The inn. A place for questing adventurers, drinking, solace, and even temporary, messy love. Or just lust. In any good tavern you can find at least one mysterious figure in the shadows ready to spout off cryptic messages of doom. No pub worthy of the name wouldn’t have the potential for indiscriminate violence simmering in the air.
Inns attract crowds. Thus, an innkeeper must be constantly busy. It’s a demanding job that often requires more than one barmaid or bartender – barboy being a seldom-used term that only dictionary aficionados employ.
Erin Solstice sat in her inn and waited for the crowds to come pouring through the door. Any second now. She’d be fighting them off with burning oil and kitchen knives. Any moment. They were probably just waiting until nightfall.
Two nights later Erin had to concede that being an innkeeper was harder than it looked. And it looked really hard.
“What good is owning an inn without customers?”
Erin sighed and sat back in her chair. She eyed the gleaming wooden floor and stout wooden door and wondered whether it was worth cleaning them again. But no, she’d dusted and polished every available surface, and she had enough food in the kitchen for a small army. What she didn’t have was money or people willing to spend money.
Erin put her head in her hands glumly. Two days since she’d painted her sign and named the inn. Two days, and her only customers were the three terrors that plagued her waking nightmares.
Relc, Klkbch, and Pisces. They were all horrible customers. Each one was fine on his own—well, Pisces was annoying no matter what, but as patrons they had extremely objectionable flaws. Even Klbkch.
It wasn’t that they were annoying, per se, but…no, they were annoying. Erin gritted her teeth. She wished the Goblins would stop by for a change of pace. At least they were clean, quiet, and finished everything on their plate.
Well, Relc always finished everything on his plate. So did the other two, but in Relc’s case he tended to spread the contents of his plate on the table and the floor. How hard was it to use a knife and fork?
And the one who did use a knife and fork never paid for anything. Ever. Erin felt like she was running a soup kitchen every time she fed Pisces.
As for Klbkch that…that…
“That lying, pasta-eating snake-ant jerk!”
Erin slapped the table. She was especially mad at him. How could he betray her expectations like that?
She’d been happy to feed him pasta all night long. Happy that was, until Pisces and Relc told her that Antinium couldn’t handle bread or pasta that well. They were all naturally glucose-intolerant. Eating pasta was about as fun for Klbkch as poking his tongue with a knife. If he had a tongue.
Pasta wasn’t technically poison for him, but it made Klbkch lethargic and did nasty things to his digestion. Either way, he’d clearly been buying and eating her food just to support her.
The nerve. The gall of that bug. Ants were bugs, right?
When she’d found out about Klbkch’s aversion to pasta she’d gotten into a huge fight with him. Or rather, she’d gotten mad and he’d apologized repeatedly. Ever since then Erin had let him buy blue fruit juice or blue fruits, but no more pasta. The trouble with that was that Erin lost out on one of her major sources of income, as Relc visited every other day and Pisces came by too frequently.
“Another night without customers.”
Erin groaned to herself as she stared at her inn. She mechanically wiped a mug clean with a clean piece of cloth. Not because it was dirty; it just felt like an innkeeper-y thing to do. And she was bored.
“What I wouldn’t give for one customer.”
Two tables over, Pisces looked up from his bowl of onion and sausage soup.
“I am right here, you know.”
Erin glared at him.
“I meant a paying, nice customer.”
He sniffed and drank the last dregs from his bowl. The one positive aspect about the mage – if you could call it that – was that he ate like a starving wolverine.
“I believe there is a lovely tradition known as a ‘tab’. Rest assured I will make sufficient payment to you in time, good mistress. Although I must say you could stand to improve the variety of your dishes. Pasta and soup are all very well, but I trust you do know there are other types of food in the world?”
Erin ground her teeth together. She pointed the door.
Pisces stood with offended dignity and brushed off his dirty robe. He offered Erin a bow that was sardonic without being offensive enough for a thumping.
“Your soup was most adequate. However, I would advise you to add more seasonings to combat the bland taste.”
Erin opened her mouth, but he was already halfway out the door. She watched it close and then stop until it was a tiny bit ajar. This time Erin punched the table.
