Erin woke up with a big smile on her face.
Actually, she woke up and went back to sleep several times before the sunlight got too bright to ignore. But when she eventually got up and ate breakfast she got around to the big smile.
It came when she was eating more blue fruit and she realized she was using two hands. Erin had to stop and stare at her right palm for a while. She poked the clean, unscarred, uncut skin and grinned.
“Healing potions are awesome.”
She sat back in her chair, flexing her hands. It didn’t hurt. It was amazing how much it didn’t hurt. And she owed it all to a giant ant man and a lizard…Drake. What were their names again?
“Klbkch and…Drake Guy.”
Erin sighed as the memories returned and gave her a hard time.
“Seriously. They were so normal. But apparently I’m normal too. There are other humans around here at least. But leveling? Classes? Am I an Innkeeper? Do I innkeep? How does that work?”
Then she remembered something else.
“I leveled up again.”
Erin poked her chest. She felt there should be some sense of accomplishment from within, but all she felt was vaguely full. But she remembered.
“[Basic Crafting]. Might as well give it a shot. I’m out of fruit, anyways.”
It was an uneventful trip to the blue fruit trees. As Erin gazed up at the blue fruits she wondered for the first time how many there were left to eat. She counted.
“…Looks like I’ve got a few weeks before I run out. But bleh, eating just blue fruit all the time would be disgusting. At least there’s some ingredients left for pasta if I can find more eggs.”
But what would happen when her small cupboard ran out? What then?
Erin touched the pocket of her jeans and heard the clink of coins. Right, she had some money. But how much was it? And more importantly, how could she spend it? It wasn’t as if she could eat metal.
Grumbling to herself, Erin loaded up with blue fruits. It was getting annoying carrying them all by hand. She dropped a lot of them which bruised the skin and made the fruit taste mushy. So why not try making something?
Erin stared at the ground. She had…grass. She stared at the trees. She had wood. But she had no way of cutting that wood, so it was no good. She stared at the grass. Something in her brain lit up.
“Let’s see. If I take this long grass and tie this knot here…”
Erin hunkered down and started picking the longer clumps of grass and testing their durability. She started tying knots and cutting with the knife. She found she had to focus on her task – she couldn’t just go on autopilot, but at the same time there was a certainty in what she was doing. And in less than twenty minutes she was looking at a basket made of grass.
Erin held up the basket and inspected it. It was lightweight, but durable. She experimentally tossed all the blue fruits she’d gathered into it and lifted it. The grass basket pulled downwards, but the woven handle didn’t tear. It was a real basket. Made of grass.
Was it tacky? Yes. Did she feel like she should be dancing with pom poms on a deserted island? Yes. Was that a terrible thought to have? Probably. And should she feel ashamed of herself? She already was. But she had a basket.
And more importantly, she had a plan.
What could you do with a basket? Well, you could eat and walk at the same time since you had a free hand. Erin cored a few blue fruits and hung on to the seed pods. Then she went looking for eggs.
It took her about an hour before she found another nest. When she spotted the telltale brown shape hunkering in the long grass, Erin stomped over making as much noise as possible.
This time the thing that erupted from the grass didn’t fly away immediately. Instead, the dino-bird screeched and dove at her. Erin stood her ground, reached into her basket and threw a seed core.
But the flying object spooked the bird. The giant pterodactyl wavered, and then flew away as Erin hurled more seed cores at it. She laughed triumphantly and rushed to grab the eggs. That was when the bird turned around and flew at her, pecking and trying to bite her. It wasn’t afraid of the seed cores after all.
Only when she was sure that the dino-bird had gone did Erin stop running. She stopped and covered one of the numerous bloody peck marks on her arms and back and tried not to shout.
At least it hadn’t been bigger. Erin had managed to smack it a few times until it stopped trying to bite her face off. But that didn’t mean she’d gotten away unscathed.
Erin hissed as she pressed on another bite. She wanted nothing more than to get some cold water on them. Too bad there were more suspicious rocks in the way. Actually, there were about six of them, spaced out across the grasslands. Well, her trick hadn’t worked on the birds but rock-crabs were a different matter.
