While Alyssa had discovered that she really didn’t care for the company of angels no matter the color of their clothes, there was one unfortunate fact about missing out on Iosefael carrying, or magicking, her around the world. She had to pass through Teneville. Well, she didn’t have to. She could have gone around. But that would have added both time and discomfort to her trip.
For the last week, Alyssa had been living out of her home, eating proper food, enjoying the regulated temperature, regular bathing, and her soft bed. She hadn’t been sure what she had wanted to do. Home had a lot of comforts. Comforts she was reluctant to leave behind. But staying behind was stagnant. It was essentially saying that she was alright with whatever Tenebrael had planned for her. Worse, Iosefael knew where she lived and, as much as she hated to admit it, Iosefael might be the more dangerous of the two angels. If the golden-winged angel found some way to send her home, she would probably wind up dead. Tenebrael, though she had tried to kill her the night of the robbery, ended up keeping her alive, even if she was stuck in this strange world.
So she decided to leave. The last few days, she had been doing research. Since her internet connection still worked at home despite being a world away, she had looked up a great deal on medieval society, living conditions, and so on. It might not accurately reflect the state of this world given the apparent existence of magic, but she was hoping that it would be close enough that she wouldn’t be wandering around completely blind.
In addition to her survival gear, Alyssa had packed a number of extras. Mostly things that she thought she might be able to sell and wouldn’t miss should she need to return home. The entire spice cupboard was sitting in the top of her pack along with several printed copies of Aziz’ map. Both should fetch a good price, though she was planning on waiting with them until she learned a little more about this world to avoid being severely ripped off in her ignorance.
Unfortunately, yet expectedly, searching up maps only returned Earth. Her Earth. Or fantasy maps, but every wannabe writer and tabletop game master had created detailed maps of their own worlds. Looking through all of them to see if Aziz’s map matched one would be nothing more than an exercise in futility. As such, she not only needed to return to Teneville because it was directly on the way to the mountain pass leading to Lyria, but she wanted to pick Yzhemal’s mind on what she could expect from traveling. Aside from the apparent harpies.
Actually walking through the town, she wasn’t so sure about her decision.
The place was empty. Completely vacant. If it weren’t for having passed a dozen or so farmers out toiling in the fields, she might have thought that something terrible had happened. Gone were all the merry visitors. The bonfire in the central square was nowhere to be found, though there was a small and still lit fire pit in its place. No matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t spot Lazhar with his ale cart anywhere around.
Alyssa made her way to the inn. She really didn’t know where else to go. The temple was right out. Perhaps the brewery would be an option. Apart from the brothers and Aziz, she really hadn’t made any acquaintances within the town.
Shrugging off her pack in the entryway, she stared over the tavern. All the tables were empty. Yzhemal wasn’t at his usual place behind the counter. Where once stood groups of people drinking, eating, and laughing, nobody existed. It was just getting to be evening, so it wasn’t like the customers would still be asleep in their rooms.
A thud echoing out from the back room stole Alyssa’s attention. Someone or something was here, back in the kitchen area. Keeping her hand on the grip of her holstered pistol, she walked forward and around the counter. The door swung open on its iron hinges with only a light press, creaking as it moved. Darkness filled the kitchen. The door in the back was shut to the point where only a little of the evening light sneaked through the cracks. Aside from that, there wasn’t even a candle burning. None of the cooking fires were lit.
Everything that needed heating was heated over an open flame. For that reason, most of the room had been constructed out of stone. Ale barrels lined the opposite wall. Some strongly alcoholic, others weak. The weak barrels were for children and people who just wanted to hydrate themselves without getting inebriated while the strong were purely for recreation. Water simply wasn’t as safe to drink for the most part in medieval ages, according to the internet. The brewing process mostly sterilized contaminants that were present in the water.
Not that the people around here knew that. They just knew that people tended to get sick when they drank water and never got sick on an ale diet. If Alyssa ended up having to live in this world for any length of time, she might try starting some technological revolutions. To that end, she had printed out a few Time Traveler’s Cheat Sheets with quick facts regarding flight, technology, health, chemistry, and other things. Although, it was entirely possible that magic would have replaced a portion of the contents in this world.
Which was another reason she had decided to come back to the brothers before setting off. If only they were around. The noise she had heard must have been the door closing. Perhaps Yzhemal had been heading out to properly muck the stalls.