After she’d closed and bolted the new door Klbkch had helped her install, Erin tasted the cold soup and made a face. She stomped over to her shelves and looked for a bag of salt.
Cooking was harder than it looked. And sadly, while Erin could make several dishes thanks to her skill, there wasn’t really any point if no one but Pisces was going to eat it. Today she’d tried out soup, and she had half a pot still sitting in the kitchen. She’d have to wait for Relc to come by tomorrow to finish it all.
Erin sighed and sat down at her table. It was her favorite table, the second one near the bar. It was where she slept. True, she could have used the floor or done something about the second floor, but she was out of money for things like mattresses and pillows. For now, she slept. Her life wasn’t bad. She’d survived Goblins and actually started running a business. She just wished—
She just wished things would start going her way.
The next day Erin woke up, she woke up tired. Very tired. And that was strange, because Erin had gotten a good night’s sleep. Or so she’d thought.
As Erin shifted to get up she felt uncomfortable. She looked down at her clothes. She was wearing a variation of a t-shirt and pants she’d custom-ordered from one of the Gnolls that Krisha had introduced her to.
Most Drakes went for an ancient-Greek style toga or robe look and their clothes were long and free-flowing. Some of them wore sarongs, but Erin was pretty sure it was only the females.
On the other hand, Gnolls wore minimal attire, usually just enough to cover their furry parts which weren’t visible in the first place. And while Erin was fine with that look, she wasn’t too keen on wearing just a thong and breast band in public. Hence, her clothes.
The fabric was a rougher, sturdier type of cloth than Erin would have liked, but it wasn’t that uncomfortable. She’d slept in it fine just the other day. So why was it suddenly rubbing against her down…there…?
Erin looked down and began praying under her breath. She closed her eyes. Did she have to go to the bathroom? No. Nope. Not at all. So then why was she leaking…?
“Oh. My. God. This is not okay!”
The wetness in the crotch of her pants spread even as Erin looked down. She began to swear, even as she jumped up and ran for some clean cloths. It couldn’t be happening. But it was. How had she forgotten?
Her period. She was on her damn period.
Erin went to the shopping bag where she’d neatly stored many of the items she’d bought and began tearing through it, tossing items aside. Towels. She had to have towels somewhere in here.
There. Erin grabbed them and a fresh pair of pants. She walked back into the common room and hesitated. Like hell she was going to change in here. She went upstairs.
As Erin switched her pants and wiped away the mess she wondered what cruel twist of fate had dumped her in this fantasy world – yet still gave her the miracle of life every month.
“I’ve never heard of video game characters dealing with this! How do you expect Lara Croft to climb mountains with a giant frickin’ diaper in her pants? I’d love to see Leia fighting stormtroopers on her cycle!”
Erin slammed downstairs and threw her pants and the bloody towel on the ground. The other one she took to the kitchen and cut in half. Then she shoved it down her pants.
The towels were not meant for use in the way she was using them. Erin shuddered. This was a nightmare. She had to get relief. And by relief, she meant tampons.
And that was another chilling thought, because Erin was pretty sure tampons never existed in medieval times. But—they had pads, right? Women existed back in the dark ages, even if they were oppressed. And Liscor wasn’t that primitive. So they had to have pads. They had to.
“Please God, if you’re there. Or the Buddha. I’ll pray to anyone. Just please don’t make me wear a diaper.”
She wasn’t even sure if they had diapers. She hadn’t seen many baby Drakes while walking in the city, and they stayed away from the scary human in any case.
Erin went for the door and hesitated. She felt like she was wearing a scratchy diaper, but it couldn’t be helped. She felt at her pocket and then went to her discarded pants and pulled out a very thin coin pouch. She didn’t have much money, but it was probably enough.
Her bloody pants and towel were another issue. Erin stared at them and then kicked them under the table. Then she opened the door and slammed it behind her. Her temper was already bad when she left her inn.
After the forty minutes it took to get to Liscor at quick pace, Erin’s mood had gone from bad to thunderous. The towel in her pants chafed. And her period was heavy. She wanted to kill everything. And that was before she tripped on a rock.
Erin marched into Liscor through the western gates. Actually, she stormed through the gates. In actual fact, she practically charged through them.
The Drake on duty, the same yellow one she’d seen several times before opened his mouth to make a comment. Erin snarled at him as she went past. He shut up.