On her way back Erin pasted two of the rock crabs with the slimy seed cores when they shuffled at her. They didn’t like the noxious liquid that splashed their shells and retreated with loud clicks. Erin wiped off the foul-smelling juice from her hands and walked past the herd triumphantly.
It was just past midday when Erin got back to the inn. At least she’d stopped bleeding on her walk back. She made it halfway through the inn’s door, blinked, and threw up.
Erin stopped gagging and retching long enough to stare at the pool of liquefied blue fruit in horror. Then she was sick again. And again.
Somehow, Erin made it to the stream. It was combination of walking fast and pausing every few minutes to throw up that got her there. She didn’t so much as jump into the stream as fall into it and began shivering as whatever was hitting her really went to town.
The next hour saw her kneeling at the stream, gargling water, puking it up, and watching out for the crazy fish. Fortunately, they didn’t seem inclined to get near her. Actually, she saw one swim towards her and start nibbling at the contents of her stomach as it washed downstream. That was gross.
Erin washed her mouth and hands off for the tenth time and felt the shaking and nausea stop a bit.
“What—what was that?”
Erin could only mumble as she stared into the water. She moved her head—not so much out of desire for movement as to watch for the dangerous flat fish.
The fish that had been eating her vomit was floating belly-up in the water. Erin saw the other fish were avoiding it just like they were avoiding her.
“…Poison. Gotta be.”
But was it delicious food poisoning where you got to eat twice, or the other kind that kind made you turn green and die?
“Well, whatever. I feel better now so I’ll figure it out later.”
Erin walked back to the inn as the last urges to puke left her. She’d gotten off lucky she supposed. It had only been an hour or so of feeling terrible. If it was actually serious—
Erin had to stop and smile. Serious? Back when she hadn’t been struggling to survive, oh, three days ago, being that sick would have ended up with her in bed for the next week.
“And I’d have a team of doctors feeding me pills by the pound too.”
She laughed softly. Then her smile vanished. Erin covered her face with her palm.
And then she walked on. It was getting dark. She couldn’t stop just now.
She was in too much danger.
The key to distracting oneself was motion. Erin moved around the inn and kept busy. She cleaned the vomit off the floor, washed the plates as best she could with some of the water, helped herself to a bit of pasta and brought out more plates and silverware to the common room. Then she stored the eggs and blue fruit away in one of the cupboards, went upstairs and cleaned a few rooms. She was moving, but really she was waiting.
“They said they’d visit. But did they mean that or are they busy? Either way, I can always make more pasta and save some for later, right?”
She had a pot full of hot pasta in the kitchen and she’d served and eaten her own plate of buttery noodles with blue fruit juice before she realized it was dark. Hopefully Erin stared out one of the windows, but the grasslands were empty. The sky was so amazingly vast, the stars so numerous. It was beautiful, frightening. Erin would have loved to stare at it if she were at home, but what she was really hoping to see were two figures. But she didn’t.
“They must be busy.”
Erin sighed to herself. But it wasn’t that early in the night after all. She could wait.
The young woman sat at the table, her stomach full, her clothes torn and dirty, her eyes drooping. But every few minutes her eyes flicked to the stout wooden door. She was waiting.
Relc stretched in his chair in the Guard’s barracks. It wasn’t too crowded in the early evening, most guardsmen having checked out already or begun their evening patrols. Those who remained in the building were almost entirely Drakes, aside from a few Antinium like Klbkch. They were all busy with their own tasks.
The Senior Guardsman cast an irritable eye over at the large, hunched insect hovering over a table next to him.
“Are you done logging out for the day yet?”
Klbkch made a precise notation with a quill on a sheet of parchment.
“There. I have signed us both out. Again.”
“Great. Thanks. Now, wanna go check on that human? I hear—”
A large Drake bustled up to the other two. He was bigger than Relc, but only just. His chest was covered by a breastplate of burnished steel and he had a sword at his belt.
“There’s a brawl in the marketplace. Get over there and stop the fighting!”
