“Uh, is this a store?”
Every head in the Adventurer’s Guild in Liscor turned at the voice. Grizzled Drake warriors, inhumanly tall Gnolls and several Antinium appraised the speaker who had just walked into the room.
A small human. Possibly female.
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.
“Ah, hello? We can help you over here.”
A voice called to Erin across the low murmuring. She saw a light green Drake waving at her from behind a counter. She was much smaller and had thinner limbs than Relc. Erin guessed she was female. The dress was also a big clue.
Hesitantly Erin made her way over to the counter. The female receptionist gave her a close-lipped smile.
“Good day, Miss. How can we help you today? Do you have a bounty or quest to post? Or are you registering?”
“Registering? Quest? Oh no, I’m not here for…uh, anything. I just thought this might be a blacksmith so I…”
“Oh, I see!”
The receptionist smiled again. This time Erin smiled back.
“This is no shop, Miss. This is the Adventurer’s Guild. Didn’t they have one back in your city?”
“The Adventurer’s Guild?”
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 she knew what she was looking at, the receptionist behind the counter made a lot of sense.
“That’s right. 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 wooded board nailed up against one wall. It had a 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-things 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 two Drakes and one of Klbkch’s species wearing light robes and carrying staves or daggers at their belts.
“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.
“Oh no. I’m uh, an innkeeper. I guess. Or maybe a wanderer? Actually, I’m just new around here.”
The receptionist looked interested.
“An innkeeper, is it? Are you opening up a business here? I’m Selys, by the way.”
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.
“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.
“Well, I can’t leave the desk but I can give you some directions.”
Selys gave Erin another smile.
“It’s really rare to see any humans this far out from the coast. Your kind usually just sticks to its cities. What brings you out so far? Oh, and what are you looking for?”
“Um. Teleportation spell. And I need food. Flour, oil, butter, salt…that kind of thing. And I need clothing. Lots of clothing.”
“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.”
“Oh, that’s great. Thank you so much.”
Erin had already forgotten the directions. 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 inn 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 werewolf?”
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 werewolf?”
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.”
“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.”
At last Selys came to Erin’s aid. The female Drake leaned over the counter and called out to the Gnoll.
“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.”
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.
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. Still, Erin had to keep moving or stand out even more than she already did. Right now she was making her way to the market Selys had told her about. And she was lost.
It was still strange to walk through the city. On one hand, it looked almost like a city Erin could imagine was made by humans. The buildings were still buildings, made of stone and wood. The streets were dirt, but hard dirt, and in places they were paved by cobblestones. It didn’t look bad. 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.
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 discrete and openly stared at her. Erin saw a few small lizard-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. She hesitated, and then walked over.
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.”
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. He—it—was definitely annoyed now, even if he 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 on 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 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 bag of sugar, salt and yeast.”
Erin hesitated. She eyed the meaningless symbols on the little plaque again.
“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 shopkeeper 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.”
He 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’ve 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?”