Another obstacle got in her way before she got to the market street. Olesm appeared out of nowhere, holding a box in his scaly hands.
“Good day, Miss Solstice. What a coincidence running into you here.”
Erin gritted her teeth. Her abdomen was cramping up. This was a bad one.
“Not now, Olesm.”
He ducked his head, but kept pace with you.
“I understand this might be a bad moment, but I was wondering if you would be free later to play a game of—”
Erin turned her head as she stomped past him. Olesm swallowed the words he’d been about to say. She left him behind and kept moving down the street. Some Gnolls snarled at her when she walked in front of them. This time she snarled back.
Krshia looked up from her pile of copper and silver coins.
“Yes, Erin Solstice?”
Erin took a deep breath. She couldn’t get mad. Not now, when her goal was so close.
“Pads. I want to buy pads. Or tampons, if you guys actually have those.”
The Gnoll shopkeeper was sitting down, but her head was almost higher than Erin’s. She blinked at Erin.
“What are these pads you speak of? Are they bandages?”
Erin’s blood froze. She felt the earth beneath her begin to open, and choir of undead hands reaching up to pull her into the fiery pits of hell.
“Please tell me you’re joking.”
Bits of fur flew into the air as Krshia shook her head.
“Apologies. It is shedding season. Why are you so concerned, Erin Solstice?”
Erin leaned forwards and whispered loudly to Krshia.
“I’m bleeding. I need pads. Cloth pads, now.”
Maybe the Gnoll really was messing with her, or she didn’t have the same sense of public decency Erin did. Either way, Erin leaned forwards and whispered the location in Krshia’s ear.
The Gnoll shrugged.
“Is it not fine?”
Erin gaped at her. Krshia scratched the fur around her neck looking unconcerned.
“It is only liquid, yes? And all who smell you will know either way. Why waste good cloth?”
Erin stared at her. Krshia stopped scratching.
“Are you messing with me? Because if you are, I’m not in the mood for it.”
“I would not tease a young one like you when you stink of sweat and blood.”
Krshia looked mildly offended. Erin rubbed at her eyes and crossed her legs.
“Sorry. It’s just—you can smell that? Seriously? No, don’t tell me. I really don’t want to know. Don’t Gnolls have periods too?”
The Gnoll in question tilted her head slightly and make a confused face.
“The menstrual cycle. You know, that time of the month when you donate blood. When Aunt Flo comes to town. Shark week. The Crimson Tide. Parting the Red Sea!”
Krshia blinked at her. Erin felt her voice growing louder.
“You know! Riding the cotton pony! It’s that thing ladies have! The waterfalls of hell! The blood baptism! The get-out-of-swim-class card! The proof of womanhood! The part of the month where blood comes out of your—”
Erin squatted on the ground, head buried in her arms. The other shoppers stared at her. The shopkeepers stared at her. Half of them looked sympathetic. The other half looked disgusted. The children were torn between impressed and horrified.
A heavy, furry hand patted Erin on the shoulder.
“Humans have very strange bodies, yes?”
She really hadn’t meant to shout.
“I really didn’t mean to shout.”
“It is nothing.”
Krshia flicked her fingers dismissively.
“Shouting is good. Almost as good as howling, but we are forbidden to do that unless it is a full moon. But I am sorry. Gnolls do not have your periods, nor do we let our blood each month.”
“So you don’t have anything like that?”
The Gnoll paused. She tapped her lips with one finger and nodded.
“The blood. It is for mating, yes? We do have a similar time. All those who still are able to bear children, we go into a heat. It is called estrus, but it happens only once or twice a year. It is the time when we mate.”
Erin looked up at her.
“Does it hurt?”
Krshia scratched one ear and shook her head. More fur flew into the air.
“It is enjoyable. Some look forwards to it. It is a time to have sex and to bear children and and so we are happy when it comes to us.”
Erin pointed a shaking finger at Krshia.
“I hate you so much right now I can’t even explain.”
The Gnoll grinned at her, but without any malice.
“I am sorry for your plight. But I have no smooth cloths. But I do have these. These are wool; not finely woven, but strong. Would you like a few?”
Erin looked at the rough fabric offered to her and shuddered.
“Do you have any idea—no. Just please, please tell me there’s someone who sells what I need in the city.”
Again, Krshia scratched her head. Erin wondered if she had fleas.
“We Gnolls need no padding. And the Drake folk and Antinium, they need none either. Humans are rare here, so I would not think any padding you wish for exists in any store.”
The blood drained from Erin’s face. She stared open-mouthed at the shopkeeper, who looked concerned at her expression.
“Is it so bad?”
“I—I’m going to die.”
“Not from so little blood, I think. But I have a thought.”
Erin latched onto the ray of hope instantly.
“Yes? Tell me. What’s your thought?”
“The Adventurer’s Guild. They have bandages. Many bandages. If you cannot stop this blood, they would be able to help more than I. And bandages are soft, yes?”
“Yes—yes they are.”
Erin was on her feet in an instant. She waddled away from the Gnoll and then stopped.
“Thanks. I uh, gotta go. See you later.”
Bemused, the Gnoll watched Erin walk awkwardly out of sight. She looked at a female Drake who was passing by her shop. She bared her teeth in a grin.
The cool wood counter of the reception desk in the Adventurer’s Guild felt good on Erin’s head. She rested her head there and wished she didn’t have to deal with the world.
“So you really have blood coming from down there? And it happens every month?”
“That’s so weird.”
Erin groaned. She looked up at Selys, the helpful receptionist. She’d been grateful to find the female Drake was working today, but she really, really couldn’t deal with her innocent curiosity.
“I know. Everyone keeps telling me that. But please, do you have bandages? Thin, soft fabric?”
Selys nodded and pulled a drawer out. She fished out a roll of thin, white fabric and showed it to Erin.
“We’ve got lots, just in case there’s an emergency. How much do you need?”
Erin said it glumly as she fished out her meager ration of coins. She tried to calculate how many rolls of bandages she’d need, and how she’d turn them into a pad. She needed to buy food—but this was more important.
“I’m going to need enough for a week, maybe. And I need to use the bandages to make a pad. You know, to cover the area. And I change pads every few hours sometimes, so…”
Drakes didn’t have eyebrows, so Selys couldn’t raise them. But she widened her eyes and flicked her long tongue out.
“That’s expensive. Sorry Erin, but I’m not sure you’ll have enough money for that. Bandages are cheap, but you’ll be using a lot.”
“Tell me about it. On bad days back home I used to use a ton of pads each day before I switched to tampons. And let me tell you, that was a psychological shift as well.”
Selys looked blank. Erin waved her hand. She wasn’t about to open that can of worms.
“Well, back on the topic of pads…why not make one that you can re-use more than once?”
Erin looked up at Selys.
“Well, doesn’t that make sense? If you’re going to make these pads dirty, why not rewash them rather than keep throwing them away.”
As she opened her mouth to reply Erin’s brain froze. She tried to think of a response but she didn’t have any good one.
“Um. Uh, that’s—that’s actually a good idea. I heard they did that in developing countries but—okay. Okay, yeah. It’s gross, but yeah. How would I get one of those made?”
Selys smiled at Erin. There were still too many pointy teeth in the smile, but Erin was getting used to it.
“I’ve stitched up more than a few adventurers right here. I can make a few of these pads quite quickly if you want me to. I’ve got the skill [Fast Stitching] so it won’t take more than a few minutes.”
Erin leaned across the counter and seized Selys by the clawed hand. The receptionist blinked at her in surprise.
“Oh, thank you, thank you, thank you.”
“It’s nothing. Really. I’ll start on this pad right away. How should it look?”
“Um. Sort of like this.”
Erin showed Selys as the other Drake hmmed and began layering the cloth bandage together. They’d just finished the basic design and Erin had opened her coin pouch when she her a familiar growl from behind her.
Selys gulped, but Erin scowled. She turned around and looked up into the face of an irritated male Gnoll.
“Human. You still stink.”
“I’m not talking to you. Go away.”
He blinked at her, but Erin was already turning back to Selys. She felt a rough hand spin her around and nearly dropped her money. She narrowed her eyes up at the Gnoll.
“You stink of blood. I warned you last time – leave this place now.”