“What? Some idiot had to start a fight now of all times? We were going to go back and—”
“Shut up and get moving!”
“A pity. Let’s be on our way.”
“What a pain. Let’s smack some scales-for-brains quick. Maybe we’ll still have time to go to the inn afterwards.”
“You know we will be called upon to go after those who got away. And there is damage assessment, guard detail, investigating any burglaries during the violence…”
“Do not fret. The human will not be going anywhere.”
“I know, I know. But I was going to eat more pasta and—”
The angry shout made Relc wince and cover the two holes on the side of his head.
“Alright, let’s go. Man, I really hate the Captain.”
“Don’t insult him while we are within earshot.”
“He can eat my scales. Let’s go and get this over with.”
Erin sat at the bar counter in the inn and waited. All was perfect.
Well, all was sorta perfect. It was at least acceptable. She had a basket of the blue fruits, more pasta in a large pot, and she’d even drawn a fresh bucket of water from the stream. She had very nearly spotless plates and silverware and all in all, she was ready for some guests.
If they’d ever arrive.
Eventually her eyes drooped. Her breathing slowed. She fell asleep while dreaming she was still waiting and awake.
Erin woke up. She raised her head and looked around groggily. It was dark.
Something was at the door. Erin wiped the drool off of her chin and got up from the table. She must have fallen asleep waiting. But here they were. She stumbled over to the door and shivered. It was cold. Actually, it wasn’t just cold. It was…frosty?
The door’s handle was covered in a thin layer of ice. From behind the door Erin sensed something chilling, and she could feel a cold draft blowing from beneath the crack. Or was that the shivering sensation running down her spine?
Erin jumped back from the door. That wasn’t knocking. Something was hitting the door. Hard.
“Hey. Who’s there?”
She wished her voice wasn’t so wobbly.
Was it a whisper? No. It was more like an echo. It sounded like a loud voice coming from thousands of miles away and it had an unearthly quality to it. No voice could be so deep, so spine-chilling.
“Um. We’re closed. S-sorry.”
The something on the other side of the door…chuckled. It was probably a chuckle. It was wet and gurgling.
“It matters not. I require sustenance. Food. Prove that to me and I shall be on my way.”
Food? As in the fleshy variety? Erin shuddered.
“I don’t have any. Go away!”
“I will not be denied. Open this door or face my wrath.”
That was enough for Erin. She backed away from the door.
“I’m warning you! Come in and I’ll, I’ll…”
She looked around desperately. It was too dark and she’d forgotten where she’d put the Goblin’s knives. Weapon. She needed a weapon.
“Do not anger me further. If you refuse my simple request I will—”
She didn’t wait to see what the voice would do. She could guess. Instead, Erin ran to the kitchen. She needed a weapon. A knife, a piece of wood, a spatula, anything.
Erin’s hand had found the handle of a pot when the scrape of wood made her breath stop. She’d forgotten. She’d been waiting for Klbkch and his friend. So that meant—
The door was still unlocked.
Something was pushing the door open. Erin sprinted back to the door and threw her weight against it. She knocked whatever it was back, but she couldn’t close the door fully. It was in the way.
“This is unwise. Your insolence will only bring about more punishment.”
The creature hissed at Erin. She could hear it right outside the door. It was pushing, trying to get the door open. But Erin was fueled by pure fear and she somehow managed to keep the door where it was.
“Mistress. All I ask for is a bit of food. Provide me that and I shall be on my way.”
The skeletal creature reached its hand through the doorway. Something dark dripped down out of its bones. It splashed against the wood and vanished.
“I do not wish to become angry.”
Her hand was on the cooking pot. Her heart was dead in her chest.
The skeletal monstrosity seemed to recoil. It pulled the door further open and something noxious wafted in.
“A pity. But I will have you provide me with sustenance nevertheless.”
Erin seized the door and tried to close it, but the creature hurled it open. She fell back and stared in horror.
A thing with too many bones and pieces of flesh gazed down at her. It gave off a ghastly smell and crimson light flashed from its eyes.
“Give me what I desire. Or I shall—”
Erin screamed and hurled the pot.