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—”
Erin glanced at the pile of coins on the kitchen counter.
“Money is shiny. But uh, inedible. And it’s good to have money, but starvation is an issue.”
Erin stared at the empty pantry. 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 gone. The butter was 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.”
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.
“Ah, but what good innkeeper would deprive herself of such a magnificent guest?”
Erin reached for a knife.
“Please, please good mistress, let’s not be hasty!”
Pisces raised his hands quickly and took a few steps back. Erin glared at him. He looked dusty. And dirty. And sweaty.
“Where did you come from? I didn’t hear you come in through the door.”
“I was, in fact, upstairs the entire time. It was the simplest solution given the intelligence of those two brutish guardsmen.”
“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.”
“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 fifteen levels in [Elementalist], eight in [Alchemist], and an additional six levels in [Enchanter] and ten 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.”
“Would you turn away an innocent—”
“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 deserts? 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’s 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 shale 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 uncertainty.
“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.”
“Well—well too bad.”
Erin’s mouth was on autopilot. Pisces tried to step around her back into the inn, but she blocked him.
“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—”
Both humans turned and looked at the door.
It was quick. One second Erin was pointing her finger out the door and glaring at Pisces. The next, something 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.
Klbkch appeared at her side. Erin jumped but the ant man placed a steadying…hand on her shoulder.
“Please forgive my rudeness. But are you well? We doubled back as soon as we realized the mage had not fled the inn after all. 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. The fight between Relc and Pisces was 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 both off. Erin wondered why until she saw him push the air around Relc and send the bigger lizard flying off him.
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 chord. Pisces shouted…something and the leather burst into flames.
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’s 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.
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. Well, his legs. 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.
“I—I seek no quarrel with you. I am 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 armed 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.”
“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 Wind Wall 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 1st 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 green 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 monkey 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?”
Relc grinned with all his teeth. He raised his spear high. Klbkch watched impassively. Pisces screamed and shielded his face ineffectually. And Erin—
Erin slammed the pot on the table top as hard as she could. All Relc, Klbkch, and Pisces paused as one to stare at her. She 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’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!”
“You punched his brains out! That’s not enough to kill him over!”
The Drake lowered his spear.
“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.
“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.
“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.”
“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 arrest him.”
Relc faltered. He looked uncertainty at Pisces and then remembered.
“But he’s still a [Necromancer]! That’s a crime no matter what he does!”
Erin crossed her arms.
“Prove. It. Can you? Is there a way to check his uh, class?”
Relc gritted his teeth.
“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?”
Erin glared at him. Relc lowered his spear, grabbed at the spines on his head and hissed. He 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.”
Pisces was still lying on the ground. He raised one hand weakly.
“I assure you—”
Relc’s eye twitched.
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 wooded 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.