Lightning raced through Alyssa’s veins as a hand clasped down on her shoulder. Spinning, she drew her pistol, flicked off the safety, and kept her finger off the trigger.
“Most guests wait at the counter,” Yzhemal grunted out, taking a step away from her.
Alyssa, after making sure it really was the innkeeper’s scraggly beard in the darkness, let out a long sigh as she holstered her gun. “Don’t scare me like that.”
“Oh, you again lass.” His eyes, though hard to see in the dark, followed her hands down to her side until she had snapped the button shut. “Sorry, I’ve got no job for you now that the festival is done with. Not enough customers.”
“You’re telling me,” she said, allowing herself to be led back out into the main tavern room. It was better lit than the back with its three windows fully open. The light wouldn’t stay that way for long though, the sun was nearing the rings of the planet, about to dip down below the horizon for the night. “The tavern is empty, as are the streets. I thought something bad happened.”
“It’s like this every year. The visitors all leave. The town goes back to work. Fields need tending, animals need herding, lumber needs chopping, carpentry needs carpentering, and so on. Can’t have a big party every night.” He sat Alyssa down at the counter and gave her a long look. “If you’re wanting work, one of them will hire you, I’m sure. If you’re wanting a room, it’ll cost you.”
Alyssa jumped to her feet. “I do want a room, but I actually have a… deal to propose,” she said as she ran across the room to grab her backpack.
“Bargaining for a room? I normally deal in coins only.”
For some reason, the people around here called them coins even though they were bars. Just another nuance that she didn’t quite get.
“I have two things for you. The first is a meal! You were complaining about my reaction to your food, so I thought I’d bring something from my home. Lands. My homelands.” She pulled out a package of ground beef. It had been sitting in the freezer until she left. The warmth of the day had thawed it, maybe a bit too much, but it would probably still be good to eat. That, along with a few buns, some packets of ketchup from a fast food place, lettuce, and a few tomatoes that had been in her fridge, would make a fairly good hamburger. “I’m going to need your kitchen though. Just a fire and a small table space to prepare.”
“You’re trying to buy a room with food.”
“Not just any food. Exotic foods from a distant land, filled with tastes you’ll probably never taste again.”
Honestly, Alyssa was looking forward to the meal more than he should be. Unless she found a very strange corner of the world, this would probably be the last she tasted of Earth food. Proper Earth food, anyway. She still had an assortment of emergency travel rations such as granola bars and a few military rations pulled from her family’s food storage. Even if she came back to her home again, plenty of things would be going rotten. She had thrown a bunch of food into the freezer in an attempt to preserve them just in case she did return. That was unfortunately limited by space.
She continued pulling out everything she needed and got to placing them on the table, ignoring the dour expression on Yzhemal’s face.
“You’re not going to give me a choice in this, are you?”
Alyssa paused to glance at him. “I’m going to cook some for me no matter what. If you can manage to resist the delicious aroma, you’re welcome to skip eating.”
His beady eyes narrowed for one moment before rolling around in his skull. “I’ll go get the fire running.”
“Oh, I wanted to watch you start the fire. If you don’t mind.” Over the past three days, the fire hadn’t gone out even once. Either she or Yzhemal got up at varying points throughout the night and threw more wood on. “Just in case it was different from how we do it back home.”
“Start a fire?” he asked, turning towards her with an eyebrow raised. “I’m going to grab a log from the fire pit in the center of town. We keep it going specifically to avoid having to start fires.”
“But… what do you do if it goes out?”
“Hope someone has a flame already lit in their homes.”
Alyssa blinked at that. Surely just lighting a fire anew was easier than figuring out who had one going. “How would you start a fire from nothing if there were no already lit flames in the near vicinity?”
“I would consider ourselves lucky that my brother has some skill in basic magic. Not enough to be called an arcanist, but enough to light a simple fire.”
“Magic can’t have a monopoly on fire starting,” Alyssa said in a flat tone of voice. She couldn’t help it. She couldn’t believe what she was hearing. “What about flint and steel? Magnesium? Even just rubbing two sticks together…” A look from Yzhemal had Alyssa trailing off. It wasn’t a hostile look. He wasn’t angry that she was speaking blasphemy or anything similar. It was a look of confusion. As if she were suddenly speaking in a strange language. Maybe magnesium was a word they didn’t have, but rubbing two sticks together?
Something told her that starting a proper industrial revolution might be slightly more difficult than she had originally thought.