Erin felt her teeth grinding together. She clenched her jaw and looked up at the Gnoll. He was big and scary, but she was also pretty sure he wasn’t allowed to hit her. And even if he was, she was in a really bad mood. Unbidden, the thought occurred to her that she’d never figured out what [Tavern Brawling] actually did.
“Do I look like I’m in the mood to be bullied?”
The male Gnoll growled at her. Erin stared at him. She didn’t blink. She was really cramping up down below now, and the trickling sensation was not making anything better.
Her gaze locked with the Gnoll’s for a solid minute. He was looming over her, doing the classic male intimidation move. She was too angry and sore to care.
After another minute the Gnoll’s ears suddenly flattened for a second. He whirled, and walked away. Erin flipped him off with one hand and then turned back to Selys.
“Sorry. Where were we?”
The female Drake was staring at Erin with open mouth. Erin stared back at her and then flashed a smile.
“Bully me once, shame on you. Bully me twice—I get mean. And violent.”
“I can see that. But I would have known it anyways. Terbore might growl at you, but we all heard about how you killed that Goblin Chieftain by yourself. That was some story.”
Erin’s smile slipped for a fraction of a second.
“Oh. Someone told you about that?”
Selsys nodded as she began stitching the bandages together with needle and thread. The fingers that held the long needle flashed back and forth across the fabric at mesmerizing speed.
“Klbkch had to turn in the Goblin Chieftain’s head here. We all heard about how you killed it. That’s amazing, by the way—Klb says you don’t even have any levels in a fighting class. How’d you do it?”
“Um. I burned his face off.”
“Oh, are you a [Mage] then? I saw a human one in town the other day, but apparently he’s a troublemaker and a thief.”
“No, no. I’m no mage. It’s just—I used a trick. And I nearly died. I bet Klbkch didn’t mention that.”
“He said you were wounded. Was it bad?”
“Very. He gave me a healing potion. Without that I would have been a goner.”
Her hands paused in stitching as Selys stared at Erin.
“He gave you a healing potion? But that’s expensive. You must have been badly injured if Klbkch gave you his potion.”
Erin shifted nervously.
“Are they—are they expensive? Those potions, I mean.”
Selys nodded. She named the price and it was Erin’s turn to do the gaping.
“Well, it’s important that the Watch carries them in case someone gets hurt. They’re not supposed to use them unless someone’s really hurt, though. And the potions the Senior Guardsmen carry are even stronger. They can heal most big injuries in a moment. Unless you lose an arm or a body part, you’ll be fine in moments.”
“Yeah. They are good.”
Erin poked at her stomach reflexively. She sighed. Another mark on her debt to Klbkch.
“I’m just glad it was only a Goblin Chieftain. If the rest of the Goblins had come after me, I would have been dead.”
“Oh, if it had been a Goblin Raiding Party we’d have sent out the entire Watch to deal with them. I just don’t understand why a Chieftain would come after you. It doesn’t make sense.”
“A Goblin what now?”
“A Goblin Raiding Party. Haven’t you heard of them?”
“Uh. No…no I have not. We don’t have many Goblins where I come from.”
Selys sighed enviously as she finished the first pad and slid it over to Erin. The other girl felt at the soft fabric and smiled happily.
“You’re lucky. Goblins are a real problem around here. I mean, sure, the lone Goblin isn’t that dangerous. They’re only deadly in packs. That’s why we send out Senior Guardsman and post bounties on Goblins to keep their numbers down.”
“So you guys kill Goblins all the time? What about Chieftains? Do you sent adventurers after those guys?”
Erin didn’t know how she felt about that. Bad. But her sympathy only extended to the small Goblins, not the vicious, sadistic big ones.
“Chieftains? No, no. They’re far too dangerous to send most adventurers after.”
“It’s not that they’re stronger than the Watch. Relc, Klbkch, even some of the regular Watch are probably better fighters than Chieftains. It’s just that they’re—tough. And strong. And when they call their tribe well, the average group of adventurers would get wiped out against that mob.”
“So you’re not sending adventurers out against a raiding party either, then?”
“Gods no. If we hear about one of those we form a hunting party and try to get rid of it right away. A raiding party can wipe out a village in an hour if we don’t get to it in time.”
“It is. Here’s another pad.”
“Thanks. Sorry I can’t pay you more—it’s just that I don’t have much money from this innkeeping thing.”
Selys waved her needle at Erin.
“Don’t apologize. I’m happy to help. But I’m afraid I could have warned you that innkeeping in that old inn isn’t a good idea.”
“Well, what level are you? Ten? Twenty?”
“See, that’s not too good. If you were in the city I’d say you should get apprenticed to another innkeeper until you’re at least Level 15. It might take a year or two, but then you’d have a few good skills to run your inn with. And I wouldn’t have an inn that far away from the city to begin with.”
“Yeah. No one comes by. Is it because I’m human? Or is it too far to walk?”
Another pad finished, Selys picked up the roll of bandages and cut off more for the last pad. She lined the backing with a stiffer cloth and then sewed layers of the soft bandage on top.
“Both, I’d say. It’s dangerous to come out that far—well, not too dangerous but it’s a bit of a deterrent. Your being human isn’t bad, but…”
“Well, I’ve heard Relc talking in bars. He says you make pasta. Is…is that all you sell?”
“Um. Yeah. I can make other things. I’ve got [Basic Cooking], but—what’s wrong?”
Selys was shaking her head as she sewed. Erin was envious of her speed, and also her scaled hands. Whenever the Drake missed her cloth or stabbed one of her fingers, the needle hit her scales rather than soft, vulnerable flesh.
“I don’t want to be rude Erin, but that’s not too impressive. All cooks and chefs have [Basic Cooking] as a skill. Some even have [Advanced Cooking].”
“Oh. And uh, I guess pasta isn’t that interesting.”
“You could make other things, but there are a lot of good inns in the city. And we get recipes from the human cities up north all the time. Even if you sold a new dish, someone would copy it the next night.”
Erin’s face fell. Selys looked unhappy, but went on.
“Anyways, no one will make the journey if all you’re selling is pasta. I’m sorry.”
Erin groaned as she thumped her head back against the counter. That helped explain her lack of business. Her regular clients might not mind eating the same dishes, but everyone else would. She guessed she should be grateful for her regulars, thinking of it that way.
Relc would probably eat anything he could swallow. Pisces would eat anything he could steal, and Klbkch would eat anything she put in front of him. The Goblins were probably pickier eaters than her clientele.
The last pad done, Selys slid it over to Erin. The young woman gratefully accepted them and felt them carefully. They were thick, but not so much that they’d be uncomfortable wearing. More importantly, they were made of strong materials and she was sure she’d be able to wash and use them again.
“You have no idea how much this means to me. Thank you so much.”
The Drake smiled at her. Erin smiled back.
“Don’t mention it. And good luck with your innkeeping. I’m sorry I had to say it like that but—”
“No, you’re right. I’ll…do some thinking about it. But right now—”
Erin was edging away from the counter.
“Uh, where’s your bathroom?”
The new pad Erin was wearing did not chafe like the towel. Which was exceptionally fortunate, because her skin was raw and still sore. It made the walk back to her inn less fun than normally, but at least the crisis was averted.
“Just in time for a new crisis.”
Erin grumbled to herself as she felt at her pocket to make sure the precious pads were still there. She had to think about business. The trouble was, she’d never run a business or even worked in any job aside from a part-time library assistant and helper in chess tournaments. She had no idea what to do.
“I’ll think about tomorrow.”
Erin muttered to herself as she opened her door. It was just past midday, but she felt exhausted. She hated periods. Why couldn’t they have disappeared along with her world? Maybe there was a skill to get rid of them. [No Period Pain] or [Bloodless Flow] or something like that—
As she opened the door to her inn Erin stopped in her tracks. Her inn was empty. But something was moving underneath the table. Something glowing…
In her haste to leave, Erin had kicked her bloody towel and pants in a heap. And one of the windows must have been open a crack, because it had attracted guests.
A swarm of glowing green acid flies crawled over the dirty cloths. They rubbed their bodies all over the cloths, the table leg, the floor…
Parts of the wood were smoking and glistening with the acid fly’s toxic juices. Erin could see pitted holes in the floorboards. She stared in horror at the green dots shifting all over her clothes.
“You have got to be kidding me.”