knife, held by a small hand. Erin recognized it.
It was the ragged Goblin from earlier. It stared at Erin and she stared back. She could tell it wanted to cut her, to attack. But it didn’t.
A horn blew from the other side of the hill. Erin looked up. The Goblin Chieftain. He was the one who was orchestrating it all.
So. She stared back at the Goblin. It stared back, hatred and death in its eyes. Crimson eyes. They were unnatural, monstrous.
But still, they were too much like a Human’s.
“I didn’t kill them.”
Erin said it out loud. She didn’t expect it to understand, but the Goblin jerked in surprise. It looked at her, searching for the truth.
“I didn’t kill them, but it doesn’t matter.”
It looked into her eyes. Erin looked right back. Then she got up and ran.
They didn’t scream as they followed her. That was the scariest part. The Goblin tribe followed Erin swiftly, running as fast as they could to keep up, but they didn’t move to cut her off. They just followed.
Maybe they would have stopped her if she’d run for the city. But Erin ran for her inn and so they let her go. They weren’t here to kill her. Just to watch.
Without being told, Erin knew this was different. If it were just a fight or them trying to kill her, they would have swarmed her and ripped her to shreds in an instant. But this was a hunt.
And the Chieftain was the one hunting her.
Maybe he thought she was easy prey. He was right. And he probably could have guessed Erin wasn’t the one who killed the Goblins. It didn’t matter. It was blood for blood. The oldest of vengeances.
Erin thought all this as she hurtled through the door of her inn and blocked it with as many tables and chairs as she could. She knew it as she scrambled to find a kitchen knife, a frying pan—anything to defend herself. And she knew it when she sat in a chair and tasted death in the air.
She gave up on looking for a weapon. She sat and stared at the door. She heard the Chieftain’s horn call far away, and then again, as he drew closer slowly.
There was nowhere to run. And she couldn’t fight.
It had dawned on her as she was holding the sharp kitchen knife. She’d been trying to imagine her facing the armored Goblin, dodging blows, countering with a slash and then cutting—
No. It was impossible.
She was no warrior.
Erin sat in the wooden chair and felt it rub against her t-shirt. She felt her hands, slick with sweat. She tasted blood from running too hard, and felt each breath tear a hole in her lungs. She was alive. She knew she wasn’t dreaming.
And she knew she was going to die.
She sat at the table in the inn and stared at the door. It occurred to her, suddenly, that this was the first time she’d sat around and really had a chance to think. Because this was, in a sense, the first time she’d ever had when she wasn’t reacting blindly to events.
Maybe if she’d taken more time earlier, she would never have come to this point. If she’d thought ahead, maybe she’d have asked Klbkch and Relc how much food was worth. If she’d thought for a second, she would have known what Relc meant by taking care of the Goblins yesterday. Maybe then she’d have stopped Relc from killing the Goblins.
But she hadn’t. So she was here. But it was a terrible thing, waiting. So Erin sat and thought.
“I’ll think. I’ll think for once about it.”
Erin closed her eyes and tried to ignore the horn as it blew from far away. The Goblin Chieftain wasn’t moving fast. He was probably walking, saving his energy for when he got here. He was in no hurry.
She thought about Goblins. She thought about how they had leaders, and how it was the leader’s job to defend his people. Maybe he didn’t care about them. And maybe he wouldn’t take revenge if it were an adventurer or guardsman that killed them and then went back into a city with stone walls. But what about a stupid human living by herself out in the middle of nowhere?
She thought about the small Goblin who’d attacked her. She thought about families, and thought about her parents. She thought about the Goblin Chieftain and his swords and armor.
She thought about what would happen to her when he caught her.
Erin whispered it again. It sounded wrong, for some reason.
Checkmate. She’d heard that word too many times. But those had been games. This was real life. And she—she didn’t want to die.
But she was about to. That was why she was sitting in the inn. Erin heard the horn blaring again in the distance and knew that death was coming. So. Checkmate.
Was it? She had to ask. Erin whispered to herself a single question.
“Is it checkmate or just check?”
Erin stared at her hands. She hadn’t washed them. And she could still feel the clammy, lifeless head in her palms. She sat in the inn and stared down into the lifeless eyes of the three Goblin heads.
Horn call. She looked up at the door. The big Goblin was moving slowly. He wanted her to be afraid. To despair. To panic. There was nowhere to run. And if the only options were to fight and kill or run and die—
“If only it were dying.”
Erin whispered those words. She didn’t want to die. But better than anything else. So. Fight. And kill.
“I can’t do it.”
But she had to. Erin started shaking. There was no option. It was as clear a choice as she’d known. She could run or hide, and maybe, maybe she’d succeed. But if he caught her she’d have to fight and win. And to win she’d have to kill him. It was kill him or give up.
Did she have a fever? Erin’s body flashed between burning heat and empty cold. She was shaking, but something inside of her was calm. So terribly calm.
Erin closed her eyes. She knew. But she didn’t want to. Her mouth was dry, but she forced herself to speak.
“Oh Father who art in Heaven…”
Her voice trailed off. She’d forgotten the rest long ago. And there was no God to listen to her. No merciful god would condone what she was about to do.
Erin opened her eyes. She stared at her hands and thought. Who was her enemy?
A Goblin. Not just any Goblin, but a Chieftain. A leader among their kind. Strong? Yes. Stronger than the others by far. But maybe not that much stronger than a normal human man. If she were better at fighting…
But he had a sword. And a bow and arrow. And he had levels, whatever that meant. He was a better fighter. And what did Erin have?
She looked around. She had an inn. She had a kitchen, the few supplies she’d bought from the city. She had a common room full of tables and chairs, an upstairs with no way out save through the windows. She had kitchen knives, pots, pans, and an empty fireplace.
Erin closed her eyes and thought. She opened them a minute later and knew.
A horn blew somewhere in the distance. Erin listened to it and heard her heartbeat drowning out her thoughts. She knew what she had to do.
Erin got up. Her ears were ringing, but the world was silent. She felt like a dreamer, walking through a sleeping world. Even the blaring horn call sounded faint. In this moment, she felt like she had all the time in the world.
Slowly, Erin walked into the kitchen. She bent, and fished around in the bag of food she’d bought. There it was. Was it enough? It would be enough.
Erin looked around, and picked up the cast iron cooking pot. It was small. But it would do.
All the embers in the kitchen’s fireplace had long since turned to ash. Erin tossed in a few pieces of wood and slowly bent to strike sparks. It was slow. The horn kept calling, louder and louder. But her hands never wavered. She was still dreaming.
At last the fire caught. Erin fed the small blaze and it grew slowly. She added enough wood and set the pot above the fire. It would be hot soon enough. The fire was growing.
That was it. Erin filled the pot to the brim with the item she’d taken from the shopping bag. Then she put the lid on the pot. Slowly, she walked back into the main room of the inn. And sat down.
The horn blew. It was from right outside the inn. Erin heard the Goblin’s heavy footsteps now, the rattle of his metal armor. He paused before the door.
The door rattled. The chairs and tables blocking it moved from the force of the impact. Erin stared at the door.
“It’s all just a game.”
She whispered to herself. She didn’t believe it.
Another impact. This time Erin heard cracking. The door wouldn’t last. She had seconds left.
The fire was starting in the kitchen. It would take time to heat the pot. Was it enough? It would have to be enough.
The entire door shook. Erin saw the wood splinter around the hinges. She waited. Death was in her bones. But whether it was hers she didn’t know.
“Knight to D4. Pawn to E3.”
She didn’t want to die. But it might be better then what came next. Erin closed her eyes.
“I truly hate this world.”
The door crashed inwards and the Goblin Chieftain stepped into the inn.
Author’s Note: Here ends my second rewrite cycle. A few things. It’s shorter. I’m just–stressed, I think. I have a big vacation coming up and I’m tired and rewrites are not fun.
Especially not this chapter. Like Interlude – Pisces–these are not the fun chapters to write, where Erin is meeting Lism for the first time. I also, frankly, feel like my lack of proper energy is affecting the prose. But I did try to interject more quality in between the scenes.
New Rags chapter, proper intro to Liscor–but I left the scenes with Lism and Erin’s reaction to the Goblins mostly untouched. They’re not the worst. Let me know how you find this rewrite section, but I caution you–
We’re going too slowly. I may have to try to do one rewrite chapter each ‘regular’ chapter or figure out how to expedite the process or it’ll be 2023 by the time this rewrite ends. It’s tough, but I need to rest for now. I got 5 chapters done. Assuming 50 chapters in Volume 1, this is about a tenth speed. Not bad, but I just need to devote more time to it.
Thanks for reading